Friday, March 27

Doing the airport shuffle

Well the good news is I am on my way! Talk about making it hard to get to Australia! And to top is all off a HUGE storm was brewing in San Antonio today just as I was about to leave on my rebooked journey, so I asked Jo to take me to the airport early (I didn't want her driving in hail) which meant that I could beg my way onto an even earlier flight in the hopes it would get out before the storm. I was partially successful in that I got on the earlier flight, but not so lucky with the storm, which was basically in top of us as we were leaving San Antonio. Pilot told us it was going to be bumpy, and I was surprisingly relaxed (I am not a super good flyer...) Well, about 2 mins out of San Antonio and still climbing THE PLANE WAS HIT BY LIGHTNING!! Wham bam thank you storm! Long story short of course it was fine, and I didn't even freak out much. It was bright and very loud but I kept thinking Faraday cages and static dispersal and comforting things like that. I did, however, order a whiskey...straight up.

Now I am in LAX, bags checked and boarding pass to Melbourne in my freezing little hands. Yay for free wireless so I'm playing wow to pass the 5 or so hours I need to kill here. Still better to be waiting here than in some other airport watching the departure time getting later and later. All going well I'll arrive in Tassie a few hours before the wedding, so time to shower and have a coffee. Dress code is glamorous but at this point I'm shooting for awake and standing!

Thursday, March 26

...or not zoom zoom

Well, I'm not in LAX miserably waiting for a flight because I never left San Antonio thanks to nasty weather in Dallas! After 2 hours on hold with various airlines and much gnashing and wailing I realised there was no point taking a very delayed flight to LA only to spend the night there because every flight to Australia (I even tried Brisbane) would already have left!

So I have rebooked all my flights and connections (lets not even talk $s) and I now arrive on the same flight at the same time, just one &#%$ day later. I don't think I'm going to miss the wedding but it'll be close and I am going to be stupidly tired.

Least I get a bonus night home with my Presh, and I don't have to fly around tornados, which is always a bonus.

Zoom Zoom

I'm leaving in a few hours for the Mega-solo Oz tour. I'm not sure if my Australian mobile or SIM will work yet so at this point, if you want to get hold of me, shoot me an email. I will have my US phone on but cost-wise it is emergency use only.

Twenty-four nights away from the Beloved and Tuesday is going to be a little rough on both of us, but we'd done worse I guess. Always hardest to be the one left behind, but I could really use her planning skills at this point!

Anyhow, looking forward to seeing thems of you that I get a chance to see. Bring on some clean air and good Aussie food!

Friday, March 20

Short and sweet

A few random updates:

# Dad is finally home and recovering in his own environment which can only be a bonus.

# After a week of torrential rain and freezing temperatures San Antonio has returned to the blissfully bright, hot and mostly dry spring that we love so much. Only bugger is the billion oak trees are beginning to spew their toxic pollen so we are all too itchy and bleary eyed to enjoy the glory that is spring in Texas.

# I am officially a twit... Yep, I joined twitter so that I could talk more about food. Yes, it is possible! I also made some changes to the blog including a sexy new tag cloud for handy post sorting and a twitter feed widget thing that will probably let you know what I'm cooking or eating at any given moment. Thrilling huh? Feel free to follow me, or not.

# I leave for Australia in about 5 days and I am completely unprepared! A three week trip without the puffy version of my beloved is going to be hard! This trip is multipurpose, family, wedding (not ours - clearly since I will be solo), work, (food), conference and something else important... oh yeah, my visa interview (which they already changed on me once forcing a rebooking of flights). Email me if you want to try and hook up - I'll be appearing (briefly) in most states.

# The preggersaurus is well, as is the little chew-chew. He has taken to kicking when I talk to him and managed to clock me in the nose yesterday after I politely inquired as to why he hadn't been jigging much that day. Picture attached for all those who still think we're pulling your leg with the impending kidlet thing.

Monday, March 16

Evella and Jacwabbit Blogoff #1 - Kimchi!

So as I mentioned previously, my friend Gabe and I decided to do some blog crossover cooking and for our first blogoff we chose to take on Kimchi. Make sure you check out the Evella half of this blogoff as well. Kimchi is a kind of Korean pickle, usually involving cabbage, chili and fermentation... but there are a lot of variations on this theme.

