Homemade Maraschino Cherries

July 23, 2011

I missed most of last year’s cherry season due to vacation. And after this year’s cherry crop disaster in California and the Northeast, I was afraid my son would face another year with with severely limited cherries. Fortunately, Washington State’s cherry crop was only delayed due to below average temperatures; it was not a total washout. With Bing cherries on sale this week for $2/lb, I bought a full 9-pounds of raw cherries (my maximum capacity based upon the bowls and pots I own).  Also I modified my processing  this year to reduce the amount of heat exposure to which the cherries undergo during Day 2; my goal being to give a firmer texture without affecting the flavor.

Sweet cherries preserved for the next 12 months

Of course, Royal Anne cherries are traditional for Maraschino cherries. Their very light color makes them a perfect blank slate so that the artificial dye can gives them their classic neon red. But I use Bing cherries because they are a fraction of the price. When there’s a bumper crop cherries can on sale for as little as $1/lb, so making twenty pounds of Maraschino Cherries (and juice) only costs $12. This year they cost about $23.

Comments:

  1. Depending upon what part of the country you pickling salt may be available. It does not contain iodine or anti-caking agents. But because I live just outside of NYC, I can only get Kosher salt. Be sure to check the ingredient list to verify that it only contains salt. The anit-caking agents will cause your syrup to be cloudy. If you use pickling salt you will need to alter the amount, because kosher salt is less dense.
  2. During the pitting process I lined my counter with 3-foot strips of plastic wrap, which made clean up very easy.
  3. If you don’t have a cherry pitter, they cost under $10, but there are numerous do-it-yourself cherry pitters on the web; e.g. here, here and here.
  4. Some online recipes call for using Alum, e.g. here and here. It is sometime used to help keep the cherries crisp. But I do not recommend using it because it is toxic to human in “large” quantities; large being just 1 ounce.
  5. Some of our favorite things to make with the cherry juice are: Shirley Temples (using Cherry juice in lieu of Grenadine), Malibu Bay Breeze, and added to Sangria in lieu of 1/4 cup of sugar.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: $24.00
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Large.
Start time Friday Evening. Ready at: Sunday Morning

Nine Pounds Raw Cherries:

9-pounds cherries
4 quarts water (Friday PM)
1/2 cup kosher salt, not table salt!
12 cups sugar (6 pounds)
3-1/2 cups cold water (Saturday AM)
juice of 3 regular lemon
1/2 ounce red food coloring
2-1/2 teaspoon almond extract (Sunday AM)
Yields: 12 to 14 pint jars

FRIDAY PM – The Pickling Process. (Takes 2 hour.)

  • Bring kosher salt (or pickling salt, but never table salt) and the 4 quarts of water to a boil; about 10 minutes. Stir until salt is dissolved.
  • Wear an apron or old clothes.  Wash, stem and remove seeds using a cherry pitter, immediately placing into cold water. (8 to 9 minutes per lb).
  • Drain cherries into large bowl, then pour pickling solution over your pitted cherries.
  • Put a plate to weight down the cherries to prevent them from floating above water line.
  • Cover with plastic wrap; Allow to cool for an hour then refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight.

SATURDAY AM – Marinating the Cherries. (Takes about 45 minutes)

  • The next day, drain the cherries and throw away the brine. Use the plate (that held down the cherries all night) to hold back the cherries while you dump the water.
  • Rinse cherries thoroughly by means of repeated cold water baths. Rinse at least 7 or 8 times. Set cherries aside for the time being.
  • In a large pot, combine 6-pounds sugar and the 3-1/2 cups of cold water.
  • Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. (10 to 12 minutes)
  • Pour the hot sugar mixture over the cherries.
  • Add lemon juice and (optional) red food coloring; gently mix to incorporate. I must warn you that if you taste the cherries now you will be afraid that you’ve ruined them with salt. But don’t worry; it’ll all work out in the end.
  • Cover with plastic wrap; Allow to cool at room temperature for an hour then refrigerate for 24 hours, stirring from time to time.

SUNDAY AM – Preserving Process. (Takes about 1-1/2 hours.)

  • Run 12 pint jars and lid bands through dishwasher utilizing the heated dry-cycle (at least 60 minutes), and after about 30 minutes bring a large pot of water to boil (for preparing loaded jars).
  • In a separate shallow pan, heat lid inserts in simmering water (180-degrees) until ready for use. Do not boil or they will not seal properly.
  • Drain the juices into a large empty pot; setting drained cherries aside.
  • Cook the juices, uncovered, until just reaches a boil (about 10 minutes). BE CAREFUL: the juices will bubble over quickly. I’d recommend a thermometer with the alarm set to 200-degrees.
  • Turn off heat, add cherries immediately. Add almond extract and gently stir for 2 minutes (to remove air).
  • Pour or ladle the boiling hot fruit and juice directly into the prepared pint jars, only filling 1/2 to 2/3rds with fruit.
  • Stir with non-metallic spoon or gently shake to remove air bubble. Fill to 1/8″ of brim with more juice. Wipe the brim clean to ensure a good seal.
  • Seal the jars by place heated lid insert onto jar, holding down in the center while tightening lid ring.
  • In large pot of boiling water, carefully load the sealed jars. Use a jar lifter, or combination of tongs and large spoon.
  • Add water if needed to a level of 1 inch above jars and cover pot.
  • When water boils vigorously (about 10 minutes), lower heat to maintain a gentle boil and process for recommended time: 20 minutes for pint jars, and 25 minutes for quart jar (adjust for altitude).

SUNDAY AFTERNOON – Wrap up. (5 minutes)

  • When cooled check for seal integrity by pressing top; should not move up or down. (all my seals were fine)
  • Store for up to 1 year. Write date and contents on lid to avoid any confusion.

Hostess-Style Cup Cake

July 14, 2011

When I was a kid, one of my greatest treats was a Hostess Cup Cake; sweet, chocolatey, plus they came in packages of two. But I have never bought my kids a Hostess Cupcake, because, as an adult, I know that the soft texture has more to do with chemicals than freshness. Together with my kids I watched the episode of Cooks Country where they made an improved version of the Hostess Cupcake. By the end of the episode they were happily moaning about how delicious they looked. So I made them for a friends birthday (her 32nd b-day, I think, wink, wink).  The filling is made with marshmallow fluff, butter and unflavored gelatin. The signature squiggle is made from the same filling mixture. The cupcake is moist, and more delicate that the Hostess original. They turned out great; 4-stars.

Moist and chocolatey, but a lighter, chemical-free texture.

Comments:

  1. Since I have my espresso machine and no instant espresso, I substituted the hot water and instant espresso called for in the recipe with 1/2-cup of real espresso.
  2. Chris Kimball says to grease and flour the muffin tin. Because my tin is so old, I used cupcake wrappers to avoid the obvious sticking that would have occurred.
  3. If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can use a regular plastic baggie and cut a tiny hole from one corner.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $3.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 2:30 PM. Finish time 4:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here (registration required; but no credit card). The descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

Cupcake Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon instant espresso
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Adjust your oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 325-degrees. Either grease and flour a 12-cup muffin tin, or line with cupcake wrappers. Remove 4 tablespoons of butter from refrigerator to allow to soften.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk hot water, cocoa, chocolate chips, and instant espresso until the mixture becomes smooth. Add sugar, sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Mix until all ingredients are just combined.
  4. Whisk flour mixture into wet ingredients until incorporated. Evenly divide the batter into the 12 muffin cups.
  5. Bake at 325-degrees for 18 to 22 minutes; a toothpick inserted into cupcake will come out with just a few dry crumbs. Cool in muffin tin for 10 minutes, then turn them out and finish cooling completely on a wire rack while you make the filling.

Filling Ingredients:
3 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
4  tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups marshmallow fluff

  1. To make the filling, add 3 tablespoons water in large, microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle gelatin and let gelatin soften for 5 minutes.
  2. Microwave for 30 seconds until it begins bubbling around edges. Mix in butter, vanilla, and salt.
  3. Let mixture cool for 5 minutes until it is barely warm to the touch. Using a whisk, mix in marshmallow fluff until smooth. Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes to allow it to set.
  4. Set aside 1/3 cup to a pastry bag fitted with small plain tip. The remaining mixture is for filling the cupcakes.

Chocolate Glaze Ingredients:
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3  tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. In a small bowl, microwave the chocolate and butter for 30 seconds, stirring twice.
  2. Cool glaze for 10 minutes until it reaches room temperature.
  3. Cut a cone from the top of each cupcake, placing it beside the cup cake; each top will only fit the cupcake from which it was cut. Add 1 tablespoon of filling to each cupcake. Replace the tops . Frost the cupcakes with the chocolate glaze and allow to harden for 15 minutes.
  4. Using your pastry bag, squeeze curlicues across the top of each cupcakes.

