Category: Recipes

Sourdough Mornings

I confess to being intimidated by sourdough bread. I have never made a loaf that I’ve loved. And the chapters that I encounter in such books as Rose Levy Barnbaum’s excellent Bread Bible don’t make me any more confident. Pages upon pages of discussion and recipes!

Consider instead this account from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Shores of Silver Lake:

“But how do you make sourdough?” Mrs. Boast asked. “You start it,” said Ma, “by putting some flour and warm water in a jar and letting it stand till it sours.”  “Then when you use it, always leave a little,” said Laura. “And put in the scraps of biscuit dough, like this, and more warm water,” Laura put in the warm water, “and cover it,” she put the clean cloth and the plate on the jar, “and just set it in a warm place,” she set it on its place on the shelf by the stove. “And it’s always ready to use, whenever you want it.”

I’ve never tried starting my own and it certainly sounds easy. However I suspect that we live in a much more sterilized environment than Laura did and that getting the right yeasts into the starter are a greater matter of luck and persistence than they used to be. There are ways around this, of course: find a friend who bakes with sourdough regularly and use some of their starter, or even buy some online from a fine source such as GEM Cultures in Redmond, WA (they’re great, they also have fun dairy cultures, and a “cultured crepe” starter that I’d like try sometime).

For now, I’ve shelved my sourdough bread ambitions. Where I have actually shone a bit more is in the world of sourdough pancakes and waffles. Yum! The flavor is incomparable. I’ll start by discussing these, and then move on to the easier substitute that I’m using right now. Because sourdough is sort of like a pet, you have to feed it and you can’t leave it when you and your almost 3-year old son and 2-month old fetus go to Seattle for a month. It will die. And then, being pregnant and distracted by work and said 3-year old, you won’t have time or energy to cultivate, borrow, or even order a new one. So you find reasonable substitutes. But I still miss the flavor of the real thing, and I’m planning to bring it back into my kitchen as soon as I think I’m ready for the responsibility again.

Sourdough Starter

Sourdough is a living thing. It requires food (flour, and I think it has to be gluten-ful flour; typically I use whole wheat or rye) water, and warmth. The fridge is a great way to hibernate the starter in between uses, but don’t let it hibernate too long. I think one week in the fridge is the longest I’d go without refreshing. And depending on the time of year and your weather, you will need to keep it out of the fridge longer to re-awaken it. If you plan to use sourdough regularly it is worth keeping notes on weather, the food you give the starter, and the results you get so that you can perfect your pancakes to your liking in your home environment.

Refreshing the Starter

I add one cup of flour (I prefer to use whole wheat flour or rye flour) and 1 cup room temperature filtered/distilled water (or well water, so long as it’s not water with fluoride or any treatment that might interfere with the sourdough) to the starter in a bowl and let it sit covered with a thin, clean cloth overnight in a warm place. In the winter that means near the wood stove, in the summer that’s usually on the kitchen counter. In the morning I take 1/2 to 1 cup’s worth of the refreshed starter and set that in a jar – I usually put it in a half-pint glass jar, and that amount should come up past the midway point but well below the top of the jar. That goes in the fridge, and I leave the rest in the bowl and start adding ingredients…

Pancakes

 – refreshed starter, I usually end up with a generous cup or so after setting aside some starter for next time
 – 1 egg, although you can also do 2 eggs for more richness
 – glug of maple syrup, depends on how sweet you like your batter
 – 2 T or so of melted butter or some other fat (bacon grease and coconut oil are both quite delicious)
 – generous dash of sea salt
 – 1 tsp or so of baking soda – depends on how active the starter is, the batter should produce some lively rising a few moments after adding baking soda… if it doesn’t, I would add some yogurt or buttermilk to the batter and then a touch more soda
 – anything else! – sometimes I add almond meal or flax seed, cornmeal, mashed banana, diced apple. You could even finely grate some leftover veggie bits for a more savory-style pancake. And depending on the thickness you want for the batter you could add more milk or more flour
 – and they just don’t taste quite right if you use something other than a cast-iron skillet. If you don’t have one, stop reading and go buy/find/steal one. Then come back and start reading again.
 – top with yogurt, fresh fruit, maple syrup, a fried egg, jam, marmalade, whatever sounds right for the day!

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Waffles

 – follow recipe for pancakes above, except separate the egg(s) and stir just the yolk in, and then beat the egg white(s) until soft peaks form and fold this in as the last ingredient
 * I like to double this recipe and make extra waffles for freezing. Then you can pop them in the toaster for a quick and easy breakfast!

Crepes

 – follow recipe for pancakes above, except add more eggs (start with 4 but feel free to experiment)
 – thin the batter out with milk, half and half, or cream until it’s much more pourable than pancake batter (again, experiment until you get the thickness that you like!)
 – and if you want really nicely-textured crepes, pass the batter through a sieve
 – be sure to keep the size of the crepes small until you get the hang of flipping them, or unless you have a crepe iron and a long-handled flipping thing. These are quite fun and are definitely on the short list of kitchen toys that I dream about.
Sourdough Substitutions
Now if, like me, you have killed your starter or simply are not inclined to have a pet right now, there are a couple of options:
First, you can use buttermilk or soured milk for more tang in your batter. Obviously, this is the easiest option but as is true of so much in life, the easiest option produces the most lackluster result.
Second, you can let your flour sit overnight with buttermilk, soured milk, or yogurt. This takes a bit more planning but produces a better tang than the first option. I use a cup to cup ratio of flour to liquid. This is from Nourishing Traditions, but a similar preparation can be found under the heading “Soaked Pancakes” in this article on the Weston A. Price Foundation website.
One cup of flour and one cup of liquid pretty much yields one cup of sourdough starter, so start there and then follow the recipes above. And the last caveat? If you add baking soda and aren’t seeing much rise, throw in a pinch of baking powder.
Alright, go add a bit of sour fun to your morning!

Heavenly Preserves

I made two pint jars of strawberry preserves last summer. We opened the first jar Christmas Day to go with our pancake breakfast and only finished the jar midway through February because I was so careful. I didn’t want to go through it too quickly you see. We’re on to our second jar now, and I’m being equally stingy with this last precious jar. Perhaps you think I’m cruel to talk about summer fruit in March. Except that now is the time to wax poetic about the efforts from the summer, lest we don’t appreciate them enough! So let’s talk about these preserves…

I learned early on in life that “preserves” is another word for jam. In Anne of Avonlea, Anne discovers 6-year old Davy in Marilla’s pantry with a spoon, blissfully consuming her famous yellow plum preserves right out of the jar. After being lectured to and feeling duly guilty, Davy observes to Anne: “Anyhow, there will be plenty of jam in heaven, that’s one comfort.” “Perhaps there will, if we want it,” she said. “But what makes you think so?” “Why, it’s in the catechism,” said Davy. “Oh no, there is nothing like that in the catechism, Davy.” “But I tell you there is,” persisted Davy. “It was in that question Marilla taught me last Sunday. ‘Why should we love God?’ It says, ‘Because he makes preserves, and redeems us.’ Preserves is just the holy word for jam.” (chapter 8).

