Dabbled with Apples

Apple!Rumor has it that this year’s apple crop is going to be the biggest in years. So it may have been a little shortsighted of us to go apple picking. Surely our CSA will be throwing more apples our way than we could possibly know what to do with in mere weeks time, but oh well: a-picking we shall go.

New York state puts us in a stellar place to take advantage of apple season. NY is second to Washington state in apple production, and we have literally hundreds of variations to choose from. So we, tra-la-la, took the Metro-North upwards a bit, met a loved one, and made a day of it.

Paige and Evan Promenade

Paige and Evan Reeaaach

Up iN that tree.

Maggie+Apple+Paige=<3.

Evan will tell you that no trip to an apple orchard is complete without (at least) one apple cider donut.

Cider Donuts

Hello Autumn

Hello big pumpkin.Back home, we contemplated what to do with our big ol’ bag of apples. A few years back we wrote Appletopia with a few good ideas, but this year, what with the apple palooza ahead, we might have to get creative.

If you caught our recent post on canning, this might not seem like such a shocker, but we decided to kick off the apple season by making and canning apple butter. We cut up all the apples (at least the ones that didn’t get snarfed down with crunchy peanut butter) and put them in a dutch oven.

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Ok, so here’s where apple butter gets really tricky. Put the apples in a pot, walk away, and leave them on low heat for several hours.

No, seriously, that’s how you make apple butter. A chimp could do it.

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Exiting Appleland

Disclaimer: No offense to chimps intended. They’re actually very intelligent animals. Like the majestic platypus.

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Canned Laughter

Canning!Our CSA share has been positively monumental lately. So much so, that we’ve had too many tomatoes and peaches than we know what to do with. Winter, however, will not be quite so flush. Thus, we recently decided to start canning.

We’ve fantasized about canning our CSA share extras for the last few years, but the combination of our small kitchen and the daunting prospects of sterilization have always scared us off. This year we got the canning-mojo, and have since been canning up a storm. We mentioned in our post Ten Things To Do With Tomatoes that we’ve begun these procedures and that we’ve been tom-loaded, so we started with tomatoes, and have yet to stop.

Though we’ll go over some basics, if you need a more in-depth primer on how to proceed, check here.

Step 1. Sterilization

The number-one rule is to keep everything clean.  Start by cleaning your jars and lids well and then put them in a pot of boiling water.  We just leave them there until it’s time to fill them. They clank around a lot to let you know they’re getting nice and sterile.

Sterilizing Cans

Step 2. Prepare food

Doing tomatoes is really straightforward, and it’s the same for peaches. You don’t want the skins of either fruit, so drop them in boiling water for about a minute, then put them in an ice bath, after which the peels just fall away when you rub on them a little. Do this a few at a time and then place them in a colander above a bowl to save the juice. Once they’re all peeled, remove the core and cut into quarters.

Step 3. Can

Stuffing Those Toms InCarefully remove the sterilized jars and start adding the tomatoes, leaving about 1/2″ at the top (the “head space”). Use the reserved juices to cover the tomatoes, and remove as much air as possible by prodding with a chopstick or wood spoon.  Screw on the lids and “process” by placing the closed jars back in the boiling water for about 45 minutes to one hour (depending a bit on the size of the jar). Then just take out the jars and let stand for a few hours without moving them. The lids should make a very satisfying pop to let you know they’ve fully sealed.

Boiling CansThose are the basics!

We got a little fancy and roasted some tomatoes with garlic for some (mid-winter) summery sauces, which smelled heavenly.

Tomatoes with Garlic and Basil and Rosemary

Roasted Tomatoes

IMG_6429As we all know, peaches – much like tomatoes – become a sad-hybrid-pretend-fruit in the supermarket come late fall/early winter. Seriously, they taste like mealy soap. To combat this conundrum, we (mere days after tomato canning) canned a combination of yellow, white and donut peaches, which promises to be a heavenly treat come the frost.

Canning Peaches

And now we’re ready! We can pack up away and hibernate, not to be seen again until April or so. Our pantry (aka NYC closet) is stacked.

