One of the great frustrations of growing tomatoes in New England, particularly heirlooms such as Brandywine, is that the growing season is never quite long enough. You can’t plant until Memorial Day, and the big heirlooms take around 100 days to begin producing. Just as you’re starting to get fantastic tomatoes, the weather turns cold, production slows to a crawl, and when the first frost rolls around, you’ve got a garden full of green tomatoes. If you’re very lucky, the weather will hold until Thanksgiving week, but this year the first frost landed last Wednesday night.
Relish making with my neighbor, Suzanna. Matching aprons were a total coincidence, which we love using whenever we cook together.
I used to go to elaborate lengths to help these last few tomatoes ripen, swathing the plants in plastic or wrapping the green tomatoes in newspaper and storing them in a cold cellar to gradually ripen inside. Then, I discovered something amazing: green tomatoes are delicious.
Nearly everyone has heard of fried green tomatoes, but I found recipes for green tomato relish and green tomato chutney in one of my favorite cookbooks, the Gardeners’ Community Cookbook. Now I celebrate the first frost with glee. Green tomato relish may well be the origin of my belief in cooking magic. Putting it on a hamburger in January is like transporting your taste buds to July.
This year, I don’t have an enormous garden to supply me with green tomatoes, so last Tuesday, I asked my neighbors if they had any unpicked green tomatoes I could use. One intrepid neighbor, Suzanna Schell, contacted her CSA provider, and they showed up with fifteen pounds of green tomatoes, three of which ripened before we could process them Tuesday morning. We divided the greenies equally between the two recipes below. Result: an insane amount of relish and chutney, which we’ve shared with our community. Note: jelly jars full of relish and chutney make fantastic Christmas presents.
GREEN TOMATO RELISH
1 lb green tomatoes, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb onions, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb bell peppers, assorted colors if possible, finely chopped
1 large jalapeno, stemmed and finely chopped (I substitute Hatch green chile)
2 tablespoons pickling salt (any non-iodized salt will do)
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup distilled white vinegar
3/4 teaspoons turmeric
2 Tablespoons pickling spiced tied in cheesecloth (allspice berries, bay leaves, black peppercorns, cloves, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, red chili peppers, etc. Use your favorites.)
Place the tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapeno, and salt in a large bowl. Add water to cover and set aside to soak overnight at room temperature. Next day, drain and rinse the vegetables. Set aside. Prepare 3 pint jars and lids for canning. Combine the sugar, vinegar, turmeric, and bag of pickling spices in a large nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Add the drained vegetables and return to a boil. Remove from heat immediately and ladle into jars. Seal and process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes, or cool, cap, and store in the refrigerator. Will keep in the fridge for 6 months, one year if processed.
GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY
2 lb green tomatoes, rinsed and quartered
2 lb tart green apples, peeled, cored, and quartered (I have some big Northern Spy apples)
1 lb shallots, peeled
2 heads of garlic, peeled (20-24 cloves each)
6 fresh red chili peppers, stemmed and seeded (In a pinch, use green chile)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped and tied in cheesecloth
1/2 lb golden raisins (I like to substitute some dried apricots)
1 lb Demerara or other crystal-form brown sugar
2-1/2 cups distilled white or cider vinegar (cider is better)
Put the tomatoes, apples, shallots, garlic, and chiles through a mincer or finely chop in a food processor, taking care not to overchop them into a mush. transfer to a nonreactive canning kettle or very large pot. Add the ginger, raisins, sugar, and vinegar and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring from time to time. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour or until all the ingredients are soft and the mixture has thickened into a loose syrup.
Meanwhile, prepare 4 quart jars and lids for canning. Remove the ginger bag and ladle the chutney into the jars. Seal and process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes, or cool, cap, and store in the refrigerator. Let mature for 1 month before using. Will keep up to 6 months in the fridge, 1 year if processed.
