So long, WordPress.

After 3 1/2 years on wordpress.com, My Life as a Foodie has finally grown too large for the nest. The site has moved to its permanent, self-hosted home at mylifeasafoodie.com. So, if there any of you who bookmarked this site before we actually bought a domain, please visit us at our new location on the web.

I have nothing but gratitude for WordPress.com, for helping us launch our podcast and grow the fan base we have, all at no charge. I’ll be forever in their debt.

Cheers, and see you on the other side.

Phil
My Life as a Foodie

Home-cured Sicilian Olives

It had been years since I’d walked into a Claro’s Italian Market. Since discovering “Cortina’s”, a competing small Italian Deli in Anaheim years ago (conveniently located just a few blocks away from my mother-in-law’s apartment) we’d made it a central stop to pick up deli meats, cheeses, and other Italian grocery items you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Small family-owned Italian markets remind me of my childhood, because visiting one was always a special treat when I was growing up.

Italian markets smell . . . . well, Italian. There’s an aroma in these markets you won’t smell anywhere else. Like a fine perfume, it’s a combination of Italian classic aromas – anise, fresh bread, biscotti, garlic, and a musty bouquet that simply can’t be found in an ordinary store.

It was early November and, thanks to a tip from my good friend Don that this store was relatively close to my home, I decided to check the store out on my lunch hour. I’m sure few things had changed since I’d been there last. The store would still be incredibly small, with aisles definitely not suited for passing other patrons. There would be a line at the meat counter, with angry patrons anxious to get their sandwich orders filled before the pits in their stomachs grew deeper. There would also inevitably be store clerks equally as short with their patrons.

All of this, after all, is status quo in an Italian Deli. You can take the Italians out of New York, but you cannot take the New York out of Italians.

As I walked down the narrow aisles, my eyes quickly caught the open cooler section of the store, where cheese and hard salamis were made available. There were no people shopping in that section so I knew I’d have the cooler to myself. I figured a hunk of hard cheese and a whole, bacteria-crusted, dry-cured piece of imported salumi would do me just fine, and I’d be on my way.

That is, until I found a basket of fresh olives. It was then that everything changed.

Since discovering the wonderful world of curing last year, I’ve been curing everything I can think of. And fresh olives, not being something we see a lot of where I live, was high on my list. I honestly never thought I’d get the chance to cure them myself. I felt like I’d gotten very lucky. So I quickly filled my bag with as many olives as I figured I’d need to get started. At $3.99 a pound, I wasn’t going to be cheap about it.

Cured and marinated olives are the perfect compliment to a salumi platter. Like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, you couldn’t imagine one without the other. And by marinating the olives in olive oil, you can use some of this marinade to drizzle on some fresh crusty bread. Throw in a nice glass of wine, and that’s a pretty damned good lunch. Ask any Italian.

Once I brought the olives home, a quick scan of my Italian cookbooks gave me the necessary game plan to get these olives brined. You see, fresh olives are generally very hard and especially very bitter. They must be brined for weeks before they begin to soften, and the bitterness is extracted. There are three ways to do this, depending on how much time you have on your hands. You can use lye, salt, or a combination of salt and water. I prefer to brine with salt and water. It takes almost two months, but it provides excellent results.

The quickest (and most dangerous) way to brine olives is with the use of lye. In fact, as I was checking out of the store, the clerk asked me how I was planning on brining them. Salt and water, of course. She told me when she was a kid, her parents would be in the cellar for hours with a big bucket of lye, and they were not allowed to enter the cellar while this was happening because of the toxicity of the lye. That alone makes me wonder how Italians have lasted in this country without killing themselves.

The olives filled my curing jar. On top of the olives went a brining solution of 1 part sea salt to 4 parts water. Every 7 days, I would empty the solution, then add a fresh brine. I did this every week for 6 weeks.

