Archive for the ‘Condiments’ Category

The Homemade Pantry

Friday, July 20th, 2012

I read a lot of cookbooks, although I don’t use a lot of them; I’m too busy tinkering with my own recipes! The books I enjoy the most are the ones that give the reader a sense of the author’s personality as well as his or her philosophy of food.

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making fits these criteria beautifully. The publisher, Clarkson Potter, recently sent me a review copy.

The book’s author, Alana Chernila of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is hugely likable. (One also meets the 30-something cook’s attractive husband and two daughters in the course of reading the book.) And her passion for making as much food as possible in the home is infectious.

At the book’s beginning, Chernila lists her reasons for making food from scratch:

1. Food made at home is better for you.
2. Food made at home tastes better.
3. Food made at home usually costs less.
4. Food made at home eliminates unnecessary packaging.
5. Food made at home will change the way you think about food.

It’s hard to argue with her logic. Most of us are increasingly wary of additives in food. The simplest and most tasty way to avoid these is to control what goes into what we eat. We’re all looking for yummy, affordable food that won’t make too big a carbon footprint. And we all enjoy turning food into a joy as well as a necessity.

To me Chernila’s recipes fall into three categories. The first will be the least useful to people like me, who are country dwellers and routinely prepare many of these foods at home already.

My neighbors generally make their own applesauce, their own basic birthday cakes, and their own cornbread. If they have time and the season is good, they freeze fruits and vegetables for winter use as well. Chernila’s recipes for foods like these will interest readers like me—we’re all looking for new ways to do what we already do—but they won’t be essential.

The second category is more exotic. Chernila makes a number of foods that I have a feeling I may make only once but will enjoy making: butter, graham crackers (actually, I HAVE made these in the past, but her recipe looks better than mine!), mozzarella cheese, crème fraîche.

The third category encompasses practical foods that I can see incorporating into my regular menus: crackers, yogurt, and best of all condiments like mustard and hot sauce.

In fact, I have already made some mustard and have a photo to prove it!

Part of the charm of The Homemade Pantry is the informality and non-preachiness of its prose. A busy wife, mother, food writer, and selectman, Alana Chernila admits that her kitchen can look like a disaster … and that some days she doesn’t have time to make everything her family eats from scratch.

She does try, however. And so should the rest of us.

Homemade Pantry Mustard

We recently heard the parable of the mustard seed in church. Thanks to the parable, over the years mustard seeds have become a symbol of great things coming from small starts. It’s nice to remember that the seeds can literally create something a lot bigger than you would expect from looking at them as well!

Here is Alana Chernila’s mustard recipe, which I made last week. It makes a spicy mustard, but that suits me just fine.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown or yellow mustard seeds (I used yellow this time but have some brown seeds I’m going to try soon.)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons honey

Instructions:

Pour the mustard seeds into a medium mixing bowl and cover with water 3 inches higher than the seeds. Cover the bowl, and let it sit at room temperature for 12 hours.

Drain the water from the seeds, reserving at least 1/4 cup of the water. Combine the soaked mustard seeds, the vinegar, garlic, salt, honey, and 1/4 cup of the soaking water in a blender, and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a jar, cover, and refrigerate. If you can, wait for a week before using the mustard so that the flavors can blend; on Day One it tastes very mustardy!

According to Chernila this mustard lasts for 2 months in the fridge. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

Draining the seeds….

Hilo to Hawley Barbecue Sauce

Thursday, September 9th, 2010
 
 
Generally, I know what I’m going to get when I test a recipe. Every once in a while, however, I’m completely surprised.
 
Surprise was definitely the word of the day when I tried this recipe.
 
Devany Vickery-Davidson is a writer and ceramic artist who lives in Hawaii. Her blog, My Hawaiian Home, features delectable recipes and stories of her adventures in her tropical milieu. 

Her dog Valentine is NEARLY as cute as my Truffle. And Valentine has her own lei. (I refuse to show this picture to Truffle!)
 

Valentine in Paradise (Courtesy of Devany Vickery-Davidson)

 
Devany recently sent me her homemade ketchup recipe. I was determined to try it out.
 
I had a lot of tomatoes in the house (not enough, it turned out—Devany DID warn me that one needed a huge garden to make her recipe!). And my nephew Michael is a ketchup fanatic.
 
