Monday, July 29, 2013

Easy Garlic Dill Pickles

I love dill pickles. My family loves dill pickles. My friends love dill pickles (well, most of them).  I go through a lot of jars of dills in a year!  For non-fermented dill pickles, this recipe has worked the best for me- they end up full of garlicy, dilly goodness.


2-3 lbs of pickling cucumbers
Dill weed (about 10 individual heads, or more)
Garlic (about 20 garlic bulbs are needed)

Pickling solution:
2 cups of vinegar
2 cups of water (filtered water preferably)
2 tbsp of pickling salt
Pinch of sugar if you don't like a vinegary, strong tasting pickle

I usually get about 5 pint sized jars from this recipe.

To get started, prep your garlic by getting the bulbs ready.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Peach-Habanero Jam Goodness

A couple of years ago, I stumbled on a recipe for a peach-jalapeno jelly.  I had a basket of peaches that were fresh and juicy and happened to also have a couple of jalapenos so I went for it.  I found it a bit tricky to get the right consistency- I played around with the pectin the recipe called for and yet it wasn't setting properly. I kept it though, and we loved using it on savoury items- it was perfect with chicken, as an example, and had a great mix of sweet and spicy.

This year, I thought about trying it again when I saw a beautiful basket of in-season peaches.  I decided to crank up the heat a little more by swapping out the jalapenos and adding habaneros in its place and making a jam instead of a jelly.  I also decided to try it without pectin.

Tip: if you're curious about how much heat habaneros have compared to jalapenos, you can review the Scoville scale here.

2 lbs of ripe peaches
Hot pepper of your choice (you can use as little as you like, and as a tip- don't include the pith or seeds if you want to reduce the heat).  I used 3 habanero peppers in this one.
1 full cup of vinegar with at least 5% acidity (I used a local blueberry vinegar from Boates)
3/4 cup of clover honey (I used a local honey from the farmers' market)
2 cups of sugar
Makes about 5 half pint jars.

The first step is to remove the skins from the peaches.  The easiest way to do this is to lightly mark an X on the peach and then put them into a pot of boiling water for 60-90 seconds.  Remove them from the pot and put them into a bowl of cold water.  Let them cool for 2-3 minutes, then you can peel off the skins.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fermenting Dill Pickles

I took the plunge and finally tried the fermentation process to make sour deli-style pickles.  Now that I'm comfortable with the hot water bath canning process and have had many successful fridge pickle attempts, I wanted a new challenge.  Last year while on vacation in Cape Cod, I found a beautiful crock at an antique store. I inspected it for damage and found none. It is the perfect tool to use in my experiment.

I washed the crock thoroughly before using it.  We picked up gorgeous little pickling cucumbers at the Alderney farmers' market and gave them a good wash (in plain cold water) and scrub.  Make sure to use pickling cucumbers (Kirby is a good variety) that are fresh. Tip: they aren't covered in wax like those sold at grocery stores and as a result, you need to use them quickly- they don't have a long life even if in the fridge.  I try to use them either the same day, or next day, after getting them at the market.

We took off the blossom end (they can spoil the pickle flavour) of each cucumber.  I prepared a brine of 2 litres of spring water with 6 tablespoons of sea salt, bringing it to a boil so it would dissolve.  I put about 6 cloves of garlic in the bottom of the crock and 4 heads of dill weed (also bought at the farmers' market this morning).  Then, I put the cucumbers in until they filled the crock about 3/4 of the way to the top.  I poured the brine solution over them.

I then filled a small ziploc bag with water and placed it over the top of them as a weight to keep the cucumbers submerged.  Then, put the crock's lid in place and set it on our buffet in the dining room.  I'll transfer the crock to a cool, dark place (likely our storage room in the basement) and will check in and skim it daily.  I'm excited to see how this works! I'll post updates as it progresses.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Berry Delicious!

I love my family's recipe for cinnamon rolls. They always turn out perfectly and they are easy to make.  They make a roll that is more like the consistency of a tea biscuit than a sticky bun (no offense sticky buns!). There is no yeast in the recipe and it takes all of about 10 minutes to make the dough.  It's a rainy day in Nova Scotia so I thought I'd add a little brightness to the day by swapping out the brown sugar and cinnamon for a layer of my no pectin strawberry jam.

So delicious! Highly recommend this recipe and enjoying one with a cup of coffee or tea.

350 degree oven
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup cold unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 cup cold milk
1 tsp vanilla
Mix dry ingredients together well.  I like to use a food processor to mix everything together. Add cold butter, pulse until the mixture is crumbly.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Garlic Goodness!

Oh garlic, how I love thee.  

When I learned that people were growing garlic locally, I went on a mission to find it. I love garlic- how did I not know people were growing it locally? Where has all the garlic been hiding? Why on earth are grocery stores selling garlic from China? Eeeek!

