Canning, Side dishes, Uncategorized

Dilly Beans and Pickled Beets

Update 8/5/15:  I had a question from Lisa recently about why her dilly beans might have turned out mushy.  It occurred to me that a word or three about the size of the beans might be appropriate to the post, and I have a picture to illustrate.  In the picture, the bean to the left is too big.  It will be tough if “dillied.”  A bean this size can be pressure-canned or cooked for a while with ham or bacon and onion or garlic, and it will taste great.  But I would not freeze it or “dilly” it.  The bean in the middle is too small.  You can dilly a bean this size if you wish, and I sometimes fill in the little spaces in the jar with beans this size, but they can over-process quickly.  I would not pressure-can a bean this size, because it will be mushy, but this size is perfect for freezing (you only blanch beans for 3 minutes when freezing).  The bean on the right is just right! (Sound familiar?)  This bean is about the thickness of a pencil (good old #2 like we used in school), and will not get mushy in the jar with a 10-15 minute processing time.  It’s also the perfect size for the tall, 12 oz. jelly jars I like to use for dilly beans.  I hope this is helpful.

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My green beans are coming on, and my first preservation priority with green beans is a pickle. My two favorite pickles are beets (which I canned a couple of weeks ago) and dilly beans, which I canned just a few days ago. My recipes for both are a bit different from most of the ones you see in canning books and online.

Most of the dilly bean recipes call for cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper. But a few years ago, a good friend of mine, Chris, let me taste her dilly beans with jalapeno peppers, and I was hooked. In a further modification of my own, I began to use serrano peppers instead of jalapenos. For one thing, they’re just a bit spicier, and for another, they take up a lot less room in the jar than jalapenos, therefore leaving more space for the beans.

I’ve also modified my pickled beet recipe, sort of merging two recipes to create a flavor I like better than either of the originals. So here you go—my two favorite pickles.

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Spicy Dilly Beans

2 lbs. washed, fresh green beans, trimmed on blossom end to fit jar size

4 Serrano peppers, washed, stems trimmed

4 cloves garlic

4 heads fresh green dill or 4 teaspoons dried dill seeds

2 ½ cups water

2 ½ cups vinegar (5% acidity)

¼ cup pickling/canning salt

Sterilize clean pint or 12 oz. jars in boiling water bath canner for 10 min. Pour boiling water over jar flats, keep hot. Trim stems on peppers back to bright green. With tip of sharp knife, cut two small slits in each pepper, making sure to get all the way into the inner cavity with the knife. Fill hot jars with green beans, making sure that beans fit all the way down inside jar and come up no higher than ¼ inch below lip of jar. Leave room for one garlic clove and one serrano pepper, and the dill, in each jar. If using dried dill seeds, use 1 teaspoon per jar. Bring water, vinegar, and salt to boil, pour boiling brine over beans to within ¼ inch of tops of jars. Wipe rims with clean, damp cloth or paper towel, position jar flats, close with rings, and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes (add processing time according to altitude chart, if needed). Remove from canner and let cool at least 12 hours before testing seals. Any jars which don’t seal may be stored in the refrigerator for a month, then eaten. This recipe makes about four pint jars or five 12 oz. jars.

Notes: Never let brine continue to boil while filling jars. This may affect acidity levels in the brine and could cause a spoilage problem. Fill jars, and when you’re almost done, turn the heat on your brine mix up high to bring it to the boil.

For canning, make sure the vinegar you are using is 5% acidity. I ran across some white vinegar not long ago that was 4% acidity, and it cannot be used for canning. You may use white or apple cider vinegar for this recipe, but be aware that most white vinegar is made from corn, and nearly all corn these days is both genetically-modified and sprayed with pesticides. I use apple cider vinegar because while apples are sprayed, at least I’m not using a GMO. Besides, I like the flavor.

If you have to trim your beans quite a bit to make them fit the jars, there are a couple of things you can do with the trimmings. Of course, you can cook those trimmings up for dinner (I like them with a little bacon and onion). Or, you can put the short pieces (minus the very blossom end tip), into a separate jar and treat them just like the long dilly beans. Then, those short pieces can be added to salads or chopped for tuna salad. There’s no need to throw them away!

I like to use the tall, 12 oz. jelly jars for dilly beans because I don’t have to trim quite as much off the beans to make them fit.

And a final note on peppers: Serranos are readily available, usually right alongside jalapenos, in your market. I can nearly always find them at Grocery Outlet even in the winter time, grown in California.  They are one of my favorite peppers to grow in our short growing season here, good in salsa and about anything else you’d want to use a hot pepper in.

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Pickled Beets

3 quarts peeled, cooked, small beets (see below for how to cook and peel beets for this recipe)

1 ¾ cups sugar

2 sticks cinnamon

1 tablespoon whole allspice berries

½ tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 ½ teaspoons pickling/canning salt

3 ½ cups vinegar (5% acidity)

1 ½ cups water

How to cook and peel beets: Beets must be scrubbed free of any dirt or small stones that like to cling to the roots. (I’ve found that pulling my beets in the evening and letting them soak in cold water all night makes it easier to clean them). Leave the tap roots on, and trim leaves and stems, leaving two inches. (This prevents the beets from bleeding as much color into the water when they are cooking.) Place beets in large pot and cover with boiling water. Bring to boil and cover, reducing heat to medium. Cook beets until tender, and the only way to know they’re tender is to stab them with a fork, but try not to stab them until you’re pretty sure they’re tender, as this releases their color and juice into the water. Small beets take about 20 minutes to get tender, larger beets can take up to 45 minutes. Remove beets from cooking water to colander; let beets drain and cool to touch before trying to peel them. To peel beets: with a sharp paring knife, slice off the top, taking off stems, and then scrape knife down toward the root. If the beet is fully cooked, the skin will come right off. The skin of the beet is dull when cooked; the flesh of the beet will be shiny. It helps to have a damp paper towel handy to wipe off beets after peeling. Cut off tap roots. If using small beets, cut into quarters. If using large beets, cut into 1 ½ inch chunks or quarter and slice.

Pickling Directions:

In large saucepan, combine sugar, water, vinegar, cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, peppercorns, and salt, bring to simmer, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Remove cinnamon. Bring liquid to boiling before pouring over beets in jars.

Pack cooked, peeled, cut beets into clean, hot pint or half-pint jars, leaving ¼ inch head space at top of jar. Cover beets with boiling brine (include allspice berries and peppercorns), leaving ¼ inch head space. Cap with hot flats and rings, and process in boiling water bath for 30 minutes (adjust processing time as needed for high altitudes). Cool for at least 12 hours before testing seals. Any jar which doesn’t seal may be stored in the refrigerator for a month, then eaten.

