Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2009

How about two cents?

Who doesn’t like pickles? Well…test subject Bill is a self-proclaimed pickle hater. With this in mind…well…I made pickles anyway 🙂

With Alton Brown’s refrigerator pickle recipe recipe in hand, I was determined to produce the best pickles ever. Or, at least something edible. His recipe calls for “pickling spices.” I visited three different stores, including two different Whole Foods, but there were no pickling spices to be found. So I sought out my own pickling spice recipe. A fellow blogger was kind enough to provide her pickling spice recipe so I thought I was good to go:

PICKLING SPICE I

2 cinnamon sticks, broken
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1 teaspoon crumbled whole mace
1 teaspoon dill seeds
4 dried bay leaves
1 small piece dried ginger

Mix together all the ingredients.

Store in a small, airtight jar up to 2 months.

Makes about 1/4 cup.

Well…a few of those ingredients were hard to come by. I tore Whole Foods and Publix apart but had to substitute ground ginger for the dried ginger and ground mace for the whole mace. I made my pickling spice and hoped for the best.

Cucumbers waiting to become pickles.

Cucumbers waiting to become pickles.

Using a combination of cucumbers from my CSA box and the Saturday farmer’s market, I got to work slicing and mixing. The recipe is suprisingly easy – I can’t believe I didn’t do this before. I filled up nine small canning jars and one large one with cucumbers and onions, simmered the spices and vinegars and water together and poured them over the top of the veggies.

Alton’s recipe calls for half a cup of sugar. I don’t like using so much (plus I think sweet pickles are gross) so I did one batch with the full amount of sugar, one with half the sugar and one with a quarter of the sugar called for. I guess I just can’t leave things alone – must experiment!

After the jars cooled to room temperature, I lidded and refrigerated them. The great thing about these pickles is that they are ready almost right away. I tried some the very next day and was pleasantly suprised. The sugar wasn’t overpowering and offered a nice balance to the tartness of the vinegars. I didn’t taste too much difference between the full sweet and half sweet ones, so I think I’ll just use half the sugar from now on. The quarter sweet ones I also enjoyed, although they were a bit more sour than the others. The substitutions I made in the pickling spice didn’t seem to have had an adverse impact on the final product. Yay!

Oh pickle my pickle!

Oh pickle my pickle!

Test subject Bill finally taste tested them tonight. “These taste better than pickles,” he announced. (All according to my plan…slowly but surely I will turn him…) I have to agree – they are superior to store bought pickles and not difficult to make. The only problem is that they only last two months.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Many moons ago my mom showed me an easy enchilada recipe. After a series of adjustments, this is pretty much how I’ve been making them for the past eight or nine years: brown ground beef. Fill flour tortilla with beef, some canned enchilada sauce, chipotle sauce, roll up. Put them in a glass baking dish, cover with more canned enchi sauce and pop in the oven for 20 minutes. Add cheese and bake another five minutes or so. That’s it.

Well, that’s all fine and good but since I’m…well, me…I decided to seek out a homemade enchi sauce. Based on this recipe and the ensuing comments, this is pretty much what I did: melt 3 T butter in a sauce pan. Stir in 3 T flour to make a roux. Stir in 1/4 cup chili powder. Stir in 2 cups of chicken stock. Stir in a little over half a can of tomato sauce.  Add 1 t garlic powder, 1 t oregano and 1 t cumin. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Repeat as above but using the homemade sauce (and I added some black beans to the beef mix since I was making a few more than usual).

Store bought (top) vs. home made (bottom). Topped with white cheddar from a local Georgia dairy farm!

Store bought (top) vs. home made (bottom). Topped with white cheddar from a local Georgia dairy farm!

I was nervous about how the homemade sauce would turn out so I did two pans of enchiladas – one with the homemade sauce and one with the canned sauce (just in case it was a disaster we would still have dinner).  The darker one is the stuff I made. It looked a lot like the canned version, just darker. Smelled good and tasted ok on its own. But the real test was Test Subject Bill. Would he approve the new sauce? Would his highly refined taste buds (er, whatever) reject the non-Old El Paso version?

