Monday, August 30, 2010

Noyaux Liqueur

Can I tell you this weird thing I did? You might frown upon this, but I infused some brandy with apricot and cherry pits. I've learned that this is what generally flavors almond extract, these seeds from fruit in the almond family, along with almonds. Instead of composting my pits, I decided to make a liqueur.

Why would you frown? Because there's debate on whether those pits (or the kernels, to be exact) are okay to ingest. They contain amygdalin, which breaks down into prussic acid or Hydrogen cyanide, a poison. When I was a child I remember my mom warning me to not eat the peach pit's kernel even though it looked like a tasty almond, because it contained cyanide. That scared the bejesus out of me. But, through heating or soaking, this poison is eliminated. There is a liqueur called créme de noyaux, made with these kernels. And I was intrigued by this post on making almond extract; I just dispensed with the whole cracking open the kernels thing. Throwing pits in a jar to make a tasty liqueur? Sounds like my kind of thing. Interestingly, apricot kernels and the amygdalin they contain are touted as a cure for cancer. I did some research and came to the conclusion that my mason jar full of pits wasn't a problem. I think I read that you'd have to eat 72 kernels to even get sick. So.

I filled a quart mason jar with the pits, both apricot and cherry (which also is in the prunus family), and topped it with brandy. A month or so later, after sitting in the dark basement and being agitated every so often, it turned into the most amazing smelling brew. I am partial to the smell of almonds, so it was swoon-worthy. Smelled like almond extract. I should have kept it where it was, but I added a bit too much simple syrup to it and diluted it a bit. Next year, when I make it again, I will leave it intact.

What am I going to do with all these liqueurs I have been concocting? Well, I don't sip cordials all day long, even though I should. I used some of this liqueur in canning some pears. Like brandied fruit, but a little lighter. Post to follow!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And the winner is....

Jordan! (via The True Random Number Generator) Who didn't leave an address, and I can't seem to link to his page! I really want Jordan to have this! Jordan, would you please leave me an e-mail to reach you at? Thank you!

And I want to thank everyone who participated in this little giveaway. All of your comments are amazing! From breads to fruit butters, pickles to pears, there were a lot of foodstuffs that you people are spending time on. And I think it's wonderful. Blanching is very time consuming, as is peeling. It takes forever, but then you have that little jar of summer waiting for you in February, and how nice is that? And what can compare to a fresh, hot loaf of bread you made yourself? (Or that someone else made for you!) Or how about some tomato confit (slow roasted tomatoes) or making your own alcohol? Fermenting, home-made pasta, marmalade, olives, bacon, watermelon peeling and tomato paste. Whew! It all sounds amazing.

FYI, to Keira who asked about freezing and canning later: just freeze it and use it later! This is in reference to fruit, I'm not sure about tomatoes. However, tomatoes freeze beautifully, and you may want to consider doing that if you have the freezer space. The Joy of Cooking or the Ball books have detailed freezing instructions, as do many online resources like the National Center for Home Preservation.

My most laborious and inconvenient task this summer was processing 100 pounds of fruit in a few days. Just the other day I bought 75 pounds of peaches, plums and nectarines. Plus the pears I picked with Local Kitchen the other day were on the verge of exploding. I needed to move on these fruits! So, I hustled and froze a LOT of it, because I can make jam another day when it's nice and cold, as I've noted. And I juiced a lot, because most of the fruit was super small (hence the good deal I got on it). I made pear and apple sauce which will become butters. What's great about juicing is that after draining off the juice, you often have pulp leftover, which can be puree, sauce or butter, depending on how you want to roll.

Next week I will elaborate on a few of these recipes, but for now I'm heading to the beach for two days before the cold sets in! Congrats to Jordan, and congrats to people who are cooking real food!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tomato Ketchup: August Can Jam

Okay, so this month's issue of the Tigress' Can Jam was all about tomatoes. How do I know? I picked it! So, along with my assorted eight tomato plants, I also bought fifty pounds of tomatoes from the nice folks who farm a few miles away from me. They were all heirlooms, and one case was "softs," and one was the good stuff. It was more tomatoes than I've ever purchased before, and I had quite a marathon. Especially since I had also purchased a case of peaches at the same time. Ahem. Can you say crazy person?

That, my friends, was a darned lot of blanching. I will also tell you this: instead of using a billion ice cubes for your water bath, why not use an ice pack? I did and it made things much easier. Especially if your water is running warm, just pop another one in. Ice is a pain.

