Thursday, April 20, 2017

Easy Refrigerator Pickled Asparagus

A tale of the quick and the slow.

The April FIJ Challenge is quick pickles, also known as refrigerator pickles as they are not canned and must be stored in the fridge (rather than on the shelf). Given nice asparagus is so plentiful in the markets these days and DH and I just planted some crowns in the fine hope of picking our own in a year or two, it seemed like good practice to try this recipe: Easy Refrigerator Pickled Asparagus.

It was a hit. From the cook's perspective, the recipe is indeed easy. There's photographic evidence, barely, of the results – this quart jar used to be full. Apparently the quick in quick pickles refers to more than just the speed with which they can be prepared. The asparagus pickles disappeared so fast, I didn't even hear the happy chomping. The only clue was an off-hand observation that the pickle flavor got stronger as time went by.

Not-full jar of asparagus pickles

Aficionados of quick pickles claim they are brighter-tasting and crisper than their processed analogs, and can be put up in smaller batches. Considerable virtues indeed, although as my refrigerator space is limited I can't say they outweigh the value of preserving large quantities of the harvest in a shelf-stable way. Not to mention that when the happy chompers realized this, they began agitating for canned pickled asparagus in increasingly louder and grumpier tones. Also for tweaks to the pickling spices. Oh my.

Much of the fun, and value, of the can-along is seeing what others make. I'm enamored of the many examples of pickled hard-boiled eggs that triumphantly graced Easter sideboards in multi-colored splendor... but the once-happy, then agitated chompers at casa Jersey Knitter turned positively revolting at the prospect. Something about how HB eggs are a perfect food that must be spared hideous adulterants. Well, except for a bit of salt... or soy sauce... or mayonnaise... then there's potato salad... and HB eggs and gravlax (I made more gravlax)....

It's enough to drive a cook to slow knitting.

Twisted Madness progress

While the rest of Sock Madness charges along (Round 2 ends today!), I've been working on the second sock of the qualifying pattern, Twisted Madness. Slowly, because the pattern stitch makes my wrists hurt. Yet slow progress is still progress, and will do for now.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Lent Socks

Happy April Fool's Day! This is a post-factum post, a catch-all catch-up, and it would seem the joke's on me. In true Seussical fashion, after I made shrub (also known as drinking vinegar or switchel) for the March FIJ Challenge (jellies and shrubs), I started seeing it here and there, I started seeing it everywhere. I saw it at an Asian supermarket (the signs say it's a healthy drink)...

Japanese shrub

... in a deli refrigerator case...

Switchel in deli case

... and at the Tait Farm Foods booth at the Philadelphia Flower Show. They were giving away samples, which tasted predominantly of fruit, sweet and tart, with that sour-funky vinegar flavor only at the finish. Quite nice, very refreshing. I bought a few bottles for research purposes.

Tait Farm shrub

Alas, after much judicious sampling I have decided shrub just isn't my thing. I can see why some FIJ Challenge participants match a mix of 3 parts red wine vinegar and 1 part balsamic vinegar with strawberries or Braggs apple cider vinegar with citrus, pairings that would not have occurred to me before. So I'm happy to have expanded my palate and learned something new, even if I don't think I'll re-visit the topic. It does tug at my imagination, though, in ways that soup base does not.

Speaking of re-visiting topics, one February Sockdown category was repeats, so I knit another pair of lovely Embossed Leaves by Mona Schmidt, this one in Opal Uni-Solid, 2600 Purple. They're the liturgically correct color for Lent, and they're finished, although one day past the Sockdown deadline. Oh well. I tweaked the pattern a very little: substituted 2x2 ribbing, varied the pattern by a half-drop, fiddled with the star toe for fit. Otherwise, it's a beautiful and truly repeat-worthy pattern!

Embossed Leaves FO

For a second March FIJ Challenge project I made Wine and Herb Jelly by Cathy Barrow, using a Riesling Auslese instead of the Gewürtztraminer specified in the recipe. It was easy, pretty, and tasty, with a nice soft set and excellent yield; something to do at a time of year when there's not much fresh local fruit roundabout Exit 151. I put a sprig of thyme in the jars for decoration, but think the wine jelly would be equally good without it. The Auslese has such a luscious peach flavor, I suspect it might make an extra-luxurious and flavorful base for pepper jelly.

