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Preserves in Action: Roasted Corn Salsa and Black Bean Nachos

black corn nachos

When I was nine years old, I went through a homemade nacho phase. We didn’t always keep tortilla chips around, but when there was a bag in the pantry, I’d layer a generous handful on a plate with shredded cheese and pinto beans. They’d go in the microwave them until the chips seemed toasted and the cheese bubbled. I’d top it with some Trader Joe’s salsa and call it a success.

Note: If memory serves, I only did this when my dad was the parent in charge, because I’m fairly certain my mom would have put the kibosh on any meal that used chips as it’s foundation. I think my dad went for it because I always made him a plate as well.

nachos close

On Monday night, after a long drive home from Western Massachusetts, Scott and I were casting around for something to eat for dinner. We’d already had two restaurant meals that day and the idea of a third did not appeal. After running through the usual suspects (scrambled eggs, pasta with sauce, meatballs from the freezer), Scott spotted half a bag of slightly stale blue corn tortilla chips on top of the fridge and said, “what about nachos?”

His suggestion immediately reminded me of the nachos I used to make and I got to work. I pulled out the last jar of roasted corn salsa from 2012 (it’s one of my favorite recipes from Food in Jars) and another of black beans (from this post).

nachos square

I grated some sturdy Kerrygold Dubliner cheese (they sent me some back in April while I was on the road) and layered it all on the baking sheet that fits into our toaster oven (I’m moved up in the world from the microwave of my youth). I set it to bake at 350 degrees F for about ten minutes, so that the cheese could melt and the chips could shake off the worst of their staleness.

It was a satisfyingly good and easy dinner and the perfect thing to eat after a road trip, while you’re watching the previous night’s Mad Men.

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Preserves in Action: Whole Wheat Crepes

three rolled crepes

I taught myself to make crepes when I was in high school from a recipe in my mom’s fabric-bound copy of the Joy of Cooking. I was home sick from school (though truly, I wasn’t particularly ill) and needing something to do with my time, turned to the kitchen for entertainment.

crepe batter

The first crepe was terrible (I’ve since learned that the first one always is), but I soon found the right flame and amount of batter to pour and eventually made myself a satisfying stack of paper-thin pancakes. I don’t remember exactly how I ate them, but imagine that either peanut butter or maple syrup was involved.

second crepe

These days, I make crepes far less often than I’d like, but when I do remember to blend up a batch of batter, I am so very happy to have them on my plate. I’d like to make them a more regular part of my culinary rotation, because they make such a glorious vehicle for jams and fruit butters.

stack of crepes

I mostly still follow the Joy of Cooking recipe (they’re called French Pancakes in my edition), but do make a couple adjustments. I use whole wheat pastry flour in place of all purpose and blend the batter using my Vitamix to ensure a lump-free cake. When I want to make a batch that can be used in a savory situation, I omit the vanilla extract and powdered sugar.

crepe with lemon curd

Normally, I post these Preserves in Action recipes on Thursdays, but since today is known in some quarters as Pancake Day, I thought I’d move this one up a couple days for the sake of timeliness. I’m so rarely coordinated when it comes to holidays such as these, but there’s a first time for everything!

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Preserves in Action: Homemade Tomato Soup

finished tomato soup

We are in the throes of another winter storm here in the Philadelphia area. Schools are closed, roads are impassable, and the sidewalks are treacherous. I don’t find the weather too much of an inconvenience, as I always work from my dining room table or my desk behind the television and thanks to my canning habit, I can go for days without needing to grocery shop.

roasted tomatoes packed in oil

But the conditions have been bad enough that Scott’s office has been closed at least three times since the beginning of January. He was home again today and around noon, managed to look both plaintive and hopeful as he said, “Do we have anything good for lunch?”

There’s been a bit of chatter on the Food in Jars Google Community page about tomato soup and so I suggested the classic pairing of toasted cheese sandwiches and bowls of warm soup.

pouring tomato puree

This qualified as good in his book and so I got out a small soup pot, pulled down a jar of tomato puree, and got to cooking. I started by browning 1/2 a minced onion in 1 tablespoon of butter. While the onions sizzled, I chopped up a few of my precious slow roasted tomatoes and added them to the pot.

I’ve taken to keeping a jar of these tomatoes in the fridge, packed in olive oil (a good layer of oil keeps them from getting moldy). It makes them more readily available for use than if they’re all frozen and so I use them more often in my daily cooking. They do add such a fabulous punch of concentrated tomato flavor.

February 13

Then I added 1 quart of the tomato puree (simply tomatoes run through a press and simmered until slightly thickened prior to canning), 1 cup of half and half (milk would have been fine too, but since I had the good stuff, I went with it), 2 tablespoons of honey, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.

I simmered the mixture of a few more minutes and then used to an immersion blender to smooth out the lumps and bits of onion. It was perfect for the chilly day and we both had two bowls.

For those of you also living through this latest round of weather, I do hope you’re staying warm and well-fed!

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Preserves in Action: Shredded Chicken Chili

pulled chicken chili

On Wednesday, I wrote about how to make your home canned beans from dried (have you entered the giveaway sponsored by Mighty Nest yet?). Since so many of you mentioned in the comments that you like to use canned beans in chili, I thought that I’d share the basic chili recipe I use all the time. It uses 2-3 jars of beans and at least 2 quarts of preserved tomatoes.

