Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

Dandelion Time

Just after the first nettles, the first dandelions are ready to eat. This happens about the same time that the earliest daffodils bloom.

I have mentioned in another post that dandelions don’t seem to occur naturally in my neighborhood, and I went to a ridiculous amount of trouble to have them and paid good money for seeds that people in other climates would pay to get rid of.  Surprisingly, they take a long time to establish. I find that they are extremely straggly and thin the first year, and only a little more substantial in the second year. But in the third year, they make beautiful thick rosettes of spring time leaves that are perfect for salads.  Interestingly, the dandelions growing in my garden beds are not bitter, although in general dandelion leaves are famous for bitterness.  This may have something to do with my alkaline and highly mineralized soil. I’m really not sure. But it is a nice bonus. If yours are bitter, check out Dr. Kallas’s excellent book Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt to Plate, which contains a number of sensible suggestions about making bitter greens more appealing.

All sorts of medicinal properties are attributed to dandelions,  and if you’re interested in that you can read up on it. Personally, as I have said several times before, I think that all leafy greens are medicinal in that they are really, truly good for you. Eat them all, lots of them.

The early spring leaves are both tender and substantial in texture. I like them in a salad either by themselves or with a little bit of outer leaves of romaine lettuce added.  But if you want to add them to a more traditional mixed salad, they add a nice amount of “lift“ to the mixture at this stage.  At times when I lived where dandelions or more bitter,  I was very fond of adding crumbled bacon and hard cooked or Friday eggs to dandelion salads. With the nonbitter leaves that grow here, I prefer to eat them just with a good vinaigrette, and maybe a few bones’ worth of roasted marrow alongside to complete the meal. I roast the bones with salt and seasoning, then dig the marrow out and plop it on a pile of dandelion leaves dressed with good vinaigrette. Grind some pepper over the top, and yum.  It’s a delicious way to stay ketogenic, but if you are not a low-carbohydrate eater, you can enjoy the marrow spread on elegant little pieces of sourdough toast.

Incidentally, if you are a fan of bone marrow, you might want to keep marrow spoons around, as shown above. They have long, narrow bowls that are specially designed for digging this delicious substance out of the bone. You can get heirloom sterling silver ones from England for $700 or more apiece, or you can do what I did and buy stainless steel marrow spoons on Amazon for less than $10 each. They work just fine.

Grass-fed beef

I love beef, and I want beef that is produced with respect for the animals and the environment and is healthy for me to eat. I choose only to eat grass fed beef.  In the spring and summer I am able to get a wonderful grade of grass-fed beef at my local farmers market, but this winter I begin to think about the problems of people who don’t have this available but still want to eat as healthily as possible. If you’re a ketogenic eater  you tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the quality of the protein in your diet, but really it would be wise for everybody to think about that.  After doing some research on various possibilities, I began buying through Crowd Cow.

Crowd Cow  is a service that brings beef from small, well run farms directly to consumers. They represent both grass finished and grain finished beef, and the farms are listed as one or the other so that you can select only the kind that you want. They allow you to buy individual cuts or small packages, so that you don’t have to buy a new freezer to eat good beef, and the shipping  is an incredibly reasonable $12.99 per package, no matter how much you buy.  I placed three orders this winter, and always had everything arrive solidly frozen, with no partial thaw problems.

The meat has been high-quality and delicious. The steaks are superb, but I try to concentrate on less lavish and expensive cuts, and those have been great too.  They also offer pastured chicken, but the problem is that when a chicken sale starts in the morning, the cuts that I want are usually sold out by lunchtime when I have time to look at the website, so I have only gotten one order of chicken. It was very delicious, though, and produced in much the same way that I raise my own meat chickens when I do that.

The link below will take you to Crowd Cow and, if you order, earn a $25 credit both for you and for me.  But it will be the first bonus I ever received from them.  I don’t accept any “free samples“ of services from anybody, and I do not write about something until I have paid exactly the price that you were likely to pay and determined in my own mind whether a good cost/benefit ratio exists. In this case, I really think it does, and gives people a chance to buy high-quality beef and to support the sort of farms that produce such beef.

