Ginger Pickled Vegetables

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Ginger Picked Vegetables is a super easy canning recipe, and offers a quick and tasty way of preserving a few pounds of vegetables.  Go ahead and take advantage of that great sale at the market, or plant an extra row in your garden!  You’ll love these vegetables in stir-fry dinners, or right out of the jar.

Ingredients (makes 6 pint jars)

4 pounds of pickling vegetables (carrots, beans, radishes, zucchini, and small onions work well)

1 cup of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into pieces resembling matchsticks

1 tablespoon whole allspice

1 teaspoon peppercorns

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

3 cups water

3 cups white vinegar

Directions

Step 1) Combine all ingredients except for pickling vegetables and ginger in a large pot.  Bring to a gentle boil, stirring so that the sugar doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.  Reduce heat and simmer for another minute or two, until all of the sugar is dissolved.

Step 2) Line up 6 sterilized, pint size jars.  Pack the ginger and vegetables into the jars, being careful to distribute the ginger evenly between the jars.  Really pack the vegetables in tightly, but be sure to leave 1/2 inch headspace (no less!) at the top.  If your vegetables touch the top, the jars won’t seal!

Step 3) Carefully ladle the hot liquid into your jars.  Poke out air bubbles, clean the rims of the jars with a damp cloth, and seal with lids and bands.

Step 4) Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Best flavors are attained after 1 month.  Jars should keep for a year, but remember to always test the lids before eating canned goods!  In my opinion, this recipe tastes best when only one variety of vegetable goes into each jar.  You may feel differently.  Which varieties of vegetables will you try?  Let me know how your Ginger Pickled Vegetables turn out!

Pumpkin Apple Pancakes

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Imagine the flavors of pumpkin, apples, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves mingled together on your breakfast plate… it’s no wonder that this recipe includes very little sugar, yet tastes sinfully sweet.  Even better, this pancake batter is bound together with whole wheat flour.  No white flour here, folks.  So go ahead and enjoy.  You won’t even want syrup on these, they’re that good.

Ingredients (makes 10 large pancakes, or 5 servings)

1 thinly sliced apple

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 1/2 cups skim milk

2 eggs

2 tablespoons oil

2 cups whole wheat flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

picture397Directions

Step 1) Combine pumpkin, sugar, skim milk, eggs, and oil in a large bowl.  Mix well.

Step 2) Add dry ingredients to bowl and mix until just combined.  It’s OK if your batter has a few lumps.

Step 3) Place your griddle or large sauté pan over low – medium heat.  Spray picture398pan with canola oil.  Place 2 apple slices in the pan.

*Note:  The heavy amount of baking powder in this recipe means that your pancakes will expand more than you might expect!  Leave at least two inches between pancakes in your pan… really.

Step 4) Ladle batter over apple slices and wait.  These pancakes require a bit longer to cook on each side than conventional pancakes.  Check with the edge of your spatula after 3 minutes.  Somewhere between 3 – 5 minutes, the bottom of your pancakes should be cooked and lightly browned.

Step 5) Carefully flip your pancakes.  If an apple slice falls off, just put it back where it belongs and move forward with your day.

Step 6) Wait another 3 – 6 minutes for the bottom side to turn golden brown.  Poke the middle of a pancake with a toothpick and remove.  If the toothpick is clean, your pancakes are done.

Step 7) Serve while still hot, apple side up!  If you love toppings on your pancakes, I recommend applesauce instead of maple syrup.  But hey, it’s your breakfast.  Enjoy!

Spaghetti Squash with Bolognese

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This very simple Bolognese sauce begins with a batch of I Miss My Garden Sauce, incorporates three more ingredients, and Voila!  With minimal effort, you will have a fancy dish to impress your guests!  Like any decent Bolognese, this sauce requires several hours of simmer time, but don’t let that scare you away.  This recipe is really stone simple, you just have to be patient!  Bolognese is traditionally served with pasta, but here at Crowded Earth Kitchen we’re lightening things up a bit by using spaghetti squash as a base.  Either way, this sauce is delicious.  Have fun!

Ingredients (makes 10 cups of sauce plus two large squash halves)

2 pounds ground beef, 85% lean

8 cups of I Miss My Garden Sauce

2 cups cabernet sauvignon or other dry red wine

2 cups chicken broth (preferred) or vegetable broth (vegan substitute)

Directions for Bolognese Sauce

Step 1) Brown ground beef by cooking and stirring over low-medium heat for 20 minutes.  Drain.

Step 2) Add I Miss My Garden Sauce to ground beef and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step 3) Add 1 cup of wine and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step 4) Add 1 cup of broth and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step 5) Repeat Step 3.

