When Mr. Quotidian began comparing my kitchen projects to witchcraft, I thought he was on to something more than the jars bubbling and fermenting on the counter. He made me realize how we’ve let the word “craft” slip from our vocabulary. Hardly anyone now practices a craft; we now merely aspire to be experts. We cram our minds with knowledge, leaving nothing for our hands to do. To talk about craft you either have to be a preschool teacher or a Wiccan. Instead of continuing to let craft slide into the realm of Elmer’s glue and eye of newt, I want to take hold of it and pull it back to its rightful place in my vocabulary.

Foodcraft is a place where I will practice my craft. You will find recipes here, surely, but also thoughts on ingredients, health, and food applications.

A Chef’s Kitchen

After belly flopping into the Chicago apartment classifieds the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a disturbing undercurrent: the “chef’s kitchen.” While this sounds very posh and all, it inevitably means two things. See if you can guess.

Is it the thoughtfully laid out floor plan, making everything easily accessible with minimum effort? Or a sink that easily accommodates all the dishes that predictably accompany cooking? Or a dedicated pantry space to properly store food staples? Or how about a space that makes the chef in question feel wanted instead of exiled to a hole?

Nope. A “chef’s kitchen” simply means granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. Preferably new.

Now, I’m not arguing that the above kitchens aren’t nice looking. A couple of them are actually quite beautiful. And I really wouldn’t complain about cooking in them. What troubles me, however, is the way serious cooking is equated with granite and stainless, preferably new. As if good food couldn’t come from an outdated Formica topped kitchen with mismatched appliances.

I suppose it’s a side effect of the “foodie” movement. (And don’t even get me started on the word “foodie.” Or “chef” for that matter.) Food as an idea has become trendy. In many ways that’s a positive development. People who used to fill their grocery carts with boxes and cans are now filling it with vegetables. Or even forgoing the cart altogether in favor of a market basket. the people responsible for bringing us food deserve a little of the lime light. Food is beautiful, necessary, photogenic, and decidedly sensual.

It’s also just dinner. Good food doesn’t have a thing to do with granite and stainless. New or not. Any kitchen can be a chef’s kitchen. The only requirement is someone cooking in it.

 

Posted 5 years, 7 months ago at 9:08 pm. 2 comments

Cookbook Review: Quick From Scratch Herbs and Spices Cookbook

Cookbooks. I walk out of Ed’s Editions with them all but clinging to my sleeves like burrs. There is a stack of them by my bed that act as a dam against long nursing sessions. Leaving the library I generally have a stack of touch-n-feel board books under one arm and cookbooks under the other.

And yet, I rarely use these books in the kitchen. I either head into the kitchen in the buff recipewise or do a quick interweb search of my favorite blogs. My collection of cookbooks are more like shelf candy than useful tools. They proclaim to everyone who enters my kitchen that “Here is a person who likes to cook!” In an effort to get to know my cookbooks as more than decorations, I have been adopting one book a month as my fount of inspiration. I make an effort to read through it, absorb it’s lessons, and of course cook from it.

January meals were sponsored by the Quick from Scratch Herbs and Spices Cookbook published by Food and Wine magazine.

I had many moments of déjà vu while using this book. I bought it years ago when I first started cooking (or wanting to cook). It came from one of those piles of Reduced! books at Barnes and Noble. Though now I’d probably pass it up for one of the “real” cookbooks from the shelves, it was my golden ticket back then; just what I needed to imagine my way out of culinary poverty.

Each herb or spice gets a brief introduction detailing its flavor profile (spicy, floral, ect), a bit of its history, and the types of dishes it is used in. The introduction is followed by two or three recipes highlighting that herb. I read these introductions with the voracity of an English major. The spices became characters in my mind, each with their own motivations, attachments, and aversions. I learned, for example, that coriander is the child of cilantro. Once cilantro flowers, it produces tiny little seeds- that’s coriander. While this kind of knowledge is common place to me now, it was cutting edge to me then, as if I’d figured out a secret symbol in a novel that raised the book from mediocre to sublime.

Overall, this is a wonderful book for someone who still memorizing the difference between a spatula and a whisk or is looking to graduate from packet’n'can cooking. The ingredient lists all start with raw, real food. Not a Pillsbury dough can or microwave in sight. Yet, most of the time, the recipes are not so complicated so as to be intimidating.

