Monday, May 29, 2017

Cherries in Red Wine Syrup

It's cherry season!  That short window of spring that begs you to buy as many cherries as you can, spend an afternoon sitting on the back deck pitting them, and then eating them as many ways as possible. Mostly straight from the bowl.

But here's one way to preserve your cherries so you can savor them come December, if necessary. (But we both know you're not going to make it to December with these jars of cherries. We will all be lucky if we can make it to July with any jars left.)

In the latest entry in Marisa McClellan's Mastery Challenge, I give you McClellan's own Bing Cherries in Red Wine Syrup. Or at least my version of it. 

(This mastery challenge has been great fun, and this month is cold pack preserving.  Admittedly, lately, it has been hard to keep up, but I believe this is mostly a function of the end of the school year.  Be prepared for summer, people!

Right. Cold-pack canning.  It's relatively simple.  Take some raw fruit or veggie and stuff it into a jar. Cover it in hot liquid high in acid or sugar. Can. Set. Repeat.  Want to learn more about why you should start cold pack preserving? See here.)

Reminiscent of sangria, this syrup is sweet and warm and floral--and while I often think of sangria as a summertime drink, if you can make it to the winter with these jars, these cherries beg to be brought out for the holidays. There's a aromatic, deep, and almost wintry quality to these fruits once you soak them in wine and oodles of vanilla. I want a fire. Perhaps some twinkling lights. And maybe some evergreen boughs.

No matter the time of year, the cherries and a little of their syrup is perfect for topping over ice cream or pound cake. But the syrup also works like a charm in a glass of sparkling water. Or drop a singular cherry into an Old-fashioned or a Manhattan. Or play around with a Mojito until you have created your own singular cereza mojito. I suspect you will not be able to go wrong with these.

I sent two jars (along with one jar of these preserved lemons) up the coast with a foodie friend of ours from Seattle who is currently engaged in a road trip with the husband to see one of their favorite late-80s, early-90s band. That means I still have four jars left. I guess that will get me to June.


Cherries in Red Wine Syrup

Adapted from Marisa McClellans's Food in Jars

Makes about 4 pints


2 cups red wine (any relatively inexpensive but drinkable red wine will do).
1½ cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and the seeds scraped
zest of 1 lemon
4 pounds of cherries, pitted (I used both Bing and Rainier)

1. Prepare a water bath and 4 regular-mouth 1-pint jars and their lids (see below). 

2.  In a medium saucepan, combine the red wine, 1 cup of water, the sugar, the vanilla bean and its seeds, and lemon zest. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the vanilla bean.

3.  Pack the pitted cherries tightly into the prepared jars and pour the hot syrup over the top, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Gently tap the jars on a towel-lined countertop and use a chopstick to pop any air bubbles. 

4.  Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes (see below).

To Sterilize the Jars:
1.  If you're starting with brand new jars, remove the lids and rings; if you're using older jars, check the rims to ensure there are no chips or cracks.

2.  Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a simmer on the back of the stove.

3.  Using a canning rack, lower the jars into a large pot filled with enough water to cover the jars generously. Bring the water to a boil.

4.  While the water in the canning pot comes to a boil, prepare the cherries and wine (or whatever product you are making).

5.  When the recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canning pot (pouring the water back into the pot as you remove the jars).  Set them on a clean towel on the counter.  Remove the lids and set them on the clean towel.

To Seal the Jars:
1.  Carefully fill the jars with the cherries (or any other product). Leave about ½-inch headspace (the room between the surface of the product and the top of the jar).

2.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper towel.

3.  Apply the lids and screw the bands on the jars to hold the lids down during processing. Tighten the bands with the tips of  your fingers so that they are not overly tight.

4.  Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot and return the water to a boil.

5.  Once the water is at a rolling boil, start your timer. The length of processing time varies for each recipe; for the cherries, cook for 25 minutes at a rolling boil.

6.  When the timer goes off, remove the jars from the water. Place them back on the towel-lined counter top, and allow them to cool. The jar lids should "ping" soon after they've been removed from the pot (the pinging is the sound of the vacuum seals forming by sucking the lid down).

7.  After the jars have cooled for 24 hours, you can remove the bands and check the seals by grasping the edges of the jar and lifting the jar about an inch or two off the countertop. The lid should hold in place.

8. Store the jars with good seals in a cool, dark place. And jars with bad seals can still be used, just do so within two weeks and with refrigeration.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Candied Lemon Peel with Thyme

My husband's paternal grandfather was a huge fan of candied citrus peel, especially if it was dipped in dark chocolate. In fact, I believe he had an aching sweet tooth, given that he owned a sweets shop on Coney Island in the mid-20th century. Funny, though: the husband never developed a sweet tooth. Lucky for him (and his waist). 

