Monthly Archives: August 2011

Jars for #afundforjennie

Let me preface this by saying I don’t know Jennifer Perillo. I had found her blog through Punk Domestics, when she linked her three-part preserving cherries posts. I found these posts only a few weeks before it happened. It, being the loss of her husband. Not just any loss – a complete, out of the blue life change. The kind you just can’t prepare for. I followed the story as people prepared #apieformikey. The food blog community blew me away with their heartwarming and supportive baking acts of kindness.

But that’s what kind of a community it is. It’s been there for me recently. Like a lot of folks, we are struggling to stay afloat these days – living paycheck to paycheck. Needless to say, it’s a rough time to graduate with a mountain of debt and crap job prospects. I barely can carve out funds for preserving produce, and I am prioritizing choices I never thought I would have to make after graduate school. I certainly picked the wrong time to try to start a business. All of which pales in comparison to Jennie’s world right now. But every day, despite everything that doesn’t go my way, I get to delve into the food blog world. I can lose myself in all the great things I have the potential to do in the kitchen someday. Every day I find new blogs that inspire me to make do with what I have, to find the beauty in the simplest things, to try a new recipe or technique. It is this community that picks me up when I am having a rough day. This community inspires me to do better. This community fosters creativity I didn’t know I had.

Every one of us is living a life which could be shattered into a million pieces tomorrow. Mikey was supporting Jennie and their family so she could live out her dream. And now she is left with an uncertain future and incoming bills. On top of the fact that the Social Security Administration denied her widow benefits because she makes too much money. With two children, there is no such thing as too much money.

I desperately want to give to Jennie what I don’t have to give. I do have, though, great friends (who I’ve never actually met) who are willing to help multiply what little I can offer. This is exactly what is so great about the food blogging community and #afundforjennie. I asked a few friends if they would like to donate something. They asked a few of their friends, who suggested more people who I should contact… and it went from there. Here is what we have lined up for your donation:

From Sean @ Punk Domestics: [In addition to his other auction] Strawberry Marsala Rosemary Jam
From Kate @ Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking: Sugar Plum Crumble Preserves
From Julia @ What Julia Ate: Sour Cherry Preserves
From Meg @ Grow and Resist: Cherry Port Sauce and Apricot Jam
From Kaela @ Local Kitchen: [In addition to her other auctionPirate Peaches and Red Rio Grapefruit Marmalade
From Emily @ Nomnivorous: [In addition to her other auction] Wildcard jam or pickle and Jennie’s Tomato Jam
From Johanna @ Pretty Girls Use Knives: Boozy Peach Plum Preserves and BBQ Sauce
From Autumn @ Autumn Makes & DoesPlum Lemon Verbena Jam
From Cathy @ Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen: Roasted Poblano Salsa
From AJ @ Handjobs for the Home: 1950′s Sweet Corn Relish
From Blue Chair Fruit: Two jars of Pear-Lemon Marmalade from their upcoming Fall lineup
From Stephanie @ Confituras: Apple Hatch Chile Chutney
From Hima @ All Four Burners: Pluot Butter with Vanilla and Cinnamon
From Shae @ Hitchhiking to Heaven: Via satellite internet in the Alaskan Bush: Meyer Lemon Pink Grapefruit Marmalade
From Marisa @ Food in Jars: Peach Chutney
From Lindsay @ Uncanny Preserves: Sour Cherry Walnut Conserve
From Stacy @ Seattle Seedling: Cardamom Ginger Blueberry Butter
From Meg @ Harmonious Belly: Plum Vanilla Jam
From Michelle @ Glacial Heat: Strawberry-Jalapeño Jelly, Habanero Garlic Sauce, and Sassy Jalapeño Sauce
From Alison at McQuade Chutney: A sampler pack of Fig and Ginger, Habanero and Apple Ale Chutney
From Christina at Buffy and George: Strawberry Port Jam
From Rochelle at Get Cookin 411: Spiced Pickled Beets and Fresh Peach/Chai Syrup with a recipe for Fresh Peach Pancakes
From Kate @ Snowflake Kitchen: Apricot Pimentón Jam, Jameson Ginger Peach Jam and maybe a jar Carrot Caraway Pickles with Buckwheat Honey. If my test batch turns out as good as it smells.
From Nicole @ Arctic Garden Studio: Two jars of Alaska Wild Berry preserves AND 5 pounds of Alaska sweet carrots. They are the sweetest (and best) carrots she has ever eaten in her life. To top it all off, she will include an Alaskan Birch spoon.

