Thursday, March 20, 2008

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Warning! This is not an inexpensive project! The last time I bought beans in bulk from New Day Grocery they were over $3 a piece. Once you get it going though, it's not a big deal to add a new bean once in a while as you use them up.

Being a non-drinker, I was a bit nervous about going into the liquor store. I grew up in California where liquor stores are not run by the state; they are just like the 7-Elevens on every corner and anyone can go in to buy gum, candy, etc. I must have looked very out-of-place, but as soon as I told the clerk what I was after, he pointed me in the right direction and said the cheapest vodka would be fine for my purposes. The vanilla beans are definitely not local, but it turns out the vodka I bought was made at The Old Monastery in Hood River, Oregon!

1 bottle (a fifth) vodka or bourbon
10 to 12 vanilla beans

Simply open the bottle and drop the beans into the vodka or bourbon. Cap tightly. Let the vanilla beans steep in the alcohol for at least a month. You can then decant the resulting vanilla extract into smaller, prettier glass bottles for gift giving. You can also use the beans to flavor Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, custard and the like.

Add additional beans and alcohol to the bottle as needed.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

My mother loves ice cream! I can take it or leave it, but if I'm going to eat it, it's got to be genuine--no artificial anything. Real Vanilla Ice Cream can be difficult to find (have you read the ingredient list on your ice cream lately?) so I'd just as soon make my own. When my parents are coming for Sunday Dinner, I often make this to go with a fruit pie, crisp or cobbler for dessert. Farm fresh local eggs in the custard give this ice cream its buttery yellow color!

3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 whole vanilla bean (I use a bean from my bottle of Homemade Vanilla Extract)
2 eggs, beaten in a small bowl or glass measuring cup
1 1/2 cups Umpqua Dairy heavy whipping cream (it's local and it's not ultra-pasteurized)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Stir the sugar, salt and whole milk together in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the insides into the milk. Add the pod and scald over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and mixture almost comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the milk mixture into the beaten eggs. Whisk this back into the remaining hot milk and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber scraper until it begins to thicken. This takes about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and pour through a wire strainer to remove any bits of cooked egg white. Stir this custard well and chill at least three hours or overnight. I usually put the vanilla pod back in the custard to steep overnight too.

When the custard is thoroughly chilled, remove the vanilla bean and whisk in the whipping cream and vanilla extract. Pour into canister and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Homemade ice cream should be eaten within 2 or 3 days or it tends to become icy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Sutherlin Winter Farmer's Market

I just returned from my first trip to the Sutherlin Farmer's Market (currently located inside North County News at 222 W. Central) which is open from 2 to 5:30 on Wednesdays. I bought two heads of baby lettuce and some beets from Lighthouse Center Organics, a loaf of Seeded Bread from Tyee Mountain Bakery, assorted truffles and chocolates from Arrow's Delight (more on that later) and a wedge of handmade Greek Baklava from The Baklava Lady.

I chose the Walnut Baklava, but there are several other varieties available: cashew, almond, hazelnut, cranberry-walnut and mixed-berry walnut. I was told it keeps for six weeks at room temperature, but it didn't last ten minutes after I got it home! Honestly, I have never been a huge fan of baklava. Most restaurant versions I have tried are just too sweet. But this, this is wonderful! Nuts and honey in a flaky phyllo pastry--I can dream of a sunny island in the Mediterranean even though it's wet and gray out my window.

Made right here in Douglas County, The Baklava Lady ships 3 lb. boxes of baklava all over the world. But you can get it right here in Sutherlin and soon at the Umpqua Valley Farmer's Market opening April 12.

Friday, March 14, 2008

100% Whole Grain Oatmeal Bread

Another bread I taught for the OSU Extension Service. This is a great use for leftover oatmeal.

