Friday, July 25, 2014

Air Bubbles and Chopsticks

For a long time I really hated removing air bubbles from jars before processing them in the canner.  I knew it was a step I needed to take, and I did, but that didn't mean I wanted to do it.  The reason?  The plastic headspace measuring tool/bubble remover that comes with most standard canning kits was too cumbersome.  It's difficult enough to pack foods like peaches and cucumber slices into jars adequately, and then someone's telling me I have to push this plastic stick down into the jar after I've worked hard to perfect things inside.  In my early days of canning, this meant accidentally smashing foods in the jar with the tool or still having bubbles trapped because I didn't maneuver the tool around the jar effectively.  

Removing air bubbles from a jar of Quick Dills with Garlic and Chile

Then, one day a long time ago, I was cleaning out the kitchen drawers and stumbled upon one lone chopstick, a leftover from my we-will-eat-Chinese-food-with-chopsticks kick.  I started to throw it out, but then I thought this could be great when canning.  Now I know some of you came to this pretty obvious conclusion long before me, and kudos to you if you did.  You probably stopped dreading bubbling your jars long before I did.  If you haven't ever thought about it though, consider it for a moment.  


You need to remove air bubbles from your jars for a variety of reasons, most of which involve, get this, the amount of air in the jar.  Crazy, huh?  All joking aside, air bubbles really do need to be done away with as best as possible.  They can cause a variety of problems, most of which aren't necessarily safety related, but can be aggravating and cause canned goods to be less than desirable.  Trapped air makes it difficult to achieve proper headspace in the jar.  This is important in getting a good seal.  If you've ever canned, you've noticed that after you remove bubbles from a filled jar, the liquid level almost always needs to be adjusted.  That's because you removed the air and liquid filled those spaces where air used to be.  If you don't remove that air, it can mess up the headspace of the jar and even force liquid to seep out of the lid before it seals.  The food in the jar will still be safe so long as you achieved a seal, but the liquid loss can be messy, sticky, and most of all, it can cause the food at the top of the jar to discolor from being exposed to air.  This discolored food is still safe to eat, but when faced with a brown peach slice and a nice peachy peach slice, which would you want most?  Seepage can also weaken a seal and cause it to fail over time.   

Using a chopstick to gently press the foods in the jar inward to remove air bubbles on side.

Here's where the chopstick is super helpful.  Chopsticks are usually made of wood or plastic (don't use metal, not that you could probably find a metal chopstick anyway), so they are nonreactive with vinegar and other acid foods.  They are safe to use with glass jars and will not cause dings and cracks in the glass over time as much as more rigid tools.  They are small and can easily squeeze into spaces between foods where other tools can't go.  They can also squeeze in between foods without pushing too much on the foods and moving them around.  I mean, who wants the tool to rearrange the jar after you so carefully packed it?  Right?  Since they are small and straight, they are great for lightly pressing backward on foods to draw the foods toward the center of the jar and help release air bubbles along the edge of the jar.  And as if all this weren't enough, the blunt end of the chopstick is a great tool to help you arrange and pack foods like cucumber slices into regular mouth jars where your fingers can't easily fit.  I use the blunt end to keep from stabbing the foods when using it to arrange, and it's also helpful to have two chopsticks so you can use both ends without getting sticky or having to clean the chopstick in between uses.  

So, if you haven't considered using a chopstick for removing air bubbles, try it out.  You may be like me and begin to remove bubbles without dread.    

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Reason for the Absence

It's been busy around here.  So busy that I haven't gotten around to posting anything in almost three months.  With today being just two days shy of that mark, I felt like it was time to put something down in writing.  

It isn't that I haven't wanted to write, but many other things have occupied my waking hours and my mind, and I haven't really produced much in the way of canned goods or new recipes lately.  

What happened you ask?  Well, we moved.  We moved from the city to the country, from about a third of an acre to almost three acres.  We had been wanting to do something like this for a while.  Our adventures in raising chickens had made us want more land so that we could delve into new areas of homesteading.  It sounds so funny to use the word homesteading, but I'm not sure what else to call it.  We wanted somewhere we could start fresh but that already had some pieces of what we wanted established.  We searched and searched for that place, but always came up short.  Land is expensive, and the places we like just needed more work than we were looking for.  Then, we came upon this older home on three acres.  The house is in need of some cosmetic work, and the land needs some TLC, but all in all, it seemed pretty perfect to us.  We bought it and have been working for the past two months to move in and start life here.  

The first thing we had to do was get the chicken coop in order.  We originally wanted to turn a small old barn into the coop, but after inspecting it after purchase, it required much more work and money than we wanted to spend on the chickens.  It was also larger than necessary.  So, we turned a small garden shed attached to the back of a larger outbuilding into the coop, and decided to save the barn for another venture.  We had to figure out a way to transition our three adult hens and eight younger chickens to living together peacefully.  We did that using a partition which remained up for two months and came down once they had had plenty of interaction time in the run and were getting along well enough. They actually told us they were ready to integrate when we walked out to close them in one night and found all eleven chickens on the same roost in the same part of the coop.  We figured they were telling us it was time, so we took down the partition and have had no problems. 

Here is the group of new chickens, raised from day-old chicks by us.  

Four Barred Rocks (including Al), two Golden Comets, one Black Sex Link, and one Silver Laced Wyandotte

There are eight in all, seven pullets and one rooster.  It has been fun watching the rooster, named Al Capone, strut his stuff and take on more responsibility with his girls.  He now is gaining confidence, trying to protect the pullets, and trying to get up the nerve to mate with one.  He does a little dance and tries to get close, but so far, the pullets have kept him at bay.  He is a handsome fella though, don't you think? 

Al surveying his domain
The older hens have adjusted well to life in the new coop.  They have much more room (the inside of the coop is at least three times larger than our old one, and the run is very large).  They are loving running around, and they especially love when they can get out and scratch around the yard.  I would love to allow them to free range, especially since we have more land, but unfortunately we also have more predators.  We have several hawks which hover overhead throughout the day as well as other land predators, and neighbors with chickens have had terrible luck with their own free ranging birds.  So, for now, we will keep them in the run and allow them to roam the yard only when we are out and can keep a close eye on them. 

In the meantime, one of our hens is going through her third bout of broodiness since March.  Here she is after being removed from the nesting box.  She gets very unhappy about it.  I had read that putting her in a small rabbit cage would break the broodiness quickly, but so far, no such luck.  Thankfully, it has not caught on with the other two hens...knock on wood.  

Our broody hen, Piggy, lovingly named for the grunting sounds she makes when eating

We are also trying our hand at beekeeping.  My father-in-law set up several hives on his property and helped us start one on ours.  We haven't had as much time to devote to it as we would have liked, but they seem to be doing well.  Hopefully, we can keep them happy and producing the remainder of this year and add more hives next year.  They are constantly buzzing in and out and are loving the weeds, flowers, and fruit trees around the property.  Here are some bees we put in at my father-in-law's house.  More pictures on our hive to come.  

Thousands of bees ready to for their new home
On the three acres we have, one acre is a small orchard area with various fruit trees and vines.  We have apple trees, pear trees, peach trees, and several grape vines.  The problem is, we didn't realize until the fruit started developing that we have a significant Japanese beetle problem as well as some possible disease issues to figure out how to solve before next year.  This will provide us with a learning experience and gives us something to research over fall and winter.  If anyone has any experience with Japanese beetles or brown rot on fruit trees, please share.  


Pear tree (top), apple tree (above)

We also have four pecan trees, and we hope that we get to the pecans before the squirrels do this fall.  

Pecans forming on the tree (notice the little pod in the center of the picture)


I have become the lawn mower master, which I love. We went from a property on which a push mower was plenty to needing a really good riding mower (and really a tractor, but that has to go on the wish list for right now).

We recently had the field to left of our yard (part of our property also) bush hogged, and discovered that the edges of the field were lined with thickets of blackberry canes.  On the Fourth of July, we went out and picked wild blackberries which were delicious albeit prickly.  We hope to plant thornless blackberries for next year, but right now we'll make do with these yummy babies.  




The only real preserving I have done so far has been to make a batch of peach jam and put up two bushels of corn for the freezer.  My in-laws also put up two bushels.  I got 24 pints of frozen corn off the cob.  We had a little left on the cob from last year so didn't put any up this year.  I am hoping to get on the ball and do more preserving in the next couple of weeks.  


