Saturday, February 28, 2009

Latest on the Sake

We are at the three week mark now. The instructions said I could strain it out at two weeks and start drinking it. The instructions also said that if you let it sit for two or three more weeks it will get more refined.

The fermentation has slowed down. There are not as many bubbles of gas coming out of the airlock as there were before. While the darkened glass of the growler hides things, the color of the sake changes from bottom to top. The bottom is much lighter colored, almost as if the rice became a kind of white mush. As you go up the rice is loose and floating in a cloudy liquid. Closer to the top the liquid seems clearer.

I took a taste of the stuff. There is definitely alcohol in there. But the flavor leaves a bit to be desired. It is a bit sour. The rice is very soft. At this point, it is anything but refined.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Haggis Follow - Up

Since last Sunday I've made a couple new dishes with the leftover haggis.

- Haggis shepherd's pie.
- Haggis on white rice with a light dash of soy sauce.

This really is an underrated and very flexible food. Reminiscent of spam.

I still have a 5 X 2 inch block of this stuff in the fridge. Maybe I'll wrap it up in puff pastry and make a Haggis Wellington.

A Kinsmen

After making the Haggis I feel a kind of kinship with Toddish MacWong, the man behind the events below.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Making the Haggis

This whole thing turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. I'm not done yet either -- I still got a stash of haggis meat in my freezer waiting to be stuffed.

I did some research online, found a website with multiple haggis recipes.

The recipe I went with was a mix of those recipes, but with a few alterations.

1 sheeps stomach
1 lb of liver
A sheeps kidney
A sheeps heart
1 lb of steel cut Irish oats
1 lb of fatback (salt pork)
1/2 tsp each of cayenne pepper, and allspice

The original recipes called for suet instead of fatback. I couldn't find suet at the local markets. But I could get fatback at Cala market. I guess people in SF like pork fat more than beef/lamb fat.

I got the sheeps belly from this place in the Tenderloin.

The lady who runs the place didn't seem to believe I was serious when I special ordered a sheeps belly. She was two days late -- but she delivered.

The stomach itself though was not in good condition. It was split down the middle. The instructions said to boil it for 1.5 hours to clean out any impurities. The boiling was definitely necessary --- the stomach was filthy with residue from the grass the sheep ate. But the boiling weakened the lining that held the stomach together. I could have stuffed 4 lbs of organ meats and oats into it, but it would have been impossible to seal it well enough to handle a pot of boiling water.

From Storehouse

Reminds me of the the Alien movies.

I had to find a solution. Rummaging through the web, I found that using sheeps stomach is a really old school way of making haggis. Most haggis' these days are made using a kind of sausage casing called Beef Caps. Also, reading the updated recipes, it became apparent that the stomach (the thing that weirds out so many people) doesn't really impart any kind of flavor or texture to the haggis. Its just a cooking vessel -- albeit a gross one.

Solution -- cheese cloth and red leaf lettuce. I split the meat into two portions. I laid out the red leaf lettuce onto a sheet of cheese cloth, laid the haggis stuffing onto the lettuce, and rolled it up into a tootsie roll. This one I put into a boiling pot of water. The other portion I wrapped up with cheese cloth into a big Hershey's chocolate kiss looking thing and plopped it into a steamer.

From Storehouse

From Storehouse

After two hours of cooking, the steamed candy kiss haggis wasn't that ugly. It was the one we ended up eating.

From Storehouse

From Storehouse

The tootsie roll haggis was another story. Peeling off the cheese cloth, then the overcooked redleaf lettuce, I felt like an Egyptologist peeling the wraps off a mummy.

From Storehouse

Looks are deceiving though. How it tastes is what matters.

I thought the haggis' might come out OK, but wasn't sure. M was skeptical of it at first, but when she tried it, it reminded her of a breakfast hash type of thing she used to eat at a deli/cafeteria nearby one of her old jobs. She even suggested serving it on top of rice, a kind of Scottish-Japanese fusion food. I thought it was a tad salty, but liked it more with every bite. By the time we put away the plates most of the candy kiss haggis was gone.