https://www.crowdcow.com/l/ugp3uonsg

Spring Egg Yolks

During the longest nights my laying hens take a rest, and if I want eggs I have to buy them at the Co-op. This is probably a good thing, because it keeps me aware that even the best winter eggs from local farmers aren’t as good as the glorious golden-yolked beauties that my hens start to lay in February. Greens and flaxseed make the yolks full of omega-3s  and carotenoids. The effort of keeping enough greens going under frost blankets to supply the chickens as well as my own kitchen really pays off now. Later on in the spring they will lay like crazy and I’ll have eggs to share and I’ll be making profligate dishes like low-carb cheesecake, which involves 16 egg yolks. But when the first tiny golden crocus crysanthus blooms in February, I begin to get the first few treasured eggs, with yolks of the same gold as the crocuses. For now, I get a couple of eggs a day and every one is cherished. Even low-carb bread becomes something wonderful when dipped into a rich creamy fried egg yolk. As far as I’m concerned, top-notch fried eggs go with everything, and I love a plate of cooked veggies and fried eggs for dinner. A fried egg or two makes any plate of vegetables into dinner.  But there are tons of other possibilities.

In celebration of earliest spring, I took a look at what other bloggers have done with eggs. Here’s a brief round-up.

First, I can’t resist pointing out one of my own favorite old posts.

https://albuquerqueurbanhomestead.com/2016/11/18/eggs-in-a-hurry/

 


Hank Shaw is one of the most wonderful foragers and foodies that I know of. As soon as I have more eggs, I plan to salt-cure some yolks by his method and grate them over greens.

https://honest-food.net/salt-cured-egg-yolks/

The wonderfully herbal green buttered eggs from The Nourished Caveman are a go-to recipe for me, and I vary the greens according to availability and mood.

https://thenourishedcaveman.com/green-buttered-eggs/

This one will never come out of my kitchen, because I can’t stand sardines in any form. But it is so nutrient-rich that you should have a look at it.

https://thenourishedcaveman.com/nutrient-dense-fishermans-eggs/

Crispy fried eggs are wonderful for making a salad into a meal.

https://nomnompaleo.com/post/104615214153/sunnyside-salad-crispy-fried-eggs-on-greens

And Martha Stewart adds mushrooms to an eggs and greens skillet.

https://www.marthastewart.com/852125/fried-eggs-greens-and-mushrooms

Or scramble your eggs a bit on the hard-cooked side and toss them into greens or salads as an ingredient.

 

Low-Carb Gumbo, and Further Notes on Cauliflower Rice

Whenever I write about Louisiana food, I find myself eager to convey something of the spirit of the place,  and part of the spirit is that there aren’t really many culinary rules. Louisiana cooks are famously adaptable. I have been sternly informed, by people who didn’t grow up there, of various rules such as:

“ NEVER use file’ powder and okra in the same gumbo. It’s one or the other.” Except that it’s actually rather common to use some of each, depending on what else is in the gumbo.

“NEVER use garlic powder.” Except that Louisiana cooks commonly use both fresh and powdered garlic together, getting different flavor facets of the same seasoning.

“NEVER make a roux with butter. It isn’t authentic .” Except that I never knew a Louisiana cook who used anything else.   Cooks who liked really dark black roux might use vegetable oil, but that was not all that common.

“NEVER put anything but butter and black pepper in barbecued shrimp. It isn’t authentic.”  Except that I never knew a Cajun cook who could resist tampering, and everybody has his or her own recipe with a lot of ingredients that aren’t necessarily known to science.

And so on. So let’s forget all that. In the Louisiana that I knew and loved, the only thing that really mattered was whether food tasted good and pleased and nourished people.

With that in mind, I’m going to urge you to get a good Louisiana cookbook if you want to make gumbo,   and then if you want to bristle about authenticity, you can argue with that author and not with me.  Anything by John Besh is good. (Yes, I know about the sex scandal, but it doesn’t alter the fact that the guy could really, really cook.)  Lagasse’s “Louisiana Real and Rustic” is great. And if you really want to go in for the cooking that I grew up with, get an old copy of “River Road Recipes” or “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.” And remember that in Louisiana, gumbo is a wonderfully flexible vehicle for using all kinds of meats. If you don’t have shrimp, don’t use shrimp. If you don’t have andouille and tasso, use something else. You can make it work and end up with something wonderfully warming and tasty.   Remember that this started as the dish of backwoods  hunter-gatherers, and wild game of most kinds fits into it really nicely. And if someone happens to give you some alligator or possum  meat, well, you have found a good vehicle for it.

In the spirit of the wonderfully flexible Cajun omnivory, what I am going to talk about here is the fact that I like to keep my diet very low in carbohydrates, but I still want gumbo.  So I adapt. The meats, vegetables, broth, and seasonings are no problem. So the two areas of carbohydrate that you have to look at are the roux and the rice.

