Spring is settling herself in right now, or at least she is trying. Perhaps its the ever controversial global warming giving our girl a rough run, but she seems to be experiencing some crisis of identity as she navigates the gap between the seasons. Like an awkward tweenager she makes her way in fits and starts. One minute she is demure and sun-beaming, makeup painted on with an expert hand – smiling pretty. Seconds later she has run her stockings, throws a fit, mascara streaking down her face as tears the size of nickels come rolling down. Flurries of laughter lightly mask deep seated angst but there is rumbling still beneath the surface. Sure, it looks pretty today, but don’t be fooled by the Polaroid image – it is only a moment in time. Storms are likely a-coming, and knowing our luck, they will arrive just in time for the weekend.
With the winds a-changing we are busily reading ourselves for the onslaught of fresh fruits and veggies that comes with the start of the CSA season. I have been scouring the corners of the deep freezer for any remnants of last season’s produce and am doing my very best to clear out any stragglers hiding out in the “root cellar.” Making room for this year’s haul also entails a desperate attempt to make use of my stockpile of “freshly milled” grains from Anson Mills that have been biding their time in the deep freezer. With only a moment or two spent scanning the contents of the waist-high freezer you will find everything from Red Fife Wheat to Perfectly Milled Grits hanging out in organic looking brown satchels. Though I am embarassed to admit it, I have barely begun to make a dent in the wide array of milled products I ordered from Anson in early February.
I am all about working with great ingredients, but there is something about working with this amazingly high caliber of goods that is simultaneously exciting and intimidating. For a bit of background on just why I have this amazing respect for what the folks over at Anson Mills have accomplished, the farmers and millers at Anson Mills have toiled for years to recreate heritage milled products grown by Small Farmers (themselves growing grain on about 150 acres) in South Carolina.
In reviving centuries old growing and milling practices for grains, Anson Mills brings us back a piece of our food culture past. Many of the products in their repertoire, like their widely renown grits, likely also exist in what I hesitate to even call a weak likeness on a shelf in your local Walmart. But Anson Mills have taken these ingredients, food stuffs which, in other hands, have become ubiquitous, commonplace, and so often thoughtlessly processed and have elevated them to their former glory as cornerstones of New American cuisine.
On their site, Anson Provides copious notes on the origins of each of their products paying tribute to the grain’s history and heritage with a detailed write up on its evolution as a foodstuff and some finer notes on what makes certain varietals of a grain uniquely disposed to a specific type of milling and/or culinary use. I found the write up on corn incredibly fascinating, in addition to delving into the division between flint and dent corn, the author works to provide some fine tuned background on what makes cornmeal, polenta, and corn flour unique; a question I, myself, had wondered for quite some time. And while all of this is immensely inspiring, the grains themselves feel almost too special to put to work.
And so, dear readers, my satchels of perfectly milled flatbread flour, rye, farro, and grits have sat gathering the freezer equivalent of dust while I have fiddled about looking for the right recipes to showcase these meticulously ground gems. Armed with what I hoped would be a great recipe to show off the proud textures of Anson Mills’ polenta I set off to the freezer to pluck out a bag of their Polenta Integrale. At the same time I “unearthed” a bag of frozen kale that I knew was hiding about the bottom of the freezer and set about making dinner.
This dish was inspired by a recipe from “Whole Grains for a New Generation” by Liana Krissoff, which has become an indespensible reference for grain cooking techniques and ideas (during a recent purge of old cookbooks for a yardsale, and subsequently, sale on Amazon, I knew this was one book that I simply cound not part with.) While Liana’s recipe is lovely I, as usual, was itching to play with the quantities of the ingredients called for, adding more kale, tossing in some frozen corn, reducing the amount of cheese etc… When making this recipe we tested two different techniques for baking the “crust.” Both methods were delicious though they turned out quite different looking end products. For the first crust we allowed the polenta to cool in the pan for only a short time (5-10 minutes) before releasing the springform. The polenta, which was not yet fully set, poured out into an organic pie shape. Though it could not be flipped to allow the underside to cook as well, we tossed on the toppings, popped it in the oven and pulled out a lovely freeform pie not long thereafter. With the second crust, we poured the crust and baked through the first baking and then allowed it to cool before popping it in the refrigerator overnight for use the next day. This crust was far easier to work with as it had fully set and the polenta was well jelled. Feel free to toy with the amount of time you rest the crust, the fact that it can be so easily poured and par-baked in advance makes it a great make ahead recipe for those with little time in the evenings to get dinner from chopping board to table.
Polenta Pizza with Sweet Corn, Kale, and Cheddar
1 Large Bunch of Kale (about 450g), Washed Well (Don’t Bother to Dry), Stems Removed and Reserved for Another Use, Leaves Left Whole
OR 1 Bag Frozen Kale, Defrosted and Drained
4 Cups Water
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
160g Polenta (All Grind Sizes are OK Though Cooking Times Will Vary)
1/2 Cup (about 56g) Cheddar Cheese, Grated*
2 Large Eggs, Lightly Beaten
1 Cup Corn Kernels (Frozen and Fresh Are Both OK – See Note Below**)
The Unexpeceted Cheddar from Trader Joes is mind-blowingly good, the flavor profile strikes a nice balance between sharp parmesean and tangy cheddar and it is on the harder side for a cheddar. If substituting another type of cheese, an aged cheddar would work well, as, I imagine, would an asiago or a mild parmesan*
*We used fresh kernels, if using frozen it may be a good idea to allow them to partially thaw and drain before use
Preheat the oven to 425 degreese.
