Sunday, March 10, 2013

How do I love thee, Blood Orange, Let me count the ways

In a previous blog post, I talked about 'foraging' at the local grocery store.  Some will simply give you questionable produce, with the idea that you will feed it to livestock. Others, such in my area, will package it up, and sell it at a much (much!) reduced cost.

So I've taken to watching the reduced shelves whenever I head to the store.  Scores included limes (which were made into limeade concentrate...yum.) Lemons--the same, and this last trip had me getting 2 3lb bags of blood oranges.

Blood Oranges  are famous for their deep ruby hue.  This color can only mature when there are cool nights.   The particular variety I had, if you're the curious sort was Moro; the newest of the varieties, and also the one that has the most pigment.  Wiki says it has a taste like raspberry, but I don't think I'd go that far.  They are available from late December to March, if they're Texan fruits, and a bit earlier if they're Californian.

So here I am with my two bags. My husband ate one, said it was a bit more sour than he liked, and didn't have any use for them.  So now it was time to find some new things to do with them.

I went to my canning groups on Facebook, asking for ideas-and boy was I given some ideas!  Marmalade was a common one, and I like marmalade; but I have 6 boxes of jellies, jams and marmalades right now.  Sure I can use them for barter, but, well, I wanted to try something new.  Then, someone mentioned curd.

Curd is a spread, a bit like a custard.  It is used with citrus fruits and includes butter, sugar and eggs.  YES! It is safe to can curd, because the high acid of the citrus keeps everything else safe.  It makes a very smooth texture, and can be eaten in all sorts of ways. The most common curd is lemon.

The recipe wouldn't take the whole bunch of oranges, but it was something new to try!

Flipped through some online recipes, and my canning books.  This one came out of a new book a girlfriend gave me, wittily titled, ' Put 'em Up' (It's a new listing to the right in my 'bookshelf' column.)  It's the lemon curd recipe, just changed out to the blood orange. (Which the author says you can.)

To make you'll need:

a non-reactive double boiler (no aluminum here, folks.)
non-reactive whisk
4 1 c. jelly jars with lids
pot for hot water bath

The Recipe:
1 tbsp. blood orange zest (with a microplane, this was basically one orange's worth of zest.)
1 c. blood orange juice (I strained the pulp out, THEN measured it. It took 4 oranges.)
 1 1/2 c. sugar
3/4's c. (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cubed.
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Now, I DID play with this a bit. I left out the salt, because I didn't have unsalted butter.

Directions state to dump everything at once into the double boiler, I put everything in, and added the eggs (lightly whisked) once the butter was all melted.

Then you whisk.
And whisk.
And whisk.

This picture is about halfway through the process.  You can tell it is not thickened yet.

Whisk for about 10 minutes, until it has thickened. (you can tell this because as you whisk,it will start to stick and coat the edge of the double boiler.  This will take about 10 minutes, maybe a bit longer. This is another part that I skipped in the regular recipe. It tells you to strain at this point.   Maybe I would've had more flavor, but I felt I'd lose more curd this way. I stand by my decision to strain the juice and be done with it.

Can in your jelly jars, wipe the tops, screw them down all know this part right?

Anyway, boiling hot water bath, for 10 minutes....but here's the change.  Turn off the burner, or pull your canner off the burner. Let the jars sit for an additional 5 minutes.  No, I don't know the WHY of it, but those were the direction, so that's what I did.

Recipe states that it will be good for one year.

However, I still have 3lbs of oranges left. Got a little sidetracked with more than 20 lbs of rendering, and decided against the marmalade....But I've been making a lot of concentrates, so why not?  I still had raspberries in the freezer, so I took 2 c. of these, defrosted them and juiced them.  Juiced the remaining oranges, and added to it.  This gave me just over 2 cups of juice, to which I added 2 cups of sugar.  Brought it to boil, then ladled into pint jars.  It only made 2; but in my finding the ratio is something like 6:1, so that's still plenty to drink!  These are a BIT shy of the top, (usually up to the lip) but they still sealed well.

BUUUTTT you know me.  Waste not, want not....So I have a big pile of squished out oranges.  I did use the peel from the one my husband ate to add to the citrus cleaner vinegar, but, they're blood oranges...shouldn't they have a better life than that?  So, I decided to make candied citrus peels.

Now most recipes will tell you to soak, boil, rinse, boil again, to take the bitterness out of the pith. Even then, I don't like the texture. and who wants to eat pith anyway?
I take the halves and cut them into 4 pieces.

This is where your fish skinning talents come into play.  Slip your knife under a corner, just edging between the skin and the pith.once you get a finger hold on JUST the skin, start moving it away from yourself, holding your knife at about a 25-30* angle.  You can feel the bumps of the skin when you are close enough, though if you are unsure, it is better to take a few passes.  when the backside of your skin looks the the skin of a basketball, you're good to go.  I've done this with my good kitchen knife, but the second batch, I *ahem* 'borrowed' one of my husband's filet knives. OH so much better.

