Backyard Beverages – Lilacs, Chamomile and Roses

Sitting outside and looking at the blossoms on the rose bushes growing in our backyard, my older daughter remarked, “I wish the bushes had those flowers all year.” It is interesting to see how my inability to enjoy moments without lamenting their fleeting nature has been passed down. I walk around my garden, thinking of how I wish my purple mustards would hold off from seeding for another month at the same time I beg the tomatoes to get color. It clarifies how it is not that I do not appreciate moments, but rather I am greedy for all of the peak moments. I get nothing from the low moments. Like little R, I want the roses blooming, the purple mustards edible without cooking, and the tomatoes soft, red and warm from dangling in the sun all day – and just like little R, I want all of those things all year long.

But I know this is not reality. Seasons are reality. Lilacs to roses to jasmine to the red maple to bare branches is reality, but I am a greedy child in an adult’s body.

It is with the greediness that I grabbed a basket and, with little R, I snipped all the roses from the bushes and bring them inside. After I had all the roses inside, I wondered what my greediness did to me. Granted, they’d eventually wilt and fall to the dirt, but now I had over a gallon of roses inside. Like I said, greedy. We put the perfect ones in a vase in the window. With the remaining, I looked to uses for backyard flowers earlier this Spring.

You see, the new car smell has not worn off this “having a yard” thing. When you live for over a decade in places where your flower options are potted flowers grown in full shade, once the limitation is lifted, things get weird. See my obsession with our lilac bush (or now bushes – yes, we got another) for an example. This year, I dried the flowers, made it into tea and then into kombucha. Next, our backyard chamomile got the dry to tea to kombucha treatment. Most of the Spring mornings were spent drinking tea and kombucha from the left over dried flowers from our yard. I made kombucha cocktails and vinaigrette, but my favorite use was chamomile kombucha poured over carrots and butter and they finished glazing inspired by David Posey’s kombucha glazed ribs.

As a warning, most kombucha folks will warn against using flowers in kombucha. Apparently the oils can cause rancidity. I tasted none of it. I drank or used all of mine in a matter of a week. If I get a rancid batch, I’ll just toss it, but I have not yet.

The thing about these roses is how I had so many, I’d be drinking more rose tea and kombucha than I cared for, so I split them three ways. I dumped equal parts by volume into a quart of rice vinegar and a quart of vodka. After a week in each, I drained the liquid from each. The vinegar takes the floral flavors in a more serious way, but the rose liquor has a nice softness. The remainder was dried. The dried petals reduced greatly in size and darkened significantly. The tea made from them was not the deep red of the liquor and vinegar however, but rather a shade darker than pink. The flavors of the tea and kombucha.

Late summer might bring wood sorrel greediness or star jasmine greediness or something I do not know will pop up greediness. Hopefully teaching the little one about the seasons, about appreciating their brevity, might stick with me. If nothing else this summer has taught me that enjoying them might mean seeing some of them hit the dirt. Hopefully I’ll learn I don’t need to grab them all and use them to enjoy them.

Backyard Flower Kombucha

1 cup dried flower petals
1 black tea bag
1/2 cup white sugar
2 quarts water
1 cup unflavored kombucha
A scoby

Step one: In a large jar, combine tea and sugar. Heat water and pour over tea and sugar.

Step two: When mixture is completely cool, add kombucha and scoby.

Step three: Let mixture ferment for 7-10 days.

Step four: Bottle and drink.

Originally posted 2014-07-24 23:02:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Cultured Butter


Recently, I had the great pleasure of dining at an event where Rene Redzepi, the famed chef of Noma in Copenhagen, not only made the rounds singing books (he is an exceptionally nice man and a proud father), but helped with dinner. The dinner was delicious with more than a few memorable dishes, but the one which sticks out the most, oddly, was a simple roll with homemade butter. Something about a warm, yeasted roll slathered with delicious, salty butter raised that simple small plate above some of the more complicated dishes.

When I got home late that night, I had it in my head how I would make butter at home. It was going to happen and when I returned home from work the next night, my older daughter explained how, as part of her preparation for their Thanksgiving feast, she had already made butter at school with a jar and a marble. She, at the age of four, was ahead of me in making butter and I could not have been more proud.


The next day, I found a recent recipe in the New York Times for cultured butter. I, then, picked up a quart of heavy cream and started the two day culturing period (I bumped the time from 18-24 to 48 hours for the extra oomph). Finally, the soured and thickened cream was spun through the food processor until the butter solids separated from the butter milk.



Then, the mixture was strained and pressed. Finally the butter was “washed” with ice water until the run-off runs clear. This was the hardest part of making the butter (think making pasta by hard, but way more room for error). At this point, I salted the butter with smoked maldon salt and divided them into bricks. With 3/4 pound homemade butter and 3 cups of fresh buttermilk, few things sound better than scalding hot cornbread melting that butter the old-fashioned way.



