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Category — How-to

so fresh and so clean: future cities of earth

Camouflaged Tree House

 

Innovative Gameplay

This city is a personal favorite of mine and founded on an infrastructure and economic system based around interactive game play, both between people and elements of the city. The idea is to create a city that is rich in interactivty, engaging person and city and ultimately providing an emotional, educational, communal or other reward. Game play engenders friendship, community and bonding, and when approached in a reasonable manner the possibility exists for team building and healthy competition.

This is a basic goal when introducing game play within cities, positive reinforcement and social bonding. The next is for the game play to be engaging and innovative. It is easy to imagine a team of game developers set loose in a city would generate creative ideas. The key idea here however is that the possibility exists through the technology of television, gaming, computers, WIFI and more to create a city with a positively rewarding game infrastructure. How this is implemented and the degree to which it is implemented successfully would be determined by the mind behind the craftsman.

A current and simple example is the Barclay’s Wheel-U-Wait in London. The link provided is to an online re-creation of the interactive queuing wheel. http://neave.com/barclays/

Even more creative and revolutionary ways to interject gameplay into city life are possible and, to my knowledge, barely explored in current cities.

 

City Landscapes, embracing what is natural

This idea occurred to me sitting on an early morning train in Berlin, Germany. Sitting in the train, watching the city go by in the distance, I realized the separation between the train environment in front of me and the natural one outside. With a simple vision I brought nature into the train; how striking it would be to embrace nature within a city. A train car interior designed in jungle leaves and branches. Waterfalls playing on the television between announcements. Street signs in taxonomy. Murals teaching about the use of medicinal plants and the dangers of poison. A group of city people embracing nature. Plants abound, morning glories bloomed on early morning street lights, ivory covered exteriors, cherry trees for picking and herbal tea on every street corner. A modern and sophisticated natural urban landscape of the future; this is the idea.

The idea comes in two parts and two cities. One, Berlin. The other, Athens.

The idea above is themed in nature, but in every way a modern city. The above embraces nature. The next idea immerses itself in it.

The trees remain standing, lanterns fed by underground gas lines fuel the night. It is a small town of a city, the first natural city on earth, more reminiscent of a tribal village or mountain town than a modern city. The people wear modern fashion, naturally themed and plain in color. The pharmacy is a quarter mile walk through the woods, following a path dead in the winter and bloomed in a profusion of color in the spring. There are no roads within the city limit and certainly no cars. Roads to the city remain unpaved. There was no need. 4-wheel drive vehicles transport potential city-goers and visitors to the outskirts of the city for the hike in.

Inside the city is navigated through a complex system of hiking trails, replacing city roads. The modern-tree house is a primary feature of the architecture here. 3-stories high attached to oak and housing a cafe where people spend the night cozy, drinking chocolate and reading.

 

Education is more balanced and the outdoors included more so in the process than within the cities.

This is as far I can go. My ideas end here, mainly and are better explained in a simple analogy. Walk along a trail in a state park, or a national forest. Implement elements of the city, everything you need for your daily life. Clothes, cosmetics, health-care, food and education. Envision walking the trails and coming upon everything you need. When you go hiking, at one point or another you leave modern society behind. Hunger is satisfied through foraging and water drunk from streams. The idea here is to bring together city and nature, without destroying wildlife in the process, without separating from it. There is no need for trees to be cleared in massive scale, no need for roads to be paved and streets created, and certainly no need to return to the city in need. This is not the future of every city but the possible future of one or many in the world. My point here is that natural landscapes hold enormous potential for integrative design and living a creative modern life.

 

Global Society, meet the World City

 

 

Feeling Based Economics

Positive Feedback-

This idea is founded on the awareness that there is no separation between our internal thoughts and our external environment. This applies to the city as well as nature and implies that our thoughts are connected with what is happening around us. This observation occurred to me walking through the streets of Amsterdam. In Amsterdam bikes are prevalent and each bike is fitted with a bell, creating a classic, bright and happy chime. I spent my time in Amsterdam smoking and eating small amounts of cannabis and observing, meditating, listening and learning about life in the city along with and my interaction and effect on this urban environment.  What I observed is that my thoughts were connected to my environment, in a way that is understood as positive and negative feedback, and this realization was triggered by the bells (among other things). The idea is simple: entertain a positive thought, receive positive feedback. Entertain a negative thought, receive negative feedback. The same applies to behaviors performed and their immediate effect on the people around us.  Feedback includes car horns (negative, with an implication to Stop), ambulance sirens, smells, chimes, laughing, people speaking around you, etc.

