#grindyourown

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Last year, during a beautiful moment of cosmically-aligned kismet, a group of ladies and I were able to host a few gatherings at my house in St. Louis,  dubbed the Kitchen Speakeasy. I know, I know, It’s a pretty hipster name – but I really did capture the nature of this culinary market. These markets consisted of a few very old friends, some recent acquaintances, and brand new friends (which were, by the way, all women) and we sold things from jams and jellies to house-cured bacon to the most heavenly granola.

It was a few months of blissful, lady charged, culinary goodness. People wandered in, sampled goodies, and left with a bag of the finest South City kitchens had to offer. We felt fueled by each other, spending much of the day swapping kitchen war stories or tips on how to make yogurt or how to get that perfect color of hot sauce. Not to mention the feeling of pretty much selling out of product at every market. This band of fiery culinaristas could not be STOPPED.

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Our homemade goodness would stick it to the man! It would change the world! It would bring about revolution!! Our Wild Cultured Yogurt and butcher paper wrapped English Bacon would cause people to rethink the grocery store, rethink their buying power, rethink their food life.

Our small batch Lime Honey Mint Butter and Fresh Wheatberries had brought us to the food promised land, a place where Balsamic Strawberries or Vermouth Mustard could illicit smiles and blissful moments. A place where our Bourbon and Strawberry Jam could be appreciated. Our hard work could be seen, shared, sold, and traded. A place where we could live forever!

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hot sass

orange wiz

But, alas, even after all the dramatic thinking – it did end. Not for any reason really, just sorta fizzled out. We all had shit to do. But the Kitchen Speakeasy is actually not the point of this blog post. It was just a stage set for one of the many things I learned from these smart ladies: you can totally grind your own wheat.

Now, I’m not saying “If you go buy a big bulky expensive grinder, and some fancy ingredients – you can grind you own wheat.” I mean to say, if you have a coffee grinder and some wheat berries – You Can Grind Your Own Wheat. This all started when I got a big bag of organic wheatberries from Amanda at Moonlight Farm.

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I was ever so grateful to have another grain in my pantry, but I have to admit I get a little sick of wheatberry salad. The wheatberries just never get soft enough and that pop and crunch of a boiled wheatberry is only to be enjoyed every once in a while. I might, being the truth-sayer that I tend towards, have said this to Amanda. Luckily she found no offense in my rude remark and instead simply said, “Just grind them into flour.”

What?! WHAT!?!

Like the holy grail!? Fresh milled flour!?! In my kitchen!?! IMG_2079

Yes. As easy as that. Take the wheatberries, put them in a coffee grinder, and go. FRESH MILLED FLOUR.

 

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The flour is pretty much perfect. I have used it from yeast breads to quick breads to crackers and it adds a beautiful fresh and sweet flavor, not to mention a great texture. Why does it matter, you ask?! Fresh milled, who cares!!

Well, my dearies, here is a little info about fresh ground whole wheat flour from the owner of Moonlight Farm herself, Amanda:

Before we get to specifics, let me just say that fresh-ground flour was a bit of a revelation for me. I have always hated whole wheat pastry…to the point of causing a severe case of pastry-rage at times. Pastry should be buttery, flakey, cakey, moist, chewy, and several other desirable things…but wheaty and bran-y it should neverevereverever be. I hated that *tang* that whole wheat flour seemed to impart to my beloved baked goods.

But, then, I married a wheat farmer and discovered what freshly ground flour truly tastes like. I had no idea that the whole wheat flour on the shelves at the store was all at least slightly rancid (not in a dangerous way, mind you…). I didn’t know the oils in the wheat itself had such a short shelf life! Using fresh-ground flour in your recipes will, indeed, give them a bit more heft (and health) – but it does not have to take away or impede that sweetness we expect from our baked goods. The oils are fresh and mild, the wheat is nutty and delicious. It’s a win-win.

Her advice on grinding:

We currently use a Kitchenaid stainless steel coffee grinder (saving up for a countertop grain mill has taken us a bit longer than anticipated…but…for small amounts at a time, it’ll do). We bought our model at Target and it has been our favorite so far – the best part being the removable stainless grinder cup. Much easier to get all the good stuff out and much easier to clean.

Every coffee grinder has a max amount of time it should be used (if it doesn’t have an automatic shut-off), so please pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your grinder starts to get seriously heated, stop and give it a 20 to 30 minute rest. Once again, for small amounts, this shouldn’t be a problem.

We fill the grinder about 2/3 up to the max fill line and grind away. We usually do two or three 10-12 second grinds per fill. Once you have the amount you need, you can do one of two things – go happily about making your recipe, or, sift out a bit of bran and re-grind for finer flour. You can just use a fine-mesh sieve and sift the flour, pushing and rolling the flour around a bit. Just sifting can give you a finer/less bran-y flour, so you may not even need to re-grind. Now you have fresh flour. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge to keep fresh. If it’s used within a week, you will still be able to enjoy that fresh-ground taste!

