Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vegan Jambalaya

So I made this for a gaming get together with my friends the other night.  It was a throw things together kind of meal, but one of my friends asked for the recipe, so I tried to recreate what I did and figured I might as well post it here.  If anyone tries it let me know if any of it doesn't make sense or generally what you think.  I haven't really proofed the text, so it might be a bit rough.

2 cups brown long grain rice
1 cup lentils
6 cups water or salt free vegetable stock
1 onion
3 medium carrots
3 medium celery stalks
8 oz crimini mushrooms
1 bell pepper diced
1 zucchini diced
3 cloves garlic
2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes
a large pinch of oregano
a large pinch of thyme
hot sauce to taste
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to just coat the bottom of pan

Saute your garlic and onion in a pan with the olive oil on high heat
until they start to brown and coat the bottom of the pan in a light
fond.  Then toss in the chopped carrots, and the herbs and continue to
toss until the fond develops into a medium dark color.  Deglaze the
pan with your water or salt free veg stock.  Rinse and go over your
lentils and add them to the simmer water and cook for 10 minutes.
Then add the rice and mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes or so.  Then
add the celery and cook for another 10 minutes.  Then add the
zucchini, bell peppers, canned tomatoes, salt and hot sauce to taste.
Simmer until the lentils and rice are tender.  If the mixture dries
out before the rice and lentils are as tender as you would like just
add additional water.  If you didn't have sodium free veg stock, but
want the veg flavor add veg bullion instead of salt in the final
stage, you just don't want to add salt until the lentils are done

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Infusions: Coffee

So somehow I missed doing a blog post on coffee flavored infusions back when that was my focus.  Someone asked me for the recipe for a coffee liqueur I did for a party a couple months ago and I figured I'd point them to my blog post . . . NO BLOG POST!!!  So here we go.

Coffee is a classic infusion flavor.  It is bright, brings some caffeine to the party, though in more natural quantities than those hopped up alcoholic energy drinks (shudder), and is among the most classic of flavors.  It's earthy, deep, slightly bitter, yet incredibly smooth when carefully balanced.  Unlike most other ingredients I've posted about there is quite a bit of complication in choosing your source ingredients.  Ginger is more or less ginger, blueberries are more or less blueberries and so on and so forth.  Certainly quality varies, but for the most part you either have "great fruit" or "mediocre fruit".  Coffee on the other hand comes in myriad varieties and beyond the basic quality concerns of freshness there is roast preference, the type of beans you prefer, how ground you want your beans to be, etc. etc.  Really it's all the same variables that go into a great cup of coffee, only applied to alcohol extraction instead of water extraction.  There is no "best bean" you will need to experiment a bit to find out what you like the most.  That said here are the things I recommend:

Go Dark: I like my coffee fairly nutty, but I like my coffee infusion to be fairly dark.  The alcohol doesn't take out much of the carbon bitterness of dark coffee, but it does take out the carmelization in the bean's sugars and the complex flavors that develop.  I've made some delicious liqueur from Turkish and espresso coffee.  That said a more moderate if still somewhat dark full city roast might bring a set of flavors to the party that you prefer.  As with all things, experiment.

Go Fresh: This I cannot emphasize enough.  Coffee gets stale over time, and depending on the nature of the coffee that time can be very brief indeed.  At one point, just to see if it would work I got the leftover espresso grounds from a local coffee shop and made liqueur out of them.  To explain what this is about, when you make a GOOD shot of espresso you overload your mechanism and then pack everything down.  This results in some of the grounds falling out.  It's just part of pulling a good shot.  Some techniques waste more or less coffee, but they all waste some grounds.  The liqueur I made tasted delicious, but for the first couple months of it's existence it smelled a bit like the garbage can.  I couldn't figure it out, but it was very disconcerting.  I do know that when coffee is ground that fine, and left out exposed to the air it goes stale very very quickly, and I've never had a similar effect with fresh coffee.  So go fresh, and avoid the smell of compost in your liqueur.

Ratios: I recommend about a cup of grounds to a 5th of liquor, though to be honest I rarely measure, so that is a very rough estimate.  You can't really let this infuse too long.  The joy of a cold alcohol infusion in coffee is it doesn't bring out all those unpleasant volatile bitter compounds that you find in a hot brew of the bean.

Flavor Profile: We've all had coffee.  This will be a somewhat less round version of the flavor, and much less bitter that a hot brew.  It can be slightly nutty, very deep, and excellent with all things cream, much like a normal cup of Joe.  The most traditional flavor to go with coffee liqueur is probably vanilla.  Kahlua is coffee and vanilla.  It's a sure fire hit.  Other good flavors are cacao, cinnamon, cardamom (hmmm Turkish Liqueur), and really any deep earthy spice.  As always experiment and see what strikes your fancy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Does Not Simply REMOVE One's Self from the Supply Chain

As I wrote a couple posts ago about the choices we make and the supply chain I realized that I wouldn't really be able to complete my point.  I could talk about the importance of removing oneself from the supply chain, but I couldn't really talk about how to do it without being entirely too verbose for a single post.  So here is my followup.  This is where politics and Betty Home Maker, or Benjamin Home Maker merge in my mind.

First I just have to say that it's not practical to cut one's self off from our society or economy entirely.  It just can't be done in a way that most people can achieve.  Instead one can work bit by bit, piece by piece to minimize your dependency on the systems of the world we live in.

Being that this is a food blog and given that I said food is the part of our lives where this is most important I feel I must start there.  I believe that our dependency on the supply chain for food is more important than any other aspect of our lives because food is the one thing we get from the supply chain that is not ever an option.  We don't always need medical care, we can survive with a backpack's worth of clothing, we don't need cable, or internet, or gaming consoles.  They are all either luxuries, or only necessary at certain times of year or periodically.  Those needs can be anticipated and planned around.  So while the supply chain's control over those things is significant it's not like food.  A lack of food will kill, either slowly or in some cases quickly.  It will prevent brain development in children, it will cause disability in adults.  It makes us ravenous, and angry.  Hunger destroys reason, and stunts the development of children, including vital brain development.  It is for these reasons that I believe that food is the most important dependency we have on the supply chain, and the one which we must apply the most focus to breaking.

As I said above we must go about breaking that dependency a piece at a time.  A person cannot go from eating out almost every day to making all of their food from scratch.  Instead you can look at how you go about eating now and pick up one new food related hobby, or learn one new recipe that you never knew before.   The best thing about this process is that it lends itself to a social structure.  You can use sites like http://www.dabble.co to connect and find affordable educational opportunities.  You can cook with friends on a regular basis, or just bum around the internet looking for trouble to get into in your kitchen and it can all seem terribly entertaining, but over time it develops into something more substantial.

I will throw out a couple very simple things you can do to start off.  Learn to make krauts.  My local food coop uses the term Kim Chee, but Kraut is a bit more accurate.  You can easily make a home made condiment at home from raw vegetables by shredding them, salting them, spicing them and then pressing them into a large recently cleaned glass container to ferment.  The process is incredibly simple and there are several wonderful resources out there to learn more (here is a good example).  Add in almost any vegetable you can think of and replace the seasonings with whatever you like and you're in the fermented relish business.  My house recently went vegetarian and lunch is often cheese sandwiches with copious kraut thrown in for flavor, live enzymes and easy to access vegetable nutrients.

So with that small hobby that can allow for great creative expression via food you can allow yourself to stop buying most relishes, as you can make kraut style relishes easily.  You can cut out a decent amount of meat consumption even if you don't go entirely vegetarian, and you've just begun to crack the door on realizing how much you can do for yourself.

You can replace complex cleaners with vinegar, water and a dollar store spray bottle in the kitchen.

You can look for pasta sauces that are sold in mason jars (the safeway generics often are, just as an FYI) and re-use the jars instead of buying your own or using Tupperware.

The options go on and on.  One little thing at a time.  The best part is most of these techniques are beneficial to you.  They save you money and give you a little bit more control over your own life and fulfillment as you go.

Everything I've listed above are things I do in day to day life, and I certainly do other things to try and keep a level of independence from the corporate supply chain.

I read financial news on a fairly regular basis because I'm a strange breed of geek.  One thing I've seen consistently is that pay is starting to creep up again, but consumer spending is not.  The people at the top of the system are starting to take notice and they are worried that people aren't spending even though they are starting to make a little bit more money again.  Well for one thing the "more money" that is being made is crumbs at best.  The other thing that not enough people are talking about is that as a generation we have been profoundly impacted by this recession.  My grandparents survived the Great Depression and that experience informed every aspect of their lives and the way they chose to live it.  They were industrious and knew how to do for themselves in ways that our parents' generation did not.  Now though we are at another cross roads where we have to learn to take care of ourselves, and we may well have learned similar lessons. 

When you purchase everything pre made for you the money creeps to the companies that provide that service.  When things crash no one has the skills necessary to adjust, tighten the belt and start doing for themselves again.  It's critical we re-learn that lesson, and along the way we just might start to extract some of those resources from the top of our system again, simply by not feeding the money we have back into it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Kim Chee . . . or is it Kraut?

So, I was visiting a friend and told her about the Kim Chee that I learned to make at the Edible Alchemy Kim Chee class taught by the ever inspiring Andrea.  She wanted me to send her directions, and I figured that it would be more helpful to write it out on the blog so that any of my friends who are not part of the EA community can get to it as well.  For the record I cannot possibly put together as solid a description as what Andrea does in her playshop.  If you see a Kim Chee playshop go up on Dabble or the Edible Alchemy site TAKE IT!  This post might get you started, but it's just not the same.

