Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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Battle of the Brandied Cherries

I've waited 6 weeks for this!

I’ve waited 6 weeks for this!

You may remember about 6 weeks ago I posted about brandied cherries. That recipe was great! I’m still enjoying them (even though the recipe says to use within 2 weeks, I’m living on the edge.) I made a different recipe at the same time. This one had to sit in the fridge for 6 weeks. I put a piece of tape with a label and a date and hid it behind the pickles.

Chelan cherries stemmed and ready for pitting. They are delicious!

Chelan cherries stemmed and ready for pitting. They are delicious!

Well, this week was Ladies’ Preservation Society (more on that soon) and we did a taste test between the two recipes. A few days later, D and I tested the cherries in 2 different drinks – sparkling wine and bourbon. The decision was clear, though not unanimous. I’ve decided to call the first recipe “Quick” and the second “Patience.”

All recipes for brandied cherries will include sugar, brandy, and cherries.

All recipes for brandied cherries will include sugar, brandy, and cherries.

In making Quick, I used half of this recipe from Imbibe. My full post on these cherries can be found here. This recipe uses sugar, brandy, vanilla, spices, lemon, and cherries (obviously.)

I got the recipe for Patience at Saveur (which I halved here). To make these, all you do is combine 1 cup sugar and 2 cups brandy, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour this over 1 lb. pitted cherries, seal in a jar, and let sit in the fridge for 6 weeks. Easy peasy. Because you aren’t heating the liquid or the fruit, the brandy takes longer to work its way into the cells of the cherries. This also means the cherries end up with a nice firm texture.

"Patience" cherries are finally ready to be opened!

“Patience” cherries are finally ready to be opened!

The Verdict

Quick cherries are softer, sweeter, and have a distinct but not overpowering brandy flavor. I have been using them for weeks, and I haven’t noticed any change in taste.

Patience cherries are firm and the alcohol flavor is a really strong. The recipe suggests serving the brandy strait up with the cherries in them. The brandy tastes good and has a lot of cherry flavor, but I would want to mix it with something to tone down the alcohol.

"Patience" above and "Quick" below - the taste test. I almost didn't have enough Quick left to test.

“Patience” above and “Quick” below – the taste test. I almost didn’t have enough Quick left to test.

The winner… it’s the Quick cherries, by golly. I would have guessed otherwise, because of delayed gratification and all that. I like the firm texture of the Patience cherries, but the alcohol flavor was too much. In anything but straight bourbon or whiskey, it dominated. I will still use these in bourbon, and am debating cooking them down and making a sauce to go with a flourless chocolate cake for an upcoming potluck. (This potluck will have lots of kids, so maybe not?)

I love seeing the bubbles stream off the cherries when they are in sparkling wines.

I love seeing the bubbles stream off the cherries when they are in sparkling wines.

Uses

I’ve been adding the cherries to drinks: Quick was delicious in a sparkling rosé and both go great with bourbon. You could also make a mixed drink and include some of the liquid. They would also go great with anything chocolate, naturally. Or, add them to ice cream or frozen yogurt for an adult dessert.

I couldn't drink much more at this point, and we were down to our last Quick cherry. Sad to see it end, but I've kept the liquid for use in other cocktails.

I couldn’t drink much at this point, and we were down to our last Quick cherry. Sad to see it end, but I’ve kept the liquid for use in other cocktails.


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Eggplant on the Side

Eggplant in oil, served beside pastas with peas and yogurt

Eggplant in oil, served beside pasta with peas and yogurt.

As a vegetarian, eggplant is pretty important to me. Not because I eat it so often, necessarily, but because it’s a popular vegetarian option in restaurants. When I dine out, I might go hungry if I didn’t like it. Luckily, I think eggplant is fantastic. It has a firm smooth texture and a complex earthy flavor, a little bitter, sweet, and nutty.

Eggplants at the farmer's market - these are the variety "Orient Express"

Eggplants at the farmer’s market – these are the variety “Orient Express.”

At home, I mostly use eggplant by incorporating it into other dishes, like to thicken a marinara, or by making it the star of a main dish. I don’t often use eggplant as a side dish. Side dishes tend to be simple, relying on the natural flavor of a few ingredients. A salad, roasted veggies… these are really all about the vegetables. This is the first side dish I’ve made where the eggplant is truly on its own, and it shines.

Eggplant sliced, salted, and set to drain in a colander

Eggplant sliced, salted, and set to drain in a colander

The vinegar adds a tang, but mostly it’s about the sweet earthy flavor of the eggplant. It goes great with antipasti or as a side dish for a Mediterranean-style dish. (Last night, I made this pasta dish and served the eggplant on the side. It was a perfect summery meal). Take the jar out of the fridge as you start prepping dinner. The pieces should be brought to room temperature and let to drain or drip before serving so they aren’t too oily.

After rinsing, pat eggplant dry. I set on a tea towel and fold the towel over.

After rinsing, pat eggplant dry. I set on a tea towel and fold the towel over.

We have a charcoal grill, and when we use it I try to grill extra food so I don’t feel like I’m wasting the heat or the effort. This recipe is a great way to use some of that extra heat, and you can prep the eggplant before you start dinner and have it ready to grill after you’ve eaten. Wait until coals have cooled, so you can cook the eggplant slowly and without too much char.

After drying and brushing with oil, set eggplant on the grill.

Eggplant on the grill.

Grilled Eggplants in Olive Oil

(I got this recipe from my new favorite book, Salt Sugar Smoke, by Diana Henry.)

1 large eggplant (or, as here, 2 Asian eggplants)
sea salt
Olive oil, for grilling
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, possibly more
2 sprigs of thyme
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

Eggplant grilled and ready to preserve in oil.

Eggplant grilled and ready to preserve in oil.

1. Cut the eggplants lengthwise into slices about ¼” thick. Salt and layer in a colander to draw out moisture. After a half hour, rinse and pat dry.

2. Coat eggplant (both sides) in olive oil*. Grill or roast. If you roast, but on a baking sheet and roast at 425 for about 20 minutes, turning once. If you grill, wait until the grill is slightly cooler and grill the eggplant until they are soft and have turned a little translucent. It took me about 5 minutes per side.

Eggplant, oil, vinegar, and thyme on the stove.

Eggplant, oil, vinegar, and thyme on the stove.

3. Put the EVOO in a saucepan with the thyme, and heat gently over medium heat for about 4 minutes. Reduce heat and add vinegar and eggplant. Bring to a boil, and immediately remove from heat. Let cool.

Eggplant packed into a jar and covered in oil mixture.

Eggplant packed into a jar and covered in oil mixture.

4. Remove the eggplants from the oil, and put into a clean jar, packing tightly. Remove the thyme from the oil, and pour oil into jar. Make sure the eggplant is completely covered. If you need more oil just add to the mix. Seal the jar and refrigerate. Keep refrigerated and use within a month.

In the fridge, the oil congeals. You'll want to bring it to room temperature before serving.

In the fridge, the oil congeals. You’ll want to bring it to room temperature before serving.

*Because eggplant is spongy, it can absorb a lot of oil (this is sort of the point of this recipe, to be fair). If you drizzle the oil over the slices, it will absorb right away and not be spreadable, ending up in uneven coverage. A better (and fun) way is to oil up your hands and then manhandle each slice. Or, if you’re not into that, use a brush to spread the oil.

The oil softens and the eggplant is ready to serve. Try to remove as much oil from the eggplant as you can to keep enough oil in the jar to cover the remaining eggplant and to make the eggplant you eat less oily.

The oil softens and the eggplant is ready to serve. Try to drain as much oil from the eggplant as you can. You can use this excess to keep the remaining eggplant covered with oil.


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Refrigerator Pickles

The first batch of pickling cucumbers from my farmer's market. I was so excited to see them!

The first batch of pickling cucumbers from my farmer’s market. I was so excited to see them!

I’ve had this mild obsession with pickling for years, since long before I ever mixed vegetables with vinegar. Just like canning fruit, pickling sings of summer and independence to me. Imagine being able to pull out a jar in the winter, when all you can grow are greens, and having homegrown tomatoes or cucumbers. I had fantasies about all the pickles I would stock in my basement. Dinner guests would smile with delight at the crisp tangy vegetables I put before them.

I didn't have dill seeds, which the recipe called for, but I did have fresh dill. I'm curious to try it with the seeds to see how it alters the flavor.

I didn’t have dill seeds, which the recipe called for, but I did have fresh dill. I’m curious to try it with the seeds to see how it alters the flavor.

I never really pickled anything until a couple years ago. Why? Well, there is the usual reason of not wanting to try for fear of failing and ruining my fantasy. But also, I think I equated it with a level of homemaker-ness I couldn’t hope to achieve. Like crocheting doilies or something. I don’t think I understood how simple and satisfying it could actually be. Pickling veggies can take as little as a few minutes, and the bright flavor they add to salads and sandwiches is unbeatable.

I sliced the cucumbers so they'd easily fit in the jars. And to fill the jars easily without cukes going every which way, I lay the jars on their side.

I sliced the cucumbers so they’d easily fit in the jars. And to fill the jars easily without cukes going every which way, I lay the jars on their side.

The one pickle I long to master but haven’t had much success with is the most ubiquitous of all, the standard dill pickle. Maybe it’s because there are so many pickles out there, it’s hard to compare to the tastier, crunchier varieties I can buy in any grocery store. When done right, I know mine will blow any of those out of the water, but I haven’t hit on the right recipe just yet.

Fill the jar with cucumbers, but don't squish them in.

Fill the jar with cucumbers, but don’t smash them to make them fit.

It may also be because you have to wait days – days! – for them to finish. How can I know if the ratio of dill to garlic to salt is right when I have to wait days to see the results? And how do I fix it then if it isn’t right? I have only made refrigerator pickles for this reason – not much point in putting up pickles that you aren’t crazy about.

Put the dill and garlic in the jar, then the cucumbers, then add the vinegar solution. I also added a dried chipotle chile to the jar on the left.

Put the dill and garlic in the jar, then the cucumbers, then add the vinegar solution. I also added a dried chipotle chile to the jar on the left.

I’ve come close. Last summer I made this one multiple times. It’s quite good, but not insane. But to try something new, last week I made this one from Food in Jars. I altered the recipe a bit because I don’t have spring onions or dill seeds.  Also, I thought I’d add one of those dried chipotle chilies I got earlier this year for the pickled asparagus. I think the smoky flavor is a little strange with dill pickles, but D really likes it.

Let the jars cool on the counter. In other recipes, you leave them loosely covered and unrefrigerated for a day or two. This one went straight into the fridge after cooling to room temperature.

Let the jars cool on the counter. In other recipes, you leave them loosely covered and unrefrigerated for a day or two. This one went straight into the fridge after cooling to room temperature.

There wasn’t enough salt for me, and the pickles aren’t as crispy as I’d want. And because they go strait into the fridge rather than sitting on the shelf for a couple of days, they don’t have that strong fermented taste. Still, they were fun to make and fun to eat.

Finished pickles.

Finished pickles.

I feel like I’m circling the right answer, so I keep trying. There are so many recipes out there, and they’re all a little different. One day I’ll have pickles coming out my ears, and then maybe I’ll have enough to share with friends in January. But for now, I’ll keep experimenting.


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Strawberry Jam – An Old Friend

Small strawberries that pack a big flavor.

Small strawberries that pack a big flavor.

My mom made strawberry jam a lot when I was young, we loved it. It was actually her least favorite to make, because you have to remove all the stems. Every other berry she used could just be washed and put into the blender, and the slicing made for quite a bit more work.

Cutting the tops off each strawberry is a bit time consuming. Make sure you have some good music on before you start!

Cutting the tops off each strawberry is a bit time consuming. Make sure you have some good music on before you start!

So after she retired, she suggested stopping the strawberry jam. Well, we all said, “of course,” but D hesitated for just a moment. You see, not only is strawberry his favorite jam, it’s the only one he ever craved. So a couple of years in a row, she made small batches of strawberry jam just for him. If you ever doubted that food can equal love, I think that’s proof. And to me it was a sweet sign that she loved my husband, and that he was truly a part of the family.

I know I'm supposed to use a food mill or mash the strawberries, but I just use a blender.

I know I’m supposed to use a food mill or mash the strawberries, but I just use a blender.

After mom died, my first jam success was strawberry jam. A few years back I made the Sure-Jell low-sugar recipe. That’s a pretty great recipe! We took the jam on a long road trip and had delicious English muffins with pb&j every morning. The texture is unexpectedly soft – like apple butter – but it’s actually really nice and incredibly easy to spread.

As the jam cooks, it foams. I added butter in the second batch, which I've never done before, to reduce foaming. It still foamed, but definitely less.

As the jam cooks, it foams. I added butter in the second batch, which I’ve never done before, to reduce foaming. It still foamed, but definitely less. I don’t mind skimming the foam, because then I get to eat it after it cools.

I won’t bother with all the instructions here, because I use the exact recipe that Sure-Jell posts here: Sure-Jell Low Sugar Strawberry Jam. I got exactly 8 cups (which I put into 2 pint jars and 4 half-pint jars).

Pouring jam into jars, using a funnel. I do it on this little toaster tray to minimize mess.

Pouring jam into jars, using a funnel. I do it on this little toaster tray to minimize mess.

It may be getting late in the season for strawberries, but they’re still out there (at least up here in the north.) My first batch was in June, when I got day-old berries at a farmer’s market for half price. For this batch I got the berries Wednesday and let sit unrefrigerated for a couple hours, then refrigerated over night, to try and mimic the amazing so-ripe-but-not-quite-too-ripe flavor from last time. It worked, and I didn’t have to throw as many away from being actually overripe.

The berry in the middle is a little too seedy. I cut off the bottom as well as the top on berries like this, to reduce seediness and bitterness.

The berry in the middle is a little too seedy. I cut off the bottom as well as the top on berries like this, to reduce seediness and bitterness.

