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Meyer Lemon, Garlic, & Cilantro Salt

This hand chopped Meyer lemon, garlic, & cilantro salt is quick to make, easy to use, and offers a simple way to keep from throwing out expensive herbs. You could just as easily use a bundle of parsley, a few sprigs of rosemary, or leaves from a package of fresh sage. And it’s an ideal project for the February’s Mastery Challenge topic – salt preserving. 

Ingredients for Meyer lemon, garlic, & cilantro salt

Last week, I bought a bag of cilantro. I needed just a few sprigs for a batch of soup I was making and didn’t have a good plan for the rest (so often the death knell for fresh herbs). Yesterday, with this month’s salt preserving challenge top in my mind, I went looking for that bag. It was a little wilted and a few leaves had gone slimy, but plenty was still useful and salvageable. And so I made a little batch of flavored salt.

half chopped ingredients for Meyer lemon, garlic, & cilantro salt

I cleaned the useable cilantro, gathered up a few cloves of garlic, grabbed a precious two Meyer lemons (from the batch that I got from Lemon Ladies last month), and pulled down a jar of salt. A big cutting board and a sharp knife and I was ready to go. I started by peeling and chopping the garlic, because it was the most dense of the ingredients I was working with. Once it was chopped down into manageable bits, started chopping in the cilantro (stems and all).

Once those two were well integrated, I grated the fragrant zest off the two lemons and added that to the pile. Finally, three tablespoons of sea salt. Chop, chop, chop – gather – and chop some more.

Finished Meyer lemon, garlic, & cilantro salt

Once I liked the consistency of the ingredients (not too fine, but relatively uniform and well-integrated), I spread it out on a plate and set it in the corner of my dining room to dry for a few days. Right now, it’s still damp, but after 48 hours, it should be quite crunchy and crumbly (and if it’s not, I’ll either let it sit for another day, or I’ll finish it off in the oven).

In small batches, hand chopped flavored salts like this are incredibly quick to make and a pleasure to use. You don’t need to dirty the food processor, or even be particularly precise with your measurements. It’s about extending the useful life of ingredients and making something that will bring easy flavor to basic cooking.

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Homemade Vegetable Soup Base

Veg for Concentrate - Food in Jars

My mom’s cousin Amy has a story she likes to tell, of learning to make chicken soup from her mother-in-law many years ago. They had met for the cooking lesson and Amy did as she was instructed, putting the chicken in the pot with carrots, onion and celery. Ingredients assembled, one mystery remained. “But how does it become soup? Where does the soupy part come from?”

Wordlessly, her mother-in-law pointed at the faucet. Amy’s mind was blown. (She went on to become an skilled and prolific soup maker. We all have to start somewhere!)

Veg Concentrate in Processor - Food in Jars

Making soup is really the act of giving flavor and substance to water. It’s an act of magical transmutation that you can eat for dinner. Do you see now why it’s one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen? (Besides making jam, of course!)

I’m heading off into fanciful waters here, when really what I want to tell you about is the homemade vegetable soup base that I make in batches and keep in the fridge. It is one of my favorite tools for starting the transformation of water into soup (I also keep both the chicken and beef varieties of Better than Bouillon in my fridge, for when I want a meatier boost for my concoctions).

Top of Veg Concentrate - Food in Jars

It’s relatively cheap to make, keeps forever (and honestly, just gets more interesting the longer it’s been in the fridge), and brings round, robust flavor to all manner of soups and stews. It’s also my secret weapon for days when I’ve been out and need a healthy lunch immediately.

I boil a little water in a small pot and stir in a couple teaspoons of soup base until it dissolves. I add a handful of chopped greens (spinach, arugula, chard, or kale) and once they wilt, break an egg into the pot. Then I it off the heat and let it sit for three or four minutes, to give the egg a little time to cook. I eat it out of the pot with a spoon and feel grateful for good food.

Veg Concentrate in Jars - Food in Jars

Now before you start praising me and calling me a genius, I must tell you, the idea behind this soup base is not the work of my personal brilliance. I’ve seen it in many places over the years.

Like Heidi, I first spotted it in the River Cottage Preserves Book when it was initially published in the US. Then this piece on dear, departed Culinate riffed on Heidi’s version. Jennie has a version on her blog and in her lovely book, Homemade With Love.

My version is a bit different than those from whom I’ve taken inspiration. Yours can be too. The only ingredient that is non-negotiable is the salt. You need it for both flavor and preservative power.

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Air-Dried Lemon Peel

dried Meyer lemon peel

Next time you go to juice a lemon for a recipe, take an extra minute, grab a vegetable peeler and remove the flavorful outer layer of skin from your lemon. Lay these fragrant slivers on a place and perch the plate on a shelf or on top of a towering stack of cookbooks (if you’re me).

Check them a day or two later, or whenever you remember. Soon enough, they should be quite dry but still fragrant and vividly colored. Place them in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and stash them in a dark corner. Once you have this little jar of dried lemon peels, here’s how you can use them.

  • Drop a sliver into brewing black tea. 
  • Pulverize a few strips with coarse salt and sprinkle over popcorn.
  • Crush them and whisk the bits into homemade vinaigrettes and marinades.
  • Float them in a water bottle.
  • Simmer these citrus ribbons in a pot of creamy rice pudding.
  • Use the jar as a day-brightening aromatherapy devise.