Notes about the term "Kim Chee": So a more accurate term would be Kraut, but that isn't quite right either.  Kraut implies something specifically German, and the flavorings described will be kind of all over the place.  Traditional Kim Chee is made with fish sauce, and sake.  This process is much more like Saurkraut, only with more asian spices . . . or Indian spices . . . well ok so really whatever the hell you want to put in.

Equipment for "Kim Chee"

A large glass container.  This can be a wide mouth ball jar, or similarly large mouth glass jar, but if I'm making a truly large batch I prefer something more in the gallon size.  I use a large ball jar when I'm making german saurkraut because we don't go through it as quickly, but if I'm doing a more central Asian flavored kraut I pull out the big honkin glass jug I bought at Pier One for fermenting vegetables.

A "plate" or other flat surface that can fit inside the mouth of the fermenting jar referenced above.  This is important for weighting down everything.  For my large glass fermenting jug I use a medium sized ramekin for this purpose most of the time.  It's just large enough to put my weight into.

A weight.  This will be put on top of your flat "plate" to keep your vegetation under the liquid of the fermentation mixture.  For me this is usually a bottle or jar that is smaller than the mouth of my fermentation jug.  If I'm doign my big jug it's a mason jar filled with water, if I'm fermenting in a mason jar it's usually a 5 oz hot sauce jar filled with water.

A BIG bowl.  I can't emphasize this enough.  No matter how big you think your bowl is you probably need a bigger one unless you're just doing a ball jar size batch.  You need a lot of room to mix, but the vegetables will pack down into a much smaller space than you mixed them in.

A "smasher".  This can be a big spoon, or the handle of a whisk.  It needs to be broad enough to really be able to smash down your vegetation, and sturdy enough to handle a lot of force.  Wooden tools work well here.

Ingredients for Kim Chee

Vegetables, especially cabbage and it's decendants.  So the vegetation that can go into fermentations can vary a lot.  You want something hearty enough to handle the fermentation without completely breaking down, but as everything is going ot be raw you have a fair bit of leeway on this one.  I always use at least some straight up cabbage because it's incredibly cheap, good for you, and develops a lot of excellent flavor as it ferments.  I also almost always include carrots.  Beyond that I have used garlic ramps, onions, zucchini, kale, kolrabi greens, collard greens, garlic, beet greens, turnips, mustard greens, and a few other things that I don't remember at the moment.  I know other people who have used broccoli, cauliflower, beets, nappa cabbage, every other hearty green you can think of etc. etc. etc.  You can also add apple,  and other hearty fruits that give it a slightly sweet kick and change the makeup of the fermntation food quite a bit.  I have to say I am a particular fan of using apple and garam masala for fermentation.

Seasoning.  So here things get completely wacky.  You can use basically whatever you want.  Just remember to use A LOT OF IT.  What I have discovered is that the fermentation process subdues the flavors of the spices you put into your kim chee quite a bit.  If you taste your mixture of vegetables, salt and spices and it tastes about right you're not done adding spices because it will just taste like lacto ferment pickle when you're done and that's about it.  I would say the core spices to use here are hot pepper flake (kim chee traditional), mustard seed (saurkraut traditional) garlic, and maybe dill if you want a really old fashioned pickle taste.  Beyond that the sky is the limit.  I really like tumeric in my fermentation, and I'm planning on picking up some fresh tumeric for my next batch.  Ginger is absolutely amazing.  I did Recaito in my last batch, and when it was fresh it smelled and tasted a lot like salsa.  Unfortunately when it was done it tasted just kind of like lacto ferment.  Which was nice, but not as exciting as I'd hoped for.  So if you go the cilantro route, go completely fresh and use a whole bunch.  You can't really overdo it.  If anyone makes some of this and is really blown away by their spice combination please post in the comments, because I'm always looking for new inspiration for my ferments.

Salt.  So this is the magick ingredient.  Salt does two things, it creates an environment that is very pleasant for the wild lacto bacteria that live on the skin of the vegetables we're going to use and an environment that is very inhospitable to the bacteria we don't want to develop.  For a big bowl of vegetables that will fill 3+ large mason jars you want at least 3-4 Tbsp of salt, but really there's no magic amount of salt.   You just want the veg mix to taste incredibly salty, and for there to be enough salt to cause the vegetables to seep out their moisture.  That moisture should be all the pickling and fermentation liquid you need.

The Process:

So first you shred your vegetables.  I use a mandolin because it makes things go faster.  You can also just chop them roughly, or dice them into a fine relish.  This is entirely a matter of personal taste.  The one thing to remember here is the finer you chop it the easier it's going to be to squeeze all the liquid out.  If you want a really REALLY chunky ferment, like bordering on hunks of pickles kind of ferment you might need to add some water, and that brings some extra concerns to play, but I'll talk on that a little later.

Next you take your veg and put it into your huge bowl and add your salt and spices.  Again, remember go heavy on the spices.  While I've had some people point out that you can't take spices out once you put them in this is going to be a pickle.  It's a condiment to begin with.  If it's super hard core when it's finished, that just means you use it a bit more sparingly.  If it isn't flavorful when it's done then you're kind of bonked.  Once the spices and salt are added mix everything up.  The best tool for this is your hands.  You can impecably clean them, or you can wear gloves.  For me this depends on if I have a lot of spices in the mix like curry or straight up tumeric that will stain my hands.  If I do I use gloves, if not I go bare.

This step should cause the veg to become very moist as the salt begins to sap the moisture out of the vegetable matter.  You can make a point of squeezing your veg to help things along here.  If your veg is being very resilient to giving up it's water start to smash it in the bowl with your smasher, and if it still seems dry you probably need more salt.  Just keep adding salt until things start to moisten up.

Next you want to pack your mixture into your freshly cleaned glass fermentation jug.  Put a layer down and use your smashing device to really pack it down.  Then do another layer and smash, repeat until all your veg is packed in.  This process might take a while, but it's worth it.

Next set your plate or other large flat surface down on the top of your veg and put the weight on top of it.  Push down, a LOT. The goal here is the squeeze your liquid to the top of your vegetation.  You will need to also push any stray vegetation under the liquid that comes up during this process.  Vegetation that is exposed to the air, is vegetation that can develop off bacteria.  You want everything under your liquid.  Once you have pushed most of your liquid to the surface, and everyting is well covered put a towel on top of your mixture and leave it somewhere to ferment.  The towel will keep fruit flies, and dust and other unplesant things out of your kraut, while still allowing air in, which is necessary for the fermentation to happen.

After a couple days the fermentation should start.  Things will begin to smell a little funky, which is perfectly ok.  Funk is part of the process.  If you look down into your veg you should see bubbles start to develop within the first few days.  When this starts happening you will want to occasionally push down on your weight to get the bubbles to come to the surface.  Once every couple of days will do the trick.  After about a week you should start tasting your kraut.  When it tastes the way you want it to, move it to mason jars and put in the fridge.  Once you chill it the fermentation will slow down and you will be able to "capture" the flavor more or less where you want it.

A note on sterilization: So this is a wild fermentation, so despite what a lot of guides say I don't worry about fermenting things.  I wash all of my vegetables, and I always do a very fresh clean on my fermentation jug, but I don't go through a detailed sterilization process, because the vegetables aren't sterile and you leave them raw . . . so it's just not a sterile environemnt.  The whole point of kraut is to use wild bacteria and use the salt content to discriminate between the good and bad bacteria.  That said I make sure everything goes through a wash right before I use it.

A note on metal tools.  You really REALLY don't want metal to be in contact with your ferment while it's active because the fermentation produces acid and it will extract metal into the vegetables and taint the mixture.  So I avoid using mason jar lids for the flat surface that I put my weight on, because there is metal.  However, several guides online tell you to mix your vegetables in a non metal bowl.  I don't have any non metal bowls large enough to do kraut in, so I mix mine in stainless steel and I've never had any problems.  There is no acid until the bacteria has had a couple days to do it's work, so I can't think of a single sound scientific reason why doing your initial mixing in metal would be a problem.

A final note on MOLD!!!!!!!!  Mold terrifies a lot of people who do kraut. Do not worry about it.  For one thing you probably don't have mold on your mixture, especially if it's been fermenting for a while.  The liquid gets acidic because of the wild lacto bacteria doing their work, and members of kindom fungi really don't like acidic environements.  What you will probably develop on top of your kraut is a while foamy stiff mixture which can seem a bit like mold, but is really just part of the bacterial process.  A lot of guides say to scrape this off.  I won't lie, I've mixed it in before to absolutely 0 detrimental effect.  If I were doing a very long ferment, and I got a lot of it I would scrape it off.  Andrea who taught me how to make kraut said at one point she had a batch where the top inch or so got "moldy" and discolored and she just discarded the top inch of vegetables and the rest of the batch was absolutely amazing.  I completely and totally believe this to be true.  This is a live WILD fermentation.  Don't expect completely controlled conditions.

Oh right one more note on health benefits.  This stuff is absolutely amazing for your gut.  We need good bacteria in our digestive system.  I make a point of eating even more kraut then usual when I have an antibiotic forced on me . . . it happens, I hate it.  The kraut helps get things going again.  I like going the kraut route more than yogurt or even pro biotic pills because consumer fermented produces all have very limited strains of bacteria, and only go so far in terms of repopulating our digestive ecosystem, and make no mistake it's a complex ecosystem.  I like having some wild ferment mixed in there to round out the population.  I certainly still use pro biotics and yogurt, especially after an antibiotic cycle.  It makes a huge huge difference.