It's interesting and a little difficult to preserve and can in an older kitchen with a lot of quirks I'm not used to, but I'll get there.  It does make me feel like some kind of old-timey farm wife using the existing kitchen, and I can imagine women of years past doing the same thing in that same space.  While this seems like a romantic notion, it doesn't make it any easier to use the cabinets that don't open and close correctly or the other quirky components of a 1950s kitchen.  We'll be happy when we have time to renovate.  



So, there you have it.  The reason for my absence from blogging for three months is justified, and hopefully, I'll get back on track now.  As we move into all of our new adventures here at our new country home, I may post about more than just cooking and canning as I would like to keep a record of all of our endeavors (the successes and failures).  

I do have a really great popsicle recipe to share before cutting out today.  These are great with many types of fruit.  So far our favorites have been melons and peaches.  They are delicious on a hot summer day when you want something sweet but also want to keep it light and healthy.  Play with the amount of sugar depending on the sweetness of the fruit.  This recipe makes somewhere between 8-16 popsicles depending on the size of the mold you use.  The picture below is of a peach popsicle.  I love that there is actual fruit in there giving it great taste and texture. It's also a creative way to use a less than perfectly sweet melon.  



Fruit Popsicles- makes 8-16 depending on size of popsicle mold

4 cups fruit of choice (we like cantaloupe or peaches)
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup water

Process all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.  Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until firm.  Remove from molds and enjoy.   



 

 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ham and Mixed Greens Quiche with Cheddar and Parmesan

Quiche is a great way to use an excess of eggs, but we're picky quiche eaters.  We like quiche that is more filling than egg, so that the eggs hold everything together nicely, but the flavors of the other ingredients are much more prevalent in each bite.  We enjoy Breakfast Pie, but we also like it when there are other veggies involved.  


Nothing says spring to me like quiche.  If you have chickens of your own, undoubtedly you are getting more eggs each day this time of year.  The market is also loaded with tender greens of all varieties, and with Easter next weekend, you may find yourself with some leftover ham.  If so, make this pie.  


It is full-flavored with greens sauteed in garlic and onion and bits of chopped ham throughout.  It's a great way to use leftovers.  You can use any greens you have on hand.  The ones I have been getting at the farmer's market are mixed baby greens with Swiss chard, kale, arugula, and beet greens, but any variety or mix of varieties will do nicely. Alternately, if you have access to asparagus right now, it would be lovely in this pie in place of the greens.  Saute or roast it until crisp tender, and chop it up before adding it to the filling.  

Ham and Greens Quiche with Cheddar and Parmesan- makes 1 (9 in) pie 

Use any variety of greens you like for this quiche.  I use a blend of Swiss Chard, kale, arugula, and beet greens, but a single variety will work well.  If using baby greens, leave whole.  If the leaves are more mature, chop them into bite size pieces before cooking. 

Filling: 
2 Tbsp neutral flavored oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 packed cups of chopped greens- see note above 
1 cup baked ham, chopped 
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded and divided

Pie Crust:
4 cups of all-purpose flour 
1 Tbsp sugar 
2 tsp salt 
1 1/2 cups lard, chilled 
1 Tbsp vinegar 
1 egg 
1/2 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

For the crust:  Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse several times to mix.  Place the lard in the food processor and pulse again until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Beat the vinegar, egg, and water together in a small bowl and slowly add the mixture to the food processor until the mixture comes together.  Divide the dough into 5 equal portioned disks (or 4 if making 10 inch pies).  Reserve one disk for the pie and wrap and freeze the remaining disks.  

Roll the disk for the pie into a 10 inch circle on a lightly floured surface.  Place the crust in a pie pan and crimp the edges.  Chill the crust while making the filling.  


For the filling:  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook 5 minutes until tender and translucent.  Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.  Add the greens to skillet, and stir to coat with the oil mixture.  Cook the greens, stirring occasionally, over medium heat 3-4 minutes until wilted down and becoming tender.  If using more mature greens, increase the time as needed.  Add the ham and cook 1 minute to warm through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place skillet ingredients in a bowl.  Add cheddar, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and eggs and stir to combine thoroughly.  Pour the filling into the prepared crust.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan over the top of the filling.  Bake quiche at 375 degrees for 25-35 minutes until the center is just set.  Remove from the oven and cool slightly before serving or cool completely and serve at room temperature.     


