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Pondering and Planning for 2016

January 15

My inbox, Instagram account, and feed reader are awash in resolutions. No matter where I cast my gaze, my eye catches a goal or intention that someone has set for themselves in this fresh, new year. I find the urge to publicly declare an infectious one and so have spent the last week contemplating what my own hopes are for 2016 so that I can share them here.

Last year, I set some good goals for myself in relationship to this site. In looking back at the past 12 months through the lens of those intentions, I must confess that I feel like I didn’t do particularly well. In thinking about why, I realize that while I set the goals (and even taped them to my computer monitor), I never created time to invite them into being.

There are so many reasons why that is the case. I was writing a book. I said yes to more classes, demos, and events than I should have. My mother-in-law got sick. And most of all, I was simply tired (I’ve been doing the independent hustle for more than four years now, and it’s hard).

So for this year, I’m keeping my professional goals simple. If I am able to do more than this, great. If not, that’s okay too.

  • Keep blogging – I simply want to continue to show up here. There will be new recipes, ways to use up what you’ve preserved, and the occasional essay. This blog is my home base in this ever-changing virtual world and I want it continue to exist and thrive.
  • Do a good job promoting my new bookNaturally Sweet Food in Jars comes out on March 22 and I want to do it justice. I am going to travel and promote (though not as much as I did with Preserving by the Pint. I overdid it there and it was a big part of why I was so wiped out last year).
  • Keep making a podcast – Back in August, my friend Joy and I launched a podcast called Local Mouthful and we’ve released one episode a week ever since. Since we both live in Philadelphia, we do occasionally talk about things happening in our region, but I’d say that about 70% of each half hour episode is applicable to anyone who enjoys shopping for, preparing, and eating food (no matter where you live). Making this podcast has been incredibly fun and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

And that’s it. I’d love to say that this was the year for me to launch an online video series, or a line of canning products, but here’s the truth. I am just one person. I do my best every day, but I can’t make it all happen. And I’m okay with that.

How about the rest of you? How are you feeling about the start of the year?

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Winter Squash Risotto with Leeks and Greens + Lagostina Risotto Pot Giveaway

Risotto Set-up - Food in Jars

I have a weakness for beautiful cookware (some woman collect jewelry, I surround myself pots and pans). The first time I saw the Lagostina Risotto Pot at my local Williams-Sonoma, I nearly swooned. Gleaming tri-ply stainless steel! A wooden topped lid (that fits tightly and doubles as a trivet)! And a thick, heat diffusing base to prevent hot spots and burning!

squash for roasting - Food in Jars

To my very great delight, not long after spotting this gorgeous pot for the first time, I got an email asking if I might like one to use for the development of a risotto recipe. I sent a positive response off as quickly as my fingers could type.

pouring rice - Food in Jars

Since this lovely piece of cookware arrived, I’ve been making a lot of risotto. It’s one of my favorite things to make and eat on chilly days. I love the ceremony of near-constant cooking (though to be truthful, I often put the spoon down for a moment or two so that I can do a little clean-up while I cook) and the comfort that comes when you cozy up to a bowlful.

finished risotto - Food in Jars

Whenever I make risotto, my primary goal is to cram as much vegetable content into the pot. Risotto can be a heavy dish, and so making sure that it’s packed with fresh produce (in this case, aromatics, greens, and roasted squash) helps lighten it and make it a more regular dinnertime occurrence.

plated risotto - Food in Jars

When I make this for me (if I’m making if for Scott, I use roasted carrots in place of squash), I peel and chop all the squash and stir it into the rice. However, if I have friends coming by, I like to reserve some of the roasted squash to serve on top. It brings a little visual and textural interest to the plate and makes it feel like something you might be served as the neighborhood Italian place.

risotto pot - Food in Jars

What’s nice about this piece of cookware is that truly, it’s good for so much more than risotto. The wide base and low profile mean that it’s a great shape for any dish you want to simmer and reduce. It does good work with small batches of jam and I love using to make Marcella’s tomato sauce.

The Lagostina Risotto pot can be found at Williams-Sonoma, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and other specialty shops, and retails for $199.95. For more information about Lagostina, check out their social accounts and visit their website.

