Tuesday, December 18, 2012
What is better than a hot bowl of soup on a rainy December evening? A whiskey laden hot toddy you ask? Ok, yes, you'd be right. Scratch that. What is the second best thing? Probably a bowl of tomato soup. And I am certainly not talking about the canned stuff (well, not exactly). Of all the many soup varieties that exist out there, tomato has always hands down been my favorite. So simple and unassuming, yet so ricidulously satisfying. Lately, a lot of "bisque" talk has been going on. Which I think is silly. The humble tomato has no time for such frivolous labels. Save that fancy talk for lobsters and such.
As the name implies, there is smoked Gouda in this soup. I will be the first to admit that it is not my most favorite of cheeses. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with it, it's just...kind of...boring. But it has all of the requirements for a fine cooking cheese indeed. Its smooth texture and smoky flavor play nicely with roasted tomatoes.
Now, were it summertime, I would be praising the attributes of sweet fresh tomatoes. But being that it is winter (I think, it is Georgia after all), canned tomatoes are called for here. To save face, let's just assume that I slow roasted and canned all of these tomatoes myself,
And what is a soup without a nice garnish or three? Sour cream is a must, and pancetta is a fine adornment, but let me introduce you to frico. Many of you may already be familiar with frico, maybe just not with its proper name. It is a thin Italian cheese crisp made of nothing more than grated Parmesan. Bake for a few minutes in the oven and you have one fantastic (gluten, grain, and nut free!) cracker. So simple.
|beginnings of frico|
Tomato & Smoked Gouda Soup
2 1/4 inch slices of pancetta, diced
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. roasted canned tomatoes
3 T tomato paste
2 c chicken stock or water
2 T fresh basil, minced
1/2 lb. smoked Gouda, shredded
salt & pepper to taste
1 c heavy cream or full fat coconut milk
Brown pancetta over Medium heat until crispy, spoon out and set aside.
Saute carrots and onion in fat until soft, 5 min.
Add garlic and cook for 1 min,
Add tomatoes, paste, stock, basil, and Gouda and bring to boil.
Stir, cover, and reduce heat to Low.
Simmer for 20 min.
Blend soup in blender or with an immersion blender.
Add cream and season to taste.
Garnish with reserved pancetta and a dollop of sour cream.
finely grated Parmesan or another hard grating cheese like Piave, Asiago, or Pecorino Romano
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Layer a heaping tablespoon of cheese onto paper, leaving about 2 inches in between each pile.
Bake for 5-7 min., watching closely.
Remove from oven when edges start to brown.
Let cool for 5 min.
Try not to eat entire sheet.
Eventually garnish soup after eating 3-4 frico while no one is looking.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
While I am a passionate lover of almost all vegetables, I admit that turnips and radishes are at the lower end of my preference list (celery being the biggest loser, it's just so weird). Which I have always felt to be such a shame, as they are so beautiful and easy to grow. I love their colorful purple, white, and red skins, and enjoy plucking them from the dirt. Just not eating them so much. So, after having received a heap of them in my last CSA, they had been hanging out in the bottom of my refrigerator for quite some time. Luckily, they are forgiving and patient roots. Finally, I decided that last night was the night to do something with my poor vegetables.
This is where gratins come into play. As of late I have been reading through Julia Child's marvelous Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Now, it will come as no surprise to some of you that I am very fond of all things French, and by fond I mean utterly obsessed. It is my life's dream to visit France, but until then, I pretend I am there most evenings in my kitchen.
A gratin is more of a technique rather than a dish. It is essentially anything sauced that has been browned in the oven. Typically it is a meat, fish, or vegetable dish that is smothered in a cream sauce, topped with bread crumbs or grated cheese, dotted with butter, and broiled. And it has become my new favorite way of cooking every vegetable under the sun.
So, obviously, as I stood in front of my open fridge racking my brain over what to do with those humble roots, the first thing that leapt to mind was a gratin. The beauty of a dish like this is its simplicity and versatility. No real recipe is required. All that is needed is to layer thinly sliced vegetables in a small baking dish, make a cream sauce flavored however you like (add eggs if you like it more set, leave out if you like it more saucy), pour over said vegetables, and top with cheese and/or breadcrumbs and a few pats of butter, then bake. I have gratined everything from cauliflower and broccoli, to leeks, brussel sprouts, even carrots.
If you have an issue with lactose, use coconut milk (the thick full fat stuff in the can) it works beautifully and doesn't taste so..uh...coconutty. Any cheese will work, I prefer a little Gruyere or Raclette mixed into the sauce, and Parmesan to top. And feel free to add toasted nuts or herbs. For last night's dish I used walnuts, garlic, and Dijon mustard.
|navets et radis|
|prêt à cuire|
1 lb. turnips and radishes, sliced thinly
1 egg (optional)
1/2 c cream or coconut milk
4 T creme fraiche
1 T Dijon mustard
3-4 oz. shredded cheese (try Gruyere, Raclette, Comte, or even an aged Cheddar)
1/2 c toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
salt & pepper to taste
a pinch of nutmeg
Parmesan cheese for topping
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Lightly butter a small baking dish and layer with vegetables, the biggest slices on the bottom.
Season with salt and pepper and dot with a few small pieces of butter and bake uncovered for 15 min.
Meanwhile, whisk together the egg, cream, creme fraiche, cheese, garlic, and 1/2 of the nuts. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Pour over turnips and top with Parmesan, remaining walnuts, and a few more dots of butter.
Bake for 15 more min. then place under broiler just until cheese is browned.
Let cool for 15 min. to thicken a bit.
Monday, October 29, 2012
Friday, September 28, 2012
So, where to begin? I suppose I should address why I took such a long hiatus from this thing. Yes, partly due to such a crazy schedule and also a whirlwind ride with the Cheese Professional certification. But too were battles with my own health. Back in early June I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Now, before I explain any further, I just want to make it clear that I am posting this as a way to relate my story and possibly help others, not to fish for sympathy or pity.
My entire life I have dealt with the pains of a sensitive digestive system. As a teenager, I was too self conscious to speak up about it. As a young adult, I chalked it up to a crazy schedule and stress. Later on, as the gluten free wave struck, I experimented to see if maybe that could be the answer. It seemed that no matter how healthfully I ate, or how fiercely I exercised, I never felt quite right. Always fatigued, always pain, always blah.
Then in April, I journeyed to Wisconsin not once, but twice (posts on those trips later). During which I consumed very large amounts of crackers, bread, and beer (which I had previously avoided). It was during this time I got very ill. Once again, denial took hold and I assumed I had a stomach bug. But after a couple of months of intense stomach issues, joint pain that kept me in bed for days at a time, and pain that could double me over onto the floor, I knew something was terribly wrong.
Several hospital visits and a not so awesome colonoscopy later, and the doc said I had Crohn's disease. Hmm...a disease. It is a weird feeling to be told you are diseased. Even stranger to be told it is an incurable disease that will require drugs for life and most likely several surgeries. But I didn't yet feel hopeless.
For those of you unfamiliar with Crohn's (which is probably the majority of you), it is a an autoimmune disease of the digestive system, which basically means my own immune system is attacking my (very inflamed) digestive tract. Conventional medicine suggests there is no known cause for it, and changing your diet will not affect it.
This way of thinking of course left me scratching my head. How is it that a disease of the digestive system, that system who's sole purpose is to digest your food, is not affected by...well...food? After my less than compassionate doctor pushed for low dose chemotherapy drugs given in an IV every few weeks, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Now, I will admit that this strategy does not work for everyone. It truly depends on how sick you really are. I did accept the antibiotics and steroids they initially gave me after diagnosis, as the pain was so intense that I would do anything to feel better. But I quickly weaned myself off of them and looked for other answers. I spent a great deal of time on both the sofa and my lap top looking for them.
Enter: the GAPS/SCD diets. GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, SCD for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Both are very very similar to one another. The basic idea is to starve out the bad bacteria inhabiting your gut (contributing to all of the nasty symptoms) by cutting out all carbs, refined sugars, and grains, and supplementing with powerful foods and probiotics. Yes, that means no bread, pasta, dessert, potatoes, corn, or beer. The hope is that after a year or two on the diet, the gut, which has been ravaged thanks in part to antibiotics, birth control pills, sugar, even how you were birthed as an infant, will heal itself and regain its "normalcy". In other words, many outside of conventional medicine believe Crohn's (and many other ailments such as autism, ADHD, depression, etc.) is completely curable.
