About the birds and the bees

This wouldn’t be much of a food blog if I didn’t give a mention to the UN’s stark IPBES report released today linking human behavior to nature’s crisis threatening extinction of 1 million plants and animal species—within the next few decades.

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Most of this activity has ramped up within the last 50 years with the doubling of the world’s population since 1970.  Food supply and unbridled consumption seem to be driving this impact on nature.

This is not new, but the totality of it all looming large within our children’s lifetimes’ forecasts crises of staggering proportions. When I was studying sustainability in college ten years ago there were those advocating a shift away from an economic model based on a country’s GDP, consumption, and wealth, to one based on a quality of life index.  They theorized it to be a more holistic indicator of livability for of an entire population, not just a few.

That was a highly unrealistic notion. We are valued as consumers and as such, we seem incapable of reigning in our appetites or addressing real issues like soil degradation, waste accumulation, plastic pollution, water pollution and land use geared toward the elimination of forests.  It’s not our problem, let someone else deal with it.  Until you come face-to-face with it.

It’s complicated, but the report urges that we all do what we can and begin by demanding responsible political action. Climate change is mentioned; it’s woven throughout their findings. But it’s the sum consequences ahead that we are not prepared for. This crisis is happening so rapidly that nature has not been able to adapt. Once our fragile food web is sufficiently disrupted there goes the food supply.  When bees are unable to pollinate and plants are barren, there is no fruit.

Our natural environment is undergoing unprecedented stress. The report recommends that we begin to recognize the severity of this crisis (not dismiss it as fake news) and make conscious changes and choices. To make a difference they say, it will require a “transformative change”—a collective reality check if you like. What’s the likelihood of that happening?

Mollet World

What is the difference between a poached and a soft boiled egg?

A poached egg is cracked into simmering water and cooked until the white is firm and yolk is runny.  A soft boiled—or rather a soft-cooked egg—is not boiled, but simmered in the shell and cooked until white begins to set and yolk is runny—or according to preference.  My clan is picky about this: we err on the side of runny.

This gets confusing.  As with the soft-boiled or soft-cooked egg, a mollet is an egg  that is simmered in the shell until white is firm enough to hold its shape and the yolk is runny.  It is cracked and released from its shell whole, or chilled and then peeled whole.

Jacques Pepin agrees. “The mollet, which means ‘soft’ in French, refers to eggs [likely refrigerated] that are cooked in water in their shells for a longer period of time than soft-cooked eggs, but not as long as hard-cooked eggs — about 6 minutes total.  The yolk is creamy and the white less watery than in soft-cooked eggs. Then the eggs are shelled, leaving their shape intact.”

In sous vide world,  poached egg is the term loosely used to refer to an egg cooked in its shell.  Whatever your choice, the process comes down to temperature of the water bath and cooking time.  Many contend 145°F is the way to go, and to cook the eggs for an hour. Right, and yet this can result in a barely set egg. America’s Test Kitchen steps up with a good compromise.

sous vide bath 1

At ATK’s recommended 167°F for 12 to 13 minutes, the white holds its round shape, and the yolk is runny.  Even better, it is not necessary to peel the mollet. To everyone’s amazement, simply give the warm egg a good crack and the round mollet will fall gracefully from its shell, leaving behind any of its watery residue.

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Mollet egg, sous vide

Final results also have a lot to do with the temperature of the pre-cooked eggs.  If cold, a longer cooking time is required. For consistency, I like to hold my eggs in warm water while readying the water bath, rather than start with cold eggs.  This is also insurance against cold eggs cracking from the sudden heat change and expansion during the cooking process.  Same goes when using the mollet as part of a cooked dish.  When using refrigerated mollets, let the eggs sit in warm tap water for 5 minutes to take the chill off.

Red Pepper Soup

You will have mollet perfection.

Eggs: Mollets, Soft-Cooked & Poached

 Mollet Eggs
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups water, or enough to cover eggs

Bring the eggs and water to a boil in a small pot, reduce heat and simmer 4 minutes.  Drain.

Rinse eggs with cold water and set in ice water bath to stop the cooking.  Let rest 5 minutes. Crack the eggs and release or and gently peel under cold tap water. Hold in warm water bath.

 Sous Vide Mollet Eggs
  • 4 eggs or more, room temperature
  • 4” water in sous vide water bath

Using sous vide circulator, bring 4 inches water to 167°F in water bath container.  Gently lower eggs into water with a slotten spoon, cover and cook for 12-13 minutes.