There were a lot of things I made, and there are many things still left to make. Tomato preserves and tomatillo salsa are two of them. The chipmunks are eating all my husk tomatoes, so that's not happening. I made Fresh Vegetable Salsa from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and Tomato Basil Sauce from Canning and Preserving with Ashley English. I also made a ton of ketchup. And I know a lot of people are making ketchup these days, and I say Kudos! Because it's a long, splattery road, but the rewards are well worth it.

That said, I had a plan to make it easier. And it's nothing no one's done before. But I'd like to toot it on a horn, because I like the idea so much. And it's this: use your crock pot! Or slow cooker! Whatever you call it, just use it. Because then you can just walk away from it while it sloooowly cooks. Or let it cook while you sleep. Even better. And can it up when you want. Just make sure it is fully heated up before you jar the goodness. As a two-year old friend of mine says, "Oh, my goody!"

I used two recipes, one was the Joy of Cooking's Tomato Ketchup recipe, using it for spice and flavoring, and Food In Jars' Slow Cooker Blueberry Butter for measurements and inspiration. I made two batches. The first one was just from JoC, and it was way too much for the pot to handle. It took almost a day to cook and still it is rather thin, but the flavor was just what I look for in a ketchup. I realized I needed to make a smaller batch (ten pints is a bit much, no?), and to make sure I drained it before pureeing it.

8 cups of peeled, drained and puréed tomatoes and one medium yellow onion, diced.
Basically, I blanched the tomatoes to remove the skins. Then I roughly chopped them and drained them in a sieve. Then I pureed them in the food processor. I chose not to food mill it, and the seeds stayed in. I thought this might keep some pectin in for thickness, and also, it was easier. The onions were left in a rough dice, as I intended to use the immersion blender on it in the end.

Into the crock pot on low for six hours. For the first hour, keep the lid on. After that, I propped it with a wooden spoon. The next time I will keep the lid off the entire cooking time. Tomatoes have so much water I do believe they can afford this step. However, as in FiJ's recipe for fruit butter, fruit might suffer.

Then add sugar and spice, take off the lid and put it on high.
2/3 cup of dark brown sugar
A few cloves of peeled garlic
A spice sack: cinnamon stick, bay leaf, black peppercorns, allspice berries, celery seed
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 or 2 teaspoons of salt, to taste

I use these neat little packets that are made for tea for my spices

Taste it! Then can it!
Make sure the consistency seems right to you. Remove your spices. Use the immersion blender if you so desire. Then, having prepared for this step before hand, can it. That is, have your jars warmed and sterilized, fill them to 1/2 inch headspace, and process them in a boiling water bath for fifteen minutes. My yield was four pints, plus a little for the fridge.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Lost Art of Real Cooking - Give Away!

A while back, I received this special little book in the mail, The Lost Art of Real Cooking by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger. I was immediately taken with it, and since then, it's been moving around the house with me, sitting on my night stand and taking up residence in the kitchen. I intended to read it thoroughly before writing this, but due to the nature of the book, I wandered a little. I got carried away. I picked it up and put it down. I don't think the authors would mind this a bit. I think this book wants you to open it up and just delve into it. It doesn't necessarily need a read through. And it can be revisited over and over.

Eclectic, esoteric, irreverent were some of the words used to describe this book of sometimes "laborious and inconvenient" things to make. It's not so much a book of recipes, as it is a book of cooking ideas. Take the pretension out of many of the delicacies that you find being peddled at fancy food establishments, and a good deal of the time you'll find food that folks like you and me have been making for hundreds of years.

There are many sections to get lost in, from fermented vegetables to fermented beverages, bread making, meat curing, fresh pasta, grains and desserts. And don't forget jams! There is a good sense of humor, from both writers, who take turns explaining their respective topics. Albala is a professor of history (and author of many books), so you'll get some interesting information on say, a medieval pig recipe. Nafziger is a chef and editor who hails from West Virginia, and likes to reference her homespun West Virginian upbringing.

Some of the things that fascinated me was learning about Koji mold and utilizing wild yeasts for your bread making. I wanted to follow the recipe for a gallon of beer, but I haven't yet gotten there. Talk about inconvenient food, Albala tells you how to make and grind your own malt. Apparently, the purist home brewers he talked to scoffed at this idea, and he went ahead and did it anyway. I applaud this gumption, but go read the description on how to grind malt! (But then again, I have no problem taking days to make a jam or jelly.)

