Monday, December 21, 2009

Finals ate me

It has been a month to the day since I last wrote anything. That is because I have been grading term papers and final exams and writing term papers and final exams for more hours than I want to think about right now. But that seems to be the problem--here it is, 3am, and I can't turn off my brain. So, I'm writing. Why not.

Cooking becomes less of a priority during finals, but we've still managed to experiment with a few new recipes. We tried making grass fed sirloin steaks, marinated in olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, garlic and black pepper and grilled--those were good. We also bought some raw cheddar cheese from a farm up north, sprouted mung beans for mung bean pancakes (a korean dish), and got a mushroom log as an early xmas gift--so I see a lot of mushroom eating in our future.

Thankfully, despite all the stress and madness of finals, I haven't been sick at all. Tired, yes, but not sick. I've been taking cod liver oil and bee pollen (almost) daily, and I think I owe it to that. As well as lots of grass fed butter. I'm not kidding. Eat butter.

Micael left for Mexico early on Saturday, so I won't be cooking much this week until Christmas, when we'll be braising--oxtail. Right after that I'll be leaving for Mexico myself--meeting Micael in Mexico City. And then we will eat.

I'm looking forward to the outdoor markets, beans, tortillas, molé, potato croquets, salsa, spicy peppers, fresh fish, molé, fruits I don't know the name of, street vendors, molé. I'm also excited for the music, the architecture, the anthropology museum, Frida Kahlo's house, the textile markets, the salsa dancing...I'll stop with the lists now, but you get the idea.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fermenting Chickpeas

My Dad's birthday was coming up and he requested homemade falafel for dinner. So, I soaked chickpeas with whey for 24 hours, then gathered together cumin, corriander, cayenne pepper, parsley, garlic and onion to make the falafel dough.

Everything is mixed in a food processor then chilled for an hour before forming into patties. then fry in olive oil and serve in pita with tahini, tomatoes, olives, lettuce...whatever you like.

VERY easy to make and tastes really good. We had so much left over, we ate falafel all week--just fried a few up for lunch each day. I'd love to post the recipe here, but I can't because its copyrighted. So--go get Nourishing Traditions! It's only $17 and I love it.

Pate Number Two

So, folks, we tried making the pate again. Here goes...

First step: melt a stick of butter. A whole stick.

Here are the chicken livers, washed, dried and ready to saute.

A pan full of sauteing onions, butter, bacon and chicken livers.

Add in the white wine, parsley and rosemary...

Happy boyfriend :)

Food makes me crazy

In a good way, yes, food does make me crazy. I love it. Who doesn't? But also, recently, in a bad way--food makes me crazy. I'm careful about which kinds of pots to use, not to heat them up too quickly in case the glass cracks, not to cool the food down too quickly or to let it sit out too long and grow things. I never thought this much about what to do with food. And--I'll admit it--I'm a perfectionist. Despite all my efforts to come across as laid back and go-with-the-flow, I am, at heart, a perfectionist.

So I freak out. I freak out when I drop the dutch oven we just bought in the sink and the handle chips. I freak out when I don't know why my mushrooms aren't getting properly browned but rather steaming in the moisture they keep giving off. I freak out when I don't have parchment paper and when I don't know what parchment paper is, and then I decide that parchment paper is stupid and I hate recipes and I give up anyway. Yes, as well as being a perfectionist, I am also melodramatic. I freaked out the other night because we had been cooking black beans all afternoon and then needed to leave for a dinner party. The beans were just barely done and they were hot. Where were we going to put them? We couldn't leave them out to cool, right? We'd be gone for several hours. I poured them into a glass pyrex and then--freaked out--that the glass would crack from getting too hot too fast. So I poured them back into the (hot) dutch oven. Then I refused to pour them into a steel bowl because I didn't want to get ONE MORE thing dirty--ONE MORE thing to wash later. So I freak out and tell Micael to leave me alone so I can storm to the market and get a bottle of wine. Then I storm back. Then I have a partial realization that everything is going to be okay--somehow. The beans will survive. But really I owe this realization to Micael who is the level-headed one in all of this. I promise him that I will learn how to not freak out so much.

Maybe writing about it is part of that process. I want to learn how to not freak out so much. I'm sure it will get better as I learn how to do what I'm doing with food. But it also means taking time to be aware of what I'm feeling and choosing to be the one to manage those feelings. Especially when I'm facing something challenging and I feel overwhelmed by it. Especially because I want to do it right the first time, and learning how to accept that that won't always happen is a more mature perspective.

The first time we made chicken liver pate, I freaked out. Because we didn't know how to time everything, we didn't know whether to wash the livers, we didn't know how long to cook them or how long to cool them or how to do anything, really. Yesterday we tried making it again. This time we talked beforehand about which job each of us would do, how we would time everything, what we wanted to do differently. We learned from that first experience. It was still tense in the kitchen as I was trying to decide what "opaque" chicken livers should look like, but I think, without doubt, that it was an all-around better experience. And the pate tastes better too.

Who would have thought--learning how to cook is turning out to be a growing experience for me...

My first braise

I mentioned on here that we'd be attempting a lamb braise--lamb provencal--in our new dutch oven. And we did!

We invited Deana and Brian over for dinner, and against the wisdom that says don't try a brand new recipe when you're having people over for dinner, I tried the lamb for them anyway. And--praises be--it worked.

