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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Kosher or not, Smoked Meat for Breakfast

With the warm dry summer this year, Northwest gardeners (or the people who buy from our farmers) got to have delicious tomatoes. Short days, cold nights, and wet marine air have shut down further ripening, but the memories are delicious. 

One of my flavorite reminisces has to do with the aroma of toasty bagel mixing with smoked salmon. The dance of cool tomato and warm bread on my tongue, of smooth cream cheese and poppy seeds vying to please, makes my mouth feel happy. The religion I was raised with is confusing enough, so figuring out whether mixing fish and cheese is kosher is way beyond my expertise; the fact that all my Jewish friends are fine with lox and bagels does not really convince me, since most of them are all about as devout as my own pagan, shiftless, skeptical self. 

Back East, I'd have lox and bagels now and then, but even in the '80s, tomatoes available in delis had begun shedding their flavor, and the lox was a cold damp minislab not so different from the other cold cuts. Here, I've finally been exposed to real smoked salmon, and as luck would have it I received a few jars of primo smoked salmon at a couple of tribal give-aways this Spring. Alder-smoked wild salmon crumbled over local cream cheese is to what I used to get in delis as a Northwest IPA is to a can of Bud...I'll take the latter over an egg mcmuffin or a coors light, but it ain't the same thing.

Not so Kosher, the Joy of Goy.
And then there's the other thing. Pork. At the Olympia Farmers Market, now and then you can get bacon made from organic pasture-raised piggies. No parev work-around on this, it's just straight-out not kosher. Damned delicious, I guess that's how I would describe it. Mix it with a bagel and cream cheese, or eggs, whatever. Blow the thin blue tendril of skillet-smoke out the kitchen window as an offering to whatever gods you want to please.

Too much of these good things may not be good for your body, never mind your spiritual health. But to deny yourself these deliciousnesses on the basis of archaic laws is a bit too much sufferation for this heathen, and maybe of other people with taste buds. But if an ancient law forbids you from eating this way, I wish you well, and will help dispose of your share. 


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cider Days

This week, I'll squeeze another batch of cider. I inherited a big press on my way out to Washington, an 1870s monument to cast iron and oaken framery that saved my life by weighing down the pickup bed across miles of Wyoming ice. 

Apples started dropping early and dry this year, but there are still trees laden with fruit still sweetening as the weather cools off. A neighbor let me pick from his tree, and I have two boxes sitting in the garage ready to go. Earlier, the first apple tree I ever planted yielded enough fruit for a half gallon of cider, and I got some more from a neighbor's windfall.

I'm not what you'd call real particular about the quality of fruit, but the windfall stuff has enough worms and incipient rancidity that it needs some surgery before making cider. Blemishes and outright ugliness don't matter, and old timers will tell you that some bruises are a good thing when it comes to cider. 

I wash all these pomological freaks in a galvanized tub, and then it's time to call in the help. Kids are perfect. I get the crank turning til the flywheel is spinning along nicely, and the little one starts tossing in apples to be crunchewed between teethy drums that spit bits drunkenly into and all around the bucket below. Immediately the air turns sweet, but for some reason this fall we were not beset by yellowjackets or bees.

A bucketful of chomped apples is now ready for the pressing. The long and increasingly difficult  turning of a giant iron screw that presses the apples while they sit in a slatted bucket on a slatted table. Juice flows out the sides and the bottom, hitting the drainboard and flowing into a container as the littler daughter makes sure nothing is lost. The bigger one uses a big ironwood stick to gain leverage, squeezing every last drop from the thinning wheel of apples crushed inside the bucket. Meanwhile, I sit back and enjoy a break. 

Someday, I'll get serious enough about hunting down apples (pay for them? perish the thought!) and gathering gear to make a big batch and ferment it. Or maybe not. But I'll always treasure fall afternoons with the girls doing cider alchemy, turning the ugliest apples into nectar, using brute force to craft delicate tastes.

Monday, October 8, 2012

That's It? (DIY Butter)

Shake it!
Yep. Get a jar o milk and shake it for a while. 20 minutes? I dunno, you just gotta commit that once you start, you don't quit until there's butter. It'll appear when it's good and ready, but when it does, it's pretty obvious (once the foam settles), like this: creamery cowagulant.
Simplicity may just be deviousness, though, and of course there are a few guaranteed ways to fail (and infinite opportunities to elaborate, but that's somebody else's blog). I shouldn't have to say so, but  since this is the internet, "No skim milk." Not even 2%. You need whole milk or else all the butter embryos have been stripped out and sold to the highest bidder. Better yet, get that old-school glass jug from a local organic dairy, the one that's already got cream adhereing to the head-space. 

Do this after they put the stuff on sale, because the stuff is expensive. Maybe you can snag them on cheap at the expiration date, which most milkologists will agree amounts to a discounted head start on buttermilk and sour cream. (Maybe I jest. Please to not consume what could be spoiled food on the basis of a  blog post. Let us now return to the proper focus of the internet, which is money:) But don't make butter to save money, because it's a hell of a lot cheaper to buy it than do this, unless you have a friend with a cow.

Which brings us to the matter of yield. A half pint turned into less than what a pancake restaurant plops on your flapjack stack. Which can still be a lot, but if you're planning to slather it on bread or melt it in a mountain of griddlecakes, you're gonna eat this butter in less time than it took to make it. 

You still have the de-buttered milk, though. Not being a calf, I don't drink milk, but cooking with it is fine. It's still got enough body to cream up a soup or a sauce. Seems like it would be good for baking, but again, don't take web-based musings as valid kitchen guidance. 

In fact, I've done this just twice. Some fluke may rank this page higher than some poor butter-churner who has labored for years. Based on my meager experience, I would say only that you should not go nuts with vigorous shaking, which actually leaves you with lots of small curds instead of the one big ball you get if you start to just swirl the liquid once they start appearing.

DIY Butter Recipe
  • Put less than a jar full of whole milk in a jar, and screw the lid on tight
  • Shake it until there is butter
  • Take the butter from the milk