Grant McWilliams

Food Blog

Food Blog

Food is the only art you can eat.

Moussaka and homeade wheat pita

We haven't had Moussaka for quite a while and we had a decent Cab Sauv in the fridge going to waste (along with lamb in the freezer) so Natalya made Moussaka tonight. We usually use my Côtes du Rhône blend in the Moussaka but always welcome a change. I'd planned on making pita bread for dinner but picked up some packaged pita at Zam Zam the local Indian/Pakistan/everythingstan market for $1.19 which is pretty cheap. Even though I still planned on making Pita sometimes I get home and just don't have the motivation to spend two hrs making bread so eating the packaged pita was the fallback plan.

As usual dinner is a family event with Piper making the Bechamel sauce, I made the Pita bread and Natalya made the bulk of the Moussaka. Jade provided cleanup duty. The recipe is getting pretty good so it will be going up on this site soon. I also liked the Pita a lot. I used 1/3 wheat flower and 2/3 white flour for a nice mix. I cooked them on the pizza stone at 500 degrees F under the broiler and all puffed up in about 1 minute flat. Prep time for the Pita bread was about 2 hrs because you have to let it rise. Total cost for 8 Pita was 42 cents (not including electricity) plus the price of a TBS of farm honey which I don't know the price of. I'd estimate that I paid half to make Pita over buying them at the cheapest place in town. Compare the 42 cents to $1.19 and they're a good deal but compare them to $2.99-$3.99 at the grocery and they become a great deal.

Natalya and Jade wasn't so hot on the idea of having 1/3 wheat bread but I'm still playing with that. Ingredients for the Pita were White flour, wheat flour, honey, olive oil, yeast and salt. I however thought they were excellent and I ate two dipped in tzatziki sauce. The Tzatziki needs work as it came out too cucumberish and not yogurtish. We've made this a bunch of times but always forget to write down the recipe that we like the best.

So stayed tuned, the Moussaka will be going into the online recipebook here at grantmcwilliams.com and the Pita recipe will go up after the next time I make them. I'd like a white pita too for my wonderbread kids. Oh, and from the photo to the right you can tell that something is dripping from the Pita, that's Ghee! When I pulled them from the oven I brushed Ghee on them since it wouldn't be overpowering like Olive Oil.

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Smoked pork loin

I've been wanting to move away from all processed foods and one thing I've been eating for 20 years is frozen burritos for breakfast. It might be weird to think of burritos as breakfast food but I've always liked them and they're convenient. Once I became poor (my current income category) I started looking at making my own burritos for cost reasons but it's really really hard to make them less than 30 cents each which is what I buy them for. Granted they'd be better for me and taste better but oh the agony of labor.

A few weeks ago I boiled about 5 lbs of pork loin with onion, garlic and some other stuff. Once it was just falling apart I shredded it, seared it along with some onion, added pureed roast tomatoes, chilis and garlic then Mexican tomato rice and black beans and wrapped them in a large tortilla. These were surprisingly good and have convinced me that it's worth the effort.

I'm not satisfied with the flavor of the poached pork so this time since I was home working anyway I put the loin in the smoker. It was also an experiment in how long many hours I can get out of it on each chimney of charcoal. I placed bricks from the front yard in the belly of the smoker, started a charcoal chimney of lump charcoal and using the minion method dumped it over a layer of unburned charcoal. I apparently choked the air down too much because 4 hrs later the temp had dropped below 200 degrees.  Lump charcoal seems to want more air than brickettes as the firebox was half full of unburned charcoal. I started a half chimney of brickettes to throw on top of the unburned lump and let it go. I returned from the concert tonight to find my smoker still at 200 degrees! Not bad, I replenished once in 11 hrs and the temperature never fluctuated more than 50 degrees always staying between 200 and 250. Next time I'll give the lump more air to keep it alive and see how long I can go without replenishing. Keep in mind this is all being done with a $99 offset smoker picked up from Wallmart. Ok so it has a few modifications but still.

