January 7th, 2013 § § permalink
Remember these? All those beautiful jars of tomatoes you picked, peeled, and packed this summer? They’re ready to come off the pantry shelves and into tonight’s dinner. January is the month where most locavores start eating down the freezer, cold storage, and pantry shelves in preparation for spring. I know, I haven’t lost my mind. It’s still January. My friends all roll their eyes at me, but I’m seriously counting the days! Once we’re past the holidays, the garden starts calling!
My favorite way to think spring in the middle of January is to make a meal from ingredients I stored from last year’s growing season. Tonight we’re having classic grilled cheese sandwiches dipped in homemade tomato soup, made with my home-canned tomatoes and frozen herbs from the garden. Mid-winter comfort food at its best. I chopped up a few Minnesota-grown hydroponic tomatoes for some fresh flavor, but this soup is good without too. The key is to simmer the soup slowly, releasing all the rich tomato flavor your elbow grease locked in during the canning process last summer.
What recipes are your favorites to use up your home canned tomatoes?
Home-Canned Tomato Soup
* Note * This recipe is adapted from a MarthaStewart.com recipe using fresh tomatoes. If you have fresh tomatoes in season, substitute the 3 1/2 cups canned tomatoes for 3 1/2 pounds of whole tomatoes, roughly chopped.
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 1/2 cups canned whole tomatoes with their juices
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 C. chopped fresh herbs (I used basil, oregano, and garlic chives)
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan and basil for garnish
Heat oil in a large stock-pot. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender. Add in remaining ingredients and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until juice is reduced by 1/3 and soup has slightly thickened.
Blend with a stick blender until soup is smooth and no large chunks remain. Serve warm with grated parmesan and basil.
September 18th, 2012 § § permalink
September is one of the best seasons for locavores. The peak summer vegetables are available by the bushel and the early fall crops are just beginning to ripen. Few other months offer more variety and possibility in Minnesota. Don’t wait another week to visit the farmers’ market or search the Minnesota Grown directory for a local grower. Here’s the A-Z list of fruits and vegetables in season right now:
#1 Apples - Minnesota apple season came early this year because of heat, dry weather and early spring blossoms. Early varieties like State Fair and Duchess have been available for a few weeks. Sweet Sixteen and Honeycrisp are starting to arrive now and in a few more weeks the long-winter storage apples like Haralson and Keepsake will come around. Apple season can mean only one thing: it’s time for fall baking! Try Cranberry-Apple Donuts for a twist on a Minnesota orchard favorite.
#2 Beets - If you’re like me, beets aren’t high up on the list with all the other fresh vegetables available. However, many beet dishes call for other ingredients that are only in-season right now. Marinated beets over fresh baby spinach will be tough for a locavore in another few months. Think beets taste like dirt? Try NYTimes’ “Beet Recipes Even a Beet Hater Can Love.”
#3 Beans - Many locavores will be freezing and canning beans in the coming weeks. Green beans, yellow wax, lima beans and even edamame are widely available through mid to late September. Growers will also be harvesting their dry shell beans in the coming weeks. We’ll be warming up with one of our favorite fall soups, tasty Green Bean Dumpling Soup
#4 Broccoli - The weather finally cools off enough in September for a second broccoli crop. Fall broccoli has a bolder flavor than spring, perfect for soups, stews and steamed as a simple side. Freezing broccoli for late-winter eating is easy and affordable this time of year as many growers have an abundance to sell before frost.
#5 Brussels Sprouts - If there’s one vegetable on a comeback run it’s brussels sprouts. I’ve seen them on the menus of many top Minnesota restaurants and all over the Food Network. Before the doubters turn their noses up and away, there’s one thing I can offer about brussels sprouts: bacon. Slow-roasted brussels sprouts with thick-cut bacon, topped with parmesan cheese. Mind-Blowing.
#6 Cabbage - Keeping on with the cole crops, all my good German relatives would tell you September is the season for sauerkraut. Cooler temps mean less funky smells in the kitchen. Plus the largest heads of cabbage are starting to roll out of the garden. Last year a vendor was selling it at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market in 25 pound increments! There’s no better time to get your cabbage fermentation on. Check out Wild Fermentation for ‘kraut recipes, then check out the world record cabbage entered into Alaska’s State Fair this year–a whopping 138 pounds!
#7 Carrots - Although we’ve been munching on smaller carrots since mid-July, the month of September is when carrots peak in Minnesota. Soon the farmers’ market vendors will be offering them by the bushel and half-bushel. If you’re a healthy locavore, you’ll take advantage of the volume and bust out the juicer for fresh carrot juices. If you’re like me – you’ll make carrot cake with a sinful amount of frosting. Zoë Bakes recipe is my favorite!
#8 Cauliflower - Last weekend I cooked my first head of cauliflower ever. Not sure why it’s an intimidating vegetable or why I always want to douse it in cheese sauce. It should still make the list of September veggies to try. My favorite list of cauliflower recipes comes from 101 Cookbooks – a good place to start if you’re newbie like me!
#9 Cucumbers – The lesson for these warm weather veggies is eat them while they last. Cucumbers are abundant in the first weeks of September, but will start to dwindle by the end of the month. Other than pickling, there’s really no good way to preserve cucumbers later into the season either.
#10 Eggplant - Ratatouille was made for late in the season when eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and onions are all in season. Don’t just try the deep purple kind either. Thai eggplant and the gorgeous Rosa Bianca varieties can all be found at the farmers’ market. Catch them now for good roasted eggplant dips and stir fry. They’ll be in peak season for another few weeks and gone by the first of the month.
#11 Greens — Now that it’s not 90-gagillion degrees of hot, delicate greens start to reappear in September. Cress, beet greens, lettuce and others will all be back until the first hard frost. Snatch them up for fall salads with roasted beets or in a simple sauté. Want to know what all the options are? Try the “Visual Guide to Salad Greens” from Epicurious.
#12 Herbs – Just like the greens, herbs are also making a comeback in the cooler temps. If you plan to dry or freeze herbs for winter, September is a good time to do so. Some herbs freeze or dry better than others – check a preserving guide before you start. Also try freezing rosemary, oregano and thyme together in olive oil cubes. These make great starters for winter pasta and soups.
#13 Kale –Roasted, dried, steamed, mixed with mashed potatoes, shredded in salad, tossed in soup. I’ve never met a kale recipe I don’t like. Huffington Post -Taste came out this week with a slide show of 17+ kale recipes for fall. My favorites have bacon. Then again what doesn’t taste better with bacon?
#14 Kohlrabi - My one statement about kohlrabi to new locavores is don’t bash it until you’ve tried it. Second plantings are ready now – smaller but with the same flavor as spring. I love them shredded raw in place of cabbage in coleslaw or steamed in white sauce over biscuits. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.
#15 Onions – I love French Onion soup on a fall afternoon, especially when we can buy them by the sackful at the farmers’ market. We typically stock up on onions at the end of September and place them in the dark cool basement where they’ll last us until late-winter. You can’t beat caramelized onions and cheese on pizza with a glass of red wine after a long day at work!
#16 Parsnips and Turnips – I’ll be honest. When it comes to vegetables, these are the two I have the least experience with. They’re a fall favorite in soups and stews, but somehow always are backstage in my dishes. I’d love to see them front and center since they’re one of the best vegetables for cold storage. Someone should send parsnip recipes my way…
#17 Peppers – I love to pickle hot peppers in September when I can have the windows wide open with a cool breeze to take out the jalapeño and vinegar mixture that otherwise turns my eyes into a watering can. This year the kitchen partner and I roasted red peppers on the grill for freezing. Plus there’s no shortage of peppers around this month–a bushel of runs about $10 at the farmers’ market this time of year.
#18 Potatoes – Does anyone really need to be told to eat potatoes? I’ll trust you know how to enjoy them from now through the end of cold storage season. By the way, $10,000 is up for grabs this month in the Reser’s America’s Best Potato Salad Challenge. The 5 top finalist recipes all look amazing!
#19 Pumpkins –We typically think October is the best month for pumpkins, however early season varieties are already starting to appear at the market and orchards. For the next few months there will be a perpetual pumpkin recipe on our counter or refrigerator – breads, cookies, pie. Roasted with bacon. For the full week of pumpkin recipes I posted last year, check out the pumpkin tag.