If you would like to contribute a jar, please email me ASAP so we can finalize the auction. Bidding will start now and conclude on Friday September 2nd at 11:59pm EDT. We will ship to the US and Canada. We’ll start the bidding at $100. All proceeds will go to #afundforjennie.

We put together this group of preserves, jams and pickles (and carrots!) because we hope that each bit of food put away for a rainy day reminds us that better days are coming. That sometimes you can plan for the future, come what may. And for us, the simple act of putting up a few jars is therapeutic beyond measure. I made the carrot pickles for the first time on Tuesday night, right after I read that #afundforjennie had gathered over $14,000 for Jennie in just. two. days. I couldn’t stop thinking of her while I went through the pickle motions – from chopping to brining to sealing. Our auction is one of MANY - go check them out.

To bid, just leave a comment with an email address where we can reach you. If you can find it in your heart and budget to go above and beyond, you can also donate to Jennie directly through Bloggers Without Borders:

Donate to Bloggers Without Borders

Jennie’s story is so tragic and so beautiful and resonates so strongly with us because she could be us. She IS us. This is why we have to help, in any way we can. Please give to #afundforjennie – every dollar counts.

Spice Rack Challenge: Cumin

I’ve been spending long days at the office in front of my computer. Where afternoons drag like none other. Snacking is one of the few ways to keep the energy and focus on the to do list.  I do a lot of yogurt (with a spoonful of homemade jam, naturally), but sometimes you need to mix things up. I always keep some canned beans on hand, but one can only consume so much hummus. Also, did I mention it should be low-dairy, easy and on hand during & after a long day at the office? This recipe is a lifesaver.

Spiced & Roasted Chickpeas
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed well
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon SK Rub
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon/a few grinds of black pepper

Dry the beans well. You may have to take the outer layer off of them – kill two birds with one stone and dry them off with a towel and some friction. Add the olive oil to the beans. Mix the spices together then mix with the beans until evenly distributed.

As always, your spices really matter here. If you cant remember when you bought that jar of ground cumin – its probably time to throw it out. Make sure you buy your spices at a place with large turnover, or a specialty spice shop. It really is worth it. Penzey’s, World Spice, and All Spice Online are quite affordable. Plus, then you get to Twitter-debate with other like minded folks about where to get the best smoked paprika (So glad you speak my language, @local_kitchen, @TanyaKeith, @hungry_tigress).

One special thing I like to do with these beans is use whole cumin. I grind cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle not quite all the way. It gives the beans a great texture. Its not for everyone though – so if ground cumin is more your speed, by all means use it. Once the beans are spiced, pour them onto a cookie sheet and put into a 400° oven for 40 minutes. You’ll want to shake the pan every 10 minutes or so. Don’t walk away. You want the chickpeas to be crunchy so, depending on the size of the beans, you may wind up leaving them in longer than 40 minutes. Plus, they really start to smell amazing after the first 10 minutes – you couldn’t leave if you wanted to.

Options
1. Change up the spices: Pimentón, Garlic Powder and a touch of sherry. Serve with a glass of vinto tinto and find a chunk of Manchego cheese for a Spanish escape.
2. Add some slow roasted tomatoes, zucchini and orzo and turn it into a salad.
3. Spice them with indian flavors like garam masala or middle eastern flavors like harissa and preserved lemon and serve as a side dish.

