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Sunday, June 27, 2010

My First Dill Pickles

What a great day! I finally got myself up early on a Sunday morning and made it to the big farmer's market under the freeway. I had to practice some self discipline as my fridge is stuffed and we've barely made a dent in the veg I received in my farm box this week. I scored cucumbers, dill, blueberries, apricots, onions and rhubarb. I was so excited to find some rhubarb. I thought I had missed the season already. So today I performed a double marriage in my kitchen - cucumbers and dill, rhubarb and apricots. I think we'll all live happily ever after!
I got this dill pickle recipe from Sharon Howard, who shared it on She has a 5-star average with 249 reviews. This is rock-star for allrecipes. I always have to add my own twist on things, but I owe my methodology to this generous lady. Her secret is to soak the cucumbers in ice water for at least two hours. She does so much that she sometimes uses her bath tub! I only bought 4 lbs. of cucumbers, so my small picnic cooler held everything just fine. I have read many pickle recipes and I've tried to use the best tips from several. One think that Ms. Howard didn't mention is that enzymes in the blossom end of the cucumber can cause it to soften over time. I used this knowledge and trimmed the ends of the cucumbers before soaking in ice water.

While the soaking commenced, I prepared the other ingredients. Ms. Howard's recipe is very simple and only calls for a few flavorings - garlic, dill and vinegar. I usually smash my garlic to pop them out of the peel, but wanted nice looking garlic clove halves in my jars. I found that cutting the cloves down the middle, length-wise, made it easy to peel the skin right off.

Ms. Howard calls for dill flower heads. Apparently it is too early for them right now, and the coolness of this season may delay them even more. I was really excited to meet some ladies from the UC Master Preserver program at the farmer's market. What a resource! They advised my that it is also early for pickling cucumbers and that they are pricey right now. I have some learning to do before I can follow the seasons so precisely. I decided to go for it. I did not purchase the very straight, picture perfect cucumbers for $2.60 per lb., but found some funky little cukes for $1.50 per lb. They are cute cukes to me! Because I couldn't find dill flower heads, I decided to add some dill seed along with the dill weed. I also added 4 black pepper corns to each jar, and some red pepper flakes to a couple. These are my twists on this recipe. If I ever get any peppers from my garden, I may add some of them in the future.

Here are the jars, all ready for the brine. The cucumbers were hard as a rock when I pulled them from the ice water. I have high hopes this will translate into extra crispness later. I won't be able to report on the outcome for a few weeks. I've got to let these babies soak up all that flavor.
Dill Pickles
4 lbs. small pickling cucumbers
2 cups white distilled vinegar
6 cups water
1/3 cup salt
1 bunch of fresh dill weed
8 garlic cloves
black pepper corns
red pepper flakes (optional)
Wash and trim the ends off of the cucumbers. Submerge them in ice water for at least 2 hours, but no more than 8 hours. Meanwhile, prepare 8 wide mouth pint jars, lids and the water bath.
Combine the vinegar, water and salt and bring to boil. Keep hot. Place two garlic clove halves into each jar along with the pepper corns and 1/4 tsp. dill weed. If a spicy pickle is desired, add 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes. Stuff the jars with pickles and a few sprigs of dill weed. Pack tightly as the pickles will shrink during the water bath. Pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers, wipe rims and close the lids. Place in boiling water bath and process for 15 minutes. Allow to cure for two weeks before eating. Keep in refrigerator after opening. Store sealed jars in a cool dry place.
Makes 8 pint jars.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cabbage Supper with Cream Cheese Mashers

Let me just say that this is one of those dishes that makes me feel like I'm some sort of genius. It's fairly traditional, so it's not that I'm inventive. It just tastes so darn good. The first time I made this was during the winter when cabbage was a regular arrival in my farm box. This dish is particularly good with Napa Cabbage. My coworker and I raced to one of the downtown farmers markets last Tuesday on our lunch hour. I picked up lots of yummy fruit, small red potatoes and this lovely cabbage. As soon as I saw that big leafy cabbage, I knew its destiny!
Alas, there weren't any leeks at the farmers market, and I really like leeks for this dish, so I got these at the supermarket. This picture shows the part of the leek to use. Compost or make broth out of the hard green parts. Split and slice the tender parts 1/4 inch thick, then place them in a colander to wash out any grit or sand that may hide in between the leaves.

I used two gala apples. We've been getting very good organic gala apples from our family-owned neighborhood grocery store.

Here's the star of the show! I used 3/4 of this cabbage for the recipe. This came out to about 8 cups sliced. I removed the dark green outer leaves and the hard core.
Here's our finished Saturday evening supper. Yum! The potatoes are made with small red potatoes and reduced fat cream cheese. The cream cheese works really well with the creaminess of the red potatoes, and it also adds a rich tang. There's quite a lot of butter in the cabbage, but the ham is very lean, so the butter is the only source of fat in the dish. Even with the cream cheese and butter, my dinner (as shown) came out to 478 calories.

Cream Cheese Mashers
(I'm giving you this recipe first because the potatoes take much longer to cook than the cabbage, so you'll want to start them first.)
6 cups prepared small red potatoes (wash and cut into quarters)
1/2 cup reduced fat cream cheese
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup non-fat milk
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Simmer potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain well and mash with the cream cheese, butter, milk, 1 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm while you finish the cabbage.

Makes 6 cups
187 calories per serving

Cabbage Supper
3 medium leeks, equivalent to 2 cups when cleaned and sliced
2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 oz. of lean ham, cubed
8 cups sliced cabbage
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
In a large sauce pan or dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat and add the leeks, apples and ham and allow them all to cook down a bit while you slice the cabbage. Add the cabbage, salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar. Allow it all to cook down over medium heat until the cabbage in tender - about 10 minutes.

Serves 4
291 calories per serving

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mulberries and Peaches

It's been a while since I've had a big canning day and lots of fruit is coming in. Today I made mulberry jam for the first time. Then I followed that up with peach jam and peach conserve. The mulberries came from a tree in Dwayne's folk's yard. I just never thought about using them before, but they are really good!

I wish I had gotten some pictures of us trying to pick these. They could also be named "stainberries." Some fruit is so abundant, I wonder, why do I never see this in the store? With mulberries, I think we don't see them used commercially because they are so delicate. The ripe berries are very soft and fall easily from the tree. In fact, when we were picking, our shoes were so wet with purple juice from fallen fruit that the ladder rungs got slippery. It seemed that for each one we picked, another two fell off of the disturbed branch. We finally go the idea to hold a sheet under each branch while Bill gave it a shake. Much more efficient, but we sure did stain the sheet and our shirts where we got bombed. Each berry has a small stem. Because I planned to seed the pulp, I didn't bother to remove the stems.
I used the recipe from the low-sugar Sure Jell package. I simmered the berries and mashed them with a potato masher, then ran them through this food mill. The berries are very sweet and not very acidic, so I added 2 tbsp. lemon juice. Acidity is important for the safety of the product and also helps with the jelling process. The recipe didn't call for lemon, but I just kept adding it teaspoon by teaspoon until it tasted like the same tartness as blackberries.
Here's my jam-day lunch: omelet with chard, shallots and Parmesan and brand new mulberry jam. Yum!
Some of the seeds came through the food mill because they are so small. They are not hard like blackberry seeds, but are hollow and crunchy more like fig seeds. I'm glad some made it through. I also think these have quite a lot of natural pectin because it thickened and mounded up very quickly. I'm still waiting for the peach jam to thicken up and it may take a few days.

Here are the lovely peaches I bought at Blue Goose Produce in Loomis. I got a good deal - $1.00 per lb. I have found that a lot of growers will give you a deal if you buy 10-20 lbs. I made one batch of regular peach jam with the low-sugar Sure Jell. I didn't take many pictures of that because I wanted to share my experimental batch of peach conserve.

For both recipes, I started with dropping the peaches in boiling water for 1 minute, then placing them in ice water. This eases the removal of the skin. As I peeled the skins away, I put them in a strainer over a bowl so I could capture any juice that might come from the skin. A lot of the rosy color is in the skin, and as you can see above, I got some of that great color to add to the chopped peaches.

As each peach was peeled, I dropped it into a large bowl of acidulated water. I added about half a cup of bottled lemon juice to the water in this big bowl. This allowed me to take my time without the peaches turning brown.

Here is the bowl of peaches, apple and golden raisins waiting to get boiling.

This came out really yummy. I made up this recipe and I'm pleased with the result. I did learn a few things. One is that raisins sink. Most fruit floats, so if you walk away from the pot for a few minutes, it's not a problem as long as it doesn't boil over. Because the raisins sank, they got a little scorched before I realized I needed to keep stirring. It wasn't too bad, and a fished a few out. The result is that this mixture got a deep caramel like flavor that was further enhanced by the toasted almonds. It never got up to the 22o degrees that I expect for the jell to form. I'm getting a better eye for the correct consistency and pulled this off just in time. It's already thickening, so we'll see what happens as it cools over the next few days. I think this will be good on my morning toast or yogurt, but it is screaming to be baked in buttery pastry.

Mulberry Jam
about 8 cups of fresh mulberries
1 cup water
4 cups sugar
Lemon juice
1 package of Sure Jell for Less or No Sugar Recipes

Prepare lids, jars and boiling water bath.

Remove any twigs or leaves from the berries but don't worry about the small stems. Place the berries and water in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Crush lightly to separate juice and seeds. Pour berries into a food mill placed over a large measuring cup. Process to remove the stems and some of the seeds. 5 cups of pulp are needed.

Taste the pulp and add lemon juice until it is about the same tartness as blackberries. Mine took 2 tbsp.

Measure the sugar into a large bowl. Scoop 1/4 cup of sugar out into a smaller bowl and mix it with the pectin. Stir the pectin/sugar mixture into the fruit pulp. Place the fruit on the heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it has boiled, add the remaining sugar and return to a boil. Once it reaches a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, set the timer and boil for one minute. Remove from heat and skim any foam. Cool for a few minutes and stir so that any seeds that came through will be evenly distributed. Ladle into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space, and carefully wipe rims and rings. Top with lids and rings. When all jars are filled, place in the boiling water bath and boil gently for 10 minutes. Carefully remove and allow to cool. Check seals and remove rings and dry any remaining water from tops of jars and rings.

Peach Conserve
Conserves traditionally combine two or three fruits, dried fruits and nuts.

7 cups prepared peaches (peeled, seeded and finely chopped)
1 apple, peeled cored and finely chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
6 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups toasted sliced almonds

Prepare lids, jars and boiling water bath. Place a few saucers in the freezer.

Combine peaches, apple, lemon juice, raisins and sugar. Place on the heat and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring very frequently, until mixture reaches desired thickness or 220 degrees. (You may need to skim foam a few times during the cooking.) To test consistency, scoop out a teaspoonful onto frozen saucer and allow to cool a minute or two. If it wrinkles when pushed, or mounds up, it is thick enough. Stir in almonds and cook about a minute more. Ladle into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe rims and top with lids and rings. When all jars are ready, place into the boiling water bath and boil gently for 10 minutes. Carefully remove and allow to cool. Check seals and remove rings and dry any remaining water from tops of jars and rings.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Brown Rice Pudding

Hmmmm...What to do with left over rice? I know! Rice pudding! I grew up eating baked rice pudding, and have made baked rice pudding with brown rice and flavored with lemon zest and raisins, but I wanted something different. This recipe is adapted from one by Alton Brown. He called for whole milk,golden raisins and pistachios, but I didn't have any of these things, so I rolled with what I had. I think my version must be lower in calories because of the use of lower fat dairy and the absence of raisins, but it's still mighty tasty. It's flavored with ground cardamom and coconut milk. What you see pictured above is my breakfast this morning. I think any dessert that boasts whole grains, milk and fruit can qualify for breakfast. Those blueberries are from my organic farm box and they are super yummy!

Brown Rice Pudding
1 Cup cooked brown basmati rice
1 Cup non-fat milk
1/2 Cup half and half
3/4 Cup coconut milk
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
Pinch of salt
1/4 Cup toasted sliced almonds
Place the rice and milk in a large saute pan and bring to a bubbly simmer. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes to slightly thicken. Add the half and half, coconut milk, sugar, cardamom and salt and simmer, stirring constantly until mixture reaches desired thickness - about 10 minutes. Add almonds and remove from heat. Serve warm or cool with fruit and a few more almonds sprinkled on top.
Serves 4 as a dessert at 275 calories per serving
Serves 3 for breakfast at 368 calories per serving

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sweet and Sour Greens

I haven't posted here in a while because I've been busy managing my other blog, That's where I documented our cross country road trip on US 50 from Sacramento CA to Ocean City MD. I didn't cook on that trip, but I sure did eat. Be sure to check out day 7 and day 8, which we spent in Kansas City. There's also some interesting information about the Steam Ship Arabia, which sunk in 1856, fully loaded with 200 tons of goods heading up the Missouri River. Part of their cargo included bottled fruit and pickles, and also the latest in food preservation technology - ceramic jars with reusable metal lids. One of the main features of these is that you could stack them in your pantry, unlike the bottles, which looked a lot like wine bottles.

"We ate like we were in Kansas City!" I'm hoping this phrase will catch on because KC deserves it. Meanwhile, we each gained about 5 lbs. in 16 days, so we're getting back to our healthy ways. It rained several days while we were gone, and my garden went crazy. I had a giant bunch of chard to cook and decided to make it tonight. We had this along side smoked spare ribs from Roxie Deli up the street. They sure know what they're doing with a smoker.
Dwayne never really liked greens until I made this for him. He loves raisins, and this dish mitigates any bitterness the greens might have.
Sweet and Sour Greens
10 cups cleaned and roughly chopped greens (I like chard or beet greens)
2 medium shallots, chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup balsamic vinaigrette
Put the raisins in a small bowl and cover with the balsamic vinaigrette while you prep the veggies.
Once the greens and shallots are chopped, preheat a large sauce pan and add the raisin/balsamic mixture and the shallots. Allow to saute for a few minutes, then add the greens. Cover and saute for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Tougher greens may take the longer cooking time.)
Makes 4 servings as a side dish
150 calories per serving