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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dried lemons...

I've been remiss in posting, this I know. And after a few conversations with some friends tonight, I feel anew and will promise to post frequent and often!
I go through my day and think..."this should be a post..." but then the day fades away from me, and know how it is.

So here is what I love to do with end of season citrus. It's not the end yet here in AZ– but soon enough one must gleen their trees to make way for new growth and the new fruit to set.  I most prefer to only use organic citrus and I try to use only citrus grown locally. This leaves me at a loss for lemons, or other citrus all the other months of the year! Preserving my citrus this way allows me to stretch how long I can use it for.

Slice lemons, oranges, or tangerines into slices, not too think, not too thin. I have a food dehydrator, so if you do to, place them on the trays and dry over night. If you don't have one, you can use your oven.
Place the slices on a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Place them in your oven on the lowest setting possible (usually 150-degrees F) but if you have the option set it to 135-degrees F. Let these go overnight in the oven, or about 6-8 hours. Part way through, peel and flip them over. Depending on your climate, it may take you much longer to dry them...but just leave them in until they are dry. Do this on a weekend when you have time to wait around for them. They darken because the natural sugars in the lemon carmelize, and it gives it a rich and wonderful flavor.

You may be wondering...what in the world do I do with these? Well, they keep forever in a tupperware or glass jars. Here is how I use them:
  • In my daily hot tea. They give it a tart, but carmely flavor.
  • I throw 4-5 slices into a saute to add a little extra something to a pan of dark greens or simmering chicken
  • Lay them over top of fish before you steam it

Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter harvest salad...

Ok, it may not look like a winter salad, but here in Arizona, this is what we harvest! I realize that most of the country is going through record cold-snap temperatures right now, but here in Arizona, we had a 74-degree day! And while a coleslaw inspired dish is not what you might think of as a January dinner, the bounty of my farmshare this week offered up some really wonderful winter items to work with. Cabbage, cilantro, and radish.
I used my ranch dressing recipe (previous post) for the dressing on this...and added shrimp simmered in a delicious liquid.  Here is the recipe:

Makes 4 dinner sized salads, or one big slaw to go to a potluck!
1/2 head of cabbage
1 cup fresh cilantro
5-8 radishes
1 cup creamy dressing (use what you like or have)
1 lb. shrimp (raw)
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tbs agave nectar (or honey)
1/4 tsp hot chile paste (sambal, or other)

Shred the cabbage to your liking, big or small. Then slice the radishes very thin. Tear the cilantro into pieces. Toss these three ingredients with the creamy dressing. Divide this between 4 serving bowls.
In a bowl mix the vinegar, agave nectar, and chile paste (if you prefer no heat, you can use garlic). Wisk to combine.
In a medium saute pan over medium heat, add 1 tsp. olive oil. Add the raw shrimp, and pour in the vinegar liquid. Simmer the shrimps in the liquid until pink but still tender, just a few brief minutes.
Layer the shrimps on top of the salads. Then pour the sweet and tangy shrimp liquid over the top of the salads too as an added dressing (it has lots of flavor).

Tip on the cabbage: if you do not love raw cabbage flavor or texture, pour boiling water over top of the shredded cabbage in a bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes. Then drain and use in the recipe. This blanches it and takes just the edge off and really changes its flavor and its natural sweetness really comes through, enough to make it more enjoyable to eat.

By the time you get to the end of your salad there is a lucious creamy 'soup' at the bottom created by the dressings. Don't pass this up!...grab a spoon for that part.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Gluten free (and guilt free) ranch dressing...

We eat a lot of salad in our home. Its one of those intentional foods with a lot of nutrients and benefits that we enjoy. However, the additional of salad dressing so quickly turns a salad of intent of good things into a calorie-laden, additive-laden meal.
As you know, I like pure things, so we make our salad dressings from scratch. The dressings, I feel, should be as intentional as the contents of the salad itself! Vinaigrettes are simple to make, but so are creamy dressings. And I prefer to make mine in a fashion so that portion is not so much an issue either, and also so that the dressing has intent when eaten, rather than merely just flavor.
This dressing adds calcium, and pro-biotics (if you use yogurt that has them). We make our own yogurt full of probiotics, so this is another way to get all those good things into our system than jsut at breakfast with the yogurt! Plus, there are very few calories in this dressing at all, so the 2 tbs. serving limit does not apply!
This dressing works as a salad dressing, or make my 'dip' version for a veggie dip, sandwhich spread, or as people around here like, a dipping sauce for pizza.

Salad Dressing:
I use plain yogurt as my base. Any store-bought kind will do that you prefer (low or non-fat, organic or what you like). Start with two cups of yogurt and to it add:
¼ cup chopped fresh dill (or 2 tbs dried dill)
¼ cup chopped fresh scallion (or 1 tsp onion powder)
Generous salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs vinegar (any kind you have will do)
Place all of this into a glass jar and shake away! It makes a creamy herbed ranch-style dressing.

Ranch Dip:
Purcahse greek style yogurt (very thick). Stir in the same amount of ingredients to make the dip. Allow to sit for 1-2 hours. You can thin this if you choose, use 1 tsp. milk at a time to thin to your desired consistency.The possibilites...

Well, you can now create from this base anything you want to.
  • Add different herbs, fresh or dried.
  • Stir in salsa to make a salsa ranch
  • Add into a buttermilk biscuit recipe to add flavor
  • Mix with tuna instead of mayo
  • Add to a potato salad recipe
Want ranch-in-a-minute? Use a prepacked ranch salad dressing packet and simply stir that into yogurt! Simply Organic makes a nice one.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The easiest spaghetti sauce...

