Alchemy in jars

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Happy yeast!

This post rightfully belongs to Tuesday, but I’ve been a bit preoccupied with work things, social things and other things – and so it’s now Thursday and I’m finally getting around to posting on phase two of the Blueberry-Pomegranate Wine which I completed on Monday afternoon – that is the activation of the yeast (one packet of red wine, dissolve in one cup of the wine-juice and let stand until it froths), and the addition of said yeast to the primary along with 2 teaspoons of acid blend, 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient, 1/2 a teaspoon of pectic enzyme and the same again of tannin. My airlock is currently bubbling away which means my ferment is happy and active. I expect by Monday it will have died down and be ready for the secondary. Initial hydrometer reading is 1.020 which you might note is much lower than the initial mead reading of two weeks ago. I’m thinking that after this batch of wine goes into the secondary, I am going to try a second batch of mead – but a dry mead this time to compare to the fruity version I’ve got going already.

Also on Monday night, I started two batches of mustard seed soaking which I will grind up into a paste tonight when I get home. I’m trying two different recipes below – a basic yellow mustard with horseradish added for kick, and a beer mustard which uses both yellow and brown mustard seeds.

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There is something endlessly appealing about things in jars on the counter becoming other things – the alchemy of cooking, canning, fermenting, brewing.

 

The Rhubarb Ketchup Recipe

Since I first discovered it two years ago, Rhubarb Ketchup has pretty much become a staple condiment in our house. It works as both a ketchup and a sauce for meats and involves two ingredients I always have lots of in the spring: rhubarb and canned tomatoes (from the previous year’s canning). So really, this combination is a bit of a no-brainer

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My alterations to the recipe that I originally poached off the Internet are typical ones for me – the addition of apple cider vinegar and a couple cloves of garlic – to punch up the taste a little bit:

Ingredients:

4 cups of rhubarb cut into one-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, chopped into one-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, diced
3 cups of canned tomatoes (with juice)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 good shake of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of pickling spice tied in cheesecloth

Throw all that together in a pot and it will look like this:

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Bring the mixture to a boil and the put it on simmer for an hour to two hours (I like to cook it down a fair bit). Once the consistency is where you like it, remove the pickling spices and blend with an immersion blender. As you can see, this doesn’t have the colour of Heintz – no dyes or chemicals in this pot of awesome sauce:

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Process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes and you’re done. Makes four pints and the recipe is easily (and safely) doubled.

Another day, another brew.

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This afternoon has been a putter-around-the-house-until band practice kinda space – particularly as 1) I drank a little too much at our bbq last night and 2) It’s raining outside.

The first rhubarb ketchup of the season is simmering away on the stove as I write this, and I’m plotting two kinds of mustard to start soaking after I get this post up – I am definitely feeling the start of a new food season upon us as I pulled the last of the blueberries from 2013 our of the freezer and weighed them for the Blueberry-Pomegranate Wine I have been thinking about for the last couple of weeks. Again, this recipe comes from True Brews and makes a one gallon batch. According to the book, this comes out the most like red wine of any of the fruit wines so I’m curious about that.

Before I go any further I want to point out the picture up top – which is the blueberry-lavender mead I posted about earlier this week. As you can see from today’s picture, the mead has  clarified a lot, and there is now quite a bit of sediment at the bottom of the jug. If I age this beyond 1 month, I will siphon it again before letting it sit – purpose being to clarify the liquid as much as possible with each racking.

Anyhow – today’s recipe calls for 3 pounds of blueberries, 2 cups of pomegranate juice, 5 & 2/3rd cups of sugar and 12 cups of water to start out (plus a Campden tablet).

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I started with the blueberries frozen and weighed them on the kitchen scale. I have read elsewhere that using frozen blueberries in liquor-making is optimal because the freezing and then thawing of fruit brings out its sweetness – think ice wine. I’m not sure if this is true, but I’m pretty sure that using frozen fruit can’t hurt the process in any way.

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I thought I had several mesh bags to secure the fruit in, but it turns out – I had none – so I wrapped my blueberries up in cheesecloth instead (note to self – buy more cheesecloth and mesh bags). I keep quite a bit of fabric in the kitchen these days for just such eventualities.

imagePomegranate juice isn’t something that I normally buy – it’s rather expensive ($9 for a bottle) and a bit tart for everyday drinking. I just grabbed the stuff from Donald’s market that was not blended with other fruits. There was no way that I was going to purchase enough pomegranates to make my own pure juice – I figured this was the next best thing.

The process for making the wine is very straightforward: After sterilizing all the tools you are about to use, combine the sugar and water on the stove and bring to a simmer. Don’t boil it, you are essentially just heating it until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar is combined, take the pot off the heat and let the mixture cool down to room temperature.

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Combine the sugar-water and pomegranate juice in the primary and then add the bag(s) of fruit. Using clean hands or a sterilized potato masher, get as much juice out of the fruit as possible . Once everything is mixed together, crush a campden tablet and snap on the lid with an airlock. (You can take your original hydrometer reading before putting the lid on, but I forgot so I will take mine tomorrow when I add the yeast).

And that’s it! For about $10 in ingredients I have another 3 bottles of wine on the way.

Blueberry Lavender Mead Step Three

imageOn the Mead front: After one week (in my case 8 days) of sitting in the primary (the plastic bucket) – it’s time for racking the mead. First I sanitized my siphon hose and pump and the 1-gallon jar. Removing the bag of fruit from the mix, I siphoned the liquid into the gallon jug and capped it with the airlock. Now it sits in my basement (you want this stored in a cool/dark place) on the shelf awaiting its maturation process. This can be bottled after one month, or it can sit and age for six months. This part will depend on how impatient I get with the process. Next up? Blueberry-Pomegranate Wine.

Sage Flower Jelly

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I was out in my garden earlier this evening – doing some after work weed pulling – and I noticed that my massive sage bushes are in full flower right now. In previous years I’ve thought it might be nice to harvest some of those flowers and turn them into something pretty – and since I didn’t have anything else to do tonight (besides singing rehearsal and laundry), I figured why not?

Ingredients: 

2 cups packed sage flowers
2 cups white wine
4 cups sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 pouch (3 oz) liquid pectin

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Process: 

  1. Bring wine and sage flowers to a boil.
  2. Turn off heat, put lid on pot and let steep for an hour or so.
  3. Add sugar and apple cider vinegar, bring to a boil and let sugar dissolve.
  4. Add pectin, bring back to a boil and let boil hard for 1 minute.
  5. Ladle into jars and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water canner.

This recipe makes 5 250-ml jars. There really isn’t anything prettier than a rosy jelly – now let’s hope it sets!

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Now that’s an ice cream cake!

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I don’t quite know what got into me but this year for Brian’s birthday I decided to make an ice cream cake. From scratch.

As you can see from the photo, and we had the pleasure of tasting last night, this turned out to be an unqualified success!

I used the Smitten Kitchen recipe for Hot Fudge Sundae Cake with the minor alterations of store bought almond cookies for the crust and whipped cream out of a can. And you know, it really wasn’t that difficult to pull off. The main thing is starting a couple days ahead of time so all the ingredients get enough cooling and freezing time.

If the idea of making a treat like this float s your boat then I highly recommend this recipe. It really is as good as it looks!

Blueberry Lavender Mead Step Two

IMAG0038Step two in the mead-making process happens 24 hours after the campden tablet is added to the honey-juice. The recipe in True Brews calls for a liquid mead in a tube, but I ended up with a different mead yeast that was liquid but required steps that involved leaving the yeast sealed in the bag while activating it and I missed that entirely. I am sad to say that even though I dutifully mixed it up with my boiling water and honey this morning, I came home to some very dead yeast (you really can tell when a yeast mixture is dead in that the liquid looks flat, has no bubbles and the yeast has sunk to the bottom).

Fortunately I had a couple packs of red wine yeast kicking around so I dumped one of those into a cup of the juice from my ferment – and within an hour it activated:

IMAG0040As I write this, the yeast is in activation mode – after about three hours of that I will add it to the honey-juice mix and then reattach the airlock. For the next week afterward I’m going to stir it once a day and otherwise leave it alone to do its thing.

 

Blueberry-Lavender Mead Step One

IMAG0023After doing a little research on home made soda pop recently, I picked up a copy of True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home by Emma Christensen. This great little compendium of everything small-batch brewing introduces you to all the basics of getting your drink on – and in one-gallon recipes which means you won’t be stuck with 25 bottles of something you hate as you experiment away in your kitchen laboratory.

About the same time I was perusing the book, I discovered 5 pounds of frozen blueberries in our basement deep-freeze – bought last summer and meant for pie-filling – they needed to get dealt with as we have a whole new fruit season coming on!

IMAG0028Also, oddly, I was about to discard a small bag of lavender that I had dried two years ago for satchels that never got made…. but it turns out I didn’t have to because True Brews offered me a solution to my excess fruit/lavender dilemma in the form of a recipe for Blueberry-Lavender Mead.

I haven’t made wine in ages and I have never made a mead. This being a small batch only calls for 3 1/2 cups of honey which was the only ingredient I had to purchase – so it was a bit of a no-brainer in terms of first recipes in the book to try.

IMAG0030I started out by sterilizing all my tools and then heated up my water (14 cups) and honey to a simmer on the stove. Once the water and honey were all married-like, I dumped it in the primary tub with a pound of blueberries and 4 tablespoons of lavender. Crush, crush, crush.

Super easy right? Then I measured the volume of the liquid using an alcohol hydrometer. We do that at the start, and then IMAG0031throughout the process, taking note of the differences between the volume measures in order to get an idea of how much alcohol is in the mix. My initial reading for this batch of mead is 1.08. (That Christmas tin in the background holds all my fiddly additives for wine making – acid blend, tanning, pectic enzymes – that kind of thing).

After the reading, I crushed a campden tablet and threw it in the mix. The campden tablet is there to sterilize the fruit/honey mix before I put the yeast in so that no bad bacteria are introduced with my original ingredients. Tomorrow I will add the yeast and then we’ll really be in business.

For the time being I’ve snapped the lid on and plugged it with an airlock to give it some breathing room – and that’s Day One of mead-making. My first ever.

 

 

 

Eating fabulous in 2014 – January meal plan

healthyfoodHaving skipped December due to the erratic nature of holiday-eating, I am back with a month of meal-planning to kick off the new year!

Some of these recipes might *sound* elaborate, but for the most part they are not (and if they require more prep or cooking time I have scheduled them for weekends or will put ingredients together ahead of time). Meal plans help me to cook food that is healthier and more interesting, ensure variety in our diet, and cut way down on food waste. Additionally, planning has eliminated impulse food buys and cut the grocery bill in half (I notice a significant difference on weeks that I have a list in hand versus when I don’t).  If getting organized around after work dinners is a resolution for you – I highly recommend getting started – keeping your own schedule, food parameters and interests in mind.

In the last few weeks I’ve started using the site/app Pepperplate to collect and organize recipes as well as put them into a planner and create shopping lists. It takes some time to get set-up with the recipe collection, but once you get going, I can imagine this to be really helpful (I’m hoping by February I can do my entire month of meal planning using the site).

Here is what we are eating in January:

Wednesday: 1 Whatever is in the fridge and still edible when we get home from Victoria
Thursday: 2 Sweet Potato and Quinoa Salad, w/ grilled chicken breast
Friday: 3 Lentil Soup, w/bread & greens on the side
Saturday: 4 Portuguese Fish Supper
Sunday: 5 (Band Practice) Baked whole salmon, wild mushroom risotto, caesar salad
Monday: 6 Turkey Tetrazinni made with brown rice w/roasted vegetables
Tuesday: 7 Penne with Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic, and White Beans w/cold sliced vegetables
Wednesday: 8 West African Peanut Soup with Chicken
Thursday: 9 Pork Chops with Fennel and Caper Sauce w/steamed green beans
Friday: 10 Leftovers
Saturday: 11 Venison Pot pie w/green salad
Sunday: 12 (Band Practice – Dinner TBD)
Monday: 13 Polenta Pizza with Spinach, Mushrooms, Bacon & Tomatoes w/
Tuesday: 14 Roasted Salmon with Shallot Grapefruit sauce w/steamed potatoes and carrots
Wednesday: 15 Pork Ragu w/green salad (cook pork shoulder on Monday in advance)
Thursday: 16 Red Lentil Curry w/brown basmati and cold sliced veggies
Friday: 17 Leftovers from earlier in the week
Saturday: 18 Out
Sunday: 19 (Band Practice) Chicken and Veggie Pot Pie
Monday: 20 Portuguese One Pot Chicken and Potatoes
Tuesday: 21 Skillet Gnocchi with Chard and White Beans w/sliced tomato salad (cook Barley for next night)
Wednesday: 22 Mushroom Barley Salad w/Grilled Italian Sausage
Thursday: 23 Leftovers
Friday: 24 Mexican Beans and Rice w/fresh chopped peppers, tomatoes, avocado
Saturday: 25 Seared Duck Breast with Amarula w/roasted yams and potatoes and green salad
Sunday: 26 (Band Practice – Dinner TBD)
Monday: 27 Turkey Rice Soup
Tuesday: 28 Pork and Plums w/spinach/walnut salad
Wednesday: 29 (Salon – Dinner for twenty) Vegetarian and Meat Lasagnas, Caesar Salad, Bread w pudding for dessert
Thursday: 30 Chinese Beef and Broccoli
Friday: 31 Leftovers from earlier in the week