Pork Chops with Cider Reduction and Greens and Why Pork Loves Apples

could be done without whole grain mustard, but it won't be as pretty

Our CSA subscription kept me so busy finding new ways to eat greens and green beans this summer that I haven’t done anything new with meat in a long time. But I recently found myself with a package of pork chops, more apple cider than I wanted to drink, and one last bunch of chard. Turns out pork chops are pretty easy—if you just season them with salt and pepper, sear them on both sides over high heat and then cook them until they’re pink inside over lower heat (~155F), they turn out pretty tasty. So this was the meal I came up with: I reduced the apple cider to a glaze along with some whole-grain mustard, cooked the pork chops as described, and then served them both over a bed of sautéed shallots and chard. Quick, easy, elegant, delicious, and perfect for Fall. 

image from sodahead.comI got the idea from a recent conversation I had about why bacon is so often smoked with applewood. The answer, as far as I can tell, is because pork loves apples. Applesauce or cooked spiced apples are a classic accompaniment for pork chops. You can buy apple-flavored pre-made sausages. Whole roasted pigs are traditionally presented with apples in their mouths. The pairing is at least as old as Apicus (a 1st Century Roman) whose writings include a recipe for minutal matianum, which was a sort of stew or ragout of pork and apples. In England, serving pork with applesauce was common by the Early Modern period, and may have started much earlier (according to The Food Timeline).

There seem to be three possible explanations:

1) They Are What They Eat: Wherever there are both orchards and pigs, the pigs have traditionally been allowed to graze on the windfall apples that cover the orchard floor during harvest season, which also happens to be pig-slaughtering season. Pigs like apples—especially ones that may be fermenting a bit—but that’s not the main reason they get to eat them. Instead, it’s because windfall produce is an ample source of omnivore-feed that’s generally not quite fit for human consumption. There’s a nod to both pigs’ affinity for apples and using windfall apples to keep pigs “in good health” in Orwell’s Animal Farm:

Now if there was one thing that the animals were completely certain of, it was that they did not want Jones back. When it was put to them in this light, they had no more to say. The importance of keeping the pigs in good health was all too obvious. So it was agreed without further argument that the milk and the windfall apples (and also the main crop of apples when they ripened) should be reserved for the pigs alone. (right at the end of Chapter 3)

Most livestock animals are ruminants and thus don’t compete with humans for food (at least traditionally—the shift from grass to grain as the mainstay of cattle feed is a recent development in the history of animal agriculture). Pigs are extraordinarily efficient at converting feed into flesh, but since they can’t survive on grass and alfalfa, if there aren’t enough “slops,” pigs sometimes eat at the expense of hungry people. Anthropologist Marvin Harris suggests that that’s likely part of the reason they’re the object of religious/cultural prohibitions originating in certain regions of the world.

It’s possible—likely, even—that apple-fed pigs taste a little bit like apples, especially if that’s what they’re gorging on right before they’re killed. Fancypants Iberico ham is supposed to taste like the acorns that pampered Spanish pigs are fed. Some artisan pork producers claim their pigs are fed exclusively with apricots, which supposedly imparts a uniquely sweet and floral taste. Cooking apple-fed pigs with apples or smoking their meat with applewood might have initially become popular at least in part because they would enhance and complement the apple flavor.

2) It’s the Time of the Season for Apples & Pork: The second and probably more important reason is that both pork and apples are Fall foods. The apple harvest coincides with pig slaughtering season—Fall was traditionally the time to put up enough cured pork products to last through the long winter, especially before over-wintering the animals was common. And although much of the pig could be preserved—the legs and the belly would be salted and/or smoked for ham and bacon and much of the meat could be ground up and preserved in some kind of sausage—some of the cuts were eaten right away. Apples would have been a natural component of those meals because they were plentiful at the same time. Further evidence: duck and goose, Fall game birds, are also often paired with apples.

3) Cutting the Fat: Pork is fatty and umami. Apples are sweet, acidic, and light. Applesauce is a condiment that makes the same kind of sense with pork as mint jelly with lamb or malt vinegar with fish & chips (I’m in Ireland this week, can you tell?)—it’s just something sharp and bright to cut something rich and meaty. However, the gustatory rationale probably explains why the tradition lasted more than why it started. Ultimately, bright and acidic condiments are sort of interchangeable. If not for pig affinity/seasonal considerations, people might have as easily paired pork with mint jelly.

I suspect it’s a combination of all three. And tradition aside, the cider-mustard glaze would also be excellent on baked winter squash, chicken (I can imagine it as a great dipping sauce for wings), or anywhere you might use a sweet, mild barbeque sauce.

a bit shiny from this angle

Recipe: Pork Chops with Cider Reduction and Greens

  • clockwise from the bottom left: chops, tea, chard, & cider. not exactly a one-pot meal, but well worth the extra dishes1 pork chop per person 
  • 1 T. cooking oil
  • 1 bunch of cooking greens (about 4 cups raw) per person
  • 1-2 shallots per person
  • 2-3 T. whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 2-3 cups apple cider
  • 2 T. butter, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • rubbed sage (optional)

1. Combine the mustard and cider in a saucepan over high heat and let cook until reduced by at least half (20-30 minutes).

boiling vigorously reduced to less than a cup, slightly thickened

2. Meanwhile, melt one tablespoon of the butter in a pot large enough to hold the greens. Dice the shallot and add to the butter and let cook until golden (5-10 minutes).

