Archive for the 'food' Category


Spicy Pickled Green Beans

May is a busy month in my house: all three of us have May birthdays—and Mother’s Day is in the mix, too. Being busy and, well, feeling rather uninspired by this month’s theme (cold-pack canning) meant that my May entry for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge almost didn’t get done. But here I am! (And with one day to spare, even!)

I should clarify my mention of “uninspired” above. I don’t have any objection to cold-pack canning. The problem is that at this time of year, the stuff I’d really like to try this technique on isn’t yet available at local farmers’ markets. And this particular year, with an exceptionally drawn-out cold and wet spring, that problem is even worse. (It’s the second-to-last day of May in the Mid-Atlantic, and it’s 58 degrees right now.)

When scapes appear at my market next month, I plan to try making pickled garlic scapes. I may also try making garlic dill pickles when cucumbers arrive later in the summer. For now, though, I don’t have a lot of work with. So I decided to give green beans (I found some decent ones at the supermarket—not nearly as good as just-picked local ones, but they aren’t bad) a try as Spicy Pickled Green Beans.

I chose this recipe for several reasons: I like green beans. I could find decent green beans at this time of year. And a good friend of mine is nuts for dilly beans. I quartered the recipe and made only one pint jar of these beans, just to give this a try. I will give this jar to my friend and get her opinion. If she pronounces these beans a success, then I’ll try this again (in larger quantities!) when the local beans are here later this summer!


Quick-pickled Red Onions

Month four of the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge: quick pickles.

I’m really glad Marisa chose this theme for April, because I’m not sure I could have managed anything more complicated this month. I wanted to make not just a quick pickle but a super quick pickle. Quick-pickled red onions fit the bill.

I used this recipe from the Kitchn website as a starting point. Having read somewhere that using red wine vinegar did the best job of preserving the onions’ red color, I subbed in red wine vinegar for the other varieties suggested in this recipe.

All together, it took me about ten minutes to put together a big jar of these pickled onions. They are suberb in falafel sandwiches (that’s where I first encountered them, at Bitar’s in Philadelphia), and I look forward to trying them in tacos and other dishes.




Pineapple and Red Pepper Shrub

The theme for month three of the 2017 Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is “Jellies and shrubs.” I’ve been experimenting with shrubs since last summer, so I would have been happy to venture into new territory with this month’s effort. But my family is not super keen on jelly: we very much prefer that our fruit-based spreads have chunks of fruit in them. Maybe one day I will play around with jellies (maybe some with delicate floral flavors), but for now I wanted to make something that I knew would be consumed and enjoyed: Pineapple and Red Pepper Shrub.

I started with Michael Dietsch’s basic recipe for cold-processed shrubs, which calls for 1:1:1 ratios of fruit, sugar, and vinegar. Rather than make a small batch that would be gone before I knew it, I decided to go all in and make enough to last a while.

First, I measured out 2 cups of diced pineapple and 2 cups of diced red pepper. In Dietsch’s recipe, these 4 cups of produce are matched with 4 cups of sugar. When I measured out 3 cups of sugar, I was somewhat horrified to see just how much that was, so I decided to start with that amount and add more as needed.


After stirring in the 3 cups, though, the fruit didn’t seem very well coated with sugar, so I ended up adding in the fourth cup after all (and reminding myself that only a very small amount of sugar ends up in each beverage).


I mixed everything up thoroughly, snapped a lip onto the bowl, and put the whole thing in the refrigerator. The next day, I worked on it a bit with a potato masher (which in my house is never actually used for potatoes—those go in a ricer) to encourage more of the juice to come out. Pineapple is somewhat juicy, but red pepper doesn’t release nearly the same amount of liquid. So the sugar mixture had a consistency that was more pastelike than syrupy.


One day later I took the bowl out of the fridge and stirred it up again. The sugar was still pastelike, though, and I was worried that when I strained the mixture I’d end up leaving a lot of the sugar behind. So instead of adding the vinegar after straining per Dietsch’s instructions, I added it at this point so it could help dissolve the sugar and carry it along into the final product. I used apple cider vinegar, which has mellower edges than white vinegar.


Then it was time to strain the mixture. For this, I turned to our chinois. (A chinois is a ridiculously overpriced piece of kitchen equipment. After making do with other sieves, strainers, and cheesecloth for years, we finally broke down and bought a chinois two years ago. We use ours all the time [best way to strain yogurt!] and wish we’d gotten this sooner.) Its very fine mesh ensures that no solids get through. And the wooden cone-shaped pestle that comes with it is just fantastic at pressing out the last bits of liquid—in this case, at least a full cup of liquid that would have otherwise been lost to the compost bin.


This recipe yielded two quarts of pineapple-and-red-pepper shrub. I like to add about 4 Tb of shrub to a tall glass of seltzer. Any less, and the flavor (especially the red pepper) is a bit too faint; any more, and the drink is just too piquant. This is an amazingly refreshing beverage on a hot day!



The February theme for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is salt preserving. This is totally new territory for me. So of course I had to try two different recipes.

First up: preserved Meyer lemons. I first read about these years and years ago in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (my main go-to cookbook). “They’re not hard to make,” she says, and she’s right. But it still took me nearly two decades to get around to it.

Meyer lemons are in season right now, so I wanted to make a recipe that highlighted their charms. I followed the instructions for “Salt-Preserved Meyer Lemons” in Marisa McClellan’s Preserving by the Pint. The recipe calls for one pound of Meyer lemons, and the prepackaged bag of lemons I found at my local store conveniently equalled that amount. Hooray!


This really is an easy recipe to prepare! All you have to do is wash and slice your lemons and stuff them into a quart jar with salt and spices. Easy peasy. I stowed the jar in a cool dark cabinet. and every few days I shake it to move its contents around (after three weeks or so, I’ll move it to the refrigerator for long-term storage). I am looking forward to trying out this stuff, especially after seeing this list of ideas!

Up next: vegetable stock. I enjoy making homemade vegetable stock, but all the waiting-to-be-turned-into-stock vegetable trimmings and all the containers of already-made stock really take up a lot of real estate in my freezer. So when I saw that Marisa had a recipe for a vegetable stock concentrate, I decided to give it a try.


This is another easy recipe: all you have to do is run everything through a food processor until it’s a nicely pureed, gross-looking brown paste, and then store it in the fridge. This really couldn’t be easier.

This recipe makes a huge batch—so huge, in fact, that after filling one quart jar for the fridge I decided to put the rest in a box in the freezer. (Yes, I realize that my “put less stuff in the freezer” motivation for making this actually ended up with me putting stuff in the freezer anyway, but it’s a lot less stuff than before, so I’m not complaining!)



I’ve already used the vegetable stock concentrate once, and with great success. I made the Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade from the cookbook Vedge, which bears the name of the authors’ fabulous restaurant. The concentrate yielded a rich vegetable stock that was a far cry from the anemic stocks that come in aseptic boxes. I’d say it’s right on par with the vegetable stock I usually make—but takes a fraction of the time and effort.

(P.S. Want to try Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade? You can find that recipe—along with a couple others from Vedgehere!)

I’ve been busy since the last time I updated my blog: work (I helped two of my editorial clients publish new books!), travel (camping in May, our annual trip to Vermont in August), and volunteering (in addition to my long-term involvement with Amnesty International, I’m now on the board for my local CISV chapter). I’ve also done a lot of knitting (which I’ll write about another time) and a lot of canning (which I’ll write about now).

I’ve been reading Marisa McClellan’s Food in Jars blog for a few years and own her first two books, Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint (which are both excellent!). I met Marisa at my local farmer’s market a couple of years ago, where she did a canning demo while on tour to promote Preserving by the Pint right after its publication. (She was super nice and signed my books—and also took the time to write in corrections for a few errata.) I remember thinking, “Wow, if she can make some great stuff using one skillet, one spatula, and a portable burner set up on a folding table in the middle of park, surely I can do some decent canning in my fully stocked kitchen!”

In the fall of 2015 I scored a few boxes of Roma tomatoes from a local farmer. I turned one-third of them into canned whole tomatoes (the perfect blank slate on which to build during the tomato-deficient winter months), one-third into a salsa from Food in Jars, and one-third into “Mailman Salsa” (so named because our mail carrier, Mark, gave us the recipe). Mailman Salsa was such a hit with my family (my usually tomato-hating kid loved it) that last fall, when I managed to acquire forty pounds of local Roma tomatoes, I turned them all into Mailman Salsa—over five gallons of it.


I’m pretty comfortable with my salsa-making skills but less confident in other canning domains. So when Marisa announced early this month that she’d be running a “Food in Jars Mastery Challenge” during 2017, I signed up immediately. Here’s my chance, I thought, I push myself out of my canning comfort zone and try something new.

January’s assignment got things off with a bang: marmalade. I have sampled marmalade a few times in my life and haven’t enjoyed it (even though, after reading the Paddington Bear books, I really wanted to). It was always orange marmalade, and it was always yucky (to me, at least). So I wasn’t terribly keen on making marmalade. But I didn’t want to fail the challenge right at the start!

Fortunately, Meyer lemons are in season right now—and very nice ones are available at my grocery store. Marisa has waxed rhapsodic about Meyer lemons both in her blog and in her books, so I decided to see what all the fuss is about. A few days ago, I tackled her Strawberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade in Preserving by the Pint.

First, I prepped the fruit. This took some time (partly because I am the current holder of  the World’s Slowest Knife Skills in the Kitchen award). Putting the lemon’s white core and seeds in cheesecloth and extracting their pectin by adding that bundle to the soaking lemon slices is a really nifty idea. Food chemistry ftw!


Then I cooked the fruit until it lost a lost of liquid and hit 200 degrees on my cooking thermometer.


And then I processed the jars in a water bath for ten minutes. The recipe yield is three half pints, and I hit that pretty much right on the head. (I had only two half-pint jars, not three, so I substituted two half-cup jars for the third.) See that nice white powder on my jars? Oh, the joy of living in a place with super-hard water!


But I am pleased with the results! The marmalade tastes pretty good. The brightness of the strawberry tempers some of the “pointiness” (I don’t really know how else to describe it) of the lemon. My jars all set up nicely (hooray!). I’m not sure if I’ll be making a lot more marmalade in my future (that will depend on how much my family likes this), but I’m glad I’ve finally done it at least once.


Another dessert

We’ve all become very enamored of an Australian television show called Little Lunch. This mockumentary-style show focuses on a group of six twelve-year-olds and what they do during “little lunch” (a sort of recess+snack time) at school. One episode is about a dessert called a Pavlova. So of course we had to make one. (And by  “we” I mean Jan prepared the meringue and whipped cream, and Sylvia was in charge of prepping and arranging the fruit. My job was to eat.)



A literary dessert

Whenever my book group meets at my house, my in-house baker prepares a thematically appropriate dessert.

For last week’s discussion of The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, by Pico Iyer, he made this lemon-cranberry tart (with a hazelnut cookie crust) that’s the color of the Dalai Lama’s robes.


I recently received a Starbucks Verismo machine as a gift. It makes single servings of espresso and coffee and claims to make frothed milk to accompany said espresso. (I say “claim” because the result is probably the worst frothed milk–in terms of both texture and taste–that I have ever encountered.) When it comes to coffee, I’m still very much a French press kind of person. So for me, the Verismo is exclusively an espresso machine. Fortunately, it actually makes pretty good espresso.

The problem is that it uses pods. I really, really, really hate the amount of waste that pods produce. I loathe Keurig machines for that reason, but at least sometimes there are options to use third-party refillable pods in those (at least until Keurig changes their DRM again to block them). But the Verismo uses only disposable pods. No one has created a fillable one–so I decided to do it myself. You can do it, too. Here’s how.

First, you need a sharp paring knife and some new Verismo pods that have been used once. IMG_0491

Remove and discard the foil “lid” of the pod. You want to cut as close as possible to the plastic rim of the pod. Dump the used grounds into your compost bin, wash out the pod, and set it aside to dry. IMG_0492

Use a 2.5″ hold punch (available from craft supply stores–I got mine at Michael’s) to cut circles of aluminum foil. The first time I tried this, I just cut foil squares with scissors. But using the punch is so much faster, and you end up with circles that are the perfect size for this use–not so large as to have a bunch of excess foil that could jam the pod in your machine, and not so small as to fail to cover the top of the pod completely and securely. IMG_0495

Once the pods are dry, it’s time to (re)fill them! I’ve found that the most efficient method is to hold the pod in your fingertips, put your hand right into the bag of ground espresso, scoop the espresso into the pod, and use your thumb to tamp it down. Doing all of this right in the bag (rather than dumping the espresso into a bowl or other container) minimizes the mess. IMG_0496

Center the foil circle on the top of your pod. Use two fingers (spread apart) of one hand to press down on the top of the rim (so the foil doesn’t shift) while you use the fingertips of your own hand to fold the foil under the edge of the rim. I keep my “crimping” hand at 3 o’clock and rotate the pod, not my hand, as I fold the foil. IMG_0502

Here’s a side view of a (refilled) and (re)covered pod. IMG_0503

And here are a bunch of pods, all ready to bring caffeinated goodness into the world! IMG_0504

The pods come in boxes of 12. My machine came with one box, and I had to refill them every few days. So I bought another box to bring my pod total up to 24, and I’m finding that works great for my household. Our mainstay is French press coffee, and we use the Verismo machine when only one person wants a coffee drink. At this rate, we’re washing and refilling the pods about once a week.

(As for the milk, we got a small, manual, stainless steel frother. It is perfect for our needs, cleans up easily. and has no electronics that might get gunked up. We love it.)


Mystery lemon

Is giving giant* lemons with the next year’s date written on them some New Year’s Eve tradition that I just haven’t heard about before?



One of the guests at our New Year’s Eve party brought this decorated lemon. (I didn’t know about it until after he left, and he isn’t someone I know (he’s the friend of a friend who was invited), so I can’t really contact him to ask.

*Seriously, this thing is the size of a small grapefruit!


Happy New Year!

 We welcomed 2016 with about 100 friends crammed into our house! Actually, we welcomed it twice: we always toast with everyone at midnight GMT (the very family-friendly hour of 7 p.m. EST), and then again at midnight EST with whoever is still here (which ended up being about 20 people this time).

There’s a lot of food (all vegetarian), a lot of beer (thanks to the six-tap keg freezer in our garage), and lots of music.

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We had a scheduled concert at 5 featuring various friends performing different songs and everyone joining together at the end for a rousing rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (damn straight we demanded our figgy pudding, too!). And there was plenty of other impromptu singing and noodling around on the piano and ukuleles as well.
What fun! And how lucky we are to know so many wonderful people! I’m confident that 2016 will be a very happy new year indeed!
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