"When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy." That saying has been around the block once or twice. Well, at Winn Sisters Farm, it is said a little differently. If everyone is happy, then so is mama. You see, my husband has given me the title, Director of Happiness. You might ask how one directs happiness and what the job entails. I might ask how I got a job that I didn’t apply for … or did I? Directing happiness has also been called being codependent … which to me, means your happiness depends on the happiness of others. This is a learned behavior and believe me, I was a great student.
My mother was my teacher and the title I would have bestowed upon her was Master of Happiness. She taught me how to love and encourage. One of the best classes she taught was Baking Cinnamon Rolls 101. Cinnamon is amazing. It can trigger memories as soon as its aroma drifts past your nose. Don’t tell anyone, but I put a sprinkle or two in my “regular” white/wheat bread. When you toast it, the faint hint of cinnamon floats softly in the air like dandelion seeds in the wind. Breakfast and ambiance all rolled into one. Ahhhhh … so … back to those cinnamon rolls. Mom would mix up bread dough and proceed to roll it out, spread margarine (I know, I know) and cinnamon/sugar, then roll it back up, position it in a semi-circle on a baking sheet, and slice it every inch or so. It would always bake a little too long because like all moms, she had many tasks going on simultaneously. They would come out of the oven ready for a nice drizzle of glaze. They were delicious and I will forever remember everything about them.
Cinnamon and Honey
Having the ability to bake cinnamon rolls is definitely in the job description for the Director of Happiness. When someone says, “I was just thinking of the cinnamon rolls you bake," their eyes seem to glaze over. They fondly remember the warm wonderful gooeyness of bread perfected by adding butter, cinnamon and honey. That always makes me happy! Usually, I make a basic bread dough, let it rise, punch it down and then prepare it for cinnamon rolls. But, sometimes, after the first rising I prepare it as I would cinnamon rolls and then roll it right back into a loaf of bread. It is then sliced into one inch slices and placed into a loaf pan. This way it can be used for French toast or placed into the toaster. Either way, it creates happiness.
The abundance of butter (never margarine), cinnamon, and honey or brown sugar is what makes my cinnamon rolls so memorable. Never be stingy in using those ingredients and never, ever be stingy in spreading happiness. So, go ahead and spread some happiness and make sure you use a lot of butter.
I am ashamed to admit how long I had lived here in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia before I learned that I was really close to the "Peanut Capitol of the World". Being from New England, peanuts were not up there on my list of produce items to try to source locally. Happily, I now know better.
A year and a half ago, my friend Nancy and I had taken a road trip to go to our first "Heritage Harvest Festival" at Monticello. We came home 'the back way' from Charlottesville (aka Rte 460), stocking up on molasses at 'Adams Country Store' (more famous for its country hams and dandoodle sausages) and stopping at every Mom and Pop antique store we could find. At one of them, we asked where the locals go to buy their peanuts. In unison, two older gentlemen said "Wakefield Peanuts." And so Wakefield Peanuts it was!
My family couldn't get enough of the homemade peanut butter, sugared peanuts and homemade peanut brittle, so a few months later we took another day trip out that way to secure more molasses and peanuts. This past summer, I stocked up on several bags of peanuts at the farmer's market (did you know they keep quite well in the freezer?), but last week, horror of horrors, my supply ran dry.
It's been a busy few months for me and time is scarce. So another day trip out to Wakefield was out of the question. Luckily, the nice folks at Wakefield Peanuts are willing to ship, so a few days later I had FIFTY POUNDS of raw, shelled, skinned peanuts delivered right to my door (do yourself a favor and pay the extra $10 for the skinned ones. It's not a fun task and it takes forever to do yourself!) Shipping is included, so your cost will be the same as mine: $85. Have you priced peanuts lately? It's a deal. I repackaged them (5 lbs fits nicely into a gallon sized bag) and shared the cost with friends, and we are once again enjoying homemade peanut butter, which is shockingly easy to make if you've never tried it.
How to Make Peanut Butter
First, roast the raw, shelled, skinned peanuts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes, depending upon how dark you like them. Let them cool, and put them into a food processor (don't try to use a blender, you'll most likely kill the motor). Pulse/process for a few minutes. It may take awhile, but eventually it'll start to get more creamy. It the peanuts are really dry, you can add in some peanut oil, and if you'd like to add some salt or honey for taste, go right ahead. When it's smooth enough (or chunky enough) for your liking, you're done! Stored in the fridge, it lasts a long time (well, my kids tend to devour it in no time, but you know what I mean.) It doesn't seem to separate like the store-bought 'natural' kind, either, so that's a bonus in my book!
