Pork and Pickles

These are a few of my favorite things


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I Have Found My Mojo!

It was a rough late winter and spring here. I sort of ran into a wall with regard to food – I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to make it, much less write about it. Something’s kicked me into gear the last few days (I have some theories as to what it could be…) and FOOD IS GETTING MADE around here.

I received a gorgeous handmade deep dish pie pan for my birthday, as well as some absolutely ridiculous 3D printed cookie cutters – both of those gifts will more than likely be getting used today. I’ve got my standard whole wheat buttermilk bread rising now.

I made Smitten Kitchen’s Rhubarb Snacking Cake on Friday and it was, as are all of her recipes, FANTASTIC. Somehow there are still a couple pieces of it left, but not for long.

Last night I made rhubarb ginger syrup (with rhubarb from my yard! YAY!), based on this recipe, though we decided at the end that it needed about 1/2 cup more sugar to balance the astringency of the rhubarb. It was pretty much awesome mixed with some Pimm’s and I *think* gin (mixology is not my department) and some soda water.

OH. And last week there was pickled asparagus made. I haven’t cracked into it yet, but it looks tasty! Recipe here.

NOM NOM NOM

NOM NOM NOM

Here’s hoping I’ll be able to maintain this enthusiasm and get more fun stuff done!

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Cooking By The Seat Of Your Pants

“Cooking by the seat of my pants” is a concept I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s a skill I started to hone when I was young and broke and vegetarian and worked at the grocery store – I saw my customers buying interesting fruits and vegetables and knew which staple goods were cheapest. I’d come home with a bag full of canned beans and whatever (canned) vegetables had caught my eye, plus the quinoa I had just discovered, look at my purchases, and say “What the hell am I going to make with this??” I’d cook the quinoa, dump in a can of beans and tomatoes (or corn, generally), mix in powdered garlic, and call it a couple days’ worth of lunch.

My ingredient choices and cooking skills have evolved a bit from that point, but this is still a skill I practice regularly. I put it to use at work when it was my turn to make the soup of the day or when I had a bin full of frozen bananas and needed a dessert. I put it to further use when I started shopping at the farmer’s market and came home with a giant box of tomatoes and red peppers. And these days when our CSA is in full swing and we’ve got a freezer full of pork and beef, I have to figure out how best to use stuff up before it goes bad but also keep in mind that I have three other people in this house who can be some of the toughest customers ever.

On top of the usual reasons I cook this way, this week I have an additional reason – our oven died! While I’m waiting for the new (fancy sexy exciting) one to be delivered, I’ve challenged myself to focus on making meals that are made on the stovetop or crockpot rather than looking for things that can be done without an oven. It’s a minor distinction, and perhaps it might not make much sense to some people, but I do much better with a challenge when it’s framed the right way. I have a tendency to focus on what I *can’t* do and don’t want to head down the road of being unable to cook anything because I only want to eat things that require the oven (bread and cookies, for example).

I’ve been craving hearty winter foods lately, specifically this lentil dish that a friend had once brought to a party. I never got her recipe and haven’t been able to replicated it, so the memory of that dish had been stashed away on a dusty shelf in my mind. Something knocked it loose and it’s been underfoot all week. I checked the pantry and found a bag of french green lentils, also called lentils du puy, rather than the brown lentils that the were in the original dish. I grabbed some brown rice, which seemed like a good addition to what I remembered. I found carrots and celery in the fridge onions and garlic and a jar of tomatoes in the pantry. And curry powder, because it sounded perfect. I wanted coconut milk but was out, which ultimately was for the better – it would have been far too rich (but so tasty!) with the delicious delicious coconut milk. Everything pretty much just went into the pot together, along with a whole bunch of water, and simmered until it was all cooked and delicious. And because I was scavenging in the pantry, I pulled out a jar of the kimchi I’d made last fall, and put a bunch of that on top. I ended up with a huge pot full of this stuff and might just eat it all myself rather than share – it turned out to be exactly the food I’ve been craving while not tasting much at all like the food memory I was shooting for.

LUNCH!

LUNCH!

Lentils du Puy with Brown Rice and Vegetables

  • 2 TB coconut oil (substitute butter/lard/oil at will)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, quartered and cut into 1/4″ chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 TB sweet curry powder (my favorite kind)
  • 1 quart home-canned tomatoes (or the equivalent in fresh, frozen, or commercially canned tomatoes), liquid included
  • 1 cup french green lentils, rinsed
  • 1 cup short-grain brown rice
  • water
  • salt

In a 3-quart or larger pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook over low heat until it starts to become translucent. Add celery, carrots, and garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in curry powder and cook until it becomes fragrant, then add lentils, rice, and tomatoes. Add water to cover everything and bring up to a boil. Lower heat to a low simmer and cook, stirring periodically, until the rice and lentils are tender. You will probably need to add more water at some point – I ended up adding a total of about 5 cups of water in addition to the liquid from the tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and serve. I found the addition of kimchi to be delightful, but I know it’d be great with a dollop of yogurt or no topping at all.

