Friday Finds

Summer sale season is here! Grab your credit card and check out my top picks from H&M Home, one of my favorite sources for affordable home decor. Get these items now for less before they sell out! No need to step out in the heat even: your spoils will be delivered right to your doorstep.

(*Sale items and prices may vary country by country, please check your local H&M site!)

Stiched Bedspread:

H&M stiched bedspread

Jute Laundry Basket:

H&M jute laundry basket

Washed Linen Bathrobe:

H&M washed linen bathrobe

Washed Linen Duvet Cover Set:

H&M washed linen duvet cover set

Jacquard-patterned Bath Towel:

H&M jacquard-patterned bath towel

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

 

All images © H&M

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

St. John’s Magic: Greenwalnut Liqueur

greenwalnut liqueur

Sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still): the two Latin words solstice derives from. Celebrating the summer solstice, or Midsummer, is originally a pagan feast; June 24th was designated later as the holiday of Christian martyr St. John the Baptist.

Some pagan rituals continue to live on in Europe – during the eve preceding St. John’s Nativity bonfires are lit to protect against evil spirits, for witches and demons are said to roam freely during the shortest night of the year. It’s also believed that treasures are waiting for the lucky finder, and I believe green walnuts are among the prizes.

In Roman times walnuts were worshipped as Jupiter’s plant, even the gods dining on them. This time of year they are in their unripe stage, still green and immature, kernels just starting to harden. Perfect for making a traditional aperitif popular throughout the Mediterranean: greenwalnut liqueur.

I’ve first encountered this aromatic drink at the Croatian seaside where it’s called orahovac. It is available commercially, but everyone has a cousin, an uncle or neighbour making it by the gallon, and Dalmatians being hospitable as they are, you simply can’t go home from a holiday without a plastic bottle filled with the murky liquid as farewell gift/souvenir.

Nocino in Italy, nocello when in Spain, liqueur de noix vertes in France are the names to look for. These are basically the same drink, although the spices added vary from region to region, from family to family.

Folklore has it that for the best greenwalnut liqueur, barefoot virgins are to gather an uneven number of dew-laden green walnuts, which should then be left to dry by the bonfires of St. John’s Eve. Riiight… I decided to go with the uneven figure thing from these criteria and hope for the best.

Actually, making rich and intense greenwalnut liqueur is not difficult at all, but does require some patience. When I say some, what I mean is you’re supposed to wait 40 days first, and even after that you shouldn’t drink your elixir before November as it needs to mature.

If you somehow managed to hide it forget about it until late autumn though, besides the spicy and warming taste, perks allegedly also include fending off evil spirits of the night, remedy for eczema and curing sore throat. Different strokes for different folks, right?

If all this magic, tradition and benefits are not reason enough for you to give greenwalnut liqueur a go, fine, but know that the aforementioned evil spirits will hunt you down. Just sayin’. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and set about doing it! Not just figuratively, as the walnuts stain everything they touch. It’s highly recommended to wear rubber gloves and an apron.

Greenwalnut Liqueur

  • Time: looong
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Warm and spicy, ink-black liqueur infused with green walnuts from the Mediterranean.

Ingredients

25 green, soft, unripe walnuts

750 ml vodka (or other 40% alc/vol or 80-proof, neutral tasting alcoholic beverage)

1 ½ cups sugar

optional: cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, vanilla pod, citrus peel, coffee beans

Directions

  1. Cut walnuts in half or quarters (wear an apron and gloves to avoid stains)
  2. Place sugar, walnuts and spices (if using) in a jar twice the capacity of the volume of the liquid, pour alcohol over ingredients.
  3. Close jar tightly, place on a sunny windowsill for 40 days. Gently shake every now and then to mix. Liquid will eventually turn from transparent to brownish, getting darker and darker over time.
  4. After 40 days, strain liqueur, bottle up and let mature until fall.

Salute! Salut! ¡Salud! Živjeli!

Love,

Fruzsi

Friday Finds

The symbol of peace and victory, graceful olive branches add such a rustic charm to any decor with their subtle, silvery hue. Would you just look at these dreamy tablescapes!

Photo & styling by Karen Mordechai of Sunday Suppers:

olive branch on napkin

Floral design by Lovely Leaves, photo by Mint Photography:

plate with olive branch and ribbon

Floral design by Petals and Hedges, photo by Hannah Hudson Photography:

golden plates with menu and olive branch

Photo by Jen Huang:

rose gold flatwear

Design by Rock Paper Scissors Events, photo by Anna Roussos:

gold flatwear

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

Making Jam Then and Now

flatlay jam

Strawberry season is at its peak, and all the other fruits will soon start arriving to your farmers market. Do you make jam?

