Posts Tagged With: Cook

Autumn Recipes: S’mores! (Whole Wheat Graham Crackers and Marshmallows)

On the Importance of Excavation

The perfect place to ponder kitchen excavation!

The perfect place to ponder kitchen excavation!

Over the past week I’ve started developing the habit of taking  walks through the surrounding forest as a starting point for self-improvement. While on these walks, in addition to admiring the rising sun and accidentally startling  families of deer, I’ve found copious time to simply think and reflect (something that is alarmingly difficult to do in front of a computer screen). Particularly, I’ve been meditating on why I believe the excavation of skills, techniques, and recipes of the ancients is a worthwhile pursuit, and I thought I’d share my conclusions with you. Before we begin, I must warn you: today’s discussion involves more human than culinary history, so if you’d like to simply jump down to this weekend’s recipes at the bottom of this post, certainly feel free. And, never fear, food history lovers,  I’ll be posting the mucilaginous history of the marshmallow (and perhaps even a bonus recipe!) around this time tomorrow!

At our outset, humans, as far as we can tell, did not spend their free time in the way we typically do today (consuming entertainment for personal pleasure). Instead, our ancestors began their day by foraging (or farming, after the great agricultural switch around 10,000 BCE); and, only when enough food was gathered, would they engage in a host of other, beneficial activities. Storytelling (then writing), playing music, creating artwork and dyes, preparing and cooking food, making medicine, and engaging in active games and sports dominated the leisure time of these peoples. However, as civilizations and technology advanced, a new brand of “empty,” entertainment-fueled free time began creeping into the modern lifestyle. This emptiness, particularly for women, reached a fever pitch in the Victorian Age of England, where the goal of civilization became the expanse of pointless leisure. From the accounts written during this time, rampant boredom and “melancholy” took hold of these prosperous, yet idle individuals, causing great mental illness and unrest (for a devastatingly powerful, semi-autobiographical look into this topic, I cannot recommend Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” highly enough).

It would seem, then, that we are not wired to be idle creatures; but, instead, to feel the most satisfaction in life, we require creative, constructive actions to supplement our work. On my morning travels, I’ve returned to the conclusion that to recapture the purposeful living of the ancients, we need to reclaim some ancient activities and skills in order to make our free time more meaningful and fulfilling. And this is why I’ve chosen to showcase two recipes that most of us have probably never made ourselves (I know I hadn’t!), yet are complexly interwoven into our modern collective culinary consciousness in the form of the gooey and delicious fireside treat: the s’more. So, instead of buying a bag of marshmallows for your next bonfire, try making a batch yourself-it’s surprisingly easy to do!

100% Whole Wheat Graham Crackers

 

Crunchy, whole wheat graham crackers with a hint of spice!

Crunchy, whole wheat graham crackers with a hint of spice!

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour (all purpose flour works just as well)
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup room-temperature unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • (Optional) Raw sugar for topping

Directions

  1. Whisk together flours, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the sugars and butter together until light and fluffy (around 3 minutes). Add half of the dry ingredients and a 1/4 cup of water and beat slowly for 30 seconds. Repeat, and then knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for several seconds until fully combined.
  3. Divide dough in half and wrap one half in plastic wrap.
  4. Roll the other half of the dough between two sheets of parchment paper until very thin and even (around 1/8″ thick). Repeat with the rest of the dough, and refrigerate both for 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C
  6. When the dough has finished chilling, cut into desired shapes and sizes and place on parchment-lined baking sheets (I only had a round cookie cutter on hand, hence my non-traditional looking crackers). Sprinkle with raw sugar.
  7. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are a dark golden brown. Let cool completely on wire racks before enjoying!

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Homemade Marshmallows

 

Homemade marshmallows, sweet and squishy-no corn syrup required!

Homemade marshmallows, sweet and squishy-no corn syrup required!

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons agar-agar powder (or 2 packets/2 Tablespoons of traditional gelatin)
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • powdered sugar

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, soak agar-agar or gelatin in cold water and set aside.
  2. Combine granulated sugar and 1/2 cup water in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until fully dissolved (the syrup will no longer be gritty when fully dissolved)
  3. Stir in agar-agar or gelatin and bring mixture to a boil.
  4. Remove from heat and pour into a large bowl to cool.
  5. When mixture is partially cool, add salt and vanilla extract. Using your electric mixer, beat for 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and has doubled in volume.
  6. Pour fluffed mixture into a 9×9 pan that has been coated in powder sugar.
  7. Allow to cool for 2 – 3 hours, or until the marshmallow is no longer sticky to the touch.
  8. Cut into desired sizes and roll in powdered sugar.
  9. Enjoy a reclaimed bite of confectionary history!
Melty, chocolatey, deliciousness: the s'more.

