You may know Chevy Chase writer Cathy Barrow from her colorful blog, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen or from the classes on canning and curing she has taught around Washington. Now she’s finished a more ambitious undertaking: her first book, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry (out November 3), a user-friendly guide to stocking a larder with homemade jams, pickles, charcuterie, cheeses, and more. (Sample: “Too busy to can? Jams and preserves made from frozen fruit work equally well and taste just as good.”)
Here Barrow talks about the benefit of building a pantry, tips for beginners, and her favorite places to shop for ingredients:
When did you begin canning and preserving?
I learned when I was very young from my grandmother and mom. But I really dug in five or six years ago, and then it became a bigger process. I took on pressure-canning; I learned to cure meat and make cheese. I came to see preserving as a bigger idea—not just making jam but making foods I would use to cook dinner.
What started you on the path to building your own pantry?
The first thing was reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It got me thinking about putting up food in season and eating it later. It seems like such a sensible idea now; it’s kind of funny I hadn’t thought of it before.
What are some of your favorite local farms for buying produce?
In the summer, I’m very fond of Norman’s Farm Market (with roadside stands in Chevy Chase, Bethesda, and Rockville). They have a really nice selection at very reasonable prices. I go religiously to the Broad Branch Farmers’ Market (5701 Broad Branch Rd., NW). There are only five or six vendors, but Nob Hill Orchards has some of the most extraordinary fruit I’ve ever had and Redbud Farm grows beautiful organic food, like haricots verts that I freeze like mad for winter.
Any tips for making storage space once you start down the preserving path?
A lot of preservers I know keep jars of food under their bed or on the top shelves of linen closets they never go into. But if you stash away your preserves, make sure you keep an inventory. Otherwise it’ll be strawberry season and you’ll [already] have 15 jars of strawberry jam.
Do you ever shop at grocery stores?
Absolutely. I go to Giant and Safeway. In season, you’ll see a lot of local produce at both of those. I shop at Trader Joe’s—you can’t beat their prices for citrus. In the winter, I make a lot of citrus preserves or limoncello.
There’s a notion that preserving requires a lot of time and equipment. Can you be a part-time preserver?
I may have the zombie-apocalypse pantry, but you can start with very few things. You need a heavy Dutch oven, like Le Creuset; a stockpot; and tongs. If your pot isn’t big enough to hold quart jars, preserve in pints. If you have those things, that’s all you need. You can MacGyver your way to preserving without any special equipment.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to start preserving?
Preserving is science, not really cooking. If you’re the kind of person who thinks a recipe is a suggestion and you can riff, then it’s not the way to approach preserving. On the other side, the very act of preserving can make you a more creative cook. Rather than just saying, “Here’s this strawberry jam—I better find some toast,” you think about how to turn it into a great pan sauce or filling for a cookie. Preserving is just a gateway.
This article appears in our November 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
There is nothing quite like a cookie. The classic mood-elevating, yes-you-are-special food gets its due every December 4, also known as National Cookie Day. To celebrate, try one of these five recipes. Too tired to bake? We suggest you head immediately to Teaism, home to perhaps the best cookie in town.
If you’ve been searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, look no further than this recipe from pastry chef Tom Wellings. It’s based on the one he used when cooking at the now-closed Maestro at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner.
The toughest thing about a trip to Northside Social coffee shop in Arlington? Trying to resist great baked goods like these chocolate-gingerbread treats from former pastry chef Rob Valencia.
Looking for something a little healthier? Try these blueberry-almond-flax breakfast cookies from our fit pals over at the Well+Being blog.
When she started her blog in 2006, Deb Perelman’s goal was just to publish the dish instructions she was working hard to perfect—she had no idea her online recipe site would become the 5-million-visits-a-month tour de force that is Smitten Kitchen. Today she’s sort of the Barefoot Contessa to urban hosts and hostesses, a self-taught home cook making magic happen in a small New York City kitchen.
Six years, a husband, a son, and a new cookbook later, Perelman is embarking on a 16-city book tour and seems both humbled and excited to meet her readers and the community of commenters who make her site such a distinctive chronicle of foodie-ism.
We caught up with Perelman right before the release of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook to discuss the new recipes in the book, dining out, and favorite ingredients.
The cookbook is almost all new recipes, right?
I wanted the book to be of value for people who have been reading the blog all these years. I think it’s about 85 percent new recipes and 15 percent from the site, and even those look new.
How do you decide a recipe is book-worthy?
I still cook seasonally at home, so I’d say, “Okay, I’m doing three things with pumpkin in the fall.” Sometimes I didn’t know what recipes I wanted to put where, and I would shoot e-mails around to my editor and my agent, and they would sometimes help me decide. I was also looking for an additional level of originality or longevity for the book. If something was super seasonal, I might have avoided it for the book but put it on the blog instead.