I didn't have to go too far to find local garlic- I picked up a couple of heads at a market in the Annapolis Valley and almost squealed with excitement.  Local garlic "out-flavours" other garlic by about a thousand percent in my opinion! It's juicier, punchier, and way more interesting.  The first year, I had about 20 heads of garlic planted. This last year, I had 75 or so.  It's addictive and so easy to grow!  Here's how:

I buy garlic from Veseys (along with my veggie and herb seed) each fall.  I take each bulb and soak it overnight in a seaweed solution (we picked up our seaweed powder from a local farmer's feed store) to help protect it from fungus and get it ready for being planted.  I wait until the weather is cool and the ground still workable-- for me in Dartmouth, it's usually late October/early November-- before planting them.  I dig a small hole, about 1.5" deep, and drop each bulb in it, pointy side up.  I then cover it up and layer straw over the area to protect it over the winter months.

Then, after a lot of patience, the magic happens.  Starting in early April, I usually see little plants emerge.  I get super excited because it can only mean one thing: spring is not that far away!

Then, in June/early July, I start to see one of the best features of growing garlic- garlic scapes! They're curly wonders and full of crunch. Patience is required again- let them get long enough so they form a loop then cut them off.  Cutting off the scapes redirects the energy the plant was putting into growing the scapes to filling out the garlic cloves.  Garlic scapes are perfect in fresh salsas, mixed into a pesto, or put into stir fry.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Fave Canning Books

There are a few books about canning that I keep going back to year after year. Some of them are newer publications, some have been around for a while. If you're just getting started, or looking for new additions for your collection, check these out!

Food in Jars
Great website and fantastic book!

Like an encyclopedia of recipes, there is a little bit of everything in this one.

Homemade Living: Canning and Preserving
One of my favourite "how-to" books for getting started with canning. Highly recommend. Her website is great too.

Canadian Living Preserving
Recipe combinations that are unique and inspiring.

Martha's American Food
I love this cookbook for so many reasons (basic recipes, amazing photos, and yes- a few recipes for preserves and pickles).  I'm a big Martha Stewart fan. Her blog is one of my favourites!

Latest From the Garden

Beautiful finds from our garden!  Happy day.

Recipe: Fresh Summer Salsa

I love fresh salsa. Nothing says summertime more than cutting up fresh tomatoes from the garden, mixing in other seasonal ingredients, adding lime juice and sea salt then digging in with tortilla chips. I have been making this salsa for several years now and it is my go-to recipe for gatherings and snacks.

Cut up 4-5 plum tomatoes into small pieces 
Cut up 1/2 a red onion into small pieces
Cut up 1/2 red, yellow and green pepper into small pieces
Cut up a jalapeno pepper very small/fine
Cut up a good sized handful of fresh cilantro  
Smash 1 clove of garlic and chop it finely
Mix everything together
Mix 3 tbsp of fresh lime juice with 4 tbsp good olive oil. Once combined,pour over the salsa mix. Add salt (preferably a coarse, sea salt) to taste- about 1/2 tsp should be lots.  Put a bit of cracked black pepper to taste.

There are many ways to play around with the recipe- add a bit of chopped mango or pineapple for some zing, or add a bit of feta and avocado to make it creamier.  Tip: when adding feta and avocado, I replace lime juice with red wine vinegar. 

Let it sit for 15 minutes and then go for it!

Which Jar is a Good Canning Jar?

I love vintage jars. I wonder what they were used for? Who used them? I particularly love the blue Ball jars from the early 1900s.  This year, Ball is reintroducing them to celebrate their 100th year.  

As much as I love vintage jars, I never use them in canning. Never ever. Here's why: their lids aren't safe because they don't seal properly and many vintage jars have wear and tear (chips/cracks that you may not even see easily) that would jeopardize the safety of the contents. Meaning bacteria and other bad stuff could get in there.  

If you need to read tips about safe canning procedures, I highly recommend these resources:

National Center for Home Food Preservation:
Government of Canada Home Canning:

I like to use my vintage jars as a display and as vases.  How do you use yours?

I Heart Urban Gardening

Growing up, my grandfather had a backyard garden that he was so proud of. He'd run into the house, carrying cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes and then proceed to grab a knife and cut off a piece of cuke (as he called it) and urge me to try it. "Have you ever had anything so good?" he'd ask. I was around six years old and remember being in awe of what he had grown. It was so fresh tasting, so juicy and just sooo good.  

Years later, once we bought our house, I looked at our backyard and thought of the possibilities.  I then purchased a few books to research backyard gardening.  I loved reading about containers and raised beds and decided to try it. My handy hubby built a few raised beds using cedar and  I purchased a few large containers.  In our first year, we had many tomatoes, zucchini, beans and a failed attempt at cucumbers. We also had a large rhubarb patch at the back of the yard.  Year two, we added a few more raised beds and a cover for one of them to help extend the growing year.  Year three and four, we kept adding.  We're at the point now where we have 14 various-shaped raised beds and I couldn't be happier. 

I'm growing various heirloom varieties of tomatoes, have lots of different beans and peas, finally succeeded with cukes and Swiss chard, and am growing hot peppers. I also added an apple tree, cherry tree and peach tree to our backyard. I also can't forget to mention our adventures in garlic. Last year, we successfully grew about 20 plants and this year we're up to 75! It's amazing to watch them grow. 

Below are photos from our adventures- I'll commit to keeping the blog updated with our progress and will share tips and tricks as I discover them. 