Printable Version

    

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Black Bean Soup and Cornbread

It's been very busy around here lately.  I rarely have a free minute which is why I have not been blogging as much.  The beginning of spring has brought lots of activities in the forms of yard work, house hunting (we are looking to move somewhere with a little more land), raising chicks (we currently have eight in the brooder), and trying to keep up with the usual activities of regular work.  With all of this, there haven't been many new meals coming from the kitchen.  We've just been eating the things we know and love.  


The weather here has also been a little crazy.  Warm and spring-like one day and freezing the next, you never know what to make for dinner.  On one of the cold days a week or so back, I was rummaging through the freezer to see what we had on hand and came across a pack of pork backbones I had bought a while back.  I had also picked up some black beans from the farmers market and had some fabulous coarse cornmeal from Anson Mills.  The resulting meal was satisfying and delicious and provided several dinners for us that week.  

This soup has a deep, underlying pork flavor from the meat and bones, nice spiciness, and a great hybrid texture (part broth, part creaminess from the beans).  It is even better a day or two after it is made.  Served with a sprinkling of sharp cheddar and cilantro and a dollop of sour cream, it makes a hearty meal. Dip or crumble the cornbread into the soup to soak up the yummy broth, and by all means, have a small slice for dessert drizzled with local honey or sorghum syrup.  

Black Bean Soup with Pork Backbones- serves 6

If you want a creamier soup, crush some of the beans with a potato masher once they are tender.  
 


1 pound pork backbone (or neckbones)
2 tsp olive oil
1 carrot, diced
1 celery rib, diced
1 onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound black beans, soaked overnight or quick soaked (bring to a boil for 2 minutes, cover and let stand 1 hour, drain and proceed with recipe)
2 pints chicken stock
1 pint crushed tomatoes
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ancho chile powder
½ tsp ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1-1 ½ tsp kosher salt to taste
½ tsp ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Roast backbones for 1 hour while beans soak. After 1 hour, remove backbones to a plate.

In a Dutch oven, heat olive oil on medium heat.  Add the carrot, celery, and onion, and sauté until tender and onion is translucent.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add cumin, coriander, bay leaf, and chile powder and cook 1 minute.  Add stock to spice vegetable mixture, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Place the backbones in the pot along with the drained beans. Add more water if needed to cover beans completely.  Bring beans to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook 1 to 1 ½ hours until beans are creamy in center but still intact.

Remove backbones from the pot and allow to cool enough to handle.  While backbones are cooling, add tomatoes to beans along with salt and pepper to taste, and cook gently to blend flavors.  Once the meat is cool enough to handle, separate the meat from the fat and bones (use fat and bones to make stock later).  Add the shredded meat back to the beans.  Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve with cilantro on top. 

Black Skillet Cornbread- makes 1 9-inch skillet of cornbread

This recipe is slightly adapted from Anson Mills and should be made with high quality coarse cornmeal.  This cornbread has pure corn flavor since there is no flour or sugar in the recipe.  

12 oz (2½ cups) coarse cornmeal (I used Anson Mills Antebellum Coarse Yellow Cornmeal)
1½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp kosher salt
2 oz (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
1½ cups milk (do not use skim)
2 tsp cold butter, for the skillet


Adjust the oven racks to the lower-middle and upper-middle positions and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Heat an empty well-seasoned 8- to 9-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. 

While the skillet heats, turn the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan or in the microwave. Add the butter and milk to the cornmeal mixture and whisk to combine.  Add the egg and whisk again. The batter will be fairly thin. 

Add the remaining cold butter to the hot skillet and tilt to distribute. Scrape the batter into the skillet with a rubber spatula—it should sizzle. Immediately place the skillet on the lower oven rack and bake for 15 minutes. Then, transfer the skillet to the upper rack and continue baking until the cornbread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Invert the cornbread onto a cutting board so that the crackling side is facing up or leave the bread in the skillet for serving. Cut into wedges and serve with butter, honey, apple butter, or sorghum.

