Category Archives: Food

Food Projects

I haven’t posted much, mainly because I’ve been busy…kids, work, life, yada, yada, yada. Here’s a recap of all my recent food projects that keep me up at midnight, poring over a vat of boiling water, because late at night is my only available time to geek out on food preservation…

My first foray into the wild microbial world of funky fermentation began with yogurt. It was stupidly easy, delicious, thick, creamy and rich…

But nothing compares to the supreme fermented funkiness of sauerkraut. I made two different batches- one with red cabbage and one with Napa. I enjoyed them both, but found the Napa cabbage so alluring, I want to take it a step further and make Kimchi. Kraut is serious stuff. I gorged on it and unwittingly went into detox mode (in the form of a rash)…I consulted my good friend who is wise in the ways of fermentation and she told me that is was very normal. She advised me to start with a little bit at a time and work my way up to more…I’ll write more later about my new found love for fermentation- it’s honestly fascinating and ridiculously good for you. Horrrrrayyy Microbes!!!

Early Stages of Sauerkraut.

The kids attended a summer school program and they helped plant and nurture a bountiful garden. They brought home pounds of zucchini and with their zucchini-phobia, I knew I had to can it. So I canned a zesty zucchini relish- red bell peppers, onions, garlic, fresh nutmeg and fresh horseradish, vinegar and a dash of cayenne. How good would it be on a hot dog? Yum.

Zucchini Relish

Our friend who runs a small farm in our town, generously dropped by with a TON of apples, pears and plums. So thankful for good friends who share their bounty and give me canning projects to obsess over…

Apples, Plums and Pears (courtesy of Smithneck Farms)

This is my Tart Plum Jam with Cardamom and Vanilla. I’m not confident about it. It sounds damn good, but I think it may be too tart and I added too much cardamom….And I think I put the vanilla in too late, thus not burning off the alcohol in the extract…So perhaps I should call it Drunken Tart Plum Jam with Too Much Cardamom.  Live and learn, live and learn.

Tart Plum Jam with Cardamom and Vanilla.

Then the pears…I could have poured myself a tall glass of the liquid that the pears were in…

Brandied Spiced Pears

Apples! How I love me some apples. I made a standard apple butter that seriously tastes like apple pie in a jar.  Then I made a variation on the apple butter…Brown Butter and Sage Apple Butter….Two sticks of butter and snipped fresh sage….Now I’ve always believed two things: 1. Bacon makes everything better. 2. Butter makes everything even better. Now I’ll add in: Sage makes apple butter better. (try saying that three times).

I got a second pear delivery from my friend and made vanilla honey pear butter (the big jar in the middle).

Butters

I’m a sucker for chutneys. Spicy, sweet, sour. I add extra garlic because like bacon and butter, garlic makes everything better too. Here’s my Pear Cranberry Chutney. I’m going to bust this one out on Thanksgiving with the turkey, that’s for damn sure.

Pear Cranberry Chutney

Jam making can be hit or miss. My friend dropped by green plums and I figured I would just make a jam with the mountain of whole vanilla beans I have on hand. With canning, you do have to consider appearances, just as you would consider plating when you present a dish. Obtusely, I assumed the jam would be the hue of a green jewel- like a lovely tourmaline…Needless to say it looks like a fuzzy green sweater I purchased at thrift store when I was 15 during my punk-rock/grunge phase.  And that’s not a good thing when describing jam. So, in the spirit of humility, I present my Puce Plum Jam:

Puce Plum Jam. Ug.

I have some more plums from my neighbor. But I’m done with these vexing plum jams. I think I’m going to make a Chinese Plum Sauce and call it a day.

Next foodie project I shall embark on:

Cheese.

I’ll start with some basic mozzarella and see where that takes me.

And that reminds me…Number 5: everything is better with cheese.

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Puttin’ Up

Canning serves a few purposes for me.

1. I love cooking. I read cookbooks like a lonely woman reading romance novels. I’m a self-proclaimed “foodie”. Jams, chutneys, sauces, pickles and other can-able recipes are super easy and I can geek out on the endless flavor combinations.

2. I like participating in an age-old, frugal and industrious tradition. I feel like, in some way, I’m honoring and connecting with the women who lived in this house before me. I’m pretty sure they canned too.

3. I’m preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Just kidding.

Well, maybe….

I do think it’s smart and necessary to be prepared. Because shit does hit the fan. I’m not a big believer in a sudden fiery apocalyptic end of the world. But, I do believe in natural and unnatural disasters. And I do see how fragile, susceptible and inter-connected we all are. (Hell, I live in a flood plain!) A blizzard could knock out power.  Drought could knock out crops. Earthquakes could knock out Los Angeles and the major roads that bring food to our grocery stores. And whether or not global warming is due to human activity- I don’t really give a flying fig- it’s getting warmer and things are a changin’. As humans, we have to adapt. And adapting is easier when you are prepared.

I also believe the farther we are away from the source of things in our lives- the source of our food, the source of our water, the source of everything we have and use to live life, the more dependent and vulnerable we are. Especially when it comes to food- the more we know how food is grown, harvested and ways in which we can preserve it, the more self-relient we truly are. Come hell or high water (the latter is quite possible), my aim is to be prepared.

I readily admit, most of what I have canned so far is rather unnecessary- 15 jars of blueberry basil jam won’t save my family when we are in a bad spot- I’ve been just taking what I can get from the farmer’s market and preserving it mainly so I can simply learn how to can.

