Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hot Pink Horseradish

I found the perfect project for a cold Sunday afternoon. Today I made hot pink horseradish. This weekend it was time to put the garden to bed. I spent most of the afternoon dumping flower pots, chopping down sunflowers, rolling up chicken wire and filling the compost bin. The last task of the day was digging horseradish. I missed the opportunity last year and I was determined to put some horseradish away for the winter. My Dad used to make horseradish. I remember him grinding it on the back porch. "Mom, why is Daddy crying?" It didn't look like fun.

Our horseradish was here when I moved in. We have a well established patch at the north end of the garden. I waited too late last season and I couldn't dig through the hard, frozen ground. The soil in that area is hard and thick but this year I had a secret weapon- the tiller. I mowed the patch down and zipped through it with the tiller in just a few minutes. From there it was just a matter of picking up the pieces.

I brought half a bucket into the kitchen and washed of the black sticky mud. I let the chunks ofhorseradish roots soak in warm water for a couple of hours. It makes them easier to clean and peel. The pieces need to be peeled with all blemishes and brown spots removed. All the pieces were different and I remember thinking they weren't going to peel easily. I was right but after working on them for an hour it started getting a little easier. I also noticed my hands were getting warm. Like the time at Picuris when I helped Valerie and Simon's Grandma roast and peel two 50 lb sacks of Hatch green chile. We peeled and roasted green chiles until 4 am. My hands stayed warm for three days. They are still warm now, three hours later. Not painfully warm but noticeably warm.

After some online research i found out that you could grind horseradish in a blender. No more crying on the back porch. The Lawnmower Man recommended adding turnips to the horseradish to make it go further. I improvised and decided to add peeled Chinese beautiful heart radish. They are beautiful - green/white outside and purpl'pink on the inside. The result was hot pink horseradish. I've seen pink horseradish before. They add beets for color.

I used one cup of water to a half cup of horseradish and a half cup of beautiful heart radish chunks. I set the blender on "frappe" (whatever the hell that is..) and added chunks through the blender's blowhole until it got really thick. Then I added 1/4 cup of white vinegar and added more chunks. The result was a pasty blend that looked like a strawberry milkshake. (I would certainly hate mistaking one for the other.)

Now one caveat- If you decide to make this do not look down into the blender when the horseradish is blending. This may result in temporary blindness and loss of breath. At this point in processing it's potent stuff. This can also happen when you pack the horseradish in jars. After chopping/grinding/frappering/whatever I used a colander to drain the horseradish. I prefer thick horseradish and I've noticed the horseradish in stores often has excess water.

I put several pints and half pints away today and gave one pint to Lawnmower Man 2. I remember buying jars of horseradish at the IGA store when I was a kid. Back then I think we only had four condiments --ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise & horseradish. The clerk at the store would always say, "Horseradish. Keep it cold to keep it hot." I took that as her way of saying refrigerate after opening. Horseradish is the perfect condiment for Thanksgiving leftover turkey and ham. It also goes well with headcheese, but that's an adventure for another day.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Opportunistic Scavengers

10/08/09 After several days away Lucky and I finally made it back home last night. We've been away most of the last two weeks so it was nice sleeping in our own beds again. I woke up a little before 6 am and thought I heard Lucky eating his Iams in the kitchen. It wasn't Lucky. As I walked into the kitchen I found an opossum having breakfast out of Lucky's dish. He trotted off towards the porch through the dog door. Lucky watched it all go down and didn't bother to react. It was like they were acquaintances, or at least familiar strangers. I expected a couple of "get out of here damn cat" barks. I made my coffee and started some long overdue housekeeping. The temperature is supposed to drop to the low twenties tonight. I had the day off so I decided to pick and put away the last vegetables of the season. From the edge of the garden there didn't appear to be much left. I found a few peppers but most of the tomatoes were mushy. A light frost must have hit while we were away. Chinese cabbage, bok choy, onions and Chinese radishes were still good. I was able to make one final batch of soup, seven quarts, to keep us warm through the upcoming winter months. I don't have a soup recipe. I've made four batches this year. I usually get eight quarts. The canning pot holds seven jars so one goes straight into the refrigerator. We had an abundance of cabbage - napa, purple & QuingDao Express. I am totally hooked on QuingDao Express, "Light green leaves with pure white petioles, tender and hairless." We use it for "lettuce" wraps. Seed available at Agro Haitai is based in Canada and they carry an inspiring and beautiful variety of Chinese vegetables.

The cabbage, tomatoes and squash are great together and I'm always trying new combinations of vegetables for soup. Today's soup got a health dose of arugula. I never raise arugula before because I didn't think it was anything special. Maybe its a seasonal thing but I suddenly found myself liking it. I'm already planning next year's garden. The garden will be gone soon but I'll still go out there on warmer days to scavenge a few onions and greens. I like finding hidden vegetables in November and December. I think it's the perfect addition to Thanksgiving or a Christmas meal. Winter squash are wonderful, too. I have a few bright orange/yellow patty pan squash in the pantry. A lone winter squash got tossed into the soup pot this afternoon. My winter squash plants got wiped out right after they started to bear fruit. It was a very sad to see the long vines wither and die.

