Monday, September 26, 2011

"Slag" and Other Stuff in Jars

More elegantly known as Garlic Confit, my son calls it “Slag”.  I got the idea several years ago when I was buying garlic cloves in a jar, already hulled.  I use garlic so much that I was definitely impatient with the tedious process of taking the skin off the cloves.  My fingers became sticky, as did the paring knife I was using.  I didn’t like pressing them with the blade of the knife to loosen the skin because all too often, the cloves got smashed in the process.  I could roast the whole head, drizzled in olive oil until the cloves were soft and spreadable and almost like a garlic jam—and I often did that when roasting a chicken in the oven.  But I still had many uses for raw garlic, crushed, chopped or sliced; and for that the cloves really had to be hulled. 
But here was a Costco-sized jar of hulled garlic cloves which would surely go bad quickly if I didn’t do something with them right away.  So, from the big jar, I kept some aside for other uses and turned the rest into “slag”.  I put a double handful in a deep pan and covered them with extra virgin olive oil and simmered them until they were golden.  I scooped out the creamy cloves and put them in jars, covering them with the oil.  I poured the remaining roasted garlic infused olive oil into bottles.  Now I had two separate basic ingredients to add zing to all kinds of different dishes.  The garlic was perfect when spread on bread, sprinkled with parmesan and toasted in the oven to go with dinner.  The infused olive oil was a savory base for a salad dressing or even to make an aioli.
Over time, I’ve moved away from this kitchen basic as I’ve explored new directions in my cooking adventures.  But when I saw a recipe for garlic confit in Food and Wine magazine, I felt validated, as if this little idea of mine had enough merit that someone else thought to elevate it to “haute cuisine” status.  The only difference was that I used more oil and didn’t include herbs in the cooking, only adding them at the end.
Fingerling Potatoes
The First Beets

As the end of summer has brought the beginning of full harvest from my little garden, I’ve been busy putting all the stuff in jars to enjoy through the long dark winter.  I even decided I could do a variation of ratatouille, the French tomato/zucchini/onion stew with some of my squashes.  The cucumbers have been great so I made three varieties of pickles, including icicle dills that I hope will taste as fresh and delicate as the ones I had in a restaurant last week.  
Icicle Dill Pickles, "Slag", Dilly Beans, and Ratatouille

This will be the first year I haven’t done anything with the tomatoes—yet.  We have them sliced with a balsamic vinaigrette for lunch and dinner.  We have them to share at every possible opportunity.  For breakfast I have a couple tossed in a pan with herbs and an egg poached in the center. 
Black Krim and French Heirloom Tomatoes

But finally, I think I have enough tomatoes to roast some in a slow oven until they nearly caramelize.  These I will put in the prettiest jars I have and give them as gifts—some of them anyway.  After all, I will badly need the tomato fix in January!
Garlic Confit (“Slag”)
2 cups garlic cloves, hulled
4 cups extra virgin olive oil
Rosemary, fennel, and bay leaf, one sprig or leaf for each jar
Pour olive oil over garlic to cover in a deep skillet and cook over moderate heat until garlic is deep golden.  With a slotted spoon (I use a Spider), lift out garlic and put in small jars.  Cover with olive oil and slip herbs into jar.
Pour remaining olive oil into a bottle and seal with a cork.  Garlic may be kept in refrigerator for five months or so (unless you’ve used it up already).  The oil will keep on your counter, to be used as a base for vinaigrette, or sprinkled on vegetables that you sauté, or lightly drizzled on toasts for crostini.
Beautiful Black Krim and its blushing center

Slow-roasted Tomato Confit
4 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes
About 8 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Fennel sprigs or 1 tablespoon dried fennel
Tomatoes seasoned and ready to go in oven for slow roasting
Tomatoes ready to go into jars

Spread cut tomatoes and garlic cloves in a large clay pan with sides (about the size of a cookie sheet).  Toss with salt, herbs, garlic a 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Roast in slow oven for about 2 hours.  Spoon into two sterilized pint jars.  Top off jars with a little more olive oil and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.  Seal jars and boil in water bath for 10 minutes.
Roasted Tomato Confit
This is a concentrated tomato confit.  A little goes a long way for intense flavor.
Toss pasta with a spoonful and serve with a little grated parmesan as a side dish.
Or toss it with shrimp and sauté briefly until shrimp is cooked through.
Or toss into a salad for a little extra flavor.

It’s been raining all day, the first steady rain we’ve had in weeks, it seems.  So today has been a good day to tend to the harvest that the garden has so generously provided.  It’s time for it to rest now.  I am always so astonished by how fast everything grows and how suddenly it all seems to end.  Summer is too short!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fig Confit

The other day, when Betty and I were coming back from the dog park, we stopped at a little fruit stand, thinking we might find something freshly picked and irresistible.  And indeed, I spied a little pint container of bright green figs that would absolutely have to go home with me.  Reluctantly, I parted with five dollars because I really wanted to sink my teeth into one of those delectable fruits.  When I eat a fig, memories of my earliest childhood in the south of France seem to erase the present and evoke this distant past.  I can almost smell the Mediterranean breezes mingled with the scent of rosemary and lavender.  Yet, when I try to share my passion for this somewhat strange fruit, it seems that very few people I know have even tasted a fresh fig.  I asked the girl who was tending the fruit stand if she had tasted one.  She shook her head as if to say, “it’s really too weird.  Fig Newtons I understand, but this?...”
My son Mark has a fig tree at his new house.  By the time we picked the figs, they were oozing with sweet juice and were falling from the tree in ripened perfection.  I tried to get everyone to taste one and I think only Dawn was excited about this very different fruit.  And of course, she is as passionate about food in all its forms as I am.
So here I am with a little basket of figs.  I could use them in all kinds of different ways.  Sliced in half they would be great on the grill.  They could be roasted with a pork tenderloin, mixed with rosemary and garlic.  They could be great with a little goat cheese on a crostini.  Finally, I decided to make a confit with them, to be spread on toast, or spooned onto a scoop of Greek yogurt, or served with a good cheddar cheese on a cracker.
I fussed and fiddled with the ingredients until it tasted right to me and now I have three little jars to give as gifts as an introduction to the glorious fig.

Fig Confit
1 pint fresh green figs (I suppose the dark figs could be substituted but I like the mildness of the green ones)
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon finely sliced lemon, including rind (about ¼ lemon)
1 ½ tablespoons crystallized ginger, sliced fine
½ cup orange marmalade (I make my own which is quite tart)
Combine all ingredients and simmer on medium to low heat for about ½ hour.  Spoon into prepared, sterilized jars and seal.  Boil in water bath for ten minutes.  Makes about 1 ½ pints.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Not Like Years Past

Today is September 15th.  I took pictures of the garden, making a careful tour to get a sense of how the seasons have progressed from the day I started keeping track. 
 Rose - Hot Cocoa
 Rose - Gift of Life
 Rose - Frederic Mistral
 Feverfew, otherwise known as Chamomille
 Morning Glory Vines - the pernicious weed
 Sedum on the walkway with Allyssum
 Dahlia trying to bloom since it's no longer shaded by huge Tom Thumb rose
 Dahlia which I transplanted way too late in the season
 Morning Glory vines growing through the baseboard!
 Happy Impatiens--for now! with Hostas
Impatiens in the window box
It seems especially significant this year since it’s been so much colder and wetter than usual.  Everything started later and took longer to develop and mature.  I’m just now beginning to get tomatoes even though I’ve tried to protect them and give them lots of heat by keeping the hoop house closed—especially at night.  In terms of garden bounty, it’s been pretty meager.  I have fond memories of days spent canning and preserving, of putting fat red tomatoes in jars that we could open in February for a taste of summer.
 Tomatoes this year - Note Black Krim in background
 Black Krim and cherry tomatoes

