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It is unfortunate that so many types of condiments are readily available at the supermarket.  Being able to walk down an aisle and toss in a jar of jam, bottle of ketchup, or any number of types of hot sauce distracts the collective “us” from the fact that none of these products are as good as we can make in our own kitchens.  This point is only magnified when looking into imported ethnic condiments.  There is the allure of some tasty sauce shipped in from around the world and many cooks  (including myself) can sometimes lack confidence when branching out to culinary styles not grounded in our continent of birth.  One look at the ingredient list of these foods though and we are reminded of the uncertain quality of foods with mysterious origin.

All of these complicated thoughts were running through my mind the other day when I happened upon Sherri  Brooks Vinton’s recipe for Asian Plum Sauce in her book Put “em Up.  I am a firm believer that a high quality condiment can transform an ordinary meal into something special.  Since plums are literally falling from the trees right now, there is no better time to capture that goodness in this deeply spiced tangy sauce.  The directions for canning the sauce are included, this sauce is sure to taste even better on a rainy or snowy day in February than it does now when these fruity tastes are so abundant.  I also included the half batch proportions, because I can see whipping up this sauce in advance of my next eggroll party.  What? You have never had an eggroll party before?  Me either, but it sure sounds like fun to me!

And now for the winner of the Canning Supplies Give Away…  Kalamckala from Eating on a Napkin is the lucky winner.  She says, “I’m a newbie with the whole canning and preserving thing but I made an apricot preserve with vanilla and cinnamon – I may have fallen for the entire process! I only hope to can more and more this summer! ”  It sounds like these supplies will be put to good use!  Thank you to everyone who commented!  There are so many great ideas in the comments of that post.  Check them out and get inspired!

Generator Min: 1 Max: 57 Result: 52 Powered by RANDOM.ORG

*A note about the winner selection.  There were 69 comments total, 12 were my responses.  Since it would be strange for me to win my own prize, I used a random number generator to select a random number between 1 and 57.  1 was the first comment and 57 the last.

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One trip to the Farmers’ Market is enough to know that spring is truly here.  Mounds of fava beans, pea shoots, and strawberries compete for space with kale, beets, and last season’s  potatoes.  My kids and I headed over last weekend to pick up some fresh foods and the obligatory honey sticks.  When we returned home, our house was unpleasantly warm thanks to unseasonably sultry weather.  It may have been too hot to cook, but it was the perfect temperature to put together some quick refrigerator pickles.

Pickled Spring Vegetables are an Asian-inspired quick pickle.   Quick pickles are a fantastic use for all sorts of vegetables and do not require time or canning equipment.   I used Easter egg radishes, fresh nantes carrots, and leeks from our trip to the market, though you could also use cucumbers, onions, daikon radishes, or just about any other vegetable you want to pickle.  The brine is based on rice wine vinegar and lime juice that tempers the sweetness.  These pickles have hints of flavor from slices of ginger, garlic and cilantro.  Slice up the veggies and pour over the brine.  The pickles will be ready to eat in under an hour.  Letting them sit overnight will intensify the flavor, if they last that long.

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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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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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We recently lost a chicken, which made me think of how fortunate we have been since our children were born not to lose any family or friends that they are close to.  This presents a challenge though, in how to teach our children of the role of death in life and of grief and how one continues on in the face of it.  But then, is that not what this season is all about?  The dying of summer and light leading us into the cool introspective winter.  The death of one season and the birth of another.

If one looks beyond what Halloween has become for many- an excuse for sugar indulgence or a chance to dress as a mass murderer or a whore, this time is an opportunity to commune with those who have passed on from life into death.    Our ancestors, our contemporaries, our friends who are no longer among the living.  The Mexican holiday of El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is especially intriguing.   I love the imagery of the brightly decorated skulls that signify the integral part that death plays in life.  We act this out with each meal, taking the life and energy contained in plants and animals and bringing it into our bodies to fuel our own existence.

So, while looking at some pictures of celebrations of Dia de los Muertos, my son and I began to talk of death.  I told him how death was a part of life and that it need not be a scary thing.  That all that is living must one day die (like our carved pumpkins destined for the compost),but that death would fuel the beginning of new life.  He nodded and agreed, reminding me of how incredibly sane and stable children are and how grateful I am that my life is blessed with two very special little people.

Chicken Mole is a perfect dish for Dia de los Muertos.  A thick sauce, rich with chiles, nuts, and the signature chocolate, bathes chicken as it slowly cooks and absorbs the luscious flavors.  This is a special meal, requiring a bit of time to prepare the sauce.  Feel free to make it ahead and keep in the refrigerator or freeze.  It is worth every step to create this incredible sauce.  Serve Chicken Mole with simple rice.

Note: The mole is also excellent with turkey.  Try it as an unexpected gravy on Thanksgiving.  Enjoy!

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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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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?

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