Bill commented that the canned stuff is sweeter, but he complained that both versions were missing “something.” The elusive “something” remains unknown. His half Mexican heritage did not help us one bit in the spice detection department. However, upon adding more cumin and more chili powder, he announced the homemade version acceptable. “Ok,” he said. “You can make enchiladas using your sauce.”

Wooooohooooo! It’s every kung fu girl’s dream to have her sauce deemed acceptable. I felt so validated.

Beef and bean enchiladas and guacamole!

Beef (local Georgia grass-fed, of course) and bean enchiladas and guacamole!

Now, for the nitty gritty. I think what will make this sauce better is to saute fresh garlic with the butter and forget the powder. I hate to add sugar, but I think honey would make it taste funny. So he might have to live without it. Also, I plan to seek out some higher quality chili powder and use a little more tomato sauce next time. Other than that, I think it was a pretty tasty experiment.

As for the accompaniment, I love guacamole. And it’s so easy – once I learned how to make it I couldn’t figure out what they sell those stupid spice packets for in the store. Mash two avocados. Mince three or so cloves of garlic (or to taste). Finely chop a jalapeno (I used the fresh one that come out of my garden! I couldn’t believe it!). Squeeze the juice out of half a lime. Mix all together with a little salt and pepper and you’ve got yourself some fresh, tasty guac. I used to make it with only one avocado but Bill would eat it all and I would get none so I had to add the second one.

So the only serious problem I have with my enchiladas right now is the tortillas. I am highly suspicious of the ones I get at the store. There’s questionable ingredients on the package. (At least I avoided the one that listed partially hydrogenated vegetable oil….gag me.) I guess that just leaves one alternative…I am going to have to learn how to make tortillas.

Read Full Post »

Last week I had a produce panic attack.

There are loads of goodness coming in from the local farms, and I think half of it ended up in my kitchen. Between my CSA box and my inability to stay away from the Suwanee farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, my fridge and counter tops were bursting with produce. It was time to freak out.

What do I do with all this bounty??

So I got to work. I froze a ton of green beans and some raspberries (I can get a few raspberries down here and they are great, but they are just not the powerhouses like the ones I got back on the farm in Iowa). I felt better after that, but still…all that squash…

Zucchini bread and squash muffins

Zucchini bread and squash muffins

So I got to work making squash muffins courtesy of a recipe from my CSA newsletter. Sounds weird, but they really do taste good. (Especially with butter and a little honey!) I made two dozen of those, put some in the freezer and some in bags to give to friends. Then I made a loaf of zucchini bread from my How to Cook Everything book. I’ll have to tell you how that tastes later because it’s in my freezer right now, which is just about to explode.

Last night I made a tomato and cucumber salad with Vidalia onions, with just a little salt and pepper, fresh parsley and a drizzle

Tomato and cucumber salad

Tomato and cucumber salad

of olive oil. Super yum.

I also found a recipe for squash fritters so I thought I would give that a try for a little appetizer. You grate the squash, strain and squeeze out the moisture, then combine with flour (recipe calls for almond flour but I had none, so I used arrowroot flour…anyone know if that makes a big difference?), seasonings, and egg. They ended up looking grate and tasting good (test subject Bill had four or five of them) but they were a bit soggy. I think I wasn’t aggressive enough in

Squash Fritters

Squash Fritters

squeezing out the liquid. Next time those squash won’t know what hit them. They were fun to make, though, and it was actually my first time using coconut oil. Tasty stuff!

For a main course I made a beef and eggplant stir fry with red bell pepper, green bell pepper, misc hot peppers and those light green not-hot peppers that grow around here that I have no idea what they’re called. For the seasoning, I coated the beef strips in this Chinese 10-spice I got at the farmer’s market, then made a

Scratch and sniff

Scratch and sniff

sauce with a little water and cornstarch to thicken it up. The beef was a sirloin steak from Nature’s Harmony Farm. I used the leftover coconut oil from the fritters to do the frying.

It was SO GOOD. The beef was tender, the veggies were slightly crunchy, the sauce was phenomenal. Truely, I wish this was a scratch and sniff blog with a taster option because I can’t even explain how great this smelled and tasted. And all I really did was throw stuff together. A smart cook uses good ingredients so they don’t have to work as hard 🙂 Test subject Bill went back for seconds.

Wheaties, hit the road.

Wheaties, hit the road.

When I woke up this morning there was still work left to do on the produce barrel. I stirred some of the sweet and hot peppers into my morning eggs, tossed in some chopped tomato and topped it with a dallop of sour cream for a southwestern southeastern egg dish. I cut up a baby cantelopue (those things are so darn cute) and used the raspberries I didn’t freeze to make a dessert for my breakfast. (Who says breakfast can’t have dessert?) Add some toast made from Ezekiel bread from the farmer’s market, a cup of tea and a glass of real milk and that’s what I call the breakfast of champions. Wheaties is for chumps.

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.

Finally, and this has nothing to do with produce, but after all that effort I needed a sweet treat. A couple eons ago I had this Care Bear cookbook. It was filled with ridiculously sweet treats for kids to make, but the one thing I made over and over again was the Nutty Shake. It has been probably 20 years since I made one. I was due.

I used some of my homemade vanilla ice cream, some organic peanut butter, milk and replaced the white sugar that the original recipe called for with honey and let it rip in the blender. I think I used a tad too much milk because it didn’t come out as thick as I wanted, but it didn’t matter. I sucked it down and was grateful.

I know this all sounds like a ton of work, but I am so relaxed right now. We ate well and there’s more in the freezer for later. There’s just something about real food that makes me smile.

Read Full Post »

Georgia Onion Soup

French onion soup has always been one of my favorites. Rich broth and onions and cheesy goodness…what’s not to like? I recall trying to make it once a number of years back. It isn’t a good memory. It was time to conquer the soup, this time with a twist.

I made beef stock using my trusty How to Cook Everything book and Nature’s Harmony Farm beef bones. I’m getting pretty good at stock making and it’s not nearly as scary or time consuming as I feared. Of course now I have a freezer full of little containers of stock. Good thing I invested in a deep freeze.

I could have knit a sweater in the time it took these onions to carmelize.

I could have knit a sweater in the time it took these onions to carmelize.

Again referencing the onion soup recipe in How to Cook Everything, I sliced up some local Georgia Vidalia onions with my mandolin (the slicer, not the instrument). Into the pot with some butter they went for a nice long rest. Maybe it was a watched pot never boils syndrome, but those onions took FOREVER to carmelize. I kept looking at it and wondering if they were real onions.

Finally when I had gotten some color I added my freshly made beef stock, herbs and some cognac (uh-huh!).  When that had heated through it was time for the oven. I took a piece of my homemade bread, toasted it and stuck it in a small soup crock. The soup went over it, then I topped it off with this farmhouse cheese that I got in my CSA box that tastes kind of like gruyere (you know, since this was not French or Swiss onion soup – this is GEORGIA onion soup.)

Georgia never tasted so good...

Georgia never tasted so good...

After about ten minutes in the oven, my soup was ready. Once it cooled off a bit and I got a taste, it was so worth it. Sweet and salty, rich and cheesy, made from mostly local ingredients…man. You just can’t buy that in a restaurant.

Read Full Post »

Duck Tales

When I was a kid, my older sister had ducks. They liked to swim around in the creek and hang out under the bridge. One afternoon, she and I watched little baby ducks hatch out of their eggs. Whenever hunters came over wanting to hunt pheasant on our property, she would go bonkers afraid that they would shoot her ducks. The beginning of a duck and the end of a duck – I witnessed the anticipation of the first and the fear of the second. But when I think of duck now, the experience I had last Saturday will be what comes to mind.

Entering Nature's Harmony Farm

Entering Nature's Harmony Farm

A few weeks back I got an email from my heroes at Nature’s Harmony Farm offering free ducks. All I saw was “free” and “duck” and I was like woohoo! Yeah, ok! So they said we would have to remove pin feathers (whatever those were) ourselves because they were having a difficult time doing it efficiently on the farm (hence the free part of the deal). I was thinking that I would get a frozen duck with some pain in the tail feathers to figure out how to pick out on my own. Then I learned that in order to obtain said free duck, I would actually be

The poultry processing center.

The poultry processing center.

on the farm helping process the ducks. (Process = live duck to dead, gutted, bald duck ready for duck a l’orange.)

Shoot first, ask questions later. Don’t read the whole email. History repeats itself.

At first I was like ummmm….but I said I wanted free duck so I was willing to own up to my obligation. So I made the trek up to Elberton, GA to practice some real old ways kung fu…duck processing.

Peacocks: either administering last rites, or telling the ducks about how hosed they are.

Peacocks: either administering last rites, or telling the ducks about how hosed they are.

Most of the ducks were caught and in cages (yes, these are real free range ducks) when I arrived. I helped clean up the processing area and met the other helpers as they arrived. There were a small number of us plus Liz and Tim, the farm owners. Primed and ready, we all watched solemnly as Tim began the process. He put the duck head first into an upside down cone, then sliced the major artery and allowed the duck to bleed out. Because humane treatment is important to them (and all of us helpers) Tim made the effort to ensure it was done properly and that

Scalder (front) and de-feathering spinner (back)

Scalder (front) and de-feathering spinner (back). Killing cone in the back with a few ducks in it.

minimal suffering was involved.

Apparently we were a little too solemn because I think we made Tim self concious. “You all are looking at me like I’m the bad guy,” he said with a small grin. But it wasn’t that. At least for me, I needed to see it happen. I needed to have that much participation in the end of life moment. If we are going to eat animals, we should not divorce ourselves from the process or lie to ourselves about what happens.

Ducks going into the scalder. Killing cone in back with a few ducks in it.

Ducks going into the scalder.

In factory farm processing, the animals live a horrendous life in cramped quarters, wallowing around in their own feces and being jacked up with Lord only knows what chemicals/antibiotics/hormones, then meet their end by someone who has no regard for their lives. Not so on Nature’s Harmony Farm, where the animals are allowed to be themselves, doing what it is God meant them to do. Swim. Peck. Quack with other ducks. And when the time comes, the last thing they see is someone who respects them and honors the value

Plucking the rest of the feathers.

Plucking the rest of the feathers.

of their lives. The cycle of life will end one way or the other, and if I was a bird I know which one I would choose.

Once the ducks are off the cone, they go into a scald which loosens the feathers. After that, they go for a spin in a plucking machine which removes most of the feathers. From the spinner to the table, the ducks loose their feet and heads. At least one volunteer was willing to help with that part (not me – I didn’t get a waiver from Bill to use a knife. He knows

Eggs removed from a female duck during evisceration. Liz told us that ducks are born with all the eggs they will ever have. Here these eggs are in various stages of maturity. Intersting in a Discovery Channel kind of way.

Eggs removed from a female duck during evisceration. Liz told us that ducks are born with all the eggs they will ever have. Here these eggs are in various stages of maturity. Intersting in a Discovery Channel kind of way.

how I am.)

After the extremities are removed, we got to work removing the pin feathers and any other feathers left on the duck. Tim and Liz said these were going much better than the ones they’d done before, but it was still a pain. Little tiny feathers remained that stuck to our fingers or stuck back to the duck. Some were easier than others, but we persevered and had plenty of time to get to know our fellow processers.

After the de-feathering was completed, it was time for the really fun part: evisceration. Liz showed us how to open

Me working on a gizzard.

