canning season

  Becky Home Ecky has taken me over the past three weeks. I have been canning apple sauce, apple butter, pear butter, pickled watermelon rind with red onion, and garlicky bread and butter pickles with jalapeño peppers. The apples and pears I picked myself out of the gardens of friends, and this year everyone seems to have a bumper crop of apples, especially.

The recipes mostly came out of my head and memory of canners past but I used the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, Simply Recipes, and Ball’s website for added direction on procedure and proportion.

  I have memories of my mother canning and making preserves and her mother, my grandmother, and my late cousin Suzy.  My grandmother would pickle and preserveanything that stood still long enough, and she was an amazing cook. I remember my mother pickling okra and green tomatoes and I also remember her making peach preserves when my parents’ friend Charlie Peterson gave them a big bushel of peaches when I was little.

My mother’s German friends Susi and Babette were canning wizards. I remember all the things they made, pickled, and preserved. When you were in the kitchen of Babette’s farmhouse  in the fall you could hear the sauerkraut popping in their stone crocks in the basement.

  
And I also remember my great aunts on Ritner Street in South Philadehia doing a lot of canning too. They had essentially an extra kitchen in the basement and I remember them pickling and canning what came out of my Aunt Rose’s large kitchen garden in Collegeville.  
  
My Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl had this big old house with sweeping grounds that backed up to a farm when I was little. The farm had horses near some apple trees that would stick their heads over the fence looking for a pat (and some apples!)…my cousin sold the property after my aunt and uncle passed away and by that time (after 2000) where they once lived had stopped being country long ago, and was obscenely over developed.
  My great aunts would mostly can tomatoes and made these pickled hot peppers that would bring tears to your eyes. I remember the jars of canned tomatoes all lined up one after the other all in a row. It actually looked really pretty.

  I had a lot of fun doing my canning with the exception of a minor kitchentastrophe. I singed my backsplash behind my stove top when my giant 21 quart enamel pot I use for the canning water bath was off center on its stove burner.

My kitchen was filled with the smells of childhood.  The vinegary garlic spice odors of making a pickling brine. And the sweet smells of apples and pears cooking  in cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, and turbinado sugar.  They were wonderful smells and truly sensory memories.

  But last evening when I had finished placing my last batch of applesauce in the canning hot water bath, I was ready to be finished. Canning is actually pretty hard work, even if it’s fun.  Your arms ache by the time you finish pushing hot fruit through the chinois  before the final cooking stage. It made me realize how hard women used to work putting up food for their families to last all winter long.  

  A fun fact is canning dates back to the late 18th century France.  Canning food in unbreakable tins was an English invention from the early 19th century.

I am pretty much a novice at this culinary art form. I am not as nearly accomplished as some of my friends and neighbors. I am sure as I do more canning I will become more adept. 

  So now all I have to do is finish labeling and dating  my final couple of batches and put it away.

Thanks for stopping by.

  

the best mac & cheese….ever

Yesss….comfort food season is upon us. 

How would you like my macaroni and cheese recipe?

If you are on a diet, or can’t eat rich oooey cheesy goodness, DO NOT make this recipe.  And this is not your mama’s mac and cheese, it’s a special occasion make once in a while kind of deal.

And oh yes, as a related aside, I love these old vintage Dansk Koben Style Dutch ovens from the 1950’s and 1960s?  I picked a couple up in sunny yellow at different tag sales years ago.

Dansk is reissuing them and selling through Crate and Barrel.  Boy am I glad I scored mine at $5 a piece quite a few years ago.  They are quite the tasty price now if purchased new in 2012 (the pricing is a bit ridiculous I think). I have a 4 quart and what I make the Mac & Cheese in, a 6 quart.  They also reissued the baking pan from the Koben Style line.  Save your money on that one – everything sticks to the enamel on that particular pan, so unless you want to be a dishwashing slave, skip it.

