Saturday, December 31, 2011

Resolutions Review

New Year's Day is right up there with April Fool's Day for me as far as holidays are concerned.  It's one of the best days ever.  Any holiday that celebrates a fresh start, resolutions to do better, and black eyed peas is definitely my kind of day.  New Year's Eve is almost as good- I spend it preparing for my fresh start (If there's anything I love more than doing something, it's planning to do something).

Today I started the day with waffles (I'm still on a breakfast honeymoon with my new waffle maker) and some serious budget evaluating.  I've been pretty lax with my budget lately, with Christmas presents, a new stove, a trip to Chicago (Jay-Z and Kanye!) and a Groupon-induced eyeglasses purchase.  So it's time to get back on track.  Instead of using Quicken to plot my budget based on what I'd like to spend on each category, I started plotting this year's budget based on what I've actually spent on each category- and then making a few adjustments.  I think this will be much more reasonable and set me up for success, rather than failure. And overall for the year, I didn't do so bad.

Now for a review of last year's resolutions:
1.  Do not put off a task that takes <5 minutes to complete.
   While I didn't stick with this 100% of the time, it really is nice to not have little tasks nagging in the back of my mind.  This means I bring in all the stuff from the car when I get home (instead of saying, "I'll grab that bag of cat litter later") and I bring all the dirty dishes to the sink each night.  I water the plants when I think about it, instead of waiting to do it later (because I won't and I have the dead plants to prove it).

2.  Choose when to watch TV.  Don't make it the default.
    This one is more about being conscious of when I really WANT to watch a program and not just flipping on the TV instead of doing something better.  I've done pretty good with choosing which shows I really want to watch and only watching those.  Granted, with awesome programs like Modern Family, House, CSI, Glee, New Girl and Parks and Rec...I'm still watching TV every night.  But I'm okay with that.  They make me happy!

3.  Go to the library more
    I rocked this resolution until fall.  What happened?!?!  I must return to the library soon, if only to return the book on food in colonial America that is waaaaayyyy overdue.  Reading usually comes in binge form for me- Either I'm living my life, or I'm reading.  If I'm reading, only going to work or finishing the book can get me to stop.

4.  Don't let thriftiness become deprivation
    In 2008-2009 I might have been so into budgeting and DIY mentality that I started to get a little obsessive. Sure- It was fun to not allow myself to buy bread for a year, just to see if I could keep up with baking it weekly. all fun obsessions, it needed to be tempered with moderation.  So I spent money on conveniences this year. Guess what?  I was still just as busy.

5.  Have $_______ saved by next year.
    Well, I'm just a bit short of my goal.  Not much, though!  For this resolution/goal, I largely have my awesome job and Quicken to thank.  Oh, and automatic transfers.

6.  Make the door to our home a forcefield of happiness.
   I have a little problem with transitioning from work to home.  "Business Liz" sometimes gets through the front door, ready to get things done and check things off the list.  Anything/anyone who gets in the way is a frustration. But this year I've been consciously working on using my drive home to breathe deeply and become "family time Liz".  She likes to dance with the cats and wear sweatpants- This is much more conducive to happy family times.

7.  Mid-Year addition: Exercise for mental health, not for physical health.
   I hate New Year's resolutions related to weight/body stuff.  I hate the idea of them and all that goes along with them.  But I have realized that unless I move my body every day, my mental health suffers greatly. I become much more anxious, moody and all-around not who I want to be when I don't exercise frequently.  The trouble is, I've always used body-related motivations to get myself to the gym/yoga/walking the dog.  Those are so easy to dismiss, though, because I can easily rationalize that skipping the gym a few days won't give me wobbly triceps.  Instead, I focus on making my attitude better every day by exercising.  Now I actually WANT to!

So what's in store for this year???  I still have to finalize my 2012 list.  Read up tomorrow if you're into this sort of thing.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


I'm giddy with excitement right now because Mike got me a waffle maker for Christmas. And because my first waffle turned out perfectly!

I'm already plotting all the variations I'll make- savory waffles are up next, then I need to get some gluten free waffles for the gift-giver.

Only trouble? We're almost out of syrup. I'm hoping for a Hannukah-esque Christmas miracle where the syrup lasts for days (until the co-op is open again).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies

These cookies are nothing new- I think everyone has had the classic "no bake chocolate peanut butter oatmeal cookies", right?

But today I got wild and crazy in the kitchen and busted out some almond butter instead of pb. Results? Just as delicious as the original. Surprisingly, not better.

Here's my advice for anyone else who tries this: most of the recipes out there for these cookies assume you're using salted nut butters, so add a pinch to the mix if you're using pure nut butter! It's absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Meemaw's Potato Soup

It's a rainy night tonight. My Meemaw is in hospice care and is likely to pass away very soon. I can't really think of anything more appropriate to make for dinner tonight than Meemaw's potato soup.

It's the simplest recipe ever, but also the most comforting. I remember eating this soup when I was sick, and when I had my wisdom teeth removed. You'd think those wouldn't be fond memories... But the soup made everything better!

Potato Soup
Peel and cube 4-6 medium potatoes. Place in heavy pan with lid and cover (just barely) with water. Add one stick of margarine (non-hydrogenated, my addition) and 1 tsp salt and cook until tender and mushy. Mash lightly until broth is thick. Add about 3/4 cup milk (I use almond milk) and heat just to boiling point. Black pepper may be added.

I know, I know. Peel the potatoes? What about the missing fiber? A stick of margarine? What about all that fat? Just do it, people. This is comfort food from my Meemaw.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Pan fried black pepper tofu, rice noodles, raw cabbage, carrots, green onions and cilantro. Can't write more because I need to eat this.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This is Why I'm Cold

Even though it's cold outside, I still like to eat summery foods in the winter sometimes.  For some reason I've craved both cold pasta salad and cold tempeh salad during the coldest days so far this season!

Perhaps it's because my tempeh salad is the best thing ever? (and I'm so modest, too)

I just take a package of tempeh (I prefer the Lightlife garden veggie variety for the colorful flecks of veggies and the celery seeds incorporated), roughly chop it, and steam it for a few minutes.  Maybe five?  Then set aside to cool and chop it more finely once it's cool enough to handle.

Finely mince a few tablespoons of sweet onion and a couple stalks of celery.  Drop those into a bowl with about 1/4 cup of Veganaise or Earth Balance mayo.  Add a hefty pinch of fresh or dried dill and a little splash of white wine vinegar.  Then toast up some sliced almonds.  Combine the mayo/veggie mixture, almonds and cooled tempeh in a bowl.  If you happen to have any pickled onions in the canning pantry, this is the time to bust them out.  Just a couple of minced, pickled pearl onions will really make this special.  I almost always round out the flavors with a splash of tamari- it helps this salad mimic the flavors of a chicken salad, but waaaay better.

I like to serve this with some organic Triscuit-style or Wheat Thin-style crackers from the co-op.  And if you have any leftovers, it gets even better the second day!

Friday, December 9, 2011

This is Why I'm Hot

Now that some snow has fallen and the garden is done for the year (except for a bit of kale I'm still pulling out), it's nice to look back at things that make me warm.  Like chiles. 

I went for variety over bulk quantity in the 2011 garden- I had purple jalapenos, regular jalapenos, cayenne chiles, tabasco chiles, Wisconsin lakes sweet peppers, mini chocolate bells, and a few more that I forgot to write down.  On the day I pulled the last of them out, I tucked them in the fridge to use up in various dishes... But a couple of weeks later I was still left with about a pound of various types and colors of chiles.  

The perfect recipe for this situation?  Tigress in a Pickle's "Hot Damn Chile Pickle".  You can use any chiles and don't have to de-seed them or anything.  Just remove the stems and roughly chop (or food process) them. You should, however, wear gloves!  

I tasted this the night I made it (easily two months ago) and it was so fire-y I couldn't even tolerate a drop of the oil on my tongue.  Now, after some time to mellow, the flavors are spectacular and not nearly as abrasive.  Keep in mind, though, that "mellow" is a relative term here.  It's still crazy, crazy hot.  But edible now.

Last night I busted this stuff out with some brown rice, mustard greens and tempeh.  I didn't season anything at all, except for a dash of Bragg's aminos and a DAB of this chile relish.  And it was spectacular.  I have a feeling this is going to be a popular condiment for me this winter!

***Note: you might be alarmed to see garlic and chiles preserved in oil.  Normally this is a no-no for canning and preserving since garden produce, and garlic in particular, can easily have clostridium botulinum spores on them and sealing them underneath oil can form an air-free (anaerobic) environment where the botulism toxin could grow.  That's why it is SO important that this recipe contains vinegar.  I know the recipe isn't canned and you might not even think to worry about botulism and vinegar ratios since it isn't canned.  But the clostridium botulinum bacteria can grow anywhere that is a pH over 4.6 and has low or no oxygen.  So don't can this recipe and don't skimp on the vinegar.  And keep it refrigerated!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Preparations

Honestly, I haven't done much in the way of Thanksgiving preparation yet.  But I have plans to!    

