Sunday, October 30, 2011

Strobe Photography - More Fun with Camera

As I was surfing YouTube I came across interesting movie about photographing water droplets. Since I had everything needed for this specialised form of photography, generally called “strobing”, I just had to try it. I needed solid tripod, flash, radio strobe trigger set and lots of time on hand. The fact that I also have a light tent for close-ups was big advantage. Here are the results. Watch the video on YouTube to see how the set-up and focusing works.

In this shot I used Cloudy White Balance setting. Rest of the photographs were taken with Tungsten White Balance.

Canon Rebel T1i, Manual mode, 1/60 shutter, Macro lens 50mm 1:3.5 set at f/16 and 1:3 magnification, ISO 400, Yongnuo Digital flash YN468 at 1/16 power, Jianisi PT-04TM radio trigger, Cullmann 2904 tripod and head.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Yes, I have joined the crowd of bloggers participating in Charcutelapooza, challenge program devised by blogger “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen”, a blog where meat rules supreme.
Last week I ordered  Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing” by Michael Ruhlman from Next day the book was in so I dove right in. I have been making and smoking my own sausages for few years now so it is nothing new for me but I wanted to expand my repertoire. One recipe that caught my eye was Duck Prosciutto. Speaking of diving right in, two duck breasts are in the refrigerator being cured right now and I will update in 8 days how it will turn out. It takes 1–2 days for salting and 7 days for drying/curing, so obviously, this isn’t something that you decide in the morning what you will eat in the afternoon, after all.
While searching Internet for additional duck prosciutto recipes I came across Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen web site with her Charcutelapooza, Let’s make meat. This is carnivore’s, like me, dream! Even though all the challenges are over by now I will run all of them anyway and will post results. Great program for our long winter months.
I have added link to this great challenge on sidebar of my blog. Explore!

My very first batch of Chorizo sausages. They were great!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Czech Farmer’s Cheese Pie - Kolaches

Tvarohové Koláče
Last week I have decided to make one of the most popular and traditional pastry in Czech kitchen, Kolache or Wedding Pie (every Czech wedding has variety of these delights). It is traditionally made round, about  4” in diameter and around one inch thick using sweet yeast dough and topped with variety of toppings like ground poppy seeds, prune jam and most popular of all, creamed farmer’s cheese. If farmer’s cheese is not available, dry ricotta or paneer are great substitute. I have a recipe here for homemade paneer. I prefer to raise the yeast dough in a refrigerator overnight, it has a much finer texture when baked. Also, I always use food processor with steel cutting blade to make any dough, especially pizza dough, so instruction will reflect this. It is the fastest method with great results and with minimal clean-up. I know that in baking measurements are taken very seriously but since I didn’t find any recipe that looked like what my mother made I just came up with my very own version and it worked fantastic on first try!
Note: You can use just plain bread flour or even all-purpose flour, I guess, but I have not tried it so I have no idea how light the kolache will be.
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cup bread or hard flour
1 envelope instant yeast or 1-1/4 tsp. dry instant yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1 egg
2 Tbs. melted butter
2/3 cup warm milk (more or less, depending on moisture content of the flour)

Place flour, yeast, salt and sugar in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade and pulse few times until well combined. Add egg (no need to separate the egg) and turn on for about 10 seconds. Add melted butter and process for another 10 seconds. The flour will look grainy. Turn processor on and pour in 1/2 cup of milk. After 15 seconds or so start adding additional milk 1 Tbs. at the time until the dough starts to come together. When it forms a ball the dough is done. Remove the dough from work bowl, form it into a smooth ball and place in lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator overnight. 

Cheese Topping
250 grams Farmer’s cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup raisins soaked in warm milk
1/4 cup sour cream or 2 Tbs. 35% cream
With electric hand mixer or wooden spool beat the cheese with egg, sugar, cream, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Do not over mix, leave some farmers cheese lumps intact. Mix in raisins, cover and set aside.

