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My Book!

I wrote a book about preserving food. The same step-by-step instruction and full-color photos you find in my blog. Buy it at Yes, You Can 

Links to planters at selected vendors:

Garden-Fountains.com

MasterGardening.com

 

 

Sprouts

Amazon.com is a terrific source for certified organic seeds intended for home sprouting. Dress up salads, stir-fry, sandwiches, spreads, and other dishes with homegrown sprouts of all kinds. Follow this link to order your sampler or to find home sprouting kits.

 

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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Food Photos 2 through 7

Apple and white chocolate pie

I love to make pies! This one was an experiment about a month before Thanksgiving. It’s an apple pie sweetened with a combination of white chocolate and quince jelly and it tasted fine.

More than 12 days ago, I took on a seven-photos-in-seven-days challenge, put up a post about it, and faded. Recovering from major surgery hasn’t been all that hard, but I have slept a lot more than I usually do. Unfortunately, whenever I try to focus on writing, I suddenly get drowsy. When I wake up an hour or three later, the muse has left me… or there’s some other thing to do.

It took me 12 days to review my photos from 2015. I selected way more than I can use in three “seven-photos” challenges… and I’m packing six of them into this blog post.

Some of these photos are favorites because they call back good times, others because they capture stuff I’ve published in the local newspaper but haven’t been able to share with my social networks.

Learning to make pie

Two Japanese students lived with us for nearly three weeks in 2015. The visit included an evening at a county fair, hiking on a gorgeous nature trail, a day trip into New York City, and many home-cooked meals. One evening I gave pie-making lessons and our Japanese daughters assembled a delicious peach and blueberry pie.

Homemade paneer

Indian cuisine is one of my favorites, and the nearest Indian restaurant is about an hour’s drive. To compensate, I’ve learned some basics and have settled on certain standard dishes—but I also experiment, trying to produce passable versions of a few challenging dishes. Paneer (a cheese that doesn’t melt) is a key ingredient in some of those dishes, and when I can find it in stores, it’s ridiculously expensive. So, I make my own. This block drained for several hours under the weight of a heavy pot of water. It’s ready to be cut up into cubes and gently fried in oil before being added to a spinach-based curried gravy.

Curried sweet potato soup

A friend who had recently become vegetarian was coming to dinner and I didn’t have a plan. Shopping inspired me to make yeast bread and curried sweet potato soup. I could have added more liquid to the soup, but it was rich and delicious and I featured it in an article I wrote for our local newspaper. Curried squash and curried sweet potato soups are among my favorite meals.

Garden-fresh pasta sauce

Apparently, in early September I intended to publish something about homemade tomato sauce—for pasta or pizza. I posed some ingredients and captured photos, but things didn’t progress beyond that. The upshot: this representation of garden-fresh ingredients I’d use to flavor a skillet of pasta.

U-Pik Sour Cherries

This stretches the “food” theme a tad, but it captures one of my favorite food experiences of all: the annual sour cherry harvest. Sour cherries have a dramatically more intense cherry flavor than that of sweet cherries and they’re crucial for making jams, jellies, preserves, and baked goods that involve cherries. Most people aren’t at all familiar with sour cherries. There’s a grower near us that opens its orchard for “you-pick” customers a few days before harvesting what’s left for commercial buyers and I love going with my wife (picking here in her sour cherry camouflage) to strip handfuls of fruit from the heavily-laden branches.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Food Photos 2 Through 7

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Food Photo 1: Pineapple and Quince Jellies

I keep seeing members of my social network posting photos in response to one or another challenge, but no one has invited me to play. Oh, well. The contest looks like a great excuse to highlight some of my favorite moments of the year – or of the last several years.

I’m recovering from super-de-duper major surgery, so I’ll be doing a lot of sitting over the next two or three weeks. Painkillers have me tilting often on the edge of consciousness. I imagine browsing photos and posting favorites won’t be too challenging a task.