Canned Tomatoes

Canned Peaches

NYC Pantries (Closets)

Next up, apples.

Even Audrey Baked in the Summertime

Picture borrowed from www.twistedsifter.com, colored by Dana Keller.

Picture borrowed from http://www.twistedsifter.com, colored by Dana Keller.

It may be past Labor Day, but if you hovered around New York City last week you’d be hard pressed to find someone who believed it. It was very sticky, impressively hazy, and just a little bit smelly. It made everyone who had packed away their AC units rethink doing so, and I saw more than one adult run through an open fire hydrant.

Zucchini Polaroid

So we took the opportunity to bake. (No, really. We’re not that bright.)

Zucchini bread is a harvest season favorite because of all the unruly zukes that manage to get away from you and take a turn towards plus size. People literally beg you to take zucchinis off their hands, and really, who am I to deny them?

The comically enormous zucchinis tend not to have as much flavor as the smaller ones – which is too bad because so many of them seem to get away from their gardeners – but they make a perfect foil for a sweet bread. And just one can often yield a healthy sized zucchini bread, a handful of zucchini muffins, and still a bit leftover for zucchini fritters.

In the Zucchini Battle of 2011 we gave a good list of things to make when the harvest explodes, one of which was zucchini bread. But as the recipe has been asked for, I’ve decided to elaborate. It’s so easy there’s almost no reason not to take 15 min and use the bartering system to take someone’s garden veggies (including some uberzukes) and return a bread back after.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 2 1/4 cups of white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp cinnnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 sticks of butter (or 1 cup vegetable oil)
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups of grated zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

(I found a vegan recipe here! So when I’m not baking for others, I can chow down too.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease two 8X4 inch pans. Sometimes the mixture fills one 9×5 just as well and is a fatter more luscious bread. But play it by ear with how much mixture you have and whatever kinds of loaf pans.

Start by shredding up the zucchini with a grater: and prepare to get jacked. Or if you prefer spaghetti-arms and you have one near, a food processor with a grating attachment will work just as well.

Shredded Zucchini (sans food processor)Stir up all your dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon), while melting your butter on the stove. Keep a watchful eye so your butter doesn’t brown.

In a separate bowl blend sugar and melted butter, and then add eggs one by one.

Zucchini Bread Wet IngredientsAdd dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stir up altogether, and then add zucchini and chopped nuts. Feel free to add dried cranberries, chocolate, and other nuts and dried fruit depending on your tastebuds.

Zucchini BreadsPour mixture into buttered pan (or pans). Bake for 45-60 min. You’ll know your bread is ready by the smell, and if a toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy plain, or if you’re feeling crazy fry it in a pan for breakfast and enjoy with a cup of coffee.

Zucchini Bread

Then share with neighbors.

The smell of baking zucchini bread is a classic sign of fall in our household. While Audrey might have enjoyed a sweltering bake day with us last week, this week she’d be back in sweatpants (ha, a likely story) as the weather has dropped an ominous 30 degrees. But at least, like us, she’d have some comfort food to mourn the passing of summer with. Fare thee well, lovely summertime.

Homemade BBQ Sauce? Yes Please.

Homemade Barbecue SauceA lot of vegetarians will tell you that what they miss more than anything on this now meatless earth is *bacon*. And they’ll say it with this faraway look in their eyes like strips of bacon wear little haloes and float in the sky. Ahh, but not this one. There are three veggie weaknesses for me:

  1. The Jewish girl in me longs for her people’s food of choice: bagels with schmear and lox.  Oy.
  2. Sushi… OH, how I long for fresh tuna.
  3. And the big summer kahuna — barbecue.

Luckily, the last is something we can work with. It’s not that I miss the slabs of meat or the taste of hamburger and hotdogs. Those urges are long gone. But the smell of smoke wafting through the air and the crowd that gathers around a piping hot grill and the community aspects to a barbecue strikes a deep-down cord.

There are a million alternatives that you can put on the grill, things I’ve blogged about many a time before. But grilling and barbecue somehow mean something different, and it’s only occurred recently to me that that might be due to… mmmm…. barbecue sauce.

Barbecue sauce comes in a godzillion (yes, that is the technical term) varieties and line the supermarket’s aisles with options. But I have come to find that the best way to eat BBQ sauce is to make it yourself. It’s shockingly simple and cheaper than buying it from the store. Add in the bonus of reducing the sugar and sodium levels, leaving out high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and other unpleasantries – not to mention getting to add the flavors that you like in particular – it ends up hard to argue with.

The staples of barbecue sauce are crazy easy:

  • tomato paste
  • mustard
  • garlic
  • onion powder
  • cider vinegar
  • some spices, a little sea salt
  • and liquid smoke  (the clincher).

The rest is fair game.

  • For sweetness, pick your sweet of choice: local honey, real maple sauce (please, come on guys), molasses, brown sugar. All good and all different.
  • Spices! Chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, you could try cinnamon… go nuts! (Ooh, nuts would be interesting.)Tomato Paste - pic borrowed from http://localfoods.about.com/od/condiments/ss/tomatopaste.htm
  • For liquids try a boozey variety: like whisky, or I like adding a really dark beer, or if you’re thinking a tangier concoction, how about tequila? With lime!
  • I used to use Worcestershire sauce until I realized it has fishies in it and then it was sayonara to the Woost. But definitely try some hot sauce or hot peppers.
  • Maybe soy if you’re feeling like a hint of the East.
  • You can also try making your own tomato paste, should the tomato harvest overwhelm you. This should give a bit of a fresher flavor, and there’s a good how-to here.
  • Add a few drops of liquid smoke at the end. If you just put your nose in it, you’ll get why it seals the deal.

Simply put all this in a pot and stir it around until it smells and/or tastes like you imagine BBQ sauce to. Or better, like you wish it did. Throw it in a jar and add your personalized label. Then slather it on tofu, seitan, tempeh, vegetables. Anything.

I can’t promise you won’t miss meat, but I can promise you won’t be thinking about bacon.

Ten Things To Do With Tomatoes

Tomato PaloozaAs  you might have seen in our post Greener Thumbs Prevail, we have tomatoes all a-bloom in our window garden. But on top of those beautiful babies, we also got a truck-load of tomatoes from our CSA share this week. It seemed only fitting that we should write about the abounding number of things you can do with tomatoes, to which there is no end (except in this case, in which the end is ten).

  1. Tomato SauceThe classic option is, of course, tomato sauce. Any cook worth their salt knows how to make a sauce: tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, oregano, salt (some people say sugar – I disagree). The fresher the tomatoes, the better the sauce. Crazy easy: crazy delicious.
  2. Swirled Tomatoes with BalsamicSalsaRatatouilleBruschetta. Toast bread with olive oil and garlic, and top with chopped tomatoes and basil.
  3. Or contrarily, just lay out some tomatoes in a swirly pattern, topple them with basil, drizzle with balsamic and oil, salt and pepper generously. It’s a crowd pleaser.
  4. Stuffed TomatoesSalsa! In addition to tomatoes, we’ve gotten some hot peppers in our CSA share as well. Chop tomatoes, onions, garlic, hot peppers, and fruit of choice. We used pineapple (which obviously came locally in our Northeastern share… oops). And whamo. Eat with burritos, fajitas, on greens, or with a corn chip or two.
  5. Stuffed ZucchiniTry making tomato paste. (Which can be used in BBQ sauce, soon to be blogged about.)
  6. Ratatouille is another way to use a share bounty. Put eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and garlic in a roasting pan. Head-spinning!
  7. Stuffed tomatoes, especially on the grill, are so tasty. Crunch up some stale bread and a hard cheese, like a Pecorino, and cook them in the oven until they melt. Then crisp ’em up in the broiler, for gooeyness’ sake. Try the same thing with zukes and use tomatoes as the stuffing with breadcrumbs and cheese, and you’ll have stuffed zucchini.
  8. Roasted TomatoesWe stumbled on this phenomenal recipe from The Times for tomato risotto that was incredibly luxurious and delicious. We scratched the sugar and vegan-consciously let people add their own parm. It was rich and superb.
  9. Roasted tomatoes are beautiful and mouthwatering. Lay them out on a pan with garlic, salt, basil, oregano, rosemary and cook them until the tips blacken.
  10. And canning! As you may have heard, winter tomatoes are, well er, not tomatoes. So this year we took our excess and canned them so we can have ripe tomatoes when the harvest season ends. It was labor intensive and messy, but come January will have been damn worth it when we make any of the treats seen above.IMG_6461

