State of the Freezer: Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without

State of the Freezer: Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without

Monday Moo-sings: In which we share random farm happenings, snapshots & recipes

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Can’t imagine a prettier color filling…

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I must say I’m a teeny bit disappointed.  Disappointed because not a single one of you asked about my rhubarb beet tart from St. Patrick’s Day.

Now I really, really need to know; did you not ask because you didn’t notice, or because it didn’t sound like anything you’d want to make?

In case your head has been under a rock, guess what? It’s spring.  Ready or not here it comes it seems. Grass is growing, trees are blooming, and new rhubarb is pushing its way up. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but I’m not being ungrateful or anything.

The fruit is macerated, the juice is strained, reduced & added to filling after baking

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Obviously I’d better get a move on and empty the freezer of the remains of last summer’s stash so I’ll be ready for the new stuff soon to come. Some of my stash?

One pound of rhubarb nicely chopped & ready to go.  My plan was to make my favorite rhubarb tarts, but I find I’m 8 ounces short of rhubarb.  Conveniently, I have exactly 8 ounces of grated beets. Coincidence? I think not.

While the pies bake, the strained liquid is reduced to a thickened sauce

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I followed the rhubarb tart recipe exactly except for the substitution of 8 ounces of beets for 8 ounces of rhubarb.  Then, instead of the vanilla, I used the zest from one orange.  The cinnamon I could go either way on – I added it this time, next time I think I’ll pass. But the orange was perfect.

the open crust allows the thickened sauce to be easily spooned in & i like the rustic look

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It was a unique and serendipitous hit if I do say so myself; I highly recommend pie as a way to clean out that freezer. I have high hopes about this years’ garden… and the squash and pumpkin still waiting in the freezer.  With a little luck that freezer will be emptied & restocked in no time…

Are you getting excited for summer food projects?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

Easter Egg Glut? Pickle ’em!

Easter Egg Glut? Pickle ’em!

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

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It’s time. Time for the springtime rituals of Easter baskets & hard-boiled eggs. Like chocolate bunnies, those eggs are everywhere and you can only eat so many egg-y things before either they or you go bad.

So, rather than avoiding waste by being stingy with the single healthy, natural thing in the standard-issue Easter basket, after the day is over, pickle the excess. Pickled eggs will keep for months, make sure none go to waste and add a powerful new culinary staple to your pantry.

I’ve gone through plenty of recipes seeking the perfect blend of simplicity and yumminess and what follows is my favorite. For now.  It’s a forgiving recipe though, so feel free to nip and tuck to suit yourself.

Like all simple recipes, the deliciousness is proportionate to the quality of the ingredients.  The number one most important step is this: start with great eggs. 

I am a believer in the power of the farm fresh, pastured egg. Of course, I’m lucky because my neighbor keeps a big flock of free ranging hens and is a generous sharer. Kind of like healthy mother culture, he gives me three dozen eggs, I return a pint of pickled eggs and my emptied egg cartons and the circle of life continues.  Don’t have a chicken-farming friend? You can find one here.

Since your whole reason for this glut of hard-boiled eggs is probably for the fun of dying the eggs with your kids, you should know it is not necessary to buy white eggs to make pretty dyed eggs. The brown shells will dye to softer shades, although yellows may be a little disappointing. Since most farm-fresh eggs are brown, this is a public service announcement designed to save you from the white battery hen eggs in the supermarket.

Once you have your awesome eggs, please pay extra special attention to the process of hard boiling the eggs. With a little extra care, your pickled eggs will be radiantly beautiful. Like pure sunshine, really.

Neglecting your eggs will create that icky green ring around the outside of the yolk which is a real downer for me.   Of course it makes no difference in the taste, and I’ll still gobble them up, but a beautiful ring-free yolk makes me really happy.

The Secret to Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs:

You may or may not know that freshly laid hard-boiled eggs are difficult to peel. They are – I kid you not. Try to store the eggs in the refrigerator for at least a week before boiling.  If you find that eggs you have already boiled just won’t peel nicely, store the cooked eggs in the refrigerator for a few days and they should become easier to peel.

Or, you may try steaming instead of boiling – this quickie from the always entertaining and informative Alton Brown brings up a few good pointers.  Note: Alton Brown is referring to store-bought eggs, so his advice about the freshness of the eggs is a little off for laid-today eggs from the farm. His tip about centering the yolks is right-on and one I learned the hard way.

I don’t steam my eggs because I really don’t have a good steamer, and I’m about to do three dozen, not four.  So, this is how I do it:

  1. Take the eggs out of the refrigerator for about an hour before starting.  To center the yolks, secure carton lids (a rubber band works well) and place the cartons on their sides. Otherwise, yolks may be too near the egg wall, causing you to break them when you peel the egg – not so good for pickled eggs, but no problem for egg salad.
  2. Use as many large pots as necessary to place eggs in a single layer and cover by at least an inch or two of cold water. Starting with cold water and bringing the eggs to a boil gently will help avoid shocking the eggs into cracking.
  3. I add a teaspoon of white vinegar and ½ teaspoon of salt to each pot.
  4. On high heat, bring to a boil and as soon as your water boils, cover pot and turn off the heat. (I have an electric stove. If you have gas, once the water reaches a boil, remove pot from flame. Turn down to low, return pot to burner and simmer for one minute.
  5. After the minute, remove from burner, cover and let sit for 12 minutes.
  6. While the eggs are resting, prepare an ice water bath large enough to accommodate all your eggs at once. You can use a large bowl, pot or even the sink if necessary.
  7. Remove the eggs using a slotted spoon and submerge in the ice bath to cool.

Peeling your eggs:

  1. Allow your eggs plenty of time to cool.
  2. Set up a bowl of clean, cold water and a container or bowl to store your peeled eggs
  3. I start by gently cracking the egg all over and starting at the wide end. If you’re lucky, the shell will gently peel away from the egg, leaving a smooth shiny surface. Rinse in the water & place in the storage container. Repeat.
  4. If you’re not lucky, the shell will cling to the egg and tear the flesh of the egg leaving a knobby messy looking egg. Still tastes good, but not quite so beautiful. If this is the case, after creating the opening, dip into the water as needed to keep everything moist & slippery. Try sliding a spoon gently under the shell and carefully lifting the shell away from the egg.  Be patient and gentle and you should be successful.
  5. Occasionally, your best efforts will fail. Try tucking the cooked eggs back into the fridge for a few more days and you should have better luck. Or, if you just want to eat the eggs and can live with their funky look, do your best and soldier on.

Pickling your eggs:

I’ve tried lots of different recipes and this is my favorite for both flavor and ease.  I am a huge fan of the pickled vegetables you get in restaurants in Mexico so like to add some carrots, chiles and garlic to my eggs. The pickled carrots are a tender-crisp treat and a colorful addition to whatever I end up making with the pickled eggs.

Click here for a printable recipe

Storing your eggs safely:

I am the first to admit I may be a little too fearless when it comes to food safety. I have been making pickled eggs for some time and had been storing them on a shelf in my basement.   But apparently the National Center for Home Preservation doesn’t share my confidence in non-refrigerated storage. If you’re new to preserving, check out their website and this page on pickled eggs – it’s an invaluable free resource.

Eating your pickled eggs & carrots:

xPickled Egg Sandwichxxxpaired with Green Beansxxand vinaigrette slaw

My favorite ways to eat pickled eggs:

  • Pickled Egg Sandwich: slather a slice of good, toasted white bread with mayonnaise (gold stars for homemade bread AND mayo), slice a pickled egg on top, toss a few of the carrots & chile on top and season with a good grind of freshly ground black pepper.
  • Sliced or crumbled over salads & grains: any green salad can benefit from some nice slices of pickled egg. Or, crumble some pickled egg on top of rice,  pasta or cooked vegetable dishes.
  • Egg salad:  try making your favorite egg salad dish with pickled eggs instead of plain hard-cooked for a zingy change
  • Topper: Chopped pickled egg on top of potato, tuna or chicken salads, veggie dishes and dips
  • Sandwich topper: Slice a pickled egg onto a meat sandwich. Really kick it up a notch and top it all with crunchy vinaigrette slaw.

All Right-ey. Now that you know you can cook your eggs all at once and store them ready to eat for months, there’s no reason to hold back!  Dye all the eggs you want and enjoy this handy way to amp up the flavor and protein content of your meals.

What’s your favorite way to eat pickled eggs?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

Think Good Food is Elitist? Think again.

Think Good Food is Elitist? Think again.

Thinking Thursday: something to ponder in the world of food and farming.

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Oh, the difference a well stocked larder makes…

I could not be more thrilled to see the new wave of cookbooks about buying meat directly from farmers and farmers markets and widening our horizons about using more parts of the animal.

I don’t like to focus on the negative, but I have one fairly big complaint. 

Many of these books, while making a heart-felt plea for us to change our meat buying priorities towards less quantity and better, more humane quality, are offering proof to many that non-industrial food is elitist. Which is not exactly true.

For example, I recently made a stew from Deborah Krasner’s beautiful book, Good Meat.  Yes, it is exactly what it claims to be: a complete guide to sourcing and cooking sustainable meat with more than 200 recipes.  A very useful and enjoyable book in many ways.  But, I’m a little disappointed about one thing.  The recipe for stew called for a little used and affordable cut of beef, but then it also called for many expensive ingredients like capers, black olives, 1 anchovy fillet (which of course came with a few close friends – more ceasar salad anyone??), and red wine.  And, it was laborious and time-consuming.

I could have bought a nice rib-eye and called it a day.

I get really frustrated by righteous, flippant comments on Facebook and blogs dismissing the idea of non-industrial food because it’s too expensive. People push back hard when their ways are criticized, and this topic is no exception.  Now, don’t get all touchy about what I’m going to say next, but I think we’re firing off our defense before we’ve given the matter real consideration.

It is absolutely true; non-industrial food is more expensive, especially if your approach is to simply swap each item in your standard American diet with its equivalent in artisan, organic goods. Or when you choose recipes like Deborah Krasner’s as your source of everyday eating. Time and time again, people stubbornly trot out this argument in order to be right.

And if you insist on believing this is your only alternative to industrial food, then yes, you are correct. Game over, ding-ding-ding; you win all the Con-Agra foods you can eat. 

But as Dr. Phil likes to say, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to get better?”  There are other options. We’ve just not been taught to give the matter much thought beyond dutiful reliance on advertisements, talk shows and popular ad-driven magazines for ideas and solutions.

These days, I go to the grocery store less and less. Instead, I hit up farms and farm markets. I grow a kitchen garden. I have a freezer & I can. I found a great local source for grains, flour and organic bulk foods where I buy staples and dry goods in bulk.

And, this is important, I begin by stocking my pantry well with things I like.  Then I cook what I have instead of approaching it backwards by wondering what I feel like, finding a recipe then buying a bunch of random and expensive ingredients to follow it.

By stretching the limits of my thinking, today it doesn’t take any longer for me to cook a meal from my pantry than it does for you to call for take out, drive wherever to pick it up and bring it back home.

I fully acknowledge that behind every quick and easy dinner was a project like gardening, canning, or freezing leftovers for future meals.  Still and yet, the time investment averages out with fewer random errands here and there. And the quality for the price – well, there simply is no comparison.  With a very few exceptions, your home version can always beat the industrial version.

I admit I’ll probably never make a better a twinkie, I’ll leave that one to Hostess. But pop-tarts? DE-lish. Most requested pastry I’ve ever made.  Beats that foil-pouched frosted cardboard six ways ‘till Sunday.

A recent peek into my kitchen:

Polenta with tomato sauce:  I buy Bob’s Red Mill polenta, make a big batch following the recipe on the bag, let it firm up in a bowl, cut it into quarters and freeze each quarter separately. Later, when I need a quick supper, I thaw what I need, slice into 3/4 inch slices and fry them up in oil in my cast iron skillet. Serve with tomato sauce & parmesan or maple syrup if you like yours sweet. Crispy crusted outside, creamy and comforting inside… good, quick food on the cheap. One quarter serves two, or dinner and breakfast for one.

