In the Living Kitchen

Musings, memories, meals in the making.


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Greens, Roots and Eating

I feel like starting off by saying, “I’m back folks”, although I think that would be silly and out of place.  I am back, from farming, from the 2010 season and from my other blog.  I have a ton of food posts I am dying to write, although some of them might be a bit out of season since I have been saving them up since June.  Oh well.  I always knew I’d be one of those “promising to write” bloggers.

Frosted Cold Frames

We did a stellar job making sure we have some good greens and roots this winter.  Three cold frames full of greens; 100 feet of kale, 25 feet of raab, and 10 feet of chard in the field; and some spinach, cabbage and mustard scattered about.  Not to mention the potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celeriac, radishes and parsnips.  There’s more, but you should just wait for the post titled “My Winter Pantry.”  I might not have made money this year, but I sure am going to eat well.

Sam is working two jobs now, and comes home at 8 every night.  I, on the other hand, work the total of half a job, and have been home all day.  So I have taken up the task of obsessing over dinner.

Here’s my stellar menu plan for this week:

Linguine with Vodka Sauce and Garlic Greens*

Mole Poblano Enchiladas (homegrown black beans!)

Cabbage Gratin with Potato Galette

Braised Tofu Soup with Buckwheat Soba and Seaweed Salad*

Leek Quiche with Potato Crust

Mushroom Stroganoff with Roasted Parsnips

(*already eaten)

I always make enough to serve for lunch the next day, which has made life considerably less stressful.  Sam and I both hate waking up in the morning and making lunch before heading off to work.  Sam will just eat bagel chips all day, which is a sin, and I will go hungry, so skimming lunch portions from dinner is really the best solution for everyone involved.

Since I have had a very tiring day of sleeping in, watching sleeping kitties, browsing seed catalogs and facebooking, I have only the energy to post a very simple parsnip recipe.  I won’t even put it in proper recipe form.  But oh my is it delicious.

Roasted Parsnips with Maple and Lemon

4 servings

Preheat oven to 375.  Peel and cut 2 pounds of parsnips into chunks.  Toss with 3 TBS grapeseed oil, juice of half a lemon, zest of half a lemon, 2 TBS maple syrup, salt and a dash of nutmeg.  Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until golden on the outside and creamy on the inside, about 30 minutes.  Turn them at least once during the roasting process and do not burn!

 

 

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Watercress and Quinoa Salad

It has been hot, and I mean hot.  Last summer it was 85 degrees out for like, a week.  This spring, we’ve already had two 85 degree days and counting.  Plus, I have newly damaged, red skin and a true farmer’s tan.  My body is positively flummoxed.  I should be picking arugula and radishes and cucumbers and fresh herbs (and I won’t mention the one veggie I am hoping has a stellar year this year) and eating them at 85 degrees, no?  No.  I’ve got a ton of itty seedlings, seeds, and last year’s potatoes.  (After all, our frost-free date isn’t until May 15!)  My body is in shock.  To top it off, this in-need-of-vegetable-body-shock caused me to commit the sin of all my sins, supermarket produce.  Yes, that’s right, I bought fossil fuel produce, shipped from who knows where.   I hate to break it to everyone out there, but it certainly is not as wonderful as home-grown produce by a million miles.  Seriously, buy local, in season produce this summer or grow your own.  Do it for selfish reasons first, think about the wholesome ones later.  You won’t regret it.

I was riding home for my lunch break the other day, actually dreading making lunch for all the reasons above, when I remembered the watercress patch in the stream beside our apartment.  So excited was I that I leaped off my bike, ran down the steep mucky slope, submerged my sneaker clad feet in water and rushed to the patch.  Lo and behold, the enormous patch had a wonderful salad sized handful of just big enough watercress for my greedy little hands to pick.  I’ve been eating some everyday since.  It’s amazing what one vegetable can do.

I have no pictures to share, but maybe will post some soon, just in case some readers out there have unidentified watercress patches of their own to discover and enjoy.

Watercress and Quinoa Salad

I made this for Sam and myself the other day and couldn’t even focus on our non-food conversation.  It’s that good.

Serves 2

2 cups cooked quinoa

2-4 generous handfuls watercress, roughly stemmed

2 TBS salt-brine capers

1/2 ripe avocado

sprinkling of chopped scallions, green onions, or chives (also all in season!!!)

Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe to follow)

Mix the first 3 ingredients together with Mustard Vinaigrette.  Divide between two plates, serve with diced avocado and a sprinkling of chopped scallions.

