Simple Ideas Preserving Your Food

It is October, and as the days inch towards winter, there is a frantic rush to harvest what is left in our gardens and find a place in the cupboards, pantries, coolers and freezers. You see it at the markets too, with displays stocked full and overflowing with fresh eating produce, cabbages, greens, gourds, squashes and roots. It is delightful!

Elena apples

My favorite season for cooking is autumn. The heat of the kitchen seeps out into the rest of our house, staving off the morning and evening chills that punctuate this time of year, while I happily chop, stir, simmer and bake the hours away, not only putting food on the table, but putting food “by” for the cold days of winter.

Beginning in September, we are making apple cider, sauce and butter, picking herbs and hardy greens for the freezer, grabbing garden tomatoes for ripening, freezing whole or making chutney and looking forward to the fall berry season. By October, we are picking what is left in the garden for storage in our makeshift root cellar and the various drawers where we can tuck every onion, potato and squash we have harvested or bartered for. By November 1, with only a few hardy vegetables that like the cold, we are putting beds away for the winter and preserving what we can.

There are many ways to preserve food; some are simple and some are not, but most everyone can preserve a good portion of food and stock their larders. With a few simple tools, some supplies and a range, see below for some ideas of how to preserve our favorite vegetables.

Elena chardFreezing: If you have plenty of freezer space, freezing your food is a fantastic way to preserve fresh food quickly, safely and with nutrition intact. Some foods require blanching or cooking, while others just need a quick rinse and an airtight seal.

 

  • Try freezing whole tomatoes, berries, apple slices, peeled cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped onions.
  • With a pot of boiling water and a colander, you can blanch (boil briefly) and drain greens like spinach, chard, kale as well as vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots before freezing in bags.
  • For herbs like parsley, cilantro and basil, process into a paste with olive oil and then freeze the resulting pesto/pistou into ice cube trays or roll into logs, wrap in parchment and plastic first.

Canning: There are two methods of canning and lots of great information on the interweb, magazine articles and in books to give you the details, but the main thing to remember is that high-acid foods (berries, citrus) can be canned using the water bath method and low-acid foods (most vegetables, meats) can be canned using the pressure cooker method. Check out this site for more information.

Dry Salting: Different from pickling, which uses a salt AND acid based brine, salting is an ancient and very simple way to preserve food. The salt brings out the moisture from food and makes it “inhospitable” to the microbes and bacteria that would normally cause spoilage. Lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, use a low salt concentration to not only protect against spoilage, but also to create an environment that welcomes gut-friendly bacteria. High salt methods of preserving create an inhospitable environment for ALL bacteria and is still used by some to preserve things like green beans.

  • Layer shredded carrots and zucchini, sliced onion, minced garlic with sea or kosher salt and pack tightly into canning jars with lids. “Burb” the jars everyday to prevent buildup of pressure. Refrigerate or store at 40F or less to stop fermentation and keep.
  • Make kimchi or sauerkraut out of cabbage, radishes, carrots and onions. Use a wet brine of salt and keep vegetables submerged and away from air.
  • Check out the site Home Preserving Bible for a great collection of tips, techniques and recipes on dry salting.

Elena canningSyrups and Shrubs: Both of these old fashioned methods work especially well for berries and other fruit, but I have had equal luck with tomatoes, herbs and spices too. Use them in beverages, dressings and marinades!

  • For syrups, mix together two cups of berries, one cup of water and one cup of granulated sugar in a pot. Bring to a slow boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour the syrup, solids and all, into a wide mouth canning jar and cap. Let cool completely before refrigerating.
  • For the old fashioned shrubs, make an infused vinegar then turn that into a syrup. Check out detailed, but simple, instructions at The Kitchn.

HerbsButters: An often overlooked way of preserving some herbs and fruits is by making compound butters. With sharp knife, you can make quick work of herbs and fruits, mixing and mashing them into softened butter. When done, roll logs of butter into parchment and freeze or put into ice cube trays and pop the frozen chunks into a freezer bag for easier storage.

