Category Archives: Condiments, etc.

concord grape jam

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I hate to be a copycat, but I have to ask: Have you ever had a concord grape?

Goodness gracious, these things are insane, not to mention beautiful.  These are the grapiest grapes you can imagine.  They cook into the most brilliant purple you can think of it.  And as you might expect, these are both very, very good attributes, particularly in the case of jam.

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I used to have a serious hang-up over grape.  Not grapes, but grape, the flavor.  I was one of those constantly sick kids, and in the 80s and 90s, sniffling or coughing meant one thing: Dimetapp.  That horribly fake grape-flavored concoction guaranteed to put your kids to sleep and dry up their nasal passages.  Dimetapp completely ruined my ability to enjoy purple Jolly Ranchers, Laffy Taffys, popsicles, and suckers.  I preferred to have no jelly if grape jelly was the only option.  Even purple Skittles had to be paired with reds in an attempt to mask the flavor.  Oh, the sacrifice.

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So when I saw Yossy’s grape jam recipe come through my reader, I admired the bright purple preserve, ooh’ed over the pretty pastry, impressed that somebody would take time to squish all those grapes.  But I wasn’t interested in grape jam, or grape pies.  I never expected to see concord grapes at my local farmer’s market, grown just outside of town by a grandmother who informed me very proudly that her husband still hand-picks all these grapes, every year.  Out of politeness, I took a smooth grape from her wrinkly hand and popped it in my mouth, not expecting much.  “Holy crap!”  I gasped once I got over the initial wave of grapiness, the balanced sweet and earthy and tart.  She practically giggled and said, “One or two baskets?”  “Better go with 3,” I said.  “I’m going to have to make some jam this weekend.”

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Concord Grape Jam
adapted from Yossy Arefi at Apt. 2B Baking Co.

Makes approximately 1.7 pints, or 3-1/2 half-pint jars

I had about 2.2 lbs. of grapes when I got home, so I split the difference between the 1lb and 4lbs recipe but used the “jam” methodology.  I also reduced the sugar a bit to allow the “zing!” of the grapes to shine.  Splitting the recipe in half gave me no problems at all, and I ended up with an unbelievably luscious, bright jam.  Definitely added to my annual jamming list.

2 lbs. concord grapes
1 lbs white sugar
juice from 1 lemon (about 1.5 oz.)
juice from 1/2 orange (about 0.75 oz.)

Wash and de-stem the grapes, and separate the grape flesh from the skins by squeezing or pinching out the flesh and seeds into a bowl; reserve the skins.  In a medium pot over medium-high, heat the grape innards until the seeds start to separate from the flesh.  This can take from 3 minutes to 10 minutes depending on the ripeness of your grapes, and it could take some gentle prodding or vigorous stirring, or somewhere in between.  Pour over a fine mesh sieve into a large, heavy, non-reactive pot (such as a dutch oven), stirring and pushing to separate as much of the flesh and juice from the seeds as you can. Discard the seeds.

To the newly separated grape flesh and juice, add the sugar, grape skins, and citrus juices.   Stir well and bring to a simmer; reduce heat and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until the jam reaches your preferred thickness.  This should take 20-30 minutes of light simmering and frequent stirring.  I use the frozen plate test, but you can also boil until the jam reaches 220 F or use some other method of your choice.

Pour into jars and can using a hot-water bath for 10 minutes, or keep in the fridge or freezer.

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Filed under Condiments, etc., Desserts, Fall, Gluten-Free

roasted strawberries + stewed rhubarb

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Summer is my time of excess.  Too many choices at the market means more greens, more zucchini, more berries than I can tackle in a week.  Weekends become packed with adventures: hiking, kayaking, boating, picnics, road trips.  Typical weekend tasks are crammed into weeknights, and suddenly on any given Thursday night I realize I have a fridge full of produce that needs to be used before Saturday morning’s farmer’s market… and that I haven’t vacuumed in two weeks… and that I haven’t slept properly in two weeks, either.  Time for another G&T.

Believe me, this is not a complaint.  Instead, here are a couple ideas to help you use up that glut of rhubarb you’ve got in the backyard or those strawberries you just had to bring home.  Last Friday morning, I picked a flat of strawberries.  For whatever reason, I had made up my mind that I needed a full flat.  Had to have it.  Then I had a million errands to run for the weekend’s canoe-and-camping trip, and I realized at 4pm that I had no clue what to do with the berries and the rhubarb on my counter… but I was leaving for the weekend.  So I fell back on an old mantra- “When in doubt, roast.”  Sweet or savory, you’ll cut through the bulk quickly, and if nothing else, it’ll prolong fridge life.

