A gardener’s pickle

Posted by Anita on 03.19.10 11:06 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*Trying to plan a suitable entry for this month’s CanJam — the theme is alliums — left us a little perplexed. It’s not that we haven’t been known to preserve onions: I’m a big fan of the bright-pink Yucatecan pickled onions served with cochinita pibil, and Cameron has a special fondness for English-style pub onions.

But because we prefer them very crisp, we usually make both of these recipes as refrigerator pickles. (Processing seals the jars and kills any lingering toxins, but it also cooks whatever’s in the jar.) Neither of us really cares for sweet condiments with our savory dishes, so onion jams were out.

Then it occurred to me: Giardiniera.

Now, strictly speaking, onions are just one of this Italian-style pickle’s many components, but the little devils take an ungodly amount of time to prep, way more than all of the other parts combined. First you have to slice off the hair-like root end, but oh-so-carefully so as to not dislodge the onion’s layers from one another. Then you have to peel each tiny onion — no mean feat when natural sugars keep papery skins adhered firmly to outer layers of the onion’s flesh — without cutting them in half or otherwise mangling them.

It’s a labor of love, I tell you, but it’s all worth it when you open up that first jar and taste. The onions are integral part of giardiniera, the linchpin of its piquant flavor.

Giardiniera means “gardener” in Italian, the implication being that this hodgepodge of different vegetables would be a great way to preserve the bounty of an active kitchen plot. But its traditional components — red peppers, carrots, celery, onions, and cauliflower — are never simultaneously seen in abundance in any garden I’ve ever known. Even in Italy, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find red peppers and cauliflower in the same patch. (I did a little research on how this seasonal impossibility got its start, and came up empty; if anyone knows how these ingredients ended up in a single pickle, I’d love to hear!)

Other than the peppers, though, we’re able to get everything we need from our own garden, or nearby farmers, even in late winter. In place of the bell peppers, I used a bunch of skin-on piquillo peppers I’d stashed in the freezer last summer, but added them to the mixture just before portioning the cooked vegetables into the jars, to avoid softening them any further. Their texture wasn’t so hot, but they’re mostly there for color, anyway. Next year, I might just — shhh! — buy an imported pepper or two.

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Giardiniera (Italian-style Pickled Vegetables)
– adapted from Sunset Canning, Freezing, and Drying

1/2 pound carrots*
1/2 pound celery*
2 red bell peppers
1 large cauliflower or romanesco
1 pound small white pearl onions
1 cup pickling salt
2 quarts white vinegar
1/4 cup mustard seed
2T celery seed
1 small dried hot pepper
1-1/2 cups sugar

Peel carrots, then cut into 1-1/2-inch by 1/4-inch sticks; you should have about 4 cups*. Remove strings from the celery, then cut into into 1-1/2-inch by 1/2-inch planks; you should have about 3 cups*. Stem and seed the peppers peppers, then cut into wide strips. Break the cauliflower into florets; trim the stems. Carefully peel the onions, leaving the root intact. Try not to swear.

In a very large bowl, dissolve the pickling salt in 4 quarts cold water. Add the vegetables to the brine, and refrigerate for 12 to 18 hours. Drain the vegetables, rinse in cold water, and drain again.

Prepare canner, lids, and 6 pint jars according to the usual method.

canjam01Combine the vinegar, mustard seed, celery seed, chili pepper, and sugar in a 6-quart stainless or enamel pan. Bring to a boil and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Add the vegetables, reduce heat to low, and cook for a few minutes until the vegetables just begin to soften. Remove from heat and discard the chili.

Using a funnel, pack vegetables into hot jars up to just shy of 1/2 inch of the rim. Ladle hot pickling liquid to cover vegetables, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace; wipe rims and apply lids and rings.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely submerged. Bring to a boil and process covered for 5 minutes. Remove canner lid; wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Cool, check for seals, and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

* Note: After reading comments from a friend and long-time reader, I suspect that my weight-to-volume measurements are incorrect here. Please see this comment and this follow-up.

CanJam, Italian, locavore, preserving & infusing


Dark Days, Irish style

Posted by Anita on 03.17.10 9:46 AM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*Every St. Patrick’s day we wonder: How did we let another year go by without making corned beef with all the trimmings? It’s simple, affordable, and delicious — too good to save for the holiday celebrations.

Sure, you can buy your corned beef at the market, but if you’d rather make your own using local meat and ingredients you can trust, it’s not difficult to brine it yourself. All it takes is a few minutes of measuring, a week of waiting, and a bit of refrigerator space.

