Cookbooks: Composing the Cheese Plate

I love cheese plate books, because in many cases, they’re really preserving books in disguise. Because what goes better with all manner of cheese that interesting jams, spreads, chutneys, mostardas, and jellies? Nothing, that’s what!

Published last fall, Composing the Cheese Plate is a perfect example of preserving-centric cheese book. Written by cheese evangelist Brian Keyser and pastry chef and condiment maker Leigh Friend, this book is bursting with an array of bright, creative, and unusual things to spread, smear, and dollop on cheese.

I have markers sticking out of this book in every direction. In addition to the recipes I’ve shared via photography here, I’m hoping to make the Balsamic Rosemary Cherry Mustard (page 63), Cardamom Poached Butternut Squash (page 89), Spiced Carrot Chutney (page 131), and the Pineapple Mostarda (page 198).

There is one downside to working with a book like this and that’s that none of the recipes are designed for boiling water bath canning. However, the batch sizes are small enough that you can easily tuck them into the fridge and use them up. I confess that I will probably borrow flavor elements from this book and will marry them with recipes I know to be safe for the canning pot.

One final note. This book comes to us from the same publisher that produces my books and as a result, this book shares the same size and binding as those in the Food in Jars series. It would fit quite nicely on a shelf next to my trio of books!

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Glass Spray Bottle with Soap Flakes from the MightyFix by MightyNest

I have always had an affinity for things made from glass. Even in the days before this jar-focused website wasn’t even a glimmer in my eye, I opted for things made out of glass whenever possible. It feels good in the hand, has a pleasing heft, and never, ever absorbs the smell of the thing you’ve kept in it. Plus, it is easily recycled when you decide that an object has reached the end of its useful life.

In recent years, I’ve really enjoyed seeing the increased availability of glass spray bottles. Once just the domain of Martha Stewart home shoots, it’s now quite easy to get one’s hands on a lovely, refillable glass spray bottle. One such delightful bottle is the Meliora K. Glass Spray Bottle with Soap Flakes available from MightyNest.

This spray bottle comes with a tablespoon of unscented soap flakes inside. You fill up the bottle with warm tap water, give it a good shake, and have the perfect all-purpose cleaning spray that is safe and effective for every corner of your home. The FIX bottle comes with extra soap flakes (enough to make two more bottles of cleanser) and you can additional refills from MightyNest.

For the rest of this month, new subscribers to the MightyFix from MightyNest will get their very own glass spray bottle with soap flakes as their first month of the FIX for just a buck. If this deal interests you, just click here to place the bottle (with discount attached!) into your cart! And if the code doesn’t work for you, just use the code FIJGLASSBOTTLE at check-out.

Just to recap, if you use this link or the code, you’ll get your first fix for just $1. New folks only. Canadian and Australians are welcome to join the Fix for a small shipping surcharge.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. MightyNest is a Food in Jars sponsor and helps keep this blog afloat. 

 

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Jellies and Shrubs for the March Mastery Challenge

We’re five days into March, and so it’s high time to start digging into this month’s challenge (I’ve been at a conference for the last couple days, which accounts for the delay). We’re going to be focusing in on both jelly and shrubs this time around.

The reason for the double topics is that jelly making has much in common with marmalade making. For those of you who wearied of achieving set during January’s challenge, you have another option. What’s more, shrubs are fun.

What is Jelly?

There are a lot of preserves that get called jelly, but for the purposes of this challenge, we’re defining it as a sweet or savory preserve that is made primarily with a flavorful liquid like fruit juice, vinegar, or wine (other spirits do sometimes come into play with jellies as well). Fruit jellies should be clear and without any bits or pieces of fruit or fruit pulp. Things like pepper jellies can include bits of pepper material. Jellies should be well-set enough to be spread on toast without dripping down your hand.

There are several ways to go about getting your jelly to set up.

