Sunday, September 4, 2011

Canning Goodies & The Matrix

It's that amazing, wonderful time of year again ... canning season!  The above photos are just three of recent items we've canned.  We've been selling jelly jars of these for $4 each with great success and, more importantly, fantastic feedback!! 

We've also been stocking our pantry with canned peaches, applesauce, canned chicken stock (what a miracle in a jar!!), and apple pie filling.  That's a first for us, and I am eager to try it in a pie. 

Today, we've been making up a batch of spaghetti sauce to can.  We haven't made this in over a year due to the kitchen renovation from last year.  This year's garden produced nicely though and there is a large stock pot bubbling away on the stove.  A friend stopped by and immediately proclaimed that she could smell the garlic I had been roasting to add to the sauce.  Of course, she's a garlic aficionado, so I don't doubt that she would be able to pick up the aroma from quite a way off. 

I was struck by something though, while I was mixing up the sauce and pureeing it down: how good it tastes.  And I don't mean that in a bragging, "oh man, my sauce is awesome" kind of way.  I mean, I was just blown away at how GOOD it was because it was REAL.  Not store bought. 

It is amazing to me how we can actually forget what REAL food tastes like.  We think we know, we're sure we know.  Then we taste REAL food, and we are awakened.  Awakened from a sleep we didn't know we were in.  --- Ooohhh ... how very "Matrix", right? 

As silly as that sounds, I swear that is really how it is.  The first time I tried raw milk I simply knew how right it was.  For those of us who cook, it's like when you're trying to perfect a recipe.  Suddenly, you get it right.  How do you know it's right?  You just do. 

When you've been eating store bought food, you can think you've eaten, and even created, some very good meals.  To some extent, that is a completely accurate statement.  I've eaten very good meals that were made from store bought, packaged, processed items. 

But then .. then you try something that is homemade.  Homegrown.  Organic.  Fresh off the vine, literally still warm from the sun.  And .. well, Morpheus might as well have just given you that magic little red pill.  Have you experienced it yet? 

Dinner is beckoning me now, so I will leave you with this quote from 'The Matrix':
Morpheus: Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Now, Neo replied "The Matrix", but Mama Taney replies "Real Food".  :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cookin' up a Stingray

Yes, you read that right. This post begins & took place in Duck, NC. where we were on vacation. We had been fishing from the beach and a friend kept catching skates (not the type you put on your feet to wheel around under a disco ball!). As he was tossing one back he commented how unscrupulous restaurants "cookie cutter" the wings and pass them off as scallops. I pondered that if they tasted like scallops, why weren't we keeping them and eating them? Good point, he acknowledged, and then he agreed we would do so with the next one.

The next one however wasn't a skate. It was a stingray. With the poisonous barb tail. But, a quick look on the ole smart phone revealed they're just as edible as skates. So, he hacked off the tail, let the thing die, and brought it to me. In a cooler. This is my experience with a stingray.

First off, how do you get it out of the cooler without turning into a prancing girl?? I'm not known for being very girly-girl, but I'll admit this had me prancing & flapping about the kitchen like I was trying to fly.

The wings kept turning under. And this is something that can kill you when it's alive. Or when the tail is still on, which it wasn't, but still. Ewww.

I decided that first I should maybe just drain out the cooler.

And that's when the entire thing went sliding out of the cooler and into the sink & I ran, yelping, out of the kitchen. So, Step 1 was solved, it's out of the cooler. Now what?

Well, I was still prancing about. Those wings rolled like slimy tortillas making a stingray burrito. So, naturally, the next logical steps were:

*go ahead and clean the cooler, obviously it would be rude to leave it dirty and smelly, and we don't want to be rude .. so best to go ahead and clean it out

*wash hands, the "slime" seemed to be really clingy

*try to pick up the stingray, watch it fold and slip

*drop stingray back into the sink & then begin flapping around the kitchen

*wash your hands again.

This proceeded on for several long minutes, much to the amusement of friends who were now watching. Time to man-up. I poured myself a stout (more manly, ya know?). I bellied up to the sink, because that is a kinda manly thing to do too. And I faced off with the stingray.

What I had looked up online said to cut the wings off. It showed a nice graphic photo of how to do this which required another swig of beer. I have never prepared a fresh fish before. Never filleted one. Completely new experience.

One note (which was mentioned online) when dealing with a stingray (or skate for that matter) is to make sure you have a solid and stable surface to work on. These things are slippery!!