  • Herb butter of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Call it Scarbo-butter Faire, just for fun.
  • Fruit butter of blueberry, cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt
  • Basil or cilantro butter mixed with garlic
  • Hot pepper butter with lemon rind

 

 

by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL‘s Everyday Chef

Grilled Cauliflower “Steaks”

I visited Sonnax Industries last month to give a cooking demonstration during their lunch hour. I grilled cauliflower “steaks” and they were such  hit, I just had to share it with Everyday Chef.

This incredibly simple dish will catapult cauliflower from the ho-hum “boring” vegetable group into the star of any meal. And, the best part is that it cooks in less than 15 minutes AND doesn’t leave you with a mess in the kitchen.

Cauliflower heads

Cauliflower comes in lots of colors. I found your traditional white heads along with purple heads and a beautiful light orange-colored head that is called “cheddar”. This recipe works with any color – so go wild.

Cauliflower is in season now – and it’s never too cold to grill. So, find some local cauliflower and start cooking!

Grilling cauliflower steaks

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks

1 head local cauliflower
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp honey
3 Tbsp Emeril’s Essence seasoning (or any other spice concoction you like)
1 tsp salt

Trim stem and leaves from cauliflower head. Slice head in half and then cut 1/2″-1″ “steaks” from the inside of each half. There will be some crumbles of cauliflower, especially as you get closer to the outside of the head. Use a grill basket for the pieces that are too small for your grill grate.

Mix the olive oil, garlic and honey together and brush on both sides of the “steaks”. Then sprinkle both sides of each piece with the seasoning and salt. I often take the easy way out and use Emeril’s Essence, a pre-mixed spice bland, but you can season with chili or cayenne to make it spicy, or go Indian with a little curry powder.

Place on pre-heated grill and sear each side of the cauliflower then lower the heat, close lid and cook until tender. Serve as the main course or as a side dish.

Anytime Vegetable Curry

Curry has been on my dinner rotation quite often lately. Maybe you tried the eggplant one I shared with you recently. Well here’s another take on this versatile dish and a little more info on how to make it your own.

What is curry you ask? I made a vegetable curry with some kids at Grace Church in Rutland the other evening and I asked them the same question. I was impressed with their responses, as well as their enthusiasm to try everything as I chopped up the vegetables. And they were eager to chat about some of the foods they cook at home. Keep cooking guys and awesome job parents!

They said curry is a spice, a sauce and vegetables. And that’s pretty much accurate. Curry can refer to the dish itself. In this instance, curry means the sauce, vegetables and whatever else that make up the dish. Curry can also refer to a spice blend, made up of a number of different spices. Curry blends might include coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, red pepper, cinnamon, cloves, mustard seeds, or garlic. And third, curry is a leaf from a curry tree.

People often think that curry is spicy, and this isn’t always true. The powdered spice labeled simply as “curry” in stores is actually often on the sweet side. But there are many other varieties with a bit more kick available. You can also make your own if you have spices you want to use up and want to control the heat. I like Alton Brown’s basic curry spice, but suggest toasting the spices before grinding to really bring out their flavor.

Often, I use a paste, like the one pictured here. I don’t use too many condiment-like products in my cooking, but this is one I don’t mind buying rather than making. I have made it before but found it doesn’t keep as nicely. If you want to give it a go, here’s the one I tried. It’s vaguely similar to the dry spice mix but has some fresh ingredients, like chiles, garlic, tomatoes and vinegar in addition to the spices. You can find both Indian and Thai pastes, in varying heat levels, available in most stores. I find they keep well for some time in the fridge.

This time, I used a mix of veggies that I had hanging around, which having just finished clearing out the very last of my community garden plot, is quite a few. It’s that time of year when there seems to be a mix of everything with fall crops now here. Broccoli, beans, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are just a few popping up back at market. What’s great with this recipe, is that you can sub in the veggies you like no matter the time of year.

