Tuscan Inspired Grilled Polenta and Sausages in Wine

We are getting near the end of outdoor grilling season here. Of course you can grill outdoors all year round, if you don’t mind the weather. But those lazy summer days of sitting outside eating grilled foods, is past for this year, here in Vermont. To celebrate ushering in Autumn, my most favorite season, I will share with you this recipe for a Tuscan inspired grilled meal.

I also wanted to share with you, my loyal and faithful readers that for the next month, at least, I will be blogging Gluten Free. As many of my loyal readers already know, I started watching my gluten intake over a year ago, but to be honest, I only did it about 80% of the time. It has helped, a lot, however, there are a few more minor issues I want to see if being 100% gluten free resolves. So now it is time to get down to serious business and see what  life is like at 100% GF.

If I was so close why did it take me this long to go all the way? I asked myself this question a lot, and the truth was because I have been afraid. Afraid that it would be hard to lead a normal life, go out to eat with friends, or be THAT PERSON who can’t just go with the flow, mucking up the works. But then I realized, nothing about me is NORMAL! :)

Even though I have plenty of blogging friends, with GF blogs to get inspiration from, I just wasn’t ready. But I am now. I know I am ready, because instead of being afraid, I am excited!I am excited about this change because it means many new kitchen experiments with breads, pizza and baked goods. I am also excited because I will be able to share how easy, economical and delicious gluten free eating can be. I also am excited to show my readers, that eating a gluten free diet does not mean going to the grocery store and buying all new pre-made items that are part of a “gluten free” line. Instead one can just eat foods that are naturally gluten free, and there are many.

This meal is a perfect example – and I promise you will not miss gluten for one minute! We accompanied it with a garden fresh caprese salad, using the best quality fresh mozzarella we could find and a delicious glass of full bodied red wine.

*note – this is a great meal to serve to a crowd. We were expecting company for dinner, but they couldn’t make it at the last minute. So this is for 6-8 people.

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Fresh Corn Chowder To Welcome Autumn

I feel like I have had a more intimate relationship with corn this year than I have before. Corn is prevalent here in Vermont. The roads we drive regularly are lined with them, and so we have seen their growth from start to finish, and finally to harvest.

It is harvest time here in Northern New England. We spent the weekend doing our own harvest – 75 feet of potatoes, yielding just over 35 lbs.of wholesome goodness. We planted 8 varieties of heirlooms this year, with whimsical names such as Purple Viking, Austrian Crescent and Rose Finn Apple. We also harvested the rest of our heirloom tomatoes – Pink Brandywine, Black Krim, Bonnie Best and of course the ever present Romas. We had some cold days, which killed most of them sadly. But we managed to save enough to enjoy over the next few days. We also harvested our bush beans, another 75 feet worth of plants – Black Turtle, Royal Purple and Blue Lake. We haven’t weighed the beans, as they are still in various stages of drying. But it looks like it was a good harvest.

Wednesday is the Autumnal Equinox, the official first day of autumn. Commonly a harvest time in many parts of the world. Living in a northern climate, you certainly feel it in the air. Something has shifted. It is that crispness in the air, mingled with the smell of burning wood, damp earth and rotting leaves. Earthy, pungent and comforting. This kind of weather calls for comfort food, which is where fresh corn chowder comes in. Corn is everywhere, and so now is a good time to stock up for winter, and also enjoy some fresh. But that chill in the air calls for a hearty and warming bowl of steamy goodness – warming you, inside and out.

INGREDIENTS:

1 TBS olive oil
3 slices nitrate-free bacon, chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 small carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 cup leftover diced potatoes
4 cups fresh corn off the cob
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp Calabrese ground peperoncini or hot smoked paprika
½ cup white wine – I used Viognier
2 cups stock or water
½ cup plain yogurt
3 TBS butter

METHOD:

In a large pot, or Dutch oven, over medium-high heat sautee the bacon, onion, and carrot in olive oil until onion is translucent. Add the garlic, and pre-cooked potatoes and sautee about 5 minutes. Then add the corn and spices and sautee until corn becomes soft and glistening. Then add the wine, stock or water and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. Then stir in the yogurt and butter right before serving.

Serves 4-6, depending on portion sizes.

