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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Random Food Fridays - Green Lentil and Sardine Salad

Well, it's been a while, and here I am with another salad. But, I do have fresh garden tomatoes for the salad! My garden is pretty small. I've never really had enough of anything from it to can a batch of sauce, jam or relish. Canning these tomatoes would seem kind of a shame, too. They are so pretty and delicious. Such a treat!

Here is the tomato corner of my little garden. They've done pretty good this year, considering this whole corner was a giant mud hole over the winter when we had to have our sewer line and water main replaced. Have no fear! No sewage was used in the growing of these fine tomatoes!

The two varieties shown on my plate are Old Yellow Candy Stripe and Tess's Land Race Currant. I ordered the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Many heirlooms have to be started from seed. It's not as hard as I thought it would be. In Sacramento, we have mild winters and I can start my seeds outdoors as early as January, as long as I protect them in these little greenhouses. I use empty one-gallon milk or water containers, cut around the middle, leaving enough for a hinge. When the weather warms up and the seedlings get too tall, you just clip the hinge and let them toughen up a bit. I find this old school aluminum table also helps by being very reflective.

The Old Yellow Candy Strip is a determinate tomato, which means they all ripen at once and that's the end of your harvest. Right now, I have about a dozen very large juicy tomatoes awaiting my pleasure. (This guy even had a smile for me!) The current tomatoes, like many small tomatoes, will keep producing for a while. That kind is called indeterminate. Tess's Land Race Currant are an amazing experience. It's as if each one had all the flavor of a large tomato compacted into one juicy burst! They are perfect for adding to any kind of salad. I like to leave them whole, so I can get the yummy POP.

This salad is what people mean when they are talking about a healthy Mediterranean diet - lentils, omega-3 rich cold water fish, veggies and good extra virgin olive oil. I think people can be a little scared of sardines. People, they are so good! And good for you! And sustainable! And low on the food chain! (Meaning fewer heavy metals and toxins.) I get mine at my friendly neighborhood Costco - Wild Planet Wild Pacific Sardines packed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. If you can't commit to a 6 pack, Trader Joe's has some you can purchase one can at a time.

Green Lentil and Sardine Salad
1 cup dry whole green lentils
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
1 shallot, diced
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, sliced
1 tbsp. capers
zest of 1 lemon
2 cans of sardines in extra virgin olive oil (4.375 oz)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
Note: I was completely out of parsley, but that would make a very nice addition!

Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large clove garlic, mashed
2 tsp. country style Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. sugar

For the salad, place a medium sauce pan with 6 cups water over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the lentils and stir to prevent clumping. Return to simmer and continue to simmer until they are soft but still hold their shape - about 20 minutes. (Nothing beats the bite test for this.) Drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Add all other salad ingredients and toss.

For the dressing add all ingredient to a jar with a tightly fitting lid and shake. When the dressing is emulsified, toss it with the salad. I found that this salad took all of this dressing. The flavor will improve with a few hours of marination.

This makes 4 to 6 lunch time servings for me. It will serve more as a side dish.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Raspberry and Pom Jam

I have the very great honor of serving as a groomshuman in the June wedding of my dear friends, Bill and Marina. The reason for my unusual title is that I will be standing up with Bill, right next to our philosophy professor and mentor, David, who introduced us a few years ago. Bill and I attended university about 20 years apart, which should give you some idea of the long and distinguished teaching career of David. The best way I can explain this welcome, but unexpected friendship is how we refer to each other - He is my brother from another mother. I am his sister from another mister.

Part of my wedding contribution is the making of teeny tiny jams to give as favors. Undertaking this project has been really fun and has helped me refine my system to become even more efficient. The good news is that one regular batch of jam will make from 15 to 18 jars. So, really, it's only about 10 batches. And, I'm already half way there!

Start with 4 12 oz. packs of berries, or the equivalent.

When local, organic, spring raspberries began to appear at Costco, I knew it was a great time to get started. Last fall, I combined pomegranate juice with raspberries to fill out an odd amount of berries. It turned out bright and delicious! These two tangy fruits enhance each other spectacularly.

