Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Tasty Little Seasonal Snack

This little meal works equally well as an early lunch or as a midnight snack. I know, because I ate it for both of those meals yesterday.

I picked up some roasted garlic bread at the Farmer's Market on Sunday and it wasn't quite garlicky enough. So I rubbed it down with some raw garlic and then topped it with a thin slice of Teese mozzarella and then broiled it in the toaster oven until the Teese was melty and lightly browned.
Then I whipped up a tasty cucumber, tomato, green onion, parsley, and basil salad with some rice wine vinegar dressing. One thing led to another and the salad ended up on top of the cheezy toast and I was in heaven.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Food Preservation Recap

Like most good workshops, this food preserver training has me all pumped up and ready to preserve. In fact, I'm on my way to pick up a Craig's List barely used dehydrator in about an hour!

It was beautiful to be surrounded by men and women who genuinely cared about teaching people about preserving food and were willing to take half of a week to get trained. Some folks were farmers, looking to produce value-added products like jams and pickles to their booths at the farmer's market. Some folks had worked for UW Extension for a while and wanted to be able to answer people's food preservation questions themselves. A few people had never tried canning before and wanted to learn to do it safely. And then there were the folks like me: Big stupid grins on our faces because we're so freakin' obsessed with canning and excited to be surrounded by others like ourselves.

I'm sure my grandmothers canned at some point in their lives. Perhaps my mom even helped... But I never witnessed anyone canning anything until I did it myself. I learned from the internet and cookbooks. But even if I didn't directly learn from my family, I feel like I'm continuing a tradition by preserving food. Because I know my ancestors preserved their own food...Otherwise they wouldn't have survived!

And the number of people interested in food preservation is increasing again, so I'm thrilled to do my part in reviving this tradition. It's a connection to culture, tradition and good quality local foods. And it's a way to make the short warm months of Minnesota last a bit longer.

One of the most challenging parts of the preservation training was learning to stick to the recipes. It goes against every instinct in my soul to stick to a recipe. But we learned about when it is safe to change a recipe and what is safely changed. Here are a couple of important lessons and commonly asked questions:

1. Just because it's in a cookbook doesn't mean that the canning recipe has been tested for safety. Recipes from your local University's extension services, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, or Ball cookbooks or website HAVE been tested to ensure no nasty bacteria or spores will survive your preservation process. This is important!

2. High acid foods are the simplest to can because they won't grow C. botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism. Your canner can be as simple as a big soup pot- no special canner required. High acid foods are things like fruits, salsas and pickles.

3. Low acid foods MUST be canned in a pressure canner to ensure the C. Botulinum spores have been killed. This includes non-pickled vegetables, soups, broth and meats (if you're into that sort of thing). A pressure canner is different from a pressure cooker. You can use a pressure canner as a pressure cooker, but you can't use a pressure cooker as a pressure canner. Got it? Your pressure canner will have a special weighted gauge or a dial gauge to let you control the pressure inside the canner. This is essential for canning.

4. Monkeying around with recipes is frowned upon because it can upset the delicate acid balance in a recipe...Then you don't know if it will be safe. Some safe substitutions are things like swapping the same volume of hot peppers for mild peppers in a recipe. Or adding a few spices to basic canned vegetables. Or adding or reducing sugar in a pickle recipe or canned fruit syrup. All those things are fine.

5. Don't reuse those canning lids! The jars and rings/bands are perfectly fine to reuse year after year, provided they have not chipped or rusted. But the lids need to be purchased new each time- luckily they're cheap as heck. Why? Because there is a sealing compound around the rim of the lid and it is needed to get a good seal. Also, opening the lids often bends the lid just a bit and that can prevent a good seal. And you'd hate to lose a whole batch of homegrown tomatoes, right?! Just buy the lids!

6. Tomatoes need to have acid added. With all the variety of tomatoes these days (hybrids, heirlooms, etc), there is enough variability in the acidity that it's necessary to add lemon juice or citric acid to your tomatoes before canning them to make sure they are safe from C. Botulinum spores. Check your canned tomatoes from the grocery store and you'll see the same thing. If your recipe for canned tomatoes doesn't call for added acid, you'll know it has not been tested for safety. Someday the awesome scientists who get to test canned foods might have a recipe that's approved for a pressure canner without added acid, but not yet!

7. Grandma didn't kill you with her [insert unsafe canning method here, like open-kettle canning, oven canning, sealing with paraffin wax, etc.], but that doesn't mean you should use her recipe. Chances are you can find a similar recipe or method from one of the safe resources that is pretty similar to Grandma's. Grandma would want you to be safe.

Got questions? Send 'em my way!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What a vegan eats at a Tractor Jam in Wisconsin

Sauerkraut and potato chips!

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Almost done...