Looking back on it, I can understand now those stories I've heard about Scottish people getting angry and upset at having their haggis (or is it haggi?) impounded at the border by Customs. On a cold wet evening (like we had tonight) haggis & mashed potatoes are comfort food. I can very easily see taking the leftover haggis meat and using it in a shepherds pie, or putting it into a rice ball wrapped in nori.

I leave with the following;


Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
You pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reeking, rich!

Then, horn for horn they stretch an’ strive,
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive
Bethankit hums

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash
His spindle-shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle

Ye pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
An’ dish them out their bill o’fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r,

Gie her a Haggis!

Scotland Forever.

I had joked about this at various times during the past 4 years. When my buddy J made scottish ales at home, we'd talk about this. It would come up in discussions with third parties.

Well this weekend, I'm doing the trial run.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Not So F@#@-ing Krav Maga

At the recommendation of the instructor who witnessed my knuckle shredding, I took a couple of the other conditioning classes.

Earlier in the week I took the Conditioning class, today I took TRX, the suspension strap class.

Conditioning -- a very hard cardio workout. The instructor was definitely one of the tougher trainers in the school. I haven't done so many burpees and squats in a very long time. My butt and hamstrings have gotten progressively more sore since that evening's class. Sitting down and getting up from my office chair is a chore. She also had us a do a deceptively rough exercise that was a forward lunge with a medicine ball held straight above our heads -- a lat killer.

TRX -- not that hard on the upper body, but a middle section where we suspended our feet a foot off the ground while in a plank position broke the class. The instructor had us do a series of moves -- bringing the knees straight towards the chest, to the sides, both legs up the sides at the same time like a frog, etc. Doesn't sound like much, and it didn't seem like much. It was then that I, and so many others in class, found out how weak our core muscles are. There were a lot of people (myself included) who had to break position, sweating and huffing in frustration and pain.

I got a bad feeling that everytime I laugh over the next few days I'll feel sharp needles of pain all over my gut.

So thus far my knuckles, butt, hamstrings, knees, and stomach, are shot.

Still got to take the Crossfit class. Going by whats happened thus far, sometime in the middle of the week, I'll be complaining about my shoulders, arms, and back, getting chewed up.

Triathlons are EASY compared to this sh#@.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

F$#$-ing Krav Maga

I chewed up my knuckles on Saturday real bad.  Red, sore, bloody.

Since its winter now, running, open water swimming, and biking, isn't really feasible.  I also really needed a change.  So I decided to sign up at a local Krav Maga school, try it out for a month, see how it goes.

The school offers both regular Krav workouts as well as supplemental workouts that do other things, like work your upper body.  The workouts are also cardio intensive.  All these workouts seem to spill back into Krav.  For example, the high intensity cardio gives you the endurance to handle sparring.  So I took a class that was a 1 hour non-stop punching & kicking workout against a heavy punching bag.

The bag class came after the intro to Krav class.  The intro Krav class is a pretty good workout by itself.  At that point I probably should have gone home.  But I wanted to get my $$ worth -- its an expensive school.  But me, being overly fixated on getting my $$ worth, I did the bag class afterwards as well.

The school requires students to get either bag gloves, regular boxing gloves, or knuckle wraps, to do the bag class.  I had used regular boxing gloves before -- very heavy, punching with them feels a little like punching with lightweight dumbbells after a while.  So I decided to get the bag gloves -- much lighter.

Throughout the bag class I was worried about over-exerting myself.  The bag class and the intro to Krav were essentially 2 hours of cardio & upper body workouts.  I hadn't done anything like this since mid-autumn during the tale end of the triathlon/cycling season.  Naturally, I got really winded.  This was more intense than my usual cardio workouts -- a lot more like an extended interval session.  

