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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 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 Week 7, Vacation, and the Fresh-Food-Panic

15 Jul

We’ve all been there.

A fridge full of beautiful, fresh food. And you’ve tried, (oh you’ve tried) to eat and use as much of it as possible. Alas, here it is the day before your vacation and well…there’s still food.

It makes me really sad to waste food. There are a lot of hungry people in the world and I am grateful to have a job that allows me to put healthy meals on the table. I became really interested in canning when I was still living in Boston. After a trip to pick apples at a farm not too far from the city, I realized rather sheepishly that in my excitement seeing all of the delicious varieties of apple trees, I’d bought far too many. Lots of people got spiced apple pie filling for Christmas that year, but nothing went to waste. I don’t even peel thin-skinned fruits like apples, tomatoes, or peaches.

In this instance, it was the drupe-fest that came last week, and in Mystery Box Week 7:

I got a lovely napa cabbage, yellow and white peaches, spring onions, purple frilly basil, summer squash, cucumbers and apricots.
Last week’s mystery box was also full of peaches, apricots and some red plums. Swimming in stone fruit, (I know, woe is me right?) I needed to take care of it all before leaving for a trip to Pittsburgh-yay!-to see my family and party with them.
In light of that, I thought I’d share some of my favorite last-minute techniques for preserving things when you just don’t have time to can.
Drupe Project 1: Fruit Sauce
Applesauce is awesome, but stone fruits make some excellent fruit sauce. My “drupe-sauce” was simply peaches, plums, and apricots cooked on the stove until nice and soft and then mashed up. If you like smoother sauces, go ahead and run it through a blender. Add a little bit of lemon juice so it doesn’t lose the pretty color. Stored in a well-sealed container, you can keep it for a good week or so.
Drupe Project 2: Fruit Leather
I have a dehydrator, but you can also do this in your oven on a parchment lined baking sheet. Set the oven to its lowest temperature–don’t worry if it doesn’t go as low as the dehydrator temperature I mention. Using a food dehydrator, about 135-140 degrees is fine. Blend pitted, diced fruit together with a tablespoon of honey (this keeps fruit leather pliable) and then spread the mixture out on a cookie sheet or dehydrator tray. It is ready to remove from the oven when it is dry all the way through and feels pliable, but not mushy. Store in a cool, dark place in a jar between slices of wax paper.
Drupe Project 3: Brown Sugar-Spiced Peaches
Another dehydrator/lowest-oven-setting project. Dice up some peaches, toss them with lemon juice to keep them from browning, and then toss with a tablespoon of brown sugar and a few shakes of cinnamon. Lay the fruit on a dehydrator tray or parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake until dry, but still pliable. A fantastic addition to cookies, muffins, or quick breads. You can also rehydrate them later for fruit compote.
This dehydration technique (minus the sugar/cinnamon/lemon juice) can be used with tomatoes and peppers as well. Great for making homemade cayenne powder. Mmm.

Drupe Project 4: Dreams of Future Baked Goods
Just freeze them! Pit and dice your fruit, lay them on a baking sheet and freeze. When the pieces have frozen, put them in a labeled/dated freezer bag and store in the freezer for…a long time. Doing this keeps the individual pieces of fruit from sticking together in a frozen lump. Oh, it’s the middle of the winter and you want peach crisp? No problem, just grab that bag out of the freezer and you get a little piece of summer back.

Mystery Food Week 3 and Doing the Can-Can

17 Jun

I took advantage of waking up incredibly early this past Saturday and decided to take a trip out to Bluemont, VA and visit Great Country Farms. That’s where I’ve purchased a CSA share from this year and their weekly newsletter noted that tart cherries were ripe for picking.

It took about an hour to drive to the farm from Arlington, but it was a peaceful, sunny morning and I spent the next hour or so in cherry trees looking for the chubbiest, dark red specimens. Well, 6lbs. of cherries later I finally decided that I had enough for jam and drying. The trees were so lovely and the landscape was incredibly serene. It was nice to be somewhere so quiet.

Sunday morning I at last christened the new canning rig…Now this is canning Tim Taylor/Jeremy Clarkson (“POWERRRRRRRR!”) style:

I whipped up a batch of fabulous tart cherry jam. No-sugar-added jam is actually quite easy to make. The canning process adds a few extra steps at the end, but the actual method for jam-making is very straightforward.

 I used 3lbs. of cherries, 1 1/4 cup of white grape juice, one box of no-sugar/low-sugar pectin, and a 1/2 tsp. of citric acid to preserve the vibrant red color. To get started, pit the cherries and put them in a big pot on the stove over high heat. Smash them up with a potato masher, sprinkle in the citric acid (you can also use a squirt of fresh lemon juice) and let it come to a simmer. Whisk the grape juice and pectin together and then add them to the cherries. Let the mixture come to a full, rolling boil (one that does not stop when stirred) and cook for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and skim the foam off of the top of the jam. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then stir before ladling into jars. This short rest period followed by stirring keeps the fruit from floating to the top and separating from the juices. Even though it’s very liquid-y when hot, the jam will set as it cools down.

If you’re interested in canning this recipe for long-term storage or gift-giving you will also need a big pot of boiling water, 5 or 6 pint jars with flat lids and rings, and something to lift the jars in and out of the boiling water. Jar grabbers are available online for less than $10. If you have mason jars hanging around, the actual jars and rings are certainly reusable, but it is important to always use brand-new flat lids as the adhesive on them will only form a tight seal once.

Sterilize the jars and rings by washing them with hot soapy water or running them through a dishwasher with a heated dry cycle. While you prepare the jam, place the flat lids into a small pan of simmering water to warm up the adhesive. Gently ladle the hot jam into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace at the top. Wipe the edges of the jars with a damp towel, place on the flat lids, and then screw on the rings. Place the closed jars into the pot of boiling water, making sure that they are completely submerged, and boil for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the hot jars and place them somewhere to cool undisturbed. Over the next several hours, you might hear tiny popping noises–it’s a good thing. It means that the air-tight vacuum has formed and that the jar has properly sealed. After 24 hours, check all of the jars by pressing down on the flat lid gently. If it doesn’t pop back, the jar is safely sealed. Store the jars in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Homemade jam will start to lose its firm set after about 8 months, but is still safe to eat (albeit a bit runny) as long as the jar remains sealed.

Here’s the final product, from farm to table in one weekend:

Not a bad way to spend the weekend, I must say. And of course, a mere two days later it was time for more goodies:

That’s Mystery Food Week 3 and included in the basket this week were collard greens, red leaf lettuce, beets, broccoli (my personal favorite), and cilantro. Cilantro and I don’t get along so well, so that plant will probably be given to a good home. I’m sorry cilantro, it’s not you, it’s me.

I’m still thinking up creative ways to use everything, but those collards look destined for my favorite application—sautéed in a bit of bacon fat with a whole lot of garlic and white beans. Food just doesn’t get more comforting than that.  Have a great week all!

Ciao for now!
-Neen