She also shared a great recipe with us, for her most delicious Honey Whole Wheat Shortbread!

This shortbread is THE most versatile shortbread. Ever. There is nothing this little buttery golden round cannot do. Need breakfast? Eat it plain, butter it, or jam it. Need bread for soup? Totally works. Craving a melty savory snack? Throw on some roasted ham and your cheese of choice and broil and happy days are here again.

1/2 c FRESH GROUND whole wheat flour

1/2 c unbleached white flour

2/3 c (5.5 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 c honey (local honey is perfect, but this is an excellent time to experiment with different varieties, as the flavor really shines here)

1/2 tsp kosher salt

 

*Parchment line and butter an 8 inch round cake pan or spring-form

*Pre-heat oven to 325 F

*Mix flours and salt in a small bowl until well combined.

*Cream butter and honey in a mixer or by hand until light and fluffy.

*Add flour to butter to create an even mixture. This doesn’t take long at all, so don’t overdo the mixing.

*Using a silicone spatula, plop and spread dough evenly in your pan.

*Prick dough all over with a fork. (if your fork is sticking/pulling the dough too much – dip it in some flour between pokes)

*Bake for about 25-30 minutes.

You’re looking for a nice slightly puffed golden brown and a heavenly honeybutter smell. It will still seem a bit soft and cakey, but it will get denser as it cools. Invert on a plate or board after it’s cooled for about 10-12 minutes. You may find you want a softer or more crumbly consistency – just bake for a shorter or longer amount of time until you find your perfect texture. Cut into wedges and enjoy. Tightly wrapped, this will keep on your counter for 2-3 days, in the fridge for a week, and in the freezer for 2-3 months.

So there you are. One more way to make your kitchen a culinary wonderland. Enjoy and keep cooking!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Fat. The building block of cooking and flavor.

You can’t stay away from it – fat is a basic in cooking. Unless you want to spend you life eating steamed vegetables, you have to figure out what kind of fat to use and when.

Questions about cooking oils are probably the most common in my cooking classes. Everyone seems to be mystified by what is healthy, safe, and when to use what where. We are daily bombarded with the newest, greatest, healthiest, most sustainable oil out there. Just as often we are told, “what we told you yesterday was wrong, actually that oil you were using is awful for you.” You can find conflicting scientific information on just about every form of cooking fat, from Olive Oil to Margarine.  How the hell are you supposed to tell which is best for you?

With so much contradictory information my general fall back is two things, (1) do what humans have been doing for a long time and (2) think about the quality of my ingredient.

(1) Humans have been cooking for about 2 million years, using olive oil for about the last 4,000 and cooking with lard since prehistoric times. These are just a few examples, but my point is: if it’s new (i.e. canola, vegetable oil, or crisco) I tend to stay away from it.

(2) Ok, so if people have been cooking with olive oil for a long, long time – it must be great to use. Well, yes, mostly. The problem with modern olive oil, especially after becoming EXTREMELY popular in this country over the last 20 years or so, is that it is ultra refined (using all kinds of gnarly chemicals), illegally cut with other questionable oils, and/or old and rancid. So, yes, the Romans stayed beautiful and smart and thin with the use of olive oil, but, no, it is not the same stuff you can buy in a 14oz green glass bottle on the shelf at your neighborhood Shop ‘n’ Mart. Doesn’t matter how “good” an oil/fat is for you if it is of terrible quality and stripped of it’s nutritional value.

 

The Basics of Cooking Fats

There are a few basic things that I think modern science has been able to pinpoint and this is information you can use wisely: the science of saturation.

Unsaturated fats, like olive, fish, flax, most nut, peanut, and sesame seed oils, are actually good for you and the functionings of your body. In moderation.

Saturated fats, this includes all animal fats, coconut, and palm oil, are being proven not to be “bad” for you, but not as good as the other stuff. Just like all things, in moderation.

Trans fats, the demon child of the scientific community and the fast food industry, includes anything hydrogenated. Hydrogenation is a process in which hydrogen is introduced to the heated fat to make it more stable and less likely to spoil. The most famous trans fat is margarine, but most trans fats are hidden in your processed or fast food – in the form of deep fryer oil or just about any added fat to processed frozen meals, boxed treats, or even your ice cream. (Learn how to spot them here.)

