The Homegrown Food Challenge

September 30, 2011 § 4 Comments

Are you in for the Home Grown Food Challenge?

I’m always up for a challenge, unless it involves deep sea diving or eating 62 hot dogs.

A few weeks ago, the folks at the Homegrown Food Challenge emailed me out of the blue with a request: Can I submit a recipe or two or three that Luke and Karen—founders of the Food Challenge—can prepare during their October-long commitment to eating locally sourced food? Sure! Absolutely! And what’s this challenge you’re talking about?

Luke and Karen tell their own story over at their blog, Sweet Local Farm. In a nutshell, they’re living the “modern-day back-to-the-land” lifestyle on three acres of farmland in the Pioneer Valley. They plant, they tend, they harvest, they cook. And what they can’t eat all at once, they put up for the winter by canning and freezing and pickling and storing in a lot of other ways.

Can I come live with you, Luke and Karen? Cuz that’s exactly what I want to do.

Last year, realizing they had buckets and buckets of a wide variety of food at this time of year, they challenged themselves eat only what they grew during the month of October. And what they didn’t grow themselves, they’d source locally.

This year, they are doing it again and encouraging others to join in. Not everybody has a 3-acre farm that can support them for the month, they know that. And they realize 31 days is a long time to commit to any challenge, let alone one that involves food.

The Homegrown Food Challenge, therefore, is nothing if not flexible. Only growing tomatoes and basil in your garden? That’s fine—commit to eating only locally sourced foods and hit up your neighborhood farmers markets. Can’t commit to a month? Then sign up for a week or a day. or hey, even one day a week. Point is, making the commitment to the Homegrown Food Challenge will get you thinking about a) where your food comes from, b) what food you’re going to eat, and c) how you’re going to get that food. You do realize that calling up Domino’s or Yum Phat and having your meal appear before you in 30 minutes or less is a modern-day miracle? And one that only a small portion of this world’s population has the luxury to partake in?

Think about your food, people!

Ahem … sorry for the rant. It was quick, though.

Back to the Challenge. Head on over to the Homegrown Food Challenge’s Facebook page and sign up whichever source and time frame works for you. Or, just mentally commit to it. Whatever you do, there’s gonna be some recipes on the page that you can turn to for inspiration. And I’m sure Luke and Karen will be posting about it over on Sweet Local Farm.

As for Dainty’s role in this … I’ll give you a heads up when Luke and Karen use one of the recipes I’ve submitted. And I’ll also direct you over there when one of their other recipes looks Daintilicious. I’m very pysched about it.

Jennifer and I have officially committed to one week of locally sourced food. And it’s not going to be this week. This takes some planning and rule making (and rule breaking)—we’ll keep you posted as to when that week occurs. And she doesn’t know it yet, but in addition to that one week, I’m also adding in one day of locally sourced food each week, which I hope to continue beyond October.

How are we preparing for the Challenge? Well, we’re coming up with guidelines, e.g. oils, vinegars, flour, lemons and limes don’t count. And we’re planning some meals. And we’re mapping out farmers markets. And we’re going out for dinner tonight.

Need some inspiration? I will be posting the three recipes I submitted to Luke this weekend. AND, I’ll post an awesomely superb spicy tomato soup recipe later today so you can hit the farmers market tomorrow morning with a shopping list in hand.

Are you in? Who’s with me?

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Tomato and Pesto Sandwich

September 27, 2011 § 2 Comments

Leaves falling from trees, temperatures dropping, plants succumbing to the elements, days shortening … The world as we’ve known it these last few months is coming to an end. We must eat as many fresh tomatoes and as much basil as possible.

tomato and pesto on toasted sourdough

Our world is collapsing. Eat tomatoes and basil while you can.

I’ve taken up that challenge, gladly. Who wouldn’t? Fresh tomatoes and bright bristly green basil is the ultimate garden combination, really perking up the mouth with the pairing of acid and mellowness. I don’t have to describe it—you know all too well how delectable the two are together.

Maybe one of the simplest pairings of tomato and basil is in a sandwich. I know, it’s not really a recipe. It’s more of a lunch suggestion. And if you’re like me and disregard the miniscule amount of Parmesan cheese in pesto, tomato and pesto on toasted sourdough becomes a vegan meal. The tomatoes—homegrown. The pesto—homemade, with the added “yeehaa!” of the basil being homegrown. The sourdough—made by my own two little hands.