Wine and Herb Jelly

Obviously I'm having a lot of fun with the challenges. I'm particularly appreciative of the expertise and creativity of other participants, which leads to a phenomenon familiar from knitting: so many great recipes, too little time. It turns out almost anything can be made into jelly! Among the many recipes I'd like to try someday: Stout Beer Jelly, Grape Juice Jelly, Jalapeño-Confetti Jelly (in Preserving with Pomona's Pectin). As I don't much care for the massive quantities of sugar in so many traditional jelly recipes, I'd very much like to try Pomona's pectin, which would allow me to reduce the amount of sugar and let the fruit flavors shine.

Blood orange marmalade, March

I was down to one small jar of January's blood orange marmalade, so I made more. The January batch was rose-gold, but the March batch turned out ruby red. They taste about the same. Huh. I put up this batch in three 4-oz and three 8-oz jars to suit the excellent marmalade cake recipe – pity I don't have any 10-oz jars. Hm.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

March Ado About Snow

Tuesday, Pi Day, was a snow day roundabout Exit 151. It was a typical March snowstorm, heavier than snow earlier in the winter, and it shut everything down. Fortunately, I had obtained turkey and stuffing pie and bangers and mash pie from The Pie Store a day ahead, so was very well-provisioned for the day's festivities. Unfortunately, DH was so grumpy and hungry after shoveling snow that there are no pie pix, just glowing reviews of both.

Blueberry Ginger Shrub

In between shoveling snow and feeding Hungry Man I mixed up a batch of Blueberry Ginger Shrub for the March Food in Jars Challenge (jellies and shrubs), using the cold process technique outlined by Michael Dietsch on Serious Eats. Stir, let sit in the fridge, sample. I'd never tried shrub before, which is an old-fangled blend of vinegar, fruit, and sugar, and I have learned something important. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, boasts (Act 5, Scene 1, and what a scene it is):
Woo't drink up eisel [vinegar], eat a crocodile?
I'll do it.
Not me. Shrub and the drinks based on same are not to my taste. The concoction is not meant to be drunk straight, but rather mixed with one's favorite mixer and an optional splash of booze for an old-is-new-again cocktail. I tried ginger ale and still found the mix overly acetic, YMMV. It did help the fruit flavors to let the drink breathe and come to room temperature, which makes sense for something originally developed pre-refrigeration. But, I'll pass on this one.

Twisted Madness

I'm also going to pass on Sock Madness 11. Sadly, between too much travel and a qualifier's pattern that made my wrists hurt, this is as far as I had gotten as of 2:45 pm EDT today. One sock, with counting thread and a long tail at the toe because I knit to specs but plan to undo the star toe and substitute my preferred wedge toe. That means I qualified for patterns, but not for competition... which may be the best for my sanity and my wrists!

Tomorrow I'm away again. Alas, the tales of my away adventures are piling up and I'm too busy/lazy to set them in order. Must try to address that soon.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mark Bittman's Gravlax

The Food In Jars salt challenge is so wide-ranging, I had to try another recipe. Gravlax, or salt-cured salmon, seemed a natural. There's not much to say – I followed Mark Bittman's Gravlax recipe, using some techniques mentioned in the comprehensively informative Serious Eats recipe and essay, and a 2:1 salt:sugar dry brine. The required effort was minimal; some space in the fridge was needed. The results are excellent, luxuriously yummy.

Gravlax on cutting board

For this recipe the most important comments have to do with food safety. Salmon sometimes carries parasites that can affect humans, so the fish MUST be sushi-grade, that is, commercially frozen to render it suitable for consuming raw. And as this type of salt-curing is a fleeting preservation method, the gravlax MUST be eaten within five days of finishing its cure. Given the wide availability of "previously frozen fish" and the tastyness of gravlax, both safety requirements are easily satisfied.

Bittman's recipe says a 3-lb (1.36 kg) piece of salmon will yield 12 appetizer servings. A quarter-pound per person initially sounds outlandish, but it does seem most people if given half a chance will happily gorge on this stuff until surfeited, so the part that's mistaken is calling this an appetizer. At casa Jersey Knitter, there were suspicious mutterings when the curing salmon first appeared in the refrigerator, hogging so much shelf space, followed by impatient mutterings as it underwent its three-day cure, then more suspicion ("You try it first, and if you don't keel over..."), a sudden change of heart after that first amazing taste, then the soft noises of very contented feeding.

