Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis

I have to preface this book review with a quick mention that the Dinner Event with David Tanis (celebrated chef from Chez Panisse) at the Artichoke Cafe on November 15th is almost sold out. Call Bookworks ASAP for details and one of the few remaining tickets! 505-344-8139. Now back to our scheduled programming….

I love cookbooks. I read them like novels. I read them not just for the recipes, but for inspiration and to be taken on a journey. So when I got my hands on David Tanis’ new cookbook, Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys, I eagerly sat down with a cup of tea and started reading.

Heart of the Artichoke

This gorgeous and useful cookbook doesn’t just look pretty. The recipes are fantastic!

It felt like meeting an old friend that I hadn’t seen in years, where we talk about what we used to eat together as kids and compare new delicacies. The first section, Kitchen Rituals, is filled with refreshingly simple tips, more story than recipe, sometimes focusing on a single ingredient like apples, on how to easily put a dish or meal together. I found myself saying “I do that too!” or “What a good idea!”

This isn’t just another celebrity chef cookbook with glossy photos of the chef’s grinning family enjoying perfectly constructed food, accompanied by insipid or impractical recipes. This is a book about using fresh ingredients simply to make the best food possible. And Tanis doesn’t belabor the point about eating organic or seasonally. His audience gets that by now. So instead of a lecture, we get a mouth-watering recipe for fresh peach ice cream (I can’t wait till August!) or easy apricot jam (I can’t wait till July!).

No fancy equipment, no glamorous kitchens, or exotic ingredients are required here. Ok, there is one recipe that calls for kumquats (which we had growing outside when I lived in California, but are going to be harder to find here in Albuquerque or the rest of the country). But instead of being annoyed with one exotic ingredient, I thought, “Wow, I haven’t thought of kumquats in years, I wonder if they have them at the local Asian grocer?” The recipe took me on a journey back to my childhood where we could snack on ripe kumquats right from the bush. In season, naturally.

The recipes are all doable, and as an experienced cook, I found myself tempted with foodstuffs I have shied away from, like tripe and squid. With Tanis’ tips on selection and preparation of these not so ordinary ingredients, I feel confident enough to finally try cooking with them.

Some cookbooks take you on a journey, but you don’t end up actually using the recipes. Not so with Heart of the Artichoke. Every recipe looks good. I’ve already made half a dozen of them and look forward to personalizing the rest of the pages with dribbles of spices and smudges of flour.

Tanis is a chef after my own heart. This is the kind of cookbook I would write if I were a celebrity chef and lived half of the year in Paris and half in California. Heck, it’s the kind of book I would want to write even if I lived on an urban farm in Albuquerque full-time (Oh, that’s right, I do). Starting with spring (and Lamb with Rosemary), Tanis takes us from simple recipes for one or two people to simple delicious meals for a crowd. Heart of the Artichoke is a beautiful follow-up to his previous cookbook, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipesand I give it my highest recommendation.

And for those of you living in Albuquerque, wait, there’s more! There will be a dinner with Tanis held at Artichoke Cafe on November 15th in celebration of his new book. What is sure to be an entertaining (and delectable dinner) event is only $75, and includes a signed copy of the book, three courses with wine pairings and dessert (for 2, $115). What a deal! See Bookworks for tickets and details and don’t delay. This dinner is almost sold out! If you miss out on tickets, Tanis will be at Bookworks on the 15th from 5-6: 30 pm for a reading and book signing.

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Think You’re Eating Farm Fresh Eggs? Think Again.

With the recent salmonella egg scare, it’s more important than ever to know where your food comes from. A photo of a happy chicken on your egg carton does not mean much more than you have a pretty egg carton.

Cuckoo Marans Chickens

Cuckoo Marans Momma Hen and Her Just Hatched Chicks: “Oh My Stars!”

If you can’t raise your own flock, try to purchase your eggs from another backyard grower, or read this article from Mother Jones to find out who NOT to buy eggs from. And the Cornucopia Institute has a very helpful scorecard rating local to national egg brands (including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods).

And, by the way, the term “free range” doesn’t mean those chickens have access to fresh air, sunshine, grass, and bugs. Unless your eggs are from a small backyard or family farm or the carton says the hens are pastured, the eggs are more than likely coming from hens that are, yes, cage-free, but crammed into hoop-house like structures where they don’t have access to all the things that make chickens really happy. Fresh air, sunshine, bugs.