Mustard Vinaigrette

1-2 tsp agave nectar, maple syrup or honey

1 TBS fine Dijon mustard

juice of 1 lemon

splash of white wine vinegar

3-4 TBS extra virgin olive oil

pinch or two dill, dried or fresh (We have our own home-dried dill, which is great, but I hear that store bought dried dill usually lacks flavor.)

fresh milled pepper

You can just mix it all up, but if you want to be fancy, you can easily emulsify it: mix the agave nectar, oil and mustard together first until well blended, then add the lemon, vinegar and dill.  (All dressing made with a liquid sweetener, oil and acid can be made this way and they will not separate.)


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Beginner’s Bread

I am currently on day 5 of a 21 day detox.  Can you guess one of the foods I have chosen not to eat for three+ weeks?  Bread, lovely bread.  (I haven’t given up carbohydrates though!  Make no mistake about that!)  So, while I am in the midst of detoxing my entire life, I thought I could unload this post, which I started weeks ago after I got my hands on a much much appreciated sourdough starter from a friend.

I love reading cookbooks, so I know that sourdough bread is not seen in the real world as the easiest bread ever.  There are actual, conflicting schools of thought on the subject of making the “perfect loaf” of sourdough bread.  Not to mention the insanely precise bread baking books, that insist everyone weigh every ingredient and follow their instructions TO THE LETTER.

Well, let me just say that the first wild yeast bread was probably an accident, so how hard can it be?  Besides, precision is meaningless to the inexperienced baker who has never felt a good dough in their hands, or seen what nicely risen dough looks like.  Just so you know, all those inexperienced bakers out there, sourdough bread is much easier to make than commercial yeast bread.  Yes I said it!  Much easier, and much tastier.

Sourdough cultures are natural yeast and bacterial colonies that thrive in a wet flour mixture.  As long as they are treated right these colonies can live hundreds of years.  Every starter has its own unique characteristics that show themselves in the flavor, texture and crumb of the bread.

So why doesn’t everyone make sourdough bread?   Despite the ease of making bread with a sourdough culture, the time factor is a major issue.  For example, when I make sourdough bread, I schedule my life around the dough’s needs for three days.  It’s like tending to children, pets, or any other living organism.  Bad things could happen if the dough is left unattended.  Well, one bad thing, over-proofing.

I have a very simple method for making a very splendid bread.  This method is not scientific, it’s not really detailed, and it doesn’t even explain all the know-how that I actually do know-how.  (Because in reality, I think that there is real value in precision.  Weighing ingredients in bread making is actually extremely important, but we all have to start somewhere, right?)

I use a liquid starter.  A liquid starter has a pretty much equal ratio of flour to water.  Some people prefer a stiff starter, which is more like bread dough in consistency.

Here is my beginner’s method for sourdough bread.  This is my version of pecan raisin bread.  There’s nothing in it but flour, water, salt, starter, pecans and raisins.  The water that is used to soak the raisins is also used as the water in the dough.  This gives the bread a wonderful tan color and also adds a sweet tang that compliments the sourdough flavor.

It has taken me a while to truly appreciate simple recipes, but this one makes it easy.  A truly decadent, simple bread.

Tools:

A standing mixer (always optional when making bread); baking stone; baking sheet; parchment paper; spray bottle; cloth, or banneton or colander lined with a floured cloth

Ingredients:

1 scant cup “proofed” liquid starter (see below)

3 1/2 cups flour (2 1/2 cups bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat)

1-1 1/3 cups water

2 tsp sea salt

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped, toasted pecans

Begin “proofing” the starter 6-8 hour before mixing the dough:

Start with the sourdough culture.  Take it from the refrigerator, or where ever it is, and “proof” it.  Mix 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water into about 1 cup of starter.  When the starter has risen and is bubbly and foamy on top, about 6-8 hours later, it is ready to be mixed into the dough.  Remove one cup for the dough and set aside.  Place the remainder in a clean container and refrigerate.  This is the starter for future use.

6-8 hour prior to mixing the dough soak the raisins in hot water.  The soaking water will be used as the liquid in the dough as well.

Mix the dough:

Drain the raisins, reserving the liquid.  Place the liquid in a measuring cup.  If it measures less than 1 cup, add a sufficient amount of water to equal 1 cup.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or a food processor fitted with a dough blade) measure the flour.  Add the salt, starter and most of the 1 cup of water.  Stir with a wooden spoon.  If it is dry or has lots of flour that cannot mix in, gradually add more water, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time until the dough is hydrated.  Turn the mixer on low for about 1 minute, then increase the speed to medium for five to ten minutes.  The dough should come together, be wet but not too sticky, and mix quite easily.  It should stick to the sides of the bowl a bit at first, yet hold together and come off the sides of the bowl as the mixer turns. (Side note: You can see the strands of gluten forming too.  They are visible as the dough is moving through the mixer, as it sticks and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.)

