Monday, September 27, 2010

Canning: Garlic Dill Pickles

I wanted to can pickles before the end of the summer.  I LOVE pickles and I am very particular about which kinds.  My favorites are the ones you get at delis when you go to buy subs (Just Subs in NJ is my favorite, they have several locations) and, interestingly enough, the Shop Rite brand kosher dills found in the refrigerated section near the Kraft singles and bacon and stuff.  I like to eat pickles when I am in a munching mood, because they are so low in calories but fairly filling.  I eat them with a fork and a knife in front of the TV.  I know, really weird.

Anyway, back to the canning.  I bought 4 pints of baby cucumbers to pickle and decided on the garlic dill pickles from Food in Jars - they sounded like what I like, and they required far less work than the recipes in the Ball Complete book.  I cut the cucumbers into spears and got some grape leaves from my Nonna - they help pickles to stay crisp.

The recipe made 8 pints of pickles, but I guess I simmered my brine too long because I only had enough for almost 7 jars.  I was able to make enough extra to top off the seventh jar, but then I ran out of cider vinegar.  I didn't want to hold up processing the rest of the jars, so I decided I would process the 7 I had done and use regular white vinegar to make the last jar into refrigerator pickles.

This happened about 2 weeks ago, and I just cracked open that refrigerator jar to try one.  Oh man, was it delicious!  Sour and spicy.  It was pretty strong, but I'm interested to see the difference with the cider vinegar.  I think the grape leaves definitely helped, but I also didn't run this batch through the canner, so that may have made a difference.

When I crack open a processed jar I'll post an update of what those taste like.  Until then, I will enjoy my refrigerator pickles as an afternoon snack :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fresh Fig Jam

It seems that in the late summer and early fall I can't seem to see my Nonna without acquiring a ton of fresh figs.  Want to know a secret?  I don't really like them.  I don't like their mushiness.  I don't like their overly-sweet-ness.  I like dried figs, in recipes.  But I don't really want to eat fresh ones.  That being said, you do not refuse food presented to you by an Italian grandmother.  I always try to turn them into something I do like, for example, a peach and fig crisp.  This time, I considered drying them.  This is an area of food preservation that I would like to explore one day... but now is not the time in my life for that.  Maybe next year.  I'm still getting a grasp on the whole canning thing, and trying to rescue myself from an avalanche every time I open my freezer.

I ended up doing a Google search for fig jam.  I was looking for a recipe that would leave me with small chunks and introduce some interesting flavors without using any hard-to-find ingredients.  I ended up using this recipe with Grand Marnier and lemon zest.  I think it turned out delicious.

For the most part, I followed the recipe.  I tried to peel the figs, but that ended real quickly when I realized how annoying it was.  Luckily the skins are so thin that they pretty much disintegrate in the pot anyway.  I also cooked it down just a little bit longer, and gave it a "whaz" (Jamie Oliver says that and I think it's HILARIOUS) with the immersion blender since it was a little more chunky than I wanted.

For me, the recipe filled three 8-oz jars and one 4-oz jar with only about a spoonful left over (for tasting, of course).  I put two in the freezer, gave one to my mom, and kept the 4-oz jar in my fridge - it should keep for quite a while, according to the recipe.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Heirloom Tomato and Mozzarella Tart

I had a delicious acorn squash and sausage tart at a friend's house, from a book called Cooking from the Farmers' Market, a Williams-Sonoma cookbook.  I literally read it cover to cover while we sat at their house waiting for dinner to be ready, and later I asked her to bring it over so I could take down some recipes to try.  The book is organized by types of fruits/vegetables, so it's perfect for the person who doesn't know what to do with, say, 10 eggplants.  There are at least 3 recipes for each thing.  I've got a glut of tomatoes right now, so the Rustic Tomato and Mozzarella Tart sounded perfect to me - not to mention it was on puff pastry, like the acorn squash and sausage tart, which is, of course, delicious.

