Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

Spring has Sprung! May 16, 2011

Filed under: Eating local,Garden Fresh,Recipe,Uncategorized — realfoodmama @ 5:50 pm
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There is nothing quite like finally have warm days after a long winter. The rise of spring and the desire to spend days outside always seems to be accompanied by certain cravings. I can’t eat salad when it is snowing, but as soon as April and May roll around all I can think about is spinach and lettuce and arugula. And don’t get me started on things like asparagus and rhubarb! I’m making myself hungry just writing about it…

According to Chinese Medicine, spring is the time for cleansing and for renewing. The liver, the organ responsible for the smooth flow of qi, loves spring and can be both nourished and frustrated during this time of year. Wind, another spring favorite especially here in Santa Fe, is another symbol of the liver. As a result, many of those spring cravings can be linked to the bodies desire to naturally detoxify and move all that rising energy!

Great spring foods can also be found in the oddest of places. Dandelions, those pesky weeds, are a great spring tonic. Pick the greens (making sure they haven’t been sprayed!!) and add them to your salad for a nice change. As previously mentioned asparagus can act as a diuretic, pulling toxins out of the body with the excess water. Rhubarb, another favorite of mine, also has cleansing actions and can be a great addition to spring treats – like a fabulous rhubarb pie, for example!

There are lots of great greens and other things that I have missed over the winter and I encourage everyone to get out to your local farmer’s market to get some. One of my favorite ways to get all the spring veggies together is to make a nice pasta primavera (remember, primavera means spring!). Here is my version of the classic dish.

Pasta Primavera

1 lb home made pasta, or dried pasta of your choice
1 C asparagus, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 c onion, diced (approx 1/2 medium)
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 c summer squash or zucchini, julienned (approx 1 small)
1/2 c red or orange bell pepper, julienned (approx 1 medium)
1/4 c carrot, julienned (approx 1 medium)
1/2 c Parmesan cheese
1/2 c heavy cream
2 TBSP olive oil

Begin by placing the pasta water on to boil. While you wait, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until aromatic. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the asparagus and carrots and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the carrots soften and the asparagus starts to change color. Add the peppers and the summer squash and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are done. Add the heavy cream and the cheese and stir to mix and turn the heat to very low. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When the past water has boiled add your pasta and cook until al dente. Fresh past should only take a minute or two, but dried pasta usually takes between 7 and 10 depending on the style. Strain the pasta and add the noodles to the pan of sauce. Toss several times to coat the noodles and serve!

Happy Eating!

 

So many plums! October 13, 2010

Filed under: Baking,Canning,Garden Fresh,Home Made — realfoodmama @ 2:11 pm
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This year most of my fruit trees were frozen in a late frost, however the one tree that did avoid the worst of the cold weather has managed to produce a bumper crop. We have two plum trees in the yard, one of which is a beautiful, but very overgrown, mother. The other is a daughter offshoot that hides in the shade of our yard and generally gets overlooked. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of the fact that it was carrying fruit until about a month ago when I looked closely and realized the branches were laden with small, purple globes.

Since we purchased the house with established fruit trees, I am not sure what type of plum these are, however as they’ve ripened they have developed a lovely sweet-tart flavor and have a rather eerie green flesh. Yesterday we processed about ten cups in order to make what turned out to be nearly a gallon of preserves and we only used a third of the plums! I honestly have no idea what we are going to do with the rest, but I am hoping to find some recipes for plum cakes, puddings, pies, tarts…you get the idea!

Suffice it to say the bounty is pretty impressive and I am hopeful that as our fruit trees mature and we learn more about taking care of them we can avoid a frost kill like the one that happened this year and actually be able to harvest some apples, pears and apricots from the other trees in our mini-orchard.

Until then, however, any and all plum recipes are appreciated and I will definitely share my plum experiments as they occur! Happy Eating!

 

Oven-dried zucchini August 13, 2010

Filed under: Food Storage,Garden Fresh,Home Made,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 3:24 pm
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The results!

My first attempt at oven drying anything was met with pretty fair success, if I do say so myself. Although I was somewhat astounded by the end result. When you cut up two pounds of zucchini and end up with barely a cup, it is a bit of a shocker. Of course, zucchini being 95% water (or thereabouts) makes it shrivel up pretty good. According to the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving, 20 lbs of zucchini dried makes barely two pounds of chips.

Fascinating, but somewhat anti-climactic.

Suffice it to say, the process was very straightforward. I winged it a bit, but it all seemed to work out. Using what I read from the aforementioned Ball Book and some articles on the internet, I decided to slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch slices. I then lay them on a cookie sheet and set the oven at 175 degrees, which is as low as mine will go.

