Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Unlike last year's March temperatures in the 80's, spring 2013 has arrived a little later. March temperatures were mostly below average, and this year continued the seemingly new northern Illinois tradition of winter snows falling in March after an uneventful December, January and February. Not cool. Punxsatawney Phil is on "My List."
We finally found a bit of time, good weather and ambition to start the 2013 Lonesome Road garden last weekend though! After a quick rototilling we were able to plant approximately 120 onion plants, four heads of garlic, and toss around a scattering of various lettuce, kale and spinach seeds in a corner.
Half of the onions are my personal favorite, Walla Walla onions from Washington state. And the others are Red Zeppelin red onions. So, we've gotta whole lotta onions. Gotta whole lotta onions.
Also for spring, we're going to attempt to grow russet potatoes again. In the past this has never worked out particularly well, but in loosely following ideas from the Replacing The Grocery Store challenge on the Our Simple Farm blog, we're at least going to give it another try. We do eat lots of potatoes, especially in the summer when they can just be grilled along with the rest of dinner! And I usually try to prepare a few extras on the weekends so we can let them cool, refrigerate them, and slice or chop and make our own home fries for breakfast the next morning.
So, cross your fingers for our potatoes and be on the lookout for potentially lots of posts with red onion recipes. Because we've gotta a whole lotta onions.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Or, trying my best to (somewhat)
replace the grocery store.
During the last few weeks I've become interested in an idea that I discovered on the Our Simple Farm blog. The concept is simple enough - replacing the grocery store with your own home-grown, homemade items.
As prices continue to go up on food, fuel, nearly everything, the idea of saving money on groceries has become extremely appealing. And, living on a gravel road outside of a prison town certainly has its good points, but the evil necessity of driving at least 20 minutes to do even the simplest things can become such a frustrating timewaster, not to mention gas.
So, I've been noting some of the ideas and plans posted on Our Simple Farm - up until The Math Part (cue scary music). For a couple of reasons, I can't really compute how much of each vegetable/fruit we would need to subsist without too many trips to the supermarket. First, much of our garden contains perishable produce like lettuce - not much I can do about preserving lettuce except for eating it in abundance in fresh salads, or sharing with others (if there's a way to use dehydrated lettuce in something, please post your ideas!). Plus, I have only really had experience with freezing and my only foray into canning has been making pickled things. Also, there is a bit of a time constraint as I own my own business, Lonesome Road Studio (and Lonesome Road West), and summers can be a little hectic with shows, markets, etc. Oh, and I decided that I was going to be making our own soap in my spare time. *wink* Did I mention the guitar that I'm going to learn how to play, too?
So, I will work on what I think is relatively feasible for us and our garden, which is usually freezing some vegetables to use throughout the winter when a taste of the summer garden is so nice. I also put up lots of my amazing homemade pizza sauce made with fresh tomatoes, peppers and herbs from our garden, and I plan to plant some new varieties of herbs this year to dehydrate to replace expensive store-bought jars of herbs with questionable shelf life, and for use in some of those soaps I've been dreaming of creating.
Stay tuned as I periodically update everyone on the garden's progress, and I promise to share more recipes and ideas with everyone, as I hope you will too!
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Comfort Food At Its Best
Warm up with homemade macaroni and cheese,
with just a hint of smoky flavor
and a little bite of chipotle peppers.
Well, now I've done it - I can never go back to the foil pouch of orange goo again!
As another kitchen challenge, I tried my hand at making homemade macaroni and cheese. Be warned; you won't want to eat it any other way. It's really fairly easy and doesn't require fancy ingredients (depending on just how fancy your mac and cheese will be) but it does take a little time, as do most things that are worth the extra effort.
Two things to remember to make great homemade macaroni and cheese: start with the best cheese you can get (obviously!) and slightly undercook the macaroni.
For the best cheese, grab a block and start shredding it by hand. No pre-packaged shredded cheese in a bag. It is coated in anti-caking agents and doesn't make the most optimal cheese sauce. Plus, shredding your own cheese is more cost-effective in the long run. For this recipe, I chose an apple and hardwood smoked Gouda cheese, and a sharp chipotle Cheddar cheese. I prefer strong, sharp flavors in macaroni and cheese but the choice of cheese is up to you.
