Nola. Gra-no-no-no-nola.

Do you officially have the Kinks stuck in your head now? Good.

It’s officially granola season in our household. Ok – maybe granola season is the wrong word. When the weather begins to show the slightest warming trend, my brain has a switch where all comforting winter food turns completely unappetizing. It’s not that I crave summer food, rather it’s that I really can’t stand the winter food anymore. Soup turns to sandwiches, everything can now be cooked on the grill, and all my coffee is iced. And for breakfast, I can no longer bear eating oatmeal.

Oatmeal and jam or fruit butter is a staple from the fall until my mental switch flips. But these days, the thought makes me slightly queasy. So we switch to granola. It’s so easy, I don’t know how or why anyone still buys it from a store.

His & Hers Multigrain Granola
Makes 1 big batch for a week of breakfasts for two people
1.5 cups spelt flakes
1.5 cups rye flakes
1.5 cups oats
3 tablespoons golden flax seeds
1/2 cup neutral oil such as canola or grapeseed
pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup maple syrup, preferably grade b (or if you’re anywhere near Stonewall Apiary, toss with their amazing honey butter)

Combine all grains and Toast at 250° until crunchy – stirring every 15-20 minutes – approximately 45 minutes. When toasted to your satisfaction, combine fruit, nuts and if you’re a maple syrup fiend like Jon, additional maple sugar.

His:
Raisins – golden & regular
Maple Sugar

Hers:
Coconut flakes
Dried cherries or apricots (or both)
Dried cranberries
Salted pepitas or toasted chopped hazelnuts (or both)

I find its easiest make a big batch of granola basics (grains, flax, canola oil and maple syrup) and after toasting, seperate it into two batches. Don’t think you’re being clever by tossing the fruit into the oven either, unless you’re really into shriveled black used-to-be-fruit (ahem). And I like toasting any nuts separately. Serve by itself with your milk of choice or with yogurt for a quick breakfast on a morning where oatmeal would simply be intolerable.

Whatever-cello – another fruit+booze story

I made too much limoncello last year. Yes – really - REALLY – it is possible. I used my entire Lemon Ladies large flat rate box’s worth to make limoncello. After I made lemon curd, kiwi meyer lemon jam, preserved lemons, an incredible lemon tart, raspberry meyer lemon preserves, and more… they all went into TWO half gallon jars of vodka. So yes – a gallon of limoncello. After lots of adult lemonade by the pool and then lots of gifts at the holidays – I am just finishing up the last of it. And while it’s crazy good – I am so over limoncello.

This year, I am one upping my -cello. I may not live in California where rare citrus is all over the place like Shae or be close enough to Eataly like Autumn to grab some bergamots on my way home from work – but I am close enough to a Food Co-op that is well stocked in organic citrus. There are no rangpurs or mandarinquats, but there are limes, cara cara oranges, grapefruits and kumquats. Perfect to grab a couple, make some citrus tom collinses and have the rind leftover.

Part of the reason that meyer limoncello is so great is the lazy factor. You can use the whole rind without stripping the zest, i.e. – just toss it into the booze. The bitter pith is so thin on meyers that meyer-cello is next to no work. Meyers + alcohol + simple syrup + time. Kumquats are thin enough to just slice. With other citrus though, you really have to strip the zest and discard the pith. You can use a microplane, but then you would have to strain your -cello. I found my vegetable peeler made quick work of the other citrus, but – oh man – it was a whole other step from last year.

I’m going to let this batch sit for a week or so – shaking when I remember to – and I’ll probably leave out the simple syrup. I can always add it in later. Plus, that way – I can infuse the simple syrup. I’ve been scheming up a citrus-infused cocktail with black pepper and bay simple syrup. We’ll see what this summer brings, when I am screaming for an icy cocktail instead of shivering under my lap blanket on the couch. But remember – its not blood-orange-lime-kumquat-grapefruit-meyer-cello, its whatever-cello. And its delicious. And you should make it right now to enjoy later this year.

