Saturday, April 21, 2007

muffin money

We've been a bit strapped for cash. With banking funds low, credit cards can be handy, but the ensuing debt is prohibitive of relying on this too much. I love shopping locally, but for the most part it's a cash only affair, so where do I go from here?

I've been doing alot of baking lately, and receiving very kind compliments and suggestions for opening a shop. I laugh it off, knowing that making this a reality would be a tremendous amount of work. But it has me wondering, could I at least be bartering my foodstuffs? So, in going to the farmers' market this morning, I had a new tactic. I was gonna experiment and try paying with muffin money.

With my money safely in my "wallet" I pedaled to downtown berkeley and was surprised to find this big street festival happening. I first thought that the market had moved over one block, then realized it was part of the big Earth Day events for the weekend. I walked past the vendors and info booths and made my way to the booth and dropped some of my gear. I said hello to some friends, then made my way over to begin my bargaining for the biggest ticket item for the day. Goal number one was to accomplish trading some english bucks for bacon strips.

With bacon procured, and a newfound confidence in the value of my currency, I thought about my sweet tooth. I'm a fiend for lemon quark and some delicious stuff can be found in these parts. Half a dozen muffins later I found myself wanting to go home and immediately start smearing this spreadable cheesecake all over the money left in savings.

I still had a few "bucks" left and needed some produce. Perhaps one of the farming crew might enjoy some freshies. Turns out and I found the right person to talk to, as it seems my breadware reputation preceeded me. The last few and change brought a large smile and a willingness to part with carrots and cauliflower. My muffin money bounty in the bag, and an empty wallet. Time to go. I turned toward the bay and took the long way home.

A very busy railway corridor and an interstate lie in the path, but not to fear, the pedestrian bridge is here! If you have ever sat in traffic on this stretch of highway, trying to wrap your head around the onramp sign that declared it to be both 580 Westbound and 80 Eastbound simultaneously, you may have also noticed the steel structure overhead, often displaying some homemade sign declaring "No more war," "Out of Iraq," or one of my favorites "Buck Fush." Well, today, with crowds abundant and tail lights ablaze, there were none to read for the motorists. Ahhh, road grafitti. How old is that? See, riding your bike does have its advantages sometimes. As if somehow I needed a reminder of my revolutionary actions.

Hell, this morning I accomplished going to the market using my own body power for locomotion, and came home with the bacon. And the quark, carrots and cauliflower. Apparently the muffins were a hit, and their use as an informal currency was a success. Call me a pacifist but I call that one hell of a revolution. Now, I don't know of another food market out there that facilitates my being able to trade in commodities, do you? Please tell me.

Water, milk, flour, corn and salt. See, if you know how to properly care for and combine these items, shape and griddle 'em too, you can trade, barter, beg or grant IOU's in exchange, and make it possible to go hit the local scene without money at all. Today I learned that I can still go to the farmers' market totally broke.

How 'bout that, buying local without money!

Is this the demographic that some critics of the "buying local" credo are thinking of when they call it "elitist?" Yeah, must be. After all, they think of nearly everyone when they state their opinions.

Everyone but me.

Got good stories of food swapping? Please do share. Comment, email me, whatever. Maybe it will inspire me to finally write down the cosmic bagel karma story.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

now entering: the "goat zone"

I was at a friend's for lunch. Amongst no less than four kinds of meat was a largish, goaty, hunky portion of torso thing. It had some ribs and some type of leg socket something or other. When all was done, the remains of the remains ended up coming home with me. I wan't sure what I'd do with it, but if the past is a place to reflect upon and learn from, I'd have to guess that if all else fails I could stuff the stuff in sourdough. It was time for goat calzone, or goatzone, if you will.

So I went with the calzone triple combo: bell pepper, onion, mushroom and garlic. I know that's four, but garlic doesn't count. It's more like a spice. Or so I think somtimes. Like, now. With these items releasing their magic aroma, and fresh dough on the counter, it was no suprise that Rohan would show up. He has a calzone radar.

