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Mastery Challenge: Rhubarb Pickles

When I see the first harvests of rhubarb hitting farmers’ market tables among still-puny bunches of kale and last season’s root crops, I feel a surge of hope: spring is really, actually happening.

I also think of my maternal grandmother, an almost-nun turned feminist firebrand and mother of 11 who kept a huge vegetable garden — including a big patch of rhubarb — at her house in Quebec when I was a kid. Granny is the reason I turn my nose up at strawberry-rhubarb anything: her lip-puckering, sweet-tart treatment of the ingredient served straight up in pie, cobbler, and roly-poly became my standard and favorite for fruity baked goods.

As an adult, I’ve tried to do more with rhubarb than dessert, but no recipe I’ve come across that didn’t involve sweet, buttery dough has ever really seemed like it would be worth the trouble to try. So when this month’s Mastery Challenge came around during rhubarb season, I decided to give it the cold-pack pickle treatment.

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How to Make Homemade Grassfed Ghee

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones checks in today to show us all how to make gorgeous, homemade grassfed ghee. Looking at these pictures, I can almost smell the nuttiness of the melting butter! -Marisa

Butter melting into homemade grassfed ghee

During my years as a local foods buyer for the CSA at Greensgrow Farm and Fair Food Farmstand here in Philly, I brought home my share of produce that was still delicious but no longer sellable. Those leftover, cosmetically damaged, or too ripe to sell fruits and vegetables kept my fridge full. My proximity to occasional stashes of “seconds” even spurred me to learn how to preserve those goodies for later use.

I’m no longer bringing home flats of half-moldy strawberries to pick over or sacks of so-ripe-they-burst figs on a regular basis. But my work with local farms and food makers still yields the occasional bounty of perishable product that can be turned into something delicious and shelf-stable.

The most recent foodstuff in need of a little TLC came from my friend Stefanie, cheesemaker and owner of Valley Milkhouse and one of the two area cheesemakers (along with Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm) with whom I run the CSA-style cheese subscription Collective Creamery.

I’dd gone up to Stef’s farmhouse in the Oley Valley, about 90 minutes northwest of Philly, for an evening meeting and spent the following day helping out in the cheese room. When I was ready to head back to the city, she sent me on my way with a very special treat: a half-full five-gallon bucket of cultured butter that was a little past its prime — but the only ingredient I’d need to make a big batch of homemade grassfed ghee.

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Strawberry Picking at Rowand Farms

In an effort to switch things up a little, today I have a post of pictures and no (or at least, not very many) words. These are from a recent trip to pick strawberries at Rowand’s Farm in Glassboro, NJ. The strawberries and sweet cherries are now done for the season, but if you’re in the area, I hear they’ll have sour cherries through the weekend.

Rowand Farm Market
strawberries
upick boxes
strawberry boxes
rows of strawberries
strawberry fields
hidden strawberries
berries at the farm market
nine pounds of strawberries

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A Giant Potato Pancake for Eat, Write, Retreat’s Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge

after the oven

Last year, I went to a bunch of food writer/blogger conferences in order to see beloved people, make some new friends, and help promote my book. In contrast, 2013 has shaped up to be a quieter year (which is fine by me). I’m skipping the bulk of the gatherings in order to spend a little more time at home and save my pennies for next summer’s book push. In fact, the only conference I’m participating in is Eat, Write, Retreat, which is landing in Philly in just a couple of weekends.

two russet potatoes

Part of the fun of Eat, Write, Retreat is that organizers start building the conference community well before everyone arrives at the DoubleTree. One of the ways that they’ve done this is by inviting everyone who registered before April 15 to participate in the Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge. Now, I’m not typically someone who gets excited about challenges and contests, but this one is a little different.

peeled

While there are prizes to be awarded at the conference, I actually felt like I won the moment the box arrived, thanks to all the OXO goodies (as well as a gorgeous assortment of potatoes) that it contained. Potatoes, graters, and ricers, oh my! What’s more, I’ve been needing something to shift me out of the cooking rut I’ve been in recently. Inventing an appetizing little dish featuring potatoes and using some of those new tools was just the boost I needed.

grated

I grabbed the two large, russet potatoes from the basket (approximately 1 3/4 pounds) and got to work. I peeled then and shredded them on the coarse OXO grater that was in the box.

Any time I’m shredding just a pound or two of potatoes, I opt for a hand or box grater. It’s so much easier to clean than my food processor. Then, I bundled up the shreds in a tea towel and squeezed as much water out of them as possible. If you’ve ever made a latke, you know the drill.

on the stove top

Then I whisked together two eggs, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, two tablespoons minced green onions, one tablespoon chopped dill, and several turns of a pepper grinder. While whisking, I also heated three tablespoons of olive oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet and heated my oven to 425 degrees F.

I added the potatoes to the batter and stirred until they were well combined. Then I spread the potato batter out in the hot skillet. It was quite thick, so I used my spatula to tease it out into an even layer. Do take care not to make a perfectly smooth surface, as it will brown better with a few crags and nooks.

closer potato disk

Once in the skillet, I cooked it over high heat on the stove top for about five minutes, until a peek at the bottom of the pancake told me it was just starting to brown. Then slide the skillet into the oven.