Here's everything we canned!
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 2

Today we jumped right in to pressure canning with carrots. I've never canned plain ol' carrots because I don't care much for cooked carrots (except for in soup!). But I found out today that you can add herbs or spices to your pressure canned veggies without breaking any Extension rules! I'd really like to play around with spices like bay leaf and celery seed and whole coriander.

My afternoon group canned both Dilly Beans and Hot Pickled Vegetables (pictured below) which was mostly cauliflower. I never would have dreamed of canning cauliflower before tasting this recipe. Granted, I've only tasted it pre-processing. But I'm pretty sure it rocks! I'll link or post the recipe as soon as I'm not blogging from my Blackberry!
The other groups canned cherry or blueberry pie filling or corn relish. Yum!
Tomorrow's the last day and we'll get to divide up all the canned and dried goods to take home. I'm making a side trip to camp one night in Wisconsin with some friends, so I might not come home with anything left, especially if I get my hands on those Dilly Beans...

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Just finished pressure canning the carrots!
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Food preserver training starts tomorrow...

Today was a full day!
I attended an awesome workshop on Victory Gardens at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy this morning that was super inspiring. There are so many people working hard in the Twin Cities and across the country to promote gardening and local foods- it was a great place to network. Then I finished up a bunch of stuff at work and headed up to Ashland, Wisconsin for my Master Food Preserver and Food Safety Volunteer training.

Before doing anything else, I stopped off at the Chequamegon Food Co-op for a few snacks and had awesome vegan Greek pizza at the Black Cat Cafe next door. I will definitely be back there again!

This is the lovely view of Lake Superior from my hotel room.
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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Seasons Change, and So Do Drinks

I the wintertime I keep my thirst quenched with a steady stream of herbal tea, rooibos chai, hot chocolate and water. In the spring I switch to a bit more water and herbal tea with the occasional sparkling water or rootbeer when its warm.

But on this first day of Summer, I thought I'd give you a list of some of my favorite homemade summertime beverages. Plus, my poor sweetie is at work on Father's Day and our boys are at their mom's. And there's nothing that cheers Mike up like a tasty drink. So here goes:

1. The Summertime Staple Lemonade.
Basically not a warm day goes by that I don't sip down one of these. It's not super sweet or super lemony. Most would say that it's kinda watery. But that's what keeps it thirst-quenching and slightly healthier than Minute-Maid! Just take a big quart sized canning jar, add a splash (2-3 Tbsp.) of lemon juice and the same amount of pure maple syrup. Then fill the rest with room temp. filtered water. Stir and enjoy! I use Santa Cruz organic bottled lemon juice for this. Before you shake your head in disappointment at my using bottled lemon juice, just know that there are no preservatives added and that this is darn tastly lemon juice. And Santa Cruz puts out plenty of coupons. As for the maple syrup- I buy Anderson's grade B maple syrup from Cumberland, WI by the gallon from the Co-op. Sure, it's an investment. But it's great always having plenty of
syrup for lemonade!
2. Homemade Soda and Root Beer.
Mike's known for his crazy brews (Cherry Ginger) (Peach Fizz) (Maple Rhubarb) (Mulberry Root Beer)! The summertime brings us a plethora of slightly bruised or damaged fruits from the co-op and we take full advantage of them by turning them into soda (or jam!). Later today or maybe tomorrow we'll have some Peach/Nectarine Brew ready. The warm kitchen temperature this time of year is great for fermentation. The start-up costs for homebrewing soda are minimal, so visit your local homebrew shop for some bottles and get started!

3. Cold Press Mocha.
I'm not a big regular 'ol coffee drinker, but I LOVE espresso and related drinks. Except that I don't drink caffeine, so I depend on the availability of decaf. A few days ago, my co-worker had the most delightful looking iced coffee beverage. The kind of drink you can't help but stare at longingly, with its crushed ice and dark "I'm filled with chocolate" coloring. He offered me a sip and I was hooked. This drink was the invention of a talented Mississippi Market barista improvising when our espresso machine needed repairing: 2 shots cold press coffee, chocolate syrup, rice milk, crushed ice. So simple and so delicious! So make a decaf version of cold press at home by steeping 1 cup of coarse ground decaf coffee in a quart of water. Refrigerate for about 12 hours. Strain and store refrigerated and covered. As for the chocolate syrup: I use this recipe.

4. Iced Herbal Tea
Okay, this should probably be called Herby-Water rather than tea. It's lightly flavored, not strong, and very refreshing. I like to use dried lemon verbena from last year's garden, lavender, and fresh mint. I pour about a quart of boiling water over a handful of lemon verbena and a Tbsp. or so of lavender, then add another quart of room temp water. Then I toss in about 6 mint leaves and put the whole pitcher in the fridge, covered. Once the tea is chilled, pour through a strainer as you serve! I usually just keep adding more water as I empty the pitcher to prolong the drink.