"Knock, knock."
"Hey whassup Ro?"
"Not much bro."
"No really, what's in the hood and thought you'd drop by?"
"Yeah, that and the fine goat I could smell from 3 miles away."
"And what, you want some?"
"Like, yeah."
"So I guess this is gonna be another one of your lapses from that strict vegan diet?"
"Mmm hmm. What can I help with?"

So while I reeled at my cousin's unexplained and imminent "lapse," I was happy he offered to help. I asked him to go hit the garden to harvest out first lettuce of the year and get some herbs for the veggie fry. He scored a green onion, thyme and parsley. The herbs would go nicely with the goatzone and the onion would pair well with the avocado, carrots and lettuce after being smothered in a honey mustard dressing. Then I asked. I just had to, to find out what his twisted logic was this time.
"Are you really gonna eat meat again?"
"Because goat is the most widely distributed meat on the planet."
"Huh? Where the hell did you hear that one? Nevermind. That makes it good for a vegan how?"
"I don't know really, something about the least number of cultures being offended by the consuming of said creature. Let's talk more when our mouths are full and the beer is flowing, I'm bloody famished."
"Right. Uh, yeah. Me too."

We rolled out a few rounds, added some of the cubed up goaty remains, plopped down some veggie fry and topped it all with grated cheese. We played around with the proportions of filling a bit, knowing that the goat was smoked and thus quite a powerhouse of full flavor. I was afraid it might overpower the rest, so Ro suggested we make a few with just goat and cheese. I raised an eyebrow at these decidedly non-vegan items and received a curt "oh, sod-off would you?"
"This has nothing to do with grass Ro," I quipped.
""Would your readers rather I say fuck-off instead? I can do that."
Point taken.

After folding over the top and sealing the edges with a touch of water and a bit of crimping, I placed the ready ones on parchment paper. I cut a few slits in the tops so they wouldn't explode, pushed them in the oven, shut the door and prayed.
My pizza stone is a bit small like my oven, so we did three at a time. I believe one was all veggie and cheese, one goat and cheese, and another filled with all the ingredient options.

I just love what a nice hot 12x12 tile that costs under four bucks can do. In essence, if it's a high-fire tile (one where the heat involved not just dries the clay very well, but actually melts some of the material and allows mineralization to occur) the results are indistinguishable from a real pizza stone. (Which is just a high-fire tile in a different shape, maybe with a thicker or thinner profile, and costs like ten times more.)

We sat down to our calzone, served with the garden salad and some potatoes that I tossed with herbs, olive oil and salt, and baked while the oven was heating up the stone. It was smokey and fresh with a nice chew to the bread envelope.
"Man I love being in the zone!" Ro blurted out after his first bite.
"What, the meat zone?"
"No the goat zone."
"You mean goatzone?"
"No. Not goatzone like calzone, but two words like goat zone. Like the twilight zone, but tastier. Kinda like that episode where the lady goes in for an operation to look more normal. Only after, when they are taking off her bandages, they realize she still looks the same. She doesn't look like everyone else and so the doctors start discussing her options of going and living in a special community where others are like her, where she can live out a more normal life."
"Weren't the doctors all ugly like pigs though and she was actually beautiful?" I asked, failing to see the connection he was trying to make.
"Yeah, that's the one."
"And how is being in the goat zone like that one?"
"Well, I'm beautiful, unalterable, misunderstood, and being a goat eating vegan, destined for living on the fringe of society."
"I see."
"Is there any more beer?" we said in unison while reaching for the last goatzone.

Sorry Ro, I mean goat zone.

And thanks again for the "hunk" of goat Dr. Biggles. I'll be dropping a few goatzone off for lunch tomorrow, and then you can tell me about your experience in the "goat zone."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

quifflé, soufiche, or just quiche?

This is another quiche post.

No wait, a quiche that's part soufflé. I'm partial to quifflé. It helps me remember what this one was all about.

See, I took a few classes given by a true master in the craft of food. Having learned quite a bit, I've been anxious to apply that knowledge in the kitchen. And if ever there is a savory canvas to imbue with flavor, in which to use my newly acquired confidence in egg whites, where I could put their magic construction powers to work and be able to calibrate what the fluffy results truly were, quiche is it for me.

