Michael Zucchi

 B.E. (Comp. Sys. Eng.)


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Friday, 28 December 2018, 09:53

Making biltong made easy

After a few iterations i've managed to get biltong making down to a pretty streamlined, 'somehwat lazy' process. It relies on the butcher (aka supermarket) doing the brining.

First get the spices ready. This is both important and a bit arbitrary. You can find recipes on the net but the main ingredients are coriander seed and black pepper (and those starting with 'one whole freshly butchered springbok' aren't very practical).

Here's a simple one. It was enough for two small batches.

Recipe for Biltong Spices
1 cupcoriander seed
1 tbspblack pepper
1 tbspallspice
1 tspfennel seed
1 handfuldried thai birds-eye hot chillies

Actually I didn't write it down so these numbers might be a bit off but it's about right. Thigs like allspice, fennel seeds, ginger, cinnamon, paprika, and so on can add a nice tweak to the basic recipe. I always add hot chillies as a matter of course, of course.

Not terribly important here but an Australian metric tablespoon is 4x teaspoons (20ml), not the usual 3 in the rest of the western world.

Ideally give them all a bit of a dry-roast in a pan or the oven to bring out the flavours. It isn't necessary but its worth it and it smells great. Basically just keep stirring over low-medium heat until they become aromatic and the chillies gain a bit of colour. Here i've just started roasting them.

Then powder them. If you have the time and the equipment using a mortar and pestle will produce a more aromatic powder; but i usually just use a blender and keep going until it's done. Don't breath it in if you've used any really hot chillies.

I also have a small precious supply of dried habaneros i made a few years ago and I threw a couple of those into the blender.

Next the meat. I wait till corned silverside is on special ($8/Kg) at my local Foodland and grab a couple of them. I try to get the largest ones they have (>1Kg), and given the packaging is often opaque its a bit hit and miss as to the quality you get - ideally good solid meat with little fat and gristle. Here i've just unpackaged them and wiped off the slimey brine residue, these are good cuts to use. Each one here is about 1.5Kg.

Corned silverside - corned beef - done this way is apparently an Australian thing (according to my butcher brother), so if you're from some backward arsed country that doesn't have this you'll have to do it the long way.

So you basically just slice it into roughty 2cm thick blocks and trim off most of the fat. It's reasonably easy to slice squarely because the brining makes it go stiffer than raw meat. I usually fry up the trimmings - its sort of like shit bacon, chewy but tasty.

So that's the hardest and messiest bit out of the way. If making it from scratch you would then brine this meat before moving to the next stage. And you have to be concerned about brine concentration or amount of salt (none of the recipes I found ever say how MUCH salt to use), and so on. I haven't found the pre-pickled meat to be completely consistent but it's always edible once completed. Sometimes it can be a bit on the salty side, but that just means you drink more beer.

`dip the slices of brined meat in vinegar'

aka fuck that. Pour half a cup of vinegar into the container, put the lid on, and shake the shit out of it. Drain.

'roll in the spices to cover evenly'

Pour about 1/2 a cup of the spice mix over the meat ...

Cover, and shake the shit out of it again. Done.

I used to have a bowl of vinegar i'd dip it in, then a tray of spice to do the coating. Messy as fuck and unreliable.

Actually i'm still working on getting the ideal coating, I always seem to put too much on because when you're applying it it doesn't look like much but when it's dry it's heavily coated and falling off. Next time I do it I might also try leaving it in this state in the fridge overnight to let the flavours seep in a bit more before starting to dry.

It took a while (literally years!) but i found a small local caterers shop that sold small stainelss steel butchers hooks. Previously i'd used fishing line (fucking pain to work with) then some stainelss steel wire I fashioned into hooks (which was ok until i found the proper ones). I bought out the shop at the time and got 13, which was just enough for this batch.

Hang them up on the hooks. I have a small cpu fan running off an old nokia charger to keep the air flowing to help speed up drying and a fly-screen to keep the bugs out. I used to have a small 20W incandescent lightglobe to help with the drying but they keep burning out and it isn't necessary in summer.

They're ready for 'picking' 1-2 weeks later depending on the weather and how thick you cut the meat. It will lose about 50% of it's original weight and be very dry and hard - you need a biltong cutter to get through it. I've tried stopping a bit earlier so it isn't so hard but the flavour is muted and it wont keep anywhere near as long.

Cut into as thin slices as you could be bothered with, consume with beer. If it's too thick it'll take a lot of chewing, if it's too thin just cutting it becomes a chore!

It lasts forever in the fridge. I made a batch just before getting gout a few years ago so didn't touch it for about a year - it was still ok when I finally got through it all.

