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Saturday, December 13, 2014

So Much Corporate Bullshit

If you did not grow up with Sunset magazine, you will perhaps not understand my extreme dismay and disgust over the news that Time, Inc., has sold the seven acre Menlo Park (California) campus on which the magazine has been produced since 1951.

I thought it was bad enough when Lawrence Lane sold the magazine to Time Warner in 1990; TW changed a lot of things in the magazine and it hasn't been as good as it used to be ever since then.  I had a subscription as a gift for a year but didn't care in the least for it- it just wasn't the same and not any good anymore, in my view.  Lots of things were missing from it, most especially the great how-to articles and plans.  I told the gift's giver not to bother with renewing it for me when she asked.

Here is the birth and history of the magazine, and its death knell.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving always distills my sense of gratitude every year- it never fails.  This year it seems I have more than ever for which to be thankful, but having Steve in my life always tops everything else.  But even if I didn't have him, I would still have more than a lot of folks.  I'm really glad that we have a day to remind us of everything that's good in our lives.

Warmest wishes to everyone for a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Scary Story

Wow! If you weren't convinced before that you need to raise as much of your own food as you can, maybe this story will convince you.  And here is the PBS original story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Seasoning New Cast Iron and a Review of Lodge's Pizza Pan

Steve and I have been making pizzas at home for a long time, and we're pretty good at it, but we still hadn't nailed down the crust yet.  We've been using a pizza stone for a long time and have tried it in all the positions in the oven; from the bottom to the top and everything in between.  We've tried different temperatures, different baking duration, different recipes, different amounts of water in the recipe we like, topping the pizza with cheese before putting it in the oven, baking the crust with the sauce for a few minutes, and then topping it with cheese, etc.  The crust would come out either too underdone for the bottom to be crunchy, or it would come out like hard tack- it was never just right. Until last Friday.

I read about pizza steels on, but they are really spendy.  Then somehow, and I can't remember how, I wound up on Amazon looking at Lodge cast iron, and found they make a pizza pan. And their pizza pan had great reviews.  Out of 764 reviews, 694 were five stars. I found the ones by A. Stribling and S. Peterson (their reviews are near the top) were the most fun and useful, and didn't read much more.   That, and the high number of five star reviews was enough for me, so I went ahead and ordered one.

However, when it showed up, it had the same problem all new cast iron has anymore, enameled cast iron excepted; it has a really pebbly cooking surface.  I have a really old Wagner pan that I've had since my late teens that has a very smooth cooking surface, which is really non-stick.  When Steve and I got our wood stove, his sister gave us a small cast iron frying pan for Christmas that would fit on the wood stove.  I haven't really used it because it too, had a pebbly surface.  Then I found out that you can sand cast iron and smooth some of that out.  Who knew?

So I attacked both pans with sandpaper- first 80 grit, then 150, and then 220.  I also did this on the stove with the hood fan running full blast, because inhaling that stuff would give a new meaning to iron lung.

This is the small frying pan:

You can see what I mean about pebbly; in this picture I only took off the top of the surface on the sides of the pan because I didn't feel like wasting time on a surface that will only occasionally get food on it.  All the action really occurs on the bottom of the pan:

Even after sanding most of the high spots off the pizza pan, you can still see the low spots that were left. That's okay, because it would really take a long time and a lot of iron off the pan, and besides I know the best way to season cast iron, because after all this sanding, I was going to need to do that anyway:

The absolute best oil to use for seasoning a new cast iron pan is flax seed oil.  I learned it here, and I'll let her explain why it works, but I will say that it does do a great job.  It will also let you heat your pan to the 500F you need for baking a pizza.  700F is better, but I don't have a brick pizza oven, so I have to settle for what my ovens will give me, and 525F is the top end on one of them. 

This crust was the closest we've ever come to pizzeria pizza- crunchy on the bottom as well as on top, but nice and soft and thoroughly cooked all the way through:

This works because cast iron, while being a lousy conductor of heat, holds on to what heat it gets for a long time.  Some folks have tested it and found that outside of the exact spot where the burner on your stove is, the rest of a cast iron pan doesn't really get as hot as the part over the burner, and you can test this yourself on any of your pans by spreading flour evenly over the cooking surface and cranking the hell out of the burners.  In fact, after a late turn on the seasoning, I turned off the oven and left the pans in the oven, and they were still warm when I got up the next morning six hours later.  At any rate, in the oven, getting blasted by heat from all directions, cast iron heats up pretty well and stays hot for a long time, so if you preheat it well before putting your dough on it, it will start baking the bottom of the crust while you are still topping your pizza.  And you don't have to leave the whole pizza in the oven for a really long time, drying out the crust and burning the cheese just trying to get the center of your crust baked through.   

