Tag Archives: Food

A Bushel and a Peck

Saturday we ventured into south Georgia for an agricultural field trip.

First, we picked blueberries at a friend’s grandmother’s house. Hazel LOVES blueberries. She ate them off the bushes, after several reminders to only eat the blue ones. Jason would dump a handful in his bucket, and she’d scoop them up and shove them all in her mouth. Despite her best efforts, we still managed to pick nine pounds of blueberries.

Nine. Pounds. Of. Blueberries. That’s a LOT of fruit.

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We then headed to a u-pick tomato farm. Picking my own produce always reminds me of this delightful post from Stuff White People Like, so it was with a mixture of chagrin and amusement that I headed off down the rows with a five-gallon bucket.

The farm had several varieties of tomatoes, and we got a mix of beefsteak and Roma. I had visions of pasta sauce, BLTs, and caprese salad.

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Do you know how many tomatoes a 5-gallon bucket holds? Answer: A ridiculous amount of tomatoes.

It was not even lunchtime, and we had gathered an absurd amount of fruit. By the end of the day, we added six pounds of zucchini, several squash, and one cucumber to our haul. Our friends were probably laughing at us. Okay, definitely laughing at us.

Jason also tried to pet the cows on the farm. It went about as well as you’d expect.

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We returned to suburbia and got to work putting up our bounty.

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First up, I began freezing the blueberries. After a quick wash, I spread them out on baking sheets in two-pound batches and stuck them in the freezer. After an hour or two, they went into (labeled!) Ziploc bags for long-term freezer storage.

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After that, I shredded two of the zucchinis and froze them. I put two cups of shredded zucchini in a sandwich bag, flattened it, and put five such sandwich bags in a gallon freezer bag.

Then I turned my attention to the tomatoes. By this time they had exited their bucket and were plotting a bloodless coup.

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I took two pounds of the Romas, halved them, scooped the seeds, and put them in the oven to dry. They spent most of the day at 200 degrees.

For dinner, we had a tomato tart.

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After dinner Hazel experienced what can only be described as a Blueberry Blowout.

The next day, I used fifteen pounds to make an epic batch of pasta sauce, and oven-dried another two pounds of Roma tomatoes.

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I cored, scored, and blanched the sauce tomatoes, then put them in a ginormous stock pot with aromatics (sauteed onions, garlic, oregano, Italian seasoning, wine, and bay leaves) and let them simmer.

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After a few hours, they were starting to break down.

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I used my immersion blender to smooth things out a bit.

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After that it was a matter of reducing the sauce to the right consistency, letting it cool, and portioning it out into gallon freezer bags. We got six quarts of sauce.

…..and that took care of about half of the tomatoes. We’ve been eating the rest as fast as we can, but I have a sneaking suspicion I have Tribble tomatoes in my kitchen. Every time I walk through, they’ve multiplied.

So if you see us looking a little pink around the gills, it’s not sunburn – it’s tomato fever.

 

 

 

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Old Reliable

I didn’t learn to cook until I was in college. In my sophomore year, I signed up to bake for the Hungry Newt, a student-run coffee joint in the basement of one of the old frat houses.

I quickly realized that I had no idea what I was doing. Despite being the granddaughter and daughter of very competent cooks, I had absorbed nothing. I needed help. I needed a guide to the mystic culinary arts. I bought this:

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I wish I’d gotten a first edition, which features Saint Martha of Bethany slaying the dragon of kitchen drudgery (I kid you not):

Back, beast!

I read large portions of it like a novel, finally grasping the nuts and bolts of cooking. Because of my baking gig, I ran through the cookies section first. I began to see patterns – with cookies, for example, you usually start by creaming butter and sugar together (this was a revelation at the time). It was one part chemistry, one part Potions.

While I have become pretty confident in the kitchen, I still refer to the Joy of Cooking. At Christmas, I sought its advice on roasting a whole beef tenderloin. And last Sunday, I checked how long an egg needed to poach:

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I love the language – “Swirl the water into a mad vortex”! Delightful.

