Sunday, 29 July 2012

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

I have been putting off writing this post for over a month now. First I was busy, then I had all those other exciting recipes to share, then I was busy again, then I spent my time making popsicles...and I would really like to write about those as well.
I don't even know why this one has been so hard. 
Because, I do think this has been one of my favourite kitchen projects in a while.
But it's also been one where I haven't gotten any 'that's kinda nice' feedback on. Either people were raving about it, standing in my kitchen, forks hovering over the jar of pickles or they were trying to inconspicuously spit them out again (yes, I am looking in your direction, Mimi :) ).
Since Berlin is pretending to have Monsoon season today I decided to stop procrastinating on this whole project so I can tell you all about avocado popsicles next time.

I got started on this whole pickling project when I was trying to figure out how to make peanut butter spread without marshmallow fluff, and then somewhere along the way the internet told me about candied (or pickled) watermelon rinds. 
So, since I like watermelons, and because all I do in the summer months is throw away watermelon rinds, I decided to find out what on earth pickles watermelon rinds would taste like.
I found a recipe on The Bitten Word which is originally from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and it worked like a charm.

Before you get started, a word of warning - this recipe takes a few days. Don't expect to be done within a few hours. So if you are going away on a holiday tomorrow, perhaps you should wait until you get back. And if you hate waiting, this is probably not your kinda recipe either.
But if you like experimenting and don't mind coming back to the same recipe 3 days in a row, then I can't recommend this enough. Because the pickled watermelon rinds are amazing and the pickled lemon rinds you are making as a side product are to die for!

Pickled Watermelon Rinds (after The Bitten Word)
Enough Watermelon Rind to fill a 2 litre container once it has been cut into 2.5x5cm pieces (the rind, not the container...)
140g Salt
3l Water
1kg Sugar 
750ml White Vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
750ml Water
1 tbsp Whole Cloves
6 Cinnamon Sticks
1 tbsp Allspice
1 Lemon

Cut remaining pink bits and the green skin off the white watermelon rind. Then combine the salt and 3 litres of water and cover the watermelon rind with the brine. Zach and Clay suggest refrigerating the rinds but my fridge isn't that big (or empty) so I simply left them overnight in my kitchen. Either way, leave the rinds for at least 5 hours. I ended up leaving them for 24 hours and that seemed to work just fine.
Whenever you're ready to come back to the rinds, drain them and rinse off any salt that might remain on the surface. Then cover them with water in a stockpot or large saucepan and bring the water to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until you can cut the rind with a fork. Apparently if you cook them for too long, they will become rubbery so no running off and watching re-runs of your favourite TV-show.
Drain the rinds.
Wash the lemon, then cut it into really thin slices, removing any seeds as you go along.
Combine the sugar, vinegar, water and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. After simmering for 5 minutes or so, pour the mixture over the rinds, then add the lemon slices.
Leave the mixture to infuse and do whatever the vinegar does when you're pickling stuff overnight or until you get home from work the next day.
Heat the entire mixture and then keep it simmering for an hour over a medium heat.
While you're waiting for the hour to pass, sterilise some glass jars. I filled two 1 litre glass jars, but smaller ones will work just as fine. 
Find out how to seal your jars. I use glass Weck jars and seal them in the oven because I don't have a stockpot big enough for them. Change this if you use different jars.
Fill the rinds into the sterilised jars, then add the vinegary syrup, leaving enough headspace according to how your jars work - if you are using Weck jars, keep in mind that there is a difference between the old and new jars!
You can add the cinnamon sticks as well - they look very pretty in the sealed jars, but if you are planning to leave the rinds for a month or more I would only add a small piece - one of my jars had a few in and when we opened it the other week for a barbecue it had a very Christmassy feel to it.
If you are sealing your jars in the oven, add the lid and secure it.
Heat your oven to 175˚C and sit the jars into a gratin dish filled with water. Wait until you see air bubbles inside the glass. Turn off the heat and let the jars sit in the oven for another 30 minutes or so. Then let the jars cool at room temperature. Don't forget to check the seals once the jars are completely cooled.

