Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lots of Promises, Few Results

Starting a budget, like starting a diet, is something best done in any month other than December.

Translation, I'm not doing great on my promise from last post.  I'm going to call December a practice month, and start my food budgeting logs in January.  There are just too many parties, and food days, and St. Nick...  Oh, and St. Nick is totally local.  Regardless what he brings, it's local.  Because he's from everywhere!  Yay for citrus!

St. Nick brought a bit of an extra surprise this year - a box of organic lemons.  Watch for my future upcoming post: Put Up or Shut Up Episode 8: Limoncello.  I'm pretty excited.

One thing that I have started doing, as a part of increasing my local eating, cutting out Genetically Modified Foods, and saving money (it's the trifecta!), is making oatmeal.  I purchased a large bag of organic steel cut oats for not very much money (I think less than $6 for a five pound bag) and have been making oatmeal in the slow cooker on Sunday nights/Monday mornings.  For those of you who are not making slow cook oatmeal, I would recommend it.  I do not generally like oatmeal - but find it's much better out of a slow cooker.

I use Alton Brown's general recipe: 1 cup of steel cut oats, 4.5 cups of liquid (I use a combination of water and milk, depending on how creamy I want it to be), and whatever else I want to throw in.  Cook on low in a slow cooker for 8-9 hours.  This makes enough for about 10 normal sized bowls.  It lasts well in the fridge, and I've read online that you can freeze it too, although I have never given this a try.

Sadly, I have not taken any pictures, because I am eating it far too early in the morning to think about taking a picture, and Oatmeal is not especially pretty.  So far my "add-ins" have been:

1. Fresh cranberries and apples, and cinnamon.  I topped this one with a little bit of honey when I went to eat it.

2. Dried cherries, candied ginger (okay, not local), and molasses (also not local).  This was probably my favorite.  I also like that it got a really dark color.  Sometimes I think that the least appetizing thing about oatmeal is the weird, lumpy shade of light brown.

3. Maple syrup and bacon.  Hells yeah!  I cooked the bacon first and then toasted the oats in about a tablespoon of the bacon fat.  I did not add the bacon to the slow cooker overnight, but stirred it back in when I woke up.  It heated up well in the microwave.

The one thing I will say about the bacon oatmeal is that I talked myself into adding all water and no milk.  "Milk and Bacon" I thought to myself, "yuck!"  Also we didn't have any milk.  But I think I was wrong.  While it's good, the texture is just a little off and I think that might be a lack of creamy milk thing.  I tried pouring a little milk over when I heated some up later, and that seemed to help.

I am thinking banana next?  Or maybe taking a break from oatmeal and switching over to breakfast polenta for a while.  Any suggestions on flavors?  I will try to take pictures next time!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December! And a Restaurant Review

And she's back!

Sorry if I scared you.  I'm still here, and I'm still eating locally.  I took November off to participate in National Novel Writing Month (if you're not familiar, check it out here and consider participating next year.  It's a pretty good time.)

I didn't finish my novel, and what I did write is pretty terrible, but that's okay.  The point of NaNoWriMo isn't to write the next best seller, it's just to encourage creativity.  And I feel like it's done it's job!  I've returned to you refreshed, reinvigorated, and with a new twist.

This year's harvest, and off of only two plants!
Imagine what I could do with a whole farm!!
I will admit that my new twist isn't totally coming from any new burst of creativity. In fact, it's a very practical, necessity driven twist.  You see, my car just kicked it something serious.  Which created the need for me to purchase a new car.  And I don't have money for a new car.  Also, I'm starting to think that it might be time to just give up and become an organic pumpkin farmer.  Which means buying a farm.  And if I don't have money for a new car, you'd better believe I don't have money to buy an organic pumpkin farm.

(Sidebar: should I do an organic pumpkin farm kickstarter?  Would anyone send me money?  I could have pumpkin dinners and pumpkins for life as the rewards!  No?  Okay...)

So it's time to start saving the money.  Looking at my budget, it's clear where I spend most of my money - Food.

I know I keep writing that you can do the locavore/organic thing on a budget if you're willing to put in the time.  Well I put in the time, but I've never really needed to force myself to stick to the budget.  But if I'm going to tell you that you can do it, I should probably prove it too.

So here we go.

Now this isn't really going to be a fair challenge.  By that I mean, you're not going to be able to play along at home.  I've got a lot of food squirreled away in my house from this past summer (and a little still from last summer!) along with a fair chunk of beef in my freezer.  So the goal is to eat as much of that as possible while also buying as little as possible and still being happy with my meal choices.  So unless you canned everything I did this year, you won't be able to follow the recipes and save money along with me.  But, maybe you'll get some inspiration for canning next year.

Guess what else I did in November.  (Warning: abrupt change in subject).  The list so far: bought a car, wrote 3/4ths of a crappy novel, and loosely decided on a future career change to pumpkin farmer).  I went to Nashville.  It was kind of cold, which was disappointing.  We saw lots of music, walked around the city, went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and toured the Grand Ole Oppry.  And because I'm me, we went to two farm-to-table restaurants and a farmer's market.

