Archive for the ‘preserving’ Category

Post 300: Magnolia

This is a poignant post for me to write, because one of my very first posts written on this property was about my new Sanaan doe goat Magnolia. Beloved Maggie is over nine years old now, and no longer  holding body weight well when she’s in milk, and I’ve concluded that for her own good, this is her last lactation. So I’m filling the freezer with goat cheese, and Magnolia will retire and live out the rest of her life in leisure. Goats are smart and interactive and, like dogs, incredibly painful to lose. I hope that Maggie will be with us for a few years yet. She is a big part of my daily life, and I can’t think of a better subject for my 300th post.
If you are interested in having a dairy animal, bear in mind that they need excellent nutrition and eat a lot of expensive food and occasionally have veterinary needs, so don’t even think in terms of producing economical food. Think in terms of having a lovely pet, with benefits. Do remember that periodic male offspring are almost inevitable and you have to have a plan for what to do with them, so if you are vegetarian yourself this may be a real issue for you. Female offspring can often be given to good homes, but can very seldom be sold at a profit.  Also, I trust it goes without saying that when in milk they have to be milked out every day, not just when you feel like making cheese, and have to be milked when you travel, which is not a job that the average pet sitter will take on. Be aware that excellent fences are required to keep goats out of your own shrubbery and trees or your neighbor’s, and in my area an 8 foot fence they can be secured behind at night is needed for protection from coyotes. All of this costs money.  If any of this discourages you, there is an abundance of excellent cheese including the superb Mount Vikos halloumi available at any upscale food store or co-op.

One of the reasons that I wanted a dairy animal in my suburban yard is that I like to make cheese, and currently it’s pretty hard to make cheese from most commercial milk. This is because milk is being pasteurized at increasingly high temperatures to extend its shelf life, and the milks in your local dairy case that don’t say “UHT” were probably still pasteurized at near-UHT temperatures. This affects the proteins, and such milk will not form a proper curd when rennetted. Therefore, unless you have access to fresh-from-the-animal milk, success is by no means certain with any cheese recipe except ricotta. Since it’s illegal or very difficult in most areas to sell raw milk, a dairy animal is your ticket to cheesemaking. If you don’t have a dairy animal or access to milk that wasn’t processed at high temperatures, I am very sorry to say that I do not recommend cheesemaking because it is going to be too disappointing. Personally, I find it absolutely weird to think that most commercial milk is so denatured that you can’t make cheese out of it. But these are the facts.

If you have access to  clean milk that was not pasteurized at high heat, go immediately to Ricki Carroll’s wonderful cheesemaking site and go to town. She has all the supplies and cultures as well as reams of recipes and advice.
My own choice has been to stick to fresh cheeses and halloumi, because they are quick and easy to make, can be frozen for later use, and do not require any special attentions as they age because they don’t age. I’m especially fond of halloumi because it can be grilled to such a wonderful crusty brown, and I do love a good Maillard reaction.
Rather than give my own haphazard procedure for making halloumi, which might not be perfect but fits into my kitchen routine and produces a good product, I am going to have you start off on the right foot by linking to Ricki’s recipe.  I will only add that I don’t use any herbs in finishing the cheese, because it is more versatile if it isn’t already carrying an herb flavor.  Any herbs that you want can easily be added at the cooking or serving stage, as the green onions pan-grilled with the halloumi in the top picture.  Also, a salted but unseasoned halloumi is an excellent stand-in for paneer if you feel suddenly moved to go Indian rather than Mediterranean.  And a wild greens saag paneer with your own greens fed cheese is as delicious a dinner as I know of,  and likely to contribute to your health and longevity as well as your immediate gratification.

A quarter cup of ricotta  is a byproduct of making halloumi,  and makes a nice Cook’s Treat to reward yourself for your enterprise.

Here,  fresh goat cheese serves as the bulk of a dinner, a strongly seasoned ground meat with sweet spices in the Arabic style is part of the flavoring, and an elaborate herb pesto is the other part.

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Goat Paneer

Goats are wonderful hardy friendly animals to have around,  and the amount of milk that they give is very considerable relative to the input required, but many people do not like the taste of most goat cheeses. If you are one of these people, or even if you like goat cheese, you may still want to know about some alternatives that avoid the goaty taste. Fresh ricotta and fresh paneer,  when made with fresh goat milk, are not distinguishable from cows’ milk products.  You need to use the milk within a day of milking, or at most two days, and it goes without saying that it has to be refrigerated all that time.

