HOW TO :: Homemade Nut Milks

With health consciousness on the rise, more people are turning to dietary alternatives with the aim of avoiding allergens in their food. Why? Because many of these foods create internal inflammation of our tissues and joints and chronic inflammation can lead to disease and illness. homemade almond milkCommon food triggers are wheat, dairy, peanuts, soy, refined sugar. If you're following a paleo diet these and many more are on the no-no list. If you're doing a detox cleanse, you need not be as strict. Many things have easy, healthy substitutes - instead of white sugar, opt for raw local honey. Instead of peanut butter, try sunflower seed butter.

Dairy gets a little tricky because many of the substitutes have OTHER allergens and ingredients to steer clear from. Most shelf-stable nut milks contain carrageenan, "a gum extracted from certain species of red algae (also known as Irish moss) has thickening, gelling, and binding properties. It is used to stabilize emulsions in dairy products; to improve the quality of foods such as soups, salad dressings, sauces, and fruit drinks; and to give a creamy thick texture to milk products," states Prescription for Dietary Wellness: Using Foods to Heal by Phyllis Balch.

For this reason, I like to make my own nut milks at home. The process is easy and the results are great, as long as you're not looking for a thick emulsified product that mimics the consistency of cream. Not going to happen, no matter what 'they' say! Will it be close? Most def, but for anyone just making the change or those who are not vehemently committed to eating healthy (and therefore willing to overlook small things like a change in consistency), there will likely be an acclimation period.

To make homemade nut milk, seeds are first soaked. This not only helps to soften the nut meat, it activates sprouting in the 'seed'. This process makes the vitamin content of nuts more available to us and also strips the seed of their enzyme inhibitors. These inhibitors allow seeds to remain dormant until ready to grow, but are considered difficult to digest. Once seeds are exposed to moisture, the enzymes are neutralized. This is why it's important to soak and drain the nuts, before adding more water to puree them.

 

Pressed nut milkThe same process is similar for all nuts, if you want to experiment making nut milks at home. I'm posting my method, along with one from Prescription for Dietary Wellness. I would soak my nuts first, otherwise I liked the additions to that recipe and it's a great version for moms looking for a daily alternative for the little ones.

I have a different method from any recipe I've ever read for homemade nut milks in that I do a double soak. I feel like my how to method extracts a lot of the fats from the nut meat and adds to a richer milk, but that could be in my head. Try it both ways and see what you prefer.

Finally, if I'm using almond milk SOLELY for coffee or drinks, I roast the nuts for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, until fragrant. This lends the coffee a rich, nutty flavor that I LOVE. I don't miss 1/2 &  1/2 at all.

HOMEMADE ALMOND MILK

1 cup raw almonds, soaked over night or at least 8 hours 1 1/2 cups filtered water 1 1/2 cups warm filtered water

Drain the nuts and add to the bowl of a blender. Add half of the water and puree on high until the nuts are broken down and the milk is creamy. Using a fine mesh strainer, drain the nut meat from the milk, pressing down on the solids to release most of the liquid. Return nut meat to blender and add the warmed water. Let soak for until water is cool, about 30 minutes. Turn the blender on high and puree the nuts until milk is creamy, about 1 minutes. Using the same strainer, drain the nut meat from the milk, pressing down on the solids until all of the liquid is pressed out. Reserve nut meat for baked goods, or as a topping on a smoothie bowl, or dry out in the oven for later use.

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ALMOND MILK

This is an excellent addition to children’s and infant’s diets. It’s also good for adults as a milk substitute. Substitute almond milk for soymilk if you are allergic to soy. SOURCE: Prescription for Dietary Wellness: Using Foods to Heal

1 cup almonds 3 cups water ½ fresh papaya (optional; good for babies) 1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses (optional; a good mineral source) 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional) 1 tablespoon brewer’s yeast or wheat germ or both (optional)

1. In a grinder, food processor, or blender, grind the nuts into a powder. Gradually add the water and other ingredients while continuing to blend.

2. Store almond milk in the refrigerator and serve chilled. Note: Using molasses and papaya makes this a complete milk for infants, especially for those who are allergic to cow’s milk. If you plan to use this as a drink for adults, start by adding ½ teaspoon of brewer’s yeast to the recipe and gradually increase to 1 tablespoon over a couple of weeks’ time. Omit the wheat germ if you plan to use almond milk for cooking or on cereals.

 

 

 

Homemade Aged Eggnog

More nuanced then just-made ‘nog, aging mellows the boozy nose of this super spiked beverage and makes for a harmonious, blended flavor. aged eggnog recieHow & Why to Make Aged Eggnog

Eggnog is made with eggs, sugar, a blend of spirits and milk or cream (or both). In a typical iteration, eggs are blended with sugar and booze creating a thick and sweet beverage, not unlike Baileys. From there, portions of milk and cream are added before serving. Some recipes call for whipped cream, while others fold in whipped egg whites. I took another route entirely and went for an aged eggnog recipe.