Uses for this stuff.  The sky is honestly the limit.  I love it on cheese sandwiches, as a topping on curry, in soups.  A lunch favorite around my house is to take two pieces of bread, and put shredded cheese on them, pop them in the toaster oven until they are very melty, and then take them out, add kraut and put them together into a sandwich.  The result is a perfect krauty grilled cheese.  The nice thing about adding the kraut at the end is you get all the best flavors of the nice melty cooked cheese, but since the kraut isn't sitting in the toaster oven, or in the sandwich on the grittle it isn't going to get super duper hot, and the raw enzymes from the vegetables and developed during the fermentation don't completely break down.  I like to get as many of those in my diet as possible.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Smoked Vegan Feast Playshop

I am running a playshop on smoking in an urban environment with everyday equipment.  I have included a link at the end of this post to the handout I am giving my students.  I'm hoping to do a writeup on how the class goes and possibly take some pictures as I go.  We'll see.  In general I just wanted to make this available to everyone who might want to take a look.  My cooking and "recipe" construction tend to be a bit ad hoc.  These playshops have been forcing me to think about how I cook in a somewhat more structured manner.  It's a challenge, but I've enjoyed it.  Try the stuff in here out and let me know what you think.

Warning: The handout doesn't talk about controlling heat on your stove to keep the chips from going completely over the top.  I am going to be demoing in class so that's why it's not in the handout.  If you're experimenting with this, like I originally did I recommend going for very low heat at first.  It won't be enough, but it's better to slowly creep the heat up until you have a nice slow steady smoke than smoke out your whole house.

The Handouthttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1Up2xOrk8A4lcdtkVk0d7c45EAcNNf8oxN_1YreWGoMI/edit

Friday, July 20, 2012

Running a CSA Pickup, My COOP Experience in General, and Power in Food

A couple weeks ago I "ran" the CSA pickup at Edible Alchemy because the ever vigilant Andrea and Dietrich were off catering an amazing weekend long yoga retreat.  I put ran in quotation marks because Edible Alchemy is truly a cooperative and my role was far less fearless leader than I imagine it would be in almost any other situation.  Once the experience was finished I collapsed for the remainder of the day.  It was a fulfilling, awesome, exhausting experience.  It was also a very thought provoking experience.

My work with Edible Alchemy is my first real experience with cooperatives.  I mean I was a member of Bloomingfoods when I lived in B-town, but let's be honest that's barely a coop anymore.  It's a retail food establishment who's governance structures are legally coop, but it's run like a Whole Foods.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it's not really a coop in the deepest sense of the term.

So my experience with Edible Alchemy, especially my brief experience in the closest thing to a leadership role that I think I'll see in a true small cooperative made me realize a few things.  The first is that we can all make the individual choice to take back the power that's been "taken from us" in our society.  I put taken from us in quotes because I don't actually think it has been taken from us.  A path to affluence has been laid out for us.  It involves high school, then college, lots of extra curricular activities, marriage, credit cards, a house, cable TV, a new car, and several other trappings of affluence.  That path is a lie, and it always has been.  The thing is, we choose to believe it.  No one forces us down that path at gunpoint, and I've known a few awesome people who chose to leave that path, or at least take a tangentially related path.  In almost all cases they have lived the better life for it.

When you walk into ECO, the physical coop that hosts Edible Alchemy you'll see . . . well basically no signs of affluence as defined by the above path.  There's an upcycle station filled with packaging that was used to bring food to sale previously at more traditional grocery establishments, and a communal kitchen with a host of wondrous mis matched hand me down kitchen tools.  There's a roof top garden that is bountiful, but rather messy around the edges . . . and in the middle of the beds as well.  To be honest that's how I like it.  There are a few weeds, and a ton of excellent food, and patches of different plants all over.  It's chaotic, and random, but bountiful.  The way work gets done at EA is that everyone chips in, in different dynamic sort of ways.  Everything is run through a volunteer sign up sheet, and the food is based on a direct relationship with farmers, bakers, coffee roasters etc.  These relationships are often built on conversations and handshakes, though once things scale up a formal ordering process is eventually needed, but really it all stays pretty informal by any other business standard.

Similarly when you go into the part of ECO where people live there isn't cable, there's no AC, there aren't big stereo systems and lots of conveniences.  The people who live in ECO very obviously do for themselves. This all seems very simple, but it all requires something that is vitally necessary to our society.  A sense of both connection and independence.  My experience growing up in America is that we have lost much of our connection to each other, and to our ability to take care of ourselves.  We pride ourselves on our independence, and use it as the justification for not having things like socialized health care, or stronger socialized education, yet at the same time we are not independent.  We no longer know how to cook as a society, we don't know how to build our own furniture, or make our own clothes, or brew our own drinks.  We instead depend on the supply chain.  So we are involuntarily connected to a system we have no real control over, while being disconnected from each other.  It is the ultimate irony of our age, and our society.

My time working at ECO has shown me more than anything else that we don't have to exist in this state.  There is no law requiring us to invest in this supply chain as profoundly as we do.  The greatest hope I see for breaking out of this cycle is the internet.  It gives us the opportunity to find people of like minds, to reconnect, and to access a bounty of information that can be used to learn and become truly independent.  There are people all over the country doing this already.  There are coops in every city, and people cooking, sewing, brewing, building, and making for themselves.  While my personal passion is cooking this is an issue that goes well beyond food.  Take a look at http://blog.makezine.com/ for how it manifests in technology.

While the reconnecting with our ability to take care of ourselves, and separation from the supply chain is important in all aspects of life I honestly feel it is more important with food than any other.  Food is essential to keep us alive.  When agrobusiness decides they want to push roundUP ready crops to make a buck if we are dependent on the supply chain we will eat them, whether they were put in place because they are healthy or because they are profitable.  When the corn industry leverages it's weight and gets high fructose corn syrup in everything, if we cannot cook for ourselves we will eat the corn syrup because we have to eat.  The examples go on and on and on.  Grain fed beef, pink slime, hormonally unbalanced portions of soy even in our meat, sugar as a flavor supplement to make low fat food palatable even when sugar adds more pounds than fat. etc. etc. etc.

A lot of people are very mad about all the things I listed above, and they talk about our food system as something which needs to be fixed, and it does need to be fixed.  A lot of people also talk about how we need to make food for themselves so we can take control of our nutrition, and we do.  At the heart of the problem though isn't our dependency on the food system, it's our dependency on the supply chain as a whole.  Having the option to trade off convenience for money occasionally is a wonderful luxury and one of the best things about modern life.  I don't know anyone, no matter how "do it yourself" who doesn't occasionally order a pizza.  However, when it's your only option then too much power is given to the people who run the system.  It's power we freely give to them, and it is important to remember that they are not inherently bad people, but the people who run our systems are PEOPLE.  My mother used to say that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  It's not her saying, but it was one of her favorite quotes.  We give power to the systems which abuse us by making us dependent on them.  Many have been ground down so far that they don't have to resources to remove themselves from the system, but there are many more who could choose to do for themselves but do not.  It's important to understand what that choice represents, because I believe that when one understands what that choice represents it becomes much easier to make a different choice.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Couple Awesome Drink Recipes

So I wanted to make a quick jump back to infusions.  I haven't forgotten them, I've just been scratching a different itch of late.  I thought I should go back and post the recipes that my partner developed from my infusions for the Edible Chicago Article that was published profiling my infusion work.  Here they are.  For the record they are a special kind of delicious.

Berries and Bubbles
1 ½ ounces homemade strawberry liqueur
½ ounce Disaronno (or other high-quality amaretto)
½ ounce Cointreau
2 ½ ounces champagne (or other sparkling white wine)
Pour homemade strawberry liqueur, Disaronno, and Cointreau together in a champagne flute. Pour champagne into the flute so that the total volume of the drink doubles. Drop a fresh berry or two into the drink immediately before serving.

Basil Martini
1 ounce ice-cold gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce homemade basil liqueur
Garnish: lemon peel
Keep the bottle of gin in the freezer. Once the gin is ice-cold, mix ingredients in a shaker and pour into a martini glass over a strip of lemon peel.  Drink slowly and let the lemon mix with the basil and transform the flavor as you savor your drink.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Second To Last Meat Meal

My partners have been wanting to go vegetarian for some time.  There are many reasons for the change to our diet, most of them health related.  I highly recommend that anyone who has not seen it go out and watch the documentary Forks over Knives.  It explains a lot of why we are making this change to our diet.

In the mean time I have the final bits of an all organic meat share that we had to go through and the other night I made one of our last meat meals.  It was another smoked piece, and I'm taking these final meat preparation opportunities to try some cooking techniques I haven't tackled before.

I wanted to do a writeup on the second to last meat meal I prepared because it goes with my recent smoking interests, and produced some really excellent results.

I made smoked dark meat chicken.  It was a mixture of drumsticks and thighs.  I put together an impromptu rub of poblano chili powder, paprika, black pepper, salt, cumin, turmeric, paprika, garlic powder, and a little bit of brown sugar.  After smothering the chicken in the rub, and leaving it in the fridge to dry a bit and form a nice pellicle on the surface of the meat, I loaded all the meat up in my roasting pan.  It's important that you have it resting on a roasting rack, so the meat is elevated above the bottom of the roasting pan.  If you don't have a good roasting rack for this purpose I recommend loading up the roasting pan with vegetables that roast and smoke well, and laying your chicken on top of the vegetables.  If you roasting pan is large enough to hold a cooling rack you can also use an all metal cooling rack for this purpose.

