Ever Made Elderberry Syrup?

elderberry syrup

Because you should. The stuff is all around now to be harvested and enjoyed.

Elderflowers do get more of the spotlight when it comes to making cordial. Early summer and the heady white blossoms may be gone, but they are replaced with the umbrella-shaped clusters of blue-black fruit: welcome elderberries!

Please note: Eating uncooked elderberries, leaves, bark or roots can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Also, when I’m talking about the elder plant I refer to European or Black Elder (Sambucus nigra). If you are collecting the flowers or berries yourself, ensure that you have correctly identified the plant as other types of elder may be more toxic.

That said, elderberry is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants, it’s usually taken as a supplement to treat cold and flu symptoms. In folk medicine, the berries are also known to be used as remedy for infections, sciatica, headaches, dental pain, heart pain and nerve pain, as well as a laxative and diuretic. Elderberries have many nutritional benefits as well: a good source of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants.

All that in a berry. And they taste great too, so go and pick some – the funky tart aroma is so unique! Making elderberry syrup is not a big deal at all, the recipe only calls for 3 ingredients: the berries, sugar and citric acid. When filled into sterilized bottles, the syrup has a decent shelf life of 12 months (as with any other canned product, discard if color, texture, taste or smell has changed). Refrigerate after opening.

A few tips, before you begin: wear rubber gloves when handling the berries, they stain everything deep purple. Wash berries after you have removed them from the stems. Mature berries will sink and remaining stems, immature berries, leafy matter and insects will float. You can store washed berries in ziploc bags in your freezer, or you may dry them as well for later use.

Drink simply diluted with water, or mix it up with lemon, mint or ginger. Just the type of refreshment you need in this heat!

Elderberry Syrup

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Tasty, refreshing syrup made from the blue-black berries of the elder plant. Makes cca. 3,5 l syrup.

Ingredients

1 kg elderberries, stems removed

1,5 kg / 3.3 lbs sugar

3 l / 12 cups water

2 ½ tsp citric acid

Directions

  1. Wearing latex gloves, pick elderberries from stems. Wash.
  2. In a large pot, bring berries and water to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 30 min. stirring occasionally.
  3. Strain/press through a fine sieve.
  4. Add sugar and citric acid to juice, bring to a boil. Cook syrup uncovered for 15 min, until sugar has dissolved and syrup-y consistency is reached.
  5. Fill into sterilized bottles with the help of a funnel and ladle.
  6. Keep in a cool, dark place. Refrigerate after opening.

Love,

Fruzsi

Image: Laura Muthesius / Our Food Stories

Hello March: Sour Cherry Coffee Cake with Whipped Crème Fraîche

cherry sponge cake

They say self-deception will not serve you well. Not when you dream of warmer seasons and decide to play make-believe with your senses by a dessert featuring one of summer’s signature fruits!

The base of this well-known Hungarian treat is a sponge cake. I think I will need to elaborate on that because there are a Whole Wide World of Sponge Cakes: Victoria, Angel food, French biscuits, Génoise, chiffon, foam cakes, and so on and so forth.

Generally, pastries of this family get their light, open texture from whipped egg whites a.k.a. egg foam. They are relatively quick and simple to make, but you need to be skillful (read: gentle) with your folding.

The name sponge cake around here is used to refer either to a light foam cake made with just 3 ingredients (eggs, sugar and flour), or a heavy foam cake made with added butter. The latter is denser, crumbly and stays moist longer.

A sponge cake is among the first things your granny teaches you to bake. They are wonderfully versatile and used in a multitude of Central-Eastern European recipes. This particular one plays in the ‘with butter’ league and also employs some baking powder, as it needs a little added strength to rise under the weight of all those juicy fruits.

The sour cherries I used here were home-grown (I wrote about my parents’ horticultural vein before), but it’s totally comme il faut in my book to bake with store-bought fruit. I prefer frozen to canned though, and I don’t think you need that syrup in your life either.

