Friday, February 26, 2010

C.S.A. Shares

Hello all! Happy Friday! Here's hoping for sunny skies and calmer winds, wherever you find yourself this weekend!

My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up today over at Design Sponge. This week I'm discussing C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) shares and why you might want to consider purchasing one from a farm near you.

Got any great weekend plans? I'm going to this lecture tonight on renewing America's local food networks and "food sheds," along with restoring heritage crop species. Very excited about it. Sunday, I'm heading over to my friends Meg and Alisa's place for a haircut in exchange for some of my eggs, local honey, and some home-canned goodies from my pantry. These creative ladies are an absolute riot, so much chortling, sn0rty laughter, and bawdy talk is bound to ensue.

Stay warm! Layer up! Get some sun on your hands or face when/if you can! We need all the Vitamin D and warmth we can get in these last few weeks of winter!

*Image from here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

March Can Jam: Alliums!

I'm participating in Tigress' Can Jam. For the uninitiated, the Jam consists of a year-long, home-based, monthly canning session, dedicated to one ingredient, chosen by one lucky blogger (who signed up for the Can Jam right at the onset of its announcement.) For the month of March, yours truly gets to choose the ingredient that all Can Jam participants will be rendering into some canned delicacy of immeasurable and highly laudable delight (or at least, one hopes...).

I don't know where most of you live, but for me, situated as I am in the mountains of western North Carolina, not much is growing here in March. The farmer's markets don't even start up again until mid-April. Even then, for the most part all you'll find are leafy greens and the occasional radish on the farmer's tables, with maybe a stalk or two of rhubarb, if you're lucky.

Which is why all-things-Allium seemed like the obvious choice for this month's Can Jam. From tender, green scallions, chives, scapes, ramps, and leeks to papery, husky onions, shallots, and garlic, the Allium family is the vegetable world equivalent of the guest who shows up at 6:50 p.m. for the cocktail party that begins at 7:00-by showing up early and motivated as all get out, they get the party started. Alliums are ready for the good times to begin again.

Much like last's month Can Jam ingredient, carrots, Alliums are also low-acid foods. Accordingly, once canned and hermetically sealed into an anaerobic environment, latent botulism spores found on Alliums can become activated and thrive. I don't want that. You don't want that. No one but the botulism spores wants that. But you just can't let them win! You must resist! Refer to Tigress' erudite tutorial on properly acidifying low-acid foods for safe water bath canning here.

From onion chutneys, to scallion relishes, leek confits, garlic jam and so, so very much more, you'll find some Allium that tickles your fancy, both safely and deliciously. You've got an entire family here; surely you'll find at least one family member for whom you don't mind being sat next to at the dinner table!

*Begin posting your recipes March 12-19th. If you need a refresher about posting specifics, refer to the main Can Jam link in the beginning of this post. Let the sulfurous breath begin!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chats With Strangers

I come from a line of very chatty folks. If my Pop is in an elevator with you (you being a complete stranger in this scenario), after passing several floors, it's pretty likely he'll have learned your name, where you're from, and where you're headed. If you should meet my mom in a restaurant, she'll have gained the same information and will additionally part ways with a big, tight hug.

Furthermore, both of my grandmothers are notorious talkers, chatting up the kids, grandkids, and complete strangers with equal vim and vigor. We're a vocal bunch, my lineage. We like to connect, articulate, convey, and inquire (heavy emphasis on the inquire bit). I'm certainly not immune to this genetic predisposition. It's in my blood. If you are ringing up my groceries, I'll make a comment about your cool hat. If you're repairing something in my house, I'll find out your name and how long you've lived in the area. I'm curious about the lives of others, and so, following tradition, I'll chat you up.

Which is how I came to meet Josh and Denise. Josh, with his unmistakable goatee (more on this later) and piled-up dreads, was someone I recognized from the wine and beer department of my local natural food store. One auspicious day, I saw him at a gas station out near my house. Living, as I do, about 20 minutes outside of downtown, I began to wonder if he shared my stomping grounds. And so, the next time I saw him at the natural foods store, I chatted with him. Turns out he does live out my way. Even better, his wife, Denise, is a cheese-maker, crafting exquisite mozzarella cheeses for area stores and farmer's markets. Our friendship blossomed. Josh, it turns out, is a chatty type, too. I'd found "my people."