I left a small area near the corner of the roasting pan empty to hold the wood chip container.  Then I set the oven to just about 200 degrees (which is kind of a guesstimate with my oven knob).  While the oven was preheating I covered the top of my roasting pan in aluminum foil and crimped it around the sides very securely.  I left the corner of the pan with space for the smoking chips uncrimped.  Then I started the chips going on the top of my stove.  I spoke about this process a bit in a previous blog post.  I use a small powdered sugar dispenser to hold my smoking chips.  Really all you need is a small stainless steel container that you can heat directly on your stove.  This works best with a gas stove.  Once the chips were smoking heartily I quickly stuck them inside the roasting pan with a pair of tongs and crimped the remaining corner of the aluminum foil shut.  Then I slid the roasting pan into the oven.  Then I set a timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer went off I pulled the roasting pan out of the oven, pulled the chip container out and re-lit it.  If you don't want to be getting up every 15 minutes for the duration of the smoking you can get away with refreshing the chips every 20 minutes.  I've found at 15 minutes the roasting pan is generally still fairly smokey, but the chips have gone out.  At 20 minutes the pan generally only has a few whisps of smoke when I pull back the foil to retrieve the chip container.

Now at this point I'd like to talk a little bit about the 200 degree mark that I set the oven for.  Most smoking recipes I've seen have targeted the smoker temperature at 250 degrees.  I aimed for 200 because this approach to smoking doesn't provide the constant high concentration smoke exposure that a commercial smoker provides, so I want it to be in the oven/smoker a little longer than if I were using a professional smoking rig to soak up as much delicious smoke as possible.

The other question I want to cover is "Why go to all this trouble?"  I'm not going to lie, this is a definite slow food approach to cooking.  It's not difficult, but it is a lot of hands on contact with the food.  For many people that will be a huge turnoff.  The big reason for me is that I love the flavor of slow smoked meats, and I live in an apartment in Uptown Chicago.  I don't live in a bad neighborhood, but I don't live in a great neighborhood and plenty of things have been stolen from the decks of our apartment building.  For people in similar urban situations a nice expensive smoker may just not be an option.   You can do this entire smoking technique in  your urban apartment/condo kitchen with no special equipment and get amazing results.

Then there is the ultimate advantage, that quite honestly would have me doing this even if I lived in the burbs and had an acre yard, the juices rendered from the meat.  When I completed the roughly 3 hours of smoking/roasting there was an amazing deep dark liquid that had rendered out of the chicken.  It was incredibly rich, and had enough gelatin to set at room temperature.  This stuff is pure culinary gold.  If you use a traditional smoker then this liquid is generally lost.  It depends on your setup admittedly, but the outdoor smoking setups I have seen do not save this rare and magnificent resource.  It is a full batch of incomparable chicken chili waiting to be made.  Or it can just be poured into the bbq sauce for the chicken and cooked down into near perfection.  I was blessed with a similar liquid in smaller quantity when I smoked ribs using the same technique.  Slow roasting meats at home, with or without smoke will generally render a liquid like this.  This is one of those cases where the food you make at home will ALWAYS render a superior result to what is accessible in a commercial kitchen.  Slow roasting meat this way is just not feasible in a commercial kitchen.  You can't oven roast enough meat to do to order cooking.  There may be a few Michelin starred restaurants that go to this length, but you don't want to know what a meal costs at these establishments.  The trick here is low temperature roasting, and a high walled roasting pan to protect the liquid from the direct IR heat being given off by the sides off the oven.  While using this type of "stock" requires an imaginative approach to cooking it's worth it.  You won't find any recipes that call for this ingredient, because it's so rare, valuable and can't just be purchased at a store.  It's highly concentrated and doesn't flavor quite like regular meat stock as a result, so roast or smoke up some meat and experiment.  Trust me it will make all the hard work seem more than worth the time.

Now that those mild asides are . . . well set aside we can get to the final step, the bbq sauce.  In my experience everyone has different tastes in bbq sauce.  I like mine tangy, terribly terribly overwhelmingly tangy.  In my opinion if any flavors really win out over vinegar in a bbq sauce then you're doing it wrong.  There should be just a touch of brown sugar to give some roundness, but not enough to make the sauce distinctly sweet at all.  I can't really tell you exactly what goes into my sauce, but I start with a base of tomato paste, some of the juice drippings I discussed at length in the last paragraph, a bunch of vinegar (generally unfiltered apple cider vinegar), chili powder, cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper, some oregano, a touch of brown sugar, a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce, and a few splashes of home made hot sauce.  Then I start cooking the sauce down, and I taste as I go.  The flavor will depend on the freshness of my herbs, my mood and the quality of the various ingredients.  I grab various bottles and futz with the sauce till it tastes right.  There really isn't much more of a recipe than that.  Common things that I add while touching up are molasses if it's sweet enough, but I want more of that deep roundness brought by the brown sugar, smoked salt if it could be smokier but I don't want to thin it down with more liquid, more vinegar, paprika, sometimes soy sauce, and very occasionally if I want a really round sauce I'll add some cocoa powder.  I don't generally add any normal salt until the rest of the flavor is just right, because some of the ingredients I might add have salt in them.  So the final adjustment I make is to the sodium.

Finally I take the chicken, smother it in sauce and consume it in the undignified way that is required of such food.  I try to redeem myself with copious napkins . . . but I have a beard.  It's pretty hopeless.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Smoked Chili Improv Style

So I have something of a pet peeve when it comes to vegetarian and vegan chili.  That pet peeve is the lack of umami in most of the veg chilis that I have tried.  Umami being that rich round "meaty" flavor most people think of as being a big part of browned beef, and mushrooms and soy sauce.  A lot of times when I try vegan chilis they taste like beans and vaguely of cooked tomato.  The deep rich beef flavors I associate with all day cooked chili con carne is really what I love about chili, and I am of the opinion that there has to be a way to achieve that level of flavor without meat.  So I decided to try and tackle that problem head on.

I looked up a few vegetarian chili recipes to see what they included to take care of the "beef" aspect.  Many of them were obviously of the tomato and beans variety that I had become accustomed to and I passed those by.  Several included portabello mushrooms, which worked for me because I had an unused package of crimini in the fridge (close enough for my purposes).  So after thinking on it a bit I decided I was going to try and attack the umami problem from multiple fronts.  Here are the tactics I chose to use.

1 Build a Fond: This just isn't done enough by people, especially in vegetarian cooking.  It is the French secret to great flavor, but most people think of it as requiring meat.  It does not require meat at all.  What you need for a vegetarian fond is several vegetables that brown well, and that exude enough moisture and sugars to coat the bottom of a pan with the joyous products of their Maillard reactions.  Onions and mushrooms are both excellent choices for this.  So the first step of this process had to be a good solid fond.  So I began by browning my mushrooms in small batches on the bottom of my pot with a bit of olive oil each time, never crowding the mushrooms.  The fond builds up over time, and you have to switch the mushrooms out quickly so that there is always something pulling the heat out of the pan so the fond does not burn.  As the mushrooms browned I moved them to a bowl.  Once they were all browned I threw in my diced onions and garlic with just a touch more oil.  Normally I would salt the onions at this point to help with carmelization.  Unfortunately this was all destined to be the base of a batch of dried beans that had been soaking overnight, and beans that are salted before they're done cooking means crunchy unpleasant beans.  So no salt.  It makes the carmelization a bit more tedious, but the heat still does the trick.  If you see the fond starting to lean more towards black that you think is ideal throw a little liquid in to deglaze the pan. Let the glaze coat the onions and keep cooking them down.  They will caramelize over time this way, it might just take a little longer than you think is ideal.  Really get a nice even brown all over and through your onions.  This is a huge source of flavor and umami and you don't want to waste it.

2 De glaze the Fond with Something Worth While: So some of the recipes I looked at had water in them.  Water is an utterly useless ingredient in a dish you want to have maximum robust flavor.  There is always something better.  In my case I used a deep nutty beer and vegetable stock.  I collect scraps from my vegetables and boil them into stock once a week or so and it makes an amazing rich stock.  I learned this at a class on vegetarian cooking at Edible Alchemy.  If you're in the Chicago area I highly recommend checking out their classes.  It will change the way you look at food, and the are incredibly affordable.  Once you have the fond thoroughly deglazed then you can add your soaked beans to the mix.  For my batch of chili I deglazed with a bottle of Goose Island Nut Brown ale, added the soaked beans and then topped the mixture off with a container of my home made vegetable stock.  I kept the mushrooms aside at this point, because if they cooked the entire time with the beans they would be completely decimated by the time the chili was done.

3 A Few Less Than Traditional Ingredients: Ok, so I know I know, it's chili.  It should have tomato and beans, and peppers, and meat.  Here's the thing though, the meat is gone, and replacing it with a product like seitan or soy crumbles isn't going to bring back the gelatin, or the thick umami of the meat.  It just isn't.  The beer and carefully developed fond will help on that front, but it's not going to do the whole job.  My secret ingredients are soy sauce and smoke.  The smoke is fairly traditional, but the soy sauce really isn't.  Soy sauce was used extensively in Asia in vegetarian dishes because it provides depth to dishes that could seem flat because of their lack of meat.  In this case I add soy sauce slowly and taste regularly to make sure that it never actually tastes "like soy".  This is a case where I want the soy sauce to enhance the other flavors.  It doesn't get to be a central part of the performance, because that would just taste odd.  The other thing that really brought the flavor to life is fire roasted tomatoes and peppers.  This is a rare case where I use canned tomatoes.  Fire roasting tomatoes at home is a huge ordeal, so I use canned.  If you can find jarred USE THEM!  The BPA issues with canned foods have me almost entirely off them, but I haven't found a decent alternative for fire roasted tomatoes.  Fire roasting the peppers for this dish is a different matter though.  I turn my gas stove on high and just pop the pepper down, rotating occasionally until the whole thing is black.  Then I throw it under a bowl when there is no more skin to blister and let it steam while the chili works.  This can be done whenever you have a free moment early in the cooking process.

