Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jeni, Jeni, Who do I turn to? Salty Caramel, of course.

After sampling the case, my selections
Ok, so don't blame me if you walk around humming the '80's Tommy Tutone song all day.  May I suggest a cure for your earworm?  You need to get your hands on some Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream.  And thanks to the invention of dry ice and efficient overnight shipping, you don't have to be in the great state of Ohio to indulge.

Until recently, in order to sample the amazing collection of flavors in person you needed to visit one of the scoop shops in the Columbus area, but a new scoop shop in the charming Western Reserve town of Chagrin Falls, has put the in-person experience a little closer to home for Cleveland/Akron residents.

The 'scoop' on Jeni, according to their website:

Jeni Britton Bauer became inspired to make artisan ice creams while working at a French patisserie. Drawing on the practices of a traditional pastry kitchen, Jeni created her own techniques to make American ice creams that are less sweet and more flavorful.
  Each batch of Jeni's ice creams is carefully tended to; each flavor artfully achieved with fresh ingredients found in the Ohio countryside as well as responsibly-raised exotics from around the world. All of Jeni's ice creams, sauces, pralines and marshmallows are handcrafted in Jeni's production kitchen in Columbus, Ohio.

Jeni's is family-owned and operated. Jeni Britton Bauer and her husband Charly Bauer co-founded the company in 2002; Charly's brother Tom Bauer became a partner one year later. Together with their small team, they make every batch of ice cream that is served in their four (soon to be seven) stores in Columbus or shipped to doorsteps nationwide.

Flavor Selections at Jeni's
Probably the most well known flavor is the Salty Caramel, which is one of my favorites.  It has the perfect sweet/salty balance.  There is a line-up of signature flavors, such as the Brown Butter Almond Brittle, which has a shelf life of two days or less at my house, and a seasonal line-up that takes advantage of ingredients at their peak. 
The goat cheese, featuring Mackenzie Creamery goat cheese, for example, is paired with a Cognac-Fig Jam in the winter, and with roasted cherries in the spring.  Both are awesome!

The Backyard Mint - armfuls of fresh peppermint steeped in Snowville Creamery cream for 48 hours, reminded me of picking mint at my grandmother's house.  Snowville, my favorite local dairy, is the basis for all of the Jeni's ice creams. 

If you like a little spicy kick, try the Queen City Cayenne, a rich chocolate with tingly, peppery spice finish, or the Bangkok Peanut with features toasted coconut, peanut butter, and wait for it - a spicy finish that doesn't appear until after the other flavors have gone. 

Even the most 'normal' of flavors are layered flavor bombs Jeni style.  I was pretty blown away by the Ugandan Vanilla Bean. 

Don't expect your taste buds to be gently caressed; expect a roundhouse full-on punch.  The Rhubarb and Lime Cardamom Yogurt made me quiver every time I bit into a particularly citrus bombed bite. 

Sundaes at Jeni's

I am pretty sure you need a partner if you are going to indulge in one of the sundae selections, like "One Night in Bangkok' which features caramel sauce, banana, whipped cream, Spanish peanuts, cilantro and lime topped with a fortune cookie. 

Premium priced at $10 a pint, but once you taste the premium ingredients, handmade and handpacked, (they still hand write each label), you'll be convinced it's worth every penny.  My three half scoop sampler above (Backyard Mint, Strawberry Buttermilk, and Rhubarb Lime Cardamom) only set me back $5.

Akronites, the only place locally currently selling Jeni's is Deviti's Market, but I have put in a request with the manager at EarthFare. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hosta Haven Farms = Hosta Heaven

Hosta Haven Farms Entrance
Hosta Haven Farms is a little off the beaten path, but worth seeking out, especially if you have shady areas in your gardens that could use a little perking up.  Located at 1906 Wright Road, in Akron, it's about a mile and half from the I-77 Copley Road exit.  Wright Road is off of Collier.

With over 400 different varieties to choose from, including over 50 dwarf species, there are a lot of different colors, shapes, and sizes to choose from.  Those with more yellow in their leaves may also be grown in more sunny areas.