The pickled rinds are really nice straight from the jar, and divine when you eat them with any kind of meat - barbecued pork, the thin-cut sausage you find at German butchers', with a hamburger - probably lots of other stuff as well but that's all I have tried so far.
Oh, and the lemon slices are amazing with some vanilla ice-cream!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Family Parties

I don't know about you but I have all those somewhat platonic ideals about what a real summer should be like. 
I can already hear you asking: 'So what constitutes the 'summerness' of a particular summer?'. Well let's start with the bit where I complain - it involves stretches of continuously warm temperatures and a lack of rain. We're definitely not doing well on that front this year. If I get caught in torrential rain one more time this week I'll bite the bullet and get my wax jacket re-waxed. 
But now that I have, once again, complained about the weather, let's talk about the bits that make me feel like I'm experiencing an actual summer.
Another part of my summer-universal involves family barbecues. Not the ones where you sit down with your parents and that's it, but I mean the big family gatherings where you see people you haven't seen well...since last year's barbecue.
The funny thing is I  have one memory of my extended family doing that at some point and I can't have been older than 12 or so. I'm sure there were more occasions but the fact that I don't really have any distinct memories of big family gatherings also suggests that we didn't really have that many.
Moving abroad right after finishing high school probably didn't really help either.

So, why am I actually telling you all of this? 
My parents moved back to their hometown. A town in (sorry...) the middle of nowhere and I must admit most of my memories from when I was younger mostly involve either fog and rain in the fall or a distinct drop in temperature while driving there in the summer. 

I also have memories of eating what felt like kilos upon kilos of blackberries on my grandma's back porch, drinking fresh carrot juice at my other grandma's house, my aunts amazing Black Forest Gateau and walking across the heath to go to this super cute restaurant. But in case you haven't noticed all the positive memories involve food and all the negative things involve things I have on my personal list of 'things I like to complain about'. So I obviously kept remembering all the negative things and forgetting about the good things.
Anyhow, I'm finally getting to the end of this story - the house that was a building-site for pretty much the entirety of the last 6 month is finally more or less habitable (though my mum would probably beg to differ) so my parents decided to throw a housewarming party. And the entire family came. And my parents friends from high school, and my mum's friends from Stuttgart.

Look at the lovely watermelons and cucumber salad that is hiding on my dad's plate!!!

And amidst all the buzz about the food (you gotta love a good potluck), the gorgeous hardwood floors, the kitchen that is simply amazing, and the views of the town castle and whatnot I kept thinking that it had been too long and that I really hope my parents throw another big party like this some time really soon.

And do you want to know the best thing? I even managed to go swimming in an outdoor-pool for the first time this year because I was finally near one when it was warm enough (so apparently it's not always rainy and foggy in the middle of nowhere).

I'll be back in the next few days with a recipe for pickled watermelon rinds. Because you can never have enough watermelon recipes and also because my aunt has instructed me to finally post the recipe :)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Yu Xiang Eggplant

I'm really excited about today's post because my friend Jorge is sharing one of his favourite recipes with us today. Jorge and I went to a summer school together a few years back and since then he's been one of my favourite people I see at conferences. Partly because he's plain awesome and studies stuff that is way cooler than my stuff (there was a poster about magicians a while back...need I say more?!?!?). But also because he likes food as much as I do. And you need conference buddies who will go and eat good food with you! 
Anyhow, I hope you'll be as excited about this recipe as I am already. If you give it a try, let us know in the comments!

Hello everybody! Katharina has kindly invited me to write a guest post on her blog and I am very happy to bring you one of my favorite Chinese dishes.

I have liked Chinese food for a while but it was after I came to the US and especially after I met Jin (now my wife) when I really started to love it and appreciate it. On the way I also learned that the Chinese food in most restaurants is Cantonese food (from the South East of China, near Hong Kong) and that there are many more types of food in China. Among the different foods of China I totally fell in love with Sichuanese food. If you like spicy food and fish and have the chance to go to a Sichuanese restaurant please try the water boiled fish.

This recipe is special for me because it was the first recipe I learned on my own, without Jin’s help. I cannot take any credit for it. It is a traditional Chinese recipe (from Sichuan of course), and I learned it from the great book “Land of Plenty” by Fuchsia Dunlop ( I totally recommend it.

These amounts can probably feed 2 or 3 people with some white rice but usually, in a Chinese meal, there would be more dishes so you could share everything among 4 or 5 people.

Yu Xiang Eggplant
4 Asian Eggplants (I have never tried to do it with regular eggplants, I am not sure they will work as well)
1 and ½ tablespoons of Sichuan Chili Bean Paste, aka chili broad bean paste or pixian paste
3 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
Ginger, also finely chopped, same amount as garlic
4 Scallions, only green parts, sliced into rings
½ cup of Chicken Stock, I usually don’t have it handy so I just use water
2 teaspoon of Sugar
1 teaspoon of Soy Sauce
2 teaspoons of (Chinkiang) Black Rice Vinegar
2 teaspoons of Starch (corn, potato, tapioca … I guess it doesn’t matter) diluted in a little bit of water
1 teaspoon of Sesame Oil

© Jorge Otero-Millan
First, cut the eggplants lengthwise in two halves and cut each half in 3 or 4 pieces. Then deep fry them until they are golden and soft. Don't do them all at once of course! I usually let them rest in some paper towels to take some of the oil out. If you want to go more health but of course less tasty (everything is better deep fried) you can just stir fry them until they are soft.

