Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Over the weekend, Brittan and I exercised a very uncontrolled experiment by eating only processed foods.  In part, we were taste testing some items to add to our emergency storage.  Much of our storehouse is made up of dried or home canned goods.  We also have two freezers and are about to add a third (exclusively for frozen goat’s milk).  We thought, though, that having a few MREs and freeze dried meals for emergency purposes was a good idea, so we bought some packets and buckets of goodies and added them into the mix.

We decided, in advance, that we would eat these prepared ‘meals’ over the weekend and see what we thought.  We had lasagne, macaroni and cheese and beef stroganoff.  They were, well, less than gourmet, that’s for sure.  I believe the word was, ‘edible’.  It reminded me of Crocodile Dundee when he said, “It tastes like S*^@#, but you can live on it.”

We also ate out a couple times.  I freely confess that eating out is convenient and relaxing.  It is not, however, tasty.  We have become so accustomed to meals from home grown or locally raise produce and meats that nothing else tastes right.  Restaurant and grocery store tomatoes are bland, lettuce tastes like vegetable wash, meat has no texture and chicken only tastes like whatever it’s topped with. Don’t even talk to me about eggs.

It’s safe to say that farming has given us back our taste buds, but that might not always be a good thing.  We have been spoiled by taste.

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Brittan and I are big yogurt fans.  We love smoothies and Greek style yogurt with honey.  We recently discovered that our Alpine goat’s milk makes outstanding yogurt.  It’s great for cooking, too.

Take a cup of yogurt, a half cup of milk, some honey or sugar in the raw, vanilla, and frozen blueberries or frozen strawberries, blend them together and boy, howdy, do you ever have a treat.  I recommend freezing the fruit, because it makes the smoothie colder.  If you use fresh fruit, add two or three ice cubes to the blender.

If you want to know more about the yogurt just email us or check out the store tab.

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I’m a fat man.  Pretty much by default that demonstrates I love food.  It also indicates a lack of restraint, but I digress.  The point is, I do love food.  I love raising it.  I love eating it.  I also love, as does Brittan, preparing it.  Cooking is a passion my bride and I share.  Fortunately, our skill sets tend to be complimentary rather than conflicting, which minimizes the arguments over who’s turn it is to cook.  Most of the arguments, or at least head shaking and snide remarks, are born from the simple truth that while I am a pretty good cook, I am a messy one.  The devastation I sometimes leave behind, looks like the aftermath of a bombing raid.  I am truly a kitchen assassin.  The results, though, are usually worth the trouble.  And…I’m learning to clean up a bit as I go.  Learning, I said learning.  I’m not there yet…

Since we switched to grass fed meats and pastured poultry, we’ve had to make some adjustments in our cooking.  Grass fed is not the same.  It requires different techniques than grain fed.  We learned it the hard way.  Many of our first efforts were less than satisfactory.  Some of our early dishes led us to believe that one had to sacrifice taste and texture for nutritious and humane.  Over time we learned we were wrong.

The secret, if it be called a secret, to cooking grass fed meats and pastured poultry is to take your foot off the accelerator.  It’s called ‘slow food’ for a reason.

We are in such a hurry.  We race home from work, fire up the gas grill, or heat up the frying pan (if we’re cooking at all), grab a package of meat from the fridge, throw it on the grill or baptize it in boiling oil, turn it once then toss it on a plate.  For side dishes, the trusty can opener and microwave give us virtually instant vegetables.  Add in some brown n serve rolls with a dolop of ‘this can’t be edible’ buttery spread and we’re good to go.

Grass fed meats and home grown vegetables, just won’t work if prepared that way.  Slow down.  Focus on the flavor and the experience.  Food is much more than getting calories in our gullets in as short a time as possible.  Cooking is a fabulous way to ease away the stress of the day, enjoy time with your spouse and to show respect for your food.

Start by lowering your cooking temperatures.  Grass fed meat and pastured poultry don’t respond as well to high heat.  We have learned first to bring the meat to room temperature and allow the muscles to relax.  Keep the grill medium or low.  Make sure the frying pan is not heated to screaming (unless you’re making fajitas).  In point of fact, we hardly every fry anything anymore, except eggs for breakfast.

Cooking on lower heat may take a bit longer, but it allows the tissues to break down and the meat to receive the flavor of the seasonings or the goodness of the charcoal cooking.  Crock pots were made for grass fed roasts and chickens. We learned from a local Indian eatery that slow cooking brings out the very best in goat meat.  And I do mean the very best…

Since you’ve got some extra time on your hands while your meat cooks, you can prepare some fresh, or home preserved, vegetables.  Again, they take a little longer, but the flavor is worth every extra minute.