The categories:

Food photos
Garden photos
Nature photos

I’ll try to come up with 7 of each, but I won’t promise to deliver daily. Oh, and no nominations. If you want to participate in a seven photos in seven days challenge, please do. If you’d rather not, that’s a-OK.

Homemade jellies catch late morning sunlight on the dining room table

Jellies made from well-strained fruit juice glow when illuminated from behind by late-morning sunshine.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Food Photo 1: Pineapple and Quince Jellies

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Sweet Pepper Relish Service Variation

Classic service of homemade sweet pepper relish

Sweet pepper relish on cream cheese makes an attractive addition to an hors d’oeuvres table. Learn how to make your own at my blog post, Red Pepper Relish from Your Home Kitchen Garden

My Mother-in-law had guests. She served the delicious sweet pepper relish with cream cheese and crackers that I wrote about over at Home Kitchen Garden (and included in my book about home preserving—which you can buy by clicking the book cover in the left margin of this page). I got the recipe from my Mother-in-law in the first place, and over the past several years I’ve been her supplier: I give her a case of 4oz jars when we visit my in-laws or they visit us.

Four ounces of homemade sweet pepper relish

When I first wrote about this relish I called it Red Pepper Relish. Since then I’ve taken to making it with various fully-ripe sweet peppers—red, yellow, orange, and even purple (which, given time, turn red as they ripen). A 4 ounce jar of relish, a block of cream cheese, and crackers make a fine appetizer.

But credit for this post goes to one of my Mother-in-Law’s guests who, apparently, suggested an alternative to the classic “relish-on-cream-cheese-on-crackers” service. She thought simply to mix a four ounce jar of relish into eight ounces of cream cheese and serve it as a spread.

Simple. Genius. Should have been obvious.

The procedure is as you’d expect: Set out an 8oz block of cream cheese or neufchatel to soften at room temperature for at least an hour. Use a fork to combine the cream cheese and a jar of pepper relish; be thorough. If you prefer, use an electric mixer to stir the two ingredients together. Load a small serving bowl with the mixture and set it out with a butter knife or two and some crackers.

This treatment is tidier than serving a block of cream cheese with relish dumped on it… and every crackerful is delicious.

Cream cheese blended with homemade sweet pepper relish

Thoroughly blending a jar of sweet pepper relish with an 8oz block of cream cheese makes a delicious spread. The spread is easier to handle than the more traditional service, and it tastes just as good.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Sweet Pepper Relish Service Variation

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Sweet Potato Soup from the Garden

Sweet potato blossom

Harvest sweet potatoes after blossoms emerge on the vines. That’s the rule of thumb, but it can create timing issues: Ideally, you harvest while there are still some hot days left on the calendar; sweet potatoes should cure at 80 humid degrees for ten days before you put them in storage. On the other hand, vines need a very long season to produce flowers—sometimes long enough there aren’t any hot, humid days left in the year.

We had dinner guests last weekend and there was a catch. One of our visitors was having discomfort with her teeth. She reported that she was on a soup-only diet; chewing was out. I was excited to make up a pot of curried squash soup.

There was a problem. I visited the community garden and harvested what was ready, but not one of my winter squashes was ripe. On my way home, I passed two farm stands selling winter squash but decided not to stop. Eight miles north I’d visit the flea market where one of my favorite produce vendors would, no doubt, have a decent selection of squashes. Or not.

There was no winter squash at the flea market. I got involved with a familiar vendor in a discussion about winter squash timing. It’s still summer, he pointed out. I should shop for winter squash in winter. Then he asked what type I wanted and assured me he could have it for me on Wednesday at the farmers’ market. Except, I told him, I was going to eat the squash tomorrow (Sunday), so Wednesday just wouldn’t do, thank you.

He suggested I visit a grocery store, but I had another thought: Forget winter squash, instead I’d make curried sweet potato soup.

