Hellwig Farm Market

I found a farm market run by a wonderful person just 10 minutes from my home in New Albany, OH: Hellwig Farm. As a member of Slow Food Columbus, I’m learning how to connect more directly to the food and farms that feeds us. This visit helped feed my mind and soul as well as my body.

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I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Bell Bowen at this year’s Fête en Blanc Columbus. She took a terrific photo of me at the event and I drove out to get a digital copy of that photo from her. I was surprised to find that her farm is as close to my home as my local Wal-Mart.

Jennifer is from a farming family and she is as charming and friendly as she is beautiful. A recent article in Edible Columbus provides a nice write-up on Jennifer and her work to provide free food for needy families in the area, so I won’t repeat that story here, but it’s heartwarming to know that there are people like Jennifer who care so much about her neighbors to help meet their needs with dignity. It’s wonderful that the proceeds from this year’s Fête help support these efforts.

We chatted while I copied Jennifer’s photos and she boxed up some produce. Then I started selecting various items for myself to take home, piling them on her counter. She gave me a  price for the lot. I don’t recall what the total was, but it was very little. Jennifer explained that she wasn’t looking to make a lot of money on her produce and that she doesn’t participate in the local farmers markets because she doesn’t want to undercut the prices of others there.

Only after I got home did I realize how much I had bought for so little money! And it was so healthy and delicious! Fresh sweet corn; young kale leaves (so tender that I just quickly stir-fried them like spinach); local honey made in New Albany (that should help ward off my hay fever allergy); raspberries (for only $2 for the pint!); mildly hot peppers; and heirloom tomatoes (so beautiful and delicious!). This load kept me eating fresh food for a week!

Two weeks later, I went back for more. I made a note of what I got this time: 6 ears of corn; 2 3/4 pounds of heirloom tomatoes; 1 1/2 pounds of beets; a 2 pound butternut squash; a 4 3/4 pound cabbage; 10 oz of fresh garlic. The cost: less than what I would have paid for the tomatoes alone at my local farmers market!

I’m a big supporter of the New Albany Farmers Market – it’s one of the best in central Ohio, with a wide variety of local offerings and friendly vendors. But while the season lasts, I’ll be heading out to Hellwig Farm first to see what Jennifer has to offer. And I’ll be eating very healthy for about the same price as supermarket food.

Hellwig Farm is open Wednesday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm until August 31st. “Friend” Hellwig Farm on Facebook to be informed of her limited opening hours after that.

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Stuffed Bitter Melon

Photo from Felicia Friesema LA Weekly Many have written on the health benefits of Chinese bitter melon. I grew up enjoying them – my father prepared them at home Cantonese-style and we often ordered them in Cantonese restaurants – despite their fairly intense bitter taste. Pop always said eating bitter melon was good because they made everything after that taste sweet.

I was delighted to find them offered in my local farmers market. I bought a couple, but then had to find a recipe for them, having never cooked them myself. I had just prepared a batch of wontons and had some ground pork mixture left over, so I found a recipe for stuffed bitter melon – often offered in dim sum restaurants. I modified it a bit, to use what I had on hand.

Stuffed bitter melon

Braising stuffed bitter melon

The stuffed bitter melon were absolutely delicious! They were, appropriately, a little bitter, but what came through was a sweetness, with light saltiness and umami – everything except sour, beautifully balanced and subtle.

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The pieces were quite pretty, and when cut open, showed the mushroom-shaped pork mixture, reflecting the mushrooms in the stuffing and sauce. They tasted far more delicate than those I’ve had in restaurants, perhaps because of the really fresh, locally grown bitter melons I used. Given the delicate taste of the melon, I don’t think it will take much for my friends to acquire a taste for these lovely little gems!

Stuffed Bitter Melon (adapted from Yi Reservation’s recipe)

1lb bitter melon (2 melons)
½ lb ground pork mixture (from Wonton recipe)
3 dried large Chinese mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 1/2 hour to soften

Braising Sauce

1tsp Chinese black bean sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sugar
1 cup mushroom soaking water
½ tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tbsp of water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the bitter melon cross-wise into 1 inch thick pieces. Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain.

2. Combine the ground pork with minced Chinese mushroom stems and 1 minced mushroom cap.

3. Use a small spoon to carve out the seeds and some soft flesh in the middle of the melon.

4. Stuff the melon with meat stuffing until it forms a small dome.

5. Over low heat, pan-fry the stuffed bitter melon in some cooking oil until the bottom part is browned – about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.

6. In the frypan, mix the black bean sauce, garlic, stock or water, sugar, pepper. Bring the sauce to boil.

7. Add the pan-fried melon and 2 sliced shiitake mushroom caps. Braise it over low heat with lid on until translucent – about 25 minutes. Add sesame oil and cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Add salt, if needed.

Wontons

Pan-fried wontonsI’ve enjoyed making homemade wontons with family and friends throughout the years, using my father’s recipe. Here’s the recipe:

Norton Chu’s Wontons

Ingredients:

1 lb            thin wonton skins (Westlake)
– or –
2 lbs          thick wonton skins (Canton)

1 ½ lbs      pork

1 lb            shrimp

4                Chinese sausages

8                fresh water chestnuts, peeled
– or –
2 stalks      Chinese celery

2 T             light soy sauce

1                egg

1 t              sesame oil

2 T             cornstarch

Preparation:

  1. Chop/grind pork, sausage, water chestnuts or Chinese celery. (I use the chopping blade in a Cuisinart food processor).
  2. Peel and hand cut each shrimp into 3-5 pieces, depending on size.
  3. Mix all ingredients – except shrimp – together with an egg beater.
  4. Fold in shrimp pieces.
  5. Wrap wontons (I’ll add the wrapping technique after I find my photos of each wrapping step).
  6. Boil wontons in a large pot of salted water until they float; cool cooked wontons in a pot of cold water; strain in a colander.
  7. Put cooked wontons in a large baggie; mix in some olive oil to keep them from  sticking together.
  8. Use in soup
    – or –
    Pan fry until nicely browned on one or two sides over medium heat in hot peanut or olive oil; serve with Worcestershire sauce and sweet chili sauce
    – or –
    Deep fry
    – or –
    Freeze for later use.

Deep-fried wontonsI modified the recipe to make a pot luck dish for a locavore dinner by using meats from Thurn’s Specialty Meats in Columbus. Of course, I was stuck using wonton skins and condiments from the local Asian stores (I wasn’t going to prepare my own wonton wrappers), but all the other ingredients were from local Ohio providers.

Locavore Wontons

Ingredients: (meats from Thurn’s; produce from local farmers market)

1 lb            thin wonton skins (Westlake)
– or –
2 lbs          thick wonton skins (Canton)

1 3/4 lbs    pork

3                Landjadger sausages (5 oz)

5 oz           double-smoked bacon

2 stalks      celery

2 T             light soy sauce

1                egg

1 t              sesame oil

2 T             cornstarch

Preparation, as above.

The taste was intriguingly smoky, as intended. The filling was a little less juicy than the original, but they met the locavore requirements of the dinner.

Knife Sharpener in New Albany

New Albany Farmers Market

Our little community of New Albany, Ohio has a wonderful farmers market every Thursday afternoon during the summer. I’ve gotten quite spoiled being able to get grass-fed beef, chicken feet, pork tongues, local wildflower honey, vegetables, corn, and wonderful peaches from local farmers and have been awaiting its season opening, June 27th. I was delighted to find a new truck there on Thursday: a knife and tool sharpener!

Knife-sharpener's truckAny chef will tell you how important it is to have really good, sharp knives. I have a Chef’s Choice Diamond Hone Electric Knife Sharpener, but I put it away a couple of years ago and haven’t taken the time to find it. Meanwhile, my knives have been losing their edge. But also, my decades-old curved Cuisinart chopping blades have never been sharpened and they are noticeably duller than they were.

So I popped my head into the open rear door of the sharpening truck and asked the woman there – Rebecca Lyon – if she could sharpen a curved Cuisinart chopping blade. I told her it was not removable from its plastic hub and had been told by a knife sharpening service I had called on the west side of Columbus that they couldn’t sharpen it. She said she might, so I drove the 3/4 mile home, picked up the 2 chopping blades I have, and drove them back to show her.

Belt sander, on the leftRebecca took one look and said she could sharpen them. Using a small vertical belt sander – one of several machines she had on counters around the inside of her truck – she delicately hand guided the curved blade edges along the sanding belt a few times on each blade. Then she reached into one of the many storage drawers in her truck, pulled out a finishing stone, and deburred the back edges. I was impressed. I asked how much I owed her and she said it would be $5 for the two blades. When I asked her why it was so little she replied that I had been her first customer of the day. I told her I had more knives to be sharpened and she said she’d be back at the New Albany Farmers Market the 4th Thursday of every month. I told her I’d see her next month.

Recalling how dull my cooking knives had gotten, I decided I could be late to our little neighborhood cocktail party and gathered up some of my main kitchen knives and took them back for sharpening, rather than suffering for another month with dull knives.

Rebecca sharpeningRebecca got right to work, using a dual-headed blade sharpening machine. She made several passes with each blade and tested the sharpness by cutting a paper towel that she had folded over several times and sprayed with water. She adjusted the speed and separation of the sharpening discs as she sharpened each blade.

My chef’s knife was in pretty bad shape, with some dings in the edge and a blunted tip, having been dropped on the floor. She sharpened up the tip with the belt sander and took several more passes with the sharpening machine to get it into shape.

