How great is it that locally raised mushrooms are a focus of local producers now, and they are easily found at farmer’s markets and as add-ons to CSA shares? Mushrooms are delicate though, and prone to mold, so a method to extend their usefulness helps make the most of your fungi.
I love this little appreciated, kind-of-plain book I picked up long ago, and many of my basic kitchen ways are based upon things I learned here. Sadly out of print, and probably often overlooked in favor of more visually beautiful photo books, but if you are truly wanting to learn some foundational kitchen skills and habits, I highly recommend this one. Available used online, for cheap, so it is a good one when the budget is tight.
In the Light Basics cookbook, Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe for pan-cooked mushrooms gives you dense little chunks of deep, earthy flavor, which works for pretty much all mushroom varieties.
I make this recipe as soon as I get my mushrooms, and save them in a jar to add later to salads, greens, accompany steaks, pizzas, omlettes, saucy meats, pasta. Really, what isn’t made instantly richer and fancier with some herby, garlicky, flavorful chunks of mushrooms cooked in booze?
King Trumpet and Nameko Mushrooms, fresh rosemary, garlic and thyme.
Personally, I can’t resist nicking them straight from the jar, so preserving them is rarely a problem, but if you find yourself with an abundant haul, this recipe is a good way to extend their life – simply put in a sterilized jar and top with olive oil. Make sure your shrooms are submerged – the flavored oil when the mushrooms are finished is a lovely ingredient in its own right, too.
Because the moisture has been released, and there is salt and olive oil, your mushrooms are intensified in flavor and much less vulnerable to mold.
Deliciously savory mushrooms cooked with a little wine, garlic, and herbs
- 1-1/2 pounds mushrooms
- 1/2 tsp salt or to your taste
- 1/2 cup dry white or red wine brandy, or vermouth
- 1-1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 3/4 tsp dried
- 1-1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 3/4 tsp crumbled dried
- 1-1/2 TBS olive oil
- 2 - 4 large garlic cloves peeled and minced or pressed
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 TBS chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Trim away the tough stemps of the mushrooms or remove the from portabellos, for regular mushrooms just cut the very ends of the stems off. Rinse briefly in cod water to remove any sand and shake or wipe dry with paper towels. Cut into thick slices, halves, or for sall shrooms, leave whole. If using a clumpy variety like oysters, tear in half or cut away the bottom of the stem and separate.
Heat skillet over medium-high heat, add the mushrooms and salt. Watch carefully, the mushrooms will soon begin to release liquid. Stir and cook until the liquid has evaporated, which can be anywhere from 5 - 15 minutes, depending on the moisture content and type of mushroom. Stir in the wine, thyme, and rosemary. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the wine has evaporated, 5 - 10 minutes. Add the olive oil and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to color and the dish smells very fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Season with pepper, stir in the parsley, adjust salt if needed, serve.
I don’t have much time, or kitchen space for elaborate preserving projects anymore. So, I have to be really selective and spend my time making the one tomato-y thing that will be quick, flexible, but still remind me in the heart of January that the dark, frozen nights will again be soft and desk, with tomatoes, still warm from the garden. See, that connection to my own Pennsylvania summer is a real spirit lifter – one which canned tomatoes from the supermarket just cannot match.
Elimination thinking makes my decision super-easy; this uncooked tomato sauce, straight from the freezer tastes exactly like summer, is compact and efficient to store in my freezer, and quick and easy to use in lots of ways later.
Before beginning, I’d like to make this one plea: Resist the urge to chef this one up until you’ve made it once exactly as it is. Yes, it’s a VERY simple, plain recipe, but therein lies the charm. The simplicity allows the special summertime quality of the tomatoes to shine which is exactly why I love it so much. You can add herbs and spices when you use it later if you wish. Oh, and this sauce plain is beautiful with fresh mozzarella… and allows a bit of good olive oil to really shine.
Here’s a link to the more specific recipe. It makes four servings to be eaten right away but to preserve larger quantities for freezing, simply repeat as many times as you like ( I just figure out how many pounds of tomatoes I have and work it backwards), throw the milled batches together into one large colander, drain over a large bucket then freeze the concentrated sauce in single serving portions.
The split skins will peel right away – then toss into your food mill. I use a Roma and run the tomatoes through two or three times to extract every last drop… If you don’t have a food mill, just do your best to skin, seed and chop as finely as you can. The texture won’t be exactly the same, but don’t let that stop you – it’s still going to be awesome.