There is a buzz in my industry right now over all of this “Moonshiners” stuff. Tickle this, and Tickle that. Jim Tom, Tim, Jeff, and those other boys seem to have awakened a bit of a sleeping giant. Since the initial airing of Moonshiners, the spirits industry has seen a number of changes and one of them has been the revival of illegal home distilling.
The Legality of Home Distilling
Before going any further, please be aware, home distilling without proper licenses, permits, bonds, and local authorization is illegal. There is no way around it. Making the decision to distill spirits illegally carries both threat of fines and imprisonment. Doing so, should not be taken lightly.
However, that hasn’t stopped many people. People all over the world are buying small, “home-sized” stills and distilling up some of their favorite cloned spirits. If you like Jack, Jim, Crown, or Patron, with a little bit of practice and some determination, you too could distill the same spirits, if not distill something better.
I recently heard a story from a friend who wanted to get the free Alcohol Fuel Permit. It allows the holder to distill alcohol (ethanol) for fuel use only. Many hobby distillers use the permit as a little insurance. If a federal agent ever catches you distilling at your home, at least you have the alcohol fuel permit in hopes that it will cover your hind end. He took the application to his local sheriff to ensure he was not violating any local laws. He slid the application across the counter to his sheriff who picked it up, gave it a quick glance, and slid it back across the counter. “Fred, I know you’ve been distilling for over 20 years. I don’t really care, as long as I get a little visit during Christmas time!”
This seems to be the sentiment of many local authorities. If you’re making it for personal consumption, then you’re most likely not going to see any trouble. However, if you are selling it, or serving it to minors, not only are you going to get caught, you’re going to get fined and put in jail for a bit. And to be honest, it serves you right! Don’t take advantage of the relaxed nature of the local authorities. Instead, distill for personal use only and enjoy it.
The Power of Home Distilling
With that said, there will come a day that something catastrophic might happen. The government might collapse or have no way of serving you as a citizen. When that happens, owning and knowing how to use a still will be of huge advantage. Forget the other uses of a still such as fuel, water, and essential oils (we will cover these items in future posts) just being able to produce alcohol for drinking will put you in an immediate position of power.
Barter, trade, and sales of spirits at this time will be a very lucrative opportunity. I know many people talk about “bugging out” away from the world, but I plan on sticking around and starting a distillery! Trust me, people are still going to want to drink their troubles away and I don’t mind capitalizing on that!
But think about just the bartering aspect. Need a barn raised? 5 bottles. Need a new horse? 2 bottles. Need help fixing the plumbing? 1 bottle. Think about the health industry. Using alcohol to numb pain, clean instruments, and wounds. Running a still will no longer be some sort of taboo subject. Instead it will be a necessary event to cover the needs of every aspect of human life. It’s scary to think about but if something crazy does happen, Tickle just might be the guy you need to save your life!
In our next post we will talk about the overall steps of distillation and spirit development.
Photo by eclecticc
San Francisco sourdough is the mother lode of all sourdoughs, at least historically and for many, taste-wise. This is where the sourdough taste of today was developed, and is even more popular now than ever. Developed during the Gold Rush in 1849, the San Francisco area is renown for its breads, and justifiably so. The unique climate there contributes to the variety of yeast culture. Sourdough was first invented, if you will, in ancient Egypt, many millennia ago, but because of the relative ease of culturing wild yeasts, is still with us today in the form of this wonderfully tasty bread.
Sourdough is as unique as its location, but the San Francisco wild bacteria, Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, and of yeast, Candida milleri, are the culprits for the true taste of this region. The bread fell into decline post World War II, in favour of the Wonder Bread type of bread that Americans found more convenient at the time. Fortunately for all of us, this didn’t last, and with the advent of the 1980s “bread revolution,” artisan bakers rediscovered this special treat.
I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some genuine starter from that region, the above strains now having been isolated out. Mine came from Cultures for Health, whom I’ve mentioned in the past for their cheese and yogurt cultures. It’s also good to know they’re available locally for me, in Kingston, ON. I followed their recipe pretty closely, and the result was bread heaven. The starter began its life about a month ago, and some of the excess from the process went into biscuits, and then it started its aging process. I figure a month was about good.
