Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How a Farmer's Wife Feeds Her Family, Part 1

***Just want to welcome everyone coming over from Kelly's Korner Show Us Your Life Large Families.  Glad you stopped by.  If you're new, a good place to start is the Favorite Posts section, down on the right!*****

People email and ask me all the time for advice on dealing with cooking.  They are usually curious if I do once a month cooking, or marathon freezer cooking sessions, or how I grocery shop, or if I use farmers' markets, etc.  The answer to those questions is kind of.  I do indeed cook ahead and freeze ingredients and parts of meals.  I also garden and freeze fruits and vegetables in season, and preserve through canning as well.

Several people have asked me about cooking before a new baby or how to save time in the kitchen with a bunch of kids.  I started to answer some of these emails, but then I realized that I'm not sure my advice on how I run my kitchen is going to be useful to you, if your food priorities are different than mine.

For example, I make a great deal of what we eat from scratch, like bread, hamburger buns, baked goods, yogurt, etc.  If you ask my advice on how I cook ahead, my way of doing things will not make sense for you if your priority is to spend less time in the kitchen, and you currently buy mostly premade food, AND you are happy with the status quo.

My method could save you time if you make the same food choices we do.  So if you do make those things from scratch and wish to continue doing so, my advice may work for you.  Similarly, if your priority is to save money on groceries without couponing like a crazy woman, I can probably give you ideas there.  If your goal is to eat all organic or vegan or gluten-free, I probably can't.  If your goal is to eat more seasonally, I can help you.  If you want to eat as cheaply as humanly possible, I'm not the one to ask.  Make sense?

There are so many things that go into choosing to eat the way that you do.  So before I bombard you with advice that won't be useful, here are three questions to help clarify things:

What are your food priorities?

I have a couple.  The first one is that my husband and I are a bit of food snobs (this is obnoxious, I know).  We don't love casseroles, in general.  We don't use cream-of-whatever soup.  We prefer fresh fruits and vegetables.  We eat things that some people around here consider unusual.  It is important to us that meals taste fresh (I know that seems obvious, but it is a reason why I don't do certain kinds of freezer cooking, etc.  Some things just don't freeze well).  We like to cook and experiment in the kitchen.  This being true, my grocery bill will never hit $40/week like the people who blog money-saving grocery budgets.  That's just not my first priority.  (Which is not to say that keeping the grocery budget reasonable isn't very important around here.  It is).

Next, I want to be prepared to feed my family and others at the last minute.  For me, this means that if my husband calls and says that he needs lunch or something baked for the farm, I can have something (good) ready quickly.  (For the record, Seth has never called and demanded that I cook for the farm.  Ever.  I tend to volunteer).

Similarly, if family or friends stop by, we can invite them to stay for dinner easily and without stress.  Or if someone from church needs a meal for whatever reason, I might be able to help.  I am not suggesting that I make gourmet meals at the last minute, just that I want to be ready and able.

This priority also means that I want to be able to feed my own family easily and quickly on busy days.  Because we live rurally, take-out is not an easy option for us. And delivery is not available at all.  (Seriously.  Nothing.  Coming from the city where we ate delivery about everyday, that little fact blew my mind when I met my husband).

My second food priority encompasses several different things, but in a nutshell, I want my family to eat seasonally as much as possible, for the best price, with as much variety as we can.

Lastly, I prefer to buy (or grow) whole foods and to make as many things from scratch as I can....if it is cost-effective, practical, and it tastes better.  For example, I make most of our bread products.  However, my kids can eat about a loaf of bread per day.  So even though I make bread just about everyday, I also buy bread. It is more expensive.  It doesn't taste as good.  It's not as healthy.  But I just can't keep up with their appetites!  Another example of this is yogurt, which I make off and on.  But it's not cheap enough to be worth making it all myself.  And oh yeah, the kids don't love it homemade.

How do you feed your family now?

In other words, do your actions match up with your priorities?  If not, why?

What changes do you want to make to bring those two things together?

If you are happy with how you eat now, awesome.  But if you would like to save time, eat more homemade meals, make more from scratch, save money on groceries, or what-have-you, pick a goal. My method of doing things may help.  On the other hand, based on your goals, my advice my not work for you.  You can decide.... next time! 

Linking up to Kitchen Tip Tuesdays at Tammy's Recipes

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

This is an awesome company dessert because it looks all fancy (but it's not difficult), and it has to be made ahead of time.  

We cut this recipe out of Saveur magazine so long ago I can't even remember the year.  It says that the recipe originally comes from Marlow & Sons.  We modified it very slightly for the ingredients that are available here.

(Sorry for the phone picture, it is prettier than this in real life.  We were in a hurry to get to a friend's.  To eat this, obviously.)

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart
Serves 8

Be aware: You MUST start this recipe the day before serving, or at least 12-ish hours ahead.  The tart has to cool for several hours between each step.  

Kitchen Equipment Needed: Mixer (handheld or stand), bowls, pans, 9" tart pan with removable bottom (although mine is 11" inches, and it works just fine.  I think you could also use a 9" pie pan here), candy thermometer (or other digital food thermometer that measures up to 365.  Mine is not a candy thermometer, and it works just fine), random spatulas

For the crust:
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 c plus 1 T dutch unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 t kosher salt (kosher salt and table salt are not the same thing, FYI)
10 T unsalted butter, cubed and softened
1/2 c plus 2 T confectioners' sugar
2 egg yolks, room temp
1/2 t vanilla

For the caramel:
1 1/2 c sugar
3 T light corn syrup
1/4 t kosher salt
6 T unsalted butter
6 T heavy cream
1 T sour cream

For the ganache:
1/2 c heavy cream
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (better chocolate is better here)
Sea salt, gray if you can find it, or just coarse flakes if you cannot

Step 1: Make the Crust
Heat oven to 350.  Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until mixture is pale and fluffy; mix in egg yolks and vanilla.  Combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Mix dry ingredients into wet until a dough is formed.  Transfer dough to a 9" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and press dough evenly into bottom and sides of pan.  Prick the tart shell all over with a fork and bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes.  Transfer the entire pan to a rack and let cool.

Step 2: Make the Caramel
In a saucepan, whisk together sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 6 T water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  After it comes up to a boil, cook without stirring, until a candy thermometer reads 365.  (Don't use a spoon, but you can swirl the pan during this time to mix gently).  Do not walk away, especially toward the end.  The difference between caramel and burnt sugar is about ten seconds.  Ask me how I know.

Remove the pan from heat and whisk in butter, cream, and sour cream (the mixture will bubble up) until smooth.  Pour caramel into cooled tart shell and let cool slightly.  Refrigerate until firm, 4-5 hours.

Step 3: Make the Ganache
Bring cream to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Put chocolate into a medium bowl and pour in the hot cream; let sit for 1 minute, and then stir slowly with a rubber spatula until smooth.  Pour ganache evenly over tart and refrigerate until set, 4-5 hours.  Sprinkle sparsely with sea salt, slice, and serve chilled.

This isn't diet food, in case you were wondering.