Monday, August 31, 2020

An issue

 I have an issue.

A zucchini issue.

When I planted zucchini in the spring, I was planning to preserve the fruits by spiralization and freezing.  And I have done that.  But in my planning, I failed to take into account the fact that zucchini expands when spiralized.  Yeah, yeah.  I know.  Conservation of mass and all that.  Same mass; bigger volume.  Much bigger volume. Like half-a-zucchini-takes-up-the-entirety-of-my-biggest-baking-sheet bigger volume.

I feel like I already possess enough volume of frozen zucchini noodles.

We've entered the stage of the zucchini harvest where you go out to the garden and suddenly, there are three full sized, ready to be harvested zucchini, where yesterday there were no zucchinis, not even babies.  I currently have five zucchinis sitting on my counter waiting for me to decide what to do with them, and I'm pretty sure there will be at least one in the garden when I make it out there.  Not because there was one close to ready yesterday, but because that's how zucchini works.

We don't eat a whole lot of zucchini fresh.  Occasionally, I will grill or saute zucchini as a side dish.  Very occasionally.  I used to make a lot of zucchini muffins, but the kiddos aren't as fond of those as other kinds of muffins, so these days, I don't make zucchini muffins very often.  I have at least one soup recipe that calls for zucchini.  If I ever make lasagna* again, I would use zucchini for the noodles in my portion.  I suppose I could make ratatouille or galette.  I'm sure that would go over well with the fam (that was sarcasm, fyi).

So there needs to be some kind of zucchini preservation happening if I don't want to waste food (let me give you a hint: I do not want to waste food.  Ever. I'm kind of jealous of my friends** who have pigs to turn extra produce into bacon).  My choices are freezing, drying, and canning***.  All of which are viable options that I would be able to do.  The issue is, will I actually use the zucchini after preserving it?  Or will I be wasting the food and wasting the time, energy, and supplies used in the preserving process?

By the way, every single one of the the zucchini pickle and zucchini relish recipes in the world**** have sugar in them.  What the?  I mean, y'all.  I know sugar tastes good, but it is toxic, and shouldn't have to be added to perfectly good vegetables in order to pickle them.

So, hey.  Let me know if 1. you want any zucchini, and 2. you have any ideas for preservation and future use.  Together.  In tandem.  Because preservation doesn't do any good without future use.

My fruit basket is looking decidedly green these days.  That's because the tomatoes are in the ripening bag instead of in the basket.  We could have a definite Christmas vibe going on if we wanted to.
In case you're worried about the small, avocado-shaped, wrinkly zucchinis with stickers, those are avocados.  Which I should also do something about soon.

P.S. Here are a bunch of zucchini recipes.  From my own blog.  Maybe I should listen to myself sometimes.

*It has been many years since I have made lasagna, partly because I have two kiddos who don't like cheese, partly because I have two (overlapping) kiddos who don't like tomato based sauces, and one grown-up (me) who prefers not to eat pasta.  If I wanted to satisfy everyone's preferences, I would literally need to make a separate portion for each person.  I think I'm gonna, though, because I'm kind of desperate.

**Not actual friends, in the sense that we actually know each other and interact and stuff.  YouTube "friends" who feed any and all overripe veggies and food scraps to their pigs, including, in one case, a problem rooster, raw and freshly dead, feathers and all.  Yes, I had to cover my eyes on that one.

***Also fermenting.  But I feel like it's even less likely that anyone would eat fermented zucchini.

****Maybe a slight exaggeration.  But I seriously have not come across a zucchini canning recipe that doesn't have sugar or a sugar substitute in it.  

Friday, August 28, 2020

Zesty Salsa: a Recipe

 Hi again, everyone.

You didn't think I'd leave you hanging, did you?  Here's my salsa recipe!  It's modified from Ball Blue Book of Preserving.  


So use at your own risk.

I hardly ever put the cilantro in.  It's such a small amount, it hardly seems like it would make an impact.  But I happen to have some cilantro right now, so I put it in this time.

Zesty Salsa

(click here to print this recipe)
Makes 8-9 pints
  • 10 c. chopped, seeded (I stopped seeding the tomatoes years ago, but feel free to take them out if they bother you, peeled, cored tomatoes (about 6 pounds)--measure after chopping)
  • 5 c. chopped and seeded bell peppers (about 2 pounds--any color you want)
  • 5 c. chopped onions (about 1.5 lbs--I chop these in the food processor, and it ends up being less than 5 cups)
  • 2.5 c. chopped jalapeno peppers (about 1 pound.  I also chop these in the food processor.  The more seeds and membranes you leave in, the hotter the salsa will be.  I remove the seeds and membranes from about half of my peppers.  The salsa's spiciness also depends on how spicy your peppers are, so don't blame me if your salsa ends up too or not enough spicy)
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T cilantro, minced
  • 3 t salt
  • 1.25 c apple cider vinegar or white vinegar (or a combination)
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  1. Combine all ingredients except tomato paste in a large saucepot.  
  2. Bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  
  3. Add tomato paste and stir.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the salsa reduces to your desired consistency.
To can (please note: these are not thorough canning instructions.  These are canning instructions for people who already know how to water bath can):

Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace.  Adjust lids and rings. Process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Well, that didn't go as planned.