Food Preservation or “My Life as a Squirrel”

This could very well be the most important post I have ever written, for myself. It is what Roberto and I have been working towards steadily these past 2 years, making changes and big decisions in our lives to get to the point of really practicing what I preach on this blog. Changing in our own lives what we see needs improving in the world around us. Getting back to a simpler existence, one that you depend on your own hands for.  The journey has had some hard moments, many moments of doubt, confusion and frustration. But it has been extremely rewarding, fascinating, satisfying on the soul level and let’s not forget – FUN. This reflective post all started with the act of blogging about food preservation, an old-fashioned, traditional way of making sure your family had enough food to survive a cold winter.

Last Year’s Pickled Peppers

The better part of this month has centered around preserving food for the winter and I have been wanting to post about it. Some of you might be seasoned preservers, while others have just dabbled. Some of you might have not preserved anything yet, but would like to learn. This post is an overview of various preservation methods, advantages and disadvantages to those methods and the method behind the madness of my own preservation this year. I have also listed some resources at the end of this post to get you started or deepen your relationship with food preservation. I also make the case for why we, as Americans should be preserving more food, and how by taking small actions, like this, WE can truly change the shape of our food system.

I will warn you, this is going to be a bit long. I could have posted on each aspect separately, but that would put me farther behind in posts than I already am. Not only that, but my kitchen has been a constant state of “work-in-progress” for the last several weeks, and I can justify all of the mess, by organizing this post! So I opted to share a lot with you in this one massive post! So grab a nice hot drink, relax and let’s talk about preparing food for winter storage.

English Style Red Cabbage

A few weeks ago, I, along with several other Vermont foodies, were featured in an article about canning and preserving in the Burlington Free Press. The interview really got me thinking about my views on food preservation, why I do it and how I choose the methods by which I do it. The article says: “Campus likes canning because it provides a homemade, lasting food supply that is not dependent on electricity”. That pretty much sums it up.

The weather has started to turn cooler here in Northern Vermont, and like an internal timer, my mind has become a bit like that of a squirrel, or my friend “Chippy” the chipmunk that lives in our garage and wood pile. I saw her/him the other day with cheeks packed full of seeds, foraging and storing for winter. In that instant, we had a lot in common. There is an almost instinctual drive to make preparations for hunkering down for the winter while the days are still warm, but the nights are getting colder, reminding and urging us all on with our tasks.

Maybe it is because we started homesteading this year. I have always felt that I had a close connection with nature and the changing seasons, but it has really become the focus of our lives this year, with a lot more to go. Our goal for this year was to start the process and gain some of the skills necessary for producing the majority of our food in the coming years. Meaning flora and fauna. Having a garden, and livestock really puts you in tune with nature on a very practical level and when you are responsible for the comfort and over-wintering of those animals, and need to prepare the grounds for next years garden, you can’t do it on the fly, there is planning involved. Kind of like food preservation.

Tomato Preservation Heaven

I have preserved little bits here and there during the summer. I would go to the farmers market, see what was in abundance, buy some for eating, and a little extra to preserve. But last week I started feeling antsy. I only had 30 jars of various foodstuffs, and that wasn’t cutting it for the squirrel in me. So I went and bought 25 lbs of tomatoes as well as 5 lbs of Roma tomatoes. I made 11 pints plus 3 quarts of crushed tomatoes and 6 cups of oven-dried tomatoes. We incorporate tomatoes into our menu pretty much daily, and so for us, it is important to have a lot on hand. I also supplemented these home preserved tomatoes with our favorite packaged Italian tomatoes – buying in bulk when they are on sale at the store. I also bought a large head each of red and green cabbage. I made 6 pints of winekraut with the red, and a big batch of lacto-fermented sauerkraut with the green.

Fermenting, Freezing, Drying and Canning:

Lacto-Fermented Pickles

This year was my first year fermenting foods. I started with the basics – pickles,  pickled daikon, and sauerkraut. Through all my book and online research, I have not yet gotten a clear understanding whether or not these fermented foods can be stored without refrigeration. I have a “test” jar in my makeshift root cellar as an experiment to determine next year’s preservation methods. I imagine since this type of food preservation has been done for a very long time, before refrigeration, that it should be fine. But I want to be sure that the exact methods I am using yields the same results in terms of longevity. Like I said, these things take time.