Whatever-cello
Method: Add citrus rind to your favorite glass vessel and cover with alcohol. You can use grain alcohol, but I prefer a lesser bite and use vodka. Plus – I’m a sucker for any alcohol with a snowflake on the label. Ahem. Add more as the citrus to the vessel season progresses. Keep everything covered – infuse for up to a month – but the first stage should be good after a week or so. At that point, add an equal part simple syrup to double the volume. Its easiest if you start with two jars of the same size – divide the batch in half when you add the syrup. Infuse another week to finish. Remove the zest and store in the freezer for up to a year.

If vodka isn’t your thing, and you are more tequila-inclined, check out Kaela’s Meyeritas. Or a citrus shrub. Or if citrus isn’t your fav, you can always try a pineapple infusion. If all else fails, make bitters!

Lessons in produzione la pasta fresca

Italian is not my forte, as you might have guessed. Spanish, Basic French, Reading-level Russian – sure. Even some Latin. It seems, though with Italian – I just can’t get the pronunciation down. It seems there are a ton of different ways to pronounce words in Italian. Kind of like how there are exactly a bajillion pasta recipes out there. White/wheat/semolina flour, eggs, egg whites, water, milk… there are a million variations on the bajillion recipes. Approximately.

I had avoided making pasta for a while. I have no Italian heritage whatsoever – as much as I long for an Italian grandmother to break out her ancient family pasta recipe and for for us to spend a weekend making it… not going to happen. Boxed pasta will always be a cheap substitute for the real thing. But as boxed pasta is cheap – so is flour, so what did I have to lose? After an Italian grandmother-taught CRFM Homesteading class and an Atlas machine gifted for Christmas, there were no excuses standing in the way.

There is no secret SK-approved pasta recipe here, folks. In the spirit of Grow It, Cook It, Can It’s January Resolution – go try it out and report back with what works for you. I do have a few suggestions, though.

1. 100% semolina pasta is a) unkneadable and b) likely inedible. You really should look at a recipe before wasting a ton of flour. Ahem.

2. Fresh eggs – no exceptions. Friends with fresher than fresh eggs – even better. Let them come to room temp before using. With local-ish flour and local eggs – you’ve pretty much got yourself a Dark Days meal ready to go. As far as ratios – Sean of Punk Domestics suggested 1 whole egg per 100g flour. Peter at A Cook Blog uses only yolks. I found a happy medium in Smitten Kitchen’s 6 egg yolks to 1 whole egg ratio. Save the whites for meringue.

3. Why is it that no pasta recipes suggest how long to knead? I mean, you really can’t knead too much. If you’re tired, of course use the dough hook on your stand mixer. I found the kneading took about 10 minutes of work – it really does change texture and elasticity once ready. Pay attention and you can’t miss it.

4. Folding the sheet of pasta over on itself as you roll it through the machine is super important – it makes the sheet edges neater and helps make the sheet overall more even. Also helpful for fixing your own screwups.

5. When making ravioli, don’t overfill. Don’t underfill either – err on the side of slightly too little.

6. Again, for ravioli – I didn’t find I needed an eggwash to seal the pasta together. Just make sure when you boil the ravs the water is at a simmer and keep an eye on it, and it should be fine.

7. A ravioli mold is the greatest thing ever. You’ll never go back to a stamp.

8. Make sure your ravioli filling is dry ish- if you use frozen roasted tomatoes and basil there will be a lot of extra water, that makes your pasta wet. Its delicious, but hard to eat.

All in all, homemade pasta is fairly easy once you get the hang of it – this is something I could totally see myself whipping up for dinner with a glass of wine – homemade cacio e pepe here I come.

Winter Blues + Lemon Ladies Giveaway

What a strange winter we’re having. It’s snowed only twice. I mean, actual accumulation on the ground snow – not wintry mix quasi flurries freezing rain stuff. Twice. Once during Snowtober, once last week. Its a running joke that I have reverse seasonal affective disorder – but not in 2012. I’m just as cranky as the rest of you this year.

