31 August 2012

Bone Broth (Canned)

Broth is an essential component in many recipes, not the least of which are the massive amounts in soups.  But, as usual, the stuff sold in the stores is a mystery of complicated chemicals - including gluten.  Gluten?  There are flour products in broth?  Anyway, I'm here to tell you that there's a better way, and it's super cheap (depending on how valuable your time is, I guess...but I consider this to be health insurance, so I'm willing to donate the time needed).  If you doubt, skim over this blog post on all the benefits of bone broth - the biggest one that stands out to me is that bone broth is essential to making your bones stronger.  That's right, consuming the minerals and marrow from bones helps strengthen your own bones.
I got some bones at the local butcher (okay, it was Ebels, for those of you "in the know").  I roasted them for half an hour at 350*F.  This makes the marrow nice and tender.

Then cover them with water in the crockpot.  I let this simmer on low for 24 hours.  I had larger bones and they didn't fit so well in the crockpot, so I ended up making 3 batches - I kept the crockpot running for 3 days straight.  I ended up with 18 cups (or 9 pints, or 4.5 quarts, or 1.125 gallons...) of bone broth.
Because a gallon of rich bone broth is much more than I'll use in the average week, I decided to can it.  Coincidentally, 9 pints fit perfectly in my canner.  I did skim much of the fat of the top, mostly because the directions said to.  Otherwise, I have no problem with natural saturated fats in animal broth.
My first time pressure canning, and I was slightly wary of...well, you know, pressure canners exploding.  Completely irrational, I know.  But I still put on Kyle's motorcycle jacket and safety glasses.
Okay, I only kept them on long enough for the photo.  It was way too hot in the kitchen for a jacket!
I followed the directions that came with my canner - 10 lbs for 20 minutes (for pints).  If you want to can broth, I recommend using the Ball canning guide or directions that came with your own canner.  Canning meats is NEVER safe in a water bath canner; it must be pressure-canned.

Bone broth!  It's not particularly pretty, but neither are health problems.  I'm sure this will enrich soups all through the fall, and canning more this winter will help warm up the house on cold days.

28 August 2012

How I Got Through My Monday

I was reading this article last week and I started thinking...
This is as much of a bane as it is a blessing.

The premise of the article, entitled Are We All Braggarts Now?, is that things like Facebook have led us to become braggarts...or at the very least, attention seekers.  I recommend reading the entire article, but I think it should go a step further:  the internet in general is leading us to be not only braggarts, but sometimes the worst versions of ourselves.  Not just Facebook, but Twitter, blogs and even forums display boasts of accomplishment and luck.  Sometimes I find myself jealous of other bloggers who seem to have it all together.
This is a day of exhaustion, after which I passed out into bed.
So let's just snap back to reality here.  Sometimes, shit sucks.  My life isn't perfect.  In fact, my life is kind of a mess (relatively, my life is pretty easy - I live within my means, I have no horrible trauma in my past that requires therapy, and unless you count college tuition, I have not been terribly mistreated.  I don't want you to get the wrong impression; I am grateful for all the blessings in my life.  That doesn't mean I "have it all together.").

Last week at work was stressful.  Friday was the worst.  The kind where at home, I'd been neglecting housework and that was starting cause some serious negative energy - and I don't mean housework like "oh, it might have been a couple weeks since I last vacuumed."  I mean the kind where I have a small mountain of homegrown tomatoes that are nearing spoilage because I can't find the time to do something with them.  I am somehow trying to plan two camping trips in the middle of Harvest Season and working 40 hours a week.  And then at work, I was facing an "impossible" problem (the optimist in me requires that I clarify that this problem was only difficult, and that I shouldn't use the word 'impossible').  And it didn't get neatly wrapped up at the end of the day Friday.  Oh no.  The majority of the work was sitting there waiting for me Monday.  And the kitchen looked like a small tornado had passed through.  And the wine is still sitting in the carboy, threatening to turn into vinegar if I don't find time for it.  And it seemed like every bill came due at the same time.
This is a mountain of work.
Therefore, Saturday was a work day.  I had to get some of this stuff done, if only for peace of mind.  But instead, Mom and I spent THE ENTIRE DAY working on elderberries - picking them, de-stemming them, juicing them, canning them.  And after I was thoroughly exhausted, I went home for just long enough to take a shower, and then out to the bar we went.  Because that's the smart way to handle exhaustion, right?  Oh, and the other thing that happened that day was that I found out a mouse had eaten the first cheese I ever made.  The whole block.  I didn't even get to taste it.

