Sunday, February 14, 2010

Can Jam: Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon Pickle

In metro Detroit, the blue collar east side suburbs of Madison Heights/Clawson are home to the best Vietnamese restaurants in the area.   One day when I was up in the northeast burbs for a business meeting, I decided to hit Que Hong on John R in Madison Heights to try banh mi and pho.  Bahn mi was last year's hot food trend (this year, it's going to be popovers and macarons), but given that there are no Vietnamese restaurants in Ann Arbor, I was a little behind in my food trendiness.  Banh mi is what we call in Michigan a "sub sandwich" - you can get many flavors of banh mi. The one I tasted was barbecued pork and it was fantastic!   My brother and I had to split one it was so huge, and it cost something like $2.50.  It had lots of vegetables on it.  I liked the pho too, which is a delicate noodle soup, but really loved the banh mi and can't wait to try to make it at home - here are some recipes to try.  I made a batch of carrot and daikon pickle called Do Chua that is used on banh mi for this month's Can Jam challenge, which is carrots.  

How the Can Jam works is each month, an ingredient is thrown down and all 160 plus can jammers have to preserve it using the boiling water bath method.  There's lots of interesting carrot jam/jellies/marmalades/chutneys out there, but my family won't eat exotic jams/jellies and marmalades, and I have enough chutney in the larder to last me a while.  So I knew I had to make a pickle.   I thought of making a variation on Alton Brown's Firecrackers or the National Honey Board's Spicy Pickled Carrots, but the idea of making my own banh mi sandwich at home captured my imagination. Do Chua is an essential banh mi ingredient.  This recipe is based on the one I found in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which is the one canning book I'd want if I were stuck on a desert island with some canning jars and rings and a case of canning lids.  If you are new to canning, it's a great book to learn canning techniques.  It also has some very unique recipe ideas that inspire me.  

For this recipe,  I made some changes to it, but the proportions are as they were written in the book.   Speaking of making changes to canning recipes, it is often said that you can't improvise.  Nonsense!  When canning, it's important not to improvise on the proportion of acid to the rest of the content in the jar (vegetable, water, etc) or processing time, but everything else is fair game.  For example, in this recipe, you could change the spices, adjusting the amount of sugar or ginger or omitting the star anise, but don't mess with the amount of vinegar, water or vegetables.  You could make it solely out of daikon or carrot, I suppose, but I am not sure how it would taste.  The combo works out great together.   I know that star anise is a strong flavor that many people have opinions about, but I wouldn't omit it for making banh mi.  A common ingredient of banh mi sandwiches is Chinese five spice powder, and star anise is literally the "star" of that seasoning, so I suggest you leave it in.  Be not afraid - It doesn't seem to overpower this pickle at all.   Sadly, I couldn't find local carrots or daikon at the farmer's market here in Michigan in deep winter, so I had to settle for American grown at the minimum - mine were grown in California.  At least my sugar was local! Michigan ranks 4th in the nation for sugar beet production.

Some notes on technique:

When brining pickles, hard water can interfere with the formation of acid and prevent pickles from curing properly.  Water that has been softened with water softening salts can discolor pickles or make the brine cloudy.  So, I used to buy bottled distilled water for my food preservation projects until I learned about this technique to soften my own water.  My Microplane citrus zester worked well to grate the ginger - peeling it wasn't even necessary. Also, the daikon and carrot was suggested to be julienned, so I started out making mine that way with my mandoline, but it was very time consuming. I switched over to using the large grating plate on my food processor, and the results were quite similar.

Do Chua a.k.a Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon Pickle

My notes:  This recipe makes about 4 sealed pint jars with a little left over for sampling - plan for 5 jars just in case. 

