28 June 2013

Canning: Apple-blueberry . . . syrup

Canning season has started not with a bang but a whimper.

I tried to make an apple-blueberry jam with some CSA fruit, but I wasn't careful with the combination of sugar, acid, and pectin, so it didn't set properly. Now I have 7 half-pints of apple-blueberry syrup instead. And 2 of the jars didn't even seal!

Don't get me wrong: these 7 half-pints will cover a lot of pancakes. But since it was unintentional, and since it was the first project of the season, I'm disappointed.

So disappointed, I can bring myself to post a photo
of only 3 half-pints. Sob

25 June 2013

Cheap eats: Croutons for salad or soup

As I've mentioned, when it looks as though I won't be able to finish a loaf of bread before it starts to go south, I'll slice up what's left into cubes, place it in some tupperware, and pop it into the freezer. Then I'll use the cubes as a topping for a casserole or gratin, or I'll toast them up and make salad croutons.


  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • 2-4 cups bread cubes (1- or 2-inch dice)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oregano or marjoram and sage to taste


    If the bread cubes are frozen, let them thaw at least partially before beginning. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and toss. Stirring occasionally, allow the cubes to brown gently.

    Note that these started as 2/3 whole-wheat bread.
    Your croutons may not be this dark as they toast.

    Season to taste. For salad croutons, add oregano. For soup croutons, add marjoram and sage.

    Salad of CSA greens and croutons. In the background,
    Rowhouse Livin' pantry vinaigrette.

    Serve warm or cool, but let cool completely before storing. Store in an airtight container at room temperature and use within 2 days. Quality is best when these croutons are used immediately; but at $0.45 per batch, you may not mind tossing a few out after they've gone stale.
  • 10 June 2013

    Garlic scapes: Lipstick on a pig food

    I'm being taken to task on Facebook for not declaring garlic scapes the manna of the late spring CSA box.

    What's a garlic scape? It's the non-leaf stalk that grows out of a garlic bulb where, at its tip, sit the plant's maturing seeds. Farmers cut or pinch this stalk off so that the garlic plant puts its energy into growing a large bulb rather than propagating itself, which is what it wants to do. If the scape is left intact and allowed to flower and seed, the garlic that the farmer sells at the end of the season will be smaller and command a lower price. The economics are very clear for the farmer to make her garlic produce income two ways. First, harvest the scapes, which would cost money if left on the plant, and sell them; then reap the benefits later when the garlic bulbs come in fat and heavy.

    I don't want to call farmers market and CSA patrons naive, but I think that some people see a touch of the exotic and rare in garlic scapes. In reality, they're merely an agricultural by-product. They can't be given to the dairy animals because they'll give an off-flavor to milk, cheese, and butter. But why toss them to the pigs if they cost nothing at all to produce outside of the labor to "harvest" and ship, and you can sell them at $4.00 per handful to city folk? Or toss them into the CSA share as something equal to a bunch of radishes, a pint of strawberries, or a head of Boston bibb lettuce?

    For my CSA dollar I'd rather see young summer squash -- which I know has come in, because it's been at the farmers market for two weekends now -- than see pig food in the box. Instead, I'm left with stalks that are serviceable as an aromatic in a stir-fry, add a mild garlic flavor as a pizza topping, and are less convenient to handle than chives. I never buy them at the farmers market, but here's what we did with them this week, in the grand tradition of a farmers market producer we knew of in Seattle who would reply regarding any item one asked how to use, "Oh, it works great in a stir-fry":

    CSA Garlic Scape Stir-Fry


  • 3 tablespoons high-temperature frying oil
  • 4 or 5 garlic scapes
  • 1 small head broccoli
  • 2 cups snow peas
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • soy sauce to taste
  • brown or white rice, cooked


    Prepare all vegetables before heating the skillet or wok. Trim the garlic scapes and cut into 1- to 2-inch lengths. Cut the flowerets off the broccoli and slice into bite-size pieces. Peel the broccoli stalk and chop into 1-inch pieces. Trim the stem and blossom ends off the snow peas; leave them whole.

