Thursday, August 25, 2011

Must-make-more Red Pepper Ketchup

Last, but certainly not least in the recap of preservapalooza...Red Pepper Ketchup!

We started with some innocent tomatoes and red peppers. Then we boiled them and peeled their skin off and smashed them and charred them and ripped their insides out. It was a gory mess.

Then, they got added to all of this stuff, cooked for a bit and then pureed.

At this point they cooked and cooked until they turned into the most fabulous ketchup ever made. I don't think I will ever enjoy supermarket ketchup again after tasting this stuff. I must make more! If you would like to make some, you can find the recipe here or in the book Put 'em Up. I direct you to the recipe because it is not likely I will be sharing this stuff :)

And, so this ends the recap of last weekend's preserving madness. But, guess what?! I took tomorrow off from work and I'm going to be making a bunch more things this weekend! I told you I had a huge list and that thing isn't going to finish itself.

I am simultaneously ecstatic about all of these great ingredients and delicious recipes, while also looking forward to when I can just relax and knit and eat all of these goodies while it snows outside. I guess it is a good thing to live in a climate where the seasons regulate the crazy canning and preserving instincts with a blanket of snow.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From the Oven

To get this much put away in a weekend, you have to be creative about overlapping tasks. These tomatoes just required me to set the oven to low and leave them alone for about 11 hours. We slow roasted some tomatoes and froze them last year. They've been a delicious alternative to canning tomatoes and our freezer is due for a restock.

The same can be said for dried tomatoes. A batch of these went into the dehydrator to replenish our stash. The size of the dried pear and sun gold tomatoes is just perfect for adding on to a pizza or tossing into salads and pasta.

These next two don't exactly qualify as preserving, but they came out of my oven this weekend.

I've been making my own granola once or twice a month for the last handful of months. It is cheaper then buying it and there are endless combinations of fruits, grains, seeds, nuts, sweeteners, oils and spices to play with. Variation on this recipe have become a favorite. This batch included sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, golden raisins and dried cherries.

Speaking of cherries! I subbed in cherries on this Herbed Fruit Crostada recipe. Let me just say, almond frangipane smells so fabulous that I just wanted to crawl right into the food processor so I could bathe in it! This crostada recipe was how I happened upon Piece of Cake. I did a bit of researching after hearing the idea for the crostada with rosemary on The Splendid Table. I am so glad that I did because everything I have made off of that blog has been super delicious. I can vouch for the Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies with Candied Ginger and for the Ginger Beer Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting. And, now I can vouch for the crostada, too.

After making that mint syrup, I felt bad just tossing the sugar soaked mint leaves, so I did a little experiment. I baked them to dry them out and harden the sugar. When they felt right, I took them out and cooled them. I would describe these as candied mint leaves. My plan it to use them as a garnish on something minty. I also snacked on a few and can tell you they are just fine as is, if it comes down to that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

To Drink

I keep forgetting that I have an herb garden at my disposal this year and I should be thinking about how to preserve herbs, too! I plan to clean out my mint at the end of the season and dry it for tea. But, for now, I just harvested a bundle to make a batch of spearmint simple syrup.

It is seriously easy to make. Take 1 part water, 1 part sugar and bunch of cleaned mint and put it together in a saucepan. Gently boil it for a bit. Then, take it off of the heat and let it sit until it is cooled and as minty as you want it to be.

Strain it, label it, bottle it and store it in your fridge. I plan to use mine mixed with seltzer water and in mixed drinks. I'll definitely be using this the next time I have a mojito craving. I've already poured a bit over some cut up papaya and that was tasty, too!

Last year we made a lot of pickles. A LOT. So, this year I am looking for other things to make with cucumbers (hence the relish). I've been curious about agua fresca and figured cucumber was a good place to start. I busted out my jelly bag hanging thingie for the first time and put the pureed pulp in there to drip drip drip while I took Jack on a walk. Luckily, unlike with jelly, it is ok to squeeze the bag. The squeezing was necessary because the drip was a very slow drip.

After all of the water dripped out of the cucumber puree, I mixed in lime juice and sugar, to taste. You can stop there and drink it over ice or with a splash of seltzer.

Or, if you want to get really fancy, you can shake it up with ice and vodka and have yourself a martini!

Monday, August 22, 2011

In Brine

This last weekend was a doozy! When making summer plans, I made an effort to leave some days open so I would have time to process some of summer's bounty. I am glad I did, because the list of things I want to make is a mile long!

I spent nearly all of Saturday and Sunday processing foods in a variety of ways and barely made a dent in my list. I'm going to break the recap down into a few posts so it is a little less all over the place. That is what is nice about a blog; I can give the illusion that my mad weekend of preserving was organized, categorized and tidy.

First up: things that are pickled or pickle-like.

The inspiration for these pickled sun gold cherry tomatoes was two-fold. Kim brought some pickled tomatoes to the last food swap and shortly before that I had seen the idea on Food in Jars. I used the vinegar/sugar/salt/water ratio from the Food in Jars recipe and the rosemary and garlic flavor from Kim's tomatoes. I didn't bother peeling them and don't think they were any worse for the wear with the peels on. I poured the brine over the tomatoes and let them sit out at room temperature for a few hours before putting them in the fridge. These sun golds are a vibrant pop of summer in your mouth!

I've had these zucchini pickles on my radar for quite a while and finally got around to making them. Slicing the zucchini was super easy with our new mandolin. I like the orange and green combination and so far the pickles have stayed pretty crisp. The flavor hasn't become that deep yet, so I am hoping the zucchini will suck up some more flavor as they sit.

Last up on the brine bandwagon is relish! I followed the cucumber relish recipe from Canning for a New Generation. The food processor made easy work of the mincing after I handled the cleaning and chopping. (I washed so many dishes this weekend!)

The recipe was no frills. So, when I gave Paul a sample and his review was "tastes like relish", I wasn't too surprised.

I do think the lineup of relish was quite handsome, even if it wasn't super gourmet.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Open Arms - MPLS Swappers

After some recent press in Minnesota Monthly magazine, the already well attended swap just got even more popular. When tickets are released, you better grab them fast. I lucked out and tickets were released the night BEFORE I went out of town for the weekend. I nearly missed my chance as tickets were gone less than 24 hours after they were released!

I am really glad that I didn't miss this one as it was the first time it was held in a new location. Open Arms, a local non-profit organization with a building that is just about a year old, opened their space to us. And, what a great space it is! Not only that, but I have a feeling their mission hits home for a lot of us at the swap. Open Arms provides free meals to people who are living with life-threatening diseases such as AIDS, cancer, ALS and MS. Their meals are made by volunteers in their amazing kitchen with special attention to the specific nutritional needs of their clients. This organization recognizes how important good food is and is making efforts to increase the number of local and organic ingredients in their meals. They have even expanded their operation to include a farm site called Open Farms. What a phenomenal organization!

The new location is spacious, air conditioned, well lit and provided plenty of tables. I hope they let us stay!

So...on to a few pictures of the many, many wonderful swap items. I think we filled 5 long tables and 1 long countertop with all of the offerings!


Pickled Tomatoes

Lavender Infused Vodka

Bourbon Orange Coriander Barbeque Sauce

Garlic Dill Pickles (Jamie is swapping again! Yay!)

This time I brought preserved lemons, which are a favorite ingredient in my house right now. They add such a salty and tart kick to foods when chopped into tiny pieces. Since this post , we have continued to try them out in different dishes. They've been delicious with sauted veggies in omelets and burritos, grilled, chopped and served over a veggie brat and mixed into grain and green salads.

I also brought kefir cheese. I really need to write a post about kefir as it is ubiquitous in my cooking and baking lately. I'll get that posted soon.

And, since Paul was busy recovering from his birthday party, I brought his bread to swap. He baked chili cheddar cheese bread. It has spicy, cheesy swirls inside. Unfortunately for me, the recipe included rendered bacon fat, so I can't tell you if it tasted good or not. Other people seemed to like it.

My swapping strategy was different at this swap than at past swaps. I am amassing quite the collection of jams, so even though I am usually drawn to jams before all else, I purposely tried to ease off of those this time. Here are the delicious foods I brought home:
  • Grapefruit Cupcakes
  • Gingery Gingersnap Granola
  • Bulgar Wheat Patties
  • Eggplant Tomato Spread
  • White Bean Dip
  • Lemon Curd with Candied Ginger
  • Caramelized Red Onion Relish
  • Savory Mango Chutney
  • Plum Apple Preserves (I couldn't leave without at least one jar of jam!)
  • Rosemary Onion Roasted Garlic Tartlet
  • Fresh Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce
If you are interested in swapping, keep your eyes peeled for the next ticket release. You can find MPLS Swappers via the blog or facebook. Apparently they are also on that Twitter thing, but I have yet to go down that slippery slope.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Paul's Birthday in 3 Parts: Part 3

Last, but certainly not least, on the birthday celebration docket: Softball BBQ. For over 10 years, Paul and Mark have been co-hosting a day of softball followed by an evening BBQ and keg party in honor of their birthdays. They are each captain of their own ragtag softball team and usually pick team members gym class style. This year, to shake things up, teams were selected through a randomizing phone app. Hooray for technology being used to prevent hurt feelings, instead of causing them!

Save for a brief rain shower, we had a great day for playing ball at a local park. A second rain shower later in the afternoon provided a spectacular, full rainbow.

We had an assortment of spectators of all ages...

and breeds.
After the game, we headed back to our house for a evening of friends, food, fire and beer.

Paul explained the food options to everyone...

and a line promptly formed.

Some people get excited about meat! Nearly everything at the BBQ had bacon in it (corn salad with bacon, 7 layer salad with bacon, bacon wrapped appetizers, even the bread had rendered bacon fat in it!)

The entree was Smoked Chuck Roast on Chile Cheddar Bread. Paul followed the bread recipe from this site and made up his own smoked meat recipe.

Despite all of the meat, I did find some fruit and veggies to eat. My mom always taught me that you have to eat your dinner before you can have dessert and I wasn't going to miss dessert! Co-worker and friend Sarah brought a fruity dessert to share. She made a Tangy Lime and Mango Sauce with Triple Sec over Angel Food cake (recipe, Sarah?). I baked Guinness Gingerbread Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Frosting following this recipe. Yum! I ate some of each.

We finished off the night sitting around a backyard fire, hula hooping, drinking and making merry. If it wasn't so much work to host this party, we would do it more than once a year!

So, for one last time until next year, Happy Birthday Paul!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Paul's Birthday in 3 Parts: Part 2

Sometimes the second time is the charm. Paul's birthday weekend was supposed to include a canoe trip the day after his birthday. We woke up to severe storms that day, so we opted to reschedule to this past weekend.

We were glad we waited because it turned out to be an ideal day to paddle down the Mississippi River. The start of the day was overcast and mild, turning sunny and warm by the end of our 8 mile trip. We arranged our trip through Clear Waters Outfitting Company. They were super easy to work with and have a great package for an easy day trip. They provided the canoe, paddles, jackets and shuttle. We just had to show up with our picnic and sunscreen and get in the boat.

For some of the trip we paddled, but for a lot of it we just let the river take us along. We had great conversations, listened to the frogs croak, spotted an occasional fish jumping out of the water and had a few close encounters with a bunch of Canadian geese. We later learned that this part of the Mississippi is too shallow for jet skiers and speed boaters. It was a super quiet and peaceful stretch of water. We could even hear cows mooing in a nearby pasture!

I was wearing a shirt. I swear.

We had some dragonflies hanging out with us for a bit of the trip. They were really into perching on us and totally did not respect our personal space bubbles. They were even landing on our faces! Despite the lack of respect for our personal space, I was happy to have them along because anything that eats mosquitoes is a friend of mine.

We opted to hold out on our picnic until we found a good spot to stop, which we ended up finding on an island near the end of our route. According to our map the island has a name, but the only sign there said "toilet" to which someone had added "island". So, for us it will always be Toilet Island. The downside...the toilet was this:

Fortunately for me and my full bladder, I had brought a pack of tissues. I'd say this ranked just slightly above squatting.

Our picnic lunch featured some new recipes:
Lemon Dill Deviled Eggs (inspired by this recipe, modified to use kefir cheese*)
Cucumber Salad with Tarragon Cream (inspired by this recipe, modified to use kefir cheese and toasted sesame oil)
Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies with Candied Ginger (made following this recipe and not modified at all!)

And, to drink, Paul had some birthday beer. The day before the trip, we went to a new beer store where Paul was given free reign to choose the beer he wanted to drink while floating down the river. The very knowledgeable staff at The Four Firkins helped him choose this Halcyon wheat beer. It was spot on.

It was a lovely day on the calm waters of the mighty Mississippi.

Part 3 of Paul's birthday will be happening this weekend with the annual Softball BBQ.

*I plan to tell you more about this kefir cheese soon.
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