Cilantro consumed

Originally written May 19th, but I can’t remember why I delayed posting. Maybe something to do with the garden.

Our cilantro, planted back in February was coming to the end of it’s sheltered domestic life, and there are no tomatoes or peppers in sight. So we decided to find another use, and plant more out-doors. I harvested every part of the plants for the following cilantro heavy meal. Although the leaves are the most used, all parts have the fragrance and flavor that I love, so I chopped, cleaned and crushed the stems, stalks and roots and used them for seasoning the carne asada and the rice. I saved the leaves for garnishing the meal itself. It was a great meal.

Carne Asada

Ingredients

2 pounds flank or skirt steak, butterflied

Marinade:
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle chile pepper, seeded and minced (if canned chipotle is used, adobo sauce can be added)
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seed (best to lightly toast the seeds first, then grind them)
1 large handful fresh cilantro, leaves and stems, finely chopped (great flavor in the stems)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 limes, juiced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup olive oil

Lay the flank steak in a large glass bowl or baking dish. Combine marinade ingredients and pour the marinade over the steak. Make sure each piece is well coated. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-4 hours.

Preheat your grill over medium-high flame. Brush the grates with a little oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Remove the steak from the marinade. Season both sides of the steak pieces with salt and pepper. Grill the pieces for a few minutes only, on each side, depending on how thin they are, until medium rare to well done, to your preference. Remove the steak pieces to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Thinly slice the steak across the grain on a diagonal.

Adapted from here

Flour Tortillas

2 cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons good quality lard or manteca (butter can be used for a richer flavor)

2/3 cup water

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Heat the water and lard, or other fat, over low heat, or in a microwave until it has melted. Gradually stir the liquid into the flour and form into a dough by hand. The result should be a dough that is neither wet nor dry and crumbly. If it seems too wet add a little more flour; if it is too dry add a little more water. Knead the dough very briefly, then allow it to rest for 1 hour. Divide it into 14 pieces. Roll the pieces of dough into little balls between the palms of your hands, then cover them with a slightly damp towel, and allow them to rest for at least 10 minutes, and up to an hour and a half. This will allow the gluten to relax and make them easier to shape.

Roll the dough into rounds 6 ½ to 7 ½ inches in diameter using the technique described above. Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat. When the skillet or griddle has preheated, place one of the rolled out dough pieces on it. Within about 30 seconds it should start to bubble and some little brown spots begin to form on the bottom. Flip the tortilla over and cook another 30 seconds. By this time it should start to puff a little more, and the other side will develop light brown spots. Flip the tortilla again at which time it should immediately begin to puff, sometimes into a large, nearly round ball. When the tortilla has fully expanded, remove it from the heat and place it in a tortilla warmer or wrap it in a thick towel. As you proceed, adjust the heat based on the above description. For example, reduce the heat if after about 30 seconds the bottom of the tortilla is beginning to char, or raise it if nothing much has happened. Repeat the process for the remaining tortillas.

Adapted from here

Cilantro Rice

3 cups rice
Juice from one lime or 1/4 cup cider vinegar
Water enough to reach the first knuckle on your middle finger
1/4 cup coarsely chopped and crushed cilantro stalks (about 1 inch long so they can be easily removed)

Place rice in pot (medium sized dutch oven or aluminum cook pot) and rinse twice. Add lime juice or vinegar and fill water to the first knuckle on middle finger. Place on high heat until boiling, and reduce to low. Cook on low for 15 minutes, and then remove from heat.

Black Beans

4 cups cooked black beans (or 2 cans)
1 cup marinade from carne asada

Combine beans and marinade and cook for about 20 minutes, or until you are quite sure the beans are soft and the meat juices are cooked.