Prepare an 8-Inch spring form pan by lightly spraying it with cooking spray. Take a piece of parchment and place it over the insert of the springform pan. Close the rim around the paper leaving long pieces sticking out of the ends. Set the pan on a silpat (or parchment) lined baking tray (preferably with a rim.)
Wash the greens REALLY well, I typically run this procedure in a salad spinner by filling the spinner with water and dunking the greens in and out of the water, if the water starts to look murky dump it and refill it. (You can “dump” the water in your garden or use it to water house plants!) Kale, especially the curly-leaf varieties has a way of clinging onto little pockets of dirt so as you go about washing the leaves, make sure to agitate the greens with your hands to loosen any dirt clumps that my be hiding in the curls. Drain the leaves but don’t dry them.
Prepare a large ice bath and set it next to the stove (if possible.) Place the greens in a large pot over high heat. Cook, covered, with just the water clinging to leaves, tossing occasionally with rubberized tongs, until wilted, about 4 to 6 minutes. When the greens are just done cooking transition them immediately to your prepared ice bath to shock them – the shocking process will not only stop the cooking process but will brighten the greens color and prevent the greens from looking stodgy and muted.
Once the greens have thoroughly cooled in the ice bath dump them into a large colander. Grab a fist sized bunch and squeeze it between your palms to extract as much water as possible. Place the well drained balls of greens on a cutting board and chop them coarsely.
In a medium saucepan, bring the 4 Cups of water to a boil over high heat. As soon as bubbles break the surface, add the salt and corn kernels. Once the water is boiling again, add the polenta in a stead stream, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and allow the polenta to simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened.
Pour the polenta into the prepared baking pan and pop it into the oven to bake for about 25 minutes.
While the polenta is baking whisk the eggs together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the greens, a few hearty cracks of pepper, and the cheese. Mix well and then cover with plastic and pop it in the fridge until it is needed.
Once the 25 minutes have elapsed, remove the polenta and place it on a metal rack to cool for at least 30 minutes.
OK – now for the tricky part. Pop open the hinge on your springform pan. Depending on how well set the polenta is, it may ooze out a bit. This is A-OK, step back and let it do its thing, this is why we lined the spring form with a long piece of parchment. Take a second piece of parchment and place it on top of the polenta circle. On top of this place a cookie sheet clamp the sheet down tightly atop the baking tray. Now, carefully, and in one smooth motion, flip the entire unit over. Remove the baking tray, the bottom of the springform pan, and the parchment. Your polenta wheel should now be sitting pretty on a cookie sheet with what was formerly the bottom now facing up.
Place the cookie sheet in the oven for 15 mins to begin to cook the top. Remove the pan and scatter the kale topping over the base. Return the tart to the oven and bake for another 25 mins or so. I like the kale topping well crisped but take care that it doesn’t burn.
In our home, eating nourishing and sustainable foods is just one part of our quest to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Dustin and I have shifted towards using minimally processed ingredients not only because of their rapport but because these foods help fuel our active lifestyle. We both typically engage in some sort of exercise every day. While our fitness obsessions have varied over time, from climbing, to yoga, to cycling, running, soccer and HIIT training, this vast cornucopia of exercises all have one thing in common. Each sport or hobby we take on requires that we power our bodies with clean burning fuel.
Back in our climbing days Dustin and I munched on countless cliff bars and downed an endless flow of vitamin water. But these bars and sports drinks, while not exactly abysmal, are far from clean and healthy. Vitamin water in particular is packed with processed sugars, artificial dyes, and chemically engineered flavoring. Clif bars were fine, at the time, for providing an immediate source of fuel to push us through laps at the gym, but with most varieties clocking almost 25g of sugar mostly from the primary ingredient, brown rice syrup (which, as an ingredient, boasts virtually no nutritional merit) these aren’t exactly a healthy option for most athletes.
There is a place for consuming quickly digestible sugars and other carbs in endurance heavy events, where you might be working out for multiple hours and might deplete your glycogen stores if you do not refuel. These bars could be used in this way – although, with about 7 grams of fiber in each bar you probably would not want to eat too many of them on a very long run. We’ve been using them as a pre-run fuel (taking advantage of the natural fruit sugars and complex grain carbs) or as a post-workout recovery snack (utilizing the 11 grams of protein from the nuts, seeds and protein powder).
