Dreaming of Vegetables.

I don’t know about you, but this time of year my fridge is completely bare. At the moment, I’ve got a sad, lonely egg sitting in there with a container of leftover slaw salad, a bottle of white wine and a whole bunch of half-filled dipping sauces.

Maybe it was the state of the fridge that brought me to one of my favorite moments in the sloppy, early spring thaw out: purchasing the CSA share. Hooking up Midnight Sun Farm with a big fat check means we’ll have a fridge full of green (and red, and yellow, and purple…) all summer long, and a pantry of potatoes in the fall. I can barely contain my excitement – seriously. Continue reading

Learning to Live With, and Eventually Love, my Tiny Kitchen

tumblr_mtwv2xKZ7W1qmywbko1_500It’s been nearly 18 months since I downsized from house to apartment. Downsizing can be difficult, and at first I felt like the biggest sacrifice was in the kitchen.  I love to cook (duh), and in the 12 years since dorm life I’ve accumulated, and accumulated, and accumulated some more. Each kitchen I’ve cooked in was bursting at the seams (literally… I’ve spilled over into dining rooms, coat closets, you name it).  So you can bet I was concerned when faced with the approximately 7 x 15 foot space that was to be my kitchen.  Where do I put the canning supplies? The stand mixer?!? The worms?!?!?

Apparently, I was being dramatic. 18 months later, what once felt crowded is now cozy, organized, and remarkably easy to keep clean.

As it turns out, I don’t need 2 blenders, 3 crockpots, a juicer, 2 coffee grinders, or 18 feet of counter space. As I moved in, settled in, and hunkered down in the apartment I realized that there were a lot of things I could part with – things that I hadn’t used in months to a year – things I sometimes didn’t want or need to begin with – things I would have rather done without anyway.

IMG_2020

As it turns out, all that stuff didn’t matter, and it didn’t make me a better cook. In evaluating what I wanted to keep, I discovered the things that were most precious to me, and most useful.

As it turns out, the food that comes out of my little kitchen tastes better, because this is a kitchen that only contains things that I love.

This is a kitchen that’s processed a hundred pounds of tomatoes (not all at the same time), pumpkin purees, and salsas galore. It’s frozen enough fresh vegetables to last for the winter, canned cranberry juice, and made pot after pot after pot of morning coffee. It’s churned out pies, frittatas, and an 18-pound turkey.  Everything has a place – even the worms

I can do anything in my kitchen you can do in yours – mine just takes less time to clean.

Canapolooza 2013

My friend Ann can can.

She might be able to can can too, but trust me, Ann can definitely can.

When I picked up my 40 pounds of tomatoes from Midnight Sun last Sunday for her Labor Day canning party (thinking, “wow, this is a s*#$ ton of tomatoes“), Ann said, “I think we may have different expectations about canning day.”

When two crafty ladies get together with cocktails and 100 pounds of tomatoes, it’s kind of amazing. Aside from the 19 jars of marinara sauce now sit in my pantry ready for the pizza I might make next February, here are some photographic highlights of the day:

Salsa!
Salsa! and, Ann’s extremely enormous pot.
Tomatoes without their skins, waiting to be squished for sauce
Tomatoes without their skins, waiting to be squished for sauce
Ann makes a brontosaurus out of tomato paste
Ann makes a brontosaurus out of tomato paste

Don’t buy “cinnamon coffee”, put cinnamon in your coffee.

Flavored coffees have always bothered me.  I don’t mean coffee with flavored syrup – I mean coffee that has some mysterious chemical layer of something-ness that infuses coffee beans to somehow taste like cinnamon, or french vanilla, or pumpkins.

You know me…. I’m a girl who likes to keep things au naturale.

But I get it.  Sometimes I don’t just want a plain black cup of coffee either.  Instead of buying cinnamon flavored coffee, just add some cinnamon to your coffee.  Grounds, sprinkle of cinnamon, brew, enjoy.  It works for a french press; it works for a drip brewer.  And yes, it’s really that simple.

Ok, cinnamon seems simple enough, but what about those other flavors?  Here are some popular flavors, and my solutions for infusing your coffee instead of coating it with chemicals:

2012-12-31 09.48.27Cinnamon: Duh, we already covered this… add powdered cinnamon, or a fresh grated cinnamon stick

French Vanilla: Pinch of raw sugar and a whole vanilla bean

Hazelnut: Grate a few hazelnut shavings into the grounds

Pumpkin: Sprinkle of pumpkin spice

“Christmas”: Mulling spices (go easy on them… a little goes a long way)

I’m all ears for other ideas…

What do you do to add pizzazz to your daily cup?

Late Night Catechism… and by catechism, I mean pork roast

Old Faithful strikes again….

Working in the arts often means keeping strange hours.  Lately I’ve been getting home from work between 10:30 and 11:30pm.  The typical nightly ritual of nine-to-fivers who come home, eat dinner, watch some TV, and go to bed is pretty much out the window in my house since by the time I get home I’ve already eaten dinner.  If I’m lucky, I have enough energy to drink a beer and fall asleep on the couch to the first 15 minutes of Project Runway on the DVR… Anyway, my co-worker Tony was gloating on Friday about his ingenuity in reshaping the theater schedule to include more home-cooked meals.

