Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Local Beer Field Trip: Wachusett Brewery

It being a Wednesday of Vacation week, I decided to take a short drive to Wachusett Brewery in Westminster. My buddy Ray met me and we took the short tour and enjoyed the standard free samples that come with the tour.
We go to see where they make the beer. They are a craft brewery so they only use grains, hops, water and yeast.
It thaks them about 2 weeks to go from grain to beer. We got to see the large tanks where the beer ferments and is stored befor being carbonated. All of their beers are ales.

We also got to see where they bottle and fill their kegs. Impressive to see them fill a full barrel of beer in just 1 minute!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day Meal: Local Beef

It may look like a mess, but Christmas Day we had a delicious Chateau Briand. I got a whole beef tenderloin from Blood Farm in Groton and it was smothered with a mix of onions and mushrooms sauteed in butter. The cut I got from Blood farm was more than 6 pounds and after trimming, we had more than 5 pounds of roast and were able to get steak tips from the scraps.

To prepare the beef it was baked at 500 for 25 minutes to brown it. Then it was rested for an hour, sliced into 1 inch thich slices and then baked again for 25 minutes at 375 (20 minutes would have been medium/medium rare).

It was served with mashed potatoes, asparagus, and rolls. It was Delicious.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Meal: Local Turkey

I would love to be one of those people who cooked all local food for our Christmas feast. I am not quite to that stage, so for know I do what I can and at least made sure we had a local centerpiece. For Christmas Eve, we baked a turkey from Bob's Turkey Farm in Lancaster. It was the juiciest bird I have ever had. It definitely was not cheap, but we definitely got vey high quality for the price. (Also, those are strips of Blood Farm bacon in top and in the stuffing. All local meat this year!)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dark Days Carrot Soup

While I do not have a lot of stored food left from the summer, I decided to make a creamy carrot soup from from Mark Bittman's Food Matters. I used about half of the remaining stored carrots (1-1/2 pounds) and a couple of small potatoes. I cooked chopped and cooked them down for 15 minutes with salt and pepper. I then added 6 cups of vegetable broth.
Served with homemade bread it was a nice, hearty winter meal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dark Days Meal

I cooked a fairly true Dark Days meal this week using Steak from Balance Rock farm, green beans I froze this summer, and purple potatoes that came either from the CSA or the Garden (not sure, some are mixed together).

I started by chopping the potatoes into pieces. Then I sauteed them in olive oil with salt and pepper in an oven proof pan. I then tossed them in the oven for 25 or so minutes. Next, I sauteed some onions and mushrooms in some butter (all from parts unknown). Once softened, I added some vegetable broth, a little white wine, and some sage. I reduced this for 5-6 minutes. Once this mushroom mix was done, I put it in the bowl off to the side, wiped down the pan, and I then seared the steak in the pas with butter. Once it was seared on both sides, I put the steak in the oven to finish cooking along with the potatoes. While the steak and potatoes finished, I steamed the beans.
I think the vegetables came out great, but I may have over seared the steak a bit (a bit tough not burned). Fortunately, the mushroom mixture on the steak was really great and hid my mistake nicely.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Local Christmas Tree

Today, we started what I hope is a new tradition: we cut down our own Christmas tree! Being a bit crazy about local foods, I had thought for a while about whether or not this was possible. A couple of weeks ago I came across the website: At the site you can search by state and county for places where you can cut down your own Christmas tree. A quick search found a small place VERY close to our house called Marsh's Tree Farm (978-464-2413) on Rte. 31 in Princeton. They are open 9:30-4:30 on weekends so we headed out at 9:30.The place has lots of trees (Blue Spruce, White Spruce, Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir, Concolor Fir, Canaan Fir, and White Pine) scattered over what looks like a couple of acres. Like the nerds we are, Sue and I wandered around looking at trees for half an hour with the boys following us around. Eventually we picked out a tree and I went to work:

We dragged out the tree, they wrapped it and it only cost $40.
Once home, I got the tree up in the stand and then Sue and the boys decorated it. Sue even made a wreath out of the extra boughs I cut to get the tree into the stand.

