Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cranberry Sauce

Every year I make cranberry sauce it gets better. It's a simple Thanksgiving staple that doesn't get the attention and honor it deserves. It can be so much more than a glob of sour to balance the savory mush on a Thankful plate. This year's sauce really tied the meal together; thanks to the brandy, it was complexly smokey and sweet, and the pumpkin pie-style spices lent a horn-of-plenty bouquet.

Spicy Brandy Cranberry Sauce
adapted from here

6 c cranberries

9 tbs brandy

3 cups dark brown sugar

3/4 c orange juice

10 allspice berries

8 cloves

16 black peppercorns

10 cardamom pods, broken in half

4 cinnamon sticks

Thoroughly wash all the cranberries, picking out the shriveled ones. Put them in a saucepan and add the brandy, sugar and orange juice. Tie up the spices in some cheesecloth, add to the cranberry pan, and bring the mixture to a hearty boil, until the cranberry skins crack. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-ish minutes, until the liquid is reduced and it's nice and syrupy. Toss the spice bag, and refrigerate the sauce until gelled and cold. Serve in your grandmother's crystal dish that she said we never use but, OK, we'll use it tonight.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Part 1

I've been seeing these gigantic heads of cabbage at the farmers market lately. I'd have an image of making sauerkraut, but pass it over in favor of some more colorful harvest food. But the cornucopia of produce has been dwindling as we get into the leaner months of winter, and today Jean and I passed some pale green gigantors for $.63/lb and decided today was the day to try it out. We got a thirteen pounder as big as a watermelon, for about $9.

I've hesitated to ferment anything in my house because it's so small. Where would I put it? I am afraid of little bugs laying their eggs in the room temperature stewy liquid, or a mishap resulting in a pool of kraut to wade through, or even just the smell. In my dream house, I'd have a root cellar or a pantry to store food and keep various microbiological food projects safe and out of the way of my tender nose. But... that might be years from now, so carpe diem.

Brine Fermented Kraut
adapted from here

13 lb shredded cabbage

3 sliced yellow onions

12 tbs salt

handful of caraway seeds

smaller handful yellow mustard seeds

It was a task to shred all this cabbage. Jean hacked it into pieces that would fit in the food processor which I had fitted with the slicer attachment. We did it in two batches because I have no bowl or pot which would hold the entire shredded mass. By the end of the project, there was cabbage absolutely everywhere from my kitchen to my dining room.

Added the salt and seeds and onions to the cabbage in the biggest pot I have. We took shifts mashing the mixture for about ten minutes with a wooden spoon to release all the juices and dissolve the salt.

We had two one gallon jars Jean used to make kombucha in and these were just the right size for this amount. Three handfuls at a time, I stuffed the mixture into the jars, pressing down each layer very firmly before adding more. My hands are pretty parched from handling all the brine.

We put a yogurt container lid to the top of the kraut and a small jar on top of that to keep the cabbage weighed down. Then we covered it with four layers of cheesecloth, and it's sitting on top of the fridge, fermenting at room temperature. We're going to skim any white froth that forms at the top, and daily pick out the bits that turn brown. It's going to ferment for three weeks before transferring it to 1 quart jars and putting in the fridge, where the flavor will intensify. It can be eaten ten days after this, or after a few months for a very aged flavor.

I'm excited....


Made onigiri with Sagey when I went home over Thanksgiving break. I love them and have wanted to learn how to make them for a while. Got the general idea from this very helpful website. They're really easy to make, and with more practice I think I'll get even better at making them. Since they are so portable, I think they'd be perfect for both of us to bring as school lunches. Making them reminded me of tamales, in a way, since it's a starchy blank slate with an intense filling. There seems to be a lot of room for innovation as far as fillings go.... we made some with just plain umeboshi plums, and a made up one with some smoked salmon and pickled ginger muddled together.

2 1/4 c water


umeboshi plums/other yummy things

3 or 4 nori sheets

In strainer, rinse rice thoroughly until the water runs clear. Soak in a bowl with the 2 1/4 water for about 30 minutes. Bring to a boil in a medium sauce pan, then turn down and simmer and cook till water has evaporated. The rice is very glutenous, so don't stir too much or it'll turn into a giant mushy glob. Let it cool for a while, until it is safe to handle.

