Beverages, condiment, Dairy, Desserts, Recipes, Side dishes

Making Buttermilk

Now, some of you might be asking, why would you want to do that? Well, buttermilk is probiotic. It’s a culture/ferment that uses lactobacilli to alter the chemistry of milk. I must confess, I do not drink the stuff, although my father loved it. One of his favorite snacks was a big glass of buttermilk poured over a bowl of cold, crumbled cornbread, with a couple of fresh green onions from the garden on the side. I never developed a taste for that dish, but I have learned that buttermilk in baked goods lends a lightness only rivaled by sourdough. And it is excellent in salad dressings, and as a marinade for chicken, so I’ve been told, though I’ve never done it. I’ve come to love the stuff, and I keep a small jar of it in my fridge at all times. I enjoy knowing I have something freshly probiotic to mix into a salad dressing, for instance. I’ll be sharing a couple of my favorite buttermilk recipes with you in future posts.

Making your own buttermilk is ridiculously easy. All you have to do is mix 1/3rd cup of cultured buttermilk from the store with 1 cup of fresh milk. Shake it up in jar with a good lid, let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours, and you’ll have buttermilk. On the left is the old jar, with what’s left of the buttermilk I made a couple of days ago, and on the right is the fresh batch that will be ready in 24 hours.

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You’ll know it’s ready when you tilt the jar and the buttermilk pulls away from the side of the jar. It will be thick and viscous.

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At this point, it will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

I’ve learned through experimentation that the more often you culture buttermilk, the tangier and thicker your buttermilk will become. Also, you can make buttermilk from milk of any fat content, but the more fat, the thicker the buttermilk tends to be. Buttermilk mixed into half and half or heavy cream will produce sour cream that is similar to crème fraiche. For that recipe, click here.  You can use this cultured cream just as you would any sour cream or crème fraiche, in dips, in baking, as a topping for baked potatoes or cheesecake!

Always save 1/3 cup of cultured buttermilk to mix with 1 cup of fresh milk for a new batch. Of course, you can double or triple these amounts, keeping the same proportions, if you wish to make a larger volume of buttermilk.

Check back with me in a few days for a recipe using fresh, homemade buttermilk.

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condiment, Gluten-free, Recipes

Stick Blender Healthy Mayonnaise

How many of you have given up mayonnaise because of health reasons? How many of you have tried making mayonnaise with a more nutritious oil, only to end up with a gloopy mess in your blender or bowl that didn’t amalgamate? There is a better way.

Do you have a stick blender (a.k.a. immersion blender)? An egg? Some good oil? Some fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar? If so, you have the makings of the easiest,  healthiest, and best mayonnaise you’ll ever taste.

Recently, I read an article about twenty-one foods that were supposed to not only prevent arterial plaque build-up but to actually clear out plaque deposits. One of those foods was avocado. Now it happens that I had just found quite a bargain on avocado oil, normally rather expensive, at our local Grocery Outlet. And it also happens that I was out of mayonnaise and couldn’t find a brand I wished to buy. I’ve gotten rather picky about my mayo in the last few years, and I don’t buy bargain brands of mayonnaise any more. They just don’t taste right.

So, avocado oil, no mayo, and an ah-ha moment. I’d read about stick blender mayo about a year ago, had meant to try it, and had just never gotten around to it. Besides, there’s not much point in making mayonnaise when you have a great big jar of Best Foods from Costco sitting in your fridge. But now, convergence.

There are so many different stick blender mayo recipes on the internet, it was hard to choose one. Then a particular recipe was recommended to me, so that’s where I started. Here is the link to the recipe I began with, although I altered it a bit, and ended up with the most delicious mayo I’ve ever tasted. Dennis didn’t really want to taste it because he’s not that fond of mayonnaise and usually only puts spicy brown mustard on his sandwiches, but when I insisted, he said, “Mmmm. Wow, that’s good. Way better than store bought. I’m going to start putting that on my sandwiches from now on.”

I rest my case.

Stick Blender Mayonnaise

1 large egg*

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (I used my homemade apple scrap vinegar)

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon plain active culture yogurt** (I used my homemade yogurt)

1 cup light tasting oil *** (I used avocado oil.)

Now, this is where the fun begins. You need a container to hold your ingredients that will also hold your stick blender. I used a jar I’d saved, because I could mix the mayo right in the vessel I intended to store it in. You can use a plastic container, or a deep bowl, and transfer your mayo after it’s made to any storage container you like.

Put all the ingredients in the order listed into the vessel of your choice. Let the egg settle to the bottom of the vessel, then put your stick blender all the way to the bottom of the vessel and turn it on. You’ll see mayonnaise forming almost right away. Move the blender around and up and down a little to mix in all the oil. The entire process only takes about 30 seconds.

When all the oil has been mixed and your mayo is creamy white and thick, you’re done.

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Turn off the blender, remove it from the vessel, and scrape off all that lovely lusciousness. Your mayonnaise should last for several weeks in the fridge. Because it contains no preservatives, it will not last indefinitely like store bought mayonnaise. But that’s okay—it’s so easy to make, whenever you run out, a fresh batch is only 30 seconds away!

Notes: *Using raw eggs scares some people. There’s a process for pasteurizing eggs at home if you’re one of those folks. I just use the freshest eggs I can buy whenever I have a raw application, and I don’t worry about it. In this case, I think the combination of oil and acids in the vinegar (lemon or lime juice can also be used) and mustard, as well as the salt, makes for a pretty safe combination. And the addition of the **active culture yogurt is also said, according to some, to keep the mayonnaise fresh longer.  I found a recipe for coconut oil mayonnaise, not made with a stick blender, but which I would very much like to try with a stick blender, that uses Greek yogurt and whey. Whey is simply what drains from the yogurt and contains the lactobacilli which make milk into yogurt, so adding active culture yogurt has the same effect.  ***For oil, you can use any light-tasting oil: extra-light olive oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, walnut oil. Strongly flavored oils, like extra virgin olive oil, may cause your mayo to be too strongly flavored.  I stay away from canola oil because it is one of the commercial crops sprayed with glyphosate herbicides.

I now have about 1 ½ cups of avocado oil mayonnaise so good I can’t decide exactly what I’m going to do with it. Sandwiches, of course, maybe some tuna salad or egg salad. Homemade buttermilk salad dressing? Potato salad? How about a little mayo mixed with some lemon juice and lemon zest as a sauce for steamed broccoli or asparagus, or perhaps a dip for artichokes? I am going to have some fun!

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Canning, condiment

Tomato-Apple Chutney

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I found this recipe some years ago in my old Ball Blue Book from 1981. I made it back then and haven’t made it since because it requires having apples and tomatoes at the same time. Yes, I could buy either apples or tomatoes, but I like using what’s in season in my garden. This year, I have lots of both apples and tomatoes at the same time, so I decided to make a batch of this slightly sweet but tangy condiment. I’ve played with the recipe to spice it up a bit, but I’ve been careful to maintain the same ratio of non-acid foods to acid foods and vinegar to maintain a proper balance for water-bath canning.

Tomato-Apple Chutney

2 ½ quarts peeled, cored, chopped, ripe tomatoes (about 15 large)* (see note below about peeling tomatoes)

1 quart cored, peeled, chopped apples (6-8 medium apples—use tart pie apples for more flavor)

2 cups chopped summer squash (tender-skinned yellow squash or zucchini) or cucumber, unpeeled, large seeds removed

1 ½ cups chopped onion

1 ½ cups chopped peppers (*mix of sweet red and hot peppers, see note below)

1 cup seedless raisins

1 clove garlic, crushed and minced

3 cups brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon kosher or pickling salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 cups apple cider vinegar, 5% acidity

Combine all ingredients in large kettle or pot. Bring to boil and cook uncovered, slowly, until thick, about 2 hours (longer if you have very juicy heirloom tomatoes, like I did). Stir frequently to prevent sticking. (Or use my oven cook method, which takes longer but avoids the need to stir as often—bake uncovered at 300 degrees until as thick as salsa; return to boiling on stove top before filling jars.) Pour boiling into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch head space. Cap and process 10 minutes in boiling water bath, adjusting time if necessary according to altitude chart.

Notes: I really hate dunking tomatoes in boiling water and peeling them. It uses a lot of water, and there is an easier way which nets you more flavor and a nice by-product. I’ve talked about this method before in my post on Charred Salsa. Instead of scalding the tomatoes, cut them in half, cut out the cores, put them on a foil-covered cookie sheet, and stick them under the broiler until the skin blackens and loosens from the fruit.

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It’s easy then to remove the skins and set them aside on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. The skins go into the oven at 200 degrees for a couple of hours to dry, and then you can grind them to powder in a blender. The picture below was the first batch of dried tomato skin powder I ever made, a couple of years ago.

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See the following posts for ways to use dried tomato skin powder:  Dried Tomato Skin Rub and Pulled PorkBraised and Barbecued Pork Spareribs, Spicy Sausage and Lentil Soup, Bear and Mushroom Fricassee with Creamy Polenta.  (Don’t let the bear scare you–you can use other meats, and there is a list of possibles on the post.)  Dried tomato skin powder can also be used to punch up the flavor of sauces made with fall’s box-ripened tomatoes.  I’ll be sharing my recipe for red tomato sauce (for Italian dishes) made with box-ripened tomatoes in a future post, so save those tomato skins!

Now, back to the chutney. After the peel has been removed from the tomatoes, you can give them a quick buzz in the food processor to chop them (they pretty much puree, but that’s okay). This method of broiling and processing the tomatoes greatly speeds up the chutney-making.