#20 Radishes – Last weekend the kitchen partner and I had fresh radishes with butter, salt and flatbread for an appetizer at The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis. The tangy bite has never been my favorite, but these fall-harvest radishes had just the right balance of sweet and kick. Maybe I’ll even go bold this fall and try radish pizza.
#21 Raspberries –The fall raspberry picking is fantastic this year. The bushes were full of berries the last time we were out to a pick-your-own farm in Northfield. Bringing them home for raspberry pie, crisp and cheesecake is a good idea. So is freezing them whole for winter desserts or making them into easy raspberry jam.
#22 Sweet Corn Last summer the kitchen partner came home from a farm stand with a 25 pound bag of sweet corn. Some days his eyes are WAY bigger than his stomach. We blanched and froze most of the ears for soups and sides. By most I mean 40+ quarts. I’m still exhausted. There was even some left in the bottomless corn bag for roasting on the grill, salads, and a succotash.
#23 Tomatoes Look no further than this month’s How-To Post for the best way to can tomatoes. This is also the time for sun-drying and oven-roasting tomatoes. Temperatures are cooler and allow the oven to stay on for hours without making the kitchen into an inferno.
#24 Watermelon We don’t normally think about Minnesota and watermelon, but we’ve had a melon in our refrigerator every week for the past month. As long as the hard frost holds off, we’ll see watermelons at the farmers markets for another few weeks. They’ll continue to get smaller as the season moves on, but so much better tasting than any grocery store melon.
#25 Winter Squash Acorn. Butternut. Buttercup. Delicata. All gorgeous and full of nutrition. All ready for fall baking and sides. September is the first month winter squash are worth trying; the flavor will increase as the season dwindles and the squash take in a few frosts. Need recipe ideas? About.com’s local food writer Molly Watson has a great guide to winter squash.
Phew! You made it to the end!
Happy September eating!
September 6th, 2012 § § permalink
When it comes to making messes in the kitchen, I am The Queen of Disarray. Sometimes the kitchen partner will come home to layers of dirty dishes and pans, flour in my hair and down the front of my apron, and vegetable peelings on the floor where I seemed to have missed the garbage can every time.
“Whatcha up to?” he’ll ask, trying not to laugh at my disaster. “Oh, just trying out this new thing I saw on Pinterest,” I’ll answer back and continue on my merry mess-making. He grabs a dish towel and starts trailing behind me. The guy is a saint for the number of times he’s cleaned up my chaos. He gets a good dinner. I get to be creative. Together we do okay.
The kitchen partner has cleaned up no greater messes than the ones during tomato canning season. Despite my best efforts, I end up with a grainy red film on everything. It just happens. I’d give it up if it wasn’t for how much we save over buying organic canned tomatoes at the co-op (see my broccoli economics post for an idea of how much home preserving can save), and for how good these tomatoes taste in chili and pasta sauces come February. In this case, the mess is totally worth it. 25 pounds of tomatoes and an afternoon sets us up for great local meals all winter long.
Read how easy canning tomatoes is below and get ready to make your own mess in the kitchen. A winter of local meals awaits you!
Canned Tomatoes – Whole or halves in Boiling Water Pack
1. Prep the boiling-water canner and quart jars. The recipe below is for tomatoes halves – raw packed with water. This means that extra acid is added to each jar to process them at a lower pressure/temperature and still maintain food safety guidelines. There are other ways to can tomatoes, but this seems to be the easiest. If you’d like other ideas or to read more about food safety, check out The Wisconsin Safe Food Preservation Series – Guide to canning tomatoes in Wisconsin. For this recipe, prep a boiling-water canning bath and sterilize quart jars – you will need roughly 1 quart jar for every 2 ½ to 3 pounds of tomatoes.
2. Start with fresh, unblemished tomatoes. Bacteria, molds and all kinds of nasty things like to live in the cracks and bruises of tomatoes. It’s important to pick tomatoes that are evenly ripened and free of any damage or decay. It’s also not safe to use tomatoes from dead or frost-killed vines (they’re lower in acid and may not be safe to can). Besides, why who wants to spend all that time canning anything but the very best?
3. Wash the tomatoes and remove any debris. The easiest way we’ve found to wash all of our tomatoes is to fill up the sink with cold water and dump them in. Give them a good scrub to remove any soil and then take off the stems.
4. Peel the tomatoes. This may sound like a pain, but really saves in taste and time later. To peel each tomato, make an X-shaped slit on one end of the fruit. Dip the tomato in boiling water for 10-20 seconds and immediately place into ice-cold water. Allow to cool for a few seconds and the outer skin should peel away easily. Again, the way to do this is with the kitchen sink. Fill it up with ice water and drop each boiled tomato in.
5. Slice the tomatoes. Depending on the size of your tomatoes and what your later plans are, leave the tomatoes whole or cut them in halves or quarters. I like a smaller size for soups, sauce, and chili as it seems to cut down on cooking time later. If you’re used to purchasing whole canned tomatoes though, stick with processing them that way.
6. Add in the Acid and Salt.The acid level of many garden tomatoes has been bred lower for easier raw eating. This means they may no longer be safe for canning without adding extra acid to each jar. As a precaution for low pH, add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each quart jar (1 tablespoon to each pint). Add in 1 teaspoon of salt for flavor.
7. Pack the tomatoes. Fill each hot, sterile jar with tomatoes, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
8. Add boiling water. Pour boiling water into the jar to cover the tomatoes, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Gently tap the jar on the counter (careful to use a potholder as the jar will now be very hot!) or use a plastic spatula to release any air bubbles from between the tomatoes. Air bubbles = places for bacteria to grow. It’s best to have as much of the air replaced by liquid as possible. Check headspace again.
9. Wipe the jar rim & seal. Using a towel, gently wipe any excess liquid or tomatoes that may have spilled on the rim of the jar. If anything is on the rim, the lid may not tightly seal to the jar during processing. Place a warmed metal lid on the jar, adjust with a metal ring to tighten. Repeat for each jar to be placed in the canner.
10. Process the jars. Process each quart jar in the boiling water canner for 45 minutes (0-1000 feet above sea level). Make sure the water has returned to a boil before beginning the time. When the time has finished, remove from the canner and place on a flat surface away from any drafts to cool. Each jar will “pop” or seal when cooled to the proper temperature. If a jar does not seal, refrigerate/use immediately or reprocess within 24 hours.
For additional information on canning (and to support the content on Minnesota Locavore) check out these resources: Amazon Canning Guides
August 23rd, 2012 § § permalink
You may have noticed it’s been a bit sparse around here this summer. Last July and August you and I shared a locavore moment every few days. This summer. Not so much. Despite my best intentions (and my wild attempts at planning), the past few months have been the complete opposite. New work responsibilities, a ton of weddings and events, and a major “lose all that local food weight you’ve added to your rear-end” campaign turned this summer from lazy days into some of the longest to-do lists of my life. By last week Friday, I hadn’t blogged in over a week. I was behind on hours at work, behind on writing assignments but loathing the thought of doing either. When we climbed in the car after a long week of work I had solidly hit my breaking point. We were on our way to one of my closest high school friend’s wedding in Madison, Wisconsin. Overwhelmed and completely burned out, I even snapped at the kitchen partner for asking the hotel concierge if we had to move the car out of overnight parking in the morning.
Thankfully, wedding days are a good reminder about what’s most important. The best ones make you head home and try a little harder. Be a better friend. Be a better wife. Remember what’s important. I sat in the pew at the ceremony thinking about how life doesn’t have a rewind button. I can’t change how busy and stressful this summer has been. I can’t take back the eye roll and snarky comment I gave the kitchen partner for asking about the parking. I can’t take back the wasted time on Facebook, the whining about jobs and graduate schools, the time I missed with family and friends. Maya Angelou once wrote, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
It’s four days later and I’m still living in the “If you don’t like it. Change it.” mode. Monday came and I really wanted to cook and write more. There’s a fridge full of food and two blog posts finished already. That’s half of what I accomplished in the first three weeks of August. I took the morning off work today to get a haircut, go to the gym, and not stress about what I wasn’t getting done. That’s more than I can say for all of July.