Buff Orpington Hen Cuddling with her Cuckoo Marans Chick

We keep a flock of chickens for eggs, meat, pest patrol, their manure, and for the life they add to our farm. We know our eggs are safe and healthy.

Oh, and chickens aren’t vegetarians.

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Last Workshops at Sunstone for the Year this Week!

Our workshop series is rapidly coming to a close for the year. It’s been a fun season meeting so many people! Here are details for the last workshops I will be teaching in 2010.

This Wednesday, October 13, I will be teaching a FREE workshop on Gardening and Eating through a New Mexico Winter at the Agricultural Collaborative monthly meeting at the MRCOG offices. 9am-10:30. I’ll offer my favorite tips for extending the growing season, growing during the winter and preserving your harvest, tips on lacto-fermentation included!

This Sunday, October 17, is Artisanal Bread Baking,  the last Urban Homesteading workshop here at Sunstone for the year. If you’ve heard the rave reviews about my bread, come and see how it’s done. This is a fun hands-on workshop, and there will be plenty to taste! 10am. $15 day of, $12 advanced registration.

I hope you can join us before our long winter’s rest!

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Beneficials in the Garden: Yellow Garden Spiders

I was just asking Tree if she had noticed any of my favorite black and yellow garden spiders in the garden this year. I hadn’t noticed any Argiope guaranties (even their name is gorgeous) and missed seeing their big sturdy webs spun between stands of Echinacea.

The very next day I went to turn the water on and saw a beautiful specimen right by the water faucet. Delighted, I welcomed her (only the females have the striking black and yellow coloring) and went to get the camera. She was nonstop busy catching huge grasshoppers that made the mistake of getting entangled in her web.

You can still see the grasshopper’s face underneath the spider’s silk.

These spiders are so amazing. They can take prey up to 200% of their own size and will eat a variety of insects night and day from aphids to flies to grasshoppers (which is what I usually see in their nests). They’re not considered dangerous and are unlikely to bite unless harassed. Unfortunately, they can also be predated on by birds, lizards and dauber wasps.

I welcome all spiders -they are amazing insectivores, but if you lean towards the arachnophobic, try to give these beneficials space in your garden, you might be surprised at what good garden companions they are.

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Goat Milk Soap Now Available at Sunstone

Goat Milk Soap

We handcraft our goat milk soap in small batches using raw goat milk from our trio of sassy Alpine dairy goats: Tosca, Desdemona and Betty!

Luscious goat milk soap made with fresh milk from our goats and honey from our bees is now available for sale at sunstoneherbs.com.

We hand cut each bar and package them in a simple compostable brown paper bag. We aim for minimal packaging to reduce our environmental footprint. Due to the handcrafted nature, each bar will be uniquely shaped.

We use no fragrance oils or perfume oils in our soap. Fragrance oils are often synthetic, and we like to keep our soap as pure and environmentally friendly as possible. The only scent comes from the honey and the goat milk. Many people with sensitive skin tell us that they love our gentle soap. Try it and see for yourself!

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How to Make Goat Milk Yogurt

I’m lucky enough to own three dairy goats. I have a constant supply of delicious raw goat milk, and, no, it’s not goaty tasting. It’s sweet and creamy. I make lots of cheese, ice cream, and yogurt. I love yogurt, and with the store bought good stuff costing $5 a quart, I save a lot of money.

Yogurt is very easy to make, but there are a few tips to making good goat milk yogurt since goat milk has different qualities than cow milk. I think our homemade yogurt is the most delicious yogurt I’ve ever tasted. I encourage you to try making your own yogurt whether you have access to raw goat milk or if you’re using store bought cow milk (I wouldn’t use store bought pasteurized goat milk). You’ll be surprised at how easy it is! I’ll give the basic instructions first, then go into detail about, well, the details.

Goat Milk Yogurt

Delicious Goat milk yogurt with strawberries, blueberries and a drizzle of maple syrup. My favorite summer breakfast. Yum!

