Dark Days: Quick Tomato Sauce and Locally Made Pasta

dark days meal

For those of you who’ve been keeping track, you might have noticed that I missed getting a Dark Days post up last week. I’ve taken to waiting until the last minute to cook and record my all-local (or mostly local) meals and I just ran out of time (last Sunday was Scott’s birthday, so we ate food of his choosing and not a bit was local. However, I believe in flexibility when I comes to birthdays).

home canned tomatoes

This week though, I got right back on the Dark Days wagon. I actually made this meal on Wednesday night, and we ate it all week long (truly, it was dinner for both of us on Wednesday and Thursday, and I finished it up on Friday night). It’s one of those dishes that is blessedly easy and can almost always be created from the contents of my pantry and freezer.

locally made whole wheat egg noodles

I’m fairly certain that most of you have your own version of a quick pantry pasta sauce, but here’s how I do mine. Heat up a big skillet and add a fat pat of butter or drizzle of olive oil (I used some local butter in attempt to play by the rules). Roughly chop one large or two small onions (from my Winter Harvest order) and add them to the pan. Let them cook for a few moments. When they’ve gained some color, create a well in the center of the onions and drop in one pound of ground beef (Meadow Run Farms). Use a wooden spatula to chop it up into crumbles. At this point, I also add some minced garlic, salt, pepper and dried oregano.

While the meat cooks, rinse a bundle of kale and chop it up into ribbons. Add it to the pan and stir to combine. If the kale is threatening to overflow the pan, reduce the heat a little and put a lid on it, to help it wilt down.

When the kale has wilted, stir it into the meat and onions. Now add your tomatoes. I start with a quart of home canned romas and sometimes add an additional pint (I love that I canned ‘maters in both pints and quarts last summer, it makes for great flexibility). Stir it all together, reduce the temperature and let it cook together for ten or fifteen minutes.

While the sauce cooks down, bring pasta water to a boil. I used the locally made whole wheat egg noodles the first night we ate this. The next night, Scott requested something slightly less akin to cardboard. I subbed in multi-grain angel hair.

Eat while watching the Olympics.

Comments { 8 }

Marmalade Winner

three-citrus marmalade

Hooray for Erin of Erin Cooks, Yummery and the owner of two of my husband’s favorite internet cats. She is the winner (lucky number #33) of the Three-Citrus Marmalade.

Thanks to all of your for your comments! I’m so delighted to have helped demystify the process of making marmalade for so many of you.

Comments { 1 }

February Can Jam: Pickled Carrots and Daikon

carrots and daikon

I don’t exactly know why I did it, but I waited until the very last minute to complete this February Can Jam challenge. Maybe it was indecision (I did have a hard time deciding what to make, and it didn’t help when other folks started posting all their lovely projects, tempting my attention in many directions). Maybe it was just a series of busy days (although, I’m not sure I can plead busy-ness, since there were multiple snow days this month, that slowed things down and left me with some long, lazy days).

Whatever the reason, I found myself staring down the deadline tonight and needed to make something that would meet the challenge criteria.

prepping the hot pack

I spent awhile skimming through cookbooks, looking to see if I could find a recipe that moved me. I found nothing that matched what I was craving (a slightly sweet, very puckery, mildly spicy garnishing pickle), so I took what I know about pickles and headed for the stove.

Here’s what I know about pickling vegetables. Always use a commercially produced vinegar that has the acidity printed on the label (5% is best). Vinegar can be diluted by half (but no more). Spices can be tweaked and added, depending on your tastebuds. However, the amounts of low-acid vegetables shouldn’t be altered, in order to keep the product safe. If you want to get a bit more product into the jar without compromising your seal, a hot pack (this is the packing method in which you add your vegetable to the brine and let it heat up a bit, instead of packing it raw or briefly blanched and then pouring the brine over top) is the way to go.

completed jars

So here’s what I did. I thinly sliced two daikon radishes and three carrots on a mandolin (I should have used one more carrot, that front jar isn’t as full as I’d like). Setting those aside, I brewed up a brine of white vinegar, water, sugar and a bunch of spices. I sipped the brine from a deep soup spoon three times in the process of making it, trying to find the right balance of sweet, tart and flavor. When I was satisfied with what was in the pot, I dropped in the slivered veg and stirred. Half a minute on the heat and then off. Using my trusty 1-cup measure, I scooped pickles and filled jars.