Tomorrow I'll shred it, combine it with grilled onion, a little sauce, my black beans I cooked today, some roasted tomato and pasilla salsa, my classic tomato Mexican rice and maybe some cheese and throw it in a burrito. I'll let you know how it turns out. The smell is awesome so far.

 

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Herb Pierogies with Braised Fennel

So I was just walking through H-mart my local asian grocery and I saw Fennel (Anise) for $.89 ea which is cheap so I bought a bulb. What do I use it for you ask? I have a Fennel, quince and Butternut squash bake that is real nice but tonight I thought about something different. After last weekends BBQ several friends left some Chardonnay and since I didn't want to waste it I decided to braise the Fennel in it.  The Fennel went into a pan with some butter, sugar and salt and I seared it then added broth, thyme and Chardonnay and braised it for about 20 minutes. This works OK as a side dish but I wanted it as the main dish so I boiled some Herb Pierogies and threw them in and dinner was done. Not bad. The strangest thing though was 3 out of 4 of us thought the braised Fennel tasted like Pepperoni pizza. It really did! Maybe it was the thyme but the flavor was strong enough when I was cooking that I could smell it and everyone but Piper tasted it. Piper's so visual I didn't think she can taste anything but what she sees and what she saw was onion. Frown Add a comment

Chicken Phad Thai

Been in a bit of a Thai mood lately. I've always liked Thai food but haven't had the money to go out so I'm working on getting down a few recipes as well as the restaurants so I can eat it at home. I like Phad Thai for the most part but can't justify buying it in a restaurant because 10 minutes after I eat I'm starving again. Credit the rice noodles for that I think.

Phad Thai isn't really an authentic dish just like Chicken Tikki Masala didn't come from India and fortune cookies didn't come from China. Phad Thai translates as Thai Style noodles and from the name you'd realize that if it's Thai Style it isn't Thai.. Because of the popularity of the dish I've heard that it's made it's way to Thailand and you can actually buy it there now.

Anyway it's a staple at American Thai shops so off I go to make it. In my previous post about Thai Red Curry I mentioned that I was searching for one particular brand of Red Curry paste - Mae Ploy. In my search I also found Mae Ploy brand Phad Thai sauce and they only wanted $1.67 at 99 Ranch Market so I picked some up. Mae Ploy Pad Thai sauce has the following ingredients in it.

  • Palm Sugar
  • Shallot
  • Water
  • Fish Sauce
  • Soy Bean Oil
  • Vinegar
  • Tamerind
  • Red Chili
  • Salted Radish
  • Dried Shrimp
  • Salt

Since I have 8 of those ingredients already in the garage I may see how much it would cost to make this. You might be thinking that at $1.69/jar it's not worth it but I had to use two jars for my 16 oz of noodles making 50% of the cost of the meal the sauce. The flavor of the sauce was good enought that I also wondered if Thai shops were just using this with some additions of their own instead of fashioning their own sauce but it seemed cost prohibitive. We got probably two orders of Pad Thai out of two jars so maybe they do. I still think they make their own or buy it in bulk.

I mentioned that I used two jars but that's not entirely true. I also had a jar of Por Kwan Pad Thai Sauce which I also added to my pan. This in my opinion is the correct amount of sauce for 16 oz Rice Stick noodles but flavor of the Por Kwan was so so wherease the Mae Ploy looked and smelled like great Pad Thai sauce. Mae Ploy impresses me again!

To make the dish complete I added several things.

  • 1.5 lb of chicken
  • 16 oz Rice Stick noodles
  • 2 8 oz jars Pad Thai sauce
  • Large handful of Mung Bean sprouts
  • Small handfull of chopped peanuts

The results were so close to what restaurants sell that a guest wouldn't know they're not eating takeout. My next step is to do a cost analysis on the Pad Thai sauce and see how much it would cost to duplicate it.  The entire meal for 5 people cost us $7.50 (half of which is the sauce) which is a bit more expensive than our usual meals. The Thai Red Curry cost about $4.50 for the same amount so you can see my motivation to make the sauce.