Notes: I use beets of all sizes, however they come out of my garden, but I like the smaller beets, up to about 2 inches in diameter, best for pickling. They only need to be cut into quarters. I often use larger beets for this if that’s what I have, but they have to be cut up into smaller pieces before putting them in the jar. I like them in chunks, but they can be sliced as well. Quarter and then slice large beets into ¼ inch slices. Just a warning, I find the slices tend to crumble a bit when being removed from the jar.

This recipe uses a bit less sugar than the original Ball Blue Book recipe does, and I’ve added the peppercorns, which are a feature of the recipe for pickled beets in Canning for A New Generation, a canning book I just love. The black peppercorns give a nice depth of flavor and just a bit more spice to the traditionally sweet-spiced beets. I love that little bit of heat with the sweet.

As with the dilly bean recipe above, you may use either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. I prefer apple cider vinegar for the reasons mentioned earlier.

These two pickles are always on our Thanksgiving table. To me, a big holiday dinner isn’t complete without a pickle plate, and a pickle plate isn’t complete without dilly beans and pickled beets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dairy, Fermenting, Recipes, Side dishes

Coleslaw Dressing with Yogurt

As some of you know, I’m away from my garden for a few weeks because of a family emergency. I have had to entrust the garden and greenhouse to the care of family members and neighbors at a critical time, but I appreciate their efforts to keep everything alive for me. I have no idea what I’ll find when I get back home at the end of the month, but I’ll be grateful for whatever survives. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a recipe with you.

In a recent post about making homemade yogurt, I alluded to a recipe for coleslaw dressing that has become a family favorite. I made coleslaw for a picnic in the park yesterday here in Denver and received many compliments, even though I wasn’t able to make the dressing with my homemade yogurt, which I think makes it even better.

The ingredients for the dressing can be mixed up days in advance, but I like to mix the dressing into the shredded cabbage shortly before serving, so it doesn’t get too watery.  I will say, however, that this dressing won’t make your cabbage go limp if you mix it up the day before. I had to do that for this picnic, and while the dressing did pull some water out of the cabbage, it was still crisp and the coleslaw was tasty.

Very few people shred their own cabbage these days when packaged coleslaw mix is so readily available at the store. I rarely shred a whole cabbage any more, either (although I did for the picnic on Saturday), unless I have one fresh from the garden. The food processor makes this less of a chore, but slicing can also be done with a sharp knife. The key is to get the cabbage into thin shreds. You always want to slice (both with the knife and the processor), not chop. Chopping bruises the cabbage and will cause it to release more water, thus making your coleslaw more at risk for decreased flavor and limp texture.

This recipe makes enough to dress about half a medium-sized, shredded cabbage and about 3 medium carrots, also shredded, or one large bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix from the store. I always add 2-4 tablespoons of minced white or red onion to the cabbage and carrot mix before dressing. Too much onion will overpower the slaw, so be careful with it, but it’s a necessary addition to colelsaw in my opinion.

Coleslaw Dressing

(makes about 1 cup)

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup plain yogurt*

2-3 tablespoons of sugar**

2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (I use my homemade apple vinegar for more probiotics)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

 

Mix thoroughly, until dressing is creamy and smooth. It should taste a little sweet but tangy. Toss with shredded cabbage, carrots, and minced onion until well mixed. Serve immediately or within 24 hrs. (It will get watery the longer it sits, but leftovers are good!)

Notes:

*I think homemade yogurt really is best, and my son agrees with me, but any good quality plain yogurt will do. Greek yogurt will make a thicker dressing because the whey has been strained out of it. Why is homemade yogurt better? It’s tangier, and it contains more probiotics, which incidentally, aid in the digestion of the cabbage.

**You can substitute a different sweetener if you like. Honey or agave syrup would be fine. I have used both powdered and liquid Stevia and Splenda. Start with small amounts and taste as you go. For liquid Stevia, I recommend starting with about ¼ teaspoon and adding drop by drop to reach desired sweetness.

I don’t have my camera with me, so I wasn’t able to take a picture of the coleslaw I made on Friday night, but hey, you know what coleslaw looks like. You also know how a good, traditional coleslaw should taste: tangy, a little sweet, a little bite from the onion, and some good crunch from the cabbage and carrots. It’s a favorite salad with our family (my son says he’d be in heaven if he had a lifetime supply of the stuff always in his fridge). I especially like it as a side dish with oven-fried chicken, barbecued spareribs, or pulled pork. Follow the links for my recipes for those dishes in the archives.

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Recipes, Side dishes

Spring Greens

We had our first taste of spring greens from the garden this week. Well, really, most of them were from the greenhouse. I let some spinach and romaine volunteer in there; thus, we have greens ready to pick when the lettuce I planted outside in the garden is still so tiny you can barely see it. I did have some fall spinach overwinter in the garden, but the leaves are tough and small compared to the tender young greens from the greenhouse.

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It’s sacrilege to cook these greens, so I prepared a salad with them. But what sort of dressing to use? In my husband’s mind, there is no salad dressing but ranch. However, I knew ranch dressing would smother these delicate greens. I needed something light and spring-like to honor spring greens. And then it came to me. I had raspberry-infused apple-scrap vinegar in the fridge which I had yet to use in anything. How about some version of a raspberry vinaigrette? It was so good, I have to share the combination and the dressing with you.

I used both baby spinach and baby romaine for my greens; you can use any mix you like, but if you’re buying packaged salad greens, I’d go for the spring mix. Toss them with this delicious raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing, and then arrange the greens on salad plates. To the greens, add thinly-sliced red bell peppers and peeled, thinly-sliced cucumbers. Drizzle a bit more dressing over the top, then sprinkle each plate with toasted, sliced almonds and grated cheese. I used a very low-fat Cabot white cheddar, which was delicious. Freshly grated parmesan or Romano, in big shreds, would also be delicious.

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I made the salad dressing with some raspberry-infused apple scrap vinegar I made last fall. Follow the link for instructions for making the infused vinegar. (Store-bought apple cider vinegar can be used to make raspberry- or blackberry-infused vinegar.) There are alternative ingredients (aren’t there always?) if you don’t happen to want to take the time or haven’t the ingredients to make an infused vinegar. (I can tell you, I’ll certainly be making more infused vinegar this fall if the robins leave me any raspberries.) The slightly-sweet and acidic raspberry vinaigrette was the perfect dressing to complement those tender, tangy new greens. I used chia seeds instead of the poppy seeds which are traditional in this kind of recipe, and they were wonderful.

