Tag Archives: preserves

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2019 – Weeks Three and Four (After the Fact) + Some Goals

So, as-you-know-bob, April was Eat From the Larder Month chez House of Goat! As mentioned earlier, the Eat From the Larder Challenge was created, many years ago, by Erica Strauss over at (the now mostly-dormant) Northwest Edible Life blog, as a way of demonstrating the maxim that “Cooking is a basic skill of resilience” in real time while also using up any preserves that are hanging around, wearing out their welcome.
While the first year I did this challenge (2014, I think?), I was pretty strict about following the rules of the challenge, I’ve been getting less and less hard core about them as time has gone on and I’ve gotten the hang of using a Par System (if you wanna be fancy) to keep preserved foods and dry goods actually moving through my larder rather than building up in stashes that end up taking up a lot of space without getting eaten.
I’ve said, often enough, that “It’s always Eat From the Larder Month at my house” because we spend more than half the year relying on predominantly frozen (or otherwise preserved) produce, and because I learned – my first year of doing this – that brown rice will, eventually, go slightly rancid if you let it sit around for literally YEARS without using it… and it’s waaaaaaaaaaaaay better to use it up over the course of 6+ months (and drop another $15 for a new 5kg bag of brown basmati when the time comes) than to let it sit for literally years In Case of TEOTWAWKI.
 
So, particularly if you read the first of this year’s EFtL Challenge posts, it’ll come as no surprise that the second half of the Challenge looked much like the first. I continued to buy milk and eggs.
A neighbour gifted me eggs, whipping cream, and a jar of dairy kefir (she’s vegan, but her recently-visiting parents aren’t) so I now have dairy kefir in my fridge again[1].
I made a steak and kidney pie – and discovered that a 2:1 ratio of kidneys:steak is a little too weirdly-floral-tasting for my tastes, and it would have been awesome to cut it with, say, a tonne of mushrooms and some extra onion or something. But here we are. I still have a frozen pig kidney in my freezer, but that’s down from having three, so I’m calling it a win.
I sprouted some mung beans, and may try to do the same thing with green lentils. (My attempts to sprout chick peas have… not worked out so well, but we’ll see if I can get it right…)
I made sourdough bread a couple of times, and it mostly worked, most of the time, and making bread with bottle yeast is still easier and faster, so I clearly don’t have this down pat just yet.
I made a 3L batch of yoghurt, and used 2C of it, in lieu of cream cheese, to make a chocolate cheesecake(!!!) which actually worked!
I used the gifted whipping cream and some more of the yoghurt to make a liver mousse (uh… yesterday. I got the liver, itself, out to thaw at the end of April, but it’s been hanging out in the fridge until last night).
But, for the most part, it’s been pretty business-as-usual around here. There are still h’ors d’oeuvres in my freezer – where they’ve been hanging out since Winter Solstice, if not earlier – that need to be baked and served. There are elements of my larder that got “eaten down” by other people, because there are a few folks in town who needed extra groceries and I was able to go shopping in my freezer/cupboards for them and basically “off-load” a roasting chicken, a lot of frozen veggies, a loaf of home-made bread, some tinned tuna, some garden rhubarb, the last of the brown basmati rice (picked up in October, so it’s just fine thank you), and a variety of Things In Jars (mostly tomatoes) on other people.
 
The biggest thing that’s come up, though, is that vegetables are delicious, and I would like to eat more of them.
So, like, for those of you who’ve got the cash flow to not worry about this? Produce isn’t cheap. Bags of frozen produce are less expensive (usually) than fresh stuff – which is another reason why we use so much of it – but it’s still not cheap. Blessings Be upon my garden – with its rhubarb and sorrel and crow garlic and plentiful dandelions, with its sage and savoury and lovage and (hypothetical, but here’s hoping) raspberries and even its nettles and occasional purslane, with its self-seeded radishes and mustard greens and its volunteer cherry tomatoes – for giving me free produce all summer long, plus enough (we hope) rainbow chard and (sometimes) winter squash to keep feeding us later on, from the freezer. Bless the neighbourhood’s numerous city service berry trees and neglected chokecherries, and the raspberry canes along the alley. Bless the antique apple tree across from my laundromat and the big, chunky crab apples that grace the verges of the rich neighbourhood to the south, for the cider and fruit butter they give us in the Fall.
 
I’ve been planting for the past week-and-a-bit. Adding manure to the garden beds, and digging at least one new one. Putting in a second lovage plant and trying again with thyme, plus adding a few annual seedlings, too.
I’m thinking about how one of the Big Easy Things a person can do to reduce their own carbon footprint is to eat more vegetables.
I mean, yes, I know. The idea being expressed there is “Get more of your calories from plants (rather than muscles)”. But when I think “Eat Less Meat” what I end up thinking is “Eat Less Flavourful, More Boring, Food” combined with “Access Fewer Amino Acids and Start Feeling Dizzy and Having Trouble Thinking Things Through”.
Whereas, if I think “Eat More Vegetables”, yeah, I may be thinking “¼C diced salami[2] + 2C milk and a tablespoon of parmesan cheese split between three+ people” in a meal that’s half rotini noodles, but I’m also thinking “Five or six cups of veggies: Mustard & radish florets, leafy greens, hothouse grape tomatoes, and herbs… This is beautiful, flavourful, and delicious!”
It’s a plate of shredded red cabbage tossed (or steamed, if you want it hot!) with diced apple, dried cranberries, and pumpkin seeds topped with yoghurt, minced garlic, and a dollop of grainy mustard.
It’s a thin slices of toast topped with mayo, hot mustard, apple butter, garlicky hummus, and a generous heap of sour kraut.
It’s rutabaga, winter squash, beets, onion, garlic, and parsnips (or carrots, or even creeping bell flower root, if you want to go there) roasted with frozen or hothouse bell peppers and walnuts, then tossed with a 2:1 mix of pot barley and black lentils cooked in bone stock, and topped with lacto-fermented radish roots-and-greens before serving.
It’s hothouse tomatoes & cucumbers, sprouted mung beans, slivered crow garlic, and frozen edamame tossed with yoghurt and quinoa (OR orzo pasta, for that matter).
It’s half a cup of liver mouse, 80g of brie or chevre, and a cup of artichoke-mayo-garlic-parmesan dip set out with soda crackers and wine and a spread of olives (or a tapenade made from a tin of same), dried apples, pears & cranberries, roasted walnuts, bell peppers & tomatoes, chokecherry relish, heavy-garlic hummus, and baba ganoush.
It’s all beautiful, flavourful, and delicious.
It’s all appealing and something I would want to eat.
…And it means upping my veggies per person count from 2 servings per dinner-time to something closer to five or six (a serving of most, though not all, veggies is about half a cup).
Which means my budget – in terms of space, but also in terms of money – is going to have to more than double.
Not the most comfortable though, even at the beginning of Free Food Season. But, I figure, at least Free Food Season will give me some time to adjust to this while everything is bright and delicious, and that’s emphatically a start.
 
So.
What was my take-away for 2019’s Eat From the Larder Challenge?

Variety is still wonderful
 
Veggies are delicious and I need (and want) to eat more of them, which is going to cost money, but maybe I can get more perennials going? Perhaps? (Is this the year I try to plant asparagus?)
 
Sourdough bread remains difficult, but I’m better at it than I was. Also, making dips out of various things is a GREAT way to use stuff up. Whether that’s liver and yoghurt or pressure-canned beans and mashed pumpkin… And strips of mediocre sourdough bread make GREAT dippables if you put them under the broiler with some oil brushed over them first. Pro tip. 😉
 
We easily eat two dozen eggs per week in this household. And a solid gallon-and-a-bit of milk. Four and 3/4 litres per week, if you want to get technical and also include the milk needed to make yoghurt once a month. Which is… a lot. I’m more than a little relieved to still have access to these[3] and this is definitely where our food choices are at their most brittle and where a big bag of powdered milk might be a good way to make the (much tastier) liquid stuff stretch farther, or help me make do when it’s not available

 
During the EFtL Challenge, this year, I nearly ran out of flour and short pasta, and did run out of parmasan and cheddar as well as granulated sugar (but we also have tonnes of other options – like honey and maple syrup – to use in place of granulated stuff). I was out of baking powder before I even started, and have been happily using baking soda (and acidic stuff like fruit butters and yoghurt) in my quick breads. Shortbread cookies made with honey instead of sugar are delicious (next up: Making them with a mix of whole wheat pastry flour and oat flour, in addition to the butter and the honey…)
 
I’ve since re-stocked on flour, sugar, pasta, and other dry goods and pantry staples, and will be having a gallon of maple syrup delivered from a friend’s family sugar bush… some time between now and June, probably? Between that and the garden starting (just barely – we’re still on dandelions, crow garlic, and rhubarb right now) to produce veggies, I’m feeling pretty good.

Goals for This Year’s Preserving Efforts
 
Grow winter squash (including spaghetti squash, butternut, buttercup, and two kinds of pumpkin) AND cucumbers up a trellis to make them harder for the squirrels to attack
 
Grow pole beans (and nasturtiums and icicle radishes) in the same bed as the squash.
 
Pressure can a lot of mashed winter squash and/or dice, steam, and freeze it for the freezer.
 
Grow a lot of radishes (again) and lactoferment the roots and greens together (with mustard seed, garlic, and bird chilies)
 
Maybe try growing amaranth (and inter-plant with eggplant and pole beans), because I hear it’s easy to thresh and winnow and because it’s a really nice addition to Pumpkin Soup
 
Continue to sprout various dry beans and add them to salads and stir fries
 
Grow and freeze as many hardy cooking greens as possible (mainly rainbow chard, but also some kind of kale or mustard greens)
 
Buy enough yellow and green zucchini (like 60, unless my own zucchini plants give me a bumper crop) and red shepherd peppers (like 85… which will cost a LOT more, and so maaaaay need to be significantly limited) and eggplant (15, because I’m not expecting a high yield from my eggplants, tbh) to put up a LOT of frozen veggies, so that I’m less dependent on – but not independent from, I seriously doubt – getting veggies from the freezer section of the grocery store.
 
Grow mustard for seed
 
Occasionally pressure can batches of bone stock AND batches of cooked chick peas or other large beans at the same time
 
Wild-harvest local service berries (freezer) and chokecherries (curds and jellies) at the appropriate time.
 
Sow clover seed in the back yard to help the ground fix nitrogen and get it a bit healthier and more able to support other food crops

 
Ha… These goals are ambitious, and some of them (like the amaranth, though I do have the seeds) may not happen. But here’s hoping I’ll be able to meet that 5-6 servings of veggies person plan, and do a lot of it myself.
 
 
Cheers,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] I find that dairy kefir – at least mine – smells like a mix between old cheddar and blue cheese. I’m not sure it’s supposed to smell like that, but it still smells like a familiar food, so I tend to put it in bechamel sauce to make it taste cheesier, particularly when I’m all out of parmesan and cheddar due to the challenge restrictions.
 
[2] Or a whole cup of tinned tuna, or the half a cup of diced meat you can get off a left-over pork chop or chicken leg. You get the idea.
 
[3] Not long ago, a friend commented something along the lines of “A million different things can be made from a base of coconut, rice, flour, yeast, sugar, cardamom and saffron”. She was talking about Zanzibari cooking. I think my Million Different Things are probably made from a base of eggs, milk, wheat flour, maple syrup, mustard, black pepper, nutmeg, and salt. (And, yes, you can theoretically use spice-bush berries in place of both the nutmeg and the black pepper, but I don’t have those. Yet).

