Old-fashioned Blueberry-Basil Preserves

I love using descriptors like “old-fashioned.” They are completely undefinable (from the time of yore?), and conjure images of everything on the shelves at your local Cracker Barrel.

(In case you’re wondering, other adjectives falling into this category include old-timey, prairie-style, country — oftentimes spelled with a “k” — and grandma’s.)

But I’m coming up empty on finding another name for these preserves. Honey-sweetened, commercial-pectin-free, and lacto-fermented. Seems like the way our great-great-grandmothers likely had to make jam, yes? On the prairie or in the country, no doubt.

My motivations for making them this way should come as no surprise: I’m still not eating sugar, which leaves most jam recipes out of reach — and I’m totally into fermenting things these days. Give me a jar of just about anything, and I’ll stir a little whey into it, let it sit on the counter for a day, and let those good lactic acid bugs multiply (granted, the honey in this recipe probably halts that growth a bit, but they do still grow, according to what I’ve read in Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation — ahem, many thanks to Suzanne for the weekend book loaner! It’s now on my to-acquire list!).

Oh how I heart this jam. The high salt content helps with fermentation but also lends a delightful surprise flavor component to what we’ve come to expect from jam (read: candy-sweet). Simmering the berries with honey helps bring out their natural pectin — so once chilled, the jam really does jelly up (though some liquid does remain). I’ve recently been allowed one slice of Ezekial bread each day on my diet, and don’t think every one of those precious slices hasn’t included this jam, since the day it was ready.

Old-fashioned, somewhat near a prairie. I think I’ve found my kountry urban calling.

[amd-zlrecipe-recipe:2]

Blueberry-Basil Preserves (lacto-fermented) on Punk Domestics

Garlic scape pesto

One of my favorite things to do is go to the farmer’s market, stand at the table of one of the vendors, pick something up, and have to say, “What’s this?”

My agricultural ignorance continues, and I hope it never stops.

Last weekend it happened with these beauties:

Garlic scapes.

The stalk of the garlic bulb — I’d heard the name but never seen them. The farmer* sold a bunch to me for a buck, and told me to use them in stir-fry, that they needed to be cooked a little.

But for some reason when he said the name, “garlic scape,” the next word that came to mind was “pesto.”

So I came home, googled it, whipped up a batch, and proceeded to eat almost all of it (alone) in just three days. I bought five more bunches at yesterday’s market — I’ve no plans to be without a jar of this in my fridge anytime soon.

Fiercely pungent, with a solid kick. Performs a small miracle on a plate of scrambled eggs, and if I were a bread-eating girl right now, I’d for sure be spreading it on a tomato sandwich. For now I’ll settle with a carrier of grain-free crackers, looking forward to more adventures next summer when I’m back on the grain wagon.

*These scapes came from Wild’s Apple Farm, which sells chemical-free produce at the Broad Ripple Farmer’s Market.

………………………………………………….

Recipe: Garlic Scape Pesto

: makes about 3/4 cup

very closely adapted from this recipe

Ingredients

  • 8-10 garlic scapes, trimmed of small bulbs at end of stalk
  • 1/2 cup almonds (could sub walnuts)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Wash scapes, and chop into 1″ pieces. Place in bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add almonds, and process until a paste forms (scrape down bowl as necessary).
  2. With machine running, slowly pour in 1/2 cup olive oil.
  3. Add parmesan, pulse to combine.
  4. Thin with additional 1/4 cup olive oil if necessary. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Can be served immediately, but flavor mellows a bit with time.
  6. Store in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to a week.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

[print_link]

This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.

 

Apricot chutney

chutney-serving

I had forgotten about chutney.

I’m not sure how it happened. But it just popped back into my head one day, like I walked down into the basement, moved a few boxes around, and saw it laying on the floor, forlorn & discarded, and remembered, CHUTNEY!

(Metaphorically, of course. While there are lots of food items in my basement, there is, to my recollection, not a random jar of chutney lying at the foot of my never-used golf clubs.)

chutney-ingredients

I love this spicy-sweet condiment. It was once my go-to topping for a pork roast, and a frequent side to curries. It’s one of those condiments that provides a huge return on investment — ingredients are easy to keep stocked, can be modified to your liking, and keeps for many days refrigerated.

As a bonus, people are always impressed with chutney — it’s just not something that gets made at home very often. And what are we doing when we invite people for dinner if not simply trying our darndest to impress them?

chutney-inpot

I tend to cook dried fruit chutneys, because that’s the easiest fruit to keep lying around. But by all means, if you have an abundance of fresh fruit, this is a great way to use it (you’ll need to change up the ratios a bit, a quick google search should help with that). I’ve been lacto-fermenting my jar by reducing the vinegar and adding a little whey after it’s cooked — this just adds a probiotic benefit. Read the note with the recipe to see this optional step.

