Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy New Year!

Or more specifically, happy spring.  But, as I said in my very first post, spring is like the start of the year to me.  It's the start of the world coming back to normal.  This year more than usual, it's the start of the return of food (but just because it's been so warm).  And, it's my birthday.  Technically my birthday is tomorrow, but I tend to celebrate it on whatever day is the equinox.  This only doesn't work if the equinox is on the 20th (my actual "birth day" is on the 21st) and you're turning 21, and trying to get into the bars by explaining that, really, equinoxes and solstices are a more accurate calendar than the one we use.  The bouncer does not car.

Keep your pants on, tulips.  It's not that time yet!

This past year has gone really fast.  Maybe that's because I haven't really been denying myself anything.  I do feel like I've learned a lot, and I feel like there's so much more to learn.

On the most basic level, I would say that being a locavore - really and truly - does not make sense unless you live in San Francisco or somewhere equally temperate.  In the Midwest, at least, it just does not make sense.  No citrus, no bananas, very limited selection of nuts, very limited selection of fish.  Taken a step further, no chocolate, no sugar, no olive oil.  Not really a great way to eat, both in terms of health and in terms of lack of chocolate.  Unacceptable.

So 100% locavore, no.  But there is so much more out there than people take advantage of.  Here are, in no particular order, the top 10 things I have learned over the past year:

  1. You can generally get something green at the Winter Farmer's market, no matter when in the year it is.
  2. Milwaukee has two options for salad greens all year round: Sweet Water Organics, and Growing Power. 
  3. Flour from Great River Milling costs way less when purchased from Amazon.
  4. My husband will not bury a garbage can in our back yard to create a root cellar, but winter squash lasts pretty well in my basement.
  5. Apples are available all year long at the Winter Farmer's Market, so it is not worth while to can mass quantities of apple pie filling in a ridiculous manner.
  6. Chutney should be used not only as a garnish, but also to braise things in.
  7. Canning is exceptionally useful, if done properly.  
    • More:
      • Jams/Jelly
      • Fruit in general
      • Bruscetta Topping
    • Less:
      • Pickled Zucchini/Zucchini Relish
      • Pickled Peppers (or at least in smaller jars if they're going to be so damn spicy)
      • Apple Pie Filling (a lot less!)
  8. Zucchini not used in caning should instead be shredded and frozen for Zucchini Fritters all winter long.
  9. Oreos are local
  10. Food contests are extra awesome when you win.
So what's next?  My year is up.  Am I going back to how I ate before?  Maybe a little, but more of this will stick with me than not.  Yes, more seafood (but only if it's approved by the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch).  More fruit (in season.  Checking pesticide risk, buying organically when appropriate, and locally whenever possible.  And, not buying fruit totally out of season, because a strawberry in December doesn't even taste good.)  But local is still primary.  It's gotten to where, for most things, it isn't even hard.  I've got my CSA starting in June, and a fridge full of local beef, and all of my farmer buddies at all of my regular markets.

This blog will not be ending, but it will be changing a little.  I'd like to spend more time researching; more time talking about larger topics and not just recipes.  I plan on going out to my CSA's farm, and spending more time at the Urban Ecology Center, and Sweet Water Organics.  I'd like to learn how to make cheese.  I'd like to learn how to make sausage.  I'd like to learn how to butcher a pig.  My wonderful husband got me a food dehydrator for my birthday, so I see dried things in my future.

I'd like to do more research on the issues that are important to me: GMOs and pesticides, and bad fats vs. good fats, and things I probably don't even know I'm passionate about yet.

This might be more than one year.

All of my visiting and researching might mean a few less posts, and it might mean a few longer ones.  I hope you stick with me, if I drop down to once or twice a week.  My journey into food is not yet over, and I'm glad to have you along for the ride!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My New Friend, the Farmer

Damn I'm tired.  Yesterday was a busy day.  First up, the Local Farmer's Open House at the Urban Ecology Center.

