Monday, March 19, 2018

NIAB: Kimchi (Vegan)

I've always been fascinated by fermentation (aside from the alcohol side of things), the idea of little critters that toil away and magically transform food from one form to something else is somehow magical to me. How did ancient man decide curdled milk could be made into cheese and then later yet the moldy blue cheese is edible and delicous? Or that bubbly fruit juice that sat in a jug a bit too long was worth drinking even if it made you feel a bit dizzy and good? I know a lot of it was a preservation technique but if you were the first to opened up a jar of kimchi or sauerkraut would you think to take a big bite of it?

I've dabbled in various experiment, some successful, some less successful. But I happened to have a whole head of napa cabbage in my fridge and was pondering what to do with it. I floated the idea of turning it into kimchi with my wife and she was quite eager for me to give it a try. Now if you don't know what kimchi is (I'm not sure what rock you've been hiding under) it's a Korean dish typically served as a side dish (banchan) with your meal or cooked into a stew. If you've had Korean food or even a trendy taco these days, you've seen it, or at the very least you've "smelled it", it's quite unmistakeable. Kimchi is basically a category of fermented vegetables, what most people think of when you say kimchi is a mix of napa cabbage, radish and green onion with a lot of chili pepper, but you can have kimchi made of cucumber, radish, lotus root, carrot basically any vegetable you can cram into a jar and safely let ferment.

As with most fermented foods this was a way to extend the life of vegetables when we didn't have refrigeration and vegetables available all year round. Kimchi hasn't always been the kimchi we commonly see today (at least in the west). Since the chili pepper was a "new world" ingredient that didn't happen until the after the 17th century, and to my surprise napa cabbage wasn't introduced into kimchi until the 19th century. It's aroma is quite indescribable, sour and "rotten" are some of the words I would use but that's not quite right since "rotten" has often a really negative connotation. Some people like their kimchi very sour, some not, some like a lot of chili and some prefer seafood as part of the fermentation, basically this is all to say that kimchi comes in a variety of forms and flavors.

Ok onto the kimchi making. Since I've been following a vegan diet I did opt for a seafood-less version and I didn't replace it with any seaweed (kombu), I'm sure it would have added some extra umami flavor but I wanted to keep things simple. And this recipe is indeed simple, I cobbled together a few sources since everyone seemed to have their way of making kimchi and some instructions were not as clear as others on various steps. As with anything that you depend on micro-organism to do your work for you, you need to clean your containers well. I put my mason jars (and lids) thorough the dishwasher, you don't need to be quite as meticulous as you were brewing beer or wine and use a sterilizing wash.  From the ingredients above in the title picture, I fully expected six jars but it turn out that I only needed two.

First things first, there's some prep to be done. First cut up the cabbage and give them a good rinse. I cut the whole head in half lengthwise and three lengthwise cuts *almost* to the root of the cabbage (so it would all stay together). And then cut two inch wide segments. Wash well to remove any dirt.

Use 1/4 cup of kosher salt (really any salt is fine, just not iodized salt since that can interfere with the microbes). I first salted the cabbage and gave them a really good toss in the bowl and let them sit for about 30 mins.

After 30 mins the cabbage wilted a good bit and I filled the bowl with enough water to cover and let it sit weighed down with a plate and a heavy mortar (or any weight). I let this sit a good four hours (three seemed to be the minimum from what I saw). The point is to get a lot of water out of the cabbage.

While that was happening I chopped the green onion (white and green parts) and half of the pictured Korean radish (or you can use daikon if that's what you have available). The various sources I used, specified matchstick size or larger, I think matchstick might be a bit small, I went with 1/4 inch by 2 inch sticks.  (they'll shrink a bit while they are in the jar fermenting).

I used a japanese style grater for the ginger and the garlic. I felt like raised ridges pulverized the ginger and garlic to release the juices which I was careful to preserve and use in the jars. I think a microplane or grater would have just shaved small bits. I *HIGHLY* recommend using gloves for the garlic part or you'll reek of garlic for days.

Take the ginger, garlic, sugar and Korean red pepper flakes and mix them together. I ended up using one and half tablespoons of the pepper flake. The sugar's going to give your microbes something to start on. Don't worry you're kimchi will not come out sweet.

This produces a mild kimchi, if you want more heat just add more pepper flake. Here's a picture of the final paste when it's all incorporated. Again, using the raised ridged grater on the ginger and the garlic gave me the liquid-y texture for the paste.