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Raspberry Vinaigrette with Chia Seeds

(makes about ¾ cup)

2 tablespoons of minced onion

¼ cup raspberry-infused vinegar

2 tablespoons of honey

½ teaspoon dry mustard or prepared Dijon mustard

½ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons chia seeds

 

Mix all ingredients in blender or food processor (if using food processor, you can mince the onions with it) or with a whisk in a bowl. The mustard will help to emulsify the dressing, but it will separate slightly, so it should be shaken well before using. If you like a sweeter dressing, add more honey a teaspoon at a time until the sweetness level is right for your taste buds.

Now, if you don’t have any raspberry-infused vinegar, and don’t want to make it, for whatever reason, you can make this dressing without it. Simply substitute white wine vinegar or even rice vinegar for the raspberry-infused vinegar, and for the honey, substitute raspberry jam or preserves. Again, taste your dressing to see if you’d like it sweeter. My version isn’t very sweet, as I don’t happen to care for sweet salad dressings.

Why chia seeds instead of poppy seeds? Why, for the increased Omega 3 content, of course! They add the same slight crunch, and virtually no flavor, so feel free to leave them out, if you wish.

This antioxidant-rich salad dressing complimented the fresh spring greens beautifully. I can’t wait to pick more so that I can use the rest of the dressing.  And then, I’ve got some blackberry-infused vinegar to play with!

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Main dishes, Side dishes

Oven-fried Chicken

Recently, a Facebook friend asked this question in a group I belong to:  Does anybody have a good oven-fried chicken recipe?  My hand went up immediately.  I do, I do!  I have been asked to share this recipe on the blog, so that it can be pinned to Pinterest.  How cool is that?

I have been oven-frying chicken for decades, and it is crispy and tender and delicious.  Not too long ago, I watched an old Good Eats with Alton Brown, and he fried chicken on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet filled with hot shortening.  Boy, that looked good, and I have a big cast iron skillet I can hardly lift, and a can of shortening I hardly ever use.  I thought I’d give it a try.  What a mess!  Grease splatters everywhere!  And frankly, while the chicken was okay, I didn’t really think it was as good as my oven-fried chicken.  Back to doing it my way.

The basic coating recipe came from the Betty Crocker cookbook my mom gave me when I got married in 1981, but the method is my own.  At some point, after oven-frying chicken in oil and butter as the original recipe called for, I realized there sure was an awful lot of fat in the pan after the chicken came out, way more than I’d put in to start with.  Oh, yeah, Jeanie, chicken skin is full of fat!  Well, I thought, if chicken skin is full of fat, and it renders out during the cooking process, why am I adding all this other fat?  I tried cooking the chicken without adding fat, and glory be, it works every time.  There’s only one trick:  the chicken must have skin.  Skinless breasts or thighs will not work in this recipe.  I could call this recipe No Mess, Lower-fat Oven-fried Chicken because the only fat in the dish (other than a spritz of cooking spray or a thin swipe of shortening or oil) comes from the skin on the chicken, which renders as it cooks.  But let’s just go with Oven-fried Chicken.  I’m all for simpler when it works.

Oven-fried Chicken

2-3 lbs. cut up chicken pieces

Basic coating mix:

1/2 cup flour (I have substituted brown rice flour since I went gluten-free, and it works well in this recipe)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon pepper

You may also add any other herbs or spices you would normally add to your fried chicken breading. I sometimes use a blackened seasoning or Cajun seasoning mix instead of the salt above, and/or I’ll add poultry seasoning (ground sage, thyme, and parsley), or I’ll substitute hot smoked paprika for plain, or whatever takes my fancy at the moment.  You can also add a teaspoon of sugar to the coating mix.  I think this makes the coating brown a little darker as it oven-fries in its own fat (see last photo below).  You can also reduce the flour by two tablespoons and add two tablespoons of cornmeal for an even crunchier breading, although the flour produces a light, crispy coating.  Using plain flour cuts carbs as well; no need to use bread crumbs which add carbs.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Put coating mix in a paper or plastic bag, shake it well to mix, and add no more than 2 pieces of chicken at a time, shaking to bread the chicken.  If you want a thicker breading on your chicken, dip it in milk first, shaking off excess before putting it in the bag.  If you like to marinate your chicken in buttermilk before frying, that works too; just drain off the excess buttermilk before you coat the chicken pieces.  I never do either one.  I just put the chicken straight from the package into the breading mix.  If I have any leftover breading mix, I seal up the bag and stash it in the freezer for next time.

Lightly spritz a 13X9 inch pan with cooking spray (or swipe a tiny bit of oil or shortening over it with a napkin or paper towel), and place your coated chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down. This allows the fat to render out of the skin, making it crispy and delicious.

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Bake for 30 minutes at 425 degrees; turn pieces over.  Don’t worry if the skin side of the chicken doesn’t look that brown or crisp at this point.  It will be after the next cooking period.

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Bake for another 30 minutes, and prepare to be amazed.  The chicken will be browned with a light, crispy breading on the skin.  Take it out of the pan, and drain skin side up on paper towels.

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This is how much fat rendered out of 3 chicken thighs.  It was about 2 tablespoons.

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You can use the pan drippings and browned breading bits to make gravy, if you wish. In our family, (oven) fried chicken gravy has always been made like this:

Scrape the chicken pan to get off the browned bits.  Drain two tablespoons of fat and the browned bits into a skillet or medium-sized sauté pan.  Heat on medium-high heat until sizzling.  Add two tablespoons of flour (I have used brown rice flour) and cook and stir for a minute or two until flour browns slightly.  Stir or whisk in 1 ½ – 2 cups of milk (depending on how thick you want your gravy) and bring to low boil, stirring constantly to prevent lumping or sticking.  You can thin the gravy down after it cooks a couple of minutes by adding more milk, if it’s too thick.  You can also cook it down if it’s too thin for your tastes.  Add ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper, and taste for seasoning, adding more if needed.  Serve over mashed potatoes.

Oh yeah, baby—no-mess, oven-fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy.  That’s comfort food made easy.

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Desserts, Main dishes, Recipes, Side dishes

Thanksgiving Dishes

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I’m always interested in what other people serve at the Thanksgiving feast.  Our dishes don’t vary much, but sometimes we add something new to the menu, or we’ll drop something that’s not that popular.  So this week, I’d like to share with you what’s on our menu this year, and I’ve got a couple of recipes for you that I really like, and a new one I’m trying for the first time.

