Archive for Food

It’s what you do eat, not what you don’t.

So I don’t like the starvation mentality among health-conscious people: don’t eat this, don’t eat that, maybe eat a bit of that but not too much… There’s a lot of poison out there masquerading as food, it’s true, but if you take that approach too far, you’ll become a freaked-out, paranoid hermit.

So.

Think about what you do eat more than you think about what you don’t eat. Do eat real food, plenty of it. Eat a lot of vegetables, more than you might think is reasonable: big piles at every meal. Eat bright and dark colored plants, lots of them. Eat the cleanest meat you can find, including grass-fed red meat. Eat all different parts of the animal, especially “organ meats.” (Yes, eat liver.) Eat fermented foods, all different kinds, as often as you can.

If you eat enough of those foods, you won’t have much room left for poison, and you’ll be better equipped to deal with the poison you do encounter. And you can’t avoid poison these days. You really can’t. (You do breathe, right?)

I’m not much of a video-watcher, but this talk from TEDxIowaCity gets to the point. Terry Wahls is inspiring: she came back from progressive MS, which is almost unheard of, and she’s a plainspoken doctor who knows what she’s talking about.

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Lovely leftovers: pasties!

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My great-great-great grandmother Mary Ann Hawkey was a tin-dresser in the Cornwall mines when she was a child. Her whole family worked in the mines, and as far as I can tell, their ancestors had been tin miners since anyone thought to write these things down.

The Cornish tin miners’ great culinary claim to fame is the pasty (pronounced like “past” as in “past tense”). It’s just a turnover, filled with meat and vegetables, easy to eat down in the mines.

Now, I’ll be branded a heretic for saying so, but you can fill a pasty with anything. Leftovers are perfect. And you can use any kind of dough to make a pasty — leftover bread dough, pie crust, whatever you like.

For these, I used some sourdough I had in the fridge, filled with leftover beef stew (cooked down a bit to reduce the liquid). Perfect lunch!

(Reminds me of another perfect, simple meal a few years ago.)

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Victory: gluten-free bread with no weird gums in it.

bread

Since so many people have trouble with gluten these days, I’ve been trying to learn about gluten-free baking. There are some good resources out there (Gluten Free Girl is great), but the recipes usually include things I don’t have in my kitchen, like xanthan gum and guar gum, and lots of obscure starches.

Gluten-free bread is supposed to be impossible without these slimy, gummy additives: they create the structure that allows the bread to rise. Hmmm. I know something else that’s real slimy. Why not try to use the slime in flax seed instead?

Today I made gluten-free bread with ingredients I already had around the kitchen. And it’s good! It tastes good! It looks like bread, it tastes like bread, it has no gluten in it, and it was easy to make.

Since it was my first try and I wasn’t really expecting it to work, I just made a small loaf and didn’t measure very well, but here’s the gist of what I did:

Whip up a few (I think it was two or three) leftover egg whites with two small eggs. Add about a half a cup of milk, some salt (maybe 1/2 tsp? maybe a bit more?), and a little dry yeast (again, maybe 1/2 tsp). Whip again.

Grind up about half a cup of flaxseeds in the blender. Whisk them into the egg-milk mixture. Let them sit for a few minutes to get nice and slimy.

In the meantime, grind up about the same amount of millet in the blender. Add it to the flax-egg-milk mixture. Let it sit for a few minutes to absorb.

Now mix in somewhere between 1/2 and 1 cup of tapioca flour. The dough should be wetter than a non-gluten bread dough, but it should be nice and sticky and stretchy from the eggs and flax.

Let it rise in a warmish place for, say, 45 minutes.

Put it in a small greased breadpan, muffin tin, or other baking dish, and let it rise for, oh, maybe half an hour.

Bake at 450 for about half an hour, or until it’s nice and brown and smells good and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.

Happy new year!

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Summer is for pickles: cucumber, pepper, carrot, bean, beet.

summer pickles

Summer is pickling time.

From left to right: dill pickles, pickled banana peppers, spicy carrot pickles, dill beans, and that’s beet kvass in the back.

These are all fermented pickles — brine pickles, as my great-grandmother would say.

To make brine pickles, put vegetables and spices in a jar or crock (it works better if you put the spices in first, so they don’t float to the top so much), and pour brine over them until they’re submerged. Keep them submerged (with a jar or a rock or a plate — something nonreactive) while the pickle ferments. Cover the top with a cloth to keep the flies out. Take a peek every day, and skim off any scum or mold that develops.

