Monday, November 4, 2013

Hot Dogs: First Attempt

Americans with relatives in Israel are used to being treated as couriers, hauling everything that is either unavailable (Ziplocks) or more expensive (laptops) here. They've brought it all. Still, my parents thought it was a little strange when I asked for the meat grinder and sausage stuffer Kitchenaid attachments. They came through, though (thank you!), and now I'm ready to start making sausage.

The setup

Hot dogs actually aren't the easiest sausages to start out with, but it's tough to find good ones here, and so they're at the top of my list. I used this recipe, although there were several issues:

1. I don't have cure (nitrates)
2. Hot dog meat needs to be pureed in a food processor, and ours is dairy
3. I don't have a smoker

I decided to just skip the cure, especially since there wasn't going to be any smoking. Cure is important because it preserves the meat during smoking, which is done at temperatures that can allow bacterial growth. It also keeps the meat red after the hot dogs are cooked.

I also left out celery seeds (didn't have any), and used nutmeg instead of mace. Also, I used table salt, not kosher salt, which is important because if a recipe calls for kosher salt, you use half the volume in table salt.

The spice mix
For meat, I went with #3 because it was the cheapest I could find that day being sold in a 1 kg package. #3 is brisket, not chuck, but with hot dogs it doesn't really matter.

The first step is cutting the meat into pieces that can fit through the grinder, and then grinding on the smallest setting. Then the ground meat is thoroughly mixed with the spices, and ground a second time.

After grind number two, the meat sat in the fridge for 30 minutes.

At this point, the cold water was added, and the meat needed to be pureed. A stick blender was my only option. At the time, I thought it did a good job, but in hindsight I think the mixture was supposed to be smoother, stickier and pastier. Total emulsification is important to getting the texture right, and my final hot dogs had texture issues.

Blended meat, but not smooth enough.
Next, stuffing the hot dogs. I used dry collagen casings (if you're looking for casings, get in touch with me; I have an inside connection through whom I can sell you some), because they are easier to deal with than natural casings. 

Here are a couple lessons I learned:
- The meat really needs to be forced down with the pusher, it won't just flow by itself into the casings
- Collagen casings are pretty fragile, so don't overstuff them
- You can't load more than about an inch or two of casing onto the stuffer spout

This is about how much casing you should put on the sausage stuffer
The meat gets pushed through the top with one hand, while the other hand guides the casing as it is being filled. You end up with one long snake of hot dog, which then gets twisted into links, or individual hot dogs.

At this point, they look perfect!

Another thing that happened was that air pockets form due to not-perfectly-even meat filling. The solution is to gently prick the air pocket with a toothpick or the end of a knife.

At this point, hot dogs are supposed to be smoked. Instead, I tried simmering them in hot water for 12 minutes. That's when everything started to go downhill. First of all, the meat turns brown, which always going to happen without cure, but still looks bad. Second of all, I didn't do the best job twisting the links and popping the air pockets, so a bunch of my dogs started leaking and swelling in the water, causing them to lose their casings and deform. After 12 minutes, I collected the finished dogs.

The final product - the picture makes them seem reddish, but they were totally gray
I could forgive the cosmetic issues if the taste made up for it, but as soon as I bit into one, I realized the texture was off. The flavor was there - that hot dog seasoning was unmistakable - but instead of being springy and juicy, they were dry and crumbly, like eating an overcooked burger or kebab.

The question became, what did I do wrong? I figured it was either incomplete blending, or maybe overcooking them in the hot water. I'm not sure about the second theory, though, because I cooked one raw hot dog directly in a frying pan, and it had similar issues (although it was a little bit juicier). It's also possible that if you leave out the cure, you should replace it with a little more salt, since the nitrates also help dissolve/emulsify the meat.

Ultimately, I think fixing the consistency of the pureed meat will do the most in improving the texture. This was especially true in my case since I used brisket, which is a pretty tough and fibrous meat.

Still, Rachel and I enjoyed the hot dogs. We put most of them into a cabbage tomato soup.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Kale shakshuka

So far, we've made kale chips and kale salad. They were good, but you can read about such things in a thousand different places.

But the kale adventures continued. I put some kale in a pasta dish with mushrooms, onions, wine and feta (not shown, but delicious).