To make a low-carb roux,  I think that the best results come from Trim Healthy Mama baking mix,  which is available on Amazon.  It’s a combination of many different low-carb baking ingredients and they work well together in this context. It’s expensive but you don’t use much.   It won’t thicken the gumbo as much as a roux made with flour, but you can easily compensate for that with a little extra okra or file’. I like to make the roux in the oven if I don’t have time to devote exclusively to watching it, because it is easy and pretty foolproof.  Heat the oven to 350, in a small dish thoroughly combine 8 tablespoons of butter and 8 tablespoons of the baking mix, and put it in the oven. Total time will be about an hour and a half or a little less. In the beginning, you don’t have to stir very often, and toward the end you have to take it out and stir it thoroughly and frequently.  How dark to make a roux  is a matter of personal taste, and they vary from almost blonde to almost black.

This is a blonde roux. Way too bland for me.

This is more like it.

And here, where some of the floury particles are very dark brown but the whole roux does not yet taste at all burnt, is where I like it. But you can keep going if you prefer.

You can hold the roux in the refrigerator or freeze it until ready to proceed. You will be combining it with a sautéed vegetable mixture called the mirepoix and adding broth, seasonings, and meat.  When it comes to seasoning, remember that most Louisiana cooks have a bottle of Paul Prudhomme seafood seasoning tucked away somewhere, and it is awfully good in gumbo. Mine was based on ham and shrimp because that’s what I had left over from other meals. It was thickened with okra.

Finally, to serve it, you need rice to soak up all the highly seasoned deliciousness.  Cauliflower rice is better than you think it’s going to be as long as you keep one thing in mind: while a cauliflower seems solid, it is mostly liquid. That liquid is your enemy when it comes to getting a decent texture. You have to get it out of there. If you use frozen riced cauliflower, thaw it completely, and then squeeze and wring it in a dish towel. You will be quite surprised how much clear watery liquid comes out.  If you are dealing with fresh riced cauliflower, salt it rather heavily, let it sit for an hour, and then again squeeze and wring it in a clean dish towel. Really go at it and get all that fluid out. Then cook the cauliflower grains with a pat of butter, but no liquid, in a saucepan,  stirring frequently because it burns easily. And salt during the cooking  so that it cooks in, and you are likely to end up adding more salt than you think because cauliflower is pretty bland and absorbs a lot of salt, but taste along the way so that you don’t overdo it, especially if you disgorged the liquid with salt.   I use only the butter and salt as seasoning because my gumbo is already highly seasoned and very spicy. You will need to keep sampling as you cook to get the texture  right. Personally I don’t want it to crunch like a vegetable, but I stop cooking as soon as it is soft and doesn’t crunch so that it doesn’t get mushy.  I grew up among some of the best rice cooks in the world, and no, this does not taste like really good rice, but I also don’t care to gain lost weight back and have diabetes. So this is a small price to pay.

Also bear in mind that while rice swells in the cooking process, cauliflower shrinks. To make sure of generous portions, I recommend having 8 ounces of riced cauliflower per person to start with, maybe even more.  In the Louisiana fashion, you can always put the leftovers into something else.  Pile a cone of cauli rice lavishly in the bowl, pour gumbo all over it but leave the top of the pile sticking out, and eat. Yum yum yum.

Red-cooked Winter Greens

Any regular reader of my blog knows my nutritional obsession: nobody really eats enough leafy greens, including me. But I do make regular efforts to correct this.

In my last post  I wrote about grassfed short ribs red-cooked in Chinese fashion, and tonight I wanted that soft succulent meat again  but with a strong vegetable component, not the pure meatfest that I had last time. I am also conducting an ongoing experiment to see what greens can produce in winter in my garden with no protection. This sounds simple, given that I am down in zone seven and vegetables like kale are famous for holding all winter up in zones four and five, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Our desert winters are not as cold as further north, but they are absolutely dry with no protective snow cover and have occasional windstorms that will wipe the moisture out of almost anything but a cactus. Kale is invariably withered by early December. I have been trying to breed my own desert-hardy greens but have learned this year that collards, the common green of my southern Louisiana childhood,  are remarkably cold-tolerant and resist drying out better than anything else. I picked the last plant today, and the lower leaves are a little desiccated but the whole upper half of the plant is still in excellent condition.

