Slow Food USA $5 Challenge

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Slow Food USA laid down the gauntlet: Prepare a slow food meal from whole foods, for less than $5 per serving.  At $5, these meals are less expensive than fast food, and support the ideals and the budget many of us have for feeding our families.  I’ve been looking forward to posting a meal for a few weeks now.

Given that the challenge date falls on Saturday, there was no question how I was going to approach my challenge. Saturday is farmers’ market day for our small business, and we would be covering two markets, Western Wake Farmers’ Market and The Saturday Market.  Our family MO is we split up to cover these venues, and each of us does a little shopping, with no consultation with the others (except to make sure we don’t duplicate items) – this way everybody gets to have something that they wanted during the upcoming week.  Sometimes we have meal ideas when we buy, other times the ingredients just speak to us.  I was simply going to work with whatever we brought home today, with no preconceived notion about what to prepare.

Today turned out to be a banner day for fresh food.  It’s change of season, so our market bags were overflowing with loot: first-push mustard greens, Sungold cherry tomatoes, shitake mushrooms, pears, whole chicken and chicken livers, fall asparagus, flounder and swordfish, eggs, queso fresco, butter beans, okra, and a few things I’m sure I’ve forgotten.  In the end, two things spoke to me: fall asparagus, because I have never before encountered it (the vendor told me that when asparagus plants become very mature, they produce a little in the fall, in addition to the usual spring harvest), and the swordfish steaks, because we don’t really enjoy frozen seafood, so our habit is to eat seafood starting Saturday evening and keep eating it every night until we finish what we bought on Saturday (so weekends are usually fish nights, as is Monday about half the time).

The final dish wound up being Homemade Pappardelle Pasta in Brown Butter Lemon Cream Sauce, with Lemon-Caper Swordfish Steaks and Autumn Asparagus and Sweet Red Peppers.

After a long, raw day at rainy farmers’ markets, we were all in the mood for a more hearty meal than the summer fare we’ve enjoyed till now.  My thoughts turned to pasta.  While I have no moral objection to boxed pasta, after a long week I needed the kind of therapy that comes from making pasta from scratch.  And while I love making pasta dough, I lose patience with tedious preparations on Saturday nights, since I usually don’t start making dinner till after 5 PM.  Pappardelle noodles are lazy man’s noodles: rich and delicious, but quick and easy to make: literally 5 minutes to prepare dough, and about 10 minutes to roll and cut after the dough has rested for a half hour.

I also don’t want to fuss with sauce after working all day, so a brown butter sage lemon cream sauce was just what the doctor ordered.  It’s a simple, delicious way to dress pasta in no time flat.

Swordfish steaks were a last minute addition to my market basket from Not Lin of Locals Seafood, after I realized the the single whole fish he reserved for me was not going to be enough to feed four people well.  We had a quick negotiation about them, a calculus that involves the exchange of market goods and cash in varying amounts each week.  I’ve adjusted my meal cost calculations to account for the true street price of the ingredients I used, however, so you can rest assured that you can reproduce my meal for the amounts I quote.

The star of my meal, however, was fall asparagus.  Gertrude’s Garden Gems had this unusual offering, and it could not be passed up, or passed over this evening.  Asparagus is a spring treat with a short season, and having it in the fall was an extraordinary treat. I decided to pair it with peppers from Redbud Farm.

Here’s the photo blog on how to pull the meal together:

Make a basic pasta dough by combining 3 cups of flour, 2 tsp salt and 3 eggs. Knead by hand or with a machine until you achieve a compliant ball that isn't sticky. You may need to add a few tablespoons of water - add them one TBSP at a time till the dough comes together. If you add too much water, don't panic, just dust in a little more flour to compensate. When the dough is kneaded, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a half hour.

Cut off hunks of dough a little bigger than a golf ball, and roll them on a well-floured surface (or with a pasta machine) till they are a few millimeters thick. Cut noodles about 3/4" wide.

While the pasta dough is resting, marinate the swordfish in lemon juice (the juice of half a lemon). You can add some white wine, too, if you like.