I got home from campus at 4pm on Tuesday and right away started prepping for the recipe--chopping onions, measuring spices, dredging the lamb in flour for browning. I first browned the lamb in the dutch oven--a smoky affair with the extra flour burning in the oil--and then set the lamb aside while I cooked the onions, tomatoes and spices in the dutch oven, adding chicken stock and white wine to create the braising liquid. For those that don't know--and I didn't--to braise meat means to cook it very slowly (about 3 hours) in a stock or liquid of some kind. This makes the meat tender and very flavorful. I learned about this technique from a meatseller at the farmer's market and then followed up on it by searching the internet for a recipe. It turns out to be a really easy way to make delicious meat.

After I got the braising liquid ready, I put the lamb on top and...was almost ready to start baking. The way I cook is usually to have my laptop on the kitchen counter with me so that I can scroll through each step. This is probably not a wise choice, given the likelihood that I will spill white wine on it or get lamb tendons in between the keys, as well as the fact that you can only see so many steps at a time before you need to scroll again (thereby getting the keypad a little, mmm, grimy shall we say?). So this night, I was also using the computer and at this step I was ready to put the lamb in the oven and I realize, CRAP! I don't have parchment paper. What is parchment paper? Apparently it's supposed to go over the lamb while it bakes (but under the lid of the dutch oven). In a rush, I ask (or desperately cry out) for Micael to call the market around the corner. They have it! He runs over there while I stare at the lamb--I mean, what else am I going to do? sit down? I'm already behind schedule to get this thing in the oven, and am having a frightening vision of another 10:45 dinner. Micael calls me from the market--the parchment paper has silicone on it--is that ok? I have no idea. What is silicone? Is it something I want in my food? This has been a question that keeps plaguing me as I research cooking materials and especially, the food itself. Trying to find a pure, uncontaminated way to cook. He reads to me from the box that silicone is a naturally occurring, organic substance and that this parchment paper producer seems to have consumer and environmental health in mind. Ok! lets go with it.

He arrives with the parchment paper, we throw it in the pot, trim the edges and into the oven it goes. It now has 2 1/2 hours to cook.
In the meantime we prep the remaining ingredients--olives, parsley and lemon wedges--as well as get the potatoes ready to mash. The apartment starts to smell really good, Deana and Brian show up, and we have a glass of wine while we finish making dinner. The last half hour is crazy. The potatoes are cooking in 3 batches because we don't have a pot big enough for all of them at once, then after they boil they need to sit in a dry pot on the stove to let the moisture evaporate. Then Deana mashes with butter and cream while we chop kale, pull out the lamb, reduce the sauce, add the olives, etc, and try and find room for plates on the completely trashed counter.

At the last minute it all comes together--so quickly that I don't even have time for photos. We sit down, dig in, and it's good, really, really good. I definitely recommend trying this recipe out--or any kind of braise, for that matter. Try lamb shanks, lamb necks, pork chops, oxtail...

Micael puts on my Halloween glasses while he cuts onions. (It doesn't work--he still cries)

Isn't he handsome?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Curry Friday

It's 11:45 on a friday night. Micael is in bed--he has to be at work at 5:30 tomorrow morning--and I'm winding down before I hop in bed myself. I had a good day. Spent most of it inside catching up on work and doing research--food research :) I read up on sprouting grains, making chicken stock and mashing yukon gold potatoes. I put together a shopping list for the provencal lamb I want to braise on Tuesday and also found a recipe for an easy curry to make tonight.

Micael and I have been buying jarred curry sauce at PCC for months now. It's simple, tastes good and we can put just about anything we want into it--beef, lamb, chickpeas, kale, carrots. But last trip to the store we checked the ingredients list and canola oil was right there at the top. Both canola and soybean oil are pretty hard to get away from--they've become the ubiquitous vegetable oil in most processed and prepared foods because they're cheap and abundant (Midwestern farmers are encouraged and paid by the government (and Monsanto) to grow soybeans and rapeseed). From my research on these oils, I've learned that the way they are processed leads them to go rancid quickly and also leads to many health problems when consumed. Soybeans are an anti-nutrient, can cause fertility issues in both men and women and can cause an over-abundance of estrogen for women, leading to hormonal issues, perhaps even cancer. The only way soy is safe to eat is when it has been naturally fermented (look for naturally fermented soy sauce). Canola oil comes from rapeseed, which has become such an abundant crop in our industrial food system that 80% of it is genetically modified to be disease and drought resistant. Hundreds of years ago, Europeans used rapeseed oil in their lamps and came to occasionally use it as a cooking oil. However it wasn't until the advent of steam technology that rapeseed really caught on, since it turns out to be an excellent lubricant. During World War II it was used to lubricate machinery. Recently developed industrial means of extracting the oil from rapeseed damage the nutrient properties and render it inferio r to other oils or fats for cooking, and the genetic modification of the plant is a red flag that this is not an ideal nutritional source. Canola oil stands in for other sources of oil or fat--such as butter, olive oil, coconut oil or lard (yes, lard! or duck fat) which are richer in the nutrients and enzymes our bodies need to be healthy and vibrant.

