Food for the Spirit

Foraging is part of the Oregon lifestyle.  It’s exhilarating to head out on a hike—rain or shine—and return home with enough fresh berries or mushrooms bagged for a special treat.  I like to think I’m walking in the steps of other gatherers—who knows how long ago.

There’s a new cookbook out that’s getting a lot of awards and buzz. The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen is by Chef Sean Sherman who is resolved to revitalize indigenous foods and cuisine. Sean is a member of the Lakota Tribe, part of the Sioux Nation that was relocated in the last century from homelands in the Dakota and Minnesota territories to the fringe of the South Dakota Badlands. His people left behind powerful traditions and customs only to face misery and misfortune in a barren and foreign landscape.

Sean believes many other tribes have lost their cultural ties to native foods and customs, due to relocation. He and his team are busy creating and adapting new versions of indigenous cuisine based on natural and unprocessed foods, as well as promoting wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship and farming, food preservation and cooking techniques.  His cookbook offers resources and options for a new standard of traditional foods using modern techniques.

Here in the Pacific Northwest the Confederate Tribes of the Grande Ronde is on a similar path promoting their own indigenous food projects.  This past weekend, in tandem with our local community college, we planted 2000 camas bulbs on the campus’s Youth Farm site.

The bulb of camas is greatly prized by tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Locally, the Kalapuya people consider camas their most important  staple which they re-hydrate and grind into flour for breads and cakes.  Common Camas, part of the lily family and related to asparagus, also has a spired stalk plus gorgeous star-like blue flowers.

Some compare the flavor of camas to that of a fig, but it is certainly not as ready to eat. The bulbs are known to contain inulin, a fiber which is indigestible until fully broken down through a long, slow cooking process. It traditionally takes 2 to 3 days of baking in a slow oven before the bulbs are fully blackened and edible; the inulin then turns to fructose and releases its inherent sweetness.

Fellow foragers should beware of Death Camas, which looks much like Common Camas, but displays white rather than blue flowers when in bloom.  Also, when digging camas bulbs remember that an entire plant will be eliminated, and no further bulbs can be produced.  Be selective about the variety and quantity gathered.

I’m with Sean.  I salute his endeavors to improve the health and well-being of his fellow Native Americans. I intend to plant a few of my own bulbs very shortly.  I hope to experiment with my own crop—whenever that happens.  At this point I’ll stay in the research mode gathering cooking ideas and searching for samples. Admittedly, beyond the traditional process of roasting bulbs in a slow fire for three days, I’m open to treating them to a long rest in the slow cooker. Now, that’s a traditional/contemporary twist!

Sweet Camas Spread

From Sweet Camas Cookbook by Madrona Murphy

A mild sweet spread, reminiscent of chestnut jam.  The chocolate addition is lighter and less sweet than chocolate nut spreads like Nutella

Ingredients
¼ cup camas paste (can be made from dried, powdered camas)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 tablespoon dutched cocoa powder (use for chocolate spread)

Directions

  1. Re-hydrate the dried, powered camas, as needed.
  2. Stir the water, oil and cocoa, if using, into the camas paste until smooth. Add more water if too stiff.
  3. The spread is highly perishable. Store in the refrigerator and use within a few days.
  4. To serve, thin with more water if unspreadable.  Serve with crackers, toast, or with cheese.

 

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A Pansy Tribute

Pansies are one of those simple plants that just keeps on giving.  There must be a pansy created for every condition and region of the country.  I first became aware of them in Greenville, South Carolina where they bloomed like crazy in the blazing summer heat.   In my McKenzie River garden,  violas and violets,  pansies’ relatives, were the first to poke their tiny purple heads out the early spring snow.

Late this summer, I hastily added a few pansies to fill out a sparse planter in my dooryard garden. Without much effort, they consistently carried on and bloomed with the least amount of care; and still, as  winter approaches,  pansies  remain one of the durable spots of color in my depleted pots.

I tend to go with plants that serve a dual purpose in my garden: I prefer attractive as well as edible varieties. Some are perennials, like herbs, towering garlic onions and nasturtiums.  Annual favorites are mesclun blends, petite tomatoes, and climbing baby cucumbers.  Weirdly, when it comes to harvesting the pansies I have resisted.  I’ve been happy to simply behold their nodding faces in a spectrum of purples, blues, reds and yellows, all perfectly framed by their deep green leaves.

