May 6, 2015 § 1 Comment
When was the last time you took a good look inside your freezer? Do you know what’s living in there, under the frozen peas and ice cream? For many of us, the freezer is like a hall closet for food. We just keep shoving stuff in there until one day it all comes tumbling out, and we finally have to decide to pitch or keep that frozen mass of … what was that again? And how long has it been in there?
One way to keep a handle on what’s going into your freezer — and how long it lives there — is to label freezer items with the “date in.” All you need is a Sharpie and some freezer tape. For each item that goes into the freezer, take a minute and write the current date on a piece of freezer tape. (Add the name of the item, too, if it’s packaged in an opaque or unlabeled container, freezer bag, or layers of foil. ) Affix the tape to the item, and voilà. No more guessing games about how long that foil-wrapped thing has been wedged behind last week’s ice cream and under last year’s frozen pizza.
I’ve been a labeler since culinary school. All good, right? Yes and no. The followup to labelling is, that you have to — every few months — take a look at what’s actually living in the freezer. If you focus on a mostly fresh-food diet, then you might not be digging into the freezer that often. I use my freezer as a place to preserve foods — breads, summer fruit that I want to enjoy later in the year, stocks and broths, and vegetable scraps for said stocks and broths. In short, it’s place to store food until I get around to doing something with it. Problem is, often out of sight, out of mind. Hence the need to check in every few months.
Given that we’re into the first week of May already, summer garden vegetables and u-pick fruit are on their way. Unfortunately, I still have last year’s overages of backyard apricots and Swanton Berry Farm strawberries taking up most of my freezer. Sheesh. (Ok, so I’m not so good at the every-few-months check-in.) So while most Waste-Less Wednesdays have focused on ways to reduce waste by rescuing or repurposing what’s in front of you — in the refrigerator or on the countertop — let’s not forget about what’s going on in the freezer.
So, let’s say you’ve got an excess of freezer fruit. What to do? While freezing fruit often maintains most of the flavor, the texture is another story. Soft fruits like berries and apricots don’t bounce back so well when thawed, which means they’re ideal for smoothies or cooked fruit dishes. A simple way to enjoy previously frozen fruit? Make a compote. While it might sound fancy, the making part is easy. A compote is fruit cooked in liquid with sugar added for sweetness. Perfectly delicious on their own, compotes can also dress up Greek yogurt, elevate waffles and pancakes, or add a touch of decadence to your favorite ice cream.
So, start digging through your freezer. If you’ve got last year’s frozen berries — or store-bought frozen berries will do in a pinch — you can have a tasty, homemade fruit compote in about 15 minutes.
Recipe: Strawberry-Orange Compote
Yield: About 8 ounces
This recipe omits the water to produce a chunkier compote, and (bonus!) is a great way to use up one of those packets of orange zest you might have lingering in your refrigerator. Delicious warm or cold, you can enjoy this compote on its own (or with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream) or as a complement to a variety of other treats. Serve it warm or at room temperature with cakes, waffles, rice pudding, or pancakes. Serve cool over ice cream or yogurt.
12 ounces frozen strawberries (previously washed, dried, and hulled)
1½ – 2 ounces organic sugar (to your taste)
1 heaping teaspoon fresh orange zest
What You Need:
Small glass or ceramic bowl or dish (to hold up to 10 ounces)
- Combine the sugar and berries in the saucepan and place it on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally so that the berries cook evenly and don’t stick to the pan.
After about five minutes, the berries will begin to soften and release their juices, combining with the sugar to make a syrup.
- Use the tip of the spatula to break the berries into smaller, bite-size pieces.
Don’t worry about creating even-size pieces.
- Continue cooking until the syrup thickens and berries are soft and in pieces, about 10 minutes.
- Check the consistency of the compote by taking a small spoonful of the syrup from the saucepan and putting it on the plate. Place the plate in the freezer for about 20 seconds, just enough to bring the temperature down.
- Retrieve the plate from the freezer and run your finger or the tip of the spatula through the syrup. If the gap closes quickly, continue cooking the compote for a minute or two, testing it again for doneness. If the gap closes slowly, the compote is ready.
- Taste the small sample from the plate and adjust the amount of sugar, if neccessary.
If you’d prefer a sweeter compote, stir another teaspoon of sugar into the hot compote until fully combined. Taste a cooled sample of the compote to determine whether you need to add any more sugar.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the orange zest.
- Transfer the compote to the glass or ceramic dish (Pyrex is a good choice), cover with plastic or parchment paper, and place in the refrigerator to cool.
- Serve cold or rewarm gently in the microwave before serving.
- Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
June 2, 2014 § 3 Comments
It seems that I have a problem when it comes to citrus — oranges, in particular. After taking a quick inventory of my refrigerator recently, it turns out that citrus (mostly of the orange kind) has taken over both of the crisper drawers. As in, the drawers are so full that I can barely open them. You’d think I’m hoarding oranges for the end of the world or something. How did this happen?
The good news is that an excess of any ingredient is always an opportunity for a little creative problem solving in the kitchen. Aside from the obvious — juice those babies for mimosas (I’m not sure I can round up enough champagne for that) — there’s always my Sunday Morning Scones and Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits. Unfortunately, making both of those recipes wouldn’t come close to fully using all of those oranges, and I’m looking to minimize food waste with whatever recipe I use. Most recipes that call for oranges want the juice or the zest, meaning there’s a high likelihood of waste (in fact, depending on your recipe, 50-70% of the orange can go to waste).
If you’ve read this blog a bit, you know that my heart (and experience) are in the sweet kitchen, so I was immediately thinking about candied peel. It keeps for ages, and I can use it for holiday fruit cakes later this year or dip it in dark chocolate as a gift for my father’s birthday. I was also thinking about making a confit that I can use for filling cakes or as a mix-in for ice cream. Given the abundance of oranges I’ve accumulated, I’ll likely make both! Ok, so that covers the outside, but what about the inside?
The ice cream/confit idea got me thinking: it’s been a long time since I’ve made an ice cream or a sorbet. Maybe I could try orange sherbet, but that would mean buying milk (ugh, another trip to the grocery store). And then inspiration arrived courtesy of Fine Cooking magazine: an article about sorbet! Funny how inspiration seems to show up just when you need it. Skimming the article reminded me that I have all the tools and resources that I need at home to make sorbet (although Fine Cooking breaks down the process into bite-sized chunks and author Zoe Francois has some tasty ideas for add-ins). Ta-dah — orange problem solved!
Sorbet is simply fruit juice or purée combined with a sugar syrup, spun up in an ice cream maker, and then frozen. The most important part of making sorbet is getting the right proportions of fruit juice/purée and sugar syrup. Too little syrup, and you basically end up with rock-solid, frozen juice that’s too hard to scoop. Too much sugar, and the mixture won’t freeze, and you’ll end up with a slushie (which could be delicious, but isn’t the point of the exercise).
So how do you know when you’ve got the right combination of fruit juice/purée and syrup? Well, if you’re addicted to kitchen tools like I am (I’m pretty sure that’s why I went to culinary school in the first place — all the fun toys), you could use a refractometer or a saccharometer to measure the density of the sugar in the mixture.
A refractometer measures the light refraction of sugar using the Brix scale. You just place a drop of your solution on the plate, close the plastic cover, and look through the eye piece. Super-easy to use — and to clean. A saccharometer is a long, narrow glass tube — with a weighted bottom — that measures the gravity of the mixture using the Baumé scale. You need to physically place it in the solution you want to measure, which means you need a tall, narrow container in which to put your solution. I find it more challenging to get an accurate reading on the saccharometer because you have to eyeball it in the solution you’re measuring. (In short: I think it’s a pain to use.)
Unless you make beer, wine, or a lot of sorbets — or work in a professional kitchen — you probably don’t have a refractometer or saccharometer stashed in a drawer somewhere (and if you do, we should hang out). But there is something that you likely have in your kitchen that will help you check the sugar density of a sorbet mix: an egg.
You read that right. The old-school, tool-free technique for checking the density of a sorbet solution is to place an egg (yup — a whole, raw egg, in the shell) in the mix and see whether it floats. There are a few things you need to know before trying this technique:
- Your egg should be fresh, so check the date on the carton (Need to know how to find the packing and sell by dates for your eggs? Check out this article). An old egg will not float as well and won’t give you an accurate “reading.” Trust me on this; I learned the hard way. An old egg will float the same whether you have too much or too little syrup. No fun.
- Make sure there are no cracks in the shell.
- Wash your egg with mild dish soap, rinse it well, and dry it before placing it in the sorbet mix.
I’ve never used the egg test before, so I decided to try it out — in tandem with my trusty refractometer. I’ll save you the suspense and let you know that the egg test worked for me — and it’s reliable as long as your egg is fresh! So, if you’ve got a sorbet syrup (recipe below), fresh orange juice, fresh lemon juice, an ice cream maker and an egg, you can make delicious, sweet-orange sorbet at home!
Another tip: I’ve found it easier to make the sorbet syrup first, let it cool completely (which might mean overnight), and then go on to prepping the fruit, making the sorbet mix, and spinning it up. Sorbet syrup keeps in the refrigerator for about 10 days. After making sorbet, you can use leftover syrup to sweeten ice tea, homemade lemonade, and cocktails.