Finally that brings us to the smoke.  Smoking is an absolutely amazing way to infuse flavor in a dish, and most people think it takes a lot of equipment.  I thought that as well until I worked at Big Jones.  The chef would take a big roasting pan and fill it with the item to be smoked, then take a small stainless steel container and fill it with wood chips.  Then he would put that pan on the stove until the wood started smoking/burst into flame.  Then with tongs sneak it into the roasting pan under a tightly crimped cover of aluminum foil.  This can happen at the same time that the whole thing lives in a 200 degree oven and slowly roasts , or if the heat isn't required can happen out on the counter top.  In the case of this chili, I decided to use my dutch oven, and a steamer.  Since I don't have restaurant quality 9 pans I used a stainless steel powdered sugar shaker.  It worked beautifully.  I did the whole thing on the counter.  I would leave the lid to the dutch oven slightly askew so the chips had a little bit of oxygen to keep smoking.  To be honest they went out very quickly, but the smoke stayed in the pot for quite a while.  I recommend taking the container out and re-lighting it every 25 minutes or so.  It might seem like a hassle, but it's not much worse than basting a turkey.  I smoked super firm organic sprouted tofu.  I would have liked it to dry out a bit more than it did, so next time I'm thinking I will probably keep the whole thing in a 200 degree oven just to slightly roast the tofu, even though it doesn't need to be cooked for safety reasons.  I didn't really time this process.  I started the first smoking, then did the fond process and got the beans going.  Then I re-lit the chips and went about my day periodically re-lighting the chips.  It slightly darkened the tofu, and added an amazing smoky flavor to the chili. Then, when the beans were done I added everything to the pot, including the mushrooms and the fire roasted pepper. I also added half a bag of frozen corn for some additional texture and starch. That along with a few tablespoons of MASECA to thicken finished the whole thing off.

This might seem like a lot of work, and I'm not going to lie it was an all day cooking endeavor.  The people I know who love to smoke though are generally more than happy to be close to their food, and tinker with it and touch it.  In my opinion this was the best batch of vegetarian chili I've ever made.  It was rich and delightful.  The spices were as usual a bit improv, and started with whole dried poblano instead of messing around with chili powder.  Just once I really advise you to make a batch of this for your friends.  You won't regret it.

A Note on Dutch Ovens and Smoking: I used my exposed cast iron dutch oven for this, and it worked beautifully.  The smoke also imbued into the prime.  Not a terrible thing, but something to consider.  If you use your dutch oven to say occasionally make caramel corn this might not be a desirable effect.  You can use a stock pot, or a Le Creuset style dutch oven as well and you won't have to deal with a smoky prime in your pot.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Infusion: Blueberry

Blueberry is a delightful berry to make liqueurs from.  It is not something you commonly find in liquor stores.  While it's easy enough to find blueberry vodka the color of crystal clear spring water, those products have more in common with a chemical factory than they have with a blueberry.  As with most fruit I recommend using frozen organic blueberries.  It is less expensive, and is generally a more consistent product year round.  That said if you find a ridiculous farmer's market sale at the height of the season and you buy so many blueberries you couldn't possibly find fresh applications for all of them (yeah I can't really imagine that scenario either) then fresh work quite delightfully.  Like most berries the infusion happens quickly, but time isn't really the enemy.  There is no bitter or tannin quality that will take over long term and the alcohol prevents any decomposition in the berries.

I recommend a clear liquor because the berries have a delicate flavor that is served very well by a neutral spirit.  The berry provides a deep rich flavor that takes very well to clear simple syrup and is very robust.  The one thing I will say about blueberry liqueur is that it tends towards the syrupy very easily.  Thankfully unlike most infusions there is very little in the berry that adds to the harsh alcohol bite of your final infusion so you can get away with less syrup when making your final liqueur.  I recommend that you use 1 third sugar syrup and 2 thirds blueberry infusion.  Like other berries I recommend just barely covering the berries with alcohol.  Though the flavor is stronger than raspberry or strawberry, so if you want a large batch you can stretch it a bit.  The blueberry is ever so slightly tart, and has a wonderful balance between delicate and robust.  It mixes well with other berry flavors and wonderfully with citrus.  I haven't tried it yet, but I'm guessing blueberries and cream would be a home run beyond compare.  Happy infusing everyone.

Second Class Cycle

So I had the second session of my liqueur class this past Saturday.  It was an excellent group of 6 people.  We had a slightly different round of infusions including Blueberry and Apple Brandy.  Though the most popular infusion was unquestionably fresh ginger.  I mean it seriously swept the popularity contest.  A couple of the interesting combinations that were created during the class included Apricot Tea, Ginger and Orange.  There was also a really delightful strawberry, lemon and black pepper mixture.  I was surprised at how delightfully bright and poppy the mixture of fruit and black pepper really was.

No one really did much with the habanero infusion, and I think I overwhelmed them with the cinnamon comparison taste test that I started the class with.  Definitely something to note for next time.

As this was the second session of the liqueur class it's probably going to be a while before I do another one.  That said I am hoping to continue to update this blog periodically with new infusion ideas and new drink mixtures.  I hope everyone has been enjoying the blog and keeps experimenting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Infusions: Fresh Ginger

This was one of the first infusions that I created.  I had some leftover ginger and I needed to use it before it went bad.  So I mashed it up and threw it in a bottle of vodka.  What resulted was absolutely fantastic.  This is an infusion that I have never seen anywhere in a liquor store, but it is light, aromatic, and mixes amazingly well with just about everything else.  The thing about ginger infusions is that it works much like the actual root.  I can be used in almost any type of application.

We tend to want to break foods down into limiting categories.  A food either tends towards sweet or savory applications.  It's good in either earthy, or light flavor combinations.  It's rich, or delicate.  Anyone who has experimented with food knows that these categories are often limiting.  Chocolate is as excellent in a mole as it is in a custard.  Coffee rubbed burgers are as rich and amazing as any mocha.  That said though ginger breaks these boundaries before we can even set them up.  Ginger ale is probably one of the lightest, sweetest and most classic uses of the root one can think of.  Ginger snap cookies however are deep and earthy, with the richness of molasses and the infusion of other spices.  Ginger in curries is deep and savory, but aromatic and excellent.

Ginger as an alcoholic infusion is similar.  Mixed with simple white syrup it produces an amazing delicate sweet product that will lighten any dessert drink.  It mixes well with certain fruit liqueurs such as apple, or even peach.  Mixed with turbinado syrup it becomes a deeper liqueur ideal for mixing with Amaretto, or coffee and cacao liqueurs.  Without any sugar it can provide an accent to gin drinks, and other herbal applications.  It is probably the most under appreciated, dynamic infusions available.

Ginger is impossible to over infuse much like fruit.  I have left the root in Rum for over a month with no negative side effects.  At the same time I have found most ginger infusions are useable after only a couple days.  You want to cut your ginger thin and break up the slices a bit in a mortar and pestle.  The mortar step isn't strictly necessary, but it will speed your infusion considerably.  I peeled my ginger before infusing it for a long time, then saw some ginger infusing in vodka at an Asian restaurant with its skin still on and decided to give that a try.  I didn't notice any adverse flavor effects from leaving the skin on the ginger.  So I recommend not skinning as it does add quite a bit of work to the process. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Cry for Help: Amaretto

Ok, so I give.  I've been trying to make amaretto and to be blunt it has been a horrific failure.  Everything I find online is about adding almond extract to booze, aaaaaannnnnddddd no.  I tried to make amaretto directly from almonds, following almond extract processes, and it was a pretty complete failure.  I'm not sure where the color generally comes from because all the extract directions I've found involve using blanched almonds.  Has anyone out there done home made amaretto directly from almonds?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Black Irish Godfather

So I haven't been posting much because I was in a marathon of a wedding, and then said marathon ran me down enough that I've been kicking off a cold for the past couple days.  Nothing huge, but it has sapped a bit of my writing motivation.

Thankfully said wedding saw the creation of something that I thought would be worth sharing.  A drink recipe with one of the home brew liqueur infusions I have listed on the blog.  I filled my travel flash with it and took it with me to the wedding.  My friend dubbed it the "Black Irish Godfather".  I know the name borders on the . . . socially questionable.  Really though what good alcoholic drink isn't a bit edgy.  Here are the ingredients.

2 parts Jamieson
1 part Disaronno (Really any Amaretto would work, but for this you want the best)
1 part cacao nib liqueur ideally made with turbinado syrup.

The resulting effect kind of goes in waves over your tongue.  It occasionally feels harsh and whiskey like, then moves into something much more like a rich chocolate candy.  It's warming and smooth and delightful.  The cacao nib liqueur should have had at least a month to rest after infusing to insure maximum smoothness.  A little tidbit to share.  Once I have confirmation that the article came out in Edible Chicago I will let everyone know about that here and post the two drinks my partner developed for the article here as well.  I hope everyone enjoys.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Infusions: The Other Cinnamon

So I recently put up a post talking about the difference between real cinnamon and cassia.  My first infusions post discussed what an infusion of cassia is like and as I got my hands on some of the real thing I figured it was about time I put up a post about Cinnamomum aromaticum.  It is not nearly as spicy an infusion flavor as cassia, though it has more of a tannin bite.  There is a much woodier flavor, and some very strong floral notes in the background.  The visual tone of the infusion is a much more of a dark brown color, as opposed to the strong burnt sienna red tone of a cassia infusion.

