Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The October 2009 Eat Local Challenge

Okay, deep breath. I'm going to do it. The October 2009 Eat Local Challenge.

First, the rules. You set the rules. Do you want 50 percent of the food you eat to be local? 75 percent? 100 PERCENT?!? And, what's "local"? On the Eat Local Challenge site, it's within 100 miles. Well, in Jennelle's little world, it's going to be 250 miles. This milk, which I already buy, and pretty much the local-est milk you can get around here comes from Wirtz, Virginia, 224 miles away. Also, Starr Hill Brewery is 240 miles away. Woot!

Okay, rules. Anything within 250 miles. Most people who do this make a list of exceptions. Coffee, for instance, is so interwoven in everyday life, and a necessity to some (me) that most people put it on the list. I've put a lot of thought into what I am willing to give up for 1 motnth and what I am not. So, here's my 9 things:
seafood (but only what's acceptable according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch)
maple syrup
hard cheeses (or any cheese that I can't make at home--right now that's all of them)

I'll allow myself one more once I figure out what it is... Iknow I'm not going to be able to do 100% all month long. I'll do my best, though. Some of it is out of my hands, unless I starve, which you can bet I'm not even entertaining. This ain't no hunger strike. I am going to Denver later this month, and travel presents eating challenges period, so I'm going to try to eat local, but since some of my meals are provided by the conference I'll be attending, no guarantees. And, Thursday is my mother-in-law's birthday (Happy Birthday, Sandy!!) We're taking her out to lunch Sunday, and she gets to pick. She told us well in advance she's got a hankerin' for some Olive Garden. The rest of the time, we'll see how I do.

I'm kinda excited. Some stuff, I'll miss. Guacamole. Bananas. I don't eat them that often, but it's one of those things when you know you can't have something it seems more tempting. I put in a big order today at the Monroe Farmer's Market in preparation. I'll post recipes and progress.

As for progress, as we speak, I have a pot of milk, rennet and citric acid on the stove. Attempt number three at homemade mozzarella cheese. It's looking like ricotta. Why can't I do this? I'm having trouble finding milk that isn't ultra-pasturized, which I am hanging the blame on. According to the website, even though it says just plain "pasturized," it is usually somewhere in between there and ultra-pasturized, which won't make cheese. I need a good old dairy farmer that will give me some PASTURIZED, or dare I ask for unpasturized, milk and then I'll try this again. I've wasted a lot of money on some fancy homemade ricotta cheese.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I might have bitten off more than I can chew... but it is so tasty!

I mentioned last week, that this weekend, I was going to tackle canning tomatoes and apples. Well, after six hours in a hot kitchen chopping, cooking and canning, you can sorta tell I made a dent in the box of each I bought on Sunday at the Capitol Market.

You can't beat the farmers' market this time of year. Summer produce  is starting to wane and give way to Indian corn, pumpkins, and gourds. The farmers are trying to move the remaining produce, cause none of them want to pack that stuff back home. Today, I got the last box of canning tomatoes for $10. Ten dollars!

I also bought a box of Rome apples, which the guy at the Crihfied Farm booth told me were the best for making applesauce. This guy knows what's up, too, I'll tell ya. And, I bought a pint of honey from them and a butternut squash.

I started out making some tomato paste. I got the recipe from the USDA's Home Canning and Preservation Guide. But I didn't can it, I froze it. I actually froze the tomato paste in a mini muffin tin. I hate when you have a recipe that calls for 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. So, you buy a 4 oz. can and throw the rest away. Well, the mini muffin tin makes perfect 2-3 tablespoon individual "nuggets" that you can thaw out and use whenever you need. I do this all the time when I make stock. You just pop them out of the muffin tins and put them in a freezer bag. Well, stock "pops" out of the aluminum muffin tins WAY easier than tomato paste. I need to get one of those fancy silicone muffin tins if I'm gonna do this again. Okay, so that only used like 6 tomatoes. Forty more to go.

