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Making things from scratch

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Written by foodie pam   
Monday, 22 June 2009

ImageAs far back as I can remember I've always wanted to make things from scratch.  In high school this manifested itself through baking - brownies, cookies, cakes, you name it I baked it.  Unlike the box mixes my mom used when I was growing up, I baked things from scratch as early as I can remember; and I was dang proud of it.  

The irony is that when I was growing up my mom made lots of other things from scratch - canned vegetables, canned tomatoes, homemade jams, jellies and more.  But, I never appreciated any of it - what she did was a necessity; use of the garden bounty, not something done for taste, quality, or even fun.  

All grown-up, and hopefully more mature, I now wish I'd paid more attention and gave mom credit for all her hard word.  Over the past couple of years the urge to follow in my mom's footsteps has grown stronger. This is partly out of necessity and partly out of desire.   During the summer, I seek uses for my bounty of home grown fruits and vegetables.  During the winter, I yearn for canned tomatoes from my own garden rather than mass produced tomatoes.  

While the reward of using your own garden vegetables throughout the year is one aspect of making things from scratch, one can easily do the same with produce from the local farmers' market.  And it doesn't end with fresh fruit and vegetables - I've made my own corned beef and would like to cure my own fish and make my own sausages.  In fact, the range of things one can 'make from scratch' is amazingly broad.  

As luck would have it, this year several cookbooks are out aimed at helping with just that.  OK - so luck really doesn't have that much to do with it.  As I observed while growing up, making things yourself can help the pocket book making the books very timely.  But, whether or not it is by necessity, as you'll discover in the following books, making things yourself is fun and produces some great foodie creations.

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Amazon.com

In "Preserved " by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton, you can learn how to preserve a wide range of items including meat, fish, vegetables and fruit through techniques such as drying, smoking, salting, pickling, infusing, fermenting, canning and freezing.  The book is a great read even if you don't ever make any of the items, but I found several things I can't wait to make including my own cured meats, sausages, dried veggies and infused oils.
The dried tomatoes (see below), in particular, sang out to me.  The method is simple and Nick and Johnny offer several options for how you can build your own 'drier' using not much more than a light bulb and a box.  In addition to the broad range of techniques and types of food explored in Preserved, one thing I really like is that they not only present the details on how to 'preserve' something but they also give a recipe that uses the item.  Although I do wish they'd have provided more than one recipe per item, that choice is understandable given they present details on 'preserving' more than 100 items.

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Amazon.com

"Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it " by Karen Solomon presents a broad range of  'make-it-from-scratch' home cooking projects.  Karen shows how to make items as diverse as potato chips, ketchup, pasta dough, cured fish and meat, butter and even marshmallows.

Again thinking of my tomato plants, the recipe for homemade ketchup caught my eye as a great use for garden excess. But, if you're looking for something to try before the excess of tomatoes arrive then the potato chips are a great option - both fried and baked versions are provided (see below).  It's that kind of detail and breadth of items that Karen presents that I really liked about "Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it".

And if you're wondering what about ways to can?  While both of the above books mention canning and provide a recipe or two, these books do not focus on that aspect of preserving.  But don't worry, I'll be sharing some books that do focus on canning in an upcoming post…

Dried Tomatoes

ImageExcerpted from Preserved by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton, Kyle Books 2009.

In recent times, sun- and semi-dried tomatoes have become indispensable to cooks wherever they happen to live. But unless you can reliably predict several days of breezy weather with low humidity and daytime temperatures in excess of 90°F, which is rarely where we live, you'll have to fall back on other methods. As usual, the chief options are using a dehydrator, a low oven with the door ajar, or your homemade drying box. An ingenious alternative is to place a rack of tomatoes on the shelf under your car's rear window on a hot day.

Fully Dried Tomatoes

Drying times will vary according to the size of your tomatoes, but as a rule of thumb, 15 hours in a low oven or 30 in a drying box is about right. However, tomatoes in any given batch will not dry at exactly the same rate, so you need to remove them individually as they become ready. This is when they are firm but no longer juicy.
    
Whichever method you use, you have two main choices. The first is to cut the tomatoes in half and lay them face up on a fine-meshed rack, sprinkling a few grains of sea salt or kosher salt on each face. The second is to dry them intact on the vine. This involves laying the tomatoes on a similar rack, vine stalk down, before cutting a small cross on the top of each and filling it with a pinch of salt.

Once dried, tomatoes can be stored at ambient temperatures in sealable containers for up to six months. Before use, they will need to be rehydrated by soaking in warm water for half an hour. Dried tomatoes should always be cooked before they are eaten.

Semi-Dried Tomatoes

As the name suggests, semi-dried tomatoes are removed from the source of heat halfway through the drying process. They are then packed into sterilized containers that are filled with olive oil. These will keep in the fridge for up to six months. They are moist and more than good enough to incorporate in stews, sandwiches, and sauces without further ado. We've achieved our best results using various varieties of cherry tomatoes.

