Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine

CHRONICLING THE JOYS OF FOOD AND WINE IN THE CHARLOTTE METROPOLITAN REGION

Four ways to preserve summer tastes from your garden

 reprinted with permission from brandpoint

Your backyard garden was a huge success this year - you grew a ton of fresh food, which not only saved you money at the grocery store but also ensured your family ate nutritious, great-tasting fruits and vegetables with every meal. But now that the growing season is coming to a close, you might be wondering how to make the abundance of ripe produce in your fridge last. 

Canning is the sensible next step for anyone who loves to garden and wants to continue enjoying the many benefits of the hobby throughout the winter months. 

Simply put, canning is a method that stops the natural spoilage of food. To help you get started, the experts at Tractor Supply Company have compiled a list of pointers that will allow you to hold on to the flavor and nutritional value of your homegrown harvest. 

 

Getting started 

The initial cost for home canning is minimal and the supplies you do need, like Ball jars, lids and seasonings can be purchased at an affordable cost from Tractor Supply. 

To begin water bath canning, you will need some basic equipment: 

* Ball jars with lids and bands 

* Large stock pot with jar rack 

* Rubber-tipped tongs for gripping the jars in hot water 

* Wide mouth funnel for filling jars with foods to be preserved 

 

Tips for beginners 

For your first home canning project consider starting with something simple, like a marinara sauce made from leftover tomatoes or berry jams and jellies made from strawberries, blueberries or even apples. When selecting your produce, try to pick ones that don't show signs of bruising.

One of the most common canning mistakes among beginners is not getting jars to seal properly, which is often the result of a jar that's either not clean enough or overfilled. To ensure your jar is sealed, wait at least 12 hours and then simply press your finger into the center of the screwed-on lid-a properly sealed lid will not spring up when you remove your finger. If a lid does not seal within 24 hours, the contents can either be reprocessed or refrigerated.

 

Water bath canning 

Water bath canning is a shorter, lower-temperature canning process that works best for foods with high acidity, such as apples, berries, cherries, pears and peaches. Water bath canning works to kill the bacteria that causes food to spoil in the first place, but also creates airtight seals that prevent mold and bacteria from contaminating food down the road. 

When it comes to water bath canning, the process is simple. Start by cooking then blanching the desired canning contents. This will help maintain your food's nutritional value and texture. Next, submerge your jars and lids in water and bring to a simmer. Set bands aside. Once removed from the water, use a funnel to fill the jars with the food you'd like preserved before placing the lids back on and putting the jars back into the water. Allow the jars to process in the boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove the jars and allow to completely cool for 12 to 24 hours. 

 

 Alternative methods 

If you're interested in preserving your harvest but are looking for a less involved process, you may want to consider storing, freezing or drying your fruits and vegetables. 

 * Storing - Certain fruits and vegetables like apples, potatoes, winter squash, garlic, onions, carrots and cabbage can be stored for months in a basement or root cellar. You simply need to know the storage requirements of each. For example, root crops such as beets and carrots like cool, moist conditions and can be stored in perforated plastic bags in the basement. Potatoes like cold, moist conditions and can be stored in perforated bags in the refrigerator. 

* Freezing - Freezing your produce is often the easiest method. Some vegetables, such as tomatoes, can be cut up into chunks and frozen in freezer bags. Most vegetables, though, need to be blanched before freezing. To blanch vegetables, dip them in boiling water for a few minutes and then allow them to cool. 

* Drying - Individuals that live in hot, dry climates like the Southwest have the option of drying fruits and vegetables (even herbs) outdoors on drying racks. However, most home gardeners need to use an oven or a dehydrator to dry produce. Dehydrators are specially constructed to maintain the right temperature and air movement necessary for proper drying. If you don't want to invest in a dehydrator, you can use an oven. Simply set the oven temperature on low and leave the oven door ajar to allow for air movement. And remember to be patient - it may take all day to properly dry some vegetables and fruits. 

 

Tractor Supply carries all of the supplies needed for canning, storing, freezing and drying fruits and vegetables. During the month of October, the rural lifestyle retailer will be hosting a fall Farmers Market where customers can shop crafts, produce and other local goods. To browse canning recipes, visit Tractor Supply's Pinterest page. 

The Artisan Behind Artisen Gelato

 

By Brianna Melanson

Hundreds of years ago, the indigenous people of Ecuador would climb to the top of the inactive ‘Imbabura’ volcano and come down with blocks of ice and ‘frailejon’ or paramo straw. Then they would lay a bronze pot, called a paila, in a bed of the straw. After crushing the ice, they would mix it with natural fruit juice and then stir the mixture in the paila with a wooden spoon until it became a rich, creamy consistency. They had created gelato. Ramón Riofrio was taught this special culinary skill when he was just 12 years old from his grandfather. Ramón found a way to use today’s technology to help him make the same delicious gelato at his Matthews, NC gelato shop, Artisen.  