I still had a cup of Master Sauce left over from cooking the short ribs. This is not the very concentrated sauce  that was used to finish the ribs, but the original cooking liquid. If you don’t have any Master Sauce, combine a cup of water or preferably good broth, a full “star” of star anise, a teaspoon of five-spice powder, a smashed cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of sugar or the equivalent in artificial sweetener of your choice, and a few “coin” slices of fresh ginger. Bring  to a boil in your smallest saucepan, simmer 15 minutes, remove the solid star anise and garlic and ginger, and use. If you have a cup of this juice in a jar in your refrigerator, you are ready to red-cook veggies at any time. Just use within a week. You may like it a little more or less sweet. Suit yourself.

All I did with the collards was wash them, remove the tough center ribs, slice them about a quarter inch wide, bring the master sauce to a boil, and drop the leaves in. I would estimate that there were 8 to 10 whole leaves and maybe about 2 quarts very loosely packed when they were sliced up. This would be the equivalent of one bunch of supermarket collard greens.

Bring the Master Sauce to a boil and throw in the greens. Stir frequently and watch

I cooked over medium-high heat for a bit over fifteen minutes, stirring very frequently toward the end, until the greens were fairly soft and the liquid almost gone.  At this point they are dark and very intensely flavored and delicious. If you want them a brighter color but a little less flavorful, you can stop at the stage above, before the greens start to darken,  but be aware that they are definitely somewhat tougher  at this bright green stage.  Some people like the extra chewiness, but most do not, and often your thick-leaved winter greens will be better accepted by others if they are cooked a little more. In fact, as I keep saying, this is true of greens in general. Cook them until they taste good, and don’t stop sooner.  As long as you are using the cooking liquid, or in this case evaporating away most of it, there is little nutrient loss, and the greens will taste better so that you eat more of them, and also will probably suit your GI tract better.  In the picture below, you can see the finished dark greens underneath the short rib meat. What you can’t see is that there is quite a pile of them, and really only several bites of meat.    Add ginger and green onion relish, or not, as you choose.  But the greens are serving as the bulk of the meal, and you avoid any use of starches, and you will be full for hours and hours afterwards because of all the soluble fiber in the greens. I added a couple of roasted carrot slices for more color, and of course for flavor.

Incidentally, if any greens are left over, they are delicious the next day and can be just brought to room temperature and eaten as a sort of cooked salad.

Grass-fed Beef for the New Year

Our winter is short here in the desert, but it’s cold at night, and rich warming meals are welcome. The garden is quiescent and there is a little more time to cook. And a bubbling pot of something-or-other makes the whole house more welcoming.

I like to cook with grass-fed beef because it’s healthy for the planet, the cows, and me. Contrary to much current dogma about how animal husbandry is always environmentally unsound, grass-fed beef produces high-quality human food from grasslands that shouldn’t be plowed or tilled. One important way to sequester carbon is to keep it in the soil in the first place. Does over-grazing occur? Of course. But to condemn responsible ranchers because of the irresponsible ones is like saying that all medications are bad because some people overdose on them.

The less popular cuts of beef, like short ribs, are less expensive and take beautifully to long, slow braising. I especially like Chinese red-cooking techniques for general deliciousness, and they take well to slow-cooker cooking with just a bit of fancy finishing just before dinner. I started this meal about 24 hours before New Year’s dinner.

Red-cooked really refers to any dish cooked with soy sauce, but most commonly refers to the rich stews based on Master Sauce, a mixture of broth, soy sauce, and sweet spices. So to start this dish, you need six hefty short ribs of grass-fed beef and some Master Sauce.

To make Master Sauce, combine a quart of good beef broth with a cup of naturally fermented soy sauce, a half cup of sugar or the equivalent in an artificial sweetener that you like, and the following seasonings:

1 organic onion, cut in half, with the skin on

a teaspoon of ground five-spice powder

three cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

3 complete stars of star anise

a 3” piece of ginger, scrubbed and smashed some with a heavy object but still in one piece

3 whole cloves

1 whole stick of cinnamon

I like to tie the seasonings up in cheesecloth because I find it easier than straining the sauce later. Either way, combine all the sauce ingredients in the liner of a six quart slow cooker and add the short ribs. Cook overnight at low setting. The next day, about 12-14 hours later, drain off the broth and strain it or remove the cheesecloth. Put the broth in the refrigerator so that the fat can congeal. The meat should be falling off the bones. Remove the bones and reserve the meat.

About half an hour before dinner, preheat the broiler. Take the congealed fat off the broth and reserve. Measure out three cups of the Master Sauce broth, put in a heavy saucepan, notice its level in the pan, and boil over high heat until it’s reduced to about half that level, or 1 1/2cups.  Reserve any remaining master sauce and freeze it to give you a  head start on the next red cooked stew.

