A documentation of my preservation and preparation of local foods as I work through the seasons. This will serve as a reference tool for me in the future and as a sharing guide for family and friends...and anyone else interested. Hopefully, I can offer some useful methods, tips and recipes to share with everyone--be they novice or pro--and encourage them to join me in the exciting world of preserving and cooking with local foods.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Snatch up that Celery!

If you see celery at farmer's market, grab some bunches.  Farmer's market celery is less watery, has a much deeper celery flavor and is more crunchy than store bought.  Not many farmers carry it though; and when they do, it goes fast!

I buy at least 3-4 bunches and freeze it for the winter.  It's simple to freeze--just wash, chop and package.
Many recipes call for chopped celery. 
Have yours ready to go all winter long!

To wash it, I cut it first; put it in the sink or a bowl of water and swish it around for a while.  Drain and rinse well.  Then pat out the excess moisture between towels or in a salad spinner.
To chop it, I first cut off the fat core end, then pull off the leaves with their skinny stems.  Set the leaves/stems aside.  Then chop as for a recipe.
I package it in 1/2 and 1-cup amounts in sandwich or snack bags; then put all the smaller bags in a gallon ziploc bag and label. 

For the stems, I first package a couple of good fistfuls of leaves in a freezer ziploc to be used for making chicken/beef/pork broth or soups.  4-5 leaves gives plenty of flavor to a large pot of soup or broth. 
The rest of the leaves, I make celery broth as follows:  Put leaves in a pot, cover with 4-6" of water and then slowly simmer until the water is about half as much.  Strain out the leaves, cool the broth completely, then package as above in 1-cup packages.  Celery broth is awesome for cooking rice, lentils or couscous; for adding to soups or stews; or as a substitute for water in any recipe.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Homemade Fresh Mozarella--It's easier than you think!

Made Mozarella cheese yesterday.  I made both curds and some 2" cheese balls and put them in the fridge for snacking and sides.  For the cheese balls, 30-60 seconds in the microwave and they turn into warm, gooey mozarella.  It tastes as mouthwatering as it sounds!  This morning we had warmed mozarella with toasted herb bread to scoop it up and berries on the side.  Breakfast was good! 
Fresh curds disappear fast at our house!
We must have mice ;-)

Here's the recipe.  This recipe makes approx. one pound of cheese.  It only takes about 30 min. and is surprisingly easy.
Check at your grocery store for ingredients.  I do know the Rochester Good Food Store carries the rennet and citric acid.  Otherwise, you can order online at www.cheesemaking.com.

Note:  For those of you without a microwave, read the variations at the very bottom of this post (after whey).  Otherwise follow the steps as posted.

1 gallon whole milk (do not use "ultra" homogenized, milk)
1/4 tsp. liquid rennet diluted in 1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated water
 (use bottled or distilled water--or let a cup of tap water sit out 24 hours)
1/2 TBlsp. (1-1/2 tsp.) citric acid dissolved in 1/2 cup cool water
  (or 6 Tablespoons lemon juice)
canning salt (or cheese salt if you can find it)
1.  Add the citric acid/water solution to the milk while stirring
2.  Put milk in pot over med heat, warm milk to 90 degrees.  (A clip-on thermometer works best.  I use my candy thermometer with a few extra scratches made to go below the lowest marking of 100 degrees.  Check first to see that your thermometer goes low enough.)
3.  Remove from heat.  Slowly stir rennet into warm milk with up-and-down chopping motion.  Cover and let sit 5+ min.  Check to see if milk is separating into solid whitish curd and watery-like whey.  If not, let sit a few more minutes.
4.  With long, thin knife or metal spatula, cut the curd into 1" cubes.
5.  Put back on heat and warm to 105 degrees, stirring the curds gently.  Remove from heat and stir gently for a few more minutes.
6.  Use a slotted spoon to lift curds into 2 quart microwave-safe dish.  (Save the whey in the pot for other uses.  See 1/16/2012 post.) Gently press down the curds into the bottom of the dish and drain off any excess whey.  Do not cover the dish.
7.  Microwave on high for one minute.  Fold cheese over and over (like kneading bread) to distribute heat evenly.  Use either a spoon or wear heavy-duty rubber kitchen gloves to do this.  Drain off any excess whey.
8.  Microwave on high for 35 secs.  Repeat folding/draining process above.
9.  Microwave on high for 35 secs. and repeat folding/draining process.
10.  Add salt and knead as above to distribute.
11.  Knead a few minutes until smooth and elastic, like taffy.  If cheese breaks instead of stretching, it needs to be reheated (35 sec.)
12.  The cheese should look smooth and shiny.  Working quickly, do any of the following: roll into serving-size balls, cut into curds, roll in a log and cut into thin discs for crackers, flatten for pizza lids or quarter for cheese to grate later. 
13.  If you are not eating the cheese while it is warm, place the cut cheese in a bowl of ice water for 1/2 hr to bring down the inside temp rapidly.  This will produce a consistent, smooth texture throughout the cheese.
14.  May store, covered, in the fridge for up to one week, (but after tasting fresh Mozarella, it may not make it to the fridge at all!).

