Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Greens, glorious greens

My favorite side dish with meat is a salad.

I like to get some lettuce grown locally in one of those high tunnels. It's usually a mix of baby romaine, spinach, and some bib lettuces. Then I add some frozen green beans or peas. Yep. Frozen. I thaw them first, but they have already been blanched before freezing and are crunchy and bright green. I will then add some sprouts, cut up a raw turnip into julienne strips and then top it off with some mixed crispy nuts and a mix of cold expressed olive oil and kombucha or a nice red wine vinegar. Salt, pepper and dive in.

My second favorite side dish is turnip greens cooked at a low temperature with a little bacon, onion and a diced turnip.

Third favorite is collard greens with the stems removed and again cooked slowly with a little bacon fat, vinegar and salt and pepper.

Finally, I love to go out and walk the edges of the farm fields and pick something known locally as "cresses". I believe these are wild mustard greens. Picked young, they cook up tender and make wonderful additions to any soup or stew.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Have a heart... or two

When I purchased half a lamb from a local shepherd this Spring, I asked her if it was possible to get the liver, heart and kidneys. Since I was only getting half, I didn't know if the organs would be split between the purchasers. Turns out not many people know what to do with the organs.

I have to say, this was the best lamb I have ever eaten and this coming year Ken and I are purchasing a whole lamb and my sister is buying a half. 

But there is only one heart per animal that does not really provide enough for two people. So, the one lovely little heart I had remained frozen in my below 0 chest deep freezer.

But then I found a source for chicken, duck and turkey from another local farmer. Turns out this farmer also raises sheep and pigs. I asked if by any chance he had lamb liver, heart or kidneys. He did! When I offered to buy what he had, he gave it to me for free! He said no every asks for it. I told him I will take whatever the other don't want. We love innards! It helped that I purchased several chickens and a leg of lamb (for my mom). I will certainly go back, as all agreed that it was the best chicken any of us have ever eaten. I can't wait to try his duck.

There is always a back story here, it seems... but today I pulled out two hearts to thaw while I went to my spinning and weaving guild studio where I'm warping in preparation to weave some baby blankets. I had a notion to make stuffed heart as I made two loaves of sourdough bread yesterday and while they are actually fine and fairly light with nice air pockets, I should not have made two loaves but one to get the height my husband likes for his sandwich bread. So, I had two relatively flattish (is that a word), loaves of bread that taste fine, but make for small sandwiches and toast slices.

I have been trying to cut back on bread (carb) consumption to get my weight down. I've lost 4 pounds in two weeks, so I figured a little stuffing just today would not be too bad. I will leave the left overs to my hubby and I can go back on my diet tomorrow.

I was also more tired than I thought I would be after my work at the studio, so I did not bother to actually stuff the hearts. Instead I cut them into slices and layered them into a casserole.

Hearts for Two

2 lamb hearts - sliced
3 slices of bacon
1 stick of celery, chopped small
1 carrot, chopped fine
1/2 red onion chopped fine
3 button mushrooms, chopped (or mushroom you have available)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices of whole grain sourdough bread (day old is good), torn up
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons duck fat (or bacon fat)
2 teaspoons thyme (dry)
2 teaspoons parsley (dry)
1 healthy pinch of rubbed sage
1 cup broth (chicken, lamb or beef)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Put the torn up bread in a casserole dish that has a lid. Melt the duck fat in a heavy skillet. Chop up the veggies while that is melting. Add onion, celery and carrot and mushroom to the fat. Cook over medium heat until veggies are well wilted. Stir into bread. Put sliced heart into the skillet and add the garlic. Cook just until the heart starts to loose red coloring. Add red wine. Sprinkle thyme, parsley and sage over the stuffing while the meat is cooking. Add garlic, salt and pepper to the meat cook until there is no more pink in the heart (about 3 minutes more). Pour meat mixture over the bread. Pour broth into skillet and bring to a boil. Pour this over the heart and stuffing. Do not stir the heart into the stuffing. It should be a layer on top. Top the heart with  the raw bacon pieces. Put the lid on the casserole. Cook at 325 for 2 hours. If your casserole is very full, you may want to put it on a pan with an edge so you don't mess up your oven as it will bubble over

When done, scoop out onto plates. Serve with a green salad or lightly steamed green leafy vegetable or green beans.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

$125 for a year's worth of veggies

I just placed an order for seeds from Annie's Heirloom Seeds. Ken and I are going to try and grow all of our vegetable groceries for the coming year. We will still need to find places to fill our fruit needs, but assuming we have a decent year, we should have plenty of veggies.