Cook as you would for oatmeal porridge:
1 1/8 cups regular rolled oats
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt (I use sea salt)
I do this in a crockpot overnight. Allow to cool to room temperature. If you are using leftover oatmeal, you need about 2 – 2 ¼ cups.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine:
cooked and cooled oatmeal (above)
¾ cup cold water
6 tablespoons sugar, (white, brown, or sucanat)
1/3 cup canola oil (you could substitute softened butter, if you prefer)
2 ½ teaspoons salt

In a medium bowl, stir together:
5 cups freshly ground whole hard white wheat flour (you will need additional flour while kneading)
2 ½ teaspoons instant yeast (Red Star Quick Rise or Bread Machine Yeast)

Add the flour/yeast mixture to the wet ingredients by the cupful, mixing to combine and then kneading until the gluten is fully developed and the dough passes the window pane (or membrane) test. You should be able to pull a small piece of dough into a thin sheet that is almost transparent without it tearing. This tells you the gluten is fully developed and strong enough to hold the gas bubbles in when the dough rises. This is how you get really light whole grain bread! In a heavy duty stand mixer this will take about 8 to 9 minutes on low speed. By hand it could take 15 to 20 minutes for a two-loaf recipe. Add an additional 1-1 ½ cups whole wheat flour as necessary while you knead. Don't add too much too soon. It takes a few minutes of kneading for the flour to absorb water from the oatmeal.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel or spray with oil spray to coat the top. Let rise at room temperature 1 to 1½ hours or until doubled in bulk. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface. Fold the top down, the bottom up and the sides in over each other one at a time. Turn the whole thing over and place it back in the bowl to rise a second time for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, spraying the top again lightly with oil. Divide into 2 loaves. Round, cover and let rest for 15 -20 minutes, then shape into loaves and place in 8 x 4 ½ pans. Cover and proof for about 30-45 minutes until the bread comes up to the edges of the pan and arches over the top. Slash top down the center if you like. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35-45 minutes until the bottom sounds hollow when thumped or an instant-read thermometer says 180 degrees in the center of the loaf.

Thrifty Chicken

One common argument I often hear against buying local or buying organic is that it just plain costs too much. Recently I decided to stop buying chicken from the big-time, industrial-style chicken processors and instead buy from the smaller companies raising poultry naturally without hormones, antibiotics and chemicals. Of course, chicken raised this way is more expensive but it can still be quite economical to use.

Last week I bought a whole chicken from Coastal Range Organics. Weighing 4.22 pounds and priced at $1.99/lb. this bird cost me $8.40. By comparison, the cheapest no-brand whole chicken was selling for $1.09/lb for a total of $4.60 and I would have saved $3.80 by choosing it. Had I been planning to feed my family only once with this chicken, although my food budget is ample, the cost difference might have been enough to sway me toward the cheaper brand. However, I am resolved to buy what I feel is a healthier product, and I like the challenge of planning ahead and making the most of my purchase. I knew I could get at least three meals out of this one chicken. Here's how it worked out:

The day I bought the chicken I washed it and stuffed it with a quartered lemon, fresh rosemary, onions, garlic, salt and pepper and roasted the whole thing for dinner. I made a tangy sauce with the juices and served the meat sliced with brown rice and mixed vegetables.

After dinner I quickly pulled off the remaining breast meat and any easy-to-get dark meat from the legs and thighs. I didn't try to get every last morsel from the back and wings--I had plans for that later in the week. This yielded about 2 cups of chopped meat. I added some finely diced celery, stirred in some seasonings and mayonnaise and tucked it away in the refrigerator for the flavors to blend. Over the next several days we used this at lunch for four good-sized chicken salad sandwiches. The carcass, along with all the herbs and seasonings went into a ziploc bag and into the frig. (It could just as easily have gone into the freezer to be used in the next couple of months if I didn't think I would have time to use it within a week.)

Finally, several days later (and having eaten lots of things besides poultry in between) I put the carcass in my crockpot with a sliced carrot, some onion, a couple stalks of celery and some peppercorns, covered it with water and let it stew all day. At dinner time, I strained the broth and put it on the stove to simmer and concentrate while I picked the chicken bones clean of any little pieces of meat. I added this meat back to the broth along with some frozen peas and some homemade whole wheat egg noodles I had left from making Turkey & Noodles after Christmas. I thickened it with a bit of flour and voila--Chicken & Noodles--another main dish!

