August 5, 2012 § 8 Comments
the first eggplants – ratatouille time!
It was one of those weeks work-wise, and we had some fun too that took us out of the house at mealtime. There is not much I like better than fresh summer corn on the cob, yet somehow we managed to still have neglected ears all boiled and foil-wrapped in the fridge waiting for some love at the end of the week.
Thank goodness for this recipe (see also this recipe) and a cast iron skillet. I adapted things a little bit to avoid turning on the broiler and to fit what I had pepper-wise. This recipe also didn’t call for fresh cilantro, which is good because my first sowing of seedlings totally evaporated into thin air and my second sowing of seedlings is still cilantro-babies.
(Pan) Roasted Corn Salsa
adapted from Marisa McClellan’s
3 half-pints plus a little extra
- four ears of corn, or about 1.5 cups of kernels
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes – I halved or quartered all my ripe Sungold cherry tomatoes from the garden and a couple miscellaneous Tumbling Tigers and New Yorkers
- 1/2 cup chopped white onion
- 1 diced jalapeño*
- 3/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp chili flakes
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, ground or crushed
- 3/4 cup cider vinegar
- 2 T lime juice
- 1/3 cup sugar (or less, to taste*)
I had already boiled my corn, but you could start from raw. Stand the cobs up on a cutting board or in a shallow pan, with a corn cob holder on the top end if you have it. Cut the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife – serrated worked well for me. Roast them in a dry skillet for a few minutes, stirring only every couple of minutes, until the kernels are browned on a few sides. Then you just mix in all the rest of the ingredients (in another pan, not your cast iron skillet), bring to a simmer for 10 minutes, and water bath process for 15 minutes with 1/2 inch headspace.
The salsa turned out beautiful and tangy. *It was too sweet for my taste so I would reduce the sugar next time, and it wasn’t super spicy but my little pepper plant had only put out the one jalapeño so far. Huevos rancheros!
And then our next box came and we got more corn. And I was too tired after a long day at work to fire up the grill. And then my work schedule got even worse, so those new ears sat on the counter… and sat… and sat… until they were looking a little dry and shrively. Oh, the shame. I figured I could at least try to plump up those kernels again, even if they would never be as good as they once were. Maybe I’ll boil them…
Roasted Corn and Shrimp Chowder
adapted from Mark Bittman
six to eight servings
- six ears of corn, plus I pulled out the four leftover cobs I had in the freezer from the salsa
- 4 T butter, oil, or a mix
- 1/2 an onion
- 4 T flour
- 1 pint cream
- about 2 tsp Cajun spice mix – purchased, or make your own with help from everyone’s favorite New-Englander-turned-Southerner – bam!
- 1 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled – optional
Cut the kernels off and roast them as above. Meanwhile, cover the cobs with water in a large stockpot and bring it to a boil. Boil for about thirty minutes, then let it sit until you are ready to make the rest of the soup. Sweat the onions in the butter in a large pot until they are soft. Add the flour and stir constantly for a few minutes to take the raw edge off, then add the cream and the corncob stock minus the cobs (I had about six cups but use however much you have, you can always adjust later). Add the Cajun spice mix – I used about 2 tsp of mine, but taste as you go to get the right spiciness and saltiness. Bring the soup to a boil, and add the roasted corn kernels, stirring to make sure the flour is fully dissolved. The soup will thicken a bit, and it will boil up easily because of the cream. Bring it back down to a simmer and let it simmer for as little as 10 minutes or as long as you want to get it to the thickness you like – this is where you can let some of the water boil off if your stock was thin, but mine worked just fine as is. Add the shrimp just before serving and cook just until pink.
This New Orleans variation on a classic corn chowder was right up our alleys (Lester is a Southern gentleman, after all, but New England is home now) and made up for neglected corn. I am sure it would be extra amazing with fresh ears, or even frozen. And yes you can make it healthier and even vegetarian or vegan by nixing the shrimp and the cream but sometimes when it’s summer produce season you have to celebrate.
What do you do with past-its-prime corn?
July 24, 2012 § 2 Comments
I mentioned I was growing cucumbers in the garden, but these aren’t any run-of-the-mill, expect-to-be-inundated-from-the-CSA-soon cucumbers. These are Parisienne Cornichon de Bourbonne cucumbers (see? fancy!), seeds purchased from here, whose sole purpose in life is to be made into cornichon pickles.