I was a little skeptical as I assembled this tart.  It looked kind of like a white pizza, but on puff pastry.  It is full of cheese and other fats.  But oh boy, was it delicious.  I think the key here is the garlic butter you spread on the puff pastry sheets before layering the cheese and tomatoes on top.  The basil slivers really brightened it up.  I used two stripey red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, which made for a beautiful presentation.

Not only would I like to make this again, but it inspired me to try more with puff pastry as well as to make pizza.  I think this could be great topped with different kinds of vegetables.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Leftovers Fried Rice - Take 2

 I cook from recipes almost exclusively.  I want to try harder to foster my own creativity.  In trying to come up with a quick weekday lunch, I ended up making fried rice.  So here we have leftovers fried rice, take 2.  (Much more interesting than take 1, interestingly posted at almost the exact same time last year.)

I used leftover brown rice from my Thai food, a scrambled egg, some chunks of yellow zucchini, half a small red pepper (diced), frozen broccoli, and some scallions.  I cooked it in canola oil and garlic (not enough, though.  More next time!) and added a drizzle of sesame oil, a splash of soy sauce and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds.

As I said, this was delicious, but I need to get a better handle on the seasonings.  My timing was much better than it has been in the past, despite the mix of fresh and frozen.  More garlic!!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Shrimp in Tomatillo and Herb Sauce

This picture may look gross, but don't let it fool you.  It tasted amazing.  (Well, the shrimp and sauce were amazing.  The rice and squash, well, I guess you can't just eat shrimp by itself for dinner.)

I recently got a new phone.  I don't know how to use it but Ken set some stuff up for me.  One of the things now on one of my 20394899 home screens is a little feed of NY Times articles - I specifically requested the food section, of course.  On the first day I had this, I saw that they were featuring tomatillos along with several recipes.  All I had been able to find up to this point was salsa verde!  Naturally, I was thrilled.  I chose to make Shrimp in Tomatillo and Herb Sauce

As I said, this was delicious, but we did run into a problem.  This is the first year I have ever (knowingly) eaten tomatillos, and I've been getting them from our CSA.  On the pick-your-own board every week it says "poor quality" next to the tomatillos.  This may or may not have been a factor in our problem.

What was this problem?  (I've been building it up a little too much.)  According to the recipe directions, you are supposed to puree the tomatillos and herbs in a blender, then simmer the sauce on the stove with the shrimp in it.  Maybe it was our tomatillos, but we had next to no liquid in our sauce.  The blender wouldn't even work - we had to get the food processor dirty as well too.  (Next time I'll use my judgment, though, and go with the food processor the first time.)  We tried adding oil and water in small amounts but it wasn't doing any good.  We briefly heated the sauce in a skillet, added the shrimp, and miraculously we were able to coat them without any problems.  The sauce stuck to them like glue.  In the end, it was more of a pesto, but it was certainly delicious.  Another note to myself: picking the two largest serranos for this tiny amount of sauce was not necessarily the best idea you've ever had.  Next time, go with the two smallest instead.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce

This recipe is adapted from Deborah Madison's book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  She uses thyme for a different flavor profile, but I wanted a more Italian flavored tomato sauce.  Deborah mentions in her recipe notes that while this is a viable treatment for high quality tomatoes, it is great to use on lesser quality tomatoes since the roasting concentrates their flavor.  Since many of my tomatoes were suffering from blossom-end rot, I felt this would be the best option for my sauce.

Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce
2 quarts sauce tomatoes
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 large handful chopped basil (to taste)
1 small handful chopped oregano (to taste)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Use a knife to make an "X" on the bottom (blossom) end of each tomato.  Blanch in small batches (I did 3-4) for about 30 seconds, until you notice your X expanding and pink flesh peeking through.  Transfer immediately to an ice bath.  When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, slip off the peels.
3. Halve and core the tomatoes.  With smaller tomatoes, I didn't bother coring much. 
4. Arrange tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet (I used stoneware), top with the onion and garlic, and drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Roast for about 45 minutes, checking to make sure the onion and garlic don't burn.  Feel free to go longer if the tomatoes don't look cooked enough to you.
5. Let cool briefly, then transfer to a food processor to puree.  Transfer the puree to a bowl.
6. Add the basil and oregano and season with more salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe yielded two Chinese-food pint containers of sauce, so about 4 cups.  I froze them for later use, but I did taste a spoonful.  It had a great sweetness to it.  In the future, I'd like to try adding both fresh and dried herbs, as well as much more garlic.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Melon Granita