Amsterdam isn’t unique in this respect. All cities and human interactions function on positive and negative feedback. Perhaps a friend left you with a brilliant feeling. Or a stranger left you with a bad taste in your mouth. Nature both follows and sets this rule. Bitter foods indicate potential danger and human beings universally prefer sweet foods for taste, nutrition and energy. The basis of communication itself is through feedback with our internal awareness and our external environment. To put it simply, we are in constant communication with the world around us, and through observing the feedback we receive we can gain an understanding of our effect on and place in our environment.

A rainy day is relaxing, dark, and with it comes a certain mood, feeling, and thought pattern. People who live in the often rainy and cloudy Pacific Northwest may develop a melancholic personality with accompanying depressed thought patterns. The same can be applied each unique environment we experience. To reiterate, there is no separation between our thought patterns and the goings-on of our environment, any environment, and every person is connected in with this thought-feeling matrix of constant communication.

Example One, a negative feedback loop.

You are sitting in a cafe working. You sit in quiet silence in a vacant room that smells pleasantly of coffee (a hint of positive feedback). You accomplish much because of your distraction free environment. Your productivity is affected and positive in outcome. Gradually, people enter the room and begin talking. Harsh metal music begins playing. The first twinge of frustration is felt. The volume increases. The chatter is annoying. Your mind jumbles. Someone laughs, a cackle. Your stomach cringes. Your trying to work. You have to finish. A person sits next you, smelling unpleasantly. He speaks to you. By now your frustrated and your productivity is nearing zero. Soon, you leave the cafe more angry than you intend and head straight for fresh air, a well-lit park, and soft light so you can finish your work. You experienced a negative feedback loop.

Example Two, a positive feedback loop.

This example is recent, and to my understanding an appropriate, realistic, and organic example of positive feedback. They were sitting having a conversation on a terrace overlooking the Acropolis in Athens. I arrived independent of the group talking behind me. Ten minutes of sitting alone, halfway admiring the view and observing my tiredness after a long bus ride during the day I speak up and with a  simple question and introductory banter I’m included in the conversation. This continues pleasantly for an hour and a half. As my interest dies down, and my hunger and tiredness increases I decide to shower and find food in this late night city. I wait. And wait. Continuing the conversation, waiting on the right time. I’ve all but decided it’s time to go, and as I picture myself standing and leaving a thought-feeling occurs to me, “Stay.” Simultaneously a deliciously pleasant smell drafts my way from the flowers on the terrace, a first for the night, confirming my intuition. I stay. This is positive feedback between thought and environment. Had a rotten, sour smell drifted my way as the thought occurred I might have known not to stay.

Examples in the city are equally as intuitive and subtle, with some examples being easier to understand than others. The message is simple, however. The way out of negative feedback loops (and experiences)  is through creating and embracing positive feedback, and the way to understanding feedback mechanisms within the city and your own life is through cultivating awareness.

Where this can be of benefit is when it is observed, understood on both an intuitive and intellectual level and then applied, essentially harnessed by a city and city-dwellers. All personal relationships depend on knowing when to stop, when go, when to speak louder, etc. Gain an awareness of when to stop, when to go, when to speak up, when to stay quiet and you benefit not only yourself but the group as well. The same applies to interactions within a city involving personal and group interactions.

Further, city sounds tend to be harsh and abrasive, creating a negative feedback loop, and if one lives closely to the city long enough, thoughts, feelings, and eventually the personality can become abrasive. This is seen through a longing for the peace of nature sought by the modern city-goer, along with the quiet tranquil sounds and the feelings accompanying natural surroundings.

In contrast pleasant sounds, smells, and experiences are universally preferred. Flowers are an excellent example of this. Roses could be said to exhibit little purpose than to be beautiful and fragrant, both creating a positive feedback loop between the human and his environment, creating positive psychology, and positive feelings to his life and surroundings.  This idea remains virtually unharnessed on a creative and practical level by city planners, with art and architecture being the only notable example, and is the purpose of this writing.