We went to Paris last year and every day we went to the corner market and bought baguettes, cheese, hard cider, paté, and other goodies and ate it for lunch wherever we wandered to that day. Lester and I passed out in a food coma in front of the Eiffel Tower. It doesn’t get any better than that. We brought back an entire suitcase full of food, including a four-pound loaf of Poilane bread and lots of paté. When we got back I made my own too. It turns out there isn’t a whole lot to making at least a Very Passable Paté: buy chicken livers super cheap from the Asian grocery store, saute in butter with shallots and herbs, and blend with more butter as needed. I made a plain one with cognac and a cranberry sage one. Scoop into jars and cover the tops with melted butter to seal it over, or do the same in muffin tins and pop out and freeze little individual serving paté pucks. I’m sure there’s more to making a fancy paté, but this works for me and my baguettes. So all I needed was the cornichons. (Yes, you can buy them in stores. No, that is not the point.)
A word to the wise: keep an eye on your cucumber patch. I skipped a day of picking, and the previous two days I might have picked in the dark by flashlight because of getting home from work late. So I was surprised by these spiny monsters lurking in my tangle of a cucumber patch:
Yes, that is a penny. So while these cucumbers are designed to be cornichons, they won’t stay small forever! They also get to be the right size a few at a time, so this is a recipe based on picking a few every single day and throwing them into a batch already going in the fridge rather than water bath canning a bunch all at once. This is not shelf stable.
- teeny tiny cucumbers
- white wine vinegar
- a little bit of an allium: shallot, garlic, pearl onion, etc.
- a sprig of thyme
- a few peppercorns
- a few mustard seeds
- a few allspice
- a few coriander seeds
- a teaspoon of kosher salt for about every 4oz vinegar
I washed a few canning jars and lids (which can be previously used because they don’t need to seal), or you can even use some leftover other glass jars, in hot soapy water. Then I rinsed, then filled the jar with boiling water to overflowing and put the lid on loosely. In the meantime, I figured out that wearing kitchen/dishwashing gloves protected me from the cucumber’s spines while I rubbed them off with a vegetable brush (or just my gloved fingers on the really little ones). It is very fiddly and obsessive to get the spines off a bunch of tiny cucumbers one at a time, but you wouldn’t be growing your own cornichons if you weren’t fiddly and obsessive, now would you? I dumped the water from the jar, added the spices and salt and alliums, layered in the cucumbers, and poured in vinegar to cover. (This picture is an 8oz jar, so that is the goal size for these cucumbers or even a bit big!) Into the fridge, and no sampling for a whole week. They will turn from bright green to dull green.
If you were making this shelf stable, you would have to sterilize the jar and (new) lid, heat the brine, then pour the hot brine over the cukes in the sterilized jar, seal, and process for about ten minutes.
Worth the fiddling and obsession? I think so… How about you?
July 19, 2012 § 10 Comments
more beets (eep!)
I’m so excited that every week there is more and more variety in my CSA box. Not that the bunnies have any complaints about getting lots of greens, but I had a feeling that things would get more diverse as the summer got into full swing and they definitely have. There’s only one problem: my refrigerator is too full of beets to put any more veggies in. It’s true, I confess it: I have not been able to keep up with the beets. I’ve pickled them, and borschted them, and grated them for salad. But since I’m the only beet eater (beeter?) in the house, I just wasn’t eating them fast enough.
However! I believe I have a solution to my problem! As usual, Mother Nature was pretty smart, and she decreed that beets and cucumbers would be available to me at about the same time. And that that same time would coincide with a heat wave in New England that would make me very reluctant to turn on any heat-producing devices such as stoves, and would make me crave tangy sour refreshing things (like epic pickles… stay tuned). Oh yeah, and I was hungry NOW.
It’s simple math, really. Makes about 4-6 servings.
- two large beets, any color, scrubbed but not cooked or peeled
- a similar quantity of cucumber, three small-medium in my case
- about 1 cup of leftover bread, stale or lightly toasted
- 1/4 cup of olive oil, or to taste
- 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, or to taste
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper depending on your spice tolerance
- salt and pepper
- water (ice cold if you’re thinking ahead)
Chop the vegetables into big chunks. Throw everything in your blender, adding a little less water than you think you’ll need because you can always add more later. Blend until completely pureed. Taste and adjust: everyone has their own Perfect Gazpacho Ratio (PGR) of oil and vinegar, and mine is about here.
