Friday, September 28, 2012

I Don't Think You're Ready for this Jelly

I've been a little obsessed with canning and jarring food. You might say I am channeling my "Inner Rico" (my Grampa). He was a master at preserving food from his garden. His methods may have been a bit unconventional, like drying tomatoes and orange peels on the radiator but his end result was always superior. When it comes to canning, I guess it's not about the journey, it's about the destination!

My dear friends bought me a great cook book called PreserveIt and each page is bookmarked with the promise of a new treat in the house.  And I've discovered a great website called Food in Jars which is also feeding my new addiction.

So, I'm just giving you the back story before I tell you what happened to me at the gym last week.

I actually exercised! Yes, miracles do happen, every day apparently.

Following my 40 minutes on the treadmill, thanks to Frasier on the TV, I headed into the locker room to shower. The elderly swim classes had just finished and it was standing room only.  It was a whole room filled with inspiration to keep exercising. Just sayin'.

I waited and waited, and even gave up my space in line for a girl who was running late for an appointment. On this day, I had nothing but time. I continued to wait.

Finally, a shower opened up and a woman came out, clearing the way for me.  I settled my bag on the bench and turned the water on but I was not ready for what waited for me on the metal soap dish. Was I on Candid Camera?

Did you just rub your eyes? Yes, you are seeing straight. That right there is a jelly jar.  In case you cannot read the label, it says "THE MILLERS. PEPPER JELLY 2003".
Are you wondering why I took the jar? (I am too.) You see, this was SO bizarre, that I had to share it with someone. Thankfully, my friend Kristen was in the lobby waiting for me and I know she has a cool I-Phone (is that spelled right?) Anyway, she was all too eager to photograph the evidence/contrajam.

Just for the record, the jar was empty. There was no shampoo, soap or conditioner inside the jar.  No jelly either.

Was I scared to touch it? Yes! But my morbid fascination far outweighed the risk of contracting a rare Jelly Jerm.

So, some cute family (who I picture all wearing  matching Christmas sweaters), made some jelly together. They gave their precious preserves to family and friends. Little did they know their jam jar would end up traveling in and out of a smelly gym bag and  then onto its final destination: BeckysBigBytes

Miller Family, your jam has arrived!

(What's the strangest thing you've ever found in the gym locker room?)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Savoring the Goodness (and a Squash Soup Recipe)

If you are a member of the Confreda CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), then you might know by now that this week's box was full of Community Supported Awesomeness!!  Here is a list of what you will find (if you haven't picked up your box yet.)
  • cherry tomatoes
  • corn
  • acorn squash
  • butternut squash
  • broccoli
  • Cortland apples
  • green tomatoes
  • red tomatoes
  • peppers
  • eggplant
  • zucchini
  • golden squash
  • yellow wax beans
 What a phenomenal variety! A girl could really get used to this but sadly, our CSA program ends in 2 weeks.  I am trying to savor as much freshness as I can in the mean time.  Do you have a food saver? Do you can or jar food?  Do you like to cook large meals and freeze them for later in smaller portions? These are all practical ways to enjoy fruits of the farm later on. Are you awestruck by all of the tomatoes in your own garden? Then click here for the Gardening Guy.  He has some great tomato tips and tricks up his sleeve!
This week's CSA ushered in 2 autumnal faves of mine; Butternut and Acorn squash. For some great squash recipes, click here .

One of my personal favorites is Cafe Dianna's Harvest Squash soup.  I cut this recipe out of the ProJo a few years ago and it's still my "go to Fall delight".  What sets this apart from other squash soups is the omission of any cream or fat added. It is just pure fruits and veggies. Trust me, you won't miss the cream!
1 butternut squash
1 large sweet potato
6 large carrots
4 medium red potatoes
1 large onion
4 Cortland apples
1 1/2 quarts water or apple juice (I prefer with the apple juice)
salt and pepper to taste
touch of thyme and nutmeg
Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds and discard (or save for toasting.)   Peel and cut the flesh into 1 inch dice pieces. Peel sweet potato, carrot and onion and cut into 1 inch diced pieces.  Cut red potato and apples into 1 inch diced pieces (no need to peel these).
In a large saucepan, add all ingredients and water or apple juice. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until all ingredients are tender. Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a food processor and puree. Return the soup to pot to reheat. Taste to adjust seasoning. Add a touch of thyme and nutmeg. Serve hot.
Serves 6.
** You may also use an immersion blender instead of transferring to food processor or blender**

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Kale Almost Kaled Me

Tonight's posting is from a very special guest blogger. Drum roll please for Aileen McDonough; the unusually perky girl who accosted me 9 years ago in a local deli. I'm glad fate brought us together on that chilly November day!  Our friendship was initially bound by our babies and now it continues on with our shared love of food, writing, and not giving a hoot about "having it all".

Aileen is also a  Confreda CSA member and she shares her recent culinary mishap with a bunch of kale. Read on....

I just sliced my finger making kale soup. Drove myself to the ER for 3 stitches. Came home and finished making the soup. Yeah, I'm a bad ass.

See the recipe below, from my favorite cookbook. Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely. Here is the link to the recipe.

Crock Bean Soup with Kale
Serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 bunch kale, trimmed and sliced (or use 2 cups frozen greens)
1 pound cannellini beans, soaked overnight (you can also use white beans)
4 cups low sodium chicken broth (make your own or buy canned)
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, carrot and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent. Add kale and cook till wilted, about 3 minutes. In a crock pot, place soaked, drained beans; add crushed red pepper flakes and the contents of the skillet; cover with broth (add a little water if necessary, but crock pot should be 3/4 full).

Cook on high for 8 hours, or until beans are tender. Once beans are tender, add the tomato sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

Per Serving: 349 Calories; 8g Fat; 19g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 13g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 85mg Sodium. Exchanges: 3 Grain (Starch); 1 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 1 1/2 Fat.

SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Some whole grain rolls and a big salad.

And some Hello Kitty Band-aids!

How to Make Corn Fritters

Every week, there is corn and I couldn't be happier. Thank you Confreda's CSA for feeding my healthy addiction! It's sweet, fresh and needs no frills to make it taste good.  I've even chomped on it raw. It's divine!

Every Wednesday I look forward to The Providence Journal's Food section for inspiration. I particularly enjoy Ellen  Brown's Cost Buster Cooking column.   Check out her "corn tips"  by clicking here.

Here is one of her featured recipes from last week's ProJo. I am making these tonight and will report back with the results.

Southwestern Corn Fritters
11/2 cups fresh corn kernels (from approximately 2 to 3 ears of corn), cobs reserved
1 large egg
2 scallions, white parts and 3 inches of green tops, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for frying

Place the corn in a saucepan and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pan from the heat, cover the pan and allow the corn to sit for 5 minutes. Drain and place the corn in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, or in a blender.

While the corn cooks, scrape the pulp and liquid from the cobs using the back of a knife. Add the pulp and the egg to the food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Scrape the mixture into a mixing bowl.
Stir the scallions, garlic and cilantro into the corn. Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, cumin, salt and pepper in another mixing bowl, and whisk well. Stir the dry ingredients into the corn mixture, stirring until just combined.

Heat 2 inches of oil in a deep-sided saucepan or deep fryer to a temperature of 375 degrees. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees, and line a baking sheet with paper towels.
Drop 1 tablespoonful amounts of the batter into the oil. Fry the fritters until they are a deep golden brown, turning them in the hot fat to brown both sides. Remove the fritters from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Keep the fritters warm in the oven while frying the remaining batter. Serve hot.

Note: The fritters can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered. Reheat them in a 375 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until hot and crispy.
Makes 3 dozen.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How to Enjoy Purple Kohlrabi

Before I talk veggies, I must announce the Grand Opening of Confreda's Maize. It's not your typical maize so check out the website for details!  The MAiZE opens TODAY, Saturday, September 15, 2012. MAiZE hours will run from 10:00am-6:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays, with the last ticket sold at 5:00pm.

Now, back to business.
Did you find something purple and cabbage-like in your CSA box this week? Did it look like this?

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?  It sort of resembles a beet with the greens attached like this, but don't be fooled. Kohlrabi is part of the broccoli and cabbage families.  I peeled most of mine as I found the skin to be slightly tough but was pleasantly surprised by the inside. The taste resembles a very mild broccoli stem, with the texture almost like a hard apple or potato. It's definitely easy on the palate!

Kohlrabi can be eaten raw as well as cooked and the greens are also edible. For the glowing nutritional benefits of this beauty, click here.

Some ideas:
1. Cut into sticks and dip in Ranch dressing. My 9 year old loved it.
2. Shred it for a slaw
3. Pickle it!
4. Shred or slice and saute in olive oil or butter and season as you wish.

I still had some leftover rainbow carrots from last week's CSA so here is a recipe using 4 different CSA ingredients. I always challenge myself to see how much Community Supported Awesomeness I can squeeze into one recipe. Such a geek, I know!

Asian Kohlrabi/Cabbage Slaw
7-8 cups combined of shredded cabbage, purple kohlrabi, rainbow carrots (or standard carrots)  and chopped red peppers (all from the CSA) (I actually chopped a bunch of small chunks of the kohlrabi so they would stand out and people would ask, "What IS that?")

handful chopped fresh cilantro
4-7 chopped scallions

1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 toasted sesame oil
2 TBS creamy peanut butter
2 TBS cider vinegar
1 TBS rice vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Place all of the veggies in a large bowl and toss.
Whisk all of the dressing ingredients together until smooth and pour over veggies. Toss well  with the cilantro and scallions, or just one of these herbs. Your choice. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt & peppers.

  • Break up a package of Ramen noodles and mix in with the slaw. The noodles will be crunchy at first but will soften up after absorbing all of the liquid in the salad.
  • Add sesame seeds and/or sliced almonds, or peanuts
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger added to the dressing
There are tons of recipes on the internet for Asian Slaw dressings. You can certainly play around with these ingredients without causing any major damage!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Saving Your CSA for Later: Tips and Tricks

We’re winding down to the last month of our CSA program. It sure has been an amazing experience with surprises in each week’s basket. My biggest challenge has been making room in my side by side fridge at home to accommodate a family share.

The situation was a little dicey last night as I tried to wedge the corn on top of the broccoli and kohlrabi, while also finding space for the containers of leftovers. Worrying that a mutiny would ensue, I actually took food out and ate it, just to make more room and keep the peace!

But truly, I am not complaining and when I opened my fridge today, I felt extremely rich and blessed to have so much gorgeous, locally grown food. I felt like an artist with a blank canvas, ready to prepare my next culinary masterpiece. Even if it’s broccoli and dip….it's still a thing of beauty to me!

To get a grip and lighten the mood in the fridge, I mixed things up a bit. You may want to do the same if you can’t eat all of it in one week but want to savor it later.

1. Wash and steam the green beans for about 10 minutes until crisp tender. Once cooled and dried on a kitchen towel, pop them in freezer bags for later use. You can just steam them again when you are ready to eat them.

2. Shred a bunch of golden zucchini and then squeeze the water out. Freeze them in bags for later use in zucchini bread, fritters, or even mix in with ricotta cheese for lasagna. This a great way to sneak in veggies and it blends right in.

3. I pickled 6 jars of cukes and peppers using recipes from this blog.

4. Chop up all of the yellow tomatoes, cook them in some olive oil and garlic, add some oregano, sugar, basil, salt and pepper. Freeze it for later use in zipper bags or containers. When ready to use, thaw it out and puree it. Heat on top of stove and add some canned tomato paste to deepen the flavor and you have yourself a lovely sauce for pasta.

5. Give some of it away if you don’t think you can handle it all. Your friends and neighbors will love you!

Will share some recipes for the lovely purple kohlrabi in my next edition so stay tuned!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Funny Food

My kids had a blast with last week's CSA. Take a look at the week in pictures. All were created by my 9 year old son:

Beware the SpiderCuke!
(The middle is a Confreda watermelon)
The Itsy Bitsy spiders
Green beans, orange tomatoes & cherry peppers 
Hot cherry pepper head
I'm Corny, not Gumby
Sleeping snowman
White eggplants and watermelon body
Rainbow carrot nose
Shine on little star before you get pickled in a jar

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Yes, You CAN!

In honor of the upcoming election, I think we should all adopt this slogan. I know you are thinking, "Beck, that is soooo 2008!" I guess. But if you are a CSA member or an avid gardener, then it's finally time to consider doing something different with your bounty.

That means, get your Fanny on the Canny Wagon. At some point (and I've reached it), you start to feel your creativity waning a bit. It's not always easy coming up with recipes, even with so many resources around us. And getting into a food rut is easy to do.  Sometimes I think I need to cook and eat it all in one week. Not true!

Perhaps it's time to think outside of the CSA box once again. This is the perfect season to preserve this wonderful bounty to enjoy in the winter months.   There are entire websites devoted to canning and jarring and the possibilities are endless. It's not just about jams & jellies anymore. This amazing site will take you from fruit butters, sauces, and syrups to  "Boozy Infusions", relishes, pickles, salsas, soups and salads. Soba Noodles with Peanut Sesame Sauce.  In a jar? Wow! Sign me up!

I never thought of myself as the "Canning Type" until my friends, M&M, bought me a book called PreserveIt. (The only thing I'd ever jarred were my grampa's garden green tomatoes.) My mom pickles eggplant and she loves the feeling she gets when it's all done. She says she "feels rich" when she looks at all of the jars sitting on the shelf.  My neighbor Dorie shares this same sentiment and is always sharing her lovely jams, relishes and barbecue sauces with us.  That is the nice thing about canning. It makes you want to share the wealth!

So check out the site and say it: "Yes, I CAN".  Look at this week's CSA box and I know you will find at least 3 ingredients to preserve. You don't really need any special equipment. Just a CAN do attitude.

What's your favorite thing to preserve? Please share with us here.

50 Shades of Facebook: Part Two

A few funny things have happened since publishing 50 Shades of Facebook: Part One.  Readers are coming out of the wood work offering up their own versions of "FB Offenders".

They are also doing a lot of "self checking" before they post an update on FB. And now I'm worried that my blog may forever change the landscape of FB.  Are people going to hold back what they really feel because of my influential blog? Where will I get my newest material from if they start posting things like, "Started my new job today. So excited!".  Sure, it sounds benign enough, but you know I'll find something wrong with that post and find a way to pigeon hole you too. Consider yourselves warned.

Without further ado, the list continues. We ended the last blog at #13, so here we go:

14. Chatty Cathy:  She is the one who, as soon as you sign on to FB for some brainless fun and distraction, starts a "Chat" with you. Her greeting is simply, "Hi", leaving you to fill in an awkward conversation with a High School friend you barely remember." You quickly go "offline" and pretend you aren't there while you play Farmville and Bejeweled Blitz with strangers.

15. The Weight Watcher:  "Lost .6 lbs today." (The reader is always curious if this was before or after posting  #13 of the first list. )

16. Drama Mama:  "My poor Ariel didn't make the cheer leading squad because she was texting during tryouts. SO unfair! AND to boot, pink Uggs are nowhere to be found. Ugh!"

17. Jet Setter: When she goes on a trip, you will hear about every leg of her tour.
"Just packed my suitcase! Can't wait for some sun and surf in the Bahamas baby!"
"Going through airport security and hope I don't get felt up! LMAO!"
"Just landed, wow, that was a close one!"

18.  The Arsonist: One who makes a very controversial statement and then walks away as if they just set a house on fire....watching in silence as her friends spar.
(Sent in by my number one fan, thanks Weezie!)

19. The English Teacher:  Her life's mission is to correct every misuse of "their, they're, your and you're" on FB. And girlfriend, there are plenty to go around, so get busy.

20. The Zoolander:  Desperate to post a photo of themselves, they do the classic pose below.

Also known as "The Narcissist",
they have an entire photo album of pics like this one

21. The Peeping Tom: S/he looks at everyone's pictures and posts but never comments on anything. They give off the impression that they are too busy or cool for FB but you know they are out there lurking and smirking.

