Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Jam!

Alrighty Fresnans! It’s that time of year again when you, or someone you know, has been burdened by an abundance of produce. Your mom’s got a peach tree. Your roommate has been urban foraging for figs again. Or, God forbid, you know anyone who planted a zucchini this year. Fear not! Pencil in an afternoon of good ol’ fashioned canning and make your grandma proud.

Part I: Go Shopping. I always head for Fresno Ag, but really any hardware store will do. Get yourself a bunch of jars with lids and canning tongs. If you are really into recycling, you can always get old jars from thrift stores and merely purchase new lids.

Part II: Kitchen Prep: First off, put a damn radio in the kitchen for some music. Invite over a friend (even if they just sit there). Put on some light summer clothes to sweat in, and have plenty of cold beverages around (beer or iced tea really hits the spot). Clean out all your jars and lids in warm soapy water or the dishwasher. Keep them sterile!

Part III: Make yo’ Filling. I’ve done lots and lots of internet searches, but really it’s easiest to do this all by taste. Basically, dump your washed fruit into a large, heavy bottomed pan, add a squeeze of lemon and start cooking. At some point, I add in a ton of sugar (by a ton, usually about 1/3 of the volume of the fruit in the pot) and one crazy flavoring (lemon thyme, bay leaves, oolong tea, cloves, chilies). Keep cooking this all down until it is thick and sticks to a plate that’s been in the freezer for a while. It usually takes about 30 minutes. No need for that pesky pectin!

Part IV: Can it, Lady. Using a funnel, carefully spoon your finished jam into your clean jars. Leave about ½ inch of room at the top. Wipe down the rim of the jar with a clean paper towel. Carefully place the lid and ring on the jar and tighten. Once you get all your neat little jars sealed, boil them in a large pot of water (making sure they are fully submerged) for at least 15 minutes (you can Google specific processing times). Once they have cooled a bit, you can wait to see if the jars are sealed by the gentle “ping” they make when you tap the tops.

Part V: Give someone some love and pass it on. Don’t you feel good?!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tomatillo... You Make My Heart Sing

These are the funky little things that look like green tomatoes in a thin paper hull. They are a ubiquitous ingredient in Mexican cooking and literally do all the work for you to balance out a salsa or sauce. They are both savory and sweet, with a nice acid kick (think lime flavoring included in a tomato). Here’s a dish that drives the men-folk wild:

Enchiladas Suizas

Buy some tomatillos (maybe 15 – 20) and take off the outer leaf-like skin. Cut ½ an onion into large chunks and toss with tomatillos in a little oil and salt and roast them in the oven for about 20 min at about 425 degrees or until they are mushy and the skin is brown… this is not an exact science! You can burn these… and they are also good half cooked. No need to turn them. Just go with it.

In the mean time, fire roast (aka your stove top burner) some peppers. Poblano. Anaheim. Jalapeno. Whatever heat you want. Maybe 2-4. Add these, the rest of the raw onion, about 4 cloves of garlic, some salt, the roasted tomatillo/onion mixture, and a tablespoon of canned chipotle to a Cuisenart. Blend. Taste. It may need more peppers or chipotle, depending on how hot you like it. Then add about 1 to 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream. Or until it tastes good.

Now you’ve got your sauce. And trust me, it’s worth the effort! The tomatillos are so bright and delicious, they are a perfect balance to the cream. Oh boy…

Okay! Have at the ready: a shallow pan of hot vegetable oil (heated on medium heat over the stove). Corn tortillas (5-10). Filling (shredded, salted chicken breast would be great, or even grated summer squash). The pan you intend to bake all this in, with the bottom coated in a little of the tomatillo sauce.

Assemble. Dip a tortilla in the hot oil (about 10 – 30 seconds) so that it warms through. Slap this on a plate and fill with a little chicken (it’s hot! …so take your time), roll up, and place in a pan. Continue until all the little enchiladas are side by side and fill your pan.

Finally, cover the whole dish with your sauce so that the tortillas are just covered. Add a bunch of grated white cheese (jack, provolone, white cheddar, whatever) on top. Bake at about 400 degrees until sides bubble and cheese browns. Garnish with fresh chopped green onion.

Serve with beans, or calabasitas (Mexican preparation of summer squash) or on its own. This is pure comfort food. The hubby was never so happy.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hippie Nachos

Okay… I’ve heard these referred to as “White People Nachos”, “Nachos Flanders-Style” (from the Simpsons) and the like. Whatever you call them, they are delicious. Whip these up as a quick appetizer, an afternoon snack, or a light dinner. If you really want to guild the local lily, use a home grown cucumber, make some ricotta (see reference below about home-cheese making) and dry up some salt water from the next time you are in Santa Cruz. Your superiority complex will soar in the faces of all your locavor friends.

1 large Armenian cucumber
½ cup soft, fresh cheese (goat, cottage, ricotta, farmers)
1/8 cup fresh herbs (I like dill or tarragon the best. Parsley is great too).
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice cucumber into ¼ inch rings. Arrange on plate. Top with a dab of cheese, herbs, salt and pepper. Serve!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Suffering Succotash!

The Gibson Farm Market at Fresno State just opened it’s doors for the newest varietal of sweet corn, Vision. Ahh, this golden gem is (if possible) even sweeter and nuttier than the traditional yellow variety. Surely, you can convince yourself to eat your veggies with this one.

Succotash is one of my summer staples, being that it’s easy, uses up all sorts of stuff in your fridge, and it super-duper healthy. Try it as a side dish with some grilled chicken or sausage… or with a dollop of sour cream and a few beans for a full force vegetarian meal.

Summer Vegetable Succotash
Serves 4

2 tsp. olive oil or butter
½ onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pepper (bell, Italian curly, jalapeno, etc. depending on your desired heat level) chopped
1 small zucchini diced in ¼ inch cubes
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 ears of corn, sliced off-the-cob
2 sprigs fresh basil, chopped

In a sauté pan, heat olive oil. Add onions, garlic, pepper, zucchini and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until onions are wilted and zucchini is just tender. Remove from heat. Add in corn and basil. Mix until corn is just heated through.

It’s that easy! Try it cold the next day for lunch as well.

Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market
Corner of Barstow and Chestnut