January 2011

Seasonal Eating – January

Posted on January 21, 2011 at 8:44 am in

As we pull out of the depths of winter, there is relatively little that is in season just now, mainly root vegetables. But if you ever wanted an excuse to pickle carrots, now is the time to do it.

IN SEASON IN JANUARY
Green cabbage
Carrots
Peas
Scallions / green onions / spring onions
Turnip
Greens – turnip, mustard, Kale, collards
winter Squash
herbs
Arugula / Rocket

This list is, of course, subject to variation – produce is a living thing and is affected by unseasonal weather variations, but this gives you a good idea of what *should* be in your farmer’s markets and grocery stores at a really keen price.

Try something on this list you’ve never tried before… you may like it, you may not, but at least you can say you tried it (and say to yourself “at least it was cheap”!)

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Eating seasonally

Posted on January 21, 2011 at 8:35 am in

in the developed world we have the unparalleled privilege of being able to eat pretty much any fruit or vegetable irrespective of season.

The downside to this is that the out-of-season produce has to be shipped to us from halfway around the world at great financial and fossil fuel cost.

We, the developed world, need to break our dependence on fossil fuels and out-of-season produce. We need to reconnect to the seasons, which will allow us to properly enjoy the experience of fruit and vegetables at the peak of their freshness and taste.

I am going to kick off a series of posts, one per month, where I will look at what produce is in season in Alabama and the south. Being in the southern part of the USA this will give people in more northerly areas an idea of what will be hitting your stores in the next month after my post. The biggest clue, of course, is that the produce goes on sale at a deep discount or Buy One Get One Free! If you watch for these cues you will be able to grab some stunningly tasty produce and, hopefully, you’ll reassess your addiction to eating strawberries in December…

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Unitaskers

Posted on January 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm in

What is a “unitasker”? It is a gadget that does only one thing. That they are generally only advertised in late night infomercials should give you a hint as to how useless they usually are.

While I generally agree with Alton Brown that the only unitasker in your kitchen should be the fire extinguisher (which you never want to use), there are occasions when a unitasker is useful or even essential. To make cherry pie filling, I needed to pit 7 quarts of cherries. Try pitting that quantity of cherries with a knife… and no, I won’t cover your co-pay!

So, when is a unitasker appropriate? When the thing it is designed for would otherwise be a huge pain to do, like pitting lots of cherries. While I may only pit that quantity of cherries once or maybe twice a year, the under $20 price tag of the pitter was well worth it to me.

The other situation it may be appropriate in is where the person doing the cooking really *sucks* at the task. I perform kitchen miracles every day but I *stink* at making pie crust, which is why I am so pleased with the dough blender I bought recently – it does a task I otherwise suck at and dread, and makes that task a complete breeze to do.

So when you are watching these infomercials that promise to deal with the big problem at the low low price, think carefully about what that thing *does*. Does it do one thing really well, that is a thing I suck at or dread dealing with? Is that thing something I am likely to deal with regularly? Or is it something that I want to do, but have constantly put off because I dread dealing with it?

After you have asked yourself these questions, take a note of what the person in the infomercial is shilling, then sleep on the decision for a day or two. Check on Google for consumer reviews of the product. Once you’ve done that you will be able to make a better, more informed decision about whether you *really* will benefit from that egg shelling device at only $29.99 excluding tax and shipping, order now to get two for the price of one…

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Cherries

Posted on January 17, 2011 at 9:45 am in

Cherry. Wikipedia will tell you the dry facts, but it won’t tell you how you get that burst of sweet, dark fruitiness when you bite into them, or how well they go in desserts, jams, or pies, or how you almost start to salivate at the mere word.

There is one downside. They are intensely seasonal, and you can only get them fresh, ripe, and cheap in a very narrow period in the summer. So I was delighted when our local grocery store had them on sale at $2.99 a pound!

What to do with your cherries?

CANDIED CHERRIES
Candied cherries (also known as glacé cherries) are used in cakes and puddings. They are only on the shelves in my grocery store for a ridiculously short time – about one month. So here’s how you make them yourself.

1 pound fresh cherries, rinsed, stemmed and pitted
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 fresh lemon
1 cup apple juice

In a non-reactive saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Add the cherries and the lemon. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the syrup is red and slightly thick, about 20 minutes.
Cover and let stand 2 to 3 hours, or overnight.
Strain the cherries, reserving the syrup, and set them aside.
Discard the lemon and add the apple juice to the reserved syrup.
Bring the syrup to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cherries to the syrup, reduce the heat and cook slowly until the syrup is thick, about 220°F (105°C) on a candy thermometer.
Remove from heat and cool. The cherries can be stored in a tightly covered container for at least six months in the refrigerator.

(source for candied cherries recipe)

CHERRY PIE FILLING

Yield: 7 quarts
6 qts fresh or thawed sour cherries
7 cups Granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups Clear Jel®
9 1/3 cups Cold water
1/2 cup Bottled lemon juice
1 tsp Cinnamon (optional)
2 tsp Almond extract (optional)
1/4 tsp Red food colouring (optional)

Quality: Select fresh, very ripe, and firm cherries. Unsweetened frozen cherries may be used. If sugar has been added, rinse it off while the fruit is still frozen.

Rinse and pit fresh cherries, and hold in cold water.

Combine sugar and Clear Jel® in a large saucepan and add water. If desired, add cinnamon, almond extract, and food coloring. Stir mixture and cook over medium high heat until mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Add lemon juice and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Fold in drained cherries and immediately fill hot jars with Cherry Pie mixture leaving 1 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed.
Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel.  Adjust lids and process quart or pint jars for 30 minutes in a hot water bath canner (time given for under 1000 feet, please check source PDF if you live higher than 1000ft).

(Source: National Centers for Food Preservation USDA E-Book chapter 2, canning fruit and fruit products)

Note on Clear Jel: it is specifically approved by the USDA for making pie fillings. Other starch sources are not approved for this purpose. If you can’t get Clear Jel from an online store, you can use other thickeners but you’ll need to freeze the filling rather than canning it. Sorry.

Once you have your own canned cherry pie filling, you can experiment with adding cocoa powder to make a cherry chocolate pie!

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Build in flavour

Posted on January 11, 2011 at 11:22 am in

While making a turkey pot pie with the last of my Christmas leftovers, I realised an important point. Dishes like pot pies rely on building in flavour at every step of the recipe – you simmer the chicken (or turkey carcass in this case), then use the broth to cook the veggies. This builds flavour into every single step of the recipe, resulting in a much more nuanced and tasty dish at the end.

You can accomplish the same end by assuming you’ll re-use liquids from each step of the cooking process. Simmering vegetables? Use that liquid as a vegetable stock for baked beans, soups, or stews. Same with meat – I make awesome baked beans from ham stock.

You can even go off at a tangent and simmer veggies in milk, then make a roux to thicken the milk as a white (or cheese) sauce to go with the veggies.

Just pause for a moment when looking at what you are making and see if you can’t use the components of dinner in multiple applications 🙂

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