Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Backyard Plum Sauce

The same neighbour with a cherry tree that overhangs our fence also has a plum tree! My mother warned me that some plums are good cooked and others are bitter, so I did a test by microwaving a couple for a minute to see which I had. They were sour, but not bitter, so I figured we had a winning plum tree. If you're using backyard plums, I advise cooking a few as a test just to make sure you don't end up with a giant batch of bitter plum sauce.

Plum Dipping Sauce
8 cups plums - prune or Damson if you're buying them
1 sweet or white onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar (my plums were sour, so I ended up using about 3 cups sugar)
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp rice vinegar (I used cider vinegar, white would be fine too)
1/3 cup Chinese rice wine, sake, or sherry
4 tsp minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 star anise (optional)
2 inch cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods (optional)
1/2 tsp salt

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir everything together. I just put my plums in whole, as they are small and removing the pits would have been really annoying. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for an hour or so until sort of applesauce like.

When I started it looked like this:

Then after about 45 minutes it looked more like this:

Give it a taste and add more sugar if it's too sour for you. Once it's pretty liquid, strain it through a fine sieve or food mill into another saucepan. This part is doomed to be messy. Do it in the sink.

Return mixture to simmer. Ladle into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. (The recipe says 5 - 250 ml jars. I had more plums and ended up with more than that.) Seal with prepared lids and bands. Process jars for 15 minutes in boiling water. Let cool on rack and check that the lids have sealed once cool (if not, put in fridge and eat soon.)

Serve with chicken or pork.

Friday, July 22, 2011

When life gives you cherries...

make some cherry juice!

There is a nanking cherry tree that grows over our fence and our neighbour encourages me to pick whatever I can reach. Today I picked about 10 cups of fruit and boiled up some delicious juice. This is very similar to making jelly, but much easier to use up in our house.

Nanking Cherry Juice
8-10 cups nanking cherries
water to cover
1-2 cups sugar to taste

Wash fruit and put in a large pot. Add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until fruit is soft, approximately 10 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth into a pitcher or another pot. Add 1 cup of sugar per 4 cups of juice, or less if you want it more tart. (I used 1 cup of sugar for about 6 cups of juice.)

Drink straight or mix half and half with ginger ale or lemon lime pop. Also nice with vodka.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Whole Grain Waffles

Continuing on my quest to have lots of food in my freezer pre-baby, today was waffle day! I made a double batch adapted from this recipe: Whole Grain Waffles.

Whole Grain Waffles
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup applesauce or mashed banana
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup flax seed meal, or 1 cup combined flax seed meal, ground oatmeal, brewer's yeast, etc.
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Optional: blueberries, chocolate chips, other berries

In a 2 L juice pitcher, mix the eggs, milk, oil, applesauce/banana, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Cook on waffle iron. If freezing, spread waffles on cooling rack and let sit until cool. Place in ziploc bag or airtight container and freeze. Thaw in toaster. Also makes a great PB&J sandwich.

Yields around 26 individual waffles.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Super-easy Crockpot Lemon Chicken and Baked Potatoes

Super-easy Crockpot Lemon Chicken and Baked Potatoes
chicken breasts
lemon juice
garlic or powdered garlic
baking potatoes

All right, this is more of a method than a recipe, but it's so easy and yummy I thought I'd share.

Place your desired number of chicken breasts in the bottom of the crockpot. If they're frozen, no need to thaw. Sprinkle generously with oregano. Add some garlic, minced or powdered. Add some lemon juice (about 1/4 cup, bottled is fine).

Tear off a piece of foil. Layer it over the chicken so it separates the chicken from the top of the cooker. Scrub the potatoes and set them on top. The foil layer makes them a "drier" baked potato, whereas just tossing them in with the chicken will make them more likely to fall apart - but also more lemony.

Cook 4 hours on high or about 8 on low. Serve with salad.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A bun in the oven and dinner in the freezer.

I have been sorely neglecting this blog AND my freezer meal stash these past few months, but for the happiest of reasons: we're expecting a baby this May. And with expectations of a baby comes expectations of having much less free time and much less desire to cook. It's time to start ramping up my freezer stash!

It's been a while, so I thought I'd write a quick refresher course for my new readers. I've been at this game for a couple of years. In our house, we've found we eat about a freezer meal a week when they're available. We do fairly well at cooking on weekends, and we manage most nights to pull something together, but generally on either Tuesday or Wednesday the ambition and the ingredients run out and it's a big relief to throw a casserole in the oven, add a salad, and call it a meal.

From what I've read, most meals are best if eaten within 3 months of freezing. I've stretched that out longer and not had too many problems, but the quality will go down the longer they're in there. They won't "go bad" in the sense of food poisoning, but the flavour and texture won't be quite as nice.

There are two main things I've figured out over time: it's easier to focus on cooking only one protein in a session, and it's easiest to package most things in 8x8 foil pans.A pan this size feeds the two of us dinner, and then one or two of us lunch depending on how hungry we were and if we paired it with some other food. They're also really cheap, stackable, and easy to just cover with foil and get into the freezer. The key thing to know: any recipe made for a 9x13 pan will make 2 - 8x8 pans. My other containers are typically medium-size freezer ziploc bags (which is 1 meal for the two of us) and 750 mL yogurt containers for soups and stews.

As for the "one thing at a time", I've discovered that I don't really like to cook for 6 hours. I can still get through 2 hours fairly easily at 7 months pregnant, but 6 is just not reasonable. That means I've scaled down from doing everything to doing what we like the most. Last round, that was 4 pans of lasagna, 2 pans of enchilada bake, 1 bag of sloppy joes, and 2 pans of cornbread taco bake. That was 5 pounds of ground beef (and a can of white beans to stretch the meat) cooked all at once, then divided into 4 simple recipes. Two hours, nine meals.

My next plan is to pre-marinade most of a Costco case of chicken breasts with the dump chicken recipes that appeal. I have found that chicken does best if frozen raw. We tend to buy our chicken already frozen, so I just take two frozen chicken breasts, put them in a ziploc, pour the marinade over them, seal it up and get them back in the freezer before they start to thaw. When I want them, I leave them in the fridge to thaw (usually take them out the night before and give them about 24 hours), then bake, barbeque, or whatever one would normally do to cook chicken.

My other consideration pre-baby will be to do a bit of baking and breakfasty prep. I normally eat oatmeal for breakfast, but I like breakfast foods like waffles for lunch or dinner. So a few hours will be put toward creating a freezer stash of homemade waffles (great in the toaster), muffins, and banana bread.

The last thing to remember: stock up. There are lots of things I know we will need that will just be easier if we don't run out of. It's not hard to buy some extra toilet paper, cat food, cat litter, dishwasher soap, etc. to make sure the house can kind of survive on minimal attention for a few weeks. I figure a big trip to Costco is in order around week 38 or 39 of this pregnancy just to ensure we don't really need to go back for a while.

I also wanted to include a link to Jolene's fabulous freezer-friendly section at her blog, What's Cookin, Chicago?. A lot of them are a bit more ambitious than I usually do, but if chili doesn't appeal for summer time, she's got loads of great ideas.