Monday, August 30, 2010

Crabs and Balls Insanity

This has been a cooking up a storm week for me because the weather hasn't been great and the house needed some warming up. Yikes - I can't actually believe I am saying that I had to warm up the house so early in the year! It has been cool, especially at night, and I really don't want to turn that furnace on. It goes against everything to turn it on before October. Almost blasphemy to think such a thought!

Hubby and I went over to our daughter's and picked a primary (a large vertical tub used for making wine) full of crabapples. We came home and I washed and topped and tailed them, then divided them between 2 primaries to make crabapple juice. I dumped in twice as much boiling water as there were crabs and a half a box of cream of tartar in each. I covered them with a cheerful checkered tablecloth and left them to soak overnight . Twenty-four hours later, I fished them out and moved the crabs to my big turkey roaster and then into the oven to cook through. I took the strained juice and simmered it until it was a mouth-watering, aromatic golden amber colour. Finally, I added some sugar until my tastebuds no longer imploded and it had a nice fresh bite. I poured the juice into 29 sterile sealers and let the sealers sit until the lids popped. Done.

Now, it was time to make applesauce from the baked crabs. I got out the Foley food mill and ran them through. I had enough sauce to make 9 trays of fruit leather, twice over. (I sweetened it with some warmed honey and added some cinnamon and nutmeg - all to taste.) They smell divine and taste pretty good - not super sweet but good- like eating applesauce. I gave the first batch of leather to my oldest for her lunches and some of the juice to take back home in return for giving me all those crabs. The rest I will wrap and freeze for later in the winter for our bag lunches. Now both the house and the garage smell great because of the crabs (the dehydrator is in the garage) doing their thing.

After finishing with the crabapples, I had about 140 apples from our tree to cook down. These I turned into applesauce. I stemmed, cored, and cut off the blossom ends and threw them into a pot with a bit of leftover crab juice and lemon juice to cook down. I ran them through the Foley food mill and have a lovely applesauce all spiced and ready to eat this winter.

I was happy I did all that because I still had four grocery sacks of apples to deal with from the church ladies. I made these into an apple pie filling that I make every year. It is so easy and so flavorful to use. It is especially nice during the winter for apple crisp, pies or whenever we have unexpected company for dinner because it is simply a matter of dumping the frozen apple pie filling into a bowl, zapping it to soften and spreading it into a dish with some oatmeal for a quick crisp that is comforting and good. I was able to make a huge (almost as big as my turkey roaster kind of huge) bowl of pie filling!

I only wish that my tomatoes were doing half as well as my daughter's crabs and my apples. I have so few that we have only eaten 5 - yes - only 5 tomatoes have ripened so far!!! This is just heartbreaking for me because I usually have enough to make salsa, chili sauce, spaghetti sauce and plain tomato sauce, besides enough to eat them everyday for lunch until November. I just cringe at the thought of having to buy pre-made sauces and hard tomatoes this winter. Groan. This darn global warming is darn chilly here on the prairies and the humidity has encouraged all sorts of blights that are attacking my plants...

So today I headed downstairs to grab a can of pineapple to make some pineapple sweet and sour meatballs for supper. No pineapple. I already had the meatballs cooking/browning in the oven. What to do? I went on the net and found a recipe for a sweet and sour that called for cranberries and chili sauce. Hmm. I knew I had some cranberry sauce left from that turkey the other day and some chili sauce that I had canned up last year. It sounded like the weirdest concoction to me but hey! who am I to doubt all the multitude of similiar recipes that professed its exceptional flavour? I mixed equal amounts of them together and it looked like someone puked in my bowl - really. It was hard to taste but I closed my eyes and ... it is actually really, really good! Now, I have to do a sell job on it - hopefully it will look much better once it cooks.

The cranberry chili sauced meatballs are a hit - everyone really liked them. Thank goodness! They were so quick to make and in the end, looked pretty good after they cooked for a bit and I didn't even have to do a sell job. Life is so good!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Turkey in August!

It was cool here today, with temperatures around 14 Celsius and the wind that sadly had that fall bite in it. It felt like a good day to roast something in the oven. After perusing the freezer, I discovered a small turkey left from the spring and decided that it was just the thing to cook. Thawing it was another matter -I felt like Dave on Vinyl Cafe trying to hurry it along so I could cook it today. Nothing like deciding to cook a frozen turkey in time for supper midway through the morning! I should have had my head examined... I did it though and it turned out just fine. We had a lovely supper and then the best part was I had a nice carcass to brown in oven to make some turkey stock for soup. The house smells great.