At around the 4 1/2 week mark, I would periodically check how the olives were doing by biting into one. After 6 weeks, the olives were perfectly salted, much softer than they were when they were fresh, but still had that perfect al dente crunch. It was now time to put together a marinade.

In a jar with an airtight lid, add 1 pound of brined olives. Into that jar of olives, add the following:

3 garlic cloves, sliced paper thin (like Paulie did in that famous scene from GoodFellas)
1/4 cup of chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon of grated orange zest
1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (from that lemon you just zested)

Now fill the jar with extra virgin olive oil. Cover and refrigerate.

Allow to marinade for at least 2 days before enjoying. And do enjoy them. Just watch out for those pits. Quite a number of dentists have sent their kids to college thanks to olives. Don’t be a statistic.

episode 67 :: top chef all-stars

Bravo’s long-running show Top Chef may very well be the most successful food show on television. It has seen great ratings success, Emmy awards, spin-offs, and has launched the careers of several truly top tier chefs. There is no questioning its popularity and position as one of the most successful shows on television.

In my opinion, it is also in its twilight.  After the amazing talent pool assembled for its sixth (and undoubtedly best) season, I had my doubts that the show would ever pique my interest the way it did then ever again. Season 7 was dreadful, and I really wasn’t looking forward to seeing the show try to get its mojo back. It was like sitting and watching your old injured dog walking around the living room dragging his back leg every Wednesday night for an hour.

That is, until they announced Top Chef All-Stars.  Throw every season’s runner-up and a few also-rans into one big kitchen and you’ve got perhaps the best season of Top Chef fans of the show can ever expect.  If the first show was any indication, we’re in for the best season the show has ever seen.  In this week’s episode, we’ll be reviewing the highlights of the first episode of the show, which can be seen every Wednesday night on Bravo.



Listen to episode 67 now

In this episode:
• Vote for My Life as a Foodie in the Food & Drink category at the 2010 Podcast Awards. If I win, you’ll be treated to something special.
• Dogfish Head’s Red & White
Eat My Blog raises $12,000 for the LA Regional Food Bank
• How to make my Coconut Cranberry Chew
• “Sam the Clam” the new children’s book from Chef Nathan Lyon (purchase on Amazon.com or directly from the publisher)
• Saison Rue from The Bruery among Esquire’s top Saisons
• Recapping Top Chef All-Stars
• Burger of the Year – The Umami Burger

Music in this episode from Linkin Park.  Buy their music from their web site or directly from the iTunes Store

episode 66 :: that’s italian!

If you ask any Italian, there are two kinds of people – Italians, and those who wish they were Italian. I’m here to debunk that theory. I grew up Sicilian-American, and I’ll be the first to tell you it was no bloody picnic. Sure, it feels warm and the food is fantastic. But you have get the knife out of your back before you can eat.

It’s not all bad, though. There are the constant questions about whether or not members of your family were in the mafia, and whether your Grandparents were actually from Italy, or the other part of the boot – Sicily. Should it be the latter, then may God be with you . . . and me, for that matter.



Listen to Episode 66 now

In this episode:
• Growing up in a third-generation Sicilian-American household
• Francis Ford Coppola’s public apology for The Godfather
• GAME TIME: “Name that Goomba Movie!”
• Birra Moretti La Rossa Dopplebock – surprisingly good
• Making Saltimboca
• It’s Oyster season, and time for a new Thanksgiving tradition
• Mafia Crime Drama novel or Penthouse Forum? (NSFW, home, or the car)
• Tips for pairing food & whiskey
• Brewmasters with Sam Calagione, Sundays on Discovery
• Eataly – Mario Batali’s new Italian mini-mall
Eat My Blog, December 4th – Be there!

Music in this episode by Saliva. Buy their music from their web site or from the iTunes Store.

dude food :: episode 5 :: sausage party

This time on Dude Food, I’ll show you how to make your own Italian sausage at home. The basics for making this sausage are the same for almost all sausages – you season chunks of meat and fat, grind it, then stuff it into hog casings. It’s that simple, and the variation between different types of sausages relies on the types of meat used and the seasonings.