Add Pom juice to equal 4 1/2 lbs.
Because pomegranates are not currently in season, I opted for the easy fix of using bottled Pom juice.

As I often do, I mashed the berries with the sugar and lemon juice and stored them in the fridge until ready to process.

I saw Rachel at Blue Chair Fruit, keeping her jars hot in the oven then pouring into each jar on a cookie sheet, wiping the rims, lidding and then oven processing. Here is a page from Eat Boutique that shows some pictures of her process. I do not oven process the full jars, but filling many jars this way is much quicker than ladling each one and moving the canning funnel from jar to jar. The filled jars can (and should) wait in the oven until it is their turn in the boiling water bath.

If the jam has chunks of fruit, you may get a little splashing as they plop in as you pour, so take care with cleaning the rims. This batch makes 16 of these 4 oz. jars. I used one big jar to send to a friend. I was also lucky enough to has a little left over.

So far, I've made strawberry and raspberry/pom. As new fruits become available, I'll mix it up a bit. If I have two batches of fruit prepped, it really only takes about 90 minutes to do up both batches. And, that is without commercial pectin. If you could taste this, I think you would agree that this small bit of work is well worth the rewards. Bill came over for breakfast shortly after this batch. His reaction was such that my husband asked if he just wanted a big straw to suck it up. I call that success.

Raspberry and Pom Jam
48 oz. fresh raspberries - that's 3 lbs.
Enough Pom juice to bring it up to 4 lbs. - about 2 cups
5 cups cane sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup pectin booster
18 4 oz. jars

Wash and drain berries. Mash together will all other ingredients, until juices are flowing and some whole berries remain. This may be done up to 3 days in advance.

Prepare the boiling water bath and preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place lids and rings in warm water on lowest setting. Wash jars and check for imperfections. Place on a cookie sheet in the preheated oven and keep there for at least 20 minutes. Keep the oven warm at this temperature to keep the jars until ready for filling and processing.

Place the berries in a large, heavy bottomed pan and bring to a boil. Watch and stir occasionally, skimming excess foam. Place some saucers and teaspoons in the freezer. After 20 to 30 minutes, or when the jam reaches 220 degrees, begin to keep a closer watch. When the jam begins to look thicker, glossy and the foam subsides, test the jam by taking a saucer and spoon from the freezer and scooping out a teaspoon. Place the full spoon and saucer back in the freezer for a couple of minutes and check. To check, tip the spoon and let the jam fall off. Does it mound? Does it wrinkle when you push it? Then it is ready! (Click here for pictures of this test.)

When the jam is ready, remove from the heat and place on a potholder in a location convenient to where you will fill the jars. Bring the whole cookie sheet of heated jars out of the oven. Give the jam a few gentle stirs to distribute fruit and skim off any remaining remnants of foam. Use a ladle to fill a two cup measuring cup with a good pour spout. Carefully fill all the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rims and threads of the jars to insure any spills are cleaned up. Place lids and rings on each jar and finger tighten - be gentle! Keeping the jars upright at all times, lift jars into the boiling water bath and process for 10 minutes each. Keep remaining jars warm in the oven until it is their turn. When each processing is complete, carefully lift the jars out onto another cookie sheet that has been lined with a tea towel. Once the seals pop, I like to wipe any excess water off the top and loosen the rings a bit. That way the heat of the jam and help evaporate any water under the rings.

If you have a big, multi-step project going, I highly recommend that you find some way to demarcate each flavor before storing. Right now, a sharpie on the side of the canning jar boxes is how I'm keeping track. I'm not sure how Bill and Marina will want to label and decorate the jars, so I'm holding them simply.

Congratulations to Bill and Marina! I'm so glad to be part of a sweet start to a very sweet life!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Advanced Pantry - Fridge Staples and Frozen Shrimp

A large part of successful home cooking is having things around. I didn't grow up in a household that kept parsley, shallots or capers on hand, but my daughter did. When preparing simple food, little things make a huge difference. Using shallots instead of onions is one example. Adding a bright pickle, such as capers can make something simple pop with flavor.

