Saturday, 25 February 2017

Food in Jars Masterclass Challenge - Salt Preserved Dill

When I heard that Marisa at Food in Jars was running this challenge I was so excited, but for some reason the first month slipped by and I didn't end up making any marmalade!  This is not altogether bad since marmalade moves very slowly in our house as Mr. Forager can't stand the stuff.  Not to mention that I still have some in the pantry from last winter!

This month there were so many options that were exciting to me that I didn't have time to try them all, but I wanted to make sure I tried out salt preserved herbs so that I have a good handle on it when my gigantic herb garden starts producing in a few months!  I will still be trying a few of the others I think since I love the idea of salt cured egg yolks, salt preserved soup base, gravlax, and many other things (salt preserved grapefruit!).  I will also need to replenish the kimchi in my fridge soon.  Salt is such a useful tool!  It is amazing the kind of things we can create just by adding salt to something.

I began by stripping a bunch of dill I got from the local store (alas, being February, local fresh herbs are hard to come by!), but I soon got tired of it and wondered if I could just whiz it all through my Vitamix blender.  I figured this way I could make use of the stems as well and have less waste.  After that I added the zest of one lemon and 1/2 cup of coarse salt.  I think if you were chopping by hand you might want to use fine salt, but I figured sine I was using my blender this might be a better way.

I am happy to say that it mostly worked, but - as you can see below - the mixture overall is quite wet!  I am hoping it will dry out nicely and then I can crumble it back into a salt-like consistency.  Some of the very strong dill scent has given way to more of a general "green" aroma since blending, but I am sure it will come back to normal as it dries.  I can't wait to have this on hand since I don't have any dill related seasoning in my pantry at the moment and every time I make potatoes I seriously feel the absence.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Render Your Own Lard

While the idea of whole animal eating sounds really nice, the reality can occasionally be a bit gruesome.  If you've been reading my blog for a while now you can imagine I was very excited when we learned that our friends' farm was going to be offering sides of pork since I am passionate about supporting local growers.  If they are our friends it is the icing on the cake!

I love that all the money I spent on this meat is going directly to support my friends and their farm.  I know them, and that they are people of quality, and that they really care for their animals.  I know they source extra treats for them like the surplus milk and cream from the local dairy, and the slightly old produce the local grocery store would have wasted.  I've seen their farm and probably saw this very pig.

As I was planning my order with the butcher I mentioned that I would really like to have as much of the trim as possible - things like soup bones, and all the extra fat.  In fact, when my friend dropped off my order she asked if I would want to take the head!  My frugal self and my squeamish self had a little battle, but in the end I took it.  That's a lot of meat to waste!  Currently it is waiting for me in my freezer to become an attempt at head cheese.  Regardless of how that adventure goes, I knew for sure I was going to try to render some lard.
I started out by rendering in a large pot on the stove, but the cubes I painstakingly cut (note to self - get fat ground next time if possible!) started to stick to the bottom, and I ended up transferring it all to a crockpot on low.  The other thing I didn't realize is that if you don't slowly ladle off the fat as you go it takes forever to render.  Once I realized that things moved along much more quickly, and "cracklins" - the leftover bits of skin and tissue that have slowly deep fried through the process - started to form.  I saved my cracklins to mix into a batch of baked beans.

It is important that you don't ladle your fat directly into glass storage containers, since it will be too hot and your glass will shatter.  I strained mine into a plastic bowl first and then poured it into mason jars.  Working in batches like this also helped since I would know if I had burned it before mixing it in with the rest of the finished lard.  Thankfully it didn't happen, but it gave me peace of mind to know that if I ruined some I wouldn't necessarily ruin it all!
When the lard is liquid it is a light golden colour, but as it hardens it turns white.  To get really beautiful, pure white lard you want to render only the leaf lard which is the fat surrounding the kidneys.  Since I knew the butcher was really busy I didn't bother to specify that I wanted it separated.  I also didn't think I needed to be super particular about my first attempt in case it was a complete flop!

