Sunday, November 30, 2008

Surprise Smoked Ribs

I was at a new meat shop today buying some pork loin.  The loin is an unusual order here, so I special order it.  The shop knows that I love ribs ... and they had ribs ... and they dangled them under my nose.

What's a guy to do?  Yup ... buy them all.  It was only about 3 kilos of ribs.  Enough for the small contingent of the Primary Test Team (three people plus me right now) who are at the house tonight.

I'm a relative neophyte when it comes to smoking meats. So, in all honesty, I did something just wrong. The meat was good, we ate it all ... just not as good as I want.  I want to do better.

I want people to think that they're dreaming when they eat my food.  Is that too much to ask?

  • 3 kilograms pork ribs
  • salt
  • BBQ sauce

I prepped my little smoker.  It's a small stainless steel unit that uses LPG (propane) to heat up wood chips and keep the insides nice and toasty.  Lots of scrubbing yielded something in which I'd cook and eat the results.

I washed and laid the ribs out on my cutting board.  As usual, I have to cut the spinal bones off of the top of the ribs.  Lots of meat everywhere.  These were cut well.  Perhaps this meat shop likes me.  I keep buying all their ribs (I learned the word lahat (all, in Tagalog) just to make my life easier when ordering).

I didn't brine or marinade the meat.  I didn't even use a rub.  I just sprinkled the meat with some ordinary table salt and let it sit for 20 minutes.

To smoke I used dried bagul (coconut shells). I recently joined a BBQ and smoking forum and some of the experts there recommended I try this.  I'm glad that I did!  More on that later ...

Into my little smoker with the delicious meat.  It's so fresh and pink right now.  Little does it know that it's going to spend hours getting dark and lovely.

Here's the meat after about two hours of smoking.  The internal temperature is up to about 140F (60C) right now.  My target was 165F (75C).  I still must wait ...

The little wire you see is my probe thermometer.  The wire was a stainless steel mesh sheathing that lets it go into high-temperature environments.  Like stoves and smokers.

Here's the meat as I begin to brush it with my BBQ sauce.  I started doing this about four hours into the process ... when the meat hit an internal temperature of 155F (70C).  Every fifteen minutes after this, I brushed the meat with more BBQ sauce.

Finally, the meat hit 165F (70C) internal temperature.  It was ready to come out.

I let the ribs rest for ten minutes to let the juices redistribute.  Then, finally ...

Yum, time to eat!

Test Results

Only a few testers.  The ribs were devoured.  The ribs were good, but not great.  Flavor was good, smoke definitely added to it.  The color was fantastic.  But, the texture was just wrong.  The meat was too chewy.

Potential Improvements

These weren't fall-off-the-bone.  That was definitely a disappointment for me.  I did some reasearch and asked some experts and found out that I'd smoked it completely wrong.


Ribs are nearly a no-fail proposition.  Hard to go wrong with them.

Smoking the ribs was definitely better than cooking them in the oven.  The smoke flavor brings them to a new level of tasty goodness.

Pork ribs are such fabulous meat, it deserves to be cooked well.  I need to keep practicing.  Need to make and consume many, many more racks of ribs before I'm truly happy with the results.

So far to go ... and I haven't even tried using a rub yet!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pasta From Afar!

Tonight, I took some milk of the milk I picked up in Ormoc over to a friend's house here. He's an older German gentleman who says this milk is the best he's had in ten years. He says the milk makes him very happy.

That's great.  He's a very decent person with a lot of very interesting stories.

Anyway, as a thank you, he gave me this bag of pasta.  Maybe one kilo gram of centimeter-wide noodles.  According to him it's imported from Italy.  Hand made by a farmer there.  What an amazing bonus!

But ... but ... but ...

Holy Pressure Treatment, Batman!  (yes, I watched the Batman TV show as a child ... never missed an episode)  Hand made pasta imported from Italy?

I can't just slap some red sauce on that and call it good.  That would be like buying an SUV and putting little tiny tires on it.  That would be wrong.  In fact, I did just buy an SUV and told my friend who owns the garage ... "put the biggest, knobbiest tires that will fit".  The rainy season is upon us here and many roads are not exactly small tire friendly.  Given that the rain can sometimes be measured in IPM (inches per minute), I want to be ready.