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2019 – Weeks One &Two (Includes: Pear Velvet Pie Recipe)

So! It’s Eat From the Larder Month chez House of Goat! Full disclosure: Winter 2018-2019 has been substantially easier than winter 2017-2018 (never-mind the year before that one) and we have not been doing the Eat From the Larder challenge literally every other month to the point that the must-have supplies (for me) like all-purpose flour and red lentils are dwindling before I even get started over here. So I’m starting out with more “larder staples” (dry goods) than I’ve necessarily had in years past.
I’m also doing my usual thing where I continue to buy milk and eggs, at normal-for-our-house rates (about 1 gallon of milk and 1-2 dozen eggs per week), because it makes the whole month about a zillion times easier and it means I have something to cook my freezer veggies and jars of preserves with, which makes a big difference.
 
For those who don’t know, the Eat From the Larder Challenge was created, many years ago, by Erica Strauss over at (the now mostly-dormant) Northwest Edible Life blog, as a way of demonstrating the maxim that “Cooking is a basic skill of resilience” in real time while also using up any preserves that are hanging around, wearing out their welcome.
The first year I did this, I went pretty all-in. And I learned a lot about the bits of my larder that I didn’t really know what to do with (lentils), even though I had them on hand. I found out which pantry staples I tended to avoid (brown rice), and how much I want variety in my diet, even when “variety” is defined as “umpteen ways of making the same 10 or so ingredients taste good, day after day”.
 
It made a difference in how I thought about preserving food: Thinking of preserves as “ingredients” rather than “finished dishes” meant that I started paying attention to how frozen serviceberries are more versatile than serviceberry jam, fruit butters make better additions to quick breads than jams and jellies, pickled veggies and dried fruits can both be used to add acidic brightness to dishes comprised mostly of root vegetables.
It also made a difference in how I thought about my eventual (now a reality!) garden: I want perennial food plants – everything from crow garlic, nettles, and dandelions to rhubarb, sorrel, lovage, and culinary herbs – to be available in my yard, because they start arriving early enough to make a difference in a situation where my end-of-winter freezer is looking bare (or even just boring).
 
Anyway. Here we are in, like… Year Six of this challenge, and it’s the end of Week One nearing the end of Week Two.
 
Confession? I’m not taking this challenge particularly seriously. My lovely wife bought us baking potatoes and fancy cheddar (because she’s lovely, and also because I try to do this challenge in a low-key way so I don’t get any push-back… which I might not even get, but I’m letting the brain weasels have this one). We were invited to split a pizza with a metamour (at our place) a week ago, and I didn’t even think about it before saying “Sure, that’d be great”. AND IT WAS. I bought samosas for lunch on Monday of this week, and probably would have done so a second time if a co-worker at my temp job hadn’t brought in Easter Chili (I don’t even know, but it was tasty) on Thursday.
So, while The Challenge has so far been very easy, part of why it’s been easy is because, on mornings when I’ve slept late (“late” = 10 minutes, but wevs) and haven’t had ready-to-go left-overs in the fridge, I’ve opted to buy something rather than not eat.
So, yeah, I’m cheating.
 
That said: The freezer is still emptying out at a reasonable pace. I made a big batch of garlic-curry hummus (ish… it’s mostly chick peas, but not entirely) and between that and making some artichoke-kale-mayo dip (think spinach dip, if that helps), making “toasts” out of some of my sourdough bread (which is working, reliably, for sandwich bread – hurrah!), opening up a tin of smoked oysters, and putting out some dried fruit, I think I can probably come up with a nice snack-feast for later this weekend.
The fact that the crow garlic and rhubarb (and even the sorrel and dandelions) are coming up in the back yard is making it easier for me to stop hoarding be generous with the frozen veggies. So veggie-heavy meals – like strata ft zucchini, red peppers, kale, garlic, and onion (but very little cheese); or chicken stew ft chard, kale, zucchini, celeriac, onion, garlic, and winter squash – have been a delightful option. We’ve also done a cabbage salad (ft walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries with a yoghurt-mustard-mayo dressing) which made for a good next-day lunch as well as a easy, light dinner.
We used up the last of the costco trout the other night, with butter (we are running out of butter) and a little white wine. We’ve got a rutabaga in the fridge, along with a couple of potatoes (all of which are sprouting like heck and which I think I need to put in the ground instead of putting in dinner, but… we’ll see), some Chinese Broccoli and a greenhouse cucumber. (Cucumber salad and a standard short pasta with tuna, frozen broccoli, and bechamel sauce have also featured in the past 10 days of dinners).
I have tonnes of pre-roasted-and-frozen turkey, which I want to start using up.
I have tonnes of fruit butter, too. Which: I found a way to use it up that I really, REALLY like (though, when I run out of butter, I’m in trouble):
 
I made a pie with some of the fruit butter!
 
I’m super excited about this, because I’d been wondering if it would work pretty-much since I put the pear butter up last fall. It’s basically pumpkin pie, except you use a pint of pear butter instead of the 2C mashed pumpkin and 1C brown sugar. You guys. It works so well! Here’s the recipe (which I modified slightly from one like this):
 
~*~
 
Pear Velvet Pie
2C pear butter
1C milk
3 eggs
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
 
Blend the heck out of the above.
Pour into one pre-baked 9″ pie shell (DIY or not, crumb crust or short pastry, you do you)
Bake at 425F for 15 minutes
REDUCE HEAT and bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes
Allow to cool
Serve
 
~*~
 
I assume this will work just as well with apple butter or other fruit butters (Nectarine? Plum?), and I’ll definitely be experimenting at least with the apple, because I have so much apple butter it’s not even funny. Like five litres or something.
 
As far as this specific pie goes? Be aware: Pear butter is hella sweet. When I made mine, I put maybe half a cup of brown sugar into the whole batch. Which was like 3-4 litres of pear butter by the time it was all put in jars. So there’s maybe a tablespoon of “additional sugar” in that pint of what is otherwise just mashed pears, cooked down, with a little bit of salt and cider vinegar thrown in. So I’m assuming that, when I make this with apple butter, I may find that it’s not as sweet. (It will be plenty sweet enough, I’m sure, just not as sweet as this).
 
