Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blessed are the cheesemakers...

...which now includes me!

(First attempt at making goat cheese. Here, they are on day one of two days of draining before they can be unmolded.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

This is not Cheddar... it's tofu!

This is fresh tofu the color of summer. I juiced orange bell peppers and carrots, and used that as the liquid to make soy milk, and then tofu.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

From This to That: Cinnamon-Apple Walnut Bran Muffins

Crispin apples just picked from my apple tree, whole wheat, cinnamon chips, walnuts in the shell. I shelled the walnuts, milled the wheat, ground the chips into cinnamon powder, made the apples into apple sauce. Then, with a little sugar, melted butter, eggs, salt, baking powder and soda, and some bran sifted out of the last batch of home-milled whole-wheat flour, I made cinnamon-apple walnut bran muffins.

The muffin top is cracked like a good gingersnap, with crisp edges that remind one of spiced oatmeal cookies. The texture of the home-milled whole-wheat muffin is astonishingly soft and tender. You've never had a more delicate, velvety bran muffin in your life. I used the finest setting on the grain mill, and the bran I sifted out of the last batch is made up of much smaller particles than store-bought bran. I used about 1/2 cup of extra bran, stirred in a few tablespoons of water and let it soften for 15 minutes before I mixed and baked the muffins.

If anyone is interested, I'll put together a full description and recipe.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Soylent Green isn't people--it's tasty!

If you're going to bother making something from scratch, make something you can't buy in a store or restaurant. This is tofu I made from dry soybeans, using freshly juiced spinach and cilantro as part of the liquid used in making the soy milk.

There's nothing new under the sun, so I don't think I'm actually the first, but I did "invent" this myself, and didn't get the idea from anyone else.

I was thinking about how most people soak tofu in marinades to add flavor. And I thought, shoot, since I'm making it myself, why not add stuff to the soy milk from which it's made? I tried steeping aromatics in the hot soy milk---not enough flavor. I tried an "add-in," adding minced green onions to my fresh soymilk and making tofu with it, but this wrecked the texture, turning it crumbly, and the tofu didn't hold up well in the wok. So the next step was using fresh veg juice. This worked. The flavor boost wasn't eXtreme, but it made the tofu taste seasoned all the way through, with a definite flavor to it. The texture was perfect.

I coated the cubes in cornstarch liberally doused with salt and pepper, and quick fried them in rice bran oil until crispy. Served with a wicked mixed veg* stir-fry with ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, and chicken demi-glace, thickened with a touch of cornstarch, and GABA rice.

Sometimes it's discouraging to spend hours making something from scratch that you can just buy at a store for $3. But making something that you can't buy anywhere, well, that's special, and really worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Take advantage of labor-saving devices

Making all your food from scratch takes more time than buying prepared meals, but it does not have to take THAT much more, if you have the means to acquire some devices.

The most important ones for me so far are the soy milk maker, chest freezer, yogurt maker, rice cooker, crock pot and grain mill. I certainly couldn't have done this project if I had to hand-mill all the grain. A chest freezer is, in my opinion, almost required because if you aren't using processed foods, you will go mad unless you freeze some stuff yourself, and it's important to always have meat/chicken/fish on hand, so you don't freak out that there's nothing to eat. Some freezers attached to refrigerators are a bit small to hold home-made meals, stock, and protein.

The rice cooker has turned out to be quite handy because with so much else to do, I sometimes forgot I had a pot of rice or porridge on the stove and burned it. The rice cooker will hold it without scorching. And the crock pot is invaluable.

Honestly, if you start the day by making a batch of rice in the cooker, and set up beans, a stew or braised protein in the crock pot, a 100% from-scratch day is pretty easy to do without making bread, sausage or fussy stuff. Just add hot cereal in the morning, a large salad full of vegetables, some soup you made earlier, fresh fruit, and you're there.

On the weekends, I know I'll have to make soy milk and yogurt for the week, and I always make a large pot of hearty soup, and salad dressing. With the appliances, it's really easy to just put soaked soybeans into the maker and press a button. When it goes beep!, I pour it through a fine sieve into a heat-safe receptacle and cool. 30 cents of soybeans makes $3.95 worth of fresh soy milk.

