Saturday, October 31, 2009

Malty Glaze

Malta Goya is a beverage made from malt sugar and carbonated water and hops. It's an odd variety of soda pop not familiar to most in the U.S. but sold in several other countries. There's no alcohol in it but if you opened it and added yeast it would turn into beer. Before it's converted to alcohol, malt sugar has a flavor in addition to its sweetness. (It's the flavor of Grape Nuts cereal, as a matter of fact, which is toasted malted barley and has nothing to do with grapes or nuts.) It is that often hard to define (until now!) flavor that makes a malted milk shake taste different from a non-malted milk shake.

Since I wanted to taste this, I bought some recently. I don't drink many Cokes or Pepsi or drinks like that, and the Malta Goya tastes a bit like a cola but the malt flavor is too much for me even though I like that flavor, if that makes any sense. I also realized I could cook with it, and although I would just as well buy some malt sugar from the beer-making supply store, this was on the shelf of the grocery store where I was.

One of my back-burner projects is figure out if malt sugar is just the right kind of sugar for any particular dishes so today when it was time to glaze this ham I popped open a bottle and reduced it down to a thin syrup on the stove. I added a teaspoonful of prepared mustard and glazed the ham, which had cloves stuck in the centers of the scored fat squares. After the final half-hour in the oven the glaze was just right and the ham done.

It made a very tasty glaze; my instincts were good. It gets competition from maple syrup, honey, molasses, caramel - all respectable contenders for tasty ham glazes. This malt glaze should at least puzzle some sophisticates, provide some conversation and please the palates of some pretty persnickity people.

As I was finishing this article I thought of making an ice-cream soda or float with Malta Goya. The hops in it might foil that plan. Would any flavor ice cream soda work with the hops? Pineapple sherbet? Goya has a suggestion.

I really wish my local "health" food store carried malt sugar... without the hops.

I think I just have to drive out to the beer supply place and buy some malt sugar and maybe some malt syrup. That's where I got some a year or so ago for homemade malted milkshakes. Rather than search for Carnation Malted Milk I will purchase my own milk, thank you, and add malt sugar to my milk - or my chocolate ice cream - or my waffle batter - as needed. I think that will be best.

A product I never tried, Ovaltine, is supposed to be an amalgam of malt sugar and dry milk, plus vitamins and dried eggs or something along those lines. I will pass on that as well.

All this is making me think of adding malt sugar to certain smoothie recipes.

And one of these days I will make some more beer with it, which is what most people use it for in the first place!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Squash or Pumpkin - Squmpkin?

An orange Hubbard. About 6" across, 7" from stem to stern.

Squmpkin: I wasn't the first to think of this word. It yielded up on Google several interesting things: A look inside a ripe Blue Hubbard squash, an obituary of a breeder, and a picture of the biggest pumpkin I have ever seen. Also some nice hybrids seen in another plant breeder's video. I like his attitude.

I plan on roasting this particular calabash like any winter squash, and have it with maybe a pat of butter. I want to taste it pretty much plain, to analyze the flavor.

UPDATE: On the left, just after I cut it. (I saved the seeds, incidentally, removed and washed the pulp off, and toasted / roasted them in the toaster oven with butter and salt. As always the husk is pure roughage but the seed inside is tasty and nutritious.) On the right, after I cooked it in foil for about 35 minutes in a 350ยบ F. oven.

This tastes good. It rivals a very good butternut squash and was better, and oranger, than the average butternut squash that is usually available lately. More beta carotene never hurt. I had half of it with a pat of butter; no salt. (I'm usually a salt-user.) This squmpkin would make a very good pie. Thumbs up!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Those Pluggers...

Or, be careful what you wish for.

Pumpkins - The REAL story

The upper right photo is considered a "pumpkin." The lower left photo is a "butternut squash."
Pumpkins. Never thought enough about 'em. Never made a whole lot of pumpkin pies. I have made "pumpkin pie" from butternut squash, and it was very tasty. And I've had pumpkin pie made from big Jack o' lantern pumpkins that seemed flavorless and stringy, too. I knew pumpkin and butternut squash were probably related, because I saw some pumpkins once at a roadside stand the same color as butternut squash. And I've had 'aha" moments in the past, such as when I realized a cucumber was just a melon, not a "vegetable."

