29 December 2011

Homemade Grape Juice

I love grape juice.  It is my favorite of all the fruit juices.  I'm just not an orange juice person.  And if you're willing to put in a little time and effort, you can have grape juice for free.  Storebought juices are a) expensive and b) full of preservatives and mystery chemicals and flavor packets and really, who knows what else.

So to start out, you need grapes.  My grandma graciously donated her concord grapes, because she has adequate supplies of grape juice to last her for another year.
The next step is the uber-laborious destemming, sorting and washing.  For which you will want to recruit help.
Next, take those grapes and put them in the biggest pot you own.  DO NOT OVERFILL IT.  Grape juice that boils over is not fun to clean up.  This is a voice of experience.  So, fill it maybe 3/4 of the way with grapes, then cover them with water.  GENTLY SIMMER until the grapes look spent.  See photos for details.
Now the messy part.  These bad boys need to be strained.  I used a pillow case.  If you like your grape juice to be clear, you might want to find something more finely woven.  I hung the pillow cases from a kayak paddle hung across the two counters in our tiny kitchen.  Be creative.  You can make this work.  Wear old clothes though.
Alright, so if you're paying attention to details, you'll see I have some jars with sugar in them.  I think it was like half a cup.  I don't really know.  It's to taste.  But, having opened a couple jars, it wasn't enough.  When you can the juice, I think something happens and it loses some sweetness.  So add extra sugar.  And then fill up your jars with juice.  Since it's juice, you don't need much headspace.  Check out those 2-qt jars!  I got them at an auction.  They are perfect for juice.
Then can it!  I had some jars where the juice was still pretty hot, they only needed to be processed for 15 - 20 minutes, but some of the juice got cold and I think I might have processed them maybe half an hour.  If you are going to can grape juice, please use a real recipe because I don't want to be responsible for canning gone wrong.  That being said, it is juice, so you can't really OVER process it.  Alternatives to canning it include drinking it, giving it away, and turning it into wine (probably not with concord grapes though).
I started this project after work on Friday night.  We were up canning until 1am.  Food preservation is not for the faint of heart, but mid winter when you open a jar of last summer's grape juice, the satisfaction will make up for it.  I promise!  I know that what I'm eating is local, natural, and VERY inexpensive.
And delicious! :)

27 December 2011

Kitchen Disasters, Part II (French Macarons)

This is a story where everything that could go wrong did.  If you are looking for a recipe because you are ACTUALLY going to make macarons, this blog is not for you.  Nothing to see here, move along.

So how is this related to Part I?  Well, I had all these egg whites.  And actually, while I didn't realize it at the time, I found another use for all that ridiculous baking chocolate.  So, real recipe here, and my take on it below. 

Macaron Batter
1 c. powdered sugar
½ c. powdered almonds (sliced almonds, pulverized)
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons granulated sugar

Chocolate Filling
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped grated
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

To make the macarons:
Preheat the oven to 350º F and line some pans with parchment paper.  PARCHMENT paper.  Not wax paper.

Put the almonds in a food processor to help them achieve a powder status.  Kyle tells me that if you use whole almonds, the oils will cause the almonds to form a paste, not a powder.  That's why the recipe calls for sliced almonds.  I used salad almonds (pictured below).  Add the cocoa powder and powdered sugar so that everything is evenly mixed.

Use a mixer to beat the egg whites until they're stiff.  Gradually add the granulated sugar.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag.  I used a gallon zip-lock bag.

Pipe the batter onto the parchment paper in one-inch dia. circles.  Rap the pans on the counter to flatten the macarons, then put them in the oven.  The recipe I read said 15-18 min.  I would suggest 13 min.  I would not suggest 18, and I probably wouldn't even suggest 15.

To make the chocolate filling:
Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using.

Okay, it all sounds so simple, right?  Well let's look at how well I did...
I don't have a food processor so I used a blender.  No big deal.  The almonds tried to paste up, but it was okay.  The powder part turned out okay.  Kyle requires that I show you what a mess I made with the powdered sugar though.  All over the floor too.

I forgot to take photos of the next part.  Remember, these egg whites had been in the fridge for a couple days.  They didn't get as stiff as they should have.  I don't know what that means.  But the folding of the dry ingredients into the egg whites and sugar felt successful.  It didn't feel like anything had gone wrong.
The piping...well, I gave myself every advantage.  I made two batches of these, so anything that went wrong the first time could be corrected in the second batch.  So the first batch was a mess, but by Round 2, I had it down to an art.
Here's where things really went downhill.  I rapped the pans on the counter.  I put them in the oven.  I walked away...