The instructor, bad ass kick boxer, was actually very understanding of my situation, and advised me to step to the side if I started feeling lightheaded.  He also noticed I was getting disoriented. I began having problems adding moves to the punch/kick combinations he was asking us to do.  So he was cool with me slowing down, even encouraging me to slow down and just work on my form. 

Around 40 minutes into the workout, the instructor told us to grab some water, take our gloves off, rest for 2 minutes.  I took my gloves off, and then noticed that;

- My hands were shaking;
- My knuckles were raw and red.  My knuckles looked like someone ran a cheese grater across them for several minutes.

Oddly enough, my knuckles didn't actually hurt.  My shoulders & lungs felt much worse than my knuckles.  I had sweat so much that my glasses were completely fogged up.

When the instructor called us back to the mat, I put my gloves back on and went back to work on my bag.  In retrospect, being really tired, I wasn't really thinking straight.

After the workout finally ended, I showed my knuckles to the instructor, and asked him if I was doing something wrong.  His shtick -- if you were punching wrong, all the blood and scraping would be at one area of your knuckles.  In my case the damage stretched across my knuckles, which meant there was an issue with my gloves.  His recommendation -- don't do his bag class, or even the Krav classses, till my knuckles fully healed.  He recommended I do something less rough on my knuckles like TRX or Crossfit.

TRX?  Crossfit?  That's Commando/SWAT team shit!

After the instructor told me to take another class for awhile, one of my more experienced classmates added, "Yeah, that way the rest of your body can feel as bad as your knuckles.  Huh, huh."

Wise ass!  
My knuckles are shot for the next few days, but I'm going back to the bag class as soon as I can.   A little bit of blood is a small price for a good workout.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


As time is passing, the sake mixture is turning more and more liquidity. Monday and Tuesday morning when I checked it, and did my mandatory shaking of the bottle, the change in consistency became more and more notable.

On Saturday, when I panicked over the water content, it was a solid mass of rice. As of Wednesday, it is an alcoholic slush. Popping the air lock off to change the water, you can smell the rice & water fermenting.

Now I just sit and wait even more.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sake Brewing Part Two

M, my wife, took a glance at the growler this morning.   She saw small bubbles forming at the top of the pile of rice.  I also noticed larger bubbles slowly forming in the airlock.  Fermentation has begun.

The bubbles coming up into the airlock started forming more quickly by the evening.  Seems the fermentation is growing.

I guess the temperature control issues I ran into yesterday didn't hurt the yeast.

Now I just have to shake/stir it every day for 2 weeks, and change the water in the airlock.  In a month, I get to drink cloudy sake like an old Japanese man.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sake Brewing Part One

I have been bad.  

About a year ago we received a sake brewing kit from a couple we are very tight with.  I had been lazy.  The brewing kit laid on our kitchen shelf for a long time.  So today, I decided to go ahead and make sake with it.

Above is the kit.  Looks pretty simple -- right.  The directions that came with it were just as simple.  Pour the rice/koji/yeast mixture into the growler, add hot water, keep it at a steady 100 F degree temperature for 5 hours, then let it set at room temperature.  

Turns out, after further research, that this is an unconventional sake recipe.  A few websites I checked out revealed different approaches to the subject.  

The common factor in all of the above approaches -- you cook the rice BEFORE you put them into their fermentation vessel.  Except for the upscale recipe at the Taylor Made site, these recipes don't involve temperature control.  

The package we used is both simple (no cooked rice) and complex (temperature control and timing).  The directions said to keep the mix at 100 degrees F for 5 hours.  This was a LOT harder than I thought it would be.  That temp isn't boiling water, but it isn't room temperature water either.  It also isn't a temperature that is easy to maintain.  This wasn't like braising meat (low heat on a gas cooker) or letting a cake cool (leave it on your kitchen table).  You couldn't just put it somewhere and just ignore it for several hours.  After you are done with the 100 degree F treatment, you let it sit for 2 weeks at room temp, strain the rice out, let it sit for another 2 weeks.  The other recipes using cooked rice take only 2-3 weeks, then you can start drinking.  

