Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

Garden Update and all the work involved! August 9, 2010

Filed under: Garden Fresh — realfoodmama @ 3:00 pm
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Sad SquashSo the garden is doing fairly well at the moment with one notable exception; that is the squash. The vine borers have infiltrated pretty much all the plants. The zucchini and the pumpkins have rooted along the vines which basically means that if the main plant dies the vine will live, but I am pretty sure our days of excessive zucchini are behind us already.

As for the rest, I am hoping that the plants survive long enough to allow some of the fruit that has set to reach maturity. The constant application of BtK (a bacterial agent designed to kill caterpillars and other larvae) seems to be mitigating the damage somewhat, however in general the plants look sad, as indicated by the picture.

Aside from that however, things are doing well. The corn survived the windstorm with only one accident – the tallest was broken, but seems to still be alive so I am hoping it will germinate and produce some ears regardless of its hunched over appearance. Additionally the tomato plants, while completely out of their cages, seem to be setting fruit and doing nicely. The green beans are producing in a somewhat mind boggling quantity and every time I go out to pick beans, which is daily, I find ones hiding that are near mutant size.

All of this abundance has resulted in regular blanching and freezing of beans, and while zucchini bread has been made more than once…or even thrice…I am trying a different way of storing the zukes today. I am hoping to dry slices and then put those up for future use in soups and stews this winter. They would add great flavor to stocks and it seems like a better use for them than bread, mostly because I hate baking when it is this hot out.

Although it should be noted that since I don’t have a dehydrator, I will be drying the zucchini in the oven. However, instead of having it on at 350 degrees for an hour, it will be on at 175 degrees for an hour which I suspect will make a significant difference.

In order to counter the somewhat depressing picture of the squash above, here are some other garden pictures that are much more representative of what the majority of our harvest is beginning to look like.

The tomato forest

Tomato Forest

Corn

Potato Patch

 

Our First Egg! July 16, 2010

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Garden Fresh — realfoodmama @ 3:06 pm
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One of our hens laid our very first egg this afternoon! We are very excited about it here at the urban farm and my little man has decided the egg is his and needs to live in his bedroom. Clearly that can’t go on much longer, but it is nice to see that he is as excited as his mommy about what is, ultimately, a rather mundane event.

Our hens are only four months old so the advent of one egg is very possibly the most we will get this week. It is adorably tiny and perfectly shaped, but won’t actually feed any of us. Regardless, it marks a new chapter here at the urban farm, complete with new chores and more space taken up in the fridge.

In addition to the egg, I am also happy to report that the corn plants are taller than my son, the squash plants are covered in abundant blooms and the tomato plants are literally growing out of their cages. All signs point toward an abundance and I am incredibly grateful for all of it, even if it means more yard work and livestock chores for me. I will upload a picture of our new addition (the egg) as soon as I can get my son to let up on his vigil. Until then, happy eating and gardening!

 

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!

 

Meet dinner! May 16, 2010

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Eating local,Events,Food For Thought — realfoodmama @ 8:15 pm
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Mo the steerThis is a picture of my new steer – he’s the one looking at the camera. Yes, I officially own a cow.

Of course I don’t have to feed him or take care of him or even see him until he’s been ground up and put in my freezer. Yes, readers, I came face to face with my dinner. And it smelled a little.

This weekend I drove for about two hours, over 15 miles of bad forest service dirt road in order to arrive at a ranch located in what most people would consider the back of beyond in order to pick out my own Black Angus beef. My steer will graze exclusively on the grasses and shrubs of the New Mexican desert until the end of October, at which point his delicious self will be butchered and packaged to order for myself and my family. And then he will be dinner.

I admit to being surprisingly unfazed by the whole experience, but that may have a lot to do with my upbringing. My father hunted when I was young and our family friends would slaughter hogs every year. I frequently saw the progression from animal to food and I have always made the connection in my mind between the roast chicken I’m eating and the clucking bird in the yard. It has never bothered me and I am hopeful that my son will feel the same.

Because his father decidedly does NOT. It took some serious begging in order to get him to even come along on the adventure and he has yet to look at the picture of the cow I selected. Of course he’s the person who eats the most meat in the house and regularly asks for steak, but such is life. Admittedly watching them being castrated, branded and tagged wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience, but, no offense to any cow lovers out there, they don’t have much of a long term memory. And they all ran off happily afterward, so I am pretty sure they will survive.

I certainly hope that my cow has a happy life up there on the mesa’s, running around and playing with his other cow friends. I suspect when it comes down to it, he won’t know what hit him.

 

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

 

Spinach and Sausage Fritatta March 17, 2010

The Farmer’s Market here has finally started producing some green stuff! After a winter of root vegetables, I am terribly excited about this prospect. The primary crop includes greenhouse spinach and salad greens. Two things which I have been craving like mad. I have made spinach ravioli, spinach alfredo sauce, spinach quiche’s and most recently, a lovely spinach fritatta. Sadly the photos I thought I had seem to be MIA at the moment so you’ll have to use your imagination!

Fritatta’s are similar to quiche, but require less work. Instead of baking a crust, making a custard and then waiting nearly an hour for the results, you simple put a frying pan over medium heat, beat the eggs and cook them on the stove top with a quick finish under the broiler.

Spinach and Sausage Fritatta

1/4 lb chopped spinach (about 1 cup)
6 large eggs
1 c diced cooked sausage (I used breakfast link, but anything would work, including Italian!)
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Fritatta’s are very easy to make and are a quick way of using leftover meat and cooked vegetables on those nights when you need an break from long cooking times. You want to make sure that the pan you are using can go in the oven – a well seasoned and well greased cast iron skillet works the best.

Begin by whisking the eggs until they are uniform in color. Add them to the well greased pan over a medium heat and scrape and mix a bit to create some texture and height. Add the already cooked sausage and chopped spinach. Turn the heat to low and let cook on the stove top until the top of the eggs sets. Sprinkle on your Parmesan cheese then place the pan in the oven underneath the broiler for about 3-5 minutes or until the top starts to brown. Serve hot!

This post has been my contribution to Real Food Wednesday, hosted this week by Kelly the Kitchen Kop. Happy Eating!

 

Food For Thought Tuesday – 3/2 March 2, 2010

Filed under: Food For Thought — realfoodmama @ 11:25 am
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This week has been spent doing a lot of work around the barn. It feels like spring, even though there is still snow on the ground and it’s hardly warm out.

We are awaiting our kids. One of my girls is pregnant and due within the month so there have been some additions made to the existing pen and we are getting ready to receive the little goats. Also, we have ordered our chicks and will have to make them a nice warm roost until they are big enough to survive the cold weather. Keeping them at 90 degrees may prove impossible, but we are going to get creative since they will be arriving at the end of March.

I also planted my first seeds of the year. I am trying to start my tomato plants from scratch, so to speak, and currently have 20 little pots sitting above the heater in my bed room. 10 Black Krim’s and 10 Red Brandywines. Hopefully they will all sprout soon!

That has been my week, but in the larger world of food, there are a few interesting stories.

The comment period regarding approval of Monsanto’s Round-up Ready Alfalfa ends tomorrow, March 3. This is another GE crop who’s cultivation could have broad sweeping impacts on organic dairy. If you haven’t already, please let the USDA know you are opposed to the approval of this crop! To submit your comment, go here.

Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef, is doing a new reality show here in the states. What does he tackle? The American school lunch program. Check out the video’s on youtube…simply search Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and watch the previews. Pretty terrifying stuff – especially the scene where a room full of first graders couldn’t identify a tomato. While I look forward to seeing this, mostly because I am curious about how the school lunch program really works, I am wondering if Jamie won’t just rehash the whole “fat free everything” mantra that pervades American “health food”. We shall see however. The first episode airs March 26 on ABC.

Lastly, for those of you local readers, this week is Santa Fe’s inaugural Restaurant Week. The City Dipherent’s favorite restaurants are offering prix fixe meals for two at special prices. This is a great way to sample some of the best restaurants in town without spending an arm and a leg. For more details, go here to see which restaurants are participating and how much their menu’s are running.

Until next week, Happy Eating and Reading!