To purchase sausage making equipment and supplies, visit sausagemaker.com or butcher-packer.com

And I can’t recommend the purchase of “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman enough. When it comes to Dude Food, it’s the bible.

NOTES:
• Make sure you cook some of the finished sausage before stuffing. This recipe goes light on salt, so you might want to add more. Just be careful not to over-salt. You can always add it, but over-salting is hard to recover from.

• Soak the hog casings for at least 2 hours. The longer they’re in water, the more pliable they become, and it makes it easier to get the casing over the stuffing tube.

• Keep your workspace clean. Clean everything that comes in contact with the meat and the casings. This includes your workspace (counters, cutting boards, etc.). And wash your hands a lot.

• It’s important to keep the meat between 35-40 degrees when grinding and mixing. Otherwise, the texture of the sausage will become mealy. Heat is not your friend, so keep the meat cold at all times.

• If you don’t want to invest in a grinder, you can ask your butcher to grind the pork shoulder and pork fat for you, as long as the meat being ground is near freezing. You made friends with your butcher, right? If not, go buy that man a beer.

making mozzarella

Anytime we try something new in the kitchen the most often asked question, even to ourselves, is “Is it worth your time and money?” And that’s a valid question, as many of our initial forays end in failure or, at the very least, sub-standard results. By the end of it, you’re left to question yourself about whether or not it would be favorable to just buy the product at the market the next time.

But that’s not what cooking is about. It’s about the experience, the journey, and the fundamental root of why we cook. So it might cost twice as much, take twice as long, and taste half as good as what you might buy elsewhere. But you made it with your hands, and that is all that matters.

I purchased a mozzarella cheesemaking kit well over a year ago, and I knew the time had come for me to simply take a slot of time on a Saturday morning and get this experience behind me. The directions seemed straightforward, and a Google search on the subject of making mozzarella at home certainly made the process look simple enough. You add citric acid to a small amount of water, add your milk, heat it up to 88ºF, add a small amount of rennet, stir and let it sit until it curdles. Separate the curds from the whey, and start heating and stretching the curds until it forms a slick ball of cheese.

Let’s get ready to rumble.

There are a few details about making your own mozzarella at home. The most important detail is in the primary component – milk. In Italy, mozzarella is traditionally made with the milk from a water buffalo, hence “buffalo mozzarella.” For those of you who thought that was actually mozzarella made by some Goombas in New York, I’m sorry to let you down.

Since buffalo milk isn’t something easily found in stores, milk from a cow will do. You want to use whole milk if at all possible, as fresh as you can possibly get it. Most of us don’t live near dairy farms, but if you do then you’re on your way to making far better cheese than the rest of us. The milk should be pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Should you use ultra-pasteurized milk, you will end up making ricotta instead of mozzarella no matter how hard you try.

If you use ultra-pasteurized milk to make mozzarella, what you’ll end up with is a dry granular mass, with most of the moisture released with very little manipulation. The result is a dry, crumbly mess. Standard milk results in a binding curd which stretches nicely and retains all of its moisture.

For the rest of your ingredients, I highly suggest purchasing Ricki’s Cheesemaking Kit which contains everything else you’ll need to start making your own mozzarella or ricotta at home.

Ingredients:
1 gallon of whole milk (not ULTRA-pasteurized)
1/2 cup cold non-chlorinated water
1 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid
1/4 of a rennet tablet (or 1/4 teaspoon of liquid rennet)
2 teaspoons of salt

The first thing I did was crush a quartered rennet tablet and add it to 1/4 cup of cool, chlorine free water. Stir this until the tablet is dissolved, then set it aside.

In a large pot, I poured 1/2 cup of cool water and stirred in 1 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid until it dissolved. I then poured 1 gallon of whole milk into the pot and turned up the heat to medium. I placed a thermometer in the pot and stirred the entire time until the milk reached a temperature of 88ºF. When it did, I took the pot off of the heat, then added the rennet solution and stirred for another minute.