Alcohol is a natural preservative, killing off bacteria. I had heard of aged eggnog before—the process seemed so much easier than the last minute preparation required with other recipes. With aged eggnog, eggs and spirits (like rum, brandy, cognac, whisky, or bourbon) are blended and mixed with sugar, the alcohol killing any potential of bacteria from the raw eggs over the course of time. (In fact, some think aged eggnog is safer to drink.)

The real benefit to aging the eggnog, however, can be tasted with each sip. More nuanced then just-made ‘nog, aging mellows the boozy nose of this super spiked beverage and makes for a harmonious, blended flavor. Smoother-tasting than fresh eggnog, aging the drink also turns the consistency thin, a nice break from the thick and cloying versions we’ve all come to expect from the store.

To serve, you can of course fold in whipped cream, if you’re a frothy eggnog lover; just as you can use reduced fat milk if you prefer a lighter version. I add toasted star anise to the jar a few days before I plan to serve it—the warming spices embody all that is symbolic of the holidays in one.

Aged Vanilla Eggnog Makes 8 lowball glasses | start to finish: 20 to 30 minutes

1 1/2 cups bourbon or whiskey 1/2 cup dark rum 1/2cup brandy 12 eggs 1 1/2 cup sugar 1 vanilla bean pod 2 star anise, dry roasted (optional)

To serve: 1 1/4 cup whole milk 1/4 cup heavy cream Ice Whole nutmeg, for grating

Combine all of the spirits and set aside. In a large bowl or standing mixer, add the eggs and sugar. Beat on low speed until all of the sugar has dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to the lowest setting and slowly add the spirits, drop by drop at first to temper the eggs. When all of the liquid has been added, strain into a clean glass jar (using a strainer will catch any solid bits of egg), cover and store in a cool dark place. Invert the jar occasionally, or at least every three days, for at minimum of nine days and up to three weeks total. Five days before serving, add the vanilla bean pod and star anise, if using.

aged eggnog recipe

To serve: strain out the spices and place the eggnog mixture into a large bowl or container. Add the milk and heavy cream and stir to combine. To serve, shake a ladle-full (about ½ cup) of eggnog with ice until frothy. Serve immediately, over a lowball filled with ice and top with some freshly grated nutmeg.

HOW TO :: Preserving & Canning Pears

Seckel pears are diminutive, with muddy, olive green skin and a firm texture. Their tiny proportions make them impossible to resist, and the perfect size for a light dessert after a rich meal. They ripen toward the end of September, so be on the lookout as the season is short. Pears are poached in a light caramel syrup - you can determine how dark you'd like to burn the sugar. I prefer mine deeply amber, imparting an almost burnt quality to the fruit. Of course, you can also infuse the syrup with any number of aromatics. Here, we use vanilla, but lavender buds, fresh thyme or even a bag of your favorite tea. When you crack open the jars, the pears’ exterior will have a gorgeous caramel hue, whereas the centers stay creamy. I like to serve the pears whole, with a dollop of cream and a drizzle of the syrup. Make sure to use wide-mouth pint jars here, so the pears fit without bruising. Caramel Vanilla Seckel Pears makes 6-8 pints | start to finish: about 1 hour active time

2 1/4 cups sugar 5 1/2 cups warm water 1 vanilla bean, cut in half, beans scraped and reserved 5 pounds Seckel pears

In a large, completely dry, saucepan, add the sugar and shake the pan gently to level it out. Place the saucepan over medium heat. Without touching it, leave the sugar to melt and brown; do not stir it. The sugar will begin to brown at the edges. Once starting to brown, gently swirl the pan slightly, making sure to keep the sugar level, so it does not coat the sides of the pan. The sugar will caramelize, becoming dark brown at edges. Stir the melted sugar slowly, incorporating the dry sugar, until all of the sugar is melted and amber colored. Wearing an oven mitt and long sleeves (molten sugar will spit and pop) carefully pour in the warm water while simultaneously stirring. Any sugar crystals that form will melt in the water. Add the vanilla bean pods and the reserved seeds, and set the pot aside. (This is also when you when add other aromatics, as pictured below.**)

caramel infusions

Peel the pears, leaving a small piece of the stem intact. Immediately drop them into the syrup. When all of the pears have been added, return the pot to medium-high heat. Bring the syrup to a low boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Cook the pears for 10 to 15 minutes, until they are just beginning to soften, but are not cooked through all the way. The exterior flesh will be easily pierced, but the core of the pear will be firm.