I ended up not making salsa yesterday.  

I mean, the whole point of cooking day was to make the salsa, and it didn't happen.  

OK, so salsa wasn't the whole point, but it was the main point, and the impetus behind, cooking day.  If I hadn't planned to make salsa, I probably would not have planned to make all of the other stuff, either.

The reason I didn't make the salsa yesterday is because those tomatoes took so.darn.long to thaw.  In fact, I had them out on the counter all day yesterday, and in the fridge overnight, and they were still slightly frozen this morning.  Friends.  It is hot up in here.  I do not understand how those tomatoes managed to still be frozen after more than 24 hours out of the freezer.  Who knew tomatoes had such a low heat transfer coefficient?  Not me.

Anyway, I didn't make the salsa yesterday, but I did make almost everything else on the master cooking day list (still need to make the sausage gravy, which I didn't make yesterday because I didn't want to have to wash the pan by hand and there was no room in the dishwasher for it.  Wait.  Did that make sense?  Does it need to?), and I did the salsa this morning.

The core, score, freeze, thaw method of peeling tomatoes worked like a charm, although I will say that if you like chunky salsa, maybe don't freeze your tomatoes at any point in the process.  After thawing (sort of) and peeling, I felt like these particular tomatoes were more suited to sauce than salsa.  In fact, they were so mushy that I didn't even cut some of the smaller ones--I just tossed them in the pot.  But of course I used the mushy tomatoes anyway (I was committed at that point), and I will do it again, because it was so much easier than blanching and shocking, and who cares if the salsa is a little saucier than usual?  Not me.  And not anyone else around here, if they know what's good for them.

It actually worked out really nicely to have done all of the other chopping the day before.  All I had to do this morning was peel and dice (or mash) the tomatoes and mix them in to all of the other goodness.  It was less overwhelming and felt a lot more manageable.  So I might just repeat this same salsa process in the future.

Who doesn't love the sound of canning lids pinging?  Tomato-ripening-bag in the background.

Which might be much sooner than anticipated.

This morning, after I had filled the canner with 9 pints of salsa, I texted the oldest boy to ask for an estimate of his salsa consumption this year.  See, he's the one in our household who eats the most salsa.  And he doesn't even live here most of the year.  I was wondering if I should do another half batch or if this would be enough.  The boy responded with an estimate that was much higher than I anticipated (maybe he included his housemates in his estimate?  But I feel like they're not really voracious salsa eaters).  It was an estimate that made me wonder if I should have doubled the recipe right away (I have a big enough pot and enough tomatoes) and processed it in quarts.  There's a nationwide (maybe worldwide) shortage of canning lids, you know.  Perhaps the asking of that question was poorly timed.  Whoops.  

I was ...not really hoping, more like dreaming... that I might actually have enough home grown tomatoes this year to make sauce.  I have never, ever even come close to such a thing.  In fact, last year I had to buy tomatoes just to have enough to make salsa.  For reference, the Ball Blue Book says it takes about 3 1/3 pounds of tomatoes to make a pint of sauce.  And 3 1/3 pounds of roma tomatoes is about 13-17 tomatoes.  For a pint!  And I thought I might have enough roma tomatoes to actually make sauce and for it to be enough sauce to make it worthwhile to can.  It's been a bumper crop of tomatoes this year, for sure.

There goes that dream.  More salsa, coming right(ish) up!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Cooking day

Today's the day!  It's cooking day!

I remember talking with a friend several years ago about the many jobs we do as mamas.  You know, like maid, chef, chauffeur, accountant, counselor, logistics, transportation, purchasing, nanny, assistant, communication coordinator, nurse.  My friend asked me which of the jobs is my favorite.  I think she actually asked which one I would do if I could only do one, but same dif.  I don't remember which one she said, but I said chef.

Even at the time, it surprised me a little bit that I said I would want to cook.  I mean, I agonize over those meal plans every week.  It's excruciating.  And cleaning up is a drag (I do remember prefacing my chef preference by saying, "as long as I don't have to clean up..." I guess I was planning to have staff for that). The logistics of cooking sometimes seem overwhelming--planning what to cook and making sure all of the ingredients are available (I guess I was planning to have staff for that, too)--but it's true: I love the process of taking separate ingredients, some most of which don't taste good by themselves, and combining them into something delicious and satisfying.  It's magical.  And that's probably why baking seemed as necessary as breathing a couple of months ago.

