We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gascogne-Style Cassoulet—Lessons from the Black Sheep Bistro

Guest Post by Mark—Photos by Linda

"Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should."
                                           ~ Julia Child, My Life in France

I prefer that each portion of my cassoulet is served with a crisped duck leg on top
as I was taught by my mentor, chef Rick Boufford at the Black Sheep Bistro.
   So as a young and eager student of wine and food in the late eighties, early nineties, I found myself with the opportunity to work for a new, up-and-coming restaurant set in Old Town Tustin, California. The owners, Rick and Diana Boufford (as young as they were), were seasoned vets in the Orange County restaurant scene. Their new restaurant  focused on the cuisines of the Mediterranean with emphasis on France, Spain and Italy. As Chef Rick would often say, "Our menu is like traveling from Barcelona through St. Tropez, and down to Livorno." And there I was, 1989, ready to learn from this passionate and talented restaurant couple.

   I had heard lots of positive buzz about the Black Sheep Bistro while I was still a young bartender at the iconic Bouzy Rouge in Newport Beach, California. So when the immanent and very sad decline of the "Bouzy" was a foregone conclusion, I began looking for new employment. But I didn't want to go just any place for a paycheck, because I wanted to learn about wine. Rick was a trained sommelier, and known for his incredible wine list at his restaurant. Little did I know, that this desire of mine to work at a restaurant with a great wine list would lead to such great accompanying food. This connection of food and wine was made clearer to me while working with Rick and Diana than any other time in my life.

Look and ask for products from Community Grains—Whole Foods Market often has a nice selection. They are doing agriculture the old fashioned way and their products are singular.
They have a wonderful website…check it out!
   Without debate, I would say that my ten years at the 'Black Sheep' were the best years of my food career. Perhaps it was my nascent eyes, or naiveté, but my learning and experience with fine dining, food and wine were everything to me and each day was a satisfying step to being more knowledgeable and confident in my life's passion. It was divine providence that Rick and Diana would cross my life's journey at the perfect time for my life long adventure with food. Not surprisingly, this relationship with Rick and Diana grew from my desire to learn, and their wise guidance was given freely to a young and enthusiastic employee. But there is much more than my life-long passion for food that I give my deepest appreciation to Rick and Diana for—it is the camaraderie, and soulful connectedness that food creates and provides that they taught me. We shared the simple and the divine, and at no time did I feel that our presence at the the table was unequal. It was with my two early mentors that I saw clearly that food and shared meals can express our deepest connections.

Michelle got her wish—she asked me to make Cassoulet for the Sistercation in the fall of 2012.
   One evening after a very busy mid-week shift, Rick, Diana, and myself sat down to what was the most simple yet inspired way to end a busy shift. We shared a wheel of L'Ami du Chambertin and a bottle of 1989 Armand Rousseau Mazi-Chambertin. The rich and earthy pungency of this raw-milk, washed rind cheese was perfectly countered by the bright, velvety fruit of the wine. As we sat and talked, laughing and griping about the evening, I recall a deeper awareness that something much more was being shared than a great cheese and delicious wine. Rick and Diana did this not just for me, but for anyone willing to open their eyes, their minds, and their hearts to the eternal pleasures of communing with food and drink. Our staff parties were bacchanalian celebrations of friendship and love. Love that was adorned by food, and food that was nourishing to our hearts.

   Rick was always sending food out to the staff to try.  And when Rick was distracted, Diana always made sure to ask Rick to give us tastes so that we knew how to describe and explain our eclectic menu. I always enjoyed the collaborations I had with Diana over how to sell that night's specials. She has a quiet strength and confidence about her which I so envied. "When Diana speaks, people listen," was a common saying in the restaurant. We didn't always need to collaborate though. Some of Rick's dishes just spoke for themselves. The depth and soulfulness of some foods are unquestionable. This happened to me over my first taste of duck confit. Rick called me into the kitchen, while he was making a 'restaurant size' batch of confit, and invited me to taste the leg and thigh portion he had on a plate sitting on his cutting board. Wow! It was rich and fatty, but the skin was crisp. The marriage of meatiness and natural sweetness of the spoon tender meat was sublime (I don't use the word 'sublime' often—but this was SUBLIME!).

Rick took this teachable moment to explain how he learned to make confit and cassoulet. He had a very good friend, Jean, who grew up with Ariane Daguin, founder and owner of D'Artagnan Inc., a gourmet provider of traditional Gascogne foods. Ariane is the daughter of André Daguin, the legendary chef credited for putting Gascony on the culinary map. And it was Ariane, who cooked with Rick to show him how she learned to make cassoulet from her father. At the time I remember being caught up in feeling that I was being exposed to something very special. I loved that Rick cooked not by training alone, but by the passed on traditions of his teachers—and I wanted to learn from him.

