Spiced Cranberry-Orange Vodka

I am on an infusing kick, meaning that we have tons of flavored vodkas around our house. This one is the result of cranberries being on sale for the holidays, and it tastes just like cranberry sauce in a glass. I mix it unsweetened with soda water, but you can add simply syrup to it if it’s too tart for you. It would also make a great holiday gift!

1 bag fresh cranberries
1 tangerine
1 navel orange
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
8 allspice berries

-Heat a small pan on the stove and add your spices. Toast lightly until they are fragrant and add them to a non-reactive container.
-Halve the cranberries and add with the spices.
-Peel the zest from the citrus using a vegetable peeler and add to the container.
-Pour vodka over the ingredients to cover (I’ve had success with Rain Organics vodka, but most any vodka that’s pretty good quality will work–you want the flavor to be neutral so it doesn’t interfere with the flavor of the additives).
-Cover and set aside for at least a week: the flavor will get stronger the longer it sits.
-Strain it into a jar or other container.

This recipe is on Punk Domestics!

Pickled Sweet Onions on Punk Domestics

Nutella Tart

This tart is ridiculously easy and requires very few ingredients. Best of all, it’s absolutely delicious.

I have made tart/pie crusts a number of different ways. I know most people use the method where you cut cold, cubed fat into flour, and for years that’s what I did. Then last year I learned a new (and in my opinion, easier) method when I was working on my culinary history project. Basically it involves melting the butter and then incorporating the other ingredients rather than incorporating the cold butter into other ingredients. The pie I made using this method was incredible: the crust was flaky and rich, and was almost foolproof to prepare. Best of all, it’s the way pie crusts used to be made hundreds of years ago, which made me feel like I was connecting with the past through food (I like to do that). When I ran across this post recently, it reminded me of the success I had with the hot butter method and inspired me to create something new.

Either crust recipe will work fine, the first one I used (originally found here) requires egg yolks to be beaten in the flour before a well is made and the hot butter is poured in. This crust is wonderful and flaky. The other crust recipe is equally wonderful, although just slightly more dense. Either would work well, although for this particular tart I used the second recipe since I didn’t have eggs.I spread my crust out on a cookie sheet, but you can also make it closer to the original by putting it in a pan with high sides.

To make the tart, just make the crust and bake it until it begins to turn golden (the recipe calls for 410, I think my oven was actually closer to 400). Remove the crust and allow it to cool. Then all you do it top it with a goodly amount of Nutella and some chopped, toasted hazelnuts (I toast mine in a cast iron pan on the stove). Enjoy!

Fluffy Apple Cider Doughnuts

Like just about everyone else, I *love* doughnuts. BUT, I like fluffy, soft yeast doughnuts. I don’t hate cake doughnuts, I just don’t feel as strongly about them. With the onset of Autumn, I’ve been craving tasty apple cider-y foods, so I thought I would try my hand at apple cider doughnuts. I am used to making yeast doughnuts, but to my chagrin all I could find were recipes for cake doughnuts (and they did look tasty, just not, well, fluffy). I decided that a get-together with the other first-year students in my program would be the perfect excuse to experiment with doughnuts, and I have to say I was very pleased with the results. The cider flavor is somewhat subtle, but definitely there, and makes these doughnuts perfect for Autumn. This recipe makes a good lot of doughnuts (just shy of 2 dozen plus doughnut holes) so is great for get-togethers!

For the dough

3 tbsp active dry yeast (or 2 envelopes)
1 ¼ c apple cider
½ c almond milk
2 tbsp real maple syrup
½ c sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/3 c shortening
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 quart vegetable oil, for frying

For the glaze

2 c confectioners sugar
4 tbsp cider, heated
pinch cinnamon
pinch salt
pinch nutmeg
½ tsp real maple syrup

-Toast cinnamon stick, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg just slightly in a large saucepan.
-Add the cider and heat until warm (about 110 degrees)
-Pour into large bowl
-In same pan, slightly heat almond milk, add to bowl
-Sprinkle yeast over liquid and whisk to combine.
-Add remaining ingredients, except 4 cups of the flour, and mix for 2-3 minutes by hand or in a mixer on medium-low speed.
-Gradually add flour until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
-Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes or until dough springs back when pressed.
-Place dough in a greased bowl, cover, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled (about an hour and a half.)
-Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and roll out to ½ inch thickness. Cut with a floured doughnut cutter (or a biscuit cutter and a shot glass.)
-Let dough rise again until double.
-Whisk glaze ingredients together to make an icing that is thin but not runny. Set aside.
-Heat oil in a large pan to 350 degrees. Add doughnuts a few at a time to the oil, turning once to cook evenly. Set to drain on a wire rack.
-Dip doughnuts in glaze while still warm, or drip glaze over the top.