I would encourage you to check out their website at www.CulturesForHealth.com where you can get all kinds of info, books, and of course, all the starters and goodies for lots of fermentation in general. They have numerous locations where you can buy products all over North America, not to mention others around the world. But on to the bread.
San Francisco Sourdough Bread Recipe
Here’s their recipe, with my interpretation (you can get their full recipe on their website). Yield one loaf.
2 1/3 cups fresh sourdough starter
3 1/3 cups flour
1 to 1 ½ cup water (approximate)
Scant tbsp salt
I followed their directions to mix everything together. The idea is to use just enough water to make a soft dough. As they say, better to be a little too wet than dry. They knead it, as did I, until I got a nice, smooth dough that I then sort of patted out into a roughly square shape, rolled it up, and placed in a large bread pan (see photo). I went the bread pan route, but you could have used a proofing basket or simply a board. They advise letting it rise for 4 to 24 hours. Mine took about 18 hours, as I made it late in the afternoon and let it go overnight into the next morning.
I kept close tabs on it, even getting up early to check it. I shouldn’t have worried, it was behaving itself perfectly (see next photo). The one part where I did depart from the recipe was that I baked it at 375 degrees instead of 400 degrees, as I was afraid it would bake too fast on the outside, and not enough on the inside. (I also have a convection oven, so it seemed the prudent thing to do.) It took about 35 to 40 minutes, when it was golden brown. Taking their cue, I did use a thermometer to check the internal temperature, just like a turkey. I was a couple of degrees shy, and put it in for another 2 minutes, which did the trick.
I let it cool for about 15 minutes before turning it out on a rack, where I let it cool completely (see last photo). The bread was proudly served with dinner last night, and one bite led to pure bliss. The crust was perfectly crunchy-chewy, a perfect crumb inside, and yes, you could die and go to heaven. You don’t even have to go to San Francisco first, but of course, if you get the chance, go for it.
You can read more of Sue Van Slooten's food adventures at www.SueVanSlooten.com.
Michael Pollan’s mantra, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” is as close as I get to a diet plan. For one thing, the fads are always changing—who can keep up? And for another thing, there are always too many rules.
While I’m much too easily distracted to be a successful calorie-counter or a no-carb commando, I feel like certain trends—such as focusing on nutrient-dense foods and limiting refined sweeteners—can carry their weight.
So with that in mind, and with a pantry full of cocoa, nuts, and pitted dates dangerously close to their sell-by dates, I set out to create something delicious.
The resulting bars were dense, fudgy, and brownie-like; full of rich, chocolate flavor from a handful of wholesome, minimally processed ingredients.
Chocolate-Date-Nut Bars Recipe
Note: This recipe requires a food processor.
1 cup whole almonds
½ cup each walnut and pecan halves
2/3 cup cocoa (this recipe was tested with Dutch-process cocoa, which has been treated with alkali; natural cocoa will result in lighter-colored bars with a slightly fruitier flavor)
½ tsp kosher salt
3 cups (tightly packed) dried, pitted dates
¼ cup virgin coconut oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 T water
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9x13” baking pan with coconut oil and line it with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over the short sides of the pan slightly (this will allow you to pull the bars out of the pan after they cool, making them far easier to cut).
Place the nuts, cocoa, and salt in a food processor and process for about 30 seconds. Scrape around the bottom and edges if needed, and pulse several times until the nuts are finely ground—do not process all the way into nut butter. Transfer the nut mixture to a clean bowl and set aside.
Place the dates, coconut oil, and vanilla in the food processor and process for about 45 seconds or until the dates are finely chopped—this will be quite loud and may produce a small amount of steam from all the friction. Add the eggs and water to the date mixture and process until smooth. Scrape down the sides if needed, add the nut mixture, and process till the mixture comes together in a large mass—it will be quite dense and sticky.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and use a well-greased spatula to spread it out into an even layer. Bake at 350 for 17 minutes. Cool completely. Use the parchment “handles” to lift the bars out of the pan and use a greased pizza cutter (or knife) to cut into squares.
Store in an airtight container (with parchment between the layers to keep bars from sticking together) at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the fridge for up to 10 days.
Makes approximately 18 bars.
For an alternative to a brownie sundae, try these bars warmed in the microwave for 20 seconds and topped with a dollop of natural peanut butter, some fresh, sliced bananas, and a sprinkling of chopped dark chocolate.