Here are the noodles, asparagus and peppers. Trim the woody ends of the asparagus (about the bottom inch or two) and blanch for about a minute, then shock in cold water. You'll reheat them in the pasta water immediately before serving. Cut the peppers in a coarse dice.

Pan sear the peppers in some EVOO. Just a few minutes is enough. Retain the oil in the pan as the base of the cream sauce.

Pan sear the swordfish in EVOO and cook gently until cooked through to desired doneness. About 5 minutes per side was enough for these steaks. Meanwhile, get the sauce started by melting half a stick of butter in the pepper pan with the zest and juice of 1 lemon, and add about 1 TBSP dried sage.

Boil the pasta till al dente, about one minute or maybe two. It's fresh, so it needs hardly any cooking. Also, add capers and caper vinegar to fish (about a TBSP of each). Turn the cooked pasta out into the browned butter, and add about 4 ounces of half and half or heavy cream. Toss gently till noodles are coated and warmed, about 2 minutes.

Plate the meal as you like. This is one suggestion.

That’s all there is to it.  It was about 30 minutes of prep, 30 minutes of waiting for dough to rest, and maybe 10 or 15 minutes active cooking.

Here’s the costing:

 Total Cost Portions  Cost per Portion
Protein fish  $         13.50 4  $                         3.38
Capers  $           0.20 4  $                         0.05
Pasta flour  $           0.52 5  $                         0.10
eggs  $           1.14 5  $                         0.23
Sauce Butter  $           0.27 5  $                         0.05
Lemon  $           0.33 5  $                         0.07
Cream  $           0.28 5  $                         0.06
Veg Asparagus  $           1.75 4  $                         0.44
Peppers  $           1.00 4  $                         0.25
Marco Polo EVOO  $           0.25 5  $                         0.05
Salt  $           0.04 4  $                         0.01
Pepper  $           0.04 4  $                         0.01
Total per portion:  $                         4.69

We achieved the Slow Food criteria pretty easily, and had a luxurious meal for less than the cost of a fast food meal.  You can do it, too!

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How to make cioppino (fish stew) from whole fish

August 28, 2011 8 comments

Yesterday was perfect for soup, as we watched the rainy tail of hurricane Irene move north.

Earlier in the day my fishmonger, Not Lin, hooked me up with my usual weekly fix of whole fish.  (I call him Not Lin because after months of calling him Lin, his wife one day said to me “his name’s Not Lin”.  Actually, his name is Ryan, so you don’t have to call him Not Lin.)  Yes, sadly it’s gotten to the point where obtaining whole fish is a special-order proposition.  And that, in fact, is the reason for this post.

Because I don’t understand why people prefer to buy fish filets.  So much waste! So much expense!  And why?  It takes just minutes to filet a fish, and there are so many nice things you can do with fish heads and carcasses.  Even if you can’t use the heads and carcasses immediately, they freeze well, or make stock from them and freeze the stock.  (Funny aside: my daughter turned on the Food Network show Chopped after dinner last night, and one of the mystery basket ingredients were fish heads.  No kidding.  If any of the wanna-be chefs had ever worked with whole fish before in their lives, which apparently they had not, they may have made a respectable showing.  The judges had to select the one that was least bad, in my opinion.)

So I thought we would use this blog, whose point is to teach people how to deal with “difficult” ingredients and teach lost (among the average eater) techniques, to teach how to begin with a whole fish (OK, ours were gutted before we got them), and turn them into filets, fish stock, and a beautiful cioppino.  Cioppino is fish stew, usually credited to San Francisco fishermen of Italian descent.  Traditionally, it has a tomato base.  Making cioppino is kind of like making chili – there are lost of recipes out there, and there is really no right or wrong way to do it.  Following a recipe is likely to lead to frustration, because so many of them have exotic, or at least lots of diverse ingredients.  Who buys like 5 kinds of seafood in a single shopping trip?  Not me.  So feel free to adapt and use whatever YOU have on hand.

