Archive for the ‘kitchen staples’ Category

Fermentation III: Vinegar

 
I first wrote about red wine vinegar in 2009, and while I have made and consumed it steadily since then, there didn’t seem to be much more to say about it. My husband gifted me with a marvelously cool 2 gallon oak barrel to keep it in, but the vinegar was the same. But then came The Noma Guide to Fermentation, and I’m left wondering why I was so unimaginative. Their chapter on vinegars has lots of interesting ideas but the ones that excite me the most are elderberry “balsamic” and black garlic “balsamic.” I suspect that I will end up combining the two, since I have some elderberry wine fermenting and the port-like notes should be a perfect complement to the deep umami of black garlic, and for even more depth I’ll use red wine vinegar to start the acetic fermentation. Basically, if you have a good strong vinegar mother, you can ferment anything mildly alcoholic into vinegar. The acetobacter bacillus converts ethanol to acetic acid in the presence of oxygen, so if you want to use your own fruit you need to ferment it into wine first, but that’s easy enough. Once you have wine or mead or hard cider to ferment into vinegar, you can do it in quart mason jars, with a dish towel tied tightly over the top to allow oxygen in and prevent winged visitors, and make several kinds of vinegar in a square foot of counter space. Or if you have a lot of ideas and a tolerant spouse, you can occupy all available surfaces. Just make sure you have a plan for what to do with it.  You can cook with it as detailed in my 2009 post, and if you still have too much it makes a fair non-alcoholic drink stirred into sparkling water. Stir a shot into a tall glass of chilled sparkling water, with some natural or artificial sweetener. I like a shake of cinnamon on top. This isn’t a kid’s drink, and only the adults are likely to enjoy it, and not all of them by any means. Some will dislike the sharp edge, and a dash of fruit juice or a little honey may take the curse off for them. But those of us who drank the old cider-vinegar-and-honey drink growing up generally came to enjoy the sweet-sour flavor and like this use of vinegar.

This is already known to everyone, but it bears occasional repeating: you can also infuse vinegar with nearly anything that suits your fancy. Tarragon is a classic, but I prefer thyme infused in red wine vinegar, using about one big bunch of thyme per pint of vinegar. Flavorful fruits are also a possibility. Be aware that Acetobacter does one thing superbly well, and that is converting ethanol to acetic acid. If you add any source of unfermented sugar directly to your ferment, it will remain as sugar. You can use this effect deliberately to make fascinating semi-sweet or agrodolce vinegars. One that I particularly enjoyed was made by dehydrating Concord grapes from my vine until they were somewhat shriveled and approaching the raisin stage, covering them with red wine vinegar, blending with a stick blender until the grapes were roughly chopped, and then infusing the mixture for a couple of weeks. The grape bits were then strained out, and the vinegar was richly flavored, barely sweet, and carried some of the unique tang of the Concord grape. I’m looking forward to making pomegranate vinegar in the near future. Blackberry vinegar would probably be wonderful.

It may be that live vinegar contributes to your biome and general health, and definitely it contains the antioxidants of the original wine with little or none of the alcohol.

If you get interested in culinary uses for your vinegar, you will enjoy Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat. The section on acid in cooking is invaluable and will lead you to analyze food that lies a bit too heavy on the tongue and realize that a bit of acid could have sparked it to deliciousness. Canal House makes and uses a lot of vinegar in their cooking, and you can find some recipes and a good article on making vinegar here.

The vinegar “mother” is a great example of a SCOBY or pellicle, a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast that create a matrix and keep reproducing as long as they have a food supply. They busily make vinegar, kombucha,water or milk kefir, or other things depending on the particular microorganisms. You can see the vinegar mother well in this borrowed shot:

Your mother is very versatile and can make vinegar of anything alcoholic as long as the proof isn’t too high. Be aware that a mother formed in red wine will carry red pigment for quite a while, and if you put it in white wine or hard cider you will have rose’ vinegar. The mothers look a bit like placentas:

If you have a healthy one, the question always arises of what to do with the “pups” or new layers of mother that are continually forming. Some people eat them, but then some people eat their own placentas. No judgement implied, but I wouldn’t eat either one. If your friends don’t want one, put it in the compost or bury it in the garden or whatever makes you feel okay about letting go of it.

