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Mystery Food Week 17: Pickled edition

23 Sep
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

Ingredients:
-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

Method:
-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

Ingredients:
-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)

Method:
-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,
Neen

Mystery Food Week 16: Purple Hands edition

16 Sep

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

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

Method
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,
Neen

Mystery Food Weeks 14 and 15: Back to School edition

9 Sep
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,

Neen

Mystery Food “Lucky 13” edition and Funeral For a Friend

26 Aug

First thing’s first: This week’s mystery food had a lot of my favorites!

Concord grapes, green beans, sweet corn, a tomato, peaches, zucchini and summer squash. Included in the weekly farm newsletter was a recipe for grape juice, so I may check out the farmer’s market and buy more grapes. I’d really like to try making some grape jelly from fresh grape juice. My mom and I were discussing last night how grape jelly never really tastes like grapes…so I want to find out if it does if you make it from scratch.

Also exciting on the local food front is that I picked the first watermelon of the season from my garden! The other two probably have a few more weeks to go, but here’s the goodness:

What is the second half of this blog post title referring to? I’m really not so crass that I would use an Elton John reference to make light of the actual death of a living creature. Now that your blood pressure has returned to normal, read on…
The last time I spent any significant time clothes shopping was when I went searching for items to complete my Halloween costume last year. Shoe shopping? I am clueless. When I find something that I like…it gets worn/used until it dies.
Examples: My favorite pair of sandals are four years old. I bought them before I left for England. I’d had foot surgery and had to wear shoes good support. The brown Sketchers I found (on SALE) were pretty ideal. Only now are they starting to fray a little bit around the edges. The same goes for my work shoes. Before I moved to D.C., I found the perfect pair of black mary jane flats. Every once in awhile I go over the scuffed edges with some polish and they look new to me. I am clearly tempting fate as I can see where one of the straps is about to give out and one of the soles is nearly worn through. I do this with clothes too-one of my favorite t-shirts was bought on a whim at Pac-Sun while I was shopping with my cousin Emily on vacation…we were 13 at the time. The most bizarre thing there is that it fits me better today than it did 12 years ago.

But my Travelsmith bag, with an apt model name of “MetroSafe”…it’s perfection. Joe’s parents bought it for us before our trip to Amsterdam in March of 2006. It is the best bag in the world-don’t argue with me on this, you will not win. First of all, it’s black, so you never have to worry about it clashing with clothing if that sort of thing bothers you. The adjustable shoulder strap is lined with slash-proof cable and the front panel hides a bunch of zipper pockets (with tamper proof clips!) beneath water-repellent nylon. The bag itself is only 11 inches tall and 10 inches across, and yet somehow I can fit all of the following items inside: A journal, Kindle, MP3 player, wallet-purse-organizer-thing, Blackberry, keys, my eyeglass case, a travel-size umbrella and a spill-proof travel mug that encourages my sweet, sweet affair with coffee. Simply put: this bag is magic. Mary Poppins would be impressed. And unless I’m going somewhere special or getting dressed up, it is about the only bag I ever carry.

And oh, how I have abused it. On multiple occasions I’ve had to run it through the washer/dryer because I a.) accidentally left the open/close button pressed down on my coffee mug, causing coffee to slosh out, b.) crushed a small packet of jelly that I stashed in one of the pockets when I bought a bagel, or c.) had an ink pen explode inside of it. The clip for the strap also broke after I snagged it on the Metro for the umpteenth time, but was easily repaired with a new one from the fabric store. The bag has been dragged through the Netherlands, England, Boston, Pittsburgh, DC and a hundred destinations in between. It has been thrown in the car, smashed in between luggage in the trunk, stuffed in an airplane overhead bin, and cramped into Metro trains sardine-packed full of tourists. It has donned buttons celebrating Steelers Super Bowl and Penguins Stanley Cup victories and stickers promoting political candidates and important causes. Yes, the Travelsmith bag is an item of beauty and awe.

Despite its incredible durability, the nearing end of its lifespan looms over me like a dark cloud. The cables in the strap have worn through the fabric lining and the jelly explosion seems to have caused irremovable stickiness on the inside of one of the pockets. Alas, it is probably time for retirement. It is time that I must allow my dear friend to go to bag-heaven. Goodnight, sweet prince.

Of course, I say this now, but it will be weeks before I actually acquire the necessary motivation to look for a new handbag.

Oh Travelsmith bag…I wish I knew how to quit you!
 

Ciao for now,
Neen

Mystery Food Week 12 and the County Fair

19 Aug

Remember how I mentioned being inundated with peaches last week? (I know, woe is me…) Here is one of the county fair entries that came out of the bounty. All-fruit peach preserves. Nothing but peaches, lemon juice, white grape juice, and some pectin. I love the color so much.

The other entry was a peach apple cider butter. It came out with just enough spice, and the hard cider I used added a tang on the finish. Yum. Right now they’re in the gym of the Thomas Jefferson Community Center waiting for the Arlington County Fair judges to taste them.

As I said to one of my colleagues, “I am fully prepared to be schooled by somebody’s grandma.” By the time I got to the gym yesterday, there were lines of jars filled with preserves, jellies, fruits, vegetables, and honey of every color in the rainbow. It was a pretty impressive display–I won’t lie, I felt a little bit intimidated. But hey, if you don’t try, you’ll never know if you can succeed. And so I left my jars among the others and tucked the claim checks away in my wallet. Regardless of what happens, I’m really proud of the food I made and hope that the tasters enjoy it.

There weren’t many people at the fair due to a gray, drizzly sky, but I wandered around for a little bit. The food stands alone showed what a diverse place Arlington is. How many county fairs do you know of that have pad thai and stir-fry next to the deep-fried oreos and funnel cake? I hope to go back during the weekend if we get some nice weather.

Not too much else is going on here at the moment. I have a short breather and then the fall semester starts up next week. Right now I’m just enjoying having some time to bake cookies and play with the goodies from Mystery Food Week 12:

I received summer squash, peppers, an apple, a tomato, sweet corn, peaches, a cucumber, green beans, and a dill plant. A fun variety this week. I might try to poach some of the peaches in wine…

As for my own garden, I discovered a hidden treasure. The massive amounts of leaves and vines on the watermelon plant were concealing a melon that was growing in the corner! It’s about the size of a medicine ball and I never even saw it under all of the foliage. What a delicious surprise. The peppers are also still coming in full force. I see pickling in my future…

Hope you are all enjoying the waning days of summer. Be blissful.

Ciao for now,
Neen

Mystery Food Weeks 10 and 11: Double Delicious edition

11 Aug

We had a bad storm in Arlington last week and this happened behind our house:

So I didn’t have Internet access from home until this morning. But I still had some wonderful things delivered to my doorstep by the folks from Great Country Farms. Here are week 10’s gifts:

Beans, corn, a melon, a tomato, onions, doughnut peaches and freestone peaches.

And week 11…

Eggplant, corn, peaches, nectarines, onions, tomatoes, and a potted nasturtium.

I’d love to stick around and chat, but in addition to all of that fresh goodness, Joe’s parents brought me peaches from the eastern shore. Time to make some jam (for possible county fair entries)!

Ciao for now,

Neen