Ancient pharaohs were buried with their pets and favorite possessions. My husband wants Loveless Café’s blackberry jam in his coffin. Every great biscuit deserves a great jam and Loveless makes great jams. But until you have the opportunity to drop in there for a visit why not try making some “after-life worthy” jam yourself?
Right now the kitchen looks kinda like a crazy, mini-factory. There’s a glow on my face from the steamy pots on the stove. The kitchen smells amazing. Sparkling jars lined up. My cooking pal’s helping me; my culinary version of Thelma and Louise. We’re full of “Can Do Spirit!”
It all started with the box of veggies we get once a week from a nearby farm. We just can’t seem to eat it all. I’m afraid if I eat another cucumber I’ll turn into one, so I decided to gather up some canning supplies, get off my can and go for it!
If you block out a little time to try this you may find the fantastic taste, the sight of pretty jars lining the pantry, and the “I can do any darn thing I set my mind to” feeling is one you’ll get hooked on. Now that the process is demystified for me - chutneys, chow chow, pickles, jam, here I come! Plus, like so many things our ancestors did, canning is GREEN! Growing your own or shopping local saves shipping fuel and the jars can be used over and over.
Try canning the first time with a buddy, someone to help keep things moving. It’s more fun and less intimidating. Invite friends to bring their own harvest! Everyone has their strengths. I’m a fast chopper. My friend Kim is good at reading directions. You can get creative with ingredients and flavors later but good technique is CRUCIAL. It’s all about keeping the jars and food so clean that nothing dangerous wants to grow in there… The whole time I was sterilizing my stuff I sang “Like a Surgeon” to the tune of Maddona’s“Like a Virgin”….
Before hand, spend a little study time reading up on canning and comparing recipes and techniques. I called my Mom several times along the way for her input on one thing or another. Try talking to any one you know who cans for helpful tips. As with anything, it helps to think through the process ahead of time. Round up your supplies then pick a day to actually can when you’re unhurried. I remember seeing my mom work for a whole week and put up a seemingly whole garden’s worth of jars. I SUGGEST START WITH SOMETHING SMALL.
Tip: Ball makes a great canning “ kit”
16 cups cucumbers… UNWAXED
4 medium white onions
1/3 cup pickling salt *Note if you substitute kosher add 2 tsp. more *NO TABLE SALT
2 cloves crushed garlic
3 cups sugar
3 cups cider vinegar
1 ½ tsp ground tumeric
1 ½ tsp celery seeds
The basics are:
1. In large non-reactive pot combine cucumbers, onion, garlic, salt. Top with crushed ice. Cover. Chill for 3 to 12 hours. Drain. Set aside.
2. Bring a tall stock pot of water to a boil, sterilize 8 pint jars, set aside but keep pot boiling.
3. In the first pot combine spices, vinegar and sugar. Bring to boil, stir, add cucumbers and onion, return to boil then remove from heat.
4. Fill sterilized jars to within ½ inch of rim. Wipe the rims clean for a good seal. Put on lids - NOT too tightly.
5. Place filled jars in boiling stock pot, process for 10 minutes from the time the water returns to a boil. Remove from water.
“Summer is when laziness finds respectability.” – Sam Keen
Every now and then you stumble across one of those “oh yeah I forgot how simple – why am I not doing this all the time? ” – ideas. That’s what happened to me a few days ago. I made a smoothie for breakfast, as I’m accustomed to doing. Funny enough, it started as a craving for cornbread. I wanted old fashioned, made from scratch, got to be buttermilk cornbread. But then the farmers’ market buttermilk I bought was so delicious it inspired me to make a smoothie with buttermilk as my base, instead of the usual yogurt. Not low fat I admit, but occasionally, I say, go for it. It has a refreshing tang to it. I should say twang since nothing says country like buttermilk! My concoction was simple – Banana, Buttermilk, Cocoa powder and honey. I added a little bee pollen for energy and allergies, a few pumpkin seeds for magnesium and protein, a dash of nutmeg. Never did make the cornbread…
A few days later on my morning walk, I found myself contemplating the stifling heat. According to those guys who know stuff, our climate’s only going to get warmer. If you live in Canada and Alaska your probably happy. Elsewhere summers are challenging. I figure we’re all going to have to get savvy about ways to keep cool.
That’s when the idea of Popsicles hit me. My mind raced with memories of chasing down the neighborhood ice cream truck, sitting on the front porch with whatever flavor you had running down your arm, a happy barefoot gang with brightly colored tongues. Suddenly I was 10 again.
I decided to adapt my recipe for the chocolate banana buttermilk smoothie for my popsicles. A little time online introduced me to the cool world of frozen treats and after that my imagination went into overdrive with the possibilities.
While there are tons of recipes out there, on line and in cookbooks, making your own pops recipe is easy. You’ll want to check out what’s available currently in popsicle molds – everything from monster shapes, flowers, to rings and rocket ships. I found mine at Bed Bath and Beyond. Tupperware also makes them. Some post I ran across said single serve molds are easier than the connected ones, makes sense. I liked this idea. Try putting a popsicle stick through the slit in the top of foil covered yogurt cups and freezing. Seems to me you can make these as healthy or decadent as you please. You could sneak veggies, yes veggies, in the juices for your kids. You could make adult pops by freezing cocktails. There’s a ginger tea pop for morning sickness. Where was this when I needed it? One things for sure. This country artist is going Pop (sicles)!
Chocolate Banana Buttermilk Pops
You can add nuts, candy sprinkles, fruit or fruit slices. HAVE FUN!
Try: Iced chai tea or coffee, pineapple carrot, or herb and lemonade pops
Tips: Leave room at the top of the mold. Liquid expands as it freezes. Juice or tea freezes rock hard. Adding more sweetener or less water helps make a softer pop.
Nutrition Facts thanks to: http://caloriecount.about.com/cc/recipe_analysis.php
You might be surprised to see this dish in my Country Weekly column. An Indian dish from Pam Tillis? Hang with me and it’ll all make sense.
Some foods are amazingly universal. Lets take grits, for example. In Mexican food they’re masa, Italian food – polenta. Matza is not cornmeal but it is suspiciously similar to grits. I was intrigued to find that one of India’s most beloved dishes is their version of cornbread and turnip greens — ssarson ka saag (greens) and makki ki roti (cornbread).
I get on a soap box about greens. I’m often asked why dad looks so great at the age of 78. He swears that his fountain of youth is turnip greens. He cooks up no less than two pots of greens a week. There really is something to that old country wisdom.
Greens are a powerhouse. They have clorophyll which cleanses your blood. They contain vitamin’s K, A, C and protective phyto-sterols. They lower your cholesterol. My own doctor said that eating a bundle of greens a day is fantastic for your health. He looks half his age. Girls, skip the Botox and get your greens.
I get my greens any way possible. Believe it or not, I even sneak them into my shake in the morning. Try putting one leaf of kale, or some spinach in the blender. Increase as you get used to it. By the time you add fruit, honey and juice, you’ll never taste the greens. If it’s one of those crazy days that you’re too busy to eat right you’ll have at least started your day by putting something good into your body.
I appreciate that Dad doesn’t overcook his greens like some Southern cooks do. He brings the water to a boil then cuts it back so they steam gently so as to preserve the vitamins. Mom taught me to cut the stems out since they take longer to cook.
Here’s a global twist on a down home favorite. This is my adaptation of a recipe I saw inFood and Wine from famous Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor. A lot of people I know are afraid to try Indian because the spices can be so overwhelming. This is my toned down version. You could do an entire Indian meal, Lamb burgers and Basmati Rice or you could serve it along with some fried chicken and mashed potatoes like I plan to do. Mix it up! You never know when something new and different will become a family favorite. Namaste Ya’ll.
Pam’s Greens Recipe
Do you know the classic folk story “Stone Soup?” It’s the story of some travelers who pass through a village, set up camp and start making soup with nothing but a stone. They tell everybody it’s good, but even better if it has just a little “help.” They persuade everyone in the village to give a little of this and a bit of that and by the end of the day they have a soup fit for a king. It’s basically about cooperation but I always loved the way, with nothing but a little ingenuity, those travelers made something out of nothing.
My Mom did that. Our pantry would appear empty and she’d go in there, scratch around and suddenly there’d be a meal that filled our little hearts and bellies. In Nashville everything’s become so convenient. I could zip by the market everyday. In some cultures that’s what people do. In these recessionary, food-inflated times however, I’m into trying to stretch the times between shopping trips. I buy staples at the “big box” stores like Costo and Sam’s, fill in the blanks at your regular markets like Kroger and Publix, and in summer I love to buy my veggies from the farmers markets.
I find I’m getting better and better at using left-overs and bits that I used to throw away to make great meals. Today I started with bag of lettuce from Costco that was on the brink of expiration. The other odd bits of veggies weren’t old enough to make soup and I had just enough for garnish. I didn’t tear the lettuce as I normally would because as I opened the leaves to wash it, it made such a pretty flower I decided to serve it that way.