Yogurt is more of a pain, because you have to heat the milk to 180 and cool it to 110 before whisking in 1/2 cup of the previous batch of yogurt (or fresh yogurt starter). That takes a bit of paying attention. After that, I put it into the yogurt cups, and turn on the yogurt maker to go for 6-8 hours.

I have a bunch of frozen soup stock on hand, and make more when that runs low. I made a batch of strawberry jam that should last a while, and dehydrated a bunch of fruits and vegetables. They come in handy.

For breakfast, I make things like scrambled eggs with potatoes, yogurt and fresh fruit, muffins, or hot cereal. I plan to make bagels and cream cheese soon, as well as homemade cold cereal that's a bit more complicated than granola or muesli (Did you know that Grape-Nuts came from an Amish recipe?).

Lunch is often leftovers of what I made for dinner. Nick gets sent off every day with a Thermos-Bento box with soup, salad, an entree and fresh fruit.

Dinner: Easing into it, I made a lot of steak/chicken/fish with rice/baked potato/mashed potatoes and broccoli/green beans/asparagus. Stir-fry is also really easy. I then started making sausage, and serving it with lentils. Sundays are usually Mexican food, with handmade corn tortillas from fresh masa and some kind of grilled chicken/steak, with bowls of whole beans, minced jalapeno, white onion, cilantro, sliced avocado, and tomatoes. For the next stage, I will make queso fresco to include in the mix, since before the project, I always included a bowl of some kind of cheese.

So far, I actually haven't made bread as frequently as I expected I would. There's just a lot to do.

Coming up soon, I will be making crackers, goat cheese, pastrami, and authentic Jewish rye.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Making tofu from scratch

Most of the work of making tofu is actually making soy milk. The process of tofu-making is nearly identical to making simple cheese where you add a coagulant like lemon juice to warm milk so it separates into curds and whey, then strain out the liquid and press the solids together. You take dry soybeans, hydrate them in cool water, then blend them in hot water to get "milk." Then add a coagulant so it separates, and strain it and press the solids into tofu.

Before embarking on this mad, 100% from-scratch project, I made soy milk using a blender and a stock pot. To minimize the "beany" flavor, you have to keep the temperature within a certain range. It was doable, but frankly, kind of a pain, and I just wasn't able to get the flavor the way I liked it. Plus, it was really easy to scorch the heated soy milk, creating all sorts of unpleasant flavors, or have boilovers, creating a ghastly mess. So I saved up and got a SoyaPlus beverage maker that can make milk out of any bean, nut, grain or seed. Using this appliance makes soy milk production infinitely easier, and because the machine is able to heat the water and blend at specific temperatures, it makes much less beany milk. 

To make a batch of soy milk, I scoop out one measure of soybeans the night before, using their measuring cup, and soak them in cold water. You can just add dry beans to water and process, but you'll get much better yield if you soak them for at least four hours. The beans will swell and become lighter in color. In the morning, I pour off the soaking liquid, put the beans in the reservoir, add water to the fill line, lock the top half with the blender device to the reservoir, plug it in and press the button on top that corresponds to what I'm making into milk: Beans +, Soy beans, Soy +, Rice +. The machine heats up the water, blends, waits, blends some more, waits some more, and eventually starts beeping to let you know when it's done. I pour the contents through their enclosed fine metal sieve to strain out the soy milk solids (okara) into a heat-safe receptacle to cool (NOT their plastic pitcher, because adding hot liquid to plastic will leach out nasties). Easiest non-dairy milk you ever made.

To make tofu, it's a little more trouble, because you have to make four batches of milk. So this takes a bit of time, although largely unsupervised.

Once I've made four batches of soy milk, the rest is blissfully easy. I acquired a Soyajoy Total Tofu Kit, which consists of a wooden tofu press, 1 lb of nigari to coagulate the soy milk, and a cotton cloth to line the mold. 

Nigari is basically the various minerals left over after salt is removed from sea water. 

Here's the process: 

Heat the soy milk in a pot to a gentle simmer for 5-10 minutes, then cool to 170-180 degrees. Dissolve 1 tsp of nigari in a cup of warm water. Pour 3/4 of this solution into the soy milk and stir. Wait three minutes. The  liquid will separate into tiny white curds and a yellowish whey. If you see any milkiness to the liquid, add the rest of the nigari solution. If you like harder tofu, add the rest of the solution. Less coagulant produces softer tofu, and more makes harder tofu. 