22. The Houdini: They are on your friend list one day and then *poof* they are gone;  causing you to question if they have "blocked" you. But then they appear again out of nowhere. Was it something I said?

23.  The Anti Socialite:  She "befriends" everyone on the block, yet when you see her in the hood, she makes no eye contact and if you were being mugged, she'd walk right by, pretending to talk on her cell phone.

24.  The Disher: They post a picture of every single meal they eat. They would prefer to be called "Foodies".   (Thanks to Mari SanGiovanni for this suggestion and click here to buy her books!)

25.  The Multi-Tasker: "Deep frying a turkey right now while braiding Janey's hair!"

26. Boo Boo Kitty: She likes to post pictures of her black and blues, her kids' scars and missing teeth, and various body parts zoomed in. She then runs a Facebook contest for you all to guess what the picture is.

27. The Groupie: She creates groups for her own entertainment and tries to recruit her friends. Such groups include "Brad Pitt Wouldn't Date Bea Arthur....or would he?", and "People Against Chimps as Pets", or "I love cleaning the lint trap of my dryer". 

28. The Crypt Keeper: She posts very vague updates like: "I can't believe it." or "Burn in Hell", or my favorite, "Whyyy?"   It's attention seeking behavior at its best. 

Stay tuned....I am committed to 22 more shades. If you have any suggestions, please post them here and I will be happy to give credit where it is due on this blog. Promise!

And now, click here for Part 3!!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Not Your Nonna's Eggplant......or is it?

Why was the tomato blushing?
Because it saw the salad dressing.  

Whether you are a CSA member, a home gardener, or the lucky friend of a gardener, tomatoes are one of those things you should NEVER turn down.  And you can dress them up or dress them down. Nothing beats the garden varieties. Personally, when I go to  a restaurant and order a salad, I can tell if that tomato slice started out green when it began its long journey on the delivery truck, or whether it's a locally grown tomato. Yes, I am a Tomato Snob too.  

It's important to Honor Thy Tomato, don't you think? When you get them home, there is no need to refrigerate them, especially if they have a little more ripening  to do. If they sit too long on the counter, however, you may want to let them chill out in the fridge as you don't want them to rot.   You can make salsa, gazpacho,  homemade sauce, or Panzanella Salad. For my Popping Panzanella Salad recipe,  please click here.  The orange tomatoes in this week's CSA box would also work great here.  

While digging my way through this week's box,  I was thinking,
 "Ok, I've got this. Peppers, squash, corn, tomatoes...."

And then  I struck 4 white eggplants.

"What the....."

My coping mechanism when I don't know what else to do

Seriously, Confreda's, you know how to keep the spark in our relationship alive. Just when I thought we were in the Seven Week Itch, you pulled out all the stops!

From the outside, the white eggplant (also known as Ornamental White Eggplant) looks just like the purple kind, only it's white.  They are denser, creamier and less bitter, even though they can have more seeds. The skin of a white eggplant is tougher than purple eggplant so you should peel it. 

As much as I complain about what a chore making eggplant parm is, it's really not that bad if you have a system in place and know the right short cuts. I decided to put the Ornamental White Eggplant to the test and see how it stood up in its most popular recipe.  This Food Network recipe is pretty darned close to how I make mine, so click here for the recipe.

The result? It was delicious and I think I actually prefer the white to the purple eggplant.

My own tips:
  • To get the water out of the eggplant, click here for a previous eggplant blog which shows you how.
  • After flouring, egging, and dipping in the bread crumbs, let the eggplant slices chill in the fridge before frying them (My neighbor Larry, the chef taught me this one.)
  • Sometimes I skip the flour part and just egg and breadcrumb. I still can't tell the difference when the flour is AWOL.
  • Instead of using shallow bowls for dipping the flour/breadcrumbs, use wax paper as your "dipping stations" instead and you'll have 2 less dishes to wash.
  • If you have 2 large skillets, use them both to fry the eggplant. This will cut your time in half.
  • If you're going to commit to making eggplant, you may as well fry up a whole bunch. You can freeze the fried slices in Ziploc bags for later too.
Thank you Confreda's for making each week sweet and special!