Let’s Get Cultured! Quark!

Quark is my new obsession. Even the name is fun to say! It is a fresh cheese traditionally made in Germany, which makes this another exploration into the foods of my ancestors (last week I was exploring my Scottish heritage with a traditional Burns Supper ).

Quark is one of the the oldest cheeses in Europe and has been enjoyed by Germanic people since at least the first century CE, when Roman author Tacitus described it in his writings. Tacitus kind of makes my blood boil, but I do like to imagine the Barbarian hoards sweeping through Europe with quark in their saddlebags. But what can I say, our little family are just berserkers at heart. Cheese, Barbarians…I am really starting to appreciate this lineage.

Back to the cheese: Quark comes in three types – a lower fat version called Magerquark, which can be used much in the same way as yogurt and viewed as a health food in Germany and Austria, a full fat version with added cream called Sahnequark or “cream quark” that is typically a base for a variety of many delicious desserts and then regular quark made with whole milk.

I first tasted quark a few months ago when I saw it at the store produced by Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery. and quickly found many delicious uses for it. It is a bit pricey at almost $4 for a small tub. Once I realized this was going to be a staple for me, I decided to consult my favorite cheese making book, Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses to see if there was a recipe. To my delight I found a recipe on page 99, and discovered how easy it was to make using a buttermilk culture. A word about the book, if you are at all into making cultured dairy products, and don’t have this book, you should get it. For under $10 it is a real treasure trove of fantastic recipes, from really really easy, to artisanal and the instructions are very down to earth.

Be warned one recipe makes a lot of quark – so you want to make sure you have some ideas of what to do with it once it is made. I tried my hand at a no-bake cheesecake using agar-agar to create the right texture but it didn’t congeal and so I put it in the freezer and tonight we will have frozen quark cheesecake for dessert. I will keep working on a recipe though and post it once it has been perfected.

This is a very versatile cheese – you can use it like sour cream or yogurt. I like to put a dollop on homemade nachos, or add on top of a steaming bowl of beans and rice or tomato soup. For the sweet tooth, you can swirl with raw honey or maple syrup or fruit for a nice and satisfying dessert and I am sure it would be a good ingredient in a variety of cakes, muffins, pancakes and breads. This is an ingredient I will be experimenting with a lot now that we have it in such abundance.

I chose to make the full fat, cream added version of quark, and the texture is wonderfully creamy.
SAHNEQUARK INGREDIENTS:
1 gallon creamline milk
1 packet direct-set buttermilk starter
2-3 TBS heavy cream

METHOD:
Heat the milk to 88F, add the starter and mix thoroughly. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours or until set*
Ladle the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin. Tie the corners of the muslin into a knot and drain overnight (with the colander still underneath). If the quark is too dry the next day add a few more TBS of cream to the finished cheese. Store in a covered container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Makes 1-1/2 lbs of fresh quark.

*if you live in a colder climate or prepare this during winter be prepared to wait longer for the curds to thicken and develop. You basically want it to look like runny yogurt before moving on to the next steps.

This post is part of  Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop!

Cultures, Fiddleheads, and Poutine

hello compost_loq

HELLO COMPOST!

Life has been extremely busy here on the homestead. If you are following my facebook updates, you know I have been up to my ears (almost) in dirt. I have learned in these few short weeks, that spring is the busiest time of the year in the country. If you are in the North Country, you are trying to get your gardens, fruit/nut tree groves and berry patches started for the summer, while dodging rain storms, and on occasion even snow storms! Here at Thistlemoon Meadows, it is no exception. All of this while trying to settle into a new place. We have been spending as many sunny days as we can outdoors, and if there isn’t enough of those to do what we need to accomplish, we go out in the rain – and if you can believe it, the snow storm is actually a blessing from Mother Nature, as it allows us time to go indoors and take care of household needs. It has been several years since I have really enjoyed the dichotomies that make up spring and it has been amazing – when you are working with things that grow, it kind of all makes sense. Nature is amazing that way.

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(The Culture Club (this is not how I normally have my “lab” set up. If you are culturing more than one kind of culture they need to sit a few feet apart from each other, but I asked them all to gather together for  photo).

Our house is not a home unless I have set up my cultures, lovingly termed my “science lab” in the kitchen. On any given day I have sourdough starter, kefir, some kind of sour milk either viili or buttermilk, yogurt and sometimes cheese culturing. Plus I usually have various kinds of grains and legumes soaking and fermenting. It is this life sustaining and nourishing foods that get our bodies through all the hard work that comes with setting up and maintaining a homestead. And our chickens haven’t even arrived yet! :)

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FIDDLEHEADS!

