Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lavomatic reviewed at My Wine Education

There's a new review of Lavomatic, which sources locally, over at My Wine Education.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Killer Canning, or How to Avoid Poisoning Anyone

Home canning is all the rage. Eating locally is in, and doing so year-round pretty much requires some kind of food preservation. No one's freezer space is unlimited, and home canning is a great way to preserve the harvest. It seems every food blogger is canning and offering recipes for the foods she's canned.

Unfortunately I'm seeing a large number of unsafe canning recipes posted on various food, recipe, and local eating blogs, and we aren't talking about just the kind of unsafe canning that gives you a few days of gastrointestinal misery. We're talking serious neurotoxins, botulism, paralysis, and death.

Here are a few key bits of knowledge, useful whether you're canning yourself or are the recipient of a home-canned gift.

Canning Fruits. In general, canned fruits are safe. Almost all fruits (exceptions include bananas, figs, and tomatoes) are high-acid, which means both that spoilage is less likely and that any spoilage is likely to be evident -- you'll see mold, or the jar when opened will have an off smell, or the seal will be broken. This is why so much home canning is about jams, jellies, marmalades, and other fruit spreads. HIgh-acid fruits are all safe to can in a boiling-water bath using a wide variety of recipes.

Canning Vegetables. This is where the serious food-safety issue comes in. All vegetables are low-acid foods and are unsafe to can in a boiling water bath unless sufficient high-acid ingredients, generally in the form of vinegar, bottled lemon juice, or citric acid, are added. The proportion of high-acid to low-acid ingredients must not be altered from that specified in the recipe. The problem is that often an experienced-cook-but-inexperienced-canner picks up a canning recipe and assumes her cooking experience can be used to adapt and improve the canning recipe. It can't.

Tested Recipes for Canning Vegetables. Unlike cooking recipes, which the cook can adapt to her own tastes -- increasing the proportion of one ingredient, omitting another entirely, using an unspecified technique such as sauteeing the veggies -- the canning of vegetables should be done using a tested recipe (that is, a recipe that has been tested by the USDA -- or the equivalent, in other countries -- and found to be safe for home canning) with no changes in the proportion of high-acid to low-acid foods. To be sure the recipe you are using is a tested recipe, use a trusted resource such as the Ball Blue Book (use a new edition, as canning recommendations have changed over the years), the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving , the Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving, or the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

When you discover a delicious-sounding boiling-water bath canning recipe online and think you'd like to try it, ask the person providing the recipe where he got it. (Most foodies are happy to talk about the source of their recipes and won't take this as an insult if you ask in a way that indicates curiosity rather than mistrust.) If he did not get the recipe from a trusted source, or if he adapted it in any way that changes the proportion of vegetables-to-acids, or if he added oils, fats, or animal products, don't use the recipe. Find another similar recipe from a trusted source and use that instead. The same goes for gifts of home canned vegetables, including combination recipes such as salsas, sauces, chutneys, and relishes. I cannot stress this enough. When canned vegetables go bad, one likely culprit is botulinum, which is the neurotoxin that causes botulism: if it doesn't kill you, it can leave you paralyzed. It is a seriously nasty bacteria and nothing to fool around with. Worse yet, unlike mold, you can't see, smell, or taste botulinum. The seal on the jar may not even be broken.

With the sharp increase in canning by inexperienced canners, we are likely also to see an increase in home canning-related food poisonings. Done properly, home canning is very safe and a great way to preserve the harvest so you can eat locally all year around. But do take the necessary steps to make sure you know what you're doing.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for home canners, new and experienced alike. The recipes posted there are all USDA-tested and approved, and they have a ton of information for home canners -- even a complete home-canning course you can download in pdf form.

Your county extension service is an excellent resource for information about canning. Many are offering canning classes geared to new canners.

Another great resource for canners is the Harvest Forum on GardenWeb. You can search the forum archives to find answers to many questions.