High Pectin Fruits – Some fruits are so naturally high in pectin that you don’t need to add commercial pectin to achieve set (a good example is the red currant jelly I wrote about last summer). Those jellies just need enough sugar to help elevate the temperature to reach the set point (to read more about why sugar aids in set, read this). Occasionally, people will also extract pectin from these high pectin fruits to use in combination with lower pectin fruits.

Commercial Pectin – Other fruits don’t have a ton of natural pectin and require additional pectin in order to set up. These days, my go-to pectins are the Classic Ball Flex Pectin (for higher sugar batches) and Pomona’s Pectin (for lower sugar and alternative sweeteners).

Reduction – Some fruit juices have the ability to set up into jelly with no more than a nice, long boil. Chief among these juices are apple cider. When I first made this apple cider syrup, I accidentally cooked it to 220F and it set up into a nice, spreadable preserve.

The world of jellies really broad, but the thing that unifies them is the fact that they have a solidly spreadable set. If you didn’t read this post on using the plate test to check for set back in January, I recommend you give it a look now.

Here are some jelly recipes to help get you started. Of course, this is just a starting place. There’s a world of jelly recipes out there in books and online for you to choose from.

What is a Shrub?

I’ve been smitten with shrubs since I made my first one back in 2011. Shrubs are a combination of fruit, sugar and vinegar. Left to sit for a few days (or even longer), they develop a deep, sweet-tart flavor that is a wonderful addition to a glass of sparkling water, a batch of salad dressing, a fancy homemade cocktail, a marinade for meat or vegetables, or to a pan sauce.

There is better writer on the topic of shrubs than Michael Dietsch. He started in on the topic back in 2011 with this post on Serious Eats and has subsequently written a whole book about them. Emily Han‘s book, Wild Drinks and Cocktails, is also contains a lot of tasty shrubs.

I’ve got four shrub recipes here on the blog and there are far more out there online. However, if you remember the essential ratio of one part sugar, one part vinegar, and a generous handful of fruit of some kind, you’ll be good.

As always, I’ll be sharing more recipes, tips and tricks around the topic of jellies and shrubs on the blog all month long. The deadline to submit your project to be counted in the final tally is Wednesday, March 29 (I’ll put the form up soon).

I’m also doing a Facebook Live session on the topic on Thursday, March 9 at 9 pm Eastern/6 pm Pacific. Make sure to tune in!

 

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How to Make Apartment-Scale Hard Cider

Our intrepid Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is back again. This time, she’s telling the tale of her journey to becoming a home hard cider maker. You small batch home brewers are going to love this one! -Marisa

My first flirtation with home brewing happened back in 2010, before my penchant for collecting food-related hobbies and weird old stuff outgrew my life and space.

I was living with six friends in a big renovated West Philadelphia Victorian, complete with servants’ staircase coming up from the kitchen, a substantial back deck, and a south-facing backyard where I made my first attempts at raised bed gardening.

That winter, my job was managing the CSA program at Greensgrow Farms, a longtime local food oasis in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, and we often had a few crates of leftover local apples that I could buy at cost.

So when I saw a vintage wooden cider press for sale on Craigslist, I jumped at the chance to haul that huge, heavy thing home, got some apples from work, and made my first batch—after a snowstorm, it looks like. (I’m the one in the green boots.)

Since I only used one kind of apple, and a sweet one at that, the cider had an uninteresting, ricelike flavor, almost like a mild, fruity sake. Soon, our little collective house dissolved, and having nowhere to store the ungainly cider press, I passed it along to another urbanite with a love of DIY projects who had more space.

Now, with a small apartment and an already-full preserving schedule and pantry for most of the year, I thought my cider-making days were long gone. But when I was recently given a gift card to Philly Homebrew Outlet, my neighborhood supplier of all things fermentation, I found myself back in the game. (Philly-area readers can visit PHO locations in Southwest Philly and Kensington; others can shop online.)

I picked up this adorably compact cider-making kit, which contains instructions and all the supplies you need but the starter juice and yeast, which I selected with the advice of a helpful staffer. (Cider and mead are good options for the small-space homebrewer, since the fermentation vessel doesn’t need to have as much extra air space as it does for beer.)