How long the vegetables take to pickle depends on how strong a brine you use. For medium-small pieces of vegetable, I like about 2–3 tablespoons of salt per quart of water. This is a light brine, and the pickles should be ready in less than a week at summer room temperatures (60 at night; 80 in the daytime, where I live). If you live in a warmer place, or you want the pickles to keep a long time, use more salt.

Spice mixes depend on your taste.

For dill (cucumber) pickles, I like dill, garlic, peppercorns, cinnamon, allspice, hot pepper, bay. I use pretty much the same mix for dill beans.

For the banana peppers, I used onions and bay leaves. (Note that if you want thick-skinned peppers like these to ferment/pickle properly, you need to slice them open so the brine can get inside.)

For the carrots (which are an attempt to emulate the lovely pickled carrots at Tartine in San Francisco), I used a lot of hot pepper, onions, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme.

I don’t add spices to the beet kvass, which is a beet-flavored drink, rather than a pickle, really.

To keep pickles crisp (especially important for cucumbers), add a handful of grape, cherry, oak or other tannic leaves to the mix.

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Wild broccoli: creasy greens flower buds.

creasygreens

When I was a tiny kid I used to love climbing around the hillside above our pasture looking for creasy greens in the early spring. 

I still love creasy greens.

Creasy greens are Barbarea verna, in the mustard family. They taste a little mustardy, a little sweet, a little bitter. Reminiscent of very young collards, but wilder. 

I like to pick them when they’re about to bloom, when they’re a lot like “wild broccoli” (or broccolini, rapini, broccoli raab, or whatever they’re calling it these days). 

Wander over old fields or woods edges, find creasy bunches that are about to bloom (here’s a picture), and pick the buds, plus a few inches of tender stem. Cook them any way you like, but I think they’re especially good in a frittata with some ramp greens, or green garlic.

Here’s how:

Pick creasy greens buds. Rinse if necessary.

Saute in fat of choice (schmalz, lard, butter, or olive oil) with some ramp greens, green garlic, or onions.

When cooked through, add a few eggs that are slightly beaten and seasoned to taste. (Remember, frittata should be mostly vegetables. You don’t want to use so much egg that you overwhelm the filling. Egg is there to hold it together. As the boy says, “Frittata is not an egg dish.”)

You can cook the frittata on top of the stove for a bit, then finish it under the broiler, or you can do it the Italian way: once it’s set well on the bottom, detach it and turn it over in the pan to finish cooking.

Either way, it’s rather tasty.

We had some the other day with cold baked potatoes and homemade ramp mayonnaise, and some spring greens. (The mayonnaise was good on everything, including the frittata. Eggs on eggs — it must be spring!)

frittata

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Spring supper, Appalachian style.

rampsandbeans.JPGThere’s nothing so West Virginian as ramps and beans. Especially with cornbread. And especially when all the ingredients come from your own land, or just down the road.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are the national food of West Virginia. The proper term for a serving of ramps is a “mess.” (As in this sentence, from my neighbor the other day: “I don’t dig too many ramps. I’ll have a few messes, but then I get tired of digging ’em.”)

People say ramps will make you stink, but that’s not necessarily so. Cooked ramps won’t give you any more odor than cooked garlic will. (The scent of a big mess of raw ramps, on the other hand, will come out on your skin the next day.)

Ramps have always been a backwoods thing, and fancy town people tend to be scared of them. I know someone who runs a nice restaurant not too far from here, and she tells me that when the place first opened, she naïvely put ramp quiche on the menu. She didn’t sell a single serving. (Customers recoiled in horror: “But I’ll stink!”) Now she’s wised up. She calls them “wild leeks” and they’re, ahem, wildly popular.

Now, non-Appalachian fancy people are all about ramps these days. They’re trendy in New York, where I’m told they go for $30 a pound. This is a worrying development, because ramps are not easily farmed, and they’re very vulnerable to depletion in their wild habitat. If you do harvest ramps, only pick where they’re very abundant, and only take one or two from each patch. If they aren’t super-abundant where you are, consider picking only leaves, or leaving the bottom quarter-inch of bulb in the ground to regenerate.

We’re lucky to have a big bag of ramps in the fridge right now, so we’ve been putting them in everything. (Eggs, soups, greens pizza, pesto — everything but ice cream. My sister pickled some and served them in Bloody Marys at Easter.) But ramps and beans are still my favorite. With cornbread. Southern, crispy-crumbly all-stoneground-corn cornbread. 

Make your own:

Soak and cook your beans. (I used tiger eye beans from last year’s garden, but ramps are good with any brown or white beans.) Salt them well. Set aside.

