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Posts Tagged ‘food preservation’

To kick my butt into gear for blogging this year, I signed up for the Charcutepalooza challenge created by Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy.  I mean, let’s face it, I love meat.  I also love sugar, fresh berries, heavy cream, caramel, rainy days and Mel Brooks movies–but that’s beside the point.  As I start moving into a different way of eating–sharply reducing my consumption of processed foods (not that I was eating that many at this point), grains and refined sugars, I needed to re-evaluate what I was cooking and writing up here, too.  Sure, I’ll still make the occasional baked goodie because I’ll never stop loving the smell of something baking in the oven, but in the few changes I’ve made in the past few months, my health has turned around for the better–nearly 30 pounds lost, cholesterol and blood sugar down–the numbers don’t lie.

ANYWAY, back to what I’m doing for 2011:  Making Meat.  Or, more specifically, making meat products.  Charcuterie, the art of curing, smoking and otherwise preserving meat, was a class I barely paid attention to while in culinary school.  I’m serious–I was all about the pastries, and why in the world should I know how to make duck confit?  If I had a time machine, I’d go and kick myself in the pants for feeling that way.  I’m making up for lost time here, and along with over 100 other food bloggers, I’ll be reading, learning and cooking (three of my favorite things) out of Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie.

First up is January’s challenge:  Duck Prosciutto.  It’s really not a difficult task; it’s a simple salt cure and 8 days of hanging to dry.  The challenge here is being in Southern California where the temperatures as of late have been in the 80′s, and the duck requires temperatures in the 50-60° range.   I fixed this by finding a mini-fridge off of Craigslist (which will serve as the Poker Night Beer Fridge when it’s not curing meat), that I will fidget with until I can get it to do what I want.

The next challenge I put upon my own head:  butchering a whole duck.  I’ll say it now:  I haven’t handled a duck since school, where I have this vague memory of making a Duck Galantine with Pistachios, thinking, who the hell eats this nowadays? I have no problem taking apart a whole chicken, but I was feeling a little intimidated:

I only need the breasts for Prosciutto, but that leaves the rest of the duck.  I decided that the legs would go into a Confit, all the skin and fat trimmings would be rendered for their fat, and the rest of the carcass would be used for stock.  In the end, nothing was tossed out but a few bone fragments from my hack job of butchering.  Otherwise, I was able to use the whole duck which made me feel a little proud of myself for not being wasteful.

I started with kitchen shears, and first cut off the wings and removed backbone, popping out the leg joints as I approached them–this made the removal of the legs very easy.  My biggest worry came when it was time to detach the breasts from the rib cage–I never do a very good job of it with chicken, but it ended up being easier than I thought.

The breasts came off with a flick of the boning knife and a little pull.

The line up:  the ceramic dish that will hold the breasts smothered in salt, which I didn’t bother to take a picture–it’s a dish that looks full of salt; my not-too-horrible-for-10-years-out cuts of duck; the pot of fat and skin to be rendered.  Not pictured:  everything else, which was in the stockpot, simmering away.

After packing the breasts in the salt, I started on the legs:

They’re seasoned with salt, pepper, clove, garlic, orange zest and a lone juniper berry.  Those will sit in the fridge for a few days as is, until it’s time to cover them in duck fat and poach them for hours.  I’m really not sure what I’m more excited about, the prosciutto or the confit!  I’m hoping to change Choo’s mind about duck–he’s not much of a dark meat guy, but I think he’ll enjoy what comes out of this.

Come back in about 10 days when I’m able to talk about the finished products!

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As you may remember, I have been on a mission from my mother these past few months to fill this large bag of mason jars full of whatever I thought would be delicious for Christmas gifts.  First, there was the Strawberry, Black Pepper & Mint Jam, and then I made Peach, Ginger, and Vanilla Jam.  I still had jars left to be filled, and now I was well out of the reach of summer fruits, so it was time to turn to the abundance of Autumn.

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Aren’t they just a sight?  I’ve got some McIntosh, Braeburn, and a few Pippins–all ready to be turned into apple butter.  I’ve noticed that combining a few different varieties of apples helps bring a good balanced flavor to the butter.

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The best $5 I’ve ever spent at a yard sale.

