August 28, 2011
My mom taught me how to can. In fact, she was full of useful instruction when I was a kid including: how to make my bed (hospital corners), the art of the thank you letter, and the ever-so-wise tip: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” (I seem to have forgotten this last one recently and so I am resurrecting it as my new mantra- I think it will serve me well.) Though I do still try to do my best with thank you letters, I admit to having given up on the tightly made bed (duvees are the way to go!) The canning skills I learned from her though, are still extremely relevant and useful. I took it for granted growing up that the pantry was always full of a variety of delicious jams. It was not until I was older that I realized how few people my age knew about this practical art. Gratefully, the art of preservation is experiencing a resurgence. Just look at the popularity of sites such as Punk Domestics and Food in Jars.
My first canning projects were jams: apricot , raspberry, blueberry. My mom showed me how to carefully sort the fruit, meticulously wash the jars, fill them leaving just the right amount of head-space, and secure them with clean lids and bands. It was a fun activity to share and I of course loved to taste the fruits of our labors. Over the years, I branched out in quantity (such as the 200 jars I made for our wedding favors out of our 20 square foot college kitchen) and variety by adding in pickles and relish, as well as applesauce and curds.This recipe is not one of my childhood. It has become a family favorite none-the-less, born out of necessity as my parents’ garden expanded and they learned that three of four zucchini plants really are
extreme plenty for a two-person household.
Sweet and Spicy Zucchini Pickles is the recipe that makes me yearn for our zucchini plants to over-produce. No matter how many jars I make each year, it is never enough. By February or March, I find myself rationing them so that we have enough to last until the next harvest. Sweet, tangy, and crunchy with just a little bit of spice. These are a staple on our weekend lunch table. They are great on sandwiches or on their own.
What tips did your mother teach you that you still put to use?
August 10, 2011
Though my time frees up in the summer when my day job as a high school science teacher takes a hiatus, somehow our dinners suffer. During the school year, time is so limited that a strict menu must be followed, the food shopping is completed on schedule, and for the most part we eat pretty well. During the summer though, I have the luxury to let loose. My kids and I bounce from one adventure to another and more than once we have found ourselves without a clue what to make for dinner. Or sometimes I spend the day canning and completely loose interest in preparing another meal when I am done. (I will not embarrass myself by sharing our dinner for tonight, except to say that it included refried beans, tortillas, and cheese and not much else- but beans are a vegetable right?) So you can see why when I find a recipe that is easy to whip up (especially in advance) and incredibly tasty, and yes, kid friendly, it quickly becomes a go-to recipe.
I first made Chicken Satay at the beginning of summer. We enjoyed it so much that it quickly fell into our program and has since graced our table a number of times. At once bold, yet not overwhelming, this mixture of spices is a tasty accompaniment to juicy chicken thighs. I modified the recipe to use Salt Preserved Lemons, instead of lemon grass, because I do not have a local source for the lemongrass and do have an abundance of lemons. The authenticity may suffer, but the flavor does not. The skewers cook up super fast on the grill, which keeps the oven off and the house cool. I usually serve this dish with a simple slaw, perhaps a mango salsa, and of course some sriracha for a spicy dip.
August 6, 2011
The peaches have been calling me this summer. On my last trip to the farmers’ market, I gleefully strode away with a huge box mounded high with beautiful peaches and nectarines. Fortunately, this coincided with an almost unprecedented two free days without the kiddos. Oh, how productive this mama can be when the children are away!
There were enough peaches to make a few different types of products. It was hard to resist making the Perfect Peach Cake (it really is soooo good), but I did. Instead a made a batch of pie filling inspired by this recipe from Mrs. Wheelbarrow. A few pounds went to making a puree for peach ice cream (still working out the kinks on that recipe). With the bulk of the peaches I made one of my favorite pantry items, Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam.
This jam is special. Sweet white peaches, earthy rosemary, and just a hint of spice from the cracked pepper, the combination is delightful. I serve it with cheese such as brie or chevre. It is a definite crowd pleaser and an excellent hostess or holiday gift.
Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 5 half-pints
3 pounds white peaches (you can use yellow, but I prefer the white varieties for this jam)
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 cups sugar
4 large sprigs rosemary
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Peel and pit the peaches. (Very ripe peaches are very easy to peel with a knife. If your peaches do not peel easily, they are probably not ripe enough. If you must make the jam without allowing them to ripen further, you can boil them for one minute, then plunge into cold water to loosen the skin.)
Slice the peaches into 1/2 inch slices. Place peaches in a large bowl, add lemon juice, sugar, rosemary, and pepper. Cover and let stand for 4 hours. Stir every hour to incorporate the sugar.
Transfer peach mixture to a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 15 minutes, until mixture is syrupy. Lightly mash the mixture to break down peach slices, leave 1/3 of wedges intact. Discard rosemary sprigs (you can fish out the individual rosemary leaves if you want, but I leave some in for color and interest.)