3. Pull the greens from their stems, rinse them, and tear them into 2-3” pieces. Add them to the pan with the shallots with the water still clinging to them. Stir, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook until tender (5 minutes for chard, more for kale or mustard greens). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

handful of diced shallots shallot caramelized and slightly obscured by apple cider steam

you can cook the chard stems too if you want, just add them to the shallots with a little water about 5-10 minutes before adding the leaves and cook until tender chard, wilting from the heat

4. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and season the pork chops with salt and pepper and sage (if desired). Cook the pork chops for 2-3 minutes on each side to develop a golden-brown crust and then reduce the heat to low and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes on each side, or until done but still just slightly pink in the middle.

some nice maillard browning could have been just slightly pinker--I left them on the heat a little too long, but they were plenty moist, especially with the cider reduction

5. Whisk the remaining tablespoon of butter into the cider-mustard reduction.

6. To serve, place the pork chop on a bed of the greens and top with 2-3 tablespoons of the cider reduction.

shalloty greens appley pork

Green Tomato Double-Feature: Fried Green Tomatoes and Green Tomato Mincemeat Bars

the yield from six plants: 4 lbs, 10 oz

Green Tomatoes: Get Them While They’re Cold

We’re past due for a killing frost, and it’s virtually guaranteed before Halloween. According to Climate-charts.com, there’s a 10% chance of frost by September 30 in Ann Arbor and a 90% chance by October 30. You can, obviously, tempt fate and leave your tomatoes out to see how long you can stretch the caprese salad and BLT season, but even if we end up in the long tail this year, the end is nigh. Also, the end is delicious. Here are the two best ways I’ve found use up the tomatoes that didn’t get a chance to ripen on the vine:

great on their own, or with any kind of mayonnaise-based dressing like Ranch or Thousand Island

if "green tomato mincemeat" squicks you out, just call them "spiced streusel bars"

This should conclude Tomatofest 2010 (previous entries this year: Tomato Jam, Tomato Soup, and Sweet Tomato Curd Squares). However, I also have an article about tomatoes coming out in a community recipe and resource book by Edible Avalon, and I should have more details about that soon.

I. Fried Green Tomatoes

A friend mentioned recently that knowing “fried green tomatoes” were a classic, he’d tried just slicing up some tomatoes and throwing them into a skillet with some rendered bacon fat. That actually doesn’t sound like a terrible idea, but you should be prepared to watch the tomatoes fall apart as they cook. So depending on how much bacon fat there is and what you’d planned on doing with them, it might not have the desired effect.

Raw green tomatoes are much firmer than ripe ones—coring them is almost like coring an apple. However, as they cook, the cell walls break down and the bitterness abates and whatever acids and glutamates and aromatic compounds the tomato accumulated before it got prematurely yanked from the vine will intensify. Once it’s cooked through, it will taste kind of like a ripe tomato, or at least like a roasted grocery store tomato, which is to say, not bad.

I find that medium heat is about right on my stovetop--you want them to get nice and brown in about 2-3 minutes on each sideThe classic way to prevent them from dissolving before they cook long enough to be palatable is to dredge them in egg and flour (or cornmeal or bread or cracker crumbs). Then, you fry them in about 1/4” of hot oil, melted lard or shortening (not butter, unless it’s clarified, because the milk solids will burn and the water content will make them soggy). When they’re golden brown on the outside and cooked through inside, they’re done.

Even if a few pieces of the breading fall off, they should stay together well enough to be crispy on the outside and soft and savory on the outside. However, you have to eat them immediately—fried tomatoes retain too much moisture to be kept crisp in an oven or re-crisped in a toaster, so only make as many as you want to eat right away. If you want to save some of your green tomatoes for later in the year, you can slice them, spread them out individually on a foil-lined sheet and freeze them for a few hours (just to keep them from freezing into one big hunk). Then transfer them to another container, like a gallon zip-top freezer storage bag. When you want to cook them, just pull them out of the freezer, bread them, and fry them. Don’t defrost them first, or they’ll turn to mush (that’s also why you need to slice and freeze them separately). But if you get them in the pan while they’re still frozen, the breading should keep them together once they cook through.

II. Green Tomato Mincemeat Bars

the "before" shot: all the mincemeat ingredients dumped in a pot to simmerthe "after" shot: what really stands out are the golden raisins, but basically everything else is cooked green tomato

The other recipe that pops up the most in google searches “green tomatoes” is green tomato mincemeat. Mincemeat was originally one of those Early Modern dishes that seems pretty odd to most Americans now because comes from a time and place before meat and sweets were firmly separated (with transgressors like bacon desserts merely reinforcing the binary by playing up how “wrong” it is to violate it). Mincemeat usually included less desirable cuts or leftover bits of meat and suet (raw beef or mutton fat) cooked with dried fruits, sugar, alcohol, and spices. It was a way to stretch the meat, make it palatable, and preserve it, and was most often baked in a pastry crust, either as single-serving pockets or double-crusted pie. Here’s an 18th C. recipe that calls for making a massive amount of the suet and dried fruit mixture to bake and eat over four months, with the option of adding a little boiled tongue or beef later:

To make Mince-Pies the best Way
Take three Pounds of Suet shread very fine, and chopped as small as possible, two Pounds of Raisins stoned, and chopped as fine as possible, two Pounds of Currans, nicely picked, washed, rubbed, and dried at the Fire, half a hundred of fine Pippins [apples], pared, cored, and chopped small, half a Pound of fine Sugar pounded fine, a quarter of an Ounce of Mace, a quarter of an Ounce of Cloves, a Pint of Brandy, and half a pint of Sack [sherry]; put it down close in a Stone-pot, and it will keep good four Months. When you make your Pies, take a little Dish, something bigger than a Soop-plate, lay a very thin Crust all over it, lay a thin Layer of Meat, and then a thin Layer of Cittron cut very thin, then a Layer of Mince meat, and a thin Layer of Orange-peel cut think over that a little Meat; squeeze half the Juice of a fine Sevile Orange, or Lemon, and pour in three Spoonfuls of Red Wine; lay on your Crust, and bake it nicely. These Pies eat finely cold. If you make them in little Patties, mix your Meat and Sweet-meats accordingly: if you chuse Meat in your Pies, parboil a Neat’s Tongue [ox tongue], peel it, and chop the Meat as finely as possible, and mix with the rest; or two Pounds of the Inside of a Surloin or Beef Boiled." From The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse, 1747 (Prospect Books: Devon, 1995, p. 74). From The Food Timeline

Gradually over the 18th and 19th C, meat went from central to optional to uncommon and the dried fruit & spice preparation eaten alone was still referred to as “mincemeat” or sometimes just “mince.” It became a favorite way to use green tomatoes, because their savory glutamates stood in well for the meat and because boiling them with sugar and dried fruits was a good way to flavor and preserve them, too. Just like the meaty versions, the mixture is usually baked into a pastry. Also, like most cooked tomato products, it can be preserved in canning jars processed in a boiling water bath.

I had 4 1/2 lbs of green tomatoes, which made enough mincemeat for two recipes. I froze half of it rather than canning it, and perhaps I’ll bake that into a mincemeat pie for Christmas. I decided to treat the other half like any standard fruit preserve and bake it into a simple streusel bar cookie. What’s great about this recipe is you use the same mixture for the crust and the topping, so it’s dead simple to throw together. You could also substitute any kind of pie filling or preserves for the tomato mincemeat, use any kind of nuts you want in the crust and topping, use any kind of fat, any kind of flour. It’s entirely customizable. Same goes for the mincemeat—add some crystallized ginger if you have it, add other spices like cardamom or mace if you want them or leave out the cloves or nutmeg if you’re not a fan, throw in a tart apple or two or some carrots or winter squash, use currants or cranberries in place of the golden raisins, etc. It’s a template, not a chemical formula.

The result is just a great, simple spiced bar cookie. The tomato mincemeat is salty-sweet and has a kind of savory umami funkiness, almost like a sweet tomato chutney. The spices evoke pumpkin pie and apple crisp and piles of raked leaves and itchy hay rides. The oats and nuts in the streusel give it a sort of rustic chew and crunch. If my tomato curd squares were Summer in a bar cookie, this is the same idea dressed in a sweater and scarf for Fall.

you'll get a close-up of the Jack o'Lantern when I post about roasting pumpkin seeds

Recipe: Fried Green Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • green tomatoes (one medium tomato per person)
  • 1 egg for every 4 tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal, cracker crumbs, bread crumbs, panko, or something else with crunch
  • 2-3 t. seasoned salt, Old Bay, Bacon Salt, Jerk or Cajun seasoning blend, or whatever other herbs or spices you desire (just nothing that burns easily, like cinnamon or Chinese Five Spice)
  • 2 t. kosher salt, divided (or slightly less regular salt)
  • 1/2-1 cup oil, lard, or shortening for frying

Method:

1. Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat.

2. Combine the flour, crunchy bits, seasonings, and salt in one bowl and lightly beat the egg in a second bowl.

3. Core the tomatoes and slice them into 1/4-1/2” rounds.

three tomatoes was too many for two of us to eat. really, one tomato per person is plenty breading and frying set-up; Bacon Salt!

4. Test the oil for heat by flinging a few water droplets at it (mind the splatter). If it sizzles, it’s ready. Dip each slice of tomato in the egg and then then the flour mixture, turning to coat, and place them gently in the hot oil.

5. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle the hot tomatoes with a little more salt. Eat immediately. 

best to salt them when they're just out of the oil so it adheres served along side tilapia with lemon and shallots

Recipe: Spiced Green Tomato Streusel Bars (adapted from CDKitchen and GardenTenders)

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 4 cups finely chopped green tomatoes (~2 lbs)
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or 1 cup white sugar with a glug of molasses)
  • a hearty glug of rum or brandy (optional)
  • 2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. ground cloves
  • 1/2 t. ground nutmeg
  • juice from one medium lemon (3-4 T.)
  • zest from one medium lemon (2-3 t.)