Then came kale shakshuka. First, chopped kale is sauteed in olive oil with onions. Then comes a can of tomatoes, salt, pepper, cumin, chili pepper (tune the heat as you like it), chopped garlic, and some oregano. That all cooks for a few minutes, and then eggs are cracked in. A quick spray of oil over each egg, and then on goes the pan cover until the eggs are cooked (the spray makes this happen faster).

And, of course, some grated Parmesan on top, because what else were we gonna do with the little piece that was left?

Eat with bread. A lot of bread, if you made it spicy.

Foil pouch fish tacos

This is not an authentic fish taco. This is an easy way to cook fish - wrap it up in a foil pouch along with sliced onions, peppers and seasoning, and bake for about 20 minutes. Unwrap, and load the juicy fish, onions and peppers into crispy tortillas (made crispy by putting a little oil on a hot pan, then briefly toasting each side of the tortillas, one at a time) along with sliced tomatoes and lettuce.

Drizzle it with a dressing of mayo and hot pepper sauce (Frank's). Enjoy.

Beef #7 with herbs and bbq sauce

We buy beef #7 because it's cheap, and very good. I'm not sure which cut it is, exactly, but it may be deckle. I'm pretty sure it's from the brisket region. Whatever it is, it's fatty and perfect for slow cooking. Usually it comes as a big flat piece, but the last time we ordered it, it came sliced like big steaks. So I made up a way to cook them.

First, they were browned in a pan with some oil. Then, the meat came out temporarily, and onions were sauteed in the meaty brown bits. Then, back in went the meat, along with bbq sauce and lots of parsley. This whole thing was covered and put in the oven until soft.

The meat was good, although not 100% soft. To get more succulent meat it's better to slow-braise one of those big pieces I mentioned before.

Potato cabbage kugel

Basically a regular potato kugel, except there's a whole bunch of shredded cabbage in there too. Like, at least half a head, possibly more. The kugel is held together with eggs, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic.

In the end it was about half potato, half cabbage, and baked into a solid unit. The cabbage gives some crunch and acidity above the soft, savory potato. Regular potato kugel is a pure starchy indulgence, but by eating this instead, you are tempering the starch with vegetable matter.

One diner was actually surprised that this dish even contained cabbage. Go figure.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Potatoes with spiced meat

I peeled and boiled the potatoes until they were about half cooked. Then I halved them and scooped a little ditch out of each half (I burned my fingers a little, too). I mixed chopped meat with fried onions and a bunch of spices and put a little ball in each ditch. Then I baked the whole thing.

Problem was, the potatoes still needed a long time to finish cooking. By the time I took these out, the potatoes were still a little hard, and the meat was dry. Next time, I'd bake the potatoes blind until they are done, then put the meat in and put them back in the oven.


Mejadra is a delicious mixture of rice, brown/green lentils, and fried onions. The first time, I followed this authentic recipe, which calls for deep-frying the onions (pictured above). It was worth it, but time consuming.

Here's the corner-cutting method I used the second time: boil the lentils like the recipe says, and drain them. In that pot sautee all the onions at once until golden, then add dry rice and seasoning. Cook for a minute, add the lentils and water, finish as described in the recipe. Quicker, still delicious, one less thing to clean, and no oil to dispose of.

Serve the authentic version for a Shabbat meal. Make a huge batch of the short version for a bunch of ready-to-go weekday lunches.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Not much to say here, just that roasted cauliflower is gloriously delicious.

Slice it thin.

Apply oil, spice, and blackbody radiation (broil it in the oven)

Barley soup with aromatics

I've never considered making any kind of barley soup other than mushroom-barley.  That's a shame, because this one we made up is ten times more interesting.  As usual, I opened the fridge and pantry and basically threw in whatever I saw there.  I encourage you to do the same.

What we had:

  1. Onions
  2. Carrots
  3. Celery (with some of the leaves chopped up)
  4. Green cabbage
  5. Scallions
The first four went in first to sautee in olive oil.  Then came the seasoning:
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Hot paprika
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Soup mix
  • Mustard
  • Miso
  • Soy sauce
  • Fish sauce
Then came water.  Once the barley was cooked and the carrots were soft I shut of the heat and tossed in the scallions.  Done.