I’ve served this as a vegetarian meal with my red lentil and squash curry — the fresh ginger works well with Indian spices. But this week we’ll have it with a pork roast (I’d forgotten about those, too — makes me wonder if a traumatic incident sometime in 2005 had me repressing my love for this meal?) — it’s just that versatile.

And not to be forgotten again.

………………………………………….

Recipe: Apricot Chutney

Makes 2 1/2 – 3 cups

To lacto-ferment the chutney, reduce apple cider vinegar to 3 Tbsp, and add an additional 2 Tbsp water. After chutney is cooked and cooled, stir in 2 Tbsp whey. Let sit covered at room temperature for 12 hours before refrigerating.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots (unsulphured if possible)
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • (1) 1″ piece fresh ginger, cut into strips
  • 1/2 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 apple, peeled and finely chopped

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients except apple in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very low simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
  2. Add the chopped apple, re-cover, and cook an additional 10-15 minutes, or until apple is tender.
  3. Serve at room temperature (remove ginger strips before serving). Keep leftovers in a capped jar in the refrigerator for up to a week (or longer for lacto-fermented option).

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

[print_link]

 

Honey (a persuasive argument)

honey-dripping

I’ve been going through a lot of honey lately. We’ve always used it for random things — our granola is partially sweetened with honey, and I use it in bread-making. My kids love it on their sandwiches and toast, and there’s nothing better for sweetening herbal tea in winter. But since I started the GAPS diet, it’s the only sweetener I can have (outside of the natural sugars found in most fresh and dried fruits) — so our consumption has doubled.

Honey is a classic example of the expression, you get what you pay for. Last fall, honey made headlines when it was discovered that large portions of the stock on US grocery shelves was likely obtained illegally from China — and could be contaminated with lead and antibiotics, or laced with artificial fillers. It’s apparently difficult to regulate the sources of large honey producers, which makes it easy for the honey cartel (only mildly tongue-in-cheek) to get away with selling a contaminated product & labeling it as pure.

Since it’s virtually impossible to know the source of honey on the shelves, why not play it safe and buy local honey straight from a farmer (or local grocer who can vouch for them)?

I’ll pretend I’m back in high school debate class and outline some points of my persuasive argument:

  • Local honey is actually honey. From actual bees.
  • Local honey can possibly help combat seasonal allergies. The medical evidence on this is sketchy (though people swear by it), but you can at least be assured that fake honey from China won’t help them at all, and might make them worse.
  • Local honey tastes better. If you prefer mild honey, go for clover (if clover isn’t produced in your locale, your health food store likely sells a regional version).
  • You can usually only buy raw (unpasteurized) honey locally/regionally. Raw honey has retained beneficial enzymes to aid in digestion — a thin layer spread on bread actually starts the digestive process for you.
  • Buying local honey helps keep a farmer in business. Those bees are helpful to your environment in ways more than simple production.

The cheapest way to buy it is in bulk — I buy it by the gallon ($35-$40, or around $5/pint) and even once split a 5-gallon bucket with friends ($3.50/pint). But if you don’t use it quickly enough, you could be faced with that ultimate frustration: a big batch of crystallized honey. I wrote a post last year that included a remedy for that problem, but since that process can be risky (I cracked two mason jars and lost 2 quarts of honey), prevention is the way to go.

Honey crystallizes fastest when stored at temperatures between 55° and 63°F — and in my kitchen in winter, the temps easily go down to that range at night. Last winter, I was voicing my frustrations to my honey farmer, and he suggested I freeze it. Freezing honey preserves its enzymes, protects it from crystallization, and is easy to do with a little extra space in your freezer.

honey-jars

The honey doesn’t freeze into a solid block — it more has the consistency of hardened taffy. When I buy a gallon, I immediately divide it into four quart canning jars, letting every last bit drip from the container. One quart jar stays out for use, the rest go in the freezer.

I’m feeling pretty good about my persuasive argument at this point (it helps that I don’t type “um,” — whereas if I was saying all this in person I would have uttered the word no less than 200 times). If you have a plastic honey bear in your pantry, perhaps labelled with the words “Great Value” (and really, who among us hasn’t?), have I convinced you to give a finger to the cartel and try local?

If so, I’ll be forwarding your answer to my high school debate coach. She should probably know that, though it took 20 years, her efforts were not in vain.

………………………………………………..

This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday.

