Roasted and caramelized autumn quinoa

Potlucks can be risky for vegetarians and vegans in mixed groups. You might be tempted to make a dessert or appetizer, either to try a fun new recipe you’ve been eyeing or to save a bit of money over buying the ingredients for a main dish. Then you get there and realize the main dishes ended up all being meaty and you eat a dinner comprised of potato chips and cookies, maybe with a few leaves of salad if you’re lucky.

So last Sunday when I realized I had a potluck to go to in a few hours that I had completely forgotten to plan for, I knew I needed to make something quick but hearty — just in case.

Quinoa salads fit the bill. Quick, high protein, filling, delicious, and infinitely adaptable based on what you put in it.

Since it’s autumn, I wanted something with rich, roasted flavors. Without spending all day on it.

Cue my freezer. Low and slow caramelized onions and roasted garlic bring this quinoa’s flavor to the next level, and luckily I had both stashed in my freezer. If you don’t have these items ready to go, this dish will take a little bit longer to make, but it’s the perfect opportunity to make extra to freeze. (I flash freeze my roasted garlic as individual cloves spread out on a baking sheet, then put them in a labeled freezer bag. I freeze my huge batch of caramelized onions in 1/2 cup portions, then again, put all of the portions in one labeled freezer bag. Seriously though, freeze some caramelized onions.)

Roasted butternut squash and fresh chard and thyme round out the garlic and onion into a hearty, veggie-filled, protein-packed dish that can be served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. This makes it perfect for potlucks as you don’t have to worry about serving it at a particular temperature. If you’re eating it at home, enjoy it slightly warmed when the air is crisp, and chilled when you just wish it would get crisp already.

roasted and caramelized autumn quinoaRoasted and Caramelized Autumn Quinoa

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

1/2 a medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed *
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/2 cup caramelized onions (from about 1 large onion, use only olive oil for vegan dish)
10-12 cloves roasted garlic
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cup water
2-3 fresh chard leaves, stems removed sliced into ribbons
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves stripped from woody stalks
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss butternut squash cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet (lined with a Silpat if desired to ease cleanup). Bake for 30-40 minutes until pieces are slightly browned and fork-tender. Set aside to cool.

If you do not have roasted garlic ready to go, bake it at the same time as your squash. Cut off the tip of the head of garlic to expose the cloves inside the paper skin. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, then wrap in a square of aluminum foil. Throw it on the pan with the squash and it’ll be good to go at the same time.

Put quinoa in a mesh strainer and rinse with plenty of cool water to avoid having a bitter taste to your cooked quinoa. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to a medium pot over medium heat. Add rinsed quinoa and toast, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add water, then cover and lower the heat to the lowest possible setting. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then remove the pot from heat without uncovering and let sit 5 minutes more. Remove lid and fluff with a fork.

Let quinoa cool slightly, then stir in caramelized onions. Properly caramelized onions should melt right in and become almost imperceptible. Fold in the chard, which will then be lightly cooked from the steam from the warm quinoa.

Fold in butternut squash, garlic, and thyme. Taste, then add salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold. Garnish with thyme sprigs.

* Note: wear gloves when you’re prepping the butternut squash to avoid the difficult-to-remove drying residue on your hands.

DeLITcious: Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #2

Happy MaddAddam day! I will receive my copy in the mail today and plan to begin reading it as soon as I get home from work.

As promised, here is the alternate version of my interpretation of Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley from The Year of the Flood.

Pilar's Pickled Mushroom Medley #2If you have no idea what I’m talking about, start with this previous post about version 1.

What makes this recipe so perfectly God’s Gardener-esque is the option to use any fun fungi (hur hur hur) you can get your hands on — extra points if you forage them. However, I have added some specific instructions for the mushrooms I used. I also like the use of the dark vinegar over strictly white or apple cider; it seems more like something that would have been fermented in the Vinegar Room from the dregs of wine scavenged from nightclub dumpsters by the Young Bioneers. The only thing distinctly un-Gardener about it is that it must be refrigerated.

Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #1 is great for stabbing with toothpicks for a cocktail snack (or, let’s be real, a standing-over-the-sink-with-a-fork snack). On the other hand, #2 is more well suited to eat as a side dish with a fork or, even better yet, as a building block in other main dishes. Imagine a scoop of these flavorful ‘shrooms on a sandwich, salad or pasta — the herbed oil and vinegar acts as a built in dressing.

