Category: salsa

Garden’s last hurrah: nectarine basil preserves (+ a salsa).

It’s September, and the weather is changing. My little herb garden is still growing, but it’s struggling. I know it’s short-lived: the temperatures are dipping down into the 50’s at night, and they’re starting to show the signs that it’s too cold for them. So I’m using every last bit that I can. Making sauces & throwing in extra basil, making cilantro rice, and making rosemary-herbed chicken. Because before I know it, I’ll be drying them all for use over the winter.

When I was a kid, this time of year used to depress me. Back at school for weeks already, time in the pool getting cut drastically short (or disappearing altogether), the weather changing, etc. As an adult I find it doesn’t anymore… sure, I miss the summer. But after long, swelteringly hot days where my face feels like it’s melting off, I look forward to the coolness of the fall. The quietness. The changing leaves. The awesome fall TV lineup. The ability to bake a cake & not have it be too hot to breathe or have the frosting form nothing but a sad, pathetic puddle of sugary mush.

I definitely always miss my garden once the fall weather moves in. Using dried herbs just isn’t the same. And I miss all the fresh produce, too.

But right now… it’s still just warm enough, and it’s all still fresh.

Beautiful, fresh Washington State nectarines.I mean, come on… really now… they’re insanely beautiful!

I made the following recipes after receiving a second massive box from the Washington State Stone Fruit Commission. You might remember that the last time it was a huge box of beautiful peaches. This time, it was half ‘Sweet Dream’ peaches, half ‘Honey Royale’ nectarines (shown above); grown in an orchard right outside Yakima, Washington. They were so stunningly picture perfect, I couldn’t help but snap some photos before they were gobbled up. The nectarines were so big & perfect they almost looked like apples! Just gorgeous. I swear, I have never seen such beautiful fruit before. Not even at farmer’s markets, or gourmet food stores. The fruits I’ve received from them have been some of the best produce I’ve ever had.

So of course, after I took photos… a few of them got eaten fresh. And my parents took some. Gave a few to lucky neighbors.

And the piles of fruit that were left were all for me to play around with!

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I love you, a bushel & a peck- uh, pickle.

I was clearly born in the wrong era; I love making things from scratch & growing/canning/jarring my own stuff. I’ve even been trying to get back into sewing again, which is awesome. I think I’m going to try to start making some aprons… by hand. I don’t have a machine & honestly, my time at F.I.T. taking Fashion Design (plus that one time I saw a girl literally sew her two fingers together on one of those industrial sweatshop machines) just taught me I do better with a needle & thread. Although, come to think of it, I don’t know if many women back in the day had nose rings & semi-mohawks… eh. Maybe I wasn’t entirely born in the wrong era.

When it comes to the canning, I’m really excited to get started on some serious business. Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, it does take more time than buying pickles from the store. Yes, you have to go buy the jars, then sanitize them, then thoroughly cook the product you’re filling them with, then process them, etc. But I really don’t want to hear the “I don’t have time for that!” line. Please remember this, women of today: your ancestors & female counterparts 100 years ago had way more to do in one day than you do. You have someone to watch your children, presumably, as you go to work. Or, your kids attend school while you’re at work, or maybe you don’t have an outside job, and you’re a housewife. You might still consider a .99¢ hamburger in a sack a dinner (or a microwaveable meal, or a boxed dinner from the prepared foods aisle in the supermarket), and maybe lament over the  lengthy process of driving through the aptly named ‘drive-thru’ or the oh-so-long drive to the store to get said item. Then you come home, perhaps yell at your children to do their homework/bathe/go to bed. Then, once they’re there, you might have a glass of wine and watch some DVR’d TV shows, or surf the internet for a while before you go to bed. That would’ve been considered an easy life to my great-grandmothers, or great-great grandmothers. None of them had fast food drive thru’s down the block or babysitters for their children; although if you listen to my grandmother, she’ll tell you she was the built-in babysitter, being the oldest of 7. One of my great-grandmothers scrubbed floors while pregnant, with two buckets- one with the soapy water, the other for when she was sick. The other one cooked & baked from scratch every night, long after her kids were grown & she had grand-kids. My mother has fond memories of going to that grandparents’ apartment in the Bronx as a child & smelling the German food cooking from the hallway. These were not women who had microwaves or McDonald’s nearby to feed their broods when hungry. And the women before them? They had even less convenience, and so on. So when you tell me you “don’t have time”… I want you to think about that. You have more time than you think.