I love hostas for their versatility, beauty, and tough nature.  It's difficult to kill a hosta, even for the brownest of thumbs.  The clumps grow larger over the years and submit nicely to being divided, so when you invest your plant dollars in them, keep in mind that they'll pay dividends in the form of free plants in the future.  

Display Gardens
Next to the shaded plant sales area is a large display garden containing mature specimens, each marked with a concrete name marker.  After you've wandered through the display gardens and selected your favorites, you can easily find them in the sales area in alphabetical order.  Here are some shots of my favorites:

Cheatin Hearts and C Wiggles

Green Eyes

2011 Hosta of the Year - Praying Hands

Here is the one I purchased, Fire Island.  I love the reddish stems against the chartreuse.

Fire Island
Some of the dwarf varieties

Inside Sales Area

Concrete Markers

Display in sales area
Be sure to check out Hosta Haven Farms - closed Mondays and Tuesdays, open Wed - Sunday 10 am to 4 pm, from May 1st through mid-September. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tom & Jerry Scare the Bald Lady

Garden Shed

Oh what a spring.  Which until this past weekend just really seemed like a rainy extension of winter.  Most of April and May were filled with endless chilly, dark, rainy days, giving the weeds way too much of a head start on this gardener.  This weekend we skipped spring, and went straight to summer heat and humidity.  Remember last year when we were crabbing about having to turn on the A/C in April? 

One of the annual rites of spring is cleaning out the garden shed.  As the patio furniture, watering cans, hoses, shepherd's hooks, and garden decor disgorge from what is usually a haphazard fall stuffing, a bucket or two usually reveals the unlucky bodies of a mouse or two who fell in, but couldn't manage to escape.  And every once in awhile, I pull out something containing a live nest.

Baby White Footed Mouse
Yesterday was one of those days.  I heard the tell-tale signs of life when I took a big stack of flower pots from the shelf.  Mama made the nest pretty far down in the stack; I don't think they would have made an escape.  Even though I knew it was coming, it was still like taking the lid off the popcorn popper when I removed the layer of pots containing the nest - at least 8 baby mice, and mama, went running in opposite directions. 

Tiny, baby mouse

I'm sure it was plenty funny watching the bald lady shriek a bit and do a little dance.  A few didn't look so good, and I moved them behind the compost pile.  Later, when I came back, I was surprised to see mama, who was larger, and a couple of babies still hanging out, barely bothered by my presence. 

It seemed extra silly to be frightened by a bunch of tiny mice about an hour later when I surprised a large dog I'd never seen before, who fortunately barked at me for a few minutes then left. 

Another rainy week is predicted.  Let's hope it moderates enough so the farmers can finally get some crops planted.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Homemade Snowville Creamery Yogurt Using Slow Cooker

I love, love, love Snowville Creamery's delicious milk.  Their tagline is "Milk the way it used to be", and from the first time I tasted it, that is exactly what I thought.  What makes their milk different?  Grass grazed, with a herd switch in winter when the local cows are on maternity leave, it's not homogenized, so the cream stays on top, and it's pasteurized at the lowest legal temperature.  Even the non-fat has body and tastes good, but the 2% tastes even better.  (I believe life is too short to drink cheap wine or fat-free milk).

The only thing I don't love, is that it only comes in half gallon cartons (including the heavy cream, which calls for a party if you are buying a half gallon), and I usually can't finish it before it goes bad.  Solution - make yogurt!

One of my clients regularly makes yogurt, and she has one of the commercial yogurt makers, but honestly I really don't need another unitasker around here.  I'd seen several articles on different ways to incubate yogurt without a maker, using heating pads, leaving in a turned off warm oven overnight, and in a slow cooker.

Then the latest issue of Cuisine at Home (June 2011) arrived, complete with a several page spread with step by step instructions that are a little different from the others I've seen.  Cuisine at Home is a nice magazine with no advertisements, recipes that are geared a little more towards experienced cooks, and most of their recipes are not available on-line, so it is worth subscribing in my opinion.

There is a lot to love about making your own yogurt, including total quality control of the ingredients (no added sugar, gelatin, pectin, cornstarch, artificial flavors and colors), you can control the thickness and tartness, plus you avoid the waste of both spoiled milk and packaging.  Plus it saves money; I calculated my cost equivalent at about 40 cents per 6 ounces.  (I used 8 oz. jars, but commercial cartons are usually 6 oz).

