Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Homemade Scrapple for the Modern Kitchen

The fact that people consider scrapple lowbrow diner fare only makes it more surprising that foodies haven't completely gentrified it yet.

For the record, I liked scrapple before I even knew what cool meant, and it wasn't until I left the Mennonite bubble that I realized other people associate it with truck stops and spam. I remain unabashedly fond of it, and anyway, scrapple is a grand old Pennsylvania Dutch tradition and a perfect example of frugal whole-animal butchery.

Here's how it works: you make a stock from meaty pork bones and organs, grind the meat and add it back to the stock, and thicken it with cornmeal and buckwheat flour into a polenta-like porridge. You chill the porridge until thick, then slice it and fry it until crisp and deep brown on both sides. Eat it for breakfast with apple butter. Seriously, it's spiced bone-broth organ-meat polenta. It's whole-grain gluten-free brunch. It's all set to be somebody's gold mine one of these days, but I'd rather make it right now for myself. And I'm not going to say this recipe is perfect, because who knows, but holy moly, it sure checks all my boxes.

It took me a while to get here. I tried some dead-end recipes, and when I found a promising one I still did a fair bit of tweaking to get it exactly how I like it: smooth, spicy, meaty. Historian of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking (and distant cousin of mine) William Woys Weaver has in fact written the book on scrapple, and I have adapted one of his excellent recipes here.

One difficulty in my scrapple endeavors was getting the meat fine enough with home equipment. Most meat grinders are crap or $$$. In the end, I simply pureed the whole pot of meat and stock with an immersion blender. Super easy, and authentic insofar as it's extremely pragmatic.

Liver is crucial for getting the right velvety texture and depth of flavor, but if you have trouble locating pork liver, you can substitute another mild liver, like chicken or calf (but not full-grown beef, much too barnyardy).

If you have three quarts of pork stock already on hand--like after boiling a Christmas ham--by all means use it, but don't add any salt till you taste the finished porridge, and add a pound or two of extra meat to compensate for the meat you would have picked from the stock bones.

It freezes well, so you might as well make a full batch.

Homemade Scrapple

Makes about 10 pounds, something like 50-70 slices.

Bring to a simmer in a large pot:
4 pounds meaty pork bones, including a little something smoked, like a ham hock
3 quarts water

Cook gently until the meat is falling off the bone, 3 or more hours. Strain through a sieve, return the stock to the pot, and let the bones cool.

Meanwhile, add to the simmering stock:
2-3 pounds pork meat, cut into pieces, including at least 1 pound of pork liver.

The rest of the meat can be heart, kidneys, or any cheap cut of pork (even ground pork), though if it's a tough cut, you should cook it with the bones so it has plenty of time to break down. Also, don't trim the fat, but do make sure there's plenty of lean meat in the mix, or the scrapple will just melt when you try to fry it.

Simmer for an hour. While the liver is cooking, pick the meat from the stock bones and add it to the pot. Don't discard any fatty bits, like the rind from the ham hock: put it all in the pot.

Then add:
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons rubbed sage or several sprigs of fresh sage leaves

Puree with an immersion blender. Alternatively, you can remove the chunks of meat and process them to a smooth paste however seems easiest to you. Mashed through a sieve? Minced by hand? Put through a meat grinder 14 times?

Sift in gradually, stirring between additions:
3 cups cornmeal
1 cup buckwheat flour

The mixture will thicken almost immediately. Cook it over very low heat for 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Leave the lid on when you're not stirring it. Caution: it will pop boiling porridge on you.

If all your meat was fairly lean, like heart and liver, or the ham hock didn't come with the rind, you may want to add half a cup or more of lard. If there isn't enough fat, the scrapple will not brown & crisp properly.

Taste the seasonings and adjust as needed--I usually add more salt. The spices will become more defined after chilling and frying, so don't overdo it.

Pour the hot scrapple mixture into greased loaf pans, or casserole pans. I find that this recipe fits into one 9 x 13" casserole and one loaf pan. Let cool, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, you may be able to unmold the loaf pans entirely, or you can slice the scrapple in the pan. If using a casserole, cut it into 4 "loaves" and carefully remove them. Wrapped well, you can freeze them, or keep them refrigerated for a week.

To serve:

It's very important to get the scrapple properly brown and crispy. It does best cooked slowly for at least 5 minutes per side.

