Quick Pickled Carrots and Asparagus

Filled with possibility

I grew up eating “Aunt Dianne’s Icicle Pickles” which my mother used to make and keep in the basement cold room. We actually called it a “fruit room”, where pickles and jams lined the shelves and cobwebs gleefully grew in the corners until every now and then we cleaned them all away.

I haven’t made icicle pickles since 2014 (I know, because I had labelled the jars and just gave away the last of them) because our pickle consumption in this house is actually fairly low. Dianne’s recipe is made in a large stone crock, which I have, and large stone crocks make lots of pickles. Say about 12-500 ml jars large, which is hard for a family of three to use up when frankly we just don’t eat a lot of pickles.

The only other time I’ve pickled something is when I made spicy green beans years ago and, oh, those were good. I think I’ve just made them once but I should make them again. I would probably eat more spicy green beans at this point than cucumber pickles, because I could pair them with spicy Bloody Caesars and garnish with a semi-dried landjaeger sausage or some other meaty delight. Or just eat them plain as a snack, straight out of the jar. I don’t foresee a new spicy bean batch lasting very long at any rate.

Although I had these two pickling experiences under my preserving belt neither of them were examples of ‘quick pickles’ – the focus of this month’s Food in Jars challenge. Quick pickles, sometimes called ‘refrigerator pickles’ – are pickles made and brined quickly, ready to eat quickly, and not ‘shelf stable’ – in other words, not able to be processed in a water bath canner and left on a room temperature shelf. Quick pickles are to be stored in the fridge and eaten more quickly – as fast as 4-6 weeks or perhaps even sooner.

I don’t know why I had asparagus on the brain for quick pickling. Maybe it was our late spring attempting to play tricks with my mind and hoping for local asparagus to be ready. Maybe it was because I just wanted to buy tall jars that I didn’t even know existed up until a few weeks ago. But regardless of the why, I got together with a friend last weekend and we did the how – we made quick pickled asparagus and quick pickled carrots together in her kitchen and walked away with three jars each of the small batches.

I’ve had a chance to try both the carrots and the asparagus and I’m liking the asparagus better so far. Here’s the recipe if you’re interested in trying it. Maybe as part of a smorgasbord meal like we had tonight. They didn’t stay as green as they are in the picture but they’re crisp and delicious. I’m sure they won’t last long!

 

Raspberry Meyer Lemon Shrub

Even though I’m posting this in April, I actually made this second shrub in March when it was still time for “jellies and shrubs” month for the FIJ Mastery Challenge. I told you in my recent post about making the Rhubarb Ginger shrub that I had no idea what a shrub was before this challenge, and now I’m addicted to shrubs!

I did end up ordering Michael Dietsch’s book, Shrubs, and have been salivating over all the recipes to try on its pages. People, shrubs are dead easy to make (so very quick) and are delicious! If you have sparkling water, white wine or club soda on hand that needs a little je ne sais quoi, or have a cocktail fetish and are looking for something new to play around with, you really should consider making shrubs.

Not surprisingly I used another of Marisa’s recipes (seriously, I’m not crushing on the woman but she’s just so good!) because I was in love with the colour and the flavour sounded like it would really work. Still having access to Meyer lemons almost made this shrub a time-limited decision, so I went for it. I made the Raspberry Meyer Lemon Shrub which has just a few steps but takes two days to make.

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Well this shrub is gorgeous in colour but truthfully, I wasn’t sure that I liked it when I first tried it. I may have a tenuous relationship with the scent and flavour of Meyer lemons, I’m still not sure if I think they are great or sort of weird. (If you haven’t tried them, I’ve heard their scent and juice described as ‘floral’). But this shrub has grown on me over the days I’ve been drinking it and I’m going to deem it a success. It makes a refreshing drink when mixed with club soda and it feels good that I made it myself and it isn’t laden with chemicals. (Our daughter even likes it, making her, in Michael Dietch’s words, one of the “coolest kids in the neighbourhood”!) And seeing it in my fridge in the cute little jar that I got from Homesense a couple of months ago (not knowing what it would be for) just makes me smile.

Shrubs. Try them!

Canning rack cleanout

It seems like spring is actually here (a month too late but I’ll take it!) and with spring thinking comes thoughts about spring cleaning. Oh not that I want to get out my squeegee and bucket and clean the windows or anything (although I’m sure I’ll have to do that at some point soon), but I was inspired to clean out some stored food I had to make room for more canning and preserving this spring and summer.

This post on pantry management was the catalyst. Although my “cupboard” for canning wasn’t full of a lot of unknowns that needed rediscovering again like Alex’s did, I did get thinking about the abundance of jars of jams, jellies and pickles on my canning rack and how probably someone else could use some of what would take our small family a long time to go through. (I’ll interject here that not only do I do my own canning, I’m on the receiving end of canning from my MIL – we have a lot of canning!)

