Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Recipe- Pork Shoulder

I really don't eat or cook that much meat.  I like it alright, I just never get a hankerin' for it that often.  But when I do, the things I like cooking best are the slow-cooking, braising types.  I like beef shorts ribs, chuck roasts, and pork shoulders.  Pastured and forested pork is so amazingly flavorful by itself.   But it also picks up new flavors really well, so it is easy to make a shoulder complex, rich and flavorful without doing much of anything.  I also like to braise meats because the longer they cook, the better.  I always get so worried about overcooking a dry-roast beef roast or a baked chicken.  When something is slow-braised you can throw it in a low oven and know that four hours is even better than two....

It is very very important that the quality of the meat is good.  Never try to do this with anything that comes from a grocery store (unless it's Greenlife and it's Sequatchie Cove meat).  The Main Street Farmer's Market has two beef vendors and three pork (and one lamb, but that's a different story).  My rule for eating meat is that I have to at least have met the farmer who raised the animal, if not the animal itself.   I never eat meat outside of that, and wouldn't DREAM of buying anything other than local, grass-fed, happy-lived meats.   It would be a waste of time and money, not to mention all the other stuff that I won't mention.

 for six people (or less than that, but with leftovers):

  • 1 medium sized pork shoulder- around five pounds- fat intact
  • 2 heads garlic
  • large handful of herbs- I used oregano and thyme, but anything works
  • 2 dried chilies (fresh work just as well, in the summer when they're in season)
  • liquid of some kind (I like to use different fruit juices and/or alcohol.  This time I used pear juice and mead.  Beer, white wine, or cider are also good, as are apricot nectar or pineapple juice - whatever you have)
  • Salt and pepper
Those are just suggestions....  Really, you can use anything you want,  less garlic, more chilies, or maybe some spices.... Whatever you use, it will be good, and don't forget to be generous with it.    Sometimes I like to use some canela cinnamon and a couple cloves, more chilies, and more oregano to give it a kind of Mexican flavor....  it all depends on how you feel that day.

-preheat oven to around 350 degrees F

Throw the herbs etc in the bottom of a large dutch oven-style pot.   I have a big Le Cruset that I cook just about everything in.   A tight lid and heavy pot are all that is important.   Put the shoulder(s) in and generously salt and pepper them.    Pour liquid over everything.  You don't have to cover the meat, it should just come about half-way up.  Put lid on your pot and throw it in the oven for at least two and a half hours.  Longer is better, but not too long (like not until the liquid has evaporated and the house is burning down).  The meat should be very tender, not tough, when you poke it.  If it is still tough it will be very dry because the magic hasn't happened yet.  With all meat, there is a gray-area in between magics.  Either you cook meat quickly til it is barely done, or you cook it forever til it is very done.  Even if it is cooked in liquid it will be dry if you try to pull it out too early....   I like to check it every hour or so to see how it is doing.  If the liquid has dried up, add more. 

If you want to save the braising liquid to pour over the pulled meat,  take the meat out of the pot and pour the liquid into a container and put it in the refrigerated for several hours.  There will be a LOT of fat on it, and cooling it is the easiest way to get it off; it rises up and hardens and you can just scoop it out.  There should still be fat on the shoulder roast,  cut it off and do with it what you will.  It is important to leave on while cooking because it helps keep the meat moist and tasty.  The easiest way to get the meat ready for eating is to pull out all the bones- they should slide right out- and pull the meat with your hands or forks into bite-sized shreds.  Serve with or without the liquid with cornbread, grits, rice, or whatever else you happen to love.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Seasonal Cure For Seasonal Ails

Everywhere I go I hear people complaining of "their allergies".   'Tis the season for thick yellow pollen.  And it's been very thick this year- due to our abnormally dry spring.  People are red-eyed and sneezing, cursing the spring weather instead of welcoming it.  Of course, this happens every spring and doesn't really have much to do with the dryness.  It might be worse this year but it's always THAT-BAD.  I have always had the belief that the more exposed people are to seasonal pollen, the less likely they are to be affected by it.  "Allergy" has become a misused term in our language, and although I will not explain in depth now why I believe that, I still do believe it.