Where this can be applied is universal in possibility, and the greater degree with which it can be applied skillfully the more refined the result. Creativity and understanding are the key here, and observation of patterns and connections within daily city life are the foundation for further understanding and progress. The opportunity here is for a city environment to make you feel good, to give you positive feedback and reinforce healthy interaction between itself and people. Like a warm smile versus a cold shoulder, or a pleasant Ka-Ching! at the sound of a purchase versus crashing plates or a dull Thud, the right sights, sounds and smells at the right moment can transform daily life in any environment, the city being no exception.

 

Alcohol Free and Clean

In the evolution of cities we must become alcohol-free and clean. It must be a personal choice. Outside obstruction through laws and regulations causes unrest. Like mommy taking the bottle away from the baby, forced governmental restriction of alcohol would create disharmony and outcry. Forced restriction is not the solution for personal and global alcoholism. The way forward is for humanity itself and each one of us to put down the bottle and release ourselves from the addictive behavior pattern and ill personal and social health that alcohol creates. The resulting sobriety will bring a more balanced personal and social atmosphere and the reality of the stumbling drunk gone with it. Alcohol engenders low-awareness,  imbalance, and uncivilized behavior among a population and from a sober perspective is foolish, self-destructive and a symptom of deeper unrest between the user and his standing in the universe. Where and when alcohol use and alcoholic behavior became socially acceptable and encouraged is downright questionable.

 

October 12, 2012   2 Comments

from the archives: the art of cooking

When I stopped blogging I didn’t stop writing. I went underground in a sense, deep within myself and allowed what I had learned through the years to come pouring out. What emerged in a few short months was a framework for a book with the working title, “The Conceptual Cook.” Its writing came at a highly inspired time in my life and, though it is incomplete, and likely incomprehensible, it is purposefully so. I fully intend for my understanding of cooking and eating to mature and for this framework to be refined and in time for a full book to emerge, as a family heirloom, a personal keepsake, or as a published work remains to be seen.

For now, the book is comprised of three main sections; The Concepts, The Senses, and The Abilities, with an added chapter that will explore the virtues of drawing skill and cooking. The purpose of the book is not to directly teach you how to cook. Instead, the intention is to enable you to explore and create your own food, to think about, visualize, and approach food outside the confines of recipes. The intention is also to help you see more deeply into the world around you, to explore and develop your capacities of sense and perception. The approach is conceptual in nature rather than technical. Feedback is both welcomed and encouraged. Please,  forgive the excess of quotes, they are my road map back to writing.

 

Cover

Table of Contents

Drawing and Cooking

The Concepts

The Senses

The Abilities

Continued Learning

Book Review

 

From Amsterdam, Noord-Holland

In the Netherlands,

Chase

 

June 29, 2012   1 Comment

Smoked Boston Butt with Rosemary and Brown Sugar Rub

Pulled Pork Sandwich

My experiences with smoked Boston butt always end with the same half-dejected reassurance that, “well, it was good, but I can do it better next time, I swear.” And the next time I set out determined to ‘finally’ turn out a ‘perfect’ piece of smoked pork.

Then it happens, like the torturing clockwork of a stacked game of cards, the smoker is too hot, or even worse, too cold, I forget the thermometer, the coals die out ¾ of the way through cooking, the thermometer is too close to the bone so I remove it only to see hordes of flavorful juice escape from the now bone-dry pork, we should have taken it 5 degrees further, the crust is too thick, the rub doesn’t taste good, we forget to rest in foil; the list goes on and on. Oh what an unbearably frustrating list it is.

In the midst of such frustration I’m reminded of a quote from Thomas Edison who said, in response to a question regarding his failure to successfully create the filament for the light bulb, “I have not failed seven hundred times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those seven hundred ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

I bet you’re thinking, “Hey, that’s not such a bad way to look at it, Chase. How insightful, through all of your failures you’ve learned a wealth of information in your quest for perfect smoked pork. With the right attitude and some persistence I bet you’ll get there one day, buddy!” Yea. Right. That’s all well and good until it’s nearly midnight and you’re running to Walmart for more coals and, as my new friend Sasa @ sasasunakku would say, you’re hit with a bought of  ’hanger’ (hunger that turns to anger) so intense you’d actually rather smash a car window with the pork than eat it.

But when the hanger fades and I’m done cleaning up the glass and explaining the situation, I guess I really have learned quite a bit about how-to smoke a piece of pork. Which is what I’m here for– to help prevent you from making the same mistakes that I’ve made and getting hangry (…now listen here, Johnny-boy, you know daddy loves you right..?)

