The Perfect Holiday Chutney

Well after a pretty low key canning season (not for want of produce-more like it was too hot this summer to be standing in a kitchen with boiling pots of water) I’ve finally made a last minute stab at my favourite holiday chutney.

I like to call it my “3 P Chutney” as it encorporates pears, pepita seeds (or pumpkin seeds-the green kind) and pomegranate seeds. It is a truly tasty condiment with a lovely jewelled appearance in the jar. The only trick is to hold on to a jar, because it’s so pretty you’ll want to give them away! Continue reading

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Out with the old, in with the new

Oldpickles

This time of year I’m so anxious to get my hands on the new and  fresh produce that sometimes I get ahead of myself. Frequently I still have jars left over from last season that really should be used up, but I’m less inclined to as fresh asparagus, strawberries and tender turnips are much more appealing than slightly soft year old dill pickles.

 I found a way of freeing up my jars without the guilt of actually dumping the contents in the compost. Dehydrate! Start by slicing your pickles to about 1/8″ thick, place on the dehydrator racks on a low setting and letting it do its magic (some 5-8 hours later). This will result in dime sized dill pickle pellets.

Why would anyone want dill pickle pellets? Well for starters you can throw them into a spice/coffee grinder (make sure it’s clean of all coffee residue), grind them up, add a little sea salt and you have an excellent popcorn topper! You could also add the ground mixture to salad dressings, ground meat for tacos or even a funky salt rimmer for a casesar!

If you don’t have a dehydrator on hand (which most people don’t), I think putting it on a baking sheet in an oven on the lowest setting c. 200 F. for about 6-8 hours will probably do the trick. I’d be interested to know anyone out there who has tried dehydrating in the oven.

 

A not so “fameuse” apple

A couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of some apple canning recipes, I thought to myself-wouldn’t it be nice to find some lesser known apple to use? Cortland, Honey Crisp, Gala are all very well and good but what about an heirloom variety?

So my quest took me over the “Beamsville Bench” as they call it (the fertile middle ground between the lakeshore and the escarpment) to an apple orchard named Windwood Farm.

Now full disclosure, I would have loved to have picked my own, but as it was a Monday and my husband and I were on our way to Niagara-on-the-lake for a special anniversary lunch, the orchard was closed to the public. But the proprietor had kindly taken my request over the phone, and two half bushels of Cox Orange Pippin and Snow apples were waiting for me. Continue reading

Natural Sweetness

I love beets from their dark green tops to their ruby red bottoms. But one thing that has always bothered meBeets2 about canning beets is the amount of sugar required in recipes. From a couple of tablespoons to as much as a cup. I did a little bit of research on this, and apparently the sugar has nothing to do with preservation, but everything to do with taste. Well! This was a game changer.

My favourite octogenarian Joyce suggested I roast them first to bring out the natural caramelized flavour of beets without the added sugar. Brilliant! Now when I can beets, I roast them first, slip the skins, add the brine without any extra sugar and throw in a few cloves for good measure. What a difference! The true flavour shines through without that sickly cloying sweetness that some beets (especially commercial ones) have.

 

Taco Toppers

Sweet cabbages

Sweet cabbages

Tired of the same ol’ grated yellow cheese topping for your tacos? Why not try curtido? What’s curtido you ask? Well, traditionally it’s a lightly fermented Latin American version not dissimilar to sauerkraut. It usually includes sliced cabbage, grated carrots and thinly sliced onions and is a favourite to add to pupusas-those diabolically tasty stuffy fried corn tortillas.

It’s deceptively simply yet packed full of flavour. Local cabbage is at it’s prime right now, super sweet and firm, like these beauties from North Gate Organics, a small farm just north of Cobourg.

If you want a lesson on making curtido for yourself, check out our upcoming workshop on August 13th.

Crispy Pickles

Cukes1There is something so satisfying about biting into a crisp tangy pickle and nothing so disappointing as chomping down on a soggy one. There are many “tricks” of the trade to get that perfect “crunch” including commercial additives “Pickle Crisp” (which is really Calcium Chloride), adding a grape leaf to a jar, lime (the powdered calcium type not the fruit) or the fail safe method I use-blossom end off. So what does it all mean?

The old-fashioned method of using pickling lime was generally a safe method of ensuring your pickles would stay crisp. But it was labourious, as it had to be washed off at least three or four times prior to pickling as the solution is rather alkaline which counteracts with the acidity of the vinegar. Alum (aluminum potassium sulfate) was another additive used but now discarded as it sometimes left pickles tasting bitter.

Another method popular with our grannies was putting a grape leaf in the jar. Why a grape leaf? The National Center for Home Food Preservation suggests it inhibits the enzyme which makes the pickle soggy. Grape leaves contain tannins which some suggest is the compound which affects the texture of the pickle. But unfortunately results are often unreliable.

One sure fire way I have found is to cut the blossom end off of the cucumber. This is where the “soggy” enzyme resides. If you are unsure which end is up (blossom ends are generally a little paler with a white/tan circle), it doesn’t hurt to cut off both ends… Continue reading

Mowhawk, L’Amour, & Glooscap….name the fruit

If you came up with strawberries then you are a clever one! There are in fact about 30 varieties of strawberries grown in Ontario in any given season.  Another fact you may not have known, the strawberry plant is actually related to the rose! Who knew? Maybe that’s why the heady smell of fresh strawberries smells almost like perfume.

 

Messofstrawberries

A twist on the classic strawberry jam is adding herbs you may not think about pairing with strawberries. This one comes from Liana Krissoff’s “Canning for a New Generation”.

Strawberry Jam with Thai Herbs

3 lbs rinsed and hulled strawberries, diced (about 9 cups)
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon minced fresh Thai basil1 tablespoon minced fresh mint

Put strawberries and sugar in a wide preserving pan ( or Dutch oven), bring to a simmer,
stirring frequently, then continue to cook for 5 minutes. Pour into a colander set over a large bowl and stir the berries gently to drain off the juice. Return the juice to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally until the syrup is reduced to about 1-1/2 cups (about 20 minutes)

Return strawberries and juice to pan, add lemon juice and bring to simmer, stirring frequently (about 15 minutes), until a small dab of jam spooned onto a chilled plate and placed in freezer becomes firm (not gelled). Skim off foam, remove from heat and stir in herbs.

Ladle hot jam into sterilized warm jars leaving 1/4 headspace at the top. Wipe rims if necessary to clean of excess jam. Put lids on and screw bands so that they are finger tight. Immerse in waterbath, bring to a boil and leave for 5 minutes. Remove and do not disturb jars .

Should make about 4- 250 ml. jars. Any excess you can put in a jar and refrigerate to eat right away!

 

 

 

 

 

You say fennel, I say finocchio

fennel copy

It sort of rolls off your tongue when you say it in Italian. It sounds way sexier than fennel which to me conjures up the image of an overweight waitress at a road stop diner. Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but really, try saying “I’m having finocchio for dinner tonight”. Doesn’t that sound divine?

Fennel is an underused vegetable in this country. While it seems to share equal time with eggplant and peppers in Italy, we don’t give it the same respect. At best we buy it as a novelty, but let’s face it , lots of us don’t exactly know what to do with it. Also, the taste seems a bit, well, foreign to us. If you grew up eating anise, drinking absinthe or ouzo maybe it would seem friendlier. But a licorice flavoured vegetable? Technically it’s not even a vegetable-despite having a large bulb, but a herb. Maybe that’s what confuses us so much.

One of the tastiest ways of preparing fennel is oven roasting with a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This sweetens it and mellows out the strong taste usually associated with fennel. But eating thinly sliced raw in salads and side dishes are equally satisfying, especially when you can get your hands on young fresh fennel early on in the season (typically July-September).

Finally you can pickle fennel! Add some fresh mint and dill seed to your vinegar brine and eccolo, you have a crunchy, tangy, slightly sweet concoction that can be tossed into salads, used as lamb burger topping, scattered inside falafel wraps or tacos.

Tell me what you would use them for!