Saturday, July 30, 2011

Spice Rack Challenge August: Cumin

My town is known for it's "progressive leanings".    We're known for our art fair and our hash bash and the $5 ticket for smoking pot (before you dash over to spark up a bowl, I think that the law has changed and it's now a $25 ticket and if you light up on University of Michigan property, you can be prosecuted under State of Michigan laws, which are much different).   We've got the bumper sticker that claims that Ann Arbor is "25 square miles, surrounded by reality" and an old codger radio host that used to refer to our fair city as "Moscow on the Huron" for it's liberal leanings.    I've always called it the "Haight Ashbury of the Midwest" myself, because after all these years, we still attract the flower children.   True to form, a few years back, the city of Ann Arbor passed a chicken ordinance, allowing city dwellers to keep backyard chickens.  It's what all the cool and hip towns are doing - Madison, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, etc. 

So of course, everyone had to do it - they ran out to get their backyard chickens.   A Tractor Supply sprung up nearby for the citizenry's chickenkeeping supplies.  Soon, the farmer's market was flooded with eggs which no one was buying because everyone had their own at home.    But pretty soon, the bloom was off the rose.   My town is full of lots of smart, opinionated people that are sometimes a little short on common sense.  They think they know (but they just don't know) a lot of stuff, chickens notwithstanding.   Pretty soon I start hearing people complain that they didn't realize how dumb chickens are, or how messy chickens can be.  Then, there's the issue of the occasional batch of chicks that have a stray rooster...what to do with it?  Roosters are illegal in A2.  The local farm animal shelter responded with chicken amnesty day, where people could drop off their brood if they changed their mind about the whole thing.    An enterprising farm nearby offered butchering seminars on how to dispatch of Henny Penny once she stopped laying.  

Chicken fever was at it's highest when I was exiting I-94 at Ann Arbor-Saline Road and my son observed a rooster mulling about in the grass next to the entrance ramp.   I wasn't sure if the chicken was dumped there, or it managed to get away from where ever it was.  Chickens aren't the sharpest tool in the barnyard shed, after all.    As I was running late to where I was going, I said a quick little prayer hoping that a local farmer would help out poor Chanticleer before he met his untimely demise under the wheels of a local citizen's Prius on his way to Whole Foods.    After all, I was in no position to help.  I don't know anything about chickens....I live in a subdivision in an outlying township where chickens are still verboten. 

In honor of the city of Ann Arbor's chickens, this month's spice rack challenge is cumin.  Superstition during the Middle Ages cited cumin as keeping chickens from wandering. And for good measure, it was also thought that it kept couples from straying as well.   So, how do you use your cumin?  Tell me about it!  To be included in this month's roundup, please post your recipe from Aug 13 to Aug 19 and it would be helpful if you'd include "Spice Rack Challenge" in your subject line, so I don't miss it. It's never to late to join the spice rack challenge - just shoot me an email and I will add you to my reading list.  Have fun!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Spice Rack Challenge Round Up: Basil

It's not the heat, it's the humidity.

The thing about Michigan is that it is always humid here, since we are surrounded by the Great Lakes.   That makes for splendid verdant green in the summer (and overcast skies in the winter - we won't talk about that) but it also makes it very humid here.  So that means when it it hot here, it's way worse than say Phoenix or Santa Fe.  It's going to be 100 F today, with about 85% humidity.  We have an excessive heat warning issued by the National Weather Service.  So that means that along with our warming centers that we have in the winter for the homeless, we have cooling centers going.  We have ozone action days.  I want for a walk about 8 pm last night and it was still over 90 degrees.  Your sweat just doesn't evaporate.   Both of my kids are at summer son is at Boy Scout camp in Findlay Ohio (today's temperature 99 F) and my daughter is at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp near Lake Michigan where it's going to be a more tolerable 88F. I hope they are both drinking enough water.  I'm glad I am in my air conditioned abode instead of a cabin or tent. Looks like the weather might break this weekend with some storms.  We certainly need the rain. 

It's hard to think about cooking in this mess, but we've got lots of basil to talk about.  That's a good thing, because the basil is taking over my garden right now.  Love all this inspiration!
tracy's living cookbook
Cornmeal-crusted roasted ratatouille tart- it's a riveting tale of trial and error, blogged "Pioneer Woman" style - with a picture of every step. The verdict? I don't want to ruin the plot but let's just say that the ratatouille was the protagonist in this story of basil angst.

thinking out loud
Basil in it's simplest form. Sometimes simple is just what we need!

tales from a house on the corner
Our friend "down under" gives us a lovely
peach and basil pandowdy even though it's midwinter for her. A bit of summer in the cold!

snowflake kitchen
Blueberry basil ginger chiller and a bonus mint drink because Kate missed us last month. Sweet refreshment.