There are real allergies.  Some people are allergic to peanuts, or shellfish, or eggs.  Although I think it may be possible that there has been some kind of long-term genetic build-up to these allergies through generations of eating habits I never doubt that they are very,very real.  But when I hear people say they are suffering from "seasonal allergies" I just can't help but say:

 (o yeah, and play outside more) 

The last two springs I have worked inside the semi-sterile kitchen of Greenlife.  I spent much of my spring time under florescent bulbs.  I would go out in my yard after work and plant flowers, pull weeds, and inspect the pollen build up on my car.  But I wasn't working constantly out in the air all day, and I must admit that I got scratchy eyes and sneezes and tight sinus-y feelings.

This year is different.  I am trying harder to be outside more often.  But I am also drinking this Magic Elixir called Wild Nettle Tea.  We drink it every day and I seriously have sneezed, oh, maybe six times this spring.  Nettles are supposed to be amazing for millions of different things.  They are in tons of natural hair and skin products.  They are traditionally eaten in season in many countries, like Ireland, England, and those other cool-ish places.  You can steam them and eat them as any other green, distill them into a hair tonic, or drink them as an "allergy fighting tea".

The thing is, the tea kind of tastes like pot likker, and wild nettles sting.  So you have to be very very careful (use tongs) when transferring them to your tea jar.  And I like to add things that make the tea taste better.  I have lemon balm and mint growing in my yard, and I use a local (namely Sale Creek Honey) honey as a sweetener.  This adds a little Allergy Attack bonus, since local honey is supposed to cure all allergy ale's too.

I have heard from SO many people (health nuts, believers, and non-believers alike) that this is the best, best, best way to combat those "seasonal allergies". Synthetic medicines and pills just don't cut it if you want your body to build up a true, strong immunity.  The thing that we sometimes don't think about is the fact that maybe this pollen isn't out to get us, we have just lost the lifestyle and diets needed to work with it.  We need to be co-existing with the world we live in, not combating it.

Wild Nettle Tea

  • 1 handful lemon balm-preferably from your yard or your neighbor's- dirt attached is ok and highly sought after, as we might need more dirt in our diets anyway
  • 1/2 handful mint, also from local yard (if you plant mint it will be everywhere forever)
  • 2 tong-fuls wild nettle- available in local woods or at the Main Street Farmer's Market from Alexzanna Farms 
  • Large drizzle of local honey, also available at the Main Street Farmer's Market from Sale Creek Honey
Stuff everything in a large jar (I use a half-gallon).  Pour almost-boiling water to fill and let steep about 12 hours.  The longer the better.  The nettles will create a slightly slimy consistency.  I pour half of the cooled tea in a glass and fill the rest with water.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Recipe- Mayonnaise

I never, ever buy mayonnaise.  I  don't really use it that often.  I use it in deviled eggs or egg salad, and sometimes I get a hankering to use it on a sandwich or two.  So when I need it I just make it.  I have no idea why it is a terrifying thing to make- I think that legend must have come from people who don't buy good, fresh, truly free range eggs.  If you have those eggs then all of your wildest egg dreams are possible.  If you don't, well, just don't try to make any "tricky" egg dish or sauce.  In fact, just don't use eggs at all.  It's not worth it.

  • 1 whole "good egg" from any farmer at Main Street Farmer's Market -room temp
  • 1 egg yolk -room temp
  • 1 teaspoon good mustard (homemade mustard is really super easy to make; I just use my friend Ashley's homemade stuff)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (or any kind of acidic liquid will do- like vinegar)
  • 3/4 - 1 cup olive oil OR a mixture of olive oil and vegetable oil of your choice- sunflower is good
  • nice pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon herbs, garlic, or whatever you want to flavor it with (optional)
Place a medium sized bowl on a wet-ish dish towel (this will keep the bowl from spinning obnoxiously around while you try to whisk).  Whisk the eggs, mustard, salt, lemon juice, and flavorings together until they are combined.  Slowly, slowly add the oil, whisking all the while.  If you accidentally add too much, just whisk it in until it is all combined.  You never want to see any oil pooling up anywhere.  Keep whisking and adding until all of the oil is emulsified into the eggs.  If it is not thick enough (it will never be as thick as the "store bought" junk), whisk a bit longer, and add a bit more oil.  It will also firm up in the fridge. If you mess up and have scrambled eggs with oil instead you can add another yolk or even a touch of water- adding slowly like you did the oil.  But I seriously have never messed it up.  Don't be afraid.

Supposedly this can be done in the blender even more easily.  I don't have a blender so I couldn't tell you....

When I was at Ballymaloe Cookery School part of our 'semi final exam' was exhibiting the cooking skills we had learned over the past three months.  The night before I studiously/anxiously sharpened my filleting and boning knives, worried that I would be requested to fillet a round fish (landlubber that I am I had only filleted about five round fish in my life) or bone a leg of lamb.  Lucky for me I ended up having, in a very quiet room and carefully watched by three teachers, to make pie pastry, mayonnaise, and a poached egg.  If I can make mayonnaise while being scrutinized then anyone can.  I have terrible stage fright.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When I Was a Duck Mom....

My friend Ashley from William's Island Farm raises ducks.  Well, she used to raise them, back in the day when the weather was warm.  Her first batch was brought up in a yome on an island with no running water or electricity.  If you have ever been a poultry mom you would understand that the lack of those two resources are a little trying for raising young poultry.  So for this go-round she recruited me and my trusty help, Mike, to be the parents of twenty young Indian Runner ducklings.

I knew the drill, I've raised chicks out at Sequatchie Cove many a time.  You notify the local post office that a very loud and slightly moving cardboard box will be arriving ANY DAY NOW in the post, and to call you when it comes.  The post office loves this- after days of sorting Netflix and water bills, young fowl is a welcome and exciting diversion.

Here on Lookout Mountain I was a little wary of informing them about my upcoming package.  But Steve, the postman, was well learned in the ways of young birds.    A man in Rising Fawn ALWAYS orders chicks, he assured me. You have to dip their beaks in water ASAP,  he said, they are ok at first because they have been living off their eggs, but by the time they get to the post office they are hungry and thirsty, they need to be taught where to get water.  

I concluded that I was in good hands but woke up every morning for four days, staring at the phone, waiting for the post office to call.  When they finally did we ran out the door, coffee-less, and carefully put the peeping box in the back seat.  We rushed home and dutifully dipped each teeny beak in water and watched the ducklings as they stumbled around their new home.  We had prepared a kiddie pool with pine wood chips, a feeder, a grit plate, and a waterer for the young'uns.  The wood chips were covered with the latest Sunday New York Times; carefully picked pages to educate our flock on the latest styles and travel spots.  The newspaper was to keep the little birds from confusing the chips as food and choking on them.  All that night we heard wee peeps coming from the downstairs bedroom as the ducklings ran circles around their new home under the heat lamp, their flat little feet pattering on the newspaper.

Ducks are NOT chickens and ducks LOVE water.  After realizing half of their allotted drinking water was used in splashing their neighbors, we set a little pan in their house so that they could play in it at their will.  They took turns leaping in and swimming around, their tiny paddles furiously churning as they peeped and splashed contently.  Of course, this play time was limited and there was always a life guard on duty.  We didn't want any drowning to happen on our watch.

There was some inspection, but the young ducks soon learned, one at a time, that THIS was the place to be.

And they packed it in, getting the most out of their short allotted "play time".

I am assuming that I now know a little bit about being a parent.  Baby ducks poop, play, demand food at very high volume, and sleep like they might be dead.

They don't hold "normal" hours like the rest of us.  They eat when they're hungry, drink when they're thirsty, and peep when they feel like it it.   Two AM is not the wrong time for a loud and crazy "peep show'.

But everyone grows up and wants to sleep on the roof of their house.  Soon, the ducks became bigger and more experimental.  One followed the other until they got their roof privileges taken away.

They usually were confined to the kiddie pool full of wood chips, but every now and then we had to change those soggy (due to excess playing) wood chips and they got to play in the bathtub while that happened.
Unfortunatly for them, the whole tub wasn't full of water.  They had to be content with the plain-ol'-pool.

A few very special and well behaved duckling were even allowed outside as they grew larger (this takes about a week).

These ducks love to forage.  They love collards and kale, lettuce stems and chickweed, clover and grass.  After they got over the concern for their fellow ducklings they immediatly took to being out on an open range.