Melty, chocolatey deliciousness: the s’more.

Now, to finish off your s’more, you’ll need to employ a truly ancient form of cooking: the open flame! So, grab some friends, start a fire (responsibly), and roast a few marshmallows that you can proudly claim as your own! And, if you’re unable to have a fire outside, you can always huddle up around the oven to roast some indoor s’mores!
For a truly homemade s’more, we’ll have to dig up the ancient art of chocolateiring, but I think that’s a topic for another time!

As always, thanks for stopping by the dig! Be sure to check back tomorrow for some more food-focused history, as well as a spicy drink recipe that pairs perfectly with homemade marshmallows!

Keep digging!
~Nate

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Categories: Autumn Recipes, Baking, History, Odds and Ends, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Autumn Recipes: Crustless Spinach and Mushroom Quiche

The Search for Spinach

After last Saturday’s chard-infused recipe, I was inspired to find a use for spinach, another of my favorite dark green, fall crops for this week’s breakfast excavation. Unfortunately, though, I failed to plant a second crop of spinach in time before the winter frosts began whispering across our lawn. So, I was forced to look elsewhere for my main ingredient!

localharvest.org

Local Harvest: An incredible resource for finding truly beneficial produce for your family’s cooking!

Now, what the spinach industry doesn’t want you to know, is that even when refrigerated, spinach only holds its nutritional value for a single week (cooked, frozen spinach, if processed in time sidesteps this timeframe). With modern demand and subsequent shipping requirements, this means that the sparkling green spinach leaves that greet you at your local supermarket are already well on their way to being nutritionally neutral: certainly not bad for you, but not all that great for you either! This dilemma highlights one of the reasons I find local, seasonal eating to be so very important: finding fresh produce from farms near you can guarantee the best nutrition for you and your family. But, like many people I know and talk to, I didn’t know where to find a local market, store, or stand that would have fresh greens for me to use.

You won't find good company like this in your supermarket's produce section!

You won’t find friends like this in your typical produce section!

However, I did come across a website that can help those of us in the US find the closest, freshest produce that’s been harvested seasonally: localharvest.org. Using this resource, I was able to locate a farm store that, thankfully, had all of the spinach I needed for this week’s quiche (and, I got to meet a few cows along the way)!

With the ingredients finally sorted, on to our recipe! In the interest of full disclosure, this quiche is missing a few key components (a crust and smoked bacon) to truly be considered a “quiche lorraine,” the French matriarch of modern quiches dating back to 1588. But, I think our interpretation is perfectly acceptable, especially because the origins of quiche (originally “kuchen”) are actually German, not French!

Crustless Spinach and Mushroom Quiche

A modern take on the 16th century classic quiche!

A modern take on the classic, 16th century quiche!

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs fresh spinach (or a 10 ounce box of frozen, cooked spinach, thawed)
  • 8 ounces of fresh mushrooms
  • 2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 3/4 cups mozzarella
  • salt and pepper

Directions

If you’re using frozen, cooked spinach, skip to step four!

  1. Remove stems from spinach leaves and cut/tear into small pieces. Wash leaves to remove any dirt or debris and pat dry.
  2. Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan on medium heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic to oil and cook for one minute.
  3. Add washed spinach to the pan and toss to coat in oil and garlic. Cover the pan and cook for one minute. Uncover and stir the spinach. Replace the lid on your pan and cook for one more minute. After approximately two minutes of covered cooking, your spinach should be fully wilted.
  4. Transfer cooked spinach (either fresh or frozen) to a small mixing bowl and set aside.
  5. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C.
  6. Rinse the dirt off of your mushrooms and slice thinly. Place your sliced mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, and a dash of salt and pepper in the frying pan you used for the spinach. Add the remaining one teaspoon of oil to the pan and mix all ingredients until coated evenly.
  7. Saute the mushrooms on medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes, or until there is no water left at the bottom of the pan. When your mushrooms have finished cooking, add them to the mixing bowl with the cooked spinach.
  8. Stir 1/4 cup of feta cheese into the mushroom and spinach mixture until well distributed.
  9. Grease a pie plate with olive oil and spread the mushroom, spinach, and feta evenly across the bottom of the dish.
  10. In a medium bowl, whisk the four eggs, milk, and grated parmesan cheese together until smooth. Pour this mixture over the spinach and mushrooms and sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top of the raw quiche.
  11. Cook quiche in preheated oven for 50 minutes – 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown.
  12. Enjoy your homemade, seasonal quiche hot or cold for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