Gelato is the European way to say Ice Cream. The gelato recipe that he has been using for the past 35 years is closely guarded by his sweet wife Marcia, a few family members, and trusted, longtime friend and business partner Daniel Araujo. Marcia works in the store front and happily helps you sample a bunch of the flavors before making your tough decision. Artisen offers 24 flavors of gelato for sale at a time, but they have the formulas for more than 80 unique flavors that Ramón can rotate each week.  Blackberry, passion fruit, mango, coffee, and chocolate are the flavors that have been on the Artisen menu since day one. The latest popular flavors are raspberry chocolate, lemon, mandarin, and tiramisu. As with all creative minds, Ramón constantly invents new flavors to introduce at the shop. He’ll wake up at 2am and write down the idea, then the next morning he brings the flavor to life. Once his family and friends approve, it goes into the rotation for sale.  Ramón explains, “Behind every product is innovation and an investigation on how to do it better.” 

Ramón was willing to share a couple of secrets that make his gelato unique and taste great. First, what makes the gelato taste so luscious when there is no dairy cream used?  It’s all in the way Ramón breaks the crystal, or the top layer, of the ice. It has to be cut in a very specific way in order for the gelato to be perfectly smooth and creamy. Otherwise, it would be ice with flavor, like a coarse snow cone.   Second, why does the mango gelato taste so sweet? Ramón only buys the 100% natural mango puree from Ecuador. Mango from Ecuador are very robust in their tropical flavor and aroma because the equator runs right through the middle of the country. The sun’s intensity ripens the fruit to tasty, sweet, juicy perfection 

All Artisen gelato is vegan-certified, made with coconut milk, and free from common allergens; it is gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, treenut-free, egg-free, dye-free, and soy-free This dietary profile coupled with the great taste attracts a broad clientele, including those with allergies or dietary restrictions. It is gratifying to Ramón when he sees how happy a child with allergies is when their parent tells them they can have anything they want. Recently he started making waffle cones from scratch to accompany the gelato. Now Ramón can say with certainty and confidence what the ingredients are in his crisp cones. Artisen has partnered with the Charlotte Allergy Society, who takes a trip there once a week for gelato, and they offer kosher products for the Jewish community. 

To maintain this high-quality standard, the team is very selective on where they get their ingredients. The vendors must have the same mission and strict rules as the Artisen team does. The strawberries and tangerines are sourced from local farmers, when fresh fruit is available. Most of the exotic fruit comes from Latin America, and the mango is, of course, always from Ecuador.  Daniel says, “It’s as if you get a mango, peel it, and take a bite.”  These strict culinary guidelines and simple ingredients mean that Artisen gelato delivers a bright, refreshing flavor in every creamy spoonful. Professional French chef Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.” Ramón has always been inspired by this particular quote and strives to provide the highest quality gelato for his customers 

In the front corner of the Artisen shop, there is a historical set-up showcasing a scene of how the gelato would be traditionally made by the Ecuadorian people.  When scheduled in advance, guests can see Ramón make the gelato in the bronze paila exactly the way his grandfather taught him. Every month or so, a group of forty people from one of the local retirement homes enjoys an outing to Artisen for this very special presentation. You too can share in this experience; give Ramón and Marcia a call to schedule time. 

Artisen, open every afternoon and evening, offers a welcoming and relaxing, spacious spot reminiscent of a cozy coffee shop. Customers are encouraged to stay a while, enjoying their gelato and the free WiFi.   In the near future, Artisen plans to introduce coffee and espresso offerings to compliment the gelato. People travel from all over Charlotte and the surrounding areas to savor this incredible, hand-crafted gelato. Artisen’s popularity, stemming from success in their storefront, is now encouraging Ramón to expand into selling pints of the gelato in local grocery stores.   Check the website www.artisengelato.com or Facebook page @ArtisenGelato for availability near you 

Artisen is sure to become your favorite gelato spot this summer. 

 

301 W. John St. Matthews, NC 
704-804-8160 
Mon-Sat: 12pm – 9pm 
Sun: 12pm – 8pm 

Farm-to-Table: The hot food trend you can enjoy without leaving home


reprinted with permission from Brandpoint


If you’ve eaten out recently, you’ve probably noticed many of the menus feature locally-sourced ingredients. The farm-to-table movement continues to flourish at restaurants throughout the country.

In fact, rather than the exception, it’s become the expectation. According to the National Restaurant Association, farm-to-table is quickly becoming the new norm. Diners are so attracted to the freshest fare possible, that it’s inspiring some restaurants to start their own gardens—on a rooftop, terrace, or simple outdoor plot. Hyper-local culinary concepts like these represent the top trend on the annual “2018 Culinary Forecast” report.

Take a cue from this hot trend and start your own farm-to-table concept garden at home! Just imagine plucking ruby red tomatoes and rich green basil straight from your garden to make a farm-fresh, scrumptious caprese salad without ever leaving home. An at-home take on the farm-to-table trend can easily be translated to a convenient “garden-to-table” concept in your own backyard. Growing your own at home will elevate your cooking, and you’ll feel good about being able to produce your own food while lowering your grocery bill (and certainly save by not dining out as much).

No matter the size of your garden space, you can grow fresh foods that are readily available right at your fingertips, even if you just have a small patio or balcony. What’s more, some of the most popular produce to eat is also easy to grow.