Wait, quifflé. Yeah, I like that. I'm gonna go with that for the purpose of getting on with this post, and after you check it out, let me know what you think.

I assembled the ingredients and did most of my prep. With room temperature eggs, bacon, three grated cheeses, chopped onions and mushrooms, and whole wheat flour from the farmers market, this was a very local venture. A few pinches of "small craft batched" salt and things were coming together nicely. The monkey and I had raided our garden for the parsley, green onion, thyme, and peas. The frozen butter hunks were ready for a whirl and the yogurt couldn't wait to jump in the savory mingle. I chunked up the bacon into what I believe are called lard-ons, no lardons, and got out the arm shaping iron.

Is there anything else in the world as pleasurable as the smell of frying bacon?

Is there a stupider rhetorical question that I could ask in a post?

Anyway, I fried the lard-ons with the onions and mushrooms and near the end added my herbs. It was looking damn fine. The monkey was getting a bit squirrely, so I needed to put her to work.......

Peas to the rescue! The ramekin comet "peapod" was being transported through space after nimble little fingers helped "free" the captives.

Whew! Thank god for an active imagination. It can really come in quite handy when cooking with little folk.

With the custard portion of our filling nearly complete and the crust awaiting the whole nine yards of backfill (with visible chunks of butter still, I was so happy), it was time to decide if my arms needed more of a workout. Since I can't afford going to the gym anymore, I beat the eggs whites by hand, to a pretty stiff peak and started drooling thinking about how fluffy this quifflé might turn out.

I gently plopped part of the fluff onto the custard and began folding.

I said folding, not mixing. Folding.

I added the rest of the fluff and continued folding. When I thought it was getting somewhat close to being a consistent texture, I stopped. If you think about it, just putting it in the crust will in effect mix it some more, so stop right there.

I popped the pie into a pre-heated oven and after 15 minutes gave it a check.

It was looking nice and "floofy," (as the monkey called it). But it was browning already. It had already risen considerably, and I got the impression that the early browning was partly a function of the egg whites at high temperature and the fact that the loft achieved had pushed it closer to the roof of the oven than I had anticipated. I turned down the heat, removed the rack it was on and put it on the lower one.

This picture does not do it justice. This version had nearly twice the loft of my typical quiche. Egg whites are your friend. Try embracing them sometime and play around with their capabilities. Your mouth will love you, I promise.

Did I forget to mention I made a green olive sordough loaf to go with this one? I'm sorry. I had made a black olive loaf earlier in the week and gave some to Aunty who commented "Nice D, but you know I'm more partial to green 'bout if I give you some greenies in exchange for giving me a bit of the next loaf?" Like, duh.......I may be stupid sometimes, but I'm not dumb.

Did I mention I'm calling this a quifflé?


4 ounces bacon
8 ounces cheese
1 cup yogurt
5 large eggs
1 smallish yellow onion
6-10 brown mushrooms
1 green onion
1 big handful of garden peas
a few sprigs of parsley and thyme

Cube and fry pig. Add allium and fungus. When pig is lightly crispy add herbal clippings. Remove from heat and set aside. Finely grate your cheese selection and separate your eggs, and I don't mean put them in different parts of the room. Throw together the pig and garden fry, the yogurt, cheese, and egg yolks. Put the peas in last. Beat the tar out of the egg whites. Mind you, that's not beating the hell out of them, just the tar. If doing this by hand, make sure to cuss some when your arms feel like falling off. I don't know why, but it helps. So does beer. GENTLY fold the stiff fluff almost all the way in. With the sensitivity of a ninja, place this into the crust. If you're looking for guidance here, check my previous quiche post about it. Basically, same thing here. Bake on lower rack at 400 for the first 10 or 15 minutes. Turn down to 350 until the center stops doing the jello-jiggle. Tell your family it needs to cool for a bit while you scarf down half on the way to serving it at the table. Congratulate yourself on using old-school ovum-technology and enjoying your first quifflé.