Fermented Things

As you might remember, the May Cook It 2012 Project was to ferment something.  I made traditional napa cabbage kimchi, which was delicious and gone already (I need to fork over the big money for a crock, so I can make a huge batch!) So, before I post the recipe for these amazing canned brandied cherries that I can’t stop eating, I wanted to share these other projects from my fellow bloggers:

The Kitchen Ninja made these beautiful lacto-fermented dill pickles.  I’m so happy she made them since this is such a classic and delicious fermentation project.  The remoulade recipe included also looks pretty epic, and since I’m a fiend for a good po’boy I’m sure we’ll give this a try once the cucumbers come in.

There really is nothing quite as beautiful as a jar of pickles, right? (or a jar of canned apricots… or dilly beans.  Yes. Not only do I spend huge amounts of time photographing canned goods, I’m also actively aware of which canned goods I think are the most beautiful and interesting to photograph.)

Speaking of beautiful… that brings me to the lovely glowing bottles of fizzy homemade ginger beer from Homemade Trade. What a brilliant idea!

I basically read Aimee’s post and then ran to the store as fast as I could to buy a big huge piece of ginger so I could make the project myself.  Because, you know, one of the main things I’ve learned from the fermentation challenge was that it is so, so easy, so you might as well give it a try. There’s so little work involved, so few ingredients, and so little equipment.  Time is the only thing you really need…

(I really did go get ginger. My starter is just starting to fizz = so exciting I can barely deal with it)

Aimee and Ninj: always inspiring to read what you’re up to! such beautiful projects…

and to everyone else: Don’t forget, the June Cook it 2012 resolution is to make jam, so if you haven’t yet, go get yourself some fruit and get jamming.

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To be included in the jam round-up post, e-mail me a link to your post by July 15, 2012.  My e-mail is thejamgirl@gmail.com

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June Cook it! 2012 Resolution

It’s time.

The Cook it! 2012 June Resolution is:

MAKE JAM

I’ve been absolutely slammed with work for the last few weeks. Yesterday, in the middle of all this, I found some ollalieberries, fresh from the farm.  Sweet and tart, dark and juicy, they’re the berries I’ve been waiting for all winter long.  What started out as a stressful day with too many things that needed to be done instantly turned into a happy afternoon of jam making.  (Yes, when I see ollalieberries, I buy all of them and drop everything I was doing to make a pie or some jam. I’m a fruit nerd, what can I say).

Whether you’re a complete beginner or you already have years of canning experience, there’s really nothing quite like the joy of making a really simple batch of jam with some really excellent fruit — fresh off the vine, still warm from the sun.

When I waste time on the internet, it seems like everyone has been canning forever now and it’s no big revelation. If I happen to buy jars or pectin at the grocery store, though, without fail someone will stop me and ask about it.  Sweet little old ladies have stopped me in the aisle to say that it’s nice seeing me buying all these jars, that no one knows how to make jam or can food anymore.  (I thank them for the nice words but assure them that it’s become all the rage again.) Then, of course, the people in the checkout line, who will glance at my cart and say:

what are you doing with all those jars?

making jam, i say.

… oh, i’ve always wanted to learn how to do that….

To the cashier who bought a canner and cookbook but it’s been sitting on the shelf for a year now: don’t wait any longer, it’s time! To the lady in line whose grandma used to make pickled watermelon rind, just like my grandma did: dig out that recipe and get yourself a watermelon! To the guy at the farmers market who said he wished he had a women around who knew how to make jam: man, you don’t need to be a girl to can, just grab some of those strawberries, a couple jars and get to it!

Consider this your personal invitation to join the party…

In honor of the june resolution, summer, and all the people who are making jam even though it has nothing to do with the Cook it! 2012 project we’ve been working on, I thought I’d share a couple of the things that I’ve learned along the way.

TIPS FOR TOTAL BEGINNERS:

This isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, more just some information that might help when used hand-in-hand with a good recipe.

  • There are lots of posts out there on the internet that can explain the basics.  Food In Jars has a whole section of Canning 101 posts that explains some important stuff.  My recipe for peach jam with vanilla bean jam has step-by-step instructions to show the whole process from beginning to end if you want to take a look there.
  • When you’re just starting, make sure to find a recipe from a trusted source.  The best canning cookbook I own is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  The pectin box also counts as a trusted source.  The internet, especially if it’s just some really random looking website, does not necessarily count as a trusted source (I know, you’re reading this on the internet, right?)
  • There are, essentially, two different styles of jam making.  One uses commercial pectin (Ball, Clearjel, Pomona’s, etc.) to make the jam set.  This method is usually a pretty quick cooking time, and you just follow instructions included in the pectin box.  The other style uses the natural pectin in the fruit, which means that you combine the fruit, sugar and sometimes lemon juice, then cook it for awhile til it gels.  Usually you use a candy thermometer for this, since you really just have to cook it til 220 degrees).
  • Use a really big, thick-bottomed pot.  When jam boils over, it leaves awful burnt black crusty sugar all over your stove, which is virtually impossible to get off.
  • If you’re using commercial pectin: when they say “full rolling boil” they really mean “full rolling boil.”  The jam will boil up furiously and you’ll really know it when you see it.  A low simmer is not a boil.  If you only bring it to a low simmer for a minute, it won’t set right at all.
  • When they say “clean the rims of the jars,” they mean perfectly spotless, immaculate.  Not “basically clean” or “pretty much clean.”  I like to use a paper towel to do this.  If you leave any little bits of anything on those jar rims, the lids won’t seal later on.
  • A boiling water canner is really just a huge pot filled with water that has a rack on the bottom to set the jars on so they don’t clank around and break.  They’re cheap, often under $20.
  • Don’t touch the lids of the jars when they come out of the canner.  The need to sit and cool, which pulls down on the lid and makes it seal.  If you touch the lid, jostle the jar around, poke it and say “wow! I made jam!” you can potentially mess up the seal and ruin the batch.
  • In plain english, (hopefully to convince someone that hasn’t made jam before that it isn’t scary):  Canning jam is just cooking fruit with sugar and then putting it in clean jars.  You screw the lids on and basically just put it in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes* to sterilize the jar and make the whole thing shelf stable.  Once the lids seal after they’re out of the canner, they’re good for a year.
  • Know your farmer.  Fruit for awesome canned goods comes from right from the farms/farmers markets, not the grocery store. I don’t care how cheap the peaches are at the WalMart superstore, it’s not worth it.  Sure, any old mediocre peach with a bunch of sugar is going to taste kind of good, but it’s not going to be the life-changing kind of experience that fundamentally changes the way you eat food and feed your family.

TIPS FOR EXPERIENCED JAMMERS

  • If you can find a wholesale source for bulk bags of organic sugar, you’ll save a lot of time and money.  A lot of the time, local natural foods stores can add on an extra 50 lb. bag of sugar onto their order for you and you’ll get a better price.  Then you’ll be ready to go when the fruit shows up.
  • Lemon juice always ends up being an issue if you’re trying to stay local.  I try to freeze lots of local lemon juice during the winter, but I almost always run out.  Costco has ridiculously cheap organic lemon juice, and Santa Cruz Organics makes semi-cheap bottled organic lemon juice that you can usually find with the other juices in the store.
  • Remember, if you run into a screaming good deal on super ripe, beautiful fruit, but you don’t have time to make jam, you can always prepare the fruit and then leave it to macerate, tossed with sugar in the fridge.  You can also prepare the fruit and then freeze it to make jam later .
  • Don’t forget to stay in touch with farmer friends (you do have farmer friends, right?)  Tell them at the beginning of the summer that you want to make a lot of peach jam, write down your name and phone number for them, and have them call you when the peaches are in.  Farmers like it when there’s a person that wants to buy a lot of fruit, because they want to make money and you want to buy their products.  Tell them to call you when they’re totally swimming in peaches (or plums, or whatever…), when they have so many that they don’t know what to do and they’re going to start rotting.  That’s your cue to stop in, buy them all for cheap, and stock your pantry for the year.