Transfer eggs to an ice bath and cool for 1 minute or cool enough to handle.  To serve crack egg into individual bowls.

 Soft-Cooked or Soft-Boiled Eggs
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups water, or enough to cover eggs

Bring the water to the boiling point in a small pot. Reduce heat to a simmer

Lower eggs in their shells into the water. For soft cooked: simmer 2-3 minutes. For medium cooked about 4 minutes and hard booked 10-15 minutes.

Poached Eggs
  • 5 cups of water
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vinegar

Bring a 2-quart pot with 3” of water to a boil and add the vinegar.

Lower the heat to a simmer and break egg into a cup and slip it into the water, repeat with the other eggs.  Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the white are firm, the yolks are barely set and have turned color.  Remove with a slotted spoon onto toweling and neatly trim any ragged edges.

The Ultimate in Slow Cooking:  Meet the Instant Pot

I received a new gadget for my birthday.  Actually, this unit is beyond any gadget previously known to man. For some, the latest Instant Pot could represent a state-of-the-art crockpot. To others it’s a digital pressure cooker, or a reliable rice cooker, a steamer, or a sauté pan.  In fact, it does all of that and much more—with precision and ease.

No, I’m not being paid to review or promote the Instant Pot, I am just another huge advocate of its approach to sustainable and healthy cooking.  My 5-quart pot uses only 900 watts of electricity.  In comparison, if you’ve analyze other appliances in your kitchen, you know that a toaster can easily burn up 1800 watts.

In the Instant Pot’s many digital cooking applications the real turning point for me was the realization that I could brown or sauté vegetables or meats before launching into slow cook or other modes.  I have shared a number of wonderful slow cook recipes here, and my sole reservation to crockpot cooking has been that without the browning of meats and vegetables dishes can become one-dimensional.  The luxury of combining the browning step into the slow cook method opens up all sorts of possibilities previously unavailable in most models.

On the pressure cooking side, I was relieved at the fail-safe measures built into the system.  Following simple directions, even the quick method of releasing steam is safe and near foolproof.  Now, I often use the very fast pressure cooking method as a highly convenient option, without angst or intimidation.

For the tiny kitchen, the Instant Pot is paramount to having an entire stove top and a fleet of pots and pans available for daily cooking needs. It can be used to simply simmer or boil as you would on the stove.  The heavy duty stainless steel liner is easy to clean, and it is of course dishwasher safe.

One of my first attempts at tackling the Instant Pot was to prepare a lovely barley risotto of sorts. In this case the barley was pre-cooked, allowing for an easy 1 hour slow cook. Delicious on its own, it became the backdrop for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.

Barley Risotto with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Spring Garlic Scapes

Ingredients
2 slices bacon, chop
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, peel and mince
6 oz. cremini mushrooms, clean, slice
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh sage
1-1/2 cups cooked pearl barley
½ cup tender green garlic scapes/shoots, or green onion, chop
2 cups beef broth, approximate
½ cup baby tomatoes, slice in half
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh parsley, chop
Accompaniment:  ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese, optional

Directions

  1. Heat the pot to sauté medium, brown the bacon in a drizzle of olive oil and remove.
  2. Add the shallot and cook to soften, then add the herbs and stir until aromatic. Add a portion of the beef broth, stir to deglaze the bottom the pan and loosen any surface bits.
  3. Add the barley and the remaining broth, stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer. Reduce to slow cook medium and cook covered for an hour, until the barley is creamy and thick.
  4. Add the garlic scapes or green onion, baby tomatoes, cook an additional 15 minutes to heat.  Stir in fresh parsley, the reserved bacon, and serve.  Pass the parmesan cheese.  Serves 4

Note: to pre-cook barley, allow 1:3 ratio barley to liquid. Bring to a boil, cover and cook 35 minutes.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley named Wine Region of the Year

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Courtesy Travel Oregon

More awards come to the Willamette Valley!

Industry leader Wine Enthusiast magazine recently named Oregon’s Willamette Valley as their 2016 Wine Region of the Year.  Home to 530 wineries and nearly 20,000 planted acres, much acclaim can be attributed to Oregon’s world class pinot noirs.

