Saturday, July 30, 2011

City Mouse, Country Mouse

Van Gogh's
Woman Churning Butter
Hethyr:  If you had asked me in high school or even in college what I thought I’d be doing at 33 years of age, I would not have answered “I’ll be a chef who cooks for others and teaches people to cook.”  Ask anyone who knew me back then.  I would also never have responded with “I’ll make most of my meals from scratch, never eat fast food, only consume meat from sustainably-raised animals, have a community supported agriculture share, have a share in a herd of local cows so I can drink raw, unpasteurized milk, frequent the farmers’ market every week, and make my own bread, butter, yogurt and ice cream.”  I wouldn’t have said “I’d like to have my own large vegetable garden, raise chickens in my backyard and learn to make my own non-toxic beauty and cleaning products.”  What a long way I’ve come!  I looked at Jon the other day while I was making butter, laughed and said “Never in a million years did I think I’d one day be a farm-girl!”

During college, I worked at a few chain restaurants and would eat at least one meal at work during my scheduled shift because it was free and – I thought at the time – good.  I loved fast food and I exercised very little.  I was the typical American college kid.  These eating habits continued through my mid-twenties until one day, on a 30-minute lunch break, I bought a McDonald's Big Mac to take back to work and finish at my desk (I then worked for a large financial corporation).  A few minutes before I was supposed to pack up and head for home, one of my co-workers popped his head up over the shared wall and said “Wow, you don’t look so good.”  Five minutes earlier, I had gotten extremely nauseous and my ears were burning up – I felt like crap.  Long story short, I had food poisoning from that evil pseudo-burger.  It only lasted about five or six hours, but it felt like an eternity and I thought I was dying.

Now, I am so thankful for that short bout with food poisoning!  Why, you ask?  It changed EVERYTHING about the way I eat and think about food.  It’s why I’m such a “farm-girl” today and why I make almost everything from scratch.  I have not eaten one bite of fast food since that fateful day and unless someone literally forces it down my throat, I never will again.  The more I learn about food, the more I want to make from scratch.  Hence my recent attempt at making my own butter.

Butter is amazingly easy to make!  As I mentioned, I have a share in a dairy herd so I receive two half gallon jars of raw milk weekly.  For some reason, I ended up with five jars in the refrigerator at once recently.  That’s an oddity since I usually have no problem finishing off both jars each week.  In any case, I decided that since I had so much, I’d use the cream to make butter for one of the community swaps.  I skimmed the cream off the top of each jar, which resulted in one-half gallon of cream.

Jon is jealous of how much time
I spend with my new love
I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it or not (damn age!), but I recently traded in an unused commercial ice cream maker for a sweet brand new 7-quart Cuisinart Stand Mixer.  According to my friend Allen at Sparrowhawk Gourmet Cookware, this mixer has a lot more power than some of the others of similar size.  He raved about this thing, so I happily made my purchase and haven’t regretted it for one second – it’s freakin’ awesome.  I decided to make my butter using my stand mixer but you can make this butter by hand also…  just in case you’re not as cool as me and don’t own a wicked-cool stand mixer.  I didn’t give quantities for the ingredients in the recipe since everything will depend on how much cream you start with.  Because I was making a lot, I started with one-half gallon of cream and I ended up with just over a pound of butter.  You can make a lot less if you want!

Chipotle-Lime Butter

  • Cream (I used raw, but you can also use store-bought)
  • Ice water
  • Salt (optional)
  • Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced
  • Green onions, sliced
  • Lime juice
Stand mixer instructions:  Pour cream into stand mixer and fit with whisk attachment.  Turn mixer on and blend. 

The cream will go through several stages, first starting out sloshy/frothy, then changing to whipped cream.  After changing to whipped cream, the cream will all of a sudden collapse and you’ll see tiny globs of butter separate from the buttermilk (you can save this, too!).  A little more time and the small globs will come together and form a ball of butter.  At this point, turn off the mixer and drain the buttermilk, reserving it for other uses. 

Frothy stage
Whipped Cream
Butter and Buttermilk

With the butter still in the mixer, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup cold water and blend again.  Drain the water and repeat this process until the water is clear, maybe 3 to 4 times. 

Place the drained butter in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher to  squeeze out any excess water; drain.  Repeat until most of the water is removed from the butter (remaining liquid in the butter will cause it to spoil more rapidly).  If the butter is very firm, let it soften at room temperature.

Fold chipotles, green onions, salt and lime juice (just enough for taste – you don’t want to reintroduce a bunch of liquid back into the butter) into softened butter until well mixed.  Form into a log with waxed paper or store in small mason jars. 

If you’re not going to use the butter relatively quickly, freeze for later use.

