Matcha (Green Tea) and Vanilla Ice Creams

Wednesday, May 31, 2006
My ice cream experiments began with a purchase of matcha (green tea) powder at Cally's Teas on 99th street. When I mentioned to Cally that I was going to try to mimic a certain commercial green tea smoothie and would try ice cream if I had an ice cream maker, she generously lent me hers for the summer and I got a bit distracted from the smoothie project.

You can, of course, make ice cream without an ice cream maker. The idea is to keep a liquid in motion as it is being frozen to keep the ice crystals small. You could, for example, put it into a container and stir at intervals til it is the right consistency.

Inexpensive dairy products and flavourings are not always easy to find. Planet Organic, my neighborhood organic store, marks down dairy case items that are close to the sell by date so my usual tactic is to drop by and note down dates for the things I would use, then come back on those days to see if there is any left. I actually prefer the pronounced tang of yogurt and sour cream that are a bit beyond fresh. Last week I scored 3 2L jugs of organic whole goat milk for 49 cents each , which I am using to make ricotta. Ebay is the best source that I know of for good quality, inexpensive vanilla beans.

The first matcha ice cream I tried had a custard base and melted richly in the mouth, but was slightly eggy tasting and did not make the cut here due to expense and difficulty. In the end I just started with a base, like cream or coconut cream, added flavouring, then added sugar and salt to taste. Coconut matcha was cheapest (and vegan) to make. This was also my roommate's favourite, however there was a slight heaviness on the tongue from the coconut cream that I didn't care for.

If you are developing the mixture by taste, keep in mind that a frozen flavour experience is less intense than that of the hot or room temperature mixture. For matcha ice creams, the salt should be just enough to bring out the vegetal quality of the matcha. Also, vanilla is not sweet by itself but intensifies sweetness in other things so if you use it you will need less sugar. For each mixture chill thoroughly, freeze with ice cream maker or other method, then scoop into a container and put in freezer til firm. Matcha recipes make about 2 cups of ice cream; vanilla recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Think I will go and see if Cally has some masala chai. Think chai ice cream would be fantastic.

Matcha ice cream

1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
3 1/2 tbs sugar
1 1/2 tbs matcha dissolved in about 2 tbs hot water

Mix together before chilling

Coconut matcha ice cream

14 oz (340 ml) can coconut cream
3 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbs matcha powder dissolved in about 2 tbs hot water

Mix together before chilling

Vanilla ice cream

1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 1/2 tbs sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
2 inch piece of vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out. (I go a bit crazy with vanilla - this is a lot for this much ice cream. You can use half this much vanilla bean, if desired, for tasty results.)

Mix ingredients together, then heat gently to not quite boiling to steep the vanilla bean. Strain before freezing step.

Chili Oil and Other Condiments

Saturday, May 27, 2006
Jars of chili oil at Jia Hua, which were going to set me back two to five bucks, had short and simple ingredient lists so I decided to make some myself. I recommend this approach for any condiment, particularly salad dressings. This way you can make and use only what you need rather than having various bought containers of salad dressings, oils, sauces, and vinegars on hand slowly passing their prime, many being kept cold by the energy of your fridge.

There are a number of recipes online for making your own flavoured oils but lots don't take precautions against clostridium botulinim, which thrive in a room temperature, moist, airless environment. Inserting a fresh herb, fruit, or vegetable in oil and keeping it on your cupboard creates perfect conditions for these pests to produce one of the worst toxins that you can ingest. So those flavoured oils and foods like chopped garlic or ginger preserved in oil can be done at home, but please be careful - make sure your recipe instructs to dry the flavouring agents completely or else uses salt, acid, or heat to retard the bacteria or destroy the toxin. (Using a lighter oil that can be refrigerated - unlike olive oil - is cheaper, safer, and also lets the flavour stand out more.)

The steps to this chili oil recipe will not result in botulism, but you could perish from the fumes. So do the toasting in a very well ventilated area, preferably outside, and do not lean over to take a whiff of the smoke just to see what I am talking about. Heat (med-high) about one third of a cup crushed dried chili peppers (I used Thai) on a dry cast iron pan, slowly, until they start to smoke and turn brown. Remove from heat, pour into a glass container, and cover with oil of choice. The oil becomes pungent within a few minutes, and continues to absorb the flavours of the chili oil as it sits. Keep covered in a dark place and use within a few months.