While cutting a watermelon, I realized that there was no way it would all fit in my fridge.  I did a quick Google search to see if there was ANY way I could somehow store it in the freezer instead - not necessarily in fresh-watermelon form, but any way to preserve it a little rather than have to eat it all at once.  I came across a recipe for watermelon granita - quick and easy.  I made it before I even finished cutting up the watermelon.

Later, I did a twist on it with half watermelon, half cantaloupe.  In both cases I modified the recipe as follows.

Melon Granita

4 cups melon cubes (all watermelon, 1/2 watermelon 1/2 cantaloupe, get creative)
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup agave nectar (adjust based on your melon's natural sweetness and your sweet tooth. sub sugar if you want.)

Remove seeds from melon if applicable.  Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.  Pour into a shallow dish, cover and freeze.  Every hour, take the dish out and scrape the frozen parts with a fork - you're aiming for a shaved ice texture.  Work quickly so it doesn't melt.  When you take it out and it's all still flaked from the last time and there's nothing left to scrape, you can transfer it to another container and return to the freezer.

This is a great make-ahead dessert item you can serve for guests.  I imagine it would be nice served in a martini glass and garnished with mint leaves.

One twist I am tempted to try is a mojito version - adding mint and rum, though you still want it to freeze so the amount of rum would have to be small.  Worst case scenario, though, you have a very cold mojito!

The basic recipe would be good with other fruits as well, though I would adjust the other ingredients to be appropriate to the type of fruit you're using.  This is a good way to freeze fruits that would otherwise not freeze well.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Salsa Verde

I've gotten to try some interesting new things thanks to our CSA membership.  Beets - I hated those.  Kale - now one of my favorites.  And this week, tomatillos.
I have never really heard of doing anything with them other than salsa, so I decided to look for a salsa verde recipe.  I found this recipe on the Food Network website, from famous chef Rick Bayless.  I made an adjustment based on the comments - I added a clove of garlic.  I also broiled the tomatillos for only a minute or two less.  I used one jalapeno, since I'm afraid of heat, and this recipe had none - next time I'll use several.  (After this, I made a tomato salsa - more like a sauce, since it pretty much liquified in the food processor - and used three serrano chiles before I was happy with the level of heat.  Guess I like it after all!)  I also excluded the 1/4 cup of water called for.  I found that simply scraping down the food processor was enough to ensure it mixed properly, and I had read in the comments that it becomes more liquidy as it sits.  This didn't happen, but I do like a thick salsa.  It would be worth experimenting with adding a tablespoon or so of water at a time.

This made an interesting condiment for our tacos and I think will make a nice snack with tortilla chips as well.  I don't know what else to do with the tomatillos, so I'm sure I will be making this again.  One advantage of the recipe is that it calls for only 8 ounces of tomatillos.  I'm sure you could multiply it, but since we only received a small quantity it was perfect.  The recipe includes instructions for both a roasted version and a raw version, so maybe next time I'll try it raw instead!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cherry Tomato Bruschetta

One of my favorite things to make with tomatoes is bruschetta.  I don't really follow a recipe - I take a bowl, and I chop some tomatoes.  Then I press some garlic into it - one or two cloves, depending on how much tomato.  I do a moderate splash of olive oil, and a slightly smaller splash of balsamic, and then some salt and pepper.  I chop up a handful of basil leaves and mix it all together.  I am obsessed with those Panetini chip things for bruschetta - I love the Garlic and Parmesan flavor.  I could eat a whole bowl of this for lunch.