The tofu press consists of a wooden rectangle, a bottom plate with supports that stick out past the edges of the box (IMPORTANT: don't confuse this with the top plate or you'll have a mess on your hands), and a top plate that fits inside the main box and slides down inside. Put the bottom plate on a plate in the sink, or inside a plastic basin on the counter. Set the main box on top, lay the draining cloth inside, making sure all sides are covered, and ladle in the contents of the pot. Liquid will start draining out, leaving the tofu solids behind. When enough of the liquid has drained out, pour the rest of the contents of the pot into the press, put on the top plate, and find something that weighs about 3-5 lbs that fits on the plate to weigh it down.

Let it drain for 20 minutes, then gently put the block of tofu you've just made into a container of cold water and let it sit for another hour. Then you can use it in cooking, or store it in the refrigerator until you are ready, making sure to change the soaking water every day.

Salt-and-pepper Tofu Stir-Fry

  • One block of homemade tofu
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice 
  • Bok choy (1 large, or 6-8 baby bok choy)
  • Yellow squash (2-4)
  • Garlic (to taste)
  • Fresh ginger, peeled and minced (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-3 tsp black pepper
  • Cornstarch (about a half-cup)
Rinse the brown rice in a sieve, shake off the excess water, put into a pot with a tight-fitting lid, and add 1 3/4 cups water. Some brown rice packages now say to use 2 cups of water instead of 1 3/4, but this yields what I feel is mushy brown rice, and where the structure of the rice grain breaks down into an "exploded" texture. I like my brown rice fully cooked, but chewy and toothsome, with each grain intact. However, many people like softer brown rice, and use two cups. You are the best judge of what you like to eat. Bring to a boil, turn down to low, and simmer for 45 minutes. If you have a rice maker, make brown rice according to its instructions.

When the rice is done, begin the rest of the preparation. This stir-fry will cook fast and needs to be eaten very soon after it's finished cooking, for the best possible texture. If you have misjudged the timing, you will end up with soggy squash and flaccid tofu.

Cut the yellow squash on the bias (at an angle), yielding thin, oblong slices. Chop the bok choy. Get your oil ready. Rice bran oil has a higher smoke point, so you can get it hotter than other oils, and with stir-fry, the hotter the better.

Add a splash of oil to your pan, heat as high as you can, toss in sliced garlic (as much as you like, according to your taste), and cook briefly, just until it has taken on a light touch of color. This can take as little as 10 seconds if the heat is up as high as it should be. If it burns, throw it out, wipe out the pan and start again. Remove garlic with slotted spoon and reserve. 

Add minced fresh ginger, cook for 10-20 seconds, scoop it out and add to reserved garlic if you like, or discard if you don't like the texture in your food. 

Add the squash and bok choy and cook quickly, tossing and stirring constantly. Home kitchens cannot replicate the high heat of a commercial stove and produce a truly fine stir-fry that drives off moisture in a flash and creates a smoky sear in seconds, but we do what we can. A good stove over high heat can still make a great stir-fry. High heat, quick cooking, constant movement of the pan. This should only take a minute or two. Stir, toss, keep that pan moving. Do not walk away from the stove under any circumstances or lose your focus. It's just you and the stove for the next few minutes.

The squash will pick up a bit of brownness, and soften just a bit. Don't overcook it. You want it a little less done here than you'd like. It's going to sit for a moment while you do the tofu, continuing to cook in the residual heat. Drizzle it with sesame oil, add back in the sliced garlic (and ginger, if you like), turn out into a bowl, and toss. 

Take your homemade tofu and dry the surface well, then cut into cubes. In a large bowl, add 1/2 cup of cornstarch and at least a teaspoon of salt and pepper. This coating will be thin, crispy and very flavorful, so you need to use ample seasoning. Toss the cubed tofu with the seasoned cornstarch.

