Candied Grapefruit Peel

Erik sourced some nice grapefruits from our friend’s tree and used the flesh to do some homework for his Master Food Preserver program. This left a big pile of organic, unwaxed grapefruit rind on our counter, so I decided to do something about it, and set off to make candied grapefruit peel. This is the technique I came up with by mashing together a bunch of different internet recipes and making two batches of the stuff. The results are delish if a bit rustic in appearance. I don’t think I’d pass muster at French pastry school with my lazy technique, but Erik and I like them a lot.

You must genuinely love grapefruit, the bitterness of it, to appreciate these. If you’re not a grapefruit fan, I’m sure this would work with orange rind as well. If you are a grapefruit fan, you’ll find yourself sneaking off to the candy jar for a little more that sweet-bitter flavor punch.

We’ve been snacking on them straight, but I think they’d be really good chopped into small pieces and sprinkled over vanilla ice cream or folded into scones or dipped in chocolate. I like them as straight-up candy because they’re so intense they satisfy restless cravings, but for the same reason you can’t gorge on them. Actually, I can’t eat more than two at a time. The how-to after the break.

The Technique

I’m calling this a technique and not a recipe. Grapefruits vary in size, peel thickness and bitterness, so results are going to vary.

This is a good thing to do when you’re working in the kitchen anyway, because it takes time, but not tons of attention.

  • Chop your rind into any shape you want. I cut mine into rough strips about 1/3-1/2″ wide and and 2″ long, though there were lots of smaller pieces, too. You don’t have to trim off the white pith. Thank goodness, huh? If it’s ridiculously thick, as it can be sometimes, feel free to carve some of it away as you work. Pieces with huge chunks of pith on them will be slower to cook and dry than the rest. I guess what I’m saying is that standardization leads to consistency. Not that it matters a lot. 
  • Put the cut up peel in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, pour off the water. Refill and bring to a boil again. Boil four times total. This doesn’t take as long as you’d think. The boiling reduces some of the bitterness in the peel. 
boiled grapefruit peel
    • Use about 1/2 cup of sugar for every grapefruit. Pour the sugar into a saucepan large enough to hold the peel. Add half as much water as sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the drained peels and begin to cook over medium heat, stirring occassionally.  e.g. 2 grapefruit = 1 cup sugar + 1/2 cup water.  My batches were made with 5 small grapefruits and 2 cups of sugar.  (Obviously you can play with the amount of sugar–something with little pith, like a thin skinned orange, would need less. And maybe a “lite” version is possible. Try and see.)
    •  Cook the peels over medium heat. They will soften and turn transparent. Meanwhile, the sugar syrup will thicken and reduce. Keep cooking until the sugar syrup is so thick and so reduced that its mostly just coating the rinds, and the rinds themselves are golden and clear like tiny stained glass windows. Be sure to stir lots at the end so it doesn’t burn. This process took an hour in my case. It may have gone faster over higher heat. It would also go faster with a smaller batch.
    Cooking down the syrup
      • Turn the peels out onto an oiled rack to cool and drip off any excess syrup. (Lacking a rack, I ended up spreading mine over the bottom of colanders, which wasn’t a ton of fun, but worked.)  Let them stay there until they lose their wet stickiness. How long will vary–overnight, at least, I’d say. At that point you can sugar them if you want yet more sugar. It looks nice. Put the sugar on too soon and it will be absorbed into the syrup. When they’re totally dry, store them away in something air-tight.
      When almost all the syrup was gone/absorbed, as it looks here, I spread out the pieces to cool.

      The Secret to Japanese Cooking: Dashi

      Bonito flakes, available at any Japanese market.

      We conclude our Japanese themed week with the sauce that’s sort of the unified field theory of Japanese cooking: dashi. It’s in everything from noodle dishes to sauces to miso soup and it cooks up in just minutes. Dashi contains two ingredients, kombu (a kind of kelp) and bonito (shaved, fermented fish flakes). It’s the backbone of Japanese cooking, but we think it’s gentle, savory character could adapt well to Western-style cooking if you use it as a substitute for vegetable stock.

      Dashi only keeps a few days in the fridge, so the secret to using it regularly is to freeze half of every batch you make.

