Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It's Time to Start Freezing! The AC Ban Continues! Kholrabi Chips!

I know that many folks just don't have the time - or frankly the inclination - for canning or "putting up" as it used to be called.

But just remember, there's another, easier alternative and now is the time to get started!  The strawberries, sour cherries, cherries and blueberrries are gradually showing up at our Farmers' Markets.  Just imagine opening up a bag of lucious strawberries in December or February!  Or making Blueberry Pancakes with local, delicious, fresh tasting berries during a snow storm! You want to don't you?

It's not at all difficult.  You need some good quality quart sized freezer bags, a sharp knife, a couple of bowls, the berries, and just a little bit of time.

For Strawberries, all that you have to do is hull your strawberries (cut off the green top where it was attached to the vine), slice the strawberries either in half or in quarters - I don't like to do thin slices for freezing.  Fill your quart sized freezer bags (not storage, actual freezer bags - they protect much more effectively) with your cleaned and cut strawberry pieces, write the contents and the date on the bag and freeze.  They will defrost quickly when you remove them from the freezer and they will have a bit more liquid to them from the freezing process.  We have used them for pancakes, cakes, syrups, all sorts of recipes and for cocktails.  They are delicious and in the middle of winter an unspeakable treat! 

We do pretty much the same thing with Blueberries, Cherries, and Sour Cherries.  When Peaches are in we do can some in their own juices, but we also freeze wedges of Peaches.  These are wonderful for cocktails and sauces.  Seared duck breast with a reduced peach sauce is a favorite cold weather recipe for us.

The Berries are at the Markets now.  Don't hesitate.  Stock up!  The ones you freeze will be far and away superior in every way to any you buy from agri-business in a stupermarket freeezer section!

And speaking of Freezing, I have had queries from some of you inquiring as to whether we are "still" holding off on using our central air conditioning.  The short answer - "Yes we are!".  We keep the blinds down half way and the windows open all over the house during the day and use fans on all of our three floors - our basement, even though it's "finished" is always cool; one of the joys of a very old house!  One of the keys is that we spend lots of time outside in our garden - what we call our "outside living room" - this is such an important factor in keeping cool.  As a kid, I remember everyone on our block sitting out front on their open porches or just their stoops on summer evenings - they were cooling themselves down from the day.  If you can, dine in the garden or outside (lite, cold foods are in, of course), catch the evening breeze, do a little splashing if you can or even just spritz a bit with the hose - these will all serve to lower your body temperature as the sun goes down.  For sure, good fans are a must to successfully staying comfortable, so there is an investment to be made there, but it is far and away much cheaper - in both money, wear and tear on your body, and cost to the environment - than running air conditioners.  And, you will feel much better - really!  Sweating - as much as many of us hate the very idea of it - is good for us.  My much better half spends the day in office AC and she can't wait to get out of it at the end of the day- so while it is an adjustment, it has proven to be a real permanent change for us. To be honest, we lived in AC from late Spring to Fall every year for years - now we walk in somewhere and look at each other and know we are both thinking, "it's cold in here"!  If your health isn't affected by learning to adjust to heat during the day, it's worth a shot! 

Prepping Fresh Local Strawberries for the Freezer

This is so simple and actually a healthy alternative to traditional chips.  When it's not too hot to fire up your oven for a few minutes, these are a wonderful and different snack!


Kohlrabi Chips

We have used both the green and the purple Kohlrabi - it's in the Farmers Markets now.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees
Use a Mandoline or the thin slicer wheel on your food processor or a very, very sharp knife if your knife skills are very, very good,  and slice the "ball" part of the Kohlrabi into the thinnest chip like slices possible.

Spread them out on parchment paper on a cookie sheet; put them in the oven and stay right there!  Depending on their size and thickness, they will cook up quickly. 
You will end up doing multiple trays - unless you have a really big oven.

Pull the chips out when the chip edges are crinkled and brown; sprinkle with sea salt; let them rest a bit  and toss them into a basket. As you make these more you will come up with other flavorings - like curry powder, sweet pimienton, etc.

They are delicious by themselves, with cheese, with dips - in any way you would use chips.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Easy Spring Recipes using Local Ingredients!

I hope that everyone is dealing succesfully with the recent heat wave; rumor has it we will be more "seasonal" weather wise soon.  It is the first test for us of our "Avoid the Air Conditioner" personal crusade.  Last year, we ran our central air conditioning three times - twice for house guests who were used to living in it and another time for someone who was doing work in the house. This year, so far so good - it was just such a jolt to land right in the soup so early! But I can only assume that we are getting a chance to adjust earlier than usual, so hopefully that will be a good thing.  I hope to talk more about our approaches to staying cool in a rowhouse in Philly in upcoming posts.