By the way, what is jam? If you think this question is plain silly, you were not paying attention to the news. The heated debate over EU regulations concerning preserves, marmalade, fruit-spreads, jams and jellies is far from over, some describing those rules as an example of unnecessary red tape and “gold-plating” of European Union directives.

After reading numerous articles and even a guideline leaflet on the subject, I still haven’t the faintest idea how my grandmother’s apricot jam would be correctly labeled under European law, were it ever to be sold commercially.

See, this is because our lekvár (pron. lehk-waar) is quite unique to this region. To try illustrate the difference: jams are gelled to a quite clear consistency, fruit pieces are still identifiable. Lekvár on the other hand takes longer to make, is homogenous and thick like a puree.

You must have noticed the worldwide revolution going on in the home canning and preserving front lately. I’m also trying my hands at making small batch jams, something I honestly never thought I’d do. But let’s take a short trip down memory lane to see how we got here.

What used to be necessary frugality for our grandparents in order to save as much food as possible has turned into a creative activity, yet not so long ago during the 90’s and early aughts, granny’s jams were far from trendy.

Post-soviet era Hungary, social gap growing swiftly. I was a kid then, and I used to look at those 25 oz. jars neatly labeled and lined up on the shelves of the village pantry – I know how bad this sounds – as a sign of not being well-off. My classmates ate jams bought from the store (which now also carried Kellog’s, I mean wow!) in pretty little hexagon bottles, their relatives not bothering with at-home preserving any more.

Little did I know (and care) at the time that most of those products have never seen actual fruit; all I remember is finding our homemade apricot and plum jams uncool. Well, times have definitely changed! I’ve tried many different flavors since, and as much I liked most of them, I’ve established that none are a match to the classics when it comes to crepes (What Nutella? Please…) or carnival donuts.

Anyway. The jam making frenzy of today is different from our ancestors’ ways in many aspects. First of all, fortunately it’s not about what we’re going to eat during a long winter any more. It’s rather a culinary hobby and the result of the demand to know what’s in our food.

I respect tradition, but I also like to create new and unique flavors in my kitchen through experimenting with fruit combinations and adding spices. Standing-next-to-the-stove-stirring-all-day jam making and 1:1 fruit to sugar ratios are a thing of the past. Modern jams are made quicker thanks to natural gelling agents with less sugar needed. Shorter cooking times also preserve more of the goodness of the fruit, result in better color and a more intense flavor.

So far I’ve cooked up a festive plum jam, a cardamom and vanilla flavored apricot jam, a strawberry and raspberry jam with ginger and a nicely tart vanilla-infused triple berry (raspberry, blueberry and blackcurrant) jam. Next up, strawberries with a hint of lavender. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Last summer I did a blog series on the principles of home canning based on USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning. If you feel like jumping on the bandwagon, feel free to refer back to my posts on food safety, sterilizing jars, ensuring the quality of your canned goods, and the steps of filling the jar properly.

Love,

Fruzsi

‘Sweet jar raspberry jelly homemade’ image by mrsiraphol / Freepik

Friday Finds

With summer at the doorstep, I can’t help falling for everything linen. An essential hot season fabric, rustic yet breathable, cool, simple and beautiful. Especially in blues.

The Danish Stripe in Ink Blue, fabric by Peony and Sage:

linen with blue stripes

Kerela Blue pillowcases by Chhatwal & Jonsson:

blue printed pillowcases

Hand loomed Alicati Turkish towel by Bowl & Pitcher:

turkish towel

Placemats-turned-pillowcase by Chelsea of Making Home Base:

placemat turned pillow

Kitchen cloths by Fog Linen Work:

fog linen

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

 

Pogácsa, the Savory Hungarian Scone

hungarian pumpkin seed pogacsa

Okay, so we need to talk about the concept of borkorcsolya (pron. boar-core-chow-yaah) first. Author’s note: Like, I’m sorry for frying your brains with illegible Hungarian words from time to time, but it’s kind of necessary when you talk about local stuff. Literally, it means wine-slider or wine-skid which explains it right away, but let’s just call it wine snack.

What is a wine snack? When you’re in Italy, most likely bruscetta. A cheese plate in France, and up North they have their salted herrings. Here in Hungary, we’re not that specific – every food you’d find on a charchuterie plate falls into this category, anything at all you’d enjoy along wine can serve as wine snack, really.

