Monday, October 29, 2012

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Un-Vegan Peanut Butter Glaze

What to do when a hurricane is raging outside? Cook! At least, that's what I chose this morning. To be fair, we were driving up and down I-95 all weekend, so some of these are weekend projects we never got to - I wouldn't normally plan to do all this during a storm. Still, it was a great way to use my time earlier this morning when the storm wasn't so intense. Now I have a new batch of vegetable stock (soup tomorrow), a batch of white beans (dinner today), a loaf of whole wheat bread, another of banana bread, and a batch of granola. I also cleaned and prepped most of the greens that are in my fridge. We're definitely prepared to spend several days holed up at home.

I did not make this recipe today, but I easily could have. It's a wonderful quick cake using ingredients you probably have on hand already. Jeff and I first made the cake a few weeks ago when, half an hour before Monday night football, we decided we wanted dessert. It came together and went into the oven before the game and was ready to eat by halftime. We made it again for a Halloween party on Friday, this time with a peanut butter glaze to give it a little orange-and-black Halloween spirit. Again, the cake was ready in under an hour, and the glaze took seconds to whisk together. If you're looking for a nice dessert to throw together with little mess and no fuss, whether before a football game or in the middle of a hurricane, this is it!

Note: while the cake is vegan, the glaze does have a little milk. You could easily sub in soy milk or almond milk to make it vegan as well.

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Un-Vegan Peanut Butter Glaze
Cake is barely adapted from Joy the Baker. Glaze is adapted from Pixelated Crumb.

2 1/4 c flour
1/2 c cocoa powder
1 1/2 c sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c warm water
1/2 c + 1 tbsp canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 c bittersweet chocolate chips

3/4 c powdered sugar
2 tbsp skim milk
2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350° F. Coat a 9" bundt pan with cooking spray and dust with cocoa powder.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together water, oil and vanilla.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold together until just moistened. Stir in chocolate chips, then spoon the thick batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for ten minutes or so, then invert onto a rack to cool completely.

Once the cake is baked, whisk the glaze ingredients together in a small bowl (you may need to sift the powdered sugar to remove chunks). Pour over the top of the cake, letting it drizzle down the sides. The glaze will harden a bit after a minute or two. Serve and enjoy!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Farm Fridays: Maple Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes

If you're living in the Northeast, you've probably heard that we're going to take a pounding from Hurricane Sandy (aka Frankenstorm) early next week. Some of the tracks project a direct hit to Central Jersey.  I visited the farm this morning and the grocery store this afternoon - the fridge is stocked and we're ready to hunker down and weather this thing (hopefully without losing power).

Fortunately, we got a nice load of storage vegetables from the farm today, so whatever happens, I know I'll have some unspoiled food to work with. And I could honestly eat sweet potatoes every day without getting sick of them. In fact, I couldn't wait to have these - as soon as I'd unpacked my farm basket, I scrubbed some and roasted them for lunch.

Roasting is my favorite way to prepare most vegetables. Just toss them in oil and seasonings and throw them in the oven. Very little mess or fuss is involved. In this case, I decided to add a little maple syrup to liven things up a bit. This makes an easy, delicious side dish appropriate for anything from a Friday lunch to Thanksgiving dinner. I have five more pounds of sweet potatoes sitting in the basement, so I'm sure I'll be doing this again soon!

Maple Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes

1 lb fingerling sweet potatoes, sliced into 1/2" rounds (really, any kind of diced sweet potato will do, but I had these cute long ones on hand)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Slice up your sweet potatoes and place them in a baking dish (or foil-lined baking pan - glass will clean up more easily than metal so foil is unnecessary). Drizzle with oil and syrup, season with salt and pepper, and toss well to combine.

Roast 30-35 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Canning Round-Up

CNN tells me that it's National Canning Day! What a great time to do a round-up of all the canning Jeff and I have done this season. 

We began canning last summer, starting in early June with two kinds of pickles. We planned two projects for a weekend, doing one each day because it was so time-consuming. Just a year and a half later, we've found ourselves tackling three and four projects on a single Saturday morning. Clearly, our confidence has improved. We no longer need to consult instructions for some of our most frequent canning projects - I think I canned whole tomatoes on eight separate occasions this year. I've got the process down pat. In all this time, not a single jar has failed to seal for us - a huge victory in my book. We've also never had a jar go bad (knock on wood!). This year, however, we did manage to break three quart jars - two in a row last Saturday morning. There's a lesson to be learned there - if you bash a jar against the rim of the sink, even if there is no visible damage, there's probably an internal flaw that will manifest itself later (like when you're adding cold tomatoes to the heated glass). Note to self: be more careful in the future.

We have definitely been busy bees this season. I was away through July and half of August, so our canning got a late start, but once I was back in the country we were at it pretty hard nearly every weekend. Our final tally is as follows:

Classic Grape Jam: 6 half-pints
Cantaloupe Vanilla Jam: 4 4 oz jars
Pear Sauce: 2 pints, 3 half-pints and 2 4 oz jars
Heirloom Tomato Salsa: 5 pints and 8 half-pints (plus several more we've already eaten!)
Dilly Beans: 2 pints
Roasted Red Pepper Ketchup: 9 4 oz jars
Roasted Tomato and Corn Salsa: 4 half-pints
Apple Butter: 1 pint, 3 half-pints and 2 4 oz jars
Chopped Tomatoes: 3 quarts
Whole Tomatoes: 12 quarts and 3 pints
Green Tomato Pickles: 4 pints and 1 half-pint
Apple Cranberry Jam: 4 pints and 12 half-pints

I am quite impressed and pleased at the hoard of jars hiding in our basement. Hopefully we've chosen our recipes wisely, making things that will actually be consumed throughout the winter. We also should get quite a few Christmas gifts out of our stash - if you're on our list, maybe slip us some suggestions now!

Unless we develop a pressing need for more applesauce, I think our canning season is over. While I do enjoy doing this every weekend, I'm looking forward to some lazier Saturdays in the future - hopefully eating jam and salsa rather than making it. At least, until we start again next summer!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Old-Fashioned Chicken Soup

Sometimes the tastiest recipes take me by surprise. So it was with this chicken soup - it was thrown together almost as an afterthought after a full day of fall canning, but turned out to be the most delicious thing we made all day. In fact, I took the above picture of my bowl after I'd already started eating it - I had no intention of blogging this recipe. But when I took the first bite and realized that it was the most delicious chicken soup I'd ever had, I knew I had to get it on the blog - as much for your benefit as for mine, so we can recreate this recipe soon!

We made chicken soup because we had a chicken carcass available. We've done this before - no big deal. But this time was a little different, because the carcass was raw. Last week I made a recipe calling for bone-in chicken parts, so I bought a whole chicken and had Jeff cut it up into the pieces we wanted. His butchery skills (as he admitted at the time) leave something to be desired, so we ended up with a lot of meat left on the carcass. Soup was the perfect solution - we could get all of the flavorful goodness out of the bones and have some meat to add to the soup. Brilliant!

In practice, once I began the recipe, I was skeptical. Raw chicken grosses me out. Raw chicken stewing in its own juices sounds like a terrible idea. I added everything to the pot, turned up the heat, and wondered if we'd end our evening by ordering take-out. There was no way I was going to eat that. Fast forward two hours, though, and the chicken had cooked through and created a rich, gorgeous stock. A delicious, homey aroma wafted around our house as the stock simmered. My attitude changed. The raw chicken was able to poach in its own juices and fats, making the meat tender and moist. I don't think a pre-cooked chicken could achieve this same texture and flavor. Clearly, what I initially thought was a bad idea was really the best idea ever!

The final product is worth the long wait. Trust me. This is no over-salted Campbell's creation - this is real soup, homemade and unprocessed, perfect for a lazy, chilly weekend afternoon.

Old-Fashioned Chicken Soup
Adapted from a recipe.

1 raw chicken carcass, preferably with some meat still attached
8 c water
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 onion, quartered and unpeeled
6 carrots - 2 roughly chopped and 4 sliced into small half-moons
2 celery stalks - 1 roughly chopped, with leaves, and 1 sliced
2-3 sprigs fresh dill
2 handfuls egg noodles
2 tbsp parsley, chopped

Place chicken carcass, salt, pepper, onion, 2 roughly chopped carrots, 1 celery stalk (with all leaves) and dill in a large Dutch oven. Pour water over them (we cut the carcass into pieces so that the water would mostly cover it - I'm not sure how much this matters, though, as long as the pot is covered). Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for at least two hours.