Optional garnishes: finely chopped cucumber, grated beets, yogurt, croutons, parsley, hard boiled egg
Always better to let soups sit and blend (and chill in this case) but this was pretty darn good straight out of the blender. I love the earthy sweetness you can bring out of beets, but sometimes it’s fun to take them in the other direction and let them be a fresh summery vegetable like in this recipe. Enjoy!
Any other ideas for using up lots of beets? What is your Perfect Gazpacho Ratio?
June 29, 2012 § 4 Comments
I picked up my first share from my first ever CSA! I actually picked it up more than a week ago now, but I wanted to make sure I liked how the recipe turned out first 🙂 A CSA (community sponsored agriculture – like buying a fraction of a farm) share was my birthday present from Lester this year. I may have hinted strongly that that’s what I wanted, because I’m sure most guys don’t buy most girls vegetables for their birthday. But then again, Lester is not most guys and I am not most girls, so I don’t think he was a bit surprised.
Red beets (and I bought extra goldens)
First off, I made strawberry jam using Pomona’s Universal Pectin, my new best friend, and only a cup of sugar to four cups of mashed strawberries. I mashed them with my hands, which was highly therapeutic and also looked like a scene from a strawberry axe murderer movie. I won’t even post the recipe because I just followed the directions in the Pomona box, and it was that simple. One of the jars unsealed (my first one so far in my whole year of canning) so we ate that one the next day. It tasted like strawberries. Just strawberries. Did I mention I love Pomona pectin?
Then I made a crustless quiche with the beet greens and chard, some cheese, Cajun spice, and some Andouille. The deliciousness of this is self-explanatory.
More watermelon-feta-arugula salad. Somehow there is still more watermelon.
Finally, pickled beets. I love beets in almost any form, but I really love borscht. Yes, my Eastern European Jewish roots are showing. I wanted to try to capture the flavors of borscht but in a form I could put in a jar without a pressure canner. So, I used Joy of Cooking’s basic pickled beet recipe and added what I considered to be borscht-y flavorings. I’m sure there are as many versions of borscht as there are Eastern European grandmothers, but I am a big fan of dill in mine, and some tang from the vinegar. Here goes!
Borscht-y Pickled Beets
Makes 3 pints
8 oz golden beets plus 16 oz red beets, or any combo making up 1.5 pounds
6 oz onions (I had sweet)
2 1/4 cups cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
2/3 cup white sugar
1 T dried dill weed
1 t whole black peppercorns
1 t caraway
1/2 t garlic powder
1 t kosher salt
- Boil the beets until they are fork-tender, 15-45 minutes depending on the size.
- Cool in an ice water bath to stop cooking, then slip off the skins.
- Quarter the beets then slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Do the same with the onions.
- Bring to a boil the vinegar, water, sugar, and spices (I put them straight in the pot with the vinegar).
- Pack beets and onions into prepared jars then ladle over them the hot vinegar mix, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
- Process 30 minutes. Yes, that is a long time. Make sure your water level stays high enough!
I plan to eat these cold, mixed with a spoonful of yogurt or sour cream, for a summery side. You could also heat them with some chicken or beef broth and even add potatoes and carrots for a heartier soup in the winter.
How does your (actual or inner) grandmother make borscht, or pickle beets?
June 18, 2012 § 5 Comments
Our favorite restaurant in Lester’s hometown of New Orleans is Boucherie. They do amazing new takes on Southern classics and everything is just really, really good. Case in point: smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle. It was the first time I had ever had watermelon pickle, but since it was Boucherie one taste was enough. I had to try pickling my own, and I wanted to put my own spin on this Southern classic too. This recipe is based on the Gingery Watermelon Pickle from The Joy of Pickling, which has not one but three watermelon pickle recipes. I stuck close to her technique but made up my own spice mixes: one more Southern, and one more Asian-influenced. Unfortunately a number of my spices were ground, not whole, and weren’t super fresh (my mother would not approve), so keep that in mind as you make up your own syrups and consider changing the measurements accordingly.