I would go on to shadow Denise during one of her cheese-making rounds, learning the art of stretching warmed curd, and later profile her in my "Home Dairy" book, the third in the "Homemade Living" series ("Home Dairy" will be available April 2011). Josh, Denise, and their adorable daughter Elora, have attended several dinner parties at our home. Yesterday, I finally made it over to their place. They're goat owners, and chicken owners, and dog and cat and garden owners. My people, again. Lured over by Denise's recent mention of new baby goats, I seized the opportunity offered by a sunny day (finally!) and headed up the steep mountain to their high-altitude mini-farm.

It was an absolute delight. They're a wonderful couple, in love with each other, their daughter, and the life they're forging together. Their menagerie of animals was gorgeous, and friendly, aside from the head-butting antics of their alpha billy goat (who, like Josh, sports a goatee; until yesterday, I never realized that the hairy beard hanging from a goat is where the word "goatee" comes from-seems obvious, but then, I've been known to overlook the obvious).

I look forward to spending more time with my new human and animal friends. Good thing I chatted Josh up that day. Talking to strangers offers the possibility for rewards you might never have imagined. Thanks for the chatty gene, Mom and Pop.

*To see more photos from my visit with Josh and Denise, click here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chickening Out!

As promised, here's a sneak peek at my forthcoming book on chickens, entitled "Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock." I love, love, love this book, and not just because I wrote it. It's such a beautifully presented guide for getting going, and remaining going strong, with "chicken tendering." It's full of hand-holding instruction and delicious recipes developed right here, in my kitchen.

This book, along with its companion in the "Homemade Living" series, "Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know About Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More", hits bookstore shelves April 6, 2010. Both are available online now for pre-order. Then, in Spring 2011, the next two books in the series, "Home Dairy" and "Keeping Bees" will make their appearance. You'll love them. I guarantee it.

I'm so thrilled to offer these books to you. Not only are they beautiful to look at and chock full of tactile information to guide you, they show a real person who pursued these endeavors, messing up at times, scoring victories at others. It's a relatable, approachable, fully human story. I look forward to sharing it with you.

*The rooster above is Elvis, cradled carefully in the ever-capable hands of my friend Lance Graves. Lance and his wife run a fantastic farm here in the Asheville area, the Double 'G' ranch. They also serve as suppliers of organic chicken feed, among other poultry and animal products. They graciously allowed us to photograph on their property last year and have been helpful in so very many ways.


Happy Friday! The sun is shining and it's supposed to get up to 46 degrees today here. It couldn't come any sooner!

My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up on Design Sponge. Today's topic covers habitats for wild pollinators. Absolutely crucial to food crop pollination, wild pollinators need all the love we can give them. The three habitats shown above were expertly crafted by my creative, and attention-to-detail-loving, spouse. We'll position them in varying locations around the property, inviting bachelor and bachelorette pollinators to hang out a shingle and call the place home.

*Be sure to check back later today for a sneak peek at my "Keeping Chickens" book!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Madras Carrot Pickles

The ingredient chosen for this month's Tigress Can Jam is carrots. Chosen by Doris and Jilly Cook, carrots are a wonderful harbinger of spring, when crocuses push their flamboyant heads to the surface, forsythia burst into bloom, baby chicks pip their way into this world, and the snow, that has blanketed the ground for weeks, finally melts. It couldn't come any sooner. I slipped hard on the ice on my driveway three nights ago, whacking my entire left side in the process. I've no beef with snow or ice, per se, only with it's loitering tendencies this winter. Let the wild rumpus begin, (er, come on spring!) already!

Anyway, back to carrots. A naturally low-acid food, carrots need a big bump of supplemental acid in order to be water bath canned safely. As such, I opted to pickle them. This world can never have too many pickles, especially when you live in a pickle-loving household with a pickle-loving spouse. We're always game for Indian-inspired flavors, so a riff on Madras curry seemed in order. Cardamom pods, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, and brown mustard seeds provide the spice while a vinegar/water/sugar/salt brine provides the necessary acid. I used a variety of brightly colored carrots here, rendering the brining liquid a riotous ruby hue. I think it's a much-needed antidote to winter's monochromatic palette 'round here. Enjoy!

