Making fancy appetizers can be a fun and beautiful way of highlighting delicious local harvest. The best part is that beauty often comes with simplicity when highlighting fresh vegetables and fruits. Here are a few recipes I’ve tried recently:
Caprese Skewers: Halve cherry tomatoes and small mozzarella balls. Skewer a basil leaf between piece of tomato and a piece of mozzarella. Ta da!
Cantaloupe and Parmesan: The easiest of the bunch – this is more of a pairing than a recipe. Lay out bite size pieces of cantaloupe and place thin slices of a hard cheese like parmesan on top. Skewer with a toothpick if desired.
Cucumber Bites: Mix equal parts chèvre and sour cream, and mix in a dash of garlic powder, salt, and enough dried dill weed to speckle the mixture with green throughout. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before mixing again and tasting. Adjust garlic, salt, and dill to taste. Splash in a bit of lemon juice and/or add lemon zest if desired. Spoon entire mixture into a icing piping bag (or one corner of a ziplock, twist tie shut, then cut off tip). Slice cucumber into rounds. Pipe dip on top of each cucumber slice. Garnish with fresh parsley or dill.
Mint, Feta, Watermelon Cubes: Cube watermelon, slice solid feta into thin square pieces, and separate fresh mint leaves from stalk. Arrange watermelon cubes on your serving platter, place a piece of feta and mint leaf on top of both, and skewer each tower with a tooth pick. A beautiful flavor-packed end-of-summer treat!
Have you heard how awesome fermented foods are? (if not, check out this story or this one on NPR or this longer article in the New York Times) If you are trying to fit more fermented foods into your diet, and you don’t have unlimited money, try making your own at home! A cabbage and two tablespoons of salt, the ingredients of sauerkraut, cost a buck or two. A quart of “live” sauerkraut can easily set you back $10. Sandor Katz, one of the most famous advocates of fermentation, recommends “starting with sauerkraut,” and I agree!
It’s easy to make your own sauerkraut and you can do it without buying any unusual or extra tools or ingredients for your kitchen. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never look back! Here’s how:
1) Gather ingredients (1 organic cabbage, 1 tablespoon sea salt), containers (1 half gallon ball jar, or equivalent, and a bowl it can sit on), and tools (knife, cutting board, big tupperware container or pot, washed log with flat end). Yes, the tools include a washed log with a flat end! Instead of buying a “tamper,” we went out to the wood pile and selected a nice maple log that was about 1.5″ diameter, brought it in, and washed it off in the sink.
2) Rinse cabbage and remove any really yucky outer leaves. Outer leaves that are simply wilted are fine to leave.
3) Cut up the cabbage. Any shape will do. I like halving the cabbage, laying each flat half down, cutting strips, and then cutting those strips into shorter pieces. I leave the core in – it’s just as delicious when pickled.
4) Fill big tupperware or pot, no more than 1/3 of the way up, with cabbage pieces. Add a proportionate amount of your salt. If you fit half the cabbage, add half your salt: 1/2 tablespoon. If you want to add spices, now’s the time to do it.
5) Hold the container between your feet and mash, over and over again, with your tamper or log. You want to break the cell walls and mash in the salt. This will cause the cabbage to release liquids – enough to cover your sauerkraut with brine! When you’ve mashed enough, you’ll notice that the pieces don’t pop around in the container as much when pounding. They’ll be limper and less firm than when you started.
6) Pack mashed leaf and salt combination into your ball jar. Use your masher and the back of a strong spoon to pack down the leaves as much as possible.
7) If you still have un-pounded cabbage and space in your jar, repeat chopping and mashing process until the (tightly packed) cabbage rises to one or two inches below the top of your jar. Don’t go higher than that. Liquid should be covering mashed packed leaves. If it doesn’t, let everything sit for ten minutes and try pushing the leaves down into the jar again. The salt will work its magic helping the leaves release juices.
8) Cover and put in a bowl in a warmish place in your house where you’ll notice it. A kitchen counter works well for us. When you’re just starting, you’ll want to keep an eye on things. Check your kraut every day. The bowl is important – juice may leak out the top and you’ll want to catch it.
9) KEY SECRET STEP: This seems to be left off of most sauerkraut how-to lists. It can make the difference between limp stinky kraut and a crunchy yummy final product. Stick a butter knife down into your kraut each day in a bunch of different spots to allow any air bubbles to come to the top. If any liquid came out of the jar and was caught in your bowl, pour it back in. Push kraut back down, making sure all the cabbage remains covered in liquid every day. The key to good kraut is to make sure it sours in an anaerobic environment. You can use all sorts of expensive tools for this, or you can do daily check-ups, using a butter knife to remove air bubbles and a spoon to push leaves back below the brine.
10) Taste it! After 4 or 5 days, taste a piece! Sauerkraut will sour at different rates based on the sugar content of the cabbage, the quantity of bacteria present, and the temperature in your house. Plus, YOU need to decide when it has soured enough for your taste. Everyone’s perferences are different.
11) When you love it, stick it in the fridge. Naturally fermented veggies will last for a long time in the fridge. Just make sure to keep the leaves submerged in brine. If it starts to dry out and there isn’t enough brine to cover the leaves, add a bit of water and maybe a sprinkle of salt. If the top layer gets a white filmy mold, don’t worry! If it grosses you out scoop it off. It won’t hurt you. When you’ve finished the kraut, any remaining brine can be used in recipes (salad dressing, soup flavoring, etc.) or used to inoculate your next batch of pickles.
If you’re interested in learning to preserve your own food, can tomatoes. If you love the flavor of real sun ripened home grown tomatoes and miss it in the winter, can tomatoes. Worried about BPA in liners of canned tomatoes? Can your own tomatoes! If harvested tomatoes are building up on the counter, can tomatoes.
Canning tomatoes is one of the simplest recipes, is a great way to gain comfort in canning, preserves that amazing taste of in season tomatoes, and is easy to use for soups, chili, and sauce throughout the winter. Here’s how:
1) Check your supplies: you’ll need tomatoes, a pot big enough to fit all of your tomatoes, a ladle, a funnel, clean Ball jars (we use mostly quarts), lids, caps, a large canning pot, and a rack. Canning supplies and equipment can usually be found at your local hardware store in August and September.
2) Clean your tomatoes. Core them and cut out any bad spots. A bit of rotten tomato could ruin the flavor of your entire batch. Cut them into large chunks and put into your pot.
3) Bring to a boil and then simmer until air is released (it will be foamy at first. Then juice/liquid will start to look clear). Add salt if desired.
4) Ladle hot tomatoes into ball jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Put on lids, gently screwing on caps (they should not be cranked tight, but shouldn’t be so loose that tomatoes could leak out).
5) “Process” in a boiling-water bath for 30 minutes. This means: bring water to a boil in your canning pot, put your jars in your canning rack, and then submerge your jars/rack in the boiling water for 30 minutes.
6) Let cool. After 24 hours, rims may be removed to store.
Want to learn more about canning? The Ball Blue Book is a great resource that covers all of the basics, and more! Also try asking your elders – canning was a common household task for most of our grandparents. Wondering how to use your canned tomatoes? Heat and add pesto for a yummy tomato basil soup. Try as a base for chili. Or add a can of tomato paste to turn your tomatoes into sauce without needing to boil for hours. Enjoy!
I don’t eat much bread and consider myself more of a cook than a baker, so I’ve left baking duties to my dad for the past few years. Yesterday was a cold grey day. I was craving a kitchen project that would warm me up and fill the house with the comforting aromas of baking. It was time for me to learn the secret behind those nutty, crusty, moist loaves that make regular appearances in dad’s bread production rotation.
It turns out, there’s barely any work involved! The whole process requires over 24 hours, so it does require planning ahead. I was really surprised to realize, however, that the active time required from the baker doesn’t even add up to half an hour! Before starting, make sure you have a oven-safe pot with a lid and a spice/coffee grinder. Here’s what we did:
1) Coarsely grind 1.5 cups of seeds and/or nuts, and then toast your nut meal in a cast iron skillet until golden brown. We used hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds.
2) Mix 1.5 cups nut meal, 4.5 cups all-purpose white flour, 1/2 teaspoon yeast, and 2 teaspoons salt. In separate bowl, whisk 1/2 cup plain yogurt into 2.5 cups water. Mix wet and dry ingredients and cover mixing bowl with a plate or towel. At this point it is very wet and gooey!
3) Let sit for approximately 24 hours at room temperature.
4) “Knead.” Spatula the sticky mixture out onto a floured countertop, and fold over a couple times to release some of the air bubbles. Dough should be lightly coated with flour on the outside, but remain sticky and wet on the inside.
5) Lay out a dish towel on a clean countertop and sprinkle with sesame seeds and cornmeal (or whatever you want to cover the top of your loaf). Plop the “kneaded” dough onto the towel, put towel with dough into a clean bowl, and cover with the corners of the towel (see above). Let rise 1.5 hours.
6) Put your oven-safe covered pot (we use a 1-galon heavy stainless pot) into your oven and pre-heat to 500 degrees. Carefully take pot out of the oven, place on a heat-safe stable countertop, and uncover. This is the tricky part: flop your dough into the hot pot, trying to get it all into the bottom without sticking too much to the sides. Use a butter knife to clean up the walls of the pot if needed. Cover and put into the 500 degree oven. The steam in the pot is what creates your crispy crust. After 30 minutes, remove the pot’s cover and bake for another 25-3o minutes until golden brown.
Voila! Even if the smells make you crazy, let your bread rest and cool before slicing. Enjoy!
Want to cook with pumpkin, but don’t have the energy for a pie? Have a pie pumpkin and are not quite sure how to turn it into food? (OR see one heavily discounted at the supermarket post-halloween?) I recently discovered a Pumpkin Smoothie recipe that’s easy, yummy, and eliminates baking from the equation. As always, it requires you to taste-test in the middle, and adjust to your flavor preferences. I’ve also included instructions for the easiest way to toast pumpkin seeds. Happy Halloween!
Making a Pie Pumpkin ready to use in a recipe:
Pie pumpkins have denser flesh. They’re less stringy and watery than the big pumpkins that make good jack-o-lanterns. Put one inch of water in a large covered pot and turn on high. Cut your pumpkin in half. Use a spoon and your fingers to scoop out the guts and seeds. Set the seeds aside for later. Cut each half in half again. Once the water has come to a boil, put all four quarters in (you can cut smaller if needed to fit them in). Boil with the cover on until a fork slides easily through each piece of flesh. Remove pumpkin quarters from the pot and set out to cool. Once cool, use a large spoon to scoop the flesh from the skin. That flesh can then be used in pies, quick breads, smoothies, and more!
Pumpkin Smoothie Recipe: (serves 6)
-3 cups cooked pumpkin or squash (freeze pieces before to make a slushy smoothie)
-2 cups milk (the richer the milk, the richer the smoothie…vanilla ice cream will make your smoothie more like a pumpkin milkshake)
-¼ t. pumpkin pie spice (mixture of cloves, mace, nutmeg, and ginger)
-½ t. cinnamon
-¼ c. brown sugar
–Taste, and then add brown sugar until sweetness is correct and milk until consistency is correct.
-Garnish with crumbled graham crackers to add a sweet crunch.
Roasting Pumpkin Seeds (the easy way):
-Gather the seeds removed from your pumpkin into a bowl. Pick out large pieces of guts (stringy slimy orange stuff). No need to rinse – any orange stuff is just giving you more vitamins and will dry out in the oven.
-Spread on cookie tray, and sprinkle with salt (garlic powder or other spices can be good too).
-Bake at 400 degrees, stirring every 5 minutes with a metal spatula.
-Listen for popping and/or look for your seeds to turn golden brown – they’re done! This shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.
*Don’t have an oven, or cooking in a classroom with kids? Use a frying pan or electric skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to fry the seeds until golden brown.