Want to share lunch with me? There’s enough here for at least five more sandwiches.

tomato and basil sandwich

Kinda looks like a big smiley face, don't it?

Your favorite tomato—basil combination? Do tell. (please! feel free to share below!)

tomato and basil sandwich

Nothing but goodnes here.

Pressure Cooking Black Beans

September 20, 2011 § 3 Comments

You’re going to think I’m a bit crazy, but I actually really like this two-thirds vegan kick I’m on. Now, let me clarify:

Dry black beans

Buy the dry - dried black beans are easy as pie to cook up and enjoy in 30 minutes.

1a. Two-thirds vegan means two meals out of three meals each day are non-dairy, non-poultry, non-animal products. Not even a boiled egg on my lunchtime salad – and I love a good boiled egg, too.

1b. What about snacks, you ask? What am I gonna do, eat a meat stick? Almonds, an apple, hummus and chips if I feel the need.

2. I first mentioned the two-thirds vegan thing back in … was it March? April? Lest you think I’m Superwoman, I need to inform you that I haven’t been two-thirds vegan all the time. Vacations don’t count. Weekends away don’t count. And sometimes that boiled egg would find its way onto of my salad. And, last week … I had a whole mess o’ Old Bay-seasoned wings on my business trip to Baltimore. The only wings I’ll eat, and the only town I eat them in. There are rules about being two-thirds vegan, and I make them up as I go along.

3. And sometimes, you go away for the weekend and someone makes you a three-egg omelet. With mozzarella. And lobster. Just be sure there’s a veggie burger in your near future.

BUT! It’s a new season. And I have a renewed interest in sticking to the vegan thing. At least two-thirds of the time.

BUT! I need more protein. That’s what a recent doctor visit and blood test suggested. So, here come the beans, which are an excellent source of protein and fiber awesomely tasty food. Rather than stocking up on cans upon cans of beans – they add salt and calcium chloride, which, by the way IS a salt! – we buy the dry. Oooo … I like the way that sounds, “buy the dry.” Plus, they are cheaper (I’m showing my frugal side).

Dry beans are NOT a pain in the ass to work with. It’s easy. If Dainty can do it, so can you. And you don’t have to wait around 24 hours while your beans soak, etc. etc. Invest in a pressure cooker and your beans will be done in 30 minutes, and that includes 5 minutes of prep time.

The recipe we use comes from Pressure Perfect by Lorna Sass. (Oooo … sassy.) Hey, meat lovers, there’s a roast chicken on the cover! That’ll assure you Lorna has added something for everyone inside. There are a bunch of bean recipes included – the one we use is for black beans with soft tortillas. We use just the first half of the recipe and add our own seasonings depending on what we’re using the beans for. Here, I’ll just go through the first process and produce a batch of pressure-cooked beans.

Ingredients

  • 4-6 cups water (depending on how much bean broth you want)
  • 1.5 cups dried black beans, pick over to remove icky ones, small pebbles, etc. and rinse
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 TBS oil (apparently it prevents or controls foaming)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

-Combine everything in a 4 qt. pressure cooker.

-Lock the lid in place. If you’re like me, you’ll do it three or four times, making absolutely sure the lid is on and won’t fly off. Seriously though, when it’s locked, it’s locked. No hardhat needed.

-Bring the pressure cooker to high pressure over high heat. READ YOUR PRESSURE COOKER INSTRUCTIONS! It will tell you how you can tell when it has reached high pressure. For our Fagor pressure cooker, high pressure is indicated when two red lines are visible.

-When it has reached high pressure, turn down the heat to a temp that will maintain that high pressure. For ours and on our gas stove, that means at a point between “lo” and “2”.

-Let the beans bubble away in there for 25 minutes. Then turn off the heat. Let them sit there as is – don’t open the lid! – and let the pressure come down naturally. READ your cooker instructions to find out how you can tell on your device.

-When the pressure has come down, open the lid AWAY from you. You don’t want to get a face full of super-heated steam, right? Always always always be careful.

-The beans should be tender. If not, lock it up, stick ’em back on the heat and cook for another couple of minutes. Repeat the heat coming down and all that.

What you have now are several cups of firm yet tender beans in broth. If you used 6 cups of water, you are halfway on the path to making a black bean soup. If you used 4 cups of water, you have a bit less broth. Letting it sit, the beans and broth will thicken slightly but not much.

