The Calendar Says Nisan, So I Must Be Cleaning

Another Passover is staring me in the face. In the midst of finishing grading research papers, and benchmark open-ended questions, and finishing my Student Growth Objectives, and still keeping up with my family: spring soccer, lacrosse, after-school ecology class, Hebrew School, etc., I especially look forward to Spring Break, even though I am NOT ready for Passover this year. Usually this includes what we used to call when I was growing up, a house-wide “thorough-clean.” Passover cleaning was intended to make sure that there were no “chumatz” (food particles that are not Kosher for Passover) anywhere in the house. We went through the whole shmear when I was little, with the candle and the feather, and it ended with my grandmother nearly setting the house on fire. Ah memories! Anyhoo, I think this chumatz search is the genesis of Spring Cleaning. And it always feels great to get that done, to wipe out all of those winter cob-webs, and bathe the house in Spring fever.

I wanted to share a few Passover tips that I have gleaned over the years, and actually get them posted before Passover!

1: How to Make Great Hard-Boiled Eggs: There are two important factors in a perfect hard-boiled egg. One is to use older eggs. We keep chickens, and I learned the hard way that fresh eggs do not peel very well. I put aside the eggs I want to boil for the seder about three weeks before Passover. I know that many people think of eggs as very perishable, but from the time they are laid, and egg stays well in the fridge for about 3 months. Look for a 3-digit number on the side of the egg carton. That is the Julian Calendar (or day of the year) that the egg was crated, so add 1 and you will know exactly when that egg was laid. Then check out the expiration date. That gives you a clue as to how old your eggs are. Ok, so that is one – older eggs peel better. The second thing is that a hard-boiled egg can be over cooked. Put the eggs in a pan and cover with water by at least an inch and a half, with about a tablespoon of salt. Bring the water to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off and remove the pan from the heat. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and let sit for 13 minutes. Immediately plunge the eggs into ice water to stop the cooking. Let them cool completely before trying to peel them.

2: Really Great Charoset: Use equal parts apples and nuts. Skimping on the nuts makes for charoset that is too watery. Use something besides concord wine. There are a ton of really wonderful wines that are kosher for Passover. Don’t over process the mixture. I never got the hang of making charoset in a food processor. I still use my grandmother’s chopping bowl. Add the cinnamon last.

3. Grinding Horseradish: If you want the most awesome horseradish ever, grind it yourself. It is super easy. Peel the root and cut it into small chunks. Put the chunks in the food processor or blender with some white vinegar, and a little salt. Pulse the blender until it starts to chop up. Add a little water if necessary to help it grind. DO NOT PUT YOUR FACE OVER THE TOP OF THE CONTAINER WHEN YOU OPEN THE LID! This could melt your eyeballs. Point the bowl away from you when taking the horseradish out of the container. This will store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the fridge for 6 months.

Some easy things to make Passover brighter! Happy cleaning!

Another Snow Day, Another Activity

DSC_6068This winter has been ridiculous.

I was joking with my students the other day that they might have fireworks at graduation, since it might not be until the 4th of July!  They weren’t amused.

Are you out of snow day activity ideas?  How about mixing up some granola.  It is an easy activity that my children can do with a little supervision from me (translation: I can sit at the kitchen table and grade papers while they take care of this one).

Fast Granola Recipe

  • 4 C rolled oats
  • 3 C chopped nuts of choice and/or seeds (we like a combination of almonds, sunflower and pecans)
  • 1/3 C honey
  • 1/3 C melted butter
  • 1 C chopped dried fruit
  1. Preheat oven to 275° F
  2. Combine honey with melted butter
  3. Combine oats and nuts/seeds and coat with the honey butter mixture
  4.  Spread in a 9 x 13 baking dish and put in the oven for 15 minutes
  5. Take out and stir the mixture.  Put back in the oven for 15 minutes. Repeat until mixture turns golden (not brown). 45 minutes to one hour total cooking time.
  6. Remove from oven.  Stir in dried fruit
  7. Let cool and enjoy.  Store in refrigerator.

I have a slow granola recipe as well.  We have found that soaking grains has made them more digestible for some members of the family.  If you have some trouble digesting grains, try soaking the oats overnight and then dry on screens in your dehydrator, or by spreading the oats on cookie sheets in a very low oven (150° F).  We also soak our nuts and seeds in a salt water solution and dry them in the dehydrator or low oven.  We like this because it makes a “salty-sweet” snack!

Easy Salsa That’s Good for Your Gut

I have already posted my recipe for canned salsa, but I have two others, both using that age-old preservation process I call Probiotic Preservation.  To learn more about it, see my earlier blog post.

The first is a tomato recipe that tastes much like the salsa in the canned recipe.

Red Salsa

  • 5-6 medium tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 sweet pepper, small dice
  • 1 jalepeno pepper, sliced (seeds or no seeds – hotness is up to you!)
  • 1 poblano pepper, sliced (see above)
  • 1 stalk celery, small dice
  • 1 T honey or REAL maple syrup
  • 1/3 C sea salt
  • ¼ C whey

Scald and peel the tomatoes.  Cut into bite size pieces and put in a bowl.  Put the onion in a sieve and run under hot water for about a minute.  Add to the bowl.  Sprinkle with the salt and mix and let stand for about three hours.  Drain.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.  Pack into jars and close lids.  Leave in at room temperature for 2-3 days.  Transfer to cold storage.

Note:  If you do not have whey available, add 1T of salt  when you add the remaining ingredients.

Green Salsa

  • 1 quart tomatillos, husked and washed and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, rough chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, fine chopped
  • 1 large bunch cilantro, fine chopped, stems included
  • 1 sweet pepper, small dice
  • hot peppers to taste
  • 1/3 C sea salt
  • 1/4 C whey
  1. Combine the tomatillos and onions in a non-reactive bowl and sprinkle with the salt.  Let stand about 20 minutes and then drain.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients.
  3. Pack into jars and close lids.  Leave in a warm place for 2-3 days.  Transfer to cold storage.
  4. When you are ready to eat the salsa, you can serve it as is, or mix it with some fresh chopped red tomatoes, and/or chopped mangos.
    Note:  If you do not have whey available, add 1T of salt  when you add the remaining ingredients.

Another note:  If you put too many hot peppers in the salsa, adding a fruit like mango or apple right before you serve it can cut down the heat with the sweet.

DO NOT ADD THE FRUIT BEFORE YOU FERMENT THIS!  Yes, I tried that once.  The salsa molded halfway down the jar in about two weeks.

I can’t tell you how long these will hold up in cold storage because they doesn’t stick around in our house more than a month or two.  Figure it this way — the tomatoes come in just as football season is starting.

Still more tomatoes coming??

DSC_0115            Sometimes I forget what a pantry staple salsa has become.  Whether it is a lunch fix (Nacho Sandwiches) or a fast dinner (“Spanish” Rice), we use salsa as more than something to scoop up with chips.  Although we like that, as well.

            I have issues with salsa.  Most homemade salsa that I have had is too runny and/or too watery.  Salsa from the store has that plastic taste (I’m not sure how else to describe it: that non-descript, doesn’t really taste like anything flavor, probably manufactured in North Jersey), but usually has a nice thick consistency.

            So here is your middle ground:  The best salsa ever, inspired by my mother-in-law’s recipe:

Rosemary’s Salsa

  • 10 quarts of tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  •   ½ C salt

Mix these together in a colander, and let drain for 3 hours.  Transfer to a non-reactive pot. Then add:

  •  1-2 stalks celery, sliced
  •  2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 jalepenos, sliced (de-seed for less heat)
  • 2 green chilies (de-seed for less heat)
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 C vinegar
  • 12 oz. tomato paste

Simmer for 20 minutes.  Pack in hot pint jars and process 20 minutes.

Nacho Sandwiches

  • 2 tortillas
  • ½ C salsa
  • ½ C grated cheese

Place one tortilla on an oven-proof dish, sprinkle with ½ the cheese.  Top with the salsa and then the rest of the cheese.  Put under the broiler for 1-2 minutes.  Top with the other tortilla.  When we don’t have tortillas, we use toast.  The toast gets soggy, but it still tastes good!

“Spanish” Rice (I’m not sure if that is somehow un PC…)

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 4 C cooked rice
  • 1 pt. jar salsa

1.     In a large skillet, brown the ground beef, and strain off about half of the fat.

2.     Add the rice and stir until coated.

3.     Add the salsa and stir until everything is heated through.  Sometimes we top this with grated cheese, sour cream and/or guacamole.

Pesto: Home Made is Best-o

The past few weeks have been crazy.  Therefore sitting and “doing nothing,” as I was instructed to do on Mother’s Day morning, was a lovely indulgence.  I used to lie in bed and wait for breakfast to be brought on a tray, but to be honest it drove me crazy.  I am accustomed to getting up at 4:30 am during the week and find it difficult to sleep past 6 on the weekends.  Lying in bed until 8:30 was torture.

