lessons in drying herbs

I recently decided to dry a bushel of rosemary. (Note: “Bushel” is defined here as, “as much rosemary as Lacey could carry and still see enough to put one foot in front of the other.”) When you dry enough rosemary to keep a college dining hall well-seasoned for a year, you learn a few things.

jar of dried rosemary

  1. Only dry what you can use within a year.My bushel of rosemary was not only a pain in the ass to process, but it made way more dried rosemary than I anticipated. I’ll be giving away dry rubs and salts for several months in the frantic hope that I give it away before the flavors all dissipate.
  2. Rinse well.Especially if you grew your own herbs in a garden, or got them from a buddy with a similar set-up. My bushel of rosemary was laced with weeds, dried grass, tiny beetles, and a nice layer of dirt, none of which I want on my chicken. Rinse each sprig of herb well, then either pat it dry or lay it out to dry.
  3. Let air circulate.If you’re not doing the oven-drying method, it’s important to dry your herbs in such a way that lots of air can get to the leaves. Remember, you’ve just rinsed them, plus they hold their own water, so you want to avoid mold. You can tie them in small bundles and hang them from the ceiling, or you can find a way to lay them out so that air gets underneath. I used a canoe frame, but you may not have one of those– instead, maybe you have a cooling rack?
  4. Be patient. It takes time to rinse the herbs, let them dry, and strip the leaves from the stems, but this is a great way to preserve herbs you got for free, or extend the life of expensive herbs you purchased from the store. If your dried herbs are strong, you can use dried herbs in place of fresh in many recipes, with not much noticeable difference in flavor. 
palmful of dried rosemary
palmful of dried rosemary
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candied meyer lemons

bowl of lemons

I ate my candied clementines straight out of the jar for weeks, and I can’t wait to dive into these candied Meyer lemons. They’re a little more tart than the clementines, but still with that delicious, sweet, vaguely vanilla-y taste. And they look so impressive and fancy in the jar, despite the purely minimal amount of effort required from you.

bowl of sliced lemons

 

jars of candied meyer lemons

Candied Meyer Lemons
Adapted from Food in Jars, via Saveur
Makes about 8 8-ounce jars

You will need:
3 lbs. Meyer lemons, sliced (remove pits as you go)
2 c. water
4 c. granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

Prepare your jars for canning: sterilize the jars and rings, and simmer the lids in a small pot of water. Also prepare your canning pot by bringing a lot of water to boil.

Combine sugar, water, and vanilla bean in a large pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon slices and cook about 15 minutes, until lemons are softened.

Divide lemons up among your jars to within 1/2″ of the top of the jar. Wipe the lips of the jars, and add lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Let sit overnight, without disturbing. Any jars that don’t seal, refrigerate immediately and use those first.

punkdomestics

rosemary-citrus salt

I’ve been taking a break from canning. I canned and canned and canned before Christmas (and didn’t even blog half of it), so the thought of standing over the proverbial hot stove for an hour after spending another hour peeling, dicing, and otherwise prepping a small mountain of fruit sounds a little unattractive right now. But you might remember I mentioned that I am currently in possession of more dried rosemary than God. I’ve picked about a fifth of it off its branches, and that alone made three cups. All told, I will probably have 15-20 cups of dried rosemary. (Not that I’m complaining! I like rosemary. And if you know me, you probably have some rosemary-spiked treats in your future.)

food processor with orange zest, rosemary, and salt

Speaking of treats, a friend of mine recently experienced a gift-giving occasion of the bridal kind. I got her the standard kitchen-y things off her registry, but I also wanted to give her something special, something from my kitchen. She knows I can, but I don’t think she had ever tried any of my projects, and her bridal shower seemed like the perfect time. I put together a small basket of registry items, some marmalade I had stashed away from the Christmas preserving extravaganza, and this rosemary salt.

rosemary citrus salt

Guys, it’s delicious. It would be good on the rim of a cocktail glass (for the right kind of peppy, herby, adventurous cocktail), on popcorn, sprinkled on chicken or potatoes, or even on fresh veggies like cucumbers or tomatoes. I’m sort of swooning right now thinking of how exciting a little of this would be on watermelon, or on your next batch of homemade chocolate truffles. And here’s a pro secret: Homemade finishing salts are super easy and inexpensive to make! A box of kosher salt and some fresh herbs could keep you in homemade gifts for a long, long time, and all you need to shell out for is cute packaging. The Kitchn has a great post that suggests some great combinations, if you’d like to venture beyond rosemary and citrus.

jar of rosemary citrus salt

Rosemary-Citrus Salt
Adapted from Edible Austin
Makes 1/2 cup flavored salt

You will need:
2 tbsp. dried rosemary
2 tbsp. fresh orange or lemon zest
1/2 c. kosher or other coarse salt