Here’s everything that went in the curry. Leeks, cauliflower, cooked winter squash, corn I had frozen from the summer, and a red pepper. That tomato never actually made it.

Tofu was my protein of choice. And coconut milk made for a nice sauce to the dish. It also makes this more of a Thai curry than Indian.

I start with the leeks then add in the peppers and the paste mixed with just a little of the milk. After a few minutes in goes the tofu, milk and cauliflower then the corn and squash.

It doesn’t take long for everything to come together in a vegetable curry – another reason why I’ve been making it so often. It’s quick and I can use whatever I like. By keeping curry paste (or spice) on hand and a few cans (or a carton) of coconut milk, I know I can make this at any time of the year and even last minute.

While everything finishes up, I chop some fresh parsley and toast a little coconut. And you’re done.

 

Anytime Vegetable Curry

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Serving Size: 4-6 servings

These are the ingredients I used this time. Next time, I know it will be different. So just use this as a guide and aim for 6 cups veg with the optional addition of 16oz protein.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 leeks, sliced and rinsed
  • 1 small red pepper, chopped
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons curry paste or powder
  • 2 cups chopped cauliflower
  • 16 ounces cubed tofu
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked, cubed winter squash
  • chopped parsley for serving (optional)
  • toasted coconut for serving (optional)
  • chopped cashews for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a good sized pot over medium heat.
  2. Add in the leeks and cook 2 minutes before tossing in the pepper and the curry paste mixed with just a splash of the coconut milk.
  3. After 2 more minutes add in the cauliflower, tofu and the rest of the milk.
  4. Bring to a simmer and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring once in awhile, then add the squash and corn to the pot.
  5. Cook 5 more minutes then top with the parsley, coconut and/or cashews and serve.

Pink Cauliflower and Potato Soup

I happened to come across another delicious Valentine’s Day dish from the “Healthy.Happy.Life.” Blog and thought I’d share.  All of the recipe and photo credits goes to this wonderful site! This beautiful dish is Pink Cauliflower and Potato Soup.  It’s OK if you can’t find purple cauliflower – you can blend in 1-2 small beets for the same color effect.

Ingredients: 1 head purple cauliflower, remove tough stem/leaves, break into pieces 1 medium russet potato, peeled and chopped 1 cup water from boiling veggies 1 cup plain soy creamer 1-2 tsp maple syrup (optional) 1 medium shallot, sliced 2 tsp olive oil for sauté 2-3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Spices: 3 dashes cayenne (If you’re making this for someone who is sensitive to spice, feel free to leave this one out and add a dash to your own later!) pinch paprika 1/4 tsp lemon pepper spice 1/2 tsp pink salt (to taste)

 

1. Saute the sliced shallots in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes until caramelized. Set aside. 2. Boil a pot of salted water. Add the cauliflower in pieces – and add the peeled/chopped potato. Cook until tender. Do not over cook! Drain water – reserve at least 1 cup. (Yes, the water will be blue) 3. Add the cauliflower, potato, shallots (and oil from shallots), soy creamer, spices, maple and salt. Do not add the vinegar yet. Blend on medium in a Vitamix or food processor until smooth. 4. Add in the vinegar. You will watch the color intensify to a pinkish tone. Blend on low. Do a taste test and add in more pink salt if needed. 5. Your soup will be warm enough to serve right away. Or store in fridge and reheat.

It is so important to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in order to get all of the vitamins, anti-oxidents, fiber and other nutrients your body needs.  Try to regularly add in different colored foods into your recipes to get the healthiest and nutritious meals.  Don’t be afraid to try something new – You may be surprised to find out that potatoes come in blue and carrots in white and purple!  There is way more variety out there than you might think.  A Farmer’s Market is a great place to start your journey for intriguing new color-veggie combinations.  Have fun with it!