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condiments & pickles

Having My (Double Chocolate) Cake (and Nibbling at the Edges)

Double Chocolate Muffins

I mentioned that it might be a little quiet in Wonderland this summer, but even I wasn’t expecting the silence to be so drawn out. And the longer the gap, the harder the re-start. I have a small stack of draft posts, but I haven’t been quite sure how to put what was holding me back into words even for myself. Today, it was put into pictures with way more power that I ever could have generated.

That’s not to imply that I have lost interest in researching or testing recipes, writing about or photographing meals (and eating remains a central priority in my daily life, one way or another). There is something so energizing about sharing food with friends and family around the table; the fact that in 2013 you can tweet a quick picture of that meal to a recipe creator and invite them in for a virtual “thank you” bite is a very sweet icing indeed.

While I’m nowhere near as serious as some, I find blogging to be a beautiful final step in documenting what was once ephemeral women’s work. For me, however, it often comes at a cost in lost attention to the present.

With that in mind, I’ve dedicated myself (unconsciously at first, I’ll admit) to being a consumer of internet knowledge this past month rather than a contributor to the volume, and it’s been grand. I’ve actually finally made a lot of the dishes on my “To Try” Pinterest board! Here’s a round up of some of my new DIY discoveries and recipes. Yes, I fully grasp the ridiculousness of expressing anxiety about the volume of internet content in a new post published on the internet. It’s hard to let go of the dopamine hit that is online (over?)sharing, for sure.

Wonderland on Instagram (clockwise from top left): citronella soy candles; natural lipstick; cocoa butter lotion bars; double chocolate muffins.

Wonderland on Instagram (clockwise from top left): citronella soy candles; natural lipstick; cocoa butter lotion bars; pre-bake double chocolate muffins.

I’ve also turned the kitchen over to crafting some DIY beauty products. While I recently figured out that my body is much too irritated by the baking soda in this deodorant recipe (who knew?), I’m loving these other Wellness Mama concoctions:

While you’re at it, take a second to make a little olive oil candle scented with the essential oils of your choice to keep you company in the bath. I rigged this wick with a bit of picture frame wire.

evoo candle

Now that I’m almost all the way back on this pony, more on other projects, such as DIY bug spray and citronella soy candle making to come…

Bon Attempt*: Dishes to Try (and Try Again)

Pickled Turnips

So, things have been going in Wonderland Kitchen, they just haven’t been going “OMG, I totally have to tell you about this ah-maze-ing cookie recipe I just invented” great. That, or they’ve been going “this other person’s recipe is awesome and I posted about it last year” (so repeat as needed).

I’ve also been doing a good bit of cooking for real people beyond my husband (or unintentionally for my cat, when my back is turned, the little sneak!). It seemed rude to stick a lens in a guest’s face during an 8 a.m. breakfast, but in hindsight I’m feeling less shy, so beware future visitors!

Anyway, this being Sunday, I thought perhaps a little confession time was in order–air the laundry and wipe off the counters for the week ahead–and so in no particular order, some recipe takeaways for when the CSA first slams back into the rotation and houseguests make last minute visits. What have you been cooking as we slide into summer?

A Reminder that You Can Pickle For Tomorrow What You Can’t Consume Today

Turnips with Beet

Since the crisper drawer was already bursting with greens, I picked up a couple bunches of these white turnips and pickled them according to David Lebovitz’s recipe. Here I thought I was innovating, but hardly! I did however get distracted and ended up with an overly salted and garlic-y finished product. Will have to try this one again, because the beet slices resulted in an amazing brine. And I do have a soft spot for pink food.

A Reminder to Prep Guest Breakfasts Ahead of Time

Granola and Refrigerator Oats

I’ve posted about this Little Blue Hen granola before, which I like especially because it includes an abundance of nuts and seeds with nary a spec of dried fruit in sight (though I’ll cop to offering the guests a handful of DIY raisins at their discretion, because come on). I also like to make little cups of refrigerator oats before heading to bed (I substitute kefir for the milk and yogurt) and then just pass out the jars and spoons in the a.m. Haven’t had an unfinished portion yet.

A Reminder to be Brave with Your Summer Soups

Spring Asparagus and Broccoli Soup

I have been having a lot of luck lately with those “use up five things from the in-house stock” on the fly dinners, and this has been especially helpful now that there’s a lot more produce around. As we crawl towards the end of the week and another pick-up looms, sometimes the stuff just needs to be used up. That’s how I ended up with asparagus, broccoli, and spring onions in a soup pot, simmered with just enough veggie broth to cover, and then pureed with the last of the dill and the remaining 1/4 cup of cream in the bottle. A light spring soup, tasty both hot and cold.

