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Recipes and Winter Storage Ideas: "What Can I Do With All Those Vegetables?"

Posted by Amie / October 18, 2010

Oven-Dried TomatoesThere's a Quebec online television show called "Comment Survivre aux Week-ends?", and sometimes that's a good question when you're not good at premeditated meal planning, but when Montreal starts to feel like an ice box (about now) you need to start thinking a little more long-term if you want to eat well all winter, aka not ice cream for breakfast, as Marie insists is proper when she's having no luck with men. Instead of whining that speed-dating is not for her, Marie would be better off spending her time doing one of the following:

1. Canning (ex: plum jam or chili peppers)
2. Freezing (ex: herbs, vegetables, or pesto)
3. Drying (ex: herbs and tomatoes)
4. Infusing oils and alcohol (with herbs and chilies)

Here's how...

Freezing: Lets start with the easy stuff. Anybody can freeze things as long as they have freezer space and a plastic freezer bag or aluminum foil. Fresh herbs are the best things to freeze because it's hard to get good quality over the winter months. Wash the herbs, dry them on a paper towel and either store whole (for rosemary or oregano) or remove the stems and maybe chop gently (parsley, cilantro, or other leafy herbs) before sticking them in the air-tight bag or foil. You can also roll them up un-chopped in wax paper to freeze so they don't get all clumped together and you don't spend 20 minutes hacking apart a chunk of mint in December when you can't feel your fingers anymore.

Tip: It's best to blanch herbs and vegetables before you freeze them because they'll retain more nutrients that way, but better un-blanched than not frozen at all.

How to do it: Boil a pot of water and hold the stems of the herbs while swirling the leaves through the water for just a few seconds, until the colour brightens. Then dry the herbs on a paper towel before freezing.

For carrots you can blanch or steam them. Wash, peel and either chop the carrots or leave them whole. For big carrot pieces add them to the boiling water for 3 minutes. For smaller ones, just blanch for 2. To steam them (for a better taste) just add one minute to the cooking time. Freeze in freezer-safe containers or bags.

If you want pre-minced garlic to use in stir-fries or sautés, freeze the garlic in ice cube trays and then transfer to freezer bags when frozen. The same goes for pestos:

Basil Pesto
2 cups basil leaves
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 pine nuts (toasted - put them in a small frying pan for a few minutes on medium until they start to brown and start to smell like nuts)
1 cup parmesan cheese (optional - you can also add this directly to the dish you're planning to make with the pesto. Cheese you can get easily in Quebec all year, so no need to freeze it except for pesto convenience)

In a blender or food processor process the leaves. Add the pine nuts and garlic, and then add the olive oil (in a food processor add the oil in a thin stream. It's kind of dangerous to do this with a blender with the lid off...not to say that I don't, but I generally have anti-garlic eye-protection on.

Struggle to get the pesto out of the blender (no struggle involved with a food processor, generally) and stir in the cheese. Spoon into ice cube trays and freeze overnight. Don't forget about them or they'll get freezer burn and then all your work will have been for naught.

Infusing Oils and Alcohols
Also incredibly easy. You take alcohol, and you take something that will probably taste good with that alcohol, then you let it sit for awhile. The only thing that can go wrong is if you let it sit not long enough or too long, but probably that's not going to happen, and even then the results usually aren't that dire...unless there are chili peppers involved:

Herbed Vodka (like the one with the buffalo...)
1 litre vodka
1-2 fistfuls of your herb of choice (lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, dill even)
Time and Patience...well, not much

If it's a leafy green, massage it between your fingers to release the aroma. If you can bruise it lightly, do it. Otherwise, just stick the herb in the alcohol and wait 5-7 days. You can leave it indefinitely, but it'll be ready after a week.

Hot Chili Pepper Oil
1 cup olive oil
2 hot chili peppers (or 8 dried chilies, but that defeats the purpose of preserving the season's bounty...)
2 bay leaves
6 black peppercorns...or Sichuan peppercorns...

Wash and dry a large glass jar. Add all the ingredients. Set it on a baking sheet in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven for 1 hour. Take the can out of the oven and let it cool for 30 minutes before straining it through a sieve lined with a coffee filter or a cheesecloth. I spent most of my life without a cheesecloth or a coffee filter and that wasn't about to stop me from infusing things, so if you have neither of these things just strain out of the spices and peppers. If you leave the chilies in, you may be in trouble...at least you didn't make chili vodka because then you'd be drinking the stuff about a 1/4 tsp at a time...makes for a very sober winter.