Back to the Roots + Giveaway

I have about ten square feet of gardening space. It happens to be next to my pool, hence the need for containers. For everything. Because of the pervasive shade, we don’t get much sunlight in our windows either. Enough for  filtered light, sure – enough to grow? Questionable.

One thing we can grow though – shrooms. They love shade! If we were to stay here long term, I would think about getting plugs and making a mushroom garden. It seems easy enough – get a few logs, do some inoculating, wait a while, ta-da mushrooms. Of course its more complicated than that, but they seem to do fairly well if you ignore them. My kind of garden.

Maybe someday. Until then? Its Back to the Roots. Have you heard of them? They’re everywhere these days. Not only do they encourage urban food production, they partner with Peet’s Coffee to make a sustainable, eco-friendly product out of coffee grounds that would otherwise go to waste. What’s not to like?

It was a super easy process, too. Day 1: Soak the bag. Day 2: Cut open the bag, keep it moist by misting 1-2 times per day and wait. Here’s how things progress:

Day 5: Finally something to show for daily misting.

Day 6: Things move fast from here.

Day 7: Almost there.

Day 8: Harvest time.

What can you do with fresh mushrooms? What can’t you do with fresh mushrooms? My first batch went into risotto. The next one was dry roasted with garlic – used as a pizza topping and a tapa. Roasted mushrooms + garlic + thyme + lots of extra virgin Spanish olive oil + grilled bread = amazing. You should try it.

Oh, you can. Just leave a comment here telling me about your favorite way to shroom. I know I really need to get around to pickling some. Entries to close Friday August 26th at 11:59pm eastern time.

Disclaimer: I was the lucky winner of a BTTR kit from Eating Rules. They did not sponsor this post. All the words are my own. I am giving away a mushroom kit out of my own budget.

Variations on Apricot Jam

I tend to like my jam fairly plain. Fresh raspberry jam is magical. Just raspberries, sugar and lemon zest. Maybe a little lemon juice, maybe a little pectin if you want to get the set right without a lot of tinkering. But I don’t want to post about the same old jam. That said, at the same time I don’t like my jam to become something its not. There’s a lot of fancy jam out there, but I like when it stays true to its roots.

That said, whenever I set out to make apricot jam its totally a hassle. There are very few apricot growers in Connecticut, so finding local ones usually means a drive. Once you finally get the apricots, it takes a while to clean them up. Then when you finally get everything in a pot, the jam bubbles up when you least expect it, splattering everything and everyone (ouch!) in its path. Moreover, it foams like hell. All of that said – make this jam. It’s worth every second to make this labor of love.

Plain Ol’ Apricot
4 cups apricots*
1.5-2 cups sugar
Pectin, of your choosing, if you choose

This is an easygoing jam. Mash/chop it the fruit, if you want – or leave it as apricot halves. It doesn’t matter too much here. Macerate it the night before if you feel like it. A splash of amaretto is lovely if you macerate. When ready to can, cook the fruit and sugar down to your liking. Add pectin, if you so desire. Cook to 220°, pack in hot jars with hot, wet lids and process for 10 minutes.

*Marisa has a great post about why you should not double jam recipes.

So, am I boring you already? Moving on.

Apricot Sour Cherry Jam
2 cups apricots
2 cups sour cherries
2 cups sugar
Cherry pits and apricot kernels
Pectin, of your choosing, if you choose

I’ve been forgoing pectin all together in most of my jams lately. They hold together well enough, but I like them with a little looser set these days. Sort of goes with the go-with-the-flow attitude of late as well. This jam is much the same as before, except with a new fruit combination and the pits. If you are uncomfortable with the kernels and their almond flavor, dont use them. I add the kernels in a cloth bag and steep them with the jam, I just take them out before I add pectin. It adds a nice little something extra, I think.

