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Archive for the ‘From Scratch’ Category

If you stock homemade granola in your kitchen, and you have small children with incredibly variable appetites, you are likely to have come across the leftover granola issue. After the cost of the high quality ingredients, and the time of mixing and baking each batch, to throw away even just a half cup of it just about kills me.

So, I save up the leftovers in a pint jar in the freezer. When it’s full, I make these puppies, and redeem my children’s otherwise wasteful habits.

This recipe is from an old post, full of all kinds of jumble. But since I myself have G**gle searched “apronstringz leftover granola muffins” at least half a dozen times since publishing it, it occurred to me today that maybe I had better give it it’s very own brand new post. They are really good!

Cinnamon Crumble Muffins (wink)

makes one dozen very tall muffins

  • 1 pint jar (2 cups) leftover granola and milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup oil (don’t be afraid of olive oil for baking btw, it works just fine)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup white all-purpose (plus 1/2 cup or more if necessary)
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder (I know this seems like a lot, but it wasn’t too much)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4-1/2 cup raisins (optional)

for the crumble topping

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup oats

Butter your muffin tin generously. I never used to use butter to grease pans, but have since realized that it does a much better job than oil and makes a delicious crust to boot.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Beat all the wet ingredients together, whisk the dry ingredients together, then fold the dry into the wet. Add the extra 1/2 cup or more of white flour until you have a thick batter. You should be able to scoop it with a spoon like soft ice cream. Fill the muffin cups to the brim, and then even a teeny bit more. This recipe fit (barely) into my tin, which I think has 1/2 cup sized cups.

Dump all the crumble ingredient together in the empty batter bowl and mash/stir until thoroughly incorporated. Sprinkle onto muffins. It will seem like way too much, but keep trying to pack it on there. As the muffins bake and expand, the tops will suck up the crumble and it will be perfect! Pat the tops so that the crumble stays put. If you really can’t fit all the crumble on, save it in your freezer for your next batch o’ muffs.

Pop into the oven. After 10 or 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 350. Starting at a high heat like this helps make your muffins nicely domed. Bake another- oh hell I don’t know, I never time ‘em- 10 minutes? They’re done when the tops feel springy, stick a butter knife in if you’re not sure, there should be sticky crumbs but no batter clinging.

Cool on a wire rack, where the 3YO can’t reach if you want to have any crumble left for anyone else.

Post Script: Add chocolate chips to the batter, and top with frosting and sprinkles for some big mama points!

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Rather than dwell on the unnamable ball of twisty angst in my gut, today, let’s talk fish. This post is one of those that lay foundering in my draft box, and it’s really not fair to you to keep it locked up. Silver season is upon us.

Now that we are back in Cordova, you are going to be hearing a lot about fish. Namely sockeye  and silver salmon. I know this is a cruel taunt for most my readers, but some fair number of you live in Alaska or the PNW and might appreciate a recipe here and there. Not to mention that most fish recipes are adaptable to whatever species you can lay hands on….

Sockeye season is over here, we are fully in to silvers. For those of you buying from the market, silvers are considerably cheaper and still a great fish. There are other species of pacific salmon sometimes in stores too. Pink salmon has gotten a bad rap from years of shitty canning practices, but can be perfectly fine food. Chum salmon, called “dogs” here, are also entirely edible by humans. I ate them and canned them and enjoyed them before Cordova turned me into a hopeless fish snob. Folks here can get snitchy about these “lesser” species, and it’s true they don’t have near so much flavor and luscious fat as sockeye and king salmon. But that doesn’t mean they can’t spell dinner.

I can’t help it, as a devout Alaskan, I have to preach for just a minute here. Please don’t buy farmed salmon. It’s bad. Bad for fishermen, bad for the environment, and certainly not as amazingly good for you as it’s wild counterpart. Be aware that stores will often label farmed salmon, misleadingly, “Atlantic salmon” as if it came from the Atlantic ocean. Atlantic is in fact the species name, and although there are wild runs of Atlantic salmon, it is the species of choice for farming and that is what you will be looking at in the grocery store. You can be pretty sure unless it is labeled wild salmon, it’s farmed, probably in Chile.

Someone commented awhile back on the conundrum of too much salmon and what to do with it. I have never personally gotten sick of good sockeye salmon, though I have at times eaten it about as much as person possibly can. I think the trick, as for using up any bountiful food item, is two-fold.

1. Take excessive care to preserve it in the highest possible quality. I have most certainly not always done this. In fact, I’m quite sure I have made all the mistakes available to the novice. For example, it’s not at all hard to get tired of frost-bitten, fishy tasting salmon that was packed into zip-locks for reasons of thrift. This is what I believe they call “penny wise, pound foolish.” Ahem. Over smoking is another way to make yourself sorry, as I can also attest. My ex and I once smoked a batch of jerky so much that it made our mouths numb to eat (yes, we ate it anyway).

2. Don’t think about recipes for salmon, per se. Just cook the way you usually cook, but forgo your internal food rules and substitute salmon for every other flesh you might have used (bear in mind that it must never be overcooked!) I love a plain sockeye fillet baked or fried with nothing more than salt, if the quality is very high. But when you are tired of that, or using up a cheaper lesser flavorful fish, just use it in everything you ordinarily cook. Soup, casserole, pot pie, tacos, spaghetti, stir fry. If your fish is getting a little “fishy” use lemon, tomato or a tiny splash of white wine to cut the fishiness back out.

That said, here are my favorite ways to cook salmon, after the thrill is gone.

Ceviche

The only hard part of making unbelievable salmon ceviche is removing the skin and pin bones. Those bones run in a single line down the length of the fillet, and if you are careful you can cut out the whole strip of ‘em without losing much meat. Bear in mind as you cut down that they angle toward the belly. Or, you can use pliers to remove each one individually. To remove the skin of any fish, lay it on the cutting board skin side down and run your sharp (essential!) knife right under the flesh. Ceviche is a good time to practice these techniques because you’re going to be chopping up all the fish anyway, so mistakes don’t matter.

Mix 1 lb chopped up fish with 1/2 red onion, 1 red pepper, 1 bunch of cilantro, 1/2 cup fresh lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste. Let the mix sit at least 1 hour, 3 or 4 is even better. Serve with a pile of warm corn tortillas (fried in a lightly oiled pan) and black beans. So, so good, with any species of fish.

Fish Sticks

Everyone loves homemade fish sticks. They convert people who think they don’t like fish, and blow the minds of fish snobs who think they are too good for something that usually classes with TV dinners. They’re just as good with silvers as reds. De-bone and remove the skin as described above. Cut into stick sizes. Use a “bound breading” with Panko and cornmeal, and pan fry in half an inch of olive oil for a phenomenal stick.

Bound breading is a good trick to know, if you don’t already. It makes a perfect, crispy crust. Get three bowls. Put flour in one, an egg or two whisked smooth in another, and Panko, breadcrumbs and/or cornmeal in the last (Panko is a secret to itself, just some incredible kind of  Japanese breadcrumb stuff that blows everything else out of the water.) Dip the fish pieces first in flour, then egg, then Panko. It’s messy, but worth it. Panko is meant for deep frying, but pan frying (just a half inch of oil) works fine for these fish sticks.

To complete the experience, mayo + pickle juice + dill weed=tartar sauce.

Gravlox

Do you know this stuff? It’s “cured” salmon, meaning you salt it heavily and let it sit (in the fridge) for a few days, then eat it uncooked, sliced thin on crackers. Sounds very unpromising, right? I was incredibly skeptical the first time I had it. But I could hardly stop eating it! If you like salmon sushi, you will like Gravlox. This isn’t exactly a using it up recipe, you need absolutely prime perfect salmon to make it, and a little goes a long way. But it is soooooo good, and so easy, I just have to share it. Silvers make equally wonderful Gravlox. Just take a fillet which has been frozen for several days at least (to kill any potential parasites since you won’t be cooking it), lay it into a glass baking dish and cover with 2 teaspoons salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar and 2 teaspoons freshly dried dill (not ancient tasteless dill from the bottom of your spice drawer that you’ve had longer than your children, throw that shit away right now!) Cover and leave in the fridge for at least one, preferably 2 or 3 days.

Now, this is the hardest part, slice the cold Gravlox paper thin (a 15-30 minute stay in the freezer will help, but don’t forget about it!!!!) and serve with crackers, cream cheese, finely sliced red onion and lemon wedges. I assume you will do this for a special occasion, but don’t pre-assemble them, or the crackers get soggy. Let folks make up their own, squeezing just a few drips of lemon onto each bite. Oh glory! It is a show stopper. Absolutely mind blowing.

An entire fillet makes a huge crowd’s worth of Gravlox. Too much for all but the most enormous party really. This year, I made up a fillet and then cut it into four chunks, vac-packed and froze each separately. I think it will slice up even better when it’s still mostly frozen, making it a relatively quick, totally fabulous treat to share with unexpected guests.

The Best Salmon Burgers Ever

Here is the requested recipe that started me on this post in the first place. It makes the best salmon cakes or burgers you’ve ever had. I have at times in my past nearly lived on very humble canned salmon patties– a jar of salmon with just enough flour mixed in to hold things together, shaped and fried. Very spare, very emblemic of a particular period in my life.

These are not they. These are made with fresh (or thawed) fish, a bit of old bread and that coy magic– mayonnaise. Nothing makes good like mayonnaise.

The original recipe is from Cooks Illustrated, crown glory of annal retentive perfection in the kitchen. I discovered it via a friend, who explained that rather than take a perfectly good fillet and mince it up into tiny bits as the recipe instructs, she scrapes down her filleted carcasses with a spoon and uses all that residual goodness. Having done both, I can say that the latter actually makes for a better texture, and certainly a more profound frugal housewife righteousness. It is an especially useful trick if you are still learning how to fillet and leave lots of good fish of the carcass. Myself– not to toot my own horn, I am incredibly slow– I have gotten to be pretty good at removing all the flesh intact to the fillet. So good that I am actually a bit disappointed how much is left to scrape up for burgers.

But, when I did up those 20 sockeyes in July, I did get a giant bowlful of scrappy bits. I made a whole big batch of these and popped most of them into the freezer. You can cook them straight from frozen, and you will really feel like a rockstar.

Note: I think these would work with any kind of fish, though they might be a tad dry with a less fatty kind. Maybe add more mayo…?

The Best Salmon Burgers Ever

  • 1 1/4 pounds salmon, or a pint sized mason jar packed full and heaped up high
  • 1 slice stale (but not dried out) bread, ground up in the food processor or very finely minced
  • 2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons grated onion, don’t be tempted to just mince it, grating is important
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • a bit of fresh parsley or dill if you have it, minced super fine

for the breading:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup Panko or regular breadcrumbs

If you are using a fillet of fish, use a sharp knife to finely slice/chop/shred the flesh, you want it to look like ground meat. Do not be tempted to put it into a food processor, which will turn it into a disgusting paste. I have however had great luck running fish through my Kitchen Aide’s grinder attachment using the coarsest blade.

Once you’ve got the fish looking right, just mix it with the rest of the ingredients up top. It will be very sticky. Form patties as best you can and lay onto a baking sheet dusted heavily with flour. Put the sheet into the freezer for 15-30 minutes (don’t forget!) until they are very firm.

Now get set up for a bound breading experience as described in the fish sticks section. Bread each patty and set back onto the sheet pan. Obviously you can skip this step, they will still be very good, but this is what really what blows them out of the water. So to speak.

Fry the patties in a half inch of oil, till nicely browned on each side. Serve hot, on buns with full garnish, or just plain jane on a plate with some fresh steamed rice and a salad. Yum!

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***This week’s post is from an old friend, Jessica, who currently lives in Maine. I know fiddlehead season is long past in most of the country, but do make a note to try them next spring. They are still coming up around here in spots where the snow was banked and has just melted off. I introduced them to the kids as “curlycues” and so far they have gobbled them down. I want to point out that although Middle Eastern chermoula sounds exotic and fancy, it is super easy. We are talking weeknight dinner material if you have a food processor. Thanks for the post Jessica!***

CJ and I are high school friends from Alaska. For my guest blog, I originally planned to delve deep into my psyche and tackle an analysis of how CJ and I have grown up through the years – choosing life paths that are both dramatically different yet remarkably similar.

