Sorbet can be traced back as far as 3000 B.C.E. Somewhere in Asia, some crazy geniuses were mixing crushed fruit with ice. A bit later in Egypt, pharaohs offered their guests fruit juices mixed with ice to beat the heat. Later still, fine cuisine loving Italians used sorbet as a palate cleanser in between courses. Eventually, it morphed into the gorgeous, healthier-cousin-of-ice-cream it is today. I would like to thank everyone involved. You personally helped get this spoonful of grapefruit sorbet into my mouth.
Sands of flavour
The Cruel Realities of Kopi Luwak (a.k.a. Poo Coffee) + Adventures in Coffee Reduction
You may have noticed my most recent obsession with Bali and the images I took there. It’s true. The plant life, ocean, natural landscape, food and general gorgeousness of Bali have really helped to inspire me this winter. Though the photos have thus far not included a recipe, they have all been leading up to this post.
I have been pretty fascinated with Kopi Luwak for some years now. Ever since I’d heard it was considered the most expensive beverage on the planet and was basically cleaned up cat poo, there was no turning this experience junkie around.
I enjoy thinking about the beginnings of foods. For example, who decided to eat blue cheese for the first time? Why did they think it would be a good idea? Who did all the fieldwork needed to figure out which mushrooms are edible and which would melt their insides? Why was it worth it to them? Who decided that soured milk, or yogurt, was ok to eat? And of course, who decided to pick up the droppings of a civet cat because they thought it would make an extra delicious espresso? I know many food traditions have been discovered out of need, but come on.
Kopi luwak got its beginnings in just that way. The civet, a cat like creature native to Indonesia, eats the choicest, ripest coffee beans as part of its diet. The beans then ferment in their digestive tract and come out whole because the civets are unable to digest them. Then, some people decided it would be a great idea to collect the wild civet poo, clean and roast the beans and call it a delicacy. A rare and expensive beverage. While in Bali, I made it a priority to seek kopi luwak out. My guide in Ubud brought me to an agro tourism farm called Bali Pulina. I was warmly greeted as soon as I walked onto the property and was given a small tour to show what they grew and produced. The place was beautiful. Several photos from my previous posts were taken there, including flowers, spices and one of the many amazing rice terraces that Ubud is known for.
In their little café, I was offered a free tasting of the beverages they produce and a fantastic overlooking view of the rice terrace. I sipped the teas, coffees and cocoas, tasting and enjoying them individually and comparing the results. They were all lovely, but I was far too focused on getting to the shop to buy luwak coffee. I finally got some. I brought it back to Korea and drank the shit out of that shit coffee. It produced a nutty, farmy coffee that was quite pleasant. It was exciting to compare it to the normal coffee I keep around the house and try it with different sugars and milks.
Unfortunately, with the slightest bit of research, I discovered information that made me regret having made my purchase. I found out that farmed civet coffee can never produce the desired results so sought after by coffee connoisseurs. This is because wild civets eat the ripe coffee beans as a part of a balanced diet including all the other things civets eat, while the animals on these plantations (often taken from the wild) are fed a diet made entirely of coffee beans. This is very unhealthy for the civets. And since there is nothing else in their guts, the beans don’t produce the desired flavours they once did. More importantly, farmed civets are often kept in horrendous conditions. They are shy and territorial by nature. Being kept in cramped cages so close to other civets is very stressful and often results in a loss of sanity and decrease in their health. Perhaps it was my enthusiasm for food and wildlife that kept me naïve, but learning this was heart-wrenching and I no longer wish to support the production of this culinary rarity. Though I certainly did savour the small amount I acquired there.
I was perhaps a little ambitious with this recipe. I cannot actually say it was a success. In fact, it was mostly a failure. I tried very hard to pair coffee with various flavours with nauseating results. I poured some on quail eggs and potatoes, dipped in some toast and even a tiny bite of pan-fried fish. I tried tasting it with random ingredients around my kitchen. The only success with this experiment, thus far, is in making me feel ill. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me. Luckily, the reduction itself is quite nice (albeit bitter) in small doses. When I’ve worked out what to pair it with, I’ll post something magical. Suggestions are welcome!
