Planning Ahead – Locally

For many of us (your co-authors included!!), it’s just about that time of year when the academic calendar takes over our lives again. Or at least for a little while, until we regain our balance. Having some food prepped for the coming week helps to take a little pressure off at the beginning of the term.

Whether it’s you or your kids or spouse who are headed back to school, check out some of our ideas below for prepped meals to help you out. And if no one in your house is headed back to school, then I hope you’ll relish your continued summer and this lovely weather!

Stuffed Bell Peppers

I’ve wanted to try making stuffed bell peppers for a while now. The peppers in our CSA basket this week were gigantic, so it was a great time to try! My sister was game and offered the use of her kitchen, so we each made a big batch to freeze.

Sometimes I don’t feel like following a specific recipe, so this is more a report on how I made them. I kept track of the ingredients in case you want to try replicating it, though!

the peppers. Between the CSA and market, I had 10 giant peppers to stuff!  I sliced off the tops, pulled out the core and gently removed the white ribs with my fingers. I diced up the good parts of the tops to add to the filling, since I wasn’t putting the tops back on after stuffing. And because I was going to freeze these, I decided to blanch the peppers first. I only put them into the boiling water for a minute, but I’d probably follow this chart (which recommends 3 minutes for peppers) next time. After blanching and draining, I set them in small foil loaf pans in pairs, to get ready for assembly. tip: spring-loaded grabbers are quite handy for dunking and removing the peppers without getting burned.

the meat. I figured a pound of ground beef was enough, and though it was sufficient, twice that would have been better. Cook the meat thoroughly in a skillet and drain the fat from the pan.

the filling. Make a pot of brown rice — 2 c. rice, 4 c. water. Set that aside in a large bowl once it’s done and cooled. In a large skillet, sautee a diced yellow onion and the diced pepper-tops together with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Add this to the rice, and mix well.

assembly. You can mix the ground beef into the rice mixture if you like, but honestly I wasn’t sure the rice was all going to fit, and I wanted to be sure that all the meat made it in. So ground beef went into the peppers first, then the rice mixture. The foil containers had thin plastic lids, so I used those for now. But once they’re frozen, I’ll take the covers off and put them in foodsaver bags, since the covers aren’t very sturdy for keeping in the deep freezer.

For what it’s worth, my sister used 2# of ground beef for her batch of 6 peppers, and she added a large can each of black beans and crushed tomatoes to her rice-meat-peppers-onions mixture. It made more than would fit into her peppers, so she just put those portions in their own containers.

small laundry baskets make great (washable!) containers for transport!

nutritional info. As made above, with 1 Tbs. of canola oil (to cook the diced peppers and onion), and with 2 stuffed peppers counting as a serving, these have approximately 384 calories, 20g protein,
25g carbs, 17g fat
(using CalorieKing.com).

They’re quite large, so add a bit of cheese and you have a pretty hearty meal!

 

 


Breakfast Bowls

I’ve made some version of these many times over, and the potential for variation is great — you can customize them for whatever flavors you like. Maple pork sausage with eggs and shredded potato is a particular favorite in my house.

Another thing your co-authors share is a significant daily work commute, and the ability to pop a breakfast in the microwave and eat it on the road or once I get to my office is a huge plus. I’ve made sandwiches and burritos before, but they’re hard to put down and pick up again. I find a bowl and spoon is actually easier to manage without spilling.

The batch that I made today was designed to be pretty heavy on the protein. I use 2 c. glass containers with lids from Anchor that do well from freezer to microwave, and this recipe stuffs them pretty full.

Ingredients:

2 dozen eggs
2 dozen egg whites (or the equivalent)
3 9.6-oz packages of turkey sausage crumbles
1 1/2 c. brown rice
olive oil spray

Cook the rice with 3 c. water, and set aside.

2 dozen eggs + 2 dozen whites!

The eggs are going to be scrambled, so crack 1 dozen whole eggs and 1 dozen egg *whites into a blender jar, add about 3 Tbs. water, and blend until slightly foamy. Heat a large skillet (nonstick is best) and add a quick spray of olive oil. Scramble the eggs in batches — about 1-2 c. in each batch, depending on the size of your pan. I’ve tried doing the whole thing at once, and it’s kind of been a mess. Your mileage may vary, of course. Set the cooked eggs aside in a large bowl/pan. When the first dozen is done, crack your second dozen of whole eggs and whites, and repeat the process.