 

A Little Hen Science

Feeding my hens is expensive and sometimes I wonder how much it matters whether I gather the large heap of alfalfa and other greens that they eat every day during the growing season. Then I remind myself of one of my favorite nutritional sayings:

You are what you eat and you are what what you eat, eats.

I don’t mean to be dramatic about it, but it’s a core concept. I first read a serious article about nutritional changes in eggs according to the hens’ diet back in about 2008, and would like to bring that article up again. It details the difference in LDL oxidizability in people who eat eggs, depending on the diet of the hens producing the eggs. Here’s a Science Daily summary  with a link to the original article if you would like to read it. Note especially their paragraph exerpted below:

“There were vast differences in outcome among the treatments. Daily consumption of two industry-standard eggs, high in omega-6, caused a 40 percent increase in LDL oxidizability in participants. After eating two per day of the specially-composed eggs, with both high anti-oxidant and low omega-6 levels, however, LDL oxidation levels were similar to the control group eating only two to four eggs a week. Surprisingly, with the “healthier” eggs, we might be able to eat more than twice today’s generally recommended egg intake and still maintain a healthy level of LDL oxidation, Dr. Shapira concludes.”

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110802162807.htm

So I will continue to feed my hens to produce the product that I want to eat. There is no substitute for greens and bugs in a chicken’s diet. It’s what she evolved to eat, and I too evolved to eat them but greatly prefer to eat the bugs indirectly. If you have chickens, devote some garden space to growing greens for them. An alfalfa patch is a good source of the most nutritious greens imaginable for the ladies. And any edible weed from a location that hasn’t been sprayed with anything noxious is a bonanza for the coop. Fresh grass clippings are welcomed as long as you don’t spray your lawn. And eat the resulting eggs with relish, knowing that they are as good as eggs can be.

Chicken with Double Garlic Sauce

Garlic is wondrous in all its forms. I called this simple chicken sauce  “double garlic” not because it contains a lot of garlic, although it does, but because it contains garlic in two distinct forms. Right now I am harvesting the bulbs of the early Chinese Pink while the late Mount Hood is forming tender scapes. So both went into this dish. For the chicken, I used some leftover plainly roasted thighs. You could also make the very quick seasoning sauce to add interest to a plainly seasoned rotisserie chicken that you bought on the way home after a busy day. Of course you could also cook chicken thighs right in the sauce, but I conceived of this as a way to make leftovers fresh and interesting.

In the spirit of easy convenience, I added some artichoke hearts marinated in oil that I found at a grocery store olive bar. If you have some leftover vegetable that isn’t too seasoned, this is a good place to use it up. Just don’t use marinated veggies that are acidic or pickled-tasting; taste to be sure.

You will need:

1/3 cup very good EV olive oil

7 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

5-6 tender garlic scapes (snap one near the base. It should snap cleanly, with no “bark” peeling at the breakpoint) Chop in bits a little more than 1/4″ long

1/3 cup salted capers, soaked and squeezed dry, or brined capers rinsed and squeezed dry

1/4 cup, loosely packed, chopped herbs of your choice. I used half thyme and half fennel

4 cooked whole chicken thighs, or a disjointed rotisserie chicken

roughly 1 cup of cooked leftover veggies, not too seasoned

Heat a skillet ovet high heat and add the olive oil. Put in the chopped scapes, fry for about two minutes stirring frequently, reduce heat to medium, and cook until scapes are crisp-tender ( the best way to find out is to chew one.)

Add the squeezed-dry capers and cook until they look a bit dry and (ideally) a bit browned. Add the chopped garlic and the herbs, sauté just until the chopped garlic looks cooked, and add about 2 tablespoons of water and the veggies and chicken. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring and turning as needed, until heated through. There should be little to no water left, just seasoned oil full of delicious bits that can be spooned over the chicken and veggies. Serve with freshly ground pepper, but taste before adding salt, because of the capers and the pre-cooked ingredients.