So, upshot of all of this is that we decided to make our own curry sauce. The recipe I found uses Canola oil, but I just replaced this with a mix of butter (from grass fed cows) and olive oil. I also mixed coconut milk (whole, not lite) in with the sauce to make it richer, tastier, and get all the good immune system boosting nutrients that coconut offers. This recipe has cumin, corriander, turmeric and chile powder, tomatoes, onion and chile pepper (we used jalapeno). We also added grass fed ground beef , carrots and purple kale to it. It was really good. I'm looking forward to eating it again tomorrow night after all the flavors have soaked together some more.
A final thought on all this food research and experimentation I/we have been doing (I include Micael because this really is a partner project). This takes a lot of life changes! I spent all afternoon reading, comparing, researching, just to understand how to prepare some of the building blocks of simple recipes--like sprouted grains, polenta, nut butter, and meat stock. In general, we're not trying any complicated, fancy recipes. It's taking enough effort just to get the basics because we're doing it all from scratch. But I'm having so much fun. Obviously the way I look at food is changing, as well as how I look at my kitchen, how I look at the people that grow and sell food, and how I look at people that cook food. I have so much respect for good chefs--especially those that are advocating for better food policy and food systems in the US (such as Sam Kass, chef for the Obamas). But also the way I look at how I organize my time and life is changing. I'm happily, eagerly spending time researching where food is coming from, what it does for our bodies, how people have used it for health, celebration, ritual and building community. I'm satisfied to spend a whole evening cooking one meal--feeling all the spices run through my fingers, chopping up shallots, carrots and kale, smelling browning butter while listening to some meringue or salsa (and if I'm lucky, seeing Micael dance).

I've been much more calm since we started cooking this way. I know this is because I'm getting more vitamins (like B vitamins) that help our bodies regulate stress. But it's also because my days, my life have become wrapped around food in such a way that it's the center of everything I do and it can't be rushed. Brown rice takes 7 hours to soak and 45 minutes to cook. I can't speed it up, I can't change it. No matter what, it will always take 7 hours to soak and 45 minutes to cook. So I relent. I allow food to become the conductor for my life and arrange the rhythms by which I live. It takes a lot of changes, but I know without a doubt that this is the way I want it to be.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Inspiration outside my door

Liquid Amber

Japanese Maple

Thursday lunch

I've just gotten home from campus for the day. Thursdays are my long days--I don't get home til after 4pm--which means I usually don't eat until closer to 5. I usually bring small snacks with me for my break in-between classes, but it's hard to bring a full lunch, because I can't cook anywhere, and I won't use a microwave to re-heat food. This is a recent decision (within the last few months) for me. Microwaves alter the chemical make-up of food and deplete the nutrients, compromising the worth of your meal.

So, for now, until I figure out better cold lunches, late lunches prevail! Today I'm eating pinto beans (soaked and slow-cooked last Sunday) with brown rice (soaked and cooked on Monday) with organic sour cream and salsa. I also added a pinch of gray salt. I am in love with this salt. I'd heard about this salt many times, and even bought it once for someone who lived out of the area and couldn't get to a grocery store that had it. But I'd never bought it myself. Until I read about the benefits of the mineral content of this salt. This salt is collected from the Northern coast of France. The water is allowed to evaporate and the salt crystals that remain are gathered. It is big and chunky, and like I said, gray. It's delicious. I've seen it used on the top of caramels and chocolate chip cookies to add a different dimension to sweets. I love using it on top of buttered bread so I can really taste its flavor and texture. We keep it in a little dish near the stove top so we can pinch it into our food easily--I love feeling the texture between my fingers.

The salt is $5 or $6 a pound--more then conventional salt, for sure, but worth it. And a little bit should last a long time. Another word on salt...Even if you don't get gray salt, do get natural sea salt (About $2/lb). Sea salt has minerals that your body needs to be healthy. Normal table salt is heavily processed and bleached--toxic for your body and has none of the good trace minerals. And it doesn't taste as good.

Fingerling potatoes

Look at those colors! I've been buying fingerling potatoes from the Ballard farmer's market for the last few weeks. The first attempt to bake them was a failure (cooked too long and smoked up the kitchen!) but try two was more successful. I'd recommend cutting them open, even thought they're small, because that will let in the olive oil, garlic and spice flavor into the flesh of the potato. So, cut them in half or thirds, shake with olive oil, fresh rosemary (you can find this growing in your neighborhood, most likely, if you live in Seattle) salt, pepper and garlic. Then bake in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes or so--keep an eye on them and decide when they're cooked enough for you.

It's important to get organic potatoes because conventional potatoes are grown in soil that is enriched with synthetic fertilizers, meaning that the soil has very few nutrients in it. A potato grown in organic soil will absorb the minerals and nutrients of the soil into its skin and flesh and then into your body when you eat them. Also, conventional potatoes typically have been sprayed with a sprout inhibitor to give them longer shelf-life. I still have to do more research to find out what this spray consists of, but typically, modern preservation methods are toxic and nutrient-depleting.

Fingerling potatoes at the farmer's market are $3/lb. (or $5 for 2 lbs).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Caribbean cookware

It's a half-sunny, half-grey, blustery Saturday afternoon. The last day of October. Well, yes, Halloween. Micael is out riding (his trials bike) and I'm staying in to get some homework done. I guess you can tell by now the homework-doing is not so successful. I'll get to it, I promise.

I have a pot of pinto beans on the oven, simmering with garlic, and am LOVING checking on them because it means I get to admire our new Le Creuset dutch oven. I think I'm obsessed with these pots because, first of all, they come in good, rich colors, and then they are so solid--they feel like they will last forever. And beyond that, I know it's a good pot. It's made of cast iron and covered with enamel and keeps its heat as if it were an oven itself. I've been doing a ton of research the past week or so on cookware, ever since I read in the cookbible that aluminum cookware is not recommended. I checked our pots and yep...aluminum. I did some searching online, and apparently, cooking with aluminum (even with foil) is thought to cause Alzheimers. Wow. Ok, aluminum is out. Which is a shame because these are nice pots that were handed down to me. What now?

