Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Baking with hemp: and no these aren't "magic" brownies

These cookies have a secret ingredient
They look good, don't they? Trust me: they are. And it all began with a trip to Milwaukie, Oregon. I still can't believe it took me this long to finally get out to Bob's Red Mill. What a cool place, and chock full of ingredients galore for all kinds of baking and cooking.

Inside Bob's Red Mill

I've been wanting to get my hands on some whole grains and some different sugar options (like sucanat: more on that in a future post) all as part of further reducing our processed foods intake and getting closer to the original source. Visiting Bob's can be a bit over stimulating, with so many products I don't know what to do with. I had a flash back to the hippy natural foods stores of my 70's childhood, but quickly snapped out of it. I grabbed a few recipes, their catalog, and picked a few to try. One of them was this recipe for delish Chocolate Deluxe Hemp Nuggets.

Yes, I said it: Chocolate Deluxe Hemp Nuggets. That either sounds intriguing to you, or disgusting. And let me just tell you before you pass judgment, they are really good. Chewy and rich, but made with whole wheat flour, evaporated cane sugar and hulled hemp seeds, to name a few ingredients, they're cookies made with better options than the processed stuff. And the hulled hemp seeds actually provide protein and they're high in Omega-3/Omega-6 essential fatty acids. Bonus? Hulled hemp is also high in iron.

Secret ingredient cookies

I changed the recipe a bit, but is pretty close to the one from Bob's. Next time I'm adding some cocoa nibs for added nutrition and flavor. All in all, I give it a thumbs up.

Chocolate Deluxe Hemp Nuggets
1 cup evaporated cane sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup non fat milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup hulled hemp seeds
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Cream together butter and sugar. Slowly stir in vanilla, milk until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Stir into the wet ingredients and mix. When half mixed, pour in the chocolate chips and blend until ingredients are just mixed. Drop by generous spoonful onto cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Makes two dozen.

Monday, January 26, 2009

An oldie but a goodie

new outfits make me feel giddy
I took this photo several years ago, but the best part is the comment left this weekend on Flickr. You can read it here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kale Chips: Hail to the Kale!

kale chips are surprisingly really good
Before you click away while saying "yecht!" to the thought of chips made from kale, just stop. Because you would be missing out on my new favorite snack. My new favorite snack that is so simple and good for you.

preparing kale chips

With our weekly delivery of vegetables, we're getting kale every week. Kale, kale, and more kale. And I'm not complaining. I've come to love kale. It's a vegetable that's chock full of vitamins, and I'm working on the glitter river of '09 that says more to more things instead of less. So kale? Bring it on baby. I am not scared of you.

But my secret weapon with kale is to turn them into potato chips. Except they are not potatoes, you don't deep fry them, and you don't add anything to the kale except olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt. Toss. Bake them in the oven at 400 for 10 minutes or so (watch them very carefully) and voila. You're done. The kale turns into crisp, light airy snacks with the salty crunch of chips.
Kale set to cook

I've been using this beautiful purple kale, which can be hard to watch in the oven because you can't really tell when it's turning black and burning, but with green kale you could easily see the crisp factor. These purple/black crunchy kale chips are my new favorite snack. Trust me. You need to try these for yourself: you'll be surprised.

Hail to Kale Chips
One bunch of kale
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Tear or cut the kale into 3 inch pieces. I don't use the thick center rib, but tear pieces away from it instead. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Toss the kale in the oil/vinegar mixture, coating the kale as much as possible. Spread kale in single layer on cookie sheet, and bake for 10 minutes, or until crisp. Sprinkle with additional salt if desired.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A new day brings poetry

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

—The inaugural poem by Elizabeth Alexander

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How's your garden doin'?

Winter weather can be rough on gardeners in the Northern reaches and who have played in zonal denial. That would be me. Before our recent Snowpocolypse I covered some plants (Hebes!) with sheets and tucked a few pots into the garage. Here's how that went:
Overwintering tender succulents

Right. So I anticipate plenty of "open opportunities" in the garden come this spring. Onto other gardening news...

I'm in training to become a Master Gardener. I've wanted to do this for years, and it's a somewhat intense 66 hours of classes followed by 66 hours of volunteering in the community. But in the end, I know it will give me a better knowledge base for my writing and gardening advice, and credible knowledge based on research. My first class was last week and the nicest surprise occurred at lunch, when Master Gardener "Bemused", commenter here at Lelo and a friend in real life too, showed up in person to make sure I'd have someone to have lunch with on my first day. How nice was that? Master Gardeners are just like that I guess. My Master Gardener binder is huge, but already I'm learning so much.

Final note of gardening update today: we have overwintering hummingbirds in the garden. I heard them today and saw them yesterday. After all of that snow, it really is a miracle.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The green alien has landed

Green Alien has landed
And it flew in on our new Vitamix blender.

That green smoothie is parsley, spinach, pear, apple and who knows what else. Oh, flaxseeds and liquid vitamins. It packs a powerful punch of vitamins and energy, and is the perfect way to drink some of those vegetables and fruits coming in the weekly CSA. I'm having one every day and am amazed at how much more clarity and energy I have.

Somedays, I go the berry route, with berries we picked and froze this past summer, yogurt and banana, but it's the green alien that's amazing me the most. It actually tastes good. I can drop in some fresh ginger and it has zing.

Vehicle of the Green Alien

As to the Vitamix, it's amazing. It purees everything into smoothness within seconds, including ice, and is living up to everything I'd been told by friends who swear by them. Did you know a Vitamix's blades go so fast that you can make hot soup in them? And we have. Running for 4-5 minutes, it actually heats vegetable puree to a point where it steams. Crazy talk, I know.

I'm doing the spinach to increase iron intake, but the greens are helping increase Vitamin D, which is really important for me this time of year during our short, dark grey days. And just the intake of this amount of vegetables is helping to reboot my system. There are a ton of resources on the web for more information, and googling "green smoothies" or "green juice" will get you there.

The question is, drinking these daily, how many days will it take until I look like this?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Oh yes I can make bread, thank-you-very-much

bread bread bread

I tried my hand last year at making homemade bread, and in my first attempts, was quite impressed with myself. But then I realized the bread I had made was not the famous no-knead bread, and while it was wonderful, and easy, in many ways, I wanted to try my hand at the famous.

A crusty outer shell with big pockets inside of the bread are the hallmarks of the no-knead bread. I’m happy to say I achieved it. Thanks to my new Martha Stewart enamel clad cast iron oval 8 quart dutch oven. Say that three times fast. Best part? Got it 60% off at the Macy’s day-after-Christmas sale. Bada boom!

my pretty new pot

So here’s the thing. I started this bread the night before. Super easy. Mix it up and let it sit. Not in a cold drafty place, but in a place where warmth can coax goodness into it. I opted for the under the cabinet lights. Thank you very much kitchen remodel. Little did I know that the under cabinet lights would eventually serve to rise bread for me.

No-Knead Bread
Yields one 1 1/2 pound loaf

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is OK. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Homemade ricotta cheese

I don’t know where I first read about making my own cheese. But I know I learned of Ricki Carrol and with the help of her very handy cheesemaking kit, I’ve now made ricotta cheese twice in my life.

This whole cheesemaking thing? I think I could get into this. But December, January and February would be the months to do so, because after this, I’m in my garden. And fields or orchards or baseball fields. I do not have a cheese press, but I’ve learned that the easiest cheese to make is ricotta, followed by mozzarella.

The key? Good, whole milk—not ultra-pasteurized. (Tip: check the sell by date. If it’s 3 months from now, put it back and keep looking.) Add to this a teaspoon of cheese salt and a teaspoon of citric acid, and you’re set.
heating milk to make ricotta
Because now you stir while the whey separates from the curd while heating over low to medium heat. Yes, I know. Curds and whey. I thought they only existed in rhyming sing-songs too. But it’s true: cheese is made by the separation of curds and whey in whole milk. It was like a scientific experiment going on in my kitchen. You want the temperature to reach 190 degrees or so. You watch for the whey to no longer be milky white, but to be more clear in consistency.
And once they separate, you turn off the heat, and let it sit for a bit. 15 minutes minimum. Then, scoop the curds into cheesecloth (see? This is why it’s called cheesecloth!).
when the curds separate from the whey
Now let it drain for 15-30 minutes. I hang mine from the faucet in the sink.
draining ricotta

The whey I’m holding onto: evidently it makes a wonderful base for English muffin bread. It’s yellow, and I poured it back into the milk jug. No one needs to make a reference to trucker’s lemonade, thanks.
The fresh ricotta is very mellow in taste, but it will keep, covered tightly, in the fridge for a good week or so. I’ve used it in ricotta baked goods (ricotta cake is tasty!), as well as in dishes like lasagna, etc. It’s a great way to layer lightly cooked vegetables, noodles, and homemade tomato sauce for a homegrown, homemade lasagna. The taste is unlike the storebought ricotta in that it has no aftertaste, coating of the tongue or other element that I would assign to it. Mellow, mellow and more mellow…and definitely homemade.

Next up? The famous no-knead bread...

Monday, January 05, 2009

Face it: I am Laura Ingalls Wilder

In my ongoing quest to live a life cobbled together with themes from Holly Hobbie and Little House on the Prairie, I tried my hand at making cheese this summer. Settle down. It’s not like I dug a cave in my backyard to house my smoked gouda or something. (Though we do have a new book in which I read last night about burying peaches below ground as a food preservation method: waving to S&K thanks!) I began small. With ricotta. And tonight I tried it again. And at the same time, I had a loaf of homemade bread in the oven.

And I stopped to pinch myself. Was I Laura Ingalls Wilder? No, of course not. But in my desire to cut out processed food, I realize it’s brought me closer to things like this. Like homemade jam made from berries picked that morning. Greens sauted with garlic and onions from farms within my county line. And cheese made in front off my eyes, on my very own stove. Money into my local economy, supporting local farmers, and knowing where the hell the stuff going into my body comes from. Stuff without ingredient listings consisting of chemicals and words I can’t pronounce.

And you know what? Dinner was great. Homemade bread with sauted kale and some ricotta cheese mixed in. So do you want to know about that bread or cheese first? Because the kale part has become a standard in the winter repertoire of the farm CSA recipient. And it certainly doesn’t photograph as well. Even if it is tasty...
Homemade ricotta, bread and kale
Let’s start with the cheese…