Wheel

A while back Bea and I came to the realization that somehow, spending more money on food was more worthwhile than spending more money on non-food. Then we realized that we almost never had better meals when we ate out than we had at home. So, with the fiscal focus on food, and the reduced expenditure on eating out, we have been able to eat a lot better food. But it still seemed that we were getting an awful lot of packaging with this good food, and you know, I would rather not pay for, or have to throw away, packaging. So we started buying more good food in bulk. It started with rice, and then it was beans, lentils, bread, fresh organic fruit. Now it is cheese. It has been frustrating to drive by dairy after dairy, but never be able to find local cheese, let alone organic or raw cheese. I started looking online, and found that there is really only one place that can provide what we were looking for: Steve-n-Sons Grassfields. The price seemed steep at first, but as I thought about it, the cost made perfect sense. These were cows, eating exactly what they should eat, producing milk with all the nutrients that come from nature, without the extra processing that both kills beneficial bacteria, and reduces the nutritive content of the milk. Cheese has been one of the last hold-outs on our consistent march toward food with healthier origins (organic, naturally raised, raw, local). Only one grocery carries organic cheese, but it is $8/lb. and definitely not local or raw, and probably only organic in the loosest USDA sense. So when we found a source of somewhat local (still almost 150 miles away), raw, organic cheese, that would sell us a whole round, without a lot of extra packaging, for the same price, we knew it was time to switch.

Mmmm...  cheese!

The folks at Grassfields are very nice, and our round/wheel of Lamont Cheddar arrived today! We still have some cheese left in the fridge that we will eat before cutting into the wheel, but it is hard to wait! It is 13.5 lbs. total, and we will cut it into chunks to freeze. At $8/lb. + $13 shipping, it comes to just under $9/lb. It means we will eat cheese a little more slowly, but it is also stronger with more flavor, and we will need less of it. Quesadillas will have to wait until I can make my own “farmers” cheese. I do have a cheese kit, compliments of Bea’s brother, so that day may not be too far off…

That's not yo' cheese!

I guess I like dirt

I have never had a beet that I particularly liked. I just don’t eat dirt clods that look like they bleed.

But that was before this winter, and a recipe that came with some beets from a co-workers garden. I think it came from a Campbell’s cookbook (page 18), but I have copied it here in the way that we made it (more or less).

If I am cut, do I not bleed?

Creamy Beet Soup

A twist on traditional borscht. While usually served hot with yogurt, it is also tasty chilled (so I hear).

  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 1 medium potato, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2-3 medium beets, sliced
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. snipped fresh dill, or 1 tsp. dried dill weed
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • Yogurt garnish

In a large sauce pan, over medium heat, cook onions in butter until tender. Add potato and garlic; cook 1 minute. Add beets and stock to saucepan; heat to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat 15 minutes or until potato is tender.

Place one-half beet mixture in blender or food processor. Cover and blend till smooth. Place blended soup aside and repeat with remaining beet mixture. Return soup to saucepan. Add dill, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with yogurt.

Out out damn spot!

This bodes well for Bea’s plans to grow some of these strange veggies in our garden(s) this year.

Local harvest

Not having a garden ourselves yet, we have been scouring the county looking for sources of local fresh vegetables. LocalHarvest.com helped a little, but there is a noticeably bare patch right around where we live. We *could* drive 15-20 miles to the farmer’s markets in the nearby cities, but we are surrounded by farms! There *must* be someone selling fresh produce close by… and it is not the local market in Hanover, which carries no organics, and not even natural peanut butter.

At some point we noticed a sign on our way home from B’s parent’s place that said “Fresh veggies” with an arrow pointing up the road. We ignored it a few times since it was a little out of the way. Then we decided one Sunday to check it out. It is an unmanned stand with some of the best produce we have seen for very, very good prices.

There was a good variety too. As we go back each week (sometimes twice a week) we find new stock as the seasons come and go.

Little A bought some gladiolas, and a week later they are still blooming in the livingroom.

We decided to do what we would do if we had our own garden: take advantage of the bounty and do some pickling!

Frozen latte

As silly as it might seem for someone who claims to avoid sugar, I made ice cream. And… the recipe came from Martha Stewart Living.

frozen latte

It was creamy, very sweet and had a very strong coffee flavor. The rest of the family thought it was a hit! It is so rich that we only had little cups.