Here I am turning the crust into the cassoulet for the third time, or was that the fourth?
Oh well,  Rick says that some cassoulet purists insist on seven turns!
   Cassoulet is the emblematic dish of Gascony, the storied region of the scoundrel Musketeer, D'Artagnan. It is this same arrogance and passion that were characteristic of D'Artagnan, that defines the realm of cassoulet. Cassoulet is a dish of controversy and debate. Aside from regional differences and family traditions, cassoulet is a peasant dish made noble, thus having innumerable variations. The style which I love is most closely aligned with a true "Gascogne" style highlighting the glories of confit of duck—meaning no lamb or smoked meats. At the essence of this dish is the marriage between duck and white beans. It is both simple and complex. Adherent to a place and style, yet also very individualistic. And as I kept prodding and learning about this most classic of culinary dishes, I always felt encouraged to try, and try again. Cassoulet, as Rick and Diana modeled for me is not about right or wrong as much as it is about a passion to connect with a place, its history, and the delectable pursuit thereof. I will always be grateful for my time at the Black Sheep, because just like cassoulet we are on a quest to try new things, respect the past, and create something that is solely our own to be shared with those we love.

Sisters' note: Mark lives in Petaluma, California with our sister, Linda. He is not only an amazing cook, but he is a very knowledgeable wine professional. He earned his WSET certification last year. He is a very patient supporter of our blog as he often asked to model for Linda's photos—much to his chagrin. When he has Linda along in the car he is also asked to stop the car every five minutes so she can shoot a photo. He is chief chef when Michelle and Juliette come to town, and he is Linda's partner in recipe testing on a daily basis in their various culinary pursuits. We sisters would like to thank him for his enthusiasm toward and forbearance of our family effort. Check out his first guest post for Salvation Sisters by clicking here.
Gascogne-Style Cassoulet—Inspired by the Black Sheep Bistro 

   With too many stories to tell in one post, I am here to share one of my proudest lessons and skills that I take away from my time at the Black Sheep Bistro—Cassoulet. Those who know it, swoon for it.  Those who don't, but love authentic, traditional cuisine are irresistibly compelled to know more. And sadly there are those who hear what it is, and say, "oh, that sounds so rich and fatty." Well, yes it is! And I am one who swoons for this dish. Here is a video inspire you. It is made by the expert chefs from France, one of whom is the aforementioned Ariane Daguin who was Rick Boufford's mentor for cassoulet. To watch the video click here. Recipe serves 4 more. There should be one duck leg per serving.

1 pound dried white beans, such as Tarbais or Flageolet, rinsed and picked over to remove any grit (Great Northern white beans can substitute in a pinch)
1/4 cup fat from confit, or rendered duck fat
2 medium onions,  1 1/2 chopped, 1/2 studded with cloves(see below)
3 small carrots, peeled diced
1/2 pound blanched salt pork
1 whole head of garlic peeled
2 plum tomatoes, diced
2 quarts unsalted chicken stock, store bought or homemade
Herb bouquet: 4 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 imported bay leaf, and 3 small celery ribs tied together with string
6 confit of duck legs, 4 legs and thighs left attached and 2 with meat shredded from the bone
1 pound Toulouse sausages, fresh garlic-flavored pork sausages, or Confit of Toulouse Sausages (I last used a garlic sausage prepared by the Fatted Calf in Napa)
4 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and freshly ground pepper

