January – Homemade Red Wine Vinegar

January – Homemade Red Wine Vinegar

Did you know you can easily make your own vinegar from any partial bottles of red wine sitting around? Amazing red wine vinegar at a fraction of the price of those imported ones at the gourmet store, and just as good.

In fact, I think homemade red wine vinegar is miles better than the best commercial brand, and only takes a little patience on your part. As well, it a a “live food”, fermented by you. If you have leftover bottles of red wine after pouring a glass or two from the bottle (the wine really isn’t much good after a couple of days whatever method you use to preserve it), this is the way to reduce your waste and get something delicious from your kitchen. Not to mention the cost savings.

My initial crock of vinegar started because of the win of an “instant wine cellar” at an auction and benefit about 4 years ago. I won 100 bottles of wine, some of them very expensive from small boutique vineyards, quite a wonderful windfall. Hooray! Most of them were leftover from auctions and benefits of past years, we were very excited. But…they had not been stored properly; and many of them were “over the hill” or “corked” once opened and sampled. It’s discouraging to open three bottles of expensive wine just to get one that is drinkable. We ended up with dozens of bottles of spoiled wine (that should have been wonderful), but were starting to turn to vinegar. So, what to do? I couldn’t stand the idea of chucking them down the drain.

Enter My Pantry by Alice Waters, plus information from the internet. I was inspired.

Making your own red wine vinegar is easy, white wine vinegar…not so much. I don’t recommend mixing red and white wine together (although Alice does) when making your own vinegar. Start with a simple red wine vinegar. I understand white wine vinegar is much more difficult to get right and haven’t tried it yet. We usually don’t have as much white wine left over since I often use the remainder of the bottle for cooking.

This recipe takes something that you were going to throw away, plus a touch of living vinegar, to make something that will give your food a ton of flavor. No leftover wine? No problem. You don’t need expensive wine, just something hearty and full bodied for the best vinegar.

What you do need a starter or “mother”. What’s that? Mother of vinegar (MOV or Mother for shorthand purposes) is a fermenting bacteria culture used to make vinegar — an acetobacter that develops in fermenting alcohol and converts the ethanol into acetic acid (what gives vinegar its sour taste) in the presence of oxygen. If you have a friend who makes vinegar ask them to share their mother; otherwise do as I first did and use Bragg Natural Vinegar as a starter.

Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

It was even on sale after the holidays.

Bragg vinegar

You can make a small batch but why not make a lot.

Vinegar Crock

I started with a large crock. But I had a lot of leftover, going bad, wine. You can scale up the following basic recipe.

For a smaller batch, say almost a bottle, go with:

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cups wine (feel free to combine the dregs from several bottles)
  • 1/4 cup of starter vinegar with mother.

Method:

  1. Pour your leftover (not from people’s glasses) wine into a clean wide mouthed jar or crock.
  2. Add starter vinegar.
  3. Mix it all up
  4. Cover with a clean fine mesh towel (secured with a rubber band or string) and let it sit at room temperature, stirring vigorously when you think of it, until a thin, gelatinous film starts to form on the surface. That will form into the mother. You may see it 7-10 days after you begin the process, the time be will dependent on the temperature where it is stored. Start tasting after a month but it may take longer. Be patient. My larger batch took almost 5 months but it is worth the wait.
  5. Once it tastes more like a smooth vinegar and is to your liking, strain (I use a coffee filter) it into bottles and seal. You can then add more wine to the leftover mother in your crock or jar or start with more Bragg vinegar to start the process again.

Note: Do not use cheesecloth to cover your fermenting container. The holes are too big and you will end up (as I did) with vinegar flies about the size of gnats in your curing vinegar. I had to throw the entire first batch out. I now use a clean tea towel tied securely around the top.

Red Wine Vinegar

Your vinegar will be slightly cloudy, but that is because it is alive.

December – Gifts From the Kitchen

December – Gifts From the Kitchen

This year I am having fun making many of the gifts I am giving during the holidays. As well, it is wonderful to have something ready for hostess gifts when invited to a party. Wrap any of these in a pretty tea towel for a personalized gift.

Here are some ideas, most have been posted on my blog over the past few years.

II didn’t realize I had so many recipes for lemons! Skip past this section if they are not available to you. But, if you are lucky enough to a backyard lemon tree (or don’t know what to do with ALL THOSE LEMONS), here are some options, make:

Meyer Lemon Confit

Confit Meyer Lemons in Olive Oil

Candied Meyer Lemon Slices (would work with regular organic lemons, wash and maybe add more sugar as Meyers are sweet):

Candied Meyer Lemon Slices

Meyer Lemon Indian Spiced Pickle

What about preserved lemons? Use some holiday spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice in the preserving process.

Preserved Lemons 

Preserved lemons

There is Lemon Marmalade

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Just the thing for Christmas tea.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Toast and Tea

There is Meyer Lemon Aigre-doux. This is an Italian sweet and sour preserved lemon recipe, wonderful blended with olive oil for a lemony salad or roasted vegetable dressing.

Meyer Lemon Aigre-Doux,
Preserved Lemons

And lastly Lemon-Lime Curd, amazing on any kind of holiday bread or toast. You could also make this all lemon curd or even all lime curd. Panettone anyone?

Lemon Curd

Lemon Lime Curd

What about homemade applesauce? Apples are readily available in many areas. Add a few cranberries to the simmering apples to color them pink or red. Homemade applesauce is so much better than any commercial one you can purchase.

Gala Applesauce

Consider a pretty crock of cheddar beer dip or spread. Use a sharp cheddar and one that is the darkest orange for the best color (I used a white sharp cheddar which wasn’t as pretty).

Cheddar-Beer Dip

Or a jar of homemade mustard, there are two recipes on my blog. Choose the one that fits your schedule. Here is the second for hot and sweet mustard, it’s quick and easy.

Hot and Sweet Mustard

Give it in a pretty container for a special treat.

What about spice mixes? Most of the commercial spices are full of sugar, preservatives and other ingredients you don’t want to put in your food.

A popular mix with my friends is the Fennel Spice from Michael Chiarello. Although it is easy, I find most folks would rather receive a jar than make it themselves. I have given it many times in the past and it is always a much appreciated gift. He also has an excellent toasted chili spice. I use it to coat port tenderloin (or a slow cooked shoulder of pork) before I cook it sous vide. It’s also great on grilled chicken. For a vegetarian or vegan option it is wonderful coating slices or wedges of sweet potatoes.

Fennel Spice Before Being Blended – Can’t you just smell those fennel and coriander?

Pork Tenderloin Coated with Vinegar Then Coated with Toasted Spice Rub

There are other bloggers who have amazing spice mixes, Mollie from the Frugal Housewife has a delicious “smokin’ Chipotle Taco Seasoning‘. Any Mexican food fan would love a jar. She has a number of other spice mixes and blends, all of which don’t contain any preservatives or additives you don’t want to feed your family. Plus, they taste better than commercial blends. The Foodbod is another source of various spice blends, focused on vegetarian cooking. She is also the queen of sourdough. She sells her own starter on her bread website, which is full of tips and instructions.

You’ll also find a number of spice mixes on my Pinterest page.

I am taking these last minute ideas to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #254. Join the party by adding your own link. The co-hosts this week are Antonia @ Zoale.com and Kat @ Kat’s 9 Lives

December – Hot and Sweet Mustard

December – Hot and Sweet Mustard

Are you looking for an easy homemade gift idea for someone who likes spicy and hot foods? Look no further. This recipe originally came from my mother and was labeled fondue mustard. Do you remember those days in the 60’s and 70’s when beef fondue was all the rage. Yep, that was the source. But, I find this mustard is wonderful at any time. It’s great as a horseradish replacement with roast beef, fantastic with pot roast or beef brisket or beef stew. Sometimes you just need a little bit of a flavor boost. And believe me, you will want to use this in judiciously.

I like to give these in pretty jars as gifts, the jars themselves are part of it. I happened across these lovely handmade jars by a friend of a friend, Patricia Lorenz. Each one is a work of art, never the same.

In themselves they make a unique gift.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz container of Colemans mustard powder
  • 1 cup of wine vinegar (I used my own home brewed but commercial red or white is fine)
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 3 eggs well beaten

Method:

  1. Combine the mustard powder and vinegar in a large jar, mix well. Let stand overnight.
  2. The next day combine the brown sugar, eggs and mustard mixture in a double boiler.
  3. Cook over simmering water until the mixture thickens.

 

  1. Thickened Hot and Sweet Mustard

The mustard will keep several months in the fridge.

Hot and Sweet Mustard – this one is for me

Patricia also made larger jars, I just need to figure out what to put in them to give as gifts.

Any suggestions?

November – A Glut of Lemons

November – A Glut of Lemons

I am enjoying a glut of Meyer lemons from the container tree on my deck. This is a common situation in California when many homes have backyard trees. I hate to waste them and am always looking for new ways to preserve the bounty. These lemons are small (probably because the tree is root bound…it has been in the same half wine barrel for 5 years) but very numerous. And the tree is in flower again (Meyer lemon trees will produce almost all year-long) I want to send the tree’s energy to the new maturing lemons, so I harvested most of them. Starting in March I will trim out the middle branches to let in more light and fertilize it. But I don’t necessarily want to encourage a lot of new growth right now in case we get a freeze.

