For the Bleak Midwinter
Thursday, January 31, 2013
We’re in the time of year when things start looking a little bleak, produce-wise, and you start longing for spring to change things up again. That doesn’t mean you can’t create some wonderful things from the sturdy winter items that do hang around the markets this time of year, though.
This vegetarian version of cassoulet makes good use of the root vegetables and hearty greens that can easily be found, and is the perfect way to warm up on an icy, stormy night. Being vegan, very low-fat and high in all kinds of nutrients is an additional bonus, if you’re trying to stick with any New Year’s resolutions or just detox from the holiday excess.
White Bean, Parsnip and Kale Cassoulet
(Adapted from Eric Tucker & John Westerdahl, The Millennium Cookbook)
5 cups white beans, cooked or canned
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 large parsnips, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground celery seed
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 bunch kale, shredded
Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large, oven-proof pot with a lid, combine the beans and vegetables. Mix together the stock, mustard, maple syrup, herbs and spices in a large measuring cup and pour over the bean mixture. Cover with the lid and bake for 60-75 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and thickened.
Add the kale to the beans, re-cover, and bake 15-20 more minutes, until the greens are tender but not mushy. Remove the bay leaf and serve as a main course or side dish.
We Kept the Farm in Philly!
Friday, January 25, 2013
I wanted to post an update to my post this past Tuesday. On Thursday I sat in City Council and listened as Council President Darryl Clark called to action Council Bill 120917, and asked the bill’s sponsor Councilman Brian O’Neill to introduce the bill. Council O’Neill paused for a second, gathered some papers, and informed President Clark that he proposed an amendment to his original bill that his fellow council people have reviewed. President Clark looked around and made called for a vote on the amendment. And with each council person voicing approval, Urban Agriculture was restored as an As-Of-Right Use in CMX 2 and CMX 2.5 zones in the zoning code.
This is a huge win for all supporters of Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening in Philadelphia. Not only were we as a whole able to achieve a legislative win, but it was done by mobilizing a very well organized and amazing group of advocates and organizations that have come together under the Campaign for Healthier Foods and Greener Spaces. This campaign consists of many partner organizations all across Philadelphia, and is being headed up by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. I’d like to give Amy Laura Cahn, a lawyer at the public interest law center, a huge shout out for all of the work she did on organizing this campaign and getting everyone the information to make this campaign successful.
And I’d like to give a big thank you to anyone who read this blog and who called their council person or helped spread the word. As I said in the title, we kept the farm in Philly. And now I’m looking forward to a great growing season.
Posted by Nic on 01/25 at 02:09 PM
Help Keep the Farm in Philly
Monday, January 21, 2013
I took advantage of the warm temperatures this weekend by spending both days on Emerald Street Urban Farm cleaning out the chicken coop, checking up on the bees, rethinking the horticulture design of our perimeter, and working with our friend Eric to redesign the Earthship Greenhouse we built last year. The greenhouse was constructed by using reclaimed windows and recycled plastic bottles to allow passive solar power to enter the structure. The back wall is then built from salvaged tires packed with earth that act to retain heat in the thermal mass. If you’ve been following my writing on this blog, you’ve most likely read about this already, along with stories of my bees, my chickens, the food we grow at Emerald Street Urban Farm, and the people whom we feed.
I’m sure anyone who reads this blog has read many other great stories about great events, and even more importantly, the great food that comes from the farms in and around Philadelphia. However, changes to the Philadelphia Zoning code threatens to put all of this in jeopardy.
Almost four years ago, the citizens of Philadelphia voted for a comprehensive overhaul of our city’s obsolete zoning code. Over those four years, the city held many community meetings, as well as partnered with the many universities and institutions in the area to redesign a zoning code that would realize the dream of making Philadelphia a world class city of the 21st century. These goals were in line with the current mayoral administration’s Green Works Plan, as well as the comprehensive 2035 Plan for the city. And for the first time, Urban Agriculture was a recognized use for land. However, with the zoning code only 3 months old, Councilman Brian O’Neill proposed amendments to the code prohibiting many uses in CMX 2, CMX 2.5 (Commercial Mixed Use) zones. Some of these prohibited uses were prepared food, transit stations, pet grooming, and most notably, community gardens and market farms. This land accounts for almost one quarter of the land in Philadelphia and would threaten almost 70 gardens that already exist in Philadelphia. A very thorough explanation of this bill and its implications can be found of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia’s website.