Drink up!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cold pasta

This is the only thing I can get motivated to cook! It's too hot to use the kitchen!

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mississippi Market Has Teese!!!

Come, St. Paul vegans, to reap the cheezy goodness.

Both locations have Teese now. Mozzarella, Cheddar, and Nacho! (Too tempting that Vegan Gourmet is on sale this month, too).

I ate mine with Whole Grain Milling chips, a big handful of fresh cilantro and the awesome Karen's Kitchen Thai "Chicken" from the Randolph deli. It's awesome!

I'd like to say that I shared this plate of nacho makings...But I didn't.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fitting Nepal into the Local Challenge

Eating local doesn't have to mean eating boring, bland food. But it does take a little creativity when you're in early summer in Minnesota and craving Tibetan/Nepalese food. Actually, not that much creativity. You could just copy someone else.My favorite soup at Everest on Grand Ave. in St. Paul is their mustard green soup. It's usually on the buffet on Thursdays, in case you're wondering. It has a richly spiced, but not spicy, broth and is filled with big pieces of mustard greens and cowpeas. Here's my rendition that highlights the gorgeous locally grown mustard greens at the Co-op.

I suggest using local green garlic or ramps instead of the onions and garlic (unless those are available locally). I just didn't have any in my kitchen today. My tomatoes are from Living Waters hydroponic operation because my garden tomatoes are still little green babies.

Mustard Green Soup

1 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 onion, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground turmeric (Frontier Co-op in IA)
1 tsp. ground coriander (Frontier Co-op in IA)
1 tsp. cumin seed (Frontier Co-op in IA)
1 tsp. salt
dried red chiles to taste (Last year's garden)
1 tomato, diced (Living Waters in MN)
1 bunch mustard greens, roughly chopped (Riverbend Farm, MN)
1 quart water
1-2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Heat oil in your soup pot. Add onions and saute until beginning to be translucent and lightly browned. Add garlic and spices, including dried chiles. Stir to combine and cook just a minute, being careful not to burn the garlic or spices. Then add the tomato, greens and water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until the greens are tender and your kitchen smells like a kitchen in Nepal (or what I imagine it would smell like). Finish with a little splash of lemon juice.

Feel free to add some beans to make this more of a main course. Or keep it light and eat it for breakfast like I'm doing!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Strawberries and Curry

I'm really loving all these strawberries. I hauled in 1.5 pounds of berries on Thursday night.

I tried 2 new recipes with the berries: One was a success and one was not. We'll start with the success.

This is my super good Lavender Strawberry Frozen Yogurt.
I wanted to use the lavender from the garden with the strawberries and I'm a bit sunburned today, so I'm craving cold things. Making some frozen yogurt is the perfect solution! Sadly the lavender from the garden wasn't plentiful enough to flavor the dessert alone. A teensy-tinesy drop of essential oil does the trick just fine.

1/2 can light coconut milk
2 cups ripe strawberries
2 cups plain soy yogurt
1/2 cup evaporated cane juice
1 Tbsp. tequila or vodka
1-2 drops lavender essential oil

Chill the can of coconut milk so that the cream rises to the top. Scoop out 1/2 of the can, including the cream. Add to food processor with the berries, yogurt, sugar, tequila and oil. Process until cream is a smooth consistency. Chill and then add to an ice cream maker according to the machine's directions.

I also tried an unsuccessful recipe...it just looks successful.

Unbaked strawberry pizza
Baked strawberry pizza

I wanted to make a lightly sweetened gluten-free strawberry tart/pizza. It turned out gummy, bland and weird. But I won't be discouraged- I'm going to revise and try again!

Tonight I cooked some basmati rice and a nice curry.
Simple Cabbage and Chickpea Curry

1 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 onion, sliced
2 cups red cabbage, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced in bitesized pieces
2 cups chickpeas, cooked
2 Tbsp. mild curry paste (Patak's)
1 tsp. salt
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup peach chutney or jam

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions and cook until transparent. Add cabbage, red pepper, and chickpeas. Stir curry paste and salt into the can of tomatoes until dissolved. Add to the vegetables. Then add peach chutney and stir to combine. Put a lid on the pan. Simmer until cabbage is tender, about 10 minutes.

Best Raita

1/2 cup plain soy yogurt
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup minced cilantro
2 Tbsp. minced fresh mint
2 minced jalapenos
1 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice

Stir everything together and dollop generously on top of spicy food!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Baking Day

Yesterday was definitely a day for baking.  What else can you do when it feels like a blustery fall day in JUNE?  

The second I saw Tracy's gorgeously pillowy High Calcium Bread, I knew I had to try it.  I'm a sucker for a soft, high-rising bread and the recipe is really simple, calling for items I always have in my pantry.    

