Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I feel pickled. No, no, I haven't been drinking...how did pickled ever come to be a definition for drunkeness?? Anyhow, I do smell strongly of vinegar, dill, and garlic. *sigh* The whole house actually smells of vinegar now, kind of like a chip truck really. However, I've been pickling cukes! I thought that this would be a relatively simple task. I remember watching my parents make pickles when I was a kid, and I suppose through the memory of an innocent child's eyes it didn't seem to take a lot of effort (which it really isn't). With my memory of the ease of pickle making top of mind I set out to pickle about 25 pounds of pickling cucumbers by myself.

I'm happy to report that the process really isn't that difficult. There are of course varying degrees of difficulty I suppose, depending on your chosen method of production. Buoyed with confidence after reading a few recipes on the internet, and of course my past success with canning this year I was able to make things happen pretty quickly. My chosen recipe actually skips the 'processing' step of canning. I know, I know....I too have read the 'warnings' per se, about the importance of processing your canning jars in a hot water bath but I figure if the many people who have used the recipe I chose to follow lived to tell the tale then I would too!

The recipe, about as minimalist as you can imagine. Small pickling cucumbers, garlic, dill, vinegar, and pickling salt. (What more do you need?) Sure I've seen recipes with various spices (black peppercorns, mustard seed, and coriander being most common), but all I really wanted was simple, crisp, garlic dills. The recipe, as follows:

Mike's Simple Garlic Dills

(First thing, ensure you're jars are properly sterilized)
12 cups water
4 cups vinegar
1/2 cup pickling salt
garlic cloves
fresh dill

Follow a ratio of approximately 16 cups of liquid for every 4 lbs of cucumbers

Wash cucumbers well (scrub!) and then soak in ice water for 2 hours. The soaking isn't completely necessary but it will help your pickles remain crisp! Heat your 'ratio' of 12 cups water, 4 cups vinegar, and 1/2 cup pickling salt to a boil.

Pack 500 ml jars as follows: fresh dill and one clove of garlic on the bottom followed by your cucumbers (either halved or quartered), and then more dill and another clove of garlic if desired. Pour the boiling hot liquid over your cucumbers (leaving a scant 1/8 inch head space) and seal immediately.

Ensuring your jars are sterilized and hot when you pack them and then immediately sealing ensures they're plenty 'safe' enough. Leave overnight without disturbing and check in the morning to ensure all jars have 'popped' and are properly sealed.

Set your jars aside in a cool, dark place for 6-8 weeks for the flavor to develop. Enjoy a great, simple, garlic dill pickle!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Just Peachy!

Beautiful, sweet peaches in January! That's what I kept telling myself as the sweat beaded on my forehead as I stood over the stove processing the jars of peaches while the temperature in the kitchen rose to 37.8°C!

Peaches are one of my favorite fruits and the season is sadly so short so I always make sure to take advantage! We've been eating Peach & Blackberry Crisp, tossing sliced peaches into salads, and of course eating them out of hand! (Over the sink of course because they're so ripe and juicy that their sweet nectar runs over your hand and down your arm!)

It's easy this time of year to eat locally. Practically all manner of produce is in season and the farmers' markets (as well as my own garden!) are all overflowing with great, fresh fruits and vegetables. None the less, if I want to continue to be a good locavore, eating from the fantastic market that is the Niagara Region, a little foresight is needed. Let's face it, in the middle of January and February a peach from the grocery store (imported from God knows where in the world!) doesn't come close to comparing to a peach grown a few short kilometers from our own backyard!

Canning peaches is relatively easy (although I suggest you try it on a cooler day!). A little lemon juice, water and sugar is all you need to make it happen! There are of course other options and we did can some our peaches with cinnamon sticks, star anise and a couple of cloves to spice things up! Make sure you follow the safety instructions of a good canning book (we used the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving).

Rush out there and get some of the last of the season peaches, each bite will be a reminder of all those days of warm sunshine!

Mike's Peaches in Light Syrup

Gather your ingredients:
(for 12 1L jars)

30lbs ripe, mature peaches
Simple Syrup (15 cups sugar and 34 cups water)
Boiling Water
12 1L mason jars with lids
Lemon juice

First thing is to boil your lids and jars to ensure that they're sterilized.

Next step, boil water to blanch your peaches in and get a large bowl of ice water ready.

Cut a very small 'x' on the bottom of the peach and carefully dunk it into the boiling water for 40-60 seconds and then quickly dip the peach into the ice water for a moment (just long enough to cool the peach for you to handle it). This process will allow the skin to release from the peach easily.

Peel the peaches, remove the pit and slice however you prefer (quarters are pretty easy). The place the sliced peaches into a new bowl with a mixture of 4 cups water and 1/4 cup lemon juice. This will stop the fruit from oxidizing and discoloring!

Next make your syrup by boiling the sugar and the water together. Keep warm.

Pack peaches into sterilized jars . Pack the fruit to 3/4 inch from the rim, fill with hot syrup to 1/2 inch of the rim. Use a long narrow object (a wooden spoon handle works well) to remove any air bubbles before sealing. Be sure to wipe off the rim with a clean, sterile cloth before placing a lid on the jar. Place ring on the jar only to finger tight (do not overtighten!).

