Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stone Fruit Can Jam!

This past week, I risked buying 50 pounds of stone fruits before checking to see if there would be anyone to can it with me, but luckily, I found a few friends that were interested!  Four of us all chipped in to turn 25 pounds each of white peaches and damson plums into a delicious array of jams, butters, and syrups...  and then divvied up the bounty.  Below you can see our various stations - a good way to keep a kitchen from getting too crowded with several people all cooking multiple recipes at once!

Below I'll go through a few of our jam, butter, and syrup superstars from the day's efforts...  

Follow these instructions using any of the ingredient lists for the jams and butters below:

->  Bring all ingredients except vanilla and/or spirits (if used) to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.

B:  If making a butter, cook fruit until just soft, and then process in batches in a food processor or blender until to the desired smoothness.  Return to pot.  

J:  If making jam, let simmer, stirring and mashing frequently with a potato masher.

Then continue to simmer either until mixture begins to thicken.

When you notice the mixture beginning to thicken, you can test if it has reached the jellying point in one of two ways:  (1) Use a candy thermometer to determine when the jam has reached 220 degrees F.  (2) Place a ceramic plate in the freezer until very cold.  Place a spoonful of jam on plate and return to freezer for about 30 seconds.  When removed from the freezer, if the jam wrinkles when you push it across the plate with your finger, it is ready.  If not, keep simmering!

Once jellying point is reached, remove any whole spices (if using), and add vanilla and/or spirits (if using).  Process in sterile jars.  You can use a pressure cooker for this (10 minutes at 5 lbs) or just a hot water bath (10 minutes at a rolling boil).  


Bourbon Peach (and Plum) Jams
-4 lbs peaches (or mix of peaches and plums), rough-chopped
-4 c sugar
-1/4 c lemon juice
-1/4 c bourbon
-1 tsp vanilla
-pinch of salt
~*Note:  This recipe would also be tasty with brandy or amaretto in place of the bourbon.  *~

Spiced Plum Jam

-5 c plums, washed, pitted, and rough-chopped
-1 1/3 c sugar
-2 tsp cinnamon
-6 cardomom pods, cracked and placed in a tea strainer or cheese cloth (for easy removal later)
-1 tsp vanilla

Plum (or Peach) Butter
-4 lbs plums (or peaches), rough-chopped
-3 c sugar
-2 tsp cinnamon
-zest and juice of 1 lemon
-1 tsp vanilla
-1/2 c crystalized ginger, chopped
-2 tsp bourbon 

 Chocolate Plum Sauce*

-5 c plums, chopped
-3 c sugar
-1/2 c honey
-1/4 c cocoa powder
-2 tbsp lemon juice
-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
-1 sprig sage

*We called this a "sauce," as it seemed a little too runny to be called a jam, but you can follow the same instructions as are listed above for jams.  It just won't set up to the jellying stage.  I think I may get more use out of it in sauce form anyway.  It was more amazing than I even imagined.  

I hope you find a few friends and enjoy the can jam experience just as much as eating all that jam!  It's a great way to spend an afternoon.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Butternut Squash and Lamb Curry

This is probably the best curry I've ever made.  The lamb we've been getting from our CSA boxes is deliciously tender as long as you cook it long and slow, perfect for curry.  The addition of the butternut squash adds a slight sweetness and a velvety creaminess as it starts to melt into the curry as it cooks.  I highly recommend the combination, especially as we begin to usher in fall and all of the winter squashes it has to offer.  
-2 tsp cumin seeds
-1/4 tsp cardamom 
-1/4 tsp cinnamon
-2 tbsp garam masala or other good quality curry powder
-1/4 tsp cayenne
-3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
-1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
-1 lb lamb kabob meet, cut in 1-2 inch cubes
-4 cups broth
-3 tbsp ghee 
-1 1/2 c brown jasmine rice
-1 butternut squash

->  Toast 1 tsp of the cumin seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, and garam masala over medium heat in a dutch oven or large pot until fragrant.  *Do not add cayenne yet or it will get into the air and will not feel very nice when you breath it in.*  Crush spices together in a mortar and pestle.  Add cayenne, garlic, ginger, and two good-sized pinches of salt.  Continue to grind into a paste using the mortar and pestle.  

Meanwhile, coat bottom of dutch oven with oil.  While oil heats, season lamb with salt and pepper.  When oil is hot but not smoking, add lamb and brown.  Then add spice paste and stir.  Allow to cook for a few minutes.  Then add broth and 2 tbsp ghee and bring to a boil.  Reduce and simmer for about 30 minutes.  

While lamb simmers, prepare the rice and prep the squash.  

For rice, toast remaining 1 tsp cumin seeds over medium heat in medium pot.  Once fragrant, add rice and toast rice with cumin until it gives off a nutty smell.  Add 3 1/4 c water, a pinch of salt, and remaining 1 tbsp of ghee.  Bring to a boil, stir, and then cover and reduce to low.  Allow to simmer gently covered until all water is absorbed (30-40 minutes).  