Herbs, pepper flakes or other can be added with the salt or added to individual servings when you are reheating them (30 sec - 1 min in micro)

Variations for making mozarella without a microwave:
Step 5.  Instead of heating the milk to 105 degrees, heat the milk to 110 degrees.
Steps 6-10.  Ignore these steps and do the following instead: (You'll need heavy rubber gloves.)
With a slotted spoon, remove the curds to a bowl and shape them into one or two balls. Heat the reserved whey to 175 degrees.  Add 1/4 cup canning salt to whey water.  Put the ball(s) into a ladle or strainer and dip into the hot whey for several seconds.  Take out and fold the cheese over and over (like kneading bread) to distribute heat evenly.  Do a couple of more times until the curd is smooth and pliable.
Continue on, starting with Step 11, as per post.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Class Announcement: Canning Tomatoes

For those of you interested in learning to can tomatoes, I will be teaching two classes at the Rochester Farmers Market this Sat, July 30; one at 9:00 AM and a repeat at 10:30.  They are each about an hour long and it is basically information and a walk-through of what's involved in canning tomatoes.  I won't actually be canning them--it's called a "mock thru"; but I have more detailed information in a handout.  Come on down!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Have your BLT and eat low-cal too!

Hubby and I love BLT's and anxiously await for sweet summer tomatoes so the feast can begin.  Admittedly, one double-decker BLT sandwich apiece for supper leaves us still wanting a bit more.  Our guilt over the calories and fat (in 4-6 slices of bacon, 3 pieces of toast and 3+ TB Mayo each) was killing us--in more ways than one!!  We finally found a solution to satisfy our BLT cravings while reducing the calories and fat:  Enter the BLT salad
(drum roll)
One-third the calories, yet we're stuffed after this salad!

The BLT Salad (one serving)
Start with a serving bowl half full of greens and layer in:
Lots of chopped tomatoes
2-3 strips of fried cut-up bacon (2 gives sufficient bacon flavor to the bowl)
A little of any other fresh veggies you enjoy in a salad.  (I like green pepper, hubby likes cucumber and we both like onion.)  Just be sure not to use too much of these other veggies or you will lose the BLT flavor.
1 bread-slice amount of croutons.  I toast bread 2 times on med. setting, then cube it up and let it sit to dry more.  No need for oil!  Also, I use my own Italian herb bread (recipe file) for added flavor.
Thinned-out Mayo-type dressing.  I take Miracle Whip (because it has more tang) and add some milk to thin it to salad dressing consistency; then splash a bit of balsamic vinegar to counter the milk.  You could use a creamy commercial salad dressing; i.e. Ranch, but the Mayo-type is more authentically BLT flavor. 
Bon appe'tit (with no guilt)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Roasted Summer Vegetables

A wonderful way to enjoy the many varieties of summer veggies and fresh herbs.  This can be served as a side dish, a main dish (over pasta, rice or couscous), or a salad (cooled and served on a bed of greens.  Leftovers can be put on pizza.
Here: summer squash, fennel, tomato, pepper, onion, oregano, thyme, dill

Roasted Summer Veggies
8-10 cups fresh vegetables cut into pieces for even cooking (i.e. thinly-slice potatoes, but cut summer squash in larger chunks)
These can include any or all of the following: summer squash, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, bell peppers, chili peppers (mild), carrots, eggplant, mushrooms, fennel
1/4-1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, thyme... --omit sage)
1-4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste (generally 1/2 tsp each)
1-2 TB olive oil (enough to lightly coat veggies)
For Zing:  add 2 TB balsamic vinegar and 1 TB dijon mustard and increase olive oil to 1/4 cup
No fresh herbs?  Use 3/4 cup Italian Dressing or Vinaigarette and omit garlic and oil
--Toss all together and spread on baking sheet in a thin layer.  Bake in preheated oven at 425 for 20 min.  Stir occasionally

The Green Drink

I once saw this "Green Drink" prepared at a healthy foods seminar and was sold on it's health-promoting properties.  I was also struck by how much I enjoyed the taste, considering all that went into it (spinach??).  I finally visited the shop in Lake City, Hopes Harvest Natural Organic Food Store, which specializes in the ingredients for this drink and purchased what we needed to make this at home.  Now, Dave and I regularly enjoy this drink for breakfast.

Here is what's in it:  (Recipe for two full glasses)
2 cups keifer - a cultured and microbial-rich food, a natural antibiotic
1 handful spinach leaves - antioxidant, clears arteries, prevents cataracts
2 bananas - lowers blood pressure, keeps cholesterol from clogging arteries
  (I use my dried bananas and sometimes toss in some dried strawberries)
4 quick squirts flax seed oil - richest-known source of omega-3 fatty acids
1 TB hemp protein powder - plant-based, contains all essential amino acids 
1/4 tsp spirolina powder - an algae, high in protein, carotenoids & minerals
Handful of ice cubes - to thin and chill drink
--Put all in blender on liquify until thoroughly blended and ice crushed

Thursday, July 21, 2011

All kinds of Beets!

If you haven't tried golden or white beets before, you're missing the best of the beet family.  I was never overly fond of beets until I tried the golden and white varieties.  The golden are sweeter than the reds and the white are sweeter than the golden variety.  The white's are like candy! 
For cooking: Cut the tops down to 2", boil or steam them until tender (easily pierced with a fork)--20-40 min.  Rinse under cold water until cool enough to handle.  Slip the skins off and slice.  Reheat again if necessary with a pat of butter, S&P to taste and whoo-boy.... 
This is one veggie I like to pressure can as they don't get too soft or mushy.

As for the red beets, I save those for pickling and making a family-favorite dish--pickled beet, pea and onion salad.  I use the following pickled beet recipe as the one in the canning books add in spices which doesn't work for this recipe.  This one has the right mix of vinegar/water/sugar too.
Pickled Beets
To prepare the beets:  Wash beets and cut the tops down to 2".  Put in pot of water to cover and boil until tender (easily pierced with a fork)--20-40 min. Rinse under cold water until cool enough to handle.  Slip skins off and dice into  1/4"-1/2" squares (in between is perfect) or 1/4"-1/2" square julienne strips.  I use the french-fry cutter on my mandolin (food slicer).  Makes quick work!
Prepare the pickling liquid: 
For 3 pounds of beets-
2 cups vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
--Boil vinegar, water and sugar over med-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
Assembly:  Ladle beets into hot jars to within generous 1/2" of top.  Add pickling liquid to within 1/2".  Remove air bubbles by slipping table knife around inside edges of jar.  Add more liquid if necessary.  Place lids and screw bands on and place in canner of hot water with enough water to cover 2".  Bring to boil and boil 30 min.  Remove from canner, cool and store.  Store for at least one month to be sure beets are pickled.
Note to myself:  I used 18 med-size beets and needed 6 cups vinegar, 3 cups water, 3 cups sugar and got 7 pints of pickled beets--perfect!

Pickled Beet, Pea and Onion Salad
1 quart jar pickled beets
1 TB sugar (if using store-bought beets--other than as canned above)
1 cup frozen peas (do not thaw)
3-4 TB diced onion
1 tsp. dill weed
1/2 cup prepared salad dressing (I like Miracle Whip)
Mix all together and chill until peas are thawed.  Chilling improves flavor.
Grandma's Beet Salad recipe was a must at all family get-togethers.
Many who claim they don't like beets have enjoyed this pretty salad. 

My favorite way to use collard greens--delicious Dolmades!

Dolmades with Yogurt Sauce
A version of the traditional Greek appetiser, dolmades (dohl-MAH-dehs), this is a large leaf stuffed with a well-seasoned filling of rice, veggies and meat.  I use collard greens because the stalks are more pliable; but chard, kale or any large, leafy green works.  These can be served as an appetiser, or serve several on a plate for supper.  It's an excellent way to stretch food dollars and/or use up leftover meats.

Prepare and blanch collard leaves
Wash collards and cut off stalks past the thickest part of the rib, after where the leaf starts.  Save the stalks. Blanch the leaves by immersing them in a large, shallow pan of boiling, salted water for just a few seconds.  Lay them aside to cool on a cookie sheet or cutting board.

For the filling:
Fully cook 3-4 cups rice, any kind or combo.  I like either brown rice or a combination of Jasmin and Wild Rice.  Set aside to cool.
For the next part, you should have a total of 2-3 cups diced veggies and meat before cooking. 
Dice up the saved collard stalks, a small onion, a few cloves of garlic and any other raw veggies you have on hand or would like to include.  You can also include mushrooms.  Saute diced veggies in 1-2 TB olive oil over med-high heat just until starting to soften.  Add very small amount (2-4 TB) of liquid (water, broth or boullion); cover and let cook over low heat until soft--5-10 min. Drain off liquid and save.  Set mixture aside to cool. 
Dice up any raw or leftover meat you would like to use.  Smoked meats or sausage taste best.  If you are starting with raw meat, cook it first in a fry pan with 1-2 TB oil and set aside to cool.
Combine rice, cooked veggies and meat in large bowl.  Add the following spice mixture:  small pinch nutmeg, 1/2 tsp dill weed, 1 TB chopped fresh oregano and 1 TB chopped fresh rosemary (or instead of fresh oregano and rosemary, use 1 TB dry Italian herb seasoning).  Add 1-2 tsp balsamic (or other) vinegar.  Mix well.
This is my ready-to-go filling using smoked turkey. 
The smoked turkey gave the mix an awsome flavor!

To assemble the dolmades:
Place 1/4 cup of the filling onto the center of the blanched green.  Fold in ends and fold over sides like a small bundle and place with fold down on cookie sheet.  Just before serving, heat saved liquid in large, shallow pan.  Place bundles in single layer and cover to heat through.  Serve with yogurt sauce.

Yogurt sauce:
1 cup plain yogurt  (sour cream may be substituted or use half of each). 
Optional but good:  add 1 cucumber--peeled, seeded and fine-diced.
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4-1/2 tsp ground cayene (may substitute paprika if you don't like the heat)
1 TB cider vinegar (any kind can be substituted)
1 TB dill weed
1 TB chopped mint (optional)
S&P to taste.
Mix well and chill until ready to serve.  May thin with a little H&H or milk.

What's Poppin'--My favorite popcorn and popcorn ball recipe

Once I discovered that popcorn is actually good for you, it became my favorite snacking food.  Popcorn is a nutricious, whole grain; high in antioxidants, most notably, polyphenols – a group of natural plant chemicals that have a variety of health benefits.  As a whole grain, it is the source of most of the vitamins and minerals.  Three cups of popcorn equates to one serving of a whole grain food. Popcorn is also low in calories and a good source of fiber which is helpful for weight control.  (Admittedly, I add the butter.)

My favorite brand?  I regularly buy my popcorn from Fairview Farms (Mark & Laurie Timm & Family).  They have three varieties of all-natural popcorn.  The fresh and flavorful taste of their popcorn is the best I've had; yes, even better than Orville's (and every kernel pops too).  I buy all three varieties and mix them.
I'll also include my favorite recipe for popcorn balls.  These are by far the best-tasting popcorn balls I've tried.  I've tried many and none compare.  It's an old, cherished family recipe.
Popcorn Balls
1/2 cup butter
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup white sugar
--Cook on stove over med-high heat to soft-ball stage; or as follows in large casserole dish in microwave: med. setting for 5 min, stir; then on med-high for 2-1/2 min.
Popcorn:  Pop up 1 rounded cup of kernels
Assembly:  Pour sauce over popped corn and stir.  Working FAST, form balls wearing rubber gloves coated with butter.

All this talk of popcorn makes me hungry for my favorite snack.  Off to the kitchen for a bowl of hot, buttered popcorn--mmmmmmm!

Freeze it!

Freezing is the easiest of preservation processes and, unlike heat processing, keeps most of  the vegetable's vitamins, nutrients, etc. intact.   The process for freezing is as follows:  clean and trim vegetables, add to boiling water and bring water back to boil; boil food for suggested blanching time-- usually 2-5 minutes (guide to be found in any canning book); then immerse in freezing cold water for few minutes to stop cooking process; when cool enough to handle, drain,  pat dry and package in freezer bags or containers.

There's no reason for any garden produce to go to waste when freezing is so quick and easy.  Even one or two bags of frozen veggies is valuable when you need it for something you're cooking during the Winter and don't have to run out for it or substitute.  Berries, tomatoes, onions, celery and peppers need no processing.  Berrys and tomatoes can be frozen on cookie sheets, then put into bags.  Onions, peppers and celery can be cut to your liking; then packaged and put in the freezer.  These are all great for winter soups, stews, sauces and casseroles.

If you are using plastic bags instead of containers, I first package small portions (usually 1-2 cups) in inexpensive snack or sandwich bags; then put them in one large ziploc freezer bag.  This saves on the cost of freezer bags and eliminates wasted food when you only need a small portion.

If you are doing a lot of one veggie, save and freeze the blanching water.  If there are ends, leaves or stalks that you are not freezing (asparagus ends, broccoli stalks, corn cobs or celery leaves) add them in the blanching water and cook slowly for an hour or so to add extra flavor to your broth.  Package the broth in one cup portionsas above, but be sure it is totally cool first as it will otherwise leak in the small inexpensive bags.   I use this frozen broth for making rice, pasta, couscous, etc; or if a recipe calls for water, I use this instead.  It definately adds more flavor to your dish.
My niece, Sue Jones, and I froze Asparagus and Broth.
We'll enjoy soups this Winter--see recipe file for Asparagus Soups.

Mid-Summer Tablesetting

It's a hot and humid mid summer and I'm ready for a new look to the table--something fresh and crisp.  I found just what I was looking for--checked gingham cotton tablecloth/napkins with white dishes.

Against this deep-yellow tablecloth,  the colorful produce of
summer makes for bright and appealing meals.   

Using Cabbage to make Stuffed Wontons (with brown sauce)

Serving stuffed wontons offers a different and delicious supper.  It is a unique way to use cabbage and other summer produce, while stretching food dollars. 
This wonton recipe makes about 24 appetiser-size wontons.  The stuffing mixture makes enough for 2-3 wonton recipes.  The remaining stuffing mixture can be frozen for later use.  Or, add mushroom gravy for chow mein  or make into a casserole by adding cooked, sliced potatoes.

Note:  You may want to make the brown sauce ahead of time so it is ready and warm when the wontons are ready to serve. (recipe below)

Step 1:  Make wontons
Lightly beat 1 egg with 3/4 tsp salt and 1/3 cup water.  Put 2 cups of flour in bowl, make well in center and add egg mixture.  Stir together to form a dough, using more water as necessary so the dough is not too dry.  Gather the dough into a ball and knead 5 min.  Cover and let rest 30 min.  Turn the dough onto a floured surface and roll thin; then cut into 4" squares.  OR use your pasta-rolling machine for this part.  They do not need to be perfect squares, just at least 3.5 to 4 inches in diameter all around.  Store the squares in plastic bag in fridge or freezer until ready to stuff so they don't dry out.

Step 2:  Prepare meat for filling
Use any season or smoked meat: sausage, bacon, ham...  Cook fully and dice or crumble cooked meat.  I make my own sausage as follows:  Mix 1/2# ground beef with 1# ground pork (ground turkey or other may be substituted for same total amount, but use at least 1/2# ground pork).  Add following seasoning:  2 TB rubbed sage, 2 tsp Italian Herb mix, 1 tsp brown sugar, 1/4 tsp fennel seed, pinch of ground clove or allspice.

Step 3:  Prepare vegetable mixture
1 med.small head cabbage (sliced thin and diced)
3 med carrots thinly sliced and diced
1 med onion diced fine
1 med stalk celery diced fine
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder** (I make my own, recipe below)
1 cup beef broth (or chix broth if using poultry)
1/4 cup soy sauce
-Generously oil bottom of huge fry pan.  Mix all but broth and soy sauce and put mixture in pan.  Cook over med. high heat until veggies beginning to soften.  Mix broth and soy sauce together and add to pan.  Reduce heat to med and cover.  Cook until vegetables soften.  Drain, saving pan juice for making sauce.
**Chinese Five Spice Powder: mix 2 TB each of  ground cinnamon, ground allspice, ground fennel, ground star anise, ground Szechuan pepper flakes. (I use my coffee grinder for the star anise and pepper.)  Add 1 tsp grnd ginger.

Combine meat mixture with vegetable mixture and set aside to cool.  This can be refrigerated until ready to assemble wontons.

Step 4:  Assembly
(Note: If you are not making the wontons ahead of time, put salted water on to boil while you are assembling the wontons.)   
Place small amount of meat/veg mixture in center of wonton wrapper and fold up sides and pinch to make sealed bundle.  These may be stored in refrigerator under plastic wrap until just before cooking/serving.

Step 5: Cooking
Put pan of salted water on stove to boil.  Place wontons in boiling water and cook until they float to top (few minutes); or, if they are already floating when you put them in, cook for 2-3 minutes and turn them over to cook for 2-3 minutes more.  They should look like cooked pasta with the same consistency--el dente stage. Remove from pan with slotted spoon.  Serve immediately with ginger sauce.

Brown Sauce Recipe:
In sauce pan on stove--Use pan juices and add more beef broth to make 2 cups.  Add 2 TB soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar.  Bring to simmer.  Stir 3 TB cornstarch in 1/4 cup cold water until dissolved.  Slowly add to simmering sauce.  Cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes or until thickened.  More soy sauce may be added if needed for flavor.  This can be turned into a cream sauce by omitting one TB of the cornstarch and adding sour cream to thicken the cooked sauce.