chez hates
Thankfully there is a post about a basil spiked
pasta sauce. We needed one! No use crying about the aerogarden failure. Dried basil is great, too!

prospect:the pantry
Zucchini noodles in green curry sauce with Thai basil offers us just what we need right now - another potential use for the ubiquitous zucchini, seasoned with exotic Thai basil. And while we’re add it, how about some roly poly zucchini baked with vegetable and basil filling

a million grandmas
Mary's basil tonic  is the perfect cocktail to cure what ails you....especially served with her delicious pesto

just another day at the farm
Lamb stew with basil sounds delicious for any season....basil is her "go to" herb.

jonski blogski
Tricia's back with her catch up post - Asian slaw.  It has basil, mint and coriander in it! Talk about killing several birds with one stone....glad to see you back.

good food michigan
My Michigan blogging sisters Val and Bee post their tomato basil pizza sauce. Soon we will have some Michigan tomatoes to make it with, I hope!

food floozie
My friend Yenta Mary gets us big time news coverage by posting her basil parmesan triangle recipe on both her regular blog but in our local "dot com" - we no longer have a daily newspaper in Ann Arbor, we have an online version

eating flloyd
Rebecca's back with her coconut scallops with crispy shallot, basil and sesame sprinkle Don't worry about swiping the magazine from the waiting room, my dentist says that it's okay to do that.  Certainly better than stealing the page!

Here's mine - electic basil lemonade.   It's a very refreshing cocktail for this weather.

That's all for this month.   Look back early next week for the August challenge. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Spice Rack Challenge: Electric Basil Lemonade

You know what they say don't you?  "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade".  Well, today, I needed a little something more than lemonade.   It's not that it was a horrible day, it just didn't work out how I wanted it to work.  As they say,  "Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug".   Today was my bug day.   This month's spice rack challenge was basil, and I have lots of it in my patio garden.   There's also lots in our little edible schoolyard project at the high school.   My neighbors started a little business making baguettes, so we've been eating lots of pesto.  What to make of my basil?    Friends urged me to try the basil limeade they serve at the Jolly Pumpkin in Ann Arbor, but if I am at JP, I am getting their fine beer, not limeade.

They say that "some days you're the Louisville Slugger", but today I was the ball.  After a long day of things not adding up, a cocktail was in order.   A quick look at my fruit bowl showed only lemons, not limes.  Why not basil lemonade with some vodka?  I wasn't exactly sure this was going to work out well - the idea of basil in something sweet, not savory, just didn't sit right with me.  But I kept thinking of the folks that love the basil limeade, so I decided to give it a whirl.  But I remembered that they also say "sometimes you are the hammer, and sometimes you're the nail".  But this time it all came together for me.   The basil didn't taste savory, it made the lemonade more refreshing.   And the vodka certainly made it more refreshing, too.  Let's not kid ourselves.   But at least now I can look back on today and realize that tomorrow's another day.  Here's to that!

Electric Basil Lemonade

1 shot simple syrup*
juice of 1 lemon
1 shot vodka
4 leaves basil

To make simple syrup, mix 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water and microwave for 1 minute.   Store in fridge for summer cocktails.

Mix together simple syrup, lemon juice and vodka.  Muddle basil leaves in a glass, add crushed ice to the top of the glass, and pour lemon juice over the top of the ice and stir.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spoon Fruit

This well worn keyboard has often waxed poetic about the fine products of American Spoon Foods, a northern Michigan purveyor of all sorts of wonderful fruit preserves.   Whenever someone close has a death in the family, instead of sending flowers, I like the East coast custom of sending a fruit basket.   The problem with fruit baskets is that you never really know what you are going to get, so I've switched to sending a gift box of goodies from American Spoon instead.   After the funeral is done, I think it's nice to have something sweet and tasty to help recover, like a box of breakfast goodies or jam. 

Just the other day, I "picked up" some of American Spoon Food's Spoon Fruit that is specially made for Ann Arbor's famous Zingerman's Deli.  And when I say "picked up", I mean literally.  I was having breakfast at the deli with my old high school friend Nancy, and I accidentally grabbed the wrong shopping bag of the unknown person sitting next to me.   It sat on the kitchen counter for a few days before I realized that I had brought home an $8 can of imported Italian tuna packed in olive oil, and a jar of American Spoon Foods Cherry Berry Spoon Fruit.    Oops!   I wasn't sure how to make this right - after all, there was no way of knowing who it was that I got this from.  If it was a coat, I'd return it to the lost and found.  Hmmm.....I decided the best thing I could do was just eat it myself.    So while the tuna still sits in the pantry, I immediately cracked into the fruit.   It was fantastic!  Tangy and fruity, it is great on toast, and even straight out of the jar on a spoon.  The jar was gone in a day. 

