Canning Classes

I’m so excited to tell everyone that I will be working with April Cunningham from North Coast Opportunities to put on a series of canning and cooking classes this year.  The classes will be offered at the Willits Grange Kitchen and the Ukiah Senior Center Kitchen (both of which are really nice commercial kitchens).  We’re working on adding some dates at the Redwood Valley Grange as well.  Workshops will focus on cooking and preserving seasonal produce from local farms.  I’ll show you how to make jam and pickles but we’ll do some fresh cooking too.  After each class, participants will go home with a bag full of goodies that we’ve made that day.  At just $20, the classes are a ridiculously good deal!  There’s no commitment to attend the whole series- feel free to sign up for one class and then sign up for the rest once you see how much fun they’re going to be and how delicious everything we make turns out.  fall preservesSpace is limited, so contact April Cunningham to reserve a space: acunningham@ncoinc.org, or 707-467-3212.  If you’re interested in attending but the dates don’t work for you, e-mail April to stay in touch about future workshops.

Upcoming Workshops:

April 18: Ukiah Senior Center 1:00-4:00 pm. – FULL

April 22: Willits Grange 2:00-5:00

May 6: Ukiah Senior Center 2:00-5:00

May 30: Ukiah Senior Center 2:00-5:00

June 16: Ukiah Senior Center: 2:00-5:00

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Quinoa Tabouleh, Spring Lettuces and A NEW FARM

This salad.quinoa taboulehIt’s so delicious and so simple, and takes just a few minutes to throw together.

My brain is kind of fried from working so much, and this is the perfect kind of dish to make for that kind of time in your life.

We’re emerging from this crazy whirlwind right now.   In April, we moved from our house in the mountains of Lake County to a sweet little house down the road from our new farm space in Redwood Valley.  Part of the transition meant turning a bunch of raw land into a vegetable and flower farm over the course of about two months so that we could grow during this season and not have to wait til next year to start. Our last farm was tiny and took us ten years to get to where it was.  This farm is still very much in process, but it took us about a month to get an area planted that absolutely dwarfs anything we’ve ever had before.   We’re pretty excited about everything and I can’t wait to show you some pictures.

If you know me personally, you might know that I’ve been compulsively planting too many tomato starts for years and years, and that heirloom tomatoes are my one true vegetable love.  I always plant more than I should but it’s really never enough.  I’m so thrilled to say that I just planted the heirloom tomato garden of my dreams! (It’s HUGE).  The land owner, an expert farmer who’s been teaching us a lot as we go forward this year, keeps making comments along the lines of “you are an absolute lunatic for planting that many tomatoes” but I’m soldiering on, undaunted.
(I still remember the first time I ate an heirloom tomato.  I was working at Restaurant Lulu when I was 19 and had just moved to San Francisco, where they were serving this simple tomato salad, but it used tomatoes that were unlike any that I’ve ever seen before, and when I tasted one, it basically blew my mind and changed the entire course of my life.   True story.)

It’s like this song says: Only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.

Anyway though, this salad. taboulehI made this tabouleh with some leftover quinoa, lettuce and herbs from the garden and some mediocre grocery store tomatoes, and it instantly became my favorite salad of the moment.  It’s going to be amazing when I actually have some decent tomatoes to put in it.  It’s a nice side dish for a summery dinner, served with grilled lamb or chicken, but it’s also a wonderful lunch on its own.  We used butter lettuce leaves to make lettuce wraps with the tabouleh inside and it’s about my favorite thing to eat in the world now.

 

QUINOA TABOULEH

Vegan & Gluten Free

Serves: 4

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 c. cooked tricolor quinoa
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 c. finely chopped mint leaves
  • 3 c. diced tomatoes
  • juice from 1 1/2 large lemons
  • olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small head of lettuce (butter lettuce would be perfect)

If you’re making the quinoa specifically for this recipe, rinse it with cool water after it’s cooked so that it doesn’t cook the vegetables in the salad.  Leftover quinoa that’s not steaming hot anymore obviously doesn’t need rinsing.  Combine all the ingredients except the lettuce in a bowl.  Add the olive oil, salt and pepper to your own taste.  Cover and let the mixture sit at room temperature for 30 minutes (not in the fridge! Cold tomatoes taste weird).  Serve on a bed of lettuce leaves, or use the lettuce leaves as wraps.

