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archive for July 2012

if you can can can!

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Recipe: pickled okra

We had a good, rainy weekend – all gray, cool, and drenched with a few breaks in between. Looks like the monsoons have begun and they are most welcome in our thirsty mountains. And it was nice to have a weekend without obligations to anyone but each other, and of course, Kaweah.

raindrops cling to aspen leaves

fireweed in bloom, mountain biker on the trail – typical colorado

trotting along, loving her little hike

forest colors are so vibrant after a rain

Last Sunday, I canned my very first anything on my own. I had taken a class back in October, but it was a giant group effort and I didn’t feel confident enough to tackle it again until now. Why is that? Because I was waiting for this book to come out.

food in jars

it’s beautiful

I had mentioned this lovely book and its even lovelier author, Marisa, when I posted her wildly popular strawberry syrup recipe. There are just so many terrific recipes on jams, preserves, pickles, chutneys, sauces, etc. in her book that you could conceivably ignore the “canning” factor altogether. But… why would you? Considering our long winters and our short growing season in Colorado, I have decided that canning the seasonal goodness of summer is worth the investment of time, learning, effort, and money. So I started with something easy – pickles. Here’s my journey…

pickling spice blend from savory spice shop in boulder

Pickling requires pickling spices. I decided to make my own blend (a recipe from Marisa’s book) and dropped by Savory Spice Shop in Boulder (my favorite local spice source) for the spices I didn’t have. I have a barely working knowledge of spices at best, so it’s nice to walk into the store and get fantastic advice from the super friendly and knowledgeable staff when you’re in need of help.

bay leaves, juniper berries, mustard seed, peppercorns, coriander seed, allspice, dill seed, cloves, cinnamon

pour it into a jar

shake (mix)

Now what to pickle? l was having a conversation with friends on Twitter about okra one day and I recalled these pickled okra spears that my good friend, Melinda, had turned me on to almost 20 years ago. Mmm, okra pickles. I had not had one of those in a long time. But where oh where do you get okra in Colorado? Some of the Mexican, Indian, and Asian grocery stores carry it, but Manisha reported that the Indian grocer near her house had beautiful okra just the other day. Ellen (of Helliemae’s Handcrafted Caramels) and I met there and gathered what we thought was a good deal of okra.

oh oh oh okra

For the canning newbs or wannabes, here’s what I used. For the seasoned pros, you can skip to the ingredients. There are in essence, two kinds of jars with which I can: Ball jars (or Ball-style jars) and Weck jars. Ball jars are pretty common and more affordable, but Weck jars are not only incredibly beautiful, they also have glass lids that are BPA-free. I like Weck jars for home use, but I gift the Ball jars since I’m not made of money. You also want a canning pot with a rack to keep the jars from resting on the bottom of the pot. For large batches, I have a 21.5 quart porcelain-on-steel pot with a canning rack. For small batches, I use a tall stock pot with a makeshift rack (it’s a cooling rack). Sweet. You will also want a jar lifter (I like this one from Ball because it is spring-loaded which makes for less cussing), a lid lifter wand (if you use Ball-style jars, otherwise you won’t need this for Weck jars as the lids are glass, not metal), a wide-mouth funnel, a wooden chopstick (or you can pay money for a plastic bubble popper thingy), and some kitchen towels.

1/2 liter (1 pint) weck mold jars (742)

tall stock pot with cooling rack

For the pickling, I got myself a bag of pickling salt which is different from regular salt in that it has no iodine and no additives. I also picked up apple cider vinegar that states 5% acidity on the label. From a food safety standpoint, the acidity level is important for ensuring the right pH so you don’t poison yourself with molds or bacteria. So there’s that.

pickling salt

5% acidity apple cider vinegar

The preparation of jars is slightly different for Weck than for Ball jars and I describe both in the recipe below, but for now, I’m going with the Weck jars. You only need to sterilize the jars if you process (boil in the canning bath) for less than 10 minutes. Since I live at 8500 feet, I have to process my jars for an additional 20 minutes – so yeah, I skipped the sterilization step. But the rubber rings go into a boiling bath for 2-3 minutes and remain in the hot water until you are ready to seal the jars. So do that, get your canning bath ready (it takes some time for the giant pot of water to come to temperature), and do your mise en place.

place the rubber rings in a bath

pickling spices, vinegar, pickling salt, garlic, lemon, okra

the brine: water, vinegar, pickling salt

**Jump for more butter**

chillin’ my way

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Recipe: strawberry vodka

Our oppressive heat of the last several weeks seems to be abating so that Kaweah can resume her jolly evening walks without overheating. While we adjust to summer temperatures, it’s much harder on the pup. So 80Β°F might be tolerable for us, but it will have her gasping for air on the baby trails.

kaweah was so very happy to be out after a rain

trail markers in our town

This cooling trend was just in time for the Fourth of July holiday too. It was lovely getting our legs outside and back on the trails. The wildflowers are going nuts in the high country too. For our holiday, we went for an early morning local hike.

big views

little critters (can you spot the pika?)

final ascent

token summit shot on mount audubon (haze is smoke from wildfires in wyoming)

wonderful blue columbines (colorado state flower)

blessed rains on the descent

Fireworks were cancelled in our mountain town for obvious reasons (two words: Colorado wildfires). If you’re hankering for sparklies, you can see fireworks photos from 2011 and 2010. Instead of scoping out a location from which to shoot the fireworks like previous July 4ths, I got to chill out at home and make a simple, but elegant dinner.

pan-seared scallops on fresh vegetables

My beverage of choice is water. I love it. But when I want to offer something special to friends, it’s usually fruity and usually homemade. In summer, the quintessential beverage is lemonade. I like to play with fancy lemonade like lavender lemonade or in this case, a strawberry lemonade. Except this is an adult strawberry lemonade made with homemade strawberry vodka.

get yer hands on some proper strawberries

red to the core

**Jump for more butter**

food, friends, and festivities

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Recipe: spinach cheese empanadas

A lot of our time seems to revolve around friends and food of late. I guess that’s no surprise, but it hops onto an accelerated pace in summer when the weather is nice and we don’t have to worry about insane winds scaring our dinner guests off or snow and ice closing the canyon. Game on! On Sunday, Trent (who owns Pica’s in Boulder), his family, and a mutual friend came up to escape the heat and enjoy some burgers. These aren’t just any burgers, but California roll burgers. Trent spends so much time feeding and taking care of others that I felt it was his turn to be spoiled – just a little bit.

that’s a tall burger

it cooled down nicely in time for ice cream, strawberry daifuku mochi, and french macarons on the deck

trent and his darling little girl

being silly

Ahhh, I love good eaters… good eaters who appreciate good food. Those are the best guests! They also make for great dinner companions. One of my all-time favorite dinner guests is Erin, who turns the big 3-0 (that’s 30) in a few days. Jeremy and I took her out Monday night to The Kitchen’s Community Night dinner for an early celebration. I mean, everyone knows the 30s totally rawk.

mushroom flatbread


our neighbors

birthday girl and jeremy

When we hosted the astrophysics retreat last week, I planned Argentine empanadas as part of the lunch menu one day. As two of the guests do not eat beef, I figured I could offer a vegetarian version. This spinach and cheese filling sounded pretty good, but I had no idea how popular it would be among the carnivores as well!

the filling: spinach, chile powder, garlic, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, olive oil, butter


everything prepped

**Jump for more butter**