Spaghetti sauce is a pantry staple, isn't it? I mean, first, there is spaghetti, then the pan of lasagna, oh and pizza! As you know by now, I make most things we consume from scratch, because I love to, but also because I think things that are mass-manufactured the least, are best.It could quite possibly be the easiest sauce there is.

We eat spaghetti a good once a week around here. We also happen to call it Red sauce in our house. Maybe spaghetti has too many syllables...not sure. This version makes a good amount and is a cost savings over buying jars of the store made sauces.

My mother made a version of my Sicilian grandmothers, and I now make a version of my mother's. Mom cooked hers on the stove all day–she still does. I use the crockpot. Both methods impart that unbelievable rich and savory smell throughout the house when you walk in. I think that is all part of it.
I use canned tomatoes, but I buy organic, minimally processed with no major additives. If you are thinking ‘organic=pricey’…my store’s house brand is only about $1.69 for the 28-ounce cans, so pretty affordable.

Try finding house brand organics to use at your grocery. Make sure there are no additives, just tomatoes, no salt, or no sugars. Citric acid shows up on most as a natural color preservative and is ok.
This batch makes the equivalent of about 3 jars of the store bought sized spaghetti jars. Reuse your glass spaghetti jars from your last purchase, or use the large glass canning jars.

Red Sauce
Two  28-oz cans organic tomato puree (unsalted and unseasoned)
Two 15-oz cans of diced tomatoes (unsalted and unseasoned)
1 can tomato paste
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pepper
1 palm full (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup) dried Italian seasoning, or dried oregano
4 Italian sausages, raw in the casings*

*A note on the sausages. I buy mine at the meat counter. Use mild, sweet, or hot, use pork or chicken. I use chicken mostly, it's healthier.  Use what you like.

Place all ingredients in the crockpot. Submerge the sausages. Place lid on top and cook on high for 6 hours, low for 8 hours.
I buy my sausages on sale and throw them in the freezer. I then add them frozen and they cook through by the end. You can also add them thawed.
When its done, stir and place in the large sized glass jars that are clean and dry.
Or have a plate of pasta and jar the rest!
If you have a canning funnel, pack it hot, right into the jars.
This sauce keeps well, so don't be afraid to use it over the month.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Everyone should grow something...

Really, everyone should. It is a beautiful thing to watch something grow and then to harvest and eat from it. For the new gardener and the not-enough-time-to garden gardener, I think two easy-successful things to start with are potatoes and snap peas.

Potatoes are quite possibly my very favorite thing to grow. Harvesting is like digging up treasure! You have no idea how many perfect little smooth presents are going to be under the soil, and every time you come upon one it is like a little surprise!

Here is why I feel these two items are an easy and good place to start...
You can grow potatoes in a large deep pot…no yard needed. The plastic terracotta-look pots at the garden center are inexpensive. It takes about one bag of soil to fill it and you are ready to go! Simply buy a potato at the grocery, and set it on your counter until it begins to grow ‘eyes’. Cut the eyes off, then plant them (green shoots up) into the soil so the little eyes barely peek. Then water. And wait…but not for long. Potatoes grow fast! Then they begin to grow their new potatoes attached to the roots under the soil.

I grow them in both winter and summer in my climate in AZ. Potatoes near the top of the roots will begin to peek out of the soil. But there are also plenty down below! I will dig around and harvest and leave the plant in the ground for more to develop.

Snap peas are another great place to start. These grow great in a deep pot as well, and believe it or not, can even be grown indoors in a bright sunny warm window. I grow mine outside in the ground at my home. They climb the poles and have pretty flowers, then like magic, these white flowers become these sweet crisp snap peas. I also harvest the leaves of the plant and eat them in salad (no need to waste a perfectly delicious green!). They are a mild, sweet pea flavor and are tender and amazing in a salad.

Peas do take a few weeks to germinate and sprout, so there is patience involved on the front end, but the growth and harvest is wonderful to watch! Just place a teepee of bamboo poles (from the garden center) or tree twigs from your yard to have them grow on.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Plastic-free home...

About 2 years ago, I chose to stop using plastics as food containers in our home. I recycled every last one of them and went to glass. The risks and information regarding plastics is everywhere on the internet, so do your own research and make your own descisions on the topic.

Using glass jars is an easy transition. You can buy a dozen at the grocery in various sizes, but if you plan to transition out of plastic over time, simply save the glass jars and bottles that you do use from products that you buy. Instead of recycling a glass salad dressing bottle, clean it and reuse it, making your own homemade salad dressings instead.
In fact, I know purchase good and products with the reuse of their vessel in mind. I try my best to buy products that are packaged in recycled/recyclable/reusable containers or packaging.

The glass jars go right into the freezer (be mindful of freezing liquids however). With the lids removed, they also go right to the microwave. We do not own a microwave at home, but I pack my lunches into 8oz. glass jars and then reheat them at work in the microwave there. Then, they go right into the dishwasher where they are cleaned and sanitized for the next use.
But where to store them all? My counters and cupboards were over run, so my solution was to utilize a space I had under an island in my kitchen and store them in baskets. It works great.
I use the glass jars for everything; I store dried fruits, granola, nuts, grains. In the fridge I store leftovers, homemade pickles, I reuse spaghetti sauce jars and jar my own sauce. In the freezer, I pack leftover dinner portions for my lunch the next day, like rice, or fish and vegetables, even grapes and sliced apples. Baby-food jars are fantastic for transporting salad dressing to work to go on my salad, or small portions.

I will post my spaghetti sauce recipes and salad dressing recipes this weekend, stay tuned!