We’ve made a number of recipes over the years, but the one we keep coming back to is the simplest. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s corned beef recipe serves 10 in its original ratios, so we’ve scaled it down to a more manageable size. If you do end up with extra meat, you’re in luck: In my book, corned-beef hash and Reubens are right up in leftovers heaven alongside the meatloaf sandwich.

Many recipes call for curing salt, but its only purpose is to maintain the pink-red color of the meat; it doesn’t serve any preservative purpose in corned beef, so we usually leave it out. (In charcuterie, it’s a necessary ingredient, but here it’s just for looks.) If you prefer the traditional blush, add 2 tsp of pink curing salt — also known as sodium nitrite or Insta Cure #1 — to the brine.

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Corned Beef and Cabbage
- adapted from The River Cottage Meat Book

3 to 3-1/2 pounds well-marbled brisket

* for the brine:
2-1/2 quarts water
8oz demarara or light brown sugar
1-1/2 pounds coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp juniper berries
3 cloves
2 bay leaves
a sprig of thyme

* for cooking:
bouquet garni
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic

* at the end:
3-5 large carrots, cut into large chunks
1 medium head cabbage, quartered, leaving core intact (or 4 small heads, halved)
5-10 potatoes, halved
2-3 turnips (optional), halved or quartered

Put all the brine ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir well over low heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Place your brisket in a large, non-metallic container (we use a large zip-top bag, but a deep casserole works well, too). Cover the meat with the cooled brine; weigh it down with a saucer or other non-reactive object if it floats (not necessary with the bag). Leave in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days, turning every couple of days.

The day before you want to cook the corned beef, remove the brisket from the brine and soak it in cold water for 24 hours, changing the water at least once.

After the soak, place the brisket in soup pot with the bouquet garni, chopped vegetables, and garlic. Cover with fresh water and bring to a gentle simmer. Poach gently on top of the stove (or in a 275°F oven) until tender, about 3 to 3-1/2 hours. (A good test is to run a metal skewer through the meat; if it slides in easily, your brisket is done.) About 30 minutes before the brisket is done, add the remaining vegetables and simmer along with the meat.

Serve the hot corned beef cut into thick slices, along with the simmered vegetable chunks. (You can discard the smaller chopped vegetable bits in the broth.) Serve with fresh horseradish cream at the table.

darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Prather Ranch, MacDoel: brisket
Catalán Family Farm, Hollister: onion, celery
Dirty Girl Produce, Santa Cruz: carrots, cabbage
Little Organic Farm, Marin: potatoes
Iacopi, Half Moon Bay: garlic
Happy Girl Kitchen Co., Big Sur: prepared horseradish
Clover Organic, Petaluma: sour cream
…and our own homegrown bay and thyme

Exemptions: sugar, peppercorns, juniper berries, cloves

Dark Days challenge, holidays & occasions, locavore, meat


Dark Days, home cured

Posted by Anita on 03.15.10 9:48 PM

crbn-250pxWhen you stock your larder with good quality staples, you’re able to create some amazing, quick weeknight meals. We’re lucky to live in a part of the country with access to a year-round supply of pastured eggs, a wide assortment of local artisan-made cheeses, and some truly excellent dry pasta, all from local sources.

We’re also blessed to have good friends with amazing food-crafting skills. A case in point: Our friend Sean made his own house-cured guanciale, and generously gifted us with a chunk of the most delicious pork product we’ve tasted in recent memory.

Although Laura’s birthday dinner last Sunday could technically have been my Dark Days Challenge dinner for the week, I felt pretty happy knowing we’d be able to throw together an all-local meal, even though I’d missed the weekly farmer’s market during my Seattle trip.  With Sean’s home-cured guanciale in our stash, along with a fresh dozen eggs from last week’s Soul Food Farm CSA delivery, we were only a few ingredients away from one of Cameron’s favorite simple suppers.

Two things set this pasta carbonara recipe apart from the usual. First, we added slivered green garlic as a garnish, an embellishment that’s sure to be frowned upon by carbonara purists, but one we’ll keep making as long as Knoll Farms keeps supplying our weekly fix. The second innovation is simple but revelatory: Separating the eggs and stirring the hot pasta with just the whites, then topping each serving with its own yolk to be stirred in at the table. This small trick lends the sauce a silky quality, and adds a little flair to the proceedings — just the trick for making a quick midweek supper worthy of an ingredient that took weeks to make.