Printable Version of Black Bean Soup

Printable Version of Black Skillet Cornbread




 
  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Anytime Breakfast Pie

I've been taking a series of pork classes from the owners of a local farm.  The classes have been awesome, not only because of the content being taught (think cured meats, sausage making, and butchering) but also because of the food served.  Everything is focused on the most local and freshest ingredients possible, and classes have started with cheese trays, charcuterie tastings, and homemade hummus and pickles.  They were all delicious, but the tastiest of all was a breakfast pie filled with fresh breakfast sausage, cubes of potato, onion, and cheese held together with eggs and baked in a flaky and flavorful pie crust made with home-rendered lard.  You can purchase this pie from the business/farm offering the class, but I decided I would try to recreate it at home.  We have made this several times, and it is great.  



The breakfast pie I ate at the class was actually made with homemade pimiento cheese mixed into the filling, but since that's not something I normally have on hand, and I want this pie to be something I can put together using what I have (and without having to go through too much fuss), I use either sharp cheddar or a mixture of cheddar and habanero cheddarCheddar and pepper jack would work as would just about any other combination of semi-hard cheeses you have on hand.



This pie is delicious for breakfast, but it also makes for a fabulous supper.  We like to serve it with a green salad of whatever is in season.  Right now, that means a salad of mixed baby greens including kale, beet greens, and arugula tossed in an apple cider/honey vinaigrette.  It also reheats really well making it perfect for leftovers.  Yum!

Breakfast Pie- makes one 9-inch pie

The recipe for the pie crust comes from Grateful Growers Farm. It makes 5 pie crusts, but they freeze beautifully. The crust is exceptionally flaky because of the lard.   

1 russet potato, peeled and diced (other varieties of potato will work also)
1 onion, diced
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 pound bulk breakfast sausage
1 cup cheddar cheese (or a mixture of cheddar and pepper jack)
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pie crust (recipe follows)

Pie Crust:
4 cups of all-purpose flour 
1 TBSP sugar 
2 tsp salt 
1 1/2 cups lard, chilled 
1 TBSP vinegar 
1 egg 
1/2 cup cold water

For the crust:  Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse several times to mix.  Place the lard in the food processor and pulse again until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Beat the vinegar, egg, and water together in a small bowl and slowly add the mixture to the food processor until the mixture comes together.  Divide the dough into 5 equal portioned disks (or 4 if making 10 inch pies).  Reserve one disk for the pie and wrap and freeze the remaining disks.  

Roll the disk for the pie into a 10 inch circle on a lightly floured surface.  Place the crust in a pie pan and crimp the edges.  Chill the crust while making the filling.  

For the filling:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a skillet, heat oil on medium heat.  Add potato and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until potato is almost tender, 10-15 minutes.  Move potato and onion mixture to the edges of the skillet.  Add sausage in the middle and cook, crumbling, until browned.  Add the garlic cloves and cook 1 minute more.  Place the cooked sausage and potato mixture in a bowl.  Add the cheese, beaten eggs, salt, and pepper, and mix well.  Pour the filling into the chilled crust.  Bake 20-30 minutes until filling is just set and crust is brown (it should jiggle a little in the center). Remove from the oven and allow to cool 10-15 minutes before slicing.    

Printable Version

 
 

 


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Quick and Easy Last Minute Pizza

Homemade pizza is usually something you have to think about in advance.  You need to make the dough and have the toppings cooked and available.  But homemade pizza doesn't have to take a lot of prep.  By putting foods up all through the summer and having Five Minute Bread dough on hand in the fridge, homemade pizza is a snap to make.  


I had a batch of dough in my container in the refrigerator, and I needed to use the rest of it. I've also been trying to use as much out of the freezer as possible, in part because there's not much at the market right now.  As I dug through the freezer I pulled out a jar of pesto, some roasted tomatoes, a little frozen sausage, and a container of Roasted Garlic and Herb pasta sauce.  I sliced up a ball of fresh mozzarella and started throwing everything together.  


