Vanilla Lime Spirited Cherries

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Child Picks CherriesFive years ago I bought a little self-fertilizing dwarf sweet cherry whip from Jung’s nursery – a variety called Black Gold Sweet Cherry.  Gardening with edibles is my passion; unfortunately my yard is less than ideal for such a hobby.   The word “postage-stamp” comes to mind when describing it.  In addition to its limited size, a large maple and a north-facing growing space limit sunlight.  Despite these challenges, I have (in my humble opinion) managed to create a fairly pleasing landscape with a number of edibles.  Over the years I have had some epic failures in my edible gardeniGirl Picks Cherriesng adventures but also some smashing successes.  This sweet cherry tree is the latter—a prolific producer of sweet cherries in a tight space with sub-optimum sunlight.

Hands Full of CherriesWe picked a record 6+ pounds of cherries this year from this little tree. The unprecedented bounty caught me by surprised and sans a cherry pitter.  Cherries have a short shelf life.  No way to eat them all fresh and no desire to pit even 3 pounds with a paper clip.

Canning in syrup without pitting seemed the obvious choice. Canning with the pits has some cons.  The pits dictate that you must eat them out of the jar as is—no future cherry pie or jam making as you could with frozen.   On the pro side, canning with pits adds a lovely almond flavor to the cherries.  If I use them as garnishes in drinks then I don’t think anyone will be overwhelmed with the nuisance of pit spitting.  Olives have pits.  Fresh cherries have pits.  People can deal.

And since I’m using the preserved cherries in drinks, why not throw in a bit of booze with the syrup— spirited cherries.  Given my intractable pioneer sentiments, I normally wouldn’t waste my precious cherry crop on such a frivolous food enterprise.  “Do we really need spirited cherries to make it through the long, cold winter?”  (This is the way my mind works, people—obsessive compulsive utilitarianism).  But, actually I do need these to make it through the winter, and they will serve a purpose because back in January, at the Tosa Ladies Book Club annual planning meeting, I volunteered to host our Christmas Party.   I have had the privileged of being a member of this book club for 10 years and I know from experience that a few of those gals take their cocktails very seriously.  Spirited Cherries shall serve as the foundation and inspiration for the required holiday cocktail.  I’m thinking Manhattans or Cherry Lime Rickies, but I’m open to suggestions.

Meanwhile,   I’m off to Door county to pick more cherries  so I’ll have plenty of cherries for cocktail recipe testing.   My new Oxo cherry Pitter arrived in the mail and I’m itching to use it.

Spirited Cherries for Canning--The Ingredients

Spirited Cherries
Author: 
Recipe type: Food Preservation
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 3 - 3.5 pints
 
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds cherries, washed only (do not remove stems or seeds)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 cup brandy (vodka or rum)
  • ¾ cups bottled lime juice
  • 1-2 vanilla beans
  • Optional Additional Spices--1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise flower, or a few cloves
Instructions
  1. Wash all canning jars, lids and screw caps. Place the jars in the hot water bath canner and simmer. Place the lids in a smaller sauce pan filled with water and keep those at a low simmer too. Set screw bands aside on a dry towel.
  2. In a non-reactive medium pot, add sugar, water, brandy, and lime.
  3. Make a slit length-wise down the vanilla bean. Scrape out the sticky seeds and place in the pot along with the vanilla bean pod. Add any other spices if desired.
  4. Bring the ingredients to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes.
  5. Add cherries and bring to a boil again--boil for 1 minute longer.
  6. Remove from heat and pack hot cherries and syrup into sanitized, hot jars. Leave ½ inch head space.
  7. Remove bubbles with a skewer, wipe rims with a damp cloth and place lids on jars. Tighten screw bands to finger tip tight and place in the canner making sure the jars are under water by at least an inch.
  8. Place lid on canner and bring to a boil. Start timing at boiling--15 minutes( at 1000 ft altitude or less)
  9. Once time is up, turn off heat and remove canner lid. Time for another 5 minutes.
  10. Remove jars from canner and allow to cool for 12 hours at least.
Notes
It takes about 1 pound of cherries to fill a single pint jar.

*You may substitute lemon juice for lime, however be sure to always use bottled and not fresh for canning recipes as the acidity level of fresh varies too much.

Cherries

Wash the cherries but leave the stems and pits.

 

Spirited Cherries--preparing the syrup

Bring the water, sugar, lime, brandy (or other spirit) and vanilla beans and pod (plus any additional spices) to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  This is the syrup.

Spirited Cherries--heating on stove for hot pack

Add the cherries to the syrup and bring to a boil again, boiling for about 1 minute.

Laddle the hot cherries and syrup into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Process pints for 15 minutes and quart jars for 20 minutes.  Spirited Cherries

See my instructions for Hot Water Bath Canning if you need instructions.

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How to Freeze Strawberries

StrawberriesIt is strawberry season, and once again, you got carried away at the u-pick farm and the farmers market. Or maybe it was just me. (The kids each wanted to pick their own flat, and I couldn’t deny them the pleasure, could I?) Household members (one in particular not pictured here) accuse me of food hording all through Wisconsin’s short growing season particularly with fruits as sweet and ephemeral as the strawberry. So while the season is here for 3 or 4 weeks in June and early July, we indulge in fresh and the extras we freeze.  Freezing offers the quickest and most simple way to preserve them, and it allows us to eat local strawberries all year long.