For the crust and topping:

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or 1 cup white sugar with a glug of molasses)
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, or macadamia nuts

Method:

1. Core and chop the tomatoes. I usually cut them in half first and then cut a wedge-shaped piece around the stem and the toughest white part in the center. I let the food processor do the chopping part.

minced green tomatoes minceMEATed green tomatoes

2. Combine the tomatoes, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and spices in a large pot and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I cooked it for almost an hour because I doubled the recipe. Some recipes call for cooking it for up to 3 hrs. Just keep an eye on it as it thickens to keep it from burning to the bottom of the pot).

3. Meanwhile, whisk together the dry ingredients for the crust and topping and then mix in the softened butter until the mixture is crumbly and all of the flour is moistened.

green tomato bars and pumpkins 045 pressed into the bottom of the pan for the crust

4. Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9×13 pan, and press 2 1/2 cups of the crumbs into the bottom. Spread the cooked tomato mixture over the crust, and sprinkle with the remaining crumbs.

5. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing—or, for the cleanest cuts, chill. For the best flavor, let it come back to room temperature before serving.

sprinkling the reserved streusel on top

Sourdough-risen Sandwich Bread

Does anything look homier than homemade bread?

My first, My last, My all the times in between

This is the first recipe I made with my (primary) sourdough starter. It’s the recipe I lean on when I don’t have any other bread ambitions, like bagels or naan or challah. It’s the recipe for the loaf in the banner, and the only recipe featured on the #1 google hit for “sourdough starter recipe” (a page originally written in 1997 by S. John Ross that has apparently attracted so many questions over the years that he eventually declared it a “closed topic” and ends every sourdough question in the FAQ with “A friendly reminder: Sourdough is a closed email topic.”) John Lennon's 70th birthday edition screenshot

It’s the recipe I think of as the most “basic” bread in my repertoire, even though I rarely make it “as is.” Most of the time, I use a cup or two of whole wheat flour, melted butter for the fat, 2 T. honey for the sugar, and depending on what I have on hand, 1/2 cup rolled oats, about 1/4 cup flax meal, and/or 1/4 cup sunflower seeds for extra flavor and texture. That makes a mildly sweet and nutty honey-oat bread that’s perfect for sopping up runny egg yolks or classic PB&Js (my favorite is sunflower butter + apricot preserves) or basically anything else you ever use wheat bread for.

another classic: deli turkey and tomato with Hellmann's and romaine

Variations

The recipe is also a great base for all kinds of other additions—for sundried tomato bread, use about 1/4 cup finely minced sundried tomatoes; if using oil-packed tomatoes, reserve the oil when you drain them and substitute that for the oil or butter in the dough or soak the tomatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes or more and then use the soaking liquid for some of the water. You could also add some chopped fresh herbs, a few tablespoons of pesto or tomato paste, diced up pepperoni or salami, and/or 1/2 cup finely shredded cheddar or gruyere. You can also add any combination of dried fruits and nuts. I especially like finely diced figs and toasted almond slices (about 1/2 cup of each per loaf) with just a little extra sugar than normal (about 1/3 cup per loaf). For cinnamon-swirl bread, shape the dough by rolling it into an 8” x 18” rectangle and then sprinkle it with 1/3 cup brown sugar mixed with 3 t. ground cinnamon and 1/4 cup raisins (if desired), leaving a 1/2” border all around. Roll the rectangle up jelly-roll style starting with one of the short ends, pinch the edges to seal, and bake it seam-side-down in a loaf pan. You can also do that with any other sweet or savory filling, like spiced pumpkin puree, which is great with chopped walnuts, spinach-artichoke dip, or a paste of softened butter mixed with garlic and herbs and a little Dijon mustard.

Sammich Season

tomato slices directly on the generous mayonnaise layer, always, so the juice and mayo mingle and drip onto the plate, making a delicious sour-salty sauce to be sopped up with the crustsThe variations tend to turn the bread into more of a star, but sometimes bread is just meant to be a supporting player. This loaf was designed to be a platform for the last BLTs of the 2010 tomato season. Frost has been threatening, so even though it hit 80F this weekend, I decided it was time to pull all the tomatoes out of the jungle, ripe or no. The green ones will eventually get dipped in egg and seasoned cornmeal and pan-fried, or chopped and baked in a tomato mincemeat pie, but they’ll last for a while yet on the counter. This week, we feast on the last of the ripe ones.

I leaned again on my old stand-by, using 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour, butter, and honey. I didn’t have any oats on hand, though I would have used them if I did. I did add 1/4 cup flax meal, and 1/4 cup sunflower seeds. The result is soft enough that it won’t cut up your mouth but stable enough that it won’t fall apart. The whole wheat flour and sunflower seeds give it lots of flavor and texture, but there’s still enough white flour and gluten to get a good rise and prevent it from being a dense brick. The honey adds just a little sweetness and I let it rise long enough to have just a little sourdough tang. 

No elaborate history or etymology or personal story today, just a simple recipe for sandwich bread, which anyone with a sourdough starter ought to have. There’s a note about how to substitute active dry yeast if you don’t have a starter, and I’ve included the ratios for both one and two-loaf versions using 2 cups of starter. If you only have 1 cup of starter to use, halve the 2-loaf version. Slashing didn't seem to affect the rise at all, so it's basically an aesthetic choice.