Step 6) Repeat Step 4.

You’re done now, if you’re happy with the consistency of your Bolognese.  If it’s too thick, add a bit more wine or broth (your choice – taste the sauce first).  If it’s too thin, simmer for a few more minutes.

picture477Directions for Spaghetti Squash

Step 1) Poke about a dozen holes in the spaghetti squash with a fork.

Step 2) Microwave the whole squash for about 8 minutes.  Let sit 5 minutes.

Step 3) Carefully cut squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds.

Step 4) Pull tines of a fork “across the grain” to loosen the spaghetti squash threads.

Step 5) Serve Bolognese Sauce in squash halves, like a big bowl, or cut squash into individual serving sizes and smother with sauce.  Garnish with thinly sliced sundried tomatoes, if desired.

Delicious!

Garden Fresh Meatballs

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Today we’re making a whole lot of delicious meatballs – plenty for dinner tonight AND plenty for your freezer.  I like to smother trays of these meatballs with I Miss My Garden Sauce, shown above, and freeze for a day when I’m too busy to cook (it happens).  Just thaw, heat, and serve!

I’ve experimented with ground beef of varying fat contents, and I find that 85% lean makes the best meatballs.  You can use leaner ground beef if you wish, but when I’ve used, say, 93% lean, I feel like I am paying more only to end up with dry meatballs.  Feel free to try different types of ground beef; the decision is entirely up to you.

picture467Ingredients (makes 60 meatballs)

4 pounds ground beef, 85% lean

1 slice whole wheat bread, ground up into fresh crumbs

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2 tablespoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons dried basil

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/2 of a green pepper

1/2 of a yellow onion

3 sundried tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

picture468Directions

Step 1) In a small blender or food processor, puree green pepper, onion, sundried tomatoes and garlic.

Step 2) Combine all ingredients, including puree, in a large bowl.  Mix with clean hands until all ingredients are incorporated into the ground beef.

picture470Step 3) Pinch off golf ball size pieces of ground beef mixture and roll into balls.  Place one inch apart on shallow baking pans (you’ll need at least two).  Cover with foil and chill for 30 minutes.

Step 4) After meatballs chill, you can finish them one of two ways:

Option 1, you can place a dozen or so in a picture472frying pan at a time, and cook them on the stovetop for approximately 10 minutes over low-medium heat.  You will need to shake the pan handle often to roll the meatballs around and prevent sticking.  This method makes nice, round, “company suitable” meatballs.  The disadvantage is that you need to work in small batches, which will take a while.

Option 2, you can bake your meatballs all at once in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.  This method is faster and tastes exactly the same, but sometimes the bottoms of the meatballs have a slight, flat surface.  It’s up to you.  Either way, enjoy your dinner!

Looking for something a little fancier than meatballs?  OK.  Next time on Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’ll make Bolognese Sauce!

I Miss My Garden Sauce

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Every year as May approaches, I find myself in a vegetable conundrum.  The many quarts of vegetables preserved from last year’s organic backyard garden have lasted through the long winter months, but are now almost gone.  I can finally “play in the dirt” once again, my garden plot having lost its blanket of snow.  Alas, while planting season is fun, it offers nothing to bring back from the garden to the kitchen.  I’ll try to be patient for a few more weeks.  Meanwhile, I Miss My Garden Sauce offers the next best thing… homemade flavor coaxed from wholesome, organic ingredients (even if they aren’t from my own backyard).

This sauce offers a lot more nutrition than jarred spaghetti sauce, without any of the added sugar (Don’t believe me? Read the label on one of those jars at the supermarket.) It’s also a FANTASTIC recipe for hiding vegetables that children (and some grown-ups!) think they don’t like.  I won’t tell if you won’t tell.

Have fun shopping for the best produce you can find for this recipe – finding quality organic items at the market is part of the fun, and the gentle growing practices of organic farming are beneficial for our Crowded Earth!

picture484Ingredients (makes about 12 cups)

2 large (28  ounce) cans of organic tomatoes

1 head organic cauliflower

4 large organic carrots

1 organic onion

picture4853 bulbs organic garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons dried basil

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

picture486Directions

Step 1) Cut the tops off of each bulb of garlic as shown.  Place all three bulbs of garlic in the center of a large square of foil.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the tops of the bulbs.  Gather up the sides of the foil and pinch together above the garlic.  Set aside.

picture492Step 2) Grease a large roasting pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Chop cauliflower, carrots, and onion into bite-size chunks and place on roasting pan.  Cover with both cans of tomatoes (including juice).