Process all ingredients in a food processor until rosemary and citrus are chopped fine. Store in an airtight container up to 2 months.

punkdomestics

sweet and spicy roasted almonds

Picture this: a recipe for gingered, curried almonds, the perfect salty/ savory/ spicy snack to add to your gift baskets. A three-pound bag of almonds in your freezer. You assemble the ingredients: almonds, butter, sugar, and spices, and get to work.

jarred spicy almonds

I followed the recipe exactly. I don’t know what happened. Or rather, I know what happened, but I don’t understand why it happened. See, the recipe said to add the sugar and spices to the butter and melt it all together for about 5 minutes on the stove, until the sugar dissolved. It was supposed to make a glaze.

Instead (and I’m trying to paint a word picture here, so bear with me), what happened was this: The mixture bubbled and separated. The sugar and spices all clung to one another, refusing to dissolve or emulsify. The butter swirled around, failing to incorporate the spices. Eventually, I took the “glaze” off the heat and poured it over the almonds, hoping that adding in the almonds would mean things would sort themselves out.

spicy almonds, close-up

They. Did. Not.

As I used my hands to toss the almonds with the glaze, the butter separated from the other ingredients even further. It was like the spices and sugar were seeking each other out, eager to huddle together for refuge from the butter and almonds. Eventually, I had buttery almonds and a huge, Play-Doh-like lump of spices in the middle of the pan.

I called in reinforcements to know how to proceed. D is a lot better than I am at rescuing that which threatens to be lost, so he helped me redirect this project, suggested a spice mixture, and even suggested an explanation that made this strange paste failure not my fault. (Yes!)

Instead of the original recipe, I wound up with something radically different, but still complex and delicious. And now you all know that what happens on this blog isn’t magic, or even talent. It’s success, over and over again, snatched from the jaws of defeat.

spiced almonds

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Almonds
Makes 2 cups
Note: The chile and cayenne powder measurements are approximations– use more or less to your taste. Don’t be afraid to taste an almond to see what you think you need to do. Feel free to substitute another spicy mixture– curry powder, Thai spices, or pumpkin pie spices would also be great here, even with the cayenne.
Also, I wish I had cooked mine longer, as I really wanted them to be more crisp than they were, but I was afraid of burning them. Use the timing here as a guide, and don’t let the nuts burn, but err on the side of “more done.”

You will need:
2 cups raw almonds
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 tbsp. chile powder
1 tbsp. cayenne
Kosher salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350.

Spread almonds in one layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Roast almonds, dry, for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine sugar, chile powder, and cayenne in a small bowl and set aside.

Let the almonds cool until they are cool enough to touch. Pour the melted butter over the almonds and toss with a spoon or your hands to coat.

Using a spoon or your hands (I just got messy), sprinkle the almonds with the sugar-spice mixture and toss again. Shake the pan so that the almonds are again in one layer.

Roast another 15-20 minutes, until almonds are dry-ish. Sprinkle with kosher salt while still warm, then let cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 1 month.

my homemade holiday gifts

This is the first year that I’m being hard-core about homemade gifts.

collection of jars

I’m totally going to toot my own horn right now: I’ve eaten enough of my own canned goods to know that they’re pretty tasty. There are some talented canning bloggers out there who have yet to steer me wrong. I’ve also not hospitalized anyone, and the few “test” jars I’ve given to friends and family have received great reviews, so I’m going bigger. Almost everyone who receives a gift from me this year will receive at least one jar of something I’ve canned this year.

pickled pepper close-up

I haven’t published posts about everything I’ve canned this year, but here is a round-up of the various jars my friends and family will be receiving, just in case you’re wondering which recipes I wound up deeming “gift-worthy.” Enjoy!

As you can see, things are pretty heavy on the peach-strawberry side this year. I may try to get in a batch of something with apple or pear before the weekend, to mix things up a bit, but it’s also nice to have the taste of summer when it’s cold outside. (If you’re not in Austin, that is.)

jar labels

Now, let’s talk about packaging. I went pretty simple with my jars this year. I tried the whole “fabric under the ring” thing, but it just isn’t me. Instead, I got craft paper gift tags, plus a stamp, from a  craft store, and stamped each label with the “Homemade for the Holidays” stamp. On the back of the tag, I either signed my name or suggested ways to use this particular preserve. Then, I tied a bow around the ring with raffia and attached the gift tag. For the lids, I wasn’t a fan of my Sharpie scrawl on metal, so I cut out circles out of craft paper (tedious, but pretty) and used adhesive spray to attach the paper to the lid. Then, I labeled the jar with the contents and the month/ year I packed the jar.

Maybe next year I’ll get even braver and there will be a Christmas giveaway!

candied clementines

bowl of clementines

These clementines might be my favorite thing I’ve canned. They’re easy, quick, seasonal, sweet with enough bitterness to be fun, and so pretty in a jar. When I first saw the recipe on Saveur, I knew I had to make them immediately, but then I got cold feet. What would people do with a jar of candied citrus? All manner of things, my wandering mind discovered.

Since they’re delicious, peel and all, you can use them to garnish cocktails, serve them alongside hot chocolate, dip them in chocolate, mince them and fold them into scones or mix them into icings, layer them on top of a cake, or just snack on them. Which is what I’ll probably do with most of mine. I think they’d also be nice served in a spicy Christmas ale.

candied clementines in jars

Making them makes your house smell wonderful, too. The sliced clementines on the counter and the vanilla-infused syrup heating on the stove made my apartment smell like Christmas. Since it was 80 degrees in Austin that day, I’d have taken any tiny bit of Christmas spirit I could get. As citrus season is upon us, I’d like to try candying other sweet/sour fruits: Meyer lemons, key limes, tangerines. If you try another fruit, let me know how it goes!

The night I made them, I had about a pint of the sugar syrup left over, and it was so infused with the vanilla and citrus that I just ate half of it with a spoon, and then dreamed of all the wonderful things I could do with it. As I ate too many clementines right out of the jar, I thought of the following things to do with the leftover syrup:

  • Use it in mulled wine.
  • Make a lemon-rosemary cake, and soak it in the syrup.
  • Use it in mojitos.
  • Add powdered sugar to make a glaze for sugar cookies.
  • Drink it. Straight up.

You might not have the leftover syrup that I had, but I sincerely hope you do, because it inspired me in a way that a leftover ingredient never has before.

clementine jar labels

Candied Clementines
Adapted from Food in Jars, via Saveur
Note: Marisa says she got a total of 64 ounces of candied clementines (8 8-oz. jars). I did 16-oz. jars, but only got 2 (32 ounces). Your mileage may vary.

You will need:
3 lbs. clementines, sliced (I discarded the ends.)
2 c. water
4 c. granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved

Prepare your jars for canning: sterilize the jars and rings, and simmer the lids in a small pot of water. Also prepare your canning pot by bringing a lot of water to boil.

Combine sugar, water, and vanilla bean in a large pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Add clementine slices and cook about 15 minutes, until clementines are softened.

Divide clementines up among your jars– I used tongs to fill each jar with clementine slices, then poured the sugar syrup over the slices until the jars were full to within 1/2″ of the top of the jar. Wipe the lips of the jars, and add lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Let sit overnight, without disturbing. Any jars that don’t seal, refrigerate immediately and use those first.

clementines and jars

For a great canning primer, see the Food in Jars Canning 101 posts.

Candied Clementines on Punk Domestics

strawberry thyme jam

I’m in love with small-batch canning.

I made jam out of less than a pound of black mission figs that turned the richest raspberry red and had the most complex, tart and sweet flavor profile I’ve tasted from a jam. The only ingredients were figs, sugar, and some lemon juice. I’ve also made small batches of peach jam with rosemary, with bourbon, and with strawberries. I’ve made strawberry jam with basil. I made pure peach-and-sugar preserves from the last few cups of chopped peaches I had in the fridge.

I also love the tiny, four-ounce quilted jars. They make me feel more accomplished. A small batch of jam might yield 2 half-pint jars, if you’re lucky, but it can give you four or even five of these tiny jars! Since I’m planning on giving a lot of jam in Christmas gifts this year, more jars are better.

They’re also portable– I took a soy-and-sesame sauce to work with me in one of these baby jars, to dip dumplings into at lunch. It stayed sealed in my bag all day without leaking, and made me feel just a little fancier in the middle of the day. I’ve been putting out three or four jars of jam with breakfast, along with sliced cheese, fruit, and toast, and seeing the little cluster of jars gives a simple meal much more ceremony.

The smaller jars, and smaller batches, also free me up to try new combinations. Strawberry-thyme jam, for example, is just herby enough to make it really interesting, but still pretty sweet and familiar. It’s made with honey and comes together quickly. The instructions say to weigh the honey, since it doesn’t come out of measuring cups easily, but I have a trick (and I don’t have a kitchen scale, so…): Run your measuring cup under hot water for a minute, then measure the honey. The heat from the cup will encourage the honey to slide right out.

Marisa from Food in Jars does a great job of explaining the instructions for this jam on The Kitchn, so pop over there for the recipe and start experimenting!