Saturday, January 31, 2009

Weekend Breakfast

My breakfast during the week can be pretty boring. I usually eat oatmeal with currants and pumpkin stirred in, inspired by this super-healthy blogger. It's fast, and it sticks to your ribs. But on the weekends I have a little more time to be in the kitchen, so I like to make some breakfasts that are still simple and quick, but a little more indulgent. This is one of those breakfasts.

I start with toast from bread that I like to make and keep on hand. The recipe comes, of course, from Peter Reinhart. It makes pretty great toast because it has honey, brown sugar, and brown rice in it, so it gets nice a crunchy but still a little chewy.

Then I fry an egg. I am very VERY serious about my fried eggs. I learned a great trick from AB for keeping them in shape. First, crack your egg into a small bowl. (FYI, eggs are best used at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge a bit before you plan to use them. This is a must for baking, but it's helpful when cooking them on the stove top, too.) Get your non-stick pan hot (medium. and yes I'm using non-stick. I only use it for eggs and try to keep the temperature low.) with a little oil. Then lift then handle of the pan a couple inches and drop the egg into the corner of the pan so it pools up into a nice little package. Once the white starts to set around the edges, drop the handle and scoot the egg into the flat part of the pan. Like this-

See how it's nice and little? That's your best insurance against a broken yolk. (God forbid.)

Season with salt and pepper, flip gently, and hope for the best. This is the kind of skill that you just have to learn by doing. If you break the yolk, just cook it and eat it anyway, it'll be fine, but not nearly as good, in my humble opinion. Cook on the other side for just a minute, and season it, too.

Now, you could do just about anything with a good fried egg and it'll make breakfast magic. If you cooked bacon in the pan first (and used the bacon fat to fry the egg of course) you could just throw together it all together with toast. I also really like a fried egg on top of grits if you're feeling southern. The French throw it on a grilled sandwich and call it a croque madame, which I've heard attributed to the fact that the egg resembles a breast. The Koreans sometimes use them in bimbimbap, since most Americans aren't interested in eating a raw egg yolk.

Me, I like it with toast, cream cheese, and smoked salmon.

Lame photo that shows the construction.

Drool-worthy photo

Now this is, of course, great with coffee. But if you're feeling REALLY indulgent, do like me and have it with a mimosa with some of those raspberries from the freezer. :)

Next breakfast, biscuits and gravy!! YUM.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Winter Bounty: Sour Cherry Oatmeal Scones

It's January.
There is a good 12" of snow on the ground, and it's COLD.

But my mind has wandered to the coming spring, and I am eagerly anticipating starting the growing season. It will begin in the basement next month, and should continue, weather willing, into October or November. I am planning to start a few crops from seed this spring to get a head start on my zone's short growing season, especially for long crops like tomatoes. I've also gotten mostly set up for composting indoors and outdoors.

Setting up a small box in the backyard and filling it with yard waste is an easy setup for outdoor composting, and is a much more efficient use of space than grass. (Pretty much anything that produces rather than consumes is a better use of space than grass.)

While I can't start that box until spring, I'm starting to make compost NOW, INDOORS. Through the magic of vermicomposting, I will have fresh fantastic compost in a few months AND it will come from my junk mail and food scraps. :)

My preoccupation with the future resonated in my present this week when I decided to make scones for work-breakfasts. Baking is usually cheap, and scones seemed like a good way to use some sour cherries I'd pulled from the freezer absentmindedly the night before.

What resulted was especially good reheated with a cup of coffee, but it was also a reminder for me at this time of year. Now is the time of planning and nesting: the calm before (after) the storm of planting, keeping, harvesting, and preserving. Winter, though it is a time of general leanness, is also the time to enjoy the fruits of the labor of many months ago.

Some time last summer, my dear aunt pitted gallons of sour cherries, since her trees produced them in such abundance in its weeks of bounty. She gave me pounds of them, which I used mostly at once on cobblers and bread. After days straight of the pure bliss that is sour cherries, I got some sense about myself and froze a small quart bag in late July of 2008. Here, six months later, I am thanking my dear sweet self of July for thinking of little 'ol January me, who has forgotten the taste of fresh fruit other than citrus.

I wanted to make something to stretch the little supply I have, and I wanted something substantial enough for breakfast. I also wanted the berry to really shine, and thus the bread to be just barely sweet. Scones seemed like the answer. I adapted this recipe from Joy of Baking. I used some wheat flour along with the ap flour, and used my fresh sour cherries instead of cranberries.

1 c. all purpose flour

3/4 c. whole wheat flour

1/3 c. granulated white sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces

3/4 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (Do NOT substitute quick oats here. They will not work.)

1/3-1/2 c. fruit (cherries, raisins, apricots, whatever.)

1/3 c. milk

Whisk together dry ingredients, save the oats and fruit. Work in the fat with your fingers or a pastry blender until it's the texture of sand. (This wikibooks photo is right on.) Move quickly to prevent the butter from melting.
Add the oats and fruit. Then, add just enough milk to bring the mixture together. On a floured surface, knead the dough four to five times. Roll it out into a circle 1 1/2-2 inches thick. Cut like a pie into wedges, reshaping them to be equal in height and size.

Brush each slice with egg wash. (beaten egg+water)

After I took these photos, I remembered that I also had some raspberries in the freezer, so I shoved a few of them whole, frozen, onto the top of a few scones before I baked them.

Cook at 375 for 15-18 minutes or until lightly browned.

I put these under a broiler for a minute at the end to get the surface brown, but you don't want to overcook scones, as they get tough very easily.

This tart juicy fruit was a perfect reminder for me that there is work for every season and that awareness of the our daily duties and their future benefits is a rhythm that my generation has mostly lost and that we must strive to reclaim.

James Taylor insists that "enjoying the passage of time" is the secret to life, and I might be inclined to agree that resigning to and embracing passing time is the best attempt at peace. Enjoying, knowing, and participating in the rhythm of the seasons is important to food, and life. (I also think of this song by XTC.)

I am lucky to live in a place that truly experiences four seasons each year. Heck, even five.

I'll leave you with some photos of the sky this winter has given me, as well as my fancy-new camera can portray them.

That's all for now. What are you plotting for this spring?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Goat Cheese Update

If you, like most people, have trouble sourcing homognized (non-pasteurized) milk, this website may be of help to you.
Find people who live near you and buy things from them!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A New Look, a Resolution, Goat Cheese, and a Gadget!

Happy New Year!
Things have changed a bit since we last met, no? New year, slightly colder temperatures, and a new look! You might remember the photo from the banner from this post.

In honor of the new year and new look, I'm making one resolution.

I resolve to blog at least two times a month.

I know it sounds like a simple resolution and I owe this blog much more than that, but I haven't been keeping up with it, and a firm measured requirement is just what I need to get my butt moving. I have been cooking SO MUCH and it's disappointing that the blog doesn't reflect that, so I'm doing my best to keep my posts shorter and to post more frequently.

Ok, so on to the first of many many posts in the new year: goat cheese!

Every food culture has its own version of a young fresh cheese.

Think paneer.

Queso blanco.


Cottage cheese, and cheese curds. (SHOUTOUT to the Amanas!)

My guess is that this style of cheese (curds separated from whey and formed) is so ubiquitous because it's so darn simple to make. Just a few steps and you have a perfectly good compliment for bread, or base for any number of flavorings.

Making your own cheese is simple, inexpensive, and fun.

I love young soft goat cheeses, and I'm lucky enough to live near a local source for goat's milk. So, I gathered the few supplies needed for this simple project and gave it a shot.

Fair warning, this recipe won't work with ultra-pasteurized milk. Look for unpasteurized, or just pasteurized. You may use any kind of milk you can get your hands on. Each one will impart its own flavor, especially the goat milk.

All that's required to make any kind of simple cheese is milk, acid, salt, cheese cloth, a heavy bottomed pot, and a candy thermometer. The candy thermometer is a must-have in any kitchen. There are lots of things you simply cannot do without it, and this is one of them. I nabbed this one for less than $15, and it'll last until I drop it and break it. It's stainless steel, has big numbers on both sides, and has an adjustable clip on the back so it fits onto any depth pot.

So, pour about 1 qt of milk into your pot with a heavy bottom and insert your thermometer.

Slowly heat the milk to just under 180 degrees Fahrenheit. You don't want to scald it, so take it slow.

Once you've held your milk around 180 for 10 minutes, remove it from heat and add two teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice and a healthy pinch of salt.

You should see the curds (solid) start to separate from the whey (liquid)

If this isn't happening, add a little more acid.

Then it's time to separate the curds from the whey by straining them through a strainer lined with cheese cloth. Gather the edges of the cloth and press the cheese to form it into a unified ball.

From here, some people tie the cloth around a long stick and suspend the stick over a bowl allowing the whey to drip into the bowl. Me? I figure, why get a bowl dirty when you're just going to run it all down the drain anyway? And doesn't a faucet look JUST like a stick? Ok, so I was being lazy. But you know what, it worked.

Here you can see it starting to firm up.

No after pictures, but if you've seen goat cheese, well, it looks just like that.

Be sure to keep this in the fridge overnight to let the flavors develop. At this point, check for seasoning. (It might need more salt, and fresh ground pepper is fantastic in young cheese.) I love adding any and all herbs to this cheese, my favorites being lavender, rosemary, oregano, and basil.

This will come out a little on the firm side. If you prefer your cheese to be more spreadable, add a little milk. One of the great things about goat milk is that it's much closer to human milk and is thus easier for most people to digest. If you know someone who is lactose intolerant or sensitive to diary, they might do better with goat milk than cow milk.

Oh yeah, the GADGET! Guess what I GOT for Christmas??



Ok everybody, my best wishes for 2009, and see you soon!
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