Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Michael Pollan on food and politics today

"Food is definitely one of the defining issues for this generation."

Michael Pollan in Smithsonian Magazine, June 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

Nutrition and your (future) children

Today's children are predicted to die at an earlier age than their parents.


The obesity epidemic has been a popular topic in recent years. Doctor Oz, Michelle Obama, Michael Bloomberg, your elementary school principal... everyone is getting behind the anti-obesity cause. With good reason, too.

The post-war technology revolution of the mid-twentieth century gave us things like computers, the internet, a chicken pox vaccine, and food that lasts forever. These innovations can be seen as life savers. There is a great benefit in being able to prevent hunger and starvation with food preservation. But that's just a band-aid on the wound of malnutrition. That wound becomes infected by first world diseases.

Raised on a diet of Pop-Tarts, Wendy's, and Lunchables, children today can look forward to:
  • Diabetes (1 in 3 will develop it)
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension
Chef Ann Cooper said it best:

"We are feeding our children to death." 

So, what do we do?

At home you can provide your loved ones with meals like the ones described on this blog. Jesse and I believe in consuming food in its most natural state possible. This means that when we buy food, our vegetables look like vegetables, our meat looks like meat, and our cheese is really delicious. We make what we can and buy the best that we can't. Jesse does a lot of cooking during the week to make sure we both can eat well all day. 

Not everyone has the time or the money for this, though. For parents, the National School Lunch Program provides a cheap and easy way to meet the federally required nutrition minimums for lunch and, in some cases, breakfast. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

A well-rounded meal, according to many schools, consists of reheated pizza, a thawed soft pretzel (often coated in salt and slathered with mustard to give it flavor), salty reheated corn, a cup of fruit in corn syrup, and a carton of chocolate milk. The government and the cafeteria see grains, protein, fruit, vegetables, and milk. I see sugar, sodium, and nutritionally deficient food products.

Is it any surprise that students are bouncing off the walls or slumped in their seats, borderline comatose after eating this?

Would you eat a meal like that every day?

When you trust your children's health to the lowest bidder, this is what you get. 

How Do We Fix This?

Schools and communities need to stop looking at lunch as a place to cut costs. Our children are suffering as a result of this mindset.

There are several organizations out there that are working to improve nutrition and nutrition education in schools. Nationally, organizations such as the Edible Schoolyard Project and Let's Move Salad Bars 2 Schools are bringing fresh produce into schools across the country. Here in New Jersey, City Green and the New Jersey Farm to School Network are doing the same.

These groups are bringing salad bars and gardens into school. Students are learning what real food tastes like and where it comes from. These students know milk isn't supposed to be pink, vegetables aren't supposed o be soggy, and meat comes in more forms than just patty and nugget. These students are learning to make healthier choices because they are given healthier options. Students are growing their own food and they are excited about carrots and green beans! Imagine a world where kids learn to love fresh, whole food. I imagine it's a world lacking many of the diseases and health complications listed above.

What Can You Do?

If you are connected to a school, whether as a parent, student, or staff member, you can help change the way we treat food in schools. By reaching out to organizations like the ones above or modeling their programs, you can bring fresh food into schools and change the way students view their diets. You can also establish a wellness committee, comprised of students, staff, and parents, that looks at health and nutrition in the school.

We cannot let students' diets be an afterthought in schools. We must nourish their bodies as well as their minds.

Have you had any experiences with school lunch or wellness committees? How do you feel about the way we feed our nation's students?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Gluten-Free Brownies

I've been playing around quite a bit with a brownie recipe that I found online recently, as I pointed out in our last post about brownies.  The recipe is credited to Katherine Hepburn, who is perhaps one of the most prolific movie stars of all time.  Well, was one of the most prolific movie stars of all time.  She passed away about ten years ago at the impressive age of 96.  She won four academy awards for best actress (a record that is still unbroken), and probably led the way for the 'modern woman' by way of being a strong and independent individual who dominated the public spotlight without conforming to the Hollywood standard for how a lady should act while simultaneously retaining her femininity.  Surely you must have heard of her, and even more likely you've seen her in one of her many roles.  So, what does this all have to do with brownies?

