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How to Make Ramp Butter

This week, regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones swings by with a recipe for preserving spring ramps in creamy butter. Enjoy! -Marisa

Clean ramps and softened butter on a cutting board

Spring is the time of year when everything seems to speed up: plants are growing, people emerge from hibernation, things are happening.

And while I do my best to cook with each of those early foraged and farmed foods — nettles, ramps, rhubarb — at least once a season, if not more, the bustle of springtime sometimes makes it tough to cook creatively while those goodies are in season.

That’s why I love preserving what grows this time of year. There’s five pounds of rhubarb in my fridge, ready to be diced and frozen for pies later this summer. I have nettles on a drying rack in my apartment to add to tea blends once I’ve harvested other herbs later in the season. And I’m preserving ramps in one of my favorite foods: butter.

Clean, trimmed ramps

This compound butter is super simple to make, so it’s easy to fit it into a busy schedule. It’s got a long shelf life in the freezer and myriad uses once you thaw it out, too.

This batch is scaled for just one bunch — about four ounces — of ramps, which also makes it budget-friendly, as these rare alliums can be pricey at the farmers’ market. Of course, if you forage them yourself, you can easily multiply it if you come across a trove in your woodland wanderings.

Soaking ramps in a measuring cup

A note about sustainably harvesting ramps: if you’re foraging for ramps yourself, harvest no more than ten percent of the ramps you see growing in a given area. An even more sustainable way to enjoy ramps is to simply snip off the green leaf that grows aboveground and leave the white bulbs behind — because if you pull the whole plant, it won’t grow back next year. (The forager I got these from pulled their ramps out; hopefully, they only harvested a little bit and left the rest so as not to diminish the supply year over year.)

To make ramp butter, wash your ramps well — they grow on the forest floor, after all — and trim off any roots. Next, give the ramps a 30-second blanch in boiling water, followed by a dip on cold water to stop the cooking. I do this the lazy way by filling and heating my electric kettle to boiling, then pouring the water over the ramps in a heat-proof bowl.

Finely minced ramps

After you’ve cooled down your ramps, ball them up in your hand and give them several strong squeezes to get out as much water as possible — you may want to bundle them into a clean dish towel or a few paper towels to help get more of the moisture out.

Now it’s time to mince. You can do this by hand (like I did), which takes extra time and effort, or you can feel free to chop them small in your food processor. Once your ramps are minced finely, it’s time to combine them with your softened butter.

Combining ramps and butter in a stand mixer

Combine the butter and ramps in a bowl and use a silicone spatula or wide wooden spoon to mix them well; you can also do this with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. I used a cultured, lightly salted butter, so I waited to finish the recipe to add salt to taste — but if you’re using unsalted, I’d add at least one big pinch along with the ramps.

Next, you can store your ramp butter in a resealable plastic tub, or, my preferred method, shape it into a roll using parchment paper. Just roll it up, fold down the sides, and stash in a labeled zip-top bag to store in the freezer for up to six months. You can also chill the roll in the fridge and then cut the butter into single-serving slices for melting over a rare steak, schmearing onto crusty bread or dabbing onto fried eggs.

Making rolls of ramp butter

How to Make Ramp Butter

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces ramp (leaves only or leaves and bulbs will work)
  • 8 ounces grassfed butter, softened (sweet cream or cultured butter will both work, as will salted and unsalted)
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Wash the ramps well and trim off any roots or bruised leaves. Blanch ramps in boiling water for 30 seconds, then drain and shock with cold water to stop the cooking. Drain ramps again and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. It may help to bundle the ramps in a dish towel or paper towels to help absorb more liquid.
  2. Finely mince your ramps using a sharp knife or food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Combine with softened butter and a big pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter). Mix well using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, or combine the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer and mix using the paddle attachment until well blended.
  3. Taste the mixture and add more salt if necessary. Portion your ramp butter into airtight reusable containers or roll and wrap it into logs with parchment paper and then store in a sealed zip-top bag. Ramp butter will last in the fridge for a few weeks or the freezer for up to six months.
http://foodinjars.com/2018/05/how-to-make-ramp-butter/

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How to Make Dandelion-Infused Honey

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is dropping in today with an inspired yet simple idea – honey infused with bright dandelion blossoms! It reminds me of the lemon verbena honey I made back in the very early days of this site. -Marisa

I pride myself on knowing all sorts of unique preserving methods and recipes that make the most of each season. I’m also incredibly thrifty, preferring (with food, at least) to make, grow, barter, or glean what I eat rather than buying ready made.

