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This blog is very close to my heart and stomach. Over the past few years I made a commitment to myself to step up my culinary game. At that time I was completely unaware of the scope of this promise. Transforming my perceptions of food and where it comes from has lead me on a path that at times has been both enlightening and disturbing.

I have been passionate about food for as long as I can remember and can make my way around a kitchen, however, I suffer from one vital culinary flaw. I have what I like to call big city farm syndrome. This is where you drive to your local supermarket to hunt and gather. You choose what you eat by strolling down isles of quick pre-packaged meal replacements. I say meal replacements because most of this food is more of a food facsimile than real home cooking. I bought meat and vegetables from who know where without a thought to taste, freshness, and economics. Last year it hit me, learning more recipes would not make me a better chef, but respecting food itself would put me on a journey to new culinary heights.

Many of you have followed my adventures with hydroponics over the past months, and I appreciate all the support, but its time to expand. I am not giving up on hydroponics. I am just expanding the scope to cover all my food related projects. I hope that you will all join me on this new adventure and maybe transform your own food perceptions.

Wednesday
Sep052012

How to cycle an aquaponics system using the fishless cycling method week 1

In this video, I will show you what to do on week 1 of you aquaponics cycling. The hardest part in setting up your first aquaponics system is waiting for you system to cycle. Most of you are likely scratching your head and thinking “wtf is cycling?” I thought the same thing when I setup my first aquaponics system.

The best place to start is to explain the nitrogen cycle that takes place in an aquaponics system. We start with the fish. Now you might think that fish are the key to making aquaponics work, but you would be wrong. The real key is ammonia, without the ammonia there is no nitrogen cycle. Ok, ok, what about the fish right? Well as the fish go about their day, they produce a fair amount of ammonia. They breath through their gills, pee and poop, all creating ammonia. Now ammonia is toxic to fish and most other living creatures, so if the ammonia levels get too high, say 0.5 to 1 ppm or so, the the fish will die. Luckily for the fish, a bacteria called Nitrosomonas can convert ammonia into nitrites through a process called nitrification.

Nitrification is simply a conversion of ammonia to nitrates. Before you get on my back, I am fully aware that I said that Nitrosomonas converts ammonia into nitrites and not nitrates. The nitrogen cycle is a 3 step process and nitrites to nitrates is the last step, so lets not get ahead of ourselves. We need to focus on the first step, introducing ammonia into the system.

We know that in order to begin the nitrogen cycle we need ammonia. This is where the fish come in right? Well that would be one way to go. It is a method called fish cycling. This is where you add a few fish at a time to produce ammonia. If the fish are lucky, the nitrogen cycle completes before the ammonia levels become toxic. In order to reduce the toxic ammonia build up, some of the water is removed and fresh water is added to the system. In this attempt to restore balance, significant stress is placed on the fish and loss may occur. Eventually the nitrification will take place and you will end up with a balanced aquaponics system. In order to avoid fish loss, an alternative method to fish cycling is fishless cycling.

Fishless cycling is where you find a source of ammonia other than fish waste. There are many sources of ammonia that can be added to the system, I have even heard of people peeing into the fish tank. I am sure the fish really want to live there after that, gross. I just use pure ammonia from the drugstore. You have to make sure that its only pure ammonia and not ammonia mixed with detergent, because the detergent will kill the fish. Finding a nonliving source of ammonia to use for cycling offers us many advantages over using fish. In my opinion, the greatest advantage is the speed we can cycle the system. Because we can raise the levels of the ammonia quickly, we decrease the time necessary for nitrification to occur. Fish cycling can take weeks for ammonia levels to increase to a desirable amount, whereas fishless cycling allow us to raise the ammonia levels to 0.5 ppm immediately. So, with fishless cycling we are able to jump start the nitrogen cycle by raising the ammonia to toxic levels without killing any organisms. This is where we begin week 1 of cycling our aquaponics system.