Surrounded by sweet potatoes

I didn’t plant the cucumber in a sweet potato patch. No, the sweet potatoes were so happy in their patch they decided to take more ground, surrounding cucumbers, zucchinis, and peas.

Sweet Potato Harvest

My sweet potato patch is one of the season’s great successes. You can’t see the mulch for the vines, and tendrils reach into the pea patch, the cucumber and zucchini patches, and through the garden fence onto the lawn. Flowers emerged about a week ago, so by the rule of thumb (don’t harvest until the vines flower), there must be sweet potatoes ready to dig.

I think I dug up two plants. The vines are such a mess, it’s hard to tell where one plant ends and the next begins. In any case, I ended up with two large sweet potatoes, one of medium size, and several small ones that together might have made up one large one. I’m so looking forward to harvesting the entire bed; there must be more than 50 pounds of food in it.

Curried Sweet Potato Soup

The soup was amazing. I made it up as I went along, and it was a tad complicated but worth the effort. Here’s about what I did, written as a recipe:

Sweet potatoes for soup

What was probably two plants yielded about three pounds of gorgeous sweet potatoes. Every tuber in this photo went into the curried sweet potato soup described in this post.

Ingredients for Soup

~3 lbs of sweet potatoes
1 medium onion
16 ozs of mango pieces (I used a pint jar of home-canned mangoes)
1 pint of heavy cream
1 – 2 cups milk

Seasonings:

1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala (or substitute curry powder)
¼ tsp beri-beri seasoning or cayenne pepper
1 tbs amchur powder (if you can find some)

Wash and skin the sweet potatoes and slice them into ½-inch thick filets. Brush these with olive oil and grill for about 3 minutes on each side. You’re trying to develop a little char, but don’t worry about cooking the tubers all the way through. Set them aside while you work on the curry.

Set a one-gallon pot on the shy side of medium heat and add the butter. As the butter melts, chop the onion and stir in the pieces. Grate a chunk of fresh ginger into the pot—½ inch of a piece the thickness of your index finger—and mix it with the onion and butter.

Stir in each of the seasonings in the order listed in the ingredients box, letting each cook for about a minute before adding the next seasoning.

Stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to keep things from sticking and add the grilled sweet potatoes. Stir thoroughly to coat every piece with the curry mixture.

Add the mangoes and the liquid in which they were canned (if you’ve used fresh mangoes, add about ½ cup of water at this point), stir it all together, cover the pot, and lower the heat so it simmers without burning. Cook until the sweet potatoes are soft—about 15 minutes.

Transfer the hot curried sweet potatoes and mangoes to a blender and puree until the mixture is very smooth. Add some of the cream if necessary to make it blend.

Rinse the pot to remove any chunks of food and return the pureed sweet potatoes and mangoes to it (for a perfectly creamy soup, work it through a sieve on its way back to the pot). Raise the heat and combine the cream into the pureed sweet potatoes and mangoes. Stir to prevent burning.

The combined cream and curry mixture is likely too thick to serve as soup. So, stir in milk to achieve an appropriate consistency. I like it crazy thick, but it’s a very rich soup, so you can cut it quite a bit and retain its character.

Serve the soup hot. While we didn’t eat it this way, I imagine the soup would be very nice served over a mound of basmati rice.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Sweet Potato Soup from the Garden

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Post Produce, Jan 2012: Sweet & Sour Pork

Scroll to the bottom of this post if you’re here to link to your January 2012 Post Produce post. I look forward to seeing what you’re consuming from your garden!

I can pineapple and pickled mixed vegetables so they’re on hand when I want to make sweet and sour pork. The vegetables are carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and chili peppers quick-pickled in brine made of water, vinegar, and salt. Canning pickled vegetables involves specific procedures to prevent growth of deadly bacteria, so please don’t make your own pickled vegetables without following USDA-tested procedures.

Still no produce to pick fresh from my small kitchen garden! Actually, we finally had our first snow of winter, and the planting bed is buried under white powder. About six inches fell overnight, finally making winter real.

