Monday, July 30, 2012

Raw-Pack Canning Blueberries in Juice

Yesterday marked the 6th annual Boston Skillshare, and the third that I have been involved with. The last two years, I facilitated workshops on reclaiming yarn, basic auto maintenance, and beginning ukulele. Apparently, I can't stop teaching, even on weekends and vacations. This year, I facilitated a workshop on canning and pickling, by request. I had originally wanted to walk through canning tomatoes, but we have not quite reached the deluge of tomatoes that will be here in a week or two, so I went with blueberries instead. Blueberries are a particularly easy food to can: they don't need to be cooked or cut up ahead of time, and are sufficiently acidic that they don't need to be processed under pressure. I also had the privilege of being introduced to the League of Urban Canners, a group operating in the Boston area (primarily Somerville and Cambridge) to make the most of backyard fruit. If you invite them, they will come to your house, pick the fruit before it falls all over your yard, can it, and give you 10% of what they can. It's a really interesting model that I would love to be involved with if they weren't 2 hours away.

Before we start in with the blueberries, a few words about the role of heat and acidity in safe canning. The whole deal with preserving is to arrest, avoid or carefully control the bacterial and enzymatic breakdown of fresh food. These include such options as freezing, drying, fermenting and canning. Canning preserves food by sealing it away from the air under vacuum and killing any bacteria trapped inside through heat, which works for the vast majority of bacterial species. Clostridium botulinum is a more complicated story. While live C. botulinum are killed at boiling water temperatures, they produce spores which aren't. The spores remain active at that temperature and thrive in an oxygen-deprived environment at between 40°-140°F, (like, say, a can at room temperature) happily producing deadly neurotoxins. The spores can be destroyed at temperatures of 240°F. However, an acidic environment with a pH of <4.6 inhibits these spores, so that the live-bacteria killing 212°F is sufficient. This pH of 4.6 marks the dividing line between high-acid foods, which can be safely processed in a 212°F boiling water bath and low-acid foods, which must be processed using a pressure canner, which can reach temperatures of 240°F.

Blueberries, along with all other berries and the majority of fruits (by the common rather than botanical definition) are classified as high-acid foods, and can be processed in a boiling water bath. The general process for canning berries is as follows:
  1. Obtain berries.
  2. Wash berries.
  3. Load berries into sterilized jars.
  4. Cover with hot juice, syrup or water.
  5. Seal with lid.
  6. Process in a hot water bath for 15-20 minutes.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Super Zucchini Bread with Lemon, Walnut and Basil

In Vermont, we like to joke that the reason to lock your car in the summer isn't because someone might steal it, but because someone might leave a bushel of zucchini in the front seat. Delicate little fruits grow into baseball bats overnight and invite four or five friends along, too. My childhood memories of zucchini have as much to do with using them for benches and dressing them up in doll clothes as they do with actually eating them. Local fairs in zucchini-prone areas often turn up with events like best-dressed zucchini contests or zucchini races (see above). There's still plenty left over to eat. Besides, who's to say you can't eat your winning car?

For all that they are abundant to the point of ubiquity around here in the summer, I don't actually get tired of eating them. Zucchini (and all of its summer squashy cohort) are ridiculously versatile and, in a number of dishes, seem to vanish entirely (chefs for the vegetable-averse, take note). Zucchini bread is a good example of this.

My dad requested a good zucchini bread recipe the other day, specifically one that wasn't too sweet and used a lot of zucchini. A great many zucchini bread recipes really load up on sugar (and fat, for that matter). The top result for "zucchini bread" on Google contains 3 cups of sugar and 1 cup of oil to 2 cups of zucchini and 3¼ cups of flour in two loaves. That's a sugar-heavy ratio even by cake standards, and a disappointingly low zucchini content.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Swordfish with Peach-Corn Salsa

My CSA keeps me sane in the summer: it helps keep my miserly urges from denying me fresh vegetables and jump starts my culinary creativity in a couple different ways. Not only does the seasonality lead me into the diverse options for familiar vegetables, but it also forces me to try out vegetables I'm less familiar with (see the last post, a study of kohlrabi). This has worked really well for the last few yeas, and both my miserly urges and desire for a varied palate are satisfied.

This year, the farm down the road where I have a share became a pickup location for Cape Cod Fish Share. The fish share does the same things that the vegetable share does for me as regards creativity and circumventing the miserly urges, but also answers many of the sourcing and sustainability questions that keep me from buying fish regularly.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Kohlrabi: Spherical, but quite pointy in parts!

What is Sputnik doing in my CSA share?!

One of the best parts of a farm share is the surprises: the chances to meet a new ingredient head on, figure out what makes it tick like a tasty bomb, and eat it up. Kohlrabi is one that I'm still figuring out, and the friends with whom I do farm pickup have been left scratching their heads as well. It's only in the share a once or twice out of the year, and each year has slowly revealed its charms a little more. This year, I think I finally have its number.

CSA-share head-scratch staple kohlrabi, which looks like a more organic version of Sputnik (spherical, but quite pointy in parts!), is part of the largely familiar Brassica oleracea crew, which includes kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage (but not napa cabbage or bok choy, which are Brassica rapa). It's remarkable to think that they're all the same species, but, then again, so are chihuahuas and Irish wolfhounds.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Savory Cantaloupe Salad & Chèvre on Anadama Bread

Perfectly ripe cantaloupe almost seems beyond improvement: the deep, musky perfume hits you even before you sink your teeth into the satiny smooth flesh. It's sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, and has a richness to it uncharacteristic of most fruits.

Sometimes, you just can't help tweaking perfection, though. (Also, not every cantaloupe reaches quite that pinnacle of perfection.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Earlier this week, I put up a post about how to collect and can your own grape leaves. The inevitable follow-up is what to do with those leaves once you have them.

Stuffed grape leaves feature in cuisines from southern Europe to Central Asia, though the most common names dolma and sarma come from Turkish (dolmak, "to stuff"; sarmak, "to wrap") — another testament to the broad, long-lasting impact of the Silk Road. Many of these cultures alternately use the same fillings in cabbage leaves.The fillings vary slightly from place to place, but are typically some combination of a grain, like rice or bulgur, and protein, like ground meat or lentils. From there, fillings diverge widely. Some include vegetables like tomato and zucchini. Others focus on adding dried fruits and nuts. They are served in a range of sauces, the most common being based around tomato, yogurt or lemon.

In the interest of feeding a broad group cheaply, my go-to grape leaf filling is based around rice and red lentils. Lentils and rice are about as cheap as protein gets. I specifically use red lentils, which are available in most supermarkets, because they have a similar cooking time to rice. You can use brown lentils if that's what you have, but you would want to parcook them more than the rice and beyond just a quick soak. I also usually include onion, raisins and mint, and simmer the stuffed leaves in a lemon and olive-oil dressing.


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