Remove the pears from the heat and, using a soup spoon, immediately add them to the clean jars, lowering each pear in gently to prevent bruising. Pack the jars as densely as you’re able, leaving 1” of space. Once the jars are packed, pour the caramel-vanilla syrup over the pears so they are submerged, leaving 1/2” of headspace in the jars. Cut the vanilla pod into even pieces and add a small piece of it to each jar. Gently tap the jars on the counter to release any air bubbles. Wipe the jar rims and seal the jars. Place the jarred pears 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

**You can infuse the caramel water with many an array of aromatics. Try fresh thyme, lavender, ginger, cardamom, cloves, etc. I always recommend doing a small batch on the side first, so you can judge the potency and see if you like the flavor. From there, add aromatics to the pot and steep as you like. As I tell all of my students, the potency of the flavor will grow in strength over time, so keep it a little softer then you'd ideally like. A little clove goes a long way - trust me.

HOW TO :: Grow Your Own Fig Tree | Propagating Figs

This is a great fall project as we move into winter. Be sure to position the cutting in a sunny spot so it can put on growth before winter really sets in. It will go dormant over winter (keep the soil moisture consistently JUST damp) and pick up growth as we turn into the new year.figs_food52 copy I think you'll be surprised at how simple this is, but for anyone interested, here are the instructions if you want to DIY it:

  1. Find a fig tree! Maybe your neighbor has one or maybe you're in a local park.
  2. Using pruning shears, cut a 4- to 10-inch long piece of soft wood new growth, just above a plant node.
  3. Fill a large pot with potting soil (a simple plastic pot that shrubs come in is perfect) and stick the fig cutting in, cut side down. Don't worry about stripping the bark, spacing or anything. You just need to place the cutting in a well-drained medium with space to grow.
  4. Water, water, water! Moisture is key. Eventually, your cutting will grow smaller little leaves and develop a root system. You know it is ready for replanting or repotting when you give the plant a slight tug and it resists.

Why Tomatoes Crack & Split

split tomatoesIn late summer, I'm bound to receive texts from my friends and clients showcasing cracked and split tomatoes asking me what went wrong. In short, you can blame it on the rain. When tomatoes (and all ripening fruits) have a sudden fluctuation in their water levels, they are bound to react. After a somewhat dry summer (and with a consistent watering schedule), a sudden downpour allows plants to drink up way more water than usual. As they take up water, the fruits expand, causing the skins of tomatoes to crack and split. This is particularly offensive in the case of almost-ripe tomatoes; They are already super moist and so have a greater tendency to split right before harvest - a total bummer.

The good news is, if you get out in the garden and harvest almost-ripe tomatoes BEFORE forecasted rain, you can save them. Just keep them on a windowsill or countertop to continue ripening. (Any time you can ripen fruit in the sun, hence a windowsill, it will produce better-tasting fruit.) If you miss the window and rain comes, harvest cracked and split tomatoes asap and ripen them in the same fashion. While ugly, the cracks don't do a lot to alter the flavor, and for any purist, you can cut around the tough skin and compost that portion.

 

Best Trellis Ideas

pea trellisIf you haven't planted your Sugar Snap, English or Snow peas by now, it's time to get them in the garden! These springtime plants grow quickly and can be used in a vertical garden, thereby freeing up precious space on the ground. I use all sorts of different trellises in the garden and no one exhibits these better than Lily over at Rake & Make. This is her favorite pea trellis, and I'd have to agree. We use string in all of our gardens, but a staple gun and netting is a fine idea - you can roll it up when the season ends. I also love her version of a cucumber trellis - it's a great way to get those heavy fruits up and off the ground and makes them easy to harvest.

Incidentally, both peas and cucumbers can be grown in pots, making them a great choice for anyone with limited space or a small balcony. These tall pea vines would provide temporary (and delicious) privacy between neighbors.

Lily and I met in 2007 when we both attended an intensive organic gardening series. She had just bought a home and I was researching an article for Edible Seattle. Since then, she has become and urban farming master and a wonderful homemaker as well. She made her own wedding dress, knits her own sweaters and grows her own food. Marry ME, Lily! Her blog is an amazing resource full of great information.

Check out her site for more awesome vertical garden tips and best trellis ideas, along with crafty DIY projects. I highly recommend!

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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 vinegarFresh 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 vinegar. 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

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 thin syrup or thick paste, and the pulp that cooks into membrillo is a natural byproduct of making the syrup. While the recipes take some time, starting with a large quantity (in this case five pounds) will keep your pantry stocked in quince.

Quince Syrup Makes about 2 pints | start to finish: 3 hours

The flavor of this syrup offers a hint of the floral fragrance that makes quince so appealing. This syrup can be made as thin or as thick as you like. Thinner syrup will take less time, and is best for adding to cocktails or soaking a sponge cake or other dessert. You can also choose not to reduce the liquid at all, and drink it as a refreshing beverage on its own.

10 cups water Juice from one lemon 5 pounds quince, thoroughly scrubbed clean of hair, stems and blossom ends removed

Fill a large pot with both water and lemon juice. Quarter quinces and immediately place into water. When all the quince is cut and added, the water should just cover the fruit. If needed, add more water to cover. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the fruit is cooked all the way through and can be easily pierced with a knife, but is not yet falling apart, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Strain fruit from cooking liquid, and set the fruit pulp aside. Using a fine mesh strainer (or cheesecloth-lined colander) filter the cooking liquid to strain out any remaining fruit fibers. Place the strained cooking liquid in a clean pot and set over medium-high heat. Reduce the syrup by about half or until desired consistency is reached. For a medium-body syrup, this will take about 45 minutes to an hour.

