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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Mini Apple Poptarts



I have a secret. Do you promise not to tell my friends? I hope it won't ruin me!

I love Poptarts. I really do! I know that I'm supposed to be this serious and sophisticated Chef at this point in my career. I know I'm meant to have a sophisticated palette. But what can be done when the heart wants what the heart wants? There's just something so amazing about a sugar-packed pastry filled with fruit and topped with frosting! Am I wrong for loving them? I don't know about that...but I do know that recently experienced a tiny tragedy a few weeks ago.

I bought a Poptart from a gas station. (I was in a rush and experiencing a sugar crash, so don't judge me.) I took a big bite of it while I was driving and felt like I was being kicked in the teeth by a tiny sugar monster. I was utterly heartbroken. Am I just too old for Poptarts? Have I outgrown them? But how can one 'outgrow' the perfect parcel of pastry and fruity filling, crisp and crumbly and delicious? It was just too horrible to be true. I set this experience in the back of my mind until I received my farm box from Prairie Birthday Farm and happily opened a bag of Windfall apples. 

Yes! I thought. These apples weren't the pretty things you see in the grocery store, but the real apples that you get off the farm. I could make apple pie, of course, but what if I could take the opportunity to right the wrong of that Poptart experience I'd had some weeks prior? These apples were perfect for baking, and I was about to do just that. Here's another thing you need to know: Not every single produce item you have has to be absolutely gorgeous, especially if it's going to be put in something, versus presented to guests as is. The truth of the matter is that apples will simply jump their way off a tree when it's ready to be eaten and if it's found on the ground that doesn't mean that it is any less edible. We can talk more about that later!

Mini Apple Poptarts
yields 12 mini pop tarts

Perfect Pie Dough
  • 14 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • 8 oz vegan butter/any solid fat
  • Vodka, as needed
Apple Filling
  • 6 small apples or 2 big ones, peeled and chopped
  • 3.5 oz raw or brown sugar
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon or 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp tapioca starch
  • 1 1/2 tsp Mexican vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese long peppercorn
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Special equipment
  • A proper rolling pin
  • A fluted square cutter
  • A Silpat mat
Start with your pie dough. I know I've talked about it plenty of times, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to start with cold ingredients. Chop your cold fat, and put it into your cold dry ingredients. Rub your fat in with your fingers - not your palms - to keep it cool. Add cold vodka. Are you curious about what the actual mixing method is? Check it out - I've actually done a video about it!




Now that that's all settled, wrap your pie dough and chill it well! I like to let it chill overnight, but an hour will do the trick just fine if you don't want to wait. Are we ready to move on to the filling? I sure am!

Protip: The trick to doing good pop tarts is to chop the apples large enough to still have a sort of bite when eaten, but small enough to fit into your tart of size. I cut my pieces into thin slices and then had those slices cut to 2 cm in length. This, of course, all depends on the size you want, so please feel free to decide what size you feel appropriate! No matter what, make sure that your slices are all the same size, so they cook evenly.

Combine your apples with the sugar, lemon juice or vinegar, salt, vanilla, and spices, and stir well. Cover with a clean tea towel and let sit for about half an hour to extract all of those delicious juices and that wonderful pectin. This is called maceration, and it's used to soften fruits for sauces or fillings, while also making the flavors more intense. Keep in mind: the longer you let the apples sit, the more juices will escape and the more your flavors will meld...so feel free to start this the day before you want these treats! While we're waiting, let's talk a little bit about apples and the perfectly imperfect fruit that they are.

Apples originated in Central Asia. The apple as we know it was brought over by the European colonizers. Although technically an invasive species, we have plenty of delicious varieties that grow better in certain climates. Apples enjoy a temperate climate and require other apple trees nearby to cross-pollinate, which makes it difficult to grow and manage if you don't have a decent amount of space. The good news: you can dwarf an apple tree! This means that they'll grow out, not up, which is much easier to manage when harvesting! Shall we talk about harvesting apples, now?





The apple tree is an exceedingly clever plant, as it'll simply boot off any apples it deems ripe enough to eat instead of waiting for someone to pick it. This results in bruising, and bruised apples never get picked to go to the grocery store. This is not so great, since bruised apples are entirely edible. Apples do ripen quickly, however, so if you don't get them off the ground as soon as you can, they risk fermenting and trust me when I tell you this: drunk squirrels are funny, drunk hornets are not. 