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If you want to be included in the jam round-up post, send me a link to the url or your post (or, if you don’t have a blog, e-mail me a picture of what you made)by June 15, 2012.  My e-mail is thejamgirl@gmail.com.

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P.S. I didn’t include the ollalieberry jam recipe because I didn’t really use one.  I glanced at the Blue Chair Fruit cookbook to check it first.  Their cookbook is right next to my Ball Cookbook, and I recommend buying it as well.  It’s a more advanced cookbook and doesn’t use commercial pectin, which is nice, and the jams tend to be much lower sugar than the Ball Book.  Plus the Blue Chair Fruit cookbook has super pretty pictures which will make you feel all warm and fuzzy about the whole jam and fruit thing.

Get Me Some Crackers: The Cheese Roundup

Another month done, can you believe it?

The April Resolution was to make fresh cheese, and it sure was delicious.  I still can’t believe how simple it was to throw together a batch of ricotta, and now that I’ve done that I’m definitely hoping to start tackling some slightly more complicated cheeses.  I suppose that holds true for all of the challenges we’ve been doing– during February, I managed to make a successful loaf of bread, but I’m still working on it and just got the Tartine Bread cookbook in the mail.  My kitchen is cluttered with big bags of beautiful local durum wheat, barley and whole wheat flour that I’ve been experimenting with for a fresh pasta blend.  I’m still trying to find that local source of milk for butter, and it still hasn’t happened, but I’ll keep up my search.

I hope you guys are all learning as much as I am, and having fun eating the projects too….

anyway, without further adieu, I give you: cheese!

Farmers Cheese Four Ways, from Homemade Trade: Aimee, that chive cheese sounds right up my alley…  and your second batch does look an awful lot like paneer. Do you think you could fry it up in cubes, or was it too creamy still?

Fresh Cheese from Grow and Resist: in which Meg faces her fear of cooking milk and successfully pulls off a batch of fresh cheese.  (also: I can’t wait to hear about those rhubarb cocktails… )

Homemade Ricotta and a Super Secret Family Recipe for New York Cheesecake: This cheesecake looks absolutely divine. Seriously.  Let’s all meet at Julianne’s house for dessert, I’ll go fuel up the jet and come get you guys.

(Have you started fermenting things yet for this month’s challenge? The topic is so broad, I’m curious to see what everyone comes up with.  Remember, posts are due by June 15th, and anyone that’s new to the party is free to join at anytime.  Just e-mail me a link to the url of your post by the due date.  My e-mail is thejamgirl@gmail.com.)

Cook it! 2012 May Resolution

It’s that time again… In case you’re just showing up to the party,  this year a little group of us decided to tackle a different kitchen project every month.  It began as a New Year’s Resolution, a decision to devote some time to learning new skills and having fun messing around in the kitchen.  So far, we’ve made pasta from scratch, baked bread, made fresh butter and fresh cheese.

Now that the sun is out and the garden is starting to grow like crazy, I thought it would be a good idea to get away from dry goods and dairy and start doing something with all these veggies.   Which brings me to the May resolution–  to keep it really broad, let’s just say…. the goal is to ferment something.  It could be something with vegetables, like sauerkraut or kimchi, or it could be wine, beer, kombucha, sourdough bread…  whatever.

I haven’t done nearly enough projects involving fermentation and I wanted to devote some time to learning about this ancient method of food preservation.  Wikipedia says that there’s evidence that people were fermenting beverages in Babylon around 3000 B.C.   (After doing manual farm labor in the sun all day, my brilliant insights regarding this are:  Holy crap.  That is a long time ago.)   The whole concept of it is magical, that you can take some cabbage or cucumbers or whatever and combine them with salt and then wait awhile and *poof* the vegetables preserve themselves.   I love the simplicity.