Pilar's Pickled Mushroom Medley #2Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #2 – Refrigerated
Adapted from Herbed Marinated Mushrooms from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich

Makes 1 quart

3/4 cup olive oil, separated
approximately 1 1/2 pounds of mushrooms, mixed varieties of your choice, stems trimmed or removed as appropriate (I recommend roaming your local Asian market)

I used:
5 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
5 ounces fresh crimini mushrooms, stems sliced short
5 ounces fresh white button mushrooms, stems sliced short
5 ounces fresh oyster mushrooms, torn into bite-sized pieces
5 ounces fresh enoki mushrooms, bottom of stems removed

2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 tablespoons diced pimento
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
4 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped from woody stalk (or 1 teaspoon dried)
3 fresh sage leaves, chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
3/4 teaspoon pickling salt

Rinse all mushrooms to remove dirt or debris. Trim or remove woody stems as needed, depending on mushroom variety. If mushrooms are particularly large, cut into bite sized pieces if desired.

In a skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and sauté, covered, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Remove lid and sauté again until tender. If your varieties differ greatly in shape or tenderness, add them in an order that will prevent you from overcooking the more fragile ones. (For my mixture, I cooked the white button, crimini, and shiitake for 5 minutes. Then I added the oyster and cooked 5 minutes more. Then the enoki, and cooked for 2 minutes more.)

Once tender, drain any excess liquid if necessary and transfer mushrooms to a heatproof bowl.

Combine garlic, onion, and vinegar in a medium non-reactive saucepan. Simmer gently for about 2-3 minutes until slightly softened. Add pimento, herbs, bay leaf, salt, and remaining olive oil. Heat until just boiling, then pour over mushrooms and toss to coat.

Pack the mushrooms into a clean quart jar. Top with a lid (used is fine since it will not be processed) and screw a ring on to close. Let cool, then place in the refrigerator. (Because the jar contents are hot, you may find that the lid “seals” — this does not make it shelf-stable!)

Let the mushrooms pickle for about a week before eating. In the fridge, the oil may solidify and turn opaque — this is normal. Bring to room temperature before serving and the oil will become liquid again.

Store in the fridge for up to 1 month.

DeLITcious: Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #1

Ever since my pre-order on February 21, I’ve been counting down the days to MaddAddam.

MaddAddam, coming on September 3, completes Margaret Atwood’s trilogy that started with Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009). The series focuses on a handful of different characters and their experiences leading up to and after a global pandemic. Oryx and Crake follows the experiences of Snowman (aka Jimmy), a privileged young man who grew up on the HelthWyzer compound (a rich suburb that is walled off from the crime and poverty of the “pleeblands”). The Year of the Flood tells the stories of Toby and Ren, former members of a fringe religious group in the pleeblands called the God’s Gardeners who predicted the pandemic, calling it the “Waterless Flood.”

I’ve just reread both of them in preparation, obviously.

One of the things that I like so much about The Year of the Flood in particular, and much speculative and science fiction in general, is the food. Whether it’s a post-apocalyptic world where the ability to grow and safely preserve food is a necessity, or an alien world where a description of dinner helps paint the vivid picture of a world unknown, well-written food always tickles me in a story.

It’s because of this that I’ve decided to seek out and develop a series of recipes inspired by my favorite books. Which I am of course, calling DeLITcious, because I can’t resist a horrible pun. And what better book to start with than The Year of the Flood as I wait with bated breath for MaddAddam to arrive on my doorstep?

In The Year of the Flood, The God’s Gardeners are nothing if not self-sufficient. In many of the flashbacks to Ren’s and especially Toby’s time with them, the food that they grow and preserve plays a major role in their daily life. They have a rooftop garden for vegetables, a beehive to harvest honey, and a mushroom growing operation, nutritional and medicinal alike, in the bottom of an abandoned condominium building.

When Toby first joins the Gardeners, one of the first foods she eats (among many others) is a dish called Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley.

Pilar's Pickled Mushroom Medley #1

“The first evening, there was a modest celebration in honour of Toby’s advent. A great fuss was made over the opening of a jar of preserved purple items — those were her first elderberries — and a pot of honey was produced as if it was the Holy Grail.

Adam One made a little speech about providential rescues. The brand plucked from the burning was mentioned, and the one lost sheep — she’d hear of those before, at church — but other, unfamiliar examples of rescue were used as well: the relocated snail, the windfall pear. Then they’d eaten a sort of lentil pancake and a dish called Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley, followed by slices of soy bread topped with the purple berries and the honey.

After her initial elation, Toby was feeling stunned and uneasy. How had she got up here, to this unlikely and somehow disturbing location? What was she doing among these friendly though bizarre people, with their wacky religion and — right now — their purple teeth?”

Pilar and her place in the God’s Gardeners is not revealed until later. However, given the friendship that grows between them, I really like that part of Toby’s first Gardener meal was a result of Pilar’s labor.

All of this is to say, I wanted to make my own version of Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley.

But then I ended up with two versions.