Here's something you might not know about me.  I'm a bit claustrophobic.  Not so much small spaces - I'd do fine spelunking, I think - but I get very claustrophobic in crowded spaces.  If there's a crowd all around me, and I can't move briskly, and I can't figure out where to go to get out of the crowd, and people are pushing me... I start to freak out.  What if there was a fire?  Where would I go?

So, for the record:

1. I like to eat weeds.
2. Spelunking sounds like fun.
3. I have no problem making fun of myself in front of large groups of people (not really related to this blog, but it's true.)
4. Crowds terrify me.

The Urban Ecology Center was packed on Saturday.  Packed.  Crazy packed.  I seriously almost left.  I'm excited that so many people care about supporting their local farmers, and I hope that it was a good event for the Urban Ecology Center because they are a great organization doing excellent things.  But it was crazy crowded and if I didn't have the option of going, sitting down,  and learning about why I should get a CSA and about the pesticides used at big farms, I might have just left.  It's always a bit of a catch 22.  Like the Winter Farmer's Market.  I want people to go, because I want the farmers to be supported, and the more people go the more farmers will show up... but at the same time, I want to be selfish and keep the whole thing for me.

But, it seemed most people came in the morning, and by 1:00 it had calmed down and I had the opportunity to really circle around and talk to the farmers.

While I wanted to keep an open mind, I did go to the Open House pretty certain which farm I'd be purchasing my CSA from.  Over the past year, I have built up a pretty good relationship with JenEhr Farms, a farm just outside of Madison, and have gotten to know Farmer Paul through the West Allis and Winter Farmer's Market.  They've got the best chickens I've found since I lost Farmer Jones, as well as amazing winter radishes, spinach, sweet potatoes, fennel, and really just about everything else.  Their produce is always amazing, and I appreciate that Farmer Paul recognizes me week to week and remembers what I like.  Also, they have chicken feet, which I like to use for stock, and which can be hard to find.

So, I expected to work with them this Summer.  I was basically all set in that path.

And then I met Farmer Jess from the Rhine Center Vegetable Club.  I almost didn't even stop at their booth, because they don't have CSA pick up by my house.  They do, however, have it by my work, so I figured it was worth it to give a quick stop.

The first thing that happened, before any talk of produce or whatever could occur, was that Jess commented on my shirt - a Star Trek joke.  Right there, we're friends.  I was surprised, because the table was run by Jess and her sister, who were really just kids.  Okay, probably my age, and I'm almost 30, but still...

We went to talk, and Jess has been working her farm for 3 years.  She met her farming partner, Sam, when they were both working on someone else's farm and going to school.  "Why," they asked themselves, "are we working someone else's farm?"  So, they rented some land and started their own farm.

Something about this story really resonated with me.  And, really, more than that, the person behind the story.  While we didn't have a long time to talk, this was someone that  I could tell I have a shared passion with.  Yes, I could go with the established farm I know, or I could be a part of someone's dream to raise their own farm sustainably.

So I went with the Rhine Center Vegetable Club.  I will be going out this summer to help them work on their farm, and will bring back pictures to share with you.  I am excited, and feel like I am starting on a new adventure.

So that was my day until 3.  I then came home, turned over my compost pile (without stretching first, because I'm a dummy), loaded three 10 gallon bins and one 15 gallon bin up with dirt for container gardening, broke down some branches, had a fire, Vesped to the Outpost for dinner, and then collapsed in a ball on my couch.  And now I am sore.

But it's a good sore.  And my compost pile is turned over, which is good because it was all the way full.  I now have room to add more compost, which means I can clean out my flower gardens... They seem to think it's spring and the daffodils are blooming.  I'm not sure whether or not to uncover them.  I suspect it may snow one more time...

Friday, March 16, 2012

When Food Bloggers Don't Have Time To Cook

Man alive!  What a busy week!  I am absolutely looking forward to the weekend and the Local Farmer Open House (it's tomorrow, people.  Don't miss it!)

It really seems like, when I'm busy at work, I just run out of time for everything else.  It's not that I'm blogging there, of course, for two reasons:

1. That would be wrong
2. Ever since my article in OnMilwaukee.com, I suspect that some of my co-workers/bosses might be reading this.

But mostly #1, of course!