As you might have guessed from the seasoning list, the soup was rather salty.  There should have been less soup mix, or none at all.  Still, a great soup.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Beef jerky

This project started when Dave brought a biltong-making box from South Africa.  To make either biltong or regular beef jerky, you cut raw beef into strips or pieces, and soak them in vinegar and soy sauce for about 8 hours or overnight.  Then the meat is hung to dry - biltong gets special biltong spices, while beef jerky is usually plain.

Due to my mistake, we made our first biltong batch out of #2 meat (not shown).  All dried meat should be made with the leanest stuff you can find, but #2 is the opposite of lean, which means our biltong came out with great flavor, but super hard texture.  I've had biltong before, and I know it's hard, but not that hard.

These pictures are from the next attempt - beef jerky.  This time we used #6, or false fillet - the cut that resembles tenderloin because it's lean and tender, but it's taken from the shoulder, and is cheaper.  Using the setup pictured above, I dried the beef in an oven.  Diehard biltong guys (I say guys because I've never met a female particularly passionate about biltong) would never do this, but jerky is a more laid back affair.  I saw a recipe for 150-160 F for 10-14 hours, so I set my oven to 70 C, and put it on convection.  Maybe the convection was a mistake, because when I checked on them it was like almost sizzling, which is much hotter than it should be.  I turned it down to the 50-60 range and turned off convection.  Still, I think it was ready in like 4-6 hours.

Weighing the stash.  This is good stuff.

Red fruit-veggie smoothie?

So, we had this leftover salad with beets, pine nuts, and arugula...

...and I thought, "why not put it in this cup,"

"and add some of this sweet apple pear cactus juice"

"and blend it all into a red fruit veggie smoothie?"

The idea was to recreate something like Naked juice, which I really like.

Here goes...

What is that taste? 

Can't quite place it...

Uch, raw shallots.  Forgot those were in the salad, too.

Sorry, red buddy, there's no hope for you.  You're getting dumped in the trash.


Every now and then we tinker with ice cream recipes, which generally call for egg yolks.  But what do you do with the whites?  Obviously you whip them up and make meringues, because the other options - chocolate mousse and sponge cake - require the yolks and you only have the whites.

All you really need to add is sugar (a cup, give or take whatever you feel like), though cream of tarter helps stabilize the foam and vanilla adds flavor.  Plastic is the perfect pastry bag material for meringue, because the former is hydrophobic while the latter hydrophilic... anyway, just snip off a corner of a ziplock bag and let your creativity do the rest.

Meringue can be baked in two ways: low and slow or hot and fast.  Low and slow gives you a nice crunchy meringue, maybe just a little chewy in the center, if you like that.  Hot and fast gives you a toasty outside, and fluffly, still-kind-of-raw insides.  We kind of did something halfway between the two, ending up with sticky, chewy meringues.  Still delicious.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cheesy quinoa pashtida

Would you believe me if I said quinoa is our new favorite food?

I remember tasting quinoa a long time ago and not liking it.  That's what happens when you treat it like rice and serve it barely seasoned, as a side dish.  Boring, bland, and weird texture.

But then we started tasting quinoa with other savory ingredients mixed in, and seasoned.  We tried some vegetables with quinoa stuffing.  The trick to quinoa is to mix it together with lots of other delicious things, and that led us to adapt this dish from a recipe we saw somewhere.

We've made this about four times in the last six weeks, and each time it's a little different.  The quinoa always gets soaked in water, then strained, and then boiled in 2 times whatever volume of dry quinoa you started with.  We always add chicken soup mix to the boiling water, which does a great job covering up quinoa's natural bland taste.

Then, sautee vegetables of your choice - we used onions, garlic, zucchini and מנגולד - a type of chard - with salt, pepper, garlic, etc.  After the quinoa is cooked, mix it with the veggies, 1 egg per cup of dry quinoa, and cheese.  Pour into a baking dish, top with grated Parmesan cheese and bake till bubbly.

With all that soup mix, egg, and cheese, one might wonder if the quinoa is really contributing here.  Believe me, it is.  Maybe not so much taste wise, but it definitely gives the whole thing a unique and addictive texture.    It's easy to eat through an insane amount of this stuff without even realizing.  Pretty much every time we make it for dinner, we have to force ourselves to save enough for lunch the next day.

Try it.