I start looking at alternatives--stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, glass. We were on the verge of buying a stainless steel set, but given my surprise about aluminum, I kept doing research to find out what could possibly be wrong with stainless--especially since most stainless steel cookware has aluminum in its base to distribute heat. Would that leach out eventually? I couldn't find any cookware that didn't have the aluminum base, and didn't trust the manufacturers to report everything that was in the cookware. After reading many reviews, I found out that stainless typically has chromium and nickel in it. I'm still unsure what the effects of these are, but it seems that many people (from reviews I read) were against the nickel. I still need to do more research on this, but I decided that if I could find an alternative, I would. So I kept searching.

We currently use a cast iron skillet that I got at Goodwill for 2 or 3 dollars. We also have a copper-bottom stainless steel pot that I got at Goodwill and figure I'll keep using for now. I got a recommendation for ceramic cookware from Xtreme (the name threw me off, but it looks like good stuff) and also for Le Creuset. We headed to the kitchen store to check things out, and ended up buying a Le Creuset dutch oven for half off ($155). We also got the stainless steel knob to go with it, because it comes with a plastic knob that is only good to 375 degrees--bad design. We also bought a pyrex corning ware glass pot from Ebay--vintage. As far as I know, they don't make these anymore. (There's a rumor that's because they crack--I guess we'll find out). We're thinking of getting another, larger cast iron skillet as well as a bigger pot--maybe in ceramic.

For now, I'm ecstatic about the dutch oven. It's a bright, turquoise blue, one of my favorite colors, which makes cooking that much more fun. And I know it's safe. It won't cause cancer or Alzheimers or any other degenerative disease somewhere down the line from unsafe materials. (I didn't even mention non-stick in here, but those materials are toxic-there was a major recall on all Teflon because it was found to be dangerous, but then non-stick replacements came out--I don't trust any of it.)

So, to recap, after all my research, here is what I would recommend: cast iron skillets, (our bodies need iron anyway) cast iron covered with enamel, (like Le Creuset) ceramic, glass, and possibly stainless steel, with as low a nickel content as possible.

Our next project for the dutch oven? Provencal lamb shank.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Silvana Meats, Marysville, WA

My mom invited me to go with her up to Marysville to check out a farm where we could buy pastured and naturally-raised meats. She'd heard about it from a friend who bought all her meat there. So, we head up North one Friday afternoon.

From Seattle, the farm is only about 40 minutes away. Actually, it wasn't a farm, but rather a collective butcher for all the farms in the area. You walk into their front store and can look past the counter to see lots of butchering go on behind them. Fascinating. There are refrigerators full of sausages, steaks, bacon, tamales (yes, even tamales) and all sorts of other animal parts. We signed up for our Thanksgiving turkey, then ordered, for me: calf's liver and a whole fryer chicken; for my mom: skirt steak and sausages.

I had some recipes in mind already. I wanted to make a Moroccan chicken recipe out of the Cookbible (Nourishing Traditions) which called for a whole fryer chicken, cut into pieces--which they did for me! (I was definitely not ready to do that by myself--but working up to it.) Then, for the calf's liver. I know, this takes some explaining. Since the pate experience, I've been having liver-related conversations all over the place. Not something I ever thought I would say. All sorts of people are coming out of the woodwork to tell me about how they like to cook liver--go figure. Then, even the New York Times gets on the bandwagon and shows me a calf's liver recipe. Sometimes there are signs you just can't ignore.

So, I just pulled the calf's liver out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw. We'll be having it tomorrow night. The NYT recipe includes bacon, onions and radicchio, sauteed, then the calf's liver sauteed for just a few minutes in butter then placed on top of the bacon, onion and radicchio combo. I'm crossing my fingers I like this :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I like goats

Bees and more bees

Honey. I love it. Especially now that I've discovered raw honey. It has tons and tons and tons--yes, those are scientific terms--of enzymes and nutrients. In fact, it keeps your immune system strong and can be taken as a vitamin. Pretty good for something that tastes like heaven.

Bee pollen. Another wonderful, super nutrient. Protein, enzymes, etc, etc, etc. I've read the list of things it does for you 3 or 4 times now. I can't remember because the list is so long. Basically it makes everything better. Google it--you'll see. But, you want pollen that hasn't been dried, is preferably kept in glass, and isn't refined or processed in any way. Basically you need the most raw stuff possible. Same with the honey. Raw is good. If you live in Seattle, go to the honey guy at the Ballard Market who has a grey beard and looks like he's been chewing tobacco for a long time. Talk to him--he's wonderful. If you don't live in Seattle, go check out a farmer's market and chat up the honey guy.

This is Nancy's organic, whole milk yogurt with raw honey (honey hasn't been filtered or heated and still has bee pollen and honeycomb in it) with more bee pollen added on top. I also added some turmeric--I found this spice in the bulk section of PCC (natural foods store). Turmeric is a standard spice in curry and is good for strengthening the immune system, depleting cancer cells and reducing inflammation. It also adds an exotic taste to the yogurt. Don't go overboard--1/4 teaspoon will do. As for the honey and bee pollen, get the best quality you can. Bee pollen should be kept in glass and frozen to maintain freshness--try to buy from a bee farmer. The honey I bought through a buyer's club, which is basically a lot of people getting together and buying in bulk directly from the farmer. Check out the Weston Price Foundation web site to find a local chapter that does this, or else look in the ads at a local natural grocery. (If you're in Seattle, I can get you linked in to the buying club here!)