This salad was a quick, weeknight meal, and superbly satisfying. When we talk about a pantry, most people will think of things like rice, beans, pasta or canned goods. There are certain fresh items that have a similar place in my kitchen - ever present and reliable. All of the veggies for this salad hold up pretty well too. I didn't have lettuce in the house on this day, but didn't miss it at all.

Here is the pantry roll call that made this salad possible on short notice. Note the flavor super stars in bold:

From the Fridge...
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/2 of a shallot, sliced thin
1 big handful of flat leaf parsley leaves
1 tsp. capers

The Dressing...
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp. coarse Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed

From the Freezer...
1 cup frozen shrimp, thawed (Thaw these quickly in luke warm water while assembling the salad.)

From the Cupboard...
2 tbsp. toasted pepitos

Toss the salad. Shake the dressing. Dress the salad. Top with pepitos. Eat well.

So, when buying fresh veggies, be not afraid! They will not go bad if you just dress them up and invite them to dinner!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Strong Chicken Soup for Whatever Ails You

It's been a good long time since I've been here to post something new. Since before the holidays! I have some recipes saved up, but I thought I'd return with this timely soother. I have been sick for a week. At this very moment, I'm missing both a baby shower for my cousin and an art opening for my daughter. (Please note: I cannot be two places at once, even when well.) This is my second batch of this great soup and I hope it will get me through the next week.

You may have seen several articles about the benefits of bone broth. The collagen, calcium and protein that can be released into broth through slow cooking is a tasty miracle. There is something about long-cooked broth that feels nourishing and rich. I have learned to use my 7 quart crock pot to good advantage. I'm grateful that this soup needed so little prep and supervision. Any soup can be a bit of magic. Part of the magic is using what feels especially good for you, personally. My soup started with a fancy chicken, veg and filtered water. I've heard of people keeping broth going in the crock pot for days. I had this broth going for over 24 hours. After the first 6 hours of cooking, I removed the chicken, separated and held out the meat and returned everything else back to the pot. I set it for another 1o hours on low so I could make soup the next day. (That is the longest my crock pot will go before converting to the warm setting. I will reset it any number of times until I am ready to strain it.)  If you leave the meat much longer, it will become too mushy. With this timing, the meat, bones and skins separate easily, but the meat still has a good texture.

Chicken Bone Broth
4 ribs celery
4 large carrots
1 yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. dry sage leaves
zest and juice of one Meyer lemon or 1/2 a Eureka lemon
Filtered water to cover

Add all to a 7 quart crock pot and set to cook on high for 6 hours. Remove and de-bone and skin the chicken. Set aside the meat and place the skin and bones back in the broth. Set to cook on low for 10 hours or more. Strain and de-fat prior to use. May be frozen or used immediately. Makes 2 quarts.

Prior to starting the final soup, I strain the solids out and let it sit for a while to assist in removing some of the fat. You may wonder why I put the skin back if I intended to remove the fat later. The reason is that the skin has a lot of collagen and is part of what becomes gelatin.

I'm not super vigilant about removing all the fat, just most of it. I use one of these fat separators. I just keep adding broth and pouring the broth off from the bottom. This final pour shows all the fat removed from the whole pot.

I end up with just over 8 cups of broth from my 7 quart crock pot.

Strong Chicken Soup
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion
4 ribs celery
2 large carrots
8 ounces mixed mushrooms
4 cloves garlic
8 cups chicken bone broth
Reserved chicken meat from the bone broth
2 tbsp. gelatin, dissolved in 1 cup cold water
1/4 cup white miso
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste

Heat olive oil over a medium flame in a large pot. Chop all the vegetables to about 1/4 inch size and add to the pot. Saute a few minutes and add the broth and chicken. Bring to a brisk simmer. Stir in the miso and taste. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

To add even more nutrition and body to the finished soup, I add 2 tablespoons of good, organic, grass fed gelatin.

This is what it looks like after being dissolved in cold water.