Chopped cabbage would be a delightful addition to this recipe, if you had it on hand, as would spinach, kale, or some other hearty green. Modify to your heart’s content, omitting the curry and substituting in whatever spices or herbs you have on hand.


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Kimchi

I got up this morning and said “You know what sounds like a good project for today? Sauerkraut!” We got a head of cabbage in our CSA box this week and I don’t really love it cooked, so I’ve been struggling to find a use for it since my favorite cabbage roll recipe really let me down the last time I used it. Sauerkraut is always a good use for cabbage – aside from being delicious, it’s very nutritious: cabbage is high in Vitamin C and fermenting it gives an end product that’s full of beneficial bacteria (lactobacillus, among others, which is important for digestion).

You’ve noticed, though, that this post is titled “Kimchi” – in paging through my copy of Nourishing Traditions to see what they had to say about fermenting vegetables, I found the kimchi recipe, which sounded WAY better to me than sauerkraut. I don’t know about you, but to me garlic, ginger, and chilis > caraway pretty much every day. Plus, I had all the ingredients on hand! (Scroll down to the bottom for the TL;DR version)

Clockwise from upper right: Cabbage, knife, 2 TB sea salt, carrots, dried chili pepper, garlic, ginger.

The measurements on the vegetables are pretty flexible, but you’d be wise to use the amount of salt specified below. Everything gets shredded or grated or minced and mixed together, then squeezed or pounded to release the liquid from the veggies.

I started by grating the carrots and ginger. I peeled the ginger because it wasn’t organic and also because I rather enjoy peeling ginger. I did not peel the carrots because they’re organic and I’m selectively lazy. I grated both on the fine side of the box grater, but it would have been just fine to do it in the food processor instead.

Shredded carrots and ginger. The spoon was for peeling the ginger – do you know this trick? It’s so cool! I also used the spoon to scrape the ginger off the grater, since the fibers got stuck on there pretty well.

Once you’ve got the carrots and ginger grated, it’s time to start on the cabbage. To start, cut the cabbage into quarters, then remove the core.

Before

After

Just cut along that diagonal line from the center of the cabbage down to the base and either compost the core or save it for snacking. Once you’ve got the core out of there, cut the cabbage quarter in half from top to bottom. Technically this isn’t a necessary step, but since I don’t like long strands I cut the cabbage into eighths. Slice the cabbage as thinly as you possibly can. A good sharp knife helps with this, but mostly it just takes practice. They make special tools for this, which can be great if you’re doing a large quantity, but for just one head of cabbage I’m not going to the basement to dig that thing out.

This is the first quarter of the cabbage, with the carrots and ginger.

Now, one head of cabbage takes up a lot of space once it’s shredded. In order to not have a huge mound of cabbage to work with at the end, I worked in batches. Shred a quarter of the cabbage, put it in the bowl with a quarter of the salt, and squeeze the heck out of it. Repeat three more times.

This is all of the cabbage, plus the carrots and ginger, shredded and salted and squeezed.

At this point, all that’s left to add is the garlic and chili.

This is roughly 3 large cloves’ worth of minced garlic. Maybe 1.5 TB or so.

You guessed it – throw it into the bowl and squeeze the veggies. You should have a noticeable amount of liquid collecting in the bottom of your bowl by this time – keep it all in there, because it’s going to cover your vegetables as they ferment!

This is what you want to see!

Divide your vegetables and liquid between two clean and sanitized (either boiled or chemically sanitized) quart jars and press down on the veggies until they’re covered with liquid. Put a lid on the jar and set it aside for several days to ferment.

See how the liquid is covering the veggies?

I posted about this project on Facebook this morning and several of my friends chimed in with suggestions based on their experience. One person suggested using white plastic reusable jar lids, of which I have an ample supply. Another friend shared a link to a DIY airlock lid project, which uses the regular two piece jar lids and an airlock (which you can get from a homebrew supply store, such as Northern Brewer). I was all set to use that when another friend commented that she ferments in regular Mason jars (as opposed to wide-mouth) and uses a #12 stopper and airlock to seal the jar. Since that was a bit easier than the DIY project, I stopped by Northern Brewer for some stoppers and airlocks. I’ll still try the DIY project, since NB didn’t have stoppers big enough for wide-mouth jars and I would like to ferment in half gallon jars, which of course only come in a wide-mouth version.

All ready to go!

This really is simple – you just put a little water in the airlock and insert it into the stopper, then insert the stopper into the mouth of the jar. The airlock allows the fermentation gases to escape while keeping outside air from entering the jar. You can absolutely ferment this in an unvented jar, but you may want to vent it once a day or so (more frequently if your house is warm) to avoid damaging the lid.

Nourishing Traditions suggests letting this ferment for 3 days, then transferring to cold storage. I’ll probably let it go until the airlock stops bubbling, and then it’ll either go in the back of the fridge or into the basement with the other canned goods. Our basement gets pretty chilly in the winter, so it’ll keep nicely down there. You could heat process this to seal the jars for longer-term storage, but that would kill all of the beneficial bacteria that developed during fermentation. Plus it would lose the great fresh crunch of a raw product.