Mandu (Filled Dumplings)

Thursday, May 25, 2006
Had not expected to be back in Korea so quickly, but ground pork is only 2 bucks a pound at Jia Hua (Chinese Superstore) and a package of 50 dumpling skins - the small ones, sometimes called won ton skins - was less than two. This is one of many recipes that are inexpensive to make but take time; however it is a good way to occupy your hands while you are doing something else, like a movie or language tapes or visiting with friends.

You can stuff many things into mandu - pork is most common, but ground beef or tofu, okara, or that bag of marked down mushrooms can also be the bulk of the filling. (You can also transplant the dumpling skins to another continent and use traditional ravioli fillings, but that is another post.) The key is to have a mixture that is strongly flavoured and sticks together, but without too much moisture - using all vegetables, for example, has resulted in mandu with soggily disintegrating skins for me and if using tofu you would want the firm kind. This time I used 1 lb ground pork, 4 cloves of garlic put through a press, leftover egg whites from the lime tarts, one bunch of chopped garlic chives, and some drained chopped kim chi. You will want roughly two and a half cups of filling for fifty dumpling skins. Set out the stack of skins, a dish of water, and the bowl of filling. Lay out a skin and use fingers to draw a wet frame on it so the edges will stick together; add a teaspoon of filling. Fold into a triangle and close the dumpling, being careful not to trap air inside and to get a good seal on it. They are very good freshly steamed. You can make mandu soup by boiling them in chicken stock, stirring in chopped green onions and a swirl of scrambled egg, and adding salt and pepper to taste - boiled mandu are cooked when they float. Freeze in a single layer before putting them in freezer bags because they stick together very easily, and cook from frozen without thawing or the skins will be too soft to handle.

To fry them, film a very hot frying pan or other shallow pan with a tsp or so of oil and add mandu in a single layer. After about ten seconds of sizzling, quickly pour 1/4- 1/3 cup of water depending on pan size and hold its lid down tight - you will have to fight the steam pressure, but hold down the lid for a few seconds after the pressure has gone down. (And please keep your skin away from the high pressure steam that comes out right from the edges of the pan; it is extremely hot.) Then lift the lid and use your keenest spatula to turn over the mandu, which should be sticking to the pan and be dark brown on that side. Reduce heat to medium, cover and let brown on the other side til cooked through. I like to top with spinach and a drizzle of sesame oil before covering just to cook greens at the same time. Mandu are complemented by salty, sharp or hot sauces - Asian vinegars, soy sauce or chili oils are good, but mustard, tomatillo salsa, sour cream, balsamic vinegar, or tabasco are also worth a try depending on how they are filled. And yes, you can fry them conventionally uncovered in lots more oil (med high heat) and just turn them over halfway through but the steam fry method is way more exciting.

Sweet Potatoes

Sunday, May 21, 2006
Potatoes can be the backbone of a frugal diet. I have been eating more of them since I discovered the microwave potato chip recipe. Sweet potatoes deserve more attention, however. They are more costly and far less storeable than regular potatoes - they can easily go bad within a few days - but they have nearly two times the food value of white potatoes and only about half the calories, with a bonus of sunrise colour and flavour. They can be a main course or complement a vegetable, protein, or grain dish. I can usually find firm, reasonably priced (though small) sweet potatoes at Jia Hua (Chinese Superstore).

One of my favourite methods with these is to cube and toss with some olive oil, salt, chopped onions, and red pepper and bake uncovered in the oven til vegetables are soft and browned and flavours are mixed. Also, a very fast way of preparing sweet potatoes is slicing them thinly and single-layering them on a flat pan, drizzling with a few drops of olive oil and salt, and broiling. Keep a close watch because the high sugar content makes them likely to burn quickly. I like to broil both sides, but it is not necessary. The best way to eat these is to dip them in mayo and sip a cool crisp white, but sour cream and a homemade lime soda works too. (Squeeze a lime's worth of juice, mix in sugar and salt to taste, and fill glass with soda water.)

