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Archive for the ‘Bacon’ Category

Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year for our little family.  The Spouse and I each have a long history of preparing feasts open to any and all friends in need of a cozy place to go.  Long before we dated, we were friends on opposite ends of the state consulting each other on menus, recipes, and cooking methods.  Once engaged, and finally in the same city, Vagabond Turkey Day was born.  For ten years, it has been about opening our home to an array of interesting people and watching them all connect.  Nothing fussy or fancy, just old friends and new sharing food, drink, games, and conversation well into the evening and often through the next day as well.

Day Two has, in fact, become an event unto itself.  Traditionally, the stock simmers all night while stragglers stay playing games through the wee hours of the morning.  As guests raid the fridge, bones are added to the bubbling cauldron on the stove.  Then on Friday, we make Jacques Pépin’s recipe for French Onion Soup (from his book The Apprentice).  Typically a few folks crash for the night, and a few decide to return the next day.

We added experimental doughnuts to the mix this year.  It was quite a draw.  Throughout Friday we had a constant full house.  French Onion Soup quickly became a ‘deconstructed’ stockpot of stock and onions while getting a few friends to pot luck lasagna and salad.  We were low on savory items, but were overrun with desserts.  The onslaught of sweetness muscled in on counter space – squeezing out most of the traditional game play.  But we will have to rejigger and perfect our strategy in years to come because the doughnuts were an unmitigated success.

There will be doughnuts again.

Oh yes, there will be doughnuts again.

The Spouse attempted these once before, after watching Chris Cosentino recommend Dynamo Donuts on an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  The Second Try was better still, and The Spouse has already posted the recipe.  But they were so good they merit repeating here.

The Child punted on helping out this time.  There were friends over with bikes and games outside.  So her dad brought out a fresh plate of warm doughnuts for all the kids.

Best.  Dad.  Evar.

Maple-Glazed, Apple Bacon Doughnuts – The Second Try

(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Yeast Doughnuts)

For the doughnuts
•    1 1/4 cup milk
•    2 tablespoons apple juice
•    2.5 oz shortening
•    2 packages instant yeast
•    1/3 cup warm water
•    2 eggs
•    1/4 cup sugar
•    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
•    1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
•    23 oz all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
•    2 medium apples (gala or fuji)
•    1 lb bacon
•    1/2 – 1 gallons peanut oil

For the glaze
•    3 cups powdered sugar
•    4 tablespoons of maple syrup
•    2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

(Will make approximately 50 doughnuts)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place bacon a rack inside a foil-lined half sheet pan. Cook bacon for 15-20 minutes, until crisp. Reserve rendered bacon fat. When bacon has cooled a bit, dice bacon and split in half.
Warm milk in sauce pan until hot enough to melt shortening. Pour milk over shortening and stir until combined.
Place yeast in warm water for 5 minutes.

Peel and finely dice apples. Place 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat into a frying pan and saute apples over medium heat. Keep diced apples moving constantly until they give up some liquid and pick up a hint of color, about 5 minutes. Remove apples and any remaining bacon fat from pan and add to milk/shortening mixture along with 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat.

Lightly beat eggs.

Combine water/yeast, apple juice, eggs, nutmeg, milk/shortening/apple mixture, nutmeg, sugar, salt, half the bacon, and half the flower in the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Mix on slow speed until flour is incorporated, then increase speed to medium. When well mixed, stop mixer and add remaining flour. Again, slowly increase speed until well mixed. It will be very sticky.

Switch to dough hook and mix on medium until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a shiny ball.

Move the sticky, elastic dough to a bowl and allow it to rise for one hour, until it has doubled in size.

Dump dough out onto well floured surface. Flour your hand and gently flatten dough until 3/4″ thick. Flour a 2″ and 1″ biscuit cutter. Carefully cut out 2″ disks and move to wax paper, the use the smaller cutter to cut out the holes. When done, cover with more wax paper and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.

In a heavy stock pot, add enough peanut oil to fill to 2-3″ deep and heat to 365 degrees.

Prepare the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and 6 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat.

Working in batches of 4-6 doughnuts, fry doughnuts until golden brown and delicious on both sides, about 1 minute per side, using chop sticks to gently flip the doughnuts. When done, transfer to cooling rack and let cool for about a minute before dipping in glaze. Return to cooling rack and sprinkle with bacon from the other half you reserved.

(This works best with two people, one frying, one glazing.)

The most difficult bit will be giving the glaze about 5 minutes to set up. Doughnuts will still be warm and delicious!

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Shopping at the local Northwoods grocery store is a bit challenging.  We get local items when we can, but when it comes to most things that is not an option.  Our area is historically trapping, logging, and mining country, not farming country.  The growing season is too short, and the soil quality is poor.  Most quality-raised food has to travel much farther than we are used to in California.  Sometimes shopping here is about choosing the least of several processed evils.  This is after all, a part of the world where it is socially acceptable to buy and serve Velveeta.

