From harvest to table ~ what's cooking now?

This blog shows where all those garden goodies I grow end up. I call this little eating area next to the stove my "chef's table" because at all the best restaurants it's a privilege to be invited to dine in the kitchen where the chef reigns supreme. So here I am "reigning" and you are all invited. :-D

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Going with the grain(s)...

And now for something ELSE new --

Water kefir.

Tuesday I decided it was high time to send away for some water kefir grains.  I looked through eBay and found a lot of sellers.  Some where selling the very white grains (obviously fed on white sugar) and others that were amber colored (grown with raw sugars) and, finally those that grew them with all organic raw sugars and molasses). 

Well, since I've gotten passed 'pretty' food, I figured in for a penny ----

I found an organic seller (who also stressed it was a smoke free environment!) in Las Vegas.  I read her ad and liked the cut of her jib, so to speak.  A couple of quick email questions and I was convinced this was going to be the deal.  Thanks, April.

I bought 1/2C of the grains on Tuesday early afternoon.  She had the grains in the mail that evening and the package was here in Canton Thursday a.m.   Talk about near instant gratification!

Not only did she send an overly generous half-cup, but included clear instructions on what to do (and expect).

Anyway, I followed directions and put a (slightly over) 1/4C of grains each in 2 quart canning jars, added 1/4C of organic raw Turbinado sugar and 1t of organic unsulphured molasses and then filled the jars with room temp tap water (mine is softened well water, so no chlorine or other added chemicals) within an inch of the top.

Though the instructions didn't mention giving it a stir, I did - with a long iced tea spoon, just to better diffuse the sticky molasses.

Then I covered the jars with coffee filters and rubber bands and placed them on the ledge over the stove.

My house is cool and my place won't return to NORMAL 'room temp' until May! LOL

Okay, now I wait "24-48 hours (depending on room temp) and when the grains visibly multiply.  Do not go past 48 hours on this ferment."

When the water is fully fermented, I'll remove the grains and decide if I want to flavor the water or not.  Maybe one of each?

Now some of you may think the water looks a little dark and frightening at this point.  I'm not worried at all.  The grains are amber, the raw sugar is nearly brown and the molasses is really dark.  This looks no different from any other tea I've made.

Can't wait to see how this shakes out.

Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Making magic with Mona

After a couple of weeks of trial and error, I finally ended up with a viable spelt sourdough starter!

Yea, MONA!  (Doesn't everyone name their starters?)

So one afternoon I rounded up some kitchen supplies and after watching countless YouTube vids and reading blogs and recipes, I was ready to try my hand at my very first sourdough bread.

As you can see, Mona was big and bubbly and was now doubling in size every 4-5 hours and she'd been doing that for several days.  Time to put her to the test.

I followed directions and ended up with a wet and shaggy dough.  It was supposed to sit overnight to rise, but I wanted to use my new proof box - but not without supervision (it's homemade and I sure didn't want to burn the house down while I slept).  So I put the dough in the 'fridge overnight and brought it out to rise the next day.

After 12 hours, the dough had doubled.  Time for the next step.  I watched lots of vids were they used a fancy basket for the 2nd rise to make a design in the final loaf.  Hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  While I floured a clean basket liberally, things didn't turn out very well (as you can see in the pic - lots of sticky dough left in the basket).  So I pulled out the rest and just dumped it on top of the shapeless mass in the pre-heated dutch oven.  Okay, free-form it is!

As you can see, the trauma of de-basketing pretty much deflated the dough.  Sure, it baked up nice and toasty and there are even remnants of basket trace on the final loaf, but pretty it ain't.

The loaf itself barely reached 3" high.  Next time - a much smaller baking container, one that wouldn't let the dough spread out so much.

Anyway, here's my first sourdough loaf.  Presentation?  Eh - a C+ maybe.  I like the swirls from the basket.  The color is lovely - rich toasty.

I like the bottom - very toasted with embedded cornmeal.  I love cornmeal on crust.

I baked the loaf (covered) at 450F for 40 minutes, then another 10 minutes uncovered.

The dough, however, had been much denser than I had hoped, resulting in an overly moist bread.

So I cut the loaf in half to expose the insides and let it sit in the hot oven for another 10 minutes.

Then I let it cool on a rack for a couple of hours before putting the whole shebang into a plastic bag on the counter overnight.

The next day the rather tough crust had softened enough to become a delightful (though a bit challenging) chew.

The crumb had dried out a bit and the bread held together well as 1/4" slices.  Perfect for toast, crustini or plain.

Mona did lift the dough well.  As you can see there are lots of bubbles and are well spaced (I used the stretch & fold technique on this - spelt does not have enough gluten to stand up to any kneading).

But looks, texture and chewiness aside, what I really wanted to know was ... how does it taste?