Rendered duck fat is sold at Whole Foods Market. Duck Confit is available 
for purchase online from specialty retailers like D'Artagnan.
1. Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover by at least 2 inches.
2. In a large dutch oven or Le Crueset-style enamel cast iron pot combine soaked beans, salt pork, herb bouquet, 1 chopped carrot, 2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed and the studded 1/2 onion. Cover all with cold water, coving by about one inch and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce heat to med-low, cover and simmer for 1.5 hours. Times vary depending on the freshness of the beans, but beans should still be intact but slightly tender.
3. Drain the beans. Remove the salt pork and studded onion. Set aside.
4. In a sturdy skillet, brown the sausages until just cooked through. Cut into thirds or large pieces. Set aside until assembly.
5. Return the dutch oven to the stove and heat at medium-high. Melt 2 tablespoons of duck fat in the bottom. When fat is melted and hot, add the remaining carrots, onions,tomatoes, garlic (whole or chopped, I've done both ways with favorable results—most prefer the garlic chopped instead of biting into a whole clove), dried thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté all until onions turn translucent.
6. Preheat oven to 350 F.
7. Now it is time to assemble the cassoulet: add the beans with herb bouquet to the sautéed ingredients, sausage pieces, shredded confit of duck, remaining duck fat and the chicken stock. Gently stir all ingredients to distribute all evenly. At this point add the demi-glace which is optional bu Place in the oven to cook uncovered. (Cassoulet MUST form a crust as it cooks to develop the most flavor. Some recipes call for breadcrumbs to aid in this, but Gascogne-style uses no breadcrumbs.) 
8. After one hour of cooking, gently 'break' the new crust on top into to cassoulet by stirring it in to reveal a new, moist layer on the dish.  Continue this step 3-4 times during the cooking. This may be repeated every 1/2 hour after the first hour of cooking. Total cooking time should be 3 hours for this step.
9. To finish the cassoulet, and to heighten our ducky experience, Rick taught me how to heat the confit leg to spoon-tenderness yet at the same time, achieving a beautifully, crispy skin. Cast iron or a heavy, steel skillet work best for this step. Place duck leg in a hot pan, skin side up and add a small amount of water to the pan to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover the skillet and heat the duck leg (More than one duck leg can be done at time, but be sure not to crowd the pan. I never do more than two at a time.) until water has steamed away and the pan is mostly dry. Carefully turn the leg over, skin side down and sear the duck until skin turns crisp.

To serve: portion a generous amount of the cassoulet beans in a shallow bowl and place the crisped confit of duck leg on top (see first photo in the post). Enjoy with a hearty red wine, though traditionally one would drink a wine from Cahors or Madiran.

I made my own duck confit  for this special dish. Chef Rick Boufford has instructional videos available to purchase or rent that will show you how it's done.
The final step to finishing my dish—there really is nothing better than crispy duck skin!

Michelle giving Linda the stink eye. Whatever it was that Linda
said—at least Juliette and I thought it was funny.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The "Not Too Girly" Strawberry Margarita—Paleo Friendly

by Linda
"Know when to give up and have a margarita."

   We sisters love margaritas. As the legions of tequila aficionados from around the world already know without a doubt, drinking tequila is very different from drinking any other kind of alcohol. My personal motto is this—if you want to add some fun to almost any occasion, just add a little tequila.
   You are most likely already acquainted with that huge country hit that I love by Joe Nichols, Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off. That song was playing on country music radio every ten minutes when my son Jordan and I took a road trip from California to Arizona to see the family during the Christmas holiday of 2005. I can remember laughing out loud when I heard the lyrics for the first time because—well, umm… they are true.

      I developed a margarita recipe about fifteen years ago that has been a party staple of our family ever since. My Carnitas and Margaritas parties were legendary when I was living down in the South Bay, and I have no shame at all in saying that the police actually showed up to end one of them. When I invited the officers to join us, they looked longingly at the great spread of food and drink (not to mention the beautiful women that were dancing in my backyard on the patio to lively salsa playing on my boom box), and it was with courtesy and real regret that they told me that my neighbors had complained and we needed to shut things down—and no, but thank you very much—it was against department regulations to join us. I know my margarita recipe so well in fact, that I have it committed to memory, and so do a number of my friends.
   My original recipe makes a pitcher, and for large gatherings, I have been known to make up a couple of gallons of the magical elixir in advance of the party. During our Sistercation in Bisbee, in September of last year, Michelle and I whipped up a batch before departing Tucson in anticipation of we sisters and our family members of drinking age enjoying the warm summer air while sipping margaritas that first evening in town. So what would my motivation be to come up with a different recipe you might ask? Well, I went Paleo.

   In my efforts to eliminate sugar from my diet—I with a great deal of sadness and kvetching—gave up drinking margaritas, because my recipe was full of refined sugar—arrgh! Then one languid afternoon this past summer, as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I found a blog post from Danielle Walker of Against All Grain. She posted her brother's recipe for Paleo Margaritas which was a game changer for me. Well, hello, Margarita… long time no see.
    I also was very inspired by the discovery of honey simple syrup, which it had never previously occurred to me to make. To learn more about the health benefits of honey and how to make honey simple syrup click here. It has many uses other than in the making of cocktails.