Four hours before baking remove dough from the fridge. Roll the dough into a log shape about 2-1/2” diameter and then cut pieces about the same length. Roll the pieces into a ball, flatten them to finger thick disk with higher rim, place them on oiled baking sheet, cover and keep in draft-free and warm place till they raise a bit, about 1 hour. Brush the edges with melted butter, spread the filling on top of kolaches to within 1/2” of the edge and sprinkle with shaved almonds. Place in 400 °F preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve still warm.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grilled Sardines and Mackerel

This is asfar from local food as you can get. I had a craving for sea food in general andgrilled seafood in particular so what do you do if you live in South-WesternOntario, Canada, thousand miles away from nearest ocean or sea? Whatever isbilled as “fresh fish” in our supermarkets and is from salt water is only relativelyfresh if you get it when it is delivered. Fat chance of that on most days, Ithink. The closest to “fresh fish” inland and far away from ocean is fishfrozen right on factory fishing trawler. Among the choices I had in larger town40 minutes away were sardines and mackerel. What I came up with for a meal tosatisfy my cravings was a fusion of Portuguese and Japanese favorite snackfoods: grilled sardines rubbed with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper andmackerel marinated in teriyaki sauce. Only after we ate our fill did we realizehow full of Omega3 fat these fish were. This is not a main meal food, no sir. Ihave made a mistake right there. I knew that just 2 sardines or half a mackerelwith crusty bread would be enough for one serving but I felt that since I havethe grill going I’ll cook some more. And so I did.
If usingfrozen fish, defrost in refrigerator overnight.
When readyto cook, rub the grill with little vegetable oil (so fish won’t stick) and preheatyour grill or BBQ on medium high.
To clean the sardines and prepare it for a grill, make a cutalong the bottom of the fish and remove the intestines and entrails (simply runyour finger inside the cut). Do not remove the head. Rinse and place the fishaside to dry.
Rub the fish with little bit of olive oil and season withkosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
To prepare mackerel, cut along the bottom from tail andacross the head almost all the way through and then cut in half across betweenhead and tail. Remove head and tail. The fish will be basically “butterflied”. Washand dry on both sides.
Watchthis video for clear and detailed instructions.
Rub little bit of sesame oil and teriyaki sauce into fleshor just use olive oil, salt and pepper. When grill is hot place sardines and mackerel(skin side down) on the grill and cook till skin is crisp and golden, 4 -5minutes. Flip the fish over and grill till other side is crisp.
Serve with a wedge of lemon and crusty Italian or Portuguesebread.
To de-bone sardines, grasp the head and pull towards tail,the backbone will come off cleanly. Mackerel backbone and rib cage will comeoff easily as well.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Head Cheese

Head Cheese or Sülze(German),Sulc or Huspenina (Czech) etc…

Head cheeseis not a cheese at all, of course but a terrine or meat jelly/aspic. Originallyit was made from whole head of pig but since average home cook can’t get hishands on whole pig’s head, pork and veal knuckles or hocks are used instead.Hmmm, veal knuckles? Nope, can’t get these in our small town either so it leftme with just the pork hocks. But hey, all you need for basic head cheese ispork hocks, water, salt, carrots, onions and your favorite spices and you aremaking Pâté de Tête. Doesn’tit sound better than head cheese? Anyway, I remember back in 50’s when mygrandmother and other village neighbors killed a pig, usually in February, headcheese and head and barley soup were first things to be made and served to allthe families around. It was greasy all right, but was it ever good! The smellof cloves and allspice from these dishes stuck with me ever since and these arethe spices I used for my version. As is the norm for me lately, I improvised onthe fly so there isn’t really much of a recipe that I have tested but I willdescribe what I did from start to finish.