So it was shocking when some amazing culinary artists in my neighborhood announced that they had made a limited-edition product that had never even occurred to me before.

Frances Rose and Acorn of K Is for Kitchen offer lots of different culinary services in our West Philadelphia neighborhood, and one of those is making ethically sourced value-added products. They make all manner of sauces, butters, pestos, and other treats, rotating with the seasons. And they has a little stash of a very special honey, a summertime wildflower honey infused with (wait for it)…dandelion blossoms.

Such a simple idea! How had I never seen or heard of this before from any farmer or forager I’d worked with? I had to try some — luckily, I was able to get my hands on a jar.

My first thought is that the flowers might add some bitterness to the honey — not unwelcome in such a sweet food — but I was wrong. The dandelion blossoms add a bright floral quality and a depth to the honey’s sweetness, creating complexity by combining two utterly simple ingredients.

To make this delectable treat, find a field or lawn where you can be sure that the plants haven’t been sprayed and the soil is not contaminated (the front yard where I live fits the bill here, but there are plenty of urban green spaces with dandelions that I wouldn’t use for food — so select your site carefully). The dandelions should be in full bloom, big and fluffy and bright yellow.

Then, simply snip or pick the heads of the flowers off and collect them in a clean bag or basket (I cheated and used my straw gardening hat). Leave the stem behind, but the green calyx just beneath the flower is ok. I collected three or four big handfuls, which were enough to mostly fill a pint jar.

When you get back to the kitchen, go over your blooms carefully to make sure you’ve removed any bits of grass, leaves, or stems and any hitchhiking insects. It was too early for spring honey, but I had a jar of local wildflower honey (probably from last fall’s harvest) on hand to infuse.

Then loosely put your flowers in the jar. You don’t want to pack them too densely or else the honey won’t penetrate. Pour over the honey and then give the mixture a few stirs with a knife or chopstick to make sure the flowers are submerged and remove any bubbles that may be trapped.

Then, simply pop a lid on your jar and set it in a cool, dark place to infuse. Give it at least two weeks, then taste; leave it longer for a stronger flavor. The flowers will take up less space once they’re suffused with the honey; if you have room in the jar and want to add another handful or two, you can do that, too.

When you’re ready to use the honey, there’s no need to strain the flowers out — I find they look really pretty in a jar or even in a pinch bowl for serving, and I just add them to my herbal tea when the rest of the honey is gone.

Dandelion honey is less of a recipe more of a reminder that in a long-coming, cool spring, even the humblest of weeds presents an exciting opportunity for beauty and flavor. Spring is ephemeral, and this is one way to capture a really special part of it. Your honey will keep for up to a year.

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How to Grow Your Own Sprouts

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones dropped in today to share her experiences sprouting seeds! This is such a fun project. -Marisa

With the late onset of spring here in Philly, I’ve been craving fresh flavors and textures. Trying my hand at fresh, homegrown sprouts seemed like the perfect food project for April.

In order to get sprouts, you need to start with seeds. You can pick up bags of seeds and beans grown specifically for sprouting, like alfalfa, quinoa, adzuki, and others, by the ounce or by the pound. I ended up going for The Sprout House’s sampler pack, which includes about two ounces of 12 different kinds of sprouts, all certified organic, and followed their guidelines for home sprouting. I’ll spend the next few months cycling through all the different kinds to see which are my favorites.

Large, wide-mouth quart jars are best to use for this project. And since the jars of sprouting seeds need to be covered but allow air flow, I also picked up a fresh batch of cheesecloth. The one I got was a little more tightly woven than what I usually use — after trying it for sprouting, I’d probably stick to using a few layers of a cheesecloth with a more open weave in the future, just to make sure there are openings enough for drainage and airflow.

If you don’t want to use cheesecloth — the only drawbacks I noticed were that it’s not reusable and it will temporarily smell a little funky if you accidentally let it sit in water — there are a ton of special wide-mouth jar lids, like this one Marisa wrote about last year, to try out, too. And if you’re using cheesecloth, grab some snug rubber bands or sturdy kitchen twine.

The last piece of equipment I’d recommend is some kind of shallow, walled container, one for each jar, in which you’ll tilt your jars so the seeds won’t sit in standing water.

I selected three kinds of seeds from my sampler pack to start with: quick-growing broccoli and alfalfa and slower-growing sunflower (truth be told, my dream microgreen).

When you’re ready to sprout, pour a tablespoon or two of seed into your quart jars  — what you see here started with 1 tablespoon of each kind of seed.

Before you soak, start by sanitizing your seeds in a 1:10 solution of bleach or hydrogen peroxide and water for five minutes. (This step is recommended by the FDA for home sprouters and required of commercial sprouters.) Then, drain the seeds and rinse them in fresh water three times.

Once your seeds are sanitized, add water to submerge your seeds, then let them soak overnight. In the morning, drain your seeds, rinse them, and drain again so that no water will be left standing in the jar. Top with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band, or use a sprouting lid.

Here’s where those shallow containers come in. Place your covered jars of rinsed sprouts into the containers so that they’re leaning open-end-down, which will allow any excess liquid to drain out.

Rinse your seeds once in the morning and in the evening, being sure to drain them well and replace them leaning down in the container. Check the container before each rinse to make sure there’s no standing water accumulating in there, either.

By day three of rinsing twice a day, I definitely had sprouting, as you can see in the photo of the alfalfa seeds with their tiny, just-emerging shoots.

By day five, both the broccoli and the alfalfa sprouts were ready to eat. I transferred them to a fresh container with half a paper towel in the bottom and put them in the fridge. They were delicious on my bagel with some herbed fromage blanc this morning — crunchy, fresh, green, and nutritious.

Unfortunately, despite the same treatment, the sunflower seeds didn’t do so well. The Sprout House’s were hulled for easier sprouting, but I wonder if some of the seeds had been damaged or were otherwise not viable. Only a few sprouted, and the sprouts were small, not like the tall, juicy sprouts I buy at the farmers’ market. I’ll do some research and give sunflower sprouts a try again.

But for now, I’m happy to snack on my broccoli and alfalfa sprouts, which I’ll be putting on salads, sandwiches, toast, and tacos all this week — maybe even in a green smoothie.

Have you tried sprouting seeds before? What are your favorite ways to eat sprouts?

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How to Make Paneer Cheese

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here today to show us how to make homemade paneer cheese with just two simple ingredients – milk and lemon juice! Reading this post immediately makes me crave dairy products! -Marisa

Slices of homemade paneer cheese

We often preserve to capture height-of-season flavors or produce we can’t get for most of the year. But oftentimes in my kitchen, preserving happens in an effort to curb food waste.

That’s how I first learned to make paneer, the springy, fresh cheese that shows up as the protein in some of my favorite Indian dishes. It’s one of the quickest dairy products to make, and also one of the easiest. All you need is milk, lemon juice or vinegar, and a little salt.

Milk and lemon juice for homemade paneer cheese

One of the reasons to make cheese like this is to use up milk that’s right at or even a tiny bit past its sell-by date. Just make sure to give it a good sniff and then use your good sense and best judgment.

That said, when the list is so short, using the best ingredients you can afford is always a good idea.  I source whole raw Ayreshire milk from a small grass-fed dairy here in southeast Pennsylvania, Wholesome Dairy Farms, for both drinking and making value-added dairy products.

Milk separating into curds for homemade paneer cheese.

I find that even when I’m pasteurizing the milk for a recipe, the yields on items like yogurt, whole-milk ricotta, and paneer are higher, and the product just tastes better when I’ve started with raw milk. We’re lucky that raw milk is so available in Pennsylvania. If you can get your hands on it from a reputable source in your state, I recommend doing so, even if you plan to pasteurize it in your recipe.

While we’re heating the milk for this recipe far past the pasteurization point, it’s still a good idea to remember that the very young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems carry a greater risk when consuming unpasteurized milk products.

Pressing the homemade paneer cheese.

To start your cheese, pour one half gallon of milk into a four-quart, heavy-bottomed pot (I use my enameled Dutch oven). Heat the milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and feeling along the bottom of the pot with your spoon to make sure that it isn’t scorching. Keep a close eye on the pot so that it doesn’t boil over.

You want to get to a little below the boiling point, about 200oF. You can use an instant-read or milk thermometer for this, or you can watch for when tiny bubbles start to form on the surface of the milk. When you see the bubbles, immediately remove the pot from the heat.

Pressed homemade paneer cheese in the strainer.

Once you’ve reached the proper temperature, stir in lemon juice. This will cause the milk solids to immediately begin separating out. As the milk sits, the solids will continue to coagulate.

Strain the curds, then press out the remaining liquid in cheesecloth or butter muslin (I prefer butter muslin for home cheesemaking since it’s washable and reusable; cheesecloth is one-time use only). Press and refrigerate the cheese for at least a half an hour or overnight.

Homemade paneer cheese, unwrapped from the butter muslin.

Once the cheese is full drained, unwrap the bundle. Now you’re ready to add chunks of paneer to a curry or other dish, or — my favorite — fry slices up in some ghee and enjoy them with flaky sea salt and maybe a dollop of tomato jam or a slab of quince paste.

Bits of fried homemade paneer cheese.

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How to Make Beet Raisins

Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops in to show us how to simmer and dry beet slices into beet raisins. It’s a great project for this in-between time, when we’re waiting for spring produce to arrive! -Marisa

Small slices of beets on a dehydrator tray will become beet raisins.

I’m not much of a cooking competition show watcher. The exceptions are the original Japanese Iron Chef, which I followed voraciously back in high school, The Great British Baking Show (of course), and a brief foray into MasterChef Junior — all shows that avoid the cutthroat, stressful nature of most reality TV.

So I can’t really blame myself for not knowing about beet raisins, with which chef Carrie Baird of Denver’s Bar Dough wowed the judges during an episode of Top Chef last year.

Cut beets on a cutting board for beet raisins.

A poster on the Food in Jars Community Facebook group mentioned them recently, and I was instantly fascinated. Beets are the kind of veggie I always wish I used more often. Now that I have an Instant Pot, it’s easy to quickly prep a bunch for a week of salads, but that’s as about as creative as I’ve gotten with them lately.

And while I’m waiting for the ever-so-slow unfolding of spring here in Philly, farmers’ market stands still have tons of sturdy storage beets in red and gold, harvested months ago. With strawberries still weeks away and grapes for actual raisins not available until high summer, I had to try this recipe.

Cut and peeled beets for beet raisins.

Baird’s recipe calls for melon balling the raw beets into uniform spheres, which is far more work than I wanted to put in. (A melon baller is also not one of the many culinary tools in my kitchen, and if I’ve managed to avoid getting one for this long, it’s not gonna happen now.)

So I peeled and trimmed my organic red beets, then halved them and cut each halves into five roughly equal slices, about half an inch thick and an inch or so long — cutting the pointy end, then slicing the remainder into quarters.

Cut beets in a pot that will become beet raisins.

Slices rather than balls also reduces waste, giving you more beet raisin for your buck. (My cuts gave me larger pieces in the end; if you want something more raisin-sized, do cuts closer to 1/2″ all around and cut the drying time.) The slices went into a pot with vinegar, sugar, water, and a pinch of salt.

Baird uses champagne vinegar, which you’re welcome to do; I used apple cider vinegar, because that’s what I had on hand (and I’m not trying to win a high-stakes cooking competition).

The slices simmered till they were very soft but not disintegrating, about two hours. Then, I drained the liquid — which you could use to make salad dressing, or add a little more salt and use it to quick-pickle some thinly-sliced hakurei turnips, for example — and let the slices cool for a bit.

Side view of beet slices on a dehydrator tray for beet raisins.

The cooked beet “grapes” then went into my Excalibur dehydrator at at 135oF, which is the setting recommended for fruit. After two hours, the beets were showing signs of dehydration, but their texture was still more like beets than raisins.

I upped the temperature to 145oF, which is the temperature I include in the recipe below. The beets took another three hours or so until they were sufficiently raisinlike for me to pull them out — next time, I might just turn the dehydrator up all the way to 155oF and see if that helps to shorten the dehydration time without overdrying.

When I did, they were wrinkly, chewy and toothsome, and pleasantly sweet and a little tart — just like real raisins! They’re super snackable and would be delicious in a bowl of yogurt with granola, or on a kale salad, as Baird served them on Top Chef. I could also see using them to top a tzatziki-esque cucumber salad along with lots of dill, toasted slivered almonds, and a pillowy pita.

Finished beet raisins in a small bowl.

They’re not quite as simple as stemming grapes and tossing them onto a dehydrator rack, but I’ll definitely be making these beet raisins again. Would you give them a try? Tell us in the comments!

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Getting Your Kitchen Ready for Spring

An unorganized freezer

Where I am, it feels like spring has sprung — about three weeks early for the calendar, but after the crazy severe winter we’ve had, I’ll take it. Winter aconite and snowdrops are blooming, the days are getting longer, and I had to take off two of my four layers while walking around downtown Philly earlier this week.

Part of me doesn’t feel quite ready for spring and everything it brings — prepping the garden, starting seeds, lots of cleaning — and another part of me can’t wait to walk around outside in a tank top and dig in the dirt.

To help ease the transition into spring, I’ve been making a mental list of the tasks I’ll tackle around my kitchen in the coming weeks. Every year, organizing the freezer — the one on top of my fridge and my apartment-sized chest freezer — is on the list.

 

In a short burst of activity, I took the initiative to tackle the upright freezer. I admit that I didn’t defrost and fully clean it, but I was short on time and eager to make a little progress and get the clutter out, so I did a quick cull and organize — it took all of 15 minutes, but made me feel accomplished and life a little tidier.

When I do a deep dive into the freezers, I always discover forgotten treasures I can add into my meal planning and some, er, missed opportunities that are long overdue for a trip to the compost bucket.

I found a pack of ground lamb from a friend’s farm that I had forgotten about, plus some freezer-burned smoothie berries from at least 2 summers ago…and a bag of cherry tomatoes from (yikes) 2015. Also discovered: Dried mushrooms a friend had given me at least five years ago, an ancient handful of pistachios, and nearly unrecognizable roasted jalapeños also went into the compost.

What was left? Lots of ice packs (I like to have an easy-to-grab stash for cheese events, but there were way too many in there), frozen pastured meats, 2017-edition current bagged veggies, ginger and turmeric, stock makings (leek tops and celery), whole wheat tortillas (they were on sale), and a tub of the best pumpkin puree, a reminder to make one last batch of brown butter pumpkin muffins before the weather turns.

The freezer’s cluttered door shelves looked much tidier, with containers of tomato broth, frozen bananas, cheesemaking cultures, and both sweet cream and cultured butter sitting upright with a bag of chipotle peppers and a few veggie dumplings. (Please don’t judge my Wawa coffee — it was purchased on Christmas morning last year so that my partner and I could survive the holiday in a caffeine-free household, and I decided we’d keep it for emergencies.)

The tomato broth and one of the bags of lima beans will go into a soup with some parmesan rinds and maybe some orzo or Israeli couscous before the weather gets much warmer, and I’ll use the other bag with the sweet corn and roasted poblanos (they’re in there too), a jar of tomatillo sauce, and chicken thighs to make a chunky green chili. Don’t you love shopping your own freezer?

Here are a few of the other tasks I’ll take care of as the season changes so that I’m ready for a delicious season of cooking and preserving:

  • Deep-cleaning the stove top (including behind the dials)
  • Culling, cleaning, and organizing the chest freezer (I need to devote a day to this one)
  • Performing a ruthless KonMari of my pantry — I have cans of fava beans in there from 2011 that I somehow haven’t been able to make myself throw away
  • An inventory of both full and empty jars in my canning closet
  • Getting rid of the bottles I never use on top of the fridge and deep cleaning that surface
  • Selling or giving away kitchenware I never use

What are some of the ways you get your kitchen ready for spring (and the forthcoming canning season)?

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