Cooking

Kitchen 101: Choose your Weapon

If you aren’t plugged directly into a chef’s brain, you might not understand the special relationship we have with our knives. They’re not just another kitchen tool, they’re an extension of us. They’re how we get almost everything done. The right knife not only cuts, chops, dices, and fillets; it can make us feel invincible. Most chefs have more than one knife, and even more than one “chef’s knife,” but we all have a favorite–the one we reach for more than any of the others.

However, loyalty to “the one” isn’t exclusive to chefs. I know plenty of home cooks who are just as attached to their knives. Whether you’re a chef or a home cook, finding that perfect blade comes at the end of a lot of trial and error. The right weight, the right balance, the right size for your hand, how well the blade keeps its edge, and let’s face it, the price (knives can get expensive, yo!)… all of those factors go into finding your sharp-bladed soul mate.

Occasionally, I get questions from friends and readers, unsure about where to start looking. My honest answer is that your first step should be to go into the store and try some out for yourself. The kind of store that will let you do that… well… let’s just say, Target and Walmart aren’t going to be too pleased if you come in with a potato or a carrot and start cracking open all the plastic clam shell packages to test out their knives. No, you need to go to a place where they not only expect, but encourage you to play with their knives.  Of course, you’re going to walk in there and see that huge display of knives, in all sizes, brands, and blade styles, and maybe get a little overwhelmed. Thankfully, we have some help in that department. The kind folks over at Reviews.com have done quite a bit of work for us, having their team of chefs, cooking instructors, and knife experts test out a whole bevy of knives to come up with a list of recommendations to help get you started.

The team at Reviews.com took 11 of the best selling chefs knives on the market and put them through their paces.  A good chef’s knife does more than just chunk up potatoes–it’s a multi-tasker. So, they chopped and minced herbs, sliced carrots, sliced and peeled tough butternut squash, and butterflied a lot of chicken breasts to identify the five that stood up to the rigors of a real kitchen. They range in price from $45 to right around $200, and in experience level from starter knives all the way up to the kind that’ll tackle the workload of a pro.

One of my personal favorites, the Wusthof Classic 8″ chef’s knife, made the top five, I’m happy to say.

If you’re on the hunt for The One Knife to Rule Them All, or just looking to add some great quality to your growing collection, I recommend checking out the full review over at Reviews.com.  As an added bonus, they’ve also generously included some great tips on how to take care of that beautiful blade once you’ve brought it home. If you treat it right, a great knife can last you a lifetime.

Happy shopping!

P.S. Don’t forget, my new cookbook, Recipes for a Revolution: A Practical Guide to the Care and Feeding of Activists, is on sale now for Kindle over at Amazon.com. A great knife would come in super handy to prep any of the 50 recipes you can find in there.

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Recipes for a Revolution

Friends, I’ve been keeping a pretty big secret from you. It’s a good one, though, and now that I’ve finally going to spill, I don’t think you’ll mind too much.

This summer, I’ve been writing a cookbook.

Correction. This summer, I’ve been procrastinating, suffering from writer’s block, stressing, furiously writing, recipe testing, mumbling to myself, and taking up the booths at Bardo Coffee for literally entire days–the result of which is a cookbook.

Recipes for a Revolution: A Practical Guide to the Care and Feeding of Activists, is part cookbook, part pep talk, for those of us who have heard the call to speak up and to act up– on behalf of equality, the protection of human rights, the protection of the environment, better education, better healthcare, a better food system, and to stand in the way of those who may be threatening those things. But, it’s not a book on how to be an activist. Rather, it’s a guide for activists who find themselves trying to juggle work, school, family, and the important work they do for the causes they believe in.

So many times, we find ourselves giving all our energy to everyone else, and not saving any time to care for ourselves.  As we set aside our own needs for healthful, nourishing food; for time to recharge; for the simple act of staying hydrated, we become more run down, more tired, maybe even sicker. This book serves as a gentle reminder that we must prioritize our physical, mental, and emotional well-being if we are to stay strong as activists and advocates for the issues that are important to us.

Recipes for a Revolution contains over 50 recipes, all carefully designed and chosen to provide an approachable, accessible, practical way to set ourselves up for success as we do this work of resisting. Whether you’ve only just heard the call to act, or your activism is much more developed, I believe this book can serve as a reference, a check-in with yourself, to help get your kitchen calibrated with that activism.

