Sunday, August 22, 2010

Back to Basics: Preserving Local Food

In the world of cooking, there has been a continual push back towards eating like previous generations. I am all for this trend, and am working on limiting the processed food in our house. I am also trying to make more food from scratch, and to pay attention to local and seasonal food. My favorite part of this new way of thinking is canning food, which is a wonderful way to preserve local fruits and vegetables to last through the upcoming colder months. Last summer I tested the water by making a batch of fresh peach jam, and I have now developed a full-blown obsession with canning food.

I've gotten lucky the past two summers, and have gotten to 'work' the canning and preserving class at The Chopping Block. Last summer it inspired the peach jam experiment, which was a delicious success. The season ended to quickly, though, and I didn't get the chance to try any other preserving. This year I was a bit more on top of my game, though, and bought a wonderful canning and preserving book as the summer farmers markets started up around Chicago. The book, Put 'em Up, is an excellent resource. I would highly recommend it not only for canning, but for advice on freezing, drying, and other methods of preserving.

These are the recipes I've made so far. The carrots were picked up at Green City Market, and were pickled with dill, onions, and garlic. I also made dill cucumber pickles with that dill and some small CSA cucumbers. I did some simple beets that were a perfect balance of sweet and tart. And the Italian zucchini spears had fantastic herb flavor that I can't resist! Plus I have some dilly beans that were from this year's Chopping Block class. I've also been carefully freezing some veggies that will be wonderful in soups and stews this fall.

I'm not going to post any canning recipes, but would be happy to share if anyone is interested. Just let me know! Mostly, I don't feel like typing them out if no one is going to use them, since it's Sunday evening and I'm feeling lazy :) I do recommend you try canning-- it's really not hard! And the reward is cans of local produce, preserved and ready to feast on in the colder months. People worry that it can be dangerous to can your own food, but as long as you use fresh produce and follow recipes and directions, you'll be fine. You can't play with these recipes as much as with regular cooking, because you need a proper ph level in order to keep the food safe. Every book on canning starts with some sort of primer on how to do it safely, and as long as you heed their advice there shouldn't be a problem. I already can't wait to try more preserving! It's going to be such a treat as the weather turns cooler here in Chicago... something I'm starting to look forward to.

Check out this pantry!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Black Bean and Quinoa Burgers

When I was about 13 I decided I no longer wanted to eat red meat. This was after years of being far too pickey about the meat I would eat, and it just felt easier to avoid this whole category of protein. This decision was followed by an introduction to veggie burgers, a food group I have been studying closely ever since that time. As I've become a better cook I have experimented with different veggie burger recipes, but too often the mushy product was flavorful but hard to eat.

These Bulgur Burgers were the first breakthrough we've had with homemade veggie burgers, and Joe and I have made them a couple times in the last year. But I was still searching for the perfect recipe, one that I could double and freeze. I've been wanting to end our relationship with grocery store frozen veggie burgers, which are filled with too many questionable things to be considered good for you. The recipe below is one I discovered at a grilling class at The Chopping Block, and I think it has won the coveted spot of best homemade veggie burger. The recipe made 8 burgers, and after grilling them all we froze the leftovers. They were perfect to pull out on a busy night, as a more natural alternative to the boxes of frozen patties that we'd gotten so used to. I loved serving it on a bed of lemony arugula, and we also enjoyed these on a traditional bun. Even our meat-loving guest we served these to said she loved them!
Take a minute to check out The Chopping Blog, where I also shared my experiences with this recipe and other creative grilling ideas!

Quinoa and Black Bean Burgers with Chipotle Mayonnaise
From The Chopping Block Vegetarian Grill class

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, medium dice
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1 cup cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3/4 cup walnuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup packed cilantro sprigs
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
1/2 to 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Chipotle Mayonnaise (recipe below)
2 cups arugula
Lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Sauté the onion until caramelized, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the quinoa and toast for 1 minute.
2. Add the water, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the water is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
3. Place the cooked quinoa in a food processor and add the black beans, soy sauce, walnuts, garlic, cilantro, cumin and cayenne in a food processor until finely chopped. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold in the flour, 1/2 cup panko and eggs. If the mixture is very loose, stir in the rest of the panko.
4. Form rounded 1/2 cups of mixture into four (3 1/2-inch-diameter) patties. Chill until firm, at least 20 minutes. (Patties may be frozen at this point.)
5. Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. Set up a grill grate with narrow slats to support the burgers.
6. Place the burgers on the grill and cook until browned and crisp on the outside and warm all the way through, about 5 minutes per side.
7. Place the burgers on a platter and top each with a dollop of Chipotle Mayonnaise.
8. Toss the arugula with the lemon juice and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Top each burger with the dressed greens and serve.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 chipotle pepper, minced
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 tablespoons cilantro, rough chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix together the mayonnaise, chipotle pepper, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bran Muffins Two Ways