Smoked Boston Butt with Rosemary Brown Sugar Rub:

For the Boston Butt -

  • 4 to 5 pound Boston Butt, bone in and extra fat trimmed
  • Dijon mustard
  • Rosemary and Brown Sugar Rub
  • Choice of firewood, hickory and apple are both fantastic with pork
  • Favorite brand charcoal briquettes, I use regular Kingsford
  • Lighter fluid, optional

Tip: If your considering using lump charcoal — don’t. Stick with charcoal briquettes and save the hardwood lump charcoal for high-heat grilling. The briquettes burn longer and at a more consistent temperature.

For the Rosemary Brown Sugar Rub -

Let me just say, I’ve never had a pork rub that I really liked. Until this one– rosemary and pork pair exceptionally well.

  • 2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Rosemary Brown Sugar Pork Rub

Slather the entire butt (..heh) with Dijon mustard and season with a even layer of the rub. Set aside at room temperature until ready to cook.

Smoked Boston Butt with Rosemary Pork Rub

Modified Minion Method:

I’ve been searching for the best way to maintain a consistent smoker temperature with even smoke output for almost two years now. I happy to say that I’m searching no longer. The Modified Minion Method is pure brilliance. With a little-set up and virtually no effort you can run a consistent smoker temperature of around 225 – 275 degrees for at least 10 hours, maybe more, with even smoke output the entire time.

Tip: If you run into trouble and find the heat too hot or cold a simple adjustment of the bottom vent will quickly solve the problem.

To begin, arrange 2 rows of briquettes along the the rim of the grill. Follow with another layer of 2 rows. Finish with a layer of 1 row of charcoal and 1 layer of wood (this isn’t depicted accurately in the picture due to figuring this out after spending an hour attempting to get the grill to the proper temperature). But hopefully this will give you a good idea…

Modified Minion Method

Next, squirt some lighter fluid (you heard me, lighter fluid, don’t be shy) on the first 8 coals, ignite, and let burn uncovered until ashy white.

When the coals are white, place in a drip pan. The bottom to a terracotta pot works great (it also makes a perfect pizza stone), as does a foil covered glass bowl, but I thought I’d take the 10 hours of fat and smoke-rich environment as an opportunity to further season my little carbon steel frying pan. Fill with water, if desired.

Tip: If you don’t happen to have lighter fluid on hand, like me, use a chimney starter to get the coals hot and then place in the grill.

Chimney Starter and Drip Pan

Smokin’ The Butt:

You’re now ready to assemble the grill, arrange one thermometer probe in the thickest part of the meat (away from the bone) and rig the other to monitor the temperature near the pork in the smoker, put the lid on, and get that butt a smokin’.

At a temperature of 250ºF it will take, on average, about 1 ½ to 2 hours per pound to finish cooking. However, be warned, barbecue can be  unpredictable so it’s better to start early than finish late to avoid eating at midnight with hanger pains.

Tip: The meat can be ‘held’ in foil for up to 5 hours after cooking (more on that below).

Smoked Boston Butt

Just as an aside, I’d like to recommend a product that I couldn’t live without when smoking or grilling anything. The Maverick ET-73 Dual Probe Thermometer with a wireless receiver allows you to simultaneously monitor both the ambient smoker temperature as well as the internal temperature of the meat at a range of 100 feet. That’s right, lazy one, you can monitor the entire thing in the comfort of your own living room or beside the pool. Also, if you get busy and forget to monitor the temperatures, alarms can be set to alert you if your smoker is running to hot or too cold. Best of all it’s easy to use, reliable, and accurate. It’s truly the best on the market and will make smoking anything from pork butt to ribs and chicken that much easier, enjoyable, and tasty.

The Finished Product:

Once the meat registers an internal temperature of 205º F it’s ready to be taken off of the grill and be wrapped tightly in aluminum foil for a minimum of 1 hour to allow the juices to redistribute and the meat to come to a final temperature of 210º. I know it’s tempting to take the freshly smoked pork and chow down right away, but take this part seriously and let the meat rest. It really does make a huge difference and you will be rewarded with better meat.

Tip: If you’re going for sliced pork, take it off when the internal temperature reaches 190º to 195ºF.

