Saturday, August 22, 2009

Canning Time: Bread & Butter Pickles

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

We are avid canners. I can't imagine not doing this. Taking veggies fresh from my garden or the farmer's market and canning them is a labor of love. But it also delivers a food product that is far superior than similar store purchased items. And there is no comparison in cost: this is inexpensive. And easy. With no preservatives or chemicals added. Pure and simple foods.

We have a pantry that is filled with items that we can each year: pickles, pickled beets, ajvar (Serbian eggplant & pepper spread), dilly beans (with a tiny, French bean that I grow), peach and grape jam, grape juice, green tomato chutney (outstanding with pork), tomatoes, marinara sauce, tomato juice, salsa. This week I canned something new, a thick, chunky zucchini relish that I can't wait to try on kielbasa.

Because of all that we can, we spend very little on these kinds of foods at the grocery store. Those inside aisles? Rarely do I go there except for baking items, oils, canned beans, or condiments like mustard. Once you have your own canned goods, the grocery store brands, even the pricey ones, just don't taste as good. With increased attention on eating healthy and being cost conscious at the grocery store, canning makes sense.

But I can probably can name only a few people who share this passion. Why more people don't do it, especially foodies, is mystery to me. It's so much fun and delivers such an outstanding food product.

Basic equipment needs: a canner and canning rack, about $19 at a big box store, funnel (to put food in the jars), jar lifter, canning jars and lids (at any garage sale!).

Bread and butter pickles are really good. They have the crispness of the cukes in a spicy sugar/vinegar pickling liquid. Don't even think of buying a bread & butter pickle mix! These are very easy to make. This recipe is a variation of the one in the Ball canning book.

6 c sliced cucumbers, about 1/4" thick, not the tiny dill size but not the huge ones either
1 1/1 c sliced onions
1 1/2 c sliced green or red peppers, or a mixture of the two

I like my pickles to be about 1/2 cukes and the other 1/2 onions and peppers so that when I open a jar months from now, it's almost a salad.

Put the veggies in a bowl, top with 1 c kosher salt and a layer of ice cubes. Let them stand about 2 hours, or overnight in the fridge. The salt brings out all of the liquid in the vegetables so that when processed, the vegetables stay crisp. Drain the veggies in a colander, rinse, and drain again.

In a small saucepan, bring the canning jars and lids to a simmer for 10 min to sterilize.

While the canner is heating up with water and 5 pint canning jars with water to cover by 1", bring to a boil
2 c sugar
3 c vinegar
2 t peppercorns
2 t turmeric
2 T mustard seed
2 t celery seed
1/2 t cayenne pepper

Add the drained vegetables, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove one of the pint jars from the boiling water canner (sterilizing the jars takes about 10 minutes at a boil), put the funnel in the jar and using a slotted ladle, fill the jar. Stir with a knife to settle the vegetables in the jar. With a ladle, fill the jar with the pickling liquid to within 1/2" of the top of the jar.

Wipe the rims of the jar clean with a damp cloth or paper towel. This removes any spices of vegetables that can make it difficult for the lids to seal. Place a lid and rim on the jar and tighten. Using the jar lifter, put the filled jar back in the canner and remove another jar emptying the water back into the canner as you lift it out.

When all the filled jars are in the canner, cover the canner. Once the water has returned to a rolling boil, start a timer that is set for 10 min.

After 10 minutes, remove the jars with with jar lifting and place on a dish cloth. Very soon, the lids with make a popping sound--you know they have sealed. Check the lids after a few hours to make sure all the lids have sealed. You will see a tiny indentation in the middle of the lid.

Pickles need to sit for 4-6 weeks to fully develop flavor.

Look at all the gorgeous jars of pickles on your counter and smile! I gave a canning lesson to a friend of mine this week. Anyone want to come for a lesson?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fresh Peaches with Brown Sugar & Sour Cream

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

I'm not sure this dessert qualifies as a recipe. It is oh-so-simple and very tasty.

Slice fresh peaches and place in serving dishes so that each dish has 1 c of peach slices.

Top each serving with 2 t brown sugar and 2 t sour cream.

When this is served, stir together the sugar and sour cream with the peaches. The peach juices mix with the sugar and sour cream making a golden syrup. The syrup brings out the best in the fresh peaches.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sweet Corn--'putting it up'--Black Bean & Corn Salad

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

The sweet corn that we are getting now is superb. Sweet, pop in the mouth, kernels. Corn is the one food that says summer to me. I hold the family record for eating 36 ears in one sitting--and I could do it again today! A summer 'supper' when we grew up was a table filled with sweet corn and BLTs and, of course, we used the bacon grease on the corn. Yum.