Instructions for making by hand:  Although this may take longer than making it in a stand mixer, it works just as well and will give your kids something to do for a while.  ;)  Pour cream into a mason jar, about one-third of the way full and screw the cap on.  Shake. 

This butter is also excellent with sautéed veggies,
on corn, in frittatas, etc.
You’ll see the same changes in the cream as described above.  Once the butter has separated from the buttermilk, drain the buttermilk, reserving it for other uses (pancakes, smoothies, baking, etc.). 

Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of ice water to the jar and shake again.  Drain and repeat until the water is clear, maybe 3 or 4 times.

Place the drained butter in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher to squeeze out any excess water; drain.  Repeat until most of the water is removed from the butter (remaining liquid in the butter will cause it to spoil more rapidly).  If the butter is very firm, let it soften at room temperature.

Fold chipotles, green onions, salt and lime juice (just enough for taste – you don’t want to reintroduce a bunch of liquid back into the butter) into butter until well mixed.  Form into a log with waxed paper or store in small mason jars. 

If you’re not going to use the butter relatively quickly, freeze for later use.
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Jon:  I can attest to the miraculous change that Hethyr has made over the years in terms of “naturalizing” herself.  Even as I write this, she is rummaging through the closet getting rid of all of our bathroom products that have toxic ingredients in them… which happens to be just about all of them.  She’s recently been washing her face with honey instead of face soap, which seems like a dangerous option considering all the bees we have in our backyard.  She hasn’t returned from outside with a beard of bees yet, so I guess I’ll just keep my mouth shut about it.

I have many memories of consuming vast amounts of butter on my trips down to visit my Louisiana family.  Whether we were eating at their house or at a restaurant, it often seemed as though butter was the main course and everything else was just side dishes.  As much as I love grits, I’m convinced that their only real purpose is to transport butter from your bowl to your stomach—a convenient alternative to simply taking a bite straight off a butter stick.  I remember thinking how health-conscious we non-Southerners were to use margarine instead of butter on our food.  Now I realize that our Country Crock was a disturbing blend of vegetable oils (undoubtedly originating from genetically-modified crops), mono and diglycerides, various artificial flavors and emulsifiers, and a nice heaping dose of trans fat.  Basically, the notion that Country Crock margarine is healthier than butter is a crock of shit.

Obviously moderation is important with butter.  But how can you argue with a product that comes straight out of a dairy animal and is then simply whipped into a pillow of soft, yellow deliciousness?  A friend of mine who is a kindergarten teacher makes butter with her students each year, and I plan on borrowing that idea to do with my first graders this year.  Maybe we’ll even make some grits.  I wonder if I could line up a field trip for a cow or goat milking?  That’d be hilarious.  Either way, there certainly won’t be any disgusting, unnatural ingredients consumed in my classroom during our butter party.  Country Crock will be left off the guest list.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Battle of the Bulge

Hethyr:  So, today – July 21, 2011 - is National Junk Food Day.  Yep, that’s right - a day to celebrate by guiltlessly indulging in your favorite junk foods.  One website says “When else do you have an excuse to eat all of the unhealthy snacks that you know you shouldn't eat, but really want!”  Um… seriously?  Last I checked, every day in this country is National Junk Food Day.  I was so appalled when I found out that this was an actual day that I immediately decided to do a blog post to boycott National Junk Food Day.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not a diet-Nazi.  I love snacks and sweets but, like most other things, I usually like them in moderation.  I say usually because I have occasionally been known to overindulge in ice cream – I had to bust myself out on that one since I know Jon and everyone in my family would be rushing to be the first to call me out.  ;)  I am just not a fan of a national holiday created to celebrate our obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease epidemics.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States in the past 20 years and in 2009, only Colorado (whew!) and District of Columbia had obesity rates of less than 20 percent.  Sixty-six percent (!) of states had an obesity rate of 25 percent or greater and over one-quarter of those had a prevalence of 30 percent or more.  Wow.  Check out this link with obesity statistics and a progressive map of U.S. obesity rates from 1985-2009.  It’s quite frightening.  And a very recent article from the MSNBC website shows that statistics are even worse now.  This is one reason why I am a huge advocate of homemade, homegrown and natural foods – you know what’s in them.  Back in the olden days when people grew and made their own food (next I'll be telling you damn whippersnappers about how I walked 20 miles to school uphill both ways in the snow!), we didn’t have the problems we do today with Western diet diseases.

