Salt of the Earth

Artist's concept of Aquarius

At 7:20 AM (west-coast time), NASA finally merged two objects of my affection: astronomy and sea salt. With the launch of the Aquarius satellite, NASA will study sea salt around the Earth.

I, of course, like to eat sea salt.

Now NASA is not, unfortunately, going to study the health benefits of sea salt outlined in Nourishing Traditions. Salt is mentioned in the subject index 21 times, but a good discussion of it’s health advantages starts around page 48. The unrefined variety of sea salt, such as Celtic type farmed in the salt marshes of Brittany, frequently contain traces of marine life that carry minerals in a bio-available form. It is the trace minerals that give sea salt one of it’s primary benefits, but the sodium chloride (largest component of sea salt by percent) is also important to the health of our brain, nervous system, and vital to digestion. Of note is the necessity of chlorine (the chloride part) to the making of hydrochloric acid, a favored tool of the stomach.

Alas, the science geeks (like me) are in fact searching for variations in the concentration of salt in the water of our oceans. Salinity traces the currents of water in the oceans, giving researchers a tool to understand how the water moves, or does not move, around the globe.

Even if NASA is not yet blasting rockets into space to investigate traditional cooking methods, at least they’ve taken one small step in that direction. So here’s to the salt of the Earth!

(Now go put some on your food)

*Image of salt taken from Celtic Sea Salt® brand website, as it is the source of salt I currently use. Artist concept of Aquarius spacecraft property of NASA, all rights reserved.

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I’ve been chopped!

If you like food, and you like hearing what others have to say about food, you’ve probably grazed on the offering of the Food Network.

As two self proclaimed foodies, my wife and I enjoy following a couple of shows. One of our favorites is the extremely entertaining show Chopped.

In case you are not familiar with the show, here’s a quick overview:

Four chefs walk into a kitchen… oh wait, that’s a different joke. No, here:

4 chefs cook in a timed competition to make the best food. They have 20 minutes to make an appetizer, 30 minutes to make an entree, and 30 minutes to make a dessert. There is a basket of mystery ingredients, which usually has about 3-4 items each chef must use in the final dish. Plus there is a stocked kitchen so they can grab additional things like spices.

In my own fun version, I was hungry. I had about 20 minutes to eat before we needed to go someplace, and I had the following items in my “basket”:

Tortilla Chips,

Raisins,

And Sardines.

Since I considered this to be an appetizer round, I naturally decided to make a quick salsa of Raisins and Sardines, with a bed of crushed tortilla chips. Finding some fresh Cilantro in the fridge with some Mustard, I raced against the clock to bring the elements together– carefully dicing the cilantro, and arranging it all together to form a very tasty appetizer!

Now for the judges…

How did I do?

Food critic one: “I thought the presentation was quite nice, a small colorful bowl, and the cilantro and raisins really coordinate well.”

Food expert two: “I agree, but what I really like the flavor this dish brought out, the salty sardines, and the sweet raisins with the freshness of the herbs, a very good start to a meal.”

Grumpy food person: “But for someone with a background in slow food methods, can we really give him a pass with only 20 minutes of preparation?”

Food expert two: “Good point, I think that using Mustard out of a jar was just a cop out.”

Food critic one: “I disagree Two, I feel the use of fresh herbs like Cilantro is perfectly in line with slow food principles, and it’s not really possible to cook slow food fast.”

And whose dish is on the chopping block?

Judges?

Grumpy food person: “Well, we thought that your flavor combination and presentation were spot on, but that using a prepackaged Mustard instead of making your own was not adequate for you to move on in this competition, and so for those reasons, you’ve been chopped.”

Exit interview:

Me: “Though this is a crushing blow to my own ego, I must say that just being here and making this amazing salsa has been it’s own reward.”


I can’t believe it’s not butter!

Me either Fabio!

Ah, hello.

Recently my wife and I picked up some raw cream from the farmer that sells us milk. I have to say, this stuff is amazing! By far the best tasting cream I’ve ever had- just look at it:

This is cream sticking to my spoon…

I just had to brag!


Gluten free chicken pie

According to legendary chefs, making the perfect pot pie starts with Stromboli. Or at least that’s what I would say, though perhaps I am not yet a legend. There is a slightly epic story behind my assertion, however. And this is how it goes…

Once upon a time there was a Beautiful Maiden (my lovely wife), who pined for a Stromboli (that part is true, so she looked up a recipe online), and enlisted the service of her faithful companion (that’s me) to fullfill her destiny (or at least fill their stomachs).

The result of her quest revealed the Holy Grail– a gluten free Stromboli crust! (I’m actually not exaggerating here, it’s really good!) But if this fairy tale ended here, only part of the story would be told.

The happy couple looked upon the Stromboli they had made, and thought ‘This dough might perhaps be formed into the crust for a pie, being so manageable and soft. Perhaps a pie of chicken?’

With this very thought before them the whole week, they assembled the great assortment of needed items (um, that’s just basic chicken pie filling: carrots, onion, potato, peas, and of course, chicken). Then, following the ancient traditions, the formed their dough and began to bake (true enough, but we really based it on the recipe found here: Gluten-free pizza crust recipe, tarte style).

The product of their labor was, well, see for yourself:

I would offer you a slice, but it was all consumed. If you are sufficiently intrigued, you can make one for yourself:

Here’s the process (we used half of the original recipe for the pie crust, it made enough for a crust and a top. My version is below):

Chicken pot pie filling/gravy (you can use your favorite grandma’s recipe instead if you like)
Ingredients:
one bunch of carrots
½ an onion
6 oz of peas (we used ½ bag of frozen peas)
3 medium potoes
2 cups of chicken (free range organic slow cooked)
2-3 teaspoons of arrowroot powder (or your favorite thickener)
1 cup of chicken broth (enough to make a slurry of the veggies)
Sea salt (to taste)

Directions:
Chop all the veggies and cook in a saucepan with the broth. Add chicken and stir in arrowroot until thick. Pour filling into crust and bake as instructed below.

Gluten free pie crust, from: Torte Style Gluten-free Pizza Crust- by Sara
Ingredients:
½ cup brown rice flour
½ cup sorghum flour
¾ cups tapioca flour
½ cup yogurt (we used cow yogurt and sheep yogurt at different times, both worked well)
1 sticks of butter (¼ pound), completely melted
1 tsp salt
½ Tbsp xanthan gum
Arrowroot powder to roll dough

This recipe makes two, 10” pie crusts, or one crust with top

Directions:

Cream the yogurt and butter together. Add the flours, xanthan gum and salt and continue to mix until well combined. This part is probably best done with a pastry cutter if available. Cover with a towel and let sit at room temperature overnight or 12-24 hours.

Scrape dough out of the bowl and pat into a ball. Cut into two pieces. Flour a counter or large cutting board with arrowroot powder. Form each half into a ball and then roll into two 10” rounds. Transfer to an oiled pie pan and then finish the edges to make the crust. Prick crusts well with a fork.

Bake pie at 300 F for 15-30 minutes until golden brown.

Note: for some pies the crust can be prebaked. for the chicken pie, we filled the crust before bakeing in order to seal the top crust over the pie.

Results:

And now the pie has become a legend.


Collards

I grew up in the south. In spite of this, I survived to adulthood without the foggiest idea of what collard greens are. So, for those of you who are as uninformed as I was, here is a brief introduction:

Collards are broad leaf-like objects constructed by angry garden gnomes out of high density rubber and aircraft grade titanium. Intended by the gnomes as personal protective shields, collards are able to survive all but the most intensive heat, and have a tough stem that is best removed before eating. Their high degree of resilience allows collards to resist the attacks of insects, disease, and photon torpedoes. Thus, they grow quite well in the south, where such things are common.

With this in mind, I can now acquaint you with the classic southern approach to eating collards… try not to taste them. Collards have an incredibly unremarkable flavor, which is characterized as bitter. In good southern style, the typical treatment is to add fat, acid, and heat to mask the less desired flavor, while drawing on the bitter edge. So, here’s the recipe:

First, remove the stem rather far up the leaf. Next, cut the leaves into strips or small pieces, chop one small onion, and set aside. In a pan large enough to contain the collards, cook several pieces of bacon until crispy, then add onion and cook until onion is mostly done. Next add some water, vinegar, and the collards and cook until collards are soft enough to eat.

Ingredients:
One bunch of collards (about 8-10 leaves)
One small onion
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar (probably any kind would work ok)
3-4 strips of bacon (turkey bacon did not produced the proper effect when I tried to substitute)
Enough water to cook the collards

I’m not very specific about the water here because I’ve never measured it. You should need around a cup, but the idea is to mostly steam the collards. You don’t want to make a stew, and you are supposed to consume the liquid with the greens.

It is possible to simply steam collards and eat them as you would any other green, but the steaming process leaches out some of the nutrients you may want to keep. So, if the only green thing you find at the market this week is a few tough shards of leftover gnome defenses, try out the southern style. You might actually like it!


Eating greens in the winter

Perhaps we get it from the not to subtle psychology of the Popeye cartoons, but there seems to be a requirement that at least one meal a day contain fresh veggies. And it usually needs to be green leafy veggies. Whatever the deeply ingrained source of this compulsion is, I think it sometimes leads us astray.

The past few weeks we had been trying to fit a nice bit of leaves into our meals, and it wasn’t really working. We are really good at working veggies into our meals, the tend to be easier to prepare well than many other things. The problem is that we are in the middle of bleak winter, and thus very far from the growing season of our favorite green friends. The greens we have been able to get are of pretty low quality and die dreadfully fast in the fridge. Keeping them upright from one grocery day to the next has actually become impossible. Not to mention the shrinking list of organic veggies to be found at any price. The stress of not meeting the ideal of one-green-veggie-per-meal was beginning to depress my wife, and possibly defeating the point of eating greens to begin with. The obvious solution? Just stop eating greens! Well, maybe not quite that extreme, but a friend encouraged us to try eating more of what we felt like eating. Maybe our bodies could help us navigate our meals better than Popeye can. So, this week we had Winter Food. The highlights from our meal plan the past week was:

Tuna salad sandwiches with boiled egg, celery, homemade mayonnaise, spiced with a little crushed up chipotle pistachios, and spaghetti squash with olives

Enchilada casserole with (sprouted corn) tortillas, pastured ground beef, beans, sour cream and lots of cheese

Broiled cod with collard greens (cooked in vinegar and bacon) and homemade macaroni-and-cheese bake, made with some raw cheeses, milk, and cream

Bone-in-chuck roast with garlic mashed potatoes (our green beans got fuzzy before we could cook them)

We did have a salad in there somewhere, but it wasn’t very special, so I forget which meal it went with.

I have to say, I really think this experiment was a success. We ate some greens, but didn’t bend over backward to fit them in where they don’t belong. Now, I can imagine what would happen if we left out green food forever, but I think a break now and then is good. I can say that our emotional state is now much improved, and we actually look forward to cooking dinner each night. So, if your weekly menu is getting too boring, or if your body is telling you to lighten up on the veggies, then take a break! Eat how your body wants to.


chili w/out tomatoes (or winter bean soup)

There is probably a hilarious coincidence behind the English word chilly (origin ~1570) and the Spanish name of the chili pepper (~1500). Nevertheless, the irony is that chili, formed by adding lots of chili pepper to meat and beans, goes well with chilly weather.

The modern American version of chili almost always contains tomatoes, a delicious fruit to which my wife is allergic. This allergy, and our combined desire for good chili, drove us to explore some tomato-less recipes. The first step in the most promising versions began with mixing several types of beans. Obviously, kidney beans were necessary, but we were surprised to find the addition of great northern, navy, and lima beans, and even various lentils.

Once we assembled a collection of beans to our liking, we soaked them overnight. Now here I must add that in a second run of this recipe we bumped our menu by one day, and the beans soaked for an additional day. This was one of our best culinary accidents yet. By soaking the beans for one day, they begin to sprout, which leaves them tasting a little ‘green’. The second day of soaking killed this taste, and made for a good flavor. Page 495 of NT indicates that beans should be soaked for ‘…a long time’, but does not indicate if more than one day would be harmful or not, so I don’t know the impact on nutrition after a two day soak.

Anyway, we then covered the beans generously in chicken broth, and simmered for awhile on low. Next we browned some ground beef with a chopped onion and chili spices. Mixing the meat into the pot with beans, we let this simmer until we were too hungry to wait, and ate it topped generously with cheddar cheese and cilantro. We probably only let this cook for 2-3 hours total, but longer would be better. Below I’ll try to give the full recipe. One note, I prefer a very un-spicy version of chili, so if you like the hot stuff, modify to your preference.

Chili (bean soup for a cold day)

1 lb. ground beef or lamb
1.5 – 2 cups of mixed beans (navy, great norther, kidney, lima, and lentils + whatever you like)
3-4 cups of chicken or beef stock
1 onion
heaps of cheddar cheese
1 clove of garlic, crushed (optional)
Fresh cilantro as garnish (optional)

Spices:
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Directions:
Soak beans for 1-2 days in water, then drain and cook on low in broth. Brown meat on medium and onion, adding spices except basil. Taste spices when meat is sufficiently cooked, make adjustments. When meat is nearly done, add basil and garlic to the beans. After the meat is seasoned correctly (defined by you), add the meat to beans and simmer on low until you think it’s done (an hour or so).

So that’s the basic approach. This makes a good (heavy) meal for a cold day, we got about 4 serving out of these amounts. You could probably make this vegetarian style by subtracting the meat and substituting for the broth.

Try it out yourself! You have plenty of winter left to go, so you have no excuse.