Sep
18

The Honey Adventure Continues

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You might remember a while back I posted about fermenting garlic in honey.

honeygarlic1The idea was to use the garlic and garlic-flavored honey in cooking. And I did. Kind of. I think I ate most of the garlic cloves as snacks. In other words, it was a mighty tasty and obviously a very successful project.

I started another jar of garlic honey the about a month ago. But I expanded my honey horizons and started a jar of mostly hot peppers in honey. They’re mostly jalapeños, but I did add a few bell peppers that I grew in my garden.

And then I saw the pineapple sitting on my counter. I bought it to make pineapple shrub, but that particular day, it was sitting awfully close to some habaneros, serranos, and cayenne peppers. I’m thinking you can guess what happened next. Yes, I now have a jar of those peppers and cubed pineapple fermenting in honey. Incidentally, pieces of the pineapple core

HPIM1463are keeping the rest of the ingredients submerged.

As for how I’m going to use these, again I’m thinking primarily in cooking. Particularly in sauces. I’m still on the quest for the perfect barbecue sauce, and these may help me pull that off. Then there’s my hot sauces . . .

How long am I going to let these ferment before using? I’m not sure. I’d ideally like to go for a year. But I’m not sure I can be that patient. Stay tuned.

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Sep
17

A Sure Sign of Autumn: Pumpkin in Everything!

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Oh yes, it’s almost autumn. And I don’t just mean the changing colors of the leaves and the crispness of the air. Perhaps the best indicator of the change from summer to autumn is the line of customers at Starbucks, waiting for their Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Or maybe finding pumpkin-flavored ice cream at the grocery store.

I  have loved pumpkin since I was a child. I have one candle, and it’s a pumpkin-scented one. Yes, my love affair with pumpkins is deep. It does not, however, extend to pumpkin-flavored coffees and I confess I have a minor attraction to pumpkin-flavored ice cream. But there are many other ways for me to enjoy pumpkin. And ergo this blog post.

I love fruit spreads, often called butters. Last year I made a pineapple honey one to die for. And then there’s apple butter, of course. One of my biggest disappointments when I moved to New York was being unable to find my favorite apple butters in the store. That’s changed now, but not before I learned to make my own. This year I decided I was going to make pumpkin butter.

Pumpkin Butter

Pumpkin Butter

Before I continue, let me say I used canned pumpkin for this. In fact, I use it almost exclusively, much to the snide comments from purists. I try to keep several cans on hand, partly because I can use it for my cats’ occasional intestinal upsets. I also get more consistent results using it rather than pumpkin “on the hoof” so to speak.

Making pumpkin butter is incredibly simple: pumpkin, brown sugar (light or dark; I used my homemade, which happened to be dark this time), honey, spices, and a wee bit of lemon juice. Put it in a pot and reduce. Seriously, that’s what it takes.

When it comes to spices, use what you like in the amounts you like. You can even use the pumpkin pie spice blend you can find in most stores. I used my Punkin Pie Spice blend. I happen to like a lot of seasoning in my pumpkin, but if I’m making it for someone else, I tend to tone it down.

When it’s thickened to your desired consistency, let it cool a bit before putting it in a jar. Let in come to room temperature, and store in the refrigerator. You may be tempted to can it. I do can most of my fruit butters but not pumpkin. Canning experts say not to can anything with pumpkin puree; it’s too dense. I figure they know more than I do, so into the fridge it goes. Besides, it’s so tasty it doesn’t last long!

Here’s my version of pumpkin butter.

 

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Sep
15

When Black Flakes Are Good

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Some of us are old enough to remember the early days of nonstick cookware. It was no longer necessary to use butter or some other fat to prevent sticking. After a while, we usually began to see small black flecks in our food. At first, we make have successfully chalked them up to black pepper we may have forgotten we added. But eventually, we came to realize this “wonder coating” was coming off our pots and pans and into our food. Not a good thing.

But there are some black things we do want to see in our food. The aforementioned black pepper is one of them. And vanilla bean flecks are another. Vanilla is one of my favorite ice cream flavors, and I also look for the ones with the flecks of vanilla bean. My long-term love affair with the vanilla bean led me to making my own vanilla extract. Now upward and onward.

When Laura of Square Peg Farm posted a photo on Facebook of her homemade ice cream, it made me hungry. But what really caught my attention was the jar of vanilla paste sitting beside it. I’d heard of it, but I’d never tried vanilla paste. That just wouldn’t do. After all, I love vanilla.

My first task was to find places to buy it. Uh, that can be some pricey stuff! And well, since I always have vanilla beans, because I make my own vanilla extract. The smart thing was to look for recipes. Found. I couldn’t decide which I wanted to try, so I decided to try both.