By now it's dark out so I've lost all the nice natural light for the rest of my photos. Anyhow. Drain the cabbage and make sure to reserve the liquid. If you forget that's ok. Mix two cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt for a reserve brine. Quickly rinse the cabbage (you don't have to go crazy) and give the cabbage a good squeeze to get the excess moisture out. If you don't rinse your cabbage you're going to get really really salty kimchi (some people like that).

Ingredients assemble!

Again, I *HIGHLY* recommend gloves for the next part. Give everything a very thorough mix and make sure all the vegetables get a coated. You might find some of your cabbage leaves somewhat stuck together from your squeezing them, this is the time to loosen them up. It's starting look and somewhat smell like kimchi.

Time to pack them in the jar. When I say pack them in the jar I mean really jam them in there. Take handfuls of the vegetables and use a fist to push them down hard into the mason jar. We're going for compact tightness. As you push you'll notice liquid rising to the top. (that's a good thing). I left about 2 inches of headspace in the mason jars. And then take the reserve brine and cover the vegetables (if you don't already have liquid covering). You may find you have some floaters, I took some snack sized ziplock bags and filled them 1/3 way with brine, zipped them up and put it on top to make sure you don't have any vegetables floating. You want everything below the brine to prevent mold from forming on the vegetables, mold doesn't like salty water.

It should look something like this (I put the brine bags in after this photo). I would put this somewhere cool/room temperature. With some sort of baking dish or pan underneath. Do *NOT* tighten the mason jar lids all the way, just give them a lose turn so the lid stays on. Be prepared, whatever space you put these jars in will smell like kimchi. You will find that some of the liquid spills out over the next few days. The reason is that there's going to be a bunch of gas that develops and because it's all packed in there the whole thing rises. Every day, I take a chopstick and jam it down the various sides of the the mason jar to get the gas to escape and repack everything down. (I called this "burping my kimchi"). Take a piece of vegetable and taste it, when it's reached your desired sourness (ours took 2.5 days) you can put everything in the fridge which should slow down the fermentation (it will continue to ferment and get more sour but slowly).  At that time you can take out the baggies of brine and you won't have the problem of over flowing anymore but you should maybe vent the jars every once and again.

Don't be alarmed at the number of steps it was actually quite easy. The active time was less than an hour you spent a lot of time waiting around for the cabbage to wilt.

Here's the recipe:

Kimchi (vegan)
1 head of napa cabbage
1/2 Korean radish or daikon radish (about 10 oz)
1 bunch of green onion (roots removed and cleaned)
1/4 cup of Kosher salt (or any non-iodized salt)
1 teaspoon of sugar
6 cloves of garlic
1 inch knob of ginger (skin peeled)
1.5 tbsp Gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
2 clean mason jars with Lids

1) Cut Cabbage into half lengthwise and take each half and cut from the top nearly to the root but not through in to thirds. Then cut into two inch segments until you reach the core (discard the core)

2) Wash the cabbage segments to remove any dirt and shake dry in a colander. Place the cabbage in a large mixing bowl and toss liberally with 1/4 cup of salt. Let sit for 30 mins. Then top with water until just covering leaves and cover with a plate to keep the cabbage submerged and weigh it down. Allow to sit for 4 hours.

3) Chop radish into 2 inch by 1/4 inch sticks. Cut green onion in segments of 1.5 inches.

4) Using gloves, Grate ginger and garlic, yielding approximately 1 tsp of each. In a small bowl mix with red pepper flake and sugar into a paste.

5) Drain and reserve brine from cabbage. Rinse the cabbage briefly to remove salt. Squeeze the cabbage to remove excess moisture and return to mixing bowl.

6) Again using gloves, add radish, green onion and Pepper paste to the mixing bowl with the cabbage and mix very thoroughly so that all of the vegetables are coated with paste.

7) Take the mixed vegetables and pack into mason jars leaving 1.5 to 2 inches of headroom. Really squeeze the vegetables into the jar. Cover with reserved brine. If you have floating vegetables fill a small ziplock snack bag with brine and weigh down the vegetables making sure everything is covered in brine. Loosely screw on the lid of the mason jar and put mason jars in a baking dish.

