Cook it! 2012 May Resolution

It’s that time again… In case you’re just showing up to the party,  this year a little group of us decided to tackle a different kitchen project every month.  It began as a New Year’s Resolution, a decision to devote some time to learning new skills and having fun messing around in the kitchen.  So far, we’ve made pasta from scratch, baked bread, made fresh butter and fresh cheese.

Now that the sun is out and the garden is starting to grow like crazy, I thought it would be a good idea to get away from dry goods and dairy and start doing something with all these veggies.   Which brings me to the May resolution–  to keep it really broad, let’s just say…. the goal is to ferment something.  It could be something with vegetables, like sauerkraut or kimchi, or it could be wine, beer, kombucha, sourdough bread…  whatever.

I haven’t done nearly enough projects involving fermentation and I wanted to devote some time to learning about this ancient method of food preservation.  Wikipedia says that there’s evidence that people were fermenting beverages in Babylon around 3000 B.C.   (After doing manual farm labor in the sun all day, my brilliant insights regarding this are:  Holy crap.  That is a long time ago.)   The whole concept of it is magical, that you can take some cabbage or cucumbers or whatever and combine them with salt and then wait awhile and *poof* the vegetables preserve themselves.   I love the simplicity.

I’m also drawn to the fact that the produce isn’t really cooked, (unlike preservation via canning) so it will be higher in vitamins and minerals.  And, as you may know, the process of fermentation also creates all of the beneficial microorganisms that make for healthy digestive systems.

— and that last phrase, right there, is why I think I haven’t bothered much with fermentation in the past.   It wasn’t a conscious decision at all.  I fell in love with jam-making and all those jewel-toned jars so easily.  Discussions about jam usually mean talking about apricots and strawberries, and whether or not Weck jars are worth the price.  It seems like chatting about fermentation, on the other hand, almost invariably fast forwards right to conversations about pooping.   If you google kimchi and start researching health benefits, you get a couple sentences into the article and then hear about how eating kimchi helps prevent yeast infections — because really, nothing says “domestic goddess” like healthy girl parts.

So, yeah, health benefits aside, I’m really just doing this because I wanted a way to preserve all these spring vegetables.

The ferment that I made first this month is a traditional napa cabbage kimchi.  Kimchi doesn’t have to be made with napa cabbage, but there’s something about the texture of the fermented cabbage that I really love.  I started small with this project, doing a mini-batch since I don’t own any big fermenting crocks.

Small Batch Kimchi

This recipe is adapted from The Hungry Tigress’ Kimchi Primer, since I know absolutely nothing about making kimchi but she seems like she’s got it down pretty well.  This version is (I think) somewhat traditional, but I used easter egg radishes from my garden instead of asian daikon radishes.  It’s also a little heavy on the radish part since I had a lot of them and they needed preserving.

cook time: 25 minutes active cooking, and then a couple days to ferment

makes: about 2 quart jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium sized napa cabbage
  • 1 bunch of radishes
  • 1/2 c.green garlic tops, spring onion tops or scallions, diced
  • 1 tbs. paprika
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tbs. ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • about 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste

for the brine:

  • 1/2 c. sea salt
  • 2 quarts filtered water

Wash the cabbage and slice it into two inch squares.  Wash the radishes, remove the tops, and slice them into very thin rounds.  Combine the salt and water in a large nonreactive bowl and stir well to combine.  Add the cabbage and radishes to the brine.  To keep the veggies from floating, put a plate on top of them and then cover the whole thing with saran wrap.  Leave it out at room temperature overnight to soak.

The next morning, drain the vegetables, reserving the brine.  Mix together all of the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl (the minced garlic bulb and ginger, green garlic tops, paprika, sugar and cayenne).   Pour this mixture over the cabbage and radishes.  Give a few stirs to make sure everything’s nicely combined.

Transfer the seasoned vegetable mixture to two clean quart jars* and cover with the reserved brine.  Screw on lids and set in a warm, dark corner somewhere in your house.  For the next few days, you’ll need to open the jars and stir them with a clean wooden spoon or chopstick  (to make sure everything is fully submerged in the brine).   The kimchi takes anywhere from 3-6 days to ferment.  It’s hard to describe exactly how you know that it’s fermented, but if you taste it every day, you’ll know when it’s there.  How? Because it tastes awesome. You’ll know.  Once it’s fermented, move it to the fridge.  This will slow everything way down and keep the flavors and textures from changing too much.  Once the kimchi is in the fridge, it will last for months and months.

*I like to sterilize my jars for fridge pickles and ferments because, I mean, it can’t hurt, right?

And then you can have stuff like this for breakfast.  I was making a small bowl of basmati rice with some kimchi, and J. looked at it and said “you should put an egg on that” and man oh man oh man oh man was he right.  Kimchi is good as it is, but it into rice with warm egg yolk  it will definitely put a grin on your face.  Salty, creamy, warm and spicy, it’s hard to beat as far as quick meals go.

Kimchi Breakfast Bowl

serves: 1

cook time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. steamed basmati rice
  • a few tablespoons of kimchi
  • 1 egg, cooked however you like, seasoned with fresh cracked black pepper (sunny side up or over easy works best for this)
  • any of these: chopped fresh scallions, dried or fresh chilis, a tiny splash of ume plum vinegar or soy sauce, leftover chicken, some salted peanuts or cashews, fresh cilantro….. (whatever ya got)

Combine the kimchi and rice in a bowl.  Top with the egg. Garnish with whatever toppings you have on hand and feel like eating.

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To be included in the fermenting round-up, send me an e-mail at thejamgirl@gmail.com with the link to your post by June 15, 2012. If whatever you’re making hasn’t fully fermented yet, just tell us your plans and what you’ve done so far.