The tomatoes after processing. Add kosher salt and ladle into your cheesecloth lined colander. Maybe you’re not like me with large pieces of cheesecloth lying around. Not to worry, you can use a simple cotton dish towel or pillow case but be prepared for it to be forever stained. I toss my clean cheesecloth into the boiling water for a few minutes before using. Line a colander with the cheesecloth and you’re ready to pour in your tomato mixture. Place the colander over a large bowl or bucket and drain for at least a couple of hours or overnight
For me, one cup portions in freezer bags is the perfect size. One cup feeds two with plenty of leftovers for the next few days. Looking at the chicken scratch I wrote on my recipe, apparently I used 24 pounds of tomatoes last year and today I know it was not nearly enough. A word of warning: a little of this sauce goes a long way. I use 2 or 3 Tablespoons to dress a serving of pasta. Really.
Fill your freezer bags, squeeze out any air, and stack flat on a baking sheet or plate to freeze. Onse frozen stiff, the packages can be stacked upright in a container, and are easy to see and access in your freezer, and take little space.
Pouches of finished sauce, in my freezer stash. I freeze this in one cup portions in small freezer bags to use all winter. Thaw it in the bag and gently spoon over cooked pasta tossed with olive oil or butter. If you must heat the sauce, simply warm a little olive oil in a sauce pan and stir in the sauce until just warmed.
Because you are straining away most of the water, the volume will be greatly reduced. I started with a nearly full 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes, and ended up with about 5 cups of sauce. This will vary based on the water content of the tomatoes and the amount of time you leave them drain.
Use your sauce to make summer-fresh Margarita pizzas, toss in the crock pot or dutch oven for a stew or braise, soup, with a pot of beans, anything that can use some fresh tomato flavor. Since the star of this project is the tomato, I wouln’t bother with thick walled, tough-skinned, weak flavored commodity varieties. This is meant as a celebration of the flavor of local, peak-of=freshness, sloppy, flavorful old-fashioned and heirloom varieties.
Home made pasta, uncooked fresh tomato sauce frozen from last summer’s harvest and some good quality parmesan or pecorino – perfection in its simplicity!
Also, when you’ve finished making this sauce, especially if you made a bunch for freezing, you’ll have lots of nutritious tomato essence (the water left after straining the tomato solids for the sauce) left.
- Base for Bloody Marys
- Braising liquid
- Reduction for intensely tomato flavored sauces
- Added flavoring for beer or vodka
- Base for gazpacho or cocktail sauce
- Poaching liquid for seafood, shrimp, calamari or lobster
- Dressing for fresh oysters
- Marinade for white fish
- Vinaigrette mix-in
- Liquid for cooking rice or grains
- Refreshing chilled beverage served over ice, with basil
Or, simply use it in place of any liquid next time you make stock, bread, rice, bulgur, barley or risotto. These are kitchen basics you know you’re going to do anyway, so why not add a little free flavor & nutrient booster?
An icy glass of tomato essence…. yummy and refreshing straight up, and so many great uses in coctails…
The most complicated part of this approach is using a food mill if you have never used one. It makes for a really nice texture and removes the peel and seeds. A food mill is not necessary though, and this sauce will be just as tasty finely chopped by hand.
If you could only do one, what would your single tomato preserving project be?
What can I do today, before the rush is on, to be ready for last minute gifts, kind neighborly gestures, and unexpected visits? Make recipes for rolls of unbaked refrigerator cookies, portioned into gift-sized logs, wrapped in waxed paper, and stashed in the freezer for gifting or fresh-baked cookies in minutes..
Like many retro, forgotten ways, Icebox cookies add a simple, convenient and downright elegant trick to your pantry that will help preserve that element of snacking spontaneity we all love so much. They come in filled swirls, basic shortbread styles, with and without fruit and can be dipped in chocolate for an extra degree of fanciness.
The logs require almost no time to thaw enough to slice, arrange on a baking sheet, bake & cool. Thoughtfully wrapped with a recipe tag, they make a small and lovely gift. I like that since they have to be baked, you can save them for later, after the overload of sweets and snacks has passed.
Here are three of my current favorite recipes for Icebox cookies:
Salted Rye Cookies
- Golden Raisin Icebox Cookies – tender, crisp & rich, these are both rustic and sophisticated.
- Fruit Swirls – an extra bonus to this one is the recipe uses no processed sugar. Instead, use honey and dried fruit. They’re tender, rich and easily adaptable for a variety of flavors.
