Quick Pickled Veggie Slaw

DSC_1575I have to confess: I’ve been doing that thing where I’m paralyzed by the blank screen with the blinking cursor. I’ve been trying to find my voice here for a long time, and I really just want it to be true to me. Some days that means I’m going to tell stupid jokes and talk about the weather. On other days, I might tell a story that might be sort of personal, and I’m just as likely to just talk about what it means to cream butter and sugar. I look at other food blogs, and there are some that have these stunning photographs and the author always has something profound and lyrical to say. There are others that just talk food–logistics of how to make a recipe work, step-by-step photos. And there are others still that lean heavily on stories of their cute babies.

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I think I belong somewhere in the middle of all that. Sometimes I have a good cooking tip. Other times, I have a relevant embarrassing story about spilling things in the grocery store, or setting a small fire in the oven. I hope that those things aren’t in competition with each other.

I do know a thing or two about cranking out ambitious cooking projects. If you’re looking for a new cookie to try, or a nice hostess gift for the holidays, you can find something like that here. There are also some pretty solid reset recipes available to get you back on track when you’ve had only cookies for breakfast for a couple of weeks. (There will probably also be a collection of pictures of Jason’s face, just for fun.) I’m glad that y’all are here, reading along, and I hope you like it!

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Today, this is not an ambitious project. It’s super easy, but really impressive. It’s the sort of thing that people see in your fridge and say, “What is this?!” When it’s unexpectedly on a sandwich, they’ll say, “These peppers are so good, what’s on them?”

We’re just talking about thinly sliced peppers, leeks, and carrots. You could also use cucumbers, red onions, sugar snap peas, fennel–any crisp vegetable that might be good with a light pickle-y flavor. The brine is a basic vinegar, salt, sugar, mustard seed situation. This is an ideal way to grab any late-summer, early fall veggies you might have and keep them for a little longer.

For the brine:
(adapted from Food in Jars)

1 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
(you can use all yellow if you can’t find black)
1 cup cold water

Before you make the brine, julianne all of your vegetables and pack them into a jar (about a pint and a half). Put everything into a pot, bring it to a boil  and stir until all the salt and sugar are dissolved. Set aside and let cool. When room temperature, pour it over the vegetables. Close up the jar and keep it in the fridge for 24 hours before eating. The slaw will last 3-4 weeks total.

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Grapefruit Lavender Jam

vintage fruits

About a week ago, I bought a huge bag of grapefruits because they were on sale. I don’t even know why–I think I was grocery shopping hungry which is always a bad idea. Anyway, I ended up with 6 pounds of grapefruits and no ideas. I just made a marmalade, and I don’t really need any more, and grapefruit curd isn’t shelf stable for very long. So, I made up an idea for a grapefruit jam. A bit of googling told me that grapefruit jam is a thing, so I decided to go for it. I really love to add herbs to fruity jams, and I think the sharp taste of grapefruit is a little much on its own, so I chose lavender to add some extra dimension.

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The only skill that this recipe requires that we haven’t talked about before is how to “supreme” a grapefruit and get all the pith/seeds out neatly so that you’re left with membrane-less segments. (I totally just learned it was called that, don’t worry.) If you’d like, you can watch this video to learn how.

Once that’s done, it’s basic jam-making.

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Grapefruit Lavender Jam: (yields about 3 half pints, maybe 4)

4 pounds whole grapefruits, cut into segments, including the juice.
2 cups sugar
1 pack liquid pectin
1 Tablespoon dried lavender flowers

First, simmer the jars and lids that you plan to use for your jam.

After you’ve supremed the grapefruits, put them in a pot with the sugar and bring it to a boil. Add the lavender and the pectin and boil for 10-15 more minutes, or until the jam coats the back of a spoon and passes the plate test. (Spoon some on a plate and let it cool, then tilt it. If it moves in a sheet, it’s ready. Ladle the hot jam into hot jars, place the lids on top then gently tighten the bands. Process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes.

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This is how I take pictures of things, in case you ever wondered. It’s a miracle I haven’t toppled off of my chair and into whatever I’m photographing.

