Archive for the ‘Condiments’ Category

How To Make Homemade Mustard

How To Make Homemade Mustard

For a few weeks, I’ll be cross-posting links to my new blog, It Was Just Right. Come on over to my new home and subscribe for email updates to keep receiving my recipes, reviews, and how-to’s. Today’s post features a tutorial on how to make homemade mustard. The whole recipe happens right in the serving jar, with next-to-zero clean-up required!


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jars of homemade jam

How To Make Homemade Jam

For a few weeks, I’ll be cross-posting links to my new blog, It Was Just Right. Come on over to my new home and subscribe for email updates to keep receiving my recipes, reviews, and how-to’s. Today’s post features a tutorial on how to make homemade preserves, complete with a recipe for Strawberry-Apricot Jam!

Oh, and if you’re still receiving emails from Opera Girl Cooks, it’s time to subscribe at It Was Just Right. I see you over there! Go on now. 😀

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My husband is a chips and salsa fiend. One of the biggest challenges I had when we moved in together was finding enough shelf space for his tortilla chips in our limited pantry. He’ll eat them after a run, to tide himself over before dinner is ready, as a midnight snack . . . if we don’t have at least two full bags of tortilla chips on hand, something is seriously wrong.

More often than not, he’s content to scoop up a store-bought variety of salsa, as he did for years before we got together. But when I’ve got the extra time, I love making him a batch of homemade salsa. Usually, it’s my Roasted Tomato and Pepita Salsa, his hands-down favorite.

This recipe is a new contender for the top spot. There’s no cooking required — it’s just a bowlful of lightly dressed diced seasonal fruits and vegetables, perfect for summer days when you don’t want to turn on the heat. Start with a perfectly sweet nectarine (ripe but still firm), a golden yellow pineapple, and crisp red onion and bell pepper and fresh cilantro, then season the mixture with chili paste, agave nectar, and rice vinegar. And that’s it. In as long as it takes you to dice the produce, you’ve made a perfect summer salsa for dipping chips, topping grilled fish and chicken, and spooning onto tacos and tostadas.
Summer Fruit Salsa (printer-friendly version)

Makes about 3 cups

1 cup diced pineapple
1 nectarine, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium red onion, diced, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon sambal oelek chili paste
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar

In a medium mixing bowl, toss ingredients together to combine evenly. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.


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Earlier this week, I strapped on my extrovert shoes and headed to Moscone Center for the 2014 Winter Fancy Food Show. I spent the day walking through the enormous show rooms and trying out new products while getting to know food producers and vendors from around the world. Here are a few of my favorites.

Mrs. May's Vacuum Fried Veggie Chips

Mrs. May’s Vacuum Fried Veggie Chips

These veggie chips from Mrs. May’s are their newest offering. Vacuum frying is done at much lower temperatures than traditional frying, and so it preserves more of the flavor, color, and nutrients of the vegetables. The chips were not too salty, and packed a lot of crunch.

grapefruit sage búcha

grapefruit sage búcha

This year’s show included lots of entries in the not-too-sweet beverage category. I especially liked this take on kombucha, flavored with tangy grapefruit and a subtle herbal note of sage. Extra carbonation is added for a nice fizz, and the ‘buch flavor is quite muted.

Oatworks peach mango smoothie

Oatworks pomegranate blueberry smoothie

These smoothies contain oats, but the texture is smooth and the fruit flavors are bright. You’d never know there were grains in here. If you’re looking for ways to add more soluble fiber to your diet, try ’em out! I particularly liked the peach mango flavor.


Healthee USA Organic Turmeric Drink

Turmeric is all over the place these days, being touted for its numerous health benefits. While I didn’t see a ton of turmeric-infused products at the show, it has been popping up in the blogosphere a lot in recent months, and I can only imagine it will end up in more retail products in 2014. This drink was mildly spiced and lightly sweetened, and can be enjoyed chilled or warm.


Olivier Napa Valley Herbes de Provence Mustard

There were *a lot* of mustards to try, and this one was a favorite. With bold, herbs de provence flavor, it’d be perfect on a chicken sandwich, or mixed into a marinade with white wine and olive oil.