So to celebrate spring in all her glory, on one warm and beautiful day, we decided to have our first barbecue of the season. We had been to the local market earlier in the day and picked up a prized local wildfood – fiddlehead ferns. These ferns can only be harvested for about 2 weeks in the early spring, in Northern climes, like New England, and Canada. Fiddleheads are harvested early in the season before the frond has opened and reached its full height – they are named fiddleheads as they bear resemblance to the curled ornamentation on the end of a stringed instrument, such as a fiddle. Since I am a fiddlehead, it seemed like a food I should try. It is not suggested that you eat fiddleheads raw, as they have a bitterness to them before cooked, that can lead to stomach upset. I was told they taste a bit like asparagus, so I decided to just toss them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and cook them on the grill, on top of foil – kind of like broiled asparagus, which is my favorite way to prepare it. Although truth be told, if asparagus ceased to exist, I wouldn’t miss it.

herbed skirt steak_loq

For this meal I wanted to cook everything on the grill. Steak is best when grilled, and we had also gotten a beautiful skirt steak from a local farm. I lightly drizzled olive oil on it, and then dressed it up with fresh herbs – cilantro, thyme and basil.

To accompany this meal, I decided to make poutine on the grill, sans gravy, which I guess really makes this potatoes and cheese curds – but it was light and perfect with this menu. I cooked both white potatoes and sweet potatoes on the grill in foil packets for about 40 minutes. For the last 15 minutes,I opened the packets so the potatoes could brown, and then put the cheese curds on top, turned off the grill and closed the grill lid for about 5 minutes.

spring BBQ on a plate_loq

(Spring Foods Dinner)

It was a wonderful evening outside listening to the night sounds – frogs, birds and eventually even a guitar and…you guessed it, a fiddle.

awesome nighttime_loq

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.

oat-cakes_preparing

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.

oat-cakes_with-cheddar_cheese

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

IrGreenFlag

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!

pattys-day_ingredients

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.

pattys-day_stew

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!

pattys-day_guiness-ice-cream

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…

slainte

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Soaked Buttermilk Biscuits with Brunost

Brunost-and-Jam

I have been playing with baking a lot lately. For a long time “carbs” and “grains” meant the same thing to me, in my mind. I don’t know why, but I blame the media and the “low carb craze”. So basically I have stopped listening to the media when it comes to my food choices and eat what feels the best to me, which has taken quite a bit of research and time. I recently took a DNA test, which I may talk about more on here (if you are facebook friends with me, I will be updating my results soon!), but the results showed that I had a low genetic probability to Celiac’s Disease, answering a question I have wondered about for nearly a decade.

However, just because I don’t have Celiac’s Disease doesn’t mean that wheat doesn’t affect me. For the past several months I have been soaking my flour in an acid, like whey, or homemade kefir or buttermilk for 24 hours before baking. I do this in order to break down the phytic acid that is in wheat, which makes wheat hard to digest for many people. I have found this to be very helpful with regard to the effects on my body that I usually attribute to wheat – like a “carb coma”. So recently I was looking through Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, to see what recipes they had for bread, and I found a recipe for Buttermilk Biscuits. I was very excited.

I was recently able to procure some Gjetost – a Norwegian brown cheese, commonly known as Brunost, which means “Brown Cheese”. It is generally a goat’s milk cheese (but there are cow, and mixed versions as well). Brunost is made by boiling a mixture of milk, cream and whey carefully for several hours so that the water evaporates. The heat turns the milk sugar into caramel which gives the cheese its characteristic taste. It is the most amazing cheese in the world. My favorite, and one that I ate several times a day when I lived in Norway. I used to love it on bread for breakfast and lunch, or on waffles, with a little raspberry jam for dessert. I thought these biscuits, slightly sweet, would be the perfect vehicle to eat this cheese, and I was right! They are also good with another Norwegian favorite (and one of mine) smoked salmon.

I really love the dough – it smells amazing and is a dream to work with. I have made these biscuits twice in the past week, and the second time, they were even better. I used the Parmigiano Reggiano Butter I talked about in my last post and it made so much difference. I also made sure the dough was thick enough when rolled out, and used a larger glass to cut them out – which made the resulting biscuits much more tender.

They are simple to make and delicious. Your house will smell like a bakery all day. I happened to have people come over in the evening both of the days that I baked them, and they both asked what I had been baking. So yeah, they are amazing. Try them today – and if you can find some brunost, slice some very thinly on top, using a cheese slicer and place a dollop of jam on top, and you will be in heaven.
I promise.

buttermilk-biscuits

Buttermilk Biscuits
from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

Makes about 1 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup of unbleached white flour
2 cups of spelt, kamut, or whole wheat flour
1 cup buttermilk
4 TBS melted butter
1 ½ tsp sea salt
2 tsp baking soda
unbleached white flour

METHOD:

Mix flour with buttermilk and mix to form a thick dough. Cover and leave in a warm place (countertop) for 12 to 24 hours. Place in a food processor with the other ingredients, and process several minutes to knead. Remove dough to a well-floured pastry cloth or board and sprinkle with unbleached white flour to prevent sticking. Roll dough out to ¾ inch thickness. Cut biscuits with a glass and place on buttered baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes (my biscuits baked in about 15-20 minutes, so keep an eye on them!)