The New Home Economics


1 Comment

Two soups, one method

Last winter, we made both Ramen (Japanese, we used the Momofuku recipe) and Pho (Vietnamese, this recipe) for the first time. Now that we’ve made both quite a few times, we’ve refined and simplified our method. The versions we currently make are not as authentic as the original recipes we used, but they make for very easy weeknight suppers—as long as you’re willing to plan ahead.

Both soups start out the same. I’ve written before about making homemade stock, so these soups both start off as any soup in our house does: dumping a bunch of frozen stuff into the slow cooker. We have a few gallon size freezer bags in the freezer into which get thrown chicken carcasses, onion and carrot ends, and anything else that might taste good in a soup. Do NOT throw out your turkey carcass this week! Turkey carcass stock is one of my favorites.

Making homemade stockThis one featured a bunch of extra leeks.

The night before you wish to eat Pho or Ramen, fill your slow cooker (mine is a large 5 qt one) at least half full. I like beef bones for pho and pork for ramen, but we usually throw a chicken carcass in too. I also add two chicken feet for good luck and good nutrition. Add in vegetable ends, or, if you don’t have any, cut up an onion and add it. Cover with water, add a splash of vinegar, and turn on low.

Let it simmer in the slow cooker all night long. The next morning:

Ramen: do nothing
Pho: add 1 cinnamon stick, 4-5 pieces dried star anise, a handful of peppercorns, some sliced fresh ginger.

Let it continue to simmer all day long. When you get home, turn off the slow cooker and strain the stock into a stock pot. Set on the stove over medium heat. What’s left of the bones can be composted or thrown out.

Here’s where the two recipes part ways slightly.

For Ramen: add 3 or 4 sheets of kombu—dried seaweed which can be purchased in Asian food stores or health food stores—to your stock and bring to a boil. Don’t fear the kombu. Your soup won’t taste like seaweed; it merely adds an “umami” undertone. Boil for at least 15-20 minutes and let it reduce a bit, concentrating the flavor. While it’s boiling, cook a package of udon noodles and prepare any other toppings you might like.

Taste your stock. It will likely need some salt. Adam also adds a tablespoon or two of tamari (or soy sauce) and the same of fish sauce.

When you’re ready to eat, place some noodles in each bowl, pour the stock over, and add your toppings.

Homemade slow cooker ramenThis one featured a little of the meat that was on the bones, a poached egg, a torn-up nori sheet, and some shredded cabbage.

For Pho: bring stock to a low boil and maintain the boil while you thinly slice a small piece of frozen beef—we usually use a cheap steak. It’s easier to use a frozen one because you want the slices to be paper thin if possible. Cook a package of rice noodles and prepare any other toppings you might like.

Taste the stock and add salt and/or tamari (soy sauce) if it seems like it needs it.

To serve, place some of the cooked noodles in your bowl, top with sliced beef, then pour boiling stock in. It’s important to have it boiling so that it cooks the meat instantly. Add your toppings.

Homemade slow cooker PhoYou can see the meat is a bit on the rare side on this one; the stock wasn’t quite boiling and we had sliced it a bit too thickly. I like rare meat, so it wasn’t a problem for me.

These soups are really just two variations on a theme, but the star anise and cinnamon give the Pho a unique flavor. The best part is that we always have at least three pints of stock left over. We freeze it and then just re-heat it and cook more noodles for a simple lunch.

A 6YO enthusiastically eats ramenOur two six-year-olds LOVE both of these soups, and they are full of nourishing goodness. I’m so glad we’ve figured out a way to include them in our busy schedule!

Here’s a final ingredient list. Each of these recipes generously feeds my family of four.

Pho
Beef bones
Chicken or turkey carcass and/or feet (optional)
1 package of rice noodles
1 cinnamon stick
4-5 star anise pods
Peppercorns, 1/4 c. or so
A cheap steak or small cut of beef, frozen

Ramen
Pork bones
Chicken or turkey carcass and/or feet (optional)
1 package of udon or soba noodles
4-5 sheets of kombu
Eggs for poaching (optional, but it’s much more filling if you include an egg)

Toppings that work for both: sliced radishes (daikon or any, really), thai basil leaves, bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, sriracha sauce, sliced fresh or pickled jalapenos, toasted nori sheets, hoisin sauce, green onions, lime wedges, fresh chives or green onions.

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone.


3 Comments

Book review: The Art of Fermentation

Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix KatzThe Art of Fermentation
An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World
By Sandor Ellix Katz

I met Sandor Katz a few years ago, shortly after I purchased his first book, Wild Fermentation. I feel fortunate that I took a class from him when he was still relatively unknown; the likelihood that he’ll be teaching inexpensive classes at local co-ops again in the near future seems pretty low.