We've gotten some gorgeous little cherry tomatoes recently - heirloom varieties I get to pick myself.  Since we don't get many of these tomatoes, I like to do something that really puts the spotlight on them.  The variety of colors and sizes makes such a pretty bruschetta.  This is a simple appetizer or snack that can be made ahead of time and is pretty enough to share with friends.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

CSA: August 2010

Week 13 (8/5/2010):
- PYO herbs: rosemary, thyme, oregano, cinnamon basil, chives (2 types), mint
- 1 bunch parsley
- 1 bunch basil
- 1 dark green melon (red inside)
- 1 striped green melon (yellow inside)
- 1/2 lb swiss chard
- 2 cucumbers
- 4 zucchini
- 1 pint blackberries (PYO)
- 1 pint okra (PYO)
- 30 flower stems (PYO)
- 2 quarts snap beans (PYO) - AKA string beans
- 10 lbs tomatoes
- 5 lbs grape tomatoes
- 3 purple peppers
- 1 green pepper

I feel quite overwhelmed with delicious produce!
Thursday: We steamed the snap beans and made a condiment for them out of whole grain mustard, chopped shallot, lemon juice, and olive oil, served with a simple baked tilapia with dried herbs and garlic.
Friday: I threw together the Pasta with Baked Tomato Sauce using the cherry tomatoes and basil from last week for a quick and easy pasta dish before we left for the shore.
Saturday: For breakfast I baked a Blueberry Buckle using blueberries from the Highland Park market (my favorite market!).  We went to a barbecue/birthday party in the afternoon, so we brought Cherry Tomato Couscous using grape tomatoes, cucumber, and basil from our CSA.  We were out for most of the day, but came home to a snack of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella - probably my favorite use for our CSA tomatoes and basil.  We also snacked on some red and yellow watermelon.
Sunday: We made sauteed zucchini topped with bread crumbs as well as the Chopped Miso Salad as sides to go with our hamburgers, hot dogs and sausage before going home after an awesome weekend.  The salad used up the lingering cabbage from our CSA, plus some shallots and chives.
Monday: Ken had a tomato sandwich for lunch, and I had a plate of tomato, basil and mozzarella.  I made an amazing Pasta with Fresh Corn Pesto using corn from the market and basil from the CSA.
Tuesday: I baked zucchini bread using our CSA zucchini, mint and cinnamon basil.  My cinnamon basil was wilting and turning brown so I didn't have enough - I used some regular basil as well.  Haley and I had tomatoes, basil and mozzarella as a snack.
Wednesday: After a nice plate of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, I made the Oven Roasted Ratatouille again, using an eggplant from the market, plus zucchini, purple peppers, onions, tomatoes, rosemary and thyme from our CSA.  I used our CSA blackberries and some peaches from the market to make a delicious crisp.

Oven Roasted Ratatouille
 ...and after!

Week 14 (8/12/2010):
- PYO herbs did not take
- PYO okra did not take
- PYO basil: cinnamon and lime
- PYO flowers: unlimited
- 2 sunflowers (PYO)
- 1 pint blackberries (PYO)
- 4 hot peppers: 1 serrano, 1 north star?, 1 concho?, 1?? (PYO)
- 1 quart snap beans AKA string beans (PYO)
- 2 watermelons
- 4 lbs tomatoes
- 2 lbs cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 lb swiss chard
- 2 cucumbers
- 4 peppers (red finger peppers)
- 2 eggplants
- 2 bunches basil

