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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rhubarb jelly with lime and flor de jamaica

another month, another canning challenge. this is my second attempt at jelly-making and my first with pomona pectin. i am in love. talk about product performance-what a concept: this stuff delivers on it’s promise, which is to gel or set your mixture and not to add preservatives, additives or unneeded extra sweeteners. now, on to the jelly itself. this month’s challenge provided a choice between asparagus or rhubarb. since my last two canning choices were more of the savory variety, i decided on rhubarb.

now, i don’t what your experience with rhubarb is, but mine is nil. nada. nuttin’ doin’. never touch the stuff. actually, it kind of freaks me out. i mean, check out this creepy picture and tell me you won’t have haunting dreams tonight. i knew enough about it not to touch it while i was chopping it up; it stains everything it touches. being a nurse is handy as there are always a box of gloves hangin’ around for duties like this. as i was making pictures of it, i softened a bit toward it’s rugged good looks. the deep color and striations and such started to grow on me. i read sweet stories on the internets about fond memories of grandma handing her little ones raw rhubarb stalks dipped in sugar as a special springtime treat. all manner of people were baking it in pies and cobbler, stewing it to serve in a fool or with some delicious grilled or roasted meat product. these people must have known what they were doing, right? and no one was poisoned, once they figured out not to eat the leaves, right? right.

i followed pomona’s instructions for fruit ratio, pectin amounts, and the like. the flavor profile is way more hibiscus than rhubarb, most likely due to the fact that i did not get a whole lotta juice from those stingy stalks. i had to supplement much more with steeped hibiscus than i had initially planned. this beauty will most likely end up on my next cheese tray.

rhubarb jelly with lime and flor de jamaica (makes 7-8 half pint jars)

3 lbs rhubarb

a few large handfuls dried flor de jamaica (hibiscus flowers)

5 tbsp lime juice

2 1/2 c sugar

5 tsp calcium water

5 tsp pomona pectin

clean and chop rhubarb into 1/2 inch chunks, discarding any browned or leafy portions. (yes folks, the leaves are poisonous). place in a large pot with a cup or two of water and simmer until softened. add a large handful of hibiscus flowers during the last minute or so of cooking. the longer they steep, the darker the jelly will be. at this point, i whirled the mixture in the food processor but i wish i hadn’t. it became almost too thick to strain and i only got about a cup and a half of liquid through it. strain through multiple dampened layers of cheesecloth for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.resist the temptation to press on or push the liquid out. rumor has it that this will cause the jelly to become cloudy because, inevitably, some solids will end up getting through as well.

measure the amount of liquid strained and bring an amount of water that would bring this to a  total 5 cups. for example: my 1 1/2 cups of strained juice had me bringing 3 1/2 cups of water to a boil. add another large handful of hibiscus flowers to the boiling water for just about 30 seconds or so and strain through another few layers of cheesecloth. add this hot liquid to your juice. rinse out your pot, add the liquid, lime juice, and calcium water and bring to a boil. measure out your sugar into a bowl and add the pomona pectin, stirring well to combine. add the sugar and pectin to the boiling mixture all at once and stir for a minute or two until the pectin is well dissolved. bring mixture back to a boil and add additional sweetener if desired. if i had it to do all over again, i would have added some honey at this point to round out the sweetness.

ladle into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

i floated a few flowers on top  but most did not stay cenetered. i am ok with this.

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the good life: black beans & rice

i have had a long affair with black beans and rice. it all started when i moved to texas in my early 20’s. i was lucky enough to get a job at the coolest, hippy-ist (not hip-ist) cafe in town, one of those places where your boss would bail you out of jail, you can pretty much assume that all the cooks are hungover, and a waitress might just run off with the band to whom she  just served coffee. it was here that i was first introduced to what would become one the food staples of my life–black beans and rice. it was born, like many things, out of necessity. it was cheap, easliy accessible, and nutritious. these are the three most important qualities of a meal when you’re on a budget whether due to youth, job status, or financial strain.