Smoked Boston Butt

From here the meat can be pulled, chopped, drizzled with cider vinegar with fresh thyme sprinkled in, slathered with your favorite barbecue sauce,and made into a delicious sandwich with arugula or your favorite coleslaw or chow chow.

Oh, and don’t forget to strain the hickory smoked pork fat (and boil the water out, if necessary) from the drip pan and reuse. It makes plain old bacon fat look worthless.

Rendered Pork Fat

Music To Rock To: Presidents of The United States of America Click to listen for free on Grooveshark!

“Having modified the bass to two strings and the guitar to only three, The Presidents are about as gut level as you can get. The irresistable riffing and “meowing” vocals on “Kitty” show that this is a band with power to spare. Bassist Chris Ballew’s writing is diverse and catchy, and propels The Presidents through roaring originals that they obviously love to play. “Lump” has a ferocious pop kick and sing-along appeal, rivaled only by the gnarly, funky edge of “Boll Weevil.” – CD Universe

April 26, 2010   81 Comments

How-to Make Homemade Pita Bread

Homemade Pita Bread

Hummus is all the rage. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. There’s just something about the ambiguous blend of chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic that gets people excited.

And I like to think it’s with good reason, too. Hummus is spectacular if properly prepared with great ingredients, a little love, and a lot of tasting.

But this post isn’t about hummus. Au contraire, my friend! This post is about what hummus is not. And hummus is not pita bread. Surprised? Didn’t think so. But hear me out…

Pita bread, the infamous sidekick to the superhero, the Robin to hummus’s Batman, if you will, is all but left by the wayside in the search for the perfect hummus. Why is this so, you ask? I’m not entirely sure. Who would want to munch on lifeless, tasteless, pre made triangles of -choose expletive and descriptive adjective- pita bread? Or much less pair it with a delicious, creamy bowl of homemade hummus? Not me!

Seriously people, listen up! This is important — you can’t have great hummus without great pita bread. It’s like trying to make the perfect pizza without the perfect crust. It just ain’t gonna happen!

Luckily, because pita is just a basic flat bread, it’s quick and easy to make. All in all, it takes about 10 minutes of active work, including getting out the ingredients, mixing them up, worrying if you’re doing it right, double checking, triple checking, cleaning up the mess, and baking the bread. Best of all, you’ll be a Pita-pro your first time, guaranteed! It really is that easy!

You will need just a bit of planning, though, because the dough needs to rise for about two hours at room temperature after mixing the ingredients!

Homemade Pita Bread Recipe:

Adapted from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (This book is a must-have for anyone looking to bake a variety of artisan breads better than their bakery in no time flat).

Makes four one pound loaves, which is a ton of Pita. Luckily, the recipe can easily be halved or doubled.

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 packets granulated yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 ½ cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
  • Baking Stone

Combine the water, yeast, and salt in a large bowl with a lid. Add in the flour all at once and stir with a sturdy wooden spoon until the mixture comes together and there are no dry chunks of flour remaining. Cover with a lid that isn’t air-tight as you want some of the gases produced to escape. Allow to rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

After two hours, preheat your oven (or grill) to 500º F, dust your hands with flour and punch down the dough and remove to a floured surface. For single serving size pitas, take a serrated knife and cut the dough into rounds the size of an orange. For family style, the size of 1 ½ grapefruits should do.

Dust the dough with flour until it isn’t sticky and form the dough into a ball.

Just a note, don’t use a baking stone over an oven flame on your grill. It’s better to just grill directly on the grate.

Rolling out homemade pita

Roll the dough ball until it is about an 1/8th of an inch. You can leave the dough a little thicker for more chewy, fluffy bread the way I like.

Thickness of homemade Pita

When your pizza stone is preheated, quickly toss in one or more pita breads, quickly shut the oven door to prevent excessive heat loss, and set a timer for 5 minutes. Which, as it just so happens, it just enough time to jam out a song on the guitar, if you’re so inclined.

Playing Guitar

One mediocre rendition of Sister Hazel’s “Your Winter” later the dough should have puffed considerably. It will also be baked and crunchy and you’ll probably be scratching your head thinking, “well darn, this isn’t like any pita bread I’ve ever had.” No worries, you’re on the right track.

Baked Pita

Place the dough into a clean, dry dishtowel , tightly cover, and let cool. The steam will soften the pita as it slowly deflates.

