My experiments in cooking often come from a range of influences, and it is interesting to see how different influences morph and combine to create something new.  In this case, it created a really terrible dish.
The last two cookbooks I read were Bitter by Jennifer McLagan and Daniel: My French Cuisine by Daniel Boulud.  In the former, Jennifer sings the praises of bitter foods, from endive and Campari to dark chocolate and tobacco.  She especially highlights the cardoon, a plant that looks like the prehistoric cousin to celery, but is actually in the artichoke family.  I've cooked cardoons a few years before, after reading about their use in the iconic Venice restaurant, Harry's Bar.   The cardoons made a very nice, artichoke-tasting soup, but fell off my radar as time went on.  Now, with cardoons fresh in my mind from Bitter, I snatched them up at our local grocers.
Overlapping escallops of scallops on greased foil
Trying to figure out what to do with the cardoons in my shopping cart, I saw medium-sized scallops on sale.  In Daniel, there's a beautiful technique of slicing scallops thinly into medallions, then overlapping them to create a rosette shape.  As the scallops cook, the thin slices seal together to create a scallop disc.  The image of sweet scallops resting on a bed of earthy cardoons began to form in my head.  In a later recipe, Daniel Boulud wraps seared scallops in a nettle-infused foam, giving the impression of a vibrant green spray of sea foam.
Whipping the morel liquid with soy lecithin to produce a foam
To help bridge the earthiness of the cardoon with the sweetness of the scallops, I toasted crushed hazelnuts and made a foam of dried morel mushroom's soaking liquid.  I was feeling very pleased with the dish.  At the base was a mixture of blanched cardoon slices, sauteed together with shallots and baby bella mushrooms.  On top was the rosette of scallops, which was just seared in a nonstick pan to set it together.  A scattering of toasted hazelnuts to finish, and then a spoonful of frothy morel foam on top and cradling the sides.
I put the plates down for Carla and myself and took a bite.  Wow...that's aggressively bitter...almost astringent... I thought.  But maybe I was being too hard on myself.  Maybe the dish is just "OK", but not as awful as that first bite.  I looked at Carla, who took her first bite.

"What do you think?" I casually enquired.
Her eyes bugged as she chewed.
"Have you tried this yet?" she asked, wondering if perhaps I was trying to poison her.
"It's that bad?"
"It's soooo bitter!" she exclaimed.

And it's true.  The dish was totally unbalanced.  The cardoon overwhelmed everything and blunted all of the other, more nuanced flavors I tried to include.  Honestly, the cardoon would have been better with equally strong ingredients; a base of cardoon and slivers of salty country ham, slices of sirloin on top, with broiled taleggio or some other pungent cheese on top.  That may have worked.  Maybe.

But I'll need to test it out myself next time, as I think my wife will be a bit wary if I place another plate of cardoons in front of her.
When I originally told my mom I'd be coming into some pork blood for sausage making, her first question was, "Will you be making Kiszka?"
Kiszka Blood Sausage and Kielbasa Ukrainska on Sauerkraut
Kiszka is a polish blood sausage, and much like kielbasa there's a number of variations in amounts of meat, species of meat, types of spices, and cooking methods.  This is a basic Kiszka recipe of blood, buckwheat groats, and meat, called Kiszka kaszana popularna from the Marianski/ Gebarowski book "Polish Sausages."

Compared to a French Boudin Noir or Spanish Morcilla, polish Kiszka often contains a large quantity of meat trimmings and skin.  These tough cuts of meat and skin require extended cooking that would normally make blood grainy and mealy.  So to start, the pork skins, pork trimmings, and beef are all cooked separately, until the meat is tender and the skin is soft and gelatinous.


While the meats are cooking, I sauteed some onions cooked in lard. I then toasted the buckwheat groats to help emphasize their nutty flavor.  Once the meats were cooked, the buckwheat went into the meat's poaching liquid.  Precooking the buckwheat is essential.  The last thing you'd want is for the buckwheat to cook and swell inside the sausage casing, ripping and bursting apart.  Now with the buckwheat gently simmering the meat gets cubed up and chilled.