We plan to plant a few things over at my parent's house as Mom and Dad are not able to do a lot of gardening themselves anymore, but have garden beds in place that just need some tending. It will give Ken and I a good excuse to go check on them at least every other day (they feel that they are being a bother to us when they are sick or need help, but they are my folks, after all...).

I think we will plant asparagus and some of the other long term veggies over there including some root veggies like turnips, carrots and some potatoes.

At our house we will be using our usual garden bed and double it's size. We are also going to do some experimental gardening by using straw bales for planting.

We both got into a bit of a giggle fit yesterday when I told him that I had put a gallon jar in the bathroom because it was going to be time soon to start collecting our pee for the straw bales. To read more about straw bale gardens read here. We would use the urine for the nitrogen for the straw bale conditioning. We also have two 25 gallon compost bins that are just about ready to be dumped out. I also have access to all the cow and or horse manure I could want.

I have learned with sheep is that they have great manure for composting, but it's a pain to collect the stuff. I use the deep bedding from their little house but they don't pee and poop in there much. I'm hoping to get more out of the shed this Spring since we have started feeding them in there each morning.

Over all, I think I got a pretty good deal on about 25 different vegetables all for $125. I still need to get the seeds started as soon as that package arrives and will need to invest in some potting soil, but I've been saving toilet paper and paper towel tubes for a year. These will be cut down and used, along with egg cartons, as starter pots. So, soon I will be engaged daily in nurturing the tiny green babies.

But how nice in the coming year to be able to grow almost all of my own veggie groceries for  the year for just a couple of hundred bucks. This is about 1/4 of what I pay for grocery store veggies for the year and about 1/3 of what I pay at an CSA. And I get to pick only what we want to eat and I will freeze, dry and can enough to get us through the winter. At least, this is the plan.

There are a few things I do not plan to grow: melons, corn, eggplant. We have not had luck with any of these veggies in years past, so I will buy these in season when I can find them at a good price organically.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mushroom Broth

I love mushrooms.

There is something magical about these fungi. I learned recently that we don't even see most of the mushroom, that what we eat is just the equivalent of the seed pod or flower of the actual mushroom. Most of the mushroom is the rotting stuff it's growing in. Tree mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, hen of the woods, and shitake grow inside the dying or dead tree. Like gossamer tentacles, the mushroom sends out feelers throughout the softening wood, helping to make it break down even more. When conditions are just right (temperature, moisture, light levels), the mushroom pushes out a cap or shelf that carries the mushroom's version of seeds.

Ground mushrooms, like puff balls, morels, and button mushrooms need just the right soil, light, temperature and moisture conditions to survive. Truffles actually never really reach the surface and must be dug up.

In any case, mushrooms do have some healing properties. They also provide minerals and vitamins.

I love freshly picked and gently washed or brushed mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in a little salted butter.

But one of the things I missed the most by removing commercially prepared foods from my diet, is condensed cream of mushroom soup. Crazy, huh?

So, what to do about it? Could I make it myself? Can you? Of course you can! But it is one of those food items that takes a long time and has several steps.

The first step is making mushroom broth. Right here you get to make a decision. Do you want vegetarian mushroom broth or beef based mushroom broth?

The difference is only in the liquid.

What kind of mushrooms do you want? Well, since I don't know what you have available, I'm just going to tell you it doesn't matter. Use the type you have the most available. Mix them up.  You can use mushrooms that are just a tad past prime, so you may be able to get them cheap!

