Category Archives: Food & Cooking

It’s Canning Season!

I got into canning pretty late last summer, so I completely missed the majority of the berry season. The only jam I was able to make last year was raspberry, which is tasty… but I have been eagerly awaiting spring so that I could start making other jams.

Today I decided to try the farmer’s market for the first time since last fall to see what was available. I was a bit surprised to already see a lot of strawberries, as well as a variety of other things. I knew strawberry season was coming early, but I expected to wait a couple more weeks. They weren’t the prettiest strawberries I have ever seen, but who cares if you are smashing them all up?

The berries will probably taste better in a few more weeks, but I was too impatient. I picked up a bucket of them! I now have nine 8oz jars of strawberry jam. I am eager to crack open a jar in a few days and see how it tastes. All I have had so far was a taste of the little that was leftover in the pot. It tasted good, but was really sweet. I don’t mind though, it is just an excuse to get more berries in a couple weeks and try another recipe!

We also picked up some fresh apple cider at the market. I have a recipe for spiced apple cider jelly, which seems like a good way to use up 5 cups of that cider. There is no way the two of us will drink a whole gallon of cider. I just need to pick up a couple ingredients tomorrow!

I am so happy it is canning season again! I missed my weekend hobby. I just can’t wait for the boxes of canning tomatoes to pop up, so I can make salsa and sauces… it seems those are a hit with lots of people. And half the fun of canning is sharing!

Comments are fixed…

I don’t know what was up with the comments not working, but I re-published the site and it seems to have fixed it.

I would apologize for not posting since November, but what’s the point? I keep saying I will post more, but never do. It makes me wonder if there is even much point in finding a new host for this site once Apple drops it in July! Or maybe I should just drop this iWeb thing and just use some free web-based blog like Tumblr or Weebly, since I could then post from anywhere. If only Apple would make this work on the iPad/iPhone like the iWork suite…

There, as usual, isn’t much to report. Our holidays were good, especially since my sister was able to come for Thanksgiving. As an early Christmas present, my mother and sister gave us that crazy expensive coffee grinder we were drooling over… so that was pretty awesome. If we didn’t already go through enough coffee, we now seem to average at least pound a week since getting that grinder. Not including espresso! We have also moved to yet another new level of coffee snobbery, as we have both started using a french press at work. Unfortunately they changed the coffee maker at my office and now work-coffee is no longer drinkable. Our most favoritist coffee at the moment is Counter Culture’s Baroida. If you see this one, you must try it!

Why is there a flower pic in the middle of winter? I didn’t have much else to use as the photo and I have managed to keep my (pictured) orchid alive at work for nearly a month now. It is even blooming! I am impressed with this, as previous attempts at office plants have typically failed swiftly. Now I am trying to remember if I watered it before leaving work Friday.

Turning Into a Coffee Snob

I am so turning into a coffee snob. It started a few months ago… It was innocent at first. I just wanted to try out a “real” coffee house. You know, the kind where the barista knows what they are doing, why they are doing it, and they even make a pretty picture in your frothed milk. This probably started as a result of seeing a video online explaining how to make cappuccino, and it just looked so delicious. Starbucks has never made anything that looked as good.

Maybe it even started a couple years ago when I began to tire of the syrupy drinks at Starbucks. At first I just got less syrup. Then no syrup. Then I started getting an extra shot of espresso in my lattes because they tasted more like milk than coffee. Then I switched to cappuccino because it had less milk.

This lead up to a month or so ago, when we found Jubala at Lafayette Village. We both got cappuccinos and were hooked immediately. I think we went back three times that same week, which is saying something considering it is nearly a 30 minute drive. Then a few weeks later we decided to give New World a try, which is much much closer to home. It wasn’t long before we were completely ruined.

I honestly can’t drink Starbucks or Caribou anymore. I try sometimes, but it just makes me sad. And I have tried, really I have. I even tried getting extra shots of espresso in a short cappuccino so that the ratios would be closer to what they should be. It just isn’t good to me anymore.

But that is only appreciating a good cappuccino you say? No, it goes further than that. We also started making pour-over coffee at home. And we have been buying Counter Culture (local) beans that have been roasted the day before, or even the same day, that we buy them. And I have a manual burr grinder… as in when I have the time I actually hand grind the coffee.