Indeed it is. Despite the grammatical confusion, Davy was on to something here. Many resources will tell you that preserves contain large chunks or pieces of fruit rather than being of a more uniform and smooth texture like jam, or a jelled texture like jelly. However, most of the actual preserve recipes I’ve seen treat preserves much like a jam and with all due respect to the cooks of the past who have canned more than I have, I have to disagree. Preserves should be the fruit itself preserved, not just some jammed or jelled up version of it. There is some use of the word “conserve” as well, but that just seems to confuse the issue. For me, I think of preserves as chunks of fruit in a small amount of syrup, jam as a more broken-down and uniform-textured fruit spread, and jelly as a… jelly.

Now, jam is lovely, especially when homemade from perfect fruit. But I think preserves are my preference on two fronts. First, as an eater – I enjoy getting the hunks of fruit, and maybe it’s warped but as a mom I sort of think James is getting more “fruit” when I ladle preserved strawberries onto his pancakes rather than spooning out strawberry jelly. Weird mom logic for sure, but there it is.

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Second, it takes so much less cooking down! That’s the real bitch of canning fruit, pardon my language. Most of the fruit we want to jam up is ripe and ready at the height of summer, when no on wants to have their stove going for more than ten minutes. I have begged fruit to thicken over a steamy stove-top at 10 o’clock on a July night (and for the record, fruit remains numb to begging, save your dignity and don’t bother trying it). So when I found a recipe for strawberry preserves that required bringing sugared strawberries to a simmer and then letting them sit overnight to thicken, doing that again in the morning and then canning it up, I was signed, sealed, delivered.

Now, if you are a lover of jam, the kind of person who collects different jams at different markets and has 3-4 open jars in the fridge at any one time, I salute you. And I think you should make tea and scones and invite me over. But for those of us who like the chunks of fruit in a thinner jell and who like to can up their own fruit but have no intention of making jam at 5am to prevent heat stroke, preserves are indeed the holy word for jam. So here’s the strawberry preserves recipe that converted me. And I guarantee, when you open the first jar sometime in the fall or early winter, it will smell like heaven.

Strawberry Preserves, from The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, p.19

  • 2 lbs fresh strawberries (about 4 cups)
  • 1 pound granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Carefully rinse the berries in a sieve or colander and then let them dry on a clean towel for 15 minutes or so. Stem and quarter them carefully. Place the strawberries in a non-reactive pot (I use an enameled cast-iron pot) and add the sugar and salt, letting them sit for at least 2 hours or overnight until the strawberries release some of their juice. Gently bring the berries to a “lively simmer” over medium heat, shaking rather than stirring the pot. Cook at that lively simmer for 12-15 minutes, just until the fruit is tender. Do not overcook! Do not cover the berries until they are completely cooled, and then let them sit overnight. The next day, bring them back to a full simmer and then ladle into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/4″ at the top. Store the preserves in a cool, dark place.

*Note #1 – I meant to double the batch but only had enough strawberries to 1.5x the batch, but forgot and carelessly added 2x the sugar, then realized my mistake and added a bit of water so the solution wouldn’t be too sugary… you get the idea. Typical, yes. But not fruitless (hee hee) as I learned something valuable. As long as the fruit is not overcooked, having extra syrup at the end of the process does not detract from the deliciousness of the preserves themselves and leaves you with a bit of strawberry syrup. Yum! I mostly used it to make strawberry milk for James, but I did try some in sparkling water for a “strawberry soda” of sorts and loved it. I’m hoping to make several different syrups this year for homemade sodas, including lemon, strawberry, and cranberry.

*Note #2 – they do not say anything about processing in a water bath and I suspect there is enough sugar that they will be fine if you consume them within 6 months. But if you’re overly cautious (and that is reasonable, botulism is worth concern) then process in a full-boil water bath for at least 5 minutes. I knew I wanted to wait until winter to start enjoying these so I canned up and did the water bath.

*Note #3 – Before writing the above with Scott Peacock, Edna Lewis included a plum preserve recipe in her The Taste of Country Cooking. I intend to try this recipe out this summer if I can get my hands on some lovely plums. Perhaps if I find some yellow plums I could make “heavenly Marilla preserves”….

Damson Preserves, from The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis, p.157

  • 3 pounds sound, blemish-free plums
  • 2 1/2 pounds sugar

Prepare plums by first washing them off, draining them carefully, and sticking each plum a few times with a stout needle. Place in preserving kettle, sprinkle over with sugar, and leave overnight. In the morning, bring the kettle to a simmer over a medium boil and continue until the plums are tender and the syrup has become thick (note: do not overcook the preserves. Cook only until fruit is tender and syrup is a clear wine plum color. If the syrup turns brown, it is overcooked.) Remove from the burner and leave preserves to rest overnight. Next morning, heat the preserves until just hot and pout them into the sterilized jars, filling the jars to 1/4″ from the top. Then pour on the melted paraffin. When the paraffin becomes set and cold, screw on the tops and place in a cool, dry place. Makes 6 5oz jars.

A Bunny and a Chicken

It all started with an Amish auction we went to in the fall. We saw some friends leaving with a couple of cages, one with two bunnies and one with two chickens. They were planning to fatten them up and eat them for dinner in the next couple of weeks. I guess James absorbed more of this conversation than I realized.

Fast forward a few weeks and we were talking about what we wanted for Christmas. James announced that he would like a bunny. We don’t have pets, and he’s shown little interest in animals, so I was a bit surprised. “Like, as a pet, or to eat?” I asked. “To eat. A bunny and a chicken.” He did not waver in his conviction that that is what he wanted for Christmas.

Fast forward again and I’d gotten my hands on three backyard-raised bunnies, skinned and cleaned by our friends from the auction. I’ve eaten rabbit before but have never cooked it, so I wanted to play with one before I launched into Christmas dinner. Now, to some degree meat is meat — as a chef friend once told me when I asked how to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey: “Season to taste, cook it ’til it’s done” (insert nonchalant, all-knowing shrug on his part, and then a slight glare on my part). I thought I’d try something a little more fun than roasted whole animal but not too daring. I portioned out the meat, which was an adventure in itself; I’ve only ever dealt with taking poultry off the bone or breaking down a large animal like goat or lamb. Without any kind of bone saw at my disposal (do they have mini-saws for smaller animals?) I left the spine and ribs intact for soup and cut large chunks off the loin and then detached the cute little arms and legs. I patted the pieces dry, dredged them in seasoned flour, and threw them in a pot to brown.

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As I removed and added pieces, a nice dark fond was developing on the bottom of the pan. Once pieces were all browned I deglazed the pan, added onions, honey, herbs, apple cider vinegar, and vegetable stock, then threw the lid on and braised the rabbit for an hour or so at 350 (you know, I seasoned it to taste and cooked it ’til it was done).

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The results? Fantastic. And the creamed rabbit gravy was not too shabby either. Rabbit stock? Also tasty.

Fast forward to Christmas dinner. A bunny and a chicken. I pretty much did the same thing I’d done with the first rabbit but I was able to fit it all into my gorgeous Christmas All-Clad 3-Quart Saute Pan and braise it on the stovetop with apples, herbs, mustard, stock and maple syrup. Also fantastic.

