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!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies

#Instagrammable

Do you know what I've been doing since the pandemic started? I'll give you a hint: it doesn't pay in money but pays in kind...

It's volunteering! I work with an amazing non-profit organization called Young Women on the Move.  This organization is all about empowering young ladies in the urban core of Kansas City to reach the highest of their potential. I think that a lot of what is missing in modern city life is a true sense of community. What better way to feel a little more connected than looking for non-profits in your own backyard and spending a little time there?

Full disclosure: I am a very healthy, neurotypical, able-bodied, privileged young woman in a stable financial situation. I have my own car, my own home, and a loving partner. I am willing and able to help my community so I'm choosing to do it. I am not in a high-risk group for Covid-19. I have been wearing a mask faithfully, practicing social distancing with my fellow volunteers and workers, and have been disinfecting and thoroughly washing my hands and checking my temperature faithfully every day. I am able to get out there during this pandemic in a relatively safe manner, so I'm doing it.

Please don't feel obligated to get out there if you don't feel safe doing so. Your health and safety is the absolute number one priority. If you do want to help this organization, however, feel free to donate here!

I volunteer with this organization in the way of teaching. I, along with my good friend Chef Gary Hild, host "Cooking School in a Box" every Wednesday. The videos are, of course, the kids. I was joined last week by Kansas State Representative Sharice Davids! Watch us below as I show how to make a shortbread cookie and a chocolate chip cookie by hand.





This recipe is the same one I gave to the kids. It's a great base recipe that can be easily modified to your preference. (**denotes things that were not shown in the video.)


Chocolate Chip Cookies
yields roughly 2 dozen 1 oz cookies 
  • 6 oz or 1 1/2 sticks butter or vegan butter substitute
  • 7 oz sugar (in the video, we used granulated white sugar, but I had raw sugar at home so that's what I used)
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • **1/2 tsp Mexican vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 7.5 oz all-purpose flour
    • *You can change this up, depending on the kind of cookie you like...see below!
  • **1 Tbsp semolina flour
  • Chocolate chips as needed, about a cup!
Please Note: These are for crisp cookies!


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and prepare a sheet pan with either parchment paper or a silpat mat


Take a medium-sized bowl and beat your butter with a wooden spoon or a spatula until smooth, creamy, and light in color. Add the sugar of your choice and beat until light and fluffy, which should take about 2 minutes when mixing by hand. Add the egg and stir in, then beat until fully incorporated. You're going to get in a good workout!





Add your flour, baking soda, baking powder, and semolina, stirring gently, just until everything is incorporated. This just means that you won't see a spot of flour, and will only see a beautiful brown dough. If you like, you can stir in some nuts, crushed toffee candies, or white chocolate shavings in at this point, but it's entirely optional. No matter what you do, please don't overmix this dough!


Note: Your cookies will be much better if you chill the dough for an hour before baking! If you can’t wait, simply continue below…


Scoop spoonfuls of equal size on to prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. You can use a pair of identical spoons or you can use a 1 oz disher to do your deed. A standard half-sheet tray will fit about 12 1 oz dough balls. Next, is the fun part...


Use what you have! These chocolate chunks work just fine.
Arrange your chocolate chips on each dough ball until you’re satisfied with the amount. Your dough balls should look like little porcupines! Bake at 325 for 10-12 minutes and let cool on the sheet pan for another 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

This is the method for thinner cookies. If you prefer a chewy chocolate chip cookie, simply follow these steps instead:

Even melting only half of your butter will help you get a chewy cookie!
Melt your butter entirely and add it to the sugar. Stir with a whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved, and add your vanilla. Whisk that until incorporated, and then add in your egg. Whisk all of that deliciousness together until entirely incorporated, and then switch to a spatula for your mixing utensil. Dump all of your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and semolina) into a medium bowl and mix together. If you really chewy cookie, switch the all-purpose flour to bread flour instead! You can follow the usual method of baking immediately, but these get really nice and chewy when you let them chill overnight.

If you want a wafer-thin chocolate chip cookie that will spread... follow the first method only substitute 2 oz of your flour for either cornstarch or tapioca starch, and switch out 3.5 oz of your sugar for honey. I recommend freezing your dough for an hour before scooping and baking, but it's all up to you in the end.




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See how thin those are? They were so crisp, almost like a cracker!

Thanks so much for reading, listening, watching, and joining me on this awesome journey. I hope you're staying safe, wearing a mask, and staying healthy. If you'd like to be a little more involved with your community from a safe distance, I invite you to check out Catch a Fire.org, where you can search for virtual volunteering opportunities. Happy cooking and happy eating!