Enter Sunday.  My mountain of tasks seemed to be getting bigger rather than smaller.  Before I tackled the tomatoes, I wanted to stop by the garden and make sure I had all the ripe ones so I didn't have to double my work.  On Saturday, my cousin told me that raccoons or something had knocked down all the corn (my garden is at her house) but I was so exhausted when she told me this that it didn't register.  I arrived to find my garden destroyed...they didn't just knock down the corn.  They ate every single ear.  My entire corn crop, that I had worked so hard on - just gone.  And the cucumbers looked like crap, and the tomato plants have been getting browner and browner every time I go there.
The only ones still standing are ones that had no ears on them.
People, I sat down in the grass and just cried it out.  I tried to tell myself that I should be thankful that the raccoons didn't figure out how tasty the tomatoes were too.  I tried to tell myself that the corn was just an experiment and this whole thing was a learning experience.  But I was at my limit.  Stress receptors were operating at capacity.  Reason and logic were no longer options.
These look like crap.
And then I saw it.  One lonely ear, too high up for the raccoons to notice.  One cob of Hopi Blue Dent, a mystery heirloom blue corn I'd never heard of before, much less tasted.
After trying to eat this, I'm 90% sure it's only good for making blue corn meal.
It didn't turn my weekend around.  In fact, I got home and was too mopey to work, so I asked Kyle to take a walk with me down by the lake.  It was an extremely hot day, and the cool breeze off the water combined with someone who's there for me no matter how unreasonable I get did wonders.  And the rain that fell later was refreshing, cleansing, perfect.
This is what a fresh perspective looks like.
I cut up and froze tomatoes.  I pressured canned beef broth (my first time pressure canning!).  I bought stuff and did some planning for one of the camping trips.  I cleaned up my bedroom.  I bought presents for a couple birthdays.  I canned elderberry juice and helped Mom start a batch of elderberry wine.  I washed all the jars of canned goods and put them in my pantry.  I cleaned up the kitchen.  I went through my finances and paid bills.  I wrote a crappy blog post about how overwhelmed I am.  I crossed things off my list.  I turned the mountain into a foothill.
This is the small sense of accomplishment I get for nearly killing myself.
And that's how I got through my Monday.  I did work.  I buckled down and solved an impossible problem.  I went home and tackled more of my list.  This is real life.  It isn't pretty and it isn't always happy.  Real life has problems and tears and ugly things.  But hey, it could be worse...just remember, someone has Snooki for a mother.