For the summer we cook like we’re camping.  We try to make careful choices while remembering that, sometimes, food is just fuel.  And without a dishwasher, one-pot meals with off the shelf ingredients have distinct advantages.
Since this cabin is typically occupied by someone in the family throughout the year, the cupboard and freezer are often filled with groceries other people have purchased.  The kind of food men buy on a fishing trip.

But no amount of Michael Pollan-esque food guilt can allow me to waste food.  I may not make the same purchasing decisions, but when the might-as-well-be-generic brand of canned peas (yes, canned peas…  shudder) are taking up space in the pantry, they ought really be eaten up.

The nice thing was that I had both bacon and a ham steak from the meat purveyor at the local farmer’s market.  I had bought a chicken from him as well and roasted it earlier in the week, so I had homemade chicken stock in my arsenal too.

Futility Farms sends a nice guy with a truck full of freezers each Thursday to sell their grass-fed beef.  Thanks to their neighbors raising animals with similar philosophical bent, there are also conscientiously-raised chicken, pork, and lamb.  The meat comes all the way from Gilman, Wisconsin.

I remembered my father mentioning my grandmother’s recipe for my favorite pea soup is made with canned peas.  And although that soup is beef based with drop dumplings, I decided to freestyle with some pork products, chicken stock, and my forsaken canned peas.

Finished in less than 30 minutes, it was fabulously cozy on a stormy, grey evening.  The Child had seconds, and requested leftovers the next day.  Like all pea soups, this one gets better each day in the fridge.

She wondered why we’d never made this before.  Good question, honey.  Turns out we will be putting canned peas on our pantry staples shopping list from now on.  Cheers to not wasting food and taking a chance.

Canned Pea Soup

1 ham steak, diced
1-2 rashers bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cans, canned peas, drained and rinsed
Homemade chicken stock
Pepper to taste

Saute the onion, bacon, and ham.  No extra oil or salt is necessary to saute as the pork bits provide sufficient fat and flavor.  When the onions are cooked through and beginning to brown on the bottom of the sauce pan, add the drained and rinsed peas.  Stir to combine and add chicken stock to cover.


Stir occasionally while the soup heats through. Some of the peas will break up on their own, and I suppose some folks might like to take a potato masher to it at this point, but we liked leaving our peas intact.

Served dinner for two, leftovers for a day or two, plus half the batch in the freezer for a rainy day.

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Musing about how The Child eats jump-started my writing, especially after we began eating goat at home.  It was the first time we ate goat we prepared ourselves, and the first time we purchased meat directly from a farm.  A positive experience, we were encouraged to search for a regular meat-CSA to join.

Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a food distribution model wherein the consumer and the farmer share the risk and rewards of farming.  Typically a subscription, the consumer pledges a monthly rate for a share of what the farm produces each month.  While it is more common to find fruit and vegetable CSAs, the demand for meat and dairy is on the rise.  Consumers typically seek out CSA food in an attempt to eat local, support small-scale agriculture, or obtain organic products.  They may also supply a greater variety of products, as well as heirloom produce or heritage breeds.

Singing the praises of Godfrey Family Farms is long overdue.  We experimented and signed up for a monthly share at the start of the year.  Having no idea what to expect, we planned to re-evaluate after 6-months.  Honestly, I thought by June our freezer would be bursting, and it would prove to The Spouse that our family was not large enough to justify the 15 pounds of meat each month.  We do not have sufficient square footage for a deep freeze of our own.

But I was wrong.  I love it.

One Saturday morning each month, The Spouse drives to a Home Depot parking lot to fetch our share of the monthly meat.  It runs $100 for approximately 15 pounds of various cuts from various beasts, including fresh eggs.  Rose and Brian Godfrey are remarkable.  They write a blog to keep folks posted about happenings on the farm, and have a Facebook Fan Page as well.  They both have a way with words and wit.  Back in January, I read their post about geese including photos of Thanksgiving…

…looking through the fence at Christmas…

…and I knew these were my kind of people.

Our traditional Easter dinner is rabbit after all, and we call him Thumper.

As it turns out, we consume most of the share each month.  We even purchase extra;  several dozen more eggs, and additional chickens anytime they have them.  We are thrilled when some challenge of farm living means there are extra rabbits, ducks, or veal bones to be had.

The meat CSA has made a profound difference in our diet and our lives. From the very first shipment of duck eggs with a magical double yolk… to guilt-free pastured veal… and a variety of beasts… Yes, it is safe to say I am biased.

