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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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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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How to Make Crispy Shiitake Mushroom Snacks

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops by to offer a delicious DIY snack – crispy shiitake mushrooms! I wish I had a batch to nibble right now! -Marisa

bowl fo shiitake mushrooms

I consider myself incredibly lucky to work alongside sustainable farmers and food producers here in southeast Pennsylvania. This community has changed my life for the better in more ways than one: it’s given me work, purpose, inspiration, and an education around food and agriculture.

And, of course, there’s the ability to share in the bounty that comes along with running a CSA or working a farmers’ market.

I’ve written about my friends at Primordia Farm before — they’re a first-generation clan of mushroom farmers and foragers, growing beautiful fungi high on Hawk Mountain in Berks County, right near the Appalachian Trail. And with them as my farmers’ market neighbors, I’m lucky to have access to delicious, immaculately grown mushrooms year-round.

While there are a million recipes you can make with the mushrooms they grow — shiitake, maitake (also known as hen of the woods), royal trumpet, lion’s mane — my favorite preparations tend to be the simplest, making the most of the unique textures and flavors that these fascinating organisms bring to the kitchen.

Sure, you can sautée or roast up a batch of just about any mushroom in butter, olive, or coconut oil and it’ll be tasty. But I’m the only mushroom eater in my household — so if I don’t have a specific dish in mind for my fungi, I tend to turn them into one on of my favorite kinds of food: crunchy, crispy, salty snacks.

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Preserves in Action: Kimchi Noodle Soup

Need something spicy, flavorful, and warming? Alex Jones is here with a recipe for a tasty batch of soup that will help you make good use of that jar of kimchi you’ve got tucked in the back of the fridge! Yum! -Marisa

Throughout my preserving life, I’ve realized that I use some things all the time — pressure-canned tomatoes, stock and beans, dried herbs and Meyer lemon slices, frozen peak-season fruit. And others, like high-sugar jams, I don’t use much of at all.

As I go along each season, I try to learn from what I end up giving away or not enjoying so that I can maximize my food dollars, avoid waste, and devote space in my fridge and pantry to items I’ll actually eat.

When I found myself with two huge napa cabbages in my fridge two falls ago, I made a massive batch of kimchi (using the excellent recipe from Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking). After giving several jars away at the Philly Food Swap, I still had a gallon left. And while I’ve added it to rice bowls and eaten it on the side with scrambled eggs, two big jars still sit in the back corner of my fridge.

One of my intentions for the new year is tokeep my fridge slightly less jam-packed than it usually is — which includes using up good preserves that I sometimes ignore. Luckily, there’s an excellent Korean dish — kimchi-guk — that turns this pungent condiment into a delicious, warming soup.

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How to Make Homemade Maple Cream

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here today to share her family recipe for homemade maple cream. She transforms some real maple syrup into a gorgeous, spreadable cream that is perfect for your morning toast or a holiday cheese board. If this post doesn’t want to make you leap up and head to the kitchen, I don’t know what will! -Marisa

A can of real maple syrup for homemade maple cream

I have a confession to make: I’m a maple snob.

Growing up, my house always had real maple syrup to top pancakes, French toast, and ice cream. I didn’t even know that “pancake syrup” (typically an artificially flavored, corn syrup-based imitation of the real thing) was different from what my family used until I was a teenager, when I unwittingly poured it all over my breakfast at a friend’s house after a sleepover. Imitation just doesn’t compare.

We kept real maple syrup in the house not just because it’s incredibly delicious and we could to afford it, but because my mother’s family in Quebec would have disowned her — or sent a care package — if we hadn’t.

As an American-born cook with Canadian dual citizenship, maple syrup is part of my culinary heritage. My gaggle of aunts up Quebec, whose preserving habits and big gardens I’ve written about before, always give me a can of sirop d’erable pur to take home on my visits — if not a coveted bottle of homemade maple syrup, the really good stuff boiled down over a wood fire in my uncle’s sugar shack.

And just about the only thing more delicious than maple syrup is maple cream, a spreadable, velvety smooth maple reduction with a super-concentrated maple flavor. When I spied a spare can of syrup in my pantry while hunting for another ingredient, I decided to try making this pricey, hard-to-find treat myself.

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