(Okay, so, that’s not to say everything old is good, & everything new/convenient is bad… take a peek at these ads, for one little example… but that’s a WHOLE ‘nother post in and of itself!)

So yeah, I’m excited to start preserving & jarring my own food, and pickles have been on top of my to-do list from day one. Me? I’m not such a big pickle person. However, Jay loves pickles. So in my kitchen adventures, I find ways to incorporate them for him; whether through a quick 24-hour pickle recipe or fried pickles. Yeah, just for him (not really; almost everyone I know are big pickle people, so it’s for all of them, really). I do have a special waterbath pickle recipe put aside for when my canning kit gets here, but since it’s not here yet (HURRY UP DAMN YOU), I found another really quick & easy pickle recipe. This is a different kind of refrigerator pickle, one that lasts QUITE a bit longer than the one week my last one did. I gave one jar to my dad (part of his Father’s Day gift) & kept one for us. A big, massive, huge thanks to one of my new favorite websites, The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, for these instructions. She also gives an explanation of “fridge pickles”:

Fridge pickles are a type of fresh pickle, but they’re stored in the fridge and not waterbath canned for shelf-storage. The other major branch of pickling involves fermenting (also called brining). Fermented pickles are usually stored in the fridge after they’ve reached the desired level of sourness at a cool-ish room temp of 70-ish degrees F. (Think LES full-sour versus a half-sour. They’re the same pickle, but one is fermented longer.)

The coolest thing about this “recipe” is that it’s fluid; it changes & is flexible enough where you don’t really have to go crazy. You can reuse a jar and a lid that you have in your house from tomato sauce or salsa (you really should be saving your glass jars, they’re awesome for tons of things from storage to this kinda stuff) or use a new one. You can adjust the brine to suit how much your making, and same with the amount of vegetables you have. You can use whatever kind of spices you want, too. And add whatever you like- peppers, cauliflower, onions, garlic, carrots, etc. Seriously, you can pickle anything this way.

I used one 24-ounce glass jar that once housed Barilla’s Basilico tomato sauce, and one smaller Classico jar that was about 16-ounces. The “recipe” says it’s for 1 quart or 2 pints which is 32 ounces, but I had 40 ounces of jar to fill. Because of this, I upped the measurements of the ingredients in the brine to 1 ½ cups of white vinegar, 1 ½ cups of filtered water and 1 ½ tablespoons of non-iodized salt. I also upped the spice measurements a bit too, the make up for the 6 extra ounces (I used pickling spice, dill seed, some dried dill, peppercorns, & some cloves of fresh garlic). Like I said, you could pickle anything with this method- beets, zucchini, whatever your little heart desires.

Pickles on day one.

REFRIGERATOR PICKLES (or whatever else you feel like pickling!)

Ingredients:

FOR ONE QUART OR TWO PINTS (32 oz):
  • 1 cup any kind of vinegar
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher or non-iodized salt
  • ¼-½ teaspoons each of desired spices (fennel, cumin, picking spice, dill seed, mustard seed, etc)
  • Cucumbers, or whatever you’re pickling (I did about a pound and a half of Kirby’s, cut into spears & added a clove of garlic to each jar plus a dash of hot pepper flakes to my dad’s jar… as far as the amount of vegetables you’ll need, she says:

Wash and cut up your vegetables and pack them into a clean jar. Use whatever veg you’ll eat (or put into a martini): cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, onions, garlic, etc. Weight of your starting produce will vary depending on what you’re pickling. Eyeball it at the market, and if you end up with too little veg, just use a smaller jar (or make more brine to account for extra space in the jar).)

Directions:

1. Boil the vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, put your dry spices in the dry jars, and then pack your veggies in the jars. If you prefer a less raw taste, you can blanch them first or even cook them in the brine.
2. Pour your just-boiled brine over the veggies in the jars. Wipe the mouths clean and seal.
3. DON’T SEAL TIGHTLY:

Don’t screw on the lid on as tightly as you possibly can or the lid might pop off when you go to open them in a couple weeks. Vinegar breaking down the veggies inside a jar causes a little release of gas, and leaving the lid loose will let that escape. [I know what you’re wondering and the answer is no. If your pickles have been stored in the fridge, it’s not possible for botulism spores to activate.]

4. Put them in the back of your fridge and forget about them for at least a week. “Two weeks is better, three is the best” according to her. They keep indefinitely, but if you’ve got some sitting around more than 6 months, I’d ditch ‘em.

Day one (with my handwritten instructions visible, haha).

..

Same day, just a few hours later, after getting pretty ribbons tied on & labeled!
. …

This is an excellent way of making pickles if you don’t have a canning kit, or are afraid to get into the “real stuff.” They’re a bit more involved than the 24-hour kind but yet they’re still easy & don’t require any equipment. Plus, they’re just gorgeous. Oh, and probably delicious too. Although since they aren’t done yet, the jury, a.k.a. Jay, is still out on whether or not they’re as good as Bubbie’s pickles.

On another note, speaking of gorgeous… remember my salsa fresca? Well it went really quickly (actually almost overnight it vanished), so one night last week I made another little batch (in an 8-ounce Classico pesto jar, instead of using a full-size 16 oz jar on a little salsa), this time I made it HOT. I cut the cilantro & onions up smaller, added more tomato, and I added 2 jalapeno’s, and one of ‘em seeds & all. WHOOOO BOY. Amazing. Hot, but a good heat. Surprising. Not as refreshing and clean as the first batch, but definitely more interesting! If you prefer a smoother salsa (*cough*Jay*cough*), use an immersion blender to blend it all up before jarring it. Like I said last time, adding roasted corn, black beans or different chili peppers & spices are always fun. Funny thing is, the people who claimed my latest batch of salsa was “too hot” ended up eating it an awful lot. Masochists? Or was it just that good?

Summer is the best time to make all of this, because you can use all fresh, in-season ingredients. So don’t be skurred! Try it. You’ll be surprised how easy & fun it is, and you’ll be wanting to experiment more & ordering a canning kit in no time.

You’re so fresh… you salsa fresca, you.

I mentioned this weekend that I can’t stand to have the oven on in hot weather. I need fresh, cold (or cool, or at least room temperature) food this time of year: salads, etc. Salsa is included in that list of cold foods. A jar of salsa & a bag of chips & I’m all set. Although the past 2 days have been pretty cool, temperature wise, I made this on one of the hottest days on record in New York.

I should state before continuing with the post/recipe for salsa that I am indeed a salsa fanatic. Salsa in almost any shape & form- salsa verde, chunky salsa, mild salsa, hot salsa, salsa with lots of cilantro, salsa with corn & black beans- you name it, I will love it. Except for peach or mango salsas. My salsa has to have tomato or tomatillo in it. So when I happened upon my new favorite blog (thanks mom), Food In Jars, I immediately looked for a quick salsa recipe. Salsa means ‘sauce’ in Spanish, and it’s basically a cold version of an Italian tomato sauce with different herbs, and often no cooking required, particularly with ‘salsa fresca’ or ‘fresh sauce.’ Salsa fresca is also sometimes referred to as ‘pico de gallo’ or ‘the rooster’s beak’, referring either to way it was eaten (with the thumb and forefinger, mimicking a rooster pecking) or the shape of the chili peppers used to make it. Although according to the almighty and always correct Wikipedia:

Another suggested etymology is that pico is derived from the verb picar, which has two meanings: 1) to mince or chop, and 2) to bite, sting or peck. The rooster, gallo in Spanish, is a common metaphor for the hyper-masculine (“macho“) male in Mexican culture. One example of such machismo is taking pride in withstanding the spicy burn of chilis.

