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!

Carnitas

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 uses the leftover whey to cook pork loin in the crock pot for pulled pork!

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.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

A Corny Sidekick For Your Next Pot of Soup


One thing I love to do is mix up a batch of cornbread to accompany a big pot of soup or stew. As simple as it is to make, it doesn't always happen because it's even easier to slice off a few hunks of the fabulous sourdough bread that Dave cranks out like clockwork every couple of weeks. But there's nothing more satisfying than throwing some simple ingredients in a bowl, giving them a few gentle turns by hand and pouring it into a pie pan, then pulling it out of the oven just before ladling out the soup.

Made with Ayers Creek 8-Row Flint Corn.

Of course, I'm a devotée of the coarse cornmeal ground from the organic flint corn grown by Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, with its flecks of red, orange and yellow and its deeply corn-y flavor, but regular cornmeal works, too. I've also baked it using their Peace No War—PNW, as in Pacific Northwest, get it?—purple cornmeal (top photo), which gives it a mahogany tinge and is no less flavorful. But whatever cornmeal you choose, and whatever form you choose (it's wonderful as a loaf, in a round cake or pie tin, or even muffins), definitely give this a try with your next pot of soup.

Check out these fantastic, simple soup recipes.

Cheesy Cornbread

1 c. flour
1 c. cornmeal
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 c. milk or buttermilk
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 c. sharp cheddar cheese
1 large green chile, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°.

In large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Stir in milk and melted butter. Add eggs, cheese and chile (if using). Grease and flour baking pan or muffin tin. Pour in batter. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Note: You can also add cumin, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, some chopped green onions or one-third cup drained corn. It's a very flexible recipe.