Mint Simple Syrup

mint syrup

I have always been a fan of minty things*. As a kid, I would beg my grandfather for some of the Tic Tacs he always carried in on his person (the rattle of that plastic box always takes me back to him as well). I’d trawl the bottom of my mom’s purse for linty Lifesavers. And Christmas time, with its pepperminty candy canes never failed to delight mw.

As the years have gone by, my love of minty things hasn’t diminished, although I find myself gravitating towards less sweet applications than the sticky candies of my youth. Lucky for me, in the last few weeks, I’ve had access to all the mint I can carry, thanks to the garden plot of friends Angie and Thad. They have a most bountiful mint plant and no matter how much we cut from it, the next day it seems to be back, bigger than ever.

We celebrated the 4th of July within spitting distance of that marvelous mint plant, and so I took home a large bouquet after the grilling and drinking was complete. Yesterday, as I tried to clear out the fridge a bit and make room for our lunchtime salads, I pulled that bundle of mint out of the crisper drawer and concocted a plan.

I poured two cups of filtered water into a saucepan and added two cups of cane sugar. I gave the mint a quick rinse (just to get any garden dust off of it) and added it to the pot. I brought the whole thing up to a brief simmer, stirred until the sugar was dissolved and turned off the heat. I let it sit on the stove while I finished the rest of the dishes. When I turned back to it, the syrup was cool enough to handle and I strained it out into a quart jar. Swiping my finger through a trail of drips, I tasted it and was pleased to note that I had captures the green, freshness of the mint perfectly. I plan on mixing this minty simple syrup with sparkling water, for easy evening drinking. You could use it in a mojito if you felt so moved.

This minty simple syrup keeps indefinitely in the fridge. Make an extra jar and stash it away for later.

While we’re on the subject of mint, has anyone made their own mint extract? I did a bit of searching and found that some folks take the same tact that homemade vanilla extract requires (put leaves in vodka, let sit until they’ve given up their essence). Anyone have first-hand experience (I plan on trying it, but thought I’d query the crowd as well).

*Sadly, the man I live with isn’t so fond of the flavor of mint (he searches out toothpaste with the most mild of mint flavor), so I keep my minty habits to myself.

Comments { 36 }

Some recent pickling projects

pickled ramps

I have a secret for you. Sometimes, making pickles is so easy that it doesn’t even require a recipe. I have two recent examples, that I hope, when shared, will inspire you to leap up from your computer and rush to the kitchen in order to toss something (anything) with a bit of brine and seasoning.

Back in May, a friend gave me a small jar of ramps (very pungent wild onions) for my birthday. I knew that the way to best appreciate the gift was to pickle them. I did a bit of recipe searching, but found that the dominant pickled ramp recipe available online was a sweet one (if this story is sounding familiar to you, it’s because I briefly blogged about my search for a good pickled ramp recipe back in May). I didn’t want to go that way, so I forged a different path.

Knowing that a standard brine calls for half vinegar, half water and whichever spices make your taste buds sing, I mixed up a concoction of apple cider vinegar, water and some pickling spices (I used my standard Penzeys pickling mix, but added a pinch of cayenne to it for a hint of heat). After a month and a half in the fridge (you don’t have to keep them in the fridge that long before eating, 3-4 days would do it, I’ve just got many pickles on my plate), they hit all the right pickly notes and make this girl quite happy indeed.

pickled mexican sour gherkins

Last Saturday, while strolling the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market, I happened upon a stand selling pints of tiny cucumbers that looked like miniature watermelons. I asked the farmer about them (a very nice guy named Don) and he said that they were Mexican Sour Gherkins and encouraged me to taste one. They were bright, tangy and fresh tasting and so I bought two pints for $6 (which was more than I’d ever paid for such a small quantity of something destined for a brine).

When I got them home, I suddenly found myself overwhelmed by kitchen projects. My plan to devise a special brine for these little guys was quickly abandoned. Instead I just rinsed them off and poured them all into the quart jar of leftover brine I had in the fridge. The brine was from my end of season pickled asparagus that I did a few weeks ago (you can find that recipe here). Over the last week in the fridge, their natural tartness has married in a highly delicious way with the brine and I munched a small bowl this afternoon just because I could.

So, next time you find yourself with an unusual ingredient, don’t fret over what to do with it. Pickle it! I’ve got a whole bag of garlic scapes in the fridge right now, awaiting a briny fate.

Comments { 12 }

Foods in jars at the Fancy Food Show

DSC_0065

I took the day off from work on Monday in order to head up to New York for a day of the Fancy Food Show. Last summer, I went for two and a half days, but this year, since I’m not writing for a general interest food site at the moment, I decided to just spend a single day wandering the show floor. I had a good time, tasting and chatting, but the whole time I was there, I kept feeling like I didn’t quite belong.

As I looked at all the available products, I realized how little I’m interested in promoting things for people to buy (despite all the wonderful things available out there in the world). I’m far more interested in encouraging people to shop their farmers market, plant a garden and make their jams, spread, pickles and condiments on their own. However, the show was great in that it planted many seeds in my canning brain, that are now germinating and growing into recipes. Here are some of the best examples of foods in jars that I saw, maybe they’ll help inspire some of you as well!