RFAR is available for pre-order in Kindle format for $13.99. If you buy now, it will automatically be delivered to your Kindle device when it releases on September 20th If you don’t have a Kindle, you can still read it by downloading the free Kindle app to your phone or tablet, or reading it on your desktop through Amazon. However, I will have a .pdf version available for purchase, as well. You can pre-order now, and receive it the same day it releases for Kindle.

To pre-order the Kindle version, Just click here!

To pre-order the .pdf version, please e-mail gonnacookthat@gmail.com with “Cookbook Purchase Request” in the subject line, and I will send you a pre-order payment link through PayPal.

For those of you wondering, I will be creating a funding page to help cover the cost of generating a paperback version of the book later this year.  If you’re like me, cookbooks are just a thing you want to be able to hold in your hands, make notes in the margins, and keep close-by in the kitchen. Self-publishing a printed version of a book can be expensive, but it’s something I definitely want to make happen.

Thank you, so much, for your support!

Feast of Fermentation 2017

It’s been a busy summer, people. I got back from Oregon and hit the ground running with work, a book project (stay tuned!) and digging in on preparations for the 5th Annual Feast of Fermentation for the Boulder Food Rescue. It’s happening on September 23rd, at the Avalon Ballroom. Last year was my first time cheffing the FoF, and it was such an amazing time, I’m doing it again. (And honestly, for as many years as they’ll let me.)

In addition to some great local beers from the likes of Nighthawk Brewery and Montucky Cold Snacks, a homebrew competition sponsored by Boulder Fermentation Supply, a silent auction full of great items to bid on for any budget, and some highly danceable tunes from The New Family Recipe, my super talented (and a lot more organized than me) sous chef Elizabeth and I are developing taco bar and noodle bowl menus that are going to make your facehole so very happy. We’ll utilize not only a TON of delicious fermented product like kim chi, sauerkraut, salsas and hot sauces from the excellent folks at Ozuke and McCauley Family Farm, but also bring in other products grown and produced by companies in and around the Boulder, Colorado area. Also, the  Boulder County Farmer’s Market has hooked us up with market dollars to round out the menu with gorgeous, local, farm fresh produce. You guys, if you’ve never gone on a full blown farmer’s market shopping spree, let me tell you, it’s 100% some of the most fun I’ve ever had with my pants on. And getting to turn all that lovely produce into yummies for hundreds of members of my community? Pinch me! So cool!

If you live in the Denver/Boulder area, please come join us! I promise you’ll have a good time, and you’ll support an organization that is passionate about reducing food waste and bringing nutritious food to low income residents in Boulder and Broomfield counties. Win-Win, right? Tickets are $45 for an all you can eat, all you can (safely) drink, dance your face off evening of fun. But, if you can round up 5 friends to go with you, the individual ticket price for each person in the group of six is $35.

If you don’t live nearby, I’m not going to leave you empty handed. Behold! Instructions on how to put together your own quick, easy, and tasty noodle bowls. This should make enough for four large bowls.

Equipment:
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups & measuring spoons
Blender or food processor
Large pot for boiling water or broth
Tongs for portioning everything into bowls
Small serving bowl and spoon for the sauce

Ingredients:

For the Sauce:
1/4 cup peanut, almond, or cashew butter
3 tablespoons fresh ginger (the stuff in the tube is fine)
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup Mirin (rice wine vinegar)
A healthy pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Additional salt to taste, if the soy sauce alone doesn’t work for you

Puree everything together in a blender or food processor until all the ingredients are incorporated.

For the Noodles:
1 14oz box rice noodles
10 oz boiling water or broth, for extra flavor (veggie, chicken, mushroom, beef… whatever floats your boat)
3 peeled and crushed garlic cloves
Healthy pinch of salt

Bring the water or broth to a boil. Add the crushed garlic and the salt, cover, and remove from the heat. Let the garlic “steep” in the liquid for about 5 minutes, then remove. Add the noodles to the hot liquid and cover. They’ll be soft enough to eat in 5-7 minutes.

The toppings:
Literally any combination of fresh veggies will work here, plus about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of your preferred protein, pre-cooked. If you’re drawing a blank, here are some ideas:

Proteins:
Poached shrimp
Baked or grilled chicken, sliced
Sliced steak
Firm tofu, cubed or cut into matchsticks and sauteed
Tempeh
Seitan

Veggies:
Julienne bell peppers
Sliced mushrooms
Bean Sprouts
Thinly sliced carrots
Snow peas
Sliced cabbage
Bamboo shoots
Sliced celery
Sliced jalapenos
Sliced greens (spinach, kale, mustard greens, beet greens)

Garnishes:
Thin sliced green onions
Cilantro
Chopped nuts
Chow mein noodles
Crispy roasted chickpeas

I don’t think there’s a bad combination here, so go crazy kids!

