Honey Sweetened Blueberry Butter

I’ve been trying to write some recipes that don’t use refined sugar.  I really don’t like the taste or how it makes me feel after I eat it….  and it seems like there are a lot of other people out there that are on the same page as me.  I don’t like looking at my pantry and seeing all this beautiful fresh fruit I’ve preserved drowned in a ton of sugar.  Organic or not, I don’t feel like I can incorporate it into a healthy diet.  My most recent attempt came out pretty darn good ….

The little market right near where I live has been selling these amazing blueberries from one county over, and even though I don’t usually by fruit at the store, I’ve been buying huge bags of them several times a week.  My favorite way to eat blueberries is with milk and cornflakes, which is boring but insanely delicious.  cereal and berriesMy family used to go to Cape Cod every summer for vacation, which sometimes involved a trip to a local u-pick blueberry farm.  I have such distinct memories of being in our little rental house eating this for breakfast. I loved it then and I love it now!  It’s the perfect way to start off a gorgeous summer day.

The blueberry season is short here in Northern California, so I made this recipe hoping to preserve the flavor of these sweet berries for another few months.  The idea is from the Food In Jars blueberry butter recipe; I just changed the amounts a little and used honey instead of sugar.  Since this is a low-sugar preserve I’m not 100% sure about the shelf life…. I’m going to say that it should be used within three months of canning. blueberry butterI’m sure this would be great in all kinds of tarts and baked goods (it would be epic as filling for a donut) but right now I’m just mixing some with plain yogurt to have for breakfast.  It’s not very exciting to look at, but I feel like it’s an actually real thing I can eat whenever I want and still be healthy, which is incredibly exciting for me. breakfast

BLUEBERRY BUTTER

Makes: 8 half pint jars

Cook time: a few hours, but it’s really easy

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs. blueberries, washed
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 c. honey
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, bring the honey and water to a simmer.  Stir to melt the honey.  Add the blueberries and keep simmering.  Once they’re soft, puree the mixture with an immersion blender.  Turn the heat to low and cook until it’s thickened (just like making apple butter….) It will need several hours on the stove to get to the right consistency.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Once it’s gotten to the right texture, add the lemon juice and zest.

Transfer the blueberry butter to 1/2 pt. jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

 

 

Preserving Fresh Greens

I meant to write this post last year around this time, but I never did, because let’s face it: frozen spinach doesn’t sound all that exciting.  Rhubarb jam is much sexier, or these fancy rhubarb granita cocktails I was obsessed with last year too.  Really, though, if you’re trying to grow and preserve your own food (or just eat locally all year long), this project is so important.   spinachLast spring, I started making a real effort to make packs of greens for the freezer.  I get  spinach from one of my friends who grows a huge amount of it, but the process works the same for any other dark, leafy green.  Kale, chard and collards all do much better when you regularly harvest the big outer leaves.

The process is simple:

1. Wash the greens thoroughly.

2. Chop them into whatever size you want them to be later.

3. Blanch them for a minute or two (shorter for spinach, longer for kale or collards).

4. Drain and rinse with cold water (or transfer them to an ice bath if you’re super organized, but I never bother with this.  A cold water rinse works fine for me).

5. Vacuum seal or pack the greens into freezer safe ziploc bags for later.  I like to make a variety of sizes: some as individual portions to mix with scrambled eggs, and some in big batches for making spanikopitas or other casseroles. _MG_9892If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, it doesn’t really matter, but I think they really work well for the freezer.  Plus, they’re fun, and you can vacuum seal random stuff like spoons just because it looks cool.  _MG_9897The first time I tried doing this, I blanched and froze two bushels of fresh spinach.  I was absolutely shocked at how fast we used it and how happy I was to have the packs ready to go in the freezer.  I  love making jam, but I have problems incorporating it into my regular diet.  I don’t really eat bread very often, and I don’t really like eating sugar, so……..  But man, spinach! I started pulling out a bag at night to thaw and then I’d scramble it into some of our eggs in the morning with a little goat cheese.  When I eat a scramble like that for breakfast, I feel like a rockstar all day.  Plus, when I’m just getting up  in the morning there’s no way I’m going out to the garden and to harvest and wash spinach for breakfast, but if all the work is already done, I find eating greens with breakfast every day, which is always a good thing.  Frozen greens have absolutely joined canned homegrown tomatoes as a pantry/freezer staple that I like to always have on hand.  When I have plenty of time to cook, I’ll walk to the garden and harvest some fresh greens, but when I’m pressed for time (I usually am), the frozen ones really are a life saver.

Speaking of pressed for time….