By the way, I see myself as a man of the people, a firm believer in great directions, proper warnings, and, for the simple fact that I don’t want you to hate me, please, for the love of all things Holy, do not press down on the towel to deflate the pita with your bare hands just because your curious what will happen. Unless,of course, you enjoy the pulsing pain of a steam burn.

Wrapped Pita

Meanwhile, throw a few more pitas in the oven, open up a jar of your favorite hummus, grab a beer (try a Sierra Nevada Summerfest) and munch on, my friend… munch on.

Classic Hummus Recipe:

From World Spice Merchants

  • 1 cup garbanzo beans
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 teaspoons cumin seed
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • Reserved juice from garbanzo beans
  • Salt n’ pepper, to taste
  • Cayenne, to taste

Combine all ingredients except the juice and seasonings in a food processor. Give it a good waz, adding just enough of the reserved liquid to get the mixture moving. Blend until smooth and creamy. Season to taste and enjoy!

Music To Cook By: Diane Birch – “Bible Belt” Click to listen for free on Grooveshark!

“Though classically-trained, there’s a freshness and freedom about her piano style which enables her to tackle with equal aplomb the bluesy piano triplets of “Fire Escape”, the New Orleans second-line groove of “Rise Up”, the smouldering Southern soul of “Forgiveness” and the Seventies’ singer-songwriter flavour of “Ariel“, the melody and arrangement of which could have come straight from an Elton John album of that era.” – The Independent

Follow me on Twitter: Don’t forget! Did you make the recipe and want to share how it turned out? Do you like the pictures? Dig the music? Just want to say hello? Add me on Twitter @cblackwell44, introduce yourself, and tell me about it! (the button to add is located at the top of every page)  - Chase

April 23, 2010   10 Comments

Tangerine and Grapefruit Sorbet

Tangerine and Grapefruit Sorbet

Citrus fruits are perfect in the springtime. With the winter months come and gone and the heat of summer steadily approaching, it’s now within the confines of “seasonal” to begin turning towards dishes that are lighter on both the palate and the stomach (yea, that’s right… I’m looking at you guy who obviously had a few too many winter stews).

Citrus fits the bill perfectly. Contrary to popular belief (I’ve argued with my dad endlessly about this to no avail), citrus is actually at it’s peak from mid-winter to spring, not in the summer when a cold glass of fresh squeezed orange juice is so desired. It’s one of those unfortunate facts of life, I know.

The problem is that during the miserable coldness of winter, comforted by warming desserts that compliment it so well, no one in their right mind wants a cold glass of juice or sugary sorbet. As a result citrus goes unnoticed and under appreciated at a time when it’s at it’s best.

But springtime is different. Pears are long gone,  strawberries are still hard and tasteless, peaches and raspberries are on the horizon, but citrus is still packed with flavor and ready to handle all that spring has to offer.

And so I push for citrus, in all it’s various forms, to be the go-to springtime fruit.

Tangerines and Grapefruits

Today I make my push with a tangerine and grapefruit sorbet, a near-perfect way to showcase the bare deliciousness of the fruit, second only to a glass of the cold stuff.

Tangerines

I found a basket of tangerines at a produce stand on my ride home from school and with one whiff I knew I had to have them. I couldn’t believe the perfume they carried– pungent, earthy, with a strong smell reminiscent of orange flavored bubblegum, unlike any other tangerine I’ve ever smelled. I knew instantly that sorbet was on the menu… you should have seen the look on the man’s face when I asked, “so, how much juice do you think I could get out of these babies?”

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April 2, 2010   6 Comments

Homemade Crème Fraîche

Crème Fraîche

In the states, crème fraîche has gained an unfortunate reputation as a snooty, gourmet ingredient with little or no use to the average home cook. That it’s unnecessarily expensive serves only to make matters worse. It is just cultured cream after all. How much extra could adding a small amount of bacteria to the cream and letting it culture really cost? Certainly the backwards-slash è and funky looking î don’t inherently make a product more expensive… do they? If so, be on the look out for büttér and mîlk prices to be on the rise.

Luckily, good ol’ home grown ingenuity is here to save us all– making crème fraîche at home is seriously simple and just as inexpensive. Mix a bit of cream with a little buttermilk, sit out at room temperature for 24-48 hours, and voilà! You’ve made a full-bodied crème fraîche complete in all of it’s rich, buttery, tangy and slightly nutty glory.