I poured myself a cup of coffee, went to catch up on some college football scores then came back to the pot about 10 minutes later. Can I just say how refreshing it is to see my Cornhuskers back in the spotlight of National prominence?

When I returned, the pot of milk looked like it had been sitting out in the open for a few weeks. I looked at it and thought “This is certainly not making me hungry.” These are the times when you stop and wonder who thought this was going to be a good idea the first time they tried it. Our ancestors were brave, I swear.

The curds literally start separating themselves from the whey. This makes it easy to strain the solids from the liquids. I grabbed a small mesh hand ladle and began ladling the curds into a glass bowl until all that was left in the pot was mostly liquid. I then began pressing the curds with my hands to release whatever remaining moisture was in them, then pouring off that liquid until all I was left with was dry curds.

Following the instructions that came with the kit, I placed the bowl of curds in the microwave, and microwaved them on high for 1 minute. When I took it out of the microwave, I drained off the excess whey, kneaded it with my hands, flattening it, and rolling it into a ball, then flattening it again and again.

Back into the microwave it went for another 35 seconds, draining and kneading again until it formed a ball. This step was repeated several times until the internal temperature of the ball of cheese reached 135ºF. At this point, the cheese was way too hot to handle with my bare hands, so I put on a pair of rubber gloves so I could knead and stretch this ball of cheese as much as necessary without getting third-degree burns all over my hands.

Once the ball was shiny and stretched like warm gum stuck to a shoe, I knew my mozzarella was done. It was at this point that I decided to cut and roll my big mozzarella ball into many small balls of Ciliegine. I love making what I call “caprese on a stick” and these are perfect for it. I simmer several cherry tomatoes in salted water until the skins of the tomatoes start to loosen. I then strain the tomatoes, gently remove their skins, and thread the skinless tomatoes on a toothpick, followed by a ball of Ciliegine, and top with a drizzle of pesto.

After all of this work, that nagging question came to mind. Was it worth the trouble? I have to say yes, because the mozzarella was very good, and the experience was fascinating. What attracted me to molecular gastronomy was witnessing the chemical changes in food compounds, turning something liquid into something solid. But this is something Italians have been perfecting for hundreds of years, and it is a prime example of how deep the rabbit hole goes when dealing with the science of food.

It gave me a new appreciation for how hard cheesemakers work. And for as simple as this was, the art of aging cheese, working with food-safe bacteria, and manipulating flavors by using milk from animals raised a specific way just makes me appreciate it more.

I may never become a master cheesemaker, but I certainly made some delicious cheese at home. And should you ever decide to try this yourself, I’d love to hear your experience.

episode 65 :: ghost in the machine

This annual Halloween episode of My Life as a Foodie has been possessed by a demon by the name of Pazuzu, and is now under his control. As is the tradition every year around this time, there is a contest involved. But knowing exactly what you’re looking for may prove more difficult than before, due to Pazuzu’s decision to cleverly scramble a few things.

Listen carefully, pay attention to the details, and good luck. The winner will receive a DVD copy of “Skin Walkers” courtesy of Lionsgate Films, as well as your own pet Ghost that you can grow yourself. Details of the contest are contained in the episode. Best of luck.



Listen to episode 65

In this episode (in no particular order, thanks to Pazuzu):
• Paula Deen’s Widowmaker sandwich seems to have influenced some people in the Midwest
• She’s back for more – Paula Deen in “The Comedyville Horror”
• May I interest you in some turkey nuts?
• Walmart gearing up to sell local produce from small farmers
• Ghost Hunters – real, or complete wackos?
• Could there really be a ghost following me?
• Stone’s Vertical Epic 10.10.10
• So, Cat Cora’s been a lesbian all this time? That’s a secret ingredient I can get into.

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