Prepare pint jars for canning. Add quince syrup to the jars. Using a damp clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars and place the lids and rings on the jars. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter. When the syrup is cool, check for proper seals and label with date and contents. Store in a cool, dark cupboard until ready to use, for up to a year. Once opened, store in the fridge.

washed jars • water bath

Quince Paste Makes 4 thin loaves | start to finish: 12 hours

Quince paste is also known as membrillo, and it’s commonly cut into squares and served alongside cheese. The paste is made from the fruit pulp reserved from making the syrup, requiring only some additional sugar. Note that you will need to commit some time to this project. Cooking the fruit down to a paste can take well over an hour and then it must be dried in an oven. Be patient and know that the effort will be handsomely rewarded.

Reserved pulp from 5 pounds cooked quince, about 8 cups 4 to 5 cups sugar

Place the cooked quince pulp in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Push the puree through a fine mesh strainer. Measure the puree and pour it into a large, heavy pot. For every cup of puree, stir in 1/2 cup of sugar. Set over medium low heat and cook, stirring regularly, until quite thick and paste-like, between 1 and 2 hours. It may stick to the pot as it thickens, so adjust the heat lower as needed. The paste is done when a small spoonful is placed on a plate and no liquid separates out.

While the pulp is cooking, prepare a pan for drying out the paste. You may use a shallow high-walled cookie sheet (such as a half sheet pan or jelly roll pan) or a smaller, deeper glass baking dish (about 11″ x 7″) depending on how thick you would like your sliced paste to be. Just make sure you dish is no deeper than two inches; otherwise the paste will not dry sufficiently in the center. Rub the entire surface with a thin layer of vegetable oil and line with a layer of lightly-oiled parchment paper. Set aside.

Turn oven to 140 degrees or the lowest setting it will allow. Pour the quince paste into your prepared baking pan and bake for 3 hours. Turn off the oven, and leave the paste inside overnight. In the morning, cut a small piece of quince paste to see if it is dried throughout. If still loose and jam-like in the middle, you may need to continue drying in the oven for a few hours more. When the paste is dried through, turn it out from the pan, remove the parchment paper and cut into four to six small loaves for easy storage. Wrap each paste loaf in fresh parchment paper before storing in the fridge, where it will keep for several months.

store in fridge

Originally published in Edible Seattle

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. This SodaStream Play comes with the options of wrapping in 'skins' of various designs - or you can customize your own skin by uploading an image of your choice. I picked the NY skyline - an homage to my roots and Eli the Seltzer Guy in Brooklyn, who used to deliver soda water to our brownstone monthly - a wooden crate full of handblown glass bottles that were made in the 30s and hail from Czechoslovakia. Incidentally, he fills the bottles at an old seltzer factory in Canarsie, where my father and all of my aunts, uncles and cousins grew up.

This nostalgic feeling likely influenced my choice in first experiment - a chocolate egg cream. Egg creams are a thing of the past, though you can find them in vintage east coast delis. The Townhouse Diner in Honesdale, PA (by my dad's house) serves them still, with no hint at irony. Egg creams have big bubbles, so I used 6 compressions on the SodaStream Play to achieve a strong, vibrant bubble.

While they're traditionally made with a heavy chocolate syrup, I made my version with a dark, organic cocoa powder. 2 cups whole milk + 1/2 cup cocoa powder + 1/2 cup vanilla sugar - heat this up over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and cocoa powder is well blended, then cool completely. For really creamy soda, make this with half & half.

1 part chocolate milk : 2 part SodaStream soda

chocolate egg cream

Given the autumnal energy in the air, I also decided on a cider beverage of some kind. I was gifted a gallon of TreeTop apple juice in honor of National Apple Month, so decided it was high time to use it. Mulled apple juice pairs well with bourbon, so that was the jumping off point. I wanted to veer from super traditional mulling spices, so opted for lavender - a heavy floral note with an earthy undertone. Once the juice is steeped with aromatics and cooled, the only trick is nailing the proportions. This cocktail was a crowd pleaser - all my girlfriends sat around sipping and singing the praises of autumn. I wanted a soft sparkle here, so I used 3 compressions on the SodaStream Play to achieve a gentle, small bubble.

: Apple-Lavender Fizz : 2 cups apple juice, or cider 3 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender buds 2 thin slices fresh ginger root 1 tablespoon cloves 1 tablespoon allspice 10 cardamom pods 1 cinnamon stick

Place a small saucepan over medium high heat, and add the juice and spices. Bring to a boil and reduce heat slightly, allowing the apple juice to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Strain the spices, pressing into the solids to release any juice, and serve.

