Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

Oven-dried zucchini August 13, 2010

Filed under: Food Storage,Garden Fresh,Home Made,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 3:24 pm
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The results!

My first attempt at oven drying anything was met with pretty fair success, if I do say so myself. Although I was somewhat astounded by the end result. When you cut up two pounds of zucchini and end up with barely a cup, it is a bit of a shocker. Of course, zucchini being 95% water (or thereabouts) makes it shrivel up pretty good. According to the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving, 20 lbs of zucchini dried makes barely two pounds of chips.

Fascinating, but somewhat anti-climactic.

Suffice it to say, the process was very straightforward. I winged it a bit, but it all seemed to work out. Using what I read from the aforementioned Ball Book and some articles on the internet, I decided to slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch slices. I then lay them on a cookie sheet and set the oven at 175 degrees, which is as low as mine will go.

I also kept the oven door open in order to facilitate the actual dehydrating process, versus cooking. The airflow provided is necessary in order to keep the moisture from recirculating back into the zucchini. If I had a convection oven this might have been an unnecessary step, but sadly I do not have a convection oven and so I simply kept the oven door open about half way.

The whole process took nearly 4 hours and I was obliged to continuously flip the zucchini rounds in order to dry them evenly. If I had a cookie sheet with a rack I probably would not have had to do this step, but again…like the convection oven issue, I didn’t. Regardless, it worked quite well. I did notice however that the pieces that I had cut too thin started to brown and I decided that they were moving too far into the “cooked” spectrum to really qualify as dried. As a result I attempted to add them to burritos for dinner that evening…which was a spectacular failure, I might add.

Regardless, the point of mentioning it was that while some sources might tell you to cut the slices as thin as 1/8 of an inch, if you are using an oven to dry your zucchini I highly suggest to cut things no thinner than 1/4 inch otherwise you may end up with burnt chips.

I will be reattempting the drying routine tomorrow as I still have four zucchini in my fridge, even though I have dried and baked copious amounts and my plants are suffering from an insect invader that is slowly killing them. I do love the abundance of summer squash!

Oven Dried Zucchini

Zucchini
cookie sheets, with racks if possible

Cut the zucchini into 1/4 inch slices, trying to cut them as evenly as possible. Place the slices on the cookie sheet or rack, spacing them relatively close together as they will shrink as the process goes on.

Place in your oven at it’s lowest setting (mine was 175 degrees) and leave the door open at least half way. If your oven door will not remain open half way on its own you may have to rig it. I would not recommend leaving it open all the way and you cannot have it closed altogether either.

Leave in the oven for 4 – 4.5 hours, turning regularly. The zucchini is done when it is no longer flexible. Let cool completely before storing.

Happy Eating!

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Cheese, glorious cheese. June 25, 2010

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Home Made,Raw Goat Milk,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 4:01 pm
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Making the cheeseThe summer milking routine is in full swing here and my first time goat mommy is providing an over-abundance of milk. Giving us nearly a gallon a day, she has successfully added a new chore to my list: cheese making.

Home cheese making is a combination of rewarding and tiresome, at least at this point in the process. The basic problem I face is the size of the batches. I am forced to make cheese one gallon at a time, primarily because I lack a pot large enough to hold more than one gallon of milk. And while I would love to invest in a huge pot reserved solely for making cheese, I have yet to do so.

In fact, generally speaking cheese-making is instrument heavy. There are all sorts of things you need – the right cheesecloth (especially for ricotta), slotted spoons, large pots, thermometers, multiple bowls and strainers for catching whey, somewhere to hang your cheese while they dry, cultures, rennet…the list could go on but I don’t want to alarm you.

In truth cheese making is not difficult, it is simply procedure intensive. It is like chemistry…if you skip a step or get sloppy, your cheese could potentially explode. (Okay not REALLY, but it could get moldy and smell funny…which is nearly as bad).

There are a variety of recipes out there on the internet for making your own cheese. One of my favorite sites is Fias Co Farm, a web site dedicated to all things goat, including cheese making. Some of the recipes are very simply and it is a great introduction to making your own cheese at home, regardless of whether you are using fresh goat milk from your own animals or not.

