Recipe: Scottish Oat Cakes

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Scottish Oat Cakes with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche

Weird Food Rule that Jenn lives by #1: Try to eat foods that humans have been eating for the past 200 years, at least, and try as best you can to eat “traditional” foods from your ancestral region of the world.

Weird Food Rules that Jenn lives by #2: Do this 80% of the time you eat.

Hey, it works for other animals, so why shouldn’t it work for us? We are animals after all. My small dogs do better eating dog food with animal products that they could easily catch in the wild – like fowl and poultry and their eggs (and as close to their natural state as possible). But, not so good on beef or venison. I know we can’t all be wild foragers, but it is good to keep this principle in mind when we choose our mainstay foods. I know I think I feel better when I do this as much as I can,  but I trust my dogs, because they don’t have the placebo effect.

Well it is no surprise to those of you who read my blog regularly that I am a huge fan of Mediterranean cuisine. I grew up in a primarily Southern Italian American family, eating lots of olive oil, garlic and tomato sauce. I love wine, olives, pita bread, hummus and cheese. In fact, quick meals are often comprised of many of these things. Antipasti, tapas and small plate eating is my favorite way to make a meal. These are all super healthy foods, that are a mainstay of my diet and will continue to be, because they are so darn good and good for you and well, super tasty. However, all my life, I have also had a strange love for other foods, from more colder climates. Things like salmon, brunost, wild game (especially those with antlers), lingonberries, blackberries, blueberries, seaweed, wild mushrooms, beets, turnips and sauerkraut. I find myself really CRAVING these foods. As well as other foods that can be found in both parts of the world like cheese, yogurt and other cultured dairy products.

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Preparing Dough for Oat Cakes

So it was interesting for me when I got the results of my DNA test to find out that I have 100% Northern European ancestry, with heavy British/Western Isles connections on all sides, and quite a lot of recent Scottish influx. So in my quest to fulfill more of my Weird Food Rule #1 combined with my quest to find a good cracker recipe, I decided to try making Scottish oat cakes. People of the Western and Northern Isles in Europe have been eating oats and porridge for quite a long time. Oatmeal is good for us, and so I thought this would be a good recipe to experiment with.

It really and truly is a great recipe. It covers all my requirements – significantly more oats than flour, no white flour, holds up well with a pre-soak of the oats and flour – and works really well with buttermilk as the pre-soaking agent.

Buttermilk is an amazing liquid, and extremely easy to make. It is what raw milk becomes when it sours, like yogurt sours (DISCLAIMER: DO NOT try this with pasteurized milk, it ROTS, as opposed to sours, due to the lack of beneficial bacteria and is not safe to drink). Buttermilk is a actually a probiotic food. Even those who are lactose intolerant can generally consume it, since the healthy bacteria makes it easier to digest. I have been making cultured buttermilk (by using store bought milk and a powdered culture) regularly for the past several months. Buttermilk uses are many: pancakes, biscuits, bread, cakes, muffins, and of course these oat cakes. It makes all of these baked goodies nice and tender and airy. I have even drunk buttermilk straight from the glass, on occasion in lieu of kefir and it works well in smoothies, too.

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Scottish Oat Cakes with Cheddar Cheese and Brunost

These oatcakes are a great vehicle to serve with cheese – I like brunost, Roberto like cheddar. Also good with homemade crème fraîche and smoked salmon, even salami. Or you could try butter and jam or raw honey for a sweet treat! :)

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Seriously Succulent Slow Cooked Short Ribs over Creamy Polenta

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This is a dish I had several years ago, and have always wanted to replicate it. Unfortunately it took YEARS to find a good source for humanely raised, antibiotic free short ribs. But when I saw them, I bought them, and I should have bought more for the freezer!

Anyway, the dish I had so enjoyed was served over creamy polenta. There were carrots, onions, and other vegetables that had been slow cooked with the ribs in a thick velvety tomato sauce that was laid on top of the polenta, and the sauce made thick tomato-y rivets in the polenta. I remember thinking to myself that those were some of the best carrots and veggies I had ever eaten! So I did my best to do justice to this dish that stayed with me for so long.

