It’s Canning Season! Dilly Beans!

I’m not a canning expert. That needed to be disclosed first. I’m always afraid I’m going to accidentally can something with a high pH balance and kill all of my friends and family with botulism. Still, I do my best. It’s actually one of my favorite hobbies (canning, not killing people). And it’s finally canning season again!

When it comes to pickles – use what’s in season, since it will cost the least and yield the best results. I was at my favorite grocery store this week. Widest variety, cheapest produce of all time. Even though it’s a bit early for them, they had these gorgeous green beans for $.69/pound. K. I bought two pounds, knowing exactly where all of them would end up. As dilly beans in my summer weekend bloodies.

Is there any reason to drink a Bloody Mary if it’s not packed with pickles, questionable beef sticks, cheese cubes, maybe even a tiny hamburger? No. And in my opinion, dilly beans should be a necessity in every bloody.

Before we get started, you really do need a water bath canner plus canning kit for this. This is the one I have. Nothing fancy, $32, but it’s a great investment. I suppose with small batches (1-3 pints or so), you could use a large pot and put a steaming basket in there, as long as it allows your cans to sit upright. Honestly, that is way more trouble than it’s worth. canningbook

This is the fantastic book from Liana Krissoff that I based the Dilly Beans recipe from. If you have any interest in canning, and you’re terrified of things like pectin powder and citric acid like I am, get this book.

These dilly beans, as previously stated, pair well with a packed-to-the-brim bloody. They also pair well with grilled cheese and a sense of accomplishment.

Dilly Beans!

Makes 4-5 pints

What you need:

-2 lbs crisp green beans
-4 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
-4 cups water
-3 tbsp pure kosher salt
-4-5 sprigs fresh dill
-4-5 cloves garlic, crushed
-8-10 dried hot red chiles
-4-5 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

What you do:

1.  Prepare your water-bath canner and jars. To sterilize the jars, just put them (without lids/rings) in the canner, submerged so they are at least 1-inch underneath the water. Boil for about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat and keep the jars submerged so they are kept warm (this will prevent them from cracking as we pour the hot vinegar/water mixture into them later). Put the flat lids in a heat proof bowl.

2. Trim the ends of your green beans, and make sure they are no longer than 4-4.5 inches long. Portion out your dill, garlic, hot chiles and red pepper flakes so they are evenly distributed and ready to be added quickly to your jars. Set aside.

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3. Combine vinegar, water and salt in a 6-8 quart pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the salt. Allow to boil for just 30 seconds, and turn off heat. While waiting for vinegar mixture to boil, ladle hot water from the water-bath canner into the bowl with the lids to sterilize them.

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3. Working quickly, divide the green beans among your jars, keeping them upright. Then add 1 sprig dill, 1 clove garlic, 2 chiles and 1 tsp red pepper flakes to each jar.

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4. Pour vinegar mixture into jars (a wide-mouth funnel helps), leaving about 1/2 inch of space from the top. Use a wet paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars clean, then, using your magnetic lid lifter, remove the flat lids from the bowl and place them on your jars. Put the rings on, just tight enough to keep the flat lids in place, but not so tight that air won’t be able to escape in the water bath.

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5. Place jars in the water-bath canner, and bring water to a low boil/simmer. Process for 10 minutes, then remove your cans with your jar lifter and place on a towel to cool, undisturbed, for 12 hours. Check that the lids have sealed after 1 hour, by pressing down on the center. If it can be pushed down, refrigerate immediately (this means the seal did not hold, and bacteria can get in).

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6. Label your sealed jars and store (wherever, but a cool pantry is always your best bet). With a proper seal, these can technically stay fresh, unopened for years on end. Once you’ve opened them, they’ll stay good in the fridge for a couple of weeks… If you don’t eat them in one sitting.

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This is the BEST time for canning, since it’s still just cool enough that I’m not dying from heat stroke standing over the hot water-bath canner. Don’t be afraid to try it out! Plus, pickles are cool, but jams are even better. More on that later. Now treat yourself to a bloody for all your hard (eh, not really) work.

Vegan Chickpea Salad

So, we’ve talked about the stuff my parents used to pack me for lunch. Liverwurst sandwiches, leftover soy sauce chicken, prunes as a snack. I was a very well-fed kid. But stinky. So stinky.

Tuna was always one of those stinky staples. When my dad was away and my mom didn’t feel like cooking, we’d eat tuna sandwiches. Made with lots of mayo, and chopped pimento-stuffed olives. If my dad made it, it was curried. But that’s a different story. He doesn’t do normal.

But apparently the stench of tuna bothers some people. Weird. This non-tuna salad variation is perfect to bring for lunch and it has the added bonus of not smelling like anything in particular (other than good stuff like lemon, dill and onion).

So when I have kids, I’ll feed them this. On top of the liverwurst sandwiches, leftover chicken, and sardines on toast (yep, that was in the lineup!). This pairs well with busy days and a glass of lemonade with a pretty paper straw.

Chickpea Salad

Vegan Chickpea Salad

Makes 3-4 servings

What you need:

-1 15-oz. can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
-2 tbsp Trader Joe’s Reduced Fat Mayo (Did you know this is vegan? Fun fact.)
-Juice of 1 lemon
-1/4 of a large white onion, diced
-1-2 stalks celery, finely chopped
-2 tsp fresh dill (dried is fine in a pinch… GET IT?!)
-1 tsp paprika

What you do:

1. Mash chickpeas with a fork or potato masher. Add mayo and lemon and continue to mash until it’s at your preferred consistency. I like mine super mashed, but some people like a few full chickpeas in theirs. You also don’t have to mash at all. Up to you.

2. Stir in onion, celery, dill and paprika. You’re done!

3. Optional final step is to spoon this onto some thick slices of toasted sourdough with avocado. Actually I take it back. That’s not optional. Super necessary.

Sweet and Tangy Green Juice

Let’s talk about life. Yeah, yeah, this is a food blog. But food is life, and life – like food – is all about moderation. Some bad for you here, some good for you there.

So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about how I recently put down three boxes of Girl Scout cookies in under a week. It was still cold and February-ish and Spring was nowhere in sight. So I did it, and I liked it.

But then something amazing happened. The temp hit 70 degrees this week. In March. MARCH! I’ve found my spirit renewed… and my pants too tight. So here’s where we moderate. Bring on the good for you.

I’m not really into the whole juice fad, personally. I don’t believe in “cleanses.” That is not a thing. Toxins and fat don’t magically disappear from your body because you chugged a few gallons of juice in three days. But I actually like green juice. It tastes fresh and gives you a whopping dose of vitamins and nutrients. So I like to have one of these delicious green juices WITH a delicious, healthy breakfast. And by breakfast I do not mean an entire box of Samoas.

Pairs well with a real breakfast of two soft boiled eggs and fruit.

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Sweet and Tangy Green Juice

Makes approx. 1 pint

What you need:

-1/2 cucumber
-3 celery stalks
-1 small green apple (Granny Smith are great)
-3 large romaine leaves
-2 large kale leaves
-1/2 lemon

What you do:

1. Clean your veggies! Remove any unwanted spots, stems, etc. Core your apple.

2. Add all ingredients except lemon to your juicer (these should all be fine on the soft speed, but you might want to increase for the apple).

3. Squeeze the lemon juice into your pitcher. Stir or shake well in a jar.

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And next time remember to only eat one box of Girl Scout cookies in a week. Moderation.

 

Thai Coconut Curry Squash Soup

I happen to be a huge fan of curry – Thai and Indian. I have a distinct memory of being hungry one day a few years ago, and my dad whipping up the most delicious yellow lamb (when I was eating meat) curry over white rice. There’s just something comforting about it. Is that just me?

Anyway, I was really craving Thai last week. Just kidding, I’m really craving Thai always, all the time, forever and ever. I spend half of my income each month on Cozy Noodles, Duck Walk, Noodles in the Pot and Penny’s in Chicago. It’s a sickness I don’t want cured.

But I was particularly craving Thai curry. My sister-in-law recently sent me a Thai soup recipe and I happened to have three small winter squash sitting on my counter waiting to be made into that creamy, Thai coconut curry soup. The original recipe I based this off of called for two acorn squash, but I had one acorn squash and two tiny blue hubbards, so I went with it. As I’ve said before, we make this easy, we do what we want in the kitchen.

I don’t even know what to say about this soup. It’s so easy and forgiving, exactly how you want a recipe to be. The only time consuming part is roasting the squash and that’s just like a nice little way to warm up your apartment while you unwind after work. And it’s so creamy. Seriously like velvet. It’s perfect with a little piece of toasted roti or naan or whatever carb sounds awesome for dipping.

Pairs well with an imported light beer because we’re obviously pretending we’re in Thailand while we eat this.

Thai Coconut Curry Squash Soup

Adapted from In My Bowl

What you need:

-3 small winter squash (I used one acorn and two acorn-sized blue hubbard squash)
-1 tbsp coconut oil
-pinch of salt
-14 oz can light coconut milk
-2 tbsp red Thai curry paste
-1-2 cups vegetable broth
-salt and pepper

What you do:

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Halve and seed your squash (you can reserve seeds for roasted squash seeds). Place squash on a lipped roasting pan, flesh side up, and coat with coconut oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for 60-75 minutes, until fork tender and skin looks loose.

2. After squash is done roasting, let rest until cool enough to handle. Remove squash from skin and place flesh in a medium stock pot. Mash slightly with a fork.

3. To the stock pot, add entire can of coconut milk along with curry paste. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, and add vegetable broth (anywhere from 1-2 cups, depending on how thick you want your soup).

4. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Blend with an immersion blender, or in batches in your food processor. Add salt and pepper to taste. Best served with a sprig of cilantro and a squeeze of sriracha.

NOTE: This can also be frozen in single servings (1-2 cups) in Ziploc freezer bags for up to six months. Just allow to thaw in fridge the night before you intend to eat it, then reheat in small sauce pan over medium heat.

Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf

To be fair, I told you I would do this. I said “I don’t like pumpkin.” Then I continued to tell you I would probably/definitely be making a pumpkin pie. From an actual pie pumpkin that I pureed.

But then I was thinking of all the labor and calories involved and how there’s zero reward for me because, of all the pumpkin things, I think pumpkin pie is the worst.

Chocolate, however……. let’s talk about chocolate. Chocolate I’m on board with. You don’t like oatmeal raisin cookies? Throw some chocolate in there. Don’t love vanilla ice cream? Hot fudge, obviously. Don’t like Mexican food? You’re dumb and need to re-evaluate your life choices. But try some mole.

So the next obvious choice was to make something with that fresh pumpkin puree that included chocolate chips. Chocolate chip pumpkin loaf. Basically banana bread, but starring banana’s understudy, pumpkin. And you get to use all the cinnamon and nutmeg and happy Fall feelings.

I’m not going to include how to puree an actual pie pumpkin in this post. You can find that all over the Internet. And unless you actually have a pie pumpkin lying around from a CSA or your own personal pumpkin patch, it really doesn’t make a difference. Just buy some organic pumpkin puree in the can. We want this to be easy. We want this to be rewarding.

Added bonus: we made this vegan cuz we are morally righteous. And it makes it so moist and amazing. (You can totally make this non-vegan with butter and an egg. But I seriously do think it’s more moist with the flax and oil.)

Disclaimer: This is in no way on the “How to Look Hot in Your Sexy Mouse Costume on Halloween” diet. It’s horrible for you. This is on the “How to Gain Extra Padding for Warmth in the Winter” diet. Bring 3/4 to work and make friends.

This pairs well with the first scarf-worthy Fall day and a cup of warm chai tea with a touch of cinnamon and almond milk.

Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf

Adapted from Joy the Baker

What you need:

-2 cups all-purpose flour (can probably sub wheat flour, will change texture slightly)
-1 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (pre-mixed or Joy’s instructions)
-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
-1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 tbsp finely ground flax seed + 3 tbsp water
-1/2 cup canola oil
-1 cup organic pumpkin puree
-1 cup light packed brown sugar
-1 tsp almond milk
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-3/4 cup chocolate chips (some Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips are vegan, as are Trader Joe’s semi-sweet)

What you do:

1. First thing you’ll want to do is create your flax seed egg. Combine the 1 tbsp of finely ground flax seed with 3 tbsp of water. Set aside. This needs to sit for about 30 minutes to gel a bit.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×5 loaf pan with margarine (I used Earth balance), line with parchment paper and then grease the parchment paper as well.

3. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, cinammon, nutmeg and salt.

4. In a large bowl, combine your wet ingredients, starting with your flax seed egg, canola oil and pumpkin puree. Mix well, then add brown sugar, almond milk and vanilla.

5. Add your dry ingredients from the medium bowl with your wet ingredients in the large bowl. Mix until very well combined, then you can add your chocolate chips.

6. Spread into your greased loaf pan and then bake for about 50-55 minutes. To ensure the center is cooked, pierce with a wooden skewer. Continue baking in 5 minute increments until the skewer comes out clean or near clean.

I was feeling like I needed a LOT of extra padding for the winter. So I went ahead and baked up a homemade vegan pizza right along with my pumpkin bread.

7. Let cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool on a plate or go ahead and serve warm.

 

UPDATE 10.28.14: I made this again, this time with melted Earth Balance instead of vegetable oil, a sprinkle of baking powder in the flax mixture just before combining with the pumpkin and margarine, and a heaping teaspoon of molasses instead of almond milk and baked for 55 minutes exactly. It was definitely better, the batter was thicker and it gave the bread a better texture overall. Up to you which way you choose!

A Weeknight Dinner Feat. Strange Pink Potato and Grilled Tofu

I have so many potatoes. I have a potato problem. I’ve gotten them every week for the past 4 weeks in my CSA. Pounds upon pounds of potatoes.

I mean don’t get me wrong, I like potatoes. I think they’re delicious. But they have very little nutritional value. I really can’t justify eating more than one or two in a day.

Eventually I’m going to have to make enough mashed potatoes for an army or something and freeze them. But last night I decided to eat just one of those suckers. The way I used to growing up – good old fashioned microwaved “baked” potato.

Yes, I’m writing a food blog post in which one of the staples of my meal was a nuked potato. It’s fine. There are no rules here.

It was exciting though. Once I scrubbed the potato clean, I realized it was a red-skinned potato. Pretty normal, nothing new. But after cooking it and slicing it open, it was revealed to me that my potato had pink flesh. Has anyone ever seen that?? It was new to me. Tasted the same, but was an interesting surprise.

I had my pink potato with a delicious marinated grilled tofu and boiled kale with lemon and garlic. Recipe below. This pairs well with a sudden drop in temp, a lack of motivation and a glass of cheap red wine.

Baked Potato and Grilled Tofu

Marinated Grilled Tofu with Boiled Kale and Baked Potato

What you need for tofu:

One package extra firm tofu*
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (vegs omit; contains anchovies)
2 tbsp dry red wine
juice from 1 small lemon
1/2 clove garlic, minced/pressed
1 tsp brown sugar

*NOTE: I used Trader Joe’s Organic Sprouted Tofu – it comes in two packages. I only used one, which is about 7.25 ounces of tofu, enough to serve two people. If you use more, just adjust the marinade quantities accordingly. I find the marinade tastes the same even if you just eyeball the ingredient proportions.

What you need for kale:

1 large bunch kale
juice from 1 small lemon
1/2 clove garlic, minced/pressed

What you need for potato:

1 large potato, any variety (mine was about 11 ounces)
1 tsp margarine (Earth Balance)
2 tbsp sauerkraut
2 tbsp light sour cream, optional (vegans omit)

What you do:

Let’s start with the cardinal rule when working with tofu: Press the shit out of it. It’s obvious when it’s not pressed. It’s watery and too soft and flavorless because even if you marinate it for hours, it can’t absorb any of it since it’s packed with so much water.

So we start by taking our tofu and slicing it into four equal “steaks” (about 1/4-1/2 inch thick). Put a dish towel down on a hard surface and place a thick layer of paper towels over it. Add your tofu steaks on top of the paper towels and put another thick layer of paper towels on top of the tofu.

This is where it gets fun. Find the heaviest things you own and place them on top of the covered tofu. I used two big cookbooks PLUS my KitchenAid (like, that thing weighs as much as I do). Let it sit like this for a minimum of 30 minutes, preferably an hour or two. (Admittedly I only did 40ish since I was tired and hungry.)

While your tofu is being pressed, wash your kale. Slice the leaves away from the stalks and cut into relatively large pieces (about 2-3 inches or so in diameter). You can also wash your potato while you wait. And have a glass of wine. Maybe watch some evening TV. I don’t know, it’s your life.

When your tofu is nice and pressed, mix all of your marinade ingredients (soy sauce through brown sugar) in a small bowl and place in a freezer bag. Add your tofu, so it lays flat, and allow to marinate for about 10-15 minutes. You don’t need long, since tofu absorbs quickly.

While your tofu marinates, place a medium-large pot of water over high heat. You’ll bring this to a boil.

Now I’m about to tell you to do a whole bunch of things at once. Don’t panic. They aren’t time sensitive. This shouldn’t be scary.

First, we’ll focus on the potato. Now that it’s washed, stab it thoroughly all over with a fork. Place on a microwave safe plate, uncovered, and nuke on high for 5-6 minutes (less if it’s smaller).

While that’s happening, coat a grill pan with a bit of canola oil and place over medium heat. (You can also use a regular frying pan. We’re inclusive here. Whatever you’ve got. I just wanted grill marks.) Place tofu on the grill pan and heat on both sides, about 5-6 minutes each.

While your tofu is grilling, check if your water is boiling. It is? Awesome. Throw all that pre-chopped kale in there. Make sure it’s fully submerged, and boil for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Drain like you would pasta, and add juice of one small lemon and 1/2 clove of garlic. Toss well.

Your potato will stay hot, so it’s okay if that’s done cooking early. The kale tastes fine lukewarm. The last thing finished should be the tofu. Top the tofu with some of the remaining marinade right before you take it off the grill.

Slice open your very fancy pink microwave potato and top with some margarine and kraut. I also added light sour cream because that’s delicious, but I’m sure it would taste just fine without it and then the whole meal is vegan.

First Day of Fall: Sweet Heat Roasted Squash Seeds

As of tomorrow, September 23, 2014, it is officially Fall and I am officially not crazy anymore. Well, I’m not crazy for obsessing over this season way too far in advance. I’m still crazy in other ways. Good crazy.

ANYWAY, I wanted to do something to celebrate the official arrival of Fall. Not to mention the fact that my apartment is filled with all types of winter squash from my CSA. And that it’s actually cool enough keep my oven on for more than an hour. Right now, I have a big fat spaghetti squash, three cute lil baby delicatas, one buttercup and one acorn squash. And one pie pumpkin which I will eventually use for a disgustingly laborious pumpkin pie that I will not eat since, as previously discussed, I do not like pumpkin pie. I am simply a Fall-loving masochist. See, good crazy.

I decided to roast the spaghetti squash first, simply because it would have the most seeds and I wanted to bake them. Because when is the last time you had baked winter squash seeds? Too long ago, that’s the last time.

This recipe could not be easier. If you don’t like the idea of sweet heat roasted seeds cuz you’re crazy in the bad way, you can drizzle them with oil and salt instead and bake them the exact same way.

Sweet Heat Winter Squash Seeds

Sweet Heat Roasted Winter Squash Seeds (And Roasted Spaghetti Squash)

What you need:

1 spaghetti squash, cut in half longways, seeds and strings removed
1 tbsp olive oil
Sprinkle of S&P
1/2 tsp coconut oil (or other neutral oil)
2 tsp Sambal Oelek (or Sriracha or dried chili flakes)
Drizzle of Agave

What you do:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Drizzle your halved, seeded spaghetti squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place flesh side down on a roasting pan or baking sheet. Let roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until it smells sweet and the skin is slightly browned. If you want the flesh to be slightly softer, you may choose to put about 1 tbsp of water in the roasting pan.

While squash roasts, clean the seeds. Remove any remaining flesh and place in a bowl or colander to rinse completely clean. Lay seeds out in one even layer on a paper towel to dry for about an hour while the squash roasts.

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When squash is finished roasting, remove and let cool for about 20 minutes or longer, until cool enough to handle.

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While squash is cooling, set oven to 300 degrees F. Put seeds in a small bowl and toss with coconut oil, chili sauce and agave. (If you do not like the flavor of coconut oil, feel free to use something more neutral, like canola oil.)

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Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place seeds on prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until slightly browned. Let cool and enjoy! You can keep these in an airtight container for about a week. Mine were gone within 24 hours… And that was me showing restraint.

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When squash is cool enough to handle, remove flesh from skin by scraping lightly with a fork. Serve warm with drizzle of olive oil, lemon, garlic and parmesan. (Or however you prefer. I personally don’t think it works well as a “substitute” for spaghetti, so I like it this way. The undressed flesh will keep in the fridge for several days and reheats fine in the microwave.)

Both the squash and seeds pair well with a cold Crispin, a warm blanket and a Fall-scented candle. Happy First Day of Fall!