Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DIY Taco Seasoning Mix

I wanted a light and easy dinner this evening, so I made this taco salad. Simply chopped iceberg lettuce, julienned sweet onion, diced roma tomato and crushed corn chips tossed with ranch dressing. The salad is then topped with seasoned cooked meat and chunked avocado...bam...done! 

I seasoned the meat by making a taco seasoning mix that replicates the packaged varieties.  Cooking day-in and day-out has taught me that pretty much anything packaged can be made on your own. It can be made for a fraction of the cost and without the added chemicals and preservatives. You also have control over the quality of ingredients.

Taco Seasoning Mix

2    tsp minced dried onion
1    tsp chili powder
1    tsp paprika
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp crushed red chili fkakes
1/2 tsp garlic powder*
1/2 tsp onion powder*
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp dried oregano

*powder not granules...there is a difference in the flavor and texture profile.

Mix well. Add mixture along with 1/4-1/2 cup water to one pound cooked ground meat of choice. Simmer 10-15 minutes.

Stock your pantry and start cooking. Don't be afraid to experiment. If you'd like it spicier, swap out hot hungarian paprika for regular paprika, or add some cayenne or more chili flakes. Want it milder?  Leave out the chili flakes.  Play, create and have fun!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Garage Sale Treasures

Along with work, I have kept busy with canning and baking, and yes, I am extremely behind on posting my successes and failures. Hmmm..perhaps its the latest failure of "over-set" jam that has slowed my urge to type.  Actually, I need to experiment with my latest "pectin" research soon. But until then I thought I'd share with you the treasures I stumbled upon.

Ok, so its Monday...garage/yard sales are usually relegated to the weekends. I was driving down main street to purchase a soda and noticed a sign for a garage sale at some old cabins near the south end of town. I stopped after the mini-mart run as I was desparate for that caramel colored chemical fizz they refer to as Diet Coke. Yeah, I know, not healthy, not good for a person, but I didn't care...I wanted some in a bad way.

So this garage sale...it was a large one room cabin that was LOADED with stuff....treasures of all kinds. All I can say is that it's a good thing I live in a one bedroom flat or I woulda been "hauling", if you know what I mean. I don't know what it is with me and old things, but I love 'em. These items belonged to the towns' librarian of years ago, Mr. Bob Moran.

The first thing I came across was the wide mouth zinc lids...five of them along with a clear glass regular mouth bail top lid. Its not very often that a person even runs across zinc lids, much less wide mouth.  Yes, there were lots of neat things, but again, I have to limit my purchases, so when I asked the person selling the goods what I owed him, he immediately told me I needed to buy the boxes of jars. Of course I went and looked.  Three apple boxes to be exact. The jars were mainly regular mouth pints and quarts, of which I already have. And yes, there were some oldies in there. I sorted through and found four wide mouth pint jars and three regular mouth half pints. Again though, on my way to pay the gentleman my eyes caught more "goodies". I found a clear glass, regular mouth, half gallon bail top jar, minus the lid. Oh, but wait, I had found a lid on my first swipe through...sure enough, it fit perfect.  This jar was made by The Liquid Carbonic Co. with a patent date of July 14, 1908. I performed some online research and came up with this link. A soda fountain business started during prohibition.  The oldest of the screw top jars was one of the Kerr pint jars with a Patent date of August 31, 1915, again in mint condition other than being dirty.  I also came across a set of two vintage Ekco muffin tins. They're not mini size, nor regular size...just in between and cute to boot. The last, and perhaps one of my fondest, is a 1938 copyright Ball Blue Book Canning Book. It is in relatively great shape. What's neat about the book is all the pictures of jars from that time.  I'll peruse the recipes this evening when I get home from work. This "short" was printed on the inside cover of the book:

They shall rise up and call her blessed-
this woman, who-loving and thoughtful of
future joy and health-secures the goodness
of Nature at her best, and cans against the
barren sameness of the Winter months. Well
does she look to the ways of her household.

♥ it!!!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Local" Pickled Asparagus

Last year I found out too late that there was a farmer outside Laurel who grew asparagus. Well, this year I almost missed out again. Time had gotten away with me, and when I called, I was told he may have 10 or so pounds left in the field, but to come by the next morning and they'd have it ready to go. Much to my surprise, they had two twenty-five pound boxes! The restaurant I work at took one box and I took the other. I was so excited to put up with local asparagus!! I spent the better part of the afternoon last Tuesday getting through the 25 pounds of asparagus I purchased.  Well, I didn't put up all of it. I saved a pound for myself to eat fresh and also gave a pound or so to my Aunt and to my neighbor.

Pickling the asparagus brought back fond memories when I lived in Washington. One year, I and two other friends got together and put up 10 30# flats of asparagus.  We set up the packing operations in their garage. A garage I might add was cleaner than some kitchens I've been in. The garage was cool and we didn't have to worry about the mess indoors. We set up two tubs for washing asparagus on a picnic table outside on the patio and had two propane burners outside so that we could have two water bath canners going simultaneously.  It took all day, but it was lotsa fun. I don't remember for sure, but I believe the three of us each ended up with 4 cases of pickled asparagus put up in wide mouth quarts. What I do remember though is that we all had a good time with lotsa laughs throughout the day....a memory I'll always treasure.