I know it is not food, but I feel great about having a local tree at the center of our Christmas.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Using Local Ingredients

Tonight, I decided to try and cook Mark Bittman's Cassoulet. For this I used Pork Chops from Balance Rock Farm, and leeks (frozen a few months ago), carrots, and garlic from our MHOF CSA.
This meal does not really meet the criteria of a Dark Days meal, since I also used 2 zucchini and celery from parts unknown as well as 2 cans of diced tomatoes and 2 cans of white beans.
I thought the meal was very hearty and we got 5 good sized portions out of it. I think that it would have definitely have been better with fresh herbs rather than the dried ones I used, but it is a meal worth tinkering with.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thoughts on Dark Days

I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about the Dark Days Challenge that is posted on (not so) Urban Hennery. I love the idea of cooking one fully local meal every week throughout the winter, but I realize that is an unpractical challenge for me right now. I did preserve some food from this summer (Potatoes, Carrots, Kale, Green Beans, Leeks, Blueberries, and Strawberries), but this, plus what I can get throughout the winter (mostly dairy, eggs and meat), really provides for a limited number of meals. With two small boys in the house, the fights that would ensue from forcing my family to eat what I concoct to fulfill this challenge simply is not worth the effort. With that said, I still want to use local ingredients throughout the winter AND use up what I have preserved. So here is my personal Dark days challenge:
  • Use local ingredients as the primary ingredients in 2 - 3 meals every week (until they run out)
Also, next summer I will definitely do a better job preserving so I can participate in the 4th anual challenge, but this is the most practical way for me to proceed. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happry Thanksgiving!

We are not fortunate enough to be hosting a thanksgiving this year, so I did not stress myself out fining all of the local ingredients I could find ...but I do imagine doing that during Christmas :)

I hope everyone is having a safe and happy thanksgiving and remembers the fact that we are celebrating the harvest and all that entails.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Labeling Beer

I now have a fleet of bottles of Home-brewed beer. Most of the Winter Ale is in 12 oz bottles, with a couple of 22's and 2 64 oz growlers. The Porter is mostly in 22's with a couple of 12 oz bottles and 2 growlers. Here are close-ups of the labels:

Based on initial taste tests, both are good, but the porter is definitely going to be better. Conversely, I think the Winter Ale label definitely came out better. If I was going to do this again, I would invest in enough growlers so that I would use very few smaller bottles. The 22's are a lot of beer to drink in one sitting, especially at 6% alcohol. The small bottles took a lot longer to fill than the 22's or growler.

In early December I will have to have a poker game/tasting party so I can get some unbiased feedback from my astute beer drinking friends.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Local Beer... well sort of

I decided that I wanted to give beer brewing a try. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Chris came over and helped me brew my first batch of beer. Chris has been brewing beer for years so he let me borrow all of the necessary equipment. All I needed to do was buy a kit with the necessary ingredient. I went to the Home Brew Emporium in West Boylston and bought a "Brewers Best Robust Porter" kit. It included: Instructions, 2 cans of Malt Extract, a bag of sugar, yeast, 2 packets of hops (Cluster bittering hops and Willamette flavoring hops), a 1lb bag of mixed grains (crushed crystal malt, black patent malt and chocolate malt), a mesh bag for steeping the grains, and 60 bottle caps.
The way you brew beer is first you steep the grains in a giant pot of water. We used a digital thermometer to make sure the steep was between 160 and 170 F for a hlaf an hour.
Then we removed the steeping bag, raised the temperature to poinling and threw in the bittering hops. After 50 minutes, we added the flavoring hops and the the two cans of Malt Extract. The instructions say to add the Malt when you start the boil, but Chris said that increases the risk of burning the sugars.

