Sunday, October 30, 2011

Strobe Photography - More Fun with Camera

As I was surfing YouTube I came across interesting movie about photographing water droplets. Since I had everything needed for this specialised form of photography, generally called “strobing”, I just had to try it. I needed solid tripod, flash, radio strobe trigger set and lots of time on hand. The fact that I also have a light tent for close-ups was big advantage. Here are the results. Watch the video on YouTube to see how the set-up and focusing works.

In this shot I used Cloudy White Balance setting. Rest of the photographs were taken with Tungsten White Balance.

Canon Rebel T1i, Manual mode, 1/60 shutter, Macro lens 50mm 1:3.5 set at f/16 and 1:3 magnification, ISO 400, Yongnuo Digital flash YN468 at 1/16 power, Jianisi PT-04TM radio trigger, Cullmann 2904 tripod and head.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Yes, I have joined the crowd of bloggers participating in Charcutelapooza, challenge program devised by blogger “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen”, a blog where meat rules supreme.
Last week I ordered  Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing” by Michael Ruhlman from Next day the book was in so I dove right in. I have been making and smoking my own sausages for few years now so it is nothing new for me but I wanted to expand my repertoire. One recipe that caught my eye was Duck Prosciutto. Speaking of diving right in, two duck breasts are in the refrigerator being cured right now and I will update in 8 days how it will turn out. It takes 1–2 days for salting and 7 days for drying/curing, so obviously, this isn’t something that you decide in the morning what you will eat in the afternoon, after all.
While searching Internet for additional duck prosciutto recipes I came across Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen web site with her Charcutelapooza, Let’s make meat. This is carnivore’s, like me, dream! Even though all the challenges are over by now I will run all of them anyway and will post results. Great program for our long winter months.
I have added link to this great challenge on sidebar of my blog. Explore!

My very first batch of Chorizo sausages. They were great!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Czech Farmer’s Cheese Pie - Kolaches

Tvarohové Koláče
Last week I have decided to make one of the most popular and traditional pastry in Czech kitchen, Kolache or Wedding Pie (every Czech wedding has variety of these delights). It is traditionally made round, about  4” in diameter and around one inch thick using sweet yeast dough and topped with variety of toppings like ground poppy seeds, prune jam and most popular of all, creamed farmer’s cheese. If farmer’s cheese is not available, dry ricotta or paneer are great substitute. I have a recipe here for homemade paneer. I prefer to raise the yeast dough in a refrigerator overnight, it has a much finer texture when baked. Also, I always use food processor with steel cutting blade to make any dough, especially pizza dough, so instruction will reflect this. It is the fastest method with great results and with minimal clean-up. I know that in baking measurements are taken very seriously but since I didn’t find any recipe that looked like what my mother made I just came up with my very own version and it worked fantastic on first try!
Note: You can use just plain bread flour or even all-purpose flour, I guess, but I have not tried it so I have no idea how light the kolache will be.
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cup bread or hard flour
1 envelope instant yeast or 1-1/4 tsp. dry instant yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1 egg
2 Tbs. melted butter
2/3 cup warm milk (more or less, depending on moisture content of the flour)

Place flour, yeast, salt and sugar in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade and pulse few times until well combined. Add egg (no need to separate the egg) and turn on for about 10 seconds. Add melted butter and process for another 10 seconds. The flour will look grainy. Turn processor on and pour in 1/2 cup of milk. After 15 seconds or so start adding additional milk 1 Tbs. at the time until the dough starts to come together. When it forms a ball the dough is done. Remove the dough from work bowl, form it into a smooth ball and place in lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator overnight. 

Cheese Topping
250 grams Farmer’s cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup raisins soaked in warm milk
1/4 cup sour cream or 2 Tbs. 35% cream
With electric hand mixer or wooden spool beat the cheese with egg, sugar, cream, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Do not over mix, leave some farmers cheese lumps intact. Mix in raisins, cover and set aside.