I, on the other hand, love sugar. 

Especially if it is sugar paired with something tart and something savory. Enter in Candied Lemon Peel with Thyme.

Making candied citrus peel is a great way to use the rest of the lemon or orange or lime or grapefruit after you have squeezed or juiced or suprêmed the fruit. 

In my fantasy kitchen, nothing goes to waste (in my reality kitchen, I often throw out the peels). 

Pairing your candied peel with something savory--thyme, basil, even lavender--boosts this classic to a new level. Which is just what you need for garnishing cakes, cupcakes, ice cream with addictive blasts of pure citrus flavor

Or just for plain snacking. 

Which, I will admit, I did with the remainders from dressing up this cake. And I don't regret it. 


Candied Lemon Peel with Thyme

Adapted from Valerie Aikman-Smith and Victoria Pearson's Citrus: Sweet and Savory Sun-Kissed Recipes

Makes about 1 cup


3 Meyer lemons
3 cups sugar, plus more to coat
3 cups water
½ tsp baking soda
3 sprigs of thyme

1. Wash and dry the Meyer lemons, and cut into ¼-inch pieces of slices ¼ inch thick.

2. Bring a saucepan filled with water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the peel, reduce the heat to low, and gently simmer for 45 minutes.

3. Drain the peel and set aside. In the same saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved completely.

4. Add the baking soda and stir well. Add the reserved fruit, adjust the heat so the sugar is barely simmering, and cook for 45 minutes, until the fruit is translucent.

5. Have a wire rack set over a sheet of parchment paper. Using  a slotted spoon, remove the fruit from the pan, shaking off any excess syrup, and spread it on a single layer on the rack. Let the peel dry at room temperature overnight.  The next day, spread some sugar and the thyme leaves on a sheet pan or shallow bowl and roll the peel in the sugar to coat. Store the eel in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months. 

Admittedly, I did not put these in a single layer.  This I came to regret.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Duck Confit

Many years ago, the husband made duck confit for cassoulet, and lordy, did my life become filled with questions. Why wasn't there more duck in it? Could we make duck confit? Where can one buy duck confit? How could we use duck confit? Is it wrong that I want to eat duck confit everyday?  I don't have answers, but I can at least show you how to make duck confit.

Confit of anything (garlic, onions, chicken wings) is simply slowly cooking said anything in fat. Wait a minute... that sounds like frying. Well, close. It's the temperature thing that sets this apart from frying, and because you do this at such a low temperature, it means you're doing this for a long time, in hopes of producing a food that will keep for a long time. Which is not surprising, since the word confit comes from the French confire, which simply means to preserve. (Want to learn more?  Don't hesitate to turn to food genius, Kenji Lopez-Alt.) 

If you use Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor's simple recipe from their delightful book Twenty Dinners, duck confit is truly easy. It is an investment, yes, of about three hours. But the active time with this recipe is quite short, and what you get in the end is succulent, luxurious duck preserved in fat.  

Sure, procuring duck fat within which you submerge the duck legs can be expensive and tricky. However, rest assured, you can do this all in olive oil or some combination of duck fat and olive oil if you so desire. And afterwards, you have the most amazing fat. Seriously, saute any potato in duck fat and you'll wonder why you ate potatoes any other way.

I recommend making four legs, rather than two, so that you have some to use right away (for example, in Schori and Taylor's delightful Duck Confit and Tagliatelle recipe) and then have some to use later. In all kinds of dishes.

Do you need some examples of what to do with duck confit, rather than warm a little of it and eat it with a fork? Here you go:

Uh-oh.  Looks like we better make more than four legs. Surely then we will be able to come up with more answers to life's duck-confit-related questions, right?


Duck Confit 

Adapted from Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor's Twenty Dinners

Makes 2 duck legs, but you'll want to double this for leftovers. Trust me.

2 duck legs
2 quarts duck fat, or as much as you can get and supplement with olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme
¼ head of garlic
1 bay leaf
small handful of whole black peppercorns

1. Preheat the oven to 225°F. 

2.  In a shallow sauté pan, season the duck legs all over with salt an cover completely with duck fat and olive oil until they are fully submerged. If your duck fat is congealed solid when it comes out of the fridge, heat it gently in a pan to melt it before adding to the legs. Add the thyme, garlic, bay leaf, and peppercorns.

3.  Loosely cover the pan with foil and put it in the oven. Cook until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender, about 2½-3 hours. Remove and let cool.