Don't be afraid to give it a try- even the smallest of balconies can support a pot of tomatoes or beans.  It's super easy and very rewarding to dig in!

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

I love mixing rhubarb with strawberries to make a tart jam- the kind of jam that when you taste it, you get the mix of sweet with tart, and your jaw tingles a little. It's perfect for toast and in the cold winter months, it is a nice reminder of summer.  I don't use pectin for this recipe, it's a personal preference now given the chat I had with my great aunt (see earlier post).  I start off with 4 cups of cut up fresh, local rhubarb (local as in I grew it in one of my garden beds!) cut into 1" pieces. I add 2 cups of cut up fresh, local strawberries and mix them together in my non-stick Dutch oven pot.  I add 3 cups of sugar and then bring them to a boil.  I let it boil at medium heat, skimming off the foam during the process.  Once it reduces, I use the same process as I've used for the strawberry jam- sterilized jars, hot water bath, etc.  The jam is delicious! 

Old-fashioned Strawberry Jam, With a Twist!

I have been testing strawberry jam recipes for the past few years, trying to perfect it to be just like my late grandmothers'.  Too sweet, too thick, too syrupy, too runny- I have experienced it all. Then, after visiting with my grandmother's sister, I finally learned her secret.  

Very quickly, after describing my attempts at perfecting my jam, her 87-year old sister said "my dear, are you using pectin? If you are, get rid of it. That's why it hasn't turned out."  I was confused at first, but then prompted her for more details. She said that pectin starting being used in the 50s (according to her) to help make more of the jam- it made the fruit "go further".  She said it acted as a thickener so you wouldn't reduce your jam as much and would have more. A-ha!  Turns out there are lots of recipes for pectin-free jam.  I decided to give it a whirl. 

I used approximately 6 cups of fresh, local, juicy strawberries, 4 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, one stem of basil and 2.5 cups of sugar.  I didn't want anything too sweet and the strawberries were already naturally sweet. 

 I mashed up the strawberries in my non-stick dutch oven pot, then poured the sugar over them.  I added the vinegar and basil.  I brought it to a boil, skimming off the foam that developed.  I removed the basil stem about 1/2 way through the process.  I kept stirring (with a wooden spoon), skimming, and stirring some more.  I let it boil at a medium heat until it reduced quite a bit to the consistency I was looking for.  In total, it was about 25 minutes from the start to this point.  It will vary for each of us, depending on altitude, water content in the fruit, and heat from the stove. 
Checking for consistency
I then followed safe canning procedures to get them sealed in jars.  I checked my jars for cracks and chips and made sure they were okay. I sterilized them. I put the lids in a simmering pot of hot water to soften the sealant.  I brought my canning pot to a rolling boil (why is it that I always end up canning on a hot day?).  I then filled each jar, leaving about 1/4" of headspace in each jar.  I cleaned around the rim of the jar to make sure there was no sticky mess.  I put the lids on, then screw bands.  I submerged the jars onto the rack at the bottom of the canning pot, making sure each jar was completely covered. I put the lid back on, made sure it was at a rolling boil, and started timing the process. I kept them in there for 10 minutes, and used pint jars.  After 10 minutes, I removed them, put them on my cooling rack with space around them, and listened for the glorious "pop" sound.  Once they were cooled, I made sure the seal was made (the center of the lid should not be raised), labelled them, and stored them in a cool cupboard. They're going to make great gifts! 

Quick Dill Pickles

It's a wonderful time of year at the farmers markets in Nova Scotia. During my weekly visit to the Alderney market in Dartmouth, I found beautiful pickling cucumbers.  I wasn't ready to do a full canning process of making dills or bread & butter pickles with a hot water bath canning method-- it was 40 degrees Celcius yesterday with the humidex-- so I decided to go with a fridge pickle recipe.   

I used approx 2 lbs of cucumbers, sliced them thinly with the food processor. I also thinly sliced two white onions-- also from the market.  I submerged them in cold water with ice, and poured pickling salt all over them. I used 1 cup of salt.  I then mixed it up and covered them with saran wrap. I like using a metal bowl as it gets super cold.  I put them in the fridge for about 18 hours.  Even one hour can be enough to chill them.

The next morning, I prepared a brine solution, using 2 cups of water, 2 cups of white vinegar, and 2 tbsp of pickling salt; I brought it to a boil. Note: this is a sour, vinegary solution. If you're not a fan of a strong vinegar flavour, you can add a bit of sugar to it to balance it a bit more.  I prepared 3 quart jars, checking to make sure there were no cracks or chips and sterilized them. I filled the jars with 1 head of dill-- also purchased at the market.  I added 2 cloves of garlic that we grew in our garden.  I rinsed the cucumber and onion mixture very well, removing the salt solution.  I then packed each jar with the vegetables.  Once the brine reached a rolling boil, I poured the solution into the jars.  I then used a wooden spoon to remove air bubbles, put a lid on each jar, sealed them and waited for them to cool before placing in the fridge. I'll let them sit for 48 hours before we dig in. They're perfect for burgers, sausages, or a side dish.  So fresh and dilly! 


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