I had a small chunk warm from the oven.  Oh my - it was - sour.  Really sour.  Yikes.  Maybe too sour.  *sigh*

But the next morning I sliced off another piece and it didn't seem to be as sour.  Oh, it still had kick, but it seemed - different.  Like chili - if you eat it right after seasoning with all those chilis and onions, it could knock you down.  But let it sit overnight the flavors blend, evolve, mellow.

So did this loaf. 

Anyway, I'm calling this one a success!  Yea for Mona!  She gets a fresh feeding of organic spelt flour.
I get sourdough bread.

Seems fair to me.  :-D

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

It's a wrap ... and much more

Spelt wraps
All right, this should be the last flatbread post for a while.  After all, how many more iterations can there be?

First off - my utensils.  I've tried rolling things out on the counter with flour.  A sticky mess.  I've tried rolling dough out with the rolling pin.  Also a mess.

What I've finally hit upon is a poly cutting board to roll on.  The board is finely textured so flour doesn't just lay ON it, it embeds IN it , staying put under the dough.  No sticking.

As for the rolling itself, I've seen chefs use skinny dowels for the job.  What's that all about?

I decided to finally give that a go.  I bought a new 1/2" dowel, cut it to length, sanded it a bit, rounded the ends and voila.  A roller.  Now let's see what all the shouting is about.

OMG!  Turns out using the dowel vs using a rolling pin is like riding a motorcycle in heavy traffic vs a HumVee.

Quick, responsive, turns on a dime, doesn't stick to the dough.  Why did it take so long for me to try this????  Why, could there be (horrors) - a homemade pie crust in my future?

Anyway, THIS time I remembered to add the OIL to the dough and it did make a difference.  The dough was more supple and had more springiness (pull back) when rolled out.

The rolling was so enjoyable that I got carried away.  The 1st one ended up almost too large for the skillet. *heh*

I reigned myself back on the next one. 

But as you can see, these very thin flatbreads/tortillas turned out just like I hoped they'd be - flexible wraps!

Lunch was, no surprise here, a nice chicken and freshly picked greens filled wrap!  Yummo!

MONA (the sourdough starter)
Meanwhile, otherwhere in the kitchen....

Mona, the sourdough starter, has finally come in to her own.  The first week she was pretty unresponsive.  When she still didn't look anything more than a jar of glue on the 8th day  I added 1/4t of apple cider vinegar to the poor dear.

The very next day she really perked up.  (Note: I have a cool kitchen - only mid 60s - and sourdough really should be started in the 70s.)

Now, while still a little slow, she's really looking good.  Another week and I (ooops, I mean WE) should be able to try making sourdough bread.  Now THAT should put a crimp in the number of flatbread posts!  *grin*

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Flexible flaxbread

Remember how I played around with soda breads and ciabatta?  Well my new bread obsession focus these days is flatbread.

I found that the old recipe worked great with spelt and I ended up with tasty spelt pita breads (pockets and all).

Then I read about leavening on Leigh's blog and thought - hmmm, if I use whey (drained from my homemade Greek yogurt), then I don't need baking powder - I can just use soda.  So let's try that and *yay* it worked.   Not only was the bread delicious, but it was no longer grilling up as pitas, but a nice chewy flatbread instead.  The whey/soda made for a nice sponge in the center.

Well now, with results like that I should just leave it alone.  Right?  RIGHT?


Yesterday I decided to bump up the batch size from 2C/8 breads to 3C/12 breads because I'm going through them pretty fast these days. I adjusted all the other ingredients by 50% too. 

Then I figured I could make these more nutritious by adding 1T of fresh ground flaxseed per C of flour.  I expected the flax to make the breads a tad more chewy.  So off I went.

I mixed the dry ingredients, poured in lukewarm whey (don't over warm it) and kneaded it into a nice sticky dough.  Cover with damp paper towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.

In a while I cut the dough into 12 portions, rolled into balls, and let it rest for another 20 minutes.  I must say that the whey/soda makes for a nice spongy dough.

Then, just as I was about to roll out the first bread, I glanced on the counter and *DOH*!  I never added the olive oil.  I was ticked and resigned myself to grilling up not some chewy flatbread, but probably just a bunch of hard crackers.

Still - ever onward.

I rolled the bread out much thicker this time - about 1/4"+ and instead of rounds, I went for ovals so I could fit 2 into the skillet at the same time.   The dough being thicker I took a fork and poked a lot of holes in them to prevent any bubbling.

I was pleasantly surprised when the breads rose a good bit, had not one bubble, and the inside sponge/crumb was a nice texture.  The taste was good and the flaxseed was discernible as a slight nuttiness.  But the bread WAS a bit dry to the mouth.  *sigh*

As for the last bread, I decided to see just how much s-t-r-e-t-c-h the flaxseed gave the dough.   Pretty much - it rolled out to as big as a dinner plate and didn't break when I transfered it from the  counter to the skillet, though it was almost transparent, it was so thin.  A quick grill and voila.  So thin, so flexible!  Good heavens.  I have actually made a spelt WRAP.  Um - YAY. 

