May 31st, 2011 § § permalink
Back in the swing of things after taking Memorial Day weekend away from the computer. A small reward for reaching 50 posts on the blog. Hope everyone enjoyed the warm weather to get their hands dirty and the extra day off to put their feet up. My long weekend included grilling out for friends, catching a game at Target Field, finishing up the garden, and a batch of strawberry rhubarb jam.
A year ago canning seemed like a long shot for me. Between botulism and exploding pressure valves, I was convinced that it was WAY too complex for this amateur foodie. After a reading the Ball Blue Bookcover to cover and taking a canning lesson with Backyard Harvest, I was hooked. The canning process is easy with the basic equipment, and if you understand the fundamentals many of the scary bits fade away.
Best part of canning? It has added huge potential to extending the local season. Soups, jams, veggies, pickles, stock, jellies–canning helps line the shelves (and your stomach!) with local food in mid-January. I have big plans for canning this year and hope to share the details here. If the season allows, I might hold a canning demo or two of my own. Salsa lessons anyone?
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
By Amy Sippl from the Ball Book of Home Preserving
* A note about canning recipes: In order to ensure safety of home preserves, it is important to follow proportions and canning instructions exactly. All recipes are printed as if processing at sea level for easy adaptation. Use a canning guide to determine processing time in your kitchen. In Minnesota, we are roughly 1300 feet above sea level and require an additional 5 minutes of processing time.
2 C. crushed strawberries (I fully thawed a bag of last season’s frozen berries before crushing)
2 C. chopped rhubarb
1 package powdered pectin
1/4 C. lemon juice
5 C. sugar
1. Prepare a boiling water canning bath, 8 half-pint jars and lids, and ready all supplies for processing. Getting the necessary things together before starting will ease the process later when boiling liquids are involved.
2. Mix strawberries, rhubarb, pectin, and lemon juice in a medium non-reactive saucepan. Heat to a boil and add sugar, stirring until completely dissolved. While continuing to stir, bring mixture to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and immediately ladle into hot jars. Leave 1/4″ head space and secure lid and metal ring. Process 10 minutes in water canner.
3. Remove jars from canner and allow to rest for up to 24 hours. Check jars within first hour to ensure all have sealed properly. If a jar does not seal, simply put it in the refrigerator and use fresh.
Sweet and slightly tart jam lays perfectly on toast and breakfast breads. I especially like it spread on warm whole wheat pancakes!
May 27th, 2011 § § permalink
It’s a weeknight. I’m home from work late, the garden partner’s hauling brush to the yard waste site, the phone’s ringing non-stop, there’s a meeting to go to in 45 minutes, and I’m starving. Here’s where I boast about my locavore meals: I made this plate look this good in 15 minutes. I know, right? And here’s where I stop: I inhaled what’s on the plate in 3 minutes, while watching the news and checking emails. Somewhere, Julia is weeping.
On the busiest of days, eating local can feel like a burden. When every other 20-something couple is grabbing dinner from the drive-thru/carry out place down the street, we aren’t. On nights like these, I need dinner on the table in 15 minutes and I’m in front of a refrigerator of raw ingredients, cursing “WHY THE $*%& don’t we just eat mac n’ cheese like NORMAL people!?!”
Our food system has changed because our demand for convenience has changed. In the ‘normal’ American family food comes secondary, an afterthought in all the roles and responsibilities jammed in to one day. It’s secondary in our budgets, in our schools, in our workday. It’s secondary to our smart phones, to our real housewives from wherever, to our meetings and projects and papers. Processed, pre-prepared food is so widely available we no longer have to think about food; Wahoo! So glad we all have more time to be stressed about everything else!
I’ll admit, it’s tough to make fresh bread when you aren’t home from work until 6. It takes will-power to pack leftovers when you drive by no less than 10 fast food places on a commute. I want sleep in and shop later, not get up early on a cold and rainy Saturday morning and trudge to the farmers market. There always seems to be an easier option than a local, home-cooked meal.
But in 15 minutes I put that plate on the table. A plate of such good food, that within a 2 hour drive I could introduce you to the men and women who produced it. What better option is there than that?
Ravioli and Asparagus with Garlic Butter Sauce
By Amy Sippl
1 pkg. of frozen cheese ravioli (I use Sunrise Creative Gourmet from Hibbing, MN)
1 lb. fresh asparagus spears, washed and trimmed to fit in steamer basket
1/4 C. unsalted butter
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1. Add ravioli to a large pot of boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Place asparagus in steamer basket and steam 5-7 minutes. (I like my asparagus very crunchy, you may need to cook it just a bit longer). When asparagus is nearly finished, place garlic and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Melt butter until just bubbly and garlic cloves are soft.
2. Drain ravioli, remove asparagus from steamer, and sauce from heat. Put several spears of asparagus atop ravioli and drizzle with 1 Tbsp. garlic butter sauce.
May 27th, 2011 § § permalink
The high temperature in St. Paul may be 57° today, but at least there is asparagus in my fridge. Hah, take that spring! We patiently wait every year through snow and bitter cold, through chilly spring rains, just to be rewarded with these tender green shoots to emerge. I eat asparagus 2-3 meals a day in the weeks it is available. Steamed, baked, grilled, with eggs, with meat, in soup. Then just when I have had my fill, it disappears and the anticipation begins again. Psychologists say humans place a greater value on things they have to wait or sacrifice for; perhaps it’s why I am so enchanted by a bunch of neatly tied green stems that make your pee smell funny. Yes, I just used pee and enchanted in the same sentence. Asparagus is that good.