Using pre-cooked turkey sausage feels a bit like cheating, and I’d rather not do it. But it is a huge time-saver. I need to seek out some local turkey that I can get ground, though; I’d love to try making my own turkey sausage, and cooking it at home.

12 breakfasts!

Assemble the bowls in layers: rice first, then meat, then eggs. I use a measuring cup for the rice (1/4 c. each), and weigh the other ingredients for each bowl.

To figure out the nutritional information for the eggs, I used the total number of eggs and whites — but knowing that number doesn’t help with portioning! So I divided the total weight of the cooked eggs (we found a pan that would fit on the kitchen scale!), and divided by 12 to get the weight we’d need for each bowl. It sounds like a hassle, but it actually goes pretty quickly.

nutritional information:
Using only cooking spray for the eggs, and no other added fat, these have approximately 316 calories, 34g protein, 14g carbs, and 15.8g fat. I was going to add cheese, but they’re stuffed into the bowls already!

These actually come together pretty quickly, and you can cook the components ahead of time. Straight from the freezer, these take a little more than 2 minutes in my microwave to heat fully. Friends have asked about the consistency of the egg, and honestly I don’t mind it. If anything, I slightly undercook the egg when I’m scrambling, since they’ll get cooked some more in the microwave. But they’re definitely better than the texture of egg in most drive-through breakfast sandwiches.

 

*If you’re going to separate your eggs, you might be wondering what to do with all those yolks.  Might I suggest making some salt-cured egg yolks? I’ve heard excellent things from friends, though I haven’t made them yet myself. You gently place the yolks in a little well of a salt-sugar mixture, and cover with more of the mix. For 5 days, they sit in your refrigerator, presumably releasing a lot of water into the salt mixture, and maybe taking in some sugar? After 5 days, you brush them off and dry in a 175F oven (or a dehydrator) for a couple of hours. Then, grate on pasta or toast. If you try it, be sure to report back!!

Market Menu: August 19

There’s no stopping the list of fresh local produce available at the Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market and other sources. It’s practically endless!!

Newest:  

  • Melons! Cantaloupes and Watermelons of many varieties
  • Sweet corn!
  • Chile peppers:  poblano, cubanelle, jalapeno, banana
  • Sweet peppers: minis, giant red bell peppers, purple, yellow, green, bullhorn
  • Tomatoes: including determinates like San Marzano, Amish Paste, plus cherry tomatoes, lots of varieties of heirloom, and canning boxes of seconds

Still going strong: beets, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, fennel, garlic, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, patty pan squash, potatoes, scallions, shallots, summer squash, turnips, zucchini

This week, we wanted to feature recipes that allow substitutions — recipes (or styles of cooking) that let you throw whatever you have on hand into a dish that you’ll enjoy.

When we polled readers on our facebook page as to their favorite dish in this category, stir-fry was the most common. So, here are some ways that you can enjoy seasonal vegetables in a stir-fry.

Equipment: Having a wok is not essential; a large skillet or other large pan with a flat bottom will work, too. Make sure to start with a hot pan, and hot oil (something other than extra-virgin olive oil). Then add aromatics like ginger and garlic or onion first, then your veg.

 

  1. Ginger and Garlic – for 2-4 servings, start with 1 T oil, 1 T fresh ginger (grated or minced), 2-3 cloves of garlic (crushed or minced). Keep it moving or keep stirring for about a minute, until the kitchen smells amazing. Then add your vegetables: green onions, carrots, summer squash, kale — whatever you have on hand!!  You can even cube kohlrabi and add it to this. Just be conscious of how long each veg will take to cook, relatively. I generally add carrots, kohlrabi, and broccoli stalks first; summer squash or peppers in the middle, and kale later. When you add your veg, also add 1-2 T of soy sauce. Keep stirring for a few minutes until everything is cooked to your taste. I often do veg-only stir fries, but lately I’ve been using the high protein extra-firm tofu from Green Top, and it’s great in this. You can pre-marinate it, or just add it in with your vegetables. If you want meat, I usually cut up my chicken into bite-sized pieces first, then add to the hot pan at the very beginning of cooking, with the aromatics.
  2. Garlic Sauce – I haven’t tried this, but for fans of dishes like tofu in garlic sauce, this looks like a winner!! It includes soy sauce, chicken broth, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil, pepper, garlic, and ginger. I’d definitely try this with green beans, if you have any around.
  3. Sweet and Sour sauce with Ginger – this is pretty close to what my mother made for us growing up (as taught to her by our Cantonese neighbor). The main difference is that she would cook the meat and vegetables with everything except the sugar, vinegar, and cornstarch. She’d mix the sugar and vinegar together and then add it to the pot and cook for a bit, then mix the cornstarch with a little cold water, and add it once the sugar-vinegar mixture was boiling.
  4. This list of stir-fry sauces includes some coconut and lime-based Thai sauces, which look interesting!