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara
– adapted from Molto Italiano

1-1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
4oz guanciale (or pancetta)
1/2 pound spaghetti
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 large eggs, separated
1 green garlic, white and light green parts, sliced thin
freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of well-salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the gianciale into flat pieces, then combine the olive oil and guanciale in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until the guanciale has rendered its fat, and becomes juicy and lightly browned. Remove the guanciale to a plate; remove the pan from the heat and set aside, reserving the fat in the pan.

Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until just al dente. Add a good spoonful of the pasta water to the pan with the guanciale fat; drain the pasta. Return the guanciale to the pan, then add the pasta. Turn the heat back to medium-high and shake/toss the pasta with the water, fat, and guanciale for about a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and add 1/2 cup of the cheese, the egg whites, and freshly ground black pepper to taste; toss until thoroughly mixed (the egg whites will cook from the heat of the pasta).

Divide the pasta into nest-like piles between two warmed pasta bowls. Gently slide an egg yolk into the middle of each nest, then season with more pepper, the rest of the cheese, and the green garlic. Serve immediately, allowing each diner to stir the yolk into their own serving.

darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: sea salt
Bariani, Sacramento: olive oil
Hedonia, San Francisco: guanciale (from Prather pork jowls)
Eduardo’s, San Francisco: spaghetti
Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: dry Jack cheese
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: eggs
Tairwa Knoll Farms, Brentwood: green garlic

exemptions: black pepper

Dark Days challenge, Italian, locavore, meat, other blogs


Dark Days, pork pie

Posted by Cameron on 03.07.10 2:40 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*

Tara, one of our very favorite meat-eating vegetarians, is on the San Francisco leg of her book tour. Happily for us, we’ve been able to see quite a bit of her when she’s not chatting with admirers, moderating debates between militant vegetarians and ethical carnivores, and seducing the crowds with her prose.

We got to talking about meat pies in general and pork pies in particular, and Tara told us about something that she had read in Danny, The Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl. The passage, which she first encountered when she was very young, describes a cold meat pie with hard-boiled eggs buried in it. The description struck a nerve, and it stayed with her into adulthood (apparently, she’s not the only one).

I love meat pies. Love, love, love, love. Cornish pasties, forfar bridies, empañadas, pot pies, steak pies, pork pies, you name it; there’s just something completely, utterly, and ineffably right about the combination of meat and pastry. Tara hadn’t even finished her story before Anita and I were waggling our eyebrows at each other and grinning like schoolkids. “So,” I asked the woman who has only recently begun to forge a relationship with meat after a lifetime of vegetarianism, “Want to make a pork pie?”

What fun! While Anita weighed and diced up the filling, Tara pulled together the hot-water crust with the quick, sure movements of a woman who has been cooking almost since she could walk. I caught the briefest of hesitations when she turned to the next step, but undaunted, she was quickly up to her forearms in a bowl of three different kinds of cold chopped pork. In honor of Mr. Dahl’s Danny, we buried hard-boiled eggs in the filling, and then I rolled out the top crust and crimped it in place.

This is my third time through this recipe, taken from The River Cottage Meat Book, and it’s a winner. The recipe doesn’t call for hard-boiled eggs, but they did just fine when we popped them in there.

The only downside of pork pie is that — because it’s best cold — you don’t get to taste it until the day after you’ve made it. We put together the pie on Sunday and it was our Dark Days Challenge dinner on Monday night, with pickles and mustard on the side.

Raised Pork Pie
- adapted from The River Cottage Meat Book

2# pork shoulder, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
8 oz fatty sausage meat (or ground pork belly)
8 oz salt pork, pancetta, or bacon, finely chopped
5 to 6 hard-boiled eggs, top and bottom trimmed so yolk shows through (optional)
12 sage leaves, finely chopped
leaves from 2 good sprigs of thyme, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 t ground white pepper
1/2 tsp ground mace
A good pinch of cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cup good pork stock that will set to jelly

7 T lard, diced
7 T butter, diced
Scant 1 cup water
4 1/4 c AP flour (approximately 630 g)
1-1/2 t salt
2 medium eggs, beaten, plus 1 egg, beaten, to glaze

Make the hot water crust pastry first. Put the lard , butter, and water in a saucepan and heat gently until melted; do not let it boil. Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Make a hollow in the center and add the beaten eggs, stirring them gently around with a knife so they are half mixed with the flour. Pour in the melted fat and water and mix together to form a soft dough; add up to 3 1/2 T extra warm water if it is too dry. Knead gently, adding more flour if it is too sticky to handle. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill thoroughly (at least 1 hour).