Another note, which is my own to add, is make sure you have a sharp knife. On vacation, in the rental's kitchen, there were steak knives of decent enough quality, but not so much for carving up this fella. I ended up using a paring knife.

The wings off, this is what the stingray now looks like. I read that you can use a couple other parts (the liver for example), but I'm not familiar with the anatomy of a stingray enough to desire messing around more than this with it.

So, the wings go into a bowl.

Where they are soaked in 2TB lemon juice & a good sprinkle of salt for 10 minutes or so.

The recipes I found online called for barbecuing the wings. Again, being on vacation and of limited kitchen I decided to line a dish with foil, put some bbq sauce (which I just happened to buy on the way down there when we stopped for lunch) both underneath and on top of the wings, fold it all up and cook it in the oven.

That's before the oven. I had the oven on 350 degrees. I had thought they would take quite a while to cook, as I read that cooking them in a pan takes longer than the oven. Luckily, while they were in the oven I happened to talk to one of my brothers and tell him about the experience and how I was "winging it" (get it?!?!). He quickly did a search online for me and found something that said to cook them for 10 minutes. They had been in the oven for 20.

Out of the oven after 20 minutes of cooking at 350 degrees.

Yup, I think it's done. Though I have to admit that the bbq sauce creeped most everyone out because it looked like blood.

Special Note - if you're cooking something like this for the first time, don't cook it in something the color of blood!!

On the plate and ready for trying. It turns out that, once cooked, the skin on this peels right off. VERY easy!! That was nice

A close-up of the now cooked wing. It was nice and flaky. We all tried it and agreed that it wasn't bad.
There aren't bones, which was nice, though there was cartilage, which was easy enough to avoid. In the end I could've likely used less bbq sauce, because the flavor of that was a little overwhelming. Though, the general flavor of the stingray itself seemed a little bland.

Nobody ate a lot of it though. Of course, it wasn't out of the oven and ready for consumption until 11pm, a time by which we had all already had dinner. So that was one reason. Our friend Jesse, who had caught the thing, and I both admitted though that there was a lot of anxiety (at least on our parts) about eating something that could kill you. Potentially. At some point in time. Something none of us had ever eaten or had experience in cooking with.

But, I can now say that I've cooked and eaten stingray. After all, you don't go on vacation to do (and eat!) the same ole stuff you can eat at home anytime, right?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

This basic recipe comes from a blog that I absolutely love following, Macheesmo. I tweaked the recipe some, using homemade peanut butter rather than store bought. Wanna know something else cool? I got that recipe from Macheesmo too!! Since I am still tweaking my version I am going to just give you the links to the Macheesmo postings.

BUT, I did take photos!! So, here we go .... Peanuts in the food processor. Check it out, chopped up peanuts!!! Ice cream topping anyone?
Semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate chips along with some butter, melting in a double boiler.
While the chips melted, the peanuts kept blending, I added honey, some vanilla sugar, and some homebrewed Chocolate Stout beer. Keep blending and voila ... peanut butter!
And now, we have melted chocolate too!
Tin foil cups in the muffin pans.
The tin foil cups now "filled" with the melted chocolate, just on the sides and a little bit on the bottom though.
After being popped into the freezer for a few minutes here they are with the chocolate hardened.
Filling them with the peanut butter. Roughly a tablespoon worth.
Beginning to cover the peanut butter with more chocolate. You want to make sure to get the peanut butter covered without making the chocolate on top too thick.
After a few minutes back in the freezer, here is one of the cups, ready for eating.
Ok, well NOW it is ready for eating. The foil was really easy to peel off.
Cut open in half so you can see it a little better. Very yummy.

I still want to tweak this some. Maybe it's been a long day (we didn't start these till after 10pm) but the felt time consuming to make. I would like to make the chocolate easier to work with. However, they are good. And making your own peanut butter REALLY allows you to personalize it as much as you want. ... Cool ..

Sunday, April 10, 2011

White Bean Soup with Vegetables

Yesterday I attended the 2011 Bits & Pieces Luncheon held at First United Methodist Church in Salem. It was my first year attending the event, which has been held since 1977, and I was doing so on assignment for the paper. There were foods of all types there and the church is selling a cookbook, for $3, containing all the recipes for those foods. At first I had planned on buying a cookbook but then I acknowledged my cookbook addiction and reasoned that I really didn't need yet another cookbook. However, after attending this event I walked home, got $3, and walked right back down there to get one. This is a recipe from that cookbook.