Tagged cooking.
Monday, 28 March 2016, 16:08

my lonesome easter

I made some chocolate cakes.

They have 2 fresh Habanero chillies in them, so they're quite potent. I also undercooked them a bit but they can be salvaged with a few minutes in a toaster oven. As I have no one to eat them with i did a half-batch and froze most of them.

I also had a 3k pork forequarter that had been in the freezer a bit too long so I took that out and spent a couple of days cooking different things with it.

Sliced some up with some skin on, marinated them in something jerk-ish, and put them in the vertical grill; basically spare ribs. I used the marinade again on a the hock overnight and then long-roasted that the next day. Got a few nice sandwiches out of that.

Baked some bread for said sandwiches; well bread-maker baked. I throw in some Bulgar wheat and linseed to make it a bit more interesting.

Diced a lean cut and made a masaman curry with it; I had intended to make a green curry but the shops were closed and that's all I had. I froze most of that because I had too much other food. It could've been better but it's ok.

Then I took the meaty bones and a bunch of other bones i'd been keeping for the purpose and pressure cooked the lot for 2.5 hours. I sloughed the meat off the bones, added lots of chillies, some tomatoes, garlic, spices, soup powders, stock powders, soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon basil; and made a super-spicy pork soup out of it.

It's super-hot! And very fatty so to be consumed in small amounts. I made the noodles for this bowl too of course. Because the mixer bowl was occupied I first tried making the noodles by hand but failed miserably; didn't add enough water, but then I freed up the mixer bowl and finished the job.

The mixer bowl was busy because I also made some hot-cross buns and the dough was still rising.

Without the xtian symbology of course. The recipe I had seemed to have far too little water so I added more but the resultant texture doesn't seem quite right. I think i overcooked them a bit and maybe let them rise a bit too long as it's a bit light and dry inside but the holes are small and evenly distributed. I also added much more spice, a little golden syrup and chocolate pieces as well.

I have these strange chilli plants I got seeds from mum and I was curious as to which variety they were. This morning I did some searching and found out; Aji Orchid, aka Peri Peri, Bishops Crown, or many other common names.

I've got quite a few of these growing and as they are cross pollinated seeds they are all a bit different - shapes vary quite a bit and so does their heat from almost nothing to enough to notice. They are tall thin plants. A couple of the bushes I have are over 6' high now and still seem to be growing upwards. But I've had a lot of problem with Eggfruit Caterpillars (my best guess) this year, so much so that i've not managed to get any ripe fruit yet; well and I keep eating them before they get that far.

Anyway I still had a day to burn through so I looked into pickling some. I found a reference on pickling brine concentrations (beyond 'add salt'), found a lid that fit a lidless jar I had and made an airlock out of an empty pill bottle I suddenly have lots of. Then picked some chillies and cut them up.

I waited to see how much water would come out on it's own - as I expected not much at all so I topped it up with 500ml of 7.5% brine and inserted a jar to keep them submerged, sealed it up and put it in the cupboard to be forgotten about for a while to let them ferment in peace.

I then got out in the garden and did a rush job setting up some furrows and seeding some wintery things in one garden bed. I planted some snow peas but the rest was a medley of seeds I just threw around; bugs always seem to eat my winter vegetables so it's not worth the effort but who knows it might work this time. I think I used broccoli, chinese cabbage, brussel sprouts, and lettuce.

And then I dug a big hole and moved a lime tree from a half-wine-barrel into the ground. I was surprised at how much the roots had filled the whole barrel but otoh it didn't seem root bound either. Once it was out of the pot I managed to lift the whole thing in and out of the hole so despite watering regularly the dirt wasn't holding any of it but I knew that anyway from the state of growth and lack of fruit. I'm sure my back will be a bit sore tomorrow.

Over the last 4 days I also played a good many hours of Bloodborne and other games. I'm stuck again in Bloodborne - Micolash, Martyr Logarius, or Lower Pthumeru Chalice (Rom again). I'm starting to get a bit sick of grinding (i'm level 105 or something) because i'm just too slow in reactions to be able to get through some parts without it. I'm about 100 hours in anyway which is pretty much my limit with any long game. Maybe i'll keep playing.

I also played some DRIVECLUB in memorial of Evolution Studios being shut down. Why a game of such high quality and depth didn't sell well is beyond me but it's a bit of a bummer and hopefully they can find a way to make more driving games in the future as they have always made really special games.

RIP Evolution, the next beer I have is for you guys.

I nipped out to the shops on Saturday morning but otherwise haven't seen another soul since Thursday evening. I had no visitors, nobody called, the friends I might visit are all away for the weekend. At least I got a couple of emails but none from 'regular' friends.

