October Unprocessed: Week 1 Recap

My apologies for not updating the blog for the last several days; I’ve been a little under the weather and stuck mostly to leftovers and unprocessed snacks and fruits (dried apple slices, peaches and melon). I also figured being congested would be a great time to make some curry, which is bound to help a little.

I wanted to remake the awesome vegetarian pumpkin curry I made as my $5 Slow Food Challenge last October, but there was a lovely Red Kuri squash in this week’s CSA box, and since Red Kuri is pretty similar to pumpkin, I figured it was worth a try (plus, I was really enjoying saying “Red Kuri red curry” over and over). I used the exact technique as I used for the pumpkin curry in the above link, right down to slicing and roasting the Red Kuri squash on my outdoor grill before adding it to a big crock pot full of vegetables, red curry paste, coconut milk and stock. It was excellent.

Red Kuri red curry

I also used the fresh tomatoes from my CSA box to make some homemade ketchup (based on this recipe, but obviously I only made like two jars of it), and tried my hand at some baking … the seemingly simply four-ingredient bread recipe, but it didn’t turn out very well. Luckily, I still have plenty of all four required ingredients, so I’ll try it again later this week.

As most, if not all, storebought bacon is processed in some way, I decided to make some homemade bacon, which I have done a few times before. It’s a really simple recipe that gives you delicious, nitrate-free bacon with no special equipment (other than a smoker).

This week’s CSA also included a bounty of kale — even with the “small” box, each weekly delivery is too much for one person — so I decided to try using kale to make old-fashioned Southern-style greens. Usually greens are made with collard or mustard greens or chard of some sort (any sort, really), but I had never made it with kale before. Also it’s usually made with ham and/or a ham bone, and instead of ham, I use a few good slices of the homemade bacon I just made. The substitutions worked beautifully (even if this isn’t the most photogenic dish).

Old-fashioned greens with kale and homemade bacon

I put the chopped kale with a chopped onion, a few heads of garlic, a splash of apple cider vinegar and a quart of chicken stock into my crock pot, and I let it cook on low overnight.

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Spiced Pumpkin-Apple Butter – A Taste of Autumn

I think I am pretty much on record as being a huge proponent of the crock pot, or the slow cooker. My mother and grandmother cooked in them ever since I can remember, and some of the best food I have ever eaten has been cooked for hours in one. There is simply nothing better than starting a great soup or meat dish in the morning before leaving for work, and then coming home after a long day to a hot, slow-cooked meal.  I can cite a thousand excellent recipes for various chilis, soups and slow cooker dishes that I have loved since I was a kid. My favorites are this insanely easy carnitas recipe (which also cuts the fat of the dish in half) and my smoked chicken posole. I am the proud owner of a great 5-quart slow cooker that I love, and since I started making jams and preserving, I discovered that there are also amazing jam and fruit butter recipes  — once again taking the work out of cooking. 

Aside from being good for the recipes that aren’t even recipes (like keeping your nacho sauce or apple cider warm during a party, or putting frozen meatballs in a spicy sauce for an appetizer), it makes recipes that were previously complicated into simple comfort foods. Slow-cooked pulled pork is as easy as meat and sauce in a pot. Homemade stocks are as easy as a chicken carcass covered in water. Then you walk away and let the crock pot do all the work.

After slow-cooking for about 5 hours.

Do you have any idea how hard it used to be in the past to make apple butter? Imagine the poor chef, probably a tired woman with kids running around, standing over a hot stove for hours and hours. It makes me tired just thinking about it. Nowadays, the hardest thing you have to do to make apple butter (or apple-pear butter, apple-pumpkin butter, and so on) is chop up some fruit.

I adapted the Frontier Woman’s Homemade Pumpkin Puree — it’s amazingly easy and I didn’t even puree it at the end, I just put the chunks of roasted pumpkin in the slow cooker with the apples and spices. I barely did any work and it tastes fantastic!

Start with two small pumpkins … not the big, jack o’lantern type, but the smaller ones (with more flesh) that are used for cooking. Get a nice, sharp knife, and slice off the top (stem) and the bottom, then slice it up.

Roast the pumpkin over high heat. I don’t add anything — no oil, no salt, just to keep it pure — but if you know you’re using it for a spiced fruit butter or a pie, it wouldn’t hurt to add some spices before cooking to amp up the flavor. As is my favorite way to add flavor to stuff, I used my outdoor cooker to give the pumpkin just a little bit of a char.