   It was with real delight that I discovered Paleo Margaritas are delicious, and it wasn't very long before I wondered what would happen if I infused the tequila with strawberries. Typically I use vodka to infuse fruit. Turns out that my strawberry version was a huge hit at our house. You can try out the results for yourself, and we cordially invite you (I know—I love silly puns) to let us know what you think.

The "Not Too Girly" Strawberry Margarita

   Mark, having been a former professional bartender in earlier years, was not too enthusiastic about my idea of making a strawberry margarita. To him, a typical strawberry margarita is more of an alcoholic fruit smoothie—something that the ladies like to order at the bar. So he turned up his nose at my efforts until I made him try one of mine. Hence the name. This is no girly drink—that's why I serve on the rocks—because it benefits from the dilution of the ice. It is full of flavor and packs a wallop, just like my Strawberry Lemon Drop. You can also shake this drink in a cocktail shaker and serve it "up" in a martini glass, or dip the rim of your glass in some salt or sugar, but I prefer this cocktail without those distractions. It is perfectly delicious just poured over ice. It also occurred to me given that the holiday season is upon us, and that the tequila could be infused with pomegranate seeds (fresh or frozen) to make a fall/winter-themed margarita.

A large glass jar or crock (I used my large enamel cast iron Le Creuset pot)
Save your empty tequila bottles
A fine mesh sieve
Cheesecloth (optional)
A citrus juicer
A 1 cup Pyrex measuring cup or ounce measuring shot glass

The place where the Le Creuset collection lives at our house.
1 litre 100% pure agave Reposado Tequila ( I buy Zapopan at my nearest Trader Joe's)
1 pound frozen strawberries (365 Frozen Strawberries preferred)
Fresh limes
Honey simple syrup

This photographer was multi-tasking for this photo. Check out my post on
how to make homemade sauerkraut.
Infused Tequila:
1 litre 100% pure agave Reposado Tequila
1 pound frozen strawberries (365 Frozen Strawberries preferred)
Simply place the strawberries in a large pot and pour in the tequila. Stir and then cover and allow to sit for 24 hours. After the mixture has infused for 24 hours, separate the infused tequila from the strawberries, which will have lost all of their color. I pour the infused and strained tequila back into the original bottles.

24 hours later, the tequila is a beautiful red, and the strawberries have lost their color.
Ingredients for one Margarita (1 cup):
4 ounces strawberry-infused Tequila
2 ounces fresh lime juice (none of that stuff from a jar)
2 ounces honey simple syrup
Ice (for rocks or shaking)

1. Combine ingredients and pour over ice. Enjoy!

A Final Note: With the gift giving season upon us, we thought we should mention that a bottle of fruit-infused tequila makes a great gift along with a couple of glasses and a card with the recipe or a link to our recipe. Linda found the glasses featured in this post at her local thrift store. We are huge fans of recycling and reusing—especially our sister Juliette who is the family authority on thrifting. Check out Juliette's thrifting tips by clicking here.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Absolutely Delicious All-Butter Pie Crust (Gluten-Free and Gum-Free)

by Michelle

After weeks of testing various ingredients, this tender, flaky, tasty, gluten-free, gum-free dough
(made with white chia seeds and almond flour), was declared the Grand Champion. 

   During the doldrums of summer, when it is just too hot under the desert sun to go outside and play, I decided to finally get a handle on gluten-free pie dough. I've had too many misses in my kitchen when gluten-free pie dough is part of the equation. Since the calendar rolled over to July, we're officially half way through year, which means the holidays will be here before we know it, and along with the arrival of Thanksgiving and Christmas, my annual baking tradition will officially launch. But, summer is a time for baking, too. I love to make hand pies, crostatas, tarts and quiches. All these classic savory and sweet items justifiably need an excellent pastry crust to elevate these recipes to all-star status in your repertoire of good eats.
   Over the years I've been disappointed with the various gluten-free pie doughs that I've made. My fall back desserts have become sweets that don't require a crust, such as homemade ice cream (such as Lemon, Fresh Peach with Amaretto Affagto, and trusty Soft Serve-Style Chocolate and Vanilla), Chocolate and Vanilla Puddings, Angel Food CakeDelectable Lemon Cake, and dazzling Triple Chocolate Meringue Cookies. All the aforementioned desserts are outrageously good and I will make them time and time again until my ashes are offered up to the wind. That being said, there are times when pie is irrevocably what everyone wants, so pie it is, with no excuses for the pastry encasing the grand dessert.