The Great Vanilla Experiment

The Great Vanilla Experiment

Most recipes call for sugar–sometimes a lot. But I found a recipe on Desserts with Benefits that uses agave syrup. It’s incredibly easy. Throw the vanilla beans, agave syrup, and vanilla extract in a food processor and whir until pulverized. Then strain it through a fine mesh sieve. Pour into jar and refrigerate. Done. The results are #1 in the photo above.

Number 2 above it the vanilla paste made according to the most prevalent recipes. You’ll need

  • 20 grams (about 3/4 ounce) vanilla beans; it was 7 of the ones I have.)
  • 60 grams (about 2.1 ounces) sugar
  • 60 grams (about 2.1 ounces) water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

I always wipe of my beans with a dry paper towel or cloth before beginning. Now you have a couple options. You can take  a sharp knife, cut a slit down one side, and take out the caviar (the lovely black bits). Or, you can rough chop the whole beans. Whatever method you choose, throw the caviar or chopped beans into a food processor. Add the sugar and process until you have a fine powder. Put the powder and the remaining ingredients into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer until you get a syrupy consistency. Pour into a jar, cool, and refrigerate.

So which version is best? Well I like them both. Number 1 has more of an extract flavor. Number 2 is more paste like, which is to be expected since you cook out much of the liquid. I see uses for both.

Speaking of uses, how do you use this stuff? Short answer: The same way you use extract. But this way, you’ll have those beautiful little black flecks that scream out, “I have real vanilla bean inside me!” Keep in mind, though, that you don’t do a 1:1 replacement. Experiment, of course, but you’ll probably find you need only half the amount of vanilla paste as you do extract.

Enjoy.

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Sep
12

I May Have a Pepper Problem

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Or not.

For the past few years, my garden consisted mostly of green beans and cucumbers, along with a few tomato and pepper plants thrown in. This year I changed my emphasis. I still planted green beans, but I passed on cucumbers and tomatoes. I upped my peppers. I planted some bell peppers and a variety of hot peppers. I think I ended up planting 11 varieties of peppers.

My bell peppers did okay, but nothing to write home about. My hot peppers, however, have done great! Especially those little Thai peppers. The serranos, cayenne, and jalapeños have done well, too. My habaneros are slowly coming on. There are a lot of blossoms on my plant, but it’s also getting colder. Hopefully frost will hold off until they’re ready.

I’ve dehydrated, frozen, fermented, and made hot sauce. I decided to combine efforts and am now fermenting some peppers before putting them in their final–or almost final–forms. Over the weekend, I accomplished the following.

Peppers Vanilla Oh MyBut before I go on, I have to explain that the vanilla and pineapple decided to photobomb the pic. I’m making more vanilla extract. My previous recipe called for 3 vanilla beans per cup of vodka (or other alcoholic beverage). I upped them to 6 for a more intense flavor. As for the pineapple, well, it didn’t want to feel left out.

Back to the peppers. I’m going to be making hot sauce, but because I’m not sure how hot I want to make it or what else I might want to use the peppers for, I’m fermenting them separately. The jar on the left has cherry bombs. The one on the right hold my Thai peppers. They’ll be for red hot sauce. Duh. The jar with the green peppers (for green sauce, in case you’re wondering) has green bells and jalapeños.

The jar in the back right is something different. I’m out of paprika, and I had a variety of red peppers on hand. I’ve explained making paprika before. If you missed it, you can check it out here. This batch contains red bells, a serrano (maybe 2), and a banana pepper. I’m not sure how long I’ll let them ferment. Then they’ll be dried and sent through the spice grinder.

I’m hopeful I’ll be able to harvest more peppers before the frost sets in. And I’ve already been thinking about next year. I keep hearing wonderful things about Hatch peppers. Maybe I’ll see if I can grow them here.

 

 

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Sep
04

Onion Powder 2.0

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You might recall I’ve posted before about making my own onion powder. The other day I revisited my onion powder thanks to my CSA shares. I’ve been the happy recipient of several onions over the past few weeks. As much as I love them fresh and raw, I knew I probably wouldn’t get them all eaten before they started going soft. Yes, I could dehydrate and even freeze them, but I wanted something different. I wanted more onion powder. But not just any onion powder. I wanted smoked onion powder.

“Smoked?” you might ask. Yes, smoked. “Isn’t it difficult if you don’t have one of those fancy, schmantzy outdoor smokers? Not necessarily.