What initially caught my eye in this post’s featured recipe was the lack of added sugar. Typically, granola bars or power bars contain a boatload of honey, maple, or molasses to sweeten and bind. Not so here! Also exciting to me was the fact that you don’t need to bake them. You may have a moment of doubt as you peer into the food processor wondering how on earth these things are ever going to stick together. But persevere – once the juice is added at the end the mix should start to resemble a piecrust dough, crumbly but clumpy at the same time. Like with a piecrust, go easy on the juice, adding a little at a time until you sense that the mixture will just bind when pressed into the pan. As with pastry, finding the right balance may take a batch or two to master.
I adapted the original recipe a bit to include some protein powder. I used an unflavored rice-based protein, which, I suspect, may have aided in the binding process. While I am fairly certain that any type of protein powder could be used here, it may alter the texture a bit. I am picky when it comes to buying dried fruit. I strongly prefer to buy organic as dried fruit are truly just shriveled versions of whole fruit and can carry with them the same residues from conventional growing practices, only in increased concentration. Trader Joe’s typically has an excellent selection of dried fruit and I find that their prices are far lower than large box stores.
I really like the R.W. Knudsen Family line of juices. I used their black cherry juice in this recipe. It is a simple juice made from only one ingredient! I imagine that any of their single fruit juices would work well in its stead. The black cherry is the only one I have found in small, 8oz, servings. If you have never come across quinoa flakes before, they are quite similar to rolled oats. I am fairly certain that oats could be successfully substituted but if you can find the quinoa flakes they are worth a try as they are much higher in protein content than oats and are likely a bit easier/faster to digest.
The amounts of the various dried fruits can be toyed with and adjusted to suit your specific preference. I used what I had on hand and I ended up really liking the balance of fruit in the end-product, but I imagine that there are many other dried fruits, from mangos, to figs, to dates, that would work well. Just as in other aspects of your diet, picking a variety of fruits from various different families (i.e. berries, stone fruit, pomes etc…) will provide, not only a well balanced flavor profile, but a broader nutritional profile as well.
Quinoa Fruit and Nut Bars – Adapted from “He Needs Food”
Recipe – Makes about 12 Bars
84g (1c) Quinoa Flakes
112g (1c) Almonds, Roughly Chopped
15g (¼ c) Desiccated Coconut
120g Dried Apple Rings (About 30 Rings)
130g (1¼ c) Dried Cherries
130g Dried Apricots (About 20 Apricots)
30g (¼ c) Zante or Corinth Currants
40g (¼ c) Dried Blueberries
75g (5T) Vegan Rice Powder (other powder may be substituted, see note above)
120g (½ c) Cherry Juice
70g (½ c) cup Pepitas (divided)
Line a 7 × 11 inch baking pan with parchment paper (no need to grease or spray the pan.) Paper should hang over the sides; you will later use this overhang as “handles” to remove the bars from the pan. Set the pan aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place quinoa flakes, chopped almonds, and coconut on a large, rimmed baking tray and toast in the oven until just golden and fragrant. You may need to stir the mixture once or twice in order to ensure reasonably even toasting.
Roughly chop all of the dried fruit and then pulse once or twice in batches in the food processor until minced. Make sure you stop well short of turning it into a fruit paste!
Place the cooled quinoa flakes, almonds, and coconut in the processor and pulse briefly until it becomes a coarse meal. Add the protein powder to the bowl of minced fruit pieced and toss them together with your hands to distribute the powder and “unstick” some of the fruit clumps. Add this to the food processor along with half of the pepitas and pulse once or twice to combine with the nut/quinoa meal.
Drizzle over about half of the juice and pulse once or twice, continue adding the juice in TBSP increments, pulsing in-between until the mixture just starts to come together. When the mix is ready it should still contain discernable pieces of fruit and nuts and hold together if pinched between thumb and forefinger.
Dump the mixture into the lined baking pan and distribute evenly across its surface. Tear off a piece of parchment large enough to fit over the pan and place on top of the mixture. Using the bottom of a drinking glass, start at one corner and press down firmly on the mixture to compact the mix and even out the surface. Remove the parchment and sprinkle the remaining pepitas over the top. To adhere these to the surface, replace the parchment and press again, lighter this time (so as not to crush the pepitas.)
Cover the mixture tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight to allow the bars to solidify. The next morning, lift the sides of the parchment to remove the bars and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife and a smooth vertical cutting motion (no sawing!) cut the bars into 12 even pieces. These keep well for a week or two in a tightly sealed Tupperware container in the fridge.
Engineering Report: People are sleepy. We must wake them up, not only with a kick of caffeine, but with the robust aromas of a well crafted cup of freshly brewed coffee. This is Dustin writing and I’ll be sharing a little about my ever growing excitement with drinking coffee and my interest in finding the best methods with which to tap into those flavor filled little beans. Today we’ll explore pour over coffee making.
I first started drinking coffee in high school, when I worked at St. Louis Bread Company, bussing tables and taking orders. The coffee was free, I knew when it was made – as that was one of my main jobs – and it was a good excuse to consume some of the honey that was available at the coffee condiments station. Those days it was a tall cup of honey-sweetened hazelnut flavored coffee that accompanied my weeknight shifts at the bread haven. Some 10 years later, I find myself still enjoying a hot cup of coffee every morning and even some early afternoons, but these days there is no honey or hazelnut to hide the flavors of the coffee. Coffee, along with many other aspects of my life, has taken on a quality over quantity focus. Emily and I find ourselves with the opportunity to delve into yet another adventure of exploration, as we are beginning to learn more about the origin and character of the coffees we drink as well as the methods in which we prepare this popular beverage.