Peppers: I use a mix of sweet red peppers and hot peppers. I use about 1 ¼ cups of sweet red bell peppers, and ¼ cup of hot peppers. If you want a spicier chutney, reduce the amount of sweet red peppers in proportion to the amount of hot peppers you add.  (For instance, use 1 cup chopped sweet red peppers and 1/2 cup chopped hot peppers.)  DO NOT EXCEED THE TOTAL AMOUNT OF 1 1/2 CUPS OF PEPPERS. If you do, your chutney may not be safe to can in a water-bath canner. If you want your chutney very spicy, use a hotter pepper, like a habanero, rather than a jalapeno. I used several ripe and green jalapenos and two ripe serrano peppers from my garden, chopped to equal ¼ cup. I seeded the peppers because I did not want the seeds in my chutney, but if you want a hotter product, leave in the seeds and membranes of the hot peppers. This is where much of the capsaican is stored in the pepper.  My chutney carries a nice warmth in the mouth, but it’s not going to make anybody spit it out and say, “That’s way too hot for me!”

It is very important not to exceed the amounts of any non-acid food in a recipe intended for water-bath canning. This includes the onions, squash or cucumbers, and garlic, as well as the peppers. I was very tempted to try using fresh ginger instead of dried ground ginger, but I did not want to inadvertently throw off the acid balance. Better safe than sorry. And it is delicious as is.

Tomato-apple chutney is excellent alongside roast pork, roast chicken or grilled chicken breast, or even a grilled steak. Try it as an appetizer, too, topping cream cheese on a cracker or crispy toast round.

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If you make some tomato-apple chutney, be sure to let me know what you pair with it.

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Canning, condiment, Recipes

Charred Salsa

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What would you say if I told you that you could make salsa without peeling peppers? To me, peeling peppers is the worst part of salsa making, and it’s avoidable. How, you ask? Well, it’s pretty simple. You just char them under the broiler. Then they don’t have to be peeled. They can be chopped in the food processor (do it with the other vegetables to avoid the sensation of being hit in the face with pepper spray when you open the top) without peeling.

In fact, if you want to make the best salsa you’ve ever canned, char everything. Yes, that’s right. Put all the vegetables under the broiler and char them all. I know, it sounds nuts, but it works.

The salsa recipe I use is from a book called Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff. I highly recommend the book because Krissoff’s recipes teach techniques that you can then use to create your own recipes.  I learned to make yogurt, apple pectin stock, and old-fashioned, lower-sugar jams and jellies from this book. And charred salsa. And oh my, that stuff rocks! I don’t feel right about copying the recipe here (as a writer, I respect copyrights), but I think sharing the technique is okay. And I just did. Char everything under the broiler for the best salsa you’ve ever canned.

Use your favorite salsa recipe for proportions, but instead of scalding and peeling tomatoes, or roasting and peeling them and the peppers, broil them. Yes, I know I’m repeating myself, but I also know that you’re going to take some convincing. I did, at first.

Core and cut tomatoes in halves and place them cut side down on a foil-lined cookie sheet. (The foil keeps the veggies from sticking when they release their natural sugars as they cook.)  Pop them under the broiler in your oven on the top rack. Let them sizzle until each tomato has a big circle of blackened skin on top. (Yes, I know it sounds insane, but it’s good, trust me!) Slide the tomatoes and juice into a bowl to cool while you work on the rest of the veggies.

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Cut onions into quarters, put them on the foil-lined cookie sheets and under the broiler. Let them get blackened. Do the same thing with the garlic. (Now, I know this really sounds crazy, but again, trust me.) It’s best to put one thing at a time on the cookie sheets because obviously, garlic will not blacken at the same rate as onion.

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Now, for the beauty part, the peppers. As much as I hate peeling tomatoes, I really hate peeling hot peppers. In fact, I never do it. I never have to for salsa because I make charred salsa. (I know, if you’ve made a batch of salsa the traditional way already this year, I’m rubbing it in. Sorry.) I cut the peppers in half (I don’t seed mine because I like the heat, but go ahead and seed them if you wish—just wear gloves or be very, very careful) and place them cut side down on the foil-lined cookie sheet. Pop them under the broiler and let them get blackened.

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Watch out when you stick your head down to check them. You can get hit with a wave of released capsican as they’re cooking. After they’ve cooled, they release less of the stuff, even in the food processor. I use jalapenos and Serranos because I don’t like my salsa so hot I can’t eat it. This year, I had some ripe red peppers in the garden because I’m making salsa later than I usually do, and I love the mellow heat of ripe peppers. Usually, I’m stuck with green ones because that’s all I have.

All right, all the vegetables are broiled now, and are cooling. The tomatoes should be cool enough to handle, so dive in. If you want to drain off some juice to make sure your salsa is thick enough, now’s the time to do it. You can always add some juice back in later, and whatever juice is left over can be canned in pint jars with citric acid or lemon juice and salt, if you like, for 35 min. per pint. I did mine in quarts for 40 min.  I shook the jar on the left after it was cooled, before I took the picture.  It is normal for the juice to separate as in the jar on the right.

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Pull the skins off each tomato half. (They come off very easily.) Tear the charred skin away and put it in the food processor with the tomatoes. I know, you’re saying: WHAT? But yes, this is the point of broiling the tomatoes, so you can get the flavor of that blackened skin into the salsa. I don’t know why it’s so good, but it is. The blackened skin is crisp, not tough, and crumbles easily into little black flakes in the food processor. It actually makes the salsa look great in the jar and in a bowl when you open it. And I guarantee you that you will get rave reviews on this stuff when you open it. I do, every time. When my kids come to my house for a meal, one of the first things they ask is if I have any salsa left. I have to hide it, or I wouldn’t.  They’d take it all home with them.  They go through what I give them for Christmas and come back looking for more!

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Now, an interjection. Don’t throw away the rest of the tomato skins! Put the uncharred skins on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet and into a 170–200 degree oven. Let them sit there until the skins are dry and leathery and no moisture remains. Then whiz them up in a blender for tomato skin powder, which can be used in various ways. See my previous post for a great pork rub made using powdered tomato skins.

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Back to the salsa. Working in batches, chop all the veggies in the food processor. I do it this way: several peppers, a handful of onions, a couple of cloves of garlic. Chop, chop; add the tomatoes and blackened tomato skins. Whiz, whiz. Dump in large pot. Start over and keep going until everything is in the large pot.

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Every salsa recipe I’ve ever seen adds acid (vinegar or lemon juice), salt, and sugar at this point, and then calls for a short cooking time before the salsa goes in the jars. The recipe I use calls for apple cider vinegar, which gives a nice flavor to the salsa, but I also add lime juice because to me, you can’t have salsa without lime. It just wouldn’t be right. I also add about ¼ cup of chopped cilantro per batch just before the boiling salsa goes in the jars for the same reason. Salsa without cilantro? No way. A friend of mine adds a pinch or so of cumin. I haven’t tried that, but I bet I’d like that smoky flavor. Maybe with the next batch.

Whatever recipe you use, always pay attention to ratios. Tomatoes are acidic, yes, but peppers, garlic, and onions are not. That’s why you have to add acid to make salsa safe for water-bath canning. Don’t add extra peppers if you want hotter salsa. Use hotter peppers. Don’t add more garlic or onions than your recipe calls for. And always add the recommended dose of acid in the form your recipe calls for. I use lime juice in addition to, not as a substitute for, the vinegar in my recipe. Extra acid won’t hurt, but you can’t skimp on it and be safe.

If you use vinegar, there’s something you should know. Boiling vinegar for an extended time can evaporate the acid in it, so if you are making a large batch of salsa, like I usually do, turn off the heat on the salsa pot and put a lid on it when the first batch of jars go into the canner for processing. Don’t let the salsa sit and simmer. When the processing time on the first batch is done and you are ready to remove the jars from the canner, turn the heat back on under the salsa pot, take off the lid, and bring it back to boiling before filling a fresh batch of jars. This will ensure that you don’t boil off your acid.

Having made salsa with broiled vegetables for several years now, I’m convinced this method produces the best-tasting salsa I’ve ever had, or made. I know it sounds crazy to put blackened tomato skins into the salsa, and right up until I tasted the salsa, I thought it was nuts, but one taste did it. Give blackening your veggies a try; I bet you’ll agree with me. And the bonus? You don’t have to skin any peppers!

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Canning, condiment, Recipes

Vanilla-Infused Cranberry-Rhubarb Butter

There are such things as happy accidents, even in the kitchen. This is the story of one.

I have been cleaning out the freezer to make room for the current crop of berries: raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries. I always freeze these berries before making jams or other kinds of preserves from them for a couple of reasons. One, I’m too busy in the summer when they’re ripe to deal with them; two, they render more juice after being frozen and thawed. So in my quest to make more space in the freezer, I found a quart bag and gallon bag of rhubarb which I’d sliced and frozen I will not say how long ago. Let’s put it this way—I considered throwing it away, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Surely there must be some way to use it, I thought. I started trawling the internet for rhubarb jam recipes, but all of them called for fresh stalks, and I wasn’t sure how frozen would work. Then I came across a couple of rhubarb syrup recipes. Ooooh, that should work, thought I. While I was in Denver with my daughter, we’d paid a visit to the Ikea store and found some rhubarb syrup for making cocktails and spritzers. It was very good. So the thought of using my old rhubarb for syrup struck a chord. The recipe I settled on is at http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-rhubarb-syrup-pantry-recipes-from-the-kitchn-84304#recipe.

However, as usual, I can’t leave well enough alone. I had eight cups of previously frozen rhubarb, and I put it on to cook with less than the amount of water called for in the recipe because when it thawed, the rhubarb released a lot of water. I used the amount of sugar called for in the recipe but doubled it because I had twice the amount of rhubarb.   And I threw a vanilla bean in the pot because I have some beans that must be used soon, and because I saw a rhubarb jam recipe that called for a vanilla bean, and I thought, why not?  I got the rhubarb, sugar, vanilla bean, and water simmering on the stove and went out to pull beets. (I also pickled beets the day I made the cranberry-rhubarb butter.) By the time I came back, the rhubarb had really broken down. As in, it was thick! How was I going to make syrup out of this stuff? Also, it was an unattractive beige-y green color. I wanted it red. Most of my rhubarb is not red, so I am used to the greenish color in pies, but in a syrup, I wanted red. Also, if I was going to make jam out of the pulp, as suggested in the recipe, I wanted it to be a toothsome color. Beige-y green is not toothsome. So I threw in a handful of red plums from the orchard tree and a handful of boysenberries Dennis had just brought in. They made no difference at all to the color and no discernable difference in taste.

What did I have, bar food coloring, to turn this rhubarb mess red? Well, beets, but I didn’t think that combination would taste all that great. I went back to the freezer. Didn’t I have a bag of cranberries in there somewhere? Yes, I did. I’d bought extra cranberries at Thanksgiving and frozen them, thinking I’d try some kind of cranberry jam at some point. I had about a quart. I started throwing them in by the handfuls, hoping to see some change in color, until I had thrown in the whole bag. At that point, I tasted the mess and decided that it needed more sugar, although I could have lived with it as it was. I added another cup of sugar. I still wasn’t satisfied with the color, so back to the freezer I went. Wasn’t there a bag of whole cranberry sauce in there? I made too much at Thanksgiving and froze the extra in sandwich bags, then put them in a gallon bag to keep them together. I’d been using it up one bag a time with roasted Cornish game hens. Yep, there it was, the last bag, about a cup and a half of cranberry sauce (which is just cranberries, sugar, and water). I threw that in the pot as well, and finally, as it melted, I had a nice reddish color.

All right, what was I going to do with this stuff now? It had been cooking for some time at this point, and was looking very jam-like, but fibrous, from the broken down rhubarb. It tasted delicious, and at this point, I knew I had a winner in the taste category, but I wasn’t sure what the final product would be. I decided to see if I could get a little syrup out of it, because I thought it would please my daughter. I couldn’t find my jelly bag (remember, I’ve been gone from home for a month—I found it later that day at the bottom of a basket of clean laundry, and for the life of me, I still can’t remember what I used it for before I left!), so I had to improvise with some nylon tulle stuffed into a cone colander. I left the cranberry-rhubarb stuff dripping and went on to work on my beets.

After a couple of hours, with the beets boiling, I returned to the stuff. I had about 2 ½ cups of red syrup in the bottom of the pan under the colander—good enough, says I. I removed the syrup, bottled it in a jar, and got it processing in the water bath canner, while I started rubbing the solids through the colander. I do this the old-fashioned way, with a hardwood pestle. I gave my Squeezo Strainer to my son. I just like the process with the pestle, the way I grew up doing it with my mom.

I ended up with 7 1/2 pints of what I’m calling vanilla-infused cranberry-rhubarb butter. That’s because the consistency of it reminds me very much of apple butter and pear butter: smooth and spreadably thick, rich, glossy, and, by the way, delicious. The pectin in the rhubarb and cranberries thickens and glosses up the butter, just the way apple skins and pear skins do with those kinds of butters. It’s tart-sweet, just the way I like preserves, and you can taste both the cranberries and the rhubarb. Who knew that would be such a great combination? I didn’t. But, yum. Here’s the recipe, should you be inclined to try this yourself.  And by the way, the beets turned out beautifully too.  You can see some of the heirloom beets in the front row of the pic below, cranberry-rhubarb syrup and butter on the right.

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Vanilla-Infused Cranberry-Rhubarb Syrup and Butter

8 cups sliced rhubarb, along with any juice (mine was frozen, then thawed)

4 cups cranberries (mine were also frozen)

1 ½ cups of homemade cranberry sauce (see directions below)

1 split vanilla bean

5 ½ cups sugar

3 cups water

Boil all ingredients together until rhubarb and cranberries are soft. Taste and add more sugar by ½ cup measure until desired sweetness is reached. Remove vanilla bean. If you wish to render syrup, pour the fruit and juices into a jelly bag and hang until it stops dripping. Syrup can be processed as is in sterile pint or half-pint jars in water bath canner for 10 minutes, or thickened by boiling and reducing, then processed for 10 minutes in boiling water bath canner.

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For butter: Strain the fruit mixture through a cone colander or other strainer to remove fibers and cranberry skins. If the resulting mash is not thick enough, it can be reduced on the stove top or in the oven until desired thickness is achieved. (I recommend a 300-degree oven, as reducing on the stove top leads to splatters on walls, as my kitchen will attest.) Reheat to boiling, spoon into sterile, hot pint jars and process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.  Always adjust processing times for your altitude, if necessary.

