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Archive for March, 2010

Both my husband and I are foodies, and both of us would love a chance to attend culinary school, just for the fun of it.  We just can’t justify it because we’d never want to give up the hours required to run a restaurant well.  But today I came across a “cookery school” on an estate in Ireland named Ballymaloe that almost makes me want to cash in my retirement savings.  For several thousand dollars, you too could live on the farm and learn from teacher Darina Allen  how to grow crops, forage for what the countryside has to offer, smoke fish, butcher chickens, and then use it all in cooking.  For considerably less–but still more than I have to spend–, you can take an afternoon course. Open the links at your own risk.  They may make you drool,  both over the beauty of the old manor house and the opportunities available at the Cookery School.

Since I don’t see a visit to Ireland in my near future (darn that hospital bill that arrived today), I’ve ordered Darina Allen’s latest book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking.  With 600 pages and 700 recipes, it looks like a really good deal.  I’ll let you know what I think when it arrives.

Thanks to the New York Times for introducing me to Darina Allen and Ballymaloe.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL are welcome.

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Seafood, generally speaking, is good for us, but it turns out all of us can be pretty darn bad for seafood.  Wild-caught shellfish from environmentally sustainable fisheries (preferably as local as possible) typically rates high on seafood sustainability lists.  Most of these shellfishes are really quick to cook too, making them easy on the energy budget.  Mussels fit the bill all the way around.

The old rule on mussels used to be to buy about 1 pound per person.  That may seem like a lot, but remember that for every shell that’s the size of a couple of index fingers or more, the meat inside will be about the size of your index fingertip down to the second joint.  We actually feel just fine with a bit less–more like 3/4 pound each.  For a first course, serve fewer–like, half or even a third of a pound or less per person.

For two adult servings, you’ll need

  • shallots (a couple, minced) or  the white part only of one good-sized leek, sliced in half lengthwise to clean out the grit and then sliced thinly across the shaft
  • butter:  a pat or so
  • olive oil:  about one tablespoon
  • garlic:  two small cloves, crushed or minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds mussels
  • 1-2 cups crisp white wine (A bottle of inexpensive wine is fine here.  I used part of a $7 bottle of organic white wine.  Doesn’t Two-Buck Chuck make a white?  If so, feel free to use it.  Just add a squeeze of lemon if the wine isn’t bright enough.)
  • chervil, big stems removed, and thyme, leaves only, for edible garnish

I use a large stainless steel frying pan with a lid for cooking mussels.  Saute the shallots or leeks in the butter and olive oil over low heat until they get a little caramelization.  Add in your garlic for a couple of minutes, stirring to make sure the garlic doesn’t brown.  Dump in the mussels.  Pour on the wine.  Put the lid on the pan.  Peek in a couple of minutes.  Are you mussels opening?  Put the lid back on for a few minutes more to let the aromatics, mussels, and wine mingle.  Turn off the heat.

What if a mussel doesn’t open?  Toss it!  It was not alive when you started and could be harboring disease.  The good ones all opened.

Serve by divvying the mussels into bowls, sprinkling on the herbs, and then partitioning the broth equally among the bowls.  Oh my goodness, the broth is so rich! To eat mussels, gently break apart a mussel and use the shell to scoop out the meat from the other side and other mussel shells.  Serve mussels with a big, crusty roll to soak up the delicious broth that comes from the merging of wine, shellfish, and aromatics.  Add in a big mesclun salad and a vegetable and you’ll have a fabulous meal.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me via the comments section to use photographs.

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Have you ever wanted an herb that could do double-duty to perk up your spring garden with tiny fern-like fronds and give you a nice herb too?  You may want chervil. Chervil is also known as sweet cicely, and it’s a classic European herb, having originated in the British Isles.  If I had to define chervil’s flavor, I’d say that it combines the mildest forms of both parsley and the licorice-y herbs like fennel and tarragon.  Its flavor compared to herbs like parsley is gentle enough that your whole family will appreciate it.  I love using it in spring salads of delicate greens, chopped and served in a remoulade sauce, or as the last-minute sprinkle surprise on mild fish and shellfish like mussels.

Chervil in our area, sadly, is short-lived; heat makes it go to seed faster than spinach on a hot day.  That said, I’m grateful that it grows even when I sometimes forget to plant it (like this year).  Chervil readily self-seeds, so as long as you don’t disturb the soil too much around where it’s growing, you’ll only have to plant it yourself once.  After that, chervil will happily plant itself–and who can’t appreciate that in a garden herb that’s also decorative?