I do love my Apple Whirlygigger.  Yes, Whirlygigger.  And don’t try to tell me it’s called anything else.  It peels!  It slices!  It cores!  All at the same time!

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If you’re a novice at making preserves, you might want to try your hand at apple butter–there’s no adding pectin (apples are naturally packed with pectin) and if you happen to not simmer it long enough, not to worry–call it apple sauce and you’re still golden.  I also like it because it doesn’t require a ton of sugar like some jams as the long simmer brings out the sugars in the fruit.

I still had half a bottle of the Calvados left from a few weeks ago, so that went into the pot, along with some apple cider;  when simmering apples, there needs to be some liquid added–unlike berries and stone fruits, there’s just not as much water in apples.  Apple butter also needs lemon juice, as the acidity will help keep any nasties growing in your jars and adds a nice brightness and balance in flavor–without it, it would be a bit cloying.  I threw in a few cinnamon sticks, and just a small amount of nutmeg and clove, as I didn’t want to overpower the apples–they’re the ones who are supposed to be the stars of the show, you know?

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It takes some love and patience to get to this point.  Apple butter when it’s done will be thick and a spoonful of the butter will remain mounded and thick after cooling for a few minutes.

The one and only disappointment is how much this reduces–I started with 14 cups of chopped apples, and ended up with only just over 3 1/2 pints, most of which will be passed on as gifts.

I guess that means I should make more, yes?

 

Brandied Apple Butter

14 cups peeled, cored and chopped apples

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup Calvados (a French Apple Brandy)

1 cup apple cider

juice of 2 lemons

3 cinnamon sticks

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, add all ingredients and bring to a boil on medium-high heat.  Once boiling, turn down to medium-low heat and simmer until the apples are very soft.  Mash apples or puree with an immersion blender (remove cinnamon sticks while using stick blender and return when finished) and continue to simmer, stirring often, until apple butter is thick, about 2 hours.  If preserving in jars, this page has excellent information on how to can apple butter.

 

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About two weeks ago, I was going through my twice a day habit of flipping through Foodgawker when I came across a link to Cake and Commerce and her announcement of a canning challenge.  A challenge exactly right up my alley!  Now, I know some of you reading have known me for a long time, and know I’ve been making jams for years, and just this season I’ve also ventured into the world of pickles.  I’m fortunate to live in an area with long growing seasons–it may be Fall on the calendar, but there are still berries and tomatoes and stone fruits in abundance at the farmer’s markets.

This was perfect timing, too, since I had mentioned before that I was on assignment from Mom. I headed to the farmer’s market in Calabasas and landed at the steps of a fruit seller from Oxnard (about 40 miles away).  I nuzzled nectarines, grabbed at grapes, and finally picked the peaches.  They were right at the I’m-still-firm-but-I’ll-be-ripe-in-about-3-hours stage, and I knew they’d be perfect.

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Seriously, how perfect do those little guys look?

As for what I was going to add, all I had to do was look at my own Peach Cobbler recipe, where I season the peaches with some freshly grated ginger and vanilla sugar. Yes!  I love it when inspiration hits like that.

First, let’s start with peeling those peaches.  I confess, it’s not a favorite chore of mine.  In fact, earlier this year when I made a batch of peach chutney, I left the skins on, and I’m probably the only one who can tell.  But, for a more refined product, the skins have to come off.  And, the best way to go about it is by blanching.

Get a 3-4 quart pot of water boiling, and nearby, have a large bowl full of ice water.

Take the peaches and score the skins with a large X at the bottom, like so:

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Drop the peaches in the boiling water; if they’re ripe, for about 10-15 seconds, and longer if they’re firm.  Pull them out of the boiling water and right into the ice water to stop them from cooking any longer.

With the help of a paring knife, the skins should slip off pretty easily (most of the time.  some of my peaches… gave me trouble.  They can be mean, those peaches).

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That was one of my better behaved peaches, even though it’s more derrière-shaped than your average peach.  Saucy!

Once all the skins are off, then they can be chopped up as seen fit, and made ready to be simmered into jam.

Peach-Ginger-Vanilla Jam

12 cups diced fresh peaches

7 cups sugar

1/4 cup very thinly sliced fresh ginger

2 vanilla beans, split

juice of 2 lemons

Optional:  peels of 2 organic unsprayed apples, to be used as a natural pectin source

In a large bowl, combine peaches, sugar, ginger, and vanilla beans and let sit for 1 hour to pull some of the juices out of the fruit.