Madras Carrot Pickles

The Goods:

-1 pound fresh carrots

-1 1/4 c. white vinegar

-1 1/4 c. water

-1/4 c. granulated sugar

-1 tsp. pickling or kosher salt

-9 cardamom pods

-3 tsp. black peppercorns

-3 tsp. coriander seeds

-3 tsp. brown mustard seeds

-3/4 tsp. fenugreek seeds

-3/4 tsp. cumin seeds

-3/4 tsp. fennel seeds

The Deal:

-Sterilize 3 pint-sized mason jars, lids, and screw rings. Fill a canner or large stockpot with water and set over medium-high heat. Bring just to boiling point. Place lids in a small saucepan, fill with water, bring to a boil, turn off heat, remove from stovetop, and set aside.

-Wash and scrub carrots. Cut each up stalk into 4 inch pieces, quartering any thick pieces. Place into a pot, cover with cold water, and put over medium-high heat. Bring water to a boil and cook for 4-5 minutes. While carrots cook, prepare an ice water bath. Once cooking time ends, immediately plunge carrots into prepared ice bath. Remove from water and pat dry. Set aside.

-In a heavy, medium stainless-steel saucepan over medium-high heat, combine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and remove from heat. This is your brining solution.

- Place hot jars on top of a kitchen cloth on the counter. Into the bottom of each jar, place 3 cardamom pods, 1 tsp. black peppercorns, 1 tsp. coriander seeds, 1 tsp. brown mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, and 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds. Pack carrot sticks into jars on top of seeds, packing contents close, but not terribly tightly. With the help of a canning funnel, ladle brining solution evenly over carrots, reserving ½-inch headspace. Use a non-metallic spatula to remove any trapped air bubbles and wipe rims clean with a damp cloth. Place on lids and screw bands, tightening only until fingertip-tight.

- Using a jar lifter, place jars in canner. Process 30 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Remember to adjust for altitude.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And the Curried Winter Squash Chutney Goes To...

Allison, of Whatever It Needs To Be. Congratulations Allison and a big, warm, hearty thank you to everyone else for gamely playing along.

There's only two more giveaways remaining until Canning & Preserving publishes. It's hard to fathom. I held a completed, bound copy last week for the very first time. It's a beauty, folks. My publisher does not disappoint!

I'll be back the first of March with another tasty offering. Hope to see you all back here then!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Poached Perfection

My husband is an exceptionally gifted cook. Not content to simply throw food together, he crafts and curates and tests and re-tests and experiments and then crafts, curates, tests, and experiments some more. He makes his love for me manifest at each meal. His heart, his sentiments, evidence themselves in rhapsodic fish stews, robust chana masalas, and exquisitely poached eggs, shown above.

This was my Valentine's breakfast, in his own words ("poached", if you will, from his Facebook page, wherein he chronicles his more noteworthy culinary exploits): "Poached eggs (from our chickens) on rye toast, and pan friend fish cakes made from jack mackerel, topped with a tarragon hollandaise made with Ashley's homemade butter and yolks from our girls' eggs, served alongside a salad of micro-greens and a vinaigrette made with locally produced lavender vinegar."

It was heaven. Sheer delicious poached perfection. He's been honing his poaching skills lately and has concocted a technique so otherworldly, so transcendent, that it has reduced me to asking for poached eggs every day. "Huevos Poach-erous!" I cry, when asked what I'd like to breakfast. "Poached eggs on anything!" I've taken to gleefully declaring on many a recent morn.

Because he is a kind man, a generous man, a good man (who not only knows who my favorite jewelry designer is, but takes the time to order me, in advance, a pair of earrings he knows I'll love-because he has my style down to a friggin' science-for cupid's heyday!), he has agreed to share with the world his poaching prowess. If you follow these steps, I can all but guarantee that pillowy, creamy, poached perfection will be yours.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think it's time for some poaching to transpire in the kitchen...

From the chef:
Perfect poached eggs for two

-In a covered 12" saute pan, boil about 2 inches of water with a pinch of salt in it.

