As of January 1 2011 this blog has moved to: intellectual relish
As of January 1 2011 this blog has moved to: intellectual relish
This months entry is marked by what you can't see, but is still very much there...
Growing up, I didn't find tinned fruit cups in my lunchbox, which is perfectly fair when you consider that most of those individual sized items tasted more like the tin they came in than the fruit they were meant to be. In our house, summer fruits were preserved in quart sized mason jars in heavy syrup, the fruit tasted great - a peach like a peach - but the leftover syrup was the real prize. I can still hear my father's voice yelling, “Eh, don't throw that out!” We'd have that syrup on ice cream, or if I could get away with it, I'd drink it cold right out of the mason jar. One day last spring I thought to myself, “why not just make the syrup, and can that?” I quickly discovered, I was not the first to have this thought, nor the first to apply it to herbs.
As it turns out, “Eh, don't throw that out,” has become a mantra of my life, and syrups ARE a great way to capture the essence of any herb. I've made: lavender, thyme, mint, lemon verbena, and even basil. This month, I remade the lemon verbena syrup because it is, hands down, my favorite, and therefore had been devoured.
1 bunch lemon verbena – rinsed and dried (or other herb of your choice)
10 cups sugar
10 cups water
Note: this is a simple-syrup base, you can make any volume you like using a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water
1. Bring sugar and water to a gentle boil over medium heat. Add herbs and cook for 5 minutes.
2. Remove from heat cool and cover. Allow herbs to steep in the syrup over-night. (At least 12hrs)
3. Prepare canning equipment, sterilize jars and lids.
4. Strain syrup though two or three layers of cheesecloth to remove all herbs and any solids that may have accumulated.
5. Return pot to the stove and bring to a boil. Cook for 5minutes, just long enough to sterilize the syrup.
6. Ladle into hot jars leaving a 1/4inch head-space and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
The results: The lemon verbena syrup falls on the sweeter side of lemon flavor with no sourness at all, it has a strong hint of both floral and herbal flavors. It keeps for up to a year – possibly more – but once opened probably should be kept refrigerated, and should be consumed in two or three weeks. (this won't be an issue)
Jazz up a simple vanilla cake by brushing with syrup before you cover with frosting.
Drizzle over ice cream of sorbet.
Make your own soft-drinks: 1 part syrup to 4 parts sparkling mineral water
Make your own signature martinis: 1 part syrup to 2 parts vodka or gin
Add a 1ounce shot to a glass of iced tea for something truly refreshing.
P.S. The martini in the picture was delicious.
According to 2009 statistics, we in the US waste approximately one-half of the food we buy. The UK averaged 40% in the same year, and Canada averaged only 30%. Areas of the UK and Canada that have a municipal composting program do significantly better, averaging between 15% and 20%. Apparently, having to look at, and sort, your waste on a regular basis actually reduces the amount of food you toss out. Thus:
All of the items filling this garbage bag - about 26 lbs. by weight - are foods that I purchased then left in the bottom of our deep freeze for over a year, including one Tyson brand frozen chicken that was over two years past it's “sell by” date. I didn't calculate the amount of money wasted in that bag, because, well, I need to be able to sleep at night. I am certain that if I were to compare my food waste from three years ago to this years waste I'd have cause to be a little pleased with my efforts. However, looking at this picture I can't help feeling that I can do better.
If there is one hurdle everyone faces when they try to reduce of eliminate their food waste, it is this: all “real” food either was, or is, living matter that has been plucked from it's surroundings, harvested, or slaughtered, it then begins to break down or decompose. That is what it is meant to do! Therefore, a zero tolerance policy for food wasted isn't realistic. Where exactly each of us draws the line is up to the individual, but if you'd like reduce your food waste, and squeeze a few more dollars from your budget, the following are some ways I've found that actually work without the being – in my opinion – unrealistic. They are, on the surface, just common sense, the kind of thing your grandmother or great-grandmother might have done as a matter of course. In today's world, however, we don't often think about what we waste. Certainly the pace of our lives leaves little time for such activities, and if we're being completely honest with ourselves, we are actively discouraged from taking the time to examine and change any pattern of behavior that might keep our hard earned money in our own pockets.
With that in mind, here's my list:
When my partner first suggested I make this concoction I looked at him like he had grown two more eyes in the middle of his forehead. I like onions, I really do, but I don't usually think of them as yummy sandwich toppings. I think this can be blamed on the hideously sharp and sulfurous raw onions used universally in sandwich shops, hot dog stands, pizza joints, greasy spoons, and fast food restaurants. If you enjoy those onions, I wouldn't judge you for it, but you certainly may have my share.