      Next Friday we’ll post a recipe for vegetables simmered in dashi. This is a classic Japanese cooking technique, and we’ve become very fond of it as an alternative to our usual saute/steam/bake repertoire.

      Sonoko Sakai, who taught the soba noodle class we described in an earlier post wrote an article on dashi complete with a detailed recipe.

      As an aside, I’m really interested in any of you who have foraged your own edible seaweed–if that’s you, please leave a comment.

      Introducing the Dehydrated Kimchi Chip

      Our focus this week has been all things Japanese, but now we’re taking a detour to Korea…or at least to kimchi:

      What would be the fermentation equivalent of finding a new planet in our solar system, cold fusion and a unified field theory all wrapped into one new discovery? That tasty snack breakthrough could very well be the dehydrated kimchi chip. Oghee Choe and Connie Choe-Harikul of Granny Choe’s Kimchi Co.’s just won the Good Food Day LA cabbage cooking contest with their kimchi chip over the weekend. I got to taste one of those kimchi chips and I can say that they deserved the award.

      Why make a kimchi chip? In a press release Harikul says, “We always have loads of kimchi at home, on account of the family business, so we started dehydrating our original spicy kimchi to halt fermentation when a batch was about to turn overripe.”

      How do you make kimchi chips at home? It’s simple, according to Harikul, “We use an American Harvest Snackmaster dehydrator that was given to us by a fellow Freecycler. Lay the kimchi out on two trays and dry it on high for 12 hours. Easy peasy.”

      Harikul and Choe have some suggestions for cooking with kimchi on their website. And they were nice enough to give us a recipe for kimchi that we included in our book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World.

      How to Make Soba Noodles

      Last month I took an amazing class with author and chef Sonoko Sakai on how to make soba noodles by hand. She’s a great teacher and I managed to make a halfway decent couple of servings of noodles during the class.

      Like many Japanese arts, soba making has a series of very precise steps. The recipe itself is simple (just buckwheat flour and water), though you do have to pay close attention to the temperature and humidity in the room. While it takes a soba master years to master the craft, you can make decent soba at home. My first attempt a week after the class wasn”t perfect, but I have a feeling I’ll get better with a little more practice. And I plan on making a lot of soba this summer.

      Made of buckwheat, soba is gluten free, though beginners start with some all purpose flour added in to make it easier to roll out. Sakai has a couple of soba recipes on her website. There’s a basic one here that includes a nice series of photos showing the steps you go through to roll it out and cut it. She also has a beautiful soba recipe using matcha here.

      Buckwheat flour for making soba is available in any Japanese market. The authentic Japanese flour we used in class is priced like cocaine and is not sold in the US. The buckwheat flour sold in Japanese markets in the states is grown in the US and will work just fine.

      In Japan soba is made with a couple of exotic tools. There’s a long and thin rolling pin with no handles. They have a martial arts vibe:

      Image from Worldwide-soba–they sell a soba making kit.

      I was able to improvise one of these at home with a dowel from Home Depot.

      There’s also a very expensive soba knife used to slice the folded dough:

      And a soba cutting guide:

      I substituted a small cutting board in my own kitchen. And my commitment to soba is not at the $1,000 level yet so there’s no fancy soba knife in our kitchen. At home I was able to make do with a regular kitchen knife, my improvised rolling pin and my homebrew soba cutting board.

      While this is one of those activities best learned in person, yes, there is a series of youtube videos you could use to figure out how to make soba at home:

      And, I do urge you to give it a try. The noodles we made in class were may times better than store bought soba. And, once you get the basic moves down, soba is quick to make, healthy and tasty.

      If you live here in Los Angeles you can sign up for the Los Angeles Bread Makers Meetup group–we’re going to ask Sonoko to repeat the soba class and do an udon class as well. You can also contact her through her website http://commongrains.com/ to find out if she’s doing a workshop near you.

      Return of Recipe Friday! Spicy Korean Tofu

      Ummm…Our food stylist is on vacation! This was lunch today. It would look much better if the tofu sheets were reclining whole on snowy rice and artfully sprinkled with green.

      We’ve been eating a lot of this lately. It’s Erik’s favorite meal these days, in fact. I make it for him whenever he’s grumpy and he perks right up. I like it too, and I especially like that it’s fast cooking and I usually have all the ingredients on hand, so it’s pretty effortless.

