Archive for the ‘Meals & Recipes’ Category

Chutney-Pickle-Relish Things


I have a pickle forming in my brain.  Not a pickle as in, “I’m in a pickle” (which I could very well be), but as in, what am I gonna do with all these lunker yellow squashes?

Papaya Pear Overload

Add to that the late blight in the gardens, which is fast taking down all the tomato plants, and well, I’ve got to do something to fill those quart jars and save some of those tomatoes and deal with all those squashes–preferably all at the same time.

So, the pickle starts to form in my brain.  Or the chutney.  Or relish.  Or whatever you want to call it.  It started with green tomatoes and yellow squash.  I thought maybe ginger and brown sugar and cider vinegar would be good with those things–that starts sounding like chutney, doesn’t it?

Then I went to Jones’ and I saw they had those little mesh bags of organic lemons at a decent price.  I love lemon slices with the peel intact simmered in a sweet/sour syrup!

And then I thought of some of those onions in my basement.  There are some jalapeños starting to size up again in the gardens–that could add a nice heat element.

What about cinnamon sticks?  Whole allspice?  Can I get away with cumin in all that?  By golly, I think I can!

Of course, the first item on the agenda is to get the half pints of “special sauce” in and out of the canner–just noticed I’m low on small lids, so H offered (OK, I sweet-talked the poor guy) to go back out in the heat to pick some up.

The chutney-pickle-relish will have to wait until tomorrow to take its final shape.  Who knows–I might find something else out in the garden that seems a good addition–bronze fennel seems like it could be interesting….

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Special Sauce


Casting about for today’s canning project, I remembered the peach lug full of ripening tomatoes that I’d left sitting for a few days after my last harvest (not yesterday’s, but the one before that).

There were a number that needed discarding–having developed the tell-tale sunken black splotches of late blight, but there were quite a few decent ones as well–mostly Old Pink Plums and Principe Borgheses.

Trimmed up and cooked down with a chopped onion, hot and sweet peppers, garlic, white vinegar, plus a bit of salt and pepper and maybe a pinch of sugar, they make a great spicy sauce for the pantry.

I’ve been making a version of this sauce for a few years now–the base is always the red ripe paste tomatoes with garlic and onions and sweet red peppers–and then the hot peppers vary depending on the year and what’s ready.

I cook all the veggies together until soft, then cool and put them through the strainer and cook down the resulting pulp some more before adding the vinegar and seasoning and canning in half-pints.

The first year it was called “Naughty Taco”–a spicy but not-too-hot taco sauce.  Last year’s was “Hungarian Hot Sauce” because the heat was all from ripe Hungarian Hot Wax peppers, and that one had a bit of parsley minced into the finished product as well.

This year, all my hot peppers are still green, so I am cheating a little and adding heat by simmering the rest of the veggies with Thai Dragon flakes dried from last season’s harvest.  I’m going for a reprise on the parsley because that added such a yummy element.

I don’t try to make the sauce super-hot.  The point is spicy rich flavor because that’s what I like, and unlike many other things I can, this recipe–this concoction–is really for me.

You see, it’s great on eggs and tacos and the like, but as you may know, it takes an awful lot of macs n’ cheese to raise up a little boy.  The only way my protein-preferring system can handle that many carbs and dairy is through a liberal dose of spicy-tomato-y home-canned special sauce on top!

Vermillion-Famous Salsa Guide


I’ve had a number of requests for my salsa recipe since I started talking about making and canning it two days ago.

Vermillion-famous salsa

I can’t do that.  I can’t give you my recipe.

But!  I can provide guidelines.  My salsa changes slightly every year because it really depends on what is coming out of the gardens (and how much), what peppers are ripe n’ ready, what herbs and spices I have one hand.

First off is the base: I don’t chunk up the tomatoes, I make a tomato sauce base.  That means putting the tomatoes (whatever’s ripe–it’s usually the first tomato project, so I’m not picky about varieties) through my strainer.  I use the pumpkin screen, so it’s a little pulpy, and a lot of the seeds end up in it, too.

Cook it down–make it fairly thick but be careful not to scorch it.  I reduced by half, which meant I ended up with about seven quarts of tomato sauce.

Now, the spices and herbs.  Because I made the sauce base the day before canning, I could add the flavorings the night before and let them steep.  A couple of bay leaves (take out later), a couple tablespoons of cumin seed.

Use Mexican oregano (which tastes different than the Greek variety).  I put in a couple tablespoons of ground ancho chili, which adds depth.  I also add chipotle for smokiness–yesterday I used powder, but sometimes I chop a few chipotles of the canned-with-adobo-sauce variety.  Some black pepper.  Some celery seed.

The next day, I chop the peppers and onions and garlic and add those.  I don’t try to make my salsa hot–if it turns out fairly spicy, that’s OK, but it really just depends on your pepper mix.  My hot ones were planted late, so I only had about a dozen jalapenos–I added a few hot red peppers flakes dried from last year’s crop to the tomato base.

The rest were Napoleon and Italian Sweets and Jimmy Nardellos.  A few red ripe ones are nice if you have them this early in the season.  The Nardellos always turn red first and fast.  I like to use the yellow Hungarian Hot Wax, too, but the rabbits got ’em all this year.

Include the seeds and veins of the hot peppers if you want the finished product hotter.  Know, too, that after processing in the canner, the heat will be tamed somewhat.  If you want it hotter, you can always add hot sauce (which, of course, you will also make and can yourself!).

I add about equal amounts of peppers to onions/garlic.  In the end, the volume of peppers and onions and garlic all together should about equal the amount of tomato sauce you have.

Do not process the added vegetables in a machine–chop them by hand with a sharp knife.  I know it’s a pain, but food processors mush your peppers and onions (and so do dull knives).  Chop them fairly small (medium dice), so when you go to dip a chip you can actually get it down in the salsa without running into huge hunks of pepper.

Dump the peppers and onions and garlic in the tomato sauce (you’ll need a big pot).  I also sometimes add chopped flatleaf parsley and/or celery (celeriac) leaf.  If you use celery leaves, omit the celery seed from the tomato base prep.

Don’t bother adding cilantro to salsa that is destined for the canner because cilantro’s flavor doesn’t hold up in the cooking process.  I like to sprinkle a little chopped fresh cilantro over the top when I serve my salsa (if I’m not in the presence of the ubiquitous cilantro-hater).  That makes it taste fresh from the garden.

Once you have the whole shebang thrown together, you can add some salt.

I wait until close to the end, so I can accurately judge how much to add.  For the whole 7 quarts of sauce and 7 quarts of chopped vegetables (which ended up being 19 pints processed–the chopped veggies don’t add as much volume to the finished product as you’d think), I added a skosh less than two tablespoons of salt.  We are not salty-food eaters.

AND THEN–you add the extra acid to make it safe to BWB can.  I am not going to tell you how much to add–in deference to the USDA and Extension Food Safety Educators everywhere and the varying size your recipe might turn out to be.

I can tell you that you will probably end up needing less added acid if you use a tomato sauce base instead of chunked tomatoes in your salsa.

But!  I will tell you to use bottled lemon juice instead of vinegar.  It tastes way, way better that way–fresher and less “pickled.”  Bottled lemon juice is about the same acidity as 5% vinegar, and once it’s processed in the canner, you won’t notice the flavor of it so much.

After adding the lemon juice, bring the salsa up to a boil, then simmer it all together for about five minutes before putting it in the jars (1/4″ headroom) and affixing your lids/rings and processing.  I do BWB canner for 15 minutes (once it returns to a boil) on this recipe, plus about five minutes cool-down in the canner before removing the jars.

The only problematic thing I’ve noticed with the lemon juice salsa is that it tends to mold more quickly after it is opened than a vinegar-acidified product.