I love this pan!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kouign Amann At Home

Sometime last summer I learned about Kouign Amann (pronounced Queen A-mahn, but if you remember your high school French you'll recall that the three letters o, u, and i, together as in oui, are actually pronounced 'ooh-wee' really fast, so it would be koo-ween a-mahn and the koo-ween would roughly come out Queen), which is a French pastry from the Brittany region of France.  It sounded pretty wonderful, so naturally I forwarded several online recipes to Steve to choose from.  We have this deal: he makes the dough and I finish the item- soft pretzels excluded).  We set one aside to wait for the weather to cool down as we don't like to bake in the house during the summer.

Then a few weeks ago when we had to go into Portland after brewables, we stopped at a bakery that had Kouign Amann (after having scoured the city bakery menus online to find out who did them).  We got the last two they had, and they were just okay- not shaped as expected and really greasy and not terribly buttery.

This past Saturday we finally got around to baking them for ourselves. The recipe came from here, and as promised, it was pretty easy, and didn't take too long.  It does help to start the night before, and finish up the morning you want to eat them.  We had them for breakfast, and then again for dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on them.  They were way, way better then the ones we got from the bakery.

And in case you're wondering, I started my diet yesterday.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Will There Be Gravy?

This was an oft-repeated question of Steve's over the course of our marriage, which, coincidently, will be thirteen years old tomorrow.  He usually asked this about things for which there certainly could be gravy, but generally did not lend themselves to gravy, such as baked chicken, or maybe pork chops.  Honestly, there was a while there when I thought he thought that gravy just happened, like spontaneous combustion.  Clearly, he had no clue what good gravy required, and that would be pan drippings.  The problem was, I'd learned to bake chicken in a glass baking dish, and the drippings usually got thrown out.   But then it dawned on me, and you probably figured this one out long ago: bake the chicken in a frying pan, remove it to a platter to keep warm, and make gravy with whatever's in the pan!

So that's what I do: the chicken parts (thighs, usually) get baked and removed to a platter to keep warm, and then I add whatever amount of flour the pan looks like it needs to make a good roux.  Then I add stock (if I have it) or more likely, water and chicken bouillon and herbs (thyme and marjoram) and fresh ground nutmeg and pepper.  The gravy gets to simmer for a little while to thoroughly cook the flour in the roux and thicken somewhat.  Tonight I poached the carrots in the gravy to impart a little flavor and color to it and the carrots were divine. The gravy wasn't too bad either.

Since starting this method anytime I announce that I'm going to bake chicken for dinner, Steve no longer asks the question.  He knows.

There will be gravy.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Compost Trick

I hit upon a great way to get my compost to break down faster.

Instead of waiting for the various compost constituents to break down from larger pieces to smaller, I figured I could help them along with the lawn mower. The contents of my last compost pile went into the bed at the back of the yard, along with the contents of the chicken yard.  They are under warps for the duration until I can move the asparagus into them.

So I needed to start a new compost pile for the winter, which I determined should be in the first bed that I'm rehabbing.  This summer I planted buckwheat into it, which I took down last weekend.  Then from the big bed, I needed to take the pole beans and cucumbers down from their respective trellises and cut them up for the compost.  But I didn't want to have to cut them up the hard way, and I didn't want to leave them whole; plus, I needed to add a lot of carbon to the pile, which I why I keep straw in the garage (I really need a barn, but then, I also need a truck and I'm not getting that anytime soon either).  Using the mower with the bagger removed so that it would 'mulch' sounded like a good idea.  Ideally, you want to end up with a C:N ratio of 30:1, but compost will work between 25:1-40:1*. You also want your compost to be damp, but also be fluffed up enough for air to pass through it.  A compost pile with little to no air in it will decompose anaerobically, and trust me, it will smell bad.  Having the straw chopped up into little bits goes a long way to keeping air in the pile.  This is how i did it.