Interestingly enough, the tires look perfect.  They look like they were made for the car.

So, now I must find a sauce that is perfect for this imported treasure.

Danke, mein Freund!

Mini Stuffed Pizza Cryogenics

Sometimes I miss convenience foods.  I really loved Red Baron personal-sized microwave pizzas.  So quick and easy ... and, yet, even though they were hard-core industrial food, I still enjoyed them. 

Freezing Procedure

I'd made a couple extra mini stuffed pizzas, so I put them in the freezer.  I wrapped them in aluminum foil and let them cool.  Then, I put them into a zip-top bag and put them into the deep freeze for two weeks (these were part of my experimental batch of sourdough crust mini stuffed pizzas, I normally work on a recipe a little before I embarrass myself and post a blog entry on it).

Being the retentive sort that I am, I even included a laser-printed label inside the zip-top bag.  I'm a big fan of labeling things.  It makes life so much easier a few hectic weeks later when you look at a generic bag of food in the freezer and think "Ano?" (What?).

Re-Heating Procedure

This weekend I pulled them out and tried to bring them back to some sort of life.  One went into the oven.  300F (150C).  After 10 minutes it was still solid in the center.  This was not convenient.  Oven re-heating was out.

The other I'd tossed into my 1200 Watt microwave.  Three minutes later and it was back to as good as it was going to get.  Very hot on the outside, but the inside was ready-to-go.  After a minute of cooldown, the pizza was ready to eat.  Freezer-to-plate in under five minutes. 

After part of the Primary Test Team and I got impatient waiting for the oven test ... we just pulled it out and stuffed it into the microwave for a couple minutes.  When it comes to convenience, patience is not a virtue.

Only one problem with the whole process: the aluminum foil got stuck on the cheese.  Next time, I will let the pizzas cool and then just put them into a zip-top bag.  No alumninum foil.


Freezing these pizzas works fairly well.  Into the microwave for three minutes (presuming a 1000+ Watt microwave).  Let it cool a bit or it's going to burn your mouth badly.

Of course, these were nowhere near as good as the fresh pizzas.  I had no illusions that they would be.  These were good enough and very quick.

For frozen and then microwaved ... definite winner.

What Would Gordon Do?

Warning: Random Thoughts Ahead

Just before the recent U.S. Presidential election, my mother asked me about a candidate (no need to mention his party affiliation, this blog is non-political ... I'll only get political when campaigning against our future carnivorous alien overlords ... until that day comes, no politics here) ... "How has he done so much in his life?"

Of course, that question made me review my own life and the things that I'd done and failed to do.  The only answer I could give her was "Discipline, mom.  He is apparently a very disciplined person."

This got me thinking.  Thinking a lot.  I started to think about other people I admire for their accomplishments.  For the most part, with a few notable exceptions (The Woz comes immediately to mind), their public persona reflects large amounts of discipline.

So, I wondered ... do I have discipline?  Truthfully, the answer is that I'm getting there.  Not enough yet.

Before cooking, I'll at least gather all the ingredients.  I don't lay out a mise en place because I don't want to make a lot of dishes dirty.  I'm a home cook, not a professional with a large cleaning staff to back me up.  Still, the habit of gathering all the ingredients before cooking has saved me many times from jumping in while missing something critical.

I think that good habits are the foundation for discipline.  Like Nike kept telling us ... just do it.

I'd like to hear from those reading this ... what good kitchen habits do you have?  Do you want?  What steps do you think are necessary to get there?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ingredient Safety Tip

This weekend while I was making BBQ sauce, I noticed that one of the bags of tomato paste (tomato past and sauce comes in foil-like pouches here) smelled very odd ... very vinegary.  Fortunately, I caught this before putting it into the sauce.  I suspect Very Bad Things were growing in that paste.

What was surprising was the bag showed no signs of being puffy or expanded before I opened it.  I always check for that, just like one should always check cans for expansion.

Maybe I'm being a little paranoid here.   But, to be safe, be sure to smell your ingredients when you open them. 

Corn Syrup Showdown

Well, my hand is finally healing up.  It's still painful, but I'll be alright in the long run. Thank you very much to those who sent their kind wishes.