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Paula Deen Would Be Proud Of Us

The time sure flies when you’re having fun…

So far, Cook it! 2012 has brought us all shapes and sizes of handmade pastas, a beautiful assortment of breads, and the most recent undertaking, fresh sweet butter.

Truly, nothing really says luxury like warm bread slathered with butter made from the best grass-fed cream.   I still haven’t found a local source for dairy other than the natural food store, but hopefully something will appear soon.

Or…

Maybe I need to get a cow?

Or a goat?

As usual, I loved reading the collection of everyone’s projects.  It is a constant inspiration to see the great things that other people are cooking.

Belated Bread and Butter, from Snowflake Kitchen: a touching post about making bread and butter as kitchen therapy during sad times.

Butter, and Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with Garlic Shrimp, from Homemade Trade:  Aimee, you had me at mashed yukon gold potatoes with fresh buttermilk.  That should be a food group all to itself.

Buttermaking, from Oh Briggsy: green garlic compound butter sounds like something I could eat on pretty much everything.  More importantly, this post managed to find the theme song for the March challenge: C.R.E.A.M., from the Wu Tang Clan.  (In case you don’t have it on your iPod already, it stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” which is perfect since making good butter requires the best quality cream, which really does involve shelling out the big money.  Nice song choice, Briggsy…)

Calendula Butter, from Bunchberry Farm and Dogwood Designs:  Lots of nice ideas for using calendula in this post, including a charming calendula butter.   (Scones + calendula butter + jam =  sure sounds good to me)

Homemade Butter and Buttermilk Rum Pound Cake, from Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja: that pound cake looks divine, and that stoneware bundt pan that you scored for free at the dump? I’m jealous.

(On How Not To) Make Butter, from Grow and Resist: My favorite part of this post is that me and Meg’s four year old had the exact same thought process.  Shaking the cream in a jar = boring.  KitchenAid mixer = powerful superior technology.  You could have had the exact same shot of me dumping the jar of cream into the mixer….
And with that, we move on to the April project: cheese!

Happy cooking, everyone…

Cook it! 2012 April Resolution: Make Fresh Cheese

A lot of people already know how to do this.  A lot of people have also blogged about it too.  I don’t really care, though, because this is the very first time ever that I made this, and I bet there are a lot of people out there reading this that haven’t done this project either.

This month’s cook it 2012 project is fast, easy, and cheap, and aren’t those really the ideal qualities in a good cooking project? (I suppose they can also be the ideal qualities in several other situations, like dates and dentist appointments).

It really is exciting to do a project that only takes about fifteen minutes, costs under $5, turns out completely delicious and makes you feel like some kind of magical food wizard while you’re at it.  

APRIL COOK IT! 2012 RESOLUTION: MAKE FRESH CHEESE

So, I’m calling this fresh ricotta cheese, but that’s not quite accurate.  If I understand correctly, there are a whole family of cheeses that are made by heating up milk, adding acid to separate the curds and whey and then draining off the whey to leave behind the curds (the cheese!).  Technically, real ricotta isn’t made using milk, it’s made using whey.  I’ll be giving that process a try this month too, but since they don’t sell whey at the farmers market or the grocery store I had to start with this.  The cheese that this recipe makes can be used as cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, queso fresco, paneer, and probably some other ones that I don’t know about since I’m no cheese expert….  Whatever you want to call it, this cheese is wonderful used as ricotta in Italian dishes, served with sliced fruit and honey for breakfast, mixed with fresh herbs, pepper and fancy olive oil and eaten on crackers, and a whole realm of other sweet and savory applications.  All you need to get started is milk, cheesecloth and acid.  For the acid you can either use white vinegar, lemon juice or buttermilk.   I used lemon juice, which works great but does leave a lemony flavor behind, so I’ll probably use vinegar next time.  Use the best milk you can find/afford, making sure that it’s not ultra-pasteurized.  I tried a batch with goat milk and another batch with Strauss Organic cow milk.  Both batches turned out great, but I actually preferred the flavor of the goat milk version (because I am a major fiend for goat cheese). Goat milk is always a nice option for people who don’t do well with lactose, and  I’ve also heard that if you  consume goat milk from goats who have been eating poison oak leaves in their diet, it can improve your immune response to poison oak (note: you have to consume the goat products first, before you’re exposed, not after you’ve already gotten the rash).  To make the cheese, heat up the milk to 180 degrees.  Serious Eats has a recipe for five minute microwave ricotta, but I did it the old-school way on the stove.  If you have an instant read thermometer, it helps, but you’ll know it’s time to add the acid when the milk comes to a simmer and starts looking frothy.  Pour in a couple tablespoons of your acid, either lemon juice or vinegar, cook the milk for another minute or two and keep stirring, and you’ll see the curds and whey magically separate. At this point, you pour the separated milk through cheesecloth to strain out the curds.  Different recipes have different times for how long to leave everything draining, but it really depends on your preference and what you’re using it for.  I only left mine to drain for a couple minutes because I wanted it to stay fairly spreadable.  If you were making something like paneer, an Indian cheese used similarly to tofu in lots of different curries, you drain it longer and then press it so that it can be sliced into pieces.  (Can you imagine? Homemade paneer tikka masala? Oh my goodness…)Fresh Ricotta Cheese

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Makes: about a cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart of whole milk
  • about 2 tbs. lemon juice or white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Heat up the milk in a pot on the stove.  Add the salt.  When the milk is simmering or reads 180 on a thermometer, stir in the lemon juice or vinegar.  (I didn’t really measure so much as pour a few splashes of lemon juice into the pot while the milk was simmering.  If you stir for a minute and let the milk keep simmering, the curds will separate.)  Pour into a colander lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth to drain.  I thought the cheese came out the best when I let it drain for about five minutes.  You can eat the cheese warm or chill it for later.  The cheese will firm up more in the fridge, where it can be stored for about two days.