First I laid down a layer of straw:

Then I put the bean and cucumber plants on top of that:

Then I put a little more straw over that:

Then I had Steve run the mower back and forth over it:

Then I raked it into a row and had Steve run over it again:

This is what I got:

If it looks like a lot more straw than green stuff, that's because it is.

At one point, I added a bunch of old cucumbers:

And this is what I used to chop them up:

This is my mangel chopper, or fodder root chopper that I got from Red Pig Tools (I love my Red Pig tools- I have a bunch of them).  It was a whole lot easier than attacking them with a machete, which I also have. Between the mower and the mangel chopper, I think I can retire the machete.

After chopping it all up and dumping it onto the new pile, I mixed in the buckwheat from the bed and some kitchen scraps, and then covered it loosely with a large sheet of plastic because it was going to rain the next day.  A rainy day will cool down a compost pile and worse, leach nutrients.   It's still a short pile, so I'm not expecting too much to happen right away.  A compost pile doesn't really start cranking until it hits a critical mass, which starts at roughly a cubic yard.  Some compost piles that are so large have been known to produce enough heat to spontaneously combust.  This is the best explanation of how that can happen that I've seen.  I never seem to have enough material on hand at any time, so I doubt that will ever be a problem.

Even if this pile is alway so small that it takes longer to break down than I want it to, at least I didn't have to chop it up with a machete, which is just plain taxing.

* See this for a great Carbon:Nitrogen calculator that will help you get your mix just right.

I need more shelving....

Rotkohl and applesauce

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Woohoo! Sourdough!

I've been trying to successfully make a sourdough starter years, to be met with only disappointment.  I know I could have bought one, but I didn't want to do that.  My older sister made sourdough all the time when I was a kid, and she made her own starter and kept it (like a pet) on the kitchen counter in a Boston baked bean pot.  Her sourdough breads were delicious, and I've been wanting to make them as well. When I asked her where she got the recipe, she said The Sunset Cook Book of Breads.

So I faithfully followed their fussy instructions: they have you start by heating a cup of milk to 90 or 100 degrees F and then remove it from the heat and stir in three tablespoons of plain yogurt and let the whole thing stand for eighteen to twenty-four hours.  As you might have guessed, this isn't making sourdough starter so much as it's making yogurt.  But into this yogurt you stir one cup of flour until smoothly blended and then cover tightly and let stand in a warm place until the mixture is full of bubbles and has a good sour smell.  Well, it never worked, and I'd have to throw out the ingredients in disgust and disappointment, again.

I don't know if it's because you make it with a yogurt or not, but I can tell you that part of the reason it failed is because they have you cover it tightly. No wonder it never worked!  Sourdough starters work by capturing wild yeasts from the air, much like Belgian beers do.  If you cover it, the wild yeasts can't get in there, and you're just spoiling a cup of yogurt and a cup of flour, which is what I'd been doing all along.

Last weekend I finally got wise and called my sister.  May as well go to the mountain, I figured.  In talking, she mentioned that she knew that Lane Publishing later changed the instructions for sourdough starter. She had the second edition whereas I had the third, so I asked her to read me the instructions from her book.  They were much, much simpler, and they worked.


Tonight we'll pull a half cup out and Steve will start a poolish, or more correctly, a levain,*  for a sourdough boule.  We'll also add another half cup of warm milk and half cup of flour to replenish the starter.  This is called feeding it (see? the pet analogy isn't so far off) and if you don't bake often with your starter you should draw off all but a half cup of starter and add a cup each of warm milk and flour to feed it, at least once a month.  The starter needs to be kept in the refrigerator once it's soured correctly, and you should leave it out on the counter from four to six hours to warm up before you use it.  You can leave it overnight if you like to bake in the morning.  

But woohoo!  Sourdough!

Sourdough Starter:

In a glass or crockery jar, leave a cup of milk to stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

Add 1 cup flour and stir until smooth.  Leave uncovered (very important!) in a warm place, like on top of the refrigerator (80 degrees is ideal) for 2-5 days, until it gets bubbly and smells sour, at which point you can use or cover loosely and put in the fridge until you need it.

If during its making the liquid separates, just stir it back in, but if the liquid turns pink, chuck the whole thing and start over.