Choke the Priest

Strozzapreti--choke the priest. But not literally. It's a type of pasta. Written about in loving detail in the Encyclopedia of Pasta, by Oretta Zanini de Vita (what a name). I saw this recipe in the Dining section of the New York Times--which comes out every Wednesday, I get giddy on Wednesdays--and decided to make a go of it.
I have never made pasta. I actually don't eat that much pasta. Micael was born in Italy and he has never made pasta. It's about time we try this out--I probably will like to eat pasta more when it's made with fresh eggs and flour, and especially when it has a name like choke the priest. (thanks to Rafaella for the translation-you weren't messing with us, were you??)

We decided friday night was a good time. Well, really we had nothing to do on a friday night, and so we decided that that was the best thing we could do--not like we set aside friday nights to make pasta or anything. We bought plum tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and pecorino cheese for the sauce, and had some farm eggs and flour for the pasta. The recipe calls for cutting the tomatoes in half, shaking them with olive oil and garlic and roasting them in a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes. Meanwhile we chopped up basil, garlic and pecorino cheese in a miniature food processor and started in on the pasta. I have to admit--I'm intimidated. I've always heard pasta is challenging, time-consuming, and you probably need to have Italy running through your blood to really get it right. In fact, Oretta learned how to make pasta in her convent school as she was growing up. The Sisters would tell them that their tortellini dough was only thin enough when they could hold it up and see through it to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, out the window. Now that's pressure.

So I make a pile with my flour, carve out a space in the middle and crack 3 eggs into it (I added to the recipe so we could have more pasta). I start folding the flour into the eggs, which then run off the side of the cutting board/rudimentary pasta-making board, and must scoop/scrape them back in while trying to keep more of the pas te on the board than attached to my hands. This stuff is sticky. The recipe seems to recommend avoiding extra flour, but the dough is so sticky, I can't get it off my hands, much less roll it out. I add more. Then roll it out using a jar, because our kitchen is still too basic to have a rolling pin, and jars are much more fun anyway, and then cut into strips, roll the strips around a bamboo skewer and voila! pasta. Ok, it wasn't so voila-ish . The pasta kept sticking and I had to use a lot of extra flour, which meant it wouldn't stick to my hands or to the skewer, but then it wouldn't stick to itself, either, which means it wouldn't form the nice rings that I saw in the picture. I got close enough and then scooped all the semi-deformed rings into boiling water, let them cook for a few minutes and voila! cooked blob-like strozzapreti!

We mash the roasted tomato, basil, garlic, pecorino, olive oil combo onto the pasta and wow...mmm. good. The pasta could definitely be thinnier, but it was still really tasty-chewy and fresh, and the sauce was incredible. I could eat the sauce on anything. The best part is that it took us a total of 45 minutes--total--and was really inexpensive.
So, looks like I'm going to have to keep trying this one until I get my strozzapreti dough so thin I can see through it to the apartment complex parking lot out the window :)

ps. My only caveat with this recipe is that the flour we buy at the grocery store is typically not very fresh because ground flour goes
rancid very quickly--I never knew this before. So, the best thing to do is soak grains yourself and then grind them up fresh for flour whenever you need to use it in a recipe. I'm working up to this myself--I'll need to get a grain mill, whatever that is--and I'll start writing about it as soon as I can figure it out!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Trying hard to avoid making a pun about whey

I've been talking a lot on here about soaking grains and beans. So far, I've been using lemon juice because that can be used for both black beans and brown rice, but for any other type of bean or grain, you must use a cultured dairy product, such as kefir, whey, buttermilk or yoghurt. I've been avoiding this because these aren't things you can typically buy in the grocery store, or if you can, I'd rather ones made from grass-fed, organic dairy.

But, I finally bit the bullet and tried it out a few days ago. I decided to make (or isolate) whey. I got an extra 1/2 gallon of grass-fed cow, whole milk at the farmer's market and poured a quart into a clean glass jar, capped it, and let that sit in my cupboard for 4 days. (I know, scary , right?). After the 4th full day, I poured the milk into a strainer lined with a clean dish towel, with a bowl set beneath the strainer to catch what came through the towel/strainer combo. If everything goes right, the whey should drip through the towel into the bowl and what's left in the towel is cream cheese.

I left the bowl and towel sitting, draining, on my counter for 4 or 5 hours, then tied the towel around a wooden spoon and let it drip some more into the bowl, without the strainer. I left it for another several hours. Then poured the whey into a mason jar, put the cream cheese into a glass pyrex container and put them both in the fridge. We've been eating the cream cheese on toast with strawberry jam in the morning for breakfast. To be honest, the cream cheese has kind of a sour flavor that I don't like very much, but Micael seems to like a lot. The whey will last for 6 months in the fridge, and I've already used it to soak brown rice!

Lots of Smoke

We bought fingerling potatoes at the Ballard Market--mostly because it was fun picking the small potatoes out of bins, and also because they always seem to be on the menus of fancy restaurants.

I decided to roast them the same way as I've always roasted redskin potatoes--shake in olive oil, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper, put on a baking tray and roast at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or so. Well, first the olive oil started to burn and filled up the kitchen with smoke. Then we let it go while we started the chard (cooked in a mix of butter and olive oil, lemon, shallots, salt and pepper) and the hand-made beef sausages from Sea Breeze Farms on Vashon Island. The sausage (cooked on its own in a cast-iron skillet) also put out a lot of smoke, so soon we had every window and the door open trying to clear it out. I pull the potatoes out at 45 minutes, take a test bite and have to grind my teeth through it--they were cooked way too long.

We finally get the apartment--somewhat--cleared out, and sat down to dinner. The sausage was amazing, so was the chard, but the potatoes overshadowed all of it because I was so disappointed. I later looked up fingerling potato recipes and found out the mix of ingredients was good, but the potatoes should cook at 400-500 degrees for no more than 20 minutes. Oops.