Then I chickened out.

It’s not really until you sit down to write a blog entry that you realize how scary it is.  CJ really puts herself out there. I have a whole new appreciation for the vulnerability involved, as I write this.  So, yeah, I’m going to take the safe route (this won’t surprise CJ, and probably would have been one of my talking points on that other blog – smile)…

Let’s talk about food! Food is safe! In particular, let’s talk about cooking with local foods in Maine. Last night, I whipped up a bunch of middle eastern food with Maine ingredients.

First off, you probably think of moose and lobsters when you think of Maine. And that’s not that far off from the truth. It is a wonderfully wild state in which to live. Last weekend, my whitewater paddling friends were driving down a logging road during our canoe shuttle, and saw a moose AND a bear crossing the road AT THE SAME TIME (although separated by a few hundred yards). If you can’t live in Alaska, then Maine is clearly next runner up.

Middle Eastern Cooking

I’m basically a novice chef and rely on cookbooks.  I enjoy following recipes, especially the first time through.  If you want to get into middle eastern cooking, I’d recommend Claudia Roden’s book, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. My top three favorite recipes out of this book are the lentil soup (not your college student days lentil soup), chicken in plum sauce, and the sholezard (saffron rice pudding dessert).  The recipes are very straightforward, and the only hurdle to middle eastern cooking in Maine is finding the middle eastern spices for a reasonable price in such a rural area.

 

Side Dish – Fiddleheads

Mainers love their fiddleheads. Technically, these are ostrich ferns. They are found in the early spring (which means late April or  early May here in Maine). Fiddleheaders canvass river banks that were recently flooded and harvest the fronds. Classically, people sell fiddleheads from their vehicles along the side of the road. Picture a guy sitting in a lawnchair with a cooler and a cardboard sign.  People are very protective of their fiddleheading spots; you’d never ask someone where they fiddlehead – just like you’d never ask an angler where their special fishing hole is or a wild blueberry picker where their field is located. Collecting fiddleheads in Maine is a tradition that goes back millennia with the Wabanki Indians, including the nearby Penobscots.

Currently, fiddleheads are running $2.50-3.50/pound. I first had them while visiting Maine, and then looked for them when I returned to Minneapolis where I was living at the time. I could only find them at Whole Foods and they were $17.00/pound! Here’s what they look like:

 

They’re not that hard to cook, but they do need to be cooked thoroughly due to the acid in them. If you don’t cook them enough, you’ll get a wicked stomach ache.

Some of the easy preparations are to boil them and then add butter and salt. They get mushy but I was always afraid of the stomach ache. And, to be honest, I didn’t like them that much but ate them anyway because that’s what Mainers eat. Then I got brave. Now I sometimes half-cook them and put them on pizzas. I love ricotta, sausage, fiddleheads, and garlic pizza. I hear they’re amazing in omelets.

Another local delicacy is Maine shrimp. These are also sold roadside, although also in the grocery stores and fish markets. They are incredibly tiny, like popcorn shrimp. I have a recipe for a sweet and sour shimp fiddlehead soup. Basically, you use chicken broth and white vinegar to taste for the broth, then put the itty bitty Maine shrimp and whatever seasonings you want (hot pepper, garlic, black pepper, cumin, etc.) into a food processor. This makes a stinky shrimp paste. With the broth heated up, drop the shrimp paste in spoonful by spoonful. It cooks nearly on contact into little flavorful shrimp balls. Then add the fiddleheads at the end and boil them for just enough time to cook them. This probably sounds very strange, but it is super tasty, healthy, and full of flavor. If you don’t have fiddleheads, you could substitute in any sort of strong vegetable (e.g, brussel sprouts).

Last night, I just went with a simple olive oil and garlic sauté to the al dente point and then put a lid on it to finish the cooking process. They maintained great texture that way.

 

Main Dish – Haddock in Chermoula Sauce

One thing I really miss about Alaska is the salmon and halibut. Not only do I miss eating these fish, I miss being able to catch them with my own pole or net. Growing up we would eat salmon at least once a week. Now, my local salmon is the Atlantic salmon and the native variety is threatened on the Penobscot River. So, it is not possible to go catch them yourself. Besides, they’re also really small compared to Alaska’s five types of salmon. This creates one of those sustainability crises (first world problem, I know). If I want the local fish, I would have to get farm-raised Atlantic salmon. If I want my usual wild fish, I would have to deal with the carbon footprint of flying it from Alaska to Maine. And, I can’t find halibut at all up here. So what’s a gal to do? People recommended haddock to me, but it is often compared to cod. I’ve never been a cod fan. Cod is oily; cod is translucent. Blah. But, in a desperate moment of wanting white fish, I got some haddock. It turns out that haddock is great! A fish that can be found just offshore of both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, including offshore of Maine, it appears that populations are currently doing “okay.” Greenpeace has alert out that they could come from unsustainable sources, so it’s important to get them from U.S. regulated fisheries, if that’s of concern to you. They feed on small invertebrate critters, and only occasionally on other fish, so don’t need to fret too much about bioaccumulation or mercury issues. It’s not as thick as halibut, but it is much more like halibut than it is like cod. It’s solid white meat that holds together well. It has a very light flavor (not “fishy). And it goes great with chermoula sauce!

For the chermoula sauce, Claudia Roden recommends:

  • 2/3 cup fresh cilantro (I used the whole friggin’ bunch)
  • 4 cloves of garlic (I used 6 big ones)
  • 1 tsp cumin (I used 1.5 tsp)
  • 1 tsp paprika (I used 1.5 tsp)
  • ¼- ½ tsp ground chili power (optional) (I used ½ tsp of Penzy’s Chili 9000)
  •  6 Tbl olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon

Put all this in a food processor and make a paste. Then, use a casserole dish and lay the haddock or other white fish on top of a bed of FINELY sliced onions. I forgot to take a picture of the naked haddock, so my apologies. Bake at 350-400 degrees until it’s done.

 

At this point, you’ve made a VERY green meal, so a little contrasting color is necessary. Carrots are easy.

It was tasty!

I appreciate the opportunity to guest blog!

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I started packing yesterday. I’m hoping to get a few boxes packed every day for mailing to Alaska, since we aren’t planning to send too much home, I think two weeks ought to get that job done. Then we are going to have a giant garage sale to purge everything else, then it will just be a matter of cleaning the house top to bottom. Which will be a daunting task.

Over our few years here I have accumulated a lot of books. I never used to buy books, I would just get them from the library. But while here, I made the conscious decision to start buying books regularly, sometimes even new, to show my support to what might become a dying industry. And to prepare for My Man and my future fantasy home library. His side– political revolution, deep ecology and legal strategy. My side– homesteading books, DIY, a complete collection of Wendell Berry, wilderness writing and cookery.

With that in mind I bought Feeding the Whole Family last year, instead of inter-library loaning it. It’s a great book emphasizing dinner as a meal for everyone, babies, children and adults. I would especially recommend it for anyone starting out with their first baby and wondering what the alternatives are to bottled baby food, and how to approach healthy food with growing children.

I grew up with hippie parents who just mashed up whatever they were eating for me. And yet when I had my own baby, I nevertheless had a panic attack about food rules. That first time around, it seemed so crucial what I feed our babe, and I felt intimidated. Brown rice and carrot purree were both straightforward and I felt fine about them, but she wouldn’t touch them. I struggled to get her to eat anything at all for the first several months. It wasn’t until she got old enough (about 1) that I started to feel confident picking through our dinner for the soft, smooshy parts. And then her desire to eat exploded! She loved food with flavor.

Feeding the Whole Family has a good section on what’s okay to feed babies (more than you think), another section on foods toddlers and children tend to like, and another on creating meals that serve the whole family. Most of the meals are pretty quick, basic, one-pot affairs using whole grains, beans and vegetables. It’s directed towards a beginner level cook, with thorough instructions. Although there are many different kinds of recipes, overall I would call the food style ‘hippie-asian’ with lots of tamari and sunflower seeds.

If you are still reading, and thinking this sounds like the book you need, I have a secret for you. Although this is a great book, I don’t need it. I have this kind of food pretty much internalized, and though I was grateful to read through the baby/toddler section, once was probably enough. So I’m going to give it away! I almost chucked it into the ‘sell’ box, but figured one of you lovely readers could get good use out of it. For the new mama who’s a bit daunted in the kitchen, this is the perfect book.

Leave a comment below telling me why you need this book. I’ll choose out the most deserving/desperate, and then pick randomly amongst you. Bear in mind, this is a used book. But if you are a real reader of this blog, not a giveaway troller, you won’t care– it’s in perfectly good condition.

Yes, I am going to leave this open to my overseas mamas (and papas?) because y’all rock and I want you to join in the fun too.

Begin! (Open until Tuesday, May 1st)

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A few weeks I wrote about the changes we need to make to move towards more sustainable home lives, and how so many of those changes are built on the slow integration of deceptively simple habits like eating more vegetables (The Incredible Power of Habit). Even if you don’t yet have the time or the space to grow your own, you can start right now learning how to eat the vegetables that you will grow in your someday garden.

It sounds easy. Of course, if you had a garden, you would eat like Alice Waters, right? Doesn’t the ability to garnish poached beets with fresh chevre and call it dinner come automatically with that first harvest?

No. No it doesn’t. Not for very many of us.

Because although I adore poached beets and at least two other members of my family will deign to eat a few with me, I cannot call that dinner, cheese or no cheese. In my fantasy housewife life, I serve a small piece of grass fed meat with a simple pan reduction, alongside perfectly steamed local brown rice, those sweet poached beets and a pile of braised greens with garlic. A four part harmony of colors, half vegetables, 3/4 vegetable matter. A lovely, balanced, sustainable meal.

In real life, I remember to put the roast into the crock pot before lunch by some stoke of genius. I don’t think any farther than that until 5pm, when I remember in a rush I need to start the rice before I take the laundry off the line. As I’m setting the table it occurs to me that I have forgotten a vegetable, again. I run out to cut some collards, which I quickly steam with butter. But even I am tired of collards, and my lackluster approach certainly doesn’t appeal to anyone else at the table.

i've finally integrated the habit of washing and trimming veggies right when i bring them home, before i put them in the fridge. the beets i stick straight into the crock pot for a couple of hours, then when i crave that beet salad all i have to do is whip up the dressing.

The problem with vegetables is many fold. At the heart of the matter is the fact that most of us didn’t grow up eating them as a central part of our meals. In our culture, vegetables are an afterthought, almost a garnish. When I consider the question of dinner, vegetables are the last thing on my mental list, after protein (1) and starch (2). By the time I get to them, I just don’t have the energy or time to attempt anything beyond ‘cooked, with butter.’

Because dinner, in real life, comes down to a tally of minutes. I usually allow myself about 50 of them to get the job done, start to finish. With kids underfoot. And I am a fast, experienced cook! How many of us can afford more than an hour to prepare dinner? And what can you do in an hour?

In magazines, even in the ‘weeknight dinner’ section hidden in the back, they give you a recipe for one thing, with the associated time estimate. Disregard for the moment the fact that their time estimates are ridiculously low for a first run with a recipe, and consider instead the meal in it’s entirety. Maybe you can make sauteed chicken breast with mango in 20 minutes, if you know your way around the kitchen and don’t pay too close attention to the recipe (following recipes is much more time consuming than just cooking) but the photo shows the chicken reclining on a bed of rice with nothing else on the plate. Is that dinner? Chicken and rice? Probably you are supposed to open a bag of baby salad greens, dump them into a bowl and grab the bottle of salad dressing from the fridge. Even still, between that and starting the rice, you are looking at 30 minutes, for a super efficient cook with mostly pre-prepared ingredients.

What about us? Who start with the whole chicken from the farmers market because it’s the best value, who cook brown rice because it’s a whole food full of nourishing goodness, who feel that vegetables should not come sealed in preservative gas. Real vegetables take time. You start with a plant, necessitating scrubbing/trimming/deveining/chopping or any number of other verbs, just to get it ready to cook.

