Monday, September 27, 2010

Just Loafin Around

Want to have a sandwich? A veggie burger? How about a nice crusty loaf with some bean soup? Bread is an essential part of the American diet, and, despite the stigma surrounding it, it can be a part of a healthy diet too.

There are a couple things when it comes to selecting bread in the grocery store. Most of us are pretty savvy to the fact that we want to choose things that are made from whole grains. Whole grains have fiber, vitamins and minerals, and help keep blood sugar balanced. Bear in mind that bread is often made from a mixture of whole and refined flours, the higher the percentage of whole grains the mix, the better. Also realize that wheat flour is not whole-wheat flour, so when you read this on the ingredient list it really means white flour.

Look to the list of ingredients and avoid items with high fructose corn syrup. Also be mindful that loaves with evaporated cane juice listed as the second ingredient might not be the best choice as that they are high in sugar. Sugar is not a necessary ingredient in bread and I have had many tasty store bought loaves that do not include it at all! One brand that I really like is Food for Life. They make sprouted grain bread that is 100% whole grains and has no added sugar. Also sprouting grains makes them easier to digest, and might be a good option for someone who has a hard time with whole-wheat flour.

Another thing that I like to do in the grocery store is buy the local bakery bread. It is expensive, but if you buy a nice artisan loaf, the ingredients are usually very basic such as whole-wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast. If you are in the Seattle area you have got to try Essential Baking Company’s Pain du George. It is made with 100% whole-wheat flour and is light, fluffy and deliciously crusty! (Plus, George is my dad’s name so I like it!)

As I just mentioned, artisan bread has very few ingredients and is relatively easy to make. I also just recently acquired a sourdough starter and have just begun the experimentation process of learning how to bake with it.

Sourdough starter is actually wild yeast. You use it instead of commercial yeast that comes in the little packets. It gives the bread a delicious sour flavor and also adds some lovely probiotics to your loaf. Honestly since I am not an expert on bread baking (yet!) I can’t say much except give it a try. You house will smell amazing and seriously who doesn’t love freshly baked bread. To inspire you I will leave you with some photos of my first sourdough loaf! (Recognize the beautiful Le Creuset you gave us for our wedding, Emily?)

(My starter, thank you to Karen Jurgenson's grandma Wilma! This one is 90 years old!)

(Proofing process)

(Final product!)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Grocery Gal Gets Canny

I never thought I would “can” anything. I mean, isn’t that something grandmothers do? But, after a magnificent trip to Quillisascut farm school, I learned how to preserve. Suddenly canning was cool.

With the local food movement in full swing, preserving is becoming important to sustainability and eating local. Rather than buy peaches from Australia in the winter that taste like how you feel after a cross continental plane ride, why not capture them in the peak of their freshness and flavor and preserve them for the long winter months to come? That way we can enjoy nutritious and delicious foods that came from our local farms year round! It’s economical, healthy, sustainable, and an important part of our food culture…brilliant!

After a wonderful week at farm school, learning about honeybees, milking goats, making cheese, fabricating ducks, baking bread, and harvesting and preserving fruits and vegetables I was truly inspired! On the way home, I visited a neighboring organic orchard and purchased 20 pounds of peaches and nectarines. I arrived home late that night, stumbled into my apartment, exhausted from the long week of hard work and plopped the box of fruit on my kitchen table and went to bed. The next morning I woke up, opened the box and began to cry. “What was I thinking?!”

Trying to keep my cool, I rounded up jars and lids from the Goodwill (great place for inexpensive canning jars!) and my neighbor and recruited her to help me begin the process. We chopped 12 cups of nectarines and made a delicious jam. I couldn’t be happier, 2 hours of chatting with a friend, some sticky hands, and I have delicious jam that is lightly sweetened, naturally with honey.

Due to the significant dent the jam made in my stone fruit surplus and the amount that I have eaten fresh over the past 3 days, I now have just short of 30 peaches remaining. My mother-in-law and I are baking pies tomorrow and I plan on freezing the rest for smoothies.

I highly recommend giving canning and preserving a try, if you don’t already. It’s easy, fun, and an important skill to learn and pass down for future generations. Ball and Kerr jars are good choices and their rings and caps are interchangeable. Make sure that you follow a recipe and correct procedures for food safety!

What do you like to preserve? What are your favorite recipes and resources?