I started with three fresh fish from my local fishmonger, Locals Seafood. I have a standing order for three whole fish every week. I never know what they are going to be. This week it was Sheepshead (sort of like the lovechild of Snapper and Grouper), a Sea Trout (like a freshwater trout but not as delicate), and a flounder. Note my knife sharpener in the background - fileting fish is best accomplished with a very sharp, flexible knife.

Start by slicing perpendicular to the torso, from behind the gill up to the spine - almost like you're going to cut the head off, but not so deep (cut until you encounter the resistance of the spine). If you've never done this before, you need to know that fish are generally fileted one side at a time, so you're going to work on one side, obtain one filet, then repeat on the other side. Note also that my fish were gutted and scaled before I got them. It's unlikely you'll ever encounter a fish for sale that hasn't been gutted, because that's necessary just after catching. If your fish isn't scaled, search this blog for a post called "Best fish scaler ever" to see how to scale a fish.

Now repeat that 1st cut, but across the tail.

Now slice along the back, keeping the knife edge as close to the bony middle as possible. It will be more obvious in the next photo. Slice from the 1st cut you made along the head, all the way down to the 2nd slice across the tail.

Now filet the fish by continuing to cut away the filet from the carcass. Work your way from head to tail, slicing down an inch or two at a time, then go back to the head and start again. repeat until you have fileted the fish.

Another angle on the fileting process. Pile of pin bones from previous fish on edge of cutting board (read next photo caption).

Some types of fish (like Sheepshead, and Salmon), have bones called pin bones that need to be removed. You can feel them by running your finger along the filet - they will prick you like a pin. Get yourself a pair of pliers - I have stainless pin bone pliers, but regular needlenose, or even a pair of kitchen scissors would do the trick. Just grab each pin bone you find and yank it out. Some of the flesh will come along with it. One of the fileting photos above has a pile of pin bones on the edge of the cutting board for reference.

Here are the beautiful filets of three fish. You can use them however you like, and they will freeze well, too. We'll use the Sheepshead and Sea Trout tonight in the cioppino, and we'll save the Flounder for tomorrow night. This took me about 5 minutes, literally. Now granted, I have a lot of practice. It might take you 15 minutes. But the price of these filets would have been about $45. I paid $30 for the whole fish. Is it really worth an extra $15 to you to save 15 minutes? If you make more than a dollar a minute in your spare time, I'd like to join your MLM. And, you would be robbed of the fish carcasses and heads which will make the lovely fish stock we need for the cioppino, and it would cheat the dogs out of about a pound or two of food (see later pics). No, pre-cut anything is a mystery to me.

Now take the carcasses, and cut them into pieces that will fit into your stock pot. A knife or a pair of kitchen shears will do the job.

Into the pot with all of the carcasses.

Add a few quarts of water to the carcasses, as well as whatever soup herbs you like and have around. In this case, I threw in some bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme branches. Simmer the mixture for a couple hours, stirring once in a while. I like my strainer pot because it makes it easy to separate the fish parts from the stock later, but a collander will do the job just as well after the fact.

Here's the finished stock, before straining.

Here are the fish carcasses. We'll turn this into dog food later.

Here's the strained stock. The straining basket in the pot does most of the work, but I still poured it through a finer strainer to catch any small chuncks that got through the post strainer, which is quite coarse. We'll need about 1.5 liters for the cioppino (that measuring cup is 1 liter).

Now to start the cioppino. Saute some aromatic veg and a can of tomato paste until soft and well mixed. In this case I used onions, peppers, and garlic because it's what I had around. All together, it was probably 2 cups of veg. Once the veg is soft, add a quart (or 28 oz can) of crushed tomatoes, and about 1.5 liters of the fish stock. I forgot to photograph that step.

Once you have the aromatics, tomatoes and fish stock simmering, add some seasonings. Now don't be too dogmatic about this - whatever you like and hav is just fine. In my case, I added about 1 TBSP smoked salt, 1 TBSP smoked paprika, the zest of a lemon, a couple teaspoons of dried oregano, a pinch of saffron threads, and a big pinch of dried lemongrass.

