Monday, March 25, 2013

Orzo and Chickpea Soup and Buttermilk Crackling Cornbread

I wanted to just write about this soup, which is very good, but the pictures I took were pretty bad. To be fair, the cornbread was a revelation, but it was a recipe from Joy of Cooking that I didn't change a bit.  I put the soup photos here just to illustrate what it looked like, but I'm aware that they are not pretty shots. I would like to absolve myself here by saying I'm not a photographer! I don't practice it, and I don't try to get better at it; not proud of that fact, rather just stating it. I never stage shots, I just take them when it seems right. At most I take about ten photos of a thing, usually it's just a few. I wish I were more focused (ha, ha) but I'm not. I really admire all my friends who take photography seriously and get better at it every day. I am trying to learn how to practice things and get better at them. It's a fault of mine that I don't. I fly into things with good intentions, and end up being a little sloppy about them because I've got twenty things like it going on.

I do, however, enjoy practicing cooking every day, and I'd say I always get better at it. (That doesn't mean I don't still make lots of mistakes!) Yesterday, I was working in the yard---finally!! I transplanted some trees, chopped some gnarly poison ivy vines, and cleared the perennial garden--and something obvious dawned on me, as I thought about all the things I like to do. In my life, I've gotten sidetracked by enjoying doing so many different things. There were so many things I wanted to be and to do! A musician, songwriter, photographer, writer, photo editor, film maker, actor--the list goes on. There were things in that list that I got good at, and worked really hard at, but they didn't seem to really take off. I was thinking yesterday as I raked--such good meditation--that in order to be good at something, you must not only put the work in, but really, you should enjoy the work involved. Obvious, right? Isn't it funny how something so obvious can suddenly seem so clear to you? Forcing yourself to put in the work that you don't truly enjoy to get to an end that you desire, well, that's just not going to work. At least not for me. 

Recently, I started to unclutter my life: getting rid of things that have been piling up, not being used. Another facet of this de-cluttering is to remove the doing of activities that might be better left to others. I'm trying very hard at streamlining my life, and to not desire to do things that might dilute the other things in my life. For example, I recently gave my chickens to my neighbor. I miss the chickens, but they took up brain space (and money) that perhaps gave me less time to spend on my garden and fruit trees. I still get great eggs, but now I am focusing on treating my trees a little better. I also sold my serger (a finishing sewing machine). I decided: you know what? I'm not a sewer! I like the idea of making something I dream up, but I'm not good at it!! I don't want to put in the work. So I retired the idea of being a sewer. I kept my old Singer for small jobs--hemming and the like--but I allowed myself to let go of making ambitious quilts or a clothing line. 

You catch my drift here? It doesn't mean that I'm putting down my guitar or camera, but you know the saying "Jack of all trades, master of none?" 

What I'm focusing on these days: the freezer and the larder. Using things up, although we still have a few months before true bounty is upon us, is one of my priorities. A couple of true gems I made this year were pesto, oven roasted tomatoes and salt pork. Pesto and oven roasted tomatoes have been standbys for years, the salt pork is new. Instead of freezing all the back fat I got from our half-hog for sausages, I made it into salt pork, cubed it, and froze it in ziploc bags. It has proven indispensable. But the best thing I have made with it is this buttermilk crackling cornbread. Oh, my. This fresh out of the oven with syrup and (redundant) butter was heaven. It was equally good the next morning, and aside this soup. (The recipe for the cornbread is in a link below, if you don't have Joy of Cooking. Let me know if it doesn't come up; it was a preview of the book.)

 Orzo and Chickpea Soup

Can you tell me when people started thinking that soup had to be the consistency of pudding? Whenever I stop in a diner and have soup, it's gloppy and horrible. Why?? This is a hearty soup with a nice broth. The way it should be. Soup, to me, isn't a science but an amalgamation of some good things in the fridge. It always starts with good stock. The ingredients here are just a guideline. Soup loves creativity and turning leftovers into gold.

A few cloves of garlic
1 onion
6 or so white mushrooms
2 carrots
Salt, Pepper, dried Italian herbs
6 cups of stock, chicken or vegetable
1 cup of roasted tomatoes
1 tablespoon of pesto
1 can of chickpeas
1/3 cup of orzo
About a 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley

1. Saute one medium onion and a few cloves of garlic, diced up, in good olive oil.

2. Add some veggies, here I finely diced some mushrooms and added a few carrots, peeled and left in big spears.

3. Add salt, pepper, some dried Italian herbs.

4. Slowly add about six cups of room temperature chicken stock, letting it heat up before you add more.

5. Add about a cup of oven roasted tomatoes. It doesn't matter if they are frozen or not. I chose to leave them whole, but you can coarsely chop them too.

6. A heaping spoonful of pesto. Mix it in.

7. A can of chickpeas. (I like keeping a can or two of beans around to put together a quick meal.)

8. Have the soup simmering for about fifteen minutes to let everything mingle. Then add about a 1/3 cup of orzo. Let it continue to simmer on low to cook the pasta.

9. Add a bunch of chopped fresh parsley.

10. Serve with this cornbread. (Joy of Cooking, Buttermilk Crackling Cornbread, page 778.) And have any leftovers toasted with butter and maple syrup!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Citrus Cleaner

The only large parcel of citrus I ordered this year were two big boxes of sour oranges from my mother's neighbor's tree. After juicing them all, I froze the juice for later use in the summer when porch-side cocktails are in order. I find that this method keeps the citrus flavor a little fresher, but I still stand by my sour mix! After making more candied citrus peels than should be normal, I still had a large amount of peels left over. Rather than compost them right away, I squished them into two half-gallon jars and covered them with white vinegar. They sat for a month, and just the other day I drained the bright gold liquid off into one of the jars. It was very concentrated, so I then filled the jar with more white vinegar. Now I have sour orange vinegar, which I certainly could use for some interesting pickles or dressings, but what I intended for them was household cleaner. There's a strange sort of pride in making a cleaner that you could cook with!