For me, having lots of veggies on hand and no plan for them usually means making a frittatta or tortilla espagnole. The latter requires (waxy) potatoes, both require eggs, and the frittatta definitely needs some cheese. But the more critical thing is time; the tortilla espagnole starts with thin-sliced potatoes, which make a sort of crust at the bottom of the pan, under a layer of egg and vegetables.  Delicious! But slicing and pre-cooking them adds about 15 minutes to cooking time, compared to the frittatta. Here are a few options for each.

Tortilla Espagnolesimple recipe from Food tv, though you can certainly add to it!

FrittattaAlton Brown has a great recipe, as does Epicurious (so great that I think I’ve posted it before!) and the Pioneer Woman (who emphasizes the nearly-endless versatility of this crustless quiche!)

Local Food Travels: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

We spend time in far northern Michigan every summer. Much of upper Michigan is a wild and remote place; small towns are separated by forests, lakes, and incredible stretches of natural beauty. The regional culture is one of resilience, creativity, and intense local pride. Not surprisingly, local foods are also a special part of the region.

“Local” isn’t anything new in the U.P. – those who live through the long winters and brilliant, brief summers have always turned to native plants, fish, and wildlife to sustain themselves.

Upper Michigan has a wealth of natural resources, including mineral deposits; native American tribes mined copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula between 5000 BCE and 1200 BCE.  Mining has long defined this region; in the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial mining brought immigrants from all over Europe to find copper for a rapidly-industrializing American economy. Some of those immigrants were from Cornwall, and they brought with them the Cornish meat pie – the pasty. U.P. pasties traditionally have minced meat and root vegetables (usually rutabaga), and in a restaurant you’ll be asked if you want gravy or ketchup with your meal. (Note: Gravy is for tourists.) Today, locals and tourists alike enjoy pasties with an impressive array of craft beer produced in local microbreweries.

Lake Superior is the deepest of the Great Lakes, and it is better understood for what it is: an inland, freshwater sea. Local fish is prized for its abundance and clean flavor. Lake Superior whitefish can be found on nearly every menu. I loved the ubiquitous fish taco when I was visiting Southern California, but modern Yooper cooks have mastered the Lake Superior whitefish taco:

IMG_0299

Tourists come to the U.P., and to Copper Harbor, in particular, to hike, kayak, hunt, ski, and snowmobile. Recently, the U.P. has become well-known for world-class mountain bike trails (initially, this was our reason for visiting). We go back to Copper Harbor every summer because we can’t get enough of this quiet town on the very northern point of the Keweenaw Penninsula.

We also truly appreciate the unaffected attitude towards local foods, too. In summertime, thimbleberries are prolific in the woods and fields all around town, and you will find jams for sale at the shops – be sure to pick up some thimbleberry jam. (If you’re really into jam, a visit to The Jampot is utterly necessary.)  In Copper Harbor, Jamson’s Bakery makes exceptional fruit turnovers and muffins with these local berries early every morning for mountain bikers and trekkers waiting to board the ferry to Isle Royale.

IMG_0310

Until next year, Copper Harbor.

 

IMG_0348
The rocky shoreline.

Market Menu: August 12

Here are some things we’re looking forward to making with market and other local ingredients:

Breakfast Ideas:

by flickr user heymrleej

Creamy Breakfast Polenta – this gets its creaminess from tahini — which might sound a bit strange in a breakfast porridge, but give it a chance!
Pantry check: cornmeal, almond milk, water, salt, brown sugar or honey, tahini, cinnamon, cardamom, berries 

Amaranth, Quinoa, and Polenta Porridge – amaranth on its own doesn’t have a lot of flavor, but I really like the idea of adding the quinoa and polenta. Homemade multigrain cereal! I’m not aware of a local amaranth grower, but I’m pretty sure that Common Ground carries it in their bulk area.
Pantry check: amaranth, quinoa, polenta or cornmeal, water, milk, cinnamon, maple syrup, nuts or seeds  

Lunch Ideas:

Raw squash salad with radishes, manchego, and lemon vinaigrette
Pantry check: summer squash, shallot, radishes, garlic, honey, lemons, white wine vinegar, salt & pepper, olive oil, horseradish (optional), basil and mint, manchego cheese (or parmesan)

Roasted vegetables & hummus – as a dip or sandwich

Fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil & balsamic vinegar, a little green onion, lettuce if you have it.