A similar thing that I’m hoping to do is make what’s essentially a cheese cake, but use plain yoghurt instead of cream cheese. It can be done. The consistency will be a little different (somewhere between normal cheesecake and, like, maybe custard?) but I think, especially if I mix in some melted chocolate chips, it’ll be really good. AND I can top it with some of my frozen berries, which should be awesome sauce. 😀
 
Anyway. We’ll see how the rest of this challenge goes. Hopefully things will remain delicious and easy and our food will remain at least slightly varied (there’s going to be turkey stew with pot barley and rutabaga coming up, I do know that, probably another veggie strata and, provided I can get the noodles right, some sort of udon + soup stock + turkey + lacto-fermented chunky veggies thing).
 
Wish me luck.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Four / End of Month Wrap-Up

Hey!
So it’s May! Well into May, by the standards of a post that I theoretically should have written a week ago, but here we are.
Eat From the Larder Month is OVER! YAY!

Rappini (I think) – front, left.
Peas (for sure) – right, back-left.


Much like the last time I did this challenge, I’m not feeling the press to go out and stock up on groceries because we’re still doing just fine for food.
Part of that, of course, is that I made the decision to continue buying eggs and milk (and coffee and tea) through the month, as needed, but a lot of it is just… I have a big kitchen, two freezers, and enough storage space that I can house a considerable amount of food supplies at any given time.
The other reason – which is a recent development – is that the perennial garden veggies (along with a TONNE of daikon radish seedlings) have been waking up and getting big enough to harvest. So I’ve been able to add dandelion greens, nettles, Vietnamese garlic, and chives to our meals. I made Pasta (Mostly) Primavera for Beltane Dinner, and it was lovely. It also used up part of my last bag of frozen peas AND a bunch of frozen zucchini (I still have some left), which was nice.
 
Stuff I made during the final week (and a couple of days) of April:
Bread (it’s been really good to get back into that habit)
Vegan brownies (that need to have some mashed beans added, but were otherwise delicious)
Soup ft home-made stock, “wild” garden greens, and glass noodles
Alfalfa sprouts! (A couple of friends gave me seed packages for sprouting, and I finally got around to try it!)
Strata ft home-made bread and Vietnamese garlic greens, along with cheddar, parmesan, and a slice of our (March) Meat Of The Month Club prosciutto
 
Things I’ve Learned This Year:
1a) While I’m happy to make vegan food (or vegan “adjacent” food, as is sometimes the case) every now and then, for pot-lucks or because I feel like it or something looks like it’ll taste good, the thought of cooking it because I “have to” due to not having any animal protein available is just awful. It feels like some kind of weird culinary punishment for not planning well enough in advance. I know that’s messed up, and I’m not knocking anyone else’s dietary decisions, but holy moly do I ever NOT want to eat a diet that is so heavily dependent on beans and grains. Maybe that’s just due to one lousy experience with whole oats early on in the month, but it’s really, really sticking.
1b) I need – or at least want – to buy another half-pig from a local farmer who raises their animals kindly. (And would be open to trading some of said pig, pound for pound, in exchange for duck, roasting chicken, beef, moose, or deer – but not sheep or goat, because they’re hard to digest for Some Reason – so that everybody gets Extra Variety in their freezer). I feel a lot less crappy and hypocritical when I’m eating animals who were raised under good and humane conditions, and I’m very sure I’m not going to stop eating animals, so that’s my option.
2) We still go through a pound of cheese per week.
3) I loooooooooove yoghurt, and am so freaking happy that I’m able (or that my instant pot is able) to do so now. 😀
4) Barley remains my favourite whole (and also polished) cooking grain. Baking grain is still polished, all-purpose wheat flour, hands down, but barley is a queen when it comes to long-cooking dishes. Chewy. Drinks a lot of water without getting mushy. Takes of flavours reliably. Hearty and filling. Easy to get ahold of. Grows well in Saskatchewan, so it doesn’t have to be imported, even though it would be nice if Ontario grew more of it.
5) I will probably not be putting up vast quantities of crushed tomatoes this September. I have so many pints still to go through. While I’m happy to continue using them them up over the next few months, the tomatoes I finished were from September 2016. I still have something like 18 pints of crushed tomatoes from last September to use up, and that’s not likely to happen. I suspect that this year’s preserving goals will be more along the lines of blanching and freezing (and maybe drying) All The Things to make including them in dinners that much easier. Doing vinegar-pickled (so water-bath-canned, rather than lacto-fermented) root veggies and blanched-and-frozen root veggies AND greens, will most likely be my priority, rather than crushed tomatoes.
6) I hate, I hate, I hate austerity. I talked a bit about this at the end of Week Two, but good grief. I made a really great stew, and we ate it for a week, and we were both just so sick of it by the time Friday rolled around, we could barely stand to look at it. I think about all those jars of tomatoes, the pounds and pounds of sunchokes still in the freezer, and I just think “Eugh. I don’t wanna” (which, okay, with regards to the sunchokes, isn’t entirely out of line, given what they do to my wife’s stomach, but I don’t want to waste them either).
 
…I’m not saying that the practice isn’t a good one. That figuring out how to make the same six ingredients taste interesting and palatable for many days in a row isn’t a good idea to do while the safety net is in place. It is. I’m saying that I hate it, and that if I learn (and re-learn and re-learn) anything from this exercise, it’s that my food storage plans MUST include a LOT of variety and, frankly, a lot of convenience food – if, by “convenience food”, I mean stuff that gets made in bulk, in advance, (pressure canned mashed winter squash, chick peas, stewing beef, and pumpkin seed butter, big bags of dried kale and culinary herbs, dry sausage that I can keep in a jar on the shelf and chop up to get a lot of flavour from a very small amount of ready-to-go meat, vast quantities of frozen greens, peas, and already-chopped winter veggies, cider-pickled carrots, rutabagas, and beets) so that when I have to make dinner (that basic skill of resilience that Erica talked about when she first devised this challenge), I can make something fast and healthy (or at least healthy-ish) and lush-tasting without having to think about it.
 
Stuff I was overjoyed to find in my freezer, and which made life easier and more delicious:
Zucchini
Peas
Rainbow Chard
Other frozen greens (kale, wild greens mix)
Butternut Squash
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Sausages
Pork chops
Pork shoulder roasts (two of them)
 
Three of these are pork products (see above re: Get another half a pig). Of the rest, I can definitely grow and/or wild-harvest the rainbow chard and other greens and can probably grow (and definitely acquire for cheap, when in season) the summer and winter squashes. Peas, broccoli, and cauliflower are way more likely to be bought pre-frozen from the grocery store, but they are wonderful too.
Additionally: Frozen OR jarred-pickled peppers of various kinds have been an excellent addition to one-pot meals, and I was really glad to have both on hand. Also, while this year has not been a good year for stuffing ourselves with sunchokes, I maintain that having pre-prepared starchy tubers available in the freezer OR on the shelf (pressure-canned or water-bath-pickled with vinegar) is a great way to make myself eat them. I have determined that I’m far more likely to incorporate a spoonful of salty lacto-fermented beets or half a pint of vinegar-pickled rutabaga than I am to peel and dice them fresh for inclusion. With that in mind, I think it would be wise for me to stock pressure-canned (yes, I know you lose nutrients) and/or frozen root veggies even when they also cure well and will keep for a long time without any prep at all.
 
Anyway. Those are my thoughts. We’ll see what I carry forward. As generally happens at this time of year, I’m more excited about planting veggies and harvesting wild greens (totally going to lacto ferment some dandelion greens in short order) than I am in worrying about too many sunchokes still left in my freezer. I’ll figure something out, I’m sure. For now, off to eat sprouts, pick greens, and probably roast a chicken.
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Three

Ha.
So, in the name of spring cleaning and getting the kitchen a bit less cluttered, I re-boxed all the empty mason jars and, in the process, I took an inventory of my home-jarred… stuff.
Ye gods.
I have over 20 pints of crushed tomatoes still to go through.
Also over a dozen jars of sweet preserves (fruit butter, jam, fruit curd) and six jars of choke cherry relish.
 
It’s a bit of a shock. I knew I had at least a dozen pints of tomatoes, but I didn’t realize I had so much more. Same with the sweet preserves.
 
So, to the surprise of nobody, Fabulous Friday Dinner involved both crushed tomatoes AND choke cherry relish. On a similar note, an up-coming pot luck dessert is going to feature some rose-chili jelly (which was a gift from a friend, not something I put up) and I’ll probably be adding choke-cherry sweet preserves (either Goblin Fruit jam or choke-cherry curd) to my home-made yoghurt for breakfasts and/or snacks.
 
None-of-which will get me anywhere near finished all of this stuff, but at least I know I’ve got it and can plan accordingly.
Heh. I have to admit that the combination of choke-cherry relish and crushed tomatoes worked out really well. Like: Substantially better than I expected it would. (I expected it to be okay. I did NOT expect it to be delicious, which it totally was! Woohoo!)
 
I took a morning to look after the ferments, earlier this week. The fermented previously-frozen-sunchokes are… weird. They are mushy. Which is probably to be expected, given that they started out as blanched (therefore softened) already. They don’t smell weird. They smell like sunchokes that have been fermented with a little bit of tumeric. But the texture is… more than a bit unappetizing.
My plan for them is to (a) strain them out of their fermentation brine, then soak them in some cold water, before (b) adding them to a long-cooking dish like a braise or a slow-baked chickpea stew (most likely also featuring crushed tomatoes… to the surprise of nobody).
Fingers crossed that it works!
 
Things I’ve made this week include:
 
* Yoghurt – cultured for 10 hours, rather than eight, which worked out really well. It’s thick enough to be the semi-solid yoghurt Of My Youth, but also thin enough that, if I add a liquid sweetener like maple syrup or pomegranate molasses, it basically becomes a lovely, mason-jar-portable protein drink. I’m hoping to use goblin fruit jam in a similar manner, though I’ll need to thin it with water or something for that to work. 🙂
 
* The above-mentioned stew – 1 pint crushed tomatoes, 1C choke-cherry relish, left-over potatoes-carrots-onions-cabbage from last weekend’s pot roast, dregs of a bottle of red wine, 1 pkg stewing beef that needed using up, pot barley, onion, dried garden nettles, dried garden sage, rosemary, frozen winter squash, and the last of the (non-garden) frozen kale.
 
* Three loaves of bread + a batch of chocolate chip cookies. It’s felt really good to be baking regularly again. The bread is turning out well. I feel accomplished when I make it. The cookies are a bonus – though it’s nice to fill the oven so completely when I’m baking. No wasted space/heat! 😀
 
* A lot of pot dishes (fried rice, stew, and pasta) featuring left-over roast pork, garlic, and last summer’s frozen zucchini & frozen (garden) rainbow chard, which has been SO lovely. I knew I had some somewhere and I’m SO glad I was able to find them.
 
We’re heading into Week Four. The garden, in spite of a a two-week very cold snap, is starting to wake up. The chives are up (both garlic and onion), the Vietnamese garlic is sprouting, both varieties of rhubarb are poking their heads above ground (and were not deterred at all by the sub-zero temperatures and inch-thick ice from freezing rain), and the dandelions are starting to leaf as well. Which I don’t expect to be harvesting wild greens or early herbs until Beltane (if not slightly later), it’s still really heartening to even see them coming back.
 
Goals for this week include:
 
* Use up 2 litres of crushed tomatoes. (I’ll still have, like, 8 litres left. BUT it’s a start. And there won’t be any fresh tomatoes for months, so…)
 
* Make some kind of jam thumb-print cookies (mix the jam with a beaten egg… I think that’s how to do it) to bake along-side a covered dinner braise/roast in order to (a) not waste the space/heat, but also (b) use up another cup or two of sweet preserves.
 
* Do a breakfast-for-dinner meal where we eat pancakes made with fruit butter and yoghurt.
 
* Maybe, if I’m feeling Very Adventurous, try sprouting something? (Two different friends have given me seed sprouting mixes, and I want to try them out)
 
* Make an excellent (fingers crossed) batch of vegan brownies for the above-mentioned pot-luck. They may or may not be gluten-free though…
 
Wish me luck!
 