I have already talked about garlic and garlic scapes at length, so this a good time to talk about capers for a minute. I consider them an essential kitchen staple and my favorites come from Morocco, but they are absurdly expensive, so feel free to buy something much more reasonable. The tiny nonpareil capers are often marketed as the best, but I don’t like them except as a garnish on smoked salmon and generally prefer the largest and most herbaceous that I can find. If salted, rinse the salt off, soak in water to cover for 20 minutes, and squeeze dry. If brined, rinse the brine off thoroughly, soak in hot water for a few minutes, and squeeze dry. There is currently a lot of silly snobbery about brined capers, but they can be delicious and are far preferable to tasteless or oversalted dry capers. I eat capers all summer and try to keep a handful, already soaked and squeezed, ready wrapped in a square of plastic wrap in the refrigerator. They’re astoundingly rich in quercetin, if that’s important to you, and they taste like essence of summer.

 

Harvesting Garlic

In a way the title of this post is very inaccurate, because I have been “harvesting garlic” since February  in the form of green garlic. But this is the time of year when I start to pull bulbs, because the extremely early Chinese Pink comes out of the ground now. So this is a good time to say something about the curing of garlic.

First, the variety matters. Chinese Pink doesn’t last that long for me and is mainly to tide me over until the main crop comes in, since it’s a good six weeks earlier than any other type that I grow.

Second, harvest at the right time. Watch for yellowing, withering leaves. Generally I harvest when there are four green leaves left, but Chinese Pink is prone to splitting and needs to be harvested earlier, when about the four lowest leaves are yellow. The picture below shows “split” garlic which has been left in the ground too long. It’s still useful but harder to peel and clean.

Third, DON’T cut off the stalks. The curing bulbs draw nourishment from the remaining leaves. Do, however, remove any bloomscapes. Also leave the roots intact but shake off soil. Brush loose dirt off the bulbs.

Fourth, DON’T leave them lying in the sun, where they will “cook” and be spoiled. After pulling the plants, lay them in single layers on a dry surface (I use flattened corrugated cardboard boxes that will later go into sheet mulch) and put out of direct light in a place with good air circulation. Leave for two weeks, turning the bulbs occasionally.

Now cut the withered tops off unless you grew a softneck garlic and want to make braids. My favorite types are all hardneck so no braids for me. The remaining surface dirt is now dry and can be brushed off with a soft brush, but don’t get fanatical with the brushing because you can damage the wrapper and impair the bulb’s ability to keep. Leave in the dim airy place and bring a few bulbs at a time into the kitchen.

When ready for curing, they will look like the picture below. Later on when you clean them up and bring them into the kitchen, they will look like the picture at the top of this post.

Before you start using your garlic, be sure to set aside the largest and best bulbs with the largest cloves for replanting.

Use your garlic.  A lot. This is the fresh clean-flavored garlic that makes recipes like Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic or Chicken with Fennel, Pernod, and Garlic such a pleasure to eat. Confit some and enjoy it on toasted sourdough bread or crackers, or alongside roast chicken, or in pepperonata. To confit garlic, peel a quart’s worth of cloves, put in a small heavy saucepan, cover with good extra virgin olive oil and add a heaping teaspoon of sea salt, bring to a simmer, and simmer slowly over low heat with an occasional gentle stir until the cloves just hold their shape but are soft and can be crushed easily with a spoon. If there is any hard “core,” keep simmering. Cool and store in a jar in the refrigerator. Be sure to keep the cloves covered with olive oil and it will keep a month or more. The confiting oil is a treasure, great in dressings or for drizzling.

The image of chicken and garlic above was borrowed from Food 52, my favorite cooking site.

For a far more detailed take on garlic curing and storage, review this excellent PDF from Boundary Garlic Farm.

Kitchen staples: the pantry (and freezer) of the low-carb home

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There are ingredients and seasonings that I have to have on hand at all times or I get nervous. With them, I’m ready to make a meal out of whatever foodstuff comes to hand. All such lists are intensely personal and idiosyncratic and I make no claims for universality, just usefulness. Due to my very low-carb eating, staples like pasta and flour aren’t on the list for me.