After a city council hearing on the bill in December many community stakeholders, as well as some of Councilman O’Neill’s colleagues in CIty Council, got him to amend his amendment to allow community gardening and market farms as a “special exception,” which acts much as a variance acted under the old code. However, this process would cost a community group a minimum of $250 in fees, and for non-profits, it would require the extra financial burden of hiring a lawyer. The only reasoning Councilman O’Neill’s office has provided for this amendment is for giving the communities more of a voice over what is built in their district. However, through the zoning code process, the mayor’s Greenworks plan, and the many people like you who are reading this blog, Urban Agriculture is an overwhelming priority for the people of Philadelphia. And we are not asking for anything other than for Urban Agriculture to be recognized under the original designtation in the code, which is to allow it in CMX 2 and CMX 2.5 zones.
I usually stray from bringing up anything political on this blog. As you can tell from my posts, I love the outlet of Farm to Philly to talk about the fun I have on our urban farm growing food, cooking food, and building community. And even though the lots of Emerald Street Urban Farm are not on CMX 2 or 2.5 land, there are too many gardens that are. Allowing this amendment to pass would compromise all of the great stories of improved food access and a vibrant city. So if you like my stories, and the stories you find on this blog, please call your district’s council person and all of the council members at large, and tell them to vote against City Council bill 120917.
Posted by Nic on 01/21 at 04:04 PM
Philadelphia’s Restaurant Week
Sunday, January 20, 2013
It’s Restaurant Week again here in Philadelphia. For the uninitiated, that means a three-course dinner for $35 at some of the city’s best restaurants (and sometimes a $20 three-course lunch, too). Last year, the theme of Restaurant Week was eat local, which was huge news for the localvore scene in the area. This time around I’m not so sure there is a theme, but it’s still possible to find some locally grown foods if you know where to look!
Of course you’re going to find local farmers represented on the menus as FARMiCIA and C19, but where else? 10 Arts, for instance, is serving Pennsylvania brook trout during the dinner service, and Barbuzzo has a few locally-sourced ingredients on the menu for dinner as well, as does Bistro 7, Butcher & Singer, City Tavern, Cuba Libre, Knock, Meritage, Pumpkin, Square 1682, Twenty Manning Grill, and Winthorpe & Valentine. With that many options, it’s still a sure bet that the eat local movement isn’t dead.
Still, we do hope there’ll be another Restaurant Week aimed at locally-sourced ingredients!
Posted by Nicole on 01/20 at 03:59 PM
Easy Holiday Entertaining
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Everyone needs a quick and painless go-to dessert for entertaining, and this galette is mine, which is why I made it for Thanksgiving and again this past weekend for a holiday party. It’s lovely, elegant, and pretty much foolproof—exactly what you want during this busy and demanding season.
The very thin layer of quince jam beneath the thinly-sliced apples insulates the pastry, so it stays perfectly crisp and flaky, and it adds a nice floral note while intensifying the apples’ flavor. A very light sprinkling of fresh thyme or rosemary after the galette has been baked and glazed adds just a bit more sophistication and a lot of visual appeal.