After another 10 minutes, we removed the pot from and then used a copper coil to rapidly cool the "wort" (which is what the mixture is called at this point).

Once the mixture gets down to around 120 F, we poured it through a filtering funnel to into a 6.5 gallon carboy (a big glass jug that looks like a watercooler bottle). We filled the carboy up to the 5 gallon mark with cool water (lowering the temp to under 90 F) and then "pitched" in the yeast. We then capped the carboy with a special cap that allowed the yeast to blow off the inital foam that is created from the initial carbonation.

Six days later, I siphoned carboy into a 5 gallon bucket and mixed in the remaining sugars. From this 5 gallon bucket, I bottled the beer. The day I bottled the beer I made a "Holiday Ale" with my own concoction: 1lb of Crystal Malt, 2 packets of Mt. Hood Hops, 2 cans of extra light malt, cinnamon sticks, ground nutmeg, and honey for the finishing sugars. They are both bottled and should be aged enough for drinking by the week of thanksgiving.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Musings about a Ground Meat Recall

As many may have read, there is currently a recall of ground meat sold in Massachusetts and other northeast states (see story This recall highlights meat sold at many different types of retailers: BJ's, Trader Joe's, Wild Harvest and Shaw's. In other words: big wholesaler, boutique grocer, "healthy" grocer, and bog-standard supermarket. What does this tell us about meat sold in America? Who can you trust?

E. Coli in meat (and other industrial raised foods) may be a symptom of a broken food system, but how well does the general public understand how to cure this problem? One could easily say to themself that this is an unavoidable risk of our modern industry. It is a cost of convinience, so no use fretting over this risk. Others could conclude that modern meat just can't be trusted and therfore vegetarianism is the only logical option. I thought about this as I stopped at Balance Rock Farm on my way home from work today. I know where my meat comes from. I know my family eats safe food because I have been to the farm where the meat was raised. Would USDA recalls be needed if everyone knew where their meat came from? Just a thought.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Last night, Sue and I carved our pumpkins and I made roasted pumpkin seeds. I carved the fiery face on the left and Sue made the Goblin on the right. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Final Two Weeks of the CSA

Week 20 of the CSA brought to small Chinese Cabbage, a head of green cabbage, kale, parsley, red leaf lettuce, a big bag of mache, come leeks, a Diakon radish, the worlds tiniest winter squash, potatoes, carrots, and pears as the fruit share.
The final week of the CSA brought several heads of lettuce, several Chinese cabbage, more Diakon, more, mache, celery, beets, carrots, potatoes, and 2 pears.

The fall definitely reflected the tough summer growing season. Smaller vegetables and a little less variety than last year, but with the exception of one week, the folks at MHOF did a nice job delivering a good value for the money. I still have potatoes, peas and a few greens out in my garden. The CSA is over, but I still may dig out some fresh Veggies next week.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Last Two weeks from the CSA

In the past week we have had both the first frost and the first snow! I drove to work today in light flurries, officially marking the end of a good growing season. Two weeks ago we had a good delivery from the CSA:
It included: pears, Spinach, Beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes, an acorn squash, celery, arugula, mint, mizuna, tatsoi, and 3 heads of lettuce. We had a roast chicken from from blood farm with some potatoes and squash and then I made a chicken soup using the carcass, carrots, celery, and a turnip I picked up. A couple of great days of local meals, plus I froze 2 portions of soup for later.

Unfortunately, the bad weather, plus the tough growing season lead to the first truly bad share from the farm.
We got a tiny share including: Lettuce, tatsoi, mizuna, carrots, potatoes, daikon, radishes, a pumpkin, 1 tiny pepper, and pears. With 3 weeks left, I hope that this is not a sign of what is left in terms of shares. Last year we were getting considerably more, then again, it was a much better growing season last summer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Still Way behind in my blogging...