Bottom line - had it not been for the oil snafu, I think this would have been the best grilled flatbread I'd made to date.  While drier than I'd hoped for, these will be fine for soup, etc..  Why, I might even toast a couple and make spelt bread crumbs.  *heh*  Yep, I'm on a roll.

Roll?  ROLL?   Hmmmm, just how thick ARE those flatbreads?  I wonder....  Well, golly!  They slice like a bagel.

Lessee - half an avocado, poached chicken, freshly picked arugula, sweet onion and pepper slices, honey-mustard dressing and a sprinkle of toasted sunflower seeds.  Cut. Print.  That's lunch, everyone...


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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Food manifesto

Glenda left a simple, but provocative question when she commented on my last post.

"Are these [new food] choices all based on health?"

Well, I guess whenever someone tries something new in the kitchen it's either because of:
flavor, availability, cost, boredom, curiosity or health.

My recent rash of food experiments were initially triggered by curiosity (fermenting cider).

Then, in November I learned that what I thought was "wholesome nutritious easy-to-grow 18" modern wheat" has been so genetically modified (faster growth, less crop damage, storage, etc.), so filled with gluten and gliadin (apparently addictive - attaching to the brain's opiate receptors instilling cravings for MORE of the wheat) and so UN-nutritious it has to be fortified! Oh yum?   I thought walking away from that would be hard, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy.  I switched to the ancient grain - spelt - and am learning, for the first time in my life, just how satisfying it is to make my own healthy baked goods (flatbread, biscuits, soda bread, etc.)  Ounce per ounce - unadulterated wholegrain spelt flour has MORE nutrients than ANY fortified modern wheat flours.  Originally I made this change to avoid modern wheat.  But the ultimate result was - fun with flour!  Homemade goodness.  And, while I had no idea this would happen, I lost weight, and food cravings, and better blood sugar & cholesterol values.

Well, when you're on a roll, you wonder - hey - what else can I find to make being in the kitchen more fun?  So curiosity again.  Long winter days inside, access to the Internet, and the blogsosphere at hand.   Reading blogs from around the world and how other cultures grow,  prepare and preserve foods.  Following their links to vids and articles and other interesting blogs.

This research fostered a growing awareness of increasingly poor nutrition in our (ever more limited variety) 'mono'food crops (wheat, soy, corn, etc); the likes of MONSANTO, BAYER, etc with their uncontrolled genetic engineering of crops and 'patenting' genetic seed sources - limiting what small farms and backyard gardeners can buy/plant in our own plots, and more. And let's not look too closely at the inhumane and unhealthy environment in the meat & egg industry.  It's enough to put one right off your feed.

Then there are the age-old food preps that are now lightly dismissed or outright banned.  Ban raw milk?  Oh, don't get me started.  Then there's canning: So many US government food sites seem to feel that we're all idiots, that we couldn't preserve a jar of jelly without at least a master's degree in food science, and that everything should be water-bathed or pressure-canned to kill the bad bugs else we're all gonna die from botulism or ptomaine.  Meanwhile the rest of the planet stuffs things in jars, throw in some salt and water and stow it under a counter for the whole winter's use.  I've yet to see a US headline "Ukrainian farmwife and family dead from bad jar of cabbage - FDA says WE TOLD YOU SO!"

Then there's fermentation.  It's not just for hard cider! *heh*  Even Doctor OZ agrees that a lot of our bad health is due to bad eating habits.  Take pickles.  Pickles used to be fermented and a big jar or barrel lasted all winter.  Now commercial pickles are processed in vinegar. With longer shelf life.  (Don't get me started on 'best by/used' dates - savvy folks see right through that marketing ploy.)  So now we home can pickles in vinegar.  Nutritious?  Not by half. But those fermented pickles were chock-full of lactobacillis - probiotic bacteria that help digest food and enhance our digestive track's enzyme action.  By age 50 or so most of us have LOST almost HALF of our digestive enzymes - so we have problems.

Besides, fermenting is FUN.  Now I'm not limiting my fermentation to yogurt and buttermilk.  Nope.  When I can't be outside (or down in the basement) growing organic food, I can watch lovely jars of fermenting food bubbling away in the kitchen, or waiting in the fridge to grace a good meal.  I find myself taking time to reflect on my food instead of absently munching away while reading or watching TV or some other diversion (a bad habit from living alone).   After all, I'm putting way more thought and effort into all this, so I'm learning to savor. That book or TV show can wait.