I made blueberry hand pies to test multiple versions of gluten-free pie dough.
Dough #3, at the top, was declared the winner by the judges. 
   Inspired by The Bojon Gourmet to make Gluten-Free All-Butter Pie Dough, one Saturday afternoon I happily proceeded forward with making her recipe, successfully avoiding the drudgery of cleaning my house. And, since I like to tinker in the kitchen, I made three variations of her recipe and blind tested the results, asking my husband and daughter to declare the winner. What started me down the multiple variations path is that I could not locally source millet flour or white chia seeds. Nor could I find the European butters, Straus and Plugra that she highly recommended. Undaunted by making minor substitutions, I forged ahead into pastry land.
   In addition to the substitutions, I added one ingredient to the dough which was ultimately declared the winner by my judging panel. You might ask, what is the special ingredient? The answer—baking powder. My sister, Linda and I always add it to our regular wheat-based all-butter pie crust. And though the difference was subtle, "dough #3" was visually more appealing and tasted a bit lighter.
   Even though we had a winner, I would have liked a bit more browning ability on the pastry for the hand pies that I baked. I thought about how Linda solved this issue with her winner of a fried chicken recipe by adding almond flour, which browns quite nicely. I found that when using almond flour, less water was needed to bind the dough and the finely ground nuts did indeed help the dough turn a lovely golden color.
    I should also note that my first batches of dough I used ground black chia seeds. I finally found white chia seeds, and do prefer them, for the visual appeal, although the black chia seeds leant a whole grain appearance to the dough, which I did not find displeasing. I did try substituting psyllium husk (the new darling of the gluten-free bread baking world) for the chia seeds in one iteration, but everyone preferred the dough made with nutrient-rich chia. For more information about using chia and psyllium husk as a replacement for xanthan and guar gum, read this article. I also tried subbing cream cheese for part of the butter, but again the all-butter pie crust was everyone's favorite.

From this...
...to this: a glorious apple pie featuring a gluten-free crust and gluten-free streusel.
   Linda and I typically use a food processor to make pie dough, but I decided to try a new method that I've read about with interest, and which Alanna of The Bojon Gourmet prefers. In France, a key technique called fraisage, calls for smearing portions of the dough against the counter with the palm of your hand. Then the dough is gathered together, with the aid of a bench scraper, flattened into a disc, wrapped in plastic wrap and left to rest in the refrigerator until it is cold enough to roll out—about an hour.
   The final step is to then employ a procedure used to make puff pastry, which is to roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness, fold into thirds (like folding a letter), and then lightly fold into thirds again. At this point, the dough is wrapped in plastic wrap and left to rest in the fridge overnight. The next morning, the dough is rolled and cut as desired for a pie, turnovers or tart shells, depending upon the end game.
   The rolled and cut or shaped dough is refrigerated once again—up to two days— until ready to bake. If you are making a pie, transfer the rolled dough to a glass or metal pie plate and flute the edges. Refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes, and then freeze for at least 20 minutes (until frozen), or up to a couple months. Then, it is best to parbake the crust from the frozen state before continuing on with the final preparation.

Absolutely Delicious All-Butter Pie Crust (Gluten-Free Gum-Free)

Butter for pie dough needs to be sliced thin and very cold, but not frozen. 
Ingredients (for measuring accuracy use a scale for the flours and starches):
about 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup ice water (from 1 cup ice cubes filled with cool water)
80g or 1/2 cup sweet white rice flour (Mochiko)
35g or 1/4 cup+2 Tbsps gluten-free oat flour
35g or 1/4 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour, such as Jeanne's, -OR- 1/4 cup (35g) millet flour,
   -OR- 1/4 cup +1 Tbsp (35g) almond flour
30g or 1/4 cup cornstarch
15g or 2 Tbsps tapioca starch or tapioca flour
15g or 2 Tbsps finely ground white chia seeds*
1 tsp granulated sugar (for savory recipes) or 1 Tbsp (for sweet recipes)
1 Tbsp fresh minced herbs, or 1 to 2 tsps dried herbs or spice, optional (for a savory filling)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt  (omit if using salted butter)
8 Tbsps (119g) cold, unsalted butter (preferably European-style), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

*At my local store, white chia and black chia sit side-by-side on the shelf. If you cannot find white chia, black chia seeds taste the same, but will lend a whole grain appearance to the dough. The chia seeds cannot be ommited as they act as a binder for the dough. My old coffee grinder did the trick for grinding the chia seeds.