Aside from those differences it is still very much a cinnamon infusion, and so the same flavor parings will work.  Turbinado syrup, and coffee combinations are ideal.  If you want to do a fruit cinnamon infusion, such as apple or orange (orange and cinnamon with chocolate is one of my favorite confectionery combinations) then I highly recommend using Cinnamomum aromaticum as opposed to cassia because the floral notes will match much more closely and the cinnamon is less likely to overpower the fruit in your infusion.

If you can get your hands on some of this it is an exciting ingredient to work with.  I highly recommend it for any appropriate infusion.  Mostly because my standard is that if you're going to make it at home it should be something you can't get commercially.  Why waste all your time recreating something you can buy in a store.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cinnamon and Cinnamon

So I found out the African and Latino grocery a block from my house carries real cinnamon. I was fairly ecstatic. I have read a lot about real cinnamon, as opposed to cassia. I recognized the true cinnamon from my time working at Big Jones. The aroma is very different and I have to say a great deal more complicated. Though it is certainly not nearly as strong. I am hoping to post one of the rundowns of it as an infusion ingredient soon. I need to let a batch go through a long infusion and a short infusion to see how the bark sap and tannins develop compared to cassia. So it will be a little while before I have a writeup done. I wanted to let everyone know I had it working though.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Infusions: Basil

So this was something of an experiment on my part. What would happen if I made a Basil infusion? So I'm going to break with my previous format and more describe what happened, because it's not exactly what I expected. First I took a ball jar, lightly packed it with organic rinsed and dried basil. It wasn't packed tightly, but filled to the top with fresh leaves. Then I covered the leaves in rum. I watched the color and after a couple days I tried the infusion and it was nice, but entirely too weak. So after a week I tried it again and it was grotesque. Given the quality of the earlier flavor I decided that I just needed to change my approach.

So this time I started another jar of basil and checked it each day. As soon as I saw the leaves start to break down I took them out and replaced them with a batch of fresh leaves. After two infusions of the same alcohol I had a finished product that was both flavorful enough and tasted like basil and not the bottom of an alcoholic compost heap. When you opened the jar it smelled almost like marinara sauce. A few people at the first liqueur class thought the same.

What is so delightful about the basil infusion is that it mixes with so many different flavors. It blends very well with fruit, much like a light basil chiffonade in a melon salad. At the same time the herbal notes bring a delightful brightness to a gin martini.

It's a very different approach to the sort of flavor palette than most people think of when they think of possible infusions and the flavor honestly is too odd in the mouth to be the main element of a liqueur in my opinion, but a splash of it is an amazing accent to many other flavors. It does mix well with sweet notes and I would recommend white sugar syrup for using it in sweet liqueurs. That said an unsweetened infusion might be best for a dry martini or other similar applications.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Infusions: Tea

This is a mixture of all ingredients actually. There are more teas out there than any one person could ever possibly explore. A cold alcoholic infusion creates a very different profile from the sorts of flavors you get from tea with boiling water. It also provides a surprising punch of authentic flavor in drinks like "Long Island Iced Tea". Currently I am experimenting with a Black Apricot Tea, but for your first round unless you have something in the cupboard you really want to get rid of I suggest using a plain tea, just to get a feel for the flavor.

The tea infuses a very distinct tannin that is different from the woody tannins of cacao nibs and cinnamon. It is herbal and potentially more delicate. The Tea infuses into the alcohol very quickly, so you don't want to leave your infusion for more than a day, and quite honestly you may find a couple hours is all you need. The flavor takes to sweeteners, and all the traditional tea compliments. For inspiration I suggest wandering through the tea aisle at your local specialty shop. Tea blenders and marketers have been exploring the culinary possibilities of this ingredient since the beginning of time, and have a mass of possibilities that you can easily pick up and apply when blending infusions to make a custom liqueur.

Ratios: As with normal tea a little bit will do. A couple tablespoons will infuse a large mason jar quite nicely, though ratios will vary depending on the product you're using. Try to get large whole leave teas though, as you will draw out the bitter aspects of the finely ground teas used in bags very quickly and if you use a fine loose leaf tea you're likely to end up with sediment problems in your final product that you'll have to rack out. In terms of turbinado sugar or regular sugar that can easily go either way, or a pure green tea honey liqueur could be exceptionally nice. This one honestly could be an entire blog unto itself.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Infusions: Strawberry

I've been focusing on the spice and nut side of things, and I thought it would be nice to take a jump over to fruit, just for a change of pace. Strawberry is a classic flavor in all senses, and there are certainly quality strawberry flavored drinks out in the market already. All of that said there are several benefits to making your own. The most significant one is that commercial strawberry infusions tend to be exceptionally sweet because of the American palette. If you infuse your own liqueur you have the leeway to control the sugar content, and to use heirloom strawberries from your local farmer's market which can be much more flavorful, and much more tart.

Ratios: With berries ratios are a little harder to establish because one strawberry might be very small, but be almost entirely flavorful red flesh, while another strawberry might be huge, but most of the mass might be white pith which provides nothing to the flavor. So as a general rule, I start by removing the green top of my freshly rinsed strawberries. Then I fill a jar with them and pack them down lightly, but not enough to bruise the fruit. Then I barely cover the fruit with my alcohol. This insures maximum flavor, and with fruit you can't really over brew the flavor. You can leave strawberries in the liquor almost indefinitely with no adverse effects to the finished product.

Flavor Profile: This infusion tastes like strawberry. Pretty much all of the base flavor is imbued into the alcohol. It is slightly tart, very bright and exceptionally light. It goes very well with fizzy things, and all other fruits. It does not pair well with turbinado syrup, or other sweeteners that have their own distinct taste. I generally pair strawberry with simple white syrup.

Infusions: Black Pepper

Black Pepper is a classic home infusion in vodka. It was one of the first infusions I did, inspired by everyone's favorite quirky ridiculous cooking show, Good Eats. Unlike most of the other infusions I will be posting here it is not an ideal match for sugar syrup, though it can be an excellent accent to several liqueurs. Traditionally it was used as a flavor profile in Bloody Mary mix. It is also an amazing accent in a dirty martini, though I have to say I am a gin martini man I can easily put a few drops of this in one of mine and it's quite delightful.

Ratios: Alton Brown recommends 2 Tbsp of slightly cracked black peppercorns for a 750 ml bottle of vodka. I generally do double that because I really like my mix to kind of kick you in the fact so you only need a couple drops of it. That is mostly because I don't use it as a main flavor, so I want to be able to maximize the volume of my other flavors in whatever mix I'm making.

Flavor profile: PEPPER!!! With a lot of infusions the alcohol pulls out a specific set of flavor molecules from your source ingredient that are volatile and prone to dissolving in alcohol. Black Pepper's flavor is made up almost entirely of these volatile chemicals. It's why grinding pepper in advance is such a terrible idea and almost everyone has a pepper grinder at this point. In alcohol everything about the pepper that is sharp and spicy and intense is emphasized and made stronger. In terms of flavors that are good for pairing the sky is the limit. I had never paired it with fruit until my first liqueur workshop and a couple of the participants mixed it with peach and strawberry. Their finished liqueur was absolutely amazing. A splash is good for cooking, and it's amazing with any "harsh" style cocktails especially ones with herbal notes. A few drops are also pretty amazing with cocoa flavored items, much like black pepper brownies. Really the sky is the limit.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Little Discussion of Simple Syrup

So I jumped right into discussing infusion flavors and the dynamics they add to a liqueur without talking about the almost forgettable ingredient of simple syrup. There are many flavored liquors in the world, but a liqueur or cordial is partially sugar. In most cases that means simple syrup. The ratio in most liqueurs between alcohol infusion and simple syrup is 50/50. A skilled home liqueur maker might tweak those ratios to get a more specific effect, but it's a good starting point.

There are two types of simple syrup that I tend to use in my house. The first and easiest to make is plain simple syrup made with white sugar. The recipe for said syrup is:

1 part white sugar
1 part water
boil until completely dissolved

There really isn't much to say about plain simple syrup other than I primarily use it to pair with light fruity liqueurs. Strawberry, lemon, peach and similarly delicate flavors.

The second type of syrup I make is Turbinado syrup. The recipe for that is follows:

1 part organic evaporated cane juice
1 part water

Bring ingredients to a boil, then reduce to a steady simmer. A film will develop on the top of the syrup that is very similar to the scum that develops on the top of chicken stock. Skim the froth off with a spoon or similar implement and discard. Continue to simmer until the syrup is completely clear and froth is no longer developing. Depending on how much syrup you are making, and how long this process takes (different turbinado sugars have different concentrations of impurities) you might need to add some extra water to compensate for the moisture that boils off.

This syrup is nice because it is easy to find organic turbinado sugar. Turbinado also brings a nice earthy roundness to the flavor party. This syrup pairs well with cacao, coffee, vanilla, nut infusions other earthy flavors.

The other thing you can do with these syrups is do a heat steeped flavor infusion instead of infusing your flavor in the alcohol. Ginger works very well for this, as does lemon zest. I try to keep ginger turbinado syrup around whenever I can. The water and sugar infusion draws very different flavors out of your ingredients because of different solubility profiles in the flavor molecules. A ginger syrup can add a very different flavor profile to a liqueur than a ginger alcohol infusion. So it's something to consider experimenting with. I recommend infusions that do not involve fruit as they will add pulp to the syrup and that will effect the liqueur texture.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Infusions: Cinnamon

So when I say Cinnamon here I mean cassia. For most people they are the same thing, but in truth original ceylon cinnamon has a very different flavor. I'm hoping to get some ceylon in the near future, but it will depend on when Mountain Rose herbs puts in their next order.