Texas BBQ Beef Ribs

July 8, 2011

So far this summer I have only barbecued pork ribs, but these beef ribs looked fantastic on Cook’s Country. They turned out wonderful and were no more work than any other low-and-slow BBQ. The homemade sauce is made like any other on the stovetop, but is not applied during cooking.

Everything's bigger in Texas; huge compared to pork ribs.

The result is a solid 4-star; these are delicious. I love the flavor of nicely barbecued beef. My supermarket usually sells bone-in beef ribs for $5/lb, but these were only $3. Chris Kimball recommends “us[ing] beef ribs with a decent amount of meat, not bony scraps.” Of course that is easier said than done, because my butchers don’t leave much meat. It’s just a case of butchers maximizing profits, as they can sell boneless cuts for a lot more than $2.99/lb.

Issues:

  1. I discovered last year that I don’t like adobo sauce, so I substituted a plain jalapenos. Because I used a fresh jalapeno, I sauteed it with the onion. The chipotle chile is added with the tomato juice.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $14 for 4 pounds of ribs.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 2:30 PM. Finish time 6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

For the Barbecue Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 small onion
1 medium clove garlic, pressed
1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
2 cups tomato juice
3/4 cup white vinegar (1/4-cup of which is saved to the end)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
1 teaspoon chipotle chile in adobo (I substituted 1 jalapenos)
2 tablespoons molasses
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

  1. In a small bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder and 1 tablespoon water; mix to form a paste. Mince half an onion, which should yield about 1/4 cup. Mince your chile (with or without adobo sauce).
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When butter is foaming; sautee onion for 2 to 3 minutes. Use a garlic press and add garlic directly into saucepan; also add the 1-1/2 teaspoons of chili powder. Stir and cook for 20 seconds.
  3. Add 2 cups of tomato juice, 1/2 cup white vinegar (leave the remaining 1/4 cup for later), Worcestershire sauce, the prepared mustard paste, minced chile, molasses, and salt to the sauce pan. Increase to high heat and bring to simmer. After you’ve reached a simmer, reduce to medium heat. Continue simmering for 40 minutes until sauce has thickened and has reduced to 1-1/2 cups.
  4. Remove from heat and add pepper and 1/4 cup of white vinegar.
  5. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

For the Ribs:
4 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons table salt
1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
5-lbs beef rib,  between 3 to 4 ribs per slab

  1. In a small bowl, combine chili powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Evenly rub the mixture into all sides of ribs. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, take 2 large chunks of wood, and submerge in water for 1 hour. You can put a plate on top of wood chunks to keep them submerged.
  3. Open bottom grill vents completely. Light a chimney starter about one-third with full (about 30 briquettes). Allow to burn for 15 minutes until they are covered with thin gray ash.
  4. Remove wood chunks from water, empty charcoal against one side of grill and place 1 wood chunk on top of coals. Replace grill grate and adjust lid vents two-thirds open.
  5. Place ribs with meat-side down on the cool side of grill. Cover so that the vents are directly above ribs. If desired, you can check the temperature through a grill vent and it should be about 300 degrees. Cook for 1 hour (the grill temperature should now be 250 degrees).
  6. After 45 minutes, light another 30 briquettes in chimney starter and allow 15 minutes for it to become covered with a fine grey ash. Carefully set aside the cooking grate, add charcoal to the hot side of the grill and add the second wood chunk.
  7. Replace cooking grill and flip ribs so that the meat-side is now up;  rotating so that the edge once closest to coals is now farthest away. Again cover grill, positioning lid so that vents are above ribs and cook for another 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours.  The ribs are ready when a fork can be inserted into and removed from meat with little resistance.
  8. Let ribs rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes, then slice between the bones to separate into individual ribs. Serve the sauce separately.

The Great Cherry Disaster of 2011

July 6, 2011

I am not generally an alarmist. But the news is terrible, and I don’t understand why this worst possible news has also gotten almost no press. The extremely wet weather in the cherry growing regions; from California, the upper Mid West, to the East Coast; has delayed and damaged this year’s cherry crop. So instead of sale prices as low as $1/lb, so far this year the few cherries I’ve seen are between $5 and $7/lb. In my household, the news doesn’t get any worse than that. From California the news is bad; first the rain delayed them, then heavy rains at the worst possible moment meant the loss of 30% of the sweet cherry crop. Here on the East Coast, our next door neighbor’s cherries were also washed out; what little fruit they had was flavorless. I can never remember a year when the cherry news has been so bleak.

