Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Fun Food Experiments!

Is it wrong of me to ask Sarah last night, "Honey, do you mind if I get another jar of some fermenting fruit or vegetable going in the fridge?"

Well, I figured that I needed to ask her because the bottom shelf of the fridge - normally reserved for a wide selection of beer bottles - is slowly turning into my own little Science Channel. First it was the preserved lemons, which were killer, if I do say so myself. Then it was the pickled eggs and beets. Then, it was the lard (see below). And there's the occasional fermenting dough. Now, I'm on to olives.

I've wanted to try my hand at curing olives for quite some time now, and about a year or so ago I looked into it and discovered that it either required lye and a long time, or just a long time. I don't think I have a long time for anything, since my attention span is relatively short. Olives, so the recipes say, require months. I ain't got months, especially when the olive bar at Mollie Stones is only $5.99/lb.

Anyway, I saw some fresh olives at the farmer's market a few months ago and decided to give it a try. As you can see in the photo (taken one week into the experiment), I decided to try two different methods: the brine method and the water method. Both methods require you to individually "crack" each olive as the first step. Sarah laughed a lot while I was doing that...

I started these bottles on October 18, 2008. Remember that date...

For the brine method (Jar A, on the left), you soak the raw olives in a salt water mixture that has to be changed every week for two weeks, and then every month for "two or more months" (more on that last bit later...). You can see that the olives are very bright and green.

For the water method (Jar B, on the right), you soak the olives in plain tap water (maybe I should have used filtered, non-chlorinated, non-fluoride water?). The kicker here is that the water must be changed EVERY DAY for a month or more, "or bacteria may build up!" That's nice. I'm sure that just
guaranteed that Sarah will be eating none of the B olives. And, of course, I've forgotten several days already so if they suck, that (and the fluoride thing) is my excuse.

Jar B olives quickly turned a splotchy brown, and now a few weeks after the photo above they are all solidly brownish while Jar A olives are still a vibrant green. I'm thinking of brining myself to see if I stay vibrant as well.

I've read/heard that raw olives are extremely bitter. I should have tried one to taste for myself, but I forgot. However, I'm now thinking that that may have been a critical error because now I won't be able to determine how much "better" they get over time. Ahhh, time. I remember some good quotes about time: "Ticking away, the moments that make up a dull day," from Pink Floyd. "That's all it takes really, pressure, and time. Like I said, in prison a man will do anything to keep his mind occupied," from Shawshank Redemption. I guess those two sum up my food experiments - most food is dull and I'm in a metaphorical prison of blandness.

Anyway, I was talking about time. It takes about 13 minutes - round trip - to go to the grocery store, load up on really good olives, and get back home. Maybe 18 minutes if there is traffic. And what does that cost? Maybe $6 for the olives and a buck for gas. But let's not focus on the cost, because anything worth tasting is worth paying for, or something like that. Let's focus on time.

As I mentioned, this all began on October 18, 2008. Jar A requires 2-1/2 to 3 months, minimum. Jar B requires at least one month plus...who knows how long because the recipe is open ended, and not in a good way. As I mentioned my lack of tasting the raw olives as a critical error, that comes into play here. Why? Because here is how you know when the olives are "done:"
  • Jar A: "You can now eat these olives if you like fairly-bitter olives."
  • Jar B: "Just keep waiting until the olives don't taste bitter any longer."
Sometimes, even I laugh at my misguided attempts to mimic some food item that is so readily available, so inexpensive, and already so good as-is. However, I guess I do get a little satisfaction out of saying, "I made this." Or, "I made this...and it sucks and I wasted hours and hours and burned my hand and cut my finger and am now so disappointed that my whole dinner/evening is ruined." Yeah, I'm a pleasure to be around.

Anyway, as you have probably already done the math in your head, October 18 + 2-1/2 months is roughl
y New Year's Day...2009. Add on a few more weeks for bitterness abatement, and we're getting mighty close to not having any snacks at the Super Bowl Party!

Stay tuned...I'll keep you posted.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: the lard. Lard is good food. I recently read an article on lard and how it's not really that bad for you and how it gets a bad rap, so I decided to give it a go. Plus, when Sarah treated me to a pie and tart baking class a few years ago, everyone said how lard makes such a better pie crust.

So, since it was pumpkin season, I decided to make a pumpkin pie with real pumpkin and a lard-filled crust. Doesn't it look yummy?

If I do say so myself, the crust ROCKED! It had a fl
avor that held it's own and was extremely flaky - as a good pie crust should be.

As for the pie, well, let's just say that the pumpkin sat in our kitchen for about three weeks before the pie was made, and that I forgot to put sugar into the pie, so it was a bit "rustic," or "savory" as Sarah put it. I guess that's why I ate one piece, the pie eventually got moldy, and I threw the whole thing away.

And as I was throwing the moldy, stinky, four-hours-to-prepare pie in the garbage can, all I muttered was, "I made this...and it sucks and I wasted hours and hours and burned my hand and cut my finger and am now so disappointed that my whole dinner/evening is ruined."

I love to cook!
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