When the dough has been adequately mixed, it should be soft and smooth and not too sticky.  You should be able to handle it easily with a light dusting of flour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Form it into a rectangle.  Sprinkle the raisins and pecans on top.

Fold the edges on one side to a point and fold the dough over onto itself, taking care not to lose many raisins or pecans.  Continue to work the dough until it begins to stick to itself.  (The moist raisins will make keep the dough from sticking to itself, just work with it and it will come together.)  Once the dough has come together, shape it into a ball and place it into an oiled bowl to rise.  Cover with a damp cloth and set in a warm spot.

Let the dough rise for 6-8 hours, until doubled.

Shape the dough and let it rise. Once the dough has doubled, turn it onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into two loaves.  Split the dough in half.  Working with one piece at a time, form the dough into a rectangle, fold the corners like an envelope, and roll the dough tightly on itself, sealing the seam at the bottom with your fingertips.  Place the shaped loaves in a place to rise* for 3-5 hours.

*Okay, there are some pretty great things you can buy to let your shaped dough rise in. I highly recommend most of them, but don't own any of them (yet). So I improvise with a seriously well floured, heavy cotton cloth, with objects at the ends to allow the dough to hold its nice shape.

Towards the end of the rising period, about one-hour before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a baking stone situated on the bottom rack.

Once the it has almost doubled, slash the dough with a sharp knife or razor blade down the center.  Transfer the loaves to a baking sheet lined with a mat or a piece of parchment paper.  Place in the oven, spritz water into the oven several times, and close the door.  Bake at 450 for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to 400.  Bake for about 25 more minutes, spraying with water one or two times if you feel like it.

When the loaves are brown, crusty and dark all over, they are most likely done.  You can also tap the bottom of the dough (Pick it up with an oven mitt!), if it sounds hollow, it is done.

Now for the hardest part.  Let the bread cool completely before slicing.

Some notes:

The biggest problem area is over-proofing the dough.  That’s when the dough rises for too long or has been placed in a spot that is too warm and thus makes the yeast go crazy.  When dough has over-proofed, it not only has too much air in it but is also very difficult to handle. It will absolutely deflate when placed in the oven, which is not a desirable effect to say the least.  I always just reshape the dough and see if it has enough umph to rise again.

The other issue is getting the dough into the oven.  Even if the dough has not over-proofed, it can still deflate, so take care when placing the finished dough into the oven and wait for my next bread post that will address some of the issues with a more structured approach.


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All About the Kombucha

The Masked Fermenter

This is for all the kombucha lovers out there.  The recipe is at the end of the post.

The scenery out the window is a solid white block.  After months of a relatively mild, sunny winter, February is bringing in the snow.  I might be in the minority here (big surprise) but I am thankful to have snow.  I feel in my gut that something is awry when it doesn’t snow in the winter, or when it is rains all summer log and never gets above 80 degrees.  Even though I feel trapped in my own home today due to the snow, am scared to drive due to the snow, and will likely take a nap and eat too much homemade bread with homemade jam due to the snow, I feel at ease.

What better task to give myself on a snow day than making kombucha?  Actually, making kombucha is not a time consuming project, however, it is the most interesting thing I will do today.  Kombucha is, for some, an acquired taste.  As for me, I have always liked it.  I did drink vinegar as a child, so I suppose it is no surprise.  (I have always enjoyed acidic foods, much to the chagrin of my tongue.)  I finally received a kombucha mother last month after the one I had was forgotten in the refrigerator.  Instead of buying ridiculously expensive kombucha from the store, I can now make my own at a fraction of the cost.

Kombucha is a fermented food.  Sugars are digested by a yeast and bacterial colony known as the kombucha mother.  When I first got my hands on a mother, I wanted to make the delicious fruity drinks that I bought at the store, so my kombucha was always quite experimental.  I would make lightly sweetened fruit beverages and put the mother in them.  I have heard that flavors can inhibit the mother and they actually prefer a much more consistent environment.  This time around, I am actually making kombucha “by the book” by adding all flavoring after the kombucha has finished the fermentation process.