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I hope my kiddo continues to be an adventurous eater who appreciates trying new things and sees food as a valid and lovely gift. I learned some great tidbits as well. To sum up:

  • The rabbits we ate were only 6 weeks old but were pretty meaty and generous. They fed 4 of us at dinner comfortably. My research (aka Travis) notes that rabbits are actually one of the best return on investments in terms of meat for inputs. Unlike a cow, which takes pounds upon pounds of grass (not grain! Put down the grain-fed beef!) and water to create a certain quantity of meat, rabbits are incredibly efficient meat producers and do not require a lot of time for growth and development.
  • Rabbits are one of Heifer International’s gift options. We thought this was a nice addition to Jamie’s Christmas gift – we donated a trio of rabbits to a family in Honduras. We also found some tree seedlings to donate for Travis and a hive of honeybees for me. I thank James for starting us on what I hope will be a family tradition of food for ourselves and others at the holidays!
  • Domesticated and raised rabbit has a pleasant mild taste that lends itself well to all kinds of seasonings. It’s the other other other white meat and a great blank slate for food creativity and adventure.
  • Rabbit is decent bang for the buck. The rabbits from our friend were $20 each, which is about what I budget for a 4lb organic chicken. The poundage is definitely less than a chicken, and we did not get as much stock from the rabbit as the carcass is also smaller, but at only 6 weeks of growth the necessary inputs for a rabbit are less than a chicken so I feel that we are eating “lower on the meat chain” if you will. Rabbit will definitely become a major part of our meat diet in the short-term, and very likely part of our homesteading plan in the long-term.

For now, many thanks to James for a lovely Christmas dinner! And if you happen to find rabbit at a market or direct from a farmer, buy some. Then season to taste, cook it ’til it’s done, and enjoy.

Nog and Log, Part II

Oh I love the food at the holidays. This year was no different, complete with a cookie party full of caramel shortbread, peanut butter fudge, and rum balls, a Christmas dinner of rabbit and chicken at James’ request (look for my upcoming post on a bunny and a chicken), and new experiments in the realm of egg nog and fruitcake.

Let’s start with the nog. 

We had a Friendsgiving two weekends before Thanksgiving and I made two batches of egg nog – a non-alcoholic one to take to the dinner and a boozy one to age. The weeks passed and Christmas came… I brought some out to my family in Vermont but we only sampled. The New Years Eve party with some of the Friendsgiving crew was where the nog was more appreciated. It was quite boozy and on the thin side, so I added some cream to thicken it and then whipped 4 or so egg whites until they were barely holding their shape, so very very soft peaks. I folded that in and left the nutmeg grinder next to the punch bowl. Lessons learned around this year’s experimenting include:

  • Use cane sugar to sweeten – a liquid like maple syrup only thins the nog out even more, and
  • Only softly beat the egg whites until they are barely stiff. Travis has hated egg whites in his nog in the past but liked them this time – I think they were too frothy before. This way they add some volume and texture without any over-frothiness (think perfect cappuccino foam done by a real coffee artist versus the over-aerated stuff too many coffeehouses offer up).

For next year I will be tinkering with the Italian meringue idea my friend Aaron wrote about in the previous Nog and Log post, and I think I’ll try a different booze combination, maybe rum and brandy instead of rum and bourbon. Something else that will be fun to play with more next year is a dairy-free version that I tried once this Thanksgiving (inspired by a recipe in Yoga Journal magazine): equal parts coconut milk and almond milk, maple syrup to sweeten, and fresh nutmeg on top. I used canned coconut milk so it was quite thick and rich, and I went minimal on the maple syrup; I also whipped (raw) egg whites and then shook the milks with the syrup and some egg whites in a cocktail shaker and served with nutmeg on top. It was heavenly, and we all enjoyed it, James included:) So many fun ideas for next year, it will be hard to wait 11 more months…

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On to the Log

Here’s where things get interesting. I made two batches of fruitcake this year, a golden batch with apricots, golden raisins, almonds, and maple syrup, and a dark batch with prunes, dates, raisins, walnuts, and molasses (recipes and further discussion for fruitcake geeks at end of post)*. I aged them both with rummy cheesecloths. I was shooting for cakes that were dense with nuts and fruit and barely held together with batter. Here’s what I learned:

  • Just do the dark fruitcake. Although the golden fruitcake was enjoyed, most everyone who sampled them both thought the dark one was a) better and b) more “fruitcake-y”;
  • I could have done even less batter;
  • A finer chop on the fruits and nuts is necessary – this will help everything hold together assuming I do use less batter; and
  • The cakes were fine without any fat but maybe I’ll experiment a bit with fat next year – trying out  coconut oil and butter would be my two top choices but high-quality leaf lard that doesn’t have too much of a bacon-y taste might work as well.

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I made them up the day after Thanksgiving, but I could try earlier next year. In her fantastic book The Taste of Country Cooking, Edna Lewis writes about making the annual Christmas fruitcake in September:

Late September was a fine time to make the Christmas fruitcake. There were rainy days in September when outside work was curtailed and the cookstove was on, making the kitchen warm and cozy. The family was around and friends were dropping in – chopping fruit, grinding spices, and sampling homemade wine, trying to decide which one was best for the cake, and sipping a bit of whiskey as well. Preparing the cake became a festive occasion, and almost as exciting as Christmas itself. In selecting ingredients for the fruitcake, it is best to buy a few important items such as citron, seeded raisins, and candied peel in late December for the following Christmas. The freshest ingredients come into the market too late to make an aged cake. The special fruits can be kept perfectly well in a cool, dry place (not a refrigerator) until it’s time to make the cake. The same care should be taken with spices. Cinnamon from Ceylon is much more delicate and sweet than the other bark that is found today at most fancy food places. Fruitcake is so special and lasts so long that only the best ingredients should be used in it – p.192.

Imagine if for every holiday or season we planned ahead a year in advance to make something that would then age for a couple of months! I think this is the basis of my love for fruitcake – anything that requires such aging and planning ahead makes the farmwife in me giddy. I will take note and plan for next year.  In the meantime, let’s all savor the thought of celebrating the events in our lives with special foods. Viva la fruitcake!

*Golden Fruitcake – baked at 300 until done

  • 2 lbs 3 oz of chopped dried apricots, golden raisins, and chopped almonds, combined with
  • 4 beaten eggs,
  • 1 c Grade A maple syrup, and
  • 1/4 c apple cider; to this add
  • 1 c whole wheat flour,
  • 1 tsp baking powder, and
  • spices – I used cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sea salt

Dark Fruitcake – baked at 300 until done

  • 2 lbs 3 oz of chopped prunes, chopped dates, raisins, and chopped walnuts, combined with
  • 4 beaten eggs,
  • 1/2 c molasses,
  • 1/2 c apple cider, and
  • 1/2 c maple sugar; to this add
  • 1 c whole wheat flour,
  • 1 tsp baking powder, and
  • spices – I used cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sea salt

These recipes were inspired by a bit of research. Some of my favorite discovered tidbits include the Dark Christmas Fruitcake from the Good Housekeeping Cookbook of 1963 featuring 1/2 sq. unsweetened chocolate in the batter; the Never Fail Fruitcake from the Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers Desserts Edition of 1963 featuring 4 cans of coconut, only 3 T of flour, 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, and 4 pounds of candied fruit and nuts; and the Fruitcake in Grapefruit Shells from the same cookbook featuring cakes baked in grapefruit halves that the home cook candies ahead of time (it should be noted that this cookbook contains 22 fruitcake recipes!). I also learned from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook that the fruitcake is a close relative of the plum pudding, which incidentally originally had raisins not plums and was not a pudding as we think of pudding today. So much to ponder for next year’s experimenting! Check back next September:)

Nog and Log, Part I

Around this time of year I start to get excited and organized (some would say crazy) about holiday food. I take food traditions seriously, as I have mentioned a couple of times. As a kid we had our own food traditions but those have tended to slip away as we kids turned into teenagers and twenty-somethings. In my late twenties, I felt the strangely urgent need to return to having holiday food traditions and rituals. And, as a food experimenter, I have rarely been content to do the same thing twice. I like to have a Christmas cookie party but I try new recipes every year. I like to have a big night of watching A Christmas Story but I vary the snacks and the drinks. I like to make and give food gifts to friends and neighbors but I make something different every time. Despite this varying, somewhere along the way egg nog and fruitcake became necessaries for me.

