Food swaps and the best open-faced sandwich of all time

A fun, informal setting. A party with fellow foodies, lovely people from your own community who want to share their knowledge, their recipes, their food, their lives — with you. You walk away (if you’re like me, you’re skipping and dancing happily), with delicious homemade and homegrown food, and you don’t need to have a dollar in your pocket. How, you ask?  Food swaps.

They’s springing up all over the place. If you don’t have one in your town, start one. It’s an amazing community event. It encourages sharing, cooking, talking and eating. The ingredients are more likely to be healthful and organic. In addition to the one I started in San Diego, if you’re in California, I know of swaps in the East Bay, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, Ventura County, in Colorado there are swaps in Denver, Pike’s Peak and Manitau Springs, and others in Seattle, Austin, DallasPortland OR, Columbus OHBrooklyn NY, Queens NYAlbany/Saratoga Springs NY, Minneapolis, Royal Oak MI, Ann Arbor MIBoston, Trenton IL, Fort Lauderdale FL, Coventry CT, and even in London.

I first heard about food swaps from Kate Payne’s blog, and I was surprised they didn’t have one in a food-centric town like San Diego, so I organized one myself. The first two events were sparsely attended, but an article in the local newspaper packed the lists for our third get-together, and my score from the July 16 San Diego Food Swap was stellar.

Fresh-baked bread. Homemade ice cream in three flavors. Homemade and authentic empenadas. Salsa, pickled onions, cochinita pibil (spicy pulled pork slow-cooked in banana leaves). Pomodori al forno (fresh tomatoes and basil in olive oil, to be served on crusty bread with a nice goat cheese), habanero pepper jelly, and zucchini chutney. Homegrown and organic zucchini squash, kale, swiss chard and radishes. Homemade lemon bars and coconut macaroons. Caramel corn and lavender cookies. Fresh, soft pretzels. My contribution to the party was granola, spicy pickled carrots, carmelized onion chutney and cherry/orange/vanilla jam.

The delicious possibilities are endless. The first was made right on the spot … some fresh, hot, crusty bread, with some salsa, cochinita pibil, and a couple of pickled onions. Greatest open-faced sandwich of all time. Deal with it.

La Familia Aguilar’s Cochinita Pibil

My dear friend Belinda’s dad made these for a birthday party a couple of years ago, and I have been bugging her ever since to make them again. It is a time-consuming process, but totally worth it!

  • 15 lbs of pork, cut into large chunks ( it is recommended you get bone-in pork and cook the bones with the meat for added flavor)
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp. oregano
  • 2 habenero chiles
  • 1 packet of banana leaves *
  • 1 tbsp achiotte seasoning *

(*The banana leaves and achiotte seasoning are available at your local hispanic foods market.) Blend together in a food processor the garlic, chiles, juices, vinegar, achiotte, oregano and salt and pepper, and pour over the chunks of pork in a large bowl. Cover and let it marinate for 2-4 hours. Add the bay leaves. Line a large baking pan with banana leaves, laid horizontally and vertically, and add the pork mixture (including the bones), tucking the leaves over the pork (this was described to me as “like you’re tucking a piggy baby into bed,” haha) and bake at 350 degrees for 4-6 hours. Feel free to periodically check for moisture and spiciness; and it may be necessary to add another cup of orange juice (and possibly more spices if you like) at about the third hour of cooking. When it’s ready, you will know because your entire home will smell like mouth-watering pork and the meat will be tender enough to shred with a fork. Remove the bones and serve warm. This freezes beautifully if you have any left over.

Pickled Onions

These are a perfect compliment to the cochinita pibil.

  • 1 whole red onions, sliced into rings
  • 1 cup vinegar (any kind)
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinch of oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Simmer gently in a medium pot until onions are soft. Serve immediately or put into hot jars and seal in a pressure canner.

But there’s more. Ever since I saw the RSVP for the food swap when a participant signed up with “pomodori al forno” and I had to look it up, I was dying to try it. I am normally not a huge fan of fresh tomatoes — I love them cooked, in sauces and whatnot, but I prefer to leave them off of a sandwich or a salad — but these were delicious and juicy and bursting with all of the flavors of fresh herbs and olive oil. Then at the actual swap, a stranger came walking by with fresh (and huge!) zucchini squashes. We were all out on the lawn, under a big shady tree, and we were chatting, laughing, and generally enjoying ourselves when this gentleman was clearly jealous and wanted in on the fun. Score!