Spiced Coffee and Red Wine Reduction
- ¾ cup strong coffee
- 1/3 cup red cooking wine
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- a piece of fresh ginger (about the size of a quarter), cleaned and chopped
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cardamom pods
- ¼ teaspoon whole lavender flowers
- ¼ teaspoon chopped dried lemongrass
While the coffee is still hot, pour it in a cup with the ginger, lavender, lemongrass, cardamom and cinnamon. Let the spices infuse for a 2-3 hours then strain.
Using a non-reactive skillet, pour in the wine, coffee and sugar. Simmer over medium high heat for about 10-15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by about half. Remove from heat.
Taste your coffee reduction with various things around your kitchen. Have blind taste tests with your friends. Laugh at the faces they make.
Vegetarian Lemon Dill Stuffed Eggplant with Couscous and Portobello Mushrooms + Tiny Kitchen
Cooking with eggplant is like painting on a blank canvas. It is full of possibilities. Bitter and spongy when raw (or undercooked… blech), eggplant (A.K.A aubergine, brinjal, brinjal eggplant, melongene, and guinea squash) melts in your mouth when roasted and takes almost no effort to cook to perfection. It is often used as a meat substitute for vegetarians due to its meaty texture and is known to be a good source of Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Dietary Fiber.
Eggplant has a delectable ability to transform; when cooked well, it softens, yet stays firm and loses much of its bitterness. It is also very diverse. The proof comes from all the traditional dishes from around the world that eggplant has played a key role in: ratatouille from France, baba ghanoush from the Middle East, mousakka from Greece, tagines in Morocco and curries in India. Eggplant is kind of a cuisine slut. It can’t make up its mind where it belongs. This is good for the rest of us.
Since returning to Korea a month ago, my kitchen has been trying so hard to be functional and efficient. Unfortunately, it has mostly failed rather disappointingly. My small Officetell apartment has little space, lacks adequate shelving and is missing an oven and other helpful cooking instruments. This is very difficult for someone like me. Cooking is more than just survival; it is art, science and passion. It is exploration, trial and error and creative expression. It is need and desire.
So, when my laundry rack is in the way of my cooking utensils and the (stupid) glass elements are just not hot enough, it’s far too easy to throw up ones hands and go get a kimbop instead.
(Un?)Luckily for me, I am unerringly determined to get my kitchen up to scratch. I will fill my kitchen with the wonderful equipment I need and magically find space for them. I’ll let you know how that goes.
All that said, I’ve been dreaming about roasting eggplant with butter, salt and cumin in my non-existent oven. Until then, here is a stuffed eggplant recipe I made shortly before leaving for Korea.
Vegetarian Lemon Dill Stuffed Eggplant with Couscous and Portobello Mushrooms
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 3 stalks of celery, chopped
- 1 chopped onion
- ½ cup chopped Portobello mushroom
- 3 tbsp chopped kalamata olives
- 1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes
- ½ a lemon (juiced)
- ½ cup couscous
- 2 tbsp fresh minced dill
- 3 cloves garlic
- salt and pepper to taste
- freshly grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven at 375º F/190ºC/Gas mark 5.
Split eggplant lengthwise and scoop out the flesh. Leave 1/8 inch of flesh on the skin and leave the skin in tact. Set the skins aside. Sprinkle the flesh with oil and salt and bake for 20 minutes.
In a stove top pan, fry the garlic and onions with oil on medium high heat until golden. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 7 minutes. Add eggplant flesh, celery, carrots and olives. Saute for 10 more minutes. Remove from heat.
Separate the diced tomatoes from the juice. Save juice in a bowl.
Place the fried mixture in a bowl. Add tomatoes, dill, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Place uncooked couscous in a small bowl. Pour ¼ cup of boiling water and the juice from the tomatoes onto the couscous. The couscous should puff up and be ready to use within 10 minutes.
Turn oven temperature to 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6.
Divide the couscous evenly between the two eggplant shells. Press lightly on the couscous to form a flat, even bed on the bottoms of each shell.
Scoop the vegetable mixture on top of the couscous and pack it in tight.
Place the eggplants in a casserole pan and cover with foil.
Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil halfway through baking.
If you desire, grate some Parmesan on top of the eggplant halves 5 minutes before they are ready.
ps- Happy Birthday, mum! I love you!