So what is this spoon fruit?  It's a fruit preserve naturally sweetened with fruit concentrates, without any added sugar.   I had to try to make some myself!    Reading online, I could see that many people were trying to make preserves without added sugar, but the problem is that pectin needs sugar to set up.  Lots of folks use Pomona Pectin (or other products of similar ilk) to reduce the sweetness of the jam or to work with Splenda or agave, but that's just not my canning style.  By the way, there is a Ball product now that is much more economical and widely available that Pomona.    I wanted something I could make myself, not get out of a box.

However, I have used fruit juice concentrate when I have canned fruit before, so I decided to experiment with using it for jam.   I used good old green apples for my pectin source....and the result was out of this world delicious.  I had thrown some unpitted sour cherries in the freezer a couple weeks ago, so I defrosted them.  Bonus!  Frozen thawed cherries are much easier to pit than fresh ones.   Who knew?  The fruit is softer and I could pit them with my fingers instead of the pitter.   It's now blueberry season in Michigan, so I wanted to add them, too.  Here's what I came up with:

Cherry Berry Spoon Fruit
Makes about 4 half pints
(can double this but no more than double for one batch)

3 cups pitted sour cherries (sweet ones would work, too)
3 cups blueberries
5 Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored and chopped small
1 can (12 oz) frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed

Heat all ingredients in a preserving pot until mixture reaches gel temp (220 F for my altitude <1000 ft).  This takes about an hour or so with vigilant stirring, because it gets sticky toward the end.  Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.   

Delicious!  I can't wait to try to make some other varieties.

Cherry Preserves - the fix

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I recently made some cherry preserves that didn't set up.   As it turns out, the pectin stock I canned last year didn't have a lot of pectin in it - I did a simple test where I added some to rubbing alcohol, and I barely got any solid at all.  So I fixed my batch of cherry preserves by adding a pectin mixture I made by cooking down green apples and lemons.   I didn't chop up the lemons finely, which turned out to be a huge mistake!  Instead of a food mill, I like to use my Kitchen Aid fruit and vegetable strainer attachment, which normally makes quick work out of taking a batch of cut up apples (peels, cores and all) into velvety smooth sauce.   However, the lemon rind kept binding up the auger and I was forced to dig out my despised food mill to finish the job!  Next time I have to remember to chop the lemon into tinier pieces.  

The cherry preserves finally turned out fantastic - but I sure paid the price with elbow grease on this batch.  Normally, I gauge my canning projects on whether I could make them cheaper at home.   I checked out my benchmark - American Spoon's Sour Cherry Preserves and noticed that they charge $7.95 for a 9.5 oz jar for their lovely concoction of  Montmorency cherries - as they call it, "the fruit Michigan is famous for".   That is so true!  Michigan grows 75% of the nation's sour cherry crop, so I think it is my moral imperative to can some every year.   So how did I do?

4 quarts sour cherries - $14
10 small sour apples - $2
2 lemons - $.50
5 cups sugar - $1

Total = $17.50 for 5 half pints...which is about 44 cents and oz. or $4.15 for an American Spoon sized jar.  Even with all my wasted effort, it's well worth it.   

Here's how to do it right the first time:

2 1/2 lb pitted sour cherries
5 c. sugar

10 small sour apples
2 lemons

Pit cherries, and add sugar.  Allow mixture to sit for 8 - 10 hours (overnight).  Meanwhile, cut up apples (peels and cores) and finely chop lemons (include rind and seeds) and cook until soft.  Add enough water to keep it from sticking at the start.   Put the apple lemon mixture through a food mill - approximately 2 cups puree is needed.

Add puree to cherry mixture and cook in a preserving pot (I like to use my 7.5 quart enameled Dutch oven), stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches the gel temp for your altitude (8 F higher than the boiling point of water) for my address in Ann Arbor, Michigan - that's 912. feet above sea level - so it's 212 F.   (here's a cool tool to find the elevation of where you are).  Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Makes about 5 pints.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Do Over - Cherry Preserves

Before we left on our annual midsummer sojourn, I attempted to put up some cherry preserves but they didn't set up.   Reading my blog, it sounds like everything I do in the kitchen comes out perfectly.  I'm here to tell the whole truth today - these didn't work out but I will fix them when I get back.   Where did I go wrong?

I sort of followed the recipe for cherry preserves in Linda Ziedrich's wonderful book Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves. which calls for these ingredients

2 1/2 lb pitted sour cherries
5 c. sugar
2 T. strained lemon juice

Mix the cherries and sugar and let them stand for 8 - 12 hours.   Then, you are supposed to cook them until they set up on a chilled plate and wrinkle when you run your finger through them.   I really don't like the so called "wrinkle test", so I decided to just cook my cherries until they hit the jelling temp, which is 220F for me because I live at an elevation less than 1000 ft.   I added a pint of apple pectin I put up last year for good measure.  My preserves didn't set up....the question is why?