I’m also drawn to the fact that the produce isn’t really cooked, (unlike preservation via canning) so it will be higher in vitamins and minerals.  And, as you may know, the process of fermentation also creates all of the beneficial microorganisms that make for healthy digestive systems.

— and that last phrase, right there, is why I think I haven’t bothered much with fermentation in the past.   It wasn’t a conscious decision at all.  I fell in love with jam-making and all those jewel-toned jars so easily.  Discussions about jam usually mean talking about apricots and strawberries, and whether or not Weck jars are worth the price.  It seems like chatting about fermentation, on the other hand, almost invariably fast forwards right to conversations about pooping.   If you google kimchi and start researching health benefits, you get a couple sentences into the article and then hear about how eating kimchi helps prevent yeast infections — because really, nothing says “domestic goddess” like healthy girl parts.

So, yeah, health benefits aside, I’m really just doing this because I wanted a way to preserve all these spring vegetables.

The ferment that I made first this month is a traditional napa cabbage kimchi.  Kimchi doesn’t have to be made with napa cabbage, but there’s something about the texture of the fermented cabbage that I really love.  I started small with this project, doing a mini-batch since I don’t own any big fermenting crocks.

Small Batch Kimchi

This recipe is adapted from The Hungry Tigress’ Kimchi Primer, since I know absolutely nothing about making kimchi but she seems like she’s got it down pretty well.  This version is (I think) somewhat traditional, but I used easter egg radishes from my garden instead of asian daikon radishes.  It’s also a little heavy on the radish part since I had a lot of them and they needed preserving.

cook time: 25 minutes active cooking, and then a couple days to ferment

makes: about 2 quart jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium sized napa cabbage
  • 1 bunch of radishes
  • 1/2 c.green garlic tops, spring onion tops or scallions, diced
  • 1 tbs. paprika
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tbs. ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • about 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste

for the brine:

  • 1/2 c. sea salt
  • 2 quarts filtered water

Wash the cabbage and slice it into two inch squares.  Wash the radishes, remove the tops, and slice them into very thin rounds.  Combine the salt and water in a large nonreactive bowl and stir well to combine.  Add the cabbage and radishes to the brine.  To keep the veggies from floating, put a plate on top of them and then cover the whole thing with saran wrap.  Leave it out at room temperature overnight to soak.

The next morning, drain the vegetables, reserving the brine.  Mix together all of the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl (the minced garlic bulb and ginger, green garlic tops, paprika, sugar and cayenne).   Pour this mixture over the cabbage and radishes.  Give a few stirs to make sure everything’s nicely combined.

Transfer the seasoned vegetable mixture to two clean quart jars* and cover with the reserved brine.  Screw on lids and set in a warm, dark corner somewhere in your house.  For the next few days, you’ll need to open the jars and stir them with a clean wooden spoon or chopstick  (to make sure everything is fully submerged in the brine).   The kimchi takes anywhere from 3-6 days to ferment.  It’s hard to describe exactly how you know that it’s fermented, but if you taste it every day, you’ll know when it’s there.  How? Because it tastes awesome. You’ll know.  Once it’s fermented, move it to the fridge.  This will slow everything way down and keep the flavors and textures from changing too much.  Once the kimchi is in the fridge, it will last for months and months.

*I like to sterilize my jars for fridge pickles and ferments because, I mean, it can’t hurt, right?

And then you can have stuff like this for breakfast.  I was making a small bowl of basmati rice with some kimchi, and J. looked at it and said “you should put an egg on that” and man oh man oh man oh man was he right.  Kimchi is good as it is, but it into rice with warm egg yolk  it will definitely put a grin on your face.  Salty, creamy, warm and spicy, it’s hard to beat as far as quick meals go.