I have a bunch of projects I’ve been making with frozen greens that I want to tell you about, but definitely don’t have photographed since I’m not organized enough right now. I’m posting this today anyway though. You’ll just have to use your imaginations.

We made pupusas stuffed with oaxaca cheese and chopped spinach, which were amazing.pupusaThis is not a picture of the pupusas we made the other day. This is a pupusa from a spot in San Francisco that I love, just in case you have no clue what a pupusa is (since a lot of people have never had them before).  Ours looked really similar though.  The recipe I used is right here, from Saveur.  They’re basically homemade tortillas that are stuffed with whatever filling you like.  I thought they would be really difficult to make, but the dough comes together very easily and they fry up in just a few minutes.  We just changed the filling a little bit, using oaxaca cheese (it’s kind of like a Mexican version of monterey jack or mozzarella) mixed with chopped spinach.  I used purple cabbage in the slaw and which made it look cooler than plain old green cabbage.

Also, I made fresh spinach pappardelle. I still have some so maybe I’ll get my act together and take some pretty pictures to inspire you to make fresh pasta. For now though…..

think about pretty green noodles

are you imagining?

Maybe if I drink some more coffee you’ll come back to this post later and there’ll be some more pictures and recipes.  We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE 5/22/13

Apparently I’ve got my act together more than yesterday.  spinach fettucini SPINACH PASTA DOUGH

Cut this dough into whatever widths  you like.  I especially like it tossed with pesto, chopped heirloom tomatoes and parmesan cheese.

Cook Time: an hour or more, depending how fast you can make pasta. it’s not a fast one.

Makes: enough for about 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 3/4 c. semolina flour, plus a little extra for dusting
  • 4 extra large eggs
  • 3/4- 1 c. spinach puree*
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • a liberal pinch of nutmeg

Mound the flour on a clean counter.  Make a well in the center, and add the eggs, spinach puree and oil.  Using a fork, gradually mix together all the liquid ingredients and begin incorporating the flour from the inside rim of the well.  Keep incorporating more and more flour, and once you’ve done as much as you can with the fork, switch to your hands and start kneading it together, trying to work all the ingredients together into a ball.  Semolina flour is more difficult to work with than all purpose flour, but if you keep kneading it should eventually come together.  Add a little spinach puree if it needs some more moisture.

Season the dough with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Once the dough has formed a coherent ball, knead it for about five minutes.  Add a little flour if the dough is too sticky.  Let the dough rest for 15 minutes, then roll it out using the instructions for whatever pasta maker you have.

Once the pasta is cut, you can dry it on hangers and it will store in a cool, dark place for several weeks.  It can also be dusted liberally with flour and stored fresh in the refrigerator.

*To make the spinach puree, just thaw frozen spinach and then zap it in a blender or food processor.

The moral of this story:

Go harvest the extra greens you have in your garden and freeze them for later!

The next time you see gorgeous greens at the farmers market for cheap, buy a bunch and freeze ’em!

Do it. You’ll be happy.

 

Because Lots Of People, Including Myself, Are Pretty Broke

I’ve been working on this post for a full week longer than I meant to, and this morning I decided just to put it up the way it is.  There’s so much to say about this  that it could easily grow into a whole cookbook, and there’s no sense in waiting for that to happen.

Several different things inspired me to write this post. First of all, I’ve been working on our budget for the year and thinking a lot about how we need to spend as little money as possible on food (preferably growing it all ourselves), cause man oh man, my bank account is pathetic looking right now.  Last week there was also a great event called Food Bloggers against Hunger, inspired by the film A Place at the Tablewhich is working to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in America.  One in four children in the United States don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, and food stamp participants only receive $4 a day for food.  To cook three meals a day using $4 is already a virtually insurmountable challenge, but the food stamp program (SNAP) is at risk for severe cuts which would greatly affect millions of families across America.  Please take a moment to click this link and send a letter to congress to tell them that we need to protect the federal nutrition programs that help feed the nations children.

Another thing I should mention while I’m on this subject: the Ukiah Farmers Market has a fantastic food stamp matching program which has  a big fundraiser going on.  The program helps both shoppers and vendors: a customer with an EBT card (food stamp/calfresh) can swipe the card at the farmers market manager’s table for up to $15. The customer receives $15 in market tokens plus an additional $15 in tokens because of the program.  Customers get extra fresh produce, vendors get the additional income which helps support local farms, and we all can go home happy.  To read more, click here.  There’s a 5K race on May 4 which fundraises for this program, and it’s really easy to donate.  Just click this link and scroll down to farmers market food stamp matching program.