I don't think that's the reason.  When we're busy at work, we're there longer.  We also get more tired.  Being stressed is tiring, and being tired means you don't want to do crappy stuff like cleaning your house, laundry, and cooking.  Yes, if you have to do it every day, cooking is a chore.  Even if you love to cook, it's still a chore.

So, since it's basically all I've eaten all week, I thought I'd take the time to talk a bit about how to locavore up your dinner if you don't have time to braise, bake, or make your own pasta.  All you need is a little pre-planning.  And it can be WAY pre-planning.  Most of the things I ate this week were in my freezer well before the start of the week.

Yesterday I had grilled sausages with carrots and mushrooms and baked potato wedges.   I forgot to take a picture...

We have a selection of sausages in the freezer, as well as a bag of sausage buns.  Bread freezes very well, so it's nice to have buns on hand for when just want that quick sandwich.

I started out by slicing the potatoes into wedges (actually, Jeff did this), and then boiling them until they just start to get soft.  Drain the potatoes, season with about a tablespoon of olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, lay out on a cookie sheet so the slices aren't touching, and pop into a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes, flipping them once half way through.

While the potatoes were baking, I chopped up the carrots into bite sized pieces, and boiled them again until they were about half way done.  Heat olive oil and saute thinly sliced shallot or red onion (about a tablespoon) for 2 or three minutes, then add 1 clove minced garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the carrots and one sliced portobello mushroom, and saute until the mushrooms are browned and the carrots are cooked through.  Add 2 tbsp honey, 1 tsp white wine vinegar, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Meanwhile, grill up your sausages, plop them in their buns, and dinner is served.

Wednesday, Jeff was playing at a bar and I had hot wings and fries.  Don't judge me!

Tuesday, we had pasta carbonara with spinach and mushrooms.

Pasta carbonara is really easy and really quick, and is something that can be made with nothing more than fridge/pantry essentials.  The addition of spinach and mushrooms mean that it's not a "true" carbonara, but it makes me feel better to get some vegetables.  If you want to make a true carbonara, you can follow this recipe and just omit the veggies, and I think you should use a spaghetti type pasta - but I'm not positive on that one.

Start out by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Chop up about 3 strips of bacon into 1 inch pieces.  (I keep bacon in my freezer.  When I buy it, I open it up and wrap it into 3 slice packages and freeze it like that.  That way, I can use just a little bit of bacon for cooking and not have to thaw the whole chunk.)  In a large frying pan, fry the bacon until it is just about to start getting crispy, then add about 1/2 cup thinly sliced mushrooms to the pan.  By this point, your water should be boiling, so drop in about 2 cups pasta.

Keep an eye on the bacon and mushrooms, and if the bacon looks like it might start to burn, take it off the heat.

While the pasta is cooking, whisk together one egg and two egg yolks with 1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.  Also, wash about 1/2 lb spinach and tear into bite sized pieces

Once the pasta is done, drain RETAINING SOME OF THE COOKING WATER.  I always forget this step.  The best way (in my opinion) to do this, is to place a bowl under your pasta strainer to catch some of the water.  You don't need all of it, but may need up to two cups.  Don't rinse off the pasta.  You want it to be hot.

Acting quickly so nothing gets cold, remove the bacon/mushrooms from the heat.  Slowly stir 1/2 cup of the hot cooking water to the egg/cheese mixture.  (I know I said act quickly, but you do need to stir it in slowly, so the egg does not cook.)  Add the hot pasta to the mushroom/bacon mix and stir to combine.  Add the egg/cheese/water and stir again.  Add the spinach, stir one more time, and cover the pan.  Allow to sit (no heat) for 5 minutes.  The heat of the pasta and water will cook the eggs and wilt the spinach.

Monday, we had Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms with Pasta Salad.

I removed the casings from one of those sausages and sauteed it up in a pan while I heated up my grill.  Once the sausage was cooked, I added about a tbsp of shallot and a tsp on garlic to the pan, and just cooked that down slightly - about three minutes.  I mixed that with about 1/2 a pound of spinach and 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese and piled this onto three portobella mushrooms.  The mushrooms will look really full.  It's okay, they will cook down nicely:

Uncooked mushrooms
Place the mushrooms on a hot grill, cover, and cook until the mushrooms are cooked through, the spinach is wilted, and the cheese is melty.