At my wife's suggestion (she is Japanese after all), I placed the growler full of sake mix next to our kotatsu.  A kotatsu is a heated table that Japanese people use in winter to eat, read, and stay warm, in their unheated living rooms.  My wife said that this was the same approach they used with Natto, stinky fermented soybeans.  Unfortunately it heated the growler unevenly.   One section might be very warm, but the other would be quite cool.  I resorted to putting the whole thing into a large stockpot with very hot tap water to keep it at something close to 100 F degrees, +/- 20 degrees.

After 5 hours in the stockpot I yanked it out of the hot water bath.  There were still issues, if you look closely at the photo below you'll see this unusual dohickey at the top of the bottle.

That dohickey is a combination air seal & gas release valve.  I didn't realize till much later you are supposed to add water to that thing!  That was also the reason I couldn't tell if fermentation was occuring or not.  When there is water in there, you will see bubbles coming out.  I called the male half of the couple that gave us this gift -- he's a homebrewer.  He told me to expect this thing to start pumping out gas over the next few days -- lots of bubbles coming out of the water. 

The other thing that also caused some panic was the fact that all the water had been soaked up by the rice.  I had assumed that there would still be some some water on top of the rice.  I freaked out thinking that my rice & water ratios were off.  Some research on the web revealed that even with the cooked rice sake recipes the rice will soak up the water early on, and the fermentation process will cause the liquid to be released again.

It's early in the game.  I need to give this thing at least several days to ferment.  At that time I will see whether or not the mistakes of the first day have killed this thing.  If it has -- I start over with an old school recipe.  If not -- I ride it through, see where this sake experiment leads.  

Either way -- in early March, there will be rice wine.  Under the ideal circumstances, I'll get a cloudy nigori-zake like they drink in Japan.  Under the worse circumstances, I'll get something resembling Vietnamese rot-gut.  Either way, I get a rice wine/liquor that I can use as a building block for more experiments down the road.

Maybe this will be my next culinary obsession.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cooking Under Pressure

On a whim...

...I bought a pressure cooker a few days ago.

From Random Food Porn

I had read and heard that pressure cookers were great for cooking sub-prime cuts of meat; pork loin, pork belly, lamb shank, etc. The shtick is that they significantly cut down the cooking time needed to turn these cuts of meat into something softer than butter.

Tonight I had my first pressure cooker experience. I found some beef shanks. A few years back I tried to make ossobuco using a regular stewpot. It didn't come out so well. I couldn't resist a rematch.

I kept it simple.

- a half an onion;
- two pounds of beef shanks;
- a small can of tomato paste;
- five cloves of garlic;
- quarter cup of water;
- quarter cup of cheap red wine that was lying around in the fridge;

I browned the shanks, threw them into the pressure cooker. I threw some wine into the pan I cooked the shanks in to deglaze it, threw that deglazed wine & beef shmutz into the cooker. Browned the onions, threw them into the pot. Dumped the tomato paste, wine, and water, into the cooker. Put the top on, and turned on the heat.

As you can probably tell -- this was NOT an elegant process. The product also wasn't exactly pretty either.

From Random Food Porn

The cooker came with all these warnings. Make sure it's properly shut, turn the heat down when the pressure valve starts to move, don't put to much water in, don't pop it open while there is still pressure, etc. I got paranoid cooking with it. I feared that I didn't put enough water in, that the steam would bleed out. So I kept on screwing with the heat.

I need not have worried. I turned off the heat after 35 minutes of cooking. I couldn't pop the top though for another 15 minutes. Too much pressure. Just for kicks I put a chopstick into a valve on the handle -- steam violently shot out. I played a little with the pressure valve -- more steam shot out. If could made steamed milk for several cappucino's.