Lime Curd and Lime Tarts

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Felt like doing a dessert after blogging so many healthy things. I make tarts a lot but have most often bought the shells premade, much to the derision of my sister who is the pastry queen of the family. They are much more frugal, though work intensive, to make on your own so I attempted tart shells using a butter pastry dough baked in muffin tins. The results were edible but not worth blogging; pictured are tarts made with mini shells.

The lime curd filling, on the other hand, is a great standby. There is far too much bad lemon and 'key' lime pie in the world, with soggy or tough crust and pasty textured, chemical tasting fillings. It is very easy and inexpensive to make your own curd (especially with limes at five for a dollar locally at H&W Produce). With this recipe I prefer making individual tarts or mini tarts because even in small amounts it packs a lot of sweetness, tang, and richness. You need enough limes to make between 1/3 and 1/2 cup of lime juice, 1/2 cup sugar, 4 egg yolks, and 1/4 cup plus 1 tbs of butter. Zest the limes (finely chop zest if you didn't use a grater) and dissolve the sugar in their juice; then add the egg yolks and butter and bring to a gentle bubble over medium heat until mixture thickens. I usually do this in the microwave. Cool slightly, then stir in reserved lime zest, saving some for the meringue if desired. Do not be like me, the second or third time I made this, and decide to cook the lime zest in the curd at the same time. It turned black and I had to start over. The curd will seem too runny when warm but will firm up when it is chilled.

Once cold, spoon into precooked and cooled tart shells, your own or premade. This much curd goes a long way since you need about a teaspoon each for mini tarts. You can make ahead and keep for 3-4 days in the fridge or freeze it; I often do the make ahead option and cook the tart shells at the last minute since freshness makes an enormous difference in the flavour and texture of pastry. You can top with some soft fruit to finish. Once I topped the tarts with diced mango, and then since the combination looked a bit too pale, with a grind of grains of paradise. Regular pepper would have worked as well.

If you want to do a meringue, as shown, beat reserved egg whites at room temperature until they are foamy, then stir in 2 tbs sugar per egg white and continue beating until stiff. Stirring in some lime zest makes it prettier. Top tarts with meringue and brown very carefully under a low broiler.


Friday, May 12, 2006
My onion caramelizing left me with extras and I was imagining how to use them (they do freeze well, by the way) when the risi bisi post jogged my memory. Mujadara is a rice and lentil dish from the middle east, flavoured with onions. You'll need a fresh onion to make it this way as well as caramelized onions, and green or brown lentils. The red ones will turn to mush and result in a strange though edible dish. You can use any type of rice; leftover is easiest. If you use brown you will have to pre-cook it a bit since it takes much longer than the lentils.

Start by sauteing half an onion with a little salt in a saucepan. The oil you use doesn't matter much; I used leftover garlic and herb butter because I had a lot of it but olive or regular cooking oil would work fine. I am sure a fat free version of this would produce OK results as well, if you had a good nonstick pan. Ideally, you would be doing this slowly over medium heat - this is like the sweating that you do to vegetables before making a good soup. You don't want the pan too crowded, and you want to release and concentrate the juices from the vegetables (the salt helps) without turning them too brown. This stage gets the most flavour from the vegetables into the finished dish; the amount of time you simmer after liquid has been added doesn't have near as much effect.

Add a few shakes of cumin and 2/3 cup of lentils and 2/3 cup of rice, if you are using raw rice. Saute this combination, which should be getting very fragrant, for a minute or two and then add hot water or stock to about 2 cm above the level of the mixture. Let boil, then turn down and let simmer till rice and lentils are cooked, 15-20 minutes. Stir in a couple tablespoons of caramelized onions and let sit for a few more minutes for the flavours to blend. Taste and adjust seasonings.

If you are using precooked or leftover rice, add it at the same time as the liquid and don't add as much liquid - barely cover the mixture.

Shopping, Storing, and Eating

Wednesday, May 10, 2006
One of the most common methods of cooking economically is OAMC, or once a month cooking. You buy huge amounts of groceries and cook up large quantities of several dishes, then freeze them in meal sized batches. This technique uses economical bulk buying and makes efficient use of the original meal preparation time. Maybe the biggest plus is that putting something in the oven to reheat is much easier at the end of a busy day than preparing something from scratch. If the technique sounds attractive, there are lots of recipes and guides online on how to do it well. The reason I don't use OAMC is that I can't get excited about reheated frozen meals on a regular basis, but if I had a job and a dozen kids I would probably resort to this method for at least a couple of nights a week.

