Herbs in Jars

jars of herbs

Today was opening day for the Headhouse Square Farmers Market. During the season, it is one of the highlights of my week. Sunday mornings, my friend Shay and I meet up there right around opening at 10 am to do our grocery shopping, walking on the same bricks that shoppers strolled 200 years ago. Last year, we made friends with several of the vendors, including Mark the egg man (his hens lay the most beautiful, multi-colored eggs that have vividly orange yolks) and Tom from Culton Organics, who wears a jaunty red kerchief around his neck when the weather is hot. We’re hoping to get to know even more farmers and vendors this year, as it makes the shopping experience even more satisfying.

Once we’ve exhausted our budgets, we get a drink, find a spot of curb and hang out for a bit to chat and people-watch. Unfortunately, today it wasn’t possible to pull up a chunk of curbstone, as Philly was treated to a day-long soaking rain. The drizzle didn’t seem to keep people away from the market though, the space under the Shambles was packed and everyone seemed delighted to be there, rubbing elbows once again with their favorite farmers.

One of the best things about this market is that the farmers put a great deal of energy into making their products look as lovely as possible. The displays include antique crates, bentwood baskets and natural slabs of slates upon which they write names and prices. One set-up that particularly caught my eye was the one you see above, of neatly bundled herbs, tucked into jars. This is something you could do in your own home, to extend the life of your cut herbs. The one addition I’d make would be to drape a plastic bag with a few holes cut out over the herbs. They last an amazingly long time that way, and look quite nice, to boot.

If you want to see more of my pictures from the market today, I’ve added them to my Headhouse set from last year and the year before, which you can find here.

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A Giveaway and Lancaster County Extension Workshops

More Jars

One of the things I was totally unprepared for, when I first started blogging at Slashfood, was the fact that it would turn me into a desirable target for PR people trying to get their products noticed. Within my first month there, I was being contacted on an almost daily basis and by the time I left, I was getting upwards of 7-10 pitches a day. The flow has quieted a great deal since my departure, particularly since I’ve been diligent in pointing those eager PR folks in the direction of Kat, Sara and Alex.

However, occasionally a box or envelope still shows up and recently, a paperback copy of The Compassionate Carnivore landed on my doorstep. It’s a memoir by Catherine Friend, about finding a way back to a more humane and sustainable approach to animal farming and consumption of meat. It’s a good book. I know, since I read a reviewer’s copy of it last spring when it was first published. It has an ethos that goes hand in glove with the food in jars lifestyle I’m trying to live. So I thought I’d have a giveaway. I realize this book might not be quite as popular a giveaway as a jar of homemade jam, but isn’t it just as important to feed your mind as it is to feed your belly? Leave a comment by Sunday at 5 pm to enter. I’ll be in touch if you’re the lucky winner.

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Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about canning and food preservation, but I’ll be the first to admit that I still have much to learn. That’s why I’ve signed up for a couple of advanced food preservation classes this summer through the Lancaster County Extension Service (it’s the closest extension service to Philly). I’m going to be taking their pressure canning class on Thursday, July 16th at 6 pm (I’ll be leaving work a little early for that one) and their high acid canning class on Saturday, August 15th at 10 am. The classes both run two hours and cost $10. If any Philly folks are interested in riding out there with me for either of these classes, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. More information about those classes is after the jump.

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Homemade Hummus

Scott's snack

I was in high school the first time I made hummus. I wasn’t much of a cook back then, relying almost entirely on bagels, boxed turkey sandwich lunches from my school cafeteria and whatever my mom was cooking for dinner to sustain me. However, I fell hard for hummus after tasting the mezze platter at Nicholas Restaurant. I quickly developed an expensive hummus habit, which sent my mother and me in search of a recipe, in the hopes that we could make it more cheaply ourselves.