Let’s start with the nog. This obsession actually began some time ago as I read and re-read Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. During haying season, Almanzo’s mother makes egg nog everyday for the men to have in the field.

“In the middle of the morning, Mother blew the dinner horn. Almanzo knew what that meant. He stuck his pitchfork in the ground, and went running and skipping down across the meadows to the house. Mother met him on the back porch with the milk-pail, brimming full of cool egg-nog. The egg-nog was made of milk and cream, with plenty of eggs and sugar. Its foamy top was freckled with spices, and pieces of ice floated in it. The sides of the pail were misty with cold. Almanzo trudged slowly toward the hayfield with the heavy pail and a dipper. He thought to himself that the pail was too full, he might spill some of the egg–nog…He should do something to save it. So he set down the pail, he dipped the dipper full, and he drank. The cold egg-nog slid smoothly down his throat, and it made him cool inside… Father always maintained that a man would do more work in his twelve hours, if he had a rest and all the egg-nog he could drink morning and afternoon.”

I was blown away by this as a kid. You could make egg nog?!  It was not just a Christmas-only and from-the-carton experience? Almanzo’s family made and drank egg nog in the summer? (by the by, this makes a ton of sense – summer is when hens are laying the most eggs; it was only until fairly recently with the advent of artificial light to encourage hens to lay through winter that eggs were plentiful year round). I’ve carried this thrill with me through my life and started making homemade nog a few years ago.

Egg nog is fairly basic. Eggs, separated into yolks for the nog and whites to whip and fold in, cream, whole milk, sweetening, and any kind of seasoning or booze you prefer. Adding booze prolongs the life of the nog significantly. For the first time this year I’m making small batches regularly for us to enjoy as a family as well as making one super-boozy batch to age for a month and give away as Christmas gifts. Here is the basic recipe I use for small batches:

  • 3 egg yolks*
  • 1/2 c cream
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 3 egg whites, beaten until softly peaked and garnished on top (Travis does not like this, but James and I do)*
  • 1/8 c to 1/4 c maple syrup, depending on how sweet you like it — you can also use 1/4 to 1/2 c of cane sugar instead
  • freshly ground nutmeg, or any other seasoning such as a pinch of clove or cinnamon
  • booze if you would like: rum and brandy are the traditional choices, but bourbon and whiskey are frequently used as well

*Health Note! This treat does contain raw egg. For Pete’s sake use your common sense and buy the freshest, safest eggs you can find (think farmers’ market if possible). I like to make what I call “Misty Brook Maple Nog” which uses raw milk, raw cream, and fresh eggs from my new favorite Misty Brook Farm Shop about 25 minutes away. Find a farmer you trust!

On to the log. Fruitcake is a new obsession for me, born mostly out of curiosity. There are jokes about ancient fruitcake and untouched slabs at Christmas parties. And at supermarkets the plastic wrapped boxes showcasing glossy candied fruited cakes do no resemble food in any way yet they must get purchased by some mystery consumer. How on earth did this dessert ever become popular? I didn’t get it. So a few years ago I tried it. Of course, I substituted dried fruits for candied fruits, and omitted anything fluorescent in color (e.g. no cherries at all, maraschino or otherwise). As instructed in the recipe, I poured brandy directly over the hot-from-the-oven cake, and whoosh! I got a huge brandy-steam insta-drunk. I don’t recommend doing that. But aside from becoming unintentionally intoxicated, I had a blast unwrapping the plastic wrap and dousing the cheesecloth-encased cake in additional glugs of alcohol the weeks before the big day. And come Christmas, we opened up the cake, and it was delicious! Delicious I tell you! We even brought some to my Mom and her boyfriend’s Christmas party and it was devoured. I’ve developed an intense need to understand how this lovely and decadent seasonal cake morphed into the horror that supermarket fruitcakes are today. I have no answers…. yet….

For now, I’ll be making my fruitcake next weekend, and I’ll still debating ingredients. Fruitcakes tend to break down into two general categories: golden fruitcake, with corn syrup (bleh), apricots, golden raisins, etc., and dark fruitcake, with molasses and brown sugar, raisins, figs, dates, etc. I’ve seen sherry called for in the golden cake, and spiced rum or brandy for the dark. Typically I tend towards the darker style with molasses but it never hurts to vary the routine. The certainties are that I will NOT be using corn syrup, I will be using pecans, I will be boozing it up with something (probably whatever’s leftover from the nog, I’m a thrifty cook rather than a recipe-following cook), and if there is anything candied it will be citrus and/or ginger, nothing else.

So here is my Nog and Log Challenge to you. Go make some nog, go make a fruit log, and share your stories and photos with me! Dare to try something new this season, I think you’ll like it. As for me, I will be reporting back on all results in Nog and Log, Part II sometime shortly after Christmas.

Homemade Peach Ice Cream

Well, summer and peach season are way over. In fact, I’ve missed the fall equinox by a couple of weeks. But when we’re talking about something like homemade peach ice cream (handcranked!) I think we can all agree on a “better late than never” philosophy.

Travis’ grandmother’s birthday is in the middle of August and for a long time growing up, they handcranked peach ice cream to serve with cake. This tradition had not happened in the time that I’ve been part of the family and I decided this was not okay. This was clearly a tradition that needed to be resurrected.

It’s not just because I’m a big fan of food traditions that I was so keen on this project. I do think food traditions critical at helping us mark the signposts of the year and giving us things to look forward to, like fresh peaches. But it was also because I’ve, um, never made ice cream before. This is a huge gap in my food experience. I mean, come on, I studied abroad in Rome and gained 8 pounds in 3 months simply from gelato. I worked at an Italian restaurant that made its own ice cream and I became more than a little obsessed with trying each flavor (quality control, right?). And good real ice cream is one of my go-to, family-friendly desserts. And yet…. I cannot bear to buy an ice-cream maker! I HATE unitaskers in my kitchen. Thankfully, gourmet “micro-ice cream” is on the rise, so I’ve made do without making my own. So true to form, I decided that hand cranked ice cream would be the ideal first attempt.