I highly recommend mixing the warm cheese with the best olive oil you have, fresh herbs, sliced scallions, salt and pepper and eating it on crackers (especially if you’re tired after a long day of work and want to sit down, have a cocktail and a small bite to eat, then it’s really great).

If you don’t want to eat it right away, though, you can always do something crazy like make lasagna:I never use a recipe for lasagna since it’s more fun to raid the garden, the pantry and the freezer for whatever things you want to be in the layers.  Yesterday we happened to have some good looking spinach and spring onions in the garden…so that turned into one layer, and then I had a pack of ground veal from Owen Family Farms — humanely raised, pastured veal! — that was in the freezer, so I threw together a veal ragu for another layer.  I cooked the veal in some of the leftover whey along with red wine, canned tomatoes, onions, carrots, fresh oregano and parsley.  And then, this is a trick that j. taught me when I complained that I hate ricotta cheese long ago, you gotta fancy up that cheese a bit before it goes in the lasagna. I used the batch of cow milk ricotta for the lasagna, which was the yield from one half gallon of milk, and it was just enough to do a medium sized casserole dish.  If you want to have a big casserole or a really thick layer, you should definitely use a whole gallon of milk so you get more ricotta cheese.  To make your ricotta layer tasty and packed with flavor, throw the ricotta into the food processor with an egg or two, some garlic powder, chopped parsley or scallions and a pinch of salt and pepper.  It will be far superior to those bland lasagnas with a layer of mushy, flavorless grocery store ricotta cheese.

and then, you know, you just do the lasagna thing: and then pop that baby in the oven until it’s bubbly and delicious looking.

(Yeah, I know that I usually preach the gospel of fresh pasta with 100% local semolina flour, and those are obviously not fresh pasta noodles, but fresh pasta is not usually a project to do after you’ve already been up for many hours and worked the farmers market and your feet are so sore.  Gotta be realistic here).

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If you want to cook along, e-mail me, thejamgirl@gmail.com, a link to the url of your post by May 15, 2012 to be included in the round-up post.

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I can’t believe I made cheese and it was that easy.  I hope you give it a try too!

Cook it! 2012 March Resolution: Make Butter – Part 2

The New Year’s Resolution that I’ve been working on this month is making butter.  It’s a pretty great theme and has inspired several epic cooking projects.  A few weeks ago we used the buttermilk that was leftover from the butter making process to make buttermilk-marinated-bacon-fat-deep-fried-chicken that was ….too good for words.  It was dreamy.   My arteries whispered things to me about how they wanted me to do it and they didn’t care what happened.  I wish I had more of that chicken on a plate next to me right now.  We have 100 baby chicks down in the coop, and now that they’re a couple months old I’ve spotted a few roosters.  Sorry guys.  A few of you are gonna be dinner.  The post that I meant to write, before I got distracted by that fried chicken, was….

(just as ridiculous)

Buttercream frosting.

Oh yeah.    It’s not so much that I want to make a bunch of really unhealthy food, I’m just really interested in learning new things in the kitchen (I swear).  Up until this month, I had never made frosting before in my life, ever.  I don’t even really care about eating it (I have a fried chicken tooth, not a sweet tooth), but I want to know how to make these things from scratch.  I’ve worked as a professional cook in the past, and the fact that I can make really, really fancy savory things but literally cannot bake a simple chocolate chip cookie without totally ruining it somehow seems really absurd to me. I turned to Martha for a starting point, since her recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting was something that I’d noticed in the past. (Before the days of pinterest, back when you just bookmarked stuff in your web browser.)

So.  What happened, even though these pictures make it look like a continuous sequence, I completely ruined the first batch of buttercream since I have zero experience doing this.  My first batch turned out like runny pudding, which made me cringe since I just used my precious homemade butter for it.  (It won’t go to waste, though, I think it will be great on something like cinnamon french toast).  That means that the finished frosting that you see in these pictures is made with store-bought butter since I was worried about wasting a bunch of expensive cream making messed up batches of frosting.  The moral of the story:  It is so super important to follow the recipe and not change anything.  If it says “stiff glossy peaks” it means “stiff glossy peaks,” not “until you get sick of listening to the stand mixer running on the highest setting,” (Yeah, I know).

The first step in this frosting is whisking together egg whites and sugar in the mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Easy enough.  (I’m assuming that most people don’t have the intermediate steps of going outside, turning on the generator for 15 minutes since power’s not set up to use a stand mixer right then, fending off the cat who is highly interested in frosting, and then bringing the whole deal back inside once it’s properly mixed.)Beat the egg whites and the sugar in a stand mixer set on high speed for 10 minutes, and it magically turns into beautiful, snow-white meringue. Once you see those stiff, glossy peaks, you can start adding in the butter, a little bit at a time.  The frosting will look like it’s broken, but if you have faith in the power of the stand mixer and just let it keep going, eventually the frosting smooths out and becomes this lovely meringue buttercream.  I was inspired by the orange tree blooming in the greenhouse and decided to scent this frosting with orange blossom water.  The scent is so bright and ethereal, somehow, and so intoxicating. and the second confession of this post:

This frosting is good and all, but it’s really not my thing.  I know, that’s weird.  These cupcakes, though-  even though I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I’m crazy about them.  For one, I baked something, and it actually worked.  That in itself is a victory.  What’s even more exciting is the way they came out.  They’re not just good, they’re delicious, easy to make, and a great way to use up marmalade.  The texture of the rinds mixed into the cupcake batter reminded me of pannettone, an sweet Italian bread that my mom makes every Christmas.  I had debated puréeing the marmalade before I put it in the batter but I’m really happy I didn’t, because those toothsome slices of rind are what made these cupcakes so exciting. Oh, and I’m fairly certain you could call them muffins and serve them with breakfast if you want, and I can’t emphasize enough: the frosting is entirely optional.  I think they might even be better with a simple powdered sugar glaze brushed on while they’re still hot than with all the fancy looking stuff I did this time. All I did yesterday was do my taxes and pay bills, so it seemed logical that I should spend the afternoon making cupcakes today.  If you’re trying to waste time in the kitchen, it only makes sense that you should take this whole thing a step further and candy a bit of lemon rind to top off everything nicely. (Some people might do the dishes while the cupcakes are in the oven- I find a way to dirty even more of them). And there you have it! Make butter: check.  Make frosting: check.  Bake actual cupcakes that taste good and aren’t burned: check!