It took about 15 minutes for her to sharpen the 4 knives. When Rebecca told me it would be $13, I complained “What??! That’s too little!” She was a little startled. I told her I’d be back again next month so she could take care of more of my knives.

Sharpened blades

So here are my sharpened blades. They work beautifully. Nicely honed blades have a special feel to them: As they cut, they are much more precisely controllable, and hence, much safer to use!

If you’re in the Columbus area, do yourself a favor and get your knives, scissors, and tools sharpened! The Sharpening on Site website has a schedule of the various farmers markets and other sites at which they’ll appear. I’ll see you next month, Rebecca!

Sous Vide Cuttlefish Tagliatelle

Another sous vide success: Cuttlefish Tagliatelle! An unusual dish that’s easy to prepare. Here’s my story.

Frozen cleaned cuttlefish at CAM

I found a package of frozen cleaned cuttlefish at my local Asian supermarket and tried to cook it as I had it in California many years ago: as an alternative to sauteed egg-coated abalone paillard. It was okay, but not really up to my abalone standards, so I looked for another way to prepare the remaining pieces. I recalled reading about Cuttlefish Tagliatelle so went on the hunt.

Thomas Keller’s book “Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide” has the recipe, available in a modified form in a blog I found, so I used it as a guide.

I thawed and cleaned the 2 pieces of cuttlefish I had remaining, mixed together some olive oil, salt & pepper, ground cumin, rosemary, thyme, minced onion, and minced red bell pepper, and spread a coat of the mixture on the cuttlefish pieces. I put each in a quart-sized Ziploc freezer bag, sucked out the air with a straw, and sealed them.

Packed cuttlefish with marinade

Packs in rack

Because the cuttlefish were so thin, they wouldn’t stand up in my SousVide rack, so I wove them through the rack, keeping the pieces from overlapping, and laid the rack horizontally in the water bath. I cooked them in my SousVide Supreme Demi at 147° for 10 hours.

Sliced cuttlefish

I drained and reserved the cooking liquid from the pouches, resealed them and chilled the cooked cuttlefish in ice water while making the dressing in the blog from lemon juice, olive oil, soy sauce, shaohsing wine (in place of the mirin in the recipe), garlic, and ground pepper. I sliced the chilled cuttlefish pieces into strips and tossed them in the dressing.

I enjoyed the look and texture of the cuttlefish – toothy yet tender – but found the dressing a little too simple. I mixed in a little mayonnaise and a bit of the cooking liquid and liked it, happily eating all of the two pieces for lunch.

I used the reserved cooking liquid, with additional chicken broth, to make quite a tasty risotto. In fact, it would make a nice accompaniment to a warm cuttlefish tagliatelle.

Alternatively, the cuttlefish “pasta” would make a tasty and interesting cold salad, served on lettuce leaves, but will need 1-2 pieces per person, depending on the serving size.

Next time, I’ll cut the cuttlefish into thinner strips – about the same width as the thickness of the cuttlefish; the cuttlefish will probably still hold together as strands without breaking apart. If serving the cuttlefish cold, I’ll take more care to whisk together a vinaigrette of the ingredients before tossing the cuttlefish strips in it. I’ll also be more diligent in sucking out more of the air (I’ll probably use my vacuum packing machine), and try folding over the packets to stand each in a single slot in the rack.

Malaysian Joong

My grandfather used to make joong – tamale-like packets of glutinous rice, meat, and other goodies wrapped in bamboo leaves – that I loved to eat. They are available in Chinese supermarkets, but they never quite have the wonderful fillings that my grandpa included in his. So I was delighted when Angela Liu’s mother, Wan, offered to teach Katie Chio and me how to make them. Wan’s family came from the same area of China as my grandpa, but her joong were Malaysian style, made in a different shape and with different fillings from the traditional Cantonese joong. Still, I was eager to learn so I could later include the fillings I remembered when I made my own.

The Malaysian joong are tetrahedral in shape – with 4 equal triangular sides – instead of the elongated pillow shape of the Cantonese versions, and they are filled with a mixture of  diced pork belly, shrimp, Chinese mushrooms, and ground coriander. The tricky part about making these joong is the wrapping of the bamboo bundles. Katie was a star student, picking up the technique quickly, but the one lesson wasn’t enough for me to perfect my wrapping technique; it will take more practice for me to replicate the tightly wrapped bundles that Wan created. Still, they turned out quite deliciously and despite the different filling ingredients, brought back fond memories of my grandpa’s joong.

