Author Archives: Her

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.

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 the 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 groths 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. 

Pendulums Swing: The Veg Box Chronicles

Last week I wrote that we hadn’t done much cooking or eating in two weeks. We have more than made up for that lack in the last week!

  • Last Monday, we cleaned out the fridge of as much about-to-be-too-far-past-prime-for-eating produce as we could for the Salmon Feta Soba Salad.
  • Tuesday we had dinner with friends in town and came home too late to do much with our veg box other than tuck it into the fridge. It contained:
    • 3 pints of Blueberries
    • 1 head of Cabbage
    • 3 pounds of Carrots
    • 20 pickling Cucumbers
    • 8 small Eggplants
    • 2 heads of Leaf Lettuce
    • 1 enormous bunch of Parsley
    • 3 green Peppers
    • 8 summer Squashes
  • Wednesday was a lovely night for cooking.
    • I combined two-thirds of the carrots with some onions and garlic from our pantry and roasted them for a carrot-tomato soup.
    • He used all of the Peppers plus most of the Eggplants and Squashes (plus onions and tomatoes from the pantry) to make a Disney-inspired Ratatouille., served over grits with a fried egg for dinner.
  • Thursday was a late night for him, so I enjoyed left-overs and started the annual summer scrubbing of the kitchen cabinets.
  • Friday was for preserving.
    • I turned the 2 largest Cucumbers into Amy Pennington’s sesame quick pickles and preserved the rest as my family’s Favorite Dill Pickles (3 beautiful pint jars of them).
    • While a set of salmon filets were grilling away outside, he tossed the last of the prior week’s Romano Beans into the pressure cooker as an adaptation of this recipe from the New York Times – and they remind me of a stewed tomato and french bean dish my grandmother used to serve when I was a little girl.
  • Saturday we went to a dinner party, bringing a jar of those lovely pickles as a hostess gift, and a tray of hoisin-glazed grilled shrimp for the appetizers.
  • Yesterday I assembled the carrot-tomato soup from Wednesday night’s carrot roast, made a tart from the prior week’s pint of Sour Cherries and the last handful of blueberries (plus one of the bags we froze on Tuesday night) – while he made a salad with the last of the prior week’s Kale, Friday’s quick pickles, and some peppers, tomatoes, and herbs to go with a grilled steak for dinner, and did all of the work for more homemade yogurt.

Sadly, the parsley did not survive its overnight in the fridge without water, but the cabbage has been reserved for a batch of coleslaw – we’ll make it tonight to have with pulled pork on Friday – and the lettuces are washed and dressed for bag lunch sandwiches this week. We still have some eggplant, squash, and carrots, along with some potatoes from the prior week. I’m hoping that the Potatoes will become Hasselbacks to go with next Friday’s dinner, and that the Eggplant will become a lovely dip to take with lunch as an afternoon snack. Carrots last for a while so I’m not worried about those, but I am fast out of ideas for Squash.

What have you been cooking? What would you do with 4 little summer squashes that aren’t zucchini?

Sweetening Sorrow

Our beautiful, loving, feisty old girl left us forever last week. We miss her dreadfully, but are grateful that she's no longer in pain.

Part of grieving our friend has meant not eating very well (or very much), and being not at all creative with food. Last week's CSA delivery included pickling cucumbers that have not yet been pickled, squashes that have not yet been squashed, and lots of kale and lettuces that have been chopped and added to dishes that have gone mostly uneaten. We've pledged to take better care of ourselves this week, and have already started by drinking some of our nutrients, via smoothies.

I'm not much of a health foodie. Juice bars are not my thing. But I love milkshakes and things resembling them – like Starbucks frappucino. He's a bit more conscious of feeding me good-for-you ingredients than just milk + ice + fruit purée, so has been experimenting with ingredient combinations. Today's train-ride take-along is a tangy, tart-sweet blend of:

  • Banana
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam (homemade)
  • Greek Yogurt (homemade)
  • Honey
  • Ice

After some trial and error, we found that fruit purée is a more reliable punch of flavor than whole fruit chunks, so I made up two bottles* of it on Sunday night.

Fruit Purée (adapted from Giada De Laurentis' recipe)

  1. Make a ginger-rosemary simple syrup: combine 3 tbsp chopped ginger, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until every grain of sugar has dissolved and the liquid is clear. Remove from heat, add a 3" sprig of rosemary to the pot, cover, and let stand until cool. Strain the solids, reserving the liquid in a jar.
  2. Place 3/8 cup of ginger-rosemary syrup in a food processor with a pound of fresh fruit. (I used strawberries and pineapple.) Pulse until beautifully smooth; ladle into jars.

It took more time to wash the food processor (twice) than it did to make the purées, and they feel like decadent ingredients. Totally worth it.

* He claims that getting the purée out of slender-necked bottles is more trouble than it's worth. Next time I'll store it in jars.

The Veg Box Chronicles OR What You’ve Missed

FullSizeRender (3)

“There’s not enough creative spontaneity in my life,” I said. “I’ll take on a serialized writing project,” I said. I am reminded that “[Wo]man plans, and God laughs.”

We received a box for week three. It had good stuff in it, including a handful of garlic scapes that are still healthy and fresh-looking in their fridge hang-out. We cooked and ate well. A box for week four was delivered to our house, but we were away on vacation so our friends devoured the red and white cherries, fava beans, and plentiful greens. We rushed home early from our trip to a care for a very sick cat and didn’t think to eat food for three days, let alone check in with friends about what they ate while we were gone.

