Monday, September 29, 2014
Are you on the fermenting bandwagon yet? I'm trying to hitch a ride myself, but still very much in the early learning stages. I figure that it can't hurt, and within safe reason I love anytime I can present and prepare food for friends and family that has been minimally handled/processed. So I am dipping my toe into the world of making my own fermented foods. So far my two attempts have been kombucha and lacto fermented salsa.
A year or so ago I started buying those bottled kombucha drinks at the local natural food coop, and I was quickly hooked. Those babies are expensive though and so I began researching how to make my own. About that time I connected with a friend of a friend who had recently started experimenting with making her own kombucha and was willing to share some scoby and teach me the basics. So after an afternoon spent sampling her variations and gleaning as much as I could from her experience I took home a couple scobys and set out to ferment my own kombucha. I love this tutorial on brewing your own. Once the tea was ready, I am finding that 7-10 days is a good amount of time for fermentation in our home (though with cooler temps settling in that may begin to stretch longer), it's time to flavor your tea. Over the summer we used seasonal fruits, mostly berries, along with lemon and ginger to flavor our tea but now that fall is kicking in I'm thinking a pear/ginger combo sounds really great. Have you tried making kombucha? If so what are your favorite flavor add in's?
My second foray into the world of fermenting has been lacto fermented salsa. We love salsa in this house and during the summer months when tomatoes are at their best we make and consume a lot of it. That and my obsession with buying produce by the box led me to my first attempt at fermented salsa. I had an abundance of tomatoes both from the garden and supplemental purchases and was looking for something new to try in the way of food preservation. I stumbled on this blog post about fermented salsa and made quick work of transforming the remains of my tomatoes into several quarts of the best salsa I've ever tasted. Not only is it super tasty, it is really fairly quick and easy to make. A few rough chops, some blitzing in the food processor and a few days on the counter and you are good to go. And no cooking folks! No standing over a hot stove water bath canning salsa in 100 degree temps. From what I've read you can hold fermented salsa in the fridge for fairly lengthy periods, likely longer than you will need because if you like salsa you will eat your way through your jars very fast. The inner hoarder in me wants to make enough to last us well into and hopefully through winter so I dug a bit deeper and found that you can freeze this salsa with decent results. I've got a tester quart in the freezer and another gallon plus working it's magic on my counter at this very moment. Once we crack open the frozen jar I will report back but I do have high hopes. I took a jar of this along on a weekend trip with friends and it got a raving thumbs up, even by my onion and pepper hating friend. I was even able to successfully use it as a bribe for a teen friend of ours, its really that good. I hope you try for yourself, I'd love to hear what you think.
Friday, September 19, 2014
French Apple Cake that I thought could work well with my quickly ripening pears. In fact the original recipe has one softening up crisp apples, so substituting nicely ripened soft pears seemed a perfect tweak. I also wanted to make the recipe dairy free so I used coconut oil and milk in the recipe, and oh was that a winning call. I had never made this cake before but am always excited to try out a new recipe on friends, though I could not have anticipated the absolute wonder of this cake. Nearly everyone at the table tried it, even those who typically stay away from sweets and such, and I can honestly say that nothing else I have ever made for anyone has ever gotten quite the response this cake did. There were seconds and thirds had, and many requests to share the recipe. That simple rustic little cake in the photos above has caused quite the stir. So naturally I made it again, I had to see if it was just beginners luck or some sort of fluke after all, for a dinner gathering with friends last weekend and I am happy to say that it wasn't a fluke at all. This cake is amazing! It has a slight custard quality to it and is loaded with layer after layer of fruit. I hope that you try it and enjoy it as much as we have been.
Posted by Jen at 10:58 AM
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Phew, where did the time go? The kids are back to school, I can feel that our mornings and evenings have cooled off considerably, the leaves are already starting to shift from vibrant green to lovely shades of orange, and soup is once again making a regular appearance on our dinner table. I guess I have to reluctantly admit to myself that summer is over, I mean even the calendar is trying to give me the hint with the solstice date looming.