Next, I made tomato soup that will knock your socks off. I got the recipe here from the Closet Cooking blog. Damn. It was so easy. But it only made two servings. It also made a mess in my oven as the olive oil dripped down onto the heating element. Note to self: next time I make this (and I will be making it again in the very near future) use a pizza pan instead of a cookie sheet with no rim. As soon as I get some more onions, I'll make a double of this and freeze it. Okay, so that took another 5 tomatoes.

I wanted to can tomatoes to last me for a while. I am always buying diced canned tomatoes at the grocery store. Usually like 1 or 2 cans a weeks. Seriously, I put them in everything. They're not that expensive. Was it worth it to spend half a day canning them? Who knows. But I canned 10 pints today, and I have over half of a box left. Processing the tomatoes is quite a process, but after a while, I got a little assembly line going from blanching the tomaotes, peeling them, and packing them in the jars. Don't just throw the skins away after you peel them, though. Extra credit for keeping the skins in your bag of veggie scraps in the freezer to make vegetable broth with later. Everyone does that, right? No, just me? Okay, I'm a geek. It's a little trick I learned from my friend, Martha. Just keep all your veggie scraps in the freezer until you get a gallon bag full. Add some water and the scraps to a stew pot and simmer for 30 or 45 minutes. Strain out the scraps, and I put the broth in my muffin tin and ice cube trays. Just don't use onion skins. They turn bitter.

Finally, I got around to tackling the apples. I borrowed my mom's apple peeler, which made the process a little easier. I didn't add anything to the apples, just a little lemon juice to keep them from turning brown and a little bit of water in the pot with the sliced apples. I also got the recipe from the USDA site. I cooked the apples for about 20 minutes and put them in the blender. Oh. My. God. Delicious. I'm not even a big fan of applesauce. So, I canned six pints of it yesterday, and froze some in the muffin tins. I measured out 1/4 cup servings to use for baking quick breads in place of oil. Yeah, these don't "pop" out easy either, like the tomato paste. They sorta lost their shape when I ran hot water over the back of the tin to get them out. I have over half a box left, and I'm thinking I'll make some apple pie filling and can it when (if) I ever get the time.

After all that canning, I was starving and I had a hungry hubby on my hands, too. I was on a roll, so I just kept on plugging away in the kitchen. I had some sweet gypsy peppers in the fridge that I'd bought for something else and hadn't used yet. I also had some queso fresco in the fridge I needed to use ASAP before it went bad. Hmmm. Stuffed peppers?

South of the Border Stuffed Peppers

4 peppers (bell, sweet, hot, whatever, as long as they're big enough to hold around 1/2 a cup of filling)
1/2 pound of deer burger (or lean beef or turkey burger)
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves (or 1 tsp. of minced garlic if you're lazy like me)
1 1/3 c. queso fresco, shredded
1/2 tsp. corriander
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Cut the tops off the peppers and clean the seeds out. Put the peppers in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes to soften them up a bit. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in the skillet and add the diced onion and garlic. Cook on medium heat until onion softens, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the burger and brown it thoughly. Add the chopped tomato, corriander and cayenne and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occassionally. Remove from the heat, and add 1 cup of the queso fresco and stir quckly to mix as it melts. Stuff each pepper with the meat filling and place in a casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining queso fresco over the peppers and broil on high until cheese gets browned and bubbly.

I served mine over some polenta. I added a tablespoon of the queso fresco to the polenta just to give it some richness. I think next time I'll use Anaheim peppers for just a little more heat. It was amazing, and Jeremy even said I should blog about it. The problem was, it was so good, it was gone before I even thought to take any pictures.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Enrolling in home canning 101

Well, here we are. I have a blog, "Keepin' Up with the Joneses" (clever title, right?). It's about my house mostly. More recently this summer, it's been more about cooking and eating. Two of my favorite hobbies, that actually come before fixing up my house on my list of hobbies. Anyway, I thought why mix it all up? This is cyberspace, afterall, and a person can have as many blogs as they like. So, this is my blog about growing food, cooking it, eating it, and all things related.