I added a couple pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced, because I happened to have them and the skins were starting to turn green. I pan fry them first before adding to soup, as it improves the texture. Add them to the soup only after the soup has simmered for at least an hour, because you don't want the taters to overcook. Add them about 15 minutes before you want to serve, because that's all the longer they'll take to cook.

Skin the filets in preparation of going into the soup. This step isn't mandatory if you like fish skins (I do, my family doesn't). Start from the tail, and with your fileting knife cut the filet free from the skin. Should take about 20 seconds per filet.

Coarsely cut the filets. This is the filets of the Sheepshead and the Sea Trout.

Add the filets to the simmering pot. they will cook through in about 5 minutes. Stir gently once or twice while they are cooking.

Finished dish! Enjoy!

After dinner, separate the meat from bones of the carcasses you boiled, and cook the skins in a little extra stock. Chop them up for the dogs. No waste!

Now for a little costing analysis.

The fish were $30.  They made 8 portions of cioppino, and 4 portions of flounder filets. $30/12 portions = $2.50 per portion.  And that doesn’t account for the dog food I got out of it, or the extra fish stock I froze.

The cioppino used probably $3 worth of aromatics, $2 worth of potatoes, and let’s say $1 for tomato paste and herbs.  The tomatoes we canned; I used one jar, and we get about 9 jars out of a $25 box of tomatoes, so that jar was worth $2.77.  Total for ingredients exclusing fish is 3+2+1+2.77=6.77, divided by 8 portions is $0.84.

Add $0.84+$2.50 = $3.34 per portion.  You can’t buy a fast food meal for that amount.

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The cult of local: a cult of one

August 16, 2011 1 comment

Hi. My name is Jim, and I’m a locavore.

Last week, we had dinner at my Mom’s house.  She made asparagus.

Last night, we had dinner at my in-laws.  They made a salad.  With lettuce.

Tastes like chicken. A couple heritage breed birds from one of our coffee customers. You can tell just by looking these are not your ordinary supermarket chickens. One bite and you'll never go back to those insipid birds made ubiquitous by Perdue and Tyson.

A decade ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about either of those meals.  Both were good, but not great.  This month, they both seemed wrong.  Because neither asparagus, nor lettuce, is in season right now where we live.

Today, a friend sent me a link to this article, about the challenge of eating locally.  Not to spoil it for you, but the author concludes that eating well locally is becoming more difficult because consumers are demanding cheap food, and industrial food is cheaper food, a theory that used to resonate with me. (After 5 years of operating an artisan food business, I now think most consumers are just stupid – at least a little – when it comes to food, which is not exactly at odds with the article, just a little more cynical. We agree that whatever the root cause is precisely, stupidity or cheapness or both, that our shitty industrial food supply our own Goddamned fault).

I was also inspired by an opinion piece in Lucky Peach on what constitutes “authentic” food.

This series of events caused me to think a little harder about WHY I eat the way I eat.

So first, how do I eat?  Well, I haven’t purchased fresh food at a traditional store (e.g., a grocery store) in many years.  Whole Foods gives me the heebie jeebies.  Trader Joes is an utter fucking mystery to me, with their shitty, over-packaged, over-processed food they try to pass off as “gourmet”.  When it comes to meat, I’ve started buying whole animals from farmers who will allow me to dispatch them myself, because even farmers’ market meats come without offal, and the mediocrity of the butchering makes me insane.  Our vegetables come from purchase or barter at farmers’ markets and CSAs where we sell our coffee.  I obtain raw milk  whenever I can, conveniently, and when I can’t, I don’t drink milk.  It’s safe to say that I should be a poster boy for the local food movement, and on some days, I am.

Usually, when I encounter a locavore, it’s a person who has a cause, a mission, to convert others to their way of thinking. “Don’t you get it, man? Industrial food is ruining everything!” is the usual refrain.  I suppose that, in the beginning, I bought into that, to some extent (and I still  believe it’s true).  But as I come to accept, and even embrace my particular style of obtaining and eating food, I realize that “the Cause” is not what motivates me.

Selfishness motivates me.  There, I’ve said it.