As I headed out this morning, I was alarmed to note that the pot of pansies had diminished to a sad state of drooping heads and withered yellow leaves.  It signaled the end of a season.  Later in a moment of reflection, I decided to stage my own act of thanksgiving—gratitude for my garden and all the pansies that have given so much joy this year.

Back in the kitchen, I set about creating a special salad featuring the pansies in an end of season tribute.  So, here it is, a pre-winter canvas of mixed greens and fresh herbs with a bit of radicchio and shredded carrot for crunch.

The basis of the simple dressing is a mild yet flavorful German mustard blended with a bit of chives and lemon juice all whisked into an emulsion with extra virgin olive oil. Atop the greens, a few dried cherries are scattered with crumbled feta cheese, toasted almonds and walnuts.  Finally, a smattering of pansy blossoms and petals grace the plate with their gentle sweetness and color.

A Pre-Winter Salad with Pansies

Ingredients
Per serving
3-4 organic pansy blossoms
2-3 cups mixed greens with radicchio and shredded carrots
1 tablespoon fresh parsley and/or other herbs
2 tablespoon toasted walnuts and/or almonds
2 tablespoons dried fruit: cherries, blueberries or cranberries
2 tablespoon feta cheese, large crumble
Dressing
¾ teaspoon German or Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced chives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Pinch salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Directions

  1. Rinse and dry fresh pansies and any other available fresh flowers, mixed greens and herbs.
  2. Toast the nuts.
  3. Prepare the salad dressing: place mustard in small bowl, add the chives, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and combine well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify.  Adjust seasoning and set aside.
  4. In small mixing bowl, place the salad mix, tear the petals from 1 or two blossoms, drizzle with part of the dressing and toss to coat.
  5. To serve: plate the dressed greens mixture, top with crumbled feta, dried fruit and nuts, and tuck in remaining flowers.  Drizzle with a bit more dressing and serve. Yield: 1 serving.

 

Turkey Adventures

Thanksgiving turkey is such a tradition, it’s hard to imagine the perfect holiday dinner without it.  But, when faced with wresting a big honking turkey  I’ve often fantasized with options less overwhelming… like succulent bundles of turkey wrapped around a luscious filling.

This year, it finally came to pass.  Of course, my fantasy wasn’t quite as easy as imagined.  It would have been smart to prepare the exotic mushroom pâté ahead of the big day.  I opted to go with a fresh turkey breast cavity… with two breasts.  That meant double the effort; and naturally, I wanted to test this idea in the multi-cooker.

The good news is that it worked out just fine.  Once I had boned the first breast and pounded it out, the second went very quickly.  Happily, the two stuffed and rolled breasts fit nicely in the bottom of the pot, too. The mushroom pâté filling was the perfect complement, it provided great flavor which penetrated into the the turkey breasts.  Apologetically, there was such urgency to eat, I was barely able to get one photo…

More good news.  My favorite part of the turkey is the skin, so how would that work in a pressure cooker? Turns out, browning the breasts in the pot with a sprinkling of paprika was enough insurance to maintain a beautiful color and tasty skin—no flabby weirdness!  With a mere 20 minute whirl in the multi-cooker, dinner was ready in a flash.  Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Turkey Breasts Stuffed with Mushroom Pâté, Multi-Cooker

Ingredients
Whole turkey breast, bone-in, skin on (2 breasts total)
Salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 cup chicken stock

Mushroom Pâté
1/4 pound mushrooms, combination domestic, exotic and dried soaked, sliced
1 tablespoon butter and evoo combination
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, rosemary, sage each
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons dry sherry or brandy
3 green onions, chopped
½ lemon, juice of, approximate