The trick with a giant potato pancake like this one is that you want to bake it first, until the interior is cooked, and then you turn on the broiler to get a really nice, crunchy top. Mine took approximately ten minutes of baking and another four of broiling before I was satisfied with the color and texture.

with toppings

Now comes the appetizer part. This potato pancake can actually go a couple of different ways in that department. For a cocktail party, you could slice it into slivers and top it with a number of delicious tidbits. The potato pancake is just as good at room temperature as it is hot, so works quite nicely on a table of finger foods.

In the picture, I’ve dolloped each wedge with a little bit of mascarpone cheese and then added something tasty on top (from top to bottom, you have last summer’s apricot jam, a grape tomato half, and a sprig of dill). Little strips of smoked salmon or trout would also be fantastic.

under eggs and mache

For a more perfectly plated appetizer, here’s another serving option. Cut the potato pancake into quarters. Top with some baby greens (I used mache) and a perfectly fried egg. The texture of the crunchy potato layer with the delicate leaves and runny egg is seriously great (I ate that plate right up as soon as I was finished with the photos).

It’s a good starter for fancy brunches or a farm to table-style dinner. It’s high in Vitamin C. And it’s also great for those folks who can’t manage a pasta course, due to wheat or gluten allergies. For those who have a jar in their pantry, a dab of tomato jam would not go amiss here.

How would you turn a giant potato pancake into an appetizer?

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Drink Week, Day Three: No-Cook Sour Cherry Syrup

sour cherries

It’s day three of Drink Week! Today’s topic is the no-cook fruit syrup. Because sometimes, it’s just too darn hot to turn on the stove for even a minute. This sour cherry version is ideal with a little spritz, so make sure to click over and enter the Sodastream giveaway. Make sure to check out the previous two Drink Week posts, Black Raspberry Syrup and Cherry Bounce and Other Boozy Infusions.

no-cook sour cherry syrup

If you search this website, you will see that my obsession with sour cherries is well-documented. There are at least two different jam recipes here, and recently, I’ve been tempted to post a third, since lately I’ve been making a whole sour cherry preserve that would knock your socks off. But this isn’t about cherry preserves. This about a revelation I had recently. It’s the no-cook, whole fruit syrup.

spoon a few dollops (cherries and all)

In essence, you put a some fruit in a jar (in this case, two cups of pitted sour cherries). Pour half as much sugar in (one cup of organic cane sugar) and then smash the heck out of the fruit with a wooden spoon, tiny potato masher or the end of a rolling pin (I used a little muddler that looks like a tiny baseball bat). After you’ve taken out your aggressions, just park the jar in the fridge overnight and forget about it.

pour on the fizz

The next day, check on your jar of sugared and smashed fruit. In some cases, the sugar will be entirely dissolved, but not always. If not, give the jar a good shake (make sure you’ve got a tight-fitting lid on there or you’ll be covered in sticky juice) and put it back. After a day or so of chilling and shaking, you should be left with a jar full of fruit and syrup, ready to be used.

enjoy

Once it’s gotten nice and juicy, you have two choices. You can either strain the fruit from the syrup, discard it and proceed to use the syrup as you’d like. Or you can do what I do, and add those tender bits of sour cherry to your glass. I like it with some sparkling water and, on occasion, two or three drops of bourbon (for a very mild, faux, fizzy Manhattan). You can also use it to make instant sangria. Just add a few spoonfuls of the sour cherries and their syrup to a glass of red wine, ice cubes and sparkling water. Stir and quaff.

This technique also works with plums, apricots and plums. Try it. I think you’ll be sold.

Oh, and if all this talk of sparkling water has you parched, don’t forget to enter the Sodastream giveaway!

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Buying Feta in Bulk From Di Bruno Bros.

jar of feta cheese

Yesterday afternoon, while in the midst of making a giant bowl of this quinoa salad to take to a potluck, I realized that I had forgotten to buy feta cheese. In most cases I am entirely satisfied to substitute one ingredient for another, but not in that moment. I wanted the creamy tang of feta and I had nothing else in the fridge that would do.

I put my chopping aside, grabbed a pint jar and dashed down the street to Di Bruno Bros. (I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate to live a block and a half away from such a terrific gourmet/cheese market). The reason for the pint jar was that I hate the idea of using a disposable plastic tub for all of ten minutes in order to get the cheese from store to salad. They sell their feta cheese from giant, brine-filled crocks, so a container of some sort is necessary.

This was the first time I’d taken a reusable container to Di Bruno Bros. so I wasn’t sure how they’d respond. However, I swallowed my minor embarrassment at making an unusual request and asked if I could buy half a pound of feta and have it packed in my jar. They said yes and proceeded to weight the cheese on a sheet of parchment paper before putting in the jar.

I kept a plastic container out of the recycling/trash system and the sticky label peeled off easily to boot. All in all, a successful jar experience!

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