Cranky for a bunch of reasons, but also cranky because of my pantry. It’s the same old story – too much jam. Too many pickles. Not enough other stuff. Typical, but still frustrating. Luckily, I stashed away some fruit in the chest freezer. (It even survived Irene!) I’m even luckier, as I have the California secret weapon to eliminate all winter crankiness. Its guaranteed to cure what ails ya this time of year. I dare you to breathe in the scent of fresh-picked meyer lemons and not feel instant relief from the winter blues.

I was introduced to Karen’s fabulous lemons last year, and I am as hooked as ever. Before I order this year’s batch, I’ve promised myself to finish last year’s. That’s right – lemons I ordered a year ago – preserved in salt and spices since last February. Smoked paprika, cayenne, sugar, cinnamon, salt, peppercorn and bay leaf have worked their magic and transformed the meyers into something completely different. These lemons are my favorite use from last year – they bring an an amazing amount of flavor. Blueberries and lemon are one of those epic combinations – and this compote is no different. Best served over ice cream or yogurt, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

Winter Blues Compote
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup dried blueberries
Rind of one whole preserved lemon (4 quarters) chopped fine
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients over medium-low heat. Cook until it reaches desired consistency – but be careful – blueberries will set up quickly. If you’re feeling impatient (ahem) mash the blueberries to speed up the process. Remove cinnamon to serve. This will keep well in the fridge, though I am equally sure it would transition well as a shelf-stable recipe with the addition of a little lemon juice.

To help cure your winter blues, Lemon Ladies Orchard has offered a meyer lemon gift bag to one SK reader. Let me know how you beat winter crankiness – leave a comment with a valid email address below to enter. Giveaway will end at 11:59pm on Saturday February 4.

Dark Days: Week Six

This is the time of the year where I eat soup. I mean, a LOT of soup. All three of my meals seem to come out of a bowl these days. Yogurt or oats for breakfast. Lentil soup for lunch… lunch that is totally around 2:30. A bowl of beans soaking on the counter and a request for tortellini for dinner lead to another bowl of soup with some crusty ciabatta garlic basil bread tonight.

On top of my inner demands for soup, January is usually when the National Soup Swap takes place. Last year, I came home from our local soup swap with six quarts of soup and it fed me for months. Its kind of like dating: you might come home with a soup you want to try before you decide, a soup with a great story and maybe even a soup that you decided to take a chance on. Luckily, I am fortunate to swap with some great cooks, so I always come home with at least one soup I am in love with.

But until Soup Swap weekend, I am left to my own devices. I tend to make chicken stock in six quart batches, so I almost always have some on hand. I also freeze trays of slow roasted tomatoes in August and September. Cut in half, roasted at 170° for about 5 hours – they’re perfect to freeze in a quart jar. Sure, you could dehydrate them all the way and store them on the shelf. I don’t have a dehydrator, and like them ready to drop into soup or risotto. Plus, pre-freezing they’re concentrated bits of flavor perfect for a mid-summer salad.

This soup was spur of the moment, and really hits the spot when the heater is struggling to maintain any degree of warmth and I sit under not one but two blankets. Jacob’s Cattle Beans, chicken stock, slow roasted tomatoes, spinach, garlic, onions, and some frozen chopped basil from my garden. All of the produce homegrown or put away from this summer’s CSA. Seasoned with decidedly non-local but very necessary salt and pepper, it was just about perfect. I’d even say a soup you’d want to go home with.

Twenty Twelve

I’ve been searching to find a word to describe 2011. It was a strange year. It was a difficult year. Mentally, its been  ”Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out, 2011″ but I don’t know if its something I can admit to publicly. Even though I sort of just did. Still – there were good things. Great things. Most of them revolved around the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market. Kate Payne came to visit and I got to meet Kaela in person. I grew beans, chard, and onions for the first time, and though the garden met an early end (thanks Irene!) it was still fairly productive all things considered. We CSAed. There was (no-knead) bread – from naan pan fried on the stove to a boule baked in a dutch oven. I tried out the whole small business jam thing for the first time. And, lest I forget, I have a roof over my head and can pay all of my bills. At the moment.

Yet, 2011 was rough. Three vastly different jobs and loads of financial-induced stress, two natural disasters and we can’t forget about flying squirrels invading our roof. My dad had a pretty serious heart attack in May. Our furnace died a quiet death on a cold December morning. The power lines to our house are sagging once again as a big branch came down on them in last week’s storm. I’ve been struggling with the blog too – my drafts folder is overflowing yet I have trouble saying what I really want to say.

But that’s the best part about this time of year, isn’t it. You can take stock, relax and reflect with a cup of tea. Let the bad parts of the year fade from memory while you dream of all that is in store for the next 365 days. Or in the case of 2012, 366 days. Does anyone do resolutions anymore? I’ve never been a fan of the standard eat better, exercise more stuff. I’m more of a goal setting person. Like one giant To Do list. Maybe it also has something to do with semi-compulsive list-making. Hm…

Anyway, starting 2012 right with tea and a greek yogurt/clementine curd/cranberry/pepita concoction. And jotting down a few priorities for the next year. Because I am all about looking back in 2013 and checking things off my list.

Garden Resolutions Grow more beans and figure out how to dry them for winter storage – this did NOT happen in 2011. Get better fertilizer, too. Grow less tomatoes and more herbs. Hopefully a lot of this changes when we move into a new place, because the tiny poolside container garden is getting old.

Home Resolutions Start saving for a house. So many dreams are on hold until we have our own place. I have plans for an orchard, a real garden with raised beds, a beehive or two… Hopefully with a savings account, this can be the year to get (half?) of our downpayment saved. If we do move, I need to downsize things before we get there, because moving last time was a huge pain.

Health Resolutions Eat more fish. Maybe start taking fish oil? And more meatless meals. Try to find time to walk at least a half hour a day.

Kitchen Resolutions No more excuses –  go get the pressure canner gauge calibrated and start the pressure canning. Make more cheese and yogurt. And bread, and pasta, and condiments.

So here’s to all the good things 2012 has in store. And here’s to making those good things happen.

(Belated) Dark Days: Weeks Two, Three and Four

Things always get crazy around the holidays. December 2011 has been crazier than usual for a bunch of reasons, including changing jobs, CRFM special permit hearings and our furnace dying. Oh, and flying squirrels in our roof. Really. Apparently they are native to our area – not tropical. Who knew? Initially we thought they were chipmunks, until Jon chased one up the stairs one night only to have it sail over his shoulder. If they were just looking for a warm place to stay, that would be one thing, but chewing in the ceiling over my bedroom at 3am? Let’s just say if our sleepless nights aren’t over, I may reconsider my stance on firearms in the home.

Through it all, we’ve been able to squeeze in at least one SOLE meal per week, but unable to squeeze in time to blog about it. Typical. Anyway, here is a brief recap:

Week Two: Braised Shortribs with Mashed Potatoes. Our go-to braise for shortribs and brisket. It’s low dairy and really satisfying without being overly rich. Easy to adapt in the crockpot for weekdays, too.

Week Three: Breakfast for Dinner. Local eggs, thick cut applewood smoked bacon, and Dragon’s Blood Elixir Chipotle Hot Sauce. I don’t know why, but when all else fails, I default to eggs. Something about that almost-orange yolk mixed with DBE Chipotle is unreal. I am not ashamed to say I end up going full-on scarpetta - all but licking my plate clean.

Week Four: Potato Leek Soup. The last of the CSA potatoes and 18th Century’s leeks cooked in homemade chicken stock. Season well with salt and pepper, and blended with an immersion blender. I like mine still a little chunky – not all the way smooth – it keeps it interesting. No butter or cream – easy on my stomach and never better than when topped with some aged cheddar and local bacon.

