DIY Christmas Gifts

spiced pecansA lot of people have been asking me for recipe and gift-giving ideas this week, so I figured a round-up post was in order. Avoid the last-minute shoppers this weekend and spend time in your kitchen instead. These gifts can be elegant, feel special and are delicious. Make sure to package them simply – channel your inner Martha Stewart.

Preserved Lemons – Preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan cuisine but can be used in most savory dishes calling for lemon. Tasting of muted lemon, with none of the sour tang, they add a subtle undertone to dishes. Meyer Lemons are just coming into season. They are thin-skinned and cure in the salt quickly, so you can still start this project this week and pass them on for holiday gift giving. HALF of one lemon fits perfectly in a small 1/4 pint jar, so you can knock out gifts quickly. Not to mention, you’ll be turning them on to a new ingredient that may just inspire them to get creative in the kitchen.

Spiced Pecans – I’ll be the first to admit spiced nuts are a little dated as a hostess gift, but pecans are an expensive treat and this recipe is perfect in every way. Double the batch and plan on making one for yourself.

Herb Vinegar – Made of two simple ingredients—vinegar and fresh herbs— these aromatic vinegars can be made in minutes. Subtle in flavor, herb vinegars impart an undertone of herb along with the tang of acid. They can be used in vinaigrettes to dress green salads, grain dishes or legumes.

Urban Pantry and Fresh Pantry – I can ship this book overnight to you, no probs. Read the reviews on Amazon & I’m happy to sign it for you and write a fun message.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

 

How To :: Homemade Herb Vinegar

Oregano vinegar

Fresh herbs can get expensive if you’re buying them at the store, so I like to grow my own. I always make sure to use every last sprig. If you have leftover herbs, or a prolific plant that needs cutting back, you can dry herbs for your spice cupboard (see the sidebar “Spice Cupboard” in chapter 6, “Nuts”) or use them to flavor vinegar. Herb vinegars are made of two simple ingredients—vinegar and fresh herbs—and can be made in minutes. Subtle in flavor, herb vinegars impart an undertone of herb along with the tang of vin- egar. They can be used in salads and vinaigrettes.

Use fresh healthy sprigs and distilled white vinegar for the best results. Any herb can work—try mint, lemon balm, basil, or tarragon. Use two sprigs of herb for every cup of vinegar. Add the sprigs directly to prepared jars. (Wash and sterilize jars for 10 minutes in a hot water bath before using.) Heat the vinegar until just beginning to boil and pour over the herbs, leaving a bit of head space. Store the vinegar in a cool, dark place for three to four weeks, checking the flavor after two weeks. When the flavor is to your liking, strain and discard the herbs and store the infused vinegar in a cool, dark cupboard. Use glass containers that can be sealed with a lid or cork.

Herb vinegars will keep for three months, longer if refrigerated. Be mindful of any mold or fermentation bubbles—this means the batch is spoiled and should be thrown out. As vinegar has a high acid content, there is no risk of botulism; mold and yeast are the two culprits of spoilage.

HOW TO :: Harvest Rose Hips & Dry for Recipes

rose hips for harvestingWith the recent autumnal frosts, now is the perfect time to collect rose hips. A bit of frost sweetens them up. Rose hips offer a subtle floral flavor to dishes, but their real power is in the health benefits they possess. Rose hips contain more vitamin C then most other herbs – even many times those found in citrus pound per pound. These antioxidant, red globes, are best harvested in late fall and used in syrups or jams.

Rose hips look like little tomatoes, often orange-red and shiny. They are more round than long, about the size of a red globe grape. Harvest rose hips by snapping the stem from the plant. They are tough enough that you can toss them into a plastic bag and then a backpack without doing too much damage. Rinse them well when you get home to drown out any bugs and use them within a day of bringing them home.

Following is a quick guide on how to harvest and dry rose hips. Their chewy skins can be used in tonics, jams or recipes. To dry rose hips is quite an effort, but if you’re looking for  a slow winter project, this is it. Of course, you can always skip this step and purchase dried rose hips at your local apothecary or herbalist, or order online.