The first restaurant, the Capitol Grill, was nice.  I mean really, really, really nice.  Fancy.  According to the menu, all of the vegetables were grown five miles away in the chef's garden.  Pretty cool.  But, while the food was good, it wasn't spectacular.  Frankly, the pumpkin that I had as the side to my pork loin wasn't better than the pumpkin I made for Thanksgiving, which is a little disappointing when you're paying so much for a meal.  I'm not saying it wasn't good.  I'm just saying it might not have been worth the price tag.

The second restaurant, Lockeland Table, was a new restaurant that had been recommended to me by a friend who used to live in Nashville but now lives in Madison.  She knows the owners, and therefore is a little biased, but now I'm biased too... because it was FANTASTIC!  My current top three restaurants are 1. Braise in Milwaukee, WI; 2. Graze in Madison, WI; and 3. Lockeland table in Nashville TN.

We started out with a cheese platter: Two cheeses from TN and one from WI (I know...).  The goat cheese (from TN) was quite possibly the best goat I've ever had.  And I enjoy a fine goat cheese!

Jeff had a pizza - the pig - loaded with all kinds of pork products, while I got two appetizers - the shrimp and pork dumplings and the bone marrow.  No complaints on all three.  The dumplings were a little spicy, which is perfect for me but if that's not your thing be warned.  The marrow was, as it should be, meat butter!  To appetizers was not quite enough for me for dinner, but the pizza was huge and I got a slice of that too.  Ending with a chocolate pot-de-creme, it was at least as good (probably a good deal better) than the Capital Grill, and half the price!  And that was including the fact that we got more drinks at Lockeland Table, and a dessert, both of which were passed up at the Capitol Grill due to the high price tag.

Mmmm... meat butter.  And a salad to make
you feel good about yoursel
The farmer's market, which is open 362 days of the year (a big deal to me here in WI), was pretty extensive.  If you are familiar with the Milwaukee area, I would say that it was about the size of three Public Markets: one totally devoted to a traditional farmer's market, one more Public Market like with prepared food vendors and an awe-inspiring and also slightly terrifying Indian grocery store, and a third building that held a flea market.

We went on a Sunday, and were later told that we should have gone on Saturday because it's a lot busier.  Still, the farmer's market area had only a few empty stalls.  Must be nice to have a year-long growing season!

While I easily could have loaded up the trunk of our car (it was cold enough!) I instead settled on two kinds of local honey, a TN pumpkin (I like pumpkins, and I'm interested in seeing the difference.  Plus it was pretty.), and a giant butternut squash.  Really.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this.

Buckets and buckets of butternut squash soup...
I did come home to one sad fact.  When I got home and checked on my stored squash, I found that one of my regular sized butternut squashes had a bad spot, had started to spoil, and had "infected" almost all of my buttercup squash.  I pulled all the bad ones out, chopped up the bad spots, and made myself 14 cups of squash puree.  So now that's on the menu!

I feel like this doesn't even require I recipe, but here goes:

Squash Puree
  • Squash.  Any type and quantity
 Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Using a sharp, sturdy knife, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Peel the squash (using the knife, not a vegetable peeler!) and cut into 1 inch cubes.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the squash is soft.  (You could also just cut the squash in half and bake it like that, then scoop it out of the skin.  You'd have to bake it longer, but you wouldn't have to put in the work of peeling the darn thing).

Transfer to a food processor in batches and puree until smooth.

Transfer to freezer safe bags and freeze in 1 cup servings, or whatever you think you'll use.

I didn't add any flavorings (salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, etc.) because I want to be able to control that based on the recipe.  But you certainly could add those things upfront if you wanted flavored squash.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CSA Wrap Up

There's no need to call food hoarders.  Really.
I can stop any time I want!
What I really need in the day is about four more hours. Just four more hours per day.  That's all I ask.  I might spend part of it sleeping.  I'm not trying to be greedy.

It seems like I have a few too many things on my plate these days.  Between work being busy (not that work would affect my blogging in any way, because I would never blog at work, because that would be wrong), teaching and attending dance class, and trying to put a real (and interesting) meal on the table, I seem to have no time for blogging.  Oh, right, and attending culinary school.  And also taking a free class online through (Principles of Obesity Econimics).  I guess my problem is I just try to do too much.  I would have though that now that canning season is over I would have more time - but that's just been replaced with trying to clean up the garden before the first frost... which I'm pretty sure was last night.  Come on, clock. Just four more hours!

Last Friday (yes, over a full week ago.  Stop your judging) was my last CSA box delivery.  Full of fall goodies like parsnips, potatoes, carrots, spinach, and buttnernut squash, it was a good way to say goodbye to a good year.

So, I did this as an experiment to see how a CSA works. I've never done it before.  Would I do it again?


I expected that the whole thing was a bargain. It seems like I was getting far more than the $19.25 that it averaged out for each week ($385 total for 20 weeks of delivery)And I do love a bargain. On the other hand, there was the opportunity for a lot of waste. I tried my hardest, but I know I lost several bunches of leafy greens, and a few bags of green beans.  If you're not willing to spend the day after you get your CSA pickling, freezing, or drying, you'd better be prepared to eat a lot of vegetables. I think that I'm pretty much stocked for the winter, though. Hopefully I'll  just end up buying some Growing Power lettuce.

