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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mastery Class - Citrus Herb Salt

The Food In Jars Mastery Challenge for the month of February is salt preserving. I made two items for this challenge - salt preserved Meyer lemons and this citrus herb salt. From my facebook feed, I'm guessing that thousands of households across the world have salt preserved lemons for the first time. I won't post a recipe here because it is a process that is easy to find and duplicate. For me, the real challenge will be making food around those salt preserved lemons. I hope to share some of the successful uses here.

I decided to try an herb salt because I have really enjoyed dry brined poultry. The flavor components in this mixture are very similar to what I use when I dry brine turkey. Making the dry brine is a bit of a production, so I thought, Why not make it and dry it and have it ready all the time? 

Depending on the humidity in your home, when you make this, you may have to use your oven to help in the drying process. It has been very rainy and humid in my world, so I ended up using the oven once at the beginning of the drying and once again just to finnish it off. The mixture spent about a week in a back bedroom, near the furnace, in between. Leaving it out for a week did not reduce the flavor or aroma at all. It is wonderful!

You can use this to dry brine, by coating the meat and letting it sit in the fridge for a time. The thinner the meat, the less time it takes for the flavor to penetrate. These boneless, skinless chicken thighs were seasoned in the morning and then cooked after work. For a turkey, I will let it sit for several days. If you really coat the meat, you will want to rinse it of the excess salt and pat dry before cooking. If you sprinkle it lightly, like you would a seasoning salt, you can leave it on. 

These thighs got simply pan seared, until cooked through, and served with fried cabbage. Mr. Dwayne thought it superb.

Citrus Herb Salt
1/2 cup citrus zest - I used Meyer lemon and Satsuma mandarins
3 fat cloves of garlic
1 tbsp. minced dry onion
1 cup roughly chopped parsley - I included the stems
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves
2 tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp. freshly cracked black pepper
1 1/2 cups coarse Kosher salt, divided

Place everything except 1/2 cup of the salt in a blender or food processor and process until well ground and blended. Remove from the processor and stir in the 1/2 cup of salt. (My Vitamix ground this so finely, that I wanted to add a little more granulated texture back into the mix. If your food processor is not so aggressive, you can add everything at once.)

Spread the mixture, in a thin layer, on a parchment lined cookie sheet. To dry, either set in a warm, dry  place until completely dry or assist the drying process by using your oven. I placed mine in the oven, at 200 degrees, for about 10 minutes, turned the oven off and left it in the oven until cool. I had to do this process twice.

If you have any of those little silicone sachets from some other food product, you can add it to the storage jar to prevent caking. This makes 2 1/2 cups of salt. I keep a small jar by my stove and the remainder in the fridge.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Jam

 Tired of marmalade? Need some zest for other purposes? This may be the jam for you!

I have a little dwarf Meyer Lemon in a pot on my back patio. It has been a hero the last couple of years, but seems to be taking a break. I had more than 40 lemons from it last year. This year, not so much. Lucky for me, my dear friends, Bill and Marina moved in to new home with their own Meyer Lemon tree and they brought me a giant shopping bag full! What you see in the photo above, is about half of what Marina brought to me a couple of weeks ago.

 Note to Self: Do not attempt to dry citrus peels during the monsoon season. Green mold will result.

I really like dried lemon zest for a number of uses. I use it in herbal teas and grind it up with salt for dry brining. It's just good stuff to have around. So, my plan was to use these lemons to make dried zest and frozen cubes of lemon juice. The tray above gave me a bunch of zest strips and one gallon size bag of cubes. I also had plenty left to make this jam. Unfortunately, the zest, left to air dry, picked up green mold and was a loss. California has been in a serious drought for over four years. This year, we're having major flooding. I now know that humidity makes a big difference when attempting to air dry. Sigh.

Yummy juice for later! 

The Meyer lemons I have used have been pretty soft when ripe. Unlike limes and Eureka lemons, they are very hard to cut into clean segments because of the softness and the number of seeds. To get around this, you need a very sharp knife and patience. I cut away the pith, then held the lemon upright and cut down so that the edges of the segments are removed from the tough, seedy center. Whenever you are cutting soft juicy fruits, do use a pan under your cutting board to capture the juice that gets away.

This batch takes 5 cups of lemon pieces and juice. This will take 10 to 15 lemons, depending on the size. I added some of my pectin booster to help the set and one vanilla bean. The vanilla bean softens and enhances the zing of the lemons and makes this jam beautifully aromatic.

Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Jam
5 cups prepared Meyer Lemon pieces and juice
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup pectin booster or a bundle of lemon seeds in a sachet
5 cups sugar

Prepare 7 half pint jars, lids and rings and your boiling water bath.

After preparing the fruit, add the split vanilla bean, pectin booster and sugar. (You may pop this in your refrigerator for up to a week, if you don't have time to do the processing on the same night you cut up the fruit.) If you wish to use a sachet of the lemon seeds, save them as you prepare the fruit and keep them separate from the fruit until you start the cooking process. If you don't mind a deeper bitterness from the seeds, you can throw them in earlier. Most of my fussy processes are designed to keep the bitterness at bay.