Recipe: One loaf of sourdough-risen sandwich breadclockswise from the empty bowl: refreshed starter, honey, melted butter, dry ingredients

  • 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
  • 3 cups flour (all-purpose or bread flour or a combination of flours)**
  • 2 t. kosher salt (1.5 t. regular)
  • 2 T. liquid fat (oil or melted butter or lard)
  • 2t-2T sugar or honey (2 t. for savory breads, up to 2 T. for sweeter breads)

Recipe: Two loaves of sourdough-risen sandwich bread

  • 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 cups flour (all-purpose or bread flour or a combination of flours)**
  • 4 T. liquid fat (oil or melted butter or lard)
  • 2 t. kosher salt (or 1.5 t. regular)
  • 1-4 T sugar or honey (1 T. for savory breads, up to 4 T. for sweeter breads)

*or substitute 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 t.) per loaf and 1 1/3 cups flour and 1 1/3 cups water; if you want to mimic the sourdough flavor, add 1-2 t. apple cider vinegar per loaf; if you have time, make a “sponge” by combining the yeast with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water (110-120F) and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients
**if using a low-gluten flour like rye, you may wish to add ~1 T. vital wheat gluten per 1/2 cup of flour, whisked into the dry ingredients before mixing them with the wet ingredients or it may not rise well or turn out a little crumbly

Optional additions, amount recommended per loaf:
1/2 cup
rolled oats, shredded or crumbled cheese, chopped nuts, or dried fruit
1/4 cup flax meal, wheat germ or bran, oat bran, sunflower or sesame seeds, minced sundried tomatoes, bits of cured meat (especially pepperoni), fried onion or shallot, minced roasted garlic, finely chopped crystallized ginger, or chopped olives
2 T. pesto, tomato paste, tapenade, chopped fresh herbs, or caraway or fennel seed
cinnamon-swirl bread filling: 1/3 cup brown sugar + 3 t. cinnamon with 1/4 cup raisins (optional)

Method:

1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until most of the flour is moistened and it begins to form a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

2. Scrape the dough onto a rolling mat or lightly-floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary to prevent it from sticking to you too much. If it’s very sticky, let it rest for 10-15 minutes, which allows the flour to absorb more moisture, and then continue kneading. Knead for 10-15 minutes total, or until the dough forms a smooth ball with a taut surface and a small piece of dough stretched between your fingers forms a membrane that you can see light through(i.e. a “baker’s windowpane”).ingredients just combined, shaggy and stickyscraped onto a rolling mat with a little extra flourafter 10-15 minutes of kneading, surface of the ball should be smooth and tautcoated in olive oil, ready to rise

3. Place in lightly-oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 3+ hours, or until doubled in volume. Rising time will vary based on your sourdough starter. I often just let it rise overnight, although if you don’t want any sourdough flavor, you might want to limit it to 5-6 hrs. One way to test if it’s risen enough: if you make an indentation in the risen dough with your finger, it should take more than a minute to “heal.”

the next morning, overflowing the bowl4. Punch the dough down to deflate it, turn it onto a clean surface and knead a few times. Then, shape in free-form loaves or place in loaf pans greased or lined with parchment paper. Let rise another 2-3 hours, or until doubled again. If using loaf pans, it should be rising above the rim of the pan.

5. Preheat the oven at 350F for 15-20 min before baking. Slash the risen loaf down the middle with a sharp knife, if desired. Bake 35 min or until crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when knocked on the bottom.

6. Cool on wire racks. The bread will be easier to slice once it’s completely cooled, but then you don’t get to eat it warm from the oven. Your call.

I usually shape them sort of like footballs, with a pinched seam down one side, and then put them seam-side down into the pansready for rise #2

  

after about 3 hours

if you want the slash, just make a vertical cut about 1/4" deep with a very sharp knife

Good Egg Update: Someone’s Keeping Score

I'm curious what the standards for county fair chicken judging are, but that sounds like a recipe for serious wikihole disaster From flickr user BrotherM

The Organic Egg Scorecard

At the beginning of the summer, I wrote about discovering that all my assumptions about “free range” eggs were wrong. I thought they were probably more environmentally-friendly than conventional eggs, but it turns out, they generally have a greater environmental impact, largely because it takes more feed and water to produce the same amount of eggs. I thought they were supposed to be more nutritious than conventional eggs, but it turns out that comparisons of key nutrients are totally inconsistent. I thought they were better-tasting, but it turns out that in blind taste tests, no one can tell the difference in how they taste. Furthermore, eggs sold with “cage free” and “organic” labels are almost all laid by chickens with no access to pasture and sunlight and who use their greater freedom primarily to attack and cannibalize each other (probably because of the stress induced by their crowded quarters), which doesn’t seem like a very meaningful improvement in chicken welfare.

Pastured eggs are a whole different story—they may still be less efficient than battery-cage eggs (although the more the chickens rely on grubs, seeds, and fresh forage instead of grain, the better they should be on that measure) and they’re still indistinguishable in blind taste tests, but they are reliably more nutritious according to multiple measures and they come from chickens with meaningful access to sunlight and room to move around and forage and scratch. Pastured chickens tend to live almost three times as long as factory chickens and they suffer far fewer injuries from fellow chickens, which is good for both efficiency and animal welfare.