The only picture I have is the one I took on my phone en route to the party.

Pickled Sweet Onions

When I was a kid, my mom used to make this delicious cucumber salad with dill, sugar, and vinegar. It’s always been a favorite of mine, and I decided to play around with it one homesick evening recently. I didn’t feel like going to the store, so I used what I had on hand: a big bag of onions from our local market. The onions I usually have around are sweeter: yellow onions, shallots, Vidalia onions, and candy onions. Any of those would work great with this recipe, although if you prefer more of an onion-y bite you could play around with other onion varieties. You could also substitute other herbs in here (fennel would be delicious). These onions are deceptively easy and packed with flavor: they taste wonderful on pitas and burgers! This recipe makes two pints, but can easily be increased.

1 yellow onion
1 1/2 c white vinegar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp dill weed (you can substitute fresh here, just add a bit more)
2 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar

-Peel and thinly slice the onion.
-Place the slices in two pint jars.
-Add the remaining ingredients to a large glass or jar, and stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved.
-Pour the mixture over the onions until they are completely covered (you can top it off with extra vinegar if you don’t have quite enough).
-Screw the lids onto the jars tightly and place in the fridge.
-Wait 24 hours and enjoy!

This recipe is on Punk Domestics!

Pickled Sweet Onions on Punk Domestics

Tea Poached Salmon

Lettuce growing in anticipation of this recipe.

I discovered tea poaching a couple years ago when searching for a foolproof way to prepare fish that would keep it moist and succulent. I made it a few times when I lived in Iowa, but had my real breakthrough the last time my partner was touring with his band. I was at home pondering what to cook that would be really special and chase away my blues, and it dawned on me: I had an intense craving for salmon. I had to have it right then.

Even though we were as landlocked as you can get, we were very lucky to live near Iowa City’s co-op, which has a surprisingly well-stocked selection of fresh seafood. They also have an incredible produce section, which on that particular day had the most succulent buttercrunch lettuce I had ever seen. Unable to resist its charms, I bought the lettuce along with the salmon and brought them both home. While I was poaching the salmon and cooking some rice, it occurred to me that I could wrap these things in the lettuce, which tastes delicious and has the added bonus of keeping me from dirtying a fork (not a fan of washing dishes).

When Chris got home, I told him about my tasty dinner and he was disappointed that he wasn’t there to partake. We both forgot about the incident until I was shopping for cold-weather seeds to plant now that the Florida summer has passed. I bought seeds for all sorts of greens, root veggies, and peas. While hunting through the offerings I landed on the page for buttercrunch lettuce and remembered this recipe. It was so delicious when I made it before that I thought it would be even better if I grew the lettuce myself and plucked it out of the ground mere moments before being eaten. And so, seeds were ordered, and a few weeks later I have some little lettuce plants that I eagerly await to wrap around some delicious fish. I made this alongside jasmine rice last time I prepared it, but you could use any rice you prefer.

Tea Poached Salmon

5 cups water
3 English Breakfast tea bags
2 pieces star anise
1 tbsp dried orange peel
1 bay leaf
2 salmon fillets

-Place all ingredients but salmon in a deep skillet and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
-Add salmon fillets, and poach for about 25 minutes or until cooked through.
-Cut or flake fillets into bite-sized pieces and roll in a lettuce leaf, with or without rice.

Mapple Butter

Maple and apple butter is delicious. I adapted this from Tigress in a Jam’s recipe that uses maple sugar–which sounds incredibly delicious but which I didn’t have around. I am one of those people who decides to make something, and that something must be made NOW. So I looked at her tasty recipe and scratched my head and wondered if I could substitute maple syrup. The results are probably a bit different, but I like how it turned out. It’s subtly maple-y, but the apples I used were also sweet and not overpowering so it all balanced out nicely. The bay leaf and cloves bring everything together, giving the apple butter a bright flavor while making your whole house smell like comforting, delicious food. If you want a more intense maple flavor, use a darker syrup (grade B rather than grade A). And make sure to give Tigress’ page a look, there are many tasty things to inspire you!

5 lbs sweet apples (I used 3 lbs Gala and 2 lbs Fiji)
2 bay leaves
1 lemon
½ tsp sea salt
¼ c sugar
1 ¼ c real maple syrup (please don’t use the caramel colored corn syrup stuff or I will cry)
3 whole cloves, crushed with a mortar and pestle

-Core and chop apples and add to a large, non-reactive pot, tossing with fresh lemon juice as you go.
-Turn heat on medium low, add bay leaves, salt, sugar, syrup, and cloves to pot.
-Turn heat up to medium and cook for about an hour, stirring frequently, until apples are very soft. You can add a little water or cider if needed.
-Using an immersion blender and/or a food mill (I use both) blend the apples until very smooth.
-Can the apple butter in jars using hot water bath processing. Process for 15 minutes to seal the jars.