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Thanks to the kind folks at Lagostina, I have one of their glorious Risotto Pots to give away to you guys. Here’s how to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me what kind of risotto you’d make in this pot.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm eastern time on Saturday, December 19, 2015. A winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog on Sunday, December 20, 2015.
  3. Giveaway open to United States residents only. Void where prohibited.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

Disclosure: Lagostina sent me this risotto pot to use and write about. No additional compensation was provided. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

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How to Make Tofu Using Morinaga Make-Your-Own Kit

fresh tofu

I’ve been a little under the weather this week, so it’s taken me longer than anticipated to share my experience using the Morinaga tofu kit that I posted about in the weekly giveaway on Tuesday. However, in the spirit of better late than never, here we go!

tofu kit ingredients

You start with a carton of soy milk and one small packet of nigari. The directions say that it’s best to chill these ingredients to ensure proper setting, so I left mine in the fridge overnight before starting my tofu making process.

pouring soy milk

When you’re ready to make your tofu, you pour the chilled soy milk into a saucepan and set it over medium heat so that it slowly comes up to a simmer (no need to stir). You don’t want the milk to boil, instead you want to heat it until it beings to form a skin.

curdled soy milk

Once you see that skin forming, pull the pot off the heat and stir the nigari in briskly and thoroughly (the instruction sheet specifies that you need to integrate it within three seconds).

tofu mold

While the soy milk sits and curdles for five minutes, set up your tofu mold. Set the bottom part of the mold in a baking dish or a shallow bowl. If it’s the first time you’re using the cheese cloth, rinse it in water and then line the mold with it.

pouring curdled soy milk

Once the five minute rest period is up, pour the soy curds into the lined mold.

draining tofu

Fold the cheese cloth over the nascent tofu, position the top of the mold in place, and set something heavy on top of it. I happened to have a can of coconut milk on my counter, so it was called into action.

unmolding tofu

You can drain the tofu for as little as ten minutes, or up to two hours, if you prefer a firmer finished product. Whenever you decide that you’ve drained yours enough, fill a bowl with cold water, gather up the cheese cloth bundle, and submerge the tofu to unwrap it (this helps prevent the cloth from sticking to the tofu).

tofu corner

There you have it! Fresh tofu to use in soup, a stir fry, or however else you like it!

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IMUSA Kitchen Tools for Cinco de Mayo

IMUSA gear

Sometime in mid-April, I got an email from an IMUSA PR rep, asking if I might be interested in participating in a Cinco de Mayo campaign. They would send me some IMUSA tools and I’d make something with them and write about.

Because it sounded like fun and I spend my life grossly underestimating how long tasks will take me to get done, I said yes. I was not worried at all about the fact that my book manuscript was due right around Cinco de Mayo because I was certain I would be done in advance of the deadline.

avocado slicer

The box containing a tortilla press, a citrus squeezer, an avocado slicer, a pair of salsa bowls, and a tortilla warmer arrived last Thursday. I was hunched over my computer in my signature stress-writing position and so only managed to open the box and glance quickly at its contents before returning to writing about date purees and coconut sugar measurements.

tortilla press .
I thought I’d find a moment or two in which to take the tools out for a test drive sometime over the weekend, but it didn’t happen (I did manage to take a break on Saturday to see the new Avengers movie with Scott and our friend Joe. Priorities).

This left me with Monday (and with the manuscript still unfinished) and I was okay with that. I knew I didn’t have a ton of time to devote to dreaming up a new recipe and so instead, I turned to the things I knew would make a good dinner and I could make without a huge investment of time.

squeezing limes

I started early in the afternoon by making a batch of this Cumin Cabbage Slaw (it tastes best if it has a couple hours for the flavors to mingle). I cheated a little  by using pre-sliced cabbage (in my defense, it was all they had at Trader Joe’s), and added some pre-grated carrots for more color. I used the IMUSA citrus squeezer to juice the lime and it worked beautifully.

making slaw

Wanting to put the tortilla press to work, I decided to make the tortillas out of Vanessa Barrington’s lovely little book, DIY Delicious (a great book for homemade basics).

tortilla balls

However, I made a critical error. I opted for flour tortillas because I didn’t have time to run out for masa harina. But because of the gluten content in the flour tortillas, they don’t work well with a press (you press them and they shrink right back up). So I ended up using the press to start them and then rolled them out by hand the rest of the way. Happily, they were delicious enough to make the effort worthwhile (and truly, it was nicely meditative).

tortilla on the press

I made a batch of Molly’s Turkey Taco meat and smashed some of my home canned pinto beans in a saucepan with a little oil, minced red onion, chopped green pepper, and a crushed garlic clove.

