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How to make an stuffed acorn or butternut squash from scratch

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

I love it when the weather starts to turn, and the evening fare starts to shift to heartier more savory meals.  One of our favorites are stuffed winter squashes.  In our neck of the woods, acorn and butternut squash are plentiful and inexpensive.  Talking to friends, I was kind of surprised to learn that these squashes are a little daunting to a lot of folks, so I thought I’d share my approach to what is realistically a 40-minute meal, start-to-finish.  You can alter the ingredients based on what you have on-hand, and/or make in advance and refrigerate or freeze for a quick, easy meal later.

Quick, easy stuffed squash. These are acorn and butternuts, stuffed with a sage-infused millet, kale and pear stuffing.

I didn’t think to photograph this meal step-by step, but it’s straightforward to describe, and pretty easy to reverse-engineer just by looking at the finished product.  My version is vegetarian and gluten-free (omit cheese and butter for vegan version).  But you can alter all the inputs – I used millet as stuffing base, but it could have just as easily been rice, or wheat berries, or other grain of your choosing.  Tonight I put pears in my stuffing, but you could omit, or use apples, or dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, etc).  Likewise, I had kale in the house, but any green would be equally good.  Read my recipe and feel free to modify or substitute liberally.  If you want meat, add some cooked crumbled sausage to the stuffing mix prior to baking.

Acorn and Butternut Squash, Stuffed with Sage-infused Millet, kale and pear

1 Acorn squash, halved, seeds scooped out
1 Butternut squash, halved, seeds scooped out (cut off area above hollowed out bowl and use in other dishes)
1 cup millet (uncooked)
1 Medium onion, chopped
2 cups chopped kale
2 pears, chopped
1 tbsp dried sage, or several fresh sages leaves, minced
1-2 tbsp butter (omit for vegan)
1-2 tbsp oil (olive oil, canola, etc)
1/2 cup grated semi-hard or hard cheese (omit for vegan)
salt and pepper to taste

Arrange the squash cut side down on a large plate with enough of a lip to add a bit of water (submerge squashes a couple millimeters).  Cover plate and squashes tightly with plastic wrap.  Microwave them for 5 minutes to steam them.  Alternatively, you could steam the squashes in the traditional way, which would take about 15-20 minutes.

Cook the millet, covered, in 3 cups water with sage and salt to taste.  At a low simmer, millet takes about 25 minutes.  All the water should be absorbed, but if not, drain excess.

Saute the onion in a bit of oil and/or butter.  When nearly translucent, add the kale and pear, stir till wilted, about 2 minutes.

Mix the cooked millet with kale mixture.  Add a TBSP butter and stir till melted.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Stuff the grain mixture into the squashes, and top with cheese.  bake in a 375F convection oven or under broiler until cheese is lightly browned.  Serve hot, or save for later.  these will keep for a week in the fridge, or months in the freezer.

Cost analysis:

Squashes were $1 each at farmers’ market.  Millet about $0.25.  Onion and kale $0.25.  Pear $0.50.  Cheese $0.75.  Butter $0.25.  Sage $0.10.  EVOO $0.15.  Total $4.25.  Made (4) servings = $1.07 per serving.

How to make ketchup from scratch (with no HFCS!)

July 24, 2012 2 comments

This post I debated – is ketchup worthy of being written up on a blog about lost culinary arts, about doing things that aren’t really very easy?  I mean, what’s next, posts about lemon bars and how to make a mean vegetarian pasta?  It’s a slippery slope between being true to the mission, and channeling Rachel Ray.

Because on the one hand, while ketchup’s not quite as easy as making tomato sauce, it ain’t rocket science.  But on the other hand, it’s enough of a mystery and pain in the ass that I had never done it before.

And while all that mental debate was being played out in some schizophrenic place in my head, I tasted the fruit of my efforts, and wondered how I had ever eaten Heinz.  Holy shit.  Really.  And with that, I knew it must be blogged about here.  Because you really should be making your own, it’s just that Goddamned good.

For me, this effort started where they often do: with a giant box of excess ingredients about to melt down into compost at any moment.  In this case, tomatoes.  On Saturday, as we were tearing down our tent at the Holly Springs Farmers’ Market, I made a deal with a nearby tomato seller: one bag of coffee in exchange for all the tomatoes he had left that wouldn’t last the weekend.  Which turned out to be around 50 lbs of butt-ugly, maximally ripe, about to burst or ooze out of the box tomatoes.

Some of those tomatoes wound up as sauce, and some just plain canned tomatoes.  But even after we had canned all we were going to need for the year (remember, I’ve been canning tomatoes for weeks now), I still had approximately a metric shitload of tomatoes remaining.  So I decided to tackle something that’s been on my list for years, but I’ve never quite gotten around to: ketchup.  How hard could it be, right? Turns out that the question I should have been asking all these years is “how good could it be?“.

Somehow, the “recipe” on the back of the Heinz bottle left something to be desired. All out of High Fructose Corn Syrup. But it did provide a useful guideline on starting sodium content.

The research started as it always does, with an internet search, and a scouring of my home library, now made much easier by eatyourbooks.com(no paid plug, I really just love their site/service)  I also read the back of the Heinz bottle looking for clues.

As an aside, I’ll mention that I also did a serious Heinz ketchup tasting, trying to ascertain the ingredients and proportions.  I must admit, it’s the first time I ever really tasted ketchup for the sake of tasting ketchup.  It was kinda gross.  It is way sweeter than I ever consciously realized.  And other than that, kinda benign, flavor-wise.  I realized it wouldn’t be hard to beat.

The recipes I read had many common threads.  Tomato concentrate. Sweetener. Vinegar. Spices. Salt.  All I had to do was deduce the proportions, cobble together a recipe, and figure out the technique.  And that, my friends, is the stuff this blog is made of. Most of the recipes out there are small batch, and struck me as being about 1/3 each tomato, sweetener, and vinegar.  I knew I would never like something so sweet, and my family would never like so much vinegar.  I also guessed that ketchup is a non-linear kind of recipe, i.e., a big batch doesn’t require proportionately more of everything.  So I figured I’d start small, and add to taste.  Here’s the photo blog, which I’ll follow with a recipe.

It all starts with these about-to-be-compost tomatoes. Wash, cut out the core, the bad spots, and give ’em a coarse chop. I used about 20 maters like these, which amounted to about 3 quarts chopped.

I used two small onions, one red and one white (they weighed 116 grams), and a couple large cloves of garlic, which I smashed with a pinch of salt in the mortar and pestle (probably not strictly necessary, but habit for me). Everything’s gonna get blended later so no need to fret about the panache of your knife work.

 

Simmer the maters, oniion and garlic for a while (20 minutes), then hit ’em good with the stick blender. If you don’t have a stick blender, you should buy one. Really. They are that useful, and no competent kitchen should be without one. If you must, use a food processor or blender, but for God’s sake, be careful because the stuff is hot. Safety first.

OK, now you need the spices, which will be simmered in vinegar to extract their flavor. I used a variation of my standard pickling spice blend – about equal parts coriander seed, mustard seed, cloves, cinnamon stick, and whole allspice. For this batch, my spice mix probably amounted to a couple tablespoons. Toast them for a few minutes before adding vinegar.

Ah, vinegar. Which type? I picked apple cider because I thought it would add more flavor than white. De gustibus non est disputandum, or in other words, use what you like.

Simmer the spices in the vinegar for 15 minutes or so, then strain the spiced vinegar into the tomato mixture.

Here’s where I cheated. I added a few cans of tomato paste to hasten the thickening. Sue me.

For sweetener, I used demerara sugar. You could use white sugar. Or honey. Or stevia. Or high fructose corn syrup. I live in a no-judgement zone.

Time to add salt to taste. Add it slowly and taste as you go. It’s really surprising when you hit the tipping point and a little bit changes the flavor quite a lot. I did a calculation based on the sodium content of Heinze, and the size of my batch, to determine that 26 grams of salt was probably about where I would end up. I added it about 5 grams at a time, but 26 grams turned out to be exactly right for me.