I’ve used a kettle-style stovetop smoker for many years. And I like it a lot. But a few months ago, with the encouragement of members of one of the FB groups I belong to, I bought Emson Electric 5Qt Smoker- The Only Indoor Pressure Smoker-Cook Your BBQ Brisket, Pressure Smoke Cold Cheese Or Fish.

smoker2_2

It’s a pressure cooker/smoker hybrid. What drew me to it, besides some very persuasive online friends, was the opportunity to cold smoke my cheese. And though I have yet to smoke cheese, I did use it for my baloney. Now I can use my kettle smoker to cold smoke by putting ice in its water tray. But it’s very hard to control the temp with my less than efficient electric stove. It’s so much easier with this.

As for wood, I opted for applewood. I like applewood, and it gives a subtle smoke flavor, especially when done for a short time. I wanted my onions to have a hint of smoke but not lose its onioniness.

I peeled the onion and sliced it into about 1/4 inch slices. After 10 minutes, they looked like this.

Onions out of smoker

And after spending the night in the dehydrator, followed by a whirl in the grinder, I had smoked onion powder!

Smoked onion powder

It adds a nice, subtle, smoky flavor to my dishes, without losing the onion flavor I love so much. I used it liberally in my Pig Goo, a barbecue-like sauce I use for pork. It was just the touch the Pig Goo needed.

Of course since making it, I’ve been thinking about other powders. I’ll keep you posted.

Incidentally, I bought the smaller Emson Pressure Smoker. Now I kind of wish I’d gotten the larger one!

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Aug
28

Oh “Baloney”

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Or bologna, or boloney. However you spell it, I’m talking about a mainstay of my childhood. I can’t recall how many times I had a fried baloney sandwich, usually made by Dad, when I was a kid. And Parmesan cheese freak I was even then, most often the fried pieces of meat were smothered in it. And ketchup. Here’s a confession: when I was a kid, I treated ketchup almost as a beverage.

For some reason, I’ve been wanting baloney and a fried baloney sandwich. And as you can probably suspect, my first thoughts were about how to make it myself. And it certainly didn’t curb my quest to see a restaurant making its own baloney on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Besides, I make sausage, so it only seems logical I’d try baloney.

There are several recipes online for making baloney, and they are pretty much the same. Unfortunately, some are unclear about whether you should and how to emulsify the meat. I felt this recipe was complete and provides a link on emulsifying the meat mixture.

Before we get started, a word about the end result. Some of the posts about making baloney say the method used here and elsewhere does not produce real baloney. Rather, they say it is summer sausage. To be honest, I’m not sure why. The only step I found missing was poaching the chubs. Call it what you will, it’s tasty.

Two important things to keep in mind in this process. You can use a free-standing meat grinder, a grinding attachment for a heavy duty mixer (like a KitchenAid), or a food processor. I have the attachment, but I opted for using the food processor. It worked fine. And second: keep things cold, keep things cold, keep things cold. This includes your blades. Put the meat in the fridge or freezer between each step.

You can start with either a chuck roast or ground chuck. If you’re grinding it yourself, make sure to cut away any sinew. It can clog your grinding vessel. My store did not have a chuck roast (I know! Really?), so I picked up some ground beef, 80/20 blend. Although it was already ground, I ran it through the smaller grind on my food processor. If using roast, run through the slicing blade first and then the larger and smaller templates. Here’s how mine looked after a trip through the grinder.

Grind 1

Grind 2

Into the fridge for a bit, and then to the next step.

Most of the recipes called for Tender Quick, which is a quick curing agent and does contain some nitrates. This recipe and some others use sea salt, which is fine.  If using Tender Quick, though, use only half as much. I added the onion and garlic powders, but I did not add the brown sugar. I also did not add the liquid smoke. More on that later.

Emulsion occurs when you mix the meat mixture with the cold water. You will end up with a paste-like consistency, which is exactly what you’re looking for. Trust me on this. And while it might not look very appetizing, you know what’s in it, because you’ve put the ingredients into it.

 

Emulsified.

Emulsified.

 

Take a small portion of the mixture and fry to test seasoning.

Now for rolling. You can stuff this in a casing. I probably would have, but I didn’t have the ones I wanted. So like most of the recipes I found, I simply rolled it into a log and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

HPIM1415

Then pop it into the fridge for 24 hours.

Back to liquid smoke. The recipes I saw all called for liquid smoke. I knew I was going to be using my pressure smoker to prepare onions for smoked onion powder, so I decided to forgo the liquid smoke for a 10-minute cold smoke with applewood chips. I wanted a hint of the smoke, not an overwhelming smoke flavor. Afterward, I baked it off, but slightly different from the recipe. I placed the roll on a rack in a broiling pan and did not turn at the midpoint of the first baking stage.