28231619Malaysian Joong

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 packet bamboo leaves

kitchen twine

5 pounds long-grain sweet rice

5 shallots, sliced

1/2 cup oil

5 1/2 teaspoons salt

Filling:

1 3/4 pounds pork belly, with skin removed, diced

8 ounces dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked in hot water, and diced

dried shrimp (optional)

2 teaspoons ground coriander

3 teaspoons white pepper

salt, pepper, and sugar to taste

PREPARATION:

Wash and soak the rice for two hours.

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Take about 75 dried bamboo leaves and boil them in a large pot of water for 30 minutes to soften them. Cut off the tough stem ends of the leaves. Wash the leaves. Soak them again in cool water to keep them soft.

Sauté the shallots in oil until brown. Drain the rice. Stir in salt and shallot cooking oil.

Prepare string to tie joong by making a bundle of five strings, each 2 feet long, tied together with a loop at the end. Make 8 bundles. Place the loop of one bundle around a supporting hook, with space below it to place and tie a joong.

Now the tricky part: wrapping. Probably best understood by watching the process in the following videos. I’ve provided 3 videos of Wan making 4 joong to provide different perspectives and clarify points of the wrapping process.



Place two bamboo leaves together, overlapping by about two thirds, with the smooth side of the leaves facing up. Fold the leaves to the side and up, about 1/3 way up, to form a pointed pocket, cradled in your left hand. Put 2 heaping tablespoons rice into the pocket, then 3 heaping tablespoons filling, then top with 2 heaping tablespoons rice, filing the pocket.

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Fold the top down across the rice packet. Tuck down the left, then right edges of the top leaves, cradling the outside of the packet. Bring the sides of the top leaves together and wrap around to the right of the packet.

Take one strand of string and wrap it around the joong twice. Make a square knot, tightening the tie by pulling against the string supported by the hook.

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Continue wrapping joong with the remaining leaves, rice, and filling.

Boil a large kettle of water. Place the joong into the water and return water to a boil. Lower the heat and gently simmer the joong for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size and density of the joong.

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Cut string, unwrap joong, and discard the leaves & string. Serve.

Cooked joong may be refrigerated or frozen. Thaw, steam to reheat and serve.

Warm joong can also be sliced, flattened, coated with a beaten egg, and browned in a fry pan.

May be served drizzled with oyster sauce.

2815101628151106Thank you, Wan, for the wonderful lesson!

Fried Sesame Balls (Jin Deui 煎堆)

Angela Liu’s mom, Wan, came over from her home in Malaysia to help with Angela’s baby delivery and care. As a bonus, Wan instructed Angela and a few friends how to prepare various Cantonese dishes.

DSC09584The first dish was fried sesame balls. I was especially excited to take her lesson on this, as sesame balls straight out of the fryer are a real treat. Like fresh bagels, sesame balls, once cooled, just aren’t the same.

DSC09617FRIED SESAME BALLS / GLUTINOUS RICE BALLS

INGREDIENTS

Red Bean Paste:

1 pound red beans

8 cups water

Glutinous Rice Balls:

1 3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup oil

1 pound glutinous rice flour

1 cup sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water

1 cup white sesame seeds

Peanut oil for frying

PREPARATION

Soak the red beans in cold water for two hours. Drain and discard the water. Add the cups water to the beans and bring the water to a boil. Cook the beans over low heat for about 1 1/2 hours, until they are tender.  Purée the cooked beans in a blender. Heat the puréed beans in a hot wok with the sugar and oil to make a paste. Let cool.

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Mix the water slowly until the flour forms a ball, adding water as needed, to create a dough of thick pie dough consistency.

Pull off about a 1/2 inch marble of dough. Flatten into a concave disk about 2 inches in diameter.

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Make a small marble of red bean paste. Place it in the center of the dough disk. Seal the dough to make a ball and roll it between your hands to make it round.

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Roll the ball in the sesame seeds and coat it thoroughly. Roll the ball between your hands to press the seeds lightly into the dough. Place on a plate and continue to make additional balls.

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Heat the oil in a wok to a low frying temperature (about 325°). Lower heat to medium-low (warning: higher heat will cause the sesame seeds to burn). Put a batch of five balls into the hot oil and roll them around in the oil periodically for about the first two minutes of cooking. They will start to brown.

Press each ball down with a flat spatula against the bottom of the wok for about 10 seconds until it begins to puff, then release it and move on to the next ball. When done with all the balls, return to the first one and press it down against its edge, shaping it back into a ball, for another 10 seconds until it begins to puff again. Release and proceed with the other balls. Continue this pressing for about eight minutes, until the balls have become golden brown. drain on paper towels.

Here’s a secret: The more you press them, the larger the ball will puff and the thinner the shell of the ball will become! So if you like the balls thin and delicate, press away!

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Serve and eat while warm and crispy.

Makes about 4 dozen sesame balls.

NOTE: Glutinous rice flour can be found in any Asian market. Here is a photo of the brand we used.