Friday, October 14, 2011

Pumpkin Custard - reinvented

Some days your plans don't work out quite the way you'd hoped. When that happens, you have two choices... pout, or make the most of your situation.

As I cleaned out the bottom section of my freezer last week in preparation for pureeing pumpkins, (an odd sight I'm sure, as it involves my dangling bodily from the edge of the freezer, legs waving precariously in the air behind me as I try to keep myself from tipping into the freezer) I discovered several frozen quarts of pumpkin puree - from LAST fall. Not being one to waste food, but knowing it's use-it-or-lose-it time for these delicious baggies, I grabbed a few & popped them into the fridge to thaw.

This morning I woke to thawed pumpkin in the fridge, visions of pumpkin custard in my head... and a faulty memory. As I danced about the kitchen gathering my ingredients to whip up a delicious warm surprise for the kids, everything came to a screeching halt when the can of what I THOUGHT was evaporated milk in my cupboard ended up being the light coconut milk I'd accidentally picked up thinking it was full-fat. Whoops.

My stomach informed me that it was still breakfast time, evaporated milk or not, and I stopped for a minute to reconsider my recipe. It's *my* recipe after all, so why can't I alter it? So with a tweak here, a substitution there, and some flax thrown in... just because I could, I reinvented one of my favorite fall breakfast recipes.

THIS time for this recipe I used:
2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup brown sugar (go dark, or go home... it's all about the rich flavor!)
3 eggs
1 can light coconut milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
Blend all ingredients together, and pour into a 7x11" (or 8" square) glass baking dish. Bake at 350F for 70 minutes, or until knife comes out clean.

It was... AMAZING! The coconut added a wonderful richness, and was a perfect pairing with the pumpkin. The flax added just a hint of nuttiness, and because of the natural sweetness of coconut I was able to cut the sugar in half from my original recipe. My kids added a tiny scoop of ice cream to theirs, but I had mine with a big mug of tea. Either way, this is definitely a repeat-recipe!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Salsa! (a canned recipe)

In our house, salsa is its own food group. We like it mild, warm, spicy... and upon occasion we'll melt a bit of cheese into the REALLY hot stuff & create a deliciously tummy-warming Salsa Con Queso. We eat it on chips, rice & potatoes... and use it as a mix-in to spice up all sorts of delicious recipes.

Usually we prefer to make up small batches of fresh salsa or save coupons for Newman's Own Mango Salsa. But we've been toying with the concept of canning our own salsa with as many home-grown ingredients as we can possibly muster in a northern climate - which means hunting for a wonderful CANNED version that we like as much as our favorite fresh salsas.

This year I had planned on picking up the jars & comparing tiny portions of multiple recipes so we would be ready for next year's harvest. What happened however, was that I found a farmer selling canning-jars who had an extra 1.5 bushels of tomatoes. So the canning frenzy commenced.

Having never canned tomatoes before, and knowing there was some "secret" to canning them properly I searched the internet for tips & safety-tested recipes. That big, bad tomato-y secret is nothing more than that you need to boost the acid when canning tomatoes. A lot. Fortunately when it comes to salsa, this can be accomplished by using BOTTLED lemon & lime juices... which only makes salsa taste better! (Fresh juice is NOT recommended as each fruit can have a slightly different pH but this far north bottled juices are easier to find anyway!) So armed with several safe recipes that looked tasty, I concocted my own variation... being VERY careful to keep the same proportions of everything so it would stay safe. Nachos-Con-Botulism aren't exactly my "thing."

So for our first try at canning salsa, what we have is nine quarts of positively delicious warm-but-not-painful salsa that's SO yummy, even my tomato-hating son is pleased that we've canned so much! It's absolutely not the same as dicing your veggies & serving everything fresh, but this is quite possibly just as GOOD!

For this recipe we took:
24 POUNDS of tomatoes (yep, I used a kitchen scale)
5 cups onions - diced
3 cups assorted peppers - diced
(DH diced up 2 poblanos, 4 anaheims & 6 tiny jalapenos for ours, but as long as you stick to 3 cups you can use WHATEVER peppers you like!)
1 cup fresh cilantro - minced
2 Tbsp cumin
2 Tbsp oregano
and 3 cups of bottled lemon/lime* juice.
* We used 1 cup lime & 2 cups lemon... next year we'll be reversing that for 2 cups lime & 1 cup lemon however for just a bit more *pop*.

To start, blanch your tomatoes... if you don't know how, there are thousands of picture tutorials, but all you do is dip them into boiling water for 20 seconds, then move them into ice water for a minute so they practically peel themselves. I'm sorry I didn't get any photos of this step, I had two helpers and it took everything I could do to keep up with them both!

Once you've skinned your tomatoes, chop them into large-ish pieces (I cut the huge tomatoes into eights, and quartered the smaller ones) then smoosh them a bit to remove some of the extra seeds & juice. You can skip this step, but cooking it down will take HOURS longer - and it's not nearly as fun. My son smooshed them against the side of a large colander, set inside a HUGE bowl to catch all the juice. He cackled every time he hit a particularly juicy tomato, as they made a most satisfying squelchy noise, but giggling is optional. However, don't waste that juice!!! With this recipe we ended up with 10 CUPS of juice! (We strained out the seeds & froze ours to use later as soup-stock, but YOU may have a more creative idea!)

Now that your tomatoes are ready, toss all the ingredients into a 2.5 gallon stock-pot, and start cooking it down. It took us about 2 hours to cook it to a consistency we were happy with, but if you like your salsa a bit wetter it may take less time. The important part here is that it MUST boil for at least 30 minutes to kill any scary bacteria that may be lurking in the pot! After that, it's all up to you.

When you've reached a consistency that makes you happy, immediately can into hot sterilized jars & process for 30 minutes at 0-1000ft. Yes, a full half-hour with water-canning. Lift your jars out & set them on your counter, and DO NOT TOUCH for at least 8 hours... until they're completely cooled. Then just make sure each jar is sealed, and stock your pantry!

Hopefully next year I'll be able to capture a few photos of our canning process, and MAYBE some day in the future I won't be afraid of pressure-canners & can try a few recipes that are forbidden to water-bath canners, but for now I'm quite happy canning the way I've always done it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it... right?

We'll be enjoying our salsa all winter long on tortilla chips, on baked potatoes, with "loaded" nachos, taco-salad, seasoned rice, to flavor our chili-cornbread & on grilled veggies... and I'm thinking of using at least one jar as a base for fresh chili or as the sauce for a taco-pizza! Enjoy!