I know. I have a problem.

So why do I go through that trouble for a cup of coffee? Our automatic drip coffee maker’s carafe broke months ago, and we couldn’t find a replacement locally so we ended up just tossing the whole thing. Since then we have been relying only on our espresso machine at home, but I wanted drip coffee sometimes too, and decided to go low tech and see how it was. The answer is that it is great! And doing the pour-over is actually not that much trouble… especially since we already have a hot water dispenser. It is just grinding the beans that is a pain.

I don’t want to hand-grind the coffee. But a good electric burr grinder is $200! That is ridiculous. I am not that far gone yet. We have our old reasonably-priced electric burr grinder that I can use when I don’t feel like expending the time or effort to use the Skerton grinder… but it honestly doesn’t do as good a job and, surprisingly, you can actually taste the difference.

It just occurred to me that you might be saying, “What is pour-over coffee?” Well, basically it is the same thing an automatic drip coffee maker does except your pour the water yourself and have more control over the process. It really only takes a few minutes and you can brew directly into your cup. If you want to watch some really boring videos, just search youtube for the Hario V60 and/or Chemex. We have both, I prefer the Hario.

You see, if the water is too hot or if it brews too long you can over-extract the coffee, which makes it bitter. Keeping coffee on a hot plate destroys flavor as well. The amount of time since it was roasted also matters, as it begins to lose flavor after about 2 weeks… and most of the stuff you find in the grocery store was roasted months ago. This is why a lot of people don’t like coffee, or they have to put so much sugar and cream in it. They are just drinking bad coffee! If you do the pour-over right you end up with a much better cup of coffee.

I am so lucky at work. Not only do they buy 8th Sin, which is my favorite locally roasted coffee, but they also brew it into vacuum canisters rather than keeping it on a hot plate. And people drink it so fast that a new pot is constantly brewing. This has probably also added to my new coffee-snobbery… I can drink coffee black at work and it tastes great! So I guess I am just spoiled.

Another Full Weekend – Robyn

Sorry I haven’t posted in a couple weeks. I have been trying to be better about posting, and the Mini has definitely helped with giving me things to actually talk about. I haven’t posted in the past couple weeks because we have been so busy.

It seems like we have been on the go constantly since getting the Mini on Labor Day. Probably because we have! The weekend after MiniPalooza involved me working Saturday and then going up to Hickory on Sunday to get a spare set of wheels for the Mini (Sean has autocross dreams). After Hickory we went down to Charlotte to pick up some things from Ikea that wouldn’t fit in the car the week before.

Then, this past weekend, we had yet another busy one. Saturday we got up early so that we could finally make it to the North Hills farmer market. We wanted to go out there ever since we learned Edible Earthscapes sold their produce there, but we just haven’t had time.

I was pleasantly surprised with the farmer’s market. I knew it would be small, so I hadn’t expected much out of it. Although, it looks like we might have found a new Saturday breakfast spot! There is a German baker that sells goods there, all sorts of tasty little treats that are excellent when paired with the Starbucks that is in the middle of the market. There were some nice finds, and I am looking forward to going back next Saturday when we have more time. There were plenty of people selling meat, fresh bread, eggs, goat cheese, and some other things. We ended up leaving with some curry chevre, daikon, shishito peppers, shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, grits, and salsa. It feels like I must be forgetting something else because we had a full bag.

After a quick stop to drop our loot at home we headed to Brier Creek for a Mini Scavenger Hunt. There were only six Mini participants, but it was pretty fun. We were given two sheets of clues, both printed front and back. The clues spanned Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, but we only had about 2.5 hours to compete. We ended up sticking with just Raleigh, not having time to go to the other locations.

The hunt itself was pretty fun, although there were so many items listed it was hard to keep it straight. If we do this again I swear I am going to ask for two copies of the clues, and I will bring a clip board and an array of highlighters. Yes, I am a nerd. Anyhow, the way it worked was that you had to take a photo of a location or bring some items back, the majority of the items being photos. Sorting out which things required a photo with the Mini, a team member, both team members, or the Mini and the team members was another challenge.