Gravlax plated

A bonus happiness is I used some of the overly salty vegetable bouillon to wash the raw salmon as described in the Serious Eats recipe. I was wondering what to do with it! We ate the gravlax with my own pickled nasturtium pods, which are similar to pickled capers, except they taste like pickled nasturtium pods (duh), flowery-mustardy-cresslike. I really must put up more... which means planting more.

I am definitely making more gravlax. I'd like to try the basic recipe with other fish, substitute shiso, an Asian pickling herb, for dill, tweak the dry brine mix. I used gin for the booze, which added a nice juniper berry note, and wonder what adding juniper berries to the rub will do. Mmm... so many things to try.

Brain hat wip

Meanwhile, fibery progress continues. I'm wishing I had a not-too-big stainless steel mixing bowl. They don't have much appeal as mixing bowls for me, but for craft purposes they're da bomb. Hm.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Vegetable Broth Base

This is a tale of two soup bases. Two, because this is the best of times and the worst of times – my first effort was not satisfactory. But I persisted and got it almost right the second time, yay me and yay the February Food in Jars Mastery Challenge, salt preserving, for prompting me to try something new.

I'll start with a clerihew and a stock photo (::groan::).
Sir Humphrey Davy
abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
of having discovered sodium.
Sodium being one component of table salt, chemically, sodium chloride or NaCl.

Generally when I make soup stock, cauldron work and/or the pressure cooker is involved. I'm not a big fan of using commercially prepared bouillon cubes or mixes because the flavors seem fresher and truer and I can control the amount of salt and other additives when I make homemade stock. By contrast DH loves bouillon because he loves its salt and convenience. Shrug. (The photo below shows the mise en place, or culinary setup, for chicken bone broth. I dunno why I didn't take a pic of soup base in progress or, for that matter, why I took this food prep photo. I have enough trouble remembering to take fiber WIP photos.)

Chicken bone broth prep

Attempt the first at vegetable soup base was Homemade Vegetable Bouillon. The recipe calls for 7 ounces (200 g) of salt to make one quart (almost one liter) of soup base, which makes 48 quarts of vegetable broth. The recipe yield was spot on. The soup base initially smelled very harsh and bitter, but within a day mellowed. Unfortunately, the resulting broth was so excessively salty, it could be used as an emetic. At least the colorful confetti-like bits of ground-up vegetable grit and the occasional peppercorn look rather festive floating in the pale broth.

Attempt 1

Attempt the second was Vegetable Broth Base. In striking contrast to Attempt the first, this recipe calls for two tablespoons (20 g) of NaCl to make one pint (0.47 liter) of soup base, which makes 8 quarts of vegetable broth. The yield for this recipe was also spot on. This soup base smelled much more appealing than the first, without the bitter odors. The resulting broth is dark and turbid...

Attempt 2, unstrained

... but when strained as suggested is quite nice in both appearance and taste. The need to strain the broth makes me want to try it in a teabag, an experiment for next time. Out of curiosity I tried steeping the strained sediment a second time as if it were tea leaves, which didn't really work. Not only had all the salt dissolved in the first steeping, but most of the vegetable flavor as well.

Attempt 2, strained

As I want a strong vegetable stock and am not fond of heavily salted food or liquid, the second recipe is the clear winner, YMMV. Both recipes call for a similar amount of vegetables; the first uses far more salt but also makes more broth. When diluted for serving the first broth is 1.6 times saltier than the second and has a less pronounced vegetable flavor. So Attempt the second it is. Were I to make the second recipe again, I'd reduce the amount of soy sauce, which contributes additional sodium (even if one uses low-sodium soy sauce), color, and a fermented soy flavor that to my palate is overly dominant in the final broth. Soy sauce can also be an unexpected source of gluten, which of course is problematic for those following GF diets.

Sad to say, soup base itself is not particularly photogenic. At its best it bears an unfortunate resemblance to the poo emoji (click if you dare). The commercial versions as well. After all, one starts with lovely fresh whole veggies and ends with unlovely paste. Ah, the photographic challenges posed by purees. Speaking of which, I imagine it might be possible to make soup base by hand, but I would never have attempted it without a food processor. The paste is sufficiently salty that it can be stored in the freezer, yet never freeze solid.

Vegetable Broth Base

Back in the world of fibery sausage-making, I bought an I-cord mill and have been cranking out I-cord. The gadget is a little finicky about yarn (not too thick, not too fuzzy, not low twist), but works well. Which is good, because science.

I-cord and mill

To be continued!