Follow these simple steps for the first week of the cycling process:

  1. Add the ammonia to the fish tank a few capfuls at a time.      
  2. After you add a dose of ammonia to the system, take a reading with the ammonia reading kit.
  3. When you read an ammonia level of 0.5 ppm, take note of how many capfuls it took to get to that point.
  4. Add the same amount of ammonia each day, then take a reading with the nitrite kit.
  5. When you see a nitrite level of 0.5 ppm begin to appear, cut back the daily dose of ammonia by 50%. This will decrease the levels of ammonia in the system making it more hospitable to your future fish.

It will take about 7 to 10 day to reach this point. Stay tuned for the next video that will outline the next steps to cycling your system in week 2.

Tuesday
Aug282012

Chicken Stock Accented with Fresh Rosemary and Thyme

How to Make Homemade Chicken Stock: Recipe for Chicken Stock Accented with Fresh Rosemary and Thyme. In this video, I will show you my hybrid method for making a deep and rich homemade chicken stock.

I love homemade chicken stock. Its rich, flavorful, and so much better than the stuff in the store. Chicken stock is a pantry staple and used in so many recipes. Whether you are making a comforting bowl of chicken soup or creating a tasty sauce, chicken stock is indispensable in the kitchen.

It wasn't all that long ago that the only way to get chicken stock was to make it yourself. Nowadays, it’s all too easy to pick some up at the supermarket on the way home. Although convenient, store bought chicken stock is expensive and lacks in flavor. So much so that I often think of my homemade chicken stock as a secret ingredient.

People think I am crazy when I say that I make homemade chicken stock. They say things like, “doesn't it take all day to make that?” or “I don’t have the time for stuff like that.” So then I explain to them that using the pressure cooker method, you can get chicken stock in under 2 hours. Now, some would argue that the pressure cooker method will not produce the same depth of flavour as a slow 12 hour simmered stock, and they are correct. I believe that by using a hybrid pressure cooker/simmer method, we can significantly reduce the time without sacrificing the richness or the flavor. But for arguments sake, lets make it the slow way, the fast way, and then my way.

First, we start with the ingredients. I created this recipe to work with 1 pound of chicken, so all you need to do is double or triple this recipe to make even more chicken stock.

Ingredients per 1 pound of chicken:

1 pound of chicken bones and meat
2 celery stalks
2 carrots
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 pinch of fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
5-10 peppercorns
5 cups of water

Step 1:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit on broil. Place all of the ingredients, except for the water, in a parchment lined roasting pan. Place the roasting pan into the oven and set a timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, carefully stir to expose all of the bits that are unbrowned. Repeat this 3 more times for a total of 1 hour. This step is going to brown and caramelize the chicken and vegetables, helping us develop a rich flavor in the final product. It also makes your house smell like roast chicken, yum.

Step 2:
Transfer all of the ingredients from the roasting tray to your pressure cooker or canner and add the water. I used a pressure canner in this video, but a pressure cooker will work fine. As all pressure canners or cookers are different, you need to consult your manual for appropriate timing. These instructions are for the Presto 22 quart pressure canner that I used in the video. Place the pressure canner on the stovetop on medium high heat and latch the lid. When a steady stream of steam escapes from the stove pipe, cover with the weight. Allow the pressure canner to come up to 15 psi and then turn the heat down to medium. You may need to adjust the heat depending on your stove to keep it at a consistent 15 psi. Set a timer for 20 minutes and take a break. This step is going to extract all of the flavors from the bones, meat, and vegetables.

Step 3:
When the timer goes off, turn off the heat, and let it sit until the pressure lock releases. At this point, you can open the lid and you have stock. Like I said, this is a perfectly good stock and you can stop here, but if you want something even better then continue on. Turn the heat back on the stovetop to medium low and simmer uncovered for 4 hours.

Step 4:
Strain the chicken broth with a fine screen strainer or cheesecloth. You should allow the chicken stock to cool on a cold stovetop until it’s cool enough to place in the fridge. Leave the chicken stock in the fridge overnight. The next day, all of the chicken fat will solidify on the surface. You can remove it for a fat free chicken stock or leave it, your call.