Friends who own these things, as well as the online recipes, said that the cooker would turn the toughest cuts of meat into butter. But I still wasn't prepared for what was waiting for me.

From Random Food Porn

The pictures don't quite capture how tender the meat had become. I couldn't use a fork or tongs to grab the meat. Even using a ladle to scoop the meat out, the stuff fell apart on me. The core bones of the shank fell right off and back into the pot. In the picture above you see all these random light colored streaky bits. That used to be skin, cartilage, and tendon. The pressure cooker demolished them.

Also -- I chopped up half a large yellow onion and threw it into this thing. You don't see any chopped onions do you? That's because the cooker liquified them.

I think for my next trick I'm going to throw a hunk of pork belly into the cooker with a pint of guinness, the holy trio of celery/onion/carrot, and then down it with another guinness.

Or maybe a Vietnamese style pork shoulder, braised slowly with rice wine, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime, and ginger.

Or maybe beef short ribs with carrots, chili paste, and soy sauce.

The possibilities are endless.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

More Bay Area Bicycle Thief Mayhem...

Way back I had a post about a woman who had her bicycle stolen out the back of her pickup truck. Typical of Bay Area bicycle thieves, they didn't bother stealing her truck (worth thousands of dollars), but wanted her bike very badly -- which couldn't have cost more than a few hundred bucks.

My older brother recently experienced one of those WTF bicycle theft experiences. He had his bike stolen from the backyard of his apartment building.

Not that unusual, right?

Here's where it gets wacky.

His bike was not a blinged racing bike, nor was it one of those mountain bikes packed full of hydraulics. It was a bike marketed to street vendors in developing countries, with big rear racks to haul around large loads with.

Not a sexy vehicle.

His bike was also u-locked around a tree trunk. Tree trunks are not easy to break.

For some odd reason, the bike thieves wanted my brother's unsexy Third World hauling machine. So what did they do?

The chopped down the tree his bike was locked up against!

The determination, resourcefulness, and misplaced priorities, of the Bay Area Bicycle Thief never stops to shock and amaze me.

The whole sub-culture is both aweful and fascinating. Read below;

A Walk Down Piss Alley...

Back to Japan...

Before heading out to Vietnam we spent a week and a half in Japan. While there I took a few day trips around Tokyo and Chiba. I had a chance to check out an area in Tokyo called Shonben Yokocho. Translated into English, Piss Alley. Its a throwback to a Tokyo that has all but disappeared under concrete and steel. I had read that the Tokyo city government was going to demolish it soon, so I decided to check it out before someone in the construction mafia turns it into an overpriced condo development.

The place is a warren of small one story wooden shops where older Japanese guys go drinking and eating right after work. These tiny wooden shops were common in Japanese cities before the 1960's, before the Bubble Economy, before the Japanese government and the construction mafia decided to smother everyone in modern architecture. Sometimes the salarymen decide to go there for a drink in the middle of the work day. The shots below were taken around 3 pm in the afternoon.
From Tokyo Street Shots

The guys you see behind the noren screens were already pounding down soy sauce bottle size bottles of Sapporo.

The place is crowded, noisy, and dank. But it is also one of the best places in Tokyo to eat freshly cooked yakitori.

From Japanese Porn (food)

While there I also got to try out Motsu-ni-komi. Motsu-ni-kome is an organ meat stew made of chicken, beef, and pork innards, combined with Korean red pepper powder and yam cake.

From Japanese Porn (food)
It warmed me up real good....

I told my father-in-law, who knows the after-work drinking spots of Tokyo pretty well, about my visit. He has never been there, and seemed surprised that I went there to grab lunch and a drink. As he put it, "It is very Asian taste."

My wife later on explained that this type of place is the Japanese version of an old red-neck bar.

Does that make mean I'm an Asian red-neck?