The weather is (finally!) getting cold here – I think Mother Nature finally figured out its December – so I suspect the next couple of weeks will continue to be hearty soup/stew fare. I need (knead?) to get on more bread as well – thanks for the prodding Michael and Joel. I was fortunate to get both a pasta machine and ravioli mold for Christmas, so homemade pasta is also on the list.

Pimp That Preserve 2011

Tis the season… for gifting your preserves! And if you are going to go through the trouble to preserve the best of the season and design a label for it – why not go one step further and decorate the jar? If you are in need of some inspiration, Joel and Dana from Well Preserved are hosting Pimp That Preserve again this year. The idea is straightforward: dress up your preserves for a night out on the town. Use anything that doesn’t affect the contents of the jar and let your imagination run wild! They have some ideas up already to help get your creative juices flowing – I LOVE their pickled garlic label. Note to self: pickle more garlic next year.

After the PTP finalists are selected, the winners will score some awesome prizes. Kate Payne donated an autographed copy of her book The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking. Another winner will take home a copy of  We Sure Can by Sarah B. Hood that features many fellow preservers. The last prize is an archival print of the Periodic Table of WaterBath Preserving from Joel and Dana themselves (the one I’ve got my eye on!)

[slideshow]

I like to dress up jars with the flavors of what’s inside. I made a Plum Cardamom Almond Conserve in October with plums from Easy Pickins Orchard. It was a great year for Italian Prune Plums, and the flavor of this one was nicely enhanced with cardamom and cinnamon and a handful of crushed almonds. Hence the cinnamon stick, almond and cardamom garnish – just dont sneeze or the almond might fall out! For actual giving I am going to have to tie it in better.

I always make a lot of cucumber pickles. Too many, in fact. This year, I made a bunch of sweet zucchini pickles with brown mustard and fenugreek to try and mix it up a little. They were nicely spicy but still had enough zip to be interesting. Have you heard of the German pickle ornament tradition? Whether its true or not, its fun to gift a gift of pickles with a pickle tradition that goes along with it. Just dont try to hide the pickle up the angel’s skirt – that one’s been done before.

My favorite entry this year is naturally the snowflake themed one. Not that you would know its wintertime by looking outside… I think you guys know by now that I am a fan of winter. I bought the wooden tags on Etsy last year, but got overly attached to give them out on gifts. Then it dawned on my how great they would look on a jar. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Good luck to all of those entering PTP this year – the deadline is Monday December 12 at midnight!

5th Annual Dark Days Challenge: Week One

I am once again participating in the Dark Days Challenge, now going into its 5th year. It challenges its participants to “cook one meal each week featuring SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients.” At the same time, each blogger determines what SOLE means to them.

Like last year, I am lucky to have the Coventry Regional Farmers Winterfresh Market quite literally down the street. Somewhat unluckier than last year, I once again find myself incomeless. Such is the life of a recent grad searching floating internship to internship.  While I have planned accordingly – it is going to be harder than ever to eat SOLE.

So what does SOLE mean in Connecticut this time of year? Prepare to be linkified.

Cooking Fat: Well – I am going to use olive oil. At times I am sensitive to dairy so exclusively butter as a cooking fat is out. And I am just not ready to use bacon grease for everything. The butter I do use will be from Cabot Creamery Cooperative or Wildowsky Dairy.

Flour/Bread/Pasta: I will be using flour from King Arthur Flours in Vermont. There are more local sources of wheat – it is grown in the town where I live and milled not too far away in Massachusetts – but the price is not achievable on my current budget. King Arthur has a great range of flours that I really like to work with. And when I don’t have time to bake, Farm to Hearth out of Salem, CT has fabulous breads, scones and cookies made with the local organic stuff. As far as pasta goes, I took a pasta class this summer and have not made pasta since. That’s something I want to work on as part of this challenge.

Milk/Yogurt/Ice Cream: Farmer’s Cow and Mountain DairyLadies of Levita Road when I don’t want to make my own yogurt.

Beef: New Boston Beef in Thompson, CT. Amazing short ribs and soup bones!

