June Can Jam – Berry Berry Good

We live in Forest Hill, Queens. It’s pretty urban here — while not as industrial as Western Queens (like Long Island City), or as suburban as Eastern Queens (like Douglaston), we straddle the line between the city and the suburbs, and there’s nothing that resembles a farmer’s market nearby. So it has been pretty unbelievable to join up with the Forest Hills Tuv Ha’aretz CSA, and get delicious, fresh, organic vegetables 6-months out of the year straight from Golden Earthworm Organic Farm. This is our second year with the CSA, but last year, due to a couple of rain-outs, we never made it out to the farm. This year, we were determined and we made the trek out to Jamesport on an early June weekend to go Strawberry picking. How fortuitous when I found out that this month’s Can Jam ingredient was ____berries! It didn’t take long for me to fill in that blank. I mean, when does anyone in central queens have the opportunity to PICK then PRESERVE anything? Umm….never.

The farm is incredible. Located on a windy road just past Riverhead, on the North Fork of Long Island, it is picturesque. Hence the below pictures. In addition to the fields, and green houses, Golden Earthworm also keeps heritage breed sheep, pigs and goats. We actually ran into one of the farmers, Matthew, as we walked around the farm. What a privilege to have the opportunity to thank the farmer that grows one’s food!

With strawberries this good looking (and good tasting), I really didn’t want to do that much to them, so I decided to just can them in a simple syrup. The recipe was adapted (for batch size) from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Strawberries in Syrup

Recipe makes one 12 oz jelly jar with a few generous tablespoons left over to eat directly from the pot

  • 4 cups hulled strawberries, large ones halved
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  1. In a large pot, combine strawberries and sugar and toss to coat. Cover and set aside in a cool place for 5 – 6 hours.
  2. Prepare canner, jars and lids. If you are new to canning, read THIS.
  3. Transfer pot with strawberries to stove, and heat over medium low until berries are heated through.
  4. Ladle hot strawberries into jar with 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rim, center lid on jar, and twist screw band on.
  5. Process in boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

My jar boiled over during processing (I guess I didn’t have the full 1/2 inch headspace), and didn’t have time to re-process. I ended up just wiping the lid, re-closing, cooling, and putting it in the fridge. Canning experts — is it still OK? Do I need to boil again before I eat, safety-wise?

Letting the Vegetables Shine

Let the dinners of fresh, local, organic vegetables begin! The Forest Hills Tuv Ha’aretz CSA kicked off a couple of weeks ago, and we have been really enjoying all the early summer vegetables. When the vegetables start rolling in, it really puts the “you-don’t-have-to-do-much-to-fresh-ingredients” principle into use, ’cause it’s true! With veggies this fresh, it just takes a brief steam, a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of salt, or a drizzle of good quality olive oil to transform an ingredient to a meal. Last Tuesday night, we enjoyed red quinoa, mung bean sprouts, sauteed garlicy spinach and quick ‘pickled’ japanese salad turnips. A sprinkle of garlic scapes (immature flower stalks), balsamic vinegar and olive oil is all the dressing it needs.

Building a Farm Fresh Bowl: A Story in Pictures

(with some words for clarity)

Wash greens well. My favorite way to wash greens: Rinse in a colander, then spin wet dirty greens. The dirt separates from the greens due to centripetal force; I call this kitchen physics. Keep greens wet–the water will help the greens cook.

Heat some olive oil, and add chopped garlic or garlic scapes. Add wet greens and cover, with the heat on low, for 5 minutes. Uncover, and drizzle balsamic, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

These are garlic scapes. They are a delicious spring delicacy.

Since I tried them for the first time last year, I have been waiting to eat Japanese salad turnips again. They are a sweet, delicately pungent vegetable that takes very well to light pickling. To add some crunch and acidity to the vegetable bowl I made this lemony turnip ‘pickle’. Slice turnips, add zest of lemon, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss and let sit for a few minutes before serving. (When zesting use organic citrus whenever possible since the pesticides reside in the peel.)

Round out the meal with bean and whole grain of choice (we’ve been on a millet kick lately, but ran out hence the red quinoa), and dress with oil and vinegar… Bon appetite!

Pantry Polenta and Beans

There really was nothing in the kitchen. Nothing that I could cook quickly, anyway. So it was either order in (which we do every couple of weeks) or starve (perhaps I’m being dramatic here…) By the time I got home from a busy clinic day, it was 9pm, and honestly I wanted to order in. I really did. But I was famished and I thought even ordering in would take too long. So I whipped together this filling, spicy, bowl of polenta and beans. (I really do cook a lot of polenta, right?) It definitely helped that I had a ripe avocado and pickled red onions to inspire me! And even though this epitomizes a throw-it-together-pantry dinner, I will definitely make it again. The whole thing took 15 minutes from start to finish!

