Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I turn around for 10 minutes...

Okay, actually, I was gone for approximately 10 days -- not 10 minutes -- cavorting around Italy eating every flavor of gelato I could find, but still.... I returned home to finally discover what the giant plant was that had sprouted from my compost and proceeded to take over half of my garden, Audrey-Two style in recent months.

Frankly, I'd been getting a little bit irritated about the size of the mystery plant and proliferation of flowers with no visible fruit for weeks and weeks. I'd even stooped to hand-pollinating a few blossoms (no doubt scandalizing the bees with my irreverent flaunting of pistils and stamen). Nada. Then, about two days before departing for my friend Jen's wedding in Tuscany, I noticed a small, tangerine-sized swelling that looked promising....

It appears to be a pumpkin! How fun! It may not look so impressive, but that thing is the size of a well-inflated basketball. Will it be a jack-o-lantern, or end up in soup, I wonder.... Hooray for my very first (illegitimate) cucurbit of the season!

Actually, since I'm gushing about the beautiful things that have come up out back in my absence, check out the second round of strawberries,

a little bitty cucumber,

and even a tiny raspberry on my recently transplanted berry shrub!

Sorry this last one is so blurry. I apparently got a little overexcited when I discovered this very first tiny berry, and bumped the camera into some clearly inappropriate shutter speed setting. And I ate this solitary fruit before I realized my error. (What's that about me having self-control. I have it. I just don't generally exercise it around fresh fruit. Speaking of which, I noticed there have been lots of unpicked blueberries at the North Columbia Heights Green when I was there earlier doing a little weeding and watering....)

Monday, June 11, 2012

What's the matter, Colonel Sanders... chicken??

Why is it that I find myself eating more meat these days? Is it because I am no longer dating a vegetarian? Is it because my carnivorous friends are coming out of hibernation? Is it because I manage a grassfed meat CSA? Probably all of these.

I'll tell you, though I believe in -- and practice -- a mostly plant-based diet, I do love a good piece of meat. Take the chicken I roasted for a dinner party last night. Man, oh, man was it delicious. The trick, besides the pastured life the bird had lived in Berryville, VA, was the brine. Yep, salt water. Well, it's a bit more complicated than that, but not much.

What's that? You've never brined a chicken? Well, foodie though I may be, this was only the second time I'd prepared poultry in a brine myself. A solution of salt, brown sugar, water, and herbs pulled out excess moisture and sealed in the deliciousness during later roasting. Even in my markedly sub-par oven, it was... spectacular. The first time, I used lots of black peppercorns, a couple of cut up lemons, allspice berries, and a few cinnamon sticks. This time, I went a little more seasonal and local, replacing the citrus and dry spices with some extra garlic scapes and some fennel fronds I had lying around. Want to try it yourself? Check out these basic instructions, adapted from eHow.com (and, fine, somewhat heavily editorialized):


Brining a chicken

  • Container large enough to hold chicken and several quarts of liquid
  • 2-cup measuring cup
  • Kosher salt (I used sea salt)
  • Sugar (I used brown sugar)
  • Black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 whole chicken (plucked, with giblets, feet, and neck removed)
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • Whole spices (coriander, dill seed, juniper berries, allspice, or caraway all work well)
  • Fresh herbs (a small bunch of thyme, tarragon, rosemary, fennel)
  • Peeled cloves of garlic and/or garlic scapes
Determine how much water you'll need. The rule of thumb is 4 cups of water for each pound of chicken. Add an extra cup or pint for any overage. (It's a good idea to test your container to make sure it will hold both your chicken and the right amount of water before you get underway.)

Measure out 1/2 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of sugar for each pound of chicken. (I know it seems like a lot. I was shaking my head the whole time I was measuring these out.)

Measure out 1/2 tsp. peppercorns per pound. If you are going to add one of the optional whole spices, use the same amount of spice as peppercorns. If you are using garlic cloves, peel them.

Pour the appropriate quantity of water into your brining container. (I had a ginormous stockpot on loan from my friend Jessica.)

Dip out approximately 2 cups of water with the measuring up and heat this amount of water in a medium-sized pot on the stove until it simmers. It doesn't need to boil.

Stir the kosher salt and sugar into the hot water until they dissolve. Add the peppercorns and any whole spices you are using. Then empty the cup back into the brining container and stir together. If you are using garlic, lemon, and/or fresh herbs, add them now.

Test the liquid with your finger. It should be cool to the touch. If it is still slightly warm, let it cool for 10 or 15 minutes, or put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes.

Take the chicken out of its packaging (and remove the giblets, if present). Then rinse the chicken under cold water and pat dry.

Ease the chicken into the brining liquid. Ideally, it should be submerged. If a small portion is not covered with brine, plan to turn it at regular intervals.

Cover the container and place it in the refrigerator. Allow to sit for at least one hour per pound, but for no more than 12 hours.
Be careful not to leave the chicken in the brine for longer than this; it may get too salty or become soft and mushy. Once this happens, there is no way to fix it!

Remove the chicken (and toss out the brine).

If you are cooking it right away, put the chicken on a roasting pan and pat it dry. If you aren't ready to cook the chicken just yet, let it air dry, uncovered, in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours or overnight. This will produce a crispier skin. 

Roasting a Chicken 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the chicken on a roasting pan in the oven.

Check the progress after about 1/2 an hour. If some parts are starting to get dark faster than others, cover them with foil and rotate the chicken in the oven for even roasting. At 45 minutes, start checking for doneness. An instant read thermometer is very useful here; cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees in the thickest part of the meat. (My 5.5-lb bird took about an hour and a half.)