A month or two ago I had a sudden urge to find a recipe for healthy bran muffins. I am not sure what gave me this idea, but I am so glad I took the time to test out these two recipes. They are the PERFECT portable breakfast! I am amazed at how moist and flavorful these two muffins are, and they are seriously low in fat and calories without compromising flavor at all. Between the blueberry and banana muffins, I have probably made at least 6 dozen of these in the last month or two. I keep a few fresh ones, and put the rest in the freezer. They hold up really well, and can be pulled out and microwaved one or two at a time. Muffins are such a great portable breakfast, and these ones give you that convenience without giving in to a sugary, fatty alternative.

Banana Bran Muffins

1/4 cup unsweetend applesauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 bananas, mashed
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup wheat flour
3/4 cup wheat bran
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts


1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a muffin pan or line with paper muffin liners.

2.In a large mixing bowl, mix applesauce and brown sugar together until fluffy. Add bananas, milk, vanilla and egg; mix well. Stir in both flours, bran, baking powder, soda and salt; blend just until moistened. Stir in walnuts. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups.

3.Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top of the muffin springs back when lightly tapped. Cool in the cups for 5 minutes, then remove muffins and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Blueberry Bran Muffins

1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1 cup nonfat milk
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries


1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or use paper muffin liners. Mix together wheat bran and milk, and let stand for 10 minutes.

2.In a large bowl, mix together applesauce, egg, brown sugar, and vanilla. Beat in bran mixture. Sift together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir into bran mixture until just blended. Fold in blueberries. Scoop into muffin cups.

3.Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tops spring back when lightly tapped.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Focusing on our food

Lately I haven't been posting very often, for a variety of reasons. First, I'm working as a nanny for two families, plus working at the Chopping Block. I don't get to cook dinner more than a few nights a week, and dinners tend to be what I blog about most often. But there is another reason, too. I have been cooking much more based on the season, as I am inspired by the ingredients I find at farmer's markets and in our bi-weekly CSA box. I admire the people who are able to create their own accurate recipes, to instruct you on how they make up their own dishes. I, however, am not one of those people. I start with a basic recipe in mind, and then add a little of this and a splash of that until it's right. Sometimes I model my cooking off a published recipe; other times I get a vision and just go with it! Here are a couple examples of what I've cooked lately:

Grilled polenta squares with chard and onions, topped with zucchini, cannellini bean, and tomato sauce.

Clean the fridge pesto-- the usual basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan, etc... plus some random cheese, fresh baby spinach, and whatever else I could find! I just kept adding and tasting until it was perfect.

I found 8-ball (or round) zucchini at the farmers market, and knew they would be great if I stuffed them. I grilled them, then hollowed them out. I filled them with an herbed ricotta mixture, then sauteed mushrooms, and topped them with a yellow pepper and tomato mix. They were a little more soggy than I would have liked, but the flavor was great!

Paying attention to what is local and in season has been so much fun! I am challenging myself to be a creative cook, and Joe and I have been eating some delicious meals. Additionally, we've been paying more attention to limiting our processed food intake, and I think we both feel better overall about the food we're eating. It does take some commitment to eat this way, but I feel so much better about the food that is going into my body. Eating this way is better for me, the planet, and the local economy!

**stepping off my soapbox**

Sorry if that got preachy! I just wanted to let you all know that I'm still cooking and eating quite well here in the windy city... just in a way that doesn't involve much sharing of recipes :) I hope you are enjoying fresh summer produce where you live! And if you have some time and grocery money to spare, I will encourage you to look into local, organic meat, eggs, and milk. It takes more legwork, but in my opinion is worth it!

(when did I become such a hippie?!)