I decided to use the zucchini and the pomodori al forno together, with some spicy italian sausage, fresh basil, goat cheese, panko bread crumbs, sauteed with onion, bell pepper and mushroom and then baked at high heat in the oven.

Food Swap Vegetable Casserole

Most, if not all, of these ingredients can be substituted for other ingredients depending on your tastes. This was just my creation based on the fresh vegetables I got at the swap, including the pomodori al forno, which was made by someone else. Essentially pomodori al forno is ripe, sliced tomato cooked in the oven on high heat with good olive oil, fresh basil and various spices. This jar of pomodori al forno was definitely made with love.

  • 1 large zucchini squash, chopped
  • 1 jar of pomodori al forno
  • 2 links of italian sausage
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon nutmeg*
  • 4-6 ounces of your favorite goat cheese or other creamy cheese
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the sausages in a large pot and add water until the sausages are covered; sprinkle olive oil on top. Cook on high, turning occasionally, until water evaporates and sausage is cooked and slightly browned. Remove sausage from pot, add chopped zucchini, onion, bell pepper and mushroom. Cut the sausage into chunks and add to pot, season everything with salt and pepper. (*Often, homegrown squash and zucchini, particularly the larger ones, can be very bitter. Taste a piece of the squash when it starts to soften and if you find it is too bitter, sprinkle a small amount of sugar and/ or ground nutmeg to balance out the bitterness of the huge gourds.) Remove from heat when vegetables are soft. Mix in the goat cheese and panko crumbs, and transfer to baking dish. Layer the pomodori al forno tomato slices on top (and sprinkle the herb-y olive oil from the jar on top of the casserole). Delicious!

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Belinda’s Big Bag of Oranges

Nothing says summer like a giant bag of fresh oranges from a friend’s tree. I got four bags from my friend at this month’s San Diego Food Swap — as well as finishing salts, marinara sauce, meat sauce, BBQ sauce and homemade cookies. If you are local I would totally recommend coming, and if you are in another town you should definitely find a local swap or start one yourself (like I did).

Fresh-picked oranges.

 

There are a few ways to use these oranges  — given my past experiements with marmalade, I wanted something decidely sweet. I mentioned in an earlier post that Linda Ziedrich’s awesome jelly book has a recipe for orange jelly, with a twist — you have to use pectin from another recipe in the book. Essentially, you juice the oranges, save the juice, then scrape the membrane and pith out of the oranges to make into pectin.

I was mesmerized. A way to make delicious jams and jellies, without tons of sugar? Using the same oranges for the jelly as for the pectin? Awesome. I had no idea how much work it was for so little. After putting serious elbow grease into juicing TONS of oranges (I see now why it is recommended to use big, juicy Valencia oranges instead of tiny, tart Southern California ones), I had barely two cups of pith and a nice pitcher of fresh juice.

After letting the mixture set overnight and simmer briefly, you let it strain through a jelly bag.

Supplies

This is probably a great time to mention my jelly-making supplies. When I first started making my own jams, jellies, marmalades, preserves and whatnot, I didn’t have a canning kit, a jar-boiling rack, or really anything aside from a really good Swedish-made plastic oven mitt that can reach into boiling water and grab a jar. Over the last few months I have acquired a funnel that is Mason-jar sized (excellent for avoiding spills — you haven’t lived until you’ve splattered boiling fruit on yourself) and a jelly bag strainer set, with cloth bags and this contraption, that is supposedly supposed to fit on the sides of a bowl, but it doesn’t fit any bowl I own. I had to make do.

I also have a cheap, hand-twisty juicer that I bought at a drug store, but if you are going to do what I did, I recommend getting a nice automatic juicer. The dozens of oranges took forver to juice!

Back to the pectin. One cup of pectin, one cup of juice, a cup and a half of sugar. It says to skim the foam off the top as it’s boiling, but it didn’t provide details. Especially when the pot looks like this:

Eventually the mixture reached a gel point, which is usually when the jam is quickly ladled into hot, sterile jars and sealed — usually it’s already gelling or looks like it’s about to gel immediately. Well, not this stuff. Hours of slicing, juicing, scraping, setting, boiling, stirring, skimming and watching led to two jars — well, not quite. And I won’t know if it will really gel for the next two days. What a buzzkill.

Will update in two days with the results. Instead of being totally bitter about it (get it?), I am going to wait and see how good this jelly is (This had better be the best jelly ever!) and if it’s not awesome, I am going to try a little experiment and use the oranges the same way I used the lemons and limes for jelly previously. More to come …