24 October 2009

In the Kitchen with Mom (and Pickles)

I have previously mentioned my new-ish love of canning. My whole life, I have appreciated canning because I was fortunate enough to grow up with a mom and grandmother who canned all sorts of concoctions. Homemade grape jelly was only a cupboard away in my childhood. Playing dress-up at my Gramma's house while she and my Mom made quarts upon quarts of applesauce was a regular summer activity. Not to mention the adventure out to the family farm to visit the cows, chase the barn cats and pick the old apple tree clean. Those days were truly some of the best of my childhood. We had jams, chutneys, pickles, jellies, sauces, tomatoes, salsas, just about anything that could be put-up was put-up. I have become so enamored with the old-fashioned notion of putting-food-by that this was my summer of mastering canning. I have an ever-expanding library of cookbooks dedicated to canning and preserving the harvest. My Christmas wish-list is full of pressure canners and other canning cookbooks and cute jars. It is possible, during those long-ago summers, that my Gramma and Mom were creating a little canning monster. It only took 20 or so years for the monster to appear.

This process will be so much easier after my
Mom gets her kitchen remodeled!

I like to think those around me are lucky that monster has appeared. My friends and family have certainly reaped the benefits of my summer past time. But really it has been most beneficial for me. This past summer has been filled with more ups and downs that I know how to put into words. During some of the harder times, canning has cheered me up. I am sure that makes no sense to someone who hasn't fallen in love with canning. When I put a hard day's work into the kitchen, and I come away with jars of food that a loved one can treasure in the coming months, I am fulfilled. I am momentarily distracted from the chaos in my life, and honestly I am just totally proud of myself. Canned goods are a very physical, literal display of my efforts and achievements in the kitchen. Better yet, they are a very physical, literal display of my bond with my Mom.

Thanks to my Mom for modeling the careful
placement of the jars in the canner!
Note the gloves due to the hot peppers.

I would never be as confident with a canner if I hadn't learned from her. I am sure my Mom will laugh when she reads this because she only showed me how to can once (under some serious pressure because her hip had been replaced and she couldn't physically help - only instruct). But that day in the kitchen, and more importantly my entire childhood, taught me what I needed to know. Canning is a scientific process, but it doesn't have to be scary or intimidating. She has given me the confidence in myself to be successful at something that has brought me a tremendous amount of joy. That is a priceless gift.

Mom posing with the canner! I love this picture for a variety of reasons.
The mask cracks me up and the look in my Mom's eyes is just so her.

So a few weeks ago, my Mom and I decided to can pickles together. It was a very, very long day. But it was also a ton of fun! We actually did all of the work together, and I couldn't have asked for a better day with her. Sadly for my Mom, what we pickled she will never eat - a variety of hot peppers that are too spicy for her. But she was a trooper and insisted we keep going even when I was ready to toss out the rest of the pickles because I couldn't face another round of wiping down jars and waiting for water to boil. We were in the kitchen for about 12 hours with only a quick lunch break. We were exhausted but came away with dozens and dozens of jars of Mixed Pickled Peppers (just plain in a vinegar solution) and Spicy Bread and Butter Pickles.

Onions - sliced and ready to be pickled.

If you are unfamiliar with Bread and Butter Pickles, I think they are some of the most delicious homemade pickles on the planet. They are incredibly sweet with a nice oniony flavor accented with mustard seeds. On their own, they are too sweet for me, but on top of a hamburger or tuna sandwich, they are pure heaven.

A pile of peppers preparing to be pickled.

Traditionally, my family makes them with a mixture of cucumbers, bell peppers and onions. I, of course needing to fool with tradition, told my Mom that we needed to substitute hot peppers in for the cucumbers. Not to pat my back or anything, but I am brilliant. The spicy flavor of hot peppers mixed with the sweet vinegary sauce is perfect. To make your own Spicy Bread and Butter Pickles, just follow my lead and substitute hot peppers in for the cucumbers or zucchini in your favorite recipe.

The original Bread and Butter Pickle Recipe -
in my Mom's words and handwriting!

I am submitting this post to Laura of The Spiced Life for October's Family Recipes Blog Event. Laura and Shelby host the event monthly. Be sure to check out Laura's blog for the round up!