Finished.

Finished.

Does it look like or taste exactly like the baloney of my childhood? No. Do I mind that? Absolutely not. I’ve not fried any–yet–but I can tell you it’s great on homemade crackers and topped with a little mustard.

HPIM1430

Snack time. On homemade crackers with a bit of mustard.

I’m going to make it again, changing up the herbs and maybe adding some spice. Now see, this is one of the benefits of making your own–you get to have the flavors you want. I will probably order some of the casings I want so I can stuff it next time.

Making your own baloney is not nearly as difficult or time consuming as you might think. Give it a try.

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Aug
20

Filling the Cookie Jar

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I love cookies–the eating kind, not necessarily those affiliated with computers. But I seldom make cookies. I almost always make them in the countertop oven, because it works much better than my big oven. The problem is time. I could only do one batch at a time in my old oven. Now I can do 2 trays at a time, assuming I find 2 trays that fit. In time . . .

Anyway, back to my cookie jar. I thought about shortbread or peanut butter, but opted for oatmeal. They always seem so homey and comforting to me, and that seems to be the key these days. Of course they couldn’t be just any old oatmeal cookie. No, I had to throw in some extras. I’m not usually a fan of black walnuts, but I picked some up at the store the other day. They were chopped, but I chopped them up finer. And I added some coconut. My mother would be shocked to hear how many things I put coconut in these days. You couldn’t have paid me to eat it when I was a kid! I usually use light brown sugar, but I made dark the last time, so that’s what I used. I did add a bit more flour, because it’s very moist.

Oatmeal, Coconut, and Black Walnut Cookies

Oatmeal, Coconut, and Black Walnut Cookies

The result? Sweet, but not cloyingly so. And moist. The taste of the black walnuts is there, but you do run into big chunks of nut that can be rather painful if you have tooth issues. They’ve satisfied my cookie craving–for now.

Here’s the recipe for my Oatmeal, Coconut, and Black Walnut Cookies.

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Aug
18

Well Butter My . . . Biscuit

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I’m not sure why, but I’ve been thinking about things I love but don’t make very often. One of them is biscuits. Growing up, we ate biscuits a lot. But they weren’t homemade. Nope, they were the whomp ‘em type. I’ve written before of my trepidation every time I try to open those biscuits. And though I’ve used commercial baking mixes, I really want to move away from commercial mixes as much as possible. I do have my own pancake/waffle mix, but I wanted biscuits.

I turned to Google and found Alton Brown’s recipe for Southern-style biscuits. I even watched the video of the show he featured these on. Easy enough. And I had the ingredients. Well kind of.

Alton and his grandma prefers White Lily flour, which is made from soft wheat. I think I have some soft berries, but I didn’t want to take the time to find and grind them. So I used King Arthur Unbleached AP flour. The recipe also calls for buttermilk, and I have let myself run out. So I used the milk and lemon juice substitution.

A problem I’ve had in the past involved cutting in the fat. Well, it was a problem because I didn’t like doing it! Then I made a change. I keep my unsalted butter in the freezer, like most people do. Now when I want to cut in butter to a recipe, I grate it into the flour using the large grating holes in my box grater. This recipe calls for shortening, so I put it in the freezer for a bit before I made biscuits. It wasn’t quite hard enough to grate, but the grating with the butter lessened the cutting load, so I didn’t hate cutting in the shortening.

Hot biscuit, dab of butter, and homemade creamed honey

Hot biscuit, dab of butter, and homemade creamed honey

This dough is supposed to be wet, and it is. Since most of my bread doughs tend to be on the quite wet side, working with it wasn’t a problem. I did several folds and turns, which helps create layers in the dough and a flaky biscuit. It was tempting to add extra flour to the board, and I did add a wee bit. But scraping it off as I did the folding and turning seemed to do the trick.

When it comes to cutting out the biscuits, I use a square cutter for two reasons. First, I can’t find my round ones. But more important, I use them because the biscuits can be cut out right next to each other. And while you can reroll and use the scraps, those biscuits usually don’t rise as much. There are minimal scraps with square cutters.

I thumbed each biscuit top, which helps them rise more evenly, and popped them in the oven. In just a little while, I had very tasty biscuits.

Of course my mind is now filled with flavor alternatives. There’s no stopping me now. I may even venture into scones. I’ve never found a scone I liked, but then I’ve never made them myself. Yet.