So if you want optimally nutritious and humanely-produced eggs, and you have access to pastured eggs, and you can afford them, that’s the way to go. Unfortunately, aside from buying eggs from a farmer’s market, a neighbor, or setting up your own coop, it was virtually impossible to know whether the specialty eggs you were buying came from pastured hens. Until recently: a couple of weeks ago, the Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy think tank based in Wisconsin, published a massive report on Organic-certified egg farms which includes a scorecard. All the producers rated three stars “eggs” or higher provide “meaningful outdoor space” (well, it’s “under construction” at some of the three-egg places but already exists at four and five “egg” producers). Five-egg producers “raise their hens in mobile housing on well-managed and ample pasture or in fixed housing with intensively managed rotated pasture.”

And the Eggcademy Awards go to....(click for full scorecard) The top 5 egg producers in America, according to the Cornucopia Institute

Voter Information for Citizen-Shoppers

As the “5-egg” rating description also notes, most of these producers sell their eggs through farmer’s markets, co-ops, and independent natural foods stores, but eggs from one of the five-egg producers—Vital Farms from Austin, Texas—may be available at Whole Foods Markets nationwide and many of the three-egg producers distribute across large regions. One, Organic Valley, is also available nationwide.

I’m a little disappointed that the Cornucopia Institute included producers who refused to participate in the study in their official rankings. It seems like it would have been more honest to create a separate “N/A” category and let people draw their own conclusions. The only private-label (or store brand) producer they have a rating for is Whole Foods’ 365 Organic, which got the lowest numerical and egg-rating available for being, “produced on industrial farms that house hundreds of thousands of birds and do not grant the birds meaningful outdoor access.” I agree with the institute that it’s probably safe to assume the same is true of Trader Joe’s store brand, Meijer Organics, Costco’s Kirkland Signature, Safeway’s O Organic, and etc. but I still prefer it when people make the limits of their actual research clear.

Nonetheless, the scorecard is a good way to figure out whether there are any pastured eggs available where you live and shop. For people who already make a habit of buying “free range” or “organic” eggs, now you can find out whether those brands really follow the kinds of egg production practices you want to support. Unfortunately, if you’ve been buying Eggland’s Best, Full Circle, or store-brand “cage free” or “organic” eggs, chances are you’re just paying a premium for eggs that are no healthier or tastier (no matter how much darker the yolks are) and come from less-efficient and more-likely-to-cannibalize-each-other chickens.

"cage free" hens from Maine, "organic" if their feed isPhoto by John Patriquin, Portland Press Herald via USATODAY.com

In fact, the report’s major finding is that most eggs bearing the USDA Organic logo don’t meet the minimum standards for “Organic” egg production or most consumer’s expectations.“Organic” eggs are supposed to come from chickens who have access to the outdoors, but the vast majority of them (80% or more) come from huge producers who just build a tiny porch adjacent to their massive chicken warehouses, often measuring just 3 to 5 percent of the square footage of the main building. A couple of those producers are quoted in the Cornucopia Institute press release about the report:

“We are strongly opposed to any requirement for hens to have access to the soil,” said Kurt Kreher of Kreher’s Sunrise Farms in Clarence, N.Y. And Bart Slaugh, director of quality assurance at Eggland’s Best, a marketer of both conventional and organic eggs based in Jeffersonville, Pa., noted that, “The push for continually expanding outdoor access … needs to stop.”

So if outdoor access for chickens is important to you and you’re a believer in “voting with your fork,” this scorecard is like your egg election-day cheat sheet.

P.S. The Cornucopia Institute has also published reports on organic dairy and organic soy.

This Is What Food Reform Looks Like

However, the Cornucopia Institute isn’t mounting a big publicity campaign to get consumers to go out and shop differently, probably because even if they could convince everyone to seek out pastured eggs, they’d run into a big problem immediately: there just aren’t enough pastured eggs to go around. Furthermore, trying to reform the food system by reforming consumer demand is an expensive, slow, and uncertain process. How many people have to stop buying the bad “Organic certified” eggs before producers become willing to invest in the USDA-organicinfrastructure required to give chickens meaningful outdoor access? In the meantime, if there aren’t enough pastured eggs to go around, should people just stop eating eggs entirely or default to conventional eggs? What kind of price premium are people really willing to pay for pastured eggs? How many consumers will just say “screw it, I’ll just take the cheap, efficient eggs” which are still totally delicious and, if not optimally healthy, still probably not going to kill them? The relationship between consumer demand and supply is not as simple as “build it and they will come.”

What the Cornucopia Institute is actually doing instead sounds like a much better plan: they’ve filed legal complaints against producers that offer chickens no access to the outdoors or only have very small enclosed porches but still sell their eggs under the UDSA Organic label. They used the same strategy to persuade the USDA to to create better standards for Organic-certified dairy, which are being phased in gradually through June 2011 (and basically require ruminants like cows, sheep and goats to obtain a significant amount of their feed intake from grazing on pasture). In other words, they’re asking the USDA to make the “Organic” label mean what consumers think it means, and what the USDA’s own language makes it sound like it means. They’re trying to make the USDA hold egg producers to a higher standard.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the vast majority of the eggs produced, sold, and consumed in the U.S., which don’t bear any kind of specialty label. Also, even if the Cornucopia Institute and allied groups actually succeed in getting the USDA to beef up and enforce their standards for “organic” eggs, the immediate effect will probably be a reduction in the amount of “organic” eggs available and an increase in the price of eggs that retain the “organic” label. More people will probably be priced out of the specialty egg market. But it might actually have a small but meaningful effect on the quality of specialty eggs and the welfare of a small minority of egg-laying hens. And it would give wealthier consumers a more meaningful choice at the supermarket. Um, yay?