Wild Fermentation is a true recipe book; in it you will find recipes for things like sauerkraut, kimchee, mead, and a whole host of other fermented foods. But one of my main issues with it was that I wanted to know the WHYs of every recipe. Why is it OK to eat brined pickles that are a bit moldy on the surface? Why did my brined pickles fail? Actually, how do I know whether they failed? Why is lacto-fermentation as safe (or safer) than canning? Does lacto- mean it involves lactose?

I had a lot of questions, clearly. Some of them were answered slowly, over time, as fermentation became mainstream. When I made my first batch of yogurt four years ago, google searches turned up almost no answers. Now, there’s even an heirloom vs. modern yogurt debate. I retired my yogurt maker and switched to the oven method a year ago.

Actually, the reason I read Wild Fermentation was in search of answers to MANY questions that I had after reading Nourishing Traditions. If you’ve ever read either one of those books, or had mixed success with some of the recipes, The Art of Fermentation is an invaluable resource. It covers everything the WAPF-ers are passionate about, from proper preparation of grains to culturing dairy products to the value of live-fermented foods, but the difference is Katz includes the science and logic to back up every single claim. Wild Fermentation and Art of Fermentation are truly complements to each other.

Here were some of my favorite bits from Art of Fermentation:

Botulism
If you’re confused about the now generations-old association between canning and botulism, Katz puts this question to rest once and for all. For starters: fermenting is completely different than canning, even though it may use the same jars. The acidic environment present in any and all fermented foods prevents botulism spores from ever gaining a foothold, as they can in warm, sterilized canned food environments. Katz includes an anecdote about Native Alaskan peoples’ techniques for preserving/fermenting fish, which involve burying them in a pit in the ground. Recently, people interested in reviving the tradition have tried fermenting fish in plastic bags and buckets instead of pits, and the results have been questionable enough that the US Centers for Disease Control conducted a test. To me, this was one of the most powerful passages in the book:

Two batches were prepared the proper traditional way, and two were prepared…using plastic bags or buckets. One of each batch we inoculated with botulism; the other was left natural. After the fermentation process was complete, we tested them. To our surprise, those batches of foods prepared the traditional way had no trace of the botulism toxin, not even in the foods that were inoculated with botulism spores. On the other hand, both batch of foods prepared in plastic tested positive for botulism. The advice that came out of that experiment was—”keep on fermenting your food, but never use plastic bags or buckets, and be certain that you do it the traditional native way without any short cuts or changes.”

Do you really need whey, or what?
I found the Nourishing Traditions fermented vegetable recipes confusing. The book made it sound (to me anyway) like if you do not use liquid whey (and I was unclear whether the whey should be from raw or pasteurized dairy), that your fermented foods will not turn out. My own anecdotal evidence plus this book has now settled this issue for me. Whey: not necessary at all. There’s no harm in using liquid whey; adding it is sort of like adding a “starter”–think sourdough. In vegetable ferments, it can help fermentation get started quicker, but it’s not necessary.

Yogurt
I’ve already documented a couple different yogurt-making methods that have worked for me, and Katz says his method has evolved as well. For one thing, he uses only 1 T. of starter per quart of milk and only cultures it for about 4 hours. Also, Katz clarifies the differences between using store-bought yogurt and heirloom cultures. But this is one of the great things about him: he doesn’t fuss about contentious issues like raw vs. pasteurized milk. He wants people to ferment foods which they have access to, whatever those may be.

Butter
I’ve always been confused about what is the difference between sweet cream and cultured butter. The difference is this: sweet cream butter is made from agitating fresh cream until the butter and the buttermilk separate. Cultured butter is made from cream that has first been “soured”–on it’s way to becoming creme fraiche. To make creme fraiche, simply add 1 T. of yogurt or buttermilk to 1 c. cream and leave it out for 24 hours. Refrigerate until set for creme fraiche, or shake it up for cultured butter. Now it all makes sense!

Water
I now understand why several of my brine ferments have failed in the last few years: up until 2012, I always used tap water. Katz recommends against using city water because it has chlorine in it, which upsets the natural balance of bacteria. I had a feeling about this, so I used spring water for my pickles in 2012, and not one jar went bad. I don’t like buying bottled water, but for this one thing, it’s worth it. There are ways to de-chlorinate city water, but most simple filtration systems don’t remove enough of it. Yes, of course, I’d love to get a super expensive filtration system, but… maybe someday.

Other topics
Just to give you an idea, Art of Fermentation also covers all of the following: kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, wine, beer, sake, hominy, coffee, cheese, salami, cod liver oil, brined mushrooms, kimchee, cider, fermented urine as garden fertilizer, sourdough breads, koji, and 100 year eggs. That’s only a sampling.  There are only a few recipes, in the traditional sense of the word; this is a book of methodology and inspiration. If you decide to make one of the more complicated ferments, such as salami, Katz urges you to read more on the subject and gives you ideas of where to start. On the other hand, with simpler vegetable and cultured milk ferments, there are SO many right ways to do them that knowing the basic methodology (and science behind why it works) is really all you need.

