Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bamboo Shoots

End of Spring in Brazil, the sun, the rain, the heat, the humidity bring new shoots of bamboo for our delight. It used to be my father´s job to harvest, to clean, to prepare, and even to cook the dish. I remember the last time he did it: he had kittens crawling on his shoulders as he worked. I tried to remember his steps, but failed on the important part, which was the preparation of the raw shoot into an edible one - to wash many times, boil with baking soda, to soak, and wash some more times. I rushed into cooking with basic Japaneses seasoning, so have it all very bitter to the point of burning my tongue. I read that cianidric acid can make us sick, but even some boiling would remove most of the acid. So later, I boiled in clean water, turned of the heat, and added a little bit of baking soda. Immediatly the water became dark browning yellow. I understood that it must the the reaction between acid and alcaline. I changed the water a few more times, tried a piece and it tasted while slightly bitter, but it definetely had some sweetness to it. It is almost like artichoke. Actually, the bottom of artichoke heart has the same texture as of bamboo shoot. The dish: I cut into thin strips the shoots, pork loin, ginger, green onions, and garlic. I stirred fry pork first with seasonings, removed it from the pan, and added a bit more peanut and sesame oil to fry the shoots. I seasoned them with a bit of sugar, soy sauce, and fish powder (Japanese seasoning). I returned the pork to the pan and let it combine for another minute. Voila. A quick Chinese dish eaten over rice. I will try some other recipes this week, as there are many shoots to be harvested and guests coming over to stay with us.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Soapmaking on Thursday

It´s like Sunday. The sun and the rain gave us a little break, making our Thursday be quiet, hazzy, quiet day. I actually started to make soap yesterday. I found a great recipe for household use, not totally from scratch, but it still feels like homemade. It takes 1 liter of liquid lye (lye solution at 50 Baume), 1 liter of coconut liquid soap, and 6 liters of reclaimed kitchen oil, properly filtered. I avoid using too smelly, dirty, stained, rancid or watery used oil. The biggest thing about this recipe is that it doesn´t require stirring (!)no, no, no!!!! That is the best news after Kitchen Aid mixer. All I have to do is to transfer the mixture from one bucket to another, only until it turns opaque, creamy, and homogenous, with no trace of oil. The recipe recommended 4 times of transferring, with the risk of the mixture hardening in the bucket. But, it may be for the type of lye solution, or the oil, or the temperature, or the humidity, or else, it took me about 12 pourings before the final pouring in the plastic rectangular container I usually use for molding soaps. I cut the soap today, not totally hardened, but enough to slide a knife with care. I ran a test and it showed a great foammy soap. Let me wait until it is cured for a final review on the product. The second soap I made (today) was my regular tallow-reclaimed kitchen oil-alcool trio I have published as a slide show on the blog and also on youtube. The stirring took a bit longer, about 5 to 10 minutes, opposed to 2 minutes on other times. I can´t say it is for the different brand of lye, the ingredients temperature, or the weather. It is warm and humid. I think days like these are not good for making soaps. Sunny, lightly breezy, and dry days must be better. Specially because the soap doesn´t sweat by drawing air moisture. The third soap is a toilette one. I had babassu kernel oil leftover from a previous experiment, as well as pomace olive oil. Flaxseed edible oil, rather unedible for its bitter taste, went to the mix as well. In order to lower the percentage of babassu oil, I added soybean oil, so it won´t get too brittle or harsh on the skin. I used a lye calculator provided on the internet (, which is very useful. I started stirring with a whisker, but soon used a hand mixer. The saponification took place in less than 5 minutes, turning the mixture opaque, very creamy, and dense. It was almost difficult to pour properly into a cardboard shoe box. So I left the soaps resting, and let´s see tomorrow...

Friday, January 4, 2013

Christmas Bread Panetone

Another quiet Christmas on the farm with my daughter away. But the days that preceeded Christmas, I baked panetone, an Italian round tall bread filled with candied fruits and raisins or with chocolate chips. My first attempt was a disaster. I followed a recipe which required a long rise, two days of work, just to have all the top burned by tucking it into a too hot an oven. I used a wood fired oven, and I still don´t know what´s the right temperature for each dish. The second panetone was filled with chocolate chip and topped with ganache. They turned out very velvety, moist, and delicious. This time I used a regular gas oven. The third recipe I chose to fill it with dulce de leche (some kind of hard caramel). I made a mistake on the amount of butter and again, it was a failure. The bread didn´t rise properly while baking. But I still could give to my neighbors. But I was decided to make one great panetone, so again, I was mixing the ingredients when my mother had a seizure so I had to put the dough into the fridge to run to the hospital. When I got back home at 1:30 a.m., I didn´t feel like cooking. So I proceeded next day, turning out a good panetone. The panetones and the two loaves on the photo are from this batch. I gave to my friends as Christmas gifts. I felt as I had done a great accomplishment. But I was still not happy with sweet breads, and wanted to bake one more panetone, a savory one, filled with some kind of beef jerky, properly de-salted, cooked, shredded and cooked with onions. This time, it was a success. The recipe asked for dark beer, milk powder and even kummel, which I didn´t find in the market. So it went without it. Again, I gave one to each of my three farmer friends. Panetone dough is different from all other breads I have made before, as the dough is quite sticky, with high hydration. It is thicker than cake mix and wetter than bread dough. It also takes a lot of butter and egg yolks, a typical holiday bread. Panetone with its orange-butter-vanilla aroma, fruits, chocolate, caramel, rich dough is a feast in itself. It is a kind of bread we can´t go without. It is a symbol of Christmas which for me exhale beauty, abundance, generosity, and love.

Mochi Making

Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice traditionally eaten on New Year´s Day. The mochi making process can be a ceremonial event or not. In my case, I made the way I thought to work. I soaked the rice overnight, drained it next day, and then ground it in an electric coffee grinder and put to cook in a microwave oven with a little bit of water. After about 6 minutes of cooking, I pounded it with either a wooden spoon or with my new Kitchen Aid. After a few minutes, I shaped it into 2 inch rounds. The rice cake itself is very bland, and I love it for the texture. I can fry in a little oil, and then season with soy sauce and sugar or boil in a soy sauce seasoned broth. This time I wanted to make daifuku, which is mochi filled with sweetened azuki bean paste I made from scratch. Not hard at all. I just soaked the beans overnight, cooked it, drained it a bit, and cooked with sugar. As I stir with a wooden spoon, the beans break turning into a paste. Yummy! My interest for Japanese cooking became revived by watching animes, where the presentation of traditional food is quite common. Then, I search online for recipes and ideas. I have enjoyed on youtube "cooking with dog", "runnyrunny999", and "delicious nippon". I am still to make some dango, which ingredient I can´t find where I live, and I believe, some found in Brazil is imported. I may try to make the rice flour myself and make the dumplings later. Let´s see...