- My current obsession: Salted Rye Cookies. I love crunchy sugar crystals and was completely taken by this idea: these earthy rye rounds are rolled in a crunchy, crystal-ey mixture of coarse sugar and salt. Brilliant.
And, not just a DIY gift idea, icebox cookies are a great everyday pantry trick for anyone interested in real foods.
Fruit Swirls, no sugar. One recipe, divided into four logs, wrapped in waxed paper for gifting or baking.
Why do I love prepared snacks in my freezer?
- simple strategy for portion control – divide the dough into smaller logs and only bake what you need
- a quick, fun after school treat kids can make themselves
- something special on hand to feed unexpected visitors
- strategy to keep those overly processed commercial cookies out of your pantry
- your kid tells you at 9 pm they need to bring cookies to class tomorrow – no biggie
In these days of pandemic, old fashioned neighboring is more meaningful than ever. What sweeter way to check on your neighbors than by gifting them a thoughtful log of ready-to-bake cookies?
If I was going to name one skill to master to save money and really intensify the flavors of your home cooking, it would be to deeply start exploring the juices. We throw away so much flavor and nutrition because we don’t value that extra bit of juice in the pan. Yet we will buy a separate spice or sauce to do exactly what that discarded juice will do if you would only recognize it.
Seasonal fruit is a great example of how harnessing the power and flavor of those natural peak-of-freshness juices makes your cooking extraordinary. Most recipes solve the issue of too juicy in pies and jams by cooking the fruits down, and adding thickener. But reverse that thinking, and slow down your process, and I think you will be amazed at the difference.
Got my first strawberries from the local Amish farmer a couple days ago. Plain, simple, straight-up strawberry jam may be one of my very, very favorite kitchen staples. But last year, I made this. And it’s a pretty wonderful way to celebrate that unmistakable flavor of a fresh, ripe, local strawberry in January. And a really excellent DIY gift idea, if you are inclined to think ahead that way.
- 2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced, or 1-1/2 pounds frozen strawberries, thawed
- 1-1/2 cups Simple Syrup*
- 1 fifth vodka, 80 – 100 proof
Muddle the strawberries and simply syrup with a wooden spoon in a half-gallon jar. Stir in the vodka.
Seal the jar and put it in a cool, dark cabinet until the liquid smells and tastes strongly of strawberries, about 7 days.
Strain the mixtue with a mesh strainer into a clean quart jar. Do not push on the solids to extract more liquid – it will make your Strawberrycello cloudy.
Note: If you feel your berries may have been a little overripe, and the flavor of your liquor seems a little flat, add a Tablespoon of strawberry or raspberry vinegar to restore the balance.
Seal and store in a cool, dark cabinet. Use within 1 year.
Perfect for sipping on a summer day, for spiking a cosmo, mixing with a summery white wine like Prosecco – don’t forget to chill the glass!
From the very fun book, Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits by Andrew Schloss.
Martha will show you how to make herb sugar here.
Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.
This week is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day. And while I’m weary of the commercialized aspect of the day, you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to not love one big collective day of appreciation for the special people in our lives.
We Pennsylvanians will tell you that winter can be an old-fashioned, mettle-testing trudge. I can’t really complain this year, Western Pennsylvania has been warm, but warm winter mud presents its own kind of soul-crushing fatigue. The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.
I nixxed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off-the-package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. Is it really too difficult to heat a pan of milk?
But then , one day, I stumbled upon a GREAT IDEA. Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did.
This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.
Hot Chocolate Ganache
Yield: 2 generous cups ganache
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized, if possible)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate (3 – 4 oz. bars)*
Note: In general, the fewer ingredients a recipe calls for, the better quality those ingredients should be. While you don’t have to break the bank on the chocolate, do go for bars around 70% cocoa (usually called bittersweet or dark) . The standard Hershey bar tends to disappoint.
Snap chocolate bars into a large, heat-proof bowl. Heat cream over medium, until the first bubble breaks, then remove from heat and pour over chocolate shards. Let sit 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine, 1-2 minutes. Pour into jar, decorate with a Valentine label and instructions, and refrigerate, up to 1 month.
To Make Hot Cocoa:
Heat milk over medium heat, until steaming. Add ganache to hot milk: I don’t measure, the right amount of ganache is kind of a personal thing. Stir a Tablespoon or two of ganache into hot milk until dissolved, 10-15 seconds, taste, then add more, if desired. Pour into mugs, and do not be stingy with the whipped cream or marshmallows.
No worries if your Valentine is too lazy to heat the milk – there’s always spoon truffles.
Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!