Polenta and Bean Bowl

  • 1 cup coarse corn meal
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • Jarred salsa (we usually buy Green Mountain Gringo Hot or Medium)
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • Pickled red onions
  1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, and add 1 cup cornmeal, turn down heat, and stir for a few minutes until cornmeal magically turns into polenta. When thickened, stir in 1 T olive oil, and 1-2 cloves chopped garlic.
  2. Meanwhile, heat beans with the salsa until heated through.
  3. Serve the polenta topped with the bean mixture and garnished with sliced avocado and pickled red onions.

A note about canned beans: There has been A LOT of press about the safety of the Bisphenol-A (BPA) content of canned products lately. While I do tend to use BPA-free tomatoes in cartons (Pomi is my favorite), I do keep canned beans in my pantry for nights like this, and I probably will continue to do so. However, as part of our CSA this summer, in addition to our veggies, tomato, herb and garlic shares from Golden Earthworm, and a fruit share from Briermere, we signed up for a grain, bean and flour share from Cayuga Pure Organics. Actually, we were so excited that we signed up for 2 shares of each–we’ll be getting 2 pounds of beans, 2 pounds of grain, and 4 pounds of flour per month. So I will be experimenting with cooking many more dried beans over the next 6 months. I am super stoked to have virtually ALL of our food needs met by local, organic, sustainable producers. Go Tuv Ha’Aretz CSA!

Can Jam May: Spicy Pickled Asparagus

As some of you know, I have committed to [hot water bath] canning one seasonal ingredient per month for all 12 months of 2010 as part of The Tigress Can Jam. For the May Can Jam, we were given a choice between asparagus and rhubarb. I was STOKED to make rhubarb preserves, but since my CSA doesn’t start until June 1st and the grocers around here are limited, I couldn’t find any rhubarb. So, asparagus it is…. The asparagus I’m using is from Peru, though, so it’s not that seasonal, and certainly not local. Lately I’ve been making super-small batches for my Can Jam entries, and it’s for just that very reason–why preserve something that isn’t really worth preserving? Once my CSA starts on June 1st, I’ll be getting a bounty of fresh, local, organic produce weekly, and I hope to increase the yield of my recipes. The below recipe yields 1 tall jelly jar–what is that a 12-ouncer?

Recipe modified from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving. If you are new to canning, ONLY use recipes in published books and follow canning instructions rigorously.

Spicy Pickled Asparagus

  • Enough asparagus to fill 1 12-oz jar (trim off woody end)
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon pickling salt
  • 1/2 t red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  1. Clean jar and lid; prepare canner. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read THIS post from Tigress.
  2. Bring to a boil in a saucepan: vinegar, salt, pepper flakes, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and garlic. When boiling, add asparagus and simmer for 2 minutes.
  3. Pack asparagus tip side down into jar (this way the pretty tips don’t get damaged when removing them later–a Ball trick!). Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar leaving 1/2 inch headspace; remove air bubbles with a chopstick, and adjust headspace as needed. Clean rim, and place lid on center of jar. Screw on band until fingertip-tight.
  4. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner; then turn off heat. Wait 5 minutes, remove jar, cool and store.

In Chinese medicine, the Spring season corresponds to the sour flavor. I have really been craving sour, vinegary foods lately, and I’m hoping that with the super vinegary pickling brine and ample spices these will be a spicy-savory Spring time treat. I will report back when we eat them.

Alexäbars: Homemade Laräbars

I was famished and running late for a meeting the other day, so I ducked into a health food store for a snack. My go-to on-the-go snacks are Laräbars since they are all natural, delicious and filling. I grabbed an “Apple Pie” Laräbar; the ingredients are dates, almonds, apples, walnuts, raisins, and cinnamon. That’s it–no preservatives or flavorings! It was then I had an epiphany: Laräbars are really just Sephardic Charoset, the traditional apple and date spread eaten on Passover to symbolize mortar used to build the pyramids. And it was then I had my second epiphany: I can make this at home! The next day the experimentation began…

Homemade Alexäbars

  • 15 dried, pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnimon
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Put all ingredients into the bowl of a sturdy food processor and pulse until blended well; the mixture should be able to stick together in a ball if you take a bit and roll in your hands.
  2. Line a small baking sheet or pie tin with parchment and place date/nut mixture on it, with another piece of parchment on top. Smooth out the mixture with a rolling pin or the back of a large spoon. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from refrigerator, and peel of the top layer of parchment. Cut into desired shape. Wrap individual bars in plastic wrap and store in fridge.

This was the first batch, and it was surprisingly easy, as long as you have a sturdy food processor. For my next batch, I plan to up the seasonings, maybe adding more cinnamon or cardamom. Now, the next time I’m running late for a meeting, I’ll reach into my bag for an Alexäbar!