The ABCs of Homesteading: K is for ‘Kitchen Skills’

Reader Contribution by Tasha Greer and Reluxe Ranch

This is the ninth post in the ABCs of Homesteading series. Click here to read the rest of the series.

Famous chefs Alain Ducasse and Alice Waters have very different styles. But they both have a foundational philosophy of using impeccable ingredients and simple flavors to make miraculous meals. You can come close to their kind of magic, at home, if you grow your own food or buy from local farmers focused on flavor and nutrition.

Beyond great ingredients, thinking outside the box (literally) and simplifying common recipes makes daily deliciousness doable. Place an emphasis on the “whole” in wholesome by using ingredients like whole chickens, whole grains, whole vegetables including tops and peels. And when using anything that has been packaged make sure it only includes ingredients you recognize and would otherwise use at home.

If you’ve been habituated to commercially processed food, going simple may require a taste bud reset. A couple weeks of good wholesome eating should do it. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Active Ingredients. Baking recipes often call for baking powder as a leavening agent. That ubiquitous white stuff may harbor secret ingredients like aluminum and cornstarch. You can make a replacement using 1 part baking soda and ½ part cream of tartar (the white residue of tartaric acid from wine-making). Or, you can be a total rebel and change any recipe that calls for baking powder to ½ teaspoon of baking soda per 1 cup flour. This works great for recipes that contain sugar. But, it can occasionally go wrong in savory baking. For savory recipes, sub in a tablespoon of vinegar for part of your liquid content to activate the baking soda, and mix very well.

Batter. Batter is all about consistency and ratios. You can use one base recipe and adapt as needed. Here’s mine:

• 2 cups of flour
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt

For pancakes, add just enough milk so that your batter spreads slowly across a hot pan without ever reaching the edges.

For crepes, add more milk for a thinner liquid batter. Blinis are the Russian name for crepes, but you can kick them up a notch by subbing in ½ cup buckwheat and a dollop of sour cream.

Beer batter uses a 50/50 mix of beer and milk in the amounts necessary to make the batter just creamy enough to stick to your veggies.

Use this base for pasta dough too. Switch to semolina flour and drop the baking soda, then sub in a 50/50 mix of olive oil and water until your dough is the right consistency for pasta. Pasta dough must rest an hour before being rolled out, but other batters are ready to go after blending.

If you have an abundance of summer veggies, shred them up and mix them in your batter base at a ratio of one cup veggies to one cup flour. Add liquid after you add veggies so you you can adjust to account for the moisture in your garden goods. Pan fry and serve with mustard or spicy mayonnaise and a side salad as a satisfying meal.

Cutting a carcass. Many small farmers sell whole broiler chickens rather than pre-cut pieces. But cooking a whole chicken is pretty much like cooking a whole cow. You wouldn’t slow roast a filet mignon with a rump roast would you? Breasts, thighs, wings, and carcasses all deserve special treatment. So, it’s good to know how to carve a whole bird. Here’s a video to get you started. Then, treat breasts like good steak, marinate, pan sear, and finish in the oven. Thighs and wings benefit from slow-cooking. And carcasses are perfect for bone stock or for use in chicken n’ dumplins.

De-boning fish. Similar to cutting a carcass, this is a good skill every homesteader to have. Fish bones are great for fish stocks for making bouillabaisse or in compost tea. Whole fish also costs less pound for pound. Here’s a video to get you started.

Electric Appliances have their place in the homestead kitchen. It’s good to do things by hand, but sometimes you just need to get stuff done. A food processor and heavy-duty mixer can help. By running your sauces and soups through a food processor after cooking you can skip steps like skinning and seeding and reduce loss and time. With the aid of a mixer, you can make doughs and batters in minutes.

Flour Tortillas are easy to make. Mix 2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons lard, and enough water to make the dough adhere. Form a ping pong sized ball of dough and roll that out on a well-floured surface into a roundish shape of the same thickness as store bought tortillas. Heat your dry, cast iron pan and fry the tortillas. When air bubbles form in the dough, flip it over. Take it off about thirty seconds later. Repeat until you finish your dough. (Use your vent fan. Dry flour on a hot pan smokes like crazy)

Garlic is easy to peel using a broad flat knife. Lay the garlic head on its side squash it with flat side of the knife. Then put the now loose cloves curved side down on your counter and squash them with the flat side of the knife. The skin should slip right off. To mince, rock your knife like a cradle, back and forth, over the clove. Change knife angle and repeat.

Herbs make the difference between good and great food. Add fresh French tarragon to chicken and pork. Use thyme and rosemary with beef and lamb. Use savory for eggs, or anything savory for that matter. Chives are great in soups. Tie your favorite cut herbs together with twine in a “bouquet garnis” and toss them in stew or slow cooker meals. Remove the whole bouquet before serving. Oregano, dill seed, and coriander are better dried, but use the rest fresh if possible. Save basil by freezing it oil in ice cube trays.

Iron, as in a cast iron pan, should sit on your stove at the ready, for whatever you have to throw in it. To keep it well-seasoned, leave it dirty until you need to use it again, that way if you have to rinse with water, you can immediately re-season by adding lard and heating the pan to start your next meal.