I always cook at least twice as much corn as I think we'll eat (I usually have 6-8 ears!). The remaining corn is cooled, cut off the cob--I use a serrated knife and cut into a wide bowl that is sitting on a large piece of aluminum foil, really helps with the mess.

I bag the corn by handfuls, usually 2 large handfuls to a quart freezer bag, mark the date on the bag with a marker and put in the freezer. Sometimes I'll mark notes on the corn bag. The first bag that went in the freezer this summer says "Aida and Madina" because they were here for Summer Camp Aunt Kathie. When I pull that bag out of the freezer in February, I'll an immediate memory of our glorious summer week.

One of my favorite summer salads is black bean and fresh corn. After cooking corn, I'll save 1-1 1/2 cups for the next day.

To the corn, add:
2 cans drained black beans (I now cook a batch of beans on the weekend and put them in the fridge so if I'm using those beans, I use 3 cups)
1 med onion, diced
1 med green pepper, diced
3 T minced fresh cilantro
3 T olive oil
1 1/2 T balsamic vinegar

This salad will keep for several days in the refrigerator--if you have any leftovers which I never do.

Monday, August 10, 2009


By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

I wonder how many people when hearing of the recent cartoon Disney movie "Ratatouille" wondered what the movie title word meant. We serve ratatouille often in the summer and take it for potluck dinners and many people have never heard the word or of the dish. They are missing something special.

I first fixed a ratatouille dish nearly 30 years ago when we had an abundance of eggplant and zucchini in our garden and used a recipe of Julia Child's printed in a Sunday newspaper magazine--in the days before you could Google eggplant and zucchini when looking for a way to use them. Consequently, we often call this Ratatouilla Julia.

We have eggplants, zucchini, peppers, basil and onions in the garden now but still do not have fresh tomatoes. So I used the fresh veggies and added a quart of my tomatoes that I canned last summer (I never buy canned tomatoes any more!). It was so spectacular that canned tomatoes might be what I use from now on. The added juice in the canned tomatoes really brought this dish together.

This is an amazing blend of eggplants, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, onions and basil that is cooked slowly to a thick stew-like consistency. Just before serving, Parmesan cheese is folded in. This dish can be reheated or served cold. It is also great on pizza. Serve it with a thick, crusty bread and call it a meal.

And better yet, double the ingredients and when cooled, freeze 1/2 of the ratatouille in quart size freezer bags and when you serve it in January, you will thank me! It will be a taste of summer in cold January.

Saute for 10-15 min over medium heat:

1 medium zucchini, cut into 1" cubes
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
1 large green pepper, cut into 1" cubes
1 large onion, cut into 1" cubes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 T Olive oil

Add and continue cooking over medium heat for 25-30 minutes or until the eggplant can be easily pierced but is not soft:

1/2 c fresh, chopped basil
1 qt canned tomatoes
cayenne to taste (we like a bit of heat in this dish)

Just before serving, add 1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese. You won't wonder again what the word "ratatouille" means because you'll know it is delicious.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Can you bake a Cherry Pie?

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

One of the positives of this cool summer we're having is that tart cherries are still in season. Typically, they last only about 2 weeks. Fresh tart cherries have a very short shelf life, maybe 48 hours, which is why you never see tart cherries in the grocery stores.

I brought back tart cherries from Southern Michigan in mid July and was stunned to find them at the farmer's market on Friday. Never have we had four weeks of fresh tart cherry pies.

So here's the deal on a fresh cherry pie. In my mind, the only fresh one is one made from fresh cherries that I have pitted myself. I even have a cherry pitter that I use for these few special weeks of the year. And so for these few weeks each summer, we have fresh cherry pies.

The rest of the year, a cherry pie even if made from scratch just isn't a fresh one because the cherries aren't fresh. We are lucky to get flash frozen cherries and the pies from those are maybe 90% of a fresh one. Never have I used canned cherries or for that matter, any kind of canned pie filling. I don't have to when we have the wonderful frozen ones in our grocery stores.

For this pie, use the double crest recipe listed on the blog, Mom's recipe, so on the right side of this page scroll down to pies for the recipe.