The two things I have done so far are plan my menu for Friday (that's when we celebrate) and make cranberry syrup for fun sparkling drinks.  The syrup is really easy- I just combine a couple of cups of Wisconsin cranberries with one cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water.  I simmer it until the cranberries burst and then strain it.  

I admit to adding another batch of sugar and water to stretch the cranberries further.  The second batch was still plenty flavorful!  All that's needed for a fun drink is some fizzy water and a couple spoonfuls of this syrup.  

Just look at that color!
Now for the food...

Here's what I have planned:
Homemade Tofurky (Bryanna Clark Grogan's recipe)
Cornbread stuffing (Meemaw's recipe)
Spinach casserole
Roasted portabello mushrooms
Mashed potatoes
Lots of gravy
Cranberry ginger preserves
Chocolate Pumpkin Pie (Martha's recipe, veganized)

I plan on cooking all day tomorrow!  I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Leftover candy canes

In anticipation of an organic candy cane shortage last year, I stocked up on a few boxes too many. Now the candy canes are about to be on the shelves again at my co-op and I figure I'd better get rid of the old ones. Hence, the chocolate candy cane cookies (gluten free chocolate chip cookie recipe with cocoa and crushed candy canes added). Perfect with nog!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chocolate, chocolate

I love pretty much anything that is named chocolate, chocolate _________. These chocolate, chocolate almond cookies are a variation on Dreena Burton's gluten free homestyle chocolate chip cookies.

I just subbed cocoa powder for 1 Tbsp. of the flour (I use millet flour), added a handful of slivered almonds, and a dab of almond extract.

A lovely, lovely, chocolate, chocolate coookie.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Love Only One Cake

It's been nearly three weeks since I made (and ate) this cake, but I'm still thinking about it.  It might be the best cake I've ever made- But I have a tendency to love the cake that I'm with (like that Elvis song, "I love only one girl, the one I've got my arms around").  

So here it is, the cake that has captured my heart.  For now.

Step 1: Bake 3 cakes.  
I used the basic chocolate cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  Maybe I mismeasured the cocoa in the past or maybe I just don't remember the cupcakes being so darn chocolatey, but this cake is black as night.  I used the same cocoa as always, Equal Exchange fair trade cocoa, and didn't even change anything in the recipe.  

I recommend adding a layer of waxed paper around the bottom cake layer to protect your cake plate from messy caramel and such.  Just remove before serving (duh).

Step 2: Make Peanut Butter Caramel.
This wasn't my idea, it was the kids' idea.  I didn't follow a recipe for this, but it turned out fantastic!  Here's an approximation of what I did:

In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, about 2 Tbsp. agave nectar, 2 Tbsp. Earth Balance margarine and a splash of water (no more than 1/4 cup).  There should be just enough water that you can stir everything together.  Heat over low-medium heat until the sugar melts and it's boiling vigorously. As it boils, stir nearly continuously and check the texture of the caramel.  You could use a candy thermometer to check for the "soft ball" stage, but mine broke, so I relied on looking for "sheeting", the phenomemon when a sugar syrup doesn't drip in individual drops off of a spoon held up high- the drops combine into a flat sheet as they drip.  It's just like making jam!  

When sheeting happens, it means your sugar syrup/caramel will be thick and gelled when it cools.  That's what you want here.  If you take it too far (to the hard ball stage), then your caramel will be hard and crackly.  Fun on ice cream, but not in the middle of a cake.  

Once your caramel is at the sheeting stage, turn off the heat and stir in a good 1/2 cup of natural peanut butter.  It'll look something like this.

I want to eat this right now.

Step 3: Assemble the cake.
Your caramel will thicken as it cools, so get your cooled cake layers ready for assembling.  And chop some salted peanuts, too.

Pour 1/2 of the pb caramel over one layer.  Spread it all over, up to the edges of the cake.  Then sprinkled chopped salted peanuts over the whole thing.

Then top with another layer of cake and add more caramel and peanuts.  Finish with the last layer on top.

Step 4: Encase it in chocolate.
Ridiculous, right?  I can barely stop from getting up right now and baking more of this cake.  Let the layers cool completely so that the cake is glued together with caramel and won't budge when you pour tons of ganache over the top.  

I just melted a few Tbsp. of  Earth Balance margarine and almond milk in a pan, then stirred in a whole bag of chocolate chips.  Any firm-setting ganache recipe will do.  Actually, you could skip the frosting and this would still be awesome.  But I opted to drown the cake in chocolate.  Then I topped it with Pokeman guys and piped their images on the top of the cake (removing the paper afterwards).  The kids were happy with it, but I'm willing to be it would taste just as good without Pokeman characters on top.

Step 5: Eat it.

Crazy, crazy good.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New favorite thing

I might be in love with my new stove. (This is not to the exclusion of my previously declared love of my mattress heater).
My old stove didn't light on its own anymore and I got tired of feeling a back draft of flames every time I wanted to heat some water for tea.
We have appliance insurance from our electrical utility, so they replaced it when they couldn't repair it. I went to Warners' Stellian (of course) and picked out this one. It's hard to choose a stove- it's a pretty important appliance in my life. But this Bosch was on a super sale and sports an 18,000 BTU power burner (higher than all the others in my price range). I can't wait to see how quickly my canner comes to a boil on this baby!
Plus, it's beautiful.
The first thing I cooked on it was a feast of basmati rice, coconut & cumin kale, and lentil & split pea dal.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Souped Up Ramen

When I'm feeling super lazy, I love a big bowl of ramen. Koyo organic ramen is the best!!!

If I'm slightly less lazy, I upgrade my ramen with some veggies. Today's lemongrass ginger ramen was made better with roasted squash, ribbons of lacinato kale and even more ginger.

It's slightly more classy than when made with just the packet ingredients. And much more delicious.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Goodnight, Garden

I've started the process of putting the garden to bed for the winter, but I'm still getting some great veggies.

The green bean and cuke beds are covered in garden scraps and composting away. The tomatoes, surprisingly enough, kept ripening despite freezing temps and practically dead plants. I even found an eggplant hidden away that I didn't even know I had!

I'm still pulling out peppers, beets, and kale - and I just started pulling carrots today.

I like to wait as long as possible before harvesting carrots, so I just pulled enough for this week. Gotta be careful not to wait too long, though! A couple years ago the ground froze solid before I harvested them- with an ice pick.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Raisin Crackers!

A few days ago I got a Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer in the mail.  I always read these cover to cover out of personal interest and for work (gotta check out the competition!).  The rosemary raisin crackers caught my eye because at first they sounded disgusting, but the more I thought about them, the more I wanted to try them.  

But, lest I be a traitor to my beloved co-op, I figured I'd better give it a try making these at home first. 

(Note: I'm kind of kidding- I feel a bit like a traitor when I go there, but I think Trader Joe's is good at what they do and my co-op is good at what we do.  Our products overlap somewhat, but we're VERY different businesses with different strengths.  End note).

Now back to the crackers.  

I mixed up my usual flour blend for cracker dough (from Food in Jars) and added in the fun stuff.  For this first try, I ground up salted, roasted almonds and raisins (1/4 cup each) in a little food processor and added them to the flour before mixing in the oil and water.  For the seasonings, I used whole cumin seed, fennel seed and pink Himalayan salt.

Then I rolled these out like usual and baked.  Here's where the problems started.  I didn't grind up the almonds and raisins fine enough, so the dough wouldn't roll out thin enough.  So with thicker dough, I couldn't get the crackers crispy without cooking so long that the sugars in the raisins started to burn!

So I have some crispy, fairly browned crackers and some....  slightly soft flatbread things.  The flavor is out of this world, though.  I can't stop eating them despite their wonky texture!

Next time I'll grind the almonds VERY finely.  And I should probably taste the TJ's version, just to see what I'm up against!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Spinach and Cashew Cheese Bisque

I rarely follow a recipe exactly, but I actually got out my measuring spoons for this soup.  It just looked and sounded so perfect that I didn't want to change anything!

The recipe comes from the Sept/Oct 2011 issue of Eating Well magazine- Spinach and Goat Cheese Bisque.  Now, obviously, I didn't follow the recipe exactly since I used cashew cheese instead off goat cheese.  But I'm pretty sure it's just as good.  If pureeing cashews with a little salt and lemon juice makes cashew cheese good enough to smear on crackers, it must be good enough for this soup!

It seems like every recipe I read in Eating Well looks phenomenal.  I love the focus on fresh vegetables and avoidance of processed convenience foods.  And the articles are intelligently written and based on real research!  There's no celebrity chef crap or fluffy little articles.

The recipe says it makes about 8 cups, but I got closer to twelve.  Not sure how that happened... But I'm happy to have lots of this soup for my lunches this week!

The base of the soup is caramelized onions, potato, broth and over a pound of spinach.  In case you didn't know, a pound of spinach looks like a ton.

 Just look at all this spinach!

This looks a little bit weird, but when I poured the pureed cashews & soaking liquid into the soup, I knew  this soup was going to be amazing.  Once pureed, it's velvety creamy & smooth, with a bright spinach-y flavor.  The only down-side to this soup is that it's not very filling.  I'm going to pack some crackers and fruit along with it...and maybe something else I've been baking up.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chef Salad

I feel really lucky to have gotten one of the last salad mixes offered by Dehn's Garden Herbs at the Minneapolis Farmer's Market this season.  This is no ordinary salad mix.  It has herbs, flowers and the most beautiful baby greens I've ever seen.  And the best part?  It says fresh for well over a week!  I can eat a salad out of this container every day for a week and still not have any slimy lettuce bits to pick through. Bonnie Dehn says this is because the lettuce is so fresh- usually picked within hours of me buying it.  This impresses me. 

It does make me sad, though, that the lettuce comes in a big, plastic clamshell container [Update: I got word that these are bio-plastic containers that will compost away.  Hooray!  Now to get my compost bin hot enough to handle it...].  Maybe that's part of the magic of how it says fresh?  Here's how I make myself feel less guilty:

I've started using the containers for 1-2 days to pack a giant salad for my lunch.  This one is packed with grilled seitan, Honeycrisp apple chunks, roasted sunflower seeds and a lemony-olive oil vinaigrette. I looked forward to this salad ALL DAY!  It reminds me of those gross cafeteria chef salads that have tons of toppings and are whole meals in themselves.  Except way healthier.  And way tastier. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Snack Jars!

It's been a while since I openly proclaimed my love for canning jars, hasn't it?  In addition to being canning jars, bulk food storage, leftover containers, flower vases, hardware storage, paint jars, laundry soap holders, candle holders and drinking glasses... 

I started using canning jars as little snack containers.  I know this isn't that revolutionary. And this snack isn't even exactly contained inside the jar. But for some reason snacks in jars make me really happy.  I can portion out the stepsons' snacks in a portable container for the car (one that isn't plastic and isn't part of my prized Fiestaware set).  This snack includes 1/2 a Honeycrisp apple, a banana and a gluten free brownie.

I wish I had this snack right now.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Curry in a Hurry

A few weeks ago my friend Morgen came over for some dinner and I saved a little time by using leftover roasted potatoes to make a curry- Success!  This dinner was super fast!  

I used the pressure cooker to cook the red lentil rasam, so that took all of about 5 minutes to make.  

The curry also included okra from the garden and plenty of coriander, cumin, turmeric and ginger.  I topped it with a mixture of shredded coconut, peanuts and jalapenos that I whizzed around in the mini-food processor for a minute.  I have lots of this leftover and need to think of more uses for this concoction.  Any ideas?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fancy Pants Spaghetti

Sometimes I forget about the easiest dishes when it comes to deciding what's for dinner. Like spaghetti with marinara sauce.  I seriously almost ordered spaghetti with "veggie balls" from Pizza Luce last week when I already had all the ingredients to make my own at home.  Whoa.  Time to slow down and plan some meals, Liz.  

So tonight we sat down to some gluten free (Tinkyada brand) spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce.  The sauce included my usual recipe for canning, plus a giant handful of roasted & pickled red peppers, oil cured olives and spinach.

I wasn't planning on having tofu with the pasta, but I happened to find some tomato-y vinaigrette in the back of the fridge that told me it wanted to become tofu marinade.  [Want to know a secret?  That tomato vinaigrette happened because I accidentally poured twice as much vinegar into my salsa recipe when I was canning a couple weeks ago.  So I bailed out 1/2 the amount of tomato-y, onion-y vinegar and mixed it with olive oil to use as salad dressing.  A happy accident.]

I only had time to marinate the tofu for about 15 minutes, but I sprinkled it with nutritional yeast and salt while it was browning on my grill pan and that crusted up really nicely and helped seal in the bright, vinegary, tomato flavor.

We ate this by candlelight outside on the deck.  Faawwnnncy!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Saving Seeds

I don't usually save seeds from my garden, except for coriander, dillseed and other herbs/seed spices that I like to eat. But this year, my laziness in not harvesting the last round of green beans paid off: I have plenty of seeds for next year's garden. See, folks. Procrastination does pay off.

So I'll tuck these away until April or May, when I'll hopefully remember that I don't need to buy any!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Magic Spices

These potatoes are crazy awesome.  They're just basic roasted potatoes with way too many spices rubbed all over them, but spices are magic like that.  They can transform roasted potatoes into something really unique.

Today's roasted potatoes feature a generous amount of olive oil (with a little harissa-infused olive oil from The Olive Grove), chili powder, salt and what seemed like wayyyyy too much smoked paprika.  If your potatoes aren't stained red, you haven't used enough spices.  That's my new motto.

Then I roasted them at about 450F, for 30-40 minutes.  But you could have probably guessed that part.  
If you're in the market for a good canning class this season, check out my pickling class scheduled for October 8th at Kitchen in the Market.  I think this will be my last one of the season and in this class you get to  get your handy dirty, pick up the ol' jar lifters and go home with three types of pickles!  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Weeknight Apple Pie

It's nearly 9pm and I'm still waiting for this pie to cool enough so we can eat it! Tonight Mike and the kids decided to harvest the apple tree. So while they picked 3 grocery bags full of apples, I started making a crust.

My Meemaw taught me how to make a pie crust and I broke all the rules tonight, with my room temperature ingredients and lack of shortening in the house. Despite the less than perfect pie procedures, it was fun to teach my stepkids a bit about baking (they did some rolling and nearly all the crust pinching). We might just have to eat pie for breakfast if it doesn't cool down quickly.

Next goal is to make a really good gluten free pie. Anyone have a favorite GF pie crust recipe?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It's Tomato Day!

I don't do all my tomato canning in one day, but I do reserve one day a year for buying a 1/2 bushel of tomatoes and making sauce.  Given that every single other Saturday this month is filled with canning classes and demos*, this was the chosen day.  Here's a couple logistical tips for canning a lot of tomatoes by yourself:

1.  Bring a little cart on wheels for hefting those tomatoes through the farmer's market.  I use a luggage dolly thingie with a cardboard box strapped to it.  It looks ridiculous when it's empty, but it's no fun carrying 24 lbs. of tomatoes through the whole market. You'll be lifting plenty of jars and heavy pots later.

2.  Use your sink.  I don't know about you, but I don't have bowl big enough to hold this amount of tomatoes.  So make use of your (sparkling clean) sink!  Another option: turn your cake-holder tupperware thing upside down and use it as a bowl.

3.  Make sure you weigh or measure your tomatoes carefully.  Don't count on that 1/2 bushel to be exactly 24 lbs.- Following safe, tested recipes and the proportions they call for is really important in avoiding killing anyone with your canned goods.  On that same note: Please don't skip the lemon juice (or citric acid)  in your canned tomatoes.

4.  Make sure you have a pot that's big enough.  This one barely cuts it and it holds 8 quarts.  I often end up splitting my tomato sauce into two pans the same size and putting a half recipe in each.  Once the sauce has reduced, I can combine them so that all the jars taste consistent.

5.  If you must blanch tomatoes for your recipe, for goodness sake, don't use up all the ice in your freezer cooling the tomatoes down.  You're going to need that ice for your drinks while you can!  Use the sink again- Fill it with cold water and add a couple ice packs (the kind you use in coolers) to keep the water chilled even when you're adding boiling hot blanched tomatoes to the sink.

6.  If you can avoid it, skip blanching and peeling tomatoes.  I'm a little bit in love with my food mill for making sauce and juice. You just have to heat up your tomatoes quickly and completely, letting them all soften.  Then crank the food mill around a few million times and you have a lovely, smooth tomato sauce (or thick juice, depending on the size insert in your food mill).  Don't think you can skip a step and just smash raw tomatoes through this baby.  You'll end up with what's called a "cold break" in your tomato juice.  That's where the juice and the solids separate and there's no way you're going to win at the state fair with a jar like that.

*I have some fun canning events coming up!  
Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 I'll be at Warners' Stellian in St. Paul teaching folks to can pickled green beans.  Just click the link to get registration info.  I'm really excited about teaching canning at a home appliance store, especially since this store is like a second home to me after my year of broken appliances.  Warners' Stellian saved me every time (and they're not paying me to say this).

I'll also be at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on October 1, demonstrating how to make pickled Indian-spiced carrots.  These carrots are sweet, spicy, tangy and crazy addictive.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Too Many Cukes

I hate to say it, but I'm tired of cucumbers and green beans.  I'm not quite sick of tomatoes, but it's getting close.

The garden is overflowing and I can't keep up.  Even with salads and pickle-making, the amount of cucumbers coming in is ridiculous.

I'm getting a lot of tomatoes right now, but my plants aren't doing so hot- I'm guessing they'll be done by the end of the week, especially with frost headed our way.  So I'm still enjoying having lots of tomatoes.  I need to make tomato sauce this weekend, and  I'm excited to use my food mill this year and bypass all that tomato peeling!

I was happy to skip over the cucumbers, green beans and tomatoes tonight in favor of beets!  I'm so excited to have plenty of beets from the garden.  I'm the only beet fan in the house, but everyone ate them for dinner tonight and (I think) liked them pretty well.  I used a recipe from The Vegan Gourmet (by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay) that is totally magical.  For some reason it sticks in my mind, and I often think of how crazy good this recipe was when my bud Morgen and I first made it.  It sounds almost too simple, but it's so satisfying.

It's simply brown rice, steamed beets, sauteed beet greens and a dressing of tahini, lemon juice, miso, garlic and cayenne.  I also threw some marinated tempeh on the grill that I had tucked in the freezer.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tomato Madness!

Just canned bloody mary mix, tomato jelly and crushed tomatoes with some awesome folks at Kitchen in the Market!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Overgrown Green Beans?

My favorite way to eat green beans is to grill or saute them very briefly- so they're bright green and still snappy.  But when I've neglected to harvest the beans for over a week, I end up with overgrown pods that I'm tempted to toss in the compost.  These beans are way too tough to eat nearly raw- you'd get a serious jaw workout trying to get these down.

This is where Southern cuisine saves me.  While I typically shy away from long-simmered vegetables in favor of fresh flavors now, I have to admit there's a place in my kitchen for green beans boiled up until they nearly fall apart.  I just leave out the bacon grease.

I used to sit and eat cold green beans straight out of the can when I was a little girl.  I loved the tenderness of the pods, the way you could split them in half and eat the little beans from inside and, of course, the extreme saltiness of the canned beans.  Even better were canned green beans with little skinned new potatoes (also canned).

So now, when I have overgrown green beans, I just toss them into a pot with some little potatoes (skin on for me, now), a chopped onion, and water to cover and boil away until everything is tender as can be.  A vegetable bouillon cube, sea salt and pepper is all that is needed to flavor this dish.

This past week I served these up with an heirloom tomato salad dressed with olive oil, honey and red wine vinegar.  The bowl of purple hull peas on the side was a last minute addition to the menu- I just dropped the frozen peas into the crockpot with an onion and some water before I went to work.  When I came home, they were perfectly cooked and ready for dinner.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Second Only to Salsa

This time of year, I love salsa like it's a member of my family.  As soon as we start harvesting tomatoes, I start a routine of keeping a quart jar of salsa in the fridge at all times.  I just finished my daily bowl of chips and salsa a few minutes ago, in fact.

But my second favorite use for an abundance of fresh tomatoes is tomato soup.  I don't really care much for the stuff in the red and white can- never have.  It was okay to dip a grilled cheese in when I was a kid, I'm not interested in any canned tomato soup now.  I'm too snobby for that.

I much prefer a hot bowl of tomato soup made from my own garden tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and colors, pureed into the most flavorful tomato soup imaginable.  It's not flavorful because of exotic spices or anything- just pure tomato flavor!  I'm fairly certain that all I put in this soup is olive oil, a little onion, a little garlic, lots of skinned tomatoes, a pinch of allspice, sea salt and fresh basil on top.  It only needs to simmer until the tomatoes have given up their juices and the onions are tender.  Then you just buzz it in the blender until it's smooth.  If you have super fancy blender, like a Vitamix (hint, hint, family.  Christmas isn't that far away), you wouldn't even have to peel the tomatoes.

I still served it with some grilled cheese sandwiches, but we all agreed that the soup stole the show.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pickling Jalapenos Today

The air is spicy in my house.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Can It!

I'm teaching a really awesome interactive class on Sunday where you get to bring your own (homegrown or market) fresh produce and I teach you to can it!  It's at Kitchen in the Market, the gorgeous kitchen at Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis.  There are still some spots available, but sign up quickly because I'm keeping the class size small so that I'll have time to work one-on-one with everyone [click the link above to register].  The best part about this class is that with a variety of foods being canned, I'm thinking a little swapping and bartering might happen...

If you miss this one, there will be more in the coming months.  I'd love to see familiar faces in this series of canning classes!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Foiled Again

I've been stockpiling all of my best canned goods for a year in preparation for the MN State Fair.  For the past two years I've not been able to enter anything because of being out of town during the required delivery dates or accidentally breaking the competition rules.  [What?  No quilted jelly jars?  And who cans salsa in half pint jars?  I could eat that on 3 chips!]

This year was going to be my year.  I registered online with my Thai-inspired pickled beans (with lemongrass, ginger, mint and Thai chiles), Thai-inspired pickles (eligible for Gedney's special Asian pickle category!), roasted pepper salsa, Indian-inspired pickled cauliflower (with coriander and cumin) and the most beautiful golden-colored vanilla apricot butter.  I checked my registration about 3 times out of paranoia before the due date.  I marked my calendar with the deadlines and scheduled in my drop off times.  I felt really prepared.  I even reminded others to get their registrations in on time.

BUT...I might have saved my registration, but I didn't hit the final checkbox acknowledging that I had read the  rules (probably about six times) and submitting my saved entries.  They have no record of me registering and can't bend the rules to let me in, even if I sniffle and cry on the phone and beg in emails.

I'm seriously bummed.  I'm kicking myself for not making sure I got the confirmation email.  The only silver lining to this cloud is that now I get to eat these jars I've been saving- the best and most beautiful of my efforts this year.

So this will be another year of scoping out the competition at the fair and preparing for next year.  Now is the time to start canning for next year's fair.  I'm on it.  Look out next year, grandmas.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

My garden is out of control. I need a machete to get through to pick tomatoes.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It's That Time!

It's that time of year again, folks.  It's the time of year that I forgo bananas and avocados.  The time I think twice about each piece of chocolate and don't down a glass of almond milk each night.  It's the Eat Local Challenge!

I'm not mourning the bananas and almond milk yet, though.  It's just day 3 of the challenge and I've been eating really well.  I've enjoyed yogurt and homemade granola for breakfast, cucumber and tomato salads from the garden, grilled corn & zucchini salads and tonight's kidney bean chili for lunch and dinner.  Oh, and lots of black bean tacos and Whole Grain Milling Company chips.  All local.  It's crazy how good we can eat here in Minnesota.

I'm sure I'll be whining about missing mangos in a few weeks, but for now I'm satisfied.  Here's the basic recipe for the chili I made tonight:

Local Kidney Bean Chili
Not a "meaty" chili- but darn good.  It would also be good with zucchini in it, now that I think about it.  That's a little non-traditional for chili, but it sounds good to me.

About 1.5 cups of dried kidney beans (local bulk beans from the co-op)
2 cups tomato sauce (I used homemade canned stuff, but Buon Giorno Minnesota tomato sauce would work)
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (from the garden)
2 fat cloves fiery garlic (from the Madison farmers market last weekend)
Kernels from 1 ear of sweet corn (from Wheatfield Hill Organics in Wisconsin)
1-2 Tablespoons chili powder (from Frontier Co-op in Iowa)
Salt to taste

Soak the kidney beans overnight or bring to a boil, then turn off heat and let soak for 1 hour.  Drain and add fresh water to cover.  Cook for ages and ages in a regular pan or use a pressure cooker and cook for 3 minutes.  Make sure there's not too much water/bean broth in the pot after the beans are cooked.  It should just be barely covering the beans.  Then add tomato sauce, jalapeno, garlic, corn and chili powder.  Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5-10 minutes.  Season with salt to taste.  Serve with corn chips or cornbread or other delightful local accompaniment.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Salt and Pepper Pancakes

Despite what you might think, given my fondness for sweets, I'm not a big fan of super sweet things for breakfast. I'd rather have miso soup than sugary cereal.

So today I made pancakes just for myself- savory style. I just used my usual pancake recipe (from Vegan with a Vengeance) and left out all the sweet things (cinnamon, vanilla, maple). Actually, now that I think about it, I accidentally left out the oil, too.

After I poured the batter on the griddle, I sprinkled each cake with sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

A little Earth Balance on top is all these cakes need!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Quick Salad

Baby arugula, cukes from the garden, grilled tofu and a garlic-dill-mustard vinaigrette.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Canning All Around Town

Hey folks.  For ya'll who live in the Twin Cities, here's a list of the canning demos and classes I've got coming up. I just love teaching these classes and I'm always happy to answer your canning questions at events like these.  (You can just show up for the demos, but the classes all require registration.)

7/30- Canning demo: "Bruschetta in a Jar" at the Mill City Farmers Market at 9:30 and 11:00 am

8/17- Canning Pickles class at Mississippi Market Co-op from 6-8pm

8/21- Canning class at Kitchen in the Market 11am-1:30- Participatory class!

8/27- Judging a state fair-style canning contest at the Mill City Farmers Market

10/1- Canning demo at Minneapolis Farmers Market (details TBD)

10/13- Canning class for St. Paul Community Ed from 6:30-8:30 pm