3 cups white vinegar
3 cups water
1.5 cups granulated sugar
2 t. grated fresh ginger 
2 lbs carrots, shredded
2 lbs daikon radish, shredded
5 whole star anise

Fire up your canner and prepare your jars.   If you've never canned before, here's how.  In a large enameled dutch oven, combine vinegar, water, sugar and ginger and bring to a boil, stirring to disolve sugar.  Add carrot and daikon and stir for one minute.  Remove from heat.  Place one star anise into each of your hot jars, and pack the vegetables into the jars leaving about a 1/2 inch or so of headspace.  Ladle some liquid  in to cover the vegetables.  Remove air bubbles with the weapon of your choice...chopsticks or swizzle sticks work well, and add some more brine to bring it up to a 1/2 inch from the top.  Wipe off the rim and cap the jars.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Shut off the heat, remove the canner lid and let the jars rest for 5 minutes.   This helps prevent the jars from spewing while they are cooling.  Cool for 24 hours, remove the bands and store.

Friday, February 12, 2010

My food philosophy - how it evolved to eating locally and seasonally

There are many schools of food philosophy out there, and I realized just how my personal food philosophy has evolved and is a conglomeration of many.  Currently, I place a high priority on local food. Years ago, like many new moms, I placed a high priority on eating organic food when my kids were babies.  After a few shopping expeditions at Whole Wallet Foods, my thrifty nature kicked in.   When I have to pay premium for something, I always ask myself  "Is it x dollars better than the alternative?".  Why shouldn't I apply the same test with food?  Is organic food really worth the premium you pay for it?  I began to sense that organic food was becoming a big marketing campaign.

I found the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides, and realized that there were many foods I didn't need to spend the premium on.   For foods deemed "The Clean 15", I decided it's not worth my money to pay a premium on organic.  Organic certification is just something anyone with enough resources can buy from the government, and I wasn't sure it was something I wanted to spend my money on.    But what about the rest of the food we eat?  I read some Marion Nestle, some Michael Pollan and realized that organic is becomeing big business.  Then, I read some Barbara Kingsolver and Mireille Guiliano and realized if I placed a priority on eating locally and seasonally, it was worth spending my resources on. 

"Food with a story tastes better" -- Wendell Berry

I started to notice I appreciated food more when I ate seasonally.  I became more tuned in to the changing of the seasons when I ate what's in season.   Fall tastes like apple and squash, spring like rhubarb and asparagus.  It can be tough eating local food here in Michigan in February, but I put lots of food by last summer so I could do just that.   This weekend, I am going to open some of the stewed rhubarb I canned last spring just so I can remember what spring tastes like.   Do I buy organic food?  Not so much.  The farmers I buy food from can't afford to pay for the organic certification, but by talking to them, I can find out how they are growing their food that they are going to sell me.  I like the idea that my money is kept here in the local economy, and we need it here in Michigan.   I don't think it's worth the pollution to ship some asparagus from Chile here so I can eat it today unless it is something I preserved from last spring   In Michigan, asparagus season is in May.  So, if I am eating asparagus right now, it's the asparagus I roasted and froze last spring, or the asparagus I pickled. (tastes great in a martini, by the way!). 

True, there are some things I will never find grown locally, such as citrus fruits or avocados.  If I can't find something locally produced, or I'm out of something I desperately need for a recipe, I then prioritize purchasing seasonal produce grown in the United States, and if it's on the "Dirty Dozen" list above.  Then, and only then, I will buy it organic.  The only time I will buy something not grown in the US is if it can't be bought.   One product that comes to mind is mangoes.   It's really hard to find a US grown mango, so I will buy them grown elsewhere.

So, how to eat local and seasonal food in Michigan?