Grind the (now chilled) meat and skin through a fine die, and combine with the cooked (and also cooled) buckwheat, onion, and a bit of fresh garlic, black pepper, salt and marjoram.   I added three pints of blood and stirred to spread the blood through the meat/onion/buckwheat mixture.  This is a pretty soupy mixture, so I really couldn't fry up a small patty to taste the seasoning.  A small egg ring actually worked out pretty well to make a mini "Kiszka pancake"
A bit more pepper to adjust the seasoning and I was ready to case it up.  Being so loose and slurry-esque, I just tied off one end of the casings and poured the mixture in with a funnel.  Occasionally an obstinate onion would need to get poked down the funnel mouth with a chopstick, but it actually worked very well.
Just like with a boudin noir, the kiszka is poached right after stuffing into casings.  This helps to set the blood and keep all the denser ingredients (meat, skin, and buckwheat) from separating out from the blood and sinking to the bottom of the sausage.  Again, like boudin noir, I found bringing a 3 gallon pot of water to a boil, then turning off the heat and dropping the sausages in worked perfect.  The large thermal mass of the water was hot enough to cook the sausages through, but gentle enough keep them from bursting.  There's a good drop in temperature once you add the sausages, so you may need to bring the heat up a bit to stay at 160 F if you're poaching in a smaller quantity of water.
Serving up a larger platter of Kiszka, my mom said it reminded her of the holidays when she'd pick up the locally made sausages from the butcher in her hometown of Weirton, West Virginia.  Compared to boudin noir, kiszka has a bit more of a crumbly texture, due to the ground meat, skin, and buckwheat.  It doesn't have that smooth, pudding-like texture of boudin noir, but it brings a much heartier flavor and toothsome texture to the table.  Perfect for a cold night with a steaming platter of sauerkraut and a bowl of horseradish-spiked sour cream.
My brother-in-law Matt has been experimenting with the recipes and techniques from the book, The Modernist Cuisine at Home.  It's fascinating to watch and taste his efforts, as modernist cuisine/molecular gastronomy is something I've only recently tried myself.  Matt's most memorable experiment was making the MC Silky Smooth Mac and Cheese.  He made a Velveeta-smooth cheese sauce, even with a granular, 26-month aged Gouda mixed in.  There were other cheeses in the mix, but the intense, salty-sweet butterscotch flavor of the Gouda came through loud and clear.  To make such a dense, crystalline cheese have the perfectly smooth taste of queso dip was amazing, but bizarre, and possibly heresy.
Morel-Studded MC Cheese Slice
Matt invited me to join him in dabbling in the dark arts, sharing some sodium citrate with me.   Sodium citrate is what creates the smoothness of this sauce.  By mixing sodium citrate with water, then whisking in grated cheese, the sodium citrate creates a sort-of-emulsion, by keeping the water in suspension with the proteins in the cheese.  This makes a smooth, creamy sauce that doesn't curdle into a gritty mess even when using a grating cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano.  It's actually quite similar to how they make Velveeta and Kraft singles, but you can control the quality of the cheese that goes into the sauce.
Sodium Citrate: A Little Goes a Long Way
I've actually had Matt's sodium citrate for a while, but took a long time figuring out what to make with it.  Matt already showed me you could harness the flavor of a long-aged, umami-rich cheese for this sauce, and I wanted to try something new.  Looking at the recipe, I noticed they said you can mix the cheese and sodium citrate with water or wheat beer.  Well, wheat beer is very different from water, as it swims with sugars, alcohol, yeasts, and probably some particulates from the grain.  So if the medium doesn't need to be water, what could I substitute?
How about the soaking water from mushrooms?  Great Midwest makes a fine Morel and Leek cheese, but it lacked the intensity of morels that I had hoped to taste.  Modernist Cuisine also has a variant of the recipe to make a sheet of Silky Smooth Cheese, allowing you to make slices for grilled cheese or topping a gratin.  So how about a slice of morel-studded cheese?
The recipe itself (linked above) is very simple.  I wanted to see how much the morel flavor would come through, so I kept things simple with basic deli cheeses from the grocers.  I rehydrated the mushrooms, then drained off their soaking liquid.  I reduced the soaking liquid at a gentle simmer to intensify the flavors, then proceeded with the recipe.  True to its promise, I had a silky smooth sauce of cheese.  In went the diced morel pieces.  A quick whisk to distribute the mushroom through the sauce, and then I spread the mixture across a cool, greased pan to firm up.
The results were interesting, mushroomy, and not quite what I expected.  I really like the morel flavor in the cheese slices, which I've tried as a grilled cheese and inside an omelet.  But honestly, the texture of the cheese still tastes very processed to me.  I didn't like cheese as a kid.  I did not grow up on Velveeta (or any cheese) and after cutting my teeth on raw-milk cheddar and crumbly goat cheese, it's still odd for me to get my head around the mouth-coating texture of "American singles" cheese.  Matt's cheese wow'd me with a flavor that I recognized in a form I never dreamed of.  My own experiment, while very tasty, almost seems too close to industrial cheese, despite studded with delicious morels..  In comparison, Carla loves this cheese, and didn't have any of the textural hang-ups I experienced.

It's funny.  I've learned to love the textural challenge of smooth tripe or a kidney, but Kraft singles still give me pause.



