A Meditation on Maraschino

Those nuclear red little sugar bombs – removed as far as possible from the fresh-picked cherries they once were? I have a confession to make. I love them. I was the little girl who ordered a coke with cherries when out to eat with my parents – and not just for the novelty that my drink also came from the bar. I always would bargain for extra cherries on my ice cream sundaes. Even to this day, an amaretto sour isn’t complete without one of them at the bottom of the glass.

And I know – I KNOW.  They are tasteless sugar bombs – a hollow representation of everything a cherry really is. I even read somewhere that they have to bleach the cherries to get them that color. Oh, and if you want, you really can get any color of the rainbow. Blech. Still, sometimes I can’t resist.

Then I started thinking that I could do it better. I read up on real maraschino cherries. The kind started in Croatia and Italy. I knew I had to make the all too brief Connecticut Cherry Season last. It was even shorter this year, as about a third of the Belltown Hill Orchards crop split. I went on the first day of sweet cherry picking for 8 pounds, and the next weekend for about 5 pounds of tart cherries. At $4.99/lb – I knew I had to make the cherries worth it.

The sweet ones went into to cherry whiskey jam, two small half pints to pickle, and into the chest freezer. The pits went to infuse the last of my bottle of Jameson. (Don’t like whiskey? Infuse brandy a la What Julia Ate or Handjobs for the Home with your pits instead.) The sour ones went to the chest freezer for future apricot sour cherry jam, sour cherry lime rickey jam, with some left over. Maraschino cherries had to be.

Homemade Maraschino Cherries
4 pints light-colored cherries (Tart/Rainier)
Spices to taste
1 bottle (750ml) Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 cup sugar
2-3 cups water
1 split and scraped vanilla bean

Heat the Luxardo, sugar, vanilla and water until boiling. You can add the empty vanilla pod in if you want – I stuck mine in my vanilla sugar jar. You don’t really need the water – except Luxardo is expensive and I wasn’t about to buy another bottle to fill four quarts. Plus, it’s very strongly flavored. I packed the cherries and spices in four clean, hot jars. Poured the boiling syrup over the top. Top with hot, wet lids and rings and process for 10 minutes.

I infused two pints with maraschino liqueur, sugar and vanilla. I did one more with the addition of lemon peel and cloves. The fourth was with bay leaf and cinnamon. I’ve only cracked open a vanilla pint, so I cant tell you how the other flavors went, but if the “plain” ones are any indication, you should abandon storebought maraschino cherries forever.

Oh, and Kaela – you’re right. They totally look like shriveled fingertips. But they are crazy delicious shriveled fingertips.

Spice Rack Challenge(s): Mint and Basil

So I missed June’s challenge (mint) and almost missed this month’s challenge (basil) to boot. Bad, neglectful blogger. We’ve been in the thick of heat waves here in the Northeast, with maybe a day or two of temporary relief in between. Correlation? Causation? Who knows.

In any case, I’ve only had one thing on the brain. After a long walk to a roasting car at the end of a long workday – you know the ones where you can literally see the heat lines radiating off the pavement – what else? A cold drink, naturally. Adult beverages or otherwise, I’ve been craving fruity, bubbly refreshment at all times. They vary widely different depending on the day, but most of them follow the theme of fruit + ice + bubbles + maybe herbs + maybe booze. As you saw in the last post a Cherry Lime Rickey variation has been a favorite of late.  Here are my other two.

Blueberry Basil Ginger Chiller
Three tablespoons of blueberry butter (a la Marisa at Food in Jars)
Ginger Ale
Siam Basil (spicier than its Italian cousin)
Crystallized Ginger
Ice

Easy peasy: Spoon the bluberry butter into your glassware of choice. A pint jar, a pint glass, a quart jar… I won’t tell. Add your basil and chopped ginger, and muddle until fragrant – a great stress reliever after work, if need be. Add ice, top with ginger ale.

I’ve kept this one sans booze, but I think a little vodka would work well in this one.

Pineapple Mint Peach Rum Fizz
Three tablespoons of peach jam
One large sprig pineapple mint
One ounce Kraken Spiced Rum
Ginger Ale
Ice

Same method as above: spoon jam into a jar, add mint and muddle, add rum, add ice and top with ginger ale. Also tasty without rum, but a bit of grade B maple syrup would work well in its stead. Try not to relax with one of these in your hand. I dare you.

Options
➝If you make jam, your options are endless. If you don’t make jam, there’s no time like the present to start! If ‘ hot to turn on the stove, maybe an infusion, maceration, cordial or syrup is up your alley?
➝Try a shrub. Its got a vinegar tang, for a little something unexpected.
➝New flavor combinations: raspberry + tequila, meyer lemon marmalade + vodka + rosemary, or maybe something savory like tomato jam + vodka + chives + seltzer/tonic? Could be interesting. Share other ideas in the comments.