But after three weeks, their cute little bodies morphed into teen-age awkwardness.  Their down began to turn to little rough pin-feathers. Their tails that they wag so happily like little duck-dogs were sprouting one-two-three tail feathers. Suddenly their kiddie-pool was no longer the large open circular range that they knew in their youth; they were ready to fly the coop.

Ashley, I left on the William's Island voicemail, their peeps have almost turned to quacks.  It's time to take your ducks to pasture.

It was true.  In the morning when we went down to greet the angry waterless mob there were some strange croaking murmurings in the crowd.   They weren't exactly quacks yet, more like sick bronchitic croaks.

They're monsters, Mike said

They're teenagers, I said.  Their voices are changing and so are their bodies.  They are growing up.  This is not the end, it's just the beginning of something else.

They'll never be as cute as they were, but one day they will be sleek and business-like in their new suits of feathers.  They will still be the same busy ducks running from food to water, grabbing whatever weed or bug comes their way.  And their big green eggs will make the most delicious custards and souffles.   I just know it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring "Underground and Above the Ground" Dinner Menu at Trae's House

This dinner celebrates many things:

First- The coming of spring.

Second- The opening of two much awaited “businesses” in the Chattanooga area, Sequatchie Cove Creamery and Link 41 Sausage. 

Third- The wonderful artists/craftspeople in the area who trustingly donated their wares for use during this dinner. The glasses you drink from are made by Prentice Hicks and can be purchased, if you so desire, for $15 a cup and $25 a wine glass.   A few of the pieces of pottery (serving bowls, “tea” cups, plates, and small square-ish bowls ) are lovingly made by Danielle Fox and can be purchased for $65, $15, $35, and $20, respectively.    Also, the few gorgeous wooden spoons used are my own, but made by Jim Pfitzer, who I am lucky enough to have attend this dinner.  Please let me know if you would like more information on any artist.

Fourth- The hard work of my helpers, Candice, Mike and Ashley.  Without their organization, flower arranging, laughter, and dishwashing I surely can’t do nothin’.

Fifth- All of you, the eaters, who choose to make this community better and more alive everyday.

And Sixth, but totally not least-  The outrageously delicious work of the local farmers in the area : River Ridge Farm, Sequatchie Cove Farm, Crabtree Farm, William’s Island Farm, Riverview Farms, and Alexzanna Farm.  Without farmers we would be nowhere and food would be nothing. 

I look forward to seeing you all at the Main Street Farmers Market throughout the season!

Spring Celebration Dinner April 10th 2010

To Start

Sequatchie Cove Creamery Soft Cheese

Niedlov’s Baguette

Link 41 William’s Island Lamb Sausage

Spring Rolls with Alexzanna Farm Chickweed Pesto
And William’s Island Farm Kale and Sequatchie Cove Farm cilantro

The Feast

Crabtree Farm Shiitake and River Ridge Farm Chicken
With fresh ginger and turmeric direct from Dominica and Crabtree Farm lemongrass

Riverview Farm Grits
With last summer’s William’s Island tomatoes, my own yard’s oregano, and homemade mozzarella

Sequatchie Cove Farm Lettuce Salad
With Sequatchie Cove Farm scallions and wild-caught violet flowers

William’s Island Farm Kale and Collards
With Sequatchie Cove Farm shiitake and homemade black bean miso

To End

William’s Island Farm Duck Egg Custard
With Dominica nutmeg and sauce made with Dominica coco and hand-roasted Dominica coffee

Sequatchie Cove Creamery Cheeses

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Recipe- Local Cheese Grits with shiitake and kale

I am lucky enough to have pre-samples of the now (yea!) up-and-running Sequatchie Cove Creamery.  Look for the cheese in the coming months at the Main Street Farmer's Market.  I promise you won't be disappointed, it's wonderful!

 for four people:
  •  1 cup Riverview Farm grits
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 cloves garlic-minced
  • one handful "yard herbs" (I used my newly sprung oregano)
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup grated Sequatchie Cove Creamery cheese (or whatever else you are lucky enough to have)
  • 1/4 pound Sequatchie Cove Farm, Alexanna Farm, or Crabtree farm shiitake- de-stemmed (save the stems in the freezer til you make stock) and torn or sliced
  • 1 large bunch William's Island Farm kale- torn into pieces, de-stemmed if stems are large and tough
While you are bringing the water to a boil in a pot, saute shiitake in butter, oil, or whatever you use, in a separate skillet.  Add the kale and a bit of salt when the mushrooms look wilty and cook til mushrooms are tender and kale is wilted.  When the water boils, whisk in the garlic and grits, and a pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring often, for about fifteen to twenty minutes.  When the grits are thickly bubbling and taste tender, add the herbs and grated cheese.  Pour the grits into a serving bowl and top with sauteed shiitake and kale.  Serve right away.