Okay, so let's get started.

Mushroom Broth
  • 2 pounds of fresh mushrooms. 
  • 2 tablespoons of salted butter (pastured is best)
  • 2 cups of clean water or beef bone broth
  • 1 yellow onion, minced (optional)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced fine
Clean the mushrooms by gently brushing off the dirt. If really muddy, you can wash them with a quick rinse of water, but dry them immediately. Melt the butter in a large heavy pan (I like my cast iron stew pot for this) over low heat. Add the onion if you are going to use it. While those are starting to meld, chop the mushrooms (or not, if you like chunky soup).  Add mushrooms. Stir around a bit. Turn heat up one notch. Stir a bit more until the mushrooms start to sweat. Add the minced garlic. When you feel the first hunger pang, add the water or broth. Stir once or twice to unstick the bottom stuff.  Put the lid on the pot. Turn it back down on low and walk away for a hour. Come back and taste to make sure you are happy with the flavor. At this point I may add any or all of the following:

  • Salt
  • White pepper
  • Black pepper
  • Sherry or Red wine (or a beer or white wine or mead.... whatever I have on hand or in hand)
  • A very scant dash of Smoke
  • Paprika
  • Sage
  • Thyme
Stir in the additions you would like and stir, put the lid back on and walk away again for an hour.

Come back taste again. Make adjustments you feel are needed and then either eat it or ladle out into a glass container or containers (jars) and refrigerate. If you want to go the next step and make creamed soup, you will need to measure out 2 cups of mushroom broth. Put aside. Measure out one cup of milk or, if you want real decadance, 1/2 cup of cream and 1/2 cup of milk.

In your pan, melt a tablespoon of butter. Add a tablespoon of flour (wheat, rye, cornstarch, arrowroot powder,... whatever you use for thickening). Stir the flour into the melted butter. Add another teaspoon of butter or coconut oil. Stir over low to low medium heat until the flour absorbs all of the oil/butter and is just starting to toast. Pour in one cup of the broth. I use a whisk at this point to avoid lumps. As soon as this starts to thicken, add 1/2 of your dairy. Whisk, whisk... again, as soon as it starts to thicken, add more broth. Finally add the rest of your dairy and the remainder of the broth. Whisk, whisk, whisk... keep the stuff moving so it doesn't stick. Eventually, it will reach the thickness you want.

Mind you, this is not condensed cream of mushroom soup, so it won't be THAT thick.

Use this in your favorite recipe (green bean casserole, mushroom gravy, topping for baked chicken or meatloaf) or just eat it like soup.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Broth for Breakfast

I prefer to get my meat with bones included. Two reasons for this: the meat cooked with the bone in tastes better. And the second reason is that I can make broth from the bones.

Whenever we eat a hunk of meat with a large bone attached, my husband knows that he will see it again and he's finally learning to put it in the freezer with the rest of my left over bones. Turkey, chicken, duck, beef, lamb, and ham bones are all prized bits. Entire fowl have been known to become broth in my house. I use the left over bits of meat that come off as salad meat if it only gets a one day simmer. If it goes into a 3 day simmer, then it becomes pet food.

So a simple recipe: Put bones with bits of meat attached into a stainless steel stock pot with a lid. Chop a yellow onion in half -- don't peel it first. Toss in a stick of celery with leaves attached. Put in a teaspoon to a tablespoon of black pepper corns (don't grind them). Add a tablespoon of sea salt. Add a whole carrot. Just wash it, don't peel. DO NOT add cabbage, garlic or other strongly flavored vegetables. Add enough water to top the pot ingredients by 1 inch. You should get at least a gallon of water in there if not more. Add a 1/2 cup of strong vinegar. Put on the stock pot lid. Turn heat up to high until it reaches a boil. Give it a stir and turn the temperature down to medium low so it drops to a simmer. See if you can get the temperature even lower and keep it simmering. Put the lid on and go away.