Korean Sauerkraut, aka Kimchi (adapted from Nourishing Traditions)

  • 1 head cabbage, cored and finely shredded
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1 TB grated ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TB sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed pepper flakes (I used some dried chili we had, about 2 peppers’ worth)

Combine all vegetables and salt and pound or squeeze until vegetables have released their liquid. Pack into sanitized quart jars and press down on vegetables until they are covered by their own juices. Cover (either with an unvented lid or a lid with an airlock as discussed above) and allow to sit at room temperature 3 days or until fermentation has slowed. If using lids with airlocks, replace with unvented lids. Move kimchi to cold storage until needed. Eat!


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Grapes!

Last Friday, Kate and I went out to Wisp ‘O Willow Berry Farm in Stacy, MN. I’d been there with my friend Amy years ago to pick grapes and raspberries and just hadn’t had the chance to get back. Their vineyard has expanded quite a bit from what I remember, as has the raspberry patch.

We picked about 16# of small, sweet, vibrantly purple grapes. We also picked about 2.75# of raspberries while being serenaded by the buzzing of bees and the quacking of the farm’s dozen or so ducks. Their website mentions a donkey but we didn’t see him, sadly.

This is what 16# of grapes looks like.

I’ve been nursing a strong craving for grape jam lately, which triggered the farm trip. Grape jam is something I’d never encountered until adulthood, when I was paging through my battered copy of the Ball Blue Book and stumbled across the recipe. I’ve switched to using the recipe that comes with the Sure-Jell low sugar pectin because I love the extremely bright and fresh flavor I get in lower-sugar preparations. The biggest part of the whole project is squeezing the darned grapes out of their skins, which is where my comment about the size of these grapes comes in. Kate, the kids, and I spent I don’t even know how many hours squeezing the first batch and Chris and I watched three episodes of Game of Thrones while squeezing the second batch. It really is worth it, but it’ll go faster if you can get larger grapes!

Do enlist your children and friends in this project.

After separating 10# of grapes from their skins I was NOT feeling up to doing more. My son has been asking for grape jelly and I couldn’t deny him, being the sucker that I am. In general I don’t like making jelly because the yield isn’t as high and I prefer the texture of jam over jelly, but in this case the ease of making jelly totally makes up for the lower yield.

Mash up those suckers!

It’s pretty simple, really – remove the grapes from their stems and put them in a pot. Mash ’em up, then add a cup or two of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for a few minutes. Ladle it all into a jelly bag or a few layers of cheesecloth, then bundle it up and hang it over a bowl/container until it stops draining. I had the frame for the jelly strainer but not the bag, so I took the cheesecloth route and hung it from the jelly bag frame. It worked well enough, though I was pretty worried that one of the kids or a cat would knock the whole thing over.

Just let it sit until it stops dripping, then compost all the goo.

From there, you just boil the juice down with sugar until it hits the gelling point, or if you’re like me and are impatient and have had bad luck with jam in the past, you add pectin and take the quick route.

Homemade bread and homemade jam. I spoil my kids in the best possible way.

Next up: I’ve ordered another 40# of tomatoes from our CSA, Hog’s Back Farm. I’ll be canning some of them, making another batch of tomato jam, and probably more of the roasted tomato sauce.


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Roasted Tomato Sauce

I’m still recovering from Friday’s grape and berry picking and the subsequent jam-a-palooza. I’ll have a post on it soon, don’t worry! In the meantime, I spent my evening yesterday making roasted tomato sauce. Okay, I really spent about 20 minutes making roasted tomato sauce, but it sounds much more blogworthy if I claim to have spent the entire evening on it. Right?

Kat at A Good Appetite put up a post about her oven roasted tomato sauce about a week ago and I thought it’d be a great way to deal with our glut of CSA tomatoes. I made up a small batch early in the week and simmered it with some browned pork sausage and then added to pasta for a fantastic dinner. It was so good I knew I had to make more soon! Since my original plans for yesterday had taken a backseat to a nasty headache and my tiny amount of counter space had been taken over by this week’s tomato haul, it was time to make tomato sauce.

I cut the gigantic tomatoes into eighths and the smaller ones were quartered or halved. The two cherry tomatoes from my sad plants were left whole. The tomatoes, a few peeled garlic cloves, and a large onion (cut into chunks) all went onto two sheet pans and were mixed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Into a 350° oven they went, for about an hour.

I don’t recommend filling the pans this full, but I had a LOT of tomatoes.

Once the onions had begun to caramelize around the edges and the roasted garlic had spread its perfume throughout the house, I pulled the pans out of the oven. I left them to cool for a few minutes and then everything went into the blender.

This is about what done looks like. I could have let them go longer but I was impatient.

After a few minutes of blending I had 12.5 cups of this delicious tomato sauce, which I put into the freezer for later use. I’m thinking it’d make a killer baked pasta dish, with some penne, spinach, and mozzarella. Or reduced a bit and used for pizza sauce, or to sauce eggplant or chicken parmigiana. Oh man, so many ideas! I think I’m going to need another batch of this stuff.

Into the freezer with these babies.