  • For meat, buy a side of beef from a local farmer. I like grass fed beef, so that's what I look for.  Freezer beef can be found on Local Harvest and I've had great luck finding beef on Craigslist.  Note that hanging weight is usually how it's priced, and you should double that price to figure out how much you are paying per pound.   $2 hanging weight is roughly $4 per lb.  You won't find much certified organic meat, though. 
  • Chicken - buy it from a local farmer.   But you'll need to learn how to cut it up yourself.  It's not's how I learned.
  • Eggs are plentiful here in Ann Arbor, because the city passed a chicken ordinance that allows city dwellers to raise their own, plus many farmers have them.  We have a year round farmer's market, so I pick up a couple dozen each weekend.  They come in all colors..Last week I even got some blue ones!  Fresh eggs taste out of this world compared to factory farm eggs - they definitely taste $1 per dozen better.  Go for it!
  • Find out what is grown in Michigan, and when it's in season, and buy lots of it when it is. The MSU Extension puts together a great chart to help you.
  • Find a farmer's market near you to shop.  Depending on where you live, you can get some fantastic deals.   If I am looking for something unusual, I will shop at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market because the selection is wonderful and you can actually find farms that have paid for the organic certification if that's something that is important to you.   I like to visit the outlying farmers markets in the area for better prices. 
  • Make a vow to yourself to learn how to preserve your own food this coming summer.  Freezing is the easiest way to get started.  If you don't have a stand alone freezer, you can still use the freezer you have but you'll have to be organized.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a treasure trove of information about freezing, as well as canning and drying.  In the summer, make it a practice to preserve something once a week for winter.
  • Many grocery stores carry local products and are great at advertising that they are from Michigan - Meijer, Hiller's and Busch's for starters. Even Whole Foods has gotten in the act. On Busch's My Way online shopping tool, Michigan produced products are labeled with a "Buy Michigan" tag. So even if you don't shop there, you can learn which brands are made in Michigan.
  • Local milk is easy to find....Guernsey Dairy and Calder Dairy are two well known brands.  I like to buy Prairie Farms milk, which is a Midwest farm cooperative - it's well priced.   I like to buy Guernsey cream and half and half.    I adore Calder Dairy's ice cream, but its $8 a half gallon so I try to remember to make it from scratch instead...much cheaper!  I sometimes buy Amish butter, when I can find it, that is produced by a farm in Indiana.
  • Dried beans grown in Michigan are easy to find in any grocery store, because Michigan is a huge producer of dried beans.   If you are shopping at a Michigan based store (I sure hope you aren't shopping at Wal Mart, for goodness sake), the store brand (Spartan, Meijer, etc.) are very likely grown in Michigan
  • Michigan apples are easy to find year round in the produce section.   I bought some apples locally last fall and have them "root cellared" in my garage.  (they are sitting on a shelf next to the wall connected to the house).  They will keep all winter out there.
  • Michigan potatoes are easy to find as well.   Meijer carries a store brand of them, or look for DuRussel brand, grown in Manchester, MI.
  • Fruit - Michigan is a prime producer of cherries.  Look for frozen sour cherries in the freezer section.  Also dried cherries are great for snacking and baking.
  • Flour/Grains - check out your food co-op or natural food store in your area for Westwind Milling products.  They are made in Argentine, MI, near Fenton.  Good stuff! And it's organic, if you are into that.
  • Breads - shop at a local bakery.   Around here, I love Zingerman's Bread and usually wait to buy it day old for a better value.  It's carried at Busch's.   Also, Avalon Bakery in Detroit makes wonderful breads, too.  
  • Red Gold is a brand of tomatoes that tastes great and these tomatoes are grown in the Midwest.
  • Buy apple cider in the fall, drink some of it and freeze the rest.

Remember, when you eat locally and seasonally, you made our earth a little greener.   What helps the environment more - asparagus grown in some far away land south of the equator where it is summertime right now that has an organic tag slapped on it and then was shipped thousands of miles to get to you, or some asparagus you grew in your own back yard and froze in the summer? Or maybe you bough it from a local farmer that didn't have children working slave labor to pick it?  Who knows if that so called organic asparagus produced in a far away land is really organic anyway?   Who is checking?