 

Quick Beef Stroganoff

Earlier this week, the San Francisco chronicle posted an article that claimed that it’s hard to find fresh, affordable food in Mendocino County. It was a ridiculous article, written by someone who ignored all of the local farmers markets which are filled with … um….. fresh, affordable food.  The girls at Eat Mendocino have already written an excellent response to the article, explaining why the Chronicle was completely wrong, so I won’t rehash what they’ve already written.  Their whole conversation made me want to share this beef stroganoff recipe with you.

This whole blog is about cooking with fresh, local, affordable foods, but a lot of the time I make the recipes affordable by making them vegetarian, since a lot of locally sourced meats can be prohibitively expensive. I love eating all this hippie crunchy food, but sometimes it’s nice to have something a little bit more… meat and potatoes.  Maybe you’re cooking for picky eaters, maybe it’s cold out an you want some comfort food, maybe you’ve been slaving away all day in the garden and you’re craving something with protein and carbs. Whatever the occasion, this beef stroganoff is delicious.  Since this recipe makes a flavorful sauce to serve over mashed potatoes or noodles, you really only need a pound of meat to make a big pot of food.  Also, it cooks up in a flash. Also it’s cheap. It’s easily adaptable to different ingredients.  The leftovers (if there are any) make a great lunch the next day. beef stroganoffOh, and I realized after I started writing about this…. it’s basically just a homemade version of hamburger helper in the stroganoff flavor.  Because we like eating classy stuff like that.  beef stroganoff 2There are several ways you can adapt this recipe.  First, the meat: the cut doesn’t really matter. You can use ground beef, which is almost always one of the cheapest meats at the farmers market.  If you use a steak that’s more on the tender side (sirloin, ribeye, strip) keep the cooking time to 30 minutes.  If you want to use stew meat, an add extra cup of stock to the recipe and cook it for an extra hour or more. You can substitute mushrooms for the beef if you want something vegetarian. You can add all kinds of vegetables while you’re browning the beef: shallots, leeks, onions, some chopped swiss chard, peas, mushrooms. Whatever looks good at the farmers market that week will be great.

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. sirloin steak, sliced into thin strips, or 1 lb. ground beef
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • salt and pepper
  • a big splash of cognac or brandy, if you have it on hand
  • 2 c. beef or vegetable stock
  • 16 oz. sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • a few sprigs of fresh tarragon (or parsley is fine too)
  • optional add-ins: sliced mushrooms, sliced shallots, peas, chopped spinach, etc.
  • for serving: buttered mashed potatoes or egg noodles

Heat the butter in a large skillet.  Add the steak and garlic and cook for a few minutes on medium-high heat to brown the steak.  (If you want to add extra vegetables, now’s the time).  Season everything with salt and pepper.  Once the steak is browned, add the whole wheat flour and saute everything for another minute or two. Deglaze the pan with a splash of cognac, if you have it.  (If you don’t, it will taste good without it.  Just deglaze the pan with the stock instead). Add the beef stock, sour cream, paprika and tarragon and stir everything together. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.  Serve over buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes.  We like having this dish with a big green salad or sauteed green beans.

Purple Cauliflower Pickles

Sooooooo, these aren’t necessarily the best of the best pickles I’ve ever made … but I’m really excited about this purple cauliflower so I kind of have to write about them anyway.

I mean, seriously. look at this:cauliflowerand when you make these pickles, it does this: cauliflower pickles(The brine was originally kind of yellow. I made them and then opened the fridge a few hours later and got really excited.)cauliflower pickles 2I really like the finished product, but I actually felt like something was kind of missing something.  More salt? More vinegar? Maybe some honey? I dunno.  If you have a revelation, please tell me. Usually I try to get recipes as close to perfect before I put them here, but since the ingredients were farmers market produce, I’m not sure if they will be there again when I go shopping today. Either way, they’re fantastic snacks when it’s 108 degrees outside (like right now) and they’re really great served along side some of the dinners we’ve been having during this hot weather.  One night we had homemade falafel, grilled eggplant and butter lettuce topped with a feta-yogurt-cucumber sauce.  Another night we had jerk chicken with white nectarine salsa, coconut rice and drunken black beans, all wrapped up in purple cabbage cups.  A few pieces of purple pickled cauliflower really escalated these meals up into the stratosphere.