Seriously just forget about this pot. Go walk the dog, visit your livestock, go to work. Eight hours later you can taste your stock.Stir it well and pour the fat off the top of your spoon.  The broth will probably feel a little "thin." Put the lid back on and let it keep working. Go to bed. Get up, stir, and taste the stock. If it still tastes "thin" add a cup of red wine or white wine or 1/2 cup of sherry. You can add a little oregano, savory, sage or a bay leaf at this point. Go away for another four hours. Stir and taste. Leave the lid off and let it go another 4 hours.

You can take it off the stove if your family insists at this point. They might because this stuff will smell like heaven and they will find themselves hungry for days and not really understand why. I like to try and go a full 72 hours simmering. At this point the bones actually have started to dissolve. All that wonderful calcium will go into the liquid.

Some folks like to clarify their broth. I don't worry about it. Pour the broth through a sieve into another large pot or bowl. If you want to can it, now is the time to do that. Meat broth must be pressure canned at 11 pounds pressure for 65 minutes if canned in pint sized jars. Don't water can meat broth. I also freeze broth in glass jars. I have lost a few jars to breakage doing this, but most of the time there is no problem.

I also will keep a large container (1/2 gallon jar) of broth in the frig for as long as it lasts. Some mornings I have a smoothie for breakfast with a raw pastured egg, raw milk yogurt and a little local honey, some frozen fruit or bit of fresh fruit. But I only have that in the summer. In the winter I have a mug of broth for breakfast. I heat about 1 1/2 cups on the stove and add a teaspoon of coconut oil and heat until the oil melts. I can drink it down and head off to work and be very happy until lunch.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Liver for Liver haters

When I was a kid, my mother dutifully cooked liver and onions every week until the government scientists told her this was a bad thing and she stopped.  About the same time, she cut down on the use of egg yolks, went to skimmed milk (powdered at that), and moved us all onto processed vegetable oils and margarine and took us away from butter.

We kids really missed real milk, butter, cheese and eggs. The liver we were glad to see was off the menu list because, frankly, my mother made liver into shoe leather and it tasted more burnt than anything else. Dad also liked his steaks well done, so that's how all of us go our meat.

So, how did I come to love liver?

I think my body craves it, for one. But I came across a great suggestion in several places that made me realize that mom had missed two critical points that makes liver taste great. Now, to be fair to my mom, my husband reported that his mother also cooked liver the same way my mom did, and he hated it as a child as well. It wasn't until he went into the military that he came to appreciate that someone out there could work miracles with the stuff. But he had also been taught that liver was a no-no and so it was eliminated from his diet when he was young. His first wife did not like liver (maybe her mother cooked it like our moms) and so she never experimented with it either.

There is one secret above all others, that makes liver lovely. Soaking in milk. And you throw the milk away! All the icky flavors leave the liver with that milk.

Now, I cringed at the idea of tossing out this milk marinade. Milk, for me is a precious commodity. I really had a hard time "sacrificing" a quart of milk only to throw it away. But I have come to realize two things: Liver is a sacred food and it needs to be treated that way.. Milk is reproduced by the cow (goat or sheep) on a daily basis so long as you keep milking. Each animal has only one liver. You get one harvest from each animal. There are other one shot only cuts of meat: The heart, the tongue, kidneys (they come as a pair), the tail, the brain. Hmmm, all of those are considered sacred foods. All need some sort of specialized handling care to make them really palatable. (Yes, I know there are folks who eat liver and heart raw, but even that requires something special).

So, how do I prepare liver?

Liver of the Gods
Serves 4
  1. 1 pound of liver (pork, beef, chicken, lamb)
  2. 1 quart of sweet milk (this is actually enough to soak two pounds, but it's a stretch) ** this is the only thing I buy store bought milk for now, rather than use my precious raw milk.
  3. 1 teaspoon sea salt per pound of liver
Rinse the liver under cool water and then rub it with the salt. Cut into bite sized pieces. If you have little kids, make little pieces. Put into a glass or ceramic bowl and pour the milk over it and give it a stir. Cover with a plate and put in the frig. I usually do this in the morning and let it sit all day, but if I forget, I give it at least an hour before I cook it.

