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I’m always on the lookout for new recipes and ways to use the food from our CSA. It’s not much of a problem in July when tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers and more are coming out of our ears, but the cooler weather vegetables can sometimes be a bit more challenging.

I thought this post had some great tips and tricks for getting the most out of your produce!

With the holiday weekend coming up, I thought an easy burger recipe was in order.

We buy a half a pig from a family up in Kokomo every six months or so (comment below if you’re interested – we’re about to put in our summer order), so we eat a lot of pork around here. These burgers are ground pork + bacon, so they’re double the pork delicious-ness. The recipe works easily as well with ground beef, chicken or turkey too though (the bacon really ups the flavor of chicken or turkey burgers).

Sara’s Extra Pork Burgers

Ingredients

1 pound ground beef/pork/turkey/chicken
4 slices bacon, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced finely
Mom Meyer’s Rub (recipe to come, but you use your favorite spice blend in the meantime)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions

  1. Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl using your hands, until all of the ingredients are well incorporated
  2. Shape the mixture into patties. We usually end up with five average-sized patties.
  3. Grill on medium heat until desired done-ness (here are some great grill tips and tricks)
  4. Serve with your desired condiments on a toasted bun. For us, that means my mom’s homemade BBQ sauce, which makes everything taste better. We ate our burgers with some roasted potato wedges, grilled asparagus and a salad of baby greens from our CSA share.

Any favorite burger recipes to share?

My grandma bought me a pressure cooker as a wedding gift many moons ago. At first, I was very intimidated by the steam and feared that it might explode every time I used it. I’ve since gotten over those misgivings and count my pressure cooker as maybe my favorite cooking appliance. I use it for all sorts of things, but pressure cooking beans saves me the most time (and money).

We eat a lot of beans around here (insert “breaking wind” joke here), but I don’t like canned beans – they taste a bit too much like the can to me, there are all kinds of chemicals in the can’s lining, and you get much more bang from your buck by buying beans in bulk and making your own. I, however, am notoriously bad about planning ahead, so I often forget to soak the beans the night before when I want to use them for dinner, which is where the pressure cooker comes in. I can cook a pound of black beans for a quick taco night meal in about thirty minutes without any pre-soaking with the pressure cooker. It’s a magical thing.

Smashed Beans
Recipe adapted from The Curvy Carrot

Ingredients
1 pound of pinto beans
1/2 cup onions, diced
1 cup of cheese of your choice (I used half cheddar and half monterrey jack), divided
1 tsp chipotle chili powder (more if you like it spicier)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil

  1. Pressure cooker directions: Add a pound of beans + enough water to cover the beans by about two inches to the pressure cooker. Lock the lid on the cooker and cook on high. Once the pot begins steaming, cook for another 15 minutes at least. Regular directions: Soak the beans for a minimum of four hours, but preferably overnight. Drain the beans. In a large pot with a lid, bring the beans + water to a boil (use triple the amount of water as beans), then let the beans simmer (covered) until the beans are tender. Use this handy chart for bean cooking times.
  2. Drain the beans and reserve some of the cooking liquid. Heat the oil in a large pan. Once the oil shimmers a bit, add the onions and cook until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and chipotle powder and cook briefly. Add the beans into the pan and smash them with a potato masher until they reach your desired consistency. Use the reserved cooking liquid to thin out the beans as needed. After the beans are smashed to your satisfaction, add 3/4 cup of cheese and mix into the beans. Add salt and pepper to taste. When ready to serve, garnish the beans with the remaining cheese.

I could eat Mexican food about five days a week, so this is a staple around our house!

Jasper loves it when I use the pressure cooker – he runs back and forth through the steam like so yelling “HOT!” Another added benefit of the pressure cooker: children’s entertainment!

I recently spotted the Nourishing Traditions cookbook for forty percent off and picked it up immediately. Nourishing Traditions is the cooking “bible” for Weston A. Price aficionados. While I definitely don’t buy into everything that the WAPF folks espouse, I’m generally in agreement with their ideas and values: eat whole foods, produced in the way that God intended them to be grown, and stay away from the modern industrialized “food” system by purchasing real food from local farmers. Check out the local WAPF’s chapter for more information.

So, even though I didn’t have the cookbook, Sally Fallon (the author of Nourishing Traditions and current president of the Weston A. Price Foundation) and Weston Price (check out this Wikipedia link for a brief synopsis) have been on my radar for some time. I had a Christmas gift card at Lehman’s to spend, so, after much deliberation, I purchased this:

It’s a crock! Don’t worry, I had no idea what it was  either – other than a large clay pot – until I started learning more about the benefits of fermented foods.When the package arrived on the door step, Grant opened it first and just gave me one of those looks. You know the one. He’s a very supportive guy, but when I started telling him about all of the probiotics in a batch of food that’s been sitting out for a week+, he just kinda stared.

One of our favorite local farms, Homestead Heritage, has a neighbor that makes fermented veggies, and Homestead Heritage sells them for him. We’ve tried his various types of kimchi and sauerkraut, and we’ve really liked everything we tried. So, when I saw this crock at Lehman’s and found a few recipes for sauerkraut that looked super simple, I thought we could save a few bucks by doing it ourselves.