I could go on and on and on about food waste and the problematic practices of how we harvest produce in this country. I'm guessing, however, that you are ready to cook your apple filling...so let's get to it!


Now that your apples have macerated, you're ready to add your tapioca starch! I love tapioca starch for this because it cooks quickly, is crystal clear when set, and mimics the jelly-like texture of pectin most naturally. Cook your apple filling over medium-low heat until most of the liquid has been reduced and thickened, about ten minutes, and set aside to cool. You'll want your apple filling to be at least room temperature for this next step!

Roll out your pie dough between two greased parchment sheets or between two long sheets of plastic wrap. This prevents you from making a mess! Roll it as thin as you can, about 1/8th of an inch, and use a cutter of your choice to cut shapes of equal sizes to make your tarts. Remember, each tart is going to use two pieces of cut dough. I had this gorgeous little fluted ravioli cutter that I found at a garage sale, so I decided to use that! You can use egg wash to help 'glue' your two pieces together, but water works just fine if you want to keep it vegan. 


Use a scoop or large spoon to portion equal parts of your cooled apple filling onto the bottoms of each tart and loosely sandwich the top piece to it. Allow the top dough to relax around the filling and press gently around the edges to get rid of any air bubbles. I used a fork to crimp the edges of my tarts, but you can use your fingers and pinch them together if you like. Make sure you poke some vent holes in the top!

At this point, you can freeze them for later. Why would you do that? So you can have them to either stick in the toaster oven in the morning for a quick breakfast! Even better, if you wanted to get a little crazy, you could deep fry these beauties at 375 degrees until golden-brown for an insanely indulgent take on the apple Poptart! If you're a traditionalist like yours truly, though, and you simply cannot wait to dig in, feel free to bake these beauties at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until golden-brown and delicious. Let them cool completely before you handle them. You can frost these with a simple powdered sugar glaze or buttercream, but I like them plain. They're a perfect little snack to beat the mid-afternoon slump!

I adore this recipe because it's easy to make ahead, and they're just oh so cute to look at and eat. It's got all the beauty of an apple pie combined with mobility. You can wrap these in paper and take them on a picnic, or pop them in your purse for an on-the-go sugar boost. You can grab one on the way out the door. Heck, put one in your pocket while you wander the wild and windy moors, lamenting over that handsome stranger that shot partridge on your land just Sunday last. The possibilities are endless!

Thank you so much, as always, for joining me today. I hope this has inspired you to try this recipe on for size. Now please excuse me while I help myself to some apple pie a la mode with my husband. Happy cooking and happy eating!


Friday, August 7, 2020

Pear Streusel Pie

 


The fruits of summer are bountiful and sweet! There's nothing quite like the summer in the city, except when you are in your 30s and you live in the American Midwest or South. Then, it's just awful, especially if you are an *ahem* ample person of the feminine persuasion, such as myself. (Sweat happens to humans with bosoms and thick thighs in a way that I wish not on others.) Summer sucks. It's hot. It's humid. I'm going to tell you that I hate humidity, so I count the days until fall occurs. I relish the changing leaves, and I mark days off my calendar until I can go apple picking. There is, however, the wonderful fruit that ripens just before the apple does, and I can get my crisp fruit pie fix...the pear. 

Pears are wonderful fruits that don't get nearly enough love. They're crisp and cool, they have delicious varieties that are vastly varied, and they grow on trees so you can pick them while imagining your perfect life in the south of France as you do it! They are not always as sweet as the apple, so therefore you can use them in savory and sweet applications. A grated pear in a marinade for a Korean-style beef marinade will add a note of freshness and sweetness without being overwhelming. How wonderful! 

I'm sure you've seen pears with cheese plates and your parents will remember poached pears with ice cream in fancy restaurants in the late 80s to early 90s. Heck, I myself am guilty of putting the retro-classic poached pear on a modern dessert because I love it so much! There's just something about the pear that heralds in the changing of the seasons for me. It bakes in a wonderful end-of-summer pie.  Here's how to make it!