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As always, thanks for stopping by the dig site! Be sure to stop by this Saturday for a fireside recipe that can warm even the chilliest soul!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Autumn Recipes, Breakfast, Cooking | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Autumn Recipes: Swiss Chard and Spaghetti Squash Salad

An Autumn Recipe from an Amalgam of Autumnal Ingredients

Our Miniature Forest of Swiss Chard

Our Miniature Forest of Swiss Chard

Even though autumn is, without question, my favorite season, seeing a green world ignite and leave behind charred trunks and stems is certainly bittersweet. And, as a gardener, witnessing the microcosm of nature that you’ve nurtured from seed to fruit wither back into hibernation can be truly moving. However, one patch of radiant swiss chard still stands tall in our small garden, sheltered beneath the drying dill and perched over the remnants of lighter greens.

If you’ve stopped by the dig before, you know that I try to orient my recipes and eating around what’s in season; so, in keeping with this trend, I thought I’d try a recipe that I found quite some time ago which pulls ingredients straight out of autumn’s larder: chard, squash, and cranberries!

Swiss Chard and Spaghetti Squash Salad with Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

Ingredients

Enjoy a salad bursting with fresh, autumn ingredients!

Enjoy a salad bursting with fresh, autumn ingredients!

  • 1 Spaghetti Squash (roughly 3 pounds)
  • 6 large leaves of swiss chard
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons wine vinegar (white or red)
  • 1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F / 190 C
  2. Pierce the spaghetti squash several times with a sharp knife and place on a baking sheet. Bake your squash in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, then turn the squash over and continue baking for 30 more minutes.
  3. When you have cooked the squash for 1 hour, let it cool for ten minutes before handling.
  4. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Using a fork, scrape away the flesh of the squash and place the noodle-like strands in a medium sized bowl (see pictures below). Let cool completely.
  5. To prepare the swiss chard, wash your leaves and cut the leaves away from the stems, then roughly cut (or tear) the leaves.
  6. Pour the 1/2 teaspoon of oil in a large skillet and warm on medium-high heat.
  7. Add the chard to the skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the chard has reduced and darkened (see pictures below).
  8. To make the dressing, place the dijon mustard in a small bowl and slowly whisk in the olive oil.
  9. When the oil and mustard are combined, stir in the wine vinegar, along with salt and pepper to your liking.
  10. To finish this autumn recipe, just stir the chard, cranberries, and dressing into the cooled squash and enjoy!

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As always, thanks for stopping by the dig for this saturday’s excavation into autumn ingredients! Be sure to join us again on Tuesday for a seasonal twist on a famous French tradition!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Autumn Recipes, Cooking, Odds and Ends | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Breaking Ground and Breaking Bread: A Tradition 30,000 Years in the Making

As this is our first expedition into the excavation of food and cooking, I thought it best to build our foundation on what might be considered the cornerstone of true baking as we know it. Often cited as the most frequently eaten food item in nearly every culture (both modern and ancient), bread has long established itself as a true necessity in every kitchen. But for all the credit we give to this versatile, delicious, and (when prepared well) soul-satisfying food-staple, I believe most of us (myself included) take bread’s journey for granted. For when we look deeper at bread’s history, the lovable loaf becomes far more interesting than the sum of its ingredients.

The Lore of the Loaf

While it may seem as though bread simply appears on our grocery store shelves every week, our modern method of seemingly instant and reliable bread production belies the accidental and unpredictable origins that faced the pre-historic loaf.
Bread’s beginnings, while difficult to solidly determine, seem to reside in the middle of the Upper

An artist's depiction of the Red Lady of Paviland being coated in red ochre.

An artist’s depiction of the Red Lady of Paviland being coated in red ochre.