Happily, I remembered that we have a Facebook group here in my town which people use to post requests for or offers of assistance and so I posted to the admins to see if they would take some canning for their food hampers. They replied they would! I was able to box up about 13 or 14 jars to take to them the same day.

It feels somewhat like a selfish donation because I’m making room for making more jams and whatnot over the next few months as we sail into summer, but hopefully the people on the receiving end of these can actually use them. I wish more of what I gave was real food and not sugar-laden preserves, but maybe that’s something I can strive for in the future when I do it again. I like the idea of making some for us and some for others who could really use them.

On a related note, a friend of mine years ago used to live in Montreal and bake banana bread often for a women’s shelter nearby. She was amazed that the shelter took the food happily, they didn’t care about it being baked in a commercial kitchen or having been health inspected and whatnot. My friend used to get “dead bananas” from people, freeze them, bake a whole bunch of loaves and take them into the shelter on a regular basis. She wasn’t trying to clean out her cupboard like I was, she was simply doing it to help people in need. It was a wonderful thing to do and I’ve always remembered that she did this (and maybe still does!) It’s not surprising that later when she moved to a new city she opened a home-based bakery business. 🙂

 

Apple Pectin

I mentioned in my last post that I had made pectin to go into a delicious Rhubarb Prosecco Jelly recently. I followed this recipe for apple pectin from the Local Kitchen Blog, that the jelly recipe had referred to.

It would have been interesting to make the Meyer Lemon Pectin that the recipe also had mentioned as an option, but as luck would have it, a few days before my friend and I were going to get together to make the jelly, my husband had brought home a whole bunch of apples that he got for free. (He had been somewhere with a group of people that had all gotten box lunches, and no one had eaten their apples. When he called to ask if I wanted them all I jumped on it!)

The free apples were McIntosh variety and I made applesauce with the good part (which we all ate pretty much right away) and put all the cores and peels into the freezer for a few days until I was ready to make the pectin:

The night I was ready to make the pectin I pulled them all out of the freezer. Following the recipe, I put all the “leavings” in my Dutch oven and boiled them for about two hours that night while I was watching TV and doing other things:

At the end of the boiling I strained the cores and peels using my strainer. I got this strainer at a garage sale years ago and have been using it ever since. You don’t see them sold too much anymore (although I did see a set at Victoria’s Capital Iron the other day – the first time I had seen them for sale in years) and they’re very useful for anything where you want something to sit and drain for hours. In this case, I let the mixture drain overnight into a low dish:

And in the morning, gathered up the pretty liquid and boiled it for another hour or so to reduce it:

And eventually put it into the water bath canner so that I could save it to use during the summer jam season.

The recipe made quite a lot, I had the six cups shown in this photo plus another two cups that I saved for the Rhubarb Prosecco Jelly and another cup that I couldn’t fit in the canner to process it:

Now I’ll be the first to say that this pectin didn’t work out amazingly – or so I think. I didn’t mention in the other post that the jelly turned out a bit rubbery. I’m not an expert on these things but we did have to cook it a long time to get it to a gel point, and I think it was probably the pectin that had something to do with that. Because I made the pectin with McIntosh apples and not green apples or something that is higher in pectin itself, I think that it didn’t do as great of a job setting the jelly as it could have if I had made the pectin with less ripe or green apples. (As a point of comparison, I made the Concord Grape Jelly this past weekend, using a Certo powdered pectin instead of a homemade one, and it set up incredibly fast.) However, even though the rhubarb jelly is a little rubbery, it is still “gelled” and is still incredibly delicious!

I’ll continue to make my own pectin here and there, but this summer I’ll be looking for the vendor at the Shirley market that I met last year, from whom I purchased crab apples and made crab apple pectin. I haven’t Googled it, but something tells me that crab apples are probably higher in pectin than McIntosh’s – because of their tartness – and so I might return to that practice in the future when making liquid pectin. I had made Damson plum jam with that crab apple pectin last summer and it worked well.

So, that’s how you make apple pectin. So easy, and a great way to use up stuff that would otherwise go in the compost. And now I need to find a recipe to use my 1 cup still left in the fridge!

Rhubarb Ginger Shrub

IMG_2054Two months ago I had no idea what a shrub was. I knew what a bush shrub was, but not these things that people are calling drinking vinegars – shrub the drink.

If you haven’t heard of them either, shrubs are vinegar-sugar-fruit concoctions that have been around for eons and eons. While once they were used to help prevent scurvy in sailors, today we drink shrubs because they’re just plain good.

This month the mastery challenge has been all about jellies and shrubs and since we were making Rhubarb Prosecco Jelly the other day, Trish and I, we figured that we might as well make a shrub too. The rhubarb she had pulled out of her freezer just happened to be enough to make both recipes. So,  a shrub we tried. It was pretty easy to whip up after we had worked on the jelly.

