Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Carrot Review and Pickled Carrots

The carrots I grew were absolutely gorgeous. Today I’m posting a review of the carrots I harvested, along with a recipe for pickled carrots.

At the time of writing this, there are a few small stragglers still in the ground not ready to harvest (they were overshadowed by larger siblings and need some more time in the sun), and I have several still in a bucket on my porch waiting for the right time to be harvested. If I learn any new information when the remainder come in, I’ll include that in a separate post.

Carrot Review

St Valery

The St Valery were a creamy orange color on the outside, with a vein-like appearance when peeled. The flavor was good and carroty, but not nearly so sweet as the Nantes and Danvers you find in the grocery store. Yield for the St Valery was decent, with a few caveats:

  1. They were inconsistently shaped. A few of the harvested carrots were short and stocky, while others were longer and thinner.
  2. They had a tendency to branch. In one or two cases I think the carrot hit a rock and went two different directions, but many of the carrots came up, branched into two or more parts, for no discernible reason. These branches make peeling, cleaning and storing the carrots more problematic, and decreases the overall size of the carrot.

Dragon

True to their description, the Dragon carrots came out a gorgeous purple color. However, much to my intense displeasure, they are pale yellow or mottled orange on the inside. When you peel them, the great color goes away.

Unlike the St. Valery, the Dragons were much more consistently shaped and had a much lower rate of branching. Like the St. Valery, they were not nearly so sweet as the supermarket varieties.

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Here you can see that I couldn’t get a single picture of these things before breaking them open and eating half a jar.

Pickled Carrots

In my book, The Joy of Pickling, I found an interesting recipe for carrots called “Pickled Bay Carrots with Dill”. I made several changes, not the least of which being my use of mature sliced carrots instead of the tender baby ones called for. The recipe also called for a hot pepper, which I thought I had in reserve from my adventures with the dehydrator last year. I took a look through my stash, and the remaining ones were looking a little brown and creepy. I don’t know why. Maybe there was just too much moist air in the fridge? In either case, I substituted some crushed red pepper flakes instead.

I made this recipe per-jar, using half-pint jars instead of the quart batch the recipe calls for.

  • Carrots, washed, peeled and sliced
  • 3.5 cups water
  • 3.5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • 1 Sprig of Fresh Dill
  • 1 medium-sized garlic clove
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 0.25 cups sugar

In a pot, mix the water, vinegar, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil.

Blanch the carrots in boiling water for 2 minutes, and immediately move them to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.

In each jar, place 1 garlic clove, a dash of red pepper flakes, about a dozen pepper corns, and the fresh dill. Add carrots to the jars, loosely packed, to fill within a half inch of the rim.

Pour the vinegar over the carrots to fill the jars with 1/2 inch head space.

Burp the jars, put on a clean lid and band, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature overnight.

 Results

Let just say one thing: Pickled carrots are probably my favorite new type of pickle. The carrots are soft but not mushy. The flavors are perfectly balanced and absolutely transcendent. I’ll be making more of these this year, next year, every year.

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Apricot Jam

I’d like to make an embarrassing confession: Until this summer I’d never eaten a fresh apricot or tasted apricot jam. Sure, I’ve had some trail mix or granola or whatever with little dried cubes of sweetened orange fruitmatter, but a real fresh apricot has never been on the menu.

I was trying out a small batch of pickled cherries, when I saw a recipe for pickled apricots on the opposite page. I took a quick read-through to see how similar the recipes were, and maybe see if apricots (which are now in season) would be a good project to tackle next. There, at the beginning of the recipe, were some words that changed the course of the next few days:

There is no better way to preserve apricots than as apricot jam, but this pickle comes close.

That’s quite a compelling testimonial, from the author of the pickling book! I decided right then that I would make a batch of apricot jam and, after that notch was firmly carved in my bedpost, I would maybe try pickling some too.

I took a trip to the orchard to grab some apricots. The trees had been thoroughly picked over (by people who, no doubt, knew what I was missing), but my height allowed me to grab some of the ones that were hanging just out of range of the average picker. I managed to fill about half of a 2.5 gallon bucket, which was more than enough to do some experiments on.

No sooner had I walked in the door than I rinsed one off and stuffed it into my cake hole.

Wow. These aren’t just smaller peaches. They’re totally legit. The veil has been pulled off, the die has been cast, Caesar has crossed the Rubicon. Apricots, it seems have been added to the list of things I need to buy too much of each year.

(Besides the great flavor, it helps that apricots are freestone and don’t typically need to be peeled. Processing them is much easier than most peaches, though they are smaller and you need to do more of them).

Apricot Jam

  • 6 cups apricots, rinsed, stoned and finely chopped.
  • 4 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 packet Sure Jell no sugar pectin

Process the apricots and put them in a non-reactive bowl. Add lemon juice and 2 cups of the sugar. Stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and put the mixture in the fridge to macerate overnight.

