Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pumpkin Penne with Sage

Last week, my friend called me to ask if I wanted two large pumpkins she had purchased to can. She had run into a snag, and the pumpkins were languishing on her porch, admonishing her every time she walked past them.

It seems that when she decided to buy the pumpkins and can them, she had a clear picture in her head of lovely jars of pumpkin puree on the shelves. However, since the last time she canned pumpkin, the USDA has withdrawn the recommendations for canning pumpkin puree or butter. The reasons given were that the viscosity and amount of water in the pumpkin varied too much, and also the acidity of the pumpkin was too low. You may read more about it here. At any rate, it is only considered safe to can cubed pumpkin. This was sufficiently upsetting to my friend that she was unable to move forward with canning the pumpkin.

Always on the lookout for an opportunity to do a community kitchen thing, I suggested she bring her canner, jars and pumpkins over to my house. She had an enormous Golden Hubbard, and a very large neck pumpkin; I had 3 butternut squash and one small Golden Hubbard hanging around, similarly admonishing me. We could spend a pleasant afternoon peeling and canning, AND get rid of these judgemental fruits. She did, we did, and even without her mammoth Hubbard we got 12 quarts of cubed, canned pumpkin. A good afternoon's work!

Hubbard squash have incredibly hard skins. After peeling the 3 Butternut squashes, my small Hubbard and the neck of her Neck Pumpkin, we were beat. We saved the Huge Squash for later, when Chuck chopped it up with a cleaver. It yielded 5 more quarts of cubed squash, plus 2.5 pounds I used to make 4 quarts of Curried Pumpkin soup.

There was a small amount left over after the canning marathon. I decided to make a stir-fried pasta dish using the squash, some Berggarten Sage from the garden, onion and garlic.
I also had a spaghetti squash that needed to be used, and I wanted to add some cheese. A local sheep-milk feta seemed like a good addition to this dish.

Before starting, cook the spaghetti squash. I baked mine in the oven, but here are a variety of methods. Cook the pasta according to package directions. I used Dreamfield pasta, which is a low glycemic, low carb, high fiber pasta useful in managing blood sugar levels. This was our first time using it, and both Chuck and I thought it tasted just like "regular" pasta.

Chop the onion, garlic and sage, saute in olive oil

Toss in the cubed butternut squash, saute until fork tender.

Add cooked spaghetti squash.
Add cooked pasta and crumbled cheese. Garnish with whole sage leaves. Very yummy!
Pumpkin Penne with Sage
2 servings, 5 Weight Watchers points per serving.

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped
1/2 cups onion, chopped

1 clove garlic clove chopped

1 cup butternut squash, chopped

1 cup cooked spaghetti squash

2 oz dry Dreamfield Pasta, cooked al dente

1 oz feta cheese, crumbled

I would have created a nifty nutritional label from this site:, but I just read that I can't use the image online; the license is only for print use. Sorry.
Nutritional information, including pasta-
Calories- 355
Calories from fat- 98
Total Fat- 11 g
Saturated Fat- 3 g
Polyunsaturated Fat- 0.5 g
Trans Fat- 0 g
Cholesterol- 12 mg
Sodium- 185 mg
Total Carbohydrate- 58 g
Dietary Fiber- 8 g
From Pasta- Soluble Fiber 3 g
Insoluble Fiber- 2 g
Sugars- 7 g
Protein- 11 g

Friday, October 9, 2009

End of the Season Slaw

It's been a long, difficult summer, and all 3 of my blogs have paid the price. I thought unemployment would mean lots of time to do a variety of things, but that has not been the case. First it was garden work, then a family tragedy, then the harvest season. It's not that I wasn't cooking, or gardening, or taking care of the dogs- I was doing all of those things. There were just too many things that needed my attention, and something had to give. Since the blogs don't rot, or fill with weeds, or bark to go to the dog park, they are what gave. But things are beginning to normalize, and I am able to think about writing once more.

There will be a little change in focus for this blog. I am still thinking about local, in season foods, but will be adding nutritional information and Weight Watchers points. Chuck and I started the WW program back in mid July, and have been pleased with our success.

I made this wonderfully colorful slaw this week. It started with a phone call from a friend, telling me that there were "beautiful" turnips at a nearby produce stand. I was skeptical- how beautiful can a turnip be? But a quick trip out revealed not only beautiful turnips, but cauliflower and broccoli as well. I now have a very full vegetable drawer, and Chuck and I are chowing down on the cruciferous vegetables.

Without dressing, the slaw* is less than 1 point per cup; with a home-made Thai Peanut dressing, 2 points.

