Creative with carrots

I’ve been on a fermentation kick for the last few months, focusing on small batch stuff, so I can ring the changes with spices and seasonings and never get fed up of what I’ve made.

It’s easy. I grate vegetables in the food processor (mostly carrots, but I’m open to other suggestions), squeeze them together with salt and spice, squish down in a jar and wait.  I liked carrots with cumin and fennel, but fermented carrot with dill seed was sort of blah.

After a few versions where the brine bubbled out  the jar, I have concluded that 400-450 grams of veggies just pack down into a 500g Mason jar.

Fermented carrots

450 grams carrots
7 grams of salt
1/2 tsp of spice

Grate the carrots finely and use your hands to mix them with the salt and spice, squishing the veggies together until brine starts to come out. Push down into a wide-mouthed jar, trying to get rid of any air spaces, and then push a clean, narrow jar down on top of it. I sometimes fill that jar with water to weight it down, or I get lazy and I use an unopened jar of jam or chutney.

Cover with a cloth to stop dust getting in, and leave on the countertop until it bubbles its way to your preferred degree of tanginess. I start tasting my carrots after 2-3 days, and they are usually done after 4-5 days. But some recipes say it takes a week or even two. It depends on how warm your kitchen is, and on the mood of the carrots.

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A few tips:

  • You want 1-2 percent salt to vegetables by weight, so it’s easier using a digital scale (set to metric) than using measuring cups and spoons. But there are recipes that use cup measurements if that’s your thing.
  • Don’t overdo the spices.
  • The amount of liquid you end up with is totally unpredictable. After about two days, the brine rises to the top of the jar, and sometimes bubbles over (store your jar on a plate or a bowl). But after 4-5 days that liquid seems to soak back into the carrots.
  • If you have leftovers that won’t squish into your jar, just eat it as a (slightly salty) salad.
  • You can add extra brine if the carrots dry up, but they are usually tangy enough for my taste by the time that happens, so I move them to the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
  • The books say the fermented veggies will keep for weeks or even months. My small batches never last that long — I add a forkful to my lunchtime sandwiches (they taste awesome with home-made hummus), or throw them into a salad for extra taste and crunch.
  • This is probably total coincidence, but I’ve lost a little weight since I started eating my fermented veggies on a regular basis. All those good fermenting bugs seem to do very nice things to my digestive system.

Next up: Friends over at http://www.wellpreserved.ca point me to this recipe, which I am going to do as soon as I’ve started eating the carrot batch that’s bubbling away right now. I mean how can you go wrong with carrots and ginger?

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The writing’s on the quince

I admit it seemed a shame to cut this baby up and transform it into something — the scratches looked like Lord of the Ring style  runes, and I did admit to questions about what this particular quince was trying to tell me. But I was in New Zealand for a reason (biking, and visiting friends), and what better way to pass the non-biking time than taking advantage of harvest season. Friend was working for the morning — she’s learning Maori and it was homework time — so I delved into her big collection of recipes and picked an easy looking quince chutney, which I proceeded to change beyond recognition.

To backtrack, I have a very soft spot for quinces, even though you can’t eat them raw. It’s an acquired, slightly musty taste that reminds me of my childhood, where we had a prolific quince tree in a corner of the warm, walled-in back garden, and they are rare enough in Canada that they feel sort of exotic. Quinces price out at up to $3 each in Toronto, if you can get them at all. New Zealand friend, a childhood friend for that matter, has two trees groaning down with them. I didn’t think Canadian customs would like it if I tried to take the quinces back, but maybe I could manage a jar of chutney.

For the first time, on friend’s advice, I didn’t actually peel the quince. You rub off the fuzz, and chop and core the fruit. I upped the ginger and added vast quantities of both vinegar and water (the original recipe seemed to have almost none of either) and then threw in a chopped-up onion because the original recipe seemed too quince focused.

And the finished product?

Ginger quince chutney (adapted from a random newspaper cutting and cooked in New Zealand)

4 cups chopped, cored quince
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup currants
1/3 cup grated ginger
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup chopped onion

Wipe the fuzz off the quince before chopping and coring it. Put all the ingredients into a large pan, heat gently until the sugar dissolves, and then simmer for about 30 minutes until it’s golden yellow and chutney-thick.

Bottle in sterilized jars.

It’s really rather nice.

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Beautiful beans

Why, when I cook lentils and chickpeas all the time, with varying degrees of success, do I always shy away from beans? The presoaking time, perhaps? The fact that they often don’t actually have much taste?

Flageolet beans, the tiny pale green offerings from specialty stores, are the beans to change all that, and they have a lovely, almost nutty taste, and a far shorter soak-and-cook time  than the  larger kidney beans. I bought them on spec on a Saturday market outing, and scoured the internet for inspiration until I found this well-reviewed offering.

Soak the beans overnight. Braise bacon (I used pancetta), onions, carrots and fennel, then add the pre-soaked beans and water and cook at 300 or 350F for the best part of two hours, half covered and half uncovered, until the fennel melts to mush, the carrots soften and the beans are cooked.

I admit it needed a little something on the add-to-taste front, so a second time I threw in half a can of tomatoes and a tiny splash of maple syrup.

It made days of leftovers, and like all bean dishes, it got better by the day.

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I’ll make this one again.

But any other flageolet bean recipes out there?

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Waste not want not

IMG_0745There’s something rather magical about the bitter taste of candied orange peel, but I’ve never dared to make it before today. But I had four Seville oranges to use up, so I scoured the internet, confused myself with the wide range of recipe suggestions and decided to give things a whirl.

It’s actually quite easy.

You peel the oranges, cut the peel into thin slices and simmer it 3-4 times in fresh batches of water  to remove some of the bitterness. Then simmer again, in a simple syrup made up of equal parts of water and sugar until the syrup has almost boiled away. One recipe suggested you weigh the boiled up peels, and use that as your base to measure the syrup, and that’s roughly what I did. I had 400 grams of peel, so I used 400ml of water and 400 grams of sugar for a simmer that took the best part of an hour. One recipe said “Do not stir” in big bold letters, because it might encourage the development of extra large sugar crystals, while a second said “stir often, or it will burn.” I stirred.

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Spread the peels out on a drying rack (or any sort of wire rack, in my case) and wait a day for them to dry out a little. I used tongs and a fork. It worked, but it’s fiddly. The peel is hot and fragile, and I kept having to move the bits around to find enough space on the rack.

Later that day, or the next day if you prefer, roll your peels in sugar, to get rid of some of the lingering stickiness, and store in wax paper, in a cool dry place.

Leftovers: I had a spoonful of the remaining sauce in Greek yogurt for a not very successful orange yogurt (too bitter), and am saving the remaining quarter cup for a marmalade cake in a few weeks time.

And, mindful of the fact that I try not to use bought pectin, even for jams that really need it, I saved the orange pits in ice cube trays (adding water and very bitter Seville orange juice), and will try adding in muslim pouches to my next batch of jam. That’s a crazy experiment I’ve not seen done before.

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But after almost running out of jam both last year and the year before, the cold room still has many months supply of jam, but a fast-disappearing amount of canned tomatoes.

One year I’ll get the balance right.

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It wasn’t a disaster

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I suppose in a year and a bit of bread making, and a lot of playing fast-and-loose with recipes, it was inevitable that not everything is going to work out quite the way you think it should. There was the (delicious) wheatberry bread where I broke a filling cracking down on a kernel, and the bread that never rose, and ended up as tasty, solid, twice baked-bagel chips. But most of them have been pretty wonderful, bringing the challenge of how not to eat a whole loaf of bread at a single sitting.

The basic non-recipe comprises 6-7 cups of flour (usually a mix of white, brown and something vaguely exotic), 3 (ish) cups of water, a tablespoon each of salt and fat, two teaspoons of dried yeast, a quarter cup of honey (or other sweetener) and a cup or two of Other Stuff, which could be nuts, or grains, or oat flakes, plus maybe a spoonful of cumin or coriander to make things a little bit more interesting. My recent favorite used spelt flour for a third of the flour and walnuts for the extra. It was very lovely.

But today’s adventure had me wondering if I should actually start measuring things  again, and reminded me that using up “the rest of that flour” might not be a particularly smart way of following a recipe. The idea was to do a 2:2:2 ratio of stoneground whole wheat bread flour, stoneground white bread flour and spelt flour, and maybe up the flour just a little because I wanted my two loaves to be a little bit larger than they were last time. For extras I chose some leftover pumpkin seeds, a couple of spoons of lightly ground flax seeds and half a cup of  hemp hearts, which the internet tells me are a protein-rich superfood. I added about a teaspoon of cumin too, just because I like the taste.

Then I discovered a baggie of a couple of cups of red fife flour in the freezer, so I decided to use that instead of the spelt even though it was freezer cold. And I was so close to finishing the wholewheat flour, that I just kept pouring that in after my two cups were full. Total flour? Seven cups, perhaps. Maybe a bit more. I didn’t measure it, and I didn’t weigh it, and I just threw in something over 3 cups of water and hoped for the best.

Hmm.

This dough was sloppier than anything  I’ve ever worked with — it practically walked off the countertop while I was reaching over for the coconut oil. It stuck to my hands, my clothes and anything that came anywhere near it. And the extra (white) flour I added in an attempt to make it slightly less sticky was fresh from the freezer too, so it chilled the dough some more and probably slowed the kneading/rising process. After twenty nervous minutes and a lot of extra ice cold flour I had a dough that I could almost handle, so I kept going until it felt good and elastic before putting it to one side to let the yeast do its stuff.

It rose, threatening to spill over the bowl.

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I squished it down and transfered it to tins and let it rise again, and baked it for about 55 minutes, first at 425F and then down to 350F.

And to my deepest surprise, it’s a really, really nice bread, with a good crust, a healthy chew and a lovely taste. And of course, having no idea what I actually did,  there’s no way I am going to be able to make it exactly the same again.

Lessons:

  • Those cookbook writers know what they are talking about when they say it’s better for a dough to be too wet than too dry
  • A stand mixer would be really nice for a dough this wet
  • You do need to knead bread to develop the gluten, and even sloppy doughs might (might) turn into something you can use
  • Experimentation is often very scary. But it sometimes works
  • You may never be able to recreate a newly invented recipe, which is actually rather sad

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Red, orange, yellow

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The beautiful thing about marmalade is that it’s not just oranges, although I admit Seville oranges are still my go-to classic.

But there were four Seville oranges left over from the marmalade making last week, Meyer lemons available in the stores and space in the pantry. Time to find the reddest blood oranges and mix them with the Sevilles, and then dabble around with internettery to find a one-day recipe for Meyer  marmalade. For the first time we didn’t skimp on the sugar and and I have to admit it worked better that way. I do like a bitter marmalade, but the last batch veered a notch too far in that direction, and the blood oranges added sweetness, as well as a glorious red.

Here, roughly speaking, is what we did.

Meyer lemon marmalade
(We based this on the recipe from Leite’s Culinaria but doubled the quantities and went for boil rather than a simmer. It was a little fiddly, with three different ways to prep the lemons, but it’s a good, firm set.)
14 Meyer lemons
4 generous cups sugar

First prep the lemons. Chop 8 in quarters, remove the seeds and save them in a cheesecloth bag, and slice your lemon quarters nice and fine, peel and all. Peel 4 lemons and cut out the segments, removing and saving the pits (and saving them) as you do so. Squeeze out as much juice as you can, and put the remaining membranes and the pits in that cheesecloth. Discard the peel. Juice the last two lemons and save those pits as well.

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Cover the sliced lemons with water and boil for 2-3 minutes to remove some of the bitterness. Drain, and save the liquid to jazz up a regular marmalade (see below).

Heat two cups of water  gently with all the lemon juice until the sugar dissoloves, and then add the sliced fruit and the lemon segments. Bring to a full boil and boil hard until it thickens — it took maybe 20 or 25 minutes. Bottle and waterbath.

Blood orange/Seville marmalade
4 Seville oranges
4 blood oranges
2 lemons
1.3 kg sugar

Wash the fruit and then simmer in 7 cups of water until it’s squidgy soft, chop in quarters, allow to cool a little and then scoop out the seeds and pith (which is what makes the marmalade set) and save that gunk in a cheesecloth bag.

Chop peel as finely as you like, and then add to the pot with the remaining water (make it up to five cups with extra water if you need to) and the sugar and then boil for 15 minutes or so until it sets. We used the leftover water from boiling the Meyer marmalade to top up our orange water, and that added another layer of taste.

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Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath for 10 minutes.

Pictured at the top of the page (from the left): whisky/Seville; blood orange/Seville; Seville; Meyer lemon.

Every shade of red, orange and yellow in a jar.

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Life (and marmalade) on the bitter side

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, there’s a short season for bitter Seville oranges in Toronto, which means grabbing when you see them and fitting the jamming session in around the fruit. So this weekend was time for the first experiment, with two glorious batches of bitingly tart marmalade for round-the-year enjoyment. We followed the recipe that’s mostly worked before, boiling the fruit in water, removing the pith and the pits, chopping the peel relatively finely, and then boiling the resulting goop up with sugar until it almost sets. Unusually for me, I did not cut the sugar this time — I admit last year’s marmalade was a little too tart, even for me, and a few extra sugar calories won’t do any harm. It’s runny again, just like it was last year, but I’m still hoping it will firm up a little over the course of the next few days.

Here’s the simmer…

The prep…

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The boil…

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The bottle…

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And the collection.

IMG_0714We ended up with 10 jars of regular Seville marmalade, with a couple of blood oranges to give it a richer color, and 11 of a slightly caramelly whisky/brown sugar concoction, which are the ones lurking on the left of the picture, plus a jar of mixed marmalade that wouldn’t fit into the regular batch. I had a spoonful of that in my morning oatmeal, for a wake-up bite.

We finished just in time to watch part 3 of the current season of Downton Abbey, which is lurching fast from period piece to soap opera.

Successful day.

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