I used Granny Smith the last time around, but you can use pretty much any kind of apple you prefer and can find at your market. If you don’t have access to quince jam and jelly (I only do because I make my own every fall, provided I can find quinces), you can substitute apple butter under the apples and use either apple jelly or apricot preserves as the glaze.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, All-Time Best Recipes
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
8-10 tablespoons ice water
1 cup quince jam or thick apple butter (preferably not highly spiced)
3-4 medium firm pie or eating apples of your choice
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into very small dice
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons quince jelly, apple jelly, or apricot preserves
1 tablespoon water
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped or 1 small sprig fresh rosemary, minced
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and sugar. Using a pastry cutter, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is evenly dispersed in pieces about the size of peas. Sprinkle 8 tablespoons of ice water over the dough and stir in with a fork, until a crumbly mix forms that holds together when pinched between your fingers. If necessary, add more water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, to achieve that consistency.
Turn the dough out onto a large piece of parchment paper or a Silpat and gather into a rectangular mound around 4 inches wide and 12 inches long. Starting at the top and working your way down, push the dough away from you using the heel of your hand. Repeat this process 1-2 more times, until you have a dough that’s starting to cohere but still shows flat, thin layers of butter. Pat the dough into a rough rectangle about the size of your hand, wrap tightly in a zip-top back or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
When ready to bake, roll the dough on a lightly floured piece of parchment into a rectangle around 1/8 inch thick and 16 x 12 inches long. Trim the edges, then roll them over twice to make a ½ inch border. Transfer the pastry on its parchment onto a rimmed baking sheet, then gently spread the bottom of the dough with the quince jam or apple butter in a thin, even layer. Refrigerate the pastry for about 10 minutes to chill it back down before filling and baking it.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Peel and core the apples, and cut into 6-8 segments (I use a corer-slicer for this). Slice the apples evenly and thinly into 1/8 inch slices, and, starting at one corner of the chilled dough, lay them in a single overlapping, diagonal layer completely covering the entire surface of the pastry.
Dot the apples with the 2 tablespoons of finely-diced butter, and sprinkle evenly with the ¼ cup of sugar. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45-55 minutes, until the apples are caramelized and the pastry is golden brown on the edges and crisp on the bottom when you gently lift up a corner. Set on a cooling rack while preparing the glaze.
In a microwave-proof container, mix together the jelly and water, and microwave until bubbling, around 1 minute. Brush the glaze over the apples, and scatter a small sprinkling of thyme leaves or minced rosemary evenly on top. Cool the galette at least 15 more minutes before slicing into 8-10 servings. Although it’s not necessary, the galette is especially nice accompanied by a spoonful of unsweetened softly whipped cream.
Conquering the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
Sunday, December 02, 2012
There’s been a pumpkin sitting on my backporch now for three weeks. Every time I walk into my house, it glares at me and screams, “Make me into something good!” Here’s the thing: pumpkins are intimidating. They’re big and messy and usually get made into pies or other sweet things. I’m not all that into sweets, and I have nightmares about slicing my fingers off while hacking through a rock-hard winter squash.
The pumpkin is a Long Island Cheese pumpkin, also know as a Fairytale pumpkin or Tuscan pumpkin. They differ from jack-o-lantern type pumpkins in that they are generally pale orange rather than bright orange, and they are squat with a scallop shape. This heirloom variety, one of the oldest domesticated squashes, is generally not available at grocery stores (even the ones who make an attempt to carry local produce), so look for it at your local farmer’s market or grow your own. Interestingly, Philadelphia is the first place Long Island Cheese pumpkins were made commercially available—they were introduced in 1807 by Philadelphian Bernard McMahon.
But back to my pumpkin nerves.
I finally lugged the pumpkin into the kitchen today, determined to stop the mocking. It was surprisingly easy to cut, so that was a nice surprise. It’s currently roasting in the oven at 350 degrees, having been cracked into wedges and given a light sprinkling of olive oil and salt. If you’ve got a particularly tough-to-cut pumpkin or if you’re an even bigger wuss than me, you can cook the pumpkin whole. This idea comes from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy—poke a few holes in the top of the pumpkin, place in a giant pot of water, and boil until it’s fork ready.