The weather here in New England has finally turned cold, with Arctic air on course to hit us this weekend. That means virus season is upon us, and in fact my husband is sick. Many people turn to simple comfort foods when they catch a cold: soups, macaroni, chicken pot pie.
I think spicy. Chile peppers contain more vitamin C than oranges, and their capsaicin can help with those achy joints. Also, the spicy chile helps clear your sinuses and relieve sore throats. So tonight for dinner, I made a classic New Mexican staple, papitas con carne al caldo. Growing up, we ate this as a main course with sides of rice, beans, and a green vegetable such as zucchini or sauteed spinach, along with one of Abuela’s fresh flour tortillas, but in the age of Chipotle, I use it as a burrito filler. My kids love this because they can choose exactly what they want to put in their burrito. It’s a modular meal, with a healthy balance of meat, carbohydrates, and vegetables.
Plus you can add as much or as little spice as you want. My husband and my older daughter prefer red chile powder, which they sprinkle over their cheese and then melt in the microwave. I personally prefer salsa, and my go-to brand is El Pinto, which is thankfully now available on Amazon. Occasionally, I’ll add a dash of sriracha. My ten-year-old still doesn’t like spicy food and puts none in her burrito.
The basic recipe is simple meat and potatoes, and the key to its flavor is Mexican oregano. A completely different species from Italian or Greek oregano, it has a marvelous, pungent flavor that’s essential to all Southwestern cooking. It’s now generally available at Whole Foods where you find dried chile pods, and of course, like everything, you can order it from Amazon.
PAPITAS CON CARNE AL CALDO
1 lb. lean ground beef, preferably organic, grass fed beef
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon Mexican oregano
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large or 2 medium potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold or russet
1 carrot, shredded
Place the ground beef in a large skillet or everyday pan on medium heat. Add the garlic. Put the oregano in the palm of your hand and rub your palms together to sprinkle it over the meat. Add the Worcestershire sauce. As the meat begins to cook, break it up into small, bite-size chunks and toss it around to combine all the ingredients.
As the meat is browning, dice the potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces. If you are using a thin-skinned potato such as Yukon Gold, you can leave the skin on, but peel russets to make sure you find any bad spots. When the meat is almost completely cooked, throw in the potatoes and toss to coat them in the fat from the meat.
Finish browning the meat and add just enough water to cover the meat and potatoes. Turn the heat up to medium high and cook until the water is almost completely gone and the potatoes are tender. You may wish to turn on your hood fan; it will get steamy! Just before the water completely disappears, add the shredded carrot and let it steam on top. When the water is completely gone, stir in the carrots and remove the pan from heat.
Serve with beans, rice, and whatever condiments you prefer in a burrito. Also perfectly fine in a taco. Recommended condiments: shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Mexican blend), diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, diced bell peppers (for even more vitamin C), avocado slices or guacamole, roasted or grilled vegetables, salsa, chile powder, sriracha. Pro tip: don’t overfill your burrito. You can always have a second one!
Another day, I’ll discuss how to make beans from scratch in an Instant Pot. Homemade frijoles are a bajillion times better than canned beans, but I didn’t have the time to make them tonight.
Happy eating, and may the chile burn out any cold you come across this season.
Do you throw out your jack-o-lantern after Halloween? Hope not, because you’re throwing out a whole lot of delicious!
While sugar pumpkins are the sweetest of holiday squash, all pumpkins are edible and usable, even after you’ve carved them and left them out overnight. And there are so very many things you can do with pumpkin. Muffins are just one example.
To render your jack-o-lantern edible, first wash or carve off any marker or crayon on the outer shell. If you used paint, you may have to carve it off. If you used a wax candle inside the pumpkin, cut away any wax drippings or scorched bits. Basically, you want nothing but pumpkin going in your oven.
Spray a baking sheet with canola oil or rub it with butter. Then cut your pumpkin (roughly) in half and set it on the baking sheet with the cut edges down. Bake the pumpkin at 400 degF until it becomes soft and a fork easily penetrates the shell. This will take between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pumpkin.
