The Great Butter Tasting of 2015!

We've been threatening to do a butter tasting since we returned from Wisconsin in October, and so, on January 1st, fresh into 2015, we decided to make good on our promise and make a bona fide butter tasting a reality. We definitely took it to levels untold: we purchase five different butters to taste, we made our own butter from Organic Valley heavy cream, we decided to make it a BLIND taste test--which we managed even though we were the only two testers--and we recorded audio of the tasting and edited it podcast style.  So, that should be fun to listen to, surely more fun than a typed transcript, but if you don't have time to listen, we'll touch on the highlights below.

Please enjoy the recording here: [soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/187587277" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

First, what butters were we tasting? Well, while we were in Wisconsin in October, we picked up two local-looking butters.  They were both butters that we do not encounter in the Chicagoland area, so we thought we ought to try them.  The first is Freis Von Kiel Butter, which doesn't seem to have a website, but is the featured butter on M Magazine's (Milwaukee's Lifestyle Magazine) Locavore page. The other Wisconsin butter is an alleged Amish Country Roll Butter. It was mysteriously packaged and we tried to find some information on it because it looked legit, but it also wasn't labeled with any particular Amish association or community. As far as I know, there are not generic Amish individuals just sitting around making butter for the rest of us. So, with a little google work we uncovered this blog post, and we think we were fed a similar bill of butter goods. Dang.

The next purchased butter was Kerrygold, which is a favorite for many of our readers, I'm sure, and I'm also sure you are interested to see how it holds up to other high quality butters. We also bought Organic Valley Cultured Butter and Kalona SuperNatural Unsalted. We love both of these butters already and use them all them time. I don't know if other people have three favorite butters, but Sustainably Queer does!

And then we made butter...

And then we made butter. Kristl has made butter before, and she is also the boss of the KitchenAid mixer, so I let her take charge of this process.  We used the instructions from Joy the Baker's blog, which you can find here. We will include some photos below, but we will not reinvent the wheel, Joy does a great job. Mostly, you agitate the cream's fat molecules until they let go of the milk and stick together. Then you squeeze the result and rinse it. Add salt if you want, but that's about it. Butter, done.

Butter, done. Salted and unsalted.

So, we made our own butter in preparation and we let all the butters come to room temperature before we spread them. We served each butter spread on two small slices of sourdough bread on each plate. We did our best to make the slices look identical so that once the butter was on the bread we wouldn't know which was which. The plates were correctly labeled on the bottom, and Kristl put the correct butter on the correct plate when she applied the butter.

This is how we made it blind... we're smart.

Once we had everything on the correct plates, we put the plates on the tables and swapped them all around. Then we numbered the plates so we would have a reference for our blind taste test. We set up the recorder and we dug in.

For those of you unable to listen here are some highlights: Rachel is not awesome at describing the actual flavor of the butter, but will definitely tell you whether or not it was from Wisconsin, and if it contains salt. Kristl is good at describing the color and texture of the butter, especially in terms of paint glosses (e.g. one butter was very glossy and yellow, others were more eggshell and pale). We'll provide our initial reactions here and then reveal the butter key at the very bottom, so you can play along.

Our seven butters in the blind taste test

Butter #1 was pretty good, but rather non-descript.  It was the first butter we tasted, and we also hadn't tasted sourdough bread in a while, so it brought more attention to the bread than the butter. Rachel was convinced that it was a Wisconsin butter. Kristl was convinced we shouldn't have used sourdough because it was too distracting.

Butter #2 was very pale in color and immediately upon tasting it, Kristl felt like it had an off flavor (she said "rancid" on the recording). Rachel felt the butter was a little off too, but didn't have a huge mouth feel, and was pretty mild over all.  This was not a butter you would go out of your way to get.

Butter #3 was not salted, but had a very deep and luxurious creaminess to it. Rachel felt immediately that it might be Kalona, because she will sometimes eat a little bit of Kalona first thing in the morning. Kristl agreed that it was was smooth and creamy, and could possibly be Kalona, but definitely had to be one of the salt-free butters.

Butter #4 was also not salted. It was also extremely creamy, for being butter. We talked a little bit about the odds of the two unsalted butters being directly next to each other. Rachel said something silly about it having a Wisconsin vibe, even though both the Wisconsin butters included salt. Kristl stated that this was probably Kalona (which is made in Iowa).

