Wow, its so September already that back to school supplies are off the shelves and Halloween is up, with all it’s pumpkins, skeletons and scarecrows. August was super busy with all the canning I did and family visits. I barely looked up from the jam pot. I’ve found I really love stirring jam and watching it simmer down. It’s very therapeutic! Who knew?
The other night, when the house was quiet and I was pondering dinner, I decided to experiment and create a variation on a favorite recipe from “50 Things to Grill in Foil”, a small pamphlet published by Food Network Magazine. Food Network’s version consists of shrimp, garlic, butter, lemon, parsley and a pinch of hot pepper flakes. I was kind of bored with that and I had been given some beautiful cilantro by a friend at work so I substituted it for the parsley. Then I upped the game by using a fresh red Serrano pepper from my garden in place of the crushed red pepper flakes and some lime juice and zest instead of the lemon. The result was quite zingy and had a definite southeast Asian flavor profile. I ate it without accompaniment but it would have been excellent over rice or ramen noodles.
Shrimp Baked in Foil with Lime and Cilantro
4-6 large shrimp (16/20 count), rinsed, peeled and deveined
1 Tbsp salted butter
1/4 C chopped cilantro, leaves and stems, loosely packed
1 Serrano pepper, halved, seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 tsp lime zest+juice of 1/2 lime
pinch of fine sea salt
Layer the ingredients on a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil sufficiently large to fold in thirds over them. Crimp the foil to create a tight seam on the sides and top. Place on a baking sheet and bake on the center rack in a 425º oven for about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for about 5 minutes. Mind the steam when you open the packet and expect some liquid to have been released by the ingredients. It makes a lovely broth for dipping bread. Enjoy in a shallow bowl.
Notes: Feel completely free to adjust the amounts of ingredients to suit your taste. Also, you may leave the shells on the shrimp if desired, and peel them at table. Many feel the shells impart excellent flavor. I’m just too impatient to peel my shrimp at dinner. Also, this will increase cooking time by 2-3 minutes.
New Baby Kitty!
Oh, and on a completely side note, we got a kitten. She just had her first vet appointment and is doing fine. She’s a very good jumper and climber and is quite vocal.
It’s August (!!) and gardens and fields are overflowing with produce. Today’s Farmer’s Market was swarming even though the Market Master had only just rung the opening bell. Vendors baskets were stacked high, but not for long. As I stood in line to pay for some Kirby cucumbers I watched people snatching green beans by the huge handful from a bin beside me until it was nearly empty. My own little tub of dirt has already yielded a few tomatoes and the basil is thriving. Our CSA share is also generous, and I’m now having to scramble to use all of it. This is our third year with a farm-share, and I feel like I finally have some good resources for making sure our fruits and vegetables don’t go to waste. Our farmers work really hard to grow food for us and it kills me when it spoils before we can eat it. This post is about tools and skills that have helped me immensely in my quest to eat local and make the best use of our CSA and Farmers Market purchases.
Steam and Drama
My canning odyssey started last summer when my husband surprised me with 25 pounds of rapidly ripening peaches. When we had eaten our fill and shared all we could we were still left with a lot of fruit, and it was dead ripe. I had no choice but to bust out the Ball Blue Book and put them up. Long story short, I had every burner on my range going–one pot for the water to scald the skins off the peaches, one giant, scary boiling water bath for the jars, one sauce pan to simmer the jar lids and one to boil the syrup for the peaches. It was a hot night in August and I was a sweaty, cranky, jittery mess. My beige suede clogs have permanent blue stains from peach peels falling upon them. The yield was just 5 quarts, but the seal on one blew out so we refrigerated it immediately and kept it as our personal stock. The verdict? Totally. Worth. It. My mom got a jar as a Christmas gift and enjoyed it so much that she decided to gift me with a Ball Auto Canner in the hopes that all the steam and drama of last summer would not put me off canning again. I have also been exploring small batch canning using Marisa McClellan’s book Preserving by the Pint as my guide.
The Ball Auto-Canner
(Note: I have not been compensated in any way by the manufacturers of this product, nor is this an endorsement. It’s an account of my personal experience with it and a summary of the reviews I have read, in my own words. The Auto-Canner is fairly new to the market and I hope to give information to other home canners who are curious about it.)
The Auto Canning System is innovative in that it employs water, steam and pressure in a closed system to reach the temperatures necessary for successful water bath canning without the large amounts of water and energy. It should be noted that this device is NOT A PRESSURE CANNER. You cannot preserve low acid foods using the Auto Canning System, (which I will refer to from now on as the ACS). While I am pleased and impressed with my ACS thus far, it has some pros and some cons.