Since I’m not a big fan of sweet pumpkin desserts, what I would make out of the Long Island Cheese pumpkin was not immediately clear. Non-sweet pumpkin dishes generally don’t leap to mind with ease, you know? I made a list, which I now replicate here for your own pumpkin-cooking enjoyment:
Black-Eyed Pea and Pumpkin Salad
Savory Pumpkin Quiche
Curried Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Soup
Stuffed Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
Pumpkin Corn and Lemongrass Soup
Pumpkin Risotto with Sage and Cherry Tomatoes
Pumpkin Lentil Stew with Fennel and Swiss Chard
Roasted Heirloom Pumpkin Hash with Chestnuts and Mulled Sorghum Glaze
Pumpkin Fritters with Rosemary and Cheese
Tea-Scented Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkin Soup with Sage and Ham
Pumpkin Lasagna with Ricotta and Swiss Chard
Chili Pumpkin Cranberry Risotto with Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin and Lentil in Tomato Sauce
Pumpkin and Fried Sage Flatbread
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Pumpkin Sage Gougeres
Pumpkin Tart with Balsamic Caramelized Onions, Kalamata Olives & Thyme
Warm Pumpkin Salad with Polenta and Candied Pumpkin Seed
Pumpkin, Chickpea, and Red Lentil Stew
Roasted Pumpkin, Walnut, and Snow Pea Salad
Snow Pea and Pumpkin Stirfry
Crispy Kale and Pumpkin Coquettes
Pumpkin and Brown Rice Salad
Pretty big list, eh? I’m sure I’ve missed some things, so if you have some great non-sweet pumpkin recipes be sure to link them in them in the comments.
So what am I making with my roasted pumpkin? The first two recipes on the list, I think. And maybe something else if I have extra pumpkin. After all, it’s a pretty big pumpkin!
*photo courtesy of Jacob Spencer
Is That How the Welsh Say Rabbit?
Sunday, November 25, 2012
The origins of Welsh Rarebit may be a bit elusive, but the taste is definitive. It is shockingly simple: a piece of toasted bread with with cheese, egg, and cream broiled on top. It is the perfect accompaniment to sausages or, in our case, River Cottage oyster stew.
This rarebit was based on Jamie Oliver’s “Wicked Welsh Rarebit” with two modifications. First, I eschewed the marmalade or chili jam, as I wanted a simpler version to accompany the stew. Second, since I have yet to find locally made creme fraiche, I used plain yogurt. Goat’s milk yogurt, though, would have been even better.
There are a few other things I should, perhaps, mention as well. Make sure your oven rack is as close to the broiler as you can get it since the browned crust of cheese makes all the difference. Next, Mustard powder is not likely to be a mainstay in your pantry; I had some on hand only because it was leftover from the piccalilli I put up this summer. Finally, this worked very well with a sourdough version of of Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread. I’d managed to cultivate a sourdough starter based on a technique from Lynn Rossetto Kasper’s The Splendid Table: take one-half cup of the risen dough, combine with one-quarter cup of water, and leave in the fridge until you make your next loaf. Then, rather than using the quarter-teaspoon of yeast Lahey calls for, just use one-quarter cup of the starter. If you go more than two weeks without making a loaf, simply throw away half of the starter and replace with one-quarter cup of fresh flour and some water. I can’t claim this is exact - or even acceptable - breadmaking technique or science, but it has worked for me.
Posted by Kevin on 11/25 at 12:56 PM
Now That It’s Wassailing Season
I’m one of those grinchy people who get very cranky about the holiday season starting earlier and earlier each year, but since we’re past Black Friday, here is my favorite recipe for mulled cider. I make it all the way up through New Year’s, because locally-pressed cider is plentiful in the markets and a pot of this warming on the stove makes the whole house smell so lovely and festive.
If you’re mulling for a party or expecting a tidal wave of carolers, the recipe can be scaled up as much as you need, and it keeps well in the fridge for days, so it can be made ahead.
1 quart apple cider
Juice of 1 orange and ½ lemon
1 ½ sticks cinnamon
4 allspice berries
Small piece of nutmeg (the end bit that’s hard to grate)
2 tablespoons maple sugar or 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Combine all ingredients together in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 20 minutes, or longer if preferred.