Lorence’s Berry Farm Located in Northfield, MN roughly 40 miles south of St. Paul has pre-picked and call-to-order asparagus ready now. They also have stands at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market where you can purchase a 3 lb. bag for $10. You’ll see their name again later this summer; they have strawberries and raspberries as well.
Wyatt’s Strawberries Located in Hastings, MN roughly 23 miles south of St. Paul also has pre-picked to your order asparagus. Their little farm stand among the strawberry fields is worth a trip on a summer Sunday drive.
Farmers’ Market Multiple vendors had asparagus on its début last weekend, which means there will likely be more tomorrow and Sunday. Expect to find it in 1 lb. bundles with a reduced price if you buy 2 or more.
Spargelfest! Although you aren’t going to find it for your own kitchen here, the Black Forest Inn in Minneapolis is in its second weekend of Spargelfest, featuring a menu of traditional and unique asparagus dishes. All of the asparagus is produced by a Minnesota farm network and brought to the Twin Cities especially for the festival. Meant to celebrate in the German tradition, the menu even includes an asparagus martini.
How to Buy Asparagus
Asparagus should be purchased in season from a local source to ensure maximum taste. The idea that thin stems are younger/preferred is not exactly accurate; the girth of the shoot is more about genetics than age. Look for deep green shoots that are 8-10 inches in length and have smooth, tight, and compact tips. Anything else and the asparagus is starting to go to seed and get old. There is some debate about the differences in flavor and quality of purple vs. green. vs. white stems. Purple and green come from different varieties, however the white stems simply come from hiding the asparagus in leaves or compost to avoid exposure to light. Nothing fancy, just holding back the chlorophyl.
How to Grow Asparagus
Unlike most of our vegetables in Minnesota, asparagus is a perennial and grows wild on roadsides all over the upper Midwest. To forage your own, I recommend scouting for it when it has gone to seed in the fall, jotting down the location and returning to the spot the following spring. It’s fairly easy to grow and can produce for 10-15 years with the right care, but there are some specifics about when to cut the spears. Best to leave the explanation to the pro’s at the extension office: Growing Asparagus in Minnesota Gardens
May 25th, 2011 § § permalink
One of the quirks of my work schedule that I have come to both love and grumble about is downtime between therapy sessions. Sometimes its a blessing to have a few hours to run errands, other times I resent the time away from my kitchen when I could be more productive. Yesterday, I had four hours between scheduled appointments. Too long for shopping, not long enough to drive the 35+ miles home from the far West Metro. Instead, I dropped in at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to spend an afternoon in the gardens. I didn’t have time for photos until this morning, but here’s what I jotted down during my break yesterday:
Today I am writing from the restaurant in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, warming up (is it really May?) after a walk through the herb and home demonstration gardens. The Arboretum, located in Chaska, MN is a public garden, part of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. You name a cold-hearty plant and somewhere on this 1,100 acre campus they are likely growing it.
As plants and I are learning to be friends, edible landscapes continue to spark my imagination. In urban environments, maximizing space for food production is essential. Yet we all want to maximize beauty and diversity in our gardens as well. How do we put a tomato with a strawberry and some herbs still make it look designer-quality? Wait, can vegetable gardens be “designer” in the first place?
The gardens I meandered through this afternoon manage to accomplish both: backyard, small-scale gardening that is both edible and beautiful. Could we solve the world’s food challenges if we all made our available green space look like this? Maybe. Maybe not. But at least we might feast on a few more good meals in a space we are proud of.
Here’s a few edible landscape ideas I bet you’ve never considered:
1.Instead of buying a decorative potted shrub or tree for color on the patio, get a bay laurel tree (think the herb bay leaf I almost never have on hand when I need it!) The leaves can be used fresh or dried in soups, poultry, and marinades; the plant itself can be pruned into a variety of shapes to fit in with your furniture and garden design.
2. Plant asparagus as a backdrop for your perennial or annual garden. You’ll get the springtime queen of vegetables for a few weeks and whimsy fern foliage to add height/dimension to your flower display later in the year.
3. Use geometry for your vegetable plot. This roughly 8′ by 8′ vegetable bed would easily fit into the average urban backyard and is home to the same variety of plants as a larger scale garden. Rather than traditional straight rows, the vegetables are planted in angular patterns, away from what will be a flowing tent of pole beans. It’ll make you look like a pro, without actually being a pro.
4. Hedges are a feature in most gardens–meant to add structure and privacy to yards without a traditional fence. If you’re planning to install a hedge, choose a fruit bearing bush. These low bush blueberries surround the home demonstration gardens and are a good choice for an urban hedge. Dotted with a tiny white blossom in the spring and then a pile of blue super-fruit in the summer.
The last edible landscape idea I saw at the Arboretum literally stopped me cold in my garden boots. Take a look at this and see if you can guess what is growing along this fence line:
5. They are espalier apple trees, yes, apples grown in 2D. Meant to conserve space while maximizing fruit production (these trees reportedly bear more fruit than a traditional tree of the same age), the technique of shaping fruit trees into fences dates back several centuries. If your curious, there’s lots more on the web about how to get started. If anyone attempts it, I will personally congratulate you with a bear hug and an apple pie for growing the coolest gardening thing I’ve ever seen.
Edibles. Edibles. Edibles. This summer when you’re planning yard and patio projects, achieve the look you want and eat it too.
May 23rd, 2011 § § permalink
This was posted on Minnesota Grown’s Facebook page today, thought I’d pass it along. Some kind fellow locavore created my food calendar. A visual display of how bountiful Minnesota can be.