Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sugaring on the farm

We live on the west coast of Canada.  It can be very beautiful here, the winters are obscenely green.  This year is nothing special, with only a light dusting of snow one morning, enough to shut down half the city.  If we didn't have the alpacas in the yard, we would have to mow the law every week.

When I hear about the snow storms in the rest of the country, I have have great envy (I love shovelling the driveway) and I often wonder if this little island is really part of the Nation of Canada.  We don't eat French Fry Soup, we have to drive forever if we want to go skiing, and maple syrup?  Well, what's that?

Alrigh, alright, we know what maple syrup is.  It's that very expensive stuff they ship from back east.  Tastes like liquid heaven.  It comes out of a tree like this:

Well, the other day I saw some Vancouver Island maple syrup for sale.  Vancouver Island maple Syrup?  I laugh a little.  Where you going to get the sap?  From Big Leaf Maples?

Yes, exactly, that's exactly where the sap came from.

The syrup from the Big Leaf Maple is more flavourful than regular (number 1) syrup from Back East.  It tastes like it has melted butter in it, and just a hint of lemon.  It's really amazing.

So, why not make my own?  I have a couple of acres of woodlot, and the local shop sells spiles.  So, into the woods I went.

From 4 trees I'm getting about half a gallon to a gallon of sap a day.  I bring it home and boil it down.

I'm using my maslin pan which is narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, specifically designed for boiling down jam.

An then, by the end of the day...

It's more sugary than regular maple syrup, so I might have boiled it down too much.  Oh well.  It's not going to last long.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Curry Saves the Day: Basic Goat Curry Recipe

This is the curry before it goes in the oven.
As usual, I didn't have a chance to take a finished photo before it was wolfed down/
We often have work parties here on the farm when there's a large job to get done.  Lots of people come out to help, which means I need to make a lunch that has a lot of high energy food, is easy to make, isn't fussy about the serving time, and is affordable.

You can make this with any dark stewing meat.  It takes about 10 minuets or so (depending on how fast you are at pealing and slicing) to prepare in the morning, and cooks slow and low in the oven until lunch time.  You can also cook this on the stove if you like.  It's very flexible.  I'll give directions for both methods.

You can also make this in the slow cooker, but that's more for lunch than dinner.  2 hours on high, 4 plus hours on low.  Delicious.

Another thing, the actual size of the tins does not matter too much. I use 14 oz tins.

1 tin chickpeas
1 tin mixed beans (or beans of your choice)
1 tin crushed tomatoes
2 carrots
4 medium size potatoes (a solid flesh potato like Yukon Gold works best)
Roughly 1 lb goat meat, chopped into stewing size chunks
1 large onion
2 Tbs Pataks mild curry paste (or curry paste of your choice)

  • Drain the beans and chickpeas, poor them into a heavy cast iron pot, or a deep pot with a lid that can go on both the stove or in the oven.
  • Add the contents of the tin of tomatoes to the pot (keep this tin to one side, we will use it later)
  • Chop up the onion fairly fine, so that the chunks of onion are smaller than the chickpeas.  Add to the pot.
  • Peal and chop the carrots into whatever size you like, just not too big.  As you can see, I did mine in half moon slices, fairly thin.  Add to the pot.
  • Peal and chop the potatoes into about 1.5" to 2" chunks.  Add to the pot.  If you don't want to peal them, make sure they are well washed and the eyes gorged out.
  • Add the meat to the pot
  • Fill the empty tin that had the tomatoes in it just over half full of water.  Add the curry paste to the water and mix really well until paste is dissolved .  Top up the tin with more water, and add it all to the pot.
  • Mix everything together really well and place the lid on the pot.  Choose one of the three methods below.
Method 1 - oven only
  • Place in oven at 325F for at least two hours.  Turn it down to 300F after 3 hours.  Stir every two hours or so, checking to see if it needs more moisture.  Will be ready any time after 2 hours, but is best if you cook it about 4 to 5 hours.  Longer is fine so long as you keep an eye on the mosture level.
Method 2 - stove and oven
  • Place on stove, on high heat, bring to boil, stirring every so often.  Simmer for about 30 minuites.
  • Place in oven, still covered, at 300F until ready (at least an hour, no more than 5 hours).  Stir every couple of hours, adding water if it starts to dry out.
Method 3 Stove only
  • Place on the stove with the lid on, on high heat bring to boil.  Simmer for at least an hour, and up to 3 hours.  Stirring every 20 min or so, checking to make sure it's not too dry, add water as needed.

Serve as is, or better still with rice or home made bread.  Goes great with chutney and a simple salad.

This is very popular with kids and adults alike, so long as you don't make it too spicy.

Affordable Cooking: It costs me between $5 to $8 for the entire pot, depending on the quality of the canned beans and price of veg and meat that week.  It will easily feed 8 people, but it's better if you can serve it with a starch like rice (about $1-$2) or home baked bread (about 40 cent for a medium loaf, so say about $1 worth of bread).  Then it will feed 10 hungry people with lots left over for seconds.  

So now we are at about $1 per person, assuming they are going back for seconds.  You might want to splurge on a nice, but simple, salad.

Bento friendly: Left overs go great in bento on a bed of rice and a side of veg.  Heat thoroughly before packing and allow to cool before putting the lid on.  Make sure you use fresh rice.

Allergies: Most curry pastes has soy oil, usually labelled 'vegetable oil'.  Pataks says vegetable oil on it, but the stuff made in the UK does not give me a soy reaction.  It is possible to make your own curry paste, I'll see if I can dig up a recipe that's easy and quick to make.

This is a high fibre meal, so may aggravate people with certain digestive problems.

Healthy eating: Yes I think so.  Beans are very high in trace minerals, fibre, B vits, and other good for you stuff.  There is also a lot of protein in this meal.  This is a high energy meal.  Given how much fibre is in the beans, it's probably best to serve this with white rice or white bread unless everyone who eats this is accustom to a Very high fibre diet.

For a more balanced meal, add a watery green side like lettuce, cabbage, or cucumber salad.  Serve with sauerkraut to make the beans easier to digest. 

Earth Friendly: Moderately so.

If you compare this to say... ordering pizza for everyone, curry is the better option.  But it is important to note that tinned foods have a very heavy footprint (with the transportation, the manufacturing of the tins, &c.).

For a more earth friendly version, you can start with dry beans and chop your own tomatoes.

For a 0 mile impact, grow every ingredient and process them at home, including the chillies needed to make your own curry paste.  It is possible to do it with this recipe, but you may need to alter which beans you use depending on your clime.   Although, this option kind of takes away from the quick and easy nature of this curry recipe - it's up to you how far you want to go.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

2013: the year of bacon. The quest for the perfect rasher

Rasher is a word in the English language that refers to a thin slice of bacon.  It's a wonderful word that conjures memories of sizzle of bacon frying in the pan, the salty taste of the first crunchy bite of bacon stolen from the cook, and the smell... oh the smell...

If you ask for 6 rashers in the store, they shouldn't have to ask you, 'what?'  A rasher is bacon, bacon when slices, is a rasher.

It's like saying there is a murder up above, or look at that parliament in the tree over there (murder refers to a group of crows, parliament a group of owls).  English is rich with words that have very specific meanings and context.  It saddens me how few people use these.  A flock is almost never called a flock (unless it is referring to sheep, chickens, or mixed birds) and bacon should never be called a slice.

For me, the year 2013 is the year where I will learn to make the king of all meats: Bacon.

I hope to be making a lot of bacon (and other cured meats) this year.  But it's not so easy as it sounds.  You have to find a good recipe and even more important you have to find a source of ingredients that you trust.

I picked up this book from the Library: Charcuterie .  It has all sort of recipes for salting, smoking, drying and preserving meats.  It also has some really interesting recipes for vegetables too, including a really good sauerkraut recipe, and a lot of great sauces.  But the reason I'm interested in it is for the Bacon!

They have a basic bacon recipe and some really neat variations.  I cannot wait to try them all.

But there is one thing I need to make bacon, bacon.  It's the modern equivalent of an ingredient people have been using to cure meats for centuries: Pink Salt, Cure Powder 1, or Prague Powder 1.  It's salt and Sodium Nitrite and is a controlled substance in Canada.  Apparently you can use this to make something that goes boom - I didn't look into what it was exactly because things that go boom only interest me if I can eat it (like popcorn).  But it did make me laugh when I found out why it is a controlled substance: Exploding Bacon...mmmmm....

But seriously, it's also one of those ingredients that you really have to use correctly.  Consume too much or use it in the wrong way (like for table salt - that's why Americans colour theirs pink, to avoid this confusion) and bad things happen to your body.  But use it correctly, and it no only tastes great, it protects you from harmful bacteria in cured meats.

It took me over a month to find somewhere that sells this pink salt stuff.  In the end I found a company out of Vancouver called Stuffers.  They have the most impressive service I've seen in many years.

I emailed Stuffers with a vague question that went something like, "I want to make some bacon and I need this number one stuff that I think might be somehow related to pink salt."  And they replied, "oh yes, you need exactly this. I have a shipment going out later today and one tomorrow, it will get there sometime next week." It was the most enjoyable shopping experience I've had in a very long time.

They both wholesale and retail their product and the price was quite reasonable.  They cater to hunters, back to the land types, foodies, restaurants, and other sorts of people.  The retail section of the shop is a bit difficult to find on their webpage, you have to go to 'ingredients' then choose 'retail'.  The curing salt I'm using for my bacon is on the second page of the retail section, direct link here.

(no I didn't get any special gifts from them to sing their praises.  Although, if someone felt like donating their kitchen product to me, I would be more than happy to review it on my blog, but I would state how I came by the item)

So there you have it, all the background work that needs doing before I can make bacon.  I have the pork belly on order, the curing salt, a recipe, and all the other ingredients all ready.   Fingers crossed the pork belly gets here soon!

Allergy notes: Some people have a very bad reaction to nitrite.  Also, and I know it's a rare allergy, but the Prague Powder 1 I bought says that it contains Propylene Glycol as a manufacturing aid.


Friday, January 11, 2013

#TweetRecipe Challenge

In Japan, long ago, people use to communicate with each other through poetry.  A conversation in verse.  The most perfected form of poetry being the Haiku, a short, three line poem of beauty  simplicity and yet, deeply engaging.  

There is something about Twitter that reminds me of Haiku poetry.  One is required to fit an entire idea into 140 characters of type.  

I also think a lot about recipes.  How a recipe is like a poem.  A well written recipe conveys a whole world of information in a few simple words.  And, like bad poetry, a poorly written recipe can be verbose and long winded.

But what if we could write a whole recipe in 140 characters (including hashtag)?  What would that look like?

Delicious Sourdough Crackers
It may not get all the nuances, like how thick to roll it out, or the title, but it makes a fun exercise in simplifying a recipe.  If you can say the bare bones of the recipe in under 140 characters, then you know it well enough to write it out long form.

So here's my challenge for you.  Write your favourite recipe in a single Twitter post, include the hashtag #TweetRecipe, and if you like, leave a comment here letting me know.  Or if you don't have a twitter account, just write it in the comments here, in 140 characters or less.  

There is no prize, but I will be taking my favouite recipes and trying them at home - I'll give you a mention if I choose yours.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Curry Saves the Day - what to do with that too dry roast beast

Roast meat turn out tough and dry?  Sounds like it's time for Curry to save the day!

mmmm curry!

I cooked a roast moose (at least I think it was moose, probably was moose, although it might have been elk now that I think about it, or deer, or ... no I don't think it was boar, but it could have been.  But come to think about it, it was probably moose) the other night.  Made a major miscalculation in the cooking time and ended up with a lump of something that could possibly pass for a rock.  It wasn't burnt, just dry and tough as, well, a rock.

This is not the first time I've messed up a roast beast, and won't be the last I'm sure.  But it's a waste to toss out the meat just because it's tough.  Instead, let's use this as an excuse to make curry.

Here is a variation on The Captain's curry recipe.  There are hundreds of versions of this curry, but tonight, a simple version perfect for tenderizing overcooked meat.

Feel free to use this recipe to salvage any ruined meat, from dry duck breast to mystery roast, and anything in between.  Although, I would hesitate to use fish in this.  Please don't use burnt meat, as this recipe amplifies the burnt flavour.

This is also best when cooked in a slowcooker.  Most of the curry recipes I have don't mind being on the stove, oven or slowcooker, but since the main goal of this recipe is to tenderize the dessicated meat, a slow cooker is by far the best for this.

Curry Saves the Day: Basic Curry Recipe for Salvaging Over Cooked Meat

1 to 2 lb of over-cooked, dry meat (not burnt)
1 tin chick peas
1 tin mixed beans
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 onion
Pataks mild curry paste (or curry paste of your preference)

  • In the slow cooker, place the chickpeas (strained), mixed beans (strained) and chopped tomatoes (as is).  Keep the tomato tin to one side, don't rinse it yet.
  • Chop up your onion very fine, so that the pieces are about half the size of a chickpea.  Add to the pot.
  • Chop the meat up into about 3/4" cubes.  Don't get all fussy here, it doesn't need to be precise.  Add it to the pot.
  • Take the can that had the tomatoes in it, fill about 1/2 full with water and add 2 Tbs of curry paste (more if you like it hot).  Mix until the curry is blended with the water.  Add to the slow cooker and mix all the ingredients together.
  • If you have automatic setting on the slow cooker, use this, otherwise, cook on high for about 1 hour (no more than 4 hours) and then turn down to low for between 4 to 10 hours, or until you are ready to eat it.  This is one of those recipes that you want it to bring to a moderate boil first, then cook low and slow.  The longer you cook it (and the smaller you chop the meat) the more tender the meat will become.  Sir at least once during the cooking, to distribute the moisture.  Check every couple of hours to make sure that it isn't getting dry, if it starts to dry out around the edges, then add 1/4 cup of water (or even wine), and stir in well.
Serve on a bed of rice.

You cannot actually see it here, but the bowl is half full of rice
 with curry on top

This is even better the next day.  Will easily keep in the fridge up to 3 days, reheat thoroughly before serving.

Healthy Eating: Yes, I would consider this a healthy meal, especially if served with a salad.  Green veg is important for balance and colour.  But even on it's own once or twice a week would be fine.   

Bento Friendly: Very much so.  Great for single layer bento box.  A layer of fresh rice, with the re-heated curry on top.  Let cool completely before putting the lid on, will keep well all day in all but the hottest of weather.  

Affordable Cooking!  This comes out to about $1 to $2.10 per very large serving depending on the quality/price of the canned beans you use, including the coast of running the slow cooker all day and the cost of the rice.  That's not including the cost of the meat since it would have been tossed in the trash otherwise.  The electricity used by the slow cooker is about 40 cents for the 8 hours we had it on, but we have low rates here, so it might be as more where you live.  It is considerably less to cook this in the slow cooker than in the oven or on the stove, unless of course you have the oven on for other reasons.

This could be made with dry ingredients   Dry chickpeas and beans and such are cheaper to buy, but if we are talking affordability, then they coast more (energy bill) to rehydrate than buying tinned beans, chickpeas, &c.   

Cooking for Allergies: This is fine for most allergies, however, you do need to pay attention to the ingredients in the curry paste.  Most curry paste includes soy, or 'vegetable oil' which is usually soy.  I've found that Pataks curry paste made in the UK says 'vegetable oil' but does not give the same reaction that soy oil does.  When in doubt, make your own curry paste using one of the awesome recipes in Jamie's Food Revolution

This curry although mild in spicy, can aggravate irritable bowel related problems due to the high fibre content.    Eat in moderation if you are not use to a high fibre diet.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Kitchen Failure - The fate of the mystery roast

The one thing I didn't anticipate when it comes to living on a farm, is how many people pay you in meat.  It's not just chickens for the doctor (although I'm guilty of that when I didn't have enough funds to pay for my medical treatment), but it's goat liver in exchange for leasing pasture, mystery roast for being a good neighbour, and no end of salmon, both smoked and fresh.

Pretty sure this mystery roast was moose, although I didn't have a chance to label it before it went in the freezer.  My hunter neighbour friend isn't very good at labelling, and when he does, it's usually in a Eastern European Language I don't read.  It's a very lean cut of very red meat, so I treated it the same as I do any lean roast.

In a Dutch oven, I brown it in some bacon fat, cover with bacon, chop up an onion for the pan and poor in some red wine.  Then in the oven it pops for about 2 hours at 300F.  This works great for a 2 to 3 lb roast, and usually goes over really well.

It does not, however, work for a 1lb roast.  The meat transformed into some sort of cross between a rock and petrified wood!  Complete Kitchen Failure!

after much effort,
managed to saw through the roast with a very sharp knife

But don't fear, there is a way to save this meat!  Just cool it to room temperature, then cover it and put it in the fridge till tomorrow.  I've got the perfect recipe to transform this from Kitchen Failure to Kitchen Savour.    But that post will have to wait for tomorrow.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Kitchen (and therefore blog) goals for 2013

Taken at Fort Rod Hill last summer

To me an empty kitchen is a beautiful thing.  It's like a blank page, just waiting to be filled in.  But left alone too long, it starts to wither and decay.

The kitchen is the heart of the house, it sustains us.  It worries me that people forget that in this modern age of prefab foodstuff.  Their kitchens wither and decay because they feel they don't have enough time, they don't have enough money or they don't have enough energy to cook for themselves.  Without a healthy kitchen, how can the rest of your life be healthy?  Food is the one thing that everyone must imbibe in order to thrive in this world.  If I learnt nothing else from years of studying philosophy, it's the one solid truth on which we can build our lives.  What we eat makes us who we are. 

People often tell me that it is impossible to eat foods that are environmentally friendly, healthy, and economical (both in time and money).  They believe that these three things are incompatible.  I say they are wrong. Maybe, in some small way, writing this blog can help people be more self sufficient  save money in the kitchen, and eat in a way that is good for their health and the environment.

I would like to set myself some goals for this blog in 2013.  Here are a few topics I would like to explore this year.

Cooking for Vegans - Exploring what it means to have a friend who is a vegan, and some simple recipes that you can cook for them when they come to call.

Vegan Friendly - Not quite the same as the Cooking for Vegans topic; but rather, a little note at the end of the recipe to tell you if it's vegan friendly and what, if anything, can be done to make the food vegan friendly.

Affordable Cooking - It is possible to eat well on a shoe string, without resorting to pre-fab foods.  I hope to make an effort to include what it cost me to make a recipe and write some posts specifically about getting the most out of your food - not letting anything go to waste, and still being yummy at the same time.

Allergy Friendly - I don't know all the allergies out there, but I will continue to point out any of the obvious ones that may come up.  I'm also interested in exploring some more soy alternatives for both Asian cooking and Vegan cooking.

Bento Friendly - Can it be packed in a box and taken for lunch safely and efficiently?  I really want to bring my focus back to the portability of meals and foodstuff.

The Quest for Bacon -  Coming soon!

Healthy - I'm by no means a professional able to evaluate a healthy diet - there are so many variations on what constitute a healthy diet, that it would be hubris for me to even try - but I will give my opinion if I think it's good for you, hopefully citing my source if I can, and giving suggestions on what sorts of foods compliment the recipe to make it a more 'complete' meal.

Fast Foods - Not the pre-fab industrial stuff.  More food that is fast to make.  This is going back to the people who believe you cannot fit making your own food into a busy schedule   Although, fast food has many meanings.  To me it means, food that requires little fuss and little actual time from the cook.  So a slow cooker meal would be my perfect fast food.  It takes 10 min in the morning, and is ready when you are in the evening.

Earth Friendly - I would love to do a bit about this with each recipe, but I'm really not qualified.  So instead I'm hoping to focus more on agriculture, sustainability and the like.

And of course, more recipes.  What a food blog be without recipes?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Cooking for Vegans - Hummus, the go-to emergency recipe!

Let us pretend that you are not a vegan (like me) and (like me) you have friends or loved ones who are vegans.  What does this strange, cult like lifestyle - because it does seem like a cult to those of us who don't know a thing about this vegan stuff - include?  Are they going to yell at me for not being vegan?  What can I feed them?  Surely these vegan people don't just eat carrot stick all day?  That's rabbit food!

Okay, maybe I am over exaggerating - but you know what, there are people out there who are terrified of vegans!  That's right.  Terrified!  It is a concept so far removed from what they experience on a daily (I would say meal-ly, but that just sounds weird) basis, that they just cannot figure out how to start interacting with the idea.  These people need love.

I would like to write this post for those people.  The terrified ones.  The people who feel that their vegan friends are just waiting for an excuse to yell (or worse laugh) at them for eating a 'regular' diet.

To you I say, do not fear the vegan.

Vegans are people, just people, and like all people, each vegan person is unique.

As we learnt earlier, vegans are people who do not consume animal products.  There are different levels of dedication to veganism, and it's best to ask your vegan friend exactly what their requirements are.  When in doubt, assume total veganism (that is no animal products at all including things like wool socks and cheese) but the best policy is to ask your friend about what being a vegan means to them.

That brings me to the next important point - talk to them. Your friend, who happens to be a vegan, is not going to wage war on your for your dietary lifestyle.  That's something trolls do anonymously on the internet and is not appropriate friend on friend action.  

Vegans are totally understanding people, they are more than happy to tell you about their lifestyle and what it means for your kitchen when they come to lunch.  All you have to do is ask.  It's scary, I know.  I've been there.  But it does work.   Just ask questions.  Let them do the rest of the talking.

Here is a recipe that can't go wrong for feeding your vegan friends.  Be sure to make extra, this is going to be very popular with every dietary choice (except for that one person I met who only eats red meat and white bread, he didn't like hummus, but the other few thousand people I know all love it - I wonder if white-bread-red-meat guy is still alive, he looked pretty ill last time I saw him.)

Hummus!  Glorious Hummus!  Your Basic Hummus Recipe

1 14oz tin of chick peas (drained)
4 cloves of garlic (pealed) 
small drizzle of lemon juice
small pinch of salt
some olive oil

  • Put all but the olive oil in the blitzer or blender (I use a blitzer, easier to clean, but others like a blender for this, it's more personal preference)
  • Blitz a little bit, then add a drizzle of olive oil.  Stop the blitzer and press down the chickpeas with a wooden spoon.  
  • Add a small drizzle of oil, redisturbet the mash in the blitzer, and blitzs.  Repeat until it's the desired consistency  I personally like a few small chunks of chickpeas in the hummus, but most people like it to be soft and creamy like a sickly yoghurt   
That's it.  Store in the fridge or upto 4 days.

This is a super-fast food to make.  You can make it and serve it right away, but I think it tastes better if made the day before.  Something about the garlic intensifying.

Serve with bread, crackers, or even carrot sticks.  Makes a great lunch, snack or appetizer.  Heck, I eat it for breakfast if it's in the house.

Affordable Cooking: Yep.  A can of chickpeas costs me about $1.20 (I buy the high end stuff), other ingredients about 5 cents.  So that's $1.25 for the dip.  If you make your own sourdough bread, a loaf should cost you a little under 60 cents.  Fresh veg cut up for dipping, another dollar or so.  So that's a lunch for 4, or appetizer for 8 people at a little over $3 total. 

Vegan Friendly: very much so.  But double check the ingredients list on your ingredients just to make sure.

Allergy friendly: Good for most people.  There is no soy, no eggs, no peanuts.  A lot of people with allergies avoid hummus because of the Tahini, but this is a more basic recipe with no nuts or seeds.  Should be fine for most allergies, but always double check with the person who has the allergies before serving to them.

I suspect, but please double check, that this hummus is good for people on a gluten free/low gluten diet.  

It is high in fibre, so consume in moderation if you are on a low fibre diet.

Bento friendly:  Great for bento.  But it does go a bit funny on hot weather days, so be sure to include an ice pack for hot days.

Healthy: I think so. It's high protein  garlic makes it extra good for your immune system.  Lots of trace minerals and vit. in the chickpeas.  A more or less complete meal when served with various raw veg and a small bit of bread.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Last of the Holiday Decorations

This is why one should use as many edible items to decorate their house during the Holidays.

At the end of the season, once all the shiny baubles are put away, you have a nice bowl full of treats for yourself.

Here, have a nut, you deserve it.