Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Refrigerator Dill Pickles

I’ve been on a pickle kick lately, but I’m very new to the whole enterprise. For that reason, I’ve been making lots of batches of pickles with different recipes to try and learn what ingredients and proportions have what effects on the final products. This is why I made both Half-Sour and Full-Sour pickles a while back, and why I made three batches of refrigerator dill pickles too.

One milestone that I would really like to reach is to duplicate the flavor of the deli pickles we get from the local supermarket. I’m pretty sure they’re Deitz and Watson brand, and they can be found in big wood barrel displays (they’re actually in a plastic bin that sits inside the big wood barrel, but the visuals are the same). Whoever makes them and whatever they are called, I want to make them. When I figure out how to duplicate that recipe, I’ll be more willing to venture out and try all sorts of other things.

I’ve found a few recipes on the internet that looked like they might be what I am after, so I mixed and matched the recipes, and converted measurements so they are per-quart jar. Here are the general ingredients for these recipes:

  • Kirby pickling cucumbers. Usually 4-5 per quart depending on the size of the cukes and how you cut them (I cut them into spears). Make sure to remove the blossom end, to prevent softening.
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt (with no preservatives or anti-caking agents)
  • Fresh Dill (to taste)
  • Peppercorns (about a half Tablespoon per jar, depending on taste)
  • Garlic
  • Other spices
  • 3 cups of distilled water (or, if not distilled, give it a good boil)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar

So all that out of the way, here are the three batches I made (from left to right, though you can see that we’ve been tasting them, they’re only half full now):

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Batch 1: Simple

  • 1 clove garlic
  • Distilled white vinegar

This is a simple batch, and very tasty. For the first week they tasted unexpectedly sweet, but by the second week they were more mild. This is a simple, but good flavor. Our least favorite of the bunch, but were still pretty tasty.

Batch 2: More Complicated

  • 1 clove garlic
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • Dash hot pepper flakes

These are probably our favorite batch of the three. The coriander makes the flavor more mellow and a little brighter. The hot pepper adds a little zing at the end, but doesn’t add much heat or flavor otherwise. Again this batch was unexpectly sweet for the first week, but after that they calmed down considerably.

Batch 3: Apple Cider Vinegar and Garlic

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • Extra Dill

I liked this batch more than Dana did. I think the extra garlic was a big help, but the apple cider vinegar is not quite as good as the white vinegar in this recipe. I would say this batch is tied for first, but Dana likes Batch 2 better.

What Next?

I like the ratio of water to vinegar. I think it’s pretty close to perfect. I will play with the ratio, of course, but I think we’re pretty close as-is.

Overall, I think if I make a fourth batch, I think I want to combine Batch 2 and Batch 3 and add a few more ingredients as well.

I’ll use the extra garlic and dill from Batch 3, but stick with the white vinegar and add some hot pepper from Batch 2. I also think I would like to add some extra spices too, like a little bit of bay leaf or mustard seed. The mustard seed, in particular, is probably a major missing ingredient. These changes to the recipe, and maybe a few tweaks to the technique, will probably get us pretty close to the flavor of the deli pickle I am looking for.

I am also considering another attempt at the Half-Sour recipe, this time with a custom spice blend instead of that problematic “Pickling Spice” I used last time. The pre-made pickling spice adds too much bitterness and off-flavor for my purposes.

In either case, we may have to wait till next year. Cucumbers are out of season now and we aren’t going to get any fresh Kirbys again until next year. Maybe I’ll plant a bush and try to grow a few myself.


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2013 Apple Retrospective

Apples are extremely versatile, and I’ve been able to use them in many ways this year. Most of my work with apples is done now, although I do have two batches of hard apple cider in process still. I feel like they aren’t as versatile in jams and jellies (my favorite things to make and preserve) because apples don’t soften or break down as much as, for example, stone fruits when heated or macerated. I do have the Caramel Apple Jam recipe and Apple Cider Jelly, which definitely fill in this gap a little bit.

Many apple products require multiple stages of processing, with several things requiring cooking down to apple sauce, or pressing into cider first. You’ll end up with big batches of both these intermediate products before you end up with what you really want. Here’s a little flow diagram I’ve created to show how I’ve processed apples this year:

Apples

I don’t have a cider press [1], so the cider I get comes from the market. We don’t tend to eat apple sauce plain, so we create a lot of that and end up having to store big batches in the fridge while waiting for the next step in the process. This can be inconvenient on occasion, and often turns a simple recipe into a multi-night affair.

Oh, and boiling apple sauce can give you second degree burns if some of it splatters on your hand while you’re stirring it. Just saying.

Next year I’d like to experiment with some apple sauce recipes, to make it a more exciting product and encouraging us to eat it as-is, without needing additional processing steps. Mixing in other types of fruits and seasonsings (cinnamon?) may help with this.

Very fresh, crunchy, hand-picked apples are really a necessity when eating raw or making pie filling. After a week or more, depending on the variety, apples start to get softer and more mealy. When this happens I like to boil up a big batch into apple sauce where texture really doesn’t matter. Most of the apple chips I’ve made this year are with fresh, crunchy apples but I’ve heard that less-fresh ones work just as well in the dehydrator. Next year I may also try that as an option for using up old apples.

The biggest problem with apples and cider is keeping them out of your mouth long enough to use them in recipes. We end up buying apples in bags of 10-20lbs each, often a few of these bags in a single weekend when a good variety comes in. Cider is the same, we end up buying several gallons of the stuff at a time from the market (and a few cider donuts, to go with it!), so that we have a gallon or two for straight drinking and the rest of the gallons for making various products. I’m not complaining, of course. Apple season, with all the amazing ways to eat them, is one of my favorite times of the year.

Notes

  1. At least, I don’t have one yet. As soon as I have a few hundred dollars to spare, and enough storage space to hold a nice press for 9 months out of the year, I’ll probably get one. Don’t tell my wife I said that, because she would be pissed and say “no”.


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Apple Butter

I’ve been to the orchard a few times for apples already. The first time I grabbed a few Early Delicious towards the end of peach season. The second time I grabbed a big pile of Gala. Next I grabbed a bunch of Jonathans, and a sampler of Mutsu and Ida Red. Most recently, I picked up two big bags of Stayman-Winesap, a bag each of Fuji and Braeburn, and a sampler of Arkansas Black.

Long story short, I’ve got a buttload of apples. That’s what I’m going to be talking about for the next few posts.

I’ve mentioned apple butter several times on this blog. I even had a post about Peach Butter. Last Xmas we gave away half-pint jars of apple butter to friends and family. To date, I’ve never posted a recipe for it. It is time to rectify that.

Apple Butter

  • Apples
  • Lemon Juice
  • Sugar (optional)
  • Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger or other seasonings (Optional)

Take apples, core them, and put them into a crock pot or large stock pot. Add the juice of one lemon, sprinkled over top to prevent browning (and to be extra certain that your pH will be low enough). You don’t need to peel the apples, but I do sometimes. If the apples are looking good and the skins don’t look too creepy, you can save yourself some effort and leave the skins on. If you’ve got a fancy-schmance peeler/corer contraption and it’s just as easy to peel the apple as to not peel it, go for it.

For the record, I’ve made apple butter with various combinations of Stayman-Winesap, Jonathan, Mutsu and Ida Red apples. I still haven’t found an apple variety or combination that I prefer the most. I guess I’ll just have to keep experimenting!

Cook the apples over medium-ish or high-ish heat until bubbling. Turn the apples into sauce. You can do this by smashing (for a rustic-looking chunky applesauce), with a blender or with an immersion blender. Reduce heat to low and cook the crap out of it until it’s thick and brown.

Once it’s cooked, you can call it a day and process it into jars. Sometimes my wife really likes the simple taste of unadulterated apple goop. We didn’t add anything at all to the peach butter, for example, and it turned out great. Sometimes, we like to add some seasoning. If you’ve used any sweet or mostly-sweet apples to your mix, you probably don’t need to add sugar. Once it’s cooked down, taste it to see if it’s sweet enough. If not, add some sugar (start small). Maybe consider honey or brown sugar too.

Sometimes we like the flavor of plain apples, sometimes we like to add cinnamon and other spices. Nutmeg and ginger are good additions, in moderation. You’ll have to taste your butter and season it to meet your particular needs.

Once the apple butter is cooked and seasoned, you can put it into jars for long-term preservation. Half-pint jars can be processed in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

Since we season everything to our particular tastes the resulting apple butter is, surprise, perfect. If it wasn’t perfect, we would have added some more crap to it. That’s how cooking works.

Most recently, we used a combination of Jonathan, Mutsu and Ida Red apples, and seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. We peeled the apples because several of them had some skin creepiness going on. The resulting butter is very reminiscent of the kinds of apple butter has a very rich, warm taste.

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A full crockpot of raw apple slices yielded 6 and a half pints. Two quarter-pint jars weren’t sealed and went into the fridge for immediate noms. The rest is going onto the shelf so we can eat them all next weak in a mindless frenzy.


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Dried Tomatoes In Oil

My camera was on the fritz (it ran out of battery, and I was too lazy to find the charger), so this post and a few others have been on hold waiting for pictures.

I really want to call them “sundried”, because that word just rolls off the tongue a little bit easier than calling them “dehydrated tomatoes”. Then again, I’ve seen plenty of products at the grocery store with the phrase “sundried tomatoes!” painted across the front, but with an ingredient list that includes tomatoes dehydrated or freeze-dried using a variety of non-solar means. I wonder if it’s technically a lie to call a tomato “sundried” if you put them in a big industrial dehydrator which is connected to a big solar panel somewhere?

Regardless.

I made a big batch of dried tomatoes in my parent’s dehydrator. Last year when I made dried tomatoes, I put them in an air-tight container but they ended up growing mold anyway. This year, I decided I wanted to try a little harder and create something that would actually keep for a while. I created a recipe in the usual way: by finding a few popular recipes on the interwebz and using my complete lack of talent, expertise and imagination to cobble them together in the worst way possible.

Dehydrator Dried Tomatoes

  • Tomatoes
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cut the tomatoes into chunks suitable for drying [1]. Squeeze out the excess liquid and arrange the pieces in a dehydrator. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Sprinkle with other herbs or flavoring ingredients as desired. Follow the instructions that came with your dehydrator to dry the tomatoes.

Most recipes I’ve seen call for a variety of herbs and other seasonings to be used. If you want, cool. I didn’t think it was necessary and the resulting tomatoes were perfect without anything else.

Dried Tomatoes In Oil

  • Dried Tomatoes
  • Olive Oil
  • Red Wine Vinegar

I didn’t put measurements because you don’t really need them.

In a medium-sized pot, put a sufficient quantity of oil. Bring the oil up to boiling temperature [2]. Remove from heat.

Start with about a cup of red wine vinegar in a separate small pot and bring to a boil. Once the vinegar has boiled, remove from heat. Using a handful at a time, dunk the tomatoes into the vinegar, shake off the excess vinegar, and put the tomatoes into a prepared, sterilized jar. Be careful not to pack them too tightly.

Fill each jar to within 1/2 inch with the heated oil. Put on a sterilized lid and process the jars in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes (for half-pints) [3].

Results

I was a little apprehensive about these, just because nobody on the internet can give me a definitive answer about whether this recipe is safe or not. When I opened up the first jar, a few weeks after they were canned, I was pleasantly surprised. There was nothing visibly amiss, and the contents smelled exactly like they did when they went in: olive oil and tomatoes. The flavor was fantastic: sweet with a little tang and a great tomato flavor. I didn’t use any herbs, garlic or other seasoning, so it’s hard to compare my version with the store-bought varieties, but they were very tasty.

They were a little softer coming out than they were going in. Not a lot, but definitely softer. If your dehydrated tomatoes are a little bit too hard and you think they won’t work, you may be surprised.

Most other recipes I’ve seen call for a variety of dried herbs and garlic to further season the result. I didn’t think it was necessary and when I eat these bad boys I don’t think anything is missing. One day I may try some garlic and dried basil, but this is not that day.

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We (my wife) decided to chop a few of them up and use them over some cheese tortellini. I chopped a few of these tomatoes, and we added them to the tortellini with a cube of frozen basil, some butter, some grated Parmesan cheese and some fresh ground black pepper. The resulting pasta was very good indeed.

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Notes

  1. With cherry tomatoes, I cut them in half. With average-sized plum tomatoes I’ve cut them into quarters. Larger tomatoes are going to need more cuts. I’ve had trouble with the skin of plum tomatoes preventing the backside from drying out evenly. Some sources recommend you skin the tomatoes before you dehydrate them. I think that’s too much effort. In the future I may try scoring or puncturing the tomato skins to help the liquid escape more easily.
  2. Oil doesn’t boil at the same temperature that water does, so you can get oil very very very hot before you see any visible changes (and it will probably be smoke, instead of bubbles). Heat the oil over medium heat until small drops of water dripped into the pan cause a “pop”, not a violent explosion. If it explodes violently, you’ve gone too far. Also, keep your face away from the pan while you do this.
  3. In theory, this recipe should be mostly safe. The oil and boiling water processing should keep most bacteria and other pathogens out, and the vinegar should be sufficient to keep botulism at bay. However, I have not yet seen any actual scientific proof that this is a safe and reliable method. Use at your own risk, and given the choice make sure to err on the side of caution. If you attempt this and it goes south for you, you never met me I don’t know you.


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Tiramisu

You can’t shake a stick on the internet without hitting somebody’s recipe for Tiramisu. There are lots of recipes using different ingredients and techniques. I looked up a few dozen recipes, found the elements I liked from each, and cobbled together my own. It turned out fantastically. In an extremely uncharacteristic turn of events, I actually remember the exact measurements and ingredients I used to make it.

In years long past we had made tiramisu for a family gathering. The recipe we made involved making a batch of whipped cream, and a batch of whipped mascarpone, then gently folding them together to make the filling. My distinct recollection is that recipe tasted good but was a little bit runny. We’ve also seen recipes where the whipped cream was replaced by beaten egg whites. We’ve seen recipes that contain raw egg yolks. For this particular occasion I wanted to avoid any recipe with uncooked eggs or with delicate folding maneuvers.

Tiramisu

For the coffee mixture:

  • 1 cup strong black coffee (we used the “Dark Magic” Keurig K-Cup)
  • 1 Tbsp Kahlua
  • 1 Tbsp Dark Rum (Bacardi Select)

Brew the coffee. Add the Kahlua and the rum. Stir. Allow the coffee to cool. You may need more than one batch of this (I think we needed 2 batches of this for all the filling we made).

For the filling:

  • 1lb Mascarpone Cheese, room temperature
  • 1.5 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 2 Tbsp homemade vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Saviordi cookies (“Ladyfingers”)
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Prepared coffee mixture

Add the mascarpone to a mixer and mix at medium speed until soft. Add the cream, slowly to avoid slashing or sloshing. Mix until well combined. Add sugar and vanilla. Mix over medium to medium-high speed until the mixture makes stiff peaks (like whipped cream).

Dip each of the cookies into the coffee quickly. They will absorb more than you think, and will become less crunchy over time. Place the cookies in the bottom of your container in a single layer. Add the filling and spread evenly. Cover with a sprinkling of cocoa powder. Allow the tiramisu to rest, refrigerated, for at least an hour before serving.

Results

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We made the tiramisu in little individual serving cups, and topped each one with a broken ladyfinger cookie. I thought they were the best dessert on the menu (and we had quite a large and impressive dessert menu!), and many other people who tried it said it was fantastic. This is definitely a winning recipe, and next time I make Tiramisu I’ll be following it exactly.


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White Peach Juice and Syrup

We bought a bunch of peaches with the intention of making some jam and peach butter. Making peach butter is easy because you don’t have to peal the peaches first. Pealing the peaches isn’t difficult per se, but it is time consuming and what I haven’t had in abundance lately is time.

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The next weekend when I finally had the time to prepare jam, the peaches were starting to descend into over-ripeness. Making Jam from over-ripe fruit is worse, perhaps, than making it from the under-ripe ones. In emergency mode (I end up in that mode quite often)  I decided instead to do something new: peach jelly.

I started looking around the internet for recipes for peach jelly. The ones I found mostly start with the words “take X cups of prepared juice…”. Well, that doesn’t help when I don’t know how to prepare the juice. So I had to look for recipes for peach juice, before I could find one for peach jelly.

But then again, considering my jelly didn’t set (for reasons I’ll describe below), I’m calling the result more of a “syrup”.

Due to luck of the draw, only white peaches ended up in my batch of juice, so I can call these things White Peach Juice and White Peach Syrup without any reservations.

White Peach Juice

  • White Peaches [1]
  • Water [2]

Rinse, pit and slice the peaches. Toss them in a stock pot like you just don’t care. Add enough water to fill the pot about half as high as the peaches. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Strain the fruit out of the juice using a sieve, and press the remaining fruit to extract all the liberated juice. Put it in the fridge, or drink it, or turn it into jelly or syrup or whatever.

Results

The juice is a beautiful ruby red color, almost reminiscent of cherries instead of peaches. The flavor, however, is all peach. It’s not sweet like bottled juice you’d get at the grocery store, but it’s good and refreshing nonetheless.

White Peach Jelly/Syrup

  • 3.5 cups white peach juice
  • 4.5 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 box Sure Jell pectin for low-sugar recipes
  • Juice of 1 lemon

I mostly followed an existing recipe, with the addition of the lemon juice. Bring the juice to a boil. Add 4 cups sugar and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent overflow. Add the pectin and remaining sugar [1], stir to mix well, and boil hard for an additional minute. Ladle into prepared jars and process [2]. I processed in the pressure canner at 6lbs for 15 minutes.

Results

Let me just put this out there: This recipe did not set. Instead of a white peach jelly, I ended up with more of a white peach syrup (just as tasty, but we use it in different ways).

Here’s an important lesson that I knew but completely forgot about: Pectin breaks down in high heat.  You can use the pressure canner, but it has to be done a special way: You put the jars in the pressure canner and bring it to a boil, but you keep the pressure regulator off so that pressure does not build up (and the temperature does not exceed 212 degrees). You would process for the same amount of time as you would with a normal water bath, 5-15 minutes depending on a variety of factors.

If you want to make syrup, leave out the pectin (and maybe boil it down a little longer). If you want to actually make jelly, don’t over-process like I did.

Ignoring the problem with the pectin, the end result was very nice. If it were a jelly, it would have more sugar than I normally like, but as a syrup it’s par for the course.

The color of the syrup was the same ruby color as the juice, and it has a great, light peach flavor. It’s sweet and wonderful. Here’s a picture of the syrup (right) with the peach butter from last post:

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Notes

  1. As always, I mix the last bit of sugar together with the pectin because it prevents clumping and I’m a major opponent of clumping.
  2. I processed this jelly at the same time as my peach butter, and did both in the pressure canner. I processed the jars at 6lbs of pressure for 15 minutes.


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Peach Butter

A day after making the first batch of the Peach and Cherry Jam with my peaches, another wave of peaches came ripe. These included almost all the rest of the yellow peaches, which wasn’t very many. I’ve been wanting to make a big batch of peach butter in the crock pot, and this was the perfect opportunity. I would call it “White Peach Butter”, but because a few yellow ones got involved I feel like the more general title is better.

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Crockpot Peach Butter

  • Peaches, pitted and sliced thick[1]
  • Sugar [2]
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Put the peaches into the crockpot. Cover with sugar and lemon juice. Toss. Cook on high for 6-8 hours, or until the butter has reached the desired consistency [3]. Somewhere in the middle, hit it with a blender [4] to make it smooth and chop up any big pieces of skin. Ladle into prepared jars and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes [5].

Results

…That’s the theory, anyway. The recipe I was following said that you wouldn’t need more than 6-8 hours in the crockpot, on low heat. I had mine on high heat, and cooked the batch for 10 hours before giving up for the day. I transferred the slurry to a sealed container and refrigerated overnight. The next day, I tossed it in a large stock pot and cooked over medium-low heat for another hour or so before it reached the right consistency.

I only used about 1 cup of sugar total, so the butter wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet. I would call the flavor things like “mature”, “deep” and “complex”. I tossed around the idea of adding some cinnamon or pie spices, but decided that the pure peach flavor was more than enough for this particular batch of peach butter (and Dana strongly agreed).

The final product is relatively thick, but not as thick as some of the driest butters I’ve seen before. It’s a deep brown color, and could easily be mistaken for apple butter. I got 7 jars (8oz) of the finished product. Here’s a picture of my completed jars of peach butter (on the left) with some jars of Jelly I’ll discuss in a different post.

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Notes

  1. I used just about enough peaches, a mixture of (mostly) white and yellow, to fill the crockpot. It wasn’t quite full.
  2. In jams, you need sugar to thicken the final product. With butters, you are thickening by boiling away water and cooking the fruit down into a goo. I used about 1 cup of sugar to start. Some sugar helps to liberate juice from the fruit and prevent it from browning. As the peaches cook, taste it and adjust sugar levels as necessary (you can always add it, you can’t take it away). For the entire batch of peaches, which filled the crockpot, we used about a cup or so of sugar.
  3. I’ve seen fruit “butter” be anywhere from a syrup-like consistency down to something thick and firm. The more you cook it, the less “fresh” taste you’ll have and the more caramelized rickness you will have. It’s all about personal preference. I tend to like apple butters thicker, but since I’ve never made peach butter, I stopped a bit earlier.
  4. We have an immersion blender, which makes things very easy. Using a regular blender would require scooping the peaches out of the crockpot, blending them in batches, moving the blended ones into a bowl while you blended the next batch, etc. If you have an immersion blender, use it. If not, definitely price a few out.
  5. I actually did this particular batch in my pressure canner, because I did another recipe at the same time and had more jars to process than would fit in my biggest stock pot. I followed all the instructions from the manual, and processed the jars at 6lbs of pressure for 15 minutes.