The Locavore's Dilemma

So, somethin's been on my mind for quite awhile and I can't hold off any longer.

I get "accused" of being so serious about local food that it is slightly intimidating.   I always make up excuses like: well, that's just my thing, everybody's got to have somethin', or I'm not serious at all, I just sound serious....

I'm not serious.  Except that I am.  My mother tells me Just tell them you can't help it, Ann, you're a farmer's daughter.  You don't know how else to eat.

That is partially true.  But I haven't always been a farmer's daughter.  In fact, out of the twenty-four years that I've been alive I have lived on a farm for less than half of them.  I have always been the guy who is now the farmer's daughter but that farmer hasn't always been a farmer.  I grew up (til I was 10) in cities and I clearly remember eating button mushrooms from the grocery store out of those little green boxes that aren't quite Styrofoam, but aren't plastic either.   I even remember, as a spurge, eating ground beef that had been packaged in that same toxic looking container.   I didn't know what a chicken (probably either dead or alive) looked like and I thought all cows were brown like the ones I'd seen in roadside pastures in north Georgia.  I definitely did not grow up in any huge cities or in the middle of concrete and high rise apartment buildings.  As long as I can remember my parents have had a garden, and I certainly knew the meaning of Raspberry Season.   But we were not farmers.  We didn't eat entirely in season all the time then, nor were we near as conscientious about the origin of our meat.  If we ate beans and rice a lot, it was more because it cost less than because it wasn't meat.   My brother Kelsey and I each cooked one meal a week, and I remember Kelsey's better than mine, because it turned into a kind of family joke.  Kelsey always made tacos.  I cooked the meat, heated up those hard corn shells in the toaster oven, washed and tore apart the lettuce, put the sour cream in a little bowl, dumped the jarred salsa into another.  Kelsey shredded the cheese.  He did a really good job.

But that lettuce was from the Red Food or Red Lion or whatever that was called across the street on Brainard Rd.  The meat probably was too.   The cheese was orange.

"Taco Night" does not, by the way, reflect my parents cooking.  They are both really good cooks, (in their separate ways) and we ate a lot better than that most nights.  I learned to love indian, Japanese, Chinese, and big-pot-of-everything stew from my father.  My mother made us breakfasts of pancakes, oatmeal, and toasted homemade bread.  My lunches were always packed with peanut butter (the kind that you have to stir up before you can use it), raisin, honey sandwiches, and carrots cut into sticks and put in washable containers.  (How I wished to be sent with a little bag of chips, a white-bread, American cheese, baloney sandwich, and damn baby carrots in a plastic baggie I could throw away.  Alas....  I was nigh fourteen before I even knew what most of that stuff tasted like- and I wasn't as impressed as I hoped to be)  We always ate dinner together and I can still say that black beans and brown rice is my favorite meal. 

Of course, by the time I was really cooking I was a farmer's daughter.    That is what made cooking fun and that is why I still love it.  I could play and play and play with food (sometimes resulting in disasters and ruining forever my mother's taste for mint...) until I had figured out exactly what went with what and why it tasted so good (or terrible).   So now, I guess, seasonal eating is ingrained in me.  It's part of the way I cook; it's why I love to eat.

I believe that our pallet can change.  As hard as my parents tried to keep us healthy and growing children, I would never go back to the way I ate when I was little.  I could never eat those dry, tasteless California carrot sticks again.  Why should I? I now know what a REAL carrot tastes like.   And it's not like I've been enlightened or anything. All the old, tired, out of season "grocery store stuff" just doesn't taste good anymore.  My pallet has just grown used to what I've been passing by it- the seasonal, local stuff.  I can tell by tasting it whether produce is local or not, or whether the eggs are truly free-range.