Boil your jars for 25 minutes completely covered in water. Remove from boiling water and let rest. Make sure all jar lids have 'popped' before storing! Open when there is snow on the ground and pat yourself on the back for planning ahead!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tomato Days

It seems as though my garden has exploded and burst forth a glut of tomatoes for my wife and I. In the past few days we've had pasta with fresh tomato sauce, tomato-basil salad, tomato sandwiches, and perhaps my favorite roasted tomatoes.

Now I can't lay claim to the recipe that I used to roast the tomatoes (I never really thought that a recipe was necessary to enjoy such a simple thing). However, I have to say, this recipe made for the most incredibly sweet and luscious tomatoes you've ever tasted before.

The recipe is for
Pomodori Al Forno and it's from the September issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Specifically it's from the 'Cooking Life' column written by Molly Wizenberg (food blogger extrordinarie Orangette.)

The recipe is one that she adapted from a favorite Seattle restaurant 'Cafe Lago', and the process is really quite simple, roasting the tomatoes for a couple of hours on low heat in olive oil to coax out the natural sweetness and really intensify the flavour. Eating these luxurious, intensely flavoured tomatoes is such a treat. We ate ours very simply and unapologetically atop warm, crisp slices of good ciabatta. However, I'm sure one could gild the lily with some shaved Parmesan or creamy chevre. The tomatoes would be equally grand tossed with pasta.

Pomodori Al Forno
1 cup (or more) olive oil, divided
2 lbs plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeded
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
3/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp minced fresh Italian parsley
1 baguette, thinly sliced crosswise, toasted

Preaheat oven to 250°F. Pour 1/2 cup olive oil into 13x9x2 inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange tomatoes in dish, cut side up. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup oil. Sprinkle with oregano, sugar, and salt. Bake 1 hour. Using tongs, turn tomatoes over. Bake 1 hour longer. Turn tomatoes over again. Bake until deep red and very tender, transferring tomatoes to plate when soft (time will vary, depending on ripeness of tomatoes), about 15-45 minutes longer.

Layer tomatoes in medium bowl, sprinkling garlic and parsley over each layer; reserve oil in baking dish. Drizzle tomatoes with reserved oil, adding more if necessary to cover. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours.

These can be covered and chilled for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Serve with toasted baguette slices (and gild the lily with the cheese if so desired).

Friday, July 25, 2008

I've 'Bean' Canning

My wife and I went to the Farmers Market in Fonthill last night in search for beans! We had some from our garden but we wanted some for dinners and some for canning. Specifically, I wanted to make this recipe that was in her Canadian Living magazine for 'Spicy Dilled Beans'.
I've canned in the past but always jams, I'd never tried my hand at 'pickling' or 'preserving' anything before.

There were quite a few vendors at the market with all sorts of fresh produce, baked goods, preserves, and meats. A couple of area restaurants even had stalls with small sample size foods available. We bought corn, early peaches, fresh garlic, beans, and basil.

The beans we bought were from Tree & Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm, they had an amazing assortment of different varieties and we bought a mixed bundle of Dragon's Tongue (cream and purple in colour) and Red Swan Beans (dusty rose in colour). The owner tossed in a bundle of basil for free!

The recipe (from Canadian Living Magazine August 2008) turned out to be pretty easy (as long as you're organized!) The ingredient list was as follows: 2lb assorted beans, 4 small hot red peppers, 4 heads fresh dill (or 16 sprigs fresh dill), 4 cloves garlic, 4 tsp mustard seeds, 2 1/2 cups water, 2 1/2 cups white vinegar, and 2 tsp pickling salt. You'll also need 4 500ml mason jars and obviously a water canner.

After thoroughly washing the beans (including the beans from my own garden!) cut them into about 3 1/2 inch lengths (to fit in a 500ml jar. Discard the stem end of the bean. Cut a slit lenghtwise in the hot peppers and set aside.

Into each of the four 500ml canning jars (ensure they are clean, ideally by sterilizing them first in a hot water bath), pack the dill ,1 clove garlic, 1tsp mustard seed, and 1 hot red pepper. Tightly pack in the beans, cut side up.

In a small saucepan, bring water, vinegar and salt to boil; reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Pour into each jar, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.

Cover with prepared lids. Screw on bands until resistance is met; increase to fingertip tight. Boil in boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

The recipe says they're great as a garnish for cocktails, perhaps a Caesar or Martini. I think they'll be good for a light antipasto platter too!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Bounty of our Backyard

We're really kind of blessed to live in Niagara but not many people take full advantage of the amazing range of foods available locally! Within a few short kilometers of our doorstep exists a wide array of fruit and vegetables, meats, nuts, cheeses, and of course wines!

I hope to encourage dialogue around eating locally sustainable produce, sources within Niagara for a great many different foods, and of course recipes to encourage you along the way! Welcome to Eat Local Niagara, a blog to help Niagara residents eat local!