Kitchen Alchemy

“Those who believe civilization can be run according to different principles – humane, equitable, and collaborative ones – need to step forward now with concrete proposals and put ideals into practice.”

-Daniel Pinchbeck

A Homegrown Evolution reader quite rightly scolded us recently for not writing enough about what people in apartments who can’t keep gardens or chickens can do. It’s our contention that all of the activities profiled on this blog are a kind of alchemy, symbolic gestures that ultimately lead to the kind of societal transformations that Pinchbeck writes about. These symbolic gestures need not be over sized, nor do all of them require land. Cooking homemade meals from scratch, as often as possible, is just the kind of alchemy one can practice anywhere you’ve got food and a source of heat. And what is cooking anyways, but a form of alchemical transformation? As luck would have it, we’ve had a number of visitors to our humble casa in the past week, Pinchbeck included (read his thoughtful Prophet Motive columns here). Two other visitors are cookbook authors. All share a common vision of positive change through personal and household actions.

Ysanne Spevack moved to our neighborhood recently and has a really nice cooking website and blog at www.organicfoodee.com. That pumpkin bread she blogged about recently looks mighty tasty and we can’t wait to try her buckwheat recipes recently featured in the Los Angeles Times. She has written a number of books, specializing in cooking with organic ingredients.

We also got a visit from farmer and agriculturalist Shannon Hayes of New York’s Sap Bush Hollow Farm. She’s the author of two books on how to cook grass fed meat. Hayes is currently working on a book on what she calls “enlightened homemakers”, touching on the kind of societal transformation that can occur when we change the way we run our abodes.

Lastly, there’s a new online cooking school that has some mighty nice how-to videos and a free trial offer for 30 days. At Rouxbe.com we’ve learned a couple of nice tricks, our favorite being how the pros slice an onion. Very handy.

Now I’ve gotta stop blogging and make a pizza . . .

What to do with all those hot peppers: Harissa!

Lyn, a reader in Canada with way too many hot peppers on hand, asked us what we thought we should do with them. We have the same problem here this year, an overabundance of very large, hot Italian Long Peppers. Thumbing through some recipe books we realized that we had all the ingredients to make Harissa, a spicy Moroccan condiment. The recipe is simple and quick. We cut open five of our hot peppers, discarded the seeds, and combined them in a food processor with:

1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp caraway seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fresh mint
3 garlic cloves

Turn on the food processor and add enough olive oil to form a paste. That’s it. Harissa will last several weeks in the fridge or you can freeze it. You could also can it, but you’ll need a pressure canner as this is a low-acid food (even though it’s fiery).

And speaking of fiery, though we should know better (having once accidentally inhaled hot pepper seeds), we disregarded warnings about wearing rubber gloves when slicing the peppers. At the risk of providing too much information, a post Harissa making trip to the bathroom led to, shall we say, burning sensations for Señor Homegrown Evolution!

Burning sensations aside, Harissa is a very tasty and spicy addition to almost any meal, not just Moroccan dishes. We still have peppers to deal with, so our next project will be to experiment with pickling them. Readers–what’s your favorite way to deal with hot peppers?

Turnip Greens via The Silver Spoon

It took us way to long to discover that turnip greens are edible. They’re better than the turnips themselves, in our opinion. So how did we finally figure this out? The answer is by thumbing through a cookbook everybody interested in growing their own vegetables should own, The Silver Spoon*, which has a section devoted just to turnip green recipes.

The Silver Spoon is a 1,263 page cookbook recently translated into English. It’s the Joy of Cooking for Italians, except instead of tuna noodle casseroles and other American cooking abominations, the Silver Spoon will tell you what to do with a cardoon, a carp, or the aforementioned turnip greens among many other edibles. While we appreciate the crusty old Joy of Cooking’s advice on cooking raccoon, The Silver Spoon is so good that we feel like throwing out all the other cookbooks we have.

But back to the greens. Turnip greens have massive quantities of vitamins A, C and K and a pleasant mild taste. The leaves have some barbs on them which disappear during cooking. In past years we have grown an Italian variety called Rapa da Foglia senza Testa or “rabe without a head”. A better name for it would be “turnips without the turnips”, as it’s a kind of turnip green. This year we’re growing turnips for Ms. Homegrown Revolution’s fermentation experiments and the greens have been a side-benefit.

*Note this link will take you to our new online bookstore. Tacky? Perhaps. But we’re capitalists.

How to Make Amazake

Who needs to bust open a bottle of hen dog when you can chill with a nice cup of moldy rice, or to be more precise, a cup of amazake. Amazake, an ancient Japanese beverage, is made by the bizarre process of introducing a fungus, Aspergillus oryzae to a batch of cooked rice. The fungus breaks down carbohydrates into simple unrefined sugars yielding a sweet and pleasant beverage that we’re proud to say we made ourselves here at the Homegrown Revolution compound earlier this week.

You can find amazake in the isles of upscale health food stores thanks to the same generation of hippies who brought tofu to the flyover states back in the 1960s. Or you can make it yourself and save some dead presidents. Here’s how:

1. Get your Aspergillus orzae in the form of inoculated rice grains called koji. We found our koji in the refrigeration cabinet of our local Japanese supermarket. Koji can also be found at some health food stores or you can mail order it from G.E.M cultures. We used a brand called Cold Mountain.

2. Bring 1 cup of white or brown rice to a boil in 2 cups of water. Turn down the heat and simmer for 50 minutes. We used sweet rice, but any kind of rice and if fact almost any grain will work.

3. Cool the rice down to 140º F (60º C). Mix in 2 cups of koji and put it in a sterilized wide-mouth jar.

4. At this point you need to incubate the concoction for 10 to 14 hours at 131º – 140º F (55º C – 60º C). We accomplished the incubation by placing the jar in a small cooler filled with water heated to 140º. Every few hours we checked the temperature and added a little more hot water as needed.

5. After 10 hours check for sweetness. If it’s not sweet enough continue the incubation process for a few more hours.

6. Once you’ve reached the desired level of sweetness you must stop the fermentation process by boiling the mixture, otherwise you’re heading down the road to making sake, something we plan on attempting in the fall. Taking a tip from the guru of fermentation Sandor Ellix Katz, we first boiled two cups of water and added the amazake to it to prevent burning. Mix well and as soon as the amazake begins to boil remove from the heat and refrigerate. You can eat it as a porridge or cut it with some more water to enjoy as a beverage. You can also add flavorings such as chocolate, almonds or espresso.

Aspergillus orzae is also used to produce soy sauce and miso, though miso making, according to the Cold Mountain pamphlet that came with our koji, will take you between 18 to 24 months. For now we’ll enjoy our amazake.

Prickly Pear Jelly Recipe

UPDATE: I’ve concocted a lower sugar version of this recipe that I like better. See that recipe here. Also, see our method of drying prickly pear fruit.

Folks in cold places will have to excuse our temporary bout of Prickly Pear mania, but we’ve got a hell of a lot of cactus fruit to deal with this season. Next year we’ll take a crack at making
a batch of Tiswin, the sacred beer of the Papagos Indians of central Mexico (usually made with saguaro fruit but prickly pear fruit will do in a pinch). This August we’re making jelly.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Taking reader Steven’s (of the fine blog Dirt Sun Rain) suggestion, burn off the nasty spines by holding the fruit over a burner on the stove for a few seconds. Using the non-cutting edge of a knife held at a 90º angle to the fruit, scrape off what remains of the spines (technically called glochids).

2.There are many methods described on the interenets for extracting the juice. The way we have found best is to slice the fruit (you need not skin it) into quarters and put in a pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Mash with a potato masher and strain the juice and water through a colander with two layers of cheesecloth to remove the seeds and pulp.

3. We’ve found that 2 1/2 pounds of fruit will yield a little over 2 1/2 cups of juice using the method above.

4. We use a recipe from the Jamlady Cookbook, by Beverly Ellen Schoonmaker.

Here’s the recipe:
2 1/2 cups prickly pear cactus juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 box of powdered pectin (18 teaspoons-note that not all pectin brands contain the same amount in a box, so measure it out to make sure)

Hard boil cactus fruit juice, pectin and lemon juice for 3 minutes. Hard boil means the point at which the brew still bubbles even when you stir it. Add sugar and bring back to a hard boil for 2 minutes or until the jell point is reached.

5. Put in 8 once canning jars, seal and heat process for 10 minutes. We followed the canning
instructions on the Ball website for high-acid foods
.

Unlike many other cactus jelly recipes on the internets that we have tried unsuccessfully, this one works. The proof is pictured above.

Dog Cheese

As Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin put it, “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman who lacks an eye” and we’d add that a cheese without life, without flavor, without character like so much of the tasteless plastic wrapped crap to be found in our nation’s supermarkets simply isn’t worthy of the table.

As urban homesteaders we’re particularly interested in finding sources of food in our dense concrete jungles, and we are not alone. The movement is full of solutions to small scale animal husbandry: from pigmy goats, to pot-bellied pigs, city dwellers are trying to do that farm thing in the city–but sometimes with limited success.

So we were thrilled to find out that one of the best solutions for the urban livestock problem might be just underfoot. Two weeks ago we hooked up with some true revolutionaries out in the San Porn-ando Valley who are breeding dogs specifically for their lactation abilities. For obvious reasons they wish to remain anonymous just now. They have three bitches currently lactating.