Oh, and can someone please tell me when this heat is supposed to let up? It’s getting a little melty in Snowflake Kitchen. Til then, I’ll tide myself over with these.

Sour Cherry Lime Rickey Jam

Every preserver adds their own spin on jam. Sometimes its straight up classic seasonal fruit like Tigress’ Classic Sour Cherry Preserves. Marisa just posted a tea infusion. Kaela at Local Kitchen loves her chiles. Julia is a master of jelly. Kate at HGGH prefers to update classic flavors. Me? I unabashedly steal inspiration from all of them – only with loads of credit, of course. And then more often than not I add booze.

I’ve made great fruit jams and butters but almost all of them are taken to another level when you add a glug of the good stuff. My favorite jars have labels like sweet cherry whiskey, apricot amaretto or jameson ginger peach. It should come as no surprise I have a giant batch of blueberry meyer limoncello butter planned for this weekend. If I don’t melt before then, that is.

So needless to say when I am looking for inspiration my mind tends to head to the bar. I am a whiskey girl at heart, but I also have developed a taste for gin. Gin and lime go great together in case you haven’t heard. So do cherries and lime. So after picking 5+ pounds of very delicious but very expensive tart cherries, this boozy jam was a no brainer.

Sour Cherry Lime Rickey Jam
3 cups pitted and stemmed sour cherries
1.5 cups sugar
3/4 cup gin
zest of one lime (organic please)
juice of one lime
pectin to taste, if at all

Pit and stem your cherries. Either chop cherries in small pieces, or be prepared to mash once they are hot. Add cherries, gin, lime juice and sugar to the pot. Cook until it reaches desired consistency (mash if required). Skim off any foam. Cook to 220° and then add pectin and lime zest. Cook at a medium boil for about 5 minutes. Ladle into hot jars, top with hot lids, process for 10 minutes.

Gin-haters – fear not! This jam doesn’t taste like the “pine sol” flavor you hate. (Trust me, I know – I live with one of you. Its how I know the gin in the freezer will always be all mine.) The gin really adds a nice depth you can’t quite place, unless you knew it was gin. If you are a gin lover though, a splash right at the end will be much more prominent.

I have a confession to make. I didn’t can this jam. It’s still sitting in my fridge. I didn’t even get to add pectin, so it’s quite runny. I will probably add a tablespoon of low sugar pectin and seal it in two or three half pints once the temperature is out of the 90s later this week, but right now I am content to add it to my morning yogurt and afternoon cocktails. A few tablespoons of jam, another glug of gin, topped off with raspberry seltzer. A wedge of lime and we’re in business. Please try it – its so, so good.

Asian Fridge Cuke Pickles

First, there were fridge scapes, now we have fridge pickles. I had the privilege of attending a homesteading class offered by my awesome local farmers market. The class was about pickling. Now, I can do canned vinegar pickles. In fact, I overdid them last year. I was that girl who went to her local farmer that sold cukes by the bushel and bought half a bushel. That’s TWENTY POUNDS of cukes. Don’t get me wrong, – they were good, but I started bringing pickles to every potluck – and I felt like taking a class could offer some inspiration for 2011 pickling.

Most canned pickle recipes start with 5% vinegar and never dilute it down by more than half. This leads to a very strong but very safe pickle… and also a pickle that can get pretty boring. You can’t play with them much. But therein lies the beauty of fridge pickles – you do get to play! We had the most amazing cukes in the homesteading class – fresh and crisp – and they had only been pickling for a week! I had never tasted such a fresh, clean and crisp pickle.

Naturally, I had to come home and tinker with it. Here is the result – spicy, savory (umami-y?) while still clean and crunchy. Perfect with grilled food or as a snack. No hot boiling water canner required – these are a must-make.

Asian Fridge Cukes
6-8 kirby or boston pickling cucumbers (as many that fit in a quart jar), ends trimmed and cut into spears
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1/2 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon red chile flake
1 heaping tablespoon chile garlic paste
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Trim the cukes. Toast the sesame seeds, peppercorns, chile flake in the toaster oven or a dry saute pan until fragrant – 3-5 minutes. I then like to add half the flavoring ingredients in the bottom of the jar, then pack in the cukes. I top them with the vinegar, and the other half of the spices, pastes, sauces and oils. Fill the jar to the top with water and wait a week.

*Note: This is NOT a canning safe recipe. I’m sure you could adapt it to one, but some of the ingredients give me pause. Pickling is one place where I am only really comfortable experimenting in the fridge.

Options
1. Change out the white vinegar for rice wine vinegar.
2. Add additional veggies – scallions or onions.
3. Other flavors: ginger, mirin, hoisin sauce? Miso could be interesting.

Other Fridge Pickle Inspiration
1. If you want to stick in the asian pickle vein, AJ at Handjobs for the Home also has an asian pickle recipe – he skins the cukes and adds sugar for a sweet note. Marisa at Food in Jars also makes a version with lime and mint. Yum!
2. Garlic Dill pickles transfer well to the fridge. I use dill weed and dill seed in mine for extra dill goodness.
3. Who says you’re limited to cukes? Lana at Never Enough Thyme makes a gorgeous looking pickle in Weck Jars with halved cherry tomatoes, vidalia onions and sweet peppers. It’s spiked with thyme (of course) – lovely.

Cherry Whiskey Apricot Crostata

Have I mentioned that I’m not a baker? Jam – I have down. Pickles – those too. The problem with being a preserver is that you get really good at putting things away and saving them for something special. We preservers thrive on delayed satisfaction. Then we end up with quarts of pickles and dozens of jars of jam that we need to use up. Of course, right about that time new exciting fruit comes into season and if you want to fill new jars you need to clear out old jars. A great way to use up the jam? Baking, of course. So I had to tackle one of the basics – pie dough.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered a great pâte brisée recipe. I made a spring tart – green garlic, last year’s put up roasted red peppers, and sharp cheddar cheese. I was surprised how great it turned out – rich and toothsome, with the right balance of sugar and salt. (Really? Me? I made this?!) Then when Shauna at Gluten Free Girl announced a pie party, I knew a sweet version couldn’t be that hard.

Cherry Apricot Crostata
One recipe pâte brisée
One half pint apricot amaretto jam (a little will be leftover)
One cup of sweet cherries
Half cup of Irish Whiskey
Two tablespoons of sugar

1. Make the pâte brisée, let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight.
2. Macerate cherries in whiskey and sugar for as long as you can – they only get better – at least an hour. Once their macerating is up, cook them on medium heat until cooked down – you may need to mash them up a bit with your spoon. Strain, reserve whiskey liquid for cocktails (yum!)
3. Roll out to 1/8″ thick. Fill the middle with jam – leave a 1/2″ border around the edge free of jam. Top the jam with the cherries.
4. Fold in the crust over the jam a little, so there is about 1″ crust.
5. Bake for 45ish minutes until brown and bubbly. I had to turn my broiler on for a second because I was getting impatient. Serve a la mode.

Options
1. Any kind of jam or fresh fruit will do, but this combination is really killer. I like the idea of using last season’s jam with this season’s fresh fruit.
2. Experiment with the crust – I have plans to add grade B maple syrup and honey to different versions.
3. Try Joel’s version with lard. I think there is pot pie in my future…

Rub A Dub Dub

Have you been to your local food swap yet? No? Well get on it. Food swaps are popping up across the country (and the globe – there’s even one for you, Londoners). They are a place where you can bring your favorite recipe or new creation to share with others and come home with a number of new things to try. Our local swap is at our amazing local market – averaging two times per month on Sunday mornings. The swaps have different themes, but anything homemade, handcrafted or home grown is swappable. This week’s theme was BBQ – who can’t escape at least one of those during the 4th of July holiday weekend?

I knew instantly what I wanted to share with my fellow swappers. We use this spice rub or a variation all the time. So much that I’m pretty sure Jon is sick of it by now. We’ve used it as a flavor profile for brining chicken, for grilling really any protein, and even when roasting vegetables. We’ve even used it on bacon (see below) – which you absolutely must try. Joel uses his dehydrator to make his own powders and salts for his rub. Though we’re not there yet, good quality spices do make a huge difference here. [Check out World Spice, Penzey’s or even your local co-op – all good choices.] The flavors in our rub are smoky and savory (dare I say umami-y?) because we aren’t really into scorching heat. We also dont use any celery because frankly we just don’t get along. Make adjustments as you see fit. Try not to use it on everything.

SK Favorite Spice Rub
2 parts smoked paprika/pimentón
2 parts curry powder
2 parts garlic powder
2 parts onion powder
2 parts dried minced garlic
1 part fresh ground pepper
1 part cinnamon (Vietnamese is my favorite)
1 part cayenne pepper

You’ll notice there’s no salt in this. I find salt to be a really personal flavor – you know exactly how much of it you want. So add salt into the mix – or don’t. Up to you. If you are new to a low salt diet (ahem, Dad) this kind of spice rub may be your new best friend.

Options
1. You really should toast the spices before cooking with them. It makes a world of difference. A few minutes in a dry saute pan or in the toaster oven is all you need – toast until you can smell the spices. That’s it.
2. Add 2 parts dark brown sugar for a sweet rub. We love to dredge thick cut bacon in the sweet rub and then pan fry for ultimate decadence. It makes an amazing crust. You just have to pay close attention to the heat and you may have to cook the bacon at a lower temperature to render out the fat without burning the spices. Haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine it would make for amazing BLTs. (Note: if you use the sugar, add it to the rub after you toast the spices, otherwise you get a sticky mess!)
3. Add the rub to olive oil and citrus of choice to make a marinade. I think it would be great with lime and seafood for the grill. Fish tacos anyone?