It could be worse; they cost nearly US$100/kg during my trip to France,

However,  there is one final hope. After several week of delay, Washington State is just beginning their annual harvest.  Though pent up global demand will certainly keep prices high, there is still a slim chance of being able to make our annual, homemade maraschino cherries. The typical Washington State maturity schedule is here; but add about 2 weeks this year.  Last year, I was vacationing in Central America during peak California cherry season, so I made them with Washington State Cherries. They turned out fine, just a little pricier. Keep your fingers crossed for our last hope.

Update July 7th: The first of the Northwestern Cherries go on sale for $2/lb starting tomorrow. My family will be thrilled. Looks like we will be making our annual maraschino cherries after all.


Rustic Dinner Bread

July 3, 2011

I’ve been complaining for over a year that Chris Kimball’s bread take too much time. All his bread recipes require starting the evening before, and then I need at least 4 more hours on baking day. So I can’t make them during the work week, and I can’t make them on a whim. I once had the opportunity to ask Chris Kimball directly, and his response was that I should just make non-yeasted biscuits. Come on; not even close.

I had the same problem today; when I went to the supermarket at 11AM and disliked the available bread. But because I didn’t decide to bake bread last night, none of Chris Kimball’s recipes would work. With limited options, I took the dough from the Rustic Dinner Rolls recipe, but shaped and baked the bread as a loaf. Today’s bread is perhaps the most beautiful loafs I’ve made, and I made modifications so that the crust would be soft just like my kids like it.

Used the dough for Rustic dinner rolls, but made as single loaf.

Comments:

  1. I increased the bread flour from 16-1/2 to 19-oz, because I had to add a significant amount of flour each and every time I made these. True if you are using a measuring cup it is wise to add less, then adjust upwards. But weighing my ingredients, and adding so much extra seems far less precise that adding the correct amount in the first place. Plus, I end up over kneading the dough as I try to get the right consistency.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $.85 (about 28-oz loaf).
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 2:00 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for Rustic Dinner Rolls is here, and was also featured back in Season 8 of ATK. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

1-1/2 cups water (12 ounces)
1-1/2 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
2 teaspoons honey
3-1/2 cups bread flour (18-1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour (1 ounce)
2 teaspoons table salt

  1. In a Pyrex measuring cup, heat water in microwave for 1 minute to 110-degrees. Whisk in yeast and honey, and allow to hydrate for 5 minutes. Make sure that there is no honey sticking to the bottom of the measuring cup.  (see additional notes on types of yeast)
  2. Add both types of flour to (but not salt) the bowl of a standing mixer. With the standing mixer equipped with dough hook, slowly add yeast mixture and mix on lowest setting for 3 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the plastic wrap from the bowl and sprinkle salt evenly over the dough. Knead on low speed (2 on KitchenAid) for 5 minutes. Twice during mixing, stop the mixer and use a spatula to scrape dough from dough hook. After 5 minutes, increase speed to medium speed (6 on KitchenAid ) and knead for 1-1/2 more minutes. The dough should smooth and only slightly tacky.
  4. Spray a glass bowl with nonstick cooking spray, transfer dough to bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 hour until it doubles in size in a warm, draft-free place. In winter, you’ll have to use your warmed, but turned off oven to help.
  5. Using a greased spatula, fold the dough over onto itself; rotate bowl quarter turn and fold again. Rotate bowl again and fold once more. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes.
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle evenly with a very thin coat of flour.
  7. Repeat folding, and place on replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  8. Carefully remove dough from bowl and form an oblong loaf about 14″ long. Place on prepared baking sheet, spray with nonstick cooking spray and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
  9. Begin preheating oven to 500-degrees at least 30 minutes before baking, position oven racks to lowest and middle position. Bring 2 cups water to boil on the stove top.
  10. Using a serrated knife slash the loaf two or three times 1/4″ deep. Spray the top loaf with water, put in oven and pout boiling water into boiler pan and immediately close the door to trap steam.
  11. Bake for 25 minutes total. After 5 minutes, reduce oven temperature down to 375-degrees without opening the oven. After 7 more minutes (half way through total baking time) rotating the loaf’s position in the oven to ensure an evenly golden loaf.
  12. Bake for another 18 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the reaches 195-degrees.
  13. Let loaf cool on wire rack for at least 1 hour. Cutting into a hot loaf will allow steam to escape and the loaf will be too dry.

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