I myself have been on the diet (I have somewhat combined the two, since they are so similar) for around 4 months now, and I must say, the results are incredible. Just a few months ago I could barely walk, had the arthritis of an 80 year old woman, and had lost over 15 lbs. in just a few short weeks. I have since gained the weight back, had zero pain, and have more energy than I have had in literally years.
Is the diet hard? Well, at first, yes. Sugar and simple carbs are very addictive for the body, so it screams for them when you deny it. But after a few weeks, the cravings went away. I have found great replacements for what I truly miss (like pizza and tortillas) with nut flours, and relish in what I can have: meat, butter, eggs, wine, most cheeses, vegetables, and fruit. In many ways I am quite thankful, as I am forced to cut out all of the processed crap I knew I shouldn't be consuming anyway. But to feel this good now, it's worth every frustration. While I'm far from healed, I believe I'm on the right path.
I post this in the hopes that someone else out there that feels the way I did will read this and gain something positive from it. Go with what your gut is telling you, not what doctors want you to believe. There is always hope.
Links I have found enlightening...
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
What is southern food without mayonnaise? Not much if you ask me. Unfortunately, it also gets a very bad reputation in the health food world. But fat really shouldn't be as evil of a food as we make it out to be. Our bodies cannot function without it, even the saturated stuff. The beauty about making your own mayo (which is so incredibly easy by the way) is that you control every aspect of what goes into it, and you can seriously ramp up the nutritional value that you just won't get from the grocery store.
There is much debate over which fats are good and which are bad, and while we have been taught for years to believe that all saturated fats = bad and all mono/polyunsaturated fats = good, that may not necessarily be the case. I won't launch into a lengthy explanation about it, but you can read one here.
When making your own mayo, you can incorporate the highest quality ingredients such as pastured eggs (which also impart a lovely yellow hue), your choice of oils, flavorings, and amount of salt. The texture is also much smoother and creamier, which is never a bad thing. Now, I have made mayonnaise many times before, but my next two tricks (courtesy of Pinterest) are brand new. And awesome.
Trick #1: The addition of whey
If you make your own yogurt or cheese, you will no doubt be left with the remaining liquid known as whey. You can also strain whey from store bought yogurt if you don't. While it is great to use in everything from biscuits to smoothies, it is also quite helpful in mayo. By adding just a small amount and leaving it out for a few hours, the whey will culture the mayo, allowing it to keep for several months as opposed to a couple of weeks. It also boosts the amount of gut friendly bacteria, something the majority of us sorely lack.
Trick #2: Using an egg yolk when disaster strikes
I would love to tell you that every batch of mayonnaise I have ever made was a creamy dreamy success, but that would be a bold faced lie. I have been left with broken mayonnaise many times (typically when I use machinery as opposed to a good old fashioned whisk for some reason). Usually I would just stow it away in the fridge and occasionally whisk in some warm water to kind of sort of bring it back to its original glory. But if you really want to save the day, just add an egg yolk to the bottom of a bowl, and slowly drizzle in your sad little concoction then whisk like mad. Voila, creamy dreamy success.
1 large egg, plus 2 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp dry mustard or Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp fine sea salt + more to taste
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp honey
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups oil (I use 1 3/4 cup sunflower oil and 1/4 cup olive oil)
2 Tbsp of whey
Combine the egg, yolks, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, honey, and salt in a bowl with a whisk or blend in your food processor.
Slowly whisk in the oil, drop by drop at first, then gradually in a slow stream until you get an emulsion.
When all of the oil is blended in, add in the whey.
Give it a taste and add more seasonings if needed.
Let your mayo sit out on the counter for 7 hours before putting into the fridge.
It will last about 2 months in the refrigerator.
Friday, September 21, 2012
The second Cheesepalooza challenge (and first for me) was fresh chevre. Having been a cheese monger for forever now, let me quickly clear up a couple of things. First, the "r" in chevre is silent. I know I know, those crazy French folks. It is not related in any way to any American car companies. It is pronounced "chev". Secondly, chevre is not the only goat cheese out there. I blame celebrity chefs and cookbooks for this. It really bends me out of shape when I read a recipe that calls for the generic term "goat cheese". It is not the 1980's anymore, there are many many more styles out there now. You can make just about any type of cheese there is with goat's milk, and sheep too for that matter. And yes, you can milk sheep.
