Monday, June 30, 2008

It's Here! It's Here! Sausages To Come ...

I've wanted to make some sausage and hot dogs for a while now. But, my only plate for my Hobart's sausage grinding attachment has small holes. Makes it hard to stuff the sausage.

So, I looked into buying a sausage stuffing plate from a supplier in the States. Looked like by the time shipping was included, it'd cost me about US$40 and would take three to four weeks to arrive. Not bad.

Still, I'm trying to wean myself off of having things shipped in as much as possible. So, I went to a friend of mine in town and he pointed me to a machine shop. A scale drawing and P500 down payment got them started.

What I thought would take only a few days, took two-and-a-half weeks. Turns out, finding a piece of stainless steel the right size was hard around here. That took the bulk of the time. In the end, my plate was made from a piece of stainless steel sawed from the end of a piece intended to be a propeller shaft.

When all was said and done, total cost was P1700 (US$38.20). A little less money, made in less time, and I didn't send to the States for it. A victory, I'd say.

Plus, now I can make some nice country-style breakfast links. Haven't had those since I left the US. Looking forward to playing with that recipe.

I'll be sure to post ...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

HFCS ... Scourge!

Yes, this is coming right on the heels of my last post. After reading the ingredient list on the bottle of "liquid smoke" and seeing high fructose corn syrup, I just had to write something.

Warning: rant mode on.

HFCS, or high fructose corn syrup, is used as a sweetener in all kinds of industrial food. It's cheaper than sugar (from either sugar beets or sugar cane), it lasts longer, and it's easier to handle.

In my not-so-humble opinion ... so what?!? It doesn't taste as good, there's some controversies about the its health effects vs. normal sugars, and ... well, it's industrial food!

Here's a nice example: I'm a big can of Coca Cola. Love the stuff. Actually, I love it too much and I'm trying to quit (emphasis on the "trying"). Back in the States, Coke is made with HFCS.

When I moved to the Philippines, I noticed that the Coke tasted better. How could that be? They're the same, right? Wrong! Philippine Coke is made with cane sugar. Yes, good, old fashioned cane sugar.

Oh, it is so much better. And, it's P21 per liter (as of this writing, that's about US$0.48). So, it's cheaper, too. Ha!

OK, OK, I know it'd be more expensive to use cane sugar in the US because it's not quite as tropical as the Philippines. Still, the difference is in the taste. That's the point.

Sugar tastes better than HFCS. Sugar is also not seriously highly processed goo.

There's a reason that Kosher Coke (Coca Cola made for Passover) is so popular. It's made with cane sugar. There's a reason that Dr. Pepper connoisseurs love the "Dublin Dr. Pepper" (Dr. Pepper made in a plant in Dublin, TX) ... cane sugar, not HFCS.

I'm going to try my best to avoid this junk. And, I hope that more corporations stop using it. Stop being cheap and taking shortcuts.

OK, I feel better now.

Coming Soon ...

I've run out of barbecue sauce. So, it's time to make more.

I have a recipe that I've used for a while now. It uses corn syrup, which is an ingredient that I'd like to stop using. This time, I'm not going to experiment with that.

Why? Because I just got a gift box from abroad. In it where bottles of Stubb's Liquid Smoke.

I think my purveyor of hard-to-get-in-the-Philippines goods (otherwise known as my father) thought this would be interesting to try. I'd agree. I've never used this product before. So, I'm looking forward to trying it.

I like the packaging. Boy, does it look authentic. Not like those Wright's labels. Stubb's looks like something that should be on any pantry shelf.

Well, I was thinking that until I read the ingredients. What's in Stubb's? Water, soy sauce, hickory smoke flavor, vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, garlic and onion powder, spice.

HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)?!? I'm beginning to suspect that this product is more marketing that it is high quality food. Any chucklehead can slap together a simple marinade in a matter of minutes and avoid paying for the high cost of these folks' packaging.

What's in Wright's (the product I've used for years)? Water and natural hickory smoke concentrate.

Oh, you mean the liquid smoke has liquid ... and smoke ... and that's it? Who would've guessed?