I served this with pasta salad, which I made by combining Sunday's kohl slaw with some cooked pasta.

Which brings us to Sunday's meal: Grilled Chicken Wings with apple kohl slaw and zucchini fritters.

I like to season my wings with nothing but salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.  The kohl slaw was equal parts thinly sliced apple, carrot, and kohlrabi, with a splash of apple cider vinegar, a dollop of mayo, a sprinkle of dill, and salt and pepper.  I served it over lettuce because I had lettuce.

It was the fritters, really, which were the most exciting thing I've eaten all week, so it gets to be written as a real recipe.  I could eat these all winter!  I think this is good enough to make me remove my zucchini question off of my list of questions for the farmers tomorrow.  The more zucchini, the better!

Zucchini Fritters
(this only makes 9 small fritters, so make a double batch!)

  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (if frozen, allow to thaw fully)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp minced shallots
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp dried dill
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • Oil for frying (not canola)
First off, please don't use canola oil.  Canola almost always contains GMOs, which I am against and which are bad for you.  Use sunflower or safflower or grape seed oil for frying.

Combine the zucchini and salt and allow to sit for 10 minutes.  Squeeze well to drain out all of the water.  Mix zucchini with all remaining ingredients except oil.

Fry the fritters by the spoonful in hot oil about 1 inch deep, flipping once.

As you are frying, keep finished fritters in a warm oven.

I served these with a dip that was 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 2 tbsp fresh minced mint, 1 tsp dried dill, and one clove minced garlic.

So good!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fun with Learning

I had a nerdy good time learning today at the Wisconsin Restaurant Association Expo.  I took the day off of work - a legitimate day off of work so I can post about it on the interwebs for the world to see - and went to lectures on sourcing from local purveyors and food safety concerns when buying local produce.  The former was really interesting and I learned some new ways to get things I haven't been able to find - like grain and dried beans (I hate beans, so that's not really helpful).  The latter was boring and nasty, and kind of made me never want to eat anything again.  Apparently no matter what I do, I'm going to get some sort of nasty pathogen from my produce melons, peppers, and spinach.

But it was still fun.  Food to taste, interesting things to learn... not enough wine to drink.  Not being a restaurant owner, if I had had to pay the $35 to get in, I probably would have been disappointed.  But I didn't, so it was a good time.

If you're interested in spending $35 to learn about WI growers, the restaurant industry, and to watch a cake decorating contest, and if you have extra days to take off work, then I would recommend going to the restaurant expo.  It goes through the 14th.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

This is What Will Happen When I Lose Chopped...

So, first off, can I say that I am super excited for the Local Farmer Open House at the Urban Ecology Center.  As a reminder it is next Saturday, one week from today, St. Patrick's Day, from 11:00am-4:00pm at the Urban Ecology Center: located at Riverside Park.  1500 E. Park Place, Milwaukee, WI, 53211.  For those of you familiar with the Eastside of Milwaukee, this is the park right next to/behind Riverside High School.

I've had a few people come up to me and say "oh, I thought this event was by invite only - just for super cool bloggers and other Milwaukee food people.  Absolutely not!  You can (and should) go!  It's not necessary to change your lifestyle and only eat local foods to eat some local foods.  Local foods are good.  They taste better.  They are fresher.  They save the environment by not getting shipped two and fro from factory farm to warehouse to grocery store.  If you have any interest in learning how to work local food into your diet, this is the event to go to.

I will be there all five hours.  So, if you know me, we can hang out.  If you don't know me, we could hang out too, and you could be like "hey I read your blog."  And I would be like "that's so cool, man... wait... how do you know what I look like..." and then it would get creepy.  So probably don't do that if you don't know me.