Speaking of staying cool, growing up in Philly and spending summers as a kid at the Jersey Shore (and lots of years as an adult too!), I became quite familiar and quite a fan of our seafood.  It's where I learned to clean whole fish, surf fish, and shuck clams and oysters.  Conditions are wonderful along the South Jersey waterways - I have to say, I love the beach and I love the ocean but I love an ocean that I can actually jump into and spend some time in riding waves and pretending to be a kid.  I never understood those beaches where the water is too cold to swim in for almost all of the season.  Give me my Jersey beaches and ocean anytime!   At any rate, Little neck clams, Cape May Salt oysters (aren't we glad to have them back?), Blue Fish, Weakies, Flounder and Fluke - all were and are favorites of mine.  However, I didn't know much about fresh water fish - especially relatively local fresh water fish.  I have always loved the Shad that runs once a year in the region, usually at about the same time as the first asparagus, but other than that, my list of favorite fresh water fish was short. On a camping trip way up in rural Pennsylvania many years ago, we caught trout and cooked them on our campfire - yes, it really was "all that"!!  I remember to this day how absoutely amazing those fish were.

So, I was very excited when we were at Ippolito's Fish Market (you see their wholesale trucks, Samuel and Sons, all over Philly - they are our favorite place for the freshest fish and seafood) Saturday of Memorial Day weekend to see Pocono Mountain Trout  on the ice - just a quick look and smell told us how amazingly fresh they were so we grabbed three and bought them whole (we did have them gutted).  We used the following recipe - the trout were so fresh and delicious and is a real find in our region.  Now, of course, I want to find out what else they are catching in the Poconos!!  You can also do this recipe with small Blue Fish, which are hard to find - you usually see the big blues - but Ippolitos does have them from time to time.

Pocono Mountain Trout - in Cast Iron - on the Grill

3 whole trout are good for two people - they are not large fish
To begin, start your hardwood charcoal in your chimney, dump the glowing coals into your cooker and put the grill grate in place; put a large, cast iron skillet on the grate over the hottest coals and leave it there.  Don't put oil in the skillet; put it on the grill grate dry.

Fish Prep:  When you have a whole fish gutted, it is split down the middle but otherwise fully intact so, open the fish up and lay in herb branches of your choice - we used our rosemary, oregano, and chives; we also put in some cloves of garlic and seasoned with bourbon smoked pepper - no salt yet

Pour a couple of glugs of extra virgin olive oil over the inside of the fish

Tie the fish as shown in the picture below and pour some of the oil over the outside of the fish

When your cast iron skillet is literally smoking, salt the outside of each of the fish (we used bourbon smoked sea salt) lay the fish into the hot pan and leave it alone for seven minutes.

When you are able to, flip the fish; if you can't flip it and it seems to be "sticking" leave it alone, it is not ready yet.

When all of the fish are flipped to the other side, set your timer for another seven minutes

Note:  you may be asking, why not just put the fish on the grill?  You could, but you would not get the crispy, amazing outer finish on the skin of the fish that you get using the cast iron. That crispy skin protects the flesh of the fish and keeps it tender and delicious.

Remove the fish to a serving tray - remove the twine from each fish; you might want to do just a slight drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the fish but that is really it; it needs very little of anything; it is perfect.

We just brought the serving tray to our garden table, sat down, poured some wine and ate the fish right from the tray - mostly with our fingers. 

It is delicious.

Pocono Mountain Trout - ready for the fire!
And now, Cocktail Time!

Strawberry Summer Sizzler

Do try to make this while strawberries are in season!

Put 2 cups of sugar (superfine if you have it) and 1 cup of water in sauce pan
Add about 12 - 15 sliced strawberries - depends on size

Stir and simmer the mixture until the liquid is deep red and the strawberries have all broken down

Strain the mixture into a jar or something with a lid that you can keep the syrup in in the 'fridge

When the syrup is cooled:

In a rocks glass, add about 1 tablespoon of the syrup, 2 ounces of vodka, and top it off with Seltzer water and ice cubes; give it a little stir.

Note: the strawberry syrup will last in your refrigerator for a couple of week in a lidded jar

Refreshing, delicious and all grown up!!

Get 'em while you can!