Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pears, peaches, and pickles

So I've been going a little canning crazy lately, and I have managed to put up two types of confitures and some dill pickles over the last 10 days or so. I am just loving the new confitures book by Christine Ferber I purchased, and it is allowing me to try more tastes beyond the standard typical jams. The only problem is that many of the jams are a pretty soft set, which is okay for me, but it would be nice if I could improve my techniques.

One of the first things I put up lately was a Pear with Balsalmic Vinegar and Spices confiture as Henry's Market had Bartlett pears on sale (3 lbs for $1!). Involving a balsalmic/honey reduction with cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and peppercorns, it is so much of a fall flavor jam. Very yummy.

And of course I had to try the White Peaches with Saffron before all the yummy peaches were out of season, and I'm glad I did. It's more of sliced peaches in a heavy syrup type of confiture, but tasty nonetheless. And the saffron really does come through.

The last thing I put up (yesterday actually) was fresh kosher dill pickles with the cucumbers purchased at the Farmer's market on Sunday. They were so simple to make and so yummy.

Fresh Kosher Dill Pickles

small cucumbers, sliced into about 1/4 inch rounds
fresh dill (dried works well too)
yellow mustard seeds
lightly smushed cloves of garlic
vinegar (either white or cider)
coarse salt

Make a solution with one part vinegar to one part water and add 1 Tbsp of salt for each cup total of solution (example: 3 cups vinegar plus 3 cups water plus 6 Tbsp salt). Let come to a boil and boil gently till salt completely dissolves.

In each canning jar (amounts for 1 pint), place 1 tsp mustard seeds, clove garlic and dill at bottom top with cucumber slices. Once jar is half full, add more dill and another clove of garlic and continue packing with cucumber slices until 3/4 inch from top.

Fill each jar with hot vinegar mixture to a headspace of 1/2 inch. Make sure bubbles are not in solution by running clean knife or wooden skewer around inside of jar to release bubbles. Seal and process in boiling water canner for 5 min (good review of proper canning techniques can be found on National Center for Home Food Preservation)
or let cool and place into fridge for up to 4 weeks (if it lasts that long!)

As a reference, I used 6 small cucumbers (about 4-5 inch in length) and amount of liquid above, and it made 5 pints of pickles. My next project is going to be pickled garlic, as Ryan has specifically requested it and in the process I am now quite curious. Maybe pickled peppers too? Hmm, much to consider.

Also, my seeds started sprouting! It's very exciting to watch them spring through the soil and shout up quickly day by day. I'm going to be quite sad when it comes to thinning them, as I want them all to survive. At least the mesclun type can be resown quite often.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Weekend fun

After recovering from a nasty cold over the week and part of the weekend, I decided to celebrate on Sunday by purchasing many fun gardening items. Among these was the rigging for my very own homemade grow light to help my lemon tree be all it can be. Basically, I went to Home Depot and picked up two of the reflector clamp work lights and some compact fluorescent bulbs. I grabbed a cool white 60W equivalent bulb meant to simulate daylight and a multipack of 60W equivalent warm white bulbs for a grow light and also to replace all the bulbs in the house to be more energy-efficient.

Speaking of, I have been working very hard (and succeeding on many counts) to improve the energy-efficiency of my life and reduce my waste and impact on the environment. I've been recycling pretty well, especially given that I have to make a special trip to recycle, which made it harder to start. I just replaced all the lightbulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which should save energy and money. I have switched my husband and I to more local, sustainable dairy, meat and produce. This last one has actually been in process since last September when we joined a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) with BeWise Ranch, which has been one of the best, most rewarding decisions of my life. Not only do we support local farmers and organic, sustainable produce, but our quality of life and nutritional content of food has vastly increased with all the vegetation now in our diet.

Well, anyway, I'm really trying to live a more "back to basics" life without a strong reliance on fast food and consumer waste. Unfortunately, the one thing I would improve would be my driving to work. I really wish I could carpool or use public transit, but I work in a small company with no one near to my home. And I tried public transit when I first started working, but it was so unreliable and time-consuming (took me 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get home versus 20 min to drive home). Well, hopefully people will begin to wake up and realize that life should not be lived in selfish pursuit of "more, right now".

Okay, tangent over, I promise. To get back on track, I have a grow light set-up with a cool white CFL and a warm white CFL positioned towards my citrus tree on a timer to supplement when sunlight is no longer streaming through the east-facing window. I also purchased a few plants for a winter lettuce garden such as arugula, swiss chard, and seeds for radishes and seeds for a mesclun salad mix.

This Sunday I went with a friend Holly to the Hillcrest Farmer's market, which was awesome and filled with so much yummy produce, and I picked up a few lovely things. Besides grabbing a swiss chard plant and arugula plant, I also bought a variegated mint plant. I had never seen anything like it before. It's very pretty and has a great mint smell with just a faint anise aroma. I also picked up some beautiful heirloom tomatoes like green zebra, which is my favorite, and some small cucumbers for pickling. I love having such great access to local, tasty and inexpensive fresh produce!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Lemon splurge

Yes, it's true, I have finally succumbed to the SoCal dream of my own citrus tree. I've been back and forth on purchasing a lemon tree for some time, as I wasn't sure my apartment would get enough light and heat for my baby tree. But after reading a post in a new blog I love (Lindy's Toast) where someone had a lemon tree in Pittsburgh of all places, I knew I had to try.

Now, for those of you out there who think I have a huge place to have such a big lemon tree, I don't. I have a dwarf Improved Meyer Lemon tree that I purchased from Simpson Valley Nursery in San Diego, so it will never grow more than about 6 feet tall. Of course, that's assuming it thrives, which I really hope it does. Right now I have it outside on the porch, which is a northern exposure. I'm hoping to move it inside to my east facing bedroom window and work up a grow light scenario to help it along. Wish me luck!

Friday, September 08, 2006

New Mexican Love

What, may you ask, is New Mexican love? Why green chile of course! And by this I don't mean what those sissy people in California and at Ortega call green chile, but honest-to-goodness flame-roasted Hatch green chile! Truly a gift from God! For those who don't understand a mere mortal's obsession with this delicious-ness, this ambrosia, by all means, post a comment with your email, and I will endeavor to spread the word and taste of wonderful chile. And please, it's chile with an e.

Okay, so if it's not already obvious, my hubby and I recently returned from a trip to my second home state of New Mexico, where we were attending a wedding of friends, seeing friends, and visiting family. It was a wonderful trip, highlighted by many outings that involved green chile cheese fries (best thing ever!) as well as meeting the new addition to our group, baby Evelyn Morgan who is the newborn babygirl of our friends Joe and Rebekah in New Mexico. We also saw Kyle's parents, which was nice as always, and attended the wedding of mutual friends of ours from college who now reside in Seattle.

Other than the bliss that is green chile and just hanging with friends, there hasn't been much else going on. However, as strange as it is, whenever we get back to San Diego I always crave sushi big-time, as well as just Asian-tasting food in general. After feasting on yummy sushi at Sushi Deli 2 in downtown San Diego (sooo good, and very well-priced) when we got back, we mostly just hung out. Unfortunately, I managed to catch a cold pretty much the next day we were back, which I still have.

But on Friday I managed to make an old stand-by favorite in our house, Thai beef salad. You can tell I'm really having fun with the new camera too.

Anyway, it's a really simple dish involving a quick marinade of skirt steak (or whatever thin steak you prefer) which is cooked and placed atop a lightly dressed bed of greens.
*1 Tbsp coriander seed, toasted and lightly crushed
*1 Tbsp peppercorns, toasted and lightly crushed
*1/4 cup soy sauce
*1/4 cup sugar
*3-4 cloves minced garlic
*about 1 lb of thin beef of choice

Mix above in plastic bag and let sit in fridge for at least 40 min to 2 hr. When done, remove from fridge and either on stovetop or on grill, cook till medium rare. Let meat rest on cutting board while preparing salad dressing (can cut into slices once rested)

*1 small orange, juiced
*1 lime, juiced
*finely chopped serrano pepper (or whatever tickles the fancy)
*1 Tbsp sugar
*1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
*1 Tbsp rice vinegar
*1/4 to 1/2 cup of oil (frying up some green onion or shallots to make flavored oil make this really good)

Mix all but the oil together really well, then slowly stream in the oil while whisking to make a dressing of your liking.

Place a small amount of the dressing in the bottom of a big bowl and put in handfuls of fresh greens of any kind and lightly dress each handful. Plate some greens on a plate and top with sliced of the cooked beef. Very tasty, especially as left-overs. The dressing is really good left-over, and I keep it for at long as 2 weeks, although it usually doesn't last that long before I eat it.