For the filling, mix all the meats with the herbs, salt, and seasonings (except the bay leaf), so they are thoroughly combined.

Now assemble the pie. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut off a generous quarter of the pastry and keep in the fridge, for the lid. On a floured surface, roll out the rest of the pastry into a 12 inch circle around 1/3 inch thick. Use this to line an 8 inch springform (or removable bottom) cake pan, pressing the pastry into the sides and flattening any overlap with your fingers. It should come 2-1/2 to 3 inches up the sides of the pan.

Fill with the seasoned pork mixture and push the bay leaf into the middle of it. (If you are adding eggs, lay down a thin layer of filling, place the eggs in a ring halfway between the center and the pie edge, and then add the rest of the filling around and covering the eggs.) Roll out the reserved piece of pastry into a circle about the size of the pan. Brush the edges of the lining pastry with a little beaten egg, and lay the pastry lid on top of the pie. crimp the edges together so they are sealed. Cut a 1/3-inch diameter hole in the center of the pastry lid.

Place the pie in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for a further 1-1/4 hours. If your top crust is concave instead of convex, a pool of juice and fat may form around the center hole during baking that you’ll want to remove with a turkey baster, or the crust may become soggy.

Remove the pie from the oven and carefully release the side of the pan. Brush the top and sides of the pie with beaten egg and cook for another 15 minutes to set the glaze. Take the pie out of the oven and allow to cool. The filling will have shrunk slightly, creating a cavity that is traditionally filled with jellied stock. When the pie is still a little warm, heat the jellied stock just until it’s pourable — not too hot! Carefully lift the edges of the center hold of the pastry with the tip of a knife, making sure you have good access to the cavity. Use a small funnel or, better still, a turkey baster to gently introduce the stock through the center hole. Tilt the pie from time to time to distribute the stock, then try and get a little more in. Stop when the stock begins to overflow from the hole. Leave the pie to cool, then put it in the fridge.

darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:
Shasta Valley Farm, Gazelle: pork loin and pork sausage
Boccalone, Oakland: pancetta
Prather Ranch, MacDoel: leaf lard
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: eggs
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: flour, sea salt
Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: butter

…and our own homemade pickles, and homegrown celery and carrots (for pork jelly); sage, bay, and thyme

exemptions: pepper, mace, cayenne

Dark Days challenge, locavore, meat, recipes


Dark Days, warm salad

Posted by Anita on 02.28.10 5:33 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*I used to work with a woman who brought in a sleeve of bagels, a tub of cream cheese, and a carton of orange juice every Monday. She parked them in the office fridge and then religiously ate the identical breakfast every morning, for weeks, months, years.

Just the memory of it makes me a bit twitchy, but also more than a little envious — think of how much time I could save if I could be content with monotony! But though I crave familiarity as much as the next person, I could never be one of those people who eats the same thing over and over, day in and day out. Heck, I can barely stand to repeat a dinner menu more than monthly.

So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself craving — and then making — the same salad three times in two weeks. Originally, the recipe appealed because I found myself the proud owner of three heads of escarole, courtesy of our latest Mariquita Farm mystery vegetable box. I’d intended to use this broad-leafed chicory in a variety of recipes: in Zuni bread salad, in brothy Italian sausage soup, and sauteed simply and scattered with pine nuts. But once I’d tasted this salad, I couldn’t stop making it.

It bears more than a passing resemblance to salade lyonnaise – that heavenly mixture of pleasantly bitter frisée and thick lardons of bacon, crowned with a poached egg — but requires a lot less fuss. You can boil the eggs and fry the bacon hours ahead of time, then whip everything together when you’re ready to serve. And it’s interesting enough to hold its own, or sit happily alongside a simple main course like the roast chicken we made for this week’s Dark Days Challenge dinner.

