Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another first - Pickled Beans

Inspired by one of my favourite local bloggers and her zeal for pickled green beans, I once again gave in to my canning impulses and bought 2lbs of local green beans (the ones in our garden have all been eaten by the kids - gotta love yard snacks). Instead of dill, which honestly I didn't think to buy, I used basil from my back step. I combined Italian and Thai because I didn't have enough Thai basil to use it exclusively. It really hasn't been as robust this year as in past summers.

So with thanks for the inspiration to Tiffany at Eating Niagara, here is my recipe for Pickled Basil Beans

2 lbs. green beans
3/8 c. pickling salt
3 tsp. sugar
3 3/4 c. vinegar
3 3/4 c. water
1 tsp Pickle Crisp, divided (optional)
dried chilies, optional
fresh whole garlic bulbs
fresh basil leaves

Trim the stem ends off the beans. Combine salt, sugar, vinegar and water in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil.

To each jar add 1/4 teaspoon Pickle Crisp, 1 dried chili, 1-2 cloves of garlic, quarted, and 6-12 leaves of basil. Pack beans lengthwise into the jars, leaving 1/4 in. headspace. Ladle hot brine over the beans, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Run a clean knife around the inside of the jar to loosen any air bubbles and readjust the headspace.

Wipe the rim and loosely apply 2 piece lids (the ones with the screw band and the flat part that you put in hot water ahead of time to soften the sealing compound). Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Let stand at least 2 weeks for the flavours to mellow and blend. The brine that's leftover after you eat the beans is nice in salad dressings and stir fries.

Yield: about 4 pints.

Editing to add - It's mid-September and I've tried my beans.  They are nice and crisp, but the basil flavour is lacking.  I would double the number of basil leaves the next time.  The chilies give a good little kick, though.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Found this hilarious

Let me start by saying that I am active on several message boards. One in particular is for Christian Moms who have rejected the punitive style of discipline and male-centric households so often espoused by such organizations as Focus on the Family.

Recently a gal was incensed by an article about marriage that her husband pointed to from FotF which explained how men have "needs" which a good wife should meet. Interestingly no matter how hard she tried she could not find a parallel article about the needs of women and how men should work to meet them. She's still waiting for them to reply to her email asking where she can find one.

After some conversation about this obvious oversight, I said something about taking the article and substituting "house work" for "sex" and sending it back to him. A very, very clever woman named "Cherish" ran with the idea and posted this brilliant reply...

From Focus on the (male part of the) Family:
Author Robert Byrne-Baby-Byrne once quipped, "Anyone who believes that the way to a woman's heart is through her stomach flunked geography." This humorous statement hits home with what any adult with a brain knows: Help around the house is very, very important to women. Research consistently shows that between 80 and 90 percent of women view help around the house as the most important aspect of their marriage. When asked what one thing they would like to change in their marriages, they wish that their husbands would be more interested in helping clean and more willing to initiate dish-washing.

Marriage experts Scary and Hanna-Barbara Baconburger surveyed women about their domestic needs. The vast majority of women indicated that mutual laundry folding and male initiation of closet-cleaning were among their primary housekeeping needs. No doubt, our domestically explicit culture plays into the prominence of a clean house on a woman's mind. She can't open the newspaper, turn on the television, surf the Net, or walk into a mall without being reminded of Martha Stewart.

Yet long before the Internet or washing machines were invented, a swept floor was an extremely powerful force in women's lives. History teaches us as much. David and Bathsheba. Samson and Delilah. Reuben and Bilhah. Scripture is filled with references to and examples of women falling into domestic drudgery. Archaeological discoveries reveal that civilizations thousands of years ago had houses of slobby bachelors. Solomon's warnings in Proverbs and the exaltations in Song of Songs written 3,000 years ago are completely relevant today. Time and culture have changed the venues of expression, yet the power of a woman's cleaning drive has remained a constant force of both intimacy and destruction.

Before we go too much further, let me acknowledge that you may be married to a woman who falls into the 10 to 20 percent of women for whom window washing isn't all-consuming. Although picking up socks may not be as dominant a factor in your wife's life, it doesn't discount the fact that it's important. In fact, many women who avoid or minimize the impact of having help around the house in their lives do so because of past painful experiences or because of the fear of future failure. Regardless of how often your wife thinks or talks about you helping out, make no mistake, it is a vital aspect of who she is as a woman.

I almost snorted when I read "our domestically explicit culture." This whole thing made me laugh so hard that I just had to share it.

On a personal note, my own husband would never point to such an article as the one originally referenced and totally gets that we both have needs and wants. I'd hate for anyone to think that I was implying that I can somehow relate to this situation personally.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Plum butter

Okay, so like I was saying yesterday, I found myself so inspired by the lovely cool weather we're having that I found myself in the kitchen wanting to find a use for the local plums I'd impulsively bought on the weekend (there's a theme here, I'm sensing). I decided I wanted to try my hand at a fruit butter. Just to recap...

I peeled and chopped a couple of the apples, pitted and chopped about a dozen plums and stemmed a handful of the grapes. I popped them all into my small crock pot and added a little leftover hard cider and some local dark maple syrup. I left the lid ajar and turned the crock on high.

The plan was once it was bubbling I'd turn it down to low and let it go all day. At some point I'd adjust the sweetness and decide if I wanted to add spices or if I wanted a more pure fruit butter. Then I figured I'd strain out the skins later.

Instead I used my stick blender to puree the fruits once they were soft. Then I forgot to plug the crock pot back in (had to unplug it to plug in the blender). So the mixture sat for a few hours around suppertime, just hanging out. I noticed my oversight and turned the crock on low and put the lid on overnight. This morning I once more slipped it off to the side. Then I tasted it, adjusted the sweetness with some brown sugar and added about a teaspoon or so of cinnamon. Enough to warm it, but not enough to flavour it outright.

This afternoon it was ready. Thick, brown, tangy and still tasting of plums. I ladled it into two small canning jars and processed them for 10 minutes in boiling water. Both lids popped. Always a good sign.

So now I have a lovely (predominantly) plum butter ready for use on toast or mixed with a little icing sugar to spread between spice cookies. Mmmmmm.....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Inspiring weather

Have I mentioned that it's been hot this summer? And humid? Hmmmmm, maybe. ;-) But lately we've had a few days where the A/C hasn't run, where the air wasn't thick and where the window is open at night. And today... ah today. It's all of 17 degrees out and it may not get any hotter. Hooray! It's practically chilly in the bedroom. LOL

So what am I doing to celebrate? Well yesterday I bought some local yellow plums (wow are they big), local early apples and local tiny purple grapes (they may be Coronation grapes, but they weren't labeled with a name). Just now I peeled and chopped a couple of the apples, pitted and chopped about a dozen plums and stemmed a handful of the grapes. I popped them all into my small crock pot and added a little leftover hard cider and some local dark maple syrup. I left the lid ajar and turned the crock on high. Once it's bubbling I'll turn it down to low and let it go all day. At some point I'll adjust the sweetness and decide if I want to add spices or if I want a more pure fruit butter.

Later today I'm going to bake. Probably cookies. Probably with chocolate. Maybe a spin off of the Mocha-scotch Truffle Cookies I blogged about earlier this summer. And I popped a pork tenderloin into a simple marinade of Dijon, and more of that cider and maple syrup. I'll glaze it with more of the same towards the end of cooking.

It's amazing how something as simple as some cool weather can revitalize me. As I've mentioned, I'm not a summer person. I love the bounty, but it only makes the heat and humidity marginally bearable. Autumn is when I feel like I come alive. And days like this, which are a sneak peek of the season to come, inspire me to make the most of them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tomatoes. Ah, tomatoes

Tomatoes make summer a bit more bearable for me. There is something magical about that moment when the first slice of a still warm from the sun tomato touches the tongue. Before the flavour takes over, there's the physical awareness of the tomato. The brain notices the decided lack of chill in the fruit (yes, it is technically a fruit), the soft, yielding texture that isn't remotely mealy, and the juiciness. Oh yes, the rush of juice over the tongue from a slice of freshly picked tomato is a sensation to savour.

Then comes the taste. The delightful acidity tickles the taste buds first with a wonderful tingle that wakes up the tongue and sparks the yum receptors in the brain. Depending on the variety it can be subtle or sharp. But either way it's just the prelude for what's to come. For all of their savoury applications, tomatoes can be amazingly sweet. A great tomato has a lovely balance of sweet and sour, with intense umami. The succulent meatiness against the almost sugary, tart intensity creates a depth of flavour that one does not find in a store bought winter tomato (or those imports cramming the shelves in the summer).

And there is seemingly no end to what you can do with tomatoes. I stumbled upon a page yesterday that boasted 100 ways to use a tomato. Growing up I remember coming home from school in late summer and being greeted (knocked over) at the door by the smell of tomatoes stewing. My great-grandfather was Italian and my mother always stewed down vast quantities to freeze for the winter. I never cared for the smell back then, but now it is inextricably tied with the coming Autumn (though with the relatively early harvest this year there is a stark contrast between my memories and the reality of the summer heat that still abounds).

I like to roast my tomatoes. I've done them both at high heat and low, and like the results of both. Roasting them really emphasizes the sweetness and concentrates the flavour. On the weekend I bought, halved and high heat roasted some Roma tomatoes. And last night my husband and I picked several (huge) heirloom tomatoes which had split on the vine. I cut into slices the still usable parts and roasted them overnight in a low oven. I pureed both batches together and they, along with a generous amount of garlic, are the basis of a lovely tomato sauce that we will enjoy for dinner tonight with some basil from the back step. The essence of summer in a nourishing plate.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My first review

Very cool. I was looking at the Foodie Blogroll a couple of months ago and saw that there was a company looking to send their products to bloggers for review. Never one to pass up free stuff, I sent an email to Marxfoods, offering to try and review their Palm Leaf plates. These plates are marketed as eco-friendly, biodegradable/compostable and stylish.

A few square and round plates arrived in the mail a short while later. My first impression was that they were nice enough looking. Kind of like wood. They would look very nice setting an outdoor dining table. I noticed some splinters and rough edges that surprised me a little. The plates were thick and seemed quite strong.

We used them for lunches and salads and they held up well. However we had a spell of high humidity and I found the plates became a little pliable at that point. Still stronger than a flimsy paper plate, but I wonder how they would hold up at an outdoor function on a humid day.

While eating some salad off of one of the round plates I found a splinter in my mouth. That was disappointing to say the least. And not the only one we found.

While these plates seem friendly enough, the reality is that the ones I received had rough edges and gave off splinters in my food. I would not let my children use them. Nor would I want to serve guests with them.

Then there is the price. $33.50 (USD) for 25 square plates, for example. Plus shipping and handling. I don't know that I could ever justify spending over a dollar a dish for something meant to be thrown out at the end of the day.

Good on the company for using a something as innovative as dead palm leaves to make products out of. But when looking at price and quality, I will definitely take a pass and won't be ordering them for our family.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Feelin' hot hot hot

Okay, I get that the last two summers have spoiled me. Two full summers of temps that barely went above 25C, very little humidity, lots of rain (okay, too much last year)... I think we had something like 6 days over 30C last year. This year it feels like we've had maybe 6 days under 30C. And then there's the humidex. By suppertime yesterday it felt like 41C out there (for my American readers, that's about 105F). Too hot to take Little Mister to soccer. To hot to move outside. And so humid that sweat can't cool you because it doesn't evaporate.

To those who know me, it's no secret that I don't like summer. I don't do well with heat, humidity, bugs, heat... I miss baking, which is funny because I've only come to enjoy it relatively recently. I have wonderful local peaches in the fridge that my son keeps asking me to make a pie with, but the thought of turning on the oven in this ick makes me cringe.

That's not to say that I would do away with summer if I could. I do value some aspects of it. The produce, for one. Living where I do I have at my doorstep a dizzying array of fresh produce. Berries, tender fruits, heirloom tomatoes, greens, beans, beets and so forth. All grown within kilometers of here. All amazingly fresh and bursting with goodness. Then there's the herbs. Fresh herbs are a joy to work with, and summer brings them in abundance. My own garden is bursting with Basils, Oregano, Chives, various Thymes and a fun little Mint called Cotton Candy.

Speaking of the garden, if you've been following me for a bit you know that we have a small one in the back yard that is a source of food and amusement. The Lemon Cucumbers have been interesting. A definite do again! What I thought were bell peppers have turned out to be mild cherry peppers. Kind of disappointing. The heirloom tomatoes are a source of joy and the broccoli has been... well thus far the plants are huge, but not bearing much. I do love walking into the yard to pick whatever is out there and then making it into something to nourish us. More than that I love it when the kids just pick what they want and eat it right there. Yard snacks. A definite joy of the summer.

Then there's the smells. Specifically the smell of tomatoes roasting or stewing. Man do I love having that smell fill the house. I need to buy a quantity of Roma tomatoes soon to put down in the freezer for the winter. The thought of a freezer stock of roasted tomatoes makes me happy.

There are also carnivals and fun things to do that are even more fun now that we have kids. I love making memories with them. And I adore sharing my own childhood memories of these events with them.

And the final thing that makes summer bearable? The fact that enduring it makes autumn all the sweeter!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Found it!

I made some chocolate mint ice cream this weekend. Actually I made some over the top rich, smooth, creamy chocolate mint frozen custard this weekend. It's incredible! And people I've mentioned it to have asked for the recipe. And normally I wouldn't have hesitated to share, except that I found it on hubby's iPhone and didn't save the link. So I've had to work to remember what phrase I used to Google, and then what website I found and finally set upon. And even then, I made some changes to the original recipe.

I finally found it. It turns out the basic recipe is from Joy of Cooking. But it calls for half and half, which I didn't have. So I used almost all heavy cream (no wonder the end result was so smooth). And I used mint chocolate chips in place of the bittersweet chocolate. And I added a splash of mint extract, too.

So rather than copy the original recipe, here's mine, with all of my changes.

1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces mint chocolate chips
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
splash of mint extract

In a small saucepan gradually whisk together the milk, cream and cocoa powder until it is a smooth paste. Place over medium-high heat and bring the mixtureto the scalding point (the milk begins to foam up). Remove from heat, add the chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate has completely melted and is smooth.

Meanwhile in a stainless steel bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy (about two minutes). Gradually pour the scalding cream mixture into the whipped egg yolk mixture, making sure you keep whisking constantly so the eggs don't curdle. If any lumps do form, strain the mixture first before heating.

Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until the custard thickens enough that it coats the back of a spoon (170 degrees F) (77 degrees C).

Immediately remove the custard from the heat and continue to stir the for a few minutes so it does not overcook. At this point stir in the mint extract.. Strain into a bowl over another bowl of ice water. Taste and add more mint if necessary (the flavour will dull slightly once frozen). Refrigerate the custard until it is completely cold (several hours but preferably overnight).

Transfer the cold custard to the container of your ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer's instructions. Once made, transfer the ice cream to a chilled container and store in the freezer. If the ice cream becomes too hard place in the refrigerator to soften for about 30 minutes.