On a whim, I bought 2 small knuckles that were split in halfand somehow I knew that I will make my first Sülze. Since I wanted the gelatin fairly clear I had to blanch the hocks.Just bring the water with hocks to rapid boil and when brown foam forms onsurface dump everything in sink and rinse under hot water. Wash the pot, putthe clean hocks back in pot, cover with water and bring to simmer again.Meanwhile I placed cup of water and 1/4 cup of vinegar in slow cooker andturned it on High/6 hours. I use tee egg for spices and some herbs when makinga stock so this is what I used again. As I said before, cloves and allspice arethe main spices. I have added crushed pepper corns, bay leaf and 6 cloves ofgarlic. Place the spices in slow cooker. There will be carrots, parsnip andgherkins/pickles going in after the meat is done and removed.

When the hocksstart to boil, transfer to slow cooker together with the water, cover and enjoyyour 6 hours of doing nothing with this meal.

When done, removethe meat, strain and degrease the stock and set aside to cool. Best way is tolet it cool to room temperature and then put it in fridge overnight. Not onlyit will be easy to degrease but you will also see how gelatinous the stock is.This is very important. If it not firm enough you will have to add some gelatinafter you boil the carrots and pickles. You have read instruction on package tosee how much to use.

Now it is time tode-bone the hocks. For me, the best part of hocks is the skin: nice, soft andchewy, so I use it, of course. Make sure that all the bones are removed andthen chop all the meat and skin. Put back in the pot with stock, cubed carrotsand pickles (amount is up to you) and bring to boil. When carrots are soft addthe gelatin mixed with water, simmer for few seconds and remove from heat. Alldone. Now it is time to cool it down, fill the molds or whatever you want touse and let it set. I use aluminum bread pans and they work great.

When set andcool, remove from pan, slice and serve with lightly toasted rye bread andpickles.

 2 hocks gave me 5 of these bread pans.

It looks likethere is meat only at bottom but as you can see from previous pictures the meatis spread from bottom to top.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Few weeksago I ate my very first heirloom tomato and I was hooked immediately on thetaste of this light yellow tomato. It was given to us by our neighbor who isretired farmer. Apparently, his friends found it among hundreds of plants theygrow for making tomato juice and since it didn’t look red they threw it out.Knowing that we will try anything new food-wise he brought them to us. I do notunderstand why I waited so long to taste these tomatoes since I do shop at localAmish farms and at our local farmers market and they were always available inseason. Looks like my plans for next year veggie garden are changing alreadysince I will definitely grow some heirloom tomatoes.

LastThanksgiving Sunday we went for a ride in the country and we came across a roadsidestand that was selling heirloom tomatoes of all sizes, colors and shapes. Sinceall of them are open pollinated varieties I will collect the seeds fromtomatoes that both of us really like.

Thismorning we did a little tasting and they are really good! They were nowhere assweet as some regular red hybrids, but instead there was nice balance betweensweet and tart. They will be great in salads and relishes, I think. So far Ipicked 3 (and counting) that I will try to grow. Over the winter I will try toidentify the varieties that I have collected seeds from; not an easy task.Maybe I will email pictures to some seed houses and ask if they can help. It isnot all that important to know the name but if somebody will taste my tomatoes,likes them and asks for the name it would be nice to know the answer.

Of course,if you know any of these tomatoes, please, leave a comment.

Here islink to interesting description of “Heirloom Tomato”.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lecsó – or what to do with too many peppers

As noted in my previous post I had a lot of peppers, red and green, and tomatoes on hand from my last harvest and since I didn’t even consider to pickle or can them, only alternative for me was to cook and freeze them. One recipe that I knew would work was Hungarian Lecsó.
Lecsó is a sort of pepper, onion and tomato stew cooked slowly on stove-top for long time and served as is, with potatoes or meat and potatoes. Since I was going to freeze it I have made plain version that will be kicked up quite a bit when re-heated and served with whatever I choose. Just as an experiment I will one day chop the Lecsó and use it as a pizza sauce. I think that it will be quite good!
Cooking this dish is a walk in the park; it is the prep that takes so much time. Cleaning, seeding and slicing the peppers is so labor intensive! I tried to slice the peppers in food processor but I was faster slicing them with my Chinese cleaver than using Cuisinart. Well, I still have all my digits and without a single Band-Aid.
As usual, because of heavy bottom of the pot I use my pressure cooker. By the way, that is a lot of peppers to clean and cut!

