Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Can Can

Calm yourself, Toulouse. Not that can-can.

Canning is fun.

Well..."fun" you say? Maybe not "fun" like...miniature golf or dancing the tango after several mojitos fun. Still, it's something that I like to do when I have the time (and a surplus of something I want to store for a while). Aside from the obvious benefit of having food 'put up' to eat over the cold winter, it gives you some insight into the way things worked kitchen-wise in the past. You get to live a little history here. Plus it's like a cool science experiment to boot!

Here's how it works in a nutshell: food and liquids (often hot) are placed into sterilized canning jars, fitted with two-piece lids, then placed in a hot water bath for 10-20 minutes. During that time, a vacuum is created where the hot water forces all the remaining air in the jar out. Once the jars are removed from the water bath and begin to cool, a vacuum seal is established between the jar and the lid. After they've completely cooled, you can remove the outer lid ring and feel the strong seal between the jar and the lid proper. Properly canned foods can last up to a year, kept in a cool, dark location.

Are there some inherent dangers to home-canning? Yes. Non-sterile jars and trapped air-bubbles within the food can introduce bacteria that may cause spoilage or, worse, botulism. You want to be careful to clean and boil your jars before filling, swipe around the inside of the jar with a knife to help remove any air pockets and make sure your seals are good and strong. Also be on the lookout for your product no longer looking 'right' after it's been stored for a while: mysterious growths (hey, look, sea monkeys!!), cloudiness, loss of seal or ESPECIALLY bulging out of the lid. Don't risk trying that stuff; chuck it. I don't want to scare you off; I've been canning for years now and have never had any issues.

There are so many foods you can preserve by canning. Jams and jellies, pickled vegetables of all kinds, simple packed fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and corn. Where do you start? Usually you want to start canning things WHILE they're in season (read: fresh, better tasting and obtainable at affordable prices). Those end of the season aforementioned corn and tomatoes are going to bring a little summer to you when you eat them in February. When strawberry's hit in the spring, make yourself (and your friends!) some strawberry preserves.

I've been getting in a holy ton of apples from the CSA, so...Apple Butter For Everyone!! Also pickled the green beans from the CSA in vinegar with some dill and garlic, and did my semi-regular pantry stock up of what Miss Kate likes to call "the Crack." It's just a simple pomodoro sauce I adapted from one of Lydia Bastianich's books, but she's quite fond of it so I try to keep us in a steady supply. Whatever you make - and whenever you try it - it's always appreciated.

What do you need to start canning?

Time, first of all. Do it when you're hanging around the house for lazy, rainy day or weekend. It's not hard work, but it can be time consuming between the preparing of what you'll be canning and the actual process itself.

The Blue Book of Preserving published by Ball, the manufacturer of all the supplies you need, is a great intro/starter/bible for canning.

A large pot for the boiling water bath. Big enough to hold water and as many (filled) jars as possible. So...BIG.

Canning jars and lids - again, made by Ball. You can find them at some grocery stores. I've found them a lot in local hardware stores. (Mom & Pop type businesses, not the mega Home Depot places...) $8-10 will get you a box of 12 jars and lids. The jars can be cleaned and used over and over again. Lids are only one-shot deals, though, so buy some extra lids if you become a regular canner.

Extras? A funnel for filling the jars without getting food or liquid on the lid is pretty essential. I have a handy (not at all necessary) slotted thingy for dipping the lids into the boiling water to sterilize. A (pretty close to essential) long set of (Ball designed, I'm sure) canning tongs for placing and removing the jars into the hot water. And a magnetic 'wand' for picking lids out of the hot water.

I'm sincerely not trying to shill for Ball, but I did just notice on their website they sell a whole Canning Basics Kit that looks like it has ALL of the above mentioned stuff. Take a look.

While we're on the subject of preserving, after a conversation a few weeks back with local playwright and all around lovely guy, Joe Byers, I realized I'd never tried drying my own tomatoes. (Joe just had.) It's really, really easy to make your own 'sun-dried' tomatoes - but they're really oven-dried. Hey...tomatoes dried under the Tuscan sun will most likely kick the tiny tomato butts of these, but still...if you have tomatoes piling up at the end of the summer, here's another easy way to keep enjoying them through the winter.