Strain out the spices and pour into mugs. If desired, add a stiff shot of rum or bourbon to each mug before serving.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
I know many of you are either trying to get that last bit of work done before the holiday begins or you may be sitting on the New Jersey Turnpike or I-95 developing various theories on how traffic could possibly be this bad. So to cheer you up, I wanted to send out a Thanksgiving story and a recipe. Because, at the risk of cliche, we really all do have much to be thankful for.
This past Sunday, it was time to put Emerald Street Urban Farm to bed. We spread the word to all of our wonderful volunteers who took part in our worker CSA program this year to come on out for one final harvest before we cleared the land to give it a rest after a great growing season. We spent the day pulling out the rest of the peppers and eggplant, salvaging what we could. We also pulled almost all of the chard out, leaving just a small section under row cover for our own consumption this winter. We harvested all of the arugula, bunching onions, root veggies and broccoli, while leaving in the brussel sprouts and lettuce. As always, I’m a huge proponent of using the entire broccoli plant. So while the crowns went to our volunteers, we packed up all of the broccoli leaves, 2 trash bags of chard, and 3 trash bags of bunching onions for donation to St. Francis Soup kitchen. When it was all said and done, almost 100 pounds of food made it to the soup kitchen and another 30 went to our volunteers. We also saved a good amount of the harvest for the meal we cooked that night for our volunteers. We wanted to celebrate around the farm table in the outdoor kitchen, but the temperature dropped a good deal. So we all crowded around our kitchen table (we fit ten people around a table the comfortably sits 4) and we enjoyed a wonderful meal, with some wonderful volunteers and friends. Although I am looking forward to seeing my family on Thursday, I could not help feel as I sat around that table that everyone there really embodied the spirit of Thanksgiving. Again, sorry for the cheesiness, but our collectively efforts that lasted for the nine months of the growing season sent thousands of pounds of food to the soup kitchen and our plates. Living in an urban environment that inherently has a lack of green space, and a city like Philly that has such high poverty, I could not be more happier with the contribution from Emerald Street. And I hope you all get to reflect this Thanksgiving on the contribution that you make to this city or your community, and I hope you are all thankful for it.
So as promised, here’s a recipe to leave you all with. As it goes, that final harvest can be a little overwhelming. Right now we have a five gallon bucket full of green tomatoes that we are going to fry for tomorrow’s meal. But I also had an abundance of peppers that I turned into a really nice pepper relish. My recipe is:
25 Red or Green Peppers
4 cups of apple cider vinegar
2 cups of sugar
2 tablespoons of coarse salt
Dice the onions and cut the peppers into strips and then run it all through a food processor, pour boiling water over the veggies and let stand in the boiling water for ten minutes
Mix the vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl
Drain the onions and peppers and place into a pot, mixing in the vinegar, sugar, salt mix
Set on high heat until it comes to a boil, then allow to simmer for 20 minutes
Once finished, I canned my pepper relish. In the interest of time, and desire for accuracy, I won’t give canning instructions here. But I encourage you to either check out a book on this (my favorite is The Country Living Encyclopedia) or check out a good blog (my most trusted is Marissa McClellan’s Food In Jars).
And once again, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
The Fall Honey Flow
Monday, October 29, 2012
While most people were batting down the hatches for Hurricane Sandy, I spent the weekend finally extracting honey from my hive before the storm arrived. Most beekeepers advise against extracting when rain is in the forecast because an increase in moisture can lead to a higher water content in the honey, which can lead to fermentation when it is being stored. However, I did the extraction two days before the storm hit and since I was already so late on extracting the honey for the season, I wasn’t left with much choice. So on Saturday afternoon, two days before Sandy was due to make landfall I went into my hive and pulled the frames. As you can see in the picture below (that’s me in the bee suit), the first step was to open the hive and inspect frames that had large amounts of solid brown covering over the comb. This is a sign that there is honey below, and not nectar with its high water content.