I usually fill a spray bottle halfway with vinegar, then add water and a drop or two with dishwashing soap. That's it. But now when I'm cleaning, it will smell slightly of Florida, which is just what you need in the tail-end of winter.

Do you use homemade cleaners in your home? What do you make/use?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Coconutty Bars

This little bar I came up with today was a total winner. I love bars--last week found me making Kind bars. Do you know the bars I'm talking about? I love them, but yes, they are a tad spendy. Ends up they are crazy easy to make. Just like Lara bars, which I like, but they're more like a breakfast bar, whereas Kind bars are more of a treat. And I like treats, as you know. Here are two links, among so many, that I liked:

Homemade TRIO and Kind Bars: The recipe I worked from for the Kind bars I made.
Lara Bars:  I loved the thoroughness of this post from The Kitchn.

But I was in search of a coconutty kind of bar. That's what I thought to myself: I need something coconutty. Do you live your life like that? Thinking of what you are craving and finding a way to cook it? It doesn't always come out well, you may know, if you are like me. There is a moment I have when I'm mixing something, and I say to myself: This is going to be so good! But I'm not always right. This time, I was right. I was inspired by this recipe for Almond Coconut Bars by The Paleo Mom, which doesn't look far off from my final product, but mine's a bit different.

I mistakenly said hashtagged these as Paleo today on Instagram, and the way I made them (with brown rice syrup) they are not. They also won't work with a GAPS diet, for the same reason. Somehow, I don't think these would hold together well with honey, but it might be worth a try. Let me know if you do! I wonder how these would come out without any sweetener at all? Brown rice syrup does have this magical glue quality when baked. I think without the syrup, you could just chill the pan, and call it a Lara bar kind of thing.

Coconutty Bars

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8x8 square pan with olive oil.

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 cups mixed nuts (I used a mix of almonds, walnuts, and pecans)
1 cup deglet dates
1 tablespoon of olive oil or liquid (warmed) coconut oil
1 tablespoon of brown rice syrup

Put coconut, nuts, and dates in a food processor, and run it until they are all very finely ground, a minute or two. Then, while the machine is on, slowly pour in the oil. I used very good olive oil, but I'm sure coconut would be tasty. Then, because the brown rice syrup is so gloopy, stop the machine, add it, then turn it on to fully blend. Tip: Use the oil-slicked tablespoon for the brown rice syrup--it will slide right off the spoon. Then, pat the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for fifteen minutes, or until the sides are golden. It will have puffed up a little, too. Take it out and let it cool a good fifteen minutes or so. To get it out of the pan, I gently covered it with wax paper and inverted it on a cutting board, then flipped it again, so it was right side up. Do this gently! Let it cool.

For the chocolate layer on top, chop up about two ounces of dark chocolate and heat slowly until liquid. Use a double-boiler, or a microwave for a minute or two, if you have one. Spread it on top of the bar "cake" with a spatula, and let it cool and harden in the fridge for about an hour.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Chocolate Beet Cake

Well, March has arrived, and I am very surprised to report that I have made it through this winter in one piece. It has actually been a very nice winter! Maybe I shouldn't be saying this, though, could I be jinxing myself? The wind is blustery outside, and still slightly sharp even in the sun. The rivers and streams are running strong, and I can see the mud just starting to appear. I went to a sugaring event the other day and was told it was a good maple syrup season. I've been seeing bluebirds cavorting in the front yard! However, it still doesn't smell like spring. Do you know that smell? It's when the ground really starts to defrost and release it's earthy smell. It's still not there.

I can't quite believe that in only two weeks I'll be digging into my garden and planting kale and pea seeds. I also have a few trees to transplant--two crab apples that I started as whips and now are quite sturdy. Down with the rest of the baby orchard you go! Along with the quinces, plums and apples. And before you know it, the perennial patch will be sprouting asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries. This is absolutely my favorite time. The feeling of anticipation and longing is sometimes what makes winter so worthwhile.

But it's still cold, and baking little goodies is still on my mind, albeit made with low sugar and maybe something healthy tucked in. I'll say it again: I'm not against butter laden cookies or sugary cakes, but when I make something for the house (read: something I'll have constant access to) it has to be a healthy treat. I save my splurges for the bakery or chocolatier. And, if you have a little one in the house, you might want a treat like this. Though I will warn you: these are not sweet. At all. Even with a half cup of sugar! But the moist chocolatey-ness is really gratifying. It might be better, though, with some cream cheese frosting sweetened with maple syrup. Let me know if you do that, would you?

Chocolate Beet Cake
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 10 inch spring form pan.

1.5 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 cup canola or coconut oil
1/3 cup milk or coconut milk

1.5 cups pureed beets*
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk together dry ingredients. Beat oil and sugar together until fluffy. Add molasses, oil, milk, beets and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry, and blend until smooth. Bake for thirty minutes.

*Preserver's Tip: Back when local beets were abundant, I boiled a bunch, peeled them and sliced them and threw them in the freezer. I was thinking future borscht at the time, but now they are all destined to become cake. Beets freeze phenomenally well. I also had some golden beet puree that became Golden Beet Blondies, but I neglected to write down the recipe. They came out quite nicely!