But, there’s always a first among equals: most admired of all the bite-sized amuse-bouches is pogácsa (pron. pou-gah-cha), official BFF of Wine. And beer. It’s the most appreciated snack at every party, ceremony, soiree, backyard barbecue, game night or any such social gathering. Pogácsa FTW!

hungarian pumpkin seed pogacsa with wine

What’s in a name? Linguistic evidence suggests this pastry used to be a type of unleavened flat bread: focus is latin for fire. The Italian flat bread is called focaccia, and the Southern Slavic version of that name was adopted by us. I will still call this scone-like thing a Hungarian specialty, as the recipe evolved and became distinct of this region.

There are two basic types of pogácsa: the fluffier leavened, and the crumblier unleavened. Neither require special skill to make, and both taste awesome – if you use quality ingredients, that is. Butter, or rather lard instead of vegetable shortening, good cheese, creamy quark, organic seeds.

The dough is rolled out, the top is usually cut in a diamond pattern. Pogácsa is then formed using round cookie cutters, the smaller the diameter the better. Egg wash gives the desired color during baking, favorite toppings include grated cheese and various seeds. Needless to say, it’s best eaten warm.

Also, my granny’s is better than yours. 🙂

Today I brought to you the easier unleavened variety, but a leavened, laminated pogácsa will also make its way to the blog soon. This recipe is from the April issue of Magyar Konyha magazine, and it turned out so good I did not alter it in any way.

hungarian pumpkin seed pogacsa

hungarian pumpkin seed pogacsa

Pumpkin seed flour and tangy quark cheese gives this one a nice twist. I used Gouda cheese on top. If you don’t have pumpkin seed flour at home, don’t worry, neither do I! Just pulse pumpkin seeds in the food processor until you reach the desired consistency. I like to keep it a little coarser. Here we go:

Pumpkin Seed Pogácsa

  • Time: 30 min prep + 45 min baking
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A savory, scone-like Hungarian pastry enriched with pumpkin seeds and tangy quark cheese. Makes cca. 65 4 cm pieces.

Ingredients

250 g AP flour

250 g quark

250 g butter

100 g pumpkin seed flour

2 tsp salt

1 egg + 1 for the eggwash

grated cheese for topping

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients except one egg and topping cheese until incorporated in a large bowl with your hands.
  2. Wrap dough in cling foil and refrigerate for an hour, or as long as overnight.
  3. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
  4. Roll out dough around 1” thick, cut out rounds.
  5. Place scones on baking sheet, wash with egg, top with grated cheese.
  6. Bake until golden, about 45 min.

Love,

Fruzsi

Elderflower Cordial, the Season’s Must

elderflower

Weather has turned from Red Wine Please to Rosé S’il Vous Plait. In other words – if you happen to be the designated driver – it’s lemonade season! Today I’m here to help you step up your refresher game with elderflower-infused syrup, a drink very popular here in Central Europe.

Fragrant and refreshing, elderflower cordial is great mixed with seltzer water, makes sensational spritzers with white wine, or add a dash to a gin or vodka and tonic to start an early summer party in style. Also available commercially year-round, but I think you need no convincing that home-made is the real deal.

Elder plants are very common, frequenting woodland fringes and hedgerows. They are not really tall enough to count as trees, but rather too big for a shrub as well. Elderflower season runs from late May to early July.

Culinary uses of the flowers and berries are varied and many, from tea to relishes to flavoring in several food products. Note that leaves, twigs, roots and uncooked berries of the elder plant are toxic and should not be consumed!

The flat-topped sprays of white flowers have a distinctly sweet, heady fragrance. The best cordial is made from freshly picked elderflowers; choose the morning hours of a dry day to harvest. Collecting the flowers is a good excuse to get your SO on a walk by the way. 🙂 Oh, and do yourself a favor not to pick from roadsides, you don’t want petrol fumes infusing your drinks.

I’ve read somewhere that half-opened clusters have the most flavor in them. Trim as much stem off as you can, than place carefully in a bag or basket so pollen, the source of flavor will not be lost. Do not wash them back home, try brushing off insects and any other dirt instead before you start.

The rest is easy, cordial is based on simple syrup. All you need besides the pretty blossoms are sugar, water, lemons, citric acid and a little patience. High concentration of sugar and sterilized containers give the cordial decent shelf life.

Elderflower Cordial

  • Time: 30 min + 24 h
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Fragrant and refreshing cordial made from the cream flowers of the elder plant.