We went to pay them a visit, and after a few beers we gathered up the courage to milk the bitches. This ain’t Bessy the Moo Cow we’re talking about here–but no one ever said living in the city was easy. We came home with a bucket full of dog milk.

We’ve already proved that a decent Neufchâtel can be produced in a home kitchen with store bought cow’s milk and bottle of rennet (which curdles the milk). Improvising on the same recipe we managed to turn that gallon or so of dog milk into a soft farmhouse-type round of what we believe to be a first . . . dog cheese.

The taste? It is full bodied, and a little musky at first whiff, but salting the cheese really brings out a nice, distinct Frito odor which makes it a natural pairing with beer and three bean dip. Kids like it too.

Sourdough Recipe #1 The Not Very Whole Wheat Loaf

Whole wheat fetishists will have to wait for our whole wheat sourdough loaf recipe (we’re working on it–whole wheat is trickier to work with than bad-ass white flour). In the meantime here’s the Homegrown Evolution Not Very Whole Wheat Loaf based on a recipe by Nancy Silverton. You can use either our whole wheat starter or our white starter. And though the instructions are long, this is an easy recipe assuming that you have been good about feeding your starter every day and keeping it in a warm place.

Though far less complicated than manufacturing meth amphetamines (not that we know anything about that), making sourdough also benefits from accuracy in measurements, so the use of a scale will give you better results. We’ve tried to give equivalents in cups, but differences in humidity could bite you in the ass and the scale will make things easier.

Ingredients:

8 oz sourdough starter (a little over 3/4 cups)
13 oz unbleached white bread flour (about 2 3/4 cups)
3 oz whole wheat flour (3/4 cups)
2 tablespoon wheat bran
1/2 tablespoon barley malt syrup (optional–makes a darker crust and boosts the rise)
8 oz cool water (about 1 cup)
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
1. Mix the starter, flours, wheat bran, barley malt syrup and water. Throw it all in a mixer fitted with a dough hook if you’ve got one, or knead by hand like hell for 4 minutes.

2. Let the dough rest under a cloth for 20 minutes

3. Mix in the salt and knead for another for another 6 minutes.

4. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap (we use a glass bowl with a lid). Let it ferment in a warm place–in our case the top of a stove which has a pilot light for 3 to 4 hours.
5. Shape the dough into a boule (a pretentious way of saying a flattened ball) and place in a floured proofing basket. We have a wooden proofing basket, sometimes known as a “banneton”, which gives the finished loaf a medieval look, but you can also use a bowl draped with a cloth towel. Just make sure to flour the towel.

6. Put it in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours.

7. Take the boule out of the refrigerator and put it in a warm place to ferment for another 3 to 4 hours.

8. Preheat the oven to 500º. Take the boule out of the proofing basket. We slam it upside down onto a scrap of floured cardboard. Slash the loaf on the top.

9. Using the cardboard, slide the loaf into the oven. We have a cheap cooking stone. Turn the oven down to 450º. Spray some water into the oven using a spray bottle. This simulates the fancy steam injection systems that commercial bakeries have. Steam will give your loaf an old-world style hard crust and will be a strike against all those Wonder Bread counter-revolutionaries out there.

10. For the next five minutes open the door of the oven 2 or 3 more times and spray some water in. We’ve also just tossed water in with a glass if we don’t have a sprayer on hand.

11. After five minutes continue to bake for another 20 minutes, but don’t open the oven door.

12. After 20 minutes open the oven and rotate the loaf. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes for a total of 40 to 45 minutes until the crust turns a dark brown.

13. Remove the loaf from the oven, but resist the urge to break into it. It’s still cooking and you could get a stomach ache from the still active wild yeasts. Let it cool down before slicing.

There’s not much labor involved with making this bread especially if you’ve got a mixer, but it does require some scheduling. You’ll note that the time in the refrigerator gives you some flexibility if you’re not a complete homebody.

If you try this recipe, leave a comment and let us know how it went!

Make a Sourdough Starter

Every damn urban homesteader ought to have a sourdough starter living on their countertop. It’s easy and here’s how we do it around the Homegrown Evolution compound:

1. Get yourself a glass or ceramic container with a lid. It should be able to hold at least three to four cups of starter. Don’t use metal.

2. Put into this container one cup of white flour and one cup of lukewarm water and stir until mixed. Put it in a warm place. We use the top of our stove which has a pilot light.

3. Every day, pour off one cup of your starter and add a half cup of white flour and a half cup of lukewarm water.

4. Your starter should begin to get bubbly in a few days. A layer of liquid, known in sourdough fetish circles as “hooch” will form. Don’t be concerned, this is natural and simply stir it in every morning when you add the additional flour and water.

5. After one to two weeks, you should have an active culture of wild yeasts that will make your bread rise. You can now throw out those annoying packages of commercial yeast and bake bread the way ancient folks did for thousands of years. Just remember to feed your starter every day. We use the Torah’s mitzvah which suggests first feeding one’s animals (in our case our sourdough “pet”) before feeding yourself.

6. If you feel guilty about pouring off that cup of flour every day, and you aren’t making a loaf of bread, try making some sourdough pancakes.

7. If you aren’t going to bake for a few days put the starter in the fridge. Feed it once a week. To revive it, take it out of the fridge and give it a day or two of feedings before you use it.

So how does this work? What you have done is create a hospitable environment for a pair of organisms (wild yeasts and lactobacteria) that work symbiotically. The geeks at Wikipedia put it this way:

When wheat flour contacts water, naturally-occurring amylase enzymes break down the starch into complex sugars (saccharose and maltose); maltase converts the sugars into glucose and fructose that yeast can metabolize. The lactobacteria feed mostly on the metabolism products from the yeast.

The end result is a happy frothing mixture that due to its production of acid and anti-bacterial agents is resistant to spoilage.

Unfortunately the “internets” and bread cookbooks contain a great deal of misinformation about sourdough. Here are some of the many myths out there:

You should add grapes/potatoes/rice to the flour and water mixture to hasten the development of wild yeasts. Sorry folks, the wild yeasts are in the flour and you don’t need anything except flour and water to get a mother started. The wild yeasts on the skin of grapes are a different beast and not the kind that you are looking for.

You should add some commercial yeast to get it going. Wrong. Commercial yeast is another type of yeast that does not survive in the acidic/beneficial bacterial stew that makes up a healthy starter culture.

You should mail-order a sourdough starter. Wrong again. All you need is flour and water and a bit of patience. Wild yeasts, like love should be free. That being said, once you get your starter going, you can of course spread the love around and give some of it to friends so that they can start baking immediately.

You should use bottled water. We’ve done it with plain old LA tap water with no problems.

Wild yeasts are in the air and you have to “catch” them. Yes, there are yeasts in the air, but there are many millions more in the damn flour. If we had to “catch” wild yeasts we’d be making bread with Los Angeles yeasts, which would likely to be too busy yakking on their cell phones in search of an agent to bother helping to leaven a loaf of bread.

So now you have no excuses–creating a sourdough starter simple and there is no mystery to it. Get into your kitchen and get a starter going. To make a wheat starter go here. Check out our bread recipe for how to use your new starter here.

Make Your Own Damn Cheese

We live in a country where buckets have warnings on them, but the greatest indignity of our present nanny state is that the Man does not want us to eat raw cheese. As Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin put it, “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman who lacks an eye” and if that cheese was made with crappy pasteurized, homogenized and sterilized milk it ain’t worth eating.

That’s why you’ve got to make your own cheese. We forget, in our age of individually plastic wrapped crap-ass single-sliced cheese, that the act of cheese making is a way to preserve dairy products and that it’s well within the capabilities of the do it yourself kitchen revolutionary.

Here’s the catch. You’ve got to use raw, un-pasteurized, and un-homogenized milk. It’s possible to make cheese with the pasteurized shit, but it won’t taste as good and you’ll have to add calcium chloride to make it work. We’ve tried using regular milk and it’s a crap shoot–sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t even with the calcium chloride. Milk labeled “ultra-pasteurized” will definitely not work.

Now pasteurization is for wimps and worry warts. All of the tainted milk scares in the past few years have been with pasteurized milk. Those factory farm dairy cow concentration camps out there that produce most of the milk in this country figure that they don’t have to be clean since they are pasteurizing everything. Fortunately raw milk is available at health food stores–we used a brand called Organic Pastures.

Making cheese is actually fairly simple and can be done with just milk and rennet, also available in the baking section of health food stores such as Whole Foods. One other nice thing for the vegetarians out there is that you can use vegetable rennet rather than the animal based rennet that is used in most cheese.

Homegrown Revolution recommends that you start your cheese experiments with soft cheeses which are easier to produce. The Neufchâtel recipe that we used to produce the cheese pictured above can be found on the nicely illustrated cheese making website of biology and chemistry professor David B. Frankhauser. Frankhauser’s website is an excellent introduction to cheesemaking.

To make Neufchâtel you add rennet and let the milk sit out in a stainless steel pot overnight. If all goes well, the next day the milk solids called curds, should have separated from the liquid which is called whey. You place the curds in a piece of cloth, and suspend it over a bowl in the refrigerator. The next day the cheese is ready to form in a mold and serve.

The verdict on Homegrown Revolution‘s cheesemaking experiments–though urban cheesemaking is somewhat costly due to the high price of raw milk, it’s very satisfying to know that we can make our own cheese and patronize dairies that have more ethical standards. Or maybe it’s time to get our own dairy herd.