After the lard had cooled a bit more I put it in the fridge and it hardened up nicely into this nice creamy colour.  It doesn't smell particularly pork like, but it isn't completely odourless.  This is probably since I didn't discriminate about the types of fat I used.  I may not use this in a pie crust in case the piggy taste remained, but I definitely would give it a try with biscuits or something else more savoury.

Have any of you tried rendering fats?  It was certainly time consuming, but I feel like it was worth it! I am also pleased to know this technique won't be lost because most of my generation isn't interested in learning traditional cooking!  Writing this post was my way of passing it along.  If any of you try it let me know how it went!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Foraging in Winter: Snow!


It can be hard to be a forager in the winter when everything is covered with snow.  The earth is dormant, so there is not much obviously available to eat.  The day I stumbled upon Bless This Mess's recipe for snow ice cream, I knew that I had to try it!  (Can I also just say how much I love the fact that they have a family cookbook?  Definitely something to aspire to leave as a legacy for my own family!)

I still get a little thrill every time I see snowflakes falling.  I feel a little like Lorelai from Gilmore Girls: snow is special.  The morning my son was born I looked out the window and upon seeing the feathery crystals tumbling out of the clouds I thought 'wouldn't it be lucky for him to be born today'?

Before you start thinking I am too crazy, understand that where I did most of my growing up it barely ever snowed.  Sometime - usually in early January - we would get our week of winter and that would be it.  There are only a handful of winters in my memory that actually yielded enough snow to be worth mentioning, and that was usually for only one day or so.  Now living in Kamloops, the fact that we actually have obvious seasons is refreshing.  Although this winter has been particularly snowy - even temperate Vancouver has been covered in white several times - I still think snow is magical, and the idea of making ice cream from it just puts it all over the top.

I have to preface these photos by saying that my snow was not as good as it could have been.  It was freshly fallen that morning, but the temperatures warmed up that afternoon and it got a bit of an icy crust on the top.  I was wondering if I was going to get a chance to try again with better snow since it was looking like the temperatures were going to continue rising, but as I am typing right now there is a huge storm outside that is set to continue all day tomorrow so it looks like I will get my chance!

For my attempt, I riffed off of the Bless this Mess recipe, but made less since I was only making it for myself.  I also only had table cream for my dairy, but I would like to try again with evaporated milk like she did.  Regardless, it was actually pretty tasty, even if the texture of mine was a bit more like a vanilla sno-cone than ice cream due to the icy layer that had formed when the sun came out.  The dinosaur sprinkles were also obviously 100% necessary.

Is it still snowing where you live?  Go out and try this!  You'll have a lot of fun.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Bake Some Pies With Fannie Farmer: Update

I'm not going to post the full list of completed pies and rankings and whatnot today since there are about 60 pies in my completed list now and I just wanted to do a quick update for now!  I'll do a larger update later on.  Here are a few of the highlights since I last posted:

The Peanut Butter Cream Cheese pie was seriously incredible.  Just pour the filling into a crumb crust and chill it.  So easy, and so delicious.  There wasn't very much sugar, and it was full of protein and healthy fats from all the peanut butter, cream cheese, and butter that it was almost a protein bar in pie form!

I really loved the Eggnog Chiffon Pie.  Really loved it.  I was starting to think that I didn't like chiffon pies in general since they have all been a little weird in my opinion so far, but this one was perfect.

Cream of Wheat Custard pie made for the perfect thing to bring to our Life Group's annual New Years Day (or day after as sometimes happens with scheduling) Brunch.  It was light, but filling at the same time.  Not too sweet, and the whole wheat crust was better than I expected!  I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about whole wheat pastry, but now I am excited to try with some different pies too!

The Maple Pecan pie I froze and saved for Christmas was excellent as well.  I was really happy with how it stood up to the freezer.  When we ate it after Christmas dinner you couldn't tell at all that it had been baked a couple weeks beforehand!