We got some more potatoes last Sunday and will be trying them out again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Butter makes you fat

Does it? I don't think I buy it. In my last entry I talk about making pate with a 1/2 lb of butter. Ok, so I haven't eaten all the pate yet, but I've switched most of my cooking so that I use butter several times a day. This is because butter (according to my cookbible) is healthy. Butter that comes from cows feeding on rapidly growing green grass is full of nutrients that we need to look and feel healthy, and for body and brain function. And the strangest thing of all? After a month of increasing my intake of butter, whole milk, whole cheese, olive oil and fatty meat, I've actually lost weight.

Healthy fats eaten with healthy vegetables, grains, fruits, etc, will help your body function and metabolize more effectively, meaning that your body should better regulate its weight. We gain weight when we put stress on our system by eating foods it can't handle--such as excess sugar, refined flour, polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn and soybean) and most of the products that the food manufacturing industry puts in our foods to make them cheap and give them long shelf-life.

So--and this was a surprise to me, having grown up as part of the avoid fat, eat chicken breasts generation--eating rich, whole foods is incredibly healthy and can help you lose, or balance, your weight.

Now, my second observation, the much more philosophical one. Do I like this? Losing weight, I mean. First of all, most of my clothes don't fit, which is frustrating. And then I feel like there's generally less of me--a disconcerting feeling. Losing weight is such a sacred goal for women in my, and many, societies, it seems like there shouldn't be a downside, right?

I've been spending a lot of time looking at bodies the last several days, Watching people move, what their shapes look like. I study and work on a university campus, so there are plenty of young, thin bodies walking around, and what I think I'm realizing is that thin, in and of itself, is not that attractive. It seems that how people carry themselves, how they wear their clothing, where they decide to let a curve show is, to me, more determinate of beauty.

Ultimately, healthy is very beautiful. Maybe my body still has some more 'balancing' to do and I'll gain weight back with all this butter I keep eating. I would do so happily. My focus has been shifting--away from body size and toward body health.

Chicken Liver Pate RECIPE

Organic Chicken Liver Pate

serves 4-6

500 grams organic chicken livers (you can use duck liver for a richer taste)

1 onion diced

3 slices of bacon

1 clove of garlic

200 gram organic butter

100 ml of white wine (optional)

Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, tarragon, or parsley (optional)

Heat 100 gram butter in pan; add onion garlic and sauté for 1 minute add bacon and livers sauté till opaque. Add herbs if selected. Add white wine and reduce to just a moist consistency. Let cool.

Transfer to blender, add remaining butter and blend till smooth. Transfer to glass container and refrigerate. Additional melted butter can be drizzled over the top to preserve color and help to keep the pate from forming a skin on top.

Thanks to Jo Rushton of 6 Wisdoms

Chicken Liver Pate

While searching the internet several weeks ago for tips on how to make raw butter, I came across a blog that actually ended up giving me a recipe for chicken liver pate. Since my cookbible (Nourishing Traditions) advocates for eating organ meats, I figured what the hell, lets try it out.

I have never--as far as I know--eaten liver before. Maybe mom and dad can correct me on this. I have no idea if I like it, but I do know it seems to have a bad reputation (you know those 1950's TV shows where kids always say "oh no, not liver and lima beans again..."). Yet, pate sells for $15 an itsy bitsy piece at the grocery store and French people seem to like it. Oh, and my mom does too. It can't be that bad.

The recipe calls for 1/2 lb of butter, an onion and 3 strips of bacon. This is sounding better already. I saute the diced onion in a stick of butter (a little less than 1/4 pound) then add the chicken livers (2 lbs) and 3 strips of bacon (we got this salt-rubbed and smoked from a local farm). Sauteed all this until the livers turned opaque and then let it go a bit longer to reduce the liquid. The recipe called for white wine optional, which is what you're supposed to reduce, but we didn't have any. So we stared at the whole thing sizzling for about 5-8 minutes, wondering, what does 'opaque' mean? And does butter reduce? Huh. Well that looks good.

Took the pan off the heat to let it cool. Again, more long til it's cool? Does this mean cold or just not hot? We sit on the couch and wait 7 minutes. Went back to check and it was less hot than before. That works. We put the contents of the pan into our blender with another stick of butter and blend the whole thing til it was a more or less smooth consistency. Then spatula'd the whole thing into a Pyrex glass container, melted more butter and poured it over the top (to keep it from discoloring or growing a 'skin'--so says the recipe) and put it in the fridge.

The recipe recommended eating it spread on toast for breakfast. So we did. We bought a fresh baguette from the market around the corner and spread pate on it. And now I know without question that I prefer jam on my toast for breakfast. The first go at having pate for breakfast was not that enjoyable for me, so I tried it again the next day for lunch as a pate sandwich with tomatoes (and a bit of salt). That was much better. We still have ridiculous amounts of pate left, so I imagine I will try it many other ways as well. If anyone likes and wants pate, let me know. I will like pate, I will like pate (I am repeating this mantra until my taste buds get a hint). It may just take a little while.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Classic black beans

So I just recently made my first beans from scratch. I told a fellow teaching assistant this, and she laughed at me. Maybe it is funny. I've only ever bought beans in a can.

I did have incredible Cuban black beans made in a pressure cooker when I was living in Chile. My Cuban friend, Karel, would make them for us along with fish or pork--I've always wanted to copy. I'm still waiting for him to send me the recipe. However, my cookbook (or cookbible--Nourishing Traditions) says to slow cook beans rather than use a pressure cooker so that you retain more of the nutrients.

