Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jessica's Meatloaf

Meatloaf is a great dish to pop into the oven when you don't want to spend the evening in the kitchen.  This recipe started out my mom's from when I was little and I added some personal touches to make it my own.   Pair this with some mashed potatoes and green beans for a plate of ultimate comfort food. 

Jessica's Meatloaf with fennel and parsley

When I was old enough to be able to help in the kitchen, Mom let me tear the bread into little pieces, which I thought was the greatest thing ever.  I especially like rye, either dark or Jewish, they lend an extra oomph of flavor.  Any other bread can work in a pinch.  The only kind I don't recommend is the bread with whole seeds or nuts, as those can throw off the meatloaf texture.  If you are short on the ground beef, add an extra slice of bread to make up some volume.

As I got older - and less likely to put things in my mouth - I was the designated mixer of the ground beef.  This is still my favorite part of the recipe.  I love the squishing of all the different textures, and the way the ingredients get my hands cold so I take a couple breaks to wash my hands in hot water before going back to the mixing.  Longer mixing makes a better meatloaf.  A note about the spices, I rarely measure these and do it a little differently each time, the recipe is very forgiving.

I use a broiler pan instead of a loaf pan so the loaf doesn't sit in a pool of fat while it cooks; the fat drains off to the underneath section and the meatloaf is much healthier.  As a bonus, there is now more surface area to cover in ketchup, which I'm pretty sure is my husband's favorite part. 

Jessica's Meatloaf
Makes one loaf

1 1/2 to 2 lbs ground beef
2 slices rye bread, broken into very small pieces
1/3 cup ketchup + 1 cup ketchup (separated)
3 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 egg
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 Tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder

Broiler pan (like this one, see link)

1.  Preheat oven to 350.

2.  Mix all ingredients except 1 cup ketchup in a large bowl, by hand.  Mixing extra well and making sure to really squish the ground beef gives the results a nice consistent texture.  If your hands get too cold, wash them in hot water then continue mixing.

3.  Form the mixture into a loaf shape in the center of a broiler pan. Spread the remaining ketchup over the entire surface - you may need more depending on how your loaf is shaped. If desired, sprinkle garnishments over the ketchup (parsley, fennel seeds, etc).

4.  Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes or until no longer pink in the center.  Use a very large spatula to transfer to a serving plate. 

Note - If you double the recipe, both can be cooked on the same broiler pan.  Add an extra egg (three for two loaves) and 15 minutes of cooking time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Canning: Fresh peaches

I have a secret.  Inside me lives a sweet little old lady with a penchant for crocheting on the porch, doing crossword puzzles, kneading bread by hand, and preserving food.  If I could spend all day pruning roses and baking cookies I'm pretty sure I would love it.  Well, something I've always wanted is a pantry with food in it that I have preserved myself.  It brings an amazing level of satisfaction and kitchen-confidence that you just can't get at the grocery store.  Plus, having just planted fruit trees in my backyard, I want to be prepared to do something with the fruit next year. 

Canned Peaches in Light Syrup

I finally bought a water-bath canner so I can preserve the many wonderful local fruits.  Canning has a bit of a learning curve but oh such great rewards!  I have taken a couple of classes and felt ready to try my own hand at it.  Challenges were faced and conquered and now I have glass jars of peaches that taste exactly like canned peaches so this makes me happy.  I expanded on this experience and canned a batch of dill pickles - I'm counting down the days until I can open a jar and try them.  I went a little nuts and canned half a bushel of Bartlett pears and then pickled Asian pears. If I'm going to do something, I want to do it until I am good at it!

The first and most important thing about canning is to find a recipe - preferably in a book because the internet isn't terribly reliable - and follow it exactly.  I am enjoying the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.  The instructions are very clear and easy to follow and I recommend it to anyone beginning canning.  I won't post all of my canning adventures since that will probably bore to tears anyone without a canner, but I do hope to encourage those of you with any interest to try it out.  I have been amazed at how many friends and strangers have shared fond memories of canning as a child, the house smelling like one fruit or another, and the warmth and happiness that canning gatherings promote.  If you're thinking about it but don't want to invest in the gigantic pot just yet, ask around, I bet you know somebody with a canning pot or with a parent or aunt or uncle who has one. 

I found peaches at the farmers market that were just perfect for eating and beautifully sweet and ripe, which is exactly what you want for canning.  The point is to preserve them at their peak.  Unripe peaches are hard to peel and overripe peaches will be icky.  Peach season is in full gear now so go get some! 

By the way, there are 2 pints to 1 quart, and you're about to get good at eyeballing how many peaches will fit in that box of glass jars. 

2-3 lbs peaches per quart
Sugar (no substitutions) and water - for a light pack, use a ratio of 5 1/4 cups water to 2 1/4 cups sugar (makes about 6 1/2 cups of syrup). 

Prepare canning supplies:
The logistics here can be tricky because you kind of need five stove burners and most people only have four, and the giant canning pot takes up so much space I can only use three at a time.   Don't panic, there are other options!  What needs to happen: lids and rings need to be heated to almost boiling (do NOT let them boil or they won't seal), jars need to be heated to almost boiling, water should be getting ready in the giant pot (it takes a long time to warm up), a pot of water for the blanching/peeling, and yet another pot for making the light syrup.  If you have a dishwasher, put the lids and rings and jars in it and run them for a full cycle then keep it shut so they stay hot and sterile.  If you have a crock pot that can keep jars at 180 degrees that will work too.  I prefer the dishwasher method now that I've figured out the timing.

Prepare syrup:
I made a light syrup.  Mix sugar and water in appropriate amounts in a pot, stir until dissolved, and keep it hot (also not boiling) until you're ready to use it. 

Peel peaches:
Boil a pot of water that's big enough you can dip a whole peach under the water.  Use a slotted spoon to dip the peaches in for 20-30 seconds each; mine turned slightly darker colored when the time got close.  That seemed like it would take forever so I plopped in a whole single layer of peaches so I could do five or six at a time.  Pull them out (I used tongs) and stare at them until they are cool enough to pick up.  Rub them gently and the peels should come right off.  A few of mine gave me trouble so I used a paring knife but mostly they were super easy.  They don't strictly need to be peeled but the fuzzy skin is not appetizing once canned and the enzymes can make peaches not last as long. 

Slice peaches:
Using a sharp knife on amazingly slimy round objects is slow going.  Mine wouldn't come away from the pit in halves so I quartered them and things went pretty quickly from there. 

Put peaches into jars and process:
Do one jar at a time from this point until the processing, peaches then syrup then cleaning then lid before going to the next jar.  Most recipes say to put the peaches face-down in the jars (the side that was facing the pit) but I haven't figured out why unless it's for aesthetics.  In any case that is darn hard to do with hot jars.  Pack them as tightly as you can, up to the 1/2" mark on your jar.  They will shrink and float to the top, as you can see in my photos.  I will be packing them more tightly next time.  Carefully pour the syrup into the jar up to the 1/2" mark.  Run a plastic knife or tiny rubber spatula around the inside of the jar to get out any air bubbles.  This is very important, don't skip it!  Use a clean paper towel to wipe off the edges and rim of the jar to make sure they are completely clean and dry.  Pull the lid and ring out of the hot water (a stick with a magnet on it is great for this) and place it on the jar, and tighten the ring fingertip-tight.  I don't know exactly what that means but my jars sealed properly and didn't blow up so I must have done okay.  Put the jar onto the canning rack (which should be above the water at this point not in it) and do the next jar until you run out of peaches or jars or syrup or space.  Place the jars across from each other so they balance and don't tip the whole thing over, that would be bad.  When all jars are in place, process in a boiling-water canner - pints 15 minutes, quarters 30 minutes, and remember to adjust for altitude if needed.  

After processing, pull the jars out (I used a canning-specific doodad that is for picking up hot jars) and place them in a location for cooling where they will not be disturbed for up to 24 hours.  Keep at least an inch of space between them so they will cool evenly.  Keep the jars away from drafty places too, that can cause the seals to pop.  If the screw-lids loosened during processing that's fine, don't fix them.  When the jars are room temperature (I let mine sit overnight), tap on each lid to see if it sealed.  You'll know, it is pretty obvious if you find one that isn't, it does that little button popping-up thing like jelly jars.  Those are still fine to eat but have to live in the fridge not the cupboard. 

Success!  You have now canned peaches!  You know exactly where they came from, what is in the jar, and have something beautiful to put in the pantry that you can be proud of.  Yeah, I basically feel made of magic now.  :)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Refrigerator Pickles

This is a super easy way to make pickles, no canning equipment needed.  This was my first foray into canning something all by myself.  The success gave me enough confidence to move forward and try out my shiny new water bath canner (next recipe!) so I count it as the beginning.  I was inspired by The Hip Girl's Guide To Homemaking and went from there.  This lets you enjoy yummy pickle-ness without added dyes that seem to be in everything. Take advantage of all the sales at the farmers markets on cucumbers and enjoy homemade pickles in the fridge for several months!

Pickling cucumbers being sliced

You will need jars to put your pickles in.  These don't have to be new, don't have to be special - whatever washed out glass jars with lids will work just fine.  I used an old pickle jar and  jelly jar.  You can also do just a couple of cucumbers at a time so it doesn't have to be a day-long thing.  I made mine on a weeknight and still got to bed on time. 

Cucumbers ready to go into jars
Pickling cucumbers are in season and readily available at many farmers markets right now, but they aren't available year round.  You can still make pickles!  Regular cucumbers will work just fine; they have thicker skin so you may want to peel them. 

There are many tricks to getting crunchy pickles.  Veteran picklers have told me that some years they come out crunchy and some years they don't, so if they don't get crunchy on your first try blame it on the rain and make some more.  The first and most important is to choose the freshest cucumbers available, picked that morning if possible.  The second is to scrub the heck out of the cucumbers and especially make sure there is no remnant of the flower, since the flowers have enzymes that destroy crunchiness.  That isn't exactly scientific but it's the important bit.

Both with the easy pickles (this recipe!) and regular ones that get processed for shelf-safe canning, you can play with the spices all you want without affecting the food safety.  Prepackaged blends can be purchased, but it's pretty fun to make something up and you are only out a few cucumbers if it's terrible.  I also added a garlic clove to each jar for some extra pizzazz.  (I totally want to play that word in Words With Friends now)

Local source for pickling spices: Pars Market & Restaurant in Holladay (do yourself a favor and try out their restaurant too, they have great middle-eastern food!)
Favorite local source for pickling cucumbers: Urban Farm & Feed / Wasatch Front Farmers Market

Jessica's Pickling Spices

Jessica's Pickling Spice Blend
2 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp whole peppercorns
2 Tbsp allspice
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp dill seeds
1 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf, crumbled

Mix all spices together, omitting any you don't want and adding anything else you think sounds good.

Refrigerator Pickles
Makes about 2 pints
Note: this recipe does not make shelf-safe pickles, they must be kept in the fridge!

3-4 medium or large pickling cucumbers, as fresh as possible (fresh = crunchy)
1-2 tsp pickling spice blend
2 cups water
2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
1-2 Tbsp pickling salt or kosher salt or sea salt (not table salt)

1. Start making the brine: boil salt, water, and vinegar
2. Get your jars hot - bring to a not-quite boil until you're ready for them.  Handle carefully!
3. Wash cucumbers, paying special attention to the flower end.  Cut cucumbers into whatever shape you want.
4. Pour pickling spices into glass jars (1/2 to 1 tsp per jar, whatever looks good)
5. Stuff cucumbers into glass jars, no closer to the top than 1/4"
6. Pour hot brine into glass jars, up to about 1/4" from the top - make sure cucumbers are covered, but it's okay if they float to the top. 
7.  Run a thin plastic knife or spatula around the inside edge of the jar to let hidden air bubbles escape.  This makes better pickles.  Wipe the edge of the jar clean. 
8. Put lids onto jars *loosely*, so the gases can escape.  Write the date on the jar lid!  Sharpie markers work well for this. 
9. Put jars into fridge, in a place nobody will move them or knock them over.
10. Leave them alone!  Do not eat for at least 3 weeks!  (trust me they are not good yet!)
11. Put them on every sandwich you make because they are delicious.  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Asian Pear Crisp

This post has been moved to my new blog at Someplace That's Green!  Please check it out and follow my new adventures on my very own website!

Local kudos:
Green Urban Lunch Box for the Asian pears
Slide Ridge Honey - Honey wine vinegar