In the late season like this, you may need to cut away more seeds than normal. As the berries mature, the seeds get bitter. Any that are really bunched up I cut off. It made for a little more work, but the results are hard to argue with. The jam is delicious and friendly, it’s a long-time favorite for a reason. I can’t wait to eat it all winter!

Taste test! The jam on the left is the new batch, the right is from June. There are slight differences, due to type of berry and ripeness, but both delicious. And the winner is... me, obviously!

Taste test! The jam on the left is the new batch, the right is from June. There are slight differences, due to type of berry and ripeness, but both delicious. And the winner is… me, obviously!


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I ate Mangoes in India!

The bag of mangoes coming back from the store - they are so fragrant!

The bag of mangoes coming back from the store – they are so fragrant!

I’m going to post about something a little different today. We’ve been in India for the last 10 days. D’s sister was getting married in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, so we went on our first trip to India to share in the big day. It was an amazing trip and I learned a lot, including that I love southern Indian food. And as a vegetarian, India is a great place to visit, the variety of food is better than anywhere in the world.

The wedding date was chosen as an auspicious day for the married couple. Not to make light of the importance of that, but it was also auspicious time for us, because late June is perfect mango season! There are about 20 different types of mangoes regularly seen in India. Can you imagine?

From top: 3 Banganapalli, 2 Malgova, 1 Neelam (lower left) and 1 Alphonso (lower right).

From top: 3 Banganapalli, 2 Malgova, 1 Neelam (lower left) and 1 Alphonso (lower right).

Mangoes are all over the place in Chennai, on every street is a vendor. My new BIL was kind enough to buy us a lot of mangoes and tell us the names. We had 4 kinds of mangoes, and now I want to go on a mango expedition, tasting all the ripe mangoes around the world. How great does that sound? I had a taste (literally and figuratively) of what’s possible, and I want more.

So here are the mangoes we ate (and apologies for the dark photos, most of this test was done in our hotel room):

Neelam

The Neelam is the smallest of the mangoes we tried. The stem end (top) is the part you bite off to suck out the pulp.

The Neelam is the smallest of the mangoes we tried. The stem end (top) is the part you bite off to suck out the pulp.

“Neelam” name means “blue” or “long,” which was confusing to me because it doesn’t appear to be either. It’s a smallish mango, about the size of a lemon. These are at peak in late June, so I feel very lucky. They are crazy fun to eat, too. You roll the mango around in your hands, until it feels loose and squishy on the inside. Then bite off the top, where the stem attaches, and suck out the insides. Fun and delicious!

Here the top is off the mango, you can see the softened fruit as I squeeze the mango.

Here the top is off the mango, you can see the softened fruit as I squeeze the mango.

The fruit inside is creamy, like the most amazing mango lassi or ice cream you’ve ever had. There’s a twinge of bitterness, because you have your mouth on the skin the entire time. This was my overall favorite, because of the novelty of the eating method, and the creamy sweet flavor so different from what I expected.

I doubt there's a way to look polite while eating a Neelam!

I doubt there’s a way to look polite while eating a Neelam!

Banganapalli

Banganapalli cut and ready to eat.

Banganapalli cut and ready to eat.

The first part of the name is “gold” in Telugu. This is the favorite of my BIL, and he’s not alone, many Indians are loyal to this mango. This one is almond shaped, with golden skin. The flesh is sweet, floral, and very juicy.

You can see the juice of the Banganapalli.

You can see the juice of the Banganapalli.

The juice was literally dripping and pooling. It tastes like a mango mixed with a papaya, very tropical and heady. Also, yay, low in fibers (except when you’re scraping the remaining fruit off the pit with your teeth… ahem.)

Malgova

Malgova mango, large, green, and sweet!

Malgova mango, large, green, and sweet!

This mango is also a favorite in South India. It is large, round, and the skin is green even when ripe. This was like mango made of honey – really sweet. It’s slightly less juicy than the Banganapalli, and firmer and a little fibrous. It’s a little planty (astringent) but the main thing I remember is just how very sweet it was, without being cloying. A lot of fruit, too!

Alphonso

This mango is wrinkly - which I think means it's overripe.

This mango is wrinkly – which I think means it’s overripe.

I have read a lot of glowing praise of the Alphonso. They ripen from April to late May, so ours was past it season. It was still really nice, but I would place it last in the taste-test. Its flavor was closer to what I’m familiar with. But it’s saying a lot that the bottom of our taste-test was as good as the best mango I’ve had in the states.

So there you have it. Conclusion? I wish we had eaten more! If you find yourself in India or South Asia, eat all the mangoes you can.

Here’s some more fun reading about mango varieties:

http://www.mangozz.com/mangoVarities.action
http://mumbaiboss.com/2012/03/30/your-seasonal-guide-to-mangoes/
http://theindianvegan.blogspot.com/2012/11/varieties-of-mangos-in-india.html