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Monday, October 20, 2014

Pumpkin Picking

This past weekend, hubs and I decided to do some leaf peeping and winery exploring in the Shenandoah Mountains. The day started out glorious, but it turned overcast and chilly, which to me is the epitome of fall weather. It hasn't really been "fallish" at all this season, but I think it is finally here!

Along the way, we spotted a pumpkin patch on the side of the road. Having never actually picked a pumpkin from a pumpkin patch, we just HAD to stop.


I love pumpkins and gourds. They are so interesting in color and texture, not to mention pretty darn tasty! The patch itself was as cute as a button!


We decided on a small Turk's Cap and one of the large, green and white Cushaw squash. One thing that many people don't realize is that after being used for decoration, many of these squashes are very delicious!


After our haul, we caught a glimpse of sun peeking through the clouds onto the mountains. Imagine how spooky this graveyard is a night, but isn't it gorgeous during the day!


What a great fall day! Hope you are getting to enjoy fall wherever you are.


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash

I must admit that I've become more "squash adventurous" since moving up north. There are so many varieties to try! This year, it's been "The Year of the Spaghetti Squash" and I just can't seem to get enough.

The texture of spaghetti squash really isn't at all like spaghetti per say, but more like grated, cooked squash. Imagine if you took a butternut squash and grated it fine, then cooked it...that's more the texture. It still has a little veggie crunch to it, and I guess it looks like spaghetti, but believe me, that's as far as it gets to the famous carbohydrate.  

Anyway, it was always a mystery to me of what to do with it and fortunately I have found a technique and recipe that I have made no less than 5 or 6 times in the past couple of weeks. Super easy and super yummy! The primary cooking method I use is with my Crock Pot, which really is no more than plopping the squash in, adding water, and turning on the heat. This is so hands-off, that you can't help but love it!

First, I take my spaghetti squash and give it a good rinse/wash with plain water to remove exterior grime. I then cut off the stem so the spaghetti squash will fit in my Crock Pot.


I then plop the whole squash in my Crock Pot and add about 1-2 cups water. Put on the lid, set the heat to Low, and let it cook for about 6-7 hours.


After the squash is cooked, I remove it from the Crock Pot, cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and then scoop out the flesh with a fork.


Now, we're ready for some business! You could, of course, eat the squash just the way it is now with a little salt and pepper, but I found a WONDERFUL recipe that calls for sauteing the cooked squash with a litttle butter, garlic, fresh parsley, and salt and pepper. Sublime! It gets better the next day and it is the perfect side dish.

I found my recipe at Steamy Kitchen. Doesn't this look divine? It is, trust me!

Photo from Steamy Kitchen

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to Use a Pressure Cooker: Curry in a Hurry

August and September are such pivotal months. The kids go back to school, so your schedule completely changes. Football season starts. The weather cools. Christmas decorations go up at the stores…..GAHHHHH! ....PANIC!

It just seems like a downhill, whirlwind slide into December from here.

Fortunately, this is the best time to whip out your pressure cooker to help make your schedule a little less stressful. Pressure cooking can take a slow-cooked main course that would normally take hours to cook on a Sunday afternoon, to being able to cook the same meal in under an hour during the workweek. Slow-cooked dishes like soups, stews, pot roasts, bean dishes, chili, sauces, you name it, can be all be prepared during the week with a pressure cooker. In addition, the cold, dark fall and winter evenings simply beg for a hearty slow-cooked meal.

Today, I am making Curry in a Hurry from Lorna Sass’ book Pressure Perfect. I mentioned before that if you are looking for a good pressure cooking cookbook, this is it. As mentioned in this recipe’s description, it’s almost too easy and too good to be true, so let’s warm up with some curry shall we?



NOTE: I am using boneless, skinless chicken thighs for this recipe; however, Lorna says you can substitute for 3 lbs of bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, OR 2 lbs of boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces, OR 2 lbs boneless beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces, OR 2 lbs of boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Pressure Cooker Curry in a Hurry
Recipe Source: Modified from Pressure Perfect

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup of water OR coconut milk (for flavor) OR half water/half coconut milk
4 T of Patak’s Mild (or hot) Curry Paste (curry powder does not produce the same results)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup of cornstarch
1 cup plain yogurt (regular, low-fat, or even sour cream)
1 ½ cups frozen peas
3 T chopped, fresh cilantro
Salt

Pour the water or coconut milk into a 4-quart or larger cooker and blend in the curry paste. Set over high heat and add the onion and chicken. Lock the lid in place, set the heat to high, and bring your cooker to pressure. When at pressure, lower the heat to med/low, and time to cook for 8-10 minutes (for lamb 12 minutes). After cooking for 8-10 minutes, move the cooker to a cool burner and allow the cooker to depressurize naturally for 4 minutes, then do a manual pressure release (if using other kinds of meat, allow to depressurize completely. Do not do a manual release).

Remove the lid, tilting it away from you to allow steam to escape. Place cooker back on a burner and bring to a low simmer. If necessary, skim off any fat that rises to the surface. Blend the cornstarch and yogurt into 1 cup of the broth, and then add to the meat in the cooker (Note: avoid cooking yogurt under pressure as it tends to sink to the bottom of the cooker and scorch). Stir until thickened. Add the peas to the meat and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the cilantro and salt to taste.

Serve with cooked, jasmine rice.



Additions/Variations:

  • Add 1/3 cup raisins after pressure release; add when adding yogurt
  • Garnish with raw or roasted cashews
  • Toast one or more of the following spices and stir into the curry with the yogurt:  1 T black mustard seeds, 1 tsp whole fennel seeds, and 1 tsp of whole cumin seeds. 
  • Vegetarian version: Scrub or peel 1 ½ lbs of potatoes and cut into 2 inch chunks. Prepare in the same manner except there is no need to allow time for natural depressurization; you may depressurize manually.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Chocolate Raspberry Jam!

What can I say about this jam other than it will change your life? Imagine the pure, tart sweetness of fresh raspberries combined in a love fest of melted, bittersweet chocolate. Now take that image and smear it all over your naked body and let Ryan Gosling slowly lick it off. Got it? You’re welcome.

THAT’S what this jam will do for you!



This recipe is the love child creation from the fairy Godmother of canning, Christine Ferber and Mes Confitures, and another recipe that I’ve had for a long time. Christine Ferber’s canning recipes usually involve a 2-step process of letting the fruit and sugar macerate overnight, which greatly improves any true, bring-to-gel jam or jelly recipe, but I didn’t want to go that route with this recipe. 

Her Raspberries with Chocolate recipe also calls for processing the berries through a food mill to get rid of the seeds, which believe me, is an AWESOME way to go, but I also happen to like the seeds and doing so would also require way more raspberries to make up the bulk. So, what I really took from Christine’s recipe to make this orgasm-inducing jam is the chocolate.

Ah, yes. The chocolate.

My old recipe called for mere 3-ounces of chocolate, which was barely detectible; however, Christine calls for a healthy 9-ounces.  And besides, more chocolate is always better!

Now, where is Ryan Gosling?

Kathy’s Chocolate Raspberry Jam
Makes 6, half-pints

6 cups frozen raspberries, crushed or 7 pints fresh raspberries (I used frozen that we picked)
*¾ cup of semi-sweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate chips, ground in a food processor
4 cups of sugar
1 box powdered pectin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon butter

Note: Process the chocolate chips to where the chips resemble a rough ground powder.

Place raspberries, pectin, lemon juice, and butter in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a full, rolling boil. Add sugar all at once; bring back to a full, rolling boil and boil for exactly 1 minute. Remove from heat and add ground chocolate; stir well to combine. Skim any foam if necessary.

Ladle jam into prepared jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Bean Pickin' Time

The tomatoes are done! I finished with about 8 pints of Green Salsa Verde made from all the green toms leftover.

My canning label software has been out of commission for the past couple of months, as it was residing on my old PC and not my laptop, and so I haven't been able to label all these quarts and pints of tomato products in my basement. It doesn't take long for everything to start to look the same, and it was a command decision to get my label software reloaded when what we thought was a pint of salsa spooned over nachos (football season!!!) turned out to be Chunky Basil Pasta Sauce.

Total buzzkill.



Now, my bush beans are coming in and for these babies, I simply wash, snap off the ends, snap into pieces, and then blanch/freeze for quart freezer bags. Every year, there is a discussion on the Harvest Forum on whether to freeze or pressure can beans and it's always a tie. Some people say the only way is to freeze, and some say that pressure canning is the best. Meh.

I'm with the former, as pressure canning beans results in taste and texture that is exactly like the canned green beans you would buy from the store. My thought is, "If I wanted canned green beans, I would buy them!" At least when I freeze green beans, I have some control over whether to cook the snot out of them or not. Which usually I do anyway, but sometimes I'll under cook them a little if they are going into a casserole or soup.

Happy Fall Ya'll!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Last Tomato Haul

I thought this would be it for The Year of The Tomato, but alas, I have another tub exactly like this sitting in the garage waiting to be made into something. Last week, we hauled 40 lbs of beautifully ripe tomatoes from our patch. We are now over 200 lbs harvested this year!


Of all that we grew, our favorite by far has been Brandywine Sudduth Strain. This tomato is the epitome of the perfect balance between sweet, savory, and acidity. To me, this tomato is what a fresh tomato should taste like. A few plants made it from my winter sowing experiment and it was enough to convince me to only grow tomatoes for eating next year.


All other canning tomatoes will be purchased from the farmer's market next year. I'll admit, the sauce I made for canning did taste a little better using a mixture of all the different tomatoes I had, but it wasn't enough to convince me to do again next year. Of course, I say this now, but I might change my mind again next year. Other contenders for flavor were Early Girl and Druzba. Early Girl was pretty close to Brandywine, but they were small tangerine-sized tomatoes, and Druzba was candy-sweet. We also grew Black From Tula, which had an almost smoky flavor, but it was prone to cracking and splitting on the vine. Nope....Brandywine is my girl for this year. 

For now, I picked the last of the ripened and green tomatoes yesterday and the tomato patch will be put to rest (blight has set in). The other 40 lb tub of green and ripened tomatoes will be made into a green salsa verde. I think I'm set with canned tomatoes till next summer!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July In The Garden

This is the time of year where my canner, the dishwasher, the washing machine, and our compost pile are all doing overtime to keep up with the onslaught of produce. I guess that make me a busy woman too! But first, some pretty flowers...


Red gladiolas by the back porch. I love these things and can't get enough!


Black-eyed Susans blooming their little hearts out.


A Tigger Melon blossom. I ran out of steam by the time I planted these and only have 4 plants growing...I'll guess we'll see what happens.


The Tomato Prison...protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of salsa.


We are up to 132-135 lbs of ripe tomatoes picked this season. Hubby and I had a bet. I bet that we would harvest 90 lbs and he bet 120 lbs....looks like we have both lost and we still have MUCH more to go. Basically, we have grown an entire human being in tomato weight!


Cutie patootie Paris Market carrots. These babies are about the size of a ping-pong ball or smaller. Originally, I was going to pickle them, but I couldn't find a recipe that I was interested in, not to mention I didn't think that each one of these tiny things would need to be peeled. They are going to be roasted with my measly beet harvest for dinner tonight!


Happy parsley is happy!


Bush beans are growing. I am going to have A LOT of beans (god willing) this season.


A lovely visitor on some basil flowers. I haven't had to buy any basil this year for pesto!


My languishing Malabar Spinach. I'm not sure why this isn't crawling up that trellis like a wild fire. I've given them a boost of organic fertilizer a few weeks ago and barely anything..oh well, you can't win them all.
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