Pork confit, also called potted pork, is a frugal and tasty way to preserve meat. Like it’s cousin, duck confit, potted pork is made by lightly curing, then gently “poaching” pork meat in it’s own fat. Once cooked, the meat is then buried it in the fat, effectively keeping bacteria and air away from the meat, there by preserving it. It keeps quite well in a nice cold cellar, or in the back of your fridge, all winter long.You barely need a recipe. While pork shoulder is often used, I went the economical route and used my locally raised fresh ham hocks. The hocks have lots of fat and meat, which are the two main requirements, and the bones and connective tissue give the confit great flavor and texture. After a brief curing with salt and flavorings overnight, the pork is slowly cooked in fat. The seasonings are classic stock flavors like onions, thyme, parsley, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves, but feel free to improvise your own combination.
Once cooked and totally submerged in fat, pork confit is ready for cold storage for up to 6 months. The meat can be pulled from the fat as needed, always recovering any remaining meat with fat. Reheat the pieces in a very hot oven, then pull the pork from the bone. Use the meat in soups and salads, finely chopped and mixed with a little fat for an unctuous rillettes spread or layered into an elegant Pork Confit Parmentier with mashed potatoes and greens. The fat also makes fantastic fried potatoes or a hot salad dressing with a little vinegar and mustard.
Pork Confit Recipe
5 pounds fresh ham hocks
5 cloves garlic
bunch fresh thyme
small bunch parsley
1 large onion or 1 cup pearl onions
3 large bay leaves
2 quarts fresh pork lard, duck fat or olive oil
Generously season the ham hocks with salt and freshly ground pepper, much more than you would for regular cooking. Don’t worry, you will rinse them off before cooking. Finely chop the garlic and onion, roughly chop the parsley, strip the thyme leaves off the stems and crumble the bay leaves. Add all the aromatics and herbs to the hocks along with the cloves. Toss the hocks to coat and store in the refrigerator for 24 hours. I like to use a 2 gallon ziplock bag so I can easily flip the contents to redistribute the resulting brining liquid.
After a day, remove the hocks and rinse off the cure, herbs and spices. Don’t worry if a few bits remain attached to the meat. If using lard or duck fat, melt it. Arrange your hocks in a heavy pot. Pour enough fat to cover the hocks completely by at least 1 inch of fat. Place in a 180 degree oven (or as low as it will go if it can’t reach that) and bake covered for 10 to 12 hours. I baked mine overnight. (The delicious smell made for interesting dreams.)
Transfer your hocks to a storage container and completely submerge them in fat, with at least an inch over the top. Chill completely and store in the refrigerator. Use as needed for up to 6 months. Mine didn’t last that long!
When I told my family and friends about my new job, their first reaction was laughter.
Let me explain. I come from a small town in Idaho. I have spent my whole life outside. I only have a kitchen in my home because it came with the house. The smoke alarm will let you know that dinner is done. With that being said, I was hired at Sourdoughs International, Inc.
Sourdoughs International, Inc., sells sourdough cultures all over the world. I thought that this was a perfect job for me — after all, I love eating bread! Little did I know, what I had signed up for was learning to bake bread and telling people how to do it. For most people this would not be a scary thought, but for me it was. I had to “proof the culture,” but first I’d have to learn what the word “proof” even means. Then, I had to go through all the steps. I am learning new things every day. I want to give you the point of view from a very inexperienced baker. My mistakes, my victories, and what projects may lie ahead. I would love your advice or hints that may help me make my journey better towards baking the best bread ever. I have the ingredients to do it. Now, the practice and experimenting are in full motion.
Sourdoughs International, Inc., sells 17 different sourdough cultures collected from all over the world. The difference with our starters is that there is no commercial yeast. Our starters work by natural leavening. So the culture that I started out with was our Original San Francisco.
According to Ed Wood, my boss, this culture is the easiest to work with and the most forgiving culture we have. He’s right. This culture put up with me testing it, playing with it, forgetting about it, and everything else the inexperienced baker could do to it. It still works! I have been making bread, pancakes, cinnamon rolls, pizza crusts, crackers, and so much more with just this one culture. Not once has the smoke alarm gone off.
Next post, I want to share the first recipe that I used with my sourdough starter. I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I have. In the meantime, we are posting recipes once a week on our website, www.Sourdo.com. Please check us out and happy baking.