 
– TTFN,
– Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Two

I have totally bought groceries this week.
Sure, some of it was the stewing beef for a meal I’m making a friend.
But a lot of it was just being too tired to cook in the evening (and so eating the lovely fried egg sandwiches my wife made for us) and then not packing the yoghurt for lunch.
 
Which has me looking at why I’m doing this challenge.
I mean, yes, the whole point is to eat through as many preserves as I can swing, and remind myself that I know how to cook Real Food from scratch, so I’m not (I’m NOT, dammit) going to beat myself up for deciding that I’m not willing to starve for this when I can drop $3 and keep me in discount muffins (which I hid in my temporary desk drawer) for the better part of a week.
But it does have me thinking about Voluntary Austerity.
Both in the sense that Ms Sugar talks about in her book about Glamour Magic – where it’s a tool for making deals with gods and a means of upping your own intensity (which gets you Noticed by humans and non-humans alike) and getting clear on your goals. (Uh. I think). And also in the sense of “doing more with less” in order to prove a point, reach a goal, or learn a new habit… which is more what this challenge was about when Erica came up with it, years ago.
 
Readers? This will come as no surprise to anybody, but: I HATE austerity.
 
Calamity Jane, over at the Apron Stringz archive, has a whole THING about austerity. I can recognize and respect the goals of using less, being less stuck on the materialistic/treat cycle, being more production-oriented than consumption-oriented. I am those things, most of the time. But I want my “use less stuff” to be pleasurable, rather than a demoralizing grind.
I want to look at my larder and say “Okay, I’m limited to what I’ve got here. Let’s make some magic” rather than “Okay, I’m limited to what I’ve got here. Ugh. This is gonna be so gross…”
 
Case in point, and part of what got me thinking about this stuff: I have a tendency to hoard food. I look at the pork shoulder in my deep freeze and go “I should save that for later, when we might not be able to get another one” rather than going “I should cook this and make a week+ of delicious stew and stir-fry dinners with the vast quantity of left-overs it’ll generate after the initial braise”.
Which means I “save” the food I want to eat, and aim to try to make stuff that I only sort-of want to eat, just to get rid of the less-tasty stuff first.
Largely because of this tendency, I made the mistake (“mistake”) of cooking whole oats (rather than, say, potatoes) early on in the week. Whole oats are great. They cook in 20 minutes (uh… in theory) and they’re chewy like short grain rice. But they’re a bulk food buy and, like buying brown rice in a big sack, sometimes there’s chaff mixed in with the grain. Either that or they take longer than 20 minutes to really cook through.
Frozen turkey, that I’d cooked and put in the freezer six months ago, cooked with oats, red lentils, carrots, pickled sunchokes, cabbage and a mix of chicken stock and white wine. The flavour was excellent. But the mouth-feel of the oats-and-lentils was AWFUL, and did not improve with time.
I ate that stuff for three days, and I am not happy about it.
 
Look. I want to be able to make delicious dishes that feature grains and beans heavily. I want to incorporate whole oats into our household diet in at least a semi-significant way, because eating Ancestrally, is both a good way to connect with your beloved dead (especially the ones far back enough that you never knew them in life), AND a good way to give your body what it needs, by eating what YOUR body would have been eating 1000 years ago and learning to get the best out of.
In my case, that means oats & barley, lots of different wild greens (nettles, dandelion, wild grape leaf, plantain, sow thistle, garlic mustard, wild mustard, wild amaranth, garden/sheep sorrel, etc), bread with oats & rye in it (I am totally sticking to wheat though, because I know how to do that reliably), lots of different bramble-berries (red & black currants, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, rose-hips, hawthorn berries, and their relatives), kale & turnips, lots of different kinds of meat (everything from fish & shellfish to cattle & pigs, to deer & elk, to rabbit & duck), and tonnes of dairy.
 
Anyway.
With that in mind (uh… ish), I’ve been cooking with wine and whey this week, as well as lots of frozen kale. Which is the other thing I’ve been reminded of, and am resolving to Do Better At this summer: Frozen greens (and fresh greens) are basically the best thing ever, and I need to be on top of growing them from scratch, and freezing batches of them on the regular.
To that end, I started 17 chard seeds (and 3 snow-pea seeds) in peat pots today. They’re old seeds, but I’m hoping they all germinate. I want to have chard starts already growing when I go out at Beltane to rake over the raised beds and dig out any further quack grass that might have tried to start in the past month.
 
This week’s menu has not included much of what I had originally planned out, but HAS included:
Home made bread
The above-mentioned turkey-lentils-and-oats casserole
The above-mentioned giant pork roast (the left-overs of which will feature in a lot of next week’s meals, I suspect, as 3/4 of it is in the fridge and ready to be treated like an ingredient)
A chick-pea stew (made, in part, for a friend who’s having a rough go) – which WAS delicious, fyi (Maybe the answer to my problem is to just stick with barley, rather than oats? I’ll try it and see, next week!), and used up a litre of crushed tomatoes.
A beef stew (made, in part, for a different friend who just got out of the hospital) – it was also delicious, albeit a lot spicier than I personally like (My wife was like “This is how food should be!” to-which I responded “My lips are tingling, this is not a good time!”) My friend, however, makes her own hot sauce from carolina reaper peppers (which I gather make Scotch Bonnets look like Jimmy Nardellos), so she’ll probably enjoy it, even if she finds it a little tame. It used up a litre of salsa, too, which was a help.
AND
Home-made yoghurt – I mentioned trying out my instant-pot last week, and the yoghurt function does, indeed, make yoghurt. Very mild yoghurt, with a lot of whey, at the default setting,but still tasty. Will try to culture it for 10 hours instead of 8 next time, but for now I have almost-drinkable yoghurt that, if I think it out with some berry juice (from thawing frozen berries), I basically get “yop”, and it’s lovely. No sweetener required.
 
