Cook it! 2012 November Resolution

My schedule’s been a little crazy these last few weeks.  In case you’ve been paying attention, we kind of missed a month for the cook it! 2012 resolutions because  I stopped all my other projects and made the journey back to New Jersey for my grandma’s memorial service.  It felt good to stop everything I was doing and go be with my family.  I love them very much and am so so grateful to have these wonderful people in my life, and it made me think a lot about figuring out how to balance a career and a lifestyle that I really enjoy here at the farm with the freedom to do things like see my relatives more often. I haven’t figured out the answer yet. If you’ve figured it out, feel free to tell me.

I also saw fall for the first time in ten years, which was really nice. California is great and all, but the poison oak leaves changing color absolutely does not count as fall foliage. I was lucky, too, because the day after I left, Hurricane Sandy hit.  I can’t believe that my trip still was able to go on as planned and that I was able to get out of New Jersey just in time.  It’s kind of surreal to think that when I left, everything looked completely normal, like Normal Rockwell came in and threw up everywhere; the neighborhood was totally swarming with happy little kids setting out pumpkins and raking fall leaves.  It seems impossible that the pictures of devastation on the news are the same places where I just visited.  My thoughts are with all the people who still don’t have power and have so much to rebuild.

Now that I’m home, I want to catch up on some of the things I usually talk about with the cook it! projects.  First things first is to point you to the projects that Aimee and Julianne did last month when we were focusing on dehydrating fruit.

Julianne, from the Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja,  made these dehydrated watermelon slices that sound like candy and I’m definitely bookmarking for next summer.


Aimee from Homemade Trade made raisins, which I think is brilliant considering how prolific grapes are here in California and how many recipes call for raisins.
Over the past months, I’ve done pears, apples, peaches and tomatoes, and I’m totally sold on this method of food preservation.  I keep a jar of dried fruit out on the counter and find myself grabbing a few slices of apple throughout the day without thinking, which is great, since I can’t really think of many things that make a healthier snack.

This month’s project is going to be a little different than the ones we’ve done in the past, mostly because I haven’t done it yet.  (I’m going to put up my post at the same time as everyone else since I’m still behind on everything.)  I’m leaving the topic really open this month because there are so many different skill levels and I also don’t want people to have to purchase special equipment to cook along with us.

so. The plan is:  MEAT

The rules are:

1. Make a project that is somehow centered around meat.

2. It has to be awesome.

3. It has to be something you’ve never made before.

4. It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.

Things that might fit the bill would be a new charcuterie project like making bacon or sausage, learning how to make a fancy roast (ehem…. Thanksgiving), or maybe figuring how to make that chicken curry recipe that you always get from the takeout spot.   It’s up to you.

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To be included in the round-up post, send me an e-mail with the link to your blog post by December 1.  My e-mail is thejamgirl@gmail.com.

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January Charcutepalooza Challenge: Duck Prosciutto

the finished product: duck prosciutto, sage cracker, olive oil marinated chevre, montmorency cherry jam and blood oranges

Where to start… I had huge problems trying to photograph and write something about my first Charcutepalooza project.  For one, the whole process – obtaining duck breasts, learning how to cure them, waiting for them to cure, and then finally knowing how to tell when the meat is finished and ready to eat – was long and very drawn out.  I got kind of bored mid way through, lost interest, and decided to make marmalade and plant flowers, and that was infinitely more entertaining.  That is…  until I sampled some of the finished product! Delicious revelations in cured meats! Needless to say I am on completely on board the charcuterie bandwagon again.  That was the second road block- the prosciutto was disappearing off the cutting board faster than I could go get my camera. In the end, though, this project was exactly what it should be- salty, buttery, melt-in-your mouth goodness.