A Cure for Whatever Ails You: Chicken and Rice Porridge (aka Congee, aka Jook)

This is not really a traditional congee, which wouldn't have a mirepoix base. It's more like a cross between congee and a Euro-American chicken soup.

And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him.
The lore has not died out of the world, and you will
still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness 
and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either.
                              —East of Eden, John Steinbeck

Grandmothers of the World Unite

I’ve always been intrigued by parallels in culinary traditions from far-removed places. For example, almost every cuisine seems to include some kind of dough filled with seasoned meat or vegetables—gyoza, pierogi, samosas, wontons, empanadas, bao, knishes, ravioli, pasties, shishbarak, and manti are all just variations on the same basic theme. Ditto for griddled batter-based breads, i.e. pancakes—there are Euro-American flapjacks, French crepes, Italian farinata, Indian dosas, Eastern European blintzes, Ethiopian injera, Chinese moo shu wrappers, Korean jeon, etc. Commonalities like those seem to point to universal imperatives or desires that form a sort of core or essence of the uniquely human act of cooking, like, for instance, the reliance of large, settled populations on grains and starchy vegetables as their dietary staples.

this soup wants you to feel betterChicken broth-based soup is another one of those near-universal foods, and what makes it unique is that not only is the soup itself basically the same wherever you go, but its use as a folk remedy is also seemingly universal. All over the world, whenever people are feeling under the weather, tradition dictates that the best thing to feed them is rice or pasta or potato simmered until very soft in a broth made from chicken bones, often flavored with some kind of alliums and aromatic herbs.

In Greece, it goes by the name avgolemno, for the egg and lemon that are traditionally included, and it’s prescribed as a remedy for colds and hangovers. In Korea, a chicken broth soup including ginger, ginseng, and rice called samgyetang is not just supposed to cure minor illnesses, but also to prevent them—a bit like the American “apple a day.” Chicken soup, often prepared with matzoh balls, is so often prescribed as a cure in Jewish families that it’s been referred to as “the Jewish penicillin.”

And soup’s reputation for healing and restorative powers may be best represented by its metaphorical invocation in the title of the bestselling series of collected “inspirational” writings whose many iterations also serve as a catalog of demographics that marketers see as “easy prey”:

1) Women

  there is no "grandpa's" version nor is there a new dad's version no love for christian menI wholly expected this to be targeted at black women, but the cover definitely suggests otherwiseNourish your "soul" while you starve your body!

2) People who identify as “animal lovers”:

it occurs to me that there may be an entire small industry devoted to feline glamour shotsI have never seen a dog wearing clothes look this happy IRL  Way to improve all of these titles #1: replace any of the nouns with "FERRETS!" i.e. "101 stories about life, love, and FERRETS!"   Way to improve all of these titles #2: add "(not like that, you pervert)" wherever "love" or "loving" appears, i.e. "Loving Our Dogs (not like that, you pervert)" FERRET! Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul (not like that, you pervert): Inspirational Stories About Horses and the People Who Love Them (not like that, you pervert).

3) People who are especially enthused about capitalism & mass entertainment, or captive audiences:

Chicken soup for those who have no souls? This confuses me a little, because isn't shopping the chicken soup for the FERRET!...shopper's soul? I think this makes the same fundamental error as the BWW commericals based on the idea that someone might just be a fan of sports, rather than the fan of a particular team, and thus have a very specific rooting interest that has nothing to do with the game going into overtime just so they can stay at BWW longer and everything to do with their team winning the damn game. I hope this has an excerpt by William Hung. Hell, I hope the whole thing is by William HungAccording to Amazon, this is the 5th most popular title in the series and #13,101 for all books

I think animal lovers win the “Biggest Sucker” prize because of the amazing co-branding that brings us Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul Cat Food and Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul Dog Food. 

I don't know if this makes me feel cynical or delighted ...or if my delight is inherently cynical anyway.

Chicken Soup Science

However, as the global omnipresence of the chicken soup-as-remedy suggests, it’s not just an old wives’ tale co-opted by the self-help industry. Clear broths may actually be one of the best ways to get water and nutrients into a sick body, and bone broths seem to be especially stomach-soothing and nutrient-rich because of their gelatin, collagen, and mineral content. Adding some kind of acid like wine, lemon, or vinegar to the water as the broth cooks, as many traditional home recipes do, increases the mineral content of the final product even more. Many of the classic starches, especially rice and potatoes, are generally tolerated well by distressed gastrointestinal systems that might struggle with or reject meat, beans, corn or dairy fat. And most versions of the soup are enhanced by other nutrient-rich foods like onions and garlic and carrots and ginger and mushrooms, which are all also generally easy to digest once they’ve been cooked thoroughly, .