Absolutely nothing.  I liked the framework of the recipe because it uses simple, whole ingredients for the most part.  Real chocolate, butter, eggs, and not much else aside from sweetener.  The sweetener doesn't have to be processed sugar, as I established in my Jaggery Brownie experiments, and even the flour isn't a necessary component of the recipe.  You'll need some sort of flour-like substance, but given how little of the body of these brownies depend on the actual flour (1/4 cup for the whole recipe), the door is really opened for trying substitutions.

The substitutions that I made use of this time were of a granulated unrefined sugar (sucanat) for the prescribed sugar, and coconut "flour" and cocoa powder to replace the wheat flour.  This would also make the brownies free from gluten, which isn't an enormous concern of mine but is a very trendy food component to avoid these days as well as being an actual dietary concern for a small portion of the population.  More appealing to myself is the reduction or elimination of processed flour from our food.  I've been doing most of my roux with fresh spelt flour, which has a nice body and good flavor for that, but I didn't want any of that flavor to come out in these brownies.  I do use the term "coconut flour" rather loosely, as aside from being a fairly dry powder it does not perform admirably in any other format that I have tried it in thus far (thickening sauces, creating a roux, etc..)  I had heard that it was pretty decent for baking some quickbreads that don't need much body, so it seemed like a good choice here. 

So, gather up your ingredients.  The sucanat was a first for me.  It's not crystallized, but rather coarsely ground:
Much drier than jaggery, but still with a strong flavor of molasses.

 The chocolate was still some leftovers from my stash of unsweetened amazing chocolate brick, and the butter is grass fed from pastured cows milked during the summer months.
If I had a personal logo, this might be it.
The eggs, as always, are also pasture raised.  Let's just take a quick look at these gorgeous eggs.
Approaching the boundaries of food porn...I love it.
OK, enough with the somewhat unnecessary and almost completely gratuitous photos of my favorite ingredients.  Start off like before, by melting the chocolate with the butter (actual recipe is at the bottom of the page) and stirring the eggs, sucanat, and vanilla together.
Ingredient megaphoto...because I wasted all of that space earlier on egg pictures.

Also, be sure to preheat the oven and butter/flour your baking dish.  Ah, but these are gluten/flour free, so we don't want to actually flour the dish.  Coconut flour, right?  Heck no - I don't want the outside of these brownies to be covered in a chalky coating of dried out powdered coconut.  A much better idea is to dust the pan with some cocoa.
It's brilliant, really...more chocolate!
  Now, melt combine all of the ingredients (melted chocolate and butter, eggs/sucunat/vanilla, and coconut flour with a bit of sea salt) into a smooth velvety batter.  Again, use a small amount of the warm chocolate mixture to temper the eggs before combing completely to prevent a chocolate egg scramble.  (One of these days I'm just going to have to make chocolate scrambled eggs to see if they're even better than the brownies, and whether or not it pays to avoid making them at all.)
It's not completely melted yet if there's a chocolate island in your pan.
Chocolate island...my mind began to wander.  So, pour it into the prepared baking dish, bake it, and then let cool completely before cutting up the brownies for service.  Service, and lots of brownie photos.
Milk is a natural addition to this party.

Gluten-Free Brownies

  • 1 cup Sucanat
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 ounces of butter
  • 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour flour
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt (fine dry)
  • Cocoa powder for dusting
  1. Melt chocolate and butter in saucepan that is large enough for all ingredients.  Remove from heat.
  2. Combine eggs, jaggery, and vanilla.  Temper and then incorporate into the chocolate and butter pan.  Whisk in the coconut flour and salt.  Stir thoroughly to combine all ingredients.
  3. Pour into a buttered and cocoa-ed 8" x 8" baking dish and bake at 325F for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Everyday Meals: Liver and Eggs

To begin by stating the obvious, it seems as though liver and other organ meats are no longer popular choices...at least not in the circles that I frequent.  I guess that's because something like liver is a serious piece of meat.  That is, it tastes like meat, and not like some bland carrier component for the other flavors in a dish (ahem, boneless chicken breasts).  It doesn't respond well to cooking for too long.  It can be a bit more temperamental than a roast or hamburger, and it certainly doesn't stay fresh nearly as long nor does it make particularly good leftovers.