But this non-planting season hasn’t soured me on Post Produce. I try always to look at the larder when planning meals, and more often than not, the larder saves me when I’ve failed to plan. Today was such a day, so for dinner we had sweet & sour pork.

Pickled Vegetables from My Small Kitchen Garden

Each year I like to preserve at least one canner full of pickled mixed vegetables in quart jars. When I can them, I follow the procedures I wrote in my post, Pickles From Your Home Kitchen Garden, with two significant differences:

1. I don’t use pickling spice—I use no spices at all.

2. I don’t use dill.

Making a canner full of pickled vegetables in summer lets me make sweet & sour pork or chicken seven times through the year.

I also can a lot of pineapple, but I don’t grow that in my kitchen garden, so it doesn’t qualify for sharing during Post Produce. Still, it’s important to know if you want to do this at home: I use 10% sugar syrup to pack pineapple chunks when I can them. Of course, what matters during the off season is how the veggies and the pineapple combine to make a sweet & sour sauce.

Sweet & Sour Pork (or Chicken) in a Hurry

Typically, I serve this stuff with rice. Right when you start prepping the meat is a good time to set rice on to cook. I almost never work from recipes, so there are no hard numbers here.

Ingredients:

1 pound of boneless pork (boneless spare ribs, chops, or tenderloin all work well)…

OR

1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken (I prefer breasts, but thighs work well, too)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion

½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger root

1 clove garlic (optional)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil (optional)

1 pint canned pineapple chunks in juice

1 quart pickled mixed vegetables

1 – 2 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable stock

1 – 2 tablespoon cornstarch

Procedure:

Cut the pork (or chicken) into bite-sized pieces. Peel and dice the onion, and crush and dice the garlic if you’re using it. Open the pickled vegetables and reserve ½ cup of brine; pour off the rest if you can’t think of a way to use it. Open the pineapple and strain the juice into a measuring cup. Ideally, you’ll get a cup of pineapple juice, but if not, add water to result in a cup of liquid.

Heat the vegetable oil on high in a wok or skillet. Being careful not to splash the hot oil, put the diced onion, grated ginger, and garlic in the pan, and stir briefly to prevent sticking. Then dump the cut-up pork or chicken in on top. Stir and turn the meat for five minutes or so to coat it with the oil.

When I cooked dinner, it didn’t occur to me the meal would end up in tonight’s blog post. So, the only photographic record remaining is of the leftovers in storage containers. My son and I each had a generous serving without side dishes, and there’s enough left for two more servings. The recipe in this post should easily feed four and possibly five people.

While the meat is still obviously not fully-cooked, add the soy sauce and sesame oil to the pan and stir it in thoroughly. Continue to stir until all surfaces of the meat appear cooked and most pieces have cooked through. You don’t need to stir continuously, but neither should you leave the pan unattended while cooking on such high heat.

Add the drained pickled vegetables and toss the contents of the pan gently for a few minutes until the vegetables heat through. Add the drained pineapple, and heat for another minute or so. Then add the reserved pickle brine and pineapple juice and stir.

Taste the liquid! If it’s sour, stir in a teaspoon or two of sugar till it dissolves.

When the liquid has a pleasant sweet and sour balance, stir in a cup of stock. While that heats, stir a tablespoon of cornstarch into a quarter cup of stock and then add that to the skillet. Stir it all until it thickens… if it’s too thick, add more stock, if it’s too thin, mix more cornstarch and stock to stir into the pan.

Your Turn to Post Produce!

Please join the celebration of home-grown produce. Post about something you’re eating from your garden, then return here and link to your post. Watch for other Post Produce posts to see what others are enjoying from their gardens. Follow this link for more information about Post Produce.

 

 

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Grill Squash from Your Small Kitchen Garden

My small kitchen garden sometimes pushes up so many butternut squashes that there’s no chance my family will eat all of them. This inspired me to set some on the grill. Now grilled quash provides a fine counterpoint to the baked, mashed, and cubed squash dishes I’d repeated so many times over the years.

My small kitchen garden sometimes produces way more of a particular vegetable than my family will eat. Worse: when we have too much of a type of vegetable on hand, it’s easy to fall into the trap of preparing it the same way again and again.

This happened a few years ago with butternut squash, and I developed a great urge for a quick but different way to prepare it. After some thought, I decided to exercise my grill: it seemed that a big slab of squash would perform much like a slab of beef or pork. The result made me very happy and I hope it will make you happy too. Follow the instructions in the photo captions to make your own grilled butternut squash.

If you try this, please let me know what you think—or share whatever variations you feel are noteworthy. Grilled squash goes especially well with smoked poultry or just about anything else you prepare on the grill.

Before you start on the squash, start your grill and leave it on high so it’s hot when the filets are ready. A vegetable peeler removes skin from a butternut squash; it helps to rest the squash on a firm surface and draw the peeler down toward that surface. After peeling the squash, cut off the stem and the blossom scar.

 

To cut up a squash for grilling, it helps to have a big honking chef’s knife. Be cautious and always cut toward a cutting board with the hand that steadies the squash safely above the knife’s blade. My first cut goes down the center of the squash, but notice that I start the cut through the seed end before standing the squash up and forcing the knife down through the neck.

 

I scrape the seeds out of the squash before slicing it into filets. The filets are about a quarter to three-eighths of an inch thick. Notice again that I start each cut at one end of the squash, cutting down and through (I’m not pushing the knife toward my hand in the center photo… just down toward the cutting board). This first cut acts as a guide when I stand the squash on end and work the knife down through the length of the fruit.

 

Once I’ve cut out all my squash filets, I paint them on one side with a thin coating of olive oil (left). Then I sprinkle on cayenne pepper and black pepper (center). You could add salt at this point if you like. I finish with a light distribution of brown sugar which I press into the oil with my fingers so it will adhere when I put the squash on the grill.

 

I place the squash filets seasoning-side-down on my grill and immediately paint the unseasoned faces with oil. Then I season them as I did the other sides. I put the cover on the grill and let the squash cook for just three or four minutes. Then I flip the squash and cook it for another three or four minutes. CAUTION! The squash may be soft when you flip it, so work a spatula along the length of each piece before lifting it off the grill.

 

Grilling caramelizes the sugar, but the charring usually adds complexity to the flavor of the squash; don’t reject it just because it looks singed. If six to eight minutes on the grill doesn’t get your squash filets soft, put them back on the grill or finish them off in your microwave oven. This grilled squash is soft, sweet, and savory with a touch of heat. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

 

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Easy Strawberry Shortcake from Your Small Kitchen Garden

This is a robust display of strawberries in my meager deck planters. I look forward to the year when I finally create a large strawberry planting bed that produces the entire 40 or so quarts of berries we typically consume in June.

My small kitchen garden produces a mere handful of strawberries each year. That’s because I have a few planters each holding three or four strawberry plants. Eventually, I’ll add a generous raised bed bursting with strawberry plants but for now I satisfy my cravings with berries I buy from other local growers.

Yesterday, I saw on sale at the farmers’ market strawberries that had travelled from Lancaster… only sixty miles south. My planters sport a half dozen green berries that may be ready to pick in another week. These events spurred me finally to produce a video I shot last spring: How to make real strawberry shortcake.

What I mean by Real Strawberry Shortcake

At decent restaurants, I’ve seen pound cake with sweetened strawberries listed as “Strawberry Shortcake.” At grocery stores, I’ve seen sponge cake labeled as “Shortcake” and displayed next to fresh strawberries. I’ve had visitors who assured me they were quite familiar with strawberry shortcake… but who had never even seen a classic, traditional shortcake. Sure, all those strawberry/cake combinations are tasty… but they’re not really strawberry shortcake.

When strawberries are in season, a large serving of strawberry shortcake makes a delicious, well-balanced meal. I recommend that you not make shortcake with strawberries that grew more than sixty miles from your home; they’re just not as good.

A true shortcake is a lot like a biscuit: a little flour, shortening, and leavening: the same ingredients you might use to make pancakes from scratch. Of course, biscuit-making involves cutting the shortening into the flour, rolling out dough, and cutting rounds for the baking pan.

I’ve reduced making my own shortcake to a very simple procedure that eliminates cutting in shortening, rolling dough, and cutting out rounds with a cookie cutter. The approach I use doesn’t make a perfectly flaky biscuit, but the dessert isn’t strawberry biscuits, and the only complaints I’ve received about them is that I make the servings too large.

Actually, three or four times a year when local strawberries are available, I serve nothing but strawberry shortcake for dinner. To those who complain about the sizes of the servings, I apologize. Don’t mess up the part you’re not going to eat; I’ll deal with it, thank you.

Here is my video production of how to make the strawberry shortcake you’ll eat if you visit in June at Your Small Kitchen Garden. It’s just over eight minutes long. If you try making shortcake this way, please let me know how you like it:

 

Other ways to prepare and serve strawberries:

  • Coconut Waffle With Mango and Strawberry « Laila Blog’s – but for some reason i always have it as a dessert well im not much of a breakfast person anyway but i absolutely love this recipe its very fruity and very flavorful and quiet easy to make. Start by peeling the mangoes and cutting it into cubes. Start making the waffles by pouring the mixture into the waffle machine.

  • Strawberry Pickle – My husband has been asking me when I am going to post his strange and innovative strawberry pickle recipe in our blog. We came up with the competition to create a uniquely delicious recipe using strawberries as a feature ingredient. …

  • Quick & EASY Strawberry Dumplings | Inspirational Ingredients – 31 Subscribe Socialize on Facebook” title=”Subscribe & Socialize on Facebook” style=”opacity: 0. Posted in Dessert, Easy, Half-way Homemade, Recipes, Spring, Sweets | Tags: Bisquick, Dessert, Easy, Quick, Recipe, Recipes, Strawberry, Sweets 3 Responses to Quick d=http%3A%2F%2F1. This is an excellent recipe! I’ll be sure to tell my wife about it.

  • Recipe: Balsamic strawberries – I first bumped into balsamic strawberries at a summer food festival in Edmonton half a decade ago. A local restaurant, now sadly departed, was serving up this unlikely combination with a dollop of mascarpone, a trio of flavours that I …

 

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Visit the PA Farm Show

Sure, you can see fresh produce all winter in any local grocery store… but can you see vegetables that have been awarded blue ribbons?

Winter owns central Pennsylvania, but even for a kitchen gardener there is respite: The Pennsylvania Farm Show opens to the public in Harrisburg on January 9. I wrote several posts about the 2009 Farm Show in Your Small Kitchen Garden last January. It won’t look much different this year… and that’s a good thing.

Kitchen Gardener’s Haven

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is all about agriculture. Sure, there’s a preponderance of exhibits and competitions involving farming: tractors, horse livestock trailers, cultivators, and harvesters. There are horses, cows, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, sheep, goats, and pigs… there are even llamas. If none of these appeal to you; if you’re interested only on growing and eating your own produce; the PA Farm Show still delivers.

You’ll find exhibits of gorgeous vegetables, mushrooms, fruits, and nuts. You’ll find honey products and demonstrations by apiarists. You’ll find gardening gear and supplies, exhibits of cut flowers and potted plants, and even “box gardens;” table-top displays assembled to resemble full-sized courtyards and backyard patios.

At the 2009 Pennsylvania Farm Show, there were dozens of tiny gardens planted in wooden boxes. It’s a compelling idea: can a landscaper create a miniature yard or courtyard using live plants, and pass it off as a full-sized garden in photos or video?

