Friday, July 27, 2012

Polenta Bowl

Kind of like a teriyaki bowl, or maybe a soba bowl, but this is a polenta bowl. As opposed to rice or noodles, the base of this bowl is polenta. Shaun and I are WWOOFing at Pine Meadow Farm and are learning how to eat very seasonally. In addition to produce Pine Meadow has goat's milk, eggs, and staples such as beans and grains. So right now we are eating a lot of beans, grains, lettuce (not featured in this recipe) and beet thinnings. Garden tip: You plant beet seeds in very dense rows and then pull most of them out so the healthiest can grow to full size, but you can still eat the greens.

You can only eat so much beans and rice, so we started looking for another grain we could use. We arrived at corn.Expect more bean related posts in the future...

OK here are the components of the bowl:

Kidney Beans
Sauteed Beet Greens

For the polenta
Polenta is super quick and easy. We have been eating a lot of it on the farm since it is so much faster than rice. When making rice you usually use a two parts water to one part rice. With polenta it's four parts liquid to one part corn meal. I combine four cups of liquid (some combination of water, broth and/or milk) with one cup of corn meal, stir, and let simmer on low stirring occasionally to frequently for five to ten minutes. Or until the mixture looks thick and porridge like. I use normal corn meal, sometimes fine grind, sometimes corse grind depending on what I have. While on the farm I have been using two cups of goat milk and two cups of water for the liquid. At home (where goat milk is in much shorter supply) I usually use four cups of vegetable broth and then a little half and half or a tablespoon of butter added at the end.

For the Beans
I had leftover beans... They had no seasoning what so ever, so they were pretty bland. For this preparation I used two cups of cooked kidney beans and tossed them with a quarter cup of balsamic vinaigrette.

For the beet greens
Take all of the beet thinnings you have, or remove the tops of one large bunch of beets and use the root for something else. I might suggest beet feta gratin. Saute the greens and one or two minced cloves of garlic in about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To prepare the bowl
For each bowl I used one cup of polenta, 1/2 cup of beans, and 1/4 of the available greens. I thought the assembled bowls were quite visually appealing.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Meet the Goats

Hello! I am a baby goat
OK, this post is going to reveal how little I know about farming/how disconnected I am from my food - even AFTER shopping regularly at the farmers market for years and spending six weeks working on an organic farm. I mentioned in my last post that Shaun and I are now WWOOFing on a farm outside of Spokane that has goats. I have seen some blog posts from sustainability minded people and urban homesteaders who have dairy goats. The idea greatly appealed to me, goat cheese is delicious after all. The potential to learn about goats was one of the reasons Shaun and I chose this farm.

This is where I reveal how little I knew about milk producing animals. So, um, getting milk from goats requires them to have baby goats. There are ten female goats at Pine Meadows Farm (and one adult male goat). These ten goats had babies, and that's why they are able to give us milk! I think if I had really thought about it I would have been able to figure this out, but that's kind of the point, I hadn't really thought about it. I don't know that I have ever really thought about where milk comes from.
Entrance to beautiful Pine Meadow Farm

That's the big, obvious thing that I have learned thus far. There have been a couple of others as well. We separate the baby goats from their mommas every evening so that all of the momma goats are able to be milked in the morning. The babies spend the day with their moms and are able to nurse. There are a couple of goats who for various reasons don't nurse and they get milked in the evening as well.

It was both harder and easier to milk a goat than I expected. Goats I have interacted with in the past (mainly in petting zoos) have been very obstinate. These goats knew their names and jumped up on the milking stanchion as soon as it was their turn. Actually squeezing the teet to get milk to come out was challenging for me. It's kind of like squeezing liquid out of a balloon. For some reason it took a lot of thought to get my hand to move in that particular way.

Goats hanging out in the pasture
In the evening the milk is for the chickens, so sanitation isn't so important. We drink the milk in the morning, often raw, so sanitation is VERY important. The goat's utters are sanitized with a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide. The first squirt of milk, where most of the bacteria is, is thrown away. And the containers that we milk into are carefully cleaned.

Goat being milked in a stanchion
When I got to Pine Meadow I was a little unsure about drinking raw milk. I guess I am still a little unsure about it. I know there are a lot of people out there (The Weston Price Foundation seems to be the most vocal) who believe that raw milk is the healthiest, safest thing out there, and I understand where they are coming from. There are also a lot of people (the CDC for example) who consider it dangerous. I was talking with Chris, the primary farmer, about it, he pointed out that pasteurized milk has no bacteria. The complete lack of bacteria means that once some type of bacteria is introduced it has a super awesome environment to colonize. With raw milk there is bacteria, but (hopefully) it's the good bacteria. Since the milk is already full of bacteria there is no room for the bad bacteria to get in. Or that's the theory at least. I think I am opening up to the idea of raw milk. Thus far I have mainly used it in in cooked dishes like oatmeal and sauces. Others on the farm have been drinking multiple glasses a day, some have been drinking it for years. Everyone appears the picture of health.