To counteract said bias, I will skip the compulsory review of pros (eating local, pastured, and small-scale), and head straight to the cons of any CSA.  But are they really cons?   Seem more like advantages to me.

You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. My daughter learned this in pre-K, and it is a rule many adults could stand to learn.  When you join most CSAs you do not typically get to place orders.  And if you do it ought be considered a lucky perk worthy of your undying gratitude, not setting an expectation.

We learned how to meal-plan based on what default produce arrived in a box on our doorstep, and this is really no different. So we have tried new things such as guinea fowl, water buffalo, and duck eggs.  Instead of shopping based on a plan, we plan based on the shopping.  One Saturday each month we gather around the cooler to see what Santa brought us while attempting play a game of freezer Tetris with the frozen blocks.

Please remember it is a farm people!  The animals and crops really do not care what your schedule is, much less your menu.  Sometimes the guinea fowl are too much trouble to raise again.  Sometimes the butcher goes on vacation and instead of pork you get glorious water buffalo from the neighbor’s farm.  Sometimes the momma animals turn out to be less than skilled mommas.   And sometimes the hams, sausages, and bacon come cured by someone else.  We have fallen in love with Rose’s recipes, the Italian sausage and brats in particular, and this is not a con for us.  But it may be for some folks.  If you are particular about what cuts, or which beasts, or what sizes you *need* to have, perhaps this isn’t the right purchasing model for you.

Eating nose to tail. A big part of eating sustainably is eating nose to tail. Philosophically, if you are going to show respect for the animal you are consuming, let nothing go to waste. Economically, if you learn to cook the stuff other people do not want, you will have a wide selection of cheap proteins from which to choose.

It was not our intention to pose the chicken as if it were dancing off stage left. *giggle*

I am confident someone is enjoying the extra bits. (Lucky #$%^&*@!)  And even though Godfrey chickens arrive intact from beak to toes, most of the regular shares do not include offal.  When a family of three buys 15 pounds of meat per month, it reduces our trips to the grocery store.  That puts a dent in how many times we pick up braunschweiger or headcheese for lunch, have calf’s liver for dinner, or discover we like new things like veal kidney chops.

I miss my butcher. Well, not a particular butcher per se.  We predominantly shop at Lunardi’s Market, since the Andronico’s near us went out of business (pout).  It is an average-sized traditional grocery store with a meat counter, and a veritable army of butchers.  They appreciate questions and are quick to ask someone if they don’t know the answer.   I have never been ignored or hustled along.  The Child always loves to visit them.  Since infancy, she has been accompanying one of us, helping to pick things out, watching all the action as the butchers break things down, and fascinated by the various meats hanging from the ceiling.

Approaching this calmly as a reality helped her develop comfort and understanding of what lands on her plate.  But we spend less time visiting the local butchers now that our freezer is packed to bursting once each month.

Maybe it is time to figure out where to put the deep-freeze after all?  The Spouse can park his car in the driveway, right?

Okay, maybe not.

Skillet Sausages

Cast iron skillet (optional)
Bratwurst, bockwurst or favorite sausages
Onions, sliced in half, then in half-rings
A favorite beer or hard cider

Brown the sausages and add the onions tucked in around the edges, i.e. don’t just layer them in on top.   Open up a favorite beer to enjoy and share with the skillet.  Every once in a while check to see that things aren’t sticking.  When they do, add some beer and use your tongs to scrape up the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.

Skip the bun, serve with mustard and a side of sauerkraut or coleslaw… or both!

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Back in California, in the land of farmers markets, we don’t often go to them anymore.  As school and work and responsibilities crowd the schedule, we tend to cozy-in on weekend mornings and share family time together at home.  Between the weekly organic grocery delivery and the monthly meat CSA share, we have plenty of food options.  And nearby markets, even the very basic ones, have a wide range of ingredient choices hailing from all over the world.

But we spend our summers in Wisconsin.  Vilas County, Wisconsin to be exact.  Head north a mile or two across the lake and yer in da U.P. (that’s Upper Michigan for the uninitiated).  By we, I mean The Child, The Dog, and myself.  We leave The Spouse back in California for most of the summer, and come here, to the little 70’s shack where I spent my summers.  This is our third year, and so far the experiment seems to be working…  The Child has proven to be an outdoorsy kinda kid.  She is comfortable trading a busy schedule of activities and play-dates and friends, for solitary independence.  She can go outside and play, she can explore the woods and the shore and the yard.  She may be by herself.