Kimchi Breakfast Bowl

serves: 1

cook time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. steamed basmati rice
  • a few tablespoons of kimchi
  • 1 egg, cooked however you like, seasoned with fresh cracked black pepper (sunny side up or over easy works best for this)
  • any of these: chopped fresh scallions, dried or fresh chilis, a tiny splash of ume plum vinegar or soy sauce, leftover chicken, some salted peanuts or cashews, fresh cilantro….. (whatever ya got)

Combine the kimchi and rice in a bowl.  Top with the egg. Garnish with whatever toppings you have on hand and feel like eating.

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To be included in the fermenting round-up, send me an e-mail at thejamgirl@gmail.com with the link to your post by June 15, 2012. If whatever you’re making hasn’t fully fermented yet, just tell us your plans and what you’ve done so far.

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Paula Deen Would Be Proud Of Us

The time sure flies when you’re having fun…

So far, Cook it! 2012 has brought us all shapes and sizes of handmade pastas, a beautiful assortment of breads, and the most recent undertaking, fresh sweet butter.

Truly, nothing really says luxury like warm bread slathered with butter made from the best grass-fed cream.   I still haven’t found a local source for dairy other than the natural food store, but hopefully something will appear soon.

Or…

Maybe I need to get a cow?

Or a goat?

As usual, I loved reading the collection of everyone’s projects.  It is a constant inspiration to see the great things that other people are cooking.

Belated Bread and Butter, from Snowflake Kitchen: a touching post about making bread and butter as kitchen therapy during sad times.

Butter, and Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with Garlic Shrimp, from Homemade Trade:  Aimee, you had me at mashed yukon gold potatoes with fresh buttermilk.  That should be a food group all to itself.

Buttermaking, from Oh Briggsy: green garlic compound butter sounds like something I could eat on pretty much everything.  More importantly, this post managed to find the theme song for the March challenge: C.R.E.A.M., from the Wu Tang Clan.  (In case you don’t have it on your iPod already, it stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” which is perfect since making good butter requires the best quality cream, which really does involve shelling out the big money.  Nice song choice, Briggsy…)

Calendula Butter, from Bunchberry Farm and Dogwood Designs:  Lots of nice ideas for using calendula in this post, including a charming calendula butter.   (Scones + calendula butter + jam =  sure sounds good to me)

Homemade Butter and Buttermilk Rum Pound Cake, from Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja: that pound cake looks divine, and that stoneware bundt pan that you scored for free at the dump? I’m jealous.

(On How Not To) Make Butter, from Grow and Resist: My favorite part of this post is that me and Meg’s four year old had the exact same thought process.  Shaking the cream in a jar = boring.  KitchenAid mixer = powerful superior technology.  You could have had the exact same shot of me dumping the jar of cream into the mixer….
And with that, we move on to the April project: cheese!

Happy cooking, everyone…

Cook it! 2012 April Resolution: Make Fresh Cheese

A lot of people already know how to do this.  A lot of people have also blogged about it too.  I don’t really care, though, because this is the very first time ever that I made this, and I bet there are a lot of people out there reading this that haven’t done this project either.

This month’s cook it 2012 project is fast, easy, and cheap, and aren’t those really the ideal qualities in a good cooking project? (I suppose they can also be the ideal qualities in several other situations, like dates and dentist appointments).

It really is exciting to do a project that only takes about fifteen minutes, costs under $5, turns out completely delicious and makes you feel like some kind of magical food wizard while you’re at it.  