Four hours before baking remove dough from the fridge. Roll the dough into a log shape about 2-1/2” diameter and then cut pieces about the same length. Roll the pieces into a ball, flatten them to finger thick disk with higher rim, place them on oiled baking sheet, cover and keep in draft-free and warm place till they raise a bit, about 1 hour. Brush the edges with melted butter, spread the filling on top of kolaches to within 1/2” of the edge and sprinkle with shaved almonds. Place in 400 °F preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve still warm.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It is Nice to Have Indoor Hobbies

Today was a typical rainy, cold and windy day. No outdoor activities for me, no sir. Since I hardly watch any TV at all and I didn’t feel like reading even though I have 2 books and 2 magazines started, it left cooking and taking some indoor pictures. As far as cooking goes I made a load of pot-stickers for tonight’s meal and for freezer. That took over 3 hours and then it was camera’s turn. I love close-up and macro photography and I have all the equipment to do it so it was just a question of a subject. Close-ups of sandy or pebble beaches are always interesting and I do have a tiny pebble beach in our Japanese Garden but there was no way that I will crawl on wet ground and in the rain. There was only one solution: beach has to come inside. Piece of cake! Styrofoam plate used for packaged meat was base for my “beach”, spray water bottle provided the “rain” and my light-box finished the set-up. Yup, it is nice to have multiple hobbies! J

"Pebble Beach on Rainy Day."

Or, is it?

And here is the set-up. 2 fluorescent fill lights and 1 off camera TTL flash bouncing light from reflective top of the light box. f/22, 1/8 second, ISO 400, 55mm lens

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fun with Camera – October

I know that lots of people like Fall but for me it is not a favorite part of the year. I know that for few weeks it is very colorful time of the year, especially here in Ontario, and that it offers tons of picture taking opportunities, but for me it is a sad season. Everything around me in nature is dying or coming to rest and I just don’t see beauty in that. I love Spring when everything is fresh and growing and everywhere you look there is new life. I guess I have to wait 6 months for that so meanwhile, as far as picture taking opportunities go, I’ll shoot some leaves and the usual fall pictures.
Last month I bought variable neutral density filter (ND) for my 18 – 55mm and 70 – 300mm zoom lenses. What an incredible piece of equipment! It lets me stretch the shutter speed and gives the picture very interesting quality. You see pictures of waterfalls, rivers, lakes etc. in magazines and calendars but most people don’t know how that blurry, sort of dreamy look was achieved. Last few weeks I around with this ND filter and here are some examples.

Ornamental grasses on a windy day.
f/11, 1.3 second, ND filter, ISO 100, Aperture Priority. Thanks to longer exposure made possible by use of ND filter you can see the movement of the grasses.

Lake Lisgar, Tillsonburg.
f/16, 15 seconds, ND filter, ISO 100, Aperture Priority. With ND filter set about 3/4 maximum the lake looks flat, not even a ripple. Anytime I use the ND filter I rely on my super heavy Manfrotto tripod.

Lake Lisgar, Tillsonburg.
f/20, .5 second, ND filter, ISO 100, Aperture Priority.

Otter Creek, Tillsonburg.
f/5, 1/20 seconds, +1ND filter, ISO 100, Aperture Priority
In regular shot the rapids look fast and choppy.

Otter Creek, Tillsonburg.
f/11, 1.6 seconds, ND filter, ISO 100, Aperture Priority. With longer exposure the rapids appear slow and smooth.

Port Bruce, Lake Erie.
f/10, 1/8 second, ND filter, ISO 400, Aperture Priority. Here the ND filter acts as a regular polarizer filter, which it basically is, and darkens the sky.

Black Walnut, Sparta, Ontario.
f/7, 1/200 second, ND filter, ISO 400, -1 Exposure compensation, off camera flash with E-TTL on. Since I was shooting straight against the sun the flash was a must.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Great Way to Shrink Garden Waste

Since I don’t have room or place for compost pile I have to dispose of all our garden waste either at our town’s Transfer Station or in regular garbage. Line ups at Transfer Station are huge at this time of the year, 60 cars or more. You have to sign in with full name and address, then drive in, back up against the pile of other people's waste, unload and drive out to make room for more cars. You are looking at half an hour wait to dump few containers. On top of it, the Station is opened only 2 days a week for 3 hours. The smaller neighboring towns have dumps opened 24/7! Go figure. Our garden end-of-season clean-up is spread over quite a few weeks so I came up with a good way to shrink the volume so that we can drop it in garbage bag with a regular household waste, no extra bag, and therefore no extra garbage tag (we have to pay user fee for every bag with weight and bag size limits restrictions). My way works even better if there is a stretch of couple sunny days to dry up the processed waste. All you need is lawnmower that mulches and collects. Even though I have never composted I am sure that this waste treatment would work great for composting.
Here is what I do.