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Now, if you’re not making whole-berry cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, why not? It’s simple, delicious, and you will know exactly what three ingredients go into it!

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

12 oz. bag of whole cranberries

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

Heat water and sugar to boiling, add cranberries, watch ‘em pop! Bring to boil, lower to simmer for 10 min. Remove pan from heat and cool to room temperature to allow sauce to thicken before refrigerating. This stuff keeps forever in the fridge, and it can be frozen and thawed months later.

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condiment, Dairy, Fermenting, Main dishes

Fun with Dairy: Homemade Sour Cream

This is the first part of a series I’m calling “Fun with Dairy.”  Part I:  Sour Cream.  I’ve discovered how to make sour cream, and I’m so enchanted with it, I have to share it with you.  In addition, I’ve made yogurt and ricotta cheese at home for years, and while I’ve resisted blogging about it thus far because there are plenty of instructions for making these things already on the internet, I’ve come to realize that not all of them are good instructions.  Sometimes those recipes are poorly written, and sometimes, there’s just a better way to do it, and sometimes, a combination of methods works better.  So, in future posts, I’ll deal with making yogurt, the foolproof way I’ve been making it for years, and ricotta cheese, which I make for my roasted eggplant lasagna.  There will be other “Fun with Dairy” posts in the future, but first, sour cream.  And as a bonus, at the end of this post is a recipe you can make with your delicious homemade sour cream.

I love sour cream, smooth and tangy.  I like to make veggie dips with it, and chip dips, and you cannot make stroganoff (see recipe below) without it.  And surprisingly, sour cream is ridiculously easy to make.

You only need three things to make sour cream at home:  a clean jar with a lid, some heavy (whipping) cream or half and half, and some buttermilk (cultured).  Oh, and a place on the counter to let the cream culture for a day or so.  Here’s how you do it.

Measure 1 cup of heavy whipping cream (or for lighter sour cream, less fat, 1 cup of half & half) into your clean jar.  Add ¼ cup of cultured buttermilk.  Put on the lid and tighten it.  Shake vigorously to incorporate the buttermilk into the cream or half & half.  Set the jar on your kitchen counter in plain sight where you won’t forget about it.  Wait 18-24 hours.  Open lid on jar.  The cream should have thickened enough to sit up on a spoon.  Taste it.  If it isn’t sour enough, you can leave it a few more hours, no more than 36 hours altogether.  Store in fridge.

Leftover buttermilk, which typically comes in quarts, can be portioned into smaller containers and frozen You can also make buttermilk salad dressing, the original ranch, which will probably be the subject of another post.  And if you add some cultured buttermilk to regular milk, you’ll get more buttermilk.  You’ll never have to buy buttermilk again.  More about that in another post.

After cooling in the fridge, the sour cream will thicken enough to actually mound on a spoon.  The lighter version made with half & half is as thick, and actually tastes more like commercial sour cream, as that made with heavy cream, which is richer-tasting.  Either version is good to use for a dip or anything else you’d use sour cream for (as a topping on burritos, nachos, or enchiladas, for example, or cheesecake).  In the pictures below, the photo on the left is of sour cream made with heavy whipping cream (you can see that it is yellower in the jar) and the photos in middle and on right are of light sour cream made with half & half and previously frozen buttermilk.

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Recently, I used my homemade sour cream in some stroganoff.  Stroganoff is typically made with beef, but I used . . . yeah, you guessed it, bear.  If you haven’t made stroganoff in a while, or if you’ve never made it, it’s time to give this old standard another look.  But don’t make the imitation stuff with canned mushroom soup, please.  I have no doubt homemade sour cream would improve the taste, but do use fresh mushrooms.  This homemade sour cream (the heavy cream version) gave the sauce a rich, tangy flavor that the Mighty Bear Hunter and I really enjoyed.

Here’s an easy recipe made with an economy cut of beef:  round steak.  You can also use stew meat, you just have to cook it a little longer to get it tender.  Can you use other red meats besides beef?  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know the answer is yes!  You can use venison, antelope, lamb, bison, elk, and, I imagine, moose (although that’s one meat I have yet to try.)

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Beef Stroganoff

1 ½ lbs. round steak or stew meat, cut against the grain into 1/8 inch slices

3 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 ½ cups beef or roasted vegetable stock

2 tablespoons ketchup (or 2 tablespoons ground dried tomato skins)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced (any small variety will do)

3 tablespoons flour (if you’re gluten-free like me, you can use brown rice flour)

1 cup sour cream

Heat oil or butter (or combination thereof) in 10 skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute mushrooms and onions for about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan, reserve.  Add another tablespoon of oil or butter if needed, brown meat strips, add garlic, cook for about 30 seconds.  Don’t let the garlic burn!  Add 1 cup stock, stirring to get the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, add the mushrooms and onions and their liquid, and the ketchup or dried tomato skin powder,and  heat to boiling.  Reduce heat, cover with tight-fitting lid, and simmer until meat is tender, 1-1 ½ hours.

