Category Archives: What’s in Season

Half Sour Pickles

We’ve got a bumper crop of cucumbers from the garden right now, and fermenting is an easy, quick way to preserve them.  I find that it’s less work than canning, and the crunch of a fermented cucumber is hard to beat.  I’ve been referring to The Art of Fermentation by the fermentation guru, Sandor Ellix Katz, for guidance.  He recommends a 3.5% salt brine to make a crunchy, short fermenting pickle, and I’ve used this brine with great results.

To ferment cucumbers, you’ll need some basic fermenting equipment: a one quart canning jar, a weight, a lid with a seal and an airlock.  For the salt, I’m using Himalayan salt that I purchased from Fermentools, but you can use any salt that you prefer to make the 3.5% brine.  The weights I’m using are from a four piece set called Pickle Pebbles.  We made lids for fermenting with a box of the Ball Wide-Mouth Plastic Storage caps.  Frank drilled a hole in the middle of each one and then placed a BPA-free food grade silicone grommet in each hole.  A reusable food grade silicone seal goes inside each cap and a plastic airlock goes on top.

To make pickles in a one quart jar, I used approximately one pound per jar.  You may need more or less than this depending on the size of the cucumbers.  I have found that the smaller cucumbers result in the tastiest, crunchiest pickles, so save the big cucumbers for another use. After cleaning the cucumbers in water, remove the blossom end and slice into spears or leave whole.

Make the brine by adding Himalayan salt to filtered water and stirring to dissolve (if you choose to use a different salt, use a ratio of 1 tablespoon of sea salt or pickling salt to two cups of water to make a 3.5% brine).  To help the cucumbers stay crunchy, Katz recommends adding “grape leaves, oak leaves, cherry leaves, or other tannin-rich plant materials”.  I’ve got a Champanel grapevine in my garden, so I’ve been using one grape leaf in each quart jar.  The leaf goes in the very bottom of the jar, and then you pack the cucumbers in the jar along with dillweed or dill seed, and garlic if you like.  I also sometimes add a dried chile or fresh pepper along with some black peppercorns or mustard seed.  Fit in as many cucumbers as you can, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace.

Place the weight in the jar, and pour the brine in until the cucumbers and the weight are fully submerged.  Place the seal in the lid, and then screw on the lid and add the airlock.  (The airlock should have water in it up to the top line).Ferment for about eight days in a 75 degree kitchen, taking care to keep them out of direct sunlight.  Fermentation could occur in a shorter or longer time period than eight days, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.  I would taste the cucumbers after a few days to get an idea of how far along they are.  There is really no right or wrong answer; they are ready when they taste good to you.  The jar on the left below is fully fermented while the two on the right are the ones prepared for this post.

After eight days, my pickles are ready.  Remove the weight and the airlock, put on a new lid and refrigerate.  These will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Half Sour Pickles
Author: 
Serves: 1 quart
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb pickling cucumbers, blossom ends trimmed
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 Tbsp plus 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • 1 dill head, washed or 1 tsp dill seed
  • 1 grape leaf, washed
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled (optional)
  • 1 dried chile or 1 fresh pepper (optional)
Instructions
  1. Add the salt to the water to make the brine.
  2. Place the grape leaf in the bottom of the jar.
  3. Add the dill head, or dill weed to the bottom of the jar.
  4. Add the pepper and garlic, if using.
  5. Pack the cucumbers into the canning jar, leaving ½ inch headspace.
  6. Add the weight. Pour the brine over the cucumbers until the cucumbers and the weight are covered.
  7. Place the seal in the lid, and screw the lid on the jar.
  8. Put water in the airlock, and attach the airlock to the lid.
  9. Ferment for about eight days, tasting along the way as needed.
  10. When the pickles taste ready to you, refrigerate.

Ranch Dressing

All of the broccoli, radishes, and cauliflower coming out of the garden this month inspired me to create a personal size veggie plate with ranch dressing.

First, put a cup of mayonnaise in a mixing bowl.  Add onion powder, celery leaves, marjoram, dill, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Parsley would be good, too.  Add some lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Stir in the buttermilk and mix well.  Add more buttermilk if needed to thin it to a pourable consistency. Store in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for about a week.

It works equally well as a dip for veggies or drizzled over garden fresh lettuce.


Ranch Dressing
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon dried cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried celery leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • ¼ teaspoon dried dill
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisk together.

 

 

Balsamic Vinaigrette

kitchen-counter-paperback-final-aug2012

Have you ever read Kathleen Flinn’s The Kitchen Counter Cooking School?  This book is a great resource for beginner or experienced cooks. Flinn brought together a group of people who were not confident in the kitchen and offered them classes on kitchen basics such as chopping, braising, taste testing, and saving money on groceries with the goal of teaching them how to choose and cook delicious, healthy food, and then documented the entire process in her book.

What I loved about this book was how Flinn makes the case for cooking at home.  She’s able to demonstrate that many dishes that people often prepare from a mix, box, or jar can easily be cooked at home if you buy the ingredients and cook from scratch.  As well, she talks about all the added ingredients in store bought foods, which caused me to really look at food labels.  Flinn points out that salad dressing often has many ingredients in it that you can’t pronounce or recognize, and there is usually added sugar.  This inspired me to stop buying salad dressing–I easily and quickly make it at home.

basket-of-lettuce salad

There’s lots of lettuce coming out of the garden now, so I’m sharing my balsamic vinaigrette recipe that was inspired by Flinn’s book.  It has raw garlic and oil in it, so it should be eaten within four days.  Once it is refrigerated, the oil often solidifies, so just take it out of the fridge ahead of time and then shake as needed to combine.

salad-on-plate

I like to use this vinaigrette on a salad made with mixed kinds of lettuce and topped with diced honey crisp apples, a little feta, kalamata olives, and chopped walnuts.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 cup
 
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried cayenne pepper (less can be used; season to your taste)
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice (or the juice from about a whole lemon)
  • ¾ cup olive oil
Instructions
  1. Pour the vinegar in a bowl with the garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne and whisk until salt dissolves.
  2. Stir in the lemon juice.
  3. Whisk in the oil by droplets, whisking constantly. (Or place all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake to combine.)
  4. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.

Dried Bay Leaf & Crushed Red Pepper

Bay leaves and red peppers are both plentiful in the garden now. A quick way to preserve both is to dry them using the dehydrator.

Wash the bay leaves and let them air dry on a towel. Place in a single layer in the food dehydrator and dry according to the manufacturer’s recommended time.  Mine took a couple of hours in my Sunbeam dehydrator.  Store in a glass jar and use within a year or place in the freezer to keep them fresh even longer.

washed-bay-leaf bay-leaf-in-dehydrator

Follow the same process to dry the peppers, but first, while wearing gloves, cut each in half and scrape out the seeds and veins.  I used cayenne and jalapeno peppers in this batch and they took about five hours to dry.  After they were dry, I crushed them using my Pampered Chef chopper and then stored in a glass jar with a shaker top.  I’ll be sprinkling this on pizza soon!

assorted-red-hot-peppers red-hot-peppers-in-dehydrator

East Texas Figs

Last weekend, my 88 year-old grandpa and I picked seven pounds of figs from the tree in their backyard in East Texas.  I decided to turn this beautiful fruit into jam and chutney.

079 washed figs    101 sliced figs for chutney

I used 3 pounds of figs to make the Chunky Fig Jam recipe on pages 44-45 from the Food in Jars cookbook.  First,combine the sliced figs and sugar in a pot and bring it to a simmer.  After about 20 minutes, the figs will be broken down and the liquid will look syrupy.

089 figs cooked down

Then add the liquid pectin and the lemon juice and boil for 5 more minutes before filling the jars and processing in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

For the chutney, I used 2.5 pounds of figs to make Nigel Slater’s Dark and Sticky Fig Chutney from The Kitchn website. I didn’t warm the sugar first as the recipe suggests and I recommend crushing the coriander seeds before adding. First, coarsely chop the figs and place in a stainless steel saucepan. Add both of the vinegars, onions, raisins, salt, allspice, cracked peppercorns, and cracked coriander seeds, then bring to a boil. Simmer for thirty minutes until the onions and fruit are soft.  Stir in the sugar. Bring slowly to a boil, then turn the heat down so that the chutney bubbles gently. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes, with the occasional stir to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the mixture is thick and jam-like. The recipe didn’t have canning instructions, so I followed the National Center for Home Food Preservation guidelines for processing other kinds of chutney and left 1/2 inch headspace and processed in a water bath canner for 15 minutes.  The recipe yields about 3.5 pints of chutney.

103 figs onion chutney 105 cooked fig chutney

Both recipes turned out beautifully and it will be a pleasure to have these preserved figs on hand during the coming year.

094 fig jam 108 fig chutney

Homemade Pickles

Making homemade pickles is an easy way to use a lot of cucumbers at one time.  I usually plant the cucumber variety called Homemade Pickles, which grow to be about five to six inches long.  Word of warning…they will get much bigger if you keep overlooking them when picking the garden as I sometimes do!  If they are bigger than about six inches, I just eat those raw rather than pickling as it seems the larger they get, the greater chance of a mushy pickle. And, don’t forget to remove the blossom end of the cucumber. It has an enzyme that will cause the pickles to be soft.

My go to recipe is Classic Dill Pickles from the book Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan.  I like this recipe because it has a short processing time and consistently results in a crisp, crunchy pickle.

cucumbers pickle making supplies

I usually cut about four pounds of cucumbers into spears and double the pickling liquid called for in the book’s recipe to ensure that I have enough.  This quantity will end up making about eight pints of pickles, rather than the four pints yielded in the book’s recipe.  Food in Jar’s website has the recipe written to yield 8 pints, so refer to that recipe version if you want to make 8 pints, or cut the recipe in half to make only 4.  When I have whole dried chiles, I put one in each jar instead of using red pepper flakes.  If you prefer the pickles to not be spicy, it is fine to skip using the peppers. Happy pickling!

pack pickles in jar dill pickles

 

Tomato Soup

Tomatoes are abundant now, and making tomato soup is a great way to use a lot of them at one time.  My recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup from the cookbook Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

tomato soup ingredients

First, roughly chop about four pounds of tomatoes and dice the onions and carrots.

diced tomato diced onion carrot

Heat the olive oil, and sauté  the onions and carrots until tender.  Add the garlic.

sauteed carrots onions

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, chicken broth, salt and pepper.

cooked tomatoes

After the soup has cooked for about 40 minutes, add the cream and then process the soup through a food mill.  I have the OXO Good Grips food mill, and it is a very functional tool to use when it comes to processing tomatoes to remove the skins and seeds.

food mill food mill tomato soup

Discard the pulp and serve the soup with homemade croutons.

rosemary ciabatta croutons tomato soup is ready

Tomato Soup
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ cups diced onion
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 pounds tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 six ounce can tomato paste
  • ¼ cup chopped basil leaves
  • 4 cups of chicken broth or stock
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat.
  2. Add the onions and carrots and saute for about 10 minutes, until very tender.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, chicken stock, salt, and pepper and stir well.
  5. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are very tender.
  6. Add the cream to the soup and process it through a food mill into a bowl, discarding only the dry pulp that's left.
  7. Serve with homemade croutons.

Spinach Artichoke Dip

The last of the spinach has been picked and I’m sorry to see it go.  Spinach is something I don’t get tired of eating, especially when it’s turned into one of my favorite dips.fresh spinach

First, I assembled the ingredients to get started.ingredients spinach artichoke dip

I steamed a bag of washed spinach and then drained it.  Next, I diced the artichokes, chopped the spinach,  and then mixed it along with the other ingredients.  (If your container of artichokes is larger than 14 ounces, you need to use about 10 artichoke hearts). I put it all in an oven-safe dish.

combine spinach artichoke

Next, I topped it with grated parmigiano reggiano and baked it for about 30 minutes until the dip was bubbly and heated through. I think I topped it with about 1/2 cup of cheese, but you can use more or less to your taste.  Serve with tortilla chips and watch it disappear!

spinach artichoke dip oven ready

Spinach Artichoke Dip
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup cream cheese
  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • ⅓ cup light sour cream
  • 14 oz. can artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 4 cups spinach, cooked, drained and chopped (alternately, use a 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (use more or less to your liking)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • grated parmigiano reggiano, parmesan, or asiago (or use a blend of all three)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients together in an oven safe dish.
  3. Top with grated cheese to your liking.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the dip is heated through and bubbly.

 

Creamy Fennel Soup

celery fennel harvest march 2016One of my favorite cookbooks is John Besh’s My Family Table.  A particular recipe, Creamy Any Vegetable Soup, has become one I turn to regularly, mainly because it is easily adaptable to whatever veg is coming out of the garden.  We have quite a bit of celery and fennel that needs to be used, so in this version of the recipe, these vegetables are my inspiration.  I also like to make this soup using cauliflower substituted for the fennel.  In the book, Besh stresses that this recipe is a building block for any number of creamy soups, so feel free to substitute ingredients depending on what you have on hand.

First, I diced onion, celery and carrots and sautéed them until soft.onion celery carrot diced

Next, I sliced a couple of fennel bulbs and added these to the pot to sauté along with two cloves of minced garlic.

fennel added to saute

We also had the first harvest of new potatoes on hand, so I diced these and added them to the pot along with the chicken broth, salt and pepper. The recipe calls for one potato, but I use two or three depending on how thick I want the soup. Also, at this point, John Besh says to add the cream, but I wait until after I’ve finished simmering the soup to add it.

add potatoes to soup

After about 20 minutes, I stirred in the cream and removed the soup from heat.  With my immersion blender, I blended the soup into a chunky purée.

immersion blender in soup

Creamy Fennel Soup
Author: 
Serves: 8 servings
 
Adapted from John Besh, My Family Table, Creamy Any Vegetable Soup
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 or 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium new potatoes, unpeeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup cream
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, celery and carrots and sauté until almost softened.
  3. Add the fennel and sauté along with the other vegetables until softened.
  4. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more.
  5. Add the potatoes and chicken broth along with a teaspoon of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
  6. Bring to a boil, then reduce immediately to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.
  7. Stir in the cream and remove from heat.
  8. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup.