Sunday, December 16, 2007

Eating Local in the Winter: Dinner Tonight

Tonight's dinner:

  • A thick slice of meatloaf made with essentially the same ingredients as mentioned in this post, chiefly local grass-fed beef and forest-fed pork out of the freezer, but topped with a North Carolina barbecue sauce instead of ketchup;

  • four small, local potatoes (a mix of red skins and white) saved from the farmers' market (potatoes are getting a little soft and sprouty, but still seem to be fine for eating), zapped in the microwave and topped with butter, salt, and pepper;

  • and half a head of the very nice local broccoli that I found recently at Integral Yoga Natural Foods (I was hoping to find local collard greens, but thought the broccoli looked good for dinner vegetable of the week), steamed and then tossed with a lot of butter and a little lemon juice.

It's been a long week. One advantage of this meal was that I could prepare the potatoes and (leftover) meat loaf in the microwave while steaming the broccoli on the stovetop. Since the meat loaf was already made, the preparation was quite easy. Good for exhausted me.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Chicken with Apples and Bacon

Ingredients of the latest dish I've cooked:

  • a whole, small chicken from Reynolds Natural Grassfed in Schuyler, VA

  • several apples from local orchards

  • bacon from Double H Farm

  • cider from Showalter Orchard

  • onions from the farmers' market

  • dijon mustard

  • balsamic vinegar

  • thyme

  • salt and pepper

(I could have used some of the local thyme from Brightwood Vineyard and Farm that I've got hanging up to dry, but I decided to use up the end of the store-bought thyme instead. Next recipe will be the local stuff!)

The big adventure in cooking the chicken with apples and bacon was cutting the chicken up into parts. This is the first time I've done that, although I have taken apart a half chicken before. I followed the instructions in the Joy of Cooking. I didn't do a very professional job of it, but in the end I got the chicken broken down into two breasts and two legs. I put the wings and backbone into a plastic bag in the freezer for making stock in the future.

Also cooked recently: chili with local ground beef, onions, peppers, tomatoes and dried oregano. (Plus some non-local beans, spices, and additional tomatoes.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Putting Food By

I've been wanting to do an entry about "putting food by" for winter. Finally, here it is!

I didn't get to fulfill all of my grand schemes for canning, pickling, drying, and freezing while fresh local foods were abundant this summer, but I managed to get a fair amount done.

I canned strawberries in syrup:

. . . and did the same with sliced peaches. I haven't gotten into the canned fruit yet, but have thought that I will use it over the winter as toppings for oatmeal, mix-ins for homemade yogurt, ingredients in smoothies, and as dessert in its own right. I might also investigate the Joy of Cooking recipe for "winter peach pie," which I think calls for canned peaches.

I made cherry jam, and took several photos of the process. First I bought several pounds of sour cherries--they don't show up for long or in large amounts at the farmers' market, so one has to go early and pounce on the goods when they're in season--and pitted them, using a cherry pitter, which is a marvelous invention.

I've pitted cherries before without the pitter, and can tell you that pitting this many . . .

. . . is quite a chore if all you have is a paring knife.

Next, I cooked the pitted cherries with sugar and commercially prepared pectin to make jam; when the jam was ready, I canned it in sterilized glass jars. Here is my canning setup:

The big shiny stock pot in the front is what I use to cook the jam. Behind it you might just barely make out a smaller stainless steel sauce pan; it holds hot water and the lids for the canning jars. To the left, the gigantic white-enameled "lobster pot" (which is too big to fit on one burner, but too small to completely bridge two burners!) is what I've been using lately to boil the jars.

Here are some jars of the finished cherry jam:

The two tall ones are standard canning jars; they have special lids made to create a vacuum seal. The smaller, square one in front is my first experiment with re-using an ordinary food jar from some other grocery item to can my homemade jam. It has a layer of paraffin wax sealing it. The USDA does not currently recommend this method of sealing for home-canned goods, but paraffin seals have been used for a long time, and I figure that on a high-acid, hard-to-spoil food like jam, they shouldn't be too dangerous. I think I'll be able to tell, when I open this jar up, whether the paraffin seal has been compromised or not. (I doubt it will be.) I grew up eating jams and jellies from paraffin-sealed jars, and never knew of any problems with them . . . unless you count a certain family story about the potential hazard of plunging one's thumb into the jam while trying to remove the seal!