Me working on a gizzard.

up the duck and carefully remove all the guts. I didn’t do the actual evisceration part, but I did separate the liver, heart and gizzards from a lot of duck guts. I also learned how to clean and cut up the gizzard. I was afraid at first (especially because it involved the knife, don’t tell Bill) but I got the hang of it.

We processed thirty ducks and helped clean up the processing shed over about four hours. I packed up my cooler with five ducks, a small bag of the organs to give it a try, and some of the feet for stock making.

After it was all said and done, I did not feel grossed out, wrong or mean. I felt like I’d done honest work (will work for duck?) and did a reasonably good job of it. And there was no doubt where my ducks came from or how they had lived. I had a local, organic, sustainable and ethical cooler full of duck that I had helped process myself.

Roasted Duck!

Roasted Duck!

I was anxious to cook a fresh duck, so one stayed out and the other four went into the freezer along with the feet and offal. Using a recipe loosely based on this one, I went about roasting my duck. I was told low and slow was the way to go…but apparently I didn’t do it low enough. After 40 minutes at 325 degrees my temperature probe (which I had probably misplaced) was telling me the thigh was done. I thought it was telling me lies so I turned down the temperature and left it in the oven for about a total of one hour forty-five minutes.

I think that was a mistake.

Not low enough, not slow enough, I’m thinking was my kung faux pas. The duck came out looking fantastic, but it was tough and the skin (which tasted fabulous) was not crispy, but kind of rubbery. The flavor of the meat was great, but you had to want it. Chewing was a bit of a challenge.

Test subject Bill agreed that it tasted great, but suggested a soup for the leftovers. So I stripped the bird as best I could and cut the pieces up into small chunks. I threw together a soup of duck bits, home made chicken stock, some potatoes and onions from the farmers market, a can of kidney beans and seasonings. It actually turned out pretty good and cutting up the duck meat into small manageable chunks made it much easier to eat.

I felt better about the whole thing after the soup success. And I have four more ducks to perfect my process. I will not be discouraged!

Having participated in the process was a valuable experience and I am so glad I did it. It truely does bring you closer to the food that is nourishing your body. It isn’t artificially sanitized the way buying chicken breast on toilet paper wrapped in saran wrap is, or a bag of apples that came from who knows where that has touched who knows what. You know the truth when you do it yourself. It’s honest, it’s real and it’s yours.

I was told that the true meaning of kung fu is time and effort, a studious, dedicated person. I thank Tim and Liz for the time and effort and for teaching me this duck kung fu.

Read Full Post »

Georgia Harvest

I’ve been going hog wild this summer, between the farmer’s market and my CSAs, I am completely out of control. Test subject Bill agrees, but he’s not complaining too much 🙂

Lettuce, melon, blueberries, tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers...mmmm

Lettuce, melon, blueberries, tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers...mmmm

Here’s an example of some of the fine produce I’ve pulled in recently. It’s hard work opening my CSA box and getting to the farmer’s market early enough to hog all the good stuff for myself, but it’s worth it. (This past Saturday I was there at the crack of dawn because I heard a vendor was going to have raspberries. DUDE. I was there before they were.)

And from this fine haul I had an exceptional dinner – a BLT (using my own homemade bacon from pastured Georgia hogs, tomatoes and lettuce from my CSA), sweet corn from the farmers market (got

You can't see the bacon too well in the BLT, but trust me. It's in there. Hehe.

You can't see the bacon too well in the BLT, but trust me. It's in there. Hehe.

some in the CSA box too but that got blanched and frozen), a little salad and cantaloupe and blueberries for dessert. I just have to say…that CSA canteloupe was the bomb diggity. Usually I’m kind of meh when it comes to this particular melon, but this was so fresh and sweet I ate every last morsel. It was better than dessert.

And it’s only the beginning of August now. It’s not over yet. I love living in Georgia.

Read Full Post »