24 August 2012

Cookout: Ratatouille

The end of August?!  The END of AUGUST?!  The temps are dropping…the peak of harvest season is upon us…and I’m cramming every last fun thing into this summer that I can.  August goals included a cookout.  Cook out we did!  Although the dish I made for this cookout (besides mozza stuffed burgers) was an oven creation.  Behold, ratatouille!
Before I get into the details, let’s give some major credit for this dish to Deb of smitten kitchen.  Her blog is fantastic, the photos are killer, and the recipes constantly impress.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that her photos are what make me drool over her culinary creations.  Lesson learned.  Step it up a notch on the photos and the presentation.
It’s worth noting that much of the beauty of this dish comes from the way the veggies are sliced.  I don’t think it would be quite as jaw-dropping if I had the thickness that comes from slicing with a knife.  2nd lesson:  the mandoline was a good investment.
Okay, I think we’re ready for the nitty gritty.  Deb uses pureed tomatoes, but I had a whole counter full of home-grown produce, so I wasn’t about to reach for a can.  I roasted these tomatoes in the oven (that’s right, the honeymoon with roasted vegetables is far from over), then let them stew and reduce on the stove for a bit with the onion and garlic.  A quick spin in the blender left them in a chunky puree.
Pour them down as a base for the rest of the veggies.
Using a mandoline (or a knife – you don’t need special tools to make great food) slice up some veggies.  I had a zucchini, some summer squash, and a variety of peppers (most sweet mini-bells and bananas).  I didn’t even cut myself on the mandoline this time!
Be fancy.  Arrange the veggies over the tomato in a circular pattern.
Continue until the entire tomato base is covered.  Hopefully you don’t run into any spacial issues.
S&P in liberal amounts over this dish.  A drizzle of olive oil doesn’t hurt either.
Cover in parchment paper cut to the size of your dish (hmm, this might be better as step number 1…).
Bake at 375* for at least 50 minutes.  I took the parchment paper off for the last ten minutes...oh, and I sprinkled the leftover cheese from the stuffed burgers on the veggies as well.
Serve warm, to good friends, especially outdoors on a cool evening.  If you feed them well, they’ll be friends for life.  (I like the chaos in this photo.  It's real.  It's life, happening.)
Sit back and relax.  Play a little croquet.  Take advantage of the last few days of summer.
Ratatouille (loosely based on this recipe)

Ingredients:
  • 2-3 cups of tomatoes
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 2 small summer squash
  • 1/2 an onion (roughly 3/4 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 5 small peppers (you could use one or two large ones)
  • S&P
  • Extra virgin olive oil
Instructions:
1.  Slice the tomatoes in half.  Lay them face down on a cookie sheet.  Broil for 5-7 minutes until lightly blackened.
2.  Stew tomatoes on the stove for 15 minutes to slightly reduce.  Add the onion and garlic.
3.  Let the tomatoes cool slightly.  Blend the tomatoes until lightly pureed.
4.  Preheat the oven to 375*.  Slice the zucchini, squash and peppers on a mandoline (or slice thinly with a knife).
5.  Pour the tomato puree into a 9x13 pan.  Arrange the zucchini, squash and peppers in a circular pattern around the pan.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  (sprinkle with cheese if you want)
6.  Cover with parchment paper cut to fit the dish.
7.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.  Remove the parchment paper ten minutes before taking the dish out of the oven.
Note:  this dish does NOT give two-year-olds the strength to pull people around on kayaks, hard as they might try.
It was a lovely night, with lovely people and a lovely sunset.
And some lovely croquet...with a water trap!

21 August 2012

Paleo Taco Boats

Sometimes a recipe is so tasty you just don't have time to take photos of it.  More likely, sometimes you are so busy that you just want food making to be DONE so you can eat.
Paleo friends, meet chicory.  Also known as endive.  I did not know they were the same thing until I started looking for endive hearts, and could only find chicory.  It's the perfect shape to make a taco.
Either way, you needed a use for all that Grilled Salsa Verde, right?
I had some thawed venison burger and cilantro that I needed a use for.
Seriously sharp cheddar and some peppers make it better. 

