Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Triple Sec and Orange Extract

This is the end of my citrus-themed block of blog posts. I know you all have been patiently waiting for me to get to the good stuff: the booze. In my last couple recipes I’ve been saving Orange zest and putting it into a jar with vodka. When the jar was filled, I let it sit, patiently. Today I present two recipes for turning this mixture into Triple Sec for drinking and Orange Extract for baking (and emergency drinking).

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Orange Extract

  • Orange Zest (peels with the white pith removed) [1]
  • Vodka (stronger is better [2])

Put the orange zest in a jar. Fill with vodka. Put the lid on it. Go watch TV.

In a few weeks[3] (I hope you didn’t spend that entire time in front of the tube!) you should have delightful orange extract. Strain out the peels. Put the mixture into a nice-looking jar and keep it somewhere out of reach of direct sunlight and unattended teenagers.

Triple Sec

  • Orange Zest (peels with the white pith removed)
  • Vodka (Stronger is better)
  • Simple Syrup [4]

Put the orange zest in a jar. Fill with vodka. Put the lid on it. Go watch TV.

After a few weeks [3], you’ve got orange extract (deja vu, anybody?). Make a simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water, heating on the stove until all the sugar is dissolved. Allow the syrup to cool. Mix equal parts of orange extract and syrup together. Mix well to get home-made Triple Sec. Drink it all. Wake up 1000 miles away in the bathroom of a Greyhound bus without any socks on [5].

Results

Here’s a picture showing my bottle of Triple Sec, a jar of extract, and the drained jar of pathetic-looking orange peels.

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The triple sec is very tasty, especially once it’s been allowed to refrigerate and cool down to a drinkable temperature.  Once cooled, it’s very tasty indeed. The orange extract has a great orange aroma and nice muted orange flavor. Dana and I are both looking forward to some Margaritas and some orange-flavored baked goods.

Notes

  1. I used mostly zest from the Moro Blood Oranges, which have a slightly different taste from what something like a Navel or a Valencia orange might have.
  2. The wonderful state of PA keeps our options pretty limited. We used regular 80-proof vodka. One day I’ll go down to a liquor store in DE to buy the good stuff, and then I’ll be a felon. Or a misdemeanon (depending on the quantity that I transport over state lines).
  3. Several people I’ve seen online recommend waiting at least 6 weeks, but I did not wait that long. Surprise surprise.
  4. Simple Syrup is, depending on which recipe you follow, equal parts water and sugar, boiled until all the sugar is dissolved. I’ve also seen variations substituting orange juice for the water, and adding more sugar than liquid (4:3, etc) or both. All my juice ended up in the jam recipes, so I just used water.
  5. But your shoes are still on, for some reason. What the heck have you been doing for the last three days, and where did your socks go?


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Grow Lights

Back in highschool I knew some guys who had set up growing lights indoors to grow some particular kinds of plants. Don’t ask me what. That was a pedestrian effort, on a shoestring budget, from some people who didn’t have a lot of expertise, experience, money or motivation. Fast-forward to 2013 where I still have no expertise or experience, but I’ve got a steady paycheck and plenty of motivation.

Last year I was trying to rely on a smallish south-facing window to give my seedlings the light they needed, and we can all remember the results (Insert “potty words” here).

You can buy pre-made shelving systems with lightbulbs and timers and all sorts of features. But, I figured, I could make something half as nice for twice the price if I did it myself. If nothing else, it’s one more excuse to go down to Home Depot.

The munchkin and I took a trip down to the Home Depot to pick up the parts. We picked up a little bit of electrical wire, some light sockets, a light switch, and a few other odds and ends, and bolted all of it down to a small sheet of plywood. Once everything was put together, we hooked it up onto a cheap little wire rack shelf unit.

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The unit is still not 100% complete, I do need a switch plate and a few other bits to safely cover up anywhere that curious little fingers should not be allowed to go.

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The bulbs are “100 watt” equivalent, “Daylight” flourescents. Each light fixture is on it’s own independent switch, so I can vary the amount of light depending on need. The small yellow doodad in the background is a plugin GFCI adaptor, in case any of the electric parts get wet or there’s a short. All the components are bolted onto a piece of plywood, which is hung from the wire shelf with non-conductive polyethylene rope. With the rope and the shelf, I can (more or less easily) vary the distance between the bulbs and the plants, to give them more room when they start to grow larger.

I picked up a seed-starting kit that comes with little planting containers and a self-watering mechanism. Tomatoes and Peppers (hot and green bell) were the only two seeds I had which could be planted 8 weeks before last frost (April 15 for me), so those got put in already. I’m impatient, but I have plenty more seeds in case this first batch gets over-done.

Already, about a half dozen of my tomatoes have sprouted.

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In a few weeks I’ll put down some lettuce and basil seeds, to get those moving.


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Orange and Chocolate Jam

I really wanted to try something new, so I picked two recipes out of my book and presented them to my wife for a decision: Coconut Vanilla Jam or Orange and Chocolate Jelly. Somewhat unsurprisingly, she opted for the one with chocolate in it. WHO’D ‘A THUNK IT?

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I had a pile of oranges which hadn’t yet been eaten or cooked into some other concoction. I took the rest of my Navel oranges and a few Cara Caras and made the jelly my wife requested.

Orange and Chocolate Jelly

  • 1 3/4 lbs Granny Smith Apples
  • Water
  • Oranges [1]
  • 6 oz Extra Bittersweet Chocolate [2]
  • Sugar, divided[3]
  • Pectin Powder [4]
  • Lemon Juice [5]

Day 1: Rinse, stem and quarter the apples. Do not seed them. Put the quarters into a pot with a heavy 3 cups of water [6]. Boil for 30 minutes. Strain the juice out and refrigerate.

Day 2: Juice the oranges. Get a heavy 2 cups of juice[7]. Mix the orange juice, an equal amount of the apple juice from the day before, zest from two oranges, juice from 1 lemon and the sugar. Finely chop the chocolate and mix that in. Bring to a boil, stirring until the chocolate is melted. Let cool, preferably refrigerating overnight.

Day 3: Mix the pectin power with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar to avoid clumps. Add this sugar-pectin mixture to the juice mixture from the previous day. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring. Boil hard for 5 minutes, until set point is reached. Put into warm sterilized jars and process [8].

Results

The resulting jelly is very rich and the bitterness of the chocolate almost overpowers the flavor of the orange. Almost. It’s still a good mixture but in the future I may tone down the amount of chocolate used. The chocolate did not incorporate into the rest of the mixture as well as I was hoping. Some bits of it absolutely refused to mix in at all and floated on top as solids. I skimmed most of that off, which further reduced the amount of chocolate in the final product (and it was still very rich!).

Here’s a picture of the chocolate orange jelly and the blood orange jelly, on toast. If they had been smashed into my face any harder, I’d have needed to call my dentist.

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This recipe, with some tweaking, is definitely a winner.

Notes

  1. I used a mixture of 4 Navels and 2 Cara Caras.  The original recipe called for, after the squeezing was over, 1 pound, 2 ounces of juice. Converted to liquid measure, that’s about 2 1/4 cups. When I squeeze the juice, I keep a lot of the pulp.
  2. The original recipe calls for “Extra Bittersweet” chocolate, 68% cacao or better. I only found a 60% and a bar of 100%, so I mixed them. However, a large portion of the chocolate did not incorporate well  and I don’t know if the 100% chocolate melts differently from the other variety. Also, the original recipe calls for 9 oz, but the damn bars are…you guessed it, 4oz each. I probably only used about 6 oz total, and the resulting jelly was so rich that 4 oz might have been okay.
  3. Her recipe called for something like 4 cups of sugar or more. F that. I used about three cups of sugar the second day and another quarter cup of sugar on the last day to help mix the pectin in.
  4. As usual, her original recipe didn’t contain powdered pectin. Just the juice from the boiled Granny Smiths. I wanted a thicker result so I mixed in half a bag of pectin powder.
  5. With the chocolate, which I’ve never used in jam or jelly before, I wanted to be safe and include a little bit extra lemon juice. However, I forgot to add it, and now the jars are sealed. I’m stupid. The oranges might be acidic enough to keep the botulism at bay, but I’m not taking any chances. We’re just going to have to eat all this damned jelly extra quick (I can just imagine how much we’re going to suffer). If you’re following along at home and you don’t want to die because you’re as stupid as I am, add the juice of one or two lemons.
  6. 3 cups, 1 oz. Eyeball it.
  7. 2 cups, 1 oz.
  8. I processed for 15 minutes.


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Twas the day before weekend and all through the house
I was home working with keyboard and mouse.
The cupcakes were set on the table with care,
In hopes that the baby shower soon would be there.

The child was off to his daycare with joy,
to run, sing, play, jump around and destroy.
Now Dana was reading, books. I with my work,
was computing and typing like some kind of jerk.

When out on the lawn there arose such a tapping,
it startled us both from our nearly-not napping.
Away to the kitchen I flew like The Flash,
threw open the door with my common panache.

A dude tramped away through the old soggy snow,
left a big freaking object on my porch don'cha'know?
Now what to my wandering eyes did appear,
but a seven foot box stood up on it's rear.

The little old driver, so lively and quick, 
I knew in a moment it was FedEx guy, Nick.
More rapid than eagles, my knife I done grabbed,
and into the packing tape of the box I did stabbed.

"Oh Dana, come quickly! I'm eager and happy!
My Cherries, not seedlings, are growing and scrappy.
From the front of my porch, to the rear of my home,
I'll carry them quickly and plant them in loam!"

As the dry leaves that with hurricane Sandy did flirt,
when meet with my shovel, I'm digging the dirt.
Out in my house-back the shovel-fulls flew,
two new trees, Stella and Black Tartarian too.

And then as I finished I stomped with my foots,
to cover with dirt all the moist little roots.
Once the pile of soil had back-filled the pit,
I watered them quickly and blog post did writ.

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I hope you enjoyed a little bit of my hardcore freestylin’. My two cherry trees arrived in the mail today and I already have them planted along the side of the house.


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Blood Orange Jelly

Last time I made this recipe, I used a combination of Naval oranges, Tangerines and Lemons to get the amount of juice that the recipe called for. I didn’t have any Blood Oranges at the time even though the recipe I was following is titled simply “Blood Orange“. Instead I used what I had, and the results were great. It was bright, light, sweet, and very citrusy.

Things are slightly different now. I do have the blood oranges I need, but I don’t have any of the Granny Smith apples that the original recipe requires. It’s time to go a little bit off-road and create some ruby red Blood Orange Jelly.

Blood Orange Jelly

  • 4 cups fresh squeezed Blood Orange Juice [1]
  • Zest of two of those oranges [2]
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 packet Sure-Jel low-sugar pectin

Squeeze out the juice. Follow the general directions on the pectin packet [3]. Put into jars and process[4]. That should be more than enough direction for anybody who isn’t a complete wuss in the kitchen [5].

Here’s the pot full of beautiful ruby-red juice:

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And here’s the pile of zested and juiced orange remains, on their way to the compost pile:

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Results

The resulting jelly is deep ruby read and tastes great. I was expecting it to be the same breezy flavor as my earlier jelly with the Navels and Tangerines. This is not what it is at all. The flavor is deep, complex, mature, and amazing. It’s got a flavor that seems like it could be a mixture of navel orange and grapefruit, if grapefruits didn’t suck so bad, and with a couple other flavors mixed in too. It’s a little bit more full of a flavor than my earlier orange jelly recipe was, with a little bit more of the blood orange astringency at the end. It’s definitely a little bit more tart and less sweet.

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Overall this recipe is very good, and already a favorite of mine (I say that about all my jams!). I suspect that this great complex blood orange flavor will mix very well in other recipes that I am starting to imagine.

Moro Blood Oranges are not considered to be the tastiest of the various Blood Orange varieties. However, they do seem to be the only ones my local stores carry. If I can find some other varieties, I may revisit this recipe. Considering how great this recipe turned out with the Moros, I can only imagine how much better it might be with a more highly-regarded variety.

Notes

  1. It took me just shy of 6lbs of oranges to get enough juice, and it took me about an hour to squeeze it all out. My $%&! oranges were sort of small and stingy with the juice. The oranges were acidic enough that, I hope, additional lemon juice was not needed. I didn’t add any.
  2. I zested two oranges with the microplane into the jelly concoction, but I used a vegetable peeler to save most of the rest of the zest from the remaining oranges and put them into a large quart jar filled with vodka. Look forward to a Triple Sec recipe in the next few posts.
  3. Mix the pectin with some of the sugar in a bowl, and stir together to prevent lumps. Add the juice, pectin and sugar to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil hard for 1 minute (boiling to the point that stiring it doesn’t make the bubbles go away). Put in jars and process.
  4. I processed for 15 minutes
  5. Every time I go into the kitchen I get so overwhelmed that I fall to the ground and cry. Everything is so bright and so hot. I don’t know what I’m doing. I mask my debilitating lack of skill and confidence by hastily writing an awkwardly unfunny blog. Also, I’m sorry about calling anybody a wuss. You’re probably not. You could probably beat me up in a fight. Please don’t fight me.


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A Plethora of Oranges

When I started this blog it was very easy to post twice-weekly updates about the garden. I had lots of posts written up and scheduled ahead of time, because I knew the winter season was going to be slow. Well guess what? Even having about 10 extra posts written ahead of time didn’t help keep me on schedule. First I start missing posts, then I publish three posts about trees with no stinking pictures. I know what you’re all thinking:

That’s right, it’s time to get my shit together.

To make up for my lack of consistent posts I needed to do something drastic: So I went out and bought a metric crap-ton of oranges and I’m going to make stuff with them for your reading pleasure (and, my eating pleasure).

A few nights ago on a whim (all my best and worst and in between projects start that way) I ran out to the grocery store and bought a bunch of oranges. I picked up some Moro Blood Oranges and some Lemons. The store also had, for the first time I can remember, large Cara Cara Oranges instead of the normal Navel ones. I bought 10 of them. I also had about half that many Navel Oranges laying around from last week, and am including them in my shenanigans. Prepare yourself for Orange mayhem, in absurdly non-threatening house-man style.


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Bruschetta

Towards the end up the summer I picked up a big box of tomatoes and explored a few recipes with them. One of the recipes we tried was canned bruschetta. It was a simple recipe, although very different from the “fresh” bruchetta we normally make during the summer.

We made about half a dozen jars of the stuff, but haven’t opened any or tried them until recently. Why use the canned stuff when the ingredients are around to make big batches of the fresh stuff? Well, in case you haven’t noticed it’s winter now, and fresh Tomatoes are not available in large supply. A few weeks ago we opened up a jar and had them over toasted baguette slices.

They were good. Surprisingly good. Not as great as the fresh stuff, but better than many of the other pre-packaged varieties you can get at the store. The flavor was great, but the ratio of tomato chunks to liquid was very high. Next time I make this recipe, I may try to jam a few more bits of tomato into the jars before I seal them.

Tomato Bruschetta

  • Fresh Red Tomatoes, diced [1]
  • Vinegar [2]
  • diced garlic
  • Salt, pepper, herbs, seasonings, whatever

On the stove, combine your vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and other seasonings into a small pan. We used some dried basil and oregano. Heat until boiling. In your warm, sterilized jars put your raw diced tomatoes. Fill each jar with 1/2″ clearance with the vinegar mixture, so all tomatoes are covered. Put on lids and process [3] immediately.

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Results

It’s an absurdly easy recipe, and if you get the seasonings right it will be very tasty. The tomatoes actually stay pretty firm with all the vinegar. If you don’t pack the tomatoes, you may end up with a lot of liquid. If you do, you might not get enough vinegar in to keep the pH low enough to kill botulism. Just make sure you get in plenty of vinegar and make sure there are no air-bubbles.

To serve, we sliced up a baguette and toasted them under a broiler. We rubbed each slice with some fresh garlic, before eating them. The vinegar mixture was very tart. I recommend straining some of that away before final presentation.

Notes

  1. Maybe get your tomatoes just under-ripe, because you cook the heck out of them during processing
  2. I used a little bit of balsamic vinegar, for color and flavor, and a majority of red wine vinegar. Also we ran out of that because I’M BAD AT PLANNING AHEAD, so I used a little bit of rice wine vinegar to fill out the last of the jars. Don’t tell nobody.
  3. I processed for 15 minutes.