What elevates this classic besides the crunchy, toasted walnuts on top is the dollop of whipped crème fraîche served on the side. Do you like crème fraîche? Is it even available where you live? It’s still quite exotic here – that much is obvious from the price tag. If you can find it, that is.

For those of you not yet familiar with this dairy: crème fraîche is similar to sour cream, but thicker, richer, and less tangy. It’s great in both sweet and savory dishes. I particularly love how it offsets the sweetness of tarts and pies perfectly, adding another layer of flavor to every bite. You can whip crème fraîche into a thick, creamy topping just like you would do with heavy cream.

It’s also a no-brainer to make at home, not to mention considerably cheaper! All you need is heavy (whipping) cream, full-fat natural yogurt and about 24 hours on the counter. Just mix a cup of cream with 2 tbsp yogurt, and let it sit in a glass jar at room temperature until it becomes thick and creamy. Keep it in the fridge afterwards and use within 5 days.

Sour Cherry Coffee Cake with Whipped Crème Fraîche

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Classic sponge cake loaded with fruits and crunchy walnuts, served with rich crème fraîche.

Ingredients

4 medium eggs, separated

1/4 tsp salt

180 g butter, room temperature

250 g superfine sugar

4 tbsp AP flour

1 packet (8 g) vanilla sugar

1/2 packet (7 g) baking powder

100 g walnuts, chopped

300 g fresh or frozen sour cherries, pitted and drained

butter and flour for greasing the pan

Directions

  1. Thaw and drain, or if using fresh, wash, pit and drain sour cherries. Roughly chop walnuts. Mix flour with baking powder. Set aside.
  2. Thoroughly butter and flour a 22×33 cm (9×13″) pan (I’ve divided the batter into smaller dishes for photography purposes).
  3. Preheat oven to 160 C (320 F).
  4. In a large mixing bowl, cream softened butter with a handheld electric mixer until fluffy.
  5. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating until incorporated.
  6. Add sugar in 3 portions to the egg-butter mixture, mix on medium until pale and fluffy and sugar has dissolved, about 4-5 min. Set aside.
  7. In another bowl, whip cold egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form.
  8. Gently fold egg foam into egg-butter-sugar mixture with a spatula.
  9. Fold in flour and baking powder until incorporated.
  10. Pour batter in the prepared pan. Arrange cherries on top. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and vanilla sugar.
  11. Bake until batter has risen and golden brown, about 30-40 min.
  12. Let cool in the pan before slicing. Enjoy slightly warm or cool with a dusting of powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped crème fraîche on the side (optional).

Love,

Fruzsi

Homemade Appleasauce Because It’s Apple Season (Enthusiastic Thumbs Up)

apples on linen

On this climate, apples are one of, if not the most widely available and cheap fruits. I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t like apples, and with colder days approaching, the idea of a warm slice of anything with apple and cinnamon gets stuck in my head like earworms.

Cinnamon-apple is our pumpkin pie spice: come fall, every product gets this flavor update from cereal to yogurt to porridge to rice pudding to bubble gum to scented toilet paper. No kidding!

And while the whole health picture just might be more complex than eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away, apples undeniably supply nutrition vital for good health.

This fruit is a great source of natural fiber that lowers risk of heart disease by decreasing bad cholesterol levels. A serving can supply much of your daily vitamin C needs, plus the flavonoids in apples reduce inflammation, regulate blood pressure, and reduce excessive fat production in the liver. Also, phytonutrients in them work as antioxidants.

Not bad from the humble apple, huh?

If you have a few that you won’t be able to eat before they get grainy, soft and wrinkled, or you simply want to stock up on a delicious, healthy and versatile food item, turn them into applesauce! It’s inexpensive, takes no time to make and keeps well canned or frozen as well.

Commercial applesauce is not a common sight in Hungarian supermarkets, but I don’t mind at all. The advantage of making my own at home is that I can choose my favorite apples and make the applesauce as sweet or as tart as I prefer.