However, neither theory can be considered definite, as they assume the use of hot chilis. In many regions of Mexico the term “pico de gallo” refers to any of a variety of salads, condiments or fillings made with sweet fruits, tomatoes, tomatillos, avocado or mild chilis — not necessarily with hot chilis, or any chilis at all. Thus, the name could be a simple allusion to the bird feed-like minced texture and appearance of the sauce.[2]

Although I always considered pico de gallo to be drier, drier as in not as liquidy as regular salsa, and this salsa is liquidy. However I chopped my onion kind of rough, not very fine, so I made it more like a pico. I also added a ton more cilantro because I love it. I also used two pretty small organic “on the vine” tomatoes as opposed to one large one, so it was definitely not as tomato-y. Yes, I know, there isn’t really much to making salsa, and yes, I could’ve figured it out on my own without a recipe (especially since it’s essentially the same as the pico de gallo I’ve made before… but I digress). But it’s easier when you’ve got an idea of exactly how much of what to put in the first time. I plan on experimenting with this, for sure. And next time I make those chicken flautas, I’ll have this on the side & in the filling, thankyouverymuch.

But for now, here’s the basic Salsa Fresca recipe from Marisa at FIJ. Make it & revel in the mouth-puckeringly acidic deliciousness.

HOMEMADE SALSA FRESCA (from Food In Jars)

Makes approximately one pint

Ingredients:

  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • ½ white/yellow onion, finely minced (I used about a little over ¼ of an extremely large white onion)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ bunch of cilantro, washed and chopped (I just tore the leaves off, I didn’t chop)
  • 1 – 2 jalapeños, seeded and minced (you can leave the seeds in if you want a hotter flavor, I used one & omitted the seeds)
  • 1 lime, juiced (about 2 – 2 ½ tablespoons, for you measurement-obsessed freaks)
  • 2 big pinches of salt

Directions:

  1. Mix everything together in a glass or ceramic mixing bowl. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving, but half an hour is even better.
  2. Store leftovers (if there are any) in a glass canning jar.

I used a washed-out spaghetti sauce jar to save the leftovers in, although the recipe’s author is right: there isn’t much left. Let me just say this is amazingly excellent with some Garden of Eatin’ blue corn tortilla chips. Heavenly, as a matter of fact. Or rather, since I don’t really believe in “heaven”, I’d like to think that my version of heaven would be unlimited fresh salsa & chips. Not sure how long this would last in the fridge, but mine didn’t even make it past the next afternoon. Also, if you’re new to cooking, and you aren’t sure how to dice a tomato, here’s a quick rundown of how it’s done; no judgement here. We all start somewhere! And make sure you roll your lime firmly on the counter before cutting & juicing it, that releases all the juice from the pulp and makes it easier to get every last bit out.

Also, an interesting fact I ran into on Wikipedia that I’d like to share with you all:

In a 2010 press release the Centers for Disease Control reported that during the 1998-to-2008 period, 1 out of 25 foodborne illnesses with identified food sources was traced back to restaurant salsa or guacamole.[5] According to a 2010 July 13 news item by journalist Elizabeth Weise, a 2008 outbreak of Salmonella was traced back to the peppers used in salsa.[6] Originally reported to the CDC by the New Mexico Department of Health, over the course of several months, the outbreak sickened a total of 1,442 people in 43 states and resulted in 286 hospitalizations.[7] Weise reports:

 

“Refrigeration is the key to safe salsa, says Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety, who published a paper on the topic earlier this year.[8] ‘An unusual finding was if you used fresh garlic and fresh lime juice, it prevented the growth’ of bacteria. ‘You couldn’t use powdered, it had to be fresh,’ he says.”

Crazy, huh? You learn something new everyday. That should ease the fears of some of you germ-phobes, though. Just make sure your salsa’s are made with fresh ingredients and you’re good. Besides, who’s afraid of a little E. Coli or Salmonella?

OH! I almost forgot: I am also now a member at Punk Domestics. So come see me over there & we can discuss canning & pickling & micro-farming. You know, all that hardcore punk rock stuff.