We’re sixteen days into our kitchen remodel, and that means that I’m not doing much cooking since our kitchen is not fully functional. However, breakfast is a must for me, so I used the toaster oven to whip up a breakfast casserole for the week. Breakfast casserole is a fast, easy dish that is easily adapted to whatever ingredients you have on hand (think fresh herbs, peppers, leftover roasted veggies). We still have lots of peppers coming out of the garden, so I added poblano pepper to this batch. I make this dish most Sundays to eat for breakfast during the work week.
First, you’ll need eight farm eggs. Use store-bought if you must, but you’re missing out!
Next, crack the eggs and whisk in the milk, sour cream, salt and pepper.
Stir in the diced peppers and Canadian bacon (or bacon, if you prefer). The measurement for the diced peppers and meat is a guideline; more peppers or meat can be used to your liking. This dish is a good way to use up bits of leftovers in the fridge, such as leftover salsa, or a slice or two of cooked bacon.
Next, pour into a baking dish and bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes until eggs are set but still moist. This reheats in the microwave beautifully!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Both recipes turned out beautifully and it will be a pleasure to have these preserved figs on hand during the coming year.
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.
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!
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.
First, roughly chop about four pounds of tomatoes and dice the onions and carrots.
Heat the olive oil, and sauté the onions and carrots until tender. Add the garlic.
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, chicken broth, salt and pepper.
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.
Discard the pulp and serve the soup with homemade croutons.
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.
First, I assembled the ingredients to get started.
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.
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!