Saturday, February 20, 2010
I have been craving breakfast sausage for over a month. But no matter how badly I wanted that unique combination of spices and greasy meat I just could not bring myself to buy a package of Jimmy Deans. I tried to kill the craving with some hand-crafted Fra'Mani breakfast sausage but while good, they just did not taste like breakfast sausage.
I was getting desperate when I remembered that I'd seen a recipe for breakfast sausage penciled into the end pages of the copy of Putting Food By that I inherited from my husband's grandmother, Marcia.
I thumbed through the cookbook's spattered pages until I reached the sausage recipe and was pleased to find that it was remarkably simple. After a quick Internet search to cross-reference Marcia's recipe with a few others, I felt confident enough to begin.
There were two big surprises in this sausage-making endeavor.
First, it is incredibly easy to make breakfast sausage (I'm talking patties here, not links...casing would add a whole new layer of complexity that seems totally unnecessary and also a little gross.) All you do is chop up some herbs, mix them together with a few spices and some ground pork, form the patties, and fry them up in a nice hot skillet.
Second, marjoram is partly responsible for the taste I associate with classic breakfast sausage - who knew?!
I served these for brunch alongside hash browns and a spinach and scallion scramble. Craving satisfied!
Homemade Breakfast Sausage
* 1 lb of ground pork (use the best pork you can get -- look for something antibiotic and hormone-free, ideally from a smaller, local farm)
* 1 tbsp of fresh sage, chopped
* 2 tsp of fresh marjoram, chopped
* 2 tsp of fresh thyme, chopped
* 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes
* 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper
* 1/4 tsp garlic powder
* 1 tsp of brown sugar or maple syrup
* 1/2 tsp of salt
* 1/2 tsp of black pepper
1. Mix all the ingredients together well (I ended up using my hands as the fork was just not getting me anywhere though you could also use a food processor to really combine everything.)
2. Form the patties and fry over medium heat for 5-6 minutes or until nicely browned, then flip and repeat on the other side.
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Saturday, February 13, 2010
Yesterday, the USDA released new, stricter standards for organic dairy. The rules clarify that organic dairies must be pasture-based (the old rules were rather lax in that regard, merely requiring "access to pasture" that could be interpreted in any number of ways.)
One way we can tell that these rules are heading in the right direction is that Aurora, the mammoth company behind the private label "organic" milk brands sold by Wal-Mart, Safeway, Giant, and Costco, argued forcefully against them...
For more information, you can read the full USDA press release or this recent Grist article on the controversy surrounding the new regulations prior to their release.
For now, I'd still go with the suggestions I outlined in my post on how to choose the best milk.
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Monday, February 8, 2010
Lately, we've been making a lot of pears for our 9-month-old son, Will. We cook them with a little water until they're soft and mix them with oat cereal for his breakfast. He loves them! They strike me as the perfect baby food -- pure and sweet with the loveliest smell -- it's delicate and almost floral.
Watching Will enjoying his pears made me realize that I wanted to enjoy some pears, too. And that brought up memories of a lovely pear bread my good friend Anna used to make when we all lived in Washington, DC. She would invite us up (she lived one floor above us) to her little apartment for a thick slice of this delicious treat, still warm from the oven.
After some research, I decided to go with the Joy of Cooking's recipe though I've made a few minor modifications below to improve the texture a bit as I feel the original version was a little too wet, a bit too sweet, and not quite well enough risen enough for my taste. I am happy to report that my adjustments appear to have fixed all of those issues.
This bread is lovely - subtly redolent of ripe pears, with a nice mix of spices and a pleasant nutty crunch from the pecans. It's delicious plain and decadent toasted and spread with sweet butter or cream cheese. I used Red Anjou pears but any ripe, flavorful pear will do.
As always, I encourage you to use the highest quality organic ingredients you can find/afford.
Lemon Pear Bread With Pecans
Makes One Loaf
* 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
* 3/4 cup sugar
* 1 tsp baking soda
* 1/4 tsp baking powder
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
* 1 1/2 cups grated peeled ripe pears, with juice (you'll need 2-4 pears, depending on their size)
* 1 stick butter, softened or melted (you can also substitute 1/2 cup vegetable oil if you prefer)
* 1 tsp grated ginger (optional)
* 1 large egg
* 1 tsp vanilla
* 1 tsp grated lemon zest
* 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
* 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan and set aside.
2.Whisk the first seven ingredients (all the dry stuff) together well in a medium sized bowl. Then whisk the rest of the ingredients, minus the pecans together in a larger bowl. Fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients in the larger bowl just until the dry ingredients are moistened thoroughly, then stir in the chopped pecans.
3. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and spread it evenly. Bake for one hour to one hour and 15 minutes (this will depend on your oven -- mine only took an hour but the Joy of Cooking recipe says 1:15 - 1:20) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
4. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before removing the bread from the loaf pan and then let cool completely on the rack.
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Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Once I started researching BPA-free products, I learned that this s**t is far more pervasive than I'd previously thought! One major area of concern is the fact that almost all cans are lined with plastic that contains BPA, and there is also BPA in the lining of almost all jar lids, as well. While there is clearly a desperate need for Congressional action on this issue (so please sign my petition!), in the meantime, we can do our best to limit our exposure.
