Friday, October 19, 2012

Embracing the Delicious Unnecessary: Making Corn Tortillas at Home

Erin Vanderhoof ‘12, Special Projects intern, explores one of the favorite foodstuffs of her native New Mexico:

During my time at the YSFP, I’ve become interested in rediscovering lost foodways and trying to make an event out of something I usually only buy at the store. I’m from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and making tortillas is something of a native New Mexican tradition. I learned how to make them in elementary school, but had since forgotten how. I found a simple recipe online, and with a lot of experimentation made some pretty delicious tortillas that we used to make green chile enchiladas. The ingredient list might look simple, but this is probably one of the most complex tasks that I’ve undertaken in my kitchen. That being said, there are a lot of ways to make a good tortilla, so I encourage you to try it out.

Ingredients:

2 cups of masa harina (I used Goya brand that I found at Stop and Shop in New Haven, you can probably find it at any grocery store)

1 teaspoon salt

1 2/3 cup boiling water (I boiled the water in my electric tea kettle)

2-4 tablespoons of oil

1) Combine the masa harina and salt in a large bowl, and mix so that the salt is distributed evenly throughout.

2) Add the boiling water to the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture looks like cooked cereal and has the consistency of polenta.

3) It’s time to form the tortillas (I think this is the hardest part). Get a bowl and fill it with lukewarm water. Dip your hands in the water every time you touch the cornmeal. Roll a hunk of the cornmeal into a ball the size of a golf ball. Place the ball between two sheets of waxed paper and flatten it with your hands. They should be about a ¼ of an inch thick. Don’t make them too thin or else they’ll stick to the waxed paper.

4) In a cast-skillet (if you have one, or a non-stick frying pan if you don’t), heat a tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Fry the tortillas one at a time, flipping them after about a minute, when the tortilla holds together and has black flecks on a side.

I layered the tortillas with cheese and green chile sauce because to make enchiladas because they’re too fragile to fold. It might seem kind of silly to make something that is so readily available at the grocery store, but I swear these tortillas are better — not only because they taste like elbow grease.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Comment on Canning

By buying our canned goods in the supermarket year-round we forget three things. We forget how to make tasty sauces and jellies that last. We forget to take pride in the individuality, provenance and history of our recipes. (Indeed, some people enjoy admiring their shelves of neat, color-filled jars more than they enjoy eating their contents; the authors of my 1972 Joy of Cooking comment, “you will find their inspectionoften surreptitiousand the pleasure of serving the fruits of your labor comparable only to a clear conscience or a very becoming hat.”)

Finally, we forget the urgency of fall: to preserve as much food as possible for the coming winter. Canning 20 pints of food took me 5.5 hours (because I had to learn the process; done again, with a single, simpler sauce, it would take no more than 2.5); preserving enough food for four bleak, cold months must take weeks. This is a season of great beauty, of pausing at the descending stillness and starkness of the dying land, but it is also a season of furious preparation. To have a mind of autumn one must mind winter.

The Recipes

Pears:

I used Bosc pears picked during a trip to Rose’s Berry Farm in Glastonbury, CT. We washed and cored several dozen of these “aristocrats of pears,” and boiled them down for 60-90 minutes, making sure to put water at the bottom of the pot and stir regularly so they wouldn’t burn (which they still did, a little bit). We spiced them with plenty of cinnamon and a tiny bit of nutmeg and nothing else; then they were poured three one-quart jars. I would estimate that a dozen pears reduce to a quart.

Salsa Verde:

The salsa verde was far more complicated. I was trying to use up the Farm’s green tomatoes, of which there were an abundance after we took down the tomato plants. I also had tomatillos from a conventional grower, so I washed and husked those and used them interchangeably with the tomatoes. I used this recipe, quadrupling in order to make 24 pints, but some notes:

            -8 cupts of onions = 3-4 large onions, not 8

            -A decent head of garlic has 12-16 cloves

            -2 large bunches of cilantro yields about 4 cups

The hot peppers we used (jalapeños) were from the Farm, but the onions, cilantro, garlic, and lime and lemon juice were from Stop & Shop. It’s important to use bottled lemon juice when canning rather than squeezing your own: recipes are only shelf-stable with a certain amount of acid in them, and they are written with the controlled acidity of bottled products in mind. This is also why it’s important to use tested, verified recipes for canning—not every preparation will keep, even when the canning itself is done properly. Stop & Shop’s onions were fine, their cilantro was crumpled but usable, and most of the garlic heads I bought from them were rotten.

When properly boiled down, this recipe did not yield 6 pints! After quadrupling and boiling for 60-90 minutes (which still left plenty of liquid), I only had 14 pints of fairly water salsa. The solution: separate out the chunky stuff into some jars and watery stuff into others; use the chunky as normal salsa and the watery ones for flavoring black beans.

The Canning Itself

We used a pressure canner, which is easier time-wise but more finicky than a hot water bath; some recipes also require the pressure canner, which can reach much high temperatures than hot water baths can. Whether or not you need a pressure canner—and how long it will be on for—are also part of any good canning recipe. Make sure to follow those instructions, too, since a carelessly canned product can sicken or kill whoever you serve it to. The only other things you need are jars (which can be reused), lids (which cannot— and which, unless manufactured outside the US, contain BPA), and tongs.

Some tips—not an exhaustive guide—for canning with a pressure cooker:

  • Put your pressure cooker on the stove & put 1.5 inches of water at the bottom.
  • Fill your clean jars with what you want to can. Here a funnel helps.
  • Wipe off necks of jars so that there’s no gunk clinging to where the seal is made.
  • Heat the lids by dipping them in clean hot water; this will help the seal set properly and sterilize them. Water should not be boiling—you want to loosen but not warp the lids.
  • Screw the lids on each jar, getting them only just slightly more than finger-tight. Too tight and the air won’t be able to escape for the seal to set.
  • Put the jars in the cooker upright; they can be touching. To stack, use a metal divider between layers that should have come with the cooker.
  • Put the cooker’s lid on & screw it in tightly, rotating from screw to screw so that is adheres evenly.
  • Light the stove. When a steady stream of steam starts coming out of the air hole at the top, put the pressure weight on top, set to the right pressure. (We used 10 lbs. but your recipe may be different.)
  • When the weight starts jiggling at least 4 times a minute and the pressure gauge reads the amount you need, turn the heat down to the lowest possible while still on, and wait for the required amount of time in your recipe. (We used 15 minutes for both, but again, check.)
  • After the set time has passed, turn off the heat. Don’t remove the weight until the guage falls back down to 0! (This may take another 5-10 minutes.) Once it has, remove the weight and the lid, and take out your jars with a rubber jar holder; they will be super hot and probably still bubbling. Move them as little as possible (until the next day), keep them upright and level, and wait for the seal to audibly pop into place. There is no more satisfying sound in the mad rush of autumn.