Later, after my July trip to New York, I made a small batch of gooseberry jelly. For the gooseberry jelly, I used a completely different style of canning jars: the smallest size of these beautiful Weck tulip jars, a gift from my friend Jessie. Instead of the metal bands and lids that I'm familiar with from the Ball/Mason jars shown above, the Weck jars use glass lids and rubber rings to form the seal.

Another adventure in home canning: I finally got around to making pickles for the first time! Well, I had made "quick pickles" before, but I didn't find those very satisfactory; I wanted to make proper pickles.

I picked a classic dill pickle recipe for my first pickling attempt. (I may have been influenced by the fact that dill pickles are one of the traditional ingredients in an Italian sandwich.) I bought the cucumbers and fresh dill at the farmers' market, of course, and I assembled the pickling spices from the bulk spice sections of various stores around town: I started shopping at Integral Yoga and Rebecca's Natural Foods, both of which are good purveyors of locally-raised foods (although I doubt any of the pickling spices were raised in Virginia!). I ended up getting the last few items on my list at Whole Foods.

The recipe I was following was good, but underestimated the yield. I ended up with this wall of pickles:

That picture doesn't show you all the jars I filled with pickles! I think there were eight or nine pint-and-a-half jars total.

The recipe called for the canned pickles to be left unopened for a certain number of weeks, but out of curiosity (and impatience) I opened a jar early. The pickles tasted good and seemed fully brined.

The problem now is what to do with nine jars of dill pickles . . . hmmmmm . . .

Well here's another way in which I've been working on putting food by: for the first time this summer, I tried drying herbs.

I bought several different kinds of herbs at the farmers' market and hung them up to dry. The first group of herbs that I tried drying, I hung up in the storage closet out on my balcony. Here's the rosemary, with a pouch of fabric suspend it below it to catch any loose leaves which might fall off:

I also dried oregano and marjoram in the same manner.

Since that experiment was a success, I later dried smaller batches of sage and thyme indoors, suspending them under the upper cabinets in the kitchen.

I've already started using the dried local herbs in my cooking--especially the oregano. I think I am going to use that up quickly and will probably have to re-supply with imports from the grocery store.

The final stop in this tour of my food preservation efforts is the freezer. I look forward to the day when I will have a big chest freezer and will be able to freeze lots and lots of nice local veggies to tide me over in the winter. This year, I wasn't able to freeze much, but I did vacuum-pack and freeze a small batch of spinach--about a pound, I think, enough for one recipe of something-or-other--and a few servings of asparagus. I recently got out one of the packets of asparagus spears, zapped them in the microwave, and had them as a side dish with my dinner. They were not as good as fresh, of course, but they were still quite tasty, and a treat--a taste of Virginia springtime in the fall.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Fine Picnic

Yesterday I opened up my mailbox and found a very nice surprise: I had won the prize package in one of the C-ville Weekly's monthly wine trivia quizzes! I was so excited, I did a little hokey-pokey dance in my apartment.

I couldn't wait to redeem my certificate for one of the prizes, a "wine tasting picnic bag" from Feast!, so I went to the shop straight from the farmers' market this morning. One of the Feast! managers assembled the following goodies for me:

Clockwise from top: a fresh baguette from Albemarle Baking Company, a third of a pound of Boucheron goat cheese, a packet of dark chocolate pieces with dried cranberries from Hunt Country Foods, a tub of mixed olives, a pair of sausages of some sort, and a third of a pound of Piave Vecchio cheese.

Yes, Feast! gave me a third of a pound of Boucheron. If you are not jealous yet, it can only be because you have never eaten Boucheron.

I have been pretty stressed out lately, with loads of work, but I decided that the "picnic bag" from Feast! combined with the gorgeous weather we had today were signs that the universe was telling me to take a break . . . and take a picnic. So I re-packed the Feast! goodies into my backpack and went for a walk at the Ivy Creek Natural Area. After tramping through the woods for about thirty or forty minutes to work up a healthy appetite (the better to savor the treats from Feast!) I spread out a picnic blanket under the oak tree in the meadow near the barn. Here is the view I had during my lunch today:

And here is another view of my lunch, mid-nosh:

In this picture you can see the items that I added to the picnic: a fresh, local, crispy-juicy apple, which went nicely with the Piave Vecchio; and a little jar of fig spread, which I made from fresh figs recently. (After buying figs at the farmers' market, I ate most of them out of hand, but cooked a few with just a smidge of sugar.) Fig spread + Boucheron + fresh baguette = HEAVEN.