Let your pumpkin cool completely. Using a tablespoon or ice cream scoop, scoop the pumpkin flesh off of the shell. Use a blender or food processor to puree the flesh until it’s smooth. You can now use this puree in place of canned pumpkin in any recipe, or you can place it in freezer bags and freeze it for later holiday baking.
Remember me telling you that I was cooking lamb-in-a-pumpkin supper for 30 last week? I actually only had 26, and I vastly overestimated the size of the pumpkin to cook the stew in, so I ended up with a LOT of leftover roasted pumpkin. (The smaller pumpkin in the photo was a vegan version substituting white kidney beans and sauteed oyster and portobello mushrooms for the lamb.)
Last night, I rinsed some of the flesh, so it wouldn’t taste too much of stew, pureed it as above, and used the following recipe, which I found on ThisGrandmaIsFun.com, to make pumpkin muffins for Nora’s Halloween party today. I modified it in one way: I added raisins and dried cranberries. I also tripled the recipe below and found that it made 60 small (not mini) muffins, so the recipe below should make 20, not 12 as the original recipe states.
RECYCLED JACK-O-LANTERN PUMPKIN MUFFINS
- 1¾ cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups pure pumpkin puree
- ½ cup coconut oil, melted
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup mixed raisins, golden raisins, and dried cranberries
- Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners or grease with nonstick spray. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Whisk to combine and set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the eggs, pumpkin puree, coconut oil, milk, and vanilla extract. Whisk to combine. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and fold to combine. The batter will be thick.
- Stir in the raisins and cranberries.
- Using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measuring cup, scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan. Keep stirring occasionally to keep the raisins and cranberries from settling to the bottom.
- Bake for 22-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before removing the muffins from the pan. Serve.
These are a great treat to serve on chilly mornings with breakfast or as an alternative to pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.
Happy November, everyone!
Time for more Halloweeny goodness! For cooking (and nearly everything else), fall is my favorite season. You still have most of the delicious summertime crops, but you’re now also getting mature fall crops: winter squashes, cold-weather kale, frost sweetened root veggies, etc. Oh, yes. And lamb.
Wait! you say. Isn’t lamb a spring meat? Actually, no. In fact, that makes almost no sense. Lambs are born in the spring, and when they are born, they are tiny. Most sheep farmers want some time to let their lambs grow and fatten up a bit, harvesting them at about six months old. Thus, lamb is typically harvested in the fall. That’s one reason why, come Easter, you see so much lamb from Australia and New Zealand – it’s fall there. Here in New England, fall is when you find good, fresh, peak lamb. I highly recommend Chestnut Farms for the excellent quality of their meat and especially their lamb.
When I got lamb stew meat in my last meat share, I knew exactly what I was going to do with it. This recipe brings together nearly all of my favorite fall flavors: kale, pumpkin, heirloom tomatoes, and lamb, with just a hint of chile. I found this recipe in the Gardener’s Community Cookbook, my go-to for figuring out what to do with your farmshare or garden surplus. Of course, I’ve meddled with it a bit, adding kale, for example. My husband hates cinnamon, so I substitute nutmeg.
LAMB-IN-A-PUMPKIN SUPPER (Serves 8)
- 1 medium pumpkin (6 to 8 pounds)
- 1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil
- 2 pounds lean lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large onion, not too finely chopped
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup light beef broth
- 1/4 cup brandy
- 4 cups coarsely chopped fresh or canned tomatoes and their juices
- 1 bunch kale, stems removed, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon red chile powder or smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Roasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish (optional)
Wash the exterior of your pumpkin thoroughly with soap. Cut off the top of your pumpkin as if preparing for a jack-o-lantern. You’ll need that pumpkin top for a lid later, so try to cut it off cleanly. Scoop out the seeds and connecting membranes. (Save the seeds if you want to roast them for garnish.) With a melon baller, ice cream scoop, or other sturdy spoon, remove the flesh, leaving enough of a wall (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick) to keep the shell intact. Reserve the flesh. Place the pumpkin shell and its lid on a baking sheet and set aside.