So, although I am a fan of snacks and sweets, I am mostly a fan of homemade or natural snack and sweets - not packaged junk full of extra calories, fat, sugar, sodium, etc.  Hence my disgust at National Junk Food Day… a day honoring JUNK FOOD – not REAL FOOD.  I am going to boycott this junky day by giving you a couple of recipes for good, healthy food…

Ever heard of a garlic scape?  Most people I know haven’t, but they are delicious.  They’re the stalks of garlic plants, which growers trim so the plants will focus their energy into growing the bulbs.  The scapes themselves are bright green and curly with a bright, spicy, garlicky taste.  Upon seeing them for the first time at a farmers’ market a few years ago, I had to inquire about them and then, naturally, take some home to experiment with.  My favorite recipes to make with the scapes are Garlic Scape Pesto - a nice, spicy-ish substitute for classic basil pesto - and a vinaigrette using the pesto as a base.  I make a bunch of the pesto when scapes are in season and freeze it in batches for use throughout the year.

Garlic Scape Pesto
  • 1 cup garlic scapes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted if you want
  • Approximately 1/2 cup olive oil (you’ll have to judge this as you’re making the pesto)
  • 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

1.  Place scapes, lemon juice, salt and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times. 

2.  With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil slowly until you reach the consistency you want (maybe a little on the runnier-side since you'll be adding cheese). 

3.  Fold in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste. 

* Note:  This is excellent for snacking!  Use it on breads, crackers, meats, veggies, etc.  It’s also great to use in the following vinaigrette recipe…

Garlic Scape Pesto Vinaigrette
  • 1/4 cup Garlic Scape Pesto (see above)
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Approximately 1 cup olive oil (you’ll need to judge this as you’re making the vinaigrette)

1.  In a food processor, combine Garlic Scape Pesto, vinegar, lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper.

2.  Slowly drizzle in olive oil through food chute with machine running until desired consistency is reached.  Adjust any ingredients to taste if desired.

  • This is great on salads, as a marinade for chicken or shrimp, as a marinade or dip for grilled vegetable, as a dip for breads, etc.
  • I usually make dressings with my immersion (stick) blender.  You can also use a regular blender or just whisk by hand.

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Jon:  I believe I’ll begin my day with some Lucky Charms.  I like to eat all the brown pieces first so that my last few bites are nothing but soggy marshmallow pellets.  And every tasty breakfast requires a side dish, so I think I’ll opt for a nice donut log with chocolate on top and and a custard center.  Whoever first decided to mix high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and sugar together to create a yellow paste to inject inside of donuts should be awarded a Nobel prize in chemistry!

My lunchtime will definitely be a little earlier than normal… one thing I love about eating food with virtually no nutritional value is that it doesn’t keep you full for more than a couple hours, so it’s usually possible to squeeze in an extra meal or two throughout the day.  I don’t like to cook, so I think I’ll just run to McDonald’s.  A Big Mac, fries and a super-sized Coke should do the trick.  I want to make sure that my early lunch will provide me with an adequate amount of sodium because I know that my body needs lots of salt to live.  However, every time I’ve clicked on “nutrition” to find out the stats of McDonald’s burgers on their website, I get a message saying “SRVE0255E: A WebGroup/Virtual Host to handle /nutritionexchange/ has not been defined.”  Well, I guess I’ll just have to trust them.  After all, why would the largest food chain on Earth not have their customers’ good health and well being as their top priority?  They’re on my side!

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as getting some quality couch time in after eating a big-ass meal.  Remaining completely sedentary allows digestion to occur naturally without the interference that comes from physical movement.  Since it’s such a long time until dinner, I’ll throw in an extra meal that I like to call “grazing” that lasts from about 1 to 5 pm.  I love how food manufacturers have made it so convenient with the pre-packaged ready-to-eat snacks that require virtually no time and effort to prepare beyond walking to the kitchen and opening a cabinet, or possibly putting something in the microwave.  We all owe them a debt of gratitude!  Cheetos, frozen mozzarella sticks and a Hostess fruit pie should do the trick.

It’d be nice to get some exercise prior to dinner, so I think I’ll drive somewhere so I can get in a nice walk out to my car.  Fortunately there’s a Taco Bell nearby.  I love how the tastiest and quickest food is also the cheapest.  What a great country we live in!  And if I get a few Big Beef Burrito Supremes, there will be lettuce and tomatoes on there.  So I’m getting some vegetables along with meat, cheese and tortillas… that’s like hitting four of the five food groups in one meal!  It’s a miracle!

Sometimes I puke after dinner which is totally awesome.  I’m not sure why it happens, but I know that it frees up some space for dessert!  I’m pretty old school when it comes to the sweets.  Much like my donuts, I prefer to consume dessert in log form, such as Twinkies, Choco-diles and ice cream sandwiches.   Fortunately I have all three options ready and waiting in the kitchen so I can mix-and-match as I see fit.  It’s always a little depressing to finish my final dessert of the night because it’s the last thing I’ll eat all day.  But the good news is that tomorrow will be here soon and I’ve got an unopened box of Fruit Loops waiting for me in the cabinet!