Step 3) Place roasting pan and foil pack of garlic in oven, and roast at 400 degrees until vegetables are soft, approximately 45 minutes.  It’s OK if the tops of a few veggies picture489blacken, but be sure to stir the pan with a spatula once or twice to keep the bottom from sticking.

Step 4) Transfer roasted vegetables to a large pot.

Step 5) Carefully open foil packet of roasted garlic.  Turn each bulb upside down over the pot, and squeeze garlic into pot.  (This is picture493surprisingly messy; the papery garlic skins will stick to your hands.  Just wash your hands.  You’ll live.)

Step 6) Puree contents of pot with an immersion blender.  Blend in oregano, basil, and pepper.  That’s all – you’re done!  If the sauce is too thick for your liking, thin with a little bit of vegetable broth, chicken broth, or tomato juice.

This sauce tastes even better if you allow the flavors to blend in the refrigerator for a day or two.  Next up on Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’ll make fabulous meatballs to enjoy with this sauce.  Stay tuned!

This was fun, but I still miss my garden.

Carrot Cake Jam

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Among friends and family, this is my most requested jam.  I keep cheerful little half-pint jars of Carrot Cake Jam on hand at all times, because it makes such a perfect hostess gift, teacher gift, get well soon offering, thank you acknowledgment… you get the idea.  I’m telling you, this jam tastes exactly like carrot cake, without all of the fat (and accompanying calories).  Mix a few tablespoons into a cup of low fat yogurt for a quick fruit dip, or spread it on toasted slices of Easter Bread.  You’re going to love this!

A note about color:  I add brown sugar to Carrot Cake Jam because I like the warm depth of flavor that brown sugar imparts.  I don’t mind the resulting, darker jam color.  If you’d prefer a bright orange Carrot Cake Jam, along with a lighter flavor, simply substitute the 2 cups of brown sugar for an additional 2 cups of white sugar.

picture565Ingredients (makes 9 half-pint jars)

3 cups finely shredded carrots (about 4 large carrots)

1 1/2 cups finely chopped, peeled pear (1 large or 2 small pears)

1 15 ounce can crushed pineapple in natural pineapple juice (do not drain)

picture5662 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

7 tablespoons powdered pectin

picture5672 cups dark brown sugar

4 cups white sugar

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

Directions

Step 1) Combine finely shredded carrots, finely chopped pear, undrained pineapple, picture569lemon juice, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg in a large pot.  Bring to a boil while stirring frequently.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

Step 2) Remove from heat.  Mix pectin into 1 cup of white sugar, and add to pot.  Stir until pectin and sugar dissolve.

Step 3) Bring pot to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add remaining 3 cups of white sugar and 2 cups of brown sugar.  Stir over medium-high heat until the pot comes to a full boil that cannot be stirred down.  Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat.

Step 4) Ladle jam into sterilized canning jars.  Wipe rims and cover with lids and bands.  Process jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Let sit on protected countertop for 24 hours before giving as gifts (or eating with a spoon, right out of the jar!).

 

 

All Natural Easter Eggs

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Hop.  Hop.  Hippity Hop!  That bunny will be here in just a few days, and wouldn’t it be fun if he arrived with a basket of all natural, beautifully dyed Easter eggs?  This spring, let’s leave those artificial dye pellets in all of their excess packaging at the market, and opt for coloring eggs with a few simple kitchen ingredients instead.  It’s safe, economical, and fun!

picture532Ingredients (makes 18 hard boiled Easter eggs)

18 eggs

water (1 cup per dye color, plus water for cooking eggs)

vinegar (1 tablespoon per color)

picture550 (2)1 cup coffee (for chocolate brown color)

1/2 cup shredded purple cabbage (for robin’s egg blue color)

1 tablespoon ground paprika (for caramel color)

2 tablespoons dill seed (for pale yellow color)

picture5481 red beet (for gray color)

Other ideas (not shown):

1/2 cup shredded spinach (for pastel green color)

1 tablespoon ground turmeric (for gold color)

Directions

Step 1) Place eggs gently in a single layer in a large pan, and cover completely with water.

Step 2) Bring pan to a gentle simmer and cover.  Cook eggs at a gentle simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove eggs from water.

picture547Step 3) For chocolate brown eggs:  Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to 1 cup of cold coffee in a 2-cup container.  Add up to three eggs (double the vinegar and coffee if you wish to color more than three eggs using coffee).

Step 4) For blue eggs: Bring shredded cabbage and 1 cup of water to a boil.  Drain picture545liquid into a 2-cup container.  Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and up to three eggs.  Note:  adding vinegar to your cabbage water will turn the water pink.  Your eggs will still turn out blue.  Ah, the marvels of chemistry!  Note:  follow this same procedure using spinach instead of cabbage, if you’d like to make pastel green eggs.