Originally posted at Eat.Drink.Better.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Grain-free = guilt-free? has this piece yesterday on the various benefits of eating grassfed beef.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

No dirt under your nails? No tomatoes for you!

The New York Times yesterday published this piece about folks hiring gardeners to plant and tend their kitchen gardens so they can have homegrown produce even if they don't have the time, skills, or inclination to garden themselves. All day yesterday I watched this story race around the blogosphere, with fans of local eating ridiculing the rich soft spoiled brats who want to hire someone to do their weeding for them. Slashfood asks what's next, "A service that sends someone to your home to wipe your mouth with an organic, locally-harvested hemp fiber napkin?" Diggin It is annoyed: "It wasn’t what they were doing as much as they were hopping on the bandwagon of the latest trend they’ve read about, eating locally grown foods."

Those who didn't outright condemn the idea made prim moral-values judgments about it. Eat Local Challenge says, "I can only hope that those who have room to grow their own food but pay others to tend it will soon discover the delight of sowing, weeding, tending and eventually harvesting food their own hands have touched." Fresh Greens agrees: "a part of gardening is lost when the hired help is doing the harvesting for you." As if there's something inherently wrong with folks deciding to spend their free time on something they enjoy instead of dutifully picking up a hoe and getting those weeds. There's something Puritanical about this hard-work-is-good-for-the-character approach: Shame on you for not growing it yourself.

I say hooray. Hooray for the folks whose thumbs aren't green but who can afford to have healthy food growing outside their back door anyway -- I wish everyone could afford that. Hooray for the organic gardeners who can turn something they love doing into a way to make a living. Hooray for having a little more garden and a little less lawn in suburbia. Hooray for home grown veggies getting so much attention that people who've never picked a tomato want to see what it's all about.

Speaking as someone who gardens with a lot more enthusiasm than competence, if anyone in Cincinnati is offering a service like this one, please contact me. I will hire you today.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Traveling Locavore: Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Dining Room, Yellowstone National Park

Elk and calf near Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel dining roomWhen my family was planning this summer’s National Parks Extravaganza, I did a little research on local eating in the cities through which we were traveling as we moved from park to park – Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle. As expected, I was able to find multiple restaurants and often a farmers’ market open the day of our travel through each city. However, I figured the National Parks food service offerings themselves wouldn’t even be part of my search – of course there’d be nothing local there! It was food service food. Even worse, government food service food. Something to be avoided when possible and put up with when unavoidable. Certainly nothing promising for a fan of local foods, or any foodie for that matter.

Our very first stop forced me to rethink that assumption. Boy, did I underestimate the potential of the National Parks food service. The food was often very good, and several stops were a traveling locavore’s dream. Yellowstone was a standout.

Our first three nights in Yellowstone, we stayed at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. We arrived very late on a Friday evening and were up at 5:30 am – an hour before any dining room opened – for a wildlife safari with SafariYellowstone. After a long, blustery early June day viewing wolves and grizzlies, we arrived back at our cabin pleasantly exhausted and decided instead of driving back into Gardiner, Montana, for dinner we’d eat in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel dining room with its view of grazing elk, some with calves, in the field across the parking lot.

The first thing on the menu to catch my eye was the farm-raised, house-smoked trout appetizer, which appeared again as an entrée. I did a second take. Farm-raised bison brats and bison top sirloin. Montana Ranch Brand natural beef burgers. Rod-and-reel-caught Montana whitefish.

Turns out Yellowstone (and Xanterra, who runs Yellowstone food service) pays more than lip service to sustainable dining. They use Montana Ranch Brand lamb, Montana Legend beef, Miller Farm pork, Timeless Farms legumes, Amaltheia Dairy goat cheese, and local farm-raised game and trout. According to notes on the Mammoth Hot Springs dining room menu, “Our efforts are supported by the Corporation for the Northern Rockies, the Nature Conservancy, the Marine Stewardship Council, and the Animal Welfare Institute and helps support over 350 family farmers and ranchers in nine states.”