By Mary Yarrison
The Prime Steak burger at Bourbon Steak commands a lot of attention, and for good reason--it's outrageously delicious. But if you haven't tried the turkey burger--topped with a generous heap of guacamole, along with pepper jack cheese and harissa aïoli--you are seriously missing out. It's juicy, packed with flavor, and just way better than any turkey 'wich has a right to be.
How does executive chef Adam Sobel create a patty with such winning juiciness and flavor? " We sauté dried apricots with onions and sage and then grind the mixture in with the turkey." Another tip: "Just don't overcook it. You know it's perfectly cooked when a meat thermometer reads around 155 degrees. Then if you let the burger rest, it'll be perfectly juicy." He suggests topping the patty with avocado or guac, just like they do at Bourbon Steak. "I don't know what it is about it, but it just works." The restaurant uses a whole wheat bun, but Sobel says, "Personally, I'm a sesame fan."
See the other entries in our monthlong A Burger a Day in May series.
This Wednesday, Chef Robert Wiedmaier, the man behind Marcel's, Brasserie Beck, Brabo, and Mussel Bar, will stop by the Washingtonian offices for a live online chat about best practices for cooking up a flawless T-Day feast.
The conversation starts at 11 AM on Wednesday, November 16, but you can submit your questions now, here.
Popsicles are appearing in restaurants, at farmers markets, and at Williams-Sonoma in the form of an ice-pop maker that promises them in less than ten minutes. We gave it a try.
The photos accompanying the Zoku Quick Pop Maker ($49.95) show star cutouts, zigzags, and artfully arranged fruit. We didn’t expect to replicate these fancy pops (what happened to freezing a wooden stick in a cup of grape juice?), but the machine makes them doable.
Looking to plant something a little more exciting than tomato and basil? We asked local chefs with gardens of their own for easy-to-grow ideas.
Rob Weland, chef at Poste in DC’s Penn Quarter, suggests planting salad greens: “They’re extremely easy and come back quickly when cut correctly.” He especially likes the slightly bitter flavors of dandelion, kale, and geranium, and he grows mesclun and mâche for their softer textures.
When it comes to herbs, Firefly chef Danny Bortnick favors lemon verbena: “It smells great and adds great flavor to salads and even cocktails.” He tends more than 70 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs in his 450-square-foot home garden.
Perhaps the most avid gardener is Frank Ruta, chef/owner of Palena in DC’s Cleveland Park. He plants seeds he’s saved from year to year, with some strains dating back to his childhood. In early July, he plants shelling beans and Italian heirloom squash.
You can save and replant heirloom seeds by collecting them from ripened vegetables, washing and drying them, and then storing them in airtight containers in a cool, dark, dry place until you’re ready to use them next season.
The brilliant thing about British supermarket chains is that they put mini stores on almost every street corner, meaning organic arugula and Oyster Bay wine are just steps away no matter where you are. And it also means that pre-made lunch options are a cinch, whether you’re a fan of char-grilled vegetable couscous for £1.59 (about $2.50) or edamame-and-butter-bean salad for a mere £1.99 (about $3.15). Getting a wholesome lunch in England is an inexpensive cinch, even if you’re confronted with Cadbury’s chocolate at every checkout line. Getting lunch in DC? I don’t have a window in my office, but if I did I’d be looking out at a Staples, a Potbelly, and a Corner Bakery, none of which seem to be tempting me with the siren call of whole grains and exotic vegetables. Yes, there’s always my hometown import, Pret A Manger, but my monthly spending there is starting to rival my mortgage, and the staff give me the same kind of judgmental looks that bartenders give alcoholics.
For maximum flavor and juiciness, Landrum swears by grinding your own burger meat. Any Cuisinart food processor or simple hand-grinder does the trick. The golden ratio is 80 percent fattier chuck-eye steak from a market such as Whole Foods—you can pre-order a whole portion from a chuck roast—and 20 percent leaner flank or skirt steak. Always use whole cuts, not scraps or pre-cubed meat.
Landrum says it's important to keep both the grinder and the meat cold so the fat doesn't melt out. Cube the steaks and freeze the beef and tools for about 20 minutes, or until a layer of ice spreads across the meat. If using a processor, pulse it quickly for a rough chop—avoid the puréed texture of grocery-store patties—or guide it through the grinder without pushing. The coarse texture will give the burger what Landrum calls a "meatier, more primordial satisfaction."
Onion blossoms look a lot like dandelions and have a mild onion-like flavor. Photograph by Phoebe ConnellyThe ingredient: Onion blossoms. These green-and-white dandelion-like flowers come out in late spring. Farmers cut them off the tops of onion plants to encourage growth in the bulb underground. The flavor is similar to an onion, but milder. They should be available for two or three more weeks.