Applesauce contains only about 100 calories per serving (if you choose to make it unsweetened), and while most of those calories come from sugar, it’s the naturally occurring fructose.

There’s no fat in it, yet applesauce is a great substitute for fats in baked goods. Try swapping half of a recipe’s margarine, butter, shortening or oil component with applesauce to reduce calories while adding fiber. The finished baked item will have a tender, crumbly texture and a slightly sweeter flavor.

As I said, applesauce is really easy to make. This recipe is for 4,5 kg (10 pounds) of apples, which will yield somewhere around 3 to 3,5 litres (7 pints) applesauce. I used golden delicious apples this time.

homemade applesauce

Here’s how to make applesauce at home:

Wash, peel, and core apples. To prevent browning, slice apples into water containing ascorbic acid (1 tsp to a gallon of cold water).

Place drained slices in a heavy bottomed pot, add ½ cup water. Stirring occasionally to prevent burning, heat quickly until tender (5 to 20 minutes, depending on maturity and variety). Don’t overcook, it’s not a jam.

Blitz with an immersion blender until completely smooth. Reheat sauce to boiling (it will spatter, so be careful) and add the juice of 1 lemon, or 1 tsp citric acid to serve as a natural preservative.

Fill sterilized jars with hot sauce, leaving ½-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in boiling water for 15 min. Applesauce can be frozen as well.

Traditionally, applesauce is eaten along cooked meat or roasts around here, but I’m beginning to see it in desserts as well. I like it either way. If you can’t imagine applesauce with a slice of roast beef, give my healthy oat bars recipe an autumn update substituting the fig jam with applesauce heavily flavored with homemade apple pie spice, or try apple pie baked oatmeal for a delicious and filling breakfast.

Love,

Fruzsi

Title image by Lindsey S. Love

Baked Ricotta, the Appetizer You’re About to Fall For

baked ricotta

When I told you guys my plans for at-home cheesemaking and the culinary course I’ve attended, I said I’d report the results – if any – of my attempts. Well, I’m here to make good on that promise, and I’m topping it off with a recipe which defines easy entertaining.

So, ricotta. I was surprised to learn that behind the posh Italian name (simply meaning re-cooked by the way), you’ll find the very same dairy product we call orda, urda or vurda in Central-Eastern Europe. It’s a creamy, neutral tasting fresh cheese made from whey, the leftover of cheesemaking.

I don’t exactly know why, but only a few supermarkets carry it around here and it’s quite expensive for what it is. But good news! Ricotta is easy to make at home and a great secondary use for the whey which still has a lot of the goodness of milk in it, and would therefore be a waste to discard of.

For this fresh cheese, all you need to do is heat the whey from 5 litres (about 1.3 gallons) of milk to 85-92°C (right below boiling) and add 5 g (1 tsp) citric acid. Turn the heat off and wait for the proteins to coagulate: after a few minutes you’ll notice tiny “flakes” floating in the greenish-yellowish liquid. Pour through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and wait a few hours for the curds to strain. This amount of whey yields around 1 cup of fresh ricotta.

I like eating it as-is, but you may find this dairy to be a little bland. That means it’s a blank page and you can flavor the sh*t out of it! Wether you make or buy your ricotta, the following cheese number is a hugely versatile dish you can whip up in a blink of an eye even ahead of time, and play around with spices and other additions to suit your fancy.

Rich, creamy and indulgent, baked ricotta will rise nicely in the baking dish. Like a fancy soufflé, just easier – no need to worry about your folding technique. Only a few ingredients, but a gourmet addition to your repertoire.

baked ricotta

baked ricotta

Your baked ricotta will somewhat collapse after taking it out the oven but this is only natural, the steam holding it up evaporates. Serve warm on fresh baguette or as a dip with crackers.

baked ricotta

Here I made it with basil and oregano, but since then a few other variations emerged from my oven: sage and lemon zest, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic, rosemary and thyme… Can’t seem to get tired of this! 🙂

Baked Ricotta

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A versatile, creamy cheese number. Makes 4 ramekins.