Orange Blossom Meringue Buttercream Frosting 

This is adapted from Martha Stewarts recipe.  The main reason I’m rewriting it here and not just linking to her recipe is that I shrank the size of the batch way down (since the last thing I need around is a giant bowl of frosting…. a small bowl is bad enough).   If you want a big batch, just use her recipe here and add orange blossom water.

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Makes: frosting for 7 or 8 cupcakes

Ingredients:

Heat a pot of water up to a simmer on the stove.  Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Set the bowl over the pot of water and whisk together the sugar and egg whites until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture feels hot to the touch.  Put the mixing bowl back in the stand mixer.  Use the whisk attachment and beat the egg whites on high speed for about 10 minutes, or until you get stiff, glossy peaks.  Keep the mixer going and add the butter, one piece at a time.  The frosting will appear to have separated or broken, but just keep whisking on high for a couple more minutes until it smooths back out again.  Switch to the paddle attachment and mix at the lowest speed for five minutes to get rid of any air bubbles.

If you’re using the frosting within a few hours, leave it out, covered, at room temperature so that it stays soft and spreadable.  If you make it in advance, store it in the fridge and give it a few minutes in the mixer on low to soften it back up when you’re ready to use it.

*FYI: one stick of butter has 8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup.  The original recipe didn’t really divide into perfect even numbers here, unfortunately, hence the 1/3 stick of butter.
Marmalade Cupcakes

This recipe came out so well – I’ll definitely be making it again. I used another Martha recipe here as a framework since, well… I don’t have my own secret cupcake recipe perfected.  Soon.

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Makes: 7 cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 4 tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. meyer lemon marmalade (or really any marmalade….)
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place cupcake liners in a cupcake tin and set aside.

Cream together the sugar and butter until it’s light and fluffy.  Add in the egg and mix well.  Add the lemon marmalade and mix well.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Combine the flour mixture into the marmalade mixture, alternating flour with milk and stirring after each addition.  Stir gently just to combine everything.  Spoon the cupcake batter into the muffin tin, filling each cupcake liner about 2/3 full of batter.

Candied Lemon Peel
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Makes: garnish for above cupcakes
Ingredients:
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 2/3 c. sugar + 1/4 c. sugar
  • peel from 1/4 of a lemon

In a small saucepan, combine the water and 2/3 c. sugar.  Cook on high heat, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar.  Meanwhile, use a sharp knife to a cut a few strips of peel off a lemon, trying to get only the yellow zest and little of the white pith.  Lay the peel on a cutting board and slice it into very thin strips.  Once the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is boiling, add the strips.  Cook for a few minutes on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When the lemon strips turn translucent, turn off the heat and use a fork to remove them from the syrup. Toss the candied lemon strips in the remaining sugar and then lay them on a paper towel to dry.  The candied lemon is ready to use once it’s cooled down.

There’s Flour Everywhere

Check off another resolution: the February Cook it 2012 challenge is done! Bread has been baked and our kitchens have been redecorated with flour.

I’m pretty sure you folks are better bakers than I am.   I made a bunch of edible loaves, but nothing was really stellar.  I got pretty close with a loaf of whole wheat bread with flaxseeds and herbs de provence, but the recipe’s not quite there yet.   I think I need to stop baking bread on cold, rainy days  – it doesn’t rise – and I need to get an oven thermometer since all the numbers are all rubbed off my oven dial and estimating isn’t really the best plan for bread-baking.

Look at all this beautiful stuff:

and the links to everyone’s bread posts:

Brioche from Homemade Trade: Aimee, your brioche looks perfect and that cardamom-rose french toast looks divine!

Gluten-Free Bread from Vonnie The Happy Hippie : these loaves look great… can we get a recipe? I’d love to give them a try.

No-Knead Bread & Slow-Roasted Tomato Bruschetta from Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja: Instead of buying an oven thermometer and baking it myself, can you just send me a loaf? It looks so crusty and wonderful.

Rosemary Bread from The Wholesome Epicure: I bet the kitchen smelled pretty wonderful while this was baking…

Rye Bread from My Pantry Shelf:  Reubens on homemade rye bread sound like something we need to be eating, asap.  That watercress soup sounds pretty elegant, too.  Basically, I need to make rye bread.

Sourdough Bread from Grow and Resist: Those pancakes sound really good. I admire your tenacity and I will be coming to your house for bread during the apocalypse.

Sourdough Bread from Oh Briggsy: This post has great information about getting a sourdough starter going. Also this post is hysterical.  I tried making a starter and it very much did not work (though I do have a really wonderful sludgy mess of flour, that’s always charming) so I’m trying again with this method.

Thank you all for cooking along. As usual, it’s really inspiring to see what other people are making.  I can’t wait to see what you guys do with the butter challenge! 

(Stay tuned for Butter Part 2…. post coming soon… )

Cook it! 2012 March Resolution: Make Butter – Part 1

We’re into the third month of cook it 2012, and I’m pretty excited about the most recent undertaking.  So far I’ve tackled pasta-making and bread-baking, and now… butter.  I’ve been wanting to make butter ever since I read this great post here from the Hungry Tigress.  I’m all about DIY, and my olive tree is still really small and not looking very promising in the olive oil department, so making my own butter can fill the void for right now.