I adapted Devany’s Hawaiian-oriented recipe to reflect local ingredients around my home in Hawley, Massachusetts. Devany often uses palm vinegar; I used cider vinegar from Apex Orchards. She uses raw cane and brown sugar; I used maple syrup. She uses a Maui onion; I used a local Vidalia type.
 
I cooked and cooked and cooked the ketchup. When it was still wet but getting thicker I tasted it.
 
It didn’t taste ANYTHING like ketchup. My local cider vinegar was way too robust.
 
At the suggestion of my friend Chef Michael Collins I added more maple syrup and kept cooking. When I tasted the revised ketchup, it still wasn’t very ketchup like.
 
I was just about to give up when I tasted it again and experienced a moment of epiphany.
 
My concoction still didn’t taste anything like ketchup. BUT … it DID taste like really good barbecue sauce.
 
So that’s what I’m calling it.
 
You’ll only want to make this recipe if you have lots and lots of tomatoes in your garden or farm share; it’s quite expensive per ounce if you go out and buy the darn things.
 
It’s worth trying if you have a surfeit of tomatoes, however. It’s dark, sweet, and tangy—perfect barbecue sauce, in other words. 

Thank you, Devany, for leading me on this adventure! Whatever this stuff is called, it’s delicious.

 
Devany’s Sauce Adapted by Tinky
 
Ingredients:
 
1-1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1-1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
8 black peppercorns
1 fresh bay leaf or 1/2 dried bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 nutmeg nut, grated
12 pounds (5 kilograms) chopped tomatoes—6 to 7 quarts (Devany suggests using Roma or paste tomatoes, but any tomato will do; regular tomatoes, which I used, just have more liquid and will therefore yield less sauce.)
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
2 Serrano peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon kosher salt (Devany uses 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt, but I used what I had)
 
Instructions:
 
Place the vinegar in a saucepan. Tie the mustard seeds, allspice, celery seeds, cloves, and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth. Place the cheesecloth bag in the vinegar along with the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and nutmeg.
 
Bring the mixture slowly to a boil; then turn off the heat and let the vinegar sit with the spices for 1 hour. Discard the spices (except for the nutmeg, which will be in the vinegar!) and set the vinegar aside.
 
In a large nonreactive kettle combine the tomatoes, garlic, onion, and peppers. Heat the ingredients over medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid scorching on the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat; allow the mixture to simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
 
Stir in the spiced vinegar and continue to simmer for another 1/2 hour, still stirring from time to time.
 
Remove the pot from the heat and put the tomatoes and other vegetables through a food mill. Try to extract as much pulp and juice as you can. Discard the leftover solids, seeds, and skins.
 
Stir the maple syrup and salt into the tomato mixture, and return it to the heat. Continue to cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until your barbecue sauce achieves the desired consistency. (This took me about 4 hours.) 

I ended up with a little less than 1 quart of sauce, but one would probably achieve a larger yield (and a shorter cooking time) with the tomatoes Devany recommends.


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Chic Once More Tarragon Vinegar

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

 
Twenty years ago tarragon was THE chic flavor for gourmet vinegar.
 
And yet a couple of months ago when I was getting ready to make Green Goddess Dressing I could find neither fresh tarragon nor tarragon vinegar in stores!
 
(I’m sure they can still be found in some grocery stores, but they were not available near my brother’s house in Virginia.)
 
Tarragon is a lovely herb, with a special almost licorice-like flavor. I have no idea why or how it fell from grace. I firmly believe that it deserves to come back into fashion, however. And I’m doing my part to promote its renaissance.
 
First, I have planted tarragon outside my kitchen in Massachusetts as well as in my sister-in-law’s garden in Virginia.
 
Thinking ahead to the winter when my tarragon will be dormant, I have just made tarragon vinegar. My own tarragon plant is still dwarflike, but I was fortunately enough to find a huge bunch of lush tarragon at my CSA, Wilder Brook Farm.
 
If I want to make Green Goddess dressing in January I can substitute my vinegar for some of the lemon juice in that recipe. I can also make an herbal vinaigrette with the vinegar. Or a sweet-and-sour vinaigrette by mixing it with some of my strawberry vinegar.
 
Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll never go hungry again—at least not where tarragon is concerned.
 