Cut the scrapple into 1/4" slices. Heat a tablespoon of lard in a skillet over medium heat. When it's hot, add the slices and let gently fry until the underside is deep brown. Flip. If the scrapple is fairly lean, you may need to add more lard to the pan or it will not brown evenly. When cooking on the second side, I often press the scrapple to make it thin and even, then flip it again and cook the first side some more. It's ready when the exterior is deep brown and crisp all over. The inside can be varying degrees of creamy, depending on the thickness of the slices and your personal taste.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Wild-Fermented All-Buckwheat Bread

This recipe is perfectly elegant in the way I like best: few ingredients, magical transformations. Whole buckwheat groats, salt, and water ferment with ambient organisms to become a toothsome, nutty, wholly bready bread. 

Well over two years ago, Sandor Katz tweeted a link to this recipe by Conscious Catering. As far as I can tell, the Conscious Catering folks were the first to take the wild fermentation method used in making dosas and idli, and adapt it to buckwheat in a loaf shape. I've been baking it nonstop ever since, and it's gotten a bit famous among fermentation enthusiasts and wheat-avoiders.

I have used non-sourdough wild-leavened bread recipes in the past, and found them to give me inconsistent results. They often amount to creating a new sourdough starter at the same time as making the bread, which is a bit of a gamble, and can leave you with barely-leavened bricks for bread. Usually, I'd much rather have enough time to build up a powerful starter before trying to make bread out of it. So I would have foolishly ignored this recipe, except for knowing that dosas and idli do work.

The crucial part of the dosa method is that you soak whole grains, rather than starting with a flour-based dough. I've found that wild-fermented dough made of ground-up soaked whole grains is much more bubbly and active than a flour-based dough of the exact same age. The grains begin to sprout during the long soak, which unlocks the stored starches and makes them into more yeast-friendly sugars.

I did find that the recipe needed some adjustment, particularly during the colder months. Merely extended the dough's fermentation time (as the original recipe suggests) can give you some very fishy-smelling dough. Rather, I extend the soaking phase substantially.

Buckwheat Bread

Soak five cups of whole, raw buckwheat groats in a large bowl of spring or filtered water for 8-12 hours. Rinse and drain the buckwheat groats (the water becomes quite thick).

Add 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 cups of water. Puree with an immersion blender until a smooth batter forms. You can also mash them (minus the water) in a large mortar and pestle. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let the batter ferment until it's bubbly and swollen--it may reach 1.25-1.5 times its starting volume, but after that it won't improve. In the summer, this takes another 12 hours or so, but in the winter, it may be more than 24 hours. If it doesn't look risen at all, give it a stir every 12 hours to keep the surface from getting funky.

Very gently, give the finished batter a brief stirring. It will have some larger, loose bubbles, as well as very fine bubbles like beaten egg white. Scoop the batter into two well-buttered bread pans and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (no need to rise in the pan). Turn the oven down and bake for 45 minutes more at 350. Let cool for 10 minutes or so before gently removing from pans. Cool on a rack, covered with a tea towel.

This bread is at its most convincing when fresh from the oven. It doesn't age very well. I keep one loaf out at room temperature, covered with a tea towel, and it doesn't dry out to too much in the few days it takes me to finish it. The second loaf I store in a plastic bag in the fridge and only eat toasted. Once it's stored in plastic, the crust softens in an unappealing way and is prone to mold growth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blueberry Cheesecake

My pregnancy cravings have been pretty stereotypically comical: beer-battered oysters deep fried in lard, onigiri wrapped up in extra nori, so much fish sauce in everything, cucumber salad with all the dill and vinegar, mac and cheese. There was even a pickle incident in the first trimester.

And, of course, cheesecake. This one, a blueberry swirl cheesecake, is wonderfully custardy and makes an excellent second course at breakfast (after the eggs and oatmeal).

If I can, I like to use cream cheese and sour cream that are made from just cream & cultures. Most cream cheese is made from skim milk powder and cream held together with some sort of gum or thickener. Same for sour cream. If it's just cream, it will not only taste more delicious, but also be quite low in lactose, which matters for some of us. The gums and thickeners in cream cheese will also glue your cheesecake together, which isn't really a problem except that you lose the tender custardiness.

The key to getting nice swirls is to have the blueberry sauce fairly similar in consistency to the cheesecake batter. The first version I tried just gave me blueberry glob cheesecake, which I devoured with gusto.

Blueberry Cheesecake

Leave at room temperature to soften:
3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese

Prepare & bake one cheesecake crust in a 9" springform pan. Like this almond meal shortbread crust.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Zest and juice:
1 small lemon or half a large one

3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch mixture and
1.5 cups washed, sorted blueberries
1 tablespoon of the lemon juice

Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, for a minute, until blueberry sauce is thickened and cornstarch becomes transparent. Set aside to cool.