Step 3) For gray eggs:  Peel one red beet.  Bring the peels and 1 cup of water to a boil.  Drain liquid into a 2-cup container.  Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and up to three eggs.

Step 4) For yellow eggs:  Lightly crush dill seed with a mortar and pestle, a meat tenderizer, or 1 -2 seconds in a grinder.   Add to 1 cup of water and bring to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes before draining liquid into a 2-cup container.  Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and up to three eggs.

Step 5) For caramel colored eggs:  Boil 1 cup of water with paprika.  Filter through a coffee filter into a 2-cup container.  Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and up to three eggs.  Follow this same procedure if you plan to try using turmeric.

Step 6) For all colors:  Place your 2-cup containers of all natural dye and hard boiled eggs in the refrigerator.  Allow eggs to soak in dye at least overnight; 24 hours is best.  Remove eggs from dye and allow to air dry on a paper towel.  Dyed eggs will have a matte finish.  If you’d prefer shiny eggs, carefully rub them with a tiny bit of vegetable oil.

New Freebie! Submit a recipe, win a book!

image_miniTurn Here Sweet Corn:  Organic Farming Works, by Atina Diffley

Contest Dates:  April 15th – April 30th

How to Win:  Submit a recipe to The Global Recipe Project!  One recipe entrant will be randomly selected to receive a Reader Giveaway copy of this great book!

“Organic farming is so much more than just a set of standards and a marketing label, more than just a way to make money in a competitive industry, more than just a growing system that doesn’t use chemical inputs. Organic farming has the potential to be solely based on renewable energy – the sun. We know how to work with the soil, the sun, and plants to manage fertility, pests, and disease through soil health and biological diversity. This is security. This is the future. It is our resiliency and our redemption. As long as the sun rises every morning, organic farming systems will remain viable. Our experience is proof of our success, but knowing is not enough.” (p. 269)

If only every skeptic would read this book. Turn Here, Sweet Corn weaves together lessons of modern science and ancient wisdom, the realities of urban sprawl and wildlife displacement, the clashes between Big Oil and small town activism, and lays bare the incompatibility of fossil fuel-based economics and long term environmental health. This book is not told through a detached, anthropological lens, but is offered as a collection of first-person lived experiences of Atina Diffley, organic gardener-farmer, educator, respected community member, wife and mother.

Whether sharing funny memories of nine year-old boys and exploding beetles, or gut wrenching stories of devastating hailstorms and unwelcome development, Ms. Diffley infuses her memoir with true emotion. In sharing the realities of marriage, mothering, planting, growing, harvesting, selling, and building community, Ms. Diffley illustrates the complete lifestyle and commitment that is organic farming. Turn Here, Sweet Corn is at times difficult to read, and yet impossible to set down.

Readers of Turn Here, Sweet Corn will never look at land development or non-organic produce quite the same way again. What a blessing that is, not only for ourselves, but also for our children who will inherit the earth we leave behind.

Easter Bread

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Easter Bread is a rich, dark, hearty bread just perfect served with an exuberant Easter dinner.  Bold flavors of rye and whole wheat are tempered with a bit of milk and the soothing, subtle sweetness of molasses.  Including rye flour means this bread will take a bit longer to rise, but the flavors are worth the wait.  Let’s play with flour!

Ingredients (makes one large loaf)

2 1/2 teaspoons yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup dry milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup blackstrap molasses

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 cup rye flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup white flour

1 egg yolk

Directions

picture392Step 1) Combine yeast, warm water, and sugar in a large bowl.  Stir and let the yeast bloom for 1 or 2 minutes, until the surface looks creamy.

Step 2) Add dry milk, salt, molasses, and butter.  Mix well.  A small electric mixer (on low speed) works well for incorporating the butter.  If you mix with a spoon, as I did, just make sure to mix long enough so that all ingredients are thoroughly blended (no butter clumps!).

picture393Step 3) Gently stir in all three flours, one cup at a time.

Step 4) Remove dough from bowl and place on a well oiled* countertop.  Knead bread dough with your hands for 8 minutes, rubbing a bit of oil on your hands as needed to prevent sticking.

*Note:  We are using an oiled countertop instead of the more common floured countertop because we don’t want to work extra flour into this recipe while kneading.  More flour will give this bread a tough texture, and who wants that?

Step 5) Shape kneaded dough into a ball and let rise in a large greased bowl for 90 minutes.  It helps to place the bowl in a warm (not hot) location, and to cover the picture394bowl with a thin towel.  (Bread enthusiasts call this a “proofing towel.”)