I'm still going to make some barbecue sauce with the Stubb's. I'm just not quite as looking forward to it as I was.

In all fairness to Stubb's, it looks like it is designed to be a ready-to-use marinade and not just an ingredient. As such, perhaps it should really be labeled "Stubb's Hickory Smoke-Flavored Marinade" rather than "Stubb's Hickory Liquid Smoke".

Interestingly enough, when you go to Stubb's web site, they have a recipe for a marinade using these "liquid smoke" products. Basically, use the hickory or mesquite liquid smoke, add a little salt, a little black pepper, a little bit of Worcester or soy sauce, and some lime juice.

At the Stubb's web site, they've got a few nice blue bits on their little jukebox. Sets a nice tone while you look at some of the pictures. Looks like a lot are of concerts at their bar and the bulk of the rest of Stubb himself. There are a few of some decent authentic Texas BBQ pits. Love that.

So, from the looks of it, the Stubb's products have a good pedigree. And, I bet if you went to their establishment in Texas that you'd partake in some amazing barbecue (any restaurant with a real pit and who gets in the likes of B. B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan is fine by me). It's just that the mass market products are made for, well, the mass market. You know, industrial food.

Just for kicks, I cracked the bottles open and tasted each straight. The Wright's tastes like what it is: smoke. The Stubb's products also taste like what they are: simple marinades without the acid component. So, perhaps the Stubb's liquids will perform well in the role for which they were obviously intended ... as nearly complete marinades.

We'll see. I'll try them out both as a liquid smoke ingredient in my BBQ sauce and as marinade starters.

More when I have it ...

More on Ingredients ...

Yes, I'm obsessed about ingredients, aren't I? I didn't used to be. Didn't used to care much. Now, since a lot aren't easily available to me, I am.

I definitely plan to post recipes that I make and pictures of the results ... good or bad. But, I also plan to post my trials and tribulations with getting or making basic ingredients.

Today, I'm sick. Very sick. Probably-should-be-on-antibiotics sick. So, I spent the day perusing other food blogs. Really great things are getting posted out there.

One thing that was immediately apparent to me: my recipes are going to end up looking far more complex than many. See, I don't have Cream of Chicken soup available to me anytime of the day or night. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, one of the more interesting local stores will bring in things from Manila. I can't count on that.

So, I'm going to work on, test, and develop recipes that do many things from ... gasp ... scratch. And, in the case of many herbs, I'll have to grow them myself.

Yes, yes, I know that this is what fine restaurants do. One minor point: I'm not a professional culinarian. I don't even play one on TV.

There's a lot to figure out. I'm actually looking forward to it. I hope I don't punish my taste buds too much.

Initial Inspiration

In the days before channels on TV like the Food Network, cooking shows were relegated to late night TV and public television. There were many great personalities. But, the one I liked best was Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet.

He was based in Seattle. I thought that was very cool. Yes, later on he ran into personal issues. Those did not detract, for me, at least, from his cooking.

I purchased a few of his cookbooks. Possibly the one that was the most inspirational for me was The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother. This had such great recipes in it. Recipes that allowed me to learn how to cook foods from the various restaurants about town that I enjoyed so much.

The recipe that sticks out the most in my mind is the one for pierogi. At the time, I worked in downtown Seattle near a little Russian restaurant called Kaleenka. Unfortunately for those still living in Seattle, it is now closed. It was there I learned to love Russian food ... especially borscht!

I'm pretty sure this book is long out-of-print. So, buy it used if you see it somewhere. Or, snag it used from (just click on the picture of the book). Lots of folks there are selling it used for a penny. Cheap for what this book contains.

Industrial Food

In my previous post, I used the phrase "industrial food". I've used this phrase for years to describe highly-processed foods or foods with ingredients one can only find in a factor. Yes, I take credit for it ... ha!

For me, on one end of the food scale is industrial food. At the other end is pure, raw, organic food.

I'm not a big fan of industrial food. Industrial food leads to lesser quality final product. Yes, it's easy in a factory. But, do we really want to live our lives consuming that which is easy to make in vast quantities? Or, do we want to spend a little more time and a little more money on food that tastes and satisfies far, far more? I pick the latter.