A Reminder to Double the Doctor Kracker Knock-Offs

DIY Seeded Crispbread

Fair warning that these are very crisp crackers, but they are just like the ones that come eight to a box in the grocery. If your family is as addicted to them as mine, you have come to the right place for the knock-off recipe. But be sure to hide a few for your own eating: this was the lone piece of cracker left in the bag when I went back to take a picture and have a snack.

A Reminder to Not Burn Your Hand When Baking Life-Changing Bread

My New Roots: Life Changing Bread

This is the pre-baked look of My New Roots’ much-discussed Life-Changing Bread. The first loaf I made with really beautiful Bob’s Red Mill oats and specially purchased hazelnuts and thought it was a neat breakfast item but not necessarily life changing. The second time I was way more chill about it, just used the walnuts and the somewhat crappier instant oats I dug out of the pantry, and also tossed in all the seeds left behind in the bag of the above-mentioned seeded crackers. Aside from the accidental seering of the back of my hand on the oven while flipping the bread over, I’m enjoying the second batch even more. I keep it sliced and frozen and simply defrost a piece each morning in the toaster.

A Reminder That Not All Baking Need Exhaust Your Patience

Joy the Baker: Sweet Berry Lime Cake

Short version: I needed a cake for company, and I had about an hour to make it happen. Joy the Baker to the rescue!

A Reminder That Sometimes the “Failures” Are Still Pretty Tasty

Tomato Basil Popovers

I always have excellent results with this King Arthur popover recipe, so I used that as the base when–for some reason–I started dreaming of breakfast treats flavored with tomato. My first effort included 1 tablespoon tomato powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, a handful of chopped basil, and about 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. They were good, but not quite what I’m looking for just yet and I lost most of my usual pop (I’m guessing the weight of the cheese didn’t help). A work in progress.

A Reminder That Not All Failures are Failures If You Adjust the Frame

Cottage Cheese Fail

I got it into my head after the cream cheese making that DIY cottage cheese would be no. big. deal. I researched a few available recipes and thought things were going pretty well, but my curds didn’t survive the straining process. I’m guessing I didn’t cook my curds long enough. Proper looking curds or no, the cheese still tasted fantastic and I used it like a rich ricotta on toast and pizzas with much success. The curd skills will come another day. There were also fresh peas at the market, which meant it was time again for smoky tahini peas!

Peas and Cheese Crostini

*With apologies to Bon Appétempt, whose kitchen antics are funny and whose dishes look awesome. However, as I have never eaten at her house, it’s her blog name that I’m particularly enamored with–so much so that I felt only minor guilt in kinda stealing it for the title of this post! That acknowledged and confessed, onward into the kitchen…

National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day: Peanut Butter & Pickle Variation

Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich

National Mustard Day (August 5)? National Split Pea Soup Week (the second week of November)? The volume of so-called “national food holidays” tends to make me uncomfortable in the same way that overly sentimental greeting cards do–the thought is largely inoffensive, but the meaning generic and diluted. (Though maybe not when it comes to National Margarita Day. That one I think I’d keep in regular rotation.)

I would have overlooked National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day today, except that it seems to have stirred up the conversation around the peanut butter and pickle variation and this is a sandwich I feel compelled to advocate for. It being my snack of preference as a picky-eater kid, I was honestly shocked to discover how many people think this is a dish entirely too gross to even consider tasting. For me, it carries the memory of sneaking in late from high school dates and hanging out in the quiet of the kitchen, all the ingredients laid out on the counter while I made my preparations by the dim glow of the stove’s overhead light. Inevitably, my mom would hear me clanking around and get out of bed to ask how my night had been. Then she’d shuffle back to her room, wondering aloud why I hadn’t bothered to eat properly while I was out.

Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich: Makings

Was my PB&P just a passing teenage infatuation? While for some reason I had largely abandoned this childhood sweetheart when I left Ohio, our reconnection was as delicious as I could have hoped for. A suspicious “what are you eating?” inquiry and taste bite request from my husband had him making his own before my plate was clean. Should you wish to take a pass on this sweet and savory treat, well, the more for us. But you won’t know what you’re missing.

Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich: Slices

Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich

Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich

rye bread (seeded preferred)
peanut butter (a sweet variety is best, for balance)
kosher dill pickle slices (though some prefer the sweetness of bread and butter style)
potato chips (thick ridged variety, if possible)

Toast the bread and spread both slices with a generous layer of peanut butter. Layer pickle slices over one slice and crush chips over the other. Sandwich together and slice in half.