Another effect -  I've noticed that the contents of my fridge is changing.  Less dead food, way more living things to eat.  Sound scary?   No.  Healthy AND scrumptious?  Yes.

Bottom line - I'm all pumped up.   I'm believe I'm declaring my independence from the FDA, AMA, AgBus, BigFood, PharmRx, and Big Brother.  I'm not a sheeple - human livestock to be fed with GE food and bi-products loaded with fat, salt, wheat, corn syrup and unpronounceable chemicals all the while being told it is tasty and wholesome.   (Tasty? Ever enjoy an organic free range chicken-n-dumpling dinner?  You'd never forget it.) Nosirree.  I'm no longer going to eat (or grow or think or blindly buy) what a pervasive corporate economy WANTs me to do to support THEIR bottom line and lifestyle, especially at the expense of my own. 

If you think I was picky beFORE when I shopped?  Ha! (Hmmm, obviously this post has gotten waaay past food choices...  Sorry about that. *heh*).


With my new food/life outlook 'awakening' in mind, I can't WAIT for this year's veg garden.  I see some real changes out there, too.

So, Glenda.  I hope this helps.  Though these new choices were never originally motivated by health, it turns out that better, more sustainable health is one of the results. But, If you hadn't asked, I don't think I would have gathered my thoughts in such an organized(really?  you call this organized?) manner about my new food awareness.  Thanks much for the nudge...

Meanwhile - gotta run - time to feed my new sourdough starter.  I call her Mona.  (Don't laugh - if I keep her fed and healthy she'll probably outlive us all, so why not give her a name.  It's only polite....)  ;-D

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lots more lacto....

You know me - when I get interested in something I tend to get really focused.

I've been reading some very interesting blogs lately:
(GNOWFGLINS) (lots of ferment info, vids & recipes)
(PRAIRIE) (many uses for whey)
(WHOLE LIFESTYLE)  (citrus based sourdough starter)
 about how to introduce the ancient art of lacto-fermentation into my daily kitchen.

In the previous post I did up a simple jar of spicy ginger carrots.  They started making bubbles within 24 hours (3rd pic down).

With instant gratification like that, I went a little further yesterday.  I made (GNOWFGLINS) hummus.   After mixing I covered the hummus and am letting it sit on the counter for 24 hours (or longer) to ferment before putting it in the fridge.

By now I'm very excited about this new project.  Next step: I'm making up a batch of sourdough spelt starter.  I found 2 ways to make sourdough starter (GNOWFGLINS & WHOLE LIFESTYLE) and settled on the WF recipe mostly because it specifically calls for whole grain spelt.  And you know me, I'm totally in love with spelt at this point. *heh*  (Visions of sourdough spelt loaves, sourdough spelt pancakes, sourdough spelt flatbread dance in her head.) 

Between finding alternatives to common/modern wheat and now learning how to ferment foods to make it MORE nutritious, I've really become mindful or what I choose to eat.  I used to just cook and eat - samo samo stuff.  Now I explore, experiment and evaluate.  Home cooking is no longer a chore.

It's an adventure!

When's the last time you tried something totally new and different in YOUR kitchen? 

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Fermenting fun

Lately I've been reading a lot about lacto-fermentation of fruit, veg, dairy and beyond. (For more info, click=> HERE and HERE)  The health benefits alone are worth further exploring this method of food prep and preservation.

I've lacto-fermented dairy before - making yogurt and buttermilk.  But there's so much more out there that I never knew about.  Sure - brine pickles, or sauerkraut, but it always sounded too complicated.  Obviously, I was wrong.

Still ... baby steps.

I decided to start slowly - a small batch of carrots.  I had a fresh bag of 'baby carrots' so I rinsed them well and set them aside.

For the flavorings I sliced up a little nub of ginger, 2 each of cloves and allspice, then a pinch of hot chili flakes.

For the 'brine' to 1.5C of filtered water I added 1/4t of Himalayan sea salt (ground fine) and 1.5T of home-made whey (drained from my yogurt making).   Now you can ferment things WITHOUT any kind of starter (like whey), but since I have several quarts of whey in the freezer, using some as a kick-starter to this process will only enhance the process. 

I dropped the flavorings into the bottom of a wide-mouth pint jar, packed in the carrots (within 2" of the top), then poured in the brine almost to the top.

You have to keep veg below the water so I used a small ramekin to keep them submerged.  Finally, I marked the jar and have set it aside for 7-10 days.  If I find any mold on top of the water, I'm just supposed to skim it off.  I'll start sampling after 5-6 days to see how things are coming along.  When the flavor is where I want it, I just cap it and put it in the 'fridge.

The fermentation process introduces Lactobacillii to what is fermented - beneficial enzymes to help replace what we lose due to poor food choices or the (dang!) aging process.

If this works, you'll be seeing a lot more fermentation experiments on this page.  Stay tuned.

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