I had never made kimchi before but I'd had such a huge hankering to try, especially after the Tanuki experience (and the fact that I've been on a bit of a pickling roll lately) . I decided to use a combination of a recipe from pyongyang metro and another from Tigers and Strawberries. I actually did this battle royale in two stages; I made a practice kimchi with radish, turnip and mustard greens because I had no cabbage but I'll only cover the real deal this time.

Napa cabbage or wom bok

Firstly I took one large napa cabbage (we'd call in wom bok in Australia, or baechu in Korea). The good ones are heavy but without soggy leaves or thick stems. I stripped off the outer leaves, cut it into quarters and washed the leaves very thoroughly. Kimchi involves fermentation and I was planning to ferment mine for at least 2 days unrefrigerated, so the most important thing was to make sure everything was clean. I had already cleaned down the kitchen like the good little microbiology major that I am. Once the cabbage was washed I cut it down into strips, about an inch across.

Next step was the salting of the cabbage leaves. Again this kills off all the bad bacteria but hopefully leaving only the useful lactic acid producing bacillus. I used a big ziplock bag, took a handful of salt and and couple of handfuls of cabbage and mixed them well, kind of rubbing the salt into the leaves with a bit of a kneading motion. Repeat with the rest. Then I removed the air from the bag and left it to brine for about three to four hours, mixing it every hour or so. Then it was into the strainer for many many rinses to remove as much of the surface salt as possible. The cabbage was delicious at this point! Soft but still a little crunchy and saltily delicious. Bad Jac no snacking on the job!

Brined and rinsed cabbage

While the cabbage was rinsing I put together the rest of the ingredients. I decided to use a bunch of radishes, a bunch of spring onions, a few cloves of garlic, a thumb sized piece of ginger, about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1/4 cup of sugar and the most important ingredient, Korean chili powder! This stuff is a lovely bright red but not too spicy so I threw in about half a cup, maybe more. I found it at our local Asian grocer.

The kimchi ingredients

I simply ran the garlic, ginger and soy sauce through the food processor. Then thinly sliced the spring onions and radishes.

Spring onion and gorgeous fresh radishes

Then threw all the vegetables into a mixing bowl...

This pic was too pretty not to include it

Then I added the garlic mush-mush, the sugar and the chili powder and mixed the whole thing up with my hands. And of course I wore gloves!!

I mixed this for quite a while to make sure it was well distributed

At this point I decided to throw in the secret ingredient...a little extra heat. My practice run with the first batch taught me one thing and that was needs more heat! The Korean chili powder tastes good but it just doesn't have the fire that I like. So I threw in a couple of heaping spoons of good old sambal oelek.

For when you really like it hot

From there I pressed the kimchi mix down into a very clean tupperware container, getting rid of most of the air bubbles, put the lid on and let it sit on the kitchen bench for 2 and a bit days. I considered it done when I could see bubbles forming and rising to the surface.

Pre-fermented kimchi looks a lot like fermented kimchi

Finished product is fabulous! Much better than my practice round and I definitely like it more with cabbage. It doesn't smell too funky, lots of garlic in front but the rest is all kimchi, and the heat is really satisfying, especially with cooling radish and cabbage in there.

So what do you do with kimchi? Well really it is a side dish or ingredient for soups, stirfries etc. To celebrate this batch I decided to make Tanuki inspired kimchi chahan (fried rice). No great detail for the recipe here but the ingredients included lap chong (chinese sweet sausage), fresh and dried shitake, bamboo, spring onion, garlic, asparagus, pea shoots and egg. I used a soy/sweet sherry seasoning on the rice.

I make the scrambled egg separately and run it through the rice at the end, but to give it some more grunt I mix a few dashes of chili sesame oil through the egg.

I use a short grain rice and mix it through, along with the soy seasoning, just after the last greens have gone in.

Wok on baby

Finished product is the fried rice. topped with kimchi and spring onion. Mix the whole thing up just before eating and hey presto, you're enjoying kimchi! Make sure you check out Evella's half of the blogoff as well!

