Sunday, January 25, 2009

Smoked salmon with farfelle

Some meals, everything just comes together. This smoked salmon with farfalle is one of those dinners that just fell into place with little or no effort. Not only was the salmon tasty and easy, but it helped me save money twice! How could a dinner be better? Even the bread turned out well. I am excited, too, because it will be my first entry into Ruth at Once Upon a Feast's Presto Pasta Night hosted this week by Erin at Skinny Gourmet

Our supermarket chain periodically offers 10 cents off per gallon of gas for each $100.00 spent. We don't spend a lot at the supermarket, but we usually get 10 or 20 cents off every time they run the promo. Recently there was an offer of 40 cents off per gallon if I bought any 3 of a bunch of things from a list. Most were meats, which I get from local producers, but salmon and tilapia were also on the list, and I have been craving fish. That's one thing I miss in our commitment to eating local. I bought the fish, which was on special to begin with, and claimed my gasoline price reduction bounty.

I froze most of what I bought, since this is my only fish purchase for the next few months, but I smoked one package of salmon in my stovetop smoker.* After eating quite a bit of smoked salmon on bagels with cream cheese, I still had lots of yummy smoked salmon. I froze some of it to make chowder in a week or so, but I didn't want to freeze it all. A few minutes thought about what we had in the pantry and Viola!** A salmon and pasta dish.

I've made a good salmon lasagna in the past, but I wasn't interested in anything so heavy this time. I also wanted to avoid using a cream sauce. I thought a tri-colored farfalle would be a good pasta base for the salmon, but I was stumped for a sauce. Ordinarily I just toss ingredients with basil pesto sauce for a light pasta, but somehow basil didn't seem to be the right flavor for the salmon. I solved the problem by using some jarred bruschetta- mushroom and artichoke. Had I more time, I would have made the bruschetta. Next time, I promise.

2 cups tri-colored farfelle (bow-tie pasta)
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 red sweet bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4-6 fresh mushrooms, sliced or 1 small can
lemon infused olive oil
1 small jar mushroom bruschetta
1 small jar artichoke bruschetta (I used Gia Russa for both bruschettas, simply because the jar was gorgeous. Mea culpa to the Local Food Goddess)
6-8 oz smoked or poached salmon (not lox, although that would be good too!)
1/4 cup fresh mozzarella cheese balls in brine, drained and rinsed (I used some the size of peas- if you use the larger balls, cut them into quarters.)

Here's the process for 2-3 servings-
While boiling 2 cups of farfalle to al dente

Lightly saute onion, mushrooms and pepper in 2 Tablespoons lemon infused olive oil. Vegetables should remain crisp.

To the vegetable mixture- add 1/8 to 1/4 cup each jarred mushroom and artichoke heart bruschetta, stir to just combine.

Add salmon, flaked into large chunks and mozzarella. Toss to coat.

Drain pasta, put back in pot and add the salmon vegetable mixture- toss to coat.

I added some fresh Italian bread and followed the pasta with a cranberry-apple crisp. Chuck had his home-made 2008 Devil Dog wine with it.

When I make it again, I think I would add asparagus to the saute mix, just because I felt like this was a low-vegetable meal. I do have to say, I feel some trepidation because this is not a local meal at all. Eating local is such a large part of our lives anymore that deviating from the routine feels wrong. Somedays juggling my conscience along with everything else is overwhelming.

*I love this tool- it's like a heavy-duty 9 by 13 in cake pan with a fold out handle. To use, you sprinkle fine wood chips on the pan bottom, cover with a removable tray and rack for the meat, add meat, close the lid and set on your burner. My only complaint is that it is a hot smoking technique, and I long to do some cold smoking.

**Yes, I know it is supposed to be voila-

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The best Black-eyed Peas ever.

Years ago, we used to end the old year and start the new one with our friends Julia, Robert and Zeke. It was always a pleasant, mellow time; a good way to ring out the old and bring in the new. A little more southern than the rest of us, on New Year's Day Julia would make black-eyed peas for luck. It wasn't something I had grown up doing, but we adopted the tradition wholeheartedly.

Time passed and we all moved further north, us to Pennsylvania, them to Minnesota. Here in Dutchy Pennsylvania, pork and sauerkraut is the thing to eat on New Years. We usually skip that, but I still make a pot of black-eyed peas. I suspect even if Julia has adopted whatever tradition they have in the cold Northland, she still simmers a pot of peas as well. I hope they are as good as the pot I made this year.

My sister Amanda called me from the grocery store not too long ago, because she wanted to add some black-eyed peas to something she was cooking. She wanted to be sure they were bean-like and in NO WAY like garden peas, a vegetable she loathes. I was really surprised she hadn't had black-eyed peas before because she is an adventurous vegetarian and eclectic cook. For anyone else who is not too sure about black-eyed peas, here is the scoop:

Black-eyed peas are a legume, like kidney or black beans. A member of the group of plants called Cow peas, or Crowder peas, they probably travelled here from Africa. There are a number of different varieties of crowder peas. We have grown Black-eyed and another variety called Missouri Green-eyed peas. We get them from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. If you would like to know more about the biology of cowpeas, try this Wikipedia article.

We have had great success growing these in our garden here in S. Central PA despite their need for a long-ish season. I love the way they look growing. The vines are vigorous, the flower is not showy, but looks rather like a sweet pea blossom. The seed-pods, however, are really quirky. Four pods grow out of a central spot. They look like a child's toy you could throw up into the air and watch twirl down. I lost my picture of black-eyed peas growing in my garden when the computer crashed last fall, but I found a lovely picture here posted by BVAR22. You may have to scroll down a bit.

Why is this here? Because I love bells and whistles, and I love to watch the steam rise!
You can eat Black-eyed peas at the green stage, at a semi-dry stage, or completely dry. We have always let them dry completely. For my pot of peas this year, I soaked 2 cups dry Black-eyed peas overnight. New Year's morning I cut 2 pieces of thick bacon into 2 inch pieces and lightly fried them in my stock pot. I rinsed the peas, and put them in my stock pot with
1 quart Imagine vegetable broth
1 chopped onion
3 crushed garlic cloves.

I brought it to a boil, then turned the heat down to simmer and let them cook all day long. I don't know if they were so excellent because they were fresher than store-bought peas, because I had grown them myself, or because the Imagine broth was so marvelous, but they were terrific. I mean, REALLY good. This isn't just my opinion- Jerehmiah, operating under the excellent rule that you shouldn't make your mother unhappy on New Year's took a small bowl to be polite. He actually asked for a second bowl- and he is not a bean eater.

Baker Creek has 25 varieties of cowpeas. This year I think I will order some black ones, and perhaps an early variety called Six Week Purple Hull.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Apple Butter

If you have been reading this blog, you know this has been the Year of the Apple for me. I talk about how delicious the apples were this year every chance I get, with everyone who will listen. Apples have also formed a thread connecting me to many of my friends. Tuesday night we had dinner with old friends; the dessert was apple crisp, made from their own Arkansas Blacks. While eating it, we talked about Pippins- a kind of apple they remembered from childhood. My friend Pam and her husband gifted us with some Granny Smiths from their farm, Lady Orchards, that had a blush on their cheeks, and tasted better than any Granny Smiths I've eaten before. And I sent apple butter back to Missouri for the families of each of my sons.

Growing up, we never ate store bought jellies or jams. My Grandmother Cleo kept us well supplied with strawberry preserves, peach jam, plum jelly, and plum and apple butter. (Plum butter- not my favorite!)

When we first moved to the St. Louis area, the suburb where we purchased our house had a Fall Festival where they made apple butter over a wood fire in a huge cauldron. It took days and required many volunteers to stir, but was a terrific community event.

I never tried the wood fire method, but I did make it on the stove top, and it there was a lot of stirring required. Burnt apple butter is not the tastiest thing ever, and I ruined my share of batches over the years.

My friend Gale Dollar (another apple thread!) taught me to make apple butter in the crock pot 10 or 15 years ago, and I have never looked back! It is so easy, and I've had no burnt batches since I started doing it this way.

There really isn't a recipe for this. After dinner, I wash and cut the apples into eighths- without coring or peeling. I like a mixture of varieties of apples- this one contains about half Gold Rush, a Yellow Delicious varietal, and the rest about 1/3 each Granny Smith, Arkansas Blacks and Rome. I don't add anything else- no liquid or sugar. I put the lid on the crock pot, put it on high and let it cook over night.

By the next morning, the volume is reduced by about half, and the apples are dark. Somehow I missed taking a picture of this stage- sorry.

While you can use other tools like the food processor or blender, I like the food mill the best. This one belonged to my grandmother. The plate rotates when the handle is cranked, and pushes the apple through the holes on the bottom.

There is very little wasted- the seeds and skins all remain in the food mill, and the apple butter is all in the bowl. At this point, I add ground cinnamon and cloves. Go easy on the cloves! If you would like to sweeten the apple butter, do it to taste at this point, and cook a little while longer.

This time, I made 3 batches, keeping them covered in the refrigerator until all three were ready to can. I filled 8 pint jars and 6 half pints. I would probably have pressure canned this because there was no added sugar, but an unexpected canning incident resulted in my blowing up the pressure canner this summer (That was something!) so I used waterbath processing for a longer period of time than usual. I processed these for 20 minutes. I removed the lid for the picture, but during the processing time the lid was in place.

My son Bart tells me he loves apple butter so much he would eat it every day. He got the pints. My daughter-in-law Jen, on the other side of the state, got the half pints because she declined to eat it every day. You snooze, you lose!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What will you do on Martin Luther King Day?

Martin Luther King Day has been one of my favorite holidays since it was first observed in 1986. At first, beyond the strong feelings I had for the man, I liked that there was no commercialism attached to his holiday- no exhortations to go buy furniture or new clothes in the "MLK Day Sales".

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the legislation making the day a Day of Service. This year the holiday falls the day before an amazing event, the inauguration of President Elect Barack Obama. As I look forward to a change in the world and in my country, I'm thinking about what I will be doing to change my community.

I think I will gather clothes to donate to the Animal Shelter Thrift store. People who know me would be surprised I have a lot of clothes- I wear only a few of them. I'll gather up the rest and let the profits from them benefit the animal shelter; maybe the clothes themselves will help someone else.

I will also knit a teddy bear for a child affected by AIDS/HIV. The Mother Bear Project to date has sent almost 36,000 bears to children in Africa and Haiti.
If you would like to find a service project, try the MLKDay government website. Have Fun Do Good has a number of ways listed as well, as does Facebook.
Join me- Change is coming, but we can't just wait for it to arrive.