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Aug
15

I’ve Been KO’d, but in a Good Way

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I’ve enjoyed the kohlrabi I’ve gotten in my CSA boxes. It’s a vegetable I like a lot but seldom find it in my supermarket. I don’t recall seeing it at the farmers’ market, either, so finding it in my CSA share made me happy.

But as happy as it makes me, I’ve been lacking in kohlrabi recipes. So one day I sat down with the omniscient Goggle and searched. Sauerkraut! I had never thought of making sauerkraut with kohlrabi, but it sure sounded good. I’ve fermented kohlrabi as part of a mixed vegetable blend, but never as sauerkraut.

KO Kraut

If you have a favorite sauerkraut recipe, simply replace the cabbage with the kohlrabi. The only difference I found common to most recipes was in how to prepare the kohlrabi. When making cabbage sauerkraut, most of us shred it. When using kohlrabi, grate it rather than shred it. I used my box grater, and it did a great job. Other than that, it’s the same as sauerkraut. The only changes I made to my cabbage kraut recipe was to add onion and caraway seeds; I usually don’t add caraway.

My cabbage kraut usually ferments for at least 4 weeks. I checked my KO (kohlrabi and onion) kraut after 2 weeks, and it was perfect! I’m not sure the quick fermentation to taste is characteristic of kohlrabi sauerkraut or just because it’s been so bleedin’ hot in here. Either way, it demonstrates the importance of giving your ferments a taste from time to time.

KohlrabiOnionKraut

Now that I had my KO kraut, what to do with it? Well I ate some, of course. But the simple fact of the matter is that I may like making sauerkraut more than actually eating it. You can freeze it, but I’ve never been really happy with the results. Fortunately, it keeps well in the refrigerator. Assuming you have room. Space in my fridge is at a premium, so I’m always looking for other ways to keep my ferments.

And then I found it. Well someone in the Fermenters Kitchen group on Facebook did. Dehydrate it! She dehydrates cabbage kraut successfully, so I saw no reason it wouldn’t work with KO kraut. I drained but did not rinse the kraut and placed it on the clean screens of my dehydrator. To maintain as many probiotics as I could and still dehydrate, I set the temp at about 105 degrees. In about 6 hours, trays filled with KO kraut looked like this.

KOKrautdried

Of course I had to sample. So good. Oh so good. So good, in fact, it took all the self-restraint I have to not eat all of it. I was able to smoosh it into a jar that contains about a pint.

KOFinished

I should have used a bigger jar, but I wanted to use this one.

Will I make this again? Oh yeh. I anticipate dehydrating all kinds of krauts. They’ll be good on burgers and hotdogs, other sandwiches, salad additions, and soup toppings. Then there’s that whole snacking thing!

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Aug
07

Not What You Expected? Doesn’t Mean It’s Wrong

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I’ve discussed my desire to create a barbecue sauce before. After many tries, I created one I really liked. Sadly, it was lost when my Mac bit the dust. And once I found Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce, I confess the urgency I once felt to develop my own kind of took a backseat. Let’s just say I can drink that sauce right out of the bottle.

Of course, that attitude couldn’t last forever. And when I found myself with a healthy supply of peaches, it seemed the perfect time to get to work on a fruit-based barbecue sauce. Why fruit based? It’s something different. Yes, as easy as that. Besides, fruit-based barbecue sauces are rare on my grocery store shelves.

Armed with peaches, I added the usual suspects in my sauce arsenal: peppers (jalapeno and Anaheim, along with red pepper flakes and cayenne), vinegar, onion, garlic, brown sugar, and a few other spices.

Note: Before beginning a recipe containing brown sugar, check to make sure you have enough. Otherwise, you’ll have to stop and make more. Just sayin’.

I blanched the peaches and then peeled them. Everything went into a pot, covered, and brought to a boil. After reaching a boil, I reduced it to simmer and let it reduce until thickened. I chose to can it when finished so I didn’t have to put it in the fridge.

Chicken with Peachy Keen Sauce

That night I roasted a chicken, using my Ida’s Artisan Kitchen Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce. Result? It was a nice addition to an everyday roast chicken. There was an initial hit of heat, but it dissipated quickly.

Even though it tasted fine, it wasn’t quite what I expected. That was disappointing at first, but then I realized it might not be what I was going for exactly, but it was pretty good. I think it will make a good simmering sauce. I already know it works as a finishing sauce. It still needs tweaking, but it’ll be part of my sauce repertoire.

So the lesson learned? Ida’s Artisan Kitchen’s Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce would likely not been created had I not ventured outside my comfort zone. Though I meant to make a barbecue sauce, this is in no way a failure. Embrace the things that don’t turn out as planned. They expand your horizons.

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