Feb 19, 2015

2 Quick & Easy Veggie Recipes Plus a Kitchen Tip

Remember me raving about Table 28?  I tried to recreate one of our favorite dishes: Brussel sprouts and bacon with pecans.  I started with this recipe but forgot to add the balsamic vinegar.  However, I remembered the pecans and then I added...wait for it...blue cheese.  Heaven, y'all.  Rush to the grocery store now and buy some sprouts and swine.  If you're not a fan of the blue cheese, don't use it but make this recipe.  If you're out of pecans, no worries, make this recipe.  Bacon and Sprouts will do you right.  Pinky swear.  EDIT: Add blue cheese and toasted pecans after roasting Brussel sprouts, just before serving.
Secondly, also the in cruciferous family, is roasted cabbage.  It is only recently that I have become a lover of roasted cabbage.  HB and I took a cooking class at 42 (restaurant at Clinton Library) and the chef quartered heads of cabbage, slathered them in pats of butter, wrapped it in foil then put it on the grill. Wow.  Delish and super easy.

In case you haven't been outside in a while, baby it's cold outside.  And I don't want to grill.

So I bring to you: Roasted Cabbage in a cast iron skillet.
Super easy and fast.

1.  Heat your skillet.  Get it HOT.  (medium high or high setting)
2. Quick chop your cabbage. (or do this ahead)
3. Plop some fat into the skillet, something that can withstand the heat.  Bacon grease is my preference for this dish.  Lard is good.  Ghee.  Coconut oil works too but it will taste coconutty if using unrefined coconut oil.
4.  Drop the cabbage in.
5.  Don't push it around.  Be patient.  Let it sear and get bits of brown crusties.  Use tongs to grab and flip.
6.  Season with sea salt.

I used about 3/4 a head of medium cabbage in this 12" square skillet.  It was probably too much cabbage and crowded the pan but I wanted to clean out the fridge (can I hear an amen from the mommas?)  Waste not want not.  My 2 year old ate the most and there was enough for Hubby to take for lunch today.

Lastly, my tip.  A 25ft roll of parchment paper is $1 at the Dollar Tree next to Michael's on Markham.  Parchment paper has changed my life.  It makes the difference with cookies, the edges are perfect.  Using parchment when you roast anything drastically reduces clean up time.


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Feb 15, 2015

Food in Fiji (yes -- I went!)

My husband had the great privilege of teaching a theology class in Fiji and I decided to tag along.  My saintly mother stayed with all three of our children.  

After traveling for 24 hours, we landed in a tropical paradise.  I wasn't sure what to expect of the food.  I assumed it would be fresh but that's about all.

I was totally blown away by the color of the egg yolks.  In almost every gas station, you could buy eggs and butter of the most magnificent color. 
One day I had a conversation with a Fijian woman about the color of the butter.  She had lived in California for almost a decade.  I asked her when she ate white butter in America, did she think something was wrong with it?  She said, "No, I assumed that Americans wanted it white so it would look prettier."

Wha?!  I told her the reason the Fijian butter had such beautiful yellow color was because of the lush green grass the cows ate.  Most American cows are eating hay and grain, a diet that will not produce vibrant colored butter.

While we did venture around the island, I didn't take many pictures of the landscape.  Because of the humidity my pictures were quite foggy.  Chickens were not allowed in city limits but we saw plenty (including cows) when we traveled out of the capitol.

Eggs and butter weren't the only thing that we gorged on.  We ate plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, like this pineapple (that cost about $0.75).  I took a picture of the way my friend had removed the eyes.  *I need to remember this.
One of the highlights of my time in Fiji was spending the morning with this friend who taught me to cook traditional Fijian fare.  I usually don't apologize for my camera phone pictures, but I will on this day.  The remaining pictures do not convey the culinary excellence nor the delightful tastes.
It was a real treat to be in another woman's kitchen, to watch how she does things.  It doesn't matter where I am, I like seeing how people move and work in their kitchen.  Inevitably I learn something.  Above, Viva is cutting up a whole chicken into 2 inch pieces for curry.  When eating in Fiji, you will find plenty of Indian inspired food.  (A little history: the British brought Indians to the island to provide leadership and oversight to the sugar plantations, where the Fijians worked as servants.)
A theme I noticed everywhere I went, but especially in Viva's kitchen, was nothing is wasted in Fiji.  The "extra" skin on the back of the chicken, she chopped very finely.  This fat was the first to hit the hot skillet and prepared the way for the remainder of the dish.