Mediterranean Chopped Salad
Pantry check: olive oil, white wine vinegar, almonds, canned chick peas. Swap out veggies as desired – this recipe features sweet bell peppers, but carrots, fennel, or shaved zucchini would work well here, too. 

Come to think of it, is there any better time of year for any kind of chopped salad? Smitten Kitchen’s would make a great non-sad desk lunch, too.
Pantry check: olive oil, red wine vinegar, chick peas, salami. 

With all the fresh veggie options, its a great time of year for noodle salads. Martha Stewart has 17 ideas for you.

Dinner Ideas:

Penne with sweet summer vegetables, pine nuts, and herbs – the recipe calls for roasting all the vegetables, which is one option for reducing the time spent standing at the stove. You could roast ahead of time, even. Sub in whatever you have and love; it doesn’t need to be exactly this combination of vegetables.
Pantry check: cherry tomatoes, corn, summer squash, red onion, garlic, olive oil, penne (or other pasta), basil and oregano, salt and pepper, pine nuts

BBQ chicken with peach and feta slaw – this recipe calls for store-bought, pre-shredded broccoli slaw, but it’s gonna be that much better with the real deal. Use a food processor to turn your broccoli into slaw, or just slice very fine.
Pantry check: olive oil, sherry vinegar (or sub wine vinegar), your fave store-bought BBQ sauce. 

Grilled steak and endless options for summer-veggie sides:

Roasted green beans with Harissa

Pantry check: sliced almonds, Harissa paste

Grilled veggies
pantry check: fresh basil, olive oil, fresh garlic

Hummus heaped with tomatoes and cucumbers – and you don’t even have to make your own hummus (but if you want to, you can. And let us know if you peeled the chick peas!). Pantry check: sumac, za’atar (optional – both can be found at Common Ground in Bloomington), olive oil, fresh lemon, fresh herbs. 

Shakshuka works as a quick dinner, reheats as a great lunch, and is perfectly at home for breakfast, too. You don’t have to make it spicy – there are plenty of variations on this dish.
Pantry check: tomato paste, cumin seeds, caraway, paprika, eggs, honey, garlic, greens. 

 

Unloved Veggies: Fennel

wild fennel in western washington

Raw, natural fennel must look pretty weird to a lot of market shoppers. Fennel bulbs don’t enjoy the broad recognition of other summer favorites like tomatoes and peppers. Also, having a reputation for “tasting like black licorice” is probably a turn off when you’re looking for dinner items. I’m here to tell you that this goofy-looking vegetable is truly a gem – and it really doesn’t taste like old-fashioned candy (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

A good source of vitamin C and potassium, fennel bulb and fennel seed are recognized for having medicinal qualities; try having a few slices of raw fennel after a meal as a digestive. It is also an ingredient in absinthe. Raw fennel does have a licorice-like flavor, but it’s quite subtle. If you roast or cook it, that flavor recedes even further into the background.

Distinct, contrasting flavors compliment fennel’s unique flavor. It shines in raw salads – try it in Mediterranean-style dishes that include citrus, olive oil, and fresh herbs. I simply slice it and add it to whatever lettuce salad I’m making.

mandoline for thin slices

Perhaps because fennel is hard and crunchy, using a sharp knife or a mandoline to shave it is a great way to ensure that you get the right ratio of fennel to other salad ingredients. Here are some ideas for raw fennel salads:

Not into raw? Roasted fennel is also great paired with your veggie favorites, such as potatoes and carrots. Chicken and pork are good partners. This roasted, curried fennel would be a great meatless side. So would this one for roasted fennel, chickpeas, peppers and grapes.

thin-sliced fennel

Feeling a little adventurous? Try pickling it – this recipe has that classic pairing with citrus; you can make it spicy and sweet or tangy.