Ingredients

500 g (2 cups) fresh ricotta

2 medium eggs

½ cup grated parmesan

pinch of salt and black pepper

any variety of fresh or dried herbs to taste

Directions

  1. Grease a medium baking dish or 4 ramekins with a few drops of olive oil, preheat oven to 190°C / 375°F
  2. In a medium bowl, mix ricotta with eggs, salt, pepper and parmesan until combined with a fork.
  3. Fold in herbs of your choice, fill ramekins 2/3 full.
  4. Bake until “soufflé” has risen and set, top starting to turn golden (about 40 min).

Love,

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

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

Say Bye to the Cereal Box with Homemade Granola

homemade banana granola

They say in America everything is bigger and better. Surely not everything, but this certainly holds when it comes to the world’s most popular breakfast foods: I’m talking about the granola vs muesli debate. Both are simple, filling, and (more or less) full of good stuff, but there are differences.

Granola, invented in Dansville, NY by Dr. James Caleb Jackson is a sweetened, baked cereal consisting of oats, nuts, seeds, often including mix-ins such as dried fruit or chocolate. Some kind of fat is also added to achieve the crumbly texture.

Muesli on the other hand, introduced by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner, is neither baked nor sweetened, and not that crunchy either.

As a European I feel inclined to say how I enjoy the pure flavor of muesli, how much I appreciate the distinctness and the way oats, nuts and seeds complement one another, but I’ll cut the bullshit right there. Let’s face it: granola is just more delicious. That’s it, I’m sorry Max!

The perked-up version is more popular state-side and humble muesli on this side of the pond. We therefore don’t have such an impressive selection of baked cereals in our supermarkets here. And what we do have is quite expensive for what it is.

My old favorite comes in a big cardboard box with a small plastic bag inside containing just a handful of the simply too sweet stuff bind together with a not specified type of vegetable oil (how reassuring). A 100 g serving contains about 60 g carbohydrates and over 12 g fat. Wow. I still eye that fucker on the store shelf sometimes, but my body just deserves better.

Luckily, making the crunchy clusters at home couldn’t be easier! Replacing the processed, packaged kind is great not only because from now on it’s in your control what goes into your brekkie bowl (I loathe thee, raisin!). It doesn’t have to have a shitload of sugar and fat either!

(I was about to add reducing your ecological footprint too, but had to revise my opinion as the ingredients you’re about to use also come packaged. Bummer.)

homemade banana granola

Checked out many recipes and made a few batches until I found what works best for us. Granola is not an exact science, you have to tweak the ingredients to suit your taste, but that’s the beauty of it: having your own, special edition.

I wanted mine to be free of processed sugar, so I use bananas and a little honey instead to sweaten. Also decided to cut down on fat and substitute it with a healthier alternative: extra virgin olive oil, one of the richest in polyunsaturated fatty acids (a.k.a the good guys).

I use the same seed mix in my granola that I bake into my breads: equal parts sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, lint seeds and pumpkin seeds. As for the nuts, almonds and walnuts are our favorite, but hazelnuts and pecans are also a great choice. For mix-ins, I prefer spices. OK, sometimes I give in and add dark chocolate chips too. 🙂

This amount, kept in a glass jar, lasts for about a week in our house. I like to eat it with low-fat natural yogurt and berries that are a bit sour (just.love.blackcurrant.) while Husband is not that hard-core as he likes to put it, and prefers milk and banana slices drizzled with pure maple syrup.

homemade banana granola

See how a healthier, homemade granola is such a no-brainer:

Banana Granola

  • Difficulty: easy
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A healthy take on store-bought cereals

Ingredients

3 cups rolled oats (half fine, half coarse)

1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

½ cup almonds, whole or sliced

¼ cup seed mix (sesame, lint, sunflower, pumpkin)

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp allspice

a handful of dark chocolate chips (optional)

2 ripe bananas, mashed

2 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F, line baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. In two separate bowls, mix wet and dry ingredients except chocolate (if using).
  3. Combine wet & dry ingredients well to coat evenly.
  4. Spread mixture on baking tray in a thin layer.
  5. Bake for 30 min or until dark golden.
  6. Allow to cool, than crumble.
  7. Mix in chocolate chips, transfer granola to a glass jar or other airtight container.