I start out by soaking the beans overnight with lemon juice (2 cups black beans, warm filtered water to cover and 2 tbls lemon juice)--they need 12 hours or so. The next day I drain off the black water, rinse the beans and put them in a pot with water to boil. As soon as they start to boil I skim off the foam, (it's where impurities collect) add 4 or 5 cloves of mashed garlic and then reduce heat so they can simmer for the next 6 hours. It's been my Sunday activity for the past 2 weeks because it's the only time I have to hang around and let beans simmer for 6 hours. They make the apartment smell good.

I head off to work at 5 (at Costas Opa) and have Micael put some brown rice on at 8:30. I get home by 9:30 with organic salsa made here in the Seattle area, organic cultured sour cream and we throw it all together--black beans, rice, salsa and sour cream. And then we eat it for lunch all this week. It's lick your plate with your finger good. Although most of you know I do that for a lot of things.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Friday Night Lamb

Here's a great recipe idea. We did this for dinner Wednesday night and it turned out so well, we did it again Friday. Nothing special, it's the quality of the ingredients that makes it so good.

Ground lamb in a tomato cream sauce with brown rice linguine
steamed green beans with (homemade!!) raw butter and salt
sliced red pepper (from the farmer's market)

We got ground lamb at the natural foods market that had been pasture raised and was hormone free. Also bought a jar of organic tomato and porcini mushroom sauce and dry brown rice linguine pasta in a bag. We added organic valley half and half to make the sauce richer.

First, brown half a pound of lamb (this is actually quite a bit--you could use less) in a big pan. It will let off a lot of liquid, including fat. Let this stay--it will add flavor and these fats have vitamins that are good for you. Add 1/2 to 2/3 of the jar of sauce and a couple tablespoons of 1/2 and 1/2 or cream.

At the same time, boil water for the brown rice linguine. It will take about 13 minutes to cook. I chose brown rice pasta rather than wheat because our bodies can process the nutrients in brown rice pasta more easily than wheat pasta. I think it tastes just as good, but if you're skeptical, use wheat pasta. Definitely don't sacrifice anything you love!

I boiled the green beans for about 5 minutes and then rinsed them with cool water. I then used that same boiling water for the pasta to save time.

Cut up a red pepper and you've practically got the colors of the italian flag put together on your plate.

Besides tasting really, really good and only taking 20 minutes to make, here is why this meal is so amazing:

1. tons of nutrients.

2. All local vegetables, all local meat and dairy (sustainably raised), and all organic.

3. Price. $3.25 for half pound of ground lamb, $2.50 for half a jar of sauce, $1.50 for half a bag of pasta, less than a dollar each for the green beans and red pepper from the market. And maybe 25 cents for the amount of half and half we used. Total: $9.50 for a very large (organic, sustainable, local) meal for two.


So I must admit, I've been very intimidated by the 1/2 pints of cream staring at me from the back of the refrigerator. Their purpose is to become raw butter, but I'm not exactly sure how that happens. This is primarily because the recipe that I have (from Nourishing Traditions) says to first leave the cream out at room temperature for about 8 hours to sour. Sour, really? I don't remember ever hearing that that was a good thing. Reading this nutrition/recipe book has made me realize that there are a lot of things I don't know about food, and they generally seem to know what they're talking about, so I'm going to trust them. Sour I will.

So, first question: what do I sour it in? Does it need to be put in a jar, can it stay in the plastic container, does it need to be covered? Second: how do I know when it's soured, what does it look like?

I set the 2 half pints of cream out on the counter in their plastic containers (covered) and hope for the best. Then an hour later I start worrying that I'm going to waste $10 in raw cream and decide to conduct a frenzied internet search on making raw butter. Everyone had a different technique. Use a blender, use a mason jar, use a hand mixer, use 4 day old cream, wait til the cream is 60 degrees, salt it, don't salt it. Ayy. Ok, the cream has been sitting out for 2 hours now. If I start to mix it now, then I can make sweet cream butter (says Nourishing Traditions). If I wait, then I'll be agonizing for the next 6 hours about what constitutes soured cream.

Somewhere in that frenzy, I had decided to switch the cream from the plastic containers into glass jars, and then placed plastic salsa container lids lightly on top (mostly to keep bugs out). After the cream had been sitting out for about 2 hours, I put a tight lid onto one of the glass jars and started shaking. And shaking. Shaking. Shaking, and shaking. Still shaking. The internet says this could take up to 20 minutes. I tried to read my email while doing this, but it's very difficult to get the little arrow perfectly over links when your body is shaking along with the cream. 15 (or so) minutes later. gluuglunk. gluuuglunk. That sounds different. haha! Butter! I open the lid and see a ball of butter floating in milk. I pour the whole thing into a strainer with a bowl underneath so that the milk strains off into the bowl beneath and the butter stays in the strainer. Then I use a spatula to scrape the butter into another bowl. I grab a wooden spoon and I press, and press and press, the butter with the spoon until ALL of the buttermilk has been expressed (this can take awhile--all the buttermilk needs to be expressed or else the butter will quickly sour). Then I scrape the remaining butter into a CLEAN plastic container and put it into the fridge to chill. SUCCESS!

And then I do it all over again because I couldn't fit all the cream into just one jar :)


Use all clean bowls and utensils so that you don't get bacteria into the diary products. Raw dairy will grow bacteria very quickly.

Try and use a colander/strainer that has very small holes, otherwise some of the butter bits will end up in the buttermilk. I had to strain them out by pouring the buttermilk through a paper towel with holes poked in it. ( I wish you all could have seen this...)