Clean your hands very well and leave them damp with cool water. Sprinkle salt on your palms and grab a handful of rice (amount depending on how big you want your rice ball to eventually be) and cup it in your palm. Make a round little well in the center and add an umeboshi plum or a tablespoon of filling. Add another little bit of rice on top of the filling and begin forming the onigiri by pressing and turning the rice ball around in your hands. The traditional shape is triangular, and to achieve this I first formed a sphere and held it at the bottom of one palm and pinched two sides at the top, then pressed this shape gently with my palms flat.

Then wrap the nori however you like. Jean tells me that you can put the nori on later, just before eating, so it doesn't get soggy. But I kind of liked it a little chewy.

We used a rice mold my mom bought at Uwajimaya in Seattle to make the funny shaped ones, and they were cute but kind of a hassle. I liked the tactile experience of pressing the warm rice with salty palms.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

West Side Dinner Club

The second official meeting of the West Side Dinner Club.

It rotates between our West Side homes, we meet on Sundays at dinner time. We only make good food. It might get pretty fancy, it might get pretty big. We've added a new member or two each week we've existed. It's really wonderful to cook good food for your friends, and wonderfuller when it's reciprocated.

This week, in the spirit of cold weather, we made traditional beef stew baked with parsnips, glazed carrots with balsamic vinegar, and spaghetti squash with so much butter and garlic. Kate brought some gluten free (luv) Spite & Malice cookies for dessert, made with foraged oregon grapes and dark chocolate, they were wicked.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rose Brandy

Someone told me once that 70% of what we taste is 
actually smells. Personally, I love the taste of the smell of flowers. Frequently, as in one of my favorite candies, Chowards Violet Mints, floral flavors taste a bit like soap, but I guess I kind of like that. It makes my mouth feel elegant on the inside. I love rose water in a lassi and once made a baked Palestinian dessert with layered pita, cream, rose water and pistachios.

To me, roses are synonymous with the sunny wealth of summer. Rose Brandy is an easy way to utilize this temporal flavor. I only use home-gardened flowers because those long-stemmed supermarket roses are weak fragranced from over hybridization and are farmed with toxic chemicals which endanger the underpaid workers. Preserving the beautiful blossoms picked from the yards of dear friends just tastes better. 

I made a batch last summer with foraged petals from all over town. Having a bottle sitting a shelf in my room during the cold, gray winter months was like having the sweet essence of summer stoppered up in my sanctuary. I used it all year for sipping and baking. I made a sticky, strange and delicious dessert by simmering purple rice with coconut milk and the brandy. I once mixed it in coconut sorbet with lemon, and recently added a bit to a plum clafoutis. It's quite versatile and unusual. More roses can be added as found, and the longer it sits the more intense the flavor is. It's so concentrated that I only ever used a tiny bit, and because of the preservative powers of alcohol and sugar, it keeps all year long. The end of last year's bottle is still perfectly good, the petals intense and succulent from soaking in honey and brandy.

Rose Brandy

1/3 rose petals
1/3 honey
1/3 brandy

I picked the roses from the side of my friend's house, selecting only the good, fully developed blossoms and a few nearly open buds. These round white roses had a very unusual, sweet smell, almost like vanilla. If I get a chance, I might add some deep red roses later on. I didn't rinse them off because a friend told me you're not supposed to when making tinctures, and this is kind of like a tincture.  They had a few little bugs on them, so I shook the petals off and refrigerated the bag overnight. 

I pushed the petals into a clean decanter, then covered them in brandy and honey. 

I capped and shook the decanter vigorously, bruising and swishing the petals in the syrup. After sitting for a while, no matter the color, the petals will turn the same color as the brandy.

I put it on my windowsill because food makes great decoration. It should be nice and rosy in a month or two or three.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Real Pretty Food

I am kind of addicted to ume vinegar. Since my roommate, Morgan, made pickled radishes with it the other day...I can't get enough. Maybe it's the salt. Maybe it's the sour. Maybe it's because when I pour it on white rice, it's pretty in pink and I feel like I am eating doll food. 