A photo of the White Bean Soup with Vegetables in little cups, ready for sampling.

Spring in Southwestern Virginia is so fickle. One week it is blazing hot, the next it is (literally) freezing cold. A predicted day of 66 degrees can equal out to a bright sun and temperatures reaching 74 or it can mean, as it did yesterday, overcast skies, random showers, and temperatures that don't hit 50 degrees. Trying to plan a meal, much less a menu ahead of time, is very tricky given these circumstances. Something light and refreshing for dinner or something to warm those chilled bones?

So .. it turns out that soup is wonderful for Spring weather. Usually quick and easy to prepare. Light and yet hearty. Endlessly versatile. Dress it up with some rustic bread and artisan cheese if you'd like. Or perhaps just a salad. Or just let it stand alone and appreciate it's inherent beauty.

White Bean Soup with Vegetables
by Sue Williams, from the 2011 Bits & Pieces Recipes Cookbook
1 T. olive oil
1 large sweet onion, minced
2 medium carrots, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium potatoes, chopped
1 medium zucchini, diced
3-4 sprigs parsley, minced
1/4 tsp. each fresh rosemary and thyme, or 1/8 tsp. each dried
6 cups warm chicken broth
2 1/2 cups white beans, soaked & cooked, or 2 cans white beans
1 T. unsalted butter Salt and Pepper to taste

*Heat a medium Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Add onion, carrots, celery, and potatoes. Saute until the vegetables sweat. Stir in rosemary and thyme. Then add zucchini, chicken broth and beans. Cook 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Puree with an immersion blender to desired consistency. Stir in butter and season with salt & pepper. Cook an additional 3-5 minutes.
*Makes 6 servings
*Store in refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze

Here is our homemade pot of this, after dinner had already been served.

We used homemade chicken stock rather than store-bought broth. We also used 2 cups of grated zucchini in place of the one medium since that is what we had on hand. We forgot the parsley completely but you'll notice it isn't mentioned when to add it anyway in the recipe. We don't yet have an immersion blender (*hint hint to anyone out there*), so we used our blender for this. You could also use a food processor, but ours has been being a pain when it comes to soups lately (another hint hint?), so we tried the blender and it worked wonderfully. Just have an extra bowl handy for the transferring process.

Review: Honestly, we found this recipe a little bland as-is. That isn't necessarily a bad thing though, as it makes it a good recipe for people who can't tolerate a lot of spices such as the elderly, young children, or people whose bodies won't allow them many spices. It also allows a wonderful spring board to personalize it with your choice of herbs and spices. Roasted garlic always calls to me, so I will certainly be adding it, likely along with some garlic powder, to this the next time I make it. And I will be making it again. With all those vegetables in there, how could I possibly resist not doing so?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Scenes from dinner

Homemade dinners should never be under estimated. Ever. They can be as simple or elaborate as you'd like. Here is what we had tonight.

A loaf of sourdough bread made with roasted garlic and Parmesan cheese. It came out of the oven just in time for dinner and to be topped with some homemade raw butter. Delicious!

Burgundy Beef Po' Boys were the real delight of the evening though. Justin began cooking the beef on Saturday in the slow cooker. The aroma of it was sheer torture!! I really thought I might go insane having to smell it and not being able to devour it.

The recipe came from the book Crock Pot Slow Cooker Best-Loved Recipes.
Burgundy Beef Po' Boys with Dipping Sauce:
1 boneless beef chuck shoulder or bottom round roast (3 pounds) ~ we used rump roast
2 cups chopped onions
1/4 cup dry red wine
3 TB balsamic vinegar
1 TB beef bouillon granules
1 TB Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp garlic powder
*Trim excess fat & discard. Cut beef into 3 or 4 pieces. Place onions on bottom of crock pot slow cooker. Top with beef and remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on HIGH 8 - 10 hours or until beef is very tender.
*Remove beef from crock pot, allow to cool slightly. Shred with 2 forks. Let cooking liquid stand 5 minutes to allow fat to rise. Skim off fat and discard. Spoon beef into Italian rolls. Serve the cooking liquid as dipping sauce.

We served it with some corn and with the roasted garlic bread on the side.

Soooo good!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Thoughts from the Kitchen

It's been nearly a month since I blogged on here, yikes! Sorry 'bout that y'all. But I'm gonna sit down now and look around the kitchen ~ which sadly means no photos today, just thoughts.