I guess my goal is not just to have these pickles in the fridge, but a whole bunch of different icy cold crunchy vegetables……. I just made a big batch of these pickled radishes, (which I’m crazy about and can’t stop eating — you should make some today!), and we have a jar of dilly beans in there too.  Then I’ve got a big jar of wild blackberry jam and another jar of homemade homegrown grated horseradish from my sister-in-law’s farm.  We have a whole selection of good food in jars in there, which is wonderful.  Especially because it’s 105 and I don’t want to go outside to the garden (or, god forbid, the grocery store), let alone actually turn on the stove to cook something.  When I think about how long it will take for the air-conditioning in my truck to start actually doing anything……..  it makes me want crawl into the back of the fridge and eat cold pickles all day.

PURPLE CAULIFLOWER PICKLES, adapted from the White on Rice Couple’s recipe for Curry Cauliflower Pickles

Makes: 1 quart and 1 pint jar

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 large head of purple cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 large red onion, sliced into thin wedges
  • a few sprigs of fresh cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, sliced into rounds

for the brine:

  • 5 c. water
  • 1 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 3 tsp. tamari
  • 2 1/4” thick slices of fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. sugar

Combine the ingredients for the brine in a nonreactive pot, and bring up to a simmer. Meanwhile, pack the vegetables and cilantro into the jars.  One the brine is simmering, pour it over the vegetables leaving about 1/2”headspace.  Cover and refrigerate.  The pickles will be best after about 5 days, and will store in the fridge for up to a month.

Preserving Fresh Greens

I meant to write this post last year around this time, but I never did, because let’s face it: frozen spinach doesn’t sound all that exciting.  Rhubarb jam is much sexier, or these fancy rhubarb granita cocktails I was obsessed with last year too.  Really, though, if you’re trying to grow and preserve your own food (or just eat locally all year long), this project is so important.   spinachLast spring, I started making a real effort to make packs of greens for the freezer.  I get  spinach from one of my friends who grows a huge amount of it, but the process works the same for any other dark, leafy green.  Kale, chard and collards all do much better when you regularly harvest the big outer leaves.

The process is simple:

1. Wash the greens thoroughly.

2. Chop them into whatever size you want them to be later.

3. Blanch them for a minute or two (shorter for spinach, longer for kale or collards).

4. Drain and rinse with cold water (or transfer them to an ice bath if you’re super organized, but I never bother with this.  A cold water rinse works fine for me).

5. Vacuum seal or pack the greens into freezer safe ziploc bags for later.  I like to make a variety of sizes: some as individual portions to mix with scrambled eggs, and some in big batches for making spanikopitas or other casseroles. _MG_9892If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, it doesn’t really matter, but I think they really work well for the freezer.  Plus, they’re fun, and you can vacuum seal random stuff like spoons just because it looks cool.  _MG_9897The first time I tried doing this, I blanched and froze two bushels of fresh spinach.  I was absolutely shocked at how fast we used it and how happy I was to have the packs ready to go in the freezer.  I  love making jam, but I have problems incorporating it into my regular diet.  I don’t really eat bread very often, and I don’t really like eating sugar, so……..  But man, spinach! I started pulling out a bag at night to thaw and then I’d scramble it into some of our eggs in the morning with a little goat cheese.  When I eat a scramble like that for breakfast, I feel like a rockstar all day.  Plus, when I’m just getting up  in the morning there’s no way I’m going out to the garden and to harvest and wash spinach for breakfast, but if all the work is already done, I find eating greens with breakfast every day, which is always a good thing.  Frozen greens have absolutely joined canned homegrown tomatoes as a pantry/freezer staple that I like to always have on hand.  When I have plenty of time to cook, I’ll walk to the garden and harvest some fresh greens, but when I’m pressed for time (I usually am), the frozen ones really are a life saver.

Speaking of pressed for time….

I have a bunch of projects I’ve been making with frozen greens that I want to tell you about, but definitely don’t have photographed since I’m not organized enough right now. I’m posting this today anyway though. You’ll just have to use your imaginations.

We made pupusas stuffed with oaxaca cheese and chopped spinach, which were amazing.pupusaThis is not a picture of the pupusas we made the other day. This is a pupusa from a spot in San Francisco that I love, just in case you have no clue what a pupusa is (since a lot of people have never had them before).  Ours looked really similar though.  The recipe I used is right here, from Saveur.  They’re basically homemade tortillas that are stuffed with whatever filling you like.  I thought they would be really difficult to make, but the dough comes together very easily and they fry up in just a few minutes.  We just changed the filling a little bit, using oaxaca cheese (it’s kind of like a Mexican version of monterey jack or mozzarella) mixed with chopped spinach.  I used purple cabbage in the slaw and which made it look cooler than plain old green cabbage.