For butternut squash, peel and remove seeds.  Cut into 1-inch cubes.  Add to lamb after the lamb has simmered for 30 minutes.  Allow to simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until broth has reduced to a thick gravy and squash is fork-tender.  Check broth for seasoning and adjust if needed.  

Serve over rice.  Feel free to garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.  

~*TIP:  Double the ingredients for the paste, and save half in the refrigerator for another curry recipe in the future.  Use within two weeks.  Any longer and the flavor will fade too much for it to be worth it.  *~

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Well, after a week in the great north, I decided it was time for a little detox.  Detox after a week in pure, pristine, natural wilderness?  Yes.  The air and water might have been clean and pure, but cooking for 11 leads to a lot of convenience meals, and an attitude of "I'm on vacation," contributes to a habit of constant indulgence.  Besides, with my semester about to start, this seemed like my last chance for the summer before things start to get crazy!  Below are three of my favorite juices from my two-day juice detox.  They were so good, in fact, I was almost sad to see the second day come to a close.  But I'm sure I'll be revisiting these three on a more regular basis.  

*Note:  You will need an electric juicer for these...

Beet-Ginger Refresher
-1 bunch of medium beets (approximately 5-6 beets), tops included
-1-2 inches of fresh ginger
-1/2 lemon, peeled

--> Roughly chop the beets and greens to a size that easily fits in your juicer.  Run all ingredients through, and stir!  That's all.  If the pulpy foam bothers you, you can skim it off, but I just drink right through it.

Spicy Virgin Mary
-1 clove garlic, peeled
-1/2 shallot, peeled
-1/4 jalepeno, stemmed and seeded
-1/2 bell pepper
-6-7 tomatoes, depending on size
-1 small cucumber
-1/2 lemon, peeled
-cayenne and coriander

->Chop all all veggies small enough to fit your juicer.  Run through the juicer.  Stir the resulting juice.  Garnish with a sprinkle of cayenne and coriander.  Drink up!

Waldorf Zinger
-4 ribs celery
-3-4 small-medium apples
-1-2 inches fresh ginger
-1/2 lemon, peeled

->  You guessed it...  Chop all veggies into pieces small enough to fit into your juicer.  Run through the juicer, stir... and refresh yourself!

~*TIP:  I recommend peeling your lemon because juicers can have trouble with the pithy skin of citrus, and we don't want miss out on any of that lemon juice!  It will really point up the flavor of just about any juice you make.  *~

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Scavenging in the Great North

Derek and I just returned from a week in the great north, i.e. a cabin my family has on the Ottawa River in Canada.  I have been going there just about every year for my whole life, and Derek has joined for the last two years now.  The weather was a bit gray all week, but it was a welcome respite from the Carolina heat we're used to...  
This week gave me a chance for some genuine wilderness foraging rather than the urban foraging that has now become my custom.  Since I was a little girl, I remember picking teaberry leaves and berries and chewing on their wintergreen flavor.  There are also often wild blueberries, red raspberries, and blackberries.  This year, the blueberry crop was nil due to lack of rain in the area...  but I was able to get a pretty good crop of blackberries.   
 I gathered as many blackberries and teaberry flowers, berries, and young leaves as a could.  These delights were then frozen to come home with me for a future as who knows what?  Minty berry jam?  Black Teaberry Syrup?  It could be anything, but it will make an appearance on S&P soon enough.  I also picked up a few pine cones along the way for some Christmas decorations this winter.
Finally, our food production up there was not just limited to gathering, we also did a bit of fishing and have a few nice bass filets, including the ones from this fella right here.  
Keep an eye out for how we use all of our great delights from the great north in the next few weeks!  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Velvety Gazpacho

Continuing with my chilled soup kick lately, I am sharing a really great version of an old classic...  a Gazpacho that is tangy and spicy, yet refreshing and velvety on the tongue.  The key to the wonderfully creamy texture is not to be too shy with the olive oil here...  The emulsion of pureed veggies with olive oil gives you a filling, creamy, cool soup that you won't get if you skimp!
-tomatoes (mix and match whatever you have...  I used about 2 pints of various cherry tomato varieties)
-1 medium cucumber, chunked
-1/2 a small onion, chunked
-1 clove garlic, smashed
-1 small red bell pepper, chunked
-1 bunch basil, torn or roughly chopped
-juice of 1 lemon
-1 tbsp vinegar (white wine or apple cider)
-1-3 tsp Sriracha or preferred hot sauce (depending on how spicy you like it)
-1 tsp cumin
-1-2 splashes Worcestershire (optional)
-salt to taste
-olive oil (about 1/4-1/3 cup)

->  Put all ingredients except salt and oil in food processor or blender and blend until relatively smooth (there will be a slightly pulpy texture, but it should be completely uniform with no chunks).  At this point, with processor running, drizzle in olive oil slowly until soup reaches a creamy consistency.  Season with salt to taste.

