Friday, November 21, 2014

I made Paneer

I posted a video by Michael Pollan on FB this week about home cooking. I quoted him, "you can eat whatever you want as long as you cook it yourself". I was struck by his concept that if you cook at home you are less likely to eat fries everyday. With today's corporately cooked foods you can visit a drive thru and easily eat fries everyday. He goes deeper into the horrors of the industrial, pesticide potatoes that are used for those fries.

It got me thinking about this "eat anything you want" idea. I make donuts maybe 4-5 times a year. Same thing with cinnamon buns. My chocolate babka, once (for Easter). I love all these foods, they are amazingly tasty. They are even more special because they are connected to holidays or snowed in days with my family. These indulgences take time to make so they won't be made every day or even every week. Since I eat only my own versions of these things it keeps me from eating too much of them. 

People want their food quick. Fast foods are there for them and they are usually these carby, sugary fat foods. You want a quick sweet when you are out running errands? Carry bananas with you.  I take my chai or a pumpkin smoothy when running errands, I am never tempted to stop for a fast overpriced, overly sweetened beverage. Home cooking takes forethought and planning. It's not only cheaper and healthier, but it's tastier because you use quality ingredients and you tailor it to your liking.

The day after my FB post and comments on the subject of homemade food I found myself in front of the frozen food at my local healthy grocery store. I saw a pre-made frozen Indian paneer dish and I wanted it. Right away my own words came back to haunt me...."make it yourself". Practice what you preach, right? Paneer was a always mystery to me, exotic and delicious. I purposed to give it a shot.

I went home and found a recipe, it seemed too easy. Just three ingredients. I enlisted my youngest to help and we went at it. First I heated a 1/2 gallon of whole milk just until it started to boil. Then we streamed in 1/4 cup of water mixed with 1/4 cup of fresh lime juice. The curds immediately started to form, we stirred and then took it off the stove to let it sit for five minutes. We then poured it through a sieve (lined with a kitchen towel) over a large pyrex measuring cup.

All the whey that was collected. 

I wrapped it tightly in the towel, rinsed it under cold water and then put in back in the sieve to drain with a weight on top. I did this in the morning, by the time I was ready to cook dinner it was dry. I cut it into cubes and sauteed them in a mix of oil and butter. Once browned I removed from the pan while I made a sauce of jar tomatoes, ginger, garlic, lots of Indian spices and peas. It was better that the frozen counterpart and there was much more of it for the money. I ate 1/2 of it straight from the saute pan wrapped in hot sourdough naan. It was a perfect combination because at the same the cheese was drying out all day the nann dough was fermenting. The finished product is pretty fancy, but honestly the prep was not too time intensive. This was actually made on our busiest day out this week. I hope you will watch Michael Pollan's extremely informative video and even more I hope you will take the challenge to to make something that you usually buy in it's factory cooked form. Let me know how it goes.

The only other cheese I have ever attempted was goat yogurt cheese, which was even simpler that this paneer, check it out here: Hanging the Cheese

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Green Morning

You have to use your veggies while they are ripe and fresh. Herbs and avocados are especially prone to deteriorating. It's miserable to let that window of opportunity slip by and have to dispose of good food. This morning my cilantro, basil, kale and avocados where ready to go. The rest of my week will be busy. I figured I might as well go ahead and make them into things that will keep that I can use later on. 

I made some kale chips, guacamole, pesto and a cilantro lime salad dressing. It made a big mess, but it was one big mess to clean and I was done. Instead of many small messes over a couple of days. 

We had the kale chips for breakfast as soon as they were done. The girls had theirs with sourdough rolls and fried garlic. I had them with a mushroom omelette and continued munching on them throughout the day.

For lunch I had the cilantro dressing on salad and some of the guacamole on a raw seed cracker. There is plenty leftover for whatever meals or snacks come next. The point here is to make a few things all at once. Since you're making a mess you might as well go for it and then you can reap the rewards for days to come.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Halloween and black donuts

I have always liked all things spooky. Bats, spiderwebs, Frankenstein and green glow in the dark aliens. But each year I see more and more gore and horror popping up in our local Halloween events. I won't participate in this kind of entertainment. I won't shop in a store that has severed limbs and decapitated heads hanging around as part of their decor. I'm all for make believe and fantasy. But murder is real, and should not be part of any celebration. 

That's why I love my daughter's Dark Elf. It's a good example of how you can have fun, be creepy and still bring beauty and light to the world. People always respond in a positive way to her costumes. It makes them happy, they can't help smiling. They ask to take pictures with her and give her lots of encouragement.

Now on to other dark things. My 11 yo said she wanted to eat black food. I was making donuts, I said if you can come up with a way to make black naturally we'll do it. She immediately said "We can use activated charcoal." She was right! It worked. I mixed some into the donut glaze and it turned extremely black. So now we have a tasty donut that can absorb any toxins from your digestive system!