We’ll see how next week goes. For now, I think I need to bake a thing – probably a double-batch of rhubarb muffins – so I can bring some to my friend, along with that beef stew and a loaf of bread.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week One

So. Week One has come and gone, largely without a hitch.
Which is a good thing, because Week One is the easiest week of the challenge and should go without any hitches at all, especially given that I’m doing this challenge on “easy mode”. However it’s also a not-so-good thing because there was, in fact, a hitch.
I got an unexpected extra half-day of temp work this past week (YAY!!!), and duly packed myself a lunch for the hour-long commute between my morning modeling job and my afternoon office job (inter-provincial busing is, uh… special), woke up to an inch of sleet on the streets and, in the rush to get out the door to catch a substantially earlier bus? Big surprise, I forgot my lunch at home.
So I bought my lunch on Wednesday.
Bit of a disappointing beginning there.
BUT!
Beyond that, things have been going fine.
 
My pre-planned meal ideas are working and proving to be at least a little bit versatile.
There’s now enough room in the freezer (thanks to the litre of frozen sunchokes that I thawed out and started fermenting – see below) for me to stock-pile an extra loaf of bread, which means we’ve been eating home-made all week, and nothing has gone moldy (yet), which is fantastic. I’ve made five loaves of bread (we’ve eaten three of them, the other two were made yesterday, along with pancakes and cupcakes).
The previously-frozen sunchokes are fermenting nicely. At least that what it looks like. I’ll start using them in cooking… probably around about Week Three.
The reconstituted mushrooms… don’t seem to be bubbling all that much, but nothing smells weird, so I’m holding off judgement for another little while. I did take the opportunity, once the sunchokes started bubbling, to add a little more of the sunchoke brine to the mushrooms, in the hopes that it’ll help it to take off. We’ll see what happens on that front, but hopefully this time next week, I’ll be telling you that my mushrooms have started to bubble.
The slight up-tick in vegetarian-adjacent dishes (I say “adjacent” because the stews and similar aren’t really vegetarian. I’m still using animal fat and bone stock to cook this stuff, even if the protein is coming from beans and grains) isn’t hurting us any, even if they do leave me feeling a tad hungrier than the same dish with a little bit of tuna or diced pork thrown in would do[1].
I’ve made chocolate chocolate-chip cupcakes and filled them with choke-cherry curd. This didn’t work out quite like I expected – it’s not like putting a dollop of cheesecake batter in the middle of a cupcake, and the curd just kind of got absorbed by the rest of the cake. But it was delicious, none-the-less, and I have no regrets.
I’m remembering to reach for pearl barley, polished rice, and whole oats (oat groats) rather than pasta, as my current go-to carbs, but will need to start pre-soaking great northern and/or black turtle beans soon-ish because, while I’ve got plenty of jarred chick peas and a a few meals worth of Spare Lentils[3], I’m going to run out of those pretty quickly.
 
Which brings me to: I have an instant pot.
Yes, really. A while back, an absolute sweetheart of a friend straight-up bought me an Instant Pot because I mentioned that I wanted to try making yoghurt in one, and they decided they wanted to do something nice for me.
(You guys. My friends are fucking amazing. Did I mention? Holy moly!)
You want to know what an instant pot can do, aside from make yoghurt? It can “pressure soak” beans. Basically, this is the same as bringing dry beans to a boil and then letting them sit, covered, for an hour, before rinsing them and cooking them in new water for the standard cook time. It just takes a lot less time. Which, if you’re staring down a chili dinner, and the tin of beans you thought you had turns out to have been used last week… Is a gods-send.
 
Today, however, I’m using it to make yoghurt. First time out of the box (finally).
Seriously. I’ve tried making yoghurt at home in my parents’ 43-year-old yoghurt maker and… it doesn’t work. Possibly because it’s just a very, very old heat-sleeve that goes on the fritz a bit. Or possibly for Arcane Reasons that I can’t figure out. But the yoghurt I’ve managed to make has been desperately watery unless I add a thickener, like extra powdered milk, and that messes with both the flavour and the texture. Good for cooking, but not very great for breakfast[4].
Fingers crossed that it lives up to its reputation, because I’ve got lots of frozen fruit available, and I’d love to bring pints of fruit yoghurt for lunch on at least a couple of days during this coming week of temp work.
 
Anyway.
Meals for this week have included:
– Braised pork chops with root veggies (carrots, onions, sunchokes), red lentils, cabbage, and dried cranberries
– Pasta with tuna, frozen peas, and cheese sauce (this is a regular at our house, and will continue to be so)
– Turkey stew with pickled root veggies, whole oats, green lentils, and crushed tomatoes
AND
– Chickpea stew with green lentils, pearl barley, crushed tomatoes, dried cranberries, cinnamon and curry powder
 
Meals Ideas for the coming week include, but may not result in:
– Veggie Stew 2 ft a significant amount of vegan (bean-based) sage pesto and, therefore, probably frozen squash, frozen cranberries, and some pre-soaked great northern beans, along with maybe pot barley or, if I have any left, some wild rice (unlikely). This one will probably also have a splish of either white wine or cider vinegar thrown in.
– Pumpkin/Cauliflower “curry” (jar of chick peas, fried onions, frozen pumpkin OR frozen cauliflower florets, quinoa, frozen greens… maybe some coconut milk, and curry powder).
– Stir Fry of onions, reconstituted (non-pickled) mushrooms, shredded cabbage, and marinated firm tofu fried and added to a mix of white basmati rice, red lentils, and frozen greens. This will probably also involve some grocery store hoisin sauce and/or Terrifying Hot Sauce, since I’ve got it.
– Some sort of black bean veggie chili, of which I’ll be making 2-4 extra servings for a friend who’s just got out of the hospital. Some of my frozen winter squash is going to end up in here, along with a couple of pints of crushed tomatoes.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] I really don’t understand how the addition of 1C or less of meat to a generous four serving meal (which works out to a maximum of two ounces of meat per serving) lets me feel sated and keeps me from feeling dizzy or hollow when the same meal, minus that 2oz of animal protein, leaves me hungry enough to get stomach cramps, even when I’m deliberately mixing beans, grains, and fats to make sure that the vegetable amino acids are bio-accessible to my non-herbivore digestive system[2]. It’s weird, especially since other folks do BETTER on a beans-and-grains heavy diet, rather than getting sick more easily under those circumstances. But that’s my body for me.
 