1. Really good fresh olive oil. Olive oil oxidizes fairly rapidly and, in my opinion, should not ever be used if more than a year old. Rather than take chances on freshness, I belong to the Fresh Pressed Olive Oil club; every three months they ship you three (or more if you choose) bottles of olive oil guaranteed to have been harvested and produced within the last 3 months; sourcing from the Southern Hemisphere as well as more traditional source areas makes this possible. I have belonged for years and hope they go on as long as I live and cook. A wide range of olive varieties and oil styles is represented. Pour it over cooked vegetables, dress salads, drizzle it on meat dishes, use as a base for a sauté of veggies. The Cretans and Ikarians thrive on it and so can we. I also keep oil-cured olives around at all times for their meaty umami belt in mixed greens.
2. Red Boat fish sauce. This is not only the best fish sauce available for Asian cooking, but pinch-hits very nicely for Italian colatura (garum.) A dash in vinaigrette gives a wonderful savor.
3. Dried mushrooms. I keep dried shitake, maitake, and porcini on hand at all times, and others at times as the mood takes me. With them, I am always prepared to add texture and flavor to cooked veggies, give a fitting garnish to a good piece of meat by soaking and sautéing them, or make a really good soup on short notice. I am ketogenic and don’t use flour, bread crumbs, or any other starch product, so I intend to try grinding them to powder and using them to “bread” and fry chicken, but that’s still on my to-do list.
4. Eggs. The best eggs I can get. Most of the time I have eggs from my own chickens, and in midwinter when my hens take a rest, I buy from a local co-op. Beyond the obvious omelet, frittata, and scramble, a fried egg is a wonderful way to make vegetables into a complete meal, and egg yolks are a wonderful velvety thickener for sauces.
5. Grass-fed butter. Grass-fed because it’s better for the cows and the planet as well as for me. Butter because there is nothing like it for improving flavor.
6. Coconut milk, which in my book is a joint pantry item with Hand brand Thai curry pastes. On days when I am short of time, energy, and verve, I can pick up some fresh fish or thaw a couple of pastured chicken thighs, soak and slice a few shiitakes, and pull together a healthy meal in under twenty minutes.
7. Freezer item: Wild-caught Alaskan salmon. I pay whatever I have to pay to get good fish, and I always buy Alaskan because their fisheries are well managed. The fillets are thin and thaw rapidly when I haven’t thought ahead about dinner. After a workday that ran later and harder than I expected, I’ve been known to take a frozen fillet still in its vacuum seal into the hot tub with me. Fifteen minutes later, I feel rejuvenated and the salmon is ready to cook.
8. Freezer item: homemade broth from grassfed beef and pastured chickens. I have written at length elsewhere about homemade broth. I really feel that nothing else will do as much to instill food thriftiness and improve your soups and sauces.
9. Nuts of various kinds. Almonds and Macadamias always, others here and there. Because they taste good and you can run for hours on a handful of them if you need to and they add flavor and crunch and specialness to all kinds of dishes.

10. Freezer item: blanched and chopped greens. Mine are a mixture of whatever was fresh and vibrant in the garden and field on any given day. If I had no garden and didn’t forage, I would use mixtures of spinach, chard, and Tuscan kale, and blanch and chop them and vacuum-seal before freezing. I find that I eat a lot more greens if I have them available in a handy form, and can make horta or whatever in a matter of  ten minutes rather than having a more prolonged process to go through.

11. Good red wine. Because life contains joy and is worth celebrating.

12. Very dark chocolate. Because see #11.
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Kitchen Staples: homemade Worcestershire sauce