So, with all that said….

I’ve been brainstorming meals that are really super cheap to make. It can be so easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re on a tight budget, but it’s kind of silly because there are a lot of options.  Last night, getting my grocery list together for the week, I checked this list for some ideas.  I’m hoping that other people on a budget can bookmark this to get some inspiration for dinner too.  (I don’t know that it’s so helpful for me to include a lot of recipes for all this stuff, so I haven’t. Most recipes are just a quick google search away….)

dried beansBEANS & DRIED LEGUMES:

We all know how cheap it is to cook a pot of beans.  Plain old beans and rice can get really old, really fast, though, so here are some other ideas:

  • Top beans and rice with some fresh cilantro, salsa and sour cream. Add eggs to make huevos rancheros.
  • Make Daal & steamed white rice for an Indian twist. Chutney from the pantry adds bonus points.
  • Beans & Bones: add a bone leftover from a roast to the pot of dried beans while it’s cooking to make a wonderfully rich stock. Serve with cornbread and greens to make this meal extra amazing.  (Split pea soup is in this category….)
  • Puree leftover cooked beans into a spread to put in pita sandwiches with some sliced vegetables, use it as a filling for vegan quesadillas, or serve with chips for a snack.
  • A pot of garbanzo beans can turn into Chickpea curry  or hummus.
  • Entree salads: Cold leftover beans are wonderful tossed with some chopped red onion, olive oil, lemon juice and some random other veggies from the fridge or garden. (Cherry tomatoes and cucumber are great with this!).
  • Chili, of course
  • Beans are amazing in all sorts of Mexican inspired dishes: tacos, burritos, empanadas, chilaquiles, enchiladas.

eggsEGGS:

Eggs are hands down the cheapest source of organic animal protein, so if you’re on a tight budget, they’re perfect. I love eggs — they’re these perfect little servings of protein and vitamins.

  • quiche
  • frittata
  • egg salad
  • egg in a basket/toad in a hole/ whatever you want to call it
  • savory bread pudding: add some random veggies or breakfast sausage to make a fantastic casserole
  • egg sandwiches with sliced tomatoes
  • breakfast for dinner is always cheap and simple

sausage gravy, greens, delicata squashPOTATOES:

  • potato pancakes (make them huge and fancy them up with canned applesauce from the pantry, sour cream and sliced scallions),
  • baked potatoes topped with random vegetables and cheeses from the fridge
  • potato soups
  • hash browns with some onions, bell pepper and scrambled eggs
  •  mashed potatoes with sausage gravy and greens.
  • Roasted potatoes topped with some shredded cheddar cheese and dipped in homemade ketchup taste amazing.  

pastaPASTA

is an obvious cheap dinner….

  • buttered noodles topped with parmesan and chopped parsley
  • tossed with herb pesto (it doesn’t have to be just basil!)
  • pasta primavera with random garden vegetables
  • macaroni and cheese
  • pasta with red sauce
  • tuna noodle casserole

RAMEN

This should be a subcategory of pasta, but it deserves it’s own heading, don’t you think? I know it has MSG in it and tons of sodium, but sometimes if you’re broke, you’re broke, and ramen’s kind of delicious. I like to add any or all of the following to pretend that I’m not eating something so processed:

  • an egg
  • dried seaweed
  • radishes
  • sliced scallions or leeks
  • steamed vegetables
  • leftover sliced meat (pork or beef, usually) from a dinner the night before

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, from Grow it Cook it Can itBREAD

  • homemade pizza is dirt cheap, as are calzones, both of which can use all kinds of random things for topping/filling
  • homemade biscuits and gravy with  a salad
  • grilled cheese and soup
  • peanut butter and jelly
  • open faced sandwiches with random veggies and cheese
  • pancakes
  • scones, either savory or sweet
  • cornbread topped with mixed vegetables or beans
  • homemade bread is hard to beat, especially with some fruit and cheese

polentaGRAINS:

  • fried rice with random vegetables from the fridge or garden is one of my favorite way to use up leftover random vegetables
  • rice and beans, steamed grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.) topped with stir-fried vegetables or vegetable stew, sprinkled with cheese if you have it. 
  • grain salads:  mix some cooked grains with chopped fresh or dried fruits, nuts, or random vegetables
  • polenta topped with eggs/sauteed vegetables/roasted vegetables/butter, or, in the same vein, all kinds of variations on grits. A bowl of warm cooked cornmeal topped with some butter, a sprinkle of cheese and fresh herbs is dirt cheap and delicious. Top it with a poached egg and it turns into something a hipster restaurant would have on the menu for a lot of money. 