Ingredients and Equipment for Two Quarts of Yogurt:

2 quarts of raw goat milk (or raw or pasteurized cow milk)
2 tablespoons high-quality yogurt or two frozen cubes of yogurt in a glass measuring cup or jar
2-quart saucepan
thermometer (optional)
Yogotherm or small cooler with 2 mason jars and lids

1. Heat milk to 180. Remove from heat and let cool to 115.
2. When milk has cooled, pour a little milk into the jar containing the starter yogurt and stir well.
3. Add the starter back to the cooled milk, stir well and immediately pour into the yogotherm container or into two-quart mason jars. Seal.
4. Put the yogotherm contain into the insulator and let sit for 8 hours. If using a cooler, put the jars in the cooler and fill with warm (not boiling hot) water to insulate the jars. Let sit for 8 hours. Then refrigerate. The yogurt will continue to solidify slightly overnight.

DETAILS:

Starter Culture
You can purchase a starter culture. That works great. Bulgarian yogurt is my favorite starter, producing the thickest yogurt. However, it gets expensive, so I just purchase plain whole milk yogurt and freeze it in an ice cube tray and use one yogurt cube per quart of milk as a starter. I don’t bother defrosting the frozen yogurt before using. When the milk has cooled to about 120, I pour some milk over the cube to melt it. My favorite store bought starter yogurt is Dannon. I’ve tried all the organic, greek and Bulgarian yogurts as starters over the years, but here in Albuquerque, Dannon has proved to be the most lively starter. When I lived in New York, I would use Seven Stars Farm or Hawthorne Valley yogurt as a starter. Don’t use low/non-fat or flavored yogurts. There must be live cultures in the yogurt. Old yogurt with not so lively cultures will not produce good yogurt. It will make yogurt, but the flavor may be very tart or runny.

Incubation/Insulation

You need to keep your yogurt at a steady warm temperature (not over 115 degrees). Some people do this with towels and pilot lights. That’s too much for me. For a long time, I used a small Igloo cooler, pre-heating it with hot water, but I recently purchased a Yogotherm non-electric yogurt “maker,” and I love it. It just makes the process so much easier for me. My yogurt is much more consistent, and I’m more inclined to make it regularly with the Yogotherm. They cost around $30. And since I go through a few quarts of yogurt a week, it’s already more than paid for itself.

Temperatures
You don’t have to bring the milk to 180 if you want a “raw” yogurt. But your yogurt will be thin because the yogurt cultures have to compete with the naturally occurring bacteria in the milk. Bringing the milk to 180 doesn’t really pasteurize the milk, but it kills off enough of the natural bacteria so that the yogurt bacteria can culture the milk without competition. This is important if you want additive-free thicker yogurt.

Cooling the Milk

I fill a sink with cold water and frozen plastic water/soda bottles in order to cool the milk quickly. This saves me time and produces a sweeter yogurt in my experience. To let the milk cool from 180 to 115 would take hours in my hot kitchen. You don’t want the milk to cool down much below 110 (yes, you can make a thin, yogurt beverage by simply adding the culture to just warmed milk, but 110 to 115 is ideal).

Thick vs. Thin Yogurt

Goat milk yogurt is naturally more delicate and thinner than cow milk yogurt. If you are used to store-bought yogurt, especially cow yogurt, you should know that it is usually so thick because of additives, usually pectin, carrageenan or non-fat milk powder. This yogurt, even the organic stuff, is gross to me. Why would I go to the trouble to make a healthy homemade cultured dairy product and then put something like dry milk powder into it? I don’t get it. But I do get that some people are so used to the sludge-like thick store yogurt that they think goat milk yogurt is too thin or delicate. (Think Yoplait, what used to be gourmet yogurt!). To get the thickest goat milk yogurt you need to heat the milk to 180 so that the yogurt culture doesn’t have to compete with the milk bacteria. The competition weakens the yogurt culture so that it is not able to fully act on the milk. So, heat your milk if you want thicker yogurt. Also, you must have an active culture. In my experience, dry Bulgarian culture (you can buy them online) and Dannon plain whole milk yogurt produce the thickest yogurt.