When meat is tender, shake reserved stock with flour in a lidded jar until well-mixed, stir gradually into simmering meat mixture.  Bring to boil, cook for one minute, then stir in sour cream, heat through but do not let it boil!  Take off heat, serve over cooked, hot egg noodles (3-4 cups).  Traditionally, hot egg noodles are tossed with a tablespoon of butter and sprinkled with 1 teaspoon poppy seeds (try chia seeds for more Omega-3 fatty acids) before serving.  Makes about 6 servings.

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Canning, condiment, Main dishes

Glazed Pork Roast with Chinese Plum Sauce

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I had the great good fortune to be allowed to pick some Santa Rosa plums from a mature tree this past summer.  I wrote about that experience in an early post:  Scavenger.  I made a lot of red plum jam, which just might be my favorite jam of all time, and I made some Chinese plum sauce.  The sauce turned into an experiment because I was disappointed in the original recipe, but after working with it, I came up with a sauce I love and have used it as a barbecue sauce for chicken with delicious results.  This week, I decided to try it with pork, and I might just have created my new favorite dish: Glazed Roast Pork with Chinese Plum Sauce.  Dennis really enjoyed this juicy, flavorful pork roast.  I asked him if the recipe should go on the blog, and he mumbled “yes” with his mouth full.

Now, I realize that now is not the time to be making plum sauce from scratch because plums are not in season.  But I am going to give you the recipe below so that you can make your own plum sauce when plums are in season.  In the meantime, if you want to make this dish, or if you are not a canner, you can buy Chinese plum sauce.  If there are no stores near you which carry it, you can actually order it online from Amazon.  And if you happen to have some homemade plum jam on hand, I’m sure you could concoct some Chinese plum sauce using your jam as the base and adding soy sauce, onions, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and Chinese five spice powder.

But first, the recipe for the roast.  You might want to try it without the plum sauce, or you might want to try it with another sauce for glazing or dipping.  Sweet and sour sauce with pineapple would be good, or a sauce made with orange marmalade would be delicious too, with a little soy sauce, red pepper flake, ginger and five spice powder mixed in.  Any of these sauces would be excellent with the rub and braising liquid.  Think about the Chinese flavors you enjoy and get creative with your sauce.  But I do recommend the plum sauce.  It is sensational.

Glazed Roast Pork with Chinese Plum Sauce

1 jar Chinese plum sauce for glaze and dipping (see recipe below)

Pork Rub:

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon powdered ginger

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon dry mustard powder

½ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

2-3 lbs. boneless pork tenderloin or sirloin tip roast

Olive, vegetable, peanut, or safflower oil

Braising liquid (see note):

12 oz. ginger ale or lemon-lime soda (or any slightly sweet liquid will do—see my notes on braising liquids in my pulled pork post)

¼ teaspoon of dried ginger or three thin slices of fresh ginger root

¼ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

Mix rub ingredients thoroughly.  Pat meat dry with paper towel; oil meat.  Sprinkle all sides of meat with rub; pat into meat.  Wrap meat in plastic wrap, store in refrigerator to marinate 2-8 hours.  Bring meat out to warm up to room temperature about 20 minutes before searing.

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Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons of preferred oil in heavy Dutch oven.  On high heat, sear meat on all sides.  Reduce heat.  Add ginger ale (follow the link if you want to make your own homemade ginger ale, and if you use homemade ginger ale, you won’t need to add any ginger to the braising liquid), dried ginger or fresh ginger, and five spice powder slowly to the pan.  (Note:  Because pork tenderloins and sirloin roasts are typically very lean and have no fat on the outside to keep the meat moist, they can’t be roasted in an open oven without drying out, thus the braising liquid is needed to keep the meat moist and tender. This is not a recipe for a piece of meat that still has a thick rind of fat on it.  That piece of meat should be open-roasted on a rack.)  Bring braising liquid to boil, loosening all the brown bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven with a wooden spoon. Cover with lid and cook in oven for 30 min. per pound or until internal temperature registers 160-165 degrees.  (I recommend checking the temperature with a probe type meat thermometer after 45 min. with a two-pound roast.)

Remove lid from Dutch oven.  Spread ¼ cup Chinese plum sauce over top of meat.  Turn broiler to high, broil for about 5 minutes or until glaze is bubbly and caramelized.

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Remove meat from Dutch oven to carving board.  Let rest, loosely covered with foil, about 20 minutes. Carve in ½ inch slices, arrange on platter.  Drizzle with braising liquid from pan.  Serve with additional Chinese plum sauce for dipping.  Alternatively, you could slightly thicken the pan juices:  stir a teaspoon of cornstarch in a ¼ cup of water, add that to the au jus, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, for a glaze and sauce.  The pan juices are wonderfully flavorful, so whatever you do, don’t waste them!