chickensCHEAPER CUTS OF MEAT:

Ground beef and beef stew meat are always quite affordable at our farmers markets, so I end up making things like…

  • meatballs
  • beef stew
  • spiedies
  • grilled kebabs with garden vegetables
  • beef stroganoff using ground beef is fast and delicious…

Roosters…  If you raise your own chickens, you know you can end up with too many roosters that end up terrorizing the hens. Instead of having a nightmare in your coop, turn them into: 

Wild game is another great option. We barter eggs and jam with hunters who we know, so we don’t actually have to go out and get the meat ourself.

summer vegetable sauceVEGETABLES FROM THE GARDEN:

  • With just a quick walk to the garden to pick whatever you have, you can make a whole array of soups, pasta dishes, stews, stir-fries, curries, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, casseroles, and salads. (Check out this saucy summer vegetable dish that’s a staple in our house).  
  • Vegetable tarts and galettes are a great meal option, and can be made with either pie crust of puff pastry.
  • In the summer, if you have access to cheap produce, stuffed zucchini is a delicious, really cheap entree.  
  • Tomato sandwiches, as simple as they are, are divine with garden fresh tomatoes.   I also am quite fond of grilled eggplant sandwiches… especially with some tomato jam and goat cheese. 
  • Pesto can be made with pretty much any fresh herb (just google for some recipes) and is good on pasta, chicken, fish, pork chops, tofu, etc. 
  • If you don’t have a garden, hit up the farmers market in the last fifteen minutes that it’s open, and you’re sure to score some great deals if you haggle a bit with the farmers.  If you get to know the farmers at the market, on bad weeks for your wallet, you can say “I’m super broke this week. What can I get for $2?” and they’ll probably hook you up.  We do this with our market customers, at least…

The last things I remind myself when I’m trying to cook for next to nothing are probably obvious, but worth saying:

Grow the food myself.

Never throw away anything.  Herb scraps and slightly past their prime vegetables can always find their way into something good.

If there’s ever extra, can it! (or freeze it, or dehydrate it, or ferment it….) We’ll be happy that it’s there later on.

Be creative. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it has to be boring. really amazing split pea soup I made this split pea soup last week that was a nice example of how to spruce up a basic cheap meal…. Instead of just a ham bone and green split peas, I added cubed butternut squash from our pantry, frozen corn from last summer, some wilted parsley from the fridge, and a few random fresh veggies we had on hand.  It was delicious. It fed us for many meals, and I really couldn’t think of a better lunch.

If you have any favorite cheap dinners, feel free to mention them in the comments.  There’s obviously a lot more recipes than I’ve mentioned here, but like I said…. this could easily turn into a cookbook that I could work on for several years.  There’s a lot to be said on the subject.

Spring Cooking Projects

I have so many projects I’ve been working on this week, and somehow there hasn’t been any time to write about them here. I’ll go to sleep at night and think: tomorrow I’m going to have a relaxing morning and write about that violet syrup I made the other day.  Then, when I wake up, I realize that I actually have this list a mile long of less relaxing things that really need to get dealt with right away. I think it’s just interesting, for any creative profession, to work on finding that balance between keeping your head in the clouds, being inspired and thinking about beautiful things, and then keeping your feet firmly grounded in real life to make sure you can pay your bills.  blossoms

Anyway, enough of the responsible adult stuff, I think it’s time for a break so I can tell you about the projects I’m excited for this spring.

First up: Pickled Artichoke Hearts. Last year I made three quart jars using this recipe from Hunter Gardener Angler Cook. They were so delicious that I’m going to try and make them more of a pantry staple this year, up there with the tomatoes. They can go in pasta, quiche, vegetable salads, antipasti plates and more…. three jars did not cut it at all.  They’re pretty tedious to make but well worth it. If you’re in the Mendocino County area, I’d recommend Inland Ranch Organics as a source for reasonably priced baby artichokes.pickledartichokeheartI’m also really craving this radish butter that I wrote about last year in this post about preserving radishes.  It’s s crisp and bright, wonderful on sourdough toast.  radish butter

Of course, I’m dying to make a rhubarb pie.  and rhubarb cake. and jam. and syrup. If you need some rhubarb recipes, check this post from last year for a roundup of my favorites. the beginnings of rhubarb crisp

Spring also means that the perennial herbs are growing in full force. We have these two monster marjoram bushes that I planted years ago, not having any understanding of how big they’d get, and so we always make a lot of this marjoram pesto from The Hungry Tigress.  It’s great on pasta, spread on toast, even as a condiment for steaks on the grill (that was my husband’s idea, and it was brilliant). marjoram pesto pasta