Recipe: Sorbet Sugar Syrup
Yield: About 2¾ cups
Adapted from the Culinary Institute of America
If you want to get all technical, this is a 65º Brix sorbet syrup. Just, you know, in case anyone asks you. Including corn syrup or glucose will prevent crystallization of your sorbet syrup and give you a smoother sorbet.
1½ cups sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup light corn syrup (or glucose)
- Combine ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil.
- As soon as the syrup comes to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the saucepan and allow the syrup to cool completely.
- If you’re making the syrup in advance, transfer it to a container with a tight-fitting lid and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make the sorbet.
Recipe: Orange Sorbet
Yield: About 1 quart of sorbet
Inspired by Fine Cooking Magazine, June/July 2014
What you need:
Ice cream maker
1-quart container, preferably at least 6″ tall
Narrow whisk (not a balloon whisk)
Fresh egg in the shell, washed and dried (or, if you have one, a 0-32º Brix refractometer)
Container for freezing sorbet, 1 quart or larger
3 cups of fresh orange juice (from 10-12 oranges or about 4½ pounds)
2-3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (1-2 large lemons)
1 cup sorbet syrup (recipe above; keep extra in reserve, in case you need it)
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest (I used a microplane zester)
Optional: 2-3 tablespoons of orange liqueur (I used 3 tablespoons of Cointreau, although an aged tequila or good vodka could work, too, depending on the flavor you prefer)
- Juice the oranges, reserving the rinds for zest or other uses.
I used the juicer attachment on my food processor, but you can go old-school and use a hand juicer or reemer. I stored the orange rinds in a freezer bag in the coldest part of my fridge for future use (candied peel and confit).
- Strain the orange juice through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any seeds or large pieces of pulp.
Small pieces of pulp are ok and add flavor and body to your sorbet.
- Taste the orange juice so that you can determine how much lemon juice to add.
If the oranges are very sweet, start by adding 2½ tablespoons of juice. Add up to another ½ tablespoon if you prefer. If the orange juice is less sweet or slightly tart, add about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Why add lemon juice? Because it can enhance the orange flavor, making it “brighter.” You just don’t want to add so much lemon that you detract from the orange.
- Pour the orange juice into a tall, narrow 1-quart container. Using a narrow whisk, stir in the lemon juice, zest, and alcohol (if you’re including it).
Note that adding alcohol will change the density of your mixture, so add it before you start adding the sorbet syrup.
- Whisk in ½ cup of the sorbet syrup and test the density of the mixture by gently lowering your egg into the container (or taking a refractometer reading).
Note: If you’re using a refractometer, your goal is 24-29º Brix, depending on how sweet and firm or slushy you like your sorbet. The higher the reading, the sweeter and softer the sorbet.
- If the egg goes right to the bottom, you need to add more sorbet syrup.
- Adjust your sorbet mix by stirring in 2 tablespoons of syrup, then try the egg test again. Continue until the egg floats, and you can see a 1-inch circle of shell sticking up out of the sorbet mix.
Make sure you taste the sorbet mix as you add syrup. It should be orange-y and sweet, but not cloying (as in, it shouldn’t burn the back of your throat).
- If the egg floats, and you can see a 1-inch circle of the shell, your mixture should be ready for churning and freezing. If not, continue to whisk in small amounts of syrup and float the egg until you see a 1-inch circle of shell sticking up out of the sorbet mix.
When my egg floated with a 1-inch circle of shell showing, my refractometer reading was 24º Brix. As I was going for a less sweet (and slightly firmer) sorbet, I stopped adding syrup.
- Chill the mix in your refrigerator for about an hour.
Your sorbet will churn and freeze more quickly if the mix has been chilled.
- Pour the mix into the ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Mine takes 25-30 minutes to churn. Your mileage may vary.
- While the sorbet is churning in the ice cream maker, place a 1-quart container for the sorbet in the freezer.
You want to transfer your churned sorbet (which is partially frozen) into a chilled container to reduce melting on contact.
- Freeze the sorbet for at least four hours before serving.
So here’s a really cool thing (yes, pun intended) about sorbet: you can always melt it down, adjust it, and churn it again. Let’s say that after a couple of weeks in the freezer, your sorbet is getting icy. Or, maybe you wish you’d added a bit more sorbet syrup for a softer, sweeter sorbet. No problem! Just melt the sorbet back to liquid form, make any adjustments (whisk in more syrup or add another tablespoon of liqueur — just be sure to run the egg test again), churn the sorbet in the ice cream maker, and refreeze.
Well, I’ve solved half of my orange problem. Stay tuned for part deux…
Have you made sorbet? Did you use the “egg float” test? Did it work for you?