APRIL COOK IT! 2012 RESOLUTION: MAKE FRESH CHEESE

So, I’m calling this fresh ricotta cheese, but that’s not quite accurate.  If I understand correctly, there are a whole family of cheeses that are made by heating up milk, adding acid to separate the curds and whey and then draining off the whey to leave behind the curds (the cheese!).  Technically, real ricotta isn’t made using milk, it’s made using whey.  I’ll be giving that process a try this month too, but since they don’t sell whey at the farmers market or the grocery store I had to start with this.  The cheese that this recipe makes can be used as cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, queso fresco, paneer, and probably some other ones that I don’t know about since I’m no cheese expert….  Whatever you want to call it, this cheese is wonderful used as ricotta in Italian dishes, served with sliced fruit and honey for breakfast, mixed with fresh herbs, pepper and fancy olive oil and eaten on crackers, and a whole realm of other sweet and savory applications.  All you need to get started is milk, cheesecloth and acid.  For the acid you can either use white vinegar, lemon juice or buttermilk.   I used lemon juice, which works great but does leave a lemony flavor behind, so I’ll probably use vinegar next time.  Use the best milk you can find/afford, making sure that it’s not ultra-pasteurized.  I tried a batch with goat milk and another batch with Strauss Organic cow milk.  Both batches turned out great, but I actually preferred the flavor of the goat milk version (because I am a major fiend for goat cheese). Goat milk is always a nice option for people who don’t do well with lactose, and  I’ve also heard that if you  consume goat milk from goats who have been eating poison oak leaves in their diet, it can improve your immune response to poison oak (note: you have to consume the goat products first, before you’re exposed, not after you’ve already gotten the rash).  To make the cheese, heat up the milk to 180 degrees.  Serious Eats has a recipe for five minute microwave ricotta, but I did it the old-school way on the stove.  If you have an instant read thermometer, it helps, but you’ll know it’s time to add the acid when the milk comes to a simmer and starts looking frothy.  Pour in a couple tablespoons of your acid, either lemon juice or vinegar, cook the milk for another minute or two and keep stirring, and you’ll see the curds and whey magically separate. At this point, you pour the separated milk through cheesecloth to strain out the curds.  Different recipes have different times for how long to leave everything draining, but it really depends on your preference and what you’re using it for.  I only left mine to drain for a couple minutes because I wanted it to stay fairly spreadable.  If you were making something like paneer, an Indian cheese used similarly to tofu in lots of different curries, you drain it longer and then press it so that it can be sliced into pieces.  (Can you imagine? Homemade paneer tikka masala? Oh my goodness…)Fresh Ricotta Cheese

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Makes: about a cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart of whole milk
  • about 2 tbs. lemon juice or white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Heat up the milk in a pot on the stove.  Add the salt.  When the milk is simmering or reads 180 on a thermometer, stir in the lemon juice or vinegar.  (I didn’t really measure so much as pour a few splashes of lemon juice into the pot while the milk was simmering.  If you stir for a minute and let the milk keep simmering, the curds will separate.)  Pour into a colander lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth to drain.  I thought the cheese came out the best when I let it drain for about five minutes.  You can eat the cheese warm or chill it for later.  The cheese will firm up more in the fridge, where it can be stored for about two days.

I highly recommend mixing the warm cheese with the best olive oil you have, fresh herbs, sliced scallions, salt and pepper and eating it on crackers (especially if you’re tired after a long day of work and want to sit down, have a cocktail and a small bite to eat, then it’s really great).

If you don’t want to eat it right away, though, you can always do something crazy like make lasagna:I never use a recipe for lasagna since it’s more fun to raid the garden, the pantry and the freezer for whatever things you want to be in the layers.  Yesterday we happened to have some good looking spinach and spring onions in the garden…so that turned into one layer, and then I had a pack of ground veal from Owen Family Farms — humanely raised, pastured veal! — that was in the freezer, so I threw together a veal ragu for another layer.  I cooked the veal in some of the leftover whey along with red wine, canned tomatoes, onions, carrots, fresh oregano and parsley.  And then, this is a trick that j. taught me when I complained that I hate ricotta cheese long ago, you gotta fancy up that cheese a bit before it goes in the lasagna. I used the batch of cow milk ricotta for the lasagna, which was the yield from one half gallon of milk, and it was just enough to do a medium sized casserole dish.  If you want to have a big casserole or a really thick layer, you should definitely use a whole gallon of milk so you get more ricotta cheese.  To make your ricotta layer tasty and packed with flavor, throw the ricotta into the food processor with an egg or two, some garlic powder, chopped parsley or scallions and a pinch of salt and pepper.  It will be far superior to those bland lasagnas with a layer of mushy, flavorless grocery store ricotta cheese.

and then, you know, you just do the lasagna thing: and then pop that baby in the oven until it’s bubbly and delicious looking.