DSC_0056

This Black Olive with Ginger Jam was amazing – sweet, sharp and poignant in the very same bite.

DSC_0077

These were some of the best pickled veggies I’ve ever tasted, they manage to be crisp, bright and shelf stable. As some of you might know, when you can pickled vegetables, it can be a challenge to keep them crunchy and safe for storage at the same time. This company has figured out a magic solution (when I pressed them about their process, they clammed up).

DSC_0078

Carrot jam? Carrot jam! As far as I could tell, this was shredded carrots, cooked with sugar, spices and a bit of vinegar. It’s going on my list of things I’d like to do someday.

DSC_0073

These port wine and fruit jams were just lovely. Sweet and rich, the port wasn’t overpowered, but was definitely there. They’d be excellent with cheese (and wouldn’t be hard to make at home).

DSC_0062

Actually, here’s one product that I do love, that you can’t really make at home. Organic peanut butter from the folks who bring you Cream Nut (the most delicious and expensive peanut butter around). This one might be worth buying (probably only as a special treat though, it is quite pricey).

Comments { 9 }

A few canning links

I spent yesterday at the Fancy Food Show up in New York, and I’m still catching up on life after just one day away. I took a bunch of pictures of various foods in jars while there, and I hope to have a post up for you guys about what I saw there (as well as a recipe for sour cherry jam) up in the next day or so. In the meantime, to tide you all over, here are some links to good canning stuff elsewhere.

There are a couple of interesting conversations going on about canning over on MetaFilter right now, including one that mentions this here blog (thanks for the nod sararah!). The Oregonian has a terrific article on preserving cherries and the recipe for gooseberry jam on Doris and Jilly Cooks (made out of gleaned berries) looks wonderful.

Comments { 0 }

Quick-drying fresh herbs

drying oregano

The house I was born into was a tiny little thing. Built in the early 1900s, it was just shy of 1,000 square feet. However, what it lacked in indoor space, it made up for in an amazing yard. The backyard was particularly roomy, starting with the brick back patio and rising in several tiers up to a two-story garage and back alley. We had several plums trees, as well as a vegetable garden and a long planter overgrown with Italian oregano.

The yard was often more than my parents could handle, especially with two little kids, a dog and a music production/distribution business rapidly expanding in the basement (offices) and garage (shipping department). However, they did what they could to keep nature from totally reclaiming the space, focusing the bulk of their efforts on the garden spaces closest to the house. The oregano was a particularly enthusiastic grower and had to be regularly trimmed (otherwise it would tumble out of it’s planter and take over).

destemmed oregano

Instead of tossing the oregano trimmings onto the compost pile (which was an action that could have been forgiven, given how much oregano was back there), my mom would spread it out on cookie sheets and put them in the oven to dry. The kitchen in that house had an big old white enamel gas stove, with a pancake griddle in between the burners. Left overnight, the heat from the pilot light was enough to gently dry out the oregano. The next day, she’d carefully pull the leaves from the stems and store the dried oregano in airtight containers.

These days, I don’t have a highly productive oregano patch at my disposal. However, I do have a membership in a CSA which includes at least one bundle of fresh herbs each week. And when a recent box contained a rubber-banded bunch of oregano (the scent of which took me flying straight back to childhood) I knew I was destined to dry it.

oregano in canister

In the past, I’ve hung herbs to slowly dry in my kitchen, but often found that in my tiny galley, they get bumped and banged, leaving crunchy bits all over the floor. I also worry that in the course of their hang, they get dusty and splattered with the scents and particles of daily cooking. For all those reasons, I much prefer the quick oven dry.

To do it, you simply spread a bunch of fresh herbs out on a cookie sheet (no need to destem at this point). I put them in the oven, set to the very lowest temperature and leave them for one hour. After the first hour is up, I turn the oven off, but leave the herbs in overnight. The next day, I destem them and pack the now-dried herbs away in jars. If you have a gas stove, you could follow my mom’s method and just use the heat of the pilot light. Sadly, my electric oven precludes that practice.

This method works wonderfully for leafy herbs like oregano, thyme, mint and even basil. Rosemary doesn’t fair as well and dill gets crispy too fast (that’s one that I still hang to dry, I just do it in a closet instead of my kitchen).

Comments { 12 }

Canning is cool & a class update

Red radishes

Canning has been popping up in media outlets all over in recent days and yesterday morning, I added my two cents to the hubbub by appearing on the Fox29 morning show for five minutes. I brought a collection of canning books, half a dozen jars of pickles and jams, two enormous pots and an assortment of canning tools to dress the table and just casually chatted with Michelle Buckman, the consumer reporter. The time flew by and I had a great time. If you weren’t able to catch the segment yesterday, you can see it online here.

Thanks to the Fox29 segment and the piece that appeared in Daily Candy last week, my canning classes at Foster’s are rapidly filling up. I’ve been told that there are just two spots left in the July peach class and classes on pickles and tomatoes are also nearing capacity. If you want to take one of those classes, the time to sign up is now. We’re also considering adding another class or two, if you’re intrigued by that (maybe blackberry jam?), leave a comment so that I can gauge interest.

Comments { 8 }