Friday, June 29, 2012

BLT Salad and a Roasted Salsa Verde Reminder

I am sure I have said this before, but one thing I love about being out for summer (I teach) is that I actually have time during the day to make a decent lunch for myself and eat it at my own pace.  During the other ten months of the year, I eat at a table elevated on a stage above ten tables of students.  I monitor their behavior as well as the clock to make sure I scarf my food down in the allotted amount of time (which is usually 15-20 minutes by the time I get to sit down).  I'm not complaining.  Well, actually I am a little, but the summer is different.  I can eat when I want, where I want, and what I want.  I like to eat things that are fresh and easy to prepare, and more often than not, don't require a lot of heat in the kitchen.  My kitchen is sweltering enough some days due to the heat of the canner.  So, salad is a fabulous go-to lunch. 

Here is a fantastically delicious salad based on one seen in a recent Southern Living magazine. This BLT salad has all the components of the beloved sandwich minus the bread. The dressing is mayonaise based but is garlicky and tangy balancing the smoky bacon and sweet tomatoes.

It is also very tasty with leftover cornbread crumbled over the top.  A perfect summer salad for those hot canning days. 

And speaking of hot canning days, here is a reminder that Roasted Salsa Verde is a great way to use those tomatillos you find at the farmer's market this time of year.  I posted about it last year, and the recipe I use has not changed.   The salsa has an excellent smoky quality and can be eaten with chips or used in Chicken and Vegetable Tostadas or Chicken and Corn Enchiladas Verdes (both of which are delicious and can be found under the Cooking tab at the top of this page). 

Here are the tomatillos I found at the market this year.  Lori, one of the owner's of Rock Bottom Farm in Shelby, NC was so nice she added in all the extra ripe ones for free giving me enough to make a little extra salsa verde.

This is picture of a jar made last year.  Click on the link above for more salsa verde pictures and the recipe.

BLT Salad-  serves 4

6 thick-cut bacon slices
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1/2 cup mayonaise
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1-2 Tbsp water
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
5 oz arugula and spinach mix (or use arugula only)

In a skillet on medium heat, cook bacon slices until crisp.  Drain the slices on a towel lined plate.  Once cool enough to handle, break the slices into bits.

In a small bowl, combine the mayonaise, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  Add one to two tablespoons water until the dressing is thin enough to drizzle over the salad.  

Arrange the arugula mix on a platter.  Arrange the halved tomatoes on top.  Sprinkle the crumbled bacon over the salad.  Drizzle several tablespoons of the dressing over the salad and serve the extra in a bowl alongside.   


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How to Freeze Green Beans

Frozen green beans are a staple at our house three seasons out of the year.  They are easy to grow in the summer, produce prolifically, and taste much better making them well-worth the little bit of energy required to preserve them.  Of course, you can pressure can them or pickle them, but freezing them gives you much more flexibility.  Last year I was not growing beans in the garden so I only froze 8 pounds which resulted in about 7 quarts.  The problem is, we ran out of beans well before we were ready.  This year, we are growing two 4 x 8 beds of green beans which is keeping us in a plentiful supply.  I picked up a few pounds at the farmer's market on Saturday to supplement what I had at home, and I ended up with 16 pounds to put up.  Hopefully this will get us started, and as more beans come out of the garden, we will freeze the ones we don't eat fresh.

I have recently had several friends ask me how I freeze my green beans, so here are the very simple steps.  In my opinion, they are one of the faster vegetables you can deal with when freezing. Hopefully, you are dealing with stringless beans.  If not, it will take longer because you will need to remove the strings.  Just grin and bear it while secretly feeling very sorry for yourself, and remember to buy/grow stringless beans next year. 

Step 1:  Snap or cut the stem end off each bean.  Snap the beans in 2 inch lengths or leave smaller beans whole depending on your preference.  I snap mine. 

Step 2:  Thoroughly wash the beans and allow them to drain.  In the meantime, you will need to prepare your boiling water for blanching and your ice bath.  Fill a stock pot with water and bring it to a boil.  For the ice bath, fill a large bowl with cold water and ice and set it aside.     

Step 3:  Place your washed beans into the pot of boiling water.  The water may stop boiling as the temperature of your beans lowers it temporarily.  Wait for it to return to a boil, and allow the beans to simmer 3 minutes. 

Step 4:  Immediately remove the beans from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice bath to cool them down and stop the cooking process.  Leave them in the ice bath as long as they were in the water, about 3 minutes.   

Step 5:  Remove the beans from the ice bath, draining them thoroughly.  I use a metal spider strainer for each of the draining steps.  

Step 6:  If doing more than one batch, put your next batch of beans into the boiling water while you bag the rest.  Scoop the cooled, blanched beans into heavy duty freezer bags.  I measure 4 cups into a bag.  Make sure to leave at least 2 inches headspace in each bag for expansion.  Label the bags and place the beans in the freezer for up to 1 year. 

