Monday, September 8, 2014

Cooking Momofuku's Bo Ssäm – Korean Roast Pork

This story is about cooking food rather than growing it. The story starts last October, when I enrolled in Tricia Wheeler's 30-week French cooking class at The Seasoned Farmhouse. This was a classically focused hands-on class that met once per week for three hours. There were six people in the class, and each week we cooked an elaborate lunch based on some fundamental cooking technique (e.g., emulsified sauces or braising). During this course, Tricia, our instructor and the owner of The Seasoned Farmhouse, organized a three-day gourmet food tour of New York. It would take several paragraphs to describe the wonderful meals we ate and the baguette baking class we took, but one meal in particular stands out. It was probably one of the top five meals I've ever had, and we ate it at David Chang's Momofuku Ssäm Bar. This meal was an elaborate multi-course meal that had the most wonderful pork shoulder roast as the main course. This dish is called Bo Ssäm, which consists of slow-roasted sugar-glazed pork shoulder served with a number of condiments, all wrapped up in a leaf of Boston Bibb lettuce. The recipe is in David Chang's Momofuku cookbook, and this week I attempted to reproduce the restaurant dish at home.

Salt & Sugar Rubbed Pork Shoulder
Finished Pork Roast
The preparation started with a beautiful 10 lb bone-in pork shoulder roast from Huffman's Market. The meat was rubbed with a mixture of salt and sugar (1 cup each) and allowed to rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Excess rub was scraped off and the pork roast was baked in a 300 °F oven for six hours, basting with the pan juices. It was pulled from the oven and allowed to rest for an hour, and then was glazed with a rub of brown sugar and salt in a 500 °F oven to provide a crispy caramelized crust. After all this oven time, the pork roast literally fell apart into tender morsels.

Ssäm and Ginger-Scallion Sauces
The pork was accompanied by ginger-scallion and ssäm sauces. The ginger-scallion sauce was a mixture of thinly sliced scallions and minced ginger plus small amounts of oil, soy sauce, and sherry wine vinegar. The authentic ssäm sauce was a bit more involved. The two main ingredients in this sauce are a fermented soybean-chili paste (ssamjang) and a fermented chili paste (kochujang), both of which I found at a great Korean market in town (Arirang Oriental Market on Bethel Road). These two ingredients are combined with sherry wine vinegar and oil. I found the lack of garlic in either of these sauces surprising, but it was more than made up for by the garlic in following recipe.

Homemade Kimchi
Another critical ingredient in bo ssäm is kimchi, chili-spiced fermented cabbage. This year we grew Chinese cabbage, which did wonderfully and produced giant heads of beautiful cabbage. As with the ssäm sauce, kimchi requires several unusual ingredients, and once again, the Arirang Korean market came through with special chili powder (kochukaru) and jarred salted shrimp, tiny little shrimp preserved in brine that provide the umami flavor of kimchi. The recipe for David Chang's version of kimchi can be found here, so I won't repeat the process or ingredients. His version ferments for several weeks in the refrigerator before it is ready to eat, and I had made two quart jars of kimchi a month or so ago. Kimchi has a pungent smell, partly because it's fermented cabbage (think sauerkraut) and partly because it contains a boatload of chopped garlic. It supplied all the garlic flavor needed for the bo ssäm.

Bo Ssäm
The pork was shredded and we made little sandwiches of the pork, rice, kimchi and the two sauces using a Boston Bibb lettuce leaf wrapper. I can't say whether it was as good as David Chang's, but experiencing the meal at Momofuku Ssäm Bar the East Village in Manhattan certainly helped his version. They were fantastic.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Bountiful Potato Crop

It seems that every year, shortly after we've put our seed potatoes in the ground, we get a huge rain. In past years this has washed potatoes right out of their trenches or caused them to rot in the ground. Consequently, in past years our potato crop has been minimal, perhaps 10-30% of normal. This year was no different, except I managed to put a large tarp over the potato bed before the worst of the rains came. A day or two later I removed it, and the ground looked wet but not sodden. As the growing year progressed, we got quite good germination of the seed potatoes, which we estimated between 75-80%. The two potatoes on the ends of the bed had been flooded worse than those in the middle, so they were stunted in their germination.