Meyer Lemons

The next question is always, what to do with them? They won’t last forever. I already have several jars of salted preserved lemons in the pantry, so I didn’t want to do that again. I use them for salad dressing instead of vinegar but there are still a lot left in the bowl.

So, I decided to do something new and make lemon confit with some of them, candy a few, and with the rest make an Indian Lemon Fermented Pickle. I’ve made a version of the lemon pickle before, but this one looked easier and a little different.

You don’t have to use Meyer lemons for these recipes, regular grocery store lemons will work as well. However, try to buy organic ones without the wax coating. If you don’t have any choice, be sure and scrub them well in warm water to remove the wax.

All three of these would make good holiday gifting.

Meyer Lemon Confit

Wash and dry your lemons (as many as you want), slice them about 1/4 inch thick and remove any seeds, add them to a saucepan. Cover with olive oil and bring to a slow simmer. Turn down the heat (you should only see a bubble rise now and then) and simmer them on the low heat for 60 to 90 minutes. Cool and put them in clean jars, cover with the lemon olive oil. You can use the lemon infused oil in salads or for finishing vegetables, pulse the slices with the oil to make a lovely super lemony salad dressing, top fish or chicken with the slices before baking, marinate fish or chicken with chopped lemons and the oil, a multitude of uses.

Lemons slowly cooking in olive oil

 

Confit Meyer Lemons in Olive Oil

These are some turkey legs that I will sous vide for turkey confit.

Flavoring for Turkey, Lemon Confit, Rosemary, Thyme and Sage Leaves

Candied Meyer Lemon Slices

  • Slice several Meyer lemons thinly, removing any seeds.
  • Combine 1 cup of water with 1 cup of cane sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil.
  • Add the lemon slices and turn down the heat to a slow simmer.
  • Simmer until the edges turn translucent, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Remove to a parchment or wax paper lined pan and allow to cool.
  • Refrigerate.

Candied Meyer Lemon Slices

And the uses are numerous! Use them to sweeten your tea, add them to muffins when baking, top a lemon tea cake with a few slices, and what about adding a slice to your cocktail? It makes an amazing lemon drop. The lemon syrup can be strained and used in cocktails, glaze a chicken or fish, make a version of lemonade with mineral or soda water…

A couple of years ago I made fermented Meyer lemon pickles with Indian 5-spices. I wanted something slightly simpler this year. I found the recipe for Spiced Indian Fermented Pickles on the blog Fermenting for Foodies. 

Indian Spiced Lemon Pickle

Spiced Indian Fermented Meyer Lemon Pickle

  • 1 lb. of lemons
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp fenugreek powder or 1/2 tsp whole seeds (see note 1)
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
  1. Wash the lemons well, removing any wax coating if necessary.
  2. Add them to a saucepan with the turmeric and cover with water. Slowly bring to a boil and simmer for 8 minutes.
  3. Drain well and allow to cool, then cut each lemon into 6-8 wedges, depending on size. Remove any seeds. Do this over a bowl as they may be very juicy.
  4. Sprinkle the lemons with salt and pack into a sterilized jar with a tight-fitting lid. A 1 quart canning jar is perfect.
  5. Allow to ferment at room temperature for a week, turning the jar over every day.
  6. After a week (a few days extra won’t hurt), toast the spices.
  7. Add the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds to a dry skillet (I use a small cast iron one) and heat until you start to smell the spices and they turn slightly brown. Add the chili powder to the skillet and toss together. Remove from the heat immediately (the chili powder will easily burn).
  8. Once cool, grind the spices in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
  9. Put the lemons in a bowl, add the spices and toss to mix.
  10. Add them back into the fermenting jar and cover with the oil.
  11. Store in the fridge. They will keep for 6 months.

Note 1: If you are using fenugreek powder, add it with the chili powder.

Serve with rice and yogurt or with any food that needs a flavor boost.

Mustard and Fenugreek seeds

Indian Spiced Lemon Pickle

I am taking these suggestions to Fiesta Friday #252 to share with Angie and the gang. This weeks co-hosts are Alex @ Turks Who Eat and Zeba @ Food For The Soul

Be sure to click on the link to read all the interesting posts for holiday food, gifts and crafts. And, add your own link to the party. If you want to be considered for “post of the week” be sure to credit Fiesta Friday, Alex, Zeba and Angie in your post.

I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving.