1 part bourbon : 2 part juice : 1 part SodaStream soda

apple-lavender fizz

I also rimmed the glass with "apple powder" - essentially dehydrated apples that I pulverized with a bit of sugar. The moisture gives it a molasses-like consistency, though the apple flavor shines through.

Because I was on a roll and had company over, I whipped up an easy, refreshing non-alcoholic drink using frozen fruit juice as a base. It's smart to keep a container of this juice around (opt for an organic company, which won't use high fructose corn syrup) for quick beverages - a good pantry staple. Rather then blending with water, I used SodaStream Play soda water resulting in a light, effervescent drink. You could of course add a splash of vodka. I had some Blood Orange vodka from 3 Howls Distillery and it worked beautifully together.

1 part frozen lemon concentrate : 4 part SodaStream soda

lemon-thyme spritzer

For this lemon-thyme fizz, I wanted major bubble action, (the bubbles have to lift the syrup, which is heavy) so I used 8 compressions on the SodaStream Play. Worked like a charm.

The SodaStream Play comes with a selection of syrups, too, for anyone wanting a pure soda option.I have more experiments going now, so stay tuned for more. There is this pineapple fermentation thing that my friend declared "tastes like colors," which is a pretty spot on assessment.

[This is a sponsored post. All personal commentary, stories and recipes are original content, written by me at my discretion and whim.]

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.

For more apple-y projects, please check out my APPLE Cookbook, which was released this past September. It has great DIY projects like a Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar or Homemade Apple Juice. _MG_3660

As a side note, I recently returned from a trip to see my cousins in Croatia and my 2-year old cousin, Otilia, would often ask for "compote", which is essentially homemade apple juice in a bottle. My cousin leaves out the sugar, just like the recipe in the book, making it a healthy option for kids.

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Before dehydrating, you can add edible petals, crushed nuts or citrus zest to your fruit leather for flavor, texture and visual appeal. Here, I am using crushed rose petals from a Rosa Rugosa plant which can be found all over the Pacific Northwest and along many coastlines nationally. Here is a HOW TO on making Rose Hip Sherry._MG_3911

Apple leathers

 

 

 

 

HOW TO :: Tomato DIY - Pruning & Trellises

Pruned tomato vineCome summertime, when the air is hot and the sun is high, everyone comes down with a little case of tomato fever. I’m not sure how this plant grew to such epochal proportions as to measure the success of a home gardener, but it has. Today we present tomato tips and tricks, from pruning for maximum yield to easy DIY trellises.

Pruning Those Suckers Tomato suckers are the small sets of leaves that grow between the main stem and a leafy branch of a tomato plant. These suckers, if left to grow, become additional flowering and fruiting stems for the plant. That's good, right? Not quite. If allowed to bloom and fruit, these additional tomatoes will ultimately compete for nutrients from the plant. Over time, this lessens the overall chances of all the fruit coming to delicious maturity. Cooler and shorter seasons (like in the Northwest), cannot support such prolific tomato production -- but regardless of your temperature, all tomatoes do well with a little pruning.

Pruning, in this case, refers to snapping off those little suckers. When the stems are new and short (say, 3 to 4 inches) you can snap them off with your fingers by bending them back quickly. If you let them get much larger, it’s best to use a set of shears so you don’t tear the main plant stem in the process. Starting in early August (after the plants have some good strong growth and the weather is consistently warm) I snap off suckers -- no hesitation, no regrets -- from the top half of the plant. (If you planted a smaller tomato variety or cherry tomato plant, leave more suckers on the plant. Because cherry tomatoes are smaller, they ripen faster and the plant can support more production.)

In addition to trimming suckers, now is a great time to prune about 30% of the green leaf stems from the tomato vine. This sends the plant's energy into fruit production, rather than upward growth. This also allows for air to pass through and for sun to shine on the fruit, which helps develop sweetness. More practically, pruning also allows a gardener to clearly see when tomatoes are ripe.

pruned tomatoesBe aggressive and fear not -- pruning will seldom cause damage to the plant or overall tomato production. Our "job" as home cooks and gardeners is to produce the most luscious tomato for our table. Keep that in mind, and you won’t have a problem getting rid of suckers and excess leaves. One last note: some people (like me) find the leaves of tomato plants highly irritable to their skin, especially on prolonged contact. For this reason, I always, always wear gloves and long sleeves when dealing with tomato plants.

DIY Trellises A structured tomato trellis offers support to climbing or tall plants and is perfect for maximizing and managing your space -- they keep tomato stems from breaking and allow for pruning. I know everyone loves tomatoes, so now is the time to get in the garden and focus on building tomato supports, if you haven’t already!