I was at the store this weekend doing a little shopping.  I want to get back to cooking this week.  In fact, I'm going to go on a Dim Sum kick.  I really love Dim Sum and decided that since there are no restaurants here that serve it, I'll have to make it myself.  Kind of like my whole Pizza Quest.

Anyway, back to the topic of this post: corn syrup.  I had to make some BBQ sauce this weekend.  So, I bought some corn syrup.  The stores were out of Karo brand, so I picked up a couple of brands I'd never tried.  One was bottled in Manila.  The other was actually the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup.

I bought them both because I was in a bind.  I need to find a suitable substitute because I don't want to get stuck buying HFCS again.

Out of curiosity, I taste tested them all.  Karo, Shamrock, and nameless HFCS.

Karo was the brand with which I was most familiar.  My mom used it since dinosaurs roamed the earth.  And, I suspect that her mother used it while the planets were forming out of the galactic chaos.  So, I'll compare the other brands to it.

Shamrock, bottled in Manila, had the same consistency as Karo but not as rich.  That seemed odd as both were labeled "corn syrup".  Being curious these days, I looked at the ingredients.  Karo has vanilla!  I didn't know that.  Oh, those cheaters!

The HFCS was thinner and sweet.  Probably three times as sweet as the other two.  Its flavor was very much like the Shamrock brand corn syrup.  Very neutral, just sweet.  Unless I'm left with no choice, I will not buy this again.  Wouldn't have purchased it this time had I not needed it.

Given that I don't really want vanilla automatically added with corn syrup, I'll probably buy the Shamrock in the future.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shift Into Slow For A Bit

Well, I had lots of nice things planned.  But, Nature decided against that.   Sunday night, something bit me in the center of my right palm (my primary hand, by the way).  I'd ignored it until today.  I thought it would be OK.  There was a little water and a definite itch. 

Today I noticed that my hand was far more swollen, both my wife and mother confirmed this.  Then, I noticed a reddish line going up my right arm along the vein.  OK, time to see the doctor.

Went to the local emergency room.  The doctor didn't seem to think it was any big deal.  Gave me a strong antibiotic and a anti-allergen.  He said the red strip is an allergic reaction to the bite.

What about the high-fever, freezing shakes last night, doc?  Allergic reaction, too.

Terrific.  At least I'm on medication now.  He says in a few days it all should be fine. 

A few days, swell.  That's forever!  Just cutting up some butter this morning was a uncomfortable. 

So, I guess it's light stuff for now.  Certainly, Tuesdays with Dorie is postponed this week (I'm doing the rice pudding ... I think my family will love it).  But, there's no way I'm going to manage extended stirring.  My right hand is out of it and my left handis as coordinated as a jackhammer is quiet and subtle.

This does provide a great excuse to catch up with my reading.  I just received How To Cook Everything, The Flavor Bible, and a half-dozen books on how to make Dim Sum.

Time to pop back some Ibuprofen and read about all those delicious dishes that float past on the carts at my favorite Chinese restaurants ...

Bounty from the South

I had heard rumors of a small store in Tanauan that had imported goods.  Naturally, I had to go look.  Tanauan is maybe 10-15 minutes south of where I live.  And, since I have all the patience of small child hyped-up on industrial sweeteners and concentrated caffeine ... I went immediately.

Luckily, I found the place quickly.  They had a nice selection of products that the stores in Tacloban don't have.  And, since I have the will power of that same small child holding his parent's credit card in the toy department at Macy's ... I bought everything that interested me.

Oh, look at it all ... Hungarian sausage, spray whipping cream, little packets of various james and jellies, sliced American cheese, cottage cheese, tater-tot-style hash browns, Colby cheese, hot pepper Jack cheese ... and, the piece de resistance ... HP Sauce!

For those who don't know, HP Sauce (formally known as House of Parliament Sauce), comes from England.  It is one of England's finest contributions to cuisine.  Having had steak with HP, I now would rather have my steaks bare than to spoil them with Heinz 57 or that dreadful A-1.

I am spoiled forever.  And, I like it this way ...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stuffed Pizza Stuffed Me!

Stuffed pizza ... if you love crust this is Pizza Nirvana.  It has an extra layer of crust on top.  Plus, this form of pizza, usually associated with Chicago, allows toppings to be crammed inside in quantities that a normal two-dimensional pizza won't allow.