The best book I have found on eating frugally is How to Cook a Wolf, by MFK Fisher. Rather than treating food as fuel and focusing on the biggest nutrition bang for buck, the book teaches how to be satisfied and generous in a way that is not high maintenance. Breakfast, for example, can be toast. You can use good grainy bread with lots of character and lash it with butter and honey, and it is still economical. Cooked oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar, milk, and half a banana usually keeps me going til late afternoon and still comes in under fifty cents per serving.

No matter what groceries cost, it is expensive to have things on hand that are not used. The cheapest way to shop is to not buy. The cheapest way to eat is to not eat. If you are not hungry and will have a chance to eat later, always eat later instead of now. Hunger is one of the biggest factors in whether eating is enjoyable or not, and the most overlooked.

The Basics IV: Kim Chi

Sunday, May 07, 2006
This post is not a recipe since I haven't been brave enough to attempt it, but the frugal budget can accomodate ready made kim chi. For Western palates, making friends with this strong character may take a few tries but its brightness, tang, and fire make the taste very worth acquiring. There are many varieties of kim chi in Korea, but by far the most common and most available locally is cabbage kimchi.

There are so many great things to do with kim chi. Scramble an egg, mix in kim chi, and eat with rice for a great, balanced meal any time of the day. (You can vary the same ingredients by making kim chi fried rice and topping with a fried egg.) I have also made pretty good veggie burgers with chopped kim chi for flavouring. Don't recommend putting it on nachos. Trust me on this one.

Kim chi chigae is kim chi with pork, tofu, and green onions in a stew like concoction; I love how the kim chi is the seasoning and the vegetable at the same time. You want to use older, sour kim chi for this - look for kim chi whose leaves have a krauty translucency without traces of green. Ratio of kim chi to proteins should be about equal. (I would do 1 part pork and 1 part tofu to 2 parts kim chi, but adjust to taste; can even do all pork or all tofu for vegan version.) Dark sesame oil is optional but is a very worthwhile investment due to its attractive flavour/cost value. Heat a small pool of oil (cooking or sesame) in a deep frying pan or sauce pan and brown the pork - you can use cubes, pork belly, ground pork, or even ribs. If you are using the fattier cuts you might want to drain them after browning since the fat doesn't add much to the dish. Add kim chi and stock/water for a soupy consistency and stew for about fifteen minutes; add diced tofu and a chopped green onion and cook for ten more minutes or until pork is tender. Eat with rice. To nutrition power up this meal, make brown rice instead of white and mix bean sprouts into the rice pot to cook at the same time.

Caramelized Onions Many Ways

Monday, May 01, 2006
Thanks to the incomparable Indira of Mahanandi I have been making my own soy milk for a couple of weeks, at a cost of approximately fifty cents a litre (which will go way down when I begin buying soybeans in sacks). When I noticed the deals on gorgeous in season strawberries in the grocery flyers this week I had ambitions for strawberry soy smoothies in the mornings and was scheming how to spend approximately ten dollars on strawberries and still keep my food expenses below twenty for the week. Then among the dollar specials at Superstore, there it was - a 5 lb bag of onions for a dollar.

Caramelizing, which transforms the bite and assertiveness of raw onions into sweetness and complexity, is easiest to do in a slow cooker. Just slice the onions in about three millimetre slices and put them in the slow cooker on low with a couple of tablespoons of butter. Eight to ten hours later, or when the onions are deep brown, they are done. You can also do this on top of the stove in a heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven over medium heat, with the occasional stir. The key is patience; it will take at least half an hour to forty minutes to caramelize a pan full of onions and you don't want them to burn.

My favourite thing to do with the caramelized onions is to toss them with cooked whole wheat spaghetti and herbs like rosemary, oregano, or thyme and then top with shredded cheese. They can also be stirred into chicken or beef stock to make soup. With the beef stock, add croutons and a good strong flavoured cheese for French onion soup. They can also be mashed into mashed potatos and mixed into equal parts sour cream and mayo for an excellent dip. They are also going on top of the veggie burgers I am going to make with the okara - leftover soybean pulp from making soy milk.