We like to hang out together all day as the dinner cooks, but we’re not the type of folks who go for formal appetizers, so we just have a cold cuts and cheese and crackers tray and a pickle plate out on the counter.  For the pickle plate, I’ll bring jars of pickled beets, pickled spicy green tomatoes, some black and green olives, and either Joel or I will open jars of dilly beans and kosher dill pickles.  I’ll also be bringing jars of my home-canned, charred salsa and green tomato salsa to go with tortilla chips.  There will probably be potato chips and dip, too.

This year, I’m bringing a bottle of champagne and a bottle of either my raspberry cordial or blackberry cordial, or maybe both, to make pre-dinner champagne cocktails.  For the kids, I’ll make a lemonade-based punch.  At dinner, we always open bottles of sparkling cider.

There’s turkey, of course.  We cook one at home for leftovers to feed the out-of-towners who stay at my house (our daughter, Amy, her husband, Solo, and his mother, Theresa).  Amy usually arrives a day early to help me with all the cooking.  For the last two years, my daughter-in-law, Tori, has cooked the turkey for the big family feast, and she’s done a marvelous job.  I taught her how to roast a chicken, told her to treat the turkey like a really big chicken, and she’s come through like a champ two years running.  This works well because we eat the feast at Tori and Joel’s house, and I don’t have to cook the turkey at my house and worry about then transporting it.  I have transported the entire dinner before, and I don’t like it!  I have also tried cooking it at someone else’s house, and I don’t like that, either.  So now, we divvy up the cooking, and it works well.

We are turkey traditionalists.  We season the bird with butter and herbs and roast it at 325 degrees in a big, old-fashioned, heavy-lidded, enamel roasting pan.   I like to mix fresh herbs from the garden—chopped thyme, sage, hyssop, and tarragon—into softened butter, and this goes under the skin of the breast and all over the bird outside.  I sprinkle it with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I baste if I think about it, but the lidded roaster keeps the bird moist while producing a crispy skin, so if I forget to baste, it’s no big deal.

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I stuff my turkey with cornbread stuffing.  I make extra stuffing in a large casserole dish, and we take the casserole dish to the feast.  The stuffing that cooks inside the turkey stays at home for leftovers.  Tori doesn’t make stuffing, and her parents, who always feast with us, like a sausage and carrot and bread dressing, so they make and bring their favorite dressing.  Everybody has what he or she enjoys most.

Amy and I make most of the sides.  Amy has been crowned Mashed Potato Queen.  She has cooked and mashed the potatoes every year since she was a teenager.  Usually, she cooks the Yukon Golds I’ve grown in the garden.  But this year, all my Yukon Golds were volunteers (from a row Dennis didn’t dig the fall before!) and they matured so early that we had to eat them all this summer.  I have some garden reds, and I bought a 5 lb. bag of Golds, so we’ll mix them this year.  A handful of salt goes in the cooking water.  If this sounds like a lot, consider that if I don’t stop her, Amy fills my 13-quart stock pot with peeled and cut potatoes!  She puts lots of butter in them, and fat-free half & half to balance the fat in the butter.  She uses my old potato masher to break them up after draining, and then in goes the butter, and after it melts, the “cream.”  Then she uses the mixer to whip them up.  They are always light, fluffy, and creamy.  The key is to not overcook them.  Over-boiled potatoes will be gummy and gluey, no matter what else you do to them afterwards.

I make gravy from the turkey drippings.  I used to make turkey gravy with flour, but since I have stopped eating wheat, I’m reverting to cornstarch.  My mom had a funny rule:  cornstarch for light-colored gravies from poultry drippings, flour for dark-colored gravies from beef and venison.  (Of course, it was always flour for milk gravies, but that’s another story.)  I don’t know where she came up with this rule, but she never deviated from it.  At any rate, cornstarch makes a good, clear sauce for a light meat like turkey, and my turkey drippings are rich with butter and herbs from the herb butter I slather the turkey with, so it makes a delicious gravy no matter what you use to thicken it.

Some years, I make a puffy, sweet potato casserole.  My husband likes those overly-sweet yams with marshmallow topping, but he is the only one who does, so I don’t make it.  My kids don’t like sweet potatoes any way I fix them, but the puff is sometimes popular with other guests, and I really like it.  The recipe is at the bottom of this post.

This year, my son asked for a dish I love:  Roasted Roots.  I have to thank my dear foodie friend, DeAnna, for introducing me to Roasted Roots some years ago. This is a simple and easy dish, but you do have to have time to prep the vegetables and the oven space to cook it.  Tori and Joel have double ovens, so one oven will be free to roast the root vegetables and after that, to brown some homemade sourdough brown and serve rolls.  You can use any kind of root vegetables in Roasted Roots.  Our favorites are sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, and onions, a cup of each vegetable, cut into chunks.  If you can get tender baby beets, there’s no need to peel or quarter them, just trim off the stem and root ends and scrub well.  If the beets are big and you can tell they’ve been out of the ground for a while, put on some rubber gloves, peel them, and cut them into approximately 1-inch chunks.  Peel the sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, and cut them into chunks the same size as the beets.  Cut the onions into quarters, and then halve the quarters.  Put all the vegetables on a cookie sheet (or two, if you’re making a big batch) and throw on at least 6 garlic cloves, still in the paper.  (The paper helps keep them from burning.)  Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables and toss them to coat.  I also like to mix a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or my homemade apple scrap vinegar with the olive oil before I toss the vegetables in it.  The vinegar really brightens the flavors, and the sugar in the vinegar helps the vegetables brown. Spread them out in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  If you have fresh herbs available, sprigs of thyme and/or rosemary are very good, tossed on top of the roots about 15 minutes into the cooking time.  Roast at 425 about 20-30 minutes, stirring at least once about halfway through, or until the beets, parsnips, and carrots are tender.  They are the hardest vegetables, so if they are tender, everything else will be done too.  The vegetables should be tender but should have browned and developed a crunchy outer “skin.”  Remove the herb sprigs before serving.  If you have more herb sprigs, a fresh bunch makes the dish look pretty.

We don’t make the traditional green bean casserole, but we do sometimes have green beans.  I like fresh green beans blanched and then tossed with mushrooms and onions sautéed in butter.  But this year, Joel is making the green beans.  He’ll probably use frozen beans, and he plans to crisp up some bacon and onions and sprinkle them on top of the cooked green beans.  They’ll be delicious.

I usually make some kind of fresh bread for Thanksgiving dinner.  I grew up with those packaged brown and serve rolls (my mom was not much of a bread baker), but I love fresh bread.  It’s one of the things I miss most about going gluten-free.  For the past several years, I’ve alternated between a loaf of herb bread–easy in the bread machine–made with herbs I picked from my garden and dried over the summer, and sourdough biscuits or rolls.  My old bread machine finally died this summer, so it’ll be sourdough rolls this year.  My sourdough starter also died because I didn’t use it or feed it enough, so I had to make some fresh starter.  The recipe for the starter and the brown and serve rolls comes from Tina Harrington’s Facebook page, Cooking on the Sagebrush Sea.  The recipe will appear at the end of this post.

