Cooking Adventures: Roast Chicken

The hopelessly Instagrammed version...

The hopelessly Instagrammed version…

Happy Friday! As the weather gets colder, I start wanting all my food to be warm and comforting. I have enough trouble staying warm without my food working against me…which is why today’s recipe is one of my favorite comfort foods: roast chicken.

Keep in mind, this is the way I usually do it! There are tons of variations available: using different spices, adding marinade, stuffing the bird, having different sides…this isn’t quite as flexible as “what’s in my kitchen?” soup, but seeing as I’ve never made it the same way twice, I see no reason why you should!

Roast Chicken (adapted from “Nourishing Traditions”, by Sally Fallon)

1 roasting chicken, about 4 pounds
Root vegetables, diced:
 – carrots
– parsnips
– potatoes
– onions
– garlic (and seriously. If you’ve never had roasted garlic cloves, do this. Throw a whole head of garlic in. Separate the cloves, but don’t chop them. They taste simply incredible.)
Herbs, like thyme, oregano, or terragon – preferably fresh
4 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the vegetables in the bottom of a roasting pan, making sure you leave enough room for the chicken. Stuff the herbs in the cavity of the chicken, and place in the roasting pan, underside up. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake for 1 hour. Turn chicken by inserting a wooden spoon into the cavity, lifting it up and rotating it around. Brush with more butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 1 more hour. Eat!

Finally: when you’ve picked the chicken clean, don’t throw out the carcass*! It – and any leftover vegetable scraps or other meat bones – will make a great chicken broth, so you can have soup in the winter too. Add all the bits to a stock pot, add water to cover everything, and add a bit of vinegar (to draw out the minerals from the bones). Let it simmer for 12-24 hours or so, adding more water if the level gets too low. If you don’t want to make soup immediately, broth will keep well frozen: I just thaw as many jars as I need. Enjoy!

Advertisements

New Word Wednesday: Zymurgy

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your word of the day:

zymurgy noun

  • the study or practice of fermentation in brewing, winemaking, or distilling

Origin: mid 19th century, from Greek zumē “leaven,” on the pattern of metallurgy

While beer isn’t my choice for alcohol, I’ll happily partake of the other results of zymurgy. My family has a history of practicing this art: as kids, my brother and I were paid $0.01 per dandelion head to pick dandelions for my mom to make wine. One summer we each earned around $15! It takes a lot of dandelions to make wine…luckily they were readily available on our property.

Enjoy your new word!

Cheers,

-H

 

Source:
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/english/zymurgy

Cooking Adventures: “What’s In My Kitchen?” Soup

Soup

Your soup probably won’t look like this. You don’t have this lovely lady’s kitchen! http://cookingweekends.blogspot.com/

 

This isn’t so much a recipe as a framework, because soup should not be a meal you have to go out and buy ingredients for (provided, of course, you have more than ramen in your kitchen!). When I make soup, I use whatever ingredients I have available at the time. It’s a great way to use up miscellaneous ingredients that might be hard to assemble into a full meal otherwise.

Here’s the framework I use:

 

“What’s In My Kitchen?” Soup

  1. Stock pot! If you don’t feel like making ALL THE SOUP, use a regular saucepan instead. Alternatively, use a crock pot. If you leave things to cook for longer and use less liquid, you’ll end up with stew.
  2. Liquid: generally water, milk, or some form of broth. I make my own broth by simmering chicken and steak bones with vegetable scraps (onion and carrot skins or other bits that you wouldn’t want to eat on their own, but which still have plenty of nutrients) in water with a bit of vinegar for 12-24 hours. Making your own broth gives a much tastier and more nutrient-dense result than storebought varieties, and it’s cheaper too.
  3. Protein: anything goes here. Chicken, beef, sausage, bacon, pig snout…this can also be a good way to use organ meats, if you don’t know how to cook them on their own. They’re much less scary as part of a mixture like this. If you don’t want to use meat, try dried beans or lentils instead – though you’ll probably want to soak them first so they finish cooking at the same time as everything else.
  4. Vegetable: well, what’s in your kitchen? I usually keep onions, garlic, carrots, and potatoes stocked, which is a good start. Root vegetables like turnips or parsnips work great, as well as green beans or peas, or leafy greens like kale or bok choy. When to add the ingredients is determined by their hardness. Root vegetables can be added at the beginning, while leafy greens should only cook for a few minutes right before you serve the soup.
  5. Carbs: this isn’t required, but can be nice for adding more bulk to your soup. Options include rice, barley, or quinoa. These grains are generally unexciting on their own, but in combination with the soup they can combine really well.
  6. Seasoning: I always enjoy this part. One of my favorite memories of learning to cook with my parents was making burgers with my dad. We’d add the ground beef, bread crumbs, and an egg, and then stand in front of the spice rack pulling out whatever looked interesting at the time. For a start, I’d recommend salt! One of my other memories is always having to add salt to my mom’s soups, because she was of the opinion that 1 Tbsp was plenty for a pot 🙂
    Otherwise, have fun with it. Use your nose to find out what works for the particular combination you have in the pot. Possibilities include pepper (black, white, or cayenne), red pepper flakes, curry powder, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, basil…the list goes on. If you want to use fresh herbs, add them near the end of your cook time so they retain their flavor.

So, you’ve gathered all your ingredients. Turn on the heat and let things simmer until the vegetables and meat are all cooked through. Congratulations! You have now accomplished soup.

 

Cheers,

  • H

Cooking Adventures: Sauerkraut

Happy Monday, and happy Autumn Equinox! As the weather changes, it gets harder to remember to eat fresh vegetables. Remember to listen to your body: it knows what you need to eat more than you do. As an example, I was making mulled cider this weekend and using citrus fruits. When I licked the lemon juice off my fingers and immediately thought “yeah, I could go for a lemon right about now…” that was a good sign I was missing Vitamin C!

One tasty way to get Vitamin C during the winter is with lacto-fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut. It’s ridiculously easy to make and I guarantee you’ll make a tastier version than the ones you buy in the store.

 

Sauerkraut

This hardly counts as a recipe at all, honestly. Make it the way sounds good to you: add other vegetables, use different herbs and flavors, ferment it for a longer or shorter time…you’ll be the one eating it, follow your taste buds!

Start with a cabbage, chopped into small pieces. Add other vegetables if you like: onions, carrots, garlic, or radishes, for instance. Chop everything up, put it into a bowl, and add sea salt. You’ll want a fair bit: the salt acts to draw moisture out of the vegetables, so they effectively sit in their own juice. Mix the veggies and salt with your hands, then let it sit for a while, until moisture starts to collect in the bottom of the bowl. At this point you can add other seasonings, such as caraway, thyme, oregano, or red pepper flakes (my personal favorite!)

Get a mason jar (or a pickling jar if you’re feeling fancy!), preferably with a wide mouth. Start adding the mixture to the jar in layers, pushing down the vegetables each time so they pack densely. As you pack, you’ll notice the liquid starts coming up to cover the vegetables. If you get to the top of the jar and the veggies are not submerged, add some water to cover them. This is key for lactic acid fermentation: the bacteria involved like an anaerobic environment, without any oxygen, so it’s important for the vegetables to remain under the water. Otherwise, mold can grow (note if you do get mold, it’s not a disaster: just skim it off the top and make sure everything else is submerged).

Get a rock, glass plate, or container of water to push down on the top of the vegetables to keep them submerged. Then, put your jar on the counter and wait! You might see bubbles forming in the jar: that’s a sign that fermentation is going on and the bacteria are producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Taste the sauerkraut every few days until it tastes good to you. Then, you can stop the fermentation by putting the jar in the fridge.

 

And that’s it! Feel free to experiment with other vegetables and seasonings. Fermentation is one of the easiest kitchen experiments to do: it takes very little set up and the results are delicious. Enjoy your sauerkraut this winter!

Cheers,

  • H

Cooking Adventures: Chili

Usually when I cook, I make big portions. This leaves plenty for leftovers for the next few days, which means I don’t have to cook every day. With my schedule, that’s really important – if I had to cook every day, I’d either spend all my time doing that, or I would be eating fast food a lot more often…

One of my favorite recipes is chili. It’s a big recipe, and very tasty, and it reheats well in the microwave. Here it is:

 

Chili

Brown 2 lb ground beef and add to the pot (you’ll need a big one – I usually use a soup pot).

While the ground beef is cooking, chop up a medium onion and 2 cloves of garlic (or really, as little or as much garlic as you want. I’m biased. I really like garlic) and add to the pot.

Add 1 pint (or one can) of beef broth, one can of stewed tomatoes, and one can of pinto beans to the pot.

Add 1 hot pepper and bring to a boil. When the boil starts, add 1 tbsp chili powder.

Cover pot, reduce heat to simmer for 1 hour. Remove the pepper and crush the juice into the pot.

Add:
2 1/2 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cube beef bouillon
1/2 cube chicken bouillon
1/2 tsp brown sugar

Continue simmering with lid on for 30 minutes.

Add:
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
Salt to taste

Simmer covered for 15 minutes more, then serve.

 

This is my favorite recipe. I pulled it from a website many years ago and have been making little modifications since then (the original used garlic and onion powder, and no beans). I’m one of those people who is completely happy eating the same meal several days in a row, so I’ll gladly make a pot of this and feed myself all week.

¡Buen provecho!

  • H

 

Source: well I got it from a site called http://www.goodchilirecipes.com, but it seems that domain has expired in the past, oh, 6 years. Good thing I kept a printout!

Adventures Abroad: Olives in Spain

It’s hard to avoid olive trees in Spain. As soon as you leave the cities and get into the hills, they are everywhere: any vaguely horizontal patch of land has a tree, almost the only things on the landscape for hundreds of miles. I’m used to seeing apple orchards and corn fields like that, but knew nothing about this particular plant. Time to fix that!

 

The olive tree, Olea europaea, is an evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean, Asia, and Africa. It is an ancient plant: it’s been cultivated for at least 5000-6000 years, first in Syria, Israel, and Crete. In addition, the trees themselves live for centuries, and some have been shown to live even 2000 years, producing fruit the whole time if they’re well cared for. They’re very vulnerable to cold, but if the tree itself is damaged, the rootstock can survive and produce new shoots, effectively regenerating itself.

Olive trees like hot weather with no shade, and well-drained soil, and they don’t mind dealing with drought. It’s no surprise, then, that Spain is the world’s top producer of olives. Out of the close to 20 million tons of olives produced worldwide, almost 8 million tons are produced in Spain. The next largest producers are Italy, Greece, and Turkey. All this production takes a lot of land: in 2011 9.6 million hectares were planted with olive trees. That’s more than twice the amount of land devoted to apples or bananas; only coconut trees and oil palms take up more space.

Part of the reason olive cultivation takes up so much land is that the trees are traditionally planted very far apart – up to 30 feet away – to allow each tree to get the water it needs. Approximately 40 trees per acre can be planted this way, which means farmers need a lot of land. However, new planting systems are being tested called high-density orchard systems, which can fit between 600-700 trees in an acre. The objective of this new method is to reduce the cost of harvesting the trees, which with traditional methods can be up to half the total production cost.

 

Olive trees require little in the way of water or other maintenance, except for regular pruning. Proper pruning is essential to keep the trees producing fruit regularly, and to keep the height reasonable for harvesting. Since the branches need to be exposed to light in order to fruit, pruning reduces the density of the foliage, so light can filter through. Finally, olive trees bear fruit on wood grown the year before, which means they tend to produce alternating heavy and light crops. Pruning can help even out the variation in crop sizes.

Pruning is a big deal amongst olive growers – one might think they were talking about the creation of bonsai. For example, one farmer muses:

The production of olive oil is a mystery. Unlike vines where teams of pickers or large machines bring in the vintage, the picking of olives is an inconspicuous operation. Pruning is the same. Vines are transformed from a tangled mass of twigs to neat pared rows of almost identical vines. One rarely sees the olive pruner at work. Perhaps there is a ladder propped against a tree and one sees some prunings on the ground before they are burnt or mulched. It would be a mistake to be fooled into believing that this is a nighttime operation carried out by elves. In fact the classic olive grove is the result of care and attention over many years. The olive trees in Umbria and Tuscany are not by any stretch of the imagination a natural landscape. The untended olive is an untidy bush and it is only through pruning that it has form. Source

Various methods exist to tell you how much to prune. Folklore states that the tree should be open enough for a bird to fly through it, though that isn’t a very precise measurement. On the other hand, apparently scientists have studied this too, and state that the optimal density is such that the leaf area index should be three or four. Leaf area index is the ratio of the area of the leaves on the tree, compared to the area of ground covered by the tree. Again, this isn’t very practical advice, and if you spend all your time counting leaves, you’ll never get your trees pruned. Perhaps it is best to learn from the experts.

 

Olives are harvested in autumn or winter, depending on the desired end product. Green olives come from fruits harvested early in their ripening period, before they have matured. Black olives are harvested later, after they have matured and the fruit has oxidized and darkened. To harvest the fruit, the boughs of the trees – or the whole tree – can be shaken. However, olives harvested this way result in poor quality oil, and can’t be used as table olives at all, since the fruit is damaged when it hits the ground. Nets can be wrapped around the trunk and opened up to form a catcher for the falling fruit, cushioning it as it lands. Or, in areas where the terrain is too mountainous for machines, the harvest has to be performed by hand, which presumably requires farmers to recruit the entire population of nearby towns to help…

 

After the fruit is harvested, it has to be processed quickly to prevent it spoiling. Almost all olives are very bitter when fresh, and they have to be cured and fermented before they can be eaten. This process removes oleuropein and other phenolic compounds from the olive and makes them edible (and tasty!). Green olives are first soaked in lye to remove the bitter taste, then washed and lactic acid fermented in brine. Black olives are immediately packed in brine. Some modern methods only use lye to cure the olives, and the process only takes a few days, whereas brine fermentation takes several months. The benefit of the lactic acid fermentation, which uses the natural microflora on the fruit, is that lactic acid is a natural preservative. It lowers the pH of the olives to make the final product more stable against microbe growth and enabling the olives to be stored without refrigeration. Oilves produced by other methods need to be acid-corrected to make them shelf stable.

 

Making olive oil does not require fermentation: the olives are washed and ground to a paste, with the pits still inside. Next the paste is stirred slowly in a warmed tank, to combine the oil droplets into larger drops. Next, the solids and fruit water are separated from the fruit oil. The traditional method involved squeezing the mass through stacks of grass mats, while modern methods use centrifuges. Finally, the liquid is kept in a settling tank to allow the oil and water to separate, and the oil is bottled. The longevity of the oil depends on the polyphenol (antioxidant) content. The earlier the harvest, the higher the polyphenol content. On the other hand, an early harvest means a lower yield of oil, so there is a tradeoff to be made.

 

There’s a lot of history behind this delicious fruit (side note: intelligence is knowing an olive is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad)! It was impossible to avoid olives when we were wandering around Spain – several times we ordered them on accident! I’m happy to know more about where they come from. So: did I miss anything? What else would you like to know about olives? Do tell!

Cheers!

  • H

 

P.S. Fun fact! The Spanish word for olive oil (aceite) came from the Arabic al-zat, or “olive juice”.

 

References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive
http://www.olivesandoliveoilfromspain.com.au/
http://www.mediterraneangardensociety.org/olives.html
http://www.hobbyfarms.com/crops-and-gardening/grow-olives-for-olive-oil.aspx
http://www.oliveoilfromspain.com/oofs/everything/history.asp

Cooking Adventures: Sweet Potatoes

Though I haven’t had many opportunities to do so lately, I really enjoy cooking, both for myself and for others. I can’t eat gluten, and when I first found that out I had to make a lot of changes to my eating habits to avoid making myself sick. This necessity turned into something I enjoy, and I’ve been building a collection of my favorite methods and recipes for when I get the urge to play in the kitchen. Here’s one I’ve been using for holiday dinners and potlucks lately:

 

Baked Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients
Sweet potatoes, washed and peeled (enough to fit in the pan! Maybe 4? If you get too many, you may just have to cook some more – what a disaster!)
2 c water or chicken broth
2 sticks butter
2 c brown sugar
fresh ginger
cinnamon
mace
sea salt

Preheat oven to 375F.
Cut sweet potatoes into 1/2″ disks. Lay out in a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Add all other ingredients to dish.
Cover
tightly. Bake until soft.

 

These have turned out great every time I’ve made them, despite the fuzziness of the recipe details! Clearly it was because of the blood sacrifice I made the first time I made them: the knife slipped when I was cutting the sweet potatoes, and I opened up my pinky finger. I spent the next 10 minutes keeping myself from going into shock through sheer force of will. Unexpected lessons from the kitchen: going into shock is not required! You can choose not to. It’s extremely uncomfortable but possible.

Enjoy! And do remember, the blood sacrifice is not necessary for success.

– H