Now you need to simmer to get the right consistency.  Sorry, it didn’t occur to me to get a snap of it simmering, but how boring would that be anyway?  Turns out I needed quite a lot of simmering, about a lawn-cutting’s worth (I went out and cut the lawn while it simmered, uncovered, so about 2 hours.  When I came in it was perfect.)

Now you run the pureed condiment through a food mill or sieve. This is another tool that if you don’t have it, you should get one. If you must, you could push it through a wire strainer with a spoon, but I don’t recommend that. In any case, it really must be strained to get the right texture. This of you who know me know that I would never recommend extra steps if they weren’t essential.

Into jars for canning the usual way. Water bath for 30 minutes.

Final product. Better than anything you can buy.

So here’s the recipe for the batch I made:

Recipe

3 qts coarsely chopped, very ripe tomatoes (about 20)
2 onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
3/4 cup demerara sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cans tomato paste
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp broken up cinnamon stick
26 grams sea salt

Boil then simmer the tomatoes, onions and garlic in a large pot for about 20 minutes.  In a separate pot, toast the spices, then add the vinegar, boil then simmer for 15 minutes.  Strain the spiced vinegar into the tomatoes, discard the spices.  Add the past, sugar and salt.  Blend well with immersion blender.  Simmer uncovered until desired texture is achieved (depends on water content of tomatoes; mine took 2 hours).  Strain through food mill to remove seeds and stems.  Can in the usual way.

Cost Analysis

Tomatoes: if you bought them, figure about $5
Paste: $1.50
Vinegar: $1
Salt & Spices: $0.50
Sugar: $0.75
Onions and garlic: $1

Total: $9.75.  Yields 8 half pints. $1.22 per half pint, or $0.15 per ounce.  Heinz is about $0.11 per ounce, so mine’s not cheaper, but it’s not that much more expensive. But there is no comparison in taste, trust me.

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How to make eggplant salsa from scratch

Ah, summer.  The time when posts to this blog are farther and fewer between, because it’s just so damned easy to eat well in summer.  After all, these posts are dedicated to things that are difficult.

Well, there is one thing that starts to get difficult about mid-July: using all the eggplant coming out of your garden, farmers’ market or grocery store.  These prolific plants pump out the fruits until the first frost, and there’s only so much eggplant parm one can eat.  So what to do with the summer bounty?

In my house, the answer is eggplant salsa.

My eggplant salsa: like traditional salsa, but better.

Now, eggplant salsa is nothing new.  But when I perused recipes for inspiration to punch mine up, I realized something – the way I make mine is a lot easier than most recipes, which often call for roasting the eggplants first (and sometimes even peeling them, for God’s sake).  The resultant “salsa”, while lovely in its own right, doesn’t resemble anything my kids like to eat.  And worst of all, they don’t look like they store for the long haul.  Well Dear Reader, that’s not the way I roll.  My stuff has got to be simple, delicious, kid-friendly, and store-able all year.  These characteristics set mine apart from the usual fare found on the internet.

Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me to photograph the process, so you’ll have to follow written instructions and rely on the photo above for inspiration.  Here’s the basic recipe, but it’s very forgiving in terms of both ingredients and ratios.

4 cups shredded eggplants
4 cups chopped tomato
1 large onion of choice
4 garlic cloves
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup vinegar of choice (cider works well)
Juice of 2 limes (or lemons)
2 TBSP salt (I prefer smoked, or sea salt)
1 TBSP ground cumin
1 TBSP dried cilantro (or a big bunch fresh)
1 TBSP ground black pepper
2 TBSP toasted, crushed coriander seed
Other optional ingredients: cut corn, black beans, shredded squash, spicy peppers minced, etc etc etc

Heat some olive oil.  Saute the onions and garlic in a large saucepan for a minute or two.  Add the shredded eggplant, saute for about 10 minutes.  Add the remainder of ingredients.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently.  Simmer for about an hour.

When complete, you can refrigerate, freeze or can.  I canned mine tonight (simple water bath canner, 30 minutes), so two hours’ work will last the better part of a year.

Three pints, six half-pints (aka 6 pints all together)

A quick cost analysis:

About $5 worth of seasonal veg from the farmers’ market.  About $1 worth of everything else.  Yield was about 6 pints, so that’s $1 per pint.  Try that at the grocery store.

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How to make strawberry jam from scratch, WITHOUT SUGAR OR ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

I started this blog to help people do kitchen things that are different, unusual, or downright difficult, things that are neglected topics in the world of food instruction.  With the plethora of book, blogs, YouTube videos, etc out there, it’s usually pretty easy to find information and/or instructions on many, many things, even if actually doing them isn’t exactly easy.

Making traditional strawberry jam (or even novel recipes with sugar as sweetener)  is one of those topics that’s extraordinarily well covered.  While I hesitate to say there is nothing new to add to the subject, it’s safe to say that *I* personally have nothing new to add to the subject.

But making strawberry (or other fruit) jams without sugar, and without artificial sweeteners, well, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.  While I have no health reasons for wanting sugar-free jam, I personally just don’t like how sweet traditional jams are.  For a few years, I tried reducing the amount of sugar in traditional recipes, and wound up with tasty syrup.  My jam just wouldn’t set.  I tried recooking it with more pectin, to no avail.  For two years, I poured my strawberry jam onto toast and sandwiches instead of spreading it with a knife.  So in 2010, I made my last batch of strawberry jam.  Until today.

What happened between then and now was a simple but life-altering discovery: Pomona Pectin.  It is different than the pectin you can buy most places – that pectin only works if the correct amount of sugar is added, so that after cooking there is not enough water present to keep added pectin dissolved, and thus upon cooling, the pectin will gel.  Pomona is a calcium-activated pectin, so when calcium (included with the pectin) is added, it will gel regardless of the amount of sugar present.  Now that you know the secret, you can Google it and read up on the topic yourself.  What I will tell you is that while Pomona pectin works like magic, it IS different to work with and requires some experience and experimentation if you want to wander off the reservation and make your own recipes.

Let me show you how I made some strawberry jam with honey today.  Note that it is NOT my intention to teach you to make jam, or to do basic canning; I assume you are competent in this regard already.  I’m also not trying to teach specific recipes, though I hope you will like mine and the variations of it described here.  The point of this post is to teach you how to do what you know how to do already, except WITHOUT SUGAR.

Here are the main ingredients: 3 lbs strawberries, some mint from the garden, local honey, and the Pomona pectin with its calcium activator (more detail on that on a minute). Not pictured is a little lemon juice and some Meyer lemon rinds. I also added cracked black pepper and balsamic vinegar (separately and together) to a few jars.

My friend Katie sent me some Meyer lemon rinds from her tree. I use them in everything. They are beautiful and tasty.

OK, this snap technically has little to do with making jam, but I wanted to point out the difference in waste you achieve by using a huller instead of a paring knife. the difference is about 4 grams per berry. Doesn’t sound like much, except when you consider that for every hundred berries, you wind up with almost an extra pound of fruit using the huller. That lesson is consistent with the other thing we want to teach here: how to minimize waste and thus cost.

This post isn’t really about the basic mechanics of making jam, but at this point I mashed the fruit (3lbs), added 2c honey, 3 TBSP chopped mint, and a few TBSP lemon juice, then cooked gently for about 10 minutes. If you are planning to use sugar, don’t add it just yet – you can use it as a carrier of sorts for the pectin powder. Now we’re ready for the pectin, but adding it is a multi-step process that definitely *is* possible to screw up, so pay attention.

First you will need to dissolve the pectin powder (NOT the calcium) in hot water, mixing well to dissolve. IF YOU ADD THE POWDER DIRECTLY TO THE FRUIT IT WILL CLUMP AND RUIN YOUR JAM. Seriously. Guess how I know? If you are adding sugar, you can mix the sugar and pectin powder at this point, and fold it into the fruit, but that is still potentially problematic for clumping. Dissolve in water and you will be happy. In this case, I used 6 tsp pectin powder and 3/4 cup very hot water.

Here’s what it looks like dissolved – like a thick paste. Fold the paste into the cooked fruit.

Now you need the calcium activator. Add 1/2 tsp calcium power to 1/2c water and mix well.

Here’s the calcium water. You won’t use it all at once, and it keeps for months. I add about 4x as many tsp calcium water as I do pectin. In this case I used about 20 tsp calcium water – just add it to the fruit mixture containing the pectin. You should notice the jam begin to start setting. It won’t get stiff. Use the plate test to judge whether the set is sufficient – before starting, put a ceramic plate in the freezer. When you reach this step, take the plate out, and shmear a tsp of the jam on the plate. It will set to the consistency you will get in the jar. If set is insufficient, try adding more calcium water. If that doesn’t do it, add more dissolved pectin. Iterate till it’s right.

Jar your jam in the usual way. Here’s the batch I made today. This jar had a little cracked black pepper and balsamic vinegar added. The set was perfect, and the jam is delicious – not too sweet!

I do try to include costing info with each post to refute the notion that cooking with fresh, high quality ingredients is expensive.  I bought the strawberries at the farmers’ market for $12.  I buy my honey by the half gallon, and estimate I may have use about $3 worth.  My mint was free from my garden, but if you bought it I would have paid about $1.  The lemon juice and pectin may have been $1.  So for about $17, I got (12) 4-oz jars and one large (32-oz) jar (ran out of small jars!).  So 80 ounces of jam for $17 is $0.21 per ounce.  That’s about $1.70 for 8 ounces, which is a typical supermarket size that will run you from $3-5.  And the store jam won’t taste as good, or be as good for you.

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How to make bagels from scratch

April 17, 2011 3 comments

My family likes bagels. So I was surprised when I read about how to make them over at Georgia Pellegrini’s blog (not related, surprisingly), and realized I’ve never tried to make them myself.  As of 8:30 this evening, bagels are one more item that can no longer make it onto my bucket list.  Here’s my photo journal.

Cast of characters: 1-1/2 tsp yeast, 2 tsp sugar, 3/4 tsp salt, 2c flour, 2/3c warm water, 1-1/2 tsp olive oil (ours couldnt be bothered to make the photo shoot, EVOO is like that sometimes ever since Rachel Ray made him famous)

First the water...

Then the sugar...

Then the yeast. Stir well, then let it proof (rest) for about 10 minutes.

After the yeast has proofed, add the oil. the original post called for vegetable oil. Olives are a vegetable in our house, therefore olive oil is vegetable oil.

Add the flour and salt. Knead by hand, or with your mixer. I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer. You may need to dribble a few teaspoons of additional water to make the dough come together - it should be a slightly sticky ball. Cover the dough with a towel, and let it rise for at least 30 minutes.

After the first rise is complete, turn out the ball onto a floured surface. Knead it 8 or 10 times.

Cut the kneaded ball into four or six pieces, depending on how large you want them. I cut in fours since this was a dinner bagel. Roll each piece into a snake about 1" in diameter - it should be long enough to wrap around your palm. Wet each end (lightly!) and press together. When all teh bagels are formed, cover with a towel and let them rise again, at least 30 minutes.

When the bagels have risen, parboil each one in boiling water. Boil for one minute on each side, then remove to a towel to wick off excess moisture. Then transfer to a baking sheet.

Bake at 450F for about 20 minutes. I put convection on about 5 minutes before the end of the cycle to get a nice brown crust.

I should get back to providing costing info with these recipes.  Flour goes for about $2.99/5 lbs, so that’s 19 cents per cup, or 38 cents for the recipe.  It requires a packet of yeast at $0.80.  Figure another $0.25 for salt, sugar and oil.  So $1.43 to make four large bagels.  That’s about $0.36 per bagel.

Enjoy with a nice cup of coffee from Muddy Dog Roasting Company.  My current favorite is a new arrival, Yemen Mohka Sana’ani.