I then shook the bees from the frames, and placed them in a Tupperware bin. After I took out 6 frames, I brought them to the back porch where I shook or swatted off any remaining bees, and I brought them into the house.
As you can see below, the outside of the frame with its solid brown covering is where all of the honey is stored. The small brown spots in the center that look like nuts are actually cells that are incubating new drones, which we left alone. Actually, at one point, small drones started hatching and crawling out of the cells. It was pretty amazing to watch.
The reason for my procrastination for this season’s extraction was because I wanted to use an actual mechanical extractor. But I couldn’t coordinate meeting up with my beekeeper friend who knew how to use it. Instead, I took a more DYI approach. I first laid the frames on a cooking sheet. Next to that I set up a colander over a pot. I then took a spatula and scraped the comb off of the frame and placed it in the colander to let it drain into the pot. As you can see in the picture below, it was actually quite efficient for doing such a small batch.
I then left the comb to drain and went back to put the frames back into the hive. The reason I only took six frames was because I extracted so late in the season and I didn’t want to take out too much honey being that there are only a very small amount of flowers still in bloom in the city. Also, by scraping the comb off rather than cutting out the entire frame, I at least left the bees with somewhat of a base to build some more comb before the winter sets in. This way I don’t have to feed the bees sugar water over the winter as some beekeepers are forced to do. I then went back in the house, removed the colander full of comb and put the honey on a low heat to partially liquefy it. By doing this, it made it easier to pour it through the fine strainer to get out any more bits of comb. And just like that, those six frames filled up these mason jars totaling almost two gallons of honey.
One of the best things about processing honey is that cleaning up your mess usually requires using your finger to quickly swab up the honey you spill and eat it on the spot. I must admit that I’ve recently been questioning if I should keep my hive. After maintaining a city block’s worth of a garden, 3 laying hens and a large berry patch, I just felt a little over extended. But after taking that first taste, I think I may have another year of beekeeping in me.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Although I’m not the biggest fan of pumpkin pie (I far prefer sweet potato), I am mad about pumpkin in quick breads and cakes. These muffins, which combine roasted pumpkin puree, dried cranberries, and a crumbly, crunchy, green and gold streusel of toasted pecans, pepitas and cornmeal, are so perfectly autumnal that they’d make a wonderful Thanksgiving Day breakfast. If you bake the pumpkin and prepare the streusel the night before, you should be able to throw these together while sipping your first pre-turkey-baking cup of coffee.
This recipe makes quite a lot of muffins, which would work if you’re having plenty of guests for Thanksgiving, but you could also cut the quantities in half for a more sensible dozen and a half. You could also bake the full recipe in two loaf pans for about an hour and a half, and freeze one of the loaves for another day. While the streusel is crunchiest the day the muffins are baked, they will keep very well at room temperature for a further day or two, which should get you through the whole holiday weekend with aplomb.
Pumpkin Muffins with Pecan-Pepita Streusel
(Adapted from Leslie Mackie, Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook, 2003)
Makes 36 muffins
1 medium pie pumpkin (around 2 pounds)
Several tablespoons light-flavored oil for baking (i.e. not olive or nut oils)
1 cup pecans
1 ½ cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cornmeal
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup light-flavored oil (e.g. grapeseed or sunflower seed)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
¾ cup buttermilk
1 cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 375 F and line a baking sheet with foil.
Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, and scrape the inside clean. Further cut each half into two or three wedges, rub the cut surfaces with oil, and place cut-side-up on the baking sheet. Bake until the pumpkin is fully tender, approximately 20-30 minutes. Let cool, then scoop the cooked flesh away from the peel and into a large measuring cup. Puree until smooth with an immersion blender. Measure out two cups of pumpkin for the muffins, and set aside any extra for another use.