17 August 2012

Grilled Salsa Verde

This one recipe has altered my garden plan for next year.  It’s. That. Good.
Tomatillos used to be one of those veggies that I’d never tried and didn’t know what to do with (are you listening, erinberries?).  But that changed this spring with the production of Pumpkin Seed Chili Sauce.  And then I recently received some excess tomatillos from a family member’s garden. 
Tomatillos are usually used in green sauces.  Not being one to break with tradition (give me a break, I am still learning how tomatillos behave), I started looking for salsa verde recipes.  In the end, I didn’t use a recipe, but I did glean from my research that tomatillos needed to be cooked to soften up – no fresh salsa with these guys.  Cue grill.
Yup.  That’s right.  We’re starting to tread into non-traditional waters.  Grilled Salsa Verde!  Your grill time is going to depend on how hot (and how nice…) your grill is.  Mine doesn’t heat too well, mostly due to wind from the lake.  The basic goal here is to char the outside of the tomatillos, and get them cooked enough on the inside to soften them up.  You can also use your broiler for this.  Keep an eye on them.  Flip if necessary.
Let them cool slightly, then give them a good pulse in the food processor.
Add massive amounts of flavor by throwing in a serrano, some onion, and cilantro.  Lime juice and a bit of zest complete the palate.
Pulse in the food processor to desired consistency. 
Taste test!  Try a bite.  Panic because it’s super spicy and you’re taking it to a cookout with people who aren’t big fans of super spicy.  Run to the local market and get more tomatillos.  Repeat steps 1 and 2.  Oh wait!  That’s just me…I’m sure you had much better foresight than I did.
Serve it up at an outdoor gathering.  Brag about your dish’s locally sourced produce.  Sit around the campfire and drink beer until the mosquitoes become unbearable.  Be thankful for wonderful friends.

Grilled Salsa Verde

Ingredients:
1 lb tomatillos, husk-free and washed (roughly 2 - 3 cups)
1 serrano pepper
Half a large onion - around 3/4 cup
A handful of cilantro
Juice + zest from one lime (omit zest for less lime flavor)
S&P

Instructions:
1.  Put all the tomatillos on a skewer for easy grilling.  Turn your grill up high and grill until just charred.  Turn them over as needed.  Broiler alternative: slice each tomatillo in half and put on a cookie sheet, skin side up.  Broil until just charred.
2.  Let the tomatillos cool slightly, then pulse in a food processor.
3.  Add in the onion, serrano, cilantro, lime and S&P.  Pulse to desired consistency
4.  Let sit (in fridge) for at least 24 hours before serving to let the flavors marry and marinate.

Oh, and for those of you wondering how this altered my garden plans...tomatillos have been added to the list for next summer.  I would love to can some salsa verde next harvest season.

14 August 2012

Paleo Cauliflower Pizza Crust

So, in my quest for the best Paleo pizza, I started where any newbie would start:  the cauliflower pizza crust.  Well-known among the Paleo crowd, I have to say I was less than impressed.  I want a pizza I can hold in my hand, and the cauliflower failed to deliver.  Taste-wise it was okay, but not a pizza replacement.
The recipe is extremely basic:  1 cup of cauliflower that has visited the food processor, 1 cup of finely shredded mozzarella, 2 eggs, and 2 tbs of oregano.
I used purple cauliflower.  Because I can.  After steaming it, it needs to be well-dried before visiting the food processor.
Shred your own mozzarella.  Mozzarella in block or ball form has normal, natural ingredients - even the cheap kind.  When you buy pre-shredded, it has extra additives to keep it from clumping.  It's worth the extra three minutes to shred your own, I promise.
Bake at 450* for 15-20 minutes.
Kyle worked at a pizza shop in high school, so he's always in charge of the sauce.  I don't know what black magic goes into that sauce (he swears it's different every time) but it's the best sauce I've ever had.  Here's a picture of the magic, but I can't tell you what any of it is except for the crushed red pepper.
Anyway, top the pizza with sauce and stuff.  You don't need instructions for that.  Be creative.  Then bake it until the cheese starts browning - 10 to 15 minutes.
It tasted delicious.  How could it not, with all those amazing toppings?  However, it wasn't quite "pizza."  Maybe on the next try, I'll consult this blog post and see what her "great pizza experiment" results were.
Paleo Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup steamed cauliflower
  • 1 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbs oregano
Instructions:
1.  Dry the cauliflower well (you might want to wait for it to cool).  Put in food processor until well processed.  Mix with the other ingredients.
2.  Spread cauliflower mixture out on a (bacon-)greased pan.  Bake at 450* for 15-20 minutes
3.  When pizza crust is browned, top with sauce, toppings and cheese.  Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is starting to brown.