Butter #5 immediately caused us both to sit up a little bit because it had a lot more salt than the other salted butters.  We could tell that it had been hand-salted with sea salt recently. Some of the salt was still crunchy in the butter.  This definitely improved the flavor for a butter tasting on bread. This butter was very lively and showed its cards pretty easily with that crunchy salt.

Butter #6 was also pretty easy to guess, because it had the slight tang of yogurt that comes  with the territory of cultured butter. Cultured butter was a nice variation after all the plain butters that we had tasted, and it definitely would have stood out more if we had tasted it on a bread other than sourdough.

Butter #7 was the glossy, yellow butter.  Looking at the butter, knowing the butter, and having former experiences with this butter, we actually thought we would like this butter the best, because it's so fatty and soft. It is very good butter, there are no questions about it, but to be honest it lost out to the homemade stuff.

Well those were our blind taste test reactions in a nut shell, listen to the recording for a full spectrum.  Here are the actual answers:

Butter #1: Freis Von Keil

Butter #2: Amish Country Roll Butter (probably not actually Amish)

Butter #3: Homemade Unsalted

Butter #4: Kalona SuperNatural Unsalted

Butter #5: Homemade Salted

Butter #6: Organic Valley Cultured

Butter #7: Kerrygold

Our goal in this experiment was not to rank the butters or to pit them against each other, necessarily. We mostly wanted to see, given an ingredient that is pretty simple and easily produced, how different separate butters could taste. That being said, we really enjoyed our homemade butter the best. It was clearly the freshest, and when the tasting was complete, we combined the salted and unsalted and finished it within the week.

So, that's The Great Butter Tasting of 2015! There will be more tastings in 2015, don't worry. If there is a food you would like us to taste and post about, please let us know in the comments below. We're happy to take on any whole food challenges!

Soup and Bread: Delicious Community

Tofu Matzo Ball Soup
Tofu Matzo Ball Soup

Our process of choosing which posts to write and when sometimes makes sense and sometimes it doesn't.  Writing a post about the Good Food Festival within a week or two of going to the Good Food Festival makes sense, but writing a post about a weekly "winter" event as spring is (finally) dawning does not make a whole heap of sense.  However, Kristl and I were finally able to make it to Soup & Bread last night and were inspired to share it with you ASAP, even though there's only one week left for you to try it out this year.

Rather than recreate the wheel, I'll let Soup & Bread's website explain what they are and how it got started:

 

Soup & Bread is a free weekly community meal based at the Hideout, a bar and music venue in Chicago.

Each week we round up a handful of chefs, caterers, musicians, writers, artists, and home cooks of every persuasion to donate pots of soup. We serve them up to all comers — along with fresh bread donated by Publican Quality Meats — until the pots run dry or the late-night jazz guys kick us out. It was designed to be an easy, low-key way to get folks out of the house and socializing in the dead of a dark Chicago winter — not to mention, when we started this up in 2009 our friends were losing their jobs left and right. At times these past few years it’s seemed the entire city could use a nice hot bowl of soup.

Toward that end, while the meal is free, we solicit pay-what-you-can donations each week that are donated in turn to a wide range of neighborhood food pantries and hunger relief agencies. Over the last five years, through events at the Hideout and out of town in Madison, New York City, Seattle, and beyond, we have raised more than $40,000 for Chicago-area food pantries as well as the Greater Chicago Food Depository (the central food bank serving the Chicago region), the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, and Western Washington’s Food Lifeline.

 
Vegan Thom Kha Soup
Vegan Thom Kha Soup

So, basically, you show up between 5:30 and 8pm on a Wednesday in the winter, grab a bowl, give a cash donation if you're able, and get in line. There are usually 4-6 different soup offerings loosely grouped under a theme.  The cooks are stationed behind their soups and serve you, plus they are usually excited to talk about their soup and offer additions.  There are tables and chairs set up throughout the bar and the tables have giant baskets filled with hunks of crusty, donated sourdough bread.  People are encouraged to try multiple soups and mingle with the other folks in the room.  There are a few buckets sitting around for donations, and usually the charity or non-profit benefiting from the event will have their literature out to peruse or take home.

I think we've been 3-4 times total, and the soup has been consistently delicious.  There is always a good variety, and I think the organizers try to have a solid mix of professional chefs and home chefs, and meat, veggie, and vegan options. This week was a good example of that.  The theme was "Tastes Like Chicken" and there was a vegetarian tofu matzo ball, vegan tom khai, rabbit and pork pozole, spicy sicilian chicken, vegan cream of chicken, and ramen with hard-boiled eggs and pork belly.  Lots of different flavors, but I think our favorite of the evening was the pozole, with the ramen as the close second.  The cooks had clearly put a lot of care into their creations and the atmosphere was jovial. Drinks were available at the bar and we even saw people we know! What's not to love?