Step 6) Grease a baking pan and sprinkle it lightly with cornmeal.

Step 7) After 90 minutes, gently lift your dough from the bowl… do NOT punch down the dough or handle it roughly.  We need to be gentle with this dough.  There are teeny tiny air bubbles trapped inside this dough, and we want to keep as many of them as possible!

Step 8) Shape your dough into a nice, rounded loaf.  The way to do this is to start at picture407the top in the center, and smooth the dough down and underneath.  Think of petting a dog, as goofy as that sounds.  It’s OK to apply some pressure and “pull” dough down the sides and tuck it underneath – just don’t rip the dough in half or anything tragic like that.  When you are happy with the shape of your loaf, place it on the prepared baking pan.

Step 9) Brush the top and sides of your dough with a lightly beaten egg yolk.  If you don’t have a pastry brush, just blot the egg yolk onto the dough with a napkin.  If you wish, you may now sprinkle the dough lightly with a “garnish.”  Ideas include quinoa, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or even a bit of cinnamon.  I’ve sprinkled a few poppy seeds on the loaf pictured here.  Also if you wish, you may gently score the top of the loaf with a serrated knife.  This will make your loaf look all fancy schmancy, but don’t get carried away – I don’t recommend more than 2 or 3 knife marks, and don’t cut any deeper than 1/2 inch.

Step 10) Let your prepared loaf rise for another 60 minutes.  No need to cover the loaf this time.

Step 11) Bake your loaf in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Let cool, and enjoy!

Baked Festival and Plantains

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As the name implies, Baked Festival and Plantains is a celebratory dish.  Bite size pieces of sweetened cornbread known throughout Jamaica as “Festival” are typically fried and served along side either cassava or plantains, also fried.  Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’ve lightened things up a bit by baking both the Festival and the plantains, while preserving the decadence of this dish by adding the rich warmth of molasses.  Paired with Poblano Jerk Chicken, this dish makes a fun addition to a festive holiday meal!

Not familiar with plantains?  You’re in for a treat!  While they look a bit like bananas, their taste and starchy texture is more similar to a sweet potato.  I recommend plantains that have blackened skins for this recipe – the black mottling, while not very attractive, means the plantains are ripe and sweet.  If you can only find unblemished (meaning unripe) plantains, just let them sit on your countertop for a few days to ripen.

picture522Ingredients (makes 4-6 side dish servings)

1 1/4 cup flour

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

3/4 cup water

3 tablespoons sugar

picture5242 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

4 small or 3 large plantains

2 tablespoons coconut oil (preferred) or olive oil

2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses

picture523Directions

Step 1) Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, and baking powder in a mixing bowl.

Step 2) Add coconut extract and water, 1/4 cup at a time, mixing well with a fork.

Step 3) Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let sit for 30 minutes.

picture525Step 4) Grease two baking pans with 1 tablespoon coconut oil (or olive oil) each.

Step 5) Remove plantains from skins and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices.  It is sometimes difficult to peel plantains “top to bottom” like a banana.  An easier way to peel plantains is to cut through the peel from top to bottom (as shown), and then pull pack the peel as if you were opening a picture526book.

Step 6) Place plantain slices in a single layer on one baking pan, and drizzle with molasses.  OPTIONAL:  melt 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil on stovetop or in microwave for a few seconds, and drizzle over plantain slices.  This will add back additional “fried” flavor and texture, but will also introduce additional fat and calories.  picture527Your decision.

Step 8) Place plantains in preheated 350 degree oven, giving them a 10 minute start on the Festival.

Step 9) Drop rounded tablespoons of Festival batter onto the second greased pan.  Place in oven with plantains once their 10 minute head start has ended.

Step 10) Remove both pans from oven after 20 minutes.  Serve and enjoy!

 

Submit a Recipe, Win this Book!

Final Three Days!

 Don’t Forget!  Submit a recipe to the Global Recipe Project by April 14th!

One entry will be randomly selected to receive a copy of this book!

the art of eating inThe Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove, by Cathy Erway

“…people will say that the world of restaurant food is vast. But the world of cooking and eating in far exceeds it in scope, even in a city as seemingly disinclined toward home cooking as New York.” -p. 317

As someone who used to have an (almost) daily restaurant habit and slowly became a (mostly) scratch cook, I truly loved this book. In The Art of Eating In, Cathy Erway tells the story of both extremes. Immediately on Page 1, she sets the context of common food attitudes in New York City by describing a showing for a two-bedroom apartment that didn’t have a kitchen. While the very idea sounds like science fiction to my Midwestern sensibilities, Ms. Erway patiently and thoroughly explains the saturation of dining establishments, normalcy of evening take-out, and patterns of socializing over food that are common in the burgeoning city she calls home.

