Cookbooks: Against the Grain

Against the Grain cover

I have no beef with gluten. I eat it happily and without any kind of gastrointestinal or autoimmune distress. Nonetheless, I have really enjoyed using some of the gluten-free cookbooks that have been published over the last few years.

The reason for my appreciate is simple. I like new ideas and opportunities to expand beyond my regular set of ingredients and these books are terrific at finding new, delicious ways to make things work.

peanut butter bars

What’s more, while I can eat wheat until the cows come home, lots of people I know cannot. I am always happy to discover novel recipes that I can share with friends and relatives who have to stay away from various grains or anything with gluten.

book and squares

A few weeks back, a copy of Nancy Cain’s Against the Grain appeared in my mailbox. I spent a few minutes flipping through and immediately identified a handful of recipes I wanted to try (Maple Flax Crackers! Cashew Chews with Cacao Nibs! Buckwheat Cheddar Puffs!). Later that night, I had a pan of her Peanut Butter Bars cooling on my counter.

peanut butter cubes

Made with just peanut butter, honey, an egg, baking soda, and a little bit of coconut, you might wonder how on earth these bars work. But work they do, whether you’re on a gluten-free diet or not. I cut them into small squares and ate most of the pan on my own, one or two at a time. They’re naturally sweetened, high in protein, and best when eaten at room temperature. Perfect for snack time or a late night nibble!

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Meyer Lemon Ginger Concentrate

bowl of meyer lemons

I know. This blog has been awfully citrus heavy of late. So much so that it wouldn’t be a stretch to rename things Citrus in Jars (with the occasional fermented vegetable). Yet, here I am again, with more lemons. And not even a project-y marmalade or curd. Just a concentrate.

sliced lemons

Thing is, it’s been something of a brutal winter here in Philadelphia (though not as soul sucking as our friends in New England have had to live through) and I’m still working my way through the citrus recipes for the natural sweeteners book. I just don’t have a whole lot of creativity left. And so I return to the things I know and love.

simmering lemon syrup

And these citrus-based concentrates? I LOVE them because they are delicious and versatile. You can use them to sweeten your fizzy water (I know I suggest this a lot, but as someone who drinks many quart jars of water a day, it makes for a nice occasional treat). They work well in cocktails. And I’ve yet to meet a poundcake that appreciate a few drizzles of flavored syrup.

What’s more, next time you want to make a pitcher of lemonade, you can just pop open a jar, dilute it with water, ice it down, and serve.

grated ginger

I used Meyer lemons in this batch, but if those feel too dear, just use plain old grocery store lemons. It will be a little bit more tart, but you can always temper that by adding the juice of one orange to the mix.

Another place where you might want to make a switch is in sweetener. I used evaporated cane juice, but one could just as easily go with honey. Just use about a third less if you make that swap.

Finally, let’s talk ginger. I grated a huge hunk of ginger on a microplane until I had 1/4 cup of pulp. If the lemon ginger combo isn’t your thing, you could also try some lavender, cardamom, or even a little cayenne if you want a spicy kick. Just strain the syrup through a tightly woven sieve before canning.

finished lemon ginger concentrate

One last thing. If you don’t choose to zest your lemons for a salt blend before squeezing, make sure to heap the into a jar and cover them with white vinegar. Let them steep for a couple of days and then strain out all the spent lemon rinds. They will have given their essence to the vinegar and it will make for a very lovely cleaning fluid. I use it as a countertop spray and it cuts through the grease like you wouldn’t believe.

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Preserves in Action: Avocado Sauerkraut Sauce

avocado sauerkraut toast

If you had asked me a couple of years ago whether I thought that sauerkraut was a good breakfast food, I would have raised a questioning eyebrow at you. My oh my, how my tune has changed. These days, I subscribe to the notion that any time of day is a good time for sauerkraut, kimchi, or salty tangy fermented dilly beans (they are pickle heaven).

To that end, one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast at the moment is a couple thick slabs of toast (no-knead bread leavened with sourdough is my ideal option, but any sturdy loaf will do), topped with mashed avocado, a few forkfuls of sauerkraut, and some freshly ground black pepper. It is fresh-tasting, filling, and perfectly eye-opening.