DIY Fence TrellisPerhaps you’re one of the many who purchase tomato "cages," but find that the plants are growing well over the confines of the cage and dragging it down. I’ll be honest and admit I am not a fan of tomato cages. Instead, I build a support system of bamboo in all of my tomato beds. DIY trellising is uber-efficient and less expensive. It also allows for easy pruning, good air circulation, and good fruit maturity, as it allows sun to sit on individual tomato fruits, ripening and sweetening them up. There are lots of other options for trellising, as well – re-using a fence, for instance. If you have supportive items like this around, use them. If not, build your own.

Tomato trellis

To Build: You need 5 lengths of 6-foot bamboo. Crossing two pieces of bamboo, tie string about 5-inches down, creating a small “X” at one end. Once tied, splay the bamboo apart, making a large “X” – these will act as the foundation for the trellis. Do this twice and position the the bamboo legs about 5 feet apart in the bed. Position the remaining piece of 6-foot bamboo across the frame and voila! A super durable, strong trellis in which to trail over vining plants.

To Support Tomatoes: Use garden twine and loosely make a knot around the main stem of the tomato, winding the string up to the top of the bamboo and tying off. Do this in one or two places along the main stem, gently twisting the tomato plant around the string for extra support and VOILA. Tomato support!

Watering Tomatoes For heat-loving tomato plants, it’s smart to water in the morning before you leave for work. Watering in the morning leaves time for plants to soak it up before the heat of day and evaporation take over. Watering in the evening results in a drop in soil temperature which these heat-lovers do not appreciate. You wouldn’t like to go to sit outside in wet socks at night time, would you? Same, same.

Keep me posted on all of your tomato successes and failures. Have a great tip? Be sure to post it in the comments.

[One last note -some people (like me) find the leaves of tomato plants highly irritable to their skin. For this reason, I always, always wear gloves when dealing with tomato plants.]

How To :: Propagate Herbs

Last summer I met up with my friend Sarah, a farmer. Sarah has been farming for years and she's an absolute pro, so I asked her to meet me out at a new space to help me devise the perfect garden plan. (She's a genius that way – indispensible knowledge.) We met up and walked to the garden. On the way, she spotted a old, prolific fig tree and stopped in her tracks. "Oh – I need that," she exclaimed, and simultaneously reached into her back pocket as she crossed the street. With at quick snip, she cut a couple inches length from the fig plant, looked at me, and whispered, "You want one?"

Splitting thyme rootsThe practice of growing a plant from a small clipping is called propagation, but I had no idea you could grow a fig tree from a mere four inches of branch. Propagating a plant from a cutting or root division is one of the coolest parts of gardening. Propagating plants, quite simply, extends a plant's reproduction beyond the usual blooming and seeding. There are two methods we'll cover today: splitting the roots of a parent plant, called root division, and taking a cutting. (Grafting is also considered a form of propagation, but requires a bit more work.)

Root Division: Split One Plant Into Two
Many herbs and plants can be divided by simply splitting up their roots: Thyme, Oregano, Mint, Strawberries, Rhubarb, Chives, Tarragon, Lovage, and Marjoram are all perfect candidates. It's easy:

transplanting thyme

1. Dig up the plant and its entire root system as best you can in early spring or fall. Growth is slow during these seasons, which makes this treatment easier on the plant.

Root Division, thyme

2. Work apart the roots and slice through them with a clean knife or your hands. (You can also trim the root balls with scissors.) Be sure that each division has both healthy roots and at least one small green shoot!

Root division, repotting thyme

3. Repot into a large enough pot and water well. Be sure to keep it watered well until the plant catches on and begins to put out new growth. You don't want to add any additional stress to the plant from lack of water!

A note for apartment gardeners: if you already have perennial herb pots going, it may be time for you to split them and separate the division into two pots. Every three years or so, perennial herbs do well with some dividing. Add some compost to the new potting mix and repot in a same-size or larger container. If you don't need more of the same herb, divide them anyway and repot as gifts for friends or neighbors.

Taking a Cutting: Cloning Your Plants
Some plants root out from the stem, making them excellent candidates for cuttings. Examples include Figs -- like the one my friend Sarah clipped -- Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mint, Scented Geraniums, Tarragon, Sage, Lemon Verbena, and Oregano. (Yes, many plants can be propagated in both ways -- use the one most convenient for you.)

As a general rule of thumb, take a cutting from new plant growth. This is best done in late spring or early summer -- cuttings prosper in warm conditions. This also allows enough time for the cutting to put on some new growth without the stress and cold of winter.

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1. On some plants, new growth comes in the form of a side shoot; in others it grows from the top of the plant's branches. Choose the newest growth and cut about a five inch length just below a set of leaves.

propagating scented geranium

2. Remove the lowest leaves from the cutting, as well as any buds or blossoms on the stem. (If left, these will take energy away from the plant by producing seed.)

propagating geraniums

3. Place the cutting directly into a small pot of potting soil (leave it unfertilized for now), being sure to bury the lowest leaf node (the node is the area below the lowest leaves that you just removed) and water well. This leaf node is where the bulk of the plant's hormones are located, and they will aid in root development. Keep the cutting watered until the plant begins to put on new growth.