Pickled Asparagus

makes 18-20 qts using (1) 25# flat of asparagus

**brine solution:10 tbsp canning salt (kosher can be substituted, but do not use iodized salt)
3 qt water*
3 qt apple cider vinegar*
1 tbsp pickling spice (remove cloves & place in cheesecloth--let float in brine solution)

Bring brining solution to a boil then turn down & simmer for a minimum of 15 minutes.

*do not alter this ratio.  WA State Cooperative Extension recommends equal amounts of water and vinegar because this mitigates botulism issue.

**the brining solution batch recipe will fill approx. 8 jars depending on how tight you pack the jars. I make a single batch, simmer, fill jars, process then start the routine again.

each jar:1 jalapeno (sliced in half lengthwise)
1 dried chili de arbol (find at latin or specialty grocery stores)
1 tsp each -- dill seed, mustard seed, black peppercorns
1 clove garlic

Trim asparagus length so that there is a minimum of 1/2" head space at the top of the jar you will be using.  I think wide mouth quart jars work the best.  Get one spear cut to the right length, then use it as a guide to cut remaining spears.

Fill water bath canner 2/3rd's full of water. Put on stove and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, turn down to a simmer until you are ready to put jars in.
Place clean jar lids & rings in a small saucepan with warm water.  Bring to a simmer and keep warm on the stove.

Place dill seed, mustard seed, peppercorns and garlic clove in the bottom of each jar.  Pack jar with asparagus, jalapeno and chili de arbol.  I find it easiest to lay the jar on it's side.  As the jar gets full; you will want to use a butter knife to wedge additional spears in...get the jar as tight as you can.  Once all your jars are stuffed, bring your brining solution & water bath water to a boil.

Pour hot brine solution into each jar, making sure to leave 1/2" head space at top of jar.  Wipe jar sealing surface with a clean damp washcloth. Place lid & ring on each jar and tighten.  Only fill the amount of jars you have space for in your water bath canner--usually its seven.  Add filled and sealed jars to water bath.  Bring water bath to a boil and jars for 20 minutes in boiling water.  Remove jars from water bath and place on a dry towel on the counter-free from a draft.  Cover jars with another towel.  Continue these steps until all jars have been processed.  Let set 24 hours.  As the jars begin to cool, you should hear "pops", meaning the jars have sealed.  After 24 hours, make sure each jar has sealed by placing you finger on the center of each jar lid and gently pressing down.  There should be no movement if the vacuum seal is good.  If you are able to push the jar lid down & make it "pop", this means it has not sealed.  If this happens, these jars can be re-processed by replacing the lid & re-processing for stated time.  If you only have a few, you can also put them in the fridge to cure.  Let jars cure a minimum of 3 months...the longer they sit the "warmer" they get from the peppers.

Note: Processing time based on Elevation 5,555 ft.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rhubarb and Fig Jam with Ginger

I'd like to start this post with a general apology.  My posts are not perfect. I have found errors and friends have found errors.  I've come to realize that I am so anxious for you to read my next post, that my two and three time proofreading sessions, not to mention spell checking, is, well, just a little hap-hazard...Paquito.  I obviously need to slow down, step away from the keyboard, then revisit the draft version prior to pressing the "publish" button. I promise to do better, but I am not perfect. If you have a question on a recipe, or notice an obvious error and/or omission, please leave a comment and I will reply quickly. Thanks bunches!

I still had more of the gifted fresh rhubarb to put up.  I wanted to make something a "tad" different...a little off the beaten path, so to speak. For this reason I chose Rhubarb & Fig Jam. Oh, and partly because I had dried figs that I was pushing around and not using. So, again, I found a recipe online. Feel free to view the link. I followed it for the most part, except for adding fresh ginger at the end rather than candied citrus peel. I was too impatient to make my own because I purchased 25 pounds of LOCAL asparagus and had pickling to get done. "They" say that using capital letters is equivalent to yelling....not gonna apologize here and I'll say it again...LOCAL ASPARAGUS FOLKS!!! More later on my grass post!!

So, back to the rhubarb fig jam...I didn't have candied citrus peel, had no real desire to make any, so I set off to obtain a few opinions from friends.  One suggested candied ginger and the other suggested fresh, since it was plenty sweet.  Their opinions were just what I needed to move forward.  So in the end, the substitution of fresh minced ginger for candied citrus peel was my only change. That and the fact I did not have a pound of dried figs, so I ratio'd the amounts to make a smaller batch.

Rhubarb and Fig Jam with Ginger

makes approx 10 half pints

3 1/2 lbs Rhubarb cut in 1/2" pieces
1/2 lb Dried figs, cut in fine shreds
5 1/2 cups Sugar
(1) 2" piece fresh Ginger root, peeled and finely minced

Mix rhubarb, figs and sugar in a large non reactive (stainless steel) stockpot.  Cover and let stand all night. The next day, boil the mixture for at least an hour, or until very thick. Add the minced fresh ginger root before the mixture is taken off the heat. Pour jam into warm jars and cover. Process in boiling water bath. 15 minutes for half pints @ elevation 5,555 ft. 10 minutes for half pints 0-5,000 ft elevation.

I'm envisioning this jam to pair well with a cheese course or on bruschetta with crumbled gorgonzola.  What would be your choice?