8) Allow the kimchi to stand in room temperature. Every day take a chopstick and stick it down the sides of the jar to allow excess gas to escape (be careful not to spill the brine) and taste a piece of vegetable. When the vegetable is at desired sourness remove the brine weight bags and place kimchi jars in the refrigerator. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Hellos from a man of leisure.

So yes I know it's been a while. After returning from Sydney back to Austin, my wife and I decided we should take time off together and travel. It's a rare thing for both of us to be off and not be constrained by vacation days left.  We've seen some neat places and had some wonderful food. And as much as I have been posting about my trips here, it was far easier to post a few pictures on facebook. Long form posting is a tough thing to keep up with, and I was taking a break to recharge so that meant that this blog too had to take a break. It's hard taking pictures, touching up and choosing what you want to talk about. I am surprised I have been able to manage doing this for 10 years.

Of course as a man of leisure there's much video game playing and lego building, a tough life to be sure, but I accept the responsibilities with great care and seriousness. (Zelda breath of the wild, zomg! you must play. )

I've not been idle this whole time, just not full time. For instance there have been lots of helping with my friends' startup. (Warning: Shameless plug coming) If you need to setup a new business LLC go to ZenBusiness! Setup is free and the team is super friendly and eager to help, you get personal attention where those other guys just shove a bunch of forms at you. (This will be an experiment, I want to see if they see my shameless plug here.)

I'm still contemplating what I will do with this blog, obviously since I'm not working there's not much bento making happening these days.  And during my time off I've made some lifestyle changes the biggest being that I'm now mostly Vegan for health reasons. (I remove the restrictions while traveling) It isn't that I'm opposed to eating meat and meat products (lord knows I really crave a steak and bbq all the time) but the move has done wonders for my cholesterol and blood pressure and trying to get off the meds would be a great thing. The results have been astounding. But it also means having to retrain how I cook and nourish myself.

My hope is that at some point in the future I can get to the point of having meat-ful mondays (instead of meatless mondays) and still get a little meat back into my life. It's been about a year and it took about 3 months before it got easier. Granted giving myself a hall pass when I travel certainly helps keep me on the wagon.

Above is one of my creations, I make it somewhat regularly in the toaster oven, it's sliced portabello with cashew ricotta, basil, oregano with some black truffle oil. I swear it hits that pizza craving spot dead on! It takes like a few mins to slam together 12 mins to bake. (I use ready made crust from the tomato sauce aisle.)

There's still experimentation going on in the kitchen. I just made some kimchi. I'll probably post that at some point. I also did a pretty rock solid vegan chili that my friend said that if I hadn't said it was vegan chili he would have given me a good score on some meat chili, but learning it was actually vegan he was truly blown away.

Ok wow, this turned out to be a longer hello than expected. Well this is Man of Leisure signing off for now. More soon(ish)!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Things I'll miss about Australia Pt 4

I'm telling you the Opera house pictures never get old for me. I'm not sure what it is but everytime I run across one of these I have a smile on my face. Home stretch here folks. These are the last of the pictures that highlight the things I'll miss about living in Sydney. I'm sure there's stuff I've left out. It's been 4 months now since our return and I'll confess that I miss it more and more. It was such a different life. Anyhow onwards and upwards. Apols (that's what they say there) in advance for jumping around but I went on a sweep for the last pictures I might have missed, so it's all over the place.

Ok this is going to sound really really stupid. But that plastic box pictured above is a standard "take away" box. In other words if you order take out or ask for a box to take stuff home (beware some places don't let you) you will get your food in a container like the one above. Sometimes it's black on the bottom, sometimes it's twice the volume (deeper but same lid size) but for the most part it's always that container. Why is this awesome? Here's why: 1) it's re-useable/recyclable , 2) dishwasher safe, 3)microwaveable. 4)EVERY LID fits on EVERY OTHER box. The exception is the soup bowl type which is a similar bowl with a lid that is likewise more or less universal. BAM tupperware solved. Bam Bento Boxes solved. One more observation here, is that this little box is enough food for lunch. It won't fit "American" sized portions of food or lunch, but no restaurant in Australia serves the generous portions we're use to in the US.

I never acquired the taste of Vegemite however Australians seem to really love the stuff. Here's a picture of our cupboard at work, full of Vegemite (the shelves above had Vegemite too)! It's got this weird mushroom taste to it. Ever quarter I would get some toast smear on butter and the thinnest veneer of Vegemite to see if it had grown on me. Nope.. As a parting gift my team gave me a custom jar with my name on it and sent me an extra tube of the stuff as a care package they mailed to me. I miss those folks.