My Life as a Farmhand

I had a conversation recently with a good friend about relationships, and about how, be they platonic, familial, or romantic, the best way to go into them is asking, “What can I give?” vs. “What do I want?” You guys, I’m in a relationship with this farm, and that very bit of wisdom is what’s driving my experience here. Life as a farmhand has been a quite the gut check.

My job here is to steward things growing from the earth so they can feed people. If you think for one minute that means I’m in any way in charge– Mother Nature has some news for you. Come to this work looking for her to stroke your ego and make you feel important, and I’ve got a sense that you’ll walk away aching and disappointed. Join her cycle, ready to follow her lead, and, well, life as a farmhand becomes a whole different thing altogether.

Life as a farmhand is straightforward, and satisfying. The goalpost is constantly moving, but somehow, you don’t mind. Pull the weeds. Trim the vines.

The farm manager points, you go and do it. Cover the squash. There’s a beetle that likes to attack young squash plants. In their infancy, the beetles appetites are dangerous and destructive, and so we cover the plants with screening  that allows in sun and water, but somehow, keeps out the beetles. Killing the beetle is counterproductive, because later, after the plants get bigger and start to flower, that same beetle becomes a key pollinator–a vital part of the process. So, we temporarily deny them their favorite meal, only to reward them with full access later, when they have a job to do.

Life as a farmhand is delicious. With access to so much food, just steps outside your front door, there’s no end to what a curious and creative set of hands can create. If this farm isn’t growing it, chances are, the one just up the road will be. Farmer’s markets and roadside stands are full of first of the season this and end of the season that, and bumper crops of so much beautiful produce, it’s hard to know where to start. Admittedly, you may be too tired most days to vary the post-work meal routine very much. (For the first week or so, until my body got used to this new rhythm, the best I could do was some variation of black beans and whatever extra greens we’d brought in from harvest day, cooked together and eaten out of the same heavy, white bowl, with the same spoon, every afternoon.) Soon, though, you realize that the extra effort of really thinking it through rewards you with a sweet combination of satiety, pride, and restoration that becomes the answer to the question, “How will I get up and do it all again tomorrow?”

You think I’m speaking in hyperbole, but I don’t think I am. Those of you who’ve experienced the pleasure of eating what you’ve grown will get it, I believe.

Life as a farmhand is not romantic. If that’s the picture I’ve painted for you thus far, let me use this opportunity to correct that.

Life as a farmhand is dirty. There’s no escaping that. Everything you touch will be, is, or was once rooted to the earth. In order to tend to it, you have to be right there with it, touching the soil as you touch the plant. There are tools you will use, for sure, but as in cooking, also in farming– your best tools are your hands. From pulling out those tiny weeds by hand that want to snuggle right up to your plants, to sorting the rocks and uglies out of beans, to picking and washing fresh greens, to thinning the thick, ropy grape vines that grow what feels like a foot a week up in the vineyards, your hands are what get the work done. When you come back in from a day’s work, there’s dirt under your nails, in the hair not covered by a hat, and most certainly, on your clothes. Some days, your shower feels less like bathing and more like excavation.

Life as a farmhand is hard. I’ll admit, I’m not the smartest about my choice of clothing. I wear short sleeves, which, despite the use of sunscreen, leaves my arms to the mercy of the burn/tan/peel cycle the likes of which would probably cause any dermatologist to shiver in horror. I’m learning (after nearly passing out from dehydration one afternoon) that there’s no such thing as too much water while doing fieldwork. I’m learning that taking the extra ten minutes in the morning to run through a few simple stretches can mean the difference between counting the minutes and wishing I was dead around 9am, into my third hour of weeding… or being able to get into a rhythm that makes the time fly and the sound of Juan, the farm manager, whistling along to his Mexican radio station be the thing that lets my body and soul work together to get the job done. I’ve discovered the importance of a hat– for keeping the sun off my face, to catch the sweat coming from the top of my head, and to pull off and fan myself if the breeze isn’t breezy enough for my liking.

Life as a farmhand is good. I’m enjoying it so much more than I ever thought I would, and now that I’ve had this taste of it, I feel like my soul will constantly be tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me of this work.