One caution I’d like to make plain, however, is that “quick” rarely resides with “cheap.” Especially when it comes to meat cookery (of which there is a lot in this book), you will pay for the convenience of being able to cook your meal in ten minutes. Which, perhaps, is what the beginner needs: near instant results. Once you are more comfortable in the kitchen though, just remember there is a better way to make stew than with steak.

While I have now cooked long enough to be able to picture what a dish will look like in my head, back then I was quite dependent on pictures to explicate the recipe. What, exactly, did it mean to cut the roast across the grain? Or what should a properly segmented orange look like? This book was illuminating in that regard. Each recipe takes an entire spread. So on one page you have the written recipe while the facing page is a full color picture of the finished dish. While my finished dishes rarely looked like the pictures, it gave me a goal. Rather like being given directions to an unfamiliar location with both street names and landmarks.

Perhaps the biggest impact this book had on my early cooking was to give me the confidence to experiment with herbs and spices. If they could put black pepper in a strawberry dessert, why couldn’t I add cinnamon to chili? And that experimentation, more than anything else, is at the heart of my cooking even still.

 

Posted 5 years, 9 months ago at 8:08 am. Add a comment

Beets with Dill and Sea Salt

I almost feel unethical posting this as a “recipe.” It’s so simple– a boil, a sprinkle, and done. It came about mostly in an effort to clean out my fridge and spice cupboard. And yet, the result of said kitchen tidying had the added bonus of this stunning salad. (Is it a salad all on it’s own? Or would one need to add lettuce for that? I never know.) The delicate dill rounds off the somewhat bawdy beets. The resulting dish encompasses the best aspects of farm-to-plate eating– earthy richness and heavenly crispness.

Because beets are the main ingredient here, make sure you use the freshest beets you can find. Old ones that have been lolling around shelves for a few weeks tend to be woody at best and bitter at worst. A good beet should be as sweet and firm as a good kiss. To assess the freshness of your beets, squeeze them. They should not be in any way squishy. You can also make sure the greens are crisp and lively, not wilted and listless. Like most vegetables, your best bet is to buy your beets from the person who grew them.

A bonus of finding a local source of beets is that you’re more likely to encounter different varieties. I used the two kinds that City Roots is growing: Bull’s Blood, a deeply red beet, and Chioggia, an heirloom beet with beautiful fuchsia and white rings. (Tragically, these fade when cooked.) While I can’t say they taste much different, they do vary dramatically in color and make a very pretty salad when tossed together.

Wherever you get your beets from, make sure you store them properly once you get them home. (Hint: cut those tops off!)

And, out of neighborly concern, I do feel the need to assure you that, the morning after eating this, don’t worry. You’re not dying. You know how people used to dye things with beet juice? Yeah, that’s what happened to your insides. All’s well.

Beets with Dill and Sea Salt

10-12 small (golf ball size) or 2-4 large beets (baseball size)

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs fresh or 1 Tbs dried dill

1 tsp sea salt (this is a nice time to break out any special culinary salts you might be harboring)

Rinse off any dirt from your beets, then cut the tops and tails off. If you are using small beets, you may leave them whole. If you are using large beets, cut them into quarters. Put them in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool. Dump them in a colander and rub off their skins under warm water. Place the beets in a bowl, toss with olive oil and stir in dill and salt. Serve cold or at room temperature; alone or on a bed of greens.

Posted 5 years, 9 months ago at 9:03 pm. Add a comment

Mulled Berries with Warm Brie

This is the time of year when I begin to think about summer again. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I miss it. But I do begin to pine… just a little bit. For awhile I try to ignore the notion that greens and root vegetables aren’t enough. After all, aren’t I spoiled by even having fresh greens in almost-February? I should chop up some kale and sweet potatoes and just be happy.

When the yearning for vibrant juiciness finally grows strong enough that I have to take it seriously, I break out the berries I’ve squirreled away in freezer. (And it really is squirreling. I often forget they are there until the next berry season comes around.)

Most of the berries I eat during the summer rarely make it to any kind of cooking device save a bowl and, maybe, a spoon. There just never seems to be quite enough of them to slake my lust and make a pie. Honestly, I don’t understand these people who come to the farm and buy just a quart of strawberries to last them the week. Part of the sweetness of eating seasonally is have the privilege (some would say excuse) of eating what’s in season until your heart is content.

Therefore, winter is the time I get to cook with berries. After being frozen, they are not satisfying out of hand eating. So into blueberry muffins they go. Or smoothies. Or upside down pancakes.

Instead of trying to recreate the fruit salads of summer, this recipe honors the winter kitchen by pairing the berries with a mulled wine. The result is a dish that redolent not of long summer days in the shade but of long winter nights in front of the fire. It gives me just enough juicy zest to take the edge off my summer pining.

Mulled Berries with Warm Brie

2 cups assorted frozen berries (I used strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries)
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
5 allspice berries
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 in piece of citrus zest, such as lemon or orange, though lime is fine too if that’s what suits your fancy
1 cup red wine
1 wheel of brie, taken out of the box and wrapping removed

Place the berries in a bowl and allow to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, in a medium pot combine the spices, except the nutmeg, and wine and bring to a boil. Simmer gently until the liquid is reduced by half. Allow to cool for about five minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve. Return mulled wine to the pot and add berries. Reheat gently, stirring as little as possible to avoid squishing the berries. Keep warm. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Place the brie on the skillet and warm for 5-7 minutes per side, or until its insides feel squishy.* Keep a close eye, turning down the flame if the outside begins to burn. If you prefer melted brie, continue heating for an additional minute or so. Remove the brie to a plate. Top with berries, grate nutmeg over the top, and cut into wobbly slices. Serve with bread, crackers, or just spoons.

*And what if the worst should happen and your brie breaks open, sending sizzling cheese all over the skillet? Never fear. Take the skillet off the heat and let the cheese harden for a few minutes. Then pour the berries right over the brie and serve in the skillet. It won’t be quite as posh looking, but it’ll still taste good.

Posted 5 years, 9 months ago at 9:51 pm. Add a comment

On my counter

This week my kitchen counter has

:: played host to a beautiful bouquet of fresh herbs from our greenhouse- sage, parsley, cilantro, and oregano. Having them in a cream pitcher close at hand, instead of in a bag in the fridge, reminds me to use them.  My cooking has been better for it.
:: witnessed a revival of my commitment to soaking my grains, nuts, and legumes. It has also witnessed the stench of the bowl of beans I forgot about and hence left in their soaking water for four days. My cooking has been worse for it.
:: finally seen the last of the purple haze carrots. Until spring at least. This has been the first season that I’ve deigned to actually cook with them. In previous years, they’ve been too precious and were reserved for eating out of hand, barely making it home from the farm. This year though, they’ve been sauteed with mint and coconut oil, stir fried with bok choy and lemon, and added to the most glorious rainy day beef stew.
:: dribbled with Meyer lemon juice and salt as I made Moroccan preserved lemons. I now know where each and every nick and crack is on my hands.
:: not told a soul that I licked the pot, spatula, and funnel clean when I made lemon curd no less than three times.

Posted 5 years, 10 months ago at 7:40 pm. 1 comment

Christmas Eve Cake

Have you ever happened to walk outside alone on Christmas Eve? It’s something of a private tradition of mine. On some pretext I leave the gathered family… must get something from the car…. anyone checked the mail?…just a moment. In that moment I step outside, the cold and the silence are indistinguishable. The chill cuffs my nose and swipes at my fingers. (I am inevitably under dressed, mistaking the warmth of good company for warmth of weather.)  The silence thumps against my ears as the door closes behind me. Everything is muffled, from the boisterous sounds of family inside to the thrum of traffic. There aren’t even any summer insects to break the silence. It is still. And cold.

In that moment I am aware of the weight of tradition. I feel the presence of Christmases past, both those I’ve been a part of and those that aren’t mine to remember. So much expectation, merry-making, disappointment, loneliness, and hope bound to one night hangs heavy in the damp dark air.

I know the mysteriousness is mainly an invention of my own mind. Perhaps that the same stillness could be felt on other nights if only I were to take notice. But still.

 

This cake reminds me of that moment I seek out every year. It is combines the warm spice of gingerbread decorating, the stillness of dark chocolate melting on your tongue, and the malty tang of a stout drink enjoyed with friends. And it is most mysteriously dark. Because I used part coconut oil instead of all butter, this cake will stay moist for several days. I like it iced with a frothy whipped cream cheese icing. The cake seems to need it, just as we need to celebrate the light during the darkest time of year. However, neither the cake nor the frosting are extremely sweet. If you’d like a sweeter rather than tangy frosting, feel free to add more honey.  I made my cake in a angel food cake pan, but I’m sure this would be beautiful baked in a more decorative bunt mold or even a simple loaf pan. (Note that this recipe makes 2 loaf cakes. If you just want one, cut the recipe in half.) Though if you do use a decorative pan, you might want to consider leaving it unfrosted and instead dusting it with some powdered sugar or even finely shredded coconut.

Christmas Eve Cake
Inspired by Nigella Lawsons’ Chocolate Guinness Cake and the Stout Gingerbread Cake in The Last Course: The Desserts of Grammercy TavernFor the cake:
1 bottle of dark spicy beer, such as Guinness extra stout
1 cup dutched cocoa powder
2cup molasses
1 T baking soda
6 eggs
1/3 cup sugar honey
1/2 coconut oil
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour, as you wish
4 T ground ginger
2 T ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp ground grains of paradise or freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cardamom
4 T freshly grated gingerFor the icing:1 package of cream cheese, softened
a drizzle of honey (1/8- 1/4 cup, as you wish)
1/2 cup heavy creamPreheat the oven to 350°. Generously butter your pan(s). (See note above.) In a large saucepan over medium high heat, bring the beer, honey, and molasses to a boil. Seriously, get a really large pan. Beer is volitale and boils over easily, as my kitchen floor can attest. Once it’s boiled, take it off the heat and add the baking soda. Stir very very gently. Let it sit as the foam settles itself down. When there is enough space in the pot, add the butter and coconut oil, using the residual heat to melt. Let it cool to baby bath temperature.Meanwhile, mix together the flour, cocoa, and spices, except the fresh ginger in a large bowl. In another large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the molasses mixture to the eggs and mix well. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the liquid into the dry ingredients. Mix until just blended. Add the fresh ginger and mix gently.

Pour the batter into your pan, gently tapping it on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake in the oven for 60-90 minutes for bundt pan, and slightly less for loaf pans. It’s done when the top springs back gently when pressed. Though it can be hard to see, if it smells like it’s getting too dark, cover the top with foil until the rest of the cake is done.

Remove it from the oven and let cool for a couple minutes before running a knife or spatula around the sides. Gently release the cake from the pan and let cool completely on a rack before frosting.

In a food processor of stand mixer, beat the cream cheese till it’s light and fluffy. Add the honey and cream and beat again until frothy. Frost the cake with a liberal hand. Dust the top with extra spices if you’d like or leave it immaculately white.

 

Posted 5 years, 11 months ago at 8:10 am. Add a comment

Cider Braised Sausages with Apples and Collards

Pork and apples… mmmmm….

Pork and apples might’ve been my first foray into the world of food pairings. I’m not sure what prompted me to ladle apple sauce over my leathery pork chop that day in my college cafeteria. But I thought I was a genius. It wasn’t till later that I realized pork and apples is a tried and true culinary couplet.

Cider Braised Sausages with Apples and Collards
inspired by America’s Test Kitchen and Epicurious

1-2 T bacon grease, lard, ghee, coconut oil, as you wish
4 medium or spicy sausages, as you wish
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 firm baking apple such as granny smith, cored and chopped
1 cup apple cider*
1 bunch collards, washed
1/4 cup apple or pear butter
3T  apple cider vinegar
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Remove the large ribs from the collards by holding them by the stem and stripping them up the stem, much as you would a stalk of rosemary. Gather the leaves together and chop roughly. Set aside. Bring a large skillet over medium high heat and melt1 T of the fat. When it sputters, add the sausages, leaving space in between each one so that they don’t steam. Let them sizzle without moving until a good crust is formed, about 1 minute. Then use tongs to flip them and brown another minute. Remove to a plate. Add the onions and garlic, if necessary add the rest of the fat. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and let them saute for about a minute, until the onions are slightly translucent and the garlic begins to color. Pour in the cider and scrape the bottom to remove the flavorful fond. Stir in the vinegar and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Add the apples and another pinch of salt. Replace the sausages and add the collards and stir until they cook down a bit. Put a lid on the skillet and reduce heat to low. Braise for about 10 minutes. Remove sausages again (sorry…)  and keep warm. Add cream and apple butter. Stir until it thickens into a lovely silky sauce. Replace the sausages and rewarm if necessary. Serve with cornbread to mop up the sauce.

* I used leftover spiced cider I made for a party. However, you could use a favorite hard cider or even apple juice. Though if you do use juice, make sure to get a good quality one, preferably unfiltered, for the most apple-y taste.