Moving on again. I had the remnants of 40 lbs of apricot seconds, and I needed something to do with them. I began searching for suggestions. Punk Domestics had recipes for apricot chile jam (not really my thing) and apricot vanilla jam (meh, I had overdosed on strawberry vanilla in the beginning of the season and wasn’t feeling it). I began looking around my spice rack. Apricot mostarda (a la What Julia Ate) was an idea, but I wanted more jam. Black pepper didn’t blow my proverbial skirt up, either. Then I found the pimentón. Its also called smoked paprika – and if you don’t know about it you should. I put it in almost everything – chalk it up to my semester in Spain. It adds a nice smokiness without heat, and really can add quite a lot of depth without a lot of effort (my kind of style). So in went the pimentón. But it still needed something – it was really one note. A little grey salt took it over the edge. I. love. this. jam. (So do #punkberry folks, apparently, and they haven’t even met yet!)

Apricot Pimentón Jam or Confitura de albaricoque con pimentón
4 cups apricots
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons pimentón
2 tablespoons grey salt
Pectin, of your choosing, if you choose

Maybe it was just looking for something different but I really have enjoyed this happy accident of a jam. Its also a particularly gorgeous jam. So if you don’t happen to have smoked paprika in your pantry – go get some! And then make this.

Community Supported Agriculture… more like Farmer-Supported Kitchen.

So, not to sound like a broken record, but things are tight this summer. We don’t have a lot of discretionary income in the SK household. Luckily, in the midst of winter, we made the decision to find $300 to put away for summer vegetables. Normally, this would be a luxury expenditure. Don’t get me wrong but local agriculture can be (justifiably) more expensive – and though I manage to carve out some spending money each week at our fabulous local market, its not alot. (Sidenote/shameless plug: Vote for CRFM until midnight at http://www.greatbarngiveaway.com!) So I had to justify this one.

Membership is a CSA is sort of a symbiotic relationship. The member supports the farm, by providing literal seed money – you help the farmer with expenses before the season starts. This is why many CSAs require payment/commitment in winter. Luckily, some farmers are awesome enough to just let you put down a deposit to reserve your spot. In exchange for your pre-payment, you get a share of the produce every week for a certain amount of weeks. In tight financial times, I get a boatload of fresh local veggies every week throughout the summer. I get the best of whats in season because, indirectly, I helped (provide some of the funds) to grow it.

CSA grilled eggplant & heirloom tomatoes, my basil and fresh mozz. A perfect mid-summer dinner.

Our CSA hails from the lovely Windham Gardens. Our half share is the equivalent of one reusable bag worth of produce per week for 20 weeks. I can’t rave about Windham’s CSA enough. Unlike other CSAs, Windham Gardens lets you pick out what you want. Some people like the challenge of a set CSA box. If kolhrabi is in season, you get to figure out what to do with it. If its early in the season, you may find yourself overloaded with greens and make lettuce soup. These days, the variety is plentiful: tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, onions, garlic, greens, corn, squash…

A typical haul from the market, without spending any money: swap goods and CSA produce.

What I really, really (REALLY) like about Windham’s share is two-fold. First, I have the option to pick up at my farmer’s market, five minutes down the street. Second, I get to pick what I want. I go to Windham’s table, check in, and fill my bag with my choices. This week, I picked up three pints of cherry tomatoes (I snack on them like candy at work). I did not, however pick up the giant bag of various hot peppers. There is no impetus to use what you’re given – you pick it out. Thats not to say its challenging to use all that produce in one week.

Enter: CSA salsa. Who says salsa has to be red and spicy? This particular recipe used a little bit of everything in my CSA that week and provided something to swap at our pre-market homegrown swap. Plus, I got to empty the last jar of last year’s tomatoes.