End-of-Summer Pear Pie

Pie Dough

  • 4 oz vegan butter
  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 oz raw sugar
  • 1 oz dark rum, more as needed
Pear Filling
  • Four medium-sized local pears, peeled and sliced thin
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 3.5 oz raw or brown sugar
  • 1 tsp good Mexican vanilla
    • Don't have any? Check out our Partners page!
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp Chinese long pepper, ground
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
Honey Streusel
  • 5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz sugar
  • 1 oz local honey
  • 3 oz vegan butter, cold

This is my standard pie dough, and I absolutely love making it because it's suitable for decorating as well as tasty eating. Combine the flour and sugar in a bowl along with a fat pinch of salt. Roughly chop the butter into cubes and rub into the flour-sugar mixture with your fingertips, almost as if you were snapping your fingers. You only want to combine the flour until it looks like cornmeal, and then add in the rum. Turn all of this out onto a cool, marble surface and smear together, folding all the dough back on itself over and over again until everything is smooth and combined. Scrape together, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour, ideally overnight. 

Take your pears in a large bowl and toss it with the lemon juice and zest first before adding the sugar and spices. Cover this beautiful stuff and let it sit for 20 minutes at room temperature. The sugar and spices will draw pear juice out, and this beautiful liquid is going to make your pie taste delicious! Why don't you go ahead and turn on your oven to 350 F while you wait?


Meanwhile, lay more plastic wrap on your counter turn your dough out onto the surface. Rolling out your dough on plastic wrap or greased parchment paper will save you a lot of cleaning time! The idea is that you want to sandwich your pie dough between the parchment or plastic wrap and roll it out this way, so you don't have to add excess flour. Roll this out nice and thin and line a glass or ceramic pie dish and press into the corners so it's well-set. Let it hang out on the counter for about five minutes so the pie dough can relax a little before you trim the edges. This will prevent excessive shrinking! Once the dough has relaxed, trim the edges with a sharp paring knife and pinch around the edges to make a pretty scalloped finish. Take this opportunity to think about what kind of decorations you'd like to have on your pie! I chose feathers. 



I have this wonderful set of teardrop-shaped cutters that I discovered at a garage sale some years ago. All you have to do to make feathers is to take the excess dough that you've cut off, roll and cut out the shapes, and then use the back of the knife to make your cuts and indents. You can get really creative with what you put on your pie, so feel free to let your imagination run wild! Remember, any sort of decorative pie crust touch you make will need some egg wash to stick.

To make the streusel simply mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a spoon. You'll be chopping and stirring the fat until everything sort of comes together in a kind of loose and lumpy sand, which shouldn't take long at all. Streusel is ready once it comes together when you ball it in your fist and it keeps its shape but quickly crumbles apart when tapped with a spoon.  

When you're ready to bake, brush your pie shell, edges included, quite well with egg wash. Add the flour to your pear pie filling and stir well to coat. You can use cornstarch if you like, but flour works just fine. Scrape your pie filling into the dough shell and arrange so that the slices are generally flat. Sprinkle your streusel all over the top to cover it, and decorate your pie as you so desire to. I really love the random look of these feathers strewn here and there! You can do whatever shapes you like; this is your pie, so you choose!

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and everything's golden-brown and delicious-looking. Your house is going to smell amazing! Turn off the oven and crack the oven door, and let it cool in the oven for about half an hour. Remove from the oven and let sit on the counter for at least 3 hours. Why? Pectin!

Pectin is this wonderful stuff that's found in high amounts in apples, citrus fruits, and - you guessed it - pears! It's a natural thickener and is essential for making homemade jams and jellies. The only thing about pectin is that it needs to set on its own, so that means you shouldn't cut this pie until it's cool to room temperature and the pectin is set. This way, you'll get much cleaner slices and you'll be able to enjoy that picturesque view of a non-soggy-bottom when you go back for a second, third, or fourth slice of pie. If you cut this pie before the pectin sets, the liquid will burst out and soak up your crust from the bottom, and it'll never set again. 

But what if I want warm pie??? 

Easy! Once it's all cooled, you can reheat it by the slice in the oven or - if you must - the microwave, and serve with some ice cream or sweetened ricotta cream. My general rule is that fruit pies should be served plain with coffee, but if you absolutely must indulge in some sort of ice cream, then I simply cannot stop you. Let go and let G-d, I say!