Internet searches bring up the controversy surrounding the consumption of kombucha.  The one issue I take seriously is the lead poisoning issue caused by making kombucha in old earthen ware crocks.  Many old crocks contain lead in the glaze and acidic kombucha corrodes the glaze, allowing the lead to leach into the drink.  As for the health benefits, well, I have no idea what are true as far as cancer, weight loss and so forth.  Kombucha contains B vitamins, live yeast and bacteria and other acids that supposedly boost the immune system and help out the digestive system.  Many people drink kombucha as an energy drink because it is full of vitamins and minerals, and caffeine from the tea.  I drink more kombucha in the summer, when it ferments faster.  This is also the time when I eat lots of raw, fresh vegetables, am constantly working outside, do yoga three times a week and am pretty darn happy.  Therefore, I am thinner, more alert, have lots of energy, and so forth.  I am a bit hesitant to attribute all the benefits I feel in the summer to kombucha alone.  But I do love it on a hot summer day during my lunch break.

I make kombucha from sugar and tea.  For a while I was making it from honey, because I can purchase responsibly and locally produced honey.  However, having read that the kombucha mother needs consistency in order to thrive, and actually thrives better in a sugar sweetened tea over a honey sweetened tea, I will attempt to ween one of my mothers on honey slowly, by using an ever-increasing ratio on honey to sugar, and see how tastes along the way.

I make the strong tea in a one quart ball jar, add the sugar to the hot tea and dilute it with 3 quarts of water. The tea is then the perfect temperature for the kombucha mother.

Since the kombucha will produce a new, fresh colony with each fermentation, kombucha brewers are usually pretty generous with their extra mothers.  Every kombucha mother I have acquired has been given to me by an acquaintance.

The "old mother" on the left, the bright, "new mother" on the right. I compost the old mother and use the new mother, if I have no one to give one to.

Kombucha

This method makes one quart of strong sweet tea diluted with 3 quarts of cold water.  This ensures that the temperature of the tea is cool enough for the kombucha mother.  Do not place the kombucha mother into hot water.  The ideal temperature for kombucha is 75-80 degrees.  Excessive heat will kill the colony.

Makes about 1 gallon.

You will need:

1-2 gallon capacity glass container with a large opening or lead free crock (do not use metal)

1 strainer

bottles with air-tight lids (for the finished kombucha)

2 TBS loose tea, I use 1 TBS Assam black tea, 1 TBS Sencha green tea

1 cup (fair-trade, organic, vegan) sugar

1 kombucha mother plus 1/2 cup finished kombucha

Optional: juice, I enjoy juiced ginger

Directions:

Brew loose tea in one quart of boiling hot water for 5-10 minutes.  Strain.  Add sugar and stir into the hot tea until dissolved.  Place sweet tea into the brew container and add 3-4 quarts of water.  Place the kombucha mother in the sweet tea and cover tightly with several layers of cheesecloth or a towel.  Let it ferment for several days before tasting it.  The ideal fermenting temperature is 75-80 degrees.  In this temperature range, the kombucha will take 10-14 days to ferment the sugars in the tea.  In the winter, since it is cooler, the kombucha takes much longer, about 3 weeks.  Taste the kombucha.  if it is still very sweet, it is not done.  When the kombucha is at the end of the process, it will taste acidic and slightly sweet.  If you enjoy carbonated kombucha, you may strain the kombucha and place it in a jars fitted with air-tight lids, along with juice, if using.  Leave the jars at room temperature for a few more days and then place them in the refrigerator until ready to drink.  Once the jar is opened, the kombucha will start to lose its carbonation.

To keep the mother: The kombucha mother needs to have access to unfermented sugars at all times.  Either store it in some of the slightly sweet kombucha in the refrigerator until the next batch, or start the next batch immediately.


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SOBArley Pale Ale

Erin has mentioned a few times that she has a burgeoning interest in beer.  I (Sam) have to say that most of this interest is a direct result of my talking her ear off about the various aspects of beer making that I am taken with on a near daily basis.  She told me that I could write a post about beer making, and today, since she is off in Albany at a USDA education program for beginning women farmers and I am home making beer, I thought I ought to give it a try.

SOBArley Pale Ale.

This beer is very exciting for two reasons, (a) it is the first beer that I am making from a recipe of my own creation and (b) it is the first time that I am making something using ingredients that I have never tasted before in beer.  It is also the riskiest beer I have ever brewed.  It could end up being terrible!