Fermentation, wow, who knew I would become so obsessed!? I love it!


4 Comments

Recipe: oatmeal tahini cookies

Oatmeal Tahini Cookies, via The New Home Economics

Note the patient little hand, waiting, waiting for the cookies to cool off enough to eat.

We’ve been making a lot of cookies lately. I always crave them in the winter anyway, and now that we have 4 lunches to prepare every morning, it’s nice to have a little something homemade to throw in. We’re making hummus this week, so as long as we had to buy tahini anyway, we decided to try tahini cookies. Without further ado:

Oatmeal Tahini Cookies
2 c. rolled oats
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 c. chopped almonds
1 c. sucanat (or brown sugar)
scant 1/4 c. evaporated cane juice (or white sugar)
1 c. raisins (we used half craisins)
3/4 c. tahini
1/2 c. butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Cream butter and tahini. Mix in sugars, then eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and oats. Stir in the almonds and raisins last of all. Bake at 350 degrees, 8-10 minutes. Adam likes big cookies so his took the full 10 minutes. This made a  couple dozen large cookies.

This is a substantial cookie, one that could easily carry you through an afternoon of snowshoeing, for example. The tahini brings out some of the same qualities that you’d get from a peanut butter oatmeal cookie but without an overwhelming peanut taste. I couldn’t really taste the tahini in the final product, which is OK. Good stuff!

A note about sugars: we’ve been experimenting with sucanat lately. Nutrition-minded types recommend it because, among other things, it is minimally processed and therefore still contains some minerals and all the awesome molasses flavor. Sucanat caramel popcorn, for example, is AMAZING. Once again, I tried it for the nutrition but got hooked for the flavor.

 


4 Comments

Recipe: fermented dill pickle relish

“I don’t care if I never eat a dill pickle again,” said Adam, a few weeks ago.

It might be overload—I’ve gone crazy with the lacto-fermented dill pickles in the recent past. Also: many of my 2011 jars went bad. My best guess is that I was skimping on the salt; nearly every jar I opened over the fall and winter was full of mushy, bad-smelling, heartbreaking, compost-bin-bound pickles.

The experience put me off a bit on my former go-to recipe. This year I vowed to try some new things with cucumbers. One has been this recipe for lacto-fermented bread and butter pickles. I’ve made several batches this year and the kids and I both love them (pro tip: don’t skimp on the honey).

I also wanted to try a nice savory, dilly, garlicky relish. My first batch involved a bit too much salt and ended up taking almost a month to get properly fermented. Second batch, I used a bit less salt, and so far so good.

Fermented dill pickle relish
Several large cucumbers (the ones you let go too long)
8 large garlic cloves, crushed
Dill and/or fennel flowers
2 generous tablespoons sea salt
3 tablespoons liquid whey

Grate the cucumbers until you have about 6 c. grated cucumber. Add other ingredients. The cucumbers will start to reduce as soon as the salt hits. Let sit for a few minutes, then pour off some of the excess liquid. Stuff into a quart-size wide mouth canning jar, making sure there is still enough liquid to cover the mixture as you pack it down.

Next, find something to hold the relish down under the surface of the liquid for a few days while it ferments. I like these plastic bulk-section bottles from the co-op, filled with water. On the right is a brand new, bright green batch, and on the left is the batch that is done fermenting. When not being photographed, they rest under a flour sack towel to keep out dust, dog hair, etc.

The cucumbers will continue to reduce down as they ferment, to the point where I actually transferred the finished batch into a pint jar when it was finally ready.

How do you know when it’s ready? Taste it every other day or so. When it stops tasting salty and starts tasting complex and dilly and garlicky and wonderful, it’s done. Put a regular canning lid on it and store it in the refrigerator. It should keep for a good 4-6 months, but let your nose and your taste buds be your guide on that.

I had some atop a Ukrainian sausage from Seward Co-op today and it was heavenly.


7 Comments

Goodbye microwave

A few months ago, we got rid of our microwave. I was convinced that I couldn’t live without it, so I moved it to the basement. Turns out, I haven’t missed it a bit.

Many of my favorite food and nutrition bloggers are very against using a microwave to cook foods, and the Weston A Price Foundation recommends against it, since it was never used any traditional societies.

However, I’m having a really hard time finding solid scientific evidence that says, without a doubt, that microwaving food causes real, immediate harm.  But! BUT!  It all depends on how you look at it.

