Friday, September 21, 2012

Parpardelle, by hand, Harvest festival....and family stuff.

So there's this guy. He's pretty cool. The other day he came to the farmers market with me, and helped me carry home a half bushel of tomatoes (one handle each). Then we made fresh pasta together. And rolled it out by hand. I have to say, it was...really fun. Really....nice. And that's not something I'm used to.

You may recall me writing about my family, and grandparents, a little while ago. The same night I got a call from my aunt, very business-like, about estate-settling matters. We haven't spoken in probably 5 years, but there was certainly no love lost on her part. I don't know why things like this bother me. They do though, I yearn for connection. And that's exactly the frame of mind, of spirit, that I am in after returning from Harvest Festival. Everyone there is so full of life, love, friendliness. It made me feel more open and free. I said I had to collect my thoughts on it, but I don't know that that's possible. It made me reconsider my current "career" (if you can call it that), think more about a path (both career-wise, and spiritually, and especially my conundrum with reconciling the two), my experience of joy, and how to experience (I don't know how to define the sensation, but this is my current word of choice) bliss daily, as well as spreading that feeling around as much as possible.

I know I've had a few too many resolutions here, but that is my current one. To live, as much as possible, mindfully, lovingly, connected, and to light that fire in others.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

preserving madness pt 2. - 30 lbs of tomatoes and a weekend of awakening

I promised you last week I would tell you what I did with my almost 30 lbs of tomatoes, and perhaps a little bit about my weekend away at Harvest Festival, my favourite event of the year! Since I could actually write much more than a little bit about Harvest, and still need to collect my thoughts about that amazing experience, I'll stick to the tomatoes for now. Just know that I have returned feeling refocused, reconnected to the universe and my true being, and recommitted to figuring out how to maintain (and to helping others cultivate) these feelings throughout the year.

For the basic whole and crushed tomatoes, I followed the guidelines in my Bernadin Complete Guide to Home Canning. The roasted and pickled recipes I found here: Five ways to use large tomatoes, at Food in Jars, and the link from there to her "In a Pickle" series on Serious Eats.

9 lbs = 4.5 quarts of peeled whole tomatoes - two of these didn't seal, so I put them in the fridge and I'm making sauce with them now. I was planning on just freezing the sauce, but I may can the results instead, due to lack of freezer space, and I'm finally going to deal with the beets I got last weekend in St Jacobs, so I can just put the tomato sauce in the canner with those. The sauce is just 1 small minced onion, 1 chopped garlic clove, 2 quarts tomatoes, simmered until reduced to your liking. Add salt, if you like, after reducing, then can as you would regular crushed tomatoes.

10 lbs = 6 pints of crushed tomatoes - I decided to try doing "crushed" tomatoes because of the float and siphoning that happens with whole tomatoes. I will use them for cooking anyway, and I didn't crush them all that much, so they are still quite chunky with larger pieces. I figured that the cooking beforehand would remove more air from the tomatoes, resulting in less float and siphoning. It also meant I could fit more into each jar, so I used pints rather than quart jars. I think using quarts in my stockpot contributes to the problems I have with sealing, as its hard to keep 3 inches of hard boiling water covering the quart jars for a full 85 minutes. The crushed tomato method is a little more time consuming, because you have to chop all the tomatoes, doing so bit by bit as you add them to a pot 2 cups or so at a time. This is to maintain a boil in order to prevent the pectin from breaking down, which is what contributes to separation of fruit and liquid after they are in the jars.

6 lbs = ~3 cups slow roasted in the oven for 10-12 hours at 225 degrees celsius. These are delicious to just snack on. I put half in the freezer immediately, half in the fridge to use for omelets, salad, pasta for the week, then threw what was left after in the freezer. I'd love to make more of these as they are AMAZING. You can do the same method with cherry or grape tomatoes, for less time.

3.5 lbs = 1 quart and 2 pints pickled - the quart went in the fridge, the 2 pints were boiling water canned. I also did a quart of pickled grape tomatoes for the fridge. I preferred the brine from this recipe so I used that (with less sugar) for the second batch of pickled romas that went on the shelf.

Now, where can I find another 30 lbs of tomatoes?! I still would love to make some ketchup and tomato jam...and more slow roasted tomatoes to keep in the fridge packed in oil...and perhaps just a few more jars of plain crushed....and maybe a bit more salsa!

**update! went to the farmers market today, and a new, lovely man in my life helped me carry half a bushel of tomatoes home. Two sheet pans are current slow-roasting in the oven, the rest will have to wait a few days, as its back to work for me tomorrow. We also made fresh pasta tonight, with the sauce I made yesterday, and some sausage from a small butcher down the street from my parents place.

new score!

and just a little harvest festival preview:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

pickled peppers and produce porn...canning madness pt. 1

Along with my gradual acceptance of fall arriving (slowly!), we are coming into the last push of preserving. At least to a certain extent (there are always projects no matter what the season). Today has been 3 weeks since I started my first attempt at fermentation, using this recipe for hot pepper sauce. I have read a TON about fermentation over the last month or so, and most sources do say to use a salt brine to cover whatever you are fermenting. However, I was intrigued by the idea of just bashing the peppers up with salt, and letting their own juices do the work, and it seems to have worked out just fine! I finally tasted them today, and they are SO DELICIOUS!!!! I can't stop snacking straight out of the jar. I don't think I will even go on to the next step of making hot sauce out of them, because I'm happy to just eat them plain.

day one:

day 21!