I made two small pizza crusts by rolling the Five Minute dough into a round and then stretching it until it was fairly thin.  On one pizza, I put a couple of spoonfuls of pesto and spread it around to make a thin layer.  Some chopped artichoke hearts and roasted tomatoes were sprinkled over the pesto, and it was topped with sliced mozzarella and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.


The other pizza was topped with some Roasted Garlic and Herb pasta sauce that I boiled down until it was thick (almost like a paste) with a sprinkle of sugar.  I then topped it with browned crumbles of locally made sausage and slices of mozzarella.  

Both pizzas were baked on a preheated pizza stone in a 450 degree oven until they were bubbly, brown, and the crusts were crisp.  

The combinations for pizzas are endless, and having this dough on hand makes homemade pizza possible in less than 30 minutes making it a winner for weeknights when time is short.  

The recipes below are approximations.  Use your best judgement when it comes to how much sauce, toppings, etc. to put on our pizza, and when determining if your pizza is finished baking. I use ingredients I have preserved over summer (except the artichokes), so unless you have these same ingredients on hand, you will need to find the equivalent in your market or grocery.  Sun dried tomatoes can stand in for the roasted tomatoes, store-bought pesto will work fine, and your favorite pasta or pizza sauce will work.   

Artichoke and Roasted Tomato Pizza- makes one 9-inch pizza

1 ball of Five Minute Bread dough about the size of your fist
Additional flour for rolling and stretching dough
2 Tbsp pesto plus more as needed 
1/2 can artichoke hearts, drained well and chopped
6 roasted tomato halves, drained and chopped
4 thin slices fresh mozzarella, about 4 oz. 
1-2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cornmeal for dusting

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place a pizza stone inside the oven to heat while you make the pizza.  Roll the dough into a ball and then into a circle using a floured rolling pin.  Using your hands, stretch the dough into a 9 inch circle by gently pulling and stretching it from the center outward.  Place the dough on a pizza peel that has been dusted with cornmeal.  Spread pesto on dough almost to the edge.  Layer the artichokes and tomatoes over the pesto.  Top with the cheeses. Slide the pizza off the peel and onto the hot stone.  Bake until crust is crisp and pizza is bubbly, approximately 15 minutes.  

Sausage and Mozzarella Pizza- makes one 9-inch pizza

1 ball of Five Minute Bread dough about the size of your fist
Additional flour for rolling and stretching dough
2 Tbsp Roasted Garlic and Herb Pasta sauce that has been boiled down until thick with a sprinkling of sugar, or your favorite pasta or pizza sauce
2-3 Tbsp cooked, crumbled sausage, about 2 oz. 
4 thin slices fresh mozzarella, about 4 oz. 
Cornmeal for dusting

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place a pizza stone inside the oven to heat while you make the pizza.  Roll the dough into a ball and then into a circle using a floured rolling pin.  Using your hands, stretch the dough into a 9 inch circle by gently pulling and stretching it from the center outward.  Place the dough on a pizza peel that has been dusted with cornmeal.  Spread pasta sauce on dough almost to the edge.  Sprinkle the cooked sausage over the sauce.  Top with the slices of cheese.  Slide the pizza off the peel and onto the hot stone.  Bake until crust is crisp and pizza is bubbly, approximately 15 minutes.  

Printable Version of Artichoke and Roasted Tomato Pizza
Printable Version of Sausage and Mozzarella Pizza
 
 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Productive Weekend of Real Food


Cold weather means being inside, and being inside can quickly lead to boredom if one doesn't find productive projects to undertake.  On typical weekends, my routine is pretty consistent.  I get up on Saturday morning, go to the farmer's market to get the week's produce and meat supply, and then I go home to clean and do things around the house.  Sundays mean cleaning the chicken coop, messing around in the yard if needed and weather permitting, and doing anything leisurely we decide to do together.  I used to want to be on the go all weekend and got very bored being at home, but the older I get the more I love being home with a list of projects to complete before the work week takes back over and robs me of all freedom and time. 


Last weekend was a very productive weekend for me, and the snow brought in last night has proven to be helpful as well.  Since blogging last, here are some of the projects I have completed.  Of course, since I have been working on these things, there have been no new things to post on, so I will link each project to previous posts and pictures about it.  I was a little slack in taking pictures this time around.   

