PASA Local Food Month: Preserving the Harvest

Posted on September 15, 2012. Filed under: challenge, freeze, garden, local, technique | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Crushed tomatoes.

The idea of eating fresh, local food all year long is a delightful proposition: Crisp garden flavors delight our palates, and as one food craving begins to be satisfied, another one emerges. In turn, we help create a system of support for our farmer neighbors. When I lived in California, I gardened year-round and shopped farmers’ markets several times a week; I simply–and happily–changed my diet according to what was available. Alas, that’s a lot harder to in Pittsburgh. To be sure, there are a few options for buying local food all year long: Kretschmann Farm has a winter CSA, Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance runs a year-round farm stand, and you can pick up locally raised meat and eggs at the Pittsburgh Public Market. But let’s face it, winter is pretty bleak around here; I can’t grow lettuce in my garden in January or pluck Meyer lemons from trees while I walk my dog (seriously) like I did in February in CA.  So what’s a local food fan to do?

Preserve the harvest.

Preserving food for winter sounds daunting at first, but, with a bit of patience and practice, it’s easier than you think it is. Yes, you’re going to have to plan in advance, you might have to follow instructions, and it’s going to get messy. But it’s totally worth it. Think about how marvelous it’ll be to have bright-tasting tomatoes in January or lusty blueberries in March. You can make it happen. (OK, you probably should have started this in May, but there are still things you can do in September. Hello, sauerkraut.)

Perfect pesto servings, ready to freeze.


This one is easy because it doesn’t take a lot of special equipment–we all have freezers, right? Blueberries are a fantastic fruit to freeze; separate the berries individually on a baking sheet, let them freeze, and store in an airtight bag. Easy. Tomato sauce freezes pretty well, too. If you have a vacuum sealer you’ll be able to keep food longer, but a freezer bag with all the air sucked out will work perfectly fine. My favorite thing to freeze is pesto. Do it right, and it’ll taste almost as fresh as when you made it over the summer; all you have to do is blend basil, olive oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic, salt, and parmesan cheese. Protip: Freeze it in ice cube trays or cupcake pans; you’ll have perfect serving size.


Preserving food in sealed glass is the classic way of extending the harvest. You can make jams and jellies, sauces and chutneys, and pack your shelves with goodness. I made strawberry jam for the first time this year, and as autumn begins to take hold, I can remind myself of the flavors of spring by cracking open a jar. The upside to making your own jams is you can control the sugar content. The downside is that it takes a bit of finesse to perfect your recipe; I have a grape jelly that’s more like a beverage than something I can spread on toast.

If you’re looking to get in the jarring game, there’s still time: you can find late-season tomatoes at farmers’ markets and it’s prime time to make Concord grape jelly! (Yes, I’m going to try again.)

Peach Shrub


My latest obsession. A shrub is an old-timey way of preserving the harvest; records date back to the time when the US was still a British colony (and it’s likely shrubs were made before that, too). Basically, you crush fruit, and mix it with an equal part sugar; let the mix sit in the fridge for a day or two. After that, you strain off all the solids, and then add an equal part of vinegar. The result is a savory-sweet flavor reminiscent of the fruit you started with. Shrubs are a hot trend in cocktails today, but you don’t need to be a drinker to enjoy the pungent sweet flavor of a shrub; just add Pittsburgh Seltzer and you have the world’s best fizzy drink.


Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi are all foods that are brought to you courtesy of  preservationist bacteria. Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of keeping perishable food edible for long periods of time. OK, a kosher dill pickle doesn’t taste anything like the cucumber that got it started, but sometimes preserving the harvest means creating a whole new flavor. You don’t need any special equipment for this one, but you do need to pay particular attention to sanitation. Also, the fermentation process releases some–unique–odors. Personally I find the smell of pickles in brine to be a beautiful thing, but if you don’t you might want to use a fan to circulate the air.

Peppers on cooling rack, ready to dry.


My hot pepper plants were prolific this year, and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I made a few salsas (those will extend the harvest, but a September salsa in January isn’t pretty) and put a few in recipes, but I still had too many. So I decided to dry them. Think about all the wonderful dried foods there are: fruit leather, herbs, sun-dried tomatoes. What they have in common is that they are all flavor…concentrated. The most efficient way to dry food is with a dehydrator–but they can be expensive, so don’t run out and buy one if you’re not going to use it. An oven set to the lowest temperature will usually do the job, and if you’re especially diligent you can dry food in the sun–it is the original dehydrator after all.


I posted this blog as part of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s Local Food Month challenge. Leave a comment below by Sunday, Sept 23, sharing what you’re preserving this winter, your favorite food preservation story, or any recipes/tips you have in your playbook. Winner will be picked at random and will receive a signed copy of Marisa McClellan’s remarkably informative book Food in Jars and a $25 gift certificate to the East End Food Co-op! Hooray for free things!

Meanwhile, try to get cracking with a preservation project. Visit a farmers’ market, raid your garden, or check out a local farm. Be creative and have courage! Feel free to ask me for advice, too.

For more on PASA’s local food month, check out the rest of the challenge.


We have a contest winner! Congratulations to Sarah Leavens!

Method: I used’s random number generator. The list of numbers is as follows:

1: Emily S.

2: Amanda W.

3. Catherine

4: Julia

5: Katie O.

6: Dora

7: Sarah

8: Lori D.

9: Food Me Once

10: Leah L.

11: Marieella

12: Leigh W.

13: Damarias

14: Jeralyn

15: Jackie @ Auburn Meadow

16: Brigid

17: Jackie

(15-17 via PASA blog). Winning number, generated at random, is 7.

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Perfect Pork Chop

Posted on December 29, 2011. Filed under: meat, pork, recipe, technique | Tags: , , , , , |

I’m not very good at following rules. A combination of creativity, curiosity, and stubbornness (and upper middle class white privilege–there, happy grad school?) leaves me with a tendency to learn some basic rules and then follow my own path. In general, I think this is a very good thing–you’ll never find me following a less-efficient route because I’m a slave to the (literal or proverbial) GPS. More specifically for a cook this is (aside from baking) nearly always a good thing. Experimenting is the key to understanding ingredients and developing your own style as a cook. Published recipes are generally “safe,” and often lack complete flavor potential.* When I use them, if I use them, they are used as a guide or starting-point. So imagine my surprise when I stuck to an America’s Test Kitchen recipe for Oven-Roasted Thick-Cut Pork Chops, and it turned out to be brilliant.

A perfectly roasted pork chop: a dragon, albeit a small one, I’ve been chasing for ages. Simple and wonderful. I’ve never been able to get it right. So I followed the directions precisely. The people at America’s Test Kitchen are so meticulous in the way they develop recipes I had a feeling they’d get it right, and they totally did. The chop was phenomenal: a richly flavored mahogany crust protecting the tender inside of the chop. I topped it was a garlic/thyme sauce, and cried “PERFECTION!”

I’m not going to publish the recipe. America’s Test Kitchen’s policy is to charge for access to their content, and I can respect that. They might be a step behind the times regarding online sharing, but, hey, they work hard and deserve to make a buck or two. So here is the basic idea

Salt chops and allow them to rest a room temperature.

Cook slowly in a low oven.
Sear over very high heat.

*Clearly I don’t mean posted recipes on this site; they are all full of flavor and joy

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Beet Ice Cream

Posted on June 28, 2011. Filed under: favorite, freeze, recipe, technique | Tags: , , , , , , |

Making ice cream from beets sounds like an absurd idea. Beets are a hard, earthy root vegetable. Ice cream is soft and sweet. Why would I think about combining these things? Well, I’m not quite sure what I was thinking when I decided to make this. OK. True confession: it was the Ambien*. What can I say…I had an early morning the next day. A hilarious pre-sleep conversation led to a fantastic idea. Beet ice cream is as addicting to eat as it is beautiful to look at. Honestly.

Juice, or buy enough juice to get:
Two Cups Beet Juice

Add juice to a small saucepan over medium heat.
Mix in:
3/4 Cup Sugar

Reduce the sugared beet juice by half. It should be syrup-like when finished.
It will also have a terrific flavor. Resist temptation to eat beet juice syrup.
Just set it aside.
Continue to resist temptation.
(OK, you can have one spoonful. ONE.)

Bring to a simmer:
1.5 Cups Heavy Cream
1.5 Cups Whole Milk
2 Tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract
Pinch Salt

Add reduced beet syrup to the cream mixture.
4 Egg Yolks

Let mix cool.
Add to ice cream maker.

*I suppose I should include a VeryClearAndObvious Legal Statement so you don’t sue my pants off: The purpose of this blog post is not to encourage the use of Ambien to help you make more creative ice cream flavor choices. OK. Good.