Plus … raw pumpkin smells gross — roasted pumpkin smells incredible. Once the pumpkin is fork-tender, the pumpkin rind comes off easily, and you can pull out the pure pumpkin flesh to puree and freeze for later, or add spices for a pie. In my case, I dropped it straight into my crock pot with about 8 chopped Gala apples (but use your favorite type or whatever you have on hand), and some brown sugar and pumpkin spice (ginger, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg). My personal method with recipes like this is to vary the amount of spices based on how much you’re making … and taste often to make sure the spices are to your liking. I think everyone would make this a little different.

I set the slow cooker on the high setting and cooked it with the lid on for about 5 hours, then I pureed it with an immersion blender. You can also take it out of the cooker, blend it in a blender or food processor, and transfer it back –or, if the fruit is soft enough you can even use a good potato masher while it’s still in the pot. Some people also like their fruit butters to stay chunky, so you may not want to puree it at all (but in that case, make sure you chop up the pumpkin first so it’s evenly distributed). Then cook it without the lid for about 3 hours. Cook it until the butter is thick and syrupy, and ladle it into sterilized, hot jars, and seal in a water bath for about 20 minutes.

 

Note: the USDA says home canners should never ever ever can pumpkin, period. I have found several reliable recipes for pumpkin apple butter — heavy on the apple — and that’s what this recipe is based on. If you are nervous about it at all, just keep the jars in the refrigerator. I believe this recipe is sound for canning based on the apples.

Wait! 

Don’t forget about the pumpkin seeds! These tasty morsels don’t have to be tossed.  Roast them with olive oil and one of the following seasoning blends for about 20 minutes at 300 degrees.

  • Ginger Soy: soy sauce, sugar, and ground ginger;
  • Brown Sugar Spice: brown sugar, ground allspice, salt and cayenne pepper
  • Maple Chipotle: maple syrup, chipotle chili powder, cumin and salt
  • Curry Lime: fresh lime juice, curry powder, coriander and salt

My $5 Slow-Food Challenge: Homemade Chicken Posole

I know I am a little late in taking up the trend of a slow food challenge, but once I found this awesome and delicious recipe, I couldn’t resist. They say you can’t eat a nutritious and homemade meal for less than you would pay for a junk meal at a fast-food joint, and a number of other bloggers have set out to take back the “value meal” and prove that sentiment wrong.

I didn’t just prove it wrong. I kicked that theory’s butt.

Luckily for me, surviving on less than $5 per meal it isn’t a daily challenge anymore, but regardless, there’s nothing that makes me happier than a great meal for just a little money. I was raised by my mother and grandmother, and we weren’t rich — but even if we had been millionaires, my grandmother wasn’t the type to be frivolous with the ingredients. She still would have gotten the cheapest cuts and made them delicious, instead of the best cuts and the easiest recipes. She took great pride in making a huge meal and feeding her entire family for a small sum. Grandma would have absolutely loved this one.

As it is today, I am a single girl with lots of single friends, and they will all love to come over and eat this. For less than $4 per person, 4 of my friends (plus me) can have a huge bowl and take some home for later.

The cost breakdown:

  • $4.80 … Chicken thighs (2 packages of about 4 thighs each)
  • $3.10 … 2 cans of salsa verde ($1.55 each)
  • $1.57 … 1 big can of hominy
  • $1.49 … corn tortillas
  • $1.31 … chicken bouillon (this is a pack of 8 and you only need 2 for this recipe — you’ve probably got some in your cupboard right now)
  • $0.91 … bottle of Tapatio hot sauce (you probably also have some hot sauce lying around but this is the cheapest)
  • $0.90 … head of cabbage (shred it)
  • $0.40 … bunch of radishes (slice them)
  • $0.50 … bunch of cilantro
  • $0.75 … two onions (dice them)
  • $0.45 … two limes

Total of $16.18, which works out to about $3.24 per quart. Not serving. Quart. Everyone can have a big bowl and take some home for later.

