Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's Hot and Humid-Must be Time For Canning!

Today it was about as hot and humid as it has been this summer and the rest of the week is supposed to be a dripping treat too.  So, that got me to thinking...it must be time to do some canning.  One rule of canning is that it must be in the 90's with humidity levels above 80% or don't bother, you won't be able to complain enough about why you have to can in the heat and humidity of the summer :)  Oh, and most important, you cannot cheat and do this in an air conditioned home--you've got to sweat it out in an 80 year old home with no air conditioning of any kind.  Thank goodness the neighbors have a pool...maybe I can jump in during processing times to cool off.

So tomorrow morning I'm off to the farmer's market to see if I can find about 30 lbs of shelled peas to blanch and freeze.  It's always nice to get the kitchen good and steamy before beginning any canning projects.  Next I'll can about 10 lbs of pickles and maybe some hot peppers if there's enough available at the market to can.

Nuts you say?  Why yes, I am!  Nuts for fresh, local and all-year-round, so this time of year I suffer a little in order to enjoy during the lean local months of winter.  And I smile every time I open the freezer or go to the pantry in February during a massive snowstorm to fetch some of the great local food I stored during the heat of summer.

Give it a try...pick your favorite thing and even if you just preserve a little for the fall or winter, see how easy it is and how proud you are to be eating local out of your own freezer or pantry.  Need tips or advice?  There's tons on the web, particularly at University Extension websites.  Or, shoot me a comment or e-mail and I'll be happy to give you pointers.

Just don't miss out on all the fun now that it's "hotter than blazes", as my parents say.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Stuffed squash blossoms

Photo by Lisa Lathrop © DoubLeL Photography
Stuffed squash blossoms…ever tried them? You’re in for a treat!

Served regularly in Europe and Mexico, squash blossoms have a flavor reminiscent to the squash itself. The most common variety for cooking are the pumpkin blossoms, although any squash blossom will do. You can use either the female or the male blossom, and you want to be sure to remove the stamen before stuffing or you’ll have a very bitter flavor to the blossom that will turn you off forever to the entire idea.

Select extremely fresh blossoms that are tight and stand tall. They don’t have a long shelf life, so plan to prepare them within a couple of hours of purchasing them at market. Take a trip or two around the market to be sure you are getting the freshest blossoms…if not, you’re sure to throw some out because they’re wilting and unusable.

Photo by Lisa Lathrop © DoubLeL Photography
To prepare the blossoms, trim the stem just at the base of the flower and remove the stamen from inside. It may be helpful to have a tweezers or needle nose plyers to remove the stamen, as some blossoms may be difficult to get into with just your fingers.

Next prepare a batter for the blossoms using the following:
1 cup flour
½ cup cornstarch
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk or beer
Mix until blended smoothly and chill in refrigerator until ready to use

Stuff blossoms with soft cheese of your choice, using only ½ tsp per blossom then twisting top to seal and place on sheet pan.  Pick up one of the small batch soft artisnal cheeses at market and try that for your stuffing.
Photo by Lisa Lathrop © DoubLeL Photography
Heat ½ inch canola oil, safflower oil or sunflower oil in large sauté pan or wok until heated to 375° or just until a small piece of bread dropped in oil browns quickly.
Dip blossoms in batter and then gently place in oil, being careful to only place as many blossoms as will fit comfortably in bottom of pan at one time. Fry for approx 3 min, turning halfway through. If you have a candy/deep fry thermometer, try to adjust the heat so that the temperature stays about 375° during frying. Remove with slotted spoon and rest on paper towels to drain excess oil. Fry remaining blossoms, drain and sprinkle lightly with salt before serving.

Photo by Lisa Lathrop © DoubLeL Photography
Serve immediately and enjoy!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Beet Salad

Beets are readily available at all the markets and it's time for Beet Salad!

While dining recently at Bunky's Cafe we had a fresh beet salad that was so fantastic even my beet hating husband has turned a new leaf. It's not really that he hates beets, he just wouldn't normally choose to eat them. I, on the other hand, will eat beets in any way, shape or form I can get them.

When visiting the local markets this week, pick up some of the delicious salad greens and some fresh, local beets, cucumbers, onions and tomatoes, and if you get the chance, some great local feta to make a quick and easy summer salad for a hot day.

For quick salad preparation, steam the beets in advance until fork tender, then peel and chill in refrigerator until ready to use. Dice or slice as you like. Peel, de-seed and slice cucumber and toss lightly with salt and place in a strainer while you prepare the rest of the salad. Slice or dice the tomatoes and crumble the feta. Rinse, spin and tear the greens into bite-sized pieces, then toss with a light vinaigrette with rice wine vinegar and local sunflower oil with some fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Portion out the greens onto salad plates, then top with beets, cucumber, tomato and feta. Serve with some fresh baked bread and a little summer sangria and you've got quite a treat for brunch, lunch or dinner.

Oh, and don't throw out the beet tops...the greens work great in soups, salads, stir fry or anywhere else you normally use greens. They have that sweet, wonderful beet-like flavor and are quite a treat.