Here’s the deal: The God’s Gardeners most certainly would have canned their wares, both for selling at the Tree of Life market but also for packing into their Ararats (caches of food and supplies hidden all over the city in preparation for surviving the Waterless Flood). And Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley most certainly would have contained a wide variety of mushrooms plucked from the bed in the basement of the Buenavista Condos — puffballs, shaggy manes, morels, and anything else that was available when she went to fill the jars.

Therein lies the problem. There are no tested, approved water-bath canning recipes that I am aware of that utilize anything besides standard grocery store button and crimini mushrooms (which, by the way, are the same species). Other varieties of mushrooms would likely have a different density which could affect the safety of a finished canned product.

Because I’m not in the business of poisoning my loved ones, I decided that two versions would be appropriate. First, behold the Ararat-approved recipe utilizing a “medley” of crimini and white button mushrooms.

Pilar's Pickled Mushroom Medley #1Coming soon, a more exciting and exotic medley that must be stored in the refrigerator. Stay tuned. (Update: Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #2 recipe here.)

Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #1 – Shelf Stable
Slightly adapted from Marinated Whole Mushrooms by National Center for Home Food Preservation

Makes 9 to 12 half-pints

3 1/2 pounds small whole white button mushrooms
3 1/2 pounds small whole crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup bottled lemon juice
2 cups olive oil
2 1/2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 tablespoon pickling salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup diced pimento
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in quarters
27-36 black peppercorns

Equipment
9-12 half-pint jars, rings, and unused canning lids
boiling water canner with rack
jar lifting tongs
jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
clean dish towels

Important Note: If you’ve never canned before, you will probably want to study up on some basics before you get started. And use common sense when eating home-canned goods — leaking, compromised seals, weird growths, bad smells? Play it safe and throw that shit out.

Select the freshest, smallest mushrooms you can find. Wash to remove dirt, then trim off the stems, leaving about 1/4-inch attached to the cap.

Dump all the mushrooms in the largest pot you can find (or split them evenly between two large pots), then pour lemon juice over. Fill with water until mushrooms are fully submerged. Bring to a boil (this will take a very long time), then simmer for 5 minutes.

Drain mushrooms. (Because the pot was so big and unwieldy, I had a much better time using a skimmer to transfer the mushrooms from the simmering liquid to a large bowl. In addition, I was able to save and freeze some of the mushroom liquid — the lemon juice prevents you from using it as straight broth, but I froze some into cubes which I plan on throwing into soups here and there that need a bit of a pick-me-up.)

At some point you should start your canner boiling, depending on how long it takes for it to get up to temperature. When it is, pop your jars, lids, rings, and tools in for 10 minutes to sterilize.

Mix olive oil, vinegar, salt, herbs, onion and pimento in a large nonreactive saucepan. Heat to boiling over medium heat.

Remove sterilized jars from canner and place on a clean dishtowel. Put a quarter piece of garlic and 3 black peppercorns in each jar. Using a funnel, fill each jar with mushrooms until there is about 1-inch of headspace. Then ladle in hot, well-mixed oil and vinegar mixture until there is 1/2-inch of headspace.

Use a chopstick, small spatula, or other non-metal utensil to stab and stir the jar to remove air bubbles. Wipe the rim of each jar with a wet paper towel. Center a lid on top, then screw on a band until fingertip-tight (until you just meet resistance). Using jar tongs, place jars in the canner.

Bring water back to a full, rolling boil, then process for 20 minutes (or longer according to this chart if you are at a different altitude).

Using jar tongs, remove jars from canner upright, without tilting. Place on a clean, dry dishtowel without touching each other. Do not disturb for at least 12 hours.

Check each jar for a good seal (press on the middle or the lid — it shouldn’t move or make noise). Any that didn’t seal can be refrigerated immediately and still used. Remove rings to prevent rust, and clean the outsides of the jars and lids as needed before storage. Store in a cool, dark place for 6 to 9 months. Refrigerate after opening and use within 1 month.

Note on yield: While the original recipe states this recipe makes 9 half-pints, I ended up with 10 and a lot of mushrooms still left. If you don’t have enough jars or room in your canner to process them all, you can store them in non-canning jars (I used those tall salsa jars) and store them in the refrigerator.

Za’atar zucchini salad with crusted halloumi

It’s summer! There are outdoor movies, bike parties, art festivals, birthday parties, anniversary parties, housewarming parties…

Heeey, I’m just over here rationalizing why I haven’t posted in a while.

But summer also has lots of awesome produce. And every summer, whether it’s a fluff piece in the local paper or friends in my Facebook feed, I always see people asking, what the hell can I do with all this zucchini? One that I’ve seen popping up recently is zucchini noodles topped with feta cheese, which is what got me thinking about this salad.

za'atar zucchini salad with crusted halloumiSo, what’s going on here?