In 2000, some researchers at the University of Nebraska set out to test whether or not chicken soup could actually alleviate symptoms associated with the common cold and flu—particularly those in the respiratory tract—or if the oft-touted restorative effects were just the result of hydration and placebo. They studied the effects of one kind of homemade chicken soup, using a recipe from the lead researcher’s Lithuanian grandmother, and 13 commercial brands on neutrophil chemotaxis, which is probably one of the main causes of the inflammatory response that causes sputum production and coughing. They found that chicken soup inhibited neutrophil chemotaxis, and that it did so in a concentration-dependent manner, i.e. the more watered down the soup, the less of an effect it had. The commercial soups varied in their effectiveness—some showed no effect on the neutrophils at all, and others out-performed grandma’s, although they don’t say what the distinguishing feature might have been.

More chemotaxis = more inflammation, sputum, coughing. the homemade soup is the BOR They weren’t testing the soup on human subjects, but the in vitro effects at least suggest a mechanism by which chicken soup might actually make cold sufferers feel better (full published study available here).

Chicken Soup for the Congested, Nauseous, Aching, Hungover, Chronically Fatigued, Demoralized, Where Did September Go and Why Is It All So Hard Soul

Congee can be as simple as plain rice simmered in lots of water (usually at a 1:8 or 1:10 ratio of uncooked rice : water) until it’s basically the consistency of oatmeal. Like most grain porridges the world over, it’s typically flavored with either savory or sweet toppings and eaten for breakfast. However, the version made with chicken broth is nearly as common as the plain version, and is vastly more substantial and comforting. The rice is cooked until the grains begin to break down and release a lot of their starch, which makes the broth thick and creamy, almost like a loose risotto but without all the butter and cheese. If you’re ever in too bad a shape to do anything else, but you can manage to throw a half a cup of rice in a pot with 6-8 cups of broth and stir it from time to time, a couple of hours later, it’ll be a meal fit for an invalid. If you have a fuzzy logic-enabled rice cooker, it’s even easier—just put the rice and broth in the bowl and select the “porridge” option and then you don’t even have to stir.

I decided I wanted to make the most spectacularly healing soup I could possibly concoct, so I started with a basic mirepoix with some garlic and ginger, which also helps soothe nausea. If I’d been nursing a head cold I probably would have added a hot pepper, too. Once the onions were translucent, I added a splash of rice wine and then a big handful of finely diced shitake mushrooms. Then I added the rice—about 2 cups of leftover cooked short-grain rice that was 1/2 brown and 1/2 white—and 6 cups of chicken broth that had been hanging out in the freezer from the last time I had chicken bones. And then I threw in about 2 dozen knots of dried seaweed, which is also mineral-rich and supposedly helps boost immunity, and a bunch of chopped green onion to layer a brighter onion flavor on top of the cooked-onion base.

A couple of hours later, it was as thick as a cream soup and all the vegetables were completely soft. The mushrooms and seaweed make it richly umami and the ginger+garlic combination is as delicious as it is therapeutic. This is not some bland, insipid noodle broth, and really the only way to describe it is nourishing. Not a bad thing to have in your arsenal as the seasons change and winter approaches.

Recipe: Chicken and Rice Porridge drumstick bones and aromatic vegetables, the base of a stock; adding a little wine and/or vinegear will increase the calcium content of the broth

  • 1-2 T. cooking oil
  • 1 medium to large onion (or 2-3 leeks, white parts only, or 2 shallots)
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 large celery ribs
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 oz. fresh mushrooms (or dried mushrooms soaked in hot water for 15+ minutes)
  • 2-3 T. rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 cups leftover steamed rice or 1/2 cup uncooked rice, white or brown)
  • 6 cups chicken broth (or substitute any kind of broth)
  • 1/2 cup dried seaweed (or substitute any other cooking greens)
  • 3-4 green onions
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cups shredded cooked chicken (optional)
  • fresh cilantro or basil (optional)
  • chopped peanuts (optional)

mirepoix + ginger and garlicall the aromatics minced and sweating

1. Dice the onion, carrots, and celery ribs, mince the garlic cloves, and peel the ginger and cut it into 5-6 coin-shaped slices.

2. Heat the oil in a large pot until it shimmers, and sweat the vegetables until the onion is translucent (8-10 minutes). Meanwhile, mince the mushrooms.

3. Add a generous glug of the rice wine or sherry and let it cook off for 2-3 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the mushrooms and cook for another minute or two. I used about 2 cups of cooked brown and white short-grain ricegreen onions go in raw to add a brighter, grassier onion flavor on top of the sauteed onion

4. Add the rice, broth, seaweed, and green onions. If using leftover cooked rice, take a minute to break up any large clumps before adding the broth.

5. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2-2 hours, stirring occasionally, until it’s the consistency of a thin oatmeal or porridge. You don’t need to stir much in the first hour, but as the rice begins to release it’s starch, you should give it a good stir it every 10-15 minutes to prevent it from adhering to the bottom of the pan and burning. You can add more water or broth or cover the pot if it starts to get too thick or stick to the bottom too much.

6. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken, if using, and cook just until heated through. Garnish with cilantro or basil and chopped peanuts, if desired.

at first, it will be brothy, much like chicken noodle soup after a couple of hours, thickened with starch and reduced liquid