Favorite quick authentic chinese take out? Once again in world square: "Taste of Shanghai". Din Tai Fung still my favorite, but for the budget real deal Chinese food it was a goto.

Daiso, it's a japanese dollar store. I managed to snap a picture of it. I realize they have Daiso in the US (just not here in Austin) but they had like 7 in Sydney.  Basically it was a dollar (well $2.87) store with the best kitchen gadgets and stationary even minor tools.

Bao Dao located in Chatswood (one of several predominantly Asian suburbs) serves some of the best Taiwanese food. My wife asked me to replicate several of the dishes.

One of the things I missed the most while over in Sydney was American BBQ. What they call BBQ in Australia is what we call grilling. There's no low and slow meats, however we did have Jazz city BBQ in Surry Hills, which was run by a guy from Michigan. His beef ribs were phenomenal (that giant "fred flinstone" rib on the right). It was quite unfortunate that he closed the location. There was frequently a line out of the door so I'm not sure what happened.

We made a lot of great friends while in Sydney and we'll miss them all. Especially this little guy, Milton is his name. He is our neighbor's dog and we baby sat him occasionally. He always loved coming to visit since I would give him bits of salami I had in the fridge.

Speaking of our awesome neighbors/friends: They introduced us to Baccomatto Osteria in Surry Hills. Our favorite Italian place the menu changes quite often and they have daily specials written up on their chalk board. We went to this place a lot.

Momofuku was one of our best dining experiences in Sydney. It's located in "the Star" casino. I know there are David Chang restaurants in the US but we haven't tried them. This is definitely a must try for food lovers. It's an open kitchen and they you get to watch everything like a well choreographed dance.

The Australian Museum of Natural Science right off William street and park street (next to hyde park) is Australia's oldest museum. As my friend said, it's definitely an old school museum with dinosaur bones and all that  but worth a look.

As I said before they really get into Lunar new year. Always very festive.

Dragon. Since it was the year of the Dragon our first year there.

Long Grain restaurant in Surry hills was a favorite for the above "egg net" thai salad dish. The rest of the menu is quite good as well.

I never encountered a Turkish Gozleme until I visited Sydney, but they are everywhere here. It's something like a tex-mex Quesadilla that is stuffed with a variety of toppings and pan toasted but the "tortilla" is a thinly rolled out dough that is very crispy and flaky similar to a Chinese breakfast biscuit. I'm very partial to the eggs, Turkish sausage and feta from these guys up in "the Rocks" on Saturdays.

While you're in Sydney go see an Opera. We didn't go into the opera house to see a show but we should have. Instead we did go see this great outdoor opera. The sets were elaborate and they did a wonderful job with acoustics despite the open air location.

Vivid Sydney is a time of year that the whole city is lit up in lights. It's a neat way to take in the night sights and get out.

View of Vivid Sydney from Darlingharbour. Yes as always fireworks.

Cafe Paci has been a "pop up" restaurant for quite some time now (does it still count as a popup?). When we went it was a 13 course meal. A bit pricey but very interesting food. I also like the fact that they named the popup after what was left of the sign of the previous restaurant. (Cafe Pacifico).

The Royal Botanical Gardens. This is a picture of the "governor's castle". As I mentioned in previous posts, there are lots of great big parks in the city, it's a great perk to have in such a big city. The Botanical Gardens are very nice, great place for a picnic and there's lots to explore.

There are a *lot* of sushi train or conveyor belt sushi restaurants in Sydney. Most of them are pretty meh and if you compare to say Uchi, Uchiko, or Soto here in Austin you'll be pretty disappointed. But if you need a quick sushi fix with a very reasonable price it's a good option. Our favorite was Umi sushi down by Haymarket. (there are multiple branches but this is one of their main ones). They have a pretty good variety of rolls and fish. The plates are color coded for plate prices.

Here's a video of the chef making tamoyaki. It was hypnotizing and delicious.

The Royal Randwick race course. Unfortunately I did not get to see a race here, but it was pretty cool to see it while it was completely empty. There's a pretty large national obsession with horse racing here. The Melbourne cup actually is basically a national holiday since everyone is off that day. I suppose it's pretty exciting but the race is over in 3-4 mins. I watched it and asked my friends, "so was that it? there's not more?"

