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Preserving the Harvest: Refrigerator Pickles & Dehydrated Cherry Tomatoes

August 10, 2011

I’m baaack!

I went to a food preservation workshop a few weeks ago, and while I was disappointed at the lack of hands-on preservation work, I did learn a few things.

First, did you know that drying cherry tomatoes is a great way to preserve them? It enhances their sweetness, and makes them even more yummy! I’m not experienced in dehydrating foods, but my co-worker has a dehydrator and makes his own beef jerky, so I asked him to dehydrate some of my cherry tomato crop, and he obliged. I plan to add these to pizzas for a sun-dried effect, to salads, and perhaps drizzle some with oil and basil to have with baguette or something. Any suggestions?

Next, refrigerator pickles are super easy to make, and because they go directly in the refrigerator, they don’t have to be canned. Any glass jar with a tight-fitting lid will suffice.

Wanna make some? Here is what you’ll need:

  • Several cucumbers
  • 2 dill heads or 3 Tbsp. dill seeds
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Small slices of onion (optional, and not present in my pickles)
  • 2 Tbsp. pickling spices (can be purchased anywhere canning supplies are sold)
  • 2 1/2 c. distilled white vinegar
  • 2 c. water
  • 2 Tbsp. pickling salt

Directions:

  1. Sterilize (in dishwasher or boiling water) one gallon glass jar, or several smaller jars and their lids.
  2. Combine the vinegar, water & pickling salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cool.
  3. Distribute the dill, and pickling spices evenly into the bottom of jars (Put all spices in bottom of gallon jar if only using one).
  4. Cut cucumbers (and onions, if using) into spears or slices, and add to the jar(s). You can pack them pretty tightly.
  5. Pour the cooled vinegar mixture over the cucumbers, making sure that all the cucumbers are completely covered.
  6. Seal with a tight-fitting lid, label with the date, and refrigerate. Allow to remain closed in the fridge for at least 3 days before eating, but waiting 2-3 weeks will allow for best favor.
  7. Keep refrigerated and the pickles will keep indefinitely.

**If you don’t need an entire gallon of pickles, and would like to go with the smaller jars, consider inviting some friends over to make their own jar of pickles to take home.

***I added a small amount of dried hot pepper to my pickles for a kick!

Oh! My pepper plants are producing like crazy, and I can only make so much guacamole and give so many jalapenos to my chiropractor. I now have accumulated a large bag of japs which are waiting patiently in my fridge to be pickled sometime this week. I’ll be canning these, and will post pics and a recipe soon!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

July 21, 2011

Last month, my favorite fellow blogger, Working Mom Goes Green, did a series of recipe posts to make use of the plethora of rhubarb she received from a friend. Being someone with zero experience with rhubarb, but a newfound willingness to try anything, I decided to try some. I found some rhubarb at the farmers’ market, and bought a bunch. At first I wanted to try WMGG’s strawberry rhubarb freezer jam, but then again, a cobbler sounded good too. I searched the web for rhubarb recipes, and what I came up with has changed my life! I found a recipe for strawberry rhubarb crisp on the Allrecipes site and it sounded exactly like what I was looking for. I tweaked the recipe quite a bit, adding more strawberries, rhubarb, and flour,  while cutting back on the sugar, so the recipe below is my version of it. Wow! It was good! My husband called it his second favorite dessert that I’ve made (behind my chocolate peanut butter pie).

Ingredients

  • 4 c. sliced strawberries
  • 4 c. rhubarb (about 1 pound), sliced into chunks like celery
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar (I might even try 1/2 c. next time)
  • 1 1/2 c. + 5 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. rolled oats
  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 c. butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the strawberries & rhubarb with 5 Tbsp. of flour and the granulated sugar. Transfer the flour/sugar-coated goodies to a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  3. Reusing the large bowl (I’m looking out for your dish pile here), mix 1 1/2 c. flour, brown sugar, butter and oats until crumbly. To do this right you’ll need a pastry blender (about $3 at Wal-mart). Crumble evenly on top of the rhubarb/strawberry mixture.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes, or until lightly browned and crispy.
  5. Enjoy! Eat it straight from the pan, or top with vanilla bean ice cream!