1 cup each broccoli and cauliflower, washed and broken or cut into small pieces;

1 small to medium raw turnip, peeled and grated;

1/2 head red cabbage, chopped into thin strips. This head was about the size of two fists put together, and I picked it out of the garden minutes before it became salad.

1 sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped into small pieces. I like red, Chuck likes green, so this is a compromise.

1 tart apple, cored and chopped into small pieces. This is either a Cortland, Macintosh, Jonagold or Jonathon. All are nicely tart and I usually buy a mixed peck.

1/2 red onion, chopped into small pieces.
1/4 cup sunflower seeds. Sorry, no picture of these last two ingredients.
Combine all ingredients. Here it is all ready to mix

I got 9 cups of vegetables.

Per serving (1 cup):
Calories: 61
Total Fat- 2 g
Sodium 26 mg
Total Carbohydrates- 10 g
Dietary Fiber- 3 g
Sugars- 5 g
Protein- 2 g
Using the formula (Cal/50)+(Fat/12)-(fiber up to 4 grams/5), each cup of the slaw rates .79 points

I made a Thai Peanut type dressing similar to this one for this slaw. Next time I am thinking of a blue cheese vinaigrette style.

*What makes a slaw a slaw and not a salad? I know, I know, all slaws are salads, but not all salads are slaws. So what is the defining characteristic? I say the presence of cabbage, but my sister says a creamy dressing. However, pepper slaw does not have a creamy dressing. Merriam Webster Online Dictionary directs the slaw seeker to coleslaw and says "Main Entry: cole·slaw
Pronunciation: \ˈkōl-ˌsl\ Function: noun Etymology: Dutch koolsla, from kool cabbage + sla salad Date: 1794 : a salad made of raw sliced or chopped cabbage." Ha! I win!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Green chile chicken tamales and tacos

Before we started eating locally and seasonally, I was vaguely aware that meat had seasons. I knew people butchered hogs and steer in the fall, and I knew that chickens didn't lay eggs reliably in the winter, but beyond that I didn't think about it.

As it happens, chicken is a summer meat. We buy our chicken, pastured and antibiotic free, from the same Amish farm family who sells us our lamb, pork, sheep's milk cheese and occasional gallon of raw milk. Chicken season started two weeks ago, and Chuck and I headed out to the farm, 15 minutes away, to pick up a couple. We will buy 2 or 3 every week or so from now until around the first of November. Last year we froze a couple whole chickens and some cooked meat to use in other things. Chuck also fried several and froze the pieces to grab for a quick dinner on those days when we couldn't' get anything else made in time. This year I purchased a new pressure canner, and will try my hand at making and canning chicken broth and chicken meat to keep the freezer clear for the beef, pork and lamb.

We smoked these first two whole, and ate chicken for dinner, and had meat left over for sandwiches during the week. By the next weekend we were down to the little bits that don't work well on a sandwich, so we decided to make tacos and tamales.

I combined the small pieces of cooked chicken with some cheese and a 4 oz jar of chopped green chiles from the summer before. Then I made dough for the tortillas and set it aside to rest while I made the tamales. I used an instant masa mix for the corn tortillas and the tamale dough, and a 50/50 mix of unbleached white and white whole wheat flour for the tortillas.

The last time we used the tortilla maker, we had trouble with it blowing apart the tortillas from internal steam. In addition, cooking them one at a time is an arduous process. This time, rather than cook the tortillas one at a time on the tortilla maker, we made them with the press part, and then stacked them on waxed paper to cook on the griddle. We had mixed results with this- the flour tortillas stuck terribly, and were an awful mess when they cooked. The masa did not stick so badly. The stickiness of the flour tortillas is entirely my fault- I lost the recipe and tried to proceed without one. Next time I will follow the process found here There is also a link to a corn tortilla recipe/process on this page as well. Despite their appearance, they tasted OK- a little chewy. The masa tortillas were fine, and the tamales were as well. We garnished with some (non-local) guacamole, local tomatoes and cilantro from our garden.

Click here if you would like to view the tamale making process. You won't find any pictures of the ugly flour tortillas, though- sorry. By the way- I happened to have a bag of dry corn husks here from the last time I made tamales, but if I hadn't I could have wrapped them in parchment paper for a less authentic result. In South America, tamales may also be wrapped in banana leaves.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rhubarb Jam

I love my rhubarb plants. They require very little of me, but provide so much! I like that rhubarb is one of the first things up in the spring garden, and that it grows so quickly. Marian Owen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul loves rhubarb as well, and writes about it here. And if you would like to read what I wrote about rhubarb two years ago, click here.