I grew up with canned cranberry sauce, but the first time I tried homemade whole-berry cranberry sauce, I was hooked.  I make it every year, following the directions printed on the plastic bag of cranberries.  It’s just cranberries, water, and sugar.  So simple, but so delicious.  Some years, we make a fresh cranberry, orange, and apple relish as well.  It’s just equal parts chopped cranberries, peeled oranges, and shredded apples, mixed with just enough sugar, a half cup or so, to sweeten it to taste.  The problem with this relish is that it doesn’t keep well as a leftover, unlike whole-berry cranberry sauce, which will literally last months in the fridge.  (Yes, I’ve found it after 6 months in the back of the fridge and it is still good–a tribute, I guess, to the antioxidant power of cranberries.)  For this reason, you don’t want to make more of the fresh cranberry relish than you think you will eat on Thanksgiving Day.

At this point, we come to desserts.  Amy and I bake the pies, and this year, my granddaughter, Kaedynce, will be helping with the pie-baking.  I have made so many kinds of pie for the feast over the years, including pecan, apple, strawberry-rhubarb, and the traditional pumpkin.  But there are two pies that everyone always wants:  pumpkin, of course, and sour cream apple.

I grow pie pumpkins, and I roast and puree them for pumpkin pie filling.  I use the same recipe I grew up with—it’s on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can—with one other exception besides growing and roasting my own pumpkins.  Goldie, my sister and pie baker extraordinaire, taught me to double the spices the recipe calls for.  Oh, yeah.  It’s fantastic!  And the home-grown, fresh-roasted puree puts the whole pumpkin pie deal right over the top.  It is sacrilege to put anything except freshly-whipped cream, just barely sweetened and with a touch of vanilla, on top of that pie.  So that’s what we do.

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I owe the sour cream apple pie recipe to my good friend, Wes Reid, who brought me one years ago that his partner, Lori, had made for us.  I fell in love with the thing, made it for Thanksgiving that year, and then the whole family fell in love with it too.  Now, it’s the first dessert to disappear.  Sour cream apple pie is in the chess pie family, and it’s topped with a cinnamon streusel that gets crispy under high heat during the last few minutes of cooking.  This is a custard-type pie made with sour cream, eggs, and shredded apples, and while it sounds odd, it is absolutely the bomb, sweet and tart and tangy, and very easy to make.  You’ll find the recipe at the end of this post.  My thanks to Wes and Lori for passing along this recipe from Lori’s family to ours.

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I usually make at least one other pie or dessert.  This year, I’ll be making my new love, pear mincemeat in a gluten-free pie crust.  Follow the links to previous posts that contain these recipes.  Pear mincemeat (no meat) is spicy, tart-sweet, with a great hit of citrus from the whole lemon ground up with the pears and other fruit.  It’s a wonderful filling for the gluten-free crust.  I like to make turnovers because they’re handy, literally, and bake up nicely, but a pie would be just as tasty.  I’ll see how busy I am on baking day.  A pie it’ll be if I don’t have time to form turnovers.  If I make turnovers, I’m thinking I might make a fresh lemon glaze to drizzle over them, to pretty them up a little bit and tempt someone who might be scared of the idea of “mincemeat” or gluten-free.

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It’s standard to ask a question at the end of a post, in an attempt to generate more comments.  I see it so much, it sort of feels like a cheap trick to me, and I’ve resisted the trend until now.  But now, I’m asking because I’m genuinely interested:  What’s going to be on your Thanksgiving table this year?  And if you’d like to share recipes or stories, so much the better.

And now, the recipes, in the order they were mentioned above.   I hope one or more of them makes it onto your Thanksgiving table, either this year, or in the future.

Sweet Potato Casserole

2 ½ lbs sweet potatoes

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 T. unsalted butter, melted (plus more for the pan)

2 T. dark brown sugar

1 t. salt

½ t. cinnamon

½ t. ginger

Pinch of nutmeg

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place scrubbed sweet potatoes on baking sheet, poke with fork three or four times.  Bake for 45-60 min. or until tender.  Set aside to cool.

Turn oven down to 350 degrees.  Scoop potato meat out of skins and into bowl.  Mash potatoes until smooth.  Add eggs, butter, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper to taste.  Whisk mixture until smooth.

Butter 8X8 casserole dish or pan.  Pour sweet potato mixture into pan and sprinkle top with pecans.  Bake for 30-40 min., until a bit puffy.  Serve immediately.

Sourdough Starter and Brown and Serve Rolls

Sourdough Starter:  Mix 1 cup white all-purpose flour, 1 cup lukewarm water, 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 tsp. active dry yeast in large bowl.  Leave out on the counter (or in warm place), covered with a cloth, until bubbling and yeasty smelling.  When mixture is frothy, scrape into a jar or lidded crock and refrigerate.  Starter is ready to use when a clear liquid has risen to the top of the jar.

It’s best to take the starter out the night before you plan to use it and feed it.  To feed starter, place in large bowl and stir in 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour.  Cover and let sit in a warm place overnight to activate yeast cultures.  After measuring out the starter called for in the recipe, put the “fed” starter back in the jar or crock and back in the fridge.  Use your starter frequently, or at least feed it, or it will die.

Sourdough Brown and Serve Rolls

1 cup milk, scalded then cooled
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons dry yeast
1 cup of activated (“fed”) sourdough starter
2 small or one large egg
4 ½ cups flour (white or whole wheat)

Mix milk, salt, sugar and butter in a microwave safe measuring cup.  Heat until the butter melts. Let this cool to room temperature. Add yeast and let proof five minutes, then combine with other wet ingredients and 2 cups of flour in bowl of stand mixer.  Let knead on the dough hook for ten minutes.  Add remaining flour in ½ cup increments until the dough just comes together. Turn out into a greased bowl, and proof (raise) for an hour. Make into rolls (makes about three dozen rolls). Place in greased pans a quarter inch apart, and let raise another 45 minutes.

For Brown and Serve: Preheat oven to 250*F and bake for 25 minutes. Let cool, and wrap and freeze (or refrigerate). When you want to serve these, take them out of the freezer and let them thaw for ten minutes, then bake at 425*F for 5-10 minutes.

Note:  An egg wash makes breads brown beautifully.  Simply beat up an egg with a spoonful of water and brush it onto bread before baking.  For the brown and serve option, use the egg wash prior to the second baking/browning.