Then comes– what to do with it?

I actually love plain vegetables steamed with butter. But I do get tired of the same vegetable steamed with butter night after night. And when you eat seasonally, that’s often what you get. Whole seasons of just a few kinds of vegetables. I want to learn new recipes, new ways to make the same old veggies seem different. But I get frustrated by how many “vegetable” recipes are half dairy products. Of course it will taste good if you add a pound of cheese and half a stick of butter. I don’t need a recipe to tell me that.

There are a few good basic tricks out there:

Roasting. The best trick in the book, I’d say. Toss almost any vegetable (except greens) with oil and salt and roast at 350-400 until caramelly brown around the edges and tender through. All root vegetables are divine this way, and some green things too, such as brussel sprouts and asparagus. Sadly, I have trouble justifying the high blast of mostly wasted heat involved with oven roasting and so I only do it occasionally.

Caramelizing is the stovetop version of oven roasting. If you have not learned the joys of properly caramelized onions, you have some magic ahead of you! There are two tricks– not crowding the pan and getting the temperature right. I’ve found the best way is to start out on medium until the onions just start to color and then turning the heat down to med-low and eventually to low (as the moisture cooks out of them they need a lower and lower heat to keep from burning.) You want a nice rich caramel color around the edges of very soft onions. Cooked this way, they are a side dish in their own right, or a start to the best greens you’ll ever eat (see below). Many other vegetables benefit from the same careful temperature treatment– mushrooms are glorious if cooked in a single uncrowded layer until golden brown on both sides; cabbage can be cut into thick wedges, arranged cut side down in a buttered pan and cooked over med-low heat (covered with a lid) until golden brown on both sides and barely tender throughout, one of my favorite ways to eat one of my favorite vegetables; caramelized carrots are a revelation. The downside of pan roasting is that since the vegetables need to be in a single layer you can’t really fit enough in a single skillet to feed a family.

With dressing. I feel Americans are unfairly disadvantaged in the salad department. We have such a narrow view of it. I myself am only sometimes fond of the leafy variety, but I adore many other vegetables dressed in my garlicky homemade goodness– sliced cooked beets, grated carrots, thinly sliced cabbage and/or kale, steamed broccoli, fresh sliced tomato… Though certainly not all at once! In fact, I generally prefer just one kind of vegetable in my salad.

The Color Green

All of those techniques are great, but one of the challenges I’ve had is that my lazy gardens, on both sides of this continent, have generally pumped out one thing in almost nauseating quantity. Greens. And I mean the sturdy brassica variety– kale back home in Alaska, and collards here in New Orleans. Now, understand that I adore greens. Adore them! If I could rotate the kind of greens, I think I could eat them every day. But even I get tired of the strong flavor of collards, day after day after day.

I feel like greens deserve their own little segment here because they are 1. the easiest thing to grow, no matter where you live, 2. unbelievably healthy and 3. completely undervalued and underloved.

arugula, baby mustard, and purple kale. i love arugula for salads, but i've also found it can be cooked exactly like spinach and is delicious with eggs.

When new gardeners ask me what they should grow I always say kale or collards, depending on latitude. These hardy brassicas are easy to grow from seed and they look beautiful while growing. Whereas other crops require more careful planning to mature before the end of the season, or on a succession schedule, brassica greens can go in anytime, anywhere. They can be harvested at any stage and over a long season be pulling outer leaves as needed. They grow fast, make lots of extremely nutritious food in a small space, require very little care and generally seem to love life. You can see why I am always inundated with them!

The caveat is that people aren’t used to eating greens more often than a few times a month, if that. And when Americans do eat greens, it’s almost always spinach. Even though homegrown kale and collards are miles better than the tough store-bought versions, they’re still not spinach. And there are precious few recipes for cooking these sturdy greens to inspire newcomers.

Here’s my own green missionary recipe:

Caramelize half an onion in 2 Tablespoons of butter, don’t let them burn! Meanwhile wash a bunch of kale, collards or chard. Trim the thick central stalk out from the middle of the leaf and throw it to the chickens (if using chard, save the stems for this muffin recipe!) Chop trimmed leaves into bite sized pieces. When the onions are nicely browned, throw the greens in along with 1/4 cup each of stock and chopped tomatoes (I keep chunks of each in the freezer for just such an occasion). Cover the pan and allow to steam/fry for about ten minutes, stirring several times. Cook until the greens are tender, adding water if necessary to keep the pan from drying out. Don’t cook so long as to get limp and brown though, that’s only good when there are large quantities of pork involved (and then, my oh my is it good!)

What is your favorite way to cook vegetables? In that post about habits, several of you mentioned favorite cookbooks, and I thought it would be nice to open things up to your advice again. Because despite all those good ideas above, I still find veggies going soft and wilty in my bottom drawer all the time! I myself am not a recipe follower but I am an avid cookbook reader (I read for ideas). As I mentioned earlier, I am often disappointed by the quantity of vegetables in ‘vegetable’ recipes. But then, I think I am trying to get something out of nothing, you know what I mean? I want to use up that 3 pound pile of collards in my fridge, and I don’t want to have to spend $10 on fancy cheese to do it. But I want the end result to taste different than the same old pile o’ collards I always make…. I am hoping for some kind of magic trick I guess.

There’s no magic involved, but I am incredibly inspired by Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Grains and Greens. This book is literally half about greens! All kinds of greens, in fact wild greens figure big, as do lesser used cultivated greens like endive and beet greens. Wolfert is an authority on authentic Mediterranean food, and she bases this book almost entirely on the traditional foodways of that region.

Sadly, and this is a lot of the problem for many of us I suspect, I am cooking for an increasingly picky audience. Most of these greens-rich recipes simply don’t get eaten. I perservere with cooking greens, partly out of an obligation to use up the glut of greens from my garden, partly so that at least my kids still see greens on the table, and see me eating and enjoying them. But considering that I am the primary eater, and I have 3 other eaters to cook for, I don’t find the time to sex my greens up. I’m lucky to get the onions caramelized for that missionary recipe above, let alone tantalizing, time consuming recipes like Paula Wolfert’s wild greens gnocchi.

Here are a few of my older posts on cooking with vegetables:

Harvest First, Cook Second– this one discusses Grains and Greens and my corresponding epiphany about local food knowledge

Swiss Chard Ravioli– the 4yo ate these! a big project though, with lots of cheese

If You Can’t Beet ‘Em– pink pancakes go over very well with little people

Green Tomato and Turkey Enchiladas– using up those end of the season beauties

What are you favorites?

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Have you ever had sprouted wheat bread? It’s known most commonly as that biblical quoting stuff they sell in the freezer at your local health food store– Ezekiel bread. I have always loved the stuff, it’s the only packaged bread that remotely interests me. It’s supposed to be much more nutritious than bread made from plain flour, and I do believe that’s true, but my real draw is taste and texture– Ezekiel bread has a rich, fresh wheat flavor and nubby texture that I just adore.

The only problem (apart from the price) is that, like any real bread, it gets stale quick and therefore the store has to keep it in the freezer. Being in the freezer, not very many people think to buy it and it sometimes sits in there for a loooong time. It’s almost always so dry that you have to toast it to be able to eat it, and I have even had a few loaves that were literally dehydrated around the edges.

I had wanted to try making my own sprouted wheat bread for years– fresh, moist and affordable! But you need to have a way to grind the sprouted “berries.” It takes either a meat grinder or a food processor (a grain grinder only works on dry grain), so when I finally got a food processor for my birthday two years ago sprouted bread topped my list of uses. I spent a few months experimenting and got some almost, but not quite awesome results. There were a fair number of inedibley dense loaves though and I eventually gave it up.

To make sprouted grain bread, first you soak wheat berries overnight in plenty of water. Then you drain off the water and leave to “sprout,” 6-24 hours or more depending on the temperature. You aren’t sprouting nearly to the degree you might imagine, just watching for the grain to split open at one end and the little white tails to poke out.

When the grains are ready you grind them in either a food processor or meat grinder, and that is when the miracle occurs. First it just looks like a bunch of chopped up wheat berries, but as the grain is chopped finer and finer the gluten is released and suddenly it becomes a cohesive mass of (very nubby) dough.

Part of the reason my loaves were coming out too heavy during my initial run of obsessive trailing, was that my food processor was just not getting enough of the grains ground fine enough before a dough formed, and so not enough gluten was being released. I was getting an extremely coarse bread, essentially chopped grains with just enough gluten to hold them all together, but not enough to sustain much real rising power. The heaviness was daunting, but I do adore bread with real texture and the flavor was amazing– so purely wheat. I felt the golden bell of perfection ring siren-like in my ear. I knew somehow, someday I would need to master this bread.

Several months ago, in the wake of our cancer scare, I bought a big fancy masticating (grinding) juicer ostensibly to make My Man healthful juice. What I have really ended up using and loving it for is sprouted wheat bread! You just remove the screen to turn it into a food grinder, and it does a beautiful job, getting a much finer grind than the food processor. It’s easier to use and easier to clean. I have made a few perfect loaves, and hardly any inedible ones. Overall, a great success.

But! You probably don’t have a masticating juicer laying around, right? (If you do, see below) Fear not, for although my juicer gave me the motivation to get back at my sprouted bread technique, I have since learned a few things and even figured out how to transfer my improved recipe and technique to the food processor. All for you, dear few people who have the time and inclination to fret about such things!

The absolute most important part of making sprouted grain bread is getting just the right amount of sprouting going on. As the grain wakes up and pushes that first little rootlet out, it converts the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars to feed the emerging plant. If you let the grain sprout too much, there isn’t enough starch structure left to support bread, and your loaf will be very, very heavy and gummy and not good at all. I read several recipes that said to let the sprout grow to anything from 1/4 inch to “the length of the grain.” Unless I am missing something, this is purely bogus and tragically misleading. From my experience over the last several months, anything over a 1/8th inch is not worth even using**

Watch your grain closely for the first few times. The soaked grain won’t do anything at all for the first few or several hours, then you will see each grain split open just a little at one end and reveal the white inside. A small tip or protrusion will start to bulge out (we are talking very, very tiny here). At this point the process starts to move much faster so keep a close eye. Longer sprouting time makes for a sweeter, fuller flavor but it also makes the bread gummier and heavier, this is a very fine balancing point which I am still navigating. You can actually make very good bread any time after the grain splits open, but I believe the magical perfect moment occurs sometime after the emergence of a visible tip or tail and before it reaches 1/8th inch in length.

these could actually go for another hour or so, but they almost perfect, and perfectly good enough for awesome bread. i would recommend erring on the less sprouted side till you get the hang of things…

I recommend starting this process in the morning, then you can soak all day, let the grain sit and think about things overnight, then watch closely for sprouting throughout the next day. If you see the grain split open right before bedtime, morning is too far away to let the sprouting continue. Trust me. Put the whole bowl in the fridge and take it out again in the morning to restart the process. This works just fine and saves a potential botched loaf.

**If you really get into this sprouted bread, you will at some point let the sprouting process get away from you. You’ll suddenly remember your grain after coffee the next morning and run panicking into the kitchen. The tails will be winding down through the mesh sieve looking for dirt. Don’t dump the bowl out for chickens (although they would love you for it, and it’s hardly a loss) just whiz the sprouts up in the food processor and freeze in four approximately cup sized portions. You can add these into a recipe of regular flour based bread and they work just fine, adding great flavor and texture.

these tails are WAY too long, but still great for adding into regular bread in small quantities

Other than timing, my main improvement has come from using a small portion of white flour. I use about 75% sprouted wheat (by dry weight) and 25% white flour. I realize this could get some Ezekiel panties in a bunch, but I’m no purist. I just want to make delicious toothsome bread that can truly fill my belly for breakfast, eggs optional. This is the stuff. So damned satisfying, on an almost primal level.