You also need to consider how long you let the yogurt incubate. Sometimes I leave my Yogotherm out for 24 hours. It’s still yogurt, but it’s usually thinner and more tart. If you refrigerate (to stop the culturing process) too soon, then the bacteria doesn’t have enough time to work their magic on the milk. The result is thinner yogurt. It’s still yogurt, just thinner. For me, 8-10 hours work the best. Once you get the hang of the process, experiment with different times to see what works best with your milk and climate and taste.

Have fun and enjoy! – Jen

Yogotherm yogurt insulator/incubator and a quart of homemade goat milk yogurt.

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Starting Sweet Potato Slips, Part 2

Back in February, I wrote about how to start your own sweet potato slips for planting. You put your sweet potatoes in water. Et voila! They grow roots and shoots. Now what?

This little sweet potato has two shoots, this little potato has one, and the middle potato has none!

The next step is to gently break off the shoots with the roots from the sweet potato. Put the shoots in water and let them grow until you’re ready to plant.  You can pot up the shoots and have a gorgeous sweet potato vine plant, or plant them in your garden when the soil is warm. If you have a long enough growing season you will get many sweet potatoes from each slip you plant.

Because I didn’t have a very bright or warm place to let my potatoes sprout, it took two months for them to start growing vines (this photo was taken back in April). Now even the sad potato on the toothpick is sporting sprouts. You can still start your own slips, you just may not get any or many sweet potatoes from the vines. If harvesting sweet potatoes is the goal, then at this late date you should purchase started slips from many online vendors.

Sweet potatoes like sandy soil and warm temperatures. Since we have sandy, sandy soil and hot summers, I’m looking forward to a good harvest come fall. Happy gardening!

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Follow us on Facebook

If you’re on Facebook, you can now become a fan of Sunstone Herb Farm. We created a page on Facebook so that we can quickly share daily goings on here at the farm and easily post videos and photos. Enjoy!

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Urban Homesteading at Sunstone

John takes spent hay from goat pen for sheet mulching new garden beds.

Friends, it’s time to give you an update on what we’re doing here at Sunstone since moving to New Mexico last fall.

Our intention was to live rural with larger acreage as we did in New York, but after much thought, we decided to explore the urban homesteading model, settling just 11 miles outside of the city of Albuquerque in the historically agrarian South Valley.

Instead of a 100 or 20 or 5 acres, we landed on 1.5 acres in the fertile Rio Grande Valley. This is a far cry from the greenbelt we once called home, but already our smallholding has the same peaceful feel of our farmstead in the Catskills.

The urban homesteading model is one that we are excited about exploring and encourage others to experiment and learn with us. With 98% of the US population living off-farm, one of the ways to really increase local farms, local foods and local economies is for people to start their own urban jungle of fruit trees, vegetables, and healing herbs. We can’t all go “back to the land,” but we can each do our part to create greenbelts of our cities.

Some of the projects we will blog about after our period of “long and thoughtful observation” are sheet-mulching, planning an urban farmstead, harvesting rainwater and creating micro-pastures and edible fences for our goats.

To see what one enterprising family is doing with their urban homestead, check out the inspiring Path to Freedom website. Si se puede! – Jen

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Basil, Garlic and Walnut Goat Cheese

One of my favorite recipes for herbed goat cheese I learned from a friend I knew in San Francisco. He was a chef and explained the recipe is those vague chefs like terms, just add a bit of this and a bit of that. At the time, I still needed recipes to follow, though now I’ve graduated to the bit of this, bit of that cooking school.

Basil, Garlic & Walnut Goat Cheese

1. Toast approximately 1/2 cup walnuts (I generally toast a lot more and then add extra nuts to cheese or save for snacking). When cool, chop. Set aside.

2. If using store-bought chevre, let cheese come to room temperature. Blend 8oz of cheese in a small bowl till smooth and soft. Add handful basil, finely chopped. Add one or two minced or crushed cloves of garlic, depending on how garlicky you like your food. If you’re not a fan of garlic, mince the garlic and use a small clove. Add the walnuts to the cheese. Adjust seasonings to taste. Sometimes I sprinkly finely chopped walnuts over the top of the cheese before serving.

This cheese is always a big hit. Caveat: I never measure amounts, and I usually make 2 pounds at a time with this cheese (this is based on the amount of milk my goatie girls produce on a daily basis) so take the recipe amounts with a grain of salt. -Jen

Thanks, Desi!

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