Monday, September 26, 2011

Fruits of Summer

No recipe today my friends, only an update on what I've been up to these past weeks here. It's not that I haven't been cooking--because I surely have! My Farmers markets are winding down for the season.. with Kennebunk remaining open until mid November. It's been a wonderful season for us, and we recently signed on for a new Winter Market that will open November 12th on Saco Island, located in one of the old mill's restored lofts. . I'm very excited about this new market and partaking with many new vendors and foodie friends. In addition to my herbal soap line, we'll be offering dips, spices and herbal blends of seasonings. Even hubby has leased booth space for his watercolor artwork. If you're in our neck of the woods, do stop on by!

Did you know that I just love gardening! We garden because we love food. Well, that, plus the fact that the exercise is wonderful, though the aching back has it's pitfalls... but the rewards are tenfold. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you can easily see that I enjoy canning during the summer months when the fruits and vegetables are at their freshest, and if I haven't grown them myself.. I know just who has, before they'll go into my jars. This summer was no exception. If anything, I canned and froze more this year than in years past. Jams, jellies, chutneys, sweet pickles, dill pickles, relishes, tomato sauce, whole plum tomatoes, piccalilli, giardiniera, applesauce, dilly beans, peperonata, tomato salsa, hot habanero peach salsa, corn, carrots, brussell sprouts,edamame, roasted tomatoes, hot peppers, and even some herbs. I'm thinking of adding another freezer or a new jelly cupboard in my letter to Santa this year. ;) Wow! After thinking through this list(and I'm certain I've forgotten some) I have to admit, I really did put up a lot this year.

My loot from this summer's bounty--either from our garden, or picked by me in our nearby orchards.

The fruits of summer are living out their final days, and the mind begins to fearfully anticipate a season when the supermarket will again become a source of fresh produce. Ha! At least this is how my mind works. Over the years I have honed in on some easy ways to preserve the bounty of the abundant seasons, mostly involving freezing. These preserving projects are quite simple to do and apart from ample freezer space, require only a minimal time commitment. Here are a few ideas:

Sweet peppers can be cut up into small pieces and frozen immediately in large ziplock bags. If you have never tried this, you will be amazed at how they defrost right in the oil as you sauté them, and how you would never know the difference once they’re cooked. They don’t retain the crunch they have when fresh, so you wouldn’t want to put them in a salad. But they’re great in stir fries, omelets or a saucy peperonata.

Hot peppers are one of my favorite things to freeze. So overly abundant in August and September, I don’t really start craving (or having the time to cook) spicy Thai food until the middle of winter, when the only hot peppers in the stores are ancient, depressed looking things. I just put them whole into a quart sized bag and pull from it all winter.

Other seasonings I have had good luck freezing are ginger—I buy a few pounds and it lasts all year—and garlic. I find that our garlic really only lasts in top shape in our kitchen until the end of December. As it dries out, the flavor becomes too strong to eat raw. So last year I peeled a whole bunch of garlic the week it was picked, when it’s just so fresh and juicy, and froze it in a bag. It turned out to be a great convenience food; I would just grab a clove and grate it, still frozen. This year I pickled a few jars of garlic cloves... they will come in handy preparing salad dressings or a marinades. To sauté the frozen garlic just wait a few minutes for it to partially thaw, then mince it and sauté it like normal. It tastes just like fresh!

You can even freeze some of the more rugged herbs like parsley, thyme and rosemary. I freeze them in plastic containers. No one has ever used a whole bunch of rosemary before it goes bad. Just stick it in the freezer.

Sweet corn is only available for another couple of weeks. Why buy frozen corn in the store when you can make your own for dirt cheap and it tastes so much better? Just cut the corn of the cobs, stick it in a bag and you’re done. Then, make some corn or seafood chowdahs all winter long.

Don’t even get me started on fruit. If you’re diligent, your freezer is already half full with rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, peaches and blueberries. The peaches make amazing smoothies and are great for baking. Warm scones right out of the oven. Sweet or savory galettes. A bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with stewed frozen peaches spiked with local honey or Amaretto in January? Can I tempt anyone?

Last week, there were a few firsts for me here. Firstly, I made sausage--hog casings and all, but will save that for another post and secondly I was invited to a 'jar swap' hosted by my friend Sue of Above the Dam Jam. I'd never participated in one of these, so didn't quite know what to expect.

Her instructions: "Make 15 jars of anything you want and show up at 6:00pm and share a bottle of wine with us. You'll love it" And that I did!

As you can see--Sue was thrilled with the turnout, and I was like a kid in a candy store when I saw all these gorgeous jars of summer goodness laid out on her dining room table! Baskets filled with jellies, jams, pickled beets, applesauce, grapes infusing in their juices--(I personally can't wait for this to be ready), pickles, salsa, even homemade catsup and from her Aunt Carol--old fashioned homemade caramel popcorn that curiously disappeared the minute I brought it home. Samples of many opened jars were set out on her counter for all to taste. I've already made chicken with the Zesty Peach BBQ Sauce.. gosh, it was delicious.

Here's some of the wonderful fruits of the season taken at the jar swap & check out that big bowl of caramel corn my other friend Lee is loving. Aunt Carol was kind enough to share her recipe with me, and I know how happy my grandkids will be this holiday season.

As for the wine.. even this was served in small canning jars. Thanks for your hospitality and invitation Sue. What a fun night for me!

Being a family of food lovers, we have learned to preserve. There simply isn’t enough time for us to savor the fruits of our labors and of the seasons in the way they should be: unrushed. I'm often too tuckered to cook in season, and seldom will my oven be turned on unless it rains during the warmer months, so when I do have the time, we devote it to preservation projects. And then we'll savor all that goodness through our long winter months. Preserving allows you to capture fruits and vegetables at their flavorful peaks and enjoy that freshness all year round. Did any of you put up your family's favorites this summer? You'll be kicking yourself in the patootie if you haven't ;-)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Get A Good -- Green beans with lamb

Are you looking for a way to use up all your garden green and pole beans? Why not try some Get A Good.

One of my all time favorite green bean recipes is called Lubee alaham, but in our family it is known as Get A Good. I'm not certain how this name came about, but I can guarantee you it surely is very good. My sister introduced this bean stew to the family when her husband's Armenian grandmother brought it to the table. It was always made during the summer months when fresh green beans and ripened tomatoes were plentiful and then typically served over rice pilaf, or steamed bulgar wheat but during the cooler months I've even served it over creamy polenta.

You can prepare this with ground lamb, cubed lamb pieces or even just lamb bones, as Nana did, so when your having that leg of lamb boned at your butchers market--tell him you want the bones saved. This week I picked up some seasoned Italian lamb sausage at farmers market that was just scrumptious in this meal. Bush green beans are fine to use, but I find the young pole beans or flat Italian green beans both excellent in texture and flavor.

This dish tastes even better the next day, after the flavors have a chance to intensify. Oh yes, a loaf of crusty bread to mop up the flavorful juices goes great with this, too!

Get A Good - Green Beans with lamb

1 lb.seasoned ground lamb
2 TBLS olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. crushed dried basil
1 tsp. crushed dried oregano
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 lb. fresh green beans or Italian pole beans--washed and trimmed
2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
1 cup roma tomatoes, or half a can tomato paste

In a skillet, brown meat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Drain any excess fat. Place meat in a bowl & set aside. Using the same skillet, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft and slightly brown.. Return the meat to the skillet with the onions. Add salt, ground pepper, allspice, basil, and oregano.. Cover & cook 10 more minutes.

In a large pot, add the green beans. Stir in the tomatoes, and the tomato paste over the green beans and stir. Add the meat mixture to the green beans and bring to a gentle boil, then cover and simmer for 1 hour, or more until beans are fork tender. Serve over rice pilaf or steamed bulgur. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Summer in a jar--Amaretto peach jam

Every summer, I wait patiently for the summer peaches to arrive at market. I slice and freeze a bunch for winter galettes, preserve halves in light syrup or make a peach butter and then there's jam. Glorious peach jam! Peaches have become one of those fruits that is nearly always available, but they are only this delicious in the month of and August in our neck of the woods. You know the ones I mean--the kind that when you first bite into them, those scrumptious juices drip down onto your chin. Those mealy, impenetrable fruits that you pay a small fortune for during the winter just can’t possibly compare.

Of all the jams and jellies I put up each summer, peach jam is right up there at the top of my list. I like to flavor mine with Amaretto and nutmeg and enjoy it served over muffins, as a filling in my torte cakes, Christmas thumbprint cookies, over biscuits or just from the spoon. Last week when I finished making my last batch, I had run out of canning jars, so had some jam left over and as I was making yet another zucchini bread also that morning, I decided to add it into my batter. What a delicious surprise!

This weekend will probably be the last week I'll be able to get fresh peaches here, so I'm going to try a habanero peach jelly. So if you want to put some summer into a jar, head off to your local farmer's market and pick up some wonderful fresh peaches before it's too late.

Amaretto Peach Jam

5 cups of peaches, unpeeled and chopped
2 lemons, zested and juiced
5 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup wildflower honey
1/2 tsp butter
1 1/2 packets Certo liquid pectin
1/4 cup Amaretto liqueur

Fill your canning pot with water and begin to bring it to a light boil.. Wash your jars and rings in warm soapy water and set aside. Put your lids in a small pot of water and heat in order to soften the sealing compound.

Add peaches,sugar and honey to a large, non-reactive pot. Stir so that the peaches begin to release their juice and mingle with the sugar. Bring to a boil and add the nutmeg, lemon zest,juice and butter and let jam continue to cook for about ten minutes. If the fruit hasn’t broken down much after that time is up, use a potato masher or immersion blender to break down the chunks. Add Certo and liqueur and bring to a rolling boil for a full five minutes.

Turn off the heat under the jam, skim any foam off and fill jars. Wipe rims and apply lids. Screw on the bands and lower into the water. Process in the hot water bath 10 minutes. When time is up, remove from water and cool on the counter under a tea towel. This recipe makes approximately 5-6 half pint jars. Enjoy!