Thursday, April 18, 2013

Summer Is Coming. Gin Is Involved.

Is it wrong to be thinking about summer when spring has barely sprung?  I think not, especially when a little advance planning will result in a cranberry-infused adult beverage.

Flipping through a preserving cookbook recently, I came across a recipe for cranberry gin.  Simple enough -- basically add cranberries and sugar to gin and wait 3 months.  It was in the summer section of the book, with notes of enjoying the finished beverage by a warming fire in the wintertime.  I thought that pretty odd since cranberries are available in the fall/winter season, until I recalled that the author is from Australia and their seasons are opposite from ours here in the northern hemisphere.

Summer here is really not that far away, so with a bag of cranberries languishing in my freezer and visions of hot summer nights spent on the deck with a refreshing gin & tonic dancing in my head, I decided to give this a try.  DH wondered why I wouldn't just add cranberry juice to some gin, but I think that's just one question too many.  <g>

This is the gin right after mixing the ingredients.  After about a week, the sugar has fully dissolved and the gin is a dark pink.  It should be interesting to see the final result in about 3 months.  Cheers.

From Art of Preserving by Jan Berry
1 lb cranberries
1 1/2 cups caster sugar (aka superfine or ultrafine sugar)*
3 cups (750mL) gin
Place cranberries in a large sterilized jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the sugar and gin, close the jar, and shake gently.  Store in a dark place for 3 months, shaking daily for the 1st month and weekly thereafter.  Strain through a fine mesh or muslin-lined sieve into a sterilized bottle and discard the fruit pulp.  Store in a cool dark place. 
*Caster sugar is a fine sugar somewhere in between regular granulated sugar and confectioner's (powered) sugar.  It is sold in my area under the C&H brand as "Baker's Sugar."  This sugar will dissolve much better than regular sugar, so do use it.  It can be used in place of regular sugar in baking, so have no fear of having leftover sugar.
Note:  I used a 12-oz bag of frozen cranberries and reduced the amount of sugar and gin accordingly.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Beads in a Basket (A Tool Review with a Sneak Peak)

I love cool little tools, so I was delighted when the lovely Joanna of Chic-a gave me a sample of this clever new product when we were at TNNA.  Called the Gadget Tray, it's a small square of oilcloth and heavy lining fabric with snaps in the corners.  Fold up the corners and secure the snaps, and you have a handy tray/shallow basket perfect for any number of crafts.  Unsnapped, it lies perfectly flat, making it easy to store away.  The Gadget Tray is available in 3 sizes (3", 4", and 5") and a number of Chic-a's signature oilcloth prints, and the smallest size has a magnet inside which will keep needles and other small metal objects in place. 

The tray came in quite handy when I was working on a beaded knitting project.  The beads were easy to access, didn't roll all over the place, and the steel crochet hook I used stayed put in the tray thanks to the magnet.

So what is this beaded knitting project, you ask?  Well, it's a sock, and that's all I'm saying for now.  Here's a little sneak peak.  Look at that wonderful bright pink yarn! (Baah Yarn La Jolla, in Flamingo Pink).  And beads!  The design is off for test knitting and photography now; watch for the pattern in a few weeks. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's Always Preserving Season

The height of summer is usually associated with preserving, and indeed, all those luscious stone fruits and tomatoes and cukes and zukes mean some hot sessions in the kitchen if you're a canner.  But really, at any time of the year -- even winter -- there is something from the garden or farmers' market or just the grocery store that can be put up in jars to serve you for the weeks and months ahead.  Leeks and onions can be made into savory confits, mushrooms can be packed in olive oil, and dried fruits can be made into jam.  Many of these preserved can be cooked up very quickly and stored in the fridge, without the need for waterbath canning.

Here in California lemons are available year round, and I was surprised to find a lemon tree in the garden here in our new place in Northern California.  I thought we were too far north for citrus, but the tree is doing well and a few weeks ago I found myself with several dozen lemons that ripened all at once.  Hating to waste produce, I scrambled to figure out what to do with that much lemon. 

I had planned on making a big batch of salt-preserved lemons but discovered to my dismay that I had left the lemons on the tree too long and they were over-ripe.  So I did the easy thing:  I squeezed most of them, put the strained juice in ice cube trays to freeze, then stored the frozen cubes in freezer bags.  Very handy for when you need a tablespoon or so of lemon juice for a recipe. 

That still left me with a whole lotta lemons, so I decided on making a batch of pickled garlic.  Aside from the peeling, this was quick and easy:  whole garlic cloves, lemon slices, mustard seed, and some other spices put up in a vinegar brine.  Pickled garlic is great in vinaigrette and can be used in any recipe calling for garlic.


Aren't they pretty?  I love seeing them when I open the pantry door.  I divided the recipe into smaller jars so that I could give some away, but next time I think I'll halve the recipe and make just one large jar. 
After I canned this batch of garlic, I still had a large number of cloves left, so I made a quick jar of pickled garlic to go straight into the fridge.  I tweaked the recipe because I didn't have all of the ingredients on hand (how did I not have any peppercorns?), but here is the original from The Glass Pantry by Georgeanne Brennan. 
1 cup peeled garlic cloves (from about 6 heads)
2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp allspice berries
2 or 3 juniper berries
1/2 to 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
Put the cloves in a dry sterilized jar.  Add the bay leaves and spices, and then pour in enough vinegar to cover the garlic.  Cover the jar with a lid and store in the fridge for up to 4 months.  Makes about 1/2 pint.