This book will always have a place on my shelf.

Eggs

Nom nom nom.

 

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Between Rain Storms

Last Saturday we thumbed our collective nose at the weather and headed to Green Meadows Farm in Monticello to pick some blueberries with the kids.

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Since I am terrrrrible at plants/seasons/horticulture, I did not know that it was basically the last day of blueberry season. We still managed to collect about 10 cups of blueberries, which was plenty for my evil plans to make jam.

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The power was off-and-on most of the weekend, but by Sunday I was confident that nature would no longer thwart my jammy endeavors, so I gathered my gear (which doubles as medieval torture devices, BONUS).

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I bought a very basic canning set many years ago, and it has served me well. Canning is intimidating – so much boiling water! sterilization of jars and lids! molten fruits! – but once you get the hang of it, the process is pretty straightforward. First you cook your fruit into jam, then you process the jars so it’s shelf-stable. If you’re just starting out, I recommend the Ball Blue Book, which is like the Gospel of Preservation.

Alternatively, you can just make friends with someone who cans stuff and offer to be their guinea pig. Voila.

I decided to make a blueberry basil jam, based on this recipe from Cupcake Rehab. I used 10 cups of blueberries, 6 cups of sugar, 16 basil leaves, and the juice of 3 limes. This yielded 11 cups of jam.

Jammed

The jam is very tasty – it’s not too sweet, and the basil adds some flavor interest.

I’m glad I pulled out my canning set, and am looking forward to using it again this weekend after a trip to the farmer’s market. I’ve set my sights on these garlic dill pickes……

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It’s Greek to Me: Pastitsio

My father grew up with several Greek neighbors. He used to say, “I learned all the food words and all the curse words. Turns out that’s all you need!”

I love Greek food. Every year I eagerly anticipate the Greek Food Festival at Holy Mother of God church here in Tallahassee, and I’ve been expanding my repertoire of Greek recipes.

This weekend I made pastitsio, which is a layered pasta/meat/cheese dish similar to lasagna. I scouted a few recipes on Pinterest, and decided to use this one from Chicho’s Kitchen as my starting point. I altered it significantly, based on a few of my personal kitchen rules.

Like Rule 1: I’m not buying a whole bunch of celery to use one stalk. No, ma’am.

And Rule 2: If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. (This rule applies to wine and not, say, clam juice.)

And Rule 3: Authenticity is awesome, but if I can’t find it at Publix in Tallahassee, I’m probably going to use a substitute.

And Rule 4: All metric measurements will be converted and rounded without remorse.

So here we go.

Think of this as a play in three acts: The Meat Sauce, the Pasta, and the White Sauce.

Act 1: Meat Sauce.

Brown a chopped onion and some garlic until they get all sweaty and happy:

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Then add two pounds of ground beef and brown it. I used 93/7 lean.

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Next, add the rest of the sauce ingredients and let it simmer for 30-40 minutes. That’s your meat sauce.

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I didn’t have cloves, so I used allspice. And next time I’ll either use petite diced tomatoes or tomato puree.

All that simmering left me….. thirsty. See Rule #2:

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Anyway, here’s my sauce after 40 minutes of simmering:

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If I had sufficient rangetop space, I could have proceeded with the pasta and white sauce while the meat sauce was simmering. However, since this recipe used my three largest pots/pans, there was not enough room to do that. The meat sauce pot hung out on a cutting board until time for assembly.

Act 2: Make the Pasta

You can make the pasta while you’re making your meat sauce, or you can make it while you’re making the white sauce. Pasta – it’s flexible.

Boil one pound of pasta, cutting 3 minutes off the recommended cook time. I used Ditalini, because it’s short and tubular and adorable.

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Drain, and throw the pasta in a large bowl.