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Pour into 6-quart heavy-bottomed pot and turn the flame on a medium setting.  Add lemon juice, and then bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 30 minutes,   stirring occasionally, and if you prefer, add the apple peels.

Let me tell you something–now, with my education, I knew that apples contained a high amount of pectin, and remember seeing a recipe once on how to make your own liquid pectin by simmering apples.  But, for whatever reason, I never made the connection of simmering my jam with an apple peel or two to get the benefit of the pectin until I read the recipe on Cake and Commerce–it’s a brilliant idea.

Speaking of those apples–I don’t think I could get any closer of a source than my own front yard.  We have an apple tree (not to mention pomegranate, banana, several citrus, persimmon, avocado, fig, and guava), and so I snuck out late and nabbed a few off the tree.  The apples themselves aren’t that great–they’re sort of bland–but, their peels were perfect for the job.

Now, there’s a few ways of making sure your jam is done.  One, if you prefer something with more concrete numbers, then use a candy thermometer–jam will set at 220°F.  If you don’t have a thermometer, then take a small plate and put it in the freezer for a few minutes.  Once it’s cold, put a small spoonful of the syrup on the plate.  Run a finger through the center of the jam, and if it holds in place and the jam wrinkles slightly:

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Then you have jam.

A visual for those who have never done this before–I ran my finger through that puddle of syrup and it held just like that (meaning the syrup didn’t run back together), and you can’t see it well in the picture, but it has wrinkled slightly along the edges of that path.

Now, I’m not going to run through the whole process of hot packing jams; all you need to know is here.

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I am in love with this jam.  It’s a beautiful, deep sunset-orange; the peaches are sunny and sweet, but the ginger and vanilla add depth and warmth.  This really is the best of summer in a jar.

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Strawberry season is wrapping up here; our close proximity to Oxnard, The Land of Strawberries brings us wonderful, luscious berries months after the peak season is over.  After seeing those, how can I refuse to take some home?  I brought home a half a flat (6 pints) with the mind to make a batch of jam.

See, a few weeks ago, my mom bought a few boxes of mason jars and handed them to me with the instructions of, “Fill these for Christmas.”  Okie dokie.

Now, earlier this year I made just plain old Strawberry Jam, and I have all of those tucked away in the cupboard, waiting for the holidays.  This time, I wanted to branch out and try something new.  I had heard of this recipe, which piqued my interest–I love strawberries with black pepper and balsamic vinegar (maybe one day I’ll tell you the story of a dessert special I made during my cheffing days of homemade strawberry ice cream, black pepper shortbread cookies, and a balsamic reduction drizzle), and I have some very happy little mint plants hanging around that could use some trimming.  But, did you see that recipe?  It’s a three day process. I’m sure it’s amazing, and I might try it another day, but not this time.  It’s Labor Day weekend–the last thing I should be doing is, you know, laboring.

It was certainly enough that I’d be making jam; to turn it into a production that would take up my kitchen for three days is… well, I’m just not that kind of girl.  I decided to go my own way with the idea, and report back to all of you how it went.

Let me tell you another thing about me and jam:  I’m not a fan of pectin.  Pectin forces you to use insane amounts of sugar to make your jams set;  granted, I understand the need for it in jellies and preserves where you need something to help gel your product, but in things like jams and fruit butters, a long, slow simmer is totally where it’s at.  It takes some time and love, but what you get is pure fruity deliciousness.

Strawberry, Black Pepper, and Mint Jam

10 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half (or quarters if large).  Squish the fruits a little to ensure you’re getting a full 10 cups of fruit.

6 cups sugar

Juice of one lemon

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

3 tablespoons fresh mint, sliced thinly

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, add strawberries and sugar, and toss to coat.  Turn the heat on to medium-high, and bring to a full, rolling boil, then turn down to a low simmer.  Stir in the lemon juice.

This will simmer for quite some time–expect around 2 hours, depending on how juicy your berries were to begin with.

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Make sure you skim off that foam, too.  You don’t have to toss it–put it in a bowl and mop it up with a piece of bread.  Seriously. You gotta have something to do while you’re hanging out waiting for your jam.

