Friday, October 28, 2011

Jerky Man

Look it's Davy Crockett! Oh no wait, that's just my brother in a coon skin cap. Okay, he hasn't donned the coon hat since childhood (that I know of), but he is inching mighty close to owning the title "King of the wild frontier." After recently killing, field dressing and butchering a few antelope, Ben discovered the art of jerky. I might say he's become obsessed. As with anything this raw and pure in its interconnection to survival based on the rugged offerings of mother nature, Ben has rekindled the primal delights of intimately knowing his food. And it hasn't stopped at antelope. He has since dry rubbed and cured thin slices of all types of wild flesh, including goose and turkey.
I was lucky enough to see him for a brief visit recently, and like a fine guest, he came bearing gifts in the form of dried and perfectly spiced wild game taken down with his own hands from the plentiful mountains of Colorado's remaining wilderness. I was proud and utterly impressed with his new found culinary arousal. The jerky is good. Real good. Presented with three types: antelope two ways and goose, I honestly cannot figure out which is my favorite. The antelope has a grassy undertone due to a strict diet of prairie grasses. The goose is dark in color and has a hint of iron. Delicious.
Rehydrating the strips with eager mouth juices reconnects us with kin of centuries past. This type of food sustained humans from the earliest times, and continues to do so today thanks to the efforts and unearthed passion of someone whom I am honored to call blood as we chew on tradition, food obsession and sense-of-place in each flavorful, leathery strip.

Ben enjoying a piece of his goose jerky

Napping babies like jerky too.

Ben talking about jerky and his smokehouse construction plans

The End.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wild Alaskan Salmon

Those with a taste for wild salmon consider farm raised versions a gastronomic joke. This may be because it is. If you place a fillet pulled from brisk Alaskan waters next to a fat marbled farm raised version, it would be hard to visualize that the two are cut from the same biological cloth. In essence, they couldn't be more different.
Wild salmon swim free in cold ocean waters. Farm raised do not. A species meant for the wild is susceptible to various complications when taken out of its natural habitat. Farm raising salmon produces a fattier fish, one higher in the inflammatory omega-6 and lower in the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids than wild versions. Salmon farms are also responsible for breeding parasitic salmon lice which now threaten wild species. This requires farms to use antibiotics and chemicals to treat parasites which inevitably end up stored in the fish's fat. Oh, and there is the artificial pigment added to fish feed to turn farmed salmon pink. Without it, your farm raised fillet would be an appetizing shade of grey. I could go on and on. All of this unpleasantness on salmon aquaculture really is just a tiny glimpse of its un-sustainability.
As for the good news: Alaska is home to some of the healthiest wild salmon populations due to stringent conservation efforts. Even more good news: because of some burly, hard working bad-asses (please excuse my language, there is no substitute on this one), some of the freshest wild Alaskan salmon is available to me, here in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
For a true salmon lover, this is pretty much as good as it gets. I didn't even come close to wetting a line, yet I have 1o pounds of bright pink, firm, highly flavorful fillets nestled in my chest freezer. And I got a discount for buying in bulk. This is money well spent. My dollars go straight to those who deserve it most (no greedy middle-man) and I gain a product far superior to any other version; nutritionally, environmentally, and gastronomically.
Last night, fillets were simply seared and served over freshly harvested mesculn topped with avocado, sesame oil and tamari. Honestly, meals like this do not get much better. I could taste the vigor unique only to wild flesh swaddled in the sweetness only the ocean can deliver. A sincere thanks to Captian Heidi and the crew for their hard work and integrity. Visit The Wild Salmon Company to read more and make an order before it's all gone.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tom Kha Gai

Tom Kha Gai may very well be my favorite way to make chicken soup. Red chili for spice, fish sauce for brine, tender chicken and slippery udon noodles to satisfy hungry bellies, and nourishing coconut milk blended with chicken stock to fortify even the weariest eater.
You can easily alter this recipe to include your favorite additions. I like it teeming with mushrooms, sauteed onion, fresh spinach and cilantro. Other favorites include bamboo shoots, shrimp, chili peppers, sprouts, sweet peppers or snow peas. If you keep the basics on hand, this soup can be prepared, ladled into bowls and blissfully spooned into ready mouths in under 20 minutes. Not bad for fast food.

Thai Tom Kha Gai: (moderately spicy)
*1 small sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
*1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
*2 cups favorite mushroom, rinsed and quartered
*4 cups high quality chicken broth
*2 teaspoons red chili paste (decrease for less heat)
*1 tablespoon fish sauce
*1 whole chicken breast cubed or 2 cups roasted chicken
*1/2 package high quality udon noodles (I used Eden Organic's Kamut Udon)
*1 15oz can high quality coconut milk
*fresh spinach and cilantro
*fresh lime wedges

For a gluten-free version, omit udon and serve with steamed rice.

Place a large soup pot over medium heat. Add olive oil or butter and saute onion. Stir. Add mushrooms. Cook briefly before adding chicken broth. Whisk in the chili paste and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer. Add chicken pieces and udon noodles. Reduce heat to medium low. When chicken is mostly cooked through and udon noodles swell, add coconut milk. Stir.
Allow chicken to fully cook before removing from heat.
Gently stir in spinach. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with cilantro and fresh lime wedges.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Autumn Greens

Our Fall greens are cranking and have never tasted better. Cooler evening temps have crisped and sweetened the tender leaves.
Bright green spinach, arugula, mesclun, cilantro, parsley and asian mix became the foundation for todays picnic lunch. I'm getting it while I can before deep frosts soon make such a pleasant bowlful nothing more than a tasty memory.
Eventually I will brush up on Elliot Colman's Four Season Harvest, and enjoy such meals throughout wood stove season. Until then, salads will be savored while they naturally last. Soon it will be time to say goodnight to the garden soil when a clear, starry sky drops a heavy blanket of ice crystals, sweeping away all that remains.
Sleep ground.
Sweet dreams.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Since becoming a mother, I have been working on stocking the fridge with foods I can pre-prepare and have on hand throughout the week that are relatively easy to grab and shove in my mouth. I know this is not the way to "savor", believe me, but I figure it's better than most all other alternatives.
Hummus is awesome for this reason. It doesn't need to be warmed up (and without a microwave, warming food these days does not happen on the fly...I've eaten every type of leftover cold for this reason. If you're hungry enough, it really doesn't matter what temperature your food is). Hunger truly is the best sauce.
Another great reason to keep this spread on hand: it takes very little time to prepare. Just whirl everything in the Cuisinart and you're done. The key is to use good ingredients. Then just plunge some raw veggies into it, or scoop some onto a heap of garden greens and you're all set for the next round of diaper changing or whatever thrilling task is calling your name.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: (Makes a good amount)
*4 cups cooked and drained organic chickpeas or 2 15oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
*3 large garlic cloves
*1/4 cup tahini
*juice from one lemon
*1/2 cup roasted red peppers (you can find these in the pickle section of most grocery stores or place 2 red bell peppers under broiler, rotating often until skin blisters. Allow to cool and slip off skins)
*1 teaspoon sea salt
*black pepper to taste
*1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Adjust seasonings to taste. Store in an air tight container in the fridge.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vegetable Quinoa Soup with Black Beans and Spinach

Today was one of those gorgeous Autumn days perfect for pairing outdoor time with kitchen dealings. I put the chicken bones on to simmer, pulled a bunch of our garden veggies from the chest freezer then set out for a hike.
Swaths of withered leaves now crunched underfoot. Crows cawed and the Pileated's insect search echoed throughout the woodland's withering canopy. I returned to a house infused with the smell of broth.

What I love about soup is its versatility. You can add just about anything you have on hand and it always turns out to be a perfectly warming meal for a brisk Autumn evening. The homemade chicken broth makes this particular batch both silky and hearty. All other additions came from this year's harvest with the exception of the black beans and quinoa (I leave that one up to the Peruvians). Buttered sourdough toasts make a great companion for mopping up the rich broth.

Slow simmer and let the aromatics draw everyone to the table.

Vegetable Quinoa Soup with Black Beans and Spinach: (all ingredients are flexible)
*4 tablespoons unsalted butter
*1 medium onion, chopped
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*2 stalks celery, chopped
*2 sweet potatoes, cubed
*2-3 gold potatoes, cubed
*sea salt
*black pepper
*2 bay leaves
*2-3 cups stewed tomatoes
*1 cup green beans, cut into bite sized pieces
*2 cups soaked and cooked black beans
*1 head broccoli cut into pieces
*5-6 cups homemade chicken broth (see broth making post)
*2 cups cooked quinoa
*3 cups fresh spinach leaves

In a heavy soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery and potatoes. Season with bay leaves sea salt and pepper. Cook stirring often until onion is translucent.

Add tomatoes, green beans, black beans, broccoli and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer before reducing heat to medium low. Season to taste. Allow to simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove soup from heat and discard bay leaves. Add the quinoa and spinach. Stir.
Once spinach is wilted, ladle into bowls and serve with buttered sourdough toasts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Whose Success?

As I strap my baby daughter to me and fit her with a hat, I snap the leash on the dog and set out for our late-morning walk. Today is recycling day I notice as I walk up the street which was once nothing more than a narrow dirt road lined with white pines. I can't help but peer into the blue boxes perched on each side of the smooth pavement as we stroll by. It happens this way every other Tuesday; I casually glance at what each household has consumed over the last two weeks and inevitably end up pondering our food system.
Unlike other weeks, the persimmon tree we pass along the way is dropping its fruit onto the same pavement lined with blue boxes. Most of the fruit has been squished by the unforgiving tread of vehicle's tires. Some I'm sure has been carried off by squirrels and other furry creatures. I usually give the trunk a hearty pull or two in hopes a few persimmons will fall on the nearby grass. This is when my thoughts of the food industry's success in getting us to purchase the majority of our food from grocery store shelves or from the windows of fast food joints turns to the success of nature's bounty. Here in the middle of a suburban neighborhood this humble looking persimmon tree is throwing its harvest at no one in particular, but doing so dutifully.
Other fruit trees across the region are doing the same while weighty butternuts fall from their vines, the pumpkins and hubbards following suite. This is a time of year to reap from a season of growth while storing the excess for months ahead. But most of us won't. Most of us will go on having our pizza delivered or microwaving a frozen puck of nonsense for our nightly meals. We will go on purchasing our own demise from grocery shelves, claiming we just can't get through the day without "treating ourselves" to a diet coke.
Someone close to me recently took on a pizza delivery job while finishing his degree. He drove twenty miles to deliver a pizza to a man in a mobile home who answered the door in a wheelchair and was clearly missing one leg. This saddened me as I reflected that this man could have enjoyed a simple nourishing meal on half of what he spent on the pizza. The issue here was means. Maybe he is unable to maneuver around his kitchen. Perhaps he needs assistance grocery shopping? Maybe he is unfamiliar with cooking a pot of beans and steaming some rice? But what is the excuse for the rest of us? Why is it so difficult to eat simple food intended to nourish us? Part of the answer goes back to the success of our food system. We have somehow allowed it to answer the question "what's for dinner?" when in actuality, the seasons, region we dwell in and our relationship to our garden or closest food producer should be telling us such.
I am baffled by a whole recycling box filled with empty bottles of water. Have we been so successfully campaigned to that we prefer to not only pay our household water bill but also buy single servings of bottled water distributed by soda companies and packaged in a petroleum by-product?
How far do we have to fall down the rabbit hole before we are able to lift the veil from our eyes?
I may be an optimist, but perhaps it could begin with getting a household water filter and gathering ripe persimmons.