[2] Although my non-herbivorousness has more to do with not having a stomach that can get protein from grass & leaves than it does with needing to remember to add fat to anything (whether that’s beans+grains / nuts & seeds, OR extremely-lean meat like rabbit) to be able to get protein from PROTEIN.
 
[3] One of the ways I up both the amino acids and the fibre content of a stew, braise, or other pot dish is to do 1/3 quick-cooking (no soaking needed) lentils to 2/3 grain of a similar cooking time –> So 2/3 C pot barley or long-grain brown rice to 1/3C beluga black lentils, or 1/4 C red or green lentils to 1/2 C pearl barley, oat groats, quinoa, or white basmati rice.
 
[4] Having grown up on yoghurt made in the above-mentioned 1970s-era yoghurt-maker, I’m aware that it will be grainier, and a little bit thinner, than the stuff I get as my live culture starter from the grocery store. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – Kickoff (beginning of Week 1): A Productive Home Post

So, normally (for a given value of “normally”), I’d hold off posting anything more about Eat From the Larder Month until the end of Week One. BUT I’ve been doing a bunch of “productive home” stuff today, and I wanted to talk about it in the context of starting this challenge off.
 
It being only April 2nd, and yesterday having been Easter Dinner at my mom’s place, we aren’t exactly noticing anything yet on the “I’m not buying groceries” front. So this is more about planning and routine maintenance than anything else.
 
I spent a small chunk of the other day – while at the laundromat, no less – writing up meal plans (or at least “meal ideas”) based on what I thought I had on hand. Of course, to the shock of nobody what-so-ever, there are things I thought I had that I don’t have, and things I thought I was very nearly out of that are highly available. For example, I have NO frozen broccoli, but a LOT of frozen peas, to work with in the freezer. I have more tinned soup than expected, but a significant margin, but pretty much no ground meat (so I can cross “meatloaf” off my meal ideas list).
One of things I have that I wasn’t expecting is, as it happens, soup bones. I thought I’d used them all up, last batch, but NOPE. Turns out there’s a whole other bag of them in the freezer. Which is good, since the batch of stock I made the other day is… on the watery side, and I’d like to be able to boil it down a bit more without having feeling like I should be hoarding it instead. It’s nice to have the option of making more.
 
I made notes about which nights I need to cook something quickly that can also stretch to feed four people – I’ve got seven days of temp work coming up (thank you all the gods!), and know myself just well enough to know that pre-planning those meals, at least a bit, will make my life a LOT easier when I’m frazzled from working multiple back-to-back days of 9-5 (which is not how I usually do).
 
Thanks to a small heap of slow-but-steady spring cleaning that my wife and I have been doing, my kitchen is a lot more functional than it has been. Which feels pretty great, I have to tell you.
Consequently, I’ve got three loaves of bread (not to mention a trifle – which is an easy way to use up the last of a very, VERY stale cake I had lying around) just out of the oven and have been taking care of the ferments this morning:
 
I decanted the kombucha and set up a new batch (and put some of the older kombucha mothers in the compost, because it was getting so that there was more SCOBY than beverage in my fermentation jar, tbh). I’m kind of wondering if I can make vinegar (like, say, red wine vinegar or something) using a kombucha mother. I mean, vinegar is a zillion times less expensive than the alcohol it’s made from (probably because the wine or brandy or whatever you start with doesn’t actually have to taste good, it just has to be fermented enough to function) but I’d kind of like to try making it anyway. Maybe if I ever make cider from wild-harvested apples (six months away at the most unreasonably optimistic of possible attempt-dates), part of it can be re-fermented into vinegar, just to see if it works.
 
Transferred the last of the pickled as’kebwan’/sunchokes to a 2C mason jar in the fridge, and re-filled the fermentation jar with big chunks of blanched-and-frozen (still frozen) sunchokes from the freezer. I have SO MANY, you guys. We’ve been going easy on them, for Tummy Reasons, but it means I have something like 8+ litres of frozen sunchokes on hand and I just… I’m not sure how to get through them all. So I’m trying to ferment them (I used the old brine from the original raw ferment, so it should be inoculated with the right bacteria already, even though the veggies themselves have been killed off by the blanching), just because it will help deal with the inulin and make them easier to digest when added to stews, braises, and pot-roasts. I really hope this works out, you guys. O.O
 
I set up another fermentation experiment. Specifically, I’m trying to do lacto-fermented mushrooms. The main purpose for this is to make adding mushrooms to dinners quick and easy while relying on the dried shiitakes (or, well… something kind of like shiitakes) that I pick up by the Huge Bag every couple of years from the Chinese grocery store up the street. I find, if I just reconstitute them, they don’t always work so well, so I thought I’d try lacto-fermenting about a dozen of them (reconstituted, rinsed, and well-drained) with some thyme, just to see if they work well when added to savoury dishes. Seriously, this is why I lacto-ferment stuff, most of the time. It’s to get “annoying to prep” stuff – like beets, which are kind of messy when you peel them – into a state where I will reliably use them in stuff instead of just avoiding them because they’re messy/dirty/tough or whatever. I’m considering pre-slicing a bunch of carrots and just storing them in a big Tupperware of water in the fridge, for exactly that reason.
 
The plan for tonight is to make a turkey stew using already-cooked turkey from the freezer, plus a bunch of root veggies (some fermented, some not), some crushed tomatoes, and a splish of shiraz. Between that, the trifle, and the bread (I’ve eaten my way through half a loaf already, tbh) we should have a good dinner.
 
But First: I’m having a hot bath. It’s been too long, and I want the heat to soak back into my bones.
 
 
TTFN,
Melaid the Birch Maiden.