I did not, alas, taste any wine along with my "wine tasting picnic." Too much work to do after lunch! It would have been very nice, though, to indulge in a glass of Virginia viognier along with the cheeses and bread and olives. I'm looking forward to enjoying one of the other prizes from the C-ville wine trivia drawing: a three-month membership in the Virginia Wine of the Month Club!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Market Day!

I had a grand time at the Charlottesville City Market (or as I call it, simply "the farmers' market" or "the Saturday farmers' market") this morning. With the fall break ahead of me, I was feeling optimistic about the opportunity to do some cooking and canning. I ended up spending about $120 and hauling away approximately 42 and a half pounds of food. (I made two trips to the car.)

When I got home I unloaded all of my purchases onto the dining table and weighed them on my kitchen scale, just to revel in the bounty of it all. I took pictures, but I can't upload them just now because I neglected to bring the camera with me to the library.

Among my purchases:

  • almost 15 lbs of tomatoes (from Waterpenny Farm and the Farm at Red Hill), to try canning

  • a petite three-pound whole chicken and a dozen eggs from a farm whose name I can't remember; I'm thinking about doing a recipe with chicken, apples, and bacon

  • a piece of pork (Boston butt) from Babes in the Wood; I'm planning to slow-cook it somehow with Bone Suckin' Sauce from North Carolina

  • fresh herbs from Brightwood Vineyard and Farm and Radical Roots

  • figs (!)

  • a pound of "free" chevre from Satyrfield Farm

  • chestnuts

  • loads of apples (about six and three quarter pounds)

  • just over four pounds of peaches: when are those trees going to quit for the season?

  • a whole bunch of different vegetables

Earlier today I made myself a late lunch / early dinner of stir fry with:

  • onion from Radical Roots

  • yellow summer squash also from Radical Roots

  • carrots from Roundabout Farm Roundabout Farm

  • green beans from the farmers' market

  • baby bok choy from (the embattled) Double H Farm

  • red bell pepper from the farmer's market

  • tofu from Twin Oaks

  • ginger root

  • some soy sauce, vinegar, salt, etc.

The colors of all the veggies were so pretty, I should have taken a picture, but I was in too much of a hurry to eat the beautiful food, not photograph it!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Peach Tart II

In the oven right now: a second, even unclassier version of the peach tart. (Apparently those "last of the season" peaches were not quite last of the season.)

This time I pressed the cornmeal crust into an 8" x 8" baking pan and crammed it with six small, thinly-sliced peaches. I also doubled the custard recipe, but needn't have; the first cup that I poured into the pan was plenty. So I poured the extra custard into a second baking pan and sliced more peaches into it. I figure it will be like a sweet, crustless peach quiche. As a time-saving measure, I omitted the thyme and cornmeal crumble that the recipe calls for as a topping.

I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's peachy-custardy breakfast!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Charlottesville Carnivore

Recent dishes:

Delicious (but not very photogenic) meatloaf made with

  • "forest fed" ground pork from Babes in the Wood

  • grass-finished ground beef from another local farm

  • a local egg

  • cracker crumbs

  • worcestershire sauce

  • various dried herbs that I don't remember off the top of my head

  • and topped with curry ketchup from Montebello Kitchens

Delicious (but not photogenic, either) "Indian burgers" made with

  • grass-finished ground beef from a local farm

  • my homemade yogurt

  • mint from the farmers' market

  • onion from the farmers' market

  • ginger root

  • various dried spices that I don't remember off the top of my head

  • topped with slices of tomatoes from Waterpenny Farm and cucumbers from the farmer's market

  • and served between slices of sunflower wheat bread from BreadWorks

In the stock pot right now:

  • a local chicken

  • with basil from Waterpenny Farm

  • and garlic from the farmers' market

. . . soon to be joined by

  • carrots from Roundabout Farm

  • onions from the farmers' market

  • celery from Double H Farm

  • potatoes from the farmers' market

  • parsley from the farmers' market

I'm looking forward to some nice soup!