So yes.  It's cooking day.  You know already that there will be salsa today.  The tomatoes are thawing as we speak I type.  The first order of business was to get the machines working.

But then I realized that if I started the bread machine right then, the dough within would need attention when I wasn't around to give it.

Yeah.  Cooking day, interrupted by a darn orthodontist appointment.  Where's the chauffeur/transportation coordinator/health assistant when I need her?  Also, in the absence of all those, where's the logistics person to tell me that today is not the ideal day for a cooking day?

So I got one of the machines working and the other loaded, and then I decided to tell you about it.  Blogging used to be my very favorite method of procrastination (but that's a story for another day).

On the agenda today: buns, bacon ranch chicken, salsa, biscuits and gravy, and snickerdoodles.  If I'm not completely done by then, I might do muffins, too.

I know you're probably not having a cooking day today.  But whatever you're up to, I hope it's as satisfying as my day will be.

See ya later.

Monday, August 24, 2020

It's Salsa Time

 Hello, friends.

As you (may or may not) know, I'm growing roma tomatoes in the garden this year.  I wanted to grow paste (as opposed to slicing) tomatoes because they're supposedly better for canning, both because they are more meaty/less juicy, and because they tend to produce one big crop all at once rather than continuing to produce all summer long.  Which is what you want for canning.  I was hoping for Amish paste tomatoes, because, well, I like the name, and, um, really no other reason, but the only paste tomato that was available as starts at my garden center was roma.

Well, that one big crop thing isn't happening in the way that it seems to me one-big-crop should.  I feel like it should happen that I am able to pick all of the tomatoes in one day, and then be done.  Instead, they're dribbling in.  Faster than a slicing tomato would, yes, but not one-big-crop fast.  

A week or so ago, a storm decided to get the harvest started.  I did not agree that some of the tomatoes the storm harvested were ripe, but the storm didn't consult me (how rude).  The ones that weren't as ripe went into a paper bag, along with an apple (and then later, a pear, which became known as the tomato pear, but that's a story for another day), on my counter, and I cored and scored the rest and stuck them in the freezer for later.  I am assured by the internet at large that this is an easy and perfectly legitimate way to both store tomatoes until I'm ready to use them, and peel the tomatoes.  No blanching for me this year (I hope).

Anyway, the romas are ripening and now I've accumulated enough ripe tomatoes, through a combination of storm-harvest-and-ripen-in-a-paper-bag and actual harvesting-ripe-tomatoes-and-storing-them-in-the-freezer to make a batch of salsa.  Yay!  This is a very good thing, because we opened our second to last jar of salsa a couple of weeks ago.

In other roma tomato news, the blight has begun.  I think this is probably late blight. Because it's late in the season.  But I haven't taken the time to look it up.  Because honestly, who cares at this point?  It's here, it's affecting my tomatoes, and it's a race between blight and me to see who gets the best harvest.  Luckily for me, I have a secret weapon--that paper bag sitting on the counter with an apple (and a pear) in it.  I would say that I think I'm going to win this one, but I don't want to seem overconfident.

In other tomato news, the volunteer grape tomato plants--I've found five now--and the sun sweet cherry tomato sucker that I stuck in the ground earlier this year have set fruit are big enough that they require staking to avoid sprawling all over the ground like a teenager sprawling on the couch after a hard night of ... sleeping.  The volunteer plants are looking so much better than the on-purpose plants that I'm wondering how I can get all volunteer plants next year.  Maybe if I offer them a stipend?  The volunteers are extending the cherry tomato season, which is always a good thing.

So yeah.  Salsa is happening soon.  Stay tuned, my friends.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Menu plan for the week of August 3

Did you notice school supplies going on sale the first week of July?  It happens every year, and most years, I'm ready for it.  It seems awfully early, but school does start in early August for some people, so it's actually not all that early.  

But this year was something else.  I was so not in school supply buying mode at the beginning of July.  It hadn't even occurred to me that we would need supplies for this coming school year, because it felt as if this coming school year wasn't going to happen.  At the beginning of July, it felt like nothing normal was ever going to happen.

Now, at the beginning of August, I still kind of can't believe the school year is going to happen.  I mean, I know the school district is making plans to open, but it just seems so impossible and strange.

I did manage to snap out of my stupor long enough to assess our personal school supply situation and order the things we were lacking (except sanitizing wipes.  Do they really expect us to be able to find sanitizing wipes right now?).  Bubby's supplies are sitting in a box all ready for him, and I feel like we probably have enough other stuff for whatever the high school teachers are going to require.

It still feels surreal.

What does not feel surreal is that people around here continue to want to eat.  So I will continue to feed them.

Here's what's on the menu this week.


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