The book itself is formatted like an old-timey cookbook, which if you're like me, and have piles of cookbooks spilling out of your bookshelves, you know all about. Vaguely cryptic and sometimes insufficient in detail, these kinds of books have recipes like little pieces of flash fiction, all of a paragraph long. In The Lost Art of Real Cooking, the narrative is the route taken on most of these, and I'll be honest, it flusters me sometimes. Although I like to wing it, and make things my own, I do like bullet points and clarity. But it teaches a great lesson: get in there and just do it, all ready! Stop shilly-shallying and make the goshdarn fermented pickles already!

So, I'll admit it. I've made a great deal of cucumber pickles in my life, but never fermented them! Gadzooks! Please don't think less of me. I've jumped this hurdle, and made it safely on the other side. Why, you ask? Oh, I don't know. I've fermented other things, but cucumbers just didn't make the list. This book nudged me. It said: come on, just put some cucumbers in some water, salt, spices and vinegar and just do it already. It's one of the nicest parts of this book. It's encouragement makes you feel like you made the decision yourself, when in fact they were nudging you all along.

The Pickles:

I packed my garden's cucumbers into a sterilized half-gallon mason jar. I put in two garlic cloves, and some pickling spices, a bay leaf, and a dried hot pepper. I covered it in a brine made of 1/2 cup of kosher salt mixed with 8 cups of water. I stuck a glass in the jar (which I saw being done on a blog, but I can't remember which one! What a great idea!) to weigh the cucumbers down, keeping them submerged under the liquid. I put the jar in the basement, and almost three weeks later, I had the most incredible, crunchy, salty, sour pickles I have ever had. And I've had some good pickles.

P.S. Check out Ken Albala's blog at
and Rosanna Nafziger can be found blogging here:

To win a free copy of this liberating book, leave me a comment below and tell me what inconvenient and laborious foods you've been making this summer! You have until midnight, Wednesday, August 25 when the winner will be picked by the random-number generator. Please make sure to leave an e-mail address if you don't have a blog linked to your comment, so I can find you if you win!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wild Berry Jam

Who doesn't love scoring something for free?

I am all for it. Especially when it's blackberries...

and raspberries.

It's enough to make a girl want to celebrate!

Here's my take on a mixed berry jam. I had my doubts, but it came out perfectly. I was worried about a slight bitterness in the blackberries, that I think was due to our hot, dry summer. And the gel was suspect. But in the end, the flavor smoothed out and the gel gelled. I think I can thank the nice set to the many under ripe blackberries I picked.

9 cups of berries, I did raspberries and black berries
3 cups of sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Put them all in your pot and slowly bring to a boil. Mine set at 216 degrees, and that took sixteen minutes, from boil time to turning off the heat. I processed for ten minutes.

Note: my measurements are pretty standard for berry jam, based on a quite a few books I consulted, however, I like to always point out that I have not tested these. My recipe is closest to Linda Ziedrich's recipe from Joy of Jams and Jellies, but her recipe uses weight and mine volume on the berries.

And this is what happens when you try to use a sweet little jar you found in your grandma-in-law's basement. A sweet mess all over.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pulled Pork and Slaw

I'm cleaning out the pantry (still!) and was wondering what to do with the two pints of green tomato chutney left from last year's blight-y tomato season. You know, I like green tomato chutney as much as the next gal, but there is a limit to what you can put that stuff on. So, what did I do? Got a nice, big picnic shoulder and busted out the crock pot, or slow cooker, if you will, to do a little bit of pulled pork. Why hide your crock pot during the winter? Not only can you make fruit butter in it, as I learned from Marisa at Food in Jars, but it makes for good overnight cooking when the house is at its coolest. The only down side is that I'm not particularly fond of waking up to the smell of pulled pork. Coffee is more like it, you know? But I'm always psyched that dinner is made, and I'm free to do other things.

All I did was pour the two jars in the pot, lay the meat on the sauce, and set the cooker for ten hours on low. When I got around to it, I shredded the meat with two forks. It needed some doctoring flavor-wise, but you know what that was? Some brine from the spicy garlic pickles I made recently! More jar-judo! (No, I don't entirely know what that means, but it sounded good. Come on, you know what I mean!)

Then, to round out the meal, I sliced some slaw and tossed it with the last jar of Carrot and Daikon Radish Pickle. I let it sit for an hour so the cabbage softens. A few ears of fresh local corn, and you have quite a hearty meal just by opening a few jars. And it's still all homemade!