Yasha Magarik is a senior English major in Calhoun College. He was a Lazarus Summer intern in 2010 and currently works for the YSFP as a Student Farm Manager.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Can’t wait for Yale Farm pizza this afternoon? Curious about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making them? Check out YSFP student intern Josh Evan’s piece on the pizza-making process, which was posted on GOOD last spring.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Classes started yesterday, which means that tomorrow the YSFP will welcome the new school year with our first pizza workday of the season. Come by between 1:00 and 5:00 pm to get your hands dirty helping us out with the harvest, and stick around for pizza at 5:00— we make the dough ourselves, top it with the fruits of your labor in the garden and cook it to crusty perfection in our wood-fired oven. It’s definitely in contention for the best slice in the city (in fact, some would say there’s no competing with ours), so if you consider yourself a pizza completeist— or even if you’re just curious— stop by and check it out!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Ratatouille
Caroline Tracey makes a classic dish with the Farm’s freshest ingredients and no recipe to guide her. 
At the start of this summer’s farm internship, I planted the seeds of vegetables that would be bountiful late in the summer in specific anticipation of one dish: ratatouille. I waited for the day when tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini and onions would be ready to be picked from their plants and simmered all together.
Much of the farm conversation this summer has revolved around we interns’ food-challenged backgrounds. Most of us grew up eating fast food and so working for the YSFP, with its focus on the way that food brings people together, felt like jumping blindly into something that other people held innately, or had inherited effortlessly, from childhood. Growing up in a house that was always down a stove burner or three, my family’s food traditions included ordering pizza weekly with my grandmother and going to Applebee’s with my grandfather (proud owner of man’s simplest palette). Family gatherings were not lacking in tradition or celebration – we’re jovial people – but in my mind’s eye, it’s Parcheesi on the dining room table, not a home-cooked meal.
Learning to make ratatouille opened to me the world of making delicious things out of vegetables, and having ownership and self-sufficiency in the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, the catalyst in this story is the movie of the same title. I was spending the weekend at my Dad’s house while the movie was in theaters, and my stepmother, who is committed to orchestrating family outings during the sparse time that we all spend together, suggested that we go see it. It’s a hard task to get my claustrophobic father into a theater, but she did, and afterwards got him into the kitchen to prepare, from memory, this dish that I had never heard of. It turned out that he had learned to make the French peasant dish in the years after high school that he spent living in towns in France and Spain. I joined him in the kitchen, and he started to pass the method on to me. Yesterday, I got to re-create it here for the first time this season.
The tools for making ratatouille are simple: a knife and a pan large enough to be loaded up with cut vegetables. Clean-up is easy! To prepare my working space, I lined up my vegetables on the counter: onions, zucchini, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes – a set that always looks like it should be photographed.
First into the pan go the onions. I used three of the small white ones we pulled up from the farm this week. After peeling them and warming up the olive oil in the pan, I hold each onion in my hand and cut carefully through it towards my thumb, making odd shapes – the peasant lore says that more surface area means more flavor. I let the onions simmer, turn the heat low so that nothing will cook too quickly, and add the zucchini, cutting it with the same irregularity as the onions. I let the two cook over the low heat, and cover the pan with a sheet of tin foil. The tin foil to retain moisture is an invention of my dad’s. Everyone adds their own techniques to ratatouille - as Dad taught me the dish, he reminded me, “there’s no recipe, so you’ll do it a little differently every time, and eventually you’ll figure out your own ways.” By now I have made the dish enough times that when I make it, I recall the method he taught me, but also consider what sounds right to me – getting closer each time to a dish that is distinctly mine.
When the zucchini gets a little brown, I add the eggplants (three small ones from the farm), cutting with the same technique as the other vegetables. In the movie, the vegetables are served in perfect thin slices – this dish will look nothing like that, and will be better for it! The eggplants get soft and brown quicker than the zukes. As they do, I stir the vegetables around a bit, and add some more olive oil and some spices – thyme, oregano, salt and pepper, to my tastes, one example of the decisions that make the dish one’s own. A little sugar is also important – it cuts the acidity of the tomatoes. At this point in the recipe one can add some wine or beer for extra liquid, but not having any on hand, I relied on the juices of the vegetables.
Next are the peppers, the only vegetables last night not to come from the Yale Farm. The only peppers I could find at the farmers’ market were green ones from Stone Gardens farm, which are not as flavorful as their red and yellow counterparts, but I’ll look forward to those later in the season. I core the peppers with a knife, pour out the seeds, and then tear off pieces into the pan. I move the vegetables around a bit with my spatula and prepare for the last addition to the dish: tomatoes, the most-anticipated jewels of the farm’s season.
I cored the tomatoes and cut off their worst blemishes – they are imperfect but sublimely so, the best badge to show that this meal had not come from anything close to industrial agriculture. Then I palmed the base of each and squeezed its juice into the pan, shielding with my other hand to try to minimize the number of errant seeds that landed on my shirt. With the new juice the dish starts to simmer audibly and the colors and flavors start to run together – my favorite part of making the meal. I rip up the rest of the tomatoes and add them to the mix. I add some more spices, stir the vegetables around a bit, and re-cover the pan with tin foil. The longer it simmers all together, the more the flavors will blend, and the better it will be.
Voila! The most flexible of dishes, and one of the simplest and most delicious. From here you have lots of options for making the dish into a full meal. We elected last night to serve it on top of bulgur wheat; it’s also great on pasta and rice. Once, in Georgia, I added okra and served it on grits; at home we often add black beans and make it into burritos. It can be anything and everything, and this time of year, all the ingredients are in season and delicious. Enjoy, and make it your own.

Ratatouille

Caroline Tracey makes a classic dish with the Farm’s freshest ingredients and no recipe to guide her.

At the start of this summer’s farm internship, I planted the seeds of vegetables that would be bountiful late in the summer in specific anticipation of one dish: ratatouille. I waited for the day when tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini and onions would be ready to be picked from their plants and simmered all together.