Propagating geraniumYou will know it's ready when the cutting does not pull out of the soil with a gentle tug, indicating the new growth is sufficient for transplanting to a bigger pot. This generally takes from four to six weeks.

There are many, many edible plants that you can propagate easily (including tomatoes!), so share in the comments if you have some great tips! And if you're interested in learning more about herbs, check out this upcoming class on Growing Herbs in Containers from Swanson's Nursery in Ballard, Seattle.

Photos by Della Chen

 

 

 

TGIF Cocktail Hour :: Spring Amaro

SpringAmaro_BlogI've been on a Manhattan kick lately. Any after-hours drink made with whiskey and something bitter has been my go-to for weeks. (I miss you Dry Sapphire Martini!) I'm a huge fan of a dry punch in these cocktails - an extra shake of bitters, a splash of Fernet, Campari or a herbaceous amaro. The bitter quality acts as a digestive, and I like the bracing quality they add as a counterpoint to the sweeter bourbon. Hell, let's be honest….. I'm happy to sip any bitter liqueur simply, over ice. It was such a pleasure then, to recently stumble upon a recipe for homemade Amaro from Beth Evans-Ramos on her blog Mama Knows Her Cocktails. Beth is a prolific speaker and travels the country hosting seminars and classes on gardening - her current focus is creating garden cocktails! Not a bad gig.

Amaro is a technically an Italian liqueur, and is essentially a bitter-sweet infusion of herbs, roots and other earthy ingredients. Sugar is added for a more syrupy quality. And while there are many awesome amaro products for purchase, you can certainly make your own version at home.

Mama Knows Her Cocktails makes a different amaro with every season, taking advantage whatever is in bloom at the time.  Even better, she graciously allowed me to re-post her image and recipe. Here, her version of a Spring Amaro uses lovage (celery-like leaves and a strong flavor that grows well in containers), lemon verbena (a delicate and beautiful floral-lemon herb) and even chive blossoms, which I bet add a bit of kick. Her recipe for the drink is here, though you essentially pour vodka over a boat load of herbs & plants! No big secret, though I'll warn you all plant material MUST be submerged. Oxygen interacting with plants may introduce some funky bacteria to the mix and you don't want to worry about mold or microbes, so just keep it covered. (If your plant ingredients float, you can weigh them down with a rock or plate.)

This takes a few weeks to infuse, so unfortunately you may just need to splash a little vodka in a glass and add soda water & ice for tonight. Or meet me out for a Manhattan. Bottoms up!

 

 

 

How To :: Building Potato Cages

Potatoes, diggin upPotatoes are one of the most often requested vegetables when I first meet with clients, and they're a great crop to grow if you have limited space. Potatoes are a 'tuber', an underground, fleshy stem bearing buds that eventually turn into the potato. (Jerusalem artichokes aka sunchokes are tubers, too.) Dahlias are also tubers, but those roots are simply food-storing roots for the plant. Once the potato seed is planted (check out this detailed post with pics for details), the seed (which is a small cut piece of a potato with a sprouted 'eye') will put on top growth - a leafy part of the plant that develops in about 4 weeks after planting. This leafy bit produces leaves and flowers. As the plant stem grows, they produce too much energy for the plant and this energy is then stored in the 'tubers', which we call potatoes. Get it? Good.

The trick with growing potatoes then, is to cultivate a healthy environment so that each stem produces as many tubers as possible. To do this, after some stem and leaves develop, we slowly mulch the beds with hay which helps to hold in moisture and also creates a growing medium for the tubers. When mulching, aim to leave about 3 to 4 inches of stem exposed and add hay as needed.

NOW - how to actually GROW potatoes? There are several techniques, and I've tried them all over the years. The most common is called "hilling" - dig a 6-8" trench, drop in cut & sprouted potato seeds and fill the trench halfway with soil. As the plant grows its vine, you continue covering the trench, leaving about 8" of covered seed - all the more volume to grow in. This is the old school farm-y way, but can be difficult for urban farmers with limited space.

http://www.nwedible.com/2013/04/how-to-make-a-heavy-duty-potato-cage.htmlI've successfully grown potatoes in a soil bag on my apartment garden deck, in burlap bags at Volunteer Park Cafe and in trenches when I have the space. This year, I came across a post by Erica over at Northwest Edible Life, wherein she built potato 'cages' - tall planters made from cementing mesh and landscape fabric. You essentially make circular beds with the fencing and line them with landscape fabric to hold in the soil. Building tomato cages is cheap and easy to do, so I added some to Volunteer Park Cafe this year. One roll of 5 foot tall, 100' long concrete mesh cost me $35 at Stoneway Hardware. I had saved up some cool looking vintage feed bags a few years ago, and lined the beds with this instead, but landscaping fabric also works well and looks decent. Erica has a long, detailed How To post that I highly recommend you read. And she posted her results after trying this new potato-making project, which are also great food for thought.