What is true: microwaving food in plastic containers causes the plastic to release toxic chemicals into the food. Also, from one of the more reliable sources I was able to find, scientists don’t all agree on how microwaves actually heat food. There’s also the issue of “popcorn lung,” i.e. highly processed foods specifically made to be microwaved that release airborne chemicals.

Additionally, as everyone knows, microwaves heat food really unevenly and therefore should not be used to cook raw meat or heat up baby bottles, and — let’s face it — microwaved food often just doesn’t taste as good.

What may or may not be true: microwaving food causes cancer, fibromyalgia, and host of other major human diseases. (Here’s a fairly typical article.)

Even if the more extreme assertions aren’t true, what I’ve read was enough to convince me that it’s probably not worth it. Additionally, microwaving food is kinda antithetical to the entire slow foods frame-of-mind — if you want to eat something but are feeling too lazy to cook it properly, maybe you’re not really hungry to begin with!

Our microwave occupied a large part of our kitchen counter.  We got rid of it, put a toaster oven in its place, and haven’t looked back.  Look how much counter space we freed up!

Before:

After:

I’ll be honest: I still use the microwave at work to heat up my soup lunches. (Hey! I’m not perfect!)

Do you feel strongly about microwaves? Know about some really great scientific evidence that they’re dangerous or that they’re safe?  Post it in the comments! Seriously. I’m interested in figuring all this stuff out, and I want to take an even-handed approach and investigate multiple sources.


3 Comments

Recipe: real baked beans

What?!  A vegetarian Nourishing Traditions recipe that could easily be made vegan?  Here it is, and this is one of the only recipes out of NT that I tried and immediately loved, with minimal changes.  It’s so easy that even I can make it.  Adam was not involved with this at all, and they turned out perfect.  Be warned: it takes two full days to complete the recipe, 98% unattended.

Baked Beans (from Nourishing Traditions)
4 cups dried beans (I used 1 c. black and 3 c. navy beans)
2 med. onions
2 T. butter
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 small can tomato paste -or- 1 can tomatoes, with liquid
3 T. tamari or soy sauce
3 T. white vinegar or white wine
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. molasses
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp. salt
1 pinch red pepper flakes

Cover the beans with water and soak for 24 hours.  No shit: 24 hours.  Drain, rinse, and set aside for a moment.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a dutch oven and sauté the onions until just soft.  Add the beans, with enough water to cover them, plus all the rest of the ingredients.  Bring to a boil on the stovetop, then bake in a 350 degree oven for 6 hours.  Yep, 6 hours.  Stir it maybe once per hour.  The last three hours, you might need to add a few cups more of water if it starts to dry out.

Crock pot/extremely lazy variation: skip frying the onions and just throw them in raw with everything else.  Cook on low for 12-14 hours and use a bit less water.  You won’t need to stir more than once or twice.

The first few times I made these, I really thought they were awesome but would be even better if I cooked them with a pork hock all day.  I tried that a few months back, and honestly, decided I like them better vegetarian.  The pork just kinda killed all the other flavors. Also, I think the flavor turns out a bit richer when they’re made in the oven rather than the crockpot.  But, both are good.

The best part:

This made 5 very full pints of baked beans. We’ll have one for supper tonight and freeze the rest.  Barbecue season here we come.

If you’ve never made homemade baked beans from dried beans, you ought to try it.  The texture is so much nicer than store-bought baked beans.  Less mushy, more substantial, and definitely richer-tasting.  Also, it’s a nice bonus to skip the BPA, high-fructose corn syrup, and everything else that you get along with any canned food off the grocery store shelf.  Win-win.

Update, June 14, 2011: Apparently, adding 2 T. of vinegar to the water for the soaking process helps make beans even more digestible.  I will try it next time I make them.


2 Comments

Recipe: Grass-fed barbacoa

I have a Chipotle weakness. Adam made his own slightly healthier version of their barbacoa tonight.  Here’s his recipe:

Adam’s Barbacoa
1.5 lbs grass-fed beef short ribs
3 T. neutral oil for frying
3 c. stock (beef or chicken is fine)
1 c. canned tomatoes, with liquid
1 onion
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tsp. chili powder
3 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Season the short ribs with salt & pepper on both sides.  Heat oil in Dutch oven over med-hi heat. Sear meat on both sides, remove meat from pan. Add onion to pan. When the onions start to soften, add the garlic and spices.  Stir for a minute or two, then add stock and tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Taste, then add salt & pepper and more spices accordingly.  Add the meat back in, then place the cover on the Dutch oven and bake at 400 degrees for 90 minutes, checking after 60-70 minutes to make sure it’s not too dry.  (You  could add a bit more stock if it seems dry.)  Pull meat apart with a fork.

We ate this on sprouted-grain corn tortillas with grated cheese, simple guacamole, and lacto-fermented banana peppers. And home-brewed beer!  So good, the kids asked for 2nds and 3rds (not of beer, silly).