We use 4 cups of water, and after the beans are pressure cooked, we typically add a touch more salt, some pepper, several shakes of red pepper and a diced small tomato. We then serve it over a bowl of rice. We’ve added other things, as well – roasted sweet potato, butternut squash, for example.

black beans in broth

We add a touch of salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and diced tomatoes to our black beans.

If you have any suggestions for what to add in to the black beans, I’d love your suggestions. We need to keep up the variety. Please leave your comments below!

 

What to Do With Kohlrabi?

September 9, 2011 § 3 Comments

Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi, my garden's "Let's try something new" veggie for 2011.

Kohlrabi. German for cabbage turnip. English for “What the hell is this thing?”

Duh, I know what kohlrabi is. It’s a member of the brassica clan, i.e. cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussell’s sprouts, etc. All the brassica veggies are basically the same plant. One’s leaves form a head, one green florets, one really floppy outer leaves, one’s stem produces tiny head at the axillary buds. And in the case of kohlrabi, the stem swells up to the size of an ostrich egg.

Careful now, Dainty. You’re showing your botanical geek side. Calm down. Calm down.

I’ve never grown it before. Dad and the farm didn’t grow it either. But this year I bought a 6-pack of kohlrabi transplants as my “Let’s try something new” experiment. Why not, right? You only live once. Might as well grow some kohlrabi.

As you can see, my six transplants turned into 3 harvestable (barely) knobby things. One didn’t make it through the transplanting. One actually grew into broccoli. Note to self: Don’t buy transplants from the store again – your transplants labeled zucchini were actually yellow squash and the purple eggplant turned out to be white. As for the last transplant – no idea what happened to that, I lost track of it. Oh, well.

Anyway, so I’m here with three kohlrabi. One looks pretty good. One turned into the funniest looking kohlrabi ever – I expect my award in the mail any day now – and one looks like it’s been sitting in the hydrator a little longer than it should (true, every word).

And I have no idea what to do with them. Oh, sure, I’ve Googled. Saute it like broccoli stems. Cube. Puree. Middle Eastern and Indian dish galore have found their way into my searches. But I’m stuck. Folks, I’m at a loss. Indecision is a horrible thing.

So, dear Daintyites, , I’m looking to you for suggestions. Any ideas? Anyone? If you have a recipe – any recipe at all – please leave a comment below. I may need to hit the farm stands and gather up more of this brazen brassica.

Pickled Beets

September 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

Last year I had a Ziploc bag of small red beets sitting in the hydrator for … months. Months. I had intended to pickle them. Didn’t happen. They sat for ages – actually, I was quite impressed with just how long they lasted – until one day they were just gone. I think Jennifer may have realized the pickling wasn’t going to happen. Or I chucked them and don’t remember.

Pickled Beets

Pickled beets, not quite how Grandma used to make.

The pickling didn’t happen because I couldn’t decide on exactly how to tackle it. What recipe to use? What about canning them? What if?

My god, I can’t live with the what ifs anymore. Just freakin’ pickle beets, Dainty.

That’s exactly what I did last week. And I’m happy to say I have a quart of beautiful pickled beets sitting in my fridge at this very moment.

Well, what recipe did I decide on, you ask? It’s a combo of a recipe found in the August Bon Appetit and a recipe for Vinegar Beets from my mother, which I just found out was her mother-in-law’s recipe; i.e., it’s old.

Mom’s recipe calls for boiling the beets until tender, slip off the skins, and combining  a cup cider vinegar, a half cup sugar, 1/4 tbs cinnamon stick, 1/4 tsp allspice berries, 1/4 tbs mustard seed, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp whole cloves. She boils that for 3 minutes, then adds the beets to boil again. Then she adds the beets to a jar and strains the liquid. Boiling twice?? To infuse the beets with the spices, she said defensively.

On the other hand, Bon Appetit suggested 3/4 cup each of red wine vinegar and dry red wine, 1/2 cup sugar, 1.5 tsp salt and star anise.

Compromise, compromise.

Ingredients

  • About 2lbs. beets – I used a combo of red and golden, and don’t use any that are too very large
  • 1.5+ cups red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp whole cloves

-Boil the beets until a sharp knife slips through your largest beet. Could be 20 minutes, could be more – it all depends on the size. Drain and let cool until cool enough to handle.

beets cooling

Beets cooling until they can be stripped naked

-When cool, the skins just slip right off. Pretty darn amazing how easily they come off. FYI, you’re gonna stain your hands.

removing skins from boiled beets

Skins slip off incredibly easily once beets are boiled.