21 October 2009

Pumpkin Blueberry Poundcake with Cranberries!

I have been planning my moving strategy for awhile now. I enjoy doing stuff like planning and strategizing. It helps me to avoid the actual doing of things. Procrastinate? Me? Never. One of my big dilemmas after packing my cookbooks (dare I share with the world that I have over 16 large, paper boxes worth of cookbooks?!?!) is my cooking magazines. What would you do if you had bookshelves of foodie magazines collected over the past 7-10 years? Stare at them bleakly trying to come up with a plan? Admit to yourself that you haven't actually thumbed through any of the back issues you've collected? Cough and gasp when you breathe in the frightening layer of dust you disrupt when you pull a few of the magazines out? Realize that if your sister were moving and packing, you would tell her to get rid of them!

I think that was the final straw - realizing that if it was someone else's junk, you'd encourage them to let the magazines go. So for the past week, instead of simply strategizing, I have actually been doing something. I have been flipping through all my accumulated food magazines and clipping any recipes or articles that look interesting to me. I am reminding myself to only keep stuff that I think I will actually use or reference later. Fortunately, I already had a little recipe scrapbook started from when my mom got rid of all of her Bon Appetit magazines from the early 1980's. I decided to just keep cutting and pasting recipes into my little food journal. I am passing the magazines on to anyone who wants them - food magazines never really expire, so someone else can read them now. I feel like I have actually accomplished something. My bookshelf is completely empty now - free from the dozens of magazines that were weighing heavily on my mind!

And the best part? I rediscovered tons of recipes I want to make as soon as possible! It is so much fun being reminded of dishes I wanted to try but never got around to making. I have especially enjoyed running into the autumn issues. The food perfectly fits the weather we have had around here lately. I have made so many loaves of pumpkin bread, I am surprised I haven't turned into a pumpkin! Fortunately my dad and his hunting buddies like the pumpkin bread so I am freezing much of it to go with them on their next big trip.

This recipe comes from Cooking Light, which is unusual for me, as I often feel like I find nothing I want to bake in that magazine. Apparently I need to change my tune and get over my idiotic bias. This "poundcake" is exactly like a quick bread. In fact I baked it in two loaf pans instead of the tube pan as instructed in the recipe. My dad said this was his second favorite of my pumpkin bread experiments, so I will be sure to share his favorite soon. The loaves come out with a very dense, moist crumb. It wasn't too sweet, but I think it could be if you don't follow my one significant change to the recipe - instead of 2 cups of blueberries, I added 1 cup of blueberries and 1 cup of chopped, fresh cranberries. The tart tang of the cranberries really make this bread special.

Blueberry Pumpkin Pound Cake
from Cooking Light

This cake was adapted from Debra Ayers's original recipe, which earned a blue ribbon at the Machias Blueberry Festival in 1999. Frozen blueberries tint the batter purple.

Cooking spray
3 cups plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups canned pumpkin
1/3 cup fat free sour cream (I used fat free Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup 1% low fat milk
2 cups fresh or frozen wild blueberries (I used 1 cup each of blueberries and chopped, fresh cranberries)

Glaze (I skipped the glaze since I was going for more of a quick bread)
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon canned pumpkin
2 1/4 teaspoons 1% low fat milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 deg.
2. To prepare cake, coat a 10-inch tube pan with cooking spray, dust with 2 teaspoons flour. Set aside. (I used 2 loaf pans instead of the tube pan)
3. Lightly spoon 3 cups flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine 3 cups flour and next 6 ingredients (through cloves), stirring with a whisk. Place butter in a large bowl, beat with a mixer at medium speed 1 minutes or until fluffy. Gradually add granulated and brown sugars and 1 teaspoon vanilla, beating until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add pumpkin and sour cream, and beat well. Beating at low speed, add flour mixture and milk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Fold in blueberries. (I did all the mixing by hand without any problems)
4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 325 deg for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes on a wire rack. Place a wire rack upside down on top of cake, invert onto rack. Cool completely.
5. To prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar and remaining ingredients, stirring until well blended, drizzle over the cooled cake. Yield 16 servings (serving size, 1 slice).