Now is when the nice smells will start. First heat some oil, like 3 tablespoons, and add the chill bean paste Let the paste 'melt' into the oil but don't burn it! Then add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for around 30 seconds until the are golden and you get the amazing smell. Again, careful not to burn the stuff.

Add the stock, sugar, soy sauce, and salt to taste (many 1 or 2 tablespoons). Mix everything well and add the eggplants. Move them carefully, they will be delicate, and simmer them for a few minutes. 
Add the starch mixed with water and let the sauce reduce and thicken. Then add the vinegar and the scallions and cook them for just a moment. 
Finally, take off the heat and add the sesame oil and enjoy! 
If everything went right, the eggplants should just melt in your mouth.

© Jorge Otero-Millan

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Watermelon & Cucumber Salad

I told you - I'm into watermelon right now.
When I was little I would only eat watermelon. I remember sitting out on the front steps talking to my neighbour about which types of fruit we liked and wondering why on earth anyone could like honeydew melon. Luckily that has changed (you need a vehicle for all that parma ham) but I still have a soft spot for watermelon.
So, today we'll be making a salad. It's really quick, really refreshing and is really lovely for dinner on a balmy summer evening.

Watermelon & Cucumber Salad (for 1 person)
100g Cucumbers (I used those really thin ones that look like mutant cornichons & taste of cucumber rather than water)
100g Watermelon
1 tsp Lime Juice (lemon works just as well, though)
1 tsp Condimento Bianco
1 tsp Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Some Mint Leaves (I used strawberry and ginger mint but normal mint will work just as well)
Some Basil Leaves

Cut the cucumber into £1 coin slices and the watermelon into 1.5cm cubes.
Mix with the lime juice, vinegar and olive oil.
Season with the salt and pepper and sprinkle with the leaves.

See, that was easy!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Watermelon Margarita Granita

Phew..last week just flew by. I spent the week editing chapters, puzzling over applications (neither for my own work which was surprisingly relaxing), watching my tomatoes grow at an alarming speed, enjoying the warm morning air, cursing the warm night air...the usual :)
Today's recipe is just perfect for those warm summer evenings (and hot summer afternoons) so I suggest you go and buy a watermelon. Right now. Because I've decided this week will be watermelon-recipe week.
You know how sometimes you get an overripe watermelon that still tastes amazing but is all weird and grainy? I picked the wrong watermelon at my greengrocer's a few weeks back and was left wondering what to do with it. Tape Five's Tequila remix was playing and I was staring at a bottle of tequila so what is a girl supposed to do on a warm summer evening? Watermelon margaritas!
Since I had quite a lot of watermelon juice in the end I decided to freeze things and turn it into a granita.  The nice thing about calling it a granita is also that you can pretend that you're being all grown up rather than having frozen margaritas on a lazy afternoon with friends :)

Watermelon Margarita Granita
Enough Watermelon to get 1 litre juice (I had a two litre bowl full of watermelon wedges that then gave me roughly a litre of juice in the end)
50 - 75 ml Simple Syrup
50 ml Lime Juice
100 ml Tequila
A pinch of Salt

Make the watermelon juice. I simply cut the pink flesh into chunks and then I used my hands to squish them together until the juice came out. I'm sure there is a better way of doing this but since I was only interested in the juice and nothing else that seemed like the best idea at the time.

Mix the watermelon juice with the lime juice, tequila and a pinch of salt. Add some simple syrup to taste. I used about 60 ml but depending on whether you make your syrup with higher or lower percentages of sugar and also the sweetness of your watermelon you will want to adjust the amount. Add about a third of the syrup, then taste the mixture and add some more if you feel like it could do with some more. You'll want to aim for something slightly sweeter than what you find optimal because once we freeze things it will taste less sweet.

Pour the mixture into a freezer-proof container and freeze for a couple of hours. If you have the time you could come back after some time and break up the ice-crystals with a fork. And if you're feeling very energetic you can do this a few times. Or you could just freeze it and attack it with a fork about 5 minutes before your guests show up a few days later (which was obviously not what I did...).