Posted 5 years, 11 months ago at 6:10 pm. 4 comments

Sourdough Foccacia with Cranberries, Sage, and Thyme

Focaccia is another of those recipes that is redolent with memories. I was introduced to this Italian snack in its simplest form, topped with olive oil and salt during college. The humanities department would have semi-regular meetings where all the professors and students would gather together. (It was a small school, so this wasn’t as big an ordeal as it may seem.)

While we heard tell that other departments had the usual spread of chips, cookies, and soda, we were favored with homemade focaccia baked by our beloved secretary Elizabeth Davis. While she usually tried to keep a low profile in meetings, there was no disguising the warm yeasty smell that accompanied her through the door. She and her bread were the center of everyone’s attention.  Even if we tried to politely finish listening to whomever was speaking, our minds and hearts were with her and the bread she was slicing.

Her focaccia stands in my memory as a culinary beacon of hope in an otherwise dreary foodscape of cafeteria food and boxed cereal. It was beguiling in its simplicity, managing to be both fluffy and crisp at the same time. The olive oil, warmed by the bread, pooled in the fingertip deep wells, dribbling over the sides when it was cut. The more refined among us ate with a napkin in hand to dab at the drips. Call me rustic, but I could never resist licking my fingers clean of the buttery oil mingled with the sharp bite of salt.

While plain and simple focaccia still heats my oven, I have recently been enamored with recipes using seasonal fruits, like this Grape and Rosemary Focaccia from Nourished Kitchen. Living in the South, I made it with muscadines rather than concord grapes, but the combination of peppery olive oil, sticky sweet grapes, and salty herbs worked its way into my blood. Sadly, muscadine season is painfully short. Nowhere near long enough to satisfy my craving. When cranberries started poking around the produce, I saw my way clear.

While this recipe is obviously evocative of Thanksgiving, I won’t lie and say I’m not stashing a few bags of cranberries in my freezer so I can enjoy this a few months down the line.


Sourdough Focaccia with Cranberries, Sage, and Thyme
Inspired by recipes at Nourished Kitchen and The Fresh Loaf

1 cup frothy 100% hydration sourdough starter
1 cup tepid water
1  cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white whole wheat flour
3 tsp salt
~ 1/2 a bag of cranberries
2 T chopped fresh sage
1 T chopped fresh thyme
2-3 T unrefined coarse sea salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the starter and water. Mix briefly to break up the starter. Add 1/4 cup olive oil, one cup each of the flours, and the salt. With a dough hook, mix the dough until it comes together. If it’s still excessively sticky, add more flour until it becomes more manageable– it can stick to your fingers, but it shouldn’t coat your hand like a glove if you try to knead it. Let the mixer knead it until you can stretch a piece paper thin, about 10 minutes. Roll it into a ball, drizzle the bowl with olive oil and turn the dough to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge over night.

The next day, let the dough come up to room temperature, about 60-90 minutes. Rub olive oil onto a 9×13 baking sheet. Pat the dough out to fit the baking sheet and let it rise, covered, in a warm place for 2-3 hours, until it looks puffy and doubled. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 475°.  After the dough has risen, use your finger tips to make several indentations in the dough. Not holes, just dips. Drizzle an ample amount of olive oil over the dough and down its sides. The bread is essentially going to fry on top, so do be generous. Sprinkle the coarse salt and then spread the cranberries out. They might roll into great cranberry canyons, so you might need to press them gently into place.

Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until the top is golden and crisp. Take it out of the oven and drizzle some more olive oil and scatter the herbs over the top. Using a pizza cuter, cut the focaccia into squares. Serve hot or a room temperature. If you happen to have leftovers, it makes a fabulous breakfast reheated in a toaster oven for about 5 minutes.

This post is participating in YeastSpotting, a “weekly showcase of yeasted baked goods and dishes with bread as a main ingredient” hosted by Wild Yeast, though guest hosted this week by Hefe und mehr.

Posted 6 years ago at 9:59 pm. 3 comments

Breakfast the Color of Autumn

  • Steel cut oatmeal made with buttermilk
  • Almost too ripe persimmon
  • Homemade elderberry rosehip syrup

Posted 6 years ago at 12:07 pm. Add a comment

Kitchen Bloopers

Posted 6 years ago at 10:44 am. Add a comment