I also kept the oven door open in order to facilitate the actual dehydrating process, versus cooking. The airflow provided is necessary in order to keep the moisture from recirculating back into the zucchini. If I had a convection oven this might have been an unnecessary step, but sadly I do not have a convection oven and so I simply kept the oven door open about half way.

The whole process took nearly 4 hours and I was obliged to continuously flip the zucchini rounds in order to dry them evenly. If I had a cookie sheet with a rack I probably would not have had to do this step, but again…like the convection oven issue, I didn’t. Regardless, it worked quite well. I did notice however that the pieces that I had cut too thin started to brown and I decided that they were moving too far into the “cooked” spectrum to really qualify as dried. As a result I attempted to add them to burritos for dinner that evening…which was a spectacular failure, I might add.

Regardless, the point of mentioning it was that while some sources might tell you to cut the slices as thin as 1/8 of an inch, if you are using an oven to dry your zucchini I highly suggest to cut things no thinner than 1/4 inch otherwise you may end up with burnt chips.

I will be reattempting the drying routine tomorrow as I still have four zucchini in my fridge, even though I have dried and baked copious amounts and my plants are suffering from an insect invader that is slowly killing them. I do love the abundance of summer squash!

Oven Dried Zucchini

Zucchini
cookie sheets, with racks if possible

Cut the zucchini into 1/4 inch slices, trying to cut them as evenly as possible. Place the slices on the cookie sheet or rack, spacing them relatively close together as they will shrink as the process goes on.

Place in your oven at it’s lowest setting (mine was 175 degrees) and leave the door open at least half way. If your oven door will not remain open half way on its own you may have to rig it. I would not recommend leaving it open all the way and you cannot have it closed altogether either.

Leave in the oven for 4 – 4.5 hours, turning regularly. The zucchini is done when it is no longer flexible. Let cool completely before storing.

Happy Eating!

 

Garden Update and all the work involved! August 9, 2010

Filed under: Garden Fresh — realfoodmama @ 3:00 pm
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Sad SquashSo the garden is doing fairly well at the moment with one notable exception; that is the squash. The vine borers have infiltrated pretty much all the plants. The zucchini and the pumpkins have rooted along the vines which basically means that if the main plant dies the vine will live, but I am pretty sure our days of excessive zucchini are behind us already.

As for the rest, I am hoping that the plants survive long enough to allow some of the fruit that has set to reach maturity. The constant application of BtK (a bacterial agent designed to kill caterpillars and other larvae) seems to be mitigating the damage somewhat, however in general the plants look sad, as indicated by the picture.

Aside from that however, things are doing well. The corn survived the windstorm with only one accident – the tallest was broken, but seems to still be alive so I am hoping it will germinate and produce some ears regardless of its hunched over appearance. Additionally the tomato plants, while completely out of their cages, seem to be setting fruit and doing nicely. The green beans are producing in a somewhat mind boggling quantity and every time I go out to pick beans, which is daily, I find ones hiding that are near mutant size.

All of this abundance has resulted in regular blanching and freezing of beans, and while zucchini bread has been made more than once…or even thrice…I am trying a different way of storing the zukes today. I am hoping to dry slices and then put those up for future use in soups and stews this winter. They would add great flavor to stocks and it seems like a better use for them than bread, mostly because I hate baking when it is this hot out.

Although it should be noted that since I don’t have a dehydrator, I will be drying the zucchini in the oven. However, instead of having it on at 350 degrees for an hour, it will be on at 175 degrees for an hour which I suspect will make a significant difference.

In order to counter the somewhat depressing picture of the squash above, here are some other garden pictures that are much more representative of what the majority of our harvest is beginning to look like.

The tomato forest

Tomato Forest

Corn

Potato Patch

 

Early apples and Plums August 1, 2010

Filed under: Garden Fresh,Home Economics,Home Made — realfoodmama @ 8:33 pm
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This weekend we spent a bit of time each day picking fruit off trees that would otherwise have simply fallen to the ground. We were able to get apples from the tree of a business associate and plums from the tree of a complete stranger who we were referred to by a mutual friend. As a result she is no longer a complete stranger!

Suffice it to say the fruit picking adventures of this weekend mark the beginning of canning season. That coupled with this evenings bumper crop of green beans from the garden and we are already starting to put food up for the winter. The green beans were blanched and are now freezing in the chest freezer out in our workshop.