This is all that was left, about 1/4 in volume of what I started with...

and after 2 days of drying it shrunk even more. Ready for a garbage bag.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Middle of October Garden Update

Garden is slowly but surely coming to rest. Dahlias are still in full bloom and zinnias were replaced with fall mums. The grasses are now over 8 feet tall and sporting a gorgeous plumes. They are located south of our deck so the back-light shines right through them, just beautiful!
The roses are big surprise as they are all in full bloom and look better than in summer.
The Heuchera collection is still in full bloom and their coral bells really stand out.
Nasturtium and Hemerocalis are still producing flowers and so does Ozark Sundrops, Snapdragon and Trailing Alpine Geranium, The Gerbera is not at its best but still sending out new flowers. The Burning Bush is about 40% red so it will be few weeks before we will have a real red burning bush.
We will be enjoying our flower garden for a while yet.

 Front door with Mumms and pumpkins.

Dahlia, Snapdragon, Nasturtium and Mumms

Fall decoration.


View from kitchen window.

Alpine Geranium.

Heucheras and Gerberas.

Back lit grasses.

Ozark Sundrop.

Burning Bush and my last pepper plant in container.

Marjo's last project - Alpine Garden.

Grilled Sardines and Mackerel

This is as far from local food as you can get. I had a craving for sea food in general and grilled seafood in particular so what do you do if you live in South-Western Ontario, Canada, thousand miles away from nearest ocean or sea? Whatever is billed as “fresh fish” in our supermarkets and is from salt water is only relatively fresh if you get it when it is delivered. Fat chance of that on most days, I think. The closest to “fresh fish” inland and far away from ocean is fish frozen right on factory fishing trawler. Among the choices I had in larger town 40 minutes away were sardines and mackerel. What I came up with for a meal to satisfy my cravings was a fusion of Portuguese and Japanese favorite snack foods: grilled sardines rubbed with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and mackerel marinated in teriyaki sauce. Only after we ate our fill did we realize how full of Omega3 fat these fish were. This is not a main meal food, no sir. I have made a mistake right there. I knew that just 2 sardines or half a mackerel with crusty bread would be enough for one serving but I felt that since I have the grill going I’ll cook some more. And so I did.
If using frozen fish, defrost in refrigerator overnight.
When ready to cook, rub the grill with little vegetable oil (so fish won’t stick) and preheat your grill or BBQ on medium high.
To clean the sardines and prepare it for a grill, make a cut along the bottom of the fish and remove the intestines and entrails (simply run your finger inside the cut). Do not remove the head. Rinse and place the fish aside to dry.
Rub the fish with little bit of olive oil and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
To prepare mackerel, cut along the bottom from tail and across the head almost all the way through and then cut in half across between head and tail. Remove head and tail. The fish will be basically “butterflied”. Wash and dry on both sides.
Watch this video for clear and detailed instructions.
Rub little bit of sesame oil and teriyaki sauce into flesh or just use olive oil, salt and pepper. When grill is hot place sardines and mackerel (skin side down) on the grill and cook till skin is crisp and golden, 4 -5 minutes. Flip the fish over and grill till other side is crisp.
Serve with a wedge of lemon and crusty Italian or Portuguese bread.
To de-bone sardines, grasp the head and pull towards tail, the backbone will come off cleanly. Mackerel backbone and rib cage will come off easily as well.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Head Cheese

Head Cheese or Sülze (German), Sulc or Huspenina (Czech) etc…

Head cheese is not a cheese at all, of course but a terrine or meat jelly/aspic. Originally it was made from whole head of pig but since average home cook can’t get his hands on whole pig’s head, pork and veal knuckles or hocks are used instead. Hmmm, veal knuckles? Nope, can’t get these in our small town either so it left me with just the pork hocks. But hey, all you need for basic head cheese is pork hocks, water, salt, carrots, onions and your favorite spices and you are making Pâté de Tête. Doesn’t it sound better than head cheese? Anyway, I remember back in 50’s when my grandmother and other village neighbors killed a pig, usually in February, head cheese and head and barley soup were first things to be made and served to all the families around. It was greasy all right, but was it ever good! The smell of cloves and allspice from these dishes stuck with me ever since and these are the spices I used for my version. As is the norm for me lately, I improvised on the fly so there isn’t really much of a recipe that I have tested but I will describe what I did from start to finish.