….and speaking of green things: I got these gorgeous mustard greens from my friend Jen at Salt Hollow Flower Farm, and she mentioned she was going to make kimchi soon with some of hers. Kimchi is never a bad idea, so now I have a batch fermenting on the counter for us.  With all the lovely greens at the farmers market right now, it’s the perfect time to play around with new kimchi combinations. You don’t have to use savoy cabbage at all- any greens will work.  mustardgreens

Last but not least: I’m trying to get a recipe fine-tuned for pickled asparagus. I made these the other day and I’m not sure the flavor is quite there yet, but it might just need a few more days to mellow out. I’ll report back when I get it finished. pickled asparagusWhat are you excited to make this spring? If you have special recipes, feel free to share them in the comments section.

My Freezer Is A Wall Of Jalapenos: How To Preserve Hot Peppers, Pt.2

Right before the frost this past year, I stashed a lot of hot peppers in my freezer. I already wrote this post about preserving peppers, which included the whole idea of just stashing them in the freezer for later in the winter instead of rushing to deal with all of them right away.  Since “later in the winter” is officially here, I’m trying to deal with this ridiculous wall of peppers when I open the freezer door, and I thought I’d share a couple of the recipes that I’m making.  chilis!Before you say it, I know, hot pepper jelly is always my absolute favorite idea for using chili peppers, but I already have enough hot pepper jelly to last through several apocalypses. And since people always ask for a good recipe for hot pepper jelly, here’s my tip: I’ve tried almost all of them, and in the end I decided my favorite is just the recipe in the sure-gel box.  The high sugar one. It turns out awesome.

So, if you’ve already made enough hot pepper jelly to satisfy the cravings of your friends, relatives, and hungry neighbors, here are a few more ideas:

Escabeche Vegetables, from Canning For A New Generation, by Liana Krisoff-

I’ve had pickles similar to these in lots of taquerias in San Francisco. They’re addictive, with the kind of spicy heat that makes you almost want to stop eating them, but they’re so good you just have to have one more, even though you’re starting to sweat.  They’re perfect with a beer and a burrito, and I’m so excited to have my own jars in the pantry now.

escabeche vegetables

Fermented Sriracha, from The Hungry Tigress

I haven’t actually tasted it yet since the peppers are still fermenting on the windowsill, but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna end up doing a monster batch once I taste this first one (because sriracha is inherently delicious and there’s no way one small batch is gonna do the trick).

fermenting chilis

Candied Jalapenos, seen in many places around the internet, but I used this recipe from Foodie with Family:

I’ve never tried these before, but I’ve heard people go absolutely crazy about them, and I can’t wait to see how they taste.

candied jalapenos

Jalapeno Bread and Butter Pickles, from Simply Recipes:

I’m really excited for these, because I generally like bread and butter anything.  I can hear them screaming out to get put on top of a burger, fresh off the grill, or maybe diced and put in egg salad if you wanted to get really crazy.

jalapeno bread and butter pickles

I haven’t actually tried any of these yet since pickles need a few days to mellow out after you make them, but I’ll report back when I do.  Can you think of any recipes that I’m missing? If you have something you love to make, please leave a link in the comments. I still have ten huge bags of jalapenos in my freezer and I really need to get them outta there!

Winter Vegetable & Lentil Stew

I think the easiest way to make something good out of whatever vegetables you have on hand is to make soup.  And it’s great, because I really like soup. I like cooking it. I like eating it. I like that you can make a big pot and put the leftovers in the fridge and have lunches for days. I do a fair amount of professional cooking, and soups and stews are the most obvious choices when I need to feed a mixed group of carnivores-vegetarians-vegans-gluten free – whatevers. It’s pretty simple just to make a big pot of veggie stew, maybe serve it with a green salad and a grain.

Really, one of the main things I like about soup is that its a huge pot of vegetables, so when I have a bowl, I can pat myself on the back for eating healthy things and not Doritos.

These were the vegetables I decided to turn into soup today: winter vegetablesSomething about the sweet, nutty flavor of the parsnips really made this recipe worth righting about here. It was delicious.

We had it for lunch, topped with some parmesan cheese, with a few slices of bread.   winter vegetable and lentil soup

Winter Vegetable and Lentil Stew

Cook Time: 2 hrs.