Dried Rosehips
makes about 2 cups | start to finish: about 2 hours active time

Harvest 6 cups of rosehips from untreated, wild bushes between late October and mid-November. To begin the drying process, wash and dry them completely. Trim off both the stem and blossom ends. Lay them out on newspaper in a single layer to dry for several days.

After three to five days, cut the rosehips in half, and using a small spoon, scoop out the interior hair and seeds. (Allowing them to dry slightly first makes the removal of the hair and seeds far easier. This process can be long and arduous, but the hairs can be very irritating if ingested.)

harvest & dry rose hipsOnce all of the rosehips have been cleaned, preheat the oven to its lowest setting. Place the semi-dried rosehips in a single layer on a sheet pan and put it in the oven to dry overnight. The drying time will depend on the size of the rosehips, but figure it will take 5 to 7 hours. Rosehips are done when they are entirely dry and hard to the touch.

When rosehips have been completely dehydrated and cooled, add them all to the bowl of a food processor and pulse just until they are coarsely chopped. Do not over process, or the rosehips will turn into a powder. Store crushed rosehips in a glass jar in the cupboard, where they will keep for several months.

washed jars • pantry storage

HOW TO :: Preserving & Canning Apple Pie Filling

applesApples are available all year long, but they are certainly not in season all year long. New crop apples, those that are harvested and sold in the same season, are the best tasting—their juice just contained under firm, naturally shiny skins. To preserve the natural, raw integrity of fresh fruit, buy in bulk when they come into the markets. Boxes of apples are infinitely less expensive than buying a pound at a time, so choose a favorite variety (most farmers offer samples) and load up. For more awesome apple recipes, check out my APPLE COOKBOOK.

Apple Pie Filling

makes about 4 pints | start to finish: about 1 hour active time

This simple recipe guarantees you’ll always have the best apples on hand for pie baking. Blanching the fruit before canning them will preserve their crispness, ensuring that they won’t break down to mush when they’re baked. Choose a firm, crisp apple, and mix something tart (Bramley) with a sweeter bite (Spitzenberg). When it comes to baking time, simply pour the apples into a prepared shell and bake, or slice them thin for layering in a tart. Either way, expect to use two pints of filling per 9” pie.

6 pounds apples, cored and sliced
1 cup water
1 cup apple cider
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple pectin (available online or in health food stores)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

apple pie filling

Fill a large stockpot half full with water and bring to a boil. Drop in half of the sliced apples and cover, returning to a boil. Once the water returns to a boil (about 8 to 10 minutes), use a slotted spoon to strain out the apples. Add the slices directly to clean pint jars, leaving a small amount of room at the top. Repeat the process with the remaining apple slices. On a folded-over dish towel (for padding), strongly tap the bottom of each jar on the counter, to help pack down the apples. If necessary, redistribute apples so each jar is full, with 1” of headspace.

In a medium saucepan, add the water, apple cider, sugar, apple pectin, lemon juice, and spices; bring to a boil. Simmer the liquid for 15 minutes, reducing it slightly. Using a ladle or a liquid measuring cup for ease, pour hot juice over the jarred apples, leaving 1/2” of headspace. Gently tap the jars on the counter to release any air bubbles. Wipe the jar rims and seal the jars. Place them in a prepared water bath and process for 20 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter overnight. Store in a cool, dark cupboard for up to 1 year.

washed jars • water bath

Pineapple & Mint Drinking Vinegar Recipe

Making Pineapple Drinking VinegarDrinking vinegars, or shrubs, are refreshing beverages made from fermenting a combination of fruit, sugar and vinegar. Last week, in honor of my new SodaStream, I created a pineapple drinking vinegar recipe that is light, energizing and fresh. Shrubs are not a new idea – they were used in colonial America as a way to preserve quick-spoiling fruit. Lacking proper refrigeration, fruit turned quickly. Adding vinegar to the fruit solved the issue of decay and was a means of preservation, as vinegar is high in acid and prevents mold and spoilers from forming.

