Tag Archives: recipes

Canning salsa

We’ve had a bountiful summer, between the farmers’ markets, friends and family, and our CSA.

A week ago, we received 10 bonus pounds of tomatoes, an unexpected windfall from the CSA to which we belonged last year.

We’ve been doing a LOT better about not wasting food this year. But this was a true test.

The tomatoes were heirlooms – lots of Green Zebras, and some that might be German Red Strawberries, along with some possible Brandywine Yellows. (Thanks, Google, for helping me ID these.)

They were gorgeous. They weren’t perfect. (Neither am I.)

Gorgeous, right?

Gorgeous, right?

So we decided to try our luck canning salsa. Reasons why I’d never canned anything before:

  • It seemed like a lot of work
  • I was worried about killing someone because I didn’t know what I was doing (hello, botulism)
  • I didn’t have the proper equipment (or didn’t think that I did)

This year, I’d inherited my grandmother’s trusty canner, which kept our family in green beans and pickles for years. I picked up a jar lifter a few years ago during an well-meaning attempt to can a single jar of pickled okra… and I knew exactly where it was. (After moving twice in 2013, this might have been the greatest miracle of all.)

The real tool that I had was enough time to figure out the process. This proved to be crucial to the endeavor. (Also, I remembered the advice I had been given about canning: keep everything hot, and keep everything clean.) Note to my future self: this is not a project to start at 8 p.m. the night before you need it.

Chris and I agreed to devote the better part of our Saturday to this project. We hit the farmers’ markets in Wichita for the remaining ingredients. I invested in a wide-mouth funnel, and a Ball Blue Book for good measure.

We set to our task with good music, a fresh six-pack of beer, and a recipe from the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. We blistered and peeled peppers (we went with a “garden salsa” variety); we peeled, cored and chopped tomatoes, and made sure our jars were properly sanitized in the dishwasher.

A few hours later, we had 11 tiny jars of salsa to show for our work.

We did some things right. We did some things not-so-right. We had a good time. We’ll try it again.

The finished product.

On cooking with a CSA

I love spring. I partially credit my April birthday; but it’s also a season that keeps you on your toes. Rain, thunderstorms, HUGE thunderstorms, and this year, snow, all came with my favorite season.

My birthday dinner growing up almost always included asparagus (topped with Cheez Whiz!) and strawberries. The beginning of my new year means there’s a reliable source of fresh fruit and vegetables in Kansas, and I couldn’t be happier.

For the last six years we belonged to a CSA in the Kaw and Wakarusa river valleys in northeast Kansas. Much like spring weather, a CSA brings its own surprises. Each week we would receive a bag full of whatever fresh vegetables were in season. In April, that meant mostly lettuce and other tender greens, the much-coveted asparagus, and green onions. Later in the summer, we’d progress into tomato and pepper season. And in the fall, butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

But there was always the thing we’d never seen or eaten. Kohlrabi looks more like Sputnik than something you slice up and eat with peanut dip. There were the fresh edamame, which of course are soybeans, but when they come on a long stalk and are covered in a bit of fuzz… we initially wondered if our farmers pulled them from a ditch on the way to the drop-off.

The unusual veggies, along with those we thought we didn’t like — oh, if I could get back all those lovely pink breakfast radishes! — often ended up, shamefully, to molder in the back of the fridge.

Over time, we learned the proper way to fix what we got. The biggest challenge to overcome wasn’t a fear of trying new things, but rather trying new things AGAIN if a recipe didn’t work out the first time. The radishes from our former “don’t like” list are now dipped in butter and salt, a French tradition that agrees with us. Even the leafy beet tops that used to go straight to the trash are now sautéed or otherwise fixed along with other greens.

We got our first share of our new CSA here in Wichita last week, which means that spring is really here. Included in the offering: two kinds of lovely lettuce, thick green onions, tiny red beets, kale, a turnip, arugula, and some herbs.

We ate salads topped with balsamic-marinated flat iron steak and spicy chicken wings (separate occasions, and the second was, well, it was a Friday); coarsely chopped the kale and threw it in to a pot with some browned andouille sausage and cooked lentils, all topped with a decent amount of smoked paprika; and braised the greens in white wine and garlicky oil to go with broiled salmon and couscous.

Beet greens, turnip greens, baby tatsoi and who knows what else, with a little garlic, next to the salmon and couscous.

Beet greens, turnip greens, baby tatsoi and who knows what else, with a little garlic, next to the salmon and couscous.

At this point, the only thing left are the tiniest little radishes you ever did see. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the fridge…

Bread as a metaphor

I consider myself to be a decent cook, a little lax with direction-following at times, but generally adventurous and willing to try new things.

I also occasionally make goals for myself, as I do in other parts of my life. For the past four years or so, my goal has been to learn to make awesome bread.

Each year, the routine is the same: pore over cookbooks and conduct endless internet searches for the “perfect” bread recipe. Decide I don’t have a food processor, so can’t do it. Decide I don’t have a fancy stand mixer, so can’t do it. Decide that I don’t have a dutch oven, so can’t do it. Decide that I don’t have the right kind of flour, so can’t do it. Decide that it’s too hot, too cold, too humid, too dry, so can’t do it. I’m pretty good at excuses.

Then there have been the grand experiments that have mostly failed, resulting in loads of sad, sticky dough bound for only the trash can and the creatures who used our dumpster as a feed trough. These failures have resulted from using the wrong yeast, the wrong temperature of water, and overall, a lack of planning on my part. I usually decided that I’d become The World’s Best Baker on a weekend morning, on days already packed with responsibilities and planned outings. I’d try to hurry the dough along to fit my schedule. The best laid plans, literally, were wasted.

Over time, I’ve acquired many of those appliances that I’d considered to be absolutely essential to the effort; this year, for Christmas, I received a gorgeous blue-enameled, cast iron dutch oven. And now, in my professional transition, I have free time at home during my days that I’ve never experienced.

In other words: I was out of excuses.

So on Monday I pulled out my trusty copy of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman for the no-knead bread recipe (a version of which is available here.) I first read it when it was published in the Times in 2006 — which may have even sparked this long, dramatic effort, now that I think about it.

The amount of time it took me to actually do something — measure, stir, shape the dough, etc. — was probably a total of 10 or 15 minutes. But it took planning. This technique requires the dough to rise at room temperature for 18 hours. About two hours before you plan to bake, you shape it in to a ball.

I put the appropriate times that I needed to hit on my calendar, and then I tried something new: I didn’t worry about it.

I remembered a good friend of mine telling me a few years ago that bread can, in a sense, smell fear, and will act accordingly. I believed him then, but now I see what he meant.

I didn’t worry about the equipment (I used a spoon, and a bowl, and the dutch oven.) I didn’t worry about the ambient temperature of the house; the weather is getting nicer every day, and the temperature was close enough. I didn’t worry about having it ready for supper.

The result? a dark, crusty loaf of bread that made me feel like a magician.

"Magic" bread.

“Magic” bread.

I’ll make it again, and I’m sure I’ll get more comfortable with the process over time. But if I’m really going to get deep about it, there’s another lesson somewhere in here, about the power of letting go.

In this case, it was delicious. It makes me wonder what I’ve been missing by being too prescriptive, too nervous, and, OK, too fearful of taking a chance with other things.

May we all overcome our obstacles in a similar way.