Pear Vanilla Jam

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I’ve been pretty heavy on the pears this winter, haven’t I? First, I made a Vanilla Pear Aigre-Doux, then the Swiss Chard Pear Gruyere Tart, and now a Pear Vanilla Jam. I’m not going to promise that I’m done with pears, but I’ll try to lay off in the next few weeks. In my defense, I had a half-eaten box of Harry and David pears dropped in my lap by a coworker’s family last week, so I felt like making jam was really my only option.

harry and davidI had never really considered making jam out of pears before, but I read a little about it and decided that you’d really need another flavor, like vanilla or cardamom, something to take control. Pears are such a delicate flavor; a jam with just pears would sort of be taken over by the necessary lemon juice. For this jam, I think it’s necessary to spring for real vanilla beans rather than using vanilla extract. With the beans, you get that great speckly look, and the taste is just vanilla, without the sharp alcohol taste of an extract.

pears and vanillaThis jam is tasty on toast with butter. It does get overwhelmed easily as it’s not too sweet and the flavors are pretty subtle, so I don’t know if it would even hold up against peanut butter. Best enjoyed solo, I think. This recipe comes from Food In Jars, a canning blog that I love. It’s no nonsense, to the point recipes are easy to follow, and the ingredients are rarely too fussy to find at any grocery store at a reasonable price. You can type in almost any fruit and find a starting point to make your own jam. I only adapted this one slightly, using a little less sugar than the recipe calls for and adding some lemon juice.

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Here’s the recipe (adapted slightly from Food In Jars):
yields about 5.5 half-pints

4 pears, thin-skinned, diced–no need to peel
2.5 cups sugar
juice of half a lemon
2 vanilla beans, scraped
1 pack liquid pectin

6 half-pint jars, lids, and bands

Start by setting a boiling-water canner to boil with your jars inside. In a small saucepan, simmer your lids and bands.

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, bring the diced pears, sugar, vanilla bean scrapings and hulls, and sugar to a boil. Boil hard for about 5 minutes, or until the pears are soft enough to smoosh with the back of a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat and use a potato masher or pastry cutter to mush up the fruit a little more. Then add the pectin, stir it in well, and bring the jam back up to a boil, stirring periodically. Test the jam for gelling after 8-10 minutes of boiling. To test, place a spoonful of jam on a plate, then place it in the freezer for a few minutes. Take it out and tilt the plate. If the jam is still runny, keep boiling and test again later. If it looks like jam, you’re done!

Ladle the jam into hot jars, leaving about a quarter inch of headspace. You should fill 5 jars and the 6th about halfway. For the half filled one, put a lid on it and put in the refrigerator to eat first. For the rest of the jars, wipe the rims, place the lids on top, gently screw on the bands, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

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Homemade Cranberry Sauce

In my family, there is always canned cranberry sauce, sliced into rounds and still shaped like the can. I love that stuff. It’s exactly the best thing that happens at Thanksgiving and no other time of the year. That said, my family also always has real cranberry sauce with whole cranberries in it. And I love that stuff, too. What can I say? I’m a flip-flopper. I’m wishy-washy. I totally ride the fence on this issue. There should be both kinds of cranberry sauce on any Thanksgiving table. Always both.

So, the canned kind is pretty easy… it’s just a slicing issue. (It’s funny that I say that because last year at Thanksgiving, that was my only job and when we sat down, there was no canned cranberry sauce on the table because I forgot about it. In my defense, I was really busy stirring pots and holding babies and sneaking tastes of things.) Anyway, the canned stuff is sort of a day-of thing, but the real stuff can be made way ahead of time! I say do it now. The grocery store is definitely not out of cranberries yet, and the smell of the sauce cooking will get you all excited about Thanksgiving.

This year, Jason and I are having a little pre-Thanksgiving at our house for our friends, which I’m really excited about. I never get to host Thanksgiving (aka cook), so I’m making it happen this year. The whole shebang, just on a smaller scale. Then, I’m going to my best friend’s house for the real deal. This means that I get to have two totally separate Thanksgivings, which is the best possible situation.

If you make your real cranberry sauce early, you can give your friends a jar and save them the trouble, too. All things considered, cranberry sauce is a really easy thing to throw together. It’s just cranberries, orange zest and a little juice, cranberry juice, and maple syrup. It takes about a half hour to throw together.

Here’s the recipe: (yields 2 pints)

2 bags frozen (or fresh) cranberries (20 ounces)

2 cups 100% cranberry juice

2 cups pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup)

6 tablespoons fresh orange juice

zest from one orange

Put everything in a large, heavy bottom pot and bring it to a rolling boil. Let it boil while stirring, for about 4 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to medium and stir for 10-20 minutes or until the sauce thickens considerably. (It will still be a little loose while it’s hot, but it’ll gel more when it cools.) When it’s done, pour the sauce into 2 pint jars or 4 half-pint jars. Process it in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes.

Serve with turkey, gravy, dressing, mashed sweet potatoes, and yeasty rolls. DUH.

 

 

 

Pear & Vanilla Aigre-Doux

Jason has this theory that in order to convince people that he knows how to speak french, all that he has to do is omit most of the letters in a word, and say the rest while never fully closing his mouth. So, “bonjour” is “bohjuh” and “aigre-doux” (bitter-sweet) is pronounced “ahra duh.” This does not work, in case you thought it might. It just makes him look a little like he’s having a stroke. If you make this aigre-doux, you should totally pronounce it in a crazy way because you totally can. Because you made it.

This recipe came from a cookbook called The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant. I’ve never seen an aigre-doux (by that name) before this cookbook, and I’m really excited about this one. There’s also a butternut squash aigre-doux and a cranberry aigre-doux that I can’t wait to try.   The mixture of sweet and salty/spicy is really incredible, and I’m really excited to save it for winter.

Here’s the recipe:

from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant; makes 4 pint jars or 8 half-pint jars 

1 1/3 cup white wine (the cookbook recommends a gewurtztraminer, which is what I used.)

1 3/4 cup champagne vinegar

3/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon honey

1 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

2 vanilla beans, split and scraped, then cut into small pieces

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns in each pint jar

5 bosc pears, peeled and cut into chunks

In a large pot, combine the wine, champagne vinegar, honey, sugar, salt, vanilla beans and seeds. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly, then turn the heat to low to keep it hot.

In a boiling water canner, simmer 4 pint jars or 8 half-pint jars and their lids and bands. Put the peppercorns in each jar, then pack in the chunks of pear. Ladle the hot mixture over the pears. Leave about a half inch of headspace in each jar, wipe the edges with a clean towel, then place the lids on top and gently screw on the bands. Process them in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes. Let them cool completely before testing the seals.

To serve, put the aigre-doux into a small pot and heat it slowly, stirring constantly. Allow the juice to thicken up and the pears to soften. Then, serve it over a strong blue cheese with some crusty bread. It’s like fall on a plate!

Simple Tomato Sauce

Let’s keep it simple today, what do you think? This is weeknight dinner. It’s the kind of thing that takes a little bit of work upfront but is totally worth it later. We’re making fresh tomatoes into a rich, tasty sauce that will freeze all winter and keep away the pre-made tomato sauce blues. Believe it or not, this is single dude food. It’s so easy, you’ll be amazed with your cooking skills. And so will everyone else!

Also–if you’re some kind of Italian cooking genius, I would stop reading. I made this up. I’m sure it’s all wrong.

You’ll need these things:

6 fresh tomatoes (I’m not actually sure what kind I used…)

3 cloves of garlic

1/2 small can of tomato paste (optional)

1 onion

dried oregano and basil

salt and pepper

red pepper flakes

(And pasta, of course. I’d also recommend freshly grated parmesan cheese.)

Here’s what to do with those things:

The tomatoes will need to be peeled. If you cut an X on the blossom end of each tomato, then dunk them in boiling water then into cold water, the peels should slip right off. Then, give them a rough chop (you can do this according to how chunky you like the tomatoes in your sauce to be).

Dice an onion and the garlic and brown them in a pot with a generous amount of olive oil. When they’re transparent and fragrant, pour in the tomatoes. (Disclaimer–this is where things get weird.) I totally used a pastry cutter (this thing) to break up the tomatoes a little more. I have no idea if this is an acceptable way to treat tomatoes. It’s usually how I break down fruit to make jam, so I figured it would work for tomatoes, too! It does the job.

After that’s done, add half the can of tomato paste, then the basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Here’s the scoop on tomato paste: it’ll help the sauce thicken faster. If you don’t have it/don’t like the way it tastes, your sauce will have to cook down for a much longer time to lose that fresh tomato taste and thicken up. I don’t mind the paste.

Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, for 30-45 minutes until it has thickened up. You’ll know when it’s time.

You can also add ground beef, carrots, or celery to this sauce if you want. I would just add them at the beginning (before the tomatoes).

Serve over hot pasta with grated parmesan on top! The leftover sauce will freeze well. It’ll also keep in the fridge for a week or so.

 

 

Pin-spiration Sunday & Fig Lemon Lavender Preserves

Today’s inspiration is Mona. She’s been my dog since I was nine. Although she might be the most difficult animal to care for in the whole world, she’s my favorite one. She’s ornery, mean, mostly deaf and blind, and she has to go outside at least 6 times a day. She takes Prozac. In her younger years, she ran away from home more times than I can count, she once swam across the Intercoastal Waterway and lived off of what she could forage for a week, and she survived both a coyote attack and an accidental baseball bat to the head. I have no idea why she ever made it to old age, it seems impossibly unlikely. But, here we are, almost fourteen years later, and she’s still the most adorable little creature I’ve ever laid eyes on. She’s intelligent, fiercely loyal, snuggly, and as hard-headed as ever. And I love her.

Mona came to visit with my mom yesterday. She napped while we made fig preserves. Just looking up from a steaming pot while my  mom chopped figs beside me to see Mona in her little bed made me smile. The way she curls up to nap makes me feel warm and happy from a place I can’t really identify. It’s somewhere between the pit of my stomach and the catch in the back of my throat that makes me feel a little like crying. When we had a moment’s lull, I would walk over and wake Mona up to be met with this happy face. The way she looks at me reminds me how completely and unconditionally she loves me, and that makes me feel like being a better person. Is that just crazy dog person talk? It probably is. But you dog people understand. There’s nothing in the world like seeing a look of pure adoration on your dog’s face.

Okay, figs? Let’s talk about those. I got hold of my figs from a guy in Pittsboro who has several trees and more figs than he can handle. I had about six pounds total, and we made all of it into preserves.

Oh my gosh, the combination of figs, lemon, and lavender… holy cow! You’re not going to believe it. I wish it was January right now so that I could crack open a jar of this stuff and just smell it. It feels like a dip in the ocean when the water is in the 70s it’s so summery. The lemons make it fresh, the lavender gives it some depth, and the small amount of sugar really helps the figs shine through.

And that’s it. Figs, lemon slices, sugar, and lavender. Cooked until your house smells like heaven and the preserves have thickened. Did I tell you that I recently got a Le Creuset pot? It’s beautiful, right?! I got at the Habitat store for so much less than a new one, I don’t even feel like it’s right to tell you how much I paid for it. I think it would just make you sad. Aside from the price tag, it’s white and doesn’t look like it has been used at all. I’m completely smitten, if you couldn’t tell.

Okay, okay, here’s the recipe:

3 pounds of fresh figs

1 lemon, sliced as thinly as you can manage, seeds removed

1 and 1/2 cups sugar (or 1/2 cup for every 1 pound of figs that you’re using)

1 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms

Wash and cut the figs into eighths, then put them into a large, heavy-bottomed (beautiful) pot with the sliced lemon, the sugar and, the lavender. Heat until simmering and stir consistently for about a half hour, or until thickened. You can tell it’s ready when the jam clings to the back of a metal spoon. Pour the hot jam into sterilized half-pint jars, wipe the edges, screw on the lids, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

Makes about 6 half-pint jars.

Remember, summer doesn’t last. It might seem like the oppressive heat and long days have no end in sight, but one day–not too long from now–you’ll wish for the heavy plop of a ripe fig in the palm of your hand. Hopefully, you’ll have something as delightful as this jam to remind you of the feeling.

 

 

 

 

Peaches Galore!

This past Saturday, Jason and I went to the state Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. (And Cup-A-Joe.) We walked around and ate enough samples to constitute an entire meal, and bought a bushel and a half of peaches. Seriously. A lovely morning of produce-perusing turned into a long day of chopping, squishing, boiling, and canning those peaches.

The cast of characters: peach cardamom jam, peach salsa, peach butter, and just plain peaches (with no added sugar). Let’s get to work!

We’ll start by blanching each peach by cutting a and x in the pointy end, putting them in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Then, remove it with a slotted spoon and place it in a bowl of ice water until cool enough to hold (10 seconds). Then, pick it up and the peel should slide right off! Now, you’re ready to get going.

Peach Cardamom Jam (recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens’ Canning edition)

yields about 7 half pint jars

4 cups chopped peaches

6 cups sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

4 T powdered pectin

1 t ground cardamom

Put sugar, peaches, and lemon juice into a large, heavy-bottomed pot. The pot is actually important, so choose wisely. I suggest a dutch oven. Before you turn the heat on, use something (pastry incorporating tool, potato masher) to mush up the diced peached a little bit. Now, bring the mixture to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then, slowly add all four tablespoons of pectin. Boil the jam hard for one minute, then continue to stir and boil gently until the jam passes a jam test. What’s a jam test, you ask? I’ll tell you. A jam test will tell you if the jam has set or not. There are several, but I like the plate test. Before you start, put a small plate or saucer in the freezer, and when you think the jam might be ready, pull it out of the freezer and spoon a little of the hot jam into the center of the plate. Give it a few minutes and then tilt the plate. If the jam runs quickly, like a liquid, it’s not ready yet. If it moves in a glob, like jam does, then it’s done. If it isn’t, just keep boiling, stirring and testing until it is. When it’s done, add the cardamom and stir gently until incorporated. Next, pour hot jam into half-pint jars (that have been sterilized), leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Place lids (that have been simmered with the jars) on top, and gently screw on the bands. Process the jars in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes. Allow them to sit for 12 hours. It’ll take a week for the jam to totally set, so wait to open and eat.

Peach Salsa 

8 cups peaches, diced, 1 cup diced onion

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 T lime zest

1 cup diced red pepper

8 diced jalapeno peppers

1/2 apple cider vinegar

2 t cumin

4 T honey

large handful of cilantro, chopped

Cut everything up, put it in a heavy bottomed pot, bring it to a simmer.  Then, pour the salsa into pint jars that have been sterilized. Put on lids, gently crew on bands, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Done and done! The hardest part of this one is definitely the chopping.

Peach Butter (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

4 pounds peaches (about 12 peaches)

1 cup water

2 cups sugar

juice of one lemon

Chop the peaches into quarters and then halve the quarters. (Does that make sense?) Just make peach chunks. Put the peaches and the water into a heavy bottomed pot and stir constantly over medium heat. When the peaches are soft, remove them from the heat. In a food processor, puree the peaches until smooth. Return them to the pot, bring them to a boil, then add the lemon juice and sugar. Simmer and continue to stir for 30-45 minutes or until the butter thickens up a bit. Then, pour the hot butter into sterilized jars (half-pint, pint, most sizes are fine), put on the lids, gently screw on the bands and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

Peaches with no added sugar (adapted from about a thousand websites)

These peaches were an endeavor we took on for Jason’s grandmother. There are a lot of ways to do this, we chose the method that seemed the least weird. We also didn’t want to use any fake sugar. So, here it is!

12 peaches, sliced

2 quarts unsweetened apple juice

12,000 mg vitamin c

(this is achieved by purchasing vitamin c supplements–with nothing added, so not chewable–and crushing 12,000 mg worth of them)

Pack quart jars with peaches. Put juice and vitamin c into a pot and bring it to a boil. Be sure that the vitamin c has dissolved. Pour the juice over the peaches, put on the lids, gently screw on the bands. Process jars in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes. Just FYI, the vitamin c acts as a preservative instead of extra sugar. The apple juice helps to keep the sweetness from the peaches intact.

Here’s hoping you’ll find time to peruse a farmer’s market this summer. You’ll get way more bang for your buck than at the grocery store!