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Warm Escarole Salad
- adapted from Bon Appétit

1 small head of escarole, torn into bite-size pieces (about 4 cups)
1 large slice bacon
1T extra-virgin olive oil
1T balsamic vinegar
3T finely chopped shallot
1 hard-boiled egg, diced

Over medium heat, cook the bacon until just crisp. Remove to paper towels, reserving the bacon drippings in the skillet. Chop bacon and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk olive oil and vinegar together. Reheat the bacon drippings in the skillet; add shallots and sauté until slightly softened but not browned. Add olive oil mixture and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide escarole between two plates, and drizzle warm vinaigrette over the top. Sprinkle with egg and bacon, and serve warm.

darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Mariquita Farm, Watsonville: escarole
Shasta Valley Farm, Gazelle (via Live Culture): bacon
Bariani, Sacramento: olive oil & vinegar
Dirty Girl Produce, Santa Cruz: shallot
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: eggs and chicken
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: sea salt

exemptions: black pepper

Dark Days challenge, locavore, recipes


Dark Days, deep dish

Posted by Anita on 02.22.10 12:12 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*I find it fascinating how some recipes languish in my clippings folder for months, years even, before I set my mind to trying them. It’s not that they don’t sound appealing — clearly they do, or I wouldn’t have bothered putting them aside — but maybe the moment’s not right, the ingredients aren’t at hand, the quantities are best saved for a party.

Not every recipe gathers dust, though. Some send me sprinting to the kitchen as soon as I read them. And our friends Michael and Jen’s deep-dish pizza is one that I absolutely had to try right away.

I saw the original version of the recipe on Jen’s blog, Last Night’s Dinner, almost a year ago. We made it ourselves fairly soon thereafter, and we liked it. But we’re rather set in our pizza-making ways here, generally leaning toward thin-crust Italian-style pies when we decide to go the home-pizzeria route. Seeing Jen’s photos of Mike’s latest tweaks to his deep-dish recipe reminded me that we have a giant stash of Italian sausage waiting in our freezer, and got me thinking how well it would complement a sauce made from last summer’s home-grown tomatoes for this week’s Dark Days Challenge meal.

We gave Mike’s new edition a try — actually two tries in one week, that’s how much we like it — and weren’t surprised that it’s even better than the original pie. I made a few tweaks to the crust to adjust it to our taste; unfortunately, these changes turn Mike’s relatively painless recipe into a process that’s less convenient for weeknight preparation, so you may very well prefer his streamlined version. I often like to make and rise my pizza dough after dinner on one night,  then tackle the second rise on the next. If your schedule’s a little more compressed, you can quick-rise the dough — as Mike’s master recipe does — and the end result will still be very, very good.

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Deep-Dish Pizza
Adapted from Last Night’s Dinner, with crust tips from American Pie

- Crust
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1C warm water
3T unsalted butter, softened
1tsp table salt or 2tsp kosher salt
3C unbleached AP flour [15oz]

Grease a medium bowl with olive oil and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, butter, and water; let sit 5 minutes or until frothy. Add the flour and salt, and combine at low speed. Increase speed to medium and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and crawls up the dough hook, about 1 minute. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons water if dough is dry; add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour if dough is wet. Continue to knead (in the mixer, or by hand) until dough is silky smooth and passes the windowpane test.

Form the dough into a ball and place in the oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides of the dough ball with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until it doubles in bulk, about an hour. Punch down, reshape, and let rise again (covered) in the refrigerator, at least 2 hours or overnight. Bring the dough back to room temperature 2 hours before you plan to roll it out. (You can also use the dough immediately after the first rise, or even let it complete the second rise at room temperature, but the texture and taste will be better if you proceed with the second, slower rise.)

- Sauce
1T extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
2T shredded carrot
1-1/2 T chopped fresh thyme
a 28oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed with your hands
1/4 C red wine or port
salt, to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt; sauté until soft and golden, then stir in garlic and cook until soft. Add carrot and thyme and continue cooking until the carrot is soft.

Add tomatoes and their juice, plus wine. Lower the heat and cook until the sauce is thick, about 30 minutes, seasoning to taste as you go.

- Finishing
1 recipe crust
1 recipe sauce
1/2 lb Italian sausage
2T olive oil
3/4 to 1 pound button mushrooms, quartered
8 oz mozzarella (if fresh, torn into 1-inch pieces; if drier, shredded — we like half and half)
1/2 cup freshly grated hard cheese (such as Dry Jack or Parmesan)
1/2 cup fresh basil or spinach leaves, chiffonade

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add 1T olive oil and crumble Italian sausage into the skillet. Brown, adding more olive oil if needed, until cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage to a plate lined with paper towels, leaving the fat in the skillet. (If your sausage is on the fatty side, you might remove some of the fat, but be sure to leave the skillet well greased.)

While sausage is cooking, saute the mushrooms in a large skillet: Heat 1T olive oil over medium heat, then add the mushrooms and saute until they lose their liquid. Salt if desired, and set aside.