SweetLeaf® Peach Mango Sweet Drops™

The peach mango combination turned up in all kinds of products, including this “water enhancer.” If you’re looking for an alternative to aspartame and sucralose sweetened beverages, Sweet Drops are a good option, as it relies on stevia extract for its sweetening power. The flavor is subtle, and you can decide how much to use in a bottle of water.


Juice It! by Robin Asbell

Chronicle Books had a booth full of their latest cookbooks, and this one jumped out at me right away. I’d love to try out some of the unusual combinations in here, especially the more savory juices containing herbs, cucumbers, and greens. Juice It! will be out mid-April 2014.


Robert Rothschild Farm Hatch Chile Jalapeno Jam

My parents are big fans of the Roasted Pineapple & Habanero Sauce from Robert Rothschild Farm, and I think they’d love this Hatch Chile Jalapeno Jam as well. Its full, well-rounded pepper flavor was a welcome change from the sweeter, less pepper-packed varieties I’ve seen in stores. There were actually a lot of great pepper jams at the show, and this was my favorite.


Lotus Foods Rice Ramen

I’m a big fan of Lotus Foods’ rices, and so I’m excited to try out these new varieties of ramen made from different varieties of rice. The beautiful green variety is made from jade pearl rice, which I’ve used for sushi. The ramen noodles come in packs with different miso soup bases to match the flavors of the rice grains, and you can also buy the noodles in multi-packs without the soup flavoring packets.


Manitou Paella Rice and Butternut Squash Risotto

These packaged, seasoned rices from Manitou Trading Company are straight off the manufacturing line. The brightly hued paella caught my eye — its vibrant color comes from luxurious saffron, and there are multiple patents on the process used to infuse the spice into the grains for through-and-through flavor. I can’t wait to try this out when it arrives in stores in my area.

Check back in a couple days for more new products from the Winter Fancy Food Show!

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salsa-topped beans and rice

I don’t know about you, but nobody ever taught me how to cook with dried chiles. They certainly aren’t programmed into my Eastern European DNA, and my parents didn’t cook much spicy food while I was growing up.

ancho chiles toasting in a cast iron panLuckily, mystery ingredients are easily demystified with a simple internet search these days. Chile neophytes are blessed with an embarrassment of recipes by Rick Bayless, patron saint of seekers of authentic Mexican cooking methods written in English. There’s also the option of googling for recipes in Spanish, then translating pages back into English.

serranos, jalapeños, and tomatillos

In my copious reading, I learned that in order to prepare dried chiles for cooking, one must first toast or fry them in a pan to release their aroma. Next, the chiles need to be hydrated, either by blending into a sauce, or soaking in hot water. Soaked peppers become pliable and soft, and can then added to salsas, stews and marinades.

I chose to go the salsa route with my first foray into dried chile cooking — my tortilla chip-addicted boyfriend was such a fan of my tomato and pepita salsa, I figured I’d try for another win. This one is based on tomatillos and anchos, and also includes toasted pepitas (a.k.a. shelled pumpkin seeds) to offset the chile spice.


We’re big fans of chile heat around here, so I left the seeds in the serrano peppers, and chose to simmer the ancho chiles with their seeds before removing them. Turns out my capsicums weren’t fooling around, and the resulting sauce packed a whole lot of heat. For a more “medium” level of spice, I’d suggest seeding the anchos before toasting, and removing the seeds from all of the fresh peppers before roasting.

salsa in the food processor

This recipe produces about a quart of rich, dark salsa with slightly bitter overtones from the dried chiles. We’ve been eating it with chips, and spooning it onto beans and rice. Mixed with some freshly-squeezed orange juice and a glug or two of chicken broth, it’s a wonderful marinade for chicken thighs and drumsticks, braised slowly and served over rice. It also freezes very well. We’re looking forward to making our way through the rest of this tasty sauce!

salsa over pinto beans and rice

Hot and Spicy Ancho Tomatillo Salsa (printer-friendly version

Makes about 1 quart of salsa

1 lb. tomatillos, peeled, rinsed and halved
4 serrano peppers, halved, seeds left in
4 jalapeño peppers, halved and seeded
1 medium red onion, cut into wedges
1/3 C. raw pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
6 ancho chiles (dried)
1/4 C. olive oil
juice of 2 limes
1/2 C. cilantro leaves

1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat oven to 425F.