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I started by searing the ribs on all sides in olive oil in a dutch oven. Then I added nice rustic chunks of carrots, onion, garlic and a few fingerling potatoes that were lying around. Once everything was browned, and seasoned with salt and pepper and fresh thyme, I added a glass of red wine to de-glaze the pan. Then added a can of organic tomato paste, and a handful of dried morel mushrooms, and seasoned again. I threw the pan in the oven at 350F for about 2 hours. Every 30 minutes or so, I checked for liquid, and stirred everything around. If it was too dry, I added more wine. Before the final 30 minutes, I gave the whole thing a nice hearty drizzle of olive oil. At the same time, I started the polenta, and prepared it according to the package directions, but added a bit more water to make sure it retained that ultra creamy quality.

This really is a hearty, wintery meal if there ever was one. So this being the tail end of cooler weather for most of us – make it while you can! The best part about preparing this dish was the realization that making it was quite easy, and the slow cooking was what really gave the veggies such an amazing depth of flavor. This amazing dish is easily replicated and tastes like you were slaving all day in the kitchen! Enjoy!

Real Food Irish Feast for St. Patrick’s Day…Better Late Than Never!

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United Irishmen Flag

Well it’s better late than never, I say. Just think of this post as a jump start to next year’s celebration!

These last few months have been very exciting for me. I recently discovered that along with my new found English ancestry (and a few other Northern European ancestries) and in the company of millions of other Americans, I may have some ancestral roots in Ireland. I am still learning about where it comes from, which has been a very fun process for me and has revived in me my love of anthropology and population migrations. I am not sure how much I will ever really know about my heritage, being adopted with no ancestry history, but it looks like there is a strong Northern Irish connection from all my research so far. So this year, I decided that I want to explore these cultures in my ancestral line through the foods of these lands, and St. Patrick’s day seemed like a good place to start, in good company.

I am not Christian, so for me, my St. Patrick’s celebration is not religious or political, but more of a general Celtic heritage and cultural celebration. It should be no surprise that I have Celtic ancestry, as I have always loved Celtic music (even teaching myself to play the fiddle) and culture, and Scottish and Irish desserts have been among my favorites for years. So I felt like even with its religious roots, this would be a good a time as any to celebrate the rich culture and heritage of Ireland with so many others!

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Some Irish Feast Ingredients: Fresh Organic Eggs, Organic Cream and Guinness plus Homemade Buttermilk and Whiskey and Aquavit Soaked Raisins

I wanted to celebrate by cooking some semi- “traditional” dishes, and to challenge myself by cooking with Guinness! So the menu is as follows :

*Guinness Stew
*Sautéed Cabbage in a Mustard Glaze
*Brown Soda Bread
*Guinness Ice Cream

Everything is made from scratch, including the buttermilk in the soda bread. The meal turned out great, and I would certainly make any of these dishes again, for St. Pat’s or any other day.

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Brown Soda Bread

I was inspired by several different recipes for this meal, and it all started with Jenny’s Brown Soda Bread Recipe .

As many who follow this blog know, I have been tweaking various bread recipes these past many months, so that the flour can be soaked for at least 12 hours before baking ( to find out why click here ). Jenny is a master at this kind of cooking, even recently being featured on CNN for her Real Food Challenge . When I saw her soda bread recipe, I knew I had to make it.

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Guinness Stew

From there, the idea for an Irish feast began. I didn’t have a lot of time this year to research “corning” my own beef brisket , so to speak (maybe next year). So I decided to go with something a bit more in my comfort zone – beef stew with a beef and Guinness broth.

I love sautéed cabbage, and since it was on sale at the grocery store, I decided to grab a head and figure out what to do with it later. As I was cooking the stew, an idea for a delicious spicy mustard and honey glaze was concocted in my mind! I will definitely be making cabbage this way again!

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Creamy Guinness Ice Cream without white sugar

I had also been wanting to try this recipe for Guinness Ice Cream for about 2 years. However, I did modify it, to make it more healthy by omitting the 2 cups of sugar called for in the original recipe and using date sugar and maple syrup to sweeten it, instead. I also omitted the brown bread, however I may have to add it in the future, because it sounds yummy!

This was a wonderful celebration to begin to connect with some of my ancestral roots and share it with my awesome and supportive family. Thanks Guys! :) Hope my readers enjoy this menu as much as we did! Recipes under the cut…

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Ancient Grains Penne Pasta with Hearty Red Sauce and Mini Meatballs

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I had about a half a pound of ground grassfed beef in the freezer. It really wasn’t enough to make burgers, and Roberto has been craving meatballs lately. So I decided to make some pasta with red sauce and mini meatballs.

