Double Duty: Ramps (Compound Butter & Pickles)

Three steps forward and one step back.

I pack my life into a tiny room but have to leave it for three weeks until I can be myself in my own space again. My parents finally get a closing date on their house but then their lease falls through. I finally make some progress on a difficult project at work only to have to rearrange all the deadlines to put out another fire. The new apartment accepts dogs but has a $300 non-refundable pet fee.

Saturday I woke up to 43 degrees and driving rain, but left my warm waterproof sneakers packed 90 minutes away. Because who expects fall-like Juneau, Alaska weather at the start of Memorial Day weekend in Connecticut? Argh.

This is the part where I usually say that despite the lack of posts, I’ve been cooking great things. Well, folks – that isn’t true this time. The last decent thing I made was made on the fly on my last day at my old house. I’ve told you about that place right? The place where in the spring I can grab ramps outside my door IN MY PAJAMAS if I want – so long as I wear some decent XtraTufs? Man, am I gonna miss that place.

I have been so careful with the ramp patch, too. Harvesting only the greens most of the time, with enough bulbs for one small jar of pickles. But this year? After being so careful in my tiny personal patch for the last two years, I found a whole other carpet. Not sure how I missed it before – blindness in the heat of ramp euphoria, perhaps. And though I still took only one jar’s worth for pickles, I made sure to get the fattest ramps there were.  Because I hope to come back next year, but who knows? Because I wanted to. Or just because.

Of course, I made the decision to make pickles after I had packed away all of my jars. But ever-fleeting ramps are one thing thats always worth digging out a jar.

So three steps forward and one step back. This is my life lately. At least I have by ramp pickles in my fridge and compound butter in my freezer, waiting for after June 1st in my new apartment.

Ramp Pickles by Snowflake Kitchen

Preserved Lemon & Ramp Compound Butter

One stick unsalted butter, softened
Ramp greens (approximately 5 ramps – 10 leaves), cleaned well, dried and finely chopped
One preserved lemon, flesh removed and rind finely chopped
Black pepper to taste

In a perfect world, leave your butter on the counter, go forage your ramps, prep everything and when you come back, it should be soft enough. If you are like me and keep your butter in the freezer, it might take a bit longer, and you might get a bit impatient – so prep ahead of time. Small firm, but not frozen, chunks can be helped along in a food processor. Which – if you’re going to already get dirty, you might as well mix the whole batch in there. Of course you can just as well make quick use of a bowl, mixing utensil and/or your hands.

Like my favorite recipes, this one involves mixing everything together, tasting, and when satisfied, forming into a log/packing into your vessel of choice and freezing until later. The tasting is key here, as is using unsalted butter. The preserved lemons bring plenty of salt to the table for my taste. My 2013 batch of preserved lemons has a nice kick of aleppo pepper, which is really great here, but please use what you have. No preserved lemons? Make them next year, and add salt and chopped lemon rind (but take care to minimize the bitter pith).

Use everywhere from searing scallops to melting over the top of a great steak to serving with crusty bread.

Ramp Fridge Pickles
15-20 ramp bulbs, cleaned, de-rooted
One wide mouth pint mason jar
1/4 cup of white vinegar
Water to cover
One teaspoon salt
One bay leaf
One tablespoon mixed peppercorns
Spring of thyme or rosemary

The best thing about fridge pickles is they take exactly no time to come together. Add your veg in a jar, add your vinegar, salt and spices and top with water. Place in the frige and swirl gently a couple of times over the course of a week, and you have a great accompaniment to cheese, in salad, or finely chopped in place of your usual cukes. They are great sliced thin on top of tacos in place of pickled onions.

Advertisements

Double Duty: Grapefruit (Candied Peel + Syrup)

I think it happens unconsciously most of the time, but in general I like my food to reflect my spirit. When my heart is in the food that I make – I like to think that you can almost see the adjectives: Frugal. Simple with an unexpected twist. Local. Solid flavor. Tasty. At the same time, if you lined up recent eating: Passive-Aggressive. Broke. Unhealthy. Unplanned. Kind of depressing. Something is definitely up here. Like life re-evaluating. I don’t want to get into it too much, but on a food level, it speaks volumes.

It’s almost like I had unconsciously planned for this. I had multiple soups in the freezer, some my own and some from our local foodswap, ready to go for when I woke up and lunch was the furthest thing from my mind. I had jam and pickles and cheese, and could throw a few things in my bag and not throw off my whole day or go out and spend more money I didn’t have. That’s really the heart of putting things in jars, isn’t it? Preparation for the future. I mean, the ability to have a gift at any given moment is nice, but I like to think not the primary reason. Maybe I’m naive.

