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.