    In a heavy skillet or wok, heat the oil to shimmering over a medium-high flame. Add the garlic scapes and faire sauter until coated. Cover loosely with a lid and let soften a few minutes. Add the broccoli, sauté again, and let cook a few minutes, loosely covered. Repeat with the snow peas.

    When the vegetables are tender but not mushy, add black pepper and 2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce. Heat through and serve over rice.

    Options: (1) Add finely chopped fresh ginger with the garlic scapes. (2) Thicken the sauce: combine 1 tbsp cornstarch, 2 tbsp soy sauce, and 1/4 cup water or broth in a cup; add the sauce at the end of cooking and heat until thickened. (3) Add sesame oil and serve cold, tossed with spaghetti or udon noodles.
  • 06 June 2013

    Tragedy at a local thrift store

    The Rowhouse Livin' household is devastated at the terrible news that six people perished at the Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market Streets in Philadelphia yesterday. Our thoughts are with the victims' families and we fervently hope that the responsible individuals will be brought to justice.

    I didn't visit that thrift store very often -- maybe once every few months -- but it was always a little busy when I was there. And there always seemed to be a baby or two there, so I was relieved, at least a very little bit, to hear that there were no very young victims.

    If I'm not mistaken, that was the only thrift store (as opposed to upscale resale or consignment shop offering second-hand goods) in Center City Philadelphia. It was a very useful destination for casual clothing and housewares. The dishes I use for lunch and coffee at my office came from that very store. I'm very sorry to see it destroyed, and it seems unlikely, to me, that Salvation Army will find another Center City location with rent low enough to open a shop to replace it. But of course, this material loss pales in comparison to the unimaginable loss suffered by the friends and families of the deceased.

    What an awful event in Philadelphia.

    03 June 2013

    Cheap eats: Pantry vinaigrette

    This isn't haute cuisine; it's merely cheap cuisine, nothing fancy, made with ordinary items you almost certainly have in your kitchen cabinets at all times.

    The Rowhouse Livin' household finds that most bottled salad dressings are too sweet for our tastes, or they have hippie-scaring preservatives. When a bottle comes our way via a potluck or family get-together, it will often end up sitting in the fridge, unused, for literally a year. And who knows how old that dressing is? When were the ingredients produced, then packed, then sold at the grocery store, and then finally opened? Let's try something fresher -- especially considering that, at my count, we've had about ten heads of salad greens and two dozen radishes already this season with our CSA subscription.

    This vinaigrette works with lettuce-based salads as well as pasta and cold potato salads. You can up the salt content if your greens are a little bitter. You can add dried onion flakes, dried marjoram, mustard seeds, or tarragon if you like. Paprika gives it a little kick. And it holds up well with crumbled bleu cheese over spinach.


  • 1 part white vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 2 to 3 parts olive oil


    Small portion (for one salad, serving 4): Pour 2 tablespoons vinegar into the salad bowl. Add flavorings and stir to moisten. Whisk in 4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil until emulsified. Let stand while salad is prepared, at least 5 minutes. Whisk a few strokes again, add salad ingredients, and toss until salad is coated and a little wilted.

    Large portion (to keep in the fridge): Put 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup vinegar, and flavorings in a pint jar. (Increase quantity of flavorings to taste.) Close jar tightly and shake until emulsified. Let stand at least 5 minutes. Before using, shake again. Store unused portion in the fridge and use within a few weeks.

    Fresh herbs option (to go with a large portion): This works best with a single herb at a time, not a combination, and is a lovely way to feature whatever bounty is overwhelming the garden or the CSA box that week. Select a cup or so of fresh herbs. Prep them as necessary and chop them coarsely or into chiffonade. Add to the pint jar with the oil, vinegar, and seasoning, and proceed as above.