This marmalade, however, is sweet, tangy, oniony and somehow meaty too. Since making it, I've been searching the kitchen for more and more things to put it on. So far three favorites are, on a cold turkey breast sandwich, as a relish on ground beef burgers, and slathered under melted Swiss or Gruyere cheese. I'm sure at some point it will find it's way onto plain or buttered toast.
This recipe is almost completely lifted from “'wichcraft” by Tom Colicchio. The version made there is intended to be stored in the refrigerator. I made a double batch, adjusting the techniques accordingly, sealed the resulting luscious goo into 8oz. mason jars and processed them for 20minutes in a hot water bath. You can buy Colicchio's version (or the industrial equivalent of it) at Williams-Sonoma and other gourmet specialty stores. I've tried it - it's similar but it does lack that special magic of something you made yourself.
2 Tablespoons canola (or other flavorless) oil
8 medium onions
¾ tsp fine grade sea salt
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 cup medium quality balsamic vinegar*
*Use something you enjoy the taste of, as you will be reducing, and therefore concentrating, the flavor, but using the best quality or aged balsamic won't benefit the flavor enough to merit the extra expense.
To prepare: Peel and slice onions in half, from root to tip, removing the root ends. Slice very thinly with a sharp knife (root to tip orientation). Do not worry if slices remain together they will break apart in cooking.
Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed dutch oven, over medium heat. Add onions, salt and pepper and cook for 30 minutes, until onion have softened, reduced in volume, and created their own liquor. Add sugar; stir and lower heat to medium-low.
Cook for an additional 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated and the onions caramelize (brown but not burn).
Add balsamic vinegar and cook, stirring often, over low heat for an additional hour. Mixture should appear glossy, and should hold it's shape when pushed with a spatula or spoon.
NOTE: Take advantage of the lull, preheat your canning kettle and sterilize the jars. Get everything in place, lids, funnels and lifters into place.
When the mixture is cooked to your liking, spoon into prepared jars, leaving ¼ head space. Seal the jars and process using a hot water bath for 20 minutes. I used the somewhat unorthodox method of gently tapping the bottoms of the mason jars on the counter to burp them and remove the many small air pockets that appeared while filling the jars. I wouldn't recommend fishing about with a bubble remover in this case. The longer processing time and gravity will the work for you.
Allow to cool and store in a dark cool place.
Once opened, mixture will keep in the refrigerator for up to seven weeks, but sealed is shelf stable for one year.
Learning curve: It's looks a mess, but tastes delicious. Between the sugar, the vinegar, and the onions natural sugars and acids, the mixture tested out at 3.5 on a ph meter. The only thing I'd do differently: make more!
For my money, there is no more orangey orange, than the Clementine. My partner calls them by their Japanese name Satsuma, but never, in this house, do we call them Mandarins. It isn’t a hidden dislike of things with a Chinese ancestry, but to me, Mandarin oranges are those syrup laden wedges in the can that don’t even resemble their fresh counterpart.
How, then, could Satsuma Orange and Chia Tea Jam be a bad thing?
Yeild: 3 – 0.5 liter jars or, 3 – pint jars or, 6 half-pint jars
9 small Clementine (Satsuma) oranges
3 cups strong Chia tea*
5 ¼ cups sugar
3 lemons, juiced
1. Boil water in kettle and make tea. *I used the Tazo brand tea bags in about 3 ½ cups of water.
2. Using a microplane style grater, remove the zest of the oranges, and place in a large non-reactive bowl.
3. Carefully peel and supreme the oranges, removing any seeds you encounter, and place in the same bowl as the zest. Be sure to squeeze all the juice form the remaining membranes.
4. Squeeze lemons over the bowl using a small hand sieve to remove any seeds.
5. Pour cooled Chia over orange and zest mixture, stir to combine ingredients and cover with cling film. Let stand for twelve hours or overnight.
**Wash and sterilize your jars and heat canning kettle or large pot.
6. Place mixture in a large heavy bottomed pot,with at least a 7 quart capacity.
7. Add sugar and cook over medium/high heat stirring frequently until jam reaches the jelling stage.
8. Ladle into hot jars and process for 10 minutes.
9. Allow jam to cool in a draft free location until set.
The results: a strongly flavored orange jam that is sweet, and rich with cardamom.
The curve: the zest of these oranges is so fragrant I might try adding a little Clementine zest to all orange flavored jams or marmalades in the future
This dish was my gateway drug to Indian cooking. It introduces some exotic flavors but is also composed of remembered flavors, tomatoes, onions, dairy, and in the end it IS cheesy-peas.