-Carefully crack 4 eggs into little custard cups, condiment dishes, or something similar.

-When water comes to a boil, it's time to put your toast in the toaster.

-Add a healthy tablespoon of malt vinegar (or whatever kind of vinegar that you like) to the water.

-Turn heat to low, then carefully add the eggs to the water one at a time, dipping the lip of the cup a half inch below the surface and rolling the egg gently into the water.

-As soon as all the eggs are in, cover the pan and turn OFF the heat.

-Set the timer to desired doneness. I like it at about 3 and a half minutes, when the yolk is beginning to set, but it is still a little runny. Cook a little less for runnier yolks, and up to 5 minutes if you want a fully cooked yolk.

-Carefully remove eggs one at a time with a slotted spatula or slotted spoon. Let the water drip off a bit, then place the egg on a piece of the finished, buttered toast.

-Add some salt and pepper, or your favorite hot sauce if you like, and enjoy.

Love Potion #9

Hello everyone. I hope your weekend was grand. Ours was half spoiled/half bliss. More about that in another post, though.

First, I thought I'd share my column from this past Friday's "Small Measures with Ashley" on Design Sponge. While Valentine's Day may have passed, there's no reason you can't still whip up this Love Potion, crafted by my talented herbalist friend, Heather Houdek. It's delicious and has the added perk of making your kitchen smell like a Parisian perfumery as it cooks, owing to the inclusion of rose petals.

The perfect, heart and belly-warming antidote to winter's frigid grasp, brew some up and share it with someone you love.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Whetting Your Appetite

Here it is, folks! A preview for my book "Canning & Preserving: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More." I had the immensely good fortune of working with a truly talented team, from my editor, copyeditor, proofreader, creative director, photographer, graphic designer, and beyond. The book is a gem, and I'm not saying that merely because I wrote it. It's exactly the sort of book I would've liked to have had in hand when I first fired up the canner.

I've posted below the official description of the book. It is available now for pre-order and will released April 2010, along with "Keeping Chickens: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock" (look here for a preview of that book next week). Both books are part of my "Homemade Living" series, and will be followed up with "Home Dairy" and "Keeping Bees" in April 2011. The first two books can be pre-ordered now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's Books, and through your local independent book store, via Indiebound.

I hope that you enjoy reading, and learning, from them as much as I enjoyed penning them. Cheers!

"Canning and preserving is back! Finally, here's a book for those who have wanted to try their hand at canning and preserving but have been too intimidated by the massive tomes on the market and disappointed by the simple recipe books that lack the practical, necessary hold-your-hand basics.

This book, part of the launch of the new Homemade Living series, guides you through all of the fundamentals while also explaining to you the why's and how's involved. Learn the tools of the trade, so you can have your kitchen stocked and ready. Get the lowdown on important safety tips. Follow carefully researched Basics on hot water bath processing and pressure canning, complete with step-by-step photos. Find out the Science of Salt and Sugar and why they're so crucial. Find out how to select the best possible ingredients, favoring seasonal, organic and local options when possible.

Learn the essentials of three topic-specific primers: Pickles, Relishes & Chutneys; Jams, Jellies, Butters & Curds; Whole Fruits & Veggies. Each primer offers need-to-know information, troubleshooting tips and at least two Canning Classic recipes with variation ideas.

Then explore the author's unique spin on canning and preserving with her own roster of kitchen-tested seasonal recipes. Each season offers recipes for a curd or butter, chutney, jam or jelly, sauce, and a pickle or relish.

The book features numerous profiles of real people who embrace canning and preserving for different reasons. Interesting sidebars such as Hosting a Canning Party and Packaging & Gift Giving Tips bring newfound skills to life. Gorgeous photos of farmer's markets, fruits and veggies growing on the vine, and completed recipes provide a feast for the eyes."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Happiness Is a Warm Log

The places you live end up changing you. There was a time when my day was defined by navigating city traffic, either on my bike or via the myriad metro rails of our nation's capitol. I frequented dive bars and coffee shops and had the "Washington Post" delivered. I visited art galleries and museums with a fair degree of regularity. I had a French lesson every Tuesday night with a friend from Ivory Coast at a hipster bar. I wore lots of jersey knit fabrics. I worked at Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods, and several Mom & Pop natural food stores. In short, I was a city slicker, an urban maven, a metro minx.

