Apples

It is apple-picking time. I love apples. My son will choose an apple over some kinds of candy (not all candy, but some). I love apples and I love biting into an apple that just came off the tree. And I mean, pick, wipe it on my shirt, and bite. We have a local orchard, Strawberry Hill that is fabulous. No frills. They aren’t about putting on a show. No hayrides; no corn maze. Just apples.

I thought about posting recipes for applesauce or apple butter, but they are a dime a dozen. Applesauce for me? Quarter the apples and put them in a pot with some water and let them cook until the turn into mush. Run it through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. BAM! Applesauce. And then take that, put it in the crock-pot. Mix in cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and a little ginger. Let it cook on low for about 16 hours with the lid askew, stirring every so often. BAM! Apple butter.

Instead, I give you Apple Pie Filling. It cans up really well. The best apples for this are hard, tart apples, like Granny Smiths or Braeburns. My favorites are Arkansas Blacks, however, my neighbor, who is of advanced years, lets us harvest his Bellflower apples and they work exceptionally well for this recipe.

Apple Pie Filling

4 C evaporated cane juice

½ C Arrowroot powder

1 T cinnamon

1 t nutmeg

½ t ground allspice

¼ t ground clove

3 quarts of water

3 T lemon juice

6 -7 pounds of apples

In a large pot, combine the evaporated cane juice, arrowroot, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Mix well. Add the water and whisk everything together. Put on the stove, over a medium low heat and cook until the mixture becomes bubbly and thick. This could take 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Meanwhile, peel, core, and cut the apples into bite-sized pieces and pack them into quart-sized canning jars. I use a peeler/corer for this and it cuts the apples into big spirals. I just cut the spiral into quarters and then pack the prepared jars. Cover with the hot syrup, and then top the jars with prepared lids (always follow manufacturer’s instructions!).

Process in a hot water bath for 25 minutes.

Tacos From the Freezer

One of the ways we make dinner easier is by cooking in advance and putting things in the freezer.  The title is a bit misleading, because we don’t actually eat tacos from the freezer.  We have Taco Casserole, or Taco Lasagna. It is one of those super easy meals to make in advance and put in the freezer.  When I make this I generally make three or four casseroles (yes, we have a lot of freezer space), cook one and then freeze the others. When my friend Andrea (you may remember her from other entries, like Felony Milk) shared this idea with me I was very excited.  And then I thought that I couldn’t make it because the recipe included one envelope of taco seasoning.  Did you ever read the ingredient list on that stuff?  NO way I could put that in anything I make.  As I was walking home, I thought, DUH, I’ll make my own.  Creating your own spice mixes and having them on hand is really simple and makes your cooking life that much easier.  Awhile back, I shared a recipe for Seafood Seasoning that is akin to an “Aged Inlet” since I don’t want to get into any corporate trouble.  Here’s another one.  I actually mix this up by the pint, because we use is frequently.  In addition to seasoning meat for tacos, it is great mixed with yogurt or sour cream for dip.

Taco Seasoning

In a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, put the following ingredients:

  • 2 T chile powder (we use Ancho Chili Powder)
  • 2 t garlic powder
  • 1 T onion powder
  • 2 t red pepper flakes (more or less– adjust to how hot you like things)
  • 2 t oregano
  • 2 t paprika
  • 3 t cumin
  • 2t salt
  • 2 t black pepper

Put the lid on and shake to blend.  I use about 2 tablespoons per pound of meat.  If you prefer this to be more like commercial seasoning, you should crumble the oregano very fine.

Purchasing spices in bulk really saves a lot of money.  Check out Frontier Co-op and Penzey Spices to read up and get informed.  Both of these sites are stores, so they want you to buy, but they also both have a lot of information.

Now, Taco Casserole

For each casserole:

  • 1 package of corn tortillas
  • 1 pint jar of Salsa
  • 1/2 lb. Colby cheese, shredded (1/2 C reserved)
  • 1/2 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (1/2 C reserved)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 lb. ground meat (we generally use beef, but any ground meat will work)
  • 2 -3 T taco seasoning mix (above), divided in half
  1. In a large skillet, heat about 1T of fat — just enough to brown the garlic and onions.  Saute the garlic and onions until golden brown.  Add 1/2 of the taco seasoning and stir around until it smells like tacos.
  2. Add the ground meat.  stir frequently to break up the chunks.  The meat should be in little pieces for this.
  3. Cook until the meat is all brown and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Add the rest of the taco seasoning and stir to mix thoroughly.
  4. While the meat is browning, oil the bottom of your casserole dish.  Put in a layer of tortillas to cover the bottom.  They will overlap and there will be some “bare spots.”
  5. Spoon in enough meat mixture to cover the bottom of the pan in a thin layer.  Smooth on some salsa and then a layer of each of the cheese.  Repeat the layering, ending with tortillas.  Cover with foil.
  6. If you are freezing it, put the reserved cheeses in a freezer bag and cover the casserole with foil.
  7. To bake: put the cheese on the counter to defrost. Put the cold casserole in a cold oven.  Turn the oven on to 350F and back for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil cover and add the cheese.  Put it back in the oven for 15 minutes.
  8. Let stand about 5 minutes before serving.

I get foil pans and make this casserole in the disposable pans.  I understand that this isn’t the most ecologically sound thing to do, but it makes clean-up fast and easy.  And let’s face it, part of why we eat out or get take-out or delivery is not only do we not feel like cooking, we don’t feel like cleaning up, either!

Ketchup: Fact, Fiction & Control

One of those staple ingredients that it is very difficult to replicate is commercial ketchup. My children, when they were small, all loved ketchup, the oldest especially, who would eat apples dipped in it. Nowadays, it has taken its place as a condiment for burgers, fries, or a breakfast favorite: egg, cheese, salt, pepper, ketchup on a Kaiser roll (which must be rolled off the tongue as one word). For years, I have been messing around with ketchup recipes in order to have a condiment I could be confident was not full of hidden ingredients. The problem was that none of them tasted like commercial ketchup, so the kids, being ketchup connoisseurs, would reject them. I am not going to say that I have solved the riddle, and it maybe that I just wore them down, but at the end of the post there are two recipes that work quite well.

Let’s face it – ketchup is tasty, kids love it because it is sweet (most commercial ketchup is 25% sweetener), and it is an ingredient in so many other recipes that it has become a “must have” in most American homes.

But have you ever read the ingredients list on a bottle of ketchup? It may include things like high fructose corn syrup, and the ubiquitous “natural flavor.” What is that? According to the FDA, the definition of natural flavor is “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (21CFR101.22). For those of you who speak only English, and did not take Legal Obfuscation As A Second Language, it means anything extracted from a natural (not man-made) source counts as natural flavoring. Potentially, that includes things like autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed soy protein, which are both other names for MSG. If you want to know exactly what is in your food, avoid “natural flavor” as an ingredient.

The first year I made ketchup, I used the overabundance of cherry tomatoes that were growing all over my property. I used to look at volunteer plants as gifts and would let them grow and because I accidentally put rotted tomatoes in my compost pile, I had tomato plants everywhere that year. I cooked down 10 quarts of fresh cherry tomatoes to 3 quarts of “crushed tomatoes” that I cooked down further to ketchup consistency. The next year, I used paste tomatoes and that same 10 quarts cooked down to 6 quarts to get that same spaghetti sauce consistency. And every year, with different weather conditions, also affects the consistency. When you cook down the tomatoes, the idea is to cook off a majority of the water. They should be about the thickness of commercial crushed tomatoes.

Both of these recipes can up very well.

ketchupKetchup I

2 quarts of tomato puree

2 anchovy fillets

1 ½ t salt

2 T sugar

½ t mustard

½ t paprika

½ t onion power

¼ t garlic powder

¼ t ground pepper

¼ t ground allspice

2/3 C apple cider vinegar

 

  1. Run the tomatoes through the finest plate of a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. Return the puree to the pot. Add anchovy fillets, salt, sugar, mustard, onion power, garlic powder, ground pepper, and allspice. Allow to simmer until it is very thick, about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Keep a close eye on it after an hour, because this is very thick and will scorch.

 

  1. Once it is thick, remove it from the heat and stir in the vinegar. Return to the heat and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

 

  1. Remove from the heat and run an immersion blender (wand or stick blender) through it.

 

Taste for sweet and salt and adjust to your liking.

 

Ketchup II (tastes more like commercial ketchup)

1 quart of tomato puree

1 T salt

1 t onion power

1/2 t garlic powder

1 C white vinegar

3/4 C evaporated cane juice

 

  1. Combine tomato, salt, onion powder, garlic and vinegar in a heavy bottom sauce pan and simmer, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Keep a close eye on it because it will burn on the bottom.

 

  1. Remove from the heat and run an immersion blender (wand or stick blender) through it.

 

  1. Return to the heat. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. When it has reached a boil that cannot be stirred down, boil for a full minute. Add the sugar. Bring it back up to a boil that cannot be stirred down and boil for a full minute. Remove from heat.

 

Taste for sweet and salt and adjust to your liking.

If you do not have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender, just use caution when blending hot foods. I recommend waiting for the ketchup to cool a bit before using a conventional blender.

 

Easy Salsa That’s Good for Your Gut

I have already posted my recipe for canned salsa, but I have two others, both using that age-old preservation process I call Probiotic Preservation.  To learn more about it, see my earlier blog post.

The first is a tomato recipe that tastes much like the salsa in the canned recipe.

Red Salsa

  • 5-6 medium tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 sweet pepper, small dice
  • 1 jalepeno pepper, sliced (seeds or no seeds – hotness is up to you!)
  • 1 poblano pepper, sliced (see above)
  • 1 stalk celery, small dice
  • 1 T honey or REAL maple syrup
  • 1/3 C sea salt
  • ¼ C whey

Scald and peel the tomatoes.  Cut into bite size pieces and put in a bowl.  Put the onion in a sieve and run under hot water for about a minute.  Add to the bowl.  Sprinkle with the salt and mix and let stand for about three hours.  Drain.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.  Pack into jars and close lids.  Leave in at room temperature for 2-3 days.  Transfer to cold storage.

Note:  If you do not have whey available, add 1T of salt  when you add the remaining ingredients.

Green Salsa

  • 1 quart tomatillos, husked and washed and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, rough chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, fine chopped
  • 1 large bunch cilantro, fine chopped, stems included
  • 1 sweet pepper, small dice
  • hot peppers to taste
  • 1/3 C sea salt
  • 1/4 C whey
  1. Combine the tomatillos and onions in a non-reactive bowl and sprinkle with the salt.  Let stand about 20 minutes and then drain.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients.
  3. Pack into jars and close lids.  Leave in a warm place for 2-3 days.  Transfer to cold storage.
  4. When you are ready to eat the salsa, you can serve it as is, or mix it with some fresh chopped red tomatoes, and/or chopped mangos.
    Note:  If you do not have whey available, add 1T of salt  when you add the remaining ingredients.

Another note:  If you put too many hot peppers in the salsa, adding a fruit like mango or apple right before you serve it can cut down the heat with the sweet.

DO NOT ADD THE FRUIT BEFORE YOU FERMENT THIS!  Yes, I tried that once.  The salsa molded halfway down the jar in about two weeks.

I can’t tell you how long these will hold up in cold storage because they doesn’t stick around in our house more than a month or two.  Figure it this way — the tomatoes come in just as football season is starting.

Pesto: Home Made is Best-o

The past few weeks have been crazy.  Therefore sitting and “doing nothing,” as I was instructed to do on Mother’s Day morning, was a lovely indulgence.  I used to lie in bed and wait for breakfast to be brought on a tray, but to be honest it drove me crazy.  I am accustomed to getting up at 4:30 am during the week and find it difficult to sleep past 6 on the weekends.  Lying in bed until 8:30 was torture.

This year, I watched the film Fresh, and am considering it as an introductory film for the Politics of Food unit that I teach to my Contemporary Studies class.  If you are just starting on a Journey of Awareness, as Joel Salatin likes to call it, Fresh is a great place to start.  Afterwards, while eating a lovely breakfast cooked by the family I love, we watched cooking shows.

I find the popularity of the Food Network and the Cooking Channel very heartening.  Growing up, I watched the French Chef and the Galloping Gourmet (both on PBS) with my siblings and mother.  And I can remember playing French Chef with my sister.  My husband and I bonded over Ciao Italia, Julia and Jaques Cooking at Home, and America’s Test Kitchen.  To see the popularity of cooking shows grow to the point where they are no longer a PBS thing, but a two-network thing, makes me glad.  It means that people are interested in cooking, even if I don’t have much time to sit and watch these shows anymore.

One of the shows, however, gave me pause.  The challenge was to fix a day’s worth of meals based on what was in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.  OK.  I like that idea, since many of us find ourselves staring onto the refrigerator thinking “Hmmm…how am I going to feed everyone today with ketchup, mustard, relish and a half gallon of milk?”  But I found myself immediately removed.  It is a set-up of course, like Bear Grylls – he isn’t really alone in the wilderness, there is a film crew there.  So whatever this woman planned to make for her show, the ingredients would be in her pantry.  But I suspended my disbelief and tried to buy into the fiction.

She got a basket and started taking things off of the shelves in her pantry.  Really?  A basket?  And what was she putting in the basket?  All pre-made, jarred up industrial food.  When she snuggled in the jar of pesto I was disheartened.  All of her talk about making things at home, and preparing healthy meals for her family kind of flew out the window.

The whole show felt like such a sham!  It felt as if it was doing more to support dependence upon the industrial food system, than encouraging people to make things themselves.  Do I grow my own garlic? Well, no, but I use cloves of garlic and leaves from homegrown basil and put it in the blender and make my own pesto.  It really isn’t very challenging.  And it freezes quite nicely in ice-cube trays, which measure out to be 2 tablespoons of pesto.  I would have been much more impressed with this program if the hostess would have pulled the pesto out of her freezer.

In this way, even these cooking shows that nominally claim to promote kitchen survival skills, slinging the “make it yourself” mantra, are modeling industrial food dependence, using ingredients like pancake mix, canned or powdered soup mixes, and commercially prepared jars of pesto.  The media has the public caught in an interesting conundrum: On the one hand, viewers see whole-foods being promoted by the “Health Industry,” and on the other hand, Industrial Food is showing us pre-packaged, pre-made foods that if used to prepare a meal at home have become synonymous with “home-made.” Which they aren’t.  Home-cooked, yes.  Homemade, no.

Another interesting aspect of this show was that as the woman was putting her pantry ingredients in her basket, she was turning everything so the brand name was away from the camera.  That’s normal.  However, this exposed the back of the jars and bags, which exposed the ingredients lists, most of which were rather long.

Making pesto isn’t exactly rocket-science.  Why pay $6.95 for a six-ounce jar of pesto when you can make a gallon of it for the same price?  I know the reasons: I don’t know how; I don’t have time; It’s just easier to pop open a jar.

I can’t really argue with the last reason.  It is easier to pop open a jar.  But not knowing how?  Not with the internet at your disposal!  You can find a recipe for anything!  And not having time?  Pesto takes about 10 or 15 minutes.  Spend a little less time on Facebook and make some pesto to have in your freezer.

You can do this.  One small step for you; one giant step away from Industrial Food.

Pesto

  • one small head of garlic, separated, peeled and chopped
  • one large bunch fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (or almonds)
  • Olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
  • salt and papper to taste
  1. In a blender or food processor, add all of the ingredients except the olive oil.
  2. Pulse the blender a few times.
  3. Add about 1/4 cup of olive oil and pulse a few more times.  If the ingredients are starting to grind, let the processor run until the ingredients are a paste. If the ingredients are NOT starting to grind, add a little more olive oil.  Keep adding the olive oil a little at a time until the ingredients are grinding.
  4. When it has all become a nice paste, mix in salt and pepper.
  5. Use some now and freeze some for later:  Put unused pesto in ice-cube trays and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for 24 hours.  Pop the pesto out of the trays and store in the freezer in a plastic freezer bag.  Each pesto cube equals 2 Tablespoons of pesto (2 cubes is a 1/4 cup).

We love this to dress sauteed potatoes and green beans.