Food at the Farm Show

For a kitchen gardener, gardening and produce aren’t the whole story. The Pennsylvania Farm Show understand this and includes exhibits and vendors of all kinds of cooking-related products. You’ll find terrific cookware, hundreds of bottles sauces and seasonings, and a whole bunch of free samples of foods you might want to use in your own kitchen.

Even if your garden has suffered because of a pesky wabbit, it’s hard not to enjoy a stroll among the rabbit cages at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. This rabbit looked capable of devouring a 14 foot row of carrots in a single sitting.

The Farm Show has a Kitchen Stage where area chefs and culinary students perform cooking demonstrations… and even Iron-Chef-style cooking competitions. You can relax and leave the kitchen stage area with ideas to apply in your own kitchen.

Finally, the food court at the Pennsylvania Farm Show features food that’s produced in Pennsylvania: Honey ice cream and waffles; potato donuts, fries, and baked potatoes; milkshakes, ice cream, and fried mozzarella… the list is too big to include all of it here. I like to grab good eats at the food court and carry them to one of the livestock arenas where I can enjoy a horse show or competition while munching the local fare.

Join me at the Farm Show

I’ll be at the Pennsylvania Farm Show the afternoon of Tuesday, January 12. I expect to attend at least one other day as well… and I’d love to have company. So, if you have any interest in meeting up at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, please contact me. Use this blog’s Contact Us form, or send a tweet to @cityslipper.

Did I mention? IT’S FREE! There’s no charge to attend the Pennsylvania Farm Show, though to park anywhere near it, you’ll pay $10 per car… so take a family of five (or a bunch of friends), and get a day’s entertainment for $2 per person.

Follow this link to the full schedule of Pennsylvania Farm Show events.

More information from the PA Farm Show:

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Plenty of Peppers? Make Gumbo

I’ve heard many kitchen gardeners ask, “I have a lot of peppers this year. Any ideas for how to use them?” One of my favorite uses for peppers is to cook them up in gumbo.

My small kitchen garden produced a lot of peppers this year. Mostly, I harvested Hungarian banana peppers, but I also enjoyed a variety of bell peppers and a handful of jalapeno peppers. Apparently, a lot of other kitchen gardeners enjoyed similar successes because one question I’ve heard often is, “What should I do with all my peppers?”

Make Gumbo, is my favorite reply. Making a vat of gumbo won’t put a noticeable dent in a surplus of peppers, but it will make for some great eating. Gumbo is a vegetable-laden, thick broth, usually including some type of meat such as chicken, sausage, or seafood. Common in the southern United States and nearly non-existent in the northern states, Gumbo comes in two distinct varieties… though there may be as many recipes as there are people cooking the stuff.

Gumbo with okra

Overgrown Okra

I don’t grow okra because, sadly, I gag when I try to eat it. Fortunately, I found a lovely photo of okra pods on www.flickr.com. When you cut these pods into sections and cook them in your soup, the pods soften up, become slimy, and thicken the broth.

This is a bit of a guess, but I imagine most people make gumbo using okra as the thickener. Okra is a plant with big leaves and gorgeous flowers, and it produces fruits that look vaguely like pods of a milkweed plant.

When you cut Okra pods into sections and boil them in water or stock, they break down into what most people describe as slime. The slime, of course, is thicker than water, so by using okra in soup, you make the soup thicken.

I’ve had okra-thickened gumbo several times, and, sadly, each time I had a very powerful gag response to its consistency. I can’t even comment on its flavor because I was so focused on the gag response that I recall little else about it.

Gumbo with roux

About when I experienced gumbo made with okra, I also happened to have visited New Orleans and eaten at K-Paul’s. The flavors of my meal at K-Paul’s were unique and exciting and I became a fan of Paul Prudhomme, the restaurant’s founder and namesake.

