Monday, December 19, 2011

Guest Blog Post: Swapper Vanessa Spices It Up with Two Recipes

I know we're still here in 2011, but I tell you, I'm ready for 2012. As proof, I'm kicking off a new year progression right now. Going forward I'll be shooting to once or twice a month mix it up here on the blog by featuring profiles of swappers, as well as guest blog posts by fellow swappers and swap hosts. What better way to extend and connect the food swapper community, right?

Vanessa's sweet, spicy & salty swappables
So I am thrilled to kick this shiny new gig off with a guest blog post by Vanessa Vichit-Vadakan. Her first time at SF Swappers was a couple weeks ago for our Holiday Swap, and she ooo'd and ahhh'd the crowd with a great array of sweet, spicy and salty items. So, without further ado, I'll turn it over to Vanessa to tell you about what she made and to share not one, but two (!) recipes with you. And both of them will add a little extra spice to your holidays. Joyfulness!


Like a lot of people, I perk right up at the announcement of an upcoming food swap.  The day can’t come fast enough, and I can’t wait to see what goodies my fellow swappers will bring.  But the hardest part of swapping for me comes right after the initial excitement subsides and I have to decide what I’m actually going to make, that moment when I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities, when I realize I can make pretty much anything I want.  Anything!  That’s a lot of possibilities!

Lucky for me I can instantly rule canning anything because, well, I never learned to can.  I’m always tempted to bake because I love to bake, but right around the holidays, it seems that people are already inundated with baked goods.  I’m reluctant to make anything that has to be refrigerated because even though I’m meticulous about food handling safety and I’m more than happy to swap for someone else’s fresh salsa, I just get too paranoid that I’m going to poison someone, which would make me sad.

I want to make something that above all is delicious, of course, but I also think about what I can make that is interesting, maybe something that people might not want to put together themselves because the recipe might require too many ingredients or make more than they want, things that would make me excited to see on another swapper’s table.  For sure I think about what’s seasonal and what someone else might not bring, especially if they bring the same thing and it turns out to be tastier.  That would be like showing up at a party wearing the same clothes as another guest and having other person look waaay better in the outfit.  Yipes!

For the recent December swap, I thought of warming flavors for the chilly season.  Hot peppers came to mind, and I thought of togarashi, the Japanese chile condiment.  Last summer I air-dried some cayenne peppers that I’d picked up from Full Belly Farm at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market and used them as the base, grinding them just for the occasion.  There’s a good amount of variation in togarashi recipes, which vary in proportions as well as ingredients; some recipes call for hemp seeds or poppy seeds and some leave out the garlic or seaweed, but technically, "shimichi togarashi" refers to using seven ingredients.  My version takes a slight detour in that it actually uses eight ingredients and has a smaller proportion of chiles to the other ingredients than most versions I’ve seen (my chiles were quite strong).  There is a lot of room for tinkering with this recipe, and I do not claim it to be anything that your Japanese mother would call authentic, but it’ll warm you up and give your food a tasty kick.

Spicy Candied Ginger
I also made candied ginger for its warmth and presence in winter baking.  In most recipes I saw, the directions were to boil and drain the ginger a couple of times before giving it a simple syrup bath, but I decided I wanted to go with as much intense ginger flavor as I could get, so I skipped the leaching process and went straight for the simple syrup step.  The end result is a super spicy, biting candied ginger that is ideal for use in baking but not so much for eating straight (unless you really enjoy the burn).  A little goes a long way, so cut it up small before you add it to your gingerbread batter.  It works as a great way to sweeten and flavor tea and apple cider as well.

Many thanks to Aimée and Stephanie for all the organization and work they put into getting the swaps together and for sharing their corner of the Internet with me.  I hope to catch you all at the next swap!

Jook topped with togarashi

Try sprinkling on eggs

Hachimi Togarashi
or Eight-Spice Japanese Chile Seasoning

Togarashi is great in ramen or miso.  Sprinkle it on rice, French fries, or popcorn.  It also works well as a dry rub for meats.

1 tsp Szechuan/sansho peppercorn
1 tsp black peppercorn
1 tsp dried minced garlic
1 tsp dried orange peel
2 TB ground cayenne pepper
2 tsp flaked nori or dulse
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp black sesame seeds

Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, grind the peppercorns, garlic, and orange peel to a medium grind.  Combine well with the rest of the ingredients and store in an air-tight container.  

