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.