For the starter juice, I picked up a gallon of Eden Garden Farm’s excellent fresh apple cider, made at the Bermudian Springs Cider Mill in Dillsburg, PA. It’s UV pasteurized, which helps to preserve the bright, sweet-tart flavor of farmer Lem’s specially selected blend of half a dozen apple varieties.

Using a fresh-pressed cider whose sweet-tart taste you love should yield a well-balanced end product. But any fresh or pasteurized cider or juice will work as long as it doesn’t contain preservatives like sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate. If you do want to select and press or juice your own apples, be sure to use a mix of sweet and tart varieties to get the best flavor.

Before you begin your mini-batch, you’ll want to decide if you’d like to add sugar to the recipe. Additional sugars like honey (which I used), white or brown sugar, or dextrose will boost the alcohol content of the finished product, so be sure to check the alcohol tolerance of the yeast you’re using and calculate how much sugar to add based on that range. Otherwise, a too-boozy brew could kill the yeast and halt fermentation before the full process is completed.

When you’re ready to make your cider, sanitize any equipment that will come into contact with the mixture using a bleach water solution. Add your optional additional sugars, dissolved in a little cider, to the two-gallon bucket that comes with the kit. Dissolve the pectic enzyme, which will make your finished product clear, in a little cider and add that to the bucket.

Next, add the full gallon of cider, sprinkle on the yeast, close up the bucket, pop on the airlock, and stash in a cool, dark place for at least a week and up to three. Calculating how much yeast to add wasn’t something I had discussed with my homebrew guru and online research was inconclusive, so I played it safe and added half the packet. This is something I want to learn more about before I brew my next batch.

That’s primary fermentation. Secondary fermentation is where the fun (and plastic tubing) begins.

Once again, sanitize all vessels, utensils, and other equipment that will come into contact with the cider. You’ll be transferring the cider from the two-gallon bucket into the one-gallon jug. My apartment-size movable dishwasher was the perfect height to be the siphoning surface once I propped up the jug with an apple crate.

Your siphon and tubing, also included in the kit, are the perfect tools to get the cider from vessel A to vessel B without disturbing the yeasts that have settled at the bottom of the bucket, which we want to leave behind.

To move the cider, you’ll pump the auto-siphon, which will move cider from the first vessel to the second one below. It can be a little tricky to do at first without spilling cider all over yourself or the floor; PHO recommends practicing with sanitizer until you get the hang of it. The goal here is to make sure that the tube end stays in the jug and the siphon end doesn’t stir up the yeast at the bottom of the bucket.

Once the cider (minus the sediment) has been siphoned, replace the airlock and stash your jug in a cool, dark place for anywhere from two weeks to up to a month.

After that, you’ll have drinkable, boozy cider—huzzah!

I ended up with two liter bottles and one quart bottle, about ¾ gallon yield after starting with one gallon of fresh cider.

You can stop here and keep your cider still—simply siphon into any bottle with a tight-fitting lid (a growler is great for this, but wine bottles work too) and store in the refrigerator.

At this stage, mine was very light-tasting, slightly sweet and slightly tart. It left the slightest hint of fizz on the tongue and smelled, improbably, of jasmine—a far cry from the unappealing result of my first effort years ago. I’d hoped for something a little drier, with bigger flavors, but I’m pretty pleased with this initial result.

To add carbonation to your hard cider, you’ll need to take one more step and wait a few more weeks. (I’m still in this waiting stage as I write this—but I’ll be back in a few days with an update on my sparkling cider results.)

Additional carbonation requires a little more sugar; a bottle priming calculator can help you determine how much sugar to add based on the volumes of carbon dioxide typical for the style of beer or cider you’re making and the amount of cider you’re working with.

Rather than siphoning from the jug directly into bottles, as you would with still cider, dissolve the amount of sugar you need in a little water and add to your sanitized brewing bucket. Siphon the cider (minus any sediment at the bottom of the jug, of course) into the bucket.