Pros and Cons
I consider the small amount of water required by the ACS to be a huge positive, and not just because it conserves a resource. It takes far less time to sterilize jars and process the food. The sterilization/pre-heating cycle is around 12 minutes and the processing times for the recipes I have tried were around 25-35 minutes. It is also not necessary to simmer the jar lids in a separate pot. That’s one less thing on the stove. The unit does vent some steam but the kitchen stays cool so, yay!
One possible drawback to the ACS is its size. It’s as tall and wide as the biggest canning pot, but with a relatively small capacity (6 half pint or 4 pint or 3 quart jars at a time). If you are a longtime canner who puts up a lot of food for your family every year, the ACS is probably not the best fit. If you are an apartment dweller with little storage or counter space, it might not suit you either. It’s a good fit for my experience level and small household. I was able to carve out a place to store it in my laundry room.
The ACS comes with a really nice jar lifter and metal rack (canning necessities) and a cookbook with recipes and meal planning guides. The book has lots of information on water-bath canning. The manufacturer strongly recommends that you only use the recipes they have developed, tested and published in their book and online. I totally get it because it’s a food safety thing, but I noticed in a lot of the product reviews people seemed disappointed in the number of recipes available. I am too, a little. (I mentioned before that I have this absolutely wonderful book on small batch canning and I had hoped I could make some of the recipes using the ACS, but alas…. More on that later.)
That being said, I have tried two recipes so far; one from the book that shipped with the unit (Bread and Butter Pickles) and one from the Ball Canning website (Blueberry Jam, reduced sugar version). The pickles are still curing, so I’ll have to get back to you on those, but the jars sealed with no issues, and that is great. I used the amount of cucumbers the recipe called for and had too many by far, and ran a little short on the brine. This may be due to my inexperience, and haphazard jar packing. The Blueberry jam recipe called for what I thought was a lot of pectin, and the set was a bit firm, but the jam was still spreadable and had good flavor and color. Next I’m hoping to try the Applesauce, Pears or Dilly Beans.
One last thing about the ACS that is a con is its cost. At about $300, it’s a big investment and you will have to carefully consider if it is the right tool for the job. I was lucky to get mine as a gift. A few online reviewers also got theirs as wedding and holiday gifts. It’s not something I would just go out and buy to experiment with canning. Many people probably already have tools in their kitchen that they could use to start canning, and decide later whether to buy more.
For me, intolerant of heat, and scared of 16 quarts of water at a rolling boil, the ACS was a great gift. I’m hugely thankful for it. It is my hope the manufacturer publishes more recipes. Maybe the author of the lovely book I’m going to talk about next will team up with them!
Preserving by the Pint
Preserving by the Pint, by Marisa McClellan, is my current favorite cookbook. I’ve read it cover to cover and I love both the recipes and the photography. It makes canning approachable and glamorous. I’ve tried two recipes and have had success with both. “Zucchini Butter with Fresh Thyme” is a delicious spread made with that ubiquitous summer squash. It does not need water-bath processing and can be jarred and stored in the fridge for about a week. “Dilled Carrot Spears” allowed me the opportunity to try out some small batch canning in my stock pot. They are delicious and pretty too.
I had a couple of large, beautiful bunches of carrots from my CSA farmer–more than I could eat out of hand and I don’t love cooked carrots so these crunchy pickles were an ideal solution. I also appreciate the section with detailed information about the author’s favorite canning tools and what the reader can find in their own kitchen inventory to get started with water-bath canning. The recipes are very hip and a great reminder that pickles aren’t just cucumbers and jams aren’t just for toast.
A couple of other books that I love and think are must-haves are the Ball Blue Book, published by the Ball Corporation and Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. Vegetable Literacy is another book I have read cover to cover and re-read portions of often. It lists many familiar vegetables and a few unfamiliar ones by their botanical families and provides both information and recipes for each. My favorite is the Garlic Scape and Walnut Pesto. I make it each spring and sneak spoonfuls of it from its container in the fridge when no one is looking. The Blue Book Guide to Preserving covers everything from water bath canning and pressure canning (very different) to freezing and dehydrating. It’s inexpensive and well worth the read when you’re ready to try canning or any other method of preserving your garden bounty. I relied on it when I canned (those peaches) for the first time ever and it did not let me down.
Although the days are getting longer, it’s still bitterly cold and snowy around here. Last week I had a craving for some figure-friendly comfort food and decided to make chicken soup. I’ve made something like this “recipe” since my early twenties, and over the years I have made some modifications but it’s pretty basic. Probably, many folks have a meal like this in their repertoire, at least I hope so. It’s a blessing, and really more of a “method” than an actual recipe since this is the first time I am writing it out. I don’t really measure. It’s more about what I feel like when I am preparing it.