Wash the tomatoes and dry them off. Slice them in half. (There...wasn't that HARD?!) Place a rack over a cookie sheet and spread the tomatoes, cut side up over the rack. Sprinkle them with some Kosher salt. Place the pan in a 200 degree oven. (I used my convection oven at 170 degrees.) Leave them in there for about ten hours, then start checking every half hour or so to pull out the ones that are dry (but not hard). Store them in a Ziploc or other air-tight container. Or, for really nice rich sun-dried toms, put them in a sterile jar and cover them with olive oil and store them in your refrigerator.

early on in the process...

...some, oh, ten or eleven hours later

There are different ways to preserve foods. Give canning or dehydrating a try. Heck...get all pioneer on us and make yourself some jerky. If you like to cook but only find time to do it every once and a while, why not make a giant BATCH of your 'famous' soup or sauce and can a bunch of it to enjoy until the NEXT time you get around to some extended kitchen time. Give it a try, if you're curious, and let me know how things turn out.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Soup Night: Variations on the Kale Theme

Jeffrey, I do and I do and I do for you...

Took a shot at adapting Miss Deana's Kale Soup recipe for the vegetarian crowd last night and we were quite happy with the results. I tried a frequent 'stand in' for meat in vegetarian cooking by dicing up a portabello mushroom and sauteeing it over high heat to get good color and depth of flavor. Also, we were out of celery seed, so I went with fennel seed which really gave it some of the flavor missing from that banned substance: Italian sausage. Substituted red kidney beans for the cannellini because that's what we had in, but while the difference in taste is negligible, I think I'd prefer the 'look' of the cannellini (white kidney beans).

Again...what is soup night without bread? I remembered a bread recipe a director I worked with introduced me to a while back, which I hadn't tried in a while. It is about the fastest way to make a yeast bread I've come across and yields really great results if you are in need of something to dip in your soup or toast up some morning. Sure, it's not some artisinal country loaf from a starter with several rises - so you won't get that developed flavor and crust, but it's BREAD and your house smells like WARM BREAD and it's still really good.

Last night was the first time I made this bread using bread flour instead of all-purpose. Both work, but the bread flour - with its higher gluten content - provides better structure and results in a better 'crumb'. If you've got a KitchenAid stand mixer (best Christmas present ever!!!), this bread can't be easier. I think I got home around 6:30pm last night and the bread was ready to go on the table at 8:30pm.

B's Kale and White Bean Soup

1 portabello mushroom, gills scraped out, 1/4" dice
1 T. butter
1 t. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 C. carrots, 1/4" dice
1 C. parsnips, 1/4" dice
1 large russet potato, 1/2" dice (about 1 C. or so)
1 t. fennel seed
1 t. dried rosemary
1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes
1/2 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 pound fresh kale, ribs removed and chopped
1 can (14oz) vegetable stock
3 C. water
3 T. dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat butter and olive oil in Dutch oven over high heat, add mushroom and saute until they release their liquid and begin to caramelize/brown. Reduce heat to medium and add onions, carrots and parsnips. Saute until onions are soft and translucent.

2. Add garlic, fennel seed and rosemary and cook another minute until fragrant. Add potato, tomatoes, stock and water to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. (You will need probably a good tablespoon of salt here.) Bring to a boil.

3. Add the chopped kale into the pot, stirring until wilted. Reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Serve topped with grated Parmesan and some crusty bread.

Quick White Bread

2 C. bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
1 envelope (or 1 scant tablespoon) active dry yeast
1 C. warm water

1. Mix dry ingredients in bowl of standmixer fitted with dough hook. With mixer running, begin adding the warm water until a consistent dough forms. (This will vary, based on the weather, the flour, etc...last night, for instance, 3/4 C. did the trick.) Continue 'kneading' the dough with the mixer on medium speed for 4-5 minutes.

2. Scrape the ball of dough into a bowl coated with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 15 minutes or more. The longer the better. Last night I let it rise for 30-45 minutes.

3. Punch down the dough and scrape onto floured counter or board and form a round loaf (boule). Place the loaf on a baking tray or pizza pan coated with cooking spray and place it into a cold oven. Put a small oven safe bowl of water on a lower rack in the oven and turn the oven to 400 degrees. Bake until done - the loaf will give a hollow sound when rapped on the bottom - about 1 hour.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Just Kaled To Say I Love You

We take requests!

Chronicles reader Jeff responded to our last post looking for a soup recipe using kale. Coincidentally, Kitchen Chronicles friend and my personal CSA Guru Deana Novembrino had recently sent me her recipe for kale soup to help me make use of that Red Russian kale we got in. Give it a try Jeff and let us know. I'm going to try a vegetarian-ized version at home for Miss Kate, but VERY happy to see the double-shot of bacon AND sausage/chourico in Deana's recipe. B loves his pork products.