Paneer is a type of unaged cheese in which milk is soured with lemon juice, then cooked, and the resulting curd is then pressed into a dense pate. You can find many recipes on line, and it’s easy to make, but for the sake of getting dinner on the table, I buy it. Almost every Indian grocery has paneer, and many mega-marts in urban centers do as well. You can find it refrigerated and frozen, and certainly you can buy organic - which I do.
If you absolutely cannot find paneer, desire a vegan option, are lactose intolerant, or heck, just looking to clean out your pantry, I’m told that tofu works very well in this dish.
One other substitution; the recipe calls for 3 ripe tomatoes, which I use when they are in season, but mid-winter and, lets be honest, when I just can’t get to the grocery store, I use a 14oz. can of diced organic tomatoes and everything turns out fine. I am a huge fan of keeping organic tinned tomatoes around, at all times, and good news, the lycopene in tomatoes is actually made more available to the body through cooking.
I am evangelical about thoroughly rinsing and soaking Basmati rice. I could write an entire thesis on the subject, but I won’t…today. I soak my rice in three baths of fresh water, for about twenty minutes each time: one hour total. I place the desired measure of rice in a medium sized mixing bowl and cover it with at least two inches of water, then I get in there and really agitate it - stirring it and running it through my fingers for a minute or so - and then let it soak until it’s time to change the water. After the third soak I’ll usually drain the rice into a hand sieve and rinse it briefly with cold running water, which should, by this stage, run clear. I cook my rice in a rice cooker because the one thing I’m truly and expert at: is burning rice.
But here is the truly important thing about rice, whatever method you use to cook it, make lots! I use leftover rice in pudding, fried rice, pilaf, and I even freeze it for those nights when I think I’ll never get a meal on the table: leftover rice makes it possible.
So with your favorite Basmati at the ready, off we go:
What is that saying about good intentions? I have been meaning to post some kind of update here for two days now but have been ruthlessly foiled by life. Yesterday I awoke to standing water inside my refrigerator and up to a half inch of ice sitting on top of a couple of the margarine-tub sized containers on the top shelf. I rent, and our fridge is nothing if not a piece of … that I’m not in a financial position to replace, even if it didn’t belong to the apartment complex. So I called the landlord, grabbed an insulated cooler out of storage, and emptied it out.
At , when I hadn’t seen or heard from the repair guy, I decided I might as well clean the fridge, and, since it was still running, put everything I wanted to keep back inside for the night. I won’t pretend that I didn’t really need to go through the fridge and get rid of old mustard jars etc, but it certainly wasn’t in my plans for the day.
Today, the repair man arrived to fix the fridge, which involved removing everything to the cooler again, and emptying out the freezer as well. Again, I won’t pretend I didn’t need to clean out the freezer, but it wasn’t on my to-do list until spring. In addition to the fridge drama, we woke to a very cold apartment. The furnace had stopped working, again. Thankfully, my partner decided to work at home today so he could be here to help me juggle the repairs.
It turned out, that the problem with the fridge was a simple matter of a frozen drainage hose, but defrosting it took some amount of dismantling the back of the freezer compartment and allowing everything to defrost. The furnace was also fixed easily, but involved yet another “sail switch.” (they’ve replaced four this year)
I’m not sure if I can expect the fridge to last – I’m certainly not moving the storage container I place inside to catch the water until I’m sure. And we can probably count on this sail-switch working until late March or so. Ain’t that a kick in the rubber parts?
I’m planning to make Matar Paneer (Paneer and Peas) for dinner tonight, and tomorrow, it’s duck.
The folks at Dogfishhave this to say about it: This recipe is the actual oldest-known fermented beverage in the world! It is an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas. Somewhere between wine & mead; this smooth, sweet, yet dry ale will please the Chardonnay of beer drinker alike.
I don’t know about the whole Chardonnay thing, because I generally hate Chardonnay, but I love this ale. The first sip carries an unmistakable honey flavor that is instantly washed away by bubbles and a wonderful tart/bitter/sweetness that doesn’t have any edge to it, at all. It may have an identity crisis - trapped somewhere between wine, mead, and beer - but it is pleasantly balanced, unique, and just dry enough to make you want another mouthful.
Careful, it does ring up for about $4 a bottle, which isn’t expensive, but worth consideration. I’m sure it would pair well with many foods, but this is the kind of beer I like to sit down and savor all by itself.