Rivaling regions of Champagne, Sonoma, and Provence, these international honors were awarded for “the outstanding quality of its wines, the resulting international recognition and the tectonic shifts in wine investments have engendered.”

Read Full article here.

A Lovely Bunch of Radishes, Part 3

Yes, this is Part 3 of an impromptu radish series.  It all started with the discovery of the incredible Easter Egg radishes at my local grocery store.

Now I’m onto sprouting own crop of radish seeds. Sprouts day 1Since radishes are one of the fastest growing vegetables, I theorize they must be candidates for fast sprouting. Besides, their peppery bite makes them one of the current darlings of the sprout world. With all the rumbles of their healthful virtues, I’m ready to have my own supply of radish sprouts on hand for summer salads, blended drinks, and more.

For my small test batch, I’m using organic seeds designed for sprouting, rather than an off-the-shelf garden variety.  Who knows what chemicals may have been used in their processing?

The good news is that in only four days I have successfully grown my own lush, green, ready to eat radish sprouts. Sprouts day 4  Here’s a handy review:

  1. Rinse about 3 tablespoons of seeds and let them soak in water for 4 to 6 hours.
  2. Drain the seeds, rinse and drain again, and place in a quart sized sprouting jar. If not available, use a 3-4 cup mason jar with a double layer of cheese cloth covering the top and held in place with the lid’s band portion.  This will allow for circulation.  Store in a cool semi-lit area such as a cabinet or pantry.
  3. Rinse and drain 2-3 times per day until well sprouted. On day 3 or 4, move to indirect sunlight and allow chlorophyll to form and green up nicely.

That’s all there is to it.  In only four days you, too, can enjoy a lovely bunch of radish sprouts!

 

 

 

 

A Prelude to St. Paddy’s Day: Sauerkraut Stew

Every now and then I crave sauerkraut, and it doesn’t have to be an artisan-style fermented quality; good old Steinfeld’s pickled cabbage is just fine with me.  Perhaps it’s a strange and sudden precursor to St. Paddy’s Day, but I need my cabbage.  The corned beef will just have to wait.

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Root Vegetables with Mixed Sausage Stew with Sauerkraut

When this happened on a recent rainy day, I looked around to see what might work without a dash to the market. I always seem to have sausage odds and ends in the freezer, random unused portions from other projects.  Lucky me, I came up with a nice sized link of kielbasa and a couple of bratwursts.

While the sausage defrosted, I heated up the Le Creuset pot and quickly sautéed an onion and a clove of garlic.  In went a chopped carrot, a turnip, and some creamer potatoes, halved.  The sausages were cut into chunks and tossed into the pot to pick up a little color.  Once that happened, I added a cup or so of beef stock to deglaze the pot and create a broth.

For seasoning I dug out my jar of dried juniper berries that had shifted to an obscure corner of the spice cabinet from lack of use. There’s nothing like it, and it’s precisely for times like this that I am so happy for juniper berries.  I do a quick sniff test and grab a few and drop them into the pot—love their resin-ish smell.  A little rosemary, a bay leaf, and a few grinds of black pepper are added to the mix.

I rinsed and drained the sauerkraut.  It’s not something I do without thinking twice, because it seems such a waste.  But in this case, there’s a lot going on and it’s just as well to knock it down a notch. Into the pot it goes and it is all brought to a simmer; then it’s covered with a lid and left to simmer for 30 minutes.

Clearly this amalgamation is not totally Irish, but it is doesn’t matter.  It does the trick and incredibly, and there’s more good news.  Once the flavors blend overnight, the sauerkraut mellows a bit, and it is even better.

Root Vegetables and Mixed Sausage Stew with Sauerkraut

Ingredients
2 tsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed and in slivers
1 carrot, peeled, cut into chunks
1 turnip, peeled, cut into chunks
9 oz. creamer potatoes, cut in half if large
12 oz. kielbasa sausage, cut into chunks
8 oz. bratwurst, cut into chunks
1-2 cups beef stock, as needed
6-8 juniper berries
1 tsp. fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground pepper
16 oz. sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

Directions

In a heavy pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. When aromatic, add the carrot, turnip, potatoes and toss well.  Increase heat to medium high, add the sausages and lightly brown to take on color.

Deglaze with beef stock, add the seasonings, and the drained sauerkraut.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover for 30 minutes.  Adjust seasoning and serve in bowls.  Serves 4.