Ok, my rant is done. Onto fun things. So chevre is a fresh (unaged) mild cheese made from goat's milk. In fact, the very word chevre is French for goat. It is also a very easy cheese to make in case you were wondering. It involves nothing more than fresh milk, some cultures, a little heat, and a little patience (cue Guns 'N' Roses song). I started with a gallon of lovely raw goat's milk, heated it slightly, added the cultures, and let it sit out overnight (Not in the fridge. Those added cultures go straight to work in the milk, turning lactose into lactic acid, and preventing the milk from spoiling). In the morning, I ladled the curds into cheesecloth and hung it neatly from my kitchen faucet. After draining for about 6 hours, I smooshed in some salt, and that was that! Easy as pie. Mine came out a tad more crumbly than I like, so next time I will drain for a shorter period of time. But the end result was delicious. Lactic, bright, and smooth.
So far I have used it mainly for salads and eggs (like the scrambled eggs pictured below with a gorgeous heirloom tomato), but it would be great in everything from mashed potatoes, to mac and cheese, to ravioli filling. And it freezes quite well too. This is a great cheese to try if you are thinking about taking the plunge!
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
I promised farm photos, and here they are.
|view of the valley|
|112 year old (colorful) farmhouse|
|I think a little cheese cave belongs up there...|
|our first hay|
|resident farm stud|
I'm in love!
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
The results are in...I passed! After a month of agonizing, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. I feel very honored to carry the title of Certified Cheese Professional.
So in continuing along with more cheesy goodness, a Facebook friend turned me onto yet another year long blogging challenge called Cheesepalooza (not hosted by the same bloggers as Charcutepalooza, but the name pays homage to them). Unfortunately, I missed the first challenge of the Year of Cheese back in August, which was fresh ricotta. Luckily I have made ricotta several times, so I don't feel too bad. This month the challenge is fresh chevre, which I plan to make this week. I am lucky to have a couple of sources of wonderful raw Nigerian Dwarf goat milk, which is very high in delicious butterfat, perfect for cheese making.
Mary Karlin's book Artisan Cheese Making at Home is the guide for this year. And once again, this is a book I have very much been wanting to buy. I am really looking forward to making some aged cheeses in my own kitchen. I have a great little retro refrigerator that I have been dying to fashion into an aging chamber. Stay tuned for recipes and photos!
And last but not least, as I am sure you all are feverishly preparing for American Cheese Month in October (you are, aren't you?), make sure to get up to Music City for yet another year of the Southern Artisan Cheese Festival. It is promised to be bigger, badder, and tastier.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
::Sigh::. The thing about New Year's resolutions is....I never keep them. Shocking, I know. But alas, I will not ramble on with apologies and excuses. There are far too many cheesy things to tell you people about!
Earlier this year I had the great opportunity to visit Wisconsin not once but twice. Both trips were work related, and the latter of the two was a week long course at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin. This was early preparation for the Certified Cheese Professional exam, but more on that later.
Let me first say, Wisconsin is beautiful. Sorry Wisconsinites, but I wasn't expecting it to be. I was envisioning flat cold terrain, and a lot of cows (I don't get out much). Ok, the cow part is true.
However, everywhere I went I was surrounded by lush green rolling pastures, wildflowers, blue skies, and little red barns. Charming. A few of my adventures in WI included tours of several beloved dairies including Saxon, Salemville, Crave Brothers, and Emmi Roth Kase. And Madison is one of the neatest cities I have been to in awhile. Were it not for their winters, I would have considered moving there.
|home sweet home|
This summer I started a short but thrilling stint at Manyfold Farm as a milkmaid/assistant cheese maker. Yeah that's right, I said milkmaid, and I say it with pride!
|Milkmaids in action.|
*Photo courtesy of Manyfold Farm*
Manyfold is a sheep dairy located in Chattahoochee Hills, a hop and a skip away from where I currently live. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stay full time with them due to some health issues, but the time I did have was fantastic! Besides milking sheep every morning (which is a great way to start the day, seriously), I got to help Rebecca, the head cheese maker, make various batches of both fresh and aged sheep cheese, and care for the young cheeses in their respective aging rooms. It is both fascinating and daunting work. Anyone who questions the high price of artisan cheese should spend a day or two working at a farm, I guarantee you will be whistling a different tune.
|I'm a lot of work.|
*Photo courtesy of Manyfold Farm*
|Right this way, nerd.|
Phew, so that is what I have been up to the past several months. This slacker will do her best to keep you updated more frequently. More farm posts to come!
