Monday, July 19, 2010

Crock Pot: A Bachelor's Dream

Today I'm featuring a recipe that my dear20-something bachelor friend made up entirely on his own with items he had handy in his kitchen one hungry night. You'll notice the cooking methodology is a bit unusual to say the least, but the final product is worth the effort.

My favorite part of attempting to duplicate this recipe was simply trying to follow it. It read alot like the recipes from my husband's Italian grandmother. No measurements, just "season with some of this". My type-A personality doesn't like the risk involved in that kind of cooking. So I got out some measuring spoons and made some guesstimates you'll see below. Feel free to delete all of my measurements and take this recipe back to its roots.

The finished product is a cross between a stew and chili. It's the best of both worlds and uses quite a number of ingredients you can grow/find locally. Per its creator, it's designed to be really spicy. In fact, he adds 3 jalapenos WITH SEEDS to his recipe. I've left them out in my slightly altered version.

Schwan's Stewchili (slightly adjusted by Ingrid)
1 lb ground beef
1 bottle light beer
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp Lawry's seasoned salt
1/2 Tbsp chili powder
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Heat a large, non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the ground beef and all the seasonings above. After 3 minutes, add the bottle of beer to the pan and continue to cook until the beef is browned. Once the beef is brown, drain everything and put just the cooked beef in the largest slow cooker you've got along with:

1lb stew meat
2 Anaheim peppers, sliced
1 onion, diced
3 red potatoes with skin, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tbsp chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp salt
2 (15oz) cans diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 1/2 (8 oz) cans of tomato paste
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Cook in your slow cooker for about 2 hours on low. The mixture should cook down and make a bit more room in your slow cooker. Then add:
1 additional (15oz) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Cook for 6-8 hours on low or until the potatoes are cooked through. Do NOT attempt to rush this one by cooking on high. The finished product will not be the same.

Enjoy with shredded cheddar and sour cream if you'd like.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Get a Life! (Read this Book)

I read mostly non-fiction. In the summer, I try to lighten up from my normal regime of deep theological works or feisty environmental debates to easy reads, like memiors. So far this summer I've read Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls (she also wrote the Glass Castle a few years back) and, my new favorite book, 703 : How I Lost More Than a Quarter Ton and Gained a Life by Nancy Makin.

Once I started reading 703, I was hooked. My poor kids lost their mom for nearly 2 full evenings. The author allowed her self-defeating demons to send her to hell and back. She doesn't play victim or blame anyone specifically for her self-destruction. The wisdom and love of the little things in life that came out of that experience were unbelieveable. Not only did she develop a healthy relationship with food, but she figured out through trial and error that it is only through loving and serving others that we can truly love ourselves.

I highly recommend both of these books for a quick summer read. Support your local library and go check them out!

Canning without a Canner

When I first started canning, nothing scared me more than the idea of a jar not properly sealing and an innocent family member doubled over in the bathroom due to my failure. So I started with recipes that required no huge pot, high heat, and which left plenty of room for human error. I started with refrigerator pickles.

These are so great because when you pass them out to all of your neighbors and friends, they will "oohh and ahhh" over how homemade and time consuming they look. You can even dress up the jars with ribbons, labels and fabric if you're feeling crafty.

This year I made two batches, one is sweet and the other is dill. The sweet recipe I made last year and it was a huge hit with everyone but my daughter, who insists that pickles should always be sour. This year I tried the dill version, which we all loved. I'm not a pickle fan, mostly due to the texture of the kind you find in the grocery store, but homemade pickles are more like cucumbers with flavor. Crisp and refreshing (and oh so low in calories!).

Sweet Pickles
Makes 2, 1-quart jars

1-1 1/2 pints pickling cucumbers, sliced very thin (I use the slicing blade on my food processor)
1 cup onions, sliced very thin
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp sea salt

Cram the cucumbers and onions into 2, 1-quart jars. Fit as much in as you can.
Put 1/2 tsp of the celery seed, mustard seed and sea salt in each jar.
In a separate container with a lid, combine the apple cider vinegar and sugar and shake well.
Pour liquid mix into each jar. If there is not enough made, make enough so that each jar is filled.
Put on a lid, refrigerate and shake daily for 6 days.
In the early days the sugar will sit on the bottom, but by day 6 it will dissolve into the vinegar.