Yes, this variant allows one to put even more meat, cheese, and tasty veggies onto and into Nature's Most Perfect Food ... pizza. While large factions argue about which kind of pizza is better ... New York or Chicago ... I simply enjoy both.  Good crust, good cheese, meat, sauce ... put together in ways that would make any nutritionist or dietitian cry?   That, my millions of loyal fans, is great food.

I am very proud of this particular post.  The pizza pictured is made nearly 100% from scratch.  The dough, the mozzarella, the sauce, and the Italian sausage were all made by me.  Only the Parmesan cheese was purchased.  And, I'm not sure I want to start making my own hard cheese ... 18 to 24 months is a long time to wait for results.


I made the pizza dough. I covered it and let it rise while preparing the ingredients.


I preheated the oven to 400F (205C).  While the oven was heating and the dough was rising, I prepared the ingredients.

The sauce I pulled out of my freezer.  I make it in large batches and then freeze it in serving-sized portions to make my life easier when I want to make pizza.

I shredded the mozzarella.  Look at that beautiful mozzarella.  I'm so proud.  That's the first one that I made myself.

The Italian sausage I browned.  This is my own as well.

Lastly, the Parmesan ... I cut open the bag.  I sincerely doubt that I'll ever make my own Parmesan.  18 to 24 months of waiting for results would be quite difficult for me to take.  Waiting 18 to 24 minutes is bad enough! 


Once the dough was ready, I rolled out a large piece and draped it over my mini springform pan.


Next, a sprinkling of shredded mozzarella.


A layer of browned Italian sausage.


Then, a little more shredded mozzarella.


I rolled out another piece of dough and draped it over the top.  I pinched the edges much like a pie crust to seal the lower section.


I put some sauce on the top.  Spread it around nicely.  Don't put on too much!


Finally, a sprinkling of mozzarella and Parmesan.


Into the oven for 25 minutes at 400F.

Only two problems ... first, I didn't know that my oven was behaving properly when I made it.  So, what I thought was 400F was really 450F.  Oops.

Second, I forgot to put some kind of ventilation in the lower section.  So, it made this beautiful dome.


I didn't want my wonderful mozzarella and Italian sausage to go to waste.  So, I cut the Blackened Dome open. 


The meat and cheese was scooped out and rescued.  I don't mind the dough and sauce dying ... but, my precious homemade cheese and sausage deserved to be saved.


On the second time around, I didn't put the sauce and cheese on the top at first.  And, I punched vent holes in the top of the top dough.

I put the pizza into the oven at 400F (205C) for about 12 minutes.  Really, you just need to watch it until the middle of the top dough is turning golden brown.

Once the pizza reached that point, I put sauce on the top then sprinkled the cheeses over it.  I put the pizza back into the oven for another ten minutes.

Here it is ... the delicious successful stuffed pizza!


Test Results

Primary Test Group:  Rabid, ravenous wolves eat slower than these folks ate the pizzas.

Test Group C: It's so small.  I need more.

Test Group M: Very good!

Potential Improvements

None that I can think of at the moment. 

Potential Variations

Sourdough crust and different ingredients.  The usual infinite variety of pizzas.


The flavor was amazing.  Oh so good ... and popular.  I had one person ask if I sell these (tempting).

This is the first time that I've made everything from scratch (Parmesan aside).  It is such a great feeling to do that.  To build something like this completely from scratch ... fantastic.

It inspires me to keep pushing to do more.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Pork Ribs ... So Cheap and So Good!

My newborn niece was coming home today.  Her parents had missed last night's feeding frenzy.  So, I thought that I'd make more ribs for them.

I dropped by my Secret Pork Rib Source (it's so secret I won't even tell my mother where it is) and bought all their ribs.  All.

Look at those ribs ... that's 6.5 kilograms of fresh pork ribs.  Six-and-a-half kilograms!  OK, there's some spine in there.  That's OK.  The meat on the spine is quite good, too!

The best part?  Well, honestly, the best part is the pork ribs.  The second best part is that they were P150 per kilo.  Yes, you read that right, 150 Philippine Pesos per kilogram.  Yes, that's about US$1.40 per pound.

Great ribs at a really great price.  Life is good!