The broth: my husband loves this so much he’ll drink it straight. In a 3.5 quart pot (I like enameled cast iron) assemble
1 leftover (or not) 2-3 lb rotisserie chicken. You may certainly roast your own. Reserve most of the breast meat to chop and add into the soup at the end. If you like thigh and leg meat reserve some of that.
1 onion quartered, or a couple of leeks, trimmed and rinsed well to remove any grit. I really enjoy leeks.
1 or 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks. Sometimes I just snap them in half and throw them in.
1 stalk of celery, preferably from the heart of the bunch, with some leaves
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into large chunks
Several sprigs of fresh thyme, or a few pinches of dried thyme
A handful of parsley, leaves and stems
The juice of 1 lemon (this can be added during the simmer.)
Water to just cover all, leaving enough headroom to bring the pot to a boil.
Bring the pot to a gentle boil over medium heat, then back the heat off and simmer the pot for an hour, or more. When the vegetables are very soft, but not mushy, remove them along with the chicken carcass and discard. I use a slotted spoon at first, and then a skimmer to get the smaller bits so I don’t have to strain the hot liquid into a bowl then return it to the pot. Salt to taste.
If you haven’t the time to create your own broth, there are some really good ones available at the market. I recently discovered this one, and it’s a little pricey at about $7 a quart, but very delicious.
At this point I add noodles. I just use a handful or two of whatever dried pasta is on hand and cook it according to the package directions right in the broth. On the day I made the soup in the photo I had dilatini, but you can use whatever appeals to you and your family. You can use quick cooking rice if you like, too.
Then I add a few frozen vegetables. You can freestyle it here–if you love them load up on them. It’s a good opportunity to use any miscellaneous opened bags you might have in the freezer. My favorite is a mixture of peas, green beans, corn and carrots. I love the colors. Simmer for a few minutes until the vegetables are heated through.
Finally, add the meat you have reserved from your chicken. You can chop it into chunks as I did, or shred it. I do this last since the chicken is already cooked and I don’t want it to get rubbery.
This recipe feeds 4-6, or can be refrigerated for a couple of weekday lunches. Do you have a “by heart” recipe?
After a 10 day period that included, in rapid-fire succession, aggressive work deadlines, malfunctioning major appliances, a seriously ill pet and a burglary, we’re just a little exhausted, but otherwise OK. Except we tend to eat poorly in times of crisis, and leaned heavily on our favorite comfort/convenience foods. You know the ones–mac and cheese, potatoes, take-out pizzas and sandwiches. Then my mom sent me home with possibly the prettiest salad ever.
My mom’s a genius at food; not just the preparation, but the presentation. She could have been a food-stylist. When we got this salad it felt like Christmas. Actually, like the Christmases of “long ago” when appreciative children pulled jewel-like oranges from their stockings and were grateful for the sweetness and nourishment during the short, dark winter days. Yay for salad, and moms!
This recipe came to me from my mother, in a binder of her favorites she compiled for me as a Christmas gift. I’m not sure where she found it. She subscribes to many food magazines, has dozens of cookbooks, and always has an eye out for new delights. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably from Rachel Ray. I added a couple of twists, so we’ll say “adapted from” the latter.
It’s escarole soup time because the nights are getting colder and I have a tenacious escarole in my garden that survived the harvest of my early season crop. It was so prettily ruffled and vivid green I did not have the heart pick it.
However, after all this time it’s just a bit too bitter and tough for a tossed salad. I’ve read in Deborah Madison’s gorgeous ❤ book Vegetable Literacy about how cooking will mellow the bitterness of escarole so I’ve been eager to try this:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium white or yellow onion, sliced thin or diced
1 clove garlic, sliced thin, or minced
1 head escarole, rinsed thoroughly, cored and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice (more or less, to taste)
4 cups chicken broth (homemade or your favorite brand)
1/4-1/2 cup orzo (depending on how thick you like your soup)
mini meatballs (homemade or your favorite frozen brand-1/4 oz size)
Heat the olive oil, over medium heat, in a 2 quart pot. Add the onions and cook until very soft and slightly caramelized. Add the garlic and cook an extra 1 minute or less (to avoid scorching). Add the escarole and cook until wilted.
