Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mystery Food Week 17: Pickled edition

Fall is here. I actually needed to throw on a cardigan this morning to go outside. For the last few months, I’ve only needed one inside because my office is frequently arctic. It must be better for the books. Or they’re secretly housing penguins on Deck C. I think I’ll keep believing that—specifically, penguins in early modern costume. Adorable.

I’ve been stockpiling at least some of the last few weeks’ worth of squash and eggplant for pickling and finally got around doing that over the weekend. After suffering from some kind of chest cold that wiped me out for two weeks, I’d accumulated a whole lot of food in the fridge. Friday night was pickle-fest, and Saturday was apple-pear butter day. Fridge clean, pantry full, life good.

Sunny Squash and Eggplant Pickles

-4 cups seeded and cubed squash (I used summer, patty-pan, and zucchini) and eggplant
-1 cup sliced onion
-2 cups water
-1 cup sugar
-1 cup white vinegar
-1 tsp. plain salt (not iodized)
-1 ½ tsp. dry mustard
-½ tsp. turmeric
-½ tsp. ground ginger
-A pinch of saffron threads

-Combine all ingredients except the squash and eggplant in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables and return to a boil for 10 minutes.
-Using a slotted spoon, pack the vegetables into warm, sterilized jars, leaving ½ inch headspace.
-Add enough of the pickling liquid in the saucepan to cover the vegetables in each jar.
-Secure lids and rings onto jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Pickled Beets and Onions

-4-6 large beets (see: last week’s mystery food)
-1 large white onion, sliced
-2 ½ cups white vinegar
-1 cup sugar
-3 tbsp. pickling spice (usually in the baking aisle with other spices)

-To prepare the beets, scrub them gently and then boil for 20-40 minutes or until just tender. Rinse with cool water. Slide off the skins and quarter or halve depending on the size.
-In a large saucepan, combine the rest of the ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat slightly and boil gently for 15 minutes.
-Add the beets and return the mixture to a boil.
-Using a slotted spoon, pack the beets and onions into jars leaving ½ inch headspace.
-Add enough of the pickling liquid in the saucepan to cover the vegetables in each jar.
-Secure lids and rings onto jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

With all of that squirreled away, there was finally space in the fridge for this week’s Mystery Food. And boy is it a good one…

Tomato, cherry tomatoes, squash, sweet corn, apples, potatoes, green peppers, and swiss chard. The cherry tomatoes are so sweet. I had some in a wrap with black forest smoked turkey and provolone cheese from the deli and it was such a delicious contrast.

Joe’s folks are away at the beach for the weekend and have absconded with our dog. Yes, that’s right, he gets a vacation from his difficult life of being spoiled. But that does mean that Joe and I can go out after work on Friday without one of us having to run home to Virginia first. And I can cook squash without a pouty face staring at me begging for some (he is weird). Cool.

Ciao for now,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mystery Food Week 16: Purple Hands edition

Oh okay, they aren't purple anymore. But they were decidedly still a tinge purply on Tuesday when I received this week's Mystery Food. I finally got around to making grape jelly from the 3 bunches of concord grapes received in recent CSA boxes. The process was fairly easy too. Try it out sometime!

Concord Grape Jelly

5 cups of grape juice
3 1/2 cups of sugar
1 box of powdered pectin

To make the grape juice, remove the grapes from the stems and wash them. Place the grapes in a pot and mash them up. Over medium-high heat, bring the grapes to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, smashing them every so often.

Line a sieve with cheesecloth and place it over a large pot. Pour the hot grape mash into the sieve and strain for several hours or overnight.

Once juice has collected, rinse the cheesecloth and run the juice through the sieve into a pot one more time to remove any sediment.

To make the jam, mix the package of pectin with 1/4 cup of the sugar and sprinkle it into the grape juice. Bring this mixture to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.

Once boiling, add the rest of the sugar and return to a rolling boil while mixing constantly. Let the jelly boil for 1 minute and then remove it from the heat.

Ladle into clean, warm jars and then secure the lids and rings. Process jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Share if you must. I made half of this recipe and it yielded three half-pint jars.

Onto this week's Mystery Food:

Zucchini, squash, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, beets, green beans, peppers, apples and Asian pears.

The apples have been hit or miss. Some are a little bit grainy, but they'll be good for fruit butter. I have a lot of apples and pears hanging around, so I will probably throw most of it into the crockpot this weekend with some spices and a little bit of juice. If you just let it cook on low all day, giving it a stir or a mash every few hours, it becomes a warm and tasty sauce. To reduce it for fruit butter, vent the crockpot lid with a chopstick or skewer.

As for the veggies, zucchini and tomato season is one of my favorite parts of the early fall. I love coming home and making a quick braised vegetable dish with chopped zucchini, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and then seasoning it with a little bit of cayenne pepper and saffron. It's a fast, easy dinner and you can add whatever protein you have hanging around to make it more substantial. Light fish, like tilapia or haddock is really pleasant, as is ground turkey or bison.

I hope everyone's fall has gotten off to a great start. It has been absolutely lovely in DC this past week.

Ciao for now,

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mystery Food Weeks 14 and 15: Back to School edition

Another double-edition of Mystery Food today. This should tell you that my fall semester of graduate school is officially in full swing. Apart from working on my e-portfolio-thesis-magic, I'm taking a course in Medieval Manuscripts. I've always wanted to take a course on illuminated manuscripts, because pre-printing press books (and not simply their content) were intricate, one-of-a-kind works of art. Our class will focus mostly on Western Europe during the Medieval period, but one of our assignments is to create a wiki on scribes and writing in a different part of the world. Since everyone is required to post the assignments to our class discussion board, I'll hopefully get to learn about a lot of different places.

All work and no play would make me a very dull Neen though, so I'm really excited that football season starts today. New Orleans and Minnesota play at 8:30 tonight! This year, I am participating in two pick'em leagues and one fantasy football league. It's the first year in the seven (wow…) I've been playing that I'm only in one fantasy league. The final semester of graduate school has to get some priority. The pick'em leagues are different in that one uses the point spread and the other does not. I like the added challenge of the point spread, but I'm admittedly not very good at it.

My beloved Steelers are down a starting QB, but it's alright because my favorite player (and his million dollar hair) is back!

On to Mystery Food…

Week 14 brought a giant eggplant, tomato, sweet corn, concord grapes, beans, Asian pears, summer squash, apples, and peaches:

Week 15 continued to spoil me with zucchini, patty pan squash, sweet corn, concord grapes, beans, Asian pears, apples, peaches, small watermelon, and a tomato:

Oh, those beautiful flowers in the week 15 picture? No, they are not mystery food. I've been sick all week and Joe got them to cheer me up! He really is quite the catch. ;-)

Ciao for now,