Showing posts with label preserving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label preserving. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Squirreling for Winter: M.M.M. spaghetti sauce

How do you eat locally and seasonally in the winter? You store the produce when it is fresh! Making something that you don't need a canner for is a great place to start learning these skills. 

I love homemade marinara sauce - stuff in a jar just can't touch fresh with a ten foot pole. Unless you're carefully reading labels, store bought sauce is loaded with added sugars and salt and lacking in flavor.

I recently spent a Thursday night making sauce (and drinking a bit of sauce too, which made it even more fun!). There isn't an exact recipe, I just used a bunch of tomatoes and peppers from the farmers market. Some farmers will sell "seconds" - these are the fruits and vegetables that aren't as pretty, might have a nick or split in the skin or have a weird shape that makes them harder to slice or cube. This benefits the farmer because they get to sell produce that might not be purchased and it helps your wallet because the farmer is going to give you a bargain. Win!

I wasn't too precise with the ingredients because I didn't plan to can the sauce. If you can tomato products in a water bath canner, you have to ensure that there is sufficient acid to prevent bacterial growth. I wanted to be easy and just stuck the sauce in the freezer.

Nutritional note: don't skip the olive oil. Some of the nutrients in the vegetables, such as the lycopene in the tomatoes and tomato paste, are fat soluble. If there isn't any fat in the meal, we miss the nutritional boat!

M.M.M. Sauce
(aka Mushroom and Merlot Marinara)
Makes one huge pot of sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, diced
2-5 cloves of garlic, minced, per your love of garlic and fear of vampires
8 ounces of mushrooms, sliced
2-3 bell peppers, any color
10 pounds of tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup of merlot, or so (and some for you too!)
4 ounce can tomato paste
1 bay leaf
Basil, oregano, hot sauce, salt and pepper per your taste buds
  1. Bring a big pot of water to boil. Gently drop whole tomatoes into water and simmer for 30-90 seconds or until skin starts to split. Remove them from boiling water and plunge into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Once cool enough to handle, the skins should slip right off. If not, redunk in boiling water and try again.
  2. In your biggest pot, saute onions and garlic until onions become translucent 
  3. Add bell peppers and mushrooms and saute for a few more minutes.
  4. Add diced tomatoes, merlot, tomato paste and seasonings. Go lightly with the seasonings here, because the flavors get concentrated as the sauce simmers. You can always add more later.
  5. Bring sauce to a boil and then drop temperature down to low and stir sauce occasionally.
  6. Put on a movie, pour yourself a glass of wine and remember to stir sauce once in a while. 
  7. By the time the sauce has simmered for a few hours, it should smell fantastic and have developed a rich red color. Taste it: does it need anything else? 
  8. Let the sauce cool. If you keep stirring, it will cool off faster. 
  9. Once cooled, ladle into plastic quart freezer zip-top bags (these are more heavy duty), plastic containers from take out or glass jars with a screw on lid. Either way, leave a bit of space for the sauce to expand as it freezes. Label with the M.M.M. sauce and date and pop into your freezer.
Ready to use the sauce? You could try my Mile-High Vegetable Lasagna in the slow cooker. Yummy!

See the skin peeling off? That's what you're looking for
Lots of onion and garlic...vampires beware!

Add tomatoes, wine and tomato paste
Ready to go!
Reader Poll: Have you put anything up for the winter (aka canned something, frozen surplus fruits or veggies or dried apples)?

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

In a pickle: Pickled beets

My sister loves all things pickled. You could say her middle name is pickle. We recently went to my favorite restaurant in DC, Founding Farmers, and got burgers. She asked for an extra side of pickles and almost got mad when I took one slice.

My dad is up to his ears with beets in his garden, so when he came to town recently, he asked how many beets I wanted and I told him to pack the cooler. I was up for the challenge; making and canning pickled beets! 

I am a huge fan of the site Pick Your Own; the author does very detailed instructions and photographs each step.

What are pickles? Pickling is one way to preserve the harvest. Either a salt solution called "brine" or a vinegar solution either prevents or controls growth of bacteria. These pickles are made using a vinegar solution but I am also hoping to try fermented pickles using the brine; these are supposed to be delicious too and are an excellent source of probiotics.