I have not abandoned my quest to eat locally, I just have not had tome to chronicle my adventures this fall. Here are my last 2 weeks from our CSA
Two weeks ago: Peaches, tomatoes, a cucumber, peppers, beets (mostly for greens) chard, lettuce, Asian greens (bak choi?) , beans, acorn squash, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, onions, and 2 ears of corn.
Last week we got: more Asian greens, Beets, tomatoes, tons of lettuce, salad greens, kale, radishes, tons of peppers, a giant spaghetti squash, potatoes, onions, carrots, and pears!

We have also been apple picking, I've been doing lots of cooking, some freezing, and I made some green tomato salsa that was more of a scientific experiment than a culinary triumph. I'll try to post more soon...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

CSA from LAST week, falling behind in my blogging

Well, I have definitely fallen behind in my blogging. The CSA share that I picked up 6 weeks ago included peaches, beets, radishes, carrots, potatoes, summer squash, a zucchini, 2 heads lettuce, leeks, kale, 3 peppers (bell, banana, and hot), a daikon radish, and tomatoes.Lots of this has been eaten or stored and a new share comes in tomorrow. I hope to post my storage exploits later in the week, but I have been way too busy to post this week. I blame Chicago (the city) and U2 (the band), but soccer is also largely to blame. More later...

Friday, September 11, 2009

This week from the CSA

In the midst of a bit of a crazy week we got the following from the CSA:
Peaches, tomatoes, 2 banana peppers, 1 hot pepper, 3 cukes, celery, squash, dill, some nice Asian greens (not sure what they are called), carrots, beets, cilantro, soybeans, potatoes, & onions.

I may have to do a bunch of freezing and/or cooking this weekend to make sure this stuff does not go to waste.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Preserving Peppers: Hot Pepper Relish

One of things about trying to grow new things is that you never know how well or poorly things will go. I have not had too many vegetables overwhelm me this summer, with the exception of hot peppers. I have hot peppers coming in from the CSA, two pots on my deck growing Bella Hots, and another variety of slightly hot pepper growing on my deck from my father-in-law (I think they are a variety of banana pepper, but I transplanted them expecting them to be bell peppers so I really have no idea). I decided that the best way to use these would be to attempt a hot pepper relish that I could use as a condiment throughout the winter.

After a bit of research, I went with the basic recipe from I started up with about a pound of peppers once I had removed the stems and seeds (this was 5 Bella Hots, 3 bananas from my deck, one CSA banana pepper, and 2 small green chill peppers from the CSA). I put the peppers in the Cuisinart with a large onion (also from the CSA). I then followed the recipe using 1 tablespoon of sea salt, 1 cup of white vinegar and 1 cup of sugar. I am very pleased with the sweet, slightly spicy final product.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tomato Taste Test

Yesterday I ran a taste test with 4 of the varieties we are growing this season. From Left to right, these tomatoes are a Big Boy, Ramapo, Red Lightning, and a 4th of July. The winner, hands down, was the Ramapo. Here are some notes about each of these varieties:
  • The Big Boy produces big nice tomatoes. They have a nice mild flavor, not to sweet and not too acidic. There are quite a few seeds inside and the meat of the fruit stays fairly moist. I have not been overwhelmed by the yield of these plants, but it does make sense that they would sacrifice quantity of fruit when yielding big tomatoes.
  • The Ramapo are fairly big, lightly sweet, meaty tomatoes. They have great tomato flavor an wonderful texture. This is an Heirloom variety from Northern New Jersey that we got from Sue's Dad. Unfortunately we have only the one plant, but hopefully we will be able to have more next year. I am attempting today to save the seeds from these for next year and I will report back on how I am doing this later.
  • The Red Lightnings are very pretty tomatoes. Unfortunately, they scored last in our taste test. The skins are too thick, the flesh is too dry, and the flavor is fairly bland. They have had a fairly good yield per plant and have lovely yellow stripes running down the medium sized tomatoes, but otherwise they are nothing special. If you also factor in the fact that Sue bought 6 seeds for $2, this variety is not worth trying to grow again.
  • The 4th of July tomatoes were basically the same as the Big Boys for flavor and texture. These are smallish to medium tomatoes and the plants, as the name would indicate, produce fruits earlier than other varieties. This year they should have been called 4th of Augusts because of the slow growing of all hot weather plants, but they have been churning out the fruit for the past month. They are the highest yielding tomato plants we are growing this summer.
In addition to those 4 we are also growing an Early Girl (which has not yet yielded a red tomato), Romas and sweet 100s. I think next year we will replace the Red Lightnings and Big Boys with something else and possibly try a different variety of saucing tomatoes. I would anticipate that we have at least another month of tomatoes based on all of the green fruit still on the vine.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