I went to a family wedding in Waterloo on the weekend. My cousin looked absolutely beautiful, it was so nice to see extended family after a few years, and to meet new family as well! Every detail was lovely.

I lived in Waterloo for 6 years for my undergrad degree, and haven't been back in about 5 years, so I was really looking forward to eating at some restaurants I used to love, seeing some old friends, and revisiting my favourite spots. It was also really nice to take a mini-trip with my parents, like when I was much younger. We were pretty busy with commitments, but I did manage to get a free hour on Sunday to walk around uptown, and wander through Waterloo park, a place FILLED with memories.

Saturday morning I got to St Jacobs farmers market, and finally fulfilled my dreams of picking up a huge amount (ok only a half bushel, but I'm a single girl here!) of tomatoes. To my knowledge, there is nothing of this scale in Toronto, where almost every stall has small to large quantities of everything imaginable. You do have to be careful, because not everything is local. If that's what you're looking for, make sure to check with the farmer/person managing the booth. I was enamoured with the rows and rows of beautifully vibrant peaches and peppers and oddly enough rhubarb.

I also bought LOTS of hot peppers, small beets, a huge bunch of kale, some yellow beans, and potentially the most delicious cherry tomatoes ever.

Needless to say, I've been in mass preserving mode since I got back. I'll talk about the tomatoes another time, but today I dealt with the rest of the peppers (I did two small half pints of mixed pickles yesterday). For 6$ I got about 3lbs of various hot peppers - jalapenos, cherry, habaneros, a few bananas, anaheims, and one other kind I don't remember. Today I started another round of fermentation. Because I love the results of my last attempt so much, I started a double batch of that. I just sliced 1 lb of various peppers (no habs!), put them in a wide mouth jar, mixed in 2 tbsps of salt, and let them sit for awhile to draw out the juices. I'll bash them a bit in awhile to get them even juicier, and if need be add a bit of brine to cover them. Then I fill a ziploc bag with more brine, and wedge it in the top of the jar to keep everything submerged.

I did another batch (with 1.5 lbs of hot peppers, using one habanero in each jar) of whole or halved peppers in a salt water brine, using this as well as several other Well Preserved posts for guidance. I did a 3.6% brine, dissolving 3 tbsps of salt in 1.5 quarts. I first dissolved the salt in just one cup of water, then added in the rest of the room temperature water (I let it sit overnight for the chlorine to evaporate). I wedged the peppers into two quart jars, and covered them with the brine. I'll use brine-filled ziplocs again to keep them under. These ones I will likely turn into hot sauce, by blending them with some brine and vinegar. We'll see which method I prefer over the next couple of weeks!

I'm away this weekend - at Harvest Festival, pretty much my favourite holiday of the year!!!! I'll let you know next week how the peppers are going, and tell you what I did with 30lbs of tomatoes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

french onion soup (and disco house)...maybe i AM ready for fall

The "last long weekend of summer." I pretty much refuse to believe summer ends any time before October, insisting we'll have hot and sunny weather for the next month. That is my usual take on the end of summer. I used to have a lot more of an issue accepting that autumn was approaching, having inherited the late summer blues from my mother. The past few years though, I've come to enjoy the seasons for the rhythm that they offer life, seeming to shift your mood just when you need it most. I even enjoy winter, and the past couple years haven't felt "ready" for spring because it hasn't been cold or snowy enough. I LOVE summer. I love the busyness of it, days filled with plans outside of my home, or lazy days spent at the island beach, my favourite summertime place in the city. But today, its rainy, a little cooler, and coming off of a weekend jam-packed with parties and nights out, I'm feeling a little under the weather (no pun intended), and ready for a night in the kitchen. Cooking up something slow, with deep flavours, and hearty, to sooth my throat and feed my soul.

I had an amazing summer, an amazing weekend. I went to the island yet again on Saturday, chilled with a lovely new friend, played with my new favourite toy, and stayed for a gorgeous sunset.