Plate with additional chips and pickles if you’re feeling fancy; eat over the sink at 2 a.m. and don’t clean the crumbs off the counter before you go to bed if you’re feeling rebellious.

http://wonderlandkitchen.com/2013/04/national-peanut-butter-and-jelly-day-peanut-butter-pickle-variation/

DIY Black Tahini and Beet Hummus

Black Tahini Beet Hummus

There are few constants in my kitchen, but one of them might be the high probability that there is a semi-full can of tahini hiding out at the back of the fridge on any given evening. Its precise origin and month of purchase are murky. I’m sure I thought about inking the date on the lid when I first open it, but I didn’t.

Lurking tahini

For anyone nodding along with me here, I have a new philosophy: I will henceforth buy sesame seeds and make my own tahini as needed, a 1/2 cup at a time. True, DIY versions of the purée may not be quite as smooth as the commercial variety. However, I found that a cup of seeds and a couple tablespoons of oil given a two-minute run in my blender came way too close to argue over. And if you were thinking about arguing, let’s talk again after you’ve tried to stir the separated oil back into the that neglected-for-weeks tahini in your fridge.

To make things a little more exotic, when I spotted some black sesame seeds at the grocery recently, I wondered: Was black tahini a thing? Yes! And not only that, I found it to blend smooth with half the amount of oil needed to convert white sesame seeds, plus the flavor was less bitter. I got a sweeter, nuttier paste. Plus, the color is just amazing (or terrifying, I suppose, depending on your tastes).

With such black gold at my finger tips, I decided to add it to a hummus that could stand up to it, pigment-wise. The Hungarian in my soul cried out for beets, though even if you are not normally a fan of this superfood, you may yet enjoy this dip. The color alone is sure to turn a few heads at your next gathering.

I decided to use my blender to process the tahini rather than my food processor, as the bowl is narrower and there are more blades on the job. Unlike my food processor, it is much harder for the seeds to cling to the sides away from the cutting action. However, my hopes to make even smaller batches in the blender and process the hummus in the same container right on top were, sadly, a fail. A cup of sesame seeds made a beautiful 1/2 cup of black tahini in minutes; a 1/4 cup of seeds just made a splattered unprocessed mess. Your appliances may serve you better.

Black Tahini

The Method: DIY Black Tahini

1 cup black sesame seeds, toasted just until fragrant (since they are black, take care not to burn them)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus addition as needed

Place toasted sesame seeds and olive oil in a blender. Purée one minute, scrape down sides, and purée an additional minute, adding more olive oil as needed. Continue blending until smooth and pourable. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store, covered, in the refrigerator.

NB: The process is identical if using white sesame seeds, though I found that I needed twice the amount of oil. Using untoasted white seeds, however, produced a bitter tahini that I could not recommend.

The Verdict

Like many condiment projects, the major benefits of DIY-ing your own relate to freshness and control over ingredients. Once again, there is also a cost/time consideration. Even without making a bulk purchase, I paid $3.99 for 8 ounces of black sesame seeds which (using the method above) results in about a cup of tahini. Commercial versions of the same volume retail for anywhere from $5.29 to $12.59. Personally, the chance to step back to just a jar of sesame seeds in the pantry that can be used both to whip up small batches of tahini and in other projects as well makes this the way to go.

Beet Hummus: Processing

DIY Black Tahini and Beet Hummus

Makes: about 2 1/2 cups

DIY Black Tahini and Beet Hummus

4 medium beets (about 8 ounces), roasted, peeled, and cubed
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
2 tablespoons black tahini (or substitute regular tahini)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional as needed
parsley for garnish

Place all ingredients in a food processor and run until smooth, adding additional oil as needed to achieve desired consistency. Garnish with an additional drizzle of olive oil and chopped parsley.

http://wonderlandkitchen.com/2013/02/diy-black-tahini-and-beet-hummus/

DIY Pumpkin (Pie) Seed Butter

DIY Pumpkin (Pie) Seed Butter

Between making nut butters and non-dairy milks, everywhere I look I now see how a motor and some pantry staples can result in easy-to-whip-up versions of commercial products: tahini, sunflower butter, nut/grain/coconut milks. This is how I found myself standing in the bulk aisle considering what else might make for a tasty spread or beverage. I spied the pumpkin seeds and wondered, hey, would pumpkin seed butter taste good? Is that a thing already? (It is, though it is a pricey and not necessarily readily available option.)

In a general grocery store situation, the pepitas may already be salted and roasted, so no need to add additional salt unless it’s your preference. If you have raw hauled seeds, you can toast them in the oven before processing. Of course, some people are looking to keep their diet raw, and you can use raw seeds if that suits your nutritional preferences best. However, roasting will deliver a richer flavor.

Due to the high fat content of the seeds, they can easily go rancid. Take care to purchase fresh seeds and then keep them in a sealed bag or airtight container. Seeds can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for a longer shelf life.

