Links: Taco Sauce, Corn Salsa, and Winners

While I am more than a little itchy for the true warmth of spring, I love the feeling of these days being balanced in between seasons. The air is cool, but the light draws more generous with every passing day. It feels hopeful and new and I am grateful for it. Now, some links.

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Quick Pickles for the April Mastery Challenge

Get your Mastery Challenge on with a batch of quick pickles!

Happy April, friends! This month, the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is focusing on quick pickles. Also often known as refrigerator pickles, these pickles are typically made in small batches, involve a vinegar brine, need little time to age (often, they’re good to go in just a few hours), and spend the entirety of their lifetime in the fridge.

As in previous months, remember that the goal of this challenge is to help you expand your skills while creating something that you’ll actually use. So choose a project or recipe that will satisfy both your own learning and help you make something delicious.

Why a Quick Pickle?

While I like a preserved pickle as much as the next canner, there are a number of reasons why I often turn to small batches of quick pickles when I have produce that needs to be used up or kept from the compost pile.

They’re easy to make and you can make a batch as big or small as you want (years ago, I shared a small batch I’d made simply to keep a single English cucumber from going bad).

You can also be creative when you’re making a quick pickle. Because it’s not a going into a boiling water bath canner, you aren’t wedded to ratios of vinegar and water to ensure safety. You can reduce vinegar amounts and use lower acid vinegars like those made with rice wine (which are typically 4.2% vinegars rather than the 5% pickle-ready versions).

Quick pickles also have a firmer texture. If you’re someone for whom a pickle is judged on its snappy crunch, quick pickles are the way to go. Because they’re not exposed to the prolonged heat of a boiling water bath, they don’t soften nearly as much as a preserved pickle does.

What Should I Pickle Quickly?

The great thing about this style of pickling is that nearly every variety of fruit and vegetable is fair game. I often use this technique when I want pickled onions to heap on a burger, some tangy fruit to add to a grain salad, or a pickles to take to a potluck or cookout.

If you’re a fairly traditional pickle eater, consider starting with a basic batch of Garlic Dill Pickles. Snappy and bright, they’re one of my very favorite pickles. Another good option are thinly sliced carrots and radishes. I also turn to quick pickling when I want to use up odds and ends that might otherwise get trashed. The quick pickled chard stems at the end of this post are a good example of that kind of pickling. And while we’re not yet into the depths of zucchini season, keep this one tucked into the back of your mind when you’re swimming in zucchini.

On the fruity end of things, consider these pickled peaches. As written, it’s not a quick pickle recipe, but a quick version of those same peaches would have been sturdier and more textured. These pickled blueberries are much the same as the peaches.

And, a final one perfect for the Easter and Passover holidays coming soon. Pickled Red Beet Eggs!

And here are some suggestions from around the internet.

Quick Pickled Strawberries || Quick Pickled Red Onions || Quick Pickled Asparagus || Quick Pickled Carrot Spears || Quick Daikon and Carrot Pickle || Spicy Refrigerator Pickled Peppers || Quick Pickled Fennel with Orange || Quick Pickled Apple

 

To Blanch or Not to Blanch?

One of the nice things about making quick pickles is that they don’t require a lot of preparation. However, denser things like asparagus, carrots, green beans, and beets absorb pickle brine better after they’ve had 30-60 seconds in a pot of boiling water. It’s not absolutely required, but cuts down the amount of time they’ll need in order to take on the flavors you carefully tucked into your brine.

If you hate the idea of adding a blanching step, you can either skip it or slice and dice the vegetables into increasingly small bits. Just know that the finished pickles will need a few days longer in the fridge and that they’ll always retain an element of their raw texture.

Vinegars and Flavor Elements

Like I mentioned above, one of the best things about making quick pickles is that there’s so much space to be creative. You can use the wacky vinegars you picked up on vacation, or fill half the jar with fresh herbs to add flavor. My only word of advise is that less is often more when it comes to pickling. Don’t heap your entire herb garden into a single batch, hoping for greatness. Creative restraint is your friend.

How Long Can I Keep My Quick Pickles?

Provided that you took care to start with squeaky clean containers* and you have the available refrigerator space, quick pickles can last for months in the fridge. I once had a jar of quick pickled cucumbers that I kept for nearly a year and they were amazing when we finally unearthed the jar from the far reaches of the fridge.

However, if you’re opening and closing the jar on a regularly basis, they are best when eaten within four to six weeks of being made. After that they often soften and or develop mold. As always, the rule of thumb is that if you have any doubt about the safety of your pickles, throw them out.