I have written elsewhere about making ricotta and you can review that page because the directions are the very same up to the pressing. Making paneer is every bit as easy but requires just a bit of forethought to have some simple equipment on hand. It has to be strained and then pressed. You can buy a cheese press for this, if you want it for some other purpose, but if you just want to  make paneer, all you need is  real cheesecloth (not the kind sold for dusting and polishing) for the straining, a  baking sheet,  a saucer, and a couple of bricks or other suitable weight. I use a springform pan and a nylon mesh bag made for straining fruit for cider.  A gallon is about the minimum amount of milk that is worth fooling with, and will produce about 8 ounces of finished paneer.

Heat the milk to almost boiling, watching it carefully because it wants to boil over. Add the vinegar, stir in, watch for the formation of curd, and add a little more vinegar if needed until you have white curdled curds in greenish whey.   Put a strainer in the sink or over a bowl if you wish to catch the whey and use it for some other purpose. Line with cheesecloth, pour the curdled milky mixture in, and let it drain for at least 30 minutes.  Within an hour, wrap the largely drained curds up in the cheesecloth with the idea of forming a block that will be about an inch thick. The other dimensions will depend on how much milk you were working with. For a gallon of milk, I plan a block of paneer about  3″ x 6″.  Put it on a baking sheet so that the remaining liquid can drain away, put the saucer upside down on top, and put the weight on the saucer. Or, if you are using my method, put the ring of the springform pan on the sheet, the cloth wrapped curds inside, and use the base of the springform pan on top  to hold the weight and “follow” the curd block as it shrinks in pressing.  Either way, leave your set-up for about eight hours.  You then have paneer, which can be used in many Indian dishes. It browns beautifully, and if the milk came from a grass fed animal, it is superbly  healthy.  It is the backbone of sa’ag paneer, one of my favorite dishes.  It also freezes well, so it’s a good way to preserve your precious grass fed milk.
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The Greens of Winter: Soup Base

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Earlier this week I walked through my frost-killed garden to see what was left. For the most part I don’t make any special effort to protect my garden in the fall because after a long summer I’m ready to move on to the things I do in the winter, so the pickings were slim, but I found lots of chicory, dandelion, chard, broccoli leaves, alfalfa tips, celery, and kale, along with green garlic and green onions, and some of the herbs were still in fine shape. I decided to make soup, and since I had a lot more greens than I remembered planting, it occurred to me to make a soup base that could sit in the freezer, ready at any time to be turned into soup in a hurry. To the garden ingredients I added a large onion and a largish handful of sun-dried tomatoes from earlier in the summer. You could also use a jar of dried tomatoes in oil, drained.  The celery was used from base to leaf tip. I used roughly equal volumes of all the greens types, about the equivalent of a medium-sized supermarket bunch of each.

The onion was sliced thinly and sautéed very slowly in olive oil while I washed and prepared the greens. I was aiming for a rich caramel color, which meant low heat and frequent stirring, which is no extra trouble if you’re in the kitchen anyway. I used my wok because I knew that the volume of sliced greens would be considerable. First the green garlic and green onions were cleaned, finely slivered, and held separately, then everything else was washed and midribs removed and cut in cross section into roughly 1/2″ slices.

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When the onion was a nice toffee color I added the chopped green alliums, cooked about another five minutes, then added the other greens and some more olive oil along with about a teaspoon of salt. Don’t stint on the olive oil. You want sautéed flavor, not steamed flavor.  The heat was turned up to medium and the whole mass stirred and turned with a wide wooden spoon about every five minutes to keep it cooking evenly. As soon as the greens were in the pan I ground the sun dried tomatoes into small powdery chunks in the blender and added them to the wok. They rehydrated well enough in the moisture from the leaves.  Keep cooking until the greens are soft when chewed.

When you have a darkened dense mass of soft greens, put the whole business in the food processor and grind to the finest paste that you can achieve. Taste. You want it on the salty side, because that helps with preservation and it’s going to be diluted later. Add more salt if needed. I prefer to use fish sauce rather than salt to season at this point because it adds a wonderful rich savor. I used about a tablespoon. Don’t use this if you might be serving vegetarians.

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Now cool your soup paste and pack it into one-cup containers, each of which makes about a quart of finished soup. Coat the top with olive oil, push lids on tightly, and freeze.

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When ready to use, put a quart of any kind of salt-free or low-salt broth you like in a saucepan, add a cup of soup paste, and simmer until thawed. Correct the texture with a stick blender if it needs smoothing out. Taste for seasoning and adjust in any way you like. The caramelized onions, deeply sautéed greens, and fish sauce gave a meaty-umami flavor to the potful I made for lunch today, so I salted to taste and added a swirl of fat from my homemade bacon and a generous sprinkling of thyme leaves, a meaty-umami herb if ever there was one. Yum. With toasted buttered slices of my low-carb fake-o cornbread, it made a perfect light healthy Thanksgiving brunch to lead into the excesses to come at dinner.