Dill Pickles
Makes 2, 1-quart jars

1-1 1/2 pints pickling cucumbers, cut into spears (cut twice lengthwise, 4 spears to each cucumber)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup fresh dill
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp black peppercorn
2 cups white distilled vinegar

2 cups cold water
3 Tbsp kosher salt

Put 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 cup dill, 1/2 tsp mustard seed and 1/2 tsp black peppercorn in the bottom of each 1-quart jar (you will need 2, 1-quart jars).
Add the cucumber spears to the jars and stack them so you fit in as many as you can.
In a separate container with a lid, combine the vinegar, water and salt and shake well.
Pour the liquid mix into each jar. If there is not enough made, make some more and fill the jars.
Put on a lid, refrigerate, and shake daily for 6 days.

Honestly, it took me about 15 minutes to make 2 quarts of each. And that was with both kids helping!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Where's the Beef?

For Christmas 2008, my husband and I gifted to ourselves a chest freezer. Romantic? No. But after 8 years of marriage we'd decided our love was secure enough for a practical and not-so-spontaneous Christmas gift. Plus, now we could order a 1/4 beef and fill that freezer.

On my mad hunt for the rancher that was going to fill that freezer, I met Michelle Aavang of Willow Lea Stock Farm at the Woodstock Farmer's Market. Her family's local operation right in Woodstock fit the bill. At that time, we paid about $390 for the beef and $125 for the processing at Lake Geneva Country Meats. The pricing may have gone up since then, but this gives you a rough idea. There is no huge savings by buying beef this way, but the price is very fair given that this is local, pasture-raised beef. Over a year later, my family of four is still eating our way through that quarter. Some families who eat more beef might go through it faster, but for us, it's been a blessing of quality beef for more than 365 days.

By the way, the 1/4 beef is a "mixed quarter", meaning you don't just get the front right quadrant of the animal, but rather you get 1/4 of each part of the animal.

The process went a little like this:
1. In January I emailed Michele and got on the wait list for the next available animal
2. In May Michele called and said the animal was ready, and verified that I was still interested
3. Animal was sent to Lake Geneva Country Meats (although Michele indicated if we wished to use a different butcher she could work with us), who called me and walked me through my options on how I would like the animal butchered (most of the cuts are standard, but you do get the choice on size of roasts, whether you want soup bones, etc)
4. About a week later we picked up the meat at Lake Geneva Country Meats (yes, in Lake Geneva--it's a little drive). They had it all individually wrapped and packed into two boxes.

I always "save" the best pieces for special occasions. This past 4th of July we invited my mom over and ate the T-bone steaks. When the plate of juicy, grilled T-bones was passed, my mom dug around for the smallest one. I told her to just take the top one and someone would finish what she didn't. Well, not only did she eat the entire steak, she ate a good 1/3 of another. I've never seen her eat so much beef in one sitting. However, this was exceptional beef. Believe me, all I did was throw it on the grill with a little salt and pepper. The beef itself did the rest.

If you aren't ready for such a big commitment like a 1/4 or 1/2 beef, Michele also sells her beef at the Woodstock Farmer's Market by the piece, so you can just pick up exactly what you'd like.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I'm Whipped! My Adventure at the Daley Plaza Market.

What just happened?! I thought I'd take my lunch break and enjoy a leisurely stroll around the Farmer's Market at Daley Plaza. Leisurely! Ha! Urbanites are hard-core!

Unlike my friendly northwest suburban farmer's markets, this one felt more like Best Buy on Black Friday! Wall to wall people, pushing and shoving to get their hands on some very expensive Michigan blueberries. There was no time to really enjoy the sensory experience that comes with food selection at my neighborhood markets. No friendly chats with the farmers either. This was grab what you can and keep moving or the crowd behind you would swallow you alive. And be wary that a random arm may dart over your shoulder and grab that patty pan squash assortment you're eyeing up. Now granted, my experience may have been particularly frenetic given that it was noon on a workday and the weather was in the 70's and sunny.

And it wasn't just me, the vendors looked whipped too.

The bright side is that there is clearly a real demand in the city for homegrown, local, often organic foods.

The hard-neck Italian garlic and pickling cucumbers I bought were absolutely stunning, even if I only did get to appreciate them once I returned to my desk.