**Tempering is technique that is used to combine temperature-sensitive foods, in this case eggs. If you were to add the egg yolks directly to the hot mixture, the yolks would curdle and scramble. That would make for some pretty awful ice cream! So what you do is add a little bit of the hot liquid to the eggs, mix it in, and add a little bit more, mix, repeat a few more times. This will slowly bring the egg yolks to a temperature where they can be mixed into the rest of the liquid without scrambling.

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Technique: Breading

Posted on April 13, 2010. Filed under: technique | Tags: , , |

The classic technique goes something like this:

  • Dust item to be breaded in flour
  • Submerge in egg wash (beaten egg plus a few tablespoons of water)
  • Roll in breading
For a less heavy breading (and one less dish to clean), try this:
  • Mix three parts milk and one part flour, along with 2 pinches of salt and one pinch sugar
  • Submerge item to be breaded in mixture
  • Roll in breading
Finally a super-simple method:
  • Wet with water
  • Roll in flour or corn starch
All three have advantages and disadvantages. The first method is the most stable, but is also pretty thick. The last method is simple & uses only one dish, but the breading falls off easily. I generally go with method number 2- it’s the most balanced.
Suggested starches:
  • Flour
  • Corn Starch
  • Panko
  • Bread Crumbs
  • Cornflake Crumbs
  • Dehydrated Potatoes
  • Almond Flour (mixed with wheat flour)
  • Rice Flour
  • More? I’m sure of it. Use your imagination.

*For something a bit different, try using beer instead of flour in method number 2!

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Technique: Makin’ Bacon

Posted on April 6, 2010. Filed under: bacon, favorite, meat, technique |

Bacon. Bacon. Bacon. Possibly the most delicious of all meat. Salty, fatty, smoky. Pure goodness. Yet messy, and, for many people, hard to cook right. Here’s a good technique from your friend Hal B:
Wrap a cookie sheet in foil. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to do this, but it will save you a whole lot of cleaning up. If you’re like me and hate doing dishes, you’ll want to do this. If you have parchment paper, you can add a layer of that over the foil for more even cooking, but, no worries if you don’t.
Place a single layer of bacon. Cover the bottom of another pan with foil, place over the bacon, and weigh that pan down with bricks, rocks, bobble-heads, whatever. I know it seems like a bit of work- trust me, the bacon will cook more evenly, and it will be a snap to clean up.
Put the whole hullabaloo into a 350 degree oven. Cook for 8 minutes, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and then cook for another 8 minutes. Remove the bacon, pat down with paper towel, sit down, eat bacon. You can strain the rendered fat and use it for lots of tasty things, like cooking eggs to go with your bacon. Do it!
Note: Cooking time will depend on the thickness and quality of your bacon. I’d recommend a thicker cut, and try to avoid the over-processed Oscar Meyer type bacon. If it’s undercooked after the cooking time, just take the top sheet off and cook another minute or two.

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Roasting a Pepper

Posted on October 16, 2009. Filed under: hodgepodge, recipe, technique |

Roasted peppers are expensive to buy. And the quality is generally mediocre. Why spend money on something mediocre, when you can easily do it better at home?

All you need to roast a pepper are:
A Pepper
Fire or Heat
A Brown Bag

You have two options for roasting: oven & open flame.


Clearly, it’s much more fun to roast something over an open fire, so let’s start there. Turn your gas burner on high (sorry, electric range users, no fun for you- go to the back yard and build a campfire…). Grip the stem of the pepper with the tongs, and place over heat. Rotate when the sides begin to blacken. You’re going to need some courage here- there will be smoke and burning. Enjoy it.

When all sides are blackened, place pepper in a brown paper bag. Roll the top. Let the pepper cool in the bag for 15 minutes. This will allow the pepper to cook through, and the steam will help separate the skin from the flesh. To fully remove the skin, rub the sides of the bag. The friction will expose most of the flesh- use your fingers to do the rest.


A less fun, if more elegant, method for roasting a pepper is to use your oven. Brush the pepper with vegetable oil, and place on a baking sheet. (To avoid messy cleanups, you might want to line the sheet with aluminum foil.) Put that in a 400 degree oven. Every 10 minutes, use your tongs to turn the pepper. After about 45 minutes, you’ll have a wonderfully roasted pepper.

No need to for the brown bag here, as the pepper will be more evenly cooked. Simply allow the pepper to cool, and then peel off the skin.

After that, remove the stem and seeds- they will be very easy to get rid of. Serve warm or cold. Or mixed into something else. However you want to. They’re very good.

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Seasoned Salt

Posted on February 26, 2009. Filed under: recipe, technique |

I felt a little bad not sharing all my chili secrets, so I’m going to let you in on one of my secret seasoning salts.

1 Tbs. Kosher Salt
1 Tsp. Sugar
1/4 Tsp. Ground Coriander
1/4 Tsp. Garlic Powder
1/4 Tsp. Chili Powder
1/4 Tsp. Ground Sage -or- Poultry Seasoning
1/8 Tsp. Ground Celery Seed
1/8 Tsp. Onion Powder
This salt is a nice blend of sweet and spicy.  Great on chicken and grilled NY strip steaks.
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Technique: How to Render Duck Fat

Posted on November 18, 2008. Filed under: favorite, poultry, technique |

Let’s begin by talking about the giant elephant in the room. Cooking with duck fat is not for everyday cooking. Duck fat is not healthy, at least in the unclogged artery sense of the word. It is, however, amazingly flavorful, and nice to have on hand to add something special from time to time. Also, if you’re going to cook duck, might as well keep the fat!

If you’re roasting duck, you can add trimmed fat/skin to the bottom of the roasting pan, and cover that with water. Excess fat will drain from the duck, adding to the mix. Make sure that the fat remains covered with water. When duck is finished cooking, strain the fat/water mixture into a smaller pot.
*If you’re not roasting duck, and just happen to have trimmed fat/skin from previous duck cooking in the freezer, place directly into a small pot, and cover with water.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Allow water to cook out. This will take about 45 minutes. The mixture will gradually become more golden as the water evaporates. It will bubble, slowly at first, then increasing. Once the bubbles bubble at a steady quick pace, remove from heat. Strain through a fine sieve, and store in an airtight jar.
Duck fat will keep in the fridge for at least a year. Sweet! You’ll know it’s turned bad when it smells…bad. Before that happens, it’s going to smell like heaven.
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Technique: Grilling Corn

Posted on August 11, 2008. Filed under: corn, grill, technique, vegetable |

Sweet corn is one of the joys of summertime.  As we enter August, corn is in high season.  The tasty, giant stalks of grass are plump with sweet kernels.  My favorite was to enjoy corn this time of year is to grill it.  Screw wrapping it in foil, I’ve a better way.
First step is to peel the husk back, all the way to the bottom, but not off.  Remove the silks, and a layer of the outermost husk.  Dispose of the silk, but save the husk.  Tear the husk into a few long, thin strips.  Rub corn with butter and salt.  Return the husk to first position, and secure it by tying with the strips.
Submerge the corn in cold water for 30 minutes to an hour.  Pat dry and place over hot coals.  The husk will begin to brown, while the corn steams in it’s on deliciousness, aided by butter.  After ten minutes, remove corn and tear off the husk.  Careful, it’s hot!
Apply more butter (if desired) and return to grill.  As the kernels brown, turn the corn.  Remove, adding salt/spices to taste.  
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Technique: Freezing Bacon

Posted on August 4, 2008. Filed under: bacon, favorite, technique |

When you read my blog, you probably think all is great in my kitchen. Pretty true, but I have a problem, a big problem. I have too much bacon. You see, I’m a fella who lives alone. Sure, sometimes I’ll cook a big meal that involves a fair amount of bacon, but, the reality is, I usually have more bacon than I know what to do with. More than four slices of bacon per serving is gluttonous. Bacon every day isn’t very good for you. But leaving extra bacon to go bad in the fridge isn’t very good for you, either. Have a problem, find a solution. My solution: freeze the bacon.

I don’t know why I’d never thought of this before. So much bacon gone to waste or waist. Poor tasty pigs. Poor gluttonous belly, overstuffed with bacon. Well, that’s not a problem anymore. This simple solution will allow you to have bacon on hand whenever you need it. Whether you just need a slice to enhance a dish, or if you’re going for a full breakfast, just open your fridge!

Here’s what you do:

1: Set aside two to four slices of bacon. You’ll see why soon.

2: Lay out a sheet of parchment paper.

3: Place bacon on paper, leaving a slice-sized space in between each one.

4: Roll parchment over each slice, stacking on top of each other.

5: Wrap parchment roll in heavy foil. This will prevent freezer burn.

6: Place the wrap in a plastic freezer bag. This will keep nasty smells away from tasty bacon!

7: Place in freezer. The roll will keep for three months, but I doubt it will last that long. Use as needed.

8: Cook the bacon you set aside and eat it. You can’t work with bacon without enjoying some!

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