In general, cheese making follows some basic steps, with modifications to temperature, time and cultures making up the bulk of the differences in the end result. Basically you bring the milk to temperature, add a culture if necessary (for things like cheddar and feta cultures or even yogurt are added to allow the ripening to occur properly) then left to ripen for about an hour. At this point the rennet is added and the curd is allowed to form – again, the time allowed for this depends on the cheese. The curd is then cut, rested and brought up to the appropriate temperature during the “cooking” phase. The temperature affects the firmness of the curd and thus the firmness of the final cheese.

The curds are then strained, salted, hung, pulled, or pressed and you end up with your final result.

So, like many things culinary, cheese making isn’t necessarily difficult, however it is time consuming and it does require basic direction following. Cheese making is not an area where experimentation is an asset – at least not at the beginning.

All this being said I have successfully made mozzarella, farmers cheese, fromage blanc, cheddar (I think…I won’t know for about 3 months how successful it was…), and feta. All in all, I enjoy the process and really enjoy eating the results.

So here is a very basic recipe for a paneer like cheese (for those of you not familiar with Saag Paneer, a favorite Indian dish of mine, paneer is a firm cheese with a consistency similar to tofu. It does not melt and can be used in pretty much any way tofu can).

Paneer or Farmer’s Cheese

1 gallon milk – I use raw goat’s milk but any will do
1/4 c white vinegar
cheesecloth
milk thermometer

Bring one gallon of milk up to 160 degrees over direct heat, stirring regularly to ensure the milk is heated evenly. Once at temperature, remove from heat and add 1/4 white vinegar, stirring until well mixed.

You will notice that the milk will start to separate right away. Let cool for a few minutes so as to allow for the curds to separate fully as well as to avoid burning yourself during straining.

Straining the curdStrain the curds through a colander lined with cheesecloth that you have resting over a large bowl or another pot. Catch and keep your whey so you can make ricotta.

Let the curds drain overnight. The end result should be a firm cheese that resembles tofu in texture.

One of my favorite ways to serve this cheese is to cut it into cubes, dredge it in flour and fry until it is golden brown. Then I sprinkle it with a little salt and pepper and voila! A perfect snack!

 

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble April 25, 2010

Filed under: Baking,Farmer's Market,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 9:42 pm
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Rhubarb and StrawberriesI love spring. Not only are the birds singing, the flowers blooming and the sun shining, but foods much missed over the winter are making a comeback. And the very best thing, in my mind, is the reappearance of strawberries and rhubarb – one of my favorite combos.

So this evening I decided to make an easy dessert. A simple crumble that has just enough good things in it to make it seem nearly like health food.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

1 pint organic strawberries – sliced
3 large stalks of fresh rhubarb – sliced
1/4 c sugar, approximately

for topping:

1/3 c whole wheat flour
1/3 c rolled oats
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c what germ
1/2 tsp salt
4 TBSP butter

I like to cook my rhubarb and strawberries before making something like this. The primary reason is to avoid over sweetening, or worse under sweetening, your filling. If you cook them together with the sugar on the stove top first, just until they soften, you can gauge whether or not you need to add more sugar before the final baking.

Once this has been done, go ahead and mix up your crumble topping. Place the flour, sugar, salt, oats and wheat germ in a bowl and whisk until well mixed. Using a pastry blender, add the butter and mix until you get a coarse crumb.

Pour the strawberry and rhubarb mixture into an 8×4 bread pan and cover with the crumble topping. Bake at 350 degrees until the filling bubbles and the topping mixture just begins to brown. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

Aftermath

 

Succulent Pressure Cooker Beef Stew February 10, 2010

Filed under: Real Food Wednesday,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 10:20 am
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Pressure Cooker Beef StewSo the other night I was looking once again at the beef in my freezer wondering what I could do with all that stew meat that wouldn’t be exactly like everything else I have ever done with stew meat. To be completely honest with you, inspiration did not strike until I was halfway through the process, but oh! Did it strike hard! The use of the pressure cooker is a result of the fact that I was procrastinating and didn’t start dinner until about 40 minutes before we were scheduled to eat. This stew could probably be cooked in a stock pot or crock pot, but the recipe would have to be adjusted to accommodate the longer cooking time. My pressure cooking is one of my favorite tools here in the kitchen. It makes cooking beans a breeze and helps with a variety of meat dishes.

In addition to the beef, I had planned on adding carrots and potatoes to the stew halfway through the cooking, so I had them all cut up on the counter next to the pot. When I tasted the beef portion, however, I decided against doing so. Instead I simply boiled them up and served them on the side with a strong dose of butter, heavy cream and salt. I love fat…but that’s a different post! Here is the recipe!

Succulent Pressure Cooker Beef Stew

1 lb grass fed beef stew meat
2 TBSP olive oil + 2 TBSP organic butter
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 stick celery, diced fine
1/2 large carrot (or one small), diced
2 TBSP cognac
1 heaping TBSP organic tomato paste
1 c water
1 TBSP dried thyme
1 tsp fennel seed, crushed
~ 2 tsp ground black pepper
~ TBSP sea salt

Place the meat in a bowl and add the black pepper – I am guessing on the quantity because I basically just peppered the meat until it looked covered enough. I like the flavor of pepper in my stews, so I suspect I put in quite a bit. Set the meat aside for a minute at room temperature and heat your oil. I used a pressure cooker because I started dinner late and it is a great way to tenderize meat and cook veggies really quickly. You could use a different method, but you would have to adjust the liquid to compensate for the longer cooking time – probably up to two cups.

Back to the recipe…

Heat the olive oil and butter in the pressure cooker over medium high heat until the butter has started to brown a bit then put in the peppered meat. Avert your eyes and use a long wooden spoon to stir the meat until it is well browned, about 3 – 5 minutes. Pour the meat and all juices back into the bowl and put the pot back on the heat. Lower it to medium low, then add your chopped onions, celery and carrots. You want to “sweat” these veggies, not sautee them. Cook them this way, avoiding browning, until the onions are translucent and the carrots are soft, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Add the beef and all accumulated juices back into the pot, along with the cognac, tomato paste and water. Stir well so the tomato paste dissolves and bring to a simmer. Add the crushed thyme and fennel seeds and your salt (I like a lot of salt, so simply salt to your taste). Place the lid on your pressure cooker and set it to the correct setting for your altitude. Once the pot has pressurized, cook for 10 minutes (so quick!).

Check the stew at this point and make sure the meat is tender enough and there is still liquid. If you want it to go a bit longer and the liquid is sufficient, go ahead. I was happy with the results after this amount of time.

What you end up with is an incredibly savory, rich stew with a thick sauce and tender meat. Serve it poured over mashed potatoes (and carrots!) and you have a really quick, hearty meal for these snowy, cold February nights.

This post has been my submission to Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival.

 

Applesauce buckwheat pancakes January 27, 2010

Filed under: Real Food Wednesday,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 11:06 am
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Good Morning!One of my old standby’s for breakfast is pancakes. They are remarkably simple and incredibly versatile. You can use a multitude of different flours, a variety of dairy products, and you can add almost anything to the batter. In fact, I regularly disguise fruits and vegetables as pancakes in order to get my two year old to eat them – my favorite is pumpkin season…mmmm, so good! But that is another post.

In fact, pancake batter is one of the few grain recipes where I regularly remember to soak my flour before using it. The reason is simple: You can make pancake batter the night before and refrigerate it until the morning. Not only does this make the whole process much quicker in the mornings (helpful when you have a very hungry toddler demanding pancakes) but it also allows the batter to sit in buttermilk (or yogurt, or kefir) for 12 hours before cooking.

This time of year, with the pumpkin mostly gone, I tend to start using my applesauce as the fruit. Homemade, with very little sugar, it adds just enough sweetness to the batter.

My basic recipe comes from The Joy, but it has been so long I have multiple modifications. For the apple sauce buckwheat version, the recipe is below. As for others, as long as you stick to the basic wet/dry ratio (i.e. 1.5 c flour to 1.5 c dairy), you can experiment as much as you like! I tend to use at least 2/3 c of unbleached all purpose flour however, as otherwise the pancakes can get dry. Experiment though, and see what you like! Adding honey to a pure whole wheat batter, for example, would compensate. Generally, however, I never add more than 1/3 c of pureed fruit or veggies, otherwise the texture is off.

Applesauce Buckwheat Pancakes

1 c organic unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 c buckwheat flour
1 1/2 TBSP aluminum free baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 c raw goats milk + 1/2 c goat kefir*
3 TBSP organic grass fed butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1/3 cup unsweetened (or lightly sweetened) applesauce – recipe here

*I have dairy goats and make my own kefir. I have found that I like the combination above. You can always use all buttermilk or kefir or yogurt, however if you do this you will need to adjust your leavening to 1 tsp powder and 1/2 tsp soda to compensate for the higher acidity. You, of course, can also use all milk, but then any benefit you would get from soaking the flour would be lost.

Mix the dry ingredients together and then add the dairy. Stir until fairly well mixed, cover and refrigerate for 12 hours. This will lead to a rather sticky mess, to be honest, but trust me! It will work. Do not forget to cover, however, otherwise a nasty skin will develop.

The following morning, go ahead and combine the eggs, applesauce, melted butter and vanilla, if using, then add to the soaked flour mixture. Stir until just mixed – any over mixing at this point will lead to very heavy pancakes.

Heat a griddle to medium low and grease it. I used to use canola oil for this, but have since experimented with other things. Butter does not work well! You need some other oil, such as sunflower or safflower, or if you want the flavor of it, coconut oil. I do not like olive oil, even though it has a nice high smoke point, simply because the flavor is too obvious for me. Experiment until you find one that works for you.

What you want to do is put about a TBSP of oil in the pan and use a paper towel as a grease mop. Lightly brush the oil around the pan, being careful not to burn yourself, and set the now greasy paper towel aside for the next one. Ladle in about 1/3 – 1/2 c of batter and cook until the edges start to get glossy and the center bubbles, then flip. Re-grease your pan with the paper towel before starting another pancake.

Load them up with more grass fed butter and some organic grade B maple syrup and enjoy!

This post has been my contribution to Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival.

 

Real Food Remedies? January 15, 2010

This week our whole family was downed by a terrible stomach flu and it had me thinking: What kind of home remedies do people create using real food?

During my studies in Chinese Medicine, we had a whole semester course dedicated to healing with food. Chinese Medicine utilizes nutrition to help people bring themselves into balance and recover from illness. As a result my reliance on food as medicine is somewhat ingrained at this point. However, aside from understanding the energetics of certain ingredients, my recipe box is somewhat limited in terms of “healing foods”.

One of my standbys is certainly chicken noodle soup – there is nothing better than a really rich chicken broth loaded with carrots and celery and chicken fat to really make you feel like you’re healing yourself. Another thing I have only just recently added to my repertoire is home made pro-biotic foods such as kefir and yogurt using the goat milk from my girls. This has come in handy recently due to the bout of stomach flu. I have also been known to make congee – a traditional Chinese porridge made of rice or a combination of rice and millet that is cooked until the grains become gelatinous. Typically done in my crockpot overnight, this can be a great way to get nutrition in a person recovering from an illness or even to wake up the digestion in the mornings the way a bowl of nice oatmeal or hot cereal does. The Chinese frequently add protein to their congee in the form of fried or scrambled eggs and pork, as well as vegetables.

However, aside from the above list, my “healing food” recipe box is empty. Bone marrow soup, for example, is something I have learned is a great tonic, but I’ve never made. I’d be curious what other healing recipes people out there have in their cupboards. This winter has seen some pretty virulent diseases, including H1N1 and as a person who does not vaccinate, I must seek out other defenses against these things. Please feel free to add your favorite healing dishes! I would love to see what other people have up their sleeves 😉

Chicken Noodle Soup

1/2 chicken (approx 2 lbs – bone in and skin on! very important!)
4 c water
1 large carrot or 2 medium carrots
2 stalks of celery (or 1 stalk + 1 tsp celery seed)
1/2 onion, skin on
2 inch fresh rosemary (1/2 tsp dried, crushed)
4 inch fresh thyme (1 tsp dried, crushed)
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb noodles (home made or otherwise)

To begin, make your chicken stock. Place the chicken in a large stock pot and add the water, half the carrot cut into large pieces, 1 celery stalk cut into four pieces OR 1 tsp celery seed, and the onion, quartered. Also add the fresh herbs and salt and pepper, to taste. I prefer a more salty stock, so I typically add about 2 – 3 tsp of sea salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for about an hour.

The key to this stock is to use chicken that has skin and bone. Typically I buy my birds whole and butcher them at home. I like to cut them right down the middle, unless I am making something that calls specifically for breast meat. That way when I make my stock I have a nice bony, fatty carcass to boil up. The real secret to good chicken stock is the fat. Many recipes call for skimming after the stock has been made. I never do this – why get rid of all that fat?

Once the chicken is cooked through and you have a nice oil slick of fat on the surface of your stock, go ahead and remove your chicken, placing it to cool on a cutting board nearby. Then strain the stock in order to remove the now overcooked veggies. I use a colander for this and simply pour the stock from one pot to another rather than trying to strain it into a jar.

Once your chicken has cooled enough so that you can handle it without burning yourself, remove all the meat and set this aside in another bowl. You can dice the meat if you’d like, but I tend to just leave it in it’s shredded state.

At this point you can reconstruct your soup. Go ahead and put the chicken back in the stock, along with the second celery rib, diced, and the rest of your carrot, sliced thinly. In a separate pot, boil the water for the pasta. You don’t want to try to cook the pasta in the soup as this will result in a loss of too much stock and will lead to soggy noodles.

Once the noodles have reached al dente consistency, strain them and toss them in the chicken soup. Let everything cook at a low simmer for a few more minutes and you are ready to serve!

Look for my experiments with raw goat kefir at a later date. Until then, Happy Eating!

This blog has been my weekly contribution to Real Food Wednesday’s, hosted this week by Cheeseslave.

 

First time using my pasta maker! January 6, 2010

Filed under: Kitchen Toys,Real Food Wednesday,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 2:45 pm
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My new toy!I love my new toy. It is by far the most fabulous piece of kitchen equipment I own. I have periodically made pasta from scratch for several years now, ever since a neighbor looked at me and said “Pasta is so easy…you could definitely do it”. And so I did.

My first batch was successful for the most part, but I struggled with rolling out the dough and getting the right texture. A problem I struggled with regularly up until yesterday. I could spend upwards of thirty minutes rolling out the elastic dough and still not achieve the texture and thinness I desired. But no more!

Using the same pasta recipe as always, I was able to create fabulous spaghetti using my new machine. Thin, light and with a beautiful texture, it was by far the best pasta I have had in a long time.

Home Made Pasta

2 c all purpose flour
3 eggs
1 TBSP olive oil
approximately 2 TBSP cold water*

Place the flour on a clean, flat counter top and create a mound. Dig a well in the middle and crack your three eggs into this well. Using a fork, whisk the olive oil into the eggs, and then continue to whisk, slowly adding the flour until it starts to thicken. At this point, use your well floured hands to combine the rest of the flour and the water, if necessary (see note below)

*Depending on your climate, you may not need to add any water to the mixture, however Santa Fe, NM has a relative humidity in the single digits and without a few tablespoons of H2O, my pasta dough dries out and becomes unusable.

Once the dough has come together, continue to kneed until you have a smooth, elastic quality. Shape the dough into a ball and cover with a damp towel. Let rest at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.

After the dough has rested, you are ready to roll it out. I had to season my pasta maker (by running a small quantity of dough through it to make sure everything was grime free) but once this was accomplished it was a simple matter of flouring the rolly parts and then getting to work.

Rolling the dough.

The end result was the beautiful pasta seen here…
The finished product...yuuuum.
…cover it in home made red sauce, sprinkle some fresh parm on it and voila! The best pasta ever!

This post has been my contribution to Cheeseslave’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival. Check it out for more delicious posts!