2 cups dry macaroni noodles
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cups milk (whole milk, or a very good 2% milk like Oberweis)
1 teaspoon dry mustard (Colman's)
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 pound cheese, shredded
First, cook the dry macaroni noodles. Most package cooking directions will suggest cooking for 8 to 10 minutes. To get the best results for macaroni and cheese, however, you'll want to cook the macaroni for a little less time, about 7 minutes. Otherwise, you will have mushy macaroni in the finished dish; it has to stand up to combining with the cheese sauce and baking in the oven for about half an hour. So, undercook slightly, drain and rinse with hot water. Set aside.
Beat the egg in a small bowl and set aside.
Next, make a simple roux to begin the cheese sauce. Melt butter in a large saucepan and quickly whisk in the flour until it is completely incorporated. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook, whisking constantly over medium-low heat, until the mixture has thickened. Stir in the dry mustard.
Add the egg by first adding 3 tablespoons of sauce to the beaten egg in the small bowl. Whisk very quickly - this is called tempering the mixture. If you were to add the egg directly to the large pan of sauce, the egg would cook almost immediately and you would have little bits of scrambled egg in your sauce. Not quite the way it's supposed to work!
And why the egg, anyway? The egg mainly serves as a binding ingredient, allowing you to more neatly cut your mac and cheese into squares. If you don't mind your mac and cheese spilling out everywhere in freeform cheesy glory on your plate, you can omit the egg.
Above: tempering the egg.
When the tempered egg mixture is nice and smooth, add it to the sauce. Stir in salt and freshly ground pepper. And then... stir in all that glorious shredded cheese and keep stirring until smooth and totally incorporated in the sauce. Reserve about a half of a cup for sprinkling on top of the mac and cheese before it goes in the oven.
Butter a 2 to 2.2 quart baking dish. Pour the macaroni and cheese into the dish and top with the reserved shredded cheese. You can also use dried bread crumbs or cracker crumbs, but I really just like lots of extra cheese on top. It will become nicely browned after baking in the oven!
Bake the macaroni and cheese uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes, then turn up the oven temperature to 375 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes to lightly brown the shredded cheese topping. It's finished when everything is bubbling hot!
Approximately 6 servings.
Cheesy detail of "Better With Age" by Lonesome Road Gallery.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Cold... icy... snowy...you need comfort and you need it now.
You need homemade soup.
A soul-satisfying, steaming bowl of fragrant homemade soup made with lots of TLC, what better way to celebrate the cozy cocooning of the long winter months?
If you're like me, you love to experiment with all sorts of new ideas, but mastering the classics is a challenge in its own right. To make it even more compelling, sometimes the classics become a little... cliched. Rushed. Or pushed aside in favor of a trend. Morphed into something they were never meant to be: overly processed, lacking in fresh quality ingredients and unrecognizable in their current state.
Who hasn't had a cup of the local restaurant's version of French Onion Soup of the Day? A salty brown liquid tinted with caramel coloring, with giant hunks of tough old onions and pre-made onion-powdery croutons from a resealable bag with a shelf life of three years?
You deserve better. Reacquaint yourself with the real French onion soup, an old favorite that, when made as it should, will warm your tummy and your heart and make you wonder why you ever settled for less.
First of all, start off with the best beef stock you can. That is, make your own. It's not difficult. Get a couple of large beef soup bones at the store, and add some celery stalks with fresh leafy tops, a couple of cloves of garlic, an onion (peeled and quartered) and a large leek; parsley and black peppercorns. A couple of medium-sized carrots are nice, too, but keep in mind that carrots do make a stock or broth taste a little sweet.
If you're really trying to be frugal, freeze leftover beef bones from cooked bone-in roasts and steaks to use later for your beef stock.
Cover the whole tasty melange with 8 cups of fresh water and let it simmer, partly covered, for as long as you have time. The longer the better, but even a little bit is preferable to using store-bought stock. A couple of hours is a good place to start.
If you have an extra day, let the finished stock cool down and store it overnight in the refrigerator so you can skim off any fat that will rise to the top. Carefully strain it and discard the vegetables.
The difference between "stock" and "broth?" Generally, stock is made with meat and bones; broth is made primarily with meat only.
The next thing to remember about making fantastic homemade French onion soup is to slowly and patiently caramelize the onions.
Thinly slice two large yellow onions and three small leeks (white parts only). Many people add garlic to French onion soup, but I prefer adding leeks, with their complex flavor somewhere between onions and garlic, and their amazing aroma. Heat two or three tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot and add the onions and leeks, cooking over medium-low heat until evenly browned (not burned).
When onions are perfectly caramelized (about 30 to 40 minutes), add six cups of beef stock, two bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. I know that many people add adventurous seasonings to French onion soup, but I like to keep it simple and let the flavors of the homemade beef stock and richly caramelized onions shine through.
Simmer everything together for at least an hour, then add three tablespoons of sherry or dry white wine and let the alcohol cook off a bit. (The wine is totally optional but adds so much to the flavor of the finished soup, in my opinion.)
Discard bay leaves before serving.
To serve, either spoon the French onion soup into ovenproof crockery bowls and top with a slice of toasted French bread smothered in cheese (preferably Gruyere, Fontina, Provolone, and a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan). Briefly broil until cheese is bubbly. Or, if you don't have ovenproof soup bowls, you can simply broil the bread and cheese on a baking sheet and drop into the hot bowl of soup.
Another option, if you're serving several people, is to pour the soup into a large ovenproof casserole dish and cover the top with toasted French bread slices and cheese, then briefly broil until cheese is bubbly.
Makes approximately five to six servings.
Soup, bread and cheese... what could be more gratifying on a cold winter day? Even better that it was created with love in your own kitchen from first-rate ingredients and techniques!
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Spend less, eat lighter.
Okay, maybe the salt pork isn't so light, but...
Is there anyone who isn't starting the New Year either wanting to save more money, or live a healthier lifestyle, or both? Tough resolutions to keep sometimes, but one thing can help: spending less money and making better choices at the grocery store. One way to do this, and (generally) eat healthier, is to substitute beans for some of the more expensive and fatty meats in your weekly meal rotation.
Many people claim to dislike beans. But have they ever had a plate of wonderful drunken pinto beans cooked with beer and poblanos, topped with crumbled Mexican cotija cheese? How about Greek Fasolia Gigantes Plaki, those huge beans baked with carrots in a fresh herby tomato sauce? I didn't think so.
Canned beans have made cooking preparations so easy, there is almost no excuse for adding more beans (and fiber and protein) to your diet. However, canned beans can be a bit expensive to use on a regular basis, so you'll want to experiment with some of the cheaper dried beans. Most dried beans require soaking to re-constitute before cooking (lentils and split peas do not) and there are a couple of ways of accomplishing this.
The quick soak method will have you ready to cook beans in about an hour and a half. Simply put beans in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for ten minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to soak for one hour. However... I seem to have the best results from the traditional overnight soaking. And really, it's so easy, all you have to do is plan ahead a little. Get the beans ready the night before, soak overnight on the counter with water to cover, then drain and rinse the next day and you're ready. The "drain and rinse" part is important. Don't cook the beans in their soaking water, otherwise you will toot. Part of the purpose of soaking beans is to release indigestible sugars and to simply clean them; they can't be washed before packaging because they can mold. So, you don't really want to eat beans cooked in dirty water that will make you fart, do you?
After your beans have been properly soaked, they will cook, covered, for an hour or two, cooked in fresh water to cover. Beans take well to all sorts of seasonings, especially herbs, but don't add salt to the cooking water because it will make the beans tough. Always season with salt after the beans are completely cooked.
However, if you're using delicious salt pork, you have little choice, and it doesn't really affect the texture of beans, while adding lots and lots of flavor. In the photo above, I cooked black-eyed peas, a traditional southern New Year's good luck meal, with salt pork, and the results were absolutely delicious - and easy.
In a large Dutch oven, saute together 6 ounces chopped salt pork until browned and some of the fat is rendered. Add 1 large chopped onion, and saute until transparent. Stir in 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 teaspoons chili powder, then add 8 ounces of soaked black-eyed peas (or any other similar bean). Cover with water, bring to boiling then turn heat to low. Cover and cook over low heat for at least 1-1/2 hours, for tender beans that are not mushy. Season with salt freshly ground black pepper, although you'll probably find that you do not need to add extra salt due to the salt pork.
Serve traditionally with cornbread and cooked greens. Makes 6 to 8 servings.