The part that wasn’t as fun was the tallying up of the scores. As I mentioned, there were a lot of clues. And while there were only six teams, it took forever to go through it all. At least it went a little faster once the host pulled out her laptop and just searched for the points rather than skimming the list. But, as it was, we spent over an hour just standing in the parking lot waiting. In the end we came in third place and won some organizational items for the car. Not bad for first timers, I think.

We were pretty wiped out after about 8 hours on the go, but there is no rest for the weary! Sean had found a chili recipe in one of our new cast iron cookbooks, and we wanted to try it out. This required grocery shopping. So, after tooling around the house for a bit, we moved our usual Sunday shopping trip up a day and headed to Meat House in Cary. It was 6pm before we got there, and we were starving after having only eaten a bit of German pastry breakfast and a hasty McDonald’s lunch on the go. Oh, that is another thing to bring for the next scavenger hunt: food!

When we arrived at Meat House, we found that a pizza place had just opened next to it. They were handing out menus at the door, trying to drum up some business. They seemed like friendly people, but we had shopping to do. While we were waiting for our 4lb chuck roast to be cut into cubes (I love you, Meat House!) we contemplated the pizza place next door. Our stomachs won out.

We went next door and told them we wanted to eat there, but we had a bag full of meat. They were happy to put it in the cooler for us, so it all worked out. If you are in Cary, give Marilyn’s Pizza a try. They have lots of dough, sauce, and topping options. Even gluten free! They seem like a nice little shop, and we will be glad to give them some more business when we are in the area.

So, all this lead to us not starting the chili until about 8pm. The chili takes 2 hours, not counting prep time. This means we didn’t get to sample it until about 10:30. By this point we were both exhausted from a long day, but we still had to wait for the chili to cool enough to stash it in the fridge. By the time we got to bed, I was bone tired and I think I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow!

The chili was worth it though! We ate it the rest of the weekend and Sean even took it to work a few days. If anyone wants a recipe for some great chili that doesn’t include tomatoes, let me know. It is spicy though!

Farm Tour Day 2

We went on the Farm Tour (see blog post from yesterday) yesterday and today. I wasn’t sure we would be going out again today, but then last night I spotted a farm I just had to see in the brochure.
Edible Earthscapes was the gem of the day. What drew me to this farm was the description of, “…emphasis on Asian heriloom varieties. You will see unusual vegetables, herbs, and flowers and a mixture of Western and Japanese growing techniques. Our rice fields…” Well, if you know us, you know our interest was immediately peaked.

I quickly found their website and read a bit more about their farm and things offered. They have shishito peppers!! I never thought I would find these locally unless I grew them myself. I had actually intended to grow some this year, but never got around to ordering the seeds in time. We have been yearning for shishito peppers for over two years now. They are lovely mild peppers that are incredibly tasty when grilled and brushed with yakitori sauce.

So today we made a somewhat hurried lunch of things we found around the house, then headed out to Moncure, NC to see the farm. It turned out to be our favorite farm yet.

These farmers, a Japanese woman and her American husband, had lived in Japan until a few years ago. While living in Japan they had farmed, and wanted to move back to the States and continue to farm. Some friends convinced them to come to Moncure, and then one of their friends offered them an acre of land as a “farm incubator” so that they could start their farm without having to buy land.

They have been farming that acre for three years now, and in the last year or two purchased some adjoining property. Their plan was to become established and then leave the original acre to someone else that needed to start their own farm. It was pretty interesting to see how much they could grow in such a small space.

The owners seemed quite friendly and open to questions, we really liked what they were doing and the model they had for their farm. They were getting a lot of financial questions from the tour group, which I was a little surprised at, but the farmers didn’t seem to mind answering.

They were living off savings when they first started the farm, and have just now gotten to where they aren’t living entirely off of savings. The husband was our tour guide, and he spoke of future plans for turning it into a real business that would let them live comfortably. Right now they are trying to avoid having to take a job outside the farm because it needs so much of their energy and time. It seemed like they were struggling to realize their dreams and were sticking with it, you have to admire them for that.

The farm’s current model is a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. It is kind of a co-op deal. People can give money at the beginning of a growing season in order to help a farm purchase what is needed for the growing season. In return for the shared risk, the members of the CSA get produce weekly from the farm. Edible Earthscapes allow members to pick up their box of produce weekly in Moncure or at the North Hills farmer market on Saturdays in Raleigh. The CSA fee covers May-October and evens out to about $20 per week for 3-4 people or $12.50 for 1-2, so it really isn’t that bad. We are considering doing this next year. In the meantime, I think we will be visiting them at the farmers market!