It is extremely easy to cook, though, and it cooks up very fast.  It stores well frozen, it's less expensive than most other muscular meats (even 'ground meat'), and if you take the time to look at the vitamin content of even a meager 4 ounce piece of beef liver, it might just blow your mind.  This is a serious superfood.

The trick to thinking about liver preparation, if there is in fact a trick at all, is that you really have to accept the liver as the key player...the primary ingredient.  Even a small amount added to a sauce and served over pasta will make the flavor of the sauce liver-dominant.  That's fine - liver is also delicious if prepared well and served hot. 

My favorite preparation is to simply pan-sear the liver in some butter or tallow, plate over whatever greens we happen to have handy, and top with a pasture raised egg or two.  The egg yolk provides extra healthy fats to aid in the assimilation of the fat soluble vitamins from the liver (and also adds protein and nutrients of its own). 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jaggery Brownies

Rich, chocolatey brownies...and eventually we're going to get to them.

A little while ago, Christa mentioned that she had a particular craving for some baked goods...not bread, though, something more along the lines of a pastry.  As I try my best to oblige her, the very next week I had baked some personal venison pies.
Swing and a miss...

This, apparently, was not what she had in mind. She wanted something like a cookie, or a cake, or maybe even a sweet puff pastry, but not a savory meat pie.  OK, back to the drawing board.  I will admit that I'm not much of a dessert aficionado.  I like chocolate, and I do like ice cream on occasion, but I don't really like cake or sweet pastry (with the rare exception of some pies) or cookies or brownies.

Then, inspiration came in the form of a one pound block of very fine unsweetened chocolate from my good friend, Tricia.  She's a fine artist with her own webpage that I recommend you check out while you're here.  Go ahead; I'll be here when you're done.  She needs to update it, right?

Anyway, she picked up a luscious block of rich dark goodness while she was at the store recently, and was kind enough to gift it to me on my return from a recent vacation weekend.  She's cool like that.  I decided that this was a good opportunity to try making brownies.  I was going to kill four birds with one stone:  make a baked dessert for my love without any questionable ingredients, try out the chocolate, test out the jaggery that I had recently received from Pure Indian Foods,  and attempt making brownies from scratch (something that I have never been inclined to do in the past).

I found the simplest recipe for brownies that I could which utilized real chocolate and also roughly conformed to the types of food that I prefer to prepare (no vegetable fats, etc...).  I came across this recipe and decided to run with it.  It's mostly just chocolate, butter, eggs, a minute amount of flour, sugar, and salt.  I would replace the sugar with jaggery as I try to avoid refined sugars in anything that I make.  There's a certain level of compromise inherent between the culinary preferences of Christa and myself, and sweeteners is one place where I need to get creative on occasion.  My baby does love to have her sweet tooth satisfied, whereas I could easily not keep anything sweet in the house.  Maple syrup, raw honey, dates, and (hopefully) jaggery help me to bridge the gap between satisfying her desires and providing food that I can feel good about.  This is supposed to be a dessert, anyway.

Finally, we can get on to the brownies themselves.  No, actually we need to take a look at the jaggery.  It's unlike anything that I have used before in baking.  Baking sometimes give me grief, as unlike cooking in general, baking often requires a certain level of exactness in the ratio of ingredients in order to succeed.  I was chartering new territory with a recipe that I had never tested on a dish I had never made and was already planning to substitute one of the main ingredients with something that I had only recently heard of.  Great plan.  Here's the jaggery:
 It came vacuum sealed in a plastic bag, which was a fine way to ship it.  I cut open the bag to get a closer look.