Anyway…These Dutch Ovens (Dansk Kobenstyle) do show up often on Ebay and at tag sales.  The prices on Ebay can get a little rich for my blood on them. But if you can score one of either size for $20 or under, you got a great deal.  Mine were a steal, but I collected them before they became collectable – my original impetus was my mother had a 6 quart Kobenstyle Dutch Oven and I loved cooking with it and wanted one of my own. I ended up with two. And seriously, I use them ALL the time.

The Best Macaroni and Cheese…Ever

6 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup flour

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups low-fat half and half

1 3/4 cups light cream

8 oz cream cheese (block not in the tub)

1 box of elbow macaroni or small pasta of your choice (16 oz)

5 cups of grated/shredded cheese (I buy the mix – Cheddar and Monterey Jack, or the “macaroni and cheese blend” which also has  American)

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 a medium onion minced

Healthy dash of Worcestershire sauce

Healthy dash of Tabasco sauce

Small dash of ground mace

8 slices of cooked and crumbled thick bacon

Melt butter in dutch oven. Add onion, cook a few minutes until translucent. (4 minutes on my stove on a medium flame I watch like a hawk so not to burn butter.)

Reduce heat to low and whisk in flour and salt and mace. When it all comes together like a white paste you are finished with that step.

Slowly add half and half.  Add Tabasco and Worcestershire.

Slowly add light cream.

Bring it up to a boil and then reduce heat to low.

Add grated parmesan cheese.  When that is incorporated and smooth, add cream cheese.  When that is incorporated and smooth slowly add the other cheese (cheddar blend see above).

Stir, stir, stir so nothing sticks and turn off burner and move sauce off the heat. (Here’s a tip – I remove a cup of the sauce to a separate container – I usually cook this a day ahead, so when I reheat I add the extra sauce as it heats up – some people just heat up with extra milk – I find this thins it out)

Cook your pasta as per the instructions on the box. Drain but do not rinse.

Fold into your cheese sauce in the Dutch Oven.  Add the crumbled bacon and gently fold a little more until all incorporated. Check your mac and cheese and add additional salt and fresh ground pepper to your taste.

You can either serve as is, or throw Dutch Oven into the fridge and eat a day later.  If you choose the eat a day later option, reheat slowly on stove top on very low and add back in the extra cheese sauce which you put in a separate air tight container and refrigerated along with big batch of mac & cheese.

If you don’t use the extra cheese sauce in the re-heating of the mac and cheese, you can store for a few days and use on other things (like broccoli)

This is very rich, but super yummy.  This recipe will serve a crowd easily as you won’t want to dish up honking huge portions.

And hey, if dishing up to grown-ups give a rough chop to some fresh Italian Flat Leaf Parsley and toss on top when serving as a garnish.

sharing summer recipes: couscous and cornbread

Yes, I am one of those crazy people who cooks even when it is hot.  I have two dead simple recipes to share with my readers today.  They are not necessarily to be served together, I just happened to be fiddling after gardening.

One is a summer salad with Israeli Couscous, and the second is my spin on cornbread.  Cornbread to me is summer and fall.

Cornbread

Oven pre-heated to 425 degrees.

  • dash of ground ginger
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup sugar (white)
  • 3/4 cup flour (I use organic all-purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (if you use sea salt, make it a scant teaspoon)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used 2 percent today, but anything except skim will work)
  • 4 tablespoons buttermilk powder
  • 1 egg
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons of butter
  • turbinado sugar
  • 1 teaspoon good vanilla extract

Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Mix all the “wet” ingredients together.  You can do it with a whisk.  I do add the melted butter slowly and last into the wet.  You don’t want to cook your egg, after all.

Combine all the dry ingredients and whisk into the wet ingredients.  Pour in your prepared pan and top the batter with a dusting of turbinado sugar.

Pop into your pre-heated oven and  cook about 25 minutes.  Today I cooked it a couple of minutes more, other times a couple of minutes less – depends on the oven.  When the cornbread is slightly brown on top, maybe a couple of cracks on the top and a skewer or knife comes out clean, the bread is finished.  Take it out, let it cool, remove from pan.