I generally dislike artificially tainted food. For example, I find the abhorent flavor "Blue Razellberry" to be ridiculous at best and utterly icky. That said, there's a certain aesthetic to which I am puzzlingly drawn to consume: that which I imagine dolls might also eat. Perfect, shiny, not particularly realistic, frequently out of proportion to the hands of the dolls, charming, off colored and ever fresh. Doll food. Cute. 

It doesn't make me hungry to look at, but somewhere my imagination leaps and and I somehow like to eat things that I might eat, if I were actually a doll. Not miniature scones or meticulously glazed tiny turkeys, but bright and aesthetically princess-y, human proportioned meals. It just tickles me. 

I had some rice vermacelli sitting around, and poured some of the ume vinegar brine from Morgan's radish pickles atop them with some chopped fresh basil and a generous dollop of my blackberry preserves. The noodles turned pinker the longer they stayed in the sauce. 

So pretty! Not to mention sour and salty and sweet and herby. 

A doll would totally eat pink noodles. This doll does.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pickled Radishes

My roommate, Morgan  Taylor, made the most beautiful, delicious pickled radishes. I didn't have anything to do with them but they were so great I can't help but shout from the rooftops about them for all to hear. 

Adapted from here, the recipe calls for pouring a brine made of ume vinegar, rice vinegar and strawberry syrup over a jar of sliced radishes, then sticking it in the fridge for two hours. Not wanting the pickles to be too sweet (and also not really knowing what strawberry syrup is), Morgan strained some of my blackberry preserves into the brine mixture. It was quite subtly sweetened, but very obviously colored a bright and deep magenta color. The ume vinegar was so salty and tangy I kept eating one after another of these wonderful pickles. I had to drink about eight cups of water after, but it was totally worth it. 

I am in love with the brine and want to put it on everything. It's so pretty, too, almost like not-food, but the powerful flavor redeems it. Morgan promised to make more, and I'm really glad as I'd like to always have a jar of these cooling in in my fridge. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Neighbor Squash

My neighbors have this monstrous squash vine which has totally taken over our grassy alleyway. When I step over it on my way to the co-op I get a Jumanji-style chill up my spine. Not really, it's gorgeous and prolific, with giant yellow blossoms and huge, strange pale green globes lurking in the growth. 

I talked to the mom, Mary, and she said a friend-of-a-friend had given her the seeds and she didn't know what kind. We both speculated on when the squash was ready for picking... when it's darker green, or was it already past prime since they were so gigantic? I gave her a recipe from the Joy of Cooking for stuffed squash blossoms, and she picked one squash and gave me half.

I baked it till it was soft, and cut it up (light yellow on the inside, with big, meaty white seeds) for thai green curry with cashews. It was creamy and with a delicate flavor. Still no idea what kind it was, though. I'd love to find out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Heirloom Tomato Soup with Bacon and Blue Cheese

It was rainy all day today. My bones were cold but it smelled like mulchy leaves and made me want to hibernate and eat soup. Mmm. Tomato soup. With bacon and blue cheese. It still sounds delicious, even after consuming several bowls of it. Salty and rich and warm. Mmm. Maybe I'll make more tomorrow, as I am trying to utilize all those 20 lbs of heirlooms. 

5 or 6 heirloom tomatoes, cored
6' of leek, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 slices bacon
1/4 c chicken stock
handful crumbled blue cheese
1 tbs smoked sea salt
generous pinch black pepper

Made about four + cups

Fried the bacon in a cast iron pan. Thinly sliced the leek, fried it in the bacon fat. Removed bacon and leek to separate bowl, then tossed the cored tomatoes into the remaining fat. They simmered around for a while, their peels curling off (I picked a few out but didn't bother with it much).

Threw in an icy chunk of chicken stock I'd frozen from a previous soup into a big pot, on medium high heat, then the tomatoes and leeks in. 