In Fiji, the only chicken option is a WHOLE chicken.  Or, a package of chicken feet or livers.  You won't find a package of chicken breasts in the meat department. As she chopped the chicken, (including the neck bone!) I told her the most popular part of chicken in America is the breast, boneless and skinless.  She looked at me like I was from Mars.  "Why would someone only want to eat the breast? And without the skin?"
While I watched her peel and prepare potatoes, onions and garlic, I could hear a "thwack --thwack" on the veranda.  I peeked out and found this young man breaking open mature coconuts.  He is sitting on a coconut scraper.  After pouring out the coconut water, he scraped the inside so that we could eventually make coconut milk.  He said he started scraping coconuts when he was about 10.  He tried to teach me to do it.  I felt unbelievably awkward.  I would need a few hundred coconuts to become proficient.
The natives drink coconut water from young (or green) coconuts.  Obviously I'm not a native but wanted to drink the old coconut water.  Just the day before I had been plagued by a intestinal bug.  Along with the insane heat and humidity, I was dehydrated and was a bit depleted in electrolytes.  My normally straight hair was almost curly while in Fiji from the humidity.
I'm sorry I don't have more pictures.  I was having such a fun time asking questions and learning from my new friends that I often forgot to take pictures of the different steps along the way on my cooking day.
The dish below is fried mackerel in coconut milk (Fijians called it lolo, or coconut cream) that Viva made.  I've made coconut milk before but it wasn't from fresh coconut.  Being an island country, coconuts and fresh fish are plentiful.  And delish.
Another dish she made was pumpkin with curry spices.  She diced pumpkin then fried/roasted it on the stovetop and added a plethora of spices.
This is the chicken curry with white potatoes.  I admit it doesn't look all that appetizing.  But it was so yummy.  Usually the Fijians eat with their hands.  They are not afraid of bones in their mouth (they pick them out).  Most main dishes (of fish and chicken) are made with bones.
The first dish she started and the last dish I tasted was Kokoda (kO' kwan da recipe here).  She diced mackerel then let it marinate for about 3 hours in lime juice and vinegar.  This acidic medium "cooked" the raw fish.  I watched it transform from raw, translucent fish into firm, white, "cooked" fish.  From my limited understanding, this dish is similar to the South American dish, ceviche.

I took the picture below before Viva added more coconut milk.  I had this dish several times while on the island.
It was the rainy season while we were there. Rain fell everyday we were on the island except the one day we got to go to the beach.  And I got the worst sunburn of my life.  Worth it.  Fiji is a beautiful country with beautiful people and delicious food.  I would love to go back.


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Feb 12, 2015

Kombucha Class

One of the most popular posts on this blog is How to Make Kombucha.  This fermented drink is rapidly gaining popularity.  If you like the taste, stop paying so much for it and start making your own!  It is very easy.  If you haven't tasted it, come learn what the hype is about.

On Saturday, February 21 at 10AM I will be teaching a class on this very topic at Fermentables in North Little Rock.  Class fee is only $10.  Fermentables is providing the supplies to get started as a part of the class fees.  This is a steal of a deal!  You will go home with knowledge to make kombucha as well as a gallon jar, flip top bottles and a starter.

Space is limited.  If interested, email mike@fermentables.com and reserve your spot.

Positively populating gut flora in Little Rock,

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Feb 10, 2015

Book Review: All About Braising

On a very long road trip, I listened to a 6-hour recording of a traditional foods cooking class.  Annie Dru was the teacher (her blog recap here).  It was wildly interesting to me on many levels.  One of my take-aways from listening to her teach was to get my hands on a cookbook she kept raving about.

All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking helped me understand a few simple steps that kicked up my pot roast a few notches.  Seriously.

This could be one of my new favorite cookbooks.  If you are new to "grass-finished" beef and find it tough, braising is the answer for such culinary woes.

What is braising?

Simply, think of your crock pot: low and slow heat with some moisture.  However, usually when people use a crock pot, they omit a very important step.  Or, at least, I was guilty of this.  I was too lazy to first sear the meat because it was one more pan to wash.