In case you were not able to decode the pun in the name of this beer, it is an IPA style beer that is brewed with a heavy dose of kasha, aka soba, aka toasted buckwheat groats.  Kasha has a delicious nutty, smokey flavor that I have thought would do well in beer since the first time I brewed anything.  To make the recipe I looked through my beer recipe books and then looked in my box of beer ingredients and then improvised.  Here is the recipe:

Combine 3# of pale malted barley, 2# of Soba and .25# Crystal malt.

bring 2 gallons of water up to 150 degrees.  Add grains and maintain temperature for 90 minutes.

Strain grains through a mesh strainer, collecting the fluid (now called Wort) in a large vessel.

Add another 2 gallons of 150 degree water to the grains and let sit for 15 minutes.  Then strain again, allowing time for as much of the wort to drip out as out have the patience for.

Add 4 1/2#’s of extra light malt extract to the wort that you have collected.  (This should be about 3 gallons since much of the liquid was absorbed by the grain.)  Bring to a boil carefully.  It is difficult to get the malt extract to dissolve fully, as it has a tendency to clump.  Watch the pot closely, perhaps even use a thermometer, because when it comes to a boil it will foam up powerfully, spilling all over your stove and making a sticky mess.  It may foam up several times before it settles into a comfortable boil.

Add your bittering hops.  I used 1/2 oz  Spalt and 1/2 oz Amarillo hops but you could probably do better with a full ounce of something like Cascade.  Boil for 45-50 minutes then add flavor hops.  I used 1/4 oz Spalt and 3/4 oz Cascade.  Boil for another 10 minutes then add aroma hops.  I used 1/4 oz Spalt, 1/2 oz Amarillo and 1/4 oz Cascade.  (I used these hops because I had them in my fridge and needed to use them.  The Spalt hops are really not the best for this beer because they are not that bitter, that flavorful or that aromatic.)

Combine the hot wort with enough cold water to raise the total volume to 5 gallons.  Allow the wort to cool until it is about 80 degrees.  If you have some fancy wort cooling device, use it.  I don’t, so I either set it outside in the cold, set it outside in the pond (this is fun because it floats) or bury it in snow.  no matter how you shake it, however, if you want this to go quickly you need a fancy wort cooler.

Add the yeast, here an American ale yeast.  Seal the fermenting vessel with an airlock and let it sit at a constant indoor temperature for about 5-7 days.  It should start to bubble pretty aggressively within 24 hours, then gradually slow down.  Siphon into a secondary fermentation vessel after fermentation has slowed.  Let it all settle for another week to 10 days before bottling with 1 1/4 cup malt extract.

I have to wait another 6 weeks until I get to taste this stuff.  I hope that it will have a not too subtle toasty, nutty flavor, medium bitterness, full hop flavor and a nice big aroma.  The big question for me is how well the toasty Soba will go with the IPA style, and will it do anything weird to the overall flavor?

A few notes about what is happening during the process of brewing for those readers who may be uninitiated.  These bits of information should help you to appreciate any beer you drink.  I know these bits have made Erin willing to drink beer from time to time.

1.  Beer is made from grains that have been sprouted – in beer parlance, malted.  Malting changes the biochemical makeup of the grains.  A wide variety of enzymes are produced in the malting process.  These enzymes, when heated to various temperatures (all hovering around 150 degrees), convert the complex carbohydrates in the grain into various sugars and proteins.  Some of these sugars ferment into Alcohol, some do not.  The sugars that do not convert help to give beer a thicker, fuller feel in the mouth.  Those that do, help give the beer a higher alcohol content.  They also leave some residual sweetness to the beer.  The protein is necessary in order for the yeast to stay healthy while they do the work of converting the fermentable sugars into alcohol.

2.  The process of heating the malted grains so that the various enzymes can convert the starches in the grains is called “mashing.”  In the beginning of the SOBArley Pale Ale recipe, malted grains are mashed with unmalted Soba.  In most malted grain there is more enzyme than is necessary to convert the starches in the malted grain.  This extra enzyme can be harnessed to convert the carbohydrates in unmalted grains.  This is what I was hoping to achieve.  In this recipe there is not enough enzyme to convert all the carbohydrates so there will be some extra carbohydrates that should make the beer thicker.