2. Place the tomatillos, serrano and jalapeño peppers, and onion on the lined baking sheet, skin side up. Bake for 25 minutes.

3. While the vegetables are roasting, heat a medium (10-inch) cast-iron pan over a medium flame. Add the pepitas and toast for a few minutes, just until browned and beginning to pop. Set aside.

4. In the same cast-iron pan over medium heat, toast the ancho chiles until they begin to become aromatic and lighten in color a bit, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups of water and simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ancho chiles from the water. Split open, remove seeds, and cut the peppers into 1-inch strips. Set aside.

6. Remove the pan of roasted vegetables from the oven, then turn the heat up to broil. Place the baking sheet in the broiler (or at the top of your oven, wherever the heating element or flame is located) and broil for 5 minutes, until all of the pepper and tomatillo skins are well browned but not blackened. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are still warm but no longer boiling hot.

7. Place the roasted vegetables, toasted pepitas, and seeded, hydrated ancho chilis in a medium (12-cup) food processor. Add the olive oil, lime juice, and cilantro. Process for about 1 minute, until all of the ingredients are blended into a smooth salsa.

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Today’s Strawbanero Poblano Jam is a winner. It was the clear favorite among six varieties of jam my Aunt Bel and I put up this summer. “Strawbanero” stands for strawberry and habanero — just one firey habanero and two mellow[er] poblanos give the jam a good wallop of heat without setting your mouth on fire, and the strawberry and pepper flavors make for a sublime combination. I want this jam on toast in the morning, as a glaze for roasted chicken thighs, and as an accompaniment to grilled lamb or pork. It is perfect spread on top of crackers with cream cheese, and spooned onto plain yogurt for an afternoon snack. It is my favorite jam I’ve made to date, and I have made a lot of ’em. I suggest you stir up a batch toute de suite.

In past jamming posts, I’ve talked about how I learned canning from my Aunt Belinda and Great Aunt Mim, told you where to find the cutest jars, and explained how to prep your kitchen for a day of jamming. I’ve extolled the virtues of pectin-free jams, made only with fruit and organic cane sugar. I’ve even featured another blogger’s gorgeously luxe recipe for fig jam, featuring port, rosemary, and lemon.


This year, I did a bit of a 180, deciding to add pectin to my preserves. This method requires far less time stirring over a cauldron of boiling hot, sugary liquid, making for a process that is both faster and safer. Pectin-added jams also yield much more volume — the soluble fiber acts to thicken the jam before it’s boiled down much at all. To give you an idea of just how much more jam you get when you make pectin-added recipes, Aunty Bel and I ended up with two more jars this year than last, and we used twelve pounds of fruit instead of sixteen.

One of the perils of using pectin is that it’s harder to control just how thick your jam turns out. Different fruits contain different amounts of pectin, with less ripe fruits tending to have more thickening power than ripe ones. When you make pectin-free jams, it’s easy to gauge how they’re setting up during the long cooking process, but with a pectin-added jam, it’s more like baking — all of the ingredients are pre-measured at the beginning of the recipe, and the rest is up to the fates. There’s no wiggle room, no opportunity to adjust as you go.


And so, a few of our batches of jam turned out a little thicker than I’d like. Nothing totally tragic or inedible, but just a touch stiffer than my personal preference dictates. The Strawbanero Jam happened to be our last batch, and the slightly scant amount of pectin I had left turned out to be just right for a perfect set. These preserves are just solid enough for spreading, with an appealing, slightly-pourable consistency.

Oh, and a word or two on using habaneros, one of the hottest chili peppers known to man. You need not be afraid of chopping up these bad boys as long as you take a few precautions. For one thing, do yourself a favor and put on some food preparation gloves before you handle a habanero — if you neglect to do this you may or may not have firey, burning fingers for the rest of the day. And if you touch your face or, heaven forbid, your eyes, well jeez. Forget about it.

