Sunday, March 11, 2018

More Borş: This Time a Risotto!

Okay, I may be needing an intervention over my current obsession with this fermented grain thing, but really, guys, it's pretty amazing stuff. And easy as pie—though, compared to what's involved in making pie, it's more like, I don't know, making a peanut butter sandwich. But that's not how the saying goes, so I hope you catch my drift.

I got a note recently from a reader who saw one of the previous posts about this fermented grain stock, and was moved to share this:
"I am Romanian—I actually came to the USA four years ago, but lived for 20 years in Austria—and my grandmother was doing her own borş and we used it for soups all the time! I still remember the taste, and the big jar that was always standing at our kitchen table. We do eat a lot of soups in Romania, which means I had lots of borş in my lifetime!" 
Stock made from Peace, No War corn is in upper left. So pink!

I've now made three kinds of stock, all from Ayers Creek Farm ground grains: one from yellow flint corn that went into a posole, and the second from Peace, No War purple corn that made a fabulous risotto chock full of sautéed Arch Cape chicory and onions. The third was a barley stock for a parched green wheat soup with carrots and kale and a bit of bacon. All the stocks were distinctive, rich and full-flavored, particularly the purple corn stock, which had an almost meaty quality. As a matter of fact, I used it instead of beef broth to make a beef stroganoff, and couldn't tell the difference in the finished dish.

And the Pepto-Bismol pink color of the stock made from his purple corn? Anthony Boutard (of Ayers Creek Farm) has this to say:
The color comes from the anthocyanins in the corn. It is my art project, selecting for an intense mix of these water soluble pigments. Some of the anthocyanins are pH indicators, including those in corn. You start with that dark blue at around pH 7 and, as the brine acidifies, reaches pH 3.7, it becomes that beautiful fuchsia color. Otherwise, there is no specific culinary reason for the effort on my part. 
As an aside, the plant genus Fuchsia is named in honor of the German botanist and doctor Leonhard Fuchs (1501-1566). His herbal was cited by successor herbal publications, including Gerard. Several species have him as their authority as indicated by L. Fuchs following the Latin binomial.
So if you're game to try it, check out the recipe. It takes four to five days to ferment on your counter (or, as mentioned above, on your table), but it's so worth it!

Chicory and Onion Risotto with Fermented Grain Stock
Inspired by the fabulous Linda Colwell

For the chicory:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
12 oz. sturdy chicory (like Arch Cape, radicchio or treviso), roughly chopped

For the risotto:
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. dry white or rosé wine
4-5 c. fermented grain stock (I used fermented purple corn stock)
1 c. parmesan, grated fine

For the chicory, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then add the chopped onion. Sauté until tender, then add the garlic and chicory and sauté until the chicory is wilted and tender but still has some crunch. Set aside.

For the risotto, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot or deep skillet until it melts, then add the rice. Stirring to prevent sticking, cook until it is hot and well-coated with oil, 2-3 minutes, then add the wine. Stir until the wine is absorbed and then add a ladle of stock, stirring until it's absorbed into the rice. Keep adding ladles of stock, letting each one absorb, until the rice is cooked but still has a nice resistance, then stir in the chicory and cheese. Serve with more parmesan at the table, if desired.

* * *

Addendum from Anthony:

After making and using the grain brines for more than a year and a half, their utter simplicity is their virtue. I have not tired of them. A jar or two sit in the refrigerator at all times. It is not an obsession, no more than using water or milk in dishes is an obsession. Just a fine and versatile ingredient that deserves greater recognition. For the life of me, I can’t understand why the grain brines remain unexplored.

Saturday, I made a clam chowder using brine with onions, potatoes and celery, and a bit of cream. The chowder bridged the realm between New England and Manhattan styles in absolute perfection. The New England richness offset by the brightness of the tomato-based Manhattan version. In seafood chowders as a general matter, nothing else satisfies, having used the brine. Last night we had bay shrimp in a white sauce made from half milk, half brine, and served over rice.

Tomorrow, it will be a beef brisket braised in some brine. For the last two Thanksgivings, we have made gravies using the brine in the place of stock. Likewise, perfect for braising lamb shanks. Soups featuring mushrooms and fungi also fare much better when brine is used instead of meat stock.

I like meat stocks and a turkey stock is what drives me to cook the otherwise just satisfactory fowl. A good beef, pork or chicken stock is wonderful, but they are too often added to dishes in a perfunctory manner where they flatten or detract from the flavor of the primary ingredient. The brines have just the opposite effect, brightening and accentuating the primary ingredient. Not always desirable, but a good starting point.

What intrigues me is the fact that so many Eastern Europeans describe these brines so vividly and with such fond memories, yet they seem to have abandoned them to nostalgia, or buy the stuff as a processed food in specialty stores. I think they have shrouded them with such mystery because no one bothered to make them simple and as easy as Sea-Monkeys.

I have packaged a coarsely ground barley for Josh at Barbur World Foods. I have an index card attached with simple instructions, and non-metric, Sea Monkeys-worthy measurements:

Grain brines are a nourishing and flavorful ingredient prepared from coarsely ground meal soured by lactic acid fermentation. Use the brines in place of meat stocks or where a recipe calls for wine. For example, in making a risotto, fish chowder, mushroom soup, white sauces, or braising meats. Excellent for vegan dishes.

 Use a very clean 2-quart mason jar. Add one cup of barley and three tablespoons of kosher salt. Fill the jar to the top with warm water and screw on the lid. Shake and leave on the counter at room temperature. Loosen the lid slightly while it is fermenting.

Read more of Anthony's writings in his Farm Bulletins. It's time well-spent.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Guest Essay: Ode to the Egg

Writer and cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins has traveled and lived all over the world, in the process coming to the realization, in her words, "that there is a powerful connection between who we are and what we eat. That food is a dramatic (and delicious) expression of who and what people believe themselves to be and how they got that way. Is this cultural anthropology? Yes, I suppose it is, but it’s anthropology with the very important difference that you can taste the culture on your tongue and feel it between your hands, not to mention sniff its often heady aroma on the air."

It’s the simplest, most basic of foods, the one cooks turn to when there’s nothing to eat in the house—because there’s almost always an egg or two in the pantry, ready to be scrambled for a quick supper, or tossed with hot pasta to make a rich carbonara, or poached in chicken stock to turn unassuming broth into chicken soup.