The smell was sweet and rich with molasses.  It was a little bit sticky, and not at all inclined to come out of the pouch, so I set about dumping/scraping it out with a spoon onto a plate.
The website for the product shows that jaggery as a firm block that can be grated by hand and used like a very coarse granulated sugar.  This was not a firm block.  Some of it was firmer and drier than other parts, and the moisture content obviously varied throughout the jaggery.  My kitchen was no warmer than 65F, so I don't feel like that should have been an issue regarding the consistency.
I decided to treat it more like a really moist brown sugar, and rather than attempt to grate it or use it in a 1:1 ratio of replacement for the cup of white sugar that the original recipe called for, that I would loosely pack it into a measuring cup and cut the amount down to 3/4 of a cup.
Here's my little lump of jaggery.  Sugar puck.

The jaggery is very sweet and also extremely rich, so I didn't want it to overpower the chocolate.  I just decided to go with my intuition, which was somehow at odds with my inner baking voice (IT NEEDS TO BE EXACT!  DON'T MESS WITH THE INGREDIENT RATIOS!).  I was now the Christopher Columbus of brownies; charting unknown waters of dessert baking that had actually been charted by thousands of people before me.

Now that that ordeal was over, I preheated to oven to 325 and started baking.  First thing first was to butter and then flour a 8x8" baking dish.  I wanted it to be ready when I needed it, and not the other way around.
rubbed with plenty of butter, and whatever flour sticks

The next two ingredients are something that I know a thing or six about.  I shaved two ounces of chocolate and combined them with a full stick of pastured butter.
Oh yes.
 These I melted in a saucepan over very low heat, taking care not to actually cook them.  Once melted I removed the saucepan from the heat.

 I then combined the jaggery and two pastured chicken eggs in a glass bowl and whisked them together as best as I could.  The jaggery resisted the eggs, but ultimately its resistance was futile (sorry, I had to).
still a little bit chunky, but mostly combined
  To the sugar and eggs I added some vanilla.  Real vanilla, please.  A little bit goes a long way, so there's really no need to go for an artificially vanilla-flavored product.  You'll be letting yourself down, you'll be letting me down, and you should probably feel bad about both of those things.
the good stuff
I tempered the egg/sugar/vanilla mixture by adding a little bit of the hot butter/chocolate and stirring thoroughly.  This step will prevent the formation of chocolaty scrambled eggs.

I then poured the tempered mixture into the saucepan with the remaining chocolate and butter.
To this, I added 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 teaspoon of fine dry sea salt.
Whisk the hell out of that to combine until everything is really smooth....
...and then pour the batter into the baking dish.
Place the dish into the hot oven for 40 minutes, and then let cool completely.  The bubbles are indicative of the fact that it is indeed cooked.  You won't be able to use a toothpick test on these as they are very fudgy (as opposed to cake-like brownies, which I really don't like as a function of not liking cake).  
One they are cool, all you have to do is slice them, stack them, and then take unrealistically presented photographs of brownies stacked on your kitchen table.  So fancy!

  Oh, wait, actually there's the big blob of sticky jaggery that you must figure out how to contain (I put it into a ziploc freezer bag and stuck it on the shelf until next time) and a sink that is now filled with dirty dishes because you made brownies from scratch instead of opening a packet.
It's cool, I got this.
The verdict?  They seem to be pretty good.  I tried a couple of them, and Trish gave her seal of approval in the gym today.  The jaggery increases the depth of flavor, and the amount that I used definitely produced a sweet brownie but it was not cloyingly so.  The real test will be when Christa tries them out this week, as she has been very busy this weekend away obtaining her AASI instructor certification.  I'm very proud of her for that, so I want to have something baked for her when she returns...and not a meat pie.

Jaggery Brownies

  • 3/4 cup jaggery
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 ounces of butter
  • 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt (fine dry)
  1. Melt chocolate and butter in saucepan that is large enough for all ingredients.  Remove from heat.
  2. Combine eggs, jaggery, and vanilla.  Temper and then incorporate into the chocolate and butter pan.  Whisk in the flour and salt.  Stir thoroughly to combine all ingredients.
  3. Pour into a buttered and floured 8" x 8" baking dish and bake at 325F for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving.
  4. Wash all of those dishes.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Everyday Meals: Soured Oats and Eggs

While we normally post the highlights of our culinary endeavors, I feel like it serves to reason that we can share the kinds of meals that we eat with regularity - dishes that we have in between the venison pot pies and the more extravagant creations such as buffalo chicken calzones and braised oxtail. 