Now I realize that avocado toast is woefully overexposed these days, but I can’t help it my love for it. I’ve been eating it since my early childhood days in Southern California, when a friend of my parents’ would regularly bring over a grocery bag full of avocados off his tree.

If you happen to have an avocado in the fruit bowl and some kraut in the fridge, you should give it a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

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March Sponsors: Cuppow, Fillmore Container, Spice Ratchet, Mighty Nest, and Fermentools

At the PA Farm Show with @fillmorejars! I'll be making dilly carrots at 1:30 pm!

It’s the beginning of March and that means it is time to highlight the businesses that help make it possible for me to write this blog! Please do visit them if they offer a product that interests you!

First up is jar accessory maker Cuppow! They are the creator of the original mason jar travel mug topper and the BNTO, a small plastic cup that transforms a canning jar into a snack or lunch box. They also sell the Mason Tap, which is an awesome tool for turning a regular mouth mason into a dispenser. To make it totally leak-proof, I pair mine with one of the rubber gaskets designed to work with the Tattler regular mouth lids.

Our friends at Fillmore Container are back this month as well. They’re a family-owned business based in Lancaster, PA and sells all manner of canning jars, lids, and other preservation gear. Over the weekend, they published my recipe for Strawberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade on their blog. Delicious!

Next up is Spice Ratchet. They make the blossom trivet that I use as a canning rack, and last fall they released a line of silicone Blossom uCaps for mason jars. They are available as a storage cap, a sipping cap, and a flower frog. I hear they have new products on the horizon, so stay tuned for more on that!

The fab folks at MightyNest are back again this month. They are an amazing resource for non-toxic, natural, and organic products for homes and families and even have my beloved 4th Burner Pot in stock.

Last up is Fermentools. They make a brilliant fermentation starter kit that involves a heavy-duty glass pickling weight, an airlock, a lid with a reusable rubber seal, and mineral-rich salt. The pickles I made using their kit turned out deliciously!

If your company or small business is interested in becoming a sponsor, you can find more details here. I offer discounts for multiple month purchases and am always happy to work with your budget.

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Giveaway: Fresh Herb Keepers from Ball Canning

fresh herb keeper

This week, the giveaway is simply about sharing a pair of Fresh Herb Keepers that landed in my possession last summer. I was doing a canning demo at a local farmers market, funded by one of Ball Canning’s Discover You Can grants.

In addition to giving this particular market a little bit of money to help with canning education, they’d also sent a bunch of materials, including cutting boards, handled drinking jars, coupons, and several boxes of these herb keepers. The organizer had given away most of the gear but there were still a few of these herb keepers left after the crowds has dispersed, and so I went home with a couple, always intending to share them here.

Now, months later, here we are. I have two of these very clever herb keepers to give away. They make it possible to vastly extend the lifespan of your fresh herbs, which is a nice thing. Essentially, it’s an updated version of the glass of water and plastic bag approach that my grandma (and probably yours) used to use, only this one doesn’t leak all over the place if you jostle the glass.

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post share one way you’ve been incorporating herbs (either fresh or dried) into your cooking lately.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm east coast time on Saturday, March 7, 2015. The winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog by Sunday, March 8, 2015.
  3. Giveaway is open to US residents and Canadian residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email.

Disclosure: I got these herb keepers for free, but no one is really sponsoring this giveaway. The Ball Canning folks don’t know I’m doing it. I just thought I’d share the wealth. 

Links: Cheese Boards, Hamantaschen, and Winners

February 28

What a good weekend it was! A dear friend from my early days in Philly came to town. We ate Indian food, shopped the Italian Market, and hit one of South Jersey’s best thrift stores. On Saturday evening, we put out the cheese and cured meats we’d bought earlier in the day, raided my fridge for pickles and preserves (and you better believe, there was a lot to choose from) and laid everything out on the coffee table. Another long-time friend came to join us and spent six hours catching up, drinking wine, and eating our spread. It was joyful.

iLid header

Time for the winners of last week’s iLid giveaway. Thanks to our friendly neighborhood randomizer, the two lucky folks are #192/Kathleen and #274/Corrie. I’ll be in touch with both the winners shortly to get your information.

For those of you that didn’t win but were tempted by the iLid design, make sure to look for them at your local co-op or order them online!

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