4.  Pull the meat off the bone and use now, or if you want to save some of the duck for another time, strain the fat while still warm (not hot) through a sieve to remove the aromatics, then store the duck submerged in the fat in the fridge. It will keep for at least a few months this way. When you're ready to serve, reheat it as slowly and at as low a temperature as possible to avoid cooking the duck further.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Celery Shrub

Can we talk about shrubs for a little while? No, not the vegetation in your front yard. I want to talk about drinking vinegars. Wait. Don't go. They're really quite good.

So, March was Shrubs month over at the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. And due to our move across town(s), I have been a bit behind on posting. However, I want to be very clear--these shrubs quenched a good deal of thirst this spring, as I packed boxes, threw out clothes, and cursed the sheer amount of books I have accumulated in my 20-year teaching career.  (Seriously, how many copies of Heart of Darkness does a person need...? Don't answer that.)  Shrubs have been a fixture in our home these past two months.

A shrub is an old-fashioned drink that is making a heady comeback, in part because of mustachioed barkeeps who are looking for new (old) things to stir into their fancy drinks. Lucky for all of us. 

Shrubs originated as a frugal way to ensure you didn't have to throw out your turned wine or as a way to sterilize potentially suspect water. In fact, Roman soldiers would drink posca (a mixture of sour wine and herbs) daily in order to stave off scurvy and to stay hydrated. 

Fast forward a millennium, and shrub shows up as a medicinal drink, intended to help you gulp back what will cure you. By the 17th century, shrubs boasted being a spectacular way to preserve some fruit (or even vegetables) in acid, and thus prolong the life of one's agrarian labor. And many an adventurer would blend a syrup of citrus and sugar with a little rum or brandy: the perfect recipe for a seafaring chanty. By the time shrubs settled down in the American colonies, Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson could be caught tippling from the vinegar barrel as long as it could be mixed in with a little hooch. However, by the time Prohibition came around, the teetotaler could go back to mixing fruit solely with vinegar for a sour kick to one's carbonated beverage. 

But sadly, enter refrigeration post Prohibition and exit the shrub. Until recently, that is.

Nowadays, you cannot enter a hipster bar without walking smack into some sort of shrub-based drink on the menu. Splash a little shrub with some prosecco or top off a whiskey drink, and you've got yourself something nuanced, complex, sweet, sour, and sometimes unidentifiable. In the good way. But I promise you that there are other ways to utilize a shrub. Shake it up with some olive oil and salt for a spectacular salad dressing, swirl it into your lemonade for a pucker-punching drink, or use as part of a marinade.

And shrubs are easy to make and they are wickedly forgiving. According to Michael Dietsch, whose shrub book I snapped up for guidance, "You can fly by the seat of your pants while making shrubs and still have something delicious to sip." My kind of recipe. 

So, I made some shrubs this March and again in April, including a celery one. At first I was skeptical, too, but Dietsch promised it would taste somewhat reminiscent of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray, a drink I never had, but one the husband says he could get on hot summer days down at the Tastee-Freeze in Kansas. Originally a tonic meant to soothe the stomach and calm the nerves, Cel-Ray is the drink of choice with a hot pastrami sandwich from any Brooklyn delicatessen. I love pastrami, calm nerves, and Midwestern nostalgia, so I was sold. Gratefully so.

This is a blast of zingy, botanical, savory freshness; it's the perfect thirst quencher when mixed with a little sparkling water. But don't shy away from splashing a little into your next Bloody Mary, or even atop a refreshing gin and tonic. Or do as I did: gin, shrub, and sparkling water. 

See, suddenly drinking vinegar doesn't sound so bad after all.


Celery Shrub

Adapted from Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times

Makes about 2 cups

1 pound celery, leaves still attached
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar

1.  Wash the celery, scrubbing with a vegetable brush if necessary.  Rough cut into 1-inch pieces.

2.  Add the celery to the blender and cover with ½ cup of water (or so.  This is a forgiving recipe.)

3.  Start the blender on low, and as the celery starts to get chopped up, turn up the speed. If, after about 30 seconds, the mixture is still quite thick, add some more water.

4. Place a fine-mesh stainer over a bowl. Pour the celery mixture through the strainer. Press the celery puree to squeeze even more juice into the bowl. (This makes for a cloudier shrub, but simply shake it before you use it.)

5.  Pour the celery juice into a jar. Add sugar and cider vinegar. Cap the jar and shake to combine. Refrigerate, shaking well every other day or so in order to dissolve the sugar (if there is still some left and you don't drink it all!).