Monday, May 31, 2010

Elderflower Crepes

In lieu of maple or other common pancake companions like blueberries, many Europeans harness the sweetness of elderflower for pancakes and crepes. The tiny white flowers of the Elder bush are filled with sweet pollen when fully in bloom. Cordials and syrups are most often made from the flowers, but adding the blooms to crepe batter is a fine highlight for brunch.
Friends of ours joined us for such an occasion yesterday. I made the majority of the crepes in advance so I could enjoy the company. They were just right, served with Imladris Farm jam and Spinning Spider chevre. Of course, the best dish served was that of shared friendship.

Elderflower Crepes: (serves 4)
*1 1/2 cups flour (if you are gluten free, try using Pamela's pancake mix)
*3 fresh eggs
*1/2 tsp sea salt
*3/4 cup fresh milk
*3/4 cup water
*4 Tbsp melted butter
*1/2-3/4 cup elder flowers

Mix all ingredients with the exception of elder flowers. Allow to rest in fridge for 30 minutes.
Heat a 7''-9'' cast iron pan over medium low heat. Coat with butter.

Add flowers to batter, and gently fold in. Using a small ladle or measuring cup, pour about a 1/4-1/2 cup batter in pan. Tilt pan in every direction to evenly coat surface with batter. Cook about 2 minutes before flipping crepe. To do so, loosen edges of crepe with a fork, grab with your fingertips and flip in one fluid motion. For those of you with more flare, flip crepe using the flick of the entire pan. Cook 1 minute on other side.

Slide crepe out of pan onto a baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment. Stack each crepe on top of the other as you make them.
Reheat in a warmed oven right before serving. Fold each crepe in half and then fold again to serve. Offer jam and chevre or any additional topping of your choosing.

*The antioxidants in elderberry syrup have been proven to stimulate the immune system, and treat symptoms of flu. Anthocyanins, a compound also present in the extract, have anti-inflammatory effects on the body, easing common aches and pains.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Braised Lamb Shanks with Cherries

I ate them straight up, but couldn't resist pairing the remaining cherries with this evening's lamb. Although the flavor of East Fork Farm's lamb stands strong on it's own, adding some ripe seasonal fruit proved wise.
When I prepare a meal like this, I am reminded of the days when I refrained from eating animals. I was boycotting a broken industrial meat system. A system with very little reverence for the complexity of life in every aspect. This was long ago, but even then I understood the unlikelyhood of gaining nourishment from an animal that wasn't nourished.

One evening in college, a friend of mine extended an invitation to join him and some friends for venison stew. He had taken the deer's life, and carefully prepared a meal from it, which he was offering to me. This struck me as an example of generosity in it's purest form. That meal was the fist bite of meat in 8 years. And it made me feel like a million bucks! The best realization was that I could resume eating meat while still maintaining my boycott. To this day I continue to refuse a broken system.

Every nourishing bite of local, carefully tended, grass fed flesh says "no" to one system and "yes" to another. Meat is not just meat. Protein is not just protein. There is a difference in quality and a difference in how it feeds us. There are stories behind meals. I like to think about the life story behind this evening's lamb. It lived well, gracefully passing the baton to me!

Braised Lamb Shanks with Cherries:
*2 local pastured lamb foreshanks
*1 tablespoon butter
*1 small onion, chopped
*sea salt and pepper
*1 cup pitted cherries
*1/4 cup red wine

Add butter to a heavy pot and place over medium high heat. Rinse lamb shanks and pat dry with paper towels. Sear all sides of shanks in pot until well browned. Set aside. Add onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Return shanks to the pot and add enough water to cover. Season with salt and pepper. Bring liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to a very low simmer. Cover and cook for at least 3 hours or longer. Allow to cool while starting on the cherry sauce.

In a small saucepan, bring wine and cherries to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced into a thick sauce (about 15 minutes), breaking up the cherries with a potato masher or similar tool while cooking down.
Spoon over lamb. Serve with a heap of fresh garden greens.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


What do you make with the season's first glimpse of exquisitely ripe cherries?

Absolutely nothing!

I thought about pie. Considered jam. Compote. But what if an ingredient is already a finished product? Ripe fruit is done. End of story. Yes, there are more possibilities, but for now, all I need are fingers to pick, and a mouth to enjoy.

Generous neighbors, Michelle and Paul, whom I am privileged to garden for, have three robust cherry trees, weighty with the juicy, sweet globes. This has been an exceptional year for flowering plants and trees, producing a bountiful season for fruit. Thanks to their kind offer to pick my fill, I came home with booty that would make a pirate drool. Though really, I'm the one wiping my mouth!

Interesting facts:
The red pigmentation in certain berries is due to the presence of anthocyanins, which have been proven to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Anthocyanins are concentrated antioxidants contributing to a bouquet of health benefits.
A study conducted by the Cherry Marketing Institute presented at the Experimental Biology meeting in 2008 stated: "Rats that received whole tart cherry powder mixed into a high-fat diet did not gain as much weight or build up as much body fat, and their blood showed much lower levels of inflammation indicators that have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. In addition, they had significantly lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides than the other rats.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Minimalist Fare

I feature a lot of recipes on here, perhaps giving the impression that all I do is hang out in the kitchen. Painting this picture, (as quaint as it is), just isn't fair to all of you. I am not the perfect cook. There are many evenings when I just don't have it it me to chop, saute, and braise. Obviously I enjoy such activities very much, but there are moments when all I want to do is have someone bring me supper....and clean up the kitchen afterwards.
This evening was a fine example. Not finishing office work until 6pm, my husband stepped in as the dinner hero. Actually he was tired too. His solution? Tapas. Otherwise known as little bites to go with your wine.
Historically, tapas (taken from the Spanish word tapar, meaning "to cover") were served on small plates or in large enough bites to cover the top of your wine glass, keeping flies from diving into your drink while you chatted and ate. Brilliant! It worked in early Spain, it works in modern America. A wise tradition, not to be forgotten!

Jason's Tapas Menu:
*assorted marinated olives
*local City Bakery sourdough bread wedges
*local Spinning Spider rosemary and fig chevre
*smoked wild kipper
*avocado slices
*ginger preserves
*local (from Raleigh, NC) Escazu sea salted dark chocolate
*organic red wine

Pairs well with outdoor seating!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Braised Oxtail

As I dive deeper into the endless world of nose-to-tail eating, I am happy to report pleasant surprise. I stare at the beef tongue every time I'm at the meat counter, imagining myself scraping off the bristly taste buds before quickly opting out. So I suppose I haven't dove to the deepest depths, but closer I am getting.
To put things frankly, oxtail is a delight! I have never had to work so little to produce a dish with such preexisting flavor. Another adjective for you; luxurious. Braising makes the whole process a breeze.

Hickory Nut Gap Farm raises lovely pastured meats, and wastes little by offering most of the animal to interested costumers. Oxtail is not the least expensive cut out there, but worth it for a special occasion.

Once used only to describe the tail of a castrated Ox, today's oxtails often come from substantially sized steers. A typical tail weighs 2-4 pounds and is sold skinned, and cut into manageable pieces. The extra gelatin available in the tail is priceless. Your gut will rejoice in such a meal, (gelatin being a super nourishing, mineral rich substance that serves as an anti-inflammitory in the intestinal tract), as will your taste buds....ooops, didn't mean to mention those again. Not yet.

Braised Oxtail:
*2 lbs. local (pastured) oxtails
*3 Tbsp. butter
*1 sweet onion, chopped
*2 celery stalks, finely chopped
*2 carrots, finely chopped
*1 large gold potato, chopped
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*sea salt
*fresh ground black pepper
*pinch ground ginger
*3 cups red wine
*1-2 cups high quality broth

In a small saucepan, simmer wine over med-low heat until reduced by half its volume.

Rinse oxtails, and pat dry with a paper towel. Melt butter in a heavy pot over medium heat. Salt and pepper oxtails. Add to pot, and brown on each side. Remove from pot with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Add onion, celery, carrots, and potato to pot. Saute until tender and aromatic. Add garlic, sea salt, pepper, and ginger.

Nestle the browned oxtails into the pot with sauteed mixture and pour in the wine reduction and broth. Liquid should cover most of oxtails.
Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

Serve over basmati rice with cooked leafy greens!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Farmer's Market: The New Pharmacy?

I guess it's hard to do it all. Broccoli and mushroom growing being part of it. We've got diversity in the garden, don't get me wrong, but broccoli just didn't make it into the ground this spring. Nor did we inoculate logs with spores. Fortunately someone else did. Yes, there are others out there to pick up the slack, thank goodness. I found them at farmer's market, standing behind tables piled high with goodies, juggling multiple costumers while simultaneously exchanging $20's for dollar bills, answering questions of all sorts (with a smile I might add), and somehow noticing you needed an extra box for all the stuff you're toting around. Where did this group of classy individuals come from?
The fields! The diligently tended fields where a portion of this evening's dinner was grown. I am starting to think that good soil is the bloodline of a strong community, and those tending it, the heartbeat. Hippocrates, the father of medicine notoriously said, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Thanks to these hard working individuals, medicine has never been so easy to swallow!

Angel Hair with Broccoli, Spinach, Lion's Mane Mushrooms and Jersey Milk Bechamel:
*1/2 pkg angle hair pasta
*3 cups fresh broccoli, chopped
*3 cups fresh spinach
*1 small sweet onion, sliced
*1 large lion's mane mushroom, sliced
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*2 Tbsp. high quality unsalted butter
*sea salt and pepper

Fill a large pot 3/4 full with salted water. Bring to a boil. Add angel hair. Cook until tender. Strain and rinse with cold water to keep from cooking additionally.
Saute the onion and garlic in butter. Add mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until browned. Remove from pan and set aside in a small bowl. Add broccoli and a splash of water. Season. Once broccoli becomes slightly tender, add spinach to wilt. Remove from heat and combine with mushroom mixture.

*1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
*1 Tbsp flour
*1 cup jersey milk
*pinch ground nutmeg
*pinch sea salt and pepper

In a small saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk into a paste. Allow to slightly brown. Pour in the milk. Add nutmeg, sea salt and pepper. Whisk continuously until milk thickens to a nice sauce consistency. Remove from heat. Gently fold in the angel hair until sauce is evenly distributed.
Place pasta on a plate, followed by the broccoli, spinach and mushroom mixture.

Thanks to Carol of Myco-Gardens for the incredible lion's mane, and all the folks at Flying Cloud farm for the fresh broccoli!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Raw Milk Happy Hour

Slurp, slurp, slurp. Knock, knock, knock."Who is it?" "It's John Law Ma'am. We caught wind of a raw milk happy hour. We are concerned about the safety of your health."
"Thanks for the concern boys, but you can go ahead and call off your back up, I'm not armed. Would it make you feel better if I told you I was just enjoying some USDA approved corn syrup products, pasteurized yogurt colored with red #3, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils instead?"
"Well, you see, those items are legal Ma'am, so I suppose it would."
"Hummm. . . good to know. Thanks boys. Sure you don't want to join me for a homemade cookie and some sweet jersey milk from a green pasture down the road?" . . . . . . . . . . .

Slurp, slurp, slurp! "That was a mighty fine happy hour Ma'am. Glad we came to investigate the scene."
"Drive safe gents, wouldn't want all of those unadulterated nutrients to go straight to your head!"

Milk: To Drink or Not to Drink?

An excerpt written By Lori Lipinski, a Certified Nutritional Consultant, lecturer and writer whose articles have been published and quoted in highly respected national and international health journals and books. Lori developed the "Making the Transition" series to help people transition toward a REAL food diet, one step at a time.

Considering how modern commercial milk is produced and processed, it's no wonder that millions of Americans are allergic to it. An allergic reaction to dairy can cause symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting (even projectile vomiting), stomach pain, cramping, gas, bloating, nausea, headaches, sinus and chest congestion, and a sore, or scratchy throat. Milk consumption has been linked to many other health conditions as well, such as asthma, atherosclerosis, diabetes, chronic infections (especially upper respiratory and ear infections), obesity, osteoporosis and cancer of the prostate, ovaries, breast and colon.

Once you understand how modern milk is produced and processed, it seems logical to just avoid it altogether. But Real Milk--full-fat, unprocessed milk from pasture-fed cows--contains vital nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins A and D, calcium, vitamin B6, B12, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid naturally occurring in grass-fed beef and milk that reduces body fat and protects against cancer). Real milk is a source of complete protein and is loaded with enzymes. Raw milk contains beneficial bacteria that protect against pathogens and contribute to a healthy flora in the intestines. Culturing milk greatly enhances its probiotic and enzyme content, making it a therapeutic food for our digestive system and overall health.

So the answer to the question is--go ahead and drink milk only if you can get unprocessed milk from pastured cows.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Strawberry Goat Cheese Tart!

To celebrate my 100th post, I bring you a continuation on the topic of strawberries. This recipe was featured along with the following article today in our local publication, the Mountain Xpress. I am grateful to appear in our wonderful local pages. Thanks to all of you for reading, cooking and partaking in the endless journey of joyful eating!

Jewels of the Season

Rachel Brownlee

It comes as no surprise that seasonal eating is the new rage in foodie culture-and there has never been a finer time than the present to eat. Remember when TV dinners used to be a hip treat, or the days when a tub of margarine in your fridge meant health consciousness? Thank goodness we have moved on, or is it. . . moved back?

Eating seasonally used to be the only option. Families and tribes collected, hunted, or grew what was locally available for each meal. Perhaps an exotic traveler may pass through, trading spices for a clean bed, but for the most part, native, seasonal edibles were the only foods on the table.

In modern times, we have explored other options. State-of-the-art shipping methods has granted us access to bananas, grapes, and mangoes anytime throughout the year. What a treat! So why are many of us opting out of this advancement? Perishables sourced far from home, picked before they are ripe, shipped, and gassed to encourage “ripeness,” cannot compare in the slightest to what can be grown fresh, right down the road.

This brings me to the topic of strawberries. First bred in Brittany, France in 1740, the garden strawberry is a cross between Fragaria virginiana from North America, and Fragaria chiloensis from Chile and Argentina, boasting outstanding flavor and size. Most of us are familiar with this common fruit. Few however, are lucky enough to know strawberries the way we were intended due to the dominance of commercially produced cultivars which lack the intense flavor of earlier cross breeds. Strawberries available right now, grown in our special Western North Carolina climate, should have a category all to themselves. All others pale greatly in comparison, and the word is getting out!

Saturday morning, I arrived at farmers market early, thinking this would ensure a leisurely shopping experience. I strolled around, checking out the scene before making my first purchase from Anne at Gaining Ground Farm. A few rows of pint boxes cradled the seasons first cheery strawberries. I set two boxes aside, and chatted with Anne. By the time I had paid for a few other items, and turned around to fetch the berries, a mob surrounded the remaining pints. I even saw a guy reach for a box before a breathless shopper said to him, “Those are mine!” Yikes! This is great! We are obviously here to buy something our globe trotting, tech savvy, modern food system cannot provide....local, seasonal delicacies! Harvested and sold to us by the hands that grew them.

Strawberries shipped from distant lands are not, and will not ever compete with this flavor! I would wear them on a string around my neck for their sheer beauty if I could stand to smell them dangling right below my mouth without nibbling. These are jewels of the season my friends! Get them while you can!

Local Strawberry and Goat Cheese Tart:

*1 pint fresh local strawberries, sliced

*1 cup local plain goat chevre

*1 Tbsp. local honey

Crust: (Adapted from the Silver Palate)

1 2/3 cup organic all purpose flour

1/4 cup fine raw cane sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

10 T unsalted high quality butter, chilled

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tsp. cold water

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter. Incorporate the butter using your fingertips until the mix resembles a course meal. Whisk the egg yolks, vanilla and water together in a separate bowl. Add to flour mixture using a fork. Form the dough into a ball on a lightly floured surface.

Working in batches, smear a small portion of the dough in a forward motion on work surface using the palm of your hand. Scrape off of work surface and repeat with remaining dough.

Divide dough in half and form into disks. Wrap in wax paper and chill until firm.

Preheat oven to 425.

On a piece of wax paper or parchment, roll out one of the dough disks to fit a buttered 7 inch tart pan.

Place the dough in the pan, pressing into all areas of pan. Trim edge. Line the dough with a circle of parchment fit to the bottom of the pan. Place dry beans over the parchment and bake for 8 minutes on the middle rack of oven. Remove the beans and parchment. Pierce bottom of crust with a fork a few times.

Bake another 7 minutes until crust is golden and cooked through.

Cool completely on a wire rack.


Thoroughly blend the goat cheese and honey in a small bowl. Gently rinse strawberries. Cut away tops and slice lengthwise. Spread the honey and goat cheese mixture evenly over the base of the crust. Arrange the strawberry slices to cover the top. Slice and serve.


*This crust recipe is the same for the butter cookies posted yesterday. Messing around with pastry dough for different applications never flops.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Butter Cookies

As a firm believer in eating for health, sometimes cookies squeeze themselves into the equation. I suppose health stands for many things, "keeping it real" being one of them. I realize we live in a modern world with daily pressures virtually piggybacking on top of one another, creating a reality beyond our great-grandparent's wildest dreams. Though, if nutrient dense food can become the foundation for eating, little detours into cookie land can be made without putting our well-being on the line.
I believe an occasional time-out from any dogma is necessary for a different aspect of health. On some topics there is no debate. Corn syrup, coloring, and factory raised meat are never considered a treat for me. But organic butter blended with raw sugar, my hen's lovingly laid eggs, vanilla, and local flour are an exception. As I always say, proper food is often a matter of quality over anything else.

My teacher in nutrition school followed a principal according to a 90-10 rule. Super nutritious meals 90% of the time, special indulgences the remaining 10%. These butter cookies fit into the latter arena. Thank goodness for a little slack. It makes the world a much friendlier place!

Butter Cookies:
*1 2/3 cup organic AP flour
*1/4 cup fine raw cane sugar
*pinch sea salt
*10 Tbsp high quality unsalted butter, cold
*2 free range egg yolks
*1 tsp. vanilla extract
*2 tsp cold water

Combine dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Cut in the butter and blend to create a coarse meal. Whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla and water in separate bowl. Blend into flour mixture.
Form the dough into a ball. Working in batches, smear a small amount of the dough on a floured work surface in a forward motion with the palm of your hand. Repeat with remaining dough. Form into a disk. Wrap in parchment and chill until firm.
Preheat oven to 375.
Roll out dough between two pieces of parchment to about 1/4" thickness. Cut out with a cookie cutter and place on a baking sheet.
Bake on center rack of oven until golden, about 7 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

*Originally, I used this recipe (adapted from the Silver Palate cookbook) for pastry dough. I often had dough leftover after making a crust, and began using it for fast and easy cookies. So far, no complaints.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Strawberries with Homemade Dark Chocolate Sauce

I will admit to harboring a soft spot for elaborate things. I get fairly excited about embroidered linens, delicate tea sets, lace, hand hewn wood, and anything that obviously took skill and lots of time to create. On the flip side, simplicity is hard to trump. Raw oysters served on a bed of ice cannot be improved upon. It's the taste of the sea in it's undressed form that makes them so special.

I try and remind myself of this when it comes to cooking. It helps draw a line between preparation and resisting control. Often something is just perfect as is. This time of year, a local, ripe strawberry is a fine example. Enjoying them to their fullest requires little more than a willing bite. Okay, maybe there is room for homemade dark chocolate sauce, just in case you want to dance a bit with your love of simplicity and things seemingly more elaborate. The two go quite well together.

Simple Dark Chocolate Sauce: (from my friend Jane)
*1 cup high quality unsweetened cocoa powder
*1/2 cup raw cane sugar
*1/2 cup boiling water
*1 Tbsp unsalted butter
*1 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk all ingredients together in a mixing bowl until smooth. Serve with fresh strawberries or any other seasonal fruit.

Store in a glass jar fitted with a lid. Keep refrigerated, stirring in a small amount of warm water to bring back original consistency.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Work of Love. . .

There is a work of love taking place in the kitchen, and this time it's not edible. My husband is devoting his weekends to re-tile our kitchen floor. The new surface is laid out on a herringbone pattern, (a personal favorite), executed with brilliance if I do say so myself.
A few more steps remain until the project is complete. Bear with the less frequent posts. I will be back in full force soon, with the sweet feel of slate underfoot.

To be continued. . .

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Grits with Spring Garlic!

If I were to create a "Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Living in the South" list, grits would hover toward the top.
When I was young, my step-grandmother's mother, Mrs. Benson, would sit me down in front of a steamy bowlful every time we visited her in Ohio. I was in awe of this woman for having the insight and love to serve me such a wondrous dish. I later learned that Mrs. Benson was from Western North Carolina. No wonder I felt such a kinship with her. She was a wise soul.
Perhaps those early bowls of creamy grits blazed a trail in my young heart, leading me straight for southern land. Who knows. What I do know, is that grits tend to work in mysterious ways.

Grits with Spring Garlic:
*1 cup artisan grits
*4 cups water
*3 Tbsp. butter
*sea salt and pepper to taste
*3 stalks spring garlic

Bring water to a rolling boil in a medium pot. Whisk in the grits and reduce heat to low. Add the butter, salt and pepper.
Cover and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure grits do not stick to the bottom of the pot.

Meanwhile, rinse the spring garlic. Slice the white and light green portions. Saute in a bit of butter over medium heat until tender. Set aside.
Add the garlic to grits about 10 minutes before removing from heat. Allow to cool slightly before serving so you do not risk burning your mouth on the first creamy bite.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Magical World of Kraut!

Trends can be a good thing when the right ones come along. Organic food is a fine example. The certified organic label has become so familiar after a few decades of riding the "popular wave", it's presence is like an old friend. Seasonal eating, local food sourcing, and grass fed animal products are now the new hot topics in food culture, even though these practices are in fact very old.

Then there are fermented products: the "new" ancient food! Take Kombucha for example. The other day at the food co-op I had my choice of at least 15 different varieties of the fermented beverage, each offering my gut a healthy bouquet of friendly bacteria! Hallelujah! What a beautiful thing!

Sauerkraut is also enjoying a fresh place in the healthy obsessed spotlight, despite the fact that this form of food preservation has been around for at least 2,000 years. The modern abandon of old traditions such as fermenting, has brought us full circle. We now recognize the powerful merits of these once casually rejected foods.

Fermentation was a way to preserve perishables before the dawning of refrigeration, but it also supported the health and longevity of many cultures. The friendly bacteria naturally occurring on the leaves of the cabbage for instance, are cultivated and multiplied by the fermentation process. The end result is a food that strengthens the complex ecosystem of the gut, and aids digestion on every front.

A while back, I photographed my friends, Donna and Heidi as they prepared a crock of kraut. A native to Austria, Heidi was raised with kraut as a traditional food. I am thankful to her for passing the tradition on!

Here are photos from the process:
Weighing the cabbage,
Donna and Heidi shredding and chopping the cabbage. . .

Donna demonstrating her award winning knife skills,
The ceramic crock and it's fittings. .

Heidi doing a little math . . .
Heidi laughing at her math skills!
Donna tossing the cabbage with salt and caraway,
Good night kraut, see you in a few weeks:

After a few uninterrupted weeks of lacto-fermentation, the kraut was born! Each serving contains helpful lactobacilli for the gut, vitamin C and other live cultures!

I recommend a book on the topic if you are considering preparing your own.
"Making Sauerkraut and Pickled Vegetables at Home" written by Klaus Kaufman and Annelies Schoneck, is a good one!