      I know, I know–there’s a lot of tofu haters out there, but this is really good–if you like spicy food.

      The key to this is Korean chili powder, called Gochutgaru. You just can’t substitute other pepper flakes. We always have this spice on hand because it’s critical for making kim chi. (If you like kim chi you’ll love this dish!)  If you have access to an Asian market, you’ll find Gochutgaru there. It’s sold in big bags and is pretty cheap. Look for bags full of fine red flakes with pictures of red peppers on the front.

      Credit where credit is due: I’d eaten this style of tofu somewhere before and went looking for a recipe–and found one on the Blazing Hot Wok blog. This is an adaption of that, which was an adaptation from a cookbook, as I recall.

      Ingredients:

      • 1 package of firm tofu (Silken tofu works too, see instructions at the end)
      • A few scallions/green onions, maybe 5 or more, depending how much you like them, chopped into 2 inch pieces.
      • This is not cannon, but you could also throw in another veggie along with the green onions for variety. Lately I’ve been adding in a few chopped asparagus spears into the mix.

      Sauce:

      • 3 Tablespoons of soy sauce
      • 3 Tablespoons water (equal amount to the soy sauce, however much you use)
      • 2 Tablespoons of Korean chili powder (This is a whole lot of spice, but we like it that way. You could use much less.)
      • 2-3 garlic cloves minced or pressed
      • 1 teaspoon of sugar
      • 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil
      • Maybe some wine if you have a bottle open. See instructions.

      Optional:

      • Toasted sesame seeds or peanuts for topping. Sesame is more traditional, but we really like peanuts with this.



      Prep:

      1) Cut the tofu block in 1/4-1/3″ slices. Press some of the water out of it by laying the slices out on a fresh kitchen towel or paper towels, putting more toweling on top and pressing gently with your hands–or by leaving it there under a weighted plate while you do the rest of the prep. This is not absolutely necessary, but the dish will come out better if you do it.

      2) Chop up your green onions.

      3) Combine the sauce ingredients above in a bowl. Since I use so much chili powder, the sauce can be pretty thick. For that reason I like to dilute it with a splash of wine (of any color) or water.

      Cook:

      Get out a big skillet. Heat a couple tablespoons of cooking oil in it and lay down the tofu slices. Cook them about 3 minutes each side over medium high heat, just so they’re nice and hot. Then add the green onions and cook a minute or two longer to soften them a bit.

      Then add the sauce and cook it all together until the sauce simmers, tuning the tofu pieces so they get sauced on both sides. At that point it’s up to you to decide whether you want to cook the sauce down for a fairly dry presentation, or serve it right away while the texture is still “wet.” Either way it will be good.

      Serve this over short-grained rice. Top with sesame seeds or peanuts if you’ve got ‘em.

      Silken Variation:

      Silken Variation? Is that some sort of feminine product or a Kama Sutra position?

      Anyway, if you’re a fan of silken tofu, as I am, you use that, too. You just do things in a different order. Heat up your skillet and add your green onion pieces and cook for a minute or so, then add the sauce and bring it to a simmer. Then add your silken tofu. Toss to cover with sauce then put a lid over the skillet, turn the heat down and let the tofu sort of steam/heat through gently. Takes about 5 minutes.

      Home Food Preservation Resources

      I’m honored to have been included in this year’s class of the Los Angeles Master Food Preservers, a program offered by our local extension service to train volunteers to teach food preservation in under-served communities. I thought I would share the textbook resources from the class as they are an excellent set of reference books for your homesteading library. And many are available for free online. Like all information from the extension service system, they are research based.

      First off is So Easy to Preserve a large collection of recipes, everything from canning to dehydrating, all carefully tested and in line with current U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety recommendations. The book is put out by the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension.

      We also will be using the Complete Guide to Home Canning, put out by the USDA and available for free online. Lastly, there’s the classic Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, a reliable introduction to the subject.

      In addition to covering food safety issues, I like these carefully researched food preservation guides for their reliability. If I’m going to commit the time to doing a food preservation project I like a reasonable chance of success. While we learn from our mistakes, I’d prefer to have a few more jellies and a few less accidental “syrups”.