Once upon a time, everyone hand-cranked their ice cream. Cranking wasn’t even the hard part; once upon a time, ice itself was a luxury! And you really appreciate that when you are cranking the ice cream mixture over and over and over, and the ice is melting and there might not be enough left in the freezer and you’re popping ice out of ice cube trays into a container to stay in the freezer and frantically making more ice cubes in the single tray just in case. Imagine needing more and having to run to the ice-house and saw a corner out from some sawdust. Whew.

Ice aside, however, the simplicity of the thing makes it great. It’s just peaches, cream, and sugar. Once past the hurdle of setting the hand-crank up properly, it was hard to go wrong even for an ice-cream-making-newbie like me. The time-honored traditional recipe is from a cookbook written in 1938 by one of Travis’ great-great aunts. Use 8 parts ice and 1 part rock-salt for the machine. One quart of peaches cut up and food milled, 1 pint of cream, 2 T maple sugar, 1/8 tsp almond extract, and then add as much sugar as need to get the mixture just too sweet (we just kept adding maple sugar, and we doubled the recipe). I love love love that measurement, because everyone’s “too sweet” is different and it’s an easy metric that guarantees the person making the ice cream will at least love the final product. My friend Melissa and I actually had a lot of fun adding small quantities of sugar and deciding when it had become just too sweet. It was a great exercise in paying attention and using your preferences as a guide. Okay, so here goes….

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The texture never got as firm as we are used to but that was in part because we were too impatient to freeze the ice cream for a few hours once it was well churned. Also, maybe once upon a time when everything was hand cranked, ice cream was simply softer? Regardless, it froze up enough in time for the birthday cake! It was solid enough to scoop and oh, it was good. Just like summer in my mouth.

So here’s my recommendation. Resurrect someone’s hand-crank machine and make up some ice-cream. Peach is mighty fine, but fortunately there are myriad options and recipes to be found even though peaches are long out of season. Hand crank that stuff so that you really understand and appreciate the luxury of what you’re eating. And then, when that batch is gone and you know that a new obsession has been born, go out and treat yourself to an ice cream machine. And then invite me over for the inaugural batch:)

Breakfast Oatmeal, Three Ways

I love oatmeal. I started as most people of my generation did, with Quaker instant oatmeal. My favorite flavors were peaches and cream and maple brown sugar. Even as a 20s-something I consumed a fair bit hiking and camping with my super-outdoorsy boyfriend. Fortunately my huge interest in getting back to the basics of food drew me away from instant oatmeal. For about seven years I ate old-fashioned rolled oats, topped with brown sugar, walnuts, and milk, everyday for breakfast. Then I went to graduate school in Vermont and started using maple syrup in place of brown sugar (enter Travis). After reading more on processing and nutrients and blah blah blah, I transitioned to steel-cut oats, also called Scotch oats or Irish oatmeal. It was the last stage of my oatmeal “growing up”. Both quick and old-fashioned rolled oats are made from oat groats that have been steamed and flattened with huge rollers. Steel-cut oats are the groats simply cut into two to three pieces (presumably with something steel) and are therefore much chewier and “bouncier” in the mouth. More lively, if you will. Probably not for those transitioning directly from instant oatmeal, but they are oh so delicious! And they benefit hugely from an overnight soak before the breakfast cooking (read Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions for a great discussion on why to soak most grains and legumes before consuming).

Oatmeal and I had to break up for a while, though. Travis does not like it, and tends towards the farmer-style breakfast of bacon and eggs. So for a couple of years there we did a lot of fried eggs and bacon, and I’d mix it up with various toasts from the bakery I worked at, or with pancakes or waffles, or homefries (which merit their own blog entry some day).

But now I’m bringing oatmeal back big time for several reasons. First, James likes it, and it’s exactly the kind of thing I want him growing up and eating for breakfast – the Food Lover’s Companion notes that it’s by far the most nutritious of the cereal grasses. Second, it’s cheaper than bacon and eggs and I love to balance my food budget. Third, if we don’t have eggs at breakfast it opens up eggs as lunch and dinner items, which lends itself to all manner of deliciousness and convenience. Fourth, I cook up a huge batch Monday mornings and then I have breakfast quickly ready to go for the rest of the week. Last, I’ve developed some great variations on and alternatives to the bowl of oatmeal that makes it more Travis-friendly. And I’m presenting them here in the hopes that those of you who don’t yet do oatmeal for breakfast will be excited enough to try at least one of these items.

Oatmeal-in-a-Bowl

Soak the oatmeal overnight – adding yogurt or whey to the soaking water helps break down the phytic acid in the bran. Strain and rinse the oatmeal in the morning, and then add enough water to cover by about half an inch. Less if you’re in a hurry or you like really bouncy oatmeal, more if you like it cooked more. I like to skim the rather mucilaginous stuff that rises to the top, but that’s not necessary. When down, dish up and dress it up! Here are some wonderful savory or sweet options:

Oatmeal with sauteed zucchini, shredded coconut, and sunflower seeds

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Oatmeal with creamed collards and walnuts

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Oatmeal with raw butter and raw honey (Jamie-style)

Oatmeal with raisins, walnuts, and maple syrup – the crowd pleaser!

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Any of the above, with other grains added for extra fun – here I’ve stirred in leftover red bhutanese rice into the just finished oats

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Oatmeal-as-a-Cake

You all know how passionate I am about pan-fried cakes and their usefulness/deliciousness. Oatmeal cakes are no different! Shape a small handful of cooked oats into a patty and fry it up in ghee, bacon fat, or coconut oil, then top with maple syrup and sea salt. Yum! Both Jamie-friendly and Travis-friendly. (Sidenote, these work best with drier oatmeal, so if you’re planning to make up oatmeal for this express purpose be sure to cook it just past the moist, gooey stage).

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Oatmeal-in-a-Pancake

Also a fried pan-cake, but a great way to use up a small amount of cooked oats that won’t make a bowl or enough cakes. Alternatively, it’s a great way to stretch pancake batter. I usually make pancake batter* once a week and use it over the course of two to three days, and throwing leftover cooked oatmeal in at the end is a great way to get the last cakes out of the batter. And it’s ridiculously good. I’ve been resisting oatmeal pancakes for years because I tried once with uncooked quick oats and it was awful. But cooked steel-cut oats will show off oatmeal pancakes they way they were intended to be. And yes, I am cooking pancakes outside on the grill in this photo. For those not in the know, we just survived a wicked heat wave here on the east coast.

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So that’s that. Who knew oatmeal could be so versatile? Now none of us (Travis included!) have an excuse to not enjoy one of the healthiest and most frugal breakfast options out there. Happy breakfasting!

*Riva’s sourdough pancake & waffle “recipe”

  • Take 1/2 – 3/4 c of sourdough starter (less starter, less sour) and add 1 1/2 c flour (I use whole wheat, but use whatever you have or make up a fun blend) and 1 1/4 c non-chlorinated water and let it sit overnight.
  • Reserve 1/2 – 3/4 c of starter for next time. To the remaining sourdough, add:
  • 1 egg (if you’re making waffles, separate the egg, add just the yolk, beat the white until stiff and fold in at the very end of mixing)
  • Some maple syrup, I think I add between 1/8 and 1/4 c.
  • Some kind of fat, such as melted butter, melted bacon fat, or melted coconut oil. 1/4 c?
  • A bit o’ salt. Sea salt.
  • Some baking soda. Less than a teaspoon. I think. There should be a bit of activity in the dough after you’ve added the soda – if not, your dough is not sour enough, or you didn’t add enough soda. Use your judgement and figure it out. If the dough is a bit dead, try adding some plain live yogurt.
  • Thicken with flour or thin with milk so that the batter is to your liking. You can also mix it up by adding some cornmeal, buckwheat flour, or cooked oats. Yum!