The butter, while certainly not Redzepi-level, was better than anything I had picked up at the store even consider I was less than a novice, and at a fraction of the price of good butter, without even considering the buttermilk supplement. The butter was complex and slightly sour with a quality best described as almost sweetgrass-like. Despite adding a good bit of salt, the butter was not salty, but the smoke added a nice savory quality to the butter.  The cornbread was a nice, little full circle bite of cultured butter including its buttermilk.

Originally posted 2013-12-02 00:27:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter


We host a dinner party periodically which is actually just a book club to which my wife belongs. Typically those types of groups are simply drinking clubs, but this one adds food and actual books. About a week before book club, I realized my original plan of serving cassoulet had been done before. By me. Last winter. It seems as when the weather grows cold, I cook beans – large pots of beans with sausages and off cuts.

Actually I should have never been surprised. Beans and meats are fantastic and this weather has forced my hand. Only, I am not a repeater. Knowing fabada is a not-so-distant cousin to cassoulet, I figured there must be more cousins. I just needed to look.

Then I remembered a Brazilian dish, feijoada, which is very similar to cassoulet only made with black beans and features carne seca (which in its place I used beef jerky). I felt like I had struck gold until I searched for recipes. I looked in Alex Atala’s new book. Nothing. In fact, Atala’s goal is to push past the iconic feijoada and churrasca of Brazil.  I looked online. There were tons of recipes and none developed any consensus with the others, so I did what I thought was reasonable. I made an approximation of cassoulet using the building blocks of feijoada adding some ingredients which might be a tad more Brazilian.

One thing I remember being difficult about fabada was losing bits of the pork tails, bones included, in the dish. If I am the only one eating, I can work around the bones, but if I am serving others, I like to keep their teeth intact, so along with the larger pieces of jerky, I wrapped the pork tails in cheesecloth. Once they cooked long enough, I removed the cheesecloth, chopped the tails and beef jerky and added them back. Before adding them back, I thickened the liquid by mashing a cup of the cooked beans and added them back to the mix.

Next, I wanted to have some flavors from the sugar cane liquor from Brazil, Cachaça, so I cooked the onions and garlic, added them to the beans, then deglazed the pan with the liquor and spooned the aromatically fortified liquor the beans. To me, this was a fun touch.

When finished the feijoada was strongly meaty, as anticipated, and was both smokey from the tails and linguiça and prominently beefy from the jerky. The beans retained their texture and, while most photos showed the liquid strained off, I really liked the bean juice. It was thick and carried hints of sweetness from the orange and cachaça. I wish I could have found a little farofa to add as a garnish, but the bright green garnishes of cilantro and green onion would have to suffice.

There are differences between cassoulet and feijoada that I did not anticipate. First, apparently feijoada is served with rice. Second, this batch  felt lighter than most cassoulet. There are no scoops of lard here, but you still get the clean meat flavors. I like the richness of cassoulet, but I really love the way the feijoada doesn’t kill the rest of the day. Now is a good time to stock up on ideas for meat and beans and I am all ears.


1 1/2 pounds smoked pig tails or necks
1 1/2 pounds Linguiça
1/2 pound real beef jerky, not shrink wrapped is a good start
1 pound dried black beans
1 quart ham stock
3 bay leaves
1 serrano chili
1/2 orange
2 onions, sliced
1 head garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lard
2 tablespoons Cachaça
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
6 green onion, sliced

Step one: In a glass or earthenware dish, cover black beans with water by 4″ and soak overnight. Drain.

Step two: Tie jerky and smoked pork tails in cheese cloth and add to a large stock pot with beans, ham stock and enough water to cover by 2″.

Step three: Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook for 3-4 hours.

Step four: Remove bag of meat. Chop and remove bones.  Remove 1 cup of beans, mash into a paste. Add back to beans.

Step five: Sweat onions and garlic. Add to beans/meat with bay leaves. Deglaze onion/garlic pan with Cachaça and add to beans.

Step six: Add sausages, orange, serrano chilis. Simmer for an additional hour.

Step sever: Remove bay leaves, orange, and seranno chili. Salt to taste and eat in a bowl with rice (if you want, I skipped), green onions and cilantro.

Originally posted 2014-02-13 00:20:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Corned Cornish Game Hen


Some people buy new tech items, others buy the latest fashions, I used to buy records at midnight of the release date, but now if I see a novel cut of meat, I grab a few to give them a spin. We all have our curiosoities. When I saw cornish game hens, I grabbed them knowing I had seen them a few times, but always skipped by them. My initial thought included the grill as it is the only tool, besides the single gas hob, of heating them, but as I described my purchase to my older daughter, a new preparation came to mind, I would brine the game hen into corned Cornish game hen.