Tea Infused Hibiscus Flower and Blood
I probably wouldn’t know how delicious hibiscus Tea was if it weren’t for the folks at Pilar’s Tamales who set up shop rain, shine, snow, or sleet, in Ann Arbor’s (open air) Farmer’s market. The tea and candied then dried flowers have a tart berry flavor, reminiscent of cranberries that I thought would pair well with blood oranges.
To begin you’ll need about 2 lbs (about six) of blood oranges. Skin color, I’m told, is not a marker for ripeness but I’ve still found those with the most ruby blush on their skin to be the richest, dark red, and flavorful inside; this may be purely psychological but I don’t care. You’ll also need about 4 ounces (by weight) of candied/dried hibiscus flowers. I found these at our local Co-Op but I’ve also seen them at Trader Joes.
Makes enough to fill four half-liter Weck jars, or 6 half pint jars, or 4 12oz. jars:
You will also need:
2 Tablespoons hibiscus tea (may also be called sorrel or flor de
6 cups granulated sugar
4 – 5 cups water
You begin, as the English do, with tea. Place 2 Tbsp. hibiscus tea in a heat proof bowl or measuring cup, add about four cups boiling water and set aside to steep for at least one hour.
Meanwhile, peel and supreme the oranges into a 7 quart pot or kettle (you’ll be cooking the marmalade in this later) and set aside. Be sure to squeeze as much juice from the remaining membranes as you can. Remove the pith of orange peels with the back of a knife or a grapefruit spoon and then, julienne the peel to about 1/8 inches thick or less. This step took me about an hour and half, but I’m quite happy dithering - chopping and slicing - in the kitchen. It IS worth the time.
Place peel in a medium sized sauce pan (about 3quarts) and cover with an inch of cold water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and boil for ten minutes. Drain into a hand sieve, return peel to the pot, and cover again with cold water. Bring to a boil, cook for an additional ten minutes, then drain and add to the orange segments and juice in the kettle.
While the peel is boiling on the stove, slice the hibiscus flowers in a similar sized julienne. It’s not a perfect julienne but as long as the bits are similar in size to the orange peel it will be fine.
Pour tea through a hand sieve lined with cheese cloth or paper towel; discard leaves and measure out a generous four cups of liquid. If you do not have enough, add water to match the volume. Place dried hibiscus flowers into the same pot you just used for boil the peel, and add the tea. Bring this to a gentle simmer for ten minutes to rehydrate the flowers separately from the orange segment and peel mixture. You can also use a heat proof bowl and the microwave if you wish, but why dirty another bowl.
Pour hot tea and flower mixture over the orange segments and peel in your cooking vessel. Bring this mixture to a simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes.
At this point I covered the pot and left everything to marry for about an hour, (I had to make and eat lunch) some marmalade recipes would have you set it aside for twelve hours at this stage and certainly if you need to make this recipe in two distinct sessions, now is a good time to stop, clean up, and go about your business. Now would also be a good time to get your hot water bath heated and sterilize your jars, etc.
With everything in place for the home stretch, measure out 6 cups of the peel/flower/orange mixture, and return to the pot with 6 cups of granulated sugar. If you do not have enough liquid to equal the required volume just add water. If you have more than six cups of liquid you can also add sugar at a 1 to 1 ratio.
Bring marmalade to a boil over medium high heat stirring constantly. Cook until it reaches a jelling stage. (The mixture falls from a clean spoon in sheets, or sets in seconds on a cold plate.) Let mixture stand off the heat for three minutes to redistribute peel and flower pieces. Ladle into sterile jars leaving ¼ headspace, and process in the hot water canner for 10 minutes.
The results: Though more chucky then some folks might like, the finished marmalade is nicely balanced without so much as a hint of bitterness, and dark ruby red in color. The profile is most definitely orange (citrus) with fresh berry and flower notes.
Learning Curve: I might hold back some of the peel, maybe up to twenty five percent less, just to satisfy everyone, but I really do like the ‘meatiness’ of this marmalade. The biggest stressor was the photography. I just couldn’t seem to get a decent picture of the finished jam in the jar like I wanted because the Weck Jars reflect everything and pick up flash points and the color is just too dark to come through on screen.
I’m working on a deadline for tigress’ can jam today, I’ll write it up tomorrow and if my college days are any indicator hand it in “wet.” I’m planning to make a blood orange marmalade with candied hibiscus flowers and a little hibiscus tea thrown into the mix, I’ll think of a schmexy name for it later. I hope it pleases the tigress.
To pleade your patience, here is picture of our own little tigress, Shazah.