Then we went out for dinner at Bestellen, Rob Rossi's place on College. The food (EVERYTHING made in house) was spectacular. There are SO many restaurants in the city I have on my list, but I rarely find opportunities, or dining partners to join me. I *may* finally have an (at least temporary) partner in crime. We had their charcuterie board - the coppa was beautiful, fragrant, almost floral or honey-like. I LOVE love love their andouille sausage, it was like a little jar of pork hot sauce (with 1/3 chopped chilis, 1/3 sweet pepper, and 1/3 pork). I ate a dozen oysters (buck and shuck that night, and now daily from 6-7pm) all to my greedy little self (dining partners self-proclaimed allergy a huge plus for me). This is a bit of a breakthrough for me, only having eaten my first oyster last summer. But for some reason I like them, probably its just the fresh horseradish and lemon :) Oh and the Cava. We tried the cacio e pepe arancini, and the side of beans and bacon (the sauce was so delicious I want to lick the dish clean). Then, already fairly full, we split a burger. A guest I served the night before told me it was the best in the city, and considering their on-site (and in sight) meat ageing locker, which means they grind in-house and can serve it medium rare, sounds about right (although its only the 3rd burger I've had in about...12 years). But, I think it was the "carmelized onions raclette" served on-top that were my favourite part. And also the inspiration for tonight's dinner. I need more carmelized, savoury, sweet, onions. I finished off the night with a bitters cocktail - rhubarb bitters, rhubarb simple syrup, gin, lemon.

Sunday night I went to Bounce House By the Lake. These are some of my favourite parties of the summer, with a huge patio on the channel that runs between the mainland and the docklands. I got there late, later than I had wanted to, so I missed the sunshine dancing, but I caught Rich Hope's and Mike Gleeson's sets. I had been listening to Mike Gleeson's new mix, multiple times a day, all week to prep, and now I can't stop listening to this one from Rich Hope.

Monday I wanted to continue dancing, so I went to Cherry Beach. Got there early enough for a picnic and some daytime dancing/hooping, and stayed late. My feet were DIRTY. My apartment is covered with sand. My vote for best set goes to Andy Roberts, who fit right into my current penchant for deep funky disco house.

So after all of that! Dinner tonight*:
(loosely based on Smitten kitchen's take on Julia Child's recipe, Jamie Oliver (from his Chef at Home cookbook), and Alton Brown's recipes)

3ish lbs of mixed onions (I got some lovely yellow onions, shallots and garlic at Appletree market today, so I used those, and threw in a sweet onion and half a red onion that was lurking in my fridge), cut in half, then thinly sliced
1/2 head garlic, sliced
olive oil
fresh thyme
1/2 cup wine (still can't decide if I will use white or red, I got a bottle of Vouvray, and a bottle of red Bourgogne)
5 cups stock of your choice (a mix of beef and chicken is recommended in several places, or use veg stock and fortify it with lentils and porcini)

Day old bread
Cheese (Gruyere or Emmenthal are traditional, I'm using some goat gouda and a hard, aged water buffalo cheese)

In a dutch oven, over med/low heat, I melted the butter and olive oil, then added the onions, a tsp or so of salt, turned the heat to low, and covered it for about 20 minutes. Removed the lid, turned the heat up a bit (to try to get rid of all the onion liquid that came out!). Stirring every so often, let this cook long as you have I guess. Mine is at about 20 minutes now and is nowhere near ready. I'll let it go until its dark and browned, scraping up any delicious frond that sticks to the bottom of the pot.

I kind of thought about using beef stock, but didn't want to purchase a canned or boxed version, or an expensive "real" one from a specialty shop. Plus I have veg stock in the freezer, so I figured I would enrich that with some lentils (killing two birds with one stone?), and porcini, to add more hearty, earthy flavour and colour. I cooked 1/2 cup du puy lentils in the stock, and rehydrated some porcini with the stock, adding the soaking liquid.

When the onions are coloured to your liking (or when your stomach is growling and the remaining wine is getting to you and your patience is running out), deglaze with the wine, cooking it off, then add some thyme and the stock. Simmer 20 minutes. Season to taste.

I also picked up some De la terre multi-seed sourdough and monforte dairy goat gouda from the market, so I'll be making a garlic/cheese toast (perhaps also with some buffalo milk cheese I got there last week) for the top or for dipping.

As usual this is barely a recipe. From all the recipes I consulted, the main thing is to caramelize the onions slowly and deeply. This is your flavour base. You can start doing so in the oven (just cut the peeled onions in half and roast them slowly, for a tear-free version - thanks to 101cookbooks on that one) From there you can use chicken stock, beef stock, veg stock, water. You can deglaze with white or red wine, vermouth, brandy, cognac, sherry, or nothing. You can skip the herbs, or add more (a bay leaf? sage? I saw a recipe with star anise and cinnamon too). I thought about adding miso to amp up the umami character of the stock, but wasn't sure it wouldn't also add another dimension I didn't want (although apparently this has been done for a vegetarian version before). Basically, this is a rustic recipe, that can (and I think should be) cheap. It would probably taste pretty good with just a bag of onions, some water, and seasoning.

*Actually, dinner tomorrow night. Its 1030 now and I've been cooking these onions for over 2 hours (note to self: don't try to do this on the small burner b/c you're cooking the lentils on the big burner) and I'm hungry so I'm eating a salad with roasted beets, feta, pumpkin seeds, pickled red onions, and dijon/horseradish dressing. And perhaps some of the lentils I cooked in the stock.