Monday, August 23, 2010

Vacation Breakfast

I stayed at my parents' house this past week, and on Saturday my mom and I made a delicious breakfast of poached eggs over hash browns. My mom is a Master Poacher of Eggs, which is interesting, because she doesn't really cook much of anything else, and even some really talented home cooks avoid poaching eggs because it's supposedly so difficult. She's an egg savant.

Hash Browns

1 medium potato per person
1 medium white onion per 3-4 potatoes, diced
couple cloves of garlic
chili powder
maple syrup

Halve and par boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes. Run cold water over them to cool them off, then grate them.

Melt a generous amount of butter over medium heat in a pan. (Put a wide, shallow sauce pan of water on the stove to boil at this step). Add everything but maple syrup to the melted butter. Cook, tossing it every few minutes until the potatoes are sufficiently browned, then drizzle a little maple syrup over top and cook for an additional 5 minutes or so.

Just before the maple syrup step, when your water is boiling, begin poaching your eggs. Crack them directly into the water, VERY gently. I poach them for exactly as long as the toaster takes to make toast on medium, because that's what my mom does. Even when I'm not actually making toast, I use the toaster to time the eggs. Because I've never bothered to just time how long the toaster takes and remember it. It's probably about 4 minutes--so the yolks are still drippy, but the whites are cooked. I don't know, just use your toaster.

Put the hash browns on a plate, and when the eggs are done, gently scoop them out of the water with a slotted spoon and place them over top of the hash browns.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Canning Basics

If you read the title of this post and started to run away in fear, stop. Come back. Relax. Canning is not hard, not dangerous (if you follow the rules), and not complicated. We're talking about simple hot water bath canning today, and anyone can do it. You don't need special equipment that only the Super Secret Canning Society of Old Ladies gives out. You don't need a chemistry degree. You CAN do this!

So, why should you can? Um, like a million reasons. It allows you the opportunity to eat local fruits and vegetables throughout the year. It gives you something to do with the mountains of tomatoes/berries/apples/whatever that ripen at the same time. A basket of homemade jams makes a great Christmas gift. It's a great way to spend an afternoon with your best friend, Natalie. (If you don't have a best friend, Natalie, think about getting one; they're awesome). Also, you'll be ready in the event of a zombie apocalypse wherein all grocery stores are destroyed.

Convinced? Okay, let's start canning!

Step 1.
Gather the following equipment:

canning jars and lids - New jars come with lids. If you're reusing jars, you will need new lids.
large stock pot - large enough to submerge your jars
tongs - Canning tongs are nice, but regular kitchen tongs will work if you've got a steady hand.
clean dishtowels - a whole mess of 'em

The following are not totally necessary but are really nice.
canning funnel

wire rack for the bottom of the stock pot

Step 2.
Choose a tested canning recipe for hot water canning. This is not the time for making up recipes. You can only can very acidic foods without a pressure canner, so you need to follow the recipe precisely to ensure the right pH. I'll post some recipes here later this week, but the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is a great resource as well.

Step 3.
Fill your stock pot with water with a towel or wire rack at the bottom, and put it on the stove to boil. If you have a dishwasher, load the jars and rings in start it. Do NOT put the lids in. Begin preparing your canning recipe in a separate pot.

Step 4.
When the water in your stock pot is boiling, drop the lids in for 1 minute, then remove with tongs and place on a clean towel. If you don't have a dishwasher, submerge your jars in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then remove and place on a clean towel. You want to do
this (or remove jars from the dishwasher, if you're using one) immediately before the recipe is done. The idea is to fill hot jars with hot food.

Step 5.
Fill the jars with whatever you've made, leaving however much space the recipe calls for at the top. Slide a knife down the inside of the jars, to get rid of any air bubbles. Wipe the tops with a damp towel and put the lids and rings on.

Step 6
Submerge the jars in the boiling water in your stock pot, cover, and boil for the time indicated in the recipe (probably 10-15 minutes).

Step 7.
Remove the jars carefully with tongs, set on a clean towel, and leave undisturbed for 24 hours. You will hear some popping noises as they seal! Check the seals by pushing on the lids the next day. The center should not be popped up on any of them. If any jars failed to seal, you can stick them in the fridge and eat them within a few weeks. As for the rest, store in your pantry and enjoy for up to a year (as per USDA standards)!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Things You Should Never Buy: Microwave Popcorn

This post begins an ongoing series called "Things You Should Never Buy (Because They're So Damn Easy to Make)."

I stopped buying microwaveable popcorn long ago for a number of reasons. It makes nearly every food caution list because of the carcinogens in the packaging. The butter-like substance of unknown origin covering the kernels gives me pause. The price increase from bulk popping kernels to bagged popping corn is absurd. And the bagged popping corn creates unnecessary packaging waste that bulk kernels do not.

So I have been making popcorn with loose kernels on the stovetop. It's pretty easy, but I've thought here and there about getting an air popper. I haven't yet because I try to avoid single task kitchen tools (think: melon ballers, panini makers, egg poaching doodads). I'm so glad I didn't buy one, because my housemate tipped me off to an amazingly obvious concept I had never considered: Microwave Popcorn.

We put a handful of loose kernels in a brown paper bag, folded the top over a couple times, and laid it in the microwave. We cooked it on the "popcorn" setting--probably 4 minutes or so. That's all. Seriously. And it worked! I was ecstatic (I really like popcorn). It suddenly seemed so ingenious--microwave popcorn! Why hadn't I thought of this before?

I gleefully remarked, "I bet this is how the first Native Americans to make popcorn felt!"

My housemate looked sideways at me and replied, "I think you're a little overexcited."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Help! Green Tomatoes!

Okay friends, I got these green tomatoes in my CSA share last week.

While they look gorgeous sunning on my windowsill, I'm not sure what else to do with them. I have a recipe for the standard midsummer fried green tomatoes, but that's old news. And frankly, I hate breading things. Don't get me wrong, I love Things That Are Breaded, but I hate doing the actual breading.

What else can I do with them? Does anyone out there have any brilliant ideas? Please??

Refrigerator Pickles

Last night, during a bout of insomnia, I made a jar of Refrigerator Pickles out of two cucumbers we had kicking around. Now, if I were a pickler worth my salt (pickle joke), I would know to use only the freshest cucumbers to pickle with. By freshest, I mean picked a few hours ago. But honestly? These will still taste fine.

I'll share the recipe I used below, but let me preface it with an important warning. You can see that I guessed on some measurements and sort of threw things together in this recipe. If you are planning to seal your pickle jars and store them anywhere but a refrigerator, you may not do this. Hear me? Don't do it. Find a legitimate, tested canning recipe and do not deviate from it. Seriously.

Okay, on to pickle fun!

Step One

Bring 1 cup each of apple cider vinegar and water to boil in a small pan. (White vinegar would also be fine)

Step Two

While you're waiting for the liquid to boil, slice 2-3 cucumbers into whatever shape or size pleases you. Slice up a clove of garlic and some fresh dill too. Shove it all in a quart-sized jar. Really shove it in there.

Step Three

By now your liquid has probably boiled. Whisk in about a half cup of sugar, some pickling spices, mustard seeds, peppercorns, and a whole tablespoon of salt. Boil it all for ten minutes.

Step Four
Pour the liquid over the cucumbers in the jar. Put the lid on and stick it in your fridge for a week or two. Then, enjoy for about three months (if they last that long)!

Housemate Recipes

My lovely new housemate, who writes over at Using the Buffalo, made a delicious summer dinner last week and was kind enough to share her recipes! I went to the farmers market and brought home sweet corn, blueberries, cabbage, cucumbers, cilantro, and beets (among other things). This is what she made:

Braised Red Cabbage:
1/2 onion

1/2 head red cabbage

Good splashing of both red wine and balsamic vinegars. (She likes to use more red wine vinegar than balsamic because it tends to taste less sweet.)

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan for a minute or two then add chopped onion. when the onion starts to get a little translucent (about 4 minutes), add the red cabbage. Saute about five minutes on high, stirring often. Turn the heat to low, and add the vinegars. cover and let simmer for about half an hour or until the cabbage has the amount of crunch that you like. add salt and pepper to taste.

Corn & Blueberry Salad:
This recipe is good with leftover corn that you don't feel like reheating and gets even better if you let it sit overnight.

3-4 ears of sweet corn

1 cucumber

Some blueberries

1 jalapeno



Lime or lemon juice


Cut the corn off the ears into a bowl. Chop up the cucumber however you like, dump some blueberries in, chop up some cilantro, add chopped jalapeno, then sprinkle cumin over all of it - probably about a teaspoon. Add about two tbsp of lime juice and one tbsp of honey. Mix all together and let sit for a bit.

Beets with Yogurt and Mint:
2 cups plain yogurt

a bunch of mint

3-4 small or medium beets

3 cloves of garlic

Olive oil

Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Cook the beets however you like. I boiled them (cut off the stems leaving about 1/2 inch and throw into some water, bring to a boil, then turn it down a little and let cook for about an hour). When the beets are done, let cool or run under cold water for a few minutes. . Peel them then shred them into the yogurt. Chop the mint finely and fold in along with the spices. Heat some olive oil in a pan with three cloves of garlic--I chopped it up finely, but you can do big chunks. Keep the garlic in the oil until it turns brown, then fold it into the yogurt.