Add about a half-cup of oil to the wok or pot and let it heat up. Fry the tofu in two batches until the coating is crispy and browned in places. On my stove, this takes anywhere from 3-5 minutes per batch. Remove with a strainer, slotted spoon or spider, and put onto a plate. You don't need to line it with paper towels. When the second half of the tofu is cooking, get ready to serve. When it's done, put rice on each plate, spoon the vegetables alongside or on top, and add the crispy tofu. Alternatively, you can serve it family style, with the rice and vegetables together if you like, but serve the tofu on its own platter. If you combine the crispy tofu with the other two on a serving platter, the moisture will quickly soften that delicious crisp coating you've worked so hard to create before you're able to pop a cube in your mouth. 

Serve with soy sauce, but bear in mind that the salt-and-pepper tofu will have plenty of salt, and when eaten in combination with the other components, adding too much soy to the rice or vegetables may be overpowering.

Monday, July 4, 2011

This Into That: Tofu stir-fry from complete scratch

I'll do the complete write-up tomorrow of how I transformed dry soybeans, brown rice, and raw vegetables into tofu stir-fry, but here are photos of before and after.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hot cereal you can eat with your hands

I made a large pot of 10 grain cereal cooked with dried peaches, and had a lot left over. I've often wondered if I could make muffins with it. So I tried an experiment.

I didn't measure anything, just going by what I remember of making muffins, and gauging the texture and appearance by eye. I will do it again, and get specific measurements next time.

To about four cups of cooked and cooled cereal, I added three beaten eggs, 4 tbsp of melted butter, a handful of dried cranberries, some chopped almonds, around 2 tsps of baking powder, and enough flour to give it the consistency of muffin batter (thick, but still pourable). I'd guess I added two cups. The cereal already had some butter and sugar, and was cooked with dried peaches, which dissolved into the porridge when stirred and gave it a wonderful flavor and sweetness. So I didn't add any more sugar.

I spooned half into a silicone giant muffin pan, and the rest I put into a greased loaf pan, and baked it at 375 for a total of around 40 minutes. Again, I will replicate the experiment and get specifics.

During baking, everything puffed up like a popover, and sank down a bit when cooled, which you can see in the photo. At first, I was disappointed, thinking it was a failure. But I accidentally stumbled on something great.

It separated out into layers. The center layer is still porridge, soft and moist, with exactly the texture of thick hot cereal eaten from a bowl. It did not become bready. The cranberries and almonds are mixed all the way through. The cool thing is the other stuff I added separated out into a delicious crust encapsulating the porridge! So you can hold the muffin or slice in your hands, and it's just like holding a muffin. Bite into it, and you have delicious, soft, unctuous hot cereal in the center. The neat thing about the sunken tops is that it creates a perfect reservoir for a spoonful of jam or crème fraîche.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Interesting health development

 A typical shopping trip before starting the from-scratch project

 And after (part 1)

After (part 2)

Interesting early development from the Summer From Scratch project. I have had three episodes of low blood sugar, and that's never happened to me once in the ten years I've been diabetic. It looks like I need to adjust my meds to account for a much lower intake of refined carbs.

These low blood sugar readings are in the normal range for non-diabetics (70-90), but for me, my body reacts with anxiety, trembling, sweating, mental confusion, etc., like it were below 70. My doctor assures me it's just my body flooding with adrenaline because it's not used to being that low. But it feels awful. Ever since I was diagnosed, I haven't been able to get my blood sugar below 130 no matter what I do, with meds, insulin, exercise and what I thought was a decent diet, and I'm usually 180 before meals.

Now, I know those numbers are bad, as is my A1C, but so far, I have absolutely no signs of any complications whatsoever. Not a hint of retinopathy, neuropathy, my kidneys are great, microalbumin levels are great, all blood work is perfect.

I know I absolutely cannot count on this continuing, but it means that I still have a chance to turn this around before things get ugly. And that is a prime reason for this from-scratch project.

I've always had a thing for refined carbs. I crave them, with the same intensity I used to crave cigarettes. My problem was never with soda, chips, candy or sweets. It's white bread, white rice, white flour pasta. My first real problem with weight happened when I went to Paris for my junior year of high school. There was a boulangerie between the metro stop and our appartement, and another one between the bus stop and the appart. Both always had fresh bread coming out of the oven when I came back from school. The scent was irresistable. My French "Mom" got home several hours after I did, and I often went through an entire baguette before she got in.