I love this pie because it's not too sweet but satisfies my sweet tooth in a much lighter way than an apple pie does. Pears are quite fragrant in a sexy, sophisticated way. I like to think of apple pie as your cute neighbor that just loves to wear bright patterns, whereas pear pie is that sexy stranger at the end of the bar wearing just enough of that expensive cologne or perfume...but when you get to the bar you see it's your neighbor, all along, in a new light. 

Thanks so much for reading along and spending some time of your day with me. It means so much to me to be able to pass on these awesome skills I've acquired over the last decade to you. I hope I inspire you to make this delicious pear pie. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Monday, August 3, 2020

Cotton-Soft Ube Cake


Whoa. Technicolor.


Can we be real for a second? Sometimes, you want cake. You really want cake. But it's in the middle of the summer and it's just too dang hot and humid to even think about turning on the oven. Even during the famous Midwestern False Fall, it's humid. So what's one to do when you want that cake but don't want to heat up your whole house? Use a rice cooker to make a cake! 

This is the perfect recipe for that summery situation of wanting a light spongecake without sweating yourself into a puddle. If you have no choice but to cook this cake in an oven, keep reading! I've got your answer below...

Disclaimer: I'm an Asian-American person that (mostly) grew up in a white family. I had a brief phase where I wanted to be in fashion design, but once I realized that I'd much rather be tubby and eat good food, I signed up for culinary school. I went to Culinary school and learned the old-school French ways of cooking, which means my first formal exposure to cooking rice that was of the Western-style, which is to say in a pot on the stove. It wasn't until living with my mom, a full indigenous Filipino woman of Pampanga, that I learned the proper way to cook rice. She never had a rice cooker but just used a pot and the old finger-trick. (Jo Koy talks about it here.) I didn't buy my first rice cooker until I was 30 and am decidedly ignorant about all the glorious things you can do with this amazing machine. I am now in love with it and use it constantly. I stand before you now and I'll say it out loud: I'm a Janie Come-Lately. Please be kind to me, fellow Asians.

Cotton-Soft Ube Cake
adapted from Cooking Tree's recipe
yields 1 cotton-soft cake
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 150 g sugar, divided
  • 30 g raw honey
  • 1 Tbsp ube extract
  • 110 g all-purpose flour
  • 20 g tapioca flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 40 g olive oil
  • 40 g almond milk
  • 30 g ube jam
Gently oil the bowl of your rice cooker or steamer with either olive oil or coconut oil. If you do use a steamer, you can either use a bowl or little individual ramekins. I wouldn't use paper cups for this, as it's going to be steamed for quite some time! 

Separate the eggs, with yolks in a large bowl and the whites in the bowl of your standing mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment. Combine the honey, egg yolks, half the sugar, ube jam, and ube extract in a large bowl with a balloon whisk until light and fluffy. It's good for your arm to work this hard, so spend at least 60 seconds on whipping by hand! The idea is to dissolve everything together in a beautiful, thick purple paste. 



Measure out the olive oil and almond milk in a small, separate bowl, and set this aside. Whisk together the two flours, the baking powder, and the salt in another bowl. Spoon in your flour mixture to your egg yolk mixture and whisk gently to create a paste. You're only going to want to do this about a third of the dry ingredients at a time to prevent lumps. Don't worry too much about the gluten!

Whip the egg whites with the other half of the sugar until stiff peaks form. It's going to be tripled in volume, and oh-so-glossy. If they look dry, you've over-whipped them, and the cake won't be as nice, so please err on the side of 'under'-whipping, as you're going to already have some leavening from the baking powder. Does that make sense?


Whoa. Groovy, man.


Add in a dollop of the egg white meringue to your purple yolk mixture. Use the whisk to stir it gently and lighten your batter. It's going to be a little thick, and it's a-okay if you lose a bit of the volume of the egg whites in this step. Add in about a third of your remaining egg white mixture and fold in gently, using the whisk instead of the spatula. It's going to take a little longer than usual; be patient.

Switch to the spatula and fold in your remaining egg whites as gently as you can. The most important thing in this step is to make sure that they are fully incorporated with no streaks of white in your purple batter. Next, take a healthy spoonful of the batter and add it to your almond milk and oil mixture and stir together until homogenous. Scrape this mixture into your big bowl of batter and fold it all together as gently as you can. 

