Wild Grape Jelly

This month was really stressful.  We had a bunch of stuff going on that’s not really worth going into. The only reason I bring it up is to say how it really is so nice when life is being overly complicated and then you find an absolutely gigantic patch of wild grapes that have set the most beautiful, luscious, deep purple  clusters of fruit, and then you can be like:

HEY! Instead of stressing out about all this other stuff, I’m gonna spend the afternoon picking grapes and making jelly. If I wanna blow off the everything that I’m supposed to be doing and make jelly instead then DAMMIT I’m going to because I’m a grown woman and who can stop me SO THERE.

Anyway.

I still can’t believe that these grapes are wild.  Most of the ones I’ve seen in the past wouldn’t really set fruit in bunches; it would just be a few random grapes here and there on the vines.  wild grapeswild grape jellyThe main difference between wild and cultivated grapes are the size of the seeds. Wild grapes’ skins slip off the same way concord grape skins do, but the seed inside is huge and there’s not much to the fruit. The flavor is intense, though, and perfect for making jelly.  The color of the finished preserve is gorgeous and the taste is dark, tart and wonderful.  (Actually, it really reminds me of the tiny, tart wild blackberries that grow in the exact same area earlier in the summer.) grape jelly

Wild grapes have lots of pectin on their own and are a good candidate for a no-added pectin jelly.  The set on those jellies really is nicer than jellies with added commercial pectin, but you really need to add a lot of sugar to make the no pectin  batches gel.  I prefer adding low-sugar commercial pectin to the grape juice so that I can use less sugar and have a shorter cooking time (which often preserves the flavor of the fresh fruit a little better).  I made some wild blackberry-plum jelly earlier this year without any added commercial pectin, and it’s good, but it’s just so sweet.

WILD GRAPE JELLY, adapted from the Sure-Gel low sugar pectin insert that comes in the box

Makes: 6 half pint jars

Cook Time: 1 hr. plus overnight

STEP ONE:

First, make the grape juice.  Wash the grapes and remove them from the stems.  Put them in a large, nonreactive pot and add just enough water to cover them.  Simmer the grapes for about half an hour.  Once they start softening up, mash them with a potato masher to release their juice. After 30-45 minutes, pour them into a jelly bag to drain overnight. (Or, use cheesecloth.  or a clean pillowcase. I like this description of using a pillowcase instead of a proper jelly bag. I just slip mine over the top of a pot and tie off the excess fabric underneath the pot, if that makes any sense.)

I had 16 cups of grapes and cooked them in 8 cups of water, which ended up yielding about 5 cups of juice.

STEP TWO: making the jelly

Ingredients:

  • 5 c. prepared wild grape juice
  • 3 cups plus 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 box of sure-gel low sugar pectin

Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.

Whisk together the pectin with 1/4 c. of sugar.  In a large, nonreactive pot, whisk together the grape juice and the pectin/sugar mixture.  Cook on high heat until the grape juice comes to a full, rolling boil.  Stir in the rest of the sugar and bring the jelly back to a full boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute.

Ladle hot jelly into prepared jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe rims and attach lids, then process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as necessary. tattler lidsThis happens to be the first time I’ve tried out tattler lids… and I love them.  They’re BPA free and reusable, which is great.  Throwing away all those metal lids always seems like a bummer, and really, I haven’t seen any pinterest projects for repurposing them that actually look like anything work making.

Check out the Tattler website for more information. 

Instead of Paying My Bills, I Spent All Afternoon Chopping Cucumbers: Dill Relish Recipe

Last summer I made the recipe dill relish from the Ball Book.  It was pretty delicious.  The original recipe calls to shred the cucumbers with a food processor, though, and I ended up acting like a four year old about it all winter.  (like this: RELISH IS SUPPOSED TO BE LITTLE TINY CUBES OF CUCUMBER.  THE STUFF FROM THE GROCERY STORE IS IN CUBES, NOT SHREDDED.  WHY ISN’T THIS LIKE THAT.)  The other day, I decided that I really, really didn’t want to do any of the important stuff I was supposed to be working on, and that spending the afternoon chopping cucumbers into a 2 mm. dice would be a much more productive use of my time.dill relishI’m pleased to let you know that the work was totally worth it, and this relish is so awesome it makes me want to eat hot dogs every day.  Chopping all these cukes wasn’t as awful as you’d think, either.  If you’re the kind of crazy person who likes to prep giant piles of citrus fruit for marmalade (like me) then this is actually a wonderfully relaxing project.  If you’re normal,  you can definitely just use the food processor instead and it still tastes great.  pickling cucumbersDILL RELISH, adapted from the recipe in the Ball Book of Home Preserving

