Sunday, November 27, 2011

Waste not

I grind my own spices in an old coffee grinder. Because spices aren't really dry, they leave a residue in the grinder which is hard to clean--you can't immerse the thing, and wiping with a paper towel always misses something. To get everything out,  I grind white rice (although I suppose any dried rice will work).

This leaves me with, essentially, rice flour, lightly flavored with spices, which I used to make these crumbly flavorful crackers.

There's a nice little Thanksgiving-leftovers angle to this one as well.

Walnut-rice crackers
3/4 cup ground rice or rice flour
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
1/4 cup finely ground walnuts (or other oily nut)
1 heaping tablespoon evaporated sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 1/2 T cold butter

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
3 T cranberry sauce

Heat oven to 300f/148c

Whisk the dry ingredients, and in a separate bowl the wet ingredients. With a fork, blended the wet with the dry; you may need to do the last bit with your hand. Break it into three equal pieces and roll out each piece very very thin, using plenty of flour on the rolling surface so it doesn't stick. Paint it lightly with oil (I used walnut), then sprinkle with sea salt. Lightly roll the surface to make the salt adhere.

Using a pizza or pastry cutter, slice into 1" squares. Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake 25 minutes or until crisp.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This is a family favorite that I've never seemed to post before! So no story, just delicious pork chops! Strangely, I did post a picture of it.

Tomato-basil pork chops

1 chop per diner
per chop: 1 medium to large tomato, one small onion, handful basil leaves
1 or more large cloves of garlic, pressed
3 T butter

To prepare the meat, poke both sides of chops with fork, lightly dredge w salt, pepper, crushed garlic. Set aside. Slice onions, tomatoes and basil. Melt 2-4 tablespoons of butter (you heard me) in a large skillet. Brown the chops on both sides (a few minutes per side), then add the sliced onions to the pan, stir until they are thoroughly coated with butter. Cook until just short of carmelization. If you have any other veggies to add do it now. I had a small black bell pepper, so that went in. Before you add the tomatoes, make sure the pan is browning. If it's not, let the chops fry another few minutes . Add the tomatoes and turn down heat. Continue to sautee until a light sauce has formed. I like to lift out the tomato skins as they separate from the meat. To start creating gravy, through a splash of sherry in. You want a little bit of liquid at all times after this point. Add the fresh basil.

Start water for pasta, continue to simmer the meat while the pasta is cooking. We're using a German egg noodle tonight, but spaetzle, gnochi, or fettucini are also nice with this.

Start to finish about 40 minutes, not counting waiting for the pasta to cook. For a complete step by step time line, check out the Twitter thread, in real time: #basilporkchops.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Opting out

Six reasons to opt out of national food system:
  1. Industrial foods are lower in nutritional value.
  2. Buying from local, entrepreneurial farmers and sellers improves the local economy. Know your farmer!
  3. The US does not require that genetically modified foods be labeled as such.
  4. A pregnant teen that I know told me that she "doesn't eat vegetables."
  5. HFCS. 'nuff said.
  6. You'll never find this in a box:

Mashed summer roots
Per every 2 diners:
One large potato
3-5 radishes
1 medium parsnip
1 pat butter
1/4 cup (or so) milk, half-half, or cream
white pepper and sea salt to taste

Peel, roughly cube, and boil all until soft (you can easily slip a knife in). To cube vegetables, just cut them up along each axis-- length, width, height. Mash into a lumpy mass with a potato masher or fork, then add the butter and milk/cream. Continue to mash with the masher/fork or whip with a hand mixer on low. I don't mind lumps in my mashed potatoes, but some people like them really smooth.

Serve with meat loaf, or pan fried pork, fish or portobello mushroom.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Missing ingredients

One of the best lessons you learn from cooking a lot is utter loss of fear. Run out of a key ingredient? Too lazy to run to the market (or worse--don't realize it until you're too deep into the prep). Open the cupboard, see what's there, and substitute substitute substitute.

The other thing about cooking a lot, and about cooking SLOW (Seasonal Local Organic Whole) is that there always is something in the cupboard to substitute, and that you tend to have what might be considered unusual ingredients in a more package-oriented kitchen. I have flour made from three different grains. I know how to grind oats, and I've ground rice into powder/flour in a pinch (it makes a great addition to bulk up soup).

We don't consume much meat around here-- a pound or two a week between the two of us, and very very little of that beef, but somehow I count the days until it gets cold enough for meatloaf. And here was this wonderful chilly rainy autumn day. Meatloaf weather.

I know-- what? Cold enough for meatloaf? You never knew it was a seasonal dish, did you.

But somehow, I think of meatloaf as a wintertime meal. I almost never make it in the summer. I'd say it's because it takes a long time to bake and the kitchen gets hot, except that I've happily done canning and baking in the middle of the hottest late summer days.

There's just something about meatloaf that says "short day meal" to me--maybe my mother only made meatloaf in the autumn or something.

So I'm pulling out ingredients and jeez, I have no bread crumbs. I never run out of breadcrumbs, because I always dry out my loaf ends and crumble them up. But somehow--no bread crumbs. Hmmm. How about oats?

Autumn meatloaf
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground lamb or pork
2 small onions, diced very fine
1/2 large appled, peeled and diced very fine
1/2 c steel-cut oats
1 tablespoon honey
optional-1 large egg

1 T crushed dried orange zest
1-2 teaspoons black pepper (I used an orange-seasoned pepper I found at the spice shop)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
You can figure out your own seasonings, but don't use traditional meatloaf seasonings like oregano, which will overwhelm the apple flavor.

