Dark Days Challenge: Week 15

Breakfast is becoming the norm for my weekly Dark Days meal. Weekend mornings are a little slower paced than my weeknights have been the past couple weeks. Saturday morning I made one of my new favorite breakfasts: biscuits and tomato gravy.

I’m kinda new to tomato gravy, which is surprising. It’s traditional Appalachian, what I call “country cookin’,” fare. I’ve lived here all my life and had plenty of meals prepared by my grannies or someone else’s “maw maw” where Appalachian cookin’ is the standard cuisine. Since I’ve known him, Jeremy has gone on and on about tomato gravy. He couldn’t believe I’d never had it. Late last summer, in the middle of high tomato season, I searched the internet and found a recipe for tomato gravy on this blog.

It was a pretty basic recipe, but OMG, when I took that first bite… I’m hooked. I modified the recipe a little bit, after my father-in-law’s recommendations based on how his mom used to make it. She could cook like nobody’s business. All from scratch and all pretty much not by recipe. Just a little of this and a little of that, and anything that lady cooked came out unbelievable.

Here’s the recipe:

Tomato Gravy
bacon or sausage grease plus butter or oil to make 2 – 3 Tbsp. of fat in a skillet
2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. sugar or honey
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of fresh tomatoes, diced and seeded (or 1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes)
1/2 cup milk, plus more as needed

Heat fat in the skillet and sprinkle in flour to make a roux. Blend with a spatula to smooth out lumps. Let roux brown slightly. Add milk slowly, stirring to combine completelly. Simmer until thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes and crush slightly with the spatula. Blend completely and simmer until rethickened, about another 2 minutes.

I crumbled about 2 tbsp of sausage into the gravy for a little extra somethin’. My father in law said his mom did this with either crumbled up bacon or sausage for more flavor.


We had biscuits, sausage and tomato gravy. In the biscuits, the flour, shortening and baking power were from Kroger. (My local source for flour has been out of commission this winter–health problems 😦 ). The milk was from Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, VA. The sausage was from White Oak Ridge Farm in Phillippi, WV. The tomatoes were canned by me last summer, and either came from my garden or were from Crihfield Farms in Jackson County. The sugar is organic Muscavo sugar from far away.


Dark Days Challenge: Week 14

Sorry, no picture this week. Again, we were halfway done eating before I remembered. I was hungry.

Spare Ribs from Almost Heave Farm in Monoroe County
Green beans canned last summer by MIL and grown by FIL in Clay County
roasted potatoes from Spangler’s Greenhouse in Monroe County

I basted the ribs in a mix of molasses, vinegar and dijon mustard. None were local.
I tossed a teaspoon of butter in the beans from Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, VA
The potatoes had olive oil and Emeril’s Essence on them.

Things are getting crazy at work, I might have to take a break from the challenge this week or next. We’re in the homestretch, though. This past weekend, we had a heatwave of temps in the 50s that had everyone emerging from hiberation and washing a lot of vehicles. This weekend, I got a bit of spring fever myself, and found myself SO looking forward to that first fresh batch of spring greens or asparagus. This past year, I’ve been trying to eat more locally, but I’ve noticed it’s gotten really hard the last couple weeks. I am just so tired of sweet potatoes and winter squash. Hopefully, it’s not much longer before the first crops make their way back to the farmers’ markets around here.

Tigress’ Can Jam: classic pickled carrots

Ironically, right before the February ingredient was announced, I used the last of my carrots that I grew in my garden last summer. They lasted from September until January in a Debbie Myer “Green Bag” in my fridge. Well, now I have some pickled carrots to last me a little longer.
I looked at A LOT of recipes. I found some that were for quick pickles that looked really tasty, but I was wary of adapting the recipe for canning. One, in particular, called for rice vinegar and red chilies. Sounds yummy, but not suitable for canning as rice vinegar is only 4% acidity.
So, I settled for a recipe from the Naitonal Center for Home Food Preservation’s plain jane pickled carrot recipe. Nothin’ fancy, but nobody’s getting food poisoning off these, either. The reason I joined the Can Jam was to get some great recipes, so I’m hoping you guys have some fabulous canned carrot variations for me to try.
Getting ready.
Slicing on a slight bias made them a little fancy.
The finished product made for really pretty jars.
Pickled Carrots

2¾ pounds peeled carrots (about 3½ pounds as purchased)
5½ cups white distilled vinegar (5%)
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons canning salt
8 teaspoons mustard seed
4 teaspoons celery seed

Yield: About 4 pint jars

1. Wash and rinse pint canning jars; keep hot until ready to use. Prepare lids and bands according to manufacturer’s directions.
2. Wash and peel carrots well. Wash again after peeling and cut into rounds that are approximately ½-inch thick.

3. Combine vinegar, water, sugar and canning salt in an 8-quart Dutch oven or stockpot. Bring to a boil and boil gently 3 minutes. Add carrots and bring back to a boil. Then reduce heat to a simmer and heat until the carrots are half-cooked (about 10 minutes).

4. Meanwhile, place 2 teaspoons mustard seed and 1 teaspoon celery seed in the bottom of each clean, hot pint jar.

5. Fill hot jars with the hot carrots, leaving 1-inch headspace. Cover with hot pickling liquid, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids.

6. Process in a boiling water canner 15 minutes for under 1,000 feet elevation, 20 minutes for 1,000 to 6,000 feet, or 25 minutes for over 6,000 feet, for hot-packed jars in a boiling water canner. Let cool, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.