Coffee Ice Cream

Makes 6 cups

* 2 cups whole milk
* 2 cups heavy cream
* 1 cup sugar
* 1/2 cup brewed espresso (I used 1 1/2 cups I think. A whole Moka pot.)
* 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
* 8 large egg yolks

1. Prepare an ice-water bath. Combine milk, cream, 1/2 cup sugar, the espresso, and vanilla in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.
3. Gradually whisk half the hot milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture. Pour egg-yolk mixture into saucepan, and whisk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
4. Pour through a fine sieve into a heatproof bowl set in ice-water bath. Let cool, stirring occasionally. Place plastic wrap on surface of custard to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate 2 hours.
5. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, and freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

New! Expresso!

Normally I don’t buy new things. Goodwill, St. Vincent du Paul, and eBay are our primary suppliers for most non-food goods. Our first coffee maker here was a hand-me-down from B’s parents, but we bought another at a garage sale for $2.50. Sure it needed a bungie to keep the basket in place, but it still worked fine for a while. Eventually that one quit (problem with the electronics) and I did some research into good drip coffee makers. The Presto Scandinavian Design coffee maker had great reviews for a cheap model, looked nice, and could be found on eBay for less than $40. So we ordered a used one. It did make great coffee, but it also quit (problem with the electronics). So, I again found myself faced with looking for another coffee maker. Presto is not making that model any longer, and any that I can find for sale online are going for ~$80. Nah. So I looked at espresso makers. Too expensive for all the upkeep. What I really wanted was a coffee maker that did not have those faulty electronics…

The

So I bought a brand new Bialetti Moka Express pot. It does not need electricity, it makes a nice smooth espresso, can be easily used while traveling/camping, and is not likely to fail for a long long time. Why new? No one was getting rid of them on eBay for cheap.

Now I just need a turkish hand grinder and I will be all set.

Sugaring

During the first winter back here in Michigan, soon after receiving and buying several self-sufficiency books about homesteading, we wondered if the two maples trees in the front were sugar maples. It is easiest to tell when they have leaves, so we waited till summer to find out. Sure enough, they were. But then we learned that the best time for sugaring (getting th’ sap outa them trees) is late winter or early spring. The next winter we plumb forgot until we noticed the squirrels licking the underside of the branches and we wondered why. By that time, the sap was really flowing and we were still unsure of ourselves and did not have any of the equipment. So, we waited another year.

Sqirrel junky, gettin' his fix

This time, as soon as we heard that the temperatures were going to be in the 40s during the day, and below freezing at night, we went into action. B took the kids up to a sugaring supply place north of here, and last Saturday I tapped the tree. I drilled it with a bit that looked like it would be the closest fit for the tap size, about 2 inches in. We read that if the sap is already flowing (testified by the wet turnings from the drill) you can take it 2 inches deep. I pounded the tap in with a hammer, and it broke off, flush with the bark of the tree. So now I had a hole with a metal plug, which also had a hole, with maple sap streaming out. I used a few BBQ sticks to plug it, and drilled another up and to the right of the first. This time I was a little gentler with the tap and it held. We hung up the sap bucket, put on the lid and let it drip.

Here we are, 'sploitn' nature

We did have some very warm days, and during that time the sap flow was slow. Recently the weather has been perfect, and yesterday I harvested over a gallon of sap from a single 12 hour period. Today looks like it will be perfect too, as will the next 5.

Today we decided to cook down our first batch (1 1/3 gal.), and within a few hours we had around 12 oz. of golden red syrup. This being our first time sugaring, we did not bother to filter the syrup afterward, so it is still a little cloudy. The next few batches I will experiment with filtering. We also don’t have either a candy thermometer, or a refractometer to determine precisely when the syrup is ready. The sap is 2% sugar when it comes out of the tree, and the syrup should end up being between 66% and 67%. Below 66% and the syrup will not keep, above 67% and it will start crystallizing. So, we will see how long ours lasts. I vaguely remember a part in the Little House on the Prairie books where they threw some in the snow to see if it was ready… there may have been other details that would help, but I will have to go look them up.