Anyway, I've been working on my list of questions for the CSA people.  At one point it was up to 20+ questions, which is too much, so I think I've got it narrowed down to this:
  1. Where is your pick-up location or locations and day/days?
  2. If there multiple times/locations, can I switch? (for example, if it's usually Saturday, and I'm going to be out of town, can I pick up Thursday instead?
  3. Can someone else pick up my basket for me?
  4. Does your CSA basket contain anything not produce (honey, eggs, chicken, etc.)?
  5. Do you give any options for CSA members to get large quantities of produce for canning?
  6.  Is there any chance my basket could contain blueberries?
  7. Should I just not bother planting zucchini?  
  8. Do you offer any sort of payment plan?
  9. Do you offer worker's shares?
For those of you who don't know, worker's shares are a way of getting a discount on your CSA by going and working at the farm.  I don't think this is something I have time for, but it's good to know.

So show up!  It's going to be a good time.  Fun is mandatory!

Moving on...

I wrapped up my week long episode of Chopped in the same way that I imagine I would if I were actually on chopped.  "Uhh...  wow.  None of this stuff makes sense together.  I'm putting it on a pizza!"  Or in pasta.  But OMG, don't put red onions on it, or Scott will throw a shit fit!

I might watch too much Chopped.  It's fine.  I can quit whenever I want.

So I made a pizza.  And, I'm warning you up front, it's going to sound terrifying and awful.  But it wasn't.  It was neither terrifying nor awful.  In fact, it was tasty.  Which just goes to further my belief that you can take anything, put it on a tasty crust, smother it in cheese, and it would end up delicious.  And I'm pretty sure you don't even need the crust part.

So, not nasty.  Really good,  Keep an open mind:

Turkey Pesto Pizza with Pickled Beets and Fennel
(Really.  Not gross.  Promise.) 

  • 1 crust worth of pizza dough (I like to buy pre-made, frozen dough from the bakery and keep it in the freezer.  Then just thaw it out in the fridge the day before you want to cook it.) (I used whole wheat, because that's what I had.)
  • 1/4 cup pre-made pesto (I made a whole batch at the end of the season last year.  It saves really well in the freezer.)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pre-cooked turkey, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup pickled beets
  • 3 tbsp pickled fennel
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
Pre-heat the oven and a pizza stone to 425 degrees.  While it's pre-heating, make sure all the other ingredients are in bite size pieces (shred your cheese and junk like that).  Also, mix together the pesto and olive oil.  Once the oven and pizza stone are hot, roll out the pizza dough, using corn meal to prevent it from sticking.  Sprinkle corn meal over the pizza stone, and place the crust on the stone and back into the oven.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the bottom of the crust (touching the stone) is just starting to get crusty.  Flip the crust and bake for another 10 minutes.  Spread the pesto on the crust, top with turkey, beets, fennel and feta, then sprinkle the mozzarella over the top.  Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the bottom of the crust is lightly browned.

Obviously, you can substitute just about anything for anything in this recipe, because this recipe is pretty much nonsense.

Go to the Local Farmer's Open House.  Then engage in nonsense.  It's a good way to live.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Orgasm on a Plate

Those of you who know me well, and those of you who read carefully, may have come to realize that I enjoy pork.  Also, enjoy might be an understatement.  In fact, I am turning 30 this month, and I am having a pork theme party.  Really.

I didn't used to like pork.

I'm not sure that statement is fair.  I didn't used to like the thing that was put on my plate and that I was told was pork.  Sorry mom.  Sorry dad.  But that grey meat with the brightly colored juice in the shrink wrap bag is NOT pork.  It's not.

There has been a lot of change in pork production over the years.  Yes.  Production.  Grocery store pork, just like grocery store beef, comes from factory farms.  And what pork eats and how it lives, like any meat, plays the main role.  According to ABC News in 2006, the average amount of fat in pork has decreased 27% "over the past 10 years" (math... that would be... 2006 - 10 years = 1996).  According to Alton Brown in my cookbook, it's 15% over 15 years.  Either way, there's less fat.  Which is great if you're dieting.  But, if you like good food and you know anything about cooking, you know that fat = flavor.  And right now, grocery store pork has about the same fat content as a boneless skinless chicken breast.