Please note that I do not recommend trying this recipe unless you are already a seasoned bread baker. Sorry. It is quite a bit more tricky than making bread from flour, with a much wider possibility for error. Might I recommend my Cherry Popper Recipe instead? If you are a seasoned bread maker, and you find the whole process as fascinating as me, check out my two part series on 20 years of recipe-less whole wheat bread baking Bread Every Day, Part One: Ingredients and Part Two: Technique.

Approaching Perfection Sprouted Wheat Bread

  • 2 cups hard red or hard white wheat berries
  • 1/4 cup lentils
  • 2 Tablespoons flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 1-2 Tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 – 1+ cups white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • big squirt flax oil

Soak wheat, lentils and flax seeds in plenty of water for about eight hours. Drain through a fine meshed sieve, rinse thoroughly, and leave the grain in the sieve, set over a bowl and covered. Rinse again before you go to bed and take a close look at the grain. You probably won’t see any signs of sprouting yet, if you do, stick the whole thing in the fridge for the night.

In the morning, rinse and check your grain again. If you have to leave the house and you are concerned your grain might sprout too much in your absence, or if it’s ready but you aren’t ready to make the dough, just stick it in the fridge and continue later.

Whenever both you and the wheat are ready, begin with the recipe.

Warm the milk to child-bath temperature, stir in the yeast and let sit five minutes. Pour half the milk into your food processor, add half the sprouted grain (unless you have a commercial size processor you will have to do this in two batches, annoying but true) and turn it on. It will take several minutes per batch, first it will look like this:

Then like this:

And finally you will see lots of good gluten strands and a real (albeit wet and chunky) dough forming, like this:

Transfer the first batch to a stand mixer or large bowl, and process the remaining grain, mixed with the other half of the milk/yeast.

When it’s all done, pour the honey, salt and oil on top of the mushy dough, then add the 3/4 cup of white bread flour. Mix on low for a few minutes, or hand knead for 5. Add more flour as necessary to make a moderately soft dough (it will be very sticky, in fact I haven’t tried this by hand, it might be challenging… But resist the temptation to add too much flour or your dough will be stiff and your loaf dry)

Let rise for an hour or two, until a finger poke does not bounce back. (Keep in mind, both now and when rising the loaf that this dough doesn’t have nearly as much gluten as a flour based dough, so it won’t rise nearly as high.) Pat the dough out into a rough rectangle and roll up into a tight log the length of your bread pan. Butter the pan generously and nestle the dough in. Cover with plastic and let rise for 45 minutes to an hour and a half, or until just shy of the finger poke spring back test. Turn the oven on to 350 F about halfway through the rising process. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until golden brown and hollow sounding when thumped. Remove from the pan and wrap the hot loaf in a clean tea towel to keep the crust from getting too hard. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing! No cheating, you’ll gum up the bread slicing it too soon.

Like all real bread, this will only last a few days sitting out on the counter. Store in the fridge to keep up to a week, or slice and freeze if you want it to last longer.

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**2013 Sprouted Bread Update**

Since this has turned out to be the enduringly viewed article on my entire blog (!) I thought I would post an update.

I have continued to make this bread, and enjoy it so much it’s almost an addiction. Once you taste it, it’s hard to go back to regular flour bread, which tastes flat to me now. My first improvement on the above technique was to sprout large batches of grain, grind it all at once, then store individual recipe sized lumps in the freezer for later use. I find this a little easier than the weekly sprouting, and makes each washing of the grinding equipment (a large portion of the work) worth 4 loaves of bread, instead of just one. I highly recommend it.

My second improvement was purely accidental. Poor housekeeping. I took out one of those frozen chunks of ground wheat to make bread with the following day, but forgot about it on the counter. A few days later when I remembered, it smelled like sourdough! I made up my dough with just water (instead of milk) and nixed the honey. I cut the yeast in half. I let the formed loaves rise in our cold garage overnight. The resultant sourdough sprouted wheat bread was the best loaf I think I have ever made or tasted. Unbelievable.

Since then I have attempted to repeat this, with variable success. I do find it needs a greater proportion of white bread flour (and water to match) to come out well. Sourdough and sprouted wheat can both make bread gummy and overly heavy, and when you combine them, the danger increases. I would recommend starting at 50/50 sprouted wheat to white bread flour, meaning apx 2 cups of sprouted grain, 3/4 cup of water and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of bread flour. After you get the hang of it, you can play around with increasing the percentage of sprouted wheat, or using some whole wheat flour in place of some of that white flour.

Normally I don’t like to make my staple bread less than 75% wheat. But I feel like with the combined health benefits of the sprouted wheat and the sourdough, and the outrageously good flavor and texture, it’s worth it.

Note that I am still using regular yeast, so this isn’t any pure kind of sourdough. I’m not a purist. For a wild yeast strong enough to rise bread, you’d have to feed it and grow it out several times. This ‘just leave it on the counter’ method is a quick and easy way to get a delicious half-soured bread. In our cool home (avg 65 degrees) I thaw my sprouted wheat two full days before I want to bake the bread, that seems to give the right amount of tang.

One last thing– in my experience with whole wheat sourdoughs, I find that they often get a very odd smell. It doesn’t necessarily smell like deliciously tangy sourdough. Mine usually smells kind of gross actually, not rotten but just strangely musty. Somehow in the baking process that musty smell nevertheless turns into yummy sourdough flavor. I do feel the need to stress however that if you suspect your soured dough is actually rotten or bad, please do not eat it!

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The Juicer Story

With the threat of radiation therapy hanging in our future several months ago, I researched and bought a $300 masticating juicer. I was convinced that I was going to start making healthful carrot-apple juices for My Man, and start growing and juicing wheatgrass, all of which are cancer fighting goodness. I read a lot about juicers in a fear induced researching bender, trying in my little way I suppose to feel like I had any control whatsoever over the outcome.

I admit that, even as I entered my credit card information, I knew on some level that I would not use the juicer to make juice. Sometimes I just get it into my head that I have to do or buy something and I cannot rest until the deed is done. Not surprising to anyone, least of all me– my juicing days didn’t last more than a few weeks. Cutting up all those apples and carrots was a lot of work! And watching the juice go undrunk in the fridge just about killed me. But I patted myself reassuringly on the back with the idea that, given my circumstances, wasting $300 on something that I had hoped would help My Man’s health was entirely forgivable.

Plus, I had a fall back plan. Or perhaps it was an ulterior motive. Because I bought a very high quality masticating juicer, it doubles as a food grinder, you just have to remove the screen. Grinding sprouted grain for bread dough is much more effective than chopping it into oblivion in the food processor, and my Omega 8004 Masticating Juicer has become a workhorse of an entirely different color. I’m guessing that it works better than a meat grinder and might be the perfect home power tool for sprouted wheat bread.

If you too would like to try using a masticating juicer to grind sprouted wheat, you can pretty much follow the recipe above. The Omega 8004 has a special extra hard auger, the manual specified that you could grind grain in it (though, I would be afraid to try it on un-sprouted dry grain) and it has a 15 year warranty. I’m not sure I’d try using a lesser juicer unless I didn’t care if it broke, or had specific okay from the manufacturer. Sprouted grain is obviously not what these things were designed for, though it is surprisingly smashable once sprouted, you can even chew the grains.

The grinding is very straightforward, just pour the sprouted grain in a little bit at a time– don’t fill the hopper or it can get bogged down. Interestingly, the bogging down doesn’t happen when the grains are more sprouted, then I can fill the hopper and even plunge it down, and they go through fine. But it definitely happens when the grain is on the less sprouted side of things. Just go slow at first while you figure things out.

I put mine through twice. After the first grind it is still pretty chunky, though probably as good as the food processor. After the second grind it comes out as a hollow dough tube. I like to put the warm milk and yeast into my Kitchen-Aid bowl, then grind the wheat in on top of it. After the first grind, I scoop up the majority of the wheat one handful at a time to re-grind. Then I add the flour, salt, honey and oil and mix it on low for 10 minutes.

If you want to make 100% sprouted wheat bread, I would recommend a third grind to really release the maximum amount of gluten.

Enjoy your primal bread experience, and please leave a comment telling me it how it goes for you!

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I know you have a glut of crudely dyed eggs in your fridge. I know you’re wondering how you are going to get them all eaten before they go bad.

Here’s one idea. I did this with the ones that got cracked during the dying process. Considering we have a 4yo and a 2yo, there were quite a few.

First make a batch of butter pie dough, here’s my recipe. The key to flaky, whole wheat, all butter crust is keep it cold (cold! cold! cold! cold!) The butter should feel solid and only slightly yielding while you are working it in, like stiff clay.

While the pie dough chills, peel your eggs and crush with a fork (I used 5 eggs and made 6 very overstuffed pockets.) Stir in some grated cheese, chopped garden spinach or arugula and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. I also threw in some leftover cooked potatoes. Obviously, this recipe is quite flexible. Just use already cooked or very quick cooking items, and nothing juicy or wet.

Now, roll out your chilled dough into a rough rectangle. Cut into 6 or 8 pieces, depending on how big you want the pockets. Put a scoop of filling on each square of dough. If you’re new to filled dough pockets, use half as much filling as I did on each square, these were really challenging to seal.

Now carefully lift up, fold and pinch the edges together to seal. This is a bit trickier than it sounds, particularly if you’ve done as I did, not as I said, and way over-stuff them. But since these have no saucy element, it’s okay if the edges don’t seal 100%.

Bake in a preheated 400 F oven 15-25 minutes until nicely golden brown. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before you try to eat them, 20 before serving to children– they stay pretty burny inside.

These freeze beautifully. Reheat in the toaster oven.

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I never get too far away from this subject in my mind, apparently: the challenge of putting good food on the table day after day, after day, after day.

Though I have waxed poetic in the past, today’s revisit is purely practical.

Pasta. With lentils. Damn is that some fine food! Every time I eat beans and noodles together I promise myself I will remember how good the combination is. And every time, two days out, I forget again and think “Pasta? With beans? Wouldn’t that be weird?”

Last night’s incarnation involved leftover penne mixed with leftover lentil soup thawed from frozen two days ago (complete with potatoes and carrots) mixed with one leftover hamburger patty, crumbled up. Sounding crazy? Wait, there’s more! The soup was very thick, so I added a puck of frozen chopped tomatoes and a healthy glug of olive oil to the skillet. I had a small handful of peas from the garden too. I heated it all up over high heat so that the pasta got that little bit of a fried texture and all the flavors thoroughly infused.

How can something so humble, concocted of such seemingly random and incongruous items, taste so delicious! Leftovers or no, I encourage you to try lentils with pasta soon.

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I love our local farmers’ milk and buy a gallon every week. Non-homogenized, lightly pasteurized, sweet and creamy. I don’t actually drink milk much myself, but I appreciate the difference when I do– it is just delicious. I feel very good about supporting these local, real grass farmers and very, very good about pouring that milk over my kiddos’ homemade granola. Particularly on the days that they refuse to eat anything else.

I have tried to support those same farmers by buying their cream, butter and half and half too, but I find the high fat products get a ‘cowy’ flavor after a mere 4 days in the fridge that I simply cannot appreciate. Which is sad, because I burn through a lot of half and half in the course of my coffee addiction. The butter gets especially strong flavored. I can’t tell if it’s “culturing” our just plain going rancid. It starts out sweet and delicious but doesn’t even last out the week, which is really not acceptable behavior for butter.

Has anyone else had this problem? Am I just being too much of a weak American, afraid of a little flavor? I don’t know, but after a few pounds of not good tasting butter I gave up and went back to Organic Valley’s Pastured butter. This is not the worst compromise I make in my daily life, OV rates by far the best of the national brands with the independent organic watchdog Cornucopia Institute. Nevertheless the butter issue kept bugging me.

I suspected that part of the problem with the local butter was that they just weren’t getting enough of the buttermilk out. Residual liquid makes butter go bad much faster, and their butter did seem unusually wet– little drops spring out when you cut a piece off. The solution didn’t surface in my brain until I went on my cancer-inspired health kick a few months ago. I reread Paul Pitchford’s Healing With Whole Foods and was reminded why I have such high standards for oils and fats, and why I need to get back on the wagon.