~*TIP:  If there is any bitterness to the soup, you can add about a teaspoon of honey to the mix.  It will cut the bitterness without making the soup sweet.  *~

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Chilled Tomato Soup

Today, the tomato is on the edge between the fruit and vegetable camps...  This time coming down just barely on the vegetable side.  This recipe only takes a few minutes to throw together, but it is creamy, refreshing, and delicious.  When it's finished, drink it straight-up like a smoothie, serve just a shooter of it as an amuse-bouche, or eat a whole bowl for a soup course.
-2 medium to large tomatoes, cut in chunks
-1 c plain yogurt
-juice 1/2 a lemon

->Put all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.  Chill.
That's it!

~*TIP:  Switch up the flavor by throwing in a different mix of herbs each time or switching up limes for lemons...  try fresh basil, mint, tarragon, chives, or cilantro.  *~  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Biodegradable Seed-Starting Pots out of TP Rolls

After seeing a few pictures of this online, I decided to try it myself.  I usually use the traditional plastic cell-packs in a seed-starting greenhouse (see here on seed starting).  However, I am always looking for ways to get away from using plastic as much as possible in all aspects of my life, including gardening.  Also, it's always my goal to have as few inputs as possible into our gardening efforts, closing the loop as much as is feasible.  One way I might be able to close that loop a little more is through using our empty toilet paper rolls as seed-starting pods instead of ever investing in plastic cell packs again...  and the best part is, they're biodegradable!  I can just plant the whole pot, and let them break down in the soil.  See tutorial below on how to make your own.  

Start with a clean, empty TP roll.
From here, shmush the roll down to fold it in half so that it has creases running down the sides.  The unfold and shmush it down so that the existing creases meet in the middle.  When your done, it should have taken on a square shape like the picture below.  
If you want more defined folds and to save your hands a little effort, you can also use a ruler on a hard surface to give the roll a hard crease.  
 Now, you want to cut up the creases on the bottom of the roll just enough to make flaps that reach halfway across the opening of the roll.  All rolls are a slightly different size, so I am not bothering to give an exact measurement.  For example, the fluffy stuff Derek had here originally had much wider rolls than the Seventh-Generation I replaced it with...  kudos to Seventh Generation for giving us less empty space.  

Fold the flaps so that they are creased across right where the slits end (like pictures below).  
Finally, fold the flaps as you would if you were trying to close a cardboard box by interlocking the flaps, as pictured below.  
 You can make a whole bunch in just a short time!
And they'll stand up to fit in your seed-starting trays right along with those old cell packs...  And then when your plants are ready to go outside, you can bury the whole things in the ground, and it will break down on its own.  
~*NOTE:  I have not yet planted these, so I'll let you know what the positives/drawbacks are once I know.  However, similar to peat pellets, I would recommend that you be sure to bury the lip of the roll completely under the soil line, or else it could act as a wick, drying out the roll-pot, and thus, your plants.  *~

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Watermelon-Tomato Sorbet with Basil

Ahhh...  to answer the age-old question of whether the tomato lies in the camp with the fruit or the vegetable...  This week, chalk one up to the fruit side, because these tomatoes are the star of the dessert course.  With watermelon-tomato salads becoming very popular these days in the South, I was inspired to try a sweet, melty version of this in the form of a watermelon-tomato sorbet.  I was further enabled by a recent thrift store find of a soft-server ice cream maker for $4.99!!!  But don't worry.  You don't need an ice cream maker to make this recipe (see NOTE below).
-2 medium to large tomatoes (I used tangerine tomatoes), cut in chunks
-1/2 a small watermelon, cut in chunks
-1 c sugar
-1 c water
-1 large bunch basil, minced
-juice of 2 limes

->Heat the sugar and water over medium heat in a small sauce pan until sugar is fully dissolved. 

Meanwhile, run tomatoes and melon through a food mill in order to get the pulp and juice but leave behind the skins and seeds.  If you don't have a food mill, you could use a food processor, just be sure to remove any large seeds of the watermelon and/or tough stem areas of the tomato.  

When sugar is fully dissolved in the water, remove from heat and add basil to steep.  After steeping for 5 minutes, add mixture to tomato-watermelon mixture and then add lime juice.

At this point, you should chill the mixture in the freezer until ice just starts to form around the edges (or around 8 degrees Celsius).  Then, if you have an ice cream maker, pour it in and follow the manufacturer's instructions.  

Serve by scooping some with an ice cream scoop, perhaps into martini glasses?  Garnish with a fresh sprig of basil.

~*TIP:  If you do not have an ice cream maker, pour the mixture into a shallow pan and place in the freezer.  Whisk the mixture every 30 minutes or so to break up the ice crystals until it is too thick to whisk, then allow to freeze.  Scoop once frozen mostly solid but still soft enough to easily scoop.  *~