Preheat oven to 375F/190C

Soak the oats for 20 minutes in about 1 cup of boiling water. Drain thoroughly, then mix everything together (yes, with your hands--leave the water running so you can easily rinse them). Because the oats are so moist you don't really need the egg, but it's traditional in meatloaf and won't hurt. I didn't use one, mostly because I just forgot and it was fine. Press into a loaf or meatloaf pan (I just discovered these) and bake at 375/190 for an hour and 15 minutes.

This one of the moistest, tenderest meatloafs (meatloaves? that doesn't sound right) I've ever made, and my meatloaf is legendary.

Serve with apple mashed root vegetables: roughly cut the other half of the apple, plus 3 medium russet potatos, a medium parsnip, and a medium turnip. Boil until all are very soft (the parsnip will take a while), add a tablespoon of butter, a little milk, and a dollop of honey and mash until smooth.

A word about orange (and other citrus) zest-- always zest your oranges and lemons before you eat/use them. It makes them easier to peel, and you'll always have zest.  You can dry it on the counter (it'll take a day or two), or zap it on a paper towel for a few minutes. Store it in a jar with your spices.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Dark Days Challenge

I’m very pleased to announce I'm helping with the 5th Annual Dark Days Challenge. Along with my fellow writers at Not Dabbling in Normal we'll be working with (not so) Urban Hennery to manage it this year.

What’s the Challenge?
Cook one meal each week featuring SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients, write about it on your blog (or in the comments here, on Not Dabbling or at Urban Hennery) and email your happy recapper a link to your post.  There's more details in the post and in the right sidebar at the Urban Hennery blog.

We’re still finalizing all the details, but there are likely to be THEME WEEKS and PRIZES and a whole lot of other reasons that this will be the best challenge ever. I'll be recapping participants in the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region, since I share your challenges.

To sign up, head over here and fill in the form at the bottom of the page.  You need to sign up by December 4, although if you miss the deadline you can still follow along; you just won't be part of the recap.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up! Join in! Cook the winter blahs away with fabulous local food all winter! But seriously, I hope you’ll join us in eating locally, sustainably and fantastically well this year!

The challenge runs from Sunday, November 27th, 2011 to Saturday, March 31st, 2012; check out the Dark Days post (here it is again, in case I haven't linked it enough) for answers to questions on what constitutes "local," how to participate if you don't have a blog, etc.

How do I sign up?
Use the form here (okay, that's 5 copies of the link, if you haven't managed to find it by now, I give up) to join; and make sure to include your location so you get put into the right geographic group!

And finally, remember that pumpkin maple bread I was bragging about? Here it is--made with home-grown pumpkin, local flour and local maple syrup.

Pumpkin Maple Quick Bread

1 cup evaporated, raw, or granulated sugar
1/2 cup maple sugar ($16 a pound. Substitute regular sugar to save money)
1 cup canola oil (if you know that no one with a nut allergy will be eating it, use walnut or hazelnut oil)
1/2 cup maple syrup
½ teaspoon maple extract
3 eggs
2 cups pumpkin puree

3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (or 1 teaspoon pre-ground)
½ teaspoon allspice

Optional: 1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts or hazelnuts and/or plumped raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour two 9x5 inch Pyrex loaf pans. Tap off excess flour from the pans.

Combine the dry ingredients and set aside. Beat together the sugar, oil, maple syrup, and maple extract until smooth and completely combined. Add the eggs and beat until combined. Add the pumpkin and mix until combined. Then add the flour and mix on low speed until just combined. To plump raisins, cover them with water, then microwave for one minute. Drain thoroughly, then add to batter.

Divide the batter equally among two pans. (I made a double recipe, and used mini pans because I had them.) Bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place in the pans on a cooling rack, and allow to cool about 10 minutes before removing the loaves from the pans.

Serve with maple butter:
1/2 cup softened butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
pinch of salt

whip until completely combined

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I haven't made a meat dish in a while. This is not because I don't think you should eat meat, it's more a function of the empty nest.

In fact, I find myself cooking less and less, and struggling with quantities. Despite the fact the the kids have been on their own for four years (and one of them for 7--how did that happen?), I still find myself growing, shopping, and cooking for four. And then I have enough leftovers for days and days. Really, I could get away with cooking once or twice a week and then Wei and I just living on leftovers, like we did in college.

It's especially frustrating because right now I have tons of time--my hoped for new job did not come through (yet), and I've cut my teaching schedule back to almost nothing. So I have lots of time for cooking. But with fewer people, and less income, I really have to be careful about not wasting food.

Wasting food, of course, is practically a national pastime. About half the food grown (!) never gets to the table. All you have to do to see how cavalier we are about food is to walk through any cafeteria after lunch, or a park after a big event, to see the trash overflowing, not just with trash, but with uneaten, often perfectly good food.

The EPA has lots of suggestions about how to mitigate the problem, and resources for study. There are entire organizations dedicated to reducing food waste.

Which all seems kind of silly. Because like a lot of things, this is really in our control. Don't buy what you don't need, and eat those leftovers!

This lasted us for 3 meals:

Pork Xandaloo
Grind into a light powder:
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cardamom seeds
3 in stick cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp whole black mustard seeds
1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds (if you've got 'em)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ight brown sugar
1 Tbsp ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ground turmeric

if you like heat also use:
2 small hot peppers (like a shishito), cut fine
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix into:
5 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 cup tomato paste
up to 6 T water if needed

Pork chops, whatever cut you like. I used very thinly cut boneless center loin

10 T oil
2 large onions

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Fry onions, stirring frequently, until they are a rich, dark brown. Remove onions with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil. Sear the meat on both sides, until the fat starts to carmelize, Turn down the heat and add the sauce. It should cover the meat; if it doesn't add a little water. Bring to a simmer, then place the onions on top. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Serve over:

Garlic rice
1 cup rice
4 medium cloves garlic

Prepare rice according to package instructions. Using a garlic press, add the garlic when the water comes to a boil.