 

What I Use

Grapeseed Oil – this is one of my high heat, unsaturated fats I use for general cooking

Organic Peanut Oil – what I use for frying (mostly chicken)

Todd Geisert’s Lard – truly well sourced good fat, from the happy pigs at Todd’s farm in Washington, Missouri (it is FULL of Vitamin D)

Bacon Grease from Happy Pigs – I buy whatever free-range/pasture raised/no antibiotic/no hormone bacon I can get my hands on and then collect all the oil from the pan after cooking it, bacon grease is a wonderful and stable oil that sits in a jar by my stove and is virtually free

Organic Coconut Oil – generally I use this for my hair (I have dry curly hair) or for oil pulling, but I will find myself using it for a variety of reasons – from baking to searing to granola making

Organic Butter from Pastured Cows – it’s expensive, but butter is a luxury item and should be treated as such

 

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coconut oil

 

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bacon grease

 

I hope this helps shed a little light on this dark and confusing subject.

Sprouts: A little life in the dark days

I have taught a few Raw Foods classes over the years, though I would not call myself an expert, I have done some research on this subject. One of the things that almost always gets people to sign up for my classes is Sprouting! Lentils Sprouting seems to hold an intense fascination with people today, and I completely understand. To me it sort of fulfills that human desire to create, to watch things grow. Since most of us have a million excuses not to actually grow our own vegetables, we can at least sprout some lovely shoots on our kitchen counter with little to no effort in a matter of days.

Instant gratification. Fresh Food. Micro Farming.

I find myself doing most of my sprouting in the days of winter – when sunlight and fresh food is scarce. The ground is frozen and the sky is slate gray, but my little sprouting trays are teeming with life.

Separating my sprouting into two different types makes my brain a little happier, as I like to sprout some from (A) and some (B) at the same time (in different containers) so that I have sprouts to munch on and sprouts to cook with. (These are just a few of my favorites out of 100’s of things to sprout.)

Sprouts that I can eat whole and raw (A) and Sprouts that have to be cooked or the seed removed (B).

(A) group includes thing like Flax, Wheat and Rye Berries, Radish, Broccoli, Cabbage, Alfalfa, Almonds, Black Sesame

(B) group includes things like Sunflower Seeds, Mung Beans, Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Lentils, Brown Rice

Sprouts are incredibly easy to grow – you can honestly use a wet paper towel (like the experiment you did in grade school, remember)! But here are few methods that most people prefer (click photos and link to the site they are from):

Jars with cloth or net over the top.  (click photo to find site this photo is from)

Jars with cloth or net over the top.

Hemp Bags

Hemp Bags.

Or my preferred method: Sprouting Tower with Trays!!

Or my preferred method: Sprouting Tower with Trays!!

This sprouting tower basically just “fills itself” – I pour water in the top (the top is the white tray on the left) and it fills and then empties into the next tray by the use of the magical force of gravity, and repeat on each level until all the excess water is trapped in the last tray until I empty it. The ridges on the bottom of each tray ensures that the seeds remain moist but not too wet.

Recently I sprouted flax seeds, black lentils. and wheat berries,

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Day Two Wheat Berries

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Day Two Flax Seeds

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Day Two Black Lentils

that just kept growing.

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Day Three Wheat Berries

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Day Three Flax Seeds

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Day Three Black Lentils

AND SOME WOULDN’T STOP!

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The science and nutrition around sprouting is quite simple (and a super old practice). First of all seeds (and this includes nuts, beans, legumes, and grains) are routinely eaten in their whole or ground form – but you are actually missing a lot of the nutrition that is contained within these little things. Since seeds carry around the beginnings of new life, they store huge amounts of highly concentrated nutrition to help a little sprout start and make it into the ground – where it can begin to draw nutrients from the soil. This “highly concentrated nutrition” is actually protected by carbohydrates and insoluble fiber, to basically make it harder for others to access and easier for the seed to “sleep”. With the process of sprouting, or waking the seed from nutritional hibernation, you jump-start a reaction in the seed that (a) begins photosynthesis, (b) enzymes begin to metabolize the carbs and fiber to gain access to the more nutritious amino acids, proteins, minerals, and vitamins, and (c) causes the seed to start to grow.

It’s an ingenious plan of nature to make these plant babies so self-sufficient, simply carrying its first few days worth of food around with it. And to get at that wonderful nutritive food is easy! Easy as stealing candy from a baby, a baby sprout plant that thinks it is going to use all that energy and nutrition to grow into a plant.

To wake these seeds up you need two things…come on! think back….fifth grade science class…..Water and Light! The correct balance is the only hurdle to jump. Too wet and you get moldy seeds. Too dry and they don’t sprout. Too much light and they fry. Too little light and they won’t crack. Generally I find, for the light – especially in the winter – that on the kitchen counter is light enough. Assuming your kitchen isn’t in an underground bunker.

Water, on the other hand, is a bit trickier. Really you just want your seed moist, but not wet – and certainly not soaking in a pool of water. It is best to moisten them twice a day.

Well, ok now – Get To Sprouting!!! and look out for my post on what to do with all the sprouts you now have!

(The first photo in this post was borrowed from this blog: http://www.insonnetskitchen.com/sprouted-lentils/ )