Cassia Cinnamon is what most people are accustomed to. It is the bark of the Cinnamomum aromaticum plant. It is the strongest and most fiery of the cinnamon varieties, and is also the most common cinnamon spice in America and Canada. Most cinnamon liqueurs made commercially have a very strong fiery flavor which looses the subtle nuance that the whole bark can bring to a flavor profile. To get this effect many of the least expensive schnapps and liqueurs only use artificial cinnamon to get the fire to the exclusion of everything else. In many cases the initial infusion of cinnamon may be distilled to remove the resins and complex compounds and keep only the most volatile of the cinnamon flavors that will survive the distillation with the alcohol. Cinnamon brings a very strong tannin profile, and if left in the liquor long enough will actually thicken the infusion with no simple syrup at all because of the resins in the cinnamon bark. So be very careful about your infusion times. While the cinnamon tannin can be very nice and I know several people who enjoy it, it can also get out of hand, so test regularly and stop when the tannins are at the level you enjoy them.

Ratios: Because the strength of stick cinnamon can vary so much I recommend going very heavy with your intial infusion and if it is stronger than you want then you can add additional pure rum to the mixture and reach the flavor balance you are going for. I would break up 4-6 sticks of cinnamon (depending on size) for a ball far sized infusion. More like 10 sticks of cinnamon for a full bottle. The reason I recommend breaking the sticks is so you don't have to use more alcohol than necessary to cover them in a ball jar. If you are just putting the sticks into a full bottle of rum then breaking them is not necessary. You will have a delightful quality infusion in 24 hours. If you want a strong tannin profile you can go as far as you want without any bitter or unpleasant side flavors. Just be aware that the tannin profile of this infusion can become very intense.

Flavor Profile: You will have fire, and wood, and earth. This is a very grounding flavor despite its fiery front. It pairs very well with coffee, other spices, nut liqueurs, and some fruits as well. Left just as in infusion it is also delightful in many desserts. Though I recommend a brief low tannin infusion for dessert applications.

Infusions: Cacao Nibs

So as a followup to my work on the infusions-liqueurs class I am going to be posting some of the things that we infused. I'm hoping to expand my experimentation with liqueur making and post the success stories . . . as well as the failures here. First is a classic in our house.

Cacao Nibs are the unprocessed bean that is used to make chocolate. The bean is generally crushed into small pieces that are a few millimeters wide. As an ingredient it has a very nutty flavor that is vaguely reminiscent of chocolate, but really has a profile all its own. When made into a liqueur the effect is somewhere between Creme de Cacao and Amaretto. There is no real way to describe it adequately, but it is something you will never find in a liquor store and is well worth investing in doing at home. This ingredient does have a tannin profile. If you do not mind the tannins then this can be left to infuse for weeks. If you want to more closely monitor the tannin development then test a teaspoon of the infusion mixed with a teaspoon of simple syrup periodically after the third day of infusion. Strain when you like the finished effect.

Ratios: Fill the container you are going to infuse in a quarter to a third full of nibs. Then fill the container with a clear liquor like Rum or Vodka. I personally use Don Q whenever I can find it. It's a bit smoother than Bacardi, but tends to be less expensive in America. The important thing is for the liquor to be smooth and not really bring anything to the party that might interfere with the flavors of the nibs.

Flavor Profile of Final Infusion: Nutty with a light but earthy finish. Mild to moderate tannins depending on how long the alcohol is given to infuse. This pairs well with coffee, vanilla, cinnamon and other spices that go well with nuts or chocolate. It is also an ideal candidate for turbinado simple syrup. In addition using golden liquors for this infusion could be quite nice. A delicate whiskey or golden rum can add some additional complex woody flavors that could make for a delightful final liqueur. Don't use anything with too much burn though or you will overwhelm the cacao profile.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Elixers and Liquers Playshop at Edible Alchemy

This past weekend I taught a playshop at Edible Alchemy on making custom liqueurs at home. The class went incredibly well. I learned a great deal from the process, both in terms of teaching and about food. I learned that peach and black pepper go shockingly well together. I learned that sometimes the person with the least previous knowledge on a subject has the most to teach you because they can approach a topic without pre-conceptions.

The other thing I discovered while doing research for the class is that there is very little information available on making custom infusions and liqueurs at home. There are several sites that have recipes for simple single ingredient infusion based liqueurs. There are a few recipes out there designed to re-create Drambuie, or Kaluha. However, finding recipes based on innovative flavor combinations, or posted information on how to go about innovating in this field on your own is very limited. Given how many people take part in the much more complicated process of home brewing beer and wines I have to say I was very surprised at the lack of comprehensive information on the topic.

Home brewing liqueurs is very simple and incredibly rewarding. Purchasing decent sweet infusions in a liquor store can be an incredibly expensive endeavor, and while it is unlikely that you will be able to make a perfect Dissarono at home, or recreate Chartreuse, there is a lot of leeway to make unique fruit infusions from the bounty of your home garden. It is also incredibly easy to make liquors out of ingredients that aren't commonly utilized in the commercial liquor industry like fresh ginger, or cacao nib. The zest these creations can give to a dessert, or a custom drink (basil liqueur gin martini with a lemon zest garnish. Just saying) gives you the ability to connect with your beverages and make a more personal investment in the drinks you provide your guests at your next party.

While I am primarily concerned with this as a culinary obsessive this does very easily lend itself to pagan pursuits. While we often provide wine as an offering in ritual there is something to be said for having an offering of an infusion that started in the live giving cradle of your garden, and you infused for a lunar month, and then carefully aged over the next lunar month before bringing to your ritual. These skills lie us to what we consume, and therefore tie us to the land and more.

My partner has been studying alchemy, and over the past several months began practicing with some of the distillation and refinement of alcohol and more complex reagent creation methods. For the truly invested practitioner one could brew their own wine, then distill it into a strong slightly fruity spirit working with energy intentionally at every step of the process. Then when they had enough refined alcohol they could pull the infusion from their garden and begin the elixir process before carefully blending their work for offering in a ritual. While this process is certainly more involved than any witch I know would probably invest in such acts empower our workings, and our sense of connection to what we do.

I am hoping to do more work in this vein, and I will be teaching another class at Edible Alchemy on May 19th. The focus is entirely culinary, for now my pagan musings remain here but I would encourage anyone interested to attend. I am going to try to make quite a few more infusions than I had at this last class and I had quite a bit with me for the most recent class. I am also thinking about starting to put my work together and post it online. It should be exciting.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Food and Power and Magick and Power

Thesis: Magick is about power, and leveraging that power to shape and form the world we live in to the world the practitioner wants to live in, and food is a medium of power leveraged by many to that end.

This might seem somewhat extreme. Very few people think about food in these terms. Generally food in our lives is thought of in terms of what we can get our hands on quickly and conveniently enough to eat before the next event in our overbooked schedule starts. This simple human experience defines everything about why food is a medium of power though, and why we are the ones being controlled.

Now before I jump into how I think we can leverage food as a medium of power I want to spend some time defending the position. I'm going to do this because I'm sure I'm on the verge of loosing some people. Food is power?!?!? What is that drivel all about?

If you stop and look at the average expenditures on food in America you see that we spend roughly 12% of our income on food. The other large expenditures are housing, transportation, and retirement expenditures. Now one thing I would like to point out about these numbers is that this is an average. If there is one thing the 99% conversation has shown us, it's that averages don't really tell us anything about the average person. So the person who is bringing in a median income of somewhere in the 25-26K range the amount of money spent on food is probably much much more, and if one has a family at that income then you have to purchase the most affordable food available.

Now most people would assume that means people who are in this low income bracket must cook for themselves. Here is where things get interesting though and you begin to see the food as power dynamics at play. For many individuals food that must be cooked is not accessible. I recently watched Food. Inc. and one of the pieces of the film profiles a low income family who is struggling to get by on a very limited budget. The father drives for a living (they sadly don't provide additional detail on what exactly this means) and has diabetes. The mother also indicates she has an incredibly oppressive schedule and is unable to take the time to cook for her family.

Now I could go into great detail in this post about the conclusions that they came to about this family in Food Inc., but that's not really what concerns me. What struck me when I watched this family is how similar they were to my family when I was growing up in many ways, yet how different their approach to their difficulties were. We had very similar income and time restraints, and my mother exercised strict control of the checkbook. Food was made in a crock pot, or included simple baked casserole style dishes. Protein was often tuna from a can, or the absolute cheapest cut of chicken from the store. That's just how it was. She demanded that we have balanced diets though. That included frozen veg because it didn't have additives, and it's what she could afford that was healthy. In the Food Inc. segment the family compared Burger King, and it's affordability to fresh pears at the store, or a head of fresh broccoli. They looked at the head of fresh broccoli at a dollar a pound and compared it to a hamburger from Burger King, like someone was going to sit down and consume just a head of broccoli as a meal.

I have run into this all or nothing, fresh, beautiful, perfect, often organic produce is unattainable so I have to eat fast food mentality in my own life experiences as well. This is where food truly begins to be power, in terms of power over other people. We are at our core dependent on what we eat for health, for energy, for thought and vitality. If a person knows how to leverage food to bring out that vitality in one's self then they can do nearly anything. I'll use the burger king example. At the beginning of the profile of the family from Food Inc. they are driving through a Burger King drive in lane and they order 4 burgers, 3 regular drinks, and a large drink for the father. This amounts to somewhere around $11 after tax. Now I'll use a comparison meal my mother made for us regularly when I was growing up. Lentil soup. A pot of lentil soup might have a $1.30 bag of lentil's in it. A few carrots and a few ribs of celery along with an onion. The carrots would be about $0.50 fresh, the celery would also be about $0.50 and the onion would be maybe a dollar. A can of tomatoes to throw in for an even $1 and we'll allot $0.50 for spices and general seasoning like garlic and dried herbs. We now have a pot of food that comes in just under 5 dollars that will provide dinner for said family of 4. Toss in some iced tea or heck we'll even allow them the soda and you get to maybe 6 or 7 bucks. The lentil soup takes maybe 20 minutes of prep in the morning before going in a crock pot.

