Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Snacks For Wee Ones: Mini Quiche

As kids and toddlers dutifully adhere to an agenda of perpetual growth, the egg offers a solution to the snack-food dilemma. Baked into mini, crustless-quiches, the benefits of eggs translate into easily portable, on-the-go snacks, nutritionally impressive and proportionate to little hands. Packed with highly bioavailable fat-soluble antioxidants (say that ten times fast), protein, all eight essential amino acids, good cholesterol and choline (required for proper brain development), omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A, K, E, D and B-complex, eggs also offer a healthy dose of essential minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. These properties have been shown to combat skin damage from the sun, reduce the risk of certain cancers, protect vision, and reduce high cholesterol. It's no wonder eggs have been called The Maker's perfect food. This recipe takes about as much active time as scrambling some eggs, making these mini-quiches the perfect snack.

Mini Quiche: (amounts can be approximate, play around with ingredients and fillings)
*5-6 pastured eggs
*2 cups high quality milk or cream (raw if available)
*1/2 cup (or more) shredded cheddar
*sea salt and black pepper to taste
*1/2 cup chopped spinach (if frozen, thaw and squeeze excess water before adding to recipe)
*basil and or parsley, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 375. Generously grease 2 mini muffin trays with butter or olive oil. Whisk eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Transfer mixture to a liquid measuring cup. Pour into individual muffin tins, filling 3/4 full. Bake on center rack of oven until tops are golden, about 15 minutes.
Cool completely. Run a knife around the perimeter of each muffin tin before releasing from mold. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Trader's Creed:

The first trade:
Dust for flesh.
A rib bone
for a companion.
Forbidden fruit
for holiness lost,
knowledge gained.

Flesh with flesh,
new life.
Seed to soil,
Sprouts to wheat.
Toil for harvest,

Blooms for pollen.
Bees for honey.
Bread for breaking.
Wood for carving.

Moon rise
for sun up.
Winter for rest.
Frost for dew.
Spring for planting.
Youth for age.

Long stories told,
for memory's keeping.
Children running.
Chickens scratching.
Old bones rattling.
Birth for death.

Close the door.
Summon a chair.

Flesh for dust.
Rain for earth.
There is holiness still.

Revolutions Are Not Pasteurized

Standing in the grocery store recently, I took a moment to closely read the labels on all the tinned seafood displayed in neat little rows: oysters, clams, crab, sardines. Every single one of them, a product of China. And every single one of them, a food source native to the US. Even in my health food store, dehydrated packaged apples (another product abundant in this country) come from China.
China is stocking American shelves with pet food to the clothing upon our backs to the food we eat, and we are placing these items in our carts and bringing them home to our families. We then turn around and shout for reform.
As our nation stands neck deep in health and financial turmoil, we now find ourselves literally feasting on a large piece of its demise. Goods have long since come from China, but our once sacred dinner table now seats an uninvited guest.
As the 2012 elections draw near, I cannot help but cringe at this gigantic disconnect between what we buy and what we value.
We want better health care, but do not value our health. We want cheaper fuel, but refuse the idea of public transport. We bicker about jobs, but will not spend more on American-Made. We spend heaps of our precious annual income on weight-loss efforts, but sneer at the prospect of buying local food due to its price tag.
Few would argue that the government is not a broken system. But few of us want to see the other driving force behind today's issues: Us. We. The people.
Our habits are kicking our ass.
Change may be as simple as resisting the urge to verbalize our frustrations at every turn, picking political fights within our respective communities, and instead putting our buck where our mouth is.
What would happen if we took the money we spend on reality TV and put it toward reality?
What if we down graded our smart phones for something more basic, and spent more on quality food?
What if the energy we spend arguing our political differences was spent on being patriotic?
What if we didn't buy what they put before us?
What if we broke the law and drank raw milk?
What if we say enough is enough?
What if we quit complaining and started doing?
What if we didn't wait around for change?
What if this country was American again?
What if we mobilized?
What would happen if we were to rise up and take back what was once ours?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Homemade Bone Broth 101 And A Recipe for Chicken Soup

Few dishes rejuvenate quite like chicken soup. I attribute this to a good broth. As with any dish, especially those with few ingredients, the final product is only as good as each of its components. According to folk lure, a well made bone broth should "bring one back from the dead." I have seen this principal in action, mostly this time of year when school is back in session and the social petri dish is thriving.

Broth is healing for many reasons, but mainly due to its structure. Proteins are already broken down into easily absorbed amino acids, giving the body a break from this process of digestion. Gelatin from bones is also released into the simmer liquid, an excellent anti-inflammatory and gut healing property. Important trace minerals are part of a good broth as well, making this an overall highly nutritive base for any meal, in addition to its incredible depth of flavor. Any good soup or sauce leans heavily on a well prepared broth. The difference between homemade versions and store bought (other than the obvious) is in the bones. Manufactures of boxed versions rely on hydrolyzed fats and proteins to create flavor instead of extracting it from real bones, slowly simmered with care.
For the record, broth is a substance made from simmered bones, vegetables, water and meat, whereas stock is slightly more crude, utilizing only water, possibly vegetables and bones minus the meat. A broth or a stock however must always contain bones.
As modern mealtime has been shaped to satisfy busy lifestyles, bones have nearly been swept from the dinner table. The majority of meat cuts sold today are boneless and skinless for convenience sake. This is a shame, since bones are the secret weapon to prideful home cooks and chefs seeking flavorful dishes. Without bones, we forfeit the nutritive benefits as well.
By seeking bone-in cuts from your local farmer or butcher, you not only waste less, but gain more for your money. After you have enjoyed the meat, the bones can then simmer in the stock pot to create the base for your next meal. If broth making seems daunting, you can relax. The stove nearly does all the work. Here are the steps for an excellent chicken broth. Once you are familiar with the process, experiment with fish bones and heads, and bones from larger animals like lamb and beef. You can brown bones from larger animals in the oven prior to broth making for increased flavor and gorgeous color.

Homemade Chicken Broth 101:
*Purchase a whole, pastured chicken. Roast it and enjoy.
*Pick off the majority of the meat and skin.
*Place entire carcass in a large soup pot and cover bones with cool water.
*Add a couple celery stalks, half an onion and a few garlic cloves (optional)
*Add a splash or white wine, lemon juice or white vinegar (the acidity will help pull gelatin and minerals from the bones).
*Place pot over moderately low heat and slowly bring to a simmer. If you bring liquid up to temperature too quickly, it will cause the proteins to become suspended in the cooking liquid resulting in a cloudy broth.
*Once heat bubbles rise to the surface with some consistency, lower heat to lowest setting.
*Allow to simmer a full day or overnight.
*Skim any foam which rises to the top of the cooking liquid.
*Season to taste with sea salt
*Strain contents into a large bowl and chill.
*Skim fat from top (optional)

Broth can then be stored in freezer safe containers our used immediately for soups, sauces and cooking liquid.

A Recipe for Chicken Soup: (you choose the proportions)
*homemade chicken broth
*onion, chopped
*garlic, minced
*carrots, chopped
*celery, chopped
*leftover chicken meat
*sea salt
*fresh ground black pepper
*cooked rice or noodles (optional)
*flat leaf parsley, stems removed, chopped

The key to a good chicken soup is to keep it simple.
Place a large soup pot over medium heat. Coat with olive oil or butter. Add onions. Once fragrant, add garlic, carrots, and celery. Saute until softened. Add chicken meat. Season with sea salt and pepper. Pour as much broth as you deem necessary. Reduce heat to low and simmer until all vegetables are tender. Season broth to taste. Remove from heat. Add cooked rice or noodles and chopped parsley.
Divide into bowls and enjoy.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Bountiful Harvest

All the sweet potatoes have been unearthed and put up for months ahead with ample help from my 15 month old (a great sidekick as long as I kept the fresh figs and raspberries close by).
Looking forward to dipping into this stash.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Creamy Winter Squash and Carrot Soup

The summer blaze has broken, giving way to sparkly light, walnuts dropping on sodden ground, and joe-pie-weed antiqued brown. It's nearly time to start pillaging the wood pile. Woolen apparel is ready for wear, the snow seal has been unearthed and applied to leather. This is a time to sip cider, stack hard squashes by our doorsteps, and settle in over a bowl of rich soup.
Roasted carrots and assorted winter squashes whirl together with cream and homemade broth to properly usher in the Autumn season. Find a chair by a window and enjoy the show.

Creamy Winter Squash and Carrot Soup: (feeds a crowd)
*1 large hubbard or buttercup squash (or both), quartered and seeded
*1 large butternut squash, halved lengthwise, seeds and pulp removed
*10-12 large carrots
*2 sweet potatoes (optional) pierced several times with a fork
*1 medium sweet onion (optional)
*3 garlic cloves, peeled (optional)
*4-5 cups homemade chicken broth
*sea salt
*black pepper
*1 teaspoon mace
*1 1/2 - 2 cups (you decide) high quality cream (raw if possible)
*yogurt, sour cream or kefir for garnish

Preheat oven to 375.
Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment.
Arrange squashes cut sides down on one sheet. Drizzle skins with olive oil.
Arrange carrots, sweet potatoes, onion, and garlic on second sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Pour 1 cup of water on each baking sheet.
Place baking sheets in top and bottom thirds of oven, switching halfway through, and roast until all ingredients are tender (time will vary depending on thickness of squashes) at least one hour. Add more water to pans as needed.
Allow contents of pans to cool. Scoop flesh from squashes and sweet potatoes and transfer to a large bowl. Add carrots, roasted onion and garlic to bowl with 1/2 the broth. Puree with an immersion blender or place contents in food processor and blend working in batches. Add more broth while blending until puree is smooth and to desired consistency.

Place puree in a large soup pot over medium low heat. Add sea salt, pepper and mace to taste. Stir in cream. Remove from heat once soup is heated through.
Portion into bowls and garnish with whole plain yogurt, kefir or sour cream and chopped parsely.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Garlic Rosemary & Lemon Braised Turkey Legs with Oyster Mushrooms and Couscous

Venison broke an almost decade long affair with vegetarianism (read about it here) followed only second by Thanksgiving turkey. Countless holidays came and went with side dishes heaped in the center of my plate while I tried to overt my eyes from the perfectly golden bird anchoring the entire spread. Green bean casserole and brothless stuffing will only get you so far before images of dark meat smothered in smooth gravy startle you from a restless slumber, as you gasp for breath from sweaty sheets.

Every year, as the sugar maples blush crimson, the anticipation of roasted turkey has a similar effect on me. Thanksgiving leftovers last for a day or two, stacked upon sourdough and adorned with remaining cranberry, or simmered in lemony soup, but the whole event is far too fleeting.
Many would agree, turkey would be welcome at the dinner table more often. Yes, you can buy ground turkey and deli meat anytime, but this is not the turkey I am referring to. The fresh, pure cuts prove difficult to come by, and because of this, many of us wouldn't know what to do with them anyway. Until this moment.

The sourcing issue has been solved (beautifully I may add) by East Fork Farm. Whole pastured turkeys are currently available for holiday pre-order, while ultra fresh cuts are available weekly, from thighs to drumsticks, to super meaty wings. Don't be afraid. Preparing is simple. This recipe uses cloves from two whole garlic bulbs, while browned lemons, white wine, and rosemary infused broth braise the legs to supple, fall-off-the-bone status. The braising liquid is then used to cook the couscous and create a silky gravy to drizzle over the meat.
Be prepared to greet your next holiday meal with a bit of competition.

Garlic Rosemary & Lemon Braised Turkey Legs with Oyster Mushrooms and Couscous:
*olive oil
*2 local bone-in turkey legs, rinsed and patted dry
*sea salt and pepper
*1 medium onion, halved and sliced
*2 organic lemons, halved
*cloves from two garlic bulbs, cloves separated and peeled
*3/4 cup dry white wine
*1 tomato, cored and chopped
*3-4 cups chicken broth
*3 rosemary sprigs
*2 tablespoons butter
*1 cup fresh oyster mushrooms, chopped
*1 cup French couscous
*2 tablespoons flour

Place a braising pan or heavy soup pot fitted with a lid over medium heat. Drizzle with olive oil. Brown turkey legs on each side. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add onion to hot pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Saute until lightly golden. Add lemon halves, cut sides down. Allow to cook without stirring for a few minutes. Add garlic cloves. Stir contents of pan with a wooden spoon. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Pour in the white wine. Simmer until reduced by more than half. Add chopped tomatoes. Cook briefly, then return turkey to pan. Pour in enough broth to cover legs halfway. Place rosemary sprigs on top of the legs. Bring liquid to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover.
Cook for about 2-3 hours or until turkey is loosened significantly from its bone. Remove turkey from pan, pull meat from bone and set aside.

Bring 1 1/3 cups cooking liquid to a gentle boil in medium saucepan. Add couscous. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 7-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, set a cast iron skillet with butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms and saute until golden, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Remove garlic and rosemary from remaining braising liquid with a slotted spoon. Dissolve 2 tablespoons flour in 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid in a jar with a lid. Shake until no lumps remain. Bring strained cooking liquid to a simmer. Whisk in flour mixture. Simmer until thickened.

Serve turkey over couscous topped with fried mushrooms and drizzled with gravy. Give thanks and enjoy.