Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kitchen Counter Local

When people talk local foods they have many definitions: 250 miles, 100 miles, metro and surrounding countryside, maybe even their own garden. But what about in your own kitchen. What possibly could be there for you to harvest and eat? YEAST! Yes, that critical ingredient for bread and beer can be found in the air everywhere, including your own house. You too can grow your own with very minimal effort. Here is the basic gist.
  1. Make a yeast food mixture of half whole wheat and half regular flour.
  2. Take a medium bowl (large cereal bowl should do it) and add about a half-cup or so of your blend to the bowl. Add some tepid water to make a loose dough.
  3. Cover the bowl with a thin kitchen towel or some cheese cloth and let it sit for 3 days.
  4. Remove the towel and remove half. Feed your yeast another 1/2 cup of 'food', and water to make the same consistency. Cover, wait 2 days.
  5. Continue to remove half and feed and water daily. The yeast will grow and shrink predictably at some point. This is good behavior. If you forget to feed your 'yeast pet', it will forgive you if you get back into good habits again.
To use your yeast you can follow the recipe below to make some of the most delicious, complex, and filling breads I've ever eaten. A little dense, but wonderful. The recipe makes three small loaves, so I froze the other two. Bread making takes about a day, but it only requires that you be around for that day to monitor the situation periodically. Yeast pets and their breads are not nearly as demanding as dogs. Feed and water your yeast pet the night before bread day. 5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour 2 3/4 cups regular flour 3 cups + 1 T warm water 2 T + 1 t salt 2 T yeast
  1. Add the water to a big mixing bowl.
  2. Add in yeast and stir to dissolve. Floating yeast is good behavior, but it will work if it doesn't float.
  3. Add in the flours. Mix with hands until there is no dry flour, this is messy business.
  4. Let the dough rest for 20-40 minutes.
  5. Add in the salt and incorporate by dipping hands in water and folding the dough on top of itself until the salt dissolves into the dough.
  6. Let the dough rise 3-4 hours in a warm place, turning the dough over onto itself 12 times every half-hour.
  7. After this rising period portion the dough into 3 pieces and shape it into fat, round discs. Allow them to rise for 3-4 hours.
  8. Preheat the oven and a round casserole dish with lid to 500 degrees.
  9. Carefully flip a loaf into the preheated casserole dish, lid it, put it into oven.
  10. Turn oven down to 470 degrees and bake for 20 minutes.
  11. Remove the lid and bake for 20-25 minutes until deep golden brown.
  12. Remove bread to a towel to cool.
  13. Wipe out the casserole dish and repeat the baking for the other loaves...including preheating the oven and dish/lid to 500 degrees.
Enjoy your new 'yeast pet' and the lovely gifts it gives you!

Can Do!

If you are going to eat local...eventually you will want tomatoes in the winter, something sweet for your toast, and more. Luckily, you can find good quality canned and frozen foods that are local in Portland, just go to New Seasons Market or somewhere like it. However, that stuff is a little too expensive for my tiny budget. So what to do? Can it yourself. This year I have canned a lot of foods for the year ahead: 19 quarts of tomatoes, 8 quarts of beets, ~30 1/2 pints of jam of various flavors (mostly blackberry that I can pick just about anywhere in this city for free), and ~10 1/2 pints of of tuna. Maybe next year I'll add some dill pickles to my list. Canning is serious business, and if you are thinking about it I recommend you get the 'bible' of canning and follow it's instructions and recipes (for canning practically anything)...the Ball Blue book, which can be purchased on their website for just $6. You certainly don't want to poison yourself or your loved ones by improper technique. Upfront costs of canning are sort of high. You're buying a lot of produce, e.g. my two boxes of tomatoes cost around $50. You need at least two big pots, I prefer to use my pressure cooker for the jar processing, I can use it as a water bath canner as well as a pressure canner. Low acid foods and meats must be pressure canned. And you need jars and some spare lids. The good news is jars and the canner/pots will be re-used again and again so those are one-time expenses...unless you increase production next year and get more jars; you will need to get new lids next year. A jar lifter and little lid magnet stick are also great helps. When I was just doing jam I used tongs and a big pot and it worked just fine...but it was sort of dangerous. The good news is once your operation is set up, your ready to go every year. The food costs are high, but much lower than what you'd pay for the same thing in the store. I see quality local jams at farm stands for $8 a pop...and I'm spending $25 on some strawberries to make 8-10 of the same, so the savings add up to around $30-40 over the year...depending on how much you spent on the sugar and pectin. And then there's the 'love' component. I mean, there is nothing as good as raiding your own reserves, or you gram's or mom's. The love is there, and you can't eat that from any store local or otherwise. The final drawback of canning is the reason this post is a bit less optimistic than most...the time component. Being a chiropractic student not only is my financial budget tight, but so is the time availability. Every canning experience this year, besides the jam, has cut into precious weekend time. I always underestimate when to start and ultimately decide that after a luxuriously lazy morning would be best. This results in very late nights in my kitchen. Not one of my summer/fall projects did I start before noon, and not one of those nights did I get to bed before 1:30 AM. The reality is that I only got to bed then last night because my boyfriend took pity on me and helped out at the end, most nights were until 3:00AM. I'm exhausted! I know this will all pay off in the end though. It already is. I have used the tuna, the tomatoes, the jam all before now; the beets will be pickled and ready for consumption on Christmas Day. The canner is being cleaned and put away in the closet and so are the beets this Halloween. No effort is ever wasted. Here's hoping that my efforts will inspire your own, and this year will be tastier and lighter on my checking account!