The one thing that I like more than getting a bargain is PROVING that I got bargain.  So, to that end, here's what I think I received all year long, along with a breakdown of what those items cost on Peapod. Now, I realize that Peapod costs more than going to the grocery store, so these prices are slightly inflated - but on the other hand, I did get these groceries delivered so there are some similarities.

Item Times Received Price on Peapod Total price (peapod)
Arugula 5 3.99 19.95
Baby Beets* 2 3.99 7.98
Basil 10 2.49 24.9
Beet Greens* 7 4.99 34.93
Beets (regular) 8 3.99 31.92
Blueberries 1 3.99 3.99
Bok Choy 3 2.79 8.37
Broccoli 3 3.99 11.97
Cabbage 6 3.99 23.94
Cantaloupe 3 3.29 9.87
Carrots 9 2.99 26.91
Chard 7 2.99 20.93
Cilantro 4 0.69 2.76
Cucumbers 3 1.99 5.97
Dill 8 1.09 8.72
Edible Flowers* 2 1.99 3.98
Eggplant 5 1.99 9.95
Garlic 2 0.89 1.78
Garlic Scapes 4 0.25 1
Hot Peppers* 1 4.99 4.99
Kale 8 2.99 23.92
Kohlrabi 4 2.49 9.96
Leeks 8 2.99 23.92
Lettuce Mix 16 3.99 63.84
Mushrooms 6 2.99 17.94
Onions 7 1.09 7.63
Parsley 7 1.69 11.83
Parsnips 2 1.69 3.38
Pea Shoots 2 3.99 7.98
Potatoes 3 4.99 14.97
Radish Sprouts* 1 1.99 1.99
Radishes 5 1.99 9.95
Scallions 3 1.29 3.87
Spinach 6 2.79 16.74
Sugar Snap Peas 3 3.99 11.97
Summer Squash 9 4.49 40.41
Sunjewel Melons* 1 3.29 3.29
Sweet Peppers 9 4.99 44.91
Tomatoes 31 4.99 154.69
Turnips 2 1.49 2.98
Watermelons 5 4.49 22.45
Winter Squash 6 1.99 11.94
(*these items were not available on PeaPod.  So I basically just made up a price based on the price of similar things there, or how much they were at the farmer's market.)

Not bad... But there were still more things I needed. Canning requires onions, and four garlic scrapes are just not enough for this girl. The other thing I found was that things didn't necessarily come in the combinations I might have wanted. So if I got a bunch of tomatoes, for example, I might not get the onions, peppers, and garlic I needed to make spaghetti sauce.

The biggest problem I had, though, was that I always felt like I had to eat the things I couldn't preserve first, as opposed to the things that I wanted to eat. We got so much lettuce, I was making regular salads during the time that I would have preferred to be eating tomato mozzarella salad. But you can preserve a tomato, and you really can't preserve lettuce (except for my delicious lettuce pesto... But how much of that can I really expect to eat over the winter?). I really feel like we ate very few tomato mozzarella salads, which is sad because those are my favorites and I can eat regular salad all winter long.

So will I do it again?  Probably. I might try somewhere else, not because I had any issues with the RCVC, they are lovely people and amazing farmers, but I would assume different farmers would provide a different mix of vegetables, and variety is always a good thing. I also think I would like to work with a farmer that includes chicken as a part of their CSA. I miss getting a chicken delivered each week, and I find that we have been eating less chicken because of it. So much so that I needed to BUY chicken necks in order to make stock. Totally unacceptable in my mind.
I guess I've got the full winter to think about it. I will be back at the local farmers open house next spring, looking through the brochures and trying to decide what's what. For now, the pantry is stocked with canned goods, the freezer is full, and I've got three boxes of winter squashed stored under the back porch. I'm not sure why I never thought of using that as a root cellar before.

The Winter Farmers Market starts next week. There should still be a good selection of fall crops, so if you're not as stocked as I am, you might want to swing buy. I'll be there seeing if there are any chicken feet to buy, because so help me if I need to buy chicken necks again from Whole Foods!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


One of the joys of eating locally and seasonally is that moment in time when one perfect food appears, then quickly disappears again.  Morels, strawberries, and dandelion leaves in the spring; that first, sun soaked, still warm on the vine tomato in the summer; in the winter, for me, it's the first homemade pickled thing, popped out of a jar, with just the perfect amount of brine clinging on it; and in the fall - pumpkins and squash, pears, and quince.
Our tasting at the Aeppel Treow Winery, next
door to the Orchard
Two weekends ago, Jeff and I went to Brightonwoods Orchard, in Burlington WI.  In addition to many pounds of apples for eating and drying, and a case of apple related booze from the Apple Winery next door, I picked up about five pounds of quince.

This is our second trip to Brightonwoods Orchard, and I'm a big fan.  They don't have that much, it's not a pick your own deal, so if you've got kids and you're into all that stuff they might not be right for you.  But for us, it's perfect.  We walk around the orchard for about 15 minutes, look in their cute little market, then head next door to the Apple Winery (I want to call it a Cidery, but spell check keeps telling me that's not a word...) and get drunk.

Quince is not, I've learned, a particularly popular product.  So much so that I usually need to repeat it 5 or 6 times before people understand what I'm saying:

ME: Quince
Person: Quint?
ME: Quince.
Person: Quints?
Person: Quimp?