So one of the reasons that I’m so excited about this is that butter is such a fundamental ingredient in every day cooking.  (Most DIY food projects are really tasty, but …  those jars of marmalade that ended up too sweet and then didn’t set, that I could certainly use as a pancake or ice cream topping? They’re still in the pantry).  Butter isn’t an ingredient that you have to make an effort to use.  It’s butter.  You don’t really need to brainstorm ideas.  I don’t really think there’s such a thing as having “too much butter.”  It just disappears, like toilet paper or beer. One of the reasons I hadn’t bothered with this project yet is that I didn’t have a good source for milk.  I found some very high quality raw, organic cream at the local natural food store, but I’m hoping to find a producer in Mendocino County if I keep searching.  (…. hello?… crossing my fingers for a barrage of e-mails from local dairy producers proving me wrong about availability…)

The little pints of cream that I bought weren’t cheap at all.  The flavor is absolutely amazing, though.  I remember the first time I ate an heirloom tomato, the first time I tried foie gras, and now, the first time I tried real cream.  It has officially joined the ranks of formative culinary experiences that will forever change how and what I want to be cooking.  It makes coffee taste a million times more delicious, and I can’t wait until berry season – I need to have blueberries and cream in my life, all the time.

So not only did I discover fresh, raw cream, I also got to make butter with it. Making butter is ridiculously, joyfully easy, absolutely a beginner project that involves very little time or equipment.  So here’s the deal: You know how to make whipped cream, right? Probably in a stand mixer? Make whipped cream, but then just keep going.  There’s  a moment in the middle of the project where you might think:

Wait, I really like whipped cream.  I should just make whipped cream right now, not butter.  Lemme go bake a pie real quick to go with this.

But if you persevere and vow to buy other cream for making whipped cream on another day, this whipped cream will quickly turn clumpy and then start to separate into butter and buttermilk.  This is the part of the project where my plan totally derailed.  I have a thing that I’m making with the butter that I’m very excited about, but I got totally distracted by the fresh buttermilk and ended up making buttermilk fried chicken before I made the other, butter-showcasing recipe.  Hence the “part 1.” I have more thoughts about butter that will be coming soon….Fried chicken is extra delicious when you marinade it in this wonderful fresh buttermilk.  The little sparkles of butter that get left behind in the buttermilk will make your fried chicken taste extra special.Also that I put bacon fat in the frying oil…  that doesn’t hurt.Go big or go home, right?*

and now, some recipes:

Butter

cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • the best cream  you can find: raw is good, pasteurized is also good, but not ultra-pasteurized.  (the amount is flexible, you can buy a little bit or a lot, and you end up with either a little bit of butter or a lot)

Put the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on high speed for awhile.  The cream will turn to whipped cream, and then separate into butter and buttermilk.  Drain the buttermilk into a bowl and reserve it for the fried chicken (or whatever you want to make).  Use a wooden spoon to smoosh all the butter into one big clump.  Take the bowl off the stand mixer and go over to the sink with it…  Run cold water over the butter and press down with the spoon to get out any remaining buttermilk (just dump it down the sink, there won’t be much at this point).  Pack the butter into jars. They last for about a week in the fridge and freeze very well.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Cook Time: an hour or so

Serves: oh, 4? It depends who’s eating and how much they like chicken

Ingredients:

  • 2- 2.5 lbs. skin-on chicken pieces**

For the marinade:

  • 2 or 3 cups of fresh buttermilk (this is what I got from turning three pints of cream into butter)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbs. fresh herbs, minced- any combination of thyme, oregano, rosemary sage, whatever you have….
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

For the breading:

  • 3 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 tbs. poultry seasoning (a dried mix of the herbs mentioned above)
  • 1 tbs. garlic powder
  • 1 tbs. paprika
  • 1 tbs. chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 3 tsp. sea salt

For frying:

  • 6 c. canola or other high temperature cooking oil
  • 1/4 c. bacon fat (I save the fat when we cook bacon… that’s good stuff, no need to throw it away)

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a large container.  Add the chicken pieces.  Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or so.

Heat up the oils in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (I use my jam pot for frying as well).  If you have a thermometer, heat the oil to 350 degrees.  If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test that the oil is hot by putting a drop of water into the oil. If it’s hot, the water will sizzle like crazy.  Once the oil gets hot, you can probably turn the heat down to medium high or medium.  Important: Don’t rush the oil.  Make sure it’s hot. If you put the chicken into lukewarm oil it will be gross and turn out all greasy and soggy.  At this point you should also preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

While the oil is heating, combine the ingredients for the breading in a large dish.  Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade.  Try to give them a good slosh around to make sure that you get lots of marinade on the chicken as you remove each piece. Roll around the chicken pieces in the breading, making sure to thoroughly cover each piece.

Once the chicken is breaded and the oil is hot, put the chicken pieces in the oil to fry.  Work in batches so that each piece is surrounded by plenty of oil- you don’t really want the pieces to touch each other while they’re frying.  Cook the pieces for about 10 minutes, until they’re looking nice and golden brown.  Transfer the pieces to a pan with a rack and put them in the oven to finish (The rack is important! If you put them right on a pan the breading will get soggy).  The chicken will probably need about 10 minutes in the oven to finish all the way, but the time will vary depending on the size of the pieces.  Check for doneness with a thermometer; it should read about 165 degrees.

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For anyone cooking along with the cook it! 2012 resolutions:

To be included in the butter round-up, e-mail me (the jamgirl@gmail.com)

with a link to your post by April 15, 2012 at 12 PM (PST).

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*J. saw me putting bacon grease in the cooking oil and was skeptical, I believe based on health reasons.  It’s fried chicken though. It’s inherently not a healthy dinner choice.  Save healthy for a different night.  I usually advocate a diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and very little meat, but if you’re going to do fried chicken, you might as well just go for it.