Red Gold
The potato sprouts grew and grew, becoming big bushes with beautiful white or purple flowers. We hilled them up with dirt and shredded straw, and the plants were green and healthy. We had no significant pest pressure, which coupled with a good preseason fertilization promised an excellent crop.

Potatoes are ready to dig when the vines have almost completely died back. The first three early potatoes that we dug in late July were three red varieties: Red Gold, Dark Red Norland, and Red Thumb. We got a truly great yield of Red Golds, but only a small yield of the other two. Dark Red Norland is a red-skinned white potato that was great in home fries, while the Red Gold has yellow flesh and is great for roasting. We probably got around 15-20 lbs of Red Golds and perhaps 10-15 lbs of the other two combined.

A month later the rest of the potato vines had died back and they were dug in late August. The yields were amazing and it was incredible fun to use my new broadfork to lift and expose a huge number of potatoes per plant. I filled three 5 gal pails and two large baskets full of potatoes and hauled them down to the house from the garden with my ATV.

Nicola (l) & Red Pontiac (r)
Carola (upper) & LaRatte (lower)
The August harvest of potatoes included: Carola (20 lbs) and Nicola (42 lbs), yellow flesh potatoes good for baking or roasting; LaRatte (16 lbs), a white-fleshed fingerling; German Butterball (20 lbs), a gold-fleshed potato that pretty much tastes like it sounds; and finally, Red Pontiac (21 lbs), a red-skinned, white-fleshed potato really good for mashing. All together these potatoes weighed 119 lbs. Add to that the minimum 20 lbs of potatoes from the July Harvest and out potato crop came in at least 140 lbs!

Potatoes Stored in the Wine Cellar
I sold 15 lbs of Nicola to the Highlands Food and Farm Market in Davis, which is run by Kimmy as part of the Potomac Highlands Food and Farm Initiative (PHFFI). This is a wonderful market that showcases local farm products, including vegetables, meat, cheese, honey, etc., and even though my contribution was minimal, I was proud that someone was going to eat food that I personally raised.

In Columbus, I sold another 20 lbs to my friend Tricia at The Seasoned Farmhouse, and she used the LaRatte potatoes that I sold her in a cooking class! If you are unaware of this wonderful resource, Tricia has created a cooking school and demonstration kitchen, and offers classes that range from salads and deserts to a comprehensive 30-week French-focused cooking course. If you live in Columbus, please check this place out, but hurry, as the classes fill very fast. I took the 30-week course this past year, and it was an incredible experience.

2014 Onion Crop
Lastly, we also had a decent onion crop this year. We planted four varieties and harvested 38 lbs of onions. We are very happy with these two crops and we've learned which varieties of potatoes and onions are best suited to our soil and climate. The potato bed has been tilled and planted with cover crop, and it will become the home of a different crop in 2015.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

2014 Garden

This year our garden looks to be particularly successful. We've had just the right amount of rain, the potatoes sprouted with about 75-80% success, all the other plants are doing very well with very little insect damage (no flea beetles at all on the potatoes, yet), and things just look really good. Just because of bad timing when we were gone for ten days, we missed most of the asparagus, but it will be even better next year because we did.

We planted lots of onions (4 varieties), eight varieties of potatoes, 40 cabbage (early, late, red and Napa), ten Tuscan kale, Swiss chard, 18 eggplant (Japanese, Italian purple and white), five tomatoes (Roma), 20 peppers (Padrón, Calabrian, jalapeño, Ancho and bell), green beans, Lima beans, cucumbers (picklers and eating cukes), jack-o-lantern pumpkins, sunflowers (cutting and giant), carrots (yellow, orange and purple), herbs (mint, parsley, rosemary, basil and thyme), arugula, plus existing beds of raspberries (4 years old), asparagus (2 beds, 4 & 2 years old)), rhubarb and horseradish. If all continues to go well with warm temperatures and enough rain, this could be our best garden yet.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Addition to Our (Octagonal) House

Fig 1. Post & Beam Construction
Our West Virginia home is post & beam construction (Fig 1). It is octagonal and was purchased as a kit from Topsider Homes in North Carolina. The photo shows the inside of the house looking at the roof/ceiling. The house is 800 square feet with the front half being mostly windows and a door. We have nearly 180° views of Roaring Plains Wilderness to the south and Dolly Sods Wilderness to the east. The south and south-east sides of the house are deck, about 9' deep, which is suspended over the hillside in front of the house on 6"x6" posts.

