My secret to achieving recipe success. Or… Have you visited your farmers market lately?

The success in cooking up a good recipe starts with the quality of food you start with and not necessarily what you cook it in. I love my cast iron cookware but I also own other types of cookware too.

I’ve been to a number of trail cooking events over the years. One thing is for certain, each cook takes obsessive pride in their cast iron and heritage cookware. Boasting to others on how much they over paid for a rare pot, pan or Dutch oven is not unusual, it is a given at these events.

What has always confused me is why do folks spend so much money and time acquiring real Old West recipes, the finest, most rare cookware then use it to cook up a plate of crap? I’m serious, if you spend all this money on cookware, why would you not take the time to understand why a recipe worked in the first place?

I bet 10 to 1 that I can cook up a finer meal in an old tin pot than most cooks competing in trail cooking events do in their best historic cookware.

How? By simply using top quality ingredients!

So what is the secret to finer ingredients you ask? The answer… BUY FRESH!

 

Spices first. For spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice use a micro plane rasp. The taste and aroma you get from freshly ground or planed spice is unbelievable! Have you ever been to a restaurant and the server asked if you’d like freshly ground pepper on your salad? They do it not only for the flair but mainly to whet your appetite with the strong aromatics the ground pepper corns give off.

Freshly ground Nutmeg. You can smell it clear across the room!

 

For pepper buy fresh peppercorns and a grinder. Try gourmet mixes of peppercorns.You will instantly smell the difference.

Dried and powdered herbs make a world of difference. Buy yourself a small mortar and pestle set  for less than $10. Grind up your own dried herbs as you need them and keep the unused herbs properly stored. Again, the aroma of freshly ground herbs will astound you!

 

Fresh vegetables. I have found the best place to purchase fresh veggies is at a local farmers market. Not only are these folks are your small business neighbors and deserve your support but hands down you will find no fresher produce anywhere else!

Many vegetables are cheaper at a farmers market but meat usually a bit more expensive and here’s why.

A farmers market will generally sell locally grown produce ( 100 mile radius is considered ‘locally grown’) so you may even know the farm it came from. Many farmers markets have great information regarding their produce given to them by the local growers. They can tell you what (if any) fertilizers and pesticides were used and whether or not the produce is a hybrid, genetically modified or whether heritage seeds were used in growing them.

Transporting vegetables is a major concern for large commercial producers and shippers. Therefore, many vegetables have been hybrided, genetically modified (GMO) or picked early to survive long distance transportation. Produce such as tomatoes, watermelons, peaches, apples, bananas are some that I’m talking about. Locally grown vegetables do not have such concerns. There is a big difference in a 3-4 day truck ride versus a two hour drive to the market from a local grower. When fruits and vegetables are picked ripe, they contain more flavor and nutrients.

Cube grown water melon designed for shipping

There is one more reason to buy from a local farmers market… variety. Living in Florida, I can purchase locally grown citrus, pineapple, avocadoes, Dragon and passion fruit, fresh tamarind and even coffee just to name a few! What exotics do you find at say… Wal Mart?

Ripe Dragon fruit… find these at Wal-Mart!

 

Here’s a great way to save some money. Almost all of the vegetables that I dehydrate are from these bins!

Beef and other meats

The beef and other meats sold at many farmers markets are organic and or grass fed. No corn is used in feeding. While corn is the catalyst for forming fine marbled meat, it is also responsible for the production of Omega 6. Omega six is not healthy in the quantities found in corn fed beef. Grass fed and free ranged beef is becoming extremely popular again.

There were 3 main reasons for the decline in grass fed/free range beef availability.

1-      With the advent of fast foods and large grocery store chains, raising and caring for individual cattle became cost prohibitive. At McDonalds alone, it is estimated that 10,500 cattle are consumed each day. Modern mega slaughter houses can process up to 36,000 head per day and up to 100,000 pigs. At that rate, inspecting each and every cow for health issues is impossible .

