Food Mills and Apple Butter

I spent most of a day over the weekend processing the apples we’d picked. It took me that long not because it is a difficult process, but because I had almost forty pounds of fruit to go through. Apples can be kept over the winter in a cool, dry place, so a couple of months in my basement meant that they were still perfectly fine. However, I wanted to turn them into preserves, both for my own pantry and as Christmas gifts.

Back in May I picked up an immaculate second-hand food mill for $7.99, and this was my first chance to try it out. Well, it worked like a charm! No more spending hours and hours peeling and coring my apples before cooking. I just had to cut them in quarters, and then run the lot through the food mill once it was all cooked soft. It saved me so much time. I really wish I’d found a food mill years ago!

Then I cooked the resulting applesauce down with some cinnamon and honey in a slow cooker for about 24 hours, until it had halved in volume. This was just under half of the applesauce that I made; the rest will go in another batch. As you can see, it starts really light-coloured before the cinnamon is stirred in and it starts to oxidize.

This was the end result: just over two litres of apple butter. I’d estimate that about 17lbs of apples was rendered down into these nine tasty little jars. I still have another batch to go, with one medium-sized container of applesauce in the freezer to be used in baked goods over the winter. There are some lovely recipes for applesauce quick breads, yeast breads, and cakes out there that I’d like to try (or re-try)!

Golden Berries

A while back, just in time for my annual Halloween party, I was shopping for fruits and veggies from Costco to include on some platters. On a whim, I picked up a box of golden berries, which I honestly thought I’d never seen before. After a little bit of research at home, I discovered that they’re also called “ground cherries” or “husk cherries”, which I’d actually seen at the farmers’ market, and I’d seen the plants at the garden center. Despite the names, they’re not cherries at all; they’re part of the nightshade family, and are more closely related to tomatoes. The berries grow inside of paper husks that strongly resemble Chinese lantern plants. Apparently they’re pretty common to grow (varieties are native throughout the US and Mexico), but aren’t sold commercially here very often, which is why I wasn’t familiar with them.

I discovered that golden berries are a strongly sweet/tart flavour that is really hard to describe, except to say that they are delicious! They have a texture similar to a very meaty tomato, something like a less-juicy Roma. I served them as-is, but later I went back to the store for more and included them sliced in half in salads, and blended into smoothies. When garden planning season rolls around next year, I think I will try to add a few golden berry plants to see how they like my soil. I’ve had good luck with tomatoes and satisfactory harvests of potatoes, but my peppers haven’t fared nearly as well, so who knows how this new nightshade-family plant will fare. I’ve read that they can even be perennials, but sadly that’s for Zone 8 and above; it gets much too cold here in the winter.

What I’d really like to do is make golden berry jam next fall, since I found the fruit’s flavour to be a refreshing change to the usual fare around here. I mean, I could do it with store-bought fruit this year, but at $5.99 for 340g (which might maybe make a single jar), making a batch is a tad out of my budget.

Pierogies

We ate a lot of pierogies when I was growing up, not because I am of Central or Eastern European heritage, or at least not recently enough that we have any record of it. Rather, frozen pierogies from the grocery store were cheap, easy, filling, and tasty, and hence made a good family meal.

Last night I boiled up some frozen potato-and-onion pierogies, then I fried them lightly in bacon fat and topped them with freshly chopped bacon bits and fried onion. I served them with (lactose-free) sour cream.

When my kids asked what was for dinner and had no idea what a pierogi is, I realized how long it has been since I had made this dinner for the family. I guess I was just trying to keep the food fresh, or at least homemade. Given the warm reception that this dish received and the speed with which the kids gobbled them down, I think I’ll have to make them again sometime soon.

However, what I’d really like to do is make them myself, perhaps in a large batch to freeze for future use. Homemade pierogies have always been on my list of things to learn how to make, ever since a friend of mine’s mother served me fresh ones at a sleepover when I was a child. They are so good. I guess I have been intimidated by the way that every family seems to have a secret recipe that they proclaim to be the best, and that only proper grandmothers have the real trick of it. My husband’s maternal grandmother was Polish and promised to teach me all kinds of dishes, but she sadly passed away many years ago, before she could teach me — or my children, who had not yet been born. I think I may just have to find friends with the appropriate heritage and beg them for instruction. We could make a day out of it! And once I have got it down, I could pass it on to my children. After all, even though pierogies are not technically a part of my heritage, they are definitely a part of theirs, and it’s very important to have connections to your culinary roots.