 Directions

  1. Prepare pâté and cool completely: sauté the  mushrooms in butter and oil to soften, add garlic and toss, add thyme and rosemary, sage, nutmeg and salt and pepper add sherry, cook down, and point up with lemon juice if necessary.   Process until well minced, not pureed.  There should be no liquid.  This can be done ahead.
  2. Bone the turkey breasts: with boning knife, remove one breast at a time from the cavity. From the top of the cavity, cut the breast away from the bone, scrape down with boning knife along the bone to loosen; work around the cavity until the breast is removed. There will the oyster and other random pieces which can be used or reserved for another purpose. Repeat with second breast.
  3. Lay out one breast at a time, skin side down and cut horizontally from the narrowest part of the breast to about ¾” from the thick end. Open the breast to form a large piece. Cover with plastic wrap and pound evenly to ½” thick.  Season both sides with salt and pepper. Repeat.
  4. To fill and roll: Divide the pâté in half. Cut side up, starting in the center of each breast, spread an even layer of pâté over the cut sides, leaving ½” or more uncovered at edges. Roll the breasts up by starting at narrowest part of the breast and tightly roll up like a jelly roll, tucking in the edges.  Tie the rolls securely with kitchen twine.
  5. With multi-cooker set to Saute, heat enough oil to thoroughly coat the bottom of the pot until shimmering. Brown the two rolls on all sides for about 10 minutes, adding a light dusting of paprika.  Pour in 1 cup chicken stock and heat the stock. Turn off the pot and reset to High Pressure for 20 minutes (45 minutes to 1 hour in conventional oven).  Seal the pot and bring to pressure.  Once the cycle is complete turn off the pot and let the pressure come down normally for 10 minutes.  Carefully remove the lid and check the internal temperature. It should reach at least 155 degrees, as it will continue to cook as it sits.  If not, reset pot for another 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the breasts to a warming plate or board, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes before artfully carving into slices. The pan dripping will make delicious gravy.  Yield: 2 rolls, 4 or more servings.

 

 

 

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Nixtamalized Corn = Hominy = Posole

Nixtamalization is getting a lot of buzz these days, especially with the many vested in preserving and promoting the traditional foods of Mexico.  For anyone else interested in authentic flavors and elemental nutrition it should matter, too. It seems we have come full circle from what the Aztecs knew centuries ago.

The Aztecs would grind the kernels of their maize or field corn against the limestone rocks found in the riverbeds, and they discovered the beneficial interaction between the two.  They noticed how their bodies responded after eating corn that had been ground in limestone. This corn did not cause digestive problems and gave them energy and spiritual alertness.

Scientists have since confirmed that lime releases niacin, an essential amino acid, in the corn.  The increased health benefits of nixtamalized corn are substantial:  it can reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, and contribute to the optimal functioning of other body processes such as digestion, cellular repair and elimination of toxins. Niacin also seems to reduce the level of triglycerides in the blood and much more.

Hominy is made with either white or yellow corn, but specifically it is from flint or dent corns which have a tougher outer seed coat than others. Soaking the kernels in an alkaline solution loosens or dissolves this outer portion. In the process, the kernel absorbs water and the alkaline solution which is key to nixtamalization. When cooked, the chemical composition of the kernel is altered, boosting the nutritional value of maize.  This process also provides hominy with its readily identifiable flavor and chewy bite.

Posole, hominy,  nixtamal, are all the same thing: they are corn that has undergone the nixtamalization process. Posole, a derivation of the Nahuatl word for hominy, has come to broadly refer to a soup or stew made with hominy.  So popular is posole in Mexico, it is considered a national dish, with various regions proclaiming their unique version as the best.

Here’s an easy posole made with a combination of pork, tomatillos, and pasillas or other hot peppers.

The hominy and tomatillos  provide added thickening power and flavor that melds with the pork into a rich and supple stew. Serve it straight up in bowls with favorite toppings like avocado, cilantro and crema. Or, cook it down until thick for a tortilla filling. Enjoy with spicy slaw, fresh avocado, salsa, cilantro and whatever else pleases you!

Pork Posole

Ingredients
2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 large onion, slice into strips
2-3 pasilla peppers, or other hot peppers, seed & cut into strips
3 cloves garlic, divided
1½ – 2 lbs pork sirloin, trim, cut into strips
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. oregano
7-8 tomatillos, husk, quarter
1 tomato bouillon cube
Few dashes favorite hot sauce
2 tostadas or corn tortillas, in small pieces
1½ cup water, enough to barely cover
2 cups cooked white hominy, rinse and drain

Accompaniments:  warmed corn tortillas, guacamole, cilantro, crunchy slaw, hot sauce

Instructions

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté to soften, add the pepper strips, 2 cloves garlic cut into thin strips, and continue to cook until the peppers have softened and garlic is aromatic. Remove all from pot and set aside.
  2. Season the pork strips with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high and add remaining 1 tbsp. oil to the pot.  When shimmering add the pork and brown on all sides.  Add the third clove of garlic cut into slivers, and toss briefly along with smoked paprika and oregano.
  3. Stir in the tomatillos, crumbled tomato bouillon,  a dash of hot sauce, the corn tortilla pieces, water to barely cover the pork, and stir to combine well.
  4. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the pork is tender. Or, to use multi-cooker, seal the lid, bring to high pressure and cook for 25 minutes. Turn off system, let pressure come down naturally for 10 minutes, then release remaining pressure.
  5. When the pork is tender add the reserved onion and pepper medley. Stir in the hominy and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or longer, until flavors are well blended and the posole has thickened. Adjust seasoning.
  6. Serve the posole in bowls with favorite garnishes. Serves 4.