Fig 2. South (l) & South-East Decks (r)
As we consider occupying the house full-time, we will need to expand the house to provide more living space. One aspect of the two decks is that we rarely use the south-facing deck other than for passage (Fig 2). The reason for this is its exposure. In the summer, it is in full sun for the entire day; in winter, the winds come in directly from the west, sweeping straight across the deck with 20-30 mph gusts. We primarily use it for bird feeders.

Fig 3. New Entrance.
So we came up with a plan to expand the house over the deck, making the space into a dining room. In essence, we would push out the front wall to the edge of the deck, and build two new side walls and a new roof. Entrance to the house would be off the far south-east deck via a sliding glass door built into the east wall of the addition (Fig 3). The existing south wall of the house contained two floor-to-ceiling windows and a door, so we planned the addition to make use of these two existing windows and to add two operable windows in order to preserve the view.

Fig 4. Nearly Complete Addition w/Front Wall
The original builder of the house, carpenter Shane McCauley, agreed to undertake the construction of the addition. He built a new floor on top of the decking, a completely new roof over the existing roof, and three new outside walls. The construction was made significantly more difficulty because there wasn't a 90° angle anywhere to be found.We put metal roofing on the addition and added two 40"x60" double hung windows to the front wall (Fig 4). The inside drywall is finished, the outside needs to be stained to match the rest of the house, and we will put in a heated tile floor.
Fig 5. Interior View w/Lucca

The addition will increase the floor space by about 150 square feet, and will be a perfect fit for our dining room table and china cabinet when we move them from Columbus in a few years.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Maple Sap and Maple Syrup

This spring we decided to try our hand at making maple syrup. The west side of the property is loaded with maple trees, some more than 18' in diameter. Last autumn, I marked about 20 sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) with green paint. Early this spring, I bought a beginners syrup making kit from Anderson's Maple Syrup and additional supplies to tap a total of 10 trees. This kit uses five gallon blue plastic bags for sap collection and 5/16" spiles for tapping.

Beginner's Maple Sap Tapping Kit
On a Sunday morning  in early March, we tapped ten trees. This involves first drilling a 2" hole 5/16" in diameter, 10° below horizontal into the south side of the tree. The tap is pounded into the hole tightly, the sap collection bag is attached to the red-handled holder, and the holder is clipped onto the spile.

Later in the day as temperatures rose well into the 60s, the sap began dripping into the bags, slowly at first. By evening, there was perhaps 1/2 gallon in some of the bags. It got cold on Sunday night, but when the sun came up on Monday and temperatures rose, the sap started flowing much faster and the bags started to fill up quickly.

Full Sap Bag
By about 11 am, the bags contained between 1-4 gallons of sap each, so we pooled the sap into five bags for a total of 12-13 gallons, tied the tops of the bags with wire, and stood the full bags upright in five gallon pails for transport. When we got them back to Columbus, we iced the sap down in a cooler, and on Tuesday morning I made a run to Cabela's for a propane stove and to a kitchen supply store for a 10 quart brazier.

Then comes the boiling down part, which takes forever. Maple sap is about 2% sugar, mostly sucrose. The ratio of maple sap to maple syrup is about 40:1, so that 10 gallons of sap should give one quart of syrup. The reduction needs to be done outside, otherwise the steam will deposit a small coating of sugar onto walls, cabinets, and anything else nearby. So I boiled all Tuesday afternoon and a good part of the day on Wednesday, producing about four quarts of concentrated maple sap. This was filtered and brought inside, to finish on the stove.

