May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

As always on Memorial Day, I remember fallen friends and comrades, especially my best buddy, Brian John Bennett, who died saving his squad.

May 21, 2010

Guinness Mustard

A mustard recipe was requested, I'm teaching a class on making Burgers this weekend, and I just happen to have some Guinness and two kinds of mustard seeds sitting around. Let's make some mustard. It'll only take two or three days.


Mustard made with Guiness and whole mustard seeds.
½ cup yellow mustard seeds
¼ cup brown mustard seeds (optional)
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons beer or water
1½ teaspoon granulated sugar
1½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
ground yellow mustard as necessary
Soak the mustard seeds in the vinegar and beer or water for two days. Add the sugar and salt and purée; the brown mustard seeds will remain whole. If the mustard is too thin, add some ground yellow mustard to thicken it. Refrigerate. The mustard will mellow a bit in the refrigerator for a day or so.

Some of us might prefer more beer and less vinegar. I say go ahead and reverse the quantities, or devise your own ratio. Leave out the brown mustard seeds if you don't want seeds in your mustard. If you want a honey mustard, leave out the sugar, make the mustard, then mix with as much honey as you wish, typically equal parts honey and mustard.

Some of us might want garlic mustard, or tarragon mustard, or some other mustard-y variant. Great! Add whatever you like.

If you think making a cup or so of mustard in one batch is more than you're going to use, cut the quantities in half. Or just make the whole batch, and then use it to make two or three smaller mustard variants.

May 14, 2010

Fresh Egg

After cracking open this first egg from The Ladies of Stumptown Savoury I am redefining "fresh" as it applies to eggs. Note how thick the inner white is, how the yolk is tall and well-defined. This egg was opened less than 2 hours after it was laid.

(The Ladies were too busy to pose for pictures. A chicken's work is never done, you know.)

The egg had much more flavor than the eggs I've purchased from the store, which comes as no surprise. I expect that over the next month their eggs will get even tastier and richer, and the yolks will become more deeply orange, because they're getting organic feed now. I don't know, and really don't want to know, what they were fed previously.

Two laying hens should produce about a dozen eggs a week. They're also producing copious amounts of manure for the compost pile. All-in-all, they seem to be well on the way to paying for themselves.

Some of you will be curious, so here's an expense rundown. The coop, which is actually a rabbit hutch, cost $140. I probably could have built one for less, but I have no carpentry skills. Fencing was $60. Feed, a 50 pound bag, organic, $20. Oyster shell for grit was $9. There were a few miscellaneous expenditures as well. The Ladies--they don't have names, although Lucy and Ethel seem appropriate--were $20 each, being one-year-old laying Rhode Island Reds.

I chose to start with adult layers so I could get eggs right away. The next chickens I buy I'll get pullets ready to go outside and save a good chunk of money. Maybe it'll save money, except I'd have to buy different feed. I don't know if I want to start with chicks and have to deal with keeping them warm and all that. I might leave that to others.

So, for about $300, I'm now an urban chicken farmer. They'll cost less to maintain than a dog or cat, and they produce breakfast food. Sounds like a winning combination. Now, if I can just get them to lay enough eggs to make a soufflé....

May 8, 2010

What I'm Reading: Raw Milk Revolution

Six children in California got sick. Because all six happened to consume legally-purchased raw milk, the largest raw milk dairy in California was temporarily shut down even though there was no evidence that raw milk actually caused the illnesses. At the same time, spinach producers were allowed to continue shipping raw spinach known to be tainted with E. coli, even though some children had died from eating the spinach. The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights will make you cry and fill you with frustration if you care about your food, or the right of consumers to buy legal products they want, or the right of small farmers to grow what consumers want, or the health of the planet, or your children.

In the name of "food safety" the FDA and the USDA are doing everything they can to ensure that you cannot buy real, unadulterated food. It is illegal to buy raw milk in many states--the only milk you can buy is pasteurized and homogenized, and that isn't milk, it's a white liquid with no life in it. Are there lots of bacteria in raw milk? You bet there are. That's what makes it good for you! It even comes with lactase in it to make it easy to digest.

You really need to read this book and get mad about what the US government is doing. Not American? Get mad anyway, because the US government is trying to make it impossible for you to know what is in and has been done to your food.

Soylent Green is looking less fictional by the day.

May 7, 2010

Braised Short Ribs

Honestly, the third day of cooking was probably unnecessary. I could have just eaten these short ribs on the second day, but I wanted fresh noodles rather than mashed potatoes and I just didn't have the time to make noodles, so they got an extra day of cooking.

Day1. I dredged some beef short ribs in seasoned all-purpose flour, then browned them. I added a bottle of pinot noir to the pot, then a couple of carrots cut into chunks, a red onion quartered and sliced, a handful of garlic cloves, a couple of bay leaves, and a bouquet garni. I brought it to a simmer, added a small can of tomato paste, and threw the whole thing into a 250° oven. When I remembered it six hours later I pulled it out of the oven, let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerated overnight.

[caption id="attachment_1961" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Beau, gourmet cat and food critic"][/caption]

Day 2. Added another half bottle of pinot noir, brought it to a simmer and put it into a 250° oven. Remembered later that I wouldn't be there for supper, so pulled it out, cooled it, and refrigerated it. While it was still hot I pulled out a small portion of rib meat and sauce and tasted it. I thought it was fine, but could use more salt. Beau thought it was excellent. Beau is a gourmet cat and reliable food critic. He cleaned his plate.

Day 3. Brought it to a simmer, adjusted the seasoning, then forgot about it for awhile. Made some noodles using a simple ratio of 1 egg + ½ cup of flour per portion. I used 50% semolina and 50% all-purpose flour, then added just a splash of extra virgin olive oil and some fines herbes. While the noodles were in the pot I quickly sautéed some haricot verts with sesame seeds and various seaweed bits, and dinner was ready.

Only three days. Not bad. Remember, it took two weeks for me to finish making meatloaf.

May 5, 2010

Organics--Worth the Price?

A former comrade-in-arms messaged me recently because his daughter had decided to go all organic and he wondered whether it was worth the extra cost. Good question.

Let's start with that extra cost issue, because it's important. The first thing to understand is that growing things organically can be more expensive because there is more crop loss than with chemical amendments. Secondly, the economics of scale aren't in effect, because the scale of organic farming is, relatively speaking, small. Thirdly, and I admit my cynical attitude, "Organic" is a premium label, just like Gucci.

Perhaps the biggest impact on the price of organics is subsidies, or more specifically, the artificially low cost of non-organics. Let's say you have a friend, Farmer John, who grows organic lettuce. He has to support himself and his workers, pay his taxes, follow all the governmental rules and regulations, and get that lettuce to market. He's competing with some big corporation that has a factory farm offshore that has little or no regulation, pays its laborers a subsistence wage (if they're lucky), flies its lettuce to market on government-subsidized airplanes, and may be headquartered in some other country so it can avoid most U.S. taxes.

Farmer John is avoiding adding polutants to the water and air. His competitor will go wherever it can be least regulated. Farmer John is voluntarily watched at every step of the growing and delivery process to ensure that his produce is organic. His competitor will go wherever it can be least regulated. Farmer John will happily allow you to come visit his farm, and will proudly show you how well he treats that lettuce. His competitor will go wherever it can be least regulated. You can easily learn every single thing that Farmer John did to produce that lettuce. Good luck finding out where his competitor grew it, let alone what was put on it.

Really, the choice is clear. You can, to the extent you can afford it, support your local, regional economy and the health of the planet, or you can pay the articially low prices that factory farming offers.