It's all just so pointless isn't it?

Tagged biographical, cooking.
Monday, 21 December 2015, 21:17

making dough

Tried making some ciabatta today based on the first hit for such via a search engine.

Well it was more a two-day "effort" although there wasn't much interaction apart from trying to work with some very sticky glump.

I probably baked it a little too long but it's serviceable. Has a nice flavour and chewiness though.

Tagged cooking.
Monday, 26 May 2014, 19:57

Chocolate cake with hazelenuts

So I just finished the my last bit of work and the office/team has a thing about people bringing cakes for various events so I baked a cake to take along as a good-bye and partly just to say that the people weren't the reason I was refusing any potential continuation of the work.

I was going to go with an apple cake i've made a couple of times which usually turns out pretty well but there was an apple cake the week before for someone's birthday and and since i've been trying to get a good chocolate cake under my belt for a while I thought i'd risk it - if it failed i'd just leave it at home. I have been hoeing through some mixed raw nuts lately and the pack included hazelnuts - which are pretty foul raw - so i'd been saving them up wondering what to do with them and it seemed like an obvious match. I couldn't find quite the type of recipe I was after (either they were all about gluten free-ness, making super-heavy cakes or some kids-birthday Nutella-based thing) so I tried adjusting one I had for another chocolate cake and it worked rather well ...

  1. Pre-heat oven to 160C.
  2. Melt the chocolate with the coffee using a steam bath and while it's cooling ...
  3. Cream butter and sugar.
  4. Blend in eggs one at a time until fully mixed.
  5. Mix in flour, bicarb, cocoa powder, hazelnuts, milk, and melted chocolate until just combined.
  6. Pour into greased/lined 22-24cm spring-form cake tin and level off.
  7. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes 'or until done'.

From the original recipe I replaced 30g of plain flour with all the hazelnuts I had, added the coffee when melting the chocolate to make it easier to mix in (doesn't just go hard/curdle, and it just tastes better), and adjusted a couple of other things slightly to suit what I had on hand. Although my oven works really well for everything else i've had a lot of trouble with cakes not cooking enough but this time I tried turning off the fan-forced fan and it was right on the money (perhaps slightly over, but not enough to matter).

It managed to survive the ride in my pannier bags and generally impressed. Probably the best cake i've ever made actually, although the bar has been until this point, rather low.

Tagged cooking.
Tuesday, 11 February 2014, 17:00

Habanero + Lime Cordial

So I finally got off my arse and made it to the beach on a week-day today. 1/2 hour easy ride (it's 41 today, too hot to rush) although I left it a bit late and caught some of the after-school traffic on the way home. Water was clear and cool and there more people down there than I would have expected - not that any went into water deeper than their chest and some people were sun-baking (the sun is so friggan hot wtf would you want to sit right out in it for? In it??). Saw a couple of dolphins swim past slowly about 40m further out.

Anyway 1/2 hour ride home is enough to get pretty warm so I went for a cool drink (reehydration before I start on some beer) and I only had an experimental bottle of lime cordial I made last time - I dropped half a large ripe red habanero chilli into the bottle when I sealed it. I wasn't sure if it would really be what I was after.

It's ... certainly ... interesting.

As you're drinking it it is a typical cool refreshing tangy lime flavoured drink. And then you stop. Your mouth, lips, and throat instantly starts to gently and delicately burn.

So it makes you want to have more ...

... Ahh, nice cool refreshing tangy drink. And then you stop. The burning just intensifies.

Which makes you want even more.

Wow I said. Definitely something I'll do again next time I get some limes.

And as with most habanero based heat the burning just keeps increasing the more you have, I guess the capsaicin must get stuck in your soft-tissues for a long time. I know after cutting a lot up i've had burning fingers for a few days despite aggressive soapy scrubbing - your fingertips burn quite notably (to the point of pain) when you press your fingers together and the harder you press the hotter they feel. And it hasn't affected the flavour as sometimes chillies add a capsicum note although habaneros have thier unique sweet flavour so it is probably just complementing the sugar.

Tagged cooking.
Thursday, 19 September 2013, 16:26

Anyone for dessert?

Made this yesterday and thought it looked nice enough to post ...

An unbaked cheesecake is not the sort of thing I normally make but it doesn't hurt to know how. I don't have a very sweet tooth but I don't mind sweet things that are supposed to be sweet (in limited amounts). Sister-in-law had bought the strawberries so I used them too.