They cooked into a brightly colored mush, for about 15 minutes, then I let it cool for a bit before food processing it. I didn't puree it, but left it a tiny bit chunky, though there were no discernible seeds or leeks or peels. 

Buttered toast with a bit of blackstrap molasses (I love sweet and savory), poured the soup in bowls and crumbled the bacon and blue cheese on top. 

It really hit the spot.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Heirloom Tomato Ketchup

I don't know what I've been putting on hamburgers all these years... some kind of watered down, mass-produced ghost of a condiment, it seems.

I found a recipe for Ketchup in my well worn copy of this year's Saveur 100, which seemed to be saying definitively that ketchup is derived from some fermented Chinese soy condiment, and the Oxford English Dictionary kind of backs this up with the first documented use of the word in English being in 1690, "Catchup: a high East-India Sauce". But, there's some contention: according to the Ketchup Wikipedia (which seems to have been written as a clever and informative ad for Heinz), Americans invented it in the 1800's.

I bet it was kind of both... since vinegar and sugar are two main preservatives in home canning, and savory-sweet is totally delicious, it makes sense to combine them with an abundant garden fruit into a versatile condiment, no matter where you are. Somewhere along the line, through popularity and the mass-produced junkification of food in general, it lost it's soul. The ketchup I made bears no resemblance to the single serve packets at the Golden Arches... it is complicated, hearty, tangy and sweet with the mouth-watering undertones of umami.

I bought 20lbs of heirloom tomato "seconds" from the Wobbly Cart stand at the Farmer's Market, for the unbelievably low price of $18, with a plan for ketchup, salsa, tomato marmalade and more. Heirlooms seem to go for about $5.99/lb at the store, and this box of beauties worked out to be about $.90/lb. Holy cow. A few were a bit squishy and all of them definitely need to be used within a few days, but whatever, so worth it!

6 lbs heirloom tomatoes
2 onions
1 chile pepper
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 c white vinegar
2 1/2 tbs salt
3 bay leaves
15 ish cloves
10 ish whole allspice
1 tbs celery seed
1 tbs chile flakes
1 stick cinnamon
2 sticks cinnamon
1 thumb size ginger knob

Filled four 16 oz jars + one 8 oz jar

The recipe called for an anaheim pepper, but I couldn't find exactly that at the market, so I got a mystery pepper that smelled like it'd be good. I made it once before with two jalapeƱo, and that was also fine. I also made it with white wine vinegar the first time, with a less biting result, but it might require more since it likely has a lower acidity than regular white vinegar.

Blanched the tomatoes for 3o seconds, till the skin split. Peeled and cored them. The recipe in Saveur didn't include this step, but in another book it explains that doing so eliminates the need to thoroughly strain it later on.

Tied all the spices up in a layer of cheesecloth, roughly chopped the onion and garlic and chile pepper (I removed the seeds of the pepper). Threw it all in the pot with the vinegar, sugar and salt. chile pepper

Cooked the tomato mixture on medium high, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, until all the ingredients were smooshy and the onions were translucent.

Let it cool down a bit and, working in batches, liquified it in my food processor. The recipe says to strain it at this point, presumably to remove the solid bits of skin and seed, but I tried doing this with both a cheesecloth and strainer, but found the results too thin for my taste. I'd already removed the skins, anyway. I've heard tomato seeds can make things bitter, but oh well. I'll probably eat it all before that happens.

Poured the soupy mixture back in the pot on medium high heat again, for about 40 minutes, until it was thick enough for my taste. Ladled it into sterilized jars and processed it for 20 minutes.

I think I'll still enjoy the junky kind, on appropriately junky foods, but in my home, "Ketchup--it's not just for hamburgers anymore!". My friend Alexa put it on a bagel with butter, and since then I've eaten it on toast and quinoa and rice and salmon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Blueberry Chutney

Blueberry picking is a piece of cake. Unlike the blackberry bush with it's tangled vines with vicious claws, the blueberry bush is practically asking to be picked. The bushes I picked were heavy with berries that were be shaken easily into a bucket, and another bucket, and another. There were about six bushes in front of Kate's old house, and we were free to pick them clean.