Lunch and dinner at both Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel dining room and Old Faithful Inn dining room offered several local selections. The menus at Mammoth Hot Springs, which attracts a more upscale crowd than Old Faithful, were particularly impressive. Breakfast was a little more food-servicey in both dining rooms, but at Mammoth Hot Springs there was at least one local offering for breakfast.

And the beer! My locaquaffer husband, who was resigned to yet another beer list starting with Bud and ending with Coors Light, was beside himself. No fewer than 9 locally micro-brewed ales and lagers appeared on the menu (Bayern Pilsner Lager, Snake River Lager, Fat Tire Amber Ale, Snake River Pale Ale, Teton Ale, Moose Drool, Bitch Creek ESB, and Black Butte Porter), plus another four draught selections (Bozone Hefeweizen, Old Faithful Pale Golden Ale, Lewis Lake Lager, and Headstrong Pale Ale) that were also local micro-brews. Under the heading “Mainstream” (which made us giggle a bit in its disdain for those who would drink such swill) were exactly FIVE beers, and even one of those was a regional lager (Rainier) which as my husband pointed out at least gets them half a point.

They even offered a few local wines. Who knew? Our barmaid – who seemed as impressed as we were with the selection – pointed out that nothing on their wine list was from out of the country, and while California predominated, there was an offering from Montana (Mission Mountain Chardonnay), one from Idaho (Sawtooth Riesling), and several from Washington and Oregon.

And you can't beat that view from the window.

This post was originally published at Eat.Drink.Better.

Next week: Tin Angel Cafe, Salt Lake City

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pickled hot peppers

I've been wanting to find an alternative to the canned peppers I use so often in recipes.  You know those little cans of Chopped Chile Peppers in the Mexican food section at the supermarket -- no indication of what kind of chiles they are.  They're just chopped chiles.  They're called for in a gazillion Tex-Mex and southwestern-style recipes, and I'd like not to rely so heavily on a commercially-canned product.  I figure eliminating them will be a good step in un-UPCing my pantry.  

The only problem:  peppers are a low-acid food.  They can't be canned in a boiling water bath but instead must be pressure canned.  I've never pressure-canned anything and don't own a pressure canner.  I'm planning to borrow one from my friend Dave, but until then I decided to see if pickled peppers would work as a possible substitute in any of these recipes.  Of course to find out, I had to pickle some peppers.

I bought some beautiful hot banana peppers from R&J Veggies from Fayetteville, OH at Hyde Park Farmers' Market.

IMPORTANT HINT:  I strongly recommend wearing gloves when prepping quantities of hot peppers.  The oils penetrate your skin and can't be washed off completely.  In general it's a good idea to skin all but the thinnest-skinned peppers before canning them, as the skins can turn very tough.  So after I'd chopped off the tops, halved them lengthwise, and scraped out the seeds, I turned them skin side up on a foil-lined cookie sheet and broiled them until their skins puffed up and turned brown.  Then I pulled the skins off under cold water.

Then I chopped them into medium dice, packed them into hot jars, filled the jars with my hot pickling brine, and processed.


Makes four 4-oz jars

2 1/2 c vinegar

1/2 c water

2 t kosher salt

1 T sugar

2 pounds hot banana peppers, skins removed, chopped into medium dice

Bring vinegar, water, salt, and sugar to a boil.  Boil five minutes then reduce heat to a simmer.  Pack peppers into hot jars.  Ladle hot syrup into jars leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath 10 minutes.  Remove canner lid and wait five minutes before removing jars from kettle.

I'm going to wait a month or so to allow these to develop, then see if they can be used in recipes without changing the flavor of the finished recipe too profoundly.  I'll report back!  And in the meantime: pressure canning.  Pray for me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Locavore egreeting card

Thanks to Epicurious for passing this on, along with the observation that you've only truly arrived once you've got your own wryly hip satiric greeting card.