Frozen strawberries can be eaten as is.  My kids think this is the best treat ever–like a popsicle–and sometimes prefer this to a fresh berry.  You can also add them to smoothies; they bake up beautifully in pies and cobblers.  It is also a good idea to freeze berries before preserving them in other ways.  Frozen berries make a superior quality jam with fewer floaters than jam made with fresh.  Freezing berries pasteurizes them; this is an essential step in making fruit leathers with a longer shelf-life as freezing kills any bugs or eggs. With so many uses and freezing this easy, let the berry hording begin.

Steps to Freezing Strawberries–Individual Quick Freeze Method (IQF)

  1. Clean the fruit.
  2. Remove the stem.
  3. Spread the fruit so that the pieces are not overlapping on cookie sheets and freeze.
  4. Once frozen, place in freezer bags or containers and label.  They will keep in a deep freeze for up to a year.

This yields individually frozen fruit which you can use in any portion you want later–a single berry or a quart.  All berries freeze well using this method.  You may also freeze rhubarb like this.  Simple chop the rhubarb first before laying it on a cookie sheet.

Quick Pack Methods: You can simply dump the clean and de-stemmed fruit in a bag in the portion you desire–pint, quart etc. You can even mix in a little sugar. They will freeze as a mass. Not as flexible for later use, but the job gets done even quicker.

Strawberries--Freezing

Use a spatula to transfer the frozen berried from the cookie sheet to the freezer bag.

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If the kids picked the berries, why not have them freeze them too?

Strawberries--Freezing

Always use “freezer” bags, not “storage bags”.  If you don’t over stuff them you can stack them neatly in the deep freezer.

If you don’t have a deep freezer (and I suggest you get one if you want to eat locally grown food as much as possible) you can transform these into fruit leathers and store them on a shelf.

Click on the links for these frozen strawberry recipes:

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Tomato Loki Curry–South Indian style Bottle Gourd

It has been just about 2 months since we returned from Kerala, India to visit the man’s family where we ate curries and saucy dishes like this one morning, noon, and night.  I have recovered from the deluge and can once again embrace curry. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder. This South Indian vegetarian curry is simple with just a handful of ingredients, but the flavor is tremendous.    After his dal, this recipe is the second most requested in the man’s small arsenal of old family favorites.South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry

The star ingredient is calabash or bottle gourd squash.  As a vining member of the squash family, calabash goes by many names– cucuzza in Italy, opo in China, loki in India to name a few.  In fact, citizens from virtually every country and culture have a name and a use for this delicately flavored, silky textured vegetable which tastes and acts a lot like a zucchini or cucumber.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Bottle Gourd BirdhouseAmericans use it too, but instead of eating it, we like to dry it, paint it, and turn it into a birdhouse that we sell at a craft sale.  I bought the one pictured here about seven years ago at a farmers market in Cleveland.  The paint has faded, no bird has ever resided here, but it is a birdhouse nonetheless.   In defense of crafters everywhere, turning it into a birdhouse isn’t such a far-fetched notion as humans the world over have for 100’s and 1000’s of years used the dried gourd to make bowls, pitchers, and even musical instruments.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--opo in the Chinese marketI have never seen calabash at a supermarket, but Indian or Asian grocery stores with a produce section carry it.  No Indian or Asian grocery nearby?  No problem. This recipe works just fine with cucumber.  (Yes, you can cook a cucumber!)  But I admit I prefer the texture of the bottle gourd. So if substitutions won’t do and the Indian grocery seems too far, try planting some.  You still have time.

I have a tiny garden which I plan meticulously as space is at a premium.  I have grown both zucchini and bottle gourd in the past and have decided that only bottle gourd is worth the effort and space.  Calabash produces just as many squashes as a zucchini plant and any recipe calling for zucchini can easily substitute calabash.   The difference lies in that imperative to pick it.  Let a zucchini go and you have a giant watery squash best suited for the compost pile.  Let a calabash get carried away you you’ve got yourself a fine birdhouse.

Tomato Loki Curry--South Indian style Bottle Gourd
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetarian Main dish
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 servings
 
Make this instead of a simple cucumber and tomato chopped salad, serve it with dal and rice, and you have a complete meal.
Ingredients
  • 1 medium bottle gourd (about 1 lb.), peeled, seeded, and diced in ¼ inch pieces
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ t turmeric
  • ½ t paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 lb. plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
  • ½ t cumin
  • 1 t salt
  • ⅔ cup yogurt
  • 2 T oil--coconut oil is best
  • 1 t mustard seeds
  • 1 – 2 whole dried chili
  • 10-15 curry leaves* (optional)
Instructions
  1. In a medium sauce pan, add diced squash and ½ cup water--the squash doesn't have to be fully submerged.
  2. Stir in turmeric, paprika, and salt. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer/steam squash until it become slightly translucent--about 5 minutes.
  3. Next add the tomatoes. Bring back to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes until the gourd becomes completely tender and the tomato cooks down. Do not let the curry dry out. It should remain soupy; add more water if necessary.
  4. Remove curry from heat. Add about ⅓ cup of the hot curry liquid to the yogurt and stir until smooth. Add the yogurt mixture back to the curry and gently stir.
  5. In a separate small sauce pan, heat coconut oil over a medium-high flame. Add mustard seeds and dried chili pepper and fry until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Next, toss in curry leaves, fry 10 more seconds and remove from heat. This is called tempering the spices. Pour this oil and spice mixture over the curry and serve.
Notes
Curry leaves come from the curry tree (a relative of the neem tree). It is native to India and grows in tropical and subtropical regions. The leaves have a smokey, aromatic flavor unlike anything I've tasted before. They are used a lot in west-coast and southern Indian cooking. I have only found fresh curry leaves at the Indian grocery store. (Don't bother with dry or frozen as the flavor is greatly diminished). If you find them, treat them like a bay leaf--they are a flavoring agent and people generally don't eat them. If you can't find them, try using a bit of smoked paprika to get that smokey flavor.