When I stopped by five minutes later, smoke was pouring out of the oven vent.  I opened the oven and smoke billowed.  There was no flame.  What was I to do?  Since there wasn't any fire, I just left them.  I was mid-experiment!  I couldn't just give up!  So here's the haze of my kitchen.
Finally the timer went off.  I took them out of the oven.  I left them to cool and made the second batch.  The oven had stopped smoking (thankfully).  However, as soon as I put the second batch in the oven, it started smoking again!  Moral of the story:  WAX paper is not the same as PARCHMENT paper.  DO NOT USE WAX PAPER.

Alright.  So now I've got five pans of macarons.  How did they turn out?  Funny that you should ask...  The first two pans, I piped the macarons WAY too large.  And they stuck to the wax paper so badly that I ended up throwing most of them out.  The next pan was burnt.  The next pan was all cracked, and so far, none of the pans had achieved the "feet" that the original recipe said was characteristic of good macarons.  But the last pan?  Oh, the last pan.  Perfect.  PERFECT.  Not cracked, not burnt, had beautiful feet...
And then the chocolate filling.  I feel like I corrected everything that had gone wrong with the mousse in making this filling.  The cream was cooked perfectly, the chocolate blended perfectly, everything was great...and then I tasted it.  SO bitter.  In a panic, I threw in about half a cup of powdered sugar.  I wasn't sure if I was messing with the science of the filling or not...but in the end, that was the one thing that really turned out. 

So, after waiting for the filling to cool, I smeared some between each cookie.  And actually, it wasn't so bad.
Mini photo shoot with the pretty macarons...oh, by the way, I got a new camera.  DSLR.  And I love it.

So there you have it.  Smoky-tasty, just-about-edible macarons.  Hopefully the family likes them, because I am DONE baking.

23 December 2011

Kitchen Disasters, Part I (Chocolate Mousse)

This story starts with the Amish.  This is the story of how they ruined Christmas.

Well, that might be pointing fingers a bit.  I might be partially to blame.  It all started at my last shopping trip to the Amish Store, aka the place where magic happens.  The Amish sell discounted goods, and that makes it easy to stock up on whatever wonders they offer this week.  And last week, they offered some nice Ghirardelli dark 100% cacao chocolate.  Being a dark chocolate lover, and an idiot, I bought some.  I went for a bar of it after dinner, and cringed.  Unsweetened.  This is not eating chocolate.  This is baking chocolate.

Luckily, this chocolate came with some recipes, so not all was lost.  Let's start out with the recipe this time, and then we can dig into where things went awry.

4 large egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
2 1/2 c. whipping cream
1 1/2 bars (6 oz) Ghirardelli 100% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate Baking Bars, chopped

1.  Beat egg yolks in a small bowl on high speed until thick and lemon colored, about 3 min.  Gradually add sugar.

2. Heat one cup of whipping cream in saucepan over medium heat just until hot (do not boil).  Gradually stir half the cream into the egg yolk mixture then combine back into hot cream saucepan.  Cook over low heat about five minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture is blended and thickens.

3.  Let cool ten minutes, then add chocolate and stir until thick.  Cover and refrigerate 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until just chilled.

4.  Beat remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream in chilled medium bowl on high until stiff.  Mix 3/4 c.  of the whipping cream into chocolate mixture until blended.  Fold remaining whipping cream gradually into chocolate mixture until well blended.

5.  Spoon mixture into dessert bowls.  Refrigerate any remaining dessert.

Okay, so not as straightforward as your average recipe, but definitely doable.  No baking required!  I started by chopping my chocolate bars.  I think this is where I first went wrong.
Then I beat the egg yolks.  I saved aside the whites, because egg whites can do awesome things, and google told me that I can freeze the yolks and they will STILL do awesome things.  Waste not, want not.  The whites were put in the fridge.
Look at how pretty and lemon-colored my yolks and sugar are!  And then, I combined them with the cream in the saucepan.  I think this is another place I went wrong.  "Hot" is a pretty subjective term.  The cream was "hot," but I think it should have been hotter.  My next cream recipe put it well - not boiling, but just starting to bubble at the edges.
And then I added the chocolate.  It never quite melted all the way, so this mousse had texture and it wasn't so great.  Noted:  "chopped" chocolate is a dangerous game to play.  Grated chocolate is a safe bet.
How can you screw up whipping the cream?  Well, if maybe you only bought two cups of whipping cream, not 2 1/2...
So while it mixed in okay, between how much I heat the cream and how much stiff cream I used, the mousse never set.  It was pretty runny.  It tasted delicious, sure, but I still count this as a disaster.  I got to use my pretty new IKEA bowl though!

Alright, so that was the story, Part I.  Stay tuned for Part II, which was a far bigger disaster.

And everyone have a merry Christmas!  I'll be taking a break until after the holiday.