Then, she deconstructs these norms with precision as she unveils her plan to avoid any and all New York City restaurants for an entire year. Cathy Erway leaps right in, walking the reader through her own personal journeys of cooking and baking, creative food sourcing, and grappling with the sometimes awkward realities of developing and maintaining personal relationships sans restaurants. From urban foraging adventures to unabashed dumpster diving to underground supper clubs, Cathy Erway leaves no stone unturned in her exploration of the expansive culinary world beyond the restaurant scene.

As I read this book, I was captivated by Ms. Erway’s candor and her learning curve. For example, while she entered into this project without any experience (and little enthusiasm for) yeast baking, she was undaunted by meat processing or cooking with offal. This runs completely contrary to my own kitchen experiences, and was fascinating to ponder. I found myself on more familiar ground as Ms. Erway earnestly described how her project made her acutely aware of the waste associated with restaurant food. At one point, she even designed an experiment whereby she weighed and measured the waste associated with a restaurant meal compared to a similar home cooked meal. Very interesting. Her commitment to becoming better informed is clear in her references to the works of authors such as Michael Pollan and Mark Schapiro.

Cathy Erway’s book is written from a refreshing perspective – rather than teaching the reader from a position of preexisting expertise, Ms. Erway invites the reader to share in her own journey of learning and discovery. Along the way, Ms. Erway shares fun recipes and quirky stories guaranteed to keep the reader engaged. If you could use a boost of enthusiasm to enjoy your kitchen even more, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Cathy Erway’s The Art of Eating In!

Poblano Jerk Chicken

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This dish has easily earned a place on my Top Meals of All Time list.  Easily.  As soon as you begin toasting the spices for the rub, you’ll understand.  Preparing this dish is an experience to be enjoyed!  The rub is just plain fun to make, and your kitchen will smell sublime.  Don’t rush the marinade – let your chicken relax in this rub for a full 24 hours before baking.

Somewhere, someone is dancing from foot to foot while shouting at their computer screen about how Jerk Chicken is traditionally made with Scotch Bonnet peppers… I know.  Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’re being rebellious and using Poblanos!  Why?  One, I have a freezer full of free Poblano peppers from my backyard organic garden, and free is my favorite price!  Two, Scotch Bonnet peppers (also known as Habaneros) are hot enough to peel paint right off the walls.  That’s fine for a grown-ups only dinner, but not always fine with kids.  I want everyone to enjoy their meal.

Next time on Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’ll make a perfect accompaniment for this dish.  So, while you’re gathering ingredients for Poblano Jerk Chicken, you may want to make sure you have cornmeal and a few plantains on hand.  Just sayin’.

picture517Ingredients (Serves 4 – 6)

1 fresh, whole chicken, cut into pieces

2 whole Poblano peppers

1 red onion

4 cloves garlic

picture5181/2 cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons ground allspice

picture5191 teaspoon each:  salt, black pepper, ground ginger, freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon, crushed coriander, ground cloves

Directions

Step 1) Place ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, and allspice in a small pan.  Toast over low heat for 2 minutes, picture520stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Step 2) Place peppers, onion, garlic, vinegar, molasses, and olive oil in a small blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth.

Step 3) Add toasted spices, salt, pepper, and thyme to puree.  Blend until all ingredients are fully incorporated.  This is your Jerk rub… do you smell that?  Fabulous!

picture521Step 4) Score each piece of chicken several times with a sharp knife.

Step 5) Generously rub each piece of chicken with the Jerk rub and set in a pan.

Step 6) Pour any remaining Jerk rub over your pan of chicken, cover with foil, and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Step 6) Remove from fridge 30 minutes before baking, and rearrange chicken so that it can bake in a single layer.

Step 7) Bake in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the meat (but not against a bone!) reads 165 degrees.  Tip:  I bake the smaller pieces (wings, drumsticks) on a their own pan, as these pieces are usually ready to come out of the oven at least 10 minutes before the larger pieces (breasts, thighs).

Try to take more than one bite without dancing a little reggae, I dare you!

Lavender Tea Blends

picture101It’s time for our April Wellness Teas!  Lavender is synonymous with springtime here at Crowded Earth Kitchen.  The signature color of lavender buds, combined with their fresh, clean scent, are an assurance that the warm summer sun will be here soon enough.  While we wait, let’s warm up with a cup of tea!

Lavender teas have long been recommended by herbal experts for soothing the stomach, serving as a sleep aide, and relieving headaches.  Crowded Earth Kitchen is featuring two lavender tea blends today.  The first, Lavender Passion Flower Tea, combines lavender with passion flower leaves.  Available in the herbal section of many markets, passion flower leaves have a long history as a folk remedy for anxiety and insomnia.  Lavender Passion Flower Tea has an earthy taste and a springtime fragrance reminiscent of freshly cut grass.

Our second lavender tea blend, Lavender Chamomint, combines lavender with the soothing power of German chamomile and the perky zip of peppermint.  While also offering calming properties, the herbs in Lavender Chamomint have also been used by women as folk remedies for pre-menstrual symptoms and menstrual cramps.

picture390Lavender Passion Flower Tea

(makes 12 cups)

Combine 2 heaping tablespoons of dried passion flower leaves with 2 heaping tablespoons of dried lavender buds.  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of this mixture.  Steep for 5 minutes.

~

picture391Lavender Chamomint Tea

(makes 15 cups)

Combine 2 heaping tablespoons of dried lavender buds, 2 heaping tablespoons of dried German chamomile, and 1 heaping tablespoon of peppermint.  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of this mixture.  Steep for 5 minutes.

Enjoy, and Be Well!

Crowded Earth Kitchen will revisit the topic of tea from time to time.  If you have a favorite herb or type of tea that you would like to see featured, please comment below!

Caramelized Onion, Oven-Dried Tomato & Chevre Tart (plus a field trip!)

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Crowded Earth Kitchen Version!

I recently had the privilege and great fun of attending the All Cheese cooking class at Coquette Café. My foodie friend Denise has been raving about the classes at Coquette Café for a while, proclaiming them to be “a two hour vacation.” Now that I’ve joined her at one of these events, I’m left wondering what took me so long!

picture858Four chefs took turns sharing their humor, high energy, and crazy talent as they walked 40 or so lucky guests through the preparation process for a complete, four course meal, while efficient and unobtrusive staff served generous portions of each dish. Topping off the experience, a friendly and approachable sommelier was on hand to walk us through delicious wine pairings. Try picture880not to drool on your computer…

Oven-Dried Tomato, Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Tart paired with 2012 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigar (Rose), Santa Cruz, California

Spicy Tomato and Bleu Cheese Soup with mini 18 month Cheddar Grilled Cheese Sandwiches 10151001_10203539068186483_49327554_npaired with 2009 Vina Bujanda Crianza, Rioja, Spain

Pan-Seared Hanger Steak, Bleu Cheese Butter, Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes, Haricot Verts paired with 2012 Chilensis Malbec, Central Valley, Chile

Lemon Cheesecake with Fresh Berries and Marscapone Cream paired with 2012 Centorri Moscato di Pavia IGT, Lombardy, Italy

picture930As part of the class, Coquette Café generously provided a take-home packet of recipes. The chefs repeatedly emphasized that these recipes were intended as templates for creating dishes in our own kitchens, a message I took to heart. I was particularly enamored with the first course, and set out to modify the provided recipe to make it suitable for Crowded Earth Kitchen. I converted weights into volumes, changed a few proportions, modified the onions slightly, and baked one large tart rather than individual servings. The recipe below isn’t Coquette Café’s precisely, but it’s close. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If you find yourself in the Milwaukee area, I highly, highly recommend taking in a cooking class at Coquette Café!

Directions for Caramelized Onion, Oven-Dried Tomato & Chevre Tart (makes a nine inch tart)

Tomatoes (prepare in advance):

picture9428 large Roma tomatoes, halved and seeds removed

¼ cup olive oil

1 ½ tablespoons Herbes de Provence (Coquette Café uses their own secret blend; I like Penzey’s)

½ teaspoon salt

Toss seeded tomato halves with olive oil, herbs, and salt in a large bowl. Place on a baking sheet with low sides, making sure the cut side of each tomato half is facing upward. Place tomatoes in your oven and dry at the LOWEST oven setting (mine is about 170 degrees F) possible. I left mine in the oven for about 4 hours and, to be honest, they could have probably used another hour or two. When you are satisfied with the dryness of your tomatoes, remove them from the oven. Finally, remove the peels from your dried tomato halves. Don’t worry – this is very easy. The peel will, well, peel right off, leaving you with beautiful, silky textured tomatoes.

Crust:

picture10052 cups white flour

6 tablespoons cold butter

1 egg

¼ cup cold water

¼ cup cold vodka (When the alcohol evaporates during baking, you will be left with a flakier crust!)

