Dark Days: Kale, Ham and Potatoes

Dark Days Dinner

We’ve come to the end of the Dark Days Challenge. Along with participants all across the country, I’ve been cooking one intentionally local meal every week since November. I’ve eaten lots of my own home-canned goods, along with brussels sprouts, potatoes, Lancaster County meats and dairy. As a result of shopping with the challenge in mind each week, my everyday eating has been far more local than it ever has before.

Last night’s meal was basic but good. A ham steak from Meadow Run Farms, cubed and browned. Some Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market kale, wilted with a bit of garlic. And some little red potatoes, lubed with a spoonful of bacon fat and roasted in a cast iron skillet (if you don’t roast in cast iron, give it a shot. The spots where the food comes in contact with the hot pan get brown and crisp).

I have a confession to make about the potatoes, though. The exact ones you see on the plate there, they aren’t local. I bought them at Wegman’s on Sunday afternoon. You see, I thought I had potatoes still in the fridge, so I didn’t buy anymore at the farmers’ market on Saturday morning, when I bought my kale and unpictured carrots. They were right there, but I’ve been trying not to overbuy food, and I virtuously skipped them, falsely remembering that I still had a few leftover from the buying club.

However, since the potatoes could have been local, I’m counting this as my final Dark Days meal. I’ve already given myself so many exceptions, what’s one more?

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April Can Jam: Herbs!

Wedding favors

T.S. Elliot wrote, “April is the cruellest month.” I believe him to be correct, particularly when it comes to seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s the month in which we (particularly the more northerly ones of us) plant and hope, dreaming of asparagus, strawberries, peaches and corn, but without any measurable (or at least, edible) yield.

And so, as the Tigress and I considered our April Can Jam options, we settled on herbs as the month’s ingredient. They’re widely available even in this time of seasonal anticipation, work in both sweet and savory applications and will be particularly terrific for those of you in warmer climates who already have some lovely fruits and spring vegetables to play with.

Do remember that whatever you make has to be suitable for water bath processing. This means no infused oils or pestos, as they can’t be processed and have a fairly limited refrigerator life.

April posts must go live between Sunday, April 18th and midnight on Friday, April 23rd.

I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

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Charoses Inspired Jam for Passover

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A couple of weeks ago, I got the most inspired idea from a reader. Knowing that Passover is around the corner, she wondered whether it would be possible to make a jam based on charoses (also spelled charoset), one of the traditional components in the Seder meal. It’s a dish traditionally made from chopped apples, nuts, honey, cinnamon and wine, and it on the table to represent the mortar that Jews used when laying brick, during their days of slavery in Egypt.

eight cups chopped apple

Though my mother is Jewish, we didn’t observe many of the holidays when I was growing up. In fact, the bulk of my experience with the ceremony of the Seder came from gatherings in our Unitarian Universalist church parish room and my repeated readings of the All-Of-A-Kind Family books.

1 1/2 cups grape juice

However, since moving to Philadelphia in 2002, I’ve attending at least one family Seder every year, and have come to really appreciate the yearly ritual, and the ways in which it celebrates the struggle for freedom.

toasted and chopped almonds

As far as food and Jewish holidays go, Passover is somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of delicious. You’re instructed to surrender leavened items for the eight-day period. But even in with the restrictions, one can find moments of culinary joy. Personally, I find a lightly buttered and salted piece of matzo to be pure bliss. Add a scoop of charoses and a dollop of horseradish (another traditional Seder plate player) and I’m a happy girl.

juicing a lemon

In thinking this particular batch of jam out, I knew it wouldn’t be an exact replica of what is essentially an uncooked apple-walnut salad. But I did want to create something that would be somehow similar and familiar. Apples were a given, as was honey and cinnamon. I used grape juice in place of the wine and added a bit of lemon juice to balance things out. And I chose to use almonds in place of the more traditional walnuts, thinking that they would retain their crunch better.

a cup of honey

Initially, I was uncertain about the addition of the nuts in the jam, as I wasn’t sure how they would effect the pH level of the jam and thus its safety. However, after doing some research, I eventually came across this recipe for Apricot-Orange Conserve that used similar proportions to what I was planning. If the National Center for Home Food Preservation could comfortably include some nuts in a batch of jam, I knew I could too.

stirring in almonds

I am really pleased with my initial attempt at this recipe. It’s thick, spreadable and not too sweet. Some might call it more of a chutney than a jam, because of the texture that the chopped nuts lend. However, since it doesn’t include a savory component, I’m going to keep calling it a jam (unless someone has a better name for it). Making this had also had me thinking about other ways that Seder elements could be transformed into preserves (Apple Horseradish Jelly, perhaps?).

finished jam

I’m thinking that this jam might make for a nice gift if you’re having friends over for a Passover Seder and want to send them home with something delicious and thematic. Passover starts on Monday, March 29th this year, so you’ve got just under a week to whip up a batch!