Easy and delicious.

This bread is yummy plain, with butter, with jams or preserves, or honey.  I like cornbread with honey.  Right now the honey I have is from right here in West Chester – Carmen B’s.

Summer Salad With Israeli Couscous 

 

  • 1 cup Israeli Couscous
  • Spring onions
  • Parsley (fresh flat leaf Italian – I grow it in my garden)
  • Mint (I grow peppermint and curly mint which is a spearmint)
  • 5 or 6 ounces of crumbled Queso Fresco
  • Jayshree Kosher Salt Garden Seasoning (from Florida, their stuff is terrific)
  • olive oil
  • wine vinegar
  • one fresh lemon, juiced
  • fresh radishes
  • pine nuts (optional)
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • garlic powder

Boil the dry Israeli Couscous in about 3 cups of water according to directions on package of whatever brand you buy (around 12 minutes.)  Drain it and shock it with a quick dash of cold water and toss into a bowl.  Israeli Couscous is larger, and looks like little wheat colored pearls.  You can’t substitute regular couscous for this recipe.  It is specifically designed for the Israeli Couscous.

Chop up a few spring onions (or a bunch of scallions), one or two tomatoes, small bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley, small bunch of fresh mint (you CAN’T substitute dried mint, it will taste gross, so don’t even try), fresh radishes.  Season with Jayshree Kosher Salt Garden Seasoning and fresh ground pepper OR Season with regular salt and pepper. The Jayshree Kosher Salt Garden Seasoning is well worth ordering, or Jane’s Crazy Mixed Up Salt would work too.  Not Lowry’s Seasoned Salt – ick.  Plain salt and pepper might be too bland, but it is entirely up to you.

Toss ingredients lightly and create a simple dressing from the lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic.  Whisk the vinaigrette together and pour over salad mixture.   Add crumbled Queso and pine nuts if you so choose.  Toss again and refrigerate.

Easy and delicious.

All the veggies I put in my summer salad with Israeli Couscous today came from the East Goshen Farmers Market.  I would love to share recipes with the market, but apparently, I am too different a person for  the market manager to handle, or I am not politically correct enough, or both.  She had contacted me , wanting to link my blog to the EGFM blog, but then changed her mind.  I was fine with that (and felt bad at the time that she was obviously so uncomfortable having to tell me “oops”).  You see, Birchrun Hills Farms is a producer at this market, I am not changing my mind on how I feel about Farmer-Supervisor Miller and his part in the attempted eminent domain for private gain of Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Grounds, or the dubious shenanigans in West Vincent.  This is why yesterday, when I had a lunch meeting at White Dog Cafe in Wayne, I passed over a couple of luncheon dishes that were advertised as being made with Birchrun Hills Farm products.

I do however, love the East Goshen Farmers Market even if Madam Market was so impossibly rude last week to me it was embarrassing and hurtful at the same time.  Which given her perky PTA mom persona the rest of the time I have seen her (which is only at the market), was somewhat shocking. It was last week’s behavior that has made me mention the drama a second and last time on this blog.

I am new to this community, so a lot of people are getting to know me.  I totally get that.  But I believe in being active and helpful in one’s community (paying things forward), and last week the EGFM said they were looking for input on gluten-free bakeries and products.  So I stopped to give feedback.  The conversation kind of  came to a screeching halt when she snapped at me how she was a nutritionist.  I am a breast cancer survivor, but I don’t go around snapping that at people when they talk about the disease and possibly use incorrect buzz words and such.  And if I am working on a community event and someone is kind enough  to offer feedback when I solicit it, I am always glad to listen.  After all, you never know where the next great idea will come from.  And well, heck, I know people who have started these farm markets and hired bakeries in this area for organic and gluten free.  I also have friends who live utterly gluten free lives and have to bake on their own because the variety of what they find at gluten free bakeries doesn’t suit their allergies.

