Monday, September 26, 2011

A Lighter Zucchini Bread

Zucchini Bread is always a popular way to deal with the extra zucchini we sometimes have at this time of year.  Or maybe there's that zucchini that we failed to harvest on time and is now approaching the size of a toy (or real!) football...

Zucchini pickles and zucchini bread always come to the rescue.  But in the past, I've found that my z. bread came out a bit soggy.  Now, thanks to the wisdom of my friend Erica on Northwest Edible, I've been able to create a really light zucchini bread!

The answer lies in the preparation of our prodigious squash by draining it in a colander for 30 minutes before baking into a bread.  The trick I learned from Erica is to sprinkle lightly with sugar to draw out the moisture.  I did this over a bowl in order to see how much moisture would come out, and I was amazed.

                                                                The recipe I followed calls for walnuts and raisins, two ingredients I use often and therefore buy in bulk and store in glass jars in the pantry.
     I have a wonderful nut chopping set: a wooden bowl with a chopping blade that fits perfectly into it.  This was my Mom's, and I've been using it a good many years.
    If you are starting out collecting kitchen utensils, I'd recommend shopping your local antiques emporium.  Not only will you be supporting a local business, you will see that kitchen tools, like garden tools, were at one time built to last.  The materials and craftsmanship will be far superior to what you might find in even a high end kitchen store.

So here we go:

One half hour before preparing the batter, grate 3 cups of zuccini into a large colander and sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons of organic sugar. Mix thoroughly and allow to drain.

When the half hour is up, preheat oven to 350' and grease two loaf pans.

In a medium bowl, mix together:
   3 cups flour
   1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
   1 teaspoon baking soda
   1 teaspoon salt
   1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
   1/2 teaspoon ginger

Combine in a large bowl:
   3 cups drained zucchini
   7/8 cup canola oil
   1 1/2 cups sugar
   3 large eggs, well beaten
   1 teaspoon vanilla

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well.

Stir in:
   1 cup chopped walnuts
   1 cup raisins

Divide the batter equally between the two loaf pans and bake for one hour.

The breads are done when the edges pull away from the sides of the pan. The standard test for done-ness is to poke the bread with a wooden toothpick.  If it comes out clean, your bread is done.  If some batter is sticking to it, it needs more baking time.
(OMG is that an aluminum pan??  Where did that come from? Rather, how did it get back into the kitchen? I thought it was holding crayons or colored pencils!!)

Allow to cool before slicing.  This is excellent with cream cheese, but it is also killer all by itself!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Zucchini Pickles

This recipe for refrigerator pickles works well with yellow squash, zucchini, or a combination of both.  Besides the squash, the recipe calls for green peppers, red peppers, and onions.  For this batch, we didn't have any red peppers yet, so they are not as colorful as they might be, but they are still an attractive pickle, and a tad on the sweet side so they appeal to kids as well.
Here's the recipe given to me by a friend of my mother in law when Jack and I first were married:

Three hours in advance of processing:

Dissolve 2/3 cup salt in 3 quarts of water.

Add 16 cups thinly sliced summer squash and cover with a plate to keep submerged.
(one medium squash = 4 cups)
Soak for three hours.

In a large pan, heat:
4 cups vinegar
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons mustard seeds

Stir constantly till sugar dissolves.

Add squash and:
4 medium onion, sliced
4 green peppers, chopped into large chunks
2 red peppers, chopped into smaller chunks

Bring to a boil, pack into hot jars. 
Allow to cool then store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

These are yummy, crispy pickles!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tabouli Salad

As soon as August rolls around, as the lettuce bolts and the parsley matures, Taboli becomes our mainstay salad. And you know what the doctor says..."Make the salad the Main Course!"

Well this is a hearty salad, and will suffice as the main course with no problem.  Bulgur wheat is very easy to prepare as it is cracked and pre-cooked.  You can find it in the bulk aisle of your local food co-op.  And while you're there, buy a lemon.  This is sooo good when made with real lemon juice!!