When done, remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for about 10 minutes before cutting to allow the juices to settle. Like a steak, if you cut it too soon, the juices will all run out. Be patient, grasshopper.

Meanwhile, consider making a gravy with the drippings, or, as I did, toss some fresh asparagus in the roasting pan's drippings and put it back in the oven for 10 minutes or so. DELICIOUS. A bit luxurious, true, and not something to do every night, but darn tasty, especially alongside some cheesy grits. Ah, but I'll get to the surprisingly scrumptious parmesan rice grits in a future post....

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

2012 garlic harvest

What did *you* do today? Me, I dropped off batches of info postcards for the Columbia Heights farmers market around town. (Speaking of which, if you are in town, CHCM is holding a bluegrass fundraiser at Acre 121 next week -- should be fun!) Then I had my regular drive out to pick up some local, grassfed beef, and return to the city to yap with food lovers about the best way to prepare their newly acquired steaks, roasts, and ribs -- part of my weekly gig managing White House Meats' CSA program.

But first things first: before I headed out for the day, there was garlic to harvest out back. And what an impressive and notably odorous harvest it was. Not too shabby, eh? Cousin Caroline would be proud. Now where to hang them to cure...?

Monday, June 4, 2012

When life gives you lemon verbena...

I first developed a taste for whiskey back during my AmeriCorps days, when my boyfriend Adam's grandmother taught me how to make whiskey sours with some of her favorite bourbon during a visit to her home in Kentucky. (My kind of woman, she was.) Ever since, I've been a little partial to whiskey-based cocktails. In fact, my favorite to date has been the "Mowhiskey" -- a twist on the traditional mojito using whiskey instead of rum plus some muddled fresh cherries -- which I invented a few years later in Brooklyn, during a barbecue in which my boyfriend Nick's friends polished off the rum before we got through the limes, simple syrup, and mint. (You would think all I did in relationships was sit around and drink with my partners. Not true. I cooked a lot, too.)

Well, tonight's boozy invention was born once again from necessity: I needed to figure out a use for the small branches I'd clipped from my aromatic but as yet unused lemon verbena out back.... I'd picked up a rather scrawny but enticingly lemon-scented little plant a number of weeks ago at a farmers' market, with positively NO idea how well it would flourish in one of the planter boxes out back. (I'd managed to kill off mint and rosemary -- both of which are supposed to be foolproof -- earlier this year, and so expectations were low.) It's taken off like a weed, all lush and green and happy looking, but come to think of it, I was a little worried that it would start taking over, Audrey-2-style.

What the heck does one do with lemon verbena? The most obvious use seemed to be in a cocktail, a thought no doubt inspired by the phenomenal quaffs I've enjoyed at Room 11 and Maple in recent weeks, though none of theirs used leaves from this deciduous shrub. I did a little internet research to see how some of the more creative mixologists have incorporated lemon verbena, and pretty much across the board they used gin as the base. I have no gin at the apartment. And, truthfully, I don't really care for it. Let's see... I do have some whiskey around that had been rescued from a box of miscellaneous liquor my brother had left with my parents awhile back, and a cut up lime in the fridge....

The result: a new drink. I call it... actually, you know what, I don't know what to call it. How about you name it? Here's the recipe:

Lemon Verbena Cocktail (Soon to have a Much Cooler Name)

First, make the simple syrup by combining in a small pot:
1/4 cup freshly picked lemon verbena leaves, crushed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water

Bring to a simmer and then turn off the heat and let the leaves steep for 20 minutes or so. Strain out the leaves and set aside to cool.

In a highball glass, combine:
3-4 lemon verbena leaves, muddled
3-4 ice cubes
1 shot of whiskey (or more to taste)
1 shot of lemon verbena simple syrup (or less to taste)
2 shots of seltzer or soda water
juice from 1/4 lime

Delicious. I'm sipping on one as I type (so apologies for any typos).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

In the bag

What do you do on a Friday night? Me, I hang out on the back patio drinking beer with my dad and screenprinting market bags with the CHCM logo. (For awhile I was convinced that I was destined to become the crazy neighborhood cat lady one day. Nope. I'm destined to be a bag lady. They are nice bags....)

A couple of boxes of colorful market bags had been donated by our local credit union -- who, incidentally, will be raffling off filled market bags at the market next weekend -- and all I needed was to find someone to silkscreen our logo on them.... Do you know how difficult it is to find a screenprinter in this town willing to work on something that isn't a t-shirt?

Do you know that my dad used to silkscreen all of our Christmas cards when I was growing up? Ah! As I was relaying my conundrum to good old dad over the phone, he volunteered to pick up some paints and come for a visit. "No problemo, see you Friday." My dad, he's a problem solver.

We only cranked out about 60 of them before it got dark. (Or, more accurately, before we started to get hungry. Okay, fine, before I started to get hungry.) It was actually pretty fun father-daughter bonding time, and we ate well, of course. A little local, grassfed beef on the grill and some fresh asparagus from the farmers' market -- not too shabby. I'm actually looking forward to round two of screenprinting some weekend soon. Hold on, let me check my social calendar... mmm hmm... mmm hmm... Friday night? What do you know, my schedule's wide open.

But seriously, don't you want one of these? I mean, they're very stylish, and talk about locally made: they were printed about 4 blocks from the farmers' market! Come see me at the market some Saturday soon, I'll see what I can do. ("For you? Just $2....")