Zucchini. You’ll want to use smaller ones if you can, because super huge zukes are not great for eating in salads like this — they get all weird and fluffy. And you’ll need to use a julienne peeler or a spiral slicer to get the “noodle” thing going on. (My mister when we sat down to dinner: “How did you make these vegetables like this?”) I use a crummy julienne peeler that I got for $1.99 in Japantown when I visited San Francisco, and it works fine.

Za’atar. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture that you could make very easily to your preference. It seems like it’s one of those Italian grandmother tomato sauce situations, where every family has a different recipe. But generally it has some combination of sesame seeds, sumac, oregano, basil, thyme, savory, and salt. So you could be a rockstar and make up a little batch of za’atar… or you could be like me and use a jar of pre-packaged stuff that you impulse bought, while your partner pokes fun at you because the brand name is Urban Accents.

Preserved lemons. They are basically pickles made of Meyer lemons and salt. I probably should have made a post about when I made preserved lemons back when I made them last winter… but I didn’t. You can buy them in Middle Eastern markets, or in the ethnic aisles of some well-stocked grocery stores. My homemade ones were spiced with cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and peppercorns. Yum.

Halloumi. This cheese, much like feta, is salty and delicious. It doesn’t melt, so it’s perfect for browning in a skillet to warm it up and give it some crunch.

Za’atar Zucchini Salad with Crusted Halloumi

Serves 2 to 3 as a main, 4 to 6 as a side

3 small or 2 medium zucchinis (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
1 small red onion
2 ounces halloumi
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon, peel and flesh (a little less than 1/8 of one lemon)
1/2 small garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons of za’atar, divided
2 cups arugula

Using a julienne peeler or a spiral cutter, make zucchini into long, thin, noodley shapes. Put in a large bowl and set aside.

Cut the tip off the red onion, then cut in half through the root and peel outer layers. Slice into thin half moons. Put in a small bowl and set aside.

Cut the halloumi cheese into small (about 1/2-inch) squares. Put in a small bowl and set aside.

In a measuring cup, mix olive oil, vinegar, preserved lemon, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the za’atar. Pour a small amount over the halloumi and toss to coat. Do the same with the red onion. Then pour the rest over the zucchini, and add the additional za’atar. Toss to fully coat (I just use my hands).

Let zucchini marinate for 20 minutes.

While it is marinating, heat up a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When one piece sizzles, throw in the red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes until slightly softened and the taste mellows out a little bit. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool slightly.

After zucchini has marinated for 20 minutes, add arugula and cooled red onion and once again toss to combine.

Then go back to your cast iron skillet and turn it to medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles, dump in the halloumi cheese in a single layer. Let cook for 1 to 2 minutes until a brown crust forms, then use a metal spatula to scrape them up and flip to the un-browned sides. Don’t worry about getting every single piece perfect, but try to get some good brown crustiness on as much of the cheese as you can.

Remove from heat and distribute evenly over the top of the salad, then serve immediately.

Briny bay pickled beans

I’ve been canning off and on for a few years now. Not super seriously, to be honest. I have a pressure canner that I inherited from my mother, but I’m terrified of using it. So I’ve just done a few boiling water canning projects: a marmalade that I thickened too much, a few jams that I never really used, a mustard that turned out completely inedible.

Then I made a batch of hot pickled asparagus the other month.

Holy. Shit.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, pickles are the hipster stereotype of home preserving. It’s the food counterpart to homebrewing (which, for the record, is my mister’s thang). But you know why they’re so popular? Because they’re delicious, and hard to fuck up.

One thing that kills me about canning in general is the fear of botulism preventing me from experimenting. But with pickling, as long as you keep your brine at the correct acidity and use the recommended vegetables and processing times? You can play around a bit with your seasonings without paralyzing anyone’s face. I mean, isn’t that everyone’s goal?

So, these Old Bay infused green bean pickles. They’re spicy-sour, and because they only need to be processed for five minutes, they stay very crisp. I may have eaten an entire jar for lunch one day. When my mister whined that he had tried to find the jar in the fridge for his lunch but they were all gone, I reminded him that six of the jars are destined for my Homemade Trade club and not to eat them. But, I added: I’ll put up another batch while green beans are still in season… if he helped me trim them all up.

He agreed with no hesitation.

briny bay pickled beans

Briny Bay Pickled Beans
Adapted from Pickled Dilled Beans by National Center for Home Food Preservation

Makes 8 pint jars

4 pounds fresh green beans
2 1/4 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
2 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
4 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon pickling salt
8 cloves garlic
16 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

Equipment
8 pint jars, rings, and unused canning lids
boiling water canner with rack
jar lifting tongs
jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
clean dish towels

Important Note: If you’ve never canned before, you will probably want to study up on some basics before you get started. And use common sense when eating home-canned goods — leaking, compromised seals, weird growths, bad smells? Play it safe and throw that shit out.