2-      Local butchers found it cheaper to purchase pre aged sides of beef from large producers. This limited the public consumers ability to even purchase free range or grass fed beef. The beef purchased from large stockyards and are corn finished, produce a more tender cut of meat. Free range beef is not as marbled so it lacks the ‘melt in your mouth’ texture but it is much healthier for you.

3-      Cost of feed. Corn is the largest grown crop in the United States. It is also the most Government subsidized crop in the United States. These crop subsidies keep the cost of feeding cattle down. There are no subsidies for free range grass fed beef. Government subsidies come from the taxpayer. When you purchased that pound of ground round for $3.99 a pound, did you forget to add the increase in taxes you paid for subsidies?

The local seller below in the photo, purchases their beef, chicken pork etc. from local ranches and farms that can prove by their paper trail, all the vet care, feed types, bills of health, age of cow and breed. Few if any slaughter houses can do that. Some local ranches sell only 3-4 cows to be slaughtered a day in Florida. Most small ranches selling free range grass fed beef now practice ‘humane slaughtering’. By raising and slaughtering an animal in a humane fashion, certain hormones such as adrenaline are not produced. These cows are sold by folks like those below and small family owned butcher shops. Ask a hunter what his venison taste like after running the shot creature down for a couple of miles. I’ve had venison that was not worth eating it was so loaded with hormones. There is a very well made movie about a young girl who is an autistic genius, Temple Grandin. She revolutionized single handedly, the humane treatment on cattle ranches and slaughter houses. It is truly an inspiring film even if you do not eat meat you can respect her for her contribution to the humane treatment of animals. If you want an enjoyable ‘at home’ evening, Netflix the movie ,”Temple Grandin”. It received a 94% or 4.45 stars out of five.

Now, speaking of beef. While grass fed beef is now being sold at WalMart, BJ’s and other big box stores, I still have my doubts about them. There is a million ways to get around the truth in advertizing laws. While a cow may be ‘grass fed’ on the ranch, was it finished off in corn at the slaughter houses holding pens? Is it even North American beef to begin with? Who knows? That’s why I trust people like my friend Maya pictured below. She is more than proud to tell you everything she can about your purchase of her meat products. From beef to chicken to pork and more, she and her husband Steve are knowledgeable and  truthful in their dealings.

Steve and Maya Nettere’s grass fed beef stand at the Stuart Farmers Market. Email them at stevenandmaya@gmail.com or 561-225-3073

 

Below are a few of the local farmer markets in my area. Some are once a week while others are open every day. Some are roadside, seasonal or permanent markets.

Whichever you visit, buying local keeps your neighbor in business!

The Farmers Market in Jensen Beach, Florida

 

Inside Jensen Beach’s, Farmers Market

Stuart Florida Farmers Market

Family farms often sell from roadside stands. Nelsons grew into quite a successful operation from it’s humble beginnings as a roadside stand

Inside the Nelson market, homemade wooden tables are still used to display a wide variety of produce.

An air conditioned room with vegetable coolers at the Nelson market. Another air conditioned room serves to display jams, jellies, honey and other canned goods.

How Corn Syrup Makes America Fat

Note to readers: I re-blogged this post thinking it was giving credit to the original bloggers site but I see WordPress does not do that. So, to honor the creator of this informative and clearly understandable graphic post, here is their link. I encourage you take the time to visit it at;

http://xfirstaidkits.com/v/corn-syrup-infographic/

I was never a fan of High Fructose Corn syrup. In the mid 70’s it started to show in more and more products. It worried me because I did not believe for a minute that companies were replacing sugar with HFCS because it was healthier. Then in 1976 a friend in the AG products industry confided in me that he was being put in charge of a nationwide campaign to discredit sugar. The reason? So that HFCS could be introduced under the consumer radar. It worked, and the company he worked for is still making hundreds of millions in the production and sales of HFCS. Today, my friend is an advocate of organic foods and has a hobby farm in ohio where he grows his own food.