CityBeat reviews NuVo

CityBeat reviews NuVo of Florence, which sources ingredients locally, in their current edition.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Red onions, two ways

At the Hyde Park Farmers' Market Sunday morning I saw some beautiful red onions.  I wanted to make salad onions, but standing at the booth I couldn't remember how many onions the recipe called for.  So I bought three generously-stacked quart boxes and ended up with 7 1/2 pounds of onions -- which turned out to be over twice what I needed. No worries, as I'd also seen a recipe for a red onion relish that sounded interesting.  

It was promising to be a lazy day -- husband and son both out of town, daughter still asleep from a late babysitting job the night before -- so I decided I'd make both the salad onions and the relish. 

The salad onions recipe calls for 2 1/2 pounds of small red onions in quarter-inch rings, and the relish calls for 4 pounds of thin slices.  I had mostly big onions, so I used the smallest for the rings and then to make up balance sliced off the ends of the bigger onions.  Once I had my 2 1/2 pounds of rings, I sliced the rest of the onions thin for the relish. 

I made the relish first, since it calls for long cooking times.  The recipe is Caramelized Red Onion Relish in The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving.  This is good on broiled and grilled meats, especially pork and chicken, though the recipe notes also recommend it for steak -- it seems too sweet for that, to me.  Spread it on toasted bread with horseradish on the other slice for a great sandwich of cold sliced pork.   


4 half-pint jars 

4 pounds red onions, sliced thin 

1/2 c firmly-packed brown sugar 

1 t salt 

1/2 t  ground black pepper 

8 T balsamic vinegar 

1 1/2 c red wine 

In a heavy pan, saute onions and sugar over medium-high heat, stirring to prevent sticking, until onions are golden and start to caramelize and liquid has evaporated, about an hour.  Add salt, pepper, vinegar and wine, bring to a boil, stirring to the bottom of the pan to scrape up any sticky bits, then lower heat and simmer until reduced to thicken the syrup, about another half hour. Taste and correct seasonings. 

Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

The salad onions recipe I use is the one for Red Onions in Wine Vinegar in Linda Amendt's Blue Ribbon Preserves.  I use red wine vinegar instead of the white wine vinegar she calls for because red onions tend to wash out when cooked and preserved and I don't find that look very appetizing -- using red wine gives them back their nice deep pink color.  The red wine vinegar I used has an acidity of 6% as compared to the white wine vinegar's 5%, so I'm not risking losing acidity (a concern when canning low-acid foods like onions in a hot water bath and the reason you shouldn't try to change proportions of low-acid vegetables to added acids in canning recipes.)  I also process these the regular way -- 10 minutes in boiling water rather than her recommendation which is to pasteurize (30 minutes at 180-185 degrees) simply because I know of no easy way to keep a large kettle of water between 180 and 185 for 30 minutes without sitting on top of it.  These are great on salads and also on burgers. 


4 pint jars  

3 pounds small red onions, sliced into 1/4" rings to make 2 1/2 pounds of rings 

6 1/2 c red wine vinegar 

3/4 c sugar 

2 t whole black peppercorns 

In a large heavy saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, and peppercorns.  Over low heat, stir until sugar is dissolved.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.  Add onions and simmer, gently stirring, 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Pack hot onions into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Allow to settle for a few moments, adding more onions if necessary.  

Ladle syrup into jars, maintaining the 1/2 inch headspace.  Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Review of Slims

CincyScenes has a new review up for Slims, which sources locally and even grows a lot of their own ingredients in a nearby garden plot in Northside.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Review of Greenup Cafe at Restaurants & Reservations

There's a new review of Greenup Cafe over at Restaurants & Reservations.

Local eating resources in Dayton

For those just north of Cincinnati, I wanted to give a heads up on some local eating resources that overlap with our area of interest and might be worth checking out:

DaytonLocovore (modeled after CinciLocavore, the Cincinnati Local Foods Groups' free email discussion group) is just starting up.  They share resources for local eating in and around the Miami Valley.

