Food and Cooking, Pie Crust, and Way More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Sake

I love food. A bit too much as you would see immediately if you met me in person. I also love to cook. And I’m pretty good at it. But for years now my nemesis has been the pie crust. I couldn’t turn out a decent pie crust for anything. I tried all of the tips and tricks that people and cookbooks recommended. Nothing worked. It either turned out soggy or hard as a rock, or the flavor was bad.

The problem is, of course shortening. Shortening is basically plant oils that are normally liquid at room temperature. They are heavily processed, modified chemically and altered to make them solid. And despite the push to eliminate hydrogenated vegetable oils from our food because the health problems it causes, the stuff is still in most shortenings because it’s difficult to make a shortening that is solid at room temperature without it.

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Mmmm…. yummy, yummy lard…

Once upon a time the fat used in cooking came from animal sources. The type of fat used specifically for making pastry was leaf lard, which was rendered from specific areas of pigs. It was favored because of it’s texture and because it had very little flavor of its own, and it resulted in tender, flakey pastry. There are all sorts of reasons why people switched from lard to vegetable shortening. I could write a whole series of articles just about that so I won’t get into it. But we now know that the hydrogenated vegetable oils that the advertisers have been telling us for years were so “healthy” for us, are a serious health risk and should be avoided.

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My home made chicken pot pie. The edge of the crust looks rough because I misjudged the size and had to “back fill” with extra dough to seal it, but wow it tasted good.

To make a long story short, I’ve given up entirely on shortening and found a pie crust that uses butter instead of shortening, a food processor to do the mixing, and wow, what a difference. I experimented on the family (come on, if you cook, you’ve used your family as test subjects too) and the results were unanimous, the butter crust was a hands down winner over shortening. The texture, flavor, appearance, the butter crust won in every single category.

Okay, so yes, it’s a lot more expensive than shortening. Butter is currently going for around $4/lb. for the generic brands around here, so that means there is about $2 of butter alone in a pie crust. But pie is a treat. It isn’t something we make more than once a month or so or during holiday seasons. A pie is supposed to be special, savory, flakey, delicious. A good pie isn’t just food, it’s part of a celebration. So I’m more than willing to spend the extra money to get the results I want.

And then there’s this new sushi restaurant we went to in Green Bay the other day, Sushi Lovers. Well, it isn’t new, it’s been around for a while now, but it’s new to me, and it was actually pretty good. And it had Hakutsuru junmai draft sake.

If someone had told me about 30 years ago that I’d be eating sushi and drinking sake and enjoying it at this point in my life, I’d have thought they were nuts. And if someone had told me that here in the land of deep fried cheese, beer and whiskey sours and sausages, that sushi restaurants would be popping up all over the place and a lot of grocery stores would be selling it in the deli section, I’d have suggested they need therapy. But that seems to be the case.

The problem is finding a good sushi restaurant. We have all manner of them around here. Some are pretty high end, where each table has it’s own individual chef who makes everything right there in front of you, to places where you sit at a counter with a water trough in front of you and pieces float past you on little boats, to the “chinese buffet” style places that seem to have moved into all of the old Hardee’s fast food joints that closed down a few years ago. And price has little to do with the actual quality of the food. Some of the cheaper places we’ve found have better sushi than some of the over the top fancy places. There are one or two up in the Fox Valley where a party of four won’t get out the door for less than $400 -$500 and the food they crank out there isn’t any better than Sushi Lovers where they charge $18 per adult for all you can eat, plus drinks.

But I really wanted to talk about sake. And like a lot of things dealing with drink, it gets complicated, so bear with me.

First of all, sake is not rice wine as many people call it. Sake is actually brewed from rice like beer, and traditional sake making is a very lengthy and labor intensive process. If you want to see what it’s like, click here for a Youtube video. Like everything else, though, making sake has become industrialized in order to reduce costs and increase quantities, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune for a bottle of traditionally made, hand crafted sake if you want good sake.