I am no expert, and I don’t want to get to involved in the incredibly complex and contradictory world of nutrition. I feel that Pitchford’s very strong and lengthy opinion on oils is well worth a read and I highly recommend his book if you are interested. But the part that’s most simple to understand, what convinced me, is smoking oil. You know when you turn your pan on too high and it takes you longer to cut the onions than you thought it would and the oil smokes? Ahem. Well, maybe that doesn’t happen to you. Anyway, it’s not hard to imagine that smoking oil is bad. It smells bad and it tastes bad. Every oil has a different smoke point (here’s a chart on Wikipedia) and getting anywhere close to that temperature is highly destructive to the structure of the fat chains and turns otherwise healthy fats into evil free radicals which attack the very basis of health, including a direct correlation with cancer. Pitchford does hinge an awful lot on oil quality and appropriate use and makes an unusually big deal about it, but the idea that over-heated oils are unhealthy is perfectly standard modern nutrition.

At any rate, Pitchford’s recommended oils for moderately high heat use (like sauteing onions and other general skillet frying) are raw unrefined sesame oil (not the more commonly available toasted kind), coconut oil and ghee.

Finally the cogs met in my brain, and I made my first ever batch of ghee– the Indian name for clarified butter. Ghee is pure milk fat, with all the residual liquid boiled off and the milk solids strained out. Because it is pure fat it lasts much, much longer than plain butter and is probably the only way to keep butter at all without refrigeration in equatorial regions like India. Plain butter burns at a pretty low temperature, but ghee can get quite hot before it smokes. You still can’t leave the pan on high while you cut up the onion, but making pancakes is a dramatically less smoky experience.

In addition to being sanctioned by both traditional and modern nutritional knowledge, butter can be sourced locally in most places, making ghee a very sustainable way to fry.

Now, what if you are put off by the same thing that put me off for so many years– fear of waste? One pound of butter yields about 3/4 of a pound of ghee, it’s true. As you cook the butter, you skim off the foam that rises and then eventually pour the finished ghee off of the bottom layer of sediment. But as soon as I made my first batch I realized the implicit answer to the waste question. Just don’t toss the foam and weird milk solid sediment! Stir it into a pot of mashed potatoes, soup or bread dough. No problem.

So, are you ready? Making ghee is very easy. Start by melting a pound of your farmer’s market butter over low heat.

Once it’s all melted, turn the heat up to medium-low. The butter should bubble actively, but not ferociously. The foam will start to rise right away, but you only need skim it off once every 10 minutes or so. Maybe even less, I’m still experimenting. Keep a jar next to the pot for the skimmed foam.

You can leave it pretty unattended between skims, but when it starts to look like this (below) you’ll need to stay in the room or you might overdo it like I did the first time and make “browned butter” ghee. This is not the worst way to screw up, but it doesn’t last as long, so I recommend paying close attention towards the end. **CAUTION: Occasionally when you stir the cooking butter it will spit hot fat at you. Keep the kids back from the stove while you are tending your ghee, and be careful with your stirs.

When the bubbling changes from a boiling sort of sound to a frying sort of sound, your ghee is done. If you want it to last a really long time (months) pour it through a paper towel into two half pint jars. If you only need it to last a few weeks, you can just pour it straight in so long as you are careful to keep the solids in the pot. I recommend using the more perishable foam and solids up right away for dinner rather than putting them into a jar that might get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten.

As your ghee cools it will solidify, more or less depending on room temperature, at 70-80 F my ghee stays pretty soft. I put one jar in the fridge and keep the other by the stove next to my cast iron skillet brush (a one-inch wide natural bristle paint brush from the hardware store). Then I can just brush ghee into my pan when I need it. A spoon would work better if your house is cooler.

Now it will be easy to fry local!

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I go to the farmer’s market every week, mostly for milk and meat. Because I like to make outings efficient, we often go somewhere else after the market, so I have a giant insulated cooler bag that I put all my groceries in to keep things cool for the few hours until we get home. Since I always buy frozen meat, it works pretty nicely. Except for the weeks when I buy a whole chicken and goat meat, and then take a long outing. Everything stays perfectly cold, that’s not the problem, but if we’re out very long the chicken and the goat are partly thawed by the time we get home and I don’t want to put either back into the freezer (freeze thaw freeze thaw=decreased quality). So I leave them both in the fridge and tell myself I will use them both before they go bad.

I do use them both before they get bad, but in case you have not had the good fortune to discover this, goat meat doesn’t age well. Even after just a few days in the fridge it starts to taste…. like a goat. This has happened a few times now. Am I going to learn a lesson here folks? Ever? Just put the burger back in the freezer, stupid, it will be fine. Better a little dry than tasting like a sweaty goat’s ass.

Last night I opened the package of goat burger which had been in the fridge for 4 days to make dinner. Oof. Dang. Well, there’s always spices, right? Lots of garlic, black pepper, thyme, a little sage. I fried it all up, added a pile of homegrown savoy cabbage and brown rice. Dinner! It smelled perfectly promising to me.

My Man took one sniff and said, non-commitaly, “What kind of meat is this?” I know I’ve left it in the fridge too long when he asks what kind of meat it is. Fresh goat meat has no goat smell or flavor at all, just a nice rich real meat flavor. But even I had trouble finishing my meat last night. It was the aftertaste that got you. A little too suggestive of it’s origin.

There I was, with a big pile of meat that nobody except the 4yo wanted to eat (she loved it!) At $8/lb, I was not going to throw it to the chickens. So I followed the lead of traditional food cultures around the world and spiced the shit out of that funky meat. I simmered it in enchilada sauce for 40 minutes. Then I layered it with beans, cheese and tortillas. Voila! Goat, rearranged.

 

Even if you don’t ever have the musky meat problem, this is a great way to make enchiladas. You can use any kind of leftover cooked meat– roast chicken, pot roast, burger, or fresh meat too of course. If you get stew chunks (usually a good price) you can simmer them in thinned down enchilada sauce for a couple of hours to get some super tender, rockin’ flavored meat. But I find these enchiladas an especially good way to use up the not-quite-full-meal’s-worth of meat we often have leftover.

My enchilada recipe is really more of a style. I don’t know how traditional it is, and I don’t care, it’s very easy. I always use canned sauce, I just have not mastered a homemade sauce that tastes right. I only make these once every few months anyway.

Enchilada Stack Up

Put whatever meat you have in a pot, cover with sauce, then add a little water if you are planning to cook it a long time, or no water if you are just doing a quick cook. Simmer for 10 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your meat.

Here’s the only real key (and the only real work) to these enchiladas: the tortillas must be fried. Use a good half inch of high temp oil, and fry each tortilla for 15-20 seconds on each side. They don’t need to brown, and you don’t want them to get crispy. Just lusciously soft and oily. Drain well over the pan before stacking on a rack. You will want 3-4 tortillas per person, or 9-12 total for a family of four (I used 11). Just to make sure we’re on the same page, they must be corn tortillas, flour tortillas just dissolve into grossness.

When your meat is ready, pour a little of the sauce off into a 7×9 inch baking dish. Layer 3-4 tortillas on the bottom. Check out that photo up there, there is actually four tortillas on top, I ripped one in half and set it ripped side to the edge of the pan. Can you see it under there? Makes for a more even distribution of corny-ness.

Now use a slotted spoon to dredge some meat out of the sauce. Spread half your meat out over the tortillas, add in some black beans if you have them, sprinkle your preferred quantity of cheese on top, then do the whole thing all over again for a total of two layers. Top with the last of the tortillas, then pour the remaining sauce from the meat pot over everything. Sprinkle with some more cheese, cover with foil or parchment, then into a 350F oven. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove cover and cook another 20 or so until bubbly and delicious looking.

Important! Serve with Mexican slaw– shredded cabbage and carrot with garlicky lime mayonnaise dressing– to cut the heavy protein-ness of this meal.

Maaaaa-aaa, maaaa-aaa.

 

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Over the last few years as I have made the transition from rowdy feminist to gracious housewife (no snickering) I have had to let go, painfully, one at a time, of many of my previously adamant conclusions about life. Some things that just sounded so wrong my 20s, I have had to accept in my 30s as the only sensical way forward.

In my 20s I was 100% certain that I would never:

  • separate my whites from my colors, or even own a washing machine for that matter
  • live in a house that had a tv
  • buy a multi-colored plastic toy new from the store
  • and I would certainly never, never pack my husband’s lunch

You can guess where all those conclusions led. I feel like my life overall has been a series of letting things go, but never so much as this whole marriage and parenting proposition. When two people get together and decide to throw everything they’ve got into a singular new venture, the only efficient way to do it is as partners– each person using their own unique skill set to cover whichever end of the workload they are most fit for. Depending on the particular partnership this might mean splitting the jobs straight down the middle, or it might mean designating areas of ability and expertise. In our partnership, like many others, we work toward the same end doing very disparate jobs.

The ‘end’ of course is a happy healthy family. Healthy people need to eat lunch, lunch has to come from somewhere and if I want to have some control over the wholesomeness, ethics and frugality of this lunch, then it needs to come from our kitchen. My Man, despite or because of his righteously brainy nature, does not take the time to make his own lunch. In his defense, the kitchen is decidedly my realm. It always has been, and I know that I do run a fairly intimidating front. I know what’s in the fridge, where it is and when it runs out. Moreover I have extremely strong opinions about everything food related.

At any rate, some time after our move down here to the real world I started making his lunches, which more or less amounted to setting a tupperware of leftovers on the counter next to his backpack in the morning. That worked for awhile, but we often don’t have leftovers and also they require him to take a trip to the microwave which requires an interruption in his studying. I would get livid when those tupperwares came back to the kitchen still full of food now unsafe to eat. Livid, I tell you.

Eventually my mind made the traverse to sandwiches. I know, I know– they are as normal a food as you can imagine right? Why would it take me so long to consider them? Normal as they are, sandwiches have some inherent DIY problems. First and foremost, homemade whole wheat bread doesn’t stay soft more than a day, after that it really needs to be toasted to be good, and even then it’s often too thick and strong for a proper sandwich. And what of lunch meat? Inethically raised meat, innoculated with known toxins, sold for just under a fortune, all for something that tastes so foul? Why? But having been raised in America, I couldn’t really think past lunch meat for a sandwich.

So, it took me a while.

The first fix was the bread. After years of trying to make one loaf do double duty, I finally gave in to making two distinct kinds of bread. I like really dark nubby stuff for my morning toast– thick, dense, wheaty. The kind of bread that sticks to your ribs. Completely inappropriate for sandwiches. I am slowly refining my sprouted wheat bread for the morning toast purpose.

Meanwhile, my cherry-popper bread recipe makes a lovely light, spongy bread that squishes just right. I use about 1/3 white bread flour, often add leftover cooked oatmeal and can never bring myself to add the butter, but otherwise I almost follow the recipe.

The second fix is dumping lunch meat altogether. I get bone-in, skin-on pastured chicken breasts (in my opinionated opinion skinless, boneless chicken is  waste of money) season them and roast for 30 or 40 minutes at 350F. They slice best once they’ve completely chilled in the fridge. (Keep the skin, bones and pan juice for stock!) I was worried that the smaller pieces of this home roasted meat would fall out of the sandwich, but it works fine and tastes so good!

The last fix is the freezer. Because now that you have this good homemade bread that’s only going to get staler, and this good freshly roasted chicken that isn’t laced with preservatives and therefore only lasts a few days in the fridge, you’ve gotta make good on it. Also, who wants to drag out all the sandwich stuff every single morning? I know making food ahead and putting it in the freezer is a totally Betty Crocker thing to do, but get over it! Those 1950s housewives were not stupid, as much as we have tried to frame them so. A freezer is a beautiful thing to waste.