Once you have the basic bulgur salad made, you can be creative about which garden vegetables you add to it.  Remember that a variety of colors and textures always makes your salad (and meal) more appetizing.  Here's the recipe from "The Moosewood Cookbook" by Mollie Katzen:

1 cup dry bulgur wheat and 2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
black pepper to taste
1 small chopped onion
1 packed cup minced parsley
about one dozen mint leaves, minced (or 1 Tablespoon dried mint)
2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 small cucumber, seeded and diced

Bring water to boil, add bulgur and bring again to boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes; then remove from flame, cover, and let sit for 20 to 30 minutes.

Add salt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and black pepper, and mix thoroughtly.  Cover tightly and refrigerate until 30 minutes before serving.

About 30 minutes before serving, stir in remaining ingredients and mix well.  Allow to rest at room temperature until serving time, to allow flavors to awaken.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Because we've long had a commitment to environmental responsibility, we've made every effort to avoid the use of plastic in all aspects of our lives.  More important than recycling is just to never buy plastic stuff to begin with!! Paying attention to packaging is just one good way to avoid needless use of petroleum products.

By growing and preserving our own food we are able to avoid all the packaging that comes with buying commercially prepared foods.  Unfortunately, we still find we need to use plastic bags and boxes in our own food preservation.  But the good part is...we use these products over and over again!  

When freezing vegetables we use plastic bag liners inside of cardboard boxes.  We rinse and reuse these bags as many times as possible.  The food that they have contained was boiled before it went into the bag.  Then it was frozen.  There was no chance for it to go bad, so why not use the bag again?

In the lower photo you can see a row of cup hooks in the bottom of the shelf over the kitchen sink.  The cup hooks are a very handy way to dry the bags before packing them away to use again next year.

In the top photo you can see the freezer boxes we use.  We use sharpies to write the contents and date on the outside of the box.  Different colors for different years.

We have had a few boxes get wrecked over the years, but on the whole we are very neat packers and don't often spill any food on the boxes as we fill them.  Many of our boxes date back to 1987. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lacto-Fermented Salsa

This recipe for lacto-fermented salsa is from the book Nourishing Traditions
by Sally Fallon.  It makes one quart of salsa, which must be refrigerated, not canned.  Here are the ingredients you will need:
  • 4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped 
  • 3/4 cup chopped chile pepper 
  • 6 - 8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • juice of two lemons
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons whey (if not available, use an additional 1 tablespoon salt)
  • 1/4 cup filtered water
 To peel the tomatoes, use a slotted spoon to place them gently into a pan of boiling water and watch for the skins to split.  This only takes from 15 to 45 seconds, depending on the size of the tomatoes.
                                                              Then lift them out of the pan and place them in a colander set over a large bowl to catch the draining water.  Allow them to cool while you chop the other ingredients. Then peel and seed tomatoes and cut into small chunks.
Someday I'll tell you the story about the smart-ass earthcookie who read the admonition to wear rubber gloves when chopping hot peppers
and thought that was only for sissies.
See those rubber gloves?  When you chop hot peppers,
Mix all your ingredients together in a large bowl and ladle into wide mouth quart canning jar.  Press down gently with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer, adding more water if necessary to cover the vegetables.

The top of the vegetables should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar.  Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 2 days before transferring to the refrigerator.
I didn't have a wooden pounder or a meat hammer so I used a narrow vase to do my vegetable pressing.

For the next two days we kept tasting the salsa to see if it was ready.  It was fantastic.  After two days only this much was left.  It was still pretty salty but we put it in the fridge at this point.

 Happily we have plenty more tomatoes and peppers etc, so we'll be starting another jar tomorrow... 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Canning Salsa

Along with our bounty of tomatoes during Hurricane Irene, we also had tons of onions and peppers, so we did make up some salsa for the canner.  The results are not runny and much too vinegary for my taste.  I think this is because we followed the recipe in the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Freezing.  This book is extremely careful about not letting you give yourself food poisoning.  This is a good thing, but in some cases, such as much vinegar makes the outcome not worth the effort.
To clarify:  canning relies on two things to preseve foods safely: heat and acidity. 
Tomatoes are an acid food* and therefore can safely be canned in a water bath canner.  Beans, peas and corn are low acid, and therefore must be canned in a pressure canner, which achieves much higher temperatures.

Salsa falls somewhere in between...Tomatoes are acidic, but the onions, peppers and garlic are not, so the safest way to process the salsa is to add lots of vinegar to really crank up the acidity.

* Some of the newer tomato varieties have been designed for a lower acid content to make them more digestible.  So you cannot even trust that all tomato varieties are safely canned by the water bath process.  So if you do make salsa, I advise you to pack it into wide mouth CAN OR FREEZE jars and freeze it.  And if you want to make sauce, I advise you to freeze that too... see Freezer Tomato Sauce.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Canning Tomatoes

Well, I'm not all that crazy about canning things: I find it just a tad labor intensive. 

But with the power knocked out by Hurricane Irene, and lots of ripe tomatoes everywhere we looked, we had little choice. 
We do have a generator to keep the freezers and refrigerators going, but it wouldn't be wise to add a bunch of warm tomato sauce to them at this time.  So water bath canning seemed an obvious choice.  If you're new to canning, please refer to The Ball Blue Book: The Guide to Home Canning and Freezing,or visit
Here's our set-up for canning.  On the left is the water bath canner, with jars inside, all sterilized and being kept warm in the hot water. The first covered pan is for parboiling the tomatoes for 30 seconds to crack their skins and make them easy to peel.  The second pan has the jar lids and rings, all sterilized and ready to go.  On the counter is a colander full of parboiled tomatoes, draining into a large bowl, and cooling.  To the right of the colander are more tomatoes ready to be processed.
Be sure to use only firm ripe tomatoes with no bad spots. Parboil tomatoes for 30 - 45 seconds and allow them to cool enough to handle.  Then slip off their skins,cut out the core and any green shoulders.  Boil tomatoes for five minutes.

Now, using the jar lifter, remove one jar from the hot water, and carefully drain the hot water back into the canner.  This is the part of canning that really scares me.  This water is hot enough to burn your skin if you get splashed.  I can't believe I did this with small kids in the house.  I just recently discovered these big blue gloves with a nice non-slip surface.  They are somewhat heat resistant and I probably should have been wearing one on my right hand as well.
Using a funnel to keep the top rim of the jar clean, ladle the hot tomatoes into the jar.  Remove the funnel, and use a non-metallic utensil to press the tomatoes till juice runs out and fills the jar.  Leave 1/2 inch of head space at the top.  Add 1 teaspoon canning salt to each jar and remove any air bubbles by running the non-metallic utensil between the tomatoes and the side of the jar.
Use a damp cloth to wipe the top and threads of the jar.  Place the lid on the jar and screw ring down securely.  Use jar lifter to return the filled jar to the canner and remove the next empty jar.  Continue on until seven jars are filled and placed in the canner.  You may need to remove some of the water as the filled jars replace the empty ones.  Be sure there is at least one inch of water over the top of the jars.
Cover the canner and bring the water to a boil.  Process for 45 minutes at a steady but gentle boil.  Pint jars need boil only 35 minutes.  (The timing is different for folks above a thousand feet in elevation, so check with one of the resources above if this is your situation.)

Remove jars and stand them on a double thickness of dish towel to cool.  You will hear small popping sounds as the vacuum seals each jar lid.  Hopefully you will hear seven of these little pops. 
Allow the jars to cool undisturbed for at least 12 hours. (Do not retighten bands.)  Test the seals by visually inspecting or gently pressing on the lid with your fingertip.  The lid should be sligtly concave and not yield to pressure from your finger.  If the lid has a slight upward bulge and yields to pressure, remove the ring and see if you can lift the lid with your fingertips. 

If a lid has failed to seal, replace the ring and refrigerate the tomatoes.  Eat them within a few days.  For all the other jars, remove the rings, wash and dry the jars, and store in a dark, cool, dry location.