Bright, shiny objects!

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100 years ago, ‘Heritage’ meant this…

Do you ever wonder how typical life was during the time that many of todays ‘Heritage recipes’ were derived from?

Below is a compilation of  humorous and sometimes eye opening facts of the American life 100 years ago.

The average life expectancy for men was 47 years.

Fuel for a 1911 car was sold in drug stores only.

Only 14 percent of the homes had a bathtub.

Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.

There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads.

The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower!

The average US wage in 1910 was 22 cents per hour.

The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.

A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.

Sugar cost four cents a pound.

Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.

Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.

Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.

The Five leading causes of death were:

1. Pneumonia and influenza
2. Tuberculosis
3. Diarrhea
4. Heart disease
5. Stroke

The American flag had 45 stars…

The population of Las Vegas , Nevada , was only 30!!!

Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented yet.

There was neither a Mother’s Day nor a Father’s Day.

It was determined that the San Fransisco earthquake was caused by the city using too much electricity. “An imbalance was created between the negative and positive charges within in the ether and earth”.

Two out of every 10 adults couldn’t read or write and only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

The average work week consisted of a 6 day workweek at 50 hrs.

The typical home cooked on wood or coal burning stoves.

Kerosene began to replace whale oil in indoor oil lamps.

The deceased were still being ‘viewed with dignity’ at home in their own parlor.

Photographs of family members sitting alongside the ‘posed’ deceased in living rooms was common.

1 in 10 babies died before reaching the age of 1 year.

It would be another 40 years for American homes with indoor plumbing to reach 50%.

Penicillin had not been invented yet. Mercury was being used to cure STD’s. Bloodletting and leeches were commonly used to release bad blood.

More than 95 percent of all births took place at home .

Ninety percent of all Doctors had NO COLLEGE EDUCATION! Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press AND the government as “substandard.”

Many ‘Rural Doctors’ received their training under an ‘experienced’ Doctor who himself was self taught. Many an ‘experienced Doctor’s’ only education was that of attending a medical seminar in physiology and anatomy or being a ‘remover of limbs’ (Saw bones) during the Civil War.

The medical community debated whether women were capable of reaching sexual climax. It was determined by a medical consortium held in Chicago that the idea was ‘ludicrous’. “While we (Doctors) are convinced women can feel pain and pressure, there are no pleasure nerves located with the female vagina needed to produce a pleasurable climax. Only the penis is capable of that.”

Women were strongly encouraged by their doctors to have their vagina’s “medically stimulated” (hysterical paroxysm) by the latest electrical medical intravaginal vibrators in the treatment of Female Hysteria. These “medical devises” were used during  pelvic exams in the privacy of an office visit. Symptoms of Female Hysteria included, sexual desire, heavy breathing, uncontrolled whimpering, screaming, signs of  irritability and the tendency to ’cause trouble’. Note to readers; ( and then they charged her for the visit!)

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores.

Back then pharmacists said, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, Regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health!”

Ailments included of the day included, catarrh (sinus infections), consumption (tuberculosis) dropsy (edema or swelling) and grippe (a cold). Suppliers offered everything from balms to pennyroyal pills. Otto’s Cure and Paine’s Celery Compound were among the alleged cure-alls.

Consider the warning of Dr. J.K. Kellogg, which appeared front page on March 24. “We will all soon be idiots or insane” topped the article. The doctor made a plea for “vegetarianism,” saying that “feeding men with meat is like feeding a steam engine with coal made of stone.”

Kellogg suggested more healthy libations. “Many people today are habitually intoxicated on tea,” the article reported him saying. “There is more poison in a single cup of tea than an entire glass of beer.”  Note to reader; (I’ve been telling my wife that for years!)

