Thursday, March 24, 2011

Buttermilk Biscuits

First get a sister-in-law who is sweet enough to make a biscuit "coozie" for you.  If you aren't lucky enough to have one of those (the sister-in-law or the coozie) you can make one yourself or just use a plain old dishcloth.  It is nice to keep them wrapped up and steamingly warm while you finish cooking the eggs or whatever; or while you eat your first biscuit.  Biscuits are not something I make that often but there is no real reason for that.  They are so super easy to make and wonderful to eat.  Serve with sorghum syrup, butter, honey, sausage, and/or a fried egg.   If you are really lucky and have a grandmother who excels in the world of jams and jellies you can serve them with muscadine jam or pear "honey" made from pears you helped your grandmother knock out of the tree last autumn.

Sonrisa Farm's whole wheat flour is perfect for things like biscuits because it is so soft and makes them nice and flaky.   For those of you who have a milk share, buttermilk is really simple to make and totally worth it.  For a quart of buttermilk add about 1/4 cup of cultured buttermilk (either store bought or from your last batch) to a little less than a quart of sweet milk.  Let it sit at room temp for a few days, or until the milk thickens are looks a little curdled.   Then chill it and use as needed.

Grandmama's pear honey, Anderson Bailey's sweet little bowl
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F

  • 2 cups Sonrisa Farm whole wheat flour (or any other locally grown and milled flour, if you are fortunate enough to find some)
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • pinch of salt and sugar (sugar is optional)
  • 6 T butter, chilled
  • about 3/4 - 1 cup buttermilk- depending on the flour (some absorbs liquid quicker than others)

Mix the flour and baking soda and powder and salt together.   Cut the butter in with pastry blender or your fingers (I use my fingers) until mostly blended but the butter is still in little pieces, like oatmeal maybe.  Pour the lesser amount of milk into the flour and stir til it comes together in a ball.  You don't want to overwork the dough or it won't be tender but don't be too cautious or it won't hold together.  Knead it a few times gently until it forms a nice soft dough and then roll or pat it out on a floured surface to about 1/2 inch thick (or a little more than half the hight you want you biscuits to be).  Cut with a biscuit cutter and bake til brown and yummy smelling, about 12 mintues. I usually check to bottoms and when they are nice and brown the biscuits are usually ready.  It can be a little hard to tell with all whole wheat flour because they kind of look brown to start out with.  Serve warm, wrapped in a handmade biscuit blanket or clean dish towel.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Let Me Tell You (again) Why I EAT LOCAL

I often get frustrated by local restaurants claiming they "buy local" and that they proudly supported local farms when that's actually a bit of an exaggeration.  Or by hearing people complain that the Whole Foods isn't stocking organic red bell peppers (in March?! Of course not!  It's March.  Why eat peppers, we have tons of kale?)  Or hearing people complain about Whole Foods in general.  We live in Tennessee.  Buy your food from your farmers.  I don't care what's in the produce section of the grocery store.  I eat what's in season and only what's in season.    I prefer to support the positive things happening in my community more than I like trying to find something wrong with a chain grocery store.  And there are a lot of positive things in our community.

And then I REALLY started thinking about it.  Buying locally and seasonally is HARD work.  It is as hard as farming, but on the other side.  It means buying from not only the several companies for dried goods, produce, and meat, but also juggling that between numbers and linen service and wait and kitchen staff.  It means having to change the menu very regularly to accommodate the seasonality of foods, of dealing with busy and sometimes quirky farmers.  It means several more invoices and checks.  It means having to use the WHOLE animal or plant instead of just the loins, breasts, or roots.  It means dirt and sweat.  It takes a buyer who is very emotionally invested in “making numbers work” to afford the more expensive cost of local food, even if those numbers are in your own home.  And most importantly, it requires a consumer base who is comfortable with eating a "house salad" in March that isn't served with the ever-present insipid tomato wedge.

...YOU (are the consumer base)

Again, of course, we aren't consumers, as Carlo Petrini pointed out.  We are co-producers and WE are creating this market that allows food retailers to make claims that, although may be the truth, are a very stretched truth.

One of my first kitchen experiences was when I was sixteen and spent a long weekend in the kitchen at Blackberry Farms.  “Ann,” the commisarian said, “one of the most important things to remember in this business is that if you start with shit, you’re going to end up with shit.”  Pardon his language, but it’s true.  And I can truly taste  it with my entire being, and not just the tastebuds.  That is the fruit of being a farmer's daughter-   years and years of eating fresh, seasonal, and carefully grown and produced food.  This is only a taste that is “acquired”, and it is acquired through very conscious financial and lifestyle decisions.  

And before you stop in your tracks and tag me as a “food snob,” would like to explain myself……

When I spend, and earn, my money I consider many things.  I think about WHO I support when I buy something.  I think about what impact it is having on all the environments around me- both my own personal one, and also the whole entire world’s.    I am particularly focused on food because that is what I am most passionate about.  But it can’t possibly stop at food.