One chicken=three meals. Waste nothing is my motto!

100% Whole Wheat Potato Bread

This is a bread I taught recently at a class for the OSU Extension Service. Potato Bread dough is delightful to work with and very easy to braid for a fancier loaf. If you use leftover mashed potatoes that already contain salt, milk and butter, use a tad less salt than called for in this recipe. You may also need a bit more flour.

Boil until tender in water to cover:
3 or 4 medium russet potatoes, pared and cut into chunks
Drain, reserving potato water and mash potatoes well. Allow to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl, combine:
1 ½ cups of the mashed potato, cooled
1 ½ cups potato water, cooled
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup butter, softened

In a medium bowl, stir together:
5 cups freshly ground hard white wheat flour (you will need additional flour while kneading)
¼ cup powdered milk
2 ½ teaspoons instant yeast (also called bread machine yeast)

Add flour mixture to potato mixture, mixing gradually until well-combined and then kneading until the gluten is fully developed (it should pass the window pane test), adding additional flour as necessary to keep from sticking. Place in a large greased or oil-sprayed bowl and let rise until doubled in bulk. Turn out and fold as above and let rise until doubled again. Divide into 2 pieces, round, rest and shape into loaves. Alternately, divide into six equal pieces and make two braided loaves. Place in pans (or onto cookie sheets for braids), cover and let rise until doubled. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, turn heat down to 350 degrees and bake 30 to 35 minutes longer. Cool on a wire rack.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hazelnut Toffee

I just received a wonderful gift--a bag of Oregon-Style Hazlenut Toffee made locally in Glide, Oregon. Thank you Jeff and Carma! Check it out at Dona Dulce Hazelnut Toffee. Delicious flavor and not so brittle you risk cracking a tooth! A great addition to your local Easter Basket.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Scalloped Potatoes & Ham

This is a family favorite and a fine way to stretch a bit of leftover ham into another meal. If you bake a ham for Easter, save some to give it a try!

4 to 5 medium russet potatoes (about 2 lbs.)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
a few grinds of fresh pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder (optional)
2 1/2 cups milk
1 to 1 1/2 cups diced ham or 1 (6 ounce) can
1 tablespoon additional butter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the flour, salt , pepper and onion powder and blend well into a smooth paste. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and bring slowly to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat.

Pare and slice the potatoes very thinly, about 1/8-inch thick. Butter a casserole dish and place half the potato slices over the bottom. Scatter the diced ham evenly over the potatoes and then cover with half the white sauce. Layer the remaining potatoes over the ham and pour the rest of the sauce over the top, smoothing with a rubber scraper to make sure all the potatoes are covered. Dot the top with 1 tablespoon butter.

Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid or foil, turn the oven down to 375 degrees and bake another 30 to 40 minutes until potatoes are tender and the top is golden brown.

Serves 4 - 5.

Variation: For a vegetarian version, skip the ham and add 1 cup of cheddar cheese to the hot white sauce, stirring until melted. Now you have Potatoes Au Gratin.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Whole Wheat Waffles

This is similar to the recipe I use for Whole Wheat Pancakes, but I substitute melted butter for the oil, which makes them crispy. Waffles take a bit more time, but my son loves them. Any leftovers can be frozen flat on a waxed-paper-lined cookie sheet, then stored in plastic freezer bags. Reheat on low setting in the toaster.

1 1/4 cups (6 ounces) freshly ground soft white wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar (white, brown or Sucanat)
2 farm fresh local eggs, separated
1 1/4 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat a waffle iron.

In a medium bowl stir together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. In a glass measuring cup whisk together the milk and egg yolks. Lightly whisk milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Whisk in the butter.

In a small glass or metal bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the batter.

Pour onto hot, oil-sprayed or non-stick waffle iron. My standard 4-section waffle iron takes a scant cupful of batter. Tip: time how long it takes for the first batch to finish cooking, then set your kitchen timer for the remaining waffles so you don't have to keep your eye on the light.

Makes about 4 large (16 individual) waffles. My family eats them with peanut butter and maple syrup, but any fruit topping is wonderful, too!