In my constant quest for pasta that is good for you, and doesn’t make me symptomatic, I came across another option from DeBoles– my favorite pasta company. Most of their pastas are made with a flour other than or in addition to wheat. I have had 100% corn (my favorite), and a Jerusalem artichoke/semolina mix, and now Ancient Grain. Ancient Grain is a mixture of organic spelt, quinoa and amaranth, along with organic whole grain semolina and organic whole grain durum. It packs 32 grams of whole grains per serving, and cooks up just like regular pasta.

Due to my issues with grains, I don’t cook pasta very often. But every once in a while it is nice to have a nice steaming bowl of pasta with red sauce, and for those occasions, I am thankful that I have these ready made pastas available. When I eat it, I try to eat more sauce than pasta, actually!

I wanted to make a nice sauce to go with it. Roberto, being Italian and a lover of pasta, does eat it more often than I do. For those occasions, he goes with a nice local organic jarred sauce. There was about a half a jar left of sauce in the fridge and a ¾ can of tomato paste. So this is a leftover queen recipe for sure! I added to those the mini meatballs, onions, garlic, wine and dried porcini mushrooms from Marx Foods. There is a giveaway of these porcini mushrooms (and morels) going on over at The Foodie Blogroll this month. So if you haven’t commented over there to win, please do! The mushrooms are excellent and added an amazing depth of flavor to my sauce with a mere pinch or two of the small broken bits and powder at the bottom of the bag. The sauce turned out dark and thick, perfect for coating the penne. With a nice crumble of soft goat cheese and a quick grate of Parmiggiano cheese on top, it was a great and extremely flavorful winter meal.

The other wonderful thing about this dish besides the wonderful flavor, is that it is also extremely inexpensive and would serve a family nicely with a side salad. This is a great way to stretch your grassfed beef, if you are worried about cost. This dish serves 4, and was about $1.75 per serving.

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Localvore Dinner at Applecheek Farm in Hyde Park, VT

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(Jenn with Rocio of Applecheek Farm AT Applecheek Farm)

Recently when we were in Vermont finalizing some things before the big move this April, we were able to take in another wonderful Localvore Dinner at Applecheek Farm. We went to our first Localvore Dinner when we were in Vermont last November, and it was a fun night filled with great food and music. So we were looking forward to being able to attend another one during this visit to Northern Vermont.

Between the months of November and February, I have become Twitter and Facebook buddies with the folks at Applecheek, and have really enjoyed getting to know Rocio and John better through our internet connection, at the dinners, and during frequent stops to the farm when we have been in town. The internet is really an amazing tool for networking with other people who are passionate about the same things you are, and those Applecheekers are certainly passionate about local, sustainable agriculture, something I am becoming increasingly passionate about. Roberto and I are looking forward to learning more about the farm, and all the wonderful things they offer there once we are living in Vermont.

Going to Localvore Dinners at Applecheek is a way to meet and chat with your neighbors while dining on foods produced locally by your neighbors. This time we had a great time meeting Rocio and John’s children, as well as some other neighbors doing interesting things, like Nathan of FollowNathan.org(definitely check him out – he rode almost 5,000 across country on a bike learning about sustainable agriculture – talk about cool neighbors!). There is always local music, and before the dinner starts, there is always a short talk about what is new at the farm, and new in agriculture that affects everyone, both locally and at the national level. This last evening we were happy to hear that the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) bill was not passed and to learn more about the Consumer-Farmer Alliance that is working together to keep sustainable agriculture alive while giving the consumer(as opposed to the government) the right to decide what products (like raw milk products) they want to purchase from local farms. It is always informative and a great way to learn more about how you can participate in Farm to Table initiatives.

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As interesting as those talks always are, we all look forward to the delicious food that Chef Jason from JDC (Just Delicious Catering) cooks up!!! Applecheek is a real family farm and has been in the Clark family for generations. Chef Jason is the brother of John. John runs the farm operations and Jason is the chef!