Blueberry Lavender Jam

Anyone who’s known me for more than 6 months knows that I have an unhealthy obsession with lavender. I put it in just about every food I can, in part because it’s so very versatile and goes with so many things (as long as you don’t overdo it–then everything tastes like perfume!) I like it with fruits in particular because it helps brighten the floral undertones I find in most fruits. My blueberry bush is done for the season (I just picked up a friend for it at my new favorite place, Just Fruits and Exotics) so I had to buy blueberries to make this batch, which will probably be my last one of the year. If you’re in a pinch, you can make it with frozen blueberries, but it will taste *so* much better if you can hold off until they’re in season. The jam tastes amazing with some goat cheese and melba toast, or even just spread on a warm slice of bread. Yum.

2 pints blueberries
1 c sugar
2 c water
1 tbsp lavender
pinch sea salt

One of my blueberry bushes

-Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan.
-Heat over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil.
-Simmer, stirring occasionally, until it’s the consistency you want (20-30 minutes is usually good for me).
-Allow to cool and spoon into jars. At this point you can either process it in a hot water bath to seal it or you can just keep it in the fridge.

This recipe is on Punk Domestics!

Blueberry Lavender Jam on Punk Domestics

Itchin’ to go Foraging

When I lived in Iowa, there were a few plants I knew I could rely on to grow everywhere and that would provide a plethora of tasty treats. Now that I’ve moved, I’ve been really wanting to go forage, but I’m not very familiar with the area and the forage-able foods. Even more surprising, I’m having some trouble finding local foraging enthusiasts or Tallahassee-centered foraging information. I have a friend visiting next month, and I’m hoping to take her on a foraging trip to one of our fine local parks. In an attempt to prepare, I’ve gathered what I have been able to find in one place in the hopes that I can make a foraging guide that those in the Tally area can use.*
The goal is not only to make a foraging guide, but to ask (beg?) my dear readers to share foraging tips for this part of the country. Favorite foods? Good spots? Abundant treats that are easy to identify? Cooking suggestions? As always, remember foraging etiquette (to which I would add ‘please don’t pick threatened species’) in addition to foraging safety (which mainly centers on not eating things that you haven’t triple-checked to identify, and once you’ve identified them make sure you’re cooking them right. More on that later). So without further ado, here is what I’ve found for resources thus far–feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

Camphor: The word on the street (or at least on my street) is that crushing camphor leaves in your hands releases their camphor-y smell, which is an insect repellent. I like to boil the leaves down when I’m feeling stuffy–the vapors help clear my congestion and make my house smell delightfully like vapo-rub. Good stuff.

Edible Plant Project: These folks are in Gainesville, and their project looks really cool. I definitely look forward to learning more about the great work they’re doing.

ForagePorage: Good site with lots of foraging info, lists of helpful resources, and lots of information on Autumn Olives, which sound delightful.

Green Food Tallahassee: Haven’t seen anything forage-specific on this site, but still has good info about eating locally.

Hunger and Thirst For Life: Nifty blog–this post has ideas for using edible sumac. I have a giant bag of sumac in my kitchen from making Lebanese food so until I go out foraging for more goodies, hopefully I can put it to good use!

Native Nurseries: OK, this is a nursery, but I swear it’s on topic. As the name implies, they specialize in native plants, and the folks who run it are incredibly kind and helpful. Their plants are beautiful and well-loved, and it’s a great place to learn a little more about the plants that grow wild in our area and to pick some of them up.

Slow Food Tallahassee: This post is about foraging for chanterelle mushrooms (nom nom nom). Next autumn, I’ll be keeping an eye out for these guys.

Taro: This stuff grows all over my house. Seriously. I pull it, and it comes back, and I pull it again. There were giant taro plants taller than me when I moved into this fine place, and I pulled them out after the Taro Incident of 2011 so I could plant things that I can put in my mouth without hurting myself. Now, taro is edible–people in a variety of cultures eat the stuff, but the trick is you have to cook it for a looong time before you can eat it. The reason is that it’s poisonous! If I recall my reading up on taro and the unpleasant sensations I experienced eating undercooked taro correctly, the compound in the plant that is poisonous is an irritant that effects mucus membranes (throats, mouths, things like that). Too much of it can be really bad news, but even a little is not awesome. However, when cooked thoroughly, this compound is rendered inert. The Taro Incident of 2011 was basically a case of thorough cooking that was not quite thorough enough. When I went to take a bite of it, I felt my mouth tingle and immediately spat it out. Long story short(ish), it caused my throat and mouth to hurt and itch all at once, and the pain and swelling in my mouth was there for a week. Not attractive or pleasant. So my advice to anyone who wants to eat this incredibly abundant plant is to have someone who knows how to cook it (and has successfully cooked it and eaten it themselves many times) show you what to do. Your mucus membranes will thank you.

Wildcrafting: You can do a state-by-state search here. A lot of the plants don’t have member-generated information, but there is enough that you can at least Google the plant names and find out what they look like. If you click on the map within each entry it will tell you where in the state each plant grows. Pretty neat!

Wild Food Plants: Looks like a site that has some good resources–unfortunately the one website for a Tally-based place had a 404 error. Le sigh.

*Obvious disclaimer: If you go foraging for things in these links, be very careful about correctly identifying! I’m not responsible for any negative physical reactions, bad tasting foods, etc. associated with your foraging adventures. That being said, if you feel like sharing such experiences they might be helpful for myself and others who are hunting for edibles.

Pickled Muscadine Grapes

Scuppernongs and Muscadines
are native to the Southeastern US, meaning that around here you can buy them at the farmer’s market on any given weekend. I’ve heard people say that you can forage for them, but haven’t seen any growing wild myself. Since I’m new to the area and don’t know where to go pick them (yet!) I bought this batch from the farmer’s market. Scuppernongs are slightly sweet and tart, while muscadines have a very rich, deep sweeter grape flavor. Both are big and juicy and burst in your mouth when you bite into them, and their delicious flavor lingers after you’ve finished eating. I couldn’t resist them when I saw them at my first Florida farmer’s market, although I quickly learned that they have big seeds and bitter skins, which can make them challenging to eat by the handful. Inspired by a recipe I found on Auburn Meadow Farm’s site, I decided to get to work pickling my grapes!
This trip to the market, they had muscadines (the red grapes, as opposed to scuppernongs, which are green) so this recipe worked perfectly. Thanks to my busy schedule this week, I didn’t have time to go to the store to pick up mustard seeds and white wine vinegar (which are in the original recipe) but that gave me the chance to experiment with other ingredients I did have. It definitely changed the flavor from the original recipe, but I think it turned out very well–the grapes have a perfect pickle-y bite and the warm spices help deepen their flavor. Next time I have all the ingredients I plan on making this as per the original recipe to compare–these grapes are so tasty it’s definitely worth making time and again!

1 pound muscadine grapes
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick (2 1/2 inches)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp sea salt

-Rinse and dry grapes, halve them, and remove the seeds. Place grapes in a bowl.
-Place coriander, peppercorns, and cinnamon in a saucepan and toast them until they are fragrant.
-Add vinegar, sugar, bay leaf, and salt and bring to a boil.
-Immediately pour the mixture over the grapes, and set aside to cool.
-Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 8 hours (you can also pour the grapes and brine into jars before popping them in the fridge).

You can also find this recipe on Punk Domestics!

Pickled Muscadine Grapes on Punk Domestics

Sunday Shrimp n’ Grits

Daylight savings time gave us an extra hour to spend this morning, and gave me the chance to make an extra special brunch to share. I have been eating a lot of shrimp since I have moved to Florida, and I’ve been having a shrimp n’ grits craving for weeks! I wanted to make something that really brought out the flavor of the ridiculously fresh shrimp we have here, and making a quick broth from the shells does a twofold job of adding loads of shrimp flavor while helping to moisten the grits and bring the whole dish together. I couldn’t resist the crab claws at the market, so I added them as well. Using the freshest seafood I could find meant that our brunch wasn’t overpoweringly fishy and instead smelled like the ocean and tasted delicate and light. Depending on where you are and what day it is, other types of crab or other sizes of shrimp might look more fresh–always go with those! Getting the freshest ingredients possible and not overcooking them (easy to do with shrimp) are the most important things about this dish.

For the shrimp:
1/2 lb 21-25 ct shrimp
2 stone crab claws
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp unsalted butter
10 peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 slices of preserve lemon (can substitute half a fresh lemon–just make sure to include the zest!)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

-Peel the shrimp but keep the shells. Put them, along with spices, salt, and crab claws, into a large skillet with 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil.
-Cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, devein the shrimp (by cutting along the middle of the back and pulling out the ‘vein’), and make the grits (see below).
-Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the shells and spices from the broth and into a bowl. Set aside.
-Return the pan to the heat, wait about a minute, and add the olive oil.
-Add the shrimp and crab claws to the pan and cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes.
-Flip the shrimp and return the broth to the pan. Make sure to scrape the bottom with a spoon to deglaze.
-After 1 more minute, remove the shrimp and claws and distribute on two bowls of grits.
-Add the butter to the pan and melt into the broth.
-Pour the broth over the shrimp and grits and serve.

For the grits
1 c grits
2 c water
1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt

-Add water to a saucepan. Add salt and bring to a boil.
-Add grits and cook, stirring frequently, until all the water is absorbed.
-Stir in butter and spoon the grits into two bowls.