If you’re anything like me, you cherish your canned, pickled and frozen goods, sometimes even a little too much. Last summer, for example, I froze a multitude of blueberries (read POUNDS) among other things and stowed them away in my freezer for the frozen months. Did I make a blueberry pie with my bounty, you ask? No. Did I make an occasional blueberry smoothie for my morning drive to work? Nope. In fact, I was so afraid of running out of the preserved goodies before summer came back around that I barely touched them. My canned tomato sauce, spicy pickles and freezer jams fared the same idle fate.
This winter, I am gunning toward a new track record, and I’ll take the arrival of snow as an indicator that I can now dust off the not quite dusty cans and crack one open. So the question becomes: How can we creatively use our preserves throughout the winter season? Some products lend an obvious answer. Salsa gets the dip of a chip, lines a taco or is spooned onto your eggs before a big day skiing the pass. Other canned items, like pickles, are a recognizable snack food. Tomato sauce rightly belongs on a bed of pasta.
I have found, however, that some of the less-obvious ways to use preserved goodies are simply the best. I highly recommend using chutneys and jams on cooked game dishes or spread on a crostini, topped with your favorite cheese and caramelized onions — I guarantee you will make instant friends at a potluck with this as an appetizer. If you stored roasted garlic, try mashing and spreading it onto the bare pizza crust before adding sauce for an extra kick — though I guarantee making that “special” friend will become more difficult with this dish.
Most notably, however, I’ve found that any kind of pickle is excellent turned into a relish and becomes a much more versatile ingredient. I usually just chop a handful of pickled veggies using a food processor or finely by hand. I find this form of quick relish especially delicious when done with spicier pickles (I’ve got a special go-to jar of pickled carrots, cauliflower, jalapenos, garlic and onions). I then use the relish for a variety of cooking tasks:
- Mixed into mayonnaise or on its own, sweet or spicy relish makes a wonderful burger or sandwich spread
- Incorporate it directly into raw meat when making burgers or meatloaf **
- Pound a chicken breast thin, spoon on some relish, a handful of spinach and shredded cheese, roll up, secure with kitchen twine or a toothpick, season the outside accordingly, sear on the stovetop and then bake until cooked through — you won’t look back.
- Instead of using traditional relish, try adding your own to tuna salad for a sandwich or melt.
- Use some spicy relish inside of a quesadilla.
- Give your stir-fry, taco meat or pasta sauce some spice and balance by mixing in a spoonful of spicy relish at the end of cooking. **
**take note that some pickles are better suited than others for cooked dishes. I would not recommend using pickled cucumbers here, but rather pickled carrots, beans, peppers, etc.
As always, it is important to make note of what you use over the course of this winter so that next year, your pantry can be stocked more efficiently. The biggest lesson I learned after my first year of preserving was that 5 liter-sized jars of dilled cucumber pickles may initially seem like a great idea, but I simply don’t need that many pickles! If you too have entered this conundrum, increase your variety next summer. If you made the mistake of storing pesto in a gallon-sized Ziploc this summer, next year, focus on storing in small batches that match the quantities you realistically use while cooking. And don’t forget to make note of what canned goods you end up purchasing at the grocery store. Focus on preserving those yourself next year, and you’ll be one happy camper!