If you wish, while the broth is reducing, make a simple but wonderful relish by chopping another 3” piece of peeled ginger finely, chopping a cleaned bunch of green onions into 1/4 inch cross sections, heating 2 tablespoons of the reserved beef fat in a saucepan, stirring in the ginger and cooking for one minute until it sizzles, stirring in the green onions and a heaping quarter teaspoon of salt, and stir-frying another minute or two.

Now taste your reduced broth. Tasting as you are finishing things is an important and surprisingly neglected step. This is the time to think about your food. Is the balance of flavors right? Is there anything else it needs?  I like to add another scant teaspoon of five-spice powder and a little chopped ginger at this point to freshen the flavor. Arrange the meat on a roasting pan, fat side up whenever possible, drizzle with some of the sauce, and broil until the fat starts to brown. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. When the fat is browned, turn off the broiler and let the meat sit in there another few minutes to make sure it’s good and hot. Place in serving bowls, pour over some more sauce, and put a generous spoonful of ginger-scallion relish on one side. Eat. The cold and wind have no further power to harm you, at least not tonight.

Sometimes a main dish needs, not a side dish, but an underpinning to absorb juices and offer a cushion to the intense flavors. If you eat rice or noodles, this dish goes well with either, but low-carb eaters will like it as is, assuming that an alternative to sugar was used. Steamed broccoli florets would make a good underpinning and add a nice color pop, and when I serve this stew again in a day or two that’s probably what I’ll add. Cauliflower rice is a possibility.

Now, about the rest of that reserved fat: the fat of grassfed beef has excellent Omega-3 to Omega-6 balance and good helpings of CLA and beta-carotene.  I don’t throw it away. Besides the small amount used in making the relish, I save some for rubbing on steaks and other meats about to be grilled. But short ribs are a fairly fatty cut, and there is still plenty left.  Often I mix it with kelp meal and crushed eggshells or oyster shell flour to make a supplement for my chickens that they gobble up with extreme enthusiasm.  Remember, chickens are not natural vegetarians by any means. In fact, they are among the most omnivorous animals alive, along with pigs, chimpanzees, and us.  So let them follow their natural inclinations and make use of healthy scraps that come up in your kitchen.

 

About the Fish on Your Plate

One of my firmest health convictions, besides the one about leafy greens, is that fish is good. Here in the desert I won’t be catching my own in any great quantity, so the question is what fish, exactly, is good. My own choice is based on taste and emotion more than reason. I love salmon and admire the way the Alaskan fisheries are managed, so I eat Alaskan salmon. But if you want to be more rational about your fish, please read the great compilation of evidence from Bill Lagakos at the wonderful Calories Proper blog:

http://caloriesproper.com/fish-blog-take-i/

Then make your choice with real information. And my nag for the day is: DON’T OVERCOOK IT. If your salmon is chewy or has a nasty grey layer just under the seared surface, it’s overdone. Sockeye, my own favorite, cooks in nothing flat, usually two minutes each side over a very hot grill or firepit. If the fillet is especially thick, maybe give it an extra minute on the skin side, but no more. If you buy it with the skin on, your dogs get a healthy treat too. Salmon loves assertive seasonings, and I like to brine it in strong salt water for half an hour before cooking. Then serve some leafy greens alongside and you can feel yourself getting healthier. And happier.

Below are some serving ideas that I borrowed from here and there because the photography is better than mine. My own quickie favorite is to take it off the grill, top with a generous pat of seasoned green garlic butter that I keep in the freezer, set it under the broiler just until the butter starts to melt if you didn’t thaw the butter beforehand, and eat with intense gratitude.

I think the beets and citrus shown here should be roasted a good bit longer than the fish, so that you can actually eat them, but it’s a good basic reminder that blood orange is brilliant with salmon.

Grill some nice fat green or Egyptian onions to serve alongside and your health benefits increase.

In a hurry? Take it off the grill and plop it on some dressed leaves and add a slice of lemon. Dinner in 15 minutes, or ten if you pan-roast and don’t take time to heat the grill.

Personally I would use bronze fennel fronds on top, for appearance and for taste and because it grows well in my yard, but if you’re a dill person, go for it. A generous shower of fresh thyme leaves is also a good finish for salmon, and this is one of the places that I love to use orange balsam thyme, which is otherwise difficult to use.

If you’re one of my local readers, the Fishhuggers come to our farmers markets in the summer and sell the salmon that Kenny catches in Alaska, as well as their own superb grass-fat beef and other healthy goodies.