Act 3: White Sauce

While the pasta is boiling, start your bechamel (white) sauce. Have ready: 1 stick of butter, 1/2 cup flour, and 4 cups milk. Melt the butter in a large pan, then whisk in the flour. Keep whisking for one minute, until all flour lumps are gone and the mixture is smooth. Don’t stop whisking yet! Whisk in the milk, in a slow stream, until it’s combined with the flour/butter. Turn the heat up a little bit, until the mixture boils, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, whisking slowly but constantly. Season the white sauce with nutmeg, salt and pepper, and turn the heat to low.

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Now it’s time to assemble.

Turn your oven on 350 degrees F.

Grab your bowl of pasta. Add about a cup of the white sauce, 2 beaten eggs, and half the Parmesan cheese. Mix mix mix.

You should have in front of you: one big pot of meat sauce, one bowl of saucy pasta, one pan of white sauce.

Go ahead and grease a 9×13 casserole.

Take a deep breath.

Aaaaand here we go. From the bottom:

Layer 1: One third of the pasta
Layer 2: One half the meat sauce
Layer 3: One third of the pasta
Layer 4: One half the meat sauce
Layer 5: One third of the pasta
Layer 6: Bechamel sauce
Layer 7: Breadcrumbs & Parmesan

Step back and admire your work……

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…….then put that bad boy in the oven for 30-45 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.

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DEVOUR.

Pastitsio
Adapted from Chicho’s Kitchen

Serves 8-10

Meat Sauce:

2 TB olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. lean ground beef (I used 93/7)
1 cup red wine
14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes, or tomato puree
1 TB tomato paste
1 4-in. piece cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp. ground cloves OR allspice
1 TB + 1 tsp. dried oregano
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup water or chicken broth
1.5 tsp salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add the onion and garlic and saute until just beginning to brown. Add the ground beef and brown, breaking up lumps. Add remaining sauce ingredients and simmer 30-40 minutes. Remove cinnamon and bay leaves.

Pasta:

1 lb. tubular pasta, such as ditalini, rigatoni, or small penne
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, finely grated (or Greek kefalotiri cheese, if you can find it)

Cook pasta in boiling salted water, taking 3 minutes off the recommended cooking time. Drain and cool slightly, adding eggs, cheese, and 1 cup white sauce at assembly time.

White Sauce:

1/2 cup (4 oz) butter
1/2 cup flour
4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Melt butter over medium heat in a large pan. Whisk in flour, stirring about 1 minute until all lumps are gone, then slowly whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Topping:

1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Assembly:

Mentally divide the pasta into three portions, and the meat sauce into 2 portions. Layer as follows (starting at the bottom): pasta, meat sauce, pasta, meat sauce, pasta, white sauce, breadcrumbs/Parmesan.

Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Let rest 15 minutes, then serve. This would be a good opportunity to use the rest of that wine. Just saying.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Windy Seal of Approval (bark, bark, bark)

The last time my women’s circle met, one of the ladies sidled up to me and said, “I’m beginning to understand that if there’s some kind of gathering and you make food, it’s going to be good.”

What a compliment!

I’ve been pin-testing quite a few recipes over the last week, so I thought I’d share some of the more successful ventures.

On Thursday I made this Addictive Brussels Sprout Salad, and OH MYYYYY did it live up to its name.

I didn’t have walnuts, so I substituted pecans with no problem. The nuts and cheese give it enough substance so that a big portion would make a nice light lunch. I served it with salmon for dinner.

On Saturday night I made this Pulled Pork Pizza from Tasty Kitchen, which was also a rousing success. Even the children loved it. EVEN THE CHILDREN.

Jason and I wondered if we should saute the onions before throwing them on the pizza, but they were just perfect. The squeeze of lime and the chopped cilantro really made this amazing. Plus, we used the whole package of cotija cheese (probably 1.5 cups) because CHEESE.

And last night I tried Braised White Beans with Leeks. Another hit!

I don’t really do celery – not because I have an objection, just because I refuse to buy a bunch of celery and only use 1 or 2 stalks. I did not have Herbes de Provence, so I used rosemary. And I substituted chicken broth for the vegetable broth, because MEAT.

Tonight I’m going to try my hand at Dijon Chicken Linguine. Wish me luck!

 

 

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