Food, however, is not entirely science. This isn't black-and-white. Is industrial food always bad? No, but it usually is. Is organic food always good? No, raw free range chicken is probably not the best for you.

Somewhere between the two is probably the best compromise. Although, I've found the more I stay away from industrial foods, the better I feel.

That said, I'm no zealot. Sometimes I want a McDonald's Quarter Pounder and fries and nothing else will do.

Ingredient Differences

I believe I may have left the wrong impression about ingredients here ... that the differences are all bad. They're not. Not by a long shot.

Sure, the availability of many things is low to non-existent. Want liquid smoke? Unless you know Manila very, very well, it's easier and cheaper to just have it shipped from the States.

That said, many of the local ingredients are of much higher quality and far, far fresher than their American brethren.

Take the tomato. In the stores in the States, tomatoes are gorgeous. Perfect round, large, red orbs. Their Philippine counterparts are like small, green Romas ... just not the most appetizing by looks alone.

Don't judge a tomato by its color!

Now, before I say anything here, let me just make it clear that there are exceptions to what I'm about to write. BC Hothouse makes exceptional tomatoes of high quality and taste. And, they're not involved in the current salmonella problem. I'm sure there are many other examples of fine, quality ingredients available.

The average American tomato in our megamarts are designed to be trucked hundreds or thousands of miles to market. It's been bred to take that treatment and still arrive looking good for the consumer. Industrial quality! Industrial taste. If you like industrial cardboard.

The average Philippine tomato, once you let it sit and ripen, tastes great. It's not some special strain.

The meats here, fresh. I go to a local butcher. The owner seems to be fanatical about cleanliness and sanitation. I cannot express how much I appreciate that. Not to mention the meat is very fresh. Very fresh. I've heard rumors that in some cases the time from slaughter to the butcher's display case is under 24 hours ... well under.

Fish? Nearly still flopping if you hit the mercado (market) when the fishermen come in at the end of the day. Incredible quality.

Fruits, vegetables, garlic, ginger ... all trucked in nearly daily to the mercado. Very fresh and not some industrial crop strain that's taken all the flavor out of the food.

Mangos ... here's a nice example. Before I moved to the Philippines, I hated mangos. The ones we could get in the Seattle area were garbage. Sure, sometimes you got lucky and bought a halfway adequate mango. Usually, they were a bit fibrous and not all that sweet.

Here? Good Googly Moogly! They're like candy! Sweet, golden, juicy. Simply amazing.

So, ingredients here are different. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, sometimes, just not available at all. I guess that's all part of the fun.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yet Another Food Blog (YAFB)

Why? Why another food blog?

Why not?

I find myself in a position that seems a bit foreign. Well, more than a bit. I'm living in a foreign country.

Many of the ingredients here are different. Food availability here is completely different. Back in the States, if I wanted some saffron at 3:25am, I just hopped in the car and bought some at my local 24-hour megamart. Now, if I want saffron, I have to call a friend in another city (Cebu or Manila) and have them ship it to me.

Used to be, when I wanted lotus leaves to make Nor Mai Gai, I'd just drive about ten miles to my local Ranch 99 Market and buy them, cheap! Of course, I didn't mind this because I'd also buy very, very freshly made char siu pork. When I want lotus leaves now, I had them mailed from the States. The leaves cost US$15 (US$3 per package of ten), the postage was US$60. Still worth it! next time, though, we'll ship them the slow way via balikbayan box.

Dairy products? We have a few cheeses and cheese products in small supply: Cheddar, Swiss, Mozzarella, cream cheese, and bad, flavorless imitations of American cheese. We also get milk and cream. However! Said milk and cream is pasteurized using the UHT method. What does that mean? It has little flavor and doesn't behave like my beloved milk from home.

Yogurt? Sometimes. Cottage cheese? No. Sour cream? No chance.

Let me repeat that: no sour cream.

So, I've done what any sane person would do ... try to recreate many of these things myself.