      You can connect with the Los Angeles Master Food Preservers on Facebook and via their blog.

      Top Tasting Tomato Varieties

      Sakura Honey, image from the Master Gardeners of Frankly County

      It’s the time of year to start figuring out what tomatoes to plant here in the northern hemisphere. How about using taste to decide? The Master Gardeners of Franklin County Pennsylvania do a taste test every year. Here’s the top ten from last year’s results:

      1 Sakura Honey
      2 Red Pearl
      3 Five Star
      4 Principe Borghese
      5 Old Brooks
      6 Arbason
      7 Fabulous
      8 Heritage Hybrid
      9 Cherokee Green
      10 SX 605

      The top three (all grape varieties) are available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. See the full results of the taste test here.

      Also, if you’re still looking for inspiration, review the comments on our recent giveaway post. Folks left their favorites there, and their regions–it’s a treasure trove of climate-specific information. We should make a chart out of it our something. 

      Link thanks to Ken Druse’s Real Dirt Podcast

      Some Thoughts on Mead

      I’ve had mixed success with making my own mead. One batch I made was OK and a few others tasted, as Mrs. Root Simple put it, “like a desperate white wine substitute for a zombie apocalypse.” Last year I attended a mead tasting put on by America’s first homebrew club the Maltose Falcons. Somehow I neglected to blog about it, so better late than never, here’s what I learned:

      • If you want decent mead you have to brew it yourself. We tasted a lot of homebrew meads along with commercial meads.  Many of the homebrew meads were excellent. All of the commercial meads tasted like camping fuel. I was, frankly, surprised that anyone would go to the trouble of labeling, distributing and selling some of the awful store bought meads we tasted. I tried yet another horrible commercial mead at the natural foods convention I blogged about on Monday.
      • In my opinion, the best homebrew meads at the tasting were carbonated. The carbonation helps accent the aroma of the honey that can sometime get lost in a flat mead. 
      • The best meads split the difference between dry and sweet. Too dry and you get that boring white wine taste. Too sweet and you’ve got cough syrup. Choosing the right yeast can strike that balance.
      • I’ve had good luck with a Narbonne Wine Yeast called Lalvin 71B-1122 Yeast.

      • I really enjoyed the orange blossom honey based mead my friend Steve Linsley made. Perhaps I’ll prod him for the recipe and post it here one of these days.  

      Have you made mead? If so, how did it go? What kind of honey did you use? Have you tried the recipe in our book Making It?

      Vital Farms: Pasture Raised, Organic Eggs at Whole Foods

      Image from the Vital Farms blog.

      Over the weekend I attended the Natural Products Expo West, a massive health food industry convention. Yes, indeed, Fabio was in attendance selling some sort of powdered supplement and I may have seen Ziggy Marley packing up his own bottles of “Coco’Mon” coconut oil. Such are the indignities one encounters on the downward arc of a career in reggae music or romance book cover modeling.

      Out of the nearly 2,000 exhibitors of, frankly, health food store junk food, one stood out: Vital Farms, purveyors of eggs from pasture raised hens. The overwhelming majority of eggs in this country are laid by chickens crammed into small cages or, arguably worse, crammed into big sheds.  “Free range,” “cage free” and “organic,” mean absolutely nothing. What makes Vital Farms different is that the eggs they sell were laid by chickens who live outside, during the day, on pasture. Their spokesperson offered to let me tour the farms they contract with, something that, I doubt, any of the big egg producers would offer.

      The Cornocopia Institute gives them a “five egg (exemplary)” rating, citing their rotational grazing methods, abstinence from the practice of beak trimming and year round outdoor access for the hens. Vital Farms contracts with several farms in Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia. Their eggs are available nationwide at Whole Foods and they have expanded into meat chickens.

      Now, hopefully, I can recover from the spectral celebrity hallucinations induced by downing hundreds of free samples of things like pro-biotic frozen pizza (I’m not making this up) and caveman power bars. Perhaps a pasture raised egg omelet will wipe away my açaí berry hangover.

      Thanks to Dale Benson for suggesting attending this event and for driving, spending a half hour finding a parking space and pointing out Ziggy Marley or someone who resembled Ziggy Marley packing up those bottles of coconut oil.