202.0 km ... Return To The Milk

24 liters of milk just went so fast.  I have it in my head that I must learn to make cheese, so I called up the milk co-op in Ormoc and ordered another 100 liters.  I was told by the good doctor (yes, a doctor runs the co-op's marketing) that it would be about a week to get the order ready.

He called a couple days early.  Fortunately, my new (new to me, used to the world) truck was ready and we headed out.  This time, I took my sous chef and his mother (otherwise known as my wife).  To the right you can see my sous chef examining the milk we're buying.

Here's our freezer now ... if you look closely, you can see (bottom right) a couple of stuffed pizzas that I'm doing some cryo-testing on for a future post.  I want to make sure they're seriously frozen before I pull them out and try to bring them back to something close to life.

Sinful Pork Ribs

From what I understand, gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I think, after tonight, I've racked up enough of that particular sin to last a few lifetimes. Know that, if I had to do it all over again, I would!

It all started innocently. I was coming home from getting a haircut when I stopped by a new meat shop in town. It's owned by a fellow member of the local Rotary Club. So, I figured it would be OK.

I walked in and scanned the place. It's the usual local meat shop ... mostly pork and chicken with some random vegetables for those who don't want to go down to the mercado to pick out the best available (pay more for lower quality just to save time? no thanks ... not for me).

The sales girl asked "how much of the pork do you want?" I simply replied "all, please". Why all? Because pork ribs are hard to find around here. I have one place in town where I can get them on a regular basis and I won't tell anyone else. Most of the local pork ribs are snatched by the restaurants before the ribs even hit the market. This might be a second place where I can get ribs. That's good.

So, I took the ribs home and go to work ...


I preheated the oven to 300F (150C).

Then, I prepared the meat. I took each piece and trimmed it of excess fat. I also like to cut the spinal portions from the rib portions. This is fairly easy to do if you have a sharp and sturdy chef's knife. If you don't have one, get one! Mine is 20 years old. They are absolutely worth the investment!

Don't forget to remove any silverskin! That stuff doesn't chew well, doesn't let through any flavors, or anything good. It's just an impediment to your eating pleasure. Remove it with extreme prejudice.

Here is the final product. From left to right, I have one rib piece, one spine piece, and a bit of extra that I will use later to grind into ground pork for making sausage.

Here are my basting utensils and supplies. Notice the lovely bottle of Kuya's Kitchen Kansas City-style Barbecue Sauce. Oh, what a grand bottle and such a fancy, fancy label upon it, too!

I laid out all the prepared and cleaned ribs onto a half-sized baking sheet. Oh, look at all those lovely ribs sitting there waiting to be seasoned, sauced, cooked, and eaten!

I sprinkled approximately a tablespoon of salt onto these and let them sit for an hour.

After sitting for an hour, I poured some of my barbecue sauce on the ribs and used the brush to get the sauce everywhere.

After brushing all the ribs with sauce, I transferred the ribs to a 9" x 13" roasting pan. Why I didn't just put the ribs in there in the first place? Honestly, I don't know. Perhaps my mother dropped me on my head too many times as a baby. In any case, next time I'll just put the ribs directly into the roasting pan.

I poured about two cups of the barbecue sauce all over the ribs. I sealed the pan with aluminum foil. Then, put the pan into the oven for two-and-a-half hours. Yes, 150 minutes! Seems like a long time. Trust me!

Here are the ribs after their 2.5 hour stint in the hot box. Wow, look at them. Yes, I removed the aluminum foil.

At this point, I turned the temperature up to 350F (175C). I also basted them heavily with their own juices.
Then, back into the oven for another 20 minutes. You could eat these already, but don't! Let a nice thick juicy layer of sauce form on the ribs. You'll be happy you did.

Here they are. Nearly three hours of cooking and they are magnificent!

Let the ribs sit for about 10 minutes. This will let the juices distribute nicely in the meat.

I used some tongs to pile these up onto a plate to serve. The only problem I had was that the meat was so tender that the ribs tended to break apart.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: We've already eaten, kuya ... but, we'll have a bite. *chomp* *chomp* *chomp* Good kuya! *chomp* *chomp* *chomp*

I suspect they liked it. Here's what they left of the 2.5 kilograms of ribs:

And, here's one of the ravenous beasts my sous chef attempting to gnaw on the bones!