CSA Week 12

In this week's CSA bag we got the following: a fruit share of 4 peaches, potatoes, carrots, soybeans, basil, a couple of tomatoes, a hot pepper, a radish, a bell pepper, beets, 4 leeks, parsley, kale, one head of lettuce, a cabbage, and a bag of purslane. The purslane may exemplify why getting a CSA is so awesome. You get these new vegetables that frankly you would have never known existed if it were not for the farm share. According to Julie from MHOF: "purslane [is] a highly nutritious plant with a reddish stem and succulent leaves. While I like to throw the leaves into a salad, you can also cook it! Here is a link to some information on and recipes for purslane:"

I have already used some of the leeks and carrots in the risotto I made tonight. Can't wait to figure out how to use the purslane.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Preserving Green Beans

With the start of school and soccer commitments I realized that we would not get through all of the green beans in the fridge before they went bad. So last night, I froze them to add to our stock of vegetables for the winter.
I left half of them whole and cut the rest into 1" pieces. This means that there were two piles, each about 9-ounces of beans.

Next, I blanched them for 3 minutes in boiling water, drained them, and then plunged them into ice water to stop the cooking process. The last step before putting them into labeled zip-lock bags was to dry them gently on a towel. This was basically the process outlined in the book Preserving the Harvest, which has lots of helpful info for this type of process.

Doing this sort of stuff makes me think about possibly doing the Dark Days Challenge... but I will need to do a lot more freezing to make this possible.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Setting Up the Fall Garden

This summer I can definitely say that we had a more successful garden than in 2008. With that said, I still want more. I want to harvest as late as possible this year and possibly extend the growing season into November if possible. With that in mind, I placed an order to Johnny's Select Seeds ordering Arugula (Sylvetta), Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia), Scalliona (Evergreen Hardy White), and Napoli Carrots. All of these are recommended in Eliot Coleman's The New Organic Gardener as suitable crops for extending the season. They also are good crops to use to early in the season so I will probably use these again next April.

I sowed the following row of seed: arugala, carrots, beets, miner's lettuce, and scallions. The first 4 of these were sown in an area that I can easily cover with the cover I built for my lettuce last fall to help them reach maturity in late October once the frost is possible. Additionally, I transplanted a row of mesculin greens and beets that I started several weeks ago on the deck. We'll see how these goes.
The reason I was able to do all of this planting today was because I pulled up all of my carrots back on Thursday (along with a less destructive harvest of tomatoes and a couple of beans). These were mostly "little finger" variety (3" baby carrots) and I got about a 1/2 pound harvested. The larger carrots and beets did nothing in this same area so overall I was disappointed with this area of the garden. After the harvest, I mixed in several 5-gallon buckets of compost and some garden manure to hopefully give these new plants a bit better soil to grow with.
September should bring a heavy tomato harvest, hopefully some zucchini (if the blossom end rot finally ends), and a few more string beans. My the end of September/beginning of October I hope to have more peas and potatoes, bush beans, celeriac, Brussels sprouts, and some butternut squash like the one shown above. I have 4 small squash like the one above. They are now in a bit of a race against the frost so I am curious to see if they are actually going to ripen in time. He is hoping for a mild fall and long growing season to help everything along.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CSA Week 11