To look at the meal above it might seem obvious, but you have to look at the $1 bag of carrots and the $1.20 bunch of celery and understand that you're designing multiple meals off that veg. You have to be able to strategize a menu, and know how to use up all the food you buy without wasting any of it. These things aren't necessarily difficult but they do require something that has been all but lost in the lower income segment of the American population, a dynamic knowledge of cooking. I'm not talking about Food Network cooking either. I'm talking about the kind of cooking you learn growing up watching your mother and grandmother. I'm talking about sticking scraps of vegetable in a bag in the freezer to make veg stock with later, and old recipes that sustained us in the past. Our great grandparents didn't have McDonald's, and pre-packaged convenience food. Those things came about later, and oh how they have changed things.

The loss of knowledge passed down through family experience has resulted in a generation of parents who can't really cook for their children, or themselves. They can learn to cook for themselves, but where will they find this knowledge? At this point the most accessible cooking information is on the internet, and in old re-runs from early Food Network, and sometimes in publications like Food and Wine or Vegetarian Times. The problem with all of this is that these guides are often driven by a desire for excellence, not sustainability. On food network they will tell you to get "only the best ingredients" and use "only the best parts" of those ingredients. This results in profound food waste, and a psychological effect where if you can't afford "the best" then you're somehow not doing it right. This discourages many people from pursuing home made food, because of the "perfect or go home" message that is wrapped up in so many cooking shows. The accessible, mistake prone, but perfectly acceptably delicious days of Julia Child are behind us at this point, with no expected return.

The push for excellence sells, because people like glamor, and as with all things in our modern society money does the talking. Unfortunately the dis empowering impact it has on people is more than just a subtle side effect. When you look back at the impact food availability has on lower income families, and consider that the leisure time to pursue something like cooking as a hobby, where you might take the time to perfect your food is truly a luxury that is not afforded to many.

Now I've made a small argument about the power of food, and the power of cooking knowledge which is now so heavily ensconced in the culture of "eliteness". The real impact comes in how those things interact relative to the health impacts of our diets. Modern medicine often does not look at someone who has a diet induced illness and push a diet based fix. This is partially because Americans are often bad at changing our habits, so we have invested the past several decades in making it chemically possible to maintain poor personal health behavior while we continue to draw breath. Setting aside the arguments about the quality of life on multiple medications they are profoundly expensive. For many once you have spent the money on the personal pharmacy required to maintain an American lifestyle there is little left to invest in a dynamic diet, especially in the absence of a strong culinary education (I use this term in the broadest sense, not in the academic context).

So thus far we have seen how food can keep people down, keep them unhealthy, and ultimately maximize their role in society as a constant stream of revenue that could otherwise go elsewhere. Food's intrinsic place in this process also gives it the power to remove all of us from this particular enslavement.

The only thing standing between us an truly healthy, enriching, empowering food is knowledge and a willingness to give up a little bit of convenience for great gains. We can each choose to take the radical step of offering to teach someone else how to cook for themselves, or to make truly wonderful food for someone who has only ever had pre-packaged space meat. We can also take the time to engage our family in the craft of food and the rituals of nourishment.

Rituals around eating open doors that I have seen very few pagans walk through. Many of us grew up Christian, though a few lucky individuals may have been raised by pagan parents. As such the rituals of eating might seem intrinsically Christian in nature, the prayer before meal, the bowing of heads. Let me assure you that they are not. As pagans it is important to remind ourselves that many of the rituals we associate with Christianity have much older roots, and we must be willing to reclaim our connection to those roots. While the traditional meal time prayers of judo-christian households focus on thanking God, and a simple pagan prayer might thank the gods and the Earth, in truth the potential of this act as a source of self empowerment goes much farther. Here I must point out the difference between the worshiping pagan, and the witch. For a worshiping pagan giving thanks and honoring the gods is truly the root of the the meal time observance, and it is a ritual well worth taking the time to perform. Just as much of our food system is hidden from view, there is also much that can be hidden in this simple meal time act as well.

The food in front of you at any given meal represents the cumulative energy of countless workers, spirits of the land, and depending on your paradigm deities. A meal is not a time just to give thanks to them, but a time to see the path the food took to reach you, and as part of giving thanks invoking the spirits and energies which contributed to the nourishment you are about to take into you. This magickal act is empowering in two very different ways. On a spiritual level taking such power into yourself is a potent magickal act, and it is an ideal time to regularly engaging your talents as a will worker, and engage more completely with the energies and spirits which not only surround you naturally, but which are brought to you day in and day our by our strange modern world. This also evokes a place within the practitioner where one becomes aware of what one is consuming. One becomes aware of the impact of their food, form a health standpoint, from a cultural standpoint, from a societal wellness standpoint (I don't just mean human raising of animals, issues of humaneness in our food extend far more profoundly to farm laborers and the communities they are part of). This engagement, this moment of reflection in and of itself empowers us to make conscious choices about our food, and though even the briefest regular meditation to begin to understand how our engagement with food empowers or dis empowers ourselves, and can empower or dis empower those around us. These moments are important, and can make a huge difference in our lives.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sorry I've Been Gone - Now Back to the Show

So it's been a while since I posted. Right after getting started with the new direction of the blog I was distracted by my rather strong obsession with the Occupy movement, and then a new job in a commercial kitchen. Since taking that position I've been working 50-55 hour weeks, which has left me with far less time for blogging. I'm trying to pair everything back down so I can complete some of the projects that are really important to me. Turns out I can't do absolutely everything, but this project really is important to me. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I want to get back to working on my pondering about the connection between food, magick, and us as human beings.

So the most profound activity I've been a part of in the past couple months related to food is working at Big Jones. Let me just say that it's been an eye opening experience. I'm working there part time, while maintaining somewhat reduced hours still telecommuting for Indiana University. I sought out the position at Big Jones because I have wanted to become more involved in cooking from a professional standpoint for quite a while. What I have discovered from the experience is . . . well not what I expected.

First let me talk about my history with food and why I have such a borderline obsession with what we put in our bodies. I started baking with my mother at the ripe young age of . . . I don't know. I actually have no idea what age I was because I have no solid memories of a time before my mother would put me in front of a bowl with a spoon and have me at least stir the dough. She did this because baking with my sister and I was important not because it helped her make cookies during the holidays, we in fact were a huge production liability until we were around 10 years old, but because it made us love the food we were making and appreciate what was going into it. There was no time of the year I looked forward to more than baking for the holidays, and to be honest that includes Christmas morning. Gifts are awesome, baking is better. That's just how I remember it.

So that's really the foundation of my views of food. It's about love and enrichment and connection and nurturing. Now let me talk about Big Jones. The Big Jones kitchen during a major service is a special slice of hell warmed up and served with delicate garnish right here in the real world. Now I don't want anyone reading this to think that I mean this as a criticism of Big Jones. I "knew" that's what I was walking into when I asked for a position at Big Jones. I put knew in quotation marks because I had seen many many people talk about commercial kitchens. I have read about what they are like, I have seen the TV shows, I met with and spoke with the chef multiple times before I was hired, and I have talked with other people who have worked in commercial kitchens. All of that is unquestionably true, but I put knew in quotation marks because none of that actually prepared me for being in a high end commercial kitchen.

The attention put into the food at Big Jones is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. They make their own jams, all their own pickles, their own charcuterie including Andouille, Tasso, Blood Sausage, Pate and other items as the chef decides to offer them. The staff at Big Jones even makes the Worcestershire sauce they use on the burgers. There is no product that is not elevated above what is available on the open market. I thought that this was exactly what I was looking for, and what I discovered was that while in many ways it fulfilled me in many ways it did not. What I found was that I was removed from people who had always been an integral part of the food equation for me. I live for that moment when I see someone experience something new while eating something I've created. Perhaps it's just the novelty of simple turbinado ginger syrup (which while I was already making ginger syrup the turbinado touch is straight from Big Jones), or eating an all vegan cous cous that has no recipe and being floored by the amount of flavor that I have achieved with no meat. I know in that moment that the world is better by the iota of one persons experience in a way it would not have been if I weren't here.

Even more important than that experience is teaching someone else to cook, to make and create for themselves. I have been teaching cooking workshops on and off since I was in college. In a restaurant kitchen, especially one like Big Jones where you are creating food that the customer cannot reasonably reproduce for themselves the separation we have from our food is strengthened. Almost everyone I know is dependent on restaurants, not just for the occasional indulgence in ethnic food outside their culinary skills, but for basic meals. Every time we consume food at a restaurant and think to ourselves that we could not possible do that at home that divide grows. Every dollar we give someone else to do for us what we could have done for ourselves is a dollar of power over our own existence we have given away. Ultimately I wanted to make a world that was less vulnerable to this phenomenon, not more vulnerable.

It is my hope that I can move towards culinary pursuits that do not provide for people, but inspire people to provide for themselves. In that vein I am going to be teaching two workshops at Edible Alchemy in March. One is on yeast doughs, and the other is on making your own liqueurs. Magick isn't just in what we make, but what we make the world. I haven't completely figured out what I'm going to be able to make the world, but I'll figure it out eventually.