Just make sure to always use a clean utensil in the opened jar and transfer only as much salsa as you need to a separate bowl for serving/dipping.  If you don’t tend to eat salsa quickly, can it in smaller jars.

I usually can salsa in pints, but I do like the wide-mouth half pints for bringing to potlucks and parties–especially because their shape makes a natural dipping vessel.  Once chip crumbs get in the salsa, you might as well eat it all because it won’t last.

But that won’t be hard to do because it’ll be incredibly delicious!

A Little of This; A Little of That


The summer veggies are coming in at a pretty good clip now (well, except for tomatoes–slowly, and eggplant–barely starting to bloom).  Squash and bean production are adequate and the cucumbers are insane–a dozen or two daily from my small trellised patch.

Yesterday's load of cukes

I’ve been growing this variety for a couple of years now–it’s called “Summer Dance” and I’ve only seen it offered through Pinetree Garden Seeds.  If you trellis them, they almost all turn out perfect–long and slender, with thin skins and sweet, crisp flesh.

Unfortunately, only one of my pickling cukes germinated–and I wasn’t ready to do another seed order yet for just one thing.  So, I am making do with 1-5 little cukes a day from that vine–tucking them down in the basement crock to ferment.  I will probably buy a load of picklers from one of the vendors at our market if I can.

A little of this; a little of that

Today I layered on the mosquito-barrier clothes and spent some time weeding out the northcentral garden, which has gotten pretty messy over the past month.  I didn’t get the whole thing done, but I made a really good dent.  There are actually what you’d call “aisles” now.

I finally got the row cover off the melon vines (direct-seeded between spring cabbage stumps), so they can get pollinated and make melons.  I’m growing “Green Nutmeg” and Minnesota Midget” this year–the latter being the one that’s pretty much guaranteed to give me a few fruits; the former being a trial because I like the idea of a “spicy” melon.

Melons aren’t really a major crop for me because I’ve found them to be tricky on our soils and often pest-ridden.  You would think if cukes grow well, melons would, too, but space considerations almost always mean they go in a less-than-ideal spot.

They look pretty good so far, but I’ve learned never to assume I’ll get many–if any.  The best melons I’ve ever grown in these gardens (muskmelons and Moon & Stars watermelon) have been volunteers–meaning I didn’t really grow them at all.

With the summer harvest coming through the door daily, I’ve been able to get some produce down to PrairieSun, have a decent amount to sell at the farmers market, and make the CSA deliveries as well (which is the main commitment).  And (of course), we’ve been eating a bit, too.

After-party dinner

Last night I made these focaccias out of a round of Red Wagon artisan bread sliced crossways, brushed with garlic oil and toasted, then spread with homemade goat cheese, topped with thin-sliced green pepper, summer squash, and halves of the first few cherry tomatoes, then broiled.

We had actually planned them for an “after bar” (not after it closed, just after the party in question left the bar) celebration of a friend’s birthday, but when the pizzas were ready, and we went to the pre-determined party location, no one was there yet.

It wasn’t really a problem–we had the food, so we brought it home and gnoshed on it ourselves while watching weather radar of the storms coming across the state.  There was even a bit left over for breakfast!

Splendid Summer Feast


Being stuck inside all afternoon to avoid the brutal heat has its advantages!

It started with the tomato salad, which I’d been planning since I brought the tomatoes home from market on Thursday.  I had thought to do it traditionally, with sweet basil from my own garden, but I had some nice fronds of bronze fennel and some flatleaf parsley to use up.  Otherwise, it’s straightforward–tomatoes, herbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

I ate part of it for lunch with the Red Wagon Artisan bread picked up at Saturday’s market–its bubbly open structure is excellent for mopping up juices.  We had the bread for dinner, too.

Then there were the eggs–I had way too many in the fridge, and they’d been there so long I had to float them to check if they were OK to eat.  I found seven that fit nicely in the bottom of a saucepot for hard-boiling.