We quickly discovered, it is possible to make nearly a quart of hummus for nearly bupkis and so I began a ritual of firing up her vintage Vita-Mix (I still long to have one of these of my own. Occasionally, I’ll search eBay for the shiny, stainless steel 3600 models, just like the one I grew up with. I haven’t broken down and purchased one yet though, but I’ve come close) once every couple of weeks to whir a can of garbanzo beans into a garlicky, lemon-y delight. As these things go though, I eventually fell out of the hummus making habit (I think it coincided with the time I went off to college. It becomes far harder to make hummus when you’re working in a dorm room. Not impossible, but harder).

garbanzo beans in processor

Recently, Scott and I have been on a hummus kick and I was once again reminded how expensive it can get when you’re buying your chick pea spread from Trader Joe’s in 8 ounce containers. This time, I got even fancier than I once did, using my pressure cooker to reanimate 2 1/2 cups of dried garbanzo beans. After 35 minutes of pressure, the garbanzo beans were fully cooked and tasted pleasantly firm and nutty, nothing like the slightly mealy beans you get when you just open a can (not that I’m demeaning canned beans. Goodness knows they’ve saved me more than once. It’s just that these are so much better).

I measured out two pints for the freezer and tumbled just over two cups of beans into the bowl of my great-aunt Flora’s Cuisinart (it’s older than me and still going strong). I pulsed the beans with several cloves of garlic, a massive pinch of salt, an oversized dollop of tahini and some lemon juice. After things were broken up, I ran the motor and streamed in about a 1/3 cup of olive oil and the same of water.

Jar 'o hummus

After it was all combined, I stood in the kitchen for a few minutes, dipping my finger into the bowl for tastes and remembering back to high school. Later I handed some to Scott, with a bowl of cucumber slices, for a snack. He declared it tasty, but then pointed out the unblended clove of garlic that landed in his bowl (how does that happen in the midst of all that processing?).  The rest I scraped into a large jar for storage. In the last 24 hours, we’ve already made a considerable dent.

This is one of those recipes that gets better with age, as the ingredients get a chance to hang out and intermingle with one another. I’m planning on making several batches for my wedding (the reception is going to be a potluck), because it can safely hang out for a bit without being refrigerated, it makes the vegetarians happy and it goes down very, very easy. There’s a more specific recipe after the jump.

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Hear me on Hear Philly

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down in a recording booth and talk about one of my favorite things: food blogging. The interview was for an online radio show called Hear Philly. It’s a partnership between KYW 1060 and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (an organization who also happens to be my full-time employer).

If you decide to tune in, you can hear me talking about Fork You (the online cooking show I co-host with my very charming fiance, Scott), the Philadelphia food blogger scene and some of my favorite Philadelphia restaurants. The program loops every hour, so all you need to do to hear me is tune in at approximately twenty minutes after the hour (I think I actually come on at around the :21 mark). The show in which I appear runs through the rest of this week, so don’t wait too long to check it out!

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Pressure Cooker Navy Beans

Pressure cooker

I’ve known for many months now that a pressure cooker had the potential to change my life. Braised brisket in under an hour! Barley in just minutes! I danced around the idea of buying one for most of last fall, surveying friends and acquaintances back in January as to which pressure cookers were the most universally beloved. I diligently read the various reviews on Amazon, hoping to find the best pressure cooker possible. After an exhaustive research process (one might call it compulsive), I settled on a 6 quart Presto cooker, mostly because there wasn’t a clear winner and it was fairly inexpensive (as far as cookware goes at least).

When it arrived, I delightedly unpacked it, ceremoniously rinsed the styrofoam dust off and perched it on a side chair in my dining room. And left it there for the next two and a half months.

Two cups of dried navy beans

Throughout my entire pressure cooker hunt, I was actively suppressing a lifelong fear and mistrust of the entire pressure cooker category. In public, I was excited to try my new toy, while in the privacy of my apartment, I eyed the shiny new cooker with great suspicion. The reason is this…

In 1954, when my mom was seven years old, she spent the afternoon at the movies with her dad and two brothers. When they arrived home, they found my grandmother alone in the house, weeping and tending to a badly burnt face. She had been making pot roast in her pressure cooker and had taken the lid off before the pressure in the pot dropped. Scalding, greasy gravy splashed her face, leaving her dotted with burns that later turned into blisters.