The process was straight-forward. Make the brine. I used Ruhlman’s and Polcyn’s brine from Charcuterie. I adapted down the salinity by 1/2 because I knew that I was not going to boil the birds. The time spent in the brine was limited to 3 days because these are tiny little creatures  not some large plate of beef.


After brining them, the birds were left to sit uncovered in the fridge to dry out of bit. Once dinner time came around, I did something about which I still feel odd. I mounted them on beer cans. Do not get it twisted. I like beer can chicken. I love it. However, the area in which you stick the can in far bigger on a chicken than a Cornish game hen. In this case, there was a bit of an issue where I needed a little elbow grease to get the birds to stay upright.

Once they went on the grill, most of my iffiness went away. The aroma of chicken fat hitting the coals is a great cure for most meat guilt. Any lingering guilt went away once the birds came off of the grill. The birds had the crispy skin, which oddly never got to a golden color, but crisped up nicely. The skin hid juicy, slightly pink flesh (due to the presence of curing salt) tasting of a combination of the sweet qualities of corned beef and grilled chicken.


This started as a riff on the name of the bird but as I progressed through the process, it was clear how it was just an adaptation of a basic poultry brine. I am not a briner by nature, but given the results here, I may be moving in that direction.

Originally posted 2013-07-01 23:26:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Shio Koji

As I unpacked my souvenirs from our trip to Japan, I grabbed a plastic deli of white sludge packed in plastic. The sludge was purchased in Nishiki market in Kyoto when I asked for koji. For some reason in those situations, even if I know the requested item is dubious relative to the request, I take it and run as to not offend. Either this was the funkiest koji I had ever seen or I had gotten something different from what I had requested.

When I asked my friend Yukari what the label read, she noted it was shio koji. After a little research, I found what it was. Shio koji is a condiment made using salt, water and koji (rice inoculated with mold used for making sake, miso, etc.) which seems to be a flavor super-charger with ultra-concentrated sweet, salty and umami flavors. it was also easy to make. It is just salt, water and koji plus time. Before even breaking open the shio koji, I opted to make my own.

Breaking the koji out of the fridge, I warmed water to 140 degrees (this is important, hot enough to bloom the rice, cool enough to keep mold alive) and poured enough of it over the koji to wet it without covering it. A little massage, the remaining water and two weeks of stirring daily later, I was a pint richer in funky, funky condiment newness.

The shio koji has an incredible range of flavor. It is strongly salty, but also strongly sweet from the sweetness in the koji. Then the two weeks of fermenting add a miso-like funk to porridge-like sludge and take the texture from rice and water to somewhere plasmatic with both soft granules and dissolved granules. My first use was in a project which is still in the works, but the first finished use of the shio koji was in combination of olive oil and grape vinegar spread over cabbage which was then roasted for almost an hour. The complexity of the cabbage was the first noticeable thing. It was not a flavor I could pinpoint, but I knew it was much more flavor than typical. The aroma from the kitchen was like buttery, yeasty rolls even though I was cooking cabbage. The flavor boost was confirmed when an unknowing co-diner asked what I “did to the cabbage”. I was initially concerned as if I had ruined it, but it was the opposite, it was mysterious AND improved.

After tasting this version, I opened the souvenir version to see where I hit out. It is indeed shio koji, but my version was sweeter and saltier, but not quite as funky. I’d guess it would be due to the quality of the koji, but given my inability to speak enough Japanese to get koji at Nishiki, I was happy to fall into this delicious new (to me) condiment.

Shio Koji

300 grams water
100 grams koji
30 grams flaky sea salt

Step one: In a heat proof bowl, add salt and koji and mix to combine.

Step two: Heat the water to 140 degrees. Add enough to wet the koji. Massage the koji/water, then add the remaining water.

Step three: Keep out and semi-covered. Stir daily. Smell daily.

Step four: When smell changes from salty/funky to salty/sweet/funky, taste. When at the flavor you like (between a week and two weeks), spoon into a jar and put in fridge.

Note: Many websites indicate uses for shio koji as anything you’d put salt on. I’d disagree. Add to whatever you want to really flavorful in a savory way. It is complex, but not subtle.

Originally posted 2014-07-15 23:02:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Lemon-Lavender Cold Brew


There are people with good taste. Then there are people who are good tasters. Shannon Steele, roaster and brew specialist at Passion House Coffee, has a preternatural skill at discerning flavors in coffee and, as I have found lately, her skill translates equally well into the world of food – she recommended a cookbook that I had dismissed wrongly which turned out to be fantastic – and gin – she recommended a wonderfully aromatic French gin.