Tomorrow I am hoping to make plum preserves and, assuming my kitchen isn’t a disaster by the end of that project, start some apple butter. I am also falling behind on my zucchini and basil processing – I need to make pesto and bake some zucchini bread. Both can be frozen if packaged properly and are a great use of our crazy garden bounty.

The monsoon rains here in Santa Fe have been dramatic this season, to say the least. We haven’t had to actually water the garden in about a week as the nightly down pour has kept everything incredibly wet – in some cases too wet especially in the goat pen. Mucking this afternoon proved…unpleasant. But that is another topic! The gardens are happy and I should really post some images of our tomato forest. The tomato plants have gotten so huge and are so bushy that I admit to being somewhat afraid of them. I can’t see the basil plants anymore, the poor things are buried under the tomato foliage!

In either case I am excited that today, the first day of a new month, we are getting a jump on our food processing. I am looking forward to more apples later in the season, some pears, and of course the rest of the bounty from our home garden! In the meantime, I should probably go make some bread…

Happy Eating!

 

Our First Egg! July 16, 2010

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Garden Fresh — realfoodmama @ 3:06 pm
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One of our hens laid our very first egg this afternoon! We are very excited about it here at the urban farm and my little man has decided the egg is his and needs to live in his bedroom. Clearly that can’t go on much longer, but it is nice to see that he is as excited as his mommy about what is, ultimately, a rather mundane event.

Our hens are only four months old so the advent of one egg is very possibly the most we will get this week. It is adorably tiny and perfectly shaped, but won’t actually feed any of us. Regardless, it marks a new chapter here at the urban farm, complete with new chores and more space taken up in the fridge.

In addition to the egg, I am also happy to report that the corn plants are taller than my son, the squash plants are covered in abundant blooms and the tomato plants are literally growing out of their cages. All signs point toward an abundance and I am incredibly grateful for all of it, even if it means more yard work and livestock chores for me. I will upload a picture of our new addition (the egg) as soon as I can get my son to let up on his vigil. Until then, happy eating and gardening!

 

Home Made Applesauce October 7, 2009

Filed under: Eating local,Garden Fresh,Home Economics,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 9:34 am
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Spiced Applesauce

Spiced Applesauce

Last week a friend of mine was kind enough to invite me to her aunt’s house in rural NM to pick apples. We arrived expecting to come home with a bag each, but then we looked at the trees. I think I ended up walking away with over 50 pounds of apples! I split them 50/50 between Jonathon and Winesap, as I wanted to make some applesauce as well as some pie filling.

We have been slow to get started on this project, as peeling, coring, cooking and canning 50 lbs of apples when you have a 2 year old boy in the house has proven difficult. We have completed one batch however and it was absolutely divine so I thought I would share the recipe with everyone, as well as the process for those of you who may be first time canners.

Spiced Applesauce

5 lbs of Jonathan apples (or a similar variety)
1 c water
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 – 1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash cloves

Peel and core the apples and place them in a large stock pot with the cup of water. Cook over very low heat for an hour to an hour and a half or until the apples are soft and can be crushed easily with a potato masher or a fork. Stir frequently!

When the apples have reached the desired consistency, add the sugar and spices and let it cook for another 10 minutes or so. Any longer and the flavors will get muddy. When the applesauce is finished, it is time to can it. At this point you have two choices: hot or cold?

The key to canning is to start with everything at the same temperature (ie, if you want to can the hot applesauce, you need hot canning jars and hot water). You can either heat the jars prior to canning or you can let the applesauce cool to room temperature, which could take half a day. I prefer to let the applesauce cool simply because it allows me to can in shifts.

Applesauce requires a simple water bath canning. Leaving 1/2 inch of headspace, fill your jars, removing any large air bubbles. After filling, tighten the lids and place in a water bath canner. Cover the jars with anywhere from 1/4 to a 1/2 inch of water in order to guarantee they remain covered during the canning process. Standard recipes call for 20 minutes in the water bath, however at 7000 feet I typically add an additional 10 – 15 minutes. The temperature for boiling water is marginally lower at this altitude, so you need to let the cans go longer. Standard adjustments are about 5 minutes for every 2000 feet above sea level. Remember – start timing when the water BOILS, not simply from when you place the jars in the canner.

Let the jars cool completely before removing them from the canner. I like to let them sit overnight. You can remove them while hot if you need the canner again, but you have to be very careful – a) they’re hot! and b) the temperature change from boiling to room temperature has been known to cause glass to crack – a risk frankly I don’t feel the need to take.

The next applesauce attempt is going to involve ginger and if it turns out I will post that recipe as well. Until then, Happy Eating!