Quimp?  Really?  That's not even almost a word.

After some quick research on Wikipedia: Quince was once a popular fruit in the United States, being brought over by English Settlers.  In England, it is appropriate to have one quince tree ta the lower corner of a proper garden, and two in a well stocked orchard.

So even then, when it was "popular," people were getting at most one or two trees.

I have no clue why.  If anyone wants to do more research than I did (I looked it up on Wikipedia on my phone, so it wouldn't take much to be "more" research than I did) I would be happy to hear it.  If you would like to write a report on quince, I will totally post it and link to your blog or thing you want to promote.  Shoot me a message on Facebook (see how that makes you like me on Facebook?  I'm such a scammer!)  The trees appear to be nice - little pretty trees with gnarled bonsai like branches and large pink flowers.  It is also (per my extensive Wikipedia research) a useful plant.  Quince is high in pectin and therefor is good to add to jams and jellies.  The plant itself is strong and can be grafted on to other plants in the rose family (apples, pears, peaches... all roses.  If you know me personally, that might explain why I really want to have an orchard) to dwarf the plant and increase the yield.

So why aren't we growing it?

No demand.

I blame you personally.  When's the last time you went and asked for quince at your neighborhood grocery store?  And why not.  It's a perfectly fine fruit - somewhere between an apple and a pear, with a bit of a pineapple aroma.  Okay, sure' you've got to peel it and cook it before you can eat it (raw quince are inedible), but there are lots of things you cook before eating and it's not stopping anybody.  Rhubarb, for example, not so hot raw.  But people are still making Rhubarb pies.  Why no quince pies?

So, go out and demand some quince!  Get the farmer's growing it.  And when you plan your orchard, or well stocked garden, remember to plant at least one or two quince trees.  No "quimp" trees, because that's not a thing.
This is neither a quince tree nor a quinp tree.  It's an apple
If you would like to see more of the orchard trip pictures, Like "Home Grown, Homemade" on Facebook!

Beef Short Ribs with Quince
(this recipe is modified from several I found for lamb shank.  You can do this with lamb shank as well - but you may want to reduce the cooking time depending on the size of your shank.)

(Anyone else giggle at "size of your shank"?  No?  Just me.  That's fine.  I'm a child.)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 lbs Beef short ribs, trimmed of fat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 or more garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp freshly ground ginger
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 quinces, peeled, core removed, and quartered
  • 3 cups chicken or beef stock
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp lemon rind
  • Cilantro and Couscous for serving
Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. 

Season the short ribs generously with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a large ovenproof casserole or french oven over medium high heat and cook the shanks in batches until well browned.  Transfer to a plate.  Reduce the heat to low.  Add the onion and sweat until softened - about 10 to 15 minutes.  Turn the heat back up to medium high, stir in the garlic and spices and cook, stirring, for one minute or until fragrant.  Do not let the spices burn!

Return the meat to the pan, add the stock and honey, bring to a boil then cover with the lid and place in the oven.  After 30 minutes, stir in the quince, and continue to cook for another hour.  Add the lemon rind, taste and adjust seasonings, and continue to cook for 30 more minutes (2 hours total).

Serve over couscous with freshly chopped cilantro.
I also made curried cauliflower.  The orange
stuff in this picture is the quince.

Quince in Syrup
  • 2 lbs quince
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups honey
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
  • 2 whole cloves (optional)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (optional)
Peel, core, and slice the quince.  In a large pot, combine water, honey, and any desired spices, and bring to a gentle boil.  Add the quince (the plural of quince is quince, by the way), and allow to simmer until just tender 20 minutes, or less depending on the thickness of your slices.

Remove the quince from the pot and raise the temperature to high.  Allow to boil until reduced in half.

From here you've got a few options.  You could serve the quince and syrup over ice cream or a pound cake.  Or, you could take just the fruit and substitute it for half of the apples in your favorite apple pie or crisp or crumble or whatever.  I went the crisp method.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Put Up or Shut Up Episode 7: Green Tomatoes

And just like that, the glory of fall is over, and the furnace is on.

I told you it wouldn't last long.

We had our first risk of frost last night, and while we didn't actually get any at my house (I do live a block away from the lake, after all), the forecast this morning showed the nights looking pretty cold for the next week.   And so I panicked.  I picked all my green tomatoes and brought them inside.

This is not even almost all of them. 

It was probably too soon.  I should have waited.  I look at the forecast now and there's nothing below 40.  But, on the other hand, I'm going to be out of town all next weekend, and Wisconsin weather is consistently inconsistent.  Besides, while the low is now up from 32 to nothing less than 38 over the 10 day forecast, the highest high is 63, and really nothing is getting ripe at that temperature either.

So what's done is done, and with the exception of the cherry and yellow pear tomatoes (which are too small to pick without pulling down the whole plant), there will be no more fresh off the vine tomatoes.  I've got a row on the windowsill, hoping to turn ripe, and a small box of about 15 lbs on the back porch staying cool.  They might get canned, or if the windowsill ones ripen they might get brought it to have their chance.

