Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A chilled soup and more whining about the heat and humidity.

It's in the 90s today. The kind of day where all you want to do is lay in front of the fan and drink ice cold water. I made a chilled tomato and veggie soup. I love gazspacho a lot. The challenge for me when making it is keeping it from tasting like a big bowl of salsa or tomato sauce. I do believe I have solved that problem. Today I used lemon juice, fresh basil and fresh mint. The combination of these three ingredients keeps it fresh, light and just a wee bit tart. I scarfed down a big bowl when I was done. It was quite refreshing. This was also fantastically easily.

Use whatever summer vegetables you have on hand. Dice them small, about the size of a pea. I used green peppers, an English cucumber, green onions, celery and red cabbage. It's what I had on hand and it's what I like. English cucumbers are less watery than a traditional cucumber, which is nice here. Summer squash might be nice here, but remove the seeds. You really want veggies with a little crunch. The small diced pieces make this feel more like a soup.

Slice some French bread very thin then cut those slices into quarters. I used my favorite multigrain baguette.

Fry up the bread bits in butter and olive oil. It's okay, the soup is all healthy veggies.

Serve well chilled with the croutons on top. Yummy! This might also be good with a little goat cheese too.

Chilled Summer Tomato Soup

2 large cans whole peeled tomatoes, including the juice
1 TBSP fresh garlic, rough chopped
2 TBSP fresh basil, rough chopped
2 TBSP fresh mint, rough chopped
1 green jalapeno, rough chopped (optional)
juice of two lemons
1 cup diced English cucumber
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup diced celery
1 cup thinly sliced green onion
1 cup finely chopped red cabbage

In a large bowl, blend well the two cans of peeled tomatoes using a stick blender. Add garlic, basil, mint, jalapeno, and lemon juice to bowl and blend again. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Chill for about an hour to allow flavors to marry.


Use about 4 inches of baguette and slice thin. Cut these slices into quarters. Fry in a hot saute pan with 2 TBSP butter and 2 TBSP olive oil until golden brown. Use as a garnish for chilled soup.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fried tofu...how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I live in North Carolina. For those of you who don't know, it gets hot here. Really, really hot and humid. Just so you know I'm not being overly dramatic here, last August we didn't have a single day under 100 degrees. We've already had a couple 100 degree days. When it's that hot out I don't want to eat. Except maybe a tomato sandwich. A nice whole grain bread, mayo, salt and pepper and slices of tomatoes. Yum. It's officially tomato season here, you know. I never liked tomatoes until I moved to North Carolina. Now I can't get enough of them. On a summer day in tomato season you'll see tons of tomatoes at the Farmer's Market...Big Boys, German Johnsons, green tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, ugly tomatoes, tiny grape tomatoes, you name it they grow it. The best part is that they all come from a distance of less than 45 minutes away. If you're really lucky, you might get some picked that day that are still warm from the sun. But I digress. I did hit the ol' Farmer's Market the other day and have tons of fixins for salads. I'll be posting my recipes shortly.

This was dinner tonight. Dalat vermicelli with fried tofu. I may have spoken before how I love Asian food. Vietnamese is one of my favorites. I always feel really good after I eat Vietnamese food. What we have here is one of my favorite dishes.
Any good Vietnamese joint ought to have a cold vermicelli dish. It couldn't be more simple. You could totally make something like this at home. It's cooked then cooled rice vermicelli. Just like the vermicelli you get in the pasta aisle, it's a long skinny noodle but it's made with rice flour. It's either served beside or on top of a little salad of lettuce, carrot, cucumbers, sometimes daikon radish and green onions. The noodles are then topped with something. Most places have a list of things like grilled pork, shrimp, grilled chicken, tofu (fried or grilled), egg rolls (a Vietnamese version, much lighter than a Chinese egg roll), and you can usually choose a combination of these. It's usually garnished with crushed peanuts, sprigs of cilantro and maybe sauteed green onions if they're fancy. (Beware peanut-free people...steer clear of Vietnamese food. It's pretty peanutty.) It's served with a sauce too. I've almost always have a clear light yellow sauce, based on fish sauce and vinegar I think. It looks suspiciously like a urine sample when you get it to go. (What? I'm just sayin' is all.) Tonight I got the thick red peanutty sauce that I love more than life itself. It's heavy enough on the fish sauce that Elvis went nuts while I was trying to eat it. (PS. He likes rice noodles now.) (He's so international.) I opted for the fried tofu because I love the texture. It's really soft inside and crispy outside. The tofu was topped with a sweet and salty sauce that just about did me in. Seriously, it's good. I ordered a small for $8.50 and got so much food it was all I could do to hold it while I was eating it. If you're within driving distance of Raleigh, you need to hit Dalat, south of NCSU in the Mission Valley Shopping Center. It's upstairs next to Baja Burrito. Be sure to ask for a to go box too. You'll need it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Jam, Part Two

In the last post, we gathered all of our supplies and got set up. Today, we're cooking and canning.