When I go out to eat in a restaurant, for example, I am conscious of where my money is going.  Primarily I want it to go back into the community.  I want it to go to the local people who’s wages I help pay that cook and serve the food, clean the tables, dishes and linens.  I want it to go to the local business owner.  But if the buck stops there and starts being dispersed across the world to large corporations and “farms” that are out of my control and that I know nothing about, then I don’t want the buck to start.  I don’t want to support large industrial “farming” because I have heard enough about its horrors.  We all have.  We’ve all seen Food Inc., read Fast Food Nation, or have been exposed to something that illustrates the poor treatment of workers, animals, land, and the whole environment.  Just the fact that the food has been shipped hither and thither, and thus, in it’s small way, is contributing to the recent-enough oil spill in the Gulf, should be enough to turn around and plant some kale in our gardens.  “Cheap” food is only cheap for a very short window of time- mainly the moment you hand the money over.  The rest of the time it does some very expensive damage on community, culture, eco-systems, and all things small and wonderful.

When I eat I consider all the things listed here above and below, but of course, I also think of myself.  We all do.  We, as humans, and more specifically, Americans, can’t help but think of ourselves quite often.  We think about how pretty we look, how smart we seem, how funny we are, how successful.  And in order to do all those things at their up-most, we think about how healthy we are.  We run, we bike, we swim, we eat kale and garlic.  We make sure we are feeding ourselves correctly at all times.  Is there enough protein, EFAs, enough vitamin C, D, A or B?  A very nice added bonus to eating locally is that not only does it support the local economy, cut down on fuel usage, not support agro-monsters, etc, etc, etc, but it also makes us, our bodies, and our EGO feel good….

We need to be less greedy and more patient.  Our society has raised us to think that we can have everything we “want” at anytime.  And “want” has turned into just that- a word enclosed in parenthesis.   We don’t even WANT that grain-fed filet mignon from that unknown farmer.  We don’t want that vanilla infused sauce made with apricot nectar and chilies.  We just think we do, but we have gone so far from even understanding the meaning of WANT, much less the meaning of NEED.   WANT comes from expectation and desire, both very exciting features that come with being human.  Want comes from waiting.   A cucumber will never really taste good if you can walk in to the store any day and buy it.  It will taste good only when it is fresh off the local vine, still warm from the July sun.    

So what do we do?  How do we become conscious consumers that have the potential to change our local restaurant fare and prevent future oil spills? 

I was watching this DVD that Netflix recommended to me a few weeks ago about China. There was a little section on a village somewhere in Northern China, or maybe somewhere near or in Tibet.  Anyway, it was a very desolate place where small villages lived and grew their small little crops and went to little markets and all that quaint  and hard-knock stuff.  Then all of a sudden there was a screeching and squeaking and a huge flock of cranes moved in outside the village.  They ate some of the farmer’s grains, pooped all over the place, and made a huge ruckus.    And the farmers felt BLESSED.  The cranes were a symbol of good luck and the farmers welcomed them and allowed the cranes to incorporate themselves into the village.  This was shocking because in America, the land of plenty, the farmers would have SHOT the cranes, the consumers would have complained that they didn’t have as much grain as they wanted, that the birds were stinking up the place, and the whole community would have been in turmoil. 

Well, that’s nice to hear but what was important to me was that those people were still living, and happily at that.  What do we need so badly that we have to consume without thinking?  We have gotten ourselves into such a mess that it is almost too hard to live simply and wholesomely because we have obliterated the market.  Because the market won't exist until we, the co-producers, step up and ask for it.  We have to demand and participate in supporting seasonal, local food from our food retailers.  We have to be conscious of how much oil we use with every step and every bite.  The doesn’t mean that we have to stop stepping or biting, but that we should step more lightly and chew more thoughtfully- and maybe buy a diesel car so we can support the local bio-diesel producer.  And we can still subscribe to Netflix.

It is hard to buy local, but it shouldn’t be.  It is easy once we tell ourselves there are no other options, and even easier when the market grows to accommodate our demand.  The only change we will see will be made by us; by our own personal consumption and  the awareness that I, or you is not the most important.  Our healthy bodies are important, but they're only truly healthy if we are helping other healthy bodies thrive.  Always ask,  "Who grew that superfood?"

I think that food is the center point to everything- but that’s just because I think that.  I respect everyone’s beliefs, passions, interests, and goals that help towards making this world the place it should be.  Every step counts- and there are many many steps.  I take the wrong paths all the time, but try to stay steady on at least one.  If we make the choice to change one thing about our lifestyles, specifically one thing that we do EVERYDAY (like eat), it is surprising at how quickly the awareness of everything else follows.  We have collectively done a whole lot of damage.  The very important thing is to realize that and to collectively start to do a whole lot of good.  It may not make the flock of cranes come by, but if they do we should know enough to appreciate them.    We need to slooow down and really think about where we want to spend our time, what we want to choose to call our food,  what we should plant in our gardens, and where we buy our clothes.  Because every bit counts- from the first spring spinach leaf to the last beet green.  And fortunately for us Chattanoogans, there's a year round farmer's market for that.  (The Main Street Farmer's Market!)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Grits with Mushroom Sauce

So easy and so amazing.  I could eat it every night.

for four people

For the sauce:

  • About 2 cups chopped or torn shiitake mushroom or shiitake and oyster mixed
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 5 minced garlic cloves
  • about 2 cups stock (I used beef because of its richness but you could make a really quick broth with the mushroom stems in water and that would work too)
  • 1/2 cup or so tomato product (I used some leftover tomato sauce but am just about to try tomato juice, both canned last summer.  Just plain canned tomatoes would work as well.)
  • salt to taste
  • a small handful chopped parsley
For the grits:
  • 1 cup Riverview Farm grits
  • 4 cups water
  • salt to taste  
Start the water for the grits.  While you are waiting for it to boil, melt the butter in a saucepan and then add the garlic.  Cook for just a few seconds, til it smells good.  Then add the mushrooms and cook til they begin to release water.  If they are kind of dry add a teeny bit of stock and cook til the mushrooms have changed color and are soft.  Add enough stock and the tomato to cover and let simmer, stirring ever now and then.   When the grits water boils add the salt and grits all at once and stir with a whisk.  Cook for about 15- 20 minutes over medium heat, stirring often, until the grits are thick and bubbly.  Pour the grits into a bowl and cover with the mushrooms. Sprinkle parsley on top and serve while hot with kale slaw or lettuce and arugula salad.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spring's on its Way

And we're still eating lots of  bacon.

Beets, Brussels, Sunchokes, and some Bacon

I have some beets tucked away in the drawer of my fridge from several markets ago- just buy as many as the farmer will let you when they're around.  Beets keep a long long time as long as they are in a bag in the drawer- they tend to get a little soft when exposed to air for too long.  Make sure they're dry and the tops are removed or they might mold.

When I roast veggies I never peel them, unless they are just so giant that the skin has gotten thick- turnips are especially easy to tell because the skin will begin to peel right off with a paring knife.  

No salt or oil is needed here, the bacon will do the trick.  Stop by your friendly neighborhood Link 41ers on Main St and they will hook you up.  Of course, if you would prefer not to use bacon, oil and salt would do wonderfully.

for four people
  • 2 smallish beets, and sliced into wedges
  • 1 large handful of brussel sprouts
  • 3-4 sunchokes (those yummy delicious things that look kind of like ginger but aren't), washed and sliced into wedges or chunks
  • 1 small or 1/2 very large turnip, sliced
  • 2 slices back or jowl bacon (the meat on these adds a little texture and holds up to roasting better than belly, but you can use that too), diced
  • a few tablespoons crumbled blue cheese (I used Rouge's Caveman Blue)
Toss vegetables with bacon on a sheet pan and bake in a 350 degree oven until everything is tender.  Some things will cook quicker than others (like the turnips), but that's ok.  Texture makes things interesting.  Scoop off pan with a slotted spoon, making sure to leave most of the bacon drippings behind.  Sprinkle with blue cheese while warm and serve soon.

Kale Slaw with Carrots and, yes, More Delicious Sunchokes

I got a lot of sunchokes last week at the market.  I just couldn't resist- they are so crunchy and wonderful!  I kind of stole this recipe idea (at least the lemon juice part)  from Beth, a past William's Islander.  She said you are supposed to "massage" the kale for a long time to make it wilt.   I just gave it a few quick rubs, but it does the trick.  The lemon juice really helps, although vinegar has the same effect, just less gentle.

for two kale lovin' folks, or four 
  • 1 bunch of kale, thinly sliced.  I usually leave the stems in, if they are thinly sliced enough it is no problem.  
  • 1 carrot (another thing I stocked up on), sliced into little sticks.  You can use a mandoline if you own one (I don't).  You can also grate it, it just doesn't look as pretty
  • 1 sunchoke, sliced however you can (they are a little eccentric in the shape)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • salt to taste (a little more than you think you'd want, it helps break down the kale and soften the carrots)
  • a teeny drizzle of honey
Salt the kale and pour the lemon juice over.  With very clean hands lovingly massage the kale for a few seconds or more, until it is no longer squeaky, but more subdued and soft.  Toss in everything else and let sit til you are ready to eat.  The longer the better.

The Last of Last Year's Pink Beans with Andouille Sausage

Now that spring is around the corner I am going through the freezer and canned goods cabinet with much more abandon.  I have a LOT of pickled beets to make my way through, and it seems that fresh beets rarely go out of season, at least in my fridge.  I froze lots of beans and peas from the market last year and have been merrily cooking them all winter long.  They are nice because they are frozen fresh, not dried, so I don't have to plan ahead by soaking them overnight.  
  • 1 quart bag of frozen beans (or about 1 1/2- 2 cups dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight) cooked til soft
  • 1 turnip, diced
  • 2 kohlrabi, diced and greens chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 dried cayenne, crushed (optional- taste a bit of the sausage first to see if you want more heat)
  • 1 link andouille, sliced
Cook the sausage til almost done.  Throw in the garlic and kohlrabi and cook til tender.  Add the turnip and cook a bit longer and then add the beans and let simmer for about an hour til everything is nice and soft and wonderful..  Taste for salt and add as needed.  Serve with grits or quinoa or rice.