Clean ramps well. Chop, and saute in good local lard or bacon drippings. (Schmalz is good, too, if pigs aren’t your thing.) When the ramps are cooked to your liking, add the beans. Simmer a bit.

For the cornbread, heat your oven to 400F or so, and put a nice number 12 cast iron skillet in there to get hot (yeah, you can use any baking dish, but a good hot skillet makes it crispy like it should be). Make sure you have fresh, coarse stoneground cornmeal. (We’re lucky to be able to get old-time multicolored “bloody butcher” corn from a local miller.) Mix about 2 cups of cornmeal with a teaspoon of salt and a little less than a teaspoon soda. Add about a cup and a half of buttermilk or sour milk (yogurt works too), an egg, and a couple of tablespoons of melted fat (lard, bacon drippings, schmalz or butter). Mix it all up and bake it in the hot skillet for, oh, a half hour or so, or until it’s nice and brown. This is a really flexible recipe. You can mess with the ingredients a lot without much trouble. (The other night we were out of eggs, and the cornbread came out perfectly tasty without them.)

Eat!

(We had some of last year’s hard cider with ours. A perfect meal!)

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Citrus season: marmalade!

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My cousin Nina is a marmalade queen. All winter, it seemed, she had a pot of marmalade bubbling on the back of her stove.

She inspired me and the boy to make several big batches of the lovely stuff before we left the land of local citrus.

We did four kinds: ponderosa lemon, bitter seville orange, bergamot, and blood orange (left to right in the picture). They taste nothing alike, and they are all incredibly tasty. The lemon is bright and fresh, very thick and pectiny. The seville orange is a classic marmalade, orangey with a sharp edge. The bergamot is incredibly fragrant and strong, with thick, chewy pieces of rind. And the blood orange is sweet and spicy and soft, absolutely amazing on ice cream.

It’s very easy to make marmalade. Here’s my lazy method:

Slice your citrus. (Make the pieces about the size of the chunks of peel you’d like to have in the finished marmalade.)

Take the seeds out as you slice. Put them in a small muslin bag, or tie them up in cheesecloth. (They provide your pectin! If you don’t have many seeds, as sometimes happens with eating-type oranges, add some extra seeds from another citrus.)

Put your citrus and wrapped seeds into a big, nonreactive pot (i.e., stainless steel or enamel).

Add enough water so that the citrus barely starts to float.

Simmer for forty-five minutes or so, until the pieces of peel are done to your liking.

Set aside to cool.

After the mix is cool, remove the seed bag (squeeze out all that lovely slimy pectin first).

Put your marmalade back on medium heat, and start adding sugar. (I do this by eye, and by taste, but the traditional proportions are 1 part each of citrus, water, and sugar, by weight.)

When the marmalade is as sweet as you want, keep it simmering until it reaches the texture you’d like. (To test the gel, drop a bit onto a plate and put it in the freezer for a few minutes to cool it. This will give you a good idea of what the texture will be like when it’s cooled. If you have trouble getting it to gel, you might need more sugar, or just more patience. But I say there’s nothing wrong with soft marmalade — all the better to spoon over ice cream!)

You can use one kind of citrus, or a mix. You can even add ginger like the English do sometimes. Or whatever strikes your fancy.

Have fun!

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Peek-a-boo; or: the blogger reappears with radicchio.

The blogger disappears and pops up in … San Francisco!

I’m in the Bay Area visiting family and friends. I’ve been busy trying to convince my ninety-three year-old grandfather to talk to me on tape. But in between cajoling sessions, I’ve had a chance to check out some local farmers’ markets. (How could I resist?)

Look at these lovely heads of radicchio:

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My favorite way to eat radicchio in the winter:

Quarter the heads.

Sprinkle with salt.

Heat a cast iron pan, and add a generous amount of olive oil.

Add radicchio.

Cook on low, partially covered on a back burner while you’re doing other things.

Turn the radicchio pieces every once in a while, until they’re nicely browning and melty all over.

(If they start to crisp, turn the heat down. You want them melting and carmelized, not fried.)

Yum.

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Fall treasures: hickory nuts.

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There was a lovely hickory harvest here this fall. We got almost a bushel. That’s very unusual in my experience — the squirrels usually get to them first.

I used to race the squirrels for them when I was little. Sometimes the little buggers would throw the nuts at me, and wouldn’t you know — the ones they threw were always wormy!

As you might have guessed, hickory nuts are my favorite nuts. They’re light and sweet and go well with most things.

We have a lot of nutcracking ahead of us.

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