I stacked them up and cut them in half once more. (So one orange would give you 16 pieces.)

In a wide pot (a saucier, or even a fry pan) heat 3 c. water with 4 c. sugar to boiling.

Once it's boiling, add in the peels.  Being sugar, this will boil much lower on your stove; I had this boiling at medium.  You know your stove best.  Just remember, burnt sugar (and having to clean up burnt sugar) sucks.

You don't have to mess with it much. Stir it every 3-4 minutes.  I cleaned up and loaded the dishwasher while they were boiling. As you get close to 15 minutes, start watching the peels. When they start to have that 'stained glass glow' you know they are done.

I'm hoping you can see the difference! These are just right.  Nice and translucent, shiny, and just looking like little jewels.

Take them out with a spider if you have it; if not, a slotted spoon, but take more time to shimmy as much liquid out as you can.  Put on a tray lined with paper towel to cool.

Once cool, but still wet, you want to coat with more sugar.  I did this in small batches, shaking in a container.  As they cool, they will curl a bit, so you need to watch for this.  You want to get the sugar in every nook and cranny, because this helps their shelf life (not to mention, make them taste better!)

Once they are dry (and they won't ever be completely DRY, but when they are as dry as they're going to get) put them in a sealed container. They can stay out on the counter, no need to refrigerate.

Thought I was done?  well, I had a goodly amount of flavored simple syrup after boiling, and besides adding this to seltzer and making a killer soda, you can also use it to make cordials.

Cordials are lovely, and there are two ways to make them. First, you could macerate the fruit in question in straight vodka.  The second way is to flavor the simple syrup.  A cordial, is very easy to make and modify.  Make the densest simple syrup possible.  Flavor one or the other (or go crazy, and flavor both). For each cup of liquor, add one cup of the simple syrup.  See? I told you it was easy.  Since it is liquor, it does not need to be canned or refrigerated.  In this, I added 3 of the candied peels, BEFORE they'd been covered with the final coating of sugar.  You don't want to introduce crystals into it, as it will start crystallizing the whole thing on you. (be fun to watch; not so good to drink. ) Did this for a few reasons, one, purely ascetic, it just looks nice. Second, to continue to add more color to the cordial. If you'd rather not, you certainly don't have to do this step.

Since I had enough simple syrup, I did both; made cordial, and set aside the rest of the simple syrup for soda later. (The sugar syrup I put in the fridge.) (Simple syrup is at the left, the cordial on the right.)

So that is 5 completely useful, completely separate items (6 if you include the peels I put in to make the all purpose cleaner) and not one is a marmalade!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Soaping Up

If you've been a reader for a while, you know I'm a regular little cheerleader, 'Try it, You can do it!'

But occasionally, like advice, we don't always live it ourselves.  Soap, for a long time has been my road block.  I read voraciously about how to make it.  The math and calculations jumbled in my brain, the ingredients seemed exotic and expensive and lye! Don't get me started on that!

I admit it, soap scared me silly.  I usually have no problems taking directions from a reading source, but this was one I just didn't feel comfortable about doing without some physical tutoring.  Fortunately, I had a few friends or friends of friends who made their own soap, and it was just a matter of who was making theirs first.

Now, this was over a year ago, and it was a complete success.  But the point of the story is, we all feel out of our depth sometime, but don't let that stop you learning something you want to know. Find a friend who knows how, take an adult class, ask around; but don't tell yourself you can't do it.

So now it's my turn to make soap by myself. That first batch of soap did have an ungodly number of different fats and oils in it, and yes, most of them had to be ordered online. Luckily, my friend had them all. I liked the soap, don't get me wrong, and will probably (okay, definitely) make more, but the frugal, prepper wannabe in me scratched her head and thought, 'hmm. shipping? cost? These things just might not be available.'  Not only that, but like I said...I usually use the word frugal, but really, it's just a euphemism for cheap.

Now if you scroll back, you'll remember I wrote a blog about making your own beef stock, and how I saved the tallow for later?  I remelted it, and screened it, and let it solidify again. Made 5 cups (along with the tallow from my second batch.) I really wanted to make tallow soap, because well, I had it and it was free, and I didn't want to waste it. I did some researching,and this was one recipe/set of directions I found that I really liked. (though, their recipe used lard.)

Tallow (or lard) are the easiest (and gentlest!) soaps you can make.  The ingredients are readily available.  While I used the tallow I had (marrow tallow) the best really is kidney fat, or suet.  Tallow is also one of the hardest fats there is, so it gives you a good firm bar.

You can make it with just tallow, water and lye. It's really that simple. But the same friend who taught me said the cleaning power wasn't as good as some.  This is  a fantastic chart that I really have been using.  It seems very complicated as you read below it, but if you're a math or science type, it might help you get your head around it. (I admit, it only made sense to me AFTER I'd  made it.) However, it was able to tell me what other fat I could add to boost its cleansing power.

Before I start, let me say that I will not be sharing the recipe I used today. I basically made it up using a soap calculator, a wonderful tool that allows you to plug in the amounts of fats/oils you will be using and number crunches the amount of lye and liquid necessary. As such, its not a tried and true recipe, and as its not cured, I don't know how well it will work.  There are thousands of soap recipes out there, find one you think you like, and try it.

Second, soap-making is pretty darn easy, but yes, it CAN be dangerous.  Use all pyrex type glass or stainless steel materials.  Wear eye protection, no matter how silly it makes you feel, and rubber gloves whenever you are dealing with lye. (Trust me, you do NOT want a lye burn!)  You want to be in a well ventilated area. (I thought I was in a well ventilated place; I'm prone to migraines, and it triggered one, so take this one seriously...If you can, do it outdoors.)

Lye sadly, is used in the making of meth amphetamines, so many places that used to carry it, no longer do. Check your hardware store, it is used as a drain clearer.  Some areas (especially those prone to trouble with drugs) may ask for ID, etc.  Don't worry, it's not you.

Okay. Enough of the 'scary' stuff.

There are only 3 real steps to making soap. 

1.You need to melt the fat.  You can do this in the oven, on the stove top or in the microwave.  When I made this batch, I did it in the microwave. I put it in a minute at a time, and stirred it.when you see a few cloudy clumps left, you can be done, as it will 'coast' the rest of the way to fully liquid.  You will want to use a temp gauge on it. You will eventually want your oil between 100*-125*.

2.You need to make your lye solution.  When you do this, follow your recipe closely as to amounts.  IF you do this inside (which I really don't recommend) make sure its on a pot holder, or something that heat won't affect. When you add lye to liquid, there's a chemical reaction that gets it really hot. Also note, it changes color (yellow to dark brown, depending on your type of liquid).  And, NEVER add liquid to lye, always add the lye to the liquid.  Spilled lye can ruin countertops as well, so keep that in mind.  This also needs a temp gauge in it.  It will first get really hot, and this too, needs to be between 100*-120*
(Yes, this is outside on my patio.  It looks a bit lumpy because I used cream as my liquid, and because frankly, it was cold outside, so the temperature was dropping quickly.) 

3. When the temperatures are right (the closer they are to each other, the better) Pour the lye solution into the fat. You will need to blend this with an immersion blender.  For quite a while, actually.  Since my Kitchenaid has a stainless steel whisk and bowl, I felt comfortable enough to put my soap mixture in there (only after my immersion blender got so hot, I was afraid of burning it out.)  You don't have to blend it continuously after the first 15 minutes.  5 minutes after a 10 minute wait until you reach trace should be fine. If you have ever whipped homemade whipped cream, its about to serve you in good stead.  Your soap mixture texturally is like your fresh heavy cream. It has some substance to it, but is essentially liquid.  As it blends, you will feel it get thicker, and thicker, until the liquid can hold the shape along the surface of your machine of choice.  And just like cream, if you blend it much more after that, it will get hard.  At the point of trace, add your essential oils for scent if you'd like them. (Be aware that citrus, unless mixed with an anchor oil-something I'm not completely straight on yet--will 'vanish'  by the time its finished curing. This is how my cardamom lime soap turned into just cardamom soap.

3b. Stir in the scents well, then put into a mold. At this point, the saponification has already started, and you won't get burned by the soap. Now, you can buy fancy silicone molds, or if you have them for cakes, or whatnot, you can certainly use them. At this point, its only soap, nothing harmful. But they don't' have to be.  You don't want a shallow pour, and you want something you can easily remove from. 1/2 gallon milk or juice containers work well, but I don't buy much of either these days.  So I took a box, cut it down, and lined it with wax paper. The smaller one in the picture was just in case I had too much.

Soap needs to dry slowly.  If it cools to quickly, you can end up with cracks.  So you will want to wrap your mold in a towel overnight to let it cool slowly.  Check your recipe for how long you should let it stay in the mold.  I took mine out earlier, because with mostly hard fats, I wanted to make sure I could still cut it. 

Put them on a drying rack (a cooling rack is fine--this is the picture at the top of the page.)

Depending once again on your recipe, curing times are usually 4-6 weeks. This is not time for it to chemically change, that's done in the first 48 hours, but its time for more moisture to leave the bar.  The longer you wait, the firmer your bar will be and the slower you'll go through it.

My plan for this soap is to use it to make my laundry soap.  I'll make sure to comment or blog how that goes when it finishes curing!