The roast hit the ceiling and left a mark that remained for the entirety of my mom’s childhood. My mother’s younger brother, who was just four at the time, wouldn’t look at my grandmother until all the blisters had healed. Through some miracle, the burns left no visible scars, only invisible ones that prevented the collected Klein/McClellan family from using a pressure cooker. That is, until last Sunday.

Uncooked beans in pressure cooker

Knowing just how much safer pressure cookers are today than in days of past (you physically can’t open mine until the pressure has dropped to safe levels) and wanting to make a batch of chili to eat that evening that utilized some of the dried navy beans I bought the day before, I walked up to my Presto and frog-marched it into the kitchen. I poured in two cups of dried navy beans and five cups of water. Locking the lid into place, I slid the regulator into position and turned on the heat. As soon as the regulator started dancing, I set a timer for 30 minutes and continued to get other chili components prepped.

Finished beans

Half an hour later, when the timer went off, I killed the heat, moved the pot to the sink and ran cold water over it to drop the pressure. When the auto-lock dropped into the safe position, I unlocked the lid and found myself gazing at perfectly cooked navy beans. Success! Dinner was on track and I succeeded in excising two generations of culinary ghosts.

Fridge 4/28/09

I used most of the beans in the chili, but reserved a pint to keep in the fridge for the week, to sprinkle over salads or turn into a quick puree. One batch in and I’m a total pressure cooker convert, already planning to do some garbanzo beans tomorrow night for a batch of homemade hummus (we go through the 8 ounce containers from Trader Joe’s way too fast), which of course, I’ll then store in a jar. When I cook the garbanzos, I also plan on pouring some of them into a couple of wide-mouth pint jars and stashing them in the freezer (leaving plenty of headspace to account for expansion), for those times when even the pressure cooker isn’t quick enough for me.

And, just as I had suspected, my life in the kitchen is forever changed, thankfully for the better.

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Buying Used Jars

Testing Edge

Over the weekend, my friend Shay and I took a little road trip out to Mount Joy, PA, the Lancaster County town where she grew up. We left Philly early, as we had a busy schedule of shopping, lunch at The Tilted Kilt and seeing her parents. Included in our shopping stops were visits to The Country Store (an amazing place, with inexpensive organic flours, grains and spices as well as lots of hard-to-find-in-the-city canning supplies), Weis (they have really good prices on canning jars and liquid pectin) and the Mount Joy Gift and Thrift.

I love visiting thrift stores in less urban areas, because they are almost always an amazing source of cheap canning jars. This latest trip to the Gift and Thrift yielded a bounty of perfectly good, used canning jars, all priced between $.10 and $.35 a piece.

Here’s the thing about buying used canning jars. Sometimes, it’s the best deal ever. However, if you’re not careful, you actually end up spending more than you will on a dozen new jars. Old jars typically will be sold as-is, without rings. A box of new rings and lids runs around $4, so if you spend more than $.50 a jar, adding in the cost of lids and rings brings your dozen ready-to-can jars upwards of $10. In grocery stores, you can typically get a dozen ready-to-use jars for between $7-8 (prices do vary).

The other thing about buying used jars is that you need to take a careful look at them prior to making your purchase. Give them a visual once-over and then run your finger over the rim to make sure there aren’t any chips or imperfections. You won’t be able to get a good seal on a jar if the rim is uneven.

However, there’s also a lot to be said for buying used jars. They are often more unique and charming than the basic jars you get new (check out this fun Bicentennial jar I picked up). It’s a more environmentally sound choice. And your jar dollars go into the coffers of charity shops and individual sellers instead of large corporations.

Go forth and buy jars!

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