This basic formula can be varied endlessly according to what you like and have available. If you serve vegans at your table, using some miso rather than fish sauce and good olive oil for the final swirl with water or vegetable broth as the liquid would suit their needs while fully satisfying the omnivores. If you don’t like the brownish color, leave the tomatoes out and it will be more green. Pan-grilled small oyster or other mushrooms would make a good garnish. A fried or poached egg adds tremendous heft to soup if you want a richer meal, or some bacon lardons fried crisp would satisfy any ardent carnivore with a minimum of actual meat. You can add cow or coconut cream for a cream soup (try a toss of chopped fresh tarragon for the final garnish,) or some leftover tomato sauce for interesting tartness, or finish it with a handful of good freshly grated Parmesan along with olive oil and let the cheese dissolve in the hot soup. For a more Cretan effect, use crumbled feta and olive oil on top.  There are a hundred possibilities and you can get any of them from freezer to table in well under 20 minutes. Serve any kind of bready stuff that suits your diet alongside, and you and your table mates will be full. I say that a quart of soup is two servings, but I understand that normal people can serve three or four with a quart. Know your family’s tastes.

In my opinion the celery is necessary rather than optional, and I strongly advise including at least a small portion of bitter greens (dandelion and chicory in this case.) When making mixed greens, I’ve often noticed that a savory-meaty element is lost if I don’t include some bitter greens. The proportion is small and the final product isn’t bitter and is enjoyed be people who don’t like strong greens in other contexts. Besides, they’re so damn good for you.

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Mostarda di Frutta, and notes on artificial sweeteners in ketogenic diets

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While in Florence on my honeymoon many years ago I learned to love mostarda di Cremona, the sweet tangy mustardy fruit condiment. I bought a bulk kilo, hauled it home, and for many years enjoyed it with all kinds of things. Then I developed blood sugar problems and changed to a ketogenic diet and such treats were off my list of possibilities. Continue reading

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.

The Winter Kitchen, with notes on making duck confit



We have had a splendid holiday season here in New Mexico, from attending Los Posados, our traditional candlelit Christmas procession, in mid-December to ringing in the New Year joyously and quietly with my visiting parents. In the mornings we feasted on our own backyard eggs (due to the huge amount of greens that my hens eat, the yolks are a fiery orange-red, always the mark of a good egg) and Purple Peruvian hash browns, along with thick slabs of smoked bacon (not yet home-grown, but in the future, who knows?) We ate my own meat chickens cooked a dozen different ways; in the out-of-focus shot below, you see them grilling on my new firepit grill.

Usually I can take a little time off around the holidays, and so that’s when I do some yearly kitchen chores, like making duck confit. This is a large undertaking and isn’t for everyone. If you just want to quick-grill a leg here and there, buying your duck confit is probably perfectly reasonable. But if you want not just the meat, but the lovely flavorful fat it was cooked in, then make it yourself.
Be prepared to spend some time looking for your materials. I order them on the Internet. To confit six large duck legs, you need two pounds of extra duck fat. I pay less than $15 for the fat, but I have seen duck fat sold in 7oz quantities for almost that price. You can use lard or olive oil instead if you insist, but in my view that isn’t proper duck confit. I should add that I don’t use pink salt, curing salt containing nitrates, for confit and so mine has to be refrigerated or, for storage over a few weeks, frozen. If you want to cure with pink salt, get the excellent book Charcuterie and follow the directions. I always confit twelve duck legs with four pounds of fat so I have some to give to foodie friends, but that’s probably overkill for most people.
Having secured six large duck legs with thighs attached and two pounds of duck fat, you are ready to start. First, salt the legs very generously, using two tablespoons of salt for the whole job. Grind black pepper generously over the legs, chop a small handful of thyme leaves and strew them about, and put in a bowl or plastic bag with 10 peeled smashed cloves of garlic and 10 bay leaves interspersed with the legs. Be sure to get Turkish bay leaves; the commonly found ones from California have a mentholated quality that you will not enjoy in the finished product. Set in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, heat your oven to 300 degrees. Lay the duck legs out on a baking sheet with the bay leaves and garlic underneath them, and make sure the pepper and thyme leaves make it onto the tray. If doubling this recipe, use two trays. Don’t crowd them, because you need room for them to release their fat. Bake slowly until the legs are golden brown, usually about an hour.