"Pumpkin" is a concept. In fact, in Australia any winter squash is deemed a "pumpkin" no matter its looks, according to Wikipedia. And many other cultures don't place spherical orange squashes in a special category at all. A calabash is a calabash, it seems.

Most of my experience with the squash family has been growing squash, which I have bad luck with (squash borers); and cooking and eating squash. I like crook necked yellow squash, preferably with a few warts on them, but not overly large. Cooked with onion. And acorn squash. And lately I eat butternut squash often. Roasted, with or without butter. Salt.

But I didn't really get it. All these things - squash, gourds, pumpkins, calabash - are basically the same vegetable. I knew this intellectually, but I didn't ever think it through.
A lot of people will tell you that the pumpkins used for Jack o' lanterns are "the wrong kind" or "the wrong variety" for cooking with. At first I thought that is imprecise. Because what I have always known is that there is an ideal size for each kind of squash. A huge yellow squash is too tough, too seedy, and not good. A yellow squash that is too small and young will have no flavor. And the big orange spherical pumpkins have exceeded that ideal size.

The solution may be simple, I thought: Cook with smaller pumpkins. I thought there probably is a loss of flavor when pumpkins are bred and cultivated for large size only. In general the small pumpkins should taste better. But this wasn't exactly right.

Winter squashes, including pumpkins, have been bred differently, and should be always fully matured by the time they are picked. Jack o' lantern pumpkins have been bred for size. Other winter squashes and pumpkins have been bred for taste. Some pumpkins have been bred for large seeds, and some varieties have been developed specifically for the seed harvest, with no hulls growing on the seeds!

Unlike my usual habits, I have shamelessly ripped off these photos from the internet. Maybe I should photograph my own illustrations like I usually do. I apologize for the appropriation of these images.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ham Pie

Ham pie is a concept. To me the crust is unique. I am unsure of the traditional names for this. It's a meat and vegetable gravy topped by cheese biscuits and roasted in the oven until the tops of the biscuits are done and the undersides are fully cooked like well-prepared dumplings.

This particular version has cubes of a homemade amateur sort of prosciutto cotto made of pork loin with maple and hickory flavors, which was then smoked and then cooked later four hours at low heat in pork fat and pork gelatin. I recommend ham, though, as a rule.
This has been around the family for a while. My brother and I conduct mock skirmishes on its proper preparation, and our mother weighs in too. It is from a recipe she found and developed. It became a repeat item. So I decided to see what the internet has to offer, and I find there are two popular versions. One has broccoli and the other green bell peppers. This, using bell peppers, is the version we make.

Every time one makes it there are certain deviations, major or minor. Todays deviations are, I used a red bell plus two fresh poblano peppers instead of green bell peppers, a little extra celery, Swiss cheese biscuits, the homemade prosciutto, and too much thyme. I had run out of marjoram, one of my favorite comfort-food spices. Marjoram often loves a cream gravy.

Light roux, sauted ham cubes, onion, celery, diced green bell peppers; add chicken stock or boullon, milk, butter, garlic. Make the stocky gravy with everything in it. (Barbarians or anyone in a hurry add a can of cream of chicken soup or cream of celery soup, even, to take the place of most of the gravy-making steps.)

Make a recipe of homemade biscuit dough, add grated cheese, usually aged cheddar. Or Swiss, etc. In a pan suitable for oven put everything and add the biscuits (I spoon them on) on top of the hot "everything and gravy."

As you see I made everything in a big iron skillet on the stove, then added the biscuit dough and placed the whole hot thing in the already hot oven.

I make my biscuits with butter. I grate the cold butter with my grater, then grate in whatever cheese I want in my cheese biscuits. Then I finish. (There are biscuit recipes somewhere on the internet but not in this article today!)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mentally Impoverished, Wrecked, Ruined, Facebooked

Achtung, time for a new post! This will be an ultimately empty, shallow, Twitter-like post devoid of any inspiration. It is because I joined Facebook recently despite this. Now I am damaged goods.