How do you do breakfast cereal? I’d love to see some ideas so I can switch things up a bit from time to time.

Love,

Fruzsi

How I Started Making My Own Dairy

homemade dairy

For a long time, I wanted to attend to a culinary course but have been putting it off because I didn’t want to go alone. As we all have busy lives, making it happen sadly seemed on the verge of impossible. After a few attempts on reaching an agreement it became obvious that if I were to wait for the whens, wheres and all that to come together, it will probably never happen, so I decided to go by myself.

I’ve participated in a bread & dairy workshop a few weeks back and it turned out to be so much fun! Did not even miss company because my attention was completely focused on making the food. In 3 hours, not only did we bake several delicious breads, but also prepared our own butter, yogurt, fresh cheese and yeast starter to take home with us. From scratch.

On this occasion it cleared on me how straightforward making your own dairy could be. Before seeing it for myself, I thought it’ something you can’t possibly have the proper tools and conditions at home. With my newly acquired knowledge though, I jumped straight into homemade dairy and I don’t think I’m buying these items from the store anytime soon!

TBH, I don’t drink milk. Period. Lattes and hot cocoa yes, but not plain milk. Dairy though! I love, love, love dairy. Thank God (and mom and dad and genetics) I’m not lactose intolerant, I’d be so miserable missing out on all the deliciousness. Having allergies myself, I really feel for everyone with this condition, fingers crossed we will soon have some kind of remedy.

So why should you start making your own yogurt and butter? Not because it’s cheaper, although you’d be better off (not counting the value of your labour that goes into it). And not because it’s more convenient, as lifting products off a store shelf is always easier, of course. Why do it then?

Because it makes you proud. In a word where most of us are nine-to-fivers sitting in an office all day and our jobs come down to keystrokes and clicks, sooner or later you start feeling like you need to make something tangible. To create. Art, crafts, food, or anything really, with your own hands.

I started my blog because I was at that point, and I cook and DIY for the same reason. Not that I hate my day job, it’s just that I had to look for an outlet elsewhere to channel my creative energy. Luckily, I found my passion and the everyday grind gets so much more tolerable when you have activities that relax your mind, charge you up and give you satisfaction.

But back to the matter at hand! Utensil-wise, if your kitchen is equipped with a pot, some kind of a jar, a mixing bowl and an electric mixer (or at least a whisk), you are set to go. Other useful devices could be a food thermometer, ramekins and a sieve, but those are not strictly mandatory.

For the yogurt, ingredients are milk and a cup of natural, unflavored yogurt. Skim, semi-skimmed, or whole milk will all work, both HTST and UHT. Note that the higher the fat content, the thicker, creamier and tastier your yogurt will be.

homemade yogurt ingredients

homemade natural yogurt

The natural yogurt will act as the starter culture, the live bacteria in it turn the milk to yogurt. Once you start making your own yogurt, you can use leftovers from each batch to culture your next. Just save the proper amount to use for this purpose. The recipe can be scaled up or down.

Homemade Natural Yogurt

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

1 l/34 fl oz milk

160 g/5.64 oz plain natural yogurt

Directions

  1. Heat the milk in a heavy bottomed pan to just below boiling (95°C/200°F) stirring occasionally to avoid sticking to the bottom.
  2. Wait for milk to cool to warm, around 50-60°C/120-140°F
  3. Stir the yogurt with the milk using a whisk until dissolved
  4. Transfer mixture to a jug or jar, wrap container in a heavy scarf to slow cooling process.
  5. Let set on the counter for at least 4 hours or as long as overnight. Avoid jostling or stirring until yogurt has fully set.
  6. Cool.