When the stock is ready, pour the entire mixture through a cheese cloth or wire mesh strainer, reserving the liquid (I skimmed off about half of the fat that rose to the top at this point). Remove the chicken bones and pick the meat off of them, reserving it for later. (Eat the delicious mushy carrots.) Discard the remaining solids (chicken bones, soggy celery, onions, dill).

Add the remaining sliced carrots and celery and chicken stock to the pot. Add 2-3 more cups of water or other stock, if necessary (we neglected to cover the stock pot the whole time, so ours reduced down a lot more than we wanted - we had less than half the liquid we had started with, which wasn't enough for the rest of the soup, so we added liquid - half water, half veggie stock - to get it back up over the original mark). Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer 30 minutes. Taste and re-season, if necessary. Add uncooked egg noodles and cooked chicken, simmering until egg noodles are cooked through (our noodles took 12-14 minutes). Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Farm Fridays: Tomato and Pesto Pizza

Fall farm pick-ups are like a rainbow: red tomatoes, orange carrots and winter squash, yellow-green tomatoes, dark green spinach and parsley, purple kohlrabi (if any of you finds a blue vegetable, let me know - I guess hubbard squash would be the closest). I like seeing all the lovely produce arranged on my kitchen counter.

Today's farm pick-up was a little bit of an adventure. The tomato plants all died with the frost last Friday, so there is currently no limit on the green tomatoes from those plants, which will likely be plowed under soon. After hearing my mother and grandmother reminisce about the green tomato pickles they used to make forty years ago, I was determined to try my hand at a batch for them (hello Christmas presents!). I marched out into the field of dead tomato plants and started feeling around for nice tomatoes - there were plenty. I think I only picked from four plants, total. But as soon as I got out there, a sprinkle of rain began which turned into a full-on downpour in about thirty seconds. Fortunately, I came prepared with my rain gear (whose worth was proven in the north of England last year). Still, my basket and its contents were getting soaked, so I hustled. I didn't get as many tomatoes as I would have wanted - possibly a good thing, because my eyes are bigger than my stomach where preserving projects are concerned - but I still got enough for a few jars of pickles. Stay tuned to hear about that.

When it came to planning today's dinner, I wanted to keep it easy, since I'm planning a packed day of canning and cooking tomorrow. I've been eying a big jar of pesto in the back of our fridge - made with the last of our yard's basil, hastily picked in anticipation of the season's first freeze. I'd frozen some of the pesto but I never got around to finishing the job. Now it needs to be used. I thought it might be nice as a pizza sauce, so I grabbed that, some slicing tomatoes from the farm, a ball of fresh mozzarella, and a ball of pizza dough that was conveniently stashed in the freezer (when making pizza dough from scratch, it's always worth doubling the recipe and freezing one for a rainy day).

This pizza was everything I'd hoped. The pesto, while a little off-color due to its age (it oxidizes quickly when exposed to air), was still bright and tangy. The sliced tomatoes dehydrated in the heat which allowed their flavor to concentrate. The dough was beautifully crispy. Jeff was a big fan of this one. And since we had all these lovely homemade ingredients sitting in our fridge already, it only took us a few minutes to pull together. Perfect for a lazy Friday night.

Tomato and Pesto Pizza

1 ball pizza dough (recipe here)
1/2 c basil pesto
2-3 small slicing tomatoes, sliced thin (1 large beefsteak would do it, I think)
1 ball mozzarella cheese (or shredded mozzarella - the down side to our using very fresh mozz is that there was too much liquid. If we'd used a harder, drier ball, or prepackaged shredded cheese, it would have helped the tomatoes roast and concentrate even more)
dried oregano, to dust over the top

Put the pizza stone in a cold oven and preheat to 450. Let the oven and pizza stone heat for about an hour.

When ready to bake, roll out the dough into a circle that fits your pizza stone. Check that the pesto is a spreadable consistency (if not, microwave for a few seconds). Make sure all your other ingredients are at hand (the dough will start cooking as soon as it hits the stone, so you need to work fast!).

Remove the pizza stone from the oven. Gently lay the dough onto it. Spread the pesto across the dough gently (if the bottom crust has started to crisp already, you might need to hold it down gently to keep it from sliding around as you spread the pesto). Sprinkle with cheese.

Spread the tomato slices evenly over the top and sprinkle with dried oregano. 

Return to oven for 8-10 minutes, until crust is crisp and cheese has begun to bubble and brown. Cool a few minutes before serving.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Farm Fridays: Pasta and Chickpeas with Parsley, Garlic and Lemon

Today has been crazy hectic, what with my farm pick-up, grocery shopping, errands and our garage sale tomorrow. I've decided to forgo delighting you with a picture of my CSA share. Sorry about that.

Let it be known, though, that fall vegetables are in the house! I got a gorgeous bunch of carrots, a huge celery root with stems and leaves attached (a little too pungent for eating, in my opinion, but I'm going to dry the leaves and use them like an herb!), and a vibrant orange-red winter squash. The fall lettuce is looking gorgeous as well. And as if that weren't enough, I picked up an enormous cauliflower at the farmers market. I just couldn't resist.

What I have for you today is the perfect, healthy, quick dish for a hectic day: whole wheat pasta and chickpeas with delicious fresh parsley, garlic and lemon. The farm is overflowing with parsley right now and this is a great way to use a lot of it at once. Besides being pretty and green and fresh-tasting, parsley is full of antioxidants (most herbs are) and vitamins to help stave off fall head colds (I know I always get mine when the temperature drops, and it's going to drop tonight!). The whole dish comes together in less than half an hour, including chopping, so there's still plenty of time to make a batch for dinner tonight!

Pasta and Chickpeas with Parsley, Garlic and Lemon
Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Suppers.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
pinch red pepper flakes
1 1/2 c cooked chickpeas (a 15 oz can will do)
two big handfuls flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 cloves garlic
small sprig sage
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 lb whole wheat pasta shells
shredded Pecorino-Romano, for serving

Combine the parsley, garlic, sage and lemon zest in a small food processor and mince. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and red pepper flakes and cook 3-4 minutes, until translucent. Add the chickpeas, lemon juice, and a third of the herb mixture to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook until heated through.

When the pasta is finished, drain it in a colander and then return it to the pot. Add the chickpea mixture and the rest of the herb mixture and stir well to combine. Top with shredded cheese to serve.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Baked Oatmeal Pudding

I don't usually make complicated breakfasts. I like the eat as soon as I get up in the morning, so something with a lot of prep doesn't appeal to me. Normally, breakfast is just some cereal or granola and milk.

Now that the mornings are getting colder, I'm craving something warm and comforting. I love oatmeal - as a kid I was addicted to those horrible sugary Quaker Oats packets. I've gotten used to plain quick oats sweetened with a bit of maple syrup, but it's not the same for me. I still want something a bit more interesting. This baked oatmeal fits the bill perfectly. It's packed with fruit and nuts and some brown sugar to amp up the flavor. The eggs and oats make it firm, while the milk makes it slightly creamy. It's a delicious and healthy dish to start the day with.

It makes a nice healthy dessert as well! Since it's more work than I would want to do first thing in the morning, I made this as a late-night treat, then had plenty of servings left to reheat for breakfast over the next several days. It reheats beautifully, whether in the microwave or the oven. 

Baked Oatmeal Pudding
From Whole Grains for Busy People.

3 bananas
1 c water
1 c rolled oats
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c 2% milk
1 grated apple
1/4 c + 2 tbsp brown sugar 
1/3 c dried cherries
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 c pecan halves
fresh berries, to serve

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Spray a 9 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray. Slice the bananas and layer them across the bottom of the dish. 

Pour the water into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the oatmeal and salt. Cover the pan, turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Then stir in the butter.

Meanwhile, combine the eggs, milk, apple, 1/4 c brown sugar, cherries, vanilla, cinnamon and ginger in a medium bowl. When the oatmeal is ready, add to the bowl and whisk well to combine all the ingredients.

Pour the oatmeal mixture into the baking dish over the bananas. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove and sprinkle the pecans and 2 tbsp brown sugar over the top.

Return to the oven for another 30 minutes, until the center is set. Cool 10 minutes, then spoon into bowls and serve, topped with fresh berries.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Farm Fridays: New World Chili

What a nice Farm Friday! The past two weeks (during which I was on a blogging hiatus) we took home enormous and diverse piles of produce (it's entirely possible that attempting to finish my dissertation chapter while dealing with those piles is the reason behind that hiatus). This week was much more manageable, perhaps because the variety has calmed down a bit. Don't get me wrong - I love variety! But trying to find ways to use up that many things over the course of a week stressed me out a bit.