Again, a boneless, skinless chicken breast is fine.  If it's in a taco.  Or breaded and fried, then smothered in mushrooms in some chicken Marsala.  Or topped with bacon in a sandwich.  Delicious, crispy, fatty bacon.

I'd like to have time to research this more, but I don't.  The point is, in my opinion, pork should taste like pork, not like crappy pork chicken.  And if fat is flavor, then pork needs fat to taste like pork.  And it needs to root around for food in the outdoors.  Because happy food tastes better.

Like this.  This was happy food.  The food was happy.  The husband was happy.  I was happy.  Quite, quite happy.

Anyone who watches any sort of cooking/food show has probably seen something about beef or veal cheeks.  They're fancy.  They've got them at fancy restaurants, so they must be fancy!

So, when the pork people at the Winter Farmer's Market gave me that secret, insider look and said "we have pork cheeks," I bought them all.  That is to say, I bought all four of them, which was still far less than a pound.  Pork, I guess, are not chipmunks.  They do not have big chubby cheeks.

They should.  Because pork cheeks are delicious.

When talking about buying your meat, Alton Brown says the tenderist part is furthest from the horn and the hoof.  What that means is, the more work the muscles do (like walking, or holding the head up), the tougher the meat.

But tough meat isn't bad.  "Tough meat," when cooked properly, is delicious, and not at all tough.  Slow cooked, fall off the bone tender... if you had a bone.  I didn't get the cheek bone...

And this.  This... this was the best slow cooked meat I have ever had.  Seriously.  No lie.  I almost couldn't get it out of the crock pot in one piece, it was so tender.  The fat and connective tissue had turned to a smooth, creamy, porky jello.  I love slow cooked meat.  I might love slow cooked meat more than I love grilled meat... maybe.  Anyway, I'm fairly certain this is the best thing I've ever made ever.


In my basket, I had a jar of yellow tomato chutney.  I realized I hadn't tried it since I made it, and really I had no idea what it tasted like.

It tasted like delicious.  Acidy, curry-y, spicy delicious.  With melt in your mouth tender, flavorful, fatted but not fatty pork.

The best think I've ever made ever.

Too bad there are only two cheeks per pig.

Pork Cheeks Braised in Yellow Tomato Chutney

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 pork cheeks
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 shallot, sliced thinly
  • 2 large cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 pint yellow tomato chutney (no recipe for this now... but I'll have on next fall I promise.  You could probably use any tomato based sauce - preferably spicy.)
  • 1/4 cup white wine
In a large pan over medium high heat, heat the olive oil until hot.  Season the pork cheeks on both sides with salt and pepper.  Brown cheeks on both sides, and transfer to a slow cooker.  Add shallots to pan and saute until soft.  Add the garlic to the pan and continue to cook about 3 more minutes.  Add wine and deglaze the pan.  Pour contents of pan and chutney over the cheeks in the slow cooker, and cook on low for nine hours.

Pork Cheeks in a Pan

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Week Long Episode of Chopped.

First off, I would like to apologize to any offended Russians.  I have been mistakenly assuming that Borscht is Russian, and I learned that it is not.  So, I am sorry that I said I would reward my Russian readers by making Borscht.  Please let me know what I should make, preferably out of  beets, because that's what I have.

Moving on.

I decided part of the problem of my not eating my canned goods is that they are hidden away in my basement where no-one (me) can see them.  I really wish that there wasn't the whole rule about storing your canned goods in a cool dark place.  First, out of sight is out of mind - so I don't think to use them.  Secondly, though, they're just so pretty.  I can picture a wall of fancy, module-y, Ikea style shelves, adorned with brightly colored, shiny canned jars.  But, alas, that is not an option.  In order to make the food last longer, the cans are regulated to the basement.  So, I took my garden picking basket down into the basement and picked me some basement fresh vegetables.

And this week's basket contains...

apple pie filling, yellow tomato chutney, spaghetti sauce, corn salsa, pickled fennel, and beets.

Honestly, I did not plan ahead.  I just pulled random jars off the shelf and threw them in the basket.

The spaghetti sauce was easy.  I had spaghetti for lunch on Sunday.