 

 

Ketchups & Mustards

Well, it’s that time of year… time for grilling season and barbeques to begin! And that, of course, means the sudden spike in condiment use at our house. We’ve got good mayonnaise covered, but it seemed like a good time to think more about mustard and ketchup.

Basic grocery-store ketchups all include something GMO (Heinz ketchups include both corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, for example). With our commitment to GMO-free food going strong I figured I’d be buying fancy-pants organic ketchup all summer. Enter my newest food book, Food in Jars*. This awesome little book (great Christmas gift, Dad, thank you again!) has tons of recipes I will be trying out and reporting back on. But most importantly for summer grill season it contains recipes for homemade ketchups and mustards. In true Riva fashion I have mostly followed the recipes but also made variations suitable to a) what’s in my pantry and b) what I actually want to purchase and use.

In a nutshell, here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Ketchups and mustards are both extremely versatile, forgiving, and fun. Experiment!
  2. Cider vinegar is absolutely necessary to anything pickle-y, condiment-y, etc. This is not the place to be budget-conscious, buy the good stuff.
  3. Sugar might be better here. I thought long and hard about trying out maple syrup in each recipe but decided against it for a few reasons. There are good quality organic cane sugars available out there and I want to support that industry, I did not want to futz with too-liquidy ketchups and mustards, and I have a strong desire to nail down sugar in preserving-condimenting recipes. These are usually smallish amounts of sugar and my hope is that that will be the maple sugar wedge I drive into the door of the American addiction to white sugar. It’s a big dream:)

Ketchup

Harold McGee notes that the word ketchup owes its origin to the name kecap, an Indonesian salty fish condiment that, like the fermented fish paste of sauce called garum in ancient Rome, made its way on to everything. Sounds about right! And in Food in Jars, Marisa McClellan prefaces her ketchup variations with a shout out to a pre-big industry time when ketchup could be made from all kinds and types of fruit, creating a much more exciting array of this condiment, each with their own best purpose or use.

Grape Ketchup

I was super-curious about this one, especially Marisa’s note that the recipe makes more of a bbq-style condiment than the bright, brassy tomato ketchup we are all used to. I am including both the full recipe and the smaller-batch variation that I did.

Marisa’s – makes 3 1-pint/500 ml jars

  • 3 pounds/1.4 kg seedless red grapes
  • 3 c/720 ml apple cider vinegar
  • 6 c/1.2 kg granulated sugar
  • 2 T ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne

Riva’s – makes one 1-pint jar, or two 1/2-pint jars

  • 1 pound seedless red grapes
  • 1 c cider vinegar
  • 2 c organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 T cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • pinch cayenne

So here’s what happened…I cooked the grapes, vinegar, and sugar down at a low simmer for about 30 minutes, until I could smoosh the grapes against the pot and have them break open. At this point, if you are using seedy grapes she recommends running this mixture through a food mill or sieve and then adding the pulp back in. My grapes weren’t seedy so I didn’t do this. Then add the spices and cook another 30 or so minutes until the ketchup is thick and spreadable. The result? Incredibly stiff “jam” with a flavor profile akin to watermelon-rind pickles, which I love and Travis hates. It does indeed make a great bbq sauce, but it requires a knife to scoop it out and some thinning before it is spreadable. I think leaving the grape skins in contributed to this stiffness so I recommend food milling/sieving the mixture regardless of seedy or seedless grapes. I probably will not make this again but I’m enjoying having it in my kitchen for now!

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Cranberry Ketchup

I was most hopeful and excited about this recipe. Being in Maine and surrounded by cranberries come fall I had big plans for canning up a large batch in the fall during fresh cranberry season if the recipe was any good. For now, I had to satisfy myself with a pound of frozen cranberries. I am including both the full recipe and the quarter-batch variation that I did.

Marisa’s – makes 6 1/2-pint/250 ml jars

  • 4 pounds/1.8 kg fresh cranberries
  • 2 1/2 c/400 g chopped yellow onion
  • 2 c/480 ml apple cider vinegar
  • 4 c/800 g (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
  • 1 T allspice berries
  • 1 T celery seed

Riva’s – makes just shy of one 1-pint jar

  • 1 pound frozen cranberries, thawed
  • 3/4 c chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 c cider vinegar
  • 1 c organic light brown sugar (unpacked – I’m lazy)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • pinch pepper
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick, somewhat smashed
  • 1 tsp allspice berries
  • 1 tsp celery seed

Much like the grape ketchup, it starts with the fruit, the vinegar, and the sugar cooked until the fruit skins break down. This you definitely need to sieve, and doing so is part of what has convinced me the grape ketchup needs to be sieved. The texture was immeasurably improved! But I’m getting ahead. Sieve it and then add the spices in a tea-ball or cheesecloth, and simmer until it’s the thickness you like. Remove the spices and enjoy! And oh, did we. Yum. Good texture, and the celery seed rescues it just enough from the warm spices so that it’s ketchup-y but so much better than Heinz. I want to add vodka to it and drink it. I will definitely be canning up a large quantity come fresh cranberry season!

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Mustard

Mustard seeds and powdered mustard come from the mustard greens plants, kin to all those great brassicas such as kale, kohlrabi, and brussels sprouts. Once upon a time it was used medicinally to cure the common cold. Today it’s my go-to at sandwich shops when I want a kick on the sandwich and when I don’t trust their mayonnaise. And the variations here are endless – make it spicy, smoky, sweet, whatever!

Grainy White Wine Mustard

I love grainy mustards so I was excited to give this one a whirl.

Marisa’s – makes 3 1/2 pint jars

  • 1/2 c/90 g yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/4 c/45 g brown mustard seeds
  • 1 c/240 ml dry white wine
  • 1 c/240 ml apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 c/65 g (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 T garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest

I did not change the quantities here, so I’ll just run through my steps and alterations. (1) I used all yellow mustard seeds – couldn’t find brown seeds at the natural foods stores and I wasn’t in the mood for a central Maine goose chase. (2) No wine in the house so I used dry vermouth. I brought the seeds and vermouth to a boil and then let them sit for 2 hours – Marisa says 2-12 hours until the wine is absorbed, but the timing forced me to go with 2 hours. I don’t recommend this – definitely wait until the liquid is absorbed! Because the next step of adding one cup of water to the seeds and breaking them down was really just an exercise in futility. No pureeing happened, just lots of seeds whizzing around. So I added the seeds back to the pot with the remaining ingredients. For me, this was the vinegar, organic light brown sugar, salt, pepper, and zest. Didn’t have any garlic or onion powder on hand and I did not want to buy any. It sort of felt like I was sticking my tongue out to cookbook authors everywhere, but there it is. I took it off the heat and let is sit overnight, and then pureed until I got a texture I liked, so alls well that ends well. Except that it didn’t really end that well. There is a distinctly bitter taste to this that verges on unpalatable (although James did actually walk around the house “sipping” some from a tupperware container – palatable to some I guess). I will let is sit for another few days to see if it mellows, and then I’m going to have to get to work with some maple syrup.

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Spicy Honey Mustard

I suspected just from reading the recipe that this would become my go-to mustard, so easy to make up and so easy to modify. Here’s Marisa’s recipe:

Marisa’s – makes 4 1/4 pint jars

  • 1 c/90 g dry mustard
  • 1 c/240 ml cider vinegar
  • 1/3 c/75 ml honey
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Again, no change in quantity or ingredients so I’ll just go through the steps. Combine the ingredients, bring to a simmer and whisk for 5-6 minutes. Seriously. It was so easy, and the appearance was so satisfying, glossy and rich! I wish I could say that I liked it, but I don’t. Again, there is a bitterness to it that verges on bleh. I’ll let this one sit as well to see if the flavor mellows.

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Now, lest you think Marisa has led us astray, I do think there is something going on with both of these recipes ending up bitter. The quality of the seeds and powder might be affecting things – Food Lover’s Companion notes that seeds are good for about a year, and powdered mustard for about 6 months. I checked out ingredients of store-bought mustards and there is very little that is different. French’s yellow mustard contains mustard seed, turmeric (explains that yellow!), water, and vinegar, and Annie’s Naturals organic dijon mustard contains vinegar, water, mustard seed, salt, and cloves. It could also be as simple as the mustard needing to mellow out for a few days once it’s made up. Stay tuned, if more explanations or improvements appear I’ll make an update to this post…

So there it is. Ketchup and mustard are just that easy that mix up. So go make a (grass-fed, hormone-free) burger already!

*Check out her great blog, Food in Jars.

Ghee club

I’m starting a club. A ghee club. It will be open to any who love and appreciate ghee and clarified butter.

If you’re asking, “What is ghee? What is clarified butter?”, don’t worry. You’ll want to join the club once you’ve read this post.

To start, clarified butter is butter melted down so that the milk solids separate out and settle at the bottom of the pan, leaving behind a golden liquid that looks more or less clear when melted. When cooking with butter, the milk solids are what burn first. Removing those solids creates a denser “butter” with a higher smoke point*. I’ve found varied information on butter and clarified butter smoke points, but I feel comfortable saying that butter smokes by 350 degrees while clarified butter doesn’t smoke before 425, and it could go higher depending on the purity and quality of the clarified butter. This higher smoke point makes it perfect for sauteing and frying.

Ghee goes one step further than clarified butter and brings the temperature of the butter from 190 degrees to 250 degrees so that the milk solids that have settled at the bottom of the pan begin to caramelize somewhat, creating nuttier and more complex flavors as well as generating anti-oxidant compounds that delay the butter going rancid (and help your body get rid of dangerous free radicals**). Ghee originated in India where this delayed rancidity would have been especially valuable in a place featuring intense heat and no refrigeration. Traditionally ghee, which means “bright” in Sanskrit, is made with soured or cultured water-buffalo milk (which is also responsible for the divine mozzarella di bufala – why do we not have water-buffalo here in the U.S.?).However, it can be made at home with unsalted butter for your regular enjoyment and use.

My last compelling argument for joining the ghee club? If you’re not already sold on ghee, consider that both the milk sugar lactose and the milk protein casein, one of the most difficult proteins for the body to digest, are removed when the milk solids are removed, rendering ghee digestible to even those with extreme dairy intolerance.

On to the actual process! Clarified Butter (CB) and ghee should both be made slowly at a low temperature to prevent burning of the milk solids which would ruin the flavor. First, start with a heavy-bottomed pan not significantly larger than the quantity of butter – it’s hard to let milk solids settle if the layer of butter in the pan is too thin. The quantity is up to you – I do one pound of butter at a time which yields about 2/3 a pint of ghee which I keep in a glass pint jar in the fridge.

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Second, the butter can be melted down on the stove or it can be done in the oven. If you’re in a hurry and can stand at the stove for 20 minutes I would do the stove-top process. Otherwise my preference is to put a pound of butter in my 4-quart pot and stick that in the oven at 225 degrees and check on it hourly.

Third, once the butter has melted down and the solids begin to separate out and water begins to evaporate, some impurities will rise to the surface as foam and you should skim those off. Once the milk solids have settled , you need to decide if you’re done or if you’d like to keep going to ghee. If you’re done, then hurray, take it off the heat! And skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise, keep a’cookin’. And hear my confession. I’m not actually certain I’ve ever made “real” ghee. I’ve cooked the butter down for up to 4 hours and definitely smelled a lovely aromatic nuttiness. But I have never temped the butter (which should reach 250) so I’m not 100% certain that I’ve made the real thing. As the founding member of the ghee club I will be using ghee regularly so I should have more details and knowledge to share in a few months. For now, I recommend just using your eyes and nose and a little common culinary sense to produce something along the CB-ghee spectrum that pleases you and meets your needs.

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Last step, you’ll need to separate the CB from the milk solids and you can do this by (a) pouring it through a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth; (b) let the solids settle and pour most as much of the CB off as you can; or (c) refrigerate and separate once the butter has hardened. I usually just pour off as much the CB/ghee as I can and leave a bit of the melted butter behind in the milk solids. I’m content to do this because I rarely have good luck pouring through strainers and because I save the milk solids and use them for baking so I’m not wasting anything anyways (side note, I haven’t tried it but I’ve heard the milk solids are great on popcorn!). One important note – the milk solids are what contain the protein casein so if you are using CB/ghee for digestive reasons it is worth nailing down a good straining technique. And any remaining water will be apparent once the CB/ghee is refrigerated – it will be below the solid ghee and will still be a liquid. I continue to use this, but the water is what contains the sugar lactose. So again, if you are using CB/ghee for digestive reasons then I would be careful to not use that water – it might be worthwhile to use a wide-mouthed glass jar or something that will allow you to “pop” the solid ghee right off of the water.

DSCN4430Ghee on the left and milk solids and “scum” on the right – yes, I use scum in my baking. And the remaining water is already starting to settle at the bottom of the jar.

Now that you have your delicious ghee, here are a couple of fun ideas….

Blinis, crepes, or pancakes cooked in ghee! This is nice for a thin thin batter so you can cook them quickly on a hot pan. Make thin pancakes or crepes for breakfast or dinner, or cook the blini in an appetizer size for your next party. Top with yogurt and smoked salmon. Or fill your crepe with ham and gruyere cheese. Or make up a berry topping with whipped cream for Sunday morning pancakes. Endless options.

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But my new favorite thing to cook with ghee? Pan-fried cakes of whatever’s on hand in the fridge. I made tasty quinoa-pesto cakes the other night and they were a huge hit with my boys. I did not, of course, follow a recipe but here’s what I did more or less:

  • 1 1/2 c cooked quinoa
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 c coarse cornmeal (organic, heirloom, stone-ground, GMO-free:))
  • arugula pesto – deliciously salty and garlicky so no additional seasoning required
  • mix ’em up and fry ’em up in ghee!