Family Sushi Night

One thing we share as a family is that every single one of us loves sushi. However, we do differ as to which one is our favourite — the best bribe ever to use on Thing 1 is salmon nigiri, while Thing 2 is a big fan of a California roll or any maki with shrimp tempura in it, my husband prefers hand rolls (temaki), while I actually like sashimi (just the fish/seafood), possibly with a bowl of rice on the side to fill me up.

That being said, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before now to make sushi at home. I used to do it all the time in high school and as a young adult; I actually hosted a few dinner parties where we all rolled our own sushi. However, it is very time consuming for one person to make a family’s worth, and I guess I just set it aside until I thought the kids were old enough to help me out. But the kids are both old enough now to assemble their own soft tacos or burritos, and sushi uses many of roughly the same techniques, so I thought it was time to give it a go.

Last night I made up a big pot of sushi rice and cut up all kinds of toppings: smoked salmon, cooked shrimp, scrambled egg with a bit of mirin mixed in, cucumber, carrots, and avocado. Then I dug out one rolling mat per person and let everyone assemble their own sushi.

The nice thing about making sushi this way is that everyone can have it just how they like it, although probably not as pretty as they’d like it, that comes with a heck of a lot of practice. I find it surprising that a lot of people around here still assume that sushi automatically equals raw fish, when it’s really all about the vinegared rice. You can top it or roll it with just about anything you’d like. You can even avoid fish or even all animal products altogether, although the purists may take objection to that. But let’s be honest, purists aren’t going to be rolling sushi at home with their six-year-old, they’re going to be paying a very skilled professional chef to create the perfect mouthfuls.

I really liked the combination of the saltiness of the smoked salmon with the sweet egg and the crunch of cucumber.

The egg-and-shrimp roll I made could have used a little more punch; perhaps I should pick up some spicy Japanese mayo for next time?

My husband’s rolls generally turned out nicer-looking than mine, except, of course, when I went to take a picture. His egg, cucumber, and shrimp roll tasted pretty good, though.

After a couple of messy (if tasty) attempts at maki sushi rolls, the girls tried their hands at hand rolls, which are the closest in assembly to a taco, which is where there experience lies.

We had a really good time making and eating this dinner, and I’m starting to think I should have introduced homemade sushi long before now. I loved watching the kids’ faces light up when I told them that we could actually make sushi at home. Not only that, but it’s a pretty healthy meal that’s infinitely customizable. We are definitely going to do this again, and soon. It needs to become a regular thing in my house again.

Spicy Green Tomato Chutney

I spent most of yesterday evening and well into the night putting up the last of the green tomatoes — not only my own, but a whole bunch of them from a friend’s garden as well. Sadly, I waited a bit too long and some of them had spoiled, but I did have a satisfactory result nonetheless.

That’s twenty 250mL jars of spicy Green Tomato Chutney, the recipe for which can be found on page 208 of The Canadian Living Complete Preserving Book (2012). I’ve made a few versions of this chutney over the years (I believe I have at least four versions in different cookbooks on my shelf, let alone the ones that can be found online), but this is by far my favourite. I was really happy with how it turned out this year! I made it a little hotter than usual by including the jalapeno seeds, but otherwise I kept the recipe the same. I labeled mine as “spicy” this year, and it does have some heat, but given that chutney originates in India, it’s not the spiciest one out there by far. To me, it’s just spicy enough to pack a nice punch.

Chutney is supposed to be savoury and sweet and spicy all at the same time. Preserving says this version is especially good with eggs in the morning, but I would say that it is great on a sandwich or grilled cheese or burger, with cold cheese, with most meats, with roast potatoes or other veggies, as a dip or a glaze… Basically, if you want to take the flavour of anything savoury up a notch, chutney is perfect. And now I have five liters of it, some of which will stay in my pantry, and some of which will become Christmas gifts.

Comfort Food for a Sick Family

The cold/flu that flattened our family for a good three weeks seemed to have gone away, but over the last few days it reared its nasty head again, albeit in a more subdued form. Thing 1 ended up home with a fever, while at the same time Thing 2 has a nasty, chesty cough. I am not immune, and still have sinus congestion and pressure issues. This means that, on our least-energetic days, we all want comfort food, and I haven’t felt up to cooking anything complicated.

This is where chicken noodle soup came in the other day. I didn’t even have to go out to get the ingredients! I had homemade broth in the freezer (I try to always keep it stocked), along with some chicken thighs that I baked. Then I boiled up some ditali noodles, threw them in a pot with half of the broth and half of the chicken, and there was chicken noodle soup for the family. Earlier in the day I also managed to throw on a loaf of herb-free Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread (it’s become my go-to loaf for a nice, light white bread), so we had fresh bread to go with the soup.

Now, you may have noticed that I only used half of the broth and chicken, and that was so that I would have leftovers. Chicken noodle soup doesn’t generally refrigerate well because the noodles swell up and absorb most/all of the liquid over time. Instead, I refrigerated the ingredients separately, and last night I threw them all in a pot with a half of a cup of rice and simmered it all together until the rice was cooked (about 20 minutes).

It’s nothing fancy, but culturally our first go-to around here is chicken noodle soup when we’re not feeling well. If chicken noodle soup isn’t available, something bland, nutritious, and warm is the next option on the list. It seems to have worked this time, because the girls are already getting their energy back. I hope this means we’ve managed to kick this thing for good — knock on wood!

Pumpkin-centric Weekend

It seems like I spent the majority of my time over this past weekend dealing with pumpkins. On Friday night I cooked up all three of my orange jack-o-lanterns (I had two white ones as well, but they had white flesh and a melon-like consistency, so I decided they probably wouldn’t cook up well with the more traditional kind). Even without the white pumpkins, I think I will have enough to last me for a while.

This is all going into the freezer for now, but a good quantity of it will become pumpkin butter as soon as I deal with the other fresh food in my fridge that I have to put up. I did a lot better this year with regards to processing my pumpkin in a timely manner, since I only got to it at the start of December. I mean, it hadn’t spoiled, but I was definitely running slow. I didn’t have a lot of leeway this year since the gourds were already carved, and once the innards are exposed to the air they can go bad pretty quickly.


Photo by Karen Turnbull

Then on Saturday I headed out to Metcalfe where the South Tower Armouring Guild was hosting their annual Great Pumpkin Massacre. Basically, sword handling enthusiasts get together with their weapons and take turns using them on pumpkins, which are bought by the truckload after Halloween. People also bring along their Halloween pumpkins and carved jack-o-lanterns. All kinds of weapons are used in the “massacre”: swords, axes, knives, maces, sledgehammers, machetes… No projectile weapons, though! Everybody just hangs out and has fun practicing their technique and/or venting their frustrations in a safe environment on some inanimate gourds. It may sound silly to some, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Looking back through my photos I realized that I’ve actually been attending this event for eleven years! The above photo was taken by a good friend of mine back in 2009, on a year when the weather was much nicer. I didn’t even bring my camera this year because it was raining and I didn’t want to chance getting it wet. (And yes, the sword I’m holding in the picture is taller than I am. It belongs to a much taller person. Yes, I can wield it. No, I cannot wield it well.)

Although I took the above photo of a friend of mine in 2014, it’s a better representation of the weather we had yesterday — and everyone was even more bundled up than this! And muddy. Very, very muddy. It was very cold and wet, with wind that just drove the moist, cold air right through your warm woollies. We still had a good time, but it would have been better if the weather had been lovely and sunny like it was on Sunday.

Pumpkin Massacre 2018 Slo-Mo

As you can see, despite the weather the pumpkin horde met their demise. I think that this year’s weapon of choice was the sledgehammer, specifically because it makes the pumpkins splat so nicely.

I’d like to say a big thank you to STAG for hosting and coordinating this event every year. It has been one of the highlights of my autumn for eleven years now.