Now you know why I had so much watermelon.
rind of one 12-15″ spherical watermelon: about 12 cups of rind (3 quarts)
8 cups of water (2 quarts)
6 oz kosher salt by weight – the original called for half a cup of pickling salt (8 tablespoons) so I used 1 tablespoon pickling salt by volumes = 3/4 oz by weight
7 whole star anise
1.5 inch piece ginger thinly sliced
1 tsp whole cardamom
1 tsp whole coriander
1 cup white vinegar plus 1.5 T (because this one didn’t have lemon)
1 cup water
2 cups white sugar
1T ground cinnamon
1/2 lemon thin sliced
1 tsp whole mustard
1 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 cups white sugar
1. Prepare the rind. The easiest way for me was to quarter the whole melon, peel the green part off with a vegetable peeler, and then slice the quarter into smaller slivers and cut out the pink flesh for another use. Cut the rind (the white part) into about one-inch squares.
2. Soak rind in salt water for eight hours with a plate on top to keep it submerged.
3. Rinse and drain twice.
4. Make syrup, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. I put the spices in tea filter bags, which completely fell apart. You should use cheesecloth.
5. Remove from heat, add rind, soak in syrup for 24 hours with a plate on top. I had only about 8 cups of rind at this point.
6. Bring to a boil then simmer until the rind is translucent – this took about two hours!
7. Fill jars with rind then add syrup to cover with 1/2″ headspace. Process for ten minutes.
In the end this only made 2 pint jars (4 cups) plus another cup or so for the fridge. Any other watermelon picklers out there who can comment on this low yield? Did I cook it too long? Do you fill your jars with rind and then add syrup or do you just pour it all in?
At this point I was pretty disappointed that I had gone to all that trouble of peeling and slicing and soaking and boiling and only had these two pints. I was also worried about how cloudy my brine was, because of having ground spices and having the spice bags explode. I doubted myself: I had only tasted watermelon pickle once, and here I was making it myself, and I didn’t know if it looked right, and what if it turned out mushy and awful? I fretted as the jars rested on the counter and I listened for that “ping ping” of the lids.
But then things started to look up. I actually tasted my second-ever and third-ever watermelon pickles. And they were delicious! Somehow they stayed just a bit crisp despite all that boiling. And I had worried they would be too bland and syrupy-sweet but the flavor of each of the two batches was actually very complex. I think the Asian one would be really interesting with a plainly grilled fish, rice, and bok choy. And the Southern one is going with some kind of smoky fatty pork, of course. Conclusion: do not doubt your pickling abilities until you open a jar and taste. But still use whole spices.
Then things started looking up even further. I realized that the sweet, spicy brine is basically a simple syrup, but with vinegar instead of water. It turns out this is actually a legit cocktail ingredient (more often made with fruit) called a shrub syrup, also known as a drinking vinegar, and that shrub cocktails with homemade or artisanal syrups are making a big comeback on the cocktail scene. Not that I would know, because I don’t know anything about cocktails. Anyway, I mixed the leftover Southern Syrup including the almost-candied lemon slices with cognac (because I had some on hand for Julia’s French onion soup) and a squeeze of lemon juice for a nice Southern cocktail with layers of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. I’m going to try the Asian syrup with sake. Shrubs are also great for mixing with soda water as a soda or cocktail alternative. I think I just found my new go-to summer drink. And something else to put up!
June 18, 2012 § 8 Comments
I don’t know anything about cocktails. I’m that girl who walks up to a well-stocked bar and says “I’d like something… with lime…” I don’t know my Cointreau from my Curacao (okay, I do actually know that much). But I’d like to learn, because (1) cocktails are delicious and (2) cocktails are another way I can use my canning creations!
I never liked martinis until I made a dirty gin martini with the brine from last year’s rosemary pickled green beans. So good.
So remember how in part one when I made sage blossom jelly I said that I picked all the sage blossoms off individually instead of pruning off the entire flowering stem? Well, I’m glad I did – because the whole plant re-bloomed within a couple days! I already had enough jars of my beautiful pale pink jelly to keep me and my croissants happy for a little while, so on to new horizons: sage blossom simple syrup.