When they were cool, they were peeled and split, and their yolks mashed with Vegenaise and mustard.  I am not one to get fancy with piping in the filling on deviled eggs–this meal was just for H and I, so an informal spooning-in was good enough–with a sprinkling of parsley.

The fennel from the tomato salad was echoed in the coleslaw–I had one last half a cabbage in the fridge and chopped fine, it combined nicely with some grated carrot, the fennel, and some crumbled dried green onions.  The dressing was my standard simple sprinkle of sugar-white balsamic-olive oil blend.

Last, but not least, a pan of steamed Marvel of Venice beans with butter and a smidge of salt.

I love these veggie-heavy meals with lots of little dishes–there’s such an abundance of flavors and it sits lightly in the stomach when summer’s heat is overbearing.  We had a bit of tomato salad and beans left over, which I’ve combined into one salad for lunch today (with more of John’s excellent bread).

Local ingredients: tomatoes, parsley, fennel, cabbage, carrot, green onion, beans, bread, eggs.

Garlic and other Summer Treats


Second Garlic Harvest 2010

It has been brutally hot these last few days, and working in the gardens comes down to the choice between the mosquito-thick early and late hours when the temperatures are moderated, or the blasted heat of the midday, when the bugs retreat to the shade.

Yesterday, I chose the heat, and dug out the rest of the garlic crop–about sixty heads.  It had dried down enough in the field that I couldn’t risk leaving it in and putting it through another rain, which might cause the skins to split.

The first harvest came out a couple of weeks ago, and has been drying down on racks in the basement with a fan and dehumidifier.  It’s not as warm as the garlic would like it, but it seems to be curing nicely.

The Thursday and Saturday markets this week were pretty good–Saturday still needs to hit its stride, but we’re seeing our regular produce vendors starting to show up with squash, beans, cukes, and sweet corn.

We had a vendor up from Merrill, Iowa this Thursday with their hoophouse tomatoes, and I shamelessly bought $17 worth–not having any ripe yet out in my fields.  They are coming!

After an hour harvesting a few beans and squash this morning, and then three on the hot pavement at the market, I decided I’d paid my outdoor dues for the day and have resolved to hide in the house.  Uncharacteristically, I spent about an hour lying on the couch–just soaking up the cool and listening to the radio.

And then Splendid Table came on, and I started thinking about dinner at one o’ clock in the afternoon.  I’ve still got some nice-looking tomatoes from C. Brown Gardens, and a few bunches of herbs left over from my own Thursday market table–bronze fennel and gorgeous Prezzemolo Gigante parsley.

I might venture outside for a moment to pinch a couple of basil leaves to add to my tomato salad, along with a small clove of garlic pressed from my personal stash.

Looking in the fridge, it occurred to me that I’ve got to do something about all those eggs.  We eat a lot of them in the winter months, but in summer, they sit and sit.

After putting almost two dozen in a tub of water, I determined that there were several that shouldn’t be eaten (they floated), but I still had a nice quantity for deviled eggs–one of those favorite foods that I almost never make.

There’s a few other bits and pieces that need eating–half a cabbage that could make a nice coleslaw; a small bag of beans that could be steamed for a warm or cold salad.  Maybe the cabbage and steamed, cooled beans could be combined with some shredded carrot in a sweet/savory vinaigrette?

I blame it entirely on Lynne Rossetto Kasper that I’m putting together dinner hours before I usually do, but after broiling in the morning sun, there was little that could have gotten me off the couch besides picturing good local food and plenty of it!

What I Eat When I Eat Alone


In tribute to Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin’s book, a post on what I’m likely to cook up when I’m dining by my-alone-but-not-lonesome-self.

Dining Solo

When I’m on my own for a few days, with no one but myself (and the dog) to look after, I tend to work long hours on big projects that seem impossible to accomplish when interruptions to run errands or cook for or communicate with others are likely to break my–at times enormous–stride.

