The "Jersey" Girls From Deerfield Farms

The "Jersey" Girls From Deerfield Farms
Snookie is in the background!

Friday, December 3, 2010

New posts to come soon...

My hiatus from writing about my food obsessions has been too long. We all have ups and downs in life and often get caught up in the downs. I've been able to rekindle all of my intrigue and wonder about food and culture and history and then find ways to experience them all together.

My ideas about cooking are changing and I hope to be able to express myself as much as I can in these entries.

Coming up I'll be posting pictures of the pig I butchered (but not slaughtered), all of the yummy treats I created with it and down the road some more fun projects to advance my ever-growing, self-sufficient life style.

Very soon I'll post a picture of the old Enterprise sausage stuffer I bought at an antique shop for real cheap!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Simple Walk With The Dog Turns Into An Inspiring Spring Soup

I am a big fan of all things free...especially food. So I've always been a bit of a forager to keep some sort of hobby outside the kitchen. When I first went to cooking school, I was thoroughly inspired by all of the instructors that would instill in us the benefits and pleasures of eating locally. We would shop at farmers markets as class field trips and look at all of the seasonal produce that was around. These beliefs lead my mind to come to a major question: What could be even better than eating locally from farmers who care? My conclusion was looking for and finding the bounty that nature offers herself. From that point on I've always made it a point to research plants and fungi that was in my area and seek it out. With much determination and some luck, I have had some real success finding food stuffs. I've always been very cautious about making sure I've identified things properly before I consumed them and never ind into indulge int too many difficult to identify or similar looking things. It's simply not worth the risk, especially with mushrooms!
So, today I really wasn't on a mission for wild edibles, although I do always keep an eye out. Especially in the Spring when new things are coming up all the time. I was just getting out to give my dog a walk. I take to our local town "open space", where it's simply just that, open space and lots of shrubbery and growth happening. Plus, my dog loves it with all the new smells and things to stimulate a lab that aren't in our back yard. As I was following a path that was slightly carved out by a recent lawn mowing I looked down at a plant that looked vaguely familiar. I thought for a while and then I decided to take a closer look. I stooped down and examined it and thought it might be a type of mint. Then I noticed the fine little hairs all over it. I found nettles! Stinging nettles to be more precise. When I got back up to my feet I looked around to see a few large patches of them in the area. Then I got quite excited. I knew I was gonna cook something with these things come hell or high water! I went back to the car with Annie (my dog) and I went back home to get the stuff I needed to harvest these little babies. I needed to get some rubber gloves, a little knife and a couple of bags to put them in. I rushed back to go pick them and quickly filled my bag. I had to wear the rubber gloves because of the "STING" from the stinging nettles. They have fine hairs on the leaves but also larger little hairs on the stem that stick you and inject you with a kind of formic acid. Kinda like being stung from a fire ant. The sting lasts about 20 minutes or so (for me anyways) and is itchy and a little sore. When I got home I knew exactly where I would find a recipe for nettles. My favorite homesteading-chef-personality of all...Hugh Fearnly Whittingstall. The River Cottage Cookbook is one of my favorites of all-time but I particularly like it for his "hedgerow" foraging and recipes. I found a great nettles recipe for soup which I quickly gathered the ingredients for. I got a new pair of gloves on and cleaned all of the nettles I had and started preparing the soup. In about 25 minutes I had soup! It was quite delicious and was made with some really basic ingredients. I definitely put this up there as a new Springtime ingredient to look out for next year as well. I probably have only a couple of weeks to go before these die off and I'll have to wait for next year to do this again. That is one of the beauties of eating seasonally. You have something to look forward to next year and plenty of time to ponder how you could prepare it better the next time. Here's to the nettles of April! Cheers!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My First All-Grain Homebrew

Did you ever have something that you wanted to do for a long time but you kept putting it off. Then once you did finally do it, you were happy you did it, and wondered why you waited so long! Maybe you had a real reason or maybe were just simply too lazy to get started? What ever it was figure it out because its stopping you from getting things done!! Well I postponed making homebrew for quite some time for various reasons. I thought it might be too complicated to figure, I didn't have the proper equipment and I didn't know anyone who was making any all-grain beers already. So I decided to "get 'er done"!
Once I did the research on all the equipment I needed I knew it could take a lot of money to get all I needed to brew. I looked high and low for discounted items as well as put a few "wanted" ads on Craiglist to piece it all together. At the end of the day I still had to pay a fair amount of money just to get my first batch of beer. I did wonder if was worth all this time and effort since I don't drink beer everyday. But, I did the math on all things considered and figured if I make enough beer to supply myself, to drink on special occasions and bring to friends as gifts (if it's good) then the equipment will pay for itself and I'll be ahead financially.
So, with regards to anyone reading, I am just beginning this process of brewing without much help besides some hobby forums on the Internet and a recipe or two, so I won't be providing much advice on how to do it best, just an explanation of how I did it. Also the pictures I've taken will provide a visual guide to some of the steps involved.
Making beer involves four ingredients: barley, hops, yeast and water and that's it. The majority of home-brewers make beer from what's called a malt extract, which is a heavy syrup (of fermentable sugars) made from (malted)barley. It's made by extracting the fermentable sugars from the barley, in solution, and then reducing them to a thick syrup. With homebrewing an all-grain batch of beer you must do that step yourself (except you're not reducing it to a syrup). There is a tricky point to dealing with the barley, though. The majority of the starches in the barley have to be converted to fermentable sugars. The natural enzymes in the barley are capable of doing that, but you have to know what to do to make it happen. To explain it simply, you steep your cracked barley(grains)in 152F water until the enzymes work and convert the remaining starches into sugars. There is a test to see if this happens. Iodine purchased at the pharmacy is an indicator of the presence of starch. It is used by sampling a little of your mash (barley and water mixture) and mixing a few drop into it. If the iodine turns purple then further conversion needs to happen. Which is simply more time at the 152F. Keep testing your mash and once the iodine doesn't react with the starches then they have all converted to fermentable sugars. Next, you strain you liquid off of your barley, which could be a little tricky as well. You have a mixture a barley and water that looks a lots like oatmeal. It's very thick and dense with grains. You have to do what's called sparging, which is a fancy word for washing all the good sugary liquid off of the barley. It's kind of like squeezing your tea bag out to get all of the tea flavor out, except we don't have a bag, so we have to wash them over with hot water until all the flavor (sugar) is out. As you are draining off the liquid from the bottom of the grains, you are pouring the hot water over top and pushing all of the heavier liquid to the bottom. When the liquid is too diluted to be effective you are done. At this point the rest of the work is quite easy. You have to boil the liquid to reduce it a bit closer to the size of the batch of beer and to concentrate the sugars more. Once you have your wort (barley liquid) to the proper amount then you add your hops. They are added in at two different times. Bittering hops are added in the beginning and the aroma hops are added at the end. After the hops are cooked to the correct time intervals then you need to cool your wort down to the correct temperature to add your yeast. I used my bath tub filled with cold water. Cool the wort down to about 80F and then aerate it (by whisking or simply pour it high into your fermentor) and add the yeast. Pour your wort into your fermentor, which is typically a glass carboy with a tight neck) and cap it off with an airlock. This will keep air out while letting out the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast. I really am over simplifying things a bit right now because I don't have too much explanations to offer. : Here is one of the most informative websites I've seen about homebrewing yet. If you are interested to know a lot more of the science then check it out.
I am currently waiting for this batch of beer to turn out. After it's ready I'll report back to let you know what it turned out like. I hope it's good but I know as my first one it may very well turn out terrible with off flavors. But, again, the learning is the fun part and without that it's just not really worth doing so much work.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No Food...No Blog Posts?

As I have just started writing this blog a couple of months ago and if you are reading this you probably know that all of the topics thus far have been about cooking projects from the ground up. When the idea of a new project pops into my head I must pursue it until I reach my goal of a reasonable clone (of what my understanding of the standard is) or I abort and retreat to ponder the next attempts strategy. I must say that I have alot of fun with all attempts regardless.

I haven't completed any projects lately that have been large enough to site but I have been working on piecing together a home-brew kit to make beer in the all-grain method. As I produce my first batch I will share all the in's and out's of the process and the pitfalls that I arise as I experience them. I've made beer with malt extracts before and while the beer is a good outcome, it just doesn't hit the spot for me as far as "ground-up" projects. It's kind of like making koolaid... or something like that. Although there is a certain amount of accuracy (especially sanitation) needed to make extract type beer it's not as crucial as with doing it with all grain. My goal is to make a beverage with the four main ingredients of beer; malted barley, hops, water and yeast. I just thinks it's cool! I'll feel like I've "made" beer even more so than with malt syrup. That post will be coming up soon.

Just a side note for other later blog posts, I will be getting a few chickens in my back yard to provide us with a few eggs to have around the house. It will also help to create the setting for my fantasy of having a smallholding farm, which is most likely not in the cards for me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Yogurt Is Low Tech and Easier Than You Think.

I eat more yogurt than anyone I know. Maybe 2 or 3 per day and I don't get tired of it. If you add to that the Kefir I drink that would bring me way above the average. You may think that I eat so much because of some fad yogurt diet or all the talk about probiotics and how good they for you, but that's not the case. I just love the stuff!
Yogurt can have various textures from light to very heavy and creamy like Greek style. Greek style yogurt is more or less a strained yogurt that is actually very thick. A lot of the liquid is drained off leaving you with something that's thicker than sour cream. I am a big fan of the sweet kind with fruit on the bottom, since that's what I grew up on, but I also really like making dips and dressings or marinades with it as well. Yogurt makes a great marinade when it's mixed with herbs or curry for things like lamb or chicken. When it's grilled it caramelizes and makes sort of a crust on the surface.
The other day as I was thinking of another way of making an everyday item I would normally buy at the store, I thought I'd try to make yogurt in the most low-tech way as possible. Armed with only two 6 oz yogurts and a gallon of raw milk I thought I'd give it a go. After a little research on finding the prime temperature range for culture growth I then stumbled upon the one of the coolest ways of incubating without any extraordinary equipment. I took a large IGLOO cooler from the basement and washed it out just to make sure I was working clean. I was gonna use the "cooler" as a "warmer" instead. The insulation works perfectly to hold the necessary temperature of the milk while the cultures are working. The process takes about 6-7 hours.(Don't quote me on that length of time, you should see for yourself. I left the yogurt to set while I went to work.) The one essential part of which I read in the book "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee was the heating of the milk. His description of it is that "the milk can be heated to 185F for 30 minutes or 195F for 10 minutes". "Th[is] treatment improves the consistency of the yogurt by denaturing the whey protein lactoglobulin, whose otherwise nonreactive molecules then participate by clustering on the surface of the casein particles. With the helpful interference of the lactoglobulins, the casein particles can only bond to each other in a few spots, and so gather not in clusters but in fine matrix of chains that is much better at retaining liquid in its small interstices." Here is this link to read on yourself:
This heat treatment will give you a smooth texture to your yogurt. If you want an even thicker yogurt you can add some dry milk powder to increase the protein and make it more dense.

So just to give you the correct procedure, I'll start from the beginning...


1 Gallon of Milk (unpasteurized)
2 (6 oz) containers of plain yogurt (With Live and Active cultures. This you can read on the side of the container)
1 gallon Pot
1 large Insulated Cooler
A Thermometer that read up to 212F
Containers you want to fill with yogurt and covers.

  1. Open the 2 yogurts and them with whisk 2 cups of the milk
  2. Pour the rest of the milk into the pot and set it onto a medium high burner to warm. Heat milk up to 195F, hold it for 10 minutes and then remove it. To prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pan, whisk it very frequently and
  3. Thoroughly cool the milk down to 125F.
  4. When it's ready, add the yogurt and milk mixture and whisk it well.
  5. Get hot water from your tap (about 135F will do) and pour it into the cooler.
  6. Pour your milk mixture into your container and cover.
  7. Set your containers into the cooler with the warm water being sure the water does not come too close to the lids. If so take out some of the water.
  8. Close the lid and let it ferment until the yogurt is set. About 6-7 hours.

That is really all you have to do. You can make all the yogurt you want just by buying a couple extra plain ones when you shop! After you make your first one you can continue to make more as long as you save 2 cups of your last batch. Yogurt can get expensive, costing $5.00 for 4 6-oz containers, if it's not on sale. You can make a ton more for that much and choose what goes into it. Save some of your money by making your own yogurt so you can spend it on other things that you can't make yourself.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Maple Season Is Officially Here...

This is such an exciting time of year for me. I always feel that we've turned the corner on Winter, and then full speed ahead towards Spring, when the maple sap is flowing. This is the time during the winter when I fell like I have something to do out side and am being a little productive. I know making maple syrup is not one of life's priorities, like being sure I take care of stuff around the house or doing laundry, but for me it's important for creating a more fulfilling life overall. I find that projects like this, be it big or small are, believe or not, empowering. With accomplishing these sorts of projects so comes the confidence that I can do much bigger and better things as well. As far as be empowering, building some aptitude towards self sufficiency and experiencing a glimpse of freedom from status quot living that most people live, is how being skilled in creating everyday things makes that happen. I also don't want to be ignorant in certain basic life skills which, if analyzed, teach me lessons such as how to be patient or when to cut my losses. To develop such things as cognitive and concrete skills, to problem solve and producing for my family and do any other things I find satisfying in life, all this adds up to overall fulfillment and personal growth.
I had posted previously about maple syrup making and pretty much all the basics you need to know about making your own. I tapped my trees about four days ago and the weather has been perfect for the sap to flow. I was a little aggressive, though, when it came to putting two taps on each tree because trees should be over 24 inches in diameter to have two taps, but I think they'll survive just fine. Call me selfish but I just had to get more sap this year! The sap flowed pretty good over the last couple of days, and still is now, but I just had to get some cooking this today no matter what. I think it will take a couple of more hours to finish and I'll post a picture of the finished product when I have it. The pictures I have uploaded are my set up today. You can see the Sapsacs hung on the trees and then you can see my two pots simmering away outside. I have wood from a few years ago that I need to use up before it rots so I started with that. I also pulled out the propane burner to help things along a little faster. Boy, I can't wait to try some of this syrup!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Coffee: To Roast... or Pop?

There's nothing like a good cup of coffee. Judging from today's culture I'm not the only one who feels this way. Honestly, I'd say that just about one out of five people out and about are either drinking coffee, on their way to get a cup or are just thinking about the next one. I certainly fall into one of those categories. A coffee culture has taken hold of the country and for me I think I know how it's taken hold.

I can think back to when I was very young and my great-grandmother lived the next floor down from us. Among being spoiled with all the sweets and loving gifts a grandmother will always try to sneak past your mother, mine also snuck a little coffee past her as well. I was always interested in grandmas enthusiasm for opening a new can of coffee. As soon as the lid would come off she would tell me to take a sniff and then she would explain what was good about it. How it smelled so good and that was just the way coffee should be before you brewed it. Then I was fascinated by the percolator. I remember how she would put the grounds in the top cup, fill the bottom with water and then set it on the stove. As soon as it boiled, I would watch the coffee bubble up through the glass handle on the lid, and when it no longer appeared it was done. My grandmother liked her coffee light and sweet. When I say light, I mean she put heavy cream in her coffee! Then she would make it sweet, but not too sweet like today's D&D six-count-sugar coffees, but just enough for the perfect bitter, sweet and creamy balance. When I first tried that coffee I was hooked! It was so much better than the Swiss Miss cocoa I was used to drinking. Grandma wouldn't let me have a full cup of coffee right from the start, she would just give me sips until I was old enough, maybe around 10 or 11 years old. (Back in the early 80's that was old enough I guess.) That was enough for me for coffee to set it's teeth in good and deep. As I got older, coffee with grandma became something very cherished and something I reflected on as good moments with her. Yeah coffee, just like other somewhat more meaningful relics in life, can have great meaning if attached to love and family. As the years went on and grandma got older, her techniques for making coffee changed from percolator to instant and dairy went from heavy cream to half and half. No matter how she made her coffee towards the end it was always perfect to me.

I tell this story to bring into light the associations that I have with coffee and how they are what really make it so much more enjoyable. I think most people are like that as well. Whether their associations are just being social or as important as setting the pace for their day. Their kinship with coffee is always much more than a mere drink. It's more like a relationship that is one-sided and not only reliable but dependable. Yes coffee drinkers are fanatics, to some extent to the coffee but also, I think, to the associations and feeling that it conjures up. Over and over it's an enjoyable experience.

Recently, I thought I was pretty smart having an idea on how I could roast my own coffee at home. Coffee is about 3 times cheaper if bought as whole green coffee beans. I realized that coffee roasters toss coffee around while it roasts like my air-pop popcorn maker does with popcorn. So I thought I'd give it a try. I checked my theory on the Internet and sure enough tons of people do it and, not to mention, everyone is selling popcorn machines on eBay as "Popcorn Popper/Coffee Roaster". So, feeling not as smart as before, I continued with the project. I shopped around at all the retail stores and then realized I often see air-pop popcorn machines at the Goodwill store for about $3-$4. I picked one up that was a Presto Poplite (1440 watts) and brought it home to start roasting. I found a local coffee company that sells green beans in 5 pound bags and picked up a blend. The cheaper, the better for starting projects like this. I followed the instructions of the popcorn machine and filled it with just a half a cup of beans. I plugged it in and watched what happened. The machine was a little sluggish blowing the beans around but a few shakes helped move things along. As it kept going the skins of the beans began to blow off so I put a bowl underneath to catch it.(see picture) The beans start popping and little divots fly off of the beans as they get closer to being done. (see picture on right on the paper towel) I simply shut the machine off when I thought it was dark enough for my taste. That was it! It was very easy. I'm sure there are a whole slew of techniques to roasting coffee that are much more accurate and with better tasting results but for the amount of investment I put into it what could I expect. I got a perfectly good coffee with my technique and I dare any standard coffee drinker to tell me it's not as good as any big company's. I like the fact that I could roast as much coffee as I need for the week. That is the best quality coffee you can get, one that is freshly roasted and ground just before being brewed. Maybe one day I can tinker around and make something a little more high-tech but for now I like the ingenuity of using something meant for one purpose, yet used for another. I would encourage anyone out there who is into being self-sufficient and wants to save a little money to give this a try. It's amazing how much money you could spend on coffee at Starbucks if you buy it every day. So do yourself a favor and get the only two things you need: an air-pop popcorn machine and some green coffee beans and get roasting... or do I mean popping.

Just for some additional information, shop on eBay for green coffee beans. I bought a 3 pound bag of green beans for $6.99 plus shipping. Shipping costs suck but it was still cheaper than buying it from my local coffee company.