(Yeah, I know that I usually preach the gospel of fresh pasta with 100% local semolina flour, and those are obviously not fresh pasta noodles, but fresh pasta is not usually a project to do after you’ve already been up for many hours and worked the farmers market and your feet are so sore.  Gotta be realistic here).

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If you want to cook along, e-mail me, thejamgirl@gmail.com, a link to the url of your post by May 15, 2012 to be included in the round-up post.

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I can’t believe I made cheese and it was that easy.  I hope you give it a try too!

Cook it! 2012 March Resolution: Make Butter – Part 2

The New Year’s Resolution that I’ve been working on this month is making butter.  It’s a pretty great theme and has inspired several epic cooking projects.  A few weeks ago we used the buttermilk that was leftover from the butter making process to make buttermilk-marinated-bacon-fat-deep-fried-chicken that was ….too good for words.  It was dreamy.   My arteries whispered things to me about how they wanted me to do it and they didn’t care what happened.  I wish I had more of that chicken on a plate next to me right now.  We have 100 baby chicks down in the coop, and now that they’re a couple months old I’ve spotted a few roosters.  Sorry guys.  A few of you are gonna be dinner.  The post that I meant to write, before I got distracted by that fried chicken, was….

(just as ridiculous)

Buttercream frosting.

Oh yeah.    It’s not so much that I want to make a bunch of really unhealthy food, I’m just really interested in learning new things in the kitchen (I swear).  Up until this month, I had never made frosting before in my life, ever.  I don’t even really care about eating it (I have a fried chicken tooth, not a sweet tooth), but I want to know how to make these things from scratch.  I’ve worked as a professional cook in the past, and the fact that I can make really, really fancy savory things but literally cannot bake a simple chocolate chip cookie without totally ruining it somehow seems really absurd to me. I turned to Martha for a starting point, since her recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting was something that I’d noticed in the past. (Before the days of pinterest, back when you just bookmarked stuff in your web browser.)

So.  What happened, even though these pictures make it look like a continuous sequence, I completely ruined the first batch of buttercream since I have zero experience doing this.  My first batch turned out like runny pudding, which made me cringe since I just used my precious homemade butter for it.  (It won’t go to waste, though, I think it will be great on something like cinnamon french toast).  That means that the finished frosting that you see in these pictures is made with store-bought butter since I was worried about wasting a bunch of expensive cream making messed up batches of frosting.  The moral of the story:  It is so super important to follow the recipe and not change anything.  If it says “stiff glossy peaks” it means “stiff glossy peaks,” not “until you get sick of listening to the stand mixer running on the highest setting,” (Yeah, I know).

The first step in this frosting is whisking together egg whites and sugar in the mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Easy enough.  (I’m assuming that most people don’t have the intermediate steps of going outside, turning on the generator for 15 minutes since power’s not set up to use a stand mixer right then, fending off the cat who is highly interested in frosting, and then bringing the whole deal back inside once it’s properly mixed.)Beat the egg whites and the sugar in a stand mixer set on high speed for 10 minutes, and it magically turns into beautiful, snow-white meringue. Once you see those stiff, glossy peaks, you can start adding in the butter, a little bit at a time.  The frosting will look like it’s broken, but if you have faith in the power of the stand mixer and just let it keep going, eventually the frosting smooths out and becomes this lovely meringue buttercream.  I was inspired by the orange tree blooming in the greenhouse and decided to scent this frosting with orange blossom water.  The scent is so bright and ethereal, somehow, and so intoxicating. and the second confession of this post:

This frosting is good and all, but it’s really not my thing.  I know, that’s weird.  These cupcakes, though-  even though I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I’m crazy about them.  For one, I baked something, and it actually worked.  That in itself is a victory.  What’s even more exciting is the way they came out.  They’re not just good, they’re delicious, easy to make, and a great way to use up marmalade.  The texture of the rinds mixed into the cupcake batter reminded me of pannettone, an sweet Italian bread that my mom makes every Christmas.  I had debated puréeing the marmalade before I put it in the batter but I’m really happy I didn’t, because those toothsome slices of rind are what made these cupcakes so exciting. Oh, and I’m fairly certain you could call them muffins and serve them with breakfast if you want, and I can’t emphasize enough: the frosting is entirely optional.  I think they might even be better with a simple powdered sugar glaze brushed on while they’re still hot than with all the fancy looking stuff I did this time. All I did yesterday was do my taxes and pay bills, so it seemed logical that I should spend the afternoon making cupcakes today.  If you’re trying to waste time in the kitchen, it only makes sense that you should take this whole thing a step further and candy a bit of lemon rind to top off everything nicely. (Some people might do the dishes while the cupcakes are in the oven- I find a way to dirty even more of them). And there you have it! Make butter: check.  Make frosting: check.  Bake actual cupcakes that taste good and aren’t burned: check!

Orange Blossom Meringue Buttercream Frosting 

This is adapted from Martha Stewarts recipe.  The main reason I’m rewriting it here and not just linking to her recipe is that I shrank the size of the batch way down (since the last thing I need around is a giant bowl of frosting…. a small bowl is bad enough).   If you want a big batch, just use her recipe here and add orange blossom water.

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Makes: frosting for 7 or 8 cupcakes

Ingredients:

Heat a pot of water up to a simmer on the stove.  Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Set the bowl over the pot of water and whisk together the sugar and egg whites until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture feels hot to the touch.  Put the mixing bowl back in the stand mixer.  Use the whisk attachment and beat the egg whites on high speed for about 10 minutes, or until you get stiff, glossy peaks.  Keep the mixer going and add the butter, one piece at a time.  The frosting will appear to have separated or broken, but just keep whisking on high for a couple more minutes until it smooths back out again.  Switch to the paddle attachment and mix at the lowest speed for five minutes to get rid of any air bubbles.

If you’re using the frosting within a few hours, leave it out, covered, at room temperature so that it stays soft and spreadable.  If you make it in advance, store it in the fridge and give it a few minutes in the mixer on low to soften it back up when you’re ready to use it.

*FYI: one stick of butter has 8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup.  The original recipe didn’t really divide into perfect even numbers here, unfortunately, hence the 1/3 stick of butter.
Marmalade Cupcakes

This recipe came out so well – I’ll definitely be making it again. I used another Martha recipe here as a framework since, well… I don’t have my own secret cupcake recipe perfected.  Soon.

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Makes: 7 cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 4 tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. meyer lemon marmalade (or really any marmalade….)
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place cupcake liners in a cupcake tin and set aside.

Cream together the sugar and butter until it’s light and fluffy.  Add in the egg and mix well.  Add the lemon marmalade and mix well.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Combine the flour mixture into the marmalade mixture, alternating flour with milk and stirring after each addition.  Stir gently just to combine everything.  Spoon the cupcake batter into the muffin tin, filling each cupcake liner about 2/3 full of batter.

Candied Lemon Peel
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Makes: garnish for above cupcakes
Ingredients:
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 2/3 c. sugar + 1/4 c. sugar
  • peel from 1/4 of a lemon

In a small saucepan, combine the water and 2/3 c. sugar.  Cook on high heat, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar.  Meanwhile, use a sharp knife to a cut a few strips of peel off a lemon, trying to get only the yellow zest and little of the white pith.  Lay the peel on a cutting board and slice it into very thin strips.  Once the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is boiling, add the strips.  Cook for a few minutes on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When the lemon strips turn translucent, turn off the heat and use a fork to remove them from the syrup. Toss the candied lemon strips in the remaining sugar and then lay them on a paper towel to dry.  The candied lemon is ready to use once it’s cooled down.