Add the chicken broth and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add the orzo, and cook until tender, according to directions on package. Finally, add as many meatballs as you like and cook until they are heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with grated parmesan and crusty bread.
you may wish to add less orzo, or even cook it separately and add at table because it lends a lot of starch to the soup (or rather sucks up a lot of the liquid). Anyway, if you like a broth-y soup, be conservative with the pasta.
remove the outermost leaves of the escarole because those are likely to be the toughest and least tasty
the lemon juice helps tone down the bitterness of the escarole, and I actually added a bit more than this recipe calls for because my escarole was very (!) mature. I thought I had gone too far with the acidity, but the richness of the meatballs and the parmesan pulled it all back together
They’re not new, but they’re new to me and I think they might be the next big thing. Everyone I share them with says the following four things, in this order:
“Where did you get them?”
“Where can I get some?”
“Can I grow them?”
“My CSA share. It’s when you pay a farmer up front at the beginning of the growing season and you get veggies all summer. “
“Not sure. Check your farmer’s market. I haven’t seen them much in supermarkets, but I have seen their cousins, the tomatillos.”
“You can totally grow them. Do a Google search and you can find somewhere to buy seeds and get growing advice.”
Here’s more info I’ve gleaned. They’re sweet–almost like a berry, or melon. One of my friends at work said the taste reminded her of watermelon. They’re teeny tiny. The picture does not give any sense of scale. They’re smaller than cherry tomatoes. They’re members of the nightshade family, like tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants. They fall from the vine when perfectly ripe, but will sweeten more if left to sit for a day or two. My husband and I remove the papery husks (they fall right off) and eat them out of hand. I’ll bet they would be killer with wine and cheese or in a tossed salad. They’d make a tasty jam too, probably. They’re also called ground cherries. Seeds can be purchased online. They’re just too much fun! I hope you find some to enjoy for yourself.
Why is there a line forming in the parking lot of a hardware store in a suburb of Columbus Ohio at 8:45 in the morning on a Friday in mid July? What is the pair of 24 foot trucks carrying that is generating such nervous excitement in the crowd? Whispers of, “Is there a limit?” and “What are you going to do with yours?” can be heard.
It all goes back to the early Spring. To the winter actually. To the very long harsh winter, and then to the spring when Ohio’s peach farmers discovered this year’s crop had been lost to the cold. I’m not going to lie–I cried. Not so much for my well-fed spoiled self who would dearly miss the local peaches. I also shed a tear for my favorite orchard, where they pour their heart and soul into their product. The family of farmers work so very hard, and sometimes despite their best efforts, things don’t go as planned. Their peaches have rock star status among my friends and neighbors. Their truck always has a line at the Saturday Market. I happily wait in the line. But not this year. (Not yet. Not until the apples come in.)
I guess my gradual transformation into a “locavore” who is more connected with my food and my farmers has an emotional cost. A few years ago, the news of a crop failure might have elicited an “Oh, that’s too bad.” from me, but I would have been comforted by the well stocked produce department in the supermarket. I mean, after all, it’s in season somewhere. Now I am pained if I see discouragement in the faces of my farmers, or if I read it in their social updates. With the purchase of a CSA share comes a closeness that I can’t really explain. It’s not even the anticipation or expectation of a return on my investment in the form of food for my table. I want the farmers to succeed. I love what they’re doing.
So, that is how I came to be in the parking lot, grateful, but a little conflicted, queuing up to buy Georgia peaches from The Peach Truck.
The young entrepreneurs responsible for this peach lifeline to Ohio have their own wonderful story. They are evangelists for the thing they love–legendary Georgia peaches, grown on a five generation family farm, using the best agricultural practices possible. By extension, for right now, they are my local growers. They embody the same spirit I admire in the farmers who live just a mile or two away from me. As for my favorite local orchard, their foresight and resilience has resulted in a bumper apple crop and plans for an autumn festival. Who knows? Perhaps these would have been overshadowed had there been a peach crop in Ohio this year. Weird how things work out sometimes. Weird how my thoughts wander while I wait in line for peaches.
Oh, and if you happen to be in Ohio, Kentucky or Tennessee, and if you would like to buy the Georgia peaches, check this: The Small Town Peach Tour, courtesy of The Peach Truck. They’re coming back soon!
This one came to us over the airwaves, via my husband’s favorite drive time radio announcer, who had it at a local restaurant. We’ve long since forgotten which restaurant, but I must share. You will need
Toasted Sesame Seeds
First, peel the cucumber (or more than one if you have a crowd) or don’t, or partly peel it–your call depending on the flavor and thickness of the skin. Then slice the cucumber thin and place the slices in a single layer in a shallow dish.
Next, sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on the sliced cucumber.