Home made bread: Store bought bread is a big source of commercial yuk. I rarely eat bread unless I’ve made it myself. I’m not an exceptionally skilled baker and my bread is more everyday than special, but makes the best toast ever. I love the Buttermilk Bread recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, bake several loaves at once, freeze all but one and I can go for a week or more. It makes a hearty and filling breakfast.  Didn’t eat it all?  Easy.  Repurpose the stale bread into ready-to-go breadcrumbs in the food processor.

Pickled Egg Sandwiches: I’m a little addicted to these at the moment. It does take some extra time to make a big batch of pickled eggs, but they last for weeks. I’m always trying new ways to eat my yummy eggs and have settled on this as a favorite. Lightly toasting a thick slice of my homemade bread, I slather it with mayonnaise, top with a sliced pickled egg and a generous grind of coarse black pepper or a drizzle of Indian pepper chutney. Yum.  They’re good too sliced over a bowl of slaw when I’m suffering from winter fresh veggie blues.  Check out Punk Domestics for a bunch of great pickled egg recipes.

Italian Cole Slaw: cabbage is a cheap and nutrient dense vegetable. About this time of year, I am dying for crispy, crunchy, salad-y things.  Mayo-free slaw is so fresh, easy, lasts for days and is useful in so many ways. When I’m craving it, I can’t get enough. I eat it plain, slice pickled eggs and carrots on top or add some tart green crunch to a sandwich.

Apples & peanut butter: We’re lucky to have two large orchards nearby. The Ida Reds are still nice and fresh – I like mine small & crispy. One of our orchards also sells fresh ground peanut butter too – a perfect quickie meal.  A good store of apples helps get through the lean winter months.

Cheese:  Soft cheeses are like a blank canvas – this buttermilk cheese is one of my favorites.  It requires no exotic equipment or ingredients. And no extraordinary skills. You can drizzle with honey or maple syrup and serve with fruit, use in baked goods, stuff ravioli or shells, smear with savory things. I like to top saucy dishes with a slice – the sauce and the cheese together make a pretty perfect bite. Or drizzle my cheese with some olive oil, a splash of vinegar & some freshly ground pepper. Have some pickles or preserved peppers & some crusty bread? Yum.

Meatballs:  Who doesn’t love meatballs? Always good to have on hand, they freeze easily.  Make sure you always have some good sauce, a box of your favorite pasta and some meatballs in the freezer & you’re never unprepared to put a meal on the table fast. Here’s my go-to recipe – Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Spaghetti & Meatballs. One thing I do differently: I prefer to use all ground beef.  Taking care to brown the meatballs gently, then finishing in the oven is the secret to a tender, tender meatball.  If I have it, a nice splurge is adding grated Parmesan to the meatballs. If I don’t, they’re still pretty awesome.  You can also stretch your ground beef further with grains like bulgur or brown rice and I’ll bet nobody will know…

Stew: I happened to have beef so that’s the stew I made. All meats are good for stew and the long, slow braise allows you to use a less expensive piece of meat and still enjoy a top shelf meal. Stretching the meat by adding extra potatoes, carrots or other root vegetables makes it last longer.  Use up leftovers from the fridge, make a big batch, eat half and freeze half for later.  Stretch it further by serving over grits, rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, pearl barley or bulgur.

A Beef Stew Secret: Oranges are not grown locally in Pennsylvania. For me, they are hard to resist. When I do buy them, I make sure to use every part – peels & all. With a vegetable peeler, peel one continuous spiral of just the orange part of the peel. Toss it on top of your stew as it cooks, removing before serving.

I can go on and on, but you get the picture.  As long as my pantry is reasonably well stocked with staples, I don’t even have to do much planning; I always have a fast meal available when I need one.  And it costs less. Less in every way; less time, less gas, less indecision.

I’m sure you won’t even have to tax your brain to identify at least one habit you could easily change that would decrease cost, increase nutrition and support local farms.   What are some of your favorite pantry standbys?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!