A couple of other notes about this extremely adaptable recipe:

  • You can make it even cheaper than this. Omit the chicken and make it totally vegetarian, or use a cheap cut of pork. It would also be slightly cheaper and just as flavorful to use a whole chicken (bones and all). You can also save money by making and using your own stock (chicken, pork, or vegetarian) or your own homemade salsa, or your own homegrown herbs, like cilantro, or vegetables.
  • You can stretch it out! There’s an old Mexican saying for when people unexpectedly show up at your house, that loosely translates to “put more water in the beans,” and that’s what comes to my mind with this great meal. You can make it for 5 people or for 25 people. Stretch out the recipe by making it in a huge stock pot and adding more chicken, water and bouillon, and pad the sides with extra vegetables to stretch it out and feed even more people.
  • You can also make this more expensively. Use a good cut of pork instead of chicken thighs (although a more expensive cut of chicken, like a boneless breast, might get a little dry, so I would stick with a thigh since it’s got the flavor from the bone and the fattiness of the skin), use a tomato-based (red) salsa instead of canned tomatillo salsa. You can also use store-bought stock instead of bouillon, or top it with gourmet cotija cheese and sliced avocado.
  • There are lots of ways to add extra flavor. I smoked my chicken, but that’s just because I used smoked chicken for my last chicken stock, and it was so maddeningly good that I swore I would never again make a chicken soup without smoking the chicken first. It adds a wonderful flavor to any soup or chili. 
  • Fancy tools aren’t necessary. Of course I realize that most families for whom eating for less than $5 a day is a true challenge probably don’t own their own smoker. Or their own crock pot, for that matter. You can add as much extra flavor by making the soup in a large pot on the stove and seasoning the chicken, then searing it at high heat for a few minutes, then adding the salsa, onions, hominy, etc.
  • Just because this is a cheap meal doesn’t mean it needs to be a flavorless meal. Add the flavors you and your family love to eat.

Posole (also spelled “pozole”) is an incredibly adaptable dish, and indeed some versions are particular to certain regions of Mexico and Central and South America.

Based on my preliminary research talking to abuelitas and tias I know, my understanding is that “traditional” depends on the location. It can be made with pork or chicken, with red or green salsa, with a clear or a vegetable-filled broth. Some regions near the ocean in Central and South America specialize in a fish stew, and some inland areas that are thousands of miles from any coast will have a chicken leg in a huge communal pot of vegetables of every type. It’s mind-boggling how many variations there are for one dish.

I also have heard that posole has the same restorative properties as menudo after a long night of drinking. I can’t get behind menudo no matter how many versions of it I try, but I have to say that I have enjoyed a bowl of this soup after a long day of watching a football game or three, and I can personally vouch for its ability to make you feel human again. But how could it not? Slow-cooked chicken and broth, and fresh, nutritious vegetables. This is an incredibly healthy and delicious meal.

The version that is my personal favorite is with chicken and green tomatillo salsa, then served with chopped cabbage, onion, cilantro, radish, a dash of hot sauce and a squeeze of lime. One day I plan to make this with pork, only I will smoke the pork beforehand. Imagine this delicious and spicy soup with chunks of deliciously smoked pork, with a lovely smoke ring, seasoned and smoked to a perfect crispiness. Mmmmm.

This is what it looks like after slow-cooking on high for a few hours. Take out the bones and skin, add the chilled toppings.

Hillary’s Smoked Chicken Posole

  • (see ingredient list above)
  • 3 quarts water

Step 1 (optional): Smoke the chicken for 2-3 hours at 200 degrees over hickory and mesquite chips.

Step 2: Place the chicken (with skin and bones still intact) into a 5-quart crock pot. Add onion, cans of salsa and hominy (drain the hominy first), then add two cubes of bouillon and water. Set slow cooker on high and let cook for at least 4 hours. You can let it cook longer than 4 hours — the longer the better, but if you cook it for more than 6 hours keep it on the low setting. (Note: I used one white onion and one red onion, and chopped them both. I added half of the chopped onions to the broth, and saved the other half for garnish. Again, this recipe is so adaptable, you can do as you prefer.)

Step 3: Before serving, I like to remove the skin and bones and shred the meat a little, but you can also serve a chicken thigh intact and surrounded by broth. Since it will be extremely tender by this point, the bones will come out very easily and shredding will be as easily as taking a fork in each hand and whisking them around for a minute. Then add the chopped cabbage, radish, cilantro and fresh onion, a squeeze of lime, and serve with a hot tortilla or two.