The apple pie filling went into an apple pie and rhubarb crisp, which I would totally show you a picture of, but I forgot to take a picture and I already ate some tonight.  And, if I have to take a picture, that means I have to eat more, which... this is sounding like a good plan.  No.  No Picture.  Willpower.  I don't need a second bowl of dessert.

Anyway, it was good.  I cooked down some frozen rhubarb (2 cups) with a little bit of honey.  Then I mixed in the apples, spread it into a baking dish, and topped it with my apple crisp topping which is:
  • 3/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 sp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, and eat with ice or whipped cream.

Sunday night for dinner (I'm a little behind) we used the corn salsa in some steak tacos.  They were delicious!

Steak, fried up in a hot pan, finished in the oven, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little bit of cayenne.  Topped with cheddar, corn salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and arugula.  The arugula, I think, was the real star.  It is such a bitter, peppery green.  It worked perfect with the sweet corn salsa.

So I push onward.  Trying to eat up as much of the preserved food as I can before new food is available.  Maybe I can keep my March and April food bills super low, and then spend all that money on seeds to put in the garden to grow more food than I can eat all of next winter!

It is an excellent cycle.

The offer is still out there, by the way.  So far, Shannon is the only one getting canned goodies.  Speak up!  You know you want some.  I haven't gotten botulism yet!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tonight for Dinner: Chutney with a Side of Chutney

A very strange thing happened to me yesterday.  I was sitting home,  buried in an over-sized sweater, tucked under a blanket, listening to the wind whip in what was (sadly) the biggest snow storm that the Midwest has and probably will see this year, and drinking a brandied hot-coco, when I realized: it's almost spring.

What are you talking about, Kate?  Your past three posts were about the fact that it's almost spring.  And, plus, it's March 3rd.  It won't be spring in Wisconsin for almost two months now.

Okay, sure.  But it's March.  It's only going to get better from here.

And my pantry is still packed with all the jars of goodies I squirreled away in the fall.

And I have no clue what to do with any of them.

Last fall was my first experience with canning, and I didn't know what I was doing.  In retrospect, that fact is very clear.   Not enough of some things, and far too much of others.  I'm actually really surprised that I don't have enough tomatoes.  I  canned a LOT of tomatoes, but most of them went into spaghetti sauce.  Which I'm working through without concern.  I think I did just the right amount of chunky spaghetti sauce, and probably not enough tomato sauce.  I didn't can any whole or chopped tomatoes, thinking that I could just use frozen tomatoes - of which I started with three gallon sized freezer bags.  I'm down to half a bag of those, and they are not a great substitute for canned whole or chopped tomatoes.  I also, kind of on a whim, canned a few jars of bruschetta topping.  I had a few tomatoes left and did a half batch, just to use them up.  I thought it would be something fun to bring to parties or serve at Christmas.  I wish I had done much more than that.  No, I'm not slamming the bruschetta, but it is the perfect topping for salads.  Even better, in my opinion, than the tasteless tomatoes you get in the grocery store during the winter. 

So, next fall, more tomatoes.  And, to make room for those tomatoes, less chutney.

I don't know what I was thinking canning four kinds of chutney?  What does one do with that much chutney?  What is chutney, anyway?  What defines a chutney?

According to Wikipedia, chutney is "a condiment used in South Asian cuisine that usually contains a spice and vegetable mix."  In addition, "there is no limit to the number of chutneys as it can be made from virtually any vegetable/fruit/herb/spices or a combination of them."

So, it's really whatever you want to put together and call a chutney?  Hmm... no wonder there's so much of it.