Sixteen pounds untrimmed green beans yielded 11 quarts frozen beans plus a few that we ate fresh.     

Monday, June 25, 2012

Taking Inventory

Before the summer canning frenzy really begins, I take inventory of what we used and what we have left.  This helps me determine what I want to put up this year and what we need more or less of based on how much we used. 

The What's Been Preserved 2011 box on the side of the blog indicates what I put up last year, mostly during the summer months.  Here is what is left from that supply...

My pie safe now-  it was full and I was using a separate
kitchen cabinet for overflow (which is now empty).
4 pints spiced apples
1 half pint apple butter
3 pints pickled pears
1 pint peaches in syrup
2 quarts peach pie filling
3 half pints muscadine jelly
5 pints applesauce
5 pints pickled beets
3 half pints chow chow
1 pint quick pickles
1 pint watermelon rind pickles
2 pints salsa verde

My deep freezer which was full to the top is now
relatively empty except for a few things.
1 pint zucchini
6 ears corn on the cob
1 quart tomato soup
5 quarts field peas

It is very helpful to take inventory like this.  It enables me to see what we ate a lot of throughout the year and what we didn't use as much.  It is interesting that we used most of our frozen food supply but have more canned items left.  Most of our frozen foods were items we used regularly at dinner whereas many of our canned items were condiments or once-in-a-while foods.  The canned items we used most often were those which could be eaten straight from the jar without having to be paired with other foods (i.e. peaches in syrup, pickles). 

I try to use frozen foods, canned tomatoes, and fruits in syrup within the year.  Items that are pickled or jams/jellies can go a little longer.  I think a two year span is reasonable for those.  That means that I will not make things like chow chow, pickled pears, or pickled beets this year unless I just feel a great urge to do so (which I seriously doubt will happen). 

What we did learn after taking inventory and looking back at our original preserving list is that we really need to put up more of some foods.  The foods we used frequently and ran out of before we would have liked were:

pasta sauce
basic tomato sauce
corn off the cob
green beans
salsa (tomato based)
peaches (both canned and frozen)
pickles (sweet and dill)

I spent yesterday focusing on the green beans on that list.  I froze 11 quarts which is four more than last year, and my beans are still producing abundantly in the garden, so there will likely be more.  I am also in the process of making pickles.  I will post about both of these very soon. 

So, whether you can a little or a lot, an inventory is beneficial in helping you make sure you have enough but not too much of a good thing.  It is also really rewarding to look back at everything you put up and realize that a great deal of it was used.  It makes you realize that all of your hard work was appreciated. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Remaking Peach Jam

A couple of posts ago I shared my not-so-perfect peach jam experience.  I had tried to be resourceful and use some very ripe yellow peaches along with some less ripe white ones.  I was hoping the two levels of juiciness would balance one another out, but they did not.  The result was a syrupy jam, too thin to use on toast or biscuits.  I decided to remake the jam after a week of being out of town, and the new jam is much better which proves that all is not lost if you end up with a too-thin jam.  

Remade jam-  thicker and more spreadable.  Yay!!!
There are several reasons that a jam can be too thin and not set properly.  Some of the most common reasons are:  overcooking the jam, using overly ripe fruit with too much liquid, or making too large a batch at one time.  Some jams also take longer to set after processing so you should generally wait a week or so before remaking to determine if this is the problem.  In my case, after a week my jam was still not set so I knew I needed to remake and reprocess it.  

This is a picture of my thin jam after making it the first time.  Notice that the peaches had risen to the top and the clear juices were at the bottom.  When the jar was tipped over, it was the consistency of syrup and, of course, the components of the jam were not dispersed evenly.  

Jam before being remade.  Notice that the peaches are at the top and the peach syrup is at the bottom.  Not exactly the jam I had in mind. 
To remake the jam, three ingredients were needed in addition to the original jam.  In this case, my jam had used powdered pectin, so I added 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon water, and 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered pectin per cup of original jam.  I added the pectin and water to a large pot on medium high heat and stirred it constantly until it came to a boil.  I then added my original jam and the additional sugar and brought that to a boil, stirring constantly.  Once boiling, I allowed it to remain at a rolling boil for 30 seconds before removing it from the heat. I skimmed the foam from the top, scooped it into my hot sterilized jars (as in the original recipe) and processed it according to the original recipe.  

Ingredients for remaking the jam including the syrupy jam in the big bowl.
My new jam is the correct consistency...thicker yet still spreadable, and even though it has been processed twice, the taste has not changed.  It is still purely peachy and fresh with chunks of peach throughout.  The peaches are also much more evenly dispersed in the remade jam which makes for a more enjoyable product.  