3.  Hops will do different things to beer depending on how long they are allowed to boil in the wort.  The longer the hops are allowed to boil in the wort, the greater the amount of bitterness they will lend to the final product.  The less time the hops spend in the boiling wort the greater the amount of aroma they will lend to the final product.  Bitterness is totally in the mouth, aroma totally in the nose, flavor is somewhere in between.  When thinking about hops and how they affect the taste of beer, it is helpful for me to imagine a line that runs from the back of the tongue where we experience bitterness, through the tip of the tongue, all the way to the nose.  In this metaphor the amount of time the hops spend in the boil is analagous to the line and it is the variable that is manipulated to achieve more or less of the different characteristics of hops.  There are some beers on the market that exploit the full range of this spectrum, most notably Dogfish Head Brewery’s 60, 90 and 120 minute IPA’s.  These beers have hops added to them continuously throughout the boiling process.  I sometimes like to imitate this process in miniature during the last ten minutes of so of the boil, adding my flavor and aroma hops in small doses every minute or so.

4.  Like all the other fermented foods that Erin has discussed here, homebrewed beer is a living food.  Most store bought beer is pasteurized before bottling.  This allows for more shelf stability and less flavor variability over time.  Homebrewed beer is not pasterurized.  There are living yeasts, albeit mostly dormant, in the bottle that continue to ferment any sugars that are available.  The yeast, and the CO2 they produce while metabolizing, are what cause homebrewed beer to carbonate.  They are also a big part of the reason why homebrewed beer is sensitive to temperature and light in storage.  Homebrewed beer, because it is unfiltered, is also rich in B complex vitamins.  These help our bodies metabollize alcohol and stay hydrated while drinking.


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Kitchen Tools

I have been thinking a lot about kitchen gadgets lately.  I had a conversation with an elderly kitchen supply store owner in Nashville, TN, while Sam and I were visiting my sister.  He pointed out that there was a time when many people just wanted to buy the cheapest kitchen gadgets possible, and when those gadgets broke they just went out and bought another one.  (Sound familiar?) He said he has noticed a movement among younger people, mainly in a lower income bracket, to purchase the best kitchen tools possible.  This movement reminded him of growing up during and after the Depression, when every single item for the household was purchased out of necessity, and quality savored.  This conversation reminded me of my grandmother’s mantra, “I don’t need that.” While I don’t want to advocate buying the nicest possible kitchen anything, I do believe there are a few essential items to be had.   Most of the time, a discerning person can purchase items that will last a very long time.

I also believe that hand powered tools can last longer and have considerable benefits over the speediness of electric tools.  I left the electric ones for last.

Here’s my list of kitchen tools that I can’t live without.

A Few Good Knives and Cutting Boards. First and foremost a chopping knife is absolutely necessary, then a good, sharp pairing knife and then a bread knife.  (By good chopping knife, I mean you are going to shell out a hundred dollars or more.)  After that comes the fancy extras.  I still have not purchased the perfect knife for me, but we received have a pretty nice one as a gift, and it has really turned our kitchen around.

I use a few different cutting boards because who want to slice banana bread on a cutting board smelling of garlic?

Mortar and Pestle. The word pesto comes from the Latin root for pestle, meaning “pounder.”  A food processor chops, a pestle pounds.  I believe there is a huge difference in the way the flavors are released by these two methods.  When I read about pesto coming from pestle years ago, pre-food processor, I was so excited that I could make pesto with my own elbow grease.  I wouldn’t want to make pesto for a party with my mortar and pestle, but it is quite delicious and rustic when made this way.  If you have a small mortar and pestle, like I do, there is an art to the grinding for pesto.  First, the garlic, ground to a pulp.  Remove to a bowl.  Then the walnuts, into almost a paste.  Place in same bowl as the garlic.   Then the basil, after you have sliced or cut it into pieces, with the addition of flaked salt.  The salt allows a bit of grit, before it gets grounds by the pestle, to assist in breaking apart the basil.  Place the basil in the same bowl as the walnuts and the garlic, add olive oil and stir.

I usually use my mortar and pestle for grinding dried herbs and freshly toasted spices.  For this use, my mortar and pestle is utterly indispensable.

I have a pretty turquoise mortar and pestle, but I think a granite one would be good for serious mortar and pestle aficionados.

Cast Iron and Enamel Cast Iron and A Big Stock Pot. I am sure the fancy All-Clad cookware is quite nice, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t own any.  I don’t need to.  I own three well seasoned (by me, of course) cast iron skillets and one lovely Le Cruset 5-quart enamel cast iron pot.  We also own a large stainless steel stock pot.  The only thing we are missing, in my opinion, is a large enamel cast iron pot, for large pots of, well, anything.  Whatever you do, don’t purchase inexpensive enamel cast iron.  There is a reason why Le Cruset cookware costs so much.  The enamel of the better brands is much higher quality and won’t chip off into your food if you treat it properly.  Never use metal utensils in your enamel cast iron.  The ideal, for me, would be to find a great used set of enamel cookery.  Seriously, this stuff lasts generations.

