Monthly Archives: August 2017

Salsa for Canning: The Veg Box Chronicles

We’ve been steadily plugging away at using our CSA produce, but now that we’re approaching peak harvest, the volume is increasing faster than a family of two can chew. Given how the stressors of life earlier this summer led to some wasted veggies, my “we can’t waste anything” attitude has become a little more militant – so I’ve been mentally dividing our weekly hauls into four categories:

  • Foods that are best eaten fresh (eggplant, yellow squash)
  • Foods that can last for awhile (carrots, onions)
  • Foods that can be frozen with a little effort (berries, zucchini (shredded))
  • Foods that can be preserved with a lot of effort (tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, etc)

We’ve been roasting the “best fresh” foods and eating them with so many different grilled proteins and slow cooked grains, that my tummy is always full of yums. (The current favorite is brunch: slice an assortment of squash-like veggies and onions, arrange them on a cookie sheet a generous sprinkle of salt, and roast for an hour or more until they are fully caramelized – then pile them onto cheesy grits and top with an egg.)

We’ve been cycling through what can last for awhile, including the grocer’s sack of carrots. The first harvested are pulled from the bag and included in almost every meal – peeled as “noodles” under a stir-fry, shredded in cole slaw or salad, chopped as a mirepoix base for an adaptation of our favorite Instapot chili, quick-pickled to eat alongside bratwurst, and baked into a delicious frosted cake.

We’ve divided the “good frozen” foods into best-for-baking portions, and stocked the freezer with enough ingredients to keep us in quick breads for two months: so far we have 1 cup measures of shredded and drained zucchini and whole blueberries, and I’m looking forward to drying apples in the fall.

Yesterday, we turned the tomatoes, tomatillos, green peppers, cubanelles (in place of the called-for jalapenos,) garlic, and onions from this week’s box – along with some cilantro and a few extra toms to make up the right volume – into a gallon of salsa that we preserved for winter use.

Some of my most vivid childhood memories are standing on a chair at the kitchen counter of my grandmother’s house, the youngest of the “old enough” cousins tasked with preparing vegetables for canning. We shelled peas, snapped beans, peeled the skins off tomatoes, cut corn from the cob, and ate as we went – while avoiding the splash of boiling liquids from different hot pots on the stovetop. I don’t have a family recipe for tomato salsa, and I don’t believe anyone ever made a tomatillo variety, so I try new ones every year.

Having had some luck with a few of Mel’s recipes earlier in the season, we opted for her Best Homemade Salsa for Canning recipe, halving it for the volume of ripe tomatoes we had on hand. Seasoning to taste, we used half as much sugar as she did, and double the amounts of cumin and cilantro. I’ll try this recipe again, but will roast the garlic first – the overall recipe has a beautiful blended flavor, but biting into a mince of mostly raw garlic is a little over sharp. Using 5 cups of tomatoes and adjusting the other quantities to match yielded us four pint jars and a small bowlful for yesterday’s lunch.

Having never made tomatillo salsa, I found a well-reviewed recipe from Food.com, and gave it a whirl. We had 7-1/2 cups of tomatillos, so adjusted the other quantities accordingly for a yield of 3 pint jars, 2 half-pint jars, and a small bowlful for lunch.

Modifications: at the end of the 20-minute simmer the liquid was too lemony for our taste, so we added a tablespoon of sugar and more cumin, then let it cook for another 10 minutes before adding a palmful of cilantro and giving the whole pot a whizz with the immersion blender to turn it into a much smoother consistency. Next time, I’ll cut the lemon juice by 1/3, too (or sub in a little distilled vinegar if needed for the proper preserving PH).

We have plenty of salsa for the winter plus a few jars for gifts, and a day of remembering childhood – for $14 at the grocery store, and one week’s vegetable box. That’s quite a yield.

Tomato S…omething

Painted in Waterlogue

“We should make pulled pork,” she said. “There’s all that pork shoulder in the freezer.  And you should make favorite slaw from that cabbage.”

Ah. She wasn’t really jonesing for pulled pork; it was a ploy to use a young cabbage that had arrived in our CSA box. Still, I didn’t disagree. I never disagree with a request for pulled pork. But it was opening weekend for my new musical—which came directly on the heels of production week for my othernew musical—so we didn’t make the time to make the pork. I’d do it early on a weekday, and give it all day to sit in the slow cooker.

Except, well, there wasn’t all that pork shoulder in the freezer. Or any pork shoulder. There was a package of ground pork; there were several packages of ground beef, and some steaks; there were chicken breasts—she’s been doing most of the grocery shopping lately, and has been stocking up when things are on sale. That’s why I also found 10 pounds of butter, and quite a bit of ice cream. I’m not complaining about any of this; I’m just reporting what I found. Six quarts of really good stock, and bags of bones, shrimp shells, and vegetable clippings from which we’ll make more one day. And, although there was a package of bacon, too, nothing in the freezer was pork shoulder.

