A Hip Girl’s Potluck + Arugula Salad with Roasted Beets, Carrots and Caramelized Onions

cubed carrots and beets

Earlier tonight, twenty women gathered in my apartment to eat, drink and celebrate Kate Payne and her lovely new book (don’t forget that I’m giving away a copy here). Let me tell you, we had SUCH a fun evening. My dining room table positively groaned under the weight of the deliciousness heaped upon it and the room bubbled with conversation and connections being made.

potluck table

I was so focused on eating, chatting and ensuring that we had enough silverware that I didn’t manage to take more than a few pictures. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t point my camera at Kate or any of my guests. Happily, I was quick thinking enough to ask people to write down their blog addresses, because though we did an around the room introduction, I knew my memory couldn’t be relied upon to keep track each URL. Here’s who showed up:

Lily from Lily’s Barter Bakery
Sara The Cozy Herbivore
Carly from Harvest Local Foods
Courtney from Inspire. Perspire.
Melissa from Knitter’s Cook Book
Sarah from Sarah Anne Burns
Robin Shreeves from South Jersey Locavore and Mother Nature Network’s food channel
Yvonne from Marijayn
Jenni from Domestic Efforts
Kerri from Vintage Now
Audra from Doris and Jilly Cook

348 | 365

For my contribution to the potluck table, I made a salad that I’ve been mentally formulating for awhile. I chopped five carrots and three beets into small cubes, tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them in the oven until tender. While the cooked, I chopped and caramelized a giant red onion in two tablespoons of butter.

Once those two components were finished cooking and had a chance to cool down a little, I heaped them atop a giant bowl of baby arugula. It got finished with some thin shavings (made with a vegetable peeler) of hard pecorino romano, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, some olive oil and salt and pepper. The resulting salad was a tangle of sweet, tangy and salty cheese. I’m already looking for a reason to make it again.

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Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking Reading + Giveaway

Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking

Because I write about food and my many acts of preservation, people often assume that I’m also an expert in a variety of home-based arts. And while it’s true that my kitchen comfort is bone deep, when it comes to gardening, laundry and acts of home improvement, my skills are basic at best.

Happily, I now have in my possession a book that I think is going to change all that. Written by the delightfully ebullient Kate Payne, The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking answers my every homekeeping question and offers up a wealth of useful tips as well. I particularly love her suggestion to dab a bit of vanilla extract on a bit cotton ball and then vacuum it up for sweet smelling rooms. I’m doing that tomorrow (my 25-year-old carpets need all the help they can get).

Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking

For you canning enthusiasts out there, you’ll be happy to learn that there’s an entire chapter of the book devoted to food preservation. Kate includes information on canning, freezing and ensuring that the food you’re storing (whether we’re talking short-term leftover storage or longer-term preservation) will be safe for you and your family to eat. There are a few really wonderful recipes tucked into this section as well. As soon as I get a hold of some rhubarb, I’m making the Rhubarb Hibiscus Vanilla Preserves on page 228.

Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking

If this description has you interested in this book, well, you’re in luck as I have a copy to give away. For a chance to win, leave a comment on this post and include your favorite household tip. The giveaway will close on Wednesday, April 27 at 11:59 pm. One entry per person please!

Also, if you’re in the Philadelphia area, make sure to head out to the University of Pennsylvania bookstore this Wednesday night at 6 pm, where Kate will be answering questions and signing books.

Disclosure: The book you see here is a free review copy furnished by the publisher (they’re also providing the copy I’m giving away). What’s more, Kate Payne is a friend of mine and I’m hosting a potluck meet’n’greet for her on Tuesday, April 26. However, despite the freebie and the friendship, my opinions are still my own and are expressed honestly.

Lemon Buttermilk Muffins

lemon buttermilk muffins

I am at that age where nearly everyone I know is either pregnant or a newly minted parent. I am currently on a first name basis with eight children under the age of 18 months and there are at least seven more on the way in the next six months. This means that I am regularly in the position of trying to imagine some delicious treat to bring to bewildered mamas and papas.

For some reason, I’ve never been good at bringing fully prepared meals to people and instead opt for bringing fairly healthy, easy to grab treats instead. In the past, this has meant that I’ve offered things like nutty oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (at least they’re full of protein and fiber) or loaves of quick bread that are good plain or toasted and buttered.

lemon buttermilk muffins

Yesterday, I went to visit my friend Kate and her new baby girl and took along a batch of these Lemon Buttermilk Muffins (yes, this is where the buttermilk from the cultured butter I wrote about last week went). These muffins are good for new parents because they can easily be eaten one-handed (a nice, firm crumb means that they won’t break to pieces), they aren’t too sweet (eat them for breakfast or alongside a cup of soup for lunch) and since they’re made with whole wheat flour, they feel more virtuous than a cookie.

The recipe is a further tweak of this one that I posted exactly two years ago today (amazingly, I didn’t plan that, it just happened). The yogurt gets replaces with buttermilk, the number of eggs is reduced and I brought in lemon instead of orange. What’s more, if you happened to make a batch of the lemon sugar I mentioned here, this is an excellent place to use it.

Of course, you don’t need to have a new baby around as an excuse to make these muffins. They’re good just about any time.

Continue Reading →

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Skip the Plastic in the Bulk Section, Use Jars Instead

jars filled with bulk goods

I have been a bulk section shopper for most of my life. Growing up, my family was devoted to the bulk bins and it was always a great thrill when my mom would let me fill up the bags with rice or granola or grains. As I got older, it felt natural to keep buying oatmeal, dried fruit and beans that way. Of course, the bulk section has its inconveniences too. At Whole Foods, it’s far to easy to rip the plastic bags on the conveyor belt at check-out, leaving a trail of flour, sugar or quinoa all over the check stand. And, being that I’m not the most spatially minded person, I’ve never been good at determining exactly much product is going to fit in the assigned jar at home.