 

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Salted and Spiced Peanut Butters

two jars

I like to keep a bag of peanuts in my car. I am one of those people who can go from being not at all hungry, to slightly dizzy with the need to eat. On days when I find myself running endless errands, knowing that I have something filling and restorative within reach stops me from zipping through drive-throughs or dashing into Wawa for a bag of chips.

peanuts

Last week, as I gathered supplies and ingredients for our holiday trek to Virginia, I picked up a new bag at Trader Joe’s last week (a three+ hour drive in holiday traffic demands a fresh supply of car snacks). It was during the height of the pre-Thanksgiving frenzy and in my hurry to get in and out of a packed store as quickly as possible, I grabbed a package of roasted and unsalted peanuts. As it turns out, it was a grim mistake, because as good and satisfying as a lightly salted peanut can be, an unsalted one is bland and decidedly unpleasant.

spices in food processor

Not wanting to waste the majority of a one-pound bag of roasted peanuts, I brought them up from the car when we unloaded, with the intention of making peanut butter (conveniently, I had just finished a jar). Then, the thing that happens so often in life occurred. The peanuts sat on top of the washing machine, exactly where Scott put them last week during our post-trip unpacking, until earlier today.

two peanut butters

Finally, entirely tired of looking at them, I made peanut butter this morning. And like so many other long-avoided tasks, it took a fraction of the time I anticipated and was better than I remembered homemade peanut butter to be.

A pound of nuts yields approximately two cups of butter, so once I had a consistency I was happy with, I pulled out about a cup (slightly less than, it turns out) of the butter to keep it plain, and then added cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves to the balance. As much as I love plain peanut butter, it’s also fun to have some that tastes fleetingly of pumpkin pie.

spiced peanut butter

I know that some of you have had issues with some of my nut butter recipes in the past. The secret to getting a good consistency is oil. I know that most of us are loath to add more oil to nuts (because they contain so much of it naturally), but truly, these butters need a little extra lubrication. And the amount varies depending on your nuts.

This batch took just two tablespoons of peanut oil to develop the right texture. However, I’ve had some similarly scaled batches of almond and sunflower butters that needed as much as 1/3 cup. Because the age and moisture content of nuts varies, there’s no one-size-fits-all amount of oil I can instruct you to add. You have to use your eyes, nose, and best judgment. And if you feel like your food processor motor is in danger, please stop and give it the chance to cool down.

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The DIY Pantry: Ground Allspice

allspice in the pantry

Last night, during my post-dinner clean-up, I threw away three pears. They were well past their prime and were threatening to stage a decomposition scene right there in the fruit bowl.

An hour or so later, I called my mom and we started talking holidays, baking and the many delicious things in the world. The topic of gingerbread came up and I floated the idea of a tender gingerbread cake with juicy bits of pear baked in. We determined that it was a genius idea and I jumped up to fish the thrown away pears out of the garbage can. It was last minute reprieve.

Earlier today, as I gathered my gingerbread ingredients, I realized I was missing a minor player. Ground allspice. Just as I was about to shrug and accept that I had to do without, I remembered that I had a large jar of whole allspice.

freshly ground allspice

I tumbled a few into an old bladed coffee grinder I keep around for spices and small amounts of nuts and went to town. When the bulk of the allspice berries were reduced to powder, I shook them through a sieve to separate out the hard, stubborn bits. I was left with approximately two ounces of gorgeously fragrant, freshly ground allspice. I measured the necessary 1/4 teaspoon for the gingerbread and tucked the rest into a jar for the spice rack.

I realize that for some of you, this is not big deal. You grind your spices fresh all the time. However, I’m one of those people who often gets stuck in patterns of behavior and one is the assumption that ground spices must be bought in their ground state. I sometimes forget how easy it can be to make a pantry staple like this on. And with holiday baking coming up, it’s nice to have a little jar of freshly ground allspice on hand.

The pear gingerbread turned out amazing well too. I’ll be posting the recipe, a riff on the one in Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, later tonight.

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Meyer Lemon Zest Sugar and Salt

meyer lemon zest sugar

Last Friday, in the process of testing four recipes for the cookbook, I found myself awash in Meyer lemon zest. Knowing that I needed to juice 20 Meyers, I made sure to zest each one beforehand so as not to waste a drop of those precious babies. Because I had no time to be fussy, I split the zest into two piles and made quick work of it.

I tossed the  first mound of fragrant, juicy zest with three cups of plain sugar. Spread between this jar and a smaller one, I’m currently entertaining fantasies of sprinkling some across the tops of scones just before they go into the oven or rimming cocktail glasses with it when the weather gets warmer.

And the other portion of zest? Layered in a jar with kosher salt, for serving with fish and boosting the flavor of salad dressings.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to wait for those times when you’re wealthy in Meyer lemons to do something like this. Next time you go to juice a lemon, scrape the zest off with a microplane or even a vegetable peeler. In the beginning choose either salt or sugar and begin popping your unneeded zest into the jar each time you cook. Soon enough, you’ll have effortlessly made a jar or two of these flavor enhancers.

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