Category: salad dressing

Here today, tarragon tomorrow.

Homemade tarragon vinegar.

Some recipes aren’t really even recipes. I mean, if something has two ingredients & requires little more than bruising some herb leaves, heating up some vinegar & then just combining the two… how can that even be a recipe? It’s more like an instructional, or a how-to, or a guideline. Not really a recipe, though. For blogging purposes we’ll call it a recipe, but between the two of us it really isn’t, now is it?

Either way- it’s worth reading this. You’ll get something out of it, I promise. Plus, I’ve been bombarding you with berries & baked goods, so let’s switch gears.

See, I have this lovely mortar & pestle. And I rarely use it; most of the time I crumble dried herbs in my fingers or tear fresh ones if needed. But every now & then something comes along that calls for this pretty little old fashioned bowl & club grinder. When that happens I must use it, even if it’s for just a few tarragon leaves.

Le Creuset mortar & pestle used for bruising tarragon leaves for use in an easy homemade tarragon vinegar.

It’s really quite simple. I had some fresh tarragon here, looking sad & lonely. Left over from those pickles. It had to be put to use before it was no longer good (oh fresh-cut herbs, you & your tiny little lifespan). After making two quarts of pickles I wasn’t sure what else I could do with the tarragon before it wilted completely. Hence the title of this post. Get it? GET IT?

Using a mortar & pestle always makes me feel very witchy, or Harry Potter-ish.

How to make homemade tarragon vinegar.

And I always forget about infusing olive oil or vinegar with herbs. Why? No clue. It’s a fantastic idea. So I made some. I mean, Heinz sells bottles of this stuff. SELLS IT. For money. I can make it for nothing! Or close to it, seeing as how the tarragon costs nothing if you grow it, and I always have white wine vinegar on hand. I decided to do some research on it and I found the following little snippet. Turns out, tarragon is a bit more valuable than I had thought:

These days, tarragon is more commonly used as a kitchen herb, but it actually has a long history as a medicinal plant, and that tradition has a good scientific basis. For starters, tarragon can improve digestion by increasing the secretion of bile and acids into the stomach. It also helps to whet the appetite. Further, research has shown that tarragon extract may help in managing diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, and it may also kill ulcer-causing bacteria. Finally, the herb contains a chemical called caffeic acid, which works as an antiviral agent and also helps rid the body of damaging free radicals that can lead to cancer.

-source

All that & tasty too? Awesome. Now I really can’t let any go to waste, so herb-infused vinegar it is. And it’s a very, very easy process:

  1. I bruised some tarragon sprigs that were washed & patted dry: leaves, stems & all, in my mortar & pestle. Just lightly, to release some of the essence & aromatic oils, not to totally decimate it.
  2. I scooped it out and put it into a glass bottle. A glass bottle that once housed illy Italian iced coffee, by the way, so SAVE ALL YOUR GLASS JARS & BOTTLES- you never know when they might come in handy.
  3. I heated up about a cup/cup & a half of white wine vinegar just until warm and poured it over the tarragon into the bottle. I closed the lid once it cooled to room temperature, and set it aside.

Homemade tarragon vinegar.

Easy peasy.

And then… I let it sit for two weeks before using (which actually I haven’t gotten around to yet) in a cool, dark & dry place. That’s it. It’s ready for use in béarnaise sauce, salad dressings, to toss steamed veggies or potatoes in or for use in potato salad, or to have with chicken or broiled fish (those particular recipes are favorites with the fam). All that from one little bottle.

Oh, I forgot to mention I labeled it, too.

How to make homemade tarragon vinegar for salad dressings, etc.Label from Sur la Table

Now, the amount of tarragon you use will vary from person to person. If you want a stronger vinegar, then add the amount that I added, which you can see is quite a bit. If you want a more delicate flavor, add less. You can use dried tarragon as well- roughly 1/4 teaspoon per cup of vinegar. White wine vinegar, that is, not regular. Regular vinegar could be used, but the flavor of wine vinegars are better suited for dressings. However last summer I did make chive blossom vinegar using plain ol’ regular white vinegar. I’m sure also that a very strong herb such as basil could be used to infuse red wine vinegar, but I can’t say for sure. Try it… what’s the worst that can happen? You waste a 1/2 cup or a cup of it on a not-so-great-tasting experiment?

I assume this can be done with any and all herbs, so if you dislike this choice of herb, try another. And of course you can infuse oils as well. Rosemary is a great choice for olive oil, so is oregano. Use your imagination.

How to make your own tarragon vinegar (or any herb-infused vinegar).

Leftover blackberry honey syrup.

Don’t you love when you’re reading an old book & the author wrote it as ‘sirop’? It’s so old timey or foreign. I know sirop is the French way of spelling syrup, but it seems that a lot of books written in the 1700′s or 1800′s write it that way, too. Makes sense since it comes from the Latin ‘siropus.’ But anything written in another language (or in an old way) is more attractive. Like, for example, this recipe would be ‘Sirop de mûres e miel’ in French. So lovely.

Are you tired of my history of language lesson yet?

Blackberries always intrigued me. I’m not a fan of the flavor of berries, let’s just get that out in the open right now. I can tolerate strawberries, but I’m not a huge fan by any means. I’m a big apple girl (both figuratively & literally- I  NY, too) and I love citrus. Berries? Nah. Not for me. But regardless, I love looking at them, touching them, cooking with them. I come from a family of berry fiends… which is good, because I get to satisfy my curiosity without wasting food. I didn’t grow up near a blackberry bramble. There are no wild berries growing in my yard, however we did have a flowering crabapple tree. My berry encounters were not on a farm or in the wild country, but supermarkets & restaurants & as the flavoring in gum. Blue raspberry anything still makes me queasy to this day, by the way.

I came up with this idea because after finishing that blackberry whateveryouwannacallit thing I made, I had some blackberries left over. Not enough to make into a jam, really, unless I made about 4 ounces, and that’s not really worth the trouble. It was pretty much a decent-sized handful of big, juicy berries. And blackberries don’t last long, as you probably know. So I figured I’d make them into a syrup using some honey.

Waste not, want not.

I didn’t use a recipe, so I honestly have no idea what measurements to tell you to use. You aren’t going to be canning this; it’s just for immediate use or storage in the refrigerator, so there’s no concern about adding acidity or the amount of sugar, etc. The more honey you add, the more syrup you’ll get. The more berries you add, the more syrup you’ll get. I made it about even, which gives a stronger berry flavor. If you have more honey than berry, the flavor will be more honey & vice versa. You get the idea.

You can use it for pancakes/waffles, you can stir a little bit into some lemonade & toss in some whole berries for a nice summer drink or use it as the base for a cocktail. I’m sure a lighter bourbon like Basil Hayden’s would be interesting mixed with a bit of this. Also, use it as a salad dressing base: mix it with a little red wine vinegar & olive oil, you’ve got yourself a blackberry honey vinaigrette. Even better, mix it with some blackberry vinegar, if you’ve got it.

Keeping all that in mind, this is what I did:

  • I rinsed off & dried the berries. Only do this right before using them, or else you’ll end up with moldy fruit.
  • I put the clean fruit into a medium saucepan and mashed them with a fork. It’s not necessary to make sure they’re completely smooshed- just enough to release a bit of juice.
  • I added about a half cup of honey (more is fine), and turned on the heat to medium-low, stirring with a wooden spoon so nothing scorches.
  • Keep stirring and gently mashing the berries, incorporating them with the honey. The mixture should be a reddish color now. Keep cooking & stirring.
  • Cook, stirring pretty frequently, until it’s reduced & thickened slightly, and it’s a dark, foamy syrup with little round berry bits & guts in it. Don’t worry, you’re straining that out.
  • Add a dash of pure vanilla extract and stir well. Almond extract works too, but nothing at all is fine. The blackberry honey flavor is enough!
  • Clean a jar, put it on a tea towel on your counter or table and place a strainer over the top. Depending on the amount of berries/honey you’re using, you might need a pint jar. Pour the mixture into the strainer little by little, pressing down with a rubber spatula to extract more syrup. When all the syrup is out of it, scoop it into the garbage and pour more of the mixture in, then repeat.
  • Once you’re finished, place a lid on the jar and let it cool. Once cooled, refrigerate or use immediately.

It’s insanely simple, and it makes use of even the smallest amount of leftover blackberries. I’m pretty sure it would work with blueberries or raspberries as well.

Also? It’s pretty.

Leftover blackberry honey syrup

Summertime… and the livin’s easy.

“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.”
-Sylvia Plath

 

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Summer has pretty much all but flown by, hasn’t it? Seems like yesterday I posted a little group of pictures of the start of summer… & now all the Back-to-School stuff has infiltrated the stores & it seems as though summer is breathing its last breaths. Not only that, but we’ve been really getting pounded with rain, and when it’s a cool day combined with rain it seems far more like fall than summer. As far as I’m concerned, there’s plenty of summer left. But I don’t think many other people agree with me. Which sucks, actually, because I feel like I’m being forced to buy sweaters and trench coats and rain boots and I AM NOT READY FOR THAT. I’m still playing in the garden, enjoying the sunshine, wearing tank tops, cutoffs & flip flops. I won’t automatically shift into “fall mode” in late August and you can’t make me. It’s been raining a lot here lately, actually, and quite heavily. But despite the rain, it’s still warm, and I’m getting a little tired of emptying the water out of my fire pit and trying to keep my plants alive and standing. Oh, August rain. You can tell, though, that there’s a change in the air. The breeze is different, the sun patterns are different. Fall is coming.

However… those days when it’s still over 85° degrees with insane humidity and the sun is beating down on me brutally, I’m reminded that yes, it is indeed still summer. So I’m relishing it. Still having picnics & cook-outs on my insect plates!

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But at this time of year I feel like a kid- you know how it is when you’re young, and when it’s still summer, and you’re inhaling the scent of chlorine off your skin, catching bugs in jars, staying up late & peeling the sunburned skin off your back… but everyone else (read: adults) seems to be talking about what textbooks you need, who ended up in Mrs. So-and-So’s class, why you need five 3-subject notebooks for Science and whether or not you read your summer reading books (I always did). There’s something to be said for the excitement of shopping for school supplies. The way you feel when you open that notebook and the first page is clean, unruffled and stark white, and it’s similar to the school year itself; right now, it’s a clean slate, anything can happen. It’s filled with promise and the first few weeks (and pages) are nice and smooth. Then it all goes to shit. By the end of the year, the notebook is dog-eared, frayed and probably has no cover left on it, not to mention is stained with almost every lunch you’ve eaten since at least November. Wait, I’m getting off track here. Anyway while there is something to be said for all that newness & excitement… let’s not forget though that the end of summer is officially September 21st, which means fall is technically a little less than one full month away.

There’s still a ton of summer left, true. Lots of beach days (although with no lifeguards), barbecues, warm nights sitting outside until it’s way late, enjoying the nice weather. But the date on the calendar means school starts very soon if it hasn’t already, & those last minute vacations are coming to an end. And most people mark the end of summer as Labor Day, so as summer itself “winds to a close,” it’s time to squeeze in all those summery recipes I didn’t make yet. I said this summer would be the summer of me making stuff I never made before… and that really didn’t go as planned. The summer switched rapidly between being swelteringly hot and torrentially rainy; like some kind of bizarre New York rainforest. So most of the time it was just too hot to cook, even when it rained. I wanted to make Miemo’s mama’s egg rolls, but it was too hot to fry anything! But this is definitely something I never made before that it wasn’t too hot to make: pickled shrimp.

Briny, faintly spicy pickled shrimp are a staple of Southern cuisine. In this Georgia-inspired version from from Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South (Clarkson Potter, 2011), frozen raw shrimp are a fine substitute for fresh. As Hugh notes in his comment below, if the shrimp remain covered with oil, they’ll last for “a good week in the fridge. The longer they sit in their pickle liquid, the picklier they get.”

This recipe first appeared in our October 2011 issue along with Wendell Brock’s book review “Sweet and Tart: A Southerly Course and A New Turn in the South.”

-Saveur

Old Bay Seasoning is something every household should have, at all times. It’s excellent on seafood, yes, but it’s also great for tons of other things: popcorn, french fries, hard-boiled eggs, corn-on-the-cob, etc. If you’ve never had it- get it. I guarantee you you’ll love it. It’s just a simple mix: paprika, mustard, celery seed, ground bay leaf, both black and red pepper, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, salt, mace and ginger. But it’s so good. And the little can is so vintage looking!

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PICKLED SHRIMP (directly from Saveur/Hugh Acheson, with my notes in Italics)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 lb. (26–30 count) medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I left the tails on)
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds (I didn’t crush them)
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice berries (I omitted them)
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped (I used a lot less, but mine was dried parsley)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 12 dried bay leaves
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise (I used a white onion)

Directions:

  1. Bring Old Bay and 8 cups water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan; add shrimp, reduce heat to low, and cook until shrimp are pink, about 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to bowl of ice water to chill; drain again.
  2. Finely grind celery seeds and allspice in a spice grinder (I didn’t do this!); transfer to a bowl and stir in oil, juice, parsley, salt, chile flakes, garlic, and bay leaves. In a 1-qt. glass jar, layer shrimp and onions; pour over oil mixture. Cover with lid; chill overnight before serving.

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I hope that you don’t get turned off or stick your nose up at the idea of these. If you like shrimp, and you like a mildy tangy, briny flavor that pickled foods have, then you’ll love these. Plus… anything in olive oil is awesome, am I right? It’s actually the same principle as Ceviche de Camarones, the popular Latin version of a shrimp cocktail. They’re excellent as a side dish to grilled steak, grilled chicken, or even grilled fish. A perfect addition to your Labor Day festivities this weekend. And the oil can be used as a vinaigrette, not to mention if you let the jar come to room temperature & put some of the shrimp & oil over hot pasta, it’s kinda like a cheater’s version of shrimp scampi. You could use them in a kind of Southern taco, too. Roll up some flour tortillas and put some of these bad boys in there with some of the onions and a little lettuce. They’re relatively easy to make, and… they last for a week in the fridge! Just make sure they’re totally submerged & covered with oil at all times. And as with everything, when in doubt- throw it out! If it smells funkadelic or looks weird, toss it. But mine was in the fridge for about 9 days, and on the ninth day it was finally finished and nobody died. Yet. (I kid, I kid)

And yes, like it says above, you can use frozen shrimp. I did! I also left the tails on, obviously. Interactive food, guys, interactive food. Make people work for it. Side note: the oil might coagulate in the refrigerator. Mine actually didn’t fully coagulate for a couple of days, I suspect because of the addition of the lemon juice. But anyway, if you manage to keep them for longer than an evening and they coagulate, all you do is take the jar out a little ahead of time. This way it’ll come to room temperature, liquify & be fine to eat within 15-20 minutes.

Raspberry-jalapeño-cilantro jam, or “rasp-jalantro.”

“One must maintain a little bittle of summer, even in the middle of winter.”
-Henry David Thoreau

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I saw that quote the other day and it struck me, probably because I related it to the blog. How could I not, really? In a few ways…one, canning & preserving. Aren’t the two of those things doing exactly what that quote says- keeping a ‘little bittle’ of summer with us, all through fall & winter? Is that not how canning & preserving & pickling originated? Of course. And two, the very fact that I run a blog means I have an internet-based, HTML & CSS created cookbook & diary at my fingertips, 24/7/52/365. Even if my old pictures make me cringe (they’re all taken with FLASH!What the hell was I thinking?), I can look back at my summer posts on the coldest day in winter, when the snow is coming down and my toes freeze just walking to the car, just the same way I can look at those wintery posts about Shepherd’s Pie when it’s 100º outside and I sweat just thinking about having the oven on. But I digress.

The idea behind my coming up with this jam is pretty simple. I’d been thinking of a sweet/savory jam for a while now, after the success of last year’s habanero rosemary jelly & after hearing that my friend Chrisie made a blueberry-basil jam, but I just wasn’t sure what kind I wanted to make. Like most things I make, it ended up being carefully thought out, totally obsessed over and then in the end, made differently than I thought. Right away, I decided I’d do something raspberry-based. My initial idea was a raspberry-chipotle jam. I’m hugely into Mexican food, all things Mexican actually, and so chipotle just popped out at me.

One of my most prized possessions is this handpainted skull Jay got me in San Antonio, TX when he was there playing a show back in November.


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He actually got me a TON of sugar skull stuff down there, all imported from Mexico: a handscreened oven mitt, a painted terracotta tile, etc, etc… and I love it all. But she’s by far my favorite. Jay got a matching more masculine one, too. We’re cheesy like that. Basically anything sugar skull themed is sure to make me smile.

Anyway, I wanted to make a spicy, savory yet still sweet jam. I was inspired by Chrisie’s blueberry-basil concoction, Mexico & it’s food/culture, and then… I saw some raspberry-chipotle sauces & salad dressings for sale. I’m out of the loop with that stuff, I’m more of a classic salad dressing & marinade girl, myself. No fruity or fancy stuff. I use Jack Daniel’s or Guinness barbecue sauce & blue cheese dressing, for goodness sake. But I figured if it makes a good sauce, it’ll probably make a damn good jam. However true to form, I had trouble finding chipotle peppers. Can I get a WTF? As a matter of fact, I couldn’t find them at all. Not in any ethnic, natural or gourmet market. I had to settle for using jalapeños, and threw a bit of cilantro in there for an added Southwestern flavor. Not that there’s anything wrong with jalapeños. I love them. They just have a very different kind of heat & flavor than chipotles, which are actually just smoked & dried red jalapeños. But the smoke was the thing I originally wanted for this jam. And yes I could’ve made my own, blah blah… but I wasn’t really in the mood to smoke & dry/dehydrate ONE jalapeño pepper myself to make 12 ounces of experimental jam. I had the berries, I needed to make the jam ASAP. So I used half of a green jalapeño I had already.

I also decided to make a very, very small batch just to test it out. How small? About three 4-oz. jars.


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Yep. Super small batch! But number one, I wasn’t at all 100% confident in it’s deliciousness and two, how much raspberry-jalapeño-cilantro jam does one person need? Not that much really. Even if you do love it, you can only eat so much of it. And that’s another reason I like having the 4-ounce jars around, because they’re excellent for experimental jams & jellies (and also for overflow; a.k.a. the bit left over after you fill your jars up that isn’t quite enough for a full jar). You don’t have to feel horrible about tossing it (if it’s crappy) when it’s only one or two tiny jars worth. Unfortunately, the 4-ounce jars are insanely hard to find. At least around here. My dad managed to pick me up a case at a Walmart recently, but I’ve only found them ONE other time in a store and it was around Christmas.

The ingredients are pretty easy to remember: raspberries, sugar, freshly squeezed lime juice, one half of a jalapeño, and fresh cut cilantro. I adapted a basic raspberry jam recipe to suit my needs and just added the pepper. I tossed in some roughly chopped cilantro at the end, right before removing it from the heat. I’m giving you my recipe, but of course it can be changed slightly to adapt it to you. If you prefer more heat, add the entire pepper… for less heat, use a pepper that isn’t so hot. You can also use a Serrano or Anaheim pepper. If you like more cilantro, add more. If you don’t like cilantro, take it out altogether. Because it’s such a small recipe, you can also double and even triple it with good results. You don’t need any added pectin. I’m not really sure why people use commercial pectin with blackberries, raspberries & blueberries. You don’t need it. If you dislike the seeds, you can remove them. I find they add a nice texture, plus they’re healthy. But if you really hate ‘em, this blog has a recipe for seedless raspberry jam that you can get some seed-removal tips from.

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RASPBERRY-JALAPEÑO-CILANTRO JAM

Makes about three 4-ounce jars

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces fresh raspberries, washed
  • 8 ounces granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • half of one jalapeño pepper (or more or less, depending on taste), chopped or diced
  • a tablespoon or two roughly chopped cilantro leaves

Directions:

  1. Place the raspberries in a medium saucepan. Using the back of a wooden spoon, crush them as best you can. Add the sugar and lime juice, then stir.
  2. Turn the heat on medium and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the chopped jalapeño. Keep cooking it until it reaches the desired thickness (or “set”; this can be different times for different people/ovens/pots). Turn off the heat and add the cilantro, stirring until it’s combined.
  3. Ladle the jam into your hot, sterilized jars. Wipe rims, place lids, and process for 10 minutes.

If you can find chipotles, or you have them already, feel free to use some finely diced chipotle in this. The smokiness would be fantastic, and you can use a little more of them than jalapeños without burning someone’s mouth off with the holy-crap-I-was-unprepared-for-the-hotness-in-a-raspberry-jam stuff going on in this. I actually might just have to do another version of this after I find some chipotle.

You can also add a little more lime juice if you want, or take it out altogether. I liked the tartness it added.


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It looks pretty delish, doesn’t it? And it WAS. Quelle surprise. I was genuinely surprised, seriously. I didn’t have high hopes for this one for some reason, but it was definitely successful.

It’s great on a cracker- the ones above are some kind of Wheat Thins herb-y flatbread cracker thing- but it’s also good whisked with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar) and made into a salad dressing. And of course, it’d probably be excellent melted down and used as a sauce for chicken or even chicken wings. You could probably find a couple of different ways to use it. I bet it would be good with certain cheeses, too. Ooh! And on cornbread! Ohhh, the possibilities. Just endless.

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I’m sure you’ve got the eating part covered. So make it. Worse comes to worse, if you don’t wildly love it- sharing is caring. Everyone loves a jar of something homemade, right? Just be sure to let them know there are hot peppers in there, or else they might get a nasty surprise & also might not want to eat much of your canned foods after that.

And for those of you thinking “Where the F&%! are the cupcakes?!” they’re coming! This week! It’s been really hot here, and I haven’t been in much of a mood for tackling frosting & things more complicated than cobblers. But have no fear. The cupcakes are coming.

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Raspberry-jalapeño-cilantro jam. on Punk Domestics