Did I mention that the recipe couldn’t be simpler?
 
Tarragon Vinegar
 
Ingredients:
 
1 quart apple cider vinegar (I use the lovely vinegar made by Apex Orchards)
1/2 cup tarragon leaves
 
Instructions:
 
Heat the vinegar in a non-aluminum pan until it is just about to boil but not boiling. While it is heating, wash and dry the tarragon leaves, being careful not to crush them. Gently push the leaves into a warm, clean glass jar with a capacity greater than a quart. (I use an old liquor bottle—washed, of course.)
 
When the vinegar is warm pour it into the jar and close the jar loosely. Tighten the jar lid after the vinegar cools. Place the jar in a cool, dry place for 3 days, gently shaking it twice a day. Do NOT try to shake the bottle just after you pour in the hot vinegar as it may leak or explode.
 
Strain the vinegar through cheesecloth and funnel it into smaller bottles. If you like, you may place a sprig of tarragon in your bottles to help you remember what type of vinegar they contain. (Labels help, too.) 

Makes about 1 quart of vinegar.


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My Trip to Bountiful

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Alice's Cabin as seen from the Dam

 
I have always been moved by Horton Foote’s play/teleplay/screenplay The Trip to Bountiful. Its elderly heroine, Carrie Watts, longs to return to her rural childhood home. To her it represents youth, peace, joy, and love.
 
We all have our individual Bountifuls. Their sights, sounds, and textures speak to us of home, of happy childhood, of a close kinship with nature.
 
I’m lucky enough to be able to make visits from time to time to my own Bountiful. It’s located less than a mile from my home in Hawley, Massachusetts, in the summer community of Singing Brook Farm. 

My family rented Alice’s Cabin every summer from the time I was four until I was 21. The cabin is set in the woods, way down a curvy dirt road.

 

Alice’s Cabin perches right above Singing Brook Farm’s dammed up mountain stream and tennis courts—an ideal location for children. We could always see who was available for play.

 
Nowadays my brother David, my sister-in-law Leigh, and my nephew Michael rent the cabin each summer with a little contribution from me. They don’t stay for the entire summer so I always get to enjoy some time there.
 
I used to stay at the cabin in order to be alone. My mother can no longer be left by herself. So this summer she and I have spent a couple of nights together at Alice’s Cabin.
 
There are a few things I DON’T like about Alice’s Cabin. Since people don’t live in it for most of the year (with no insulation, a small wood stove for heat, and an above-ground water supply, the place can’t be used except in the summer) it tends to attract other residents—bugs, mice, and often a bat. It’s also a little nippy, even in the summer. 

Everything else I love. So does my mother. So do the dog and cat. The latter has unfortunately retired from mousing at the advanced age of 19; her celestial blue eyes are beautiful but blind.

Lorelei Lee adores this sofa, perhaps because the cover matches her eyes.

 
When my family first moved to a year-round house on the main road, in fact, I had trouble sleeping. I missed the brook’s lullaby.
 
Since we are regular tenants Singing Brook Farm lets us strew our stuff about. The cover art for my cookbook hangs on a wall in the kitchen, and the cow painting given to me in graduate school by an artist, Ernie from Mars, looms majestically above the mantle. 

(Ernie and the cow deserve their own post one of these days. For the moment, let me just say that the cow is hard to miss.)
  

My own room (used by nephew Michael when he is in residence) is decorated with posters. Two of my favorites are a World War I-era announcement and a blown-up advertisement for one of my singing engagements.

 

Naturally, when we are at Alice’s Cabin my mother and I spend time down at the Dam. The water is cool—actually, COLD—but refreshing. Jan can’t go swimming unless she has more than one person to help her so sometimes we have to compromise.  

I am able to move her chair into the water so that she can cool her feet off. And she often enjoys just sitting near the Dam with Truffle. The air there is always cooler than it is way up on the main road. 

 
I don’t know how often we’ll be able to stay at Alice’s Cabin this summer since moving around tends to disorient my mother.
 
Even if I don’t go back at all, I’ll feel that my portion of the rent has been well spent. Sunday night after my mother went to bed, I sat happily reading in the living room with the animals by my side. As always, the sounds of the singing brook soothed me.
 
Like Carrie Watts, I felt a sense of peace and renewal. I was home.
 