Are you interested in seed sources for chervil or do you have other questions?  Do you have a favorite recipe in which you use chervil?  Share in comments!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me via the comments section for permission to use photographs.

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Wait!  Stay, while I move you beyond thinking about yellow mustard for your hotdogs or overgrown, overcooked, bitter, abused mustard greens and into the realm of mustard greens bursting with flavor and health.  When I was a kid, my mother would send my sister and me to the garden to pick mustard greens–in high summer.  We would invariably come back claiming that there were none ready, but she could look out the window and know we were fibbing.  She’d cut the greens, wash them, and then cook them to death.  The whole house would smell.  They tasted awful, but I ate them because that was what a good kid was supposed to do.

Fast forward many years and a culinary lifetime later.  I’ve had mustard greens lightly braised, and I’ve eaten them fresh in salads.  And I liked them.  Today I want to encourage you to like them too.  As I understand it from around the web, a lot of people have been getting mustard greens in their CSA baskets and veg boxes.  Hopefully this little primer will help you enjoy them like I do.

Why Eat Mustard Greens

Mustard greens are phenomenally good for you.  In my post-operative state, the high rate of Vitamin K in mustard greens (more than 500% of the RDA!) is excellent news.  Mustard greens are also chocked full of other vitamins, and they are superior for fighting cancer and aging.  Like kale, they pack a huge wallop of nutrition for a tiny number of calories.  I don’t just eat them because they’re good for me.  I eat mustard greens because, properly raised and properly prepared, they also have a wallop of flavor.

The Flavor

Step one in thinking about whether you’ll like mustard greens is thinking about whether you like prepared mustard, which is basically mustard green seeds and vinegar.  If you’re okay with prepared mustard, you can like mustard greens.  The trick to enjoying them is eating them in season–that is, before it gets too hot outside.

Using Mustard Greens

You can eat mustard greens fresh or cooked. Just please, please don’t boil them to death.

  • Fresh baby mustard greens give a kick to salads.
  • A few days ago we had fresh medium-sized mustard greens one of my favorite ways, instead of lettuce on turkey-ham sandwiches.
  • You can also braise more mature mustard greens.  Just remember that you’ll need what Southerners call a “mess of greens”–that is, big pile–because they’ll cook down so much.  Begin removing the tough center rib.  Then roughly chop the greens and wilt them in a little hot oil (or bacon drippings, if you have any around) in a large pan.  As the greens start to wilt, add a lighter vinegar (balsamic may be too strong) and, if you want, a squirt of honey or splash of soy sauce or sprinkle of salt.  Some folks add tabasco too.  Serve them as soon as they get tender.
  • Consider add mustard greens to Asian-inspired stir fries.  They’re classic!

Growing Mustard Greens for the Sweetest, Mild Flavor

Mustard greens naturally have a sharp flavor, but that flavor is balanced by a green sweetness when you pick the greens in cooler seasons.  If you want to start liking mustard greens, try them when they’re growing temperatures have not exceeded 80 degrees F for the daytime high.  Honestly, I do not think that variety makes that much difference in mustard greens’ sharpness, although some Asian varieties (mizuna) may be a little sharper.  Mostly it’s the temperature.

A Few Recommended Varieties of Mustard Greens for the Home Garden

Mustard greens are incredibly easy to grow.  Three versatile favorites in our household are red mizuna (the purple Asian mustard featured here), mizuna (a lacier leafed, more delicate Asian mustard), and Southern giant, a bright green, frilly edged mustard.

Do you have questions about cooking or growing mustard greens?  Would you like to know some of the seed sources I use?  Do you have a favorite recipe for mustard greens you’d like to share?  Please let me know in the comments area!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me via comments for permission to use photographs.

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Spring is in the air, and the chickens know it.  Small-scale chicken farmers across the country are finding themselves with an overabundance of eggs.  Let’s use them!  If you don’t raise your own chickens, now is a great time to buy eggs grown on a small farm.  Today we’re going to use the egg whites to make meringue cookies.