Cooking with Kids: Studies show that kids tend to eat what they cook, even never-before-seen veggies like calabash.  They also love to use tools.  The peeler is a good first-step “sharp” to teach your kids to use properly.Start with a good quality peeler–one that doesn’t have a fully exposed blade–like this Oxo.  Show your child to move the peeler away from her hands and body and go slowly.  This is my just-turned-5 year old peeling a bottle gourd squash while she listens to Led Zeplin.  That’s just how we roll here in the local global kitchen.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Peeled Squash

Peel squash and scrape out the seeds.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Simmering Loki in Spices

Simmer the squash for 5 minutes in a bit of water with turmeric, paprika and salt.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Cooking Tomatoes Down

Add the chopped tomatoes and cook them down–about 10 minutes.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--mixing in yogurt

Add some of the hot liquid to the yogurt, mix well, and stir it back into the curry.South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Tempering Spices

Temper the mustard seeds, dried chilies and curry leaves in coconut oil.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--add tempered spices

Pour the oil and tempered spices on top of the curry and serve.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry

Serve hot or at room temperature. I like to serve it with dal, Basmati rice, a bit of yogurt and onion chutney.  Click on the links for these recipes.

 

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Croutons…when life gives you stale bread

Croutons

I am hopelessly frugal, particularly when it comes to food.  My Berkley, California friend theorizes this impulse originates from my past life experiences.   “Perhaps you lived through the Great Depression or you toiled through several lifetimes as a feudal peasant.”  “Or,” I suggest, “perhaps I was just raised with hard-to-shake, conservative, Midwestern Lutheran values where waste is akin to sin.”  Aren’t California people funny?

My frugal impulse compels me to recycle and reinvent leftover foods.  Croutons are an example of this impulse in action.  About once a week, I make a pot of soup for dinner and serve it with “home baked” (see my note below) whole grain, artisan bread.  I can’t bear to see the half-eaten loaf go moldy.  And truly, no-one wants to eat it after the first day when it has gone stale. When life gives me stale bread, I make croutons, which we occasionally sprinkle on our salads and soups, but more frequently eat straight up—a crunchy, savory, superior snack alternative to potato chips.

Croutons--sliced stale breadMaking croutons couldn’t be easier.  Cut the bread into even cubes. (Cutting is easier when it is slightly stale).   If you only have a bit of bread, allow the cubes of bread to air-dry for a few hours in a wide, shallow container before storing them covered.  (Stale bread rarely molds)  Repeat this process—adding more and more bread cubes to the container and allowing them to dry a bit—until you have enough stale bread to justify making a batch of croutons.

Want to be even more frugal?  Make the croutons when you are already making something else in the oven.  Throw them in at the last 5 minutes, then turn off the oven and allow them to bake with the residual heat.  This isn’t a precise baking recipe after all; we are just crisping them up a bit.

Croutons--Ingredients

The Ingredients;  Here I have some stale loaves of Italian bread leftover from an event.

Croutons--what to do when life gives you stale bread
Author: 
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6
 
I like to use whole wheat but I will transform any unwanted leftover bread to croutons and do so weekly.
Ingredients
  • 3 cups slightly stale bread sliced into ½ inch cubes
  • ¼ t fine salt
  • 3 - 4 T good olive oil
  • ¼ t good garlic powder
  • ½ t Italian dried herbs,crumbled and rolled)--sage, oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme are all nice
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, drizzle olive oil over the croutons and toss.
  3. Sprinkle salt, garlic powder and herbs over croutons and toss again to distribute seasoning evenly.
  4. Place on an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10 - 15 minutes--until crisp and lightly golden.
  5. Once cooled, store in a sealed container. It will keep for several weeks.

 

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Toss diced bread with herbs and oil in a large bowl.

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Get every last bit of seasoning.

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Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes.

Cooking with Kids:  I cut the larger hunks of bread into thinner manageable slices, which the kids finish off by cutting it into individual cubes. They also measure the oil and spices, and toss them with the bread in giant bowl with a giant spoon or better yet, their little hands.

*How to Make “Homemade Baked” Bread I posted this on Facebook as one of my Tuesday’s Cooking Tip, so you may have read this if you are a follower. Local Global Kitchen Facebook Post 1/21/14:  “If your supermarket has a bakery that sells upscale baked breads, most likely they are buying them from a wholesale bakery. The loaves arrive mostly baked and completely frozen. The supermarket then does the last few minutes of baking in their oven so it seems like hot, fresh baked bread when you buy it.  Instead, buy the frozen loaf yourself (just ask the lady behind the counter) and store it in your own freezer. When you want it, pop it in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 350 F. Viola! You have hot “home-baked” bread which can turn even a lowly soup dinner into a gourmet meal.  Be sure to buy the whole wheat and keep a couple loaves in the freezer at all times.”