Food shopping and cooking here in the Northwoods is very different than the options we have back in California.  The markets are extremely limited, and I am reminded of the Kwik-E-Mart challenge on Top Chef.  We make do with processed food and very few fresh ingredients.  Occasionally specialty local products are available at gift shops.  But our small town of Land O’ Lakes has a weekly farmers market on Thursday mornings.  It is small, often only one vegetable stand, one meat purveyor, and a few local folks selling cheese, honey, preserves, or foraged items.  Most of the booths are more reminiscent of a swap meet or garage sale than a market, but there are typically about a dozen tables selling goods.  In California, going to the farmers market has become an occasional and social destination, but here it is a necessary part of our weekly shopping.

Last year we discovered kohlrabi at the farmers market.  Mountains of them.  Most were green, but some were purple.  Most were softball sized, but some looked closer to soccer balls.  When I asked what they were and heard kohlrabi, I must have flinched a little, remembering not liking things like rutabaga and kohlrabi as a kid.  The woman working the stand made a point of assuring me that they were incredible, and that her favorite way to eat them was raw, sprinkled with salt, on a sandwich.  She deftly hacked into one and shared a slice, while quickly looking at the veggies I had selected and tossing in a few extra things for free, just so I could replicate her favorite sandwich when we got home.  We made a few sandwiches that afternoon, and she was right!  I was hooked!

It was, botanically speaking, incorrect of me to group rutabaga and kohlrabi together taxonomically.  They are both in the cabbage family (Brassicacea), but while rutabaga is its own species, Brassica napobrassica, kohlrabi shares a species designation with everything from cauliflower to brussels sprouts as they are all considered cultivars of wild cabbage, Brassica oleracea.  Thousands of years of specialized breeding have resulted in a multitude of cabbages which don’t look or taste anything like each other.  The next time you are eating your broccoli, take note that it is one of the ultimate GMOs mankind has ever produced.  There are so many cultivars of wild cabbage in fact, that they are classified in groups based on their developmental form.

•    Brassica oleracea Acephala Group – kale and collard greens
•    Brassica oleracea Alboglabra Group- Chinese broccoli
•    Brassica oleracea Botrytis Group – cauliflower, Romanesco broccoli and broccoflower
•    Brassica oleracea Capitata Group – cabbage
•    Brassica oleracea Gemmifera Group – brussels sprouts
•    Brassica oleracea Gongylodes Group – kohlrabi
•    Brassica oleracea Italica Group – broccoli

Very easy to grow, kohlrabi is generally disease free, it can take shallow soils, and is unaffected by most garden pests.  More than just frost-hardy, anecdotal reports online indicate it may stay quite happy in the ground until temperatures dip into the twenties and snow begins to fall.

Kohlrabi literally means ‘German Turnip’ and it is vastly more popular and traditional in Europe.  But monj (or munji?) is also a staple of Kashmiri cuisine where the round, swollen stems are cooked along with the edible greens.

Slicing kohlrabi first makes trimming off the peel very simple.

Raw

Raw kohlrabi was a revelation.  Just sliced up, woody skin trimmed off, sprinkled with some kosher salt, and YUM!  Served on a sandwich of toast, mayo, fresh tomato and a slice of cheese?  Double yum!!  So all year, I have been craving it.  Looking forward to that first Northwoods-summer farmers market when I could get some more.  And it did not disappoint.

The slices which did not make it onto sandwiches were chopped into chunky sticks and served with a side of salt for dipping.

Kohlrabi makes an excellent snack! (and yes... that's an old ashtray repurposed as a salt cellar)

Cooked

Last year, none of it ever made it past being crunched up raw or julienned into slaw.  This year I decided we were going to try cooking it.  Most of the recipes online indicated cooking times of about 15 minutes in a sauté pan on the stove.  A friend said she liked hers sautéed in bacon fat.  Fast cooking plus bacon?  I’m in!  The results were fabulous.  The Child enjoyed it enough to gush over her first helping.  She did not help herself to seconds, but later in the week enjoyed the nuked leftovers for lunch.  Frankly, I am surprised that there were any leftovers, since after dinner I was compulsively picking straight from the pan with my fork.

Last year raw.  This year cooked.  Next year?  I’m thinking pickled.

Braised Kohlrabi with Bacon

½ of a giant kohlrabi (~8” across) or an equivalent amount of the more widely available smaller specimens, skin trimmed, cut into small cubes
2 rashers bacon, cut small
Fresh cracked pepper

Chop kohlrabi into your preferred shape.  Some recipes use slices, or strips, or even grated.  I liked the little cubes.  Make sure it is uniformly cut for even cooking.

Cook cut bacon in large sauté pan until it starts to render a little fat (on my old electric stove this took a few minutes).  Add chopped kohrabi and sauté a bit before adding just enough water (or braising liquid of your choice) to keep it from burning.  Cover and let cook about 15 minutes, stirring regularly and checking for when it is just fork tender.  We enjoyed ours more al dente than mushy.  Generously add a few grinds of fresh pepper and serve hot.

Made 3-4 servings

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