Sour Cream Apple Pie

One 9” pastry shell, unbaked

2 tablespoons flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

¾ cup sugar

1 egg

1 cup sour cream

½ teaspoon vanilla

2 cups finely chopped or grated peeled apples (tart pie apples are best)

Mix dry ingredients, beat in egg, sour cream, and vanilla until smooth.  Add apples, mix well, pour into pastry-lined pie pan.  Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for additional 30 minutes.

While custard is baking, mix the topping:

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup softened butter

Mix well and sprinkle over pie. Return to oven at 400-425 degrees and bake for ten minutes to form streusel crust on top of custard.  Cool completely before cutting.  Store in fridge.

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Gluten-free, Recipes, Side dishes

Conversions III: Gluten-free Cornbread Stuffing

I’m gearing up for Thanksgiving.  I bet you are, too.  I like tweaking recipes, but there are some recipes I don’t mess with.  I should rephrase that:  I am not allowed to change certain treasured family recipes, like my cornbread stuffing.  Both of my children (but especially my daughter, Amy), are adamant that the meal must stay pretty much the same as it was when they were kids.  Frankly, the only reason I’m changing my stuffing recipe is that I’ve changed.  I am no longer eating wheat, and that means I had to find an alternative to my beloved cornbread stuffing.  I’ll still make the traditional bread and cornbread stuffing for the family, but alongside, I’ll make this conversion to gluten-free for me.

The recipe starts with a gluten-free cornbread.  I use an inexpensive gluten-free all-purpose baking flour that I get in the bulk foods section at WinCo.

Gluten-free Cornbread

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend

1 cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon coconut flour

1/3 cup sugar (I use organic coconut palm–you can use whatever you like)

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

4 eggs

1/3 cup safflower oil

1/3 cup milk

Mix dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients, mix into dry.  Grease an 8-inch cast iron skillet. Pour batter into skillet and bake for 20-25 min. at 425 degrees.  (You may also bake the batter in a greased, 8 or 9 inch square pan—bake 20 min.—or in 12 greased muffin cups, fill half-full, bake 15 min.)  Remove and cool five minutes, remove cornbread from skillet by inverting over a plate.

Using a cast iron skillet to bake cornbread is a tradition in my family.  The advantage is that you get a really crispy crust on the bottom and sides, and this is delicious when you’re eating the cornbread as is (or with apple butter or honey, two of my favorites), as well as working beautifully in the stuffing.  That brown, crisp crust gives the stuffing more texture and flavor.  So if you have an iron skillet, grease it up and bake with it.

Another tradition in my family is to have beans and cornbread the night before a big feast day.  This works out nicely because I have leftover cornbread for the stuffing, as long as I make enough (or don’t let anybody have seconds)!

Gluten-free Cornbread Stuffing (Serves 4-6)

2 cups gluten free bread (Elana’s Pantry Paleo Bread) cut in ½ in. cubes and dried in oven on low heat

2 cups gluten free cornbread, crumbled

3/4 cup butter

1 medium onion, chopped

4 medium stalks celery, chopped

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning OR 1 ½ teaspoons dried, crumbled sage, ½ teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1-2 cups chicken stock

Melt butter in saucepan, add chopped onion and celery, cook until tender.  Mix bread cubes and cornbread cubes in large bowl.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and herbs, mix.  Mix butter and vegetables into breads, folding carefully to keep cubes from losing their shape.  Carefully fold eggs into bread mixture.  Add enough chicken stock to moisten stuffing mixture.  Don’t let the mixture turn into a paste.  Mix gently to keep bread cubes intact.

The stuffing may be inserted into the cavity of a chicken or turkey or baked in a greased, uncovered casserole dish alongside the bird at 325-350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until top is browned and crusty.  (Yeah, I know.  Everybody’s scared of cooking stuffing inside the turkey.  All I can say is I’ve been doing it almost 50 years, and nobody has ever gotten sick.  But follow your own inclinations on this one.)

I’ve used this recipe for years with wheat-based bread cubes and cornbread made from half wheat flour and half cornmeal. Here’s a picture of last year’s Thanksgiving turkey with the same stuffing made with wheat bread cubes and traditional cornbread.

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I apologize that there are no pictures of the gluten-free stuffing, but honestly, it looks just like what’s in the picture above.  Unfortunately, I got distracted by football and didn’t get any pictures while I was making the gluten-free stuffing.  Our team lost–another distraction–and as consolation, we ate up the test batch (stuffed into a pair of Cornish game hens) before I could get pictures of it.  Maybe that’s the best testimonial of all.

I’m so happy that I don’t have to give up my treasured cornbread stuffing this year because I’m no longer eating wheat.  I can make the kids happy and satisfy myself at the same time.  Dennis doesn’t care either way; he’s like Mikey.  He’ll eat anything.

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Garden and Greenhouse, Main dishes, Recipes, Side dishes

Pumpkin/Winter Squash Soup

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It’s nearly Halloween, and that means pumpkins are on the market and in the garden.  It also means winter squashes are ripe and readily available.  I grow my own.  You would expect nothing less, would you?   I always have a lot of them, so I’ve had to learn how to store them long-term.  I’ve also learned how to use them in various ways, so we don’t get tired of them before winter is over.  Read on for tips to make sure your squashes get through the winter without spoiling, and for some recipes using winter squash and pie pumpkins.

If you are growing your own, or even if you’re buying pumpkins and winter squashes cheap or on sale, and want to store them, there’s a very simple step you can take to keep them fresh for months.  First, if you’re harvesting out of your own garden, it helps them last longer if you’ll let a light frost kiss them before you harvest.  This hardens the skins, and a hard skin protects the golden goodness inside.  Then lay the squashes out on a deck or patio and hose all the dirt off them.  Let them dry.  At this point, the method for ensuring long storage is the same for home-grown or store-bought.

To a gallon bucket or bowl of warm water, add a cup of white vinegar.  Get a clean rag and an old towel, and line the boxes you’re going to store your squashes in with newspaper.  Wash each squash or pumpkin with the vinegar water, dry thoroughly, and store in boxes, loosely stacked.  You can also store squashes on open shelves if you have a place with the right temperature range where mice or rats or squirrels won’t get to them.  Even though the skins are hard, in the winter, a hungry rodent can do a lot of damage.  It’s a good idea to line your shelves with newspaper, to absorb any oozing from spoilage if it occurs.  But the vinegar bath helps kill off bacteria and mold spores and minimizes spoiling.