(I don’t think that’s actually an old mantra, I think I just made that up. Go with it anyway.)

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Think of these more as “guidelines” than “recipes.”  Cardamom could replace the vanilla bean, or sherry could replace the brandy, or lemon juice could replace the balsamic.  Be creative.

This is a simplified version of Heidi Swanson’s Roasted Strawberries from her Super Natural Every Day.  The balsamic vinegar really makes these an irresistible treat that should be put on top of pretty much everything.  My favorite so far: mascarpone spread across a gluten-free butter (Ritz-style) cracker and topped with a huge dollop of these strawberries. 

Roasted Strawberries
Makes a generous 1 cup (1/2 pint)

3 cups strawberries, cleaned and quartered or sliced
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons brandy (or similar liquor or liqueur, or apple juice)
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste
Olive oil, approximately 1 tablespoon

Preheat oven to 350.  Clean and chop strawberries.  Stir in maple syrup and brandy.  Brush olive oil onto a rimmed baking sheet, then spread out strawberries and shake lightly to even out.  Roast for 35-45 minutes, carefully stirring with a rubber spatula 2-3 times while roasting.  Remove from oven to cool.  If using balsamic vinegar, pour over the hot berries and lightly stir in.  Cool for 5 to 10 minutes and serve warm over shortcakes, biscuits, yogurt, or toast.  Store extra in a jar in the fridge for a few weeks, though they won’t likely last that long.

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I first saw this idea on Orangette a few years ago, and I tweak it slightly every summer.  I use less wine and chop my rhubarb more finely, which results in a thicker, almost stew-like rhubarb.  This preserve is amazing with tangy yogurt, some soaked or fermented oats, and a small handful of toasted nuts.  But like Molly, I tend to eat it straight from the jar, cold, with a spoon.

Stewed Rhubarb
Makes approximately 1 cup (1/2 pint)

3 cups chopped rhubarb (roughly 1/4″ to 1/2″ pieces)
1/4 cup cane sugar or caster sugar
1/4 cup red wine
1/3 to 1/2 vanilla bean

Preheat oven to 350.  In a pie pan or bread pan (or similar baking vessel), stir together the diced rhubarb, sugar, and wine.  Split the vanilla bean and nestle in both halves- no need to scrape out the seeds, most of them will be jostled out during cooking and stirring.  Roast for 35-45 minutes, stirring 3 or 4 times throughout.  Let cool for 10 minutes before serving or moving to a jar for the fridge. I personally prefer this chilled, but I imagine it would be good over warm baked oatmeal or on toast too.

DSC_1679Happy 4th, everyone.

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Filed under Condiments, etc., Desserts, Gluten-Free, Spring, Summer, Uncategorized

Easy pickled asparagus

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Spring came late this year.  Maybe you experienced it yourself; otherwise, these whiny posts might’ve clued you in.  No bother – We all still seem to be smitten with the token spring produce players.  Every year, an onslaught of rhubarb, asparagus, ramp, etc. posts flood the internet.  I’m a definite contributor…  and I’m not apologizing.  But the spring season seems so fleeting.  The ramps don’t stick around long, and then asparagus gets woody, stringy, and flavorless.  And with spring quickly turning to summer around here, I wanted to find a way to make that green, grassy joy-flavor stick around a little longer.

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Enter: the pickle.  Frozen and canned asparagus fall apart.  Freezing makes the cell walls burst, causing asparagus to go limp and lifeless.  Canning does the same, except in the form of overcooking.  But pickling…

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Pickling takes that grassy flavor and intensifies it.  It’s also perfect for those big stalks you find at the market a 3 or 4 weeks into the season that seem to be un-cookable when roasting or sauteing, then suddenly are overcooked and bland in the blink of an eye.  I like to blanch the spears briefly before dousing them in the hot vinegar solution, just to make sure each spear is cooked through.  But magically, pickled asparagus keeps some of it’s bite.  I wouldn’t say it’s crunchy… it’s certainly “bendy.”  But it’s also firm, and sliced into a salad or munched alongside an after-work beverage, pickled asparagus is one of my early summer favorites.

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Easy pickled asparagus
Makes 2 – 24oz. jars
Inspired by Simple Bites and She Simmers

*Note: I used the pint-and-a-half wide mouthed jars that are 24 oz. each.  You can certainly use wide mouth pint jars, but you’ll have to trim more of the asparagus bottoms off.  Also be sure to wash your asparagus well in cool water; gritty pickles are the worst.