I think I’ve come up with a dressing that could be the Georgia State Salad Dressing. I started with my favorite mayonaise then found a tiny bit of peach jam and what was left of some sweet onion relish. I used a low sugar jam. I also had bought the sweet onion relish because it was the only relish I could find without corn syrup, which I avoid. When I got ready to document this recipe, I looked closer at the label and found it was “vidalia” onions, a specialty of Georgia. Suddenly it hit me, peaches and vidalia, genius!
All jokes aside, it was fast, simple and good. As always, this is just a starting point so do your thing with it. Maybe we don’t need to go to the market for a few more days. We’re gettin’ along just fine!
“I’m too busy to go to the store, everybody’s hungry and I’m all out of salad dressing” Dressing
1/4 cup mayo
1/8 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup water
2 tbsp. peach or apricot preserves
1 – 2 tbsp sweet onion relish
pinch of salt and pepper
pinch of cayenne (optional)
Combine all ingredients. This is a blueprint: You could vary this by using another type of oil, vinegar or the type of preserves. I don’t recommend pickle relish. That is a different flavor than we’re going for here. This recipe is budget minded but if you are in the mood to splurge then I do recommend trying the best Balsamic you can afford just to experience the difference.
Tip: Keep an onion in the fridge ready to go. Chopping a cold onion is much easier on the eyes.
Quote: Aunt Sally used to say negotiatin’ is like making chicken and dumplins. Don’t drop your dumplins in till the pot is boiling!
My husband inhabits a much simpler world than I do. I envy his approach sometimes, really I do. On the days I’m to busy to cook he doesn’t complain. He gamely takes matters into his own hands. Here’s how.
1. grab a can of something
2. take can opener and open
4. Serve with crackers
He should start his own git-r-done school of cooking.
Back when I was growing up before they had the great shipping methods we have now, our produce choices were somewhat limited. We had a summer garden but when we ran through that harvest we ate lots of canned veggies. I still really like the taste of certain canned veggies like peas. Canned corn- very useful. Canned tomatoes- a staple. Same with beans.
Canned soup, however seems like the life raft of foods. Not cabin cruiser so much.
Don’t misunderstand me. Many times I’ve found a can of soup in the cubbard and was so tired and hungry I was darn happy to find it there. If you do have the time to make it yourself though, it’s effort well spent.
I rarely make stock ahead. I vow one day I’ll do stuff like that. If I happen to have what’s left of a baked chicken though, I’ll seize the moment. I sautee chopped carrots, onions and celery and the rest is whatever leftovers from the fridge that fit the flavor of soup I want to make. Then I improvise with my seasonings. The other day I was in a hurry and brought home a pre-prepared pot roast. I sauteed my carrot, celery, onion mix along with 2 cloves garlic and added the chopped up pre- cooked pot roast. I tossed in some about to be tossed mushrooms from the veggie bin, frozen okra and baby lima’s. Finally some of those staple canned tomatoes and a carton of beef stock. After a few minutes of simmering it tasted like I spent hours cooking it. I served it with shredded parmesan cheese on top and hot cornbread. Nothing fancy but good.
You know, however, how much I enjoy trying out recipes I find while traveling. This one is from the Ritz Carlton in Orlando, Florida. I was performing there and just flipped out over this soup they served to us for dinner. The chef was nice enough to cut down the proportions from the gallons and quarts used to make huge batches. We had it with grilled shrimp, green salad and roasted sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes were a great balance to the tart soup. Of course a grilled cheese sandwich is always perfect. Put down the can opener Honey, I’m back!
”Puttin’ On the Ritz Soup”
I actually spread this preparation out overnight. Before I went to bed I roasted the veggies while I did chores and called mom… The next morning it only took 15 minutes to complete so it was ready for lunch (or supper.)
The following proportions worked for me
10 medium size tomatoes quartered
1 ½ white onion, chopped
5 cloves peeled garlic
1 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 cup olive oil
2 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper
3 and 1/3 cups of V-8 juice
5 basil leaves
In a roasting pan roast everything but the V-8 and basil at 275 degrees for 2 ½ hours OR till rich brown.
Process in batches in blender or food processor with basil. Strain if desired.
Return to pot, add V-8 adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Sweeter- increase the sugar
Less rich- decrease the olive oil
Less tart –decrease the vinegar
Use a pasta strainer if you don’t have a food mill.