Test Group C: Small sample going out. Update to come soon.

Potential Improvements

More ribs.

Potential Variations

More ribs.

Try cooking in the smoker with coconut sawdust to make the smoke.

Maybe a little extra flavor like cooking them with onions on top or try cooking them with potatoes.


Definitely needed more ribs.

Absolute winner. I had a hard time cutting the ribs apart they were so tender. The meat was just falling everywhere.

I'm so proud right now ...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Soy Sauce Showdown!

A while back I made some Nor Mai Gai for a friend. He commented that his family found it a bit salty for their taste (my mom had said something along these lines, too ...). So, I looked at the ingredients and noticed that the only real place where I could reduce the salt was in the soy sauce.

So, I set out to find alternative soy sauces to use. I visited all the local stores and only found Kikkoman's, Kikkoman's Light, and Silver Swan.

Now, you may be looking at the picture with this post and saying "but kuya James, where is the Silver Swan soy sauce in that picture?" Let me explain. Silver Swan is a Filipino soy sauce. It's perfect for Filipino dishes. They taste wrong if not made with this sauce. It's also cheap. A gallon is about P100 (US$2.00 right now). Can't beat that price!

"What does it taste like, kuya?" Honestly, it tastes like most other soy sauces. Just a mild difference in strength. If Kikkoman's is Lea Salonga holding your hand, looking into your eyes, and smiling while singing love songs to you with her golden voice ... Silver Swan is like Manny Pacquiao showing you why one of his nicknames is Pambansang Kamao ("National Fist").

Not exactly the subtle soy sauce that I want for most of the recipes I cook. So, I'll skip it.

Fortunately, I was told about a Chinese store that had a brand I'd never used: White Horse. I went down to the mercado and managed to find the store. This isn't always so easy as not all stores well marked and street numbers seem to be a luxury still not enjoyed here.

First, a price comparison. Kikkoman's is P111 per liter. White Horse is P100 per liter. Kikkoman's Light is P275 per liter (wow!). Obviously, I want to avoid the Kikkoman's Light if possible.

Most importantly, the taste comparison. I used the Kikkoman's as the base. All my life I've seen Kikkoman's in Asian restaurants. It's flavor is so familiar. I'm pretty sure that my blood is part soy sauce ... most likely Kikkoman's.

I compared the Kikkoman's to the Kikkoman's Light. The Kikkoman's Light is definitely less salty than the regular Kikkoman's. But, the Light has this bitter aftertaste.

Then, I tried the White Horse and compared it to the Kikkoman's. Less salt taste but still smooth. No aftertaste.


White Horse is definitely the way to go. It's the least expensive, least amount of sodium, and still manages to have a smooth taste. Unless I'm making Filipino food, I'm going to use White Horse in the future (once I've used up my stash of Kikkoman's ... don't want to waste it).

I'm really glad that I did this test I should do this with other ingredients that I've simply taken for granted over the years.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Primary Test Team Expanded!

Sorry about the lack of posts the past few days.  I've been cooking some, but also distracted.  See, the Primary Test Team just received a new member.  At 11pm on November 13, I became an uncle.  Baby and mother are doing fine.

Coming up soon ... Stuffed Pizza and another Char Siu Showdown ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's Alive!

After a couple weeks of frustration, I fixed my oven.  Yes, I did it myself.  My oven now works properly and holds the right temperature.

How did this happen?  Did a tech fly in from Cebu and deal with it?  Did we spend P5,000 on a new thermostat?

Actually, the answer is simple: I kicked it.  Yes, you read that right.  I kicked my oven.

Was it the most mature thing I've done in my life?  No.  Do the ends, in this case, justify the means?  Oh yes.

I'm back in business.  I'm happy about that.

Stay tuned for more fun ... tomorrow I'm off to Ormoc to purchase some gatas ng baka (cow's milk).  That means, more cheesemaking!  100 liters of silky white yummy milk ... and it's mine, all mine!

Don't worry, I'll share ... a little ...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Parchment For Life

Another care package arrived on Friday.  A big box of stuff which I'll keep most of a secret ... don't worry, you'll read about it eventually.  A couple of very cool ingredients!