Plus, it is easy.  I probably checked the temperature more times than a new mother with feverish baby, but now that I see how it works, I will likely be less compulsive in the future.

For the full article, grab a copy of the June 2011 issue of Cuisine at Home, but here is what I did:

Sanitized 8 oz jelly jars and plastic lids
I ran 10 eight ounce Ball Deluxe Quilted Jelly Canning Jar 8 Oz., Case of 12 and Ball 36010 Mason Canning Jar Plastic Storage lids, Set of 8 through the dishwasher with a sanitize cycle.  The instructions don't call for sterilizing the jars as for canning, but I like to keep the good bacteria in and the bad out.

Heat Milk in Double Boiler & Have an Ice Bath Ready

I heated a half gallon of 2% Snowville Creamery milk which I whisked in 1/2 c. of nonfat dry milk powder (optional, but I prefer my yogurt thicker, and the milk powder replaces the commercial pectin, cornstarch and gelatin thickeners), over a makeshift double boiler consisting of a medium sized stockpot with a couple of inches of water, with a 4 quart saucepan with inserted inside.  Heat the milk to 185 degrees (so you will need a thermometer, and I dearly love my Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen (Purple) Instant Read Thermometer, Perfect for Barbecue, Home and Professional Cooking, and after ruining untold cheaper thermometers, truly believe it was a worthy investment). You need to stir pretty often, and it takes about a half an hour to come up to temp.

Ice Bath
As soon as it reaches 185 degrees, move the pan over to an ice bath. I used my 7 1/4 quart Le Creuset pot with ice and some water.  Don't put too much water in the pan or you will have water overboard.  Cool to 115 degrees.  I stirred a few times while it was cooling and it didn't take too long.  Remove from the ice at 115.  When it reaches 110 degrees, stir in 1/2 cup of plain yogurt (one that has at least 3 active cultures - I used Stonyfield; it has 6). 

Filled Jars in the Slow Cooker

Ladle into jars - I got nine, but only 8 fit in my 6.5 quart slow cooker, so rather than get out another slow cooker (yes, I have a half dozen...), I dumped the jar that didn't fit.  (If I was smart, I would have checked how many fit before I started, but hey, I didn't) Add warm water half way up the sides of the jar, and put it on the warm setting. 

The optimum temp for the bacteria to feed on the sugars in the milk is 122 degrees.  You don't want going above 130 degrees, which kills it, or below 98 degrees which renders it sluggish, and neither of which will result in yogurt.  The instructions said to check the water every few hours in the cooker and keep it between 115-125 degrees, and to shut it off if it went over 125 and wrap the cooker in a large bath towel. 

Newer cookers seem to get hotter faster, and I have only used this All-Clad 99009 Stainless-Steel 6-1/2-Quart Slow Cooker once.  Speaking of All-Clad, the next factory sale is coming up the first weekend in June. 

I might try an older cooker next time, because this one heated the water over 125 within the first hour.  I preheated it while I was finishing the cooling and filling the jars.  So I shut it off and wrapped in a towel and after an hour or so, it was under 110.  So started the cycle of checking it probably too often.  Lid on, lid off, heat on, heat off, etc. At one point I turned it back on to heat up a bit, forgot for awhile to go back and check, and it was up to 130 and I thought I killed it.  Then I realized the milk temp was lower than the water.  It probably would have been perfectly fine if I'd checked about 10% as often.

I pulled it out around 8 hours, cautiously screwed open a lid,  and was slightly amazed when I was looking a yogurt.  It needs to finish ripening in the refrigerator for 8 hours, so I waited until this morning to taste test.

Fresh Yogurt & Blueberries for Breakfast

There is just a bit of whey on top, which you can either pour out, or I just shook the jar.  It isn't nearly as twangy to me as store-bought plain yogurt.  If you like it twangier, you can increase the incubation time.  The longer the bacteria party, the twangier it gets. It's tart, but pleasantly so.  I just added a sprinkle of organic sugar. 