**I used to cringe at the price of organic chicken, but then I tried it and realized it’s far superior to the conventional equivalent.  The meat is richer and… my friend Paula from Mendocino Organics described it as “more chickeny.”  They have a chicken CSA where you can get humanely raised delicious organic chicken, perfect for this recipe.

Cook it! 2012: The Great Pasta Round-Up

The first resolution of the new year is officially complete: pasta has been made, cross that baby off the list. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was absolutely blown away by the food that everyone made.

I know that making pasta can be one of those projects that, midway through, you start swearing and wondering why you thought it would be a good idea to attempt something so labor intensive.  I am so happy that all of you kept at it and made such delicious looking food!  I want to say some kind of cheesy food bloggy thing, something like “oooh that lasagna looks so good I can practically taste it through the computer screen” but that’s total crap. Looking at it doesn’t cut it at all, I wanna eat it!

Here are a few of the highlights, gathered together from all of the posts:

Here are the links to all the posts:

Lasagna, from Grow and Resist: reading this post made me upset, because it just made me really want lasagna, but not my stupid lasagna — I want Meg’s lasagna with those beautiful homemade noodles. Save me a plate, please.

Orecchiette al Sugo con le Polpetine, from The Wholesome Epicure: that sauce, oh my goodness….  This post also has the internet’s cutest picture of a sweet little kid making playdoh orecchiette.  Future chefs in training!

Orecchiette Bolognese, from the Kitchen Ninja: at this point, I’m basically just drooling all over my laptop.  Who doesn’t love a good bolognese sauce?

Ramen Noodles, from Oh, Briggsy: a dream bowl of ramen with all the toppings, all from scratch, all at home, no epic culinary pilgrimage to Momofuku required.  So impressive!

Rosemary Linguini with Caramelized Onions, Walnuts & Blue Cheese, from My Pantry Shelf: proves that you don’t need a pasta machine to make your own pasta from scratch.  Sage, rosemary, bay leaves, white wine, blue cheese = my kind of dish, for sure.

Ravioli, from Snowflake Kitchen: Kate, I am 100% sold on the ravioli mold, those look absolutely perfect. Also, I love the emphasis on fresh eggs, I completely agree.

Spaghetti & Meatballs, from Grow it Cook it Can it

Spätzle, from Homemade Trade: this post made me really want to visit Germany again…. or maybe just make the journey down to San Francisco and beg Aimee to make me some of her delicious-looking spätzle.  (When do we get the recipe for your mom’s goulasch? I want it! I am a junky for Recipes That Someone’s Mom Has Been Making For Their Birthday Forever.)

Stuffed Shells, from Homesprout: brilliant! with fresh eggs from backyard chickens and homemade fresh ricotta cheese.  Fancy restaurants wish they had stuff this good on the menu.

(Writing this post meant putting in nine billion links and pictures from different sites, actually reading e-mails and checking my inbox, and a bunch more… so please, if for some reason I’ve forgotten someone or messed up a link, or messed up giving someone credit somewhere, please tell me right away and I’ll fix it.)

Thanks everyone for cooking along.  Don’t forget, the February Cook it Resolution is all about bread making…. I made a couple loaves of sandwich bread but I’ve gotten my hands on a sourdough starter that one of my baker friends gave me, and there are all sorts of cookbooks spread out in the kitchen with different recipes I’m looking at and working on.  (Pinterest is all well and good, but what’s the point of bookmarking cool stuff if you can’t trash your house while you do it?)

If you’re just reading about Cook it! 2012 and want to join in the fun…. send me an e-mail at thejamgirl@gmail.com.

Happy baking!

Cook it! 2012: February Resolution

I think that I should get extra points for blogging at all with our pathetic internet connection.  The little switch on my phone that turns on a personal hotspot implies that I could then be able to use the internet on my computer.  It seems to be more complicated than that. Trying to understand why sometimes the hot spot works perfectly and other times completely doesn’t work at all is like trying to understand the meaning of life, or god, or any of the other great mysteries of the universe.  Strange theories have been circulating about the weather, the time of day, the position of the phone, and possible government conspiracies to keep my boundless widsom from reaching the masses.

I did a little internet dance and I’m wearing my lucky purple shirt, so cross your fingers and let’s see if this works.

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COOK IT 2012! FEBRUARY RESOLUTION: BAKE BREAD

Last month I spent my free time covered in semolina flour, making batch after batch of fresh pasta.  It was deliciously messy, every bite of it.  This month, I’m focusing on bread baking.  I think I’ve mentioned on here before that I’m a horrible baker  (I made chocolate chip cookies the other day, and on my first batch, the bottoms were completely black and the tops were still semi-raw.  Nice, right?)  I really want to improve these skills.  I can make an amazing seville orange marmalade. I know how to cure my own bacon and grind my own sausage.  I can do remarkable things with butternut squash and kale.  Yet somehow if you involve flour and the oven, I’m lost.

I’ve seen all these great things on the internet about making wild sourdough bread, beautiful whole grain sandwich breads, and all kinds of other special techniques.  I knew that before I could attempt anything like this, I had to be able to bake a plain loaf of boring sandwich bread with absolutely no fancy bells or whistles.  I don’t usually do this, but I ended up just googling “white bread recipe” and going with one of the first ones that came up.  It used white flour and what seemed like a lot of refined sugar, but I just went with it anyway.  (The nice thing about experimenting with bread is that it’s cheap.   A batch of failed jam can set you back, oh, $20, but a failed loaf of bread is just a couple bucks, and can easily be turned into breadcrumbs, bread pudding or croutons if it doesn’t come out quite right.)