He warned humans will sink into oblivion without reform. The number of degenerates, insane people, imbeciles and lunatics was increasing, according to the doctor. In 1849, there were 600 of these among 1.5 million people. In 1899, there were 1,800, he said.

Women could not vote for another 9 years.

There was no income tax.

Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic help …..

There were about 230 reported murders in the ENTIRE country!

It was the year the Philippines revolted against U.S. rule, so readers frequently found dispatches from Manila on the front page. America’s war with Spain was over, but Havana still was a hotbed for headlines. Yellow fever was in the South.

Helen Keller was setting bicycle records. On May 24, The Herald reported she traveled – in tandem – 28 miles without stopping. The trip took two hours and 34 minutes. “Ms. Keller persists in riding fast and is quite indignant when either a halt or a slow pace is called for,” the article stated.

Local education control over State control was considered paramount. As the paper reported, “the standard of intelligence in Washington County is probably unexcelled by any other community, the United States or World.”

This made front page news; “Kenney, aged about 23 years, who has been simple minded for some time, yesterday became violently insane on the street,” the article stated. Before Kenney could be “taken in hand,” he knocked another person down and threatened several lives.

In Washington County, the free library was only a proposal that prominent community leaders touted. Williamsport chose electric lights over street lamps in a March election. Residents cast 804 votes.

A plan to bring a baseball team to Hagerstown have excited residents there.

The first film ever made by a Hollywood studio was completed in the fall.

The famous French chef, Julia Child was born.

THANKFULLY, AT LEAST A FEW THINGS HAVE CHANGED!!!

Everything you wanted to know about Dutch ovens (but were afraid of having nightmares)

No modern alloy metal or non stick pan can hold a candle to old fashioned cast iron cookware

2nd in a series on cast iron cooking-

I guess the best place to start this blog is to describe what a Dutch oven is and what it’s used for. Since many folks have little knowledge of the Dutch oven let’s then assume you don’t own one.

If you do own one and never use it, then kick out the plant growing in it and give it a good washing. After it regains some of its original self esteem, re season it using the method I describe in an earlier post in this blog called “Cast iron cookware, the cooks holy grail.”

First, lets let’s describe what Dutch oven is.

Think of a heavy cast iron stock pot with a cast iron lid and you’re pretty close to what it looks like.

Q.  Why do some have legs, others none and some have lids with raised rims on them and others not?

A.  That’s because there are ‘indoor’ or flat surface and outdoor Dutch ovens.

Q.  How does a Dutch oven work?

A.   Think of your oven at home. It is a self contained total surround cooking area. A Dutch oven works in a similar fashion. Being able to have its bottom, sides and top radiating heat from all places at once, the food inside is cooked from all directions in an equal temperature. Thus the reason it is called an oven.

Note the legs, lid dimples, raised lid rim to hold hot coals and the handle on this outdoor Dutch oven.

Legs are handy if you’re cooking outdoors on an open fire. Hot coals can be bunched up underneath and having three stubby legs gives it a pretty solid stance on a not so level surface. Outdoor style Dutch ovens usually have a lid with a raised lip on it. That one inch lip allows you to place hot coals on its lid without the coals falling back into the fire or the insides when you lift the lid to check on the food inside.        The coals underneath and on those placed on its top is why the Dutch oven is called an oven and not a pot. It is one of the few true baking tools that don’t need an oven. (Cast iron skillets with a lid can bake but need to be placed inside an oven for even heating).

An outdoor oven should not be used indoors. The legs will prevent the bottom from being heated if you have it on top of an electric stove. On a gas stove, the burner grate will get in the way of the legs and it can tip causing spills.

Typical flat bottomed indoor Dutch oven with rounded lid. Note the handles are made to accept a hanger.