Finally, sprinkle soy sauce over the top, to taste. Serve immediately. Your cucumber will quickly absorb that soy sauce, especially if you have sliced it very thin. We’ve found it’s best to dress this salad shortly before eating. You could also do this as a ribbon salad, and you could add just a touch of rice vinegar. We like to serve this with sushi, but you can have it with burgers just as easily. It’s a nice, cooling summer salad and a great way to deal with a garden overflowing with cukes!
It’s officially been summer for a few days now. The container gardens on the main street in my town are decked with little flags and looking very cheery.
Soon we will see the onslaught of summer vegetables. We’ll have more tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers than we know what to do with. The tender greens of spring (spinach, lettuces, kale) will taper off until the weather cools again. I will begin to struggle for ideas about what to do with items in my CSA basket as it becomes more and more bountiful. To date, I’m doing pretty well and it has not gotten ahead of me. This past couple of weeks I’ve been successful with garlic scapes. I made a really nice pesto of them combined with walnuts, a little basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese and lemon zest.
The credit really must go to Deborah Madison’s beautiful compendium Vegetable Literacy, which I consulted for a garlic scape recipe. However, I was missing one key ingredient for Ms. Madison’s pesto and was a little short on garlic scapes, so I made up the difference with some basil. I’m pretty sure you could use spinach or kale as well. I also added lemon juice and lemon zest for a little brightness.
Garlic Scape Pesto(adapted, via Deborah Madison’s Garlic Scape and Walnut Pesto, Vegetable Literacy)
6 -8 garlic scapes, flower buds removed
8-10 Large basil leaves (a nice fistful)
½ cup good olive oil
¼ cup walnuts, unsalted
¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, in small chunks
1 tsp lemon juice and/or
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon of salt, or to taste (the parmesan is salty)
Dice the garlic scapes and combine with the other ingredients except ¼ cup of the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse a few times, then add the rest of the olive oil gradually and continue pulsing until mixture achieves the desired consistency. I’ve enjoyed my pesto most as a spread on toasted bread, and I like to add a dab of goat cheese beside it. I am also curious about using Marcona almonds in place of the walnuts.
This past Sunday we had the very good fortune to be invited to a Farm to Table Dinner at the farm where we purchased our CSA share.
In late autumn of last year Bird’s Haven Farms launched a campaign on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo.com to raise money for a much-needed deer fence. The campaign was successful, and the fence was fully funded with the help of the community. As a gesture of thanks the Bird family extended an invitation to supporters to visit the farm and dine on delicious local fare. The Birds and their farm team were the most gracious of hosts. We enjoyed a wonderful meal and got a tour of where our summer vegetables are growing.
We feasted on appetizers, salad, entrée and deserts prepared with ingredients from several local farmers and bakers, and of course, Bird’s Haven Farms. I cannot possibly do justice to how tasty and beautiful it all was. Everything, down to the littlest detail, was thoughtfully prepared and presented. Our cutlery was individually bundled in its napkin with some tiny wildflowers. At the end of the evening we were all sent home with a potted starter plant. We even got to meet Chester, the farm dog. I was charmed.
My husband and I live just a short distance from the farm, and from our own gardening experiences, we know the challenges of growing things in our area. Really, the challenge is not growing so much as controlling what grows, because nearly everything thrives here in summer when summer finally arrives. That includes the desirable (veggies, berries, fruits) and the not so desirable (weeds, insects, fungi.) Fauna also abounds, and we all contend with marauding deer, raccoons, and birds. At the Bird family farm, they combat these pressures on crops, as well as the frequently fickle weather by growing in high tunnels.
The high tunnels offer a more controlled environment for vegetable crops and extend the growing season by months. Plants are protected from deer on the roam and diseases and insects borne by the air. Optimal temperatures can be maintained, and irrigation with drip tape provides consistent moisture. Because of all this, far fewer chemicals and insecticides are necessary for growing the vegetables. Our area is also subject to occasional extreme weather such as thunderstorms with high winds and hail and the tunnels give a modicum of protection from these as well. The Bird’s perfect, uniformly green tomato plants with their stout stems bear witness to the sound logic behind growing in these structures.
Bird’s Haven also has a brand-new-to-them huge greenhouse. It was purchased second hand, dismantled, hauled to its present site and reassembled by Lee Bird—certainly a Herculean task. It will serve as a baby plant nursery so crops can be seeded and propagated earlier and then moved to the field or high tunnel when it is the right time. On the evening of the dinner, one bay of the greenhouse was filled with young plants as far as the eye could see.
Tonight I will be picking up my very first CSA box for the season, and I have a greater appreciation than ever before of what goes into it, both literally and figuratively. My husband and I are grateful to have the opportunity to learn more about what we will be putting on our table this summer and to meet some very nice people.