My husband and sons like to pick and eat the stalks raw, but like most people, I prefer the cooked version. I usually just made rhubarb pie, but now that it is just me and Chuck at home, a pie seems like a dietary extravagance neither he nor I can afford. My older son loves tart jams, though, and so in the past couple of years I started making rhubarb jam. His birthday is next week, so I made him a batch of jam to celebrate.

This recipe is adapted from the one at The Rhubarb Compendium. Most of the recipes found there include strawberries or other fruit, or use jello as a setting agent. My family prefers purity, so I have not added anything else in past years. However, rhubarb doesn't reliably set up in jams, so I tried an experiment this year.
Rhubarb Jam- fills about 6 half pint jars
2.5 pounds rhubarb
1 large lemon
2.5 c sugar
1 box powdered pectin
red food coloring if desired

Wash the rhubarb, and cut the stems into small pieces*. Place in a stock pot. Grate the entire lemon peel into the rhubarb, and the cut in half and squeeze lemon juice over the rhubarb. Don't worry about the lemon seeds going into the mixture- you can pick them out later. Cooking them with the rest provides additional pectin.
Add 2.5 cups of sugar and the pectin. Mix the rhubarb and sugar before turning on heat.

Cook the rhubarb, stirring frequently, until most of the pieces have turned to mush. Add food coloring now if you plan to do so. When I made the first batch for my son, he told me that the flavor was great, but it was not especially attractive. (Sort of a greenish tan color.) He told me if I added some color, my daughter-in-law might eat it. Now I make it a sort of deep red with a cake icing food coloring. My son has not complained, although I have not heard if my daughter-in-law is eating it or not.

When the jam looks right, I test to see if the pectin is ready. Do this by putting a saucer in the freezer, and then dripping some of the jam onto the saucer. If it congeals into a solid-ish mass, it is ready. However, this isn't super-reliable, and my jams tend to be soft as you can see in the picture below.

This is very tart, but the rhubarb flavor doesn't stand out as I would like. My husband says that our rhubarb is very mild tasting. We have 2 plants, one producing red stems, and one producing green stems with a red blush. I may start looking for a third plant with a greater rhubarb bite.

*I had the great idea that I would grind the rhubarb up as we did with the grapes for wine this year. Rhubarb is stringy. Stringy things do not grind well- I got a lovely lot of rhubarb juice and a congested, clotted grinder after only 4 or 5 stalks. I went back to chopping after that.

Monday, April 13, 2009


The other day I made THE BEST dinner for myself. It involved some cooked rice and barley, and some left-over taco meat, both of which needed to be used up. It also involved garlic, onion, olive oil, part of a red bell pepper and 2 eggs and a little cheese. It was so incredibly tasty I was in paroxysms of delight, probably wiggling like Juniper * with her rawhide. I wanted to reproduce this marvelous meal for Chuck Saturday night, since he had been at work the day I made it. I knew he would really like this.

Sadly, I didn't have all those nice leftovers anymore. We had to start from scratch on some things, and see what other left-overs we had. Chuck made a pot of rice and barley while I was at work on Friday. We had some roast pork from Sunday's dinner, and some new fresh local spinach and green onions from the Mennonite market. There were some zucchini slices in the freezer, and I splurged and got fresh mushrooms at the grocery store. They're local- Pennsylvania has a lot of mushroom farms.

I was really excited, thinking this meal would be even better.

Saturday evening I got ready to make this marvelous meal. I chopped up 3 cloves of garlic, 3 green onions and 6 mushrooms. I also cut up about 4 oz of roast pork slices into small bite-sized pieces.

I sauteed the onions and garlic in a little bit of olive oil. Next I was going to add the rice-barley mixture, and saute it to get a nice crispy texture.

I got the rice and barley mixture out of the refrigerator. As I was spooning it out into the skillet, something looked, not bad exactly, but unfortunate, about it- the barley seemed to be well cooked, but the rice had that raw appearance that means something is going to crunch unpleasantly when you bite down on it. (The only thing I can think of that's worse than the raw-rice-crunch is the I-just-bit-down-on-a -chunk-of-eggshell crunch.) I pointed this out to Chuck, and he said hmmmm, maybe instead of using a 1:2 ratio of rice/barley to water, he had used a 1:1.

Nothing to panic about, a mistake that anyone could make. We thought we could save it by cooking it a little longer, so the rice-barley went into the skillet with a cup of water. I cooked it until the crunchy-ness was gone. But because of the added water, we lost the crispy sauteed-in-olive oil texture. I figured that was OK- it would still taste delicious, the texture would just be a little different. I added the mushrooms, pork and the spinach, and kept sauteing.

I also added some salt, some Aleppo pepper from Penzeys and some Italian seasonings. Mostly basil and oregano.