While at the grocery store the other day, I came across something rather unexpected in Pennsylvania in November: galangal root.  Granted, it wasn't grown here, but it's an ingredient I've only been able to cook with a few times.  Similar to ginger, galangal is used throughout Thai cuisine.  It's stronger, and more pungent than ginger, in the way a habanero pepper is exponentially stronger than a jalapeno pepper.
The Galangal is the one on the Right
Snatching up a large root from the display, the thick, overlapping bands of the galangal's skin felt like the smooth scales of some enormous fish.  Fish soup?  I thought about that idea, then remembered the beautiful orange hubbard squash Carla's mother had given us from a farmer's market.

Sauteing the Squash and Sliced Galangal
 I decided to keep with the Thai inspiration and make a coconut milk based soup.  I cubed the squash and sauteed it until it was beginning to brown.  In the meantime I peeled and chopped the galangal into large rings.  Another difference between galangal and ginger?  Galangal feels like you're cutting through a piece of wood.  It's really, really dense.  Chopping it up, the galangal released a sinus-clearing, zesty aroma.  It felt quite refreshing on a cold and frigid day.  I kept them in large rings for easy removal from the soup later, then added the sliced galangal to the pan and sauteed them along with the squash.

For the broth, I added a pint of homemade chicken stock, two cans of coconut milk, a dollop of spicy sambal chile paste, and a splash of fish sauce.  I let everything simmer for about 35 minutes until the squash was tender.  It tasted good, but it could use some added texture, so I cubed up a block of tempeh and added it in.  The soup was at a low simmer, so I just turned off the heat and let it infuse for another half hour.
Spooning up a bowl of the soup, I garnished it with a small handful of chopped cilantro and a few slices of fresh red fresno chilies.  It was really good - rich and creamy like a classic pumpkin soup, but with bright Thai flavors of heat, herbs, and a deep savor from the fish sauce.  Carla especially liked that there were tender cubes of pumpkin and firm cubes of tempeh, as so often squash soups are pureed smooth and baby food-esque.

One note on the galangal:  while it's flavor was present, it was a bit muted in the finished soup.  I'm curious if the heat and spice was tempered by the fat of the coconut milk, or if I should have grated it for better flavor release?  I've still got a large knob of galangal left, which will give me plenty for further experiments.
Wow, the title for this post may be the most unappetizing thing I've written.  So let me give some explanation:

Over the summer, Bon Appetit had an image in a side column on chefs doing in-house fermentation.  It plotted different chefs' experiments on a scale ranging from mild to super funky, with David Chang's pork Butabushi and Chris Cosentino's Roman-style fish garum at the far end of the spectrum.  Nestled in the middle was the idea to ferment vegetables as you would sauerkraut, then juice these fermented veggies to create a sauce for fresh veggies.
Fermenting Chioggia Beets, Carrots, and White Turnips

It sounded so cool, I had to start my own batch.  In making saurkraut, you're creating a salt water brine and pickling the veggies with lacto-fermenting bacteria.  These good bacteria happily exist in a saline environment, which is inhospitable to bad bacteria.  Now, I've usually got a crock of cabbage slowly turning into sauerkraut, so I used the juice from that to kick-start the fermentation.  Cabbage cannot be beat as a source for naturally occurring lactobacillus that collect on their leaves.  So shred, add salt, and the cabbage and bacteria will basically take it from there.

So I did this first with carrots, adding a cup of raw sauerkraut brine to the chopped up carrots, then topping up the jar with plain salt water brine.  Four weeks later, I juiced them to sauce fresh roasted carrots.  It turned out so well, I did a second batch, along with a jar of chioggia beets and a jar of baby white turnips.  Oddly the beets lost their pink color and now seem white.  Perhaps regular red beets would have been more color-fast.

Theses photos are from the second time I made roasted carrots.  I scrubbed and trimmed a bunch of fresh carrots, tossed them in olive oil and roasted them at 400 F until they were tender and slightly brown.  While they roasted, I juiced a little more than a cup of fermented carrot chunks, and added a half cup of fresh carrots to the juicer for a fresh, sweet flavor.  Roasting carrots can dry them out in the oven, so I added an almond-sized knob of butter to the fermented/fresh carrot juice mix and poured it over the roasted carrots.  Back in the oven for five minutes, the carrots seemed to plump up with the added juice, although that could just be some of the pulp from the juice coating the surface.
Out of the oven the carrots have a really intense flavor.  Not very sour or tart, but savory, salty, and just barely pungent, as if a dab of horseradish was in the mix.  I've very excited to keep going with this and see how different vegetables respond to the fermenting/juicing/saucing process.