You know how most blogs about food only show you the delicious meals that go perfectly? I rarely have a meal that goes exactly as planned, and I thought it would be nice to share a colossal screw-up in kitchen with all of you. So you’ve been warned: don’t try this at home – or at least do a better job of following the directions than I did.

I mostly worked off of this recipe from Nourishing Traditions, but I referred often to this recipe from Sandor Ellix Katz, who from my research seems to be the expert on modern fermentation recipes. I modified it a bit to include some shredded beets, celery and coriander seeds. Things started off so well – I threw a whole head of cabbage, about four stalks of celery and two large (peeled) beets in the food processor to shred. I’m really not sure there’s a much prettier vegetable than a beet.

I then dumped the vegetables with about two tablespoons of salt and another 1/2 tablespoon of coriander into my beautiful new crock. I added four tablespoons of whey (which I obtained from my latest batch of homemade ricotta – recipe to come – but here’s an easy recipe for whey if you don’t want to wait for the ricotta instructions). I smashed it all down with a potato-masher per the directions, and then I added enough water to cover the mixture by about a half inch.

Right about here is where things might have started to go wrong…the Nourishing Tradition‘s recipe used a large glass jar to make the kraut and just recommended that you fill the jar to the top with water, and Mr. Katz’s recipe wasn’t entirely clear about exactly how much water was needed. I referred to several other sources on the internet, but I didn’t find anything that I felt very confident about. I decided to wing it (my usual MO) and just filled the crock with enough water to cover the vegetables by about a half an inch.

Since I already had my fancy new crock (in hindsight, I maybe should’ve researched a little more before jumping the gun on the crock and tried the regular Ball jar method first), I had to follow Katz’s instructions from here, which called for a plate to be placed over the vegetables with a weight (I used a well-washed rock that Jasper had found for me in the garden) of some sort on top to keep the vegetables from rising above the water line.

After I had the water sufficiently covering the plate, I put a pillow case over the crock and placed it in a dark, secluded corner of the laundry room that was safe from toddlers and dogs. Katz recommended checking on the kraut every day, but waiting a minimum of seven days before trying it. I forgot about it for the first three days or so, but then I looked in on it on the fourth day. It looked great – not much different from the first day, except maybe more water had risen to the top to more sufficiently cover the veggies underneath. I checked it on the fifth day and things looked mostly the same. When I went to check on it on the sixth day, there was some obvious mold forming on the surface of the concoction. I got a little squeamish, but then I skimmed the scum from the surface and put it back in its spot. The next day when I looked, there was more mold, as well as a distinctively icky smell coming from that corner of the laundry room. I started Googling frantically. Katz said that mold was no big deal, even to be expected. Fallon said

As with all fermenting, follow your nose. If it smells putrid or you have any doubts about the quality, then discard the sauerkraut and start again.

I hate waste more than just about anything besides people going hungry, but, in the end, I went with Fallon’s school of thought. The more I read, I wondered if 1) I hadn’t put enough water in the original concoction and 2) my plate + weight weren’t sufficiently wide and heavy enough to properly keep the vegetables submerged beneath the surface. I couldn’t even handle taking a picture at this point in the process because I have a surprisingly strong gag reflex, and it was all I could do to get the moldy kraut into the compost bin without puking.

Minus the whole waste thing (at least all of that stuff will eventually go toward making our plants and soil healthier), it was still a fun learning process. I’ll try again – soon – and report back on my second attempt. Much like life, cooking is an adventure in trial and error. I think that’s why I like it so much.

I’m a huge proponent of square foot gardening. If someone asks me for advice about getting started on gardening, I always recommend they start with the square foot method. That’s not true. I actually recommend that they start with a pot or two of something they like to eat, see how that goes, and then, if the pots are a success, graduate to the square foot method.

My parents bought me our square foot box a few years ago for my birthday, and it has been a much-loved birthday gift. I try to plant my spring plants in the square foot, harvest them all by the beginning of June, and then transplant peppers and winter squash into the bed after the spring plants are finished. This year, that plan looks like it is very likely to fail. Things just aren’t growing as well as usual in the square foot, except for the snap peas (back row), but even those should be about double in size by now. I need to thin out the radishes and kale (front two rows), but there’s so few of them to begin with that I’m having a hard time messing with it. I’ll keep you posted on how things end up.

Just because I’m having some problems this year in the wettest, coolest spring in Indiana in years doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give square footing a try. Check out these sites for more information on the square foot method:

Do you have any experience with square foot gardening? Share your insights in the comments!

Fridays during CSA season are like Christmas at our house. We are a drop-off site for our CSA (LIFE Farm), and our share usually gets here around 2pm or so. I love the suspense of what surprises are in store in this week’s share.

For people new to eating seasonally, the spring is usually a little rough. There are typically lots of greens and vegetables that our grandparents ate but many of us have never heard of. Last week, our CSA share consisted of the following:

  • Green onions
  • Spring mix
  • Kale
  • Beets
Just to give you some ideas, here is how I easily (and deliciously!) used up our share’s bounty – by Tuesday!
I love green onions. I really could just eat them plain with sea salt and pepper (Grant says that’s weird, but it’s not, right?). Grant (and Jasper) don’t share my affection for raw green onions, so I did a little research and found this recipe for a homemade salad dressing using lots of green onions. The dressing was delicious – it reminded me of Green Goddess dressing. I think next time I would add a little honey to sweeten it up a bit. We used it for several spring mix salads, but we ran out of spring mix before we ran out of dressing.
I made some kale chips, which Jasper loves, but only when they are fresh out of the oven.
I sauteed the beet greens with olive oil and garlic for a fried egg sandwich (on the rosemary flax bread from Healthy Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day; recipe here if you don’t have the book yet). It took all of about three minutes to prepare, but I think it was the best thing I ate all week.
I used the beets for a little side adventure that I’ll share soon, but do you see how easy that was to use up all of those delicious, fresh, LOCAL vegetables?!
Share your favorite recipes for Indiana spring recipes in the comments.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I reviewed two loosely related books for Englewood Review of Books: Radical Homemakers (which I’ve mentioned here previously), and The Missional Mom. Perhaps surprisingly, they both have something to say about living more sustainably, and I would recommend them both for gardener-types — men and women alike!

A person who undertakes to grow a garden at home, by practices that will preserve rather than exploit the economy of the soil, has set his mind decisively against what is wrong with us. He is helping himself in a way that dignifies him and is rich in meaning and pleasure. But he is doing something else that is more important; He is making vital the contact with the soil and the weather on which his life depends. He will no longer look upon rain as a traffic impediment, or upon the sun as a holiday decoration.

Wendell Berry, A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural

I’ve been reading How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, and I highly recommend it. We have a long way to go in our garden to institute many of the principles discussed in the book, but that is one of the things I enjoy most about gardening – the constant learning and experimenting.

I came across this article over at Organic Gardening magazine’s website, and it used many of the same points and examples that are in the How to Grow… book. Read the whole article, but I especially liked the following tid-bits:

…Raised beds save you time, too. One researcher tracked the time it took to plant and maintain a 30-by-30-foot garden planted in beds, and found that he needed to spend just 27 hours in the garden from mid-May to mid-October. Yet he was able to harvest 1,900 pounds of fresh vegetables—that’s a year’s supply of food for three people from about 3 total days of work!

…To get the maximum yields from each bed, pay attention to how you arrange your plants. Avoid planting in square patterns or rows. Instead, stagger the plants by planting in triangles (as shown here). By doing so, you can fit 10 to 14 percent more plants in each bed.

…Interplanting compatible crops saves space, too. Consider the classic Native American combination, the “three sisters”—corn, beans, and squash. Sturdy cornstalks support the pole beans, while squash grows freely on the ground below, shading out competing weeds. This combination works because the crops are compatible. Other compatible combinations include tomatoes, basil, and onions; leaf lettuce and peas or brassicas; carrots, onions, and radishes; and beets and celery.

Grant discovered the LÄRABAR a few years ago when he bought some for us for a day of hiking. We were quickly hooked. Once Jasper could eat real food, he became a huge fan of them too. The only downside to the LÄRABAR? They’re usually at least a dollar a bar, and they’re individually packaged (which is how they stay so moist and delicious without the use of preservatives). Around the time we figured out how much Jasper likes LÄRABARs, I found a recipe to make a homemade version to save money and packaging. Grant and Jasper love the homemade versions and affectionately refer to them as SÄRABARs. I refer to them as “meltdown stoppers” because having one on hand single-handedly stops a Jasper meltdown in its tracks.

You’ll need a food processor for these in order to puree the dried fruit down to the right consistency. Try them for yourself!

SÄRABARs
A poorman’s LÄRABAR, loosely adapted from Enlightened Cooking’s recipe

Ingredients
1 cup dried fruit  (I vary the dried fruit based on what I have on hand, but I almost always use dates as the base for the sweetness they provide. For this batch, I used 1/2 cup dates and 1/2 dried apricots)
2/3 cup finely chopped nuts (Again, I use what I have on hand. For this batch, I used almonds, but walnuts are my favorite)
A dash of cinnamon (or nutmeg is yummy here too)

Rule of them: Use 1 cup of fruit to every 2/3 cup of nuts. You can double of halve the batch based on your needs. Get creative with your concoctions, and check out Enlightened Cooking’s variations for ideas.

Directions

  1. Place the nuts in the food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Dump the finished nuts into a separate bowl.



  2. Place the dried fruit in the food processor (the fruit will pick up any leftover remnants from the nuts) and pulse until the dried fruit becomes a ball of stickiness – it takes a solid couple of minutes.
  3. After you have the fruit paste, divide the “fruit ball” in half until you have about ten (give or take) equally sized portions of the fruit. Take each portion and roll it in the nuts. You kind of squish it around until the nuts are incorporated into the fruit and the result is not sticky to the touch. It takes some practice, but it’s fun once you get the hang of it. If you have older children, this would be a perfect project for them. You can either shape them into bars like the real thing, or if you want smaller portions, sometimes we make them into a cookie shape. The finished product isn’t the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, but they are delicious!

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