I returned to lining the work surface with plastic wrap after working with Dough #1.
If the dough cracks, wait a couple of minutes, pinch the dough together and roll again.
Special Equipment:
pastry cutter
bench scraper
rubber spatula
rolling pin
plastic wrap or parchment paper, plus waxed paper
pie weights

1 9-inch pie crust
3 7-inch pie crusts
6 4.25-inch pie crusts
2 7-inch pie crusts, plus 4 4.25-inch pie crusts

It only takes about 2 minutes to cut the butter into the flour using a handy pastry cutter.
1. In a medium bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together. Stir with a whisk to break up any lumps from the oat flour and ground chia seeds.
2. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the butter is in coarse crumbles, about the size of peas and pinto beans.

3. The amount of water needed to hold the dough together will vary depending upon the weather (humidity) and the overall dryness of the ingredients, so it is best to add 1 tablespoon of ice cold water at a time until the dough comes together. You'll need more water on cold days and less water on hot days. You'll also need less water if you used almond flour in the mix. You've added enough water when the dough can be gathered into a ball.

I accidentally added too much water to the almond flour mixture, but decided to fraisage anyway.
The dough, despite being overly wet, turned out great.
Employ a bench scraper to help form the smeared dough into a ball,
then flatten into a disc with the aid of plastic wrap.
4. Place the dough on a counter, and using the heal of your hand, smear the dough, about 1/4 cup at a time, across the work surface. Using a bench scraper, once again gather the dough into a ball. Transfer the dough to a large piece of plastic wrap. Cover with an additional piece of plastic wrap and flatten the dough into a disc. Refrigerate the dough for a minimum of one hour. After an hour, the dough is ready to use in accordance with your recipe. You can also choose to do the next step, to ensure a flakier crust.

Roll the dough, then fold into thirds (like folding a letter), with the aid of plastic wrap. 
Lightly fold the dough once again into thirds and then let rest, covered, in the fridge until cold.
5. The optional next step is to employ a procedure used to make puff pastry, which is to roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness, fold into thirds (like folding a letter), and then lightly fold into thirds again. At this point, the dough is wrapped in plastic wrap and left to rest in the fridge for one hour or overnight. What I like to do is let it rest for 60 to 90 minutes, then roll out the dough.

Use sheets of wax paper to separate layers of cut dough. Refrigerate dough until ready to use. 
a. For a pie (see step 6), I flute the edges, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.
b. For individual tarts, I cut into 7-inch circles, place in the tart pans ( I used 4" springform pans, but 4" cheesecake pans with removable bottoms are better for quickly unmolding hot pans), dock the crust, cover and place in the fridge overnight (you can also wrap in foil and freeze for a few weeks (simply proceed with Step 8 or 9 from the frozen state). This dough patches very nicely, so I used scraps to fill in as needed.
c. For hand pies, I simply cut the rounds (sizes range from 4-1/4" to 6"), separate each with a square of wax paper, stack the rounds vertically on a plate, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, proceed with the recipe. For little to no waste, mash the dough scraps together, flatten into a disc, cover in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Roll the dough again and cut additional rounds. Do not be concerned about overworking the dough... there's no gluten, so the dough will not toughen.
Note: I prefer to roll-out gluten-free pie dough between two layers of plastic wrap. I lay two overlapping sheets of plastic wrap on the work surface. I lightly dust it with sweet white rice flour, Mochiko. I also lightly dust both sides of the cold pastry dough with Mochiko. Place the plastic wrap that was used to wrap the dough and place on top. For a pie or tart, roll the dough to a circle about 1/8-inch thick, rotating the disc, by quarter turns, as you roll to maintain an even circle.

Just about anything can be used to cut the correct circumference. Use a spatula to avoid smudging the perimeter. Note: This dough was made with black chia seeds when lends a whole grain look. 
Mash the scraps together, flatten into a disc, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll the dough again and cut as desired. There will be little to no waste.
6. Use the plastic wrap to help transfer the rolled dough to the pie plate. Slip your hand and forearm between the counter and the plastic wrap. Lift the dough and invert it into a 9-inch or 10-inch pie plate. Gently position the dough, then remove and discard the plastic wrap. Using a knife, trim the dough, leaving a 1-inch overlap. Fold the dough in half to create a double thickness along the rim of the pie plate. Push lightly along the outer edge, leaving room for the dough to shrink on the rim during baking. Pinch/crimp the dough along the rim to create a decorative edge. Because this is an all-butter crust, it must be very cold going into the oven, for it to maintain its shape during baking. At a minimum, refrigerate the prepared shell for 30 minutes and then freeze for an additional 30 minutes. Alternatively, chill overnight lightly covered with plastic wrap.
8. If a recipe calls for blind baking, preheat the oven to 375°F. Simply "dock" the crust, which means, using a fork, prick the crust along the bottom and sides. Line the crust with parchment paper or aluminum foil (shiny side down). Fill the plate with pie weights or dried beans** and bake the pastry for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and weights and return the pastry to the oven and bake until it is dry, puffed and just turning golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. 
9. If a recipe calls for partially baking a bottom crust, preheat the oven to 375°F. Line the crust with parchment paper of aluminum foil (shiny side down). Fill the plate with pie weights or dried beans** and bake for the pastry for 10 minutes. Brush the crust with the blended white from 1 egg and and return the crust to the oven for 2 minutes more.
(**Note: once the dried beans have been baked they cannot be cooked in a recipe. I store the beans used as pie weighs in a marked container and reuse them as needed again and again.) 