When Shannon talks about flavors, I listen. When she combines a little food with coffee, I drop what I am doing to listen, then immediately follow along. I wrote last year about my preferred method for cold brewing coffee, so when Shannon mentioned infusing her cold brew with basil and lime, my ears perked up.

For the longest time, every time iced coffee came along, it was dull and bitter – which is why you see most iced coffees loaded down with sugar and cream. The thought of steeping the cold brew with citrus and herbs really interested me and the addition of fizzy soda water pushed me to act immediately. I had tried the combination of cold brew and soda water at Next, it was Passion House coffee and Shannon’s bending the ear of the staff no doubt, and loved the lightness it brought to iced coffee. Continuing to add lightness, brightness and flavor was too intriguing to wait.


After brewing a particularly strong batch of cold brew (100g coffee, 200g water off the boil, 550g ice water), combinations began to bounce in my head. I have a lovely lavender bush in the yard and, after trying a roast of coffee this summer with serious lavender notes, I thought the pairing would work, so I added flowers from 2 sprigs. Since it was my first shot at this, I stuck with the herb/citrus pairing and added zest from half of a lemon. I briefly consider orange zest, but I wanted tartness not sweetness.


After a brief steeping period (8 hours), I strained the coffee again and chilled it. In the evening, I filled a tumbler with ice, then a bit of sparkling soda water. After adding the cold brew, I smelled not only the coffee, but the lavender as well. The flavors from the lemon were more forward than the lavender, despite the aroma being amazingly strong. The coffee sparkled even beyond the bubbles from the soda water. The combination of coffee roasted with skill and brewed with care combined with a few small additions made this cold brew an incredible treat.

Brainstorming later with Shannon, I think my next go will be with anise hyssop flowers and noyaux. Kind of a bubble gum/almond combination that will differ substantially from the herb/citrus combination, but has possibilities.

Originally posted 2013-08-06 23:06:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Goose Confit

This year we finally got a holiday goose. There really is only one time of year where one would pay the expense (and the expense is far more substantial than it ought to be) and with the girls waist deep in stories referring to a Christmas goose, we took the plunge. The thing is a goose is big and we have 2 adults and 2 preschoolers, so after trimming the fat from the goose, I cut it in half.

The first half was roasted with apples and purple cauliflower. The meat is rich and brown from tip to tail. With the trimmed skin and fat, I rendered over a quart of fat. With the bones and oddly long wings, I made stock. With the breast, I cooked up a little laap from the Pok Pok cookbook. When you have a goose leg though, there is only one real option. The goose leg is going into a bath of goose grease.

Despite having a quart of rendered goose fat, I still prefer to confit in a vacuum sealed bag. On top of saving fat, storage is unmistakably easier. It is as easy as seal it in a bag, toss it in a waterbath, and then drop it in a fridge to cool. Before you seal the leg with some fat in a bag, there is a bit of time (2 days) to cure the leg in a rub of salt with bay leaf, thyme flowers, and a few spices.

When you are ready to eat the confit of goose, the way to work this optimally is to steam the bag until the goose fat liquifies. Then pour the fat into a jar and put the leg on a baking rack over a cookie sheet. Then crisp the skin in a 400 degree oven. The crispy skin is delicious, but the dark, rich meat below is the treasure. Think duck, but richer and slightly gamier.

As much as I wanted to scoop a spoonful of mustard on a plate and tear the goose flesh from the bones and make a standing snack of it, the goose was added to a cassoulet along side the goose stock and fat made from the same goose (and pork, and pork sausage, and lamb, and beans…). The richness of the goose confit essentially supercharges the rich cassoulet and when temperatures hits single digits, we are happy to have that supercharge at our disposal.

On the left is the water-rendered goose fat. On the right and in the foreground is the fat poured from the confit.

Goose Confit

Based on recipe in Charcuterie

1 goose leg
17 grams kosher salt
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves
5 sprigs thyme with flowers
3 allspice berries
3 coriander seeds
3 fennel seeds
5 grams peppercorns
2 cloves
1 pint of goose fat

Step one: Pounds all non-goose related ingredients in a mortar and pestle until it is consistent texture. This is the cure.

Step two: Cover goose leg in cure in a shallow dish. Cover with clingwrap. Let cure for two days.

Step three: Rinse cure from the goose leg and dry with paper towels.

Step four: Seal goose leg and fat in a vac seal bag or trustable zip top bag.

Step five: Place bag in a dutch oven. Cover with water. Weigh the leg down with a plate and cook in a low oven (225) for 12-16 hours.

Step six: Chill until ready to eat. When ready to eat, remove from fat and crisp in an oven.

Originally posted 2014-01-21 00:37:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter