Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mint Cookies - Thin Ones



These homemade cookies are an attempt to copy the expensive ones sold by cute little girls this time of the year. These worked out VERY well! Those of you who know us well know that I usually use whole wheat flour instead of white flour, and will substitute extra light olive oil or applesauce for butter. I wanted these to be crispy however and applesauce makes everything softer and cake-like so I actually followed this recipe exactly as it is. Too bad I can't remember where I got it from.

Hope you enjoy

Homemade Thin Mints

2 ¼ cups flour
¼ cup cornstarch
6 Tb unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup white sugar
½ cup butter, room temperature
1/3 cup milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ tsp peppermint extract

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. With the mixer on low speed, add in the milk and the extracts. Gradually add in the flour mixture until fully incorporated.

Shape dough into two logs, about 1 ½ inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1-2 hours, until dough is very firm.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Slice dough into rounds about ¼ inch thick and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, until cookies are firm at the edges. Cool cookies completely on a wire rack before dipping in chocolate.

Chocolate Coating

10 oz dark or semisweet chocolate
½ cup butter, room temperature

In a microwave safe bowl, combine chocolate and butter. Melt on high power in the microwave, stirring every 45-60 seconds, until chocolate is smooth. Dip each cookie in melted chocolate, turn with a fork to coat, then transfer to a piece of parchment paper to set for 30 minutes, or until chocolate is cool and firm.

I like to store them in the fridge and eat them cold.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Burgermania

We eat pretty healthy. Don't think that my preoccupation with using natural fats is a bad thing. I'll put my rendered pancetta fat up against that nastiness you dig out of a tub ANY day. Plus...mine tastes better. That being the case, we have decided that when we eat unhealthy we are going to go all out. It makes it worth it.

I was going to do a long drawn out explanation of what we did, and if you want to know what we did let me know, but the pictures speak for themselves.

Night one:



Fresh ground roast with 20% pork fat added. Sauteed onions. Tillamook cheddar. Fresh wheat buns. Homemade onion rings.

See what I am saying...words only get in the way.

Night two:



Same hamburger (double patty...go big or go home). More sauteed onions, Tillamook chedder. Homemade wheat bun. Topped with pancetta.

Heaven.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Parmesan Pull-Aparts



This gem was a recipe from gourmet magazine. The rolls tasted awesome but I'm not to sure if I liked the technique very much.

2 tsp active yeast
1 tsp mild honey
2/3 warm cup milk
2 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs, divided
5 Tb butter, softened, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
1 Tb water

Stir together yeast, honey, and 1/3 cup warm milk in mixer bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, start over with new yeast.) Whisk together flour (2 1/2 cups), cheese, and salt, then mix into yeast mixture along with remaining 1/3 cup warm milk at low speed. Increase speed to medium and beat in 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, until a very soft dough forms, about 3 minutes. Beat in butter, 1 Tbsp at a time, until dough is elastic, about 2 minutes. (Dough will be very sticky.)

Scrape dough into center of bowl and sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down dough (do not knead) and turn out onto a floured surface. Cut dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball by cupping your hand and pushing dough against work surface as you roll in a circular motion. Arrange rolls 1 inch apart in a buttered 9- by 2-inch round cake pan and cover with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth). Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled and dough fills pan, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

Whisk together remaining egg with water and brush on tops of rolls. (You will have leftover egg wash.) Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Loosen edges of rolls from pan with a sharp knife and invert rolls onto a rack, then re invert and cool at least 20 minutes.

Here they are ready to go in the oven.



The part I didn't like was the butter at the end. I think if I do this again then next time I would maybe melt the butter and add it to the milk. I guess I have to figure out why they add it at the end. Does it do something to the dough? Does anyone know?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chocolate-Bourbon Cake



I totally forgot to take a picture of this cake before we sliced into it, and I wasn't sure if it would turn out well or not so there are no pictures of me making it. However - this cake just made my top 10 list of favorite desserts. EVER. And I am going to share the recipe with you, but first I have to give credit to Simply Recipes which is where I originally found this recipe.

Chocolate Bourbon Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 oz unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 c strong coffee
2 Tb unsweetened cocoa powder
boiling water
3/4 cup bourbon whiskey
½ tsp kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temp
1 Tb vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a large bundt pan (10 cup capacity).
Melt chocolate in a microwave oven or in a double boiler over simmering water. Let cool.
Put coffe and cocoa powder in a 2-cup (or larger) glass-measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 3/4 cup measuring line. Mix until powder dissolves. Stir in whiskey and salt; let cool.
Beat softened butter until fluffy (2-3 minutes on high). Add sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.
With the mixer on low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat additions, ending with whiskey mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10.
Cool cake on a rack. Remove from pan after 15 minutes and let cool. Sprinkle powdered sugar through a mesh sieve over the cake before serving.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Garden Reborn

It is that time of the year when the garden is prepped to again bring forth its bounty (sorry, I'm listening to Beethoven and I'm feeling all kinds of classical).

This year I decided to go a different route than last year...i.e double digging, composting a bit, and then fighting with weeds for the rest of the year. This year...well...you'll see.

Here it is from the beginning. I am taking over the neighbors plot this year as they don't want to use it. It is this junk one in the front.



Tore out the ancient fennel and other dead bush and then began with newspaper. Yep, that's right. 4 layers of it. Notice that it is going right over the old grass and weeds. This will suppress the weeds, but still let the roots from the seedlings grow down. It also helps greatly with water retention due to the fact that the soil is not so loose that it just drains out, settling at a depth past the root systems.



These following pictures are not going to make National Geographic, but they do give a good idea of the progress. Here my brother Kyle and I are spreading TAGRO. Look it up. No joke.



This is followed by a few inches of organic compost. The thinking here is that the TAGRO, crazy rich in nitrogen, will seep into the soil. The new seedlings will hit it when they are a few weeks old and basically explode.



Here we have taken off most of the straw that protected my bed from last year. We did not throw it away, but moved it over to the site where our compost pile is. We'll use it all this year in making some great and FREE compost.



TAGROing it up again. I should mention that we applied about two inches of this stuff on both beds.



Here is the finished product. Pretty awesome. Labor is cut so dramatically it is laughable. Better yet, we'll have less weeds, less water consumption, better soil health (especially if we kept this process up year after year), and healthier plants as they will not have to struggle against weeds. What more could you ask for?!?



I thought I would give a couple update photos here on the seedlings as well. They are growing like crazy. Tomatoes already got repotted.



We did newspaper pots. Compostable and free! they work pretty well, but it takes a bit of practice to do it well. Soon these beasts will be putting off fruit for bruscetta, pasta sauces galore, and just plain eating raw with a bit of garlic mayo and kosher salt. Dang, now I'm hungry.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Easy Weeknight Dinner

Most of the food we show here definitely falls into the category of "slow food." This may seem intimidating for those its-Monday-and-the-last-thing-I-want-to-do-in-this-world-is-cook days. In that spirit we figured we'd post a quick recipe that works for any weeknight. Luckily, for those of you that think that a news article or a 5 minute YouTube video is just to stinking long (SLOW DOWN PEOPLE!!!), we decided to include many pictures to hold your interest.

First of all, get all your stuff prepped. I can't stress the importance of the mise en place. Without it, you will do what most of us inevitably do in the kitchen...run around like a mouse on cocaine. Good chefs look like they are in such control because they are. Get your stuff laid out ahead of time and you'll go quicker, stay more sane, and actually put out better food (note: I did not say good food...that takes a little magic...I don't want to be sued for false advertising.)

Here is what you will need to get laid out:

Start by prepping potatoes. We used small red potatoes because they taste good and we have them around. As always, improvisation is one huge key to cooking better. In this photo I am also prepping some fresh thyme, some of the only stuff that overwintered here, for the potatoes.



Butter and a few teeth of garlic got simmered for about 5 minutes at low heat simply to infuse the butter with the garlic and to mellow out the garlic. Turned off the heat and stirred in the thyme.



In a small sauce pan caramelize some onions. I personally love to use pancetta fat to do this as it works amazingly. I could write a book on the greatness of onions. Truly one of the most diverse vegetables in the world. In short, the method we generally use is

-low heat
-not to crowded a pan (cast iron for life)
-salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar (maybe) in the beginning.
-Stir occasionally.
-finished when brown.
-if you are really feeling it, throw in a half cup of white wine and reduce the whole mess down to almost nothing. All you will need is a spoon and a corner to eat it in so no one else gets a shot at getting any.

Notice the great wrist action on that pepper mill:



Please salt your food. Supposedly, this is the single biggest thing that culinary students get yelled at for at great culinary schools around the world. Notice the sweet skills this guy has at flavoring this concoction of pure awesome from a great height.



The chicken. This is skinless, boneless breast. The bane of most chefs and most everyone else. You have to cook these puppies right or you will end up with the inevitable dry piece of tasteless mess that actually benefits from having cream of mushroom soup poured over it (insert vomit sound here). This is no dig to those of you that like that kind of stuff. You're crazy, but we still live in a country where you can do something like that (although I'd argue it is both unjust and probably a sin).

I cut the breasts in half. This makes pan frying even quicker. Speed equals flavor. There is not much to be had with this cut of meat so every second counts.

Pay attention to the sushi-chef-like skills.



Then comes the all important step of flouring your chicken long before you plan on cooking it. This will give time for the coating to adhere and make a good crust instead of the sloughy (yes, I made it up) stuff you usually end up with. Just dredge it good and forget about it for 15 minutes.



Here the onions have caramelized and are ready to be joined b some green beans. Costco sells some great organic frozen ones. Not the first choice, but in this part of the world you have to take what you can get in the winter. We have found that if you add them to a medium hot pan frozen and them toss them for 15 minutes you come out with a pretty interesting sauteed-like texture that is really good.



The moment of chicken cooking nirvana has arrived. Equal parts butter and olive oil hit the pan on medium heat, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan 1/8 inch or so. When the butter is done foaming you are good to go. If there is smoke you are in trouble. Drop the chicken in and wait for it to brown. This should not take long. It takes a lot of practice to get it right. Come over and I'll have a good excuse to show you and make this again!



When you have flipped it and the other side is almost as brown as the first; drop in a half cup of Marsala wine. Immediately cover and put heat on low. Wait five minutes and you'll be good to go.



I forgot to get potato sequence photos, but lets face it, they are potatoes. Drop them in hot water until almost at mashing consistency. You'll want them out just a touch early so they hold a bit of form. Drain the potatoes and then remember that garlic, thyme infused butter from the beginning of the post? Mix that in with the drained potatoes tossing them to make sure each one is covered, season with salt and pepper, and you're good to go.



While the beans are good as they are...why not finish them with bourbon?!? That's what I thought!



Plated. Not the prettiest meal and not one you will get a cover at Savour magazine for, but it is quick and tasty. Pair it with a good IPA or wheat beer and you'll be a happy person.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wheat Bread


When we lived in Nicaragua we met a family that turned us on to making our own bread. When we got home we bought a grain mill and a KitchenAid mixer and let me tell you...bread is EASY to make...IF you have a good recipe! I tried lots of different recipes and finally combined all the parts I liked from a bagillion different ones to make my own bread recipe which I have been using for about a year now. Recently I stumbled across a recipe for Ezekiel bread and decided to rework my recipe to include a ton of great beans and other grains. There are way too many websites you can find that extol the using of beans and grains to create a complete protein (most also talk about what to do when the one world government is established, how to make your own underwear from rabbit skins, and how to compost your own poo, but just ignore that part)

All you really need to know is:

A. It's good for you and
B. My kids love this bread.

We start out with the grains, starting with the red beans going clockwise; kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, lentils, millet, barley and of course, hard red wheat.



Mix them up well and grind them up all together



Ta da, flour



OK here we go with the process of making bread.
Sprinkle yeast on top of hot water



Mix it together real well with 2 cups of flour



Then add gluten (because the grain doesn't have much), honey and salt



Mix that together along with more flour



then knead it for 10 minutes and you have a wonderful bread dough



let it rise for an hour and this is what it will look like



Then you punch down the dough, divide it in 2, form it into loaves and bake it. I don't have any picture of that part but here's the finished product.



Here is the master recipe I have come up with, if you want to add all the grains and beans just use -2 Tb navy beans, 2 Tb kidney beans, 2 Tb pinto beans, 1/4 c millet, 1/4 c lentils, 1/2 c barley and 2 1/4 c hard red wheat all mixed together and ground up for the flour.

4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cup warm water
5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
6 TB gluten
6 TB honey or sucanat
1 TB salt

Pour the water into your mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast onto it, let it sit for a few minutes until it starts to bubble up. Then add 2 cup of whole wheat flour and stir it all together vigorously. Add the wheat gluten, honey, and salt. Mix these in well. Now start adding the remaining flour about 1/2 cup at a time. By the time you have 4 cups total of flour, you will have a stiff dough. Now you should put in your dough hook, or put your bread on a board to knead. Use additional small amounts (like 1 tablespoon) as they are needed to keep the dough from sticking. Test the dough for stickiness in the mixer. Knead dough for 10 minutes.

Draw the dough into a ball and place this dough into a large greased bowl (preferably not metal) and cover with plastic. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1 hour until it doubles in size.

Gently push dough flat to remove ALL air pockets cut in half and shape each half into a loaf. Place these into greased 9 X 5 pans, cover with plastic and let rise one more time. This rise will take an hour or two. The dough should come at least an inch above the top of the pans before you put them in the oven.

Turn your oven on to 350 degrees. While you're waiting for it to heat up, mix about a tablespoon of water with one egg and paint the top of your loaves. Bake for about 30 minutes.

Remember to let it rest for at least 10 minutes after you take it out of the oven. Lock yourself out of the house or something if you have to because this stuff will be calling your name. Much like the Sirens however, all you will end up with is blisters in your mouth and a mangled loaf.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Die Winter, Die!

I'm done with winter. I'll be honest, I was done with winter in September. Nicaragua ruined me.

"But Jeremy, don't you think the snow is so beautiful...it makes everything so peaceful."

In a word...no. Its cold and wet and depressing.

Thankfully we are almost at planting time. My garden is a very special place for me. There are many reasons for this:

1. Let's be serious, there is nothing more manly than growing your own food. Jack Bauer doesn't have anything on me.

2. Gardening is some of the best time for meditation and prayer that I have in life.

3. I can grow things that I would never buy, mainly because I'd have to take out a loan to do so. (I'm talking about cherry tomatoes, microgreens, shallots, etc.)

4. Eating a salad that is pesticide, herbicide, other-crazy-mutant-toxin-cide free is a good feeling.

Being that we live in the frozen northland we have to get things going indoors. I thought I'd give a little photo tour of the Meeks family micro-farm.



Here is my trusty assistant and the cornucopia of seeds. Not everything got started this week. Some stuff will have to wait a few weeks or it will get to big before its time to plant it out. Planning this stuff out is like Christmas for me.



Just a couple days in and this is what we had. This is purple kohlrabi. Behind it you can see the tomatoes start to go off. It still amazes me that food comes from these tiny seeds that are sometimes the size of a piece of dandruff (sorry, first example that came to mind).



This is our not so sophisticated, but all together awesome grow setup. Yes, that is tin foil. Yes, it works like a charm.



I wanted to check the viability of the wheat we have as well as the quinoa. Both were bought in bulk and not specifically for seed. As the photo shows, both are good to be planted. Awesome. The wheat will hopefully be turned into a homebrew...along with the hops that I am growing this year. Party on.



Not only do we have a range of greenness going on inside, but outside as well. This is garlic that has begun to grow this year. I planted this in September and it appears to have overwintered beautifully. Garlic is one of those things that anyone can grow and gives back big time.

This next week will be somewhat of a fury of activity. Our beds will get prepared and lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, and collards will all get planted. Spring here we come.