1.5 pounds asparagus, trimmed to fit jars
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons pickling salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 dried chiles de arbol, or 2 teaspoons dried chile flakes
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon mustard seed

Wash and trim asparagus.  Bring a pot of water to rolling boil and blanch the asparagus (in multiple batches, if needed,) for one minute; rinse with cold water and set aside. Combine the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar in a pot (I used the same one) and bring to a rapid boil.  While waiting for the mix to boil, put one chile (or one teaspoon chile flakes), one clove of garlic, and 1/2 tablespoon of mustard seeds in each jar.  Then place asparagus in jars.  Once the mix comes to a boil, stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Carefully pour the boiling liquid into the jars, and carefully top with a lid.  Leave at room temperature for 6-8 hours, then move to the fridge to store.
Pickles are ready to be eaten after 24 hours in the fridge, but I let them sit about 48 hours before digging in.

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Filed under Condiments, etc., Side dishes, Summer, Vegetables

rhubarb + sour cherry beer preserves

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I feel like this has been the spring of failures.  First my body failed me; I’ve been sidelined from the activities I love due to some chronic health issues.  While I’m slowly getting back to normal, it’s been… slow.   I’ve had a few friends let me down, and I haven’t been the best friend either. Not on anything big, but the little things add up.  I’ve set goals, monthly and weekly, and haven’t hit them.  I’ve messed up quite a few things  in the kitchen.  And over the top of all of this is the feeling that spring completely failed us.  Months of unrelenting cold and snow, and then the sudden, unceremonious unfurling of greenness, hurling itself into being, even though it feels as though the sun hasn’t even properly shone yet.  All of this failure has been a little bit exhausting.

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The failed kitchen experiments have been particularly frustrating.  I’m realizing how much better I feel without gluten in my diet. I’m amassing a whole shelf of flours and starches – at last count I had something like 15 different kinds! – but gluten-free baking really is a whole new world.   I want to avoid adding gums, but I can feel my resolve breaking down.  There have been cookies that were cake-like, and cookies that spread into a giant mass on the pan;  miserable hockey-puck muffins;  cardboard pizza crusts;  an attempted crumble where the “crumb” sank into blueberries and rhubarb like the lost city of Atlantis, and then was completely forgotten about in the oven and burnt to a crisp.  And don’t forget the particularly disastrous upside-down cake that I absentmindedly assembled in a Springform pan.  (It actually hurts to write that one “out loud.”)  I’m still chipping bits of charred mess off the bottom of my stove.  Even my trusty loaves of (completely gluten-filled) sourdough have been falling flat – literally.

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AND since I’m moaning, I’ll point out that while the flavor of this preserve is very, very good, it’s looser than a typical jam.  Another failure.  I cooked and cooked and cooked, over double the time given in the recipe, but still I ended up with a very loose preserve, despite my addition of a cup of apple pectin stock.  All of the extra cooking I did after adding the fruit gave me a lower yield than the original recipe – 5 half-pints instead of 7 – and I’m still scratching my head at how the original recipe could work.

But the triumph here is that the combination of rhubarb and sour cherry is really winning, bright and tart, and lifting me above all of the little let-downs.  I particularly love that I was able to put some of my husband’s excellent homebrew to use.  The balance of sour and sweet with some slight hoppiness is exactly what I need to cope with some of these feelings of inadequacy.  Ah, emotional eating at its finest.

Hopefully I’ll have some recipes to share, and SOON.  In the meantime, I’ll be slathering this preserve with butter on top of pieces of crusty – albeit, flat – sourdough bread.

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Rhubarb + Sour Cherry Beer Preserves
Adapted from The Preservation Kitchen

Notes: I changed this up from the original in a few ways.  First, I used 2.25 pounds of fresh rhubarb and 0.75 pounds of frozen sour cherries, as my rhubarb is really green and I was afraid of ending up with a greenish-gray jam.  *shudder* I considered using strawberries, but I’m really glad I went with cherries- the tanginess of the two marry perfectly.  I also used a blonde ale that my husband homebrewed– but the called-for wheat beer is going to be a bit sweeter and less hoppy.  I added an extra 1/4 cup of sugar, left out the lemon zest, and instead added 1 cup of apple pectin stock and let the whole mess macerate with the lemon halves in an attempt to eek out some additional pectin.  Here is a link on apple pectin stock, and Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation is where I got the idea of macerating overnight with a lemon.