I also came down with mono right before I left, and had it for a solid year, which meant I couldn't do anywhere near the kind of physical activity I was used to. If I walked three blocks, my glands would swell up and I'd become exhausted. So that and the amazing bread really did a number on my waistline. I got it back down and then some after that (down to a size 2 when I was with Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling in my early 20s), and then it's been up, down a bit, up and up, down a bit, and up again ever since. I try to cut back, but it's like heroin. I'm a refined carb addict.

With this project, I can make white flour bread, if I sift out the bran myself from home-milled grain, and I never put white rice in the out-of-limits category. Sugar is allowed, too. So I'm not totally free from temptation. But I'm starting to see the difference in how my blood sugar is, and how I feel, just by not having access to white flour 
pasta or processed foods over the past week or so. Fascinating to see how this will play out.

I did a full battery of lab tests right before I started this project, and will do them again at the end. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 1

The First Day
I've finished purging the pantry and refrigerator of packaged food. What can't be stored for three months is being tossed (though there is not much, as we've been trying to use everything up first). The things that will keep are being put into a large plastic trunk that has a setup for a padlock. Maybe I should lock it. My food cravings can be intense, particularly for white-flour pasta.
Easing into the 100% from scratch pool. I've started a large pot of soup, using the thick, meaty soup bones I got in my split quarter of grass-fed beef from Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma. About an hour in, I'll add sautéed onions and sliced mushrooms, and near the end, I'll throw in some stemmed green beans.  I figure I'll need to always have on hand a few quarts of soup, cooked beans, rice, salad dressing, fresh fruit and lots of vegetables for salad. The more difficult food, I'll tackle in a few days.  Tofu, bread, jam over the weekend...
Dinner is going to be Summer From Scratch 101: Intro to DIY Food. No homemade pasta and sauce tonight. Besides, it's too hot to simmer a wide pot of tomatoes and herbs for hours. Nope, tonight we dine on Flesh-Green Veg-Rice-Fruit. The Flesh will be chicken breasts, pan-seared and finished with shallots, dusted with minced rosemary from the garden. Green Veg will be broccoli, steamed with oregano in the steaming water, and fresh lemon juice from the Meyer lemon tree in the backyard, finished with a bit of butter I made from heavy cream using the Kitchen Aid mixer. Rice: Mixed brown and wild rice, cooked in chicken broth I made up last week, reduced and froze into cubes. Fruit: Seedless watermelon.
We're experiencing hot weather here where I live. I planned to make a batch of muffins for our breakfasts for the next few days, but it's just too hot to run the oven, so I'll do a batch of hot cereal to keep in the refrigerator. I'll try pulsing oat groats in the food processor just to break them up slightly, to make a thicker porridge. I've tried making whole oat groats, but they don't form that satisfying creamy thickness we love about oatmeal.
I'll be honest. I'm scared. I've developed some serious food addictions, specifically to cheese (Cheddar) and white flour products (tortillas, pasta, certain types of bread), and entrenched compulsive eating issues. How is this going to play out? Will I succeed? Also, can I keep up with the enormity of making all this food from scratch? Will I burn out, become discouraged? What if I get sick? So many questions. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rules of the game

Fruits and vegetables: Fresh and in their whole form (no peeled baby carrots, trimmed green beans in a bag, celery pieces, bagged salad, etc.). I can dehydrate, can, pickle or freeze them myself, or make jam and preserves.

Dairy products:  Any dairy products we eat have to start from milk or cream. Cream cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, feta, mozzarella, all have to be made by me. The hardest part of the whole experiment: NO CHEDDAR. Cheddar takes months to ripen, and I can't afford a cheese press anyway. No Parmesan either, for the same reason.

Butter: Butter is a special case. I will make some butter myself. It's much more expensive to make it at home than buy it, but I'll do it. However, I will also be using pastured (grass-fed) butter for health reasons, since I haven't been able to find an affordable source of cream from pastured cows. Butter from pastured cows, just like grass-fed beef, is richer in the highly beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins E, A and beta-carotene, and 3-5 times more CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) than grain-fed cows.