 

Baked Potato Chips

From Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it by Karen Solomon. Ten Speed Press 2009

Makes about 5 ounces

Time Commitment: 1 hour

The snack world is rife with doodles, twists, and puffs, but nothing can hold a candle to an honest-to-goodness homemade potato chip. For the full-fat version, skip ahead to the Fried Potato Chips recipe. If you are among the calorie conscious, this incredibly low-fat option delivers satisfying salt and crunch without the heft of the Fry Daddy. You will need mad knife skills and a surgeon's touch to slice potatoes thin enough by hand, so I recommend a mandoline for the job. Satisfy the snackers in your world with a gift of chips: wrap them in an attractive cellophane bag or a towel-lined basket, and take them to your next social gathering.
1 pound russet or waxy potatoes
Kosher salt
Instructions:  Preheat the oven to 300°F. Oil 2 large baking sheets with neutral vegetable oil.

Scrub, dry, and slice the potatoes about 1/16 inch thick. Peel them or don't.
Arrange the sliced potatoes in a single layer, covering as much of the sheet as possible, but don't let them touch. Do the same for the second sheet. Discard any slices that aren't whole or uniform in thickness.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the chips are thoroughly dried throughout, testing the center of each chip for doneness. Sprinkle with salt to taste.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

How to Store It: Keep chips crisp in a sealable plastic bag or airtight container. They will keep for 1 month.

Fried Potato Chips

From Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it by Karen Solomon. Ten Speed Press 2009
Makes about 6 ounces

Time Commitment: 3 hours

Unlike the Baked Potato Chips, these are the real deal: crisp, flavorful, and as good as the ones in a crinkly sack, without the extra packaging and corporate gouging. Stick to russet potatoes, which produce the most crispness and the least amount of splatter. Although I recommend soaking the sliced potatoes in water before cooking them, which will result in superior chips, you can skip this step if your schedule doesn't allow it. An inexpensive candy or frying thermometer, available at cookware stores, is essential to maintain the right temperature, which will keep the taste quotient of these chips flying high. While you can use any large saucepan or deep skillet for frying, I recommend a wok since it provides the greatest surface area for the potatoes while requiring the least amount of oil for frying.

Prep Ahead:  Spread plenty of clean kitchen towels or newspapers on a work surface-you will need them to drain and dry the potatoes. In addition, have a large amount of oil on hand: depending on the size of your saucepan or wok, you will likely go through several cups.
1 pound russet potatoes (about 3)
2 to 4 cups vegetable oil
Kosher salt
Instructions:  Scrub and dry the potatoes. Peel, or don't-I like my chips with the skin on. Slice very thinly, about 1/16 inch thick. You should almost be able to see through them. Let them soak, covered in cold water, for
1 to 2 hours.

Drain and dry thoroughly on clean kitchen towels.

In a wok or deep skillet with a candy or frying thermometer attached, heat at least 2 inches of oil on medium-high heat, adjusting the heat as necessary to keep the oil at 375° to 395°F. While the oil heats up, cover a nearby countertop with plenty of dry newspaper or kitchen towels.

When the oil is ready, make sure the potatoes are completely dry, and add a single layer of potato slices to the hot oil. Fry for 4 to 7 minutes, depending on their thickness, flipping several times with a wooden spoon or spatula, until very brown on both sides. Remove the chips from the oil with a slotted spoon, leaving as much oil behind as possible, and let drain on newspaper or kitchen towels. Sprinkle with salt to taste, or immediately toss with one of the flavor add-on variations.

How to Store It:  While still delicious, chips that aren't thoroughly fried will not keep, so make sure each chip is crisp in the middle and completely cooled before storing. Crisp chips will last in an airtight container up to 1 month.

Variations:
Cheese and Herb Chips: Combine 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, 11/2 teaspoons dried rosemary, 11/2 teaspoons dried oregano, and 1 tablespoon salt in a large sealable plastic bag. While the chips are still warm, but thoroughly drained, place one-third of the chips in the bag at a time and shake well enough to coat. Let them continue to cool and, if desired, add additional salt.
BBQ Potato Chips:  In a large sealable plastic bag, combine 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke, 1 tablespoon molasses, 1 large minced garlic clove (use a garlic press if you have one), and 1 tablespoon kosher salt. While the chips are still warm, but thoroughly drained, place one-third of the chips in the bag at a time and shake well enough to coat. Lay the chips in a single layer to dry and cool thoroughly. If desired, add additional salt.

Sweet Potato Chips:  Substitute sweet potatoes for russets. Fry as instructed above (without first soaking in water). Note that they cook faster-in about 3 minutes. Sweet potato chips are more delicate and cannot withstand being shaken with additional ingredients, so simply sprinkle them with salt, sugar, cayenne pepper, or all three.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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