Use a pastry cutter to cut slices of cold butter into the flour until butter is pea sized. Whisk together egg, water, and vodka. Add liquid mixture SLOWLY to the flour and butter mixture. Using clean hands, form dough into a ball and place in freezer for 30 minutes. Remove from freezer and roll dough into a ten inch circle on a floured surface. Transfer dough to tart pan and gently press into place. Place a circle of parchment paper on top of the dough, and cover the parchment paper with dried beans (this will prevent big, unsightly air bubbles). Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove beans (which may be reused for baking future tart crusts) and parchment.

Caramelized Onions:

picture10042 very large, yellow onions (peeled, cut in half, and sliced very thin WITH the grain)

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon white balsamic vinegar (this is my personal vinegar preference; feel free to substitute)

½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

As your tart crust is baking, melt butter and oil together in a very hot saute pan. Add onions and stir, stir, stir. Then stir, stir, and stir some more. Keep stirring. You are looking for golden brown color – “caramel” color – but absolutely no black specks! If your onions start to stick, add a tablespoon of water (it will evaporate anyway). Once your onions are golden brown and completely soft, add the vinegar, pepper, and salt. Continue stirring over heat until the onions are dry.

Assembly:

picture1003This is the fun part, where all of your efforts come together! First, cover bottom of your tart shell with caramelized onions. Second, arrange your oven-dried tomatoes on top of the onions. Finally, top it all off with little spoonsful of Chevre cheese (4 ounces total). Bake at 375 degrees for about 3 minutes, until the Chevre looks melty and irresistible. Remove from oven and slice with a very sharp knife. Enjoy this remarkable dish!

 

Nam Prik Pao (or, “There are Thai chilies in my German American kitchen!”)

I can explain how it happened.  I was meandering through my local Asian food market, a gastronomic playground, and there they were… bright red, glossy little Thai chili peppers.  Yes, I knew they were hotter than the surface of the sun, but they looked so happy, they just had to come home with me.  See how they just POP! among the food jewels I procured…

picture976Two things occurred to me as I pondered the Thai chilies waiting expectantly in my German American kitchen.  First, I realized I may have gotten a teeny bit carried away purchasing a half pound of the fiery little peppers.  Second, I realized that the peppers on my countertop represented precisely a half pound more than the sum total of all of the hot peppers in all of the recipes handed down by my European and Scandinavian elders.  [I’m a little bit Norwegian, too… you know how us Norwegians love to slather hot peppers all over our potato lefse…]

Enter the internet.  After brainstorming online, I settled on Nam Prik Pao – Thai Chili Paste – as my chosen way of honoring these peppers.  I found approximately one million and four different recipes, featuring about that same number of different ingredients and preparation techniques.  “Inquiring Chef” and “She Simmers” offered particularly comprehensive descriptions (thank you!).  Every recipe, I noticed, offered some combination of sweet, sour, umami, and salt… all seemingly to balance the HOT of the peppers.  I used that combination as a template, played around with ratios through a few dozen samples, and here is what I came up with.  I think it’s delightful, and fancy using it in many of the Asian and Oceanic Global Recipe Project recipes which call for chili paste.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Nam Prik Pao (Makes 4 small jars, 4 ounces each)

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Ingredients

picture9831 1/2 cups red Thai chilies, stems removed

1 1/2 cups whole, peeled garlic cloves

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons tamarind paste

2 tablespoons water

Directions

Step 1) Toast peppers in a dry frying pan over high heat, shaking the pan often, until the peppers have a few blackened char marks and smell very fragrant.  This will only take a few minutes.

picture984Step 2) Add garlic and onion to peppers.  Continue shaking the pan over high heat until the garlic and onion begins to brown slightly.  Don’t let the garlic or onion burn!  Remove from heat and immediately cover with a tight fitting lid.  Let the pan sit and “sweat” for 10 minutes.

Step 3) Very, very carefully, puree the pepper mixture in a blender or food processor.  If you get any of this in your eyes or under your fingernails, you will probably wish for a quick death, so seriously, be careful.

picture985Step 4) Add all remaining ingredients except for water to the blender.  Process until desired consistency is reached (I made mine pretty smooth, like mustard).

Step 5) Add water until desired thickness is obtained.  If you want a true “paste,” don’t add any water at all.  If you want a pourable sauce, add up to 1/2 cup of water.  I used 2 tablespoons for a thick sauce that sticks to a spoon like molasses.

Step 6) Spoon into small jars, seal, and refrigerate.  This recipe will fit in a single pint jar, but I recommend using several very small jars and giving a few of them away to food-adventurous friends.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll show you a few fabulous recipes which use small quantities of this sauce!