Sliced Berries & 'Barb

Coated Berries & 'Barb

In it goes...

Out it comes!

Seriously, who knew that a vegetable that looks like pink celery could be so good?!?!

Meatless Monday: Baked Kale Chips

July 18, 2011

When I turned 21, I got a job working in the cantina at Chi Chi’s. It was a great job, but I had to set up the free chips n’ salsa bar in the mornings, which involved filling the ice well and then “decorating” it with kale. That is as far as my experience with kale goes. I may have had some tasty soups containing kale, but I think that is about it.

Anyhoo, my favorite little local farmer’s market had kale over the weekend, so I bought some. I found this recipe in an e-newsletter that I receive from a local organic farm. I have to admit that I was leery at first, but I followed the directions, and the chips were really good. I put them on the table for the kids to try while I was fixing lunch, and they were nearly gone by the time I sat down. A perfect substitute for potato chips!

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of kale (enough to fill a large bowl)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste (but use sparingly)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Rinse, and dry the kale ( I used a salad spinner and then placed them on a dish towel) and then remove the stems and tough center ribs.
  3. Cut into large pieces, toss with olive oil in a large bowl, and then sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
  4. Arrange leaves in a single layer on a large baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes, or until crisp. Keep an eye on them! I think I over-cooked mine just a bit.
  5. Enjoy! Serve alone or with desired dressing (we used ranch).

Hats Off to the Smithville Farmers’ Market

July 16, 2011

As many of you already know, I’m a big fan of supporting local farmers and I shop the farmer’s market weekly. Bloomington has a huge farmer’s market with all the farm vendors, tasty prepared foods, folk singers and plants you could ever need; but I’m starting to feel that it’s more of a chic tourist attraction than a true farmer’s market. In my opinion, the purpose of a farmer’s market is to link farmer’s directly with the consumers of their goods; which allows the farmers to cut out expensive middle men while providing us with the opportunity to buy fresh, local produce at affordable prices.

I love all of the “extras”  at the Bloomington market, but I don’t love what I’ve come to call “designer” prices for the goods offered there. My community is filled with a lot of enlightened folks; we want to save the planet, we want to support local businesses, and we want to eat good, healthy food! We know that organic and sustainably produced products are often more expensive than conventionally produced ones, and we know why. However, I’m beginning to suspect that many of the vendors at my gorgeous market know this about Bloomingtonians, and are exploiting it. Why do I feel this way? Because the produce (organic or not) I buy at the farmer’s market is more expensive than even the organic stuff I buy from my local food co-op, Bloomingfoods. Considerably more expensive. Borderline astronomical. Unaffordable for a new foodie on a limited budget.

There is hope, however! I found a new little farmer’s market right down the road from my house. It’s called the Smithville Farmer’s Market, and while it offers no “pomp and circumstance,” there is amazing, affordable, fresh, local produce! Last weekend I visited the market, and left with cucumber, zucchini, eggplant, green peppers, spring mix lettuce, asian spinach, rhubarb, peaches, tomatoes and farm fresh eggs. I also bought a few delicious homemade truffles from a group of homeschooled kids who have started their own little business! I spent right around $20 for all of it too! Of course I went back this week and picked up more eggs, kale, lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, and a head of cabbage for my granddad. I’m hooked! I even asked Kevin, one of the farmers to take me under his wing as a garden volunteer. Hopefully he’ll take me up on it!

Smithville Market Goodies

In addition to locally grown produce, the market also offers local Amish baked goods (gluten-free)including breads and pies, potted plants, and craft items.  This market serves a lot of local seniors that can’t get out and about at the big market downtown, and it seems to be doing really well!