As part of this year long journey, I am trying to use animals that were either farm- raised or hunted by myself or someone that I know.  I was able to trade eggs for a few of these:

wild duck

This is my favorite kind of transaction: A friend of mine wanted eggs. I have eggs. I wanted duck. He had a bunch of them. No money needed, simple barter of goods for goods.  An interesting point to take note of is that quality of the bartered goods- I can tell you with absolute certainty that my eggs have richer yolks and better flavor than any eggs you will ever find at the grocery store, or sometimes even at a big farmers market.  Large-scale poultry farms, whether they are free-range and organic or not, are not usually able to provide everything that we can.  Our hens have space and sunshine; they are able to forage for wild greens and bugs, and we amend their diets with lots of scraps from the kitchen and the gardens.  In the same vein, the wild ducks that I was able to get are leaner and less greasy than farm-raised ducks, they have a richer flavor since there is more meat and less fat, and I can eat them in good conscience, knowing that they lived happy duck lives in the wild, the way they are supposed to.  The moral of the story? If individuals strive to become part of a healthy food system either by having a garden, supporting local farms, hunting, foraging, canning or preserving, we will not need to rely on overpriced corporate giants like Whole Foods to have access to high quality, artisan, hand-crafted goods.  (Really, we won’t need grocery stores at all. The farmer’s market, our backyards and our neighbors backyards can provide all of the things we need for a beautiful, local, healthy diet).

With all of that insane preaching (probably to the choir), at the beginning of the project, I was so nervous about my meat choices and lack of charcuterie experience, that I ran out to the local Co-Op and picked this up:

Ridiculous! Despite how lame that was and as much as I wished that I didn’t buy it, using both farm-raised and wild duck breasts ended up being a really interesting experiment, and now that I’ve got a little more faith in my meat-curing skills, I don’t think I should have to cave in to the temptations of the grocery store again.   I cured four of the breasts, using the same process for all of them- first buried in kosher salt, and then wrapped in cheesecloth and left to cure in a cool, dark space.  (For a full set of instructions, refer to our textbook for the project, Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie).

duck breasts buried in salt

The resulting prosciutto was delicious, and it was really interesting to see the color variations between the two types of duck.  The wild duck’s darker meat became even darker, and it had a really vivid, rich duck flavor.  The farm-raised duck made more of a traditional prosciutto, with a thick ribbon of fat running across each slice and a less obvious duck flavor.
finished prosciutto: the wild duck is on the left, farm-raised on the right

For the Charcutepalooza, each participant is supposed to come up with a unique recipe for the meats that they have made.  Sampling the prosciutto, it became totally clear that ours wasn’t going into some fancy, complicated dish; we needed crackers, and some cheese, and we needed them fast, before it disappeared off the cutting board.  We ended up with a table full of warm, homemade crackers, olive-oil marinated local goat cheese, fresh herbs from the garden, sliced blood oranges from the farmers market, and a jar of my Montmorency sour cherry jam. The sweet-sour-salty combination of the meat, cheese, and cherry jam was amazing, with some fresh cracked black pepper on top for spice, a sprinkle of fresh thyme, and sliced blood oranges to brighten the whole thing up and make sure it didn’t get to heavy with fat and sugar.  I have to emphasize again: really, really tasty.

montmorency cherry jam

If you want to recreate something like this, a basic list of ingredients would be:

  • cured duck breast (it’s really incredibly easy!)
  • jam or jelly such as fig, cherry, or red wine will work the best with duck
  • cheese (I like goat cheese here)
  • crackers (Recipe follows…. scroll down)
  • fresh herbs
  • fresh fruit
  • pepper
  • olive oil

No need to be too fancy, just put all those items out on a cutting board and go to town. Enjoy!


Homemade Sesame-Sage Crackers

This was also the first time I’m made my own crackers. This recipe is so simple and cheap, I doubt I’ll ever buy them again.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. flour (I used all-purpose white, you could use whole wheat too)
  • 2 tbs. cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 c. cold water
  • 2 tbs. sesame seeds
  • 1 heaping tbs. chopped herbs (I used mostly sage, with some rosemary, marjoram and thyme; whatever you have in the garden is fine)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt

1. Combine all the ingredients except the water in a food processor.  Mix until crumbly (like making a pie crust) and then slowly add in the water. Mix until the dough comes together in a ball (it’s okay to add a few tablespoons of water if you need).  The dough should just come together, and not be sticky.

2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and roll as thin as possible.

3. Transfer dough to an ungreased baking sheet. Poke holes in the dough with a fork, and score with a knife if you want to break it apart later to have square crackers.

4. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Cool, and break into pieces.  I have no idea how they would store, since we ate them within a few hours.