Friday, July 16, 2010

Kitchen Madness

It's that time of year when the oven is running full steam ahead and the sink is piled with a mound of dishes that no matter how much washing goes on, never seems to decrease in size. Yes, canning season is upon us and a lot of the things that are in season will only last a few weeks at best. With pots and jars ready at the front, the food marathon is on in our counter space challenged kitchen.

Fruity Goodness

Those precious peaches, nectarines, apricots, and cherries don't have a very long season around here, so we've been stocking up from our favorite farmers market fruit stand (cheapest organic fruit at the market) and making all kinds of jams, cobblers, pies, and ice cream with our hand cranked Donvier that we snagged at the thrift store for eight bucks. Whatever cherries didn't go into this gorgeous pie, the lattice topping compliments of my six year old (didn't she do a great job?),

or into the several pints of cherry, chocolate, pistachio ice cream that we've been non-stop churning out

2 cups cherries blended
2 eggs well beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla
* mix together and then add
1/2 cup pistachios
1/2 cup chocolate shavings
1 cup cherry chunks
* prepare according to ice cream maker instructions

I froze. They'll come in handy later when in season fruit is scarce.

I'm so bummed that I didn't get my flat of apricots that I ordered from my CSA this year. Their apricots really do make the best butter. But I did save enough from my weekly boxes that I was able to squeeze out four jars. Needless to say, I won't be sharing. Sorry.

This year I tried something a little different: peach jam with honey, which wasn't strictly peach or any one variety for that matter - I included both white and yellow peaches and nectarines. The cheap fruit is great, but it all tends to ripen at the same time, needing to be used up because it is attracting fruit flies, thus the mixed up jam. The flavor is fantastic and a bit more complex than my usual fare. I'll definitely make it again this way. Goes great on muffins made from a recipe that I got from one of my kitchen bibles, The Country Mothers Cookbook by Jane Watson Hopping, a.k.a. The Pioneer Lady. If you have a penchant for old, old school home cooking, this lady's recipes are for you. I haven't made any dish from her books that I didn't love.


Berries have a longer season in our area than the stone fruits, so it wasn't crucial that I move into high gear on this one. But as I was on a roll, I figured "what the hey," let's just get it done while the iron's hot, as they say. The blueberry jam came out perfect, but I think I burned the sugar on the ollalieberry (a similar berry to blackberries, but bigger). I doubled the recipe without using pectin and had to cook it for too long to get it to sheet. Oh well. Live and learn. I still have strawberry jam from last year - it's not our favorite - so I won't need to make any this season. We are needing to replenish the frozen strawberries and strawberry syrup though. I use the syrup to flavor yogurt, since it's one of those foods that always seems to have unecessary ingredients added to it..

I would love to say that all this fruit comes from our backyard, but since our fruit trees are in their first year, the ollalieberry vines didn't make it, and the blueberry bushes are looking mighty sad, we buy our berries in bulk from either the farmers market or Swanton Berry Farm's u-pick.

Only Ute and I went to the u-pick this year and let me tell you, she was a real trooper. It took us about 3 hours to get all of our strawberries and ollalieberries that will see us through the year, a challenge for any young tyke. But Ute took it in stride, and when she got bored with berries, she made altars for the fairies and ran up and down the rows of tangled vines.

Living in a city, Ute just doesn't get enough running around outside time with limited supervision. At her age, I was roaming my small town neighborhood with barely a hint of the adult gaze upon me. I am saddened that she will never experience that kind of freedom, but trips to the farm give her the occasional taste.

Luscious Lemons

Last week I was at my friend Christine's house in Alameda when out of her second story bedroom window I spotted the most exquisite Meyer lemons. Their plump, juicy yellowness at the zenith of ripeness beckoned to me and as if in a dream, I floated towards the glass. The next thing I knew, I was hanging out the window, plucking the sweet scented spheres and chucking them onto the bed. I wrasseled that tree in full Crocodile Hunter style, with a ferocity that only a true champion of the Meyer lemon could exhibit. My friend found me draped over a tree limb with only my knees planted firmly against the edge of the sill to prevent a 15 plus foot fall. With slack-jawed bemusement, Christine admitted that she had been trying to figure out how to get those lemons for years. I felt like MacGyver.

The lemons were pretty darn ripe and needed to have something done with them and fast. I went with the Moroccan salt preservation method. They'll be great in a late summer tagineperfumey foods, though Ute and I thought it was delicious.


Speaking of flowers, I've been making syrups with the backyard lavender and roses. The lavender syrup is definitely a touch too heady, but I think it might work over a pound cake.

The neighbor's had a whole mess of roses that were getting eaten up by earwigs so I harvested the petals and made rose syrup. Tastes great in hot tea. With the way I consume the Queen's drink, however, I doubt that the jar will last two weeks!


I've been preparing a lot of poultry lately and as most of you know, I'm not one to waste any bit of the bird. At a recent dinner party, I believe I actually screeched at my guests to not throw away the bones. Clearly I won't be winning any "hostess of the year" awards in the near future. In my book, nothing compares to the rich broth that comes from simmering the bones of a well spiced, roasted bird. The flavor of the broth reflects the way the the meat was prepared and the types of seasonings used, creating a stock that is always unique. At this point, I can't even bear to use canned stock, its flavor so inferior as to be nearly inedible. If you've never made your own broth, just try it. It's easier than you might think. I just throw the carcass or bones into a roasting pan, fill up with water, and simmer in a 350 oven for several hours, checking, of course, that the water doesn't completely evaporate.

At same said dinner party, while attempting to dazzle my companions with my special Moroccan chicken, I forgot to pull a roast duck out of the oven that was taking longer to cook than I had expected. Well I cooked the crap out of that duck, consequently feeling an utter failure with my first attempt to prepare this kind of bird. In the midst of me wailing on and on about the damn duck, one of my lovely guests turned to me and with a tone of seriousness that I can only liken to a military command said "I'll tell you how you are going to fix that duck." I snapped out of my little pity party. "How?" "You're going to make a confit by shredding the meat and marinating it in the fat from the pan." "Are you sure that will work? Won't it still be tough?" I queried. "No way," says my pragmatic friend, "It's going to be soooo succulent with all that duck fat." And then she did this lip smacking thing that was kind of gross. But she was right. It was scrumptious enough to make slightly disgusting gestures and sound effects with one's face.

Fermenting Fools

Did you hear that stores are pulling Kombucha from the shelves because they're worried about the alcohol content? Apparently, it might be more boozy than once thought. I'm thinking the whole thing is a bit overblown. I've had my fair share of experiences with alcohol and am no stranger to its effects, even if I no longer partake. Though I have felt a little "high" after drinking Kombucha, I certainly have never felt remotely drunk, even being the light weight that I am.

Frankly, I'm stunned that folks will lay down three plus bucks for a small bottle of the stuff from Whole Foods when you can make gallons of it for pennies. And the making is really not complicated. When I started my SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), I had my panties all in a stir, worried that I was going to mess it up and poison myself with some unwanted mold, but it's really as simple as making a pot of tea. A POT OF TEA! Really. I'm totally not exaggerating.

Ute and I really like the stuff, so we've got two cultures going at the same time. Esteban says he'll just stick with his beer that he's been home brewing (details to come). Fine, more for us I say.

What have you all got going on in the kitchen right now?


  1. Nothing! No time. Will have to come and enjoy the fruits of your labor. And yes you did run around town unsupervised. Jan remarked yesterday about riding his bike everywhere. We never thought a thing about it. Different times, different locale.

  2. Pickles!!! Ridiculous amounts of pickles! Of course, last year I didn't think our cucumbers were doing so well and it felt like I canned only a small amount of pickles. Turns out it wasn't a small amount and not only did we run out of storage space for them, but we still have some left! This year the cukes are doing much better, so it appears I'll be making even more pickles. I'm suspecting that next year we won't be making more pickles just so we can catch up. Eh, I'll grow more!

  3. Wow Heidi!!! You guys have been really busy! I LOVE this post but feel slightly inferior as all I have been able to do thus far this year is halve and freeze two gallon bags of apricots and make a couple of pans of oven roasted tomatoes (and yummy tarts that followed) But, I am happy to report that even though I totally missed apricot season last year...THIS year, I will have apricot very favorite! YOU are such a talented writer. Would love to talk with you about starting a food writing group .....what do you think? PLUS, we both have six year old helpers!!!

  4. We just got our first pressure canner (actually our first canner, period) last weekend. The learning curve is steep for preserving food, but we're brave. I keep telling Aimee (amidst mouthfuls of ripe berries, artisan breads, and goat cheese) that this whole eating-local-and-preserving-your-own thing is really rough.... really rough.

  5. Ooh, did you know you can can your chicken broth? We used to just make it up and freeze it in big hunks and it took up the whole freezer. Then we found out we could can chicken broth so my husband makes enormous batches of it and cans a bunch at a time. Our freezer thanks us. =)

    We just froze some more cherries and my husband picked some elderberry flowers to soak in some alcohol (gin? vodka? can't remember). It makes a kind of liquoer that you can add to club soda. My husband likes it, but it's a bit strong for me.

  6. @ grammy - it was a good place to grow up.

    @ Rachel - I am so jealous of all your cukes! We've been trying to grow them for years. Maybe the front porch container will yield some this season. If you ever have any cucumbers to spare, please consider donating to us pickle deprived folks :) Life's just a little poorer without pickles.

    @ Chefgirl - do not feel inferior! I don't work outside the home. THIS is my job, essentially. And I would be interested in a food writing group. Thanks for the compliment.

    @taylorgirl - I know, really really rough *typed as I slurp yummy ollalieberry pie with peach ice cream*

    @ Aimee - Thanks for the tip. My freezer could use a break since I'm only using glass jars these days. Do you pressure can the stock?

  7. Long time lurker. I've enjoyed reading your blog for 6 months now, went back and read the archives. Thank you for creating a blog that’s so informative and entertaining!

    I started home-made Limonchello and made lemon syrup from all of these "naked" lemons. I have 4 different types of infused vinegars going (basil, oregano, sage, and tarragon). Made some sour cherry preserves & will finish off that season with a sour cherry upside down corn cake. This week I'm making whole-fruit apricot jam, peach jam, lots of blueberry products, green/yellow bean pickles, pickled garlic, and I'm starting a Rumtopf with all the left over fruit. The winter holidays should be super merry with all of this home-made alcohol!!!

  8. @ HelsBells - I've never heard of Rumtopf before. sounds yummy. let us know how it turns out, if you're not too tipsy to type :)

  9. It's so stinking hot here, I've been trying to stay out of the kitchen as much as possible BUT I love following others' adventures! Thanks for sharing :)