Beets with skins removed

How beautiful are these??

-While those cooled, I cleaned/sterilized a 1-qt. jar. I added the cinnamon stick (which I crushed a bit), the mustard seed and the cloves.

-When the beets were cool, I left the small beets whole and put them into the. jar. The larger beets I cut into quarters, and some of them I sliced.

-Meanwhile, I combined 1.5 cups vinegar, sugar and salt in a saucepan and boiled until the sugar and salt dissolved. Then I let it cool a bit. While it was still a tad warm, I added the liquid to the jar.

-Turns out 1.5 cups vinegar wasn’t quite enough to cover the beets in the jar. Hence the “1.5+ cups vinegar in the ingredient list. I warmed another 1/4-cup-ish of red wine vinegar added with a couple pinches sugar and a nip of salt. Dissolved that, then topped off the beets.

-And then I did something crazy: I added a half-shot of Southern Comfort. Bon Appetitit’s recipe called for dry red wine, so hey, why not a glug of SoCo? Barely perceptible, but there is a hint of a sweet smokiness. Pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Cover, let sit on the counter for a day to let the flavors develop, and then give ’em a try. They’re good! And they really do only get better with time.

What? No canning them? I decided not to, and opted for the “put them in the fridge for easy access” method. I still have beets in the garden – two sets of beets, actually – one that’s ready for harvest at any time and one that I just planted a few weeks ago for a late-November harvest. The latter will likely be headed for pickling, and this time for the canner, as well. And this time I mean it.

Pickling Green Cherry Tomatoes

September 1, 2011 § 3 Comments

What does a gardener do when a little thing like a hurricane is imminent? She cleans out the garden of all ripe, nearly ripe and totally unripe tomatoes, that’s what she does.

pickled green cherry tomatoes

pickled tomato scrumptiousness

Ripe tomatoes have been dispatched to salsa, gazpacho and pizza toppings.

Somewhat ripe tomatoes are on a tray and ripening, possibly for a sauce.

Ripe cherry tomatoes are … well, in a bowl and thinking of what they want to become. Possibly tomato cobbler. We’ll see.

The unripe tomatoes – interestingly all cherries – are destined to be pickled.

I know what you’re thinking: Pickling is soo sooo very trendy. Maybe it is. BUT … I’ve been pickling green cherry tomatoes since 1994. My housemate at the time – Lou – had been pickling since forever and shared the recipe. Pickle the cherries at the end of the season – right as you’re grabbing them off the vine before the first frost – and they are good and pickly and presentable as hostess gifts for fall dinner parties. Oh, that Lou.

A couple of notes:

1. Pickling green fruit is key here. Too much red ripe deliciousness and they cherry will swell and burst, making a jar full of mush. But, I do try to add a cherry or two to the jar that is turning just a bit orange. It’s pretty. So so pretty.

2. Would it be okay to cut green slicing tomatoes into chunks and pickle them? Well, yeah, maybe. I’d remove the pulp and use just the flesh. We want to avoid mush.

3. And with the pickling spices, garlic clove and sneaky pepper, they taste just fabulous. Ohhhh …. yum.

Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes ala Lou

  • 21 8oz. jelly jars with new lids and rings
  • 8 cups white distilled vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup salt

-Don’t have enough tomatoes to fill 21 jars? Work the proportions for the number of jars you can fill. I quartered the recipe and it filled 6ish jars.

-Boil the above and let cool.

Pickling spices

Fill'r up with pickling spices.

To each jar, add:

  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 chili pepper, aka “a sneaky pepper”
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 garlic clove

-Add tomatoes to each jar, filling to within about 1/4-1/2 in. of the rim of the jar. Don’t jam them in too tightly – they may burst if forced.

-When the liquid has cooled, fill each jar to cover the tomatoes. Place a lid on each jar and tighten the ring. Let sit out overnight and then place in the refrigerator.

What about preserving them with canning? It’s definitely doable! I’m not the one to tell you how to do it. Really. Even though I witnessed my mother can jars and jars of everything from apricots to zucchini, none of it stuck in my head. And if something goes wrong … like when that jar of canned tuna wasn’t sealed properly … it can go terribly wrong. And I’m not gonna be responsible for your botulism.

filling jars with green tomatoes

I couldn't help myself - I made one jar more red than the others.

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