D's Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup

3 C. cubed potatoes
1 T. olive oil
2 C. sliced chourico or Italian sausage
1 C. finely chopped bacon
1 medium sized onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups carrots, 1/4" dice
1 T. celery seed
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 pounds fresh kale, ribs removed and chopped
(if using a tender kale such as red russian, you may leave the ribs in
6-8 cups chicken stock
3 T. dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil potatoes in about 4 cups water until softened, about 10 minutes. Set aside and reserve cooking water.

2. While potatoes are cooking, add olive oil to large stock pot and brown bacon and sausage. Once browned remove sausage and bacon.

3. In same stock pot sautee onions, garlic and carrots in remaining bacon fat. Add in celery seed and season with salt and pepper.

4. Once softened, add in tomatoes, cannellini beans, and kale. Cook until kale is cooked down. Add in potatoes and their cooking water and stock to cover ingredients and bring to a boil. Once boiling add sherry, cover and reduce to simmer for 45-60 minutes, Stirring occasionally.
Serve topped with grated parmesan and accompany with crusty bread.

Greens, beans, Get your peasant on!

Monday, October 13, 2008

More Tales of the CSA

Well, the CSA is winding down. Here's what we got in the last couple weeks.

Week 8

1 bunch turnips
1 bunch carrots
1 bunch mizuna
1 head cauliflower
2 sugar pumpkins
10 green peppers
6 pounds apples
1 bunch parsley
4 aneheim peppers
4 cubanelle peppers
4 baby eggplant
Wound up braising the turnips and their greens with some pinto beans and serving them over some soft parmesan polenta. That was a big hit with Miss Kate. OK...and I really liked seeing the cauliflower come in. It's especially tasty in this dish:

Cauliflower with Pasta in Spicy Cream Sauce

3 C. crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 C. heavy cream
1/2 C. shredded Fontina cheese
1/2 C. grated Parmesan cheese
1 medium head cauliflower, chopped
1 lb. shells
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped fine
1/4 t. dried crushed red peppers
salt & pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients except for cauliflower and pasta in a large bowl. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, add pasta and cauliflower and cook for 6 minutes. Drain pasta and cauliflower, add to bowl and mix. Pour into a casserole coated with cooking spray. Bake in 400 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes until bubbly. Brown under broiler, if desired.

The recipe is very adaptable. This time out, as I had some pumpkin in from the CSA, I diced up some of that and tossed it in with the pasta and cauliflower - made a nice autumnal addition. Experiment with what you have in, different pasta shapes and cheeses.

Week 9

1 bunch beets
2 bunches turnips
1 bunch fennel
2 pints tomatillos
1 bunch red russian kale
24 (about 8 pounds) apples
1 bunch mustard greens
1 pound SHELL beans
1 bunch scallions

Enjoyed this note from our CSA farmer:

"I put the SHELL beans in capitals because you must remove them from the SHELL before you eat them. It just seems that no matter how many times I tell people that they are SHELL beans someone will complain that they where to tough, because they ate the SHELL."
So...there you go. Shell those suckers. One pound doesn't yield a lot of beans. After SHELLing them, I cooked them in some boiling water until tender, then tossed them with some extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt; served them at room temperature as starter.

Lots and lots of greens from the farm. I like greens. Kate likes greens. I don't think greens jump into peoples' minds as a 'popular' food item at home, though.

Who's to blame? Spinach was probably already on the outs when Elzie Segar debuted his Popeye character in 1929 - popping open a can of spinach for instant strength. Was Segar getting a kickback from the nation's spinach growers? As a kid, watching Popeye squeeze that can of green goop into his mouth and kicking Bluto around, I was not impressed enough to run to my mother and beg her to load my plate up with spinach - or any other questionably green thing that came from a can. (And in our house, most everything came from a can.) Greens, a term we'd yet to learn, and spinach in particular were things we HAD to eat because...gulp...they were supposed to be good for us.

Sometime in the 80's, while sporting a heavy wool beret and slinging 'product' to tourists over the counter at Au Bon Pain, I decided to give 'one a dem dere spinach 'n cheese crescents!' a try.


