Monthly Archives: June 2010

agarita jelly

you know that saying ‘well, it’s five o’clock somewhere”? i am going to try to weave it into this post to convince you that i have made the deadline for this month’s can jam. but i really have. really. you see, i am sitting on an island in the middle of the pacific ocean, namely the big island of hawai’i and i am so many hours behind you it isn’t even funny. right now, where i sit,  it’s nine pm. and on the east coast, it’s three in the morning. the next day. wherever else you are in the states, i am sure you are sleeping. but wait, it’s friday night–some of you may be out for a drink. so, to put it all in a nutshell (or a seashell): i am in the states, it ain’t midnight yet, and it is the day before the deadline (no matter what anyone says) for posting this month’s entry of canned goods. and the ingredient for this month is berries.

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i had never heard of agarita berries until a few years back when i was reading an article on regional foods of texas. they are plentiful and native to the southwest: from the texas hill country (west of austin) all to way to parts of arizona. back in the day, folks used to make jelly out of anything they could squeeze a drop of juice outta. the berries preserve well in jellies, chutneys, you name it and were often served with meats. these here were gifted to me by my neighbor whose mother has a property full of them out in blanco, texas. lucky me. when i went to do a search on how to make jelly from them i found nothing. well, that’s not entirely true. the freesteader libratarian and texas bowhunter forums had both mentioned agarita jelly, but no recipe was found. so i made one up following the ratios from pomona’s pectin. you have to introduce some sort of pectin to this jelly; the berries themselves have virtually none. the flavor is difficult to describe. it is fairly tart, like rhubarb, but earthy and grassy all at the same time. i made a simple and straightforward batch of jelly for my neighbor and his mother: they both said it was exactly right. i’ll take their word for it.

agarita jelly (makes about 4-5 half pints)

note: this is a lower sugar version-sweeten to taste. the fact that you can control the sugar is the good word about using pomona pectin.

3 lbs agarita berries, picked through, sorted, and rinsed

enough water to cover the berries  (about 3 cups)

1/4 c lemon juice

4 tsp calcium water (if you don’t know what this is, look at the pomona pectin website)

4 tsp pomona pectin powder

1 c honey

1 c granulated sugar

put berries and water in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. lower heat and simmer, covered for about 10-15 minutes. stir and mash berries (i used a potato masher) and cook 5 minutes more. pour into a jelly bag or over some dampened cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl to catch the juice. allow to drain for at least 2 hours. you should have about 4 cups of juice. add a little water if you are short. it will be ok.

pour measured juice into a saucepan and add lemon juice and calcium water and slowly bring to a boil. meanwhile, in a small bowl, thoroughly mix pectin powder with your granulated sugar. add sugar/pectin mixture to boiling juice, stirring vigorously for 1-2 minutes. add your honey to taste. pour mixture into prepared jars and process for 10 minutes in a water bath.

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homemade croutons

there’s been a lot of talk about homemade croutons lately. oh wait, i think pretty much all instigated by me. a friend on twitter was lamenting the demise of a loaf of bread i’m sure she had spent the better part of a day mixing, kneading, rising, and baking. my first thought was ‘croutons!’.  in my mind, the baking gods had closed a door and opened a window for her. now, no one wants to spend the day making a batch of croutons, and thankfully you don’t have to. but it’s nice to know one is only ever 15-20 minutes away from a batch if there’s ever an emergency. homemade croutons are a completely different animal than store-bought. i can’t even remember the last time i bought a bag of croutons at the store–i have always loved to make them from leftover or stale bread. this is not a mind-blowing recipe, nor will it change your life. it’s just a method for baking glorious cubes of toasted bread that i’m glad i know of and would like to share. it also pleases the taurus in me to use up every last scrap of food.

homemade croutons (makes about 3-4 cups)

this is more of a method than a recipe. you can pretty much use whatever bread, oils, or herbs you have on hand.

approximately 1/3-1/2 loaf stale bread

several glugs good quality olive oil

1 tbsp fresh herbs (i used thyme)

1/2 tsp garlic powder

kosher salt and pepper

preheat oven to 350 degrees. cut bread into large cubes. you can leave the crust on or not. i prefer to leave it on for a more rustic taste and feel. place in a large bowl with all other ingredients and toss. you want to add enough oil to coat the bread but  not make it soupy. pour onto a baking sheet with enough room in between the pieces so they brown freely. bake 13-15 minutes, turning once of twice for even browning.

allow to cool and store in a covered container or plastic bag for up to a week.

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pickled red onions

pickled onions finished

i am a fan of quick. and i’m not talkin’ highly processed or convenience foods. now, i’m not knocking busy folks who need to buy a pre-chopped onion every now and again, but for me chopping the onion is a process that takes me from an over-stimulating day to a place of zen. i’m a strange one that way. so what we’re talking about here is a quick pickles. canned, or water-bath processed pickles are a wonderful thing, but sometimes you lose quality and crunch factor with this method. plus you have to wait days to weeks for the pickles to be ready. if you have never done this, it is virtually impossible to slave over a hot canner, then wait up to two weeks to taste the results.

pickled onions raw

if you are a fan of grilled, smoked, caramelized, braised, broiled or roasted meats or vegetables like we are, you need to make some pickled onions. they are the perfect balance to the char or caramelization that occurs with any of the above cooking methods. i could also see this as the perfect companion to anything warmly-spiced (think cumin or cinnamon scented savory dishes, like the pork carnitas below), or anytime you want to add a brightness to a dish. this is such a simple way to punch up so many foods, i think i’ll keep  a jar of it in my fridge all summer long.

pickled onions on carnitas taco

pickled red onions (makes about 2 cups)

adapted from david lebovitz and simply recipes

1 large red onion, sliced thinly

1 cup white wine vinegar

3-4 tbsp granulated sugar, or to taste

2 bay leaves

1/2 cinnamon stick

5 whole allspice berries

5 whole cloves

5-10 whole black peppercorns

pinch of salt

in a small saucepan, heat vinegar, sugar, and spices to simmering. add sliced onions and simmer gently for 30 seconds. remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. place onions and pickling liquid in a glass jar. will keep and taste freshest in the fridge for up to a month.

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