A virtual bloom for the first of May. I hope that your day was sunny and bright!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been spring for more than two weeks now, but today I finally felt it. I walked to work without a coat, though my down-the-hall neighbor did raise an eyebrow at my wardrobe choice as we rode the elevator downstairs together (my mother need not worry, living in a building with hundreds of retired Jewish women means I never lack for vocal commentary on my seasonal appropriateness. I have been told to go home and get an umbrella on multiple occasions).
Last week, before this balmy weather arrived, I was doing everything I could to brighten both my mood and the state of the kitchen and so tackled one final citrus preservation project. This one is so easy that I feel a little silly even mentioning it, but the pictures came out so nicely that it would be a shame not to share them.
I scrubbed two pounds of citrus (half Meyer lemons, half limes), dried them and cut them into slices between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. I pulled out my very basic dehydrator, laid the slices out on the trays and dehydrated them for 18 hours on the 135 degree setting.
Stashed in tightly sealed jars, these slices should last for a very long time. I like to pop one into the water bottle I use each day, so that it rehydrates and gently scents the water with the flavor of fruit.
A few thoughts. If you do this, make sure to keep them going until they are entirely dry. Leaving them with any liquid means you run the risk of having them go bad quite soon. Store them out of the sunlight to further extend their lifespan. The one thing I haven’t done yet that I’m planning on trying is to pulverize them in a food process or blender and see if I can’t make citrus powder with them. I think that would be a nice touch in salad dressings and other good stuff.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, I’ve heard that you can achieve a similar effect in a very low oven (I have not tried it, but Kevin West has). Make sure to put the fruit on a rack so that the air can circulate and moisture can evaporate. I bet a convection oven would do a good job as well.
A week or so ago, I posted a link to this Serious Eats post about making homemade creme fraiche on the Food in Jars Facebook page. The response was quick and fevered. People were amazed at how easy and simple it was to do something like this at home.
Here’s the funny thing. This is something I’ve been doing at home for years now but it’s never occurred to me that it would make a good subject for a blog post because it’s so incredibly simple. Truly, it’s nothing more than combining some heavy cream with a generous glug of buttermilk in a jar or bowl. Give it a brief stir to combine and then leave it out on the counter (uncovered) while you sleep.
I tend to let my creme fraiche do its thing on the counter for about 24 hours before I move it to the fridge, but the length of time you let it culture depends entirely how thick you want it to be and the intensity of the tang you’re hoping to achieve (longer equals more tang). When you’re done, take a moment to marvel at the alchemy of it. It never fails to feel a little bit like magic to me.
If your kitchen is dusty or you have pets who might be interested in a jar of cream on your counter top, stretch a bit of cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar and secure it with a rubber band. The good bacteria that you’ve introduced with the buttermilk needs to be able to breathe in order to transform the cream.
For those of you who like more specific measurements, I use approximately three tablespoons of buttermilk for every pint of cream (though truly, I don’t measure. Who needs to clean another spoon?). I do try to use local, grass-fed cream when I can find it, as the flavor is even better. However, if you can’t find similarly pedigreed cream, don’t let that be a deterrent to giving it a try.
If you’ve never tried creme fraiche before, it’s similar to sour cream, though it’s typically got a higher percentage of butterfat. It’s also got a more complex flavor than the sour creams we can buy at the grocery store. It’s amazing stirred into soups or dolloped on top of cut fruit or berries.
Amanda Hesser frequently suggests stirring it into a bit of freshly whipped cream for lightness and nuance (though in many situations it can be substituted for the whipped cream entirely). I like it on top of flourless chocolate tort as it works well to cut the richness of the cake.
Have you tried to make creme fraiche at home before? How do you like to use it?