Also, I made fresh spinach pappardelle. I still have some so maybe I’ll get my act together and take some pretty pictures to inspire you to make fresh pasta. For now though…..

think about pretty green noodles

are you imagining?

Maybe if I drink some more coffee you’ll come back to this post later and there’ll be some more pictures and recipes.  We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE 5/22/13

Apparently I’ve got my act together more than yesterday.  spinach fettucini SPINACH PASTA DOUGH

Cut this dough into whatever widths  you like.  I especially like it tossed with pesto, chopped heirloom tomatoes and parmesan cheese.

Cook Time: an hour or more, depending how fast you can make pasta. it’s not a fast one.

Makes: enough for about 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 3/4 c. semolina flour, plus a little extra for dusting
  • 4 extra large eggs
  • 3/4- 1 c. spinach puree*
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • a liberal pinch of nutmeg

Mound the flour on a clean counter.  Make a well in the center, and add the eggs, spinach puree and oil.  Using a fork, gradually mix together all the liquid ingredients and begin incorporating the flour from the inside rim of the well.  Keep incorporating more and more flour, and once you’ve done as much as you can with the fork, switch to your hands and start kneading it together, trying to work all the ingredients together into a ball.  Semolina flour is more difficult to work with than all purpose flour, but if you keep kneading it should eventually come together.  Add a little spinach puree if it needs some more moisture.

Season the dough with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Once the dough has formed a coherent ball, knead it for about five minutes.  Add a little flour if the dough is too sticky.  Let the dough rest for 15 minutes, then roll it out using the instructions for whatever pasta maker you have.

Once the pasta is cut, you can dry it on hangers and it will store in a cool, dark place for several weeks.  It can also be dusted liberally with flour and stored fresh in the refrigerator.

*To make the spinach puree, just thaw frozen spinach and then zap it in a blender or food processor.

The moral of this story:

Go harvest the extra greens you have in your garden and freeze them for later!

The next time you see gorgeous greens at the farmers market for cheap, buy a bunch and freeze ’em!

Do it. You’ll be happy.

 

Wild Boar Osso Bucco

A friend of mine gave me a wild boar shoulder the other day….. wild boarand even though I don’t have a new recipe to share for it, since it was such a beautiful cut of meat, young and tender, I just have to mention it here. Jason and I talked about all kinds of different possible preparations, but I ended up making osso bucco with it, since I love osso bucco and basically make it with any nice piece of meat that has bones in it.

Usually, osso bucco is made with cross-cut shanks, often from veal, but I almost never have the kind of money in my wallet that I would need to buy that kind of meat. Instead, I’ve made it with lamb, goat, wild duck, chicken, venison and now, wild boar.  All that really matters is that there are bones in the meat.  It’s standard to start by dredging the meat in flour then browning it in a large dutch oven. I always add lots of mirepoix after that, some canned tomatoes and a whole bottle of white wine (my favorite part of this isn’t actually the meat, tender as it is, but actually the vegetables and the wine sauce. It’s so good.) Then: cook it all day, low and slow.

I’ve been eating the leftovers all week, and they’re wonderful.   My advice: If you have a friend that offers you wild boar, don’t scoff at it like some people might, take it home and cook it!

Here’s my original recipe for osso bucco.boar osso bucco

Before You Get Your Baby Chicks, You Should Read This

During this past week, I’ve been chatting with several people who are interested in raising chickens.  It’s that time of year – fruit trees are blooming, the weather has been beautiful, and if you dare to walk into a feed store, you’re sure to be tempted by the sweet chirp of baby chicks.  The day old birds are, without a doubt, one of the cutest things in the known universe, which is reason enough to get a few for pets.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how delicious real eggs taste, though, which is an even better reason to start a flock.

eggs

The logic sounds simple so far, right?

The next step gets really complicated.  Before you even purchase chicks, you need to decide whether or not to raise them following strict organic standards.  When you buy chicks from a hatchery, you’ll have the option to get them vaccinated before they’re shipped to you.  The chicks from the feed stores in our area are usually not vaccinated because the stores need to give customers the option to raise them organically.  (We live in Northern California; this may not hold true in other areas of the country).