I love the idea of fermenting foods – a great way to preserve nutrients, since the food remains alive . I also like the fact that there are not many steps involved. No multiple steaming pots on every stove burner. The possible downside is, I do not like relying on electricity to store my preserved foods. In the country, especially where snow is prevalent, we have a high chance of losing power all winter long. If one relies on the fridge or freezer for all their preserved foods, one could lose their entire storage and all that hard work in a matter of hours. Not a personal risk I am willing to take at this point. This is why for this year, I have not relied solely on fermentation. One of my preservation philosophies – don’t put all your pickles in one crock.

This leaves you with oven drying, sun drying or traditional canning. Personally, I like to do a little bit of everything. Keeps tastes varied and interesting, even if your storage revolves around a few main crops. It also ensures that my fridge is not going to be made up solely of pickles and kraut (even though I do use an old dorm sized fridge for my pickles and other lacto-fermented foods).

Plums, Dried Plums in Syrup and Canned Plums in Vanilla-Cardamom-Rum Syrup

Traditional canning is fun. I always love a good steaming pot in the kitchen. There is something comforting and homey about it. This year I canned carrots, English style red cabbage, bread and butter pickles, beets in wine, crushed tomatoes, raspberries, blueberries and plums in a vanilla-cardamom-rum syrup.

There is nothing better than the taste of slow oven roasted tomatoes. This method brings the natural sweetness out – making essentially candied tomatoes. I just drizzled Roma halves with olive oil, and spices and let them go in a 200F oven for about 8 hours. I also oven roasted plum halves. I sprinkled those with maple sugar and cinnamon. They came out like the best tasting prunes you’ve ever had! I don’t have a dehydrator. So for now, I have been oven-drying. We will see about a dehydrator down the line, if I end up feeling like I need one. Probably will once I (hopefully!) have a deer to process. And don’t forget to dry your herbs for winter use! Hanging in my outdoor shed I have rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano.

Herbs Drying in the Shed

The thing I love about freezing, is if I have leftover produce from any of the above methods, I can just throw it in mason jars or freezer bags, and put it in the freezer for later use. There is no method easier than that. But it is my last option. This year I froze beet greens, corn, berries, frozen tomato juice (nothing from my tomato processing went to waste), homemade pesto, red cabbage, soaked beans and grains, etc. We are in the process of buying half a lamb from a local farm. Another way to save money on your meat bill. Want to know an even cheaper way to get the best, most healthy meat you can? Join me this season and try hunting for your own.  I hope to soon be stocking my freezer with fresh venison before the end of October!

Food preservation doesn’t stop there! This year we used the majority of our garden space to grow storage vegetables – 75 feet of heirloom potatoes and 75 feet of dry beans, 3 varieties of winter squash, turnips beets and carrots for our root cellar. We might not have enjoyed the huge harvests of tomatoes and lettuces this summer as much as some, but in the winter when local produce is scarce it will all be worth it.

When I was a little girl, I loved my grandparents basement. It was filled with shelves all stocked with food stuff, paper products, etc. When you needed something, you got it from the basement on most occasions. After living for 3 years in hurricane country, Roberto and I have been well versed in emergency preparedness. That combined with this nostalgic memory from my childhood, and the fact that we live in the country, we decided to buy dried goods that we use all the time in bulk. Items like organic beans and lentils, buckwheat, quinoa and oats as well as whole wheat and spelt flours can be pricey when you are purchasing only a small package at a time. Buying in bulk not only saves tons of money (almost 1/3 of the costs) but all the extra time and gas it would take to make all those trips to the store for smaller re-fills. So I finally have my own pantry in the basement, just like my Nana did.

All of this was done in an effort to save time later in the year, because now I have a pantry and freezer stocked with all the components to make easy and nourishing meals all fall and winter long, with enough variety to keep it interesting!

Crushed Tomatoes

This post is pretty much the cumulation of what I write about on this blog – the ability to have healthy, flavorful, organic and local foods on a budget. YES, it can be done. I have taken great pains to show that, I wanted to prove that it is possible. It takes some good old fashioned work, some crazy days here and there, and it does cut into TV watching and reading time but in the end you have something to be proud of, and a healthy larder to eat from all winter long. What is more important?