I have a lot of jams and jellies and conserves and sweet fruit preserves, so much that I am going to have to eat toast every day this winter, and give most of it away. On my canning shelf there is a distinct lack of the savory, so what to do when I picked all these blueberries? 

About a month ago I made plum chutney from a tree at the end of my street, but the plums were so small it only made four jars between two people. It was delicious, though, and I have since used almost a whole pint jar on various meals. Chutney is like jelly for dinner. On quinoa, rice, last night we ate it on thai green curry. So... we split them up and Kate made a batch of Blueberry Huckleberry Jam, and I made Blueberry Chutney (modified from this recipe):

8 c blueberries
2 red onions, sliced up
3 c red wine vinegar
1 c raisins
5 dehydrated pineapple rings, chopped
3 tbs candied ginger, chopped
4 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 tsp cinnamon 
2 tsp chili flakes
1 stick cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
pinch salt

Filled three 12 oz, four 8 oz, and two 4 oz jars 
(we put them in all different sizes for various gifts and to swap with other canners)

The recipe called for golden raisins, which they only have at the East Side Co-op (to my consistent disappointment--I love golden raisins, they are the butter of the dried fruit family), but I looked around in the bulk section and decided on these smaller red raisins and some dehydrated pineapple instead. It worked well enough. I might use more pineapple next time. 

So, washed and hulled all the blueberries, threw them in a big old pot with all the other ingredients and let it boil.

Cooked it until it thickened and my whole house smelled like sweet sweet vinegar. It was a surprisingly deep purple color. Blackberries always end up being quite a dark red when cooked, but blueberries seem to actually have blue in them. 

Poured the boiling mixture into sterilized jars and waterbathed them for 15 minutes.

So far, I ate it this morning on leftover curry...pretty good. Extremely vinegary, and I might put more of almost every ingredient except blueberries in it, especially ginger and mustard seeds. Still, I'm happy to have it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Brown Sugar By Hand

Gleaned fruit from people's yards on the East Side all day with my friend Kate Savkovich, we picked tons of blueberries and found grapes and kiwi berries and apples and pears.

In some alleyway we found a bunch of asian pears fallen on the ground, and we figured we'd bake them with ginger and allspice and cloves brown sugar. It rained a lot and we were outside all day so this sounded especially warm and comforting. Back at my house, though, we discovered I'd used all my brown sugar for ketchup earlier in the week. 

Kate said if we had sugar and molasses we could make our own.

We just poured some blackstrap molasses into a jar of cane sugar.

And mixed it around with a whisk, added some more till it tasted and looked as strong as we wanted it.

It smelled delicious and fresh. We baked it with the pears, and they were great, although I didn't have my camera. 

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Double Double Boiler

My friend, Kate Savkovich, came over and made us delicious sauce with her abundance of tomatoes... she got 20lbs of heirloom tomatoes for $18 at the farmers market! Dang. 

Anyway, we had a pot of vegetarian sauce, then a pot of sauce with meatballs my roommate Morgan made, a pot of water for spelt pasta for me and another for wheat pasta. So we ran out of room on the stove when Kate wanted to fry up some greens, but the sauces still needed to boil down the wine we had just added, so she put the meat saucepan on top of one of the boiling water pots. It kept it hot enough to reduce the wine. So smart! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Spiced Grape Jam

Went to the co-op and they had tons of champagne grapes in the reduced bin. They're one of my favorites right now, I like them frozen and they're delicious in rich yoghurt. Boxes of them sell for something like $3.50 each, generally making them a bit out of my price range for regular consumption, but at $.50/lb, I bought four boxes and thought I'd try making some sort of preserves with them.

They were in the reduced bin because they were a bit mushy on the bottom, but I picked through and washed them meticulously and they produced about 5 1/2 cups. 

I read through a lot of recipes for grapes, mostly grape jellies. I didn't really want jelly, I think it's too sugary and a little boring. I like whole chunks of fruit, but I didn't want it to be too watery either so I bought a box of Pomona's Universal Pectin. I found their directions to be rather confusing, but after flipping the sheet over a few times I decided to loosely follow their directions for blueberry jam. 