Yo ho ho and a bottle

This seasonal food thing is great. Now starts all the spring planning of the gardens. I think that this year we will have a bean-tepee…

Raw and final

Mama’s Carnitas

We have started planning a single meat dish each week that provides a basis for many sub-meals throughout the week, and provides a single source for all meat eaten each week. Last week it was carnitas, using a recipe provided by mom. While overseas, many holiday meals were celebrated with Mexican fare rather than American, and carnitas was usually on the table.

This particular dish ends up providing the base for 6 other meals which either use the meat, the broth, or both. Here is how it usually works:

  • Carnitas:
    • Quesadillas (using the meat with black beans and salsa)
    • Tortilla soup (using the meat and the broth, with black beans, tomatoes, yogurt, and tortilla chips)
    • Black beans and rice (using the meat and the broth with rice, salsa, tomatoes, and cheese)
      • Burritos (using the meat, the black beans and rice, and condiments)
      • Chipotle rice soup (using the broth, the meat, and the black beans and rice)
    • Tacos/Burritos (using the meat)

The recipe:

Mama’a Carnitas

1 bone-in pork shoulder (about 7 lb.)
1 1/2 quarts chicken broth
1 large onion, quartered
1 Tablespoon coriander seed (whole)
1 Tablespoon cumin seed (whole)
2 teaspoons fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 canned chipotle chilies in sauce or 4 whole dried chipotles
2 bay leaves

To a 7-8 quart pan, add all ingredients. Add enough water to cover the pork. Cover and bring to a boil on high heat, and reduce to a simmer. Cook until meat pulls off easily with a fork (5-6 hours).

Remove meat from pot and shred into a casserole dish. Bake pork uncovered in a 450 F oven until lightly browned and sizzling, about 20 minutes.


I neglected to take pictures this time, but I promise to take some next time.

Rosemary’s sourdough

I have not baked bread before. I think I have “made” bread in the bread maker, but I have never actually made bread by hand from start to finish. Last week I started working on a sourdough starter that uses kefir to provide the flora. On Thursday B used the starter to make some white French baguettes that were quite tasty. She used the starter only, no added yeast. This is what I was hoping for; a sourdough that is strong enough to work on it’s own. So I started throwing ingredients together yesterday. Some whole wheat flour, some white. Honey, olive oil, and rosemary and it was ready to rise.

Rosemary's baby sourdough

I left it overnight, and it just about doubled. When I tipped it onto the baking sheet it deflated, so I let it rise some more. I was feeling a little impatient, so I put it into the warm (100F) oven for a while. It rose again, but it was obvious that it would overflow the baking sheet, and the surface was drying out. I decided to punch it down, and split it. The dry parts and the caked flour added a whole lot of character. After about 30 minutes at 450F in the oven they were done, and smelled great. The rosemary was really coming out!

Only a mother could love...

I did not use a specific recipe or follow any directions, but I did what we usually do in our house when we are thinking about cooking something new: I browsed through several sourdough recipes, looked at a few forums, and then just went at it. i could probably write it all down, but I am not sure I would call it a success, maybe just a non-failure.

It is what is inside that counts...

I will tell you how I made my starter. After encouraging stories from Peter and his kefir sourdough success, I looked around on the Internet to see how others were making their kefir starter. There seem to be many variations, so I just did what i thought would work. I mixed some flour and water together to make a watery paste, and then added kefir. I added enough flour to make a batter and then left it on the counter. The next day I fed it some more flour and a little more water. It had started bubbling by that time, and looked like pancake batter. I did the same thing that night, and the next morning. By the end of the second full day, it smelled and tasted quite sour, and had begun to foam around the edges. B used 4/5 of it, and I used what was left to start over. Pretty easy, if you have kefir handy, and it does not take the week or so that traditional sourdough starter takes to get going (so I hear).

Tasty rosemary