We used this recipe from Vegetarian Times; I was captivated by the colour of the liquid and just happened to have some ginger languishing in my freezer. It was dead easy to make and afterwards we tried a few teaspoons of it in glasses of the sparkling wine we had leftover from making the jelly. For something that we both agreed didn’t actually sound that good, it definitely was.

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I’ve had the shrub in white wine several times since and have come to love its vinegar-y flavour. A surprise for the senses! Captivated by the possibilities of these new and natural ways to flavour drinks and cocktails, I ordered Michael Dietsch’s book called Shrubs and am currently going through it to find more ideas.

My fridge is starting to look like a hodge podge of jars, what with all this marmalade and jelly and shrub-making! I’m OK with that.

Rhubarb Prosecco Jelly

This month the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is all about jellies and shrubs and so a friend and I got together last weekend to make one of each. I’ll tell you more about the shrub later (I’d never heard the term before – they’re actually “drinking vinegars”) but this post is about the delicious, delicious jelly that we combined efforts to make.

Via text chat one night in preparation for our time together a few days later, my friend and I determined that she had rhubarb in the freezer and I had a bottle of given-to-us sparkling wine. She suggested the Rhubarb Prosecco Jelly that was featured in Marisa’s post (above) as a jelly recipe option, so that’s what we did. If you read the recipe from the Local Kitchen Blog, you’ll see that it really does take some time to prepare and so we decided that, the night before we got together, my friend would cook the rhubarb (Step 1), while I made the pectin. (I’ll tell you more about that step in the next blog post.) So these two things gave us both jobs to do the night before we got together to save time the next day. (Of course we texted each other pics as we were doing it!)

The next day we met at my house and started at Step 3 of the recipe. We got the broken down rhubarb juice on the stove, combined it with the sparkling wine (it wasn’t “prosecco” but still could be used in this recipe), sugar, lemon juice and salt, and warmed it until the sugar dissolved:

We added the pectin and cooked it:

until the mixture started to boil:

and boiled very high (boy, we should have used my stockpot! I kept having to lift the pot off the stove so it wouldn’t boil over – lesson learned):

and finally reached the gel point. You’ll notice that I have a candy thermometer set in the Dutch oven and we also used the freezer plate test to see if the jelly was going to set. This took a few tries and even when we pulled it off the stove I was only semi-confident that we were doing it at the right time. But it worked!

And look how pretty it turned out! And, more importantly, it tastes delicious. We had it soon after on salt and pepper baked crackers with a little white Balderson sharp cheddar and it was so good. I think we had been skeptical that this recipe would be as tasty as it was! I think this would be pretty to give as gifts for Christmas, if I sometime have the foresight to freeze rhubarb for pulling out later. (Mental note to self – find rhubarb when it comes out starting next month on Vancouver Island for this very purpose!)

Daniela’s Guacamole

I’ve been posting new things I’ve been doing, food-wise, on this blog lately but I thought I’d mix it up and post something that I’ve been making for a while now that is just really, really good. Several years ago I was at my friend Daniela’s place and had the best guacamole ever. I don’t even think I liked guacamole before this and her guac just won me over big time. Of course I got the recipe from her, renamed the recipe after her (she doesn’t even know this!) and we’ve been making it in our family ever since. I mean about a dozen times a year since!

My whole family loves this recipe, even the other two members of it that aren’t super fond of vegetables. My daughter doesn’t eat anything that makes up this guacamole by itself. She hates tomatoes, onions, avocados, green pepper and garlic, but somehow put them all together and she thinks the result is delicious! Because of course, it is. We often have this guacamole paired with tortilla chips and that’s our dinner. It’s a great way to get different vegetables into my kid.

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This time around I was able to get the most perfect avocados ever from the Root Cellar on McKenzie in Victoria. This made me happy because avocados can be such a disappointing purchase sometimes. More times than I can count I’ve bought avocados that I think are ripe and come home to discover they are either full of black spots inside or so under ripe that you can hardly separate the flesh from the rind. Not these! These were absolutely perfect. I couldn’t help but steal a chunk for straight eating as I was chopping them up.

(And hey, don’t waste those spent lime halves! I usually drop mine into water or sparkling water and drink it as I make up the rest of the guacamole. Makes two drinks with one half lime shell in each – one drink for me and one for a helper that may be nearby.)

Here’s what it all looks like, after the avocado is mashed with the lime and before mixing it all up together and diving into it with chips. I usually assign my daughter the mashing and mixing task. She does those as I chop everything up and throw it into the bowl before her.

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Enjoy this recipe at your own meals and thanks again to my friend Daniela who contributed, unknowingly, to this family favourite!

Daniela’s Guacamole

2 avocados, chopped
1 lime, juiced
1 small tomato, chopped small
1/2 green pepper, chopped small
1/3 cup chopped red onion, or to taste
1-2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped small
salt and pepper to taste

Mash the avocado and combine well with the juice of the lime. Add everything else in chopped and combine. Serve with tortilla chips.