Happy National Junk Food Day everybody!!!!!  Hooray!!!!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Married to the Cobb

Hethyr:  I’m so giddy at this time of year about all of the wonderful fresh fruits and veggies after the “drought” of the last few months of winter and the first of spring.  A little too giddy, maybe… I have too many things about which I want to write!  Do I write about the amazing Cobb-style salad with ancho honey mustard vinaigrette that we devoured the other night?  Or do I write about my first experience making raw butter (which I then flavored with chipotle chiles in adobo, lime and scallions)?  How about the tiny, tiny pies so adorable they almost make me want to puke (in a good way, of course)?  Or tangy garlic scape pesto and a salad dressing that uses the pesto as a base?  Oh, the agony of having to choose!  I want to share it all and I want to share it all NOW because it’s all in season RIGHT NOW.  But – boo hoo – I’ll have to decide.

Since lettuce is the most abundant crop in our CSA box right now, I think it makes the most sense to share my recipe for Cobb-ish salad with ancho honey mustard vinaigrette.  Don’t despair if another of those recipes caught your eye, though.  I think I’ll work my way through all of them.  I may need to pick up the pace a little if I’m going to try to keep recipes in season!

BIG salads - like salads, only bigger
Our CSA share started about a month ago and, as with previous years at this time, we’ve gotten a lot of lettuce, spinach, herbs, scallions and rhubarb so far, along with a few other teasers… some radishes, a few small beets, a couple wee heads of broccoli, a handful of garlic scapes, some collard greens and probably a few other random goodies that are escaping my memory at the moment.  We love having salads during the summer and we often make a big salad (insert Seinfeld joke here) as our main meal for dinner.  We had everything on hand for one helluva salad the other night and I made a killer dressing to top it off.

My best tip for having fresh salads throughout the week is to invest a minimal amount of money in a salad spinner.  I can’t imagine how I ever survived without one as it’s one of my most-used kitchen gadgets.  Once a week during the season, tear your lettuce into bite-size pieces, wash and spin.  Place a couple of paper towels into a resealable bag (I wash and reuse my bags as many times as possible), then place washed and spun lettuce into the bag.  Remove as much air as possible, seal and store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.  Then, when you’re craving a salad (a couple-of-times-a-day occurrence in our house), just pop a few handfuls into a bowl and toss with toppings and dressing of your choice.  See our previous post on why you should make your own dressings.  It’s also a great idea to prep some toppings ahead to make life that much easier when you’re busy and tired.  I store all of the components separately, then add what I want to each individual salad.  That keeps the ingredients – and my menu - from becoming soggy.

BIG Cobb-ish Salad with Ancho Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
Serves 2
For vinaigrette:
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ancho chiles, crushed
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

For salad:
  • 4 to 6 cups lettuce (whatever’s in season and looks good), torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1 small head (or 2 tiny, tiny heads) broccoli, blanched if desired
  • 5 to 6 small roasted beets, peeled and thinly sliced or julienned
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, diced or julienned
  • 1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained if canned
  • 4 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

1.  In a small bowl, whisk together Dijon, honey, vinegar, ancho chiles, salt and pepper.  Slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking until well combined.  Alternatively, you can blend all ingredients together in a blender, food processor or using an immersion blender.

2.  Place equal amounts of lettuce in each bowl and top with broccoli, beets, eggs, chickpeas and bacon.  Drizzle with vinaigrette and serve.

* Note:  Add even more protein by adding cooked and cubed chicken, turkey or ham.
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Jon:  Since a nice full-bodied breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, I can’t help but be a fan of a salad with bacon and eggs on it.  I’m not sure I have ever eaten a lettuce salad to start the day, but this one might be able to handle such a role.  Regardless, I’m pretty sure we had this one for dinner, not breakfast, and it was still great.  Everything on the salad was local and fresh with the exception of the chickpeas.  But like most salads, it’s really the dressing that drives it home.  The Dijon-honey-chile vinaigrette was bomb.

Jon's secret ingredient for extra protein
The only bummer on the salad front is that during June and July Hethyr spends more time with the salad spinner than with me (insert perverted comment here).  This is one area where I don’t bother helping out.  A few years ago, I took a stab at washing, spinning and packaging the lettuce.  But as many of you already know, fresh-from-the-farm veggies are home to various little bugs and creepy-crawlies that don’t really want to leave.  Well, I’m not really as thorough as Hethyr when it comes to washing, spinning, or pretty much any other activity.  The first time she discovered a worm in her lettuce, I was promptly fired from salad spinning.

Anyway, I hope you are all enjoying a green, leafy summer.  May all your salads be breakfast-worthy and nematode-free…