Cherries are a low pectin fruit, so that means that to get them to jell up, you must add lots of sugar and cook them a long time.  I wonder if my homemade pectin actually had enough pectin in it?  To make your own you are supposed to use green apples.   I can't remember what I made it from last year. Maybe I didn't cook it down long enough? There's a pectin test I have read mix the juice with rubbing alcohol to see if it forms a jelled blob.  Don't taste it after you do this - it's poison.   I could test the other jar I have of pectin.I have to see if it's got enough pectin in it.  Mix 1 teaspoon of cooked, cooled crushed fruit with 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Use a closed container and shake gently. Juices from fruit that is high in pectin will form a solid gelatinous lump. If the fruit is low in pectin, it will form only small rubbery particles. Those with an average pectin content will form a few pieces of the jelly-like substance

I looked for some recipes online - boy, are they difficult to come by!  Even the MSU Extension didn't have any, and Michigan is the nation's cherry capitoll!  No recipes in the online version of the Traverse City newspapers that I could find.    I did find one recipe on the "Pick Your Own" website that called for 3 lbs pitted cherries, 4 cups sugar and 1 1/4 boxes of pectin.   That was interesting - an extra 1/4 box of pectin.    Tasting the preserves I already made, I noticed that it is sweeter than I would like.   I froze some of the tart cherries I have left.   I think I will add them, and also add the apple/lemon pectin I like to make up for jam.

For future reference, I would love to have an end product that tastes like American Spoon's sour cherry spoon fruit, or any of their other flavors. Their spoon fruit isn't overly sweet and tastes like something you could eat right out of the jar.  Looking at the ingredient list, it indicates red tart cherries, white grape juice concentrate, apple juice concentrate, lemon juice, cherry juice concentrate, pectin.  This got me thinking, since my next canning project will likely involve blueberries, I checked out their ingredient list for the blueberry flavor - it's blueberries, white grape juice concentrate, blueberry juice concentrate, lemon juice, pectin, arrowroot.   Since arrowroot is out for home canning (thickening products can make the texture unsafe for canning), I won't be adding that.  I'm going to have to do some experimentation. 

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Are you religious?

Found this on the fabulous blog a nuns life...
“I am not religious,” says my neighbor, as he hoes the rows between his beans and corn.
“Oh yes, you are,” I say to myself.
To plant a seed is an act of faith.
To collect compost is a response of gratitude to the creator.
To water, fertilize, and mulch the ground is an expression of religious responsibility.
To kneel down and pull weeds is prayer.
To harvest is to participate in the fullness and grace of the spirit.
To protect and replenish creation is to love God.
“I am not religious,” says my neighbor.
Yes, you are, I say.
From: Into the Wilderness: A Meditation Manual by Sara Moores Campbell. Boston, MA: Skinner House Books, Unitarian Universalist Association, 1990

Friday, July 01, 2011

Where can one drive with a Michigan Learner's Permit?

Ohio: Yes, you may operate a vehicle in the state of Ohio with a valid learner's permit, as long as there is a valid licensed driver, the age of 21 or over, in the front passenger seat.

Massachusetts: Not until age 16 1/2.  The law allows Massachusetts to accept a Learner's Permit from another state, if issued under a law similar to the Massachusetts Learner's Permit law.

New York: You cannot drive in NYS if you are under the age of 16. If you have a learner permit or a driver license from another state, you are not exempt from this rule.

Maine: A person with a valid learner's permit issued by his/her home state can legally drive in Maine provided that person is at least 16 years of age and adheres to all restrictions applied to the learner's permit issued by that person's state or province.

Other states?  Read more here.  Note that any of this information can change anytime, so your best bet is to start Googling.  But it seems most states expect you to be 16 - since one can be 14 years 9 months old in Michigan to get a a Level 1 driver's license, drivers in our state get more time behind the wheel than the other states, which start at age 16.    Level 1 means you need to drive with your parent or anyone else over the age of 21 that your parent approves. 

In Michigan, with a Level 2 License, one cannot drive with more than one passenger that is under 21 years of age, unless:
a. passengers are members of the driver's immediate family, or
b. travel is to or from school or a school-sanctioned event

There is a nighttime restriction has been extended to 10:00 p.m.until 5:00 a.m unless driving to or from emploment

For Level 3, you need to be at least 17 and spend 6 months at Level 2. 

Of course, one has to be violation free for all  of this to be true.  Sound complicated?  It is, but I am glad.  I really like Michigan's graduated drivers license process.  There's more time behind the wheel!