Then, siphon the cider-sugar mixture into sanitized bottles appropriate for carbonation. (PHO’s kit recommends doing this with the siphon; I admit I simply poured my still cider, pretty sediment-free and mixed with sugar, through a sanitized funnel into the bottles.) You can use swing-top bottles, cappable beer bottles, or plastic soda bottles to carbonate. Be sure to leave one inch of headspace between the top of the liquid and the bottle stopper.

When using glass bottles, I like to play it safe and keep them in a plastic cooler with a tight-fitting lid in case of any freak explosions while this last stage of fermentation is taking place. Let your bottles carbonate for two weeks at room temperature, then chill and enjoy.

There you have it—a way to make your own cider that won’t take up more room in your kitchen than, say, your food processor or crock pot.

Have you tried making your own hard cider before? What about other small-scale boozy projects? How did it go? Share your hopes, fears, and experiences in the comments!

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March Sponsors: Cuppow, Fillmore Container, EcoJarz, MightyNest, Mason Jar Lifestyle, and CanningCrafts

Happy March, friends! It’s the start of the month and so is time to thank the businesses that help make this site possible. Please do show them your appreciation for their support with your time and attention!

In the top spot are our friends at Cuppow. They are the creators 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. Parents and kids love their EIO set, with its grippy silicone sleeve and a lid that makes for easy sipping. And make sure to check out their Cup Club, to see if using a mason jar and cuppow can earn you free coffee at a shop near you!

Lancaster, PA-based and family-owned Fillmore Container are next! They sell all manner of canning jars, lids, and other preservation gear. As always, their blog is an amazing resource for all things jar-related. I love their post on how to make milk kefir. And don’t miss the the JarBox giveaway they’re hosting right now.

Our friends over at EcoJarz on board again this month. They make an array of products designed to fit on top of mason jars, including cheese graters, coffee brewers, and stainless steel storage lids. Make sure to follow them on social, because they host a weekly EcoJarz Fan Pic of the Week giveaway!

MightyNest is an amazing resource for non-toxic, natural, and organic products for homes and families. I’m a big fan of the MightyFix, their monthly product subscription program. Right now, you can get a year’s subscription to the MightyFix for just $99 (it regularly costs $10 a month, so that’s a great deal). Look for a post featuring a MightyFix product in this space next week.

Mason Jar Lifestyle is a one-stop shopping site for all the jar lovers out there. They sell all manner of mason jar accessories and adaptors. If you’re in the market for lids, straws, and cozies to transform your mason jars into travel mugs, make sure to check them out!

New to the sponsorship family this month is CanningCrafts. Shop owner Alison sells an array of ready made and custom mason jar labels for all your various preserves, syrups, and backyard honey. When next you need labels for a special project, check out CanningCrafts. Oh, and to give Alison feedback on her labels, make sure to fill out the CanningCrafts survey!

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. Leave a comment on this post or drop me a note to learn more!

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Mastery Challenge February Round-up: Salt Preserving

Grace Lee’s gorgeously vivid kimchi.

February has drawn to a close and so it’s time to wrap up the second round of the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. I continue to be so honored and delighted that so many of you are going along with me on this crazy journey!

This month, we focused on preserving with salt and so many of you spent your time exploring the many options. There were 325 of you that submitted projects to the spreadsheet (down from last month’s 600-ish number, but still great). I think it’s safe to say that even more of you attempted preserved citrus, gravlax, cured eggs, soup base, herbes salées, sauerkraut, and more than reported it.

I loved seeing the positive trend in feelings about salt preserving. We only scratched the surface of a very deep food preservation tradition and I do hope that some of you keep exploring this area.

Dried Herb Salt, Herbes Salées, & Soup Base

Sauerkraut & Kimchi

Chopping collards from Brit in the South

Preserved Citrus

Photo from Cheese and Cracker Jacks

Gravlax & Cured Egg Yolks

Laurie Kane’s gorgeous beet gravlax

 

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