Bread, pasta, starches: If we eat it, I have to make it starting from whole wheat, corn, rye, potatoes, etc. Tortillas, rolls, sandwich bread, potato chips, I'll have to make myself. As for corn tortillas, I have to find out if I have the tools to grind up corn soaked in lime to make masa. I can't use my grain mill for that. If I have something that will do the trick, I'll start from whole dried corn. If not, I'll get fresh masa from a place in town. Corn tortillas are one of those things we cannot do without, and we'll be doing without a lot of things already.

Cereal: That's all DIY, I'm afraid. Porridge, granola, etc. Popped corn was a favorite breakfast cereal before boxed, processed cereal came along, and is surprisingly easy and delicious.

Meat, seafood and poultry: Whole, fresh chicken and seafood, since I can cut them up myself. I bought meat to last a long time (a split-quarter of grass-fed beef from Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma), complete with heart, liver, and soup bones. I had the opportunity to buy half a pastured pig, but the beef took up all the space in my chest freezer. So any pork we eat will start with fresh, raw cuts from the supermarket or a butcher. Ham is out (someone else made it, and it takes too long for me to do it at home for this iteration of the project), as is bacon. I will see if I can build a cold smoker to make bacon, but it's really the wrong season for that. Perhaps if I do An Autumn From Scratch...)

Soy products: For soymilk and tofu, I'll be starting with dried soybeans.

Beverages:  Here, there is more leeway, because of the difficulty in, say, picking and drying tea leaves myself. There are certain limits to this DIY food deal. Coffee, tea, beer, wine and mixed drinks are ok. Fruit juice: yep, gotta make that myself.

Seasonings: Salt and sugar are ok, because of difficulty producing these things at home. Honey is obviously ok. Whole spices, not powdered or dried by someone else.

Sauces and condiments: All made by me. Ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, salad dressing, tomato sauce, chutney, you name it.

Oils and fats:  Since I can't press my own olive oil or extract canola oil at home, oils are ok. I will try to rely more on fats I can generate here, such as butter, chicken fat, duck fat and lard.

Desserts and candy: I nearly forgot to write up a section for this, because we rarely eat desserts, and almost never eat candy. That's not one of my food trouble zones. I have looked into the practicality of making chocolate from cacao beans, and even bought a bag of beans to experiment with. It's extremely difficult to make edible chocolate at home without costly equipment, such as a Champion juicer, as food processors, blenders, mortars and pestles and the like won't work. Thankfully, we don't eat or crave chocolate often, so I'm going to try to skip it for the summer. If someone feels like giving me a Champion juicer, I'll be more than happy to make chocolate from scratch. Otherwise, if we find an irresistable need for chocolate cake or ice cream, I'll buy a chocolate bar. Cakes, cookies, and pies will have to start with whole, fresh fruit, homemade butter or lard,  home-milled and sifted flour,  nuts in the shell, and so on. Ice cream from scratch, mercifully, is easy.

Dog and cat food: That is not part of the project. I don't want to mess with my pets' health, and though I do try to make some human-grade food for the dog myself, with supplements to make it nutritionally complete, they will stick to what they eat now. Besides, the cats, being cats, are intensely finicky.