Fried rice with kimchi

Sunday, March 15

Good news and fun stuff

Howdy peeps. Good news on the surgery front - Dad's histo reports came back showing clear lymph nodes and the margins of the tumor show that they got it all. He's recovering really well and even managed to avoid the day four blues (anesthetic leaves the system at about the same time they cut the morphine - bastards).  Thanks for all the well wishes, they have and will continue to be passed on.

We sat down to a real pickle tasting last night and I was fairly satisfied with the final results. The cumquat pickles are divine and I highly recommend that recipe to anyone who has spare fruit. They can be used in place of preserved lemons, but because they are not as salty they can also be eaten alone, as a palate cleanser or with a cheeseplate/ploughman's.

Homemade pickles: Spiced cumquat, Sichuan beetroot and miso turnip 

I also really enjoyed both the miso and Sichuan pickles. Both were salty rather than vinegary sweet like the cumquats, but both stayed really crisp. The bland turnip was a great base for the miso pickles, retaining a little sweetness to counter the rich salt of the miso bed. The beetroot pickles were a little more spicy than my first taste on day 4, but kept the sweet and earthy beet taste (so no good if you don't like beets! Use carrot maybe) Both would have worked well on a cheese board and had the same satisfying feeling that snacking on olives always provides me.

Finally, in other exciting news, keep your eyes peeled for a new blog event!! My friend and fellow food whore Gabe, who is involved with the food blog Evella, has agreed to participate in a joint cooking affair with the wabbit. The deal is that we will pick a dish or technique and both attempt it in our own way, documenting the whole affair on our blogs. Keep and eye out for the first Gabe and Jac Bloggoff tomorrow where we will be tackling the wonderful world of KIMCHI!

Friday, March 13

More fun in the kitchen

My pickle obsession continues... The other day I had some time to spare and some lovely fresh ingredients so I decided to have some fun in the kitchen. Since my tsukemono book and pickle press arrived I had been mulling over a bunch of recipes that I wanted to try, so I decided on miso pickles, vinegar turnip pickles, Sichuan beet tsukemono and pickled cumquats. As usual I didn't run with any strict recipes, just read the whole book and then made it up as I went!

The miso pickles were simple: I mixed up some shiro miso paste and a little mirin, then buried some turnip wedges in the miso mix and left them for about 4 days. Rinsed off they are absolutely delicious! Crunchy, salty and sweet.

The vinegar pickles were the only failure - and mostly because I used a combination of rice vinegar and green apple sipping vinegar, which left the pickles tasting like sour apples. They were edible but not really what I was shooting for. I'll have to work on that. The last batch of vinegar pickles I made were delicious, but they were heavily doused with chili flakes so they were hot, sour and satisfying.

Sichuan beetroot pickles

The beetroot pickles are my favorite by a long shot! I warmed a few cracked Sichuan peppercorns in some sesame oil, then added soy, mirin, a little sugar and some star anise and let the liquid infuse for a while. While that was making yummy I cut some beets into sticks, brined for about half an hour, rinsedthem, then put them in a small jar and filled it with the pickling liquid. Then I simply let them sit in the fridge for about 4 days, shaking the jar every day or so. Now that they are ready the beets are still crunchy and sweet, but they're also salty with a wonderful hit of star anise at the front, fading to a warming heat from the pepper and the whole thing is smoothed out by the sesame.

Finally I had this punnet of egg shaped cumquats that we found at Wholefoods and I bought simply because they were gorgeous and I hadn't seen cumquats for the longest time. They are a wonderful tiny citrus, with sour juice and really sweet zest. Jo and I used to grow them back in Tas, and we'd pickle them in sugar and brandy for 6 months until they were syrupy and divine. However, this time I didn't have the patience for 6 month pickling and Jo is unlikely to be drinking brandy even by then, so I took a different route.


I decided to modify this recipe. I washed the cumquats, halved them and removed any pips. I then brined them really quickly by throwing them in some boiling salt water for half a minute then draining them (to soften the skin up some). I made the pickling liquid using rice vinegar and green apple sipping vinegar (3:1 ratio, about 1.5 cups total), some sugar (about half a cup) and the spices shown below - a small cinnamon stick, some cloves, cardamom (pods almost impossible to find here) and shredded fresh ginger.