Our daily coffee rituals have shifted over the last year as we have become more interested in finding out what exactly we like about the coffee we are drinking and what brewing method might yield the best results. What started years ago with a Mr. Coffee machine from the dollar store transitioned into a traditional drip coffee machine, then french press and most recently individual pour over cups of coffee. As with our cooking, choosing quality ingredients has become a main focus in our coffee making life as well. That is another reason that coffee is an exciting culinary ingredient to explore – because it is becoming more easy to find single origin coffees from all over the world. Comparing coffees of different varietals or from various countries is exciting. This brewing method (and others) allows you to really taste the bright acidity of some lighter roasted coffees or the chocolate, berry or even burnt caramel flavors of some of the darker roasts. Like with small batch bourbons here in Tennessee and our neighboring State, Kentucky, single origin coffees offer multiple layers of aroma and taste to explore in each newly brewed cup.
Coffee blends, which include beans from multiple farms or regions and potentially different varietals, are also an essential piece of the puzzle, especially for regular drinking. We tend to have a few rotating weekday coffee blends, while saving some of the single origin coffees to explore on weekend mornings when we have more time to savor. Coffee blends can be more balanced – and less expensive – than single origin coffees, but can still maintain the fruity/citrusy/chocolatey flavor profile of the various farms’ beans added to the mix. It is exciting exploring the different flavor profiles of each coffee varietal, the different regions where they are grown, and the different processes in which the fruit is harvested and then roasted. The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee has served as a great resource for our recent endeavor into precision coffee brewing and is likely one reason we’ve gotten so revved up about coffee exploration. Brewing coffee with the pour-over method has been a quick, direct way to tap those flavors of small farm and good quality beans, and one that we wanted to share for those out there that might like to delve a little deeper into their daily cup of joe.
Pour-Over CoffeeEquipment Pour-Over Ceramic Dripper #4 Coffee Filters Coffee Grinder Scale Ingredients
30-35 Grams Freshly Ground Coffee
300-350 ML Just Boiled Water
Add just boiled water to your coffee mug to bring it up to temperature. Grind your beans to a medium grit, somewhere between the coarse grind for french press and a very fine grind such as for espresso. Insert the dry #4 filter into the ceramic dripper and measure out about 30 grams of grinds. Depending on how strong you like your coffee and how large your java vessel is, you might add more or less grinds. As a starting place, add 1 gram of coffee for every 10 milliliters of water.
If you haven’t worked in metric in the kitchen, definitely try it out. I am always blown away by the system’s intuitive nature. How much does 1 milliliter of water weigh, you might ask? How about 1 gram! How many grams in a kilogram? 1,000! How many ounces in a cup or in a pound? 8, 16? Yeah, not so intuitive. Maybe someday we in America will embrace more of the metric side of life – but I digress. Add your coffee to your filter, letting it mound naturally. Do not pack the grinds, as we want the water to evenly infuse all of the ground little bits of beans. The next step is to add the recently boiled water, which should be approximately 185-205 degrees for optimum flavor extraction. Use a swan neck kettle if you have one, or alternatively you can try your hand with some vessel that will allow you to pour water very slowly and precisely. Slowly add water, you are aiming for an amount that is double the weight of the coffee grinds. Pour steadily but with control as you add this first bit of water, starting in the center of the mound and working your way to the edges in a circular pattern. With practice, you will be able to add double the weight of water to the grinds without letting any of the water drip through into your cup.
Now let the grinds bloom for about 45 seconds. Blooming is integral to the process as it allows the grinds time to become fully saturated with water. After blooming, slowly add more water, watching as the tan foamy cap rises just above the grinds. Continue to add water at approximately the rate at which it is dripping through, keeping an eye on the level of coffee in the cup as you go. Make sure that you have enough hot water on hand at the beginning, so that you don’t have to halt the process mid brew. Once you have finished your cup, take in the variety of flavors and aromas that you have unleashed from the beans and enjoy! As a side note, coffee grinds make great additions to a compost pile, so don’t throw them away!
Right now my loving husband is working on our next post. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will hint at the fact that the love of my life, and our household’s chief engineer, is going to be presenting to you an essay and some technical hints on the preparation of one of our most favorite libations. But for more on that, you will have to wait, at least a teensy while longer.
And now that I have piqued your interest with a glimpse of things to come I would like to switch gears entirely to discuss the topic that has been “top of mind” for me over the last few months. I have spent a great deal of time lately ruminating on ideas related to the grand theme (and current social buzz word) of “Sustainability.” More specifically, I have been reading, researching and listening to various different sources in hopes of developing some deeper understanding of how my decisions, as a consumer, impact the environment, and, furthermore, how environmental impacts may threaten future generations ability to thrive.
