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Blood Orange Curd

blood oranges

A couple weeks ago, I was walking through Reading Terminal Market when I spotted a bin of blood oranges. They were relatively small, but the sign said they were just 4 for $1 and so I picked up eight. I had no plan for them beyond making something delicious. I buy produce like this far too often.

juiced blood oranges (and one lemon)

I considered making marmalade, but I still have one jar left from last year (and I’ve been working on a few varieties with Meyer lemons and Cara Cara oranges). As I thought over my other options, it occurred to me that it’s been far too long since I had a jar of curd in the fridge. And so the decision was made.

blood orange juice

The nice thing about making blood orange curd is that it only needed half of my oranges (so I may just make myself a batch of blood orange shrub). I added the juice of one lemon to the mix to up the pucker a little and had a very generous 1/2 cup, which is exactly what I needed.

eggs

Whenever I make a curd, I always make sure to search out the very best eggs, because they contribute both color and flavor to the finished product. The only problem with that in this particular curd is that the yolks were so vividly orange that they muddied the ruby color of the blood orange juice. Happily, the resulting salmon color doesn’t impact the flavor, it just looks a little funky.

blood orange curd

Let’s talk briefly about canning and curds. In my first book, I included three curd recipes. Because of differing acid contents, two are deemed safe for canning and one is not (I take my cues from the National Center for Home Food Preservation).

These days, I don’t can my curds at all, even when working with those that are higher in acid (which this one is not). That’s because I find that the texture often firms up unpleasantly in the boiling water bath canner. Curds will keep a couple weeks in the fridge and up to six months in the freezer.

blood orange curd in yogurt

Let’s talk a little about what you can do once you have a batch of curd in the fridge. You can use it to fill a layer cake. You can smooth it into a tart shell. You can dip berries into it. You can dollop it on scones or biscuits. Or, you can do my favorite thing in the whole world and stir it into a bowl of Greek yogurt. The combination is sweet, creamy, and just a bit tart. Truly, it’s the best thing ever.

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Spiced Apple Pie Filling

pie filling line up

For a time when I was young, we lived in a house with a cluster of antique apple trees at the very back of our property. Thanks to this easy abundance, apples were one of the very first things I learned to preserve. In those days, my job was to help gather the windfall apples that seemed mostly whole until they filled a paper grocery bag. My mom did the rest, but I always stood by and watched.

apples for pie filling

Later on, I’d help peel and core the apples (I absorbed a lot while watching). Both my sister and I would offer opinions about how much spice to add to the pot on the stove and when the sauce was all done, we’d sit down with cereal bowls full of warm, spicy applesauce. When the rest of the batch was entirely cool, I’d hold open plastic zip top bags while my mom spooned in the sauce for the freezer.

sliced apples for pie filling

Later on, we added apple butter to our fall repertory, but never felt the need to venture beyond those two basics with our apples. Pie filling was most decidedly not on the agenda, mostly because pies happened just twice a year (Thanksgiving and Christmas) and so there was no need to be prepared for a spontaneous pie.

blanching apples

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve added pie filling to my personal canning routine and I’ve found it’s a nice preserve to have on the shelf. This time of year, a batch of apple pie filling is an easy way to put up several pounds of apples and it has a surprising number of uses beyond a basic pie.

sugar, spices, and clear jel

It tastes good stirred into oatmeal. If you have one of these old stovetop pie makers, you can make yourself a toasted hand pie with two slices of bread and a little smear of butter (it’s an especially fun project with kids). And, if you live in a household with an avowed fruit pie hater, you can make yourself a teeny tiny free form crostata with leftover quiche crust and a pint of filling. Not that I’d know anything about that.

apples becoming pie filling

When making pie filling, there are just a few things to remember. The first is that you need to use Clear Jel, not cornstarch (and if you can’t find Clear Jel, it’s best to can your filling without thickener and add a little cornstarch slurry just before using it). The second is that no matter the size of jar you use, you need to leave a generous inch of headspace. Pie filling expands during processing and really loves to ooze out of the jars when they’re cooling. Proper headspace can help prevent that.

pie filling close up

Third thing is that when you put the rings on your jars of pie filling, you tighten them just a little bit more firmly than you do for most other preserves. Often, you’ll hear me raving about how you don’t want to overtighten those rings but in this case, a little extra twist helps keep your product in the jars.

Finally, make sure to follow the instructions in the recipe and leave the jars in the canner for a full ten minutes after the processing time is up. Turn the heat off, slide the pot to a cooler burner, remove the lid and let the jars sit. This slower cooling processing will help prevent that dreaded loss of product. Really, the hardest part about making pie filling is keeping it in the jars once they’ve been processed.

pie filling air bubbles

Oh, and one more thing. Notice those air bubbles in the jars? Pie filling is thick and really likes to trap air pockets. Bubble your jars as well as you can, but don’t kill yourself over it.

For those of you who make pie filling, do you have any unconventional uses?

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Happy May Day!

flower

A virtual bloom for the first of May. I hope that your day was sunny and bright!

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Honey Sweetened Lemon Butter

In my family, if you want to host a holiday celebration, it’s best to stake your claim early. My cousin Amy and her partner own the bulk of the Jewish holidays. Another cousin frequently hosts Thanksgiving. My parents are responsible for Christmas. And several years ago, I found myself in possession of Mother’s Day hosting duties.

Here’s how it happened. Awhile back, I joined several sets of cousins for a Mother’s Day brunch at a local restaurant. We had young kids with us and though everything was lovely, I realized that it was impossible for any of the mothers to really enjoy meal. So I volunteered to host for the following year. And as so often happens, a tradition was born.

sweet lemon butter

I will admit right now that my offer was in part self-serving. I love having people over for brunch. I relish any excuse to pull out my waffle maker, roast up some potatoes and scramble an obscene number of eggs. Some years I make dozens of biscuits and put out five or six jars of jam. Scones or muffins are also fun, as are quiches, eggy casseroles and a mountain of oven-cooked bacon.

making lemon butter

Recently, I plucked my copy of Recipes from Home off my living room bookcase and was reminded by a helpful sticky note (placed long ago when I first acquired the book) that I wanted to make Sweet Lemon Butter. The thought occurred that it might just the thing to add to our Mother’s Day brunch and so I made a test batch. Essentially, you stir a slurry of lemon juice, zest, chopped mint and honey into some softened butter, pack it into a jar and chill it until just spreadable but not mushy.

lemon butter

Once it was done (of course, I made several tweaks), it took all my willpower to keep from pulling out a spoon and eating a couple big bites (I will confess to several small taste tests, just make sure it was good). It’s transcendent on a freshly baked scone and awfully tasty just scraped on toast. If you’re hosting a brunch (Mother’s Day or otherwise), consider adding this sweetened compound butter to your menu.

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Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

My personal yogurt consumption goes up and down. I’ll go for weeks eating it every day and then suddenly, I’ll stop and a month will go by before I have it again. I have no good explanation for this. It’s just the way things happen in my edible world.

I’m currently is a very pro-yogurt phase. I’ve been eating more than a quart a week and started feeling guilt about consuming so many plastic containers. It was time to restart my homemade yogurt habit.

thermometer in milk

Truly, making yogurt at home couldn’t be easier. I stop doing it out of laziness, but once I force myself back into the routine of it, I’m always glad (sounds like so many things in life, doesn’t it?).

The first step is to heat the milk to 190-200 degrees F. You can use any milk you’d like. I made this batch using six cups of whole, un-homogenized milk (because it’s not homogenized, the cream will rise to the top, leaving me with a gorgeous, rich upper layer).

cooling milk

Once it reaches that temperature (take care not to let it boil), you want to cool the milk down to 120 degrees F. I do this by filling my sink with cold water and placing the pot in. The water helps reduce the temperature quite rapidly, so don’t walk away during this step.

pouring milk

Once it has cooled to 120 degrees F, whisk two tablespoons of yogurt into the milk. Over the years, I’ve tried using various amounts of yogurt to start my batches and I’ve actually found that the smaller amounts work better than larger amounts. A tablespoon for every 3-4 cups of milk just seems to work perfectly.

There was also a time during which I stirred some dry milk into each batch of yogurt I made. I’d heard it made for a thicker yogurt. In the end, I decided it had no discernable positive impact on the finished product and, if anything, left me with lumpy yogurt.

ready to incubate

Once you’ve stirred the yogurt in, pour the inoculated milk into your jars. You’ll see that my jars aren’t entirely full. There’s no reason why you can’t fill them up to the top. I just didn’t have enough milk in the fridge to make a full batch. However, I filled the jars evenly because I wanted to ensure that they’d process at the same rate.

A note about the starter yogurt you use: Make sure to use a yogurt that you like. There are a number of different yogurt bacterias out there and they all turn out slightly different yogurts. Splurge on the starter in order to make something you’re happy with.

cooler for yogurt

There are a number of ways you can keep your yogurt warm during it’s process. Some people have little machines. Others pop the jars in the oven with the light on. I’ve even heard that you can use a slow cooker or hot pads.

After trying all those methods, I’ve come to prefer using a cooler for this step (hat tip to the Frugal Girl for introducing me to this method). This Little Playmate holds two quart jars perfectly. I got it at a thrift store several years ago for a couple dollars, which has always pleased me.

jars of milk in cooler

Place your filled jars into the cooler and add hot tap water until they’re submerged, but not floating. You want the water to be around 120-125 degrees F. I’ve found that this is exactly how hot my hottest tap water is, so I use that. Makes life easy, too.

homemade yogurt

Once the jars are in the cooler and it’s filled with water, close it and tuck it out of the way for 6-7 hours. You can go as long as 8-9 hours, but keep in mind that the longer it sits, the more pronounced its tang will be. When I was working, I’d often start a batch of yogurt just before I left the house in the morning and let it process all day. It made for a tart yogurt, but I loved the simplicity of it.

When the time is up, remove the jars from the cooler and place them in the fridge. Use your homemade yogurt like you would any other kind of yogurt. If you’re interested in transforming your yogurt into a thicker product (along the lines of greek yogurt), all you do is strain it. Well Preserved has a good post on that, as well as suggestions for using up the resulting whey.

For those of you who regularly make yogurt, do you have any tips to share?

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Transforming Homemade Creme Fraiche Into Cultured Butter

creme fraiche

The deliciousness of butter is a universally understood truth (and the primary reason for Paula Deen’s career). However, for as good as regular old butter can be, cultured butter is just that much better. Cultured butter is made from cream that has been doctored with a culturing agent, allowed to sit out for a bit and develop tasty, tangy bacteria.

Now, cast your minds back a couple of months to when I wrote about making creme fraiche. To recap, it’s a process in which you stir some buttermilk (culturing agent) into a jar of heavy cream (not the ultra-pasteurized stuff) and let it sit out until it develops a host of tangy bacteria. Do you see where I’m going here? That’s right! Once you’ve made creme fraiche, you’re about 15 minutes away from homemade cultured butter. Let’s walk through the steps, shall we?

creme fraiche into the processor

Pour your creme fraiche into the bowl of a food processor. I started with approximately 20 ounces of very thick, tangy product. Tighten the lid of the process and run the motor for 2-5 minutes.

butter in the food processor

It only takes about 2 minutes in my food processor, but I’m certain your times will vary. You want to process it until it looks like the picture above. You should have a thin, visible liquid with clumps of butter spread throughout. Do know that the liquid will be thicker than when you make butter from uncultured cream.

straining butter

Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour the butter and whey through the sieve. Make sure to save that whey, it’s incredibly flavorful and I’ll be posting a baking recipe for you guys that will detail how to use it later in the week. Using the back of a rubber or silicone spatula, gently move and scrape the butter in the sieve to help remove more of the whey. You will find that a bit of butter pushes through the sieve, just scrape it off the bottom and plop it back into the bowl of the sieve.

working butter

When most of the visible whey has been released, remove the bowl from underneath the sieve. Rinse the butter with the coldest water your tap can produce and repeat the pressing and draining of the butter (still without the bowl). The goal is to remove as much of the whey and water from the butter. The more whey you can remove, the longer the shelf life of the butter will be.

After several rinses, place the butter in a shallow bowl (I love this wooden bowl for this job) and work it some more, still attempting to work any remaining whey out of the butter. If you like a salted butter, this is the point where you can sprinkle in a pinch or two of fine grain salt. Mix it into the butter thoroughly with the spatula. In addition to the flavor boost the salt gives, it will also extend the shelf life of the butter a bit.

butter and whey

When your butter is a smooth and whey-free as you can manage, pack it into a small jar (I got enough to exactly fill an 8-ounce jar with this batch). Pour the reserved whey into a container (I love this milk jug I brought back from Portland a couple of years ago for this sort of thing). Both should be stored in the fridge.

Cultured butter is amazing stirred into polenta, dabbed on warm muffins or slathered on toast. Once you make it, you’ll find yourself inventing reasons to eat it.

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