The first step is to prepare your fruit. This means peel the peaches, wash the blueberries, hull the strawberries, pit the cherries, or whatever it is you need to do. You'll also decide how you want your fruit. We're talking about making jam rather than jelly. Personally, jelly seems awfully fiddly to me. I like jam. I dump the fruit in the pot and cook it. I have found that soft strawberries will cook down to a good size on their own, blueberries need a little help from a stick blender, but peaches are a different story. In the past, I made a peach jam. The peaches were nice and soft. Once I peeled them, I was able to squish the fruit off the pit by hand. This time, the fruit seemed a bit stringy to me. Since I had blueberries as well, I whizzed it up with the stick blender. It gave me a nice smooth consistency. Personally, I'm not a big fan of giant pieces of fruit in my jam. You might be. While you're cooking your fruit, decide for yourself if that's what you want. If you feel like it's too chunky, I recommend a stick blender.

Regardless of what kind of pectin you're using, the first thing that needs to happen is bringing the fruit to a boil. For certain fruits, you may need to add lemon juice. Now would be the time to add it. There's always a certain element of chemistry to cooking and baking. It's extremely important to remember that when making jam. You need to be sure to use the exact amount that the recipe calls for, or else it just won't work. This goes for fruit, lemon juice, and sugar. Measure carefully.

you can see here that my jam has a nice smooth texture. again, personal preference.

Long before this point, you should have thought about pectin. Liquid or powdered? Regular or low sugar?
choices, choices, choices.

I haven't tried the low sugar yet. I have used both liquid and powdered pectin. I like the powdered kind better. I think it makes a better product. I think Paula Deen likes the liquid pectin better. (I think I heard her talking about it on Food Network once.) I'm not one to argue with Miz Paula, so you know. Try them both, see what you think. The difference in the two types of pectin, liquid v. powdered, is the point t which you add the sugar. With liquid pectin, you add the sugar to the fruit and bring to a boil. Then add the pectin and bring to a boil or one minute and voila! You've got jam. The powdered stuff is the opposite. You add the dry pectin to the fruit and boil, adding sugar at the end. Either way, follow the instructions on the package insert.

after I added the pectin and while I was waiting for my fruit to boil, I measured my sugar thusly:

This way, I am ready to go. I can just dump my sugar into the pot when I'm ready, thusly.
please note that I am stirring with a very long spoon.

After carefully following the instructions and adding the sugar and the pectin at the right time, you probably have jam. If you aren't sure, you can test it. Take the pot off the heat. Take the small plate out of the fridge (that I forgot to tell you to put in the fridge...oops) and put a small dab of jam on it. Give it a minute then swipe your finger across it. Does it feel like jam? You can tell. Unless you've never seen jam before. In which case you should find someone who has.

Okay, so we have jam. Hooray! The next step is to put it in jars and preserve it. It is generally not a good idea to use paraffin wax to seal a jar. It's considered and outdated method that can cause more harm than good. Here's information from NCSU on paraffin wax. In the mean time, we're going to use a traditional canning method....the boiling water method. This method is used for preserving fruits and some vegetables (tomatoes, pickles) high in acid. Preserving low- or no-acid foods, such as vegetables or meats, you use a pressure canning method. By this point, our giant black pot of water should be boiling. Here we go!

Let's first take our tray of jars and lids out of the oven. Dump the hot water out of the jars at once using the canning tongs. Remember our mantra? HOT, HOT, HOT. Be careful! Since I am short, I like to put my smoking hot pot of jam in the sink and my tray of glass jars on the counter. I make less of a mess this way. Remember, everything we have is hot, so potential mess means potential burns. Cuidado, amigos! This is also where the canning funnel comes in handy. Put the funnel into a jar and slowly ladle in the jam. I add jam until it's just at the bottom of the funnel. Once you've got the jam into the jars, put the lids on. I think I forgot to tell you that I prepare a few more jars that I think I'm going to need. I have never had a recipe yield what it says it will. I always get more. Better to have a few extra jars here than not enough.

ladle jam into jars, leaving a little room at the top.

Wipe the jars clean if you get any on the top, especially the outside, as it can prevent the jar from getting a good seal. Screw the lids on, nice and tight, but not too tight. Once all the jars are filled and lids are on, head back to the stove. Using the canning tongs, carefully lower the jars into the canning pot. Space them evenly, try not to let them touch. If they do, it's not the end of the world, I've never had any problems with big batches. The jars should be covered with about an inch of water.

trust me, there's enough water here.

You'll let this simmer for 10 minutes. If you're at a higher altitude, process longer. When time's up, pull out of the water and put on a heat and water proof surface. I place mine on a quilted placemat on the counter. As the jars cool, you'll begin to hear a "tink" sound. You'll get one "tink" for each jar. This means you've got a good seal. Once cool enough, you can press down on the lid. If it doesn't give, you've got jam! Give yourself a pat on the back!

tink, tink, tink, tink, tink, tink, tink, tink, tink, tink

Oh, I nearly forgot the most important part. The last step.


There you go, yo. You made jam. It's so easy! It takes me about an hour from start to finish to make a batch of jam. I know, shut up! Seriously, I really thought it would take hours and be a complicated process and require faeries and pixie dust, possibly a dash of holy water. Nope. Take some time to hit the farmer's market to get good fruit. The farmers can tell you what's good for jam. Come home, make jam. It'll take you a couple hours all together.

Don't hesitate to ask me any questions. I'm sure I've left out something here. Let me know if you've made jam! I want to here how it went.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jam, or You can totally do this.

A few years ago, a friend of mine made jam for the first time. I was shocked that it was so ridiculously easy to make. Shocked, I tell you. I immediately went out and bought the supplies. I have never looked back.

Blueberries are in season here. Peaches are just about there. Strawberries are almost done. It's a good time to make jam in North Carolina, folks. I was at the farmer's market a couple weeks ago and found some amazing peaches from South Carolina. I love peaches and blueberries together so I bought a little of both.

I have found that you probably have tools around the house that will work for making jam, but they might not make your life easier. I recommend getting the right tools as much for convenience as safety. You are going to be working with some hot stuff here, a lot of boiling water and boiling fruit pulp and sugar. It splatters. It hurts. Buy the right tools. Before you do, ask a friend. Know anyone who makes jam? Perhaps they can help you with your first batch. Get a feel for it and buy the right tools. It'll cost you about $30 and here's what you need.

a canning funnel.

the bottom is very wide and fits snugly into jam jars.

canning tongs

they fit the top and around the side of canning jars of all sizes.

the canning pot. it's the black one. you can see how much larger it is than my largest stock pot.

be careful! there's a lot of water in here and it needs to come to a vigorous boil.

You also need jars and lids. Use the half pint jars. The jars can be reused as long as they are not chipped, cracked or broken in any way. I don't reuse lids. Lids rust very easily and a box of new lids is just a few bucks. The final ingredient you need is pectin, but we'll get to that later.

When you get ready to make jam, the first thing you want to do is get you water going in the canning pot. You need a lot of water and it will take a while to get boiling. The next thing you want to do is prepare your jars. When making jam, remember the immortal words of Buster Poindexter. "HOT! HOT! HOT!" Everything you are working with needs to be hot. For this reason, it might be best to banish the small people from your kitchen. Perhaps a middle schooler could help once you get the hang of this, but for anyone younger, they will be in the way. Best to do this during school or nap time. So, your mantra...HOT HOT HOT. Say it with me.


You're putting boiling hot jam into glass that's going to go into boiling water. Your jars need to be hot. If not, they will crack when submerged into the boiling water. Trust me on this. Now, how to achieve this if your kitchen isn't as well equipped as Martha Stewart's? Here's my trick. Turn your oven on 250. Line a sheet pan/cookie sheet WITH SIDES with a kitchen towel. Line up the jars on the pan and fill to the top with boiling water. Put the lids on the pan and place in the oven until you need them. Works every time!


Here is where I reach an impasse with the rest of The Canning World. They will tell you to "sterilize" the jars. I clean my jars then do what I just said. I pour hot water in them and keep them warm in the oven. My jars are clean. Period. The extra step to sterilize them seems extraneous to me. You are putting boiling fruit pulp and sugar into warm jars then submersing them into boiling water for 10 minutes. The boiling process is going to create a seal in the jar. If you're the germaphobe type, knock yourself out. Sterilize away. Me? I've never had a problem. Moving on.

At this point we have our supplies in place. We're ready to make jam which we will continue tomorrow. I will leave you with this bit of light reading from the USDA. Good stuff here, folks.

USDA Guide for Making Jams and Jellies

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My little knitter.

Just wanted to pop in and say hi. I'm behind on a couple posts. Here's why.

To clarify, this is what he should look like.

I was supposed to be out of town this weekend. Elvis was going to stay with some friends of mine while I was gone. In return, I went to stay with them and watch their kid on Monday night. Elvis came along. He did beautifully. What a trooper that guy is! Unfortunately, at approximately 3:18 AM he woke me up. He was throwing up yarn. Traffic cone orange cotton yarn. That he had been playing with on Sunday. Can you say freak out? There was still some he was trying to barf up, but unfortunately he'd swallow it before I could catch it. I rushed him to the vet as soon as they opened. The plan was to give him fluids and laxatives and see if he could poop out the rest. No dice. So...Little Buddy had an emergency yarnectomy yesterday. The vet pulled 4 feet of yarn out of his small intestine. I picked up the 2 feet he barfed up. For those of you playing along at home, that's 6 feet of yarn.

He came home today around 2 PM. He's been going back and forth between sleeping hard and walking around the apartment. He's been locked in a cage for a few days now, you see. He's eaten a little and seems to be doing well. Somehow I think he's going to recover from this before I do.