I'd made a nicely tart lime cheesecake last week and at first I was just going to have this one vanilla but to the same basic recipe. But on the spoon it tasted too much like sweetened condensed milk (yuck) so i added some lime and so it ended up a sort of vanilla + tart yoghurt sort of flavour.

Tagged cooking.
Thursday, 14 February 2013, 20:28

Quick and dirty Biltong Cutter

Boy, the gutter thing turned into a much bigger job - a load of wood-rot (part of the reason I was doing it in the first place), so I had to re-enforce/repair the fascia before I could even get to mounting the leaf eater.

Nearly didn't get to the biltong cutter - i'm a bit sick of the sawdust and noise and not having a workbench. But I had a couple of hours free so had a go at a "quick job".

Of course, nothing is ever "quick", particularly if you haven't done anything like this for a while. The main hassle was creating a curved cutting surface as the knife is curved. It's a bit rough but it works quite well. I could probably use a better axle but the one I have works. I could also do with a drill press.

The uprights are at an angle as I already had some wood with angled cuts in it, and I thought it might be stronger having the screws going across the grain a bit. The cutting block it positioned so the blade has the closest tolerance - although I got sick of sanding so it isn't perfect.

So the trick was to find a cheap/fairly robust blade. I tried finding old tools but that was pointless and in the end I was going through an asian grocer's knife section and found a bunch of cleaver type knives, some with holes already at the top/front. I went for the medium sized one at all of $6.90 which already had a ~13mm hole in it. I guess I could always re-grind it to have a straight, chiselled edge, but the curve adds a slicing action.

The only thing i'm wary of is mixing such a dangerous tool with alcohol ... i'm sure it'd make short work of fingers or toes!

Update: It works quite well and I've still got the appendages, but I decided to make a slight improvement. With no clamping support the uprights tended to drift apart slightly which made the blade a bit loose after a while.

I took the shim out and trimmed it to size and then put a bolt through the middle. I just happened to have a brand new bolt exactly the right diameter and length sitting around. It expanded the shim slightly to be a tighter fit with the axel mounting holes and also a better fit with the existing hole in the knife. Having a threaded bolt allows me to tighten up the gap between the uprights so the knife stays straighter during a cut. A few drops of grapeseed oil had it moving smoothly even when fairly tight. The curved blade works well with the slicing action and gives a bit more cutting power than a direct downward action does.

Not bad for 15 minutes after a warm afternoon boozing it up.

With the changes everything feels a good bit tighter and more controlled and subsequently it is a bit easier to use with extra-dry meat or other harder material. It would still be better to have a chisel point but the knife edge is ok enough. Perhaps in hindsight the extra $3 for the next knife size up with the thicker blade might have been a good idea too but for a $7 experiment i'm happy enough and it is nice and compact.

It also makes a great over-dried galangal (the only kind available at the moment) cutter or anything similarly hard one wishes to slice extra-fine.

Tagged cooking, hacking.
Sunday, 16 December 2012, 20:26

Meat drier

I've been meaning to make a meat drier for a while and I decided not to hang around now i'm on holiday and spent a couple of days putting together a drying cabinet, and then making some content to put into it.

I had some cheap shitty old all-steel screw together shelving unit that I hadn't unpacked since I moved from Perth, and I figured that was about the right size to at least get some parts out of. I originally intended for it to stand upright with the shelving standing up length-wise, but after I got it screwed together I realised I could just flip it on it's side and it also had legs ... which solved one of the problems I had wrt mounting any additional hardware ...

I'm just using a 40w globe for heat/airflow for now, and I'll see how that goes. After a few hot and humid weeks we're back to cool and dry which should be fine.

I also had a fly-screen lying around not doing anything, and by complete chance it happened to fit the width exactly. For now I made a very simple wire clip to hold it in place and have the foam to prop it up a little to make it cover the top.

The only metal I had to cut were the sides and the length of the rails. The sides were off-cuts from the shed, and I only had to cut about 50mm off those. And I had to drill a few holes where the existing ones didn't align. The only other fabrication was to pound down the wider inner seam under the shelving so the 4 panels fit together snugly - a 6" piece of railway line and a hammer did the job. Oh, and bend a few bits of thick wire for the clips and an off-cut for the drip cover.

I already had the coffee-tin bulb holder from previous efforts, and the profile of the steel on the sides provides a ledge for the rails at several heights.

For the biltong, I just did the main muscle in a whole rump (which is the cheapest bulk meat I have handy), which leaves plenty of drying space, although if I used wire hooks it would hang sideways and let me fit more in.

Now hopefully it comes out ok ... I've made it before using a cardboard box, but it's been a while and although the details don't seem to matter much, sometimes they do.

Tagged cooking.
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