A well-tooled kitchen would not be complete with out a large, stainless steel stock pot.  We use ours for making beer, sterilizing jars and bottles, blanching big batches of vegetables when we are freezing them, making insane amounts of pasta, and more. A large stock pot can also be used for canning tomatoes, jams and fruits, if it is large enough to hold several jars.  You only need to purchase an insert for the bottom of the pot to keep the jars from breaking.

A Grater, A Juicer. I have a cheap box grater.  I hate it, I love it.  I think I would be better off with one of these and one of these, because all I use my box grater for is ginger and nutmeg.  Well, that’s a lie.  When I don’t feel like getting out the food processor, I also use it for grating all kinds of vegetables.  In spite of memories of grated knuckles, I keep coming back to my box grater time after time.  Why purchase something new when you don’t have to?   (That’s becoming my mantra.)

I also use my glass juicer quite a bit for lemons, limes and oranges.  Tart citrus is a welcome addition to many dressings, sauces and marinates, so I use them quite a bit.  I used to own a wooden hand held juicer, but I had to remove the seeds by hand as well.  With a juicer that sits on the counter, the seeds can easily be strained out with a fingertip while pouring the juice out.  A glass juicer is something I see often at thrift stores, and i highly recommend going that route.

Rolling Pin. A rolling pin is most often used for pie crusts and cookies, but I also use mine for making pasta.  While I do have a very fine antique cast iron pasta machine, handed down to me by my grandmother from my great-grandmother, I use the rolling pin more.  I have read that no self respecting Italian woman would ever use a machine, because rolling by hand is an art.  (No offense Nonna.)  In order to roll pasta, one needs a flat rolling pin, not one with handles.  In fact, the flat rolling pins are the best for everything because you really have control of where your strength gets applied on the dough.  I use a French tapered rolling pin, but for pasta, a cylindrical rolling pin is best.

Stoneware Crocks. New to me just in the past two years, stoneware crocks are now a necessary part of my daily existence.  We ferment vegetables at the farm and at our home.  As a thrifty spender and buyer, I bought a couple a stoneware crocks from an antique store.  We use them for Kombucha, fermenting kimchee, sauerkraut and all sorts of pickles, I am planning on using a small one for homemade miso and one for the beginning stages of making sake.  Recently, during one of my insomniac internet searches for Kombucha making tips, I learned that these old stoneware crocks could be chalk full of lead, and that using them with high acid foods allows the lead to leach out of the glaze quite well.  The threat isn’t imminent for adults, but I eat these fermented products everyday, and once I get back into the swing of Kombucha making, I drink Kombucha everyday.  To make it worse, all these fermented foods are highly acidic.  This news was quite heart breaking to me, especially when confirmed with a little word of mouth research.  I believe in reusing items from the past, decreasing new manufacture and production of items and lessening the human clutter of the Earth.  But some things can’t be avoided.  These are certified lead-free crocks, that I intend on purchasing for all my fermenting needs.  Really, if I take care of these crocks they will last more than my lifetime, without leaching harmful toxins into the bodies that consume my homemade goods.

You can also use food-grade plastic to ferment foods and beverages in.  Indeed, we use five gallon tubs to make loads of pickles with our CSA members, and Sam uses them to make beer.  I prefer using non-plastic items in general, but often food grade buckets land on our door step, so to speak, so we might as well use them.  They do, however, have a tendency to absorb flavors over time.

A Baking Stone and Baking Sheets. Aside from building and using a wood fired oven, which would be ideal, and which I hope to do someday, the best tool you can own for baking crusty loaves of bread is a baking stone.  I would really love to purchase a nice baking stone, because mine isn’t exactly ideal, but it does the job, so I won’t get a new one.  I have read that granite is nice, but I own a stoneware version and know that there are much higher quality stoneware ones that exists.  (A testament to the idea that we should only buy things that are of truly high quality and that will last a lifetime.)

I own two-commercial quality half-sheet baking sheets.  They are the type the bakeries I have worked in have had, and so I bought a couple for myself.  They are a heavier weight than the run of the mill household baking sheet, and therefore prevent burning and conduct heat better.

These two baking items are used most in our household.  The other lesser necessitated, much appreciated items are cake pans, tart pans, muffin pans, glass pie pans, a spring form pan, and bread loaf pans.  We also use our cast iron skillets for broiling and baking casseroles and such.

A Mixer, A Food Processor, and A Blender. Let me just say, I lived a very long time without these items, and I do feel like I can live without them.  Which is why they come last on the list.  At first, I lived for long time with a blender and no mixer or food processor.  This lead me to the conclusion that blenders are worthless, because I couldn’t use my blender for certain foods that I wanted to make all the time, such as pesto, humus, bread dough, pie crust, the list goes on.  Now that I have a standing mixer and a food processor and my blender died (I got it for free), I want my blender back.  The food processor is best for drier ingredients, the blender is best for liquid (read: pureed soup!).  The food processor really comes in handy for fermenting large crocks of vegetables and sauerkraut, due to the 2mm slicing blade.  There are some really great products out there many of them well more than what I can spend.  I own a standing Kitchen Aid Mixer, a 14-cup capacity Cuisinart food processor (with the manual switches) and as long as I am not too rough with them, they should last a while.


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Kale Many Ways

I have not been writing as much about beer as I thought I would.  I think I overestimated my enthusiasm.  That is not to say that I am not enjoying a few sips of beer here and there, only that I really can’t drink too much of it too often.  I still have some very exciting beers to try, and a new recipe that involves a bottle of a (very expensive) beer that I didn’t enjoy drinking.  My goal is to write about beer once a week, and to do several posts throughout the week as well.

Today I am writing about kale.  I could write an entire ode to kale, but I will limit myself in this case.  I have found that many people are surprised by their love of kale and many lovers of kale are wonderfully enthusiastic about kale.  I am one of those enthusiastic kale lovers.  Kale really is good.

As I have mentioned previously, I have a stash of (frozen) kale in the field at the farm.  At this point, the kale is an entirely different creature from what kale is in the spring and in the fall.  It is sturdy.  I would say tough, but tough has such negative connotations, and I cannot bring myself to say anything bad about kale.  It is very sweet and actually bitter at this point.  But, it is still one of my favorite vegetables, and the only fresh green I have around, so I eat it.  A lot.

I have gotten into a great rhythm of preparing kale.  I mainly use one method of cooking it, blanching, and then I dress it. Sometimes when I am really hungry I sauté it with a lot of oil and garlic.  I also enjoy cooking it in a hearty stew or soup.  Kale can also be eaten raw.  If you are going to eat raw kale, I suggest choosing a curly variety and eating it in early spring or fall, when the kale is young and bright.   It certainly won’t be as sweet as in late fall or winter, but it will lack bitterness and tough texture.

The following preparation and dressing ideas are my weeknight mainstays.  Kale can be prepared many more ways than what I outline here.  However, I find it very satisfying to sit down with a big bowl of kale and gobble it down, opposed to eating kale in a dish.

Depending on how tender the kale is, you can either cool the kale in ice water or let it cool in the air.  If you cool it in ice water, it will stop cooking immediately.  If you let it cool in the air, it will continue to cook and become slightly more tender, if your kale is tough like it is in the winter.

I usually make enough kale with dressing to have 2 servings of leftovers for Sam and myself for lunch the next day.

To prepare the kale:

Rinse and remove the stems of as much kale as you want to prepare.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Place kale into pot.  Remove after the kale has become bright green in color, about 30-45 seconds.  Place in colander and rinse with cold water, if desired.  You might boil the kale in batches, depending on how much kale you are preparing.

Alternately, if your kale is tender, you can prepare a cold water bath before putting the kale in the boiling water.  Simply put ice water in a large bowl.  Place the kale directly into the ice water from the boiling water, then drain.

After the kale has cooled enough to the touch, squeeze the liquid out.  Chop to the desired thickness. and place it in a bowl. I usually slice it pretty thin, and then fluff it with my fingers.

Ideas for dressing:

A drizzle of sesame oil, sprinkling of salt, and chopped crystalized ginger (my favorite).

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing with a chopped nut on top.

Dressing of lemon, olive oil and avocado, topped with raisins, cashews and raw onion.  Also good on raw kale.

Saute slivers of garlic in oil, with crushed red peppers and cumin seeds.  Add blanched, chopped kale to this mixture until warm.  Drizzle with sesame oil and red wine vinegar.

A dressing of tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and minced garlic.  Goes well with cooked potatoes.

A dressing of grated ginger, garlic, orange juice, tamari and sesame oil.  Top with sesame seeds.

Toss the blanched kale with pesto and lemon juice.

Of course, the possibilities are endless.  Or rather, the possibilities end only with the supply of kale.