Homemade Graham Crackers with White Chocolate Frosting + Finding Balance
I knew vaguely for some reason that graham crackers were meant to be a “healthy” food. I’m not sure if it’s something I was told from my childhood or a belief held by society or what. This has always confused me because the modern graham cracker of today certainly doesn’t look, feel or taste healthy. They’re loaded with sugar, use uber refined ingredients and are mass produced by the bajillion. Considering that most people eat (or at least associate) them as S’mores, cheesecake crusts and piecrusts, the health label seems like another lie people tell themselves. Another delicious lie.
Well, apparently graham crackers are meant to be healthy. MEANT to. A health nut minister named Sylvester Graham invented graham crackers in 1829. He was an advocate of vegetarianism and believed that an unhealthy diet would lead to uncontrollable, carnal urges and sexual excess. He swore that physical lust was harmful for the body (as any good minister should) and caused consequences as dire as pulmonary consumption, spinal diseases, epilepsy and insanity. So, to Graham a high fiber, vegetarian diet was the key to purity and chastity, while meat and refined foods meant debauchery, destruction and non-stop sex. Hmm… tough choice.
No. Not really.
Like most North Americans, I have yo-yo’d with my weight and my ideas of (read: dedication to) a healthy lifestyle. From a heavy set youth to starving myself to eating everything in my path to severely restricting my food intake, I’ve gone through the self-hate-through-food thing for a good portion of my life. So many of us have. Eating disorders are a fairly new phenomenon in the history of human kind. Born out of excess (something that didn’t exist for anyone other than royalty until the middle class appeared) we binge, we purge, we starve and we judge our food.
The puritanical reactions to unhealthy lifestyles aren’t really any healthier. As an ex-raw foodist, I remember convincing myself (many years ago) that certain foods were evil and that my pure insides would surely burn and melt if I consumed a piece of white bread or grain of refined sugar. I didn’t realize until much later that these were thoughts of someone who hates food.
The whole thing is such an old, tired story full of clichés and I’m sick of it. I LOVE food. I LOVE cooking and I LOVE eating. I took a stand against the horrid cycle and found something that feels balanced and real. Here are my guidelines:
Eat in moderation.
Try anything I want.
Always choose fresh, real ingredients.
Don’t deny myself (denial responds with feelings of rebellion, resentment and guilt)
This has worked for me for several years. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in ages and I feel more balanced and happy with my relationship to food. Hail Mary.
These graham crackers were made using a somewhat similar recipe to Minister Graham’s original recipe. But as I’m not one to deny myself of a tasty idea, they also contain chocolate. A bit of balance goes a long way.
Homemade Graham Crackers with White Chocolate Frosting
- 2 ½ cups graham flour
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1/8 cup molasses
- 1/3 honey
- 2 eggs
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tsp salt
- ¾ tsp baking soda
- 1 ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp anise powder
- 5 oz of white chocolate (optional)
- licorice candy powder (optional)
Melt butter. Add honey and molasses to the butter and mix.
Add eggs and water to the mixture and mix.
In a different bowl, combine salt, baking soda, flours and spices. Stir.
Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well incorporated and smooth.
Wrap in plastic and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas mark 4.
Find a clean surface to roll your crackers and spread flour over it to prevent sticking. Make fist sized balls of dough and roll evenly to a 1/8 inch thickness.
Cut your crackers into small squares or rectangles, about 2×2 inches.
Use a fork to mark those satisfying graham cracker dots.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
If you wish to add white chocolate, melt some in a double boiler and spread a thin coat on the back of your crackers. Refrigerate to harden.
If you wish to add licorice powder, sprinkle some to the layer of chocolate before cooled.
Makes 20-24 crackers.
Eat with love.
Transformations: Dill Scallion Butter Chicken Sausage with Beet Puree and Artichoke Fennel Salad with Cucumber and Wasabi + Your Appetite
Remember that beet salad I posted a little while ago? The tangy, creamy and colourful one? Well, I made a lot of it and started to get really sick of eating it. I love beets and I love salad and have a high tolerance for both, but there’s only so much I can take of any one thing on repeat. It was imperative to exercise my leftover transforming skills in a big way.