Fennel is in season here in central Illinois from July to September, though usually you can find fresh fennel at the Thanksgiving Market (my family requests it every year!). That’s a good thing, because once you try it, you’re going to want more!

 

 

The Mythical Vegetannual

I just love this image, of a mythical single plant that bears all our vegetables. It’s not my creation — it’s Barbara Kingsolver’s, from her farm-memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The intention was to show where all our vegetables come from, botanically-speaking. From this one image, you can start to see how and why some of our vegetables take so long to be ready to harvest.

“The vegetables we eat may be leaves, buds, fruits, or seeds, but each comes to us from some point along this same continuum, the code all annual plants must live by. No variations are allowed. They can’t set fruit, for example, before they bloom. As obvious as this may seem, it’s easy enough to forget in a supermarket culture where the plant stages constantly present themselves in random order.”

“Take a minute to study this creation – an imaginary plant that bears over the course of one growing season a cornucopia of all the different vegetable products we can harvest. We’ll call it a vegetannual. Picture its life passing before your eyes like a time-lapse film: first, in the cool early spring, shoots poke up out of the ground. Small leaves appear, then bigger leaves.  As the plant grows up into the sunshine and the days grow longer, flower buds will appear, followed by small green fruits. Under midsummer’s warm sun, the fruits grow larger, riper, and more colorful. As days shorten into the autumn, these mature into hard-shelled fruits with appreciable seeds inside. Finally, as the days grow cool, the vegetannual may hoard the sugars its leaves have made, pulling them down into a storage unit of some kind: a tuber, bulb, or root. So goes the year.” (Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle).

It’s easy to remember that large, tough-skinned squashes are fall harvests, or that green shoots like ramps are the first to appear in the spring. But the time of year is also a clue to flavor, which takes time to develop. Spring turnips are soft and tender, where summer turnips are much spicier. Carrots and parsnips and brussels sprouts can be harvested in late summer, but the sweetness really increases when the weather turns cold, so harvesting after the first frost will greatly reward you.

Though these dates below aren’t fixed, they’re a good guide as to what you can expect to find available freshly harvested from local producers. Much of the spring veg like spinach and lettuce gets antsy when the weather turns, bolting and producing flowers and seeds, not to be replanted again until cooler weather.

April-May:  spinach, kale, radishes, lettucechard, ramps, green garlic, garlic scapes

Summer vegetables like broccoli, green beens, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes tend to produce from the same plants throughout the summer, as long as they’re getting what they need. Paste tomato varieties like San Marzano and Roma will produce all their tomatoes at once, but the rest will keep on going until it just gets too cold. Snow peas and cucumbers do ok until the real summer heat arrives; they can both have short seasons, depending on the weather.

May-June:  cabbage, romaine, broccoli, cauliflower
June:  snow peas, baby squash, cucumbers
July:  green beans, green peppers, and small tomatoes
July-August:  beefsteak tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, summer squash

Fall roots offer a nice sweet starchiness that we come to expect in our Thanksgiving and other autumn meals. Many of the spring vegetables return as well, once the heat of the day/night backs off.

August-September: melons, pumpkins, winter squash
September-frost: beets, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts, radishes, greens

So stay tuned for those melons and squash, carrots and parsnips and brussels sprouts, and the return of radishes! Follow your farmers on facebook for more information about what they’re growing and harvesting right now. Remember the list of local farms on the tab at the top of our page (or click this link).

And keep in mind that these farmers offer their produce for sale in other local venues besides the Bloomington Farmer’s Market: Green Top Grocery, Common Ground, and others!

Straightforward Preserving: Tomato Jam!

I know, you might be looking at that title all skeptically, thinking “I like tomatoes, sure, but JAM? What are you even talking about?” This might be one you have to just take on trust. Tomatoes make some amazing jam. It’s great on toast, but especially tasty along with eggs and/or sausage. I think it’s the closest you can come in mid-winter to the taste of a fresh, flavorful tomato picked right off the plant. It’s not savory, but it’s not as sweet as other jams, and definitely not as tart and fruity. And if it’s your first canning experience, the acidic content (tomato plus added lemon) makes it a safer one.

There are a lot of recipes out there if you google a little, but I really like this trio. The first time I made tomato jam, I split my tomato haul into three pots (because I couldn’t pick!), and made a small batch of all three recipes. After that, I’ve only ever made the sweet & spicy.