Pickled Beets
  • Giant bowl of fresh beets from the garden or farmers market - about the same size
  • 4 cups white vinegar (5 percent acid- check the label)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons canning or pickling salt - without iodine; iodine clouds the solution
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 2 large onions, sliced (optional)
  1. Sanitize your jars, new lids and rings in your dishwasher or wash using very hot water. Clean and safe is the name of the game. 
  2. Trim off beet tops, leaving 1 inch of stem and roots to prevent bleeding of color. Wash thoroughly in your sink.
  3. Cover with boiling water and cook until less-than-tender (about 20 minutes). I didn't want the beets to be mushy, so I just cooked them long enough to loosen the skin; some directions suggest cooking  until tender (35 minutes, or so). Up to you. How do you know when the skin is loose? Fish one beet out of the pot and cool under running water; try to massage the skin off. If it doesn't come off easily, toss back in the pot and keep boiling.
  4. While beets are cooking, fill water bath canner with about 6-8 inches of water and bring to boil. I also fill tea kettle with water and bring that to a boil in case I didn't get quite enough water in the canner. The goal is that once you set your filled jars in the water bath canner, the water level will just cover them. This will take some practice :) 
  5. Drain beets and cover with cool water until cool enough to handle. Using your hands and a paring knife, massage off skin and trim any strange spots. Your sink may look like the scene of a crime, so make sure you're wearing an apron and not your favorite white shirt. 
  6. Slice into 1/4-inch slices. I put a plastic cutting board on top of a baking tray (cookie sheet with rim) to catch the red juice. I didn't use a wooden cutting board because I didn't want it to get stained.
  7. Peel and thinly slice onions. Combine vinegar, salt, sugar, and fresh water in a large sauce pan. Put spices in cheesecloth bag, or mulling spice strainer and add to vinegar mixture. Bring to a boil. Add beets and onions and simmer 5 minutes. Remove spice bag.
  8. Fill jars with beets and onions, leaving 1/2-inch headspace (space between top of food and top of jar). Add hot vinegar solution, allowing 1/2-inch headspace.
  9. Wipe rim of jar with clean cloth and place clean lid on top. Screw ring on loosly, finger tight, and use jar grabber to put into boiling bath canner. 
  10. Start timer once water returns to a boil; for sea level folks using pint jars, process jars (aka boil them) for 30 minutes. If you live at high altitute, you need to process for more time; see table 1 below.
  11. Once pickles are done processing, remove carefully using jar grabber and place on towel away from drafts. If you hear a "pop", you have gotten a good seal. Set cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours. Check seal by pushing top of jar; if it moves, you didn't get a seal. Place that jar in the fridge. All sealed jars are to be labeled with the contents and date and stored in a cool, dark cupboard. 
Table 1. Recommended process time for Pickled Beets in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 - 1,000 ft 1,001 - 3,000 ft 3,001 - 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Hot Pints or Quarts 30 min 35 40 45

Very clean jars, lids, rings and jar filling funnel
Cleaning the beets
Easy to peel
Making pickling solution; spices in mulling ball make for easy removal

Slice beets but keep juice from running all over the counter

After boiling beets in brine for 5 minutes, use slotted spoon to fill jars with the vegetable and then a ladle to fill jars with the pickling solution. Clean rims with clean cloth, place clean lid on top and gently screw on ring. Process according your altitude. Don't forget to label your jars once they're cool.


For more information:
  • The National Center for Home Food Preservation: Pickled Beets
  • The Oregon State University Extension Office: Pickling Vegetables
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Monday, July 23, 2012

All about pesto - food of the gods

Pesto - food of the gods - what a great way to start the week!

Pesto is so delicious! Born in northern Italy, pesto is traditionally made with fresh basil, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan. What was once done by hand using a mortar and pestal is now accomplished in moments using a food processor or blender. 

You may have noticed, though, that pine nuts can be pricy! Per pound, pine nuts can be up there with selling your kidney or your first born child. I think that pesto is just as delicious when made with toasted almonds, and a lot more affordable. So, grab a huge bunch of basil from your back yard garden, your herb pot or local farmers market and whip up some pesto to use now and freeze some for later.

Another money saving tip? Ok! If you don't have quite the volume of fresh basil you'd like, you can stretch this recipe using fresh spinach or arugula (aka rocket if you're on the other side of the pond).

To toast your nuts, simply place in a dry skillet over medium-low heat and stir around a bit until they smell good. You're not going to see too much change in color until it is too late and they're scorched. Let your nose tell you when they're done and don't walk away from the stove. 

This recipe is really accomplished by "touch and feel", so exact measurements aren't given. Some folks like pesto more cheesy than others, some like it to be thinned with more olive oil, others skip the garlic. Up to you!

Basil Pesto - a big batch

Toasted nuts (1/4 to 1/2 a cup per big batch)
Fresh basil, augmented with spinach, if needed (Fill up the food processor container)
Parmesan cheese (1/4 to 1/2 a cup per big batch
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil (about a cup)

Toasted almonds
Food processor stuffed with fresh basil
Handful of Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper
Drizzling in olive oil
Fresh basil from the garden: future pesto!

Drizzle a thin layer of olive oil on top of fresh pesto to prevent browning
Pesto served on toast with goat cheese, an egg and tomato

Where to use my pesto? The possibilities are truly endless, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Tossed with hot or cold pasta, rice, barley, quinoa or gnocchi
  • tossed with hot or cold zucchini pasta
  • Stirred into scrambled eggs or tofu
  • Drizzled onto a fried egg
  • Thinned with balsamic vinegar to dress salads and roasted vegetables
  • Mashed into potatoes
  • Tossed with freshly popped popcorn
  • Schmeared onto a bagel with cream-cheese
  • As a substitute for mayo/mustard on your favorite sandwiches or subs
  • Drizzled onto hot soup or cold gazpacho
  • Take your grilled cheese up a notch
  • Mixed into tuna, egg or chicken salad
  • Spread on toast with goat cheese
  • Spread onto cream cheese for a quick party dip for crackers, pretzels or crisp breads
  • Marinate your chicken before grilling or baking
  • As a sauce base for your homemade pizza or drizzled on top after baking...or both
  • Tossed with blanched green beans, broccoli or cauliflower
  • On a spoon...

All about storage
In the fridge: pour a thin layer to cover your fresh pesto to prevent excessive browning
In the freezer: scoop pesto into small jars (leaving room for expansion) or spread into an ice-cube tray to freeze smaller portions

Nut allergies?
Try this with toasted soy "nuts" 
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