They taste pretty good now, but they’re fresh, young. Pickles such as these need a little time to mellow, so that the vinegar can smooth out and the sugar can lose its treacly edge. I’m looking forward to trying them again in a few weeks.

Continue Reading →

Comments { 47 }

Three-Citrus Marmalade Recipe

4 1/2 pounds of fruit

One of the very first recipes I posted to this blog was one for Orange-Ginger Marmalade. I’m having a bit of a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that I’ve nearly cooked my way through an entire year of canning since then and that it’s time for marmalade, once again.

I’ve learned a great deal about preserves since then, and I think that this approach to marmalade is easier and more sensible that the one I originally took. This one used the outer layer of citrus zest, but discards the inner pith, making for easier chopping and a more tender product. I’m completely delighted with the way that this batch turned out, and last night, when I served it at a party along side a long of goat cheese, I felt so proud that it was something I had made in my own little kitchen.

de-zested citrus

To begin, weigh your fruit. Conventional fruit is fairly uniform in size these days, but there can still be a great deal of variety in weight, depending on storing conditions and length of time off the tree. I used 2 pink grapefruit, 3 lemons and four navel oranges and had approximately 4 and 1/2 pounds of fruit. Feel free to add or subtract a lemon or orange to achieve the right weight. Scrub your citrus well, so that you can feel good about including all that lovely, fragrant zest in your preserve.

serrated peeler

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from your citrus. I tried every peeler I own (at least five) and found that the serrated peeler you see above did the best job. Please take care when using one of these tools though, as those little teeth are incredibly sharp. At one point, I slipped and ended up with a series of punctures in the tip of my pinky finger. Not pleasant when working with acidic citrus.

chopping zest

Once your citrus has been stripped, chop the zest into fine ribbons. I found that the best way to do this was to stack four or five strips of zest and then mince them (mind your fingers!) into bits about 1/4 of an inch wide. I found that my 4 1/2 pounds of fruit yielded approximately 2 1/2 cups of zest bits.

zest in motion

Fill a medium-sized pot with 6 cups of cold water, add your zest ribbons and bring to a boil. Simmer the zest for half an hour, until it’s tender and uniform in color. While it boils…

chop, chop

Use a sharp paring knife to break your naked fruit down. Take a grapefruit and cut the north and south poles off (to give yourself stable bases). Then, working top to bottom, cut the white pith off the fruit (you want to expose the interior surface of the fruit). When all the white pith is removed, use the knife to separate the fruit from the membrane of the fruit (this technique is called supreming and there’s a helpful tutorial over on Coconut & Lime, if my written instructions aren’t doing it for you). Collect the naked segments in a large measuring cup and reserve the membranes and seeds.

bundle of seeds, pith and membranes

When all the fruit has been broken down, gather up the reserved seeds and membranes in a piece of cheesecloth. Bundle it up well and tie off the top, so that none of the seeds can escape. One does this because the seeds, membrane and pith contain a great deal of pectin. You will boil this bundle with the fruit while you make the marmalade, so that you extract the maximum amount of pectin from your fruit.

draining the zest bits

At this point, the zest should be done boiling. Drain the cooked zest, reserving the boiling water. This liquid has been infused with a great deal of citrus flavor and so some of it will be used in the marmalade.

boil, boil

Finally, it’s time to make marmalade! In a large, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot (a stainless steel or enameled dutch oven is your best bet there), combine the zest ribbons, the citrus segments (approximately 4+ cups), 4 cups of the zest cooking liquid, 6 cups of sugar and the cheesecloth bundle.

the magic temperature

Bring the pot to a boil. It’s a good idea to use a big pot for this, so that you have plenty of room for the marmalade to bubble. Pair that large pot with a instant read thermometer with a temperature alarm, and you don’t have to watch it the entire time. Set the thermometer to 220 degrees (that’s the point at which the marmalade will achieve set), place the thermometer probe in the pot (balancing it so that you keep the cord away from the burner) and feel okay turning your back to do some dishes (return to it every 4-5 minutes to stir). This will need to boil for 30-40 minutes, in order to reach and sustain 220 degrees.

While it cooks, you can also prepare your canning pot, jars (for this recipe, they need to be sterilized, as this one is only processed for five minutes. I find that the easiest way to do this is to put them in the canning pot when you’re first filling it and bring them up to a boil along with the water), lids (simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat to soften the sealing medium) and rings.

finished marmalade, waiting to be poured into jars

Once the marmalade has reached 220 degrees and has stayed there for at least a minute, check the potential set by putting a small dab of the hot marmalade into the middle of a cold plate. Let it sit for a moment and then nudge it with your finger. If the surface wrinkles and seems firm, it is ready. If it is still quite runny, boil it for several additional minutes.

