I’ve been thinking a lot about carrots lately. Or I should say rethinking. While carrots dug from the ground or bought at the local farmer’s market, leafy tops and dirty crevices still on show, are often sweet and delicious and … Continue reading
My mother, a full-blooded Italian-American, loves corned beef and cabbage this time of year. In fact, of the dishes I remember her making many times when growing up, the big pot of corned beef and cabbage is the only one that comes to mind that doesn’t involve red sauce or Italian spices. Thus, when Charcutepalooza’s third challenge was to brine our own brisket for corned beef, I immediately thought of my mother. Unfortunately she is five hundred miles away, but I still have a pot of brining brisket in my fridge at the moment in her honor.
Interestingly, I haven’t encountered much corned beef and cabbage in my past decade-plus of inhabiting the very Irish city of Boston. And this despite that my husband is a musician who regularly plays most of the Irish pubs within a three mile radius (which is many more pubs than one who has not spent time in the Boston area might imagine). I also never noticed it on a menu when I accompanied him on an Irish tour a few years back, where we enjoyed meals of mostly lamb stews or shepherds pie with beef at a dozen or so pubs and restaurants around the west and south of Ireland. So I did a little research and discovered that corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish dish. In fact, Ireland provided much of the meat for cured – or “corned” beef – that was then shipped to England, France and the English colonies from the 1600s to the mid 1800s, often at the expense of the nutrition of the Irish. Some Irish, when they arrived in America, began eating corned beef because of its associations with luxury in their home country coupled with its modest price in their adopted country.
Come to think of it, the corned beef that I have most recently eaten has been in a reuben sandwich from a Jewish deli – and might have been labeled as brisket or brined brisket and not “corned beef”. However the term “corned” refers to the Old English word for “particles” or the salt that was used to preserve the meat, so any salt-cured meat could be called thus. Yum, reubens. I’ll have to make at least one with my cured brisket. Which will be ready in three days and twenty two hours. I am already counting down… Sorry you won’t be able to taste this, Mom!
Corning – or wet-curing – brisket is easy. I heated the salt, sugar and spices to help them dissolve in the water. Note that I heated them in a smaller pot and then cooled that mixture to add to the larger pot with the meat. I could have done in all in the same pot but this way I can start curing sooner because less has to cool before I add the meat.
Once the brine was assembled and cooled, I submerged a four pound brisket into the pot.
And then put a bowl on top to keep it submerged. I will let this sit for four days in the fridge and then will simmer this in a pot with fresh water and spices for about three to four hours, adding cabbage, carrots and onions to the broth in the last half hour or so. Then I will call my mother and tell her that I am thinking of her.
I plucked this very carrot – this rather large Atomic Red carrot grown from seeds purchased from the http://www.rareseeds.com catalog – from beneath my six inches of leaf cover in my community garden this past weekend.
Saturday I stopped by the garden for the first time in a few weeks. We’re still getting our semi-weekly farm share, and I have been stocking up in my make-shift root cellar, so I had not needed to tap into the last hardy rows of kale, leeks and carrots left at the garden. But I was having a little holiday get-together and I thought that these red beauties would make a nice addition to my veggie plate.
Sure enough, the ground was frozen rock solid. The air temp was above freezing, however, so I plucked the last of the blue lacinato kale (also known as dinosaur kale) leaves, which were doing surprisingly well having weathered a few weeks of cold weather. If you plan to leave your kale in the garden past the frost date, I read that it is best to pick the leaves in weather that is above 32 degrees because the thawing allows the water to redistribute and ensures better storage and taste. After a few weeks of freezing and thawing while living in the garden, the leaves looked as healthy as they did in October. The ground was too frozen to dig up the stalks, however, so I guess those are staying in til spring cleaning.
I also pulled the leaves back that were covering the roots of the row of leeks that I left in the ground. I was pleased that I could get my shovel in where my leaves had been insulating the dirt and the leeks were healthy. Same with the carrots – the leafy green tops were just starting to die down beneath the mound of leaf cover, and it was easy to dig out a few Atomic Reds to show off that evening on my snack table.
Verdict: the leaf cover experiment worked!
It was hot yesterday. So the last thing I wanted to do was boil anything on the stove. But yet I had picked up my weekly Red Fire Farm farm share and still had carrots, peppers, cukes and other assorted veggies left over from my garden and previous weeks of bounty, some of which were starting to look worse for wear. What to do to make sure none of this goes to waste?
I did some creative freezing (which I’ll detail in a later post) but was also inspired by a delicious little side of curried pickled veggies from Tupelo in Cambridge that my beau and I treated ourselves to a week ago. But since I wanted to keep my heating of things to a minimum, I first gathered all of the jars of pickles that were sitting in various stages of emptiness, in the fridge. I thinly sliced cucumbers and added them to my favorite brine, making sure there was enough liquid to cover them. Those I returned to the fridge as-is, to sit for at least a few days until I sample them.
I had one large jar of mostly brine, most likely from a pickling experiment earlier in the season, that tasted mostly of vinegar and salt, with some mustard seeds and peppercorns floating in the bottom. I hate to throw anything away – even pickle brine – so I strained the liquid and then added it to a sauce pan where I had toasted about a tablespoon of curry powder for a minute or so. To the curry-brine I added a tablespoon of honey and a little water, only because the vinegar was so strong to begin with. If I had liked the taste, I might have added equal parts distilled white vinegar and water. While I was waiting for that to boil I cleaned and par-boiled the beets and carrots that I intended to pickle. Peppers, cauliflower, onions would all work well in this, although not everything would need to be parboiled. (OK – truth here: I zapped them, covered in warm water, in the microwave for a few minutes just to take away the bite.) Once the veg were al dente I stuffed them back into the pickle jar and covered them with the boiling brine. I let the jar set out until it was room temp, and then I put it into the fridge for storage. I’ll wait a few days to taste these as well.
So: no wasted pickle brine, no wasted veg, and (almost) no cooking.
In passing the other day, an acquaintance mentioned using green tomatoes to make curry. In truth I don’t recall much else about the conversation, but with a second frost coming this week, I knew it was time to pick the last of the crop. I ended up with about 2 pounds of green tomatoes and a vague vision of what I was going to do with them. Roast them like tomatillos, then cook them like a fresh ripe tomato marinara. And add curry. And the pork I’ve had defrosted for the last few days, but was too busy to cook up. And it will be good. I was right.
Green Tomato Curry
I halved and roasted (at 400 for about 25 minutes) about 2 pounds of unripe green tomatoes. Meanwhile, I turned on the slow cooker on high and toasted 1 – 2 T of curry powder in it with nothing else to start to bring out its flavor, stirring every once in a while. After 15 minutes I added a thinly sliced onion from the farm share. Once the tomatoes were quote soft, I added them to the slow cooker and then just about covered them with 2 cups of chicken broth (leftover from risotto a few days prior). I let it get good and hot – maybe another 5 minutes – and then added some thin boneless pork cutlets (from our meat share). I put the top on and let it cook for 2 – 3 hours.
This was a thinnish sauce, perfect for serving over rice. (I also steamed some carrots and butternut squash to add to the dish – if I was making more of this and cooked it on the stove top, I would have added it right to the sauce.) The pork was so tender – the best result I’ve had yet with this particular cut from our meat share. I definitely think this experiment is worth re-creating and adapting to what one has on hand. I wouldn’t say I could taste the green tomatoes, it was just a perfect, healthy and local vehicle for the curry, pork, squash and carrot.