So, remember, if you make a jam that is too thin and are not happy using it as a syrup over ice cream or cake, it can easily be remade using the ratios of ingredients above.  If you used liquid pectin or no pectin, visit the Montana State University Extension page for ratios to fit your recipe.     

Two Peach Jam-  makes six to seven 8 oz jars

I have made this jam before with excellent results when using ripe but not overly juicy fruit.  In the case of the remade jam discussed in this post, my fruit was overly ripe resulting in the thinner set jam.  If you make this with appropriate fruit (don't experiment like me), you should have no problem.  The recipes comes from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and can be made entirely with yellow peaches as well.

4 cups peaches, peeled, pitted, and finely chopped (2 cups yellow, 2 cups white)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 box (1.75 oz) regular powdered pectin
5 cups granulated sugar

Combine the peaches, lemon juice, and pectin in a large nonreactive pot and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.  Add the sugar all at one time and stir constantly until it returns to a rolling boil.  Boil for one minute.  Remove from the heat.  Skim the foam from the top with a clean spoon.

Ladle the jam into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth.  Place sterilized lids and rings on the jars, and process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Allow the jars to rest five minutes in the pot before removing them to a clean towel to cool.  Check seals after 24 hours.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Quick Fridge Pickles

My life is run by to-do lists.  When I'm at work, I have a series of post-it notes that change daily, and when I'm at home I have cleaning and chore lists that keep me focused.  I would be a completely worthless and inefficient human being if I were not able to make lists.  Right now, I am in the process of completing my canning and preserving list because otherwise I know we will be left wanting at the end of the season.  My motto, which I got off of a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant (is it just me or do the fortunes always fit perfectly?), is if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  I think that is true in a lot of situations, canning especially.  Therefore, I am not quite ready to begin making and canning pickles for long term storage, but that hasn't stopped my garden from producing a handful of cucumbers every few days.  

What to do with cucumbers when you don't want to spend a lot of time standing over a boiling kettle?  Quick Fridge Pickles are the answer.  These pickles are easy to throw together at a moments notice, use things you generally have on hand, and last up to a month in the fridge.  They are crisp, tangy, slightly sweet, and a little spicy, and they go well with any number of things.  Tasty as a snack, layered on sandwiches and burgers, or served alongside a grilled cheese, these pickles should definitely be on your to-do list.   

Quick Fridge Pickles- makes 1 quart

This recipe is only slightly adapted from Fresh Every Day by Sara Foster.  I double the quantity of brine because the original recipe does not make quite enough to cover the pickles.  I usually do have a little brine leftover which can be used to make another small jar of pickles or saved in the refrigerator for a few weeks for later batches.  

2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly cracked black peppercorns
6 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp dill seed
5-6 small pickling cucumbers, peeled in stripes and sliced 1/8 inch thick

In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, peppercorns, cloves, red pepper flakes, and dill seed, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Layer the cucumber slices in a quart jar along with the bay leaves.  Pour the brine into the jar until it just covers the cucumber slices.  Refrigerate at least four hours before serving, shaking the jar occasionally to keep everything mixed well.  Store in the refrigerator 1 month. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Peaches Gone Awry, Tostadas, and Summer!!!

For the past week I have had Alice Cooper's School's Out running through my head, and today I can finally say it has happened.  I left school with no plans of returning until late August!  So exciting, yet bittersweet.  I hate to leave my kids and see them move on to middle school, but I am also excited about all the time I will have on my hands to blog (and do other things, of course).  In fact, I am headed to the beach for a few days of relaxation before really getting back into frequent cooking and blogging.

I did do a little canning for the first time in months this past weekend, and sometimes in the cooking and canning world things go wrong.  This was one of those times.  I had some ripe yellow peaches which were very juicy and some harder white peaches which I decided would make a nice jam.  I knew that the yellow peaches were probably a little too ripe for their own good, but I thought by mixing them I would be able to even it out and the jam would still set correctly.  Guess what I get for testing my luck?!  I am now the proud owner of seven jars of very delicious peach 'topping' which I plan to open once I return from the beach and try to recan.  I am hoping by placing it back in the pot and processing it with another box of pectin, I can get a good set.  If not, we will have to enjoy it on ice cream.  Not such a bad deal!

I will also be making more jam very soon with peaches I plan to get next week, and I will keep you posted on the outcomes of the 'topping' and the jam I make then. 

Since I really have nothing new to post other than the jam, I decided to post the recipe and picture from a favorite meal which I posted last year and which is perfect for this time of year when gardens and markets are overflowing with zucchini.  Chicken and Vegetable Tostadas are a great way to pack a lot of veggies into a quick, easy to cook meal, and they are an excellent use of Roasted Salsa Verde.      

Chicken and Vegetable Tostadas (adapted from Cooking Light)
makes approximately 4 tostadas

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons canola oil
8 ounces chicken breast, cut into small pieces
1 1/4 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
1 1/4 cup chopped zucchini (about 1/2 a medium zucchini)
1/2 cup salsa verde (homemade or store-bought)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided
4 (8-inch) flour tortillas
Cooking spray or more canola oil
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the broiler. Heat 2 tsp canola oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with the salt, pepper, and cumin. Place the chicken pieces in the skillet and cook 1-2 minutes until lightly browned but not cooked through. Add the zucchini and corn and cook 2 minutes. Add the salsa verde and 2 tbsp cilantro. Stir to combine and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove the filling from the heat.

Place tortillas on a sheet pan and spray each one lightly with cooking spray (or you can brush them very lightly with oil). Place the pan under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the tortillas are lightly browned and beginning to puff up. Remove the pan from the oven. Spoon 3/4 cup filling into the middle of each tostada and spread it around. Sprinkle each with 1/4 cup cheese and place the pan back under the broiler for an additional 2 minutes to melt the cheese and brown the tortilla. Watch them carefully as they burn easily and quickly. Remove the pan from the oven, cut each tostada into four wedges and sprinkle with the remaining cilantro.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Roasted Potatoes with Garlic Parmesan Butter

I love potatoes as I think most people do, and I have an abundance of potatoes right now thanks to my garden.  Some are larger and need to be peeled, but the smaller potatoes are perfect for halving and roasting.  They get a perfectly crisp crust on the outside and are creamy on the inside.  I enjoy them roasted with just salt and pepper or a few herbs, but they are amazing tossed in this garlic parmesan butter. 

This recipe is an adaptation from one I found years ago in the Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2003.  The butter is equally delicious on homemade french fries, and it adds a rich, garlicky flavor to the potatoes without being overpowering.  Your taste buds will never know that these potatoes are healthy unless you tell them.

Roasted Potatoes with Garlic Parmesan Butter-  serves 4

1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp butter
4-5 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Combine the potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper in a roasting pan and toss to combine.  Roast the potatoes in the oven for about 30 minutes, tossing once halfway through cooking, until the potatoes are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Remove the potatoes from the oven and set aside.

In a skillet, heat the butter on low until melted.  Add the garlic and cook on low 2 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the garlic from browning.  Remove the skillet from the heat.  Add the potatoes and toss them gently to coat them in the butter.  Add the parsley and cheese, and toss to coat.  Serve immediately. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cornmeal Pancakes with Raspberry Maple Syrup

I am so excited that summer is approaching. As much as I love cool weather foods, it is nice to walk into the farmers market and see things other than greens and root vegetables.  Yesterday my trip to the market provided lots of yummy produce including the first peaches and a pint of perfect, red raspberries.  I nibbled on the berries throughout the day, and this morning I decided to have them for breakfast. 

Please excuse the less than wonderful photo-
my camera battery was dead and I had to use my cell phone.
These cornmeal pancakes are slightly sweet with a hint of vanilla and a satisfyingly grainy texture.  They can be eaten with other forms of syrup (they would be delicious with peaches), but maple syrup warmed with crushed raspberries is a perfect complement.  Since maple syrup tends to be a little thin, this is a thinner syrup that soaks into the pancakes.  I don't mind.  Somehow, eating it reminds me of strawberry shortcake and how the strawberry juices penetrate the cake, but if you want a thicker syrup that will sit proudly on top of your pancake rather than seeping in, add a little cornstarch to thicken it. 

Cornmeal Pancakes with Raspberry Maple Syrup- serves 4

This recipe came from two different sources.  The pancake recipe is from Pioneer Woman, and I only copy the recipe here because I only used the pancake portion of it.  The syrup portion of the recipe came from Food to Live By where it was also paired with another version of cornmeal pancakes. I went with Pioneer Woman's pancakes because they were simple with a stronger cornmeal flavor than the pancakes in the cookbook.


  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cup cornmeal (Pioneer Woman uses yellow but all I had was white)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp baking powder
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups milk 
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  •  additional butter or oil for cooking

  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and sugar.  Whisk to combine.  In a medium bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir gently to combine being careful not to overmix.  Gently stir in the melted butter. 

    Heat one tablespoon of butter or oil in a skillet on medium heat.  Add the batter by 1/4 cups to the skillet and cook until the pancakes are brown on one side.  Flip and repeat.  Repeat with the remaining batter until all pancakes have been cooked. 

    Raspberry Maple Syrup:
    • 1 cup pure maple syrup
    • 1 half-pint fresh red raspberries
    Heat the syrup and rasberries over medium heat in a saucepan until they begin to simmer.  Allow them to simmer gently for five minutes, pressing on the raspberries as they cook.  Pour the syrup into a sieve and press down on the raspberry to extract all the flesh while leaving the seeds behind.  Spoon the warm syrup over the pancakes just before serving.