This week I found menu planning much easier, due to the reduced variety, and I managed to use a whole lot of produce in one fell swoop when planning today's dinner. I had some squashes (one acorn, one carnival) languishing in the basement from two weeks ago - today I noticed some blemishes forming, so I knew they had to be used. Chili was the first thing that came to mind.

Chili is perfect for this time of year because it wants the exact vegetables that are peaking: tomatoes, peppers, and winter squash. I found a great recipe for black bean chili with butternut squash from What Would Cathy Eat?, but I decided to tweak it a little. And by "a little," I guess I mean "a lot." I turned it into a clear-the-fridge catch-all. I kinda overdid it.

This is still a tasty chili - sweet squash offset by hearty beans, meaty turkey and smokey chipotles - I just messed up the proportions. In my zeal to use up the remaining vegetable stock in my freezer (since I was in the process of making another batch), I added way too much liquid. There were too many vegetables (if such a thing is possible) and not enough turkey and beans. In the recipe that follows, I have adjusted the quantities to more appropriate levels. The result should be a chili just as delicious as the one I had tonight, but more effectively balanced.

New World Chili
Adapted from What Would Cathy Eat?

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 - 1 lb ground turkey (I used 1/2 lb here, but add more for a meatier chili)
3 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper (this chili was pretty hot - if you're not a heat lover, definitely reduce or eliminate the cayenne)
salt and pepper to taste
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped (I used one red and one yellow - any color you have on hand will do, although sweeter peppers are preferable)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
2 chipotles in adobo, minced
2 lb tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped (I used regular slicing tomatoes, but plum tomatoes would be preferable if you have them - mine are reserved for canning)
2 c winter squash, diced (I used acorn and carnival)
1 c vegetable stock (or a combo of stock and your favorite beer)
3 15 oz cans black beans, rinsed
1/2 c cilantro, chopped
sour cream or Greek yogurt for serving

In a large Dutch oven (mine is 5 quarts and I nearly filled it - even with the adjusted proportions, you'll want a big pot!), heat the oil. Add the turkey, chili powder, oregano, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper and stir, breaking the turkey up into small chunks, for 2-3 minutes, until cooked through. 

Add the onions, bell peppers, garlic, jalapenos, and chipotles and stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes, until the onions begin to look translucent.

Add the tomatoes (and any juices), squash and stock to the pot and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 10 minutes, or until squash begins to soften. Add the beans and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in the cilantro and serve, garnished with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Preserving: Freezing Bell Peppers

I have some gorgeous bell pepper plants in my garden, tall and strong and covered in blossoms. Unfortunately, they have, to date, produced a third of a pound of peppers. Not cool. While I still have hope for the present vigorous blossoms, a few weeks ago I realized that the days are getting cooler and shorter, so it's time to activate plan B.

As Jeff and I strolled through the Trenton Farmers Market in search of a bushel of peppers to roast, we were drawn to a very large basket of mostly green peppers from Cranberry Run Farm. All those green peppers in the picture above for just $3. We wanted red peppers, but this was too good to pass up. We took the green ones and a small basket of six very red ones from Pineland Farm and went on our merry way. Serious deals, guys.

No, really - think about it. In the winter, at Whole Foods, an organic bell pepper will cost $4-5 a pound, depending on its color. For $5, we just got about twelve pounds of bell peppers that will last into the winter. We got home and immediately prepped them for preservation.

The red peppers and the most-red ones from the green pepper bushel went on the grill to be roasted. The cleaned roasted pepper strips went into a bowl in the fridge and were frozen in batches over the course of the week. In the mean time, I sliced some green peppers into strips which were frozen on baking sheets. As the week progressed, I kept removing the frozen slices to a large gallon freezer bag, then slicing and freezing the next batch. At the end of the week, I was left with a gallon bag of frozen roasted pepper strips and a gallon of raw bell pepper strips (with several peppers left over).