Ingredients

30 elderflower clusters

1,5 kg / 3.3 lbs sugar

1,5 l / 6 cups water

2-3 lemons

50 g / 3 ½ tbsp citric acid

Directions

  1. Make simple syrup: pour water and sugar in a large pot, heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Bring to a simmer, turn off heat.
  2. Wash and slice lemons, put slices in the syrup.
  3. Place elderflowers in the syrup, stems up. Cover pot with lid.
  4. Let infuse for 24 hours.
  5. Drain liquid through a fine sieve or a piece of muslin fabric.
  6. Add citric acid and bring to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes, than fill into sterilized bottles with the help of a funnel.
  7. Store refrigerated after opening.

How easy is that? Bring a bottle of cordial to the next garden party you’re attending! The 0,5 l (17 oz) reusable Ikea KORKEN bottle makes a perfect vessel for just $1.99, or you could finally put those beer bottles with stoppers you kept to good use. (Why did I use second person when those were my beer bottles?)

If, for some incomprehensible reason you’re not into the aroma of elderflower, you can always refer to my post on lavender syrup to give your rose spritzers or plain old lemonade a twist. Mint syrup, an essential to every well-represented home bar is also made similarly.

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

Further Adventures in Dairyland – Cheesemaking at Home

fresh cheeses

I am in a place in life right now when I feel the need to learn new things, so I’m on the lookout for culinary classes. Earlier I wrote a piece about how I started making my own yogurt and butter, and now my adventures in the land of dairy continue with cheese.

Man has been making cheese from raw ingredients with non-industrial methods for 7,500+ years. That is, waaay before refrigerators, thermometers and sterile lab equipment, so it must not be too complicated.

Or so I thought. Truth is, making cheese is both art and science. After the workshop I’ve attended hosted by chef Balázs Sarudi, this became very clear to me. Here’s a short summary of what I’ve learnt while we made our own mozzarella- and parenica style cheese plus some delicious ricotta to take home with us.

Real cheesemaking requires extensive knowledge (think MSc levels of biochemistry and microbiology) and years, if not decades of experience relying on your senses.

There are many types of cheese and just as many methods for making it. But while the recipes for all types of cheese vary (some undergo more steps and require more time to make than others), the basic process of turning milk into cheese stays the same: curdling and then separating the solids from the whey.

To make even the simplest forms of cheese – fresh cheese – at home, the most important of all is to buy quality raw whole milk, preferably from pastured cows. Evident as it may sound, getting your hands on it could be trickier than you might think. Once you’ve managed that though, you can be sure it will yield the best flavor.

Now, to turn that lovely dairy to cheese, you need to heat it first. When the milk is warm, a starter culture containing lactic bacteria is added to change lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. This process changes the acidity level of the milk and begins turning milk from liquid into solid.

The next step is called coagulation, when we further encourage the milk to solidify. There are two ways to do this: using acid (like lemon juice or white vinegar) will yield small, crumbly curdles. Using enzymes such as rennet will result in a gel-like consistency, allowing curds to be stretched and molded, unlike curds formed with acid. Rennet, found in the stomach linings of cattle and sheep, is the oldest method.

After some resting, it’s time to cut curds to expel and separate whey. Generally, the smaller the curds are cut, the harder the resulting cheese will be. Whey is then drained, but it would be a shame to discard as it is full of protein and nutrients. It can be used for many things from feeding to animals, using it fresh in place of water or milk in recipes like bread and pastries, making other dairy products such as ricotta, or processed foods e.g. whey protein.

Salting the curd adds flavor and acts as a preservative as well so the cheese does not spoil. After this, the cheese is put into a mold and is pressed or turned regularly to expel remaining liquids.

And voilà! What you have now is fresh cheese, cheese in its youngest, purest form. It has a simple yet satisfying flavor, mild, maybe a little salty or tangy. With time, it would ripen and could be called aged cheese.

And that’s about it. I did not share an exact recipe as you could find everything online, but do please let me know if you’d still like me to, I am at your disposal. 🙂

At-home cheesemaking kits are available at specialty shops and also from online retailers (to my Hungarian readers: visit Panni sajtműhelye for recipes and webshop). Can’t wait for mine to arrive, hopefully my efforts will be worth sharing.

One more thing though, if you are even slightly interested in trying your hands at homemade cheese, I do encourage you to find a dairy workshop near you and attend. YouTube might have it all, but going out to see, touch, smell and taste for yourself makes all the difference.

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I’ve visited, and/or used services offered by business establishments mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such entities represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship, commissions or gifts.*

‘Fresh cheeses on white wood’ stock image via Shutterstock