The Bartering System

IMG_5990Here is a favorite trick of the Farmin’ Cityfolk trade: Bartering.

Evan and I were cooking a big dinner recently when we abruptly realized we had baked two desserts (both guest of honor’s favorites), baked bread, prepared sauces, made some stately appetizers, used leftover rice to make vegan rice pudding, and made a lovely breakfast for ourselves, but had forgotten entirely about the main course (minus grilled goodies).

Meet Nick:

Nick the Gardener

Nicks are not as easy to find in the Greater NYC area, because Nicks need huge quantities of space for plush fantastical gardens full of yummies:

Nick's Garden

Peppers from the Garden

Zucchini Flowers from the Garden

Big Hand, LIttle FlowerBut when we’re out of Manhattan and in need of some greenery, he always comes through in a clinch.

It is a mark of friendship to know people’s foods (take say, to remember to leave the crystalized ginger out of salads for one friend, or to always avoid eggplant – horrors – for another, there are gluten-free, veggie, or vegan, or some might claim they just don’t like cheese). We know Nick likes cakey breads made with garden goodies, and he knows we like anything that comes up in his backyard. Show up at Nick’s with a pumpkin, banana, or zucchini bread, and you can leave with dinner makings.

Bartered Banana Bread

Banana Bread and Vegan Rice PuddingIt’s really the tit-for-tat socialist lifestyle we’re aiming for.

Nick’s bountiful pile of swiss chard, broccoli greens, basil, and summer squash made for a very promising meal – and it’s safe to say it delivered. Sautéed broccoli greens and swiss chard and some grilled squash goes a long way in this household.

It’s not always easy to find bartering pals, but ask around. My mother, for example, has been known to take Thanksgiving turkeys in exchange for legal advice. We’ve always got one thing we’d love to do and another thing we’d rather not. So feed a friend in exchange for some physics tutoring, or paint an apartment for pizza and beer, or change a lightbulb for a cookie. But keep in mind that when it comes to bartering, food will always be the gold standard.

Lunchtime

A Nap in a Hammock

Greener Thumbs Prevail

Zinnias in NYC

As we blithely told some apartment-hunting friends recently, “You’re not the first people in New York City to want outdoor space.”

New Yorkers do what they can with the minuscule amount of space the landlord gods grace them with, generally something resembling a shoebox with a toilet. As you might remember from last year, Pygmy Goats - http://blog.sfgate.com/pets/2010/01/26/pygmy-goats-the-new-it-pet/for Evan and me doing what we can means utilizing the two windows in our studio apartment with happy, fanciful window gardens, bringing the farmin’ to city as per usual.

In our dream world, we would have a rooftop garden, or even a rooftop farm. We’d have a city-cow for dairy and some city-chickens for eggs and maybe a city-pygmy goat. Because – I mean, look at them – who can resist a pygmy goat?

We have yet to build our city farm, but we are still desperately trying to keep our teenie-weenie garden alive and well. This year we still have our happy little lemon tree, as well as sage, mint, chives, basil, zinnias, johnny-jump-ups (which bring me unreasonable joy), and tomatoes again, both cherry and beefsteak.

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IMG_6127There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning, rolling over in bed, and seeing our city street framed by our garden.

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(Our friends, by the way, landed a lovely one-bedroom, with in-building laundry and gym, rooftop access, and outdoor space on their first day hunting… So who am I to talk, really.)