The next day, dump the apricot mixture into a large stock pot. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.

In a separate bowl combine the remaining sugar and pectin. Whisk to combine (this, supposedly, prevents clumping). When the apricots are boiling so hard that stirring doesn’t make it go down, add the sugar mixture. Stir vigorously.

Being the mixture back to a boil for 1 minute. Ladle into hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims, add sterilized lids and bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

Good. Really, really good.

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It’s not just a peach jam with an orange color, like I was half expecting. It has some tartness to it, great texture, great color, and fantastic taste. This probably is up among the top few jams I’ve made since I’ve started making them. It’s not better than my favorite cherry jam, but I definitely like it more than peach jam. I will certainly add this to the rotation, we will be making much of this next year.

I suspect that apricots would mix very well with oranges, tart cherries and maybe even cranberries. I’ll play with these ideas and more next year.

 


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Cherry Butter

I have a rule: When cherries get down to 1.99$ per pound or less I pounce on them like a lion who….pounces….on things. Whatever. I’ll work on the metaphor later. Don’t judge me.

Last year I couldn’t even find sweet cherries in the grocery store for any price, but this year they came down to 1.99$ for a brief, glorious moment. I ended up with three bags. Three bags, and no immediate plans for what to do with them. I sat down for some serious brainstorming (and, truth be told, browsing funny cat pictures on the internet. I have an attention deficit thing).

I decided to try out a recipe for pickled cherries I got from my pickling book, but that was only a pint. I needed something to do with the rest. (The pickled cherries take about a month to brine, so I’ll post that recipe with review when I have a chance to taste them).

I have been keeping a recipe for Chai Cherry Butter in the back of my head since I first saw it last year. I didn’t have the spices needed, but I liked the general idea of making a cherry butter. So, that’s what I made (next year, maybe, I’ll try the Chai version).

This recipe doesn’t include any measurements, because they really aren’t necessary. A simple cherry butter has only a single ingredient, and you just cook it down until it’s the texture you want. Things get only a little bit more complicated if you want to preserve the results in a sealed jar, but not by much.

Cherry Butter.

  • Cherries, rinsed, stemmed and pitted.
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Amaretto
  • Lemon Juice

Put the cherries in a crock pot, along with some sugar (about a cup, to taste) to help release the juices. I added the cinnamon here to really incorporate the flavor, but you can add it later too. Set the temperature to high and just cook the heck out of them for a long time. At least a few hours. Blend the cooked cherries with an immersion blender or, working in batches, with a regular blender.

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Continue cooking the mush down until it has your preferred fruit butter consistency. Stir in the vanilla and amaretto. Cook a bit longer to let some of the alcohol boil off.

Fill warm, sterilized jars with the butter. Add lids and bands, then process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

The resulting butter is fantastically good. It has some of the same character as an apple butter or a peach butter, but with a strong cherry flavor that has to be tasted to be believed. The cinnamon was added very early in the process so its flavors were subtle and mellow. I wasn’t trying to make a “Vanilla Cherry Butter”, I only wanted to add a dash of vanilla to help bring out the cherry flavor. Dana says she can taste the vanilla clearly, but I feel like I hit it right on the mark. The amaretto, like the vanilla, was not intended to change the flavor in a major way. Instead I wanted it to just add some background complexity, which it did.

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I never cook my fruit butters down as far as some people on the internet do. The consistency is good and thick but still spreadable. The flavor is great. Just, great. I don’t know why I’ve never made this before but I will most certainly be making it again.


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Caramel Apple Jam

In two previous posts I’ve mentioned Caramel Apple Jam but never posted the recipe myself. I borrowed this recipe from another blog, and made a few minor adaptations for my own needs [1]. This year I’ve made two batches of it, because it was so popular.

Caramel Apple Jam

  • 5.5 Cups prepared Apple Sauce
  • 3.5 Cups Sugar
  • 0.5 Cups water
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • Vanilla Extract (to taste)

Prepare the apple sauce ahead of time. Basically follow the recipe for apple butter, but stop cooking it before it turns brown and gets thick.

In a large stock pot, add the water and the lemon juice. Pour in 2 cups of sugar, slowly and evenly. DO NOT STIR. You’re making a “wet caramel”. In the wet method, caramel and water are cooked together. As the water evaporates, the boiling point of the mixture increases. Eventually, the sugar starts to caramelize, without much fear of burning.

Bring the sugar/water mixture to a boil over medium or medium-low heat. Boil it, without stirring, until the mixture starts to turn to a caramel-brown color.

When you’re ready, add the apple sauce. WARNING: There will be some spluttering. The sugar/water mixture is boiling at a higher temperature than plain water. Adding the apple sauce will change that ratio, decrease the boiling point again, and things will get a little violent. Keep your face away from the opening while you stir to mix.

Add the remaining sugar and the vanilla extract. I used my own homemade vanilla, about 2 Tbsp of it.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is thicker. Since it’s hot, it will thicken up even more when it’s cool, so don’t go crazy.

To preserve this jam, put it into prepared half-pint jars and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

I made this jam last year, and it was very well received. In fact, it was one of the most requested repeat recipes I’ve ever had. A jam with caramel AND apples? It’s a no-brainer.

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Last year I commented that the jam was a little too sweet. I was planning to decrease the amount of sugar, but then I remembered that this is a pectin-free recipe and I couldn’t decrease the sugar without changing the consistency. So I didn’t change a thing.

I had thought about adding a bit of sea salt to the mix, but my wife isn’t a fan of the whole “salted caramel” craze so I didn’t do that either. Next time, maybe.

I made two batches this year. The first batch went perfectly but the second batch had some issues with the caramel. For some reason the sugar wasn’t caramelizing as well as it had previously, with sugar crystals floating around on the top of the bubbling mixture. I had to stir it in, which I haven’t had to do before. When I added the apple sauce the caramel hardened into a large clump. Luckily, during the boiling period, the caramel clump dissolved and the final product turned out the same as always.

All three batches I’ve made of this jam have produced almost exactly 7 half-pint jars of jam, sometimes with almost enough left over for a small quarter-pint jar.

Notes

  1. Her recipe calls for using a vanilla bean, mixed in with the sugar to make vanilla sugar instead of vanilla extract. She also calls for some rum to be added at the end to finish it. I didn’t have rum or vanilla beans, so I used some of my homemade vanilla extract (which is vodka-based) instead. Otherwise, I kept the recipe almost identical because I wanted to get the right consistency.


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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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Apple Halves in Light Cinnamon Syrup

Last year when I first started canning, I quickly got overwhelmed with the sheer bulk of things. We picked so many apples at the farm that we started running out of recipes to use them in. I made apple sauce and apple butter, apple pie (and filling), apple jam and even apple bourbon. When we still had apples left over and they were starting to reach the edge of over-ripeness, I made a desperate play and put up two pint jars of apple halves in syrup. Here’s a picture of the apples in syrup, next to a jar of apple sauce (we still have 1 of these), apple butter and caramel apple jam.

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My thought, at the time, was that I would find something to do with them eventually. False. They sat in the pantry, unused and unremembered all year. If I hadn’t found them while taking inventory recently, they would still be buried.

Until opening this jar I had no idea how they would taste. My expectations were not too high. I expected the apple flavor to leach out and dilute in the syrup and the powerful cinnamon flavor to overwhelm everything. When we finally opened the can up for a taste, we were pleasantly surprised.

I mentioned these in a post long ago, but never went into details. Today I’ll give the recipe and finally share the results.

Apple Halves in Light Cinnamon Syrup

  • Apples, peeled, cored and halved [1]
  • Prepared Syrup [2]
  • Cinnamon Sticks
  • Lemon Juice [3]

Okay, here’s the deal. I never wrote this recipe down and I have no real memory of exactly what I did. The general process is relatively simple, so I’m going to extrapolate.

Pack the apple chunks into the jar, up to the shoulder (not too high). Put 1 cinnamon stick in each jar. Pour in enough syrup to cover, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

The apple chunks have taken on a bit of a brownish tint. I don’t know if it’s an oxidation issue or something having to do with the recipe (I’m looking at you, cinnamon!) or just a result of being stored for a year.

The texture of the apple chunks is pretty soft, but they aren’t falling apart. They aren’t mushy, but they don’t take a lot of effort to cut or chew. A good firm apple, or even one slightly under-ripe might be perfect in the future. The Gala apples we used were good enough, but a softer apple wouldn’t be.

What about the flavor? This was the part I worried about the most. Would the apples taste like bland sugar syrup? Would the cinnamon flavor be too intense and overwhelming? The answer to both questions is a resounding “No”. The apples have plenty of flavor and the cinnamon  is very gentle and pleasant. It is  simple and delicious.

The syrup that the apples are floating in is fantastic all by itself. It’s a cinnamon apple flavor, and because I used a light syrup recipe it isn’t overly rich.  I suspect it will be amazing on pancakes or mixed in to cocktails.

Now that I know the results are good, I’ll definitely do this again.

Notes

  1. For the life of me I can’t remember how I got the apples into the shape they are in. I suspect I must have done the whole thing—peeling, coring and slicing—by hand with a knife. This was before I bought my apple peeler contraption. I’ve also seen slices and other shapes be popular on the internet. We used Gala Apples.
  2. See the National Center for Home Food Preservation website for information on different syrup recipes and technique. We used a “light syrup“, which turned out perfectly although the website appears to suggest a medium syrup instead.
  3. don’t remember if I used lemon juice in the original recipe. I imagine I must have. It certainly can’t hurt to replace some of the water in the syrup recipe with lemon juice, to be double-certain that botulism is dead.


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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.