Pit 6 c of fresh cherries
Mix with 1/4 tapioca
1 c sugar
1/2 t almond extract

Let the fruit mix stand for at least 20 min. New for me this summer in crust making is to chill the crust for at least 1 hr before I roll it out. Then I roll out the bottom crust and stick it in the freezer for 10 min. Into the bottom crust, I pour the cherry mix, top with the remaining crust, make several slits in the pie crust, brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. I cover the edges of the pie with a crust cover (or aluminum foil) and bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes and 50 minutes at 360 degrees F.

I also put a baking sheet covered in a Silpat sheet under the pie to catch the juices!

When the tart cherries are no longer in season, it's a sad day in our house. But then in just a few weeks, it's fresh cherry pie season!

Cucumber Sandwiches

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner
Anyone who says that they don't like cucumber sandwiches, probably has never had one. Years ago, I had a cucumber sandwich in mid summer at a restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin and it was an eye opening experience: cucumbers indeed are great in sandwiches. Up until that point, I had only read about them. This was not something we grew up on in Indiana but we probably should have! Easy and delicious.
This time of year with the garden in full swing, I come home for lunch, pick a cuke and cut some fresh dill and bring them inside for this sandwich.
Slice a cucumber into very thin slices. Mix 1/2 c cream cheese with salt, pepper, garlic powder and fresh snipped dill.
I like to use a very thick, hearty bread. Spread the cream cheese mix on the bread so that the layer is at least 1/4" thick (or more!), top with a stack of fresh cukes.
I have occasionally made an appetizer using slices of a baguette topped with the cheese, a single cuke slice and garnished with fresh dill. The sandwich I had in Wisconsin included a thick layer of bean sprouts. Sometimes I use the sprouts and either way is great.
Cucumbers aren't just for salads anymore!

Cucumbers and Onions in Rice Vinegar

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

So we're into cucumbers right now since the garden in filled with them. We alternate every few days between this salad and the version with sour cream posted below.

This one is a bit of a twist on the cukes and onions Grandma Washburn served. She blended cider vinegar with an equal amount of water (along with a handful of ice cubes) and a bit of sugar. I do love her recipe but also like this kicked up one.

Sliced cukes, usually 2 medium sized
Sliced onions divided into onion rings, about 3/4 c
1 c seasoned rice vinegar (or whatever rice vinegar you have)
1 t fresh dill
and occasionally for a another twist on this version, I'll add 1 t of minced ginger

Place the veggies in a bowl and add seasonings and vinegar. Stir to coat. The liquid will only cover about 1/2 of the veggies. Refrigerate stirring every 15 minutes, for one hour.


Cucumbers and Onions in Sour Cream Dressing

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

We grew up on cucumbers and onions in two versions--in vinegar and water or in sour cream. We love both especially this time of year when I can walk outside and harvest cucumbers and onions from the garden. The sour cream version that I make will be your new favorite for a potluck dinner. This dish is always devoured.

3/4 c sour cream
1 1/2 T lemon juice
2 med cucumbers sliced thin
3/4 c sliced onions
salt, pepper and minced fresh dill to taste

In the bottom of a serving bowl, sprinkle salt, pepper, and dill. Top with a layer of cucumbers and onions. Layer again with salt, pepper and dill and cukes and onions until you have 3 layers of veggies and seasonings ending with a layer of onions.

Evenly spread the sour cream on top of the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap placing the plastic wrap directly on the sour cream. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Before serving, stir in lemon juice. This salad will last several days--if there is any left to save!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Potato & Green Bean Salad

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

This is one of my favorite summer dishes, a simple blend of summer's best vegetables. I made this yesterday but I started by going to the garden and digging potatoes, picking the tiny French green beans that I grow, pulling an onion and cutting some dill and chives. Ok, so I can't do this most of the year but right now, it's a delight.

Basically, this salad is a blend of potatoes, green beans, an onion, herbs such as dill, chives, and tossed in a simple, light dijon mustard, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar dressing. In the spring, I will use pea pods or asparagus instead of beans. This can be served warm, at room temperature or chilled. My favorite is room temperature. Take this to a potluck dinner and it will disappear!

Toss together:
2 c cut potatoes, simmered until almost tender
2 c green beans, steamed
1/2 onion, chopped
3 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 t dijon mustard
2 T chopped chives
1 T fresh chopped dill
salt & pepper to date