Here are a few of my canning projects as of late:

Rhubarb Chutney, Pickled Watermelon Rind and Blueberry Basil Jam

Standard Pickles.

So, yes, learning to can and canning is a way for me to prepare, like those kooky doomsday preppers. I’m puttin’ up for when shit hits the fan.

Or, perhaps more importantly, when I want a freakin’ peach in the middle of February.

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Fresh Trout

A day at Jackson Meadows…

gave us this…

Fresh-caught, grilled trout on salad greens, a backyard-chicken poached egg with a Mason-Jar shaken lemon dill vinaigrette.

It was a stunningly delicious way to end the day….

Especially when the kids were on a bender of fighting and bickering at the lake. I’ll never understand how all three can wage war with one another when surrounded by such peace and beauty….I know they are exhibiting irrational (yet normal) kid behavior, but good lord, here we sat in pure natural majesty and they were fighting over watermelon.

Sheesh.

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Canning

I recently participated in an age old tradition- canning. It’s been my foodie dream for quite a while to “put up” some seasonal fruits and veggies. I could never bring myself to doing it down south. It just didn’t feel very authentic, I guess…or perhaps I needed to set the scene by actually living in the country. Silly, I know.

Canning, like baking, is a precise art. Alas, I suck at baking (and having to be gluten-free, I have no patience for mixing 9000 different flours and unlocking the secrets of xantham gum). I’m more of a throw a little of this and a little of that into the mix- more of a cook than a baker. But, I think with anything, the more you do it, the more knowledge you have about where you can take some artistic license. I’ll get there, but for now, I’ll stick to the recipe- don’t want to give anyone a jar full of botulism and what not….

Our friend dropped by some lovely rhubarb from his garden and I had some organic strawberries on hand, so I took my first great leap into canning with an easy strawberry-rhubarb jam.

Basically, you clean your canning jars and stick them in the water-bath canner and let the water simmer while you make the jam, jelly, sauce, chutney or whatever. Then you take the piping hot jars and put in your concoction, screw a warmed lid on it and boil it in the canning pot for the specified amount of time. Carefully, pull the jars out and let them cool overnight. The lids will make a quirky little pop while cooling and everything sets overnight.

I had been reading up on canning for quite some time and it made me nervous. What is foam? How do I skim it? Will the heat kill the flavor of the recipe? More importantly, will the heat kill the bacteria that seeks to kill me? In the end, the actual process was pretty easy and straightforward (and safe). The jam came out good- it set properly, but is FREAKING sweet…but the right amount of sugar is necessary for the pectin to do it’s thing. I prefer more complex, sweet and savory flavors, so I bought a brand of pectin that allows for less sugar. With the remainder of the rhubarb, I’ll try doing straight rhubarb jam and adding some herbs (mint, thyme?). Or perhaps I’ll make a chutney- a chutney is a always a lovely balance of sweet, savory and a hint of sour.

In my inherent geeky foodie-ness, I dug through my Flavor Bible and came up with some interesting flavor combinations to try once I get my canning foundations down…

Blueberry+lemon-thyme

Pumpkin+balsamic+honey

Carrot+cumin+orange

Blackberry+ginger+peaches

Pears+vanilla+bourbon

Sounds good, no?

Let’s just say I’m bringing sexy back to canning.

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Peaches 2 (with bacon!)

Peach, Onion & Bacon Salad With Buttermilk Dressing

Peaches…Bacon…(everything is better with bacon)…Buttermilk Dressing.

I want to eat it. Now.

It’s next on the food docket, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Recipe:

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/grilled-peach-onion-and-bacon-salad-with-buttermilk-dressing

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons chopped mint

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons snipped chives

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 pound thick-sliced bacon

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 pounds Vidalia or other sweet onions, cut into 1-inch-thick slabs

Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing

4 large ripe peaches, cut into 1/2-inch wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 325°. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the sour cream, buttermilk, mint, parsley, chives and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate.

2. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the bacon slices on the sheet in a single layer and sprinkle with the brown sugar and cayenne. Bake for about 25 minutes, until caramelized (the bacon will crisp as it cools). Let cool, then cut the bacon into bite-size pieces.

3. Meanwhile, light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Brush the onions with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until softened and browned, 10 minutes. Separate the onions into rings. Brush the peaches with olive oil and grill over moderately high heat until tender, 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

4. In a large bowl, toss the onions with the peaches and bacon. Add the buttermilk dressing and toss to coat. Serve right away.

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Peaches

ImageI love an in-season peach. Eating an out of season peach is just self-cruelty.

My favorite peach recipe is not a pie. It’s not a cobbler. It’s a savory salad.

Savory? Peaches? WTF?

It’s true.

Here’s the recipe:

4-6 yellow peaches, ripe and in-season. Cut into chunks.

1 cup of torn basil. Or chopped…whatever’s clever.

1 cup of fresh mozzarella. If it’s not in water, it’s not fresh. No dry hard stuff posing as fresh mozzarella. I like the little 1 inch sized balls floating in water from Trader Joe’s.  (can’t remember the name of them, sorry…)

Olive oil.

Salt.

Fresh ground pepper.

Gently mix the peaches, mozzarella, basil together. Drizzle olive oil over the salad and gently mix again. Salt and pepper to taste.

That’s it. So freaking good.

Hooray peaches!

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