Archive for the ‘urban farm animals’ Category

Deconstructed Thai Egg Salad

If you have chickens, there are inevitably times when you grow tired of eggs. I had one of those times recently and started to grope for a new way to think about egg salad. Since I love Thai food and keep a lot of the necessary seasonings around, some sort of Thai egg salad seemed like the perfect way to reawaken my enthusiasm. I wanted to make it quick and easy, too, so cupboard condiments played a large role. I used coconut milk, fish sauce, some artificial sweetener (people with no blood sugar problems can just use sugar,) Shark brand Thai  sriracha sauce (important, because it tasted very different from standard Vietnamese-style sriracha,) the excellent Hand brand Matsuman curry paste, and chopped peanuts, and all I added to them was eggs and sliced mint leaves.

For two people I started with three hard-boiled eggs each, and chopped them roughly leaving them in large chunks. I heated the top fat off one can of coconut milk, stirred in a heaping tablespoon of Matsuman curry paste, and cooked a few minutes until thick and smooth. I added fish sauce to taste and sweetened it a bit. I pooled this elixer on a plate, put piles of chopped eggs on top, salted the eggs to taste and then dribbled Thai sriracha (which is not very hot) liberally all over the eggs. Peanuts and sliced mint finish up the seasoning, and a bit of sushi ginger on the side is my own very weird addition.

If the eggs are already hard-boiled, you will be plating your lunch in about ten minutes. It’s ketogenic except for the sugar in the sriracha, which isn’t much. You can use your own sweet-hot dipping sauce for the dribbling if you prefer. The mint could be replaced with Thai basil or cilantro. I speculate that finely slivered leaves of lemon verbena might be interesting here but I haven’t tried it yet. This is of course in the Thai-ish category and I feel free to experiment and find new tastes.

This is a good time to say something about producing the best eggs you can: in addition to a good commercial laying pellet high in an Omega-3 source such as flaxseed, feed your chickens all the greens that they will eat and a good source of calcium. In addition to oystershell I save all eggshells, dry them in the microwave and grind them, and feed them back in any soft foods from the table or kitchen that I have occasion to give my birds. I grow alfalfa patches in the back yard so that I can cut fresh alfalfa for them. Chickens are busy little machines that convert the 18-carbon Omega-3 fatty acids found in plants, which we absorb poorly, into the 20 and 22-carbon Omega-3s EPA and DHA, which we absorb well. (More structural info here.) One small commercial egg producer who feeds this way says he has hit about 600mg EPA and DHA per egg, verified by testing. I haven’t tested mine, but when I watch my chickens chow down greens, I know that it’s happening and that they are the best eggs I can get.

 

Full Flavors: Hop Shoots and Goat Chops

“”Boy, I could go for some goat right now” said no American ever. But I have no idea why that is. If you are an urban or rural  homesteader you have probably considered goats because they are hardy, compact, dual-purpose, remarkably productive for their size, and extremely friendly. But you have probably thought, or been told, that the meat is strong-flavored and unappealing.

If you are dealing  with an old goat, this is certainly true, but I can’t imagine butchering an old goat. Goats under a year old are delicious, with a full robust flavor that people who shop at the supermarket can hardly imagine, but nothing that can fairly be described as gaminess. The ones that I occasionally produce for our household are 100% alfalfa-fed. If you are lucky enough to have access to such meat, cook it with respect. For the chops, that means marinating with garlic and herbs and grilling medium-rare because the meat gets tough if allowed to dry out. If you can’t get young grass-fed goat, apply the same principles to lamb chops, another meat that has not yet had the flavor bred out of it. Sear on the grill to medium-rare, let rest in a 200 degree oven for 10 minutes, and serve with a veggie that works with robust flavors, such as the pan-grilled hops shoots shown here.

I sometimes think that the direction of mainstream American agriculture is to eliminate anything that has a distinctive flavor. It’s only relatively recently that we’ve rediscovered dry-aged beef and gotten away from chicken breast, which (unless you raised it yourself) is the most tasteless and cottony part of a tasteless and cottony bird. I have tasted prime-grade beef that had no discernible beef flavor, just a fatty faint sweetness.   Spinach is sold in the baby-leaf stage when it has no intrinsic flavor. Corn is as sugary-sweet as cotton candy, with no “corn” flavor to speak of.  It makes me grateful beyond words for my tiny patch of land where I can grow hops shoots and chicory and grape leaves and wild weeds and herbs of all kinds to feed my desire for food that tastes of itself.

By the way, I cook hops shoots a lot in the spring and after trying several methods, I’ve decided that the only one worth pursuing is to cut the shoots in lengths about 1.5 inches long and stir-fry  in a hot pan with some very good olive oil, a hefty pinch of salt, and nothing else. Continue to cook, stirring intermittently, until there are browned spots and the little nascent leaves are fried crisp. This gives them the richness to accent their slight wild bitterness and makes them truly delicious. Like good goat chops, they are a feral and flavorful treat

I mentioned marinating goat and lamb, and my favorite marinade is the one that my mother used when I was growing up, with a tweak or two from me. It’s great for goat, lamb, and beef.  Tinker with it as you see fit, but at least once  try it as written here, with the finish described:

Red meat marinade:

1/2 cup good olive oil

1/2 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Red Boat fish sauce or 2 mashed fillets of anchovy

2-3 crushed cloves of garlic (I prefer 3) or a couple of stalks of green garlic, sliced fine and then crushed in a mortar and pestle

a small handful of celery leaves, chopped

Mix all ingredients and let sit half an hour, then pour over chops in a dish and let marinate at least four hours and preferably overnight in the refrigerator.

Finish: remove from marinade and salt lavishly on both sides with alder-smoked salt. Sear on a hot grill to produce the ultra flavorful Maillard reactions. Lower heat and grill until done, but no more than medium-rare. Rest in a low oven. Eat and weep. The alder salt makes the meat jump into deliciousness. It’s a case of robust meeting robust and the flame of love being kindled.

If you get interested in producing a bit of your own meat or supporting a farmer who does, study the book “Goat” for more cooking inspiration. Goats and sheep produce milk and meat from land that wouldn’t support crop agriculture, and their meat still has its own distinctive and wonderful flavor. This book was published years ago but, regrettably, there is still nothing else like it.

 

Perennial Saag Paneer


Yesterday I wrote about making Paneer with my grass-fed goat milk. Today I’ll talk about making saag paneer, one of my favorite dishes, and for a permaculture twist I’ll make it with perennials as much as possible. If you don’t have a weed patch, you can use a bunch of spinach. You will also need fresh ginger, cumin seeds, garam masala, heavy cream, and butter.
Assuming that you have the paneer, the next step is to catch your greens and alliums. I used equal parts each of nettles and bladder campion, and 4 stalks each of green garlic and perennial Welsh onions. The nettles and bladder campion were blanched for about 90 seconds so that the nettles could be handled easily, then drained, pressed, and chopped. The alliums were cleaned, trimmed, and sliced in 1/4″ cross section.

When ready to cook, heat a nonstick skillet, cut the paneer in 1″ cubes and salt it, and fry in mild oil of your choice (I like Macadamia nut oil) until browned. Set aside.


Chop a piece of fresh ginger about an inch square finely, and have ready a teaspoon of whole cumin seed and a heaping teaspoon of garam masala.
Heat a saucepan, put in a couple of tablespoons of mild oil, and fry the cumin seeds briefly until they darken a couple of shades. Immediately add the chopped ginger, stirfry furiously until it is cooked but not browned, and add the chopped alliums and lower the heat to medium-low. Add a half teaspoon of salt and sauté the alliums until they are softened, lowering the heat if necessary to keep them from burning. Add the garam masala, cook another minute or two, and add the cream. Add the blanched chopped greens and cook over low heat until they are thoroughly cooked, probably about another 10 minutes. Put the paneer cubes on top, pushing them into the greens mixture a bit, and cook over low heat until they are heated through. Serve with rice or, if you are a low carb eater, gloriously naked on the plate. Drizzle some melted butter or ghee over the top.

I was taught to make this dish a few decades ago by an Indian woman in Manhattan, and I am pretty flexible about the greens used as long as they’re mild. No bitter green has a place in this dish. The green garlic and onions are great in season, but chopped garlic and onion are traditional.  I’m very rigid about the seasoning, though. Sometimes I add a chopped hot pepper but that’s my only variation. The whole cumin seeds fried quickly in hot oil are not negotiable, and burning or scorching any of the seasonings or alliums  means you need to start over, so work carefully.

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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Spring Ricotta

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This  time of year we are having some warm sunny days and the heavy meaty dishes of winter no longer feel quite right, but I still want something warming  and filling.

At the same time, my doe goat Magnolia is nearing the end of a lactation, getting ready to deliver kids in six or seven weeks. At this point she’s producing just a quart a day, but it’s still rich milk produced entirely on alfalfa and I’m not about to waste it.

So every evening, after filtering the milk, I make ricotta, and when I have a few days’ worth of ricotta saved up I make ricotta al forno. I stole the recipe from Sarah Raven many years ago, and I haven’t tweaked it very much over the years because it’s perfect as is. The main change is that I use egg yolks instead of whole eggs. Yum.

Ricotta, about 1 and a half cups, but a bit more or less won’t hurt.
Yolks of 5 eggs
Salt to taste
Half a cup of heavy cream
Half a cup of grated Parmesan
Half a cup of pine nuts
Cooked veggies as desired. Or none.

Kitchen note: homemade ricotta is drained until quite dry. If you are using store-bought ricotta, you might need to hang it in the sink in cheesecloth or a clean towel for a few hours and let it drain. Otherwise, the resulting dish can be watery.  Another alternative, if you don’t want to take time to drain, is to add one additional whole egg to help it firm up a bit, or leave out the cream.

Put the ricotta in the blender with the cream and add the egg yolks one at a time while blending.  Blend in the grated Parmesan just for a second or two. Add salt to taste.  Decide whether you want vegetables. This is an endlessly versatile way to use leftover but good cooked vegetables. The version shown above has a couple of cups of leftover grilled zucchini, red bell pepper, and eggplant.  In the early summer, fresh cooked peas are absolutely delicious in this dish.  A good handful of chopped fresh herbs may suit your taste.  Just be sure that the cheese mixture is already seasoned properly.  Pour it into a buttered 8 inch baking pan, adding any cooked vegetables or herbs that you wish as you go. Top with pinenuts and push them in a little bit so that they don’t burn. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until done.  Let it consolidate and settle down for 15 minutes, then serve in  generous wedges.    A topping of your best homemade tomato sauce adds pizzazz.  My husband likes it with a sprinkle of extra finally grated Parmesan on top and run under the broiler for a minute, which produces the brown spots you see above. Just keep an eye on it because it does burn very quickly.

In June this is absolutely glorious made with some chopped fresh herbs and topped with homemade pesto.  For those of us who eat low-carb, it is something to put pesto on.  This lactation will only last two or three more weeks, but by June I will have fresh glorious grass fed milk again and be back in the ricotta business.

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Eggs: Great Healthy Food in a Hurry

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Lately I’ve been thinking about the miraculous nature of backyard chickens. They are lovely to see, fun to hear, and all their waking hours they convert stuff you can’t eat into stuff that you can. I can’t keep mine loose because we have a large tribe of local coyotes, but every time I walk by their roofed yard and hear the pleasures and squabbles of chicken life, I feel better. Chickens fit easily into nearly every backyard and enrich soil, nutrition, and QOL.

Then there are the eggs. I feed my chickens a ton of fresh alfalfa and other green stuff in the summer. This time of year, their diet includes dandelions, mustard leaves, kale, and grass. The yolks are a glorious deep yellow and they are very delicious. I’m fond of eating them hard-boiled for snacks, often just shucked out of their shells while still warm and eaten with salt and pepper. Sometimes I want something a little more elaborate but not much, and that’s where an egg salad sandwich tastes just right. It can be made in less time than it takes to read about it if you keep some hard boiled eggs in the refrigerator. You will also need bread, mayonnaise, and some herbs.

My sandwich is a display of what eggs can do, because the base is a low-carb flatbread based on eggs and flaxseed and the mayonnaise is my homemade type. But you can use Hellman’s and any bread of your choice.
Egg salad can be elaborated with all sorts of stuff in it, or it can be a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise with a small handful of suitable herbs snipped in; I used tarragon, green onion, and garlic chives in about equal quantities. Slice in two hard boiled eggs, stir and mash, and spread on the bread. I think it isn’t real egg salad without a lavish sprinkle of powdered chipotle chile on top, but use paprika instead if you prefer.