These are both projects that we did last year and discovered that they were some of the most valuable items in our freezer. Roasted red peppers are a great item to have on hand - I don't see any difference between fresh and previously-frozen ones (and if you buy bottled peppers, they often come packed in oil). Frozen bell pepper strips lose a little of their texture (you might not want to add them to salad), but are perfect when cooked. I was adding them to stir fries, curries and chilis until I ran out at the beginning of January (so early!) at which point I tried to avoid recipes with peppers so I wouldn't have to buy expensive imported ones (this didn't really work). This year, I was determined to make enough to last. With a gallon bag in the freezer already and more peppers in my crisper bin, I think I'll make it to March, at least.

So here's the process. The number of peppers is immaterial - whether you have one pepper or a dozen, it works the same way. Just make sure your peppers are ripe and blemish-free. 

Cut your peppers in half down the center. Cut around the cores (and seeds) and remove them.

Cut off the curved portions on each end. (I know, this seems wasteful. When I cut peppers normally, I don't do this and allow them to form whatever funky shapes they'd like. However, because I wanted these to freeze uniformly and lie nicely on the baking sheet, I went with the more technically correct method. I saved the tops and bottoms in tupperwares in the fridge for later use.)

Now that the rounded edges are gone, you can press the pepper halves flat on the cutting board. Then, run your knife across horizontally, removing any white pith that is left over.

Once your peppers are cut and trimmed, slice them into sticks of relatively uniform width. (You choose the width - I probably should have made them a bit wider so I could dice them into nice squares later, but it really doesn't matter. The thinner they are, the faster they will freeze.)

Lay the strips out on a foil-lined baking sheet (make sure the baking sheet can fit in the freezer). Give them some space - if they're too crowded and mashed together, they will freeze in clumps. By spreading them out, you ensure they freeze more quickly, which will keep the texture better (the longer they take to freeze, the more ice crystals can form that will start breaking down the cell structure - or something like that). The strips take 6-8 hours to freeze fully (I generally leave them overnight). When they're fully frozen, they can be removed to a freezer bag and stored for six months (they're good longer, but they are best within six months - make sure you label and date your bag!). Once this batch is out, repeat as many times as necessary. I would just advise not cutting the peppers until you're about to freeze them - even in tupperwares in the fridge, they can start getting moldy and icky after a while. Whole peppers will keep much longer, so it's best to store them that way.

Monday, October 1, 2012

October Unprocessed

I'm back! I took a few weeks off from blogging in order to finish my dissertation chapter. I'm not sure it helped significantly - I still went right down to the wire before meeting the deadline - but it did give me one less thing to think and worry about. Yes, I worry about blogging. I'm a worrier by nature, even about things I think are fun. Now that chapter five is hot off the presses (yes, chapter five, although it's only the second one I've written - it's complicated), I wanted to let you all know about a little pledge I signed last week.

This year, Jeff and I signed the October Unprocessed pledge, hosted by Andrew at Eating Rules. The concept is simple - go one month without eating any processed food. The reality is harder, as processed food of all sorts has insinuated itself into our kitchens and pantries. This is not just about Lean Cuisines and Hot Pockets - think refined white sugar, baking powder . . . even homogenized milk! Going unprocessed means that a great deal of thought needs to go into every food purchase. Labels need to be read, processes need to be researched, and knowledge needs to be gained. The basic metric for this is the Kitchen Test - if a food product could be made by a person of reasonable skill in a home kitchen using whole food ingredients, it passes. Since even this can be tricky to determine in some cases, Eating Rules has some lovely resources (like this guide) to help with the challenge. The idea is that, by the end of the month (or week or day, if you choose), participants will come away with a greater awareness of all the chemicals they are putting into their bodies (and perhaps realize that they feel happier and healthier without them!).

I struggled for a while with the idea of this challenge. After all, we essentially eat this way already. Our meals are prepared using fresh, whole, largely organic ingredients. We can and preserve and make lots of kitchen staples for ourselves. We rarely eat out. The processed ingredients that still reside in our pantry would be too difficult to get rid of (like white sugar or baking soda). It wouldn't be worth it. Yet another part of me said that this is exactly why we should take this challenge - to identify where the chemicals and engineered foods we still eat are hiding and to see if we can do without them.

I hope that we are able to rise to this challenge, evaluating our meals more critically. I hope that, by the end of this month, I am even more aware of what is going into my body and how it makes me feel. Finally, I hope that I can inspire some of you to join in - if not for a whole month, than a week or even a day.