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Pan-fried cakes are a great way to use leftover beans and grains that are already cooked and begging for a purpose. Throw in some cheese, some grated veggies like summer squash or new carrots and beets, and something dry like flour or cornmeal. Oh, and don’t forget the ghee.

Welcome to the club.

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*Smoke points and why we care: smoke points are where the oil starts to break down and literally smokes. Once it does this, it starts to release carcinogens and it also starts to taste burnt and yucky. Those are both huge downers in my book. Check out these links for a comprehensive discussion of cooking oils (FAQ on fats and oils; the skinny on fats; cooking for engineers smoke point – this last one does not include CB or ghee in its list but it does have an excellent link to its page on clarified butter at the bottom of the fats and oils list).  I suggest perusing and deciding on a few key high-quality oils to keep in your kitchen, one or two for using fresh (I use olive oil), one or two for baking (I use coconut oil and butter), and one or two for pan-cooking (I use ghee and coconut oil). I haven’t ever done deep-fat frying at home but when I eventually start in order to satisfy doughnut cravings and to make tempura veggies I’ll use lard.

**Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that come about from myriad things, including oxidized foods that have gone rancid, environmental pollutants, cigarette smoke… many culprits. I’m unclear on the precise chemistry, but it involves the free radical molecule searching for stability and finding it by basically destabilizing other molecules which then can lead to all kinds of damage, including DNA disruption. Anti-oxidants neutralize the free radicals. Check here for an easy to understand primer on the topic and some anti-oxidant-rich food suggestions!

And if you’ve made it this far you’re clearly very intrigued by this topic, so check out this blog post and the comments regarding the best ghee purchases (if you’re not inspired to make your own) and whether or not you can actually find real ghee anymore as it must be made with fermented milk. Huh. Guess I haven’t actually made “real ghee”:) Time to find some cultured butter for my next batch of ghee….

Mayonnaise.

Oh mayonnaise. I love you. I do. But I abhor what has been done to you. Best Foods, Hellmans, Miracle Whip. If you like those items, fine. But don’t call them mayonnaise. They are not even poor imitations of the real thing, they are their own separate entity. What’s with the white for starters? Real mayonnaise is yellow, as yellow as the egg yolk that is used, as yellow as yellow was ever intended to be. I’ll just go ahead and say it, it’s as yellow and essential as warm and lazy afternoon sunshine.

So, food industry rants aside, let’s talk about mayonnaise and why making your own mayonnaise at home should be something you do every week. First, it tastes a bajillion times better than anything store-bought. Second, you can use whatever oil you would like to use. Olive oil is the classic and is my personal favorite, but sunflower seed oil makes a mild and creamy spread and I’m sure avocado or almond oils, for instance, would bring their own unique flavor to bear. Oil combinations are something you could play with. Third, assuming you have access to good egg yolk, you can reap the massive health benefits of raw egg yolk without having to go all Rocky and make yourself a glass of eggs before your dawn run through Philadelphia. Fourth, so long as you have access to a food processor that has an opening for pouring into, it’s fast and easy.

If you’re on board with the quality argument but not the quantity argument (fresh mayo every week, Riva, why?), hear me out. This stuff is good. So good that you will put dollops of it on your salad instead of salad dressing. So good that you will run out to the store just to buy bacon and tomatoes for the best BLT you’ve ever had. So good that you will start topping your soups with it. So good that you’ll eat the raw veggies you ought to eat, dipping them into mayo with each bite.So good that you will start thinking up mayo-friendly dishes just for an excuse to eat mayonnaise.

It’s expensive, I’ll grant you that. It’s mostly oil, and if you use good oil (and you should, read up on rancid oils and healthy vs. unhealthy oils) it will add up. We figure we spend about $5 a week making our mayo. But again, it’s worth it! Do the math, eat a spoonful (with, um, salad… or not…), and start making mayo.

If you have a recipe all set and you’re good to go, then go forth and mayo! If you’d like to geek out on emulsions with me, read on….

Mayonnaise is an emulsion. This is a stable combination of two things that don’t usually combine, like oil and water. Vinaigrettes are an example of this, although most vinaigrettes need to be shaken if they’re not used right after making so their stability is, well, not that stable. But mayonnaise when done right is thick, creamy, and almost fluffy. Mark Ruhlman has a great emulsion chapter in Ratio, and he talks a lot about the basic mayo ratio. And I gotta say, though I love this book and I enjoy this chapter for it’s academic nature, it is a bit overwhelming and I wouldn’t start here if you’re a mayo novice. Read the chapter then look elsewhere for a simple place to start. At their most basic, all recipes will have some amount of egg yolk (the emulsifier), some larger amount of oil (the body), and some kind of seasonings. This typically involves mustard or mustard powder (an emulsifier in its own right), some kind of acid (cider vinegar is my favorite, but lemon juice is a classic, and a good red or white wine vinegar would be lovely), and salt. Like garlic? The out-of-control delicious aioli is a garlic mayonnaise. And once you’ve got the basics down, you can dress it up any way you want. Add herbs, add a bit of heat, sweeten it up with maple syrup (this is actually a great idea if you’re used to Miracle Whip and like a slightly sweet version of a white non-mayo spread). I once had a molasses-ancho chili mayo on a killer turkey sandwich. Cranberries! Add cranberries or cranberry chutney to the mayo at Thanksgiving for the best leftover turkey sandwich ever!

Okay, I’m done rhapsodizing about flavor. On to structure. Making mayonnaise, though very easy, is very particular. You CANNOT just throw all the ingredients together and shake like you can with a vinaigrette. It is imperative that you follow these instructions, or whatever instructions come with a recipe you use (see below for the one I use):

  • First, mix together your egg yolk, acid, mustard, seasonings, etc.
  • Second, have the oil ready to go in a pourable carafe or container of some kind. It’s best to use a food processor with an opening or tube into which you can SLOWLY pour the oil, but this can be done by hand. Traditional aioli, for example, is made in a mortar and pestle. If you’re whisking by hand, use a big bowl secured on a damp towel so it won’t slip everywhere.
  • Third, start the processor or start whisking and add a couple of drops of oil. You need to go super-slowly at first, especially if you are doing this by hand. I cannot emphasize this enough. Once you’re used to making it you can be a little more aggressive with your pouring but when you’re new to mayo-making take it slow. It’s like a first date with a really shy person who you know is amazing behind that shyness so it’s totally worth going slow and just buying them one drink in the course of two hours. You can add the oil more quickly as you get closer to the end – the more oil that is already in there, the more easily the emulsion will tolerate more oil. And in many recipes, including the one below, once the oil is blended in you add a bit of warm-hot water to stabilize the emulsion. I don’t get the science behind this one. I should probably re-read that chapter in Ratio.

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So there it is. Literally it takes two minutes in a food processor. Longer obviously by hand, longer still with that whole mortar and pestle thing. Give it a try. Report back. And if you tell me you put it on ice-cream I will definitely not judge you.

*Special thanks to Barrels Community Market for letting me make my mayo with their food processor on my volunteer days in the kitchen!

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1 egg (I know, not just the yolk – this is actually the whole reason I use this recipe!)

3 tsp vinegar or lemon juice

1 tsp mustard, I like dijon

1/2 tsp salt

pinch cayenne

1 scant cup olive oil

1 T warm-hot water