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).