While at their farm we picked up some shishito peppers, daikon, and okra. The wife said they had sold out of the peppers yesterday, so while we were on the tour she picked all she could from the field. It only equaled about half a sandwich bag, but we were happy.

On the way home we stopped off at a vineyard in Durham (meh, not worth talking about really) and then headed to Cary for a Meat House run. At the Meat House we decided tonight would be a burger night since we needed something fast in order to squeeze in our weekly grocery shopping tonight.

We grilled some of the okra and all of the peppers along with the burgers. The shishito were awesome, I can’t wait to get more!

Farm Tour

Today we drove around the country side touring a few farms as part of the 5th Annual Eastern Triangle Farm Tour. Basically we gave $25 to the Carolina Farm Steward Association for the chance to tour 24 farms. There of course is no way we can tour that many farms between the hours of 1-5PM in two days, but we got in a few.

Today we started out with a trip out to Turtle Mist, which is in Franklinton. We arrived a little late because we stopped for lunch on the way, so we had even less time to squeeze in farms. We were disappointed in the lack of produce there, maybe somehow we just missed it. But we did see their offerings of lamb, poultry, and beef. We might have to order a turkey there for the holidays. There were also some people there from a beekeeper’s association that had some honey-made goods for sale. We picked up some of their honey brittle, which was pretty darned tasty, as well as some stew beef from Turtle Mist.

After that Sean picked out Brinkley Farms in Creedmoor. This farm was a little more productive for us, and I had fun driving the Mini on backroads from Franklinton to Creedmoor. Well, aside from the unexpected event they were having in downtown Creedmoor which lead to us exploring an unsavory section of town in order to get around it. Thank you, GPS.

This farm had plenty of winter squash available, as well as a few peppers and beans. There were also some pigs and birds, and a hayride for kids. We skipped the hayride, but picked up a pumpkin, a few peppers, and some winter squash on a whim. Not exactly sure what I will do with them yet.

After that we motored back the way we had come and ended up in Bunn at the Ray Family Farm. Yeah, I know, should have gone there first… whatever. It isn’t like we had a plan or anything.

The Bunn farm was pretty cool. It was the sort of place you think of when you think family farm. Here there were horses, donkeys, all sorts of birds, dogs, pigs, and if we had gone farther down the road we would have seen their cattle. All of which were free roaming (in fenced areas of course) instead of caged like you see on some farms. The dogs even had their own small house complete with an air conditioner and fenced yard.

We chatted with one of the family members a bit and learned that the family had run the farm for themselves for years, but had recently decided to start selling meat and eggs to help cover the cost of running the farm. Their primary source of income was building green houses.

The Ray Family was so new at this that they weren’t fully set up yet. They had just sent their first group of cows to be “processed” and only had a small amount of meat for sale. They didn’t even sell at the farmer’s market yet, only by appointment at their farm. While I really liked this farm and the family, I am not sure we will be shopping there given how far out it is. I will also have to wait to see what their prices are like, the chicken was $3.50 a pound. We also got some eggs from them, but I don’t recall the price. I want to say the bill was $27 for both, which seems a bit steep. Maybe they will set up a booth at the Raleigh Farmer’s Market, that would be much more convenient.

I am looking forward to cooking what we found today! Buying local fresh produce and hormone free meat is the way to go, even if it isn’t always the most convenient option. I am happy to support our local farms, and small farms in general.

While I would like to visit more farms tomorrow, I am not sure we will. There is so much to do around our neglected house and we have some errands to take care of.

Home Goods FTW

Last weekend I was at Home Goods with a friend when I spotted Le Creuset seconds. I was good though, and did not buy any on a whim. Although I did do a quick Google while there to see if they had the same lifetime warranty, which they seem to. :)

I still don’t know what process Le Creuset uses to determine which pots are “seconds” and which meet their quality standards. As far as I can tell the seconds just have any number of minor defects and are sold at a discounted price.

Anyhow, let me get on to the point. Tonight we decided to make “sukiyaki” and while I was contemplating which pot to use I remarked to Sean that a braiser sure would be nice and that I had seen one at Home Goods on the aforementioned shopping trip. Sean immediately said we should go get one. I guess he is still in that grateful-happy place that comes when your wife lets you have a new car. I even got to drive the Mini.

A short while later we were in Home Goods and I took a close look at the pots for the first time. I couldn’t see much wrong with them aside from some scratches that came from mishandling. The finishes also aren’t quite as pretty as some others, but not sure that has much to do with them being seconds. The colors were a light mustardy yellow, a dullish red, and the blue pictured above.

We found one on a bottom shelf that didn’t seem to have any scratches on it. I am still at a loss for what is wrong with the pot. My only thoughts are that it could possibly be the slight dappled discoloration around the inside of the lid or maybe a few tiny little pocks (air bubbles?) on the bottom. Regardless, the pot works fine and I was quite happy to save $60+ in purchasing it. So what if the color isn’t as pretty as some others.

Here is a crappy iPhone photo of the tiny pocks I was talking about:

After picking up the braiser I decided to have a quick look at the next aisle over. Good thing I did! I spotted a Kai knife box, and picked it up expecting it to be their low end Wasabi line. I was opening my mouth to say something along the lines of, “I wonder how the quality of their Wasabi line compares to Shun considering the price difference.” when I realized what I had in my hand. It was a Nakiri knife. And it wasn’t Wasabi, it was Shun. A Shun Pro Nakiri!

A nakiri was the next knife in my wishlist, but I didn’t expect to get it for a long time considering it is an expensive knife, I am out of slots, and hadn’t found a good reason to justify getting another knife beyond the lame “But they’re awesome and ‘Cooking With Dog’ lady has one!!” excuse. So how could I pass up this half priced knife??

I even offered to skip the braiser in lieu of the knife, but Sean understood and just muttered something about losing another Christmas gift idea and then headed towards the registers before I could find anything else to buy. Although, honestly, how could I have topped those two finds?

These two new toys were great for making dinner. We made “sukiyaki” which worked perfectly in the new pot and required plenty of chopping with the new knife. I use the quotes because it wasn’t really sukiyaki, just a recipe from an American cookbook that called itself sukiyaki and was somewhat similar to the actual dish. Anyhow, the knife was wonderful!! It let me cut the [partially frozen] beef so thin you could see through it.

Wow… this post got long! You are probably bored stiff if you are actually still reading my babbling about new kitchen stuff. I know I am weird. New knives and pots get me almost as giddy as new electronic gadgetry. I will shut up now.

A side tangent that I cut from the above novel…

Let me just say, Le Creuset makes wonderful pots! If you love cooking, or just have to cook, I highly suggest picking one up. You will be hooked!

I got my first Le Creuset dutch oven a few months ago and was immediately attached to it. You wouldn’t believe how easy they are to clean and how great they are for cooking a wide range of dishes. At first I was a bit paranoid about damaging the interior finish, but a couple weeks ago I found out exactly how hard it is to do that.

While cooking a rice & chicken dish I became engrossed in a book and forgot to stir. The bottom of the pot was covered in a solid film of burnt rice, although the rest of the dish didn’t suffer very much at all. Needless to say I sulked through dinner thinking about the permanent damage I must have done to my wonderful pot.

But it wasn’t ruined at all! On the contrary, I picked up a silicon pusher/turner and ran it across the bottom of the pot… the layer of blackened rice peeled up with little resistance. How wonderful is that?? Every time I clean my Le Creuset or my All Clad pots and pans I wonder why people even bother with non stick. It seems like the world has been convinced that any non-non stick pot is difficult to use/clean and will burn everything that touches it. I find it to be quite the opposite. Stainless steel and cast iron pots give much better results and are so very easy to maintain. Plus you don’t have to live in fear of some sharp metal thing accidentally touching the precious interior and ruining the non stick coating.

That brown stuff that sticks to the stainless steel or enamel? That is called fond. And it is damned tasty. You can make things in a stainless pot you could never with a non stick pot because of this fond, since you just don’t get much fond with non stick. But how do you get all that brown stuff off? With liquid. This is called deglazing. Just pour a little broth or wine or whatever in the pan. With a few strokes of a spatula all that fond will release into the liquid, adding all its wonderful flavor.