Much of the farm conversation this summer has revolved around we interns’ food-challenged backgrounds. Most of us grew up eating fast food and so working for the YSFP, with its focus on the way that food brings people together, felt like jumping blindly into something that other people held innately, or had inherited effortlessly, from childhood. Growing up in a house that was always down a stove burner or three, my family’s food traditions included ordering pizza weekly with my grandmother and going to Applebee’s with my grandfather (proud owner of man’s simplest palette). Family gatherings were not lacking in tradition or celebration – we’re jovial people – but in my mind’s eye, it’s Parcheesi on the dining room table, not a home-cooked meal.

Learning to make ratatouille opened to me the world of making delicious things out of vegetables, and having ownership and self-sufficiency in the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, the catalyst in this story is the movie of the same title. I was spending the weekend at my Dad’s house while the movie was in theaters, and my stepmother, who is committed to orchestrating family outings during the sparse time that we all spend together, suggested that we go see it. It’s a hard task to get my claustrophobic father into a theater, but she did, and afterwards got him into the kitchen to prepare, from memory, this dish that I had never heard of. It turned out that he had learned to make the French peasant dish in the years after high school that he spent living in towns in France and Spain. I joined him in the kitchen, and he started to pass the method on to me. Yesterday, I got to re-create it here for the first time this season.

The tools for making ratatouille are simple: a knife and a pan large enough to be loaded up with cut vegetables. Clean-up is easy! To prepare my working space, I lined up my vegetables on the counter: onions, zucchini, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes – a set that always looks like it should be photographed.

First into the pan go the onions. I used three of the small white ones we pulled up from the farm this week. After peeling them and warming up the olive oil in the pan, I hold each onion in my hand and cut carefully through it towards my thumb, making odd shapes – the peasant lore says that more surface area means more flavor. I let the onions simmer, turn the heat low so that nothing will cook too quickly, and add the zucchini, cutting it with the same irregularity as the onions. I let the two cook over the low heat, and cover the pan with a sheet of tin foil. The tin foil to retain moisture is an invention of my dad’s. Everyone adds their own techniques to ratatouille - as Dad taught me the dish, he reminded me, “there’s no recipe, so you’ll do it a little differently every time, and eventually you’ll figure out your own ways.” By now I have made the dish enough times that when I make it, I recall the method he taught me, but also consider what sounds right to me – getting closer each time to a dish that is distinctly mine.

When the zucchini gets a little brown, I add the eggplants (three small ones from the farm), cutting with the same technique as the other vegetables. In the movie, the vegetables are served in perfect thin slices – this dish will look nothing like that, and will be better for it! The eggplants get soft and brown quicker than the zukes. As they do, I stir the vegetables around a bit, and add some more olive oil and some spices – thyme, oregano, salt and pepper, to my tastes, one example of the decisions that make the dish one’s own. A little sugar is also important – it cuts the acidity of the tomatoes. At this point in the recipe one can add some wine or beer for extra liquid, but not having any on hand, I relied on the juices of the vegetables.

Next are the peppers, the only vegetables last night not to come from the Yale Farm. The only peppers I could find at the farmers’ market were green ones from Stone Gardens farm, which are not as flavorful as their red and yellow counterparts, but I’ll look forward to those later in the season. I core the peppers with a knife, pour out the seeds, and then tear off pieces into the pan. I move the vegetables around a bit with my spatula and prepare for the last addition to the dish: tomatoes, the most-anticipated jewels of the farm’s season.

I cored the tomatoes and cut off their worst blemishes – they are imperfect but sublimely so, the best badge to show that this meal had not come from anything close to industrial agriculture. Then I palmed the base of each and squeezed its juice into the pan, shielding with my other hand to try to minimize the number of errant seeds that landed on my shirt. With the new juice the dish starts to simmer audibly and the colors and flavors start to run together – my favorite part of making the meal. I rip up the rest of the tomatoes and add them to the mix. I add some more spices, stir the vegetables around a bit, and re-cover the pan with tin foil. The longer it simmers all together, the more the flavors will blend, and the better it will be.

Voila! The most flexible of dishes, and one of the simplest and most delicious. From here you have lots of options for making the dish into a full meal. We elected last night to serve it on top of bulgur wheat; it’s also great on pasta and rice. Once, in Georgia, I added okra and served it on grits; at home we often add black beans and make it into burritos. It can be anything and everything, and this time of year, all the ingredients are in season and delicious. Enjoy, and make it your own.