Happily, I got a copy of his cookbook, and read large chunks of it to gain an understanding of Louisiana- and Cajun-style cooking. That cookbook explained how to make gumbo using roux rather than okra as a thickener.

It’s been a long time since I’ve followed Prudhomme’s recipe to make gumbo, but the method I use strongly resembles what I learned from Prudhomme’s cookbook. It’s a big job, so when I make any, I make a vat of it. We eat gumbo for many dinners and lunches over the course of a week or two.

The Secret to Great Gumbo

Gumbo: Chunks of chicken and sausage in a thick broth churning with vegetables and served over rice. Use up some peppers from your small kitchen garden; make gumbo.

I’m convinced that the most important component of great gumbo is the roux. At its simplest, roux is a mixture of oil and flour—usually a one-to-one mix. When you combine white flour and vegetable oil, you produce a white or slightly yellow roux. Cook the roux, and the flour browns… the longer you cook it, the darker brown it becomes. As the roux cooks, you’ll see it gradually turn from white to tan to peanut butter brown. After that, it darkens to the color of milk chocolate and it even begins to redden a bit. Cook it too long, and it’ll burn, turning black. If you’re careless, some will burn to the bottom of the pan and produce black specks which altogether ruin the flavor.

A light roux will thicken gumbo without adding much flavor. However, a dark roux adds an indescribable nuttiness to the soup. While I recall cooking the roux on high heat for many years, I once discovered it cooks just fine on medium heat, and the slower cooking speed gives me freedom to turn my back on it from time-to-time with little threat of it burning.

Gumbo Tips

I’ve embedded a video of me making gumbo that explains every step. To keep it short, I omitted a lot of commentary. Here are a few things that are good to know:

  • Andouille sausage is a hot, smoked sausage native to Cajun country. I can buy it locally for about twice what other sausage costs… some day I’ll try making my own. In the meantime, I’m too cheap to pay so much for ground meat, so I use hot Italian sausage in my Gumbo. This works particularly well if I slow cook it on my grill with some kind of hardwood to add smoke.
  • Green and red peppers don’t add significant heat to the gumbo unless you leave the seeds in… but that’s a rather imprecise way to control heat. After you’ve finished the gumbo, let it simmer for five minutes or so, then taste. If the seasoning isn’t fiery enough for you, add more cayenne pepper, stir it in, and give it a few more minutes on the heat.
  • I used to use a few cloves of garlic in my gumbo, but I eventually discovered that garlic gives me heartburn. Use some if you want; peal the cloves and toss them in the food processor with your other vegetables.
  • A meat grinder works about as well as a food processor. Cut up the carrots and celery into small pieces so they don’t stall the mechanism… but you can put all of the vegetables through a meat grinder if you prefer that over a food processor.
  • Sometimes my family fishes a disproportionate amount of “goodies” out of the gumbo (sausage and chicken), eventually leaving only broth in the pot. If this happens I re-heat the gumbo to a boil and add more sausage (and sometimes chicken), giving the vat several more days of usefulness.

Please enjoy the video:

 

Here are some other approaches to making gumbo that might appeal to you (including one that uses okra):

  • Shrimp Gumbo Soup – Add in about 2/3 of the can of broth, the can of Chicken Gumbo (NO additional water) and chopped tomato. Cover and bring to a slow boil. Add in the raw shrimp, cover and cook for about 3 minutes or until the shrimp are pink. …

  • National Gumbo Day!: Andouille Sausage and Chicken Gumbo – This recipe is truly at its best when prepared 24 hours ahead of serving time. Simply reheat the gumbo on the stove for several hours on the day of serving. This technique allows for all of the flavors to combine and marry together – a …

  • louisiana chicken gumbo – 1/4 cup flour 1 tsp salt 1 3 lb chicken cut into 8 pieces 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 1/2 cup chopped onion 1 cup chopped celery 1 cup chopped green onion 3 cloves garlic; mashed 1 quart chicken broth 2 cup canned whole tomatoes in juice; …

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