Spread the pecans on an unlined baking sheet and the pepitas on another sheet. Lower the oven to 350 and toast the nuts and seeds 10-15 minutes in the oven, watching carefully to avoid burning. Let cool, then mix the pecans and pepitas together and chop medium-fine. Set aside half this mixture for the muffins, and place the other half in the bowl of a stand mixer with the cold butter, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons flour and 6 tablespoons brown sugar. Mix with the paddle attachment on low for 1-2 minutes, until a crumbly streusel forms. Refrigerate the streusel until ready to top the muffins.
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 375 again and line 3 muffin tins with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Combine the oil and sugars in the stand mixer bowl and mix with the paddle attachment for 4 minutes on medium speed. Add the pumpkin and mix for 2 more minutes. Mix in the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and buttermilk in a couple of alternating additions. Stir in the cranberries and second half of the pecan-pepita mixture.
Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter evenly among the lined muffin tins. Sprinkle each muffin with the streusel mixture and bake until the tops spring back and a skewer inserted into a muffin comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool briefly in the tins before removing to a wire rack and cooling completely.
Posted by Gabriela on 10/28 at 09:34 AM
A Fine Night of Dining for a Fine Cause
Thursday, October 18, 2012
This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending a dinner dedicated to bringing professionals together from around the city to discuss the issue of childhood obesity. The dinner was sponsored by the Tyler School of Art Temple Contemporary and The Vetri Foundation. I realize that these two organizations sound like an odd pair for hosting this event, so here’s some context.
When Tyler School of Art moved from Elkins Park to Temple’s main campus in North Philly, they decided that a portion of their exhibits would be dedicated to addressing social issues. They put together a board of professionals from a range of disciplines from across the city, of which I’m a part of, to raise the issues that affect this city. The gallery then supports installations that explore the answers, and this dinner was one of them.
They found a perfect partner in the Vetri Foundation. Many people from the “foodie” side of the food movement have most likely heard of Marc Vetri and his storied resume of restaurants. But for people from the social justice side of the food movement, this organization is doing some very impressive work. Their Eatiquette program is a very innovative take on promoting change in school lunch. Rather than just advocate for healthier options, the foundation sends professional chefs into the school to educate students on how to prepare whole meals. But more importantly, the meals are modeled after family style eating. The tables are round, intimate settings where a “table chef” (usually one of the students) serves out food from one single large plate, thus teaching the students sharing, portion control and table etiquette. I was tasked with this role at my table that night, and was instantly able to make a much more intimate connection with my dinner dates than if we were just placed at the table and served the food from a waiter. We also had the privilege of eating one of the set meals that the students eat: braised white fish, beets with crouton dressing, salad, and green beans. Everything was made from scratch with whole foods.
The Vetri foundation has implemented this program in 5 different schools. After the school goes through the curriculum, the foundation leaves the school with the meal plans and a donation to implement their own program. Sometimes when well meaning organizations leave their program to the schools, they run the risk of losing direction. But as we heard from faculty of the People To People Charter school (where the event was held) their lunchroom went from the normal chaos of any lunchroom to the calm din of a dining room.
The entire program made for some really great conversation at my table from a diverse group of perspectives such as our one diner who was making the lone vegan stance in her family of processed food eaters. Or the perspective of a social worker who digs deeper into the systemic reasons for why children don’t have access to healthy foods rather than why they don’t eat them. It was a great night put on by some really great innovators and I was happy to be a part of it. For more info on the Vetri Foundation check out www.vetrifoundation.org and if you haven’t already, please check out the Tyler School of Art Temple Contemporary located at 2001 N. 13th St. Philadelphia.
Posted by Nic on 10/18 at 12:04 PM
Homemade Apple Butter
Monday, October 15, 2012
Last weekend I came home from the farmer’s market with a free box of slightly-imperfect Honeycrisp apples – about fifteen pounds worth. After making three pots of applesauce, apple crisp, and apple muffins, I still had quite a few left and decided to make a first attempt at from scratch apple butter.