On being a paranoid canner

Homemade Salsa (optional canning instructions) via KatySheCooks

Take my recent google search, after opening a jar of my first home-canned marinara sauce a couple weeks ago:
Can you taste botulism?”

Really. Google anything about home canning, and see if what you read doesn’t run a gamut between self-sustaining off-gridders praising a lost art of our grandparents and sterility-obsessed risk-avoiders who think home canning is akin to Russian Roulette. You can either find a recipe for canning that’s been used “by [so-and-so’s] grandmother and great-grandmother and they never got sick!,” or you can find the stats for people the CDC estimates die every year from eating contaminated home-canned foods. Take your pick which one you want to base your preserving decisions on.

I am not risk-averse. We drink raw milk in our household, which according to some forums should be punishable as child abuse. I will cut the mold off hard cheese and consume the rest of the block. I even eat a raw egg each day (because I know my egg farmer and know his chickens are healthy and happy!). All of these practices are considered riskier than eating sterilized food. But eating something that tastes fine and then ending up paralyzed was a scenario that — I’ll admit — kinda freaked me out.

The question mark looming over my marinara was that I used a water-bath canner, and failed to add extra acid to the tomatoes (in the form of citric acid powder or lemon juice). Since modern-day tomato varieties have been bred to be less acidic, they are sometimes not the right pH to be water-bath canned without some risk of bacteria growth. Botulism. You may not taste, see, or smell it. It does horrible things to people. Google told me about every single one of them.

So the answer for my head-full of doubt was to boil the heck out of it. Half an hour at a rapid boil in a covered saucepan should kill botulism. We all ate it, and have lived to tell about it.

But I don’t want to feel the need to do this every time I open a jar of home-canned tomatoes. I also don’t have a pressure canner, and am not ready to buy one. So I’ll be adding the safe-guarding citric acid to future jars, or just sticking to something safer, like tomato salsa.

Why is it safer? Because it has a ton of vinegar already in the recipe, making it safe for water-bath canning, keeping the sealed jars at a pH that inhibits bacteria growth. As a bonus, salsa has a higher jar yield from a starting quantity of fresh tomatoes than sauces. So to get 8 pint jars of salsa, I started with just 10 pounds of roma tomatoes. I like that math.

This is a classic tomato salsa, spiced with cumin and garlic, on a heat scale somewhere between medium and medium-hot. We are a family of heat wimps, so next time I make it I might use fewer jalapenos (I used a 1/2 cup for this batch). But other than that, for my first attempt at canning salsa, it was pretty near perfect.

Full of flavor, with nary a chance of bacteria-induced paralysis. That’s my kind of canned good.

This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.

………………………………………….

Recipe: Tomato Salsa (for canning)

Recipe adapted for quantity and ingredients from this recipe at Preserving Traditions. The adjustments made included decreasing the amount of pH-raising ingredients like onions and peppers, and the lemon juice was replaced with an equivalent (not equal, as more vinegar than lemon juice is required for safe acid levels) amount of apple cider vinegar (for those rightly concerned with the pH of the salsa for canning purposes).

: yields about 8 pints

Ingredients

  • 10 pounds roma tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups diced white onion (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers (seeds and ribs removed)
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar (this is my favorite brand)
  • 4 tsp table salt
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Fill a very large stockpot with water, and bring to a boil. Have ready a large mixing bowl filled with ice water.
  2. Drop tomatoes into the boiling water, adding only as many as will float in a single layer. After 30 seconds, transfer tomatoes to ice water bath. Once cool, slip the skins off the tomatoes and discard. Repeat until all tomatoes are peeled.
  3. Seed the tomatoes by cutting in half along the equator. Squeeze each half gently to remove the seeds and extra juice (discard).
  4. Chop the peeled/seeded tomatoes into a dice, and add to a large stockpot over medium heat.
  5. Add remaining ingredients to tomatoes, stir well, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, or longer for a thicker salsa.
  6. Ladle hot salsa into hot, sterilized canning jars. Water-bath process pints for 15 minutes. Let cool completely, and check seals. Store in a cool place for up to a year.

 

Tomato Salsa for Canning on Punk Domestics

Pickled red onions

I’ve mentioned these more than once, and figured it was about time they got their own post. The little flavor-boosters deserve it, working so hard to enliven recession staples like Brazilian black beans (guess those guys need a post, too… so many good meals, so little time!).

Aren’t they pretty in pink? Something happens when the purple color inherent in the red onion meets the ruby hue of red wine vinegar. As they sit and meld, the onions turn bright pink. And without a drop of FD&C red#3.