I've also learned a couple of nutrition boosting tips from this article by Dr. Weil. If you set your mushrooms in the sun for 20 minutes or so, they make their own vitamin D and become a far greater source than mushrooms straight from the fridge. Also, if you let chopped garlic sit around for 10 minutes before cooking, the reaction with the air makes a bunch of organo-sulfer compounds, which are real good for your heart. And, it's not mentioned in this article, but miso is full of healthy pro-biotics. That's why you want to add it last. When I add rice, I add it separately, to each serving. That provides for calorie control and nothing gets soggy or gummy. Sometimes, when I want some extra anti-inflammatory power, I add a spoonful of turmeric paste to my serving. Not everyone likes the taste, so I save that one for individual servings. You can learn how to make turmeric paste (and delicious golden milk) right here.

Enjoy your soup and feel better!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Random Food Fridays - Best Tuna Melt Ever!


Some cooking is skill - seasoning, grilling, baking - all require precise attention to procedure. Sandwiches, on the other hand, are not defined by skill, but by choice of ingredient. Anyone can put some stuff between two pieces of bread. It takes some shopping know-how to gather the ingredients to take a mundane sandwich to the next level.

 Nope. Not Local. Not even close.

This sandwich is loaded with specialness. 

First, there is the Bella Bru sliced sourdough sandwich bread. It has an excellent and strong sour flavor and with a tender texture. I love a chewy sourdough, but for sandwiches, you don't want large holes or a bread so strong that it fights for custody of the fillings. 

Next, there is Genova Tonno, superbly flavorful and packed in olive oil. It's pricey. It's imported. It's higher in calories. IT'S TOTALLY WORTH IT. Trust me on this one.

Now, we doctor up the tuna. I used my Spicy Zucchini Relish, capers and mayo. Simple and delicious. If you don't have this special relish, use any kind you like. Sweet or dill, you make the call.. However, the capers are a must.

Layer the joy - add slices of avocado, tomato and provolone and cheddar cheese. Toast in a toaster oven until hot and bubbly. If you don't have a toaster over, Toast the bread first, layer on the goodies, and finish under your oven's broiler.

For any sandwich, proportions are strictly personal. I'll do my best to describe what we made and ate. (We being Miss Madelyn and myself.) These were so darn yummy, I knew I had to tell you about them.

Best Tuna Melt
2 cans Genova Tonno
3 to 4 tbsp. Mayonaise
3 tbsp. Spicy Zucchini Relish
1 tbsp. Capers
2 to 3 slices of bread
1 large, ripe, sliced tomato
1 large, ripe avocado
4 to 6 slices provolone and cheddar cheese

Drain tuna. (Not too hard. You may want to consider saving this flavorful olive oil for another use.) Add the mayo, relish and capers. Stir to combine. Load up the bread. Add sliced tomato and avocado and top with sliced cheese. Toast until hot and bubbly. Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ginger Ale and Root Beer - Getting Down with Fermentation

 Rooty toot toot and ginger yum yum!

You know, I really have been making jam. Lots of it. It's just that, after several cycles through the seasons, I've figured out some of my favorites and I just keep making them. There is far less experimentation on the jamming front and a lot more in other areas. For example, I've been having a great time in my garden. I really have a crush on my garden. I love it. I bring it presents. I talk about it obsessively. I talk to it and its members. (Mostly when I'm alone.) Here's a picture of my little paradise. Not so much food, but lots of herbs and flowers and flying visitors. The view from the chairs is better than the view of the chairs. Just know, it's marvelous.

So between jamming and getting dirty, I have been thinking about fermenting. Controlled spoilage is one of the most genius things that human beings do. I have come into several very large crocks, and I harbor ideas of making sour kraut and curing olives, but I decided to start small, with sodas. I like a bubbly sweet drink now and then. And, I do like to add a splash of homemade syrups to soda water. But then I found out that I could drink a pro-biotic rich bubbly drink that was not kombucha. (I do not like kombucha. I know the world does. Not me. It tastes like socks.) These fermented sodas are just so right for me!