Christa can attest that when I make food for her and for myself that I make it from scratch, but we don't always have time for elaborate meals that take 6+ hours to prepare.  There are two ways that I ensure that we always have good homemade food during the week even when we are both crunched for time:  batch cooking and quick go-to meals.

Batch cooking is very useful, because it allows me to spend the same amount of time that I might otherwise use to make 2 meals and instead prepare 8 meals.  It doesn't necessarily take any longer to increase the amount of food prepped in one recipe, and in the long run it saves time as I am only cooking for two.  By cooking a whole roast, several quarts of soup, or entire roasted chickens, we can then get many meals out of that one recipe by eating leftovers during the week and also by freezing portions for use in the future.  Freezing and storage is particularly handy as it allows for us to have a variety of meals, rather than eating the same thing all week (which can get boring no matter how good it tasted at first).  I'll get more into ways to maximize the efforts of freezing and storage of batch cooking in the future, but let's talk about the other simple way to always have fresh, real food at hand.

Quick go-to meals are more the focus of this post.  These are things that can be thrown together quickly, and often times do not benefit from longer cooking at all.  This are the kind of meals that we make for breakfast while getting packed for work; the kind of meals that we'll make on a rushed evening when there's nothing cooked in the fridge (like this week after returning from a 4-day weekend vacation).  They're also usually cheap...much cheaper than prepackaged convenient foods, and more importantly, they're health real food.

Most mornings, I put together oatmeal for Christa.  She prefers the cracked oats as opposed to the rolled, and we both prefer to sour our grains before cooking (unless they're sprouted).  Soaking the oats to sour them makes cooking much faster in the morning.  Just put them in a put or a jar, add three times as much water as oats, add a splash of raw vinegar, and leave them covered on the counter at room temperature for 1-2 days.  Put them on the stove in the morning and the soaked oats will cook up in less than 5 minutes into a creamy and exquisitely flavored porridge.  Add butter and/or maple syrup to taste, and serve them with a glass of whole creamline milk and a pair of gently cooked pastured chicken eggs for a really excellent start to the day that costs less than a "fast-food" breakfast and is infinitely more nourishing.

15 minutes of actual cook time for something that we could eat every morning

So, for those of you that are more curious about what it is that we're eating, and want a closer look at the philosophy and reasoning behind it, stay tuned for updates on everyday meals.  When we slow down enough to take a picture, we'll be sure to write about them.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Major Award!

This caption is lost on our illiterate readers, but they appreciate the photos.
The experience of 'blogging' is still relatively new to me.  I suppose that we've reached a point in our culture where blogging is just another actual verb and does not require the quotation marks, so perhaps I will drop them from here on out.  You'll have to forgive me if I end up using them later; I still remember growing up in a time where no one had a cell phone and we didn't waste time on the internet because there was nothing on the internet to waste time on...and nobody was using it.  Cats were generally less famous.  Looking back now, I'm actually grateful that my own childhood was bereft of these things, though I am beginning to digress from the topic at hand.

So, blogging.  Christa had actually set-up the blog itself.  She chose the formatting and put it together, established the theme and wrote the initial description and first post.  I had assumed that while I would do most of the cooking, she would in fact take care of the technical side of things and do most of the posting.  She is a child of the cellular/internet age...a digital native.  She is also well versed in maintaining a blog, as she has had her own for years, and has kept journals for longer than I have known her.  Thus, as I'm now writing my 20-somethingeth post (and I know that's not many, but as I pointed out I'm still new to this), I just had to take a moment to think about how much more involved I have become in the writing/blogging end of things.  I've never kept a journal, I've never really had any kind of public forum such as this before to express myself, and it seems that I had no idea that it was something that I was missing.  I really enjoy this, and it turns out that this has become one of the many ways in which Christa has brought joy into my life.