Try the croutons with these other recipes:

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Slow Cooker Chili con Carne

What to eat after 28 days in a row of subfreezing temperatures?  What do we crave after endlessly enduring one of the coldest winters on record?  What food could possibly cheer our Midwestern hearts in the wake of an artic polar vortex collapse that shows no sign of recovering?  Chili, of course!

A one-pot meal cooked in the slow cooker, nothing beats chili for cold-weather comfort food and convenience.   Because upwards of 6 hours has passed since I completed all the chopping, cooking and cleaning, by the end of the day it almost feels like someone else cooked a meal for me.  Seeing that simmering pot of hearty, savory, goodness after a day of work and an evening of schlepping kids to practices brings on feelings of relief, satisfaction and pride all at once. “Hell, yes.  I am Supermom.  I can do it all and still serve delicious and nutritious meals.  “Yeah!”  Fist pump.

Besides whipping up a delicious and nutrition meal, the other part of that “pride” comes from the fact that this recipe makes use of the locally grown foods I spent the summer preserving.  Even if you didn’t preserve them yourself, most likely you have them stocked in your pantry already.  This plant-based recipe includes meat but less than 2 oz. per serving. With less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids, grass-fed beef provides a  healthier option to corn-finished meat.  Black beans and TVP (texturized vegetable protein) easily trade places with the meat for a vegetarian alternative.  Serve it with cornbread or whole wheat pasta (both whole grains) and top it with a bit of grated cheese, minced onion, or sour cream  The kids and the man cheer when they see chili on the table and so do I (along with a fist pump.)

Awesome Chili Con Carnepuree the beansI spent 2 years on this recipe changing ingredients and tweaking measurements in an attempt to find just the right flavor and texture to please everyone in the family. (The entire staff of the Food Network might have been an easier crowd to please.)  I have discovered a few secrets in my quest to invent the perfect chili recipe which I shall now share with you. Use grass-fed beef; it gives the dish a fuller, meatier flavor even though each serving contains less that 2 ounces of actual meat. Hard apple cider provides umami and a subtle sweetness while cutting the acid in the tomatoes.  Pureeing the beans adds a creamy, substantial texture. Smoked paprika imparts a deep, rich layer of flavor.  If you don’t can your own tomatoes, try using fire-roasted canned tomatoes; they add to the smoky flavor.

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Slow Cooker Chili con Carne
Author: 
Recipe type: Main Dish--Meat
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 10 cups
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pound of grass-fed ground beef
  • I ½ T canola oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped (1 ½ cup)
  • 1 cup chopped bell pepper, any color, fresh or frozen
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
  • 2 t salt
  • ¼ t black pepper
  • 2 T of good chili powder
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cups cooked pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pint jar crushed tomatoes or 1 15 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cup cooked light kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 12 oz. bottle hard apple cider
  • GARNISHMENTS
  • Grated cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Minced red or white onion
  • Chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. Brown the meat in a skillet. Remove cooked meat to a colander lined with paper towels and allow to drain of grease.
  2. Meanwhile, clean the skillet of beef fat and add canola oil to the pan, heat over a medium flame and cook onions and peppers until the onion becomes transparent—about 5 minutes. Add spices and garlic and sauté another minute. Remove from heat.
  3. To the slow cooker add the cleaned and drained pinto beans and 1 cup of water. Use an immersion blender or hand held masher to completely purée the pintos.
  4. Next add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker—meat, veggies, tomato and cider. Cover and cook on low for 6 – 8 hours or high for 3 -4 hours. Skim off any oil that rises before serving.
  5. Serve on top of whole wheat pasta or with corn bread on the side. Garnish.
Notes
If you don't have the time or a slow cooker, this can be made in a pot on the stove top simmering for 1 - 2 hours.

 

Chili con Carne--Ingredients

Ingredients Deconstructed: Peppers freeze so easily and cook so nicely that I can’t remember the last time I bought a pepper from anyone besides a farmer—that explains why they’re covered in frost.  I spent most of September canning tomatoes—no small task—but they cook down better than commercially canned tomatoes which contain a firming agent, and of course, they taste better. I buy my chili powder from Penzey’s or the Spice House.  The grass-fed meat comes from Whole Foods.  I used to buy it directly from a farmer but we eat so little meat it didn’t make sense.  If I have my act together, I cook big batches of dry beans and freeze them in 1-cup portions.  They cost less and taste better but canned beans are just fine in a pinch.

Chili con Carne-- sauté onions

Like most home cooks, I cook while I prep.  Start sauteing the onions on medium heat with a bit of salt while you chop the peppers.  Chili con Carne--sauteing aromatics

Indian dishes frequently require the cook to saute the spices.  It is a technique called tempering.  I tried it in this recipe, and I think the Indians might be on to something. It really does release more flavor. Chili con Carne

Eight hours later.

Cooking with Kids:  Have the kids measure all of the spices for this and any recipe.   Children, big and little, love smelling, discovering and eventually identifying spices. Measuring is also a good way to apply math skills.  After years of coaching and training, my own kids have finally learned to read and distinguish between a tablespoon and the various teaspoons.  In the process the second grader at least has gained a pretty good understanding of fractions—two ¼ teaspoons equals one ½ teaspoon—that sort of thing.

My children also like to “chop” the garlic.  Get a cutting board, a sturdy flat-bottomed dish (I use Corelle) and a garlic press, and have the children follow these steps:

  1. Remove the appropriate number of cloves from the garlic bulb
  2. Place cloves on the cutting board, cover with the plate, and press slowly crushing slightly
  3. Set the plate aside and remove the garlic skins.
  4. Crush cloves one at a time in the press and use a butter knife to cut away the crushed garlic from the bottom

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Grilled Caesar Salad

Though a unanimous favorite, our family reserved the Caesar salad experience for dining out. Somewhere in the long ago, I had heard that Caesar salad required a raw egg in the dressing.  The thought of eating raw eggs gives me a food-safety anxiety attack and home-pasteurizing eggs seems like too much effort for too little reward.  So I had lumped Caesar salad into the category of hullabaloo-cooking and never even thought about making it at home.

But recently I have revised my opinion. I owe this change of heart to my salad-loving, lunch-time bistro companion and best friend, Marcia, who ordered a grilled Caesar salad on one of our lunch-time excursions. One taste and we both agreed that the flavor of the charred leaves added an exciting new element to this already tasty classic.
She liked the grilled Caesar so much that she began making it at home…a lot.

Grilled Caesar

After a brief tutorial and poo-pooing my reservations, she convinced me to give it try.  The smoky charred flavor juxtaposed to the tart lemony dressing and sour salty capers; the elegant  presentation with a deceptively simple preparation; the ability to eat the salad with your hands like a slice of pizza (a winner with the kids), and the complete removal of eggs from the recipe—all of these reasons have me making this salad at home now too…a lot.Grilled Caesar--Ingredients

Grilled Caesar Salad
Author: 
Recipe type: Salads & Dressings
Cuisine: America
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 servings
 
The dressing stores well in the fridge for a few months. If you make it in the quantity listed below, you'll have plenty leftover, making Grilled Cesar Salad a possibility even on busy week nights.
Ingredients
  • HOMEMADE CAESAR DRESSING
  • the juice of 2 lemons (about ⅓ cup)
  • 1 t anchovies in oil
  • ½ t sugar
  • 1 t Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 t mayonnaise
  • ½ salt
  • ¾ cup good rapeseed or olive oil
  • ½ t powdered garlic or one whole garlic clove, crushed
  • SALAD
  • 2 hearts of Romaine
  • oil
  • OPTIONAL ADDITIONS
  • 1 T capers
  • 1 cup croutons
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & Pepper
Instructions
  1. TO MAKE THE DRESSING
  2. Combine the juice, anchovies, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mayo, salt, and powdered garlic (if using), and with an upright or immersion blender on high speed. Slowly drizzle in the oil while continuing to blend on high until the dressing looks creamy and completely emulsified.
  3. If you are using fresh garlic, add the crushed clove after emulsifying and allow it to infuse its flavor in the oil for 6 - 24 hours before fishing out and discarding. Don't leave the garlic in the dressing as it can be a breeding ground for botulism spores.
  4. TO MAKE THE GREENS
  5. Heat grill (I use a caste iron pan grill) over a medium flame until the grates are hot.
  6. Meanwhile, slice the clean heart of Romaine in half vertically. Brush the cut side with a bit of oil and place firmly on the hot grill,
  7. Allow to char for 30 seconds to a minute.
  8. Remove immediately, dress, garnish and season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Grilled Caesar Salad--the dressing

Grilled Caesar--Grilling Romaine and Making Croutons

Nutrition & Storage:  Remember, of all the fruits and vegetables, greens are the most nutrient dense.  You should eat greens (or “leaves” as my husband calls them) every day—cooked or raw.  Of all the salad greens, Romaine is not only among the most nutritious but also the hardiest.  It stays fresh in the fridge longer than more tender varieties. Wash them, spin them dry, and store them in a salad spinner.  I like this OXO. It’s kept my Romaine crisp and fresh for 2 weeks or more stored like this.

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How to Make and Freeze Pumpkin Mash (Winter Squash Puree)

Pie Pumpkins

Pie Pumpkins

A month after the regular farmers markets closed for the season, I spied my pile of winter squashes sitting patiently, expectantly on my pantry floor.  They could probably wait unharmed another month or more, but with Christmas and a family-dinner-pumpkin-pie-commitment just days away, I thought that I should tackle the task of transforming them into pumpkin mash before the last-minute holiday frenzy begins.

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash

When I first started preserving, I preferred freezing to canning or drying.  Freezing takes little time or effort and poses no food safety threat.  However, after years of the kids (actually me) accidentally leaving the freezer door open or losing valuable goods in the frosty depths only to be discovered years later covered in freezer burn,   I have turned to canning and drying whenever possible and  reserve freezing for those veggies that strictly require it.  Because canning pumpkin puree cannot be done safely in your kitchen even with a pressure canner, winter squash has become one of those few veggies that get frozen.