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Dark Days: Shepherd’s Pie

cast iron shepherd's pie

Scott and I spent large hunks of today outside, rejoicing in the 70 degree day and fragrant springtime air. Around noon, our friends Thad and Angie (just days away from their first encounter with parenthood) picked us up and we headed down to the Italian Market for lunch at Paesano’s and an Italian Market wander. Later in the afternoon, the two of us struck out again, to stroll through along the Schuylkill River and zigzag our way back home through the lovely neighborhoods around our apartment.

And what did I make for dinner when we returned from the warmth and sunshine? Well, a hearty shepherd’s pie! I realize that it seems deeply counter-intuitive to tuck into something so deeply winter-y after such a glorious day, but the sad fact is that we’ve only had this wonderful weather for about five days (and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow), so the local farmers markets haven’t had a chance to catch up with the newly temperate climate. Sadly, it’s going to take a few more weeks of balmy days before those springtime items begin to appear in our markets.

Nonetheless, the shepherd’s pie was delicious. I sauteed together a chopped storage onion (Winter Harvest), diced carrots and parsnips, kale and cabbage (all farmers market). I admit to deglazing with non-local wine. After it had cooked down, I added a pound of grass-fed beef (Meadow Run Farms), a couple of teaspoons of flour and a bit of water, to help create a gravy.

While that was all cooking, I peeled and boiled the last of a bag of yukon gold potatoes (Winter Harvest) and mashed them with a bit of milk, butter (Winter Harvest), salt and pepper.

I had cooked the meat/veg combo in an oven-safe cast iron skillet, so when it was all cooked, the potatoes were smoothed over top and broiled until golden brown. Delicious, full of vegetables and enough for at least three more dinnertime servings. That’s my kind of cooking!

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Winner of the Non-Hybrid Seeds

Wow. Thank you all for all the gardening memories you shared. I loved how often the themes of discovery, sharing, multi-generational cooperation and delicious, fresh food came up as you all recounted your stories. I really wish that I had seeds for each and every one of you (and oh, how I wish I could see all the gardens you’ll be growing this summer).

But, as is the way with these giveaways, many will enter but only one will win. And today, our winner (thanks to random.org and their randomizer is the blogger behind Jimmy Cracked Corn (I’ll be in touch to get your contact info!). For all of you who didn’t win, but are still intrigued by these seeds, you can get them for $39.99 at Hometown Seeds.

Happy gardening!

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Can Jam: Sweet and Sour Pickled Red Onions

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Once again, I’ve waited until the last possible moment to post my Tigress Can Jam recipe. Motivated by deadlines? Yes, that would be me.

Despite my lack of action, I actually have been thinking about what to make for weeks. I initially wanted to do a red onion and rhubarb chutney. I even had a few stalks of ruby red forced rhubarb (purchased for my April Grid contribution). However, I left it waiting a few days too long and the rhubarb puddled in the bottom of the crisper. I took it as a sign that fate wanted me to do a solo red onion condiment.

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Last weekend, I bought several hefty red onions and have been gazing at them for the last seven days waiting to be moved. Wednesday (or thereabouts), I decided that I wanted to make something akin to a bread and butter pickle (I’m a sucker for the combination of sweet and puckery). Tonight I settled down on the floor in front of the stretch of bookshelves that hold the canning volumes, in order to cobble a recipe together.

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I stole inspiration from Linda Ziedrich’s favorite bread and butter pickle recipe (did you see that Linda left a comment on Rurally Screwed recently? I am star struck!), while using the proportions and cooking guidelines for pickled onions from So Easy to Preserve. What I got was a gently hued, softly cooked, slightly sweet pickle that I cannot wait to heap on a burger or suck down with a mild, soft cheese.

Updated June 29, 2010: These pickles are amazing on salads, particularly one built on a base of spicy arugula. Just thought you should know.

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