There are two different types, junmai-shu and honjozo-shu. The first is made only from rice, water, yeast and koji, which is the same mold that is used in the fermentation of miso. The second type is brewed in the same ways, but has a small amount of distilled alcohol added to it. Some people prefer the honjozo type, claiming the extra alcohol makes the sake more aromatic, while some prefer the junmai type.

Until a few years ago, junmai meant that at least 30% of the rice kernel had been polished away before the rice was used in brewing. So, you ask, why would you polish off that much of the rice? Because when brewing sake what you want is the rice starch, and most of that is concentrated in the middle of the kernel. The outer layers of the kernel has most of the minerals, fats and proteins that can introduce flavors that some people don’t like.

But the polishing requirement for junmai has gone away now, it seems. The major sake brewers convinced the government to change the definition. Junmai style sake still has only rice, water, yeast and koji, but it no longer needs to be polished to meet the legal definition, I’ve been told. Most brewers still adhere to the old 70% rules, but you have to check the bottle to make sure.

There are other terms as well that refer to how much of the rice is lost in polishing or milling. Ginjo means it’s polished to 60%, and seimaibuai and daginjo are milled to 50%, and are usually labeled junmai gingo and junmai daiginjo. (If it says honjozo instead of junmai it means some distilled alcohol has been added.)

And there is a difference in flavors. Junmai sake tends to be less aromatic and more, oh, earthy than the gingo and daginjo style, and goes better with richer, heavier food.

Oh good grief, listen to all that guff, I’m starting to sound like one of those wine snobs, aren’t I? And there is still a lot more, like whether it should be served hot or cold. And the answer to that is: well, maybe?

Traditionally sake was served hot for the same reason we serve beer ice cold here in the U.S., to disguise the fact it doesn’t taste very good. Until about 50 years ago, sake was often very woody, with heavy flavors that were often unpalatable, and heating it helped to mask this. But that has changed and the sake produced now often has very pleasant, lively tastes and aromas, and heating would destroy the flavor and fragrances that the brewers work hard to create.

Generally speaking, better quality sake should not be chilled, but should be cool, a bit below room temperature. Some of the sakagura will list on the label the temperature they feel will bring out the best of their product. But it all depends on the individual drinking it and what they like.

Now, to get back (finally!) to Hakutsuru. The company has been around since something like 1740, and they are now a major brewer in Japan. And while it’s mass produced it is still a pretty good product. It’s considered to be well balanced, a good match for a lot of different foods, with a slightly earthy aroma that isn’t overpowering. It’s one of the better sakes that is available locally.

I can’t believe I’ve babbled along about this for so long. Here’s a picture of the last rose of the season to make up for boring you with all of this guff.

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Farm Catch Up

I haven’t done this in a while, so let’s see what’s going on out in the farming world.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 6.25.36 AMButter Tumbles In Europe:  Wholesale butter prices have plummeted by almost 10% from September in the EU, and have dropped by 20% overall from the high point. The market for butter and butterfat was the only thing that was driving improved farmgate milk prices in the EU. There was a very modest reduction in milk production, but that quickly reversed as milk prices began to improve, and from what I’ve been seeing milk production is on the rise once again.

Butter prices in the US dropped a bit, but are still pretty strong, about 20% or so higher than they were a year ago.

I’ve been hearing the price on powdered skim milk in the EU has dropped precipitously because they can’t get rid of the stuff.

Basically it looks like a return to the old boom/bust cycle. As soon as prices start to get even a tiny bit better, dairy farms begin to ramp up production, glutting the market with product, and pushing the prices back down again.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 8.58.56 AMSargento Expansion: The company is expanding again locally. It’s adding another 40,000 sq. feet to it’s facility here in Hilbert after a major 70,000 sq. foot expansion just a year ago, and will be adding another 150 jobs here. Sargento is privately owned, employs about 2,000 people, and produces cheese, snacks, sauces and ingredients for the food industry. It had net sales of well over $1 billion last year. Starting wages for most jobs are going to be in the $18/hr range I’ve been told.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 7.58.59 AMDicamba Battle Continues: Monsanto and it’s partner in the dicamba herbicide controversy, BASF, continue to claim that thousands of acres of crops that were damaged by dicamba drift wasn’t their fault. Arkansas alone had more than a thousand complaints of crops damaged or killed by dicamba drifting away fro the sprayed areas into fields that were often hundreds, even thousands of feet away.