All summer, I've been on an eating fresh/farmer's market/local "kick." Probably because fresh veggies have been so cheap and easy to come by. (And because this spring, I read Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, too. She made it sound like it wasn't too hard.) But if I continue through the fall and winter, maybe it won't be a "kick," anymore. I've been trying to hang onto all these wonderful fresh fruits and veggies now that they aren't as abundant, which is why I decided to really try my hand at canning.

I'm no stranger to canning. I remember when I was little, my mom canned what seemed like mountains of tomatoes, green beans, apples, you name it. She grew up in the country, and "Pawpaw" raised a huge garden even in the late years of his life (Seriously, why do country people feel the need to raise a garden that could feed an army?). So, canning with my mom is sort of nostaglic.

The other thing is, this year, I actually got enough from my garden to can some of it. This spring, I doubled the size of my vegetable garden (it went from 6 feet by 6 feet to about 10 by 6, so don't get too excited) and really set about trying to grow some good stuff that I like. How did I fare? Not too shabby considering I'm a novice at this. I had 7 tomato plants that were planted too close together to bear much. I have 7 bell pepper plants that are still loaded with peppers. My cabbage did not come up. I got about 2 pounds of carrots, a handful each of beets and raddishes (below). My eggplant plants did not bear (again). I got 3 or 4 zucchinis and a few yellow squashes and a really pretty jack-o-lantern. The cucumbers were a different story. I had about a bazillion from the "picklers" I planted, AND I had a volunteer vine from the "Straight 8s" I planted last year. Last year, they were what I called "Fat 4s" but this year, we had so many cucumbers we didn't know what to do with them. My mom and I canned about a Kroger bag's worth of both sweet and dill pickles earlier this summer.

Last week, I made more pickles (ALL BY MYSELF!!) with my remaining cucumbers. Actually, I made Polish dill pickes by adding a clove of garlic and a hot pepper to each jar of cucumbers. And, last night, I made blackberry jam and pickled the remaining green tomatoes from my garden! Yay! I am getting the hang of this. Next weekend, I'm onto tomatoes and apples. I just hope no one gets botulism from my goods.

I found a good website for beginners, the USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning with lots of "how to" and "why" information.

On a side note, I was cleaning out my fridge last night while canning and used the last three ripe tomatoes from my garden to make tomato sauce. They were about to go bad, and I figured tomato sauce would freeze well. It was delicious. Here's the recipe:

Classic tomato sauce:
3 large tomatoes, diced (I remove some of the seeds)
2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
about 1/4 a large onion (or 1 small onion), diced small
2 Tb balsalmic vinegar
1/4 c. red wine
1 tsp kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1 Tb softened butter blended to a paste with 1Tb flour
handful of chopped fresh basil

Heat the oil for about a minute in a skillet. Add the garlic and onion. (If you want diced bell peper, add it with the onion and garlic.) Cook for a few minutes until the onion softens a bit. Add tomatoes, red wine, balsalmic vinegar, salt, bay leaf and basil. Let simmer about 20 minutes until tomatoes begin to break down. Take off heat, add butter/flour paste, and stir to blend completely. Put back on heat and bring to a simmer for about 1 minute until thickened. Makes about 1 pint.

I think I'll put mine over gnocchi. BTW, I have decided to do the Eat Local Challenge in October. This is the fifth year in a row for the project, and I am actually excited to be participating. I plan to post my progress here and on the Eat Local Challenge website. It really will be a challenge, but I've been thinking about it for a couple weeks, and I think I can actually do it, with some parameters I set myself. So, anyway, I'm saving the tomato sauce for October with the gnocchi I make from the potatoes from my father-in-law's garden. Stay tuned!