She was very pleased with her black donuts and now wants a black pumpkin pie. I'll let you know how that turns out.

p.s. Creepy clothes pins painted by this happy girl.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sleepy Hollow Acorns

Looking for a little treat without calories or sugar? Try my little acorn cushions. I just finished a batch and FINALLY added a new item to my Etsy Shop. These spookies were actually gathered from the grave site of writer Washington Irving in Sleepy Hollow NY. 

This huge ancient oak towers over the other trees at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and just happens to be in the private family plot of Washington Irving. It showers the ground with these little shaggy capped acorns. 

Irving's grave is the one decorated with flags and pumpkins. Quite humble, not what one would expect from the writer of such stories as The Headless Horseman and Rip Van Winkle.

 I gathered my acorns on an overcast, drizzly October day. Noisy ravens perched on the tops of gravestones. It could not have been a more perfect day for my spooky task.

I was determined to stay until my basket was full even though it started raining. I did fill that basket and I ended up with a stow away.

My Spooky Acorns would make a nice addition to your Autumn nature display or could even be a stocking stuffer for those people on your Christmas list who enjoy the eerie all year round.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tree Bark Fall Poncho

Back in late spring I started this broken cable pattern poncho. That would give me enough time to finish it before fall when I looked forward to wearing it. It turned out that I put my knitting down a lot, sometimes for weeks at a time. The idea of a large wool poncho on my lap lost it's appeal during the warmer months. Also my tennis elbow flared up so there was another reason to set my knitting aside. 

Because I put it away so much I always forgot where I was in the pattern when I picked it up again. So, I just started back at the beginning of the cable pattern each time, whether right or wrong. It was supposed to be a perfect, tight fishbone pattern, instead it was looking like this. Which I love! It reminds me of something growing, like the bark of a tree. People who saw me knitting commented that it looked like bark. Cool, I just kept on knitting crazy and wrong, foregoing the original pattern for the tree bark look.

Well, it's finished and I have been wearing all around. Yesterday we stopped off at a "Bubble Shop", they sell bubble teas and lots of tasty asian sweets. You can see me and my finished poncho with an impressive amount of roll cakes. A couple of people have already asked me for the pattern. It's the same answer when I'm asked for a recipe..."Well, I can give you the ingredients but as to exact measurements you're on your own since I just kind of wing it."

Friday, October 3, 2014

Into Fall and Back in Time

Last week we went off on an excursion to Old Sturbridge Village. As we drove from New York to Massachusetts. it was obvious that they are ahead of us when it comes to Autumn. The colors became more and more brilliant as we went along. When we got there I was enthralled by this grove which is on the grounds of Sturbridge Village. 

Sturbridge Village is "an 1830s New England Living History Museum". We usually go there on Homeschool Day, but this time we ran of on a whim. They have farm buildings, homes, gardens, shops, a saw mill, grist mill, a cooper, a huge wood burning pottery kiln, yarn spinning, a blacksmith, a tinsmith and more! All working and manned with costumed educators. You can even try your hand at the various crafts and trades.

My younger pretending to do her "chores". 

One thing my husband and I really love about Sturbridge is their bookshop. It's chock full of everything we are interested in. Crafting and herbs for me, American History and trees for him. Since we are entering the spooky month of October I picked up 'Wicked Plants' for myself and a book about the Salem Witch Trials for the girls. I went back the next day and grabbed 'Vintage Knit Gloves and Mittens' by Kathryn Fulton. I started knitting these fingerless gloves as soon as we got home.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Foraging Fun: Chicken-of-the-Woods

We went out looking for tree nuts and ended up instead with this lovely Chicken-of-the-Woods mushroom. My husband was the one to spot it, as I tramped right over it! It is also called Sulpher Shelf and it is a favorite foraged mushroom because not only is it very nice to eat, but there are no poison lookalikes. Some folks say it really doesn't taste like chicken, I think it does. The texture is very much like chicken breast. Like tofu it will become whatever you flavor it to be. Really, if you didn't know this was a mushroom, wouldn't you think this sliced up bit is cooked chicken breast? The black and white feather is turkey, found near the mushroom.
Chicken-of-the-Woods grows on trees, logs and roots. Bring a sharp knife, you'll have to slice it off. Look at this color! We found two this size, but some bunches can be huge. It you are lucky enough to come across a giant clump you should cook it at once if you won't be able to eat it all within a couple of days. After it's cooked, freeze it and throw it into soups and stews, rice dishes, casseroles or pasta as you want it. You can also dry it out to store it, but it requires more fat to cook it in to rehydrate. 
The underside ranges from light yellow to white. They are best eaten when they are young and tender. When they get big they are hard and woody. In that case I would just trim off the very tips to eat.
You can bake it, braise it or as I did here, saute it. Since finding this Chicken-of-the-Woods was a surprise treat I had to fit it into my already planned lunch, curried pumpkin soup. We came home from our foraging walk hungry. As the soup was heating up I sauteed the mushroom. Very tasty, like crispy bits of fried chicken.
You will find these mushrooms growing in shady woods and sunny city parks. We found ours on the grounds of Sunnyside, Washington Irving's home. As I've said, there are no poison lookalikes for Chicken-of-the-Woods, so if you are new to mushroom hunting, this is a good one to start with.