Does anyone out there drink raw milk? Have an opinion about it?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Moving On

Shaun and I are spending the summer WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). We spent the first half of the summer in Oregon at Kings Valley Gardens. I would highly recommend the experience. John and Andrea, the owners, are deeply committed to their work as well as teaching others. Our primary reason for WWOOFing was to learn how to grow food. We learned a lot about gardening, and I think increased our confidence to put these ideas into practice. I thought the most powerful part of the experience was living in such a wonderful community. There were seven of us on the farm (2 farmers and 5 WWOOFers) and we were all working towards the same goal. We were living in balance with our environment and having a lot of fun! Kings Valley Gardens is near my parents house, and I am glad we will be able to visit in the future and continue to develop our friendship.

Despite how lovely Kings Valley was, we have moved on. We have crossed the cascades from the moist climes of Western Oregon to the drier plateau south of Spokane, WA. We'll spend the next 5 weeks on Pine Meadow Farm. Spokane is kind of where Shaun is from. Shaun is technically from a town of 250 people right before the Canadian border and there weren't many farms in that area, but his brothers and several other friends live in Spokane. Plus Shaun will be able to attend his ten year high school reunion in a couple of weeks.

Pine Meadow is a little less organized then Kings Valley (it's only 3 years old instead of 12) but it does have something Kings Valley does not - GOATS! My next post will be all about the goats and what I have learned so far. The farm has a beautiful setting with both pine forrest and meadow (as the name suggests), plus it's only about 10 miles from Spokane and 8 to Cheney with a regional bike path nearby. 

Our summer is about half over, but I know the next month will fly by. We already have several adventures planned, including a backpacking trip to the Selkirks! With little time remaining it is a good time to evaluate what my goals were for the summer and recommit myself to being open and learning. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Garlic Salad Dressing

Shaun working in the outdoor kitchen

I have tried to get in the habit of making my own salad dressing, but have never quite stuck with it. Andrea, the farmer at Kings Valley Gardens where we are WWOOFing makes a delicious garlic salad dressing. I posted previously about the beautiful floral salad that we made as well as the delicious and nutritious kale salad we had. Both of these salads featured this dressing. One might be surprised by the 20 cloves of garlic (I know I was) But I think the garlic mellows as it marinates in the oil and vinegar. Even after we had just made it no one found the garlic overwhelming. This makes enough for about 3 cups - or one large mason jar (if you are on a farm) :)

The crew at Kings Valley Gardens enjoying a lovely meal
Mix the following in a jar and shake well before using
  • 20 cloves of minced or finely chopped garlic1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup tamari
Side note: You may notice that there doesn't seem to be any salad or salad dressing in the photos I chose? That's true, both of these shots are from our last meal at Kings Valley which ended up being a Fourth of July pancake breakfast. Shaun made pancakes for everyone and we topped them with blueberries, strawberries, and shredded coconut. I thought they were much cuter that a shot of a jar of salad dressing. I am sure you can all imagine what a jar of salad dressing looks like and aren't these better?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hazelnut Encrusted Tofu

One rainy day at Kings Valley Gardens we spent an afternoon sitting in the hoop house cracking hazelnuts (otherwise known as filberts, I am unsure what, if any, the difference is). The hazelnuts had been gleaned the year before from a nearby hazelnut orchard. I love hazelnuts and for my designated cooking night (we take turns) I wanted to feature them. I had heard of people encrusting various things with them, and tofu seemed like the only available thing to encrust. I was really happy with how the meal turned out and I know others liked it because a repeat was requested the next week. 

In a past post I mentioned including more recipes that actually fit the name of the blog and were cheap, quick and local. This meal fits the bill... but only if you have hazelnuts and strawberries that you grew/gleaned. I am guessing this is a relatively small portion of the population. If hazelnuts are too expensive or not available you could use any nut you have on hand. The strawberry sauce was delicious but if it's not strawberry season the tofu would be good on its own, or I would probably eat it with catsup. 

The hoop house where we sit on rainy days to crack nuts
The hoop house where we sit on rainy days to crack nuts

The full menu that I served the was:
Hazelnut Encrusted Tofu
Strawberry Merlot Sauce
Macerated Kale Salad

For the tofu:
1 container tofu
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup flour (I used brown rice flour to make it gluten free)
pinch of salt and pepper
1 egg (you could leave out the egg to make it vegan, but the coating may not stick quite as well)
1 tbsp stone ground mustard
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp honey

Hazelnut encrusted tofu, strawberry wine sauce, quinoa,
and macerated kale salad
If you are doing the full suggested menu start the salad first (scroll down for the recipe)

Tofu Directions
Pre heat oven to 400 degrees and grease a large cookie sheet.

At Kings Valley I was introduced to using frozen tofu which I would recommend, but fresh will also work well. To freeze tofu start by slicing it into 1/4 inch pieces. Drain as much water as possible and then simply store it in the freezer. The defrosted tofu will be much more spongy than its fresh counterpart. If you froze tofu a couple of days/weeks/months ago you will need to remember to get it out of the freezer the day before you want to make this dish (probably obvious, but you never know). 

Hazelnut encrusted tofu, strawberry wine sauce, quinoa,
and macerated kale salad
If using fresh tofu start by slicing the it into 1/4 inch slices, or whatever shape you want. We did some "nuggets" and they turned out really well.

Blend/process the nuts, flour, and salt/pepper until everything is a fine powder. Pour this coating mixture into a small bowl. Mix the remaining ingredients (egg through honey) in a second small bowl. Dip each slice of tofu into the egg mixture and then the nut mixture and lay it on the prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with all available tofu. 

Cook tofu in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, flip, and cook for an additional 15 minutes. 

Sauce Directions
Once the tofu was in the oven I started the sauce. For the sauce I simply cooked 2 cups of strawberries and one cup of red wine (in this case merlot) on simmer for about 5 minutes and then mashed the strawberries with a fork. 

Salad and Quinoa 
Do the salad FIRST so that the kale has time to marinate which makes it more tender. This salad is also delicious the next day, when it has had even longer to marinate. I just tour up a large bowl of clean fresh kale and tossed it with about 1/2 cup of garlic salad dressing (which I will post the recipe for next week) but you could use any dressing you like. You may want to start with a smaller amount of salad dressing and continue adding dressing until the kale leaves seem evenly coated.

I used a pressure cooker for the quinoa. The pressure cooker makes is very quick so you can start this after prepping the sauce. I put

  • 5 cups water
  • 4 cups quinoa

in the pressure cooker and turned the burner on to high. When the pressure cooker reached pressure, on mine this is marked by the gauge on the top rocking back and forth, I immediately turned it off and let it sit. If the pressure cooker is not ready to open when you want to eat run it under cold water for 30 to 60 seconds and the pressure should drop.

This was a lovely summer meal. I look forward to experimenting more with nut encrusted tofu and varying the flavors to match the season. I think walnuts and maple would lend themselves to an autumn dish...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Planning Ahead

Planning Ahead

A couple of months ago I read the book Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon about a couple in Vancouver, BC who ate only food grown within 100 mi. for a year. I highly recommend it. While I am not ready to banish coffee, cocoa, and bananas (among other things) from my diet it was inspirational to see that it is possible, even in a small apartment in a big city. The authors included good tips and information about how they accomplished their goal. 

Bread requires planning ahead and setting aside a
couple of hours
One of the things that stood out to me was how much planning the project took. This is something that's kind of hard for me as I am still getting used to not moving every 6 to 9 months and the idea that I might someday have a garden that I plant asparagus in (asparagus requires waiting three years before you actually get to eat any). Smith and Mackinnon had to can much of their food and stored things like onions, squash, potatoes and nuts so they would have something to eat in the winter. 

Minneapolis has a great local food scene, and several wonderful food co-ops that source a lot of local food. BUT almost all of this delicious local food disappeared from grocery shelves at some point in the winter. At some point beginning around February I noticed that Shaun and I were a) spending a lot more money on produce and b) eating more exotic things (like bananas) and fewer organic items. You might say, "well, you live in Minnesota, I've heard it's an icy tundra covered by 12 feet of snow for 6 months out of the year. Of course there is no local produce in the winter".  That was more or less what I though as well, and then I found Featherstone Farm. 

Gardening requires starting seeds weeks in advance, and
preparing your soil (among other things)
Featherstone Farm is a certified organic, family farm, and they offer a Winter CSA! In Minnesota! They deliver to several places in the Twin Cities, Rochester, and a couple of other places. A friend of mine got the Winter CSA last year and highly recommended it. Another particularly great thing about Featherstone was that they offered multiple payment options. You can pay the whole amount upfront or you can pay in four installments. The installment plan is great since Shaun and I are WWOOFing all summer we have a very tight budget, but spreading the payments out means we're able to make most of them when we start working again in the fall. Installments also mean that you can use SNAP (formally Food Stamps) to pay for a CSA more easily since you don't have to use more than your entire month's benefit to pay for the CSA one month. 

Thus far Featherstone is the only winter CSA I have found, and last year they sold out and I wanted to make sure we signed up early. So Shaun and I planned ahead and are looking forward to being able to source at least some of our produce locally this winter! I'll be sure to share some of the recipes we develop here.

Making jam requires harvesting fresh fruit and not eating it
all at once :)
In addition to signing up for a CSA I have come up with a couple of other goals that require planning ahead that I think will help me more locally sourced and sustainable food this year.

  • Sign up for CSA (check)
  • Purchase Staples in bulk - tentative list of staples to be purchase in bulk:
    • hard red wheat berries
    • barley
    • oats
    • chickpeas
    • black beans
    • kidney beans
  • Can tomatoes (I am thinking 52 jars but that may be a stretch as I have never done tomatoes)
  • Make meal plans at the beginning of each week
  • Give up the clothes dryer
  • Ask farmers market growers about their practices - I like to think that all of the growers at the farmers market use more or less organic methods, but I know this isn't true. I need to do some research as to what types of methods I really don't want to support, a certain chemical for example, or if they spray after the plant has fruited, and come to the market prepared with specific questions.

Can you think of any other ways that I can use planning ahead to eat more locally and sustainably grown produce?