The internet offered a variety of techniques (from stove-top and canning methods to overnight in the slow cooker), and I ended up following the SimplyRecipes version, with a few modifications. I used about half the sugar it called for, and didn’t notice a difference from store-bought apple butter, especially because my apples were much sweeter than the Granny Smiths the recipe suggested. I don’t have a food mill or chinois sieve, so I transferred the original mixture with the cores, peelings, and stems to a second pot, scooping out what I could of the solid parts, boiled it down, and then at the end when pouring it into a jar, I used a mesh strainer to make sure it was smooth.
The entire process took over three hours, with a lot of standing-and-stirring time, but the finished product was totally worth it. I’m looking forward to trying some variations, like pumpkin apple butter and cranberry apple butter. (New Jersey cranberries are starting to show up at the market!)
Posted by Stephanie on 10/15 at 11:24 AM
A Cake for All Seasons
Friday, September 28, 2012
I love a well-executed fancy cake, all buttercream and ornamentation, but sometimes you just want a simple and basic cake, something a little sturdier and less fussy, and which makes the most of the season. This upside-down cake is all of that, and is quick and easy to throw together at the last minute besides.
I made it a month ago with plums, but the recipe can be adapted for just about any fruit. I will be making it again with pears soon, and you could make it all the way through the winter with apples until the rhubarb pops up in spring.
This recipe is for a full-sized sheet cake that serves around twenty, because I bake everything in double batches so I can feed my coworkers on Monday mornings. The quantities could easily be halved to serve a much more reasonable 8, or 4 for dinner plus plenty for breakfast the next morning.
Any-Fruit Upside-Down Cake
For fruit layer:
¼ cup unsalted butter
Generous pinch of sea salt
½ cup light brown sugar
⅓ cup heavy cream
6-7 large plums, unpeeled and cut into 6 wedges each (or equivalent amount of other fruit)
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups granulated sugar (preferably raw)
¾ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¼ cup walnut oil (or an additional ½ stick melted butter)
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Melt the ¼ cup butter, brown sugar and salt in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring until it comes together as a caramel and bubbles. Quickly stir in the cream, turn off the heat, and fold in the plums. (If using apples, pears or other sturdier fruit, do this part on the heat and cook a minute or so to start the fruit softening just a bit.) Evenly spread the fruit and its sauce in an even layer in a nonstick, 9 x 13 rectangular cake pan.
Whisk together the dry ingredients for the cake in a medium bowl. Do the same in a glass measuring cup with the buttermilk, melted butter, walnut oil and vanilla extract.
In a large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs together until frothy. Add the dry and wet mixtures in two additions each, starting with the flour, and stirring just until mixed before the next addition. Gently pour the cake batter over the fruit layer and smooth into an even layer.
Bake 45 minutes or so, until the top is resilient to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the cake portion comes out clean. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully invert it onto the rack and cool the rest of the way.
Bike Fresh, Bike Local This Weekend
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) is hosting their annual Bike Fresh, Bike Local this Sunday Sept. 23rd. The ride begins and ends at Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown where participants can enjoy a 25, 50, or 75 mile jaunt through the Chester County countryside. For 5 years, this ride has become an autumn institution in the sustainable farming community. After completing the ride, participants are invited back to Victory Brewing for a meal featuring produce and products from area farms as well as a sampling of Victory Beer.
I could write more glowing things about this ride, but in all honesty supporting a one of the finest sustainable farming organizations in the country, plus a beautiful bike ride, plus free victory beer doesn’t leave much more room for persuasion. I hope to be there so come by and say hi. For tickets and more info visit www.pasa.org/bikefresh.
And if you just can’t that long for a great event in the sustainability world, then please drop by Grid Alive this Thursday Sept. 20th at Trinity Memorial Church on 22nd and Spruce. Doors open at 6, show starts at 7. This month we’ll be talking to Liz Robinson of The Energy Coordinating Agency, Amy Laura Cahn of the Public Interest Law Center, and Scott Kelly and Jen Rezeli of Re-Vision Architecture. Find out more info and get tickets at www.gridphilly.com.
Posted by Nic on 09/18 at 09:25 AM