 

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Chicken Red Curry

One of my favorite (OK my favorite) thing to eat at Thai restaurants is Chicken Red Curry. For those of you that are afraid of "curry" I have one thing to say - Curry's not a spice! What goes into Thai Red Curry is

  • red chillies
  • galanga (or sometimes fresh ginger)
  • palm sugar
  • garlic
  • lemon grass
  • salt
  • shallot
  • shrimp paste
  • lime peel
  • ground pepper.

There's nothing in there too weird and I assure you it won't make you gag or want to hurl (both actual quotes from people who don't know what curry is but insists that it causes adverse bodily reactions).

Anyway I've been looking for a certain brand of red curry paste which would save me a bunch of time cooking Thai Red Curry and after going to just about every Asian grocery in the area I finally found it at Ranch 99 market in Shoreline. It's Mae Ploy Red Curry Paste and I think it's a head above the others. I narrowed my search to this one because I peaked into the open kitchen of 123 Thai in Port Townsend and saw them using this. Granted they don't just use it straight like an Italian chef won't use only tomatoes out of a can without doctering them up first but at least I will get closer without creating the curry paste myself.

To the Red Curry paste I added more palm sugar and Thai Basil (NOT Italian basil, these are not interchangable!), coconut milk, sweet red peppers, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and chicken. The rice is straight Jasmine rice cooked in the rice cooker. I think the flavor is fairly close but in the future I'll be experimenting with more galangal.. I added 4 cups of coconut milk and I think I've settled on Arroy-D as my preferred brand of that as well. I've used some other stuff (Chaokoh) but I ton't like it nearly as much.

 

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Crablegs and Chedder Bay biscuits

You can always tell when I'm getting busy because the posts to my food blog get less frequent. There's another reason for the infrequency as well - practice. If I cook the same thing 5 times I'm not going to post that I cooked it 5 times. That would get very boring...

So we went to H-Mart our local Asian grocery and they had Snow Crab legs on sale for $4.99/lb so we picked up some. I'm almost ashamed to say that about once a year I go to Red Lobster. To give myself some credit though I don't eat the pastas so weighed down with cheese that you can't recognize it or the shrimp with so much breading on them that you can't actually prove their shrimp. When I go I eat Snow Crab and Chedder Bay Biscuits. I'm sure the bisquits don't quite fit into the fine food category but they're really quite good. The snow crab went in the steamer and Natalya melted some butter and added a dash of salt and some lemon juice. The biscuits are from the recipe online that is NOT exactly the same as Red Lobster's but close. I'd say it's about 80% similar and with some modifications to spices I think I can nail it in a time or two. Anyway an entire crab dinner and chedder bay biscuits for $10 for 4 people.

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Farmer's markets for rich people?

I just went to the Ballard Farmer's Market in Seattle. I've been to quite a few other markets in the Seattle area in the past and just updated my Farmers Market list.

From this I've decided I'm just not rich enough to buy produce from farmers. It's cheaper to have it picked in some foreign country by paid workers (although probably not paid a lot), put on trucks by paid workers, driven to the coast by paid drivers, loaded on ships by paid labor, shipped halfway across the world consuming large amounts of fuel, unloaded by paid laborers (making U.S. wages), driven to warehouses by paid drivers, stocked by paid warehouse people, trucked to my local supermarket by paid teamsters, stocked by union grocery stockers and sold to me with grocery store markup. All of this is half of what the farmers want at the local farmers markets. Tell me there isn't something wrong with this model? Am I nuts to think paying 6x as much for a dozen eggs is a bit crazy?

What about collecting eggs from chickens is so difficult? We wave the organic flag but in the past all our food was organic and it didn't cost this much. You feed the chicken corn or let it dig around in the dirt outside, you pick up the eggs and you take them to market. This costs $6 a dozen, really? After reading Omnivores Dilemma I have less tolerance for the Organic farmers. You CAN farm organically and do it for near the same price as chemical farming. You really can, it's been proven. What has also been proven is if you slap the name organic on something people will pay 5x the price of normal, hence the farmer's market prices.

Another trend I noticed at the Ballard Farmer's market is all of the local cheese companies making crappy cheese for $16-$20/lb. For that I can buy a really nice imported French cheese. I saw someone making spongy parmesan (spongy parmesan? I had to do a double take) for $16/lb which  incidentally is the same price I pay for wonderful aged parmesan from Parma. We're not talking about underpaid workers in a third world country here, this stuff is from Italy! I understand that in a market economy the correct price is the one that people will pay but I hate greed with a passion. It makes me want to start a farm using George Naylers techniques and run them all out of business.


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Chardonnay poached pear and frangipane tart

What can I say? I miss Paris. In Paris (and all over France) you can get  something called the Tart au Pomme (Apple Tart) that has slices of apple fanfolded around a tart with a shiny glaze on them. Even the worst one picked up at Monoprix (think mini Fred Meyers) is very good. I didn't decide to make an Apple tart this week nor did I decide to make a pear tart until we had a BBQ and one of our guests brought a really large bottle of Chardonnay. We know from the past that pears poach really nice in Chardonnay so I started thinking about a tart made of them. I searched for recipes and found one with a frangipane filling and poached pears laying on top. This looked nice so I poached the pears and made my crust last night. Tonight I cooked the crust (too much), made homemade apple jelly for glaze and cooked the tart tonight.

The Frangipane is made from Almonds, eggs and creme. The pears (d'anjour) are poached in the aforementioned Chardonnay along with lemon juice, lemon rind, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns then glazed with melted apple jelly.

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Jam...

I usually only post about what we're cooking or have cooked but I just spent some time looking for new jam for those late night sugar cravings. Sometimes just eating a peanut butter and jam sandwich satisfies that craving instead of breaking out the ice cream so I like to keep it around. We have massive blackberry bushes in the back yard which makes excellent jam but unfortunately I didn't beat the birds to them last year. When I make jam I combine Blackberries, a little bit of plums and cane sugar for a nice clean taste. Plums are high in natural pectin so there's no need to add commercial pectin. Pectin needs sugar in order to thicken a jam but natural pectin needs 1/3 less than commercial pectin. This allows me to have more fruit, less sugar and no added pectin which is all good. My rant is that I don't have any jam from last year so I'm relying on off the shelf jams. After reading Omnivore's delima I'm also trying to avoid the petrolium based preservatives and corn syrup.

My rant starts here... Just go through the ingredients list of most jams and such a simple thing becomes very complex fast. Some of them have as many as 15 ingredients. Even the best (usually imported) have about 5 ingredients. Most have more than one type of sugar including sugar, cane sugar, glucose syrup, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. We're still talking about berries that are full of sugar right? Why are we adding so much sugar to our jam? Then there's the preservatives. We're adding preservatives to a canned food.. Is this so it can sit in the fridge for 3 years after opening it? So I dug through all the jars and settled on the Safeway branded Jam which only had 2 types of sugars and one preservative. I think the worst offenders were Smuckers (no surprise there) and the best was the imported jams. Although the one we eat in Paris is also available in the stores here but the ingredients list is different here (longer) which I suppose is because of food regulations in the states.

My question is this - since the jam we make is really nice why can't they do that on a commercial level. Maybe the berries they're using aren't ready to be picked so they need to add massive sugar to cut the tartness. I do know one thing, as soon as my berris are ripe I'm making jam, lots of it!

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Eating lite - part II

So here's a bit fancier version of our simple meals. The main course is a salad made from Red Leaf and Romaine lettuce with a homemade caeser dressing, croutons made from baguette dribbled with Croatian olive oil perfumed with garlic, parmesan and grilled chicken.  A side of honey dew and a smoothie made of orange, mango, banana, milk and shaved ice.

The star of the show has to be the pears carmelized in crushed black pepper scented burnt sugar sauce.

Total cost for everything (for 4 people with leftovers) - $7.50 or $1.87 per person. The lettuce, pears, honey dew melon and oranges I buy from the asian grocery, the chicken, milk and baguette I bought from the grocery store.

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