I added warm spices to it because recently I've been smelling autumn in the air. 

5 1/2 c champagne grapes
1 c sugar
2 tsp pectin (+2 tsp calcium water)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1 pinch salt

Filled 4 half pint jars

Put all the fruit in a pan and mashed it with my hands a bit, but not too much since I wanted some of the grapes whole, so they'd swell in the heat. Also added the calcium water at this point, apparently it helps the pectin set.

I simmered them for about forty minutes, stirring regularly so no burning occurred. At first they produced a lot of water (no foam, though), then halfway through the water began to reduce to a syrup. 

At about twenty minutes, I added a cup of sugar and the syrup thickened earnestly. 

At forty minutes I dusted in the pectin and stirred it for five-ish minutes. 

Ladled it into sterilized half pint jars, sealed and water-bathed them for 10 minutes.

The jam is delicious. One of my favorites I've made. Kind of reminds me of Christmas, in a way. It jelled perfectly fine, and there are plenty of fat swollen fruits in it. I might use a little less sugar next time, and more spices. I think it'll be good in yogurt and on ice cream or possibly as a filling for a pastry. 

Monday, August 24, 2009

Apricot Preserves

I bought about four pounds of pretty little apricots at the farmers market. I don't really like them raw, I think it's a texture thing, they have an off putting pasty consistency. My roommate had a jar of apricot preserves last year, and I fell in love with the almost-candied apricot halves suspended in the jam. 

The recipe I used is a composite based on research, with a little less sugar and a little more lemon. I wanted it saucy and gooey, not gelatinous at all, so I used no pectin.

4 lbs apricots, halved
1 1/3 c sugar
1/4 c water
1/4 c lemon juice 

Filled 3 1/2 Half-pint jars.

Added sugar and water together in a giant enameled pan (I read a straight up aluminum pan will give the fruit a metallic, off taste) over medium heat until it became translucent and a little syrupy.  

Because I wanted that balance of whole fruit in more spreadable jam, I added the fruit in two parts. For the first part, I threw in the halves that were riper and more falley-apartey, since they were just going to turn into mush anyway. I let these simmer, stirring frequently, for quite a while, until all the fruit had changed into a deep, sticky gold mess. 

Especially in the beginning, it created a lot of sweet froth, which I skimmed off into a glass and stirred into my yoghurt the next morning. 

Then I added the second portion, the firmer and less ripe halves. I cooked the mixture for about another half hour, until the thickest bits of apricot had turned color and were almost falling apart.

I smashed open some of the apricot pits with a hammer. The shards of shell are sharp, and fly everywhere, so I covered them with a cloth while hammering to prevent blindness. Inside is a fragrant, bitter little seed which looks exactly like a baby almond. I've heard that 70% of what we taste is smell, and biting into one of these was reminiscent of inhaling almond extract. That's because it contains benzaldehyde, also found in almonds, and used to make cyanide. Some people think it prevents or cures cancer. 

It made me think of the opening line of Love in a Time of Cholera:

 "It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love...[he] had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide." 

From what I read, it's also the secret to apricot jam, giving it a subtle bitterness and flowery fragrance. Over-consumed, they could lead to cyanide toxicity. An average kernel contains only 0.5mg of cyanide, so used sparingly, it's totally safe. 

I grated about four into the bubbling fruit. 

About ten minutes before it was done, I stirred in the strained lemon juice. Some fruit started burning on the bottom of the pan (I blame the sugar, trying to turn into candy), so when I was pouring  it into my sterilized jars, I was careful not to scrape it in since it was an ugly color. I did, though, after all the liquid was gone--it was like apricot candy. 

I sealed the jars and water-bathed them for a little more than ten minutes. 

They're quite strong tasting. I was worried because, since it's late August, most of the fruit I bought was at the peak of sweet ripeness, that the sugar coupled with the long brewing would reduce it to a too-sweet mush, but it's perfect. The extra lemon gave it more bite, and I might use a few more kernels next time.