While that’s simmering away, make sure you’re giving it a good stir about every 10 minutes.  You’ll be adding the pepper and mint for the last 5 minutes of cooking, when the jam is just about ready.  The way to test when your jam is ready is to put a small plate in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Pour a little syrup on the cold plate and run your finger through it.  If the syrup gels and keeps a clear path of where you ran your finger, it’s ready.  This would be a good time to throw in that pepper and mint, and let simmer for 5 more minutes.

I’m not going to go through the whole process of canning as I’ve yammered on enough for tonight;  the fine folks at The University of Georgia have an excellent, thorough guide on how to prepare your jars, can, and process your jam.  In fact, the whole National Center for Home Food Preservation site is worth bookmarking if you have any intentions of canning anything ever in your life.

Just as a note, this produced 3 1/2 pints.

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I know you’re waiting to hear how it turned out.  The mint, for some reason didn’t stand out that much at all.  I got a hint of it, but that’s it.  I definitely caught the pepper, and it leaves just a faint, pleasant heat that helps cut the sweetness of the jam.  I would happily make this again, but possibly try more mint next time.  Or, skip the mint, and add a good dose of balsamic vinegar.  Wouldn’t that be interesting?  Anyway, we’re not telling Mom about the experiment just yet, as she gets kind of weird about it when I do something new (and I get to prove her wrong 98% of the time).  No matter, if no one likes it, it just means more for me.

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Here, in the San Fernando Valley, summer is still roaring hard and strong, as it usually does in September.  I know, though, that in other parts of the country, the weather is just starting to welcome autumn–sunset is coming earlier, the morning air is crisp, and you swore you saw a few leaves turning color as you drove in to work.  Still, for many of us, we’re wrapping up the end of our gardening season, and many of us are suffering from a surfeit of ripe tomatoes without a purpose, and certainly more than you can reasonably eat before they go bad and start robbing convenience stores and saying curse words in front of little old ladies.

I’d like to mention right now how much I love the word surfeit.  Maybe it’s always because I’ve seen it mainly used in the sense of some member of royalty dying of a surfeit of food, such as “King Henry I died of a surfeit of lampreys,” and “Catherine Douglas, Duchess of Queensbury, died of a surfeit of cherries.”  I am convinced that my obituary will say that I died of “a surfeit of Sweet Potato Fries and Peach Cobbler.”  In fact, even if that’s not my cause of death, I’d like it to say that.

Back to our tomatoes.  I’m not much of a gardener.  I’ve got a few containers with tomatoes, and a few pots of herbs; some of these are struggling, and some of them are doing rather well.  One tomato in particular, my Roma tomato plant, was going along like gangbusters until the other day it decided to try and end it all and fell over.  Apparently, even with my efforts of trying to control its growth, it still became so huge that its weight caused it to topple.  I lost about half of the green little babies that would have brought me my anticipated glut of tomatoes, after all was said and done.  Oh, I’ll still be able to have something of a harvest, but my fantasies of pots upon pots of simmering sauce has been reduced to what will be one or two batches.

To comfort myself in my loss, I bought 11 pounds of Romas from the farmer’s market on Saturday morning, with the thought of starting on my “putting up” some tomatoey things.  The first half of the tomatoes I dedicated to a batch of confit.

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First things first:  wash your tomatoes, slice in half, and remove all the pulp and seeds, and place into a large bowl.

Preheat your oven to 225°.  Cover a sheet pan or two with foil.

There’s no set ratios for confit, really.  Drizzle them with olive oil.  You’ll need enough to coat the tomatoes.  Add peeled, whole garlic cloves.  I put in a whole head’s worth–about a dozen–for 5 1/2 pounds (you can put more or less, as you wish).  Add salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.  Toss everything around in the bowl until tomatoes are well coated with the oil and all the seasonings are well distributed.

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Lay them out on your sheet pan like good little soldiers, and toss them into the oven.  Let them sit in the oven for about 4 hours.  You want something right in between fresh and sundried.

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These guys are versatile–use them instead of fresh tomatoes for salads, sandwiches, and burgers.  Heap them on top of pasta.  Throw a few in the food processor to puree, and use in place of tomato paste.  To store them, keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks; cover them in oil, and they’re good for 4-6 weeks.

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