Which brings me to my final point. Our food system in the USA is very sick, and it is making our people very sick – our children, spouses, parents, siblings, neighbors and friends. Take a moment and think of one person that you care about in your life that should be eating differently for their own health.  I am sure we all know a few. By doing just a little bit of raising your own food, or if you really truly can’t (and look at the book list below before you say you can’t), support your local farmer who does and we can all make a difference, together. But WE have to do it. The people. It is up to us. There is no magic wand or fairy godmother to do it for us. It is about the small decisions and choices we make in daily life and we vote with our money and where we spend it. We need to stop complaining about how sick we feel, and about the behavior problems in our children, and the affordability of good food, and really look at what we are doing to contribute to this nightmare, and then do something to change it, in our own lives. I came across an article the other day, and it has a lot of good points. I don’t agree with everything, but it does delve deeply into some very important issues, and puts the owness on the individual, which is vital.  So ask yourself, do you have the balls to change the food system?

Most of the recipes and inspiration that I used this year came from these three books:

The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market (Revised Edition)

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats

For information on Root Cellaring, this is THE BOOK:

Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables

If you want to learn more about homesteading on just 1/4 acre of land, this book is jam packed full of information on how to raise your own food (plants and animals) and then recipes, for when the harvest is in. Did you know you can harvest 1,400 eggs, 50 lbs of wheat, 60 lbs of fruit, 2,000 lbs of vegetables, 280 lbs of meat and 75 lbs of nuts on just 1/4 acre?? This book tells you how:

The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!

Another great book for the library of anyone who wants to be more self-sufficient in food, energy and household skills, this is a good one to have:

Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition

Muesli Chip Cookies

Since we are on the subject of easy to make, super good for you foods, I wanted to share this cookie recipe with you as we head into the weekend. These cookies are simple to make, and they are a million times better for you than anything you could ever buy at the store. Honestly there is no comparison. Plus, there is nothing more comforting than the smell of cookies baking in your oven on a cold day, right?  And I am not talking about the roll of plastic dough from the refrigerator section either…those aren’t real cookies.

The temperatures sure are dropping here in Northern Vermont, and today I have the baking bug. So I am whipping up a batch of these as soon as I post this.

Don’t get me wrong though, these are certainly all weather cookies. I made sure we always had a fresh batch on hand this summer. They are super satisfying and packed with delicious flavor and nutrition. Perfect for those busy summer days in the garden, working for hours with no time for a sit down lunch. These came in perfect and really kept us going through many busy days like that this past spring and summer. I daresay these are better for you than those energy bars out there, but taste like a cookie! Add a kefir smoothie and you have lunch on the go when it was too hot to think about putting food together. These cookies have also been kid-tested and they are highly portable. It is really hard to find fault with these cookies.

I haven’t even told you the best part either. The BEST thing about these cookies is that you can switch up the flavors and use what you have on hand – add some nuts, or dried fruits. Once I made these with a cut up bacon-chocolate bar, and they really rocked my world. You can substitute applesauce for half the yogurt, or try pureed pumpkin and add some ginger for a fall classic! If you have leftover egg whites from making the aioli on my Homemade Condiments post from earlier this week, use them instead of one whole egg. The possibilities really are endless! So join me, and whip up a batch of these this weekend! C’mon, they are totally guilt free, and actually beneficial to your health! Everyone has time for cookies!

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup muesli (or just plain oats – but muesli is way, way better). I use Bob’s Red Mill.
¾ cup spelt or whole wheat flour, make these gluten-free by using a gluten free flour. I bet coconut flour would go great!
2/3 c. kefir/yogurt/buttermilk
¼ cup rapadura sugar
1 egg, or two egg whites
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
½ cup organic baking coconut
¼ cup chocolate chips

METHOD:

Mix muesli, flour and dairy in a large bowl and let stand on counter top overnight (or at least a few hours for the muesli o get soft). Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix in sugar, eggs, baking soda, salt, vanilla and spices – make sure all is evenly combined. Then add the coconut and fold in the chocolate chips. On a prepared cookie sheet, drop batter by the tablespoon full on the cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are browned. Makes about 12 cookies.

Homemade Condiments: Mayo, Ketchup and Cranberry BBQ Sauce

Do you have 10 minutes to spare? Good, then you have plenty of time to make your own, healthy condiments to accompany your nutritious meals. Making your own condiments is cheaper and you are able to monitor exactly what goes in them, and adjust flavorings to suit you and your family’s taste buds. You can be eating grassfed beef and organic veggies from the farmers market, but if you are topping it all off with bottled condiments, you are probably un-doing much of your hard work. Bottled condiments contain corn syrup, MSG aka “natural flavors” and various other preservatives. None of which we should be eating for optimum health.

You see, eating healthy is quite simple. It is actually more simple than many of us think. People are always asking me what they should be eating to be healthier or to help this or that health problem. The reality is that there are really no magical cures specific to individual health problems. The key is taking care of our immune system and our brain health, and the battle is won. If we feed our bodies with the best possible fuel, it will be able to function optimally. How do you do this? Eat whole foods as close to their natural state as possible.

I am not a doctor, I just know what has worked for my family, and this is what I try to share on this blog.

On the path to eating healthier, there are many obstacles, most of which center on overcoming our own fears and hurdles to health. There is also a lot of un-learning to do. Some of the healthiest foods, like eggs, meat, real butter, and even olive oil have been maligned all in the name of processed foods, preservatives, industrial agriculture, over-indulging in grains and unhealthy oils. We have also been taught that eating healthy, cooking from scratch and eating locally and organic is expensive. So even if you know you should eat better, you can’t afford to. This is simply untrue. The reality is it has saved me so much money over the years, not only on food bills but also on health bills. We need to start asking ourselves hard questions as a nation. What are we willing to do as individuals to make our nation and families healthier? Can we find a few hours a week somewhere, maybe cut into our TV watching a little, to cook wholesome food for our family? Maybe then our children won’t have so many health issues. But it is up to us, as families and individuals to make those changes. So many of us are still blinded by the agendas of the food industry.

Although I am pretty hardcore when it comes to my food beliefs, I also believe in taking baby steps to get long lasting results. The way I eat now, has been years in the making, and I am still learning. Some people find success changing everything at once, but personally, I find that if I incorporate too much that is new all at once, I just get overwhelmed and frustrated and then I become resistant to change. Making condiments is something easy you can do, that takes only minutes and can really help the health of your family and your budget. So let’s get started!

Aioli (Homemade Mayonnaise)

INGREDIENTS:

3 large farm fresh yolks from free-ranging, pasture raised chickens ( I would not recommend any other eggs in a recipe using raw eggs)
¼ cup of lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
fresh cracked pepper (to taste)
1 TBS whey (optional), for longevity of the mayo
3 garlic cloves
1 cup olive oil

METHOD:

Place egg yolks, lemon juice or vinegar, salt and pepper and whey (optional) into your blender or food processor. If using a blender (the better tool for this) start on a low speed and then move up to high. While the machine is running, drop in the garlic cloves and blend for about 10 seconds. Then while the machine is still running, pour the oil in a thin steady stream, until emulsified. ( If you have used whey, allow the mayo to sit, covered on your counter for 7 hours before refrigeration – for the lactic acid fermentation process to occur). With the whey added your mayo will keep for several months. If you do not use whey, it will last in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. Refrigerate in an airtight jar. Makes about 2 cups.

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Ketchup

INGREDIENTS:

2 – 8 oz. jars (organic preferred) tomato paste
½ cup canned tomatoes, crushed
¼ cup whey (optional)
1 TBS sea salt
½ cup real maple syrup
2 TBS raw apple cider vinegar
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch of oregano

METHOD:

Mix all ingredients until well blended. Place in a glass jar. If using whey, leave jar out at room temperature overnight before storing in the fridge. Makes about 1 quart.

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Cranberry BBQ Sauce

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup of homemade ketchup
¼ cup sautéed onions and garlic
2 TBS balsamic vinegar
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 handfuls of dried cranberries

METHOD:

Mix all ingredients together in a blender until smooth.

I am entering this post in the Two For Tuesdays Real Food Blog Hop. If you have a real food recipe to contribute follow the link and see all the other participating blogs and recipes!