21 December 2011

Ithaca, NY

So I took a quick trip to Ithaca this fall for work.  I didn't ever get to go explore before 5pm, so it was nearly dark by the time I started exploring.  But the things I saw - absolutely glorious.  So once again, the photos aren't fantastic, but you'll get the drift.

Ithaca is located at the base of one of the finger lakes, which were formed by glaciers.  There are many gorges and waterfalls, and lots of hiking paths.  Ithaca is home to Cornell University, so there are lots of college kids roaming around - and plenty of bars.

18 December 2011

Mexican Mole Sauce

Go back to your serranos.  They might be useful for the wild goodness about to come your way.

For those of you unfamiliar with mole (MOH-lay), it is a very tasty sauce that can be used in/on burritos or enchiladas.  And while it has some surprising ingredients, the taste is surprisingly awesome.  Full recipe that I tweaked found here.

Put all this in a blender:
4 pasilla peppers (dried, stems and seeds removed)
A few serranos - these will make it spicy if you don't remove the seeds (dried, stems and seeds removed)
1 onion (chopped)
2 garlic cloves (chopped)
2 tomatoes (peeled and seeds removed chopped)
2 tbsps sesame seeds
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 corn tortilla (torn into pieces)
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground coriander
 Water, as needed
It should come out to this tasty orange/tan color.  It doesn't smell too appetizing yet, but the flavor changes a lot from here.  Put 3 tbsps vegetable oil (or shortening) in a frying pan, heat it up, and add the blended mixture.  Saute for ~10 min.
Next, add 1 cup chicken broth and 1 oz unsweetened chocolate (which I didn't have on-hand, so I added cocoa powder in accordance with substitutions - 3 tbs cocoa powder + 1 tbs water).  This will darken the sauce.  Then cook on low heat for 45 minutes.  The sauce will get darker and thicker, though I made my sauce thinner on purpose this time.  The kitchen will smell wonderful.
And while my finished mole still isn't a pretty color, I am going to note that I have very yellow lighting in my kitchen.  Seriously, it does look pretty when you're done.  And it is very delicious to put it in enchiladas and then pour overtop, and bake for the time that your enchilada recipe requires.  It is difficult to describe the taste, but the little hint of chocolate is what really makes this sauce a staple for me.
Bear with me on the photos!  I'm getting a dSLR for Christmas, but right now I'm working through some fall projects so it might be a while before you see my adventures with the new camera.
4 pasilla (dried, peppers stems and seeds removed)
4 seeds (dried new mexico chiles stems, removed)
1 onion (chopped)
2 garlic cloves (chopped)
2 tomatoes (peeled and seeds removed chopped)
2 tbsps sesame seeds
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 corn tortilla (torn into pieces)
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground coriander
water (rum)
3 tbsps vegetable oil (shortening)
1 cup chicken broth
1 oz unsweetened chocolate (square to taste or mexican chocolate or) 
Combine the chiles, onion, garlic, tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of the sesame seeds, almonds, tortilla, raisins, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander. Puree small amounts of this mixture in a blender until smooth. (I added a small of amount of water or rum each time to make it smooth.).

Melt the shortening in a skillet and sauté the puree for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chicken broth and chocolate and cook over a very low heat for 45 minutes. The sauce should be very thick. The remaining sesame seeds are used as a garnish.

16 December 2011

Dried Chilis (Serranos)

Hello, world, I'm back.  Just in time for the holidays!  And just in time to set some goals for 2012, like blogging regularly again.

So let's dive right in.  My garden was planted late, and as such, there came a date when I had to face the fact of winter and just pick everything that was edible.  That included a few serrano pepper plants that gifted me with a whole slew of peppers.  And while I do love serranos, I do not love a whole slew of them at once.  Freezing was a solution, but it wasn't my favorite.  So I turned to the internets for options.

Here's what I've got for you.  You can dry peppers.  You can do it in different ways.  Since I don't live in a hot, sunny, dry climate, I went with the next best (read: easiest) thing.  An oven!

So, put your oven on a low heat (around 200* should be fine) and add a panful of peppers.  This is going to take some time, so plan on hanging out and getting stuff done around the house.  I checked on them and flipped them about every half hour.
Since this was the product of a garden purge, I had some pretty baby peppers in there.  They were done after about three hours.  The bigger ones took upwards of four hours to dry.  The not-quite-done ones are still soft, you know the peppers are done when you squeeze them and they pop or crack, sort of like a peanut shell.
It's also worth noting that the peppers shrink when they dry.  So a panful of serranos turned into a small jarful of dried peppers.  Use them for anything!  Crush them over pizza, put them in a pot of chili, or my personal favorite, Mexican mole.  More on that later.

So welcome me back!  And give me more ways to use my dried peppers :)