*A great thing about quick pickling is that you can skip the traditional mason jars. Any vessel with a tightly fitting lid will do the job here (like the reused peanut butter jars pictured at the top of this post).

How Do I Use a Quick Pickle?

Quick pickles are great on sandwiches. They work beautifully chopped and tossed with a grain salad. I’m a big fan of adding them to potato salad. They brighten all manner of tuna salads and salmon cakes. Turn them into tartar sauce or Russian dressing.

What are you planning on making for this month’s quick pickle challenge?

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Mastery Challenge March Round-Up: Jellies and Shrubs

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That’s it! March is all wrapped up and so is our jellies and shrubs challenge. This month, 262 people submitted their projects and lots more joined the conversation in the Facebook group and on Instagram. As always, it was a joy for me to see so many people trying new recipes and finding ways to make and create.

Much like last month, there was a lot to choose from within the challenge parameters. I was surprised and delighted that so many people took on shrubs. As you’ll see in the satisfaction numbers further down, I feel like this month turned a lot of shrub-skeptics into shrub lovers (though not all of you loved the shrubs. And that’s okay too!).

Another thing that was fun to see what that a lot of you made more than one project for the challenge. There’s never a requirement to try the skill more than once, but the more you play around with a particular preserving style, the more you can come to understand it and make it part of your culinary dialect.

Now, here are the numbers that I thought were most interesting. At the start of this month, a number of you had uneasy or negative feelings about shrubs. And I get it. Sometimes the idea of making a sweetened, vinegar based syrup seems a little weird even to me (and I’ve been doing it for years now).

But at the end of the month, a vast majority of those of you who made the shrubs now have an exceedingly positive attitude towards them. Heidi in Rockville, MD said in her comment, “I can’t stop making shrubs!!!! Fun, easy, and sooooo delicious with some soda water or seltzer. They are amazing!” So glad you’re so enthused, Heidi!

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The Jellies

 

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The Shrubs

Also, don’t miss the round-up Mary did of the projects her preserving group completed!

Big thanks to everyone who participated this month! In April, we’re making quick pickles. Hope you all can join in for that!

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Pantry Management: Get Yours in Shape for the Upcoming Season

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here today to share her tale of a much-needed pantry clean-out. If you need inspiration to do the same, read on!

While I don’t get around to doing it nearly often enough, I’m a big proponent of spending a weekend afternoon (or a whole day if you’ve got the time and the patience) to deep cleaning and organizing in your living space.

It could be your bedroom, the fridge, your kitchen cabinets, or whatever dusty, jumbled, or otherwise messy space slowly scrapes away at your soul every time you walk by it without a plan to put things in order.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s easy for me to make and ignore messes until I just can’t any more and they’re driving me crazy.

My canning pantry is a hall closet just outside the large front room that serves as the kitchen, dining room, living room, and occasional laundry room of my small two-bedroom apartment. (It’s also nearly impossible to photograph because of the layout, so you’ll be spared “before” and “after” photos.) In addition to a plastic utility shelving unit packed with full and empty jars, it has to be home to extra folding chairs, a giant roll of kraft paper, our bulk stashes of toilet paper and paper towels, my boyfriend’s ancient projector screen, our cooler, and our vacuum.

Lately it has also been home to a substantial Red Bull mini-fridge that I got from a friend, intending to make cheese in it. (Suffice it to say that it’s done nothing but sit there since it was given to me nearly a few years ago.) The space was getting so packed that empty jars were falling off of surfaces and it was impossible to find important ingredients I’d put up like cans of tomato puree.

I also hadn’t done a serious purge of items I’d canned in years — jars of failed experiments or so-so recipes from 2013 kept popping up and getting shoved to the back of the shelf again while I looked for the last jar of tomatillo sauce or an empty eight-ounce jar for a recipe.

And, since I share my home with furry friends and the closet was too crowded to even sweep without pulling everything out of it, the closet was collecting serious tumbleweeds of cat hair. I couldn’t take it any more.

As gross as I let things get, the good news is that it only took me about two hours — between finishing an article on deadline and heading off to work an evening event — for me to do a pretty thorough job on the canning closet. I pulled everything out, organized it, decided what to keep and what to toss, swept and dusted and wiped, and put things back neatly.

I also found some forgotten, er, treats hidden back there. For the first time, I found a jar whose lid had corroded — a half-gallon jar full of clementine vinegar from months ago had eaten away at the lid from the inside. The peels and vinegar turned totally brown, and the lid crumbled away when I touched it.