Makes: a big batch!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 leek, sliced in half, rinsed, and then sliced into thin half moons
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 3 celery ribs, tops included, diced
  • 4 parsnips, diced
  • 1/2 sm. buttercup squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/2” cubes
  • 1 bunch of swiss chard, roughly chopped
  • 2 c. crushed tomatoes with juice
  • about 13 c. water or stock
  • 1 lb. lentils
  • salt and pepper
  • a splash of apple cider vinegar
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese, for serving

 

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot, on medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onions, leeks, parsnips, and buttercup squash.  Saute for about ten minutes, til the onions start looking translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients- the tomatoes, water, swiss chard (stems and all!) and lentils, and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the cider vinegar and cayenne if you think it needs a little kick.  To serve, top with grated parmesan.

Winter Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola and Toasted Walnuts

This is the best soup that I know how to make. Since I like you guys so much I wanted to share the recipe with you since it’s perfect for the holidays.butternutsquashbisqueMy mom has been making a version of this to serve on Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember.  I think she got it from either Sunset Magazine or Bon Appetit (an educated guess based on on the huge stacks of Sunset magazines she has in the front closet, years of subscriptions from a time before the internet). I never saw the original recipe, and it’s evolved a lot over the years as I tinkered around with it. This version that I’m sharing with you today is what I’ve settled on and have been making for quite awhile now.squashWinter squash always is a staple in our house since it’s so easy to preserve. We’ll grow a rainbow of different varieties during the summer and then keep them in bins in the pantry for the cold months. My favorites types are butternut, kabocha, and buttercup, although there are so many different varieties that it’s hard to really narrow it down to just those. This soup will work with any combination of what you have, though I have noticed that it doesn’t come out quite as good with pumpkin. Try to stick with varieties with drier, solid flesh, like butternuts. Sweet potatoes or yams will work just as well if you happen to have those.

Oh, and a note to any gardeners who were unsure about this: To preserve winter squash, just cut it off the vine when it’s ripe, leaving the stem attached, and store in a cool, dark place.  Ideally you’ll get them before they’ve gotten frosted on and left out in the rain for days, but I’ve also found some hidden out in the December garden that are still just fine.  Usually they’ll keep for months, but it’s a good idea to check your stash every so often to see if there are any that have soft spots or tiny bits of mold popping up.  That’s all you have to do. They really just preserve themselves.snowy trees

This recipe would be a wonderful light lunch for Christmas or New Year’s, a great for a weeknight supper when it’s freezing outside, or, if you’re busy and haven’t got a lot of time for cooking, make it in advance by a day or two when you have time and then reheat it. It may thicken a bit in the fridge but just add some water to thin it out and check the seasonings again.

Winter Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 or 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 12 c. cubed winter squash (peeled and seeded first*)
  • 8 c. water or stock
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1/2 c. crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • 1/2 c. toasted walnuts or pecans
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper

In a large soup pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and sage, and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the winter squash and water (it should be enough to cover the cubed squash, but feel free add more. Turn the heat to low and simmer everything for an hour or two. Remove from the heat and puree with your tool of choice (blender, immersion blender, etc.). Put the pot back on the stove on medium heat and stir in the heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, topping each bowl with a few tablespoons of blue cheese, a sprinkle of nuts, and some fresh parsley.

Note: The gorgonzola cheese sounds weird if you haven’t tried it before but it’s vital. Don’t skip it or switch to a different cheese unless you’re allergic to moldy cheese or something. I’ve tried it with goat cheese and it’s not the same at all.

*I feel like there are already a million places on the internet that explain how to prepare winter squash. If you need help, just google. The main thing is to have a sharp chef’s knife and just to go for it — it really only takes a minute.

Happy Holidays!

Wine Grape Jelly

Looking at these pictures feels like 100 years ago.  I got busy and meant to write this up about a month ago, and then….  here we are, in November, post frost. But, you know, pretend there are still grapes around or bookmark this for next fall… The jelly turned out so good, perfect with peanut butter and wheat bread.  There are certainly some fancy pairings you can do as well; the surprisingly delicate flavor of this jelly would be lovely on a cheese plate with some soft chevre and a loaf of good bread.

During the annual whirlwind of activity that takes place immediately before the first rains of the fall, my friend Jessie, from Inland Ranch Organics, let me glean some of the wine grapes from her field.  I took home a big basket of red and white grapes, slightly blemished with some mold in spots but perfectly salvageable for  jelly. After an absurd amount of soul-searching  (absolutely unwarranted for making a batch of jelly) I decided to break out the boxed pectin for this one. I’ve turned into a pectin snob when it comes to almost all of my jams — once you taste a jar of perfectly made, no added pectin apricot jam, you won’t feel like you need to put in commercial pectin anymore.  The texture is just so …. luxurious. It can be difficult to keep the flavor really bright since the cooking time is longer, but when it works, man oh man oh man does it work.  For jelly, though, even though I’ve had some success with making quince and apple with no added pectin, I just really don’t like how much sugar you have to add to make it set (most jellies with no added pectin use a 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar.)  Plus, making jelly without commercial pectin is so temperamental.  I’ve overcooked and caramelized a few batches, where they set but have totally lost the fresh fruit flavor, and it makes me want to stomp around the kitchen and smash all my dishes on the floor.