Drying
Well, it's a bit cold in Quebec to be drying things in the open air, but you can cheat nature by dehydrating things in the oven with the door open or in a dehydrator if you have one of those. (Oh, if you have one of those and don't want it, please sell it to me because the recipes below knock up your electricity bill and I made a lot of test recipes).

Dried Herbs (Anything - basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, rosemary, etc.)
Wash and dry the herbs. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Turn your oven to its lowest possible temperature and set the sheet inside until the leaves are dry (about 2-4 hours depending on how wet they are to begin with and the size of the leaves). You probably need to turn them over halfway through. You can also set them up on a cake rack on the baking sheet so air can pass underneath them and they'll dry faster and more evenly, like the tomatoes below:

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
Normal sun-dried tomatoes you find in stores often have sulfites added for colour or preservation, so if you don't want to dry your own, at least check the label.

Either put a cake rack (or something that elevates the tomatoes) on a baking sheet so the tomatoes dry evenly. Or place them straight on clean oven racks, though this may get messy. Or just turn the tomatoes over every 30 minutes on a baking sheet. You can brush the tomatoes with olive oil on both sides if you want, or leave them alone in the expectation of adding olive oil to them later in their shriveled lives.

Slice Italian tomatoes in half (the sauce tomatoes that already have less juice, not field or beefsteak or heirloom or cherries or you'll be dehydrating for days -- though you could maybe get away with cherries and they'd be sweet. Hmm...), and place cut-side up on the baking sheet or rack.

Then stick them in the oven at the lowest possible temperature with the door a little open. And wait...

And wait...

And wait...

And then......Sun-dried TomatoesAbout 6 to 12 hours later, depending on the size of your tomatoes, they should be dry, but flexible, not brittle. I used bigger tomatoes that had two cut sides, so there was more juice but also more turning required. Basically it required a day and a half of turning to dry these guys out when overnight should have sufficed. You don't want to under-dry them because then they'd go moldy and all would, again, be for naught. Let the tomatoes cool and store in a glass container and store in a cupboard. They don't even need a fridge if they're fully dried. They last "indefinitely", say my sources, but you probably want to eat them at some point.

You made it! Canning!
Jam is relatively hard because you need to find this elusive thing called the "setting point" - the point where the jam is thick enough and cooked enough to gel up and become jam-y. Pickled things are easy. So lets start with those:Pickled chiliesPickled Chilies
1/4 pound of long red chilies, washed, stems removed, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. You can leave the seeds in if you like heat more than flavour, and want to save yourself a ton of time and effort.
1 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp kosher salt (I had coarse sea salt. Apparently recipes call for kosher salt because it doesn't have the iodine or anti-caking additives of table salt that make the pickle brine go cloudy and the pickled things dark, but any salt is fine. It'll just look weird. Sea salt should also be fine since I doubt is has these additives)
1/4 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 start anise, whole or in pieces

Wash two 250mL (or four 125mL ones) canning jars (the glass jars, the tightening rings, and the circular lids) in hot soapy water. Stick only the jars and rings in a giant pot and bring to a rolling boil for 5 minutes. None of this wimpy steaming or simmering business. Once they've boiled just leave them in the water to wait for the chilies to be ready.

Measure out one packed cup of the chopped chilies. Now bring the vinegar to a boil. While it's coming to a boil add the salt and stir to dissolve. Then add the peppercorn and star anise. Bring it to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer 30 seconds. It's not as though it'll go from a boil to just a simmer in 30 seconds, but just don't let it boil out of control. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm. You want to add hot brine to your pickles so it can't get too chilly.

Put the wax lids of the three jars in the hot water to have a tea party with the rings that I just left in there (or to be extra safe, bring a small pot of water to a boil, reduce to a very low simmer and add the lids for 5 minutes).

So I don't have a jar lifter. I have tongs and a slotted spoon. I figured people have been canning without jar lifters for ages, so so could I. They probably didn't have tongs either, but the point is they adapted and worked with what they had, and so can you. Take the pot off the heat and carefully get the jars emptied and out of the water somehow along with the lids and rings, and onto a clean kitchen towel without burning yourself too much.