Acorn squash

Acorn squash

Carnival Squash

Carnival Squash

Pumpkin mash is a “must” for me as it enhances the texture and moisture of nearly all sweet  treats made with whole wheat flour.  If you remain unconvinced about the necessity of pumpkin mash because you still use white flour to make sweet treats, read this and then come back here for your pumpkin mash tutorial. Not into sweets? Pumpkin puree has other applications besides pumpkin pie and sweet treats.  You can slip it into all kinds of soups, stews and sauces to thicken them and secretly add more veggies to your diet.  I have a great squash soup recipe which requires mash.  I shall post it soon.

How to Freeze Pumpkin Mash:

  1. Choose an appropriate winter squash: pie pumpkins, hubbard squash, and butternut are all good choices.  Avoid large jack-o-lantern pumpkins as the flesh is too tough and stingy. Smaller squashes like acorn, carnival, and delicata have a good texture and flavor but have too little flesh to make it worth the effort.
  2. Wash the squash and peal the skin if it is a squash with smooth delicate skin like butternut, but leave it intact if it is tough-skinned like a hubbard. (Pealing isn’t necessary, it just makes mashing the cooked squash less messy).
  3. Cut squash in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon.   Cut into smaller manageable hunks if necessary—the smaller the pieces the faster it cooks. If it is a large squash like a blue hubbard you may have to work a bit to get it open.  A farmer-friend of mine shared her technique with me, “Toss it down the basement stairs.  It cracks the squash wide open, and it is fun.”
  4. **Cook the squash until extremely tender with one of the following methods:     Oven:  Place hunks or halves in a baking dish.  Then fill the dish with about an inch of water.  Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and bake at 350 F for 1 -2 hours—until the flesh is tender.       Roaster:  Cook in a counter-top roaster at 350 F with an inch or 2 of water covering the bottom. Cover the pan with aluminum foil to make sure that  the water doesn’t evaporate.     Crock Pot:  Cook about 2 hours on high or 4 hours on low—with an inch or 2 of water covering the bottom.     Stove-top: Steam or boil smaller chunks for about 30 – 40 minutes.       **For each method, cook time may vary depending on the size of the hunks of squash.
  5. Once tender set it aside and allow to cool. Tender flesh is important—a little over- cooked is okay but a little under-cooked is not.
  6. Drain excess water. Use a spoon to scrape cooked flesh from the skin if it was not already pealed.
  7. Mash flesh with a potato masher or fork right in the pan or pot—no need to dirty another dish.Pumpkin Mash--freezing
  8. Scoop out one cup portions onto plastic wrap or freezer paper.
  9. Wrap mash removing all air.
  10. Freeze wraps in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
  11. Transfer to a freezer bag or container and label.  It will keep for 1 year.Pumpkin Mash--Frozen Individually in 1 cup Portions

Miscellaneous Winter Squash Information

Yield:  about 1 cup of mash for every pound of butternut

Cooking: In pancake and waffle recipes, you can substitute about half of the milk required with pumpkin mash.  1 cup of pumpkin mush replaces 2/3 cup of milk.

Storing: Thin skin squashes like butternut can last up to 3 month and thick skinned squashes like hubbards can last up to 6 months if stored properly

Avoid washing the squash if possible until ready to cook. However, if you must, wash winter squash in 1 gallon of cool water with 1 teaspoon bleach.  Dry thoroughly and keep in a cool dark place like the basement. Do not allow the squashes to touch one another. Do not store near apples.

 

Pumpkin Mash--child measuringCooking with Kids:  Food preservation can be hot and heavy work, but this tasks is the exception.  Involve the kids all of the way through the process.   Takes the kids to the market with you to buy the squashes–ask the farmer about the varieties available so you and the kids can learn about them at the same time. (You can still get squash from the Winter Farmers Market, by the way).  Have the kids wash the outsides of the squashes, scrape out the seeds, and later they can mash and measure the cooked squash.  Nothing is more fun to a little kid than mashing mush with their bare hands.  Also don’t forget my farmer-friend’s technique.  If you get a giant hubbard squash, the kids can also chuck it down the basement stairs for fun.

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Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts—Espinacas a la Catalan

I discovered this delightful dish in a cozy little tapas restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston.  After one bite, I decided that I would try to replicate this recipe at home.  Later research revealed that the dish is called Espinacas a la Catalana and has been prepared in the Catalan region of Spain for at least 150 years.  I guess the appeal of the dish seems unremarkable in light of the fact that Spaniards have been vetting it for more than 150 years.Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Further research revealed that the number of recipes for Espinacas a la Catalana is equal to the number of Catalonians. While additional ingredients varied—lemon, tomato, wine, honey, paprika, and apples to name a few, the fundamental ingredients remained constant:  spinach, raisins, pine nuts, olive oil and garlic.  I tried several variations and this is the one we all liked best.  However, if you are like me and tend to cook creatively, please share the results.

