Friday, August 24, 2007

Cooking Projects

As I move our family toward eating real, whole, responsibly-grown, fresh foods, various cooking projects take over our kitchen.

1. Pane Rustica, The Best bread I have Ever made, thanks to Jim Lahey. It is a no-knead, slow-rise, thick peasant loaf with a gorgeous crumb and crackly chewy crust. The super-moist dough bakes in a very hot covered dutch oven (or stoneware pot), steaming itself as it bakes. Once the heat dies down, I'll make this a couple times a week.

2. Easy Sauerkraut, from the original More-with-Less cookbook. One head of cabbage per quart Ball jar, shredded, salted, packed. Wait a week, and enjoy. Too bad we rarely buy meat anymore. Maybe I'll have to learn how to make corned beef.

3. Two new favorite cookbooks: (1) Simply in Season by Cathleen Hockman -Wert and Mary Beth Lind, put out by the Mennonite Central Committee in the spirit of More-with-Less but with a focus on local seasonal foods and (2) Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook that I happily found at Baltimore's Book Thing: free. In 900-some pages it covers the basics of whole foods cooking.

4. German Soft Pretzels. Want to know the secret to fantastic pretzels: Boil them in baking soda water until puffy and golden before baking in a hot hot oven. Brought to you by the German Agricultural Marketing Board. Every other method that I've tried omits this secret key, instead using an egg-water wash, which makes the end product glossy, but not the same feel or taste.

5. Canning and freezing. Good old-fashioned preserving of the local harvest, using updated USDA standards (most of the time). So far this season, I have canned 12 1/2-pints of peach jam, 10 pints of peach halves, 6 pints of dill pickles, 32 pints of diced tomatoes, 12 pints of tomato sauce and have frozen two dozen diced green peppers, the corn from 18 ears, a peck of peaches, and 6 lbs. of berries. This coming week I hope to can a bunch of tomato paste and ketchup, and in then mid-September applesauce and apple butter.

6. Cheese-making. I make yogurt every week with fresh milk from our favorite farmer's cows. So cheese-making isn't so far a leap, particularly when good cheese is expensive, and we have easy access to good milk. I've made Labneh before, so I tried Neufchatel. It is a lower-fat cream cheese. Next time I won't add as much salt. Then from the leftover whey, I made Ricotta. Did you know "ricotta" means "recooked"? It is made simply by recooking whey, leftover from cheese-making, and then straining out the curds. Quite tasty in a creamy pesto pasta meal. This coming week I have ordered an extra gallon of milk to attempt my first hard cheese.
My current related project is making a cheese press. The best I've come up with so far is a steamer pot lined with a 5-inch tall ring of plastic from a milk jug and a follower made from a double-walled cardboard box laminated with packing tape. This will work for my first trial, but if I get into this, perhaps I'll need to find me some PVC pipe.

7. Ginger Ale. Can you tell that David Fankhauser is my new best friend? We made this ginger ale in less than 24 hours, with less than 10 minutes of work, using ingredients we already had at home: water, active dry yeast, ginger root, sugar, and a clean 2-liter bottle. So easy, so tasty. Why have I never heard of this recipe before? Go try it RIGHT NOW.

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