Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Experimentation with Brine

I started reading this book last week called, "Salt - A World History" by Mark Kurlansky. I'm having a good time reading it. I enjoy reading food history books. This is pretty normal for me though – I enjoy reading any kind of history book. There is a passage in it on brining vegetables to give them more flavor. It says:

Fill the jar two-thirds with brine. Add whatever vegetables you like and whatever spice you like, cover, and the vegetables are ready in two days.

Oh really…? My curiosity was immediately piqued. I've always been interested in pickling things and I was interested to see if this simple brine would open up a wonderful new world of food for me. I knew that I had to do a small scale experiment first to be safe. Many things can go wrong with something like this, the least of which is you don't like how the results taste. I decided to use a little bit of brine and one romaine lettuce plant from our garden (still going strong!).
I had a tough time finding a brine recipe for vegetables – most of the recipes that you find are for meat brines. After a bit of searching and cross-referencing, I concluded that you basically salt to taste. A common ratio of salt to water that I found was three tablespoons per gallon of water, so I used that as my recipe. No spices or anything this first time though. I just wanted the basic recipe.

I stuck the brine and lettuce in a large jar, then placed a bowl over the lettuce to keep it completely submerged. You can’t let your food become exposed to air, otherwise it rots. That’s the general rule for pickling/brining, but given the short timeline for this process, it probably wouldn’t have been a huge deal.

After two fun days of waiting, I ate the lettuce. The results were decidedly, "Meh, nothing special." Oh well.

Here are some of my thoughts on this experiment. Brining the vegetables counteracts the bitterness in them, which I figure makes it a substitute for salad dressing. If you are poor on salad dressing, you can do this. The lettuce was still crispy, which was very nice. For a more flavorful brine, the book suggests adding peppers, like hot chili ones, or ginger into the mix. I would definitely recommend this. If you don't have those ingredients, then a different spice will do. I thought that mace, cloves, or fennel might be nice.

I still have the brine saved and I plan on trying this with other veggies soon. I definitely think that I can make it work, but it wasn’t the groundbreaking recipe I was hoping for.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Easy Blueberry Jam

Aaron grew up on a blueberry farm and consequently, loves them. Me, not so much. But, strangely enough, I love picking them. Maybe it's something about growing up in a situation where berry picking of any kind is an adventure that you only get to do a couple times a year and it's so exciting that it's worth inviting friends along. At any rate, I'm more than happy to help him harvest them and make fun concoctions, but I don't really do much of the eating myself.

So this year, we went up to his dad's farm in mid-August to have our fun berry picking. Problem was, there were no berries to pick. They were all green. Green is not blue. We were definitely there for BLUEberries. So, we had a nice visit, but came home empty handed.

Happily, Aaron's dad drops by the city once in a while and a couple weeks later brought us a couple pounds of berries that he'd picked himself. So, while I didn't get to have my fun wandering about the fields running like a headless chicken from passing honeybees, we did get some blueberries. Since we had more than Aaron could eat on his own raw, we decided to make some blueberry jam from a recipe we'd spotted several weeks earlier.

Yes, it's Mark Bittman again. I didn't mean to find his blueberry jam recipe. I just stumbled across this one and liked it. I didn't even know it was him until after I'd already decided to put it on our "to make" list. Honest!

I'm told it turned out quite well. The primary downside to this recipe is that it doesn't actually preserve the berries - you still have to eat the jam within a week or so. We ended up giving some to a colleague of mine who regularly shares his veggies and jams with us. The plus side is it's quite quick and easy to make and it's much more spreadable on toast and sandwiches than raw blueberries.