Enter, once again, the magical slow cooker

I’m all about multi-tasking, and what better way to multi-task than to cook dinner for tomorrow while you’re sleeping!  So, instead of the aforementioned 15 minutes of Project Runway I threw the typical meat-veg-liquid combination in the slow cooker and this morning I’m greeted by this:

Friday nights just got a little crazier in my house.  I might be doing this often…

Overnight Pork Roast

Ingredients:

  • Pork Shoulder (with or without bone)
  • Vegetable of choice (something sturdy like carrots, potatoes, onions, and celery), cut into big chunks
  • Liquid (water or broth)
  • S & P, or, a seasoning mix like Adobo

Loosely place the veggies on the bottom of your slow cooker and rest the meat on top. Rub salt and pepper or spice mix onto the pork shoulder and cover with liquid.  Set cooker on low to cook overnight and grab a beer.

The Crock Pot (a.k.a. “Old Faithful”) makes tomato sauce

“Old Faithful”

I pseudo inherited my crock pot from my mother while foraging her basement on a Sunday trip to the suburbs.  This 1975 Sears “Crock Watcher” is older than me, but undoubtedly in better condition.

If the 70’s got anything right, it’s the slow cooker.  The idea that I can stick something in there at 6am before I leave for work, cover it  with liquid, and come home to a good smelling house AND dinner still boggles my mind, and I do it about every other week…. sometimes more, sometimes less.

Lately Old Faithful has been working overtime cranking out tomato sauce to stock up for the winter.  I bought 30 pounds of tomatoes from Midnight Sun Farm over the course of three weeks and have made tomato processing an obsession.

After an epic fail on the stove of sauce that was way more juicy than saucy, I revamped my approach.  Ok, it wasn’t entirely a fail, just a misunderstanding between me and the tomatoes, really.  After consulting mom (my go-to for kitchen mishaps) and my friend and fellow canning-enthusiast Toni Camphouse, I opted to try the slow cooker approach, and I’m never turning back.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • Tomatoes (duh)
  • Salt
  • Lemon Juice
  • Canning jars and lids

Core and quarter tomatoes and fill your slow cooker.  Prop the lid open with a spoon and cook all day on low.

The great tomato stock-up begins…

Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the tomatoes until smooth.  Pre-fill canning jars with salt and lemon juice.  For quart jars, use 2TB lemon juice and 1 tsp. salt*.  Half those if using pint jars.  Add sauce to jars and fill to 1/2″ from the top.  Cover with lid and band, twisting until hand tight.

Add jars to water bath (making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch). Once water is boiling, reduce heat to a rolling boil and set time for 30-40 minutes (30 for pint jars, 40 for quart).  Remove from water bath and set on a level surface to cool (don’t shake the jars).  Store for as long as you like, or about a year, whichever comes first.

* You can add seasoning to your sauce before you jar it, but I prefer to do it once I open the jar so the herbs and spices are fresher.

Summer draws to a close

Fall 2011 at Portage Park Farmer’s Market | Photo by Kelly Rose

We’re on the heels of my favorite season.  The mornings now have a bite in the air, fashion scarves and sweaters are becoming imperative, and everything around me is turning into orange-y and amber hues.  Though I’m a California girl at heart, I’ve lived in the Midwest for almost 25 years.  The one thing about living here that has kept me from continually accosting my parents for moving us across the country is the leaves.  Well, they have leaves in California, but they don’t turn orange and gold and burgundy.

Some people live life with rose-colored glasses; my glasses are burgundy.

Plus, the idea of not sweating profusely every time I go somewhere is highly appealing to me.

The farmer’s market is becoming particularly bountiful, and though it’s sad to see summer squash and tomatoes go out of my life, the beginning of fall means it’s “squirrel time”.  What I mean is, I’m trying to make time to take everything that still just barely at it’s peak of freshness and dry it, freeze it or can it for the winter.

I’ve always wanted to make an attempt to preserve enough produce to make it through the winter without buying a shriveled up zucchini that was grown in the middle of Mexico and shipped to my local store on a refrigerator truck.

Wishful thinking…

I know that this isn’t the year for me to make this happen full stop, but nonetheless I’ve managed to buy and can or freeze 25 pounds of  tomatoes, pickle a bunch of beets, blanch and freeze broccoli, eggplant, and green beans, and there is a batch of crispy squash chips in the oven as I type.  I got a really big squash in my CSA box last week, was told it would be the last one, and, having eaten one squash too many, this is what I chose to do with it:

Squash Chips

Ingredients:

  • Zucchini or summer squash, thinly sliced and dried on a paper towel
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (spraying it with cooking spray works fine too).  Arrange the squash slices in a single layer and coat with olive oil using a pastry brush.  Sprinkle with a modest amount of salt and bake at 275-F for a LONG time (several hours).  When they are firm and crispy, they’re done.

A great substitute for potato chips, use these chips up in about three days, stored in a plastic bag or wrapped in a tea towel