2-1/4 pounds diced rhubarb
3/4 pound frozen sour cherries
1-3/4 cups sugar
3 cups wheat beer
1 cup apple pectin stock (optional)
the juice of 1 lemon

In a heavy-bottomed pan, combine all ingredients and stir.  Throw the juiced lemon halves in as well, but try to pick the seeds out first.  Optional step- let macerate in the fridge for 4-6 hours.  (This will extract more of the juice and hopefully more of the pectin out of the lemon, slightly changing your cooking time.)  Bring ingredients to a low simmer, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat, cover with a lid, and place in the fridge overnight or for up to 5 days.

When ready to make the jam, remove the lemon halves. Place a small saucer in the freezer.  Use a sieve or slotted spoon to separate the juice from the fruit solids; return the juice to the heavy pan and set the fruit aside.  Bring the juice to a rapid simmer, stirring frequently, and allow to reduce by almost half.  (Virant said 12 minutes; mine took closer to 20 minutes.)  Stir in the fruit solids and return to a simmer.  Stir frequently to prevent scorching.  While your jam is cooking, prepare 5-6 half-pint jars and lids for a boiling water bath.  As the jam thickens, use a spoon to place a small amount of jam on the frozen saucer and return to the freezer for 60-90 seconds.  When the jam is gelling on the plate, it’s done.

*Virant says to cook until the jam reaches 215 degrees F and lightly coats the back of the spoon, approximately 10 minutes. In my experience, the spoon-coating consistency results in more of a sauce than a jam. I cooked for over 25 minutes, stirring frequently, and I personally prefer the freezer gel test.

Once you’re satisfied with the texture of your jam, pour the jam into half-pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space.  Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove the jars from the water bath and place on a towel; leave for 12-24 hours without disturbing. Remove lid rings for storage.

*If you’d rather not process, you can simply store this in the fridge in clean jars.  I’m going to guess it’ll last a month or two, if not longer- but I haven’t tested it.

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Filed under Condiments, etc., Desserts, Gluten-Free, Spring

Fresh red cabbage slaw

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There are a couple of big things that have happened in the last few weeks.  The first: I think spring might actually have arrived.  Secondly: I apparently now like cilantro.

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The first one is a big deal because IT’S MAY.  The last weekend of April was gorgeous.  Mid-60s and low 70s, sunshine, green grass, even budding tulips and the tips of iris and hostas poking through the mulch.  And then, on May 2nd and 3rd (!) the Midwest got hit with a nasty system that included snow (!) and sleet (!) and freezing rain (!).  Not just a dusting, but 18 inches fell in northwest Wisconsin.  18 freaking inches of white, dream-shattering, soul-crushing snow.

But between the 60s and 70s yesterday and today, the snow has melted, the grass is re-perking, and my rhubarb has unfurled an impossible number of frilly leaves.  Spring is here to stay, I think.

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The second part- the part about me finally coming around to cilantro- is a big deal because, c’mon, it’s cilantro.  It’s fresh.  It’s green.  I can grow it.  It’s a big deal in Mexican and Indian cuisines.  And I’m pleased to say that I actually have bought and used it three whole times in the last two weeks and it’s been awesome.

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I made this slaw to serve with carnitas, and it’s crunch and tanginess was exactly what the tender pork needed.  And after all, the recipe is a bit like the weather we’ve had lately: schizophrenic.  It combines winter staples (cabbage and carrot) with a few fresh things that pack a little more punch in the flavor department (jalapeno, cilantro, and lime).  Even if I have to keep buying cilantro for a another month while the weather warms up (*grumble grumble*), I’m adding cilantro to my seed-purchase list, and I’ll definitely be making this slaw frequently for the summer barbeque circuit.  It took me less than 20 minutes to prep, and it needs only an hour in the fridge to really come together.

Fresh red cabbage slaw
Serves 6-8
Adapted from Pezzo

juice of 2 limes
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 large clove garlic smashed (approximately 1/2 tsp)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (Greek yogurt might work?)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup diced onion
1 diced jalapeno (I removed the seeds; keep them for more spice)
1 medium carrot, grated
1/2 large or 1 small head of cabbage

In a jar or bowl, whisk together the limes, honey, garlic, mayo, and cilantro. Salt and pepper, and set aside.  Prep the veggies, and thinly slice the cabbage- you want approximately 4 cups of cabbage. Toss all the veggies together in a bowl; dress with the dressing.  Set aside in the fridge for the flavors to develop, at least 1 hour.  Taste before serving and add salt and pepper to taste.

