School has been out for two weeks now, the sun is blazing, and the canning pot has reasserted its dominance on my stove top.  Hello summer!  Canning is usually a solitary sport for me, squeezed in the early hours of the morning or late at night when the kids have finally succumbed to sleep.  While the bubbling caldron of jam is still a bit much for my youngsters, they are quite capable of helping me to process the fruit.  My son found the cherry pitter to be quite a lot of fun and was thrilled when I handed him the knife to cut the cherries.  Who needs summer camp when you can enlist your kids in practical life skills at home?  (Of course, give me a few weeks and I may be screaming for them to go to any sort of camp that will take them!)

Cherry Rhubarb Jam is a delightful balance of sweet and tart with a rich background note of vanilla.  The color is absolutely divine.   This is my second attempt at this type of jam and it is an absolute hit.  There is a relatively small amount of sugar added.  Cherries are so naturally sweet that it is very easy to over-sweeten them. The fruit macerates for an extended time before cooking.  This reduces the overall cooking time, since the fruit has already given up its juice.  Shorter cooking times mean fresher tasting jam and more vibrant colors.  This jam is sure to a new June tradition in our house. Absolutely delicious!

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Pickled Beets with Cumin

March 22, 2012

Pickled Beets with Cumin.  Who would have thought that such a short list of ingredients could produce a condiment with so much flavor, texture, and interest?  After making these for the first time, I have been determined to keep the refrigerator stocked with them ever since.  A huge thanks to Linda Ziedrich to introducing me to this recipe via The Joy of Pickling.

To prepare, roast the beets until just tender.  Peel and dice them into small chunks, then drown them in red wine vinegar infused with peppercorns, salt, and of course cumin.  Cap them off and keep them in the refrigerator.  Letting them sit at least a few days will allow the flavors to meld.  They will keep up to 3 weeks.

These tasty chunks of beet are fantastic on their own, but pair them with feta and you have a very tasty snack.  Toss a few in the salad along with the vinegar and finish up with a drizzle of olive oil for an easy salad dressing.  There are probably a million more ways to eat these, but the beets never stick around long enough for me to dream up new ideas.  How will you eat them?

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Curried Cauliflower Pickles

January 10, 2012

Wandering through the produce market, it is easy to become entranced.  I most recently succumbed to cauliflower.  The big snowy globes of pure veggie power were calling my name.  They may just be the most versatile winter vegetable, ready to adapt to any flavor profile or dish in which they are called to serve. I filled my basket with four huge heads and began dreaming of the possibilities.  Two heads went straight into a double-batch of pickles.

Curried Cauliflower Pickles are a crunchy, intensely flavored Indian condiment.  Serve them on the side of any Indian-inspired dish or nibble on them as an appetizer.  They are not too bad straight from the jar either.  Awaken the flavors by toasting the spices in a dry pan before adding them to the jars.  The cauliflower, ginger, and garlic all pack into the jars while raw.  After pouring the boiled brine into the jar, submerge the jars in a water bath for 10 minutes to seal the jars.  In this time the cauliflower cooks to a perfect tenderness.  While the pickles are ready to eat in a week, they will continue to become more flavorful with time.  Shake the jars periodically to distribute the spices that have settled to the bottom.

T, my good friend and canning comrade, turned me on to this recipe from Alton Brown.  The original recipe did not give directions for how to can the pickles, so I cross-referenced with my other canning materials to determine the processing time.  I altered the spices a bit to suit my taste.  The curry is fairly mild.  Increase the amount of spice if you want more intensity.  Adding some chile flakes or hot peppers would be a nice touch as well.

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Fuyu Persimmon Chutney

December 12, 2011

To my knowledge there are no holiday songs written about persimmons, but there should be. Persimmons hang on months after most fruit.  They wait for the frost to come before dumping their leaves and gloriously displaying their sweet orange lanterns hanging from naked limbs.  The fruit, sweet and flavorful when ripe, has an unpleasant astringent quality when eaten before they fully develop.   So I wait for it, because I love this fruit. It may be the last truly seasonal fruit, in that there is not enough demand to cause our friends in the Southern Hemisphere to begin shipping it here in the off season.  (I imagine it would be tough to sell a persimmon during the height of peach season!)

This year a friend invited me over to pick Fuyu persimmons from her tree. (Thanks A!) Fuyus are the short, squat variety that are eaten while firm.  They are not often cooked, but rather eaten raw in salads or on their own.  My mother-in-law, a fellow persimmon fan, introduced me to a recipe for using Fuyu persimmons to make a chutney.  The dense flesh retains its shape and color when cooked.  The chutney is seasoned with garlic, ginger, and mustard seeds that pop in your mouth with each bite.  The raisins and sugar balance the acidity of the apple cider vinegar and the red pepper flakes add a subtle bite.  I often serve the chutney with a soft cheese on an appetizer tray.  It also shines as a side to roast pork.  Jars filled with persimmon chutney make a welcome holiday gift.

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Chunky Garden Salsa

September 27, 2011

This has been our best tomato year ever.  Quite a shocker given the cool summer, but in our tiny garden we have a bona fide bounty of tomatoes this year.  They spill from their bowls, piling up in every free space the kitchen counters can afford.  These tomatoes have been taunting me.  After a wait that tested every ounce of my patience, they began coming in heavy just at the time the other parts of my life asserted their own demands.  The kids, the family gatherings, and oh, my job that actually pays  the bills, all take their cut of my precious time before I get to the  satisfying job of canning.  But this weekend was made for me and the tomatoes.

Starting early in the morning, I prepared a “ketchup” that we all agreed is delicious, but not ketchup.  Luckily, instead of an outright rejection, my son suggested we rename it and came up with “Rojo Sauce”.  Perfect.  Another lug of tomatoes went into a basic tomato sauce, and the last load into Chunky Garden Salsa.

To be honest, I have not had great success with canned salsas in the past.  Each recipe I used seemed have one of two problems: the salsa was too watery and/ or the specified canned lemon juice gave the entire batch a foul artificial taste.  This recipe takes care of each of those issues and demonstrates some serious tasty flavors.  Instead of simply peeling the tomatoes, I grilled them to lend a bit of a charred flavor.  After skinning and removing the core, the tomatoes drain in a colander which removes most of the excess water and allows the salsa to easily thicken up on the stove.  In place of lemon juice, the recipe called for half white vinegar and half lime juice.  This gives it a perfect acidity and delicious flavor from the lime.  My only complaint is that I only ended up with five pints.  These are sure to go fast around our salsa-loving house.

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