This was the first week it rained while we were there!  The lack of rain seems to be drying things up - the blackberry bushes are shriveling up.
Thursday: I used some leftover blueberries and raspberries from the market to make the Blueberry Buckle again.
Friday: I cut up our CSA watermelon, which was delicious, and shared some with Andrea as well.  As an afternoon snack, I had tomato, basil and mozzarella.  For dinner, I made the Pasta with Fresh Corn Pesto again, using corn from the market and basil from the CSA.  Ken had a tomato sandwich before we left to go down the shore for the weekend.
Saturday: Ken had his daily tomato sandwich after making fresh bruschetta with tomatoes and basil from our CSA.  I made a sauce for our breaded chicken and pasta using an onion and basil from our CSA (and canned tomatoes, sorry).  We snacked on some watermelon, but most of the produce was left at home this week since we didn't plan to stay as long as usual.
Monday: I used a cucumber in a cucumber and feta salad, a side for our leftover restaurant food from yesterday.  I also roasted some grape tomatoes with olive oil, brown sugar and a bit of salt with nothing really in mind to do with them except prolong their life just a little.  Late in the evening, we were craving a fruit-based dessert, and I used my CSA blackberries and peaches from the market to make the crisp again.
Tuesday: After a snack of tomato, basil and mozzarella, I whipped up some zucchini bread just to freeze it for the fall/winter (and to use up some zucchini, mint and cinnamon basil from the CSA).  My eggplant was getting a little soft, so I used that along with some tomatoes, onion, a purple pepper, rosemary, thyme, and the rest of the zucchini from the zucchini bread, all from the CSA, and made ratatouille.
Wednesday: Andrea came over and we made some cantaloupe salsa with market cantaloupe and a serrano chile from the CSA.

Week 15: Watermelon, Eggplant, Japanese Eggplant, 
Hot Peppers, Tomatoes, Heirloom Tomatoes, 
Multicolored Peppers, Orange Cherry Tomatoes

Week 15 (8/19/2010):
- 1/2 lb swiss chard (donated)
- 1 lb orange cherry tomatoes
- 4 summer squash/zucchini
- 4 red/green multicolor bell peppers
- 6 eggplants (2 Japanese, 2 classic, 2 funny looking ones)
- 2 bunches basil
- 1 quart okra (PYO)
- 12 hot peppers: 6 serrano del sol, 2 early jalapeno, 1 north star, 2 conchos jalapenos, 1 antohi romanian (PYO)
- 6 sunflowers, allowed 10 (PYO)
- snapdragons (PYO - all flowers unlimited)
- specialty basil/herbs - did not take (PYO)
- 3 lbs tomatoes/heirloom tomatoes
- 2 watermelons

According to the website, the farm is in between tomato plantings - so the second planting is not quite ready for harvest, which is why we have a smaller quantity of tomatoes.  They say yields should increase again soon.  Just wanted to make a note for myself and for any others who want to know what they're getting into.

Thursday: A friend came for dinner and we made bruschetta, pesto, and grilled vegetables; in the process we used up the cherry tomatoes (last week's red ones), some basil, a zucchini, a Japanese eggplant, and a multicolored bell pepper (red/orange/green).
Friday: Ken used some old jalapenos and fresh local organic eggs from the market to make an omelet for dinner while I finished up leftovers from Thursday's grill night.
Saturday: For dinner down the shore with some friends, we grilled some stuff including eggplant, Japanese eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers (the multicolor ones turned red!).  We also cut up a watermelon.
Sunday: We had managed to find local corn at Shop Rite, so we grilled that with some meat.  We also had a cherry tomato caprese salad to finish up some cherry tomatoes and basil from the CSA.
Tuesday: I was hungry for a snack, so I whipped up a quick bruschetta with some CSA tomatoes and basil.  I made pesto (with basil, of course) and had some on a baguette with slices of pink heirloom tomato and mozzarella.
Wednesday: As I was cutting last week's CSA watermelon, regretting not doing it last week, I decided on a whim to make a watermelon granita so that at least some of the watermelon burden could be taken off of the refrigerator and put onto the freezer instead.  A friend came for dinner and we used some potatoes from a while back at the CSA and an onion from the market to make a guilty pleasure, onion potatoes from the Lipton soup mix packet :)  I used arugula pesto from the freezer, which I made a while back to freeze just for this dish, with sauteed orange cherry tomatoes and feta.  We also grilled up some eggplant and sausage for a lovely dinner.  We made a peach and fig crisp in ramekins, using peaches from the market and fresh figs from my great grandma's backyard.