Now that I'm actively blogging an really enjoying myself doing so, I have found that I am really generally interested in things like how many visitors actually come here, and who is reading what we have to say.  It's a pretty young blog without any revolutionary content, so that number is still 'not many', and I'm pretty sure that most of them are friends and family.  That's cool, though, because we aren't really trying to reach the world just yet, but to share our experiences with food and share some tasty recipes that are legitimately healthy.  Our friends and families are really our target market in that regard. 

Now, allow me to finally get to the meaning behind the title of this post.  (No recipes today, I'm afraid, but I did make some killer venison pot pies that will be up sometime soon.)  Very recently, an external factor recognized the legitimacy of what we are doing here.  I had written to Pure Indian Foods in order to inquire about obtaining a product sample for review on our site.  They had posted an open invitation to do so on another social media website, so I decided that I had nothing to lose in submitting our little blog for their potential approval.  I had found out about this company for several reasons.  I am a fan of ghee, but the only ghee that I have used has been that which I've rendered myself, so I was curious about trying a prepared product.  Their ghee is certified organic from grass fed cows, so that fit in with my own nutritional ethics.  Additionally, they offer a naturally condensed cane sugar product called jagger, which is essentially pressed sugarcane juice that is naturally evaporated (not separated, not refined; all minerals still intact).  Baking sweets can be challenging with only natural and unrefined sweeteners.  Maple syrup does impart additional flavors, and you can't really bake with raw honey because once it is heated it's no longer raw.  One more bonus - they're actually a local family run business, based out of Princeton. 

We're under no obligation to crack this open, but we will.
I decided that I had nothing to lose by inquiring about sampling their ghee and their jaggery, but I really didn't expect to receive anything.  Call it an exercise in rejection.  However, I was really excited to find out that they had decided to select us to review some samples, and were shipping out ghee and jaggery.  So, it's not a major award, but it felt good to have what we are doing validated in that way.  Of course, I'm also extremely excited to try these out in all kinds of recipes.  Some things I already have in mind, and for others I'm hoping for some feedback from you.  So please, if you happen to be in our core audience, or just wandered in from someplace near or far, I'm hoping that you'll take a moment to leave some suggestions down below in the comment section of what we can do with these two foods; particularly the jaggery as I have never used it before.  I found a couple of rice dishes, and I might also try to use it next time that I make pumpkin pie (which I promise to put up here as a recipe post).  My pie crust is pretty fantastic if I do say so myself.  Which I just did. 

Oh, so I have to add this down here.  Disclaimer: Pure Indian Foods provided me with a free sample of this product to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose. Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a product giveaway in return for the free product.

I closing, another photo for those of you who can't read, or are in fact fantastic readers but also like looking at pictures, or just managed to make it all the way to the end of this posting. 
Gratuitous shot of the aforementioned pot pies and pie crust.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sprouting Grains

It is only fairly recently that I have begun incorporating sprouted grains into my own diet, and now by extension we have both begun to enjoy them with some regularity.  It wasn't really the mystery of the process that had prevented me from attempting to do so in the past, but rather the lack of any real need.  Personally, I don't have a great deal of desire for most breads or cereal grains.  Once I changed my dietary habits years ago, I found that I didn't really miss bread all that much, and that while I have no issues with gluten or any other component of wheat, I just rarely had the desire.  This is not to say that I don't appreciate a good piece of bread (or pizza  or pie crust) every now and again, and I did go through a serious baking kick a couple of years ago where I finally figured out how to consistently produce good leavened breads in my own kitchen, but given my own natural food predilections, I could and do easily go months in between having any baked good or really any grains in general.  The one exception to this is oats; I really like oats and I eat them all of the time (usually soured), but oats are good enough for me and I never grow tired of them.