Remove from the oven and place the legs in a pot large enough to hold them with room left over. Transfer the bay, garlic, etc. to the pot as well. Add the extra duck fat, and bring to a simmer. Use a flame-tamer if your burners run hot. Let the pot simmer comfortably until the duck meat is very willing to fall off the bone. This usually takes five or six hours for me.
Let cool just until no longer warm to the touch, but the fat is still liquid. Portion out as you like; I put two whole legs in a plastic container to go in the refrigerator, and ladle in enough fat to cover them. Then I use my Foodsaver to package the rest into bags containing two legs each, with enough fat to fill just the bottom of the bag, and vacuum-seal for the freezer. You will have a quart or two of pure fat left over, and this can be frozen in quart plastic containers for the next time you confit.
Now that you have a lot of duck confit, what do you do with it? For starters, you can make a quick rich meal by putting legs, heated and drained of their fat, in a very hot oven or under the broiler, then serving them on a bed of lentils or with herbed spaetzle, drained well and fried in a little of the duck fat until it has lovely crisp brown spots. You can set a leg or two on top of any cassoulet-type bean dish, nestling them into the beans a little so that as the whole splendid amalgam cooks, the duck fat plumps and sweetens the beans and the duck skin gets very crisp.

You can use fat and chopped confit to coat roast potatoes, letting the little bits of duck get crispy as the potatoes brown.

You can use a bit of chopped confit meat and duck fat to dress winter vegetables like carrots or parsnips, with a sprinkle of parsley to lighten the effect. Frozen green peas, given a brief boil, drained, and tossed in a hot pan for several minutes with a dash of heavy cream, a tablespoon or two of chopped confit meat and fat, and some soaked, chopped slices of dried porcini mushrooms, are elevated above their usual station in life. In the winter, duck confit adds subtle richness to everything it touches. On very cold evenings, you may even enjoy plain garlic toasts popped under the broiler with some chopped confit on top. Whenever you take some out of the container, gently warm it so that some fat liquifies and covers the meat to protect it from the air. Keep it in the refrigerator; it will not store safely at room temperature. Then when the hot weather comes, you will no longer be interested in confit at all. So enjoy it in its season.

Squash without end, amen


I love winter squash, and they can be hard to grow here in central New Mexico because of our thriving population of squash borers. The vine grows beautifully and sets baby squash in a responsible fashion, then one day it wilts, then it dies. I have tried all the organic “remedies” listed in the books, and don’t think that any of them are worth my time, in that the vine may survive (barely) but the chance of a good crop is nil. So this year I tried to beat the borers genetically. I grew only squash varieties of the species Cucurbita moschata, which is rumored to be borer-resistant. All I can say is, there are no guarantees in gardening, but I didn’t lose a single vine and my garage shelves are heaped with squash.
To use this method, you have to find a catalog that identifies squash by species as well as varietal name. I got mine from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They are a great source for interesting heirlooms. I chose five varieties: Waltham Butternut, Musquee de Provence, Kikuza, Chiriman, and Sucrine du berry. All bore fairly well, although the sucrine du berry were the clear winners in terms of total pounds of squash. So far, the Kikuza are the best in flavor and texture, but I’ve only tasted three of the five varieties so far.
My favorite way to eat squash is halved,seeded, and roasted, with maple syrup or agave nectar and a pat of butter in the hollow. They will roast nicely at any temperature from 350 to 425 degrees, although of course they need more oven time at lower temps. Be sure to roast them long enough, by the way. The flesh should be soft and the syrup well sunken into the flesh. My preference in squash is a sweet dry flesh with no stringiness about it. To let any squash reach its best potential, it’s important to leave them on the vine as long as possible. Often the vines will die back in late fall, signaling harvest time, but if they don’t, harvest the evening that your first frost is predicted. It’s tempting to harvest them earlier when the skin hardens and they look mature, but this is the road to stringy watery flesh. Let the vine do its work. Once harvested, be careful not to bump or bruise them and set them on shelves in a cool place, not touching each other. I like to set several of mine on one end of my dining room table, where they look opulent and festive, but be sure to cook them within a month, since storage conditions in the average dining room are not ideal. The ones kept in a cooler (but not refrigerated) place will often keep well until January or February, but they do lose quality if kept too long. If you suspect that they are past their peak, roast them as described above and freeze the flesh.
I see a lot of recipes for squash that involve steaming the flesh, but I would never bother with them steamed. Roasting brings out the lovely caramelly notes and gives a rich flavor. Whenever I have something baking that doesn’t fill up the whole oven, I roast a split squash in the remaining space, and since the halves keep well in the refrigerator and are even better warmed up a day or two later, I have a handy adjunct to a meal waiting. If you have chickens, don’t forget to give them the stuff you scooped out when preparing the squash. They relish the nutrient-rich seeds. I also give the scooped-out shells to the chickens after dinner, and they enjoy those too.