...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Fall Preserving

Nasturtium seed pods
This time of the season I start checking off the last of my preserving list, sometimes frantically as the weather can be unpredictable and I'm working to pick and put up what I can before I lose it.  We had a gorgeous "Indian Summer" last week through today, but I know that frost could visit soon.  In fact, many inland areas of the city have already experienced their first frost.

My friend Beth from the Victory Garden Initiative called last week to tell me the nasturtiums at her Bay View Hide House plots were producing seed pods.  She knew I was looking for these pods to make "local capers."  Vera and I biked over to the garden, which was our first visit there.  What a beautiful block of the neighborhood.  I wish I'd had my camera!  Vera poked around among the raised beds and played with a toy wheel barrow, while I picked form Beth's bed.  I will make a brine for these pods this week then store them in the fridge in a small jar to use this winter in tuna salad, on pizza, and with pasta and other dishes calling for capers.  Here's the basic recipe I use.

Nasturtium or Milkweed Seed Pods "Capers"
Makes 1 pint

Adapted from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.  The milkweed seed pods can be harvested earlier in the season so if you're interested, make a note for next year.  Nasturtiums will start to form seed pods anytime now. 

1 1/2 c. small, tender nasturtium or milkweed seed pods
Sea salt
1 to 2 heads garlic, optional

Dissolve salt in water, about 3/4 T. salt in a about 1 c. water, to create a brine solution.  Fill a pint jar with seed pods and garlic, if desired.  Pour the brine over the pods and garlic to cover them.  If you don't have enough brine, add a little more water and salt.  Be sure the pods and garlic and submerged in the brine.  Keep in the refrigerator and use as needed.  The "capers" should be ready after a week or so; the flavor will get better with time.

Also in the queue last week was drying and freezing peppers.  We harvested lots of hot peppers from our garden this season so I chose to oven dry them.  The bell peppers from our yard and our CSA I sliced and froze.  I will use these in soups, stir-frys, casseroles, etc. this winter--they work well in any dish that will be cooked since their texture will be more flimsy once they thaw.

While I'm discussing preserving, I borrowed a new book from the library last week--Canning for a New Generation: Bold Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff.  One of the blogs I try to follow, Food in Jars, had a recent post about some new cookbooks she was checking out so I decided to check them out as well.  This is one of the selections I love.  It has all kinds of great modern preserving recipes, other recipes in which you can use your canned or frozen goods, and gorgeous photos to boot.  Even Vera loved it, though it makes me nervous when she looks at my library books because the first word out of her mouth is "color," meaning she'd love for you to put a pen or crayon in her hand so she can add her own embellishments to the pages.  She would turn to a photo in the book, point, and squeal "Oooh!" as if to say "Mommy, we should really try this!"

Portioned squash puree
Roasted "Fairy" squash
And appealing to her palate is what I'm constantly striving to do.  This past week I got in the mood to experiment a little with some new snacks for her, again trying to sneak veggies in whenever possible.  I made some winter squash crepes, which she mildly enjoyed.  We'll keep trying. You don't have to visit Montmartre to enjoy these sweet treats with a creamy filling.   The batter is simple to prepare, especially if you have a food processor.  And cooking them is almost as fun as making omelets (to me that's a blast!)  After roasting and pureeing the squash, I portioned it into a mini muffin pan, froze it, and will transfer to a freezer bag to use in soups, breads, and more crepes this winter.

Pumpkin/Winter Squash Crepe Batter
Makes 6-8 crepes

I made these into pinwheels for Vera thinking she'd like the eye appeal.  She had more fun unrolling them and eating the strips of crepe.

1 whole large egg
3 egg whites
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole milk at room temperature
1 T. honey
1/2 t. salt
3 T. mashed roasted pumpkin or winter squash
1 t. pumpkin pie spices or a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and allspice
1 T. flaxseed oil
Additional honey for garnish

Mix all ingredients in a food processor or blender.  The result is usable immediately.  Cook in a hot non-stick skillet or crepe pan until the top is dry, then flip.  Cook other side a minute or so.  Spread filling (see  recipe below) on crepe and roll-up or fold over.  Drizzle with a little honey before serving.

Pumpkin/Winter Squash and Cream Cheese Filling
Makes about 1 1/4 cup

8 oz. full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 c. mashed pumpkin/winter squash
1 t. honey

Mix all ingredients in a food processor or by hand.

Vera, Carsten, and Naana
We hosted some international friends this weekend, which was a great time.  Carsten from Stuttgart, Germany and "Naana from Ghana who lived in Botswana" live just outside of and work as attorneys in New York City.  With the gorgeous weather we had in Milwaukee we spent the weekend leisurely strolling the farmers' market, touring the town, eating, and enjoying great conversation around the table hoping they were able to unwind from the big city bustle.  I enjoyed probing them about the food and traditions in their respective cultures and had a great time cooking for everyone.  I tried a new recipe on Saturday night.  Knowing that my German side of the family enjoys pickled herring (at least my dad still does--he can clear a room over the holidays when he opens a jar and goes at it with his fork), I thought I'd serve some herring at least for Carsten's liking.  Fortunately Naana enjoyed it as well.  It's an intense, acquired taste, but a nice occasional treat.

Layered Pickled Herring Salad with Tart Apples and Red Onion
Serves 8

Adapted from a recipe originally printed in Bon Appetit, December 1996.

3/4 c. apple cider vinegar
3/4 c. water
1/3 c. sugar (I use xylitol)
2 t. pickling spices
1 t. salt
1 large cucumber (the last of our cukes on the homestead), cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds

Herring Salad, Quick Pickled Cucumbers
1 lb. tart apples, peeled, cored, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 c. chopped red onion
1 c. sour cream
1/4 c. chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 1/4 c. sliced trimmed radishes
6 oz. jar cut pickled herring, drained each piece halved
Lettuce leaves
Fresh dill sprigs (optional)

For cucumbers:
Mix vinegar, water, sugar (xylitol), pickling spices, and salt in heavy medium saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring until sweetener and salt dissolve.  Cool to room temp.  Place cucumbers in a large glass bowl.  Pour marinade over, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

For salad:
Mix apples, red onion, sour cream, and chopped dill in a large bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Using slotted spoon, remove cucumbers from marinade.  Arrange half of cucumbers in bottom of 8x8x2-inch glass dish.  Arrange half of radishes atop cucumbers.  Spoon half of apple mixture over radishes.  Arrange herring evenly atop apple mixture.  Spoon remaining apple mixture over herring.  Cover with remaining cucumbers, then radishes.  Cover and chill salad 3 hours.  Arrange lettuce leaves on platter.  Spoon salad onto leaves.  Garnish with dill sprigs, if desired, and serve.

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