Saturday, November 3, 2007

Day three: Food, part 1

I'm doing this backwards, truly -- I should be talking about growing food before I talk about cooking with what you grow and preserving it. But the latter is what we did today, so that's what I'm going to talk about.

Ever read the ingredients on the back of a box of processed food? Don't, unless you want to learn how to cook. The number of things in your food that aren't at all food is truly frightening and I have to wonder how many of the first world's burgeoning medical problems are due to eating not-food.

I'll skim over the huge amounts of petroleum required, in one way or another, to grow food in the modern industrial manner and save that post for when I talk about growing food -- but trust me on this, between tractors, fertilizer, and all the gas needed to get food here from Guam or something (when, really, there are plenty of people in Guam or wherever who'd happily eat it too), it's a lot. Growing your own food, or buying it from someone who grows it locally using proper organic techniques, is just a better idea.

But this means learning to cook it. I didn't learn to cook from my mother when I was growing up as girls have done for millennia -- Dad wanted a boy he could teach to build things and didn't get one, so I was elected. I didn't learn to cook from my ex until very late in our relationship, either. I've learned a lot from Tim (and Julia Child!) but don't go thinking that I've been cooking for my entire life or any such. It doesn't take long and, frankly, it's not that hard. If I can do it, really, anyone can.

And cooking from ingredients instead of from a box or a can is so much more satisfying -- yes, it's a bit more work and more planning, but the food just tastes better. Think you don't have time? Bet you'll make time once you taste the difference. Think you don't have the money? The money you'll save on multivitamins and health care will cover whatever extra money you might spend on food made out of food and not chemicals.

Because I tell you what, I feel better. Not just from an emotional standpoint, the satisfaction of doing something I think is right and proper (though that's not a small thing), but straight-up physically. My allergies have lessened or plain disappeared. I haven't gotten a cold in nearly a year (previously every two months or so). The last cold I got didn't turn into bronchitis as they inevitably used to. My joints feel better. I have more energy. It's an astounding difference.

Today we cooked -- a Flemish vegetable tarte, two loaves of bread (and o, the scent of fresh-baked bread in your kitchen!), a quiche, pork and veggies for dinner, and four quarts of applesauce and three of salsa for canning tomorrow.

Which brings me to the other part of this post -- preserving food. Yeah, you can buy the stuff in cans and jars at the store and it's a lot less work, and you can buy it any time of year so why stock up? Apart from blizzards and such, preserving your own food in season just makes a lot of sense. You know exactly what's going in it -- I started on the thought of canning when I read the back of a can of stewed tomatoes and discovered that one of the ingredients was high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup? In tomatoes?

As I recall I said several awfully rude things, and threatened to throw one of the jars (Tim got hold of it so the windows and dog are safe). I was (and still am) furious. That's it, I said, I'm canning my own tomatoes so I know exactly what goes in em.

We found a local place that sold us twenty-five pounds of canning tomatoes for fifteen dollars, and added about five pounds of our own tomatoes, and spent the afternoon cutting them up, bringing them up to temperature, pouring them into quart jars, and processing the lot. Yup, a long afternoon's work and we all hurt some at the end of it. But now we have enough tomatoes to last at least the winter if not until next tomato season, and there's nothing in them but tomatoes and a bit of lemon juice to keep the acidity high enough.

That got us going. Three kinds of pickles, zucchini relish, salsa, goose stock, applesauce, and our cabinets are full of good, wholesome, fairly inexpensive food. We could be snowed in for a good long time and wouldn't be hungry. It's a lovely secure feeling.

As gas becomes more scarce the price of food, which depends so heavily on it, will only go up. Learning to cook and preserve what's available, what's local and in season and thus less expensive, will make things a lot easier as time goes on.

Also? Worth it if only for the flavour.


HilbertAstronaut said...


I'd love to see your Flemish vegetable tarte recipe!

We haven't done much preserving here, but we have done a lot of our own cooking. I'd like to learn how to bake bread -- my oldest sister was and is a gifted baker, ever since she went through the 4-H classes as a girl and mastered them! I wish we could see her more often, both for her company as well as for her excellent baking. Mom also does a great job baking bread, but even she acknowledges the master (or mistress, rather) and misses her work!

Mom used to do a lot of canning, though she has slowed down since she only has to cook for herself and Dad now. But she still pulls out the pressure cooker now and then. Oddly enough, if it's pickled or moldy (in a good way, like bleu cheese) or stinky (in a good way, like sauerkraut or stinky tofu or preserved fish), I'm all for it!!! I like that naturally preserved taste, at which even the bacteria turn up their little cilia! ;-P

Ask me sometime and I'll tell you a cute story about "patriotic cabbages."

Kate said...

Brioche dough:
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp lukewarm water
2 cups flour, or more if needed
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1/2 cup softened butter

Sprinkle the yeast into the water and let stand 5 minutes to proof.
Sift the flour into a work surface with the salt; make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture and eggs to it. (Tim notes that this makes egg all over the counter and recommends a bowl.)
With your fingertips, work the ingredients in the well until thoroughly mixed. Draw the flour in with a pastry scraper and mix it to form a smooth dough (see above re: bowl).
Knead dough on floured work surface, about ten minutes, until it is very elastic. Work in more dough as necessary.
Add the butter, pinching and squeezing to mix it into the dough (Tim says: sticky!) and knead again, 3-5 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball and put it into an oiled bowl; cover and let it rise in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight. (Ours rose very little and in fact Tim almost threw it away, convinced it had failed. It hadn't.)

Vegetable filling:
1 lb mushrooms
8-10 scallions
4 medium carrots
2 medium turnips
(all julienned)
6 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in medium saucepan; add the carrot strips and cook gently for five minutes.
Add mushroom and turnip strips, salt and pepper.
Press a piece of buttered aluminum foil over the vegetables. Cover with the lid and cook until tender, 10 minutes or more, stirring occasionally. (This allows the vegetables to steam and Tim says it is very clever).
Add scallions and adjust seasoning.

Knead the brioche dough slightly, flour the work surface (a lot, in our experience) and roll out the dough until it's 3 inches bigger around than your pie pan. Put it into the pan (I won't go into how, it needs pictures).

4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Whisk the custard ingredients together. Spoon the veggie mixture into the pan and spread it evenly, then add the custard.
Fold the top edge of the dough rim over the filling to make sort of a border. Let it rise in a warm place for a half hour or so; preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
After a half hour, bake the tart for 40-45 minutes, until the crust is very brown and the custard is set. Test the custard with a toothpick or small knife.

It's awfully good.

Kate said...

Totally try the bread -- it's not near as hard as I was convinced it'd be. Everything we've made has at the _very_ least been edible, if a little dense, and most of the time it's simply stunning.

I haven't tried lactofermentation or moldy cheese yet but they're all on the list.

Also, patriotic cabbage. The mere phrase makes me giggle. :)

Kass McGann said...

You know I'm no cook. Luckily Bob is. I call him my little wifey. He loves to cook. And next spring, he's planting that garden he's been talking about for years. This year, we bought vegetables locally when we could. Bob makes an amazing squash thing that I'll eat for lunch for days.

One jarred/canned food that *is* really wholesome is Indian food. Read the ingredients on the package. It's all real food, and you can boil it in bags!