Here is what we got from the CSA today: 1 bunch beets, 3 heads lettuce, 1 bunch basil, 1 bunch chard, 7 tomatoes (2 of which were cherries), 1 lb beans, 1 squash, 2 hot peppers, 1 lb carrots, 1 lb potatoes, 1 pound onions, and 4 peaches (our fruit share). This is a very hearty bag of vegetables. I still have the beets and most of the beans from last week so I will have to be sure to get to those soon. Typically we are getting through the whole share each week (except the herbs which sometimes only get partially used). I may need to start canning and freezing with the volume coming in to ensure little goes to waste.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Blueberry Blondies and Syrup

I took the boys blueberry picking for possibly the final time this summer. Everyone is back in school full time next week so we will not be able make are usual Monday trip. Inspired by a variety of sources, I decided to make some treats with the blueberries while we still had them in excess.
While Calvin napped, Miles assisted me in making blueberry blondies. I used a base recipe for blondies from Smitten Kitchen, adding about 2/3 of a cup of fresh blueberries to the mix. I asked Miles what he wanted to have for afternoon snack and then turned around to see that he had scarfed down one and was reaching for a second. I call that a positive review. As an aside, I do not fancy myself as much of a baker. A cook yes, but not so much with the baking. With that said, almost every time I read Smitten Kitchen I am inspired to bake something... or at least eat some baked goods.
Last night, I whipped up some blueberry syrup. For about 15 minutes I boiled down about a cup and and a half of blueberries, 3/4 cup sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a quarter cup of water. I smashed the blueberries with a spoon and then poured the mush through cheese cloth. I would say that I got roughly 6 ounces of syrup from this which will go on tonight's pancakes.

Now, I just need some inspiration so I can figure out how to deal with all of the hot peppers I have growing on the deck...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tomatoes! (and a rogue Carrot)

The tomatoes are loving the heat and many are turning red every day. Today I picked seven 4th of July, 1 Red Lighting, and 13 Sweet 100 tomatoes. There are another dozen or so who that I could pick tomorrow and many more green ones that could turn at any time.

I also picked one rogue carrot that I have been noticed growing just outside the garden fence. I must have dropped a "little finger" seed when I was planting in the fall and it sprouted between the rocks in the border around the garden. When I weeded this past weekend I noticed this carrot top and decided to pull it up today. Little Fingers grow to 3" and this is 2-1/2" so it is close to full size.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

CSA Week 10

The CSA shares really are in full swing at this time of year! This week, we got peaches (for our fruit share), beets, garlic, potatoes, carrots, a hot pepper, tomatoes, a cucumber, 2 zucchini, a big bag of beans, 3 small lettuce heads, a cabbage, mint, parsley, and kale. Plenty of meals to be made out of this collection of vegetables, now I just have to figure out what they will be!

Unfortunately, this has been a tough summer for the folks at Many Hands Organic Farm, the great place where our vegetables are grown. First, the economic downturn has hit the farm. One way this is evident is that they have several unsold shares this summer. Another way is that they have been hurt by the downturn is by a loss of workers. In the past they have had men from the Almost Home Program (a program that helps former prisoners transition back into society), but in early July the program was closed due to budget cuts. On top of those issues, the weather was very tough in June and July being much wetter and colder than normal. While they have been fortunate to avoid the late blight that has hit many other area farms, they have far fewer garlic braids to sell and the weather has cut back their yield of vegetables for sale at farmers markets.

The good news is that if you ever wanted to try out a CSA, there is great opportunity for you to give it a shot for the next 11 weeks. For just under $300 ($293 to be exact), you can get a big bag of organic vegetables for the remainder of the season. Monday and Friday Summer Vegetable CSA Shares are still available. They have pick-ups in Dorchester (Monday), Worcester (Friday), and Palmer (Friday). They also have Wednesday pick-ups in Fitchburg and Holden, but I think that their Wednesday shares are sold-out.

Go to their website and contact them if you are interested.