January’s unrelenting grey drizzle has me in the mood for something warm and comforting, so I have seasoned this recipe with homemade pumpkin pie spice and maple syrup. You may certainly omit or reduce any spices you don’t like, and use honey or another sweetener instead or omit these things completely.

I was surprised to read comments along the lines of, “an acquired taste, but I’ll eat it because it’s healthy,” attached to some commercial versions of pumpkin seed butter. Maybe it’s because I soup mine up with a touch of sweetener and spice, but I could eat the whole jar with a spoon if no one was looking. And if there are nut allergy concerns, you may find this to be a great tasting and safe alternative (though check with your healthcare professional first).

DIY Pumpkin (Pie) Seed Butter: Ingredients

DIY Pumpkin (Pie) Seed Butter
makes approximately 2 cups

Note: If you have raw hauled seeds, toast them in a 350° oven, stirring occasionally, for ten minutes or until fragrant, popping, and lightly browned. Oiling them is not necessary. Add a 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste) to the recipe.

3 cups roasted and salted pepitas
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons maple syrup, or to taste
2 tablespoons neutral oil of your choice, plus additional as needed

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process, stopping occasionally to scrap down sides, until desired consistency is reached. Add more oil by the tablespoonful as needed if the butter is too dry.

Scoop butter into a container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator.

*

This post was shared in a blog hop hosted by the awesome Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways. The site offers tons of inspiring DIY ideas, so definitely check it out!

This recipe and post were created for my “DIY vs. Buy” column on Serious Eats.

DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce (Ridges Optional)

cranberry_top

I grew up in a household of “normal” American cuisine: our mac and cheese was boxed, our casserole was tuna, and our cranberry sauce? Our cranberry sauce had ridges running along the side–the mark of the can it came from. Since traveling out in the world, I have of course since been introduced to homemade, gourmet, and small-batch artisan versions of a lot of foods, but some attachments die hard. And sometimes, well, sometimes on balance boxed is just best.

This brings me around to how I decided that DIY canned cranberry sauce would be my “heart healthy” project for Cathy’s annual Thanksgiving round-up. Granted, cranberry sauce is always going to have a bit of sweetener in it to balance the tartness of the berries, but I figured if I could get the high fructose corn syrup and the plain old regular corn syrup out of the equation, we were still making strides toward a product that did the body a little better if not entirely good.

DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce: Sliced

For my recipe, I decided to use fruit juice and honey as my sweeteners. Though research had told me that using white sugar would require no additional pectin to get a good set, by using honey, I also needed to add this step. This finished jelly does differ from the commercial version in that you can definitely detect that honey was used. I like this–the sauce isn’t muddled with extra spices or exotic flavorings, but it is just a little more complex. White sugar would likely get you closer to the commercial taste, however, if that’s what you’re going for.

Jellied Cranberry Sauce: Commercial Variety

Jellied Cranberry Sauce: Commercial variety-check that gel!

Since I had already purchased a can of jellied cranberry sauce for comparison’s sake–for a $1, mind you, so add that into your considerations–I also had the bright idea that I would use the can as my mold, thereby silencing any readers or relatives who just could not deal with a cranberry sauce unmarked by rings along the edge. I thought I was being incredibly clever until I found out a couple of minutes ago that Marisa over at Food in Jars totally did that last year. BPA-free to boot.

What I discovered about my DIY cranberry sauce, however, is that while it is firm enough to be sliced and handled, it doesn’t come close to the commercial jelly in the can. Truly, that product has an almost terrifyingly firm yet not chewy in the mouth consistency. I’m not sure how they manage it! I did get my jelly out of the can without incident, but as a frazzled holiday host, make sure to take a deep breath and steady your hands before you cut and plate your sauce in those perfect circular slices–otherwise it could quickly turn into a fool’s game laced with profanities.

DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce: Process

DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce (Ridges Optional)

12 ounces whole cranberries, washed and picked over, mushy berries removed
3/4 cup water or juice (I used a tart grape juice I had on hand to good effect. I suspect apple or orange would be nice compliments as well.)
3/4 cup honey
Pectin–I used Pomona’s (2 teaspoons calcium water and 2 teaspoons pectin powder)

Put the juice in a heavy-bottomed soup pot and bring to a boil. Add berries and cook, stirring occasionally, just until most of the berries have popped and begun to soften (about five minutes). Remove from heat.

Using a food mill (recommended) or a sieve and the back of a ladle, mash the softened fruit through the strainer leaving the peels behind. Discard the peels and return the strained fruit to a clean pot. Add the calcium water to the fruit.

Stir the pectin powder into the measured honey, mixing well to evenly combine, then add this mixure to the fruit in the pot. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute.

Pour the sauce into the mold of your choice and allow to cool undisturbed until set. Turn out onto the serving dish of your choice just before serving.