Allow carrots to sit in processed jars for 3 to 5 days before consuming for best flavor development.

I had about 1/2 a cup left over after I filled up 3 pints, so I put them in the fridge. I can’t wait to try them this weekend. I figured I’d let them soak for a week to get the flavor going. We’ll see how they turned out.

Dark Days Challenge Week 13: Things I Love

The hubs’ and my Valentine plans were thwarted Saturday night by Mother Nature. We were planning to follow our tradition of staying in, making Rachel Ray’s “You Won’t Be Single for Long Vodka Cream Pasta” and creme brulee, watching movies and drinking some several bottles of wine. But, he was sent to Marshall County to cut fallen trees out of roads and out of the way of power lines. So, I found myself home alone on Saturday night, but I decided to make the most of it.

I bought some Sierra Nevada Porter, put on some Santana and went to cooking. I made the Winter Squash Carbonara I planned on making last week, and man, was it worth the wait.

Butternut Squash Carbonara (from Closet Cooking) — I LOVE this blog, btw.

1/2 pound pasta
6 slices of bacon (cut into 1-inch pieces)
2 cups squash, cut into small pieces (I used blue hubbard)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 Tb. sage, chopped
about 1/3 cup of turkey or chicken stock
pepper to taste
2 egg yolks
2 Tb. heavy cream
1/4 parmigiano reggiano

Cook the pasta. Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a pan. When the bacon begins to brown, add the squash, garlic, sage and pepper. Toss to coat in bacon grease. (I added the turkey stock here, because I thought the squash was still too hard. I cooked it in the stock, covered, for about 15 minutes to soften it up a bit.) Mix the egg yolks, cream and parm in a bowl. Drain the pasta, but reserve some of the water. Add the pasta to the pan and toss. Remove the pan from the heat and wait for the sizzling to stop. Add the egg mixture and toss to coat. Add a bit of the pasta water, if needed. Garnish with more sage and serve.

So, by myself, I sat down to a FABULOUS dinner, which I loved. Drank a delicious Porter (which complimented the sweet and salty of the carbonara perfectly, I might add), which I loved. And listened to Santana Abraxas, which I love. It was a LOVELY Valentine’s Dinner, nonetheless.

Afterwards, I crawled up on my bed, put in a movie and snuggled up with my cat, Alley.

The pasta was made from flour from Reed’s Mill Flours and eggs from Breezy Knolls Farm, both in Monroe County. The blue hubbard was purchased late last summer at the Capitol Market. (The farmer who grew it actually sold it to me. I can’t remeber what farm, but the guy was quite a character.) The bacon and the turkey in the turkey stock were from White Oak Ridge Farm in Phillippi, WV. The garlic was from Spangler’s Greenhouse in Monroe County. The eggs in the sauce were also from Breezy Knolls Farm. The sage was from Kroger’s, but was organic. The cream and the parm were from Kroger’s, but wasn’t organic.

Dark Days Challenge: Week 12. The Homestretch.

We’re in the homestretch. It’s a good thing, too. Things are starting to get a little crazy at work. Pretty soon, Jeremy will be subsisting on frozen pizzas as my work days get longer and longer until March 13th.

This week, I was planning to make Winter Squash Carbonara. But a number of things came up over the weekend, and the only meal I actually cooked was breakfast on Saturday morning. That’s okay, though. It was delicious and it was local.

Eggs, sunnyside up, from Breezy Knoll Farm in Gap Mills, WV.
Bacon from White Oak Ridge Farm in Phillippi, WV.
Whole wheat toast from Krogers. Boo.
Butter from Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, VA.
“B3” jam I made last summer with blackberries picked in Prenter, WV.

“B3” Jam (Balsamic Basil Blackberry Jam)

6 cups crushed blackberries
1 box powdered pectin
8 1/2 cups of sugar
4 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

Add crushed berries, balsamic vinegar and basil to a deep stock pot on high heat. Add pectin and stir well. Stir mixture constantly until it comes to a full rolling boil (one that does not stop when stirred). Add sugar all at once and return to a full rolling boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim away any foam. Fill prepared jars immediately, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Place two-piece lids on jars and process in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes (under 1,000 feet) or 10 minutes (1,000 to 5,000 feet elevation). For further canning instructions, go to the National Center for Home Canning’s website. Yield 11 to 12 pints.

I got the idea for adding balsamic vinegar and basil to the jam after trying the cobbler recipe in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle. The cobbler didn’t turn out. There wasn’t enough crust. But the taste was so interesting, I decided to throw some basil and balsamic vinegar into the jam I was making. It’s subtle, and I don’t think you could identify the taste if you didn’t know what it was, but it definitely tastes different.

Counting down the days until March 14th

March 13th. Midnight. Sine Die.

That’s latin for “the last day.” The legislature adjourns from its regular session at the stroke of midnight on the 60th day of it’s session. It’s quite a spectacle if you’ve never seen it. At any rate, I’ll be burning the midnight oil the last few weeks leading up to Sine Die. It’s pretty much like I get up in the morning, go to work, come home, go to bed, start all over again. Poor Jeremy survives on frozen pizzas for two weeks straight.

Incidently, March 10th is the day my WVU Extension Service garden calendar that I should seed tomatoes and peppers and all that stuff. I can seed my radishes outside on the 24th.

I’ll so excited because this is what I got this week:

I don’t know how it’ll work, but it was only $20 so figured it was worth a shot.