So my real point is, find a source of great eggs and eat them. Even the best eggs cost, at most, about 50 cents each, and they will make you healthier and simplify your life. If you hard-boil a dozen at a time, they are always waiting to be converted into egg salad, or other types of salad, or deviled. Asian salads with lots of herbs, some lime and fish sauce in the dressing, and a sprinkle of peanuts are especially good.  I love them sliced on top of a Thai jungle curry, or as the center of an Indian dish made by forming a large meatball of spiced meat around a hard-boiled egg and frying it. I can recall making a Mexican dish twenty years ago that involved soft corn tortillas filled with a green toasted pumpkin seed pipian and sliced hard-boiled eggs. I can even imagine making the basic egg salad above and plopping spoonfuls of it on very good crackers with some chopped kalameta olives or even caviar on top, as an easy and delicious appetizer.

If you need more ideas, there is a marvelous cookbook by Michael Ruhlman simply called “Egg” that every eager cook should read.

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Chicken Glacé Pulls It All Together

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At about age 20, in a marvelous cookbook called The Supper of the Lamb,  I learned about glacé de viand.  I am still making it decades later, because it works kitchen magic and there is no commercial substitute. Think of it as a boullion cube that died and went to heaven. Rather than giving a nasty chemical edge to your sauce, it lends a subtle fullness and richness and pulls together any flavors that you care to add or elevates simple wine and cream and pan deglazing to an artful dish.

The principle  could not be simpler. Make a big pot of excellent stock, then cook it down into a thick syrup that gels hard when put in the refrigerator.  Cut your pure meat gelatine into cubes, freeze them until you need them, and throw one in every time you make a pan gravy, or cook anything where concentrated wonderful meat juice would be a good addition. You can also make it with roasted beef or veal bones to go in meat dishes.

In recent years I have been able to make my broth out of my old laying hens, and there is no good substitute for a really old hen full of omega-3s and collagen from a long and well-fed life. But you can make do with backs and necks of any good organic chickens. Roast them golden in a hot oven, fill your pot with them, add an onion, a carrot, and a stalk of celery, add enough cold water to cover, bring slowly to a simmer, and simmer forever. I simmer for 24 hours, so I only make broth on weekends. Cool, remove all solids and strain the stock, return to the pan, and boil down over high heat. I make at least a couple of gallons of broth at a time, so the final boiling-down takes a few hours and has to be watched. I do it when I have other processing tasks to do in the kitchen. Boil, boil, boil, until finally the  stock looks darker and thicker and is reduced to a fraction of its former volume. Don’t let it burn, which it will readily do when it’s really concentrated. Thick bubbles in clusters will form. Pour it out into a square baking pan, chill a few hours, and see if it sets stiffly. If not, put it back in a saucepan and boil some more, then test again. After you have done it a few times, you can tell by looking at the bubbles when it’s ready to gel.

Once chilled and stiff, cut into cubes, put them on wax paper on a baking sheet, freeze, and put in a plastic bag in the freezer.

Now comes the fun part. Have some chicken (maybe PerfectSkin Chicken,) and a vegetable but no real union between them? Deglaze the chicken-frying pan with white wine, boil it down hard with a cube of chicken glacé, add half a cup of heavy cream and boil that down hard until it thickens, taste and adjust seasoning. Simple as that. I often like a bit of fresh chopped thyme with chicken, but suit yourself. Below you see a simple pan sauce made this way serving to unite chicken with pan-grilled oyster mushrooms. I like to nap the plate with the sauce rather than pouring it on top, to preserve the exquisite crunch of the skin.
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Don’t be afraid to boil your pan sauces briefly but hard; that’s what makes them thicken with no flour. Always swirl in a bit of butter at the end for finesse and polish. Don’t ever take your eyes off them during the boiling-down or disaster may ensue, but it only takes a couple of minutes, while if you had no chicken glacé and used a cup of stock, it would take a lot longer to boil down and wouldn’t be as good. The chicken glacé will thicken the amalgam just enough that your stirring leaves pan bottom exposed for a moment, and that’s perfect.
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