Archive | September, 2011

Making Mustard

30 Sep

Did you know you could make mustard??  I didn’t. Or at least I didn’t realize how easy it is. I made this discovery over the summer but other projects occupied my time until September.  I’ve been seeking and collecting mustard recipes (now I want to make one this weekend…) but White Wine Sage Mustard struck me as a great way to tamp down the sage-gone-wild plant in the yard.

One of the nice things about this recipe is you don’t have to soak the mustard seeds over night as some recipes suggest. I have a problem with NOT reading (or remembering) recipe details carefully ahead of time and suddenly discovering that I need an extra 2 or 8 hours of prep time for something I’ve started in the evening after work.  This project fits in nicely.

Having just written that, I now see in reviewing the recipe that it actually does tell you to soak your seeds for two hours or until they absorb the liquid, but mine were ready in under 30 minutes, so booya for poor planning.

Then you just whir them in the food processor or blender:

The result is a very grainy mustard. If you want it smoother I think you need to perhaps soak the seeds longer in more liquid, I’m not 100% sure as I haven’t played with this yet.

There is some steeping, and boiling and whirring involved, but really it was pretty easy and I think you could screw this up and not mess it up. Add some lemon, some sage…

Cook it down for twenty minutes and put it in jars.

So, I bet you are wondering how it is?

It is very, very lemony. Wow. I would totally cut down the lemon in this recipe. I like it (in fact with cheese on bread its very nomnomnom) but I think this should be called Lemon Mustard. It overwhelms all the other flavors. (Seriously, SO good with goat cheese).

My son has asked me to make him a honey mustard so maybe I’ll give it another shot this weekend. I’ll let you know how it goes.

1 bunch fresh sage
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
1 cup white wine vinegar
Grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons
1/2 cup liquid honey
1/4 tsp salt
5 (4 oz) glass preserving jars with lids and bands


1.) FINELY CHOP enough sage leaves to measure 1/3 cup and set aside.
2.) COARSELY CHOP remaining sage leaves and stems to measure 1/2 cup and place in a small stainless steel saucepan with white wine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring and pressing sage to release flavor. Remove from heat. Cover tightly and let steep for 5 minutes.
3.) TRANSFER sage infusion to a sieve placed over a glass or stainless steel bowl and press leaves with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid. Discard solids and return liquid to saucepan. Add mustard seeds. Cover and let stand at room temperature until seeds have absorbed most of the moisture, about 2 hours.
4.) PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
5.) COMBINE marinated mustard seeds (with liquid) and vinegar in a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until blended and most seeds are well chopped, but retaining a slightly grainy texture.
6.) TRANSFER mixture to a stainless steel saucepan and add lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, salt and reserved finely chopped sage. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and boil gently, stirring frequently, until volume is reduced by a third, about 20 minutes.
7.) LADLE hot mustard into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is fingertip tight.
8.) PROCESS jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.



Do Good, the Pittsburgh way

29 Sep

Pittsburghers are the reason Pittsburgh is home.  I didn’t grow up here and I don’t have a weird attachment to hilly terrain, but I love this City like the love of my life, and that is largely because of the people. Weird, quirky, down to earth and incredibly kind, I love Pittsburgh.  There are lots of things that make Pittsburghers Pittsburghers.  But next week two Burgh hallmarks will meet like peanut butter and chocolate to make magic:

First, Pittsburghers are always willing, no compelled, to help those who need it. Lost? Burghers will go out of their way to point you in the right direction.  Stuck for a ride? Strangers on twitter will offer to get you to the airport.  In Haiti with Orphans after an Earthquake? Burghers will stop at nothing to get you home.  I understand we have our blind spots and pet projects, but overall, Burghers LIVE to help.  There is something about this City that wont let people rest easy when they know help is needed. Its like the voice of the parish priest/Jewish grandmother/childhood authority figure lives inside everyone’s collective consciousness telling them to put another quarter in the collection plate, shovel your elderly neighbor’s walk and donate your outgrown coat to the family down the street who’s dad just got laid off.