Pour your batter into the prepared bowl of your rice cooker and smooth out the top. Give the pan a few good taps from the bottom to break up any large bubbles, so the only bubbles you get are fine and even. Ten taps usually do the trick for me!



Put your rice cooker bowl in the machine and push to the "STEAM" function, and set it for 65 minutes. 

Note: You will need a good rice cooker for this recipe to have the same results as I have here. I have this one here by Zojirushi, and it comes with all the bells and whistles. If you don't have a rice cooker and are absolutely dying to make this cake anyhow, you may do this:

Follow the usual instructions only pour the batter into an ungreased tube pan and bake at 350 degrees F for about 40-45 minutes or until the top of the cake is dry. Please note to not open the oven to check it until at least 35 minutes has passed. You must also note that it's very important that the oven be already quite hot and ready for this cake, as it won't rise the same without that heat.

This is quite a long time to cook for a steamed cake, so let's use up some of that time to talk about what ube (pronounced "oo-bay") is!

Ube is a beautiful species of the tuber family that is quite high in sugar, incredibly flavorful, and shines like a jewel with vivid purple color. This is also known as a purple yam or the greater yam. It has a creamy, almost coconut-like taste that's unique to Southeast Asia! You'll often see it in Philippine desserts, as well as Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. You can grow them, but most recipes you see calling for ube will usually mean ube halaya or ube jam. You will be able to find this item, jarred and ready to go, in any Asian grocery store with a Filipino section. The extract of this item is quite powerful, so use it sparingly. 

A note about this ingredient: it's very high in sugar already, and when you add sugar to preserve it, it'll be even sweeter in the jar. Make sure you taste it before you make it into a pie so you don't use too much sugar. To make an ube pie for Thanksgiving, I like to simply use a whole jar of ube halaya, some coconut cream, a few eggs, a dollop of tofu sour cream, and salt for the filling. Bake as normal for a pumpkin pie, and you'll have the most technicolor-looking pie you've ever seen. It's almost as bright and colorful as my Pandan Custard Pie!
 
When your timer signals that the cake is ready, open the rice cooker and let the steam escape for about 5 minutes. The cake will have pulled gently away from the pan and the sponge will be firm, yet springy, to the touch. 



Turn the cake upside down over a cooling rack and let sit for another 10 minutes before you gently remove it from the bowl. This may take a spatula, but please, for the love of all that is holy, don't use metal on your nonstick surface. Remember, the cake will have reached the top of the cooker, and some of the bubbles might have popped a little when you open the door to it. It's not the end of the world if, when you turn it out, it sinks just a tiny bit. I swear it'll still taste delicious! Let cool completely before cutting and serving. To cut, I suggest using a serrated knife and using long, gentle strokes. Don't push down - just let the weight of the knife to the work for you.  

You can enjoy a slice of this cake with some coffee or iced tea! This is a delicious cake all on its own, so I don't think this cake needs any kind of icing at all. If you absolutely must give in to temptation, may I suggest that some fresh whipped cream might not be amiss should you be so inclined? Personally, I just like this cake plain!

My dog is behind me, isn't he?


Store this cake in an airtight container. It keeps well for several days, just as moist and tender as the day you made it. If I'm being honest, though, I've never let it survive for longer than 48 hours before it gets gobbled up.

I love this cake because it's incredibly tender, so easy to do, and you don't have any baked-on mess to clean up. I know the value of easy-to-clean stuff at this time. Between volunteering, writing, schooling, and doing the part-time influencer thing, the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time on the dishes at home. I'm sure that a lot of you here in the United States are feeling some emotional exhaustion from the quarantine, and while I don't know how things are going overseas, I know that there are more than a few of you that have lost their jobs, lost their loved ones, and even more in this uncertain time. 

It's hard now, and it's normal to not feel normal. I understand that we'll likely never have our old 'normal' back again, and that's okay. We're in the middle of a global revolution, and I for one am ready to see what the next chapter holds. Keep holding on, just a little longer, and I know we'll be okay. In the meantime, find yourself some solace in happy distractions, like an oh-so-pretty ube cake. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Soft Cucumber Bread

Spongey!

So you're getting a lot of cucumbers from your Victory Garden. That's great! But also irritating. Maybe you're not even getting them from the garden but from your CSA, or your Farmer's Sampler Box that you've subscribed to? Either way, you have a problem and I want to help you solve it. What's the problem? Too many dang cucumbers!

You could make it into a salad, a tzatziki sauce, or even braise them. But what's really creative? How about making it into some steamed bread?

Note: I used my rice cooker to cook this, but if you have a large enough steamer that all of this will fit in, I do recommend that as well. I haven't ever baked this, so go ahead and tell me what happens if you do! Try a lower temperature of 325 degrees F with a pan of water underneath the rack in the oven.

Spongey and Soft Cucumber Bread

  • Roughly 500 g of cucumber, about 6 smaller ones or maybe 2 large ones...really, just use a scale
  • 30 g raw sugar or honey
  • 2 eggs 
    • I used duck eggs, but you can use chicken eggs if that's what you have
  • 5 g yeast
  • 300 g all-purpose flour
  • **Optional: 25 g sourdough starter
  • **Optional: sesame seeds and dried fruit, for fun
Measure your cucumbers on a scale and chop them up. Mix them with the sugar and eggs, just to break up the yolk and coat everything, and then pop everything in the blender. This is the fun part! 

Duck eggs have a larger yolk than chicken eggs, which means they are fattier and have a higher amount of omega-3s! Please note, duck eggs are much richer than chicken eggs, so they will change cakes slightly if used to bake with! 

You're going to want to start on low, and then move it up to medium-high speed. Make sure the stuff is incredibly smooth! The skin will blend just fine. Cucumber has high water content, so you don't need to add water to blend this into a liquid. The skin is packed full of nutrients, and the seeds - when crushed - will help release some good stuff as well. Don't stop blending until you know it's absolutely liquid, which should take about 2 minutes. I know it seems like a long time, but it's worth it.

Add your liquid to a large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast, and stir. Add in your flour, and stir - with a spoon or a pair of chopsticks - gradually until it becomes quite a thick paste. You'll want some gluten, so the stirring will take a little time, about 3 minutes. When it becomes a thick and smooth paste, you may add in some dried fruit or sesame seeds, just in case you want a little extra flavor and crunch. 

Oil the pan you want to use. I would choose a tall cake pan with high sides, as this will rise - rather quickly, in fact - and double in size. It's a wet dough, so you won't be taking it out of the pan and shaping it for a second prove. This is more like a cake than it is a loaf of bread, but don't hold that against it. Either way, dump your lovely green paste into this pan, cover it, and leave it to proof in a warm place. It's rather quick to rise, so it shouldn't take more than an hour to double in size. 

While we're waiting, let's talk about farmer's boxes!

This is my Farmer's box from Prairie Birthday Farm, a local place not far from me!
I'm certain you're sick of me advocating for the local farmer and the slow-food movement right now. I know that it's not always the most accessible thing for folks in an urban area, that need to work 50+ hours per week, that are struggling to put food on the table as it is. I know it may sound like I'm out of touch to the financial realities of many; I assure you, I've had my fair share of struggles as well. I know that it's hard and emotionally draining to have to actively think about food when it's so much easier to just get a burger from any fast food joint that you have near you. The point is I don't feel right about preaching unless I'm willing to walk the talk, so here we go.

I usually get most of my produce from farmer's markets, but I am also aware of the lack of social distancing that might happen there. Any place that could gather large crowds I personally would rather avoid as much as possible right now, so I figured I'd go right to the source. This helps the farmer, too, as it cuts down on a lot of extra effort on their part! My personal favorite part of this entire thing was actually the nice drive up to the farm. I did have to take the highway for about 20 minutes, but the last 15 minutes of my journey was through gorgeous rolling farmland, and it was truly good for this tired soul. 

A Farmer's Box generally has goodies from the farm in bags, and it's whatever they have. As you can see, I've got plenty of gorgeous blossoms and microgreens, some long beans, a couple of Cucuzza squash, some pattypan squash, some squash blossoms, and - you guessed it - lots of cucumbers! And are those farm-fresh duck eggs you see in the top corner? They sure are. In fact, those are the same duck eggs featured in this recipe!

Now, this wouldn't normally be how I buy food and cook. That's okay! Now is the perfect time for me, and you, to explore a new way of cooking and eating that is not just more interesting, but more sustainable and truly seasonal to where I am in the world. It's a lovely and old way of eating. I know that this may seem daunting to the average bear, but this is why this blog exists: I do the work, you reap the benefits. 

Has your bread risen yet? If not, go ahead and check out this place here to see what options you have in your zip code. If you're in the Kansas City area, why not contact Prairie Birthday Farm and give them a try? Their Instagram is amazing!

This took about an hour to rise! So quick!
Add this immediately to your steamer or rice cooker and cook for about 40-45 minutes. Like I said earlier - if you want to try the oven, go for it! I've never done it before, so I'd really like to see how your results come in if you do. 

Evacuate from the cooking vessel of your choice, turn the bread out, and let cool on a rack until entirely cool. It's going to be incredibly springy and taste exactly like cucumber. Is this a good or bad thing? I think it's good!

So fragrant! It smells just like cucumber!

I love this recipe because it's a creative way to use up the cucumbers from a prolific group of plants. I use this bread with some lemon butter as a snack or toasted as sandwich bread for a chicken salad. I think it's a great snack that's just slightly sweet, so it'll scratch that mid-afternoon itch, or perhaps even that breakfast itch you might have. This makes delicious toast, especially with avocado or cream cheese. It's a healthy and fragrant bread that has potassium and vitamin C! 

I understand that this is a strange-sounding thing, but you never know you like something until you try it! Now is a perfect time to become a little more adventurous with your eating, and hone your cooking skills to boot.

You might love this bread cubed up and toasted with olive oil and herbs to make the most-amazing croutons you've ever had. You might love this as a sandwich. You might just love it as it is! You'll never know until you try.

Thank you so much for reading. I feel like I'm using my powers for good when I write about things that I'm passionate about. The farmer is the legs that our country stands upon and I believe that these people are owed respect. If we can all help out the farmer by changing up our diets just a little bit, I think we should do it. Remember, this is all about progress, not perfection. If we all, collectively, do a little bit to help our community, our farmer friends, and our planet by eating sustainably, then we can all make a big impact on this beautiful world we live in. Please note that corporations do exponentially more pollution than the individual does, so small changes for every person while you write letters and advocate for less pollution to your congresspeople is best. 

Thanks so much again for coming on this journey with me! Stay safe, stay happy, and stay healthy. Happy cooking and happy eating!


Friday, July 24, 2020

Peppery Skirt Steak with Asparagus

What's better than a photobombing cat? 


This is an incredibly easy way to prepare skirt steak. It takes a hair of planning, but so long as you get this meat in the marinade in the morning, you can grill by the evening.

Skirt Steak with Asparagus and Green Beans

  • 2 lb skirt steak
  • 3 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp ground chili flakes
  • 1 tsp dried mint, crushed - or about 8 fresh mint leaves, chiffonade
  • Kosher salt
  • Peppercorn mix: white, green, and black peppercorns, ground in the pepper mill
  • 1 lemon
  • Plenty of green beans
  • Asparagus
  • A few cippolini onions or some elephant garlic
  • Coconut Rice, for serving (my recommendation)
Start in the morning or the night before with your skirt steak. If you get your meat from a local provider, it will likely be in a long strip. Cut this in large pieces that can easily fit in a bowl, about five or six inches long, but don't slice into strips. You'll do this after it's cooked!

This recipe is about balancing flavors. This is not a new principle, as learning to balance flavors is part of becoming a great cook. Zest the lemon(fruity and fragrant) and add this to the olive oil(also fruity and mildly astringent), chili flakes(hot), and mint(cool-hot). You may notice that we're missing sweet. You can add a pinch of sugar or honey if you like, but I don't think it's necessary, as I served this with coconut rice which is a little sweet from the fattiness of the coconut milk. You'll also notice that we've left out bitter - this is because the vegetables we add are just a touch bitter.

Add your steaks to this olive oil mixture and season heavily with kosher salt and PLENTY of grinds of your peppercorn mix. A quick lesson on peppercorns:

You can head here for some more information
Peppercorns are berries from a flowering vine that are harvested and dried. They come in pink, green, black, and red, naturally. You get white peppercorns by soaking ripe pepper berries in water for about 10 days so they ferment, and then you dry them out. This is a similar process to processing cocoa beans to make them into proper nibs - this is quite exciting if you ask me! 