I’m not necessarily all that enamored with the idea of breads.  I don’t eat very much of it and I don’t really crave it the way I think some people do.  A wonderful thing happened while I was working on this project, though.  Part of the reason I wanted to do these resolutions is that spending time in the kitchen working on a project is very relaxing for me.  I may not actually care about bread all that much, but forcing myself to stop running around like a crazy person and spent a morning at home in the kitchen was a huge victory.  It reminded me of yoga class, when the instructor tells you to relax and clear your mind, to let go of all the stressful things you’re thinking about.  I tried to quiet my thoughts and let my mind settle in to the motion of kneading, the smell of yeast.  I realized: It’s amazing how hard it is to stop thinking running errands, working, chores, bills…  It kind of worked though.  I spent the morning at home.  I baked bread.  Everything stopped for a few hours.  It was great.  Right now, even, sitting here writing.  I have work I should maybe be doing – my greenhouse got totally destroyed in a windstorm two nights ago, and I really need to go put it back up and work on starting tomato plants.  It’s nice to take some time and say:

……….yeah, i’m not doin that now.

maybe later.

Strange how deciding to learn something new turns into a meditation on laziness and procrastination, right?

Whole Grain White Bread, adapted from the Amish White Bread recipe here

Makes: 2 loaves

Cook Time: 2 Hours

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. warm water
  • 2/3 c. white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbs. dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 4 c. bread flour
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and the water.  If your kitchen is cold, it may help to warm the bowl in the oven a bit.  (My kitchen is freezing).  Stir in the yeast and set aside to proof.  When the mixture is ready it will look slightly foamy.  Mix the salt and the oil into the yeast mixture.  Mix in the flour, one cup at a time.  Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until it’s smooth and starting to feel springy.  Put the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a wet cloth.  Set it somewhere warm to rise for an hour or so, or way longer if you’re in my freezing kitchen.  When the dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl.  Punch it down and knead it for a few minutes.  Divide the dough in half and form it into loaves.  Put them in oiled 9×5” loaf pans.  Let the dough rise again, until it’s 1” above the pans.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  The loaf will be nicely browned on top and have a pleasant hollow-sounding thump when you tap the bottom of the pan.

For the more visual people….

Yes, one of the reasons that my baking suffers might be that I’m using a liquid measuring cup for dry ingredients. The kitchen smelled incredible at this point.  I’m always struck by how aromatic yeast is. I panicked when I checked my dough after an hour and it hasn’t risen at all.  Not one bit.  In the end, I had to turn my oven on to 350 degrees for 10 minutes, then turn it off, and then put the covered dough in the oven with the door slightly cracked.  That’s how cold my kitchen is.

And at last…

I want to tell you that I eat lots of bread and jam . . . 

Warm bread and peach jam is certainly very luxurious…  but what I really eat is this:

Is a recipe really required?  Toad-in-a-hole, eggs-in-a-basket, whatever you want to call them, they’re my favorite breakfast.  My dad referred to them as “sewer-lids” all through my childhood, which is charming.  I still wonder if this is some kind of reference to his upbringing in New Jersey.  J. decided that eggs-in-a-basket should be named “pregnant toast,” which I think is pretty hysterical.

Oh, one thing- melt some shredded cheese on top to make them extra delicious.

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THE DETAILS:

If you want to be included in the great pasta-roundup, make sure to get your posts to me by February 15th.

The deadline for this month’s challenge is March 15, at 12:00 PM PST.

Happy Baking!

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Cook It 2012: January Resolution

About a week ago, I wrote a post about making kitchen resolutions to learn new skills and techniques during 2012, along with an invitation for any other inspired cooks out there to join me in doing the projects.  After many interested e-mails, I’m happy to officially commit to 12 months of kitchen resolutions, nicknamed Cook it! 2012.

So here’s the plan:

Every month is a new project.  I have little or no experience in some of the techniques I’m going to focus on, but I really like eating all of the foods I’ve jotted down on my list, so I’m hoping to learn how to cook all of these things at home.  There are a couple techniques that I’ve got on the list that I already have experience doing, but I want to get to a more advanced level with them.

At the beginning of the month, I’ll announce what the project is, and post recipes, pictures, and instructions I’ve found helpful.  If you want to cook along with me, you’ll have one month to tackle the resolution in your own kitchen.   Cook something in the same category that I’ve made, but not the same exact dish.  If you have a blog, write a post detailing what you made along with any pictures and recipes you want to share.  Before the deadline, e-mail me (thejamgirl@gmail.com) a link to your post and I’ll write a little roundup of everything.  If you don’t have a blog, you are absolutely, 100% still invited to participate.  Instead of e-mailing me a link to a post, just e-mail me a picture of what you made and I’ll put together a photo gallery of everybody’s work.

There’s no need to cook every single project if you don’t have time, so no stress about that.  Just have fun.
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If you’re going to participate, e-mail me with your blog url (if you have one, or e-mail address if you don’t) at thejamgirl@gmail.com by January 31st to join.  The deadline for this project will be February 15 at 12:00 PM (PST).

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All that being said, I think it’s about time to get to it.

COOK IT! 2012 JANUARY RESOLUTION: MAKE PASTA FROM SCRATCH

So, you know that stupid face that so many of the cooking show hosts make when they finally taste what they’ve been making? The face that’s like “…oh, yeah baby, eating this grilled chicken makes me feel like I’m licking Ryan Goslings abs!” It’s ridiculous.  And usually what they’re tasting is something really mundane that definitely doesn’t look like it should be inspiring those fluttering eyelashes and throaty moans.

I’m really embarrassed to say it, but when I tasted my finished project, I totally made that stupid face.  I think I may have, um…. I think I grunted.  It was something like, “uuummmghhhpffohhhhgod,” with my mouth still full of noodles, of course.  It was the pasta of my dreams.When I was plating everything up, my first reaction was more along the lines of “I’m glad this worked since I want to really want to write about it on the internet” but then I had a bite, and … oh god…  It was so good.  Drop-everything-you’re-doing-immediately-good, the kind of taste that, in the blink of an eye, makes you evaluate your culinary career thus far and rethink what direction you want it to head in (namely, one involving more fresh pasta).   The texture of the fresh spaghetti, made with only semolina flour, eggs from our hens, salt and a little spring water, is mind blowing.  Using pastured eggs gave the noodles this buttery, velvety richness that I’ve never found in any other pasta, including “fresh” ones from the grocery store and even farmers markets, (and I’m not just speaking in food-blog-hyperbole, where every bite of food is the most delicious thing ever cooked in the history of cooking.)