Wash your green beans and lay out to dry on a dish towel. Trim ends off beans so you’re left with uniform 4-inch lengths. Peel and rinse garlic cloves.

Fill your canner so the water is at least two inches above the jars, and bring to a boil. (You might want to do this earlier depending on how long it takes your canner to come to a boil — I get mine started while I am prepping my beans.)

Wash your jars, lids, rings, and tools by washing in warm soapy water. Then sanitize by boiling in water. Alternatively, use the sanitize setting on your dishwasher, if desired.
In a large saucepan, bring water, vinegar, and pickling salt to a boil.

Remove jars from boiling water.

Add a garlic clove and 2 teaspoons Old Bay to each jar, then tightly pack with as many upright green beans as will fit. Ladle hot brine into each jar — a jar funnel makes this much easier, but if you don’t have one, just be careful. Leave 1/2″ headroom in each jar.

Wipe each rim with a clean, damp cloth. Center an unused, sterilized lid on each jar. Screw the rings over each lid until “fingertip tight” — that is, screwed on until you just start to get resistance.

Use your jar tongs to carefully place each packed jar in the canner. Bring back to a boil, then process for 5 minutes (up to 15 depending on altitude — see chart).

Remove jars from canner with tongs without tilting. Place on a folded dish towel, away from drafts and not touching each other. Let sit undisturbed for at least 12 hours.

Check each jar for a good seal (press on the middle or the lid — it shouldn’t move or make noise). Any that didn’t seal can be refrigerated immediately and still used.

Store sealed jars in pantry for up to 1 year. Then, refrigerate once opened for up to one month.

Hot pickled asparagus for an easy and delicious spring canning project

Have you ever had one of those days when you find yourself at the grocery store with $40 worth of pickles in your cart?

No? Just me?

Not only did this happen, but when I posted about it on Facebook it got more “Likes” than anything else I’ve ever posted about in my entire Facebook career. I don’t even know what to think about this.

To be fair, I didn’t even have that many pickles to add up to that $40. What made it so ridiculous was two jars of rick’s picks. I don’t care. Worth it. I got home and promptly ate an entire jar of the mean beans for dinner. Salty, sour, crisp, and spicy. Almost a little too spicy, but not quite. Just perfect.

Except, uh, they’re $10 a jar.

So I’ve been thinking of making some of my own homemade hot pickled green beans, you know, to try to save some cash while still managing to accidentally pickle my internal organs from over-consumption of salt and vinegar.

But then I thought, waitwaitwait, it’s SPRING. And I kept seeing beautiful asparagus of all colors (green! purple! white!) show up in the farmer’s market and grocery stores. Why not pickle that?

I brought a jar to share with some lovely ladies after a group bike ride the other weekend. None of them had ever tried pickled asparagus before. One of them said: “I’d never even heard of pickled asparagus, but now I can’t imagine a world without it.”

In a word: YEP.

hot pickled asparagus

Hot Pickled Asparagus
Adapted from Pickled Asparagus by National Center for Home Food Preservation and Pickled Asparagus with Hot Peppers and Garlic by Dad Cooks Dinner

Makes 6 pint jars

7 1/2 to 8 pounds asparagus
4 1/2 cups water
4 1/2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity) *
1/2 cup pickling salt
6 cloves garlic
18 dried chili peppers
6 sprigs fresh dill
1.5 teaspoons black peppercorns
1.5 teaspoons whole coriander

* You can substitute some or all of the white vinegar with apple cider vinegar to your tastes. I went for all white vinegar in part because I was using my lovely blue glass canning jars, but using half apple cider vinegar gives delightful flavor. The important thing is to make sure it’s 5% acidity.

Equipment
6 pint jars, rings, and unused canning lids
boiling water canner with rack
jar lifting tongs
jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
clean dish towels

An important note: canning is one of those things where if you fool with established ratios you can die from botulism. Spices/seasonings can generally be changed around without worry, which is where you can get a little creative. You just don’t want to change types of vegetables or levels of brine acidity willy-nilly unless you are a food scientist with access to lab-grade pH testing equipment or something. If you’ve never canned before, you will probably want to study up on some basics before you get started. And use common sense when eating home-canned goods — leaking, compromised seals, weird growths, bad smells? Play it safe and throw that shit out.

To begin, prep your asparagus: wash and lay out on a dish towel to dry. Trim the stalks off so your spears fit upright in your jar — around 4 inches long.

(There will likely be some usable stalk left after you trim to size — cut that off and save for later use in stir fry, risotto, soup, etc.)