[Early Summer] CSA Salsa
Adapted from Roasted Corn and Zucchini Salsa from Just the Right Size
Three medium zucchini, cubed
Three medium summer squash, cubed
One large/two medium red onions, diced in similar size to the squash
Four ears of sweet corn
One quart whole tomatoes
One jalapeño, seeded and diced
Three cloves garlic, minced
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon pimentón
Juice of one lime
A splash of Red Wine Vinegar

Take the kernels off the corn, toss with olive oil and roast about half an hour at 350°. Roast (in a cast iron pan if you have one)  until they get a slight bit of color – its very easy to dry them out. In the meantime, cube your squashes and toss with 1 tablespoon of salt and let drain in a colander. Put everything together on the stove – you can squeeze the tomatoes into small pieces in the pot (also strangely satisfying). Of course use fresh tomatoes if you have them – this salsa was made just before the onslaught of local tomato season. Cook for a little bit, until things come together but everything is still fairly solid. Let cool and eat immediately or freeze for future use.

I like to use only a splash of vinegar to give it a little acid, I like my salsas fresh. This means this NOT a canning safe recipe. Not that you’ll need it to last that long…

Internetless Bread and Butter Pickles

We got a pretty crazy storm last Tuesday night. There were severe thunderstorms and sightings of funnel clouds. Yes, in Connecticut. We had a pretty good scare when a branch came down on our roof. We briefly lost power and after it came back on we thought everything was ok. But no… our internet was out! Tragedy of tragedies. Luckily, a pile of pickling cukes were on the counter calling my name.

Sometimes you don’t realize just how plugged in you are until you disconnect. Focusing on a quiet night in the kitchen instead of a screen is the ultimate head-clearer. Its recentering, for lack of a better word. In the past, I’ve run away to the wilderness of Southeast Alaska or Maine. Unfortunately that’s not in my financial cards this summer. The Kitchn posted an article about electricity-free Fridays. Starting the weekend off right – I find that incredibly appealing. The last few Fridays I’ve headed directly from work to my favorite PYO orchard for a few hours of quiet picking. Its the same idea.

Where was I? Oh right – pickles. I tend to make three types of pickled veg. Fridge pickles (the laboratory), savory pickles (a blend of mustard seeds, coriander, dill, garlic, fenugreek, and salt) or sweet pickles (mustard, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf and sugar). Cucumbers that are put up tend to fall into either garlic dill or bread & butter categories. I always save a jar to go straight into the fridge so the temptation to open a jar is quelled. For a little while.

B&B Cucumber Pickles
5ish pounds of pickling cukes
Two white onions
Ice water
Whole cloves
Yellow and black mustard seeds
Coriander seeds
Celery seeds
Bay leaves
White vinegar
Whole peppercorns
Sugar
Salt

Whenever I start pickling, I measure. It methodical so as not to produce waste. Cut the blossom and stem ends off of the cukes and slice into coins. I then put the coins into jars. I don’t have a goal to preserve x jars of pickles – I have a goal to preserve the amount of cukes I have… and despite doing this for a while now when I guess I am always off. This acts as a rough measurement (yet more accurate than guessing). I ended up with three quarts and some leftover for the fridge. I took the cukes out and put them in the ice water bath for a few hours.

After dinner, I fired up the canner to sterilize the quart jars. I drained the crisp cukes and tossed them with thinly sliced onions. Each hot jar should be packed full, but leaves 1/2″ of headspace. On top, add a tablespoon each of yellow mustard seeds, black mustard seeds, celery seeds, whole cloves, coriander seeds and black peppercorns. In the past, I’ve also added bay leaf and/or a cinnamon stick. I took an empty quart jar as a measuring cup and added 1.5 quarts of white vinegar and 1.5 quarts of water to a pan on the stove, with an additional 6 tablespoons of salt (1 tablespoon per 2 cups of brine). As this was for a sweet pickle, two cups of sugar also went in. Fill each jar to barely cover the pickles-to-be (leaving 1/2″ headspace). Top with hot, wet lids and rings and process for 10 minutes.

Its a great way to reset on a weeknight. How do you reset?