So I just said that, and I was getting ready to apologize for sounding like such a "snob".  I recently read Barbra Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I really loved it.  She writes to the "common folk" about WHY she ate entirely locally for a year and why she will now continue to do so (to an extent).   I put off reading it for so long because I wrongly thought there wasn't anything new in it that I didn't already know.  Yeah, I already knew about the seasons of things, why to support local farms, ect.  But the book is way too entertaining to NOT read, and I learned a lot about other stuff....

Anyway, in her book I found her apologizing for wanting to make her own cheese.  She excused herself as being crazy, a fanatic, going too far.  And I thought "why?".  She grows her own garden, she cans her own tomatoes, she stock-piles grated zucchini in her freezer.  Why is she apologizing for making cheese?

And then I realized I do that all the time.   I am constantly going around telling people- it's ok, you don't have to be like me, I'm totally crazy.    Sorry, just because I don't eat bananas, you don't have to not, I'm not really that serious, I just sound like it, I'm a fanatic, I'm JUST CRAZY.

And then, last night I was cooking for a little potluck.  I had come home from the Main Street Farmer's Market the evening before laden down with good stuff- shiitakes, lamb sausage, kale, collards, lettuces, grits, eggs, cheese.... I was trying to figure out what to cook because one of the eaters was a vegetarian and didn't eat dairy.  I wanted to do cheese grits with kale and shittake, but just settled for herbed grits sin queso, con shiitake and kale.   But I thought, hey wait a minute.  That was super easy.  And it cost me about five dollars.  And twenty minutes.  And I didn't use one un-local thing except garlic.   And then I thought, hey wait a minute.  How come somebody can go around being pretty much a vegan and get respected and "catered" to, but if I want to eat food that's only grown by local farms I'm crazy (?!). 

I can't just say, when someone offers me, in March,  grilled cantalope wrapped in prosciutto, "O, I can't eat that, I'm a locavore."  I have to either be polite and say, no thank you, or lie and say I'm a vegetarian.  Both work just fine, but sometimes it's nice to tell the whole truth.

Mike and I were out at a new Mexican restaurant last night (I won't make any excuses. Yes, I go to "Mexican restaurants" sometimes and no, I don't know the farmer who grows that watery shredded lettuce.  Anyway, this one had been recently "reviewed" by a certain Chattanooga publication as good, and it just opened up really close to my house).  The point is, I was trying to figure out if there was anything on the menu that was vegetarian, or could be made to be, other than what was in the teeny option list, so I asked the waiter.  Unfortunately when he asked if we were vegetarians Mike took the liberty to explain that no, we aren't vegetarians, we just only eat meat that is from animals we know.  If they were interested in buying locally grown meat then we knew a few farmers we could put them in touch with and THEN we would eat the meat served in the restaurant.   "So," the waiter said, "you aren't vegetarian?"  Mike said no and I said YES- just tell me what you can make with just beans!   The waiter then went on the say that their fajitas were really good (I knew that, I'd read it in the review) and that we could chose beef, chicken, or pork, and ran back to the kitchen to give us more time.  The confusion was not due to a language barrier, unless it was our english-vs-the english where you have to say you're a vegetarian in order to not eat meat.

Needless to say we settled on the bean and cheese and potato or something or other combo and learned our lesson, yet again:  you can't go out to eat if you expect to eat as well as you do at home. 

There is nothing harder about being a "locavore" than there is a vegetarian or vegan.  For the most part, I am no different from those ways of eating.  I make my choices based on the food I like to eat, what tastes good, and health, ethical, and environmental reasons.   It takes no real effort and I couldn't tell you about the cost.  I am sure my cost of eating is much lower than some people's because my dining-out experiences are very very restricted by my food choices.  I also spend more money on food than I do on any other "luxury".  As I told someone the other day- I don't have cable tv, I just braise beef short ribs for fun.  I love to cook because I love to eat and I love to eat because I love the food I use.  I don't really think that's too crazy.....

Trust me, I have much more to say on this topic.  But I will keep it to that for now.  I won't apologize for how I eat. I will say that I understand that the way I eat is a conscious decision and it helps a whole, whole lot to be a farmer's daughter (and a farmer's sister).  It just tastes so good.