I kept my starter in the only consistently warm spot in the kitchen, which is also out of the way of drafts: the top of the freezer.  The next day my starter had separated, so I just stirred it back in.  And today, the second day, it's ready.  And it smells wonderful.

*This is pre-ferment, not preferment in pronounciation.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Making Scrapple: Adventures in Goody Guts

I have to publish a correction to this post...Mom corrected me- it was one chicken and two dinners for ten people.

When I was a kid, Mom would take two one chicken and get two dinners from them for ten people.  In a way it was kind of magic, but in reality, it was just careful resource management. She'd buy a large chicken, cut it up (later on that job fell to my older brother, who eventually showed me how to do it, including digging out the kidneys from the back under running water with your thumbs- I think this is probably why I have no problem reaching into a dead chicken and grabbing the entrails by the gizzard), and bake everything but the back, neck, wing tips and goody guts, which you would know as giblets; all that would go into the stock pot.  For dinner the first night, she'd carefully portion out a piece of baked chicken to each person according to his or her size/age, and my older brother always got first dibs on seconds, because as my father repeatedly put it, "his body being a bigger machine needs more fuel".

Then after dinner while the chicken parts were still warm, she'd pick the meat off  and refrigerate it and the stock, and the next night, she'd make a gravy from the chicken stock, add the chicken bits and frozen peas, and serve that on noodles.  Daddy called it Sludge, and we loved it.  Except for the giblets, which we'd pick out of the gravy and leave neatly on the sides of our plates. Mom started giving the giblets to the family dog, who was ecstatic about them.  My older sister dubbed them Goody Guts. I thought they were revolting, especially in my gravy. I still do.  To this day, if someone says giblet gravy, I think oh, for your cat you mean?  Uck. (Involuntary shiver.)

Which is why if you'd told me five years ago that knowingly and for no reward I'd be slicing through a pig heart and kidneys with the intention of eating them I'd have probably punched you.

But this is how it happened: we'd had the various pig parts in the freezer ever since we brought home that ill-butchered pig in August of 2012 (honestly, what is it with the small-time butchers in Oregon? My friend Rae  told me that every roast she'd had from her pigs had a rib sticking out of it. Who in their right mind wastes ribs on badly cut roasts?), so they needed, had been needing, to be used up in something. Trouble was, I didn't know what to do with them.  There are still two pieces of pig liver in there, but I know what to do with them, and this autumn, they will finally fulfill their destinies.  But what with all this egg saving and trying to feed Steve on little to no eggs for breakfast, it dawned on me that I should make scrapple. Never mind that I've never made it before, much less even eaten it.  I duly added "neck bones or other porky parts for scrapple" to my grocery list.  And it was Steve who pointed out that this was an excellent thing into which to throw the pig heart and kidneys that were languishing in the freezer, so they eventually came out to be defrosted.

Then commenced the internet search for recipes.  There were lots and lots.  There were pictures of the finished product in the loaf pan and on the plate.  The stuff on the plate looked fine; the stuff in the loaf pan not so much.  It was gray.  I can't think of any food that is gray.  I wasn't so sure I should have embarked down this path, but at this point I couldn't not make it. It's like going to Paris: if you make a start and chicken out, it's better to go ahead so that you can say, "I went and didn't like it", which sounds better than, "I was going to go, but chickened out at the last minute." After all, you could go and find out you like it.

The internet says there are lots of different ways to make scrapple and some of the differences can be attributed to the region from which they come, but they are all pretty much the same in theory: boil pig parts to make a stock or broth; strain it and return the broth to the pan; grind up the pig parts and add those back to the stock; season and thicken with a combination of flour (specifically buckwheat flour, in some parts) and cornmeal; pour into loaf pans while hot, then cool and refrigerate, and slice and fry the next morning in some sort of pork grease.  So I did what I usually do when faced with multiple recipes and methods for a dish I've never tried: I used an amalgamation of everything.

One of the first things I did under my own volition was to roast the neck bones first to get a brown color going in the stock and get more flavor out of them, which is something that no recipe mentioned. Roasting the bones would go a long way toward getting the gray out. Later, when I'd found the buckwheat flour that's been lurking with the dry goods, I thought "Ah. That's probably why the stuff was so gray." But browning the bones couldn't hurt, and it did help a lot.  Actually, my stock was smelling pretty good while it boiled the meat into submission. The heart pieces went in with the bones; the kidney pieces went in a half hour before the stock was done.  Kidneys have to be extracted completely from their white membranes and soaked several times in different water baths until the water clears for them to be edible. Even after all that boiling, with the meat falling off the bones, the heart pieces still felt like little pieces of hard rubber.  I hesitated putting them into the food processor, but I figured, enh, in for a penny, in for a pound, so in they went.  The bones and organ meats worked out to be just a little over a pound of meat that I could use. I picked out the meat and the squishy parts (which would normally turn my stomach if my tongue happened upon them just as they are, but there's a lot of flavor in fat and I was going to grind it anyway), and left the bones and cartilage.  The other thing I did a little differently was to grind the spices together and mix them into the flour and cornmeal mixture so that they'd disperse and bind immediately to the mixture, rather than throwing them into the boiling stock and watch them float and then stick to the sides of the pan. Incidentally, the spice mixture smelled heavenly and I think I'll mix some up and try it in something else.  It smelled so good I was moved to bring it to Steve in his office and command him to smell it.

This morning I had a little trouble getting the first slice out of the loaf pan, but I'd guess that was my inexperience; all the subsequent slices I had no trouble liberating from the pan. In pictures online, I'd noticed most loaves were removed from the pan and then sliced, but I decided not to try to extract it whole from the pan; I just plain didn't want to ruin it. Some recipes said to flour the slices before frying; others said you didn't have to. I remembered my mother's fried cornmeal mush sometimes sticking to the pan so I opted to dust the slices.  I had zero trouble with frying it, and eventually called Steve to breakfast. I cut into my first piece with a little trepidation and put it in my mouth.  Hot and crunchy on the outside, hot and creamy on the inside and just plain tasty.  Even the goody guts had disappeared into the background and contributed to the whole overall delicious experience. Working from the receipts, and not even dialing down to the exact proportions of what I'd bought and what I'd used for the dish, it worked out to $1.18 per meal.  And I mean meal, not per serving. Super cheap.  We'll be making this one again.


This takes a lot of time, so plan on making this with on and off attention one day, for eating the next.

3-4 lbs neck bones or other porky parts
salt and pepper
4 quarts of water
1 giant or two medium onions, skinned and quartered
bouquet garni of celery (I used lovage), bay leaves and thyme sprigs
1 large, peeled carrot, cut into three chunks
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp each sage, mace, thyme
1 tsp marjoram
½ tsp black peppercorns
½ cup buckwheat (or whole wheat) flour
2 cups cornmeal

Grease the bottom of a large oven proof frying pan and lightly salt it. Place the neck bones in the pan and lightly salt and pepper them. Slide into a 375 degree oven and roast until brown, about an hour.

Fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and put on to boil.  Remove the bones from the oven and place the bones in the water, setting the roasting pan aside for the moment.  Add the onion, carrot and bouquet garni to the stock pot.  Ladle some water from the stock pot into the roasting pan and deglaze the pan.  Pour this into the stock pot.  Simmer the stock until the meat is fork tender, about two hours. (If you have softer organ meats to add, wait to add them to the stock during the last half hour of the boil.)

When the meat is fork tender, turn off the heat and pick the porky parts out of the stock.  Strain the stock and return to the stock pot.  Pick the meat from the bones and discard the bones.  Grind the meat with a little bit of the broth.  Return the ground meat to the stock.

Mix the flour and cornmeal in a separate bowl.  Whirl up the salt and spices in a spice grinder (or work with ground spices) and add to cornmeal mixture and mix.  When the stock is boiling, whisk in the cornmeal mixture to keep lumps from developing.  Turn down heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for twenty minutes or until thick.

While hot, pour finished scrapple mixture into loaf pans (this should make two each 5x9 pans) and tap to shake out bubbles if any. I found that my ladle, greasy from moving stock around, was great for this.

Cool the loaves and refrigerate overnight.

Slice in quarter inch slices the next morning for breakfast and dust with flour.  Fry in hot bacon grease or lard.

Serve with one or two of the usual suspects: ketchup, maple syrup, applesauce or apple butter. Yes, you can use Siracha.

Scrapple freezes well; slice and freeze individually on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and then wrap for storage.