I didn't freeze summer squash this year. It doesn't seem to keep well. The dehydrator was working on squash and cucumbers for several weeks. Ping likes to cook with them. She reconstitutes them with a little water then chops and fries them in a little oil and spices. Kind of like a relish, but it makes a great simple meal with a little rice. The garden also gave up a bucket full of baseball/softball sized "beautiful heart" radishes. I totally missed picking hazelnuts this season. They all seem to have disappeared over the last couple of weeks. Maybe the squirrels got them...or possums... My neighbor was good enough to share the location of some black walnut trees on his brother's farm. I'll try to pick a bucket full this weekend. We have a soy milk maker at our home in Shenzhen. It grinds and cooks soybeans and turns them into soy milk. Ping also uses it to make almond milk. I want to see if black walnut milk is possible. Maybe hazelnut milk next year. I got hooked on Yeo's soy milk on my last trip to China and I keep our refrigerator stocked. The canned version is great, sweetened with a little cane sugar. If you are trying to cut back on soda its a good alternative. If you get a chance, spend a little more and try the black soy milk. It is brown, not black, and it has a richer flavor. I'm almost to the tipping point where I'll buy a soy milk maker for this house. I'd never seen them before but they are very popular in China. You can produce a quart of soy milk for around 20 cents. Another benefit is that you can turn soy milk into tofu. Tofu is coagulated soy milk. You can buy coagulant online or in some Asian grocery stores. A $12 package (100 grams) is enough to make 75 gallons of tofu.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

10/5/09 I'd like to apologize for not getting back here sooner. I'm working on a new post but I've also been hung up writing a grant proposal for my day job. The weather is cooling off and I've also been super busy with canning and putting away things for the winter. If you are looking for a post please check back in after October 10th! - Dave

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Crunchi Chili

老干妈 !!! Put this on your shopping list for your next trip to the Chinese grocery store. Lao Gan Ma Oil Chilli is a brilliant and tasty mix of "crunch" red chili pieces and peanuts in vegetable oil. Cost: under 2 bucks. Oil Chilli makes a great dipping sauce for dumplings and a wonderful addition to almost any meal. This is more than a condiment. You can use Oil Chilli in a variety of ways. I tried oil chilli with Ping's baozu (steamed pork dumplings a/k/a Chinese hamburgers) in Shenzhen last winter and I was hooked. The flavor is subtle and seductive. It's hot, but not painfully hot. The oil helps bring out the deep rich flavor of the red chili pieces and the chili oil soaked peanuts are a special treat.

The Lao Gan Ma Company in Guiyang, China specializes in "chilli foods" and there's an interesting variety of products on store shelves. Their website has product descriptions and company information in English/corporate Chinglish. They have been certified as a "Green Food" in China and you can also see the company's Honest Enterprises Of Pay Taxes certification. (My newest pastime is surfin' Chinese websites...) I've tried their hot pot condiment and tofu in chilli oil. These are excellent, too, but I'm hooked on the "crunchy" chili. They also make a version without peanuts. The company's website boasts "Over 1000 ″LaoGanMa″staff and workers produce 430,000 jars of chili foods per day, achieving the yearly output value approach in USD 50 million" and plans for the future that includes "an″aircraft carrier″of chili processing industry is being under construction." This I've got to see...

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Late August is a peculiar time to start writing about gardening. The summer is coming to an end. The days are getting cooler and the nights are getting longer. The garden is dwindling down but now I finally have a little free time to write.

Today I transplanted Chinese onions and "Red of Florence" onions. I started them in pots and today they graduated to rows in the garden. I planted some white onion sets last week. I should have onions well into November. Every summer I try to save a quart jar or two of chopped, dehydrated green onions. They are so handy for cooking and they keep very well.

Today's bounty included a five gallon bucket of cucumber, a bucket of tomatoes, purple yard long beans, a dozen lemon cucumbers, Chinese cabbage, patty pan and scalloped squash. My lovely and talented Chinese wife, Liu Li Ping is back in Shenzhen, China so Lucky is my garden helper. Sometimes he helps me dig. He's also the official garden greeter when kids and neighbors stop for a visit.

Lucky has recently developed a taste for cucumbers. He thinks they make good toys for fetching and chewing. We have a long row of cucumber vines and we've picked hundreds of cukes this summer. The ones that look like birds or alien sex toys belong to Lucky. He gets the funny looking oversized and odd shaped ones. The good ones, in theory, are supposed to be off limits. Today I noticed two "regular" cukes had disappeared from our little pink wagon. Forbidden fruit I guess.

To handle the garden's excesses we currently have three food dehydrators running in the kitchen. We've also made kimchee and pickles. Last year I dehydrated yellow pear tomatoes, green onions, green beans, summer squash and turnips. Ping makes a very traditional and tasty "side" dish from the squash and turnips. She soaks them in water, drains and browns them in flavored oil. We also like preserved eggplant cooked this way. It goes great with other foods or served alone with with rice or porridge. This summer we started using cucumbers this way.

We raise Chinese cucumbers because we find them more flavorful and versatile. They tend to have softer skin than American varieties. We also raise a few lemon cucumbers that turn yellow when ripe. These tennis ball shaped cukes have a unique taste and texture.

If you are encumbered with excess cucumbers you might want to consider this very simple Chinese treat called Smacked Cucumbers. You can find other recipes online but this is the simplest. Take one large cucumber, lay it on a wood or plastic cutting board and smack it with the flat side of a cleaver. Chop the smacked cucumber into bite size pieces and place it in a colander with a little salt and let it drain for half an hour. (or pat dry with a paper towel) A regular one-handed "slap chop" smash works fine. No need for Hulk smash. Smashing the cucumber breaks open cells in the cuke and allows the flavor from the dressing to penetrate. While the cucumbers are draining, make the dressing. In a bowl mix a quarter cup of chopped garlic (fresh is always better), a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of Chinese black vinegar, a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of sesame oil. For bonus points add a teaspoon of garlic chili paste. Mix dressing ingredients until the sugar dissolves. Place the cucumber chunks on a large plate and cover with the dressing. Enjoy.

Another great "Chinese" way to serve cucumbers is to slice them and serve with tablespoon of pine nuts (pinon or pignolias) mixed in a cup of ground bean sauce. Again, bonus points of you add a teaspoon of garlic chili paste. This makes a great appetizer or side dish.