I've been a spinach eater ever since - with or without the croissant. And, it's a slippery slope from there to more addictive drugs...chard, collards, kale, mustard greens. I confess, sometimes I still eat my greens and the dish can feel a little TOO good for me. There just are some dishes that are a little too honest, perhaps a little too obvious in their health benefits and earthy-crunchy roots. For me, these dishes make me nostalgic for the brief time I was at UMass Amherst volunteering with my girlfriend in the Earthfoods kitchen. A collaborative making lots of vegan and vegetarian offerings for every latter-day hippie on campus. Oh, the brown rice and tahini dressing consumed...

In an effort to maximize the CSA presence and with a nod to Earthfoods (and a reaction, perhaps, to the earlier pasta/cream sauce decadence), I came up with this dish:

Pumpkin & Mustard Greens in Peanut Sauce

2 T. peanut butter
1 T. rice-wine vinegar

1 T. soy sauce
1 t. chili garlic sauce or Sambal Oelek
4 T. water, preferably warm or hot
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-3 C. diced sugar pumpkin
1 C. quartered tomatillos (about 4-6 small ones)
1 cup vegetable broth or water
8 cups firmly packed, coarsely chopped mustard greens (1-pound bunch)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, chile garlic sauce and water.

2. Heat oil in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven until hot, then garlic and saute until fragrant (30-60 seconds). Add the pumpkin to the pan along with the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 4 minutes, then add tomatillos, cover and continue to simmer another 4-5 minutes.

3. Add the greens to the pan and cover again. Simmer until tender - another 5 minutes. (If pan is getting too dry, you may want to add a little more water or vegetable broth.)

4. Stir in the peanut sauce and cook uncovered for a minute or two. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over rice. Garnish with chopped parsley, cilantro or peanuts.

I still have a ways to go before next week's pickup. Hope to use the holy ton of apples we have in to make some apple butter. And, will hopefully have some more canning time (this is the season for it!) to deal with those beets (before Miss Kate 'disappears' them...) and the surplus green peppers.

Happy Columbus Day Weekend. I hope you're all getting out there picking apples. Send me a pie. Maybe some apple crisp?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Comfort Food Season Opens

A while back, preparing a class I'm planning to teach, I quizzed some friends to list their favorite comfort foods. I was not surprised to find a few common threads woven through the tapestry of eats that make us as individuals feel like we're home from school, lying on the couch in feetie jammies watching Gilligan's Island reruns while Mom brings us a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Macaroni and cheese, of course - being the King Primo Deus Daddy of all comfort foods, made every single list.

One slipped by me though. A personal fave that makes a regular appearance in our house once the weather turns cold. Kate came home the other night and asked if we had any plans for dinner. (This is code-speak for 'what are you making for dinner?' as she knows I tend to start thinking about dinner around the time I wake up each morning.) I ran a few options by her and she mentioned how the autumn chill in the air made her think it might be a 'cabbage bake night.'

Perfect! And HOW had I forgotten about Cabbage Bake after months of grilling and CSA veggies and whatnot?? Well...Cabbage Bake is...not romantic, in name or appearance. It is a humble, homestyle casserole that is a thing of beauty in just HOW plain it is. Remember the compliment Harrison Ford received from an elder in Witness?

"You look plain, John Book."

Cabbage Bake isn't here for flaunting to your dinner guests. It is here to warm your house and your insides and throw a big ass wintery hug on you when the weather gets cold. Easy? Yes. Cheap? You betcha! (oof, Palin flashback) Tasty? Mm-hm! In fact, four out of five of the cabbage-phobic we tested have opened their arms wide to the Bake.

I don't know the actual source of the recipe. I can only trace it back as far as Trisha Shaw passing it on to her lovely sister Kathryn who taught it to me; so I can only give credit to the much beloved Horgan Clan, truly my First Family of Culinary Consciousness.

Here you go. Try it before you judge.

Cabbage Bake

1 medium head cabbage, quartered, cored and sliced thinly
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can of Campbell's Tomato Soup (that's right!)

1/2 that can of water and about a 1/4 C. of red wine
1 C. white rice
1 lb. very lean ground beef (or Morningstar Veggie Crumbles for my veggie friends)
1 can stewed tomatoes
to taste: salt, pepper, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce

Parmesan cheese

Slice the cabbage and put it in the bottom of an olive oiled Dutch oven.