I couldn't pull down the plants, because they have pumpkin and buttercup squash vines all wrapped around them, and I didn't want to see those get damaged.  They're not coming in until there's actual frost.  So there's probably a good chance that I missed some tomatoes in there, too...

I've got a few recipes picked out for the week, and did a bit of canning tonight.  Green tomato pickles are one of my personal favorites.  They're great for just snacking, but they're also fantastic in a "winter caprese salad."  I was at a restaurant one time, I don't remember the circumstance, but it was a group thing and the chef came out and was talking to us.  He was talking about eating locally and seasonally, and I remember he said "If you want to be a respectable, responsible chef, you'd better not have a caprese salad on your menu in January."  And I remember thinking to myself, "not the way I do it!"  Pickled green tomatoes and sundried tomatoes replace the fresh tomatoes, and I add a bit of honey to sweeten the whole thing up a little.  Fantastic!

Picture taken last winter...
I made seven pints of pickled green tomatoes today.  I could probably stand to make a few more.

This year, I also made a green tomato and apple "jam."  It was called a jam, but I feel like that's a bit of a stretch.  The directions said to cook for two hours, or until it became "jammy."  I cooked for almost four hours, and it never became jammy.  I don't feel like there's enough pectin in green tomatoes for them to ever become jammy...

Then again, no jam I've ever made has ever set up properly, so I probably just don't know what I'm talking about.

From what I tasted, it was pretty good - jammy or not.  Both sweet and tart, it would go well on toast, or on a cheese tray... it would be amazing with a baked brie.  Damn, now I want a baked brie.  I got seven jelly jars, because that's how many I had, three pints, and one slightly smaller than a pint jar that originally came with mayonnaise in it.  (Side rant: it makes me Hulk style angry that all jars that you buy things in the store do not come in standard canning sizes.  Why the crap not?  What can a company possibly gain by not allowing me to reuse their jar for canning purposes?  I guess I can understand if you're going to cheap out and use plastic, but if you're using a glass jar, why not make it one that can be re-used?  I'm talking to you specifically, Milwaukee's Pickles.  You have the best pickles.  I don't even bother making pickles, because yours are so good, EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE NOT EVEN REALLY LOCATED IN MILWAUKEE! I can look past your being located in New Jersey.  I can look past that, because you're giving us a shout out and your pickles are so good.  But you know what, your jar mouths are almost the correct size for canning.  Almost.  That's probably more annoying than not at all.  Because I keep trying to put a canning lid on there.  They keep looking like it should work, and it almost works, but it doesn't work.  What's your deal?  Why do you hate me, Milwaukee's Pickles?)

What was I talking about?

Ah, yes.  Green tomatoes never get jammy.  Baked brie.  So on and so forth.

There is only one week left of the South Shore Farmer's Market, and I will miss it.  Yesterday's market was pretty darn cold, but if you're willing to tough it out I would recommend heading out and picking up some green tomatoes.  They had big baskets full of them for pretty cheap.  I suspect that most people don't know what to do with them, except frying them.  I've made fried green tomatoes before, and they're fine, but they're not at the top of my list.  I may or may not make them this year.

I talked about the Pickled Green Tomatoes a few weeks ago.  Check out the link above to see that recipe.  Here are a few other non-fried green tomatoes recipes to try:

Green Tomato and Apple Jam
Makes 5ish Pints
(**IMPORTANT!  This is my recipe, which I put together based on three different canning recipes.  I am confident that the acid level is good for keeping these, but I want to make it very clear that this is not a professional canning recipe.  You should always be cautious of any canning recipe you find on the internet - especially ones posted by random bloggers.  Botulism is a funny word, but it's not funny.)

  • 4 lbs green tomatoes, cut into small dice (they're not going to break down much, so whatever size you cut them to will be the size they are in your jam)
  • 4 lbs apples, cut into small dice (same deal as the tomatoes)
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup candied ginger, minced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tbsp cloves
  • 2 vanilla beans, cut in half
Place all the ingredients in a large pot, and bring to a boil slowly over medium low heat.  Cook until it gets "jammy," or until you give up on that ever happening, two to three hours.

Fish out the cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans.  Ladle into clean, sanitized, hot canning jars, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Allow to cool and check the seals.

Cheesy Green Tomato Muffins
Makes 12
(While it's no longer required in my diet, I want to point out that this recipe can be made with 99% local WI ingredients.  Everything except the baking powder and salt, unless someone knows something I don't.)

(Sacred Circle friends, you can expect to see some of these when I see you on Saturday at Belly Dance Camp!)
  • 2 cups flour (preferably whole wheat)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp honey (preferably buckwheat)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups chopped green tomatoes
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese, plus additional for topping
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup melted vegetable oil  
  • Fresh cracked black pepper (optional)

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bow.  Make a well in the center of the flour.  Beat the egg, then combine with remaining ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir until just combined, about 15 strokes.  It's okay if the batter is lumpy.

Grease 12 muffin cups (or line with paper cup liners).  Fill each cup 2/3 full of batter.  Bake for 25 minutes or until well browned.

While muffins are baking, combine remaining cheese with pepper if desired.  As soon as you pull the muffins out of the oven, sprinkle the cheese and pepper mixture on top, so it just melts in a little.

Green Tomato Gratin
Makes 4-6 servings

This is my favorite kind of side dish, because it's a vegetable so that means it's healthy, right?

  • 1/4 lb bacon (we're off to a good start!)
  • 1 or 2 large cloves garlic
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (fresh or panko - makes no difference to me!)
  • 1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, etc.), peeled and thinly sliced, keeping the rounds as intact as possible
  • 4 large green tomatoes, sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Render the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat.  Transfer the cooked bacon to a paper towel lined plate.  Add the onion rounds to the skillet in batches and cook, still trying to maintain the rounds as much as possible, until they are golden, about 5-6 minutes per side.

As you are cooking the onions, start assembling the gratin.  Overlap the green tomato slices in one row in a large baking dish.  Next, make a row of onion rounds.  Repeat until all onions and tomatoes are used.  Season the onions and tomatoes with salt and pepper.

In your original pan (hopefully there's still some bacon fat left.  If not, add some more (what?  You don't keep a jar of bacon fat in your fridge?  Why not!  Start saving that shit; it's gold!) or add some olive oil.  In the end, you want about 2 tablespoons of bacon fat or oil in the pan.  Saute the garlic gently, about 3 minutes, until just fragrant.  Turn off the heat and add the bread crumbs, and gently stir to combine.

Crumble the bacon over the tomatoes and onions, then sprinkle the cheese over that, then top with the breadcrumbs.   Bake until the cheese is bubbly - 35 to 40 minutes.  If the top is getting brown, cover with aluminum foil.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Happy Fall

There are a lot of choices for the "first day of fall."  There's the autumnal equinox, which, of course, is the only right answer; there's the day after labor day, which, in my opinion, is pushing the matter; there's the day when all the TV shows come back on; and then there's today.  What is today you might ask?  Well, it is the full harvest moon (that might have been yesterday...), but more importantly it is the first day that I want to curl up on the couch with a brandied, spiced apple cider.

I love fall.

I'm pretty sure that you can go back over each change of the season and find a post where I said "I love X.  X is my favorite season."  So I won't say that anymore.  All of the seasons are good.  All of the seasons have their good sides.  Even winter in Wisconsin can be glorious.  I love snow.  I enjoy sweaters.  I own about 20 more winter coats than is necessary for any human being, so I must enjoy that...  Even the terrible Wisconsin winter has it's benefits.

I think that one of the things that makes Fall in Wisconsin so special (and spring for the same reason) is that it's so short.  It's pretty hard to get sick of something that's less than a month long.  Summer is awesome and amazing and I love being warm all the time, until the fifth or sixth 90 plus degree night, and then I'm basically done with that shit.

Fall brings into play some of my favorite foods.  Stews, and braises, and pumpkin.  It's a good time.

It's not quite time to take the gardens down yet, but we're almost there.  I've got a nice crop of spinach and kale coming up in the back porch container garden.  I'm hoping that, when it gets even cooler, I can move those containers into the greenhouse I've got going on the back porch.  Maybe with the help of a light bulb I can grow my own spinach through most of the winter.  It's worth a try at least.

I've got four nice sized pumpkins out in the garden, hardening off on the vine, and two that I already picked.  I think I've picked (and pretty much eaten) all of the spaghetti squash.  I've got no way to know how many acorn squash are twisted among the green tomatoes.  I thought I planted butternut squash too, but I'm not finding any so I guess I didn't.  I'll have to pick some up at the farmer's market.

If you were around this time last year, I gave a bit of an ode to pumpkin.  I enjoy squash much more than I ever did as a child.  It's so versatile - there's really nothing you can't do with it.

I don't know if I can explain it, but I feel like there's also something that's just really appealing about squash.  It resonates with my inner food hoarder, I guess.  Here's a food that preserves itself - no canning required.  And then there's the fact that one seed can get you 25 acorn squash that will last all winter.  And on top of that, it tastes good.  But maybe even better, it doesn't taste like much, which means you can do whatever you want with it.  Creamy, mild, butternut squash soup?  Done.  Pie?  Of course.  Fiery hot spice to work out a head cold?  Why not!

This year, the pumpkin festivities started out with a pumpkin chicken curry, which unfortunately I do not have a picture for because I made it for the belly dancers at Tribal Union last weekend.  I'm not great at remembering to photograph when I'm hurrying to serve a large group (and getting changed into costume, stretching, applying large quantities of eyeliner, etc).  Plus, since we were mostly all eating it out of to-go containers, I probably wouldn't have gotten a great shot anyway.

But please don't let the lack of a photograph dissuade you.  This was a lightly curried dish with just a little bit of spice, balanced with the sweet of the pumpkin and the bitter of the kale.  The chicken is totally optional, and actually since you cook it ahead of time, you have the option of keeping it separate and letting people chose if they want to add it in.  I cooked it separately so I could use bone-in chicken breasts and thighs without the risk of bones in my curry.  Using the bone-in chicken as opposed to boneless helps the meat stay moist, and also it costs less which is a good thing when you're shelling out for the high quality meat.

If you want to make this vegetarian, just skip the chicken part, and replace the chicken stock with veggie stock.
My name is Miss Kitty, and I approve of this pumpkin.