Your steak should marinate for at least 4 hours, to let the salt and fat do their work. Skirt steak comes from the 'plate' primal of the cow, which means that it's lean and full of rough muscle! It's nice to do low-and-slow, so if you have a sous vide machine at home, I highly recommend giving this a try! The trouble with it is that it's quite lean so therefore the low-and-slow cook method doesn't exactly do well since there's not a lot of fat there. This is why you must add some fat. 

You can grill this outside on an open flame, but the day I made this was incredibly stormy, so I opted to use my cast-iron griddle, that's happily parked on the two left burners of my gas stove. I love cast iron because it's virtually indestructible once you get it seasoned properly and care for it. I believe in buying things mindfully and investing in them, and I hope you'll give this train of thought a bit of consideration, too. 

Green beans are so prolific when grown en masse. It's an easy thing to grow - so please think about donating some if you grow too much!
Now it's time to think about our Victory Garden spoils! I've got quite a bit of them at this point, and I hope you do as well. This recipe includes green beans and asparagus because:

A.) I have a lot of both.
B.) They work with beef quite nicely.
C.) They are best when cooked quickly.

When you are ready to eat, remove your marinated steak from the fridge and let it come up to room temperature for about 20 minutes. Take your green beans and asparagus and prepare them. For the asparagus, cut off the hard woody root and chop into 2.5" pieces. Do the same for the green beans. If you have either cippolini onions or elephant garlic to add, slice them just as thin as you can manage to do so. Juice the lemon you had from earlier, and toss your vegetable mix with it, along with some more olive oil, salt, and pepper. Set this aside. 

Heat your griddle to high and brush with oil. Get this quite hot and turn on your vent, or open a window. It's going to get smoky! Sear your steaks on medium-high for 3 minutes on each side, and set them on a plate to rest. Don't you dare scrape off that delicious goodness that the steak left on the griddle! Instead, dump your chopped vegetables onto it and scrape it around as it cooks. Your veggies should be cooked fully within five minutes, and you'll have a delicious sear on them, along with all the flavor of the steak. When it's done cooking, you can remove from the griddle and set aside in a bowl. 

Turn off your griddle and pour some salt on it. Push the salt around with a little oil and a paper towel to clean it. Doing this immediately after cooking shows good habits and respect for your tools, so you may as well just go ahead and do it now. 

To serve, slice your now-rested steaks against the grain and toss with your sauteed vegetables. Serve on a nice big communal plate with coconut rice on the side and enjoy taking great photos before consuming! 

I love this recipe because it's easy to do, and utilizes what you (or, at least, I) have. It's a quick and simple recipe that takes minimal prep and doesn't skimp on the flavor profile. When it comes to good beef, you should show it respect and keep it relatively simple. There are many farmers that are willing to ship directly to you nowadays, and I highly recommend that you do some research and see who will ship to you and your area. The farmer is hurting just as much as the restaurant worker in this troubled time, so let's put our heads together and make sure we're putting our dollars in the right place. 

About half of the corn grown in the US is for animal feed; this is combined with a LOT of other goodies to make proper food for these cows that are both nutritious and delicious.
I've visited my fair share of beef farms in my day, and I can tell you this: they're actually quite a bit like you would hope to imagine them to be. What's better, out in Western Kansas, I've seen a good portion of beef farms double as wind farms; it's quite a sight to behold! Remember, the farmers in America don't often clear land through deforestation practices. Most of the farmers will buy and use land that's already rolling and hilly and difficult to cultivate, so they can just stick some animals on it and call it good. Quite ingenious, don't you think?

Through most of a beef steer's life, it's roaming around on a family farm, until it goes to a finishing yard where it basically gets to hang out in a smaller yard while it eats as much corn and grass and whatnot as it wants, until finally coming to a beef processing plant. Most of these animals, as far as I've seen, are treated well. Peace of mind is one of the many reasons that it's important to know where your beef comes from. An overwhelming 97% of all farms in America are family-owned, so you can at least feel decently good about consuming beef every so often. 

Remember, it's progress, not perfection! Switch to a locally-sourced protein versus the kind you get in the grocery store, which may come from out-of-state. Get a sampler box from a local farmer. Plant a garden. We don't need you to be pulling out your hair from the stressful attempt at doing everything perfectly. We just need everyone doing a few small good things collectively that'll push us in the right direction. Lead by example, and Godspeed! I assure you, it's going to be a load of fun. 

Enjoy that steak!