Heat the oil in a nonreactive pot until beginning to smoke. Brown the lamb over medium high heat in batches so that the pieces are not crowded in the pan. Transfer to a bowl as you go.
When all the lamb is browned, reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, onion, and pumpkin flesh (you may need to chop the pumpkin into bite-sized pieces first) to the pot. Saute until the onion is translucent, about five minutes. Add the flour and stir until the flour begins to cook, about two minutes. Pour in the brandy to deglaze, followed by the broth.
Add the remaining ingredients (except the pumpkin seeds for garnish) and the browned lamb along with any collected juices and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently for one hour, until the sauce is thickened and the lamb is almost tender.
While the lamb is simmering, preheat the oven to 350 degF. Ladle the finished lamb mixture into the pumpkin shell and top with the pumpkin lid. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the outside of the pumpkin is golden and nearly soft. If your pumpkin starts to slump a bit, watch out! The bottom cooks faster than the top, and if you try to move the pumpkin, it will break off – stew everywhere! If it has not begun to slump, you can attempt to transfer it to a platter and serve, garnished with pumpkin seeds (optional).
This is a fantastic party dish. For additional wow factor, pour a little brandy on top of the stew, turn off all the lights, and light it! (Warning: this trick works about 50% of the time for me.) I’ve made this dish at least a dozen times, and it never fails to please. Years later, people will run into me and say, Wow, remember that pumpkin stew you made? In a pumpkin?
Last weekend, I tried a variation I’ve been considering for a while: individual pumpkins. We had a family member visiting and celebrating her 80th birthday, which is cause for fancy cooking! Next weekend, I’m making this meal for about thirty people, and I have more family coming to visit, so I thought I’d make the stew in advance, freeze it, then thaw it the morning of the meal, toss it in a jumbo-sized pumpkin, and cook that, easy shmeezy. I quintupled the recipe, planning to use some for the birthday dinner and make up the shortfall with a vegan version next weekend.
To this end, I bought small, 1-pound-ish sugar pumpkins (yum), but I knew their walls would be too thin to scrape down much, so I also bought two 3-pound pumpkins, which I peeled and chopped. I should note that peeling a fresh pumpkin is MUCH harder than it sounds. I ended up using a good sharp vegetable knife to do the job. Also, there’s no good way to speed up browning the lamb, even if you use a ginormous pot, so budget extra cooking time.
When I cooked the pumpkins, I found that they all cooked at slightly different rates. The one non-sugar pumpkin I used, a small ornamental pumpkin for Nora, actually took the longest to cook and then kept absorbing all the broth out of the stew! Overall, I don’t think I’ll attempt this again. It’s a cute trick but really not worth the effort, and the kids think a gargantuan pumpkin is far more impressive.
Hi, all. My apologies for not posting on time. Last Monday being a holiday (Indigenous Peoples’ Day!) threw me off, and I just never quite caught my stride. This week, I’m a day late due to excessive creativity.
Halloween is drawing near, less than two weeks away. I’ve been experimenting with no-bake recipes that I could conceivably make at school visits. This one from Baker Mama caught my eye because it also happens to be fairly nutritious, a mixture of peanut butter, honey, and oats with chocolate chips and mini M&Ms thrown in for fun.
Peanut butter isn’t a great choice for schools however, so I’ve altered the recipe to use sunflower butter and nut-free mini chocolate chips. (Check the labels to make certain your ingredients are made in a nut-free facility.) It happens to be naturally gluten-free, and it can be easily made vegan by substituting brown rice syrup for the honey. I suspect molasses might work as well, and today at Spindler Confections, I discovered the existence of cider syrup, which would probably be marvelous in this.