The best way to do that is to buy your beans dry (they're cheaper and better tasting) and make everything from scratch using fresh veggies. However, these more time-consuming options are not always realistic for most of us. So what do we have to work with?
Sadly, our BPA-free options are pretty darn limited at the moment. Hopefully, companies will start to realize that not only is removing toxic substances from their packaging the right thing to do but also a good way to make money since more and more people want BPA-free goods! But here is what is available right now.
Buy your beans from Eden Organics, the only company that currently does not use BPA in the lining of its canned beans or chilis. Here is what they have to say about their cans:
"All 33 Eden Organic Beans including Chili, Rice & Beans, Refried, and Flavored, are cooked in steel cans coated with a baked on oleoresinous c-enamel that does not contain the endocrine disrupter chemical, bisphenol-A (BPA). Oleoresin is a non-toxic mixture of an oil and a resin extracted from various plants, such as pine or balsam fir. These cans cost 14% more than the industry standard cans that do contain BPA. The Ball Corporation tells us that Eden is the only U.S. food maker to date to use these BPA free cans and we have been since April 1999."
Unfortunately, there are currently no BPA-free canned tomatoes available because highly acidic foods like tomatoes apparently require super strong (highly toxic) linings. So even good ol' Eden Organics has been forced to continue using BPA in the linings of its canned tomato products.
However, Pomi uses Tetra Pak packaging for its tomato products and Tetra Pak does not include BPA. Pomi sells chopped and strained tomatoes as well as marinara sauce. Pomi's tomatoes are packaged in Italy so the carbon footprint of these tomatoes is gonna be pretty big. The Tetra Pak packaging also looks to be unrecyclable - two strikes against it in my opinion. I guess we get to pick our poison on this one -- planetary or personal...
Trader Joe's sells a Tetra Pak packaged tomato sauce (which may even be Pomi's marinara in a TJ's box...) and thanks to the magic that is Trader Joe's, they're probably also a good deal cheaper than the Pomi brand. You can also buy a pack of 12 on Amazon for roughly the same price.
So there you have it. Please write in with any other additional info you may have on this topic. And please do sign my petition asking Congress to get off its butt and reform the Toxic Substances Control Act ASAP.
Special thanks to Alicia at the Soft Landing for her great post on BPA-free tomatoes :)
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Monday, February 1, 2010
It's been a while since I've made brunch but now that baby Will takes a nap at roughly the same time every morning, I figured I might be able to pull it off. The key would be preparing the main course ahead of time.
I decided to try out this new recipe that I'd read about on Smitten Kitchen a few weeks ago, in part because it can be assembled up to a day in advance and in part because it looked damn good!
A strata is basically a savory layered bread pudding -- this one is held together by eggs and enriched with spinach, sautéed onions and two kinds of cheese. It comes out of the oven bubbling hot and meltingly delicious. As you're eating it, you will encounter little pockets of various types of yumminess -- a slice or two of soft, sweet onion, an extra gooey patch of Gruyère, a refreshing clump of sautéed spinach leaves...
If any of the strata manages to survive the brunch feeding frenzy, it also reheats well. I used fresh spinach since it's still easy to get in these parts but you can also use frozen without any ill effects, just make sure you wring out all the water. I used the eggs we'd just received from our CSA, Eatwell Farm and encourage you to seek out pasture-raised eggs near you (see my recent post on choosing the best eggs for more info.)
The recipe below is adapted from the February 2003 issue of Gourmet via Epicurious (ach Gourmet, why did you have to leave us???) By the way, I encourage those of you who are mourning the loss of Gourmet like I am to check out Gourmet Unbound, a collaborative blog devoted entirely to cooking and sharing recipes from past issues as a way of keeping the goodness alive.
Spinach & Cheese Strata
* 1 (10-oz) package frozen spinach, thawed
* 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 large)
* 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
* 8 cups cubed (1 inch) French or Italian bread (1/2 lb)
* 6 oz coarsely grated Gruyère (2 cups)
* 2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
* 2 3/4 cups milk
* 9 large eggs
* 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
* 1 Tbsp Worcerstershire sauce
1. If using fresh spinach, wash it thoroughly and dry well. If using frozen, squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then finely chop.
2. Sautée onion in butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in spinach, then remove from heat (if using fresh spinach, continue cooking until the leaves have all wilted.)
3. Spread one third of the bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow ceramic baking dish and top evenly with one third of the spinach mixture. Sprinkle with one third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice (ending with cheeses).
4. Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Chill strata, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 8 hours and up to a full day (to allow time for the bread to absorb the custard).
5. Preheat oven to 350°F. Let the strata stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Bake the strata, uncovered, in the middle of the oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 50 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
A few more recipes you might like:
- Frisee, Apple, Celeriac Salad With Shallot Citrus Dressing & Goat Cheese
- Spinach, Onion, Thyme & Cheese Quiche
- Late Summer Frittata With Sweet Pepper, Tomato, Onion, Basil & Sausage
- Frittata With Chevre, New Potatoes & Fresh Herbs
- Grandpa Joe's Eggs
- Homemade Granola
- Poached Egg Sandwich With Watercress & Shallot