Peel and rinse garlic cloves. Rinse chili peppers. Rinse dill sprigs. Lay all out on a dish towel to dry.

Fill your canner so the water is at least an inch above the jars, and bring to a boil. (You might want to do this earlier depending on how long it takes your canner to come to a boil — I get mine started while I am prepping my asparagus.)

Sanitize your jars, lids, rings, and tools by boiling in water (or by using the sanitize setting on your dishwasher, if desired).

When you’re ready to pack, remove jars from boiling water. Put 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon whole coriander, a clove of garlic, 3 chili peppers, and 1 sprig of dill in each jar. Then pack with as much asparagus as will fit, tips pointing up. You may not be able to fit all your asparagus into the jars, but better to have some leftover than not have enough to fill your jars, right?

In a large saucepan, bring water, vinegar, and pickling salt to a boil. Remove from heat, then ladle hot brine into each jar — a jar funnel makes this much easier, but if you don’t have one, just be careful. Leave 1/2″ headroom in each jar — it is okay if the tips of the asparagus are a little bit above the brine.

Wipe each rim with a clean, damp cloth. Center an unused, sterilized lid on each jar. Screw the rings over each lid until “fingertip tight” — that is, screwed on until you just start to get resistance, no tighter.

Using your jar tongs, place the jars on the rack in the canner. Wait for the water to come back to a boil, then process for 10 minutes (or up to 20 minutes depending on altitude — see this chart). Remove jars from canner, then place on a dish towel on the counter, not touching each other.

Leave undisturbed for at least 12 hours. Stay close by if you want to hear the satisfying “pop! pop! pop!” that lets you know you’ve succeeded.

Check that all jars have properly sealed by pressing down on the middle of the lid — if it moves and you hear a noise, put them in the fridge immediately and you can still eat them, but they will not be shelf-stable.

Remove the rings before storing if desired (they can sometimes rust or get stuck). Do not open for 3 to 5 days before eating to allow the asparagus to fully pickle. Store in the pantry for up to one year (hahaha yeah right, you’re eating these all within a month!). Then refrigerate upon opening, for up to one month.

Spicy pineapple seitan, for the mystery pineapple in your cupboards

Last year for my birthday, I had a hot dog party.

It was awesome.

Basically, we grilled up a bunch of Field Roast Frankfurters for me and the other veg*ns, Hebrew Nationals for the omnis, and provided a mountain of buns.

Then all the guests brought a different topping, potluck style. Toppings ranged from fancy-pants mustard to grilled onions to baked macaroni and cheese to guacamole. There were so many delicious toppings that I cut my hot dogs into pieces so I could do different toppings on each bite, and even then still ate way too many hot dogs.

So like I said, a lot of creative toppings, and surprisingly few repeats. But the one thing that showed up over and over was pineapple. People just brought can upon can of the stuff, crushed and tidbits alike. I’m assuming it was to make Hawaiiany hot dogs. But for some reason, none of the cans were actually opened at the party. And they, of course, all got left behind.

I rarely use canned pineapple, so I kind of forgot about it until recently when I was reorganizing the cupboard. My birthday is in April, so uh, they’d been sitting there for a while. Something needed to be done.

I used my favorite tender seitan, Companion Cha’i-Pow-Yu, which you can usually find at Asian markets. It doesn’t look very appetizing right out of the can, but trust me when I say it cooks up nice — just make sure you drain and rinse it. If you can’t get your hands on it, just use your favorite seitan.

Anyway, if you find some cans of mystery pineapple in your cupboard, this is what you’ve gotta do with it. If you don’t have any, this is worth buying some. Trust me.

spicy pineapple seitan

Spicy Pineapple Seitan
Adapted from Pineapple Marinade by Derrick Riches at About.com

Serves 3 to 4

1/2 cup crushed pineapple with juice
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons honey *
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground cloves
1 can Companion Cha’i-Pow-Yu (or 10 ounces of your favorite seitan)
1 small green bell pepper, cut into bite size chunks
1 small onion, cut into wedges
heaping 1/2 cup pineapple pieces (canned is fine)
1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced into rounds (remove some seeds/ribs as desired to dial down the heat)
1 teaspoon unrefined coconut oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Mix crushed pineapple, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and cloves in a freezer bag or storage container and stir until combined.

Drain and rinse Cha’i-Pow-Yu, then add to marinade and stir to coat. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix seitan and marinade with bell pepper, onion, pineapple, and serrano pepper. Set aside.

Grease a small baking pan with the coconut oil, then pour mixture into it. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and take a small amount of liquid from the pan. Stir it into a small bowl with the cornstarch until there are no lumps. Pour the slurry back into the pan, stir to combine, then bake for an additional 5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Let cool for a few minutes.