On this night the menu was the following:

* Homemade Kimchee made with veggies from the chef’s garden – I found it perfectly spiced and crunchy

* Poutine – a French Canadian specialty of French fried potatoes and homemade gravy with cheese curds from just across the border (literally 20 miles) in Quebec. This was the BIG hit of the night. Our whole table was talking about it.

* Root Vegetable Cassoulet made with veggies from the chef’s garden – Delicious!

* VT Soy Tofu Skewers marinated in Rock Art Brewery Beer (made one town over) and spices – I didn’t try it, due to my soy allergy, but it looks like others enjoyed it!

* Turkey Casserole with Herb and Cheddar Crust made from Applecheek Farms turkey and veggies from the chef’s garden – fantastic! I am a HUGE fan of Applecheek’s turkeys ***

* Cheddar Ale Soup – chock full of delicious farm fresh potatoes and local cheese

* Carrot Cake with Crème Fraîche Icing – a wonderful way to end the night with a nice glass of raw milk!

* Farm fresh Raw Milk, Hot Apple Cider and Water to drink

You can also BYO to the Applecheek dinners. Roberto and I decided to try a bottle of Otter Creek’s Russian Stout. Otter Creek is a brewery in Middlebury VT. It is a historic beer that was made in England especially for the Russian Czars. It is a beautiful robust and dark beer with distinct chocolate notes. It was a great choice with this wonderfully hearty winter dinner.

There was a pretty big snowstorm up on the hill that night and the wind was blowing in gusts as you looked out the windows during dinner. But the hall was warm, full of music, laughter and the perfect comfort foods, keeping the chill out.

We had a great night chatting with everyone at our table, and even got the opportunity at the end of the night to enjoy some of John’s homebrew – a wonderful fermented maple sap drink that he made using ancient brewing techniques. Something I am also interested in trying my hand at somewhere down the road.

My wheels are turning – I am thinking perhaps making elderberry mead from our own bees and elderberries (that we still don’t have, but hopefully will one day)….but that is what happens when you are out in the country, your life has more space for learning new hobbies and skills, and the sky is the limit.

Recipe: Cowboy Beans with Smoked Sausage

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Cooler temperatures really do require comforting and hearty foods. Sometimes the simplest of ingredients can truly make the most satisfying of meals. Plus you don’t have to sacrifice good nutrition or big bucks in the process. Those are all qualities of a winning meal in my book!

I am a big fan of beans. I really could eat them everyday, they are so versatile and packed with nutrients. But, I know not everyone likes beans as much as I do…I had some leftover cooked Borlotti beans from Rancho Gordo that I got in San Francisco during the Foodbuzz Food Blogger’s Festival.  I needed to use them up, so I asked Roberto how he would like them to be prepared. He asked for “Cowboy Beans”. This comes from his growing up in Italy and watching old American Westerns on TV. In many of the movies, there were scenes of cowboys eating baked beans from a can. So as a child he always wanted to know what those cowboy beans tasted like. He tells me that he never imagined them tasting as good as when I make them. What a sweet husband I have.

I love baked beans, and we make them often at home. My grandmother was famous for her beans. I guess it is a family thing! :)

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My most recent rendition of cowboy beans also included carrots, and potatoes, to stretch the recipe and make extra for leftovers. I slow cooked them with smoked polish sausage. A perfect winter time meal!

INGREDIENTS:

1 strip of bacon, chopped
½ a large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 small potatoes, chopped
4 small carrots, chopped
1 cup of leftover beans
1 can of tomato paste
1 empty tomato paste can full of water
dash of your favorite BBQ sauce
1 TBS maple sugar or syrup
salt & pepper to taste
1 package of smoked Polish sausage (or any kind of sausage), cut into smaller chunks

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a dutch oven, or large oven proof pot add the bacon and brown. Add onion, garlic, potatoes and carrots, and sautee for about 5-7 minutes, stirring regularly. Once the veggies are getting browned, add the beans, tomato paste, water, BBQ sauce, maple and seasoning. Stir until veggies are coated with the sauce. Then add the sausage and put the lid on the pot. Cook at 350 for about an hour. Check to see if more liquid needs to be added. If so, add more water – and then check your seasoning. Cook for another 30 minutes. You can keep the pot simmering at a lower temperature, like 200 F, to keep warm until you are ready to serve. Just keep checking your liquid amounts.

Serves 4 big portions. Less than $3 per serving.