Buying local food might not be officially organic, but the farmer might have a little hand lettered sign that says "No Spray" in front of her farm stand and that means the world to me.   When you eat local food, you also support our local economy.  Maybe someone was able to put dinner on the table at there house because of what you put on your dinner table at your house.  Food with a story does taste better!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

46 things to do in my 46th year

I just celebrated a birthday, and I am making plans for celebrating my 46th year.  Suggestions came in from far and wide - mountain climbing, running a marathon, etc.   None of these are going to happen - I just had an ankle reconstruction a couple years ago and so mountain climbing and marathoning are out for now.   But I did get some suggestions I could use.  My friend Ann suggested I attempt some retro recipes.   One of my New Year's resolutions was to get more music in my life.   I would love to spend more time outdoors, and more time attempting some crafty things, even though I suck at crafts.   So, here's my list for my 46th year. 

  1. Celebrate the food of the 1960s!  Make a gelatin based dish that's not fruity....aspic or vegetable based.  (check out this Knox recipe booklet I picked up from a rummage sale)
  2. Learn how to play "The Entertainer" on the piano.   I have taken piano lessons on and off my whole life, but I have never played "The Entertainer".
  3. Hike the Potowatomi trail with friends, and have a picnic en route.
  4. Pickle brussel sprouts
  5. Swim in Lake Huron when we camp this summer at Harrisville State Park
  6. Learn how to play "The Shanty Song" by Jonathan Edwards on guitar by heart.  Memorize the lyrics.
  7. Inspired by that song, I guess I will buy a harmonica and learn how to play it.  Not sure that I can play it will playing the guitar, though.  Singing and playing guitar is hard enough.  
  8. Play guitar when I cantor at church for one Mass.
  9. Sew something.
  10. Find out more about the garrison that was in Dearborn.
  11. Make a pilgrimage to the Fr. Solanus Casey Center
  12. Attend a service at a monastery, such as the Dormition Monastery in Jackson.
  13. Visit Hidden Lake Gardens in Tipton.
  14. Kayak the Huron River at night when there is a full moon with my friend Martha.
  15. Visit the Peach Mountain observatory
  16. Use my pressure canner to can soup
  17. Plant another rose bush
  18. Make a mosaic
  19. Make a hypertufa garden planter
  20. Try to bake bread again without using a dutch oven a la Mark Bittman - I just want to make it like old ladies do.
  21. Make a chronicling project a la Darcy Miller Nussbaum.  "Chronicling" sounds way more cool than scrapbooking.  Of course, if I hung out with Kate Spade and Martha Stewart, I'd be more cool, too.
  22. Make one recipe out of the Moosewood cookbook to celebrate the 1980s
  23. Another gem from the 1960s....make a hamburger recipe from 365 Hamburger Recipes
  24. Try caviar
  25. Visit Parker Mill Park
  26. Visit the Waterloo Farm Museum
  27. Visit Savannah, Georgia.  This is something I've wanted to do since I was a Brownie Girl Scout as a kid, and read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil as an adult.
  28. Play one song on my cigar box ukulele.  I forgot how to tune it, let alone play it.
  29. Complete Tigress's Can Jam by canning one item a month for 12 months straight.
  30. Continue being a canning exhibitionist by demonstrating canning at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market.
  31. Attend the Local Food Summit and speak out on the importance of making sure local food is available for all, not just the rich.  
  32. Make at least one recipe from Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping.
  33. Crochet a rag rug out of old jeans.
  34. Finish reading the Seven Storey Mountain
  35. Swim 200 yards freestyle.  In HS, my event was the 500 free, but I don't think I could make it that far
  36. Visit my friend Sheri from high school.
  37. Make crumb cake.  Need to find a recipe first.
  38. Master making gelato at home
  39. Visit the Howell Farmer's Market
  40. Visit the Ypsi Farmer's Market
  41. Visit the Tecumseh Farmer's Market.
  42. Wintersow some herbs
  43. Have a sunset picnic with our neighbors
  44. Have a bonfire party in the back yard
  45. Make my hammock garden in the woods
  46. Go on one 10 mile hike somewhere this year.