Friday night I thawed a quart of frozen strawberries from last spring to make a batch of fruit leather.  Strawberry fruit leather is one of our favorites, and during the winter when there are no fresh local fruits available it is one of the things we eat.  When my workplace started a weight loss program pushing increased fruit consumption, I did actually start buying bananas and grapes from the grocery since not many local fruits were available, but I just couldn't continue.  Not only does it go against my goal of eating as locally as possible, I also don't visit the grocery often enough to consistently have these things on hand.  Our grocery visits are usually about three weeks apart since most of the things we purchase from the store are staples like flour, sugar, grains, and beans (things that can be bought in bulk and keep well).  It was one of those personal decisions that I had to make for myself.  I would rather eat less fruit and know where that fruit came from rather than purchase something from South America or Mexico for the sake of so-called "health".  So, dried and frozen fruit are important to us in winter.  I don't mean to sound preachy here.  Each person must do what seems right for their particular situation and set of circumstances.  

Strawberry fruit leather being wrapped in wax paper and tied with baker's twine


Even though we have tried to eat local meals at home in most cases for several years now, one thing I have just recently started buying locally in its entirety and on a regular basis is meat.  I had always purchased some meat at the farmer's market, but for the past several months, we have not purchased any meat at the grocery store.  All of our meat is sourced locally at this point, and it feels great to know that what we are eating was raised humanely and responsibly.  If you are wondering what made me change, it was a combination of things including several books I have been reading (Food Matters by Mark Bittman and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver) along with my connections to people at the farmer's market and the increased availability of local, pastured meats in my community.  Also, even though I have obviously known how animals in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) were raised, I (like so many others out there) tended to push it to the back of my mind when planning meals to save money.  I have now made the conscious decision to bring that knowledge to the forefront of my mind each time I eat which can really make things seem less appetizing.  I'm not saying it's always possible to eat local meat.  Sometimes you are in situations where that is not feasible, but making the effort to do it as much as possible can make a big difference in your personal health and attitude about food.  Also, even though it is more expensive, that just leads us to eat less meat which is also healthful in itself.  Again, I'm not intending to sound preachy, but I think it's important that we know where our food comes from and how it was produced, and I think it's important to keep as many of our food dollars in the local economy as possible rather than spending them to support big industry.  

Our meat/cheese comes from a combination of the following farms/sources: 

Beef/Chicken from Baucom's Best 
Beef from Martins' Charolais Farm
Pork from Grateful Growers
Cheese from Ashe County 
Cheese from Goat Lady Dairy

With that being said, I am trying my hand at producing some of my own cured meats.  I currently have a pork loin curing in the refrigerator which will be similar to Canadian bacon.  When it is finished, I will take pictures and share the results.  

I also used the last of my frozen lard (rendered months ago) to make two batches of pie crusts using this recipe.  The all lard crust was exceptionally flaky, but we did miss some of the buttery flavor of my regular crust.  From now on I will use a combination of lard and butter which I have done in the past and really is the best of both worlds.  Either works well and all freeze beautifully.  One crust went into making a quiche with local breakfast sausage, local cheddar cheese, potatoes from storage, and backyard eggs.  You can't get much better than that.  

Pie crusts ready for the freezer (these are all-butter crusts)

Since I used the rest of the previously rendered lard, I purchased and rendered another 2 pounds in the slow cooker resulting in 2 pint jars for the freezer. 


We were also down to one jar of pickled beets from the year before last, so when I saw beets at the market on Saturday, I purchased enough for a small batch to tide us over until we can grow some.  I cut these into wedges rather than slices, but I used my usual pickled beet recipe.  We got two jars of red pickled beets and two jars of golden pickled beets (which we are excited to try).  



Last but not least, I organized the chest freezer and took an inventory of what remained so I can make sure to use what we have when planning menus for the upcoming weeks.  We still have several bags of lima beans, field peas, green beans (although our stock is low), corn on the cob, corn kernels (only a few bags left), pesto, and roasted tomatoes.  We also have four bags of frozen peaches and one quart of strawberries which will most likely go to make more fruit leather in the very near future. 

All in all, productivity can be very rewarding and in this case will go into making it easier to produce wholesome weeknight meals with real food.