Instead of grabbing a bag of bread from the bread box or the local supermarket, try baking a loaf or some rolls.  Spread on some home made butter and maybe some local honey.  You’ll never look at the bread shelf in the grocery store the same.

I’ve taken a long time to say it, but the secret to fantastic home cooked grass fed meat and pastured poultry is, slow down.  Relax.  Turn DOWN the heat on your stove or grill.  Your taste buds will thank you.

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I love butter.  One look at my overweight frame and any doubts about that will be quickly dispelled.  Margarine just doesn’t compare.

As it turns out, making butter in the 21st century is a snap.  Especially if your wife is doing all the work and all you have to do is take a few pics along the way.

We’ve been buying raw milk the last couple months and using it to make a variety of cheeses as well as for butter.  By getting raw (unpasteurized, homogenized) milk, we are able to pour it in a container, let it sit overnight and ladle off the cream.  We use the cream for butter and have the reduced fat milk left for drinking or making part skim mozzarella cheese.  If we leave the cream in the milk, we have been making farmstead cheddar.  (Note:  ‘we’ means Brittan is doing the making, I am doing the eating).

Ok, back to butter.  As it turns out, making butter is not nearly as difficult as it was back when I used to watch my grandma Burton do it.  Now, all you need is some cream, a blender, electricity, a mixing bowl, a spoon, some salt, access to cold water and a container to store the finished product.

Step 1:  Bring the cream to room temperature.  We use the cream off of two gallons of milk.

Step 2. Using blender, blend the cream at a medium speed until it forms solids (much like curds for cheese).

Step 3. Pour into a strainer and separate the solids from the liquid (the liquid is called……..buttermilk and has lots of yummy uses).

Step 4.  Put solids back into blender with cold water and blend again on a medium low speed to ‘rinse’.

Step 5.  Repeat step three.  This time you won’t have buttermilk, just buttery water.

Step 6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 two more times. This process will improve the consistency of the butter and will keep it fresh longer.

Step 7. Put the solids into a mixing bowl.  Now it’s starting to look like butter.  The cold water has cleaned it and turned it into a nice lump.

Step 8. Using a spoon (dessert or wooden), mash the butter up against sides of the bowl to remove excess water.

Step 9. Lightly salt the butter and repeat step 8.  Remove as much water as possible.  You may get several tablespoons of water out during steps 8 and 9.

Step 10.  Put butter into container and refrigerate or freeze.  It will keep up to two weeks in the fridge, depending on how well it has been rinsed.

Disclaimer:  No toast was injured in the making of this butter.  Afterward, however, an entire loaf, along with some black currant jam,  was savaged.

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I know very few people who don’t enjoy real Jamaican Jerk chicken, pork or fish.  The spicy, sweet, smokey taste is practically addictive.

Over the years, I’ve tried a variety of different jerk marinades from a good number of manufacturers.  Some have been excellent, others have been a waste of money.  Three years ago, I started making my own.  I found some recipes online, tweaked them and have been very pleased with the results.  I even created a South Beach Diet version.

I buy the ‘all spice’ berries online or at Harry’s Farmers’ Market, in Marietta.  We grow our own peppers, thyme and sometimes onions.  But there is no way I’m ever going to be growing my own sugar cane.  The freshness of home made marinade really changes the whole experience.  Getting the right balance of allspice to pepper can be an interesting challenge.

Some fun variations come by using different peppers and onions.  Traditional jerk is made from Scotch Bonnet peppers.  But I have made it using orange Habanero, Red Savina and last year made some using Naga Jolokia (Ghost) peppers.  Each variety adds some unique character.  Same is true using green, sweet, red, white or scallion onions.

Later this year, we will kick it up a few more notches by using our own pasture raised chickens and rabbit.  My mouth is watering already.

But I’m especially excited about an accidental discover I made while surfing ye olde internet a couple weeks ago.

Brittan and I were chatting about the source of allspice berries and I went to google to discover what the pimento tree looked like.  Among the search results was a website selling pimento wood, leaves and charcoal for adding an additional authenticity to the cooking.  Unable to resist, I placed an order for two different sizes of wood chips, a couple planks and a bag of the leaves (the Pimento tree is related to the Bay tree from which we get Bay leaves and you can smell, taste and see the similarity).  I can’t wait to try it all out.  I think we’re going to pull a turkey from the freezer, cut it up and try jerked turkey.  Stay tuned, I’ll share the results with you.