A Few More Tips:

  • If you plan carefully, you can roast the chicken at the same time the bread is baking.
  • Don’t cut the bread until it’s completely cooled, preferably the day after baking so you can get good even slices (ditto on the chicken). Use a serrated bread knife and a light hand so you don’t smash the bread. Make the slices thinner than you might think.
  • Be generous with the mayo. Good advice for life in general.
  • Don’t put any veggies on, they don’t freeze well. You can add sprouts or lettuce when you pull the sandwich out of the freezer every morning, just gently pry the pieces apart and stuff the greens in. They do get a little frostbit, but still add some crunch and freshness. Cheese freezes just fine.
  • I use those filmsy little sandwich baggies that just fold over. If they can be kept track of, they can be washed and re-used. I’m looking for some square tupperware sized for homemade bread.
  • Stack them carefully in the freezer so that they don’t get squashed.
  • A sandwich pulled out of the freezer in the morning and kept at room temperature is just about perfectly thawed by lunchtime, without any worry of food spoilage! Bonus!

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For years I persisted with mealy pie crust, righteously using all whole wheat pastry flour and vegetable oil in my vegan days. Even after my switch to butter, I didn’t respect cooking technique– my inner-renegade took years to be convinced that what you do to your ingredients matters, and that sometimes recipe writers do know what the hell they’re talking about.

If you are stuck in similarly mealy pie crust doldrums, let me free you, here and now. I won’t say my every pie crust is perfection personified, but I’ve figured some things out and I can share. One renegade to another.

First of all, your pie crust does not need to be 100% whole wheat. Let it go sister, it’s a special occasion when you make a pie, indulge.  Regular whole wheat flour is too coarse and strong flavored for pie crust, and whole wheat pastry flour does not have enough gluten, hence the mealy nature. You need some gluten to make flakes. Using 1/3 white flour solves the problem and not in a (sigh) compromise kind of way. You can make a wonderfully flaky crust if you follow the directions, and you won’t know or care that it’s still 2/3 wheat flour.

This has been said before, in fact I was encouraged into this post by the recent discovery of Smitten Kitchen’s Pie Crust 102. Good tutorial. I don’t want to rewrite all that. I’m just here to say, DO IT! KEEP THAT BUTTER COLD! NO, REALLY!

The other thing not to gloss over is the size of the butter chunks. Sure Joy of Cooking told me to leave some pieces as big as peas, but I didn’t believe them. It would look so horrifyingly irregular. I sought to tame my butter into even and homogenously tiny pieces. DON’T DO THAT!

I have learned my lesson. Nowadays when I go to add the water, my flour and butter conglomeration looks like hell. It’s perfect. I don’t use a pastry cutter, which cuts the butter and leaves you ball shaped pieces. I hear that works for plenty of people, but I find it easier and more effective to use my fingers to squish the butter into flakes. Flakes make flakes. When the lot looks like someone scraped the paint off of an old house, stop. Of course, your fingers are warm. You have to work quickly. I do a preliminary very quick squish, then chill the whole thing down in the fridge or freezer while I prepare the filling.

Then I continue the squishing until all the butter is ‘flaked,’ add the ice water and roll it out straight away. I know you’re supposed to chill the dough back down again first, and maybe that will be my next revelation, and my pie crust will achieve even more amazing flaky perfection. But for now, rolling it out right off means I can decide to make pie while I’m cooking dinner and we can be eating it after the kids go to bed. And there’s something to be said for that.

Calamity’s Perfect/Imperfect Flaky Whole Wheat Pie Crust

makes enough for two singles or one generous double cruster

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup white bread flour (if all you have is all-purpose, it will be fine, just a bit less flaky)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 Tablespoons oil (I don’t measure, just drizzle)
  • 8 Tablespoons cold butter
  • ice water

Whisk the flours and salt together. If by some chance you are thinking well ahead, stick the bowl in the fridge or freezer to chill it down first.

Drizzle in the oil and stir/mash thoroughly with a fork. Even though I’ve converted to butter, I still like a little oil. I feel like it keeps the crust tender.

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes, and dump into the flour. Use a fork to break it up and coat each cube with flour. Working quickly, squish each cube with your fingers. Not all the way, just a first run. Then pop the lot in the freezer while you prepare your filling. If it’s going to be awhile, put it in the fridge instead. You don’t want the butter to actually freeze, just get very cold.

Fill a cup with ice and water. I’m not going to give you a measurement, because I have found it to be wildly irregular. I noticed in Smitten’s recipe that she called for 1/2-3/4 cup of water (I also noticed she called for 2 sticks of butter!). My mom’s recipe called for a mere 1/4 cup.

When the filling is ready, take your bowl of flour and butter back out and continue the squishing process. You want to create big flakes of butter. Don’t over-process!

When it looks like this, start drizzling the water in. Fold and press gently with a spatula until all the flour has been incorporated. Be very careful not to add too much water, feel the dough periodically with your fingers. If the dough is very cold I’ve noticed it can look firmer than it feels. You don’t want it to get mushy, but if it does, a few hours in the fridge will probably firm it up.

Once the dough has mostly come together, turn it out onto the floured counter. Gather up the stray bits and give it a few fold-and -presses to make it cohere. Don’t overwork, it will still be a bit shaggy and that’s okay. Cut it into two even pieces for single crust pies, or two slightly different for double crust pie. If the latter, roll out the bigger one first, it will be your bottom.

Use plenty of flour to roll, white flour works much better for this. Smitten has another good tutorial on rolling and crimping if you’re new to this pie making business.

I hardly ever use an egg wash. I like the matte look of plain crust, but I do sometimes brush the top with water and sprinkle on coarse sugar. And I have been known to roll out the scraps and cut them into leaves (willow leaves are easy as pie to cut with nothing fancier than a butter knife). But it’s hard for me to pass on what my mom always did with the dough scraps which is: roll out, cover with sugar and cinnamon, roll up into a log and bake for 15 minutes. I guarantee you’ll feel like a giddy kid again.

Now, since it’s Thanksgiving and all, here’s my tweak to the omnipresent Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe. I like it just a bit pumpkiny-er.

CJ’s More Punkiny Pie

makes enough for two pies

  • 3- 15oz cans solid pack pumpkin, not the pie filling stuff!
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon each cloves and nutmeg
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1- 15oz can evaporated milk (this year I’m going to try half and half instead)

Mix it up baby, and shlop it into that perfect crust! Sadly, a single crust pie is not a good way to show off your newfound flaky skills. But maybe everyone will actually eat the crimped edges this year, instead of quietly scraping them into the trash when you’re not looking.

 

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Apron Stringz is two years old! Over that time, the content has grown like a nursing baby with knee dimples. While much of what I write is just day-to-day flotsam, I do sometimes crank out a useful and, I feel, enduring post. And I hate that blogs (at least, free ones like mine) don’t support any decent kind of index for these posts. Blogs are ephemeral, meant to be enjoyed hot off the presses, I guess. But it bugs me to no end that our hard work, one week after publishing is more or less lost to the world.

So here is a directory of posts on the wide subject of food. These are all posts with a more practical edge, those that you might reference. There’s an equal number of my more journal-style posts which I have left out, particularly on the subject of gardening. They make an interesting read if you like that sort of thing (and if you read this blog, you probably do) but seemed less in need of reference-able indexing. If you’re going for the journal aspect, try the archives. A few brave souls have apparently read start to finish.

How to Make Home Cooking Work:

Kitchen Efficiency

Real Life Kitchens: Part One

Part Two: The Sink

Part Three: Work Zones

Part Four: Microzones

Cooking Efficiency

Not Menu Planners — solace for the rest of us

Dinner in Real Life

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen — summer cooking

Tools

Cast Iron Cookery

Rescuing and Seasoning Cast Iron

Cast Iron for the Rest of Us — taking care of your pans

What and How to Cook in Cast Iron

Pontification

Caution: Martyr in the Kitchen

Sourcing Good Groceries:

Responsible Consumerism: How to Make it Work

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Part One

Part Two

Fair Trade is Fair

A Trip to the Grocery Store — peeping Tom my cart!

Whole Wheat Pasta Rises from the Grave

Punk Housewife Tip: Oil and Wine

Home Food Production:

Gardening

Gardening for the Table

Harvest First, Cook Second

Planning an Efficient Garden — it’s all about follow-through

Self Irrigating Planters Made Easy

Chickens

Just Wing It — build a half-assed coop and get by, if you need to

DIY Chicken Waterers

Egg Shells to Egg Shells

Preserving Local Bounties:

Bringing Home the Basil — how to make, store and use pesto

Monastery Marmalade — scavenged fruit and citrus pectin

Marmalade Redooo — note to self: it is entirely possible to make too much marmalade

Truly No-Nonsense Tomato Sauce

Ghee: Frying Local

Recipes:

Bread

Bread Evangelizing — the perfect cherry-popper bread recipe

Bread Every Day, Part One: Ingredients

Part Two: Techniques

Sprouted Wheat Bread: an exploration

Mastering Sprouted Wheat Bread!

Perfect Whole Grain Biscuits

Breakfast

Homemade Grape-Nuts — they’re just caramelized bread crumbs!

Grrr-nola: Make Your Own Breakfast Cereal and Stick it to Kellog Corp (from the old blog)

34 Times Round and a Recipe for German Pancakes

Bouquet of Choice: A Recipe for Swiss Chard Muffins

Anything But the Kitchen Sink — leftover granola muffins

Slow Cooker Leftover Granola Bread

If You Can’t Beet ‘Em — pink pancakes win major mama points

Leftover Easter Eggs to Savory Breakfast Pockets!

Food to Go (a well packed snack bag = less emergency food purchases)

Chewy Granola Bars

Surprising Kid Snacks — no recipe, just a plug for seaweed

A Problem of Sandwiches

Dinner

Stop Buying Salad Dressing NOW

It’s What’s Fer Dinner — favorite quick meals

Baking Bonanza — home cooking in the real world, plus a recipe for easy lasagne

Good News For Half Beer Lovers — meat and/or mushroom carbonade

Green Tomato and Turkey Enchiladas

Swiss Chard Ravioli

Dinner Deconstructed: Ground Meat Patties, Brown Rice and Glazed Carrots — thorough instructions for beginner cooks

What to Feed Kids When You Really Need Them to Eat — at our house it’s macaroni and cheese’n’fish’n’peas

Sunday Dinner Any Day of the Week — pot roast your local grass fed carbon-neutral meat to melt-in-your-mouth perfection

Value Menu: Whole Chicken — get the most out of your $4/lb farmer’s market bird

Chicken an’ Bisket — my favorite roast chicken and what to do with the leftovers

Of Stock and Bullion (from the old blog)

Making Your Own “Canned” Soups (also the old blog)

Leftover Queen — savory vegetable pie

Empanadas: A Confession

Dinner Every Night: Pasta with Lentils

Not So Goaty Enchiladas

Dessert (which is to say mostly chocolate)

Chocolate: Cures What Ails Ya — the easiest way to stretch $9+/lb fair trade chocolate chips

The Best F***ing Brownies Ever

HOT Hot Chocolate — turn your thermostat down 5 degrees and whip up a batch!

Holiday Baking Party — German Christmas bread and super easy truffles

Food Recycling: Lickety Split Leftover Apple Pie — with the easiest ever pie crust

Flaky Whole Wheat Pie Crust — not the easiest, but so good

************************

Do let me know if you find this index useful, it will help motivate me to keep it updated!

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Yes, Halloween yesterday. Giant candy binge, pre-bedtime. Brilliant. Whoever thought of including the under 5 set in this scheme should be spanked.

What was I doing yesterday afternoon to prepare for a fun holiday? Putting the last touches on cute hand-sewn costumes? Nope, I had intelligently finished our giant rolling ice cream truck and two matching kiddie-aprons (4yo’s idea) in the morning, and spent that last hour preparing a fortifying feast of macaroni and cheeseandfishandpeas. Because if my angels are going to gorge on sugar, pure and unadulterated, by god they are at least going to start with a belly full of protein and whole grains.

What do you cook at your house when you really need a sure bet? Here at Camp Apronstringz, I am lucky damn dog. Both my kids love fish, and the aforementioned mouthful macaroni is the only kind they’ve ever known. I make it with whole wheat noodles (read this old post if you think they’re no good), high quality canned salmon, about half as many peas as noodles, and very little cheese sauce. It’s not so healthy as to warm my heart when I see them eating it, but it’s hardly crap food and it’s my 4yo’s self-proclaimed favorite, so I always score points when I make it. We were at a friend’s house the other day and she offered some macaroni and cheese. “Andfishandpeas?” my girl asked. I had to convince her that plain mac and cheese was in fact very good.