Ladle jam into hot sterile jars. Leave a 1/2 inch head-space. Top with a new lid and band. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes for half-pint jars. See Home Canning Basics for more information about the canning process.
Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam
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June 13, 2011
We are very serious about pizza in our house. I could go on and on about how my father hates cheese, especially melted cheese, and so I grew up in a poor, cheese-less house with an ever-present hunger for pizza. Or I could tell you about how I was lucky enough to marry a man who not only loves pizza as much as I do, but whose parents actually own a pizza restaurant. But no, I will not bore you with any more history, but you can see why pizza is now a mainstay of our diet.
For many years now, my husband and I make pizza on Friday night. When I became pregnant with my first child, we wondered- What if the child doesn’t take to pizza? How will we cope? So week after week through the pregnancy, I dutifully ate my pizza hoping to accustom our child to the flavors of our home. Needless to say, it worked. The first, and now second child, have both folded neatly into our end of the week routine.
Of course, good pizza is only as good as its dough. My recipe binder records our history with pizza dough. Following our pizza timeline, there is a progression of one dough recipe morphing into another, our trials and experiments with recipes from countless sources. I am confident to say that the recipe that follows is excellent. We have eaten it on a weekly basis for the last year. The texture and flavor are outstanding. In addition, the dough makes enough for 3 large pizzas. We make the dough once and freeze two dough balls for use in future weeks. We all agree, the dough is best after being frozen. If time allows, make the batch and freeze all three dough balls. Just remember to take them out of the freezer a few hours before you want to make your pizza.
Generally I make the dough and prep the toppings, then my husband tosses the dough while we all gather around to cheer. The kids top the pizzas to their liking and off it goes into the oven. One of the reasons we can get away with eating pizza every Friday is that we rarely make the same pizza twice. I like to top the pizzas with whatever is fresh and seasonal.
The Roasted Asparagus Pizza is perfect for the late spring. It is simple and light. We just harvested an arm-load of leeks from the garden, so I sliced and sautéed them until they were soft. Thinly sliced onions would also go well. I roasted the asparagus in the oven before tossing it on the pizza. Instead of a red sauce, the dough receives a generous brush of roasted garlic infused olive oil and a seasoning of salt and pepper. A thin scattering of cheese binds the toppings. All in all, this came to be a beautiful, light springy pizza. Add a shake of pepper flakes if you like it spicy.
Our Favorite Pizza Dough
Makes enough for 3 10-inch pizzas
adapted from Bon Appetit
Note: You will need to start this dough the night before you wish to use it. It freezes very well. Consider making it well ahead, freezing it, and taking it out of the freezer a few hours before you want to use it.
1 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup all-purpose flour
Mix together all ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer and cover with a plate or plastic wrap. Let sit 8 hours or overnight on the counter.
1 1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 cups (or more) all-purpose flour
Add water, salt, and yeast to the sponge. Mix thoroughly with dough hook. Add flour, one cup at a time, with mixer on low. Continue to knead dough until it has formed a uniform elastic mass. The dough should be soft and tacky, but not sticky. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead briefly by hand to form a smooth ball. Place ball in an oiled bowl and cover with a plate or plastic wrap. Chill dough for a total of six hours, kneading down the dough once it has doubled (2-3 hours).
1 1/2 hours before baking, take dough from refrigerator and set on the counter. Knead dough gently and cut into 3 equal pieces. (At this point I usually take 2 of the dough balls and place them each in a quart size freezer zipper bag. I label and freeze them for next Friday’s pizza.) Cover the dough balls you intend to bake off that day and let rest until almost doubled (1-2 hours).
Preheat oven to 500 degrees 45 minutes before baking. Place a pizza stone in oven to preheat as well. Cover a pizza peel (or large cutting board) with parchment paper. Gently pull and flatten dough evenly to form a 10 inch circle. Place dough round on the parchment paper. Top as desired. Slide pizza on parchment onto the pizza stone. Bake 12-15 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly and the bottom of the crust does not bend when you lift the edge of the pizza with the pizza peel. Remove parchment paper after 5 minutes of cooking. (The parchment can be used for the next pizza if you are making multiple.) Place cooked pizza onto cooling rack immediately. Allow to cool 2-3 minutes before cutting. Slice pizza and serve.
Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Our Favorite Pizza Dough
Roasted Garlic Pizza Sauce
1/2 of a garlic bulb
1/2 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the tips off of garlic bulb (the pointy end, not the root end). Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Wrap the bulb in foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the cloves are soft. Remove garlic from foil. Squeeze garlic from each head into a small blender jar (a mason jar works well here, just attach the blade and base to the jar). Blend with remaining olive oil. Brush over pizza, then top as desired.
Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Roasted Garlic Pizza Sauce
Roasted Asparagus Pizza
makes 1 10-inch pizza
1 ball of Our Favorite Pizza Dough (1/3 of the recipe)
3 tablespoons Roasted Garlic Pizza Sauce
10 spears asparagus, cut into 1 inch lengths (about 2 cups)
1 cup thinly sliced leeks
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan or Asiago cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano (to add after pizza is removed from the oven)
red pepper flakes (optional)
After you have roasted the garlic for the Roasted Garlic Sauce, turn up the oven to 500 degrees. Toss the asparagus with one tablespoon of olive oil. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Place asparagus on a baking sheet and cook at 500 degrees for 7 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté sliced leeks with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-low heat. Cook until leeks are very soft, but not brown. Spread Roasted Garlic Sauce over a 10-inch round of Our Favorite Pizza Dough, be sure to spread all the way to the edge. Top with cheese, leeks, and asparagus. Grind pepper over the pizza and slide into the oven. Bake 12-15 minutes until cheesy is melted and bubbly and the bottom of the crust does not bend when you lift the edge of the pizza with the pizza peel. Place cooked pizza onto cooling rack immediately. Top with oregano. Allow to cool 2-3 minutes before cutting. Slice pizza and serve.
Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Roasted Asparagus Pizza
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May 29, 2011
Dolmas are a food that I had never considered making. I have always enjoyed eating them, but truth be told, most of my experience with ones that come out of a can, hardly a claim to fame. So while staring out at some of the many vineyards that surround us, it occurred to me that I should make my own. It started with picking the grape leaves and preserving them. Then I set out to find a recipe for reference. The difficulty I had in locating an acceptable recipe tells me that I am not the only one who is not making these at home. Well folks, it is time. These dolmas are really not difficult to make and they taste very good.
At our local library, I came across The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, by Claudia Roden, which guided me through the process. (Libraries are a great source of cookbooks!) I learned that there are both hot and cold dolmas. Traditionally the hot contain ground beef or lamb and the cold are rice based. I opted for the rice filling, as I intended to serve them with grilled lamb.
The recipe below is adapted from the one provided by Roden. I opted for use my preserved grape leaves, add in fresh herbs from the garden instead of dried, and use the lemon solution from the preserved grape leaves. I also threw in some golden raisins. All in all the process is pretty simple- parboil the rice, mix it up with fresh herbs and spices, roll them up and cook. As the dolmas cook, they absorb the lemony, olive oil and water, plump up and become incredibly aromatic. I love the snap of the grape leaves as I bite into a roll. This is a very satisfying side dish or appetizer. Definitely worth the minimal trouble of putting them together.
May 26, 2011
The end of the school year is near, which always means my life, as a teacher, becomes temporarily overwhelmingly busy. The good news is that in two weeks I will be off for the summer with nothing to do but play with the kiddos, work in the garden, and of course cook. The canning jars are all nearly empty, taunting me with possibilities. But right now, in between writing finals and grading the last of the lab notebooks, there is little time for much else. Thank goodness for quick and easy meals that still make dinner seem like a special time of day.
In between all of the bread and the cake that we have been eating lately, I thought we needed to have at least one meal that lacks a substantial carb load. Thai Lettuce Wraps always satisfy on many levels. The combo of sweet, salty, and spicy is so completely delectable that it distracts from the fact that there is no bed of rice or noodles (of course you can add those if you choose). They are super quick and budget friendly. Let us not forget that they are also fun to eat!
April 26, 2011
Easter and the its accompanying sugar rush have past. Now I am left with the daunting question of what to do with three dozen hard-boiled eggs!?! Luckily, with the exception of my son, we all love eggs. My daughter was peeling them and eating them as she hunted, but of course that only took care of 2 or 3.
One of my favorite ways to prepare hard-boiled eggs is to make an egg salad. I happen to love egg salad, but admit that it can be somewhat bland at times. Sunflower Millet Bread is ideal for egg sandwiches, because it has so much flavor and crunchy texture. The millet toasts and pops in your mouth. It has a nutty flavor, as do the sunflower seeds. Topping the sandwich with pickled red onion adds a bright color contrast, as well as a tangy counterpoint to the egg.
I first fell in love with Sunflower Millet Bread when working at a natural food store in high school. This recipe is from The Greens Cookbook. Though it is almost completely based on whole wheat flour, it has a very open, light texture. The bread slices and toasts very well. I used the first loaf for egg sandwiches, then sliced and froze the second for breakfast toast in the coming weeks.
The Red Pickled Onions are also from The Greens Cookbook. They are very easy to make and take only a day to sit and cure. They are great with this sandwich, but also with sausages or any meal that you want to add a zippy condiment.
Find this and other delicious breads at Yeast Spotting.