A long, hot summer, entirely from scratch

Like many of you, I love to cook, but I still rely on processed foods far more than I like. Many people never cook at all. Children can't identify raw fruits and vegetables in their whole state.  We have become almost completely reliant on processed and prepared food, which is available almost anywhere we go. These food products are specifically designed by food engineers to be as palatable and literally easy to swallow as possible, to make us eat more than we should, more often than we should.
Taco Bell says it best: we're becoming a nation that embraces the notion of Fourth Meal. 
The food industry would  have us all become Hobbits, eating breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper -- all made up of food they have prepared or cooked for us. 
They have persuaded us that we don't have time to cut up our own vegetables for a salad anymore. We need to save time. Save time! Save time so we can watch more TV. Save time in the kitchen so you can spend it online instead. (Yes, it's true that many people are starved for free time because of their jobs, hellish commutes, or children. But cooking a quick meal from scratch can take as little time as is needed to microwave a frozen dinner.)
This cannot continue. 
It's time to rediscover the kitchen, and relearn how our food is made. We need to wrest control over what goes into our bodies from businesses that deliberately encourage compulsive overeating, and food as entertainment or self-medication.
For some time, I've committed small acts of food-industry resistance,  making yogurt, soymilk, bread and pasta from scratch. But it's not enough. I'm too caught up in this machine that pumps out highly palatable, readily available processed food. It's taken a terrible toll on my weight and my health, and many of my friends are struggling with it too. There is absolutely a place for processed foods, prepared meals and prepped salads, and trying to make all one's food from scratch is an absolute luxury. But the food industry has gone too far, and I'm going to push back -- hard.
I'm in grad school getting my MFA in fiction. I already do all the cooking (very much by choice), and make breakfast and lunch for my husband to take to work (also entirely my idea). And we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, with an astonishingly rich and thriving food culture, where one can find sushi-grade raw fish, teff berries to make Ethiopian injera, and some of the finest fruits and vegetables on the planet. 
I live in a unique place. I love to cook, and I know how profoundly rewarding cooking from raw, whole ingredients can be. So I have a rare opportunity to do something utterly mad.
How mad? This summer, from summer solstice to fall equinox, I will make every single thing my husband and I eat at home and work, entirely from scratch.
Here are the rules of my game: I have to start from whole, raw foods in their most natural state. If it is remotely possible for someone to make it at home, I have to learn to make it, or go without it.
I am allowing myself to use salt and sugar, because of the sheer difficulty of trying to make sugar, and because I've learned it's dangerous to make salt at home, because the process of concentrating salt water into table salt also concentrates any heavy metals or toxins, and testing of the  water is really expensive.   Tea, coffee and oil go into the exempt category, too. Pressing oil takes costly equipment, and even roasting coffee requires some tools that I just can't buy, having already spent what money I had for all the other expenses of this project.
I will buy whole poultry and fish because I can cut them up myself. I bought a split quarter of grass-fed beef, which they cut and wrapped for me. I'd have been game to try to cut it myself, but that option was not available, and again, that requires a whole set of spendy tools, and I'm doing all this on a very low budget. I had hoped to acquire half a pig, but the beef took up all the room in my chest freezer, so I'll have to rely on grocery stores or a butcher for cuts of pork. Sausage, I'll make myself though.
Whole grains and dried beans are permitted in this experiment, but no canned beans or milled grains.  I will use my grain mill to make flour.
Fresh, whole fruits and vegetables are what I'll work with, not canned, dried or frozen. My rules do allow me to can, dry or freeze them myself.
Dairy products must be made at home from fresh milk and cream. Yogurt and ice cream are surprisingly easy to make, and I've made both many times. Making butter shouldn't present much of a learning curve,  but cheese... that is going to be rough. Any cheese we want to eat, I''ll have to learn to make. Mozzarella and soft cheeses such as feta or chevre are relatively doable at home, but we won't be having any Cheddar or Swiss cheese over the summer. It takes about three months to make Cheddar, and my summer  experiment will be done by then. Also, I can't afford a cheese press.
Condiments such as mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup? I'm going to have to learn how to make these. Salad dressing, seasoning pastes, bbq sauce, beef jerky, peanut butter, jelly, pita bread, crackers,  bagels? All from scratch. I'll be learning how to home-cure olives,  make tofu starting from dry soybeans, and any number of things I take for granted now.
I won't be making the wine we drink, although I have made wine in the past.  I will try my hand again at making all-grain beer, but that too takes time, so I'll consider that an optional event.  
If I find myself craving a hot dog on a bun with fries, I can have it... if I'm willing to mill wheat to make the buns, grind pork and spices, and stuff it into casings, and slice and double-fry the potatoes.  How will my compulsive food cravings react to this process of DIY food preparation?
Please come along on this food adventure with me. I'll really need your support and encouragement to make it work. I've created a Page on Facebook (A Summer From Scratch), and a Twitter feed (@SumrFromScratch). I hope you find it interesting.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Difference between Soul Food Farm pastured chicken and Foster Farms

Fascinating. I made broth using backs/necks/wingtips of both the conventionally raised chicken and the pastured, free-range, foraging stewing hen from Soul Food Farm. Chilled separately overnight, the fat rose to the top. Check out the difference. The fat from the Soul Food Farm hen is completely chilled, with no broth in it, but it's nearly liquid, and strikingly golden in color (with twice as much good Omega-3 fatty acids). The fat from the other bird is thick and beige.