When I have the time, I braise boneless skinless chicken thighs in puree of tomatoes, onions, garlic cloves, and fresh cilantro leaves until they shred easily. If I’m running short on time, I skip the braised chicken and instead just stir a pound ground turkey meat directly into the cooking chili (in that case, I add both jars/cans of tomatoes directly to the cooking chili). Of course, another option is to skip the meat entirely, but it would make my husband sad if I did that in our household.

pulled braised chicken

Let’s have a word about this shredded chicken. It’s an awesome addition to chili, but that’s not all it’s good for. I’ve been known to eat it wrapped in a tortilla or spooned over some braised greens. It’s incredibly flavorful and easy to make. I’ve taken to keeping a batch stashed in our freezer for lazy nights. Oh! One last thing about this chicken. Sometimes the onions make it a little bit sweet and so I’ll add either a splash of lime juice or the brine from a jar of pickled jalapeños to balance things out.

My apologies for the less than stellar photos in this post. I made this chili for dinner one night and forgot entirely to take pretty pictures. I snapped the image at the top of the post (it was the very last bowl) just moments before I ate it for a quick solo dinner. And we all know, the total lack of natural light in my kitchen makes photography hard, even on the most lovely natural light days.

But enough of that. On to the recipe!

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Preserves in Action: Quick Blender Salsa

blender salsa above

Every summer, I make at least a dozen jars of salsa (my very favorite is the roasted corn salsa which is in my first book). As much as I try to ration those jars out across the year, they always run out too darned fast. As things stand now, I have two lone jars left that I’m saving for special snacking occasions.

However, when it comes to salsa, not all is lost when the homemade stash runs out. I still have at least 15 quarts of whole peeled tomatoes left from last summer’s canning sessions and so have been making batch after batch of blender salsa to satisfy my dipping needs.

chips and salsa side

I published my favorite recipe for blender salsa in a Super Bowl snacks piece on Table Matters about this time last year and it remains my go-to. The only change I make is that I drain a quart jar of whole peeled tomatoes (because I pack mine in water) and use them in place of the 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes. You can use either, depending on what you’ve got in your pantry.

I pour it on scrambled eggs, I use it as a braising medium for chicken thighs, and I scoop it into my mouth with tortilla chips (preferably the freshly fried chips from Tortilleria San Roman in South Philadelphia). And it’s a very good way to press your home canned tomatoes into action.

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Preserves in Action: Stovetop Toasties for a Snow Day

Toas-Tite and KwiKi-Pi

Like most of the northeast, Philadelphia woke up this morning to a thick layer of snow. Though I didn’t venture outside to measure, friends in the next neighborhood up from ours had 8 inches on their back deck and I hear that there were some areas that got even more. I had to cancel the class I was scheduled to teach and Scott’s office was closed, so we hunkered down for a cozy snow day.

January 3

Thankfully, I braved the pre-storm crowds at Trader Joe’s yesterday and so the fridge was fully loaded for a day at home (it was my first full shop since getting back to town on Monday, so things would have been pretty stark otherwise). As we contemplated lunch, Scott made an off-hand suggestion that I should write a post about using jams on a snow day.

sandwich prep

As soon as he said it, I realized that it was the perfect day to pull out my old stovetop sandwich makers and toast up a few jam-filled treats. I’ve had these two pie/sandwich irons for ages now and don’t use them nearly enough. My mom grew up making sandwiches in a Toas-Tite at her aunt’s house, and so when she spotted on at an antique mall some years back, scooped it up and gave it to me for Christmas. The KwiKi-Pi (don’t you just love the name?) cost a quarter at a Lancaster County garage sale some years back.

building a sandwich in the Toas-Tite

There’s nothing fancy about either of these gadgets, though I will say that the I find that the Toas-Tite delivers a better finished product than the KwiKi-Pi (it’s heavier and seals better). There are other vintage brands out there, like Nutbrown Sandwich Toaster and Jem Toaster, and there a handful of companies who still make these kinds of irons (like this round one). There are also electric sandwich makers that do the same sort of thing, but I like these lo-fi ones better.

Toas-Tite on the stove

The way it works is that you take a couple pieces of bread, flatten them out a little with a rolling pin to create a little extra filling space, and lightly butter the outsides like you would a grilled cheese. You fit the first slice into the bottom of the mold (don’t worry about the overhanging bread yet), and fill. Go light to the fillings so that the sandwich doesn’t ooze during cooking.

sandwich makers on the stove

Once the fillings are in, you line up the top piece of bread and close the Toas-Tite down. Then, using a paring knife, cut away the overhanging bread, taking special care around the hinges, as that spot can sometimes trap some large crumbs (save those crusts for homemade bread crumbs!).

Because I have a pokey old electric stove, I preheat the smaller burners to medium-high  while I construct the sandwiches. When the burners are hot, you just lay the sandwich makers directly onto the burners. If you have a gas stove, you proceed in much the same way, though you shouldn’t need to preheat. Turning regularly, your sandwich should be done in four or five minutes.

finished Toas-Tite sandwich

For my first sandwich, I used a combination of prosciutto, shredded cheese, and tart plum jam on whole wheat. For the second round, I flattened a couple hot dog buns that Scott had picked up while I was away and stuffed them with herbed goat cheese and apricot jam. Of course, you can fill your sandwiches with anything you want, but keep the number of ingredients fairly low. Any more than three or four ingredients and the flavors start to get muddy.

finished KwiKi-Pi sandwich

I realize that in some ways, these are nothing more than homemade Uncrustables, done with fancy ingredients. But made with kids, or on a snow day when you just feel like a kid, they’re a very fun treat. And they’re such a good way to use up your jams and chutneys in a slightly different way.

prosciutto, cheese, and jam sandwich

How are you guys using your preserves these days?

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