As it turns out, simple syrup is really simple. I used a basic 1:1 liquid:sugar ratio, and the same steeping technique as for the jelly. Simple syrup will keep in the fridge for quite a while according to what I read online, but my fridge has a lot of half-full jars of tasty odds and ends already. I figured if you can put up fruit preserved in simple syrup, surely you can put up simple syrup preserved in simple syrup. And now I have a secret weapon to unleash in the depths of the next New England winter: pry open a jar, and sunshine and birdsong will magically fill the world once more. Right?
2 cups sage blossoms
2 1/4 cups water
2 T lemon juice
2 cups sugar
1. Clean blossoms. Bring water to boil and pour over the blossoms in a heat-safe bowl.
2. Cry a little when the beautiful purple blossoms turn brown. (Remember this part?)
3. Add the lemon juice now. Rejoice when the blossom-water turns pink! (This part will never get old)
4. Steep overnight.
5. Strain through a jelly bag if you have it, or in my case a tea filter bag. You should have about two cups of liquid.
6. Bring the liquid and sugar to a full rolling boil. Ladle into jars with 1/8 inch headspace and process for 10 minutes.
I took a Mason jar of this to a barbecue at a friend’s house in a swanky part of town. Her backyard is an urban oasis of hanging lanterns and ivy creeping up weathered brick walls. We sat around her firepit toasting marshmallows and drinking this pale pink refresher (proportions very approximate, mix to your taste) while her giant fuzzy dog napped on our feet.
1/2 oz sage blossom simple syrup
1 oz vodka
Squeeze of lime
Splash of soda water
Shake syrup and vodka with ice in a cocktail shaker, strain into glass. Top with lime and soda water. Serve with lime wedge and giant fuzzy dog (optional but recommended).
What’s in your sage blossom syrup cocktail, and what would you name it? What are your tips for a cocktail beginner?
June 18, 2012 § 16 Comments
I love watermelon. I could eat a lot in one sitting. Like, a lot. But I had an entire large watermelon that I got for another project (stay tuned) and Lester and I had enough to eat plenty, make a giant watermelon-feta-arugula salad for a party, and still have a ton left.
Therefore, watermelon jam. Who knew? I got the idea from Food in Jars but this recipe is adapted from the Heirloom Watermelon Jelly from Put ‘Em Up. I picked this recipe because it had the least sugar of any I found, and I like watermelons but not watermelon Jolly Ranchers…and I am now officially in love with Pomona’s Universal Pectin. First off, it has an awesomely old-timey name. More importantly, it lets you use smaller amounts of sugar than for other jams and jellies, and you don’t cook the jam for very long at all, so I think in this recipe it lets the freshness of the watermelon really shine through. I don’t own Put ‘Em Up (yet!) but fortunately Google Books has this recipe as part of the free excerpt, so head on over there and check it out. I made a few adaptations, below.
flesh of less than half of a 12-15″ spherical watermelon = 4 cups puree*
1/2 cup bottled lime juice (the original used lemon, but for bottled the acidity is interchangeable)
1 cup sugar
2 T Pomona pectin
2 T calcium water from the Pomona box
a little butter to prevent foaming
*I pureed the watermelon in my Ninja blender (love that thing) then ran it through my food mill – thanks Mom! – to remove the seeds and get a smoother puree. I did not strain it further, and I like the opacity and texture of the end result. Make popsicles with any leftover watermelon puree, except the amount you drink with a little vodka and grapefruit seltzer while doing the following:
1. Mix the pectin and sugar well in a separate bowl.
2. Bring puree to a boil in a large pan.
3. Add lime juice, calcium water, and butter.
4. Add the pectin-sugar mix in a slow stream to the boiling puree, stirring constantly. I had a fair amount of pectin clumps (didn’t follow my own step 1) but I was able to break up most of them with the back of the mixing spoon.
5. Bring back to a boil, then turn off the heat and let it sit for five minutes, skimming the foam occasionally.
6. Fill prepared jars with 1/4 inch headspace and process for 10 minutes.
The original says it makes about 4 cups. Mine filled 5 half-pints (5 cups) plus enough for my toast the next morning.
The result? Unexpectedly amazing. It was light, sweet-tart, and the perfect soft spreadable texture. I might even put in more lime next time, but it’s pretty perfect as is.
Serving suggestion: for breakfast on the back porch listening to the birds and getting a little bit of sun so that even if you have to go in to work on a weekend, it is still a good day.