Pat or roll the room-temperature dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Let rest for 5 minutes — this will help keep the crust from shrinking — then transfer it to the skillet. Press dough down into bottom of skillet and partway up the sides. Drizzle a little olive oil over the crust, then layer the sauce, sausage, mushrooms, and mozzarella. Bake on bottom rack of oven for 30 minutes. Start checking the pizza for doneness; you want the pizza crust to be golden brown, and the toppings to be just starting to brown. Remove pizza from oven and top with grated cheese and basil.

darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: butter
Guisto’s Vita-Grain
, South San Francisco: sea salt, flour
Bariani, Sacramento: Olive oil
Catalán Family Farm
, Hollister: onion
, Half Moon Bay: garlic
, Occidental: Rancho Bello Zinfandel (for sauce)
Shasta Valley Farm
, Gazelle (via Live Culture): Mangalitsa Italian sausage
Far West Fungi
, Moss Landing: button mushrooms
Belfiore Cheese Company
, Berkeley: mozzarella
Vella Cheese
, Sonoma: dry Jack cheese
Mariquita Farm
, Watsonville: spinach
Anchor Brewing, San Francisco: beer
…and our own homegrown carrots, tomatoes, thyme

exemptions: yeast, sugar

Dark Days challenge, locavore, other blogs, recipes


In a (carrot) pickle

Posted by Anita on 02.19.10 8:02 AM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at canning but held back because it seems complicated, consider getting yourself into a pickle.

Pickles are one of my favorite canning projects, because I am both lazy and messy. When dealing with simple brine — instead of the sticky goo of preserves, or the splattery plop of tomatoes — canning becomes almost too easy. You prep your vegetables, mix the pickling liquid, and put everything into jars. And because of most pickles’ high acidity, the chances that anything bad will happen during storage are practically nil. They’re the perfect beginner’s canning project.

The best part is, you don’t even have to wait until cucumbers are in season. Sure, those dilly spears are America’s favorite pickle, but canning books are jammed full of an international variety of vinegar-preserved vegetables. Even the bleakest winter farmers market usually has a decent assortment of root vegetables, and many of them — especially carrots and dense radish varieties — make excellent pickles.

If you’ve ever eaten the Vietnamese heaven-on-baguette sandwich known as banh mi, you’ve almost certainly enjoyed the type of pickle I made for this month’s edition of Tigress’s CanJam. Typically made with little more than carrots, daikon, ginger, vinegar, and salt, the version here adds star anise to give the julienned garnish a mysterious note.

They’re rather on the sweet side, but that makes a nice foil for the meaty, salty goodness of their signature sandwich partner. As the canning gurus at Ball tell us, “The job will go faster if you have a mandoline to julienne the vegetables”. But I managed a half recipe using just a very sharp knife and a lot of patience.

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Vietnamese Carrot and Radish Pickle
- from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

3 C white vinegar
3 C filtered water
1-1/2 C sugar
2 tsp grated ginger (microplaned)
2 pounds carrots, 1/8-inch julienne
2 pounds dense radish (such as daikon or watermelon) 1/8-inch julienne
6 whole star anise

Prepare canner, lids, and 6 pint jars according to the usual method.

Tigress Can JamIn a large non-reactive saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar, and ginger. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add carrot and radish; stir for 1 minutes, then remove from heat.

Place a star anise into each hot jar. Using a funnel, pack vegetables into hot jars up to just shy of 1/2 inch of the rim. Ladle hot pickling liquid to cover vegetables, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace; wipe rims and apply lids and rings.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely submerged. Bring to a boil and process covered for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid; wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Cool, check for seals, and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

CanJam, preserving & infusing, recipes


Dark Days, my valentine

Posted by Anita on 02.15.10 10:45 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*We hardly ever go out for big holidays like Valentine’s Day. It just seems so fraught, in so many ways. Somehow you always end up paying through the nose for a prix-fixe menu full of things that really aren’t what you’d want to order. And expectations are so high — not only because it’s everyone’s Special Night, but because, hey, you walked through fire to get that prime 8pm reservation — that there’s hardly any way a restaurant could rise to the occasion, much less impress.

So for as long as I can remember, we’ve chosen to stay in and cook ourselves a special meal. This year, we both decided we wanted a classic steakhouse dinner: A big, crisp salad with chunky bleu cheese dressing, a nice grilled ribeye big enough to share, a giant baked potato with all the fixins, a luscious ramekin of creamed spinach, and a special-occasion bottle of red wine.

With a little careful shopping, we managed to combine our romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for two with this week’s Dark Days Challenge meal — a wonderful match, if I do say so. Better still, we got to spend our evening cooking together, rather than circling endlessly looking for parking and jostling for a harried waiter’s attention.

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Steakhouse-Style Creamed Spinach
– serves 2

10oz fresh spinach
3T butter (divided use)
3T all-purpose flour
2T diced onion
1 small bay leaf
1 whole clove
2 C whole milk
pinch of nutmeg

Blanch spinach in large pot of boiling, well-salted water just until tender. Drain, then cool the spinach in a bowl filled with ice water. Drain well, then roll up spinach in kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Transfer spinach to food processor and chop.

Melt 2T butter in skillet over medium heat. Add flour and stir until light golden. Stir in onion, bay leaf, and clove. Whisk in milk, stirring until mixture boils and thickens, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently, until sauce is very thick. Remove bay leaf and clove, and add a pinch of nutmeg.

Add spinach to warm sauce. Simmer over low heat until spinach is heated through, stirring often. When ready to serve, stir in remaining tablespoon of butter, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Mariquita Farm, Watsonville: spinach
Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: butter
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: sea salt, flour
Catalán Family Farm, Hollister: onion
Claravale Farm, Paicines: Raw milk
Little Organic Farm, Marin: potatoes
Clover Organic, Petaluma: sour cream
Prather Ranch, MacDoel: ribeye
Ottimino, Occidental: Rancho Bello Zinfandel
Star Route, Bolinas: Little Gem romaine lettuces
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, Pt. Reyes Station: Bleu cheese

…and our own homegrown bay and radishes

Exemptions: pepper, clove, nutmeg

Dark Days challenge, locavore, recipes


Dark Days, soup again

Posted by Anita on 02.07.10 9:16 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*Yes, yes — soup again. I’d really hoped to have something better to share by the end of the week, but I’m still fighting the after-effects of a particularly nasty cold. Making dinner is doubly complicated: Not only do I not feel much like cooking, but I often have to trick myself into eating something I’m craving before my appetite disappears again.

Early last week, the only thing I could really get worked up about making was tortilla soup. We’re still at least a month away from local avocados at our farmers market, but I couldn’t imagine this classic soup without them. Sometimes it’s worth it, I rationalized, to make an exception for an ingredient that has no reasonable local alternative.

As luck would have it, Cameron found semi-local organic avocados at our co-op — California is better than Mexico, right? And we have plenty of local tomatoes in the pantry, so I didn’t have to venture too far off the local path to satisfy my sick-kid whims.

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Sopa Azteca / Tortilla Soup
- adapted from Mexican Everyday

2 cups diced tomatoes in juice
2T ground pasilla or ancho chile
2T chicken fat (or mild vegetable oil)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 quarts chicken broth
1 large sprig epazote (optional)
2-1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, skinned, and cubed
6oz (about 1-1/2 cups) shredded mild cheese, such as asadero, Jack, etc.
6oz (about 4 cups) broken tortilla chips
1 large lime, cut into 6 wedges

Preheat the broiler. Drain the tomatoes, reserving the juice, and place on a parchment-lined rimmed cookie sheet. Broil the tomatoes until beginning to blacken; turn with a spatula and cook a little longer on the other side, until toasted and aromatic. Remove from oven and set aside.

Melt the chicken fat in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened. Add the ground chile and cook for another minute or two; be careful not to burn the chile — add water and/or adjust the heat if you smell it getting too hot. Remove the vegetables from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving behind as much of the fat as possible, and transfer to the blender. Process until smooth, adding only as much of the tomato juice as you need to get a puree going.

Return the pan with the fat to medium-high heat. When hot, add the puree and stir constantly until the puree is thickened to a paste. Puree the roasted tomatoes and the reserved tomato juice, and add them to the pot along with the broth and the epazote. Bring the soup just to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt. Add the chicken to the simmering broth and heat through.

Divide the avocado, cheese, and tortilla chips between four individual bowls. Serve the lime wedges separately at the table.

darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Tierra Vegetables, Santa Rosa: chile powder and garlic
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: chicken
Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: Jack cheese
Primavera, Sonoma: Corn tortillas (for homemade tortilla strips)
Mariquita Farm, Watsonville: limes

…and our own home-canned chicken stock and tomatoes, and homegrown epazote

Exemption: avocado (California organic)

Dark Days challenge, locavore, Mexican, recipes


Dark Days, tasty medicine

Posted by Cameron on 01.31.10 8:57 PM

(c)2010 AEC - All Rights ReservedThe display read 101°F when the digital thermometer beeped, which might have been okay if we were proofing yeast. But we were in the bedroom, not the kitchen — and the thermometer was under the tongue of my very achy, very sick wife. “You are not going to work,” I said. “And I am coming home early and making chicken soup.”