Serve with rice that has been lightly coated with melted coconut oil.

* Vegan substitution: Use an equal amount of agave nectar for a vegan dish.

Mexican(ish) kale salad in Newport, Rhode Island

A couple of weeks ago, my mister and I went to Newport, RI for a wedding. We hadn’t really taken a vacation this year, and it fell the weekend before Veteran’s Day (which he gets off and I don’t, grumble grumble), so we decided to make a long weekend of it.

The wedding was truly lovely; I hate most weddings so this is saying something. With the rest of our time in Newport, we learned about some mansions (I’m sorry, “summer cottages”), did some shopping, watched an embarrassing amount of HGTV in the hotel room (what, we don’t have cable at home!), and of course: ate.

I always do my food research before we travel. Walking around all day and then potentially not being able to find a restaurant where I can eat anything besides a salad: nightmare. I always have a few places that I’ve checked the menu on saved on a Google map. Does anyone else make an extensive Google map of restaurants, museums, and shops they want to visit whenever they are planning a trip? Mine is always filled with used book stores and weirdo museums.

…Anyway, in my research, I discovered it was restaurant week in Newport. Score! The glee was short lived as I remembered: prix fixe menus are the bane of the vegetarian.

But I searched and searched and finally found the one restaurant in Newport that had a vegetarian prix fixe option. Perro Salado was serving a Tuscan kale and white bean salad and a pumpkin and mushroom chile relleno. The desserts where a spiced apple flan and a molten chocolate cake. And? Margarita included.

Sold.

While the place didn’t really strike me as the Mexican restaurant it was billing itself as, the food was phenomenal. “We should leave a few bites of the desserts so we don’t look like pigs,” said my mister. “No.”

But you know what was the star of the show, really?

Mexican(ish) kale salad

Mexican(ish) Kale Salad

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 to 6 as a side or appetizer

1 bunch dinosaur kale (also known as lacinato kale)
2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, mashed with salt
1 cup cooked white beans (just over half of a 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed; I used great northern)
1/4 heaping teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 ounces cotija cheese, finely crumbled

Wash kale, then tear into bite sized pieces, removing tough stems. Dry well, then put in a large bowl. Drizzle with lime juice, one tablespoon of olive oil, and salt. Get in there with your hands and massage it all up until the kale starts to soften slightly and shrink in size. Let it sit while you prepare everything else.

Mash up your clove of garlic. Mince it finely, then sprinkle with a pinch of salt and work it in with a fork until you’re left with a paste.

Finely crumble your cotija (I always just use my hands) and set aside.

Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil over low heat and add the crushed red pepper. Heat until oil is fragrant and spicy and delicious smelling. Add your beans. You’re not really cooking them — you don’t want them to fall apart — you’re just gently heating them. Keep over low heat until warmed, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic paste and heat for one minute more.

Scrape the warm beans into your kale, making sure to get all those lovely garlic and pepper bits in there. Toss to combine, then portion onto plates. Sprinkle each plate generously with cotija.

Serve immediately, with a wedge of lime to squeeze on more juice as desired.

More rosemary garlic madness in the form of a white bean dip

So, I still have rosemary and garlic on the brain. Remember? I made this soup, and it was awesome. But for some reason I still can’t get the combo out of my head.

Luckily, this past weekend I went to a pumpkin carving party, so I figured I’d use this as an excuse to make bring something to nosh on; something garlicky and …rosemary-y?

So I went over to my friend’s house and looked like a creep again, cutting a bunch of rosemary sprigs out of what was obviously not my yard. “It’s okay!” I wanted to yell to passers-by. “I know them. They said I could take it. Really!”

To dip with, I made these Homemade Wheat Thins from Smitten Kitchen. Honestly, I would have just bought some crackers and veggies and called it a day. But… Deb mentioned in the original recipe that these crackers barely spread at all when they bake. This piqued my interest. It sounded like an ideal candidate for my awesome wood grain textured rolling mat.* I bought it almost a year ago and have only used it twice; once to make a yule log which was very successful, and once to make some graham crackers which were less successful. I figured these wheat thins would be a good opportunity to prove to my mister that it was definitely a necessary purchase, seeing as how I’ve used it three whole times.

I didn’t alter the recipe at all, but I will second her advice to roll the dough very, very thinly. And, you know… come back here when you’re done with the crackers to make this dip.

This is a party size dip, so feel free to halve it for a more modest portion. Or make the whole thing and use the leftovers creatively — it makes a great sandwich spread.

