Thursday, October 24, 2013

Animal, Vegetable, Jalapeno!

The current selection for this round of Cook the Books, the online foodie book club, is a wonderful non-fiction narrative, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by bestselling novelist Barbara Kingsolver, husband Steven L. Hopp, and daughters Camille and Lily. We will be reading this book until November 25, 2013, after which time bloggers may submit a post that outlines their thoughts about the book and a dish that they have cooked up which is inspired by its pages.

I am one of the co-hosts of Cook the Books, and I picked this title for us all to read as I really enjoyed it when it first came out in 2007. I have long been a Kingsolver fiction fan and some of the elements in this book, like the author's interest in small family farms and an appreciation of seasonal foods, were themes in her earlier novels, especially Prodigal Summer.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the tale of one year spent diligently adhering to a food philosophy that limited items on the Kingsolver-Hopp family table to ones that were raised, grown or foraged on their own or in their local community. This deliberate food experiment started after they moved from their long-time home in Arizona to an old family farmhouse in Kentucky. I really enjoyed reading and now re-reading their forays into intensive gardening, turkey raising, cheese-making and canning, as well as Hopp's sidebars about farming practices, nutrition and biological topics, as well as Camille's wonderful recipes. The prose also relates the family's "pain" when figuring out how to cut out non-local edible delights like coffee, chocolate (the horror!) and citrus, not to mention how to deal with monotonous eating during the larder-scarce month of March.

While I have had a vegetable garden for most of my adult life and enjoy canning, freezing and drying my harvest, I am not as devout a locavore or self-reliant grower as I'd like to be, so reading this book was good motivation to get back into some canning. We have had a warm autumn here in upstate New York and only just had a hard frost last night. I had been cutting up and freezing most of my bodacious 2013 pepper harvest through the past several months, but Kingsolver's book gave me the kick in the butt to can up some pepper relish.

I only had one jalapeno pepper plant, a gift from a gardener friend, but it really pumped out the hot peppers!  I just cleaned out my pepper plants from the garden this past week and took the opportunity to make some Jalapeno Relish with these pungent little beauties and the last of my garden tomatoes.

I mostly followed this recipe though I didn't have enough cilantro from the garden to make the 2/3 cup called for in the recipe so my jalapeno relish is redder rather than greener. I also made sure to bring the relish to a boil before packing into the hot jars (omitted from the recipe in the link), which is an essential step for home canning. I had enough jalapeno harvest from this one prolific plant for two half-pint jars and a little extra which I refrigerated and which we have "relished" on pasta and roasted potatoes. The relish has lots of flavor and a nice kick, too!

I also pulled in some of the other pepper harvest before our frost this past week and got a gift of some other peppers from a friend. The sweet peppers in this rainbow photo are on the left. The ones on the right are some fire-in-the-hole hot peppers that require gloved hands and a taste for heat: Hot Paprika (small squat red ones), Padrone (green poblano type), long red cayenne, yellow Lemondrop, and those green-to-orange Paper Dragons, which are ferociously hot like habaneros.

As noted above, the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle round for Cook the Books continues through November 25, 2013. Feel free to join our book club regulars by submitting a post of your own. Details back on the Cook the Books website.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Qrunch Burgers Review

There's a new kind of gluten-free frozen veggie burger on the market, actually four different kinds, if you count the different flavors, that celiacs and other gluten-free diners can enjoy: regular, Spicy Italian, Green Chile and Sweet Curry. The Denver-based Qrunch Foods company makes these tasty quinoa burgers which are also free of nuts, eggs, dairy, and corn and sent me a coupon for a free box to sample. Unfortunately, I could not find a store which carried the product in my area (Saratoga County in upstate New York), so they kindly shipped a package with the four flavors of their Qrunch burger to my house.

Finding a package full of dry-ice packed Qrunch burgers on my doorstep after a long day's work was a stone cold delight. I don't buy many convenience foods, but I do appreciate them for nights when a quick meal is needed (I have to watch those Detroit Tigers in the October baseball playoffs!).

That is a Sweet Curry Qrunch burger atop a cheese quesadilla, topped with the last of my garden tomatoes chopped up with celery, parsley and cukes and a dollop of herbed Greek yogurt. A bit of arugula in vinaigrette on the side, a few olives and orange slices, and that was a bodacious meal.

We've also enjoyed the other Qrunch burger flavors and I really like the way they hold their shape and texture during cooking. Some other veggie burgers we've tried, including our own homemade veggie burgers, tend to fall apart when you flip them during the sauteeing, and these Qrunch burgers stay nice and firm.  Add in the nutritive powers of the quinoa with all its protein and amino acids, and you've got yourself a fantastic quick and healthy meal option.

Overall, I highly recommend this product to others. Dan and I both loved the four flavors, though the Sweet Curry remains our favorite. I still have my coupon for a free Qrunch burger which I would be happy to mail to the first person who claims it in a comment below. Just be sure there's some way I can contact you to get your shipping address. Qrunch burgers are sold in Wegman's and Whole Foods and some others which you can search on the Qrunch Foods website, so if you have access to these markets, be sure to check them out.

**Note: As written above, I received four free boxes of Qrunch burgers in the mail from the Qrunch Foods company, but was not obligated to write a review for this product. As always, my comments are completely my own.