Spicy Candied Ginger (plus bonus by-products!)
Makes 3-4 cups

Peeling your ginger
To peel ginger, I find it helpful to gently pull apart the ginger at its natural branches, working with a sharp paring knife, though some people swear by the method where you take a spoon with a bowl that has a narrow tip and scrape the ginger with the concave side of the tip facing down to remove the skin. To make a less intense candied ginger, boil the raw pieces of ginger for about 15 minutes and drain them before adding them to the sugar and water.

1 pound fresh, organic ginger
2 cups filtered water
4 cups organic granulated sugar

Peel the ginger. Slice the ginger into rounds not more than 1/4-inch thick. You can make coins or you can cut on more of a diagonal to get longer strips.

Place the ginger, water, and 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer for 60-90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ginger becomes slightly opaque and slightly softened (but not soft). If the level of liquid gets low, add a little more water.

Remove the ginger from the heat and allow it to cool until it’s cool enough to touch. Place the remaining 2 cups of sugar in a bowl and line a large baking sheet with waxed paper. Use a slotted spoon to scoop up a few pieces of ginger, draining off the liquid. Toss the ginger in the sugar until it is very well coated, then place the ginger on the baking sheet in a single layer. Repeat with the rest of the ginger.

Finished product out to dry
Leave the ginger to air dry for about a day, flipping the pieces over once. Store in an air-tight container.

You’ll have leftover ginger syrup which can be stored in the refrigerator. Mix with soda water and a splash of fresh lime juice to make a refreshing ginger soda, or use it in cocktails or drizzle it on your oatmeal. If you have leftover sugar, it will now be lightly gingery. You can use that sugar for tea, tossed with fruit for a filling, toast (think: cinnamon toast but with ginger!), or on yogurt.


All photos by Vanessa with exception of swap table and sliced ginger close-up (taken by me).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Puttin' on the Ritz: Decorating Tips for Food Swap Goods

We're a week out from our first Holiday Food Swap...and that's got me thinking about crafty ways to decorate our foodstuffs without breaking the bank.

If you're thinking about that too, let me offer some suggestions and ideas.

Who needs wrapping?

While personally I think the true beauty of a jar of preserves (or any kind of food) is what's inside, sometimes a little dash of pizzazz can go a long way.

First up, labels. This may sound simple, but this can truly run the gamut.

#1 - Our lowest investment option is simply using a Sharpie and writing right on the jar or lid. And Sharpie ink comes off of glass with a little rubbing alcohol, so you can always clean your jar up at a later date if gifting it.

A simple label is nice
#2 - A step up from there is busting out some of the printer labels you probably have at home or at work. Cut 'em in fancy shapes or use them as they come.

Or, you could buy some canning-specific labels. Some jar cases come with labels but your local hardware store is sure to have a few different types as well. I personally like these ones which ACE Hardware sells for about the same price.

Maybe a trip to OfficeMax is the thing for you? Shipping tags can readily be repurposed into simple and attractive gift tags. I especially like these simple types that have an appealingly retro look and feel.

And while I've never even been inside a Michael's store, I know you can go label and gift tag crazy there. (C'mon Martha's got her own line of "embellishments" for the chain!)

#3 - There are a ton of free canning label templates out there to choose from. A simple Google search could get you lost amid the cyber craft world for a good long time. To save you some of that effort, I've selected a few from the community at large that I thought were the best.
  1. The Kitchn rounded up 5 fabulously different templates
  2. Sweet Local Farm has a very cute selection on their blog
  3. Garden Therapy has various modern, decorative patterns
  4. And while there's some duplication within's collection, I especially liked the marmalade templates

So, if labels is the first category, the second one to think about is *bling*.

If you follow any of the preserving blogs and foodie community sites, you'll know that right now there's a lot of talk about decking out your homemade edibles.

One of the most well-known and entertaining is Well Preserved's Pimp that Preserve contest currently underway. Tune in for some creative and unique takes on the theme.

I also loved the jar toppers featured on You Are My Fave. I could even see filling these with other seasonal items like ornaments or pinecones and using them as holiday decor.

