Updates

Well, a lot of stuff has happened since my last post, mainly me moving to Oregon.  It’s been a little over a month now, and I’m getting into the groove of my new life as a graduate student.  Better yet, I’m still canning.  I’ve been making quince jam and jelly like a madwoman and quickly ran out of jars, so I responded to a Craigslist ad and scored the following…all for $39.

11 Kerr pint jars
15 Ball pint jars
44 Ball quilted 12 oz jars
39 Ball quilted 8 oz jars
52 Ball plain 8 oz jars
43 Ball 8 oz jam pots
21 Ball 4 oz jars
…and 14 random half-pint jars

Madness, I tell you!

My mad haul and my new housemate, C.

My mad haul and my new housemate, C.

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Relish thine relish

After the marathon chutney session yesterday, my mother went to poke around in her garden. Unluckily for me, she found a cucumber vine that had been “hiding” and came back to the house with tons of huge, overgrown pickling cucumbers…and we already had a bowl full of big boys dying to be used. All the cucumbers were too large to be used in any pickle application and all had seeds too mature to be used for anything without de-seeding, but after that was done, I decided they were perfect test specimens for a relish.

Now, I can’t even remember the last time I ate relish, so declaring that I was going to make the stuff prompted a lot of questioning from the family. But I quickly found a recipe for dill relish, which I thought sounded decent (half of why I don’t eat relish is because I abhor sweet cucumber pickles), so I made some modifications and went for it.

Were I to try to make relish again, I would try to find a way to get a larger mince to the vegetables. I processed everything in a Kitchen Aid food processor, and it ground everything into something just larger than a purée. It tastes fine, but I think I would prefer a slightly ‘chunkier’ texture. All in all, though, I think this is a relish I would make again. At least this one was yummy on a hot dog!

Dill relish on a jumbo dog

Dill relish on a jumbo dog

Dill Relish

7 quarts cucumbers, ground
4 green bell peppers, ground
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 tsp turmeric
1 quart water
2 large onions, ground
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbs dill seed
1 Tbs dill weed
1 Tbs stone ground mustard
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 quart vinegar

Wash the cucumbers and remove the blossom and stem end. If the cucumbers are mature, remove the seeds and roughly chop the rest. Finely chop the cucumbers in a food processor until approximately 7 quarts are produced. Remove the seeds and membrane from 4 green bell peppers. Roughly chop the peppers and finely chop them in the food processor. Combine the peppers and cucumber and stir in the salt and water; let the mixture stand approximately 2 hours.

Drain the cucumber mixture thorougly. Rinse the pulp under cold water, then drain thoroughly again.

Peel and roughly chop the onions and chop them in the food processor until they are as fine as the cucumber mix.

Combine the onions with the drained cucumber in a 6-8 quart pot and add the remainder of the ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer 10-20 minutes.

Ladle the relish into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove the air bubbles and process the jars for 10 minutes in a water canner.

Makes approximately 10 half pints.

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Chutney, a tale in two parts

Unsurprisingly, I still had both rhubarb and blueberries left over from my jam session. I could have made more jam, but I’m still in the honeymoon stage of canning and want nothing more than LOTS of variety. I settled on chutney–something I wasn’t all that crazy about before–when I found a recipe for Blueberry Chutney in a Better Homes and Gardens canning cookbook. The internet was quick in turning up an ‘upscale’ version of rhubarb chutney, which I modified with more acid to make it a little more canning friendly.

Blueberry Chutney in the making--so pretty!

Blueberry Chutney in the making--so pretty!

Of course, the untested internet recipe turned out beautifully–rich and complex–whereas the popularly published one was problematic and monotone. Ol’ Better Homes had so much vinegar in it, it took two times longer than the 20 minutes called for in the recipe to reduce–at a full boil! I ended up slightly burning it toward the end, but decided that it was still pretty darn tasty, so I canned the batch anyway. Unfortunately, I think the blueberry chutney is still a pale shadow of what it could have been. Around the 20 minute mark, I tasted it and thought it was fantastic, but soupy. The onions were soft and the basil/blueberry combination was incredible. Unfortunately, all that got muddled nearly an hour later. This is a recipe that needs some tinkering.  Or I could try my hand at this one in the future.

But, for your enjoyment, here are the recipes:

Blueberry Chutney

Blueberry Chutney

Better Homes and Gardens Blueberry Chutney

2 tart cooking apples, cored and chopped
1 red onion, chopped
4 tsp snipped fresh basil leaves
2 cups white wine vinegar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
4 cups frozen unsweetened blueberries, thawed

In a 4-quart Dutch oven combine apples, onion, and basil. Add vinegar and brown sugar. Heat over low heat. Meanwhile, rinse blueberries, discarding any that are blemished; drain. Add the berries to the vinegar mixture in the Dutch oven. Heat the mixture to boiling, then reduce the heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes or until the desired consistency is reached.

Ladle the hot mixture into hot, sterilized half-pint canning jars leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe the rims and adjust the two part lids. Process the filled jars in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the canner and cool on racks or on a wooden cutting board.

Makes 6 half pints.

Rhubarb Chutney

Rhubarb Chutney

Rhubarb Chutney

1 pound rhubarb stalks, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices (approx. 4 cups)
1 medium onion, finely chopped (approx. 1 cup)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup pitted dates, chopped fine
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tsp coarse grain mustard
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup white vinegar

Cook the rhubarb, onion, and sugar in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved into the juices released by the rhubarb and onion. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is tender and begins to break down, about 15-20 minutes.

Add the remainder of the ingredients and return the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chutney has thickened, 15-20 minutes.

Ladle the hot mixture into hot, sterilized half-pint canning jars leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe the rims and adjust the two part lids. Process the filled jars in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the canner and cool on racks or on a wooden cutting board.

Makes 5 half pints.

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Post-pickle jam session

Oh Lordy. I got bit by the canning bug. I’m beginning to think that only a bout of botulism will dampen my ardor. Canning is downright fun and beyond gratifying. I can spend a whole day baking a cake (and breaking my foot, apparently), and the fruits of my labor will be gone in approximately 20 minutes. But if I spend that day canning, I can have said fruits at my disposal for a year or more. Nothing can beat that feeling of “I did this” when you see all those jars lined up.

Yup. I got bit by the bug and there’s no going back. A few days ago, I had to get another fix. I still haven’t secured a good basic canning book yet, so I returned to the internet and found a recipe for blueberry-rhubarb jam. Canning? Check. Foodie obtuseness? Check. Ingredients? Check. We are go for launch.

And by damn, I can jam! I think it may have turned out a little sweet for my tastes–indeed, I’m at a loss to really find that rhubarb–but it makes the blueberry shine like a fresh pie.

The best darn blueberry-rhubarb jam Ive ever made!

The best darn blueberry-rhubarb jam I've ever made!

Blueberry-Rhubarb Jam

3½ cups rhubarb, coarsely chopped
½ cup water
2¼ cups blueberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 57g box regular Certo powdered fruit pectin
5½ cups sugar

Place the rhubarb and water into a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan and bring them to a boil over high heat. Cover the pan and reduce the heat. Continue to simmer the rhubarb for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the blueberries, lemon juice, and pectin and mix well. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Return the mixture to a full boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.

Remove the jam from heat and immediately begin ladling it into hot, sterilized jars, leaving about 1/2-1/4 inch of head space. Seal immediately with two-piece lids according to the manufacturer’s instructions and process the jars in a water bath for five minutes.

Makes approximately 7 half-pint jars.

Recipe from Mrs. Karen’s Canning Recipes.

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Pain de courgette, var. 1

I am fully convinced that there are as many recipes for zucchini bread as there are cooks. Most usually call for two cups of zucchini per loaf of bread, but they range from 1 cup of flour to three, 1 cup of sugar to two and a half. Then there’s the question of oil, butter, or applesauce; one egg or two; a hundred spices or an over load of cinnamon. And should there be vanilla?

It’s ridiculous, is what it is. And there is no guarantee any of these will turn out. Zucchini is such a water-filled fruit, the bread might never bake. The texture of most recipes can only be described as sodden, and the taste is always off.

So it’s no real surprise that a ‘fool proof’ recipe for zucchini bread is worth it’s weight in gold. And in the food world, if you want fool proof, you turn to Chris Kimball and his incredible test kitchen. Luckily for me, his wonderful staff attacked zucchini bread in the August 2005 issue of Cook’s Country. Not surprisingly, it’s a winner. It utilizes butter instead of vegetable oil, keeps a level of tartness with yogurt, controls moisture by wringing out the zucchini and measuring it in pounds instead of cups, and keeps a light hand with spices. It delivers a wonderful, spongy product with a great clean taste. Over this zucchini season, it’s become THE standard recipe in my kitchen.

Zucchini bread, orange cream cheese, and blueberries

Zucchini bread, orange cream cheese, and blueberries

Cook’s Country Zucchini Bread

1 pound zucchini
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs
1 Tbs lemon juice
6 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled
(May also add 3/4 cup of raisins or diced dried apricots OR 1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds and 1/2 cup toasted and chopped pistachios)

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375ºF. Coat a 9×5 loaf pan with cooking or baking spray.

Slice the ends off of zucchini. Remove the seeds and shred the zucchini. Pile the shreds into the middle of a tea towel, then squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the zucchini.

In one large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice and salt. In a second large bowl, whisk together the sugar, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice, and butter. Gently fold the wet mixture, zucchini, and any add-ins into the flour mixture with a spatula until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan.

Bake until the loaf is a golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached (45-55 min). Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool for at least 1 hour. The bread can then be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days.

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Zucchini, zucchini everywhere!

Who knew that a vegetable I hate so much would be the first thing I’d address on this blog?

Yes, I hate zucchini–and summer squash for that matter. I find them both bland and boring, and it is a trial to try to eat them. Unfortunately for me, I got left all by myself on the biggest week for zucchini this year. In one short week, the two monsters my mother planted in the vegetable garden spawned 10 giants. Some were literally as long as my arm. We had enough rapidly spoiling zucchini to feed an army…and the only one around to appreciate it was little old me.

I tried to make a dent in the harvest, really I did. I made four loaves of zucchini bread–the only worthwhile use of the stuff in my opinion–but I only managed to eliminate two of the ten. Times were looking desperate. Staring at all the squash covering my kitchen table, I wished there was some way to preserve it all for the rest of my family.

And then it dawned on me: pickles. Of course, there wasn’t near enough fridge space to make refrigerator pickles, so I learned how to do some basic canning. And you know what? It’s easy. It takes longer than 30 minutes, yes…but it’s not exactly brain surgery. And what did I get for all my trouble? 12 pint jars of zucchini dill pickles and 7 jars of sweet spiced zucchini pickles. Gorgeous.

Zucchini bread, sweet pickles, dill pickles

Zucchini bread, sweet spiced zucchini pickles, zucchini dill pickles

Sweet Spiced Zucchini Pickles

4 cups zucchini, cut into 1″ cubes
2 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2-4 cinnamon sticks
20-40 whole cloves

Wash the zucchini. Cut the ends off and remove the seeds, then cut the zucchini into 1″ cubes. Soak the zucchini cubes in ice water for two to four hours.

About 45 minutes before ready to begin canning, set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. At the same time, begin to sterilize the jars by placing them into a cold oven, bringing the heat to 350ºF, and baking the jars for 30 minutes or longer. Place the jar lids and rings into a pot of water. Bring the water to a boil and boil the lids for no less than 10 minutes. Bring the vinegar, sugar, cinnamon sticks and cloves to a boil and continue boiling for approximately 10 minutes. Place the zucchini in the hot jars, ladle the hot brine over the zucchini, make sure that a cinnamon stick gets into every jar, and immediately put the lid on.

When enough jars are lidded to begin the seal bath, place them in the large pot of boiling water. When the water begins to reboil, start timing. Boil the jars for 5-10 minutes (depending on jar size or whichever set of guidelines you decide to listen to). Remove the jars and set aside to cool. The pickles will be good to eat after about 1 week.

Zucchini Dill Pickles

2 pounds zucchini, cut into spears
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt (or less…this can make notably salty pickles)
1 Tbs granulated sugar
1 Tbs mustard seed
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin (or more)
1 cup finely chopped dill leaves, large stems removed
(alternately, use 1/4 cup dill seed and much fewer leaves)

Wash the zucchini. Cut the ends off and remove the seeds, then cut the zucchini into spears. Soak the zucchini spears in ice water for two to four hours. Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, and mustard seed to a boil and continue boiling for approximately 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the dill seed/heads (if using), cover, and let it stand for about 2 hours

About 45 minutes before ready to begin canning, set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. At the same time, begin to sterilize the jars by placing them into a cold oven, bringing the heat to 350ºF, and baking the jars for 30 minutes or longer. Place the jar lids and rings into a pot of water. Bring the water to a boil and boil the lids for no less than 10 minutes. Bring the brine to a boil and stir in the garlic and dill leaves. Place the zucchini spears in the hot jars, ladle the hot brine over the zucchini, and immediately put the lid on.

When enough jars are lidded to begin the seal bath, place them in the large pot of boiling water. When the water begins to reboil, start timing. Boil the jars for 5-10 minutes (depending on jar size or whichever set of guidelines you decide to listen to). Remove the jars and set aside to cool. The pickles will be good to eat after about 1 week.

8/4/08 Update: I’ve had an opportunity to try both pickles and they are amazing. The Spiced Sweet have a taste and texture pretty similar to baked apples. My father’s pronounced them the single best reason for planting zucchini. The dill variety are pretty good too…but I inadvertently used new cilantro instead of dill (hey, the two look very similar at one stage of cilantro’s life!), so the taste isn’t quite what I’d expected. Either way, these two recipes are going in The Book.

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What’s all this about, then?

There are times in a person’s life when they cook something incredible. Something they’d never thought they’d do. Something so tasty it deserves being recorded.

That’s what this blog is for.

I like to cook. Not only do I find it fun, it is also necessary. And, hey…it’s a hobby that won’t fill my house with clutter. So bring on the culinary explorations!

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