I eat the way I eat because it’s in my own self-interest.  I really do believe it’s better for the planet, it’s better for small farms, and it’s better for communities.  But at the end of the day, it’s better for my family, and for me.  That’s why I do it.  I feel better (physically), and it’s less expensive (really, it is).  But perhaps most importantly, it tastes better.  People like to eat things that taste good, and locally produced fresh food almost always tastes better than industrial alternatives transported from far away.

Why do I promote local eating?  Because in order to serve me, producers need some critical mass of customers.  So it’s in my best interest to be sure they have them.

Does this make me a bad person?  Maybe, in some circles.  But I’m guessing that if the cause-oriented locavores abandoned their missionary work for the sake of missionary work, and acknowledged their self-interest, the Cause would advance more rapidly, too.  Because all of those esoteric arguments about local economies, healthier planets, etc, etc , while likely true, are not as effective as SHOWING somebody that by eating locally, they will feel better, have more money, and oh by the way, enjoy the taste of their food more.

Just sayin’.

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GMOs and your right to know: be careful what you wish for…

August 8, 2011 4 comments


That’s probably the most alarmist description I’ve heard to describe Genetically Modified Organisms.  GMOs, for the benefit of those who don’t know, are organisms (food plants are the subject of most of the current debate around this topic) whose genome has been specifically modified to result in some desired characteristics.  For example, Monsanto has developed GMO crops whose genome prevents them from being killed by their herbicide, RoundUp, thus allowing fields to be sprayed with RoundUp, killing weeds while the crop survives.  There are many other motivations for GMOs, too.

People around the world have expressed concerns that GMOs may result in the law of unintended consequences, with downstream damage outweighing the benefit years from now.  Everything from environmental damage from herbicide overuse, to the dilution of the gene pool of native species are very reasonable concerns.

Accordingly, consumers around the world have either prohibited the sale of GMO food (Europe), or are pushing for specific labeling of GMO foods (USA).  In any case, GMOs are a source of very vocal debates.

I’m not advocating one way or the other on GMOs.  As a technical person myself, I have mixed emotions on the topic.  My intention here is not to lobby one way or the other.  My intention here is to advise you that if you are in favor of bans, or labels, be careful what you wish for.  Because the Law of Unintended Consequences may just jump up and bite you in the behind.

As a small food manufacturer myself, I can tell you that bans and increased labeling requirements WILL have a negative impact on small manufacturers.  The only way for me, as a manufacturer, to say definitively whether a product is, or is not, a GMO is to have it tested.  The GMO test is a central lab test (you have to send a sample out to a lab), which takes a week or two and costs about $250.

Now that may not sound like a big deal, and for General Mills, making Cheerios, it’s not, really.  But for a company like ours, it is.  Because we deal in micro-lots of things.  We may buy a two-bag lot of coffee (about 250 pounds).  We may obtain just a ton of corn for our artisan corn products (that’s actually a small amount for most mills).  We buy these small lots because they are unique and tasty.  Customers like them.  And usually, they are not accompanied by any substantial pedigree, other than perhaps an oral history from the grower.  And a testing requirement would add about two dollars per pound (or more) – about 18% – to many of the products we sell.  The number is that high because not only do we have to get the testing done (that’s the easy part), but we also have to maintain the records… for years.

If GMO labeling becomes required, I can predict one thing with certainty: your food choices will diminish.

Because it between the two extremes of “yes, it is GMO”, and “no, it’s not GMO”, is the middle ground that much of the food from small producers will occupy: “I don’t think it is, but I’m not sure”.  And getting from there to either of the other alternatives will destroy the economic viability of the enterprise.  I know this as surely as the sun rises in the East.

What I’m proposing is an alternative to the current label proposals.  The current proposals are essentially one proposal: GMOs must be labeled as such.  By default, then, things not labeled as GMO are not GMO.  Very tidy, but unrealistic if you want small producers to survive.  Because a proposal that all GMOs be labeled inherently requires that all products be tested – because the only way to know whether somethings is, or is not, GMO, is to test it.

What I propose then are three labels:

  1. Tested, found to be non-GMO
  2. Tested, found to be GMO
  3. Untested.

In practice, you will only ever find labels 1 and 3, because there is really no contingent of customers I know of who go around saying “I’d rather eat GMOs”.  But I suspect there are an awful lot of people who don’t care much one way or the other, and don’t want to incur the expense of testing (because ultimately it is passed on to the consumer), and/or don’t want their favorite small suppliers going out of business over it.

So if you’re one of those people advocating for GMO labeling, make sure you think through the consequences of what you’re wishing for.

Categories: Food Freedom, Food Politics Tags: ,

How to can your own tuna

July 25, 2011 3 comments

It’s been a little while since my last post.  There’s lots of reasons for that, of course, but mainly it’s because we’ve come to the downhill part of the season for food: summer.  This blog is about things that are perceived as difficult, or requiring skills that are no longer commonly possessed by the average eater.  But in the summer, anyone with even a lick of sense can eat like a king.  Summertime is easy time.  Even most summer canning doesn’t rise to the level of advanced.  Without even breaking a sweat, you can put up pickles.  If you can read at a 4th grade level, you are able to can fruits.  6th grade reading will leave you with a pantry full of tomatoes and other vegetables.  So there hasn’t been much to write about here, which is kind of a good thing.

But today I took on a little project that, judging by the response I get when I tell people, is beyond the scope of the usual home cook.  A “lost art”, so to speak.

Today I canned fish.  Yeah, that’s right, I made my own tuna fish.  You could do it with any fish, but we like tuna.  And like most other make-it-yourself projects, the taste of the results bears but a passing resemblance to what you can buy. There are other reasons to can your own, too, of course: 1) lower cost; 2) assurance that you are eating sustainably harvested fish; 3) you want to know where your fish came from, whether it be because you want to eat local, or you’re cautious about mercury levels; 4) you want specific herb/spice flavors added to your fish; and the list goes one.  And finally, when you come right down to it, it’s easy, too.

Results of one of our annual coastal fishing trips. The yellowfin are the fish closest to you. The fish I'm canning in the photos that will follow are line-caught yellowfin.

Before we get into the photo tutorial, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: safety.  People are afraid of home canned fish; most of them don’t know WHY they should be afraid, but there is a deep-rooted fear nonetheless.  Turns out there is actually a reasonable basis for concern: fish can contain Clostridiens, a type of gram positive bacteria responsible for botulism.  Clostridiens, IF they are present, are not killed by normal boiling water.

All is not lost, however!  The answer is a pressure cooker.  Many of you may remember your mothers using a pressure cooker for canning.  For many, if not most home canning tasks, a pressure cooker is great, but it’s overkill.  For meats and fish, however, a pressure cooker is, in fact, a necessity.  The reason is that pressure cooking under high pressure creates superheated steam, i.e., steam that is above the boiling point of water.  At 11 psi, the pressure of most pressure cookers, the steam is about 250F, which is above the 244F required to kill Clostridiens.  Temperature at pressure varies with altitude, so the safest thing to do is use a cooker that can get to 15 psi, which assures that you will reach at least 250F at any altitude you might be cooking at.

If you want to make jams, pickles, or can tomatoes, there is more information on the internet than you can possibly sort, and most of it is actually good.  When it comes to canning fish or meat, however, there are decidedly less references.  I have found a couple worth reading, as well as one video from the University of Alaska, which I consider a must-watch before you get started.  here are the references and the video:

PDF from the government of Manitoba on canning fish
University of Georgia National Center for Home Food Preservation on canning fish, complete with tables of pressure required at various altitudes

And here is the mother of all fish canning videos:

OK, now that you’ve read the primers, and watched the video, let’s go through my photo tutorial.

Cast of characters: about 3lbsof tuna, a bunch of sterile jars and lids, some herbs (I used oregano because it's in the garden), salt, lemon rind, and olive oil (not pictured)

Cut the tuna to fit in the jar. Fill the jar fairly full, but leave some room for oil. Salt each piece a ittle before placing in the jar, add the herbs and a hunk of lemon rind, and leave about an inch at the top.

Here's what the jar looks like when it's ready for oil.

Fill the jar with oil. You could use water, if you prefer, too. Use a chostick or knife to work the air out of the jar by working it around the perimeter, then top off the jar. Leave about 1/2 inch headspace.

Here's what the jar looks like full.

Clean the rim of the jar with a paper towel wetted with a little vinegar. This is necessary to assure the lids can seal. Once all the rims are clean, cap the jars tightly with sterile lids.

Put the jars in your pressure cooker and add 2 or 3 inches of water.

I have an electric pressure cooker, so it's easy: I set it on high (15 psi on mine) and tell it to cook for 99 minutes. Your cooker may vary, but make sure you cook at at least 11 psi for 100 minutes. You do not count the time required for your cooker to come up to pressure; start timing when the desired pressure is achieved.

Once the cooker has cooled sufficiently, remove the jars. Allow them to cool completely. Check the seals by removing the rings and trying to GENTLY pry up the sealed lid. If you CAN pry the lid off, cap the jar, put it in the fridge, and eat it within a few days. If the lids are sealed, you are good to store in the pantry for 1 year!

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Categories: Meat, Preserving, Techniques Tags: , ,

How to make scrapple from scratch

April 20, 2011 9 comments


After 12 years of living in the southeastern United States, I consider myself a southerner.  But every once in a while, my Pennsylvania Yankee roots show themselves, usually in connection with my food preferences.  And one of my guilty food pleasures is a food that is loved by some and loathed by others: scrapple.  Also known by the slightly more appetizing Dutch name of Pon Haus, or “ponhaws”, or the more descriptive name “pork mush”, scrapple is a unique Pennsylvania delicacy that does vary somewhat region to region.  The common threads, however, are that it’s a food made from pork scraps, spices and cornmeal.  Variations include the specific scraps of meat used (more specifically, whether the recipes include organs), the specific spice melange employed, and whether grains other than or in addition to corn are used.

I might not have ever been possessed to make scrapple myself, but for “the Ossabaw Project” I embarked on with a friend a couple years ago, and which is still ongoing.  To make a long story short, we bought a couple Ossabaw gilts, which my friend raised on his Orange County, NC farm.  Ossabaws are a heritage breed swine from Ossabaw Island, GA, and they are reknowned for their spectacular flavor and texture.  We bred our gilts with a Duroc boar, another breed with wonderful eating characteristics.  The resulting piglets have been some of the best pork I have ever tasted.  In keeping with my desire to minimize waste and respect the animal, scrapple is a perfect food to make from scratch.  It also happens to be exactly the kind of food that should be the focus of this blog: something that utilize “unusual” ingredients that people generally don’t know how to handle any longer.  Including me, as it turned out.

Because even though I’ve eaten my share of scrapple, I really had very little idea how to make it.  So I started where I usually start when I’m stumped: with a Google search.  It turns out there are as many scrapple recipes as their are scrapple recipe authors.  What I usually do in that situation is read as many as I can stand, and start to mentally construct my own recipes and techniques from the best of what I read.

The common threads I kept coming back to were some of the spices.  Many of the recipes leveraged one or more of three spices: salt,

Pork head. I warned you, not for the squeamish.

coriander seed and sage.  I knew my recipe would include those in some way.  I became very enamored of one recipe in particular, from the Food Network, of all places (I’m a big enough man to admit when I admire a Food Network recipe), and even more surprisingly, from Bobby Flay (I say surprisingly only because scrapple seems so unlike Bobby Flay’s usual cuisine choices).  The thing I liked about the Food Network recipe was that it specified the use of roasted cornmeal, which is exactly what we make at our coffee roastery.  Score!  I also knew that any recipe I made would have to include pork liver (because what else would I do with it), and pork head, because while many other variations are possible, using the head for this purpose is very traditional.

Here’s the recipe I ultimately concocted:

1 lbs pork jowls, trimmed of fat
1 lbs pork liver
1.5 qts water
2 bay leaves
10 whole peppercorns
1-1/2 TBSP smoked sea salt
1-1/2 TBSP sea salt
1/2 TBSP dried sage
1/2 TBSP coriander seed, toasted and crushed
1/2 TBSP ground black pepper
3-1/3 cups roasted cornmeal

Here’s the photo tutorial on how to do it:

My spice melange. Toast the coriander seeds in a skillet until highly aromatic, then smash them in a mortar.

Here is the trimmed jowls and liver, about 1 lb each. You can use whatever you want in yours - a shoulder roast will do nicely, or you can add other organs, too.

Adding the water to my pressure cooker. I absolutely LOVE my Russel Hobbs electric pressure cooker, i.e., could not live without it. If you do not have a pressure cooker, you can braise for a couple hours, instead.

Add the bay leaves and whole peppercorns to the pot. Pressure cook for about 15 minutes, or if you are doing an oven or stovetop braise, cook for a couple hours.

After the meat is cooked, allow it to cool. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid. Then grind the cooked meats.

Add all the ingredients to a large skillet, including the reserved broth, and simmer gently until the mush is stiff enough for a spoon to stand in it, maybe 10-15 minutes.

Spoon the mush into a mold. Traditionally, bread pans are used, but I wanted smaller units. So I used pencil baskets, and lined then with parchment paper. It worked great and was a perfect size. Once in the mold, refrigerate long enough to set up. Once set up, you can freeze for at least several months.

Here is my molded loaf. Perfect size.

Cut a slice about 3/8" thick, and pan fry on each side till golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Here is what it looks like when finished.

I wish that this challenge would be raised by the charcutepalooza women, so I might actually be ahead of a challenge for a change!  Mrs. Wheelbarrow, are you listening?

In any case, if you make your own (and I highly recommend you do – like everything else of this type, making your own is infinitely superior to what you can buy), be sure to share the recipe here.  And make sure you’re drinking some fine Muddy Dog coffee when you eat it.

How to make bagels from scratch

April 17, 2011 3 comments

My family likes bagels. So I was surprised when I read about how to make them over at Georgia Pellegrini’s blog (not related, surprisingly), and realized I’ve never tried to make them myself.  As of 8:30 this evening, bagels are one more item that can no longer make it onto my bucket list.  Here’s my photo journal.

Cast of characters: 1-1/2 tsp yeast, 2 tsp sugar, 3/4 tsp salt, 2c flour, 2/3c warm water, 1-1/2 tsp olive oil (ours couldnt be bothered to make the photo shoot, EVOO is like that sometimes ever since Rachel Ray made him famous)

First the water...

Then the sugar...

Then the yeast. Stir well, then let it proof (rest) for about 10 minutes.

After the yeast has proofed, add the oil. the original post called for vegetable oil. Olives are a vegetable in our house, therefore olive oil is vegetable oil.

Add the flour and salt. Knead by hand, or with your mixer. I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer. You may need to dribble a few teaspoons of additional water to make the dough come together - it should be a slightly sticky ball. Cover the dough with a towel, and let it rise for at least 30 minutes.

After the first rise is complete, turn out the ball onto a floured surface. Knead it 8 or 10 times.

Cut the kneaded ball into four or six pieces, depending on how large you want them. I cut in fours since this was a dinner bagel. Roll each piece into a snake about 1" in diameter - it should be long enough to wrap around your palm. Wet each end (lightly!) and press together. When all teh bagels are formed, cover with a towel and let them rise again, at least 30 minutes.

When the bagels have risen, parboil each one in boiling water. Boil for one minute on each side, then remove to a towel to wick off excess moisture. Then transfer to a baking sheet.

Bake at 450F for about 20 minutes. I put convection on about 5 minutes before the end of the cycle to get a nice brown crust.

I should get back to providing costing info with these recipes.  Flour goes for about $2.99/5 lbs, so that’s 19 cents per cup, or 38 cents for the recipe.  It requires a packet of yeast at $0.80.  Figure another $0.25 for salt, sugar and oil.  So $1.43 to make four large bagels.  That’s about $0.36 per bagel.

Enjoy with a nice cup of coffee from Muddy Dog Roasting Company.  My current favorite is a new arrival, Yemen Mohka Sana’ani.