I hope you have a fantastic start of your week!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Citing your sources

When you use material somebody else created, does it suddenly become your own?
Lately I have been noticing more and more blogs and tumblr pages that aren't citing the sources of their photos. And when readers comment on that the response seems to be mostly along the lines of 'well that's how I do this, deal with it'.
I find that really worrying.

For me, knowingly not citing your sources is about as bad as faking your data. And that applies to both science and blogs.

In science citing is fairly straightforward because it doesn't cost you anything to cite somebody and say 'hey, that person had a really good idea/did a really cool experiment that had some amazing results' or 'I think their results are b#$%@&*^ and here is why...'.
I remember my mentor in third year telling me that you can never cite too much. I have had many discussions with her about writing style since (especially after she turned into my PhD supervisor) but this is something I wholeheartedly agree with. Yes, I hate those hours you spend trying to track down a paper that you read ages ago that says whatever you are trying to say but you don't remember who actually wrote that paper and when just as much as the next person. But just because I don't enjoy it that doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do.
Perhaps, coming from this background it shouldn't have surprised me a while back when I realised I wasn't trusting this paper I was reading mainly because the introduction had annoyed me immensely - they hadn't cited where they got their ideas from. And it wasn't anything trivial, they were making (in my opinion) controversial claims and were making it sound like nobody had published on the topic before.
Here is where the similarity to blogs and the internet comes in for me.
Let's take food blogs as an example. Recipes don't happen in a vacuum. You always get your inspiration from somewhere and more often than not you get your inspiration from recipes and other people's cooking.

The thing is, 'it's not wrong to copy [...]. But it's wrong to deny where you [got] the idea from.'

(Claude Bosi in the lovely chef rant at the beginning of Lucky Peach #3 - see what I'm doing here? I'm telling you where I got some of my inspiration from...go and buy that issue by the way, it has amazing recipes for microwave chocolate cake  and pineapple upside-down cake in there).
When I write a blog post I try to make it clear where I got a recipe from or even just what inspired me because there are so many talented people out there who have so many incredible ideas. And they are sharing them with us. I want them to keep sharing them with me. I want to start off reading about interior design as I am on my eternal quest to find two non-ugly sofa cushions and then realise that it's three hours later and I am currently learning how to make juicy pork buns or how to do a pike with a gym ball without hurting myself.

I love writing about what I cook and bake. And I want you to give the recipes a try or tell your friends about something you made. I also want you to know where they came from because part of why I'm writing this blog is to tell you a story. A story about my life, what inspires me, the blogs I read, the cookbooks I can't get enough of, the trashy tv shows I watch, and whatever else I feel like sharing at that point.
But I am sharing my recipes and photos with the implicit understanding that if somebody uses my work they will at least link to the source.

It is all about trust. We write journal articles with the implicit understanding that when somebody uses our work they will cite it. So what is so different about what we write on the internet?
What worries me about the attitude of 'well that's how I do this, deal with it' which tends to come with the comment of 'if you are a photographer and want me to delete one of your photos from my page, email me' is the fact that this means in the extreme that you, as the person who has created, say a photo, now have to search for instances where people used your images without your permission. Wasting time that you could spend taking more photographs.
In a way it's like an argument that suddenly shifts the burden of proof. Suddenly it's your job to deal with the mess that people who do not link back to their sources have created.

I think intellectual property is important. Not in the 'run you off my property with a shotgun' kinda way (which, thinking about it, is probably the approach major music labels are taking) but more like 'I'm happy for you to enjoy this beautiful garden I have created as long as you respect that it's mine and don't trample the rose bushes'.
Just because you see other blogs or webpages (often even commercial ones) not respecting intellectual property that doesn't make it right. What I love about blogs and tumblr is that you can see how an idea takes off. Somebody posts a recipe and you can follow its ripples through other food blogs. Somebody posts a photo and you can follow it through pinterest and piccsy and tumblr pages and whatnot. You can discover so many other interesting things (and waste your entire weekend on the internet rather than tidying your flat).  I'm addicted to those graphics you can get on some science search engines that allow you to trace who cited a paper and who cited that paper and so forth. What citing allows us do to is see how work is related to previous work and how one idea takes off and is used by others, adapted, reinterpreted, re-analysed, potentially disproved and so forth. But we wouldn't be able to see the thread this idea is weaving through a field or even several fields if people weren't citing each other.

What you do when you are citing your sources is showing that you respect somebody else's  thoughts/work/creativity. You are showing that you respect them as human beings.
And respect (note, that I'm not saying agreement because that has, at that point, nothing to do with it) is all we can ever give and expect.

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