Miami Valley Grown, a project of The Ohio State University's Extension Service, connects local growers, farmers, and producers with local buyers.  Their site offers a local foods map, a list of local farmers' markets, and other resources.  They're also looking for volunteers right now to work on several projects:

  • Events and Education
  • Institutional Integration (getting local foods into local universities, K-12, grocery stores, etc)
  • Kitchen Incubator (establishing a shared-use kitchen for the Miami Valley)
  • Local Meats Taskforce
  • Publicity and Marketing
For more information or to volunteer, email Matt Cox.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

New source for sliced sandwich meat

With all the local pastured meats in the various farmers' markets these days, it's been a surprise that I couldn't find any that were sliced for sandwichmaking. I pack a lot of lunches, so today when I found some thin-sliced meat perfect for sandwiches, I was pretty excited.

Tom Cail of Rising Sun Farm in New Paris, OH, who brings his eggs, pork, and produce to Hyde Park Farmers' Market, was offering today smoked ham sliced thin for sandwiches. I tried it and bought a couple of one-pound packages, and I'll definitely be going back for more. It's a smoky, lightly salted ham, and it's good. Tom's offered ham steaks in the past, but they haven't been as popular as he'd hoped. So he's experimenting with this as an alternative. The sliced ham freezes well, so if you'd like to be able to pack lunches with local pastured meat this school year, stop and give it a try.

Tom's pigs are all Berkshires, an heirloom breed prized by many chefs, and they're 100% pastured- raised.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Video review of NuVo

Polly Campbell posted a video review of NuVo this week. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Review of Lavomatic at CincyScenes

Shannon over at CincyScenes reviews Lavomatic, which sources locally.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Garlic Mustard Dill Pickle Relish

I'm back! We had a stupendous trip but I'm glad to be home. Several travelling-locavore posts are in the pipeline from the trip, but today I wanted to do something homey in celebration, so: Garlic Mustard Dill Pickle Relish into the pantry.

I wasn't planning to can (what I need to do is laundry!) but yesterday at the Nativity Church Tailgate Market in Pleasant Ridge (3:30 - 6:16pm at 5935 Pandora and as far as I know our area's only Monday farmers' market), I saw some beautiful early season cucumbers at Neltner's. Normally I wait to can until later in the season so I can buy the ingredients cheaply, but the cukes were so pretty and fresh looking that I couldn't resist. I bought enough for a recipe of dill relish, which I use often in egg salad and other recipes. This recipe is adapted from the classic Ball Blue Book Dill Pickle Relish recipe, which doesn't include mustard seed or garlic.


7 pints

8 pounds cucumbers

1/2 c salt

2 t turmeric

1 qt water

1 pound onions, chopped fine

1/3 c sugar

2 T dill seed

1 T mustard seed

6 cloves garlic, pressed

1 qt white wine vinegar

In batches of ~1 1/2 pounds in the food processor, chop cucumbers until just chopped fine. Don't overprocess. Dump into a bowl, add salt, turmeric, and water, stir, and let sit 2 hours.Meanwhile, set jars, lids, and rims into canning kettle, fill with water to cover pint jars by 2 inches, cover and bring to a simmer. When the 2 hours are up, drain cucumbers, rinse, and drain again. Add to a non-reactive (enamel or stainless) stock pot along with remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and simmer 10 minutes.

Using tongs to pull jars, lids and rims from the hot water as needed, ladle the relish into hot pint jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe jar rims with damp cloth, cover with hot lids and screw on lid rims without tightening. (The lid rims are only there to hold the lids in place during processing; overtightening can both interfere with processing and cause you to dislodge the lids when removing the lid rims before storing your relish.)

Turn heat to high under canning kettle, set jars into canning rack, drop into water, cover kettle, bring to a boil, and process 15 minutes. Remove from water and set on rack to cool. Once cool, check seals (press gently in the center of the lid -- if you feel a slight pop and the center flexes down and then back up again, the lid didn't form a seal and that jar should be refrigerated and used within a month), remove lid rims, label, and store.