I’ve mentioned this macaroni and cheesesandfishandpeas business before, I make it probably once a week. But I recently found a revelation in cheese sauce making and thought maybe it was time for a real recipe. Here’s the trick– with enough fat, grated cheese will melt into a beautiful, velvety sauce without having to make a roux! The recipe I saw called for heavy cream, but I never have that around, and this meal needs to be made from stock components. I am a half and half addict (almost as essential as the coffee itself) so I tried it with that and butter. It’s worth a try with plain ole milk and butter, if that’s what you keep in the fridge.

CJ’s Easy Win Mac n’ Cheesenfishnpeas

  • 1/2 lb macaroni noodles
  • 2-3 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/3+ cup highest fat dairy you got
  • a few ounces grated cheddar
  • 1-2 cups frozen peas
  • 1– 6 oz can high quality canned salmon (not that nasty stuff with the skin and bones) or tuna

Boil the noodles as per usual. When they are about half cooked carefully set a shallow mixing bowl on top of the pot of boiling pasta and put all the dairy into the bowl. Give a stir every few minutes, it will melt into a beautiful sauce. Don’t leave it too long or it will separate. Pour frozen peas into another bowl in the sink, with the colander set over the top. Drain pasta into colander, allowing peas’ bowl to fill with water, defrosting your peas. Return pasta to pot and pour cheese over, or stir noodles directly into the mixing bowl of sauce if it’s big enough. Open your can of fish and dump, juice and all, into the noodles. Break up with a fork. Drain peas and add. Stir the lot together and serve hot! If you rinse the peas bowl and pasta pot right away (they’re hardly dirty, right?) you’ll only have the one dirty dish.

Happy Halloween!

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As I’ve said before, I love eggplant. That’s why I planted six plants in my garden. What the fuck was I thinking?

I love eggplant, but my family? Not so much. Is this a female thing? My latest bloglove, The Girls Guide to Guns and Butter has the selfsame issue. She posted a wonderful looking recipe for easy moussaka recently, which I haven’t yet tried. I’m still busy trying to hide my eggplant, and subsequently force my family to eat it.

Because even though two of the plants didn’t make it, the remaining four are an endless waterfall of purple fruit. I go to my garden once a week lately (to my surprise, I’ve found that the thick leaf mulch on my garden, combined with the well established plants means I don’t need to water. At all. I haven’t watered in months. I barely have to weed because of my initial kick ass soil preparation and again, the mulch.) All I do is pop over to harvest. Every week a heaving bag full of eggplant and red marconi peppers. Neither of which anyone but me likes to eat.

Fortunately, although cohesive pieces of eggplant are entirely disagreeable to those who don’t like it, I’m finding it is easy to hide. It has little flavor of it’s own, and melts right into other foods if you cook it long enough. Last night I made a tomato (and red pepper) sauce with some roast chicken thrown in, and a heap of leftover grilled eggplant, which completely disappeared into the sauce. Even I couldn’t tell it was there. I served the sauce over gnocchi (which sounds fancy, but is actually the world’s easiest homemade pasta and it uses up leftover potatoes!)

Several weeks ago I blended up some fresh eggplant and added it into a batch of meatballs. I used the food processor to finely chop it and thoroughly squeezed the resulting mince over a fine mesh strainer to drain off the copious amount of juice (! Who knew those dry spongey seeming things had so much water?)

it turned brown almost immediately, but for adding it to meatballs, who cares?

Then I added it to my usual meatball recipe. I used 2 full cups of it to a mere pound and a half of meat (meaning the “meat”balls were 1/3 eggplant), along with the usual egg and breadcrumbs.

No one noticed.

For myself, I made Paula Wolffert’s fabulous pate. The recipe calls it a ‘dip,’ but I remember from the book that she scooped it into a (flexible) container and chilled it, after which you can un-mold it and slice it, just like real pate. What a treat!

Eggplant’s also good for quicky mama lunches like this one.

Don’t forget that eggplant lasagna! That was a winner I I will surely make again. Also on my list (most definitely for myself) is caponata.

What are your favorite things to do with eggplant? Do you serve it front and center, or do you have to hide it too?

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I love biscuits. Who doesn’t? So buttery, soft and feathery on the inside, crisp and flaky on the outside. Scrumptious. I don’t like jam or even honey on my biscuits, I like them that much. Just the pure flavors of flour, butter and heaven.

Biscuits have the magical ability to make any plain old boring meal instantly divine. Soup. Ho hum. And biscuits? Oh my! Fried eggs. Again. And biscuits? Alright! But if that’s not enough, try this: scrounge your fridge for some leftovers that everyone’s tired of. Just about anything can work. Scoop it out into a pie dish and cover with a thin layer of biscuit dough. Bake until everyone piles into the kitchen, nose first. Mmmm, what that? No one really cares what’s underneath when there’s pot pie on the table.

And how about this. Add 2 Tablespoons of sugar and these biscuits become ‘shortcake.’ Not that nasty angel food business they put next to the strawberries at the grocery store, but real shortcake. Layered with strawberries and cream, this has got to be one of my 5 favorite foods ever.

The basic recipe is nothing new, this is just my whole wheat version of the very same Joy of Cooking recipe my mom always made. What makes these perfect is the method. The entirety of success is how you incorporate the butter.

I like flaky biscuits. I’ve heard there are folks who like fluffy biscuits, and that’s fine. To each their own, but this recipe is not for you. To make flakes of biscuit, you need to have flakes of butter, which is to say thin sheets of cohesive butter in the dough. To make thin sheets of butter without the butter absorbing into the dough, you need to keep your dough cold. The colder the better. In Alaska I used to get away without this step, but here where our house is a perpetual 81 F (cooled to 81!) I have taken to using the freezer to cool the half pinched butter chunks before further working. Makes all the difference.

Calamity’s Perfect Whole Grain Biscuits, if I do say so myself

1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cups white bread flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt (depending on how salty you like food)
5-6 Tablespoons cold butter **see note below
1/2 + cup whole milk

Put the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk thoroughly. Take your butter out of the fridge and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss cubes into the flour and, working quickly with your fingertips, squinch the chunks up into the flour, so that each cube is a flatfish, flour-covered chunk. Put the bowl into the freezer for about ten minutes while you clear a space on the counter to roll out the dough and deal with any kiddy troubles. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

When you’re ready, take the bowl out and continue the squinching business until most of the butter pieces are like big flakes of paint. There will be lots of smaller pieces too, and that’s okay, but you don’t want to work it so much that it looks like “meal” as I’ve often read in cookbooks. At least, not if you want flaky biscuits.

Now pour in the 1/2 cup of cold milk. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the milk into the butter flakes until it starts to look like a dough. You might need a few more tablespoons of milk, but add them one at a time. Too much liquid will make the biscuits gummy. You want just enough milk to make a workable dough, I find it often looks right but when I stick my finger in it feels wet and sticky, and conversely when it is right it looks too dry. Squeeze a bit in your fingers to check.

Don’t stir too much, but do make sure most of the flour has been incorporated. Then dump the lot out onto a lightly floured countertop. Pat into a round, gathering all the crumbs up on top. Using a sharp knife, cut the round into quarters, then stack one on top of the other. Pat the stack into a semi-cohesive mound, then roll out to 3/4 inch thick (about finger width) adding another sprinkling of flour as necessary. Watch for sneaky baby fingers.

I used canning jar rings to cut biscuits for the longest time, then finally last year bought myself a real biscuit cutter. It does make a difference, the sharp edge cuts instead of pinching the dough and makes for a higher rise. I can’t believe I waited through 15 years of biscuit making to spend that two dollars and ninety-five motherfucking cents. What a cheap skate. That said, until you’re a confirmed biscuit maker, jar rings or just an upturned glass work fine.

For the highest rise, push straight down (don’t twist) and make sure that your biscuits are cut all the way around, meaning don’t consider the edge of the dough to be the edge of your biscuits. This means you will only get four or five biscuits in the first cutting, but you can take all those leftover scraps, pile them up, pat out again and cut out one or two more biscuits. After that second cut though, I just pile the remaining scraps into one big chunky biscuit and call it good.

Place biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet and pop right into the very hot oven. Don’t open the oven for ten minutes, then check and see how they look. You want them to get toasty brown on top, but not at the expense of getting dusty dry in the middle. If they’re still not brown after 15 minutes, take them out anyway (and bake at a hotter temp next time). Crack one open just to make sure it’s cooked through, then take those piping hot beauties straight to the table.

Lastly, two essential notes on whole grain baking in general:

  1. Pastry flour, pastry flour, pastry flour! Whole wheat pastry flour is milled from soft white wheat, and has much less strong wheaty flavor. Also it has less gluten. This is perfect for cakes and muffins, but after many years of making mealy whole wheat biscuits and pie crusts I finally realized that some gluten is important to get the flakiness I desired. I mix whole wheat pastry flour 2:1 or 3:1 with white bread flour to arrive at a homemade all-purpose with just the right amount of gluten for flaky baked goods. If you want to use 100% whole wheat pastry flour, try adding in a Tablespoon or two of pure gluten flour.
  2. Butter, butter, butter! There’s no overemphasizing this perfect ingredient. Chefs all agree butter is queen of the kitchen, but what I’ve slowly realized it how it is even more important for whole grain baking. It tames the sometimes sharp, slightly bitter flavor of whole grain flours, but just as importantly it helps to lighten otherwise heavy whole grain doughs. The original Joy recipe calls for just 4 Tablespoons of butter, but I’ve started using 5 Tablespoons in general and 6 for company. It’s worth it. If you’re worried about looking like Julia Child, just go take a long walk afterwards.

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Brianne over at the ever hilarious Real Mountain Values issued a plea for help yesterday. She is growing (her first?) garden and facing an oncoming glut of tomatoes. On the one hand I want to slap her, what with my own apparent inability to produce tomatoes. On the other hand I want to help a girl out.

Here’s the deal. That whole blanching and peeling business? I understand that some people feel it’s necessary, but I suspect they don’t have little squealers underfoot. In my personal, cowgirl Calamity opinion, blanching, peeling and seeding tomatoes in the hot of summer sounds like a curse akin to serpents and apples.

If you want some nicely peeled tomatoes for canning, save out your bigger babies and lavish them with the extra care. Then throw the rest of the sons-a-bitches in a big pot with half cup of water, stick a lid on, simmer until very soft, then blender the shit out of them. I love my stick blender for this, but a regular old blender will work fine so long as you let the ‘maters cool first to avoid explosions of boiling hot tomato all over your kitchen (seriously).

pesky little cherries and bigger tomatoes with a blemish on one side are prime candidates for this no-nonsense sauce

Make sure you process until they’re very smooth. I do find little bits of skin in my sauce, but it doesn’t bother me near so much as standing over a pot of boiling water for 40 minutes, dunking tomatoes three at a time. And the seeds have just never bothered me, though if they bother you, seeding fresh tomatoes is easy– cut in half across the equator, hold over your chicken bucket and squeeze. There, done.

As far as storage goes, you can freeze tomatoes whole, as in– throw those suckers in a bag and stick it in the freezer to process later. It works surprising well, but I don’t recommend it (unless you’re 9 months pregnant) because in my humble experience “later” is a faulty concept in homesteading endeavors. Like armagedon, “later” just never seems to come.

But what I do recommend if you have the freezer space is freezing the processed sauce. You can use plastic tupperware containers, straight sided jars (leave about 3/4 inch of space at the top for expansion) or even zip lock bags. I use wide-mouthed pint jars. I will admit to thawing them in the microwave when I’m in a hurry for dinner, but you can also stick them in a bowl of warm water to quick thaw. The advantage of tupperware is that you can pop the big square tomatosicle right out into the pot when you want it. Still, I feel funny about storing acidic foods in plastic, even though I apparently feel no compunction about the microwave. Go figure.