Farmin’ Ain’t Easy

If you haven’t been following along on my Instagram (and really, why haven’t you?), then you may not know that last week, my little 2002 Honda Civic (which I’ve started to lovingly refer to as “The Tardis” because I’ve managed to cram an impossible amount of stuff in there and still be able to lay my seat back to sleep) and I made our way back to Oregon for an almost month-long stay at Dunbar Farms, a small, family owned, organic farm in Medford. I found the opportunity through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and, after a few phone calls, submitting my resume and waiting for references to be checked, I was invited to come out and get my hands in the dirt. And boy, have I.

I might not be a farmer, yet. In fact, I know I’m not. I get days off. I sometimes get to sleep in. If I don’t feel well, I can text my boss (the actual farmer) and let him know I’ll join the crew at 9am instead of 630am. An actual farmer gets to do none of those things. This farm is a living thing, and it doesn’t take, or give, a day off. Not really.

That’s one of the things I’ve learned. People don’t farm like this (organic, sustainable, in the rhythm that nature sets) because they want to become rich, or famous, or powerful. They do it because it’s in their DNA. I’ll tell you more about the folks who run Dunbar Farms in a future post, but suffice it to say, this beautiful spot in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is a labor of love.

Mondays and Fridays here are harvest days, so they’re our busiest, longest days. We get to work harvesting at 630 in the morning. On Monday, we’re fulfilling wholesale orders for local restaurants and other commercial customers. On Friday, we handle CSA orders. On either, or both of those days, we’re also stocking the farm’s “honor barn.” They have a farm stand on the property, which carries everything from greens, to flours made from the farm’s wheat and corn, to dried beans and popcorn. It’s open 24/7, so locals can stop by at their convenience, grab what they need, and leave cash or a check in the cash box up front. On their honor. It’s amazing and kinda beautiful that it works out that way.

After we harvest, we bring everything back to the clean room to be washed, dried, bagged, weighed, and labeled. Commercial orders are delivered on Tuesdays. CSA orders are picked up Friday afternoon, and customers are encouraged to stay for a minute and enjoy a glass of wine, also made here at Dunbar under the Rocky Knoll label.

On the other days, we do things like thinning the carrot patch, which involves laying down at ground level so we can get up close and personal with the soil to thin out carrot starts and pull the tiniest of weeds before they have a chance to lay down a root system that could choke off the main crop; or pulling last year’s left over potato sprouts (and more weeds) out of this year’s onion fields.

It’s hard work, but not too hard, and quite honestly, pretty satisfying.

As I mentioned, Dunbar Farms grows beans, among other things, and one of the first things I got my hands on to cook was some of their black beans. I know black bean soup isn’t revolutionary, but I wanted to share the recipe I used to make the version that’s been serving as the main part of my dinner almost every night since I got here. It’s super easy, requires only a handful of budget friendly ingredients, and, paired with a pile of lightly dressed greens, serves as a pretty great post-harvest day supper. This recipe makes about four servings.

Equipment:
4 qt sauce pot
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups
Stick blender, stand blender, or hand masher, whichever is available
Spoon for stirring

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups dried black beans, soaked in water overnight, drained
1/2 a large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup of your favorite salsa
Salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you’d like, to taste

Cook the beans, onions, carrots, garlic, and thyme with enough water to cover by about 2 inches at a low boil for about an hour, or until the beans are cooked through. You may need to add a bit more water over the course of the cooking time to ensure the pot does not boil dry.

Pull out the thyme stems and discard. Reserve one cup of the cooked beans and veggies if you like to keep a little texture in your soup, like I do. If you’re using a stick blender, you can puree remaining beans and veg with the liquid right there in the pot. If you’re using a mixer, blend the remaining beans/veg/liquid in two batches until it reaches your desired consistency. If you’re using a masher, just mash away until, again, it reaches the consistency you like. You can add a little more water or some veggie stock as needed at any point to thin out the soup to your liking.

Add the reserved beans/veggies back into the pureed soup at this point, as well as the 1/4 cup of salsa, then season as you wish. We didn’t have much in the kitchen when I got here, but the tomatillo salsa I used provided a lot of great flavor so other than salt, mine didn’t need much. Cumin, chile powder, and/or fresh jalapeno would be nice additions, as well.

This soup holds well as leftovers, although it will thicken up in the fridge. At that point, you can pretend it’s bean hummus and eat it with pita or chips, or add more liquid to soup it up again.

Enjoy!