One thing I'm very excited about is the arrival of pre-cut parchment paper.  I bought (well, my dad did, since he lives in the US) a restaurant-sized stack of pre-cut full-size parchment paper.  18" x 24".  1000 sheets.

A good friend of mine here has a print shop.  So, I had one of his workers cut the paper with their giant paper cutter.  Keep your hands OUT!

Now, 2000 sheets of pre-cut parchment for my half-sized baking sheets.  Hooray!  I figure my life must be pretty good if simple things like this make me happy.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Chok-wate Milk!

My son loves chocolate milk. Right now, it's a great way to get him to drink his milk. We limit him on it .. a glass a day. But, it's a glass of milk where there's no argument. That's a plus.

I was shopping in my favorite imported goods store a few days ago and found some Nestle's Quik (yes, I know it's Nesquik now ... I just think that sounds lame ... I'm old, I'll call it what it was called when I was a kid). I got an idea!

What if I made some instant chocolate milk? Powdered milk plus chocolate milk mix.

OK ... to the kitchen ... calculator in hand.

The Nestle's has 19 servings ... 2 tablespoons each intended for 8 ounces of milk. I decided to use half of the container because I didn't have a huge jar. We had these nifty instant coffee jars that my mom keeps emptying. So, I needed enough powdered milk to make 76 ounces of liquid milk (76 is 19 servings times 8 ounces, divided in two). Otherwise known as approximately 1.14 liters of milk.

The powdered milk wants 32.5 grams of powder for every 200 milliliters of milk produced. Since we want 1.14 liters, we need 185 grams of the powder.

Easy, eh? 185 grams of powdered milk plus 19 tablespoons (1 cup plus 3 tablespoons) of Quik ... mixed together. I tested the mix and found that it way, way too heavy on the chocolate. So, I upped the milk. 220 grams total. Much nicer.

Instant chocolate milk! Just add water.

Another satisfied customer!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Char Siu Showdown!

I want to be able to make good Dim Sum.  Really good, if possible.  I miss it.  And, I'm sure folks around here would like it.  I know my sous chef (pictured to the right) does!

For a while now, I've used a char siu (Chinese BBQ) sauce from a jar I buy at the store.  While it is somewhat OK, it's not great.  It doesn't taste authentic.

And, of course, I want to make the char siu pork from scratch.  Just like everything else.

So, I started snagging recipes from the web.  When I was done, I had eight different recipes I was going to try.  This was going to be a big cooking session.  I felt it was worth it to ensure that I found the right recipe, quickly.

While I was preparing to do the cooking, I noticed that four of the eight recipes were the same.  Just different multiples of ingredients.  So, I cut my list in half.  I adjusted each recipe to produce approximately the same amount of marinade.

With recipes in hand, I set out to test!  Mixing the marinades was easy .. just a little tedious as I didn't want to get things wrong.  I was very careful in ensuring that everything went into the correct bowls.  Four bowls of dark red yummy liquid ...


I used pork tenderloin for the meat. I know this isn't exactly authentic. But, it's readily available here. Other cuts, not so much. I like reliability.


For each recipe, I poured the marinade into a zip-lock bag ... followed by a few cuts of the pork tenderloin.  I put all the bags, in a stew pot for the color safety of the rest of my fridge's goodies, in my chest fridge over night.


Mmm, look at those hunks of meat on the rack ready to go into the oven!  Oh, I can taste it already!


While cooking, I had an idea.  All of the recipes called for pure roasting and basting.  No other methods.  While I'm sure that's the way that they do it in restaurants, I wanted to try something else.

So, I took one piece of pork from Recipe G and created Recipe H.  I cooked it in its own marinade for 30 minutes.  Then, took it out and roasted it for 15 minutes.


Recipe H looked pretty good coming out.  I had high hopes for it.


Here's all the cooked pork, lined up, labeled and ready to test.


Test Results

Recipes G and H won.  These were both from the chair siu recipe from Tigers & Strawberries by Barbara Fisher.

Interestingly, the recipe that used garlic was a big hit with many of the Filipinos.  It was sweeter than the others.  I think that's the main reason.


Now onto step 2: test cooking methods.  I'm looking at roasting, baking it in its marinade then roasting, and smoking.

I'll let you know ...