Once the text yields a good result, turn the heat off and remove the pot from the burner. Gently stir the marmalade for about a minute off the heat. I’ve learned over the years that this helps the zest distribute itself evenly throughout your preserve (I hate it when the solids clump towards the top of the jar, and this helps prevent that from happening).

filling jars

Fill your jars (this recipe makes approximately 3 1/2 pints), leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. When they’re all filled, wipe the rims to remove any sticky residue, apply the lids and screw on the rims. Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot (don’t forget to put a rack in the pot). Process in a boiling water canner for five minutes (starting the time when the pot returns to a boil). When the five minutes are up, remove the jars from the pot and let them rest on a towel-lined counter top until the jars are completely cool.

three-citrus marmalade

Here’s my serving suggestion: Spread spoonfuls on freshly baked scones, drink black tea with milk and sugar, and pretend you’re in Gosford Park.

And, because I’m so proud of this lovely, fragrant, gently-bitter marmalade, I have a jar to give away. I’ve set that little four-ounce jar you see up there on the right aside for one of you lovely readers. Leave a comment by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, February 18th, 2010 to enter.

A recipe, in a more conventional format, can be found after the jump.

Continue Reading →

Comments { 196 }

Dark Days: Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges

sweet potato wedges

Kids, the larder was really bare of fresh, local foods this week. Couple my trip out of town last weekend with the fact that I missed the ordering deadline for my bi-weekly Winter Harvest delivery and that Philly got more than two feet of snow yesterday (canceling my neighborhood farmers’ market), I haven’t really grocery-shopped in more than two weeks. The pickings are slim around here.

So, this afternoon, I quartered two pounds of sweet potato fingerlings I had in the fridge, tossed them with some olive oil and kosher salt and roasted them at 425 degrees until they were browned, tender and crispy around the edges. I ate them with some scrambled eggs (from happy, local chickens) and called it good.

It was a useful reminder that while shopping locally doesn’t have to be hard, it does take some pre-planning. Normally, I have good systems in place to make it easy to keep my fridge stocked and full of options. But when one part of that system fails, I immediately fall back to shopping at Trader Joe’s, Di Bruno Bros. (they pride themselves on all their high-end, imported stuff. Tasty, but decidedly not local) and Sue’s Produce.

The forecast is calling for more snow, so my market might not happen again next weekend and the next Winter Harvest delivery is still another week away. Thankfully, the Fair Food Farmstand is still operating, so I’m going to run over there during my lunch hour on Tuesday and restock. And soon, I’ll have my system running again, funneling lots of good, local food from the farms, right to my kitchen.

Comments { 20 }

Maple-Banana Bread

banana-maple bread

We got 28.5 inches of snow here in Philadelphia over the last 24 hours. I bought oranges, lemons and grapefruit yesterday before the storm hit, thinking that I might take advantage of the snow day and make a batch of mixed citrus marmalade.

Instead, I embraced the slowness of the snow and rambled through the day. I walked over to my cousins’ house and spent a couple of hours helping celebrate Derek’s third birthday. Back at home, I did some dishes and organized canning jars (I invest more time in this particular endeavor than I care to admit). For dinner, I quickly cooked some broccoli and reheated the rest of the chicken pot pie I made on Thursday night. And I transformed some seriously blackened bananas into Maple-Banana Bread.

I’d been watching these bananas get progressively blacker and less appealing for most of the week. Each time I made dinner, I’d move them from one counter top and then back again, always mentally promising them that I’d use them before they were beyond salvation. Today, with the snow and general coziness, baking just felt like the obvious choice.

I used to be devoted to the banana bread recipe in the late sixties edition of The Joy of Cooking (when left to its own devices, my mother’s copy opens right to that recipe). However, over the years I’ve tweaked it so thoroughly, that it’s hardly related to the original. This version lives on an index card in my kitchen, tucked between the radio and my kitchen scale. Made with whole wheat pastry flour, wheat germ and maple syrup, it manages to be tender and not too sweet (perfect with a dab of apple or pear butter!).

So gather your aging bananas and bake up a batch this weekend!

Continue Reading →

Comments { 8 }