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Archive for January, 2011

It`s been a long time since we`ve posted a recipe – especially one focussed on an economical meal.  A good friend (the lovely Jesse) recently pointed our that she`d love to see a return of our Cheap Tuesday Gourmet series. Back then we shared about 25 recipe ideas that were considerably less than $5 a portion and had an emphasis on flavor as well as often showing that season and local could be fused into the same theme.  The series also often included some of our preserving efforts as ingredients.

Life is a little busy these days to commit to a weekly posting like that but we thought we’d share the odd idea and recipe from our kitchen that’s in the same spirit.  Today’s recipe can be followed loosely if you don’t have all of the ingredients – the cost was about $2 a plate:

Thick slices of polenta are seared in an oven, rested on a bed of red pepper puree, topped with goat cheese which is dusted with beet powder and thinly sliced leeks:

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Mark Bitman grows on me every day.  The New York Times writer is also the author of two cookbooks I refer more to than all others in my kitchen combined (for the record, they are How To Cook Everything and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian).  He also introduced our house (and hundreds of thousands of others) to No-Knead Bread.   He has written a column named The Minimalist for the New York Times for 13 years.

He describes the Minimalist most eloquently below:

`A year later, the column was at least adolescent, and I described its typical recipes as I do today: nearly all of them use minimal technique, minimal time or minimal ingredients; many recipes meet two of those standards, and quite a few all three.`

Mr. Bitman announced the end of his column last week – and announced he would be moving to the Editorial section where he would continue to share recipes, simple food and his messages around food advocacy.  He chose to share 25 of his all-time favorite recipes on the Times blog this week.

As a send-off, we made his red pepper puree this weekend (this was one of the 25):

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It`s a delightfully lazy Saturday morning.  All 3 of us (Shaeffer the dog included) are lying on the couch.  The furry one is napping and the two of us are quietly scanning the Internet and slowly coming to our senses.

I happened to flip over to email and an awesome surprise was waiting.  An email from our friend Gail Gordon Oliver who is the publisher and editor of Edible Toronto:

`I’m in Santa Barbara attending the annual Edible Communities conference and am delighted to let you know that your Preserving column was one of three finalists in the “Best Editorial – New Column Creation” category in the Edible publishers awards; quite an honour in a field of some 60 Edible publications.`

I`m suddenly a lot more awake than I was a few minutes ago!

Here`s a recap of the 3 posters (and links to the recipes inside them):

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This post may be somewhat anti-climactic.  The most important parts of it are links to a few previous articles because a lot of it is covered there.  I’ll risk the redundancy to share the mysteries of pressure canning because:

  • It’s a natural evolution from water-bath canning.
  • It’s nowhere near as difficult as it may seem – though it can be very intimidating.
  • It’s an essential technique for preserving low acid foods – i.e. most anything other than fruit, most vegetables and pickles.
  • It’s my party and I can if I want to.  (Yes there was a pun on ‘can’ there…)

The essence of pressure canning is simple: by using stem under pressure, the temperature of the pot gets hotter than boiling water (which can never get above 212 degrees farenheit as it turns to steam).  This extra heat kills the nasties.

The basics of caning stock:

  • Place a few inches of water inside the pressure canner, turn the heat on maximum.  Place lid loosely on top.
  • Clean your jars, bring your stock up to heat and fill clean, hot jars with hot stock.  2 cup jars must have 1 inch of head space (the ‘air’ between the stock and lid).  Place in the pressure canner (this is why you started heating the water first – so they will remain in a warm/ not environment).
  • Once your jars are in the canner, place the lid on.
  • Bring your canner up to pressure.  Since we have a weighted gauge (it’s a small weight that is placed on top of the main vent, creating the right amount of pressure in the canner – in this case, 10 pounds), we simply let steam escape from the main vent without a weight on it for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, we gently put the weight on the vent and begin our timer.
  • Lower the heat – but not too much.  The idea is that you want to keep the pressure (and the heat) consistent.  When the weight is bouncing around, rattling a little and the pot is hissing, we’re good.
  • Pint jars take 20 minutes while quarts take 25.

Two things I’ve learned the hard way:

  • Make sure to leave the recommended head space.  The heat is intense and you need more head space or you will lose product from the jar.
  • Let the canner cool naturally.  Forcing the lid off early will cause a rapid cooldown of the jar contents.  This process often causes siphoning of your liquid and will lead to partially empty jars (and messy outsides).

For a more detail, there’s 3 things you may want to check out:

Let us know if there are questions we haven’t covered – the truth is that this process is so much simpler than many fear (and I remember when I did :)).

This is one part of a three-part series on making and canning stock.  You can locate all of the articles here.

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Cooking stock is all about patience.  For many years I just through water in a pot of `stuff`and boiled it as hard as it would go and hope for the best.  I`ve learned that`s a bit like trying to build a house of cards with a hammer and nails – it`s a little too harsh.

Our stock is started by adding roasted bones (if you choose) and the roasted vegetables (we also put our burned onions into the mix at this point) into the pot and covering with cool water.

The key to a clear, tasty broth is slowly altering the temperature (this is very difficult when preserving because of the volume of liquid you are heating).  A cold start allows solids to coagulate in larger pieces which makes a stock easier to skim as it cooks.  The solids should gather at the top or on the outsides of the pot.

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There was a good deal of discussion around stock when we posted about intentionally burning onions for that purpose last week so I decided it would be prudent to share our process of making and preserving (via pressure canning) stock.

Stock is a winter activity for us.  It can take a lot of time (although much of the time is passive), generate a reasonable amount of heat, and I tend to use it a lot more in the winter.  We generally use 1-2 liters of stock (often more) per week in the middle of winter.  It`s primary uses are soups and stews but it`s not uncommon for a few tablespoons to deglaze my pans or to bring a stir fry together.

The example we`re going to use here happens to be from venison though it would work with any core ingredients – including a veggie version.  I have been saving some of my peelings, carrot ends, discarded onions, etc in the freezer and tend to make a veggie stock on the fly – it is the only stock I make that can be done in a single day (we`ll share more about that later).

If you`re new around these parts and are curious (or even turned off) by the idea of hunting, I encourage you to visit my diary entries from the last 2 years of the harvest.  There`s no gruesome photos and they try to explain a balanced perspective which include my own struggle with a tradition that has lasted hundreds of years through my family. (more…)

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I should start this post with three caveats:

  1. I’m ok – this happened 10 days ago.  I will heal without a scar.
  2. There’s no gross photos that will surprise you below.
  3. I made a commitment to myself that I would share both success and struggle here; hoping others will learn from both.  I take no glory in this story and know how lucky I was.  I am only laughing at myself of taking very careful stock of what I could learn from this experience.  I ‘m not making light of what was a serious mistake – and could have been far worse.

I was making stock last Sunday – pressure canning to be exact (details of how to do so will be posted in the next several days as I walk through my process of making stock and how to preserve it).

Part of the process is to boil a few inches of water in the pressure canner.  My canner tends to take a while to bring water to a boil so I started heating the water in a small pot.  I usually use our circular stock pots but most were being used so I filled an oval-shaped stone piece of stoneware.  The pot had handles on either end of the oval.  The shape of the pot played a role in my fate (along with my own stupidity).

As the water came to a boil, I realized it would be difficult to accurately pour from the wide side of the pot.  It would also be difficult to pour from the thin side as I’d only be able to hold one handle…. (more…)

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