Right now I have a moment somewhat to myself. The Sourdough Starter has been fed. Beer bread is in the oven baking. The kids are occupied and the dogs are playing.

Thought 1:
I love to cook. I love to bake. I love real food, slow food. I read cookbooks for fun and dream of dishes yet to be made. However, life can really through a kink into that desire .. especially when you're a mama .. even more especially when you have a finicky 4 year old at the table.
You lose the whimsically magical delight of "Hmm .. what shall I create today?" as you spin around the kitchen in a too-cute apron.
Instead, the sink is full of dishes, the dogs are slobbering on the floor, the counters are cluttered, you're wondering how you keep your shirt so damn dirty, and what the hell are you going to make for dinner that your 4 year old will take one look at that (sometimes not even that, just as soon as he HEARS about it) and begin absolutely SCREAMING "BUT I DON'T LIKE THAT!!!!"
"You've never had it before" you soothingly reply.
"BUT I HATE IT!!!" he screams back.
"It's made with stuff you like" you reassuringly begin to plead.
"NO I DON'T" he screams back again amid his dramatic sobs.
"Well, that's what is for dinner and you can eat it or not, so there." Because no matter how old you are saying "So there" and sticking out your tongue (even if you only do that part in your mind because you don't want your kids doing it back to you) feels REALLY good.
And this whole scene plays out first in your head, because you know it is coming, and then again as soon as dinner is announced, and then again once more as an encore when dinner is served.

Thought 2:
Real food rocks. It can go from being the easiest thing to find to the hardest thing to find. It seems like I'm always finding out new reasons why all these things in the grocery store are really poisoning us. But even through these trials, real food just rocks.
It makes me swoon & drool like some Rock Star Hottie flashing me his baby blues & six-pack abs. Raw Milk Cheese. Spent Beer Grain Bread baked in Flower Pots. Home-cured Ham. Pasture Raised meat on the smoker. --- oh, I am so swooning and drooling right now. Hello Pavlov.
This morning I had a breakfast of two eggs (thanks to the Blue Nymph Biddies, our backyard chickens) fried up in a cast iron skillet on top of a pad of raw milk butter (made here at home), topped with some delicious Irish cheese.
Right now the heavenly aroma of beer bread is filling the kitchen. I made it using Ruby's Deep Winter Stout (a dry Irish stout). I am already envisioning it, fresh out of the oven with butter melting on it as I dig into it for lunch.

The other day someone mentioned a whipped cream cheese to me, as it is lower in calories. I responded that I cared more about real food and didn't bother with calories. And I realized something really freeing: I don't care about calories. I don't even think about them.
Of course I care about health and wellness but, when it comes to food, I realize that I think differently than a lot of people ~ and a lot more like a hopefully growing number of people!
I think about where the food came from. How was it raised and grown? What processes did it have to go through to be the food it is in my kitchen? Is it natural? Does thinking about it and tasting it make me salivate or does it make my mind go "well, it's supposed to be better for me?" in that voice that sighs and silently says "ugh" and resigns itself to this food-like stuff.
I refuse to acknowledge that voice anymore. That voice isn't a happy one. Real food squashes that voice flat and has me singing in a flower-filled meadow.

Thought 3:
I am dreaming of my gardens over-flowing with produce. I am out of homemade ketchup and can't wait to make more. I long to see what the gardens produce this year.
I wasn't ready to welcome Spring. I love the snow and we didn't get it this year, so I've been pretty bummed about that. Now it is still February and I've noticed that my lilac tree has the beginnings of buds on it. So I am letting Winter go and looking forward to Spring. And my gardens. Which will fill my kitchen with fresh, organic food and stock my pantry full.

Thought 4:
What the hell is for dinner tonight?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Beer Bread = Heaven

We brewed beer today which is always a wonderful delight. This time, instead of letting all the spent grains go to the chickens or the compost pile I decided to make some beer bread with it. The color of the bread is reflective of the type of beer we brewed and therefore the grains we used.
I'm not going to write out a lot here, I'm just going to let the photos speak for themselves.

Can you smell that aroma? The bread fresh out of the oven, warm and topped with butter that melts as soon as it touches it. Are you drooling a little bit? You should be.

The recipe I used said it made 3 loaves of bread. Obviously I adapted it a little and made flowerpot bread. The bread wasn't out of the oven though and we had already eaten well over a loaf's worth of that bread. It was divine.