Caramelize the onions...

add peppers and cook till they soften...

add tomatoes and cook for about 2 hours. At first covered and then with cover off.

Add Hungarian paprika and simmer for another 1/2 hour. If the sauce is too watery, add some tomato paste (I did).

Ready as a base for other recipes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Caraway Rye Bread Revisited

It has been a long time since I have made caraway rye bread! Last week, when weather was cool and rainy, I had a real craving for that crusty bread. Best thing to do was to make one. So, I did. Why did I wait so long to make one again is beyond me.  After all it is “no-kneed” style of bread where you just incorporate flour, water, yeast and salt and let nature and time do the work for you. Here is link to original recipe I have posted last November 30th.
Only difference from the posted recipe is that I used only 3 cups of flour this time. It made it so much easier to handle that wet dough. Of course, loaf was smaller and was gone in a day! J

10:30 PM

16 hours later...

form into round loaf and let raise for 2 hours and literally plop the loaf into heavy Dutch oven preheated to 500°F. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove cover and bake for 15 more minutes or till inner temperature reaches 210°F 

45 minutes later...crusty and chewy Heaven!!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sauerkraut Soup

Yes, you have read it right: this soup is made with sauerkraut as a main ingredient. As far as I can tell, it is of Slavic countries or Central Europe origin and there is no need to say that it is a comfort food. My version is more robust then simple soups that use just sauerkraut, potatoes and stock. Again, just use your imagination like I did.
I think that the key in making this soup taste great to unaccustomed taste buds is to soak, wash and drain the kraut in cold water. I dumped the whole jar of sauerkraut into large and deep bowl, filled with cold water and let sit for an hour. Then I drained it in strainer and washed it under running water for half a minute. I let it drain and run it in my lettuce spinner to remove as much water as possible. This was important step for me because I like to chop the long strands of sauerkraut into a size that will stay on the spoon and not hang over like spaghetti.
My soup was fortified with addition of carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, garlic and smoked kielbasa. For the base you can use any stock you have on hand. Ham stock would be ideal but I didn’t have any. Next time I’ll cook smoked Schweinshaxe or Eisbein (pork hock) I will keep this recipe in mind and keep some meat and skin (for me only) for the soup.

 Ingredients for my version of Sauerkraut Soup
2 cups of German wine sauerkraut
1/3 cup water
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp. caraway seeds
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. hot Hungarian paprika
1 small carrot, chopped
1 small parsnip, diced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 potatoes, diced
1/2 cup diced smoked meat or sausage
3 cups stock
4 cups stock (ham, chicken or beef)

Soak the sauerkraut in cold water for about 1 hour. Drain, squeeze dry and roughly chop.
Crush caraway seeds with garlic in mortar, mini-chopper or chop with knife.

Mix 1/3 cup water with chopped bacon and place in a heavy bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven. Turn the heat on medium high and render the bacon fat. When bacon starts to get crispy and light brown add onions and garlic-caraway seed mixture and cook until onions start to have light color. Off the heat mix in paprika and stir till onions are coated.

Put back on heat and add carrots, parsnip, celery, potatoes and smoked meat or sausage. Mix for few seconds and then pour in stock. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add sauerkraut and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Soup is ready to be served as is but if you like soups with more body, run about half of the soup in blender, return to pot to reheat and serve. Another option is to liquefy the leftover soup in the blender, add some 35% cream and simmer for few minutes. Sinfully good!

Cream of Sauerkraut Soup

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Changes to comments section on my blogs

It was brought to my attention that it was impossible to leave comments on all my blogs if signed in as Anonymous or other then Google account. I was using a form that switched to another Google web site and in the process the comments got trashed. I have switched to full page comments form that stays on BlogSpot and when tested it worked fine.
My apologies to all that tried fruitlessly to leave a comment or to get in touch with me.
The fact that many bloggers had and still have same problem is not too much of consolation to me, sorry to say. I should have caught it long time ago.