We favor the East Phoenix but another great Dim Sum place Haymarket/Chinatown is the Marigold restaurant. As my cousin put it, "yup it's legit, good food and full of waiters that are rude to you". Truthfully the staff can be a bit pushy but it's all about efficiency here, you don't wait very long before the carts swarm you and your table is full of food.

Ok this place is closed but I'm putting it up here because it was awesome. Lu Wei is a braised Taiwanese street food, basically you go around pick your ingredients and they braise it in this giant cauldron of soup filled with spices. Great for the winter. My wife was super excited when this opened and there were lines of people for a while but it didn't quite make it. There's lots better in Taiwan of course but this was the only thing like it in all of Sydney and the surrounding suburbs.

Mr Crackling. They sell you whole sheets of fresh pork crackling. There's not much else to say than that really.

I realize this picture is a repeat. Sydney puts up a lot of food festivals, but our favorite is the Sydney Noodle night market. Lots and lots of food very festive best part it was right down the street at Hyde park every year.

This is not the best picture of the tower but it's the best I could find. Pretty much every big city has a tower these days, but I really enjoyed visiting the Westfield tower, it was a nice view of all of Sydney and quite peaceful. Every visitor we had taken there seemed to enjoy it.

Seriously, who has birds this color? beautiful! Much better than the grackles and pigeons we have here at home.

QVB. The Queen Victoria Building, a place of high end shopping some hidden treasures for food a great hobby store and has an awesome 4 story christmas tree running up the middle decked out in Swarovski crystals. A night they don't close the building until late but all the shops are closed (it has an access to the train station) it's a great place to take a picture, it has an old school architecture and during the holidays the lights are pretty neat.

Jacaranda tree. This tree is a transplant from South America apparently but they are everywhere. For several weeks during the year whole areas are this purple color.

I don't know why, but bottarga di muggine  (the italian name) is a delicacy that is highly prized in Chinese cuisine, but I have found it very popular in Italian, Greek, Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. It's a cured egg roe sac of a black mullet. (the Italian do Tuna as well) easily found in lots of places around the world but not in the US. Anyhow I brought like 7 home if necessary I'll go back and get more :)

One of my friends would occasionally get us all together and take us to his favorite middle eastern restaurants. (he's moving to Austin, so I can't wait to see what he thinks of some of the local stuff here) Anyhow, I'll miss our outings and dinner talks.

There is an often missed gem that you should go see. On the south east pylon of the Sydney harbor bridge there is a museum where you can go all the way to the top of the pylon and learn about the building of the bridge and get a magnificent view of the harbor. The door way is very non-descript but it's worth a hike up to see, you get to it on the street level not the "bridge walk" where you go over the bridge.  It's one of those things that even the locals don't seem to know about. When I told my coworkers about it the reply was, "oh? there's a museum up there? I've seen people go up there but never been myself".

Pilu at freshwater (beach). We had brunch there. Sardianian food very yummy. This was the roast piglet which is *the* dish people get. I wish there were more of it.

Cockatoos, they are everywhere. Cute but noisy.

They let me rent a boat out in BarrenJoey. Lots to do in the Palm Beach area.

I talked about St Mary's cathedral. You really need to go in and take a look. It's a beautiful church.

I know I've talked about the opera house but you should take a tour. The inside is as magnificent as the outside.

And there are so many more theatres and rooms than the three big auditoriums. The place goes levels deep and hosts a lots of smaller performances in various room tucked under the main platform that the main auditoriums sit on top of. Above is one of the smaller theaters where they do some TV productions. There are 1000 (!!!!) rooms in the Sydney Opera house!

(I'm about to cause an argument. )Our favorite fish and chips place was Doyles at Watson's bay.  It's kinda classier than their other establishments, but the fish was done really well here and there's lots of fish and preparations to choose from.

I did get to see a local Rugby game. It was a hoot. Something about being will get you cheering for the team, even if you know nothing about the game or how it's scored. Fortunately I had a friend to help me out there. (Thanks Woody!)

More bridge and harbor. This is from the west side of the bridge from Dawes point. Less folks visit that part but there are some nice restaurants near there.

Well start with the harbor and you end with the harbor. I'm sure there's a bunch of stuff I've missed, but these were definitely the minimum highlights. Two years flashes by really quickly and there's a lot to miss about my temporary home, if you go I hope you visit some of these places just make sure you take some time there, it's a long way to go and you might as well see everything while you're there!