Whatever.

I don’t need this gal as a BFF (and since I am blogging about it, a precisely made voodoo doll may be in the process of being crafted or the Welcome Wagon might run me over, I simply don’t know), but I will tell you what, being a newcomer into an area versus being part of the established community has shown me again why you shouldn’t judge before you get to know someone.  Live and let live, and her loss.   I will never be rude to this person, and I will be happy to support the market because it is truly fabulous and with the exception of one farm, full of wonderful vendors.  In that regard she has done a marvelous job.  She can’t help the rest of it.  Just her nature.

To the rest of you, my readers and the people I am meeting here and there as I settle into Chester County, thank you for the warm and friendly welcome.  I look forward to sharing more with you on this blog as the spirit moves me.

Happy cooking!

rethinking everyday italian

One of the things I will not order often out in a restaurant is any kind of pasta or accompanying sauce I might make. Well one exception is Patsy’s in New York City. My sister’s father in law loves the place, and one time when I tagged along, I even got to meet Sal Scognamillo and he autographed a copy of his cookbook for me!  I will make other exceptions here and there, but if I do, it is generally because I want to try to replicate a sauce or something in my own kitchen.

This morning I decided to finally write down one of my Bolognese sauces, my Turkey Bolognese.  (You can find one of my other sauces on epicurious.com – it’s a traditional, non-Bolognese Sunday sauce)

People like to eat healthier, so rethinking the occasional pasta sauce doesn’t hurt.  Several famous chefs do a Turkey version of Bolognese – Emeril La Gasse, Rachael Ray, and Giada Di Laurentis, for example.  Sorry but I prefer my own, because it is hard to learn to cook with ground turkey and what I have tasted other than my own tastes like it is made with shredded cardboard – the flavors aren’t there.  And my homemade today comes with homemade garlic herb tagliatelle.

When I started the sauce today, I had one of those instant when-you-were-a-kid flashbacks.  The smell of coffee co-mingled with the garlic and spices of the beginnings of a pasta sauce.   That will forever remind me of my father’s mother when she used to baby-sit us.  Only her coffee wasn’t French Press, it was a Corning Ware Blue Cornflower stove-top percolator pot like the vintage one in perfect condition I gave my friend Teri when I moved.  And well, she started her sauce around 6 a.m.  I love the smell of garlic in the kitchen, but heck me and your neighborhood vampires don’t start that early!

Now when my grandmother started her sauce she had this pot.  My mother is the keeper of her mother in law’s old pot if she did not toss it, and I prefer my own pot.  I have two vintage mid-century Dansk Kobenstyle Dutch Ovens – a large and a medium-sized, both in sunny yellow enamel.  I picked them up at house sales years ago, and am glad I did because they are somewhat collectible and go not so cheaply even on Ebay.

So I grabbed the larger of the two Dutch Ovens, laid a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the bottom and chopped up a large red onion, and minced 4 cloves of garlic and one small carrot and tossed them into the pan over a medium heat with a couple fresh bay leaves and some salt (I used this crazy roasted salt I found at H-Mart with my friend Sherry.)

When the onion was sweating down and had reached a pretty translucency and almost a caramel color I added a half an eight ounce container of Baby Bella mushrooms, chopped fairly fine, and added a bunch of fresh herbs (I do this a couple of times) minced – basil, oregano, flat parsley and a tiny bit 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of finely minced hot pepper – whatever I have handy, today it was a Serrano.

After everything seems to have melded nicely and before everything goes broken-down and caramelized, I add a pound and a half of freshly ground turkey.  I may, depending on the pan, add another couple of tablespoons of olive oil. At this point I add a dash or two of mild, sweet paprika (see photo for one of my favorite brands, Chiquilin – I am a paprika freak – I have easily 8 different kinds/brands) and about a half a  teaspoon of finely minced fresh rosemary (or a quarter teaspoon dry).