Not a total loss, but I fear for what it has done to my normal incisive self. I am even now more self-absorbed than previously. It has become, temporarily I hope, for the present, all about me.

In the spirit of things I have posted a picture of me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pankoesque Breading, Shocking Dip

Imagine this spaghetti-sauce-covered slice of eggplant flipped over, coated on the other side, and then fried.
Making eggplant Parmesan again, I decided to alter my recipe in two ways. First, since everybody is raving about the superiority of panko bread crumbs, I decided to push some saltines through my kitchen screen which has a lot bigger holes than my regular sieves. Easy enough if you have the larger sieve, which I do.

I am becoming convinced a modern versatile kitchen needs several sizes of sieves. I have already used mine to sort nutmeats for various recipes. If the nut pieces don't go through, they need a bit more breakage.

My normal breading for eggplant is a mixture of flour, a bit of cornbread mix, and cracker crumbs, plus a lot of garlic powder and salt, pepper, and thyme or oregano. The panko-sized crumbs were a new thing and I liked the looks of it. I usually pushed my crackers through my fine standard sieve, which does make a tasty breading with good texture. Most people actually achieve roughly the same fine texture by rolling their crackers with a rolling pin. Still, the panko people had me wondering. So along with the other ingredients, I mixed the coarser sized cracker crumbs.

The other new thing was a technique I saw on Diners Drive-ins and Dives. Somebody breaded fried chicken by first dipping it in, instead of a milk and egg dip or similar, a dip of barbecue sauce! Then they dipped it in the breading. My jaw dropped open! I never thought to do that! So today's dip was into the same spaghetti sauce I am going to use to assemble my eggplant Parmesan.

I dipped every piece of eggplant slice into that spaghetti sauce and then into the breading mix. I fried them in hot Canola oil.

The results were excellent. I am having to fight the urge to eat them all before I assemble the final dish. The tomato sauce did not cause the eggplant to blacken or anything, and the spice of the sauce is built in to the final product.

Sure, there will be more sauce added later. But I saved a step, by not having to mess with eggs and milk. I had spaghetti sauce to handle anyway. And the taste is better than my former method. I think I will try this with squash, maybe okra, and who knows what.

My eggplant Parmesan is a layer of elbow macaroni (yeah, how cheap can I go?) then the layer of sliced fried eggplant, then some sauted yellow tomato slices, a bunch of grated Parm, then the store-bought spaghetti sauce. About 10 minutes before it's done I'll toss on some more grated Parm. I figured about 25 to 45 minutes at 325° F. total time in the oven. 48 minutes did it.

UPDATE: A friend has told me her grandmother used plain yellow mustard to make the crumbs stick to her fried fish, notably catfish! Boy howdy!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Toxic Instruments

War is a toxic asset. More to the point, it is a complex derivative. That is, lots of horrible stuff spread out over a lot of contributors so no one person can take much blame.

Chicken Soup

About 75 cents worth of chicken, and the carrots were a super deal. I don't think the whole thing cost over $4.14 and will feed two people for at least day, or one for two days. I made a lot, about two gallons. This is an informal attempt to think along the lines of the $15 per week per person food contest. I remember the carrots were definitely on sale, and I used a lot of them. The chicken was about $1.50 per lb. for a mess of legs & thighs and I used a lot of it already in another dish. The bell pepper was on sale also, I think $3 for three peppers (a red, a green, and a yellow!) and I used half a yellow pepper only. There is a homegrown poblano in there that was half red and half green. One drop / glop of Dave's Insanity Sauce for fire. Some old miso, and some lemon juice also. Lots of spices in small amounts: 3 whole allspice seeds I then ground up, a little garam masala, some nutmeg. Plus regular pepper and Accent (my new kick) and some chicken bouillon. And a cup of rice. How could I forget? Easy. I forgot to mention the celery I put in too.