this brings me to the real reason for this post. i was lucky enough to be asked to be part of a group of food bloggers in a challenge to bring awareness to the problem of hunger here in our fair city and it’s outlying areas. This is a project inspired by the capital area food bank, one of it’s proud volunteers, kristi willis of austin farm to table, and austin american-statesman food writer, addie broyles. the food bank feeds 48 thousand people per week in 21 counties. in addition to canned & packaged foods and meat products , they are proud to be the 2nd largest distributor of fresh produce of any food bank in the nation. this means fruits and veggies, people–real food! not only do they offer food via 360 partner agencies ’round these parts, they’re also involved in the food stamp program (SNAP), a senior outreach program, kid’s cafe, mobile pantries, and they offer nutritional education, menu planning, and recipe & cooking classes. whew!

most of the food bloggers involved in this awareness program are doing their own personal challenges; some are posting every meal from a typical week’s worth of food from the food bank, some are posting daily updates, and some like me are writing a simple, singular post in the hopes that it will inspire you to reach out, volunteer, donate, or otherwise do what will float your your philanthropic boat. saturday, may 8th is also the annual stamp out hunger food drive, whereby you can simply leave non-perishible goods in a bag by your mailbox–it doesn’t get any easier than that. if you’d like to read more about the food blogger challenge, please visit the rest of the bloggers involved  from this central site: food blogger hunger awareness project.

black beans & rice (serves 4)

this is not so much a recipe as a method. you can substitute any type of beans or rice that you like. i prefer black beans and brown rice for sentimental reasons and this combo packs a nutritious wallop.

1/2 lb dried black turtle beans

1/2 onion, chopped

a few bay leaves

a handful of salt

1 cup brown rice

soak beans overnight or use the quick soak method. be sure to change to soaking water to fresh. cover soaked beans with a few inches of fresh cold water. add the chopped onion, bay leaves, and salt and bring to a boil. simmer, semi covered with a lid for a little over an hour until tender but not mushy.

make the brown rice according to package directions bearing in mind brown rice takes about twice as long to cook as white rice, so give yourself plenty of time. i like to add a bit of olive oil and water and a pinch of salt to the rice and water for a boost of flavor.

if you have a bit of veggies, onion, or pickled jalapenos, chop ’em up and add on top. or you could just simply eat it as is with a few dashes of cholula or your favorite hot sauce.

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texas two-step jelly

i found this month’s canning assignment a bit challenging. sometimes i think the wider the range from which to choose, the more difficult. this month’s assignment was herbs. herbs! how many hundreds, thousands of herbs are there anyway? i considered most of them. i find i have most difficulty with decision-making when i am a bit over-stimulated by other facets of life. it’s time to admit that my day job is really getting in the way of my blogging, cooking, and social engagements. and something must be done about it.

and so to that end, this writing is so close to the deadline that i will have to keep it short. and sweet! this is a delicious jelly made from a texas viognier and a very special ingredient: mexican mint marigold, aka texas tarragon. this is a lovely herb indigenous to texas and mexico. it is also known as the ‘poor man’s tarragon’. all i know is that it’s a perennial herb that i’ve had it my garden for years and i use it in all kinds of sauces and preparations. the apple pectin stock is a wonderful way to add natural pectin to jellies and jams. the apple flavor is a bit stronger than i’d like it to be, but the jury is still out. i will taste again this week before i make adjustments.

both of these recipes are adapted from gourmet preserves: chez madelaine by madelaine bullwinkel.

apple pectin stock:

this is a neutral pectin stock that works well with most jelly flavors. keep a store of it in the fridge or freezer so you always have some on hand.

4 lbs granny smith apples

8 c water

stem the apples and coarsely chop. place pieces in a heavy non-reactive 5-quart pot: include seeds, skins, and cores. bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 30 minutes. stir once or twice during this time, turning the apples from top to bottom..

strain mixture through  a damp cheesecloth-lined sieve for 1 hour. there will be about 8 cups of juice. begin to reduce this juice while continuing the straining process for another hour. the last strained juice has a higher pectin level than the juices previously strained. add this juice to the pan and reduce juices to 3 cups total.

stock will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or frozen up to a few months.

wine jelly:

be sure to use a wine you  really enjoy drinking because the final product will be a concentrated version of this flavor.