Once the turkey is cooked thoroughly and slightly browned (and you have to stir while turkey cooks, because it will stick to bottom of pan otherwise), I turn to first the wine, and then the milk.  Traditional Bologneses will have both.

First I add 1/2 cup of white wine – anything dry, not sweet will do (or whatever is open in the refrigerator).  Today it was Pinot Gris from Martin Ray Vineyards in Monteray.  Don’t know if they intended their wine for cooking, but there it was.

The wine will bubble and evaporate.  It has to be 95% evaporated/incorporated into meat mixture when you next add a scant 1/2 cup of milk.  (Whole or 2% or if you are doing a traditional Bolognese with lamb, veal, pork, beef I like to make it 1/2 milk and 1/2 half and half.)

The milk must also cook off – I don’t take the post completely to liquid free, but it’s close.

Next comes the tomato of it all.  First I add a small (six-ounce) can of tomato paste, and incorporate it well into the meat mixture.  Then I add one 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes followed by a 28 ounce can of puree.  I am a snob about tomatoes, so I genuinely will not use the generic here.

To the tomatoes comes round two of fresh herbs minced – oregano and basil only.  I stir, I taste to see what salt and pepper needs to be added, and will move to the back of the stove to burble happily over a VERY low flame.  Like people say about BBQ? Low and slow works here too.

I bet you thought I forgot about the homemade  garlic herb Tagliatelle, right?

Into a bowl goes 2 cups of regular flour, 1 cup of semolina flour, a dash of salt, a few dashes of herbs, pepper, and garlic powder.  I mix the dry ingredients and crack in one or two eggs (sometimes I use one egg, sometimes I use two.)

After the egg is incorporated into the flour mixture I add a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and then tablespoon by tablespoon ice water until dough comes together and is not oooey gooey icky sticky.  I do this by feel like my great aunts taught me at their ceramic topped kitchen table in South Philadelphia.

I gather my dough in a nice ball, put in a little bowl and cover with saran wrap.  I like to let it rest about half an hour.

When I am ready to roll (no pasta maker for me, I hand-roll), I get two even sized pieces of saran wrap ( about 18 inches long), put one down on my board, lightly flour, and pinch off dough somewhere between the size of a golf and tennis ball and plunk it down on the saran wrap, dust with flour, place another piece of saran wrap on top and start to roll.  I learned the saran wrap trick years ago from Martha Stewart – she was doing it with pie crust.

I prefer a European kind of rolling-pin – one long skinny piece of wood, you just roll with it, it has nothing in it to turn as you roll.  The one I have now is actually Russian.

I roll out my dough until as thin as I can get it (pretty thin), and when I think it is thin enough, I peel off top layer of saran wrap and roll my pasta dough up into a skinny tube.  Then I slice like it was a little jelly roll and lay out the pasta  side by on fine linen/cotton dish towels or parchment paper on a flat cookie sheet.  I will layer pasta in between other dish towels or parchment paper as I repeat the process until the pasta is all cut out.

When I am ready to cook, I boil in a big pasta pot only a few minutes.  I like al dente.  I will drain, but not rinse and I will put some sauce in the bottom of a bowl, layer in some cooked pasta, dust with grated cheese, layer more sauce and repeat until my bowl is filled.   I garnish with a little chiffonade of flat leaf Italian parsley and fresh basil.

I serve with a nice tossed salad and once in a while crusty bread or homemade (as in not out of a bag) garlic bread.

Hopefully you can follow this.  This is a recipe that lives in my head, but before now had never written down.

And FYI, I don’t have a giant kitchen.  Just an everyday sized one.  Space is a fabulous commodity to have in a kitchen, but you can indeed turn out fabulous meals in a smaller sized one.  However, if I had my druthers I would have a kitchen like my sister’s.  It is  a good size and well laid out.  I would probably only move one thing and that would be the oven.  She has wall ovens, and I like my oven underneath my stove.

Everyday Italian rethinking everyday Italian, over and out.

P.S. : This is what it looks like as you are ready to sit down and eat (and it was yummy):