Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cooking Floyd: Hoosier Daddy?

 I came home from work one day to find this sitting in my kitchen:

This is a Hoosier Cabinet.  Probably the single most useful and efficient piece of kitchen furniture I've ever owned.  It's also a fine example of a rare beneficial result of the combination of two of my Dad's worst quirks.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Preserving Floyd: The Bone Collector

"Can I have your carcass?"
"Your turkey carcass.  If you're not using it.   And the neck and giblet bag too."
"Using it?  What would I be using it for?  I throw it out."
"NO!! uh, I mean, no.  Don't do that.  Just wrap it in foil and I'll come get it on Friday."
"And if you have any leftover veggies, after eating leftovers, I'll take those too."
"Uh, okay."
"I'm making stock."

My first usual pre-holiday conversation with new friends.  The old ones have it figured out and make their own stock now.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cooking Floyd: About Those Apples

Floyd County is mountain apple country.  There are commercial family-run orchards, farm orchards, trees in backyards, trees along the Blue Ridge Parkway (which the Parkway Service allows to be picked), and random apple and crab apple trees along the roadsides that just happen to have sprung up.  And there are abandoned orchards.  If you explore the back roads and "goat paths" of Floyd (and most of the roads here are back roads) you'll come across long abandoned homesteads with decrepit farm houses and outbuildings, or a lone fireplace and chimney standing in a pasture.  In the spring some of these are amazing, the houses surrounded by blooms of  tulips and daffodils, old-fashioned peonies and lilacs, and later poppies and roses.  But, in the spring, if you look beyond the houses and outbuildings, you'll spot trees in bloom.  Fruit trees covered in pinkish flowers.  Apples.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cooking Floyd: Extreme Deep Dish Apple Pie

I'm skipping back a holiday on this post to talk about the Extreme Deep Dish Apple Pie we had for Thanksgiving (and the Pre-Thanksgiving Practice Potluck, and the initial I-wonder-if -I-can-do-this experiment).

Michael loves deeply spicy, tender, baked until translucent apples. So much so that he asked me to come up with a canning recipe for them so he could put pint jars in his lunch bag.  The result was something he lovingly calls "Apple Crack".

When it comes to pastry I'm pretty much a rookie.  But I can make a normal, presentable, and tasty apple pie.  But here is where it all went weird...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cooking Floyd: Merry Christmas Everyone!

It's the day before Christmas and I'm contemplating our Christmas Feast menu.  A relish tray, green salad with vinaigrette, mashed parsnips, buttered green beans, baked sweet potatoes, scalloped corn, cranberry relish, turkey and stuffing, pears poached with white wine and spices, cherries in port, and vanilla pudding.

From our pantry will come the relish tray of Dilly Beans, Bread & Butter Pickles, Sweet & Spicy Zavory and Mini-Bell Peppers stuffed with Smoked Trout Spread (the smoked trout came from Big Pine Trout Farm), Pickled Beets, and Roasted Herbed Principe Borghese Tomatoes, all preserves put up last summer.  We still have some greens out in the garden under plastic for the salad.  I'll pull green beans, herbed butter, corn (given to us by a farmer after a restaurant refused the delivery as "too ripe".  Trust me, it was at the peak of perfection.) and sage pesto (for rubbing on the turkey) from the freezer.  Japanese sweet potatoes, onions, celeriac, carrots, shallots, and parsnips from the "root cellar".  Dried cranberries and Clementine segments will come off the pantry shelf to be tossed with maple syrup from Rexrode Maple Sugar Orchard, pecans from my son James' yard and a splash of Horton Vineyards' Cranberry Wine.  I have two loaves of whole wheat No-Knead bread cubed and drying out on the counter.  The flour was milled locally but I'm not sure where they source their wheat from.  That will be mixed for stuffing with our herbs, celeriac, onions, pecans, and cherries purchased from the Good Food-Good People stand at the Floyd Farmers Market and dried.  The pears are Seckels, put up last winter with Sweet Mountain Laurel wine from Chateau Morrisette and the vanilla pudding will be made with milk and cream from Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, VA.  The cherries in the port were part of the above cherry purchase.

The ingredients in our dinner not grown ourselves or sourced locally seem to be white sugar, salt and pepper, some of the tropical spices, yeast (I'm terrible at sourdoughs), oil, oranges and cranberries and, of course, the turkey.  Local heritage turkeys are available but I just couldn't afford to splurge on one.  Perhaps we'll grow our own next year.  Oh, and the port.  It's a berry and maple syrup port that was made at a family vineyard near Quebec City and purchased while we were vacationing there.  They didn't speak a word of English and we speak no French but we had a great time tasting and communicating by other means.  I will miss that port when it's only a memory.

Not too bad!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cooking Floyd: Cookies!

When I was little the weeks preceding Christmas were full of excitement.  After Thanksgiving the lighted street decorations would go up in town, the stores would transform with glittering interiors and handpainted windows.  Homes would begin to look like full size gingerbread houses.  Snow would frost everything.  Dad would bundle us into the car for the annual night time tour of lights which always seemed to include at least one instance of getting stuck in the snow.  We'd go out to search for the perfect tree and if I promised to be very careful I'd be allowed to hang the delicate glass ornaments and drape tinsel.  But best of all, Mom would get out flour, butter and sugar and her box of cookie cutters and make cut out cookies.  I loved sitting at the table with her as she mixed up all different colors of icing and laid out sprinkles and jimmies, dragees in silver and gold, red hot cinnamon dots and nonpareils.  Then we would begin icing, painting, sprinkling, sugaring while we shared hot chocolate and she told me stories about Christmases with her parents and brothers and sisters.