Spice mix for the pickled cumquats

When the liquid was happily simmering away I added the drained cumquat halves and cooked the whole lot for about 5 minutes but not long enough for the fruit to lose its shape, then added everything to a freshly boiled jar, sealed it up and let it cool. I left them to infuse in the fridge for 4-5 days, turning the jar occasionally to make sure the spices were well mixed through. The finished product is lovely! Sweet, sour, salty and well spiced, but with the clean citrus taste towering over everything else. Perfect on their own with cheese but I'm sure they're also going to be fab to cook with!

Finished product

And after all that I still had the energy to cook the beloved and I a yosenabe style soup for dinner - a chicken broth base with udon noodles, pea shoots, asparagus, shitake mushrooms, hot sesame egg, spring onion and enoki...sprinkled with togarashi it is just the best!

Wednesday, March 11

Happy thoughts please *updated*

Just a quick update. My Dad had his surgery for the prostate cancer last night, so it'd be great if you could keep him in your thoughts and prayers - secular or otherwise. All I know so far is via text message, but the surgery went well (roughly 2 hours) and the doctor was happy. The recovery process is going to be pretty tough (10 days in hospital - which used to be the norm if they even thought you had the flu but is pretty much unheard of nowadays) but here's hoping it all goes fairly smoothly. I'll keep you all posted.

**Updated with an email from my mum**
Michael arrived back on the ward at 10.20 p.m. and this was after I had received a lengthy call from his surgeon...he told me that Michael was a fit man and that made operating on him, such an easier job as he didn't have to cut through layers of fat to get to the prostate. He said he had preserved the nerves and also had pathology on standby, as he removed bilateral lymph nodes and the joy of joys was that they were all clear and so far the cancer was contained to the prostate, but this has to be checked on tissue samples to make sure he has all the margins.

It will probably take a few days for the final histology reports to come in but that sounds promising. Keep the happy thoughts coming for a swift and successful recovery (lets not go into the details of what I mean by successful though!)

Monday, March 9

The Tree House

As promised, lots more pics of the tree house. Well the living areas anyway.

The living room (I'm standing in the kitchen to take this)

Basically the same shot but showing off the breakfast bar and the gorgeous flowers

The kitchen, spring asparagus soup in progress

More of the sitting room and our lovely deck and tree top views

A fireplace! In Texas! At least it means we have a mantlepiece :D

Looking back towards the kitchen and you can see where the stairs come up. It's so nice to have the front door away from the living space, and also to only have one flight of stairs even though we're on the third floor.

The dining area and more windows

More of the dining area with my new herb project

View from the deck.

And from the other end of the deck (lots of birds!!)

More deck view 

We are absolutely loving the new house. It is so quiet -  nothing but birdsong most mornings - and so full of light. We're almost finished unpacking, only the eternal rearrangement of closets to go. We had John and Jo over for dinner on Friday and it felt really good to entertain here. During breakfast on the deck this morning we came face to face with red cardinals, red and yellow house finches, pesky white-winged doves and my favorite, the blue jay.

Thursday, March 5

Trees and peas

Looking out onto our new deck and beyond

We are getting settled into the new apartment after the big move last weekend. Thanks to our wonderful friends who arrived with cars, trucks and seemingly boundless energy it took less than 3 hours to move all our stuff, including the plants! I will post more detailed pics and descriptions of the new house soon, once we get the last of the pictures hung and the clothes unpacked, but here's a few teasers. We really like the new place. Lots more room, more light and more airflow. It also feels like we're living in the tree tops so we have dubbed new home "the tree house"!

The windows above our couch and the treetops!

In food news I came across some pea shoots in the store yesterday and figured I'd give them a whirl. Turns out they're really tasty, like a slightly less peppery water cress. I figured I'd make a brothy soup and throw the pea shoots in at the end.

So I used a pho base (beef stock, star anise, cinnamon, garlic, soy sauce) and added some sliced bamboo (Jo thinks I'm part panda based on my bamboo intake), some dried shitakes (rehydrated in the broth to add more umami to the soup), some fresh ginger and then the pea shoots.

The soup came out well and the shoots were wonderful! Could have done with some duck though ;)