1 bottle of your favorite wine (i used a driftwood vineyards texas viognier)

3 cups apple pectin stock

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2-3 small sprigs of tarragon (i used mexican mint marigold, aka texas tarragon)

2 cups granulated sugar

reduce the wine to 1 cup in a heavy, non-reactive 4-quart pan. reserve wine and rinse out the pan. combine pectin stock, wine,  lemon juice and tarragon in the pan and bring to a simmer, reducing by half to about 2  1/2 cups. remove tarragon. add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing liquid to return to a boil before adding more. continue to boil until mixture reaches jell-point, about 5-10 minutes.

off heat, skim the jelly and ladle into hot, sterilized jelly jars to within 1/4″ of the top. if desired, add a small sprig of tarragon to suspend in jell. process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

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grilled artichokes with meyer lemon aioli

last weekend i went to the downtown farmer’s market to pick up an order i had placed with a very special company here in town called dai due. they take locally sourced products and run with with them, such as making chorizo from richardson farms pork and preserved lemons from local meyer lemons, which are the 2 products i had pre-ordered. the folks are very kind and informal, my two favorite traits for a business. while i was there, i decided to take a quick scan to see if i could find some (rumored) local artichokes. i did and they were beauties. not too big, not too small and extremely fresh. i bought a bag full of them. this is the time of year when my ‘california is showing’; beautiful produce starts showing up for farm-to market meals, warm days with cool nights rule, incredible flora everywhere (thanks, ladybird johnson). sometimes i tell my husband that his ‘oklahoma is showing’,  but it’s usually not meant to be nice.

the first night i just steamed one up and we dipped the ancient-looking leaves into a creamy mustard sauce i had leftover from a pork tenderloin the night before. the next day i went poking around for some fresh new ways to prepare my thorny friends and came across a grilling technique that sounded enticing, yet simple. then, the search continued for a new condiment to enjoy along side. i found it in a meyer lemon aioli from molly wizenberg, remembering that i had those preserved lemons waiting on me.

an aioli is basically a homemade mayonnaise preparation enhanced by the addition of garlic and in this case, meyer lemon. i had everything else i needed on hand. i’ve made homemade mayonnaise before but have always cheated, meaning i used a blender. i decided to try my hand at whisking under my own power. my arm almost fell off, but it was worth it. plus, you can stop and rest as needed without any penalty done to the final product.

instead of adding lemon zest at the end, i finely chopped some of the preserved meyer lemon peel.

grilled artichokes (1 per person if they are small)

adapted from bon appetit

4 small to medium artichokes

a few lemons

good quality olive oil

prepare artichokes: cut stem of artichokes to 1 inch. cut off about 1/4 to 1/3 off the top off the artichoke, remove thick outer leaves and snip of thorny points to remaining leaves. cut artichokes in half lengthwise (or quarters if using large ones),  rub cut sides of artichokes with lemon juice and place in a large bowl of aciduated water (squeeze a few lemon halves into the water). steam artichoke halves in about an inch of water for 20-30 minutes, until tender when you pierce heart with a sharp knife.

remove from pot and allow to cool slightly. remove choke from center of artichoke. i find a grapefruit spoon makes easy work of this chore. drizzle olive oil on artichokes and place on preheated and very hot grill. the artichoke is cooked, you are really just searing it to give it flavor. turn every few minutes until you have grill marks on all side of artichoke pieces. you can serve these warm or at room temperature with meyer lemon aioli.

meyer lemon aioli (makes 3/4 cup-enough for about 4 artichokes)

adapted from orangette

1 medium garlic clove

1 large egg yolk

2 tsp meyer lemon juice

1 tsp white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp dijon mustard

1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

zest of 1 meyer lemon (i chopped up 2 slices preserved meyer lemon from dai due)

mince garlic clove, add a pinch of salt to mince, and mash garlic into  a paste with the side of the knife.

in a medium bowl, add garlic and next 5 ingredients, through salt, whisk for about 30 seconds until mixture is well blended.

start adding the oil, a few drops at a time while whisking constantly until you arm just about falls off, taking breaks as needed. add at least the first 1/4 cup of oil this way. after that point, you can add the remaining 1/2 cup in a continuous stream, while whisk continuously, making sure the oil is well-incorporated as you go.

this is really a labor of love and the mixture will thicken as you go, rewarding you with the most beautiful and silky homemade mayonnaise you have ever tasted. or bathed in.

if you enjoy farm-to-market meals (and really who doesn’t?) check out these other let’s lunch posts:

cowgirl chefscrambled eggs with roasted asparagus and potatoes

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