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Cookbooks: Perfect for Pesach

I have had this copy of Perfect for Pesach by Naomi Nachman sitting on my desk for a better part of the last month. I’ve sifted through it several times, taking note of various recipes to try and appreciating each time the fact that there’s a picture for every recipe (as a cookbook author, I am painfully aware of how expensive this can be).

I’ve also hoped that inspiration would strike that would give me a good way to write about it. Because as a book, it brings up some stuff for me (I’ve written about other books with Judaism or kosher cooking at their core without this trouble. I don’t know why this particular volume got me. But it did).

I am Jewish by birth, but was raised in the loose, liberalism of the Unitarian Universalist church. I regret nothing about my upbringing and am deeply grateful for the space I was given to craft and cultivate my own belief system and perspective on the world.

But. Sometimes, I long to fit in. To be connected to that Jewish side of me without uncertainty or fear that I will be denied recognition. And this book triggers that longing. I think it’s happening because this is a book designed to help cooks out during the eight day holiday of Passover/Pesach.

It’s not a book about celebratory meals or festival food (those don’t haven’t caught me off-guard the way this one did). It simply about daily cooking for a time when grains, legumes and anything leavened is forbidden. And that’s not really a space in which I feel like I have easy footing or even feel like I belong.

Now, with that angst out of the way, there are things I want to tell you about this book. Like the cover says, these are “Passover recipes you’ll want to make all year.” At its core, this is a book about home cooking and it has a lot to offer in that arena. Because grains are off the table during Passover, many of the recipes are, by default, gluten-free (if that’s your allergen of avoidance, make sure to steer clear of anything including matzo meal).

It’s a book that spends a lot of time focusing on vegetables and proteins as well, which makes it relevant also to the paleo and low carb crowd.

I have a long list of things I plan on making, including the Zucchini Mushroom Soup (page 72), Sweet and Salty Pecan Chicken Cutlets (page 112), the Zucchini Onion Frittata pictured above (page 164), and the Crispy Potato Stacks (page 186).

These thumbprint cookies are made using potato starch and ground almonds rather than wheat flour, and the filling is a combination of apricot jam and chopped pecans. Sounds like a good treat no matter what time of year it is!

This book is a solid collection of recipes that are terrific whether you keep kosher for Passover, or you’re simply looking for fresh inspiration for your family meals.

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Giveaway: Stainless Steel Storage + Sprouting Lids from Mason Jar Lifestyle

I’ve been a regular mason jar user for nearly two decades now. In addition to canning and fermenting food in them, I fill them with dry goods. I use them to pack lunches. I macerate fruit for jam in the big ones. They are filled with dinner leftovers, sourdough starters, smoothies, brewing kombucha, and more. Somewhere in our apartment, there’s a even a jar filled to the brim with LEGO minifigures.

Though there has been a steady increase in jar accessories and adapters over the last four or five years, to my mind there has always been a void in the marketplace. A one-piece storage lid that didn’t rust, was easy to clean, didn’t leak, and wasn’t prohibitively expensive.

Happily, the folks at Mason Jar Lifestyle have arrived to fill that void. They recently started selling one-piece stainless steel lids that are fitted with silicone seals that are easily removable for cleaning. They are leakproof, non-reactive, dishwasher safe, and so much more affordable than anything else I’ve seen.

They are ideal for salad dressings and vinaigrettes because the lids don’t leak when you give them a good shake. I don’t mind using them on my jars of dry goods because they’re affordable enough that I don’t feel like I need to save them for special things. And they’re easy to put on and off the jars.

The storage lids come in both regular and wide mouth, and are sold in packs of five. And if that’s not enough to meet your needs, Ryan and Maggie at Mason Jar Lifestyle offer discounts on higher volume purchases (buy 100 or more and you’ll get 40% off your order!).

You can also use the code “fij10” now through March 31 to get 10% off any order at Mason Jar Lifestyle. Right now, my favorite thing they sell is the silicone sleeve designed to fit the 24 ounce Pint & Half jars. Paired with a drink lid and a stainless steel straw and I am ready for iced coffee season!

For our giveaway this week, two lucky readers will each receive a five pack of the regular mouth stainless steel storage lids with silicone seals, a five pack of the wide mouth stainless steel storage lids with silicone seals, and one stainless steel sprouting lid and band like you see pictured above (because sprouting is fun! Look for a blog post on the topic in the near future).

Please use the widget below to enter.

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Disclosure: Mason Jar Lifestyle is a Food in Jars sponsor. Their ad dollars helps keep this blog running. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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