The modern American Diet, with its focus on meat protein and packaged convenience foods, has taken a toll both on the health of our people and on the environment. I recently completed an eye-opening course on the American Food System on Coursera. The course provided an impactful overview of both historical and modern systems of agriculture and food animal production, as well as the policies, such as the American “Farm Bill”, which drive the complex networks of subsidies as well as the protocol governing food assistance programs and the dissemination of information related to nutrition. But among the many segments was most illuminating to me were the lectures on industrial food animal production systems and their environmental and health costs.
Not only do Industrial Food Animal Production systems have a stark impact on the ecology of the immediately surrounding area, but the industry’s hunger for resources, from water, to energy, to pharmaceuticals is stripping the nation of many resources and putting us at risk for environmental disaster. And that is to say nothing of the nasty byproducts of the production such as animal waste, methane gas, and potential for diseases that come hand in hand with large scale facilities. It is clear that something needs to change, in terms of our patterns of meat consumption (which, until recently, had been on the sharp rise over the course of the last century) as current trends are simply not sustainable.
While the facts of food animal production are certainly harrowing and, indeed, a bit off-putting, for me, the solution to lessening the impact of my food choices on the environment is not to simply forgo meat altogether. It is clear to me that meat protein should play a far smaller role in our modern diet. In our home, we have committed to eating less than a single small (3-4oz) serving of meat per day and endeavor to vote with our food dollars to support farmers who use sustainable practices in raising food animals. The recipe for black bean soup featured below was developed around a traditional practice of using a small portion of meat as flavoring for an otherwise plant-based meal. While the amount of meat used may be small, it’s smoky and savory favors make a big impact on the hearty soup, which is a warming treat to share with loved ones on a rainy spring day.
Before I delve into the recipe, lets take a moment to talk about soaking beans. If you look through our blog history you will note that I have shifted away from using canned beans. Canned beans are a great convenience food and can make a quick addition to a dish in a pinch but what you gain in convenience comes at a nutritional cost. Canned beans are traditionally packed with sodium, while rinsing the beans before using them does make an impact on the amount of sodium that makes its way into the final dish, even proper rinsing techniques are only able to mitigate about 40% of the added sodium. Dried beans are not an ingredient that can be used instantaneously in the way that they canned counterparts may be, but I, personally, find them no less convenient. Not only do I find the home cooked beans to be superior from a textural perspective, but I appreciate the opportunity to soak, rinse, resoak, and rerinse the beans before cooking. Putting the beans through multiple (2-3) changes of water over the course of an 8+ hour soaking process helps to rid the end product of some of the indigestible carbohydrates that give beans the monicker of the “magical fruit.”
One final note here on using dried beans, the dried nature of the beans used in this dish allows for them to be cooked for a much longer period of time without compromising the texture of the bean. With the longer cooking window the beans absorb a greater deal of flavor from the bacon and aromatics in the soup creating a richer end product. If substituting canned beans the overall cooking time for the soup will need to be much shorter in order to avoid reducing the beans to mush.
Black Bean Soup with Bacon (Serves 8)
500g (2.5c) Dried Black Beans
3 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Divided)
About 15 Slices of Thinly Cut Canadian Bacon
1 Large Yellow Onion, Chopped
2 Cubanelle Peppers, Diced
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1 TSP Chipotle Powder (or Hot Smoked Paprika)
1 TSP Ground Cumin
1oz Tequilla (Blanco, or Reposado are OK – I would Avoid Anejo)
1/2 a Bunch of Cilantro, Washed Well and Chopped
1 TBSP Lime Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Start by soaking your beans. I start mine in the evening after dinner and drain them and change out the water just before going to bed. If you are concerned about wasting water – the liquid drained off of the beans can easily be saved to water houseplants.
Once the beans have soaked for at least 8 hours, drain them again and set them aside.
Heat 1 TBSP of the olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the canadian bacon and cook until any fat has rendered and the meat is slightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Add and onions and sauté until soft, add the Cubanelles and continue to cook until they too soften. Stir in the canadian bacon, garlic, chipotle, and cumin and sautee for another minute or so before tipping in about 8 cups of water. Add the beans to the pot and stir.
Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. While the soup does not require constant monitoring at this point be sure to periodically check on the pot to ensure that there is still enough liquid present to cover the beans. About every 20 minutes or so, skim off any foam that rises to the surface, and then give the mixture a few slow stirs to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Be sure to do this in this order, skimming first and then stirring, as you do not want to stir the foam back into the soup.
The cooking time for dried beans can vary widely depending on the age of the beans and length of soaking time. After the first hour and a half of cooking time test one of the beans to see if it is tender. To do so, remove a bean or two and set it on a plate, as the beans may still be rock hard it might not be the best plan to toss it in your mouth and chomp down – instead test one between your thumb and forefinger to see if there is any give. If the bean is still completely hard keep the pot simmering away and test again after another 30 minutes have elapsed. If the bean has reasonable give you can move on to an actual taste test to better gauge the texture. When Dustin is put in charge of testing the doneness of things he invariably asks me how to know when it is done – here I will offer the same advice I give to him, when you like the way the beans taste, and the texture is to your liking, they are done. Once the beans are cooked to your preference, stir in the tequila, about half of the chopped cilantro, and the lime juice. Taste the soup and determine if more lime, cilantro, or salt is needed and adjust these seasonings until they, too, meet your flavor preferences.
This soup is great on its own but also pairs well with homemade cornbread – I love the cornbread recipe featured on the Anson Mills website. The recipe is as simple as it gets but is remarkably good. If you have not explored Anson Mills’ site before, it is a stunning resource for information on grains such as Oats, Corn, and Rice and their freshly milled ingredients are a world above anything available in even the best grocery stores.
It’s hard to believe, but after scouring Whole Foods and the Internet I was unable to find a single box of graham crackers that could be considered “FODMAP friendly.” Even gluten free varieties were chock full of potential IBS trigger foods like honey, garfava flour, inulin, and agave. I cannot claim a childhood fondness for the crackers, or point to any specific source for my hankering for these old-school American classics. But as with so many of the projects I have taken on in the past, I had caught the whiff of a challenge and was determined to see it through.
For home bakers wanting to try their hand at homemade renditions of supermarket staples, the foreign sounding ingredients listed on the side of the carton may make the product seem impossible to replicate in ones own kitchen. But as with so many grocery store treats, modern graham crackers can find their roots in a simpler historical classic. Graham crackers were the brainchild of 19th century Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham. Perhaps taking inspiration from centuries old beliefs in the power of certain foods to enliven sexual appetite, Graham felt that a diet chock-full of bland grain based biscuits and breads would relieve America’s youth of their “unhealthy” urges and enable them to be better citizens and more diligent contributors to the Great American Society. While no scientific evidence has ever surfaced that upholds Graham’s theory, his crackers certainly caught on and have become an American classic.
To me, even more interesting than the genesis of Graham’s “crackers” is the special Graham flour from which they are made. Unlike a traditional whole wheat flour, which is made by finely grinding the entire wheat kernel to form a fine flour, Graham Flour is separated into its composite parts and the endosperm is finely ground as though to produce a traditional white flour and the bran and germ are ground separately into a coarser meal. The ground bran and germ is then recombined with the white flour to form a dually textured whole wheat flour. Aside from his eponymous flour, Grahams initial recipe most likely consisted of very few ingredients and was almost assuredly less sweet than Nabisco’s famous modern spinoff. The recipe below was developed with a blend of white and whole wheat spelt flours to create the textural contrast that makes traditional grahams so interesting and irresistible. While the below listed recipe bears closer resemblance to the modern variety then Graham’s bland biscuits, they are not overly sweet, and with a decipherable list of ingredients these biscuits would hopefully be wholesome enough to entice Sylvester, himself.
Part of the beauty of making your own renditions of grocery store classics is that design and shaping of the cookies is entirely up to you. You can cut the crackers into long rectangles like the traditional variety with an indentation across the centerline so that the crackers can be broken in two halves. Alternatively, if you are planning to use the crackers for s’mores, you may want to cut the mass into ready-made 2″ squares. Smitten Kitchen provided much of the inspiration for this recipe. On her site, Deb gives great direction on the shaping of the grahams and makes a break from the “norm” by using a fluted pastry cutter to create a scalloped edge. Fluted cutters can be found on Amazon, I noted that Ateco also makes a fluted edge square cookie cutter, which would be great for making uniform crackers without the need for any careful measuring.
The more evenly you are able to cut the crackers, the better. Not only will evenly sized crackers look impressive, but they will bake at a more even pace. To make the pinpoint design in the crackers, snip the end off of a toothpick and lightly press evenly spaced indents into the dough. The cinnamon sugar topping is definitely optional, the dough itself is already a tad sweet (I think it is slightly less sweet than commercially made grahams) and the crackers make a beautiful foil for rich dark chocolate and toasted marshmallows. If you are planning to eat the crackers as cookies on their own you may want to include the topping in order to push them into the decidedly “sweet” category.
Wheat Free Graham Crackers
180g (1 1/2 C) White Spelt Flour
60g (1/2 C) Whole Spelt Flour
48g (~1/3 C) Buckwheat Flour
48g (~1/3 C) Oat Flour
1 TSP Baking Soda
1/4 TSP Kosher Salt
176g (1 C) Dark Brown Sugar (Lightly Packed)
100g (7 TBSP) Unsalted Butter, Cut Into Small Cubes and Frozen
114g (1/3 C) Maple Syrup
77g (5 TBSP) Whole Milk
27g (2 TBSP) Vanilla Extract
For The Topping
43g (3 TBSP) Granulated Sugar
5g (1 TSP) Ground Cinnamon
To make the dough, place the flours, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse lightly to mix.
In a separate bowl whisk together the maple syrup, milk, and vanilla. Set aside.
Open the lid of the food processor, pull the butter out of the freezer and distribute atop the flour mixture. Return the lid to its upright and locked position and pulse until it resembles a fine gravel. Add the maple mixture to the flour and butter and pulse until the dough just comes together. Gather the dough together into a rough ball, being careful not to overwork it. Place the dough on a piece of plastic film and wrap tightly. Chill the dough for at least two hours or, alternatively, overnight. While the dough chills mix together the sugar and cinnamon for the topping and set aside.
Once the dough has sufficiently chilled and you are ready to begin rolling out the grahams, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a clean work surface (either a cutting board or flat counter space) and set out a pizza cutter, rolling pin, and ruler (the longer the better.) Dust the workspace with a light coating of flour. I typically keep a shaker filled with flour on hand to dust work surfaces when working with cookie and pie doughs, it also comes in handy for lightly coating fish or chicken fillets for pan frying. I personally like to fill a shaker with gluten free flour to minimize any potential FODMAP interaction but if you are not GF feel free to use whatever (white) flour you have on hand. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and separate out 1/3 of the mixture, re-wrap the remaining 2/3 and return it to the fridge.
Lightly dust the rolling pin and roll the dough mass into an evenly shaped rectangle approximately 1/8″ thick. While rolling the dough, periodically flip or turn the rectangle to ensure it is not sticking to the work surface. When you have obtained an even thickness across the entire mass trim off any uneven edges and determine a suitable size for the crackers. (Please see the note above for more insight on determining the right size and shape for your crackers.) Once the grahams have been cut, remove them to parchment lined cookie sheets leaving about 1″ between the squares.
If you wish to decorate the graham crackers with the traditional pinpoint perforated pattern, using a blunted toothpick or wooden skewer lightly indent the cookies in a regular pattern, being careful not to puncture through the bottom of the dough. Lightly dust the tops of the crackers with the cinnamon and sugar mixture and place in the preheated oven to bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until deeply golden. While the first batch bakes, roll, slice, decorate and top the remaining dough and repeat the baking process. Allow the crackers to cool completely on drying racks before packing away in tins or Tupperware.
With the summer harvest long past, the middle of February may seem, to many, to be an odd time to talk about preserves. But to me, this is the time of year I am most grateful for the stores of jams, jellies, and pickles that pepper our pantry shelves. Not only do homemade canned goods make excellent gifts for friends and family, but there is something so sweet about dipping into a jar of your own homemade fruit preserves. Each time I pry open a jar of jam it offers a small taste of another season, jam making not only preserves peak produce for later seasons but preserves the memories of past seasons as well. I do not mean to disenfranchise any gentlemen readers by saying this but jam-making is, to me, a beautifully feminine process. The world of jam making has such a long rich history, and like pie-baking, it has traditionally been women who have tirelessly sought to perfect this elusive culinary art form. Perhaps it is the rich sweetness of the fruit, or the glean of brilliantly ripe skins and peels, maybe it is the way the perfume of cooking fruit fills the air, or the quilted jars – daintily labeled but I find myself irresistibly drawn to the jam making process.
This Kumquat Marmalade is a great starter for anyone hesitant about the traditional rind filled confections. The preserve fits into a category of marmalade commonly referred to as “fine-cut,” meaning that the fruit has been finely sliced to the point where they may, at first glance, resemble a jelly. “Fine-cut” marmalades are time and labor intensive and are more difficult to find on the market as much of the commercially available marmalades are machine made. Marmalades differ from jams and jellies in that water is typically added to the fruit to create the “liquid” or juice needed for processing. The marmalade featured in this post requires three days to make from start to finish. While three days may sound like a ludicrously long time for making a batch of preserves, the three day duration is a critical component in creating a successful marmalade. With its relatively high proportion of fruit solids and water, the citrus needs ample time to rest in the fruit “juice” in order for its natural pectins to permeate the liquid. The presence of these natural pectins is what allows the marmalade to set without the need for any additional powdered pectin.
When approaching any canning project, cleanliness and thorough sterilization of tools, and not the recipe itself, is truly the key element in success. The boiling water method is the gold-standard when it comes to preserving highly acidic foods like pickles, jams, salsas, and tomatoes. While many other techniques exist, and have been used “successfully” for generations, water bath canning is the only method I advocate using. Even with high-sugar, high-acid jams and marmalades, other methods have a greater potential for failure, and failure, when it comes to canning, can mean botulism. When it comes to canning, botulism is the big 800-lb gorilla lurking in the corner of the room, it is a downright frightening food borne illness that can thrive in improperly canned foods. Botulism spores exist naturally in the air and are not, themselves, harmful. But when botulism spores develop into botulism toxin, you have a literal recipe for disaster. Using proper canning technique and time tested recipes with a pre-established acidity level can easily prevent botulism toxin from taking root in your canned goods.
This jam requires a few hours of work over the course of three consecutive days to prepare properly. It may sound like an insurmountable task but the rewards are well worth the time investment. In fact, I actually appreciate that the work is spread over the course of a few days as it make the process easier to fit into a busy schedule. The preparation of the kumquats requires a solid chunk of time. It is a lovely project to take on with a friend or a few family members as the slicing and dicing process is fairly monotonous and quite conducive to conversation and with good company, the task will fly by in no time.