The indoor or flat surface Dutch ovens have no legs. This style can also be used as an outdoor oven if you’re careful in placing it on the coals. Many indoor and outdoor Dutch ovens have tabs on the rim so the oven can be hung over an open fire using a tripod stand as shown below. Since an indoor Dutch oven can be placed within a gas or an electric stoves oven, there is no need for a lid with a raised lid to hold hot coals. Older manufactured Dutch ovens had lids with dimples in the inside of them. This allowed for self basting. Many newer Dutch ovens no longer have these.  😥


Quality;

Before purchasing your Dutch oven, read the earlier post here on cast iron cookware.

Then, before throwing your cash or credit card at the sales clerk inspect the thing! Look for loose fitting lids, or lids that are not completely flush with the edge of the pot section.

Check for uneven wall and lid thickness. An uneven casting will not cook evenly. Most good ovens have a wire bail handle attached to the pot section and a loop handle on the lid for easy lifting. Many newer ovens no longer have these, forget it and look for another one that does. The finish should not be extremely rough, especially on the inside and free of any scaling. All the casting seams should be ground smooth without any sharp edges.

Lastly, examine the origin of the Dutch oven. Foreign imports for the most part, use a lower quality of cast iron and have more defects than domestic ones. In my post on cast iron cookware, I go into this in more detail, I recommend you read it. I highly recommend you search for all of your cast iron cookware including your Dutch oven, at antique dealers, estate sales, yard sales, rummage sales … anywhere that you have the possibility of finding older American made cast iron cookware. While visiting my daughter in AZ this summer, I stopped at a number of “old west thrift stores” and “miscellaneous vintage” roadside sales places. There I found incredible deals on some of the finest cookware American foundry’s ever produced. I Found names like Griswold, Miami, Wagner Ware, Wapak, Herters, G Barthel Norma, Lesauveur Rechaud Pigeon, Scranton Stove Works, Lodge, Western foundry and Stover. Any of these cast iron cookware implements would be a honor to own and cook with.

Accessories

OK, you now own and / or have re seasoned you your cast iron cookware. What else do you need to compliment it?

Gloves. Many folks go and buy leather work gloves. I never recommend leather for this reason alone. Once leather gets heated to a certain point, it transfers that scalding heat quickly to your skin.

I one was at a ‘Chefs cook off’ to help raise funds for a local battered women’s shelter. (Note; You western men know how a woman is to be treated so get off your high horse and start acting like it!)

But I digress. The fellow Trail cook next to me started making fun of my yellow Kevlar cooking gloves. He held up his gauntlet style thick leather welding gloves and proudly told me, “These is what a real man uses to cook with, not them sissy city thangs you got there.”

Now I am the furthest looking thing from being a sissy. 6’2”, nice western bow mustache, 270 pounds and an evil eye that at a cutting glance can punch new holes in leather belts when needed.  So naturally my ire was hefted a bit.

So I told him, “Hey my friend, let’s make a wager, Ten dollars says I can hold onto my hot frying skillet here for a longer time wearin’ my gloves that you can wearin’ yours.”

“Ten? Make that fifty an’ you got yourself a bet!”

Not two minutes later he set his down, ripped off his leather glove and wrapped his hand around a ice cold soda can from his cooler. I not only continued to hold onto my skillet but moved my hand from the handle to the actual sides of the pan and held it up to him while smiling. He got the idea, I got fifty bucks!

Another thing you need is a lid lifter. Anyone who’s ever cooked on an old wood cook stove like mama had, knows you never touch a stove tops ‘eye’ without a lid lifter. The same goes for pot lids.

A trivet is also good thing to have. It’s a cast iron circle with nubby legs on it to set your hot pots on. It prevents leaving burn marks on your counter tops.

Lastly, get a good strong pair of long handled tongs. I’d recommend getting them at a restaurant supply house or online at a supply site. Forget those ones in the grocery store, they’re too cheap.

Temperature  

How to get the right temperature to cook with.

A fellow cast iron aficionado has a web site that explains it better than I can, so I went ahead and copied his method to explain all this to you.

  “On the kitchen oven is a really cool dial. I turn it to 350 and trust that the oven will heat up to and remain at 350 degrees. I put in the food, set the timer, and go do something productive. When camp cooking in the outdoors, there’s a bit more hit-or-miss.
On my Dutch oven, there’s no dial, nothing to tell me how hot the oven is. Since cooking food at a fairly consistent and known temperature is important for success, there are 3 ways I know of for estimating temperature. Depending on your skill level and how you’ll be cooking, one of them should work for you.

Also keep in mind that there are many environmental factors that will influence your oven temperature. Wind might blow heat away; colder air temperature, higher humidity and higher elevation reduce heat generated by coals; direct sunlight makes a black oven a bit hotter. You might consider making an aluminum foil wind shield to place around your oven, but if it is that windy, I would recommend you not have an open fire.”

“Nearly all dutch oven cooking will come out ok if your Dutch oven is about 350 degrees. Some things should be cooked hotter and some cooler, but that’s the temperature for all recipes that fail to include a temperature suggestion.”

Hand test


“Use your hand to feel the heat. Of course, every person has a different sensitivity to heat but this works well for me. Just remove the lid from the Dutch oven and place your hand just above or just inside the oven. Count how many seconds you can keep your hand there before it gets too hot.

 It is about 50 degrees per second counting down from 550, so I just count – “550, and 500, and 450, and 400, and 350, and 300, …”.

Seconds Temperature

1

500+

2

500

3

450

4

400

5

350

6

300

7

250

8

200

“This is my preferred method. It is consistent and detects temperature instead of estimating the amount of fuel. You do release heat so you need to do the check as quickly as you can.”

Counting Charcoal


“Lots of dutch oven cookbooks tell you how many charcoal briquettes to put under and on top of the oven. This is the easiest way to cook since every coal is similar and consistent. If you are like me and use real wood for your outdoor camp cooking coals, it doesn’t help much. Also, different brands of charcoal give off different amounts of heat. But, let’s say you are going to use charcoal…
The normal formula is to use twice the number of briquettes as the diameter of the oven. For a 12 inch oven, you would use 24 briquettes. Depending on the type of cooking you are doing, you need to make the heat come more from the top or bottom of the oven. For example, too much heat on the bottom will burn bread.
To do this, you place more or less of the briquettes on the lid.”


Here is a simple chart:

Baking Most heat from top so bottom does not burn.
Place 3/4 coals on top and 1/4 underneath.
Roasting Heat comes equally from the top and bottom.
Place 1/2 coals on top and 1/2 underneath.
Stewing, Simmering Most heat is from bottom.
Place 1/4 coals on top and 3/4 underneath.
Frying, Boiling All heat comes from bottom.
Place all coals underneath.

Below is a beginners recipe. I recommend trying simple foods at first, especially like baking goods. You can test them out using your Dutch oven inside your kitchen oven. Set to the correct temperature your recipe calls for. Form more recipes, check some of these in this blog. Don’t forget to research more online, there are great recipes folks have posted for your to try. JW

BAKING POWDER BISCUITS*

2 Cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder plus 1/4 tsp baking soda
4 Tbsp butter or shortening
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk

Instructions: Heat Dutch oven to 400 degrees with 3/4 of coals on top.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl.
Cut in small pieces of shortening or butter.
Add milk gradually, stirring until soft dough is formed.
Turn out on a lightly floured board and lightly knead for 30 seconds, enough to shape.
Roll 1/2 inch thick folding the dough over on itself at least four times and cut with open end of tomato paste can.
Place in single layer in Dutch oven.
Bake for 12-15 minutes.

* For these or any recipes, remember to  write down in a log book all your temp and time settings or changes to a recipe for future use.

There is nothing more exciting than showing off your cast iron cooking skills in front of a group of family or friends. When the lid is lifted and that wonderful smelling recipe plows into their nose like a raging bull steam rollers itself into a attention deficit disordered Spanish Matador, you can proudly yell, “Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”