Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An Iron Chef Near You

(cross posted from where I actually get paid to blog :)

I smiled with a bit of homesickness when I opened the food section of the paper this morning. Before my best friends got to be over thirty and we all scattered to the four winds, we were young lushes in DC. We spent many a drunken night in epicurian exploration, which led to the first of 3 iron chef competitions between myself and our best man, JB. What started as a simple wager (who could cook a better meal) soon became an obsessive, time and $$$ intensive competition -- 5-8 courses, with wine and cocktail pairings and experimentation to the highest end. We would prepare for day (s) in advance, and be exhausted at the completion. Our spouses relished in defining the secret ingredients (including the likes of caramel, lychees, Bourbon, and ginger); JB and I found intense competitive joy in continuously one-upping each other; and our friends invited as judges were lucky to be spoiled to the nines.

Apparently friendly iron chef competitions are becoming more popular amongst friends. It's really a good time (just don't let it consume you :); I highly recommend buying a few secret ingredients and inviting over some friends.

For the full article (and a few helpful hints), check out:

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pickled Eggs a la Dacha

[Note: updated on 3/30/08 to increase the amount of salt and to add nori.]

Here is how you do it:

1. Go to Walmart and buy a gallon glass jar. Wash it with hot water, rinse well, and dry.

2. Get the following ingredients:
⁃ 18 eggs. Not too fresh because they don't peel easily after hard boiling.
⁃ 1/3 gallon of white vinegar
⁃ a little bit (not too much) balsamic vinegar
⁃ a cup of white wine vinegar
⁃ 1/6 gallon of water
⁃ 3 tbsp of Pickling Spices
⁃ 1 tsp tumeric
⁃ Hot banana peppers - 12 oz jar. Discard juice.
⁃ Salt - 6 tsp
⁃ Sugar - 3 tbsp (you need sugar to balance the vinegar)
⁃ Hot pepper flakes (optional if you have the bell peppers)
-About 4 sheets of nori (japanese seawed sheets), if you can find them

3. Hard boil the eggs and then plunge into a cool water bath. My brother says to not let them get cold, but I don't know if it matters. Maybe it does, maybe not.

4. When the eggs are cool enough, peel them (underwater is best, and start at the fat end), and put them in the glass jar.

5. Take the rest of the ingredients (except the water, which you can heat separately if you want) and chuck them in a big pot (preferably not cast iron, since it reacts with vinegar). Mix good. Bring to just under a boil, and then simmer for 5 minutes.

6. Pour the water into the glass jar on top of the eggs, and then pour the rest of the solution in there. Pour slowly and to avoid sudden major changes in the temperature of the jar so it won't crack.

7. Let the whole deal cool for several hours. Then stick it in the fridge for about 2 weeks. But you can try one egg after one week to see how it is. That is what I am going to do. I even read one guy's recipe who said it was good after two days.

Some additional notes and ideas:

a. Some people say that using the water included in this recipe is better because the eggs don't get as rubbery. Some recipes call for more water than vinegar. Other recipes call for all vinegar.

b. If this recipe gives you more liquid than you need to cover the eggs, you can just keep boiling more eggs and chucking them in there. Just make sure to keep track which eggs are done.

c. Washington State university says to stick the whole deal in the fridge right away after pouring the solution in the jar. But seems to me that that would heat up the fridge and wreak havoc. My brother tells me he leaves the jar out to cool for 2 days before putting in the fridge. The store out on Mission Road seems never to refrigerate the eggs at all (but on their other hand their eggs are not that good).

d. You can also use sliced onions and/or jalapenos - what ever sounds good is worth trying.

e. Try using malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar and brown sugar on a batch sometime and tell me how it is.

f. Hot spicy flavor is important for pickled eggs. They will be bland without the hot peppers.

g. Here is a guy named Stan who has done 18 batches if you care to read them all:

h. It is important to use enough salt to offset the vinegary taste. The nori seems to have the same effect - it "tames" the harsh vinegar.