Last year's tomatoes
Though it’s all been a little disappointing, this has been a growing season of lessons learned.  I will no longer take it for granted that if I pop a seed into the ground and keep it watered and fed it will grow into some hugely prolific plant with lots of fruit.  Keeping a log faithfully has been especially helpful and will be an invaluable tool as I plan for next year.  For most gardeners, this isn’t anything new—but I’m somewhat lackadaisical about such things, and not terribly consistent.  Just as I never paid much attention to when I did my planting (except that tomato starts go in the ground after Mother’s Day around here—or have in past years!), I never used to measure when I cooked up something until I started writing down the recipes I dreamed up.
So this year is very different.  I won’t be putting tomatoes in jars for February, but I did make a beautiful jam from our Japanese plums.  And though I didn’t get any peaches from our Jack Frost peach tree, I did make a peach wine from the young leaves.  The wild blackberries have been especially bountiful so I’ve been able to freeze many little packets of them.  Early in the season, there was more spinach than we could ever eat so I was able to freeze a lot of it.  Ditto for the turnip greens that Betty’s southern husband loves so much.  As a matter of fact, there’s probably more fruit and vegetable stuff in my freezer than meat or fish.
I keep thinking that all this effort will pay off in a smaller grocery bill, but as the cost of everything keeps going up, I’m still not able to keep our food budget to $50 a week, which had always been my goal.  But the bounty of summer is really wonderful.  The last time I bought lettuce was in the beginning of May.  And over winter, I’ll be able to draw from the storehouse in the freezer as well as from the pantry.  When I bought 25 pounds of peaches at the farmer’s market for $1 a pound, I made jam and froze the rest for pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I made enough pickles from our cucumbers to last a year—and give as gifts.  Even the garlic from the garden will make a great confit to put in pretty little jars and give as gifts.  And, as always, our apple tree is a giving tree, with sweet crunchy apples that also make great applesauce.
This year, the zucchini didn’t do well and the yellow squash was less than prolific.  But I have enough to make a sort of ratatouille relish that I can put in a jar.  I know squash is one of those vegetables that can’t be preserved (I learned that the hard way several years ago when some jars exploded), but I figure that by putting vinegar in for acidity and processing the jars in a water bath, maybe I’ll be successful.  In the meantime, it’s been wonderful on the grill.
The change of season to fall seems to call for reflection.  Spring comes in with a burst of energy and fecund growth, while summer has the long days and late twilight evenings; and winter?  Well, that’s when I want to hibernate, and wait for spring and the tulips!  September seems to be more of a turning page of seasonal events and moods than any other.  The trees turn to fire, the light is long and glowing, almost as if we see through an amber glass.  The air turns fresh and the breezes even blow a little differently.  It’s almost as if this should be the end of the year instead of December, and the beginning of a new time.  The land begins to go to sleep, as if needing to draw new energy to renew for another year.
Maybe it’s no accident that I love September so much since it also happens to be my birthday month!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Our B & B

The pizza party was supposed to have been a glorious send-off for my baby sister before she moved off to her great adventure and a new life near her daughter and grandchildren in Illinois.  Her plan was to have one last week of fun on the west coast by meeting up with her friends in southern California.  Then, she would fly back, stay with Betty overnight before driving her car to Portland to see some other friends before taking the long road trip across country to Illinois—driving by herself.
Betty called me one night at the end of August.  “I’m really worried about this long trip she needs to take,” she said.  “How is she going to do it?  She’s absolutely exhausted from getting ready to move, from packing, from ending the school year, from making all her plans.  I don’t think she realizes how arduous this trip is going to be.  It’ll take her seven days probably because she won’t be able to drive more than about 300 miles a day, if that.”
We were in complete agreement that this was not a good plan, especially since she had just been recovering from one of her surgeries.
“I’ll bet it wouldn’t cost her any more to have her car shipped to Illinois and she could fly,” Betty said.  “Somehow, we have to convince her.”
So now we two sisters worked out a plan to make our baby sister’s journey more comfortable.  First we had to convince her.  Once we worked out the numbers it wasn’t hard, because she also realized how difficult it would have been for her to drive such a distance by herself.  Betty arranged for the car transport and the flight on Southwest and we decided that it would be best if we used our house as a base from which to ultimately launch Rona on her way. 
Betty was given a three day window from September 1st through September 3rd for the car transport, so she drove Rona’s car from Bremerton to Seattle on August 30th.  We would repack the car to reduce the weight to 100 pounds of cargo and we would drive it until it had barely any gas in it per the requirements of the transport people.  Then we would wait for them to pick it up…on one of those three days.  But the Labor Day weekend got in the way.  No transport would be happening. 
As so often happens, this was an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons.  We now had a chance, as three sisters together, to have some bonus days that we had not anticipated.  We could take a trip up to La Connor, one of our favorite pretty little towns to poke around in.  We could even use some of the extra gas in Rona’s car to visit a far away dog park.  The weather was spectacularly wonderful as it can only be in late summer when the air is dry, the breezes are soft and the sun shines all day.  This was an unexpected vacation.
Betty and I would partner in the kitchen while Rona could park herself on a bar stool and visit while we cooked.  With all her Herculean work of the summer as she prepared for her big move, she could use the rest.  Besides, mine is a two person kitchen at best.
Our B & B was up and functioning.  We packed a lot of fun into those few bonus days we had.  We enjoyed leisurely breakfasts while we planned our adventures for the days to come.  We had lunch on the patio, dinner in candlelight, walks through the park, picking blackberries, with good conversation as the seasoning of our time together.  This was the richness of three sisters together, a melody with the ever-present spark of Joe’s deep voice to keep us all in balance.
Baby sister is now firmly settled into her new home in Illinois and Betty is back across the water in Bremerton, but the result of our unexpected bonus week of vacation together is that we are really closer now, though greater distance separates us.  I come away from this week much richer for the experience.