The other crucial factor to prevent spoilage in long term storage is the right temperature range.  Colder is not better when it comes to preserving winter squashes.  I learned this the hard way when I tried to store them one year in our pump house, which is kept just above freezing all winter.  The squash and pumpkins developed little black mold spots in January, and within a week or two, I was roasting and freezing like mad to keep from losing them all.  I did a little research and learned that the optimal storage temperature is much warmer, from about 45-55 degrees.  Keeping the squash dry is also important, so a damp, cold basement (or pump house) is not a good storage option.

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Now, I store my pumpkins and winter squash in my laundry room, in wooden boxes, lined with newspaper, that slide under the shelves my husband put up for my canned goods.  The laundry room is unheated except for the freezer that puts off heat when it runs, but the room is well-insulated, so it stays around 50-60 degrees all winter.  That seems to be just about the perfect environment for squash storage.  I harvest my squash after the first light frost burns the leaves of the plants, give them a vinegar water bath, store them in my boxes in the laundry room, and we’re still eating fresh roasted winter squash and pumpkins the following spring.  Which is just fine by me, because I really love the stuff.

The photo below was taken on May 8, 2013 of the box of pumpkins I had left from the 2012 growing season.  (I didn’t weigh them, but I must have grown about a hundred pounds of pumpkins and squash in 2012.)  These were still sound!  (Yes, I think that fact deserves an exclamation point, maybe two.)   In March, I had taken out those that were left and had given them another wipe down with a vinegar wash–just being proactive with possible mold.  In May, I decided it was time to roast and puree what was left and freeze my puree in bags, so now I have pumpkin puree all ready for this fall’s pies, which is fortunate because I didn’t get many pumpkins this year.  Just another lesson from the garden:  this year’s bounty may turn to next year’s dearth, so preserve while you can.

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I like to grow acorn, butternut, and pie pumpkins.  I have tried other squashes, but these are my favorites, and in a garden the size of mine, space is a factor.  I try to use up my butternuts first because they have the thinnest skins and will usually spoil before pumpkins or acorn squash.

My favorite way to eat butternut squash is roasted, of course.  I love roasting butternuts because you can eat the skins.  Just cube up the gutted squash, sprinkle and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, any crushed or ground herbs you like (I like sage and thyme, but rosemary is also delicious), add a few unpeeled garlic cloves if you like, a sprinkle of apple scrap vinegar or another fruit vinegar (the acid brightens up all the flavors), and roast on a cookie sheet at 400-425 degrees until tender and browned, usually 20-30 minutes.  The roasting time depends on how large your squash cubes or chunks are.  The skin of the squash gets tender and then goes slightly chewy, so you get great texture.  This is a wonderful side dish to any roasted meat.  I like to serve it with oven-fried chicken because both dishes cook at the same temperature.

Acorns squashes store very well because they have such hard skins.  I like acorn squash because of its size and its seeds.  Acorns are just the right size for a meal for two people.  Each person gets a half.  My husband likes them with butter and brown sugar, so I can dress his half with gooey sweetness, and my half gets a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sage and thyme, salt and pepper.  We each get what we like with no fuss. Roast them at 400-425 degrees until the flesh is tender.  And if you like roasted pumpkin seeds, you’ll like roasted acorn squash seeds.  Actually, even if you don’t like pumpkin seeds, you should try roasted acorn seeds because they are even better than pumpkin seeds.  They are smaller and roast to a crisper, crunchier texture.

The process is the same for pumpkin seeds and all squash seeds, so don’t throw any of them away.  Simply spread the seeds (and a little bit of the flesh or juice will give the seeds more flavor, so don’t rinse them!) on a cookie sheet, drizzle a teaspoon or so of olive oil over them, stir to coat, sprinkle lightly with salt (I like freshly ground sea salt), and roast at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes.  Roast until golden brown.  These are a nutritious and delicious snack that my grandchildren, daughter-in-law, and husband love.  I keep a bowl of roasted squash and pumpkin seeds on the coffee table all winter long.

I love pie pumpkins, and they also store very well.  I use them for pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice muffins, pumpkin pancakes, and pumpkin soup.  There are many ways to handle a fresh pumpkin for cooking.  Some people roast them whole and then peel and scoop out the seeds.  Because I like to roast the seeds and get them crunchy, this is not the method I use.  I used to cut them open, clean out the seeds, quarter and steam them, and then run through the chinois to remove the skins.  This works if you’re processing a lot of pumpkin for freezing (pumpkin puree has been deemed unsafe for home canning), but you don’t get that wonderful roasted flavor.  Roasting is what makes your homemade-from-scratch pumpkin pie or soup so superior to what you can make with what comes out of a steel can from the store.  So, now I quarter my pumpkins, clean out and set aside the seeds for roasting later, and put the quarters on a cookie sheet and into a 425 degree oven until they are soft.  I take them out, let them cool, then scoop the flesh away from the skins and put it in the food processor to puree.  (The skins go into the compost bucket.)  At this point, the puree can be used in a recipe in the same proportion as the canned pumpkin you buy.  Or, you can make soup with it, which is a winter staple in our home.

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Here’s my recipe for pumpkin soup, and keep in mind that you can substitute any orange-fleshed winter squash, such as acorn or butternut, for the pumpkin.  You’ll get a slightly different flavor, but it will be delicious with whatever kind of squash you use.  Don’t use huge, grocery store jack o’lantern pumpkins for this soup—they are too stringy.  You can sometimes use smaller grocery store jack o’lantern pumpkins, but pie pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut, or any other yellow or orange-fleshed winter squash are better.  You can mix varieties as you like.

After your pumpkin or squash is roasted and pureed as above, follow directions below for making the soup.  (You can also use canned pumpkin, and the soup will taste good, but it won’t taste quite as fresh or rich as when you roast your own.)

Roasted Pumpkin/Winter Squash Soup

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1 quart pureed pumpkin or squash

2 cups chicken stock/broth

1 tablespoon olive oil, or butter, or canola oil

¼ cup finely chopped onion

1 fresh jalapeno, finely chopped (deseeded, if you don’t like the heat)

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, grated (if not available, substitute 1 teaspoon powdered, dry ginger)

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon ground coriander

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1 tablespoon dried or fresh chopped parsley (fresh is always better)

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

¼ teaspoon red pepper flake (optional for those who like more heat)

½ cup half & half

For serving:  ½ cup plain low-fat yogurt or sour cream; ¼ cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds.  Makes about 4 servings (cereal bowl size).

To the pureed pumpkin or squash, mix in chicken stock (I use homemade or low sodium canned) and start heating on low in a large pot with a tight lid.  Stir frequently to keep the natural sugars in the pumpkin/squash from causing the soup to stick.  As the soup heats, it starts to bubble like a volcanic mud pot, so keep it covered and be careful when you remove the lid to stir.

