Tag Archives: home cooking

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.”

Advertisements

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.


Whole grain flour

It is a well known fact that flour is explosive. It is also well known that anything explosive contains energy. The energy of flour is typically calculated in Calories (that’s a thousand Chemistry lab calories), and according to me is the primary nutritional goal of any flour based food (such as bread).

There are several ways to deliver this explosive to the powerful muscles requiring the energy, but the debate on methods of delivery that I have seen to date are not about the explosive at all. Instead, the discussion centers around everything except energy. Like Iron, Vitamin-B, Vitamin-E, and Fiber. With the exception of Vitamin-E found in the germ of certain grains, these nutritional goodies are found in the husk (or bran). Any grain that is sold with it’s original bran included (rather than having the bran stripped by clever machines) is called a whole grain. I definitely used to enjoy ‘white’ grains, and despise whole ones. (Not only because it’s harder to ignite whole grains, but I thought they tasted better). However, by an interesting path, I now prefer the whole grains. This path is a twisted story of the non-energetic nutritional components of grain.

On page 25 of Nourishing Traditions, an important note is made concerning the loading of whole grains into our body. A natural substance found in whole grains binds to a number of useful nutrients, like Iron, Zinc, and Calcium. Enzyme inhibitors present in whole grains also prevent absorption (digestion) of other useful things. Now, what the book doesn’t mention at this point is that energy is still largely available in these whole grains. Anyway, Nourishing Traditions goes on to deliver the punch line: we can neutralize the inhibitors! By fermenting our whole grains, the micro-organism that eat grain in the wild will destroy the inhibitors for us. Alternately, if you sprout your grain, the natural mechanism in the seed (grain) will get rid of the inhibitors. Up to this point I have not mentioned exactly what grain I am talking about. In fact, it doesn’t seem to matter. Vitamin B was discovered in the husk of rice, and the vitamin content of most other grains is also in the bran. My discovery concerning the fermentation of flour had a bit more to do with Teff.

A smallish angry, seed, Teff is gluten free, making it a prime target for my kitchen experiments. Mixing teff flour into various recipes, I noted that the soaked teff became more elastic and pliable. This seems to be the case for most flours, except perhaps for the very fine powdery types like tapioca. Anyway, while the nutritional aspect of flour is improved by soaking or sprouting, I personally like the superior cooking quality of soaked flour.

So try your own today, any flour will do. Let me know how it works!


Flour

I am the last person you should ask: ‘what kind of Gluten free flour do you use’? So, instead of waiting for you to ask, I’ll make a stab at telling you. My answer to the question above is rather complex. That is to say, I have not condensed my answer to a usefully short reply. But here is the what I have found:

I use a number of flours that about 4 years ago I would have labeled ‘exotic’. In fact, I now have a flour stock that looks like it belongs in an apothecary (and another cabinet that is an apothecary, but that’s a different story). From the South American supergrain Quina flour to the (slightly odd) Italian Chestnut flour, my chosen powders are collected from around the world. I also us a considerable amount of Buckwheat since it’s pretty cheap. (Don’t let the Buckwheat name fool you, it is not related to Brussels sprouts. It’s actually in the same family as Rhubarb and Burdock1. Oh, that means it’s not related to wheat either.)

So, when mixing up a flour for a recipe, I try to envision the end product, and then examine my opinion of my flours. I usually have some fine powdery types like Tapioca (my favorite), Arrowroot, or Potato starch (I haven’t used potato). I also keep some ‘soft’ flours, like Sorghum, Quina, or Amaranth, and some dense, or oily flours, such as those from Hazelnuts, Walnuts, or Chestnuts (Chestnut flour has a very smokey flavor, which is amazing–but use sparingly). I also think about using stronger tasting flours such as Buckwheat, but it depends on what I’m making. It needs to balance with the other flavors. I have started toying with Rice flour, but it sucks all the moisture out of my baked goods, so I’m keeping it around for very moist recipes. I think it works okay for dusting a surface to roll out dough, especially since I don’t like throwing away expensive flours.

So, how do I choose? First off, I have had very little success making an all-purpose-blend. If I’m mixing flour for a nice moist chocolate brownie, I’ll lean toward soft and oily flours. If I want a doughy-soft fluffy bread-like cakes, I go for mostly soft flour, but some powdery, and I’ll focus on trying to make things stick together. Now, this sounds a lot like chaos, but in fact it’s a bit more like experimental Chemistry. Once you try out a combination, you get a feel for what the flours will do for you.

So, grab yourself a test tube (mixing bowl), a couple simple reagents (we shouldn’t try for nuclear-pharmacology right off), and try substituting your own Gluten free flour in a recipe. It’ll be fun!

Oh yeah, and don’t be afraid to throw out any really terrible results. After all, good Chemists know the difference between an experiment and a lab accident (unless it’s Cold Fusion…)

 

1. There is some discussion as to whether Burdock will stay in the family, but it’s pretty closely related one way or another.


Chicken soup for the toothless soul

Quite recently, my wife had two wisdom teeth removed. (Very much against her will, but it seemed the best thing to do in the end). She has incredible teeth, no cavities or anything, but randomly (the dentist can’t explain it) one broke. Soo, the difficult challenge became to make Real Food, that doesn’t require any chewing. Since that list boils down really fast to soup, we ate mostly soup for about a week. And since I was promoted to head chef, I can claim full credit for the one stellar success in that department: Chicken Radish Soup.
Editors note: Radish is really just the ‘secret weapon’ of this recipe, so the recipe could be called Chicken Harvest Soup. (Loosely follows the Chicken Rice recipe on page 199 of Nourishing Traditions, minus rice).

First we needed a good base for soup. I considered importing a French sous chef to oversee this part, but in the end settled for a temperature controlled crock pot. (It’s not even french, but it is pretty reliable). So we tossed a whole chicken in the crock pot for about 9 hours, and after the chicken was cooked, we separated the meat. Then we put the bones (fat, cartilage, and skin) back in with enough water to cover, and cooked that again overnight. Once the stock was strained, we had enough for a couple of meals of soup.

The next step was to account for our vegetable population. The inhabitants of our refrigerator included: Celery, Carrots, Onions, and Radishes. Plus we had some Potatoes in the cabinet. I chopped what I needed of the veggies, and set them to cook in the stock, added a bay leaf, and a generous amount of powdered garlic. I let these simmer until the potatoes were soft, and added them to the chicken. Since the goal was to have food that required no chewing, we had to convert this soup to baby food. I used a blender, starting with some chicken and adding a little of the broth and then combining everything as the blender was able to handle it. And of course, sea salt to taste.
This was by far the best baby food I’ve tasted. And yes, I have tasted quite a lot (my youngest brother is 15 years my junior, so I stole my fair share of his food). Anyway, as far as the soup goes, I think the radish was the amazing part. It was subtle, but brought a freshness that really suited the carrots and soup as a whole.
I’ll try to put all this here is a concise form:

Chicken Radish Soup

5-6 Cups of Chicken stock
2-3 Cups of chopped cooked Chicken
4 medium carrots.
One bunch of radishes (about 10)
1/2 large Onion
4 small Potatoes
2 stalks of Celery
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon of Garlic Powder
Sea Salt
Optional water.

Chop the vegetables, and place them in a stock pot.
After the veggies are chopped, add enough stock to cover them, and thin out the stock if needed. (I only thin out my stock if it’s pretty dense).
Simmer with the Bay Leaf and Garlic powder for about an hour, or until the potatoes are soft. The other veggies should cook faster than the potatoes, but they aren’t bad if they are undercooked. You can add the chicken at any time, I add it near the end so it retains flavor. We take half of a chicken that has been cooked in the crock pot for our soup, so the measurement is approximate.
Remove the Bay Leaf, and salt to taste.
Enjoy!

We had these veggies on hand since we wanted to have something to boost the immune system, and there are a lot of nutrients in Carrots, Radishes, and Celery. Some vitamins are destroyed by heat and cooking, but you can hang on to a few in a broth. So I think this make a good soup for healing, but it’s also really tasty.


Stringy Squash

So, I have to brag. My wife just cooked an incredible meal, and pretty much made it up off the top of her head (which is very cute).

It’s nearing Autumn around here, and the only local crop that came out well is squash. Several varieties have made some good dishes for us in the past few weeks, particularly the Butternut squash. (In case you are not familiar with Butternut squash, when it is in it’s prime, it tastes like some kind of creamy-nut-concoction infused with butter. Amazing.)

Today we stopped at a produce stand along our way, and picked up some squash. I was excited about the Butternut, but my (very smart) wife had also slipped some Spaghetti squash (image at right) into the basket. Later she informed me that we would have some Spaghetti on greens with some ground beef. ‘Hm,’ thought I, ‘I guess that won’t be too bad’.

Not too bad? I am clearly an idiot for not seeing the potential. It certainly wasn’t bad, in fact it was great! And here, (as far as I can get out of her), is what she did:

Ingredients:
1 Spaghetti squash (AKA: noodle squash,vegetable spaghetti, or spaghetti marrow)
12 oz or more Spinach (we had less than we would have liked, so go all out on the Spinach)
2-3 cloves of Garlic
1 -lb grass fed organic ground beef
A few Tablespoons of Olive oil for cooking
Spices ~2 teaspoons of each
Oregano
Basil
Garlic powder (Yes, more Garlic)
Toppings to add after cooking:
Shredded raw cheese such as Parmesan, (we used Manchego)
Pitted, marinated black olives
Process:
Cook the Spaghetti squash for about an hour until done (a butter knife should easily pierce the outside). If you are not familiar with Spaghetti squash, you should cut it length-wise and bake it face down on a buttered dish. This will help it cook evenly and retain moisture.
While the Spaghetti squash is cooking, begin to brown the beef (on low for grass fed beef) and slowly add the spices when it is partly browned.
Shortly before the squash is done, start sauteing the Spinach in the Olive oil, and add the Garlic cloves. Mix well, and cook the Spinach as much as makes you comfortable.
After the squash is cooked, scoop out the flesh, which should be very stringy (like Spaghetti), onto plates.
Add Spinach and beef. Then top with cheese and olives, and salt to taste.

So, if you have any sense at all, and are within range of a fresh, locally produced, organic Spaghetti squash, devour it immediately! (Before I do).


The cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is a widely cultivated plant in the gourd family.

I love dirt. My brothers and I used to throw small clods of dry dirt at each others army men in battle that spanned whole (army man) mountain ranges. I’m not sure what precisely attracts me to earth, except gravity, but there is some connection that draws me to the soil. Perhaps this is one reason I agreed to assist my wife in cultivating a garden last year. And it may also explain Kimchi.

Kimchi is traditionally fermented in earthen jars, underground, for several months. I am fascinated by earthen jars, whether Terra Cotta potters, or a multicoloured clay vase. Using such a container for food is a really cool idea. No, no, I didn’t go out and bury some veggies in the back yard, but as I crafted my own kimchi brew, I had visions of large earthenware vessels, and felt quite connected to the idea of digging holes and pitching in my food to hold it for later. A really neat idea.

Jars used to make kimchi

Instead of following the actual process of the traditional Korean condiment, I used a few Ball glass storage jars, and when full, I put them in the fridge.

What is kimchi? One variety, cabbage kimchi, is similar to sauerkraut; the main difference is that this type of kimchi is horrible. Some day, if I have to much cabbage on my hands, I might make some of this kind so I can punish my kids with it. No, kimchi basically refers to the process of fermenting vegetables. A guide to this process is outlined on page 94 of Nourishing Traditions, but once again, this is the cabbage variety. Use instead, say, cucumbers.

Cucumber Kimchi

A variation.

Use page 94 as a reference.

3 Cucumbers

1/2 onion (Yellow, Red, White, or sub in a few green onions).

2 cloves of Garlic

2 Tablespoons Salt

1/8 Teaspoon chile flakes

WARNING: do not mash soft veggies like cucumbers as called for in the original recipe.

Chop the cucumbers and onions, add about half of the salt, and let stand for about 4 hours. Add garlic and chile. Remove veggies from water and place in large mouth jar, filling them to about two inches from the top. Add remaining salt and fill jars the rest of the way with water, leave only a small space in the top of the jar. Ferment on counter for 2-3 days, and afterward place in refrigerator. Enjoy.

I embarked on the making of kimchi last year, after making the mistake of planting two long rows of cucumbers. This resulted in more fruit (yes, the edible portion of cucumbers would be the fruit) than we could ever eat. And we had to pick them or they would kill the vines and attract more bugs. After trying Sally Fallon’s recipe for fermented pickles (page 97), I nearly gave up the idea of using the cucumbers altogether. The fermented pickles turned out horrible. I’m sure the blame lies squarely upon my shoulders, but I tweaked that recipe in every way I could, to no avail. In desperation I reached out to the Korean ancients, or at least the ones who posted on recipe blogs.The kimchi was superb! (A tad spicy on the first try, but not bad at all). This technique saved the rest of my cuke crop from the trash. In fact, after the initial fermentation at room temperature, my kimchi rarely survived more than a few days.

Cucumber kimchi

So, if you have a plethora of cucumbers, or just like the idea of burying your food for a few months, I recommend tinkering with kimchi recipes. Just be careful with the chile.

Special thanks to Dr. Ben for his recipe and directions:  Dr. Ben Kim’s web page