This situation has been going on ever since Monsanto and it’s partner in this, BASF, brought their dicamba blend herbicides to market to use with Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans. Dicamba has always had a problem with volatility and drifting, meaning the product goes into vapor form very easily and can drift far beyond the point of application. These new formulations were supposed to cure that problem, but the problem with drift seems to still be a serious issue. Ever since these products came to market there have been reports of tens of thousands of acres of crops and ornamental plantings being killed or damaged by the herbicide.

Both companies have been blaming everything but their products for the problems. Arkansas banned Monsanto’s version of the herbicide and only BASF’s was permitted for use in the state, and the reported damage is so bad some states are thinking of banning the product completely. Monsanto is currently suing Arkansas over the ban. Monsanto is also criticizing scientists who are coming forward to point out problems with the product that date back to the first tests of the dicamba blends, and claim that the company’s testing of the product was seriously flawed and failed to point out the dangers of the herbicide.

Now BASF is claiming that the damage is because farmers have been using illegal forms of dicamba, and not it’s product at all. The company claims that it only sold about half the amount herbicide that would be needed to cover the acreage that was actually sprayed.

The whole thing is a complete mess, with lawsuits either in the works or already heading for the courts, lots of finger pointing, bizarre conspiracy theories, and even one murder attributed to the issue.

Not So Great Pumpkin Controversy: If you’re the FDA, a squash is a squash is a pumpkin. Its all pretty much the same. So that orangey brown gunk you dump out of that can to make your pumpkin pie isn’t really, well, pumpkin. Pumpkin is Cucurbita pepo while what you’re mostly getting in that can is Cucurbita maxima, a different variety of squash. The problem is that real pumpkin doesn’t really work very well for a lot of the things we eat, like pie.

Personally I can’t stand the stuff, the pumpkin pie fillings and all that. I love squash. There’s nothing better than a slow roasted butternut or acorn squash with a bit of, oh, apple baked with it, a little brown sugar, some butter, a touch of salt. It is amazingly good. But pumpkin? No thanks. I’ll pass on that pumpkin pie and head straight for the mincemeat. Although come to think of it mincemeat doesn’t really have meat in it either any more, does it?

And don’t get me started on the abomination that is “pumpkin spice”.

That’s it for now. Well, actually there’s probably more but I’m getting bored and MrsGF is making deep dish apple pie and I need to go peel apples.

As always, comments are welcome or you can email me at old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

If I got the email address right this time.

 

Agrimoney.com | Butter price surge may ‘prompt fundamental market change’ – Arla

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 6.25.36 AMArla boss Peder Tuborgh sees a shake-up, if the rally continues which has, for the first time, made dairy fats more expensive than protein Source: Agrimoney.com | Butter price surge may ‘prompt fundamental market change’ – Arla

I haven’t been talking much about farming lately because not much has really been going on over the last month or so. But butter — good grief. The butter market has gone goofy.

Wholesale butter prices are flirting with record prices in some markets, even surpassing record levels in some areas. Retail prices have been creeping up. Demand for butter has been just about the only thing that’s been keeping farmgate fluid milk prices at a reasonably decent level over the last few months. Around here prices for generic butter is pushing close to $4/lb. while prices for the “premium” brands is in the $4.50 range, with some of the premium brands pushing $5/lb. retail prices. The exception is KwikTrip, which is selling their house brand for $2.99 in their convenience stores around here.

I’m always fascinated by how the public’s attitude towards butter and dairy fat in general has changed over the last few years. Thanks mostly to the marketing claims made by margarine manufacturers, and with little or no actual scientific studies backing those claims, butter and dairy fat was being blamed for everything from obesity, to heart disease, to stroke, to I don’t know what all else, while margarine was being pushed as a “healthy” alternative, when the opposite was true.