Save the buttermilk in a glass jar with lid. Put it in the fridge and either drink it or use it in a recipe--check online for a marinade or ice cream recipe, for example.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mastering the Art of the 10:30 dinner

So Emily did come over last night and we did make something with rice. We decided on spicy stuffed cabbage, which consists of ground beef (grass-fed), brown rice, onions, raisins, pine nuts, dill, cumin, cinnamon, and clovers stuffed into cabbage leaves, doused in beef stock and baked for an hour. Doesn't sound too difficult.

I started soaking the rice at 11am to get in the requisite 7 hour soak. Check. Then ran some errands and ended at the grocery store. I spent nearly half an hour in the bulk spice section alone! Cardamom pods, arrowroot, dried thyme, cumin seeds, ground was fascinating. I made three circles around the store paying such close attention to the cookbook in my arms that I kept bumping into old people with carts. I finally had it all. Well, all except the fresh dill--I figured I could harvest that from the alley down the street.

I make it home, Emily shows up at 6:30 with ingredients for a roast squash, roast beet, goat cheese and hazelnut salad, and after harvesting the dill, we get started around 7. First mistake-starting around 7. We start chopping and prepping and boiling and roasting, get the rice on the stove and then I realize that after the rice finishes and the cabbage leaves get stuffed, they still need to bake for an hour. Crap. Ok. No problem. The rice will be finished at 8:05, we stuff the cabbage and bake and eat a bit after 9. We finish getting the beet and squash salad ready and steam some sweet corn on the cob (from the Ballard Market!) while we wait for the rice. 8:05. I open the lid to the pot and see brown rice--good--sitting beneath an inch of water--bad. Again, crap. Out comes the rice cooker (which the cookbook makes no mention of, so I tried to avoid it) and get the rice going in that--it'll take another 45 minutes. We eat the salad and corn, start a movie and wait. Rice finally finishes, we brown the beef, rice, onions and spices, awkwardly stuff the cabbage leaves, (more like making cabbage sandwiches) pour on the beef stock and start baking.

After all that, when they finish baking, we still have to pour off the stock and reduce it on the stovetop in order to use it as a sauce for the stuffed cabbage. That takes 15 minutes. But then, we dish up the cabbage sandwiches, pour on the sauce and, voila! Dinner is served. At 10:45.

All things considered, it did taste very good. And as I was reflecting on whether it was actually worth the nearly 4 hour preparation, Micael reminded me that yes, it was. That sometimes, not always, but special sometimes, part of eating is the time you share with people as you're preparing to eat. It may take all day. In fact, if it does, that might just be what makes the meal so good.

Tuesday Night Cooking Experiment

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday highlights

So, I called the butcher at PCC and ordered some bones from grass-fed cows ($2.57/lb) and they should be coming in sometime this week. This is so I can make bone broth. Uses: great for cooking instead of oil because it's full of flavor, make soups or stews, or drink it as-is to warm up. It's great for boosting the immune system and an inexpensive way to get protein. I'm planning to use it when I make stuffed peppers next week (with brown rice, ground beef, pine nuts and spices...), and then will keep the extra broth in the freezer.

Also bought salt-rubbed and smoked bacon for BLTs tomorrow lunch. For dinner, Emily is coming over and we're experimenting, but I'm guessing rice could be involved. So, we'll need to soak the brown rice 7 hours in advance to neutralize the phytic acid (present in whole grains--it inhibits nutrient absorption). That's where the lemons come in. Grains can be soaked with either whey, buttermilk or yoghurt along with warm water in order to make their nutrients accessible. For brown rice, lemon can be used instead.

And...I bought a hand mixer today. Raw butter will be mixed tomorrow.

Ballard Market goods

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Farmer's Market and the leaves are turning

It's Sunday! I love Sunday because it's the day I go to the Ballard Farmer's Market and hold and ogle a bunch of different vegetables, scramble for grass-fed beef, pick which flavor of honey to buy and get pushed out of the way at the heirloom tomato bins. It's wonderful. I haven't been to the market for the last several weeks because we've been out of town, so today was especially anticipated.

I got green beans, purple carrots, yellow cherry tomatoes and sweet corn from the Skagit Valley, red peppers and zebra striped tomatoes from Carnation, pastured eggs from Sedro Woolley, raw honey from I don't remember where, raw goat cheese from Estrella farms and last but not least, mmmmm, raw jersey milk and raw cream from Vashon Island. I'm especially excited about the raw cream because I have been on a relentless search for...raw butter.

Even getting the cream of the crop (no pun intended) from our local co-op, PCC, which runs $3.99 a half pound, it's all pasteurized. This has become a trend, expectation, even law, in the US now--pasteurization. To kill germs and keep us healthy. Unfortunately, it kills most of the nutrients in our milk and dairy products as well. Trying to find raw dairy from pastured (grass-fed) animals is difficult. And expensive. So, the milk runs $8 for a half gallon and the cream $5 for a half pint. Spendy, I know. Here is why I buy it: 1. It tastes so much better than pasteurized milk. 2. Raw dairy has the vitamins we need for healthy immune systems (beat the swine flu!) better brain function, healthier skin and hair and just more happiness (no I really mean this--you eat better food, your body does not get depressed!).

So, I am off to go buy a hand mixer so that I can beat my raw cream into really, really good raw butter. I hear it's easy. However, things are much easier once you've learned how to do them and no longer have to figure it out from a book. So, once I've actually beat the cream into butter and expelled all the buttermilk and then eat it and realize I've been successful, then I will claim victory.