About 30 minutes before your ready to eat, put on some rice or potatoes. I like it over rice. My hubby loves it over mashed potatoes and like my mother before me, I usually try to keep my hubby happy, so we usually eat it with mashed potatoes.

 Stage Two:

1/4 bacon cut into same sized pieces as the liver
1 yellow onion chopped
1 stick of celery chopped
1 tablespoon of a thickener (any kind of flour, tapioca starch works well for gluten free)
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
2 cups of milk (new milk, not the stuff you soaked the liver in)** I use precious raw milk for this part.
3 tablespoons of minced parsley

Fry the bacon bits in a skillet large enough to hold all the ingredient except the rice/potatoes. When some of the fat is rendered out, add the onion and celery. Cook until the onion is translucent. Measure out your thickener/flour. Measure out your milk. Put to the side. Now, remove the liver from the soaking milk.
Put the heat on medium. Add the liver pieces to the skillet. add the salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes. The meat should still be a tad pink. Sprinkle the thickener over the meat and stir that around for about 2 minutes. Pour in the 2 cups of milk. Stir, stir. As soon as the gravy bubbles. Remove from the heat. Cover. Get your potatoes mashed or get the rice finished off. Call everyone to the table.Stir the gravy one more time. If you serve at the table, sprinkle the parsley over the meat/gravy in the serving dish. If you eat like we do and dish up plates ta the stove, put a serving of rice/potato on the plate or bowl, ladle over the meat gravy and sprinkle the parsley over each serving.

I promise you the liver will be tender, mild and very satisfying prepared this way.

What to do with the soaking milk? Well, don't give it to the dog. Trust me. The dog will love it -- at first and drink it all up. Then dog will be sick. This is WAY to rich for the dog. I have given a little bit to my elderly cat (about 2 teaspoons) and she liked it too. Usually, I put it down the drain with a little thought of thanks to my septic fairies. But I think this could also go out in your compost as it's got a lot of blood goodness in it. I'm open to any suggestions because I just hate the idea of wasting the milk.

On the other hand, it makes it possible for us to eat liver weekly and enjoy it, so it's not such a waste after all.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kombucha Challenge

I should have jumped right on this and shared with the world right away but I was neglectful of my poor blog. I'm doing the Kombucha Challenge for January.

Kombucha, a fermented tea, has many followers. Frankly, the stuff just tastes good and is a great substitute for sugary sodas or even diet sodas. It's fermented, so it carries many positive pro-biotics.

My goal is to use the KT (Kombucha Tea), to replace most (if not all) of my coffee. Then I'm going to start substituting KT for all but one glass of wine in the evenings.

Up to now, my brewing of KT has been very simple. Boil water, add teabags (I use organic tea), add organic sugar. Let cool to room temperature and then add the SCOBY (Symbiotic Collection of Bacteria and Yeast). Or maybe that C stands for Combination. I would let is sit in a nice quiet spot for about 10 days and then drink a little mixed with water (and usually some sort of stevia to sweeten it up a little).

My husband thinks the SCOBY is the most bizarre thing he has ever seen and cannot believe I drink the liquid that emerges from under that white mat, but he's rather conservative that way. He doesn't know it, but I use KT instead of vinegar in our salad dressing and I often use it for vinegar substitutes when I make bread, marinate meat or make other sour sauces. I think cooking it probably kills the pro-biotics, but since it's easy to brew, I have a lot of it. 

But I'm learning there is a way to put the KT into a secondary fermentation using swing cap bottles and adding a flavoring agent (like a flavored herbal tea), sealing it off then letting it sit for another day or two before refrigeration. I have lots of wonderful herbal tea flavors to try out (and fruits). 

Now, I'm waiting on a case of swing-top bottles.

I've also ordered a water crock with a spigot so I can set up a continous brewing station in or near my kitchen. My kitchen counters are pretty full, so it may end up living on the table in my family room. 

And I'm drinking my KT every day, several times a day!

Go check out the Kombucha Mama!