This year, I watched the film Fresh, and am considering it as an introductory film for the Politics of Food unit that I teach to my Contemporary Studies class.  If you are just starting on a Journey of Awareness, as Joel Salatin likes to call it, Fresh is a great place to start.  Afterwards, while eating a lovely breakfast cooked by the family I love, we watched cooking shows.

I find the popularity of the Food Network and the Cooking Channel very heartening.  Growing up, I watched the French Chef and the Galloping Gourmet (both on PBS) with my siblings and mother.  And I can remember playing French Chef with my sister.  My husband and I bonded over Ciao Italia, Julia and Jaques Cooking at Home, and America’s Test Kitchen.  To see the popularity of cooking shows grow to the point where they are no longer a PBS thing, but a two-network thing, makes me glad.  It means that people are interested in cooking, even if I don’t have much time to sit and watch these shows anymore.

One of the shows, however, gave me pause.  The challenge was to fix a day’s worth of meals based on what was in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.  OK.  I like that idea, since many of us find ourselves staring onto the refrigerator thinking “Hmmm…how am I going to feed everyone today with ketchup, mustard, relish and a half gallon of milk?”  But I found myself immediately removed.  It is a set-up of course, like Bear Grylls – he isn’t really alone in the wilderness, there is a film crew there.  So whatever this woman planned to make for her show, the ingredients would be in her pantry.  But I suspended my disbelief and tried to buy into the fiction.

She got a basket and started taking things off of the shelves in her pantry.  Really?  A basket?  And what was she putting in the basket?  All pre-made, jarred up industrial food.  When she snuggled in the jar of pesto I was disheartened.  All of her talk about making things at home, and preparing healthy meals for her family kind of flew out the window.

The whole show felt like such a sham!  It felt as if it was doing more to support dependence upon the industrial food system, than encouraging people to make things themselves.  Do I grow my own garlic? Well, no, but I use cloves of garlic and leaves from homegrown basil and put it in the blender and make my own pesto.  It really isn’t very challenging.  And it freezes quite nicely in ice-cube trays, which measure out to be 2 tablespoons of pesto.  I would have been much more impressed with this program if the hostess would have pulled the pesto out of her freezer.

In this way, even these cooking shows that nominally claim to promote kitchen survival skills, slinging the “make it yourself” mantra, are modeling industrial food dependence, using ingredients like pancake mix, canned or powdered soup mixes, and commercially prepared jars of pesto.  The media has the public caught in an interesting conundrum: On the one hand, viewers see whole-foods being promoted by the “Health Industry,” and on the other hand, Industrial Food is showing us pre-packaged, pre-made foods that if used to prepare a meal at home have become synonymous with “home-made.” Which they aren’t.  Home-cooked, yes.  Homemade, no.

Another interesting aspect of this show was that as the woman was putting her pantry ingredients in her basket, she was turning everything so the brand name was away from the camera.  That’s normal.  However, this exposed the back of the jars and bags, which exposed the ingredients lists, most of which were rather long.

Making pesto isn’t exactly rocket-science.  Why pay $6.95 for a six-ounce jar of pesto when you can make a gallon of it for the same price?  I know the reasons: I don’t know how; I don’t have time; It’s just easier to pop open a jar.

I can’t really argue with the last reason.  It is easier to pop open a jar.  But not knowing how?  Not with the internet at your disposal!  You can find a recipe for anything!  And not having time?  Pesto takes about 10 or 15 minutes.  Spend a little less time on Facebook and make some pesto to have in your freezer.

You can do this.  One small step for you; one giant step away from Industrial Food.

Pesto

  • one small head of garlic, separated, peeled and chopped
  • one large bunch fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (or almonds)
  • Olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
  • salt and papper to taste
  1. In a blender or food processor, add all of the ingredients except the olive oil.
  2. Pulse the blender a few times.
  3. Add about 1/4 cup of olive oil and pulse a few more times.  If the ingredients are starting to grind, let the processor run until the ingredients are a paste. If the ingredients are NOT starting to grind, add a little more olive oil.  Keep adding the olive oil a little at a time until the ingredients are grinding.
  4. When it has all become a nice paste, mix in salt and pepper.
  5. Use some now and freeze some for later:  Put unused pesto in ice-cube trays and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for 24 hours.  Pop the pesto out of the trays and store in the freezer in a plastic freezer bag.  Each pesto cube equals 2 Tablespoons of pesto (2 cubes is a 1/4 cup).

We love this to dress sauteed potatoes and green beans.