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I served this glazed pork roast with stir-fried vegetables (carrots, celery, red peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, garlic), tossed at the end with a glaze made of ½ teaspoon cornstarch mixed into 1 tablespoon of water and ¼ cup of the au jus from the pork.  I put a dollop of Chinese plum sauce on the plate as well, for dipping.

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I also cooked some rice for Dennis, but the pork and vegetables were enough for me.  We had leftovers, so I put the sliced meat in a zipper-top bag and poured the leftover braising liquid over them.  The meat was even better the next day after soaking 24 hrs. in that braising liquid.  Never before have I had roast pork be better the next day!

Now, for the Chinese plum sauce.  There are lots of recipes for plum sauce out there, but this is the only one I have tried, and I love it so much I will never make another.  I have altered it to suit my tastes and make it my own.  This recipe calls for whole spices tied into a spice bag and cooked down with the plums.  It would be possible to substitute Chinese five spice powder for the whole spices.  I would start with a teaspoon of five spice powder and then taste, adding more until I liked what I had.  This is what I did with the sweetness and salt levels when I made my sauce.  I worked with it until I got that tart-sweet, slightly salty, spicy, plummy goodness that is great Chinese plum sauce.  Use your taste buds as you are cooking!  That’s what they’re for.

A word about the plums.  I think the type of plum you use is all-important.  Some recipes call for black plums, and others use Italian prune plums.  Both of these are sweet plums, and given my experience making jam with both of them, I don’t think they would make the best sauce.  I think red plums, like Santa Rosas, with their tart-sweet flavor profile, make the best sauce.  Santa Rosas have red skins and reddish-yellow flesh, and they make a bright red jam.  When you use red or Santa Rosa plums to make this sauce, you’ll get a deep burgundy color that is absolutely beautiful, not to mention delicious as well.

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Homemade Chinese Plum Sauce:

(Makes about 4 pints of sauce, enough to can or freeze for later!)

4 lbs. red plums, pitted and chopped

½ cup pitted prunes, chopped

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

¼ cup peeled, chopped fresh ginger root

½ cup rice vinegar (must be at least 4% acidity)

3-6 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or more to taste) *see note

1 ½-2 cups packed brown sugar (or more to taste) *see note

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste) *see note

1 cinnamon stick, broken in pieces

2 star anise

½ teaspoon black peppercorns

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

Pitting plums isn’t a lot of fun, but it must be done.  (If you are working with plums that aren’t freestones, you will have a lot of pits with flesh left on them.  Consider saving these for making plum vinegar.)  Once the plums are pitted, they can be chopped coarsely in a food processor.  The onion, garlic, ginger, and pitted prunes can also be chopped in the food processor.

Tie the spices into a spice bag or several layers of cheesecloth.  Place the spice bag, the chopped plums and other ingredients into a large, non-reactive pan (stainless steel or porcelain/enamel-coated or glass).  Note: Start with the lesser amounts of soy sauce, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cook on medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking.  Reduce heat and simmer until onions and plums are soft, about 30 minutes.

Remove the spice bag.  Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor (watch out for spitting steam—use a towel over the vent) in as many batches as necessary.  Don’t overload your blender or food processor.  You will just make a mess, waste your sauce, and possibly burn yourself.  Pour the sauce back into the pan and simmer, stirring to prevent sticking.  Taste the sauce and add more brown sugar, more soy sauce, or more red pepper flake if desired.  More rice vinegar can also be added if desired, and at this point, if you want to taste the sweet spices more, you can put the spice bag back in or add some Chinese five spice powder if you wish (start with a ¼ teaspoon and work up until you like the flavor).  Your sauce should be tart-sweet, slightly salty with the soy, and spicy but not hot.  You should be able to taste the sweet spices and feel just a bit of heat on your tongue from the red pepper flakes as well.  I added enough soy sauce and brown sugar to equal the larger amounts given in the recipe, and an extra pinch of red pepper flake, and I added some Chinese five spice powder, about 1/4 teaspoon as well, until the sauce tasted right to me.

Cook the sauce until it thickens slightly.  It won’t be as thick as jam, but almost.  A good consistency is that of canned tomato sauce.

At this point the sauce is ready to use.  You should have about 4 pints of the stuff but you might have less, depending on how much you cooked it down.  The sauce can be frozen in plastic containers or zip top bags or freezer safe jars, but I like to can mine in half-pint jars in a water-bath canner.  I’ll use half of the jar, typically, for one dish, and the other half for another dish in a week or so.  (It’s excellent on grilled chicken as a glaze.)  The sauce keeps well in the fridge even after being opened.

To can the sauce, clean jars should be sterilized for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath first, then filled with boiling sauce to within a ¼ inch of the tops, capped with hot flats and rings, and processed in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes, or longer if you live at altitudes above 1000 ft.  Consult an altitude chart for correct processing times for your altitude.

As with most good things, Chinese plum sauce requires some time and effort, but the work involved is well worth it, in my opinion.  I’m looking forward to making more this summer.

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