If you are making a recipe where the crust is of visual importance to the final presentation, such as hand pies or free form crostatas, brush the uncooked dough with milk or egg wash before popping into the oven to encourage browning.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fermenting Vegetables—How to Make Sauerkraut at Home

by Linda

“The problem with killing 99.9 percent of bacteria is that most of them protect us from the few that can make us sick.” —Sandor Ellix Katz, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World

      The truth is that I have been going a little stir crazy the last couple of weeks. "Miss Graceful" tripped and fell at work over a cart made of steel bars that is used for hauling heavy loads of boxes (aka a six-wheeler) and nearly broke her right leg. I have been at home with my leg elevated for the last 20 days. According to the urgent care doctors and one orthopedic specialist, I did not break any bones, but it sure feels and looks like I did. The goose egg-sized hematoma on my shin has stubbornly decided to take up residence it seems.
   Yesterday morning, when it appeared that I actually had the semblance of an ankle, I tested the leg out by taking a short walk to downtown Petaluma and back. That went well enough, and being that we are having the most beautiful fall weather that you can imagine, I decided I should take a drive to nearby Green String Farm to buy some winter squash and veggies. Michelle and I paid a visit this past September, when she was able to spend a weekend with me before she attended a trade show in Sacramento.
Michelle, Mark and I enjoyed a day of wine tasting in Sonoma County and then stopped by
Green String Farm on the way home to pick up some veggies for dinner.
   During our stop at the farm at the end of the summer when we had finished wine tasting for the day, we picked through last of the season's heirloom tomatoes, peppers at their prime, lustrous eggplants and I just couldn't resist scooping up a small watermelon for dessert. Michelle and Mark were both there to be the voices of reason and to help keep my purchases in check on that afternoon. However, yesterday, a very cabin-fevered me was out on my own without anyone else along to try and control my tendency to over buy produce.

   No one should ever let me go to a farmer's market or farm stand by myself. Not only did I purchase my intended winter squash, but the cabbages that were piled up on a large table were simply amazing specimens. I impulsively decided right then and there that leg be damned—it was time to make a batch of sauerkraut. So I bought a few very large heads of cabbage along with some bright red pomegranates, deep orange carrots and some golden quinces. Fortunately they had a small cart that I could use to transport my vegetable and fruit bonanza to my car. When Mark got home from work and saw the enormous heap of produce on the table outside—he simply smiled and shook his head.

   When I first moved to Sonoma County, I decided to purchase a special crock for fermentation. When I began working in a small natural foods store more than 20 years ago now, one of the first things that I learned is how "gut health" is the foundation of the entire overall health and immune function of our bodies. Not only does fermenting vegetables preserve them and predigest them, but the probiotics that grow during the fermentation process feed our digestive tract with beneficial bacteria.
   While one does not necessarily need a special crock in which to ferment one's vegetables, if you are going to making batches often (and why not because it is inexpensive and so good for you)—the fermentation crock makes it really easy to do. Not only does it come with the stones that fit perfectly inside to weight down the vegetable matter, but there is a channel that holds water at the top which forms an airtight seal that keeps bacteria out that might cause mold.