Second? We love a bargain, a super value, a hot deal. Don’t call us cheap, it’s not that, but why would I guy Camembert in the grocery store when I could get it at Penn Mac for half the price per pound??? Its smart. It’s sensible. Its fantastic. Where some places I’ve lived people brag about how expensive their stuff is, in Pittsburgh we like to talk about how cheap it was. “It was on clearance!”  “50% off!”  “Why would anyone throw this away?? It’s perfectly good!”

On Tuesday October 4th the Pittsburgh Foundation brings these two great traditions together for Pittsburgh Gives, Day of Giving. What is it? It’s like the awesome opposite of 25% off. For every dollar you donate to select non profits the Pittsburgh Foundation will donate X amount to the same non profit.  (Amount determined by total amount donated. See here for more info on that.)

So basically for one day you can donate more for less…a bargain! A super value! A HOT DEAL!!!

There are three organizations that will be receiving my donations this year. No surprise, they are Best Buddies, Grow Pittsburgh and the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank. (I also want to give a shout out and honorable mention to Mon Valley Unemployed Committee and Planned Parenthood of Western PA)


Remember, your donation GROWS. It becomes more. So you can help MORE by donating on Tuesday than you can on Monday or Wednesday.  How can you resist?

Best Buddies Ball 2011

Grow Pittsburgh Edible Schoolyard

Grow Pittsburgh Edible Schoolyard

Waiting in line for food


I’m shilling for three non profits near and dear to my heart, but I encourage you to donate even if these don’t float your boat. There are plenty to choose from.

The Cursed Fruit

28 Sep

Apple picking. We started in the near corner by the entrance, filling our peck size bag more than half way before we made our way up the hill to see the rest of the varieties.  As we wandered over to the last two rows, up hill and kind of hidden we came around a row and gasped. My daughter said what I was thinking, “Oh my god they look like giant purple plums!” The trees full of royal court apples were quite literally the prettiest apple trees I’ve ever seen.  If I were eve, I would have picked these too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We filled up our bag and then another one, and left with two more bags to boot of ginger golds which had all been picked. That’s a lot of apples!  So we headed home and set out to make apple sauce, because what else do you do with a bushel of apples??

If you’ve never made apple sauce, let me tell you it is easy. E to the Z. Especially if you have the right equipment. You can purchase a fancy grinder for your stand mixer or you can go the cheap route. Helllloooo cheap route.  Get yourself a food mill -there’s one for every budget- and it makes apple sauce, tomato sauce and all sorts of kitchen projects MUCH easier. I used mine last week to make tomato leather in fact.

Anyway, applesauce.  We took about 3/4 of our apples and cut them up, filling three large pots full. There is no need to peel, core or seed the apples. Which when you are making this much apple sauce is imperative. No way in hell was I peeling all of those.

There is no need for precision in cutting apples for apple sauce so it’s a great project for little helpers old enough to wield a knife, too new for precision chopping. Riley cut half the apples herself. Load it into pots, put in an inch of water*, cover and cook until soft. Once it is soft you put it through your food mill.  This took a little juggling of bowls and pots and so on, but it still is a pretty easy task.

This was time consuming though. It took probably at least an hour to mill down the apples. But the milling process pushes the apple pulp through to your bowl leaving behind seeds, skin, stems and any other random hard bits so your prep work is easy. And frankly I’d rather run apples through the food mill than peel them.

And that my friends is apple sauce! Easy. At this point you can leave it be, add sugar or other sweetener and/or add cinnamon or any spice you like; such as this recipe for masala apple sauce. It can be kept in the fridge (for a few weeks) frozen, or canned.  I, of course, canned mine. I got 7 1/2 quarts of sauce plus another three that I turned into apple butter.  That’s from about 3/4 bushel.

I bet you are thinking “tell me more about apple butter.” Yo, if apple sauce is easy, apple butter is down right promiscuous. To turn your applesauce into butter just put it in a crock pot, prop open the lid with a wooden spoon and leave it for ever. I left mine go for 24 hours!  It turned 3 quarts of sauce into 1 1/2 quarts of butter. When it’s thick and dark you add your sugar and spices to taste. I added cloves, sugar and cinnamon for a very traditional flavor profile, but the name comes from the consistency not the spices, so you could legitimately go with any spice/s you wanted.

Here is a link to good apple sauce and apple butter directions, but if you look around you will see they are pretty universal and yet flexible enough to accommodate your kitchen comfort level, equipment and taste.