The next step is what really makes the dish, in my opinion. I learned to love over easy eggs with rice when our Korean exchange student lived with us. I cracked the eggs in, let them set a little bit, and then scrambled the skillet.
WAIT- I forgot to add the zucchini! And they are still frozen! Well, we already lost the crunch factor, and I did want the zuc's in because they look so pretty. So I added them anyway, and kept on stirring. However, my eggs got cooked too much- this really needs to have runny yolk to be marvelous.

Finally I sprinkled a little grated cheddar over the top. Just because I like grated cheddar. This picture is really steamy.

And then we ate it. It was OK. Not marvelous, not even exceptional, just OK. The texture was risotto-like, not bad actually, but not what I was looking for. And it needed Tabasco Sauce.

The moral of this story? It's hard to cook the same things twice if you don't actually DO the same things? Naaah, can't be that!

*would I have rolled in it if I could have? Maybe- it was THAT GOOD!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bacon Explosion Meatloaf- yet another post unsuitable for vegetarians!

Sometime around Superbowl Sunday, I saw news coverage of a culinary delight called the Bacon Explosion. This smoked sausage "fatty" was developed by a couple of Kansas City BBQ competitors, and as it's name suggests, consists of bacon, pork sausage and more bacon. I was intrigued, and sort of grossed out. I did some research and emailed the information to my husband, sons and one of my sisters.

The response from male family members was positive, from my sister, (a vegetarian) not so much. I believe the phrase "makes me want to puke" came up. However, despite the negative review from my sister, I knew I was going to have to make one of those.

I can never make anything as the recipe suggests. I love meatloaf sandwiches, and I decided this meat structure would work better for us as a meatloaf. I also hoped that the addition of beef and lamb would reduce the overall fattiness, especially since the meat we use is very lean.

I used 1 pound each ground lamb, pork sausage (around here, sausage is seasoned with salt and pepper and nothing else) and beef, plus 1 red onion, chopped coarsely. I seasoned with salt and pepper.

We wove a mat from 25 thick cut bacon slices. We worked on a sheet of wax paper.

Once the mat was woven, we spread the meatloaf mixture over it, and sprinkled some crispy fried bacon over the top.

We rolled the sausage up into a cylinder, and then wrapped the bacon mat around it. We did have to add a few bacon splices to some that didn't fit quite right.

We thought it looked great!

Chuck had started the charcoal earlier, and the smoker temperature was up to about 275 degrees. The meatloaf went in, with some hickory chips for flavor.

Stupidly, we didn't write down how long we cooked it- it was several hours. Probably 4. Neither do we remember the internal temp. But it was lovely and crispy on the outside.

I was hoping for more of a smoke ring, but it was delicious anyway.
We sliced it thin once it cooled a bit, and had meatloaf sandwiches with Gates and Sons barbecue sauce for lunch all week. There are a lot of good commercial sauces in Kansas City; Gates is what I grew up on and still my favorite.

Apparently the Bacon Explosion caught the imaginations of many- Google gave up lots of sites when I was searching. Here are just a few--

Here is a link to the creators of the Bacon Explosion and here is a news clip about it.

Here's another Youtube video about Bacon Explosions

And here is a different link.

Finally, for those vegetarians who want to emulate the meat eaters, here is a video making a Facon Explosion- with facon and fauxsage. Yum!The video has no sound between 2:51 and 3:41.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Home Made Sausages- vegetarians beware*

I like to know how to do things. It doesn't matter too much if I actually DO the things I know how to do, in fact, it's sort of a family joke that my sisters will say about me "Oh, she doesn't have to do that, she read a book about it." I particularly like knowing how to do things that other people don't know how to do, or don't know how to do anymore.

I'm not sure where making my own sausage falls in that description. Around here, lots of people make deer bologna in the fall, after hunting season, so I guess making sausage doesn't really put me too far out of the norm for central Pennsylvania. Well, at least the sausage making doesn't put me there, I can't speak to the rest of what I do...

Layla and I have been having a conversation about a kind of Eastern European sausage called cevapi, and another kind Chuck and I bought last week with our lepinja. That conversation reminded me that I wanted to write about our sausage making experience.

Last May, I bought Chuck a sausage making kit from an online source as an anniversary present. (He bought me a mozzarella cheese making kit, and was quite surprised when I told him that's what he got for me!)

When the kit arrived, I got out what I thought was my grandmother's meat grinder, only to discover it was this tool. Stymied, we went to our local downtown hardware store where everything, including the kitchen sink is sold, and bought a grinder for about $30.00. It has turned out to be a VERY useful tool, by the way.