In the past, I’ve been guilty of working non-stop, without eating.  Now I am older (and I like to think wiser), and I take better care of myself when I’m alone, instead of simply seeing care of myself as a sort of side-effect of caring for others–the, I cook for everyone else and then I get to eat, too, philosophy.

When I’m on my own, I generally tend to my hungers when they arise, rather than on any schedule.  Often this means I will finish some task and realize, quite suddenly, that I am completely famished.  It does not do to have no food readily available in the house at that point–I must eat within ten minutes or I feel certain I’ll pass out from the hunger pangs.

So, I prepare in advance.  It’s actually quite pleasurable to do this–to make something entirely based on what I am excited to eat without any thought to the dietary predilections of others in the household.

Of course, since I am a vegetable farmer, it always starts with what’s in season:

Looking through the fridge and in what bowls and baskets I’ve been filling with this-and-that as I bring in the harvest, I pull together a selection that includes a little of everything I’ve got coming out of the gardens at the time.

This always hearkens back to the times I spent farm-sitting for my employers at Vermont Valley.

At the end of the day, I’d simply put a basket over my arm and walk out into the fields–selecting a bulb of fragrant fennel, a few string beans, a fat onion, a sunny yellow patty pan, maybe a couple of fresh leaves of basil–and bring them all back to the kitchen for my supper.

Even with all of the other benefits that came out of that season at my first “real” farm job, I would have to say it was that experience most of all that brought me to my own farming life–the ability not just to walk into a supermarket and know where food comes from, but to walk out into the field as if it were a kind of supermarket–one where my labor was payment in advance, and the reward was the incomparably rich sensory immersion of making my selections straight off the vine as the sun melted over the valley.

Because I am not living on our farm at present, the distance from field to table is a bit longer than it was back then, but it’s still fewer miles than I can count on one hand.

The vegetable selection

Because the dish should be something that can stretch for at least three or four meals, and because the timing between discovery of hunger and actual food-in-mouth must be short, I most often make something with liquid–a soup or stew of some kind, fortified with whatever stock I might have on hand (usually chicken or vegetable) and some red wine as well.

I tend to prefer a hot meal over a cold one, and I don’t have a microwave (there’s not really room for one in my little kitchen), so anything more solid than stew would take too long to re-heat when I’m in starvation mode.

To add substance and staying power to the meal, I add some kind of “meaty” bean–cannelini or borlotto or kidney usually, though chickpeas aren’t out of the question.

The beans may come from a can in the pantry, or I might have pre-soaked some dried ones if I’m really planning ahead for my solo dining adventure.  Either way, they’re a must to give me the energy I need to make it through the long hours of focused work between meals.

And often there’s a little bit of actual meat–a couple slices of bacon, a lone leftover sausage, a few pieces of ham.  I use a cured meat of some kind because flesh isn’t the main attraction, but a little bit adds a depth of flavor that I like.  Once upon a time, I liked to add shrimps to my stews, but I don’t eat crustaceans very much anymore.

A bit of ham is nice

The various-and-sundry ingredients of my solo stews make for a dish that undergoes subtle evolutions in flavor over the course of the two or three days that it functions as my main source of sustenance.

Once the initial chopping and prepwork is done and the dishes are washed, there’s generally not much more mess to take care of until the pot is empty–other than a single bowl and spoon.  The plate for my bit of crusty bread and bite of cheese is usually functional for several servings with only a brief dust-off into the compost bin.

And, if it turns out I’ll be flying solo a little longer than expected, I can often get at least one more meal from the pot if I toss in a little more stock–or perhaps the last few sips of wine after I’m done toasting how well I’m taking care of myself!

In the pictured dish, local ingredients include: chicken stock and fat, ham, shell beans, garlic, summer squash, tomato sauce, sweet pepper, hot pepper, cabbage, green onions, and carrots.