I don’t have an operatic range as a cook, but chicken soup is one of the dishes that I do well. I wish I could say that I follow a Secret Family Recipe steeped in a Romantic Patina of age and memory, written carefully in cursive on an index card that is Stained with Character and Creased with Use.

But the truth is that I found my chicken soup in a cookbook while we were living in Seattle, and I was first drawn to it by the fact that it had a gimmick: You start with a whole chicken and some vegetables, and end up two hours later with soup. The trick is accomplished by cutting the chicken (except for the breast) — bones and all — into very small pieces and sautéeing them before making a super-quick broth. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s reliable, and it tastes fantastic.

I can modestly admit to having made a few small discoveries and tweaks to the basic recipe. The original calls for a 4-pound chicken, but I discovered that the larger the bird, the more tasty the soup. These days, we’re getting lovely little 3- to 4-pound birds from the Soul Food Farms CSA, so I add some feet, necks, and wings from the stock bag in the freezer to bring the total weight up to five pounds. I also cut my onions as finely as possible instead of the original medium dice, because I like them to melt into the soup.

Finally, the original recipe calls for noodles, but I much prefer dumplings. I make a slightly wetter version of my standard biscuit dough and — when the soup is almost done — float globs of the dough on top, cover the pot with a lid, and steam for about 10 minutes.

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Hearty Chicken Soup
- adapted from The Perfect Recipe

3 T vegetable oil or chicken fat
2 medium onions, cut into small dice
1 whole chicken (about 5 lbs.; add extra necks and/or wings if your bird is smaller)
2 bay leaves
1 large carrot, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 celery stalk, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

- adapted from Joy of Cooking

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp double-acting baking powder
6 T chilled butter
3/4 cup plus 1 T milk

Cut up the whole chicken as if you were going to cook it in parts, splitting the breast into two pieces, but keeping the meat on the bone. (Cooking for Engineers has a nice post on breaking down a chicken. Alton Brown also does a good tutorial, although he takes the breast meat off the bone.)

Set aside the breasts and use a cleaver or poultry shears to hack the rest of the chicken — including the back, neck, and feet if you have them — into 1- or 2-inch chunks. Cut through the bones!

Heat the oil or fat over medium-high heat in a large soup pot. Add half of the chopped onion and all of the chicken pieces except the breast. Sauté until the chicken is no longer pink (I like to see some brown on the chicken pieces, but that can be tough to do in a crowded pot. Be careful not to burn the onions!). Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the chicken releases its juices, about 20 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add 2 quarts of cold water, along with the chicken breasts, 2 teaspoons of salt, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, then cover, reduce heat to low and barely simmer until chicken breast is cooked and the broth is rich and flavorful, about 20 minutes.

Skim the fat from the soup and reserve it, then remove chicken breast from the pot and set aside. Strain the broth into a large bowl and discard the rest of the chicken pieces and bones. When the breast is cool enough to handle, remove the skin, and then remove the meat from the bones, shredding it into bite-sized pieces. Discard the skin and bones.

Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons of the reserved chicken fat, the remaining onion, the carrot and the celery, and a pinch of salt. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add thyme, broth, and shredded chicken. Simmer until the vegetables are tender and the flavors meld, 10 to 15 minutes.

If you like pasta, you can add two cups of egg noodles and cook until tender. Taste the soup and correct the seasonings — it will almost certainly need more salt. However, be careful with the salt if you’re going to add dumplings, as most dumpling/biscuit dough has salt in it somewhere… and I wouldn’t do both dumplings and noodles.

To make the dumplings, put the flour, salt, and baking powder in a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Add the butter, cut into tablespoon-sized chunks. Pulse until thoroughly mixed. Add the milk and pulse until the dough comes together. Drop globs of dough from a spoon onto the surface of the soup. Cover and simmer until the dumplings are cooked through, approximately 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.

Farmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal: darkdays09-10_bug
Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: butter
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: chicken
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: sea salt, flour
Catalán Family Farm, Hollister: onion, celery
Straus Creamery, Petaluma: milk

…and our own homegrown thyme, carrots, bay, and parsley
(Exemption: baking powder)

cookbooks, cooking, Dark Days challenge, locavore, recipes