Instead of having to replace all those plates, I caved and went for the sure-gel low sugar pectin from the grocery store.  I encourage other pectin snobs to do the same when it comes to some of the fruit jellies.  It’s so much easier. You know your jelly will turn out really nice. And it’s not too sweet, so you taste grape juice instead of sugar. Wine Grape Jelly 

I was really surprised by the flavor.  It’s delicious, but I was expecting something closer to concord grapes.  The juice ended up being more delicate because I used a mixture of both red and white wine grapes.  I assume that the bolder the flavor you want, the fewer white wine grapes you should include.

Instead of acting like this is complicated and writing out a traditional recipe, I’d rather just share the process here, since the most difficult element is certainly finding a person growing wine grapes who will let you have some, not making the actual jelly.

You’ll need:

  • wine grapes
  • sugar
  • lemon juice
  • sure-gel low sugar pectin
  • cheesecloth or a jelly bag
  • half pint jars

1. Get your hands on some wine grapes.  Gleaning is a good idea, since most grape growers only pick the big, perfect bunches and will leaves behind lots of small straggly ones. As with all gleaned fruit, the grapes can be slightly blemished, but make sure that there are still plenty of grapes that are fresh and ripe looking, since it’s really not a good idea to try and preserve semi- rotten fruit.

2. Pick through the grapes, separating the stems, leaves and blemished ones aside from the good ones that will be for the jelly.  Put the good grapes in a colander and rinse them thoroughly.

3. Transfer the grapes to a pot and add water just to cover them.  Simmer the grapes for about an hour.  (Lust after steam juicers on the internet while they cook.)

4. Drain this mixture through a jelly bag or cheesecloth. The resulting grape juice can be left in the fridge for jelly making on another day or frozen for projects later in the winter.

5. To make the jelly: follow the instructions for grape jelly from the sure-gel low sugar pectin box, but add 2 oz. of lemon juice for each batch.  (Just stir it in at the beginning).   Waterbath can according to the instructions in the pectin box.

6. Take a walk in the woods and look at salamanders, and think about how exciting it is that you have this free time now since you didn’t try to make no-added pectin jelly. Make a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich. Think about how tasty homemade canned goods are. Be happy. 

 

 

Peach Pie, Pie Crust & Preserving Pie Filling

This is the first year that our peach tree has really done much of anything.  It’s very exciting.   It’s strange to see peaches this late in the summer, right?
Even though August in the usual time for looking at pretty pictures of peach pie on the internet, there are actually a lot of late season peach varieties available in California.  I know they’re still around at the farmers markets in San Francisco and I believe that the Gowans have them at the Ukiah Farmers Market up here in Mendocino County.

Still, it is strange that it’s almost october and we’re just now harvesting the peaches.  I’ve already canned a few hundred pounds of pears, so I feel like I’m driving in reverse through the summer. Food magazines, websites and blogs will follow this theoretical cycle of produce coming into season (strawberries in the spring, peaches in the summer, then berries, then apples…) but something about living in Redwood Valley means that instead of one by one, we’ll get everything, all at once, right around the end of September (with a few exceptions, like cherries and apricots.) There are still strawberries and rhubarb at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market – at the exact same time as pears – which seems impossible somehow. The reality of the fruit harvest here actually kind of emphasizes the important of preserving if you care at all about eating these most of things during any month that’s not September.

Once my cat and I finished harvesting our peaches, I realized I had some preservers-block when it came to what I was going to do with all of them.  I usually make a ton of this peach-vanilla bean jam, but these peaches seemed so precious since they came from our own tree which we’ve been caring for for years now. It really just seemed like a travesty to do anything other than eating them fresh or putting them into pie.Which brings me to two major revelations that I’ve had.  They might not seem very exciting or important reading them here, but I had to share them because they’ve helped me out so much.