ALLERGEN-FREE MONSTER BALLS
- 2-1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 cup creamy or crunchy sunflower butter
- ½ cup honey (or brown rice syrup)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup Enjoy Life or other mini chocolate chips
- Halloween-themed sugar sprinkles to taste
Combine the oats, sunflower butter, honey, and vanilla thoroughly, Stir in the chips and sprinkles and mix until roughly homogeneous. Roll into 1- to 1.5-inch balls. If you can refrain from instantly eating them all, refrigerate for up to two weeks.
We made the basic monster ball recipe above to bring to my daughters’ FIRST LEGO League meeting last Monday night, but Nora and I both thought they were entirely too plain to be called monster balls. Nora tried to decorate the balls but couldn’t get the decorations to stick. Then I had a brainstorm: honey. I happened to be at Michael’s today for other supplies and picked up a few extras: candy eyeballs and candy mustaches, sized for cupcakes but perfect for this purpose. We added coconut and edible green glitter gel for hair, candy corn for horns and legs, candy coated sunflower seeds for eyes, noses, and spines, and some apple raspberry fruit leather for mouths and tongues.
Cyclops, unicorn, and, um, warthog?
The result: far less healthy but much more fun snacks! I wish I’d thought to get red licorice whips for hair, too, and I could see using pretzel sticks or regular licorice for legs. Oh, and if you’re more of a chocoholic, there’s also a version of this that uses Nutella. I don’t quite dare. I may not be able to stop eating them. But if you’re brave enough, try it, and share your photos on my Facebook feed!
EDIT: Remember there are more recipes from A Witch’s Kitchen here.
Here’s the recipe I’d intended to post last week, before that heat wave hit. Today, it’s cool and in the 60s, with fog in the morning and just a nip of autumn in the air: soup weather.
I have never been a fan of cold soups. They just taste wrong to me, none more so that Russian borscht, beet soup served cold with sour cream. I love beets, but if I’m eating them cold, I want them pickled or in a salad. Even warm, borscht doesn’t thrill me. It’s too simple, just beets and onions and broth and sour cream.
Then I met my husband, whose mother was Ukrainian, and she introduced me to Ukrainian borshch (shown above with a shot of vodka for cold winter nights), which is a rich and varied vegetable soup rather like minestrone, but made entirely with winter vegetables. In the summertime, when my garden is bursting with produce, I will often make something I call borschtrone, and its Italian or Ukrainian character is determined most by whether I have basil or dill to season it with.
The following recipe is the version used for Sviat Vechir, the traditional twelve-course meatless Christmas dinner (more on that later this year), so it works very well as a vegan entree. It can also be easily “beefed up” by substituting chicken stock and adding red kidney beans and/or chunks of kielbasa. Delicious with pierogies (varenyky if you’re Ukrainian) and fresh rye bread.
- 1 cup fresh or dried mushrooms
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
- 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil (canola or sunflower work well)
- 2 cups beets, diced
- 1 cup carrots, diced
- 1 potato, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon dill (fresh or frozen)
- 1 teaspoon fresh parsley
- 3 cups shredded cabbage (I often substitute kale and/or beet greens)
- 1/2 cup tomato juice or canned or fresh diced tomatoes
- 3 peppercorns
- lemon juice to taste
- salt and pepper
- 8-9 cups water or vegetable stock
If you are using dried mushrooms, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to soften and reserve the liquid for later. Slice mushrooms (fresh or reconstituted).
Saute the onion and garlic in oil until transparent. Add mushrooms and saute slightly. Add beets, carrots, and potato and saute until just beginning to soften around the edges. Add cabbage/greens, dill and parsley and cook along with the tomatoes/juice and water/stock. If you used dried mushrooms, include the reserved liquid here, reducing the amount of water/stock accordingly. Season to taste. Simmer until all vegetables are tender. (if you are using an Instant Pot, set it to Stew for 25 minutes). Add lemon juice with caution since you want the borshch tart, not sour. (I have a daughter who dislikes sour things, so I often omit it altogether.) Garnish with additional dill and parsley and serve with optional sour cream or tofu alternative. Serves 6-8.