Looking forward to trying some with a bit of homemade strawberry jam stirred in. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lemon-Herb Grilled Chicken

Earth Fare Fryer
 The Earth Fare store in Fairlawn opened this week, and one of their promotions when you sign up for their emails  is a coupon for a free dinner for four which consists of a whole fryer chicken (or a package of veggie burgers) a container of prepared mashed potatoes, and a package of organic baby carrots. 

The package said the chicken was from Springer Mountain Farms, while they aren't local, their farming practices, including an American Humane Society certification, are respectable.

Since many people are now conditioned to purchase boneless, skinless parts, a whole chicken sometimes presents a challenge.  So here is a super simple, delicious way to tackle it.

Breast Side Down, Remove Back Bone with Shears

Remove the bird from the package, fish out the neck and giblets (loose in this bird, not in a packet, so make sure you get them all.  Rinse, inside and out, then pat dry.  Put it breast side down, as shown, and use a pair of sturdy kitchen shears to cut along each side of the back bone (feel around with your fingers, you'll be able to tell where it is).

Backbone Removed

Remove the backbone. Don't throw it away! Put in a freezer bag, then add future backs and you'll have a nice basis for homemade chicken stock. (Trust me, it's easy to make and tastes better than store bought).

Flip, Flatten, Season
Fresh Herbs and Lemon

Flip the bird over and flatten it with your palm.  You have just spatchcocked (otherwise known as butterflied) the bird.  It's more fun to say spatchcocked though. Prepping it this way cuts down on the cooking time. Season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. 

Chop a big handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, and a handful of whatever other herbs you fancy - I used golden greek oregano and thyme from my garden, and a couple of big basil leaves.  Toss in a bowl, squeeze in the lemon juice (you are looking for about a half a cup - so 2-4 lemons depending on how juicy they are), then whisk in a half cup of olive oil. 

Marinade with Herbs, Lemon, Olive Oil

Pour over the chicken in a glass baking dish, and flip the chicken over and back, to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least a couple of hours; all day is fine, flipping it over a few times during the day to make sure both sides soak up the marinade.

Hot Grill

Get your grill screaming hot.  Oil the grates - I use grapeseed oil, a wadded up paper towel,  and long tongs to accomplish this, then put the chicken skin side down and cook for about 15 minutes, before turning over.  Probably about 20 minutes on the other side, but use a digital thermometer to check - the thigh, not touching any bone should register 180 degrees.   Keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn, you can move it to the cooler side of the grill to finish if the temperature doesn't come up in a half an hour so the outside doesn't overcook.

Looking good

My leg and thigh quarters came off on their own when it was done, leaving the breast and wings for carving. 

Dark meat with Roasted Fingerlings and Corn on the Cob
I know it's out of season, but I couldn't resist this nice looking ear of Southern white corn at Earth Fare.  I also roasted some fingerling potatoes tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Field Trip: Local Roots Market & Cafe

Local Roots Market & Cafe, Wooster, OH

I've been wanting to visit the Local Roots Market in Wooster for awhile, and this weekend I finally headed south to check it out.  Local Roots is a co-op (although you do not have to be a member to make purchases) which connects local food producers with consumers, and is a lot like a year round farmers market.  

In addition to local foods, like this impressive display of syrups (I bought the Lemon Verbena), there is also a station for food demos, an area for live music performances, and they are currently expanding the cafe for on-site dining.

Local Syrup
On a lower floor was a nice selection of live plants (I loved the stamped labels on these), as well as  handcrafted pottery and other items for sale. 

Fresh Herb Plants for Sale

There was a nice selection of baked goods, natural meats, handmade noodles, and jams & jellies.  The fresh produce selection was reflective of the early spring offerings - ramps, stinging nettles, rhubarb, and some greens.  Each producer's station has a nice placard with their photo and information about them, which I thought was a nice touch.

Stinging Nettle
It's easy to find in downtown Wooster, the storefront is across the street from the library.  There is on street parking, plus parking in the rear (look for the large carrots painted in the spots). 

It's behind The Everything Rubbermaid Store, which you can walk to, and a short walk to a nice new kitchen store, Today's Kitchen Store, which is across the street from Rubbermaid. 

Everything Rubbermaid Store

Plastic Paradise