I’ve been wanting to learn how to make pasta forever, and really just needed to spring for the pasta machine.  I was worried that it would just be another appliance that sat around the kitchen gathering dust, but after that first bite of noodle glory, I can guarantee that it will see plenty of use.  The machine I got is an Atlas, which worked like a charm. There are a variety of pasta-makers on the market, and this is on the lower end of the price range, around $60.  (I don’t have any opinions on other models since I haven’t used them).  They seem to come in all shapes and sizes, including really fancy ones that attach to kitchen-aid mixers so you don’t have to do any of the hand-cranking that this model requires.  Most of the machines follow the same pattern, where you make the dough first and the machine does most of the actual work of kneading, stretching and cutting the noodles.

Pastured Egg Pasta Dough Recipe

This is adapted from a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which has a really helpful section about making fresh pasta.

Makes: about 1 lb. of pasta

Cook time: about an hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. semolina flour
  • 2 extra large eggs (or the biggest eggs your hens have laid that day), at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • about 1/4 c. water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Make a well on the counter with the semolina flour.  Put the eggs, oil, and salt into the hole in the middle of the flour.  Use a fork to break up the yolks and start stirring everything together, gradually pulling in the flour from the edges of the well.  Bring in as much flour as you can with the fork, and then start kneading together everything with your hands.  If the dough is dry and won’t come together, add in a teaspoon of water at a time and keep kneading until it forms a ball. If the dough is too wet, add some flour.  Once the dough forms a ball, knead it for another 3-4 minutes.  Cover, and let rest for 15 minutes.  Continue according to the package instructions with whichever machine you use.

For more visual people: Use a fork to break up the yolks and start combining the flour into the egg mixture.  It helps, after mixing with the fork, to stick your hands right in the flour and egg mix to gather everything together.  This was the point in my recipe where I realized that farm eggs don’t always come in the traditional “extra-large” sizes that recipes often call for.  There definitely wasn’t enough moisture from my Medium-Largish size eggs, and my dough was quite dry and crumbly.  I just added a lot more water than the recipe called for in this next step, which didn’t seem to matter.  Next time, I’m going to try adding an extra egg so I don’t have to use as much water.   To get the dough into a ball, just keep kneading it together with your hands.  (It should be fairly dry and not stick to your fingers at all. Add some flour if it does.)Knead the dough for a few minutes to make it pretty smooth, then form it into a ball and let it rest, covered, for 15 minutes.

Once it’s done resting, roll the dough out a little to help it fit into the pasta maker.After this, it’s just a matter of following the instructions for whatever pasta maker you have.  The Atlas that I own has you repeatedly feed the dough through an opening that flattens and thins it out into a long sheet.   My dough wanted to fall apart a little bit when I first started, but I just kept folding the sheet in half or thirds and feeding it through the machine.  After a few turns through the rollers, it started holding together nicely. Eventually, the dough gets to the proper thickness for the noodles.  Cut the long strip of dough into 10″ lengths.  Use a knife to cut wider noodles like pappardelle or tagliatelle, or use the cutting attachment on the machine for thinner ones. Hang the noodles to dry for an hour or two.  I used hangers instead of a real pasta drying rack, but you have to cut them on one side with wire-cutters so the pasta slides off without breaking.  To go with the spaghetti, I fancied up some canned tomato sauce from our summer garden and made meatballs vaguely inspired by Saveur’s recipe here.

Spaghetti and Meatballs 

serves: 4

cook time: (not including making the pasta) 45 minutes

Ingredients:

for the sauce-

  • 2 quarts of canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 c. red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

for the meatballs –

  • a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • about 1/3 lb. ground beef
  • about 2/3 lb. ground pork
  • 1/4 c. ricotta cheese
  • 3 tbs. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbs. garlic powder

1 lb. fresh spaghetti

For serving: 1/2 c. chopped parsley, 1/2 c. parmesan cheese

First, make the sauce.  In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and saute until they’re translucent.  Turn the heat up to high and get the pan really hot, then pour in the red wine.  Add the crushed tomatoes, parsley and bay leaf to the pot and bring everything to a simmer.  Turn the heat to low and cook until thickened.  If you like smoother sauce, puree with whatever appliance you own to puree things like this- blender, food processor, immersion blender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Now, make the meatballs. Combine all of the meatball ingredients except the olive oil in a mixing bowl.  Gently work everything together.  Form the meat into whatever size balls makes you happy.  Heat up the olive oil in a skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides.  Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs and simmer for about 30 minutes to cook the meat all the way through.

Cook the spaghetti in a pot of liberally salted boiling water.  The fresh spaghetti cooks up in a matter of minutes, so make sure not to overcook it.  Drain, and combine with the sauce and meatballs.  Garnish with cheese and parsley and serve immediately. One last note:  If you want to do this month’s resolution, you don’t necessarily have to buy a pasta maker. There are a lot of recipes that don’t use a pasta maker that I have bookmarked to try, like the Roasted Garlic Orechiette from Well Preserved, Pumpkin Gnocchi from Local Kitchen , or maybe these homemade egg noodles topped with beef stew or a mushroom stroganoff.  I still remember the späetzle I ate in Munich thirteen years ago, and you definitely don’t need a pasta maker for those.  (Drenched in a rich, meaty brown gravy, this might be the recipe I need to recreate at home next. They were amazing).  Happy Cooking! Remember, carbs don’t count if they’re completely from scratch.