 

So much cheese… so little time

You never know when good fortune will cross your path.  For some time now I’ve been making my own yogurt, thanks to the ease and convenience of the ole Instant Pot. Once committed to the process, my results have become far superior to any of the usual store bought varieties.  When I discovered one  batch could yield two distinct styles I got even more excited:  I’d have a quart of fine yogurt for daily use, plus a good supply of thick, creamy Greek yogurt worthy of cheese status.

During my early Greek yogurt period, I came across Home Cheese Making (3rd edition) by Ricki CarrolI, while browsing books at a used book sale. (Ricki has a 4th edition coming out  December 2018).  It looked nearly new (good/bad sign, whatever), I added it to my stack and brought it home.  Several days later, I opened the book and knew this was no mistake. I haven’t met a cheese that I didn’t like, and here was an opportunity to see where all this could possibly go.

Ricki’s well laid-out book takes a complicated subject and breaks it down into manageable chunks. It’s geared to the novice as well as the skilled cheese maker, with a wide range of cheeses to consider from soft fresh cheeses like queso fresco, mozzarella, and feta, to ripened cheeses like cheddar, gouda, brie, and much more.  Here, I could begin to understand and more fully appreciate the art of cheese making—and I was ready.

You can get started in cheese making with a few basic kitchen supplies.  A good digital thermometer is a must, plus a colander, cheesecloth, a long spoon or spatula, the usual measuring cups and spoons, a long knife for cutting the curd, a stainless steel pot, and a reliable cooking unit that maintains a steady temperature.

Each cheese requires specific additives for its success. Some of the basics are: a starter such as yogurt, a mesophilic or thermophilic starter; liquid rennet for coagulation; calcium chloride for curd formation; lipase powder for flavor; and cheese salt.

Sourcing cheese making supplies can be a hassle, but I’ve had good luck with Ricki’s website, New England Cheese Making Supply Co. It is a reliable resource for cheese making information and supplies.

Since cheese making can be intimidating, I centered on a realistic mindset:  cheese has been around for centuries, surely I can figure this out.  Granted, there’s a large learning curve—at this point I’m happy mastering fresh cheeses.  I’d tinkered with ricotta and mozzarella before, and I welcomed the opportunity to give them another try and add them to my cheese line-up. I was starting over but making progress—they both turned out well.  ✓✓

Thus far, my biggest success comes from making feta cheese.

I was intrigued by the additional brining process, since feta’s flavor develops more fully the longer it ages in brine.  This small extra step felt like a giant leap into cheese making. ✓

If you happen to read the previous post,  Feta Focus, you’ve absorbed a few feta details.  Essentially, Greek feta has earned its own provenance: much like a European wine appellation, it must be made with either sheep and/or goat’s milk. I’m keeping it simple at this point, I am happy  staying with familiar and readily available:  whole cow’s (not ultra-pasteurized) milk.

Feta cheese is fairly simple to make. I used a sous vide with my first batch, which was entirely unnecessary. The second time, I filled my well-scrubbed kitchen sink with 90° hot water, placed the covered milk-filled stainless steel pot into the warm water bath, and stirred occasionally until it reached 86°.   That’s when the starter culture and ultimately the rennet are introduced and the curd making process unfolds.  I added more regulated hot water as needed to maintain the temperature. Once the curds have formed, the process moves along fairly quickly.

It’s important to allow time for the curds to drain well.

Once draining has slowed significantly and forming a mass, the cheese is placed in molds for shaping and further straining.  It’s then briefly placed in a brine solution for a quick rest to stabilize the feta before turning out onto a mat to dry.  

The cheese is then returned to the brine for aging and storage. The feta is ready to eat in 4 to 5 days. 