Even though my kids are all grown up and moved away with families of their own I still love to make cut out and painted cookies.  Michael (who can be a teensy bit grinchy) says, "I don't know why you do this but I'm glad it makes you happy."  I do it because I'm sentimental and nostalgic, and I really miss my mom during the Christmas season.  I have all her glass ornaments and cookie cutters and handling the ornaments and making cookies brings back sweet winter memories.  I love giving the cookies to folks and watching their faces light up with delight at receiving the colorful, sparkly confections.  Everyone loves cookies!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Preserving Floyd: Candied Peel

I have loved glaceed fruits since childhood.  Glowing like jewels, they attracted me.  The plump and sticky feel of them made me handle them with care.  They were to be consumed slowly and reverently because they were so lush and moist, so intensely rich and fruity that to bolt them down was to miss all the complexity contained within this rare treat.  The only time these beautifully preserved fruits showed up in our house was around Christmas and only in small amounts.  One a day was all that was allowed in order to make the treat last as long as possible.  I remember wheedling Mom to buy them when they would show up at the farmers market between Thanksgiving and Christmas, rows of them sparkling in the light.  Ruby red cherries, bright orange apricots, golden pineapple, rows of plump citrus: yellow, green and orange, sparkling with sugar.  Over the years these treats disappeared only to be replaced with commercial imitations in plastic tubs.  A very faint and disappointing shadow of the jewel box of fruits in my memory.

Last year around this time I came across an old recipe for glaceed apricots and having found a source for very good dried ones decided to try my hand at recreating this treat.  They were close.  Very close.  Partially dipping some of them in dark chocolate didn't hurt either.  I decided to definitely add them to my repertoire of holiday treats.  This year I wanted to add candied peel as well.

There are tons of candied peel recipes out there on the web and in cookbooks, especially the older ones.  When citrus was a seasonal treat and not an everyday grocery store purchase, moms and grandmas urged careful peeling of the fruits so they could dry, candy and store the rinds for other uses.  Waste not, want not.  I gleaned tips, times and ratios from these recipes to come up with my method for candied peel.

I started out with a bag of 12 naval oranges.  I chose navels because I wanted an orange with a good thick rind.  I gave each orange a good scrubbing and thorough drying and then proceeded to carefully remove the peels.  I cut the stem and blossom ends off each fruit so I could see where the pith ended and the meat began, scored the rinds in quarters without cutting into the meat, and carefully peeled it off.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gardening Floyd: Dreamin'....

The first seed catalog for 2011 arrived in the mail over the weekend along with the first snow.  Last night Michael and I couldn't stand it any longer and we pulled out our box of seeds for inventory.  The catalog that came was from Totally Tomatoes and I just had to be the one to inventory our tomato seeds.

Last year we grew Amish Pastes, Principe Borghese, Red Currants, and an unnamed seed that had been handed down for at least 3 generations in the family of a coworker of Michael's that we dubbed "Smokey" after the coworker's grandfather.  All are open pollinators and indeterminate growers except for the Principe Borghese which are semi-determinates.

Here's photos of the tomato terraces from June 2010.  By the end of that month the harvest started coming in so fast I didn't get any more pictures taken!

Smokey tomatoes and Red Currant tomatoes on the trellis

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Preserving Floyd: Of Cranberries & Clementines

This post, unfortunately, is an example of not buying local.  It is an example of in season and putting up in bulk.  Citrus doesn't grow around here.  We've not weaned ourselves enough to give up citrus totally and the greenhouse we will attempt to grow citrus in is still a daydream.  However, citrus is in season.  And citrus is at it's cheapest and most available now between Thanksgiving and Christmas along with cranberries.
Just before T-Day, armed with coupons and having compared store prices I headed out to the store offering the best prices on Clementines and cranberries.  I purchased twelve bags of fresh cranberries and two crates of Clementines.  Clementines are a member of the Mandarin Orange family and my mission was to put up half-pint jars of segments and make Clementine Orange Dust which I use as a spice in baking and cooking.  The cranberries I generally freeze as is to use throughout the year in various ways but I also wanted to attempt to dehydrate them into "craisins".  We recently identified a spot on our land that we think would be conducive to growing cranberries and if I can make acceptable dried cranberries we'll invest in planting some bushes.

First up: Cranberries.
Having done research on the web it appeared the best way to prepare the cranberries for the dehydrator was to poach them in a syrup made from a ratio of a 3/4 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water.  I wanted enough of this syrup to cover the cranberries (two 12 oz bags) so I multiplied that by 6 which was 4 1/2 cups of sugar to 6 cups of water.  I put the sugar and water in a large, heavy, non-reactive pot and brought it just to a boil.  Then I dumped in the cranberries and allowed them to boil for 1 minute, then immediately removed them from the heat.  This allowed the skins to burst but didn't allow the berries to overcook.  The cranberries then steeped in the syrup for 30 minutes.  (Whether you choose to sweeten the cranberries or not it's important to either slice them in half or blanch them in water to burst the skins.  If you just stick them in the dehydrator whole you'll end up with hard red marbles.)  Steeping allows the syrup to penetrate the berries and sweeten them.

After 30 minutes I removed the cranberries with a slotted spoon to a colander and allowed them to drain while reserving the now rich red cranberry syrup in the pot for another use.
Simple syrup after steeping cranberries