The experts at Bonnie Plants offer some easy-to-grow, space-saving suggestions to encourage a garden-to-table trend at home.


Caged Peppers
Try popular and versatile Green Bell, a heavy yielder of large fruits and a good all-round pepper for slicing and stuffing. Or, spice up your recipes with jalapeño chile peppers, which yield a bountiful harvest.


Caged Tomatoes
Whether you choose big, juicy slicers or sweet cherry-sized snackers, caged tomatoes are easy to grow and offer endless cooking opportunities. Determinate varieties of tomatoes are container favorites because the vines are relatively compact yet bear a productive harvest. Or, create your own container garden using tomato varieties especially bred for small spaces.


Strawberries in Hanging Baskets
Sweet, juicy strawberries add loads of flavor to salads, dressings, drinks, and desserts. Think you need a plot to grow a productive strawberry patch? Think again. Maximize space with Bonnie Plants’ strawberries in hanging baskets, which are everbearing and produce cascades of berries throughout the growing season.


Herbs in Combo Pots
Want to raise the flavor profile of any culinary dish? Fresh herbs are your best bet. Herb gardens can be grown in compact spaces, which means you can fit your favorites in no matter how much space you have.

For example, a kitchen herb combo container featuring sweet basil, cilantro, and curled parsley is a powerhouse pot that’s both practical and pretty. You can set it right outside your door for convenient access and continuous harvest. Herbs are ready for harvest upon purchase and will keep growing and giving all season long.

Bonnie Plants offers more than 250 varieties of vegetables and herbs, from tried and true classics to some unusual varieties you may not have tried, such as Holy Basil, Tepin Chili Pepper, Barbeque Rosemary, Little Napoli Patio Roma, and many more.

Once it’s time to harvest, have fun exploring new recipes and experimenting with home-grown, fresh-picked produce that will shake up your supper and then some. For more inspiration for easy at-home gardening, visit bonnieplants.com.



Caprese Salad

This recipe for a classic caprese salad is sure to hit the spot as a light lunch or satisfying start to dinner.

Ingredients:
• 1 fresh tomato
• 1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese
• basil leaves
• olive oil
• balsamic vinegar
• salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Slice tomato in ¼-inch thick slices. Do the same for the mozzarella. Alternate layers between the tomato, mozzarella, and basil. First, a tomato slice, then a mozzarella slice, then a few leaves of basil; begin and end with tomato. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or your favorite Italian dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fast Facts for Navigating the Cooking Oil Aisle

1802_juicy-morsels_oils.jpg

courtesy Family Features


Corn may be the top crop in Iowa, but many consumers are not aware of corn oil’s heart-healthy benefits and its versatility in the kitchen.

When cooking for your family, selecting the best ingredients for a heart-healthy meal can be challenging, and there is one ingredient that is often the core of any recipe: cooking oil. However, navigating the cooking oil aisle can be confusing, so this guide breaks down everything the home chef needs to know about cooking with oil.


Heart-Health Focused
Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is important to your heart health, and when it comes to impact on cholesterol, not all cooking oils are created equal. Next time you find yourself reaching for extra virgin olive oil at the grocery store, consider swapping it out for corn oil, which a study shows can help lower cholesterol two times more than extra virgin olive oil. Corn oil also has nearly five times the amount of polyunsaturated fats compared to olive oil, and these heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats help reduce cholesterol levels in your blood. Making a conscious effort to use ingredients like corn oil is a smart, heart-healthy choice for your family.


A Gut Decision

When it comes to lowering your cholesterol and staying heart healthy, go with your gut. Corn oil contains cholesterol-blocking plant sterols—plant-based micronutrients that help block the absorption of cholesterol in your gut and work to prevent bad cholesterol (LDL) from entering the blood stream. Corn oil contains nearly four times more cholesterol-blocking plant sterols than olive oil, three times as many as vegetable oil, and nearly 1.5 times more than canola oil.

Sourcing the Best Ingredients

Today, more and more families are paying close attention to where their food comes from and prefer locally-sourced ingredients. Opting for local food can give you more confidence in the ingredients you use in your family’s meals. Mazola® Corn Oil, for instance, is produced from corn in the Midwest, including corn grown in Iowa. A lot of olive oil is imported from the Mediterranean region, while most canola oil comes from our friendly neighbors up north in Canada. But, did you know that you can get heart-healthy corn oil that’s grown and made right here in the U.S.?
 
Multipurpose Functionality
Whether you fancy yourself a top-notch baker, grill master, or are just starting out, each ingredient selected plays an important role in obtaining the meal’s desired taste. Extra virgin olive oil has a strong flavor that can change the taste of the foods you cook. Corn oil is an all-purpose cooking oil with a neutral taste that lets the true flavors of your dish come through, making it the perfect ingredient for heart-healthy dishes like pan-fried salmon or in a salad dressing over a bed of spinach.

Corn oil can also handle the heat in the kitchen because of its high smoke point (450°F), making it a great, all-purpose cooking oil for everything from grilling and sautéing to stir frying and baking. This is key for crafting quality meals at home, because once a smoke point is exceeded, the food flavor and nutritional value are negatively affected.