Paleolithic age in Europe, roughly 30,000 years ago. While culture and civilization as we know it had not been fully derived by this time, people groups were beginning to develop unique identities. Ceramics adorned with artwork, cave paintings, and the use of dyes (notably used in the creation of the Red Lady of Paviland, a near-complete human skeleton ceremoniously dyed with red ochre) all seem to stem from this time period; and, most important for the inception of bread, cooking on heated stones finally came into vogue during this era. No longer did Paleolithic men and women have to subsist on raw grain and water gruel, but, with the application of their revolutionary cooking technology, they were able to enjoy the first steaming morsels of unleavened flatbread. With portable bread in hand, this discovery exploded across the ancient world, giving rise to many of our modern flatbreads (tortillas, pitas, and naan, just to name a few).

Bread’s Rise

But how did bread grow from flat discs into the fluffy, rounded loaves we know today? The answer to this question baffled pre-modern man for over 20,000 years, as the means to attaining yeast, the microbial agent that “puffs up” our modern bread, would require not just a mastery over fire, but the control of the winds themselves.

Pictorial account of ancient Egyptian breadmaking

Pictorial account of ancient Egyptian bread making

Although you might not be aware of it, you’re currently surrounded by the very yeast particles needed to create a satisfyingly airy loaf of bread. The trick to creating that loaf, however, is in capturing and controlling that yeast (a wildly unpredictable process that I hope to showcase in a future excavation). Historians suggest that yeast could have been used in the ancient world, if only by accident. While yeast may have wandered into the bread dough being prepared for the fire, the true, intentional use of yeast falls to the Egyptians. Because the ancient Egyptians (around 5,000 years ago) left behind preserved food stores, scientists have been able to inspect the air-bubbles left in ancient Egyptian bread: air bubbles that indicate the direct handiwork of tiny yeast organisms. From here, yeast became an integral component in not only the nutrition of modernizing cultures, but also in the sordid side of cultural advancement as well (most notably in the beer and wine making industries). While bread continued to evolve on a small scale as it encountered new cultures and time periods, leavened bread has remained relatively unchanged from antiquity to the present.

So, to celebrate such a time-worn, and ancient practice, my first recipe for today will introduce a simple, yet fulfilling and delicious bread recipe that can form the basis for your own experimentation and advancement of the bread making tradition! I chose to pair flax seeds with this week’s bread, as the use of flax also dates to the Upper Paleolithic: again, roughly 30,000 years ago. Feel free to substitute the flax with the seeds, nuts, or fruits of your choice!

Melding Ancient Practice with Modern Technology: Whole Wheat and Flax Bread Recipe

Complete recipe will make two loaves of bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees F / around 45 C)
  • 2 packs of active dry yeast (roughly 2 Tablespoons)
  • 2/3 cup honey (divided equally into two parts)
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • (Optional) 3 Tablespoons flax seeds
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 – 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • (Optional) 2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

  1. Mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup of honey in a large bowl. Add the bread flour and flax seeds and stir until combined. Place in a warm place for 30 minutes, until the dough has risen (see Before and After #1 at the end of this post)
  2. When the dough has risen, mix in 3 Tablespoons melted butter, the rest of the honey, and the salt. Stir in two cups of wheat flour.
  3. Cover a flat surface with flour and kneed the dough until it’s not real sticky. The dough will pull away from the counter, but still be sticky to the touch. You may have to add additional wheat flour – I usually add an extra 1 to 1 1/2 cups, but this amount varies each time.
  4. Place the dough into a large, greased bowl, and turn the dough until it is covered in oil. Cover the bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled – this typically takes around 1 hour (see Before and After #2).
  5. When the dough has doubled, punch it down and divide it into two loaves. Place loaves into two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Let the dough rise another 10 – 20 minutes until the dough is at least one inch above the edge of the pan (see Before and After #3).
  6. Bake the loaves at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes.
  7. Optional (but highly recommended): Brush the additional 2 Tablespoons of melted butter onto the tops of the loaves to prevent them from hardening.
  8. Let cool completely before slicing.
  9. Enjoy a taste of modern history!

    The Finished Loaf!

    The Finished Loaf!

I truly hope that you’ve enjoyed this first excavation into ancient baking! Stay tuned for the second half of our ground-breaking introduction, which will be a bit more GrecoRoman!

Keep digging!
~Nate


Before and After #1

Before and After #2

Before and After #3

Categories: Baking, Bread, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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