Before you pickle-haters recoil in horror, let me describe in detail: remove from your mind anything resembling a brined cucumber. Because I am not the biggest fan of jarred dill pickles; sure, I’ll eat them on an occasional burger, or maybe chopped up in a tuna salad. But, even when pregnant, I’ve never opened up a jar and started crunching (ahem… Nan). I occasionally eat other “pickled” things, like okra or radishes; and the pickled banana peppers I ate recently atop a pork shoulder at The National were like little gems of vinegarized glory. These red onions, probably like several of the other vegetables mentioned, are pickled quite simply in a mixture of vinegar and sugar. They are tangy-sweet, with a touch of heat (from either jalapenos or black peppercorns). They are a wonderful topping for Mexican-type-fare, making interesting the most straightfoward quesadilla, and also do wonders for cooked beans. I’ve used them in sandwiches, or to top huevos rancheros or a tofu sauté. Most important, though: they are ridiculously simple to make, don’t require canning, and keep for quite a while in the refrigerator, making them useful to top a variety of dishes for a couple or more weeks.

I implore you to try them. If I could, I’d whip up a batch, and send a small jar to all who read — because tasting will make you a believer. There is a great recipe for a large batch in Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook (the recipe is hard to find in the book — it’s on the same page as “Just White Beans,” on p. 60 in my edition). It uses 4 red onions, cider vinegar, and whole peppercorns; it fills a quart Ball jar to the brim, and lasts for many weeks. I used to make this version, but now my refrigerator space is more limited, so I’ve been making them in smaller batches, as-needed. I’ve combined Molly’s recipe with one I saw in Cook’s Illustrated; here’s my small-batch version:

Pickled Red Onions

  • 1 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp whole peppercorns

Place onions in a medium heat-resistant bowl. In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, salt, and peppercorns; bring to a simmer, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, and pour vinegar mixture over the onions. Cover loosely with foil, and allow to sit until cool to room temperature, about half an hour. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container (in the liquid) in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Pick of the month, June ‘08

Just making it in the month. With about 9 hours to spare.

If only I could just transpose my thoughts, into cohesive rather than disjointed and often polarized clumps, directly to a post. Because I’ve spent a lot of time over the past month, thinking about radishes. It’s that gathering-typing-editing-and-finally-posting process that gets me, every time.

I first took notice of this petite root vegetable a few years ago, when a friend mentioned growing them in her garden. How odd, I thought. Radishes. But I added them to a few early-summer salads, witnessed in my friend’s garden how easily they grew, and added them to our own garden the next summer. They grew better than anything else that year — which is simply a testament to the fact that they’re hard to kill here in the early months of summer (I’m referring to the red, summer variety, the one most commonly seen in supermarkets). We stuck to the basics in using them, adding them to green salads, and occasionally to a corn salad or two.

But their delightful crunch can lend texture and freshness to other applications as well. They were called for in a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for enchiladas, as an optional topping (along with onions and avocado). We gave it a try, and who knew? Their mild, cool kick perfectly complemented the spiciness of the enchiladas. But my favorite use to date, I stumbled upon just a few weeks ago. I was at a friend’s house, flipping through a recent issue of Food & Wine. It was the issue that highlights America’s top new chefs, and each bio gave a recipe from the honoree. I took one look at the dish prepared by Chicago’s Giuseppe Tentori, and started hounding my hostess for pen and paper. His Quinoa Salad with Pickled Radishes and Feta looked like a divine summer treat, perfect for a light lunch or side for a Mediterranean-inspired supper. I jotted down the details about the pickled radishes, and made them the next week.

Reminiscent of the Pickled Red Onions that I’ve promised (and thus far failed) to detail in a post, these bright pink radish slices topped about everything I had for lunch that week. Green salads, rice salads (a summer staple in our household), even turkey sandwiches. They sport a typically pungent, pickled bite, and give a welcome lift to any lunch standby that’s got one foot over the state line of Boring. You can find the whole recipe at the link above, but I’ll retype the super-easy instructions for pickling the radishes:

Pickled Radishes (sourced from Food&Wine, August ’08)

  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 medium radishes, very thinly sliced

In a small saucepan, bring the red wine vinegar to a simmer with the sugar. Remove from the heat and add the radish slices. Let stand until cool, about 1 hour.

Give this a try, because there’s not much to lose. Have I mentioned how cheap radishes are, this time of year? Your local farmer’s market is a good buy, but you can also pick up a bag of them at the grocery store — my bag had about 20 radish bulbs, and was $1.50. Wasn’t it Peter Rabbit and friends who frequently munched on radishes? Turns out they were thrifty little bunnies.