* You’ll notice that the 12″ x 16″ rolling mats on that site are expressly stated as not food safe, while there is no specification for the 8″ x 12″ mats. Both when I purchased it, and again at the time of posting this, I received confirmation by email that the smaller ones are food safe. If there’s uncertainty, please email them yourself before you order.

rosemary garlic white bean dip

Rosemary Garlic White Bean Dip
Adapted from White Bean Dip by David Lebovitz

16 ounces dried white beans
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup reserved bean cooking liquid
1/3 cup chopped fresh rosemary
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 heaping tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
olive oil and rosemary to garnish

Rinse the beans and remove any debris. Put in a large pot and cover with cold water. Let soak overnight.

There are differing schools of though on whether you should discard soaking water or whether it’s okay to cook with, so. Either discard the water and cover with cold water again, making sure you have several inches of water on top of the beans. Or keep the soaking water and add more if needed. Whatever makes your heart sing.

Add the bay leaves, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover, leaving a gap for steam to escape, and cook until soft and falling apart, 1-2 hours depending on the type of bean you have. Remove the bay leaves, reserve some of the cooking water, then drain.

While your beans are cooking, mince your garlic. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat in a small skillet until shimmering. Add garlic and cook very briefly, until just softened — about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Put cooked beans, rosemary, garlic/oil mixture, additional oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in food processor. (Depending on the size of your food processor, you may have to do it in two batches and then stir them together in a bowl.) Process until smooth, stopping to scrape the sides down as needed. Add bean cooking liquid as desired to thin. Take a nibble, and add more salt and/or pepper if desired.

Put in a serving bowl and generously drizzle olive oil over the top. Toss on some more chopped rosemary, and serve with crackers and veggies.

Mark Bittman is always almost perfect, as evidenced by this chik’n, lettuce and chive salad

So, do you have Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian? It’s quite the tome, but worth its real estate on the bookshelf. I highly recommend picking up a copy if you don’t have it.

In fact, do you want one of mine? Yes, both my mister’s mother and my little brother purchased this book for me. It really killed me with my little brother — he gave it to me second. You see, he’s not always the most thoughtful little brother. So when he gave me this book for Christmas and told me that he’d looked up all the reviews and decided that this was definitely the best vegetarian cookbook out there, it broke my heart that I already had it. Kid was spot on with this one.

The thing about Bittman is that I find a lot of his recipes to be almost perfect. I love his dishes as jumping off points, but I rarely make them as directed more than once. This salad, for example: it was likely meant as a side salad, was just screaming for some protein to make it a meal salad. That, and the first time I made it as directed, it had way too many chives. Perhaps that is more authentic. But if my mister and I were going to eat it, the chives needed to be seriously cut down.

Anyway. Love you, Bittman. Never change. Except just the teensiest bit.

chik'n, lettuce and chive salad

Chik’n, Lettuce and Chive Salad
Adapted from Lettuce and Chive Salad, Korean Style by Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Serves 4

1/4-1/2 cup sweet chili sauce (you can totally make your own, but I used the bottled stuff)
6 ounces vegetarian “chik’n” bits (Beyond Meat, Quorn tenders, Morningstar strips — I only had time to go to the crummy grocery store so I made do with Morningstar Farms Grillers Chik’n Burgers, sliced) *
cooking spray
4 eggs *
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 – 1/2 crushed red pepper flakes
1 small clove garlic, minced
9 ounces butter lettuce or butter lettuce mix
5 ounces baby spinach
1/2 ounce chives, chopped into 1″ pieces
toasted sesame seeds, to garnish

Put your “chik’n” into a bowl and cover with sweet chili sauce. Let marinate for about a half hour if you can, otherwise just marinate it as long as you can muster while prepping other stuff.

In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, toss your chik’n pieces in. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned and crispy. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

Heat nonstick pan with cooking spray over medium heat. Beat eggs until combined, then dump in the pan. Cook until fairly dry, scraping constantly with a non-metal utensil to break up the eggs and prevent burning or over-cooking. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, stir sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, and garlic until fully combined.

Toss rinsed and dried lettuce(s), spinach, and chives in a large bowl. (A note about the chives: You should have about 1/2 ounce after they’re all trimmed up — if you’re growing your own or buying big farmer’s markety bunches rather than those terrible plastic clam-shelled chives [I know, I know], use a little more to account for the waste that you’re going to chop off the ends.)

Drizzle salad with dressing a little bit at a time until dressed to your preference. You probably won’t have to use it all. Add chik’n and scrambled eggs. Toss the whole dang thing to combine, then shake on some toasted sesame seeds for garnish.

* Vegan notes and substitutions: Obviously, use a vegan chik’n substitute, like Beyond Meat rather than Quorn. Pressed tofu would be great, as well. Omit the eggs, and add some more of your vegan protein to compensate. Alternatively, some roughly chopped peanuts or cashews would be a tasty way to add some more vegan protein.