18 December 2011

Dark Days: Keepin it Simple

Some of my favorite meals are also the simplest. I love preparations that bring out the biggest brightest flavors in vegetables, with merely a bit of fat and salt. The photo above are the ingredients that went into a quick and easy brunch that a friend and I prepared last week: some leftover roasted sweet potato and cabbage thrown into scrambled eggs. It made a filling and delicious breakfast.

Add a bit of this cheese and something so simple becomes kinda decadent. That oozing deliciousness is 3-Corner Field Farm's Shushan Snow cheese, it is their version of a Camembert and it is ridiculously good.

Right now I've got some cabbage and fennel bulb roasting in the oven, yet another simple meal that I can't wait to eat. Seems like the Dark Days Challenge is only challenging for me in terms of actually writing about the local meals that I prepare. The meals themselves are just what I eat. It seems as though I will only be contributing bi-weekly posts for the Challenge, unless something interesting happens that I feel a need to blog about. I'm hoping to make some meals in the coming weeks that will be worthy of recipe-sharing. Perhaps a gluten free gnocchi is in order, that's one I definitely hope to share one day soon.

04 December 2011

Dark Days Challenge Begins

Today's Harvest: Kale, Parsley, and Oregano

Anyone who has taken a moment to browse this site will notice that I rarely post to it. Looks like that is about to change as the Dark Days Challenge has begun, and I did indeed sign up for it. For those not participating, the challenge runs from November 27th through March 31st and the idea is to eat local meals and post about them every week or every other week.

For this challenge I will obtain all food from local farms, farmer's markets, my garden, and my pantry (I put up a great deal of fruit preserves and frozen items during the growing season). Most local eating challenges adhere to a 100 mile radius, but most people in this challenge, since it's a winter challenge, seem to be going with a 150 mile limit. That said, there will be a few exceptions; readily available to me are the grains, beans, and cooking oil from Cayuga Pure Organics, which happens to be located about 200 miles away from me, so that is one exception I plan to make. Other exceptions to the 150 mile limit are things like salt, some spices, sugar, a limited amount of citrus (there is lemon and/or sugar in almost all of the jams that I make), as well as chocolate, coffee, and tea.

I'd like to acknowledge right now the fact that I've accepted this challenge well aware of the fact that I approach it from a place of privilege. I can afford to buy most of these foods, and I do just that. If my family relied on me to grow food that would sustain us in the wintertime, we'd be very hungry right now. That picture above? That's all there was to harvest from my garden today, I didn't plan things out very well for a winter garden, so I'm lucky that I can splurge on all of the produce I need from local farms. I've learned from this, and next year I hope to extend my garden's life much longer.

Since I'm a little slow getting things started around here, this post is about a day's worth of local meals. Future posts are not likely to be as winded.

I started simple today with a plain drinkable yogurt. I try to avoid these because they're made of plastic, but they're really good. I like to drink a little of the yogurt plain, then sometimes I'll spoon in some jam. Today I decided I'd open one of my jars of Blueberry Apricot jam. I don't usually say this, and I sometimes find it annoying when others do, but it seriously tasted like summer. I'll also say that I was suddenly transported to a sunny day in late July, standing under an apricot tree, the apricots hot from the sun. But that's all I'll say about it.

On Sundays, I often like to have something small and simple when I first get up, and then eat a big filling meal in the afternoon. That way I have something small in the evening instead of a big over-filling meal. Today my filling afternoon meal made plenty for leftovers. I've been wanting polenta but don't have any at the moment, so I made a porridge out of some corn meal I had from Cayuga.

I added a diced poblano pepper that I had briefly sauteed, some herbs from my garden, some pecorino cheese from Valley Shepard Creamery and some slow roasted tomatoes that I defrosted earlier in the day.

Then I cracked two eggs on top, grated a tiny bit more pecorino over it, and put the whole thing in the oven for 15 minutes.

Here's what I got

Afterwards I had a snack of some apple butter that was overflow from the jars I'd put up earlier in the morning.

By the time dinner time rolled around a little while ago, a small snack would do. I fell hard for this beautiful cabbage the other day.

If cabbages were a measure of luxury...

It's already been two meals, and there is still plenty left. It's spicy, sweet, and the texture is like endless lacinato kale, but firmer. Tonight, I sliced some up, brushed on some of Cayuga's sunflower oil, sprinkled on some salt, and roasted it the way Melissa Clark suggests in her new book.

I very much look forward to seeing what other participants in this challenge come up with, especially other folks in my region!

11 November 2011

Make a Wish

Because it's 11-11-11

Scoff all you want, but I still believe in luck, and luck I've got.

It's a typical, blustery autumn day (typical days being oh so rare in our time). This weekend, aside from attending a gem sweater potluck, I'll be putting-up preserves with the last of the season's ground cherries, cooking-up an Italian plum jam, liqeur-izing my elderberry vodka, and checking-in on the fermentation of my 2 gallons of hard cider (photos coming soon).

I'm seriously considering signing up for this years Dark Days Challenge, which will mean weekly posts about the local meals I'm eating during the slimmest months for fresh, local produce. The meals I can handle, but the weekly posts???

Stay tuned, might be worth it!

13 September 2011

Cross-Country Jam Exchange!

I am very excited to report that I just participated in my first-ever Jam Exchange, hosted by Steph of the blog Steph Chows. Over 100 home preservers were paired-up to mail 2 half pint jars of their homemade jam to a designated partner. I was paired with a woman named Janae in California, which I am really excited about because I was able to send her a jar of my slow-cooker apricot peach butter - stone fruits not necessarily favoring west coast climates - and she is sending me a marmalade (last I checked we don't have much citrus growing in New York).

Apricot Peach Butter

I also sent a jar of my black raspberry jam, I know berries grow like mad on the west coast, but this jam seems to be pretty popular with my friends who have tried it so I hope Janae likes it!

Blurry Boiling Berries

UPDATE: I received a package from Janae yesterday (the 14th), and I am so excited! She sent a jar of Peach Marmalade, and a jar of Organic Vanilla Strawberry Jam. Part of me wants to tear into them and devour them immediately, but I am going to do my best to wait until fruit season is long gone to enjoy these beautiful jams.

Janae's Jams
I think one of my favorite things about this whole jam swap is that even though what we sent to one another was a total surprise, we only overlapped in one ingredient, and the jams that I received were not jams that I have ever made before or have in my larder. I can hardly contain my excitement!

18 July 2011

Berry Berry Berry Apricot Berry!

Just had to create this list over at the Hudson Valley Food Network about the preserves I've put up so far this season. I've got canning fever! Save the season! Ahhhhh!

17 July 2011

Preserve Scapes

If you are anything like me, then you've been loading up on as many garlic scapes as possible for the last few weeks. This is one of my favorite times of year. I wish garlic scapes grew out of each garlic plant MULTIPLE times before the garlic harvest, but alas they only appear once, and perhaps it's better this way because it makes them so much more special.

The season is fleeting, and they won't be around much longer, here are some ways you can preserve them:

I have to admit, I made three types of pesto using garlic scapes this season, and they're all in my freezer right now, where they will keep for many months. They are all very simple, and rely on the same formula: add garlic scapes, herbs and/or nuts and/or cheese, olive oil, and salt to taste (maybe even some lemon or lime) to a food processor, blender, or molcajete (mortar) and you have your pesto.

First I made one with almonds, it's vegan (though would taste really good on a steak), and has a nice crunch to it. Here's a photo of it in the great outdoors:

Then I made one with a large bunch of fresh basil. Here's a picture of it after a spin in the food processor:

Both of these came out great, and the beauty of garlic scapes is that the garlic flavor is much milder than that of garlic cloves, so you can kinda go crazy with them in their raw state without getting the super-spicy bite that you would from large quantities of raw cloves.

I also ended up making a large batch with both fresh basil and parsley, with a small pile of grated parmigiano reggiano mixed in. I think that one is my favorite, but I'm kind of a cheese fiend...

Compound Butter
I did not make a scape compound butter this year, I did last year and enjoyed it very much. If you eat butter, I highly recommend this. It too can be frozen for many months just like the pesto. I wrote about making compound butter out of ramps (aka wild leeks) here so check that out. In that post I link to a recipe for making your own butter then turning that into the compound butter. You can follow that and just substitute chopped scapes, or you can simply buy butter, and use that for your compound butter. The butter I bought to make my scape compound butter with this year got eaten, by me, before I had a chance to add the scapes. So much for that idea!

22 June 2011

Candlelight Preserved Strawberries

Or perhaps this post should be titled: Why I Secretly Love When My Jams Don't Set

There was a huge storm two Thursdays ago. At the time, we really needed the rain, but no one needed the hail. All the lighting, hail and wind were too much for the power lines in the section of the Hudson Valley where I live and work for half of every week.

There's something to be said for living off-grid, for a number of reasons that I will not get into now, but this all becomes even more apparent when you've got no electricity and you realize you're entirely reliant on a big, faceless power company.

We lost power at the farm, while I was still working. The strawberries had ripened way too quickly for us to pick fast enough in the extreme heat, so we were hastily hulling them in order to freeze them for sale in the winter. Then the lights went out, and didn't come back on. The winds were so strong, and between that and the hail and lightning, we began making plans to get inside the walk-in cooler in case all that nasty weather turned into a tornado. Thankfully it didn't.

I went home with four quarts of strawberries, yet to be hulled, in order to make jam. I drove the 13 miles home from the farm, and along the way no one had power. When I got home the vegetable plants in my garden were laying down, in shock from the heavy rains, hail, and 25 degree temperature drop they'd just been through. There was debris scattered about from the trees, but other than that there didn't seem to be any damage. I decided to use what was left of the daylight to begin reading a new book, and put candles around the house. When, and only when it finally got dark out, did I begin hulling strawberries by candlelight at the dining room table. Two full days of hulling strawberries at the farm, and the most berry-hulling-fun I had was sitting by myself quietly, hulling those 4 quarts by candlelight.

Now, if you want to follow my recipe, but you also want your jam to set, I strongly suggest you halve the recipe below. If you want to take your chances (as I prefer) then just follow the recipe as is. My preserved strawberries are suspended in a syrup that just yearns to be poured over ice cream, yogurt, or just eaten by the spoonful. I can't get enough. It's delicious, and I don't miss the jam-that-would-have-been at all.

Happy Summer!


Candlelight Preserved Strawberries

Quantities and techniques adapted from Put 'em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton, Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krisoff, and Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber.

Makes roughly 4 pints

4 quarts strawberries (preferably no spray)
2 cups cane sugar
3 lemons
4 pint jars or 8 half pint jars (or any mix thereof)
*See note below for potential variations

Hull the strawberries leaving them whole if they are small, cutting them in half if they are large. Toss them in a large, non-reactive bowl or pot with the sugar, cover and allow to macerate in the fridge overnight, or until the next evening if you don't have time to make the preserves in the morning.

The next day, pull your strawberries out of the fridge (I refrigerated mine in the pot I was planning on cooking them in, which helped since I had no running water for clean-up the night before when there was no electricity). Juice the lemons, strain the juice if necessary, and set aside. Reserve the seeds from the lemons when juicing and place them in a dampened cheesecloth bag.

Clean your jars and lids, and prepare a pot of water for water bath canning. Here's a bit of instruction on water bath canning if you are unfamiliar with the process. (In this circumstance it is not necessary to sterilize any of the equipment beforehand since the jars will be sealed in the boiling water for 10 minutes).

Add the cheesecloth bag to the pot of strawberries and bring it all to a boil. Add the lemon juice then continue boiling for about 20 minutes, or until desired set is reached. I do not recommend boiling for much more than 20 minutes or you risk the strawberries losing their vibrant, fresh flavor. 

my canning rack is too big for this pot so I use a dish towel to keep the jars from rattling

Once the preserves are ready ladle into clean jars, close up the jars and place them in the canning pot. Bring the water in the pot back to a boil, and let the jars process in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove jars and allow to rest undisturbed for 12 hours.

The preserves will keep, out of direct light, for at least a year. Once opened, the preserves will keep in the fridge for at least a month, unless you eat them first.

*If you want to play around and vary this recipe a bit, you can throw in a vanilla bean during cooking, lemon zest, or a drop of balsamic vinegar - each pair very well with strawberries!

03 May 2011

Blogging Over at the Hudson Valley Food Network!

Just added my first blog entry over at the Hudson Valley Food Network, a great little budding community of folks dedicated to all sorts of good food and drink in the Hudson Valley region of New York State.

I know it has been nearly a year since I last posted anything here, and I'm considering doing something about that, at some point soon. Maybe.

So please stay tuned! Subscribe! I might say something that will make you happy, sad, or mad!