Meringue cookies are exceptionally light, crispy clouds that dissolve in your mouth as you bite into them.  Vanilla meringue cookies are fat free (about 19 cals per cookie!), but adding almond meal or miniscule gratings of dark chocolate scarcely change the fat ratio while adding to the nutrition, making them still a healthy choice for a sweet bite.  They are also cholesterol free, wheat free and gluten free.  We’re going to make all three kinds (vanilla, chocolate, and almond meringue cookies) today.  These cookies are easy enough to make for kids to join in the fun, and they could become as much of your spring family tradition as Easter eggs or Passover* favorites.

Meringue cookies are made with egg whites (fat free:  hooray!), cream of tartar, sugar, and flavoring, like vanilla.  You’ll also need parchment paper.  That’s it.  And meringue is super easy to make as long as you remember one basic principle:  egg whites will not whip into fluffy masses unless you keep them absolutely free of any fat, including residual fat on prep equipment or tiny bits of egg yolks from improperly separating the eggs. (Don’t worry about wasting the egg yolks; we’ll be using the yolks from this project to make custard, a.k.a. American pudding, later this week.)

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (use a whole teaspoon if you are not making variations)
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar  (I have seen recipes for these cookies with half the egg whites and 150% the sugar I’m recommending here.  I guess you could go to 3/4 cup sugar if you’re transitioning to a healthier diet but aren’t quite there yet.)

Optional ingredients:

  • 1/2 ounce dark chocolate, grated
  • 2 tablespoons almond meal
  • 2 tablespoon sliced almonds and bits
  • drop of almond extract or orange extract

Method

Begin by lining a large cookie sheet with ungreased parchment.  Remember:  fat is the downfall of meringue.  We’re going to peel the parchment off the cookies at the end, because peeling the cookies off an unlined, ungreased cookie sheet is not an option.  That’s the way the cookie crumbles! Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.

Now separate your egg whites from the yolks.  I recommend the 3-bowl method.  Each time you crack an egg, let the white fall into a small bowl (the little white one here).  Then put the yolk in a small yolk gathering bowl (the measuring cup here).  After you’ve checked the white for any signs of yolk, put it in your mixing bowl (the medium-sized peach-cased bowl here).  Now crack the next egg, letting the white fall into the small whites bowl, and so on.  That way, if you do mess up the separation, you’ll mess up one egg, not the whole batch.

Now mix the whites on low speed until they get frothy.

Add the cream of tartar.  Up the speed and whip until the whites form stiff peaks.  Now add the vanilla and sugar, a little bit at a time.  Whip to stiff peaks.  Do you see the stiff peaks?Are your kids home for spring break?  Are they going stir-crazy?  Are they driving you crazy?  Let them whip the egg whites using an old-fashioned, hand egg beater.  They’ll have much less energy when they’re done.

Now, drop about one third of the meringue onto the parchment-covered cookie sheet as is.  If you want, you can do what I did here and make a few meringue shells, pretty receptacles for things like fruit and dark chocolate pudding.

Now separate out about another third (half of what’s left, that is).  Grate extra-dark chocolate into one of the remaining thirds, pausing in between to scoop spoonfuls onto the parchment.

For the record, I used a portion–about half–of a square of 88% cacao Endangered Species chocolate. I ate the rest.  It’s okay; it’ll lower my blood pressure.

Now add two tablespoons almond meal and two tablespoons sliced almonds to the remaining third.  If you want to, add a drop (no more!) or almond extract or orange extract.  Fold gently to combine.  You know the drill:  spoon out the rest in dollops on the parchment, wherever you can find room.  I like to push a slice of almond into the top of these cookies to let people know how they are flavored.

Now put the cookies in the oven at 225 degrees F for at least two hours.  Why such a low temperature?  We’re not really baking the meringue; we’re drying it.  Take out the cookies.  Let them cool a bit and then peel them off the parchment and store them in an airtight container (that is, those that don’t get eaten right away).

You can also use meringue to pipe baskets to fill with other confections, and you can make freeform meringue bowls to hold ice cream, macerated fresh fruit–like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries–, or even pudding, which we’ll make in a later post, to use up the leftover egg yolks.  Just be sure to wait to fill meringues until you are ready to serve them, because they’ll start to collapse almost immediately when they are touched with anything damp.

Now that you’ve had your meringue primer, we’ll make a chocolate or key lime or lemon meringue pie in the near future.  I think was a key lime meringue pie I made when my father was visiting earlier this year.  Or maybe it was a chocolate pie.  Either way, yum!

*I’m not Jewish and no expert on kosher cooking, but it’s my understanding that meringue cookies are kosher (or, rather neutral:  pareve or parve) for Passover, as long as your vanilla and chocolate pass.

Let me know if you have questions about separating eggs or making these cookies.  And if you make them, let me know what you think!  Are they really crispy clouds?  What are your favorite spring holiday dishes and desserts?

Summer baking note:  If you live in an area of the country that gets humid, I would not even attempt to make these meringue cookies, any peanut brittle, or any crisp toffee during the humid times of the year.  You will get soft, sticky meringues and chewy, sticky brittle that’s not and toffee that’s just annoyingly gooey.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full url and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Contact me via the comment section for permission to use photographs.

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I made the mistake last week while I was house-bound after surgery of sending my husband to the local health food store to pick up some things that we needed.  He came home with a few things that we almost never eat. I’m guessing he was thinking, “Hey, these are at the health food store, so they must be okay!” Among the “treats” were two bags of processed snacks, one a bag of Barbara’s baked jalapeno cheese puffs and the other a bag of Kettle’s “fully loaded baked potato” potato chips (fried, not baked).  The cheese puffs were okay but not addicting.  The potato chips didn’t taste that good, but I didn’t want to stop eating them.  I looked at the ingredients and discovered why.

The Kettle chips had the key mix of ingredients, combining salty with sweet and flavor enhancers, to make you keep reaching in the bag.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t add sugar or maltodextrin (processed in your body as glucose) or autolyzed yeast extract (MSG under a deceptive name) to my loaded baked potato.  Do you add these things to your baked potato?  Do you add citric acid?  Me neither.  Put these ingredients together with salt and starch, though, and you have a perfect blend of flavors–salty, sweet, sour–that will have you and your children reaching into the bag over and over again until you break the cycle by stepping away from the bag and cleansing your palate.

Americans weights have increased dramatically since 1960–25 pounds on average, the difference between fit and fat.  Part of that increase is due to our sedentary lifestyles compared to earlier generations who were less dependent on cars and television, computers, and electronic games, but another big part of it is due to food flavor engineering.  Old-fashioned french fries taste good because they are starch, fat, and salt.  Add the sweet-sour ketchup, and you’ve got a mouth party.  McDonald’s puts together the favor party in advance by adding ingredients like sugar to the fries themselves.  So do many of the companies that make fries for your freezer.  Look back at the potato chips you can’t put down; any chip starts with the potential for overeating, but enjoy it with a sweet drink or put weird ingredients like sugar in it, and you’ll end up eating too much.  The same is true for processed salad dressings.  Hidden Valley Ranch, for example, includes not only MSG but also significant sugar.  No wonder it’s become the dip of choice for kids.

If you want to keep your family healthy, keep the processed foods to a limit in your house.  If you do have to buy processed foods every once in a while, read the label and avoid products with that lethal combination of sugar, salt, flavor enhancers, and sour.  Go for products that have no more than two of the four.  For example, salty baked Kettle chips have no sugar (although they do have yeast extract, another flavor enhancer variation on MSG).  Be aware too that making homemade products like ranch dressing without nasty, addictive stuff and with better flavor overall is really, really easy–just mayonnaise, buttermilk or kefir, and garlic powder and other spices to taste–and much cheaper than the store-bought products.

Truth in Labeling has provided a great list of other names for MSG, and I found a decent list of sugar naming games at IVillage.  Print out these lists and stick them with your shopping list, along with the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of foods with high pesticide levels.  Eliminate these foods from your family’s food, and you’ll have a healthier, slimmer family.

Update:  My husband read this post.  He says I asked for chips to eat with a sandwich.  I have no memory of the incident, but, then again, I was on pain medication.  Honey, see, I ‘fessed up! Please go to the store for me again some day.

Have you found weird ingredients like sugar in savory food or any of the many forms of MSG that you didn’t know were in the foods your family eats?  Share a comment!

Copyright 201o Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full link and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.

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Homestead Hiatus

Given that readership about our little homestead has been picking up steadily since the beginning of the year, when I started posting daily, I have done everything I could to avoid a hiatus.  Unfortunately, after having been out of town from Wednesday through Sunday, I’m having surgery in about 36 hours, and I have not had time to pre-schedule posts for the week.  Therefore, regular readers, expect me back in a week or so, with new recipes, more gardening, and lots of thoughts on living more sustainably.

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