Fast Blueberry Jam

Yield About 1 to 1 1/4 cups of jam
Time 20 to 30 minutes
Mark Bittman

  • 1 pound blueberries, picked over
  • 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 cup sugar, or to taste.
  • 1. Put blueberries in a small-to-medium saucepan, to a depth of a couple of inches, over medium heat. After a minute of so, add cinnamon and sugar, and bring to a boil.
  • 2. Adjust heat so mixture bubbles steadily. If it looks too soupy, use a higher heat to reduce it; if there is not much liquid, use lower heat to avoid burning. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is liquid but thick, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • 3. Cool and refrigerate mixture; it will thicken as it cools. Store, refrigerated, for up to a week. Remove cinnamon stick before serving.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Modest Update

You probably noticed a slow-down in our blog for the last few weeks. That’s partially my fault. I hit a burn-out on cooking and stuff, which I am now coming out of. In the meantime, Chrissie and I have been eating out more and now we find ourselves suffering for it. I miss good food. My stomach misses good food. My entire body misses good food. And caffeine, but that’s another story.

The one huge downside to living in the suburbs is the piss-poor dining out options. If you know what I’m talking about, then we have kindred stomachs. Food in the suburbs exemplifies one of our society’s great ironies: we have a great abundance of stuff, but the majority of it is not worth consuming.

Anyway, I have some big plans for the near future, so you’ll see more material show up soon. First, my plan is to play around with brining vegetables. Anyone who likes pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, whatever will want to stay tuned. Also, I am motivated to make hamburger patties. Other people’s hamburgers just don’t do it for me anymore. It’s happened – I’ve become a narcissistic hamburger elitist.

So don't give up on us. It'll be worth the wait.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Challenge: Recap

So the eat local challenge we were participating in was for the month of August. Now that we're peering into mid-September, it's probably appropriate to give an update on how we did.

Even if that's a little embarrassing.

It wasn't horrible. We did make an effort to source our food regularly throughout the month and we set aside at least one day each week on which we made a point to eat ONLY things that were truly local. We even posted a couple of those. But on a lot of other days of the week, the challenge got away from us. Convenience can be a tempting mistress, especially when you've quadruple booked your life at every interval. I'm ashamed to say, we even ate fast food once.

But, on the plus side, we learned a lot. Especially on those days that we sourced every ingredient we touched, we were able to see just how many great things are available just beyond our backyard (where there are also a few wonderful things). And while the flour we bought to make pasta that first Sunday isn't necessarily one I would use again for that specific dish, I'm already starting to contemplate what else it may be good for. Additionally, the quality of the flour made a clear difference in working with the pasta dough, which is something we've decided to keep in mind for the next time that we buy any all purpose flour at all.

When all is said and done, we do believe in the broad ideas of living locally. We have no intention of becoming fanatical about it because, to us, that seems almost as unnatural as the global food chain that we exist in now. But over the month of August we reiterated to ourselves what it means to be thoughtful about our food choices.

A little thought and a dose of intention can go a long way.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Our buttercrunch lettuce has gone to seed. Part of me is very happy because this is exactly what I want all of our plants to do. 100% total self sufficiency. Part of me is sad though too because I’ve discovered that buttercrunch is not my favorite type of lettuce.

Nonetheless, I’ve gathered the seeds into a jar and will store them for planting next year. Collecting the seeds is easy. You wait until the seed pod is wilting and then you grab the seeds. They'll have little floaters on them, like dandelion seeds do. I kept them on - too lazy to remove them.

I’m really curious to see if they’ll produce viable plants. Plants that have been developed on the genetic level will sometimes have that issue with them, they are unable to produce viable offspring (think of mules). What that basically means is you have to keep buying seeds forever. That’s what I would call a sustainable business practice.

Our parsley is doing something weird too. I can’t tell what yet, but I think it is trying to flower & seed also. I’m just sitting and watching right now, even though I know that we’re reducing our yield on it, but I’m willing to trade a lot in the name of science. If it does go to seed, I’ll be really excited.

By the way, our chives and green onions have been doing the same thing for weeks now, but collecting the seeds didn't really cross my mind until now. I grabbed some of them and now we have two jars of seeds we can sow. With green onions and chives, you cut the the entire flower head off when the petals are wilted and dried. Then you put it is a container and shake it to separate the seeds from everything else.

I'm not really sure what to do with the seeds right now, but you can be sure that there will be a masked bandit sowing them in a random place in the dead of night soon...