Peach and Fig Crisp with Bourbon and Walnut-Pecan Topping

Week 16 (8/26/2010):
- 1 quart okra did not take (PYO)
- Flowers did not take (PYO)
- 8 sunflowers (PYO)
- 1 quart snap beans (PYO)
- 1 quart cherry tomatoes, mixed colors and sizes (PYO)
- mint (PYO)
- cinnamon basil and sweet Thai basil (PYO)
- 1/2 pint raspberries + blackberries (PYO) - we were entitled to a full pint of mixed, but couldn't find them on the bushes
- 12 hot peppers (north star, jalapenos, serranos)
- 4 green peppers (donated)
- 10 eggplants (2 dark purple globe, 3 dark purple Japanese, 2 white globe, 1 light purple globe, 2 purple/white stripe globe)
- 1 bunch parsley
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 2 bunches basil
- 4 lbs tomatoes
- 2 lbs heirloom tomatoes
- 1/2 lb cherry tomatoes
- 1 watermelon
- 4 zucchini
- 2 bunches scallions

Thursday: I ate the raspberries and blackberries immediately, almost the minute I walked through the door!
Friday: I grilled up some Japanese eggplant from the CSA, plus zucchini and a portobello mushroom fresh from the market.
Sunday: I canned (well, tried to can) several pounds of peaches from the market - my peach salsa contained a red bell pepper and red onions from the market, as well as tomatoes, jalapenos and cilantro from the CSA.  I also made a watermelon and cantaloupe granita (from the CSA and market, respectively).
Monday: As a mid-morning snack I had the first apple of the season from the market with some cheese and crackers.  I still had peaches left over from canning, so I made a quick crisp in the afternoon (without a recipe! and it still came out good).
Tuesday: I made bruschetta with the multicolored PYO cherry tomatoes and basil from the CSA.
Wednesday: Using the last of the eggplant and a few leaves of basil from the CSA, I made an eggplant rollatini.

Week 16: Raspberries and Blackberries

Week 16: Heirloom Tomatoes, Hot Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hazelnut Muffins

It's hard to explain what these muffins taste like, but I can tell you how I felt when I first bit into one.

I was speechless.  It was almost a spiritual experience biting into this muffin - it was THAT good.  I never wanted to stop.  It was sweet and nutty, with a balanced whole grain flavor and a distinctive richness from the teff flour and brown butter.  The spices in the topping gave the plainer batter a twist.

I will be making these muffins again, and again, and again.  I never cease to be impressed by the recipes in Good to the Grain - if you've noticed, I hardly bake anything else at all, but I don't even want to.  I have a reasonable stash in the freezer already, but as soon as I run out, making a new batch will jump to the top of my to-do list.  This is one I will NOT mess with.

The crushed hazelnut, sugar and spice topping makes a bit extra, so I saved it and used it to top oatmeal - yummm :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hummingbird Cupcakes (at home!)

Since Andrea and I enjoyed the Hummingbird Cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery when we were in NYC, I decided to make them for her birthday!  I managed to find the recipe through the Amazon "look inside this book" feature and copied it down to make the cupcakes and the cream cheese frosting.

They came out delicious!  (Sorry I don't have any photos!  They were gobbled up too quickly!)  I used less sugar (4 cups instead of 5) in the frosting because we felt it was sweet enough already.  I also didn't have quite enough vegetable oil for the batter, so I topped it off with applesauce.  Next time I'll try to substitute even more to cut down on the calories.  The bits of pineapple and banana, plus the crushed pecans, were delicious.  The recipe made 24 cupcakes, and we had a tiny bit left over so we made 4 mini ones as well - we wanted to try them before telling everyone how awesome they are.

I'm glad I found the recipe and that I was able to make it.  I want to play with it a little and turn it into a muffin recipe - cut down on the sugar, mainly, and use whole-grain flours.  It's definitely do-able with a little trial and error.  The bananas provided plenty of sweetness, and since I successfully substituted some applesauce in for some of the oil, I think I could take that substitution a little further to cut down on the oil.  I can't wait to give this a shot!