2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Add to the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and beat until well combined.

Stir in:
1 cup sour cream
lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla

One at a time, beat in
4 eggs

Pour batter into prepared crust. Drizzle with the blueberry sauce & make several strokes with a table knife to form swirls.

Place the springform pan on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 60 - 70 minutes, until the sides are puffed and the center has risen somewhat but isn't set. Turn off the oven and prop the door ajar for ten minutes. Remove to a cooling rack and run a knife around the edge. After an hour or so, continue cooling in the refrigerator. Serve when completely chilled and set up--the next day is the best bet.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sourdough Millet Oat Flatbread

My Aunt Linda developed this wheat-free recipe for flatbread, because weird diets are genetic. If you use a gluten-free starter and gluten-free oat flour they will also be completely gluten free, if that's what you're after. I adapted her original recipe for sourdough fermentation and found that using oat flour let me cut out the xanthan gum that most wheat-free breads require. Oats are plenty gummy all by themselves.

In the absence of wheat, cooked millet provides the structure and chewiness of these flatbreads. The long sourdough fermentation gives them the sweet-savory addictive quality usually missing from "substitute" breads. I make them constantly.

Actually, they're so sweet-savory, I wonder if some koji organisms floated out of my miso crock and found their way into my sourdough starter. The starter has taken on a fabulous umami character and seems really good at breaking down carbohydrates, so that any dough it ferments quickly becomes sweeter and softer.

Make sure your starter is quite active before you begin--feed it 8 hours or so before starting. You can make your own wild sourdough starter (use teff or brown rice flour if you want it gluten free) or order one from Cultures for Health. The millet and potato flours can be switched out for other things, like teff or tapioca flour. I wouldn't add much more oat flour, or the flatbreads will be hard and dry. Same for rice flour.

Sourdough Millet Oat Flatbread

Makes 18 4-5" flatbreads

In a large bowl, combine:

4 cups cooked millet, cooled somewhat*
2 cups oat flour
1 cup millet flour
1 cup potato flour

Stir to evenly distribute the cooked millet & break up any lumps. Then add:

1/2 cup active sourdough starter
1.5 cups water

Knead briefly to mix everything evenly, then cover with a tea towel and place somewhere warm to ferment.

Let the dough ferment for a few hours, depending on the temperature. My kitchen has been in the 90s lately, so a few hours are plenty, but each rising can take 8 hours or more when it's down in the low 60s in the winter. The dough will not really rise, either--that's a lot to ask of a bread without gluten. Instead, it will puff slightly, develop cracks in the surface, and become fragrant with sourdough as the starter reproduces. The dough will also soften considerably as it absorbs moisture from the cooked millet, and you'll need to stir it rather than knead it. Let it rise again for a similar amount of time.

When it has puffed and cracked a second time, whisk together:

3 tablespoons of honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1.5 teaspoons of sea salt

Pour over the dough and stir until well combined. With the honey and olive oil, the dough will be quite wet now.

Line two large baking trays with parchment and pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a little bowl. Scoop large spoonfuls of batter onto the trays, about 9 per full-size sheet tray. Oil your hand well and pat the spoonfuls down into smooth 5" circles. Dip a little more oil onto your hand before patting each flatbread. They should be quite oily on top, so pat on a little extra if you have any oil leftover at the end. Let the flatbreads "rise" again until a bit puffier, another hour or two.

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then switch the baking sheets and bake for another 10 minutes. They should be golden all over and a bit brown at the edges. Use convection if you have it, or run each tray under the broiler for a minute at the end to get some extra color on them. Let cool on a rack.

After the first day or two they'll definitely need to be toasted to be delicious. They freeze well and can be toasted from the freezer.

Seeded flatbread: Add 1/2 cup each chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and 2 tablespoons sesame seeds to the dough with the honey and olive oil after the first two risings.

Note: Over the course of a long fermentation, the enzymes in honey can have unpredictable effects on bread dough. Saving the oil for the end makes the honey easier to mix in. The honey is delicious, of course, encourages browning, gives the yeast a little boost for that final rise, and helps the flatbread retain moisture, but you could certainly omit it and add the oil and salt when first mixing up the dough.

*Rinse & drain 1 part millet and add 2 parts water, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Almond Meal Shortbread Crust

If you get this crust browned just enough, it takes on a macaroon-like quality. It's slightly sweet, salty, tender, nutty, and excellent under anything from pumpkin pie to cheesecake.

The almond meal should be made from blanched almonds. You can make it from whole almond meal, but it will be a distinct creature: grittier and heavier.

The rice flour and water are pretty important supporting players here. Without either, the crust would just be a collection of buttery crumbs. Be sure to use sweet rice flour, which is ground-up sticky rice. It's more tender and gluey than regular rice flour. In mainstream grocery stores, you're most likely to find the Bob's Red Mill brand, if you find it at all, but you can also get it online. It's known as mochiko in Japan (because it's what makes mochi so delicious), and chapssalgaru in Korea. Also called glutinous rice flour.

Almond Meal Shortbread Crust

Makes enough for a 9-10" pie crust.

Whisk together:
1 cup almond meal
1/3 cup sweet white rice flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (heaping if using sea salt)
2 tablespoons sugar

Stir in:
4 tablespoons melted butter

Then add:
1 tablespoon water

Stir well and dump into your pie pan or springform pan. Spread the crumbs out and press them firmly and evenly all over the bottoms and sides. Try to make the top edge fairly thick, as it will brown so much faster. When I'm using this recipe for a cheesecake, I only push the crumbs 1/2 inch up the sides.

If the pie will not be baked very long, or if the crust is for a cheesecake, I pre-bake the crust at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so, until browned around the edges and a bit golden all over.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

An Understated Hummus

There's a little notebook I've been filling with lists and recipes for the past three years. It's got pages like "Questions for the Midwives," "Virginia Packing List," and a 24-hour record of nursing sessions for a baby who now can now recite all the Frog & Toad books verbatim. It has an hourly schedule for a moving day last fall, which happens to include items like "pick up the pig" and "make a dozen pies" because we were supposed to move well in advance of the housewarming party, but remodeling projects don't work like that. And it has enough lists--grocery lists, camping lists, cleaning lists, reverse packing lists--to paint a full & nuanced portrait of my neuroticism. It even has a list of blog posts I should have written. In case it wasn't clear, I'm definitely a Toad who wishes she were Frog.

But now the notebook is completely full, and I need to upload some of these recipes before moving on to the next book, and while I still remember them well enough to read them through the dense tangle of my son's drawings. Most of these notebook recipes are neither fancy nor particularly involved. They're just basic workhorse recipes, ones of my own, or ones I get tired of looking up in cookbooks and blogs.

So here, we'll start with one I've been making for years, and which has rated high on my preggo-round-two craving list: hummus. Soon after college, I worked as a line cook at Vios, a fantastic Greek restaurant in Seattle. It was 2007, I finally started noticing all the skinny jeans, and it had only been a few years since my family bought its first ever bottle of olive oil. I'd only experienced hummus from the health-food hippie side of things. So I was totally blown away by Vios' perfect, careful, understated hummus. 

I should clarify that this is not Vios' hummus recipe--I wasn't involved in making the hummus there, apart from soaking the garbanzos for the morning crew. But I took my old pasty garlic-bomb hummus recipe and made it more Vios-like. For a while I was stuck trying to use as little water as possible--figuring it would only dilute precious flavors--but that was just silly. Hummus is an emulsion, so liquid lightens it--and you can only use so much lemon juice. Also this recipe is gentle with the garlic, not because I dislike garlic in the slightest, but because too much raw garlic overpowers itself.


Makes 3 cups of hummus.

Soak 1 cup dry chickpeas in several cups of water overnight. In the morning, drain the chickpeas, add several cups of fresh water, and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat for an hour or two, until the chickpeas are quite tender. In general, older dry beans take longer to cook than fresh ones. Drain off the cooking liquid and let the chickpeas cool for a bit. (I don't save soaking or cooking liquid because it tends to contain extra FODMAPs I don't need, see neuroticism, above.)


the cooled chickpeas
1/3 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large or 2 small lemons)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4-1/2 cup water
1 medium clove garlic
1.5 teaspoons sea salt

Puree with an immersion or regular blender. Add more water as necessary to get a nice fluffy creamy consistency (the amount needed varies from batch to batch depending on how much water the chickpeas absorb). Chill for an hour or so to let the flavors meld.

Try serving it sprinkled with ground sumac and a drizzle of olive oil.

Hummus keeps for a week in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Milch Maid: Being Food

Nursing is pretty cool, like those dreams where you finally discover your latent magical powers. I've read enough fantasy novels that I have a lot of those dreams. Like this, say:

Now spin a silver thread of milk / And out of it a baby knit. / Then take the milken thread again / And mend your broken heart with it.