If you don’t get vaccinated chicks, you have the option of giving them medicated starter feed.  Chicks that have already been vaccinated shouldn’t have medicated feed because it will counteract the vaccinations.  The medicated feed only helps prevent certain illnesses and does nothing to prevent others that the vaccination will cover.
chicken saladI’m 99.9% sure that anyone reading this blog will gravitate towards following the organic route. When we first got chickens, that was certainly what we did.  It seems obvious: antibiotics and vaccines seem like disgusting ingredients for an omelet.  A few years ago, we had an absolute disaster that made me realize that it’s not nearly as simple as you’d think…. It’s probably an important story to read for anyone thinking about getting a flock.

It was the first time that we’d decided to try getting a larger flock so we could sell eggs at the farmers market. Since we’re off the grid and don’t have a 24 hour power source, running a heat lamp for first six weeks of the chicks lives was virtually impossible. We found two different people on craigslist that sold pullets that we ready to be outside without the heat lamp.  We went to both farms and both seemed perfectly lovely.  The pullets were all healthy and happy.  We fed them organic feed and raised them up to egg laying age, and then………… they started dying. It wasn’t all at once, but we were having one or two hens die every week. They would look slow and lethargic for several days, then have trouble walking and standing up, and no matter how much tlc we gave them, they died.  Our coop was very clean, they had plenty of food and water and plenty of space to run around, and we were completely baffled why we were having so many problems.

Initially, none of our research really yielded any good answers, and most vets that we spoke with only worked with larger farm animals.  One morning, when I found another hen that was clearly suffering, who could barely stand and looked like she was having trouble breathing, I got fed up. I packed her into a box with some blankets and took her to the vet we use for our dogs because I had to do something.  When the vet saw her, he told me that she was far too sick to help, and we had to put her to sleep.  The vet office sent her body to UC Davis for testing to figure out what was going wrong.  (At this point in the story, I start losing any kind of farmer street cred that I may have had.  Who pays money to get a chicken put to sleep? Just wring their neck and it’s done.  It was a weird morning, what can I say…)

Holding a frail, sick hen in my arms while she died was about the most awful thing ever. I left the vet office in tears, drove across the street and parked under some trees near the hardware store, where I sat and cried for an embarrassingly long time.  I felt sick to my stomach that all of these animals in my care were dying.

When we got the test results back from UC Davis, my suspicions were confirmed: the hen had Marek’s Disease.  Marek’s is something can a hen can carry for a long time and seem completely healthy, but then will flare up during a stressful period.  For our flock, the trigger was the transition into egg-laying.  If one hen had it, the whole flock was definitely carrying it.  There’s no treatment and it has a 90% fatality rate. Once Marek’s flares up, it’s a slow and painful way for a hen to die.  They become more and more lethargic, and then experience asymmetrical paralysis, meaning the hen will lose use of half of her body.  A hen that’s dying of Marek’s will often have one droopy wing and one leg that’s limp and outstretched. Eventually the hen won’t be able to breathe and dies.  UC Davis told us that the only way to get rid of it in our coop was to “depopulate” the flock, clean the coop, and leave it empty for several months.

The crazy thing in all of this? When you order day old chicks from the hatchery, there’s a little box you can click on the order form, and for a couple extra bucks you can get all of them vaccinated for Marek’s (along with several other diseases) when they’re a day old.  It’s not organic at all, but it would have prevented the whole nightmare we went through with our hens.  We’re still not sure how we ended up with Marek’s in our flock, but it was almost certainly because one of the farms I got our birds from had it in their flock.  This was the point where we decided: we will always raise our own chicks, even if it’s a total pain in the butt doing it off the grid, and we will always get them vaccinated from the hatchery.  After that we feed them organic grains, and I just figure that by the time the six months have passed for them to start laying eggs there can’t be much medication left in their system.

If you’re wondering about our doomed flock, we didn’t have the heart to kill all of them the way UC Davis recommended.  The chickens that hadn’t gotten sick yet were still happy and healthy, so we let them hang out with us until the disease flared up, when we would take matters into our own hands and put them out of their misery.  It was really depressing, but it seemed like the nice thing to do.

I’m sure other people have had different experiences raising chickens.  Most people don’t end up with the mess that we had. This was the single most important lesson we’ve ever learned about chicken farming, though, and I hope that sharing it helps other people make conscious decisions about their farming methods.  Things are not always as black and white as they seem, unfortunately, and animal husbandry can be a lot more intense than growing some tomatoes in your backyard garden.

 

P.S. I still would rather raise them organically, so if you have a good solution…. please tell me!