A beautiful plate and/or presentation of a dish, including bright colours and pleasant forms, can change your hunger level and alter how attracted you are towards any food or dish presented to you (excepting anything with bananas… they will always be evil). Dishes that are beautifully arranged actually whet your appetite and make you hungrier.
Colour plays a crucial role in our attraction to food. Studies have shown that blue is the least appetizing colour to eat. Our foraging ancestors learned to avoid toxic and spoiled foods, which were often blue, purple, grey and black (berries, eggplant, etc, excluded). That behaviour has been imprinted on us. So when food is dyed blue, our appetites turn cold. In fact, dieters are advised to use blue place mats, lights, plates, etc… when eating to aid in appetite suppression.
Foods that are red, orange, green and yellow (depending on culture) are apparently the most appetizing and exciting to us. Red is the colour of passion, intimacy and enthusiasm and all that registers when we look at our food. Cool.
So, in honor of red, I give you beets. Yes, more of them.
This dish was actually inspired by food items that had to be used from my kitchen. They were either in great abundance or approaching their expiration dates. I had made some dill scallion butter in the summer when the garden was overflowing with dill. I made a large batch and since butter freezes well, most of it went into the freezer. It’s very easy to make (put dill, scallions and softened butter into your food processor and blend) and really tasty on everything. I use it on popcorn, toast and sometimes to fry eggs. It works gorgeously when frying up an Applegate Chicken and Apple sausage, too.
The recipe for the beet salad can be found here. Place a cup of it in a blender (adding a bit more dressing for texture) and blend until smooth.
And, of course, we have the artichoke heart fennel salad with cucumber and wasabi. Everything about this dish was heaven to eat. And to look at.
Artichoke Heart Fennel Salad with Cucumber and Wasabi
- 2 steamed artichoke hearts, remove spiky leaves and quarter (you could heat up frozen or canned artichokes, which is a lot easier, but not nearly as good. Avoid the marinated kind)
- 1 cup fennel bulb, sliced (about ¼ of a whole bulb)
- 1 cup small seed cucumber, sliced
- 1 tsp tamari or soy sauce
- 1 tsp lime juice
- ¼ tsp wasabi paste (or powder mixed with water 1:1)
Plate the salad with a dill scallion butter chicken sausage and beet puree in an artful way that fills you with passion and feelings of intimacy and piques your enthusiasm.
Look at. Admire. Devour.
Flavour Pairing: Tangy Dill Walnut Beet Salad + Colourful Things in California
In the past month, in the midst of my job search, I went on a few mini trips for the purpose of pleasure and to visit friends and family (previously mentioned here). It had been many years since I’d seen my sister and even longer since I’d been on the State side of the Pacific, what with the whole living in Asia thing. In fact, the last time I’d been to the west coast was for my sissy’s wedding to her fabulous wife 5 years ago. It was a lovely trip full of fish tacos, kitties and pretty nature.
While wandering, I took a few (hundred) photos of those pretty natural things. Here are some of my favorites:
Beets are also colourful. And flavourful.
This recipe has converted a few beet haters I know. Beets pair astonishingly well with dill, which has been a traditional gastronomic practice in many European cuisines in various forms. Borscht in Eastern Europe and salads in Italy. With the aid of lemon and Dijon, this salad is an exemplary archetype of freshness. The walnuts add texture and creaminess. Do make. Do eat. Do enjoy.
Tangy Dill Walnut Beet Salad
- 3 large beets, peeled and cut into bite sized cubes
- 3 stalks of celery, diced
- 1 cup ( ½ a bunch) of chopped fresh dill
- 2 tbsp of diced red onion
- 2 tbsp of dijon mustard
- 1 ½ -2 tbsp mayonnaise
- 2 lemons, juiced
- 2 tbsp tamari
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp walnuts, crushed (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
Place the peeled cubes of beets in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 25-30 minutes. To check if they’re fully cooked, poke a large piece with a fork. Like a potato, it should be soft when done. Do not overcook, or you’ll have beet mash.
Drain and rinse the beets in a colander and place in a large bowl when fully drained.
Add all other ingredients and mix well.
Replace mayonnaise with goat’s cheese for a saltier, less emulsified creaminess.