To make a nice stock, I brown the turkey carcass (uncovered and remaining meat removed) in the roasting pan for about an hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until it is a nice golden brown. Roasting the carcass before adding the water and other ingredients makes a darker, richer stock that is delicious for making soup or just sipping on a chilly day.I then chop up some carrots and celery stalks, usually about 3 or 4 of each, along with some yellow onions (they give the best flavour), a dozen or so black peppercorns and a couple bay leaves. I add a good handful of Italian parsley and sage as well. After the hour is up I throw everything in, add water just to cover and then about another inch . Then I return it to the oven but lower the heat to 300 and leave it for about 2 to 3 hours depending how much time I have. I used to cook my stock on top of the stove but found that I like putting it into the oven better because it comes out super clear and wonderful without all the little splatter marks on the stovetop. The roaster is easier to clean as well because everything that is baked on from cooking the turkey or chicken dissolves and adds to the flavour. I usually adjust my salt near the end when I reduce the stock down.

Turkey sandwiches tomorrow! I am so glad I baked bread this morning because turkey sandwiches made with homemade bread tastes so good! I think I will take some of the stock and freeze it. The rest I will make a nice soup out of because my fridge is bursting at the seams with garden vegetables. Not sure what I will put in it yet but I know I have some purple beans, zucchini, onions, carrots, but the celery I will have to pick and hopefully a couple peppers are ready in the garden and of course I will have a little turkey meat to pop in as well. Looks like supper is already planned for tomorrow.

What are you planning on making for supper? Do you have a garden that is ready for picking?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Real Food or not?

I know I have said before (more than a couple times) that cooking has always been something I love doing. It is so relaxing even when chaos overtakes the kitchen. I know, I know, that is essentially an oxymoron. Consider this - when you cook you have to pay attention to what you are doing or it really doesn't turn out. Unless, of course, you are making fast food stuff that is heat and serve and that really isn't cooking or in truth, real food. I agree that it is simple to heat and serve but basically it is just sustenance or something to put in your gut along with all the chemicals that they need to preserve it or keep it from separating or whatever. Where is the pleasure in that? I don't mean to sound like a food snob, that is not how I mean it, I just mean that real food is just so good - good for the body and the soul as well.

I understand that there are time crunches, especially when children have events they must be at or you have a meeting to attend. However, it really is easy to develop a few "fast food" meals that can be made when you are cooking on a non-rushed day and be frozen for later consumption. They are so much more satisfying and are just as quick as going through a drive-through without all the downsides to fast food.

I admit that I do queue up to a drive-through occasionally (very occasionally) even though I know that there are alternatives that are better. I feel guilty every time I am in a line because I don't find it particularly satisfying, food-wise. I also find it hard justifying all the additional gas that is burned idling through and the cost of the products. I never feel guilty about making or eating good food that is made from scratch at home.

I laughed to myself when I heard about the slow-cooking movement. I didn't know that what I did each day had a name, I thought it was just cooking. Over the years I have taken a lot of flack for all the care and time that I put into the meals I make for my family. Quite a few individuals didn't get it or felt that it was a waste of time, that my family was spoiled. They would ask me why I bothered going to all that work when I could just as easily go down to the grocery store to pick up anything I wanted already made up. Somehow, a lot of people have lost the desire to cook real food. I know that sometimes it can be cheaper to buy a store-bought meal but in terms of your health, it really isn't cheaper.

I am pleased to see that the process of cooking is changing and becoming a pleasure once again. It really is about sharing and savouring with the added bonus of getting real nutrition from the food that I have taken time to prepare. It is not just about getting our greens and carbs and being low fat, it is about enjoying the process and benefiting from it. The nutrition part just happens when all of us cook real food and the bonus is that we really don't have to keep track of the carbs/low fat/salt etc, it just isn't all that necessary if you choose recipes that don't use a lot of processed ingredients. The best part of taking your time is how it brings everyone together to enjoy one another's company at the table.

A number of years ago, a national food chain renovated one of their local grocery stores and discontinued a lot of the ingredients I needed to make certain breads and recipes from scratch. Instead, they stocked the shelves with a lot of pre-packaged foods. I shook my head and wondered how on earth I was going to be able to cook properly without them. I was quite disappointed that they had gone this route and made it more difficult to obtain basic ingredients. I have since sourced out these ingredients but still am disappointed to see our stores going that direction.

The basics give me more enjoyment that complicated foods. One of my little pleasures is walking out into the yard, picking a nice plump raspberry and popping it into my mouth. The smell and taste of it, softly warmed by the sun, is divine. When I was a kid, my mother would haul all of us out into the bush to pick fresh, wild raspberries. I don't remember if I was a very good picker when I was a kid (most likely not) but I do know I was a good berry eater and I always appreciated the wonderful taste and smell of those berries! I didn't even realize that my mother was providing us with organic food. It was just food. Along that same thought-line - who could ever deny that a fresh, sun-ripened tomato has the most incredible flavour when it comes to making toasted tomato sandwiches? My mouth is drooling just thinking about them. Both of these are the simplest of pleasures but offer fresh, healthy, organic food loaded with taste and all those vitamins, etc so vital to good health and no chemicals!