Refrigerated, yogurt keeps for about 2 weeks.

For the butter, use whipping or heavy cream (30-36% fat content). You need to churn the cream until it divides to butter and buttermilk, which can be done with a whisk or an electric mixer. Save buttermilk for later use.

homemade butter ingredients

homemade butter with bread

Homemade Butter

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

400 ml/13.5 fl oz heavy whipping cream, cooled

Directions

  1. Pour cream in a high sided mixing bowl to avoid splashes, and start whipping.
  2. You will eventually reach the state of whipped cream; continue whipping.
  3. You’ll notice that whipped cream starts to collapse and clump up. That’s what you’re looking for, keep whipping!
  4. When clusters of fat collect and buttermilk has precipitated, your butter is ready: drain buttermilk with the help of cheese cloth or a sieve, and transfer butter to a ramekin or muffin tin.
  5. Refrigerate. When butter has cooled, you can turn it out from the mold.

This amount of cream makes approximately 125 g/4.4 oz/1 stick butter and 245 g/8.6 oz buttermilk.

Next stop for me? Definitely cheese. I’m already eyeing some courses, can’t wait!

How do you feel about making some foods for yourself instead of opting for the convenient choice? Let me know in the comments!

Love,

Fruzsi

“Close-up of glass of milk” photo featured as title image © asierromeo / freepik

Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree

make your own pumpkin puree title image

This post was written out of pure necessity. As someone who likes broadening her cooking’s horizon with delicacies from all over the world, incorporating pumpkin and pumpkin spice in my fall meals was obvious. (I mentioned before how in Hungary we don’t really think of pumpkins as dessert. Yet, that is.)

I was determined to make this Pumpkin-Chiffon Pie when, after coming home empty-handed from 3 different supermarkets, I realized canned pumpkin puree is yet another item that might not be available where I live. Major FOMO, right there. After an extensive google search, I found only one place to get it, a shiny gourmet deli for the snobs of Budapest.

The rich snobs, to be precise: a 425 g (15 oz) can of Libby’s is exactly twice as expensive as in the US. In comparison, I paid the equivalent of about $0.4 for 1 kg (35.3 oz) of fresh butternut squash a few weeks back at my local Aldi. That’s such a huge price gap I’ve decided ready-made pumpkin puree is not something I’m willing to splurge on.

No big deal! I will not let such an inconvenience stop me from introducing pumpkin pie to my loved ones, so another google search later I was ready to make my own. Homemade pumpkin puree will do just fine, right until the evil canned Western threat makes its way to the shelfs of our supermarkets. (Can someone start importing it please? Like, now?)

So, if you are lucky to live somewhere so civilized to be able to go to a shop and just buy it, know that we hate you (but keep your eye out for the recipe anyway to avoid colourings, preservatives and stuff like that). But if you are as unfortunate as I am when it comes to canned pumpkin puree, don’t fret because I have the solution.

What you need to make pumpkin puree is – surprise! – just pumpkin. Or squash. There are the sort of people who will be quick to resort to violence over the pumpkin vs. squash question, but since they fall under the same genus and even if ingredient labels read 100% pumpkin, there may also be squash mixed in (full article on the subject here), I hereby declare the debate over. Whichever lifts your skirt!

I find it’s best to roast pumpkin slowly to achieve maximum sweetness and tenderness, without burning it. Depending on the type of pumpkin, the flesh of some are more fibrous. Also, some are moister than others, but these characteristics will not alter the taste of the puree. If you are making a bigger batch using several pumpkins, mix the puree of all the flesh to balance out taste differences of each individual pumpkin.

baked pumpkin chunks

My 4 medium butternut squash filled 2 baking sheets (36×45 cm or 14×17 inch) and yielded 9 cups puree. I froze the batch in cup-sized (250 ml) portions in plastic containers, than turned out the ‘pumpkin cubes’ from the moulds and packed them in individual, labeled plastic bags for convenient use.

baked pumpkin scraped out

Pumpkin Puree

Ingredients

pumpkin or butternut squash

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F), line baking sheet(s) with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
  2. Wash pumpkin(s) and cut them to approximately equal chunks. Discard fibrous strands, keep seeds for later use.
  3. Place chunks skin side down on baking sheet and roast until tender, about 1 h 15 min (insert knife to a few slices to check for doneness).
  4. Let cool to room temperature.
  5. Scrape out flesh with a spoon, discard skin.
  6. Pulse in a blender or food processor until puree is homogenous. Add a few tablespoons of water if needed.
  7. Store in the fridge for a few days, or freeze for later use.

Love,

Fruzsi

“Watercolor pumpkin” illustration featured in title image © freepik

Pantry Staples: Herbes de Provence & Herbes de Toscane

pantry staples: herbes de provence & herbes de toscane title image

The best of summer might well be gone, but it’s not too late to further exploit your herb garden: pick and dry some more to use in spice blends!

In the world of spices, there are a few combinations that have withstood the test of time. The classic blends I’m going to tell you about today have been used for centuries to flavor meat, fish, poultry, soups, stews and vegetables and are a building block in every home cook’s pantry. Lucky for us, we can make them for ourselves with no effort.

Mixing your own spices also means you’ll add what you want and avoid what you don’t. I for example am not a big fan of cumin, so I simply exclude it. What you also won’t get making your own blend is the additions some manufacturers put in commercially mixed spices such as MSG (or E621, which is a flavor enhancer) or anti-caking agents like silicon dioxide. I think we all agree that we can live without them.

Spice mixes are more art than science. Therefore, the two mixtures below will have many other versions floating around. Consider this as a guide and initial inspiration for how you can add more complex flavor to your cooking. Salt is listed in the ingredients for if you choose to make flavored salt instead of a simple spice mix. Here I added ChanteSel Coarse Sea Salt that I buy at my local Lidl.

To store your spice blends, use glass containers with tight-fitting covers. Empty jars from mustard, baby food, capers or jams are perfect, and their small size will remind you not to make too big quantities. Keep in a cool, dark place.

Prepare your senses to experience the essence of the Mediterranean!

Herbes de Provence: Formerly simply a descriptive term, this blend of spices wasn’t actually sold until the 1970’s. It is especially good mixed with olive oil to coat chicken, fish, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini or chunks of potato for roasting, adding to pizza sauce or sprinkled over game or kabobs before roasting. It’s also used for seasoning salads and cheese, as well as soups and stews. Store bought Herbes de Provence made for the US market usually includes lavender, although it is not used in traditional southern French cuisine.

Herbes de Provence

Ingredients

2 tbsp dried rosemary

2 tbsp dried thyme

2 tbsp dried basil

2 tbsp dried marjoram

1 tbsp dried oregano

1½ tbsp dried sage

(5 tbsp coarse sea salt)

Directions

Mix all ingredients in a jar. If adding salt, allow to infuse at least a week before using.

homemade spice mix with sea salt

Herbes de Toscane: Or Asperso, if salt is added. The name translates to „sprinkle” in Italian. This concoction dates back to medieval times when it was used as a meat cure, but you can put it on everything: roasted or grilled meats, sautéed vegetables, roasted potatoes, you name it. Traditionally the herbs would be combined and stored in a terracotta urn.

Herbes de Toscane

Ingredients

1/8 cup whole black peppercorns

1/2 tsp juniper berries

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp dried sage

1 tbsp dried rosemary

1 tbsp dried thyme

(¼ cup coarse sea salt)

Directions

Mix all ingredients in a jar. If adding salt, allow to infuse at least a week before using. Grind coarsely in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder before using, and then, you know, sprinkle.

It goes without saying that a pretty label and a few inches of twine can make your spice blends fit for gifting. Make sure to include suggestions for use!

Fruzsi

*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.*

“Store shelves with goods” illustration featured in title image © Redspruce