I make it pretty much as it’s written, using regular light brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon, red wine vinegar and lime juice. If you’re having trouble imagining sweet jam with the flavor of tomatoes, note that the fruit:sugar ratio is much lower on the sugar end than other fruit jams: 455g tomatoes to 45g sugar in this recipe, or 10:1 by weight.

The other sweet-but-not-too-sweet tomato preserves that I’ve really enjoyed is the New York Times recipe for preserved tomatoes with lemon. They call for small pear-shaped tomatoes, but anything smaller than a golf ball will work just fine. And I don’t bother with peeling them anymore – just check that the tomatoes you’re using don’t have particularly thick skins. With most small tomatoes, you won’t even notice them in the preserves. The NYT recipe is interesting in that it has you put the tomatoes, sugar, and lemon slices in a saucepan overnight — with no heat, just room temperature over time. The next day, you add the spices and gently cook until the tomatoes start to go clear. You can remove them and the lemons and boil the syrup that remains, so that it thickens a bit. But the idea is to leave the tomatoes intact (which is why smaller is better). If you want to keep them throughout the winter, sterilize the jars first (leave in boiling water for 15 minutes), then fill and process according to the recipe.

Canning/Processing:

“Processing” canned goods requires boiling the (nearly-full) jars, with 2-part lids (shown at right).

How full you fill your jars will depend on the food you’re canning (generally 1/8″ to 1/4″ from the top of the jar).

How long you boil the jars will also depend on the food you’re canning (10 minutes up to multiple hours).

When you’re canning acid foods (fruits, jams, and pickles, for the most part), boiling water and a large stock pot are sufficient. When you’re canning low-acid foods (vegetables and meats), you have to use a pressure cooker — a boiling water bath doesn’t get hot enough to destroy potentially harmful bacteria.

Our advice when canning is to always use a recipe that’s been tested, and follow the instructions in the USDA and Ball guides. 

You don’t have to process your jam if you’re just going to store it in the refrigerator, of course. Processing is necessary for safe room-temperature storage, which gives you more time to use it (and/or more flexibility to give your canned goods as gifts to friends). But you may find it makes sense to try a recipe first — keeping the results refrigerated — and make it again w/ the processing steps added in, if you like it enough to add those steps.

Resources:

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has many guides available online for free, in pdf. They’re the source for USDA standards and guidance on food safety.

The Ball Blue Book is magazine-sized, and available most places that keep a canning display (jars, lids, equipment) from Ball. For now, this means the larger stores; Common Ground and Green Top don’t carry jars and lids at this time.

Food in Jars is a blog devoted to canning and preserving, and they have a great Canning 101 page with resources for getting started.

Sadly, one of my favorite go-to blogs (Tigress in a Jam) for jam ideas seems to have been abandoned and taken over by advertising bots, but you can find images and recipes from the participants in her jam challenges over the years on her Flickr group.

Canning Basics

Note: this is the first in a series of posts about preserving food. In subsequent posts, we’ll cover specific types of preserving, equipment, book suggestions and ideas for how to use some of your preserved food over the winter. Today, we want to cover just the basics. For more information, we recommend the Ball Blue Book, which you can find at most stores that carry canning supplies. 

just one step beyond cooking

That’s the opening header of the Ball Blue Book, and I think it’s meant as a friendly introduction to a process that can seem quite overwhelming! The possibility of spoilage, hidden dangers you’ve heard horror stories about, the lack of a pressure cooker, there might be all kinds of things keeping you from starting. But this post is designed to help get you over that hump with some tips for first-time canners.

Whatever you do, start with and follow a canning recipe. You can find them online on blogs, or in canning books or magazines. The Ball Blue Book is usually sold near the canning supplies, but you’ll also find other small booklets or magazines dedicated to canning near the checkouts — especially as the summer gets going.

The reason for using canning recipes is that they’ve been tested to be sure that the end result is safe. Altering ingredients, temperatures, times, cleaning procedures or even equipment can “affect the quality and safety” of your canning, as Ball puts it. For instance, don’t substitute the type of vinegar in a canning recipe; the % of acid is very important for germ-nongrowth!

There are courses you can take that teach you how to develop a canning recipe — I’ve always wanted to take one! I think it involves measuring the pH of the mix at various points, and checking for growth of bacteria after processing, by culturing the food. But absent that training — follow a recipe!!

Jam is one of the easiest things to start with; not a ton of ingredients to worry about, and no pressure canner needed (since fruit is acidic). The Ball page has a great intro to jam canning, with step-by-step guides to making and canning jam. Blackberries, peaches and blueberries are in season now, with apples coming soon (recipes linked on each fruit). Websites/blogs are useful, but you’ll find lots of recipes in canning magazines and books. I like the Ball Blue Book for all the standard jams and relishes, but also these books:

Our next post has links to recipes for tomato jam! Yes, tomato jam! The tomatoes you’ll find at local markets now are perfect for making jam. Stay tuned for that post!!

 

 

Leek and Potato Soup

I have to admit, I don’t think I had ever a) tasted, or b) cooked leek and potato soup until just a few years ago. I’m not actually sure I’d ever had a leek before then! But my friends whom I gardened with raved about leek season, and about the soup in particular, and finally I got up the interest/nerve/time to try it. Or to look at recipes, at least!

Some recipes I like:

Alton Brown’s Leek Potato Soup Recipe

New York Times Golden Leek and Potato Soup

Serious Eats’ Food Lab: Potato and Leek Soup

 

I don’t know what I’d been waiting for, honestly! It was really fast and delicious. You can make it quite creamy or less so, but it doesn’t require any sort of fussing-over or precise measurement. Just cook and blend, and you can toss it in the freezer for later.

A basic ratio to use for this soup is 1 # leeks, 1 # potatoes (yukon gold or russets, or a combination of both), a knob of butter, 1 c. heavy cream (or half and half, or not), 1 qt chicken or veg stock, and some herbs (bay, or parsley/celery, or chives, though a touch of nutmeg can also be delicious!).

On our Facebook Live video, we used:

  • 822g of yukon gold potatoes,
  • 700g of leeks, and
  • about 3T of butter,
  • a quart of chicken stock,
  • salt and pepper to finish

No cream! We’ll freeze this, as it made about 6 qts? of soup – which is more than we can eat in the next few days!

When we thaw and re-heat it, I’ll probably add about 1c of milk or 1/2 c of half & half and 1/2 c. of water to thin it a bit.

 

 

Fast Five Ways to Enjoy Swiss Chard

Oh, Swiss Chard! The spinach of midsummer, hearty-but-light leafy green that can deal with a Central Illinois July!! Full of potassium and Vitamins A, C, and K!!

In case swiss chard doesn’t inspire your meal prep thinking, though, here are five ideas for dishes that use such common ingredients, they might not even require a trip to the store.

 

 

  1. In a Frittatta. We’re spoiled for local eggs around here, which are absolutely delicious. If you have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, use it. If not, an oven-safe skillet will work. You want to saute your vegetables first: onion, garlic, greens, potatoes, etc. Beat the eggs in a bowl, then fold in the vegetables, and pour it all back in the hot (medium-high temp) buttered skillet. Spread out gently to distribute the vegetables, and let it cook without disturbing it, until you can see that the sides are set. Then, put in the oven at 400F for about 10 minutes to cook the middle. Or, you can leave it on the stovetop a little longer, and then put under the broiler to finish. I like to add some parmesan or asiago cheese to the top before putting it under the broiler. You can use the ribs in this, if you like; just start sauteeing them earlier than the leaves.
  2. With Polenta and Egg. I don’t generally use a recipe for this, but Bobby Flay’s generous use of butter and cheese for the polenta in this recipe definitely gets my thumbs up. Note that his recipe calls for mustard greens, but swiss chard makes a perfectly good substitute.
  3. With Beets and Goat Cheese. Since swiss chard is pretty much beet greens that have been bred for the qualities we desire in the leaves, cooking them up with the beet roots makes a certain kind of sense. I tend to think beets and goat cheese can do no wrong, and this recipe layers some additional flavors on and makes for a lovely-looking (and tasting!) dish to take or serve to company.
  4. In a Quinoa Salad with Goat Cheese. Just like its cousin the beet, swiss chard also likes having some goat cheese around! This recipe adds garlic, mushrooms and onions, and I’m pretty sure some toasted almond slices would be a delicious addition.
  5. With Potatoes and Garlic. This is just about the easiest swiss chard recipe I know of: boil some small potatoes, put them in a pan with the swiss chard and some oil and garlic (red pepper flakes, if you like some heat), and toss/smash until combined and the chard is cooked. Here’s another, for good measure; the addition of some vinegar is a nice touch.