I've got a couple other things that in theory seems good, but I just have too much of: pickled zucchini, pickled fennel, pickled beets... they're all good, but what do I do with all of them.  The same goes for the apple pie filling, which I have to eat because it was SUCH a hassle to make

And, on top of that, I still have veggies in the freezer.  Corn, bell peppers, shredded zucchini, rhubarb...  especially that rhubarb.  Rhubarb is one of the first real crops of spring, and my rhubarb plant is... overzealous... to say the least.  (That raises some good questions for my ongoing question list for the Local Farmer Open House on the 17th.  When I get my CSA, what happens if there is an item I just don't want?  Can I say "no rhubarb?"  How much zucchini will I get?  Because if it's a lot I don't want to plant any of my own.  I'll save that space for something else.  Will there be blueberries?  Is there any way to guarantee there won't be?  I am extremely allergic to blueberries, and if some ended up in my basket, I'd be afraid to eat anything in there.)  I don't want to have more rhubarb coming in when I've already got old rhubarb stashed away in the freezer.

So, just like the cherry contest, my kitchen is now turning into an episode of Chopped.  Only, this time, the basket contains... stuff in a jar!  All kinds of stuff.  Delicious stuff from a jar.

And, if you want some chutney (green tomato, yellow tomato, apple onion, and... yes... rhubarb), just let me know.  I'm fairly certain I can hook you up.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Happy March

Boy, it sure feels like March took longer to get here than usual.  At least a day longer... (Ha!  Leap year jokes are funny!  No..? okay...)

March is my favorite month of the year.  First and foremost, it's my birthday.  Now, I know we're supposed to stop caring about our birthdays when we turn 21 and there are no more "good" ones.  And I think I'm probably getting to about that age when I'm supposed to start lying about how old I am and denying my birthdays.  But I adore my birthday.  And I celebrate it all month.  I have no shame saying... "Well... I shouldn't... but it's my BIRTHDAY!"  I use that excuse all month.

March is also great because it's almost spring.  Sure, in Wisconsin, "real" spring probably doesn't start until June, but the Vernal Equinox is in March so it's spring.  Can't fight the sun!

It also means that food is coming.  Like I said in my last post, I haven't really had a hard time getting food this winter, but spring, in my opinion, is the best time for food, whether you're eating locally or not.

My husband might disagree.  I think he would say the best time for food is fall.  Fall is, after all, the big harvest season.  We have entire holidays based on fall harvest gluttony (I don't use that word as a negative here...).

But spring food is something else.  Spring food is finally something fresh after a long winter.  Spring is asparagus, snap peas, arugula, radishes, and rhubarb.  It's almost strawberries.  It's dandelions.

And spring is almost summer.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This year, I have a new adventure to explore.  I will be getting a CSA box.

CSA, for those of you who don't know, stands for "Community Supported Agriculture."  Basically, it's a really cool way for local farmers to support themselves and keep their farms going.  Instead of just going to farmer's markets, you can join a CSA, and get a box of produce every week.  They know they have guaranteed customers and income, you know you have guaranteed fresh produce.

I have never gotten a CSA before.  I've looked at them.  Especially last summer, when I was learning about and hitting up all of the farmer's markets in the area, trying to find the most food possible, I saw a few stands that had lines for CSA members only.  It made me curious.

Not so curious that I got one.  And really not so curious that I even asked them about it.  I was vaguely aware of what a CSA was, and that was enough.  I wasn't sure they were for me.

I'm still not 100% sure what they're about, and I'm still not 100% sure there for me, but this year I want to give one a try.  I will be attending the Local Farmer Open House at Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center on Saturday March 17th from 11:00am to 4:00pm.  Afterward, I will be drinking green beer.  The event looks really interesting, even for someone who isn't necessarily interested in joining a CSA.  There will be opportunities to learn more about purchasing from local farmers - which, for the record, is not all that easy to figure out how to do on your own.  I'm sure there's a lot I'm still missing, so I'm excited to start using some resources.  There will also be workshops available on how to pick out a CSA, how to cook from your CSA box, and also about the benefits of supporting local farmers (like keeping pesticides out of our water supply).  It's gearing up to be an educational good time!  Which, since I am a great big nerd, tends to be my favorite kind of big time.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never actually been to the Urban Ecology Center.  Looking at their website, they seem to have a lot of great resources, and probably could have helped a good deal over the past year.  Again, and educational good time.  I have no excuse for not making it out there in the past.

So I'm forming a list of questions, and I intend to harass all of the farmers until I find the best CSA for me.  I'm excited.  It's an adventure!

I'll keep you up to date.