On a whim, I bought 2 small knuckles that were split in half and somehow I knew that I will make my first Sülze. Since I wanted the gelatin fairly clear I had to blanch the hocks. Just bring the water with hocks to rapid boil and when brown foam forms on surface dump everything in sink and rinse under hot water. Wash the pot, put the clean hocks back in pot, cover with water and bring to simmer again. Meanwhile I placed cup of water and 1/4 cup of vinegar in slow cooker and turned it on High/6 hours. I use tee egg for spices and some herbs when making a stock so this is what I used again. As I said before, cloves and allspice are the main spices. I have added crushed pepper corns, bay leaf and 6 cloves of garlic. Place the spices in slow cooker. There will be carrots, parsnip and gherkins/pickles going in after the meat is done and removed.

When the hocks start to boil, transfer to slow cooker together with the water, cover and enjoy your 6 hours of doing nothing with this meal.

When done, remove the meat, strain and degrease the stock and set aside to cool. Best way is to let it cool to room temperature and then put it in fridge overnight. Not only it will be easy to degrease but you will also see how gelatinous the stock is. This is very important. If it not firm enough you will have to add some gelatin after you boil the carrots and pickles. You have read instruction on package to see how much to use.

Now it is time to de-bone the hocks. For me, the best part of hocks is the skin: nice, soft and chewy, so I use it, of course. Make sure that all the bones are removed and then chop all the meat and skin. Put back in the pot with stock, cubed carrots and pickles (amount is up to you) and bring to boil. When carrots are soft add the gelatin mixed with water, simmer for few seconds and remove from heat. All done. Now it is time to cool it down, fill the molds or whatever you want to use and let it set. I use aluminum bread pans and they work great.

When set and cool, remove from pan, slice and serve with lightly toasted rye bread and pickles.

 2 hocks gave me 5 of these bread pans.

It looks like there is meat only at bottom but as you can see from previous pictures the meat is spread from bottom to top.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Few weeks ago I ate my very first heirloom tomato and I was hooked immediately on the taste of this light yellow tomato. It was given to us by our neighbor who is retired farmer. Apparently, his friends found it among hundreds of plants they grow for making tomato juice and since it didn’t look red they threw it out. Knowing that we will try anything new food-wise he brought them to us. I do not understand why I waited so long to taste these tomatoes since I do shop at local Amish farms and at our local farmers market and they were always available in season. Looks like my plans for next year veggie garden are changing already since I will definitely grow some heirloom tomatoes.

Last Thanksgiving Sunday we went for a ride in the country and we came across a roadside stand that was selling heirloom tomatoes of all sizes, colors and shapes. Since all of them are open pollinated varieties I will collect the seeds from tomatoes that both of us really like.

This morning we did a little tasting and they are really good! They were nowhere as sweet as some regular red hybrids, but instead there was nice balance between sweet and tart. They will be great in salads and relishes, I think. So far I picked 3 (and counting) that I will try to grow. Over the winter I will try to identify the varieties that I have collected seeds from; not an easy task. Maybe I will email pictures to some seed houses and ask if they can help. It is not all that important to know the name but if somebody will taste my tomatoes, likes them and asks for the name it would be nice to know the answer.

Of course, if you know any of these tomatoes, please, leave a comment.

Here is link to interesting description of “Heirloom Tomato”.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lecsó – or what to do with too many peppers

As noted in my previous post I had a lot of peppers, red and green, and tomatoes on hand from my last harvest and since I didn’t even consider to pickle or can them, only alternative for me was to cook and freeze them. One recipe that I knew would work was Hungarian Lecsó.
Lecsó is a sort of pepper, onion and tomato stew cooked slowly on stove-top for long time and served as is, with potatoes or meat and potatoes. Since I was going to freeze it I have made plain version that will be kicked up quite a bit when re-heated and served with whatever I choose. Just as an experiment I will one day chop the Lecsó and use it as a pizza sauce. I think that it will be quite good!
Cooking this dish is a walk in the park; it is the prep that takes so much time. Cleaning, seeding and slicing the peppers is so labor intensive! I tried to slice the peppers in food processor but I was faster slicing them with my Chinese cleaver than using Cuisinart. Well, I still have all my digits and without a single Band-Aid.
As usual, because of heavy bottom of the pot I use my pressure cooker. By the way, that is a lot of peppers to clean and cut!

Caramelize the onions...

add peppers and cook till they soften...

add tomatoes and cook for about 2 hours. At first covered and then with cover off.

Add Hungarian paprika and simmer for another 1/2 hour. If the sauce is too watery, add some tomato paste (I did).

Ready as a base for other recipes.