Kumquat Marmalade – Adapted Slightly from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders. For anyone not familiar with this cookbook, it is a beautifully written and wonderfully produced resource for truly special and simply stunning jam, jelly, and marmalade recipes.
2 Pounds 10 Ounces Meyer Lemons, Cut into Eighths
1 Pound Kumquats, Halved
1 Pound 3 Ounces Kumquats, Seeded, Cut Crosswise into Halves (so that you have two long halves) Halves Cut into Quarters (you want to create long slivers), and Then Sliced Thinly into Itty-Bitty Pieces
5 1/4 Pounds of Organic White Sugar
5 Ounces Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice, Strained
1 Ounce Clément Créole Shrubb or Other Lightly Spiced Rum
Additional Equipment Needed 1 11-12 Quart Copper Preserving Pan or Wide Non-Reactive Kettle of Similar Volume
2 Large Saucepans
1 Large Canner or Very Deep Stock Pot for Processing Jars
Large Colander or Chinois for Draining the Lemon-Kumquat Juice
Fine Mesh Sieve or Strainer for Straining the Juice
12 Clean 1/2 Pint Mason Jars with Screw Bands and New Lids
1 Canning Insert – Jar Rack
Day Two – Start by preparing the kumkuat-lemon “juice.” Place the pan with the lemon eighths and kumquat halves over high heat and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer for 2 to 3 hours. As the fruit cooks you will need to press down on it periodically to encourage it to release juices (tread lightly – you don’t want to break up the pulp into the juice), a wooden spoon or spatula works well for this task, alternatively you can use a potato masher. If the water level starts to dip you can add more water in increments to ensure that the fruit remains submerged during the cooking process. You will know the juice is ready when the fruit has become very soft and the liquid takes on a slightly syrupy consistency.
While the lemons and kumquats simmer place the saucepan containing the sliced kumquats over high heat an being to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium and allow it to simmer for about 1/2-hour or until the fruit slices are quite tender. remove the pan from the heat, place a lid on it, and leave to rest overnight at room temperature.
When the lemon -kumquat juice is ready, place a large bowl beneath a fine strainer or chinois and strain the juice into the bowl. Leave the fruit suspended over the bowl to drain overnight at room temperature.
Day Three – Fill your canner with water, set the insert into the canner, place the jars (without the lids or bands) in the pot, and set over high heat to bring to a boil. This will take a good chunk of time so it is best to start well in advance, you can always lower the heat to keep the water near boiling and at the ready if the water heats well before the marmalade is ready.
Place five teaspoons on a plate on a flat surface in the freezer, you will need to have these well chilled for testing the marmalade.
Strain the lemon-kumquat juice through a fine mesh strainer into the preserving pan. Add the kumquat pieces, lemon juice, and sugar to the juice and stir well to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. During the initial bubbling process leave the mixture alone and resist the temptation to stir it. Once the mixture begins to foam stir it gently, repeating every few minutes to keep it from burning on the bottom of the pan. As the jam nears setting point you may need to lower the heat slightly to keep the mixture from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan. Allow the marmalade to bubble away over high heat until it reaches the setting point. This process may take anywhere from 1/2-hour to an hour. Certain telltale signs will signal that the mixture is nearly ready, the color will deepen and the bubbles will reduce in size. Once this happens begin testing to avoid over-setting (I like a jam that is set, and spreadable, but
To test the marmalade for doneness, remove the preserving pan from the heat. I typically place a layer or two of kitchen towels on top of a cutting board to act as a buffer between the hot pan and counter and remove the pan to this area while testing. Spoon out a small glob of jam with one of the frozen spoons and place it back on the plate in the freezer for 3-4 minutes. Remove the spoon and feel the underside, if its cool but not cold its ready to test. Tilt the spoon vertically to see if the marmalade runs. If it runs, return the pan to the heat and continue to cook for another 3-5 minutes before retesting. If the marmalade has sufficiently solidified, leave the pan off the heat. With a broad wooden or metal spoon, skim any white foam from the top of the marmalade, being careful not to stir any into the mixture.
See notes above for details on the canning process. This recipe should make enough marmalade to fill 10-12 half pint jars. Even if you only “need” 10, make and process 12, on occasion a jar or two will not seal and you just might have to suck it up, pop it in the fridge and start chipping away at a jar yourself (oh the woes we must endure.) My canning rack holds 7 half pint jars but I typically process 5-6 at a time to give myself a bit of wiggle room in maneuvering the jars in and out of the boiling water. For this recipe I processed the jars for 10 minutes before removing them to a kitchen towel lined jelly roll pan for cooling. Let them really cool, completely, don’t poke at them, or try to remove the screw bands, or try to dry them off, or test the buttons on the top, leave them alone. If you need to, drape them with a kitchen towel to assist you in resisting the temptation to pester them. After a solid 18-24 hours remove the screw bands and check the button to ensure that the lids are solidly sealed. If any are not sealed you can either return the contents to the heat, and then reprocess, or place in the fridge.