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Clean Eating, Condiments, etc., Gluten-Free, Side dishes, Spring, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Two Wintertime Cocktails


I have a problem calling these wintertime cocktails.  I’ve seen no snow, no gusting winds, no blizzards that force mass-exodus-style trips to the grocery store followed by 2 or 3 days of hunkering down in the house, eating beef stew and peeking out the window as the plow goes by to see how high he’s piled up snow at the end of your driveway.  This meek and mild “winter,” pfft, has been downright enjoyable.  Not that I have a problem with it… but clearly, I do have a teeny tiny problem with it.

Even if you happen to be in southern California or up in the Yukon, these cocktails might help fill a small missing piece on a Friday or Saturday evening.  I know I was searching for something by the time happy hour came around on Friday, and these hit the spot.

1. Heidi’s Blood Orange Gin Sparkler.  I only had two blood oranges so I juiced a naval along with it, and it definitely worked.  I had misremembered the recipe that I read earlier in the day and used club soda on the first drink, but found that I preferred the called-for tonic.   These are too good! And I can’t wait to try these with grapefruit, or a grapefruit-0range combo next weekend…

Edit: I couldn’t hold off for long.  Fresh grapefruit juice is, dare I say, even better than the blood orange juice?! Divine.  A perfect shade of light pink, and brighter-n-lighter in flavor, too. Plan for approximately half a large grapefruit per drink.

2.  Rhubarb Rosemary sparklers.  In an attempt to use up the rosemary-infused simple syrup in the aforementioned gin sparkler recipe, I remembered the jars of rhubarb liqueur I had stowed away last summer.   Rosemary and rhubarb…  beyond alliteration, did they have a chance to work in harmony? I say yes.  I had used a mix of the sweet pink and tart green stalks, and the savory-sweet syrup compliments the tart-sweet liqueur.

Rhubarb & rosemary sparkler
Serves 1

2 oz. rhubarb liqueur
1 oz. rosemary simple syrup
2 to 3 oz. club soda
Pour over ice and stir in a highball or Collins glass.

Muted, earthy, and perfect for a quiet winter night in.

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Beverage, Condiments, etc., Winter

Peach vanilla bourbon preserves (jam?)

This summer has seen a lot of firsts: first race run, first time learning how to ride (and then buying) a motorcycle, and first time making and canning jam.

I had dabbled with canning tomatoes, but had never ventured into jamming territory.  I had always heard how tricky and messing canning jam was, and I seriously think that those people are doing it wrong- it has been easy AND liberating.  Putting up some small-batch jam with whatever I find at the farmer’s market is now one of my favorites ways to start a weekend!

Although there’s a lotta flavor going on in these preserves, this is a pretty straightforward recipe and a good “starter” if you’re unfamiliar to making preserves and jams.

I’m not sure of the subtle nuances between jams and preserves, but I left mine a little looser than your typical jam.  However, I did take an immersion blender to the pot to smooth it out a bit, so it’s not quite a “preserve,” either.   Either way, it’s delicious on toast and  I’m thinking that it’s going to be a killer pastry filling and ice cream topping this winter!

Peach vanilla bourbon preserves
Adapted from Tartelette via Smells Like Home
Makes approximately 5-6 cups

3 pounds of ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1 vanilla bean
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup bourbon (or a bit more if you like!)

Place a small plate in the freezer. In a Dutch oven or preserving pan, combine peaches, sugar, and water.  Stir, cover pan, and set on burner set at low for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, split and scrape clean your vanilla bean. Add the vanilla bean seeds and entire pod to the pan. Increase heat to medium and bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Once boiling, reduce heat and keep at a simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat.  Use an immersion blender to “pulse,” and pulverize about half of the fruit.

Put pan back on medium and stir in lemon juice.  Return preserves to a simmer, stirring frequently now.  As the mixture thickens and coats your spoon, pour in the bourbon.  Bring it back up to a simmer and keep stirring for 3-4 minutes.  Once the preserves have thickened up again, use a spoon to put a small amount on the plate in the freezer and return it to the freezer for one minute. This is the freezer test- you can do this multiple times.  If the preserves aren’t as thick as you’d like, keep simmering and stirring.  When it’s as thick as you want, remove from heat.

Store in clean jars in the fridge or process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner.

*Notes
You can add up to 1/2 cup of any kind of liqueur, according to Helene at Tartelette. If I recall, she also suggested Grand Marnier?
The original yield was 6 to 8 cups, but I got 5 cups (1 cup to each half-pint jar) plus a bit extra to dab on toast. I assume my yield was a bit lower because of the pureeing.

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Filed under Condiments, etc., Desserts, Summer