Out of all the things I can each year (23 quarter-pints, 62 half-pints, 71 pints, 25 quarts in 2009, just in case you were wondering), I love pickles the most. Dill pickles, specifically. Cucumber pickles, green bean pickles, okra pickles, carrot pickles- I love them all.
It's amazing how just a few simple ingredients can transform these vegetables into amazing salty-tart treats. And this year I have a couple of new developments in my pickling process. And so many cucumbers I can barely keep up.
1. Parisian Pickling Cucumber plants (seeds from Seed Saver's Exchange)
If there's anything better than a gigantic super-tart pickle, it's a little teeny tiny pickle. Cornichons definitely win the award for most adorable pickles and I'm really excited to be harvesting enough to can. These are kind of weird looking, compared to regular pickling cucumbers- long and spindly with very dense spines that need to be rubbed off.
2. Crazy amounts of dill
I might have gone a bit overboard with the dill planting this year, but last year I had to buy some dill because I ran out for pickling and didn't get to dry much either. It's just silly to have a garden and buy dill. Pure silliness. So this year I have a field of dill.
3. A Chinese pickling jar
I need another crock in my kitchen like I need a hole in the head, but I considered this different enough to justify clearing off some counter space. My coworker found these online and we shared some shipping costs to get them- they're genius! No more scum/mold/yeast/stuff on top of my pickles because the glass lid inverts on the top and sits in a rim of water- this keeps out the nasty microorganisms without sealing the air inside the jar...It escapes with a little burping sound! The shape of the jar helps keep the pickles under the brine, too. So I'm splitting my cukes between fermented pickling and vinegar pickling.
4. A prickly cucumber rash
I think sticking my arms into a huge mess of cucumber vines every day is really irritating my skin! I get really itchy for an hour or so after harvesting! It's true that pickling cucumbers have really plentiful spines/hairs. I guess they're just bothering me more this year. I'm thinking about using long dishwashing gloves when I pick!
I'll spare you a photo of my itchy forehead from this afternoon's harvest.
A full 2 weeks earlier than last year, I have my first garden tomato! The plants are growing like crazy right now and I'm thinking about transplanting some baby tomato plants that sprang up in the kale and carrot beds into a more spacious area. That means even more tomatoes! I'm greedy when it comes to tomatoes.
I always devote 2 beds to tomatoes and basil.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't stop to take a photo of this first full sized tomato from the garden. I immediately ran inside, sliced it and made a tomato sandwich. Layers of fresh bread, Veganaise, huge basil leaves, heirloom tomato, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Is anything better?
Okay, I know that logically I shouldn't turn on the oven in the middle of a heat/humidity wave. But I can't help myself. Heat makes my bananas get ripe faster and then I'm forced to bake banana bread!
I also had a big jar of black walnuts that were burning a hole in my pantry (That's the cooking equivalent of money burning a hole in your pocket). I had never baked with black walnuts before, so I just had to see how they tasted in a banana bread.
Oh. my. gawd. This banana bread knocked my socks off. I used the recipe for banana muffins from The Joy of Vegan Baking and left our the chocolate chips and added 1 cup of chopped black walnuts. The walnuts were fragrant and almost... don't think this is weird... floral. I loved it. The walnuts had none of the bitterness that regular walnuts have. If you ever have a chance to get black walnuts, get 'em and bake some banana bread.
Ugh. It's hot and and I swear it must be more than 100% humidity. We're practically under water here in MN. On days like this I need simple food that takes about zero effort and zero cooking. Here's one of my favorite go-to salads. It works good in a lunchbox, too!
Spicy Cucumber Peanut Salad
1 locally grown cucumber, diced
1 handful of roasted, salted peanuts
1 Tbsp. minced green onion
1 pinch red pepper flakes
~1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
~1 tsp. umeboshi plum vinegar
Combine everything in a bowl. Find a cool place to sit and eat.
I found this list of "Things I Hate" from my MySpace page in 2005. Somehow that seems like a long time ago now. Thought it'd be fun to repost it here.
I hate: my computer because it shut down after i typed this whole $%^&*(* list and now i have to retype it dust bunnies knick-nacks with no purpose cottage cheese served with canned fruit kentucky and anything associated with kentucky daylight savings time athletic shoes with neon colors the obsene number of phone books that i receive every year musical chairs lassie crawfish cleaning up dog pee, cat pee, little boy pee (same goes for poop) library fines video fines warm root beer pants with tapered legs top sheets high waisted underwear cream of wheat vacuuming the stairs the smell of hamburger meat cooking soggy cereal. actually, any cereal. i just hate it. baseball caps with unfolded brims dishrags and anything contaminated by their touch cat litter things in the refrigerator without a lid leftover halves of bananas crumbs in my bed clothes that mildew in the washer because i forget to dry them bras overcooked carrots "bagless cyclonic" vacuum commercials on tv dirty hand towels hand towels that are too fancy to use soggy french toast dog smell the way tofu gets pink mold how little boys always pee on the toilet seat country style decorating the kids on Barney (especially Tina) culottes mullets changing clothes/showering/getting out of bed in the winter wearing socks in the summer the way graham crackers are packaged horses (nothing against them personally- just the freudian associations and the how little girls get obsessed with them and don't always grow out of that phase) lotus notes email how deodorant pulls my armpit hair and then turns all foamy and gross potatoes that turn green way too fast the way my closet is -20 degrees right now and will be 115 in the summer fancy yoga shirts that are so low cut that your boobs fall out in headstand peeling oranges all those plastic surgery shows on tv having to take the recycling bin back inside after it's picked up
I have a little problem with leftovers. After about 3 days, they just feel old and stale and I mentally label them as contaminated. I usually manage this issue by only preparing food for 3 days at a time. For example, on Sundays I prep dinners for Monday and Tuesday. And Mike's a master at using up leftovers in new dishes, so he can usually finish off anything that's left after that point with his lunches.
But this week my plans went awry with a nasty stomach bug and not having the kids here (it was a real blessing that the kids weren't here to get exposed to the illness... but that left me with lots of leftover food!). So today I came home from work to find the fairly big bowl of potato salad made with gorgeous locally grown fingerling potatoes and a really delightful blanched pea and red onion salad that I made on Sunday. That was 3 days ago. And I'm just not as interested in eating this now.
I know logically that this food is probably fine, but I've spent the day brushing up on my Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes and Clostridium botulinum knowledge to teach a food safety training tomorrow. And eating leftover potato salad just doesn't sound appealing after that!
So here's how my potatoes and peas found a new life:
I drained off the slightly creamy vinaigrette from the potatoes and tossed them with some onions in a hot skillet. After the onions were translucent, I added the peas (they just had a bit of red onion and Earth Balance on them) and 1/2 can of light coconut milk and a generous 3 Tbsp. of Patak's mild curry paste. After simmering for about 10 minutes, this was a whole new dish!
Plus, boiling for 10 minutes kills most of those scary bacteria I was reading about today :)
Sappy commercials? Scary fireworks? Overwhelming patriotism? Nope. Five pounds of baby red onions. Somehow I forgot about the extremely tearful reaction I have to onions when I was dumping these into my grocery bag. But the sight of all those onions just made me want to preserve them!
Just like last year, I spent this 4th of July canning.
I knew I needed to can about 4 lbs. of green beans from the garden today, but I started off the day at the St. Paul Farmer's Market to see what else was lookin' good. My best find was those 5 lbs. of little red onions just begging to be pickled.
But when I consulted my recipe, I realized that I needed to soak them in salty water for 12 hours to draw out their juices and get them ready for their pickling brine. So I packed them in salt in my favorite pickling crock and looked for something else to can.
Dilly Beans were an obvious choice for my green beans. I'm obsessed with them. I canned 28 pints last year and I still ran out. We ate about 2 lbs. for dinners last week and I'm guessing there are more waiting to be picked right now! One note about these, though. You can decrease the salt in the recipe by 1/2 and they're still plenty salty. The salt is just for flavor, not preservation. I love how pretty the dried chilies look in the jars!
After canning the beans, I still wasn't satisfied. I mean, 7 pints of Dilly Beans does not an ExtravaCANza make. So I started browsing through my favorite canning book.
I can't say enough good things about The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. The Ball Blue Book is a great starting book for new canners and it's super cheap. But the Complete Book is that book's mama. It has everything from the Blue Book, plus tons more. I don't want to be a blatant Mississippi Market advertisement (subtle is better), but you should go buy this book there during July. It's only $19.99 right now and the usual price is $22.95!
Anyways, I was perusing this book and the Split Pea Soup caught my eye. I know, I know. It's hot as heck today, so why in the world did I want to make soup? Because I could eat soup every day, that's why. And because I didn't have all the ingredients to make anything else in the book and had already been to the co-op once today. So I put some yellow split peas in my pressure cooker to cook them up quickly.
Quick note about this: My pressure cooker warns me not to cook split peas in it because they foam too much and will overflow out of the vent hole. I can now attest to the truth in this warning. Don't do this. It's really messy.
Luckily, after an emergency shut-off of the cooker, the peas happened to be perfectly done and soupy. So I added a bit of bouillon cube, carrots, onions, salt and pepper. And then I loaded up my pressure canner.
Another quick note: A pressure canner and a pressure cooker are different. Usually. My pressure canner can also be a pressure cooker. But my pressure cooker cannot be a pressure canner. Got it? To pressure can you need to be able to control the amount of pressure in your canner. So unless the lid has a weighted gauge or a dial gauge to choose the pressure, you've got a pressure cooker.
Now I'm camped out in my kitchen, listening to the canner bubble away. It's a full 75 minutes in the canner for these 9 pints of soup, but it's going to be so awesome to have this soup ready to heat up anytime... Like on super hot summer days when I'm craving homemade soup and don't want to heat up the kitchen.
So that's my 4th of July so far. Later this evening I'll probably wander down the alley to watch the ridiculously extravagant fireworks show that our neighbors put on every year. How are you spending your 4th of July?
I'm not sure how it's possible that I've never written about my Nonnie's (mom's) yellow crookneck squash recipe.*** It's really my Meemaw's recipe, but I associate it more with my mom since she used to cook it anytime we'd pick up some yellow crookneck squash at the farmer's market. She says hers is never as good as Meemaw's, but I crave this squash as soon as it starts getting hot outside!
I spent the past week hanging out with my mom, doing all of our favorite things to do together: playing games, watching mystery TV shows, shopping, cooking and working puzzles. I avoided doing nearly anything even remotely responsible during this little vacation and instead just snuggled up with my mom. So today after she left to go back to Texas and I had to decide what to cook for dinner, I went straight to the locally grown yellow crookneck squash at the co-op.
Those who don't love summer squash can go ahead and just exit this page now. This is a recipe where the real flavor of summer squash shines through, so no squash-haters allowed here!
Meemaw's & Nonnie's Yellow Crookneck Squash Best served with fried okra and a fresh tomato salad
1 Tbsp. Earth Balance margarine
1/2 yellow onion (sweet onions are nice), thinly sliced
5 medium sized yellow squashes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cornmeal
Freshly ground black pepper
Melt the Earth Balance in a medium sized pot with a heavy bottom over medium high heat. Add the onion slices and then the squash slices on top of that. Put a lid on the pot and cook for about 10 minutes. DO NOT open the lid during that time. It might smell like it's starting to brown, but that's good. Open the lid and give the squash and onions a stir- It should be softened and browned on the bottom (If not, put the lid back on and cook longer). Add the cornmeal and a generous amount of sea salt and black pepper. Stir, replace the lid and cook 5 more minutes. After this point, the squash will be creamy and soft and the cornmeal will have absorbed some of the liquid. Delightful!
I enjoyed the squash tonight with some mac 'n cheese and green beans from the garden. I told the kids they could have $1 for every pound of beans they picked since I had just picked some a couple days ago. But they picked over 3 lbs. today- Surprise! Dang, there goes my work-treat cash!
***Or perhaps I have already written about it? I've searched my archives and can't find it anywhere, but I swear I've typed up this recipe before...