Boiling Down Sap
There are two ways to determine when one has sufficiently reduced the sap to syrup. The specific gravity (or density) can be measured with a hydrometer, one of which was included in the above kit and which I inconveniently left in West Virginia. The second method is to accurately monitor the temperature of the sap as it is reduced into syrup. The process is supposed to be complete when the temperature of the syrup is 7 °F above the boiling point of water, adjusted for altitude. This is about 210.5 °F in Columbus, so I continued to reduce the sap until the temperature registered 218 °F. The product was light brown in color and became syrupy when a few drops cooled on a plate. It tasted absolutely fantastic, very sweet with a nice clean maple flavor. I compared the taste with some dark amber syrup we had in the refrigerator, and the commercial syrup tasted burnt compared to the clean, crisp taste of our maple syrup. I filtered the hot syrup into sterilized half-pint canning jars, which sealed on their own as the syrup cooled. Out of about 12-13 gallons of maple sap, I obtained four half-pints, or one quart of pure, 100% natural, homemade maple syrup.

One Pint of Maple Syrup
Finishing the Syrup
At the end of March/beginning of April, temperatures soared into the 70s, and the sap literally flowed from the trees. In this second production process, after reducing probably 15 gallons of sap, as I was finishing of the syrup on the stove I decided that I had not boiled down the first batch sufficiently far, so three half-pints of the first batch were combined with the second batch, and a hydrometer was used to determine the end point of the reduction. The syrup ended up at just over 66% sugar as measured with the hydrometer, and boiled at around 220 °F. It was now a medium brown with a strong, clean maple flavor. The total 2014 production of maple syrup was 2.5 quarts. The pint jar shown above represents the reduction of five gallons of sap. It is delicious.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Factory Meat, Milk & Poultry Production

This is a carefully crafted video that illustrates factory production of meat, milk and poultry.

It is taken from the movie Samsara, which is a Sanskrit word meaning the wheel of life. The movie is a non-verbal documentary made by Ron Fricke. While the film itself appears to be an entertaining visual experience, the cut embedded below is not.


It isn't intended to shock, rather to illustrate visually the assembly line movement of animals through processes. It is not graphic in the sense of gore and cruelty; it is graphic in the sense of the scope and scale of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

If you eat factory farmed meat, I hope this video will give you pause the next time you buy chicken at Kroger or order a hamburger at Burger King. This is not an acceptable means to produce food for people.

The video will undoubtedly leave you speechless. I hope is leaves you with a new perspective.

N.B. It is illegal in most states in the U.S. to take film of CAFOs. The laws that prevent this are called "ag-gag" laws. The people who own and run CAFOs are scared that you might see how meat and milk are produced.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Potato and Swiss Chard Frittata

We made this frittata last night for dinner. It was delicious with a chilled white wine from Languedoc.

Makes two individual servings.

1 medium waxy potato, peeled and medium diced (1/2")
1 cup of chopped Swiss chard, wet
hot red pepper flakes, to taste
1 jalapeño, seeds removed and finely diced
1 medium clove garlic, finely diced
8 eggs, well whisked
1/2 cup grated cheese, preferably a mix of a sharp cheese such as cheddar and Parmesan
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and ground black pepper

In a medium saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic, hot pepper flakes, jalapeño pepper and a pinch of salt, and saute 1-2 minutes until softened. Do not let the garlic brown. Add the chopped chard and cover the pan. Saute over low heat until tender, about 5-7 minutes.

In a small pot of salted boiling water, cook the potatoes until fork tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook; the potatoes should still be firm and keep their shape. Drain.

Mix the potatoes into the chard mixture.

Set oven to broil and preheat.

In an 8" non-stick oven-safe skillet, add half of the eggs and half of the chard mixture. Cook over medium heat with stirring until the eggs start to set on the bottom half. Sprinkle half the cheese mixture over the eggs and place skillet under the broiler. Watch carefully and remove when the frittata has cooked through and the cheeses are bubbling and lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper.

Slide the frittata onto a plate and serve. Repeat with the remaining eggs, chard and cheese.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Strange Assortment of Eggs from Our New Chickens

Last April, I bought 15 each of Golden Comet and Barred Rock chicks, and my friend Santos raised them at the horse barn where I ride. We still had two of our original Golden Comets, but their egg production had slowed considerably to at best one per day. On July 3rd, we "switched" chickens, giving Santos our two old ones and bringing home two each of the new varieties. There was no way to introduce new chickens to our coop without lots of fighting, but our two old chickens settled in at the barn without incident.

Around September 1st, one or two of the chickens started laying, and around the 15th of September, another started production. What is strange is the lack of uniformity in the eggs. Mostly, we get large darker brown eggs, but with the addition of our third layer, we've been getting these really small off-white eggs and once we got a gigantic lighter brown egg. I don't know what's up with this, and whether things will settle down to a more uniform size and color.

The chickens are happy, getting all of the vegetable table scraps and trimmings from our garden produce. They still don't like being handled, but they're getting better. We feed them organic layer rations.

In any event, it's good to have fresh eggs again.

UPDATE 10/1: For the first time, we got four eggs, one per hen.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Building a Garden Shed & High School Geometry

When we built our little barn a few years ago, we had a 12'x12' concrete slab poured and built a building with a loft and a slanted roof. This was supposed to house the Gravely, the ATV, the tiller, and other gardening stuff. Then we built a work bench and got a table saw and a miter saw. I wanted a workshop, but it was too crowded with all that stuff in the barn. Subsequently, I built a 8'x12' lean-to shed next to the barn, and that's where the ATV, Gravely, and ATV trailer are stored. Now we have a chipper-shredder and the tiller, and these are really difficult to transport up to the garden and back down. Both pieces of equipment have been sitting outside up by the garden most of the summer. Exposure to sun and rain will take a toll on equipment, and so the obvious thing to do was build a shed dedicated to storing garden equipment. Then the barn can become a dedicated workshop.
Figure 1. Shed Plans (6'x8')

I found a nice set of shed plans (Fig. 1) on the Mother Earth website, and altered them slightly from a 6'x8' shed to an 8'x8' one. When I got to West Virginia this past Wednesday, the ground was perfectly dry, so my hope was that I could haul construction materials up to the garden clearing with my truck. Between late Wednesday and early Friday it rained 1.27", turning the road into a muddy mess. No chance of getting the truck anywhere. I went ahead and ran to 84 Lumber in Elkins and got the 2"x6"x8' floor joists, a 4"x4"x8' post for the supports, concrete piers to support the shed, and two sheets of 3/4" treated plywood. This is so easy with the full bed on the truck: everything just fits flat on the bed with no need to tie anything down or have anything stick out. As expected, I got the truck into the house clearing but not up the road. I got the boards up to the garden just by stacking them on the front and back ATV racks with the concrete piers in the trailer. The plywood was another story. Eventually, I figured out that I could take one sheet at a time, lay it cross-ways on the back ATV rack with the front laying on the seat. I sat on the wood to hold it down and drove very slowly up the road, eventually getting both pieces up. Treated plywood is very heavy, particularly because it was waterlogged from sitting in the back of the truck in the rains. It was way too heavy for me to pick up.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

More Spuds

These fingerling potatoes are the last of the 2013 crop to be dug. It's about 1/2 bushel of potatoes.

Overall, this year's potato crop wasn't as bad as we feared after all the April and May rains. I think we probably got 40% of what we could have raised. We've got some plans for the 2014 planting that don't involve putting the potatoes into deep trenches, which are vulnerable to flooding. It seems that you can shallowly bury the seed potatoes and cover the whole bed with straw and more dirt. The yield is lowered relative to conventional methods, but we shouldn't have a flooding problem with heavy rains.

(As a note, we received more than 10" of rain on the farm during the month of August. Since the rain gauge was installed in early May, we've had nearly 22" of rain, for an average of about 1.25"/week.)

As another note, here is a bit of food porn. This is what we did with our potatoes, poblano chilies, cheese, cherry tomatoes, cumin & onion: potato stuffed roasted poblano peppers baked on a bed of sauteed onions and tomatoes. Email me if you would like the recipe.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Jams, Jellies & Pickles – So Far


strawberry-pineapple jamstrawberry jampickled beets w/caraway
straberry-rhubarb jamorange-rhubarb jamcandied pickled apples
blueberry-lime jamblueberry-lemon jamapple pie applesauce
peach maple jamrhubarb jampickled golden beets
concord grape jellysour cherry preservessweet pickle relish
peach BBQ saucestrawberry saucegreen beans
honey-lemon jellypeaches w/vanillagarlic-dill pickles
applesaucepickled jalapeñosdilled pickled beans

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Update on the 2013 Harvest

This post will mostly be pictures, as they somewhat speak for themselves. The pictures are small here, but click on them for a larger version.

First to be picked starting May 1st was asparagus. This was the third year for this asparagus bed, and we picked about 40-50% of the spears. In addition, we planted another bed of 25 plants, which will be ready to pick in 2015. I really don't need to describe what these tasted like. Many of the smaller spears didn't make it out of the garden before being consumed.

asparagus









Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Inevitable Demise of Chemical-Based Agriculture

The popularity of organically grown food has increased dramatically over the past decade. Growth in the sales of organic food has risen more than 10% per year recently, and now represents over 4% of total food sales. That may sound like a pretty minor fraction (4/100), but it is clear that this increase will continue. Right now, over 10% of fruit and vegetable sales are organic, and much of this increase is due to public perception that organic foods are healthier than their conventional counterparts. Although there is little to no evidence that this is the case, and also given the questionable practices allowed in certified organic farming by the government, this shift represents a major change in the manner in which an increasingly larger portion of our food is grown. As I mentioned earlier, large agribusiness firms own the majority of organic food brands. This must change to allow a shift in how sustainably our food is produced. I believe such a change is inevitable.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Monitoring the Weather


Dogs Run Farm is now an official weather station on Wunderground for Dryfork, WV. I installed an Acu-Rite model 1055 weather station, powered up the Internet bridge that came with it, hooked the bridge into the router, and violá! Data from our weather station was available on the Internet via the Acu-Link website and iPhone application.

I set-up an account on Wunderground, put in the data for the weather station including map coordinates, provided a few other details, and named the weather station Dogs Run Farm. This morning when I looked at the weather for Dryfork, WV (26263) on wunderground.com, the Dogs Run Farm weather station was at the top of the list, providing temperature, wind, barometric pressure, rainfall, and humidity. That's our station: KWDRYFO3.
I’ve wanted to do this for years so that I can monitor wind, temperature, and rainfall remotely. It was an absolute breeze to set-up, and it worked the first time without any fiddling around. In one month, we have gone from waiting five minutes for the Dryfork weather to load on our iPhones while standing in front of the one window in the house where we got cell service to being a weather station on Wunderground and having access to weather data anywhere.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A New Outbuilding

I have been storing my ATV underneath the house where it could be chained to the foundation. Problematic was angling it correctly to back it into its space and the difficulty getting it out, uphill, in muddy or snowy weather. In addition, we needed the space to store wood and our new 7,000 W generator. Also problematic was the amount of space taken up by the Gravely walk-behind mower in the barn. So, I build a shed on the west side of the barn.

Framing of the Shed
The frame of the shed consisted of a treated 2"x6" header bolted to the frame of the barn, three treated 4"x4" posts about 8' from the barn, a treated 2"x8" header bolted to the posts, and 2"x6" roof joists. The dimensions were such that the ATV could be parked in one of the "stalls" and be completely out of the weather. The dimensions were about 12' wide by 8' deep. The front header was about 6' off the ground at its shortest, and the back header was bolted 8' above the foundation of the barn.

Onto this frame went the siding, 5/8" T1-11 plywood, nailed to horizontal rather than vertical studs. Eventually, this will be stained to match the barn, if the weather ever warms up enough.