While I'm only 20 minutes from downtown Asheville, my time is now largely spent writing on my laptop, tossing scratch to my chickens, making my own butter, and stoking my wood stove. Finding myself at home for 4-5 days at a stretch without leaving the property is a common thing. Sure, I still meet up with friends for cocktails, attend experimental music performances, and grab a cappuccino at one of Asheville's many fine coffee shops, but I'm much more likely to be found reading a homesteading book, starting seeds for my spring garden, baking a batch of poundcake cupcakes with brown butter frosting (make. them. now.), or having a beer surrounded by one husband, two dogs, and five cats.

I'm also much more likely to get excited by things like well-seasoned, properly split firewood, cut to the right length and delivered in measurements reflecting an actual full cord. We've been plagued by bad firewood deliveries, for years. I'm not prone to hyperbole; that's an absolute fact. The firewood we've had brought to us has been poorly cut, overly moist, terribly long, and woefully short of its advertised measurements. Until now. A well-written ad on Craigslist had me at "True Stacked Cords-128 cubic feet-delivered in a trailer."

Words like that call to me like a lighthouse in the fog. In my previous life, it might have been a cute pair of strappy shoes, or a fashionable handbag. Now, it's firewood. Firewood so well cured that it ignites as soon as I set it on top of coals. Firewood that burns steadily, furiously, all night long. Firewood that I'm happy to schlep, haul, stack, or otherwise toil over.

Like I said, the places you live end up changing you. I've been converted by firewood. Happiness, to me, is a warm log.

*Asheville/WNC folks: If you'd like to revel in firewood awesomeness too, hit up Dustin Ford. His business is "Woodstock Firewood" and he can be reached at 828/400-8684. His mom, Sandy, takes the calls. Just tell 'em I sent you.

Oh, Sugar

My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up on Design Sponge. Today's topic, "Infused Sugar." Super simple, super sweet, you can whip these babies up in minutes. Infuse them for a week and you've got the perfect go-to Valentine's gift for all the lovelies in your life next weekend.

*Image from here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Small Measure Can-Do Contest, Round 8

It's the first Monday of a new month, which means one thing: another Small Measure Can-Do Giveaway. For those of you new to the contest, or to this blog, I'm staging a giveaway each month from now until the release of my book, Homemade Living: Canning & Preserving with Ashley English. Each month one lucky person will win an artfully crafted canned item featured in the book and made by yours truly.

From my pantry to yours, this month I'll be giving away a jar of Curried Winter Squash Chutney. Though winter squashes aren't technically "in season" this time of year, they are available in abundance, as these dense beauties keep quite well, curing and aging to perfection once they're harvested before the first autumn frost. I love making a Ploughman's (Plough Person's?) lunch out of this chutney, partnering it up with a wedge of sharp cheddar, some puckery pickles, several apple slices, a hunk of hearty bread, and a hard cider. And, even though I don't eat chicken, I could see it marrying well with some roasted poultry.

This chutney is the perfect foil to drab, blustery winter days-packed with spice (cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, fenugreek, coriander, mustard seed, and cumin seed!) and sweetness (raisins, currants, and apples, oh my!), it imparts warmth and inspiration, hinting at the thaw on the horizon. O-kay, maybe that's stretching it, but, it's good and hearty and robust and all of the other adjectives used to describe things that feel substantive and satisfying.

To enter: Simply leave a comment to THIS specific post by telling me your favorite way of cooking or serving or simply eating winter squash. Your comment MUST link to your particular blog or web site (and therefore to your contact information) or include your e-mail address. Otherwise, I won't be able to get in touch with you if you win! Any entries that do not include some way of getting in touch will be disqualified.

Deadline: Comments must be received by midnight EST February 15th, 2010. Odds of winning will depend on the number of eligible entries received.

Other rules:
1. You must have a mailing address in the United States of America (sorry international folks!).
2. Only one entry comment per person.

How it works: Each comment will be assigned a sequential number. The winning number will be selected from a random number generator, so there'll be no favorites, simply a game of chance.

Keep coming back each month to see what new tasty item is up for grabs!