Spinach--washing

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts--Ingredients

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts—Espinacas a la Catalan
Author: 
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Spanish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 - 8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 8 oz. spinach* (8 – 10 cups)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • 2 T pine nuts
  • 3 T golden raisins, chopped
  • ¼ cup dry white wine or sherry
  • ¼ t sugar
  • Juice of 1 small lemon (about 3 T spoons)
  • Black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Swish spinach in a cold water bath until all grit has fallen away. Spin leaves in the salad spinner until dry.
  2. Heat oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and salt; sauté until the garlic just turns golden being careful not to burn—about 1 minute.
  3. Add pine nuts, raisins, sugar, and wine. Cover and allow raisins to plump and soften—2 minutes. Remove lid and reduce wine.
  4. Whisk in lemon juice until heated and incorporated fully.
  5. Add spinach, turn off heat and toss in the pan until all of the leaves are coated and slightly wilted. Add pepper, taste and adjust seasoning.
Notes
*If you use young and tender spinach, you may use the stem and leaf. However, if you are using more mature spinach, remove the stems and roughly chop the leaves.

Spinach with Raisins Collage

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts--Tossing

Cooking and Eating with Kids:  I wilted the spinach ever so slightly due to the kids’ preference.  They willingly try salads so I told them that this was a wilted salad. If, on the other hand, I had told them that these were cooked greens, well, I can assure you that my ears would have been met with a chorus of wails and the battle over taking a single bite would have ensued.     Ask any political strategist, and they will tell you a good spin can change the minds and hearts of the people. I encourage you to use this strategy when feeding your kids something new.  Tell them it is really something they have eaten a million times before–in this case salad.  Once they have adopted it as an acceptable food you can start varying it slightly, like calling it by its real name.

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Homemade Hot Sauce from Fermented Peppers

IMG_6163

Hot sauce adds a welcome layer of hurt-so-good flavor and excitement to many dishes.  This homemade hot sauce recipe holds its own and some would say even surpasses some of the more popular brands.  Compared with store-bought, homemade has the same tangy richness but with a fresher flavor, a brighter color, and not a whisper of questionable additives.

So now, while red peppers of every variety are still at the market, make haste.  The beauty of this recipe is that it allows you to make something entirely unique, designed to fit your taste.  You may choose to make it with 100% Thai chilies for a fiery hot sauce or you could go the other extreme and only use sweet bell peppers for a pure pepper taste experience.  The choice is yours.

This recipe starts with fermented red peppers.  Fermentation takes time but little effort.  I promise that the hullabaloo is kept to a minimum and effort exerted shall be paid back ten fold in the tangy heat enjoyed over the next several months or weeks—however long it lasts.

Click here for a quick tutorial on the basics of fermenting.

TIP FOR CHOOSING YOUR CHILIES: To help you gauge heat, you can create a mild sauce like Louisiana Hot Sauce or Frank’s Hot Wing Sauce using about 1.5 pounds sweet red bells and 0.5 pounds red ripe serranos or jalapenos. You may also choose to ferment your peppers separately—bell peppers in one vessel and habaneros in another for example. After fermenting and processing them both separately, you can mix the 2 peppers until you get the precise amount of heat and flavor you desire. That is a bit more work but not much and probably worth it especially if you’re looking for an exact level of heat.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

STEP #1: Pickle your Peppers

Pickled Peppers

  • 2 lbs. red peppers–any variety from sweet to scorching (1 kilo)
  • 2 quarts water (2 liters)
  • ¼ cup salt—heaping (100 grams)
  1.  Mix the salt into the water dissolving completely to make the brine.
  2. Wash and cut the peppers removing, stem, seeds and white pith. Depending on the size, cut them into halves, quarters or even smaller.  Do not try to ferment whole peppers as the interior flesh must be exposed.
  3. Place the peppers in a clean, non-reactive vessel like a half gallon mason jar.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  4. Pour enough brine over the peppers to cover them.  Pour the rest of the brine into a sealable quart or pint sized plastic bag and stuff it into the mouth of the jar so that all of the peppers are completely submerged in brine. If using a larger, more open container use a larger gallon bag filled with brine and lay on top of the peppers. All peppers must be completely submerged in brine or they will not ferment.
  5. Label the jar with the date and contents and place it on a plate or in a bowl to protect your counter from spillage.
  6. In a few days you will see the water begin to cloud and bubbles appear. This is the fermentation procesIMG_6118s.
  7. Keep it at room temperature for 3-6 weeks removing the bag periodically to clean off the white scum (yeast). Begin tasting the peppers at 3 weeks to determine whether they have become sour enough for your liking.
  8. Once they are ready you can do one of the following: filter the brine, boil it for 1 minute, cool it and then store the peppers in it in the fridge where they will keep for 1 year. Eat them; cook them; they are delicious. OR you can make home hot sauce.

Note: Brine, not water, is used to fill the “weight” bag so that if the bag accidentally springs a leak the salt water concentration remains constant and the fermentation process is not spoiled.

 

STEP #2: Make the Hot Saucefermenting peppers2

  1. Remove the pickled peppers from the brine (do not discard the brine) and puree them in a blender or food processor.
  2. Strain the pepper puree through a fine mesh colander, sieve of or food mill until the entire liquid portion of the pepper is squeezed out.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  3. Yield will vary depending on how enthusiastically you strain and the fleshiness of the peppers used.  Jalapenos are very fleshy for example but scotch bonnets are quite thin.  In this example  1 ½ lbs. red bells and ½ lbs. serranos yielded 1 2/3 cup liquid purée + ½ cup fermented pepper solids. Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  4. Freeze or refrigerate the pepper solids in a freezer-safe container or bag.  They make a great flavoring agent for beans, soups, stir fries—anything where you want a bit of heat and sour.IMG_6173
  5. Strain the brine through a coffee filter and boil for 1 minute removing any additional scum. Allow it to cool and store in the fridge. I use it in soups and stew.  It adds a rich flavor that I find irresistible.  It’s like using beer or wine in cooking.

Homemade Hot Sauce Recipe

  • 1 cup strained, fermented pepper liquid
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • ½  teaspoon canning salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  1.  Combine all of the ingredients and store in the fridge where it will last for 1 year or more.
  2. You may adjust the seasoning to your liking with more or less salt or vinegar.  You may also prefer to use the brine instead of the vinegar.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

     

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Kale & Pear Winter Slaw

Kale & Pear Winter Slaw

“Three kinds of kale, Seckel pears, two kinds of chili peppers and honey.”   That was the text message I received from the farm manager in my response to my question, “What crops to you have in plentiful supply?” The farm manager works for Walnut Way Conservation Corp, a community organization in Milwaukee that uses vacant city lots to grow produce as part of their mission to revitalize the neighborhood.  I posed the question because they had invited me to do a cooking-based nutrition workshop to help promote their produce at their annual Harvest Celebration.

Kale & Pear Winter Slaw--3 kale varieties

(left to right) Curly Kale, Red Winter Kale, Lacinato or Tuscan or Black Kale

It seems like a game show challenge for harried home cooks.  “What recipe can you develop using these 4 ingredients?”  Because I wind up a contestant on this game show more nights than I would like to admit,  I have gained some skill in meal-time problem-solving. It didn’t take me long to come up with this kale salad which incorporates 3 out of the 4 ingredients.   I could have incorporated all 4 adding a minced red chili pepper for a bit of heat, but I chose a more conservative path focusing on the sweet and tangy flavors.Kale--cold water bath

Among greens, kale falls into the “hardy” category. This means it generally should be cooked in water or it will remain too tough and too bitter to eat.  However in this recipe, the acid from the apple cider vinegar does the “cooking”. The result is a hardy slaw, one that stands up longer than its cabbage cousin.  Crisp pears, tart cranberries, crunchy pecans, assertive onions, smoky bacon, and sweet honey all combine nicely adding layers of complimentary flavors and textures to the pleasantly chewy kale slaw.

Kale & Pear Winter Slaw--girls prep
Kale--separating leaf from stalk

 

Kale & Pear Winter Slaw
Author: 
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6-8 servings
 
Make this recipe after the first frost when kale becomes sweeter and even more tender.
Ingredients
  • INGREDIENTS
  • 12 oz. kale—a tender variety like Red Winter or Lacinato works best
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced red onions
  • 2 medium-sized firm pears, peeled and diced—about 1 ½ cups
  • 4 rashers bacon, fried crisp
  • ¼ cup chopped dried cranberries
  • ⅓ cup chopped, toasted pecans
  • DRESSING
  • ⅓ cup grape seed or olive oil
  • 3 T apple cider vinegar
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • ½ t crushed black pepper
Instructions
  1. Prepare kale by tearing the stalks from the leaves. Swish kale leaves in a deep, cold water bath until all dirt falls to the bottom. Next stack clean leaves and roll tightly together. Slice the roll lengthwise and then crosswise into very thin, short strips.
  2. Make dressing by combining salt, pepper, vinegar, and honey. Then slowly drizzle in oil whisking constantly or blending on high with an electric blender.
  3. Toss half the dressing with the chopped kale and let it set at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, chop cranberries and slice onions; set aside.
  5. Peel pears and dice into ¼ inch cubes. Keep diced pears in a bowl with ½ cup water and 1 T vinegar to prevent browning.
  6. Toast pecans—place pecans in a dry heavy skillet over medium heat stirring constantly for 1—2 minutes until golden. Remove from pan and chop.
  7. In the same skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, drain on a paper towel, and finely chop.
  8. Toss all ingredients together, adjust salt and pepper seasoning, and serve at room temperature or chill and serve later. This salad gets better with time.
Notes
Substitute smoked tempeh or ½ teaspoon liquid smoke for a bacon-free slaw.

 

Stack cleaned and prepped leaves; roll tightly together; slice into thin ribbons

Stack cleaned and prepped leaves; roll tightly together; slice into thin ribbons

Kale ribbons--wilting in the dressingCooking with Kids:  Little kids were made for cleaning greens. Ripping the leaf from the stalk without a care  followed by swishing the leaves in a deep cold water bath—this comes as close to pure cooking fun as you can get for a little kid. No admonishments to be careful or to not spill; no overseeing their technique.  I have been having my kids clean greens since they could walk.

They also enjoy making the dressing.  When they were very small (3 and under), I had them shake it like crazy in a jar.  They have graduated to using the noisy immersion blender.  For a kid, nothing compares to the joy derived from using a noisy tool.

Getting kids to eat dark leafy greens can be a challenge, but try.  Greens are the most important plant food you can eat for long-term health. Because my children like salad, I told them that this is a kale salad (which it is) and avoided the use of the word slaw–something new.  I won’t lie, this was their first time trying it and they weren’t wild about it.  That said they did take a bite but said no thanks to more. The man liked it and so did I, which is enough for me to make it again and again and again. They will try it each time and I guarantee that they will come around to accepting it perhaps even requesting it. Courage, Dear Parents! Be relentless!IMG_6005

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