I guess I had to share this with you because I’m so encouraged by it. I really love what it brings to my little community! Thank you Smithville Farmers’ Market!!

Fruit Fly Frustrations?

July 13, 2011

It’s hot, humid, and we have lots of fruit and veggies in a basket on the kitchen counter. Basically, we have the perfect conditions for fruit flies in the kitchen. This is happening at my office as well, and on a much bigger scale. Several of my co-workers were hoping to get someone to spray our office; but thankfully, my innovative co-worker, Hannah, came up with a non-toxic way to control our little visitors!

For an effective fruit fly trap, all you need is:

  • Dishsoap. I used Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint soap.
  • A cup or glass
  • A square of aluminum foil big enough to cover the top of your cup
  • Small bits of fruit. Whatever you have around should be fine. I used strawberry hulls and one slice of banana.
  • A rubber band to hold the foil in place.
  • A screwdriver, scissors, or whatever you have handy to put holes in the foil.

Directions:

  1. Mix a small squirt of dishsoap with an ounce or two of water in a cup or glass. You don’t need much soap, or water.
  2. Drop in a few chunks of fruit.
  3. Cover the top of the cup with foil, wrap a rubber band around it to secure it better.
  4. Punch several holes in the top so that the flies can get it.
  5. Voilà!!! You have a fruit fly trap!

I recommend changing out the water, soap & fruit every other day. It keeps the trap at peak effectiveness!  Upon researching a bit, I read that vinegar & dishsoap works well too. Maybe I’ll try that next time!

Do you have any interesting, and non-toxic home remedies worth sharing?

Lemon Blueberry Cake

July 10, 2011

As you may know, I’m celebrating National Blueberry Month by trying several blueberry recipes. My first recipe was Blueberry Zucchini bread, which was a total winner. It’s a recipe I make fairly often because  I love giving quick breads as gifts.

Today, I’m sharing Lemon Blueberry cake. I made this on the 4th, and took it to a cookout before realizing that I hadn’t photographed it yet, but I was able to snap a quick shot before it all got served. I found the recipe on the Whole Foods website, so I’ve posted a link here.

I think everyone really liked the cake. It was tasty, but it wasn’t as lemony as I’d hoped for.  I’ll add a bit more juice & zest next time.

Have you tried the Blueberry Zucchini bread yet???

Grocery Getting: What We Eat

July 8, 2011

Last week I found a great story on the Food Matters website about photos taken for a book titled Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. The story shared a photographic exploration of what people are eating in different parts of the world. According to Food Matters, each picture shows the members of one family among one week’s worth of food purchases.  If you haven’t seen this yet, I highly recommend you take a look.

As my husband & I looked through all the pictures our initial impression was that many of these families buy a ton of food. It looked like a lot more than what we buy for our family of 4 each week. We also felt like most of these families buy an awful lot of packaged, processed food. This concerns me because of the health and the environmental implications. The amount of sugary drinks was alarming too! Of course, the most obvious things we noticed were that the more developed countries had the least healthy and most environmentally damaging diets.

Seeing these photos made me want to take an overall look at what my family eats on a weekly basis. I like to think I feed us well, but I wondered how it would look when I lay it all on the table. Do we eat more than I think we do? What about processed food and packaging? How do we do there?

I shop for our groceries at Wal-mart, the local food co-op, and the farmer’s market . Prices at the co-op are pretty high, and I wish I could do all of our shopping there, but I don’t have $300 a week to spend on food. Shopping the lower prices at Wal-mart frees up more cash for me to spend at the co-op. I’ve also been buying more bulk, and planning meals around what is on sale at the co-op; this stretches our dollars a bit farther.

Well, here it is. One week’s worth of groceries for my family:

So, how did we do? I think there is forever work to do on reducing product packaging, but I do reuse & recycle nearly all of our packaging. **I have to note that the hotdogs & hotdog buns are not typical for us. They were for a 4th of July cookout. We like to eat healthy, but we’re not food nazis!!!