I always hated margarine. I hated it’s texture and flavor, I hated how it melted or didn’t melt, hated how it worked when used in cooking. But then I’m weird that way. I have one of those hypersensitive senses of smell and taste, especially smell. I’ve a bit of a reputation as being a picky eater, but I’m really not. The problem is that I smell and taste things most people seem to be unaware of.

But let’s get back to butter…

The item up there from AgriMoney reminded me of the Great Butter War going on here in Wisconsin right now. The picture of Kerry Gold butter up there isn’t just some random butter image, it’s appropriate because at the moment Kerry Gold is banned from sale in Wisconsin along with a lot of other brands of butter.

Before butter can be sold in the state, it has to be graded on taste, texture and color through some state accepted system, by state accepted inspectors. This means that if a butter maker can’t or won’t spend the time and money to put their product through the state’s inspection system because of cost or whatever reason, it can’t be sold in the state, even though it meets all other accepted federal standards.

Consumers didn’t know about this until one day Kerry Gold butter abruptly vanished from the shelves of the grocery stores here in the state not too long ago. It isn’t that the law was just passed, it’s been on the books since the 1950s. It seems that a lot of grocers just didn’t know about the law until fairly recently.

Wisconsin has a long history of laws about butter. It is still illegal for restaurants to substitute margarine for butter without the customer specifically requesting it. It is illegal to serve margarine in state prisons, schools and hospitals except for health reasons. And until the late 1950s it was illegal to sell margarine in the state that had been dyed yellow. Margarine is actually a rather sickly looking whitish color and is dyed yellow to make it look appealing. Margarine makers used to include a yellow dye packet with the margarine sold in Wisconsin so the consumer could dye it themselves.

I should point out that Wisconsin’s butter grading law has nothing to do with food safety. The grading system the state insists on is made up of largely arbitrary standards for taste, texture, smell and appearance. Kerry Gold and the other butters banned from sale in the state meet all USDA and other federal standards for quality. They just haven’t been subjected to these arbitrary tests.

Well, the whole thing is going through the legal system now, and I suspect that sooner or later the Wisconsin requirements will be overturned. But until then you’ll have to order your Kerry Gold online or hop across the border to Illinois or Minnesota to get your fix.

Agrimoney.com | Revival in US milk prices to continue, says Dean Foods

 

Source: Agrimoney.com | Revival in US milk prices to continue, says Dean Foods

This is one of those situations where I don’t know where they’re getting their information because what they’re saying here isn’t what I’ve been reading in the ag news.

Dean Foods seems to be trying to claim farmgate prices are going to go up significantly, that US dairy exports are robust and growing, and that the markets are giving off “buoyant signals”.

But well, no, the market is doing no such thing, and there seems to be no indication that we’re going to be seeing any kind of significant increase in farmgate prices in the US any time soon.

While milk production in NZ and the EU is trending down a bit, here in North America it has continued to rise significantly, with significant numbers of new cattle being added to milking herds and continued increases in milk production. Texas was up about 11%, Minnesota and Wisconsin were up about 2% or a little less. Overall US production is around +1.2% to +2.3%, depending on the numbers you believe, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign that’s going to stop.

As for cheese, yes, there was a blip in the cheese price last week, but that happens all the time, especially as we get closer to major holidays, and we haven’t even begun to make a dent in the truly massive amounts of cheese and butter already in storage. The USDA’s recent purchase of about $20 million in surplus cheese (if I remember the number right) didn’t even make a dent in the amount of cheese in storage. And as of this morning, cheese prices have already started to fall again, down 6 cents over the weekend.

And the statement that “foreign buyers are lapping up” US dairy products is, aside from being a horrible pun, simply not true. Exports of dairy products actually dropped 2% in September.

There is always an uptick in prices this time of year as we approach the holiday baking season. Cream, cheese and butter prices almost always begin to rise around this time of year as retailers and suppliers try to cash in on increased demand. It’s a seasonal blip that doesn’t really indicate any kind of significant improvement in the market.

Maybe Dean foods is just trying to make investors feel a bit better about the fact that Dean’s profits fell by 28% last quarter?