One last note, this no-nonsense sauce probably won’t be as thick and strongly tomato flavored as what you might be used to. An extra hour of simmering the puree will concentrate it, and a little spoon of sugar is never a bad idea with tomatoes. But if the tomato flavor still isn’t blowing your skirt up, and you aren’t yet producing your family’s entire yearly tomato supply anyway, why not just scrap the hard core ideals and stir in a can of store bought tomato paste? I’ve done it.

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Most modern people think cooking dinner starts with deciding what they feel like eating. Some of us more pragmatic cooks think first about what’s in the fridge, then about what we could do with it. But there is yet another level, which I often find myself on, where the question of dinner is secondary altogether to the pressing concern of using up the food I’ve procured. Have you ever felt that way? I almost find it difficult to leave for the weekend because, like a pet that needs daily care, my food store is a Jenga-like construction of meals on their way. I can’t go camping this weekend, there’s a big pile of red peppers in there waiting to be roasted! I have meat thawed for a roast. The leftover garlic yogurt sauce needs falafel. What would happen without me?

Having a garden really brings the use-it-up struggle to a fine fervor. I don’t buy very many vegetables, and since my crops are heavily seasonal and furthermore a mix of pass and fail, I often only have two or three options at a time. Right now I have peppers and eggplant. Every meal is a question of how I can use up some more peppers and eggplant (made especially difficult since no one else in my family really likes either…)

spaghetti sauce made entirely from pureed red peppers tastes surprisingly tomatoey.

Back home in Alaska, we only had one growing season– summer– and it only accommodated what here in New Orleans are “winter crops.” Kale, carrots, cabbage, kale, peas, chard, leeks, more kale. Every meal, how to use some kale. But also, more importantly even, the wild foods. Salmon, deer, black bear. Nettles, blueberries, cranberries, salmonberries. How to use them up. I spent a lot of years learning the answers, and really my whole way of cooking was based on those ingredients. Not that I didn’t have a whole pantry full of “regular” stuff like pasta, beans and oats. But the point was always to use as much wild and garden food as possible. Those were my focal points.

When I first discovered my love of Mediterranean Arabic food (one night at a Moroccan restaurant in Portland changed my life) it seemed so exotic. Such a far stray from my local food ways. I used to cook these enormous 8-course Moroccan meals for my birthday, spending $150-200 on ingredients. Whole cardamom, pomegranate molasses, orange blossom water. Pistachio oil to drizzle on a pate of roasted eggplant and ground walnuts. Mmmm, I swoon just naming them. All resolutely un-Alaskan ingredients, not pantry cooking.

I’m not sure when it happened but at some point I realized that I was just adventuring in someone else’s use-it-up food culture. Pomegranate molasses is the outcome of a shit ton of pomegranates. Roasted eggplant pate is what you make when you’ve got more eggplant than you know what to do with. And then I had the real epiphany. I consistently substituted wild game for beef or chicken in these recipes, thinking I was perverting them. But then I realized that the original recipes were often for wild game, and then converted to commercially available meat for American households. Even recipes for “lamb” were probably originally mutton (full grown sheep) and much closer to wild meat than beef.

The realization snowballed when I inter-library loaned Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Grains and Greens this spring. I adore her work, and this is an almost archival book that I hope to someday own (it’s got a cultish following, so it’s pretty pricey). As implied by the title, it’s half about greens. All kinds of greens, and all kinds of traditional recipes for them. She gives modern world substitutions (chard, endive, beet greens, etc) but the original recipes are based on mostly wild greens. Which are apparently the traditional greens of the Mediterranean. Nettles figure big. Also purslane, dandelion, and lots of green herbs. It struck me as funny realizing that when my friends and I made ‘nettle-kopita’ back in Alaska, we were quite a lot more on target than we could have imagined.

The subject of traditional cultures, what foods they harvested and how they cooked them is endlessly fascinating to me. Back at 17, when I was considering whether to go to college, ethnobotany and culinary anthropology were top on my list of ‘fields.’ In the end I decided to save my money, and I’m glad I did. I spent a lot of time traveling the world instead of studying textbooks, divining my own ethnobotanical cooking methods instead of taking tests. For myself anyway, a much better education.

Lately I’ve been running the subject through my fingers again as I consider this new culinary climate. In some ways it’s like starting over, but really, the principles of cooking with what you’ve got are universal. Stay loose, think creatively, abolish taboos.

Yesterday, with a big bag of eggplant weighing on my mind, I approached the subject of dinner. I looked online to see if I could find Paula Wolfert’s recipe for the roasted eggplant and walnut pate that so blew my mind years ago. Amazingly I did find it, pirated out of The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, one of the most beautiful cookbooks I’ve ever seen. I scribbled out the recipe, and then sighed, wondering how I could possibly call eggplant pate ‘dinner’ to my particular audience. The ricotta in the recipe must have been the key to my brilliance. Suddenly I realized its similarity to pureed eggplant, abandoned the pate and jumped straight to… lasagna!

Could I mash up the eggplant and use it in place of ricotta? Could I possibly get away with such heresy? The quick answer is yes.

It worked beautifully. I cut the eggplants into small chunks and sautéed slowly in plenty of olive oil. I mean plenty, you know how eggplant can suck it up. More fat the better, I always say. Especially when you’re trying to disguise a vegetable as a cheese! When the eggplant was about half done, I threw some onion in there, and a little green pepper. Once completely soft, I let it cool a bit, then pureed roughly. I was going to just mash it with a fork, but the peels were still too prominent, so out came the stick blender I bought just for soap making and now wouldn’t want to live without. To the puree I added a little heavy cream, not much, a few tablespoons maybe, an egg, plenty of salt (cheese is salty) and 1/4 cup of leftover yogurt-garlic-mint sauce. Surprised yet?

Lastly I mixed in some thawed collards (squeezed and chopped fine), and layered it with mozzarella, lasagna noodles and tomato sauce. Divine! And need I say, it went over much better at the dinner table than the aforementioned pate would have.

As I said in that last garden post, my harvests are mostly over till November, at the earliest. But, whether you base your meals on a constant garden supply, what’s in season at the farmer’s market, or just whatever is cheapest at the grocery store, the principles of cooking with what you’ve got are the same. Don’t start dinner by wondering what you feel like eating, start by looking around to see what needs using.

You are just the conduit through which the foods of your world are transformed into the meals for your family. First start lookin’ and then start cookin!

Need more ideas for over-exuberant garden goods? Try How to Hide, Err, Eat Eggplant all of which I think would work equally well with that dreaded August zucchini glut.

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Here’s a double dip tip:

Buying Olive Oil in Bulk

If you use a lot of olive oil you might want to buy it in the big square cans, it’s considerably cheaper than the small bottles. But you’ll still want to keep a small bottle near your stove, which presents the problem of pouring from that big can, which inevitably goes glugluglug and slops oil all over everything.

To solve this annoying problem, just punch a small hole on the opposite side of the top to the pouring spout. This lets the air in and makes for a nice smooth pour. This might work with those big plastic jugs from Costco too, once the oil level goes down a bit.

Storing Leftover Wine for Cooking

We used to have a lot of dinner parties, resulting frequently in leftover odds and ends of wine bottles. I’m not a big drinker– if I have wine one night, I don’t feel like more the next. I love to cook with wine, but again, not very often. I left a lot of wine sitting around souring, waiting to get used, before it finally occurred to me that I could just freeze the leftover wine! Freezing wine works beautifully. Because of the alcohol content it stays loose, like a slushy. All you have to do is scoop out however much you want and dump it straight into the pan!

Now, with our dinner party days seemingly over, I buy a bottle of wine every now and then expressly to stick in the freezer (pour it into a wide mouth jar first!) I keep a jar of red and a jar of white. Since I only use a 1/2 cup or so at a time, one bottle of wine lasts me for ages.

When cooking with wine, you need to boil it hard for a few minutes if you want to cook off all the alcohol. My routine– sauté onions, brown meat or whatever, then throw the wine in and let it roil on high to ‘deglaze’ all the caramelized goodness off the bottom of the pan. Yummie.

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I don’t remember how it got started, but we have one of those private family jokes about a crusty old timer going on and on about “chicken an’ biskit, chicken an’ biskit.” From some old Monty Python, or maybe Kids in the Hall? Don’t know. Anyway, it’s a solid in our household now.

I buy pastured chicken from the farmer’s market, and in case any sad soul out there is eating supermarket chicken and thinking, as I used to, ‘Am I just imagining things or did chicken used to taste like something? Like… chicken?’ Local family farms are still producing that old-fashioned chicken flavor, in chickens no less. No test tubes involved.

Of course, ethically raised meat is expensive. It should be. $4 a pound for a whole chicken (half of which is bones) might seem expensive if you’re used to supermarket prices, but when I think of all the work that goes into just plucking and dressing a chicken I can hardly believe they sell them for that cheap. It’s all a matter of perspective.

We eat meat at most meals. Locally raised goat and chicken or grass-fed beef from Whole Foods. At least once a week, I cook a chicken or roast and allow us a bit of a gorge, then eek the leftovers out in the next meal (or meals). A few nights ago we had two guests for dinner. I cooked a 4 pound chicken. We ate up most of it, but after a thorough picking over I was able to glean enough bits and pieces to make chicken an’ biskit the next night.

I usually make dumplings actually, which are just a biscuit recipe plus an egg. Is there any more satisfying food than dumplings? But yesterday I had leftover actual biscuits, and thought, what the hell? Time for some real chicken an’ biskit.

I’m not at all sure how the crusty old-timer in whatever original piece of comedy ate theirs, but I made a quick chicken stew with carrots, onions and peas and then topped each bowl with a split biscuit, so that the bottom sides got all soggy with chicken juices. So yum, so fast.

Here’s the journal of a single bird in my kitchen:

Unbelievably Easy Roast Chicken and Potatoes

Fill a baking dish with cut potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Quarter your chicken, if you don’t know how check out my photo heavy tutorial from last year. Quartering a chicken might not exactly be “easy” but it’s almost the only work involved in the recipe. Place the whole breast in the middle of the baking dish, on top of the taters, with a thigh/leg on each side. Put the back bone in the fridge for stock later. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces, and add any spices or herbs you like.

Bake at 375 for an hour to an hour and a half. To test for doneness poke around in the thick parts with a fork, the juices should be clear, not pink. Quartering makes the breast and thigh cook more evenly than whole roasting, and all the pieces get a beautifully burnished skin. Also, all the fat runs down into the potatoes and oh my dear god! Those are some spuds worth eating! Every bit as good as mashed potatoes and gravy, and a fraction of the work.

After the hurricane of dinner has abated, carefully pick every last bit of meat off of the bones, including the ones left on your kids’ plates. They’ll get cooked again, fear not the germs, my friend. Put the bones into a pot with the reserved back bone and make a good strong stock. Leave one pint of broth in the fridge with the meat, and freeze the rest.

Chicken an’ Biskit, Two Ways

Pour the reserved stock into a pot and add a good bunch of chopped carrots and onions, celery if you have it. Aim to fill your pot no more than half full, veggies should be barely covered by stock. Bring to a simmer. While it’s cooking, make your favorite recipe of biscuit dough (what? You don’t have a favorite? Remedy, coming soon!), substituting an egg for 1/4 cup of the milk. When the carrots are just tender, add the chicken pieces and frozen peas, salt and pepper to taste and bring back to a boil. No need to thicken this stew, the dumplings will do that as they cook in the broth. Scoop spoonfuls of dough over the top of the boiling stew. Turn the burner down to low, lay a tea towel on top of the pot rim (careful of the flame under there!!!!!), set the lid atop that, then fold the corners of the towel up over the lid to keep them out of harm’s way. Cook 5-10 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through.

If you have leftover biscuits, which are never very good plain, this is an awesome way to use them up. Make the stew as above, but thicken just a bit at the end with a roux. Lay the split biscuits on top right after adding the frozen peas, then just turn the heat off and let it sit for ten minutes. The heat will equalize and the biscuits are good as fresh again.

Make sure to yowl, “Chicken an’ biskit! Chicken an’ bisket! Chicken an’ bisket!” in a crusty voice as you rally everyone to the table.

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