There are no limitations to ingredients that can be combined and Continue reading

Cooking with Peppers

Fresh Pantry, PeppersTis the season for getting the last of the peppers. Now is a GREAT time to roast and freeze varieties that aren’t available all year – sweet Jimmy Nardellos or fresh and hot cayenne or hungarians. You can also pickle pepper, or make big pots of pepperonata for winter stews and snacking. All of the below recipe ideas are available in my eBook, Fresh Pantry : PEPPERS, which also includes 14 recipes + essays on How To Grow Peppers all Winter Long and an instructional method for making Homemade Red Chile Flakes. For anyone reading this post, I’d love to offer it to you for $.99. Follow this special link to download and purchase. For now, the goal is fresh-eating – enjoy them while you can with these recipe ideas……. Continue reading

5 for Friday :: Lidia Bastianich

about_lidia-2I have the great providence of being surrounded by inspiring people. 5 for Friday questions will be asked of artists, farmers, curators, creators, innovators, entrepreneurs etc – all of the people that I find interesting. Everyone gets the same five questions.

Today we feature graceful celebrity, Lidia Bastianich. She needs no introduction for anyone who loves food. Lidia has hosted several cookings shows on PBS, including Lidia’s Italy which is produced by Tavola Productions, an entertainment company she founded and oversees. She owns four restaurants, is a partner at Eataly in NYC, owns a B&B and winery in Friuli (see #3 below) and has authored MANY award-winning books.

Lidia Bastianich is a business powerhouse that should Continue reading

HOW TO :: Quince Recipes

quinceSeveral years ago, I received an email from a friend, who had a friend who was giving away 40 pounds of quince. I didn’t even know what quince was back then, but I figured I could preserve it easily enough. I sent an email to this woman I’d never met. Within hours, I found myself driving to Ballard. I rang her bell, she invited me in, we had some tea and I walked away with over ten pounds of quince. Better still, I made a new friend.

Every year since, Elaine has emailed me to let me know when her father’s quince tree ripens. I drive to her place, chat about food (last year’s topic du jour—kimchi), and walk away heady with a huge bag of fragrant yellow fruit. Quince is beautiful when poached, roasted or baked but it absolutely shines as a Continue reading

Getting Busy With The Fizzy :: Homemade Cocktails with SodaStream Play

sodastreamIn the latter half of the 18th century, carbon dioxide was introduced into water creating soda water or seltzer. (Interesting food fact – the origin of the name seltzer hails from water that had natural effervescence and came from the town of Nieder Selters in Germany.) Today, anyone can make fizzy water at home and can vary the degree of the fizz and the amount of bubbles in each glass. Personalizing soda water may sound a bit bourgeois, but I liken myself to a soda water connoisseur and find most people have a preference. I like a slight, small bubble. My sister’s family prefers big, round bubbles that explode in the mouth. All five of my nieces and nephews are soda water snobs – slightly flat and they turn up their nose.

I’ve been coveting a SodaStream  for years and finally got my hands on my very own machine. Continue reading

Homemade Fruit Leathers :: How To Dehydrate Fruit

_MG_3639Dehydrating fruit is a simple and easy task of little effort, though it does take some inactive time. One of my garden clients has an old and poorly pruned apple tree, resulting in knobby fruit that is not pleasant for eating fresh. Cooked down, however, it made a lovely base for cinnamon & nutmeg scented fruit leathers. I am using a food dehydrator, but you can easily do this project in the oven, finishing to dry at room temp should any moist spots on the leather remain. Here is a photo essay of the process, taken quickly as I was cooking the other day. Six pounds of fruit made about 70 four inch square fruit leathers – perfect for a kids snack or pre-dinner sweet. I split the batch with my friends Ronny & Catherine and their 4-year old daughter, Emerson, LOVED them.

Continue reading