Monday, April 2, 2012
It still very much amazes me that in this day and age, raw milk is illegal in most states. You can walk over to your local convenience store and purchase a carton of cigarettes, a 12 pack of beer, and any number of processed "foods", but you cannot legally buy fresh milk. Raw milk straight from the udder, no preservatives, no crap. Raw milk is a wonderful thing in my humble opinion. Chalk full of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and living enzymes, I would totally consider it a health food. But I am not here to convince you of that.
What I want to get across is that we as a people should have the freedom to be able to choose what we consume. Government should never take away our right to choice, but only have the say to warn if need be. While pasteurization came about out of necessity, that need was brought on by uncleanliness, poor animal husbandry, disease, and improper feed.
For those who aren't aware (I being one for a very long time), cows do not naturally eat grain. Cows were meant to eat grass, and only grass. Grain does some pretty nasty things to the complex digestive system of ruminants (cows, sheep, goats). But grain became a very cheap commodity crop, and it became much easier to cram large numbers of animals into filthy concrete buildings than have them roam freely on expensive pasture far from town. So came the invention of pasteurization, homogenization and the introduction of antibiotics into our food supply.
However, not every farm operates under these conditions. There exists people that believe animals should live how they were designed to live, and eat what they were meant to eat. Small farms bring back the natural and wholesomeness to our food. And we should be able to freely purchase products from these farms if we so choose.
Nature's Harmony Farm in Elberton, Georgia (who, by the way, make fabulous raw milk farmstead cheeses) is rallying to legalize raw milk sales. I urge you to sign their petition and help get the process started. Even if you don't live in Georgia, changing the laws here can have a significant impact on surrounding areas. It is high time that we turn our food system around and focus on small family farming, not dangerous conventional models that prove to do nothing more than make us sicker and sicker. Let's legalize the white stuff!
Click here to sign the petition
To learn a little bit more about raw milk, click here
"If the people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny." Thomas Jefferson
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Here it is, another month, and once again I am talking about cheese. It being Spring, I wanted to showcase a cheese that embodies the season. There are, of course, many cheeses that can do just that. Most would also fall under the sheep and/or goat category. But for me, Appalachian from Meadow Creek Dairy practically screams green pastures and budding flowers.
Let me back up for a moment. About three years ago, I had the great opportunity of interning at Meadow Creek for one month. I took a short hiatus from the cheese counter to hike it up to the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley in Galax, Virginia. Myself and my dog (Frankie) were graciously greeted by a family eager to show me all about their world of farmstead cheese. It was also the height of Spring (a.k.a. Allergy Hell). Having just survived round #1 in Georgia, it was a very long Spring.
But in between the drug induced hazes and long hours in the cheese cellar, the dog and I spent a great deal of time hiking the many acres of their beautiful farm land and hanging out with the dairy cows. I can say that the taste of Appalachian reminds me in every way of those Springtime walks.
Appalachian was the first cheese made by the Feetes at the award winning Meadow Creek. It is in the classic French tomme style, aged for at least 60 days in their underground cheese cellar. The fluffy white Penicilium mold (yes, mold is good!) is allowed to grow on the rind, giving way to an earthy yet lively cheese underneath. Being that Galax is a quaint little mountain town, the terrior no doubt adds to the complex layers of flavor.
One bite and it is obvious this is a raw milk cheese. New green grass, mountain soil, and sweet warm milk shine through in its taste. The rind imparts a lovely earthy damp leaf flavor that is equally pleasant. Close your eyes and you can almost see Bambi, Thumper, and Flower. All the flavors meld into thoughts of creeks running through green meadows (hmm, wonder where the name came from?), ferns, fallen logs, and lightening bugs. But enough Hippie talk.
I enjoyed today's wedge with a torn piece of baguette and a dollop of fresh strawberry jam. I find Appalachian lends itself very well to berries of all kinds. It also surprisingly does well with tropical fruits like kiwi and mango, which can be difficult to pair with cheese. For drink I would do a lovely summer Hefeweizen or a crisp white like a Pinot Grigio. I could also see a Perry (hard pear cider) working very well with it too.
|It's also really good on one of these|
For anyone still questioning the merits of Southern cheese making, I dare you to try this cheese and tell me it's anything less than spectacular.