When you are ready to can, start your boiling water bath. Place the fruit mixture in a large pot and bring to a boil. Place a few saucers and tea spoons in the freezer for performing the "plate test" later.

If you are using pectin booster, be sure to watch your stove, as the apple pectin will often foam up more vigorously than plain fruit. When the jam comes up to 220 degrees, remove a spoon and saucer from the freezer and scoop out some of the jam. Place it back in the freezer for a couple of minutes. Turn the jam off or on low while you await the test. Remove the saucer and push the jam with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, it is done!

Remove the jam from the heat and remove the vanilla bean. Skim off any remaining foam. Sterilize the jars in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes and drain. Give the jam a careful stir to distribute the solids, then carefully fill the jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe rims and top with lids and rings. Finger tighten and process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove from the boiling water bath and place on a towel lined tray. Leave undisturbed until they pop! Makes 7 half pints and some for your snack!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Oat Bran Muffins - Lower Carb, All Real, All Good

In August of 2016, Mr. Dwayne was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It was not something that was on our radar, but probably should have been. We'd both gained weight over the last few years of extreme stress and deaths in our family. I have to admit, we often took what I call "The Ice Cream Cure." Hey, carbs work. Emotional eating happens because, in the short term, it works. 

I've always been for real food. Lots of fruits and veggies. I like to eat things that have some life force in them - things that have been alive recently. I thought our diet was pretty good. I do take time to cook from scratch on most occasions. But, then, mmmmm, the ice cream. 

I came of age cooking for my family during the low-fat craze. Some of my favorite recipes come from Jane Brody's Good Food Book: Living the High Carbohydrate Way. I learned about beans and rice and combining plant proteins. I learned how to use various whole grain flours and traditional baking methods from Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book - which remains a classic resource. While all this is pretty healthy, it doesn't suit the needs of my family now.

Now, I have to learn to cook a different way - fewer carbs, carefully selected, in small portions. 

My initial forays into the online world of "low carb" revealed a lot of meat and dairy and treats with artificial sweeteners. Some advocated "no carb" or "keto" - an extreme approach that seems to be about weight loss more than health. It all seemed out of balance to me. Yet, we needed to take action and improve my sweetie's health fast. 

We did eat more animal protein and dairy than usual. It made the first few weeks fairly painless for Mr. Dwayne, who did not have to give up his favorite foods. After a few weeks of this, I was dragging and cranky. Super low carb was not a viable or sustainable option for me. I added in a few more fruits and whole grains. Mr. Dwayne lost weight quickly. 

Here we are, 5 months later. Mr. Dwayne has lost 45 pounds and I have lost 20. I've been working on better fitness, with Zumba classes and a gym membership. Overall, we've found a better balance in our diet and we both feel better. The joke at our house is that cabbage is the new potato. 

The only thing that did not go well were Mr. Dwayne's cholesterol numbers. They went up 10 points in that 5 months. Not the good kind either. So, we had to change again. Minimal cheese and limited red meat and processed meat. Lots more veg. So far so good. 

I've been searching for a way to get more water soluble fiber into his diet. This type of fiber is proven to assist with heart health, gut health and in lowering cholesterol. The problem is, he hates beans and only likes oatmeal in the form of cookies. So, I set out to find a way to get him the fiber in a way that is full of flavor and nutrients and low in carbs. Most of the oat bran muffin recipes online have lots of sugar, plus white flour. Low carb muffins seem to all have artificial sweeteners. By combining a few recipes and doing a lot of testing, I think I finally hit the mark.

This recipe makes 12 muffins, which have 111 calories each, with 15 grams of carbs and 7 grams of sugars. According to the American Diabetic Association and his meals should have 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates. The nutrition and diabetes management classes with our health provider suggest that each meal should be under 45 grams. Mr. Dwayne considers a serving for breakfast to be 2 muffins, keeping his carbs well within the 45 gram limit.

Because they don't rise as much as traditional cake-like muffins, you can fill the muffin cups nearly to the top. You can line the cups with papers or with non-stick spray. I like the crust, so I don't use the papers, even though clean up is easier that way.

Flat topped, but flavorful and moist. They are lightly sweetened with banana, blackstrap molasses and raisins - all highly nutritious foods. I know Mr. Dwayne will enjoy them. We'll find out how they work in the next few months!

Oat Bran Muffins
1/2 cup raisins plus boiling water
2 cups Oat Bran hot cereal
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 mashed ripe banana (about 1/2 cup)
2 tbsp. oil (I used olive oil)
2 tbsp. black strap molasses
1 egg
1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line or grease a standard muffin tin.

Place the raisins in a heat proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.

Combine the Oat Bran, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

Mash the banana and add the oil, molasses and egg. Whisk to combine. Whisk in the milk. 

Drain the raisins. Stir the milk mixture and raisins into the oat bran mixture until moistened. Evenly distribute between 12 muffin tins. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove from muffin tin to cooling rack immediately. Enjoy!