*I way overshot the inch of water, so ended up with apples floating. I didn’t want runny apple sauce so I drained off most of the liquid. But I didn’t want to waste all that appley water, so I boiled it down (and zomg does the product taste good) and used it to make jam. You could also freeze it and use it to flavor and thicken jam without pectin.

Kitchen Disasters

26 Sep

Not a disaster really, I mean, my kitchen didn’t burn down. But after making canning, opening, fixing, and canning again to STILL have a batch of jam not set up and need to be tossed it felt like a disaster.  But there is a lesson to learn, or 2, and a happy ending of sorts so….

As I mentioned, we have a glut of banana peppers. 6 plants all producing like they’ve been mainlining miracle grow (they haven’t) means we are flooded peppers.  I’ve pickled them whole, in rings, in mixed veg, Italian style, Grandma style, sandwich style, french style… you want pickled peppers?? My house is the place to be.

I want desperately to find a recipe for banana pepper butter, but I can’t find one I trust to be safe.  In my wanderings though I found a recipe for basil pepper jelly.  As it happened I had a bunch of Basil in the fridge too. So I set out to make this Jelly.

Basil Banana Pepper Jelly
Recipe adapted from a recipe posted on the Big Black Dog Blog

1/2 c thinly sliced, seeded mild banana peppers or any mild, sweet peppers (blogger I found this on used diced Red Sweet Pepper)
1/4 c fresh hot peppers, seeds removed and diced (she used diced Habanero Pepper)

Ok, let me stop right there.  I got my peppers mixed up for this initial batch. Which didn’t really matter because my “hot” peppers aren’t. I don’t know where the capsaicin went, but it ain’t in my peppers. I decided I didn’t care and may have added a shake of dried chilies to give it a kick…or not. I can’t remember. The point is, as long as you have 3/4 cup of peppers, it doesn’t matter what you use.

1/4 c red onion, finely diced
3 to 4 large fresh basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
1/4 tsp dried basil
3/4 c white vinegar
3 c sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin

Ok, let’s stop again, because here is where I went wrong (full recipe below).  I used my bulk pectin, which for some time I’ve suspected may not work very well. I am either not adding enough (though it feels like I add a TON) or its just not very good. I even tried adding the low/no sugar pectin to this jam because it should work for anything.

So I followed the directions, used white onions instead of red because that’s what I had, and all banana peppers, but basically followed them closely. The result was this lovely smelling jam that looked so pretty in the jars.

Once I canned these and they were hot out of the water, I lovingly turned these over every 30 minutes or so to ensure the peppers settled throughout the jam.  But to no avail. The jam simply did not set. Now my favorite blog in the whole world, Food in Jars, did a post on how (and whether) to fix common problems such as my freaking jam didn’t set. 

This is of critical importance because this: savory cheddar and pepper jelly cookies.

People, I NEED this jam to work.   But it didn’t. So I opened it and added ball pectin, but misread the damn chart and added way too little. So my freaking jam didn’t set. AGAIN.  I threw it out and started over. The next round I had red onions but no basil and enough red peppers to make my jam a pretty pink hue.

Here it is, upside down, peppers floating happily in not completely liquid jam. I have to say the set still isn’t ideal, but I’m ok with that. It’s pretty good. And when cookie time rolls around, I’ll try to add more pectin to it and see if it sets. But for now its fine. I had a fried egg sandwich this weekend and used this instead of mayo. It was delicious!  This is a keeper.

So, as kitchen disasters go, its well below burning down the house, but definitely more annoying than a burnt tray of cookies. However this was my final try with the bulk DIY pectin. I’m name brand all the way now, I know how to save a runny jam, and I have 8 jars of this delicious jam, so in the end, a happy story.

Basil Banana Pepper Jelly
Recipe adapted from a recipe posted on the Big Black Dog Blog

Yield: 3-half pints

1/2 c thinly sliced, seeded mild banana peppers or any mild, sweet peppers (I used diced Red Sweet Pepper)
1/4 c fresh hot peppers, seeds removed and diced (I used 2 tsp of diced Habanero Pepper)
1/4 c red onion, finely diced
3 to 4 large fresh basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
1/4 tsp dried basil
3/4 c white vinegar
3 c sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine peppers, red onion, fresh and dried basil in a large, deep stainless steel saucepan. Stir in vinegar and sugar.