Pozole (L) and Ramen (R)
Pozole (L) and Ramen (R)

All this is to say that you have ONE MORE WEEK to try it out for this season. The theme is "The Fields", and there will be pie... Check out Soup & Bread on April 16, and you might just see us there.

Here are some basic tips we've come up with if you're planning on going to Soup & Bread:

  • Bring your own bowl and spoon. This way you're helping the environment AND making the stash of disposable bowls and spoons go a little further.
  • This is probably obvious, but bring cash. There are a few donation jars throughout the space and you can put in as much or as little as you like.
  • You can go up to the soup bar multiple times - we tend to go about three times per person, to try different soups and get a good meal in.
  • Talk to the people at your table. This event is about community, so at the very least, smile and say hi to those with whom you're sitting.
  • This may be our own rule, but we don't go back for seconds of a soup we liked. The quantities are limited and we want them to last so that as many people as possible can enjoy them.
  • We also tend to steer away from the soups that cater to dietary restrictions because we do eat meat, gluten, and dairy, so we want people who don't eat those things to be able to enjoy their experience at Soup & Bread and have as many options as possible.
  • Get there early! They've run out of at least some soup every time we've gone, so if you want to have the most variety, get there early.

August Food Swap Recap

Yesterday we attended our third Chicago Food Swap and I can definitely say that it was our favorite one yet. Our host was Green Home Experts, which is an awesome store that I will make sure stop by whenever I'm in Oak Park. They have all sorts of eco-friendly items for the home, which you know is right up our alley. This time we convinced some friends to come along, which I'm sure added to the fun for us. We also decided to take it easier with our swap items to ensure we wouldn't be in a mad panic right before the swap. I, for one, am an excellent procrastinator AND an overachiever, so the last two swaps were pretty hectic for me. I had it in my head that I wanted to bake all of the things, even though Rachel gently told me it might be too much, and I forged ahead and ended up being super stressed. The swap shouldn't be stressful! So we stuck with things that we had made slowly over the past 4-6 weeks and didn't bring anything that would require last minute baking or cooking. We brought more pineapple-infused vodka, since that was such a hit at the last swap. We also brought cherry-infused vodka, some of our raw fermented strawberry vinegar, and sourdough starter.

Sourdough Starter Escape
Sourdough Starter Escape

We picked our friend Jess up around 2:20 and headed to Oak Park. We arrived at 3pm on the dot and went inside; Rachel and Jess found a place to set up our goods while I filled out our nametags and raffle entries (yep, there was a raffle at this swap!). We saw our friend Sarah and her friend Amara, of Eat Chic Chicago, and oh my goodness did their table look amazing! Sarah's a professional chef and Amara is a nutritionist, so they totally brought it (in the form of roasted corn and feta salad, cherry fig infused balsamic vinegar, and peach lavender infused white wine vinegar - we ended up swapping for ALL of their items).

We ended up sharing a table with Chris, of the delicious organic bean sprouts and just-spicy-enough (for me, at least) olive dip. Jess outdid herself by making whole wheat croissants, both with and without chocolate, brown butter rice krispie treats, and vegan granola. Once everyone was set up, Emily ran through the instructions and then we started checking out the goods. I really liked the variety at this swap. I immediately saw a few items I needed to have, as did Rachel. Amazingly, we were able to swap for all of our "must have" items!

Once the actual swapping started, things moved so quickly! Rachel is definitely the most extroverted of the three of us, so she blazed her way into the swapping arena and did the majority of the actual swapping. Jess came and went, getting a taste for how the swapping works (I'd say that the actual swapping is the most nervewracking part for newbies!). I mainly stayed at the table, fielding swap requests. It was all over relatively quickly and I was really pleased with our haul. We came with 14 items and left with 16 (it helped that Sarah and Amara gave us the sample jar of their peach lavender vinegar!). Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

Swap Haul
Swap Haul

Not surprisingly, the sourdough starter was our least popular item. We probably won't be bringing more to future swaps, but if you are in the Chicago area and want to try your hand at using a starter, let me know and I can hook you up with some! Also, for those of you brave souls who swapped for the starter, this is the recipe I used to make the sample bread. That link also has information on how to feed and care for your starter. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention! This time there was a raffle with 6 Heritage Collection Pint Jars from Ball and the Desserts in Jars cookbook. Everyone put their name into a basket and Emily drew a winner towards the end of the swap. Guess what? I won! I've already got my eye on a few recipes to try out for future swaps.