Braising usually begins with searing meat at high temperatures then finishing in a covered pot at lower temperatures.

The first several pages of the cookbook lays the foundation and explains the art of braising.  She gives some simple do's and don'ts.  Then the rest of the cookbook is full of yummy recipes.

I took notes on some steps that I didn't want to forget.  You can grab a copy of this book at the library --or read my cheater's notes below.  But I think you'll want to see the book.  :)

1.  Braising works well with bone-in meat and/or tough cuts.  Because all muscle contains some amount of collagen (this is what binds the muscle together), by slowing cooking the meat the collagen "melts" out of the meat.  Collagen is in highest concentration nearest to the bone and in coarsely grained meats...or the muscles that are used most in the animal.  Think: shoulder, arm, neck, legs.  This collagen is very soothing and healing for the gut.

2.  The size and type of pot is important.  (The cookbook author was almost anti-crockpot ... get a copy of the book to find out why.)  The pot should fit the size of your meat so that it holds the food snugly and the lid fits securely.

The cycle of steam is important with braising.  The smaller the pot, the tighter the cycle of steam, the more concentrated the juice becomes.

If your pot is too large, or too tall, use a piece of parchment paper to "lower the ceiling."  Cut a piece of paper larger than the opening of your pot.  Crumple it into a wad then open it back up.  Fit it concavely (so there's a dip in the center, but not touching the food) and secure the lid on the top of the pot.

3.  Browning or searing at a medium/high heat.  The surface of the meat must be dry, use paper towels to remove excess moisture once meat is out of its package.

Use just enough fat to cover the bottom of the pan.  Too much will make the dish greasy, too much will result in spotty browning.  I like to use lard (find it at the farmer's market) for this.

Give food space - especially veggies.  As they brown they throw off moisture which causes food to steam, not brown.

Be patient with this step.  I am guilty of pushing food around.  I want to get the good, brown bits on the bottom of the pan in this step.  If I am pushing food around it will never sear properly.  Conversely, don't walk away or set the heat too high.

After browning, evaluate drippings.  Pick out any burnt, black specks.

4. Aromatics are the foundation of a braise: onions, carrots, celery, herbs, bacon...some of these you add half way through the cooking time.

5.  The braising liquid: wine or stock.  Use up to 1/3 way up the sides of the main ingredient.

6. Deglazing and reducing are the two keys to maximum flavor.  I like to deglaze with 1/4-1/2 cup wine and get the yummy golden bits off the bottom of the pan.  Then add more broth/stock and reduce them together.

Bon app├ętit!

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Feb 6, 2015

Restaurant Recommendation:: Table 28

I think I tasted a bit of heaven.

The next time you want to take you special someone out for delicious food, let me recommend Table 28.  My husband and I went recently and it was hands down the best food we have eaten in a long time.

Below is a picture of my first course: bone marrow.  Divine, I tell you.  Words cannot describe.
Once home, I started texting all my foodie friends and telling them they had to make plans ASAP to go, if they haven't already experienced Table 28.

On Instagram, I posted:

Went on a hottt date with my man tonight at Table 28 - we ate the most amazing food.  The lighting was dark, I mean, romantic so my food pictures are less than stellar.  If you like seriously delicious cuisine, check it out.  We wanted to try many different things so we ate mostly from the "small" plate (appetizers).  Pictured is bone marrow with a house made pepper sauce and Rock Town whisky glaze (it was heavenly!).  I also had melt-in-my-mouth foie gras that didn't have a hint of liver.  We shared a side of the most incredible Brussel sprouts, made with smoked bacon and pecans.  I could have eaten my weight in that stuff.  John had a side of olives (he loves them) then a fancy kale salad heavy with Parmesan and their popular quail lollipops (think boneless buffalo wings on a stick).  I think I've run out of adjectives to describe the loveliness.

Often when we eat out I am disappointed, knowing I can create better tasting and more nutritious food at home.  We would go back next week if we could afford it.  John agreed that this is the best food we have eaten in a restaurant.  Save up and go, people!


PS - I'm not the only one who thinks this is a fab restaurant.  Steve, of Little Rock Foodcast, said Chef Scott Rains from Table 28 was the best of the year.  Read his review here.

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Feb 4, 2015

How to Make Sauerkraut the Old-Fashioned (Easy) Way

We had a great turnout for Saturday's Vegetable Fermenting class.  Below are written instructions for making sauerkraut.  Fermented foods not only nourish our bodies, but they also protect us from harmful organisms and contribute to immunity.  

{It's my goal that at each meal, we eat something fermented. The popular choice at breakfast and lunch is usually kombucha, a slightly fizzy, sweet/sour tea. In a couple weeks, we will be teaching a kombucha class on Saturday, February 21 at 10am at Fermentables.  Class fee is only $10.  Email mike@fermentables.com to reserve your spot before the class fills up.}

1. Chop cabbage (finely or roughly - your choice). For speed and consistency, I like to use a food processor.

2. Add chopped cabbage to large bowl.  A crock pot insert works well for this.

3.  Sprinkle sea salt over it (approximately 3 Tablespoons salt per 5 pounds of cabbage). Do not used iodized salt. Iodine is antibacterial and you want good bacteria to grow.  I like to taste the saltiness along the way.  You can always add more salt.  As a general rule (from fermenting guru Sandor Katz), you will add more salt in summer and less in winter.  More salt also yields crunchier kraut. Go slowly with the salt. Add until it tastes delicious to you, like you just can't get enough, like potato chips.

4.  Add in other veggies, seeds or herbs - such as onion, garlic, carrots, caraway, dill, radishes, turnips, apples - the sky’s the limit!

5.  Massage, beat, pulverize.  You will begin to see water collecting in the bottom of your vessel.  This is good!  Sometimes I do other things in the kitchen while the salt and cabbage mingle.  This allows water to begin coming out of the cabbage. Some people will sprinkle the salt, mix it in, then let it all sit for 30 minutes or so --and they choose not to pulverize. It's really up to you.

6.  Press the salty cabbage into a wide mouth jar leaving about two inches of head room.  If the cabbage or water begins to expand so that it is seeping out of the jar, open the jar and remove some cabbage.  Push the remaining cabbage back down so that all the cabbage is under the brine.  

Below I am using a wooden spoon to pack the cabbage into the jar. You can also use your hand. Or, Fermentables sells a wooden "kraut pounder" that is a nifty tool used for this very thing.

7.  If you want your sauerkraut to have a consistent flavor, add a splash of starter (~2T per quart of kraut) from another ferment.  I think this makes the sauerkraut taste better. I like to use some juice from a Bubbies ferment (or a jar of sauerkraut that you have enjoyed the flavor).   Bubbies can be purchased in the refrigerated section at Whole Foods or Drug Emporium. Another starter alternative is Caldwells Vegetable Starter that can be purchased at Fermentables in North Little Rock. Cabbage has existing bacteria on the leaves that makes it conducive to fermentation, so a starter isn't crucial. Without a starter, it is called "wild" fermentation. As I stated above, I use a starter with kraut to give it a consistent flavor.

8.  If the cabbage is old or just dry you may need to add more brine (1 tablespoon salt in one cup water). It is very important that you have enough liquid to cover the top of the cabbage. Salt inhibits the growth of bad bacteria while allowing the good to grow.

In the jar below, I have a small glass jar inside the bigger jar. The smaller jar is acting as a weight to keep the cabbage under the brine. It is not necessary, but something I use on occasion.

9.  Screw a metal lid on tightly if using mason jar. Usually I ferment in mason jars but for whatever reason the day I took these pictures I also used Fido jars. :)  Allow the jar to sit on the counter for about 3-14 days.  In the winter, fermentation happens slower and you may need to let the jar sit out a week or longer.   The preferred fermentation temperature is 70*. I sit my ferments on a seedling heat mat in the winter because my kitchen is dreadfully cold. Without the extra warmth, you may have troubles getting your ferments to produce the bacteria you're trying to foster. If you want fizzy kombucha in winter, I strongly encourage a heat source.

A visual indicator the kraut is done is when the cabbage is no longer white or opaque. The more dense pieces need to look a bit transparent (like the jar on the left, above.) The jar in the middle is fresh cabbage and salt.

Open the jar and taste.  Then refrigerate when you have achieved desired sourness.


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