Many years ago, chef Emeril Lagasse published his recipe for homemade Worcestershire sauce, and although some pretty perverse versions of it have made their way around the web, the original was awfully good. Over time, though, I’ve come up with a version of it that I like even better. It’s great as a sauce for burgers or roast chicken, used to season vegetables, or used to cook vegetables. It also has a lot of healthy stuff in it and is a rich amalgam of all things umami. In many ways it’s like the old “mushroom catsup” of an earlier America, a potently flavored brew that has nothing in common with the bright red ketchup we know today. Winter is fading away, so make it now, when simmering something all evening still seems like a good idea.
The bad news is that, if you don’t grow horseradish, you will have to locate some fresh horseradish root. Many upscale groceries and food co-ops have it or can order it. There is no substitute, and without it the sauce is banal and bland and you’d be better advised to spend your evening doing something else. When you do locate some, buy twice as much by weight as you need, hack the root you bought in half, and plant half. Water it well. Simple as that. Horseradish can get big and invasive, but if you keep using the roots, that won’t happen. Also, the anchovies aren’t optional, so this sauce is not for vegetarians and vegans. This is a time when I have to give up all pretense of flexibility and ask that you please, just once, make it exactly the way it’s written. After that, fool with the recipe all you like. This makes a lot, and you can cut it in half for the first try, but if you want to have some to give away, the larger amount is no extra trouble to make.
You will need:
8 ounces of anchovy fillets in olive oil (for reasons of economy, I buy the Roland anchovy fillets from Spain in 1 pound cans to make this sauce.They can be found at restaurant supply warehouses and are both inexpensive and good.)
1 gallon of decent red wine (5 standard wine bottles.) The Mondavi Woodbridge reds work well. You are going to concentrate it, so you don’t want anything that you’d be unwilling to drink a glass of.
1/2 pound of fresh horseradish, peeled and finely grated.
3 cups of dark or amber agave nectar
10 dried shitake mushrooms (from an Asian grocery)
2 lemons
1/4 cup coarsely minced garlic
3 large onions, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
6 whole cloves
5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 whole chipotle chiles in adobo
1 tablespoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon fine black pepper, freshly ground

Pour the red wine into a large pot, bring to a boil, and boil fast until reduced by half, to 2 quarts. I stick a wooden spoon in the wine while it’s heating, mark the level with a pencil, and then can measure roughly when it’s reduced by half. While it reduces, heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the onions. When they turn translucent, add the agrlic and saute until the garlic is somewhat cooked but don’t let it color. Grate the zest off the lemon, squeeze the juice out, and discard the pith. Pat the anchovies (as a mass, not one by one) with a paper towel to get any excessive oil off them. Use a large mortar and pestle to break up the dried shitake mushrooms into chunks about half an inch across.
When the wine is reduced by half, add the sauteed onion mixture, the anchovies, the broken shitake mushrooms, the chile, the lemon zest and juice, the horseradish, the agave nectar, the salt, and the thyme and cloves. Simmer over low heat for about 2 and a half hours, stirring and tasting periodically.When it’s slightly thickened and tastes right (by which I mean “tastes really good,” strain out the solids, pressing as hard as you can on the mass in the strainer to get out all the liquid. Add the fresh black pepper to the strained fluid, starting with about half the tablespoon and tasting as you add until you find the amount that you like. I don’t like it too sweet, but if you want yours sweeter, add a little more agave nectar. Pour the sauce into clean old wine bottles, cork tightly, and store in the refrigerator. It won’t keep at room temp unless you heat=process it in canning jars, which I think is too much trouble. I have sometimes made a hasty meal of cooked rice or grains from the refrigerator, heated quickly and dressed with a little butter and a few dashes of this sauce. Yum.
If you find that you want it a little more sharp, you can boil the wine down to 1.5 quarts and add two cups of best quality red wine vinegar, then continue as above.