We've come up with a few more tips for swappers (in no particular order)! Check out our recap of the June swap for more swap tips.

1. Try not to overdo it. As mentioned previously, I went a little overboard at the previous two swaps we attended. Food swaps should be fun events. If you're going to make something that's really time consuming, flesh out the rest of your swap offerings with some easier items.

2. Wear something eye-catching. Our friend Jess wore a t-shirt the color of a brand new tennis ball to the swap and it made it SO easy to point her out to other swappers who were looking for her.

3. Realize what you're willing to spend. The swap itself is free and how much money you put into your swap items is completely up to you. Some people put time and money into creating labels and getting cute jars, some people put their stuff in a Ziploc and label it with a Sharpie. Some people will use a lot of fancy, high end ingredients, others won't. All of those options are totally valid for your swap items, just be aware that not everyone is going to choose the option you choose.

The next swap will be on September 15 at the Peterson Garden Project in Ravenswood Manor. Registration opens on August 18. The October swap will be on October 6 at the Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. (Please note, the September and October locations have switched since our June recap went up.) The November swap will be on November 10 at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart.

If you want to read more recaps of the swap, you can find some here, here, and here.

Avgolemono: Fast, Delicious, Dinner

Hot, fresh avgolemeno

Hot, fresh avgolemeno

If you are in a hurry and you have eggs, broth, and chicken kickin' around your kitchen, you are a pretty good candidate for Avgolemeno. Avgolemeno is a Greek soup made of lemon, egg, broth, pasta/rice, chicken, and sometimes dill. It is so easy I can't even handle it. We have made it 3 or 4 times and every time it is creamy (without cream!), tangy, and filling. We snagged the recipe from Dinner A Love Story and for the most part didn't mess with it. We did, however, make it more sustainable.

The recipe calls for 4 cups chicken broth. We used our homemade broth, which we mentioned in the Earth Day post. Usually, we have stock on hand. If not, we use Better Than Bullion Organics for our instant broth needs. Better Than Bullion has organic versions of most of its bases, and it is a very tasty stock replacement. In a pinch, you can use water in any recipe that calls for stock.

The other change we made was to substitute sushi rice for orzo. The cooking time is very similar, but we never really have pasta on hand. We do always have rice around. This change also makes this simple soup entirely gluten free. (Do you hear, gluten free friends, this soup is for you!) They call for a 1/4 orzo, but tonight I used 1/2 cup rice to make the soup a little thicker.

Tonight was the first time we used our pastured, organic egg share eggs for this soup. They are smaller eggs because the chickens are still young, so to get proportions right, we ended up adding five eggs instead of three. If you use store bought eggs, or buy local eggs from older chickens, definitely use three. Dill is abundant in the summer and pretty cheap (due to the fact that it is often considered a weed.) We usually think to make this when we have a bit of leftover chicken from an organic rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods. The only thing you probably would not be able to get locally sourced for this soup is the lemon, assuming you're in the Midwest like we are.

The best part, aside from how lovely it tastes, is that it really only takes about 15 minutes. 15 minutes! We are basically lapping Rachel Ray in the race to dinner. Sustainable dinner in less than 20 minutes. Now this would add about a day and a half to cooking time, but I wholeheartedly recommend this with a fresh slice of homemade sourdough (gluten-free friends, you should obviously skip this). Kristl has been whipping up a loaf of bread every other week or so from her homemade sourdough starter, and I know she will be regaling you soon enough with her successes and failures thereof. For now, I will leave you with a picture of her most recent loaf, a part of which nicely accompanied our avgolemeno soup tonight. (Original soup recipe below the gratuitous bread picture.)

Image
Image

Avgolemono (From Dinner A Love Story)

4 cups chicken broth (or stock)

1/4 cup uncooked orzo (rice)

salt and pepper

3 eggs

3 tablespoons

lemon juice

handful fresh dill (chopped)

shredded rotisserie chicken (optional)

In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a boil.

Add the orzo and cook until tender but still al dente, about 7 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper and reduce heat to low; let simmer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and lemon juice until smooth. Ladle about 1 cup of the hot broth into the egg-and-lemon mixture, whisking to combine.

Add the mixture back to the simmering saucepan. Stir just until the soup becomes opaque and thickens as the eggs cook, 1 to 2 minutes. Add dill, salt and pepper (to taste) and chicken, if you so desire, and serve.