I planned ahead for when I couldn’t possibly have an appetite, but I also planned ahead with a few great distractions. Well – that’s not entirely true – I always have one or two major kitchen projects in the works. Though things didn’t work out for an order of beautiful Texas Ruby Reds, I did score some organic grapefruit at my coop. Salted grapefruit lime jam, a riff on Kaela’s Salted Cranberry Grapefruit Jam, while tasty came out far too cooked for my liking. There were some lovely grapefruit bitters and straight up segments, but far too much leftover rind. I figured if this idea didn’t work out, at least it would only cost me some sugar and time, so why not? I am so glad I did. And not just for the distraction.

grapefruit

Photo credit: Laura Stone Photography

Candied Grapefruit Peel
Adapted from Candied Clementine Peel on Epicurious
5 organic grapefruits, preferably red
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
Vegetable oil to grease drying rack
1 1/2 cups vanilla sugar

First and foremost – yes, you do need to spring for organic fruit here, as with any application that uses the rind of fruit. Take care to remove your peel – either by peeling the fruit or juicing. You need to accomplish two things: small, finger-sized pieces of peel that are completely without fruit and also have minimal pith. Do not make the peels too small here, you can always break into smaller pieces later. Some pith is, of course, fine – and I like that it makes the grapefruit peel not 100% sweet. That said – do take some of it off, and if you can take care to make it smooth it will help when the candied peels are air drying.

Take your trimmed peels and cover with water in a saucepan. I like to use one that is about 4″ deep – enough for the peels to float plenty but not a huge pot, either. Add a half teaspoon of the salt, and bring to a boil. Boil for approximately 10 minutes, but be careful that it doesn’t boil over. Drain the peels, but take care – they are somewhat delicate. Repeat the process twice more, starting with fresh salted water each time.

At this point, add the peels, granulated sugar and water into a clean pot. You are making a thin simple syrup that will gradually reduce into a thicker one while infusing the peel with sugar. Bring to a rolling boil and then reduce to a low boil. This step may take anywhere from 20 minutes to more – depending on your environment. You know the peels are done when they are translucent and the syrup is thick.

While the syrup is reducing, set up your final station with a drying rack and bowl of vanilla sugar. It helps greatly to lightly both oil the rack (canola oil is great) and place parchment paper underneath to catch excess syrup. Once finished, transfer the peels to the drying rack. They really do need half an hour to dry – do not shortcut this step. You may cut them into smaller pieces once they have cooled, if needed. Toss with vanilla sugar and continue to dry on the rack overnight. You may have to turn them several times and/or toss again in the sugar. Once sufficiently dry (it may take longer than you expect), store in a bowl or jar. If you put the peel in a jar and it re-liquifies, it needs more drying time.

Salted Grapefruit Margarita and Candied Grapefruit Peel by Snowflake Kitchen

Grapefruit Syrup

A lovely byproduct of the above recipe. Simply strain the leftover syrup, bottle, and use at will. Because it results from sugar, water, zest and pith, this syrup has a decent bitter note. Added to seltzer it makes a great grapefruit soda – one that isn’t too sweet like some off-the-shelf grapefruit beverages. Added to either gin or tequila, it also is a fabulous base for a paloma or margarita. I’m sure you could can it, but I prefer to use this syrup fresh.

Double Duty: Cherries (Whole Fruit in Syrup + Infusion + Preserve)

I’m pretty sure you don’t know how good you have it. Yes you, folks in the Pacific NW, where cherries are no big deal. Varying levels of tragedy have struck our local crop over the last few years… no one seems to grow them anymore as cherries are, at least in Connecticut anyway, a giant pain in the ass to maintain. The birds love them as much as we do (read: massive amounts of netting), and if we get a sudden unexpected rainy spring, much of the crop tends to split (read: very finicky). So – in short – though very few orchards grow cherries, and to do so around here they must be a little masochistic, we are very thankful that they are.

This post isn’t really double duty, it’s really triple duty. Because local cherries are $4.99/lb even when I pick them myself, and because I adore all things cherry – I am going to stretch every dollar I can carve out for them.

First Tour: Cherries in Bourbon Meyer Vanilla Syrup

Cherries + lemon. Cherries + vanilla. Cherries + bourbon. (Ok, who am I kidding – almost anything + bourbon.) YES. Why not all three? I pitted waaaaay too many sweet cherries (thanks Sarah for the help) and reserved the pits (you’ll see why in a minute). I used sweet Bing cherries, but you could use whatever kind of cherries happen to fall into your lap – sweet or sour. Now, for the laziest of infusions: I filled a few quart jars with fruit, poured 1/4 full with Bulleit Bourbon (my new obsession), topped the rest with a thin syrup, stuck in a split & scraped vanilla bean and the zest of a meyer lemon. It may not sound lazy, but it really is just pitting, making syrup, and stuffing things into a jar. Then the waiting period.

Why 24 hours? Much longer and the cherries start to discolor, and you get a decent infusion after only a day. On Day 2, once the syrup has a slight red tint, reserve some of the fruit for Tour 3, and put up the rest a la Well-Preserved. Psst: save an unprocessed jar in the fridge for a few bourbons & soda – 1/3 syrup, 2/3 soda, a few cherries and ok, maybe another splash of bourbon. You won’t be disappointed.

Second TourCherry Pit Liqueur a la What Julia Ate

First, settle your internal debate over prussic acid. If you just aren’t comfortable, compost your pits. If you feel no fear, this recipe makes something out of nothing, which I adore. I always have vodka on hand for infusions, so that’s what I used. Next year, I’ll have to try it with brandy. I haven’t had the chance to taste it yet (still infusing!) but I have a feeling this is going to make it into an apricot preserve later this summer.

Third Tour: Cherry Bourbon Ginger Preserves

Those cherries that you reserved from the infusion? Put them in a pan, mash with fresh grated ginger for flavor and crystallized ginger for color. Cook down until you’ve reached a good set. Oh wait – you walked away and it cooked down too much? Add a few more chopped fresh cherries, splash with a little bourbon and water and pay attention this time.

All in all, a satisfying way to stretch our precious, exasperating, expensive favorite cherries.

Cherries in Bourbon Meyer Vanilla Syrup
Three quarts of cherries, pitted
1 quart thin 1:2 simple syrup
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Approximately 1 cup bourbon
Zest of one meyer lemon

Make a simple syrup with a 1:2 ratio of sugar to water (i.e. 1 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, boil briefly until dissolved) and let cool. Pit cherries, reserve pits. Add to a glass vessel of choice (preferably one with a lid). Fill the jar 1/4 of the way with your bourbon of choice. Split and scrape a vanilla bean into the jar, and add the scraped pod. Zest a meyer lemon into the jar as well. Top with simple syrup. Close the lid, shake well, store at room temperature for no more than 24 hours.

After infusing, prepare canners, jars and lids. Reserve the vanilla bean. I like to infuse in quart jars but pack into pint or jelly jars. Cold pack into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Top with hot, wet lids and process for 15 minutes.

Use in cocktails, reduced over ice cream, make into hand pies, even make your own soda. Even eat out of the jar. I won’t tell.

Cherry Bourbon Ginger Preserves
4 cups pitted cherries
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
Splash of bourbon

Let cherries infuse (or macerate) overnight – either with the above recipe or with jam ingredients. Mash fruit, add the rest of the ingredients and cook over medium heat until it just begins to thicken and the bubbles are about size of dimes. Pack into hot jars, top with hot, wet lids and process for 10 minutes.

This is a more liquidy preserve, but I like it that way. Spoon over yogurt, swirl into ice cream – this stuff is crazy delicious.

Double Duty: Rhubarb (Syrup + Preserve)

I preserve for different reasons. To support local farmers and focus my dollars on local eating year round. To give as gifts throughout the year. And my personal favorite, to sit back and enjoy a small taste of summer when I am housebound during the middle of a Nor’easter. But preserving in the height of the season brings its own set of challenges. Getting all of the rhubarb possible into jars before moving onto strawberries for example. Or trying to get anything into jars during the week while working ye olde dayjob. Or getting everything into jars in preparation for the upcoming heatwave.

But like almost everyone, I am on a tight budget these days. A endless to do list, meticulous list keeping, down to the dollar budget. So I stretch. I make batches of jam and chutney with what I have on hand – if I am missing an ingredient or a spice, I am not making a special trip. I make do. I also look for ways for my produce to do double duty. If I have to buy scallions for kimchi, then I guess I am also going to throw them into some rhubarbbq because I am out of onions – who runs out of onions?! And you better believe I am going to stretch those scallions into three or four batches and THEN plant them in the ground. So when it comes to fruit I don’t just want jam, I want a syrup AND a preserve. And maybe an infusion or two. This way, I can sort of justify those $4.99/lb local cherries.

Rhubarb is usually the first fruit of the season that carries double duty around here. (“Fruit” for the incredulous rhubarb haters, wherever you may be). This method though, of a light syrup and then a preserve can be applied to most fruits. So if the thought of rhubarb in all its stalky glory makes you want to hurl, try a berry, peach or citrus version.

First Tour: Rhubeena

I made rhubeena exactly as Tigress suggests, but with her later suggestion of less sugar. I used 2ish cups. I like that its more tart, and can stand up to some lime and tequila in Kaela’s rhubarbaritas. Yes THOSE rhubarbaritas, of which I have become obsessed. I may have made rhubeena exclusively for this purpose. Ahem.

Second Tour: Rhubarb Vanilla Jam

So you make your rhubeena, and you are left with all of this sweetened rhubarb pulp. I don’t let it drain overnight – only until the pulp is mostly dry, so it still has some moisture. This is not your traditional jam texture people – its between a fruit butter and a jam. That said – who cares? It’s crazy delicious. Like cant stop sneaking bites with a spoon delicious. Serve with granola & yogurt, over ice cream – heck, blend it INTO ice cream.

Rhubarb Vanilla Jam
Leftover sweetened rhubarb pulp from Rhubeena (approximately 5 cups)
3 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Zest and juice of one lemon

Begin heating the pulp over medium heat. Add the vanilla, vanilla bean and lemon and heat until bubbly at 220°. If your rhubarb becomes too dry, add a little more water or vanilla extract as needed. This will be a thicker jam, so be sure to bubble your jars.  Spoon hot rhubarby goodness into hot jars, bubble as needed, top with hot wet lids and place into the waterbath. Process for 10 minutes. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.