If you’ve been using sour cream your entire life, you’re in for a treat. Crème fraîche is everything that sour cream wishes it was and then some. Plus, due to it’s butterfat content being much higher, crème fraîche is far more versatile– add a rich tang to pan sauces, garnish soups, dip your nachos — you name it, crème fraîche has it covered.

So tell us, what’s your favorite way to use the infamous crème fraîche?

Basic Crème Fraîche Recipe:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Pour the mixture into a sanitized mason jar and allow to sit at room temperature for 24-48 hours or until thick. The mixture will keep for 2 weeks.

More crème fraîche recipes…

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March 31, 2010   8 Comments

Grind Your Own Meat

Grinding Meat

With the summer months quickly approaching it can mean only one thing– it’s grillin’ season. That’s right, it’s finally time to turn off the oven, throw some lighter fluid on those coals, and get grillin’. But before you go ahead and mindlessly throw on some stale, cheap quality, bacteria-infested meat on those ever-so-lightly oiled grill grates, let’s get one thing straight. If you want a truly great hamburger, you must grind your own meat.

It doesn’t matter if it’s pork, chicken, beef, turkey, salmon, etc.– it all benefits greatly from being freshly ground. To begin, you have complete control over the quality of the meat that goes into your burger. There’s no telling what quality and how old that pre-ground stuff is. And for the health conscious, there’s a little known fact about pre-ground meat. It’s a haven for bacteria growth. You see, grinding meat increases the surface area in which bacteria can mingle and infect your meat. Let it sit on the shelf for a few days and… I think you get the point. This has numerous consequences in your quest for a great hamburger, most namely that you’re much more likely to get sick. But what’s important from the cook’s perspective is that the meat must be cooked to a higher temperature to ensure that the bacteria is killed and the meat is safe to consume. The resulting burger is dry, tasteless, and anything but a good.  Not so with fresh ground meat.

Need another reason? What if I told you it’s cheaper and will pay for itself eventually? It’s simple economics, any processing that occurs in the production of a product increases the price to the consumer. Publix has to grind your meat? They make you pay. Want a pre-seasoned hamburger? Jack up the price. It just so happens that a whole chuck roast is anywhere from $0.20 to $1.00 cheaper per pound than it’s ground counterpart. With a top of the line Porkert manual meat grinder costing a mere $30 on eBay, it’s not hard to see how, with consistent use, it’ll pay for itself soon enough.

But what about the real kicker… Does it taste any better? Is the texture better? Is it really worth the extra time and effort? My answer– an overwhelming, all-American, lettuce, tomato, and Heinz-57 covered hell yes. There’s nothing like a burger taken straight from the grinder to the grill. Tender, juicy perfection doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s just that much better, no questions necessary.

And did I mention that a meat grinder is more versatile than you ever imagined? Need a mixture of veal, pork, and beef for meatballs? Consider it done. Want an out of this world meatloaf? No problem. Want to experiment with making your own signature sausage? Get a sausage making attachment and go for it! Making a spicy pork and cabbage filling for pot stickers? Look no further. Wondering how you’re going to grind all of those cranberries for Thanksgiving? Problem solved. Want to make some old school, ground Pimento cheese? You got it. Seriously, the list goes on and on.

Hopefully I’ve at least forced you to consider the idea of grinding your own meat. If so, these tips should make the transition between pre-ground and freshly ground a smooth one.

  • Always, always, always put the grinder in the freezer before you grind the meat. It will turn to mush if you don’t.
  • Cut the meat into small strips, not chunks, and place in the freezer until partially frozen or just very cold.
  • For large projects, work in batches, keeping the unground meat in the freezer while you’re working.
  • Clamp the grinder to a very sturdy table and use an extra pair of hands if you’ve got them.
  • To clean, soak briefly in hot soapy water and scrub with a toothbrush (reserved for this purpose, of course!)
  • If you have some stale bread laying around, run it through before you soak it. It will force the nasty bits out without scrubbing.
  • Clean immediately after using.
  • Thoroughly dry immediately after cleaning to avoid rusting.
  • Store in a plastic bag filled with a bag of uncooked rice. The rice will absorb the ambient moisture and prevent the parts from rusting.
  • If the unit does rust, steel wool is your best friend. Don’t worry, in most cases it should only take a light scrubbing to remove.

March 23, 2010   3 Comments

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