Wash some chopsticks or a small spatula and wash your hands well. Really you should just wash your hands constantly while canning anything. You should be a prune by the end.

Stuff as many chilies as you can into a jar, filling it up to the first lip and stuffing them down with the chopsticks or spatula to make room for some more. Then pour the heated vinegar/salt/star anise mixture over it to just a little below the edge. If there are extra chilies and brine put that in another jar and let it cool. Wipe the rims with a clean paper towel or kitchen towel. Place the lids on top of the jars (again, not with your hands). Lift the tightening ring (again, no hand contact) and place over the lid. You can now use your hands to tighten the ring. It should be tight, but don't get all Popeye about it.

Now all you do is set the jar in a warm, sunny place for 2-4 days. Easier said than done, I know! Mine went into the oven with the light on (the oven was off). Keeps indefinitely if refrigerated and well-sealed. Vanilla Plum Jam
Vanilla Plum Jam4 ingredients and no pectin. Amazing. Green gage plums are also called Reine Claudes. They're the small greenish ones you'll see at markets and supermarkets.

2lb (about 1kg) Green Gage Plums
1lb (about 500g) sugar
juice from 1 lemon
2 vanilla beans
Pitted PlumsThe only thing that's annoying is that you need to pit every plum...
You're supposed to cut the plums into big chunks but I just cut them in half. Would have been better in chunks. One of these stays I'll learn to read. YOU can cut them in chunks.

Then the plums go into a large pot...not the pits. Add the sugar and the lemon juice (I'm skeptical about adding the lemon juice now, since all the boiling kind of kills the intensity of the flavour, but I picked a high time to learn to read, didn't I?). Stir well to combine. Let sit for about an hour or 2 in the fridge. Just don't leave them for a few days or they might start to ferment.

Cut two vanilla beans lengthwise (my goodness this was so fun. You never want to wash your hands again. SO much better than chili peppers!), scrape the inside of the pods to get to all the seeds.

Scrape the pods and all the seeds into the pot with the fruits. Place the pot over the stove and bring to a boil over medium heat. Gently stir to make sure all the sugar is melted. Bring the heat down to a simmer, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it reduces at least by half.

To test to see if the jam is ready, put a small plate in the freezer for a few minutes to cool it. The take a small amount of jam on the tip of a spoon, and drop it on the plate. Put the plate back in the freezer for 30 seconds. Remove it and press down on the jam with your finger and it should be gel-y, not liquid-y. If it's still a little runny, you might want to continue cooking for just a bit longer. Mine took forever and I figured it was because my plum chunks were too big, so I transferred the jam to the blender and pulsed it VERY briefly. I didn't want puréed jam, but I wanted to get the natural pectin in the fruit out from where it was hiding. Then the jam went back on the stove for maybe 10 minutes, and got stirred religiously because it'll burn easily now that it's quasi-puréed, and I tried the cold plate trick again.

The canning thing...well, you CAN can this or just stick it in the fridge. Otherwise, sterilize the cans and rings in boiling water for 20 minutes. It's a good idea to have a rack in the bottom of the pot so the jars don't touch the sides or bottom, but you can also use a kitchen towel or even newspaper, I've heard. Personally I'm a big fan of my steaming rack. Leave the jars in the water until the jam is ready. Add the lids to another pot of gently simmering water for 10 minutes. Remove with tongs (no more touching) and place the jars and lids on clean kitchen towels. Fill the jars with the jam to the bottom lip, wipe the rims with a clean cloth or damp paper towel (no touching, remember?) and then use tongs or a jar lifter to place the lids on, followed by the rings. Now tighten with your hand (don't burn yourself). Then jam lifter the jars back into the water you used to sterilize them in the first place, return the water to a boil, and start the timer for 20 minutes once it returns to a boil. Remove from pot, let cool, and SLIGHTLY tighten the rings. I did this with my tomatoes too soon and now I can't open my tomatoes.

Other recipes:Fig JamFig JamTomato SauceAmazing tomato sauce
Sriracha Chili SauceSriracha Chili Sauce ('rooster'-style)

Enjoy and good luck!

Discussion

19 Comments

TGS / October 18, 2010 at 09:06 pm
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Ooh, great post! I'm hoping to can and pickle for the first time this fall and these recipes make a good starting point.
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