Christa likes bread a whole lot, though.  She is also generally a big fan of cereal grains and pasta in particular.  It was partially due to this that after putting together a batch of tabbouleh together one afternoon that I started to consider some healthy grain options that we could both enjoy together.  I like the idea of sprouting grains for the same reason that I like to sour my oats - make the nutritional quality greater for the same amount of calories with just a little extra investment of time.

Grains are cheap, too, relatively speaking.  This appeals to me, because quality pasture raised animal products (meat, milk, eggs...) are not.  It's good to be able to make up the balance of one's caloric needs with something that only costs a couple of bucks at most per pound.  I decided to go with hard winter wheat berries, as they were only about $1.50/lb and I thought that we might be able to use them in much the same way as bulgur.

The procedure is very simple, and I'm happy to say that even on my first attempt that I had a great batch of wheat sprouts.  I usually sprout about a cup of wheat each week, which gets us through for a couple of servings.  In order to sprout wheat, or by extension just about any other whole grain, you'll need a jar of some sort with a semipermeable cover that will allow water and air to circulate while containing the grains.  I use an old glass jar that I saved and make a makeshift cover out of a rubber band and some cheesecloth. 
The first thing that you'll need to do is to soak the grains in warm water for about 8-12 hours.  This will rehydrate them and initiate the sprouting process.  You can see below how the grains have plumped up a bit after the initial soaking period.
Now, pour the water off of the grains, rinse again with warm water, drain, and place them in a dark spot (I used my food dehydrator because it is on the kitchen counter already and is quite dark inside).  Any box or even a paper bag would be just fine.  Lay the jar on its side as shown, in order to give the grains room and to allow air to circulate around them to avoid growing mold.
Now, every 12 hours simple rinse off the grains with more fresh warm water, drain, and return them to dark storage.  The rinsing keeps them moist without soaking them (an entirely different process).  Within 2-4 days, depending on the grain and the temperature, the grains will have sprouted.  You can see below how these have just barely begun to sprout.  Note the small white protrusions. 
In another 12-24 hours, they look like this when I do wheat:
This is when I stop the process by placing the sprouts in the refrigerator in a covered container to be used in cold salads (toss with parsley, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar), or steam them and coat with butter and salt, or maple syrup, honey, or anything else that you might put on a hot breakfast cereal.  Use your imagination with these; wheat is a fairly blank canvas (though the sprouted wheat does have a really excellent flavor and texture without the addition of anything else).  The sprouts will keep for several days once refrigerated.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creamy Potato Bacon Soup

 This soup really is a heavily bastardized version of caldo verde.  I'm very familiar with this fact, as I started out a few years ago making caldo verde, and it has finally evolved into this slightly different version that you see below.  I like the play of the bacon to the potatoes more so than any sausage that I have tried, and a good quality raw cheddar cheese seemed like a natural topping for a soup that already tasted like a bacon stuffed baked potato.