Now I’m finally writing a post about blueberry freezer jam that’s been on my to-do list since I made the batch the second week of July. I thought it was time to share it. I should’ve titled it “Freezer Jam: An Ode to not putting things off anymore.” If I want the time to write again, I’m going to have to stop wishing for it and just start doing it. This freezer jam is one of the few things I made from scratch all summer, but one of the best I’ve ever done. Thanks to Covered Bridge Farm in Forest Lake for the berries. And thanks to the new bride and groom for the reminder of what’s most important!
Blueberry Freezer Jam
3 1/3 cups fresh blueberries
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
4 Tbsp. Ball Instant Pectin for no-cook freezer jam
1. Wash and remove any stems or debris from the berries. Using a potato or fruit masher, crush the berries 1 cup at a time until they form a thick liquid. Set aside.
2. Clean and sterilize 4 half pint or 2 pint freezer jars and lids. Place on a cookie sheet near your workspace for easy clean-up and transportation of finished jars.
3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar and pectin. It’s important that the pectin is evenly distributed to avoid any chunks or runny areas in the jam. Add in blueberries and stir constantly for 3 minutes.
4. Pour jam into freezer jars, being sure to leave at least 1/2 inch head space for freezing. Let stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Refrigerate and eat fresh or freeze for up to one year.
If you’d like more details, watch my Strawberry Freezer Jam video from 20Food.net
July 30th, 2012 § § permalink
A secret about me: I love the Olympics.
Every few years I spend 2 weeks glued to the television in pure, inspired bliss. Slurping up every medal event and every moment of Bob Costas. I remember watching Shannon Miller and the USA women’s gymnastics team compete in ’96 and then prance down our narrow hallway to my own gold-medal routine. I would beg to stay up late to see bobsledders, skiers, and snowboarding. For two weeks there’d be no fighting over the remote, no turning the channel for cartoons. Everyone in the family curled up in the living room for the best competition the world can offer.
My childhood adoration has become an adult obsession. I was a freshman in college during the 2006 Turin winter games and watched every event possible. Chemistry lecture or Apolo Anton Ohno? hmm…I’ll choose gold. Every morning I updated a medal count chart on my dorm room door and hosted a closing ceremonies viewing party on my 12″ T.V.
But this photo (taken by the fantastic folks at Helios Photography) is perhaps the best example of my Olympic devotion:
2008 Summer Olympics – Image taken by Helios Photography
That’s me in the upstairs of our church watching the 2008 Beijing rowing competition, 30 minutes before I’m supposed to head downstairs and marry the kitchen partner. The Olympics and I are BFF’s. Even on my wedding day.
Not much has changed since ’08. Tonight I’m blogging from the couch while watching swimming and women’s beach volleyball. I’m celebrating gold medal runs for Team USA and a gold medal accomplishment of my own. My first batch of canning for the season is resting on the counter: 5 jars of zucchini pickle slices.
The recipe came from my canning guru Food in Jars writer Marisa McClellan at Seriouseats.com. She made her version fresh, ready to eat in 48 hours. I’m hoping to enjoy these in January just as much as July, so I chose to make a larger batch and water-bath can them. There’s a hint of lemon and just the right amount of pickle pucker – that sour, salty, savory combination perfect on sandwiches and burgers. Why not make these with yellow summer squash and have your own jar of gold medals?
Zucchini Pickle Slices
3 pounds zucchini or summer squash
1/2 tsp. lemon juice, in each jar
1/4 tsp. mustard seeds, in each jar
1/4 tsp. pickling spices, in each jar
dash of dill seed in each jar
3 cups white vinegar
3 tablespoons pickling salt
1. Wash the zucchini and slice into 1/4″ slices using a sharp knife or mandolin.
2. Pack zucchini into sterile jars. Add 1/2 tsp. lemon juice, 1/4 tsp. mustard seeds, and 1/4 tsp. pickling spices and dill seedto each jar.
3. In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar and salt. Stir until dissolved and then bring to a boil. Pour hot brine over each jar leaving 1/2 inch head space.
4. Seal and process in a boiling water canning bath for 10 minutes.