Saute the onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil until soft and add the ground beef and brown. (If you're going veg, add the crumbles at the end.) Add in the rice and continue to saute for a minute or two, then add the rest of the ingredients - minus the parm. Taste it and make sure it's seasoned enough for the sauce AND the rice and cabbage you'll be cooking - so...highly. Pour the sauce over the cabbage and spread out, then top the whole thing with some Parmesan cheese. Cover the Dutch oven and bake in a 350 oven for an hour to an hour and a half.

The cabbage bakes down and a lot of the liquid it releases goes to cooking that rice, leaving you with a wonderfully flavorful one-dish meal. Kind of like stuffed cabbage minus all the work of stuffing. It's great as a leftover; in fact, I've been known to consume such for breakfast the next day. Sue me.

Give it a try some chilly autumn weekend night and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Catching Up with the CSA

Last few weeks have been a blur, my friends. And consequently, so has the blogging and the food-ing. Just to catch you up on the CSA haul, though...

CSA - Week 5

1 bunch mizuna
1 bunch arugula
1 bunch carrots
1 bag lettuce
4 bell peppers
2 cubanell peppers
2 st. nick peppers
2 aneheim peppers
1 pint tomatillos
1 bunch parsley
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 pounds tomatoes

CSA - Week 6

1 bunch arugula
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch mustard greens
2 pounds green beans
6 peppers
4 eggplant
4 pounds tomatoes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 bunch scallion
1 bag baby lettuce
1 bunch carrots

Week 7

1 bunch beets
1 carrot
2 bunches scallions
1 bunch tatsoi
10 aneheim peppers
2 pints tomatillos
2 pounds green tomatoes
1 pound green beans
1 bunch turnip greens
4 bell peppers

There have been a slew of greens (good and good for you!), a, really, a LOT of peppers. And, more pounds of green beans than I think this household has ever taken in in one calendar year...let alone a month. Someone have a good recipe for the ubiquitous Green Bean Casserole?

Cooking time was at a premium lately, but I really tried not to waste anything. Greens were often braised or boiled, drained and then sauteed with garlic, other seasonings and beans for a quick vegetarian entree.

We enjoyed - end of the summer and all - some nice grilled vegetable salads tossed with the fabulous baby lettuces we were getting in from the farm. With this one, I pan seared some tilapia and served it all with some tomatillo quesadillas.

Miss Kate really liked a corn and carrot soup I came up with one night. Just sauteed some aromatics - onion, garlic, and celery, the carrots - added some vegetable stock, corn kernels I had removed from the cobs and frozen earlier and seasoning, then simmered until tender and pureed it all. No bread in the house...and you can't have soup without bread...didn't want to go out, so I made a loaf of parmesan bread and served it with another salad of those Parker Farm lettuces. (Pictured at the top.)

I had a lot of tomatoes we couldn't get through in time, so I used them in a marinara type sauce by sauteing aromatics, adding in the chopped up tomatoes and cooking until very soft, then running it all through a food mill back into a pot. Threw in a sprig or two of fresh basil and let that reduce over low-ish heat until it had a nice consistency. Used the sauce over pasta with meatballs - or Nate's Meatless Meatballs ('fauxballs' in our house), and in my favorite eggplant dish - Baked Eggplant in Mushroom Tomato Sauce - from the good folks at Cooking Light. It's a sort of eggplant parmesan that we serve with or over some angel hair pasta. Always a hit.

What else...what else? Used some of the eggplant to make baba ganoush for the lovely actors backstage at The T Plays. And threw any spare thing on hand into some tasty fried rice one night after rehearsal. (A nice alternative - assuming you have some leftover rice in the fridge - to the Midnight Pasta discussed earlier.)

Had a bunch of tomatillos to deal with - which I hadn't cooked with a lot. Saw Tyler Whatshisname on Food Network make a really easy tomatillo salsa which I've made several times to use them up. Chop up the tomatillos and some onion, garlic and peppers. Cover them in water and season, then simmer until soft. Strain out the solids into a blender (reserving the cooking liquid) and zip them up. I added some cilantro and lime juice and a some of the reserved cooking liquid to get a good consistency. Used that salsa as a verde sauce the other night for some black bean, Parker Farm corn and goat cheese enchiladas. Bueno!

Will endeavor to get back on the blogging horse more regularly next week when things calm down a bit. Just picked up Week 8 from the CSA tonight; it's truly fall - apples, pumpkins! And we'll hopefully get back to some more interesting writing and witty banter...cause, uh, that's why we're all here. Right?


Until then.