I also took from the freezer an unfortunately unmarked container of something red. I don’t know if its label fell off or it had never been labeled, but after it thawed overnight in the fridge and I tasted it, I still wasn’t quite sure if it was tomato soup or tomato sauce. (If the former, it had been made without cream; if the latter, without meat.) It was going to be the basis for dinner, but I wasn’t sure whether to make grilled cheese sandwiches or pasta.

Then the CSA delivery came, bearing purple carrots, green peppers, red onions, and some tender young eggplants. I chopped a big pile of each and sweated them in a big skillet, and set a pot of water to boil.  When the vegetables were softened, I poured in the tomato-something and let it simmer gently. There was some leftover sausage in the fridge, so I chopped and added it, along with a hunk of parmesan rind. If the red stuff had once been tomato soup, it would be soup no longer.

Dinner was wonderful. We haven’t had a bowl of pasta-with-sauce in quite a while. It felt like a treat.

Planning is good. Preparing is good. Stocking-up is great. Organizing the freezer once in a while is essential. Proper labeling is a fine and glorious thing. And figuring out what to do with a mysterious package—well, it might be better if there weren’t such mysteries, but the figuring-out was fun.

It’s Thursday, so the grocery store fliers will be in today’s mail. I’ve got a bunch of cole slaw, so I hope somebody’s running a special on pork shoulder.

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The eyes have it

So I made this carrot-tomato soup over the weekend, and we enjoyed it for dinner on Monday – along with grilled cheese sandwiches and a green salad. Fine, fine comfort food that seemed worth a review.

I couldn't get the texture smooth enough in the food processor, so he whirled an immersion blender through the last of it in the pot to remove lumps and bumps. The soup is very thick, even though I subbed in cream for the yogurt (since ours was still in the machine at finishing time), but beautifully spiced with basil, cracked black pepper, and the cumin-seasoned roasted veg.

If we hadn't been eating cheese-stuffed sandwiches along with (provolone, cheddar, and cranberry Wensleydale inside pumpernickel), I would have sprinkled shaved or crumbled cheddar over the soup as a mix-in, for a little sharpness over the top of the rest. As it was, the soup a great dipping consistency for our sandwiches.

I would make this again, albeit with a bit of something green thrown in – Garlic scapes, or some shredded cooked spinach – for a bit of contrast, and a bit of stock for thinning it out. And I can imagine tossing in a bit of roasted turnip, parsnip, beet, or potato when those come in season.

Do you have a favorite puréed or other root vegetable soup recipe?

My Family’s Favorite* Pickles

 

A jar of our Fave Dill Pickles, before delivering them to a friend on Saturday night.

Some of my earliest memories as a little kid are from the vegetable garden at my grandparents’ house. It seemed as large as a football field to me, and when our shadows started to get long in the grass, Gram would lead us cousins down the rows with an enormous colander.  We would pluck beans, peas, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, and tomato for dinner – filling our tummies more quickly than the dinner basket, which was a great strategy to keep us from complaining of hunger.

My relatives preserved their own food the whole time I was growing up. Fresh food that we grew ourselves was tastier (and cheaper) than store-bought, so the pressure canners got passed around and everyone had a large collection of long-used and well-loved mason jars that got passed from house to house. I remember my mom carrying jar after jar of corn scraped fresh from the cob with small, bright pieces of red pepper down the stairs to our cellar while I sat at the kitchen table, well out of her way.

When I moved to the city on my own, I took on the work of hot-water-bath canning high acid foods on my own – sourced from pick-your-own orchards and farms, or the generous overflow from my hobby-farming uncles. By this point I’ve put up hundreds if not thousands of pints of tomato sauce, salsa fresca, spiced applesauce, apple butter, fruit jams, and sour dill pickles. The pickles are my absolute favorite.

I couldn’t tell you whose recipe this was to start with, but it’s pretty simple:

  • The night before canning begins, scrub your pickling cucumbers to remove dirt and the spiny growths from the nubbly outer skins. Toss the washed cukes into a colander in the fridge to dry.
  • The morning of canning, prep your cukes:
    • Slice off both ends
    • Sort the vegetables by size, and practice stuffing an empty jar, so you know how many of each size will fit into your jars.
  • Set up the hot water bath and sterilize jars, lids, and rings. While they are sterilizing,
  • Make a brine and bring it to a boil, following these ratios:
    • 1 cup of vinegar
    • 1 cup of water
    • 1 tbsp kosher salt
    • 1-1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • Prep your seasonings. For each jar:
    • 1 head of fresh dill or 2 tsp of dried dill seeds
    • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
    • 1 clove of garlic, peeled but whole
  • Once the jars are sterilized, remove them from the canner. Into each jar, place the seasonings, then the cucumbers, then ladle in the hot brine (leaving 1/2 inch of headroom). Seal the jars and dump them back in the water bath for 10 minutes. Let cool, check the lids for a vacuum seal, label with the date, and place them into a cool dark cupboard to mellow for at least six weeks.

 

*If I’m 100% honest I’ll admit that most of the family prefer sweet bread-and-butter pickles to the dill ones. I despise those fake pickles, so am calling these the favorites.