Homemade Feta Cheese

Ingredients
1 gallon whole milk (avoid UHT or ultra-pasteurized milk), sheep and/or goat’s milk
1/8 tsp. lipase power, for flavor (diluted in ¼ cup unchlorinated water, let stand 20 minutes)
1/8 tsp. calcium chloride, for curd formation (diluted in 1/4 cup unchlorinated water)
1/4 tsp. mesophilic starter culture, MM100, bacteria to convert lactose to lactic acid
1/2 tsp. liquid rennet, to coagulate milk (diluted in 1/4 cup cool unchlorinated water)
1/4 cup salt for brining/storage

Utensils:  Digital thermometer, large stainless steel pot, large spoon & perforated scoop, colander, measuring cup & spoons, curd knife like a boning knife, cheesecloth or butter muslin, 2 perforated molds, sushi mat.

Instructions

  1. Warm the milk in a stainless steel pot to 86°F. As milk is heating, stir in the diluted lipase and the diluted calcium chloride.
  2. When brought to temperature, sprinkle in the starter culture and stir Cover and let milk ripen for 1 hour.
  3. Add the diluted rennet and stir gently with spoon in an up-and-down motion (not a stirring motion) for several minutes. Cover and let set undisturbed at 86°F for 1 hour until it has gelled, separates from side of pot, and there is a clean break in the curd when sliced with a knife.
  4. Using a long knife cut the curd at an angle. Turn the pot and slice into 1/2-inch cubes all the way to the bottom. Repeat if necessary. Let rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Gently stir the curds on and off for 20-30 minutes. As the curds firm and retract, stir more briskly.
  6. Line a large colander with a double layer of cheesecloth or butter muslin and place a bowl under it to catch the whey. Scoop in the curds and let excess whey drain off 2 hours.
  7. Once dripping has stopped divide into 2 cheesecloth lined perforated molds and weigh down. Turn often in molds to drain for 4-6 hours, regularly rotating to weight evenly until no more liquid collects.
  8. To stabilize feta, place the blocks in brine and weight down to keep submerged  1 Tbsp. salt per 1 cup unchlorinated water to cover for 4-5 hours.
  9. Remove feta to mat, cover loosely with cloth, refrigerate for 1-3 days to drain and air dry. Turn several time daily. Brine can be filtered and reused.
  10. Return feta to storage brine. Refrigerate 4-5 days, or up to 30 days. Yield: 1 pound.

Feta Focus

Feta is a fresh, briny cheese often associated with foods rooted in the sun-drenched Mediterranean cuisines – think olives, capers and vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  Here in the US, feta is often made from cow’s milk which produces a pleasantly mild, slightly tart cheese.

To be called feta in the European Union, it must originate in Greece and be limited to sheep and or goat’s milk, thus offering a rich panorama of flavors and textures. Depending on process and aging time in brine, Greek feta can vary in saltiness, range from soft to hard textured, and taste from tart to tangy.

One popular treatment is to submerge bite-sized feta cubes in olive oil along with assorted herbs, garlic and such, and allow the marinade to infuse into the cheese; the longer the better.  That is certainly lovely with a robust cheese that responds to big flavors, but beware of overpowering a mild flavored feta.  To better showcase feta’s more subdued qualities, I prefer to deconstruct the whole concept.

For this simple method, begin with a block of feta, slice it for easy serving, sprinkle it with herbs and seasonings, and drizzle it lightly with olive oil. Cover it and allow the flavors to meld for an hour or so in the fridge.

When ready to enjoy, bring the marinated feta to room temperature, perhaps drizzle with a bit more olive oil if it appears dry, and garnish with fresh herbs.  Serve with an assortment of olives, crusty bread, pita crisps or crackers, pass a bowl or crunchy radishes, and call it good!

Herb Marinated Feta

Ingredients
1 lb. fresh feta cheese
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon savory, rosemary, or oregano
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh thyme
Accompaniments: assorted olives, fresh bread or pita crisps, crunchy radishes

Instructions

  1. Slice the feta and arrange it on a serving plate.
  2. Sprinkle the cheese with herbs and red pepper flakes. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Cover and chill for an hour or longer.
  3. To assemble, drizzle with a bit more olive oil if it looks dry, dust with grinds of salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh thyme, assorted olives.
  4. Serve with crunchy bread, crackers or pita crisps, and a bowl of fresh radishes.   Serves 4.