   As much as I love to cook, my house has a very small kitchen, so often, I take food prep and cooking outside. I have a sturdy wooden table on my patio that is great for prepping, and I can spread out and keep the mess out of the house. So this morning I rose at seven, once again the ankle was cooperating, so I immediately went to work on my batch of sauerkraut. I used to get all caught up in thinking there were certain quantities and recipes to follow exactly in order to make sauerkraut, but I have discovered that just about anything goes. Depending on the time of year, and what you have on hand, just throw together whatever is available and is appealing to you. Be careful about adding garlic though. A little goes a long way, just like we found when making hummus. The garlic flavor intensifies over time.
   I began chopping cabbage, and it wasn't long before I was joined by a flock of rowdy finches and other tiny birds who began chirping noisily while they ate their breakfast with gusto. After breakfast they all took drinks and had a bath. By the time the sun actually rose over the roof lines of the neighboring houses—I was nearly done.
My cheerful chirping companions provided a joyful cacophony while I chopped cabbage.
   For this batch of kraut, I decided to use the green cabbage, Italian peppers, carrot, thyme and caraway seeds. I also make sure that I use a good quality Celtic sea salt. Cheap kiln-dried salt is toxic. I also used to worry that I wouldn't be able to eat that huge batch of sauerkraut or kimchi, but that concern turned out not to be true. Not only is it great with eggs for breakfast, but it is a perfect condiment for many dishes. It is a healthy go-to for my lunches that I pack for work, and it makes great gifts. No, I am not kidding. My friends do a happy dance when I bring a jar of homemade sauerkraut for them.

"I want death to find me planting my cabbages…" ~ Michel de Montaigne

Linda's Homemade Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is really easy to make at home, and it is very expensive to buy at the market. The raw refrigerated kind that is— not the canned stuff that survives in a jar on the shelf of your supermarket without being kept cold. You know, the kind we had as kids with our hotdogs back in the day. That kind of sauerkraut has no beneficial bacteria and has had the life cooked right out of it. The only thing to be careful of when making your own is this—make sure that your veggies are weighted and covered with brine, or you could have a moldy mess on your hands. 

5 Liter Fermentation Crock or a large vessel that can be fitted with weights at the top to keep the vegetables submerged below the brine
3 large bowls— two for the vegetable mix and one to collect compost
A sharp knife

2-3 (4-5 pounds) large heads of green cabbage
4 carrots
6-8 chiles or peppers (I used 3 jalapeños and 6 sweet Italian peppers)
2 tsps dried thyme
2 tsps caraway seeds
3-4 Tbsps of good quality Celtic sea salt—adjust to your personal taste
the juice of two fresh oranges (optional)

1. Cut the cabbages into quarters and then cut away the core. Then slice according to your personal preference. I make a mix of coarser and finer chop, so that the texture varies.
2. Divide the cut cabbage into two large bowls. I use stainless steel bowls. They work well because  you will need to mash and bruise the cabbage with your hands while you press down with force.
3. Toss the cabbage with the Celtic sea salt divided between the two bowls. Begin mashing each of the bowls with your hands. Working the salt into the cut cabbage and applying force. The purpose of this is to bring out the liquid out of your vegetables to make a brine.
4. Remove seeds from the peppers and chiles and chop into thin strips. You can use any combination. Fermentation takes a lot of the heat out of chiles, so you can use a heavy hand with the spicy ingredients if you like a hotter mix. 

5. Shred the carrots ( I shred mine in my Cuisnart with the shredding disc). Divide the quantity and any juice created between the two mixing bowls containing the cabbage and peppers.
6. Add thyme and caraway seeds (any spice combo that you like will do)
7. Mix both bowls well with your hands,  continuing to mash and press with your hands. Add the juice of one orange to each bowl if desired. Taste both mixtures for seasoning. If more salt is needed, add a little more.

8. Add both bowls of veggies to your fermentation crock or vessel. Press down firmly and add weights to the top. I like to let the crock sit for a least an hour before adding filtered water to cover the stones. Some times you will need to add additional water. Depending on the vegetables they may produce enough liquid on their own. 
9. After and hour, make sure that the vegetable are completed submerged below the brining liquid. I like my brine to just cover the crock stones. Place the top on and fill the top channel with water, creating a natural barrier for unwanted bacteria, and still allowing gas to escape that will be created by the fermenting process. Your sauerkraut will be ready in 4 to 8 weeks depending the the ambient room temperature and other factors. Taste as you go along, keeping the channel filled with filtered water. When the kraut starts "burping" you will know that fermentation has begun. My batch from today starting outgassing within just a few hours.
10. When your batch is fermented to your taste, place the fermented mixture in impeccably clean jars that you fill to the top to decrease the amount of oxygen remaining in the jar. I use glass canning jars that I buy at my local hardware store. Keep refrigerated. The sauerkraut will last for months.

This batch of sauerkraut is ready for the stones to be placed on top of the vegetables and brine to weight them down below the liquid. Brine should cover vegetables by at least one inch.
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