Spring and eggs go together. When the light starts to strengthen and the grass begins to green, the hens begin to lay once more, which is why eggs are so closely tied to the two great Mediterranean spring festivals, Easter and Passover. The egg on the Seder plate, the colored eggs in the Easter basket, are there to announce that winter is over and new life has begun.

Fortunately, eggs have crept out from under the dishonor in which they were held for decades, vilified for high cholesterol content and banned from the tables of anyone who feared heart disease. No longer! Dietary cholesterol is not usually the cause of elevated serum or blood cholesterol. That’s more the result of a diet high in saturated fat, or of unhappy luck of the genes.

Eggs, traditional kitchen folklore tells us, are good for you, an excellent source of protein of course, low in total fat, with 0 carbs and just 71 calories in a normal large egg. They are good sources of iron, selenium, phosphorus, and riboflavin, as well as vitamin B12. They’re also well supplied with antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which protect against macular degeneration, among other benefits. Did your mother tell you eggs are good for your eyes? Mine did, and she was right!

But what kind of eggs? Cage-free, free-range, pastured, pasteurized, organic? The choice is confusing but for most and best flavor, my vote goes to eggs bought from the farmer who tends the chickens. Like Farmer Hubert’s eggs, pictured above, they may be multi-colored (the blue ones are from Araucana hens, the white ones from Leghorns, but I can’t tell you about the rest.) Going straight to the source, you’ll find out how the chickens were raised, what they’ve been fed, and how fresh the eggs are. A bonus: eggs from hens allowed to scratch around a chicken yard are almost always better tasting than ones raised in total captivity. Incidentally, brown eggs are favored in New England and white eggs preferred elsewhere, but the flavor and goodness are exactly the same.

Here’s another interesting fact to put in your egg file: Eggs in North America must be washed before they can be sold. Not a bad idea, you’re thinking? Think again. Eggs come with a natural protective coating that gets dissolved in the wash water. In Italy, where I live part time, eggs don’t have to be refrigerated, while in the U.S., I’m told, it’s best to keep them, if not refrigerated, in a very cool place to protect them. (You may find that eggs bought from the farmer have not been washed.)

What about salmonella? If you think eggs are risky, cook them thoroughly, either hard-boiling or baking in cakes or cookies. Hard cooked eggs can quickly become deviled eggs, a seriously delicious, old-fashioned treat. Do them up Mediterranean style, mixing yolks with a little mustard, some capers and a few green olives chopped with fresh green herbs, the whole bound with a dab of olive oil and another dab of mayonnaise. Or serve them plain, halved and garnished with a black- or green-olive tapénade.

Take a tip from the Italian kitchen and drop eggs, one after the other, into a bean-and-pasta soup, then serve a poached egg with each soup portion, perhaps with a little parmigiano reggiano sprinkled on top. Another dazzling egg trick I learned from Maria Jose San Roman, a great chef from Alicante in southeast Spain: Use gently fried eggs as a sauce to top sautéed potatoes: Sauté sliced potatoes (in olive oil, of course), then arrange on a platter, season generously, and top with eggs similarly fried, the yolks basted with hot oil so that when they break they make a rich, golden sauce for the potatoes. Nothing could be simpler—or better.

Easy Cheese Soufflé

Cheese soufflés transport eggs to the height of elegance. They have a reputation for being tricky but they’re actually easy when you understand the concept. Basically, it’s a béchamel sauce into which egg yolks are stirred and then the stiffly beaten whites and grated cheese, baked until the eggs puff up, and then served immediately. Wait just 10 minutes and the soufflé will deflate—still tasty but not the exciting thing that comes straight from the oven bursting with cheesy fragrance. Another advantage: You can prepare most of it ahead of time, then just beat up the egg whites and fold them in with the cheese right before you put the thing in the oven for 20 minutes. Most soufflé recipes make enough for 6 people but I like this snug little way of making just enough for two.

You’ll need: butter, a small amount of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, a little all-purpose flour, about 3/4 cup of whole milk, 2 eggs (separated), and a cup of grated cheese (gruyere is best but emmenthal or cheddar will work well too). Plus the usual salt, pepper and, if you wish, a pinch of ground red chili and/or a spoonful of French mustard.

First butter the inside of a couple of small soufflé dishes, the kind that hold about 1 cup. Butter them generously and sprinkle the bottoms and sides with grated parmigiano–you’ll need about a tablespoon for each. Set these aside and in a small saucepan melt about a tablespoon of butter over low heat. While you’re doing this, warm the milk in a separate saucepan–it should be very warm but not simmering.

Whisk about 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour into the melted butter, whisking well to avoid lumps. Cook, stirring, for just a minute or two to get rid of the raw taste of the flour, then start adding the hot milk, a little at a time and whisking after each addition. This will avoid lumps in the béchamel sauce. When all the milk has been added, continue cooking for a bit to let the sauce thicken to the consistency of very heavy cream. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool down a bit, then add the egg yolks, one at a time and whisking well after each one. Add a little salt (not too much because the cheese will be salty), ground black pepper, a pinch of chili pepper if you wish (I like to use piment d’Espelette, the chili from the Basque country of southern France), and a spoonful of Dijon mustard. Stir all this together then set aside until you’re ready to continue making the soufflés.

When you’re set to continue, heat the oven up to 450º. Beat the egg whites to a stiff froth, then gently stir half the egg whites and half the grated gruyere into the béchamel. Top with the remaining egg whites and cheese and, using a spatula, fold it all together.

Add the mix to the two soufflé dishes and transfer to the hot oven, immediately turning the heat down to 350º. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the soufflés have risen and turned golden on top. Remove and serve immediately.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Ryan Magarian's Pearl Tavern Matures

It's not all food system issues around here, y'know. I also get a chance to write profiles of restaurateurs and visits to museums thanks to kind editors like Andrew Collins of Portland's The Pearl magazine. Recently I drove across the Willamette to sit down with cocktail guru Ryan Magarian to talk about his latest venture with former University of Oregon and NFL footballer Joey Harrington, called Pearl Tavern, which Magarian described as an "American sports bar meets neighborhood tavern."

After a slightly bumpy beginning, this lively neighborhood space has found its footing—and a loyal following.

It seemed like a recipe for a hands-down success: combine a highly visible corner location in a burgeoning business and residential neighborhood with the expertise and energy of a sought-after bar expert opening his fourth establishment, a Michelin-star chef, a hugely successful restaurant development group, and a national sports celebrity. Throw in a can’t-miss concept: American sports bar meets neighborhood tavern. And you’ve got an instant winner, right?

“When we started out, we let ourselves get a little undisciplined,” says Ryan Magarian, the man behind some of the city’s most successful bar programs, including neighboring Oven & Shaker, which he runs with chef Cathy Whims. His newest venture, the comfortably masculine Pearl Tavern (231 NW 11th Ave, 503-954-3796), which he opened almost a year ago with former University of Oregon and NFL footballer Joey Harrington, took a few months to hit its stride.

“We were trying to do too many things,” he says. “We were kind of looking at doing steak, we were sports, we were a restaurant, and honestly—it just didn’t connect with people at first.”

Steadily, however, Magarian and his teammates have put together a winning venture, with star chef Thomas Boyce helming the kitchen. Pearl Tavern maximizes what Magarian refers to as the neighborhood’s desire “to find comfort and community in one space.” Indeed, you’ll find an unexpectedly high level of service, food, and beverages that’s quite uncommon among sports-concept restaurants.

Magarian claims, in his humble opinion, that the tavern turns out the best burger in town. Other top dishes include a healthier version of classic nachos, featuring pulled pork, tomatillo salsa, and cotija cheese, and an unabashedly decadent mac and cheese. Chef Boyce, known for his commitment to local farms, ranchers, and fishing families, plans to feature Dungeness crab cakes when the season opens, and his fish-and-chips and shrimp with hazelnut romesco are already fan favorites.

Magarian also designed his cocktail menu with fresh ingredients in mind. Consider the Whiskey Ginger From Scratch, with freshly extracted ginger juice (“people go bananas for it,” he says) and Thumper’s Revenge, which he describes as “somewhere between a Bloody Mary and a mojito with carrot juice as a primary foundation—so fresh, but savory too.”

Read the rest of the article about his groundbreaking whiskey program, curated by the phenomenal Tommy Klus, and the tavern's "complete celebration of Oregon athletics."

Photos by Paul Wagtouicz for The Pearl magazine.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Farinata, A Dream Come True

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food has traveled extensively to find small, family-owned producers of exquisite oils, grains, salt and herbs, so his travel advice is worth heeding. As are his recipes, as the one for farinata, below.

I ate farinata for the first time in the Ligurian village of Levanto, just up the coast from the Cinque Terra, more than 10 years ago. Judith and I had spent a wet October day hiking the trail connecting the five towns, and the Cinque Terra rail pass lets you travel between La Spezia and Levanto, the hamlets just beyond the north and south ends of the five towns. So we rode the train to the sleepy seaside resort hoping to dry out a little.

As we wandered around, I'd ask the shopkeepers where they ate, my standard practice for finding good local food instead of the stuff meant for tourists. We ended up at a pizzeria away from the beach, back up the hill toward the train station.

We planned to grab a quick bite before riding the train back to La Spezia to pick up the car and drive "home" to the Tuscan village of Chianni. But I saw something that clearly wasn't pizza come out of the wood-burning oven; nothing on top, just a plain-looking golden pie in a darkly patinated copper pan. I asked what it was, the pizzaiolo said "farinata," and handed me a slice. I thought about the slightly crispy edges and soft, custard-like interior for years, dreaming about finding it somewhere closer to home.


Farinata is a simple flatbread made from chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil. The humble ingredients belie the rich flavor; it's hard to believe that there's no cheese. And it's fairly easy to make, enough that I can't believe I waited so long to try.

Mix chickpea (aka garbanzo) flour with about twice as much water; for a 12 inch farinata I use a cup of flour and 2 cups of water. It's important to let the flour hydrate completely, so let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes or even overnight (longer is better). Add a teaspoon of salt and a generous pour of good extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons). I like the traditional addition of fresh rosemary, so I'll stir in a tablespoon or more of it, lightly chopped.

Set your oven hot to 400°, move the rack to the top slot, and put a 12 inch cast iron skillet inside until it gets nice and hot, about 20 minutes. When you're ready to bake, add enough extra virgin to the hot skillet to completely cover the bottom; swirl it around to get up the sides a bit, too. Pour in the batter, slide the skillet into the oven, and cook for about 20 minutes. It's done when the top is lightly browned and the edges are pulling away from the pan. It's best hot, but it's not bad the next day.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Rootstock Radio Interviews…gulp…Me?

I'm one of those people who hates to listen to my voice. Oh, and I'm also allergic to speaking in public. So when Organic Valley's Mission Ambassador, Theresa Marquez, asked if she could interview me about local agriculture for its Rootstock Radio podcast, I was, simultaneously, honored but completely terrified.

It didn't help to know that the podcast has featured some of the luminaries of the food movement, people like Dr. Joan Dye Gussow, Bob Scowcroft, Frances Moore Lappé, Anna Lappé, Temple Grandin, Fred Kirschenmann…the list goes on. According to its website, Rootstock Radio's mission is to be "a source for honest—yet personable—education amidst the rampant apathy, ignorance and, worse, denial about the true state of food and farming in our country today. As we face the plethora of rubber-stamped GMO releases, we need to amplify the hard truth with compassionate and honest voices, balancing the doom-and-gloom with solutions for contributing to a sustainable future."

My terror was balanced by the fact that I've known Theresa for decades—we met when she was the head of marketing for what was then known as Nature's supermarkets—and she is an invariably kind, approachable, smart and funny person. So I swallowed my fear and arrived at the studio hoping for the best…and it wasn't too bad. (Thanks, Theresa!)

Feel free to take a listen.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Cardamom Takes the Cake

My husband is the baker in the family. Weekends will find him elbow-deep in dough, making six loaves of his dreamy sourdough bread every other week or whirring the processor, mixing light-as-air scones or biscuits. My bailiwick has traditionally been fruit crisps, cobblers or pies, but lately I've been drawn to cakes, excavating my old cake pans from under the pie plates, glass juicers and strainers stacked on top of them.

This spate of activity started at Christmas, when I was looking for an appropriately festive dessert to take to my brother's for dinner. Going through my recipe box—remember those?—I came across my mother's Italian cream cake recipe that she'd inscribed on a blue-lined, three-inch by five-inch filing card, the pre-internet "app" we used for preserving our favorite recipes.

Awhile later my sister-in-law made a beautifully simple cardamom cake for a family birthday, its top browned and sprinkled with slivered almonds. When I begged for the recipe, I found out it had actually been baked upside-down in the cake pan, then inverted to reveal the browned, crisp crust. Brilliant!

When Valentines Day came around shortly thereafter, I was able to pull out my cake pans and express my feelings for my family with this appropriately lovely dessert. I think they got the message!

Pistachio Cardamom Cake

For the topping:
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. sugar
3/4 c. sliced almonds, preferably unblanched

For the cake:
3/4 c. shelled, unsalted pistachios
1/4 c. plus 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cardamom seeds
1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350°.

To make the topping, melt the butter. Pour it into a 9-inch round cake pan and let cool briefly. Sprinkle the teaspoon of sugar evenly over the melted butter, then add the almonds, tilting and shaking the pan to distribute them evenly. Set the pan aside.

To make the cake, in a blender or a food processor pulverize the pistachios with the 1/4 cup flour until as finely ground as possible. Transfer to a small bowl.

Crush the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle (or grind them in a spice grinder). Add the crushed seeds to the pistachio mixture and stir to combine. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl by hand), beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until very light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until completely incorporated.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir it into the butter-egg mixture. Stir in the pistachio mixture just until combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan by dropping 4 or 5 mounds on top of the almonds. Carefully spread the batter into an even layer, trying not to disturb the almonds. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 30-40 minutes (start checking at 30 minutes). Let cool for 15 minutes.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Invert the cake onto a serving plate. Let cool completely.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Fermented Grain, or The Borş Identity, Part 2

One chef at the Ayers Creek Farm tour held for its retail and restaurant customers summed it up nicely. "I wouldn't miss this for the world," he said, noting that not only is it one of the region's premier organic farms with a completely original, single-minded vision behind everything grown there, but "there's nowhere else can I talk with 150 other local chefs and restaurant people with the same approach to food."

(l to r) Fermented wheat; Peace, No War purple corn; and barley.

It was a chance for Carol and Anthony Boutard to thank their customers, yes, but there was a not-so-hidden agenda behind the festivities. The farmers behind this unique place—Anthony is the author of the Farm Bulletins, a staple of Good Stuff NW for more than ten years—have been working to promote the idea of using fermented grain, a happy accident they discovered while researching Anthony's book, Beautiful Corn. (Read his essay on fermented grain, or borş.)

Romanian in origin, it takes just a couple of cups of ground grain—corn or barley are ideal—and a bit of salt to get it started. Mixed with warm water and left out at room temperature for four or five days, it results in a perfect stock for savory dishes. It adds the same body as a meat-based stocked with the added benefit of being much cheaper to make, plus it has the probiotic qualities common to fermented foods.

Posole with fermented corn stock.

While a few folks had picked up the idea, Anthony felt another reminder might be required to put it on their front burners, so to speak, so he and the farm's chef, Linda Colwell, collaborated to come up with a menu based around this elixir. They chose an astonishing posole of pork shoulder rubbed with aci sivri chile oil and paste that was roasted and shredded; then added fermented grain stock from Peace, No War corn; hominy made from nixtamalized Amish Butter flint corn; and steamed borage and poppy leaves.

A second soup was made from cardoons, slow-braised in butter along with potatoes and run through a food mill, then the pulp and fibers were combined with fermented barley stock. Its soft green color was tantalizing, and its flavor reminded me of the dill pickle soups that were popular a few ago. A third dish and, as a devotée of risotto, one I'm dying to try, is a risotto using fermented wheat stock. Linda brilliantly paired it with caramelized onions and the farm's Arch Cape chicory, which were stirred in just before serving.

Sarah Minnick with Arch Cape chicory pizza.

All this was put over the top by special guest chef Sarah Minnick of Lovely's Fifty-Fifty, who skillfully handled the farm's massive wood oven, pulling out pizza after pizza of her addictive sourdough crust topped with spears of Arch Cape chicory, green garlic and raw, organic cheeses from Cascadia Creamery in Trout Lake, Washington. Icing on the proverbial cake was a jostaberry kuchen made by farmer Myrtha Zierock—of which I managed to score a couple of pieces before it was demolished by the crowd.

Thus fortified, Anthony and Carol trooped everyone out to the fields to survey the Arch Cape chicories marked for seed, plus mustard, wheat, favas and new breeding projects, some of which have already been years in development. Is it any wonder that their farm is one of my favorite places (and they are two of my favorite people) on the planet?

Fermented Grain, aka Borş

200 grams coarsely ground grain (corn, barley, wheat, etc.)
28 grams sea salt or kosher salt

Put the grain and salt in a two-quart mason jar. Add very warm water to fill past the shoulders of the jar. Secure with a lid (the plastic lids work great for this). Shake vigorously to combine. Loosen the lid to allow any developing gases to escape and leave on your kitchen counter for four or five days. Tighten the lid and shake two or three times a day, loosening the lid again after each shaking.

Use like stock in soups, risottos, or any dish that requires a savory stock (see post, above).

Friday, February 16, 2018

Lovely's Fifty-Fifty Chef Nabs Beard Nomination

The James Beard awards are considered the Oscars of the food world. Yesterday one of Portland's most dedicated chefs—and one of my favorite people—Sarah Minnick of Lovely's Fifty-Fifty, was named a semi-finalist in the Best Chef NW category.

Sarah was featured in an article I wrote in 2015 about women chefs who "are turning the tables on business-as-usual by nixing the giant cans of sauces, bags of salad greens and feedlot meats that supply most restaurants, even in the foodie heaven known as Portland. You won’t find big trucks from industrial food distributors pulling up to their doors and burly guys with pallet jacks and hand trucks wheeling crates of supplies shipped in from out of state. Instead, following in the footsteps of chefs like Cathy Whims of Nostrana, these women are working to buy their supplies direct from local farmers, who deliver produce and meats in the backs of beat-up pickups and vans, unloading crates overflowing with fresh produce mere hours after they’ve been harvested from the fields."

From the article:

One look at owner Sarah Minnick’s pizzas will tell you instantly that this chef is serious about farm-fresh produce. Her pizzas are pictures of crave-worthy perfection—circular works of art brimming with local greens, cheeses and a sauce from tomatoes harvested at the peak of their flavor, preserved so her customers can taste summer even deep in a Northwest winter.

You’ll see unusual ingredients like summer squash, quinoa greens, potatoes and local cured meats adorning her pies, in addition to the occasional drizzle of honey from Bee Local, a Portland company whose hives are scattered around the state, taking their flavors from flowers wild and domesticated. Not unlike Sarah herself, who buzzes around local farms and farmers’ markets collecting ingredients like a honeybee collects pollen.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find her handmade pizza dough is made from the whole grains and artisan flours of Camas Country Mill in the central Willamette Valley and organic flour from employee-owned Central Milling in Utah. And she sources the organic custard base for her extraordinary ice cream from Strauss Family Creamery, adding berries and fruit from area farms, along with more exotic flavorings from the leaves of peach, fig and bay.

Looking at her accounts from last year, Minnick said she was able to purchase nearly 90 percent of her ingredients from local sources [now more than 98 percent - KB]. While that may sound like a foolish way to run a small business, if you ask about the economics of buying direct from farmers versus large distributors, she said that the cost works out to be pretty much the same, since farmers are much more careful about the quality of their produce, meaning it’s less work to prep and less of it ends up in the compost.

She’s thrilled to be working directly with farmers, "actually knowing who is growing it and why and how," and finds the enthusiasm of some of Oregon’s younger farmers infectious. "They don’t have a lot of the weird old baggage," she said of their eagerness to try growing new crops.

And after three years of running the kitchen at Lovely’s? "I’m addicted to it," she said. "I love coming into work."

Photos from an event at Ayers Creek Farm.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Bit of Family (and Oregon) History: Mary Alice Beebe Walden

Walking among the gravestones at the top of Portland's Mount Scott on a cold and sunny winter's day, I grasped a small bouquet of daphne, sword ferns and a sprig of Oregon grape with tiny bright green blossoms just beginning to form. I thought it was an appropriate memento to leave at the grave of my great-grandmother, Mary Alice Beebe Walden, whom I'd always heard was an herbalist and midwife in the tiny town of Bridal Veil in the Columbia River Gorge.

I'd found the record of her burial while searching for her name online. Driving to the cemetery, I picked up a map from the office that gave an approximate location, a plot in the older section of the vast hilltop property. The map placed her grave at the bottom of the hill, where the roots of old trees were lifting up some of the markers and other gravestones were partially obscured by mud that had washed down the hill in the winter's rains.

Triangulating the general position of the plot, a bit of wandering brought me to a small, flat slab of rose-colored granite with Mary A. Walden, 1863-1934, carved into it, and the word MOTHER in italicized type underneath. [From the family records I have, she actually died in 1933.] I'm guessing that her son, Carson (or Carsie, as he was called by the family), had chosen this place for her, since a gravestone with his and his wife's names on it was nearby (top photo).

In a short biography written by my father's older sister, Mary Alice was an almost magical presence:

"Nature was her religion. While my grandfather lived, the family attended church faithfully, but after his death, the dome of the sky and the pillars of living trees became their cathedral.

"Extraordinarily tall for her generation, Grandma carried herself tall and proud, as the Indian Princess we children were convinced had been her ancestress. Her blue-back course hair, piercing black eyes, dark sallow skin and high, hawk-nosed profile were considered [signs of] aristocratic beauty when she was young. She was slim, lithe-limbed, deep bosomed and untiring. On the long hikes through her beloved wilderness, her swinging, slightly pigeon-toed gait carried her on for hours, long past the endurance of the most seasoned of woodsmen.

"There were no plants, insects, animals or birds for which Grandma didn’t know both the common and Latin names. From her early years, she would often disappear for hours and, in later years, for days at a time into the wilds. When she emerged it was always with an apron or bark basket full of herbs and medicinal plants. We never knew where she learned the medicinal lore that made her healing powers famous wherever she lived."

The family eventually moved to Portland, at the time a small city of just over 200,000. Near the end her life, my aunt records her grandmother was still in fine fettle:

"In the late summer of 1932, she caught a bus up to the slope of Larch Mountain after arranging for my Mother and Father to pick her up later in the day. About five o’clock, we saw her swinging down the trail, her buckskin skirt and hiking boots soaked through from the showers that had fallen that day. Her floppy felt hat was pushed back on her head, an improvised sapling yoke over her shoulders weighted down with huckleberries in peeled bark baskets. She sang and hallooed to us, her face and hands purple with berry stains.

"Two weeks later, she collapsed and was taken unwillingly to the hospital, where the cancer was diagnosed as beyond remedy. The hospital was not to her liking and the doctors agreed that she would be happiest at home, nursed by her daughters. She died on December 17th.

"As a final gesture, she left instructions that at her funeral the hymns were to be joyous ones. She was to be dressed in the pastel violet gown she had chosen years before as her shroud, and anyone wearing black was not to be admitted to the chapel."

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Your Food, Your Legislature: 2018 Session May Be Short on Agreement

The 2018 session of the Oregon Legislature may end up like the vacation we took to France many years—by that I mean decades—ago. I'd studied maps and read guide books, planning what I was sure would be a leisurely road trip through the French countryside, sipping coffee at sidewalk cafés, staying in small inns and meeting charming locals. While it certainly had moments of leisure and charm, it turned out to be a two-week, cross-country marathon of rushing from one pre-arranged reservation to the next.

In other words, I had bitten off more than we could (comfortably) chew.

Do we want our farms to look like this?

That little tale relates to this year's legislative session in the fact that legislators, by law, have just 35 days to convene, conduct and finish their work in Salem. That's because, in 2010, Oregon went from bi-annual sessions to annual sessions, lasting 160-days in odd-numbered years with the shorter sessions in even-numbered years.

These shorter sessions were originally designed so legislators could take care of budget issues that might arise between the longer sessions. But, of course, politicians being politicians, the agenda often strays beyond that boundary. This year is no different.

Originally the session would have dealt with a devastating budget shortfall that would have befallen the state had Measure 101, the Healthcare Insurance Premiums Tax for Medicaid Referendum—a fee on hospitals and insurance companies to fund Medicaid, which provides healthcare coverage to 1 in 4 Oregonians—not passed.

Or like this?

Though Oregon still faces a $200 to $300 million dollar shortfall due to cuts in federal tax laws passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in Washington, DC, legislators have decided to take up a bill they're calling the Clean Energy Jobs bill (Senate bill SB 1507 and a House version, HB 4001). According to an article in the Oregonian, it would create "a limit on greenhouse gas emissions [that] would require many of Oregon's largest polluters to pay for their emissions by purchasing allowances at an auction. The state would spend the proceeds from the auctions to reduce the financial impact to households, support projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help areas disproportionately impacted by climate change."

In other words, a classic cap-and-trade system.

Though House leaders like Speaker Tina Kotek and Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson are working hard to push it forward, Senate leaders, particularly Senate President Peter Courtney, are already backing away from committing to pass a major piece of legislation on such a short timeline.

And how does this affect issues of the state's food system, which you'd expect to read about here?

Like this?

When establishing this cap on greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources, it will create a fund to address the impacts of climate change and support climate-friendly farming practices.

"While the amount of money available is unknown at this stage, the bills have the potential to support a wide range of activities and practices on farms that sequester carbon in soils, reduce energy use, encourage irrigation efficiency, and protect both working land and natural areas on farms and ranches," wrote Friends of Family Farmers Policy Director Ivan Maluski. "Farmers are not only on the front lines of experiencing climate change impacts like extreme weather and uncertain water supplies, as land managers we can also be part of the solution."

Or like this?

Not unexpectedly, industrial representatives are working to alter, if not quash, the legislation. Already the state's largest mega-dairies have inserted a loophole to exempt them from reducing, or even reporting, their annual methane emissions. And Shelly Boshart Davis, Monsanto's 2015 Farm Mom of the Year, weighed in on the bill in an op-ed, writing  that she was "dismayed" by legislation she feels would "stifle my ability to invest in sustainable technology and dramatically increase the cost of running my company," complaining about the increase of "$50 per month by some estimates" to her family's business, Boshart Trucking, reported to have annual sales of more than $8 million.

Whether this bill actually makes it to a vote this session or legislators decide to postpone it until 2019, you can get more information and weigh in on this legislation now.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Clif Bar Invests in Developing Northwest Grains

I first heard about The Bread Lab from reading a New York Times article three years ago describing it as a "project to reinvent the most important food in history." It depicted Dr. Stephen Jones, the lab's founder, as looking like "a lovably geeky high school teacher," albeit one bent on nothing less than a revolution in how we think about bread.

From the article:
"What most people picture when they think of flour—that anonymous chalk-white powder from the supermarket—is anathema to Jones. Before the advent of industrial agriculture, Americans enjoyed a wide range of regional flours milled from equally diverse wheats, which in turn could be used to make breads that were astonish­ingly flavorful and nutritious. For nearly a century, however, America has grown wheat tailored to an industrial system designed to produce nutrient-poor flour and insipid, spongy breads soaked in preservatives. For the sake of profit and expediency, we forfeited pleasure and health. The Bread Lab’s mission is to make regional grain farming viable once more, by creating entirely new kinds of wheat that unite the taste and wholesomeness of their ancestors with the robustness of their modern counterparts."
The Bread Lab's Dr. Stephen Jones.

In the intervening years since that article was written, Jones's project, part of Washington State University's College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, has achieved national and international recognition for breeding, testing and rejuvenating forgotten varieties of wheat, barley, buckwheat and rye. It's also helped improve the prospects of farmers in Washington's Skagit Valley, where Jones built his lab in order to be closer to the fields and the farmers who test the grains.

"We’ve seen the addition of seven new businesses and about 200 new jobs because of the Bread Lab," said Patsy Martin, director of the Port of Skagit. "Farmers are making a profit off their crops and value is being added to the crops by new businesses. It’s our goal to have the number of businesses continue to grow and add more good jobs. A resilient agricultural economy will keep the Skagit Valley unique, special and viable into the future."

Dave Hedlin of Hedlin Farms, a Bread Lab partner.

Today Clif Bar and Company, in association with King Arthur Flour, announced the funding of a $1.5 million endowment to enable the Bread Lab to continue its research breeding grains adapted to organic farming practices in perpetuity.

Matthew Dillon, Clif Bar's senior director of agricultural policy and programs (profiled recently here), said, "Public sector land grant universities like Washington State have seen their funding for organic agricultural research cut year after year at the state and federal levels. With the endowment, [Clif Bar and Company] is putting a stake in the ground for organic’s future because we believe the Bread Lab can improve the good that organic brings to farmers, consumers and the planet."

Video and photos from Clif Bar.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Hidden Gem: Milwaukie Cafe and Bottle Shop

When I started writing Good Stuff NW almost twelve years ago, I had no agenda in mind. It was simply an exploration of the blog form as a useful tool in a marketing toolbox, marketing and advertising being my profession at the time. I wrote about this and that, convinced that no one but maybe my mom and a couple of friends would ever know about it (or care).

In those early years I wrote about trips to Seattle or a visit to a restaurant, maybe throwing in a farmers' market shopping trip or two. Definitely recipes and pictures of our first Corgi, Rosey. Gradually the blog took on a life of its own, gaining a small audience and a couple of calls from editors asking if I was interested in writing for them. A column on farmers' markets, a profile here and there.

Look for the mural.

Eventually, as I learned about the concerns of Oregon farmers and the hard work they do to bring food to market, those concerns started making their way into these posts. Restaurant visits waned somewhat, and reports from the legislature in Salem and other issues began to take precedence. (Recipes and Corgis remained.)

But once in awhile I run across a truly remarkable spot, a hidden gem if you will, that deserves mention.

A friend and her husband recently moved to the Milwaukie area and, wanting to meet for coffee, she suggested the Milwaukie Cafe and Bottle Shop, located off  the (or any) beaten track in the Ardenwald neighborhood east of Sellwood. The nondescript stucco building would be easy to miss were it not for the large, colorful mural adorning its side wall, attributed to the talents of Jerry Schmidt and the North Clackamas Arts Guild.

Funky but sincere is one way to describe the ambience of the place, but a glance at the menu ran up against my initial hippie-homey impression. Polenta bowls? Brisket and collards? Homemade biscuits?

What have we here?

I ordered a coffee—Water Avenue is their bean of choice, another "Hmmmm…" moment—and a biscuit with butter and honey. A plate soon arrived, the biscuit halved, the top aslant, brimming with butter, swimming in a pool of honey. A bite through the crunchy crust, a light, buttery, not-too-salty crumb, and I was in.

Checking the website for more info, I found it's the result of the collaboration of two Portland food names, Chauncey Roach and Shea Pirtle, both Nostrana alums with long resumés in local food. So, friends, before the word gets out, I'd get in while the getting's good. The location may keep folks from flocking in too quickly, but I'm pretty sure it'll hit the skillet soon.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Southern Style: Tomato Gravy

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food loves the Northwest, its people, its farms, its producers and its food, but he has a special fondness and respect for Southern foodways. Here he shares a favorite recipe for a Southern version of gravy.

This is not Italian-American Sunday gravy, the long-cooked tomato sauce used for the week's pasta dishes. Southern tomato gravy has its roots in Appalachia, where the cold winters meant produce had to be put up when it was ready. Tomatoes in the garden meant canned tomatoes for the pantry. Ronni Lundy, one of the founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance and part of the hillbilly diaspora, says that "tomato gravy is a quick winter fix intended to remind you of the sharp tang of the summer garden."

Love that there are lots of roasted tomatoes put away!

And gravy, traditionally made with flour-thickened drippings from some kind of cooked meat, makes a little something extra from a few scraps, something that any cook can appreciate. Gravy adds flavor to simple, filling foods like rice, grits, biscuits or potatoes. While you could use just olive oil for this tomato gravy, some bacon grease will give it the real flavor of Appalachia. Tomato gravy was traditionally served with cornbread, rice, or biscuits, but it's also great with beans, especially red peas.

Chop an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and cook them with a good pinch of salt in a few tablespoons of bacon grease or extra virgin olive oil (or a mix of both) for a few minutes, preferably in a cast iron skillet. (Sometimes I'll also add a little chopped celery and some kind of pepper, often a seeded and chopped jalapeño.) Sprinkle about a tablespoon of flour into the skillet, stir it in and cook for another minute or two until it just begins to color. Add a 14-oz. can of crushed or diced tomatoes (I like Pomi brand) [You can also use a quart of those tomatoes you roasted this summer. - KB] and a small drizzle of cane syrup or sorghum syrup, if you have any. Add a healthy amount of freshly ground black pepper, more salt if needed, and simmer for about 15 minutes. It should be thick, like, well, gravy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

In Season: Eating Well in Winter

Despite what you think, true winter in the Pacific Northwest, at least as far as most of the country is concerned, is a fleeting thing. Yes, we may have a few freezes and snowstorms, but not like New England where snowplows—what are those, you might ask?—pile up banks of the stuff that last well into spring. And thank goodness we don't have the hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme flooding that many areas experience on a regular basis.

My six-foot-tall mother-in-law next to a snowbank in northern Maine.

Of course, with the unknowns brought on by climate change (and our denial of it), all of that could change in the future.

But this year, at least according to produce guy and self-described Fruit Monkey, Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce, we can look forward to spring things like nettles, wild mushrooms and fiddleheads, plus herbs like sorrel and chervil, to start appearing as early as March, a mere eight weeks away.

Until then? "Roots and citrus!" says Alsberg.

Beets, yes, but don't waste those greens!

By which he means colorful varieties of beets—red, gold and stripey Chioggia—as well as the knobby Gilfeather turnip, a half-rutabaga, half-turnip hybrid that is a favorite of local chefs, tracing its lineage to Gilfeather Farm in Wardsboro, Vermont. Rutabagas, turnips, celery root and storage potatoes will also be appearing on farmers' market tables over the next few weeks, as will onions, kohlrabi and locally grown white and purple daikon. Winter radishes will also be available, like the watermelon radishes from Black Locust Farm and black radishes from several farms, including Sauvie Island Organics.

There are plenty of seasonal greens available, too. Think mustard greens, cabbages, beet greens, kale, collards, local chicories and gorgeous, deep red heads of radicchio. Gathering Together Farm and Groundwork Organics are growing Kalettes, purple-green, rapini-like florets that are a hybrid of kale and brussels sprouts, with a flavor that shines when roasted or stir-fried.

On the citrus front, I have big bowls of tangerines and Meyer lemons sitting on my counter right now, as fragrant as any store-bought potpourri or essential oils (and not as toxic to pets) and they're edible, to boot! The Meyer lemons will be used for my yearly batch of preserved lemons, to be parceled out in savory dishes, relishes and salads over the next few months, and if I can manage to spare a few, maybe some lemon sorbet.

Alsberg is in hog heaven right now, gleeful at the prospect of citrus season. Several varieties of mandarin oranges and tangerines are beginning to appear, varieties like Shasta Gold, Murcott, Pixies and the teensy Kishu, with blood oranges, navel oranges and Cara Cara navel oranges rolling in now. He's also starting to see a rainbow of grapefruit on distributors' lists, and said that word on the street is that the white grapefruit called Mellow Gold is super juicy and sweeter than most. Pomegranates and kumquats have been in stores since Christmas, and we should be seeing local kiwis making an appearance soon.

Kabocha squash is a personal fave.

Winter squash is starting to clear out of his lists, but he said local growers should have plenty of kabocha, Kuri, butternut and acorn squash through mid-February. After that, though, he warns that the squash you see in stores will be from Mexico. "Enjoy them now" is his mantra. Look for recipes in my Squash Chronicles series.

Rubinette Produce is a vendor inside Providore Fine Foods, an advertiser on this blog. Josh gives his advice quarterly on what's coming in from local farms and what we can expect to see on store shelves.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Craving Carnitas

I'd been jonesing for tacos for days, and just hadn't got around to making them. Then, fortuitously, some friends said they were going to be in the 'hood one evening, which gave me the perfect excuse to try a new method for making carnitas. (And yes, I'm one of those people who tries out new recipes on guests, much to the chagrin of my mother who considered it much too risky.)

I'd already pulled a four-pound pork shoulder out of the freezer, it being a weekend and the perfect time for a nice slow braise on the stove. So I picked up some cotija cheese made by Albany's Ochoa's Queseria, cabbage for slaw, plus an avocado, salsa and tortillas. (I'm a huge fan of the organic tortillas from Three Sisters Nixtamal. It's a local company that makes masa using a traditional process called nixtamalization, where dried corn kernels are soaked in slaked lime, then ground and made into dough.)

Carnitas, which means "little meats," is made by simmering chunks of pork with citrus and spices for several hours until it's tender and on the verge of falling apart. I had some whey left over from making ricotta, so I decided to use it for the braising liquid, since the acids in the whey would help to break down and tenderize the meat. The method I used then calls for shredding the meat, roasting it in the oven (or in a cast iron pan on the grill) until any remaining liquid evaporates and the meat is crispy.

Warming the tortillas on a griddle is quick and easy, though I'm always tempted to pile them with heaps of fixin's, but exercising a teensy bit of restraint is worth the reward of the perfect bite, instead of bursting the taco or losing too much on your plate. Plus it means I can enjoy a few more of those longed-for tacos!


4 lbs. boneless pork shoulder
1 qt. whey, water or stock
1 onion, sliced in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/8” slices
8 cloves garlic
2 tsp. oregano
4 bay leaves
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 orange, quartered
1 Tbsp. kosher salt

Put all ingredients into large Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 2-3 hours until meat is starting to fall apart and liquid is almost gone. If there is quite a bit of liquid left, remove the meat to a roasting pan, disposing of the orange peel and bay leaves. Bring the liquid in the pot to a boil and reduce until there is less than 1 cup remaining.

While liquid reduces, heat oven to 450°. When liquid has reduced, pour over meat in roasting pan and place in oven for 20-30 minutes or until it starts to brown. Shred any remaining large pieces.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Squash Chronicles: Kabocha Glazed with White Miso and Maple Butter

It's all squash, all the time here at Good Stuff NW…or so you might surmise from the preponderance of Oscar-worthy starring roles that winter squash has been playing in this series of posts. My passion has been aided and abetted by the series of mouthwatering videos like the one above, produced by Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network and the inimitable Chef Tim Wastell.

Squash season is still upon us, and you'll be finding these gorgeous orbs at local markets and greengrocers through February. Until then I'll be cramming as many of them into our dinner rotation as I can.

I'm particularly intrigued by the miso butter glaze that Tim demonstrates in the video above, since I've sworn to start exploring the possibilities of the fermented umami-bomb of miso in the coming year with the help of locally produced Jorinji misos. Get the recipe for the steamed kabocha glazed with white miso and maple above, and check out the rest of the Squash Chronicles.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

USDA to Revoke Organic Animal Welfare Rule

The video above shows what organic egg production looks like at one Oregon factory farm. Crowded into closed-in barns, with "outside access" limited to a roofed-in, screened, cement-floored patio with panels preventing the chickens from even seeing outside, is not what people imagine when they see the words "cage free" on the carton.

And it's about to get a lot worse unless you act now.

Factory farmed pigs.

The demand from consumers for organic products has caused that segment of the grocery industry to explode. It's caught the attention of large agribusiness, which has been seeing its portion of the market starting to decline.

A new rule, carefully developed over the last decade, setting consistent and humane animal welfare standards for organic production, was about to go into effect when the current administration delayed its implementation. Over the holidays, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced he was going to completely withdraw the new rule from consideration, a step that corporate agribusiness has been pushing for.

The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is accepting comments on its decision through Wednesday, January 17, so action is needed immediately. The Center for Food Safety has provided a simple form to submit a comment on this rule. It may sound alarmist, but the integrity of the organic label, including our health, and that of our communities and the environment, is at stake. I sincerely hope you consider signing it.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Ricotta-Style Cheese at Home? Creamy and Dreamy!

Writing this blog has been full of slap-upside-the-head, "D'oh!" moments over the years. There was the time someone mentioned making a vegetable stock out of corn cobs. And then when I discovered how simple it was, not to mention how much more delicious it tastes, to make your own peanut butter. (Got five minutes and a blender?)

Four cups milk? Check.

I'm constantly asking myself: How could it have taken me so long to figure this stuff out?

Currently it's my quest to duplicate the taste of the kimchi that I experienced eons ago as a college student in Korea, as well as to learn about fermentation. What a journey!

Add lemon juice and…magic!

So this last week, with friends coming for dinner, I decided to make a big tray of lasagne, something I've done a zillion times before. A few years ago I would have bought a container of ricotta and slathered it on the next-to-the-top layer to give a creamy, oozy richness to this Italian-American classic. But then my husband developed a problem with dairy, and with lactose-free commercial ricotta not readily available, I had to eschew that particular ingredient for several years.

Then I read somewhere that it was super easy to make your own at home. D'oh!

A layer in lasagne? Oh yeah!

While, according to my friend, cookbood author Nancy Harmon-Jenkins, traditional Italian ricotta is made from the recooked whey left over from cheesemaking (ri-cotta means "recooked"), this method makes a delicious fresh cheese that's as good or better than most major store-bought brands. With the availability of lactose-free whole milk (thank you, Organic Valley), all it took was some googling and I had the basic idea. My first attempt used white vinegar as the curdling agent, which some recipes said had a neutral flavor. It was the right texture but I thought it gave the final product a funny flavor. Talking with some other cooks, almost to a person they recommended lemon juice instead.

I tried it, fiddled with the timing a bit to get the texture I wanted and, like magic, the creamy softness was back in our lives. And it's so dang easy, I can guarantee that it's going to start showing up on crostini, mixed in pasta and dolloped on salads.

Homemade Ricotta-Style Cheese

4 c. whole milk
1/3 c. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. salt

In a saucepan, heat milk over medium heat (you don’t want to heat it too quickly). Stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking and measuring often with an instant read thermometer, bring milk to 200°.  When it reaches 200°, remove from heat and add lemon juice and salt. Stir a couple of times to combine and let it sit for 5 minutes.

While it’s sitting, put cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Pour the contents of the pan into the lined strainer and drain, saving the watery whey. Depending on how dry you want your ricotta to be, let it sit for two to 20 minutes. A shorter time will give you creamier ricotta. Taste for salt and adjust.

Note: Save the whey (the watery liquid left after draining) and feed it to your chickens or pigs. If you don't have livestock, you can feed it to your family, as well. It's very nutritious and is great added to soups, stews and sauces that benefit from a slight milkiness. (Think chowders, or a potato-leek soup.) One reader said she used the leftover whey to cook pork loin in the crock pot for pulled pork, which confirms what I'd read about the acids in the whey helping to break down meat. So I used it for making carnitas, and it worked fabulously. Try it!

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Oregon's Big Milk Problem Goes National

I got an e-mail a few weeks ago from Matthew Wheeland, editor of Civil Eats, a website offering "critical thought about the American food system" that seeks to "publish stories that shift the conversation around sustainable agriculture in an effort to build economically and socially just communities." (I often describe it as a national version of Good Stuff NW, only without the recipes and Corgis.)

Wheeland asked to repost the story I wrote for Edible Portland about the mega-dairies that are flocking to Oregon, an issue facing many other small communities across the country. Of course I said yes, and you can read it here today. And, once you're there, please consider subscribing to this valuable news source. I do.

Also, the timing is particularly appropriate because the 2018 session of the Oregon legislature is gearing up, and it's a good time to revisit the issue of the environmental risks from these factory farms, particularly to groundwater used for drinking and the toxic emissions that are fouling the air in the Eastern Columbia River Gorge. Look for more reports coming soon in the series Your Food, Your Legislature.

Top photo of factory farm dairy barn, courtesy Center for Food Safety.