Monday, January 28, 2013

Patridge Two Ways

As I've mentioned before, I occasionally get to enjoy rare cuts of meat and fowl courtesy of my boyfriend's father's hunts. A couple weeks ago they gave us a whole lot of bone-in partridge breasts. I was in the mood for a comfort food and decided we should make partridge "tenders."

Partridges are so small that when Evan cut the breasts off the bone, they were already perfectly sized for making tenders. I double-dipped each little piece in a beaten egg and a combination of bread crumbs, flour, cornmeal and spices. Then they were fried in a shallow, hot layer of canola oil in a cast iron pan for about five minutes on each side until browned. I let them rest on paper towels afterward to absorb extra oil. They were accompanied by ketchup with a dash of sriracha and a puree of potato and celery root. Not a very colorful meal, but definitely flavorful.

They tasted to me exactly like chicken tenders, which allowed me to reflect on the fact that while chicken is a staple of the average American's diet, I almost never cook it. In fact, I can't remember the last time I ate chicken, except at my parent's house, since it's what my mom always seems to make when I go there. To most people, chicken is a readily available, affordable and conveniently boneless meat. I don't think of it that way at all because I'm not interested in buying chicken from a grocery store. Cage free and free range in a grocery store usually mean nothing more than the fact that there were no cages and that there was a door to the outside that the chickens may or may not have used. Meanwhile, for whatever reason, the farmers who sell chickens at the NYC Greenmarkets sell them whole. If I want to make chicken, I have to accept the responsibility of cooking and making use of a whole bird.

Back to partridge - Later that night, we threw the bones into a pot of water for two hours to boil into stock, with a good amount of meat still clinging on. A few nights later I felt lucky to come home from work to dinner made by my boyfriend: partridge soup with carrots, onions, kale, potatoes, and barley (I try to always have some kind of pre-cooked grain like barley or quinoa stashed away in our freezer).

We have plenty more partridge and pheasant in our freezer, so I'm sure we will come up with a few more unique ways to enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Naturally Risen Sourdough

Here's an update on my sourdough experiments : my first batch without any added commercial yeast rose all on its own! Previously, I'd relied on 1/4 tsp of commercial yeast as a sort of training wheels, but now I'm excited to be able to bake bread without it. It feels empowering to know that if I maintain this starter, I can make bread even if I don't have access to yeast.

Two days before baking, I removed the sourdough starter from the fridge and fed it with 3/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. I covered it with a wet cloth and let it sit on the counter overnight. By the next day, it was dotted with tiny bubbles and smelled quite yeasty. By feeding it and letting the starter sit out of the fridge for a night before baking, it really activates the yeast - unlike the cold in the fridge, which suppresses it.

I prepared the dough by combining half the starter with 2 cups of all purpose flour, 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup flax seeds, 1 tsp salt and a little less than 1 1/2 cup water. I went easy on the whole grains this time so as to not hinder the rising process. Since it worked out, next time I'll try adding a greater proportion of whole wheat and other grains. I let the dough sit out on the counter for another night, before baking it the next day according to these directions.

I returned the sourdough starter to the fridge to wait until the next baking. I added just a little flour and water, so that the yeast won't run out of "food" over the week or so. When I'm ready to bake again, I'll follow the same process as above.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Slow Cooked Honey Nut Granola

I go through different workday breakfast phases. After college, there was a time of morning acai and banana smoothies. Then a street cart bagel phase, till that got too unhealthy. There were two separate periods were my usual breakfast was a slice of plain homemade toast. There was a summer of eating muesli and a winter of making oatmeal quickly in the microwave with walnuts and honey. There have also been many days where it's just a cup of coffee or chai tea. Lately, my breakfast of choice has been granola. 

The great thing about making granola is that you can adapt it however you like. My favorite ingredients are below, but I've made many variations depending on the sweeteners I've had on hand. I once even made a successful batch of granola using leftover simple syrup. To keep it healthy, I try to use the minimum amount of oil and sweetener necessary. 

You can make granola in the oven, but I also learned this year that it can be made in a crock pot and wanted to share how easy it is. Leave the granola to cook while you go about your lazy weekend afternoon, checking to stir it now and then. Be careful not to get so caught up in your day that you forget about it altogether, though, or it will burn on the edges (it's happened to me more than once). 

A batch this size usually lasts me about two weeks worth of weekday breakfasts. It also makes about four gift-size portions. This holiday season, I shared my granola by preparing jars for my coworkers. It was much less work than baking up a storm of cookies and it stores better.

Slow Cooked Honey Nut Granola
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup almonds (or other nuts)
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup flax seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1/3 canola or olive oil
1/3 cup honey (or maple syrup or sugar or some combination)
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins (optional - add after cooking)

In the slow cooker, combine the dry ingredients. Add the honey and oil and stir until the granola mixture is thoroughly coated. Cook on high for 2 1/2 hours, with the lid slightly propped open with a chopstick or other utensil. Stir well every 30 minutes so that it cooks evenly. Turn off the heat once the oats are golden. Be careful to not let the granola on the edges starts browning. Add the currants and  transfer to a glass or ceramic container to store.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Living Tree and Other Holiday Decor

Happy New Year! I didn't do any decorating in my own apartment last year or the year before, so I was excited to pull my holiday ornaments and decor out of storage this year to cheer up my home with:

A fake garland where there's usually a window valence.

Stockings made with recycled burlap and sweaters that I bought from The Little Green Bean on Etsy a few years ago. With some chocolate treats from Mast Brothers hiding within.

Holiday cards from friends and family (including some favorites saved from previous years) hung with string and clothespins.

A living tabletop Alberta Spruce tree. Last year we killed our living tree, but this year we put it outside right away, where it can decorate our yard with twinkly lights year round and hopefully survive so we can bring it back inside for next winter's holidays. For more about how to keep a living tree alive, check out my post today at The Green Phone Booth.

How did you decorate your home for the holidays?