Jacques Pepin. Or, Julia Child. Or better yet, both together. If you want to become a master in the kitchen, watch as many of their cooking shows as you can and practice their techniques frequently.

Knife Sharpening makes cutting up in the kitchen so much easier. Get a fool-proof sharpener for under $10.

Press back of the knife into the counter with the blade facing up. Then run the sharpener over the knife. The knife never moves, so nobody gets cut.

Lard is the best cooking fat. Period.

Mushrooms should not be washed. Get a mushroom brush for dusting them off. And start them in a dry pan, to release juices and get them crisp, before you add butter. (Thanks to Jenna, at Gnomestead Hollow, for being my mushroom guru).

Naan is another easy homestead bread. Put a teaspoon of dry-active yeast and sugar in 3/4 cup of warm water and stir. Give that about ten minutes to bubble and froth. Ready two cups flour, two heaping tablespoons yogurt, two tablespoons oil or lard, and two teaspoons sugar in a bowl. Add the yeast water to the other ingredients and gently incorporate. Stop when sticky and set aside for at least thirty minutes. Then flour up your rolling surface and hands, make golf ball-sized balls, and roll them out to ½ inch thick amoeba-shapes. Cook like flour tortillas.

Okra must be picked small (2-3 inches) and cooked within two days of harvesting. Chop it into into 1 inch pieces and toss in a hot pan for five minutes with chopped onions, tomatoes, salt, and pepper for a flavorful summer side.

Pie crust. You can use the same recipe for quiche, apple, rhubarb, pumpkin, mushroom, and pot pie, as well as empanadas and tarts.

I adapted my recipe from this Mother Earth News post as follows:

• 2 cups flour
• 1 ½ sticks butter
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 cup water with two ice cubes

After cutting the butter into pea-sized pieces, throw everything into the mixer on low. When the dough just starts to cohere, stop the mixer and form the rest of the dough into a ball by hand. The ice cubes remain behind in the mixer and I roll out the dough quickly on a well-floured cutting board. You can skip chilling since the ice water makes the dough stiff enough to work immediately. Fill with whatever and bake at 350º F until it looks and feels done.

Quinoa is so in demand that the price has skyrocketed. But with a 20-minute cook time and the power punch of meat, it’s still worthwhile to keep some in your pantry. Toss it with your favorite veggies or dress it up as mac and cheese. Try doing the same with other grains like farro, barley, millet, and whole wheat kernels. Use these as an arborio substitute for a surprising risotto-style meal. Wash these grains well to remove unsavory saponins.

Rabbit is a sustainable meat source for many homesteaders. Though it may look like a red meat, it’s super lean and should be treated like chicken thighs. Try substituting rabbit for chicken in a simple coq au vin recipe. And viola you’ve got Lapin au Vin.

Slow-cooking can be done in an electric slow cooker or by using your oven set to 200 º F. Cover food with liquid and keep a lid on at all times to maintain moisture. Sear your meats and vegetables in your cast iron pan with a spoon of lard to caramelize and seal in flavor before slow-cooking.

To peel or not to peel? Not. Almost always. Even butternut squash rinds are delicious and edible when cooked. And when used in soups and run through a food processor, you don’t even know they are there.

Un-aged meat needs to be marinated or allowed to “age” in your refrigerator before cooking. I’ve heard people say that heritage meats aren’t tender. This has not nothing to do with meat quality and everything to do with processing. Small processors have to keep costs down to be competitive so they can’t pay for uprades like aging a carcass before butchering. To compensate at home, remove meats from your freezer and allow to rest in your fridge for a few days before cooking.

Vinegar isn’t just for salad dressing. Add a few tablespoons to your bone stock to draw out more nutrients. Use it to “flash marinate” meats for last minute meals. Add to soups for zest. Put two tablespoons in a glass of water with honey as a refreshing elixir.

Whole grains are literally grains that have not been ground or otherwise processed. When wheat is ground it begins losing nutritional value. You can buy whole kernels of wheat and run it through a hand mill or coffee grinder in minutes. It’s an extra step, but grinding your own grains improves taste and quality and eliminates the risk of unwanted additives or processing.

X-factor. That je ne sais quoi that makes a simple meal profound is all about your state of mind while preparing it. Treat cooking like a respite from the rest of your day. Immerse yourself. Smell, savor, sip wine, and take pleasure in doing it. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Yellow split peas make great soup. Put a pound in a pot with these:

• 2 chopped onions
• 2 Tablespoons curry powder
• 2 quarts bone stock
• 4 quarts water

Simmer until the peas smoosh when stirred. Run through your food processor to smooth, put back in the pan, stir in enough milk or whey to get to your desired consistency, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a grilled cheese or a hunk of sourdough bread. Eat leftovers for days.

Zucchini makes great tahini. Chop it and stew it with several heaping tablespoons of home-toasted sesame seeds, tons of garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Run it through the food processor, drain out extra liquid (if necessary), and serve with naan.

Next up in our ABCs of Homesteading series: L is for “Legal Stuff”. Stay tuned! Find all parts of the series here.

Tasha Greerspent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina. She currently raises goats, poultry, pigs, herbs, worms, and maintains an extensive edible landscape at thereLuxe Ranch. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. Tasha also is also a contributing author forThe Grow Network. Find Tasha at The Way Back , reLuxe Renderings, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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