 

May – Pickled Asparagus

May – Pickled Asparagus

I just can’t get enough of asparagus when it first comes into season! By the end of May I am looking for ways to preserve it for the rest of the year. Out of season asparagus is often shipped long distances and can be dry and lacking in that wonderful grassy flavor (not to mention enormously expensive and environmentally irresponsible). I want to take full advantage of the long spring season, there are so many ways of serving it. Have you ever thought of combining different cooking methods with the same vegetable? The combination of fresh asparagus and pickled ones in an inspiration. Think thinly sliced or finely chopped pickled spears combined with sour cream (or even better, creme fraiche) as a sauce for fresh asparagus cooked on the grill. You could add equal parts mayonnaise if you want. Serving it as a sauce elevates the vegetable to a new level. What about putting a poached egg on top, serving all on top of a slice of crisp toast? I could see a slice of crisped prosciutto somewhere in there as well or even a slice meaty bacon. Yum!

I am getting ahead of myself because a simple platter of grilled or roast asparagus with pickled asparagus sauce is delicious.

Roast Asparagus with Pickled Asparagus Sauce

But first you need the pickled asparagus. I have found jars in better grocery stores but they are the tiny grassy spears, and are quite costly. It is far easier to pickle your own when asparagus is in season.

For pickling you can use either thin or thicker spears, peel the ends of the thicker ones first. if you haven’t done this before you can find the tips here. I found large mouth quart canning jars so I could pickle the longest spears possible. But you can cut them into smaller pieces and use pint jars if that is all you have. Either way pack them with the tips up to preserve the shape as much as possible.

Start with 4 pounds of asparagus to ensure enough for 3 quarts. I purchased 3 large bunches, thinking it would be enough (it looked like an enormous amount) and was short a 1 quart container. You’ll need about 16 cups (hard to measure). At the end I had one unused sterile quart container and extra pickling solution…what to do? I found a head of celery in the fridge and remembered reading somewhere about the joys of pickled celery. Why not? Now I have a jar of pickled celery and will let you know how I like it.

Asparagus waiting to be pickled

If you have to buy your asparagus a day or two ahead, store them like flowers with the ends in cool water.

Pickled Asparagus

For 4 quarts:

Ingredients:

  • 6 1/2 cups of white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 3 1/2 cups of water
  • 3 tablespoons of kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 4 teaspoons of fennel seeds
  • 8 sprigs of fresh fennel fronds if available
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 16 cups of asparagus or 4 pounds

Method:

  1. First bring the water in your canning jar to a boil. I find this takes the longest and always start it at the very beginning of the canning process. You can use the water to scald 4 quart canning jars. Or, I find it easier to run them through the dishwasher, then place them open side down on a clean dishtowel until you are ready to fill them.
  2. In a dry small skillet, toast the fennel seeds on medium heat until they are turning golden brown and aromatic (about 1 minute). Remove and place on a plate to cool.
  3. Prepare the asparagus by measuring the length you will need for your jars, snap and peel the ends once the appropriate size. You really only need to peel the ends of medium or large asparagus stalks.
  4. Bring a large skillet of water to a boil. You will use this to blanch the asparagus. While it is coming to a boil, put a large bowl of ice water in the sink. Once it comes to a boil, add the asparagus in batches. Set a timer for 1 minute, then remove the stalks from the boiling water and drop them into the ice bath to cool quickly. Once cool, remove them to a clean dishtowel lined tray. Repeat as necessary until they are all blanched.
  5. In a pot bring the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar to a boil. This is your brine. Keep hot.
  6. In a small pot soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the seal.
  7. Now you are ready. Turn the jars right side up and add 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1 bay leaf, and 2 garlic halves to each jar. Pack the asparagus in tightly, tips up.
  8. Carefully pour the hot brine over the asparagus in the jars. Leave about 1 inch of head space. Check for air pockets and add more liquid if needed. Wipe the rims, add the lids and screw on the bands until snug but not tight.
  9. Place the jars in the pot with the lid, add water to cover the jars (by about an inch if possible). Bring the water back to boil, cover, and process for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the jars for a few minutes. Remove the jars and let cool completely. Check to make sure the lid pops in, indicating proper canning.

And here is the lone jar of pickled celery.

Pickled Celery

The inspiration for this recipe came from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy. It is probably one of my most used books on preserving.

I think I will take this as part of my recipe for asparagus with pickle sauce to the party at Fiesta Friday #226, it will be lovely as part of the buffet. You can find the link to Angie’s Fiesta Friday blog here. Follow the listed links at the bottom to any of the blogs that interest you. Angie’s cohost this week is Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

If you are a blogger yourself, please add your link to the list.

TGIF everyone!