To start, get yourself a big sack of potatoes.  I would highly recommend going with a gold potato or even a red potato, as baking or russet potatoes don't really lend themselves well to this recipe.  Below you'll see that I went with some beautiful yukon golds.
Yukon Gold, baby.
Due to the fact that I happened to be in the midst of making a chicken stock while preparing this soup, I scrubbed the potatoes very well so that I could save the skins to add to the stock.  I then set up a peeling station, because 5 pounds of #1 potatoes takes a while to peel.  Once peeled, I put the potatoes into a large bowl filled with cold water and some ascorbic acid.  I did this to prevent them from oxidizing while I was working on the rest of the ingredients (of which there really aren't many).  Some lemon juice in the water, or even just the plain cold water by itself would work fine if you don't have any ascorbic acid or vitamin C laying around.  I did.
My dad used to tell me how much fun he had peeling potatoes in the navy.
Once the potatoes were peeled, I then cut them in half lengthwise and then into 1/4" thick slices.  I returned the slices of potato to the large bowl of cold water.  After that, I chopped this marvelous 18 ounce pack of thick, apple-wood smoked bacon into a small dice.
Bacon has magical properties on the internet, right?
I then tossed the diced bacon into a very large pan and let it brown.
Looking Good
Looking Better.  We can just stop here, right?
After the bacon got crispy, I removed it and placed it in a small bowl to just hang out for a while.  I also drained most of the bacon grease out of the pan.  This bacon grease went into the fridge, where it is still performing feats of awesomeness, such as frying eggs or being slathered all over whole chickens before roasting.  I did leave a few tablespoons of the bacon grease in the pan, and to this I added the drained potato slices.
While the potatoes were frying in the bacon fat...hang on, let me just savor the thought...I poured the liquid that I had used to soak the potatoes into a small saucepan and reduced it in volume to roughly one quart.  I was going to need some extra liquid, and rather than just add water I thought that it would be much more sensible to use the water that was already full of potato starch and any other enrichment that may have leached out of the potatoes while they were soaking.  Once the potatoes had browned just slightly, I poured this reduced liquid into the potato pan.
I also added a quart of rich beef stock for a heavy dose of nutrients and some excellent background flavor notes.  Chicken stock would work very well, too. 
If I can put bone stock into something, I will put bone stock into something.
Once the potatoes were well established in copious amounts of liquid, I turned the heat down and let them simmer while I ate all of the bacon.  Just kidding.  I simmered the potatoes until they were very soft, and then blended them along with the cooking liquid until velvety smooth.  I incorporated the bacon pieces back into the creamed potatoes and poured the whole mess into my slow cooker in order to let the flavors meld together for a few hours at a low temperature.  You don't need to use a slow cooker, but I did so that I could just walk away from the whole operation without fear of having anything burn.
Just hanging out and getting friendly
At some point in time I think that I took a nap.  I undoubtedly wasted some time on the internet.  However, I'm sure that I took a large bunch of lacinato kale that I had washed and sliced the rubs out of the leaves before cutting leaves into fairly fine slices.  I used lacinato kale because it sounds much more pretentious than regular kale.  Regular kale is for chumps, right?  This is a blog about food, so I felt obligated to opt for the fancier version of this robust leafy green.  Feel free to use regular kale when you make your own version, but be sure to tell your friends and loved ones that you used regular old kale because you truly don't give a damn about them.  Meanwhile I will continue to use my fancy kale.

OK, the lacinato is also a darker color and is not as crinkly, so it does look a lot better in soups like this.  That's actually what drew me to it in the first place.  Anyway, shortly before it's time to serve, stir the sliced kale into the soup and just cook it for about 10-15 minutes at most.  It will turn a very mice shade of green and be soft without totally falling apart.  The soup is very rich and savory, and the sturdy green of the kale (lacinato or otherwise) juxtaposes this in a wonderful way.  I elected to top the soup with some freshly shredded raw cheddar cheese, which was very good, or you can omit the cheese and just enjoy it how it is.  I put it into a hot thermos and sent it off with Christa for lunch.

So, in summary:

Creamy Potato Bacon Soup

  • 5 lbs of yellow potatoes
  • 16-18 ounces of good thick cut bacon
  • 1 quart of beef stock
  • 1 head of lacinato kale (or regular kale)
  • cheddar cheese to taste (optional)

1)  Peel potatoes and place in bowl of cool water with some vitamin C (to prevent oxidation)
2)  Cut potatoes into 1/4" thick slices and return to water to continue soaking.
3)  Dice the bacon and fry until crispy.  Remove the bacon from the pan, and reserve all but 2-3 tablespoons of the bacon grease for other projects.  In this 2-3 tablespoons of grease, toss the sliced potatoes to brown.  Meanwhile, reduce the soaking water to roughly one quart in volume.
4)  Once potatoes are brown, add reduced water and beef stock.  Simmer until the potatoes are soft.
5)  Blend the potatoes in their cooking liquid until smooth.  Add the bacon to this and simmer for a few hours to meld the flavors together.  I used a slow cooker for this part of the process because it was just much easier than manning a pot.
6)  Shortly before serving, stir the sliced kale into the soup to cook.  It won't take long for the kale to turn emerald green.  Ladle into bowls and top with shredded cheddar cheese.