Archive for the ‘kitchen staples’ Category

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.