Seafood: The Fish Market in Willimantic, CT. Most of their seafood is locally sourced, we will be concentrating that as much as possible.

ChickenGormAvian Farms in Bolton, CT. I haven’t had the pleasure of their chicken yet, but I am excited to try it soon.

Produce: Wayne’s Organic Garden, 18th Century Purity Farms, Highland Thistle Farm, Chaplin Farms and the other vendors at the Winterfresh Market. Beautiful chard, spinach, squash, onions, apples, greenhouse tomatoes and more – all winter long.

We did two quasi-DD meals this week, though only one of them was eaten whist remembering to snap a photo. First: PEI mussels from The Fish Market in a Windham Gardens (Granby, CT) garlic, wine and herb sauce, with local Cabot Creamery butter and Hopkins Vineyard (New Preston, CT) Duet wine. Oh – and a generous dash of Dragon’s Blood Elixir thrown in for good measure. The mussels aren’t particularly local, but truth be told I am unsure about shellfish harvesting in Long Island Sound, and even if they are allowed to fish this year. It’s come a long way and is fishable now, but I am not sure about mussel harvesting – I know they have been changing the lobstering regulations. I know they do oysters. I really should know that in my current line of work…  anyway served alongside F2H bread it made an excellent dinner.

The second meal was totally an easy way out. Summer Hill Catering out of Madison, CT is a vendor at the Coventry Winterfresh Market. Their fabulous chicken pot pies are just the thing to throw in the oven when I get home from a long day at work. Though it’s a little dairy heavy for every night of the week, I can adjust my diet elsewhere to compensate. Alongside a salad and a glass of wine, this meal requires almost no effort and sometimes, that’s just about perfect. Especially this time of year.

Looking forward to what the DD challenge has in store for this year! Are you joining in?

World’s Easiest Poultry Stock

Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving! We are busy prepping for Thanksgiving Round Two, starting with stock. Every year I walk in ready to fight for the turkey carcass, and it always seems like no fighting is needed. Why doesn’t anyone want these brilliant leftovers? Maybe after I share this recipe, it wont be so easy to go home with the turkey trimmings.

Of course, I have come down with my first cold in a few years. Just in time to have a whole bunch of folks over. Fabulous. As I’ve slept about 30 of the last 48 hours, I am clearly not up for intensive cooking projects.

This method is super easy – no peeling or attention required – perfect when in a Dayquil-induced fog. The hardest thing about this recipe is straining at the end. As it uses a slow cooker, its great to cook overnight on the countertop. Of course, you could use a large stockpot on the stove, but I like that you can throw everything in an walk away. 12-24 hours later = glorious, rich stock. How rich?

The best part about this turkey stock? Just the thing to soothe your holiday head cold. Or, if you’re lucky enough to be without sniffles, its great to combat all of yesterday’s rich food. With that, I am off to make a bowl of soup and hopefully clear my sinuses a bit. Enjoy this recipe – don’t go out and buy things for it – use what you have.

World’s Easiest Poultry Stock
Turkey or chicken carcass, picked clean (but don’t kill yourself)
Veggie scraps: carrot peels, onion skins, garlic paper, asparagus ends, cleaned leek tops…
Fresh veg: A few cloves of garlic, sliced in half. One onion, sliced in quarters. A carrot, sliced in half, if you have it.
Filtered water

[Note: for an all-purpose stock, avoid strongly flavored things. Go with i.e. celery, avoid ginger.]

Easy, peasy: throw everything into the crockpot, top with water and turn on low for at least 12 but up to 18-24 hours. Speaking from experience, it helps to let the crock cool before straining. Strain through a large colander, and freeze in smaller portions (quart mason jars or freezer bags, ice cube trays, etc.) Once I get my pressure canner calibrated, this will be the first recipe I pressure can. I like to keep salt out of my stock, so I can salt the final dish instead. Up to you.

Use in: risotto, soup, stuffing, gravy, beans… anywhere you need liquid with flavor. Just the thing to cure what ails you me when that inevitable winter cold comes around.