Over high heat, bring mixture to a full, rolling boil. Stirring constantly, boil hard 1 minute. Remove from heat. Immediately stir in one pouch Liquid Pectin, mixing well.

Pour jelly into a hot jar, dividing solids equally among jars and filling each jar to within 1/4 inch of top rim (head space). Wipe jar rims. Center lids on jars & screw on bands. Process in BWB 10 minutes.

Cool for about 30 minutes, then, when lids are concave but jelly is still hot, carefully invert & twist jars to distribute solids throughout jelly. (**Do not let them remain upside down for long periods**) Repeat as needed during the cooling/setting time, until solids are evenly suspended in the jelly.

So. Far. Behind.

22 Sep

I am so far behind in blog posts. So far.

I’d feel worse about if I didn’t know that I’m about to be done canning/preserving for the winter months (though I have a few winter projects coming up!) and if I didn’t have


This makes me unreasonably happy. I open the cupboard doors and stare lovingly at it with alarming frequency.  Now its time to eat my way through my summer efforts.

I sighed a happy sigh this morning as I pulled tomato leather (omg you guys, SO GOOD) off my dehydrator trays, packed up some watermelon slices for lunch and ate my breakfast of Peach Jalapeno Jam on toast.

But I’m ahead of myself…where did we leave off? I’m going to go waaaay back and share an old family recipe with you. This is so good, everyone who has tried these has asked for the recipe. This is from my great grandmother, Otis (Ottice? Ottis?) England of West Virgina.  Now its all beginning to make sense, no?

We had a wealth of banana peppers this summer so was excited to use them up any way I could. This old family favorite seemed ideal. I used it for both hot and sweet peppers, and some jars of both together. It is super easy.

Great Grandma’s Pickled Hungarian Hot Peppers



2 Quarts Vinegar
1 Quart Water
2 Cups sugar
1 Tbsp Dry mustard
1 tsp canning salt
garlic cloves
Hot Hungarian peppers, split and deseeded

Mix the sugar and the mustard. (This takes a while to do right, you want all the mustard incorporated into the sugar or it wont mix well into the liquids).

Add to cold liquids and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Pack sterilized quart mason jars with prepared peppers, one clove garlic, and a generous sprig of dill (dill heads gone to seed are ideal, you may want to add some extra dill seeds if you only have the fluffy green parts).


Pour liquid over. Let sit for at least a week.

Keep refrigerated.

(you could process them in a hot water-bath to make them shelf stable but that will affect the texture of the peppers)


Hunger Action Month

22 Sep

I was going to post a picture of famine victims in Africa to illustrate what most of us think of when we think about hunger. Five seconds on that google image search and my heart is still breaking and I’m fighting back tears and nausea.

So hunger doesn’t have the heart stabby image that famine has. Except.

It does. Because it looks like this:

Ok, so that is my daughter. Not a food bank client. But you know what? She could be. The people that we saw at the food banks recent Blogmob looked like my family, my friends, my neighbors. And in fact they are. All of those.

More than 30% of recipients are children.

More than 10% are elderly.

Many are disabled.

And of the rest?  Most of them are working adults who just can’t quite stretch their pennies enough to feed their family some months.

The Food Bank distributes an almost unimaginable amount of food every year in Western Pennsylvania, 27 million pounds last year alone. And the need is rising. Poverty is up. The number of children in poverty and food insecure households is up. And help from the government is in peril. Many people will be potentially be left  with no safety net soon. Except the food bank. The food bank is there to make sure children, elderly, the disabled, and everyone has food on their tables.

Some of my fellow Blogmobbers share their experience at the Food Bank:

Mike Eats

Food me Once

‘lil Burghers

September is Hunger Action Month, and I am woefully behind in posting about both blog mob and HAM. But I’d encourage you not to let the calendar stop  you from doing something to help end Hunger.

I suspect some of you are thinking “end hunger? Impossible. There will always be poor among us…”  But ending hunger is different then ending poverty (also a worthy goal.) Ending hunger is about saying that in America, the richest country on earth, possibly the riches country in the history of countries, no child, no elderly person, no disabled person, in fact just plain NO ONE, should ever go to bed hungry.  We can feed everyone. That is doable.