Ginger, my bug.

Rather than tell you the whole business of making a ginger bug and brewing the ginger ale, I will refer you to Wellness Mama. Katie is a wealth of knowledge about good, healthy, for real food. I hope you visit her site, because it is inspirational and I want to give credit where credit is due. I pretty much followed her steps to create the ginger bug. It is equal parts fresh, grated ginger and pure cane sugar, mixed with pure water in a very clean jar. Much like sourdough, you feed it periodically until it gets bubbly. I love it when things come ALIVE! Also like sourdough, you can keep it alive.

First stage of soda fizzilation.

I will share with you my root beer, because it is a recipe that can be personalized for your tastes and the availability of roots and herbs in your area. I'm already dreaming of all the other flavors that can be brewed this way. Once the ginger bug is good and fizzy, you brew a strong tea, using the flavors you prefer. (The ginger ale starts as a strong ginger tea.) Once the tea is cooled to room temp, you add the ginger bug and a few extra goodies, put it in a couple of jars with tight fitting lids and let it sit. It bears watching. I left mine in the big jars for about a week. I then, filtered it and bottled in these sturdy models, designed for home brewing.

I buy mine by the case and they come with Grolsch-style swing caps.

 Gettin' Fizzy wid it. Fo' shizzle.

 They have been sitting at room temp for another week and are just right. I'm putting them in the fridge today, because I'm going on vacation and don't want them to get explodey. 

So far, 4 out of 4 tasters think this root beer is amazing.

Root Beer
3 quarts pure water
1/4 cup dried Sarsaparilla root
1/4 cup dried Sassafras
1 tsp.dried licorice root
1 tsp. dried peppermint (winter green is traditional, but I could not find it locally)
1 stick cinnamon
1 allspice berry
1 cardamom pod (bashed)
1/2 a vanilla bean

Bring the water to a boil and add the spices. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temp. Strain and add the following:

2 tbsp. molasses
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup lime juice
3/4 cup ginger bug

Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bottle in two quart-sized mason jars. They need not be sterile, but should be very clean and do use new lids. Allow to sit until bubbly - up to a week, unless it is very warm. Strain through a fine sieve and bottle in very clean bottles. (You can use coffee filters or cheese cloth for more clarity.) Allow to sit at room temp for about a week. Store in the fridge once desired fizziness is reached. 

I found that the two quart jars filled 3 of my brew bottles, with a little left over. 


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Plum, Nectarine and Vanilla Bean Jam

Sometimes the best jams are not preplanned, but come about by happy accident. I don't mean that you walk into a kitchen, knock over your fruit bowl and say, "Whoa! I made jam!" I mean, you're going... The water bath is boiling. You're already sweaty as all get out and you have just a few cups of pulp left. What's it good for anyway? So, you scout the kitchen for anything to fill out that batch. I'm apt to go for canned crushed pineapple. On this occasion, no pineapple was to be found. However, I did find three big, ripe nectarines. Chop, mix with plum pulp, smell and taste. Throw in half a juicy vanilla bean for good measure. And voila - flavor magic. The rest is easy. Follow the directions on the Pink package and you have some jam that is (as Paula says) fair worthy.

Have fun. Try new flavors. Your toast will be very happy you did. 

Plum, Nectarine and Vanilla Bean Jam
3 large, ripe nectarines, removed from pit and chopped and mashed a bit
Enough plum pulp to equal 6 1/2 cups total fruit
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 package Sure Jell pectin in the Pink box

Prepare a boiling water bath. Wash and sterilize 8 half-pint jars. Place rings and lids in warm water. 
Add the fruit to a large, heavy bottom stock pot. Mix 1/4 cup of the measured sugar with the pectin packet and whisk this into the fruit mixture. Bring to a boil. Once a full rolling boil has been reached, boil for exactly one minute and remove from heat. Skim the foam. Ladle into hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims and top with lids and rings. Tighten lightly with finger tips. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove and place on a towel lined tray. Allow to stand overnight before wiping and labeling. 

Makes 8 half-pint jars.