After a lengthy stay in the hospital, our oldest lady cat is somewhat more stable and resting comfortably at home between doses of her two strongly sedative anti-seizure medicines. Yesterday morning I ventured out to the grocery store to replenish some of what my sister calls our “weirdo foodie basics” like eggs, hummus, and lemon curd. And upon returning home, I found a pair of CSA boxes on the stoop.

The Take:

  • Carrots
  • Celtuce
  • Cherries, Red
  • Cherries, White
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Squash
  • Lettuce, Green
  • Lettuce, Red
  • Romano Beans
  • Spinach Greens
  • Spring Onions

Between jet lag, a dramatic inability to sleep for fear the kitty will hurt herself trying to get to us, and all of the post-traveling housework, recipe inventions are going to be light this week, but I have every intention of making these three dishes:

  • A quick bread stuffed with bananas, apples, and cherries;
  • A cherry clafoutis because I last made one in 2008, not long after I found the Smitten Kitchen blog;
  • A stir-fry using up the last leftover kielbasa from our Independence Day grilling, some garlic rice that our housesitters left in our fridge, and an assortment of vegetables: spring onions, carrot thinnings, garlic scapes, a firm green squash, a bit of shredded spinach. (I’ll make a sauce like this one, flavored with herbs from the garden.)

That covers tonight and tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll be more rested or the cat will be content with less cuddle time by the weekend when it’s time to make a few jars of my spiced pickles. If so, it would be nice to try a simple onion soup or this recipe for Romano Beans with Stewed Tomatoes (since I picked up a package of bulgur at the market). Our yields are growing ever more cost effective, but I don’t want a single thing to go to waste this week.

  • Amortized weekly cost of CSA = $53
  • Additional produce purchased = $6.47
    • Cremini Mushrooms (8 ounces, $2.49)
    • Limes (4, $1.00)
    • Romaine Hearts (package of 3, $1.47)
    • Sweet Corn (2 ears, $0.18)
    • Tomato (1 large, $1.33)

#EatWhatYouGrow: Rhubarb

I have been thrilled about this particular spring, with its chilly mornings and the need for jackets all the way til the first of June. The bleeding hearts, forsythia, hosta, hydrangea, ivy, and rhubarb in my garden have been busting out new leaves and vines and blossoms (where appropriate) everywhere. But with a few truly scorching days wilting my new bean shoots and the potted tomato plants on the deck this last week, it’s obvious that rhubarb season is drawing rapidly to a close. In the space between a few rain drops, I harvested the last of my stalks yesterday afternoon; the woodchuck who lives in a den burrowed into the stone cliff behind our house can have the little nubbins that are left.

IMG_5569

6 tender stalks of rhubarb, the last of our harvest for 2017

But what to do with them? We’ve already made:

  • Rhubarb Compote (with a few extra bits of fruit he likes thrown into the pot for other flavors), spooned over his birthday breakfast waffles;
  • Rhubarb Scones, with every imaginable spread, several weekends in a row;
  • Rhubarb Snacking Cake, because I trust every recipe Deb Perlman has written, especially those she describes as easy;
  • Rhubarb Honey Sorbet, specially made for some loved ones diet-managing their diabetes;
  • Chocolate Chip Rhubarb Banana Bread, because (1) those bananas were going to turn into bread on their own if we didn’t use them, and (2) he ridiculously maintains that banana bread should always have chocolate chips in it.
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, described earlier this week.

All chopped, the yield was only about a cup of minced pieces, which I knew would cook down to just about nothing.

FullSizeRender

A *very* scant cup of chopped rhubarb.

All of the recipes that looked interesting to me require more than that, so I had to get creative. Verdict: another Smitten Kitchen gem, Rhubarb Varied Fruits Cream Cheese Hand Pies.

He made the pie crust. (I have zero knack for it, even though this particular recipe is foolproof.) I made the cream cheese filling. I made the rhubarb filling. And when I had more than twice as much cream cheese filling as rhubarb, I made another filling from blueberries and apricot. And after several hours in the fridge, and over several more hours of do-a-little-work-then-chill-everything-back-down…

The rhubarb filling was just enough to fill 6 little pies, and they looked pretty sweet both before and after baking. (That pastry recipe really is amazing.)

FullSizeRender (1)FullSizeRender (2)

And the blueberry version became another story. Realizing how much blueberry-apricot filling and cream cheese filling I was going to have left over, I opted for something different. I rolled out the remaining pie crust for an attempt at my first ever tart with something like a pastry cream filling. I used a small, deep Corningware casserole dish rather than a shallow tart pan, layered the cheese and then the berries into the pastry, and attempted a “rustic fold over edge” that collapsed in on itself in the oven. It’s far from the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, and he cut into it for our dessert last night before I could take a picture, but oh my word was it tasty.

IMG_5576

Dessert: a rustic” blueberry-apricot-cream cheese tart

So, rhubarb season is over. Not only did we not waste a single stalk of what we grew, every bite was delicious. This is year three of growing things-humans-can-eat in our little garden, year one of using up every bit of any one ingredient, and year one of loving everything we cooked with it. That’s a very particular kind of success.