The food bank and its associated food pantries distributes food to hungry people. The blog mob visited during “produce to people” a special program that distributes fresh produce to their regular clients. For families who rely on value time canned carrots, fresh potatoes, pears, zucchinis, and other produce is not only a nutritional boon, but also a real treat.

So what can you do?  It’s easy. It’s painless. It’s scalable. You canhelp end hunger in Pittsburgh by doing…whatever you can do. Let me explain…

  • The smallest act helps. $.50 extra at the store for a can of veggies or beans on sale provides nutrition to a family dinner.
  • You can have a party (yay!) and ask every one you know to bring a can. Or a box of cereal. Or a bag of dried beans. And donate that.
  • You can donate $$. They like money. Why? Because the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank is MAGIC with money. They can take your dollar and turn it into FIVE DOLLARS.

I know, right!?!?  Yup, their purchasing power is such that for every dollar you donate they can buy $5 worth of food.  This is important not only because it stretches your generosity, but they can make sure their clients have a varied and nutritious diet.

The P on the Item number means these were purchased. There is row upon row of shelves full of purchased food. That way the GPFB doesn’t have to depend on donations, because you cannot count on donated items to make a balanced diet. So money is a good way to help.


But there are lots of other ways for every budget, appetite and personality to help.

  • Call a legislator,
  • volunteer to pack boxes,
  • spread the word,
  • educate yourself and others…

Check out their website for more suggestions and links for ways to help.

Whatever way you choose, please help today. Hunger is everywhere, (and getting worse) and it contributes to so many other social ills…ever try to learn, work or be a good citizen when you don’t have enough to eat?? And the thing is, its easy to fix. We have enough food in this country. More than enough. We just need to make sure that everyone can get it. So please. Go help today….


Tasting events, oh how I love thee!

9 Sep

Get your tickets NOW for the GROW Pittsburgh event of the year A Taste of Grow Pittsburgh… hurry, go! I’ll wait……


Did you get them? Because its coming fast and you don’t want to miss your chance to attend.

What is it?

Imagine many of the best restaurants in town all in one spot, serving food featuring produce grown by GROW Pittsburgh. From the website:

The evening will feature an assortment of tastings from Grow Pittsburgh’s restaurant partners who purchase locally grown produce and host fundraising dinners for us. Participating restaurants include:

  • Avenue B
  • Bona Terra
  • Big Burrito
  • the Cafe at the Frick
  • Chipotle 
  • E2
  • Habitat
  • Legume
  • Nine on Nine
  • Tamari
  • Stagioni
  • Square Cafe
  • Root 174
  • the East End Food Co-op 
  • and Whole Foods!

Also? Local Beer and Wine. Winner, winner, organic locally grown produce dinner!

Plus, music by The Armadillos, a chance to hang out with good people, a silent auction full of great stuff

and finally, FTMFW, its a the Mattress Factory this year! How cool is that? It is so cool, YOU will be cooler just for having attended this event.

So if you haven’t gotten your tickets, Go Now!

Best of all, this eating and drinking benefits a great organization. GROW Pittsburgh’s mission is to demonstrate, teach and promote responsible urban food production.  Along with Braddock Farms,  they run a number of other urban gardens in the City and operate the remarkable program the Edible School Yard, bringing urban agriculture to city schools.

Several years ago I was privileged to attend a Chef-led cooking demonstration at Pittsburgh Montessori. The Chef prepared a black bean and corn salsa using fresh ingredients the children had helped grow. Many turned their noses up at the site, never having tried anything quite like it. Cilantro, black beans and red peppers were clearly new experiences for a number of kids. But they loved it! Everyone tried it, and most of then asked for seconds.  The experience of watching food go from seed, to seedling, to food bearing plant, to plate is something many city kids miss.  Edible school yard integrates this experience with the lessons they are already learning in math, science, art and so on, to provide a unique learning experience.

You can actually contribute to this amazing program by eating good local food and drinking good local beer.

So go buy your tickets today. I’ll be there!

Coming Soon: Life is Sweet Chef’s Showcase and a post on the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food bank and Hunger Action Month, plus…more canning of course!