Pumpkin Curry with Chicken and Kale
Serves 10-12

For the chicken:
  • 4 bone in chicken thighs
  • 2 bone in chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt, pepper, and garlic powder 
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 4 allspice berries
For the curry
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Thai bird chilies, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed if you're a wimp
  • 1 tbsp brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tbsp of your favorite curry powder (I prefer the hot Madras curry powder from the Spice Hut)
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 8-10 cups cubed pumpkin
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 6-8 cups kale, stems and veins removed, and torn into large pieces
  • Brown rice for serving (optional)
Season chicken generously with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

In a heavy skillet over medium high heat, warm the oil.  Once hot, add the chicken and brown in batches.  Transfer to a slow cooker, add apple cider and spices, and cook on low for about 8 hours or until the chicken is falling off the bone.  Allow the chicken to cool and then shred.  This step can be done up to a few days in advance.

In a large skillet over low heat, combine olive oil and onion.  Sweat the onion (it shouldn't get brown or sizzle - just release water) until it is softened, about 20 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium high and add the garlic, chilies, mustard, curry, and ginger.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Saute until spices are fragrant - about three minutes.  Add the pumpkin, toss to combine, and transfer the whole mixture to a large slow cooker.  Add chicken stock and apple cider and cook on low for 8 hours, or until pumpkin is soft and the whole dance studio smells like delicious curry.  About 30 minutes before serving, stir in kale.  Serve over brown rice, if desired.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Put Up or Shut Up Episode 6: Tomatoes

Where did the locavore pirate purchase his vegetables?


Straight from the fAARRRRHHmer.

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day!

I'm sorry I've been absent for so long.  I didn't even realize that it had been so long.  Canning season is in full swing, and it takes up a lot of my free time.  On top of that, my dance troupe has our "big show" of the year coming up this weekend, so I've been busy crafting things to sell.  (Yes, in addition to being a tremendously talented cook and witty blogger, I'm also quite handy with a crochet hook.  I am a woman of many talents - none of them exceptionally marketable...).  Make sure you come check us out at Tribal Union this Saturday.  It's going to be a sweet show.

Technically Fall starts on Saturday, but the chill of fall has been in the air the past few nights.  I woke up with cold toes this morning.  I like summer, and I like being warm, but fall is by far my favorite season in terms of both clothing (I love me a sweater dress!) and food.  There is nothing like a warm stew that's been in the crock pot or oven all day.  The oven now makes me even happier, since my wonderful mother got me one of these for my birthday:

Everything I make in it is automatically fancy.

And, with the end of summer and the start of fall, sadly and naturally comes the end of tomato season.  It's been a good year for tomatoes for me.  When we reach this point in the year, however, tomatoes start to turn a little ugly.  They get spots, or end up oddly shaped, or just don't taste as great as they did in the middle of the summer.  They tend to get soft spots easier.  They don't seem to last as long on the counter.

While sad, all of these things are good for you - the industrious, over achieving, borderline food hoarding, obsessive compulsive canner.

Oh, wait, that's not you, that's me!

Anyway, you should now be able to find a 10 or 20 lb box of tomatoes at your local farmer's market for far less than the normal price.  Some farmers also offer "seconds," which are those ugly tomatoes that you probably don't want to put on your BLT.  Okay, so you'll need to cut a few bruised spots off.  They're still good!

I do a few things with my tomatoes.  The first and easiest is to freeze them whole.  Just wash them and stick them into the freezer.  Once you've got a stack of them, I'd recommend putting them into freezer bags for long term storage.  Once you're ready to use them, just thaw them enough to cut them (I would cut them before they thaw all the way though, because they'll get mushy) and then use them in any recipe that calls for cooked tomatoes.  You don't want to eat them raw though - again when they thaw all the way they get really mushy and weird.  You can't tell the difference when they're cooked, though.

You can also use these tomatoes anywhere it calls for canned tomatoes.  And the skins remove really easily, too.  Just throw them into a pot of boiling water fully frozen, and the skins pop right off on their own!  This also helps thaw them out enough to cut them too.

I tend to save tomatoes all summer this way.  When I've got a big stack, and one or two looks like it's going to get old before I can eat it, I just throw it in the freezer.  I'm up to about 3 and a half gallon freezer bags.

This year, for the first time, I've also canned whole and diced tomatoes.  I haven't done this in the past because it seemed like a waste of canning time - since the frozen tomatoes can be used in place of both of these items.  But, I found the frozen tomatoes were taking up too much room in my freezer.  And, on top of that, when I'm making something in the crock pot in the morning before work I don't always have time/want to make the time to be dealing with frozen tomatoes.  It'll be nice to just dump a jar of tomatoes into the crock pot and go.

Spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, and salsa rounded out my "regular" tomato canning.  One thing I did this year that I didn't do last year was I saved all the skins from all the tomatoes I canned, and threw them into the pot when making my tomato sauce.  I really felt it thickened the sauce up and gave it an extra tomato-y texture.  It also made me feel good to think I was getting as much as possible out of all parts of the tomato.

I say "regular" tomato canning, because this doesn't include the green tomatoes.  Green tomatoes are, in my opinion, highly undervalued.  Fried green tomatoes are not even close to being the best thing about green tomatoes.  First off, you can pickle them. Pickled green tomatoes are an amazing treat.  I've made a winter caprese salad (that's your tomato, mozzarella cheese, and basil salad) using pickled green tomatoes and sun dried tomatoes.  They're also good for just eating.

But maybe you don't like pickled things the way I do.  That's fine (you're wrong, but it's fine).  Here's another suggestion.  This may be hailed as food blasphemy, but you can also can whole green tomatoes and substitute them for canned tomatillos.  They're not going to be exactly the same - they're not as tangy or as acidic.  If you are going to substitute them, I would recommend adding a good amount of lime juice to up the sass, but I can't find local tomatillos for less than $4.99 a pound, and that's far too much when I need a bunch for my famous green pork chili.  So I'm going to substitute green tomatoes, and it's going to be amazing.  If you've got a problem with that, you don't get any chili!

So pick up some tomato seconds at the farmer's market, and get canning!

Canned Whole Tomatoes - Red or Green (or yellow.  Or orange.  Or whatever)
For each Quart of Tomatoes:
  • 3 pounds tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice 
 Remove the skins from the tomatoes by boiling briefly and dipping in ice water.  (We've been talking about this for a year now - do I really need to explain it to you?)

Put 2 tablespoons lemon juice into a one quart jar.  Pack the tomatoes into the jar one at a time, pressing firmly enough to compress the hollow core and release enough juice to cover the tomatoes, but not enough to crush the fruit.  Continue to pack the tomatoes in this manner, pressing out any air pockets.  Tomatoes should be covered by 1/2 inch with their liquid.  Leave 1/2 inch of headspace between the top of the liquid and the lid.  Top with a little boiling water, if necessary, to achieve the proper headspace.

Use the boiling water method and process jars for 85 minutes.  Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes.

If you are using green tomatoes to substitute for tomatillos, consider replacing the lemon juice with lime juice.

Canned Diced Tomatoes
Same as above, but dice the tomatoes instead of pushing them into the jars.  Save the any tomato juice to cover the tomatoes in the jar.

Chunky Spaghetti Sauce
Makes about 8 Quarts
  • 20 lbs of tomatoes (preferably plum or Roma)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb onions, diced
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 large carrots, diced
  • 4 large green peppers
  • 1 cup fresh oregano
  • 3 tablespoons bottled lemon juice per quart
  • 1 tsp salt per quart
  • 1 bay leaf per quart
 Blanch and shock tomatoes to remove peels.  Dice into about 1 inch cubes, and set aside.

In a large pot, sweat down onions over low heat until soft and translucent - about 15 minutes.  Raise heat to medium, add garlic, carrots, and peppers, and saute until veggies are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and oregano and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a low and simmer for 1 hour.  The sauce should be reduced and slightly thickened.

Ladle into jars (adding lemon juice, salt, and bay leaf), leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Process using the boiling water method for 45 minutes.  Turn off heat, remove the lid from the canner, and let the jars rest in the water for 5 minutes.

Tomato Basil Sauce
Makes about 6 pints

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 head garlic, chopped
  • 10 lbs tomatoes, cut into large chunks (don't worry about the skins this time)
  • Any skins you have from other tomatoes you've canned (you can freeze these to use later, too)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
In a large pot, warm the oil over low heat.  Add the onions and sweat until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium, add the garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes longer.

Add the tomatoes, skins, and wine and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until reduced and thickened - about 1 hour.

Pass the tomato mixture through a mesh sieve set over a clean, large pot.  I like to really work the remaining solids to work out any pulp in order to get a thicker sauce but that is your choice.  Bring the tomato sauce back to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.  Stir in the basil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Ladle the sauce into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace.  Process using the boiling water method for 30 minutes. 
Tomato Basil Sauce (front) and Chunky Spaghetti
Sauce (back) in progress.  I need bigger pots...

Heirloom Tomato Salsa
Makes about 7 pints
Using a variety of tomatoes in different colors creates a pretty salsa, but isn't necessary.

  • 1 cup white viegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 3 lbs heirloom tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 pounds onions, diced
  • 1 to 2 hot peppers of your favorite variety, diced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil in a large, nonreactive sauce pan.  add the tomatoes, onions, and peppers, and return to a boil for 5 minutes.  Add the cilantro and remove from the heat.

Ladle into clean hot pint or half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Process for 15 minutes.  Turn off heat, remove the canner lid, and let rest in the water for 5 minutes.

Pickled Green Tomatoes
Makes 6 pints (use pints or half pints)

  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 12 bay leaves
  • 24 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp dried oregeno
  • 1 small yellow onion cut into thin slices
  • 12 small hot peppers (optional)
  • 6 cups green tomatoes, cut into large chunks or slices (or use whole cherry tomatoes)
In a large pot, combine the vinegar and salt.  Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt.

Meanwhile, divide bay leaves, garlic, spices, and onion amongst jars.  Pack tomatoes tightly into the jars, within one inch of the rims.  Ladle the boiling brine into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  Wipe the rims and seal tightly.  Because of the high level of acidity, these pickles do not require a boiling water bath - but make sure the brine is boiling when you ladle it in so they seal properly.

Let the jars sit for at least two weeks for flavors to develop.