It really does not seem real to me that our summer is now just a mere memory. We had such a great time with friends and family, both near and far from home, adventuring and chilling out together on beaches, in canoes and kayaks, in swimming pools, hiking trails, riding bikes, seeing new parts of the country and revisiting some of our favorite local spots. We also had a good amount of time at home just hanging out, which gave me time to indulge a favorite summer pastime... canning and preserving summer's beautiful bounty. We've got enough jam, salsa and chutney to carry us through the year with just enough to share here and there. I also got busy with lots of freezing of peaches and berries for smoothies and to top pancakes. Then there were the tomatoes... I made a lot of tomato sauce (I will share my new favorite method for preserving tomatoes soon) that is stocked up in our freezer for soups and sauces, as well as several quarts of slow roasted tomatoes. I get so excited looking at my freezer stocked with loads of treasure saved for the winter, but at the same time a bit anxious at the thought of a lengthy power outage. But let's not dwell on that.
My go-to reference for all things canned is the Food In Jars website and cookbook. I love Marisa's creative combinations and the smaller portions makes whipping up a batch or two at a time way more manageable for me. This year we stuck with the standards -- raspberry jam, rosemary/apricot jam, peach salsa and pear/walnut conserve (equally good on toast or over your favorite soft or blue cheese) but added a few new items to the the mix as well including blackberry/sage jam, ginger pear jam (so amazing mixed into morning oatmeal!), and peach chutney. I find those stacks of jars gleaming deep purple to vibrant raspberry red and even the pale creamy color of pear to be so simply beautiful on my shelf right now.
Just as I morn the move away from our summer adventures and lazy days I do also welcome the return to routine that comes with those misty morning walks to school and evenings that find us all home scattered throughout the house.
Posted by Jen at 11:39 AM
Monday, September 15, 2014
Why I Ride
I've been out on my bike much more lately and loving the time sailing through the curves and straights of local streets and trails while feeling the incredible Northwest sunshine beaming down on me. So today I wanted to share this poem accompanied with a short video promoting bike riding, follow the link above and enjoy...
Posted by Jen at 10:07 AM
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Who wants to spend time at the stove when it's hot outside and there are so many fun things to get busy with? Come summer, I happily take a bit of a step back from the typical dinner fare we know and love throughout the rest of the year and cook more "picnic" style around here. Healthy and filling salads become a go-to for me, as I'd much rather eek out more time at the beach with the girls, go on a picnic to any of the array of summer movies and outdoor concerts in the area, have fun out on our bikes, or let myself get totally engrossed in a great book. I especially love it when a salad is hearty enough to stand up over night in the refridgerator - we are not afraid of leftovers around here. Here's a sneak peak at my summer salad line up; variations on a Cobb Salad, must try this Mango and Red Pepper Salad, this Bok Choy Slaw, any sort of cold Rice Noodle Salad with a ginger dressing and slivered veggies, this Fennel Salad is calling me to try out, as is this simple Green Salad With Cherries, this Quinoa Salad is a favorite, a simple green salad loaded with nuts, beans or chicken, and all those little bits of veg needing to get used up, salsa (can we call salsa a salad?), and this Corn Salad looks like it would be a perfect picnic salad along side some sliced meats and cheese. Last night we feasted on a cold rotisserie chicken, spinach topped with this Garbanzo Salad, and some left over chips and salsa (my oldest is our in-house salsa maker and we happily reap the benefits of such).
Yesterday my youngest came up with a new creation for lunch that I am sure will make a repeat visit as she happily exclaimed she'd take it to school for lunch any time. She sautéed up a sliced zucchini in olive oil then added some chopped up roasted red pepper, a few cherry tomatoes from the garden and bits of leftover chicken, then she topped it with a few shavings of parmesan cheese. Even my mostly vegetarian daughter enjoyed it. We ate it warm as is, but I think it could be great cold with your favorite pasta as a salad or atop some fresh summer greens. What I really loved about it was that she took a recipe of interest and shifted it to suit what we had on hand and our own personal tastes. As a parent, one of my personal goals has always been to build a sense of competency in my girls around preparing good food for themselves. I want them to have the ability to walk into the kitchen, scope the scene and make something tasty and relatively healthful for themselves. I think we are on our way as the oldest has become my go-to condiment maker (salsa, pesto, guacamole etc...) and has really started developing an interest in baking and now the younger one is building confidence and skills too, she did not shy away from the huge knife I handed her to chop veggies and meat with yesterday. Though I can't lie, I'd be tickled pink if they found the joy and sense of creative outlet in the kitchen that I do, mostly I want them to be able to feed themselves and those around them well without a box of this or that or a phone to call for delivery.
Well, back to those summer salads, do you change up your typical dinner routines this time of year too? If so what are your favorite summer salads? I'd love to hear what you all are living off this summer, I am sure there are so many possibilities that I haven't even thought of yet.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Oh my, doesn't all that fruit make your mouth water. I love the bounties of summer, especially the complete abundance of freshly picked fruit. With what we've got growing in our own garden like rhubarb, blueberries and strawberries, the fact that I can't pass up a local roadside fruit stand to save my soul and that we love to go berry picking each summer there is always an overwhelming amount of fruit in our kitchen throughout the summer. Berry picking has become a summer tradition for us, what a fun day out and the eat-as-you-go policy that our favorite raspberry farm has is just what the kids need to keep them interested and motivated to fill those boxes. We went out with friends recently and between the girls and I we picked over twenty pounds of raspberries. It was unusually hot in our neck of the woods that day, topping 90 degrees, so we had to call it after just an hour or so. Once we got home we gorged ourselves on berries for days, but knowing that it was not likely we could actually consume our weight in berries before they turned into sad mushy boxes of goo I got right to work, baking some into muffins and baked oatmeal, cooking some into jam, and freezing what I could to tide us through winter. I love freezing fruit! It is as low maintenance as it comes in the preserving world and the results don't disappoint. The method I have settled on with greatest success is to line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and lay the fruit in a single layer on it. For things like raspberries, small strawberries, blackberries and blueberries I keep the fruit whole and for stone fruits and larger strawberries I cut them in half or wedges. After the fruit is arranged I pop the tray in the freezer for a few hours or more likely overnight. Once everything is frozen solid I fill gallon ziplock bags with the frozen fruit and label with date and name of fruit. So simple and yet it yields such pleasure throughout winter. Then when you have an inkling for a raspberry/rhubarb crisp or some strawberries over yogurt it is as simple as a quick defrost and you are good to go. So when you see that fruit stand don't hesitate to stop and pick up a flat or two of fruit, if you aren't into canning or making jam at the very least you can freeze a few gallons for later.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Can we get a bit interactive here? I want to get a smoothie conversation going, I know you all have some favorite smoothies you like to make and I love getting some fresh ideas. In the winter we really lay off the cold foods and drinks so smoothies are just now coming back into rotation with the sun shining longer and brighter in these parts. As I've mentioned before, I am ALWAYS on the lookout for more ways to get additional veggies into my family's meals, and smoothies have long been a great way to sneak in a few extra nutrient boosts. Having had some pretty big flops attempting to tip the scale a little to far to the veg side rather than the fruit, I have come up with some techniques that seem to keep everyone happy. The first one being to stick to a color palate, the army green or murky brown that results from mixing red berries and kale can turn off even the most willing of smoothie drinkers. So, if I am working with peaches I'll toss in a couple carrots, juice from a sweet potato or golden beets, red berries are great to add red beets to, blueberries can hide kale/spinach/chard really well and if I am going with a green smoothie I'll add apple or pear to sweeten. You get the idea, right. I have found that celery and cucumber can hide in nearly any smoothie without being detected and both give off hints of a really nice fresh flavor. Second, I always add either a banana or avocado which adds a really nice creamy but not to creamy texture. I also will add some honey if I feel I might be pushing the veg to fruit tolerances. We typically have oranges or orange juice on hand so that is a standard liquid base to which I will add either coconut milk and/or yogurt. This is also the place I once would sneak extra supplements in before everyone could swallow the mouthful of vitamins I push on my family. If I have cashews or almonds that have soaked I'll add them for a little protein boost. What else do you all like to add to your smoothies? Today I am feasting on this green smoothie which contains a good amount of spinach just picked this morning from my garden, a pear, a couple stalks of celery, a banana, splash of OJ, a big scoop of plain yogurt and a bit of ice.