Note:  Because the wood is imported, it’s pretty expensive.  One of the advantages of buying and cooking local is cost.  But paying a little extra for an exotic treat once in a while, does not strike me as a crime against locavorism.  It’s like taking a vacation without leaving the burb.

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B and I love cooking.  And we love trying new things.  She is reading a cheese making book as I type this post.  I think she plans to make her first attempts at ricotta and cream cheese this week.  I’m pretty excited about it.

I, on the other hand, have been trying my hand at home brewing.  My bride bought me a very nice home brewing kit for Christmas.  It looks like a grown up chemistry set.  And it kind of is.  A few weeks back I made my first attempt, a German style light (After all, I am on a diet).  Two weeks ago, we bottled it.  Tonight we had our first taste test.  It’s very good.  The carbonation is just right.  It has a good head on it and it tastes very fresh and clean. I am extremely pleased and can’t wait to try a different recipe.  The only problem is, we don’t drink much beer and the darned recipe makes 5 gallons.  I see lots of beer batter, Cajun cooking and barbecue sauces in my future.  Anybody thirsty?

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Yesterday morning, before getting ready for Church, I fried up two of the pastured eggs we picked up from a local farm.  It seems appropriate to share my first impressions.

Before that, some background.  Making the move has been hard for me, because I am such a bargain lover.  Ok, I’m a cheapskate.  After all, eggs are eggs, right?  Maybe not.

For some time, B and I have been uneasy about the conditions of chickens kept in commercial batteries.  We are true animal lovers and the thought of eating the product of such cruelty has weighed on our minds.  Recently, the nutritional quality of commercial eggs has also bothered us.  The balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 is way off kilter as a result of the chickens’ diet.  And why do they have to be so ultra pasteurized (the same question should be asked of milk, but that’s for another day)?

In a totally uncontrolled experiment, a few weeks back, when we went to the supermarket, we purchased some ‘organic, cage free’ eggs.  We paid considerably more than for the regular eggs.  When we fried them up side by side, we saw zero difference.  The yolks were the same pale yellow, the taste was indistinguishable.  So what was the big deal?  Price, that’s what!  Ok, maybe the organic ones had some nutritional superiority and maybe the chickens are less cruelly treated, but I have only the carton’s word for that.  We were disappointed.

B and I are avid fans of Polyface  Farm in Virginia and Nature’s Harmony Farm right down the road in Elberton, GA.  Reading about their eggs made us curious about pastured eggs versus ‘organic’.  So, on Saturday we drove over to nearby Carlton Farms, in Rockmart who have converted their traditional commercial dairy farm into a more natural, sustainable wholistic farm model.  They have cows, pigs, lambs and chickens doing something really weird…. grazing.  We saw, with our own eyes, the chickens wandering through the pasture, enjoying their chickenhood.  The sight was strangely comforting.  We bought two dozen eggs at  $3 a dozen.  Yikes.

Now, back to the cooking.  The first thing I noticed were the shells.  No, not the color.  These were brown,  but that’s rather superficial.  I’m sure there are plenty of pastured breeds laying white eggs.  It was the thickness of the shell that struck me.  It took a much firmer thump to crack the shell.  There was a noticeable difference between my experience with commercial and organic eggs which have very thin shells.  That was my first sign that we were onto chickens with a healthier diet.

Next up was the yolk.  The yolks in the pastured eggs were a much darker yellow, again a product of diet, exercise and I suspect natural cycles of sunlight and darkness (these birds see both).  But it was the integrity of the yolks that most impressed me.  When I flipped the eggs, the yolks didn’t even attempt to break.  They stayed firmly shaped in their little sacks.

But the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.  And these were good eating.  The egg whites did not taste any different to me than with factory eggs.  They held together better in the pan and didn’t run everywhere, but the taste was still plain old egg white.  B will have to test them for whipping, I don’t make desserts.  No skill for it.  But the flavor of the yolk was far superior in the pastured eggs.  They were……….well,….eggier.  They were richer, creamier and more filling.

Simply put, my first impression of pastured eggs was a very good one.  The cost is roughly the same as store bought  ‘organic, cage free’.  But the quality was superior in every way.  And the experience of actually seeing the chickens wandering the pasture was priceless.  We are SOLD!

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