Lately, I’ve been taking clean, empty jars with me to Whole Foods for my bulk section purchases. This solves both issues of ripping bags and overestimating jar volume. It does require a bit more advanced planning than a spur-of-the-moment dash into the grocery store, but saves on plastic and frees me from some of those bulk section frustrations. I just pack up the jars and make a quick stop at customer service so they can weight the jars and make note of their tare prior to being filled, so that I’m not paying for the weight of the jars. Oh, and if I can just add a tip here, I recommend bringing a wide mouth funnel with you to the store. It will make your jar-filling life so much easier.

reusable bulk bags

In addition to my jars, I have a few of these very lightweight, reusable bulk bags that I try to bring with me each time I go to a store with a bulk section. They’re designed to hold bulk section food and be light enough so that they don’t need to have their weight subtracted from that of your food. They’re also washable, so I just toss them in the laundry after each use, to ensure I don’t mix nutritional yeast with my whole wheat pastry flour. These bags allow me to make a few bulk section impulse buys without reaching for a plastic bag, which I like.

I’m certain that there are some of you out there who have been shopping like this for years. However, it’s a very rare day that I see anyone else at my urban Philadelphia Whole Foods store with their own containers. Thing is, I think this is the direction more of us should be headed. It prevents waste by keeping plastic bags out of the system and means that you’re not buying more food that you can use (I confess that there were times in the very distant past when I would just trash the few spoonfuls of grain or fruit that made the storage jar overflow instead of bundling it up and saving it to use up). And it’s just one more chance to show off all those gorgeous jars I know so many of you have!

Let’s hear from you guys. Do you take reusable containers to the grocery store with you?

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The Complete Kitchen Garden Winner

water jars

Last Monday was the warmest day we’ve had all year in Philly. It reached nearly 87 degrees and I had the good fortune to spend a chunk of the afternoon outside at an urban farm in Fishtown. They were open for a special lunch and tour for some visitors in town for the Council on Foundations and I was there taking pictures for work (my real job). The lunch was delicious, but I was most delighted by the fact that they served their iced water in a collection of quart jars.

Later that night, after a gorgeous afternoon in the sunshine, I started to get a sore throat. And I’ve been barely functioning ever since. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Anyway, I thought I’d give you a little story/excuse as to why I’ve yet to post a winner in the most recent giveaway and why I haven’t followed through on my promise to show you what I made with the buttermilk leftover from my cultured butter project. You’re going to have to wait a bit longer on the buttermilk, but I have picked a winner for The Complete Kitchen Garden.

Congratulations Stephanie, #234. I’ll be in touch shortly!

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Transforming Homemade Creme Fraiche Into Cultured Butter

creme fraiche

The deliciousness of butter is a universally understood truth (and the primary reason for Paula Deen’s career). However, for as good as regular old butter can be, cultured butter is just that much better. Cultured butter is made from cream that has been doctored with a culturing agent, allowed to sit out for a bit and develop tasty, tangy bacteria.

Now, cast your minds back a couple of months to when I wrote about making creme fraiche. To recap, it’s a process in which you stir some buttermilk (culturing agent) into a jar of heavy cream (not the ultra-pasteurized stuff) and let it sit out until it develops a host of tangy bacteria. Do you see where I’m going here? That’s right! Once you’ve made creme fraiche, you’re about 15 minutes away from homemade cultured butter. Let’s walk through the steps, shall we?

creme fraiche into the processor

Pour your creme fraiche into the bowl of a food processor. I started with approximately 20 ounces of very thick, tangy product. Tighten the lid of the process and run the motor for 2-5 minutes.

butter in the food processor

It only takes about 2 minutes in my food processor, but I’m certain your times will vary. You want to process it until it looks like the picture above. You should have a thin, visible liquid with clumps of butter spread throughout. Do know that the liquid will be thicker than when you make butter from uncultured cream.

straining butter

Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour the butter and whey through the sieve. Make sure to save that whey, it’s incredibly flavorful and I’ll be posting a baking recipe for you guys that will detail how to use it later in the week. Using the back of a rubber or silicone spatula, gently move and scrape the butter in the sieve to help remove more of the whey. You will find that a bit of butter pushes through the sieve, just scrape it off the bottom and plop it back into the bowl of the sieve.

working butter

When most of the visible whey has been released, remove the bowl from underneath the sieve. Rinse the butter with the coldest water your tap can produce and repeat the pressing and draining of the butter (still without the bowl). The goal is to remove as much of the whey and water from the butter. The more whey you can remove, the longer the shelf life of the butter will be.

After several rinses, place the butter in a shallow bowl (I love this wooden bowl for this job) and work it some more, still attempting to work any remaining whey out of the butter. If you like a salted butter, this is the point where you can sprinkle in a pinch or two of fine grain salt. Mix it into the butter thoroughly with the spatula. In addition to the flavor boost the salt gives, it will also extend the shelf life of the butter a bit.

butter and whey

When your butter is a smooth and whey-free as you can manage, pack it into a small jar (I got enough to exactly fill an 8-ounce jar with this batch). Pour the reserved whey into a container (I love this milk jug I brought back from Portland a couple of years ago for this sort of thing). Both should be stored in the fridge.

Cultured butter is amazing stirred into polenta, dabbed on warm muffins or slathered on toast. Once you make it, you’ll find yourself inventing reasons to eat it.

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