To check out side by side growth, I encourage all of you to head up to Volunteer Park Cafe one afternoon soon (Agnes, my gardner cohort is there on Wednesday afternoons and I'm there one day a week, too - say hi!) and check out both the NW Edible-style planters aka potato cages and our burlap bag planters. Two different techniques side by side makes for a nice afternoon conversation! And don't forget to grab a pastry - that obviously makes the visit sweeter.

Potato Cages

ps - You can plant potatoes (in the Pac NW) from TODAY through mid-June, so get crackin' and feel free to email me your project pics so I can share!! amy AT amy DASH pennington DOT com.

pps - I'll write a follow up post on How & When To Harvest potatoes, what to plant next in the cages and some other techniques for potato-growing 2015. Stay tuned!

Weekend DIY :: Boozy Blood Orange Marmalade Recipe

jams_UrbanPanty. copySundays are a perfect day for a longer kitchen project. We have settled into the ease of a weekend pace, have a bit more time for errands and tend to wind down early in the afternoon in preparation for the week ahead. For that, I introduce Weekend DIY a new article highlighting a small and awesome food project that is easy to tackle on the weekend. This week, take advantage of winter citrus before they disappear. This recipe will keep your pantry stocked for the year.

(Unless you're a marmalade-consuming-monster, that is.) Thankfully, winter is the time of year where citrus shines, and many tree fruits are coming into season. Citrus of all varieties flood the markets in waves – first the Meyer Lemons in December arrive, with Blood Oranges, Cara Cara’s and more following in the new year. For now, grab the last of the blood oranges which are toward the end of their availability and try this boozy marmalade, which I know you'll love. The flavor is a more complex take on traditional marmalade - the bourbon adds an earthy quality that I love. Try this as a side on your next cheese plate (and aged Gouda or Old Amsterdam work perfectly) and the Almond Cracker recipe found in Urban Pantry. You won't regret it!

Boozy Blood Orange Marmalade (photo cred = the impeccable Della Chen Photography) [ Makes about 5 half pints ]

I’m not sure how I got the idea to add booze to marmalade, but the experiment ended up being a success. A splash of bourbon intensifies the flavor and also helps mellow out the sour edge a marmalade can have. The secret to a good marmalade is in your preparation. This is a lengthy process, so I typically make one big batch a year and then call it done. All that outer peel slicing is time consuming, so plan for a couple of hours, at least. Making this marmalade in stages helps to break it down. If you can’t source blood oranges, use lemons instead, which are in season at the same time.

2 pounds blood oranges, scrubbed, peeled, halved, and juiced (seeds reserved in a muslin bag) 1 lemon, scrubbed, peeled, halved, and juiced (seeds reserved in a muslin bag) 3 cups water 2 to 3 cups sugar 3 to 4 tablespoons bourbon

With a vegetable peeler, remove the outer peel from both the oranges and the lemon, avoiding the white pith. Cut the peel into very thin strips and toss into a large pot. (Wider pots are better for jammaking than deep pots.) Pour the orange juice and lemon juice into the large saucepot, along with the muslin bag of reserved seeds. Add the peels, the lemon halves, and 4 of the orange halves. Add the water and set over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, cooking until the rinds are soft, about 30 minutes. Cover the saucepot and put in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Measure the marmalade. For every cup of citrus and liquid, add 3/4 cup of sugar to the saucepot. (So, 4 cups of citrus equals 3 cups of sugar.) For every cup of citrus, measure out 1 tablespoon of bourbon and set aside. Return the saucepot to medium-low heat and cook down the mixture. Skim off any foam that forms and stir the marmalade often. Put a plate into the freezer for testing the set. Cook until the marmalade gels, about 30 minutes to an hour (depending on how wide your saucepot is).

Prepare jars for canning. To test the marmalade, remove the plate from the freezer, spoon a small amount onto the cold plate, and let it sit a moment. Push the marmalade with your fingertip. If a wrinkle forms in the jelly, the marmalade is done. If it is loose and runny, keep cooking and stirring until thickened. When your desired consistency is reached, remove the muslin bag of seeds and the citrus halves, squeezing any excess juice into the saucepot. You can compost your solids.

Add the marmalade to the jars. Using a damp clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars, and place lids and rings on the jars. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter. When cooled, remove the metal rings, check for proper seals, and label with date and contents. Store in a cool, dark cupboard until ready to use, for up to a year.

Pantry Note: This marmalade is a consummate pantry staple because of its ability to be served with sweet or savory foods. Use this on your toast, or smear a layer on the bottom of an Almond—Butter Tart. You can also add some fresh garlic and water to the marmalade for a wonderful marinade and glaze for fish, chicken, or duck. Spread some on the meat and cook according to directions. I also serve marmalade on cheese plates alongside a soft creamy cheese. Store in the fridge after opening.

Washed jars; water bath (directions online here.)