1. I’ve been using pre-made frozen pie crusts.  I know, I’m going to hell! The thing is, they sell two-packs for $3 and change, and they’re organic, and they come out great, flaky and tender.  I know how to make pie crust from scratch.  It’s easy. There’s no way I can do it as quickly as popping one out of the freezer, though, and it also means I don’t trash the whole kitchen with flour, which happens whenever I try to bake anything.  It seems ridiculous to grow the peaches myself and then use a pre-made crust, but the time saved literally makes the difference between pie or no pie.  When I’d seen these crusts in the freezer section in the past, I also never realized you could do double-crust pies with them.  I’ve gotten the best results when I follow this process:

  • Put bottom pie crust on a cookie sheet so if it overflows you won’t have to clean up burnt fruit and sugar off the bottom of the oven. Ladle pie filling into crust. Gently pop the top crust, still frozen, out of the metal pie tin and place it facing down, on top of the fruit filling. Don’t press down or worry about the seam.
  • Put the cookie sheet with the pie in the oven and bake it for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Remove the pie (still on the cookie sheet), and then cut a few slits in the top crust,  brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with about a tablespoon of sugar.  If there are any cracks in the top crust, I’ll work them together a little bit by brushing egg on them.  I also brush a little egg around the seam to try and seal it. Then pop it back in the oven and bake until the whole thing is golden brown.

2. I realized that the best way to preserve peach pie filling, or any precious fruit pie filling, is just to put it in the freezer.  I know, you just read that and thought “that’s not a revelation, that’s completely obvious.”  Maybe, though, you’re like me and need a reminder that you have a thing called a freezer…  I had all these peaches out in front of me, I knew I didn’t have any clear-jel on hand (the thickening product that you have to use when you’d canning pie filling), and when I looked in my Ball Book of Home Preserving, the peach pie filling recipe didn’t have clear-jel in it but did call for apples and golden raisins.  Golden raisins? …. Um, no, I don’t think so, not in this pie. I was also really worried about how fragile our peaches are and was pretty certain they’d turn to much if I tried to can halves or slices.

Right about then, I had a lightbulb moment and realized:  put it in the freezer.  Then you can use your favorite fresh pie recipe, flour and all, put whatever you want in it, and not worry about it being shelf stable.  Or, you can be like me and not use a recipe at all, just eyeball a bunch of peaches, sugar, flour, lemon juice and cinnamon.  Then dump it in a jar and call it good. Obviously, this method would be horrible if you were trying to preserve a large amount of peaches, but if it’s only a couple jars, I would challenge you to think of a single item more worthy of your freezer space than peach pie filling.

 

So, I hope these tips help you eat pie more often.  I hope you don’t judge me for the crust thing.  Or,  you know, judge me if you want but I’m just going to keep doing it because I like pie. I hope that you can find a few last, precious peaches before the growing season’s over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Like Pickles

Before all the summer vegetables are officially gone and we’ve all moved on to baking pumpkin pies and making apple butter,  I have a few pickle recipes from the August Cook it! 2012 project that I want to show you.

The first recipe that I have to rave about is this Rosemary-Sage quick pickle that technically wasn’t part of the august project at all, but is a pickle, so… that counts, right?

A customer at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market brought me a jar of these last Sunday and I proceeded to eat them all in the next hour.  Woah. I mean, who eats a whole jar of pickles in one sitting?

(Me, apparently.)

The reason they were so good, though, is that they weren’t overly briny, more like a cucumber salad, and they’re scented with rosemary and sage, which is so surprising in for a cucumber pickle.  The recipe is here, from The Herb Companion.  Go grab a cucumber and make them, quick!

The next exciting thing:

An epic pickle post from the Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja, where Julianne explains about all the different types of pickles in the universe and gives us her favorite recipes for each type (dilly beans! fermented dills! pickled radishes! and more).  I’m particularly excited for the gorgeous pickled gold beets that she made; I just planted some beets in the garden and I’m bookmarking this recipe for when they’re ready.

http://yankee-kitchen-ninja.blogspot.com/2012/09/how-to-make-all-kinds-of-pickles-or.html

Aimee from Homemade Trade made curry pickle slices, which makes me want one of these sandwiches she puts them on, right now, even though it’s 7:48 a.m. and that’s a really weird time for eating sandwiches and pickles.  (I definitely just walked over to the fridge, opened the door, stared at my jar of dill pickles for a couple seconds, trying to decide whether I would mess up my morning by eating pickles for breakfast.)
Get her recipe here: http://homemadetrade.blogspot.com/2012/09/make-pickles-cook-it-august-resolution.html

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and a reminder: The September project is to dry fruit.  If you’d like to be included in the round-up post, e-mail me a link to your post by October 15, 2012. My e-mail is thejamgirl@gmail.com.

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