Mine didn't rise quite as beautifully, but they look, smell and taste awesome!  I'm eating an end-piece right now, smeared with Earth Balance.  This bread has a very soft, moist crumb and it's got to be high in calcium with all that molasses in there.  The only thing I might change is to increase the salt just a touch.  Maybe by 1/2 tsp.  

I also decided to use up some rhubarb by making the Rhubarb Cake from Meagan's blog, except in cupcake form.  It's always great to see a recipe that uses barley flour.  It's so underappreciated!  Sadly, because of my choice of pans they just barely got cooked all the way through before the sugar in the batter started to burn.  I should have stuck with Meagan's method of using the cake pan!  Rest assured, they will be eaten, no matter how ugly.  

I'll definitely be trying this recipe again, because I LOVE the idea of a cake-y rhubarb muffin.
And because it'll use up more rhubarb.

I also made some granola yesterday.  Just the usual PB and maple granola.  It looked especially pretty in the afternoon light, I thought.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pass the cheese, please

Sometimes a gal just needs a cheese plate.  A vegan cheese plate, that is.

I'm pretty smitten with Dr Cow tree nut cheese.  It's tangy and creamy and delightful.  And it's hand-crafted from REAL food and isn't colored bright orange.  It's everything I love about cheese [without all the cows constantly kept pregnant and infected udders and such].  Hooray!
This is the aged cashew cheese with organic grapes and Back to Nature harvest whole wheat crackers (like Triscuits).  

There's something about a cheese platter that makes me feel like I'm at a party or a spa.  Not that I've really ever even been to a spa...  But I assume there would be cheese platters there.  I even got out my little party knives that have little poinsettias on them and settled in with my tea and a sudoku puzzle for my party of one.  I felt pretty pampered this morning.

Now I've got my bread rising and I'm wondering what I should make with all this rhubarb I've got out in the garden.  Rhubarb lemonade?  Rhubarb jelly?  Rhubarb cake?  

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Just some thoughts about gardening

Today is a beautifully dreary kind of day. Rainy and about 50 F in June. In Spring this kind of weather was annoying, but now that we've had a few hot and dry days of Summer, I'm enjoying the unseasonable weather. Plus, the garden really needed the rain. I've just been sitting upstairs and staring out the window at the little plants and the apple tree. I really love my new raised garden beds. I don't think I've expressed that enough. They are so neat and tidy and comfortable to garden in. The soil looks rich right now in the rain, all nice and black. I was beyond proud of my soil quality before [you know, before I found out it was contaminated], and I wasn't excited about starting over with purchased soil. It was really sad to not see any worms when planting my transplants. But now I think this soil is beginning to be more alive. It has a lot of composted manure in it and the plants appear to be happy: Everything survived the transplanting and my seeds have sprouted for the beans, kale, radishes, beets and carrots.

I wish everyone could have a garden in their backyard. Just think of how different our food systems would be if we didn't depend on California for 1/3 of our food supply. If everyone grew whatever basic vegetables and fruits that they could each year. I mean, initially it would be tough for farmers. They'd have to change what they grew (but they'd be a lot more respected if everyone got a taste of farming in their backyard).  We wouldn't depend on big trucks, trains, and planes to get dinner on the table. We'd eat a heck of a lot more vegetables (when you grow something yourself, you don't let it go waste in your crisper. It gets eaten). Gardening can have such a huge impact on our health and environment - it's encouraging to see so many people starting gardens this year.

There's a couple of super cool sounding programs at the IATP this month on Victory gardens and local food. Everyone who lives around here should go!

That's probably enough rambling about gardens for now.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Canning Madness!

I am SO super excited about my travel plans this month.  On June 23rd I'm heading up to Ashland, WI (Just east of Duluth) to attend a Master Food Preserver training.  Three whole days of canning, freezing and dehydrating and evenings relaxing on the shores of Lake Superior- Could anything be cooler?!?!

The class is through the University of WI extension service and I'll need to commit to commuity service hours teaching people about food preservation (oh, darn).  Today I got my first packet from them that includes booklets on various preservation topics.  Next comes the pre-test!  I don't know if I've ever been so excited to see a test.

Then in August a co-worker and I will be co-teaching a 2 day canning workshop that includes classes and a community canning kitchen, much like ladies did up until the 1950s to share resources and friendships while preserving their harvest.  It's going to totally rock.  Bring your aprons!

AND  on July 28th my co-op, Mississippi Market, is bringing in Sandor Elix Katz (author of Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved) for a fermentation class.  He'll prepare kimchi, yogurt or kefir, and beet kvass and autograph your books.  Hooray!

I can barely contain myself.

Post-yoga snack from the garden!

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