Step 5:
Transfer the cooled chicken stock to storage containers and keep in the fridge for 1 week or freeze for 3 months. If you want to can your newly created chicken stock, check out my video on canning here.

If you still wish to use the long and slow method, perform the step 2 and 3 modification shown below:

Step 2 and 3 modification:
Transfer all of the ingredients from the roasting tray to your slow cooker. Set heat to low and let simmer for 12 hours.

I hope you enjoy this homemade chicken stock and feel free to let me know what you used it for in the comments below. 

Wednesday
Aug222012

Pickling and canning yellow or green dilly beans

Pickling and canning yellow or green beans: how to make dilly yellow or green beans with recipe. In this video, I will show you how to make a classic canning recipe of dilly yellow beans.
Harvest time is finally in full swing and I have managed to bring something back from the garden every other day. My wife’s grandfather would be so proud. Hard work and dirty hands is the name of the game. While I agree that seeing all of my hard work come to fruition is like nothing else, Dire Straits had a good point. Money for nothing and the food for free is also pretty cool. Keep your ears open and someone will be willing to give you fresh fruits and vegetables from their garden. Why would anyone do this you might ask? Well some people are just kind-hearted, but most just don’t know what to do with their bounty. But we do! Right? Damn skippy, time for canning.

This year I received a large bag of yellow beans from a family friend, which was good because  my yellow beans are not producing. Unfortunately my wife is not a fan of yellow beans, but then again she has never tried my Granny’s homemade dilled green beans right out of the jar. I wager that this garlicky snack will turn my wife into a bean believer. I figured that yellow beans would work just as well, so here is my take on the classic. Feel free to modify my recipe and make it your own.

Before we start:
Even though it is rare, improper food preservation can lead to sickness or even death. This video is meant only as a guide so ensure that you consult with your canner manufacturer’s manual.



Ingredients:

Pickling brine:

  • 1 cup distilled vinegar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 ¼ cup of soft wafer
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of pickling salt


Add to each jar:

  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 handful of dill
  • ¼ of a large onion
  • 1 tablespoon of tarragon
  • 5-10 peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon of red chili flakes (or more, the cooler you are the more you put in)
  • 1 ½ pounds of yellow beans divided between the jars

Equipment List:
  • Canner or large deep pot (I used my pressure canner)
  • Canning jars and lids
  • Canning tongs
  • Canning funnel

Step-By-Step:

  1. Start by sterilizing all of your equipment and the work area. Proper sterilization is an extremely important step, so be sure to read your canner’s manual.
  2. After sterilization, fill each jar with the raw ingredients.
  3. Sprinkle in the peppercorns and the chili flakes.
  4. In a pot, bring the pickling brine to a boil.
  5. Use the canning funnel to fill each jar with pickling brine, leaving a 1 inch space at the top.
  6. Place a lid and ring on each jar and lower them into the canner.
  7. Using cold water fill the canner so there is 1 inch of water above the tops of the jars, then remove the jars.
  8. Bring the water in the canner to a simmer.
  9. Lower the filled jars back into the canner.
  10. Following your canner’s manual, process for the appropriate time (in my case 10 minutes).
  11. At the end of the processing time, remove the jars from the canner using canning tongs.
  12. Once cool, check that each of the jars is fully sealed but pressing on the tops of the lids. If you can feel give or hear clicking, the jar did not seal. You can reprocess the unsealed jar or keep it in the refrigerator.
  13. Let the jars sit for 3 weeks for proper pickling to occur.
  14. Sealed jars can be stored in a cool dark space for 6 months to 1 year. If any mold or unpleasant smells are present in or around the jars, this is an indication of food spoilage and the jars should be disposed of.

For more tips and projects visit my youtube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/cable24601?feature=mhee

Also check out my video on canning chicken stock
http://youtu.be/un7cp0g8FYQ