finished tortillas

A jar of salsa, a tub of sour cream, and some grated cheddar cheese rounded things out. There was no guacamole because the two avocados in the fridge were way past their prime. It ended up being a really good dinner (even if it was eaten on Quatro de Mayo) and produced leftovers enough for lunches today (and right now, nothing pleases me more than getting multiple meals out of a single cooking effort).

homemade turkey tacos

Oh, and the tools? They are sturdy, useful, and colorful. I’m not sure that my life requires a tortilla warmer, but the squeezer and tortilla press are staying in the permanent rotation. I can’t wait to use the avocodo slicer and will do so, as soon as the pair on my counter ripen up. For more from IMUSA, make sure to check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Search for #IMUSAdeMayo to see what other bloggers have created!

Happy Cinco de Mayo to all!

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Deadline Blues

vertical rhubarb stalks

Friends, I am feeling more than a little bit unhinged right now. I can count the number of days before this book is due on my fingers and toes and I am feeling every morsel of that stress. I am embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve lost my cool over the littlest things.

So I’m just going to leave this picture of rhubarb here in place of a recipe, canning tips, or anything truly useful. I’ll be back with something more fulfilling soon.

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Making Brisket for Passover

ten pounds brisket

About four years ago, I became the official brisket maker for my family’s Passover Seder. I’m not the most natural fit for this role, particularly since up until the time I moved to Philadelphia, I’d only ever attended Seder in the all-purpose room at our Unitarian Universalist church.

uncooked brisket

I started dabbling in brisket making during the years when Scott and I were regularly filming episodes of Fork You. We did one episode in honor of Philadelphia’s beer week, in which I braised a smallish brisket in a slurry of sauteed onions, herbs, and a generous pour of dark beer.

prepped onions

For the longest time, that beer soaked method was my favorite. However, once I took on the task of making brisket for Passover, the beer had to go because fermented grain products (like beer) are most decidedly not kosher for Passover. And while my people aren’t particularly observant, using that as my braising medium seemed a step too far.

slicing onions

Since this year is my fifth brisket adventure, I thought I’d take a few minutes to write about the process (I actually took these pictures last year, intending to write this post then). It’s not hard to do, but it is time consuming. I always start the day before I plan on serving the brisket. This allows me to remove the bulk of the fat that the meat releases and truly, things just taste better the second day.

brisket prep

My current approach is relatively simple but time consuming. I start with one pound of brisket for every two people I’m feeding, plus a little more just in case. This year, we’re expecting 18 people, so I started with 10 pounds of brisket (if the pieces have a substantial fat cap, I suggest buying even a little bit more).

sauteing onions

I use one pound of onions for every two pounds of brisket. They add a ton of flavor and lend substance and body to the eventual sauce. In the beginning, I sliced those onions by hand, but by year two, I got smart and pulled out the food processor. It’s still not easy on the eyes, but it is a lot less tedious.

pot of brisket

To brown ten pounds of brisket, I pull out two large pans and heat some oil with a high smoke point until it shimmers. Salt and pepper the brisket pieces (to get ten pounds, you end up with at least two big pieces) and brown them on all sides. Once the brisket is nicely browned, they get pulled out and I saute the sliced onions in the fond from the meat.

ready to braise

Once the onions are done, I put a little down in the bottom of the pans I’m using for braising. Because of the amount of brisket I make, I tend to divide them between a low, wide Dutch oven and a large cast iron roasting pan so that I can fit them all into my oven.

in the oven

I pour beef stock in so that it comes up most of the way up the sides of the meat. Finally, I arrange the remaining onions on top of the meat and tuck sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme into the pans. I cover both pans and cook them in the oven for 3 to 4 hours at 300 degrees F. They’re done when you stick a fork into the center of the meat and it feels tender instead of tight.

finished brisket

Once the brisket is finished braising, I let everything cool down. Then I separate the beef from the sauce and refrigerate them both separately.

A few hours before I want to serve the brisket, I remove the container of braising liquid from the fridge. I pull off the fat that collected (keep it and roast potatoes in it later) and I push everything through the fine screen of a food mill. This removes all the woody herb bits. Then I pour the milled liquid into my crock pot and taste it. I’ll add a little balsamic vinegar and salt, if necessary. If it feels too granular, I’ll sometimes zap it with an immersion blender.

brisket fat cap

The last thing is to cut the brisket against the grain and add the pieces to the sauce. This way, it heats slowly and never develops any of that funky, reheated meat taste. Special occasion food, at its finest!

finished brisket

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