Once you’ve got those gloves on, it’s time to deseed and mince the habanero. Using a very sharp paring knife, split the pepper lengthwise, then cut off the stem ends, including the pithy seed pod, and cut out the white veins inside each half of the pepper. Discard all of these bits directly to your compost bin — they are the hottest parts of the pepper, but the deseeded flesh is still plenty spicy! Next, cut the pepper halves into thin strips (1/16 of an inch or so), line up the strips, and cut them into little squares. Use the paring knife to transfer the minced pepper directly into the bowl with your other ingredients.

Finally, don’t delay in washing off the paring knife and cutting board, scrubbing with lots of hot, soapy water. Discard the gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly as well. And you’re done! Habanero minced. Crisis averted. Spicy jam ahead.

Strawbanero Poblano Jam (printer-friendly version

makes about 7 half-pint jars

2 1/4 lbs. hulled and quartered strawberries
2 poblano peppers, seeded and diced
1 habanero pepper, seeded and minced

1/3 C. meyer lemon juice
5 Tbsp. (1.2 ounces) Ball Classic Pectin

4 C. organic cane sugar

1. Combine the strawberries, peppers, lemon juice, and pectin in a large glass or stainless steel mixing bowl, stirring to distribute the pectin evenly throughout the mixture.

2. Pour the strawberry mixture into a medium (5-quart), heavy-bottomed soup pot or dutch oven. Place over medium-high heat, and stir often for about 15 minutes, until the fruit comes to a full boil (one that persists even while you are stirring). Let boil for one minute.

3. Add the sugar to the pot and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to come up to a hard boil again, and boil for one final minute, stirring frequently. Turn off heat.

4. While the jam is still boiling hot, ladle into hot, sterilized jam jars. Screw on the lids firmly but not too tightly. Process the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

5. Remove the jars from the hot water bath, place on counter upside-down, and let cool to room temperature. Unscrew the bands and wash and dry the jars, then label and store in a cool, dark pantry.

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steak-taco-with-sweet-sour-cilantro-sauce-close-upHello there, Dear Readers! I hope you’re all doing well. I had a pretty glorious, fun-filled weekend, starting with attending a friend’s guitar recital on Friday night, enjoying a daytime dinner party that took up most of Saturday, and capping things off on Sunday with some wacky Bay to Breakers action, singing at morning mass, then going to brunch with the members of our crackerjack church choir. By Sunday night, it was all I could do to stay up during Mad Men.

St. Agnes, dressed up for Pentecost (a.k.a. Bay to Breakers) Sunday

St. Agnes, dressed up for Pentecost (a.k.a. Bay to Breakers) Sunday

Before nodding off at an embarassingly geriatric hour, I did manage to stay vertical long enough to make today’s recipe. Sunday afternoon’s efforts resulted a piquant and tangy sauce studded with sautéed red onions and chopped cilantro. Its texture is almost that of a saucy relish — while it was delicious atop the above-pictured steak tacos, it would also be fabulous on a sausage or hotdog.

A flock of Ronald McDonalds ran the race.

A flock of Ronald McDonalds buying post-race refreshments.

If you’re grilling for Memorial Day Weekend, this is a great recipe to add to your assembly line of toppings — your guests will appreciate such a unique departure from the usual store-bought condiments! Go ahead and make it a day in advance — it’s even better the next day, as the flavors get a chance to meld.


Corn tortillas topped with steak, cabbage, avocado, cilantro, and sauce.

Cilantro Steak Sauce (printer-friendly version

makes about 1 1/2 cups

1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, diced small
1/8 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. anchovy paste
1/4 tsp. Aleppo pepper flakes

juice of 2 lemons
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 C. coarsely chopped cilantro

1. Heat the olive oil, onions, and salt in a medium (10-inch) skillet over medium-low heat. Stir to coat the onions with the oil. Let simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until onions are softened but not quite beginning to brown.

2. Add anchovy paste and pepper flakes to the skillet. Stir to combine, and let simmer another 2 minutes.

3. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in lemon juice, vinegar, brown sugar, and cilantro, then pour into serving bowl.

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