I lost some speed working through this list over Christmas, but I am excited to get back into the swing of things.  There are lots of beautiful citrus based pies that I am excited to try out in the coming month or two now it is in season!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Epiphany Feast

For the past couple of years, our family has rounded out our Christmas season by celebrating Epiphany on the 6th of January.  This is traditionally the end of the Christmas season and the "12 Days of Christmas" happen in between Christmas and Epiphany.  We like to invite some friends to come celebrate with us and eat a big meal.

This year we had a ham that was part of our share of pork that we purchased earlier this fall.  The pig was raised by friends of ours only about 20 minutes away from our house!  You can really taste the difference in the meat.  Even if we hadn't already visited the farm and seen how well the pigs were treated you would know the quality by tasting the meat!  I made a glaze for the ham by blending honey, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, apple cider vinegar, and half an orange in my Vitamix.

Accompanying our ham were some roasted veggies (squash, and brussels sprouts with bacon and cranberries), yams (pureed with a candid pecan topping), and mashed potatoes.  Mr. Forager came up with a winning punch combination using some of the Ft. Langley Cranberry Festival cranberries I juiced in my steam juicer and canned this past fall.

Since there was nothing in my list of Fannie Farmer pies that really matched the traditional galette des rois I just made one quickly using David Lebovitz's recipe and some frozen puff pastry from the store.  Puff pastry is something that is on my list to learn how to make, but there wasn't any time to figure it out this time!  Something funny also happened to my filling for the galette and it ended up spilling out the sides all around and actually looked like it was the crust of the tart instead of the pastry above it!  Even if it looked a little funny, it was still delicious.  I will definitely make it again from this recipe next year, but maybe find a better source (or make my own) for the puff pastry.

I hope you all had a happy Epiphany whether you celebrated last Friday or not!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Foraging Goals for 2017

I'm going to continue on a bit of a "New Year's" theme for today's post, and write up my foraging goals for the coming year.  This is something I didn't do last year, and as a result the foraging efforts were sporadic and haphazard.  As I said yesterday I am aware of the fact that I also was getting used to doing all of this now with a baby, so I am not down on myself about how it went last year, but I know that I can probably do better.  This year I wanted to give myself some specific goals to accomplish so I would have a clearer plan.


I really want to capitalize on the incredible, free bounty of asparagus we have in our area this year.  It blew me away that I could go on a nice walk for about an hour, and come home with 2.5 kilos of food!  It is plentiful, and delicious, and I want to make the most of it.


I noticed this growing in quite a few places last summer, but I never seemed to get around to collecting any.  This Christmas, I was making some batches of herbed bath salts for some postpartum ladies, and I realized that this would be the perfect thing to include, only I didn't have any!  This is definitely on my list to gather for next year.


Similar to the above, this (kind of ugly) plant grows all over the place where I live, and it is supposed to be good when used in healing salves.  


This was such a good find last year.  A lady from my church gave me a tip and took me to the biggest patch of it.  We were only there for about half an hour, but we gathered several kilograms.  It made a seriously delicious jelly.  I am hoping to go back for more next summer and make more things using its delectable, complex flavour.


These cheerful, humble flowers are so plentiful.  All I have to do is step outside and I am greeted by all their smiling yellow faces.  I made some syrup from their blossoms last year, and pesto from their leaves and those were both really delicious.  I want to make more with them next spring, and also to learn to harvest and use their roots in the fall.


These have the most incredible flavour, but for some reason I keep missing out on the season.  This is the year!  


There is a time of the year when these flowers burst into flower all over the sunny hills near my home.  I have no idea what to do with them, but I have read that all parts of the plant are edible.  I am especially interested to try using the roots since I have heard they can be roasted, dried, and ground into a sort of coffee type drink.  I am definitely NOT looking for a replacement for my beloved coffee, but it sounds interesting to try all the same!


Last spring I found a patch of them in blossom, but I never made it back to gather any when they were ripe.  This year I would like to (being respectful of the size of the patch and the fact that they are food for the local wildlife) come back and gather a few when they are ready for eating.


I want to educate myself more this year about what to go out looking for.  I want to read more - online, but also in print - and find people who have knowledge to pass on.  I am very interested in learning to forage mushrooms since I have heard that morels are in our area.  I am cautious to do this on my own since you are risking quite a bit when you are foraging mushrooms, but if I find someone reputable is offering a course somewhere nearby I would be very interested in taking it!


Ok, these are not in my area, and that is why this is the last item on my list, but if anyone has a tip about where to find these (also called 'High Bush Cranberries') please let me know!  They are so delicious!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Gardening Goals for 2017

As part of my garden planning this year I wrote out a few goals for the coming season.  I've done this before, but I always kept them to myself.  When no one knows your goals it is easy to ignore them and not work as hard as you would if there was someone keeping you accountable.  This year I decided to share my gardening and foraging goals here as a way of doing that.  Some things were very successful for me last year.  For example: I managed to grow and forage a minimum of 5 kilos of food for my family each month last year.  I also gave myself a lot of grace as it was my first season gardening with a baby.  This year I plan to work harder and continue my quest to provide as much food as I can by myself, and hopefully rely less and less on the grocery store.
Are you making goals for yourself this season?  Please share them in the comments!  I would love to be inspired by some of the things you want to tackle and to be able to encourage each other during all the hard work that is ahead!


I think this is on my list every season, but I do feel that each time I make an effort I learn more and get a better result.  So far my best tomato harvest has been 3.5 kilos of green ones at the end of last season!  This year I am really focused on getting the tomatoes started on time, and really hoping that the weather cooperates (it didn't last summer) for the perfect tomato season!


This goal has been on my radar before, but again it is something that I haven't really had any success with.  I love using paprika in cooking, so I would dearly love to grow my own peppers to dry and make my own!  I am excited to give this another shot this year.


I usually grow a few types of beans in my garden, and have at least a decent success, but I really want to grow enough dry beans this year that I don't have to buy any.  This may not be possible with the space that I have available, but I am going to do my best!


A big part of my plan this year includes using as many season extending tricks as I can.  The light I get is basically the bare minimum required for growing fruits and vegetables, so anything I can do to get things in the ground early is a huge help.


We planted a few of the raise beds with winter wheat this past fall, and I had a decent success letting buckwheat go to seed last year and grinding it for flour, so I would like to continue experimenting with small scale grain planting.  With the space we have I am not ever going to get an amazing harvest, but anything that reduces my dependency on the supermarket is a good thing.


I usually plant some salad greens because I feel like I am supposed to, but I never really make much of an effort.  Usually it bolts before I pick any since we don't tend to eat a lot of salads.  Beet greens have been the best for us since even if we don't use the greens we will for sure use the roots.  Along with everyone else I feel like I should be eating more kale (especially since I actually like it!) and chard, and other dark leafy things that are full of vitamins and fibre.  Now that I have a Vitamix, I can make green smoothies that are actually smooth, and not sludge filled with stringy bits.


This has been a priority for me for the past few years, and I have had some - albeit limited - success.  Some things (I'm looking at you, promiscuous melons, corn, and squash) will probably never work out for me in this little garden of mine, but there are other things that do work.  I think beans, peas, and tomatoes should be possible.  I also did well with my buckwheat last season.  I don't think I'll ever be able to completely accomplish the dream of never having to buy seed, but at least I can take some steps in that direction.  I also make it a priority to support those suppliers that do make an effort to grow heritage and open pollinated varieties.


We put in a few beds dedicated to various herbs last year, and now that it is established I want to make it really healthy and strong this year.  I think this might be one of the areas where I could possibly accomplish my #10 goal.  I will probably also be adding a few more herbs this year.


I have my eye on a few new things this year.  I'm thinking sorghum (to render into syrup), and maybe strawberry spinach.


Every summer it seems like everyone around me is blessed with abundance.  We are too, but in the garden I am still learning and so I haven't reaped any bumper crops as of yet.  In the late summer it seems like almost every Sunday in the foyer at church there is a big box of tomatoes, zucchini, plums, or apples with a sign saying 'please take some'!  I would like to be one of the contributors next year, since I have been blessed many times by others' generosity.