Brunoise means to cut into a very small dice, between 2 and 4 mm.  (It’s funny, because if you know happen to know what “brunoise” means, you’ll probably notice that I did a really lame job of actually doing it properly.)  Don’t be scared by the fancy word though: the idea is just that you’re cutting the cucumber and onion into teeny pieces.  If you don’t want to, just shred it.

Makes: 14 pints

Cook Time: ha! hours.

Ingredients:

  • 12 lbs. pickling cucumbers, brunoised
  • 2 onions, brunoised
  • 3/4 c. kosher salt
  • 6 c. water
  • 3 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/4 c. chopped dill fronds and blossoms
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 6 c. white vinegar

Combine the cucumbers, onions, water and salt in a nonreactive container.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.

Drain the cucumber mixture and then rinse it thoroughly with cold water.  Transfer the drained mixture into a large, nonreactive pot. Add the vinegar, turmeric, celery seed, dill and sugar and bring to a boil.  Turn heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle the hot relish into hot, clean jars leaving 1/2″ headspace.  Use a wooden chopstick to remove air bubbles and adjust headspace. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath, adjusting for altitude as necessary.

PS: I didn’t remove the air bubbles as well as I should have, and ended up with a couple jars that have way too much headspace.  Don’t skip this step!

Carrot Cake Jam

We’ve been harvesting a lot of carrots this week…carrots and basilAnd even though I really can go through all of them fresh without any problems (carrot soup with coconut and ginger), I made a few jars of things to stash away for later, the most important of which is this carrot cake jam.carrot cake jam It’s kind of a ridiculous recipe; I made it last year on a whim just because I had a ton of carrots and kind of didn’t think much about it at the time, but it’s one of my little brother’s favorite flavors that I make.  He’s crazy about it, so I made more this year.

The original recipe is one of these charming, vaguely retro recipes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  It’s got a great color and a surprisingly delicious flavor that does taste vaguely reminiscent of carrot cake.  With six cups of sugar, canned pineapple and powdered pectin all on the ingredient list, though, it was due for a bit of updating. I tried two different ways, one with low-sugar pectin and the other with no pectin in at all (for a looser, less jello-y set on the finished jam).  After tasting them both, I actually really prefer the one with low sugar pectin.   The set is much firmer than I’d ordinarily like, but the longer cook time on the no-pectin version made the whole thing basically just taste like pineapple. (Which is okay, but if that were the plan, I’d rather just make a jam from pineapple without a bunch of other junk in it.)

I almost never buy fruit from the grocery store, but you have to compromise your morals every once in awhile.  Please note the plastic tag attached to the pineapple, a telltale sign of incredibly high quality produce. *ahem* pineapple

If you have a bounty of carrots, you should absolutely give this one a try…. It’s great on a toasted bagel with cream cheese, as an ice cream topping, and as a super unique filling for pb&js.

CARROT CAKE JAM:

Cook Time: an hour or so, if you including washing and grating carrots

Makes: 5 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. grated carrots
  • 1 3/4 c. diced fresh pears
  • 2 c. diced fresh pineapple
  • 1 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/2 c. sugar + 2 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 box of sure-gel low sugar pectin
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves

Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.

Combine the carrots, pears, pineapple, lemon juice, water and spices in a large, nonreactive pot and bring to a simmer.  Cook for 30 min. on low to soften everything up. In a separate bowl, stir together 1/2 c. sugar and the box of low-sugar pectin. Stir the pectin mixture into the carrot mixture and bring to a full boil.  Quickly stir in the 2 1/2 c. sugar and bring back to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute, stirring to prevent the carrots from sticking, then remove from heat.  Remove the cinnamon stick and discard.  Ladle hot jam into hot, clean jars using 1/4″ headspace.  Process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as necessary.

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.