It's shimmeringly magical to watch my milk transform into a new person, a beautiful little sprout-in-the-snow, a bright-throated piper, up to his eyebrows in eyelashes. And how delightful that this small wild creature needs me! I am his habitat, I am the twig this bird has lit upon, and, indeed, this is the milk he came expecting.

There is the grunt work, though, fueling the magic. And "fuel" really is how I think about food these days. Staying fed is heavy work. It feels like I am always running out, and when I get something, I've barely cleared the dishes before there it is again: I'm hungry. If my own kitchen feels inadequate, restaurants are mostly hopeless. Such silly little morsels in the middles of big plates. Such tiny dabs of cheese on those greens. Moderation, mindfulness, kale salad--lols.

It's like this. I gained 25 pounds gestating. Then I lost 40 lactating, leaving me lighter than I have ever been at my adult height, and technically underweight. And it's the especially nice fat that's gone--the smoothing subcutaneous fat, the curvy gluteofemoral fat. I'm sharp, fibrous, aged. My baby likes chewing on my collarbones. Underwires scrape my ribs. Nothing is wrong--I checked, twice--and it does make sense. Nursing, especially nighttime nursing, suppresses estrogen and the subcutaneous fat it encourages. Then consider that I walk everywhere with a 25-pound weight on my back, a 25-pound weight who periodically siphons calories directly from my dwindling body, and it's easy to see how I wound up like this.

But I am eating like I have never eaten before. Every morning it's three eggs and a bowlful of porridge with heavy cream and maple syrup, dark chocolate, tea with more cream. I eat pot roasts and cheesecakes, hash browns fried in butter, pupusas under sour cream, sauerkraut, salsa, avocado. Salmon and miso, cornbread and blueberry jam, baked oysters, noodle-y bowls of beef tendon pho, steak, mashed potatoes, gravy. Heaping skillets of sautéed leeks and rutabagas, kettles of buttered kale, roasted squash, creamed turnips, lasagna. If it doesn't overflow my dinner plate, it's a garnish, not a salad.

That all sounds pretty good, but I'm so hungry that it gets weird, too. Sticky whole dates stuffed with butter and rolled in coconut. Canned sardines and rice. Cheese rice. Cold rice with cream. There's this feeling I got postpartum, where I felt sort of homesick and seasick and lost. Sometimes, now, in that frantic hour before dinner, when my toddler does not want to play with his wooden fruit or rummage through the recycling bin or unroll the parchment paper and crinkle it all up, but only wants to be up on my hip and watching what I'm doing, which is dangerous and requires two hands and needs to be done so I can eat it, then I get a little wave of that homesick feeling and it doesn't go away until we've sat down and eaten a deep and extensive meal. With sauces and butters and all. I don't know why snacks stop working then. No matter how much cheese or almonds or leftover oats or buttered dates I eat, I'm lonely and adrift until I anchor my unfamiliar body with serious food. Then the evening gets its glow back.

I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining. It's sort of hard to talk about bodies without either complaining or pseudo-complaining. But in fact, my baby has transformed me into his environment--a strange, unfamiliar environment--and I feel awesome. I've never been stronger. When I go walking without the child on my back, I feel uncomfortably light, like there isn't enough friction. It's just not the body I'm used to, and not what I expected (and yes, I know--name of the game).

Let's be clear. It was hard, too. Milk production is triggered by progesterone withdrawal, and I really hate progesterone withdrawal in normal everyday circumstances, let alone withdrawal from the glorious pregnant quantities of progesterone, orders of magnitude higher than at any other point in life. So I cried a lot, and I also cried because my baby's latch wasn't great and I'll tell you all about what that feels like if you're ever curious. But the crying was over by six weeks thanks to my great midwife/IBCLC, plus happy chemicals like theobromine and caffeine. Ever since then, nursing has been one of the nicer and easier and more magical things I do as a mother.

The picture up top is a spoonful of cream I made. I hate pumping milk. I haven't done very much of it because my milk has excess lipase, an enzyme which breaks down fat and makes my stored milk taste like dish soap after a few hours. But the other day the child took ill and wasn't nursing much, so I had to pump for relief. I stashed the milk in the fridge in case I thought of something to do with it (I mean, it always starts tasting like soap and I always wind up chucking it, but still, I have to give it a chance).

Anyway, a downright shocking amount of cream rose to the top. As toddlers eat more solids, drink more water, and nurse less frequently, a mother's body adjusts the milk recipe to be richer and more satisfying. I knew this, but to see it? What a marvel. Think of all that magical buttery cream my child is drinking! No wonder that last night while nursing to sleep, he paused to tell me it was "yummy." We've got ice cream on tap.