Bottles & Other Containers:
Patterned glassine bags for baked goods
  1. Bag it up - Glassine bags lend themselves very well to baked goods and come in all sizes. You can also find cute patterned ones. May I suggest the stationery annex of Kinokuniya in Japantown? That's where I scored the ones I used for the biscotti at the last swap. Those bags, by the way, I had bought some time back and was just waiting for the chance to use them. Since the biscotti was a last minute addition to my swap lineup, voila enter delightful floral bags. These colored organza bags are also perfect for a no-frills, but more importantly no-fuss presentation.
  2. When in doubt, apply ribbon! - You can go for the gold, or use red + white baker's twine, but ribbon almost always makes a package feel more like a special gift. Want to get all fancy on it? Check out this video on how to tie a bow. (I have a number of years at a florist in my work past, so bows like this come second nature to me. It was still kind of fun to watch the how-to video...) 
  3. Stars Upon Thars - Make like the Sneetches and put a star on it! Easy to draw or cut out, I say a star makes things instantly festive. 
  4. Go Green - Look to Mother Nature and garnish your goods with things from the garden. From a small bunch of herbs to a cluster of dried flowers to a pretty fall leaf...all of them are sure to please this crowd.
  5. Sparkle Time - Now glitter may not be exactly what we're looking for, though I am certainly a believer that it can be used tastefully, but what about sequins? Lamé? Gilded paper? Even tin foil can be a winner.  
  6. Scrap It - I confess that I keep all kinds of scraps of papers. Bits of leftover wrapping paper I really like, decorative paper bags and more; I've got a drawer full of it. And then some. But really, it does come in handy. (For example, check out the advent calendar I made this week out of scrap paper.) There are no limits to how you can get creative with paper. And you're recycling at the same time so it feels good too. 
Cone advent calendar, see here for how-to
Got more ideas? I'd love to hear them. And will hopefully see them at the swap next week. 

Speaking of which, is this going to be your first time coming to the swap? Check out our Swapping How-To page for some of the basics including a new request on how to label your jars. As always, shoot us an email at if you have a question, or tap the valuable resource of other swappers and share your thoughts or questions on the Facebook page.

Hope this has stoked your creative fires a bit, but most importantly have fun and just do what you can. This is a busy time of year and food swapping is not supposed to be stressful. See you next week!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Month of Mustards

I like the seasonal evolution of preserving. Spring and summer were all about fruit. And fresh veggies made into pickles. Fall so far has included some pears, apples and quince (Tigress in a Jam's Quince in Rose Syrup is pictured below), but suddenly heartier food beckons and savory items like mustards and onion jam are vying for my attention.

Oktobeerfest Mustard + Quince in Rose Syrup
So November became the month of mustard at my place. Turning to the trusted Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, I had my choice of recipes. Being half German of course the Oktoberfest Beer Mustard had to be first. It was a cinch to make and was pleased with my clever portmanteau naming: Oktobeerfest Mustard.

Mustard on the stovetop
Next I had to try the Lemon-Sage Wine Mustard. When making mustard the smell can a little strong and almost overpowering. In fact, I recommend you don't lean in too close while it's cooking – you'll get a lungful of vinegary fumes that will make you cough and splutter. But this one smelled divine as it cooked down! It also earned an extra star in my book, since we were out of white wine it forced me go out and stock up on booze. Cold nights require extra libations on hand, don't you agree?

Though I don't think it was the extra drinking, something had me feeling under the weather later in the month, I so made batches of my trusty fresh ginger + lemon + honey concoction that soothes even the scratchiest of throats. This meant I had a bunch of big pieces of ginger staring at me. So next up on the mustard train was the Ginger-Garlic Mustard recipe.

Three kinds of mustard and counting
It's December now and as I admire my stockpile, I want to make more! I haven't tried any of them yet since mustard needs a couple weeks to cure, but some will definitely make an appearance at our upcoming food swap, and the rest will be holiday gifts. (Shooting for all handmade this year!)

But before I move too far on to other things, should I make the last recipe in my book, Cranberry Mustard, or take my inspiration from something in Punk Domestic's recent mustard roundup? Hmmm, decisions, decisions. Perhaps I'll just do both...