In a sauté pan, heat oil or butter.  Add onion, jalapeno pepper, celery and minced garlic.  Saute on medium heat until vegetables are soft.  Add fresh grated ginger root, if available.

At this point, you’ll have to decide how smooth you want your soup to be.  I like it silky smooth, so I put my sauteed vegetables into the pumpkin mixture and use my immersion blender on it until the vegetables are just tiny specks in the soup.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, and you want your soup smooth rather than slightly chunky, put a small amount of the pumpkin mixture into a blender or food processor along with the sauteed vegetables and whiz until smooth, then add back into the soup.  If you want more texture in your soup, add the vegetables without blending and proceed to seasoning.

If not using fresh ginger, you can add 1 tsp. dry ginger at this point.  Add about ½ tsp. of salt (taste as you go so you can get the seasoning right for you), ½ tsp. black pepper, ½ tsp. ground coriander, ¼ tsp. ground allspice, 1 T. dried or fresh chopped parsley, and 1 tsp. rubbed poultry seasoning.  (I grow and dry my own herbs, so instead of poultry seasoning, I use about a teaspoon of dried, crumbled sage, and a half-teaspoon of dried thyme.  If there’s no snow in the garden, I substitute fresh herbs, but I’m careful with fresh sage. It’s a strong flavor.)  Taste and add more salt and pepper or other seasonings as necessary.  If you like more heat, you can add a little crushed red pepper flake.  I like the different layers of heat in this soup from the fresh jalapeno, ginger, and black and red pepper.

As soon as soup is hot and bubbling like lava, add about ½ cup half & half.  Reheat almost to boiling and serve. (Do not boil after adding the half & half because the cream will separate. It still tastes fine, but it doesn’t look as pretty.)

For serving:  I like to add a dollop of plain, low-fat, homemade yogurt (sour cream is also good) to the middle of my bowl and sprinkle it with about a tablespoon of roasted, salted sunflower seeds. Then when I eat it, I get a little yogurt and sunflower seeds in my spoon along with the soup.

This is a very filling (and nutritious) soup, and you can make it relatively low-fat by using low-fat chicken stock, coconut, olive or canola oil instead of butter, fat-free half & half instead of regular, and low-fat or non-fat yogurt or sour cream in the topping.

Because I grow my own pie pumpkins and winter squash, and have learned how to store them all winter, I have a plentiful and tasty supply of Vitamin A through the winter and into spring.  I hope I’ve inspired you to try it for yourself.

All original text, photographs, and the pumpkin/winter squash soup recipe are copyrighted and may not be copied or reproduced without the author’s permission. 

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Recipes, Side dishes

Bear It

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I returned yesterday from four wonderful days at the Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference in Cedarville, CA.  At the reception on the first evening, I offered everyone a taste of something I made a few weeks ago, and which I was a bit nervous about sharing:  bear liver pate.

But this story actually begins back in August when my husband, Dennis (I think I must call him The Mighty Hunter from now on, MH for short), shot a bear with his bow.  Yes, that’s right, with his bow!  No dogs, no gun.  Anyway, we have an “eat all of what you shoot” policy around here, and we like bear liver, but it’s a lot for just the two of us.  So I started looking around for things to do with half a bear liver, which weighed in at about 1.5 lbs.  I thought of pate, and I thought surely someone would have made bear liver pate and posted a recipe online, somewhere.  Surely.  But no.  I couldn’t find a single bear liver pate recipe.  So I started reading other pate recipes and decided that yes, I could adapt a recipe.  Whether or not it would taste good?  Well, we’d just have to see.

I made the pate (recipe to follow) and tasted it.  And nearly swooned.  Oh boy, is that good stuff.  But I had to try it out on the MH.  (Remember him?  The guy with the bow?)  And he approved.  Of course, he’s a bit like Mikey and will eat anything, so I was still a little nervous about it.  I put most of the pate in the freezer, and waited for my dear foodie friend, DeAnna Beachley, to arrive the day before the conference.

I picked DeAnna up at the airport in Reno, and by the time we got home, we were hungry enough to eat a . . . no, I won’t say it.  I had pulled one of the pate mounds out of the freezer that morning and put it in the fridge to defrost.  We had a satisfying little repast of pate, almond flour crackers I’d baked the day before, a hard cheese called Hirtin, cherry tomatoes from the garden, cream cheese and jalapeno jelly.  And to go with all of that, a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.  To my great relief, DeAnna’s reaction to her first bite of pate was a lovely little moan, and an “oh, that’s good!”

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I felt reassured by her response to the pate, but still, I was nervous about serving it to a bunch of writer folks at the conference.  I put the pate on the paper plate provided, surrounded it with crackers, and went to the kitchen to get a knife.  By the time I got back, they were already digging into it with the crackers.  Judging by what was left on the plate at the end of the evening and the comments I received during the event, I think the bear liver pate was a hit.  So here’s the recipe.

bear pate empty plate

Bear Liver Pate

1 lb. bear liver (about half a liver, after cleaning and de-veining)

1 med. onion, sliced

3 cups water

3 tablespoons sherry

¼ cup chopped onion

¾ cup softened butter

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground is best)

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of cinnamon

In a medium saucepan, combine water, trimmed liver cut into 1-2 inch chunks, and sliced onion. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until liver is cooked and tender. Remove from heat, drain, and discard onions. Also remove and discard any hard portions of the liver.

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Place cooked liver in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Add chopped onion, sherry, butter, salt, black pepper, and spices; blend well. Form pate mixture into a mound (it helps to butter your hands), and place on a serving dish. Chill for 1 hour before serving.  This will make a large mound or about 16 servings.

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Instead of making one large mound, I lined three small bowls with plastic wrap, pressed the pate into the bowls to form it, then wrapped it securely with plastic wrap.  I chilled the pate in the bowls until firm, then removed the pate from the bowls, still wrapped tightly, and stored them in a plastic freezer bag in the deep freezer.  They can thaw overnight in fridge before serving, or for several hours at room temperature.  The pate needs to soften a bit before serving.

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As I was leaving the conference and saying my farewells, I spoke to a young man whose reading I’d particularly enjoyed.  I told him so.  He said, “Thank you.  I really enjoyed your bear liver pate.”  Although I didn’t read this time, I suspect if I had, he’d have thought my pate was better than my poetry.  Well, some things (like bad puns) you just have to bear.

© All material in this post (photographs, text, recipe) are copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any fashion without the author’s consent.

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