Cranberry Aigre Doux

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Mr. Paul Virant, author of The Preservation Kitchen, claims that aigre-doux means sweet and sour. He also uses the term mostarda, and there are mostarda recipes in his book as well.

He states that both terms describe “preserves for cheese snobs and wine geeks.” Well that got my attention! They are supposedly not interchangeable terms, but both “frequently mix fruit with wine, vinegar, and spices.” Confusing? Yes, a little.

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His book was published in April of 2012. The first recipe that I made from the book that summer was Blueberry Aigre-Doux. It was simply a matter of putting fresh blueberries in canning jars, covering them with a spiced wine “syrup,” then canning the jars. When I was ready to sample the blueberry aigre-doux, I served it with a log of goat cheese and it was fabulous.

He also has recipes for vegetables aigre-doux. I have made and posted on butternut squash aigre-doux; here I used the squash on a salad. The squash was outstanding.

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Being that I made the blueberry aigre-doux a few months before I started my blog, there is no photographic evidence of it. But I knew I would be making the cranberry version.

Now I’m making it again. It’s that good.

When my daughter first tasted this cranberry aigre-doux a few years ago when she was visiting, she claimed that “it tastes like Christmas!” That is a perfect description.

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Cranberry Aigre-Doux

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons red table wine
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
2 vanilla beans, split in half with seeds scraped out
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
4 star anise
7 cups or so fresh cranberries

Rinse the cranberries, remove any bad ones, then let them dry on a clean dish towel.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring the wine, honey, vinegar, salt, and vanilla bean pod and seeds to a boil.



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I decided to add a cinnamon stick to the wine mixture, even though it’s not in the recipe.
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Scald 4 pint jars in a large pot of simmering water fitted with a rack – you will use this pot to process the jars. Right before filling, put the jars on the counter.

Add 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns and 1 star anise to each jar. Extract the vanilla bean haves from the wine-honey liquid and place one in each jar.

Pack in the cranberries, using about 6 ounces per jar. Meanwhile, soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the rubber seal.

Transfer the wine-honey liquid to a heat-proof pitcher and pour over the cranberries, leaving a 1/2″ space from the rim of the jar. Check the jars for air pockets, adding more liquid if necessary to fill in gaps. Wipe the rims with a clean towel, seal with the lids, then screw on the bands until snