Yogurt cookies and house plants

It’s been awhile since I posted a recipe – or anything, really! – and I found myself with a drizzly afternoon, a sick boyfriend on the couch, and a carton of Greek yogurt that needed to be used before I hit the road for a work trip this Sunday. I took to the internet and searched for “Greek yogurt cookies.” I whipped up a batch of both of these recipes, more or less faithfully:

I made the chocolate chip cookies without any modifications, except I only used 1 cup of chocolate chips because that’s what I had. Interestingly, this recipe doesn’t call for any fat other than the yogurt. I wondered if I would regret not greasing the (nonstick) sheet, but they came off pretty easily. The dough is very elastic and the cookies puff up into a spongy, quick bread texture. For the second round I put a tiny pat of butter under each cookie and also added some cinnamon. The butter created a slightly crispy, salty bottom but it wasn’t necessary.
With more Greek yogurt to use, I next made the brown sugar cookies. I used 1/2 cup butter and an extra 1/2 cup yogurt because 1) I wasn’t feeling up to putting two sticks of butter in a single cookie recipe and 2) I had a lot of Greek yogurt to use. These cookies were essentially the same as the first recipe; a little more biscuity and without chocolate of course (so a little on the boring side), but I’m sure they would have flattened out and crisped up (like the sugar cookie I was hoping for) if I’d used the full amount of butter.
yogurt cookies

Chocolate chip on the left, brown sugar on the right.

With more daylight and, remarkably, more energy (it’s been a long week!) I tackled another project: repotting two of my plants. One is a marble queen that Susan gave me for Christmas – which needed to be repotted way back then – and the other is a precious spider plant I’ve had since the fourth grade that hasn’t gotten a new home in years.

plant repot

Meeting for the first time for a nice, cool shower.

I bought two new big pots for them so now I have two medium-sized pots to upgrade some other plants, sort of like snails swapping shells. I also cut about 25 babies off the mama, so if anyone wants a spider plant, let me know!

The squash season (pumpkin coconut curry soup)

I’m not sad at all that the fall/winter season is upon us, not only because it’s still in the high 60s/low 70s here in Ukiah, but because we’re flooded with squash. I’ve been buying it in bulk at the farmer’s market to store in our chilly back room, where it should keep for several months. I also harvested the seven “zebra” pumpkins we managed to grow from one plant at our community plot (which was somewhat neglected this summer).

I. love. squash. It’s so simple to cut one up and throw in the roasting pan with whatever protein we’re having, especially thin-skinned varieties like Delicata, whose skin is edible and tasty. Squash is sweet and filling and healthy. It tastes good with every single spice combination I’ve ever tried. Also, it’s relatively cheap.

Yesterday I processed four 5-lb pumpkins by roasting and blending them. I also separated out all the seeds which can be time-consuming because of the pesky flesh that clings to them, but totally worth it when you’re popping the crispy end-result in your mouth.

I froze about 2 quarts of plain pumpkin to be used for pies and probably a soup down the line, and I also made 2 quarts of a truly fantastic soup, one of which we ate for dinner and the other we put in the freezer for an easy dinner down the line.

Chicken Pumpkin Curry Coconut Soup

I adapted it roughly from this recipe, but instead of chicken broth I  used the drippings and leftover gravy from a chicken I roasted on Sunday night. I also added shredded chicken from the same bird, and left out the maple syrup since I  had blended in some roasted apples as well.

If you make this, do not skip the fish sauce! I also used lemon instead of lime (our Meyer lemon tree is finally producing beautiful yellow fruit!) but honestly, you could skip it entirely. I LOVE citrus but there are enough complex flavors in this soup without it.

 

pumpkin processing

The many stages of processing: compost; raw cubed pumpkin; whole pumpkin; seeds; and the end-result cooling in a colander.

A note on roasting 

I have no idea if this is a thing that other people do because I didn’t learn it from a recipe, but pretty much any time I roast something I add water to the bottom of the pan. Here’s why:

  1. It creates a sort of “steam” effect and cooks food faster
  2. It prevents the food from sticking
  3. It prevents the food from drying out
  4. It creates more drippings or a syrup
  5. It makes clean-up a lot easier

Does anyone else do this?

The end of the cukes, and: a fruity gazpacho variation

It’s official – cucumber season is over in our household! I ripped them out of the ground last weekend after harvesting the final dozen smallish cukes.

cuke destruction

Here’s my swan song to this highly productive cucumber season. I wrote about the merits of cucumber gazpacho, but there’s another sweetheart in the cold soup category that merits a mention: fruit gazpacho.

Perhaps the most delicious dish I made all summer, this fruit gazpacho straddled the line between sweet and savory. As a bonus, it also used cucumber!

Watermelon-basil gazpacho

Ingredients:

  • 5 lb watermelon, de-seeded with rind removed
  • 1 cup sliced peaches or nectarines
  • 1 lb cucumber, peeled and de-seeded
  • A generous bunch of basil (Thai basil works especially well)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup onion
  • 1/2 cup white, red, or rice wine vinegar
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Throw everything into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. Top with chunks of feta and a drizzle of olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar.

To make this even more savory, add a tomato or two and a pepper to the blend. A spicy pepper would probably be delicious as well!

the final harvest

Sharing the joy of canning

Last Saturday I taught a canning class sponsored by North Coast Opportunities at the Willits Grange. We had 10 people come out and spent four fun hours cooking and canning 54 jars of applesauce and green tomato pickles. It was awesome.

I emphasized two things:

  1. The food we were canning would otherwise have rotted on the ground.
  2. Canning is not as scary as people think it is.

canning class 1

I wrote a two-part series for Eat Mendocino about preserving food. First I talked about making refrigerator pickles, and then I explained how to preserve them using a water bath. I’m not on Facebook, but apparently there was some outcry that I had not followed the proper steps for food safety (which, for the record, I did).

While I appreciate that people want to avoid introducing bacteria into their canned food, I also think our fear-based societal inclinations prohibit us from doing a lot of perfectly safe activities. Back in the day, people didn’t even bother with waterbathing or pressure canning! My grandma still makes shelf-stable apple butter without putting it through a waterbath, and although I personally take that extra step, she has never killed or made a single member of her family sick using this method. My mom says she has a two-year-old jar of that apple butter in her pantry, and at Christmas I won’t hesitate to open it up and spread it on a piece of toast. And if there happens to be mold on the top of it, well… that’s a bummer, but it’s easy to spot and we won’t eat it.

Use your eyes and your nose. If it looks good and smells good, it’s good. I recently invented the statistic that you’re more likely to die from a shark attack than botulism. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t go in the ocean for fear of sharks, then maybe canning isn’t for you. But for the rest of you, food preservation is a fun, easy, and relatively risk-free way to keep the flavors of summer alive in the winter months.

canning class 2

Getting it done: world’s easiest tomato sauce

When I research recipes for preserving food, I find so many refined options. And by refined, I mean complicated. They call for a long list of ingredients and a zillion steps. While I appreciate that these exist, and that people exist who like to make them (people that I wish would feed me their delicious creations), I’m just not that kind of cook. I like to take 50 lbs of tomatoes and turn it into 10 quarts of sauce in 2 hours.

I believe that these complex recipes overwhelm many people, making them feel like they couldn’t possibly put up cans of food worth eating. To those people, I have some refreshing news: NONE OF THAT COMPLEXITY MATTERS. Sure, you still have to follow the rules to safely preserve the food, but what’s inside those jars doesn’t have to take hours to prepare.

Ingredient lists are suggestions at best. I’m the queen of omissions and substitutions. For canning you need to make sure that your acid content is right, but otherwise, pretty much nothing matters.

If you look up recipes for tomato sauce right now, you’ll mostly find people telling you to core the tomatoes, finely chop them, continually mash the hell out of them while they boil, and  then de-seed and skin them by pressing them through a fine mesh sieve. Um, what? No.

Here’s how I make my tomato sauce, and it is not any way inferior to those more complex recipes. In fact, it might even be better. Plus, you get way more volume since you aren’t removing all the seeds and skins.

tomatoes

A lug of tomatoes (about 30 lbs) from the “fruit group,” a local set-up that sells almost-totally-organic fruit and tomatoes at wholesale prices every week throughout the summer. This box cost me $20.

Easy Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • Tomatoes! As many as you have, whatever kind you have (saucing/paste tomatoes will have less water and will take less time to cook)
  • Garlic!
  • Herbs! Whatever you have on hand (fresh or dried oregano, basil, rosemary, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper)
  • If canning, lemon juice or citric acid

Preparation

Wash your tomatoes and cut them in half. Or don’t; whatever. If you have particularly juicy tomatoes, you can squeeze out some of their guts. Put them into a food processor or blender. That’s right – raw tomatoes, skins and seeds and all. I don’t core them or even cut off the stem scars.

Add garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and herbs if you want them incorporated. Blend to your heart’s desire, leaving it as chunky or getting it as smooth as you want.

NOTE: Too much garlic can affect the pH, so use no more than 2 whole cloves per blender.

Depending on how many tomatoes you have, you will probably have to do this in several rounds. Dump the blended sauce into a large pot (the wider the better; more surface area is good) and turn the heat to medium. If you don’t want your herbs blended, add them now.

Bring the sauce to a boil and then turn it down to a strong simmer. Give it a good stir and cover it with a splatter guard, but NOT a lid. You’re cooking your sauce down. It’s very important that you don’t stir the sauce too much, or else you’ll just mix all the water that rose to the surface back into the sauce.

Stir occasionally to make sure the bottom isn’t burning (it won’t if you have it at a true simmer), maybe once every 10 or 15 minutes. How long your sauce has to cook will depend on how much water your tomatoes had and how thick you like it; 25 lbs usually takes me about an hour. I leave mine on the watery side, knowing I’ll cook it down a little more when I open the jar. If you’re doing a LOT of sauce, you can pour it in one blender at a time, let it cook down, then pour more in on top.

Meanwhile, prepare some pint and/or quart jars. I like to put whole sprigs of rosemary and/or basil in mine.

Taste your sauce; add more herbs or spices if you want to. Once your sauce is tasting just how you want it, ladle it into the clean jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.

You can freeze this now and be done, or you can process it in a waterbath to be shelf-stable.

If canning, THIS IS THE ONLY TRULY CRUCIAL STEP: you need to make this acidic enough so it won’t breed bacteria. For pints, add 1 TBSP lemon juice or 1/4 TSP citric acid to each jar; for quarts, add 2 TBSP lemon juice or 1/2 TSP citric acid.

Pints need 35 minutes in a waterbath, and quarts need 45. If you aren’t an experienced canner, there are tons of how-to guides out there. I like Ball’s no-nonsense approach.

Although the process itself does take awhile, you can do other things while the sauce cooks down and the jars process.

Even with all those skins and seeds, you end up with gorgeous and tasty tomato sauce. And guess what? It’s more nutritious, too. HOLLER.

sauce

A pint of easy tomato sauce with a whole branch of basil.

Fruity booze, aka “summer bounce”

The hot weather is firmly entrenched in Mendocino county and the gardens have been popping! Between our backyard garden and the community garden plot we share with our friend Susan, we have been awash in blackberries, tomatoes, zucchini, and most prolifically, cucumbers. SO MANY CUCUMBERS. The first round of peppers are almost ready to be harvested and the eggplant and beans are flowering like mad. We have a little pumpkin that struggled at first but tripled in size in a week (maybe because now it’s getting water – go figure).

blackberries

These blackberries are a double whammy of delight, being both thornless and ginormous.

Plums are almost done but continue to ripen with a vengeance. Someone needs to tell the plum tree that it doesn’t need to produce *quite* so much fruit. The sidewalks are covered in rot, even from the trees that are being frequently harvested.

We’ve already done a round of picking, pitting, and canning plums, and I’m sort of plummed out in terms of processing. But I discovered an ingenious use for these tiny, fussy fruits: soak ’em in booze! I like to call it Plum Rum.

plums for rum

Pre-rum plums

I referenced my fruity booze obsession in an earlier post when I added rum-soaked strawberries to a cherry chutney I was making. Those strawberries were supposed to be the start of a summer rumpot, an idea I got from my friend Amber who makes it every year and gives out little jars of it for Christmas. I hoard my rumpot every time, so this year I decided to make one of my own.

Of course, Amber is a much more patient person than I am. Rumpot is supposed to sit for MONTHS, with new fruit (plus more sugar and booze) added as it comes into season. However, after just one week of soaking some strawberries back in May, I tasted it and declared it delicious and, therefore, done. I strained out the fruit, and strawberry rum was enjoyed by all (and, on one occasion, enjoyed a little too much by Susan and me).

With so many plums on hand I decided to give them a try. I smashed them ever so slightly, added significantly less sugar than I did to the strawberry rum (it was awesome but cloying), and let them sit for a week. VOILA – a light but lethal summer drink. A quart of it only lasted five days (to be fair, those days were over the long 4th of July weekend).

Right now I’m making another round, this time with the sunburned blackberries that weren’t good for eating. So if you’re in the neighborhood and in the mood for some blackberry plum rum, holler. It will be ready soon!

Here’s how to make your own.

FRUITY BOOZE (also called Summer Bounce, which I love)

  • Fresh fruit
  • Sugar
  • Rum or vodka

Wash the fruit and chop or slightly mash it and put it into a large non-reactive bowl. (I don’t actually know what this means, and I think I’ve been using a reactive bowl if aluminum is reactive, but I feel compelled to warn you that other recipes encourage a non-reactive receptacle.) Add sugar – I use about a 4:1 fruit to sugar ratio. Add enough cheap rum or vodka to cover the fruit. (I cannot emphasize enough how little the quality of booze matters here – the fruit will cover that taste up.) Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and let sit in a cool, dark place for at least a week. Once you think it’s ready, drain off the fruit (feel free to use the boozy fruit in other recipes like a chutney, or eat it, or chuck it) and serve with aplomb. I like to add it to fizzy water for a refreshing cocktail.

self portrait in rum

Self-portrait in the strawberry bounce

Locavore gazpacho and pickles

Sarah from Eat Mendocino came to dinner last week. She wrote about it here, so I won’t reiterate too much except to say that I helped her make pickles – her first canning process from start to finish – and I love that she described me as both artfully efficient and contagiously enthusiastic. I try!

It was really hot out – too hot to be canning really, but not much keeps me from that project – so I ended up skipping the stuffed tomatoes in favor of a refreshing gazpacho. This was a brilliant choice because most of the flavor comes from fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, which I have in spades right now thanks to tending two separate gardens.

If you’ve never made gazpacho (which is a cold tomato soup), it’s really easy and can be adjusted any which way. Here’s how I did it, plus some variation suggestions.

gazpacho

Summer Gazpacho

Ingredients:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt

Ingredients I would have used if I had any that were produced in Mendocino:

  • Lemon juice
  • Black pepper
  • Stale bread

Preparation:

The quantity of each ingredient depends entirely on what you have on hand and how much you want to make, but in general you want about 2:1 tomatoes to cucumber and any other vegetables such as zucchini, peppers,  cauliflower, or eggplant. I’d avoid broccoli but I can’t explain why I feel that way. This is a particularly good way to use up zucchini since it adds volume and dulls the acidity and spiciness of all those tomatoes and garlic heads.

Chop everything into large chunks. Throw it all in the blender or food processor with some water and about 1/4 cup olive oil per batch (if you’re making a boatload, you may have to blend several batches). Also per batch: 1-4 cloves garlic depending on your taste preference, a little red onion if so inclined, about 1 TBSP lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. If you’re doing it the Spanish way, soak a piece of stale bread in water and throw that in there, too. It sounds gross but it gives it a lovely, smooth consistency. Some gazpacho is served chunky, but I prefer to blend mine until smooth and then add toppings for texture.

Chill for at least an hour, and preferably overnight. I topped ours with local Shamrock goat cheese and some chopped walnuts. I also tossed a few blackberries into mine, because what the hell? And it was a great flavor.

A popular variation uses watermelon and feta cheese. I highly recommend it.

Overall thoughts on feeding a locavore: I was a little panicked that I’d accidentally feed her something not grown or produced in Mendocino county, but it turns out I had tons of local food thanks to the garden and local products I already buy. Also, Sarah brought ingredients like olive oil, butter to cook the salmon backs in, and her own apple cider vinegar and pickling spices that Gowan had dried. The McFadden champagne I happened to have on hand (booty from Taste of Mendocino) was the cherry on top of it all – or should I say blackberry?