As Americans who live outside the U.S.A., the day of American Thanksgiving holiday (which is tomorrow) has special significance. It’s the day we gather with a few close friends who are half-American (one member of each couple is American, the other is Dutch) and their multi-cultural children, share food everyone has prepared and brought with them, and generally have a wonderful, relaxed day.
Of course, the day involves lots of eating, lots of shooting the breeze (an American euphemism for spouting off, er, random intellectual discussions), and utilizing each other as culinary guinea pigs. (Oh, I wasn’t supposed to say that out loud?)
My contribution to tomorrow’s feasting are the following items:
A turkey injected with and brined with a savory sour orange marinade, from a recipe provided by La Caja China – it’s the mojo criollo marinade, and then roast in my Weber grill.
A cranberry cinnamon rum ice cream, with rum included because it will keep the cream soft in the freezer (since I use Splenda instead of sugar, and that produces a very solid cream otherwise), and, of course, because rum tastes good.
A cranberry compote ice cream for those who don’t like rum (with guar gum to keep it soft).
Orange juice caviar (small spheres of alginate filled with orange juice – just because I had leftover orange juice from the marinade described above).
Cranberry relish pearls (larger alginate spheres using a cranberry orange relish puree that Linda made yesterday) – should be a nice topping for turkey and other treats tomorrow
Cranberry powder – I first had this at Mark’s American Cuisine (great restaurant, by the way) in Houston a few weeks ago with a foie gras dish, and decided I needed my own tart dusting powder. Required my dehydrator, cranberries, and an awful lot of patience.
Garlic mashed cauliflower – made with lots of butter and cream and a touch of white pepper, and virtually no carbohydrates
Linda is making a peanut butter pie and a pumpkin pie, Krystyana is making a garlic parmesan mayonnaise vegetable casserole, our friends Caren & Frans are providing more veggies and Dutch apple cake, and our friend Dan is bringing a turkey smoked in his Big Green Egg.
All in all, it should be an interesting experiment meal tomorrow!
As those of you who read this blog regularly know, I live on a small Caribbean island called Bonaire. Bonaire is located about 50 miles north of Venezuela, and is part of the Dutch Kingdom. Those of you not familiar with the island might assume it’s a lush tropical island – in fact, far from it. Bonaire is arid and dry, vaguely reminiscent of the Arizona desert in its general look and feel, vegetation included.
That means that not much grows on Bonaire, at least not that can be exported. Adding to that that Bonaire is a tiny little island (110 square miles or so) with a small population (15,000 people), and no stop lights, there’s not much capacity here for export of much of anything. Except salt, that is.
Cargill, one of the world’s largest privately held companies, owns the southern part of Bonaire, and uses it as a solar salt farm. They have giant man-made ponds, which they fill with sea water, seal off, and then over a period of months, let the sun and warm climate evaporate the water, leaving only minerals behind.
The minerals left behind are primarily salt and gypsum, with the salt left on the top. As the salt concentration increases, the water color in the salt pans changes to a pink/purple, and can be quite vivid in the right light.
As you can see from the above image (one of my digital paintings using only natural colors), the mounds of salt that the salt company harvests look like little white mountains. At the peak of the salt harvesting season these may get to be 60-80 feet tall, I believe.
Bonaire’s salt is sent to the U.S. for processing, and typically used for chemical production, water softening, pool treatment, and sometimes even for deicing.
So why am I writing about industrial salt usage in a foodie blog? Well, I am starting to get more heavily into brining the meats I want to cook and grill, and brining necessarily involves salt. Lots of salt. And on Bonaire, buying salt at a supermarket in the quantities needed for brining can get quite expensive.
This is where Cargill’s solar salt works come in. It’s not widely known, but if you visit their offices here, they will sell you salt in 25kg bags (about 55 pounds), and cheap too – only about NAFl. 10 to 15 per bag (depending on grade). That works out to around $5.60 to $8.40 a bag. Not a bad deal at all. There are four grades available: fine, medium (similar to a Kosher salt in texture), coarse, and large. Large is the more expensive one because it involves a bit more manual sorting, with salt crystals averaging about an inch in width and height. While we have a bag of the large to use in some art projects for our gallery, for culinary purposes we prefer the medium grain.
There is one drawback, of sorts, to buying salt from the salt company here, and that is that they don’t have the equipment necessary to clean the salt so it can be certified to be pure of any biological elements (dead crustaceans, plankton, sea weed, bird droppings, etc.). Hence the “Not Intended for Human Consumption” printed on the bag as seen above.
However, the salt is rinsed and filtered before being put into the large salt mounds, and when bags of salt for local use are made, it’s from salt that’s inside the mounds as opposed to the exterior (which will tend to be a bit dusty). For what it’s worth, the sea salt you get from the salt company is widely used as is in local restaurants and tastes great. That’s good enough for me. After all, we eat fish from the local waters, happily, so why not the salt as well?
So, when I brought home the salt last week, the next question arose – how the heck do you manage a 25kg bag of salt? Especially in a humid and hot environment where it’s likely to get all clumpy?
The solution was to divide and conquer. We cleaned the outside of the bag, open it up, and then started bagging it in vacuum sealer bags – 1kg of salt per bag. The U.S. Post Office digital scale was a great way to ensure our bag weights were spot on (give or take 20 grams or so).
Vacuum sealing removed most of the air and thus most of the moisture, and 1kg bags are much more manageable than a 25kg bag.
The next step will take place in a week or so when my new Cuisinart rotisserie arrives and I start brining buckets of whole chickens.
I’m a crunchy nuts sort of guy. Not much into chewy, soggy, or stale nuts. So when I discovered last week that I had a bag of stale almonds sitting around, I decided to tried and pep them up. First thing I did was try and dry roast them in a non-stick pan. That helped a bit, but not enough. I then thought of Julia Child and added butter to the pan. And then I added some creole seasoning (which adds salt as well as spice) and for good measure, some spicy Sriracha sauce. I let that saute for a while on medium-low heat until the butter/spice mixture was sizzling nicely and all the almonds were well cooked and then took it off the stove to let cool. The result was excellent. Addictively so. We finished the whole batch that night.
To recreate the result, here’s a recipe I developed. Note that I typically eye ball ingredient amounts and then supplement if needed. As such all measurements here are merely suggestions, not hard and fast rules.
1 tablespoon of Butter
1 tablespoon of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (or equivalent)
1 tablespoon of sriracha sauce (or you can try an Indonesian sambal, like sambal brandal or sambal manis)
1 cup of unsalted almonds
If the almonds you have are natural almonds (as pictured above) you will want to dry roast them for a while. The easiest way I have found to do that is by putting the almonds in a non-stick pan and cooking them at low heat, stirring them regularly until they brown up a bit. If you’re starting with unsalted roasted almonds, just warm them up.
Add the creole seasoning to the hot almonds and distribute well. If you add it after the butter, it tends to clump up.
Add the butter to the pan with the almonds and turn up the temperature a bit – perhaps to halfway between low and medium, and let melt and sizzle for a bit. Don’t let the butter get too hot and start to brown or burn though.
Add the sriracha sauce evenly while stirring the pan. Let it cook for a few minutes until you get that nice spicy hot fragrance filling your kitchen. The bottom of the pan should turn a bit pasty and dark reddish brown. Take the pan off the heat, stir one last time, and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Serve into a bowl and enjoy!
Julia Child was a huge fan of butter, and I wholeheartedly agree that butter is a foodie staple. However, in that same vein, I’m also a devotee of mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is an excellent condiment – just ask my Dutch friends who eat it liberally with “frites” (french fries), a habit I have now adopted as well.
Of the store bought varieties, I find Kraft and Hellman’s regular mayonnaise to be the best, while at the same time, I believe that low-fat mayonnaise is an abomination as it has the wrong flavor and consistency (and it has carbs to compensate for the reduction in fat).
However, my absolute favorite mayonnaise is home made. The only implement you need is a good blender. Personally, I’m a fan of Vita-Mix blenders.
The basic ingredients for a good home-made mayonnaise are egg yolks, salt, mustard, lemon juice, and oil. You can use olive oil, but unless I want a strongly flavored mayonnaise (tasting like olive oil), I tend to use nut oils like peanut or sunflower oil. As a general principle I stay away from corn oil and generic vegetable oils.
Place three or four egg yolks in the blender, along with a pinch of salt (sea salt preferred over iodized table salt), a teaspoon or so of Dijon mustard (although any mustard will do), and another teaspoon of lemon juice. On very low speed, blend those things together quickly (keep the lid on the blender because you will get spattering).
Once those four items have been blended together, with the blender still on, slowly dribble in the oil. Feel free to increase the blender speed a bit as you do this. As you continue dribbling in the oil, you’ll find that the mixture will start to thicken. Keep adding oil until you get the consistency you want for your mayonnaise. You don’t want to add too much oil, as the mixture will become too thick. However, if that does happen, you can stir in a little bit of water to thin out the mayonnaise.
Voila! You have mayonnaise!
But here’s the really cool thing – in the early stages, after you’ve added some oil but your mayonnaise isn’t too thick, you can also add other ingredients to flavor your mayo before aiming for the consistency you want. For example, mince up a clove or two of garlic and add it to the blender to make a garlic aoili. Or add curry powder to make a curry mayo. Or chipotle peppers to make a nice spicy Mexican chipotle mayonnaise. The possibilities are endless. In any event, after you’ve added and blended in the extra ingredients, resume with the oil dribble to get the consistency you want.
Also, if you stop adding oil, you can blend your mayonnaise for extended periods of time without impacting its texture or flavor. That’s a great way to make sure your extra ingredients are well minced and distributed by the blender.
Once you try making your own mayonnaise you’ll be hard-pressed to go back to the store-bought stuff.
One final tip and trick – that blender will be a bit greasy after you’ve extracted all the mayo you can with your spatula. A great way to clean such a blender container is to rinse it out, and then fill it half-way with warm or hot water and a bit of dish detergent, and then, with the lid on, blend away on high for a minute or so. You’ll find that your blender container, once you get all the bubbles rinsed out, is clean and no longer greasy feeling (or at least less so than before).