As a bonus, I experienced a spectacular sunset—something I don’t get to see at my regular house since the Casa Weisblat faces east. (Sunrises are completely wasted on me.) 

What—and where—is YOUR Bountiful, readers?

 
Mint Syrup
 
I’ll bet you almost thought I was going to forget to include a recipe in this post!
 
This syrup smells just like the doorway to Alice’s Cabin. Mint grows wild outside the door, and it’s almost impossible not to step on it and release its aroma. (I don’t actually try very hard to avoid it.)
 
The recipe appears in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook. I like it in tea or lemonade. It also makes a lovely punch combined with iced tea, fruit juice, and ginger ale.
 
If you store your syrup for more than a couple of months, you may have to thin it out by heating it with additional water. Make sure it is either well sealed or refrigerated, or it will mold after a couple of weeks.
 
Ingredients:
 
8 sprigs fresh spearmint
8 sprigs fresh peppermint
(If you don’t have both, use twice as much of either.)
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 or 2 drops of green food coloring (optional)
 
Instructions:
 
Wash and carefully blot the mints dry. Place them in a saucepan, and pound or crush them slightly to release their flavors. Add the sugar and water, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
 
Turn down the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the food coloring, if desired, and remove from heat. 

Let the syrup cool for a few minutes; then strain it through cheesecloth into a sterilized jar or bottle. Makes about 2 cups.   

The newest feature of Alice's Cabin. One can sit on the swing and watch tennis, listen to the rain, or just take a nap.

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Rhubarb Catch Up

Monday, June 7th, 2010

 
Here’s an early recipe for July 4. (Enjoy it: this will probably be the only time you’ll get a recipe early from In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens!)
 
I’m not exactly a champion griller. In fact, as listeners to WFCR, our local public-radio station, learned a couple of years ago, I’ve been known to light an outdoor fire that almost turned into … well … an outdoor fire.
 
Condiments for grilled foods I can manage, however. And lately I’ve had a hankering to make some rhubarb ketchup (or catsup or however you want to spell it).
 
I’ve tried a couple of different formulas, and this is the best so far. It doesn’t taste like tomato ketchup. Why should it? It’s a lightly sweet, lightly spiced sauce that would be lovely with pork.
 
My spices came courtesy of Kalustyan, a wonderful spice company that has a retail outlet in New York City (yes, it will ship spices to you!). I particularly love Kalustyan’s aromatic cinnamon. And its mixture of pickling spices was just right for this recipe.
 
I can’t tell you yet how long this ketchup will last in the refrigerator since I made it less than a week ago. I don’t think I’d push it more than two weeks or so. So if you would like to try it as a condiment for Independence Day you should wait a little while to make it.
 
On the other hand, like me, you might want to make some now and some later. It really was tasty last night! I pan grilled chicken cutlets and served them with fresh peas with mint and maple-rhubarb coleslaw.
 
While you’re making your ketchup, do listen to my WFCR grilling broadcast. I’m not in great voice when I sing (and the less said the better about my piano playing), but my mother’s childhood memories are fun.
 
And Truffle’s cheerful bark more than makes up for my shortcomings! She really knows how to celebrate Independence Day.
 
 
Rhubarb Ketchup
 
Ingredients:
 
3 cups rhubarb (in small pieces!)
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup apple cider plus 1/2 cup later
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon (generous) ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon pickling spices
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few turns of your pepper grinder
 
Instructions:
 
In a 2-quart nonreactive saucepan, toss together the rhubarb and brown sugar.
 
In a tiny nonreactive saucepan, heat the 1/4 cup cider and the vinegar. When they come to a boil remove them from the heat and stir in the ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and pickling spices.
 
Let the two pans sit at room temperature for 2 hours. The rhubarb should juice up a little, and the spices should steep nicely in the liquid.
 
After the resting period add the spices and their liquid to the rhubarb. Toss the remaining cider into the pot that held the spices to pick up any remaining spices, and add it to the rhubarb as well. Stir in the salt and pepper.
 
Bring the rhubarb mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and boil the resulting sauce, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes. Turn off and let cool.
 
In a blender or food processor puree the cooled ketchup. Ladle it into a sterilized jar or two and refrigerate it until you are ready to use it.
 

Makes about 2-1/2 cups ketchup.


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