Southwest Cassoulet


There is an odd mystique about cassoulet. There are online butchers who will sell you the ingredients to make authentic cassoulet for eight people for 85 dollars. To me, this is bemusing. It’s a peasant dish, and like most such, its original intent was to nourish people well with minimal labor and cost. The magic combination is a lot of legumes with a small amount of very flavorful meat, plus seasonings. Nearly every society has some equivalent, from split pea soup to the red beans and rice that was eaten by the quart in Louisiana when I was growing up. So at first I thought of calling this post “Bean Pot,” but then I decided that it was time to demystify cassoulet and make it clear that this is a great dish for times when weather is cold, dollars may be short, and a meal that feeds abundantly and warms from the inside is called for. Let’s make this dish our own and adapt it to our needs.
For a great big dishful, you will need a pound of dried beans, two large onions or three small ones, 4-5 cloves of garlic, some olive oil, 2 cups of good rich stock or broth, a large carrot, a small bunch of thyme, a cup or two of homemade bread crumbs or small chunks of bread if you want to gratinee the top, and about a pound and a half of very flavorful meat. A combination of types is preferable. Some possibilities are duck confit, good sausage, ham, fatty cuts of pork already cooked for some other purpose, smoked hocks (no more than one,) or whatever your taste dictates. If you have any marrow from a ham bone, it’s a great addition. If I have a couple of pork ribs left over from experiments with my smoker, I’m apt to include them. I would not use anything with strong distinctive seasoning that will stand apart and not amalgamate itself; chorizo is a good example, as much as I love it. Don’t use anything very lean; there is little meat in comparison to the amount of beans, and it needs to lend some unction to the beans. Small raw sausages can be cooked whole in the beans, but anything large and raw should be cut in chunks or precooked, such as panfrying a thick raw sausage until nearly done before including it. If you do this, remember to save the fat to add to the beans. If you insist on using a ham hock, it will add a wonderful flavor and texture but does need to be slowly simmered for a couple of hours in the stock before use, which is a drag. Ham shanks are easier in that they are more tender and can be put directly in the dish.
First, catch your beans. I used a local New Mexico product, bollita beans, but I would happily use pinto beans, cannelini beans, or any other bean that cooks up soft and plump without falling apart. I started with a pound of beans and cooked them in my solar cooker the day before I wanted to make the dish. You can cook them any way you like. There’s a lot of mystique about cooking beans, too. Here at 5000 feet above sea level with very hard water, I do presoak and then cook in filtered water, and I don’t salt them until they are almost done, and then I salt generously. In Louisiana, with very soft water and an altitude just a smidgeon above sea level, beans cooked to perfection in a few hours with no special considerations. Know your conditions, and cook accordingly. If you aren’t cooking them a day ahead, they need to be ready at least 90 minutes before you want to eat. Make sure they are salted to your taste!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While the beans soften to perfection, or reheat if cooked the day before, chop the onions and garlic finely. I do all the cooking in the big La Chamba clay casserole in which I will finish the dish, largely because it’s a thing of beauty and I love to handle it. You can use a skillet if your casserole won’t take direct heat. Heat the olive oil over medium heat, saute the onions until they are becoming transparent, add the garlic, and saute until thoroughly cooked and maybe coloring a little (I like the richness of flavor this adds, but don’t burn them.) Drain the beans, saving the broth for something else, and mix with the onions and garlic. Add the chopped thyme and 1.5 to 2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper (very important to the final flavor.) Taste the beans and make sure they are salted to the level that you want. Now stick the meat into the beans. If you are using raw sausage or any raw pork, keep it near the top. I used some sections of smoked spareribs and stuck them well down into the pot. I always plop a leg of duck confit on the top. If you’re using duck make sure the skin is a little above the beans to that it can get nice and crisp. Pour a cup and a half of rich hot stock over all, and save the rest of the stock in case you need it later. Stick the dish into the preheated oven for an hour, then carefully haul it out and poke around a little. Since everything was hot when you started, any sausage or pieces of raw pork should be cooked at this point, but if not, keep them on top where you can fish them out for extra cooking if needed. Make sure there is some fluid near the bottom, and add more stock if the beans seem too dry. If you want a gratineed top, as I always do, cover the top with breadcrumbs or little pieces of bread, making sure not to cover the duck skin if you’re using it. Stir the bready stuff lightly into any fat that has appeared on the surface so that it gets deliciously golden and crisp rather than hard. If there is no surface fat, dot the bread generously with butter or drizzle it with olive oil. Bake another half hour. Take it out again, and check the sausage to make sure it got cooked. If the top hasn’t gotten crisp and gold, run it under the broiler until it is, but make sure not to burn it. Serve, making sure that everyone gets some of the crisp bready bits on top, and a fragment of the duck skin if they want it. The taste of the dish is simple and pure, and can waken ancestral memories of the farmhouse table. A green salad on the side is nice, but fussy vegetables are just not needed.
This makes a lot of hearty food. My clay casserole is about 11 inches long, nine inches wide, and four inches deep, and this fills it to the brim. Leftovers are likely, and welcome.