The Amish farmer from whom we get our lamb, pork and sheep milk cheese also does chickens during the summer. The year before, I had frozen a bunch of chickens at the end of the season, but was unsatisfied with that- they kept leaping out at me when I opened the freezer door- and a 5 pound frozen rock landing on your foot is not fun. It was as if they were punishing me for eating them. This year I thought to preserve them in a less lethal (to me) way.

I had in mind a sausage made with chicken, with feta cheese, spinach and Greek seasoning. I purchased sheep milk feta when I picked up the chickens.

Chuck removed the meat from the bones of 5 chickens, and we ran it through the grinder on a coarse setting. Then we ground it again on a fine setting, adding two pounds of raw washed spinach, a pound of feta, and 1 pound of bacon. In the first grinding, the mixture had seemed dry, and my Internet research had suggested adding fat was a solution. Chuck mixed in about 1 cup of Cavender's Greek seasoning with his hands, like he would a meatloaf.

Then came the interesting part. Our kit came with natural hog casings. (Yes. Cleaned hog intestines. 'Nuff said.** ) They were packed in salt to preserve them. I washed the salt off, and soaked the casings in a bowl of warm water. By the way- the flecks in this picture are from the spinach, not from anything unsavory. This picture was taken after we had already done some sausages and Chuck had put his hand in the water.
(My mother tells me that cleaning the intestines for sausage making was her job when, as a child, she visited her grandparents farm at slaughtering time. She didn't enjoy it.)

The grinder has a tube attachment. Fish an end of the casing out of the bowl, slip it on the end of the tube just like, well, you know what it's like. Look carefully at my picture, and notice how the just end of the casing is slipped on the tube, while the rest of the intestine is trailing off into the bowl.
Now DON'T DO IT THIS WAY! Experienced sausage-stuffers are busting a gut laughing now. This was our first attempt. What you need to do is slide the entire length of casing onto the tube, so it's all bunched up. Leave about 6 inches hanging off the end, and tie a knot- otherwise you will have sausage stuffing shooting out across your room.

Unless you want 1 long hank of rope sausage, it will need to be twisted off into links. According to the directions, when an appropriate length of meat is in a casing, grab it and twist to the right a couple of twists, closing off that link. When the next appropriate amount is in the casing, twist to the left. Keep alternating.

For us the sausage stuffing was a 2 person activity. Chuck cranked and pressed the meat through the grinder, I guided the sausages, and twisted them off. I was not adept at the twisting, and could not make the links uniform in size. With practice, I think I can get it. However, the alternating twist thing was a problem for me. Unless I held all previous links in my hand and twisted them together, something always untwisted. I need to work on that.

From our 5 pounds of chicken, we got 40 variable sized links, most roughly 6 inches long. In the picture you can see the dark flecks of the spinach and the white pieces of feta. Next time, I would add more feta and cut back the seasoning- the flavor was overwhelmed by it. I might just use rosemary, oregano and a little lemon.

We froze most of the links right on the cookie sheet- something else I will not do next time. I did it this way because I couldn't figure out how to cut the sausages apart to package them for freezing while they were still soft without having the stuffing come back out. This is how we freeze berries and fruit when we want individual pieces or portions. In this case, however, it was a bad idea. The damp casing froze to the sheet, and tore when I pulled up the frozen sausage. It wasn't that big of a deal, since we put the sausages on the grill frozen anyway, but if we had thawed them it would not have been pretty. Parchment paper should do the trick of keeping them from freezing to the cookie sheet. Or I guess I could have run a wash of water over the cookie sheet to thaw the part stuck to it.

All in all, they were very tasty. What we didn't eat that night we took with us on a family camping trip, and our children agreed that they were edible. We have since made Italian sausage with elk and pork, and pork beer brats. So far, the chicken spinach and feta remain my favorite.

For a HUGE list of sausage recipes, try this site. I haven't made any from the site, but plan to.

* I wonder if I could make a tofu sausage. Or a barley-buckwheat sausage. Or a tofu-barley-buckwheat sausage. Or a bean sausage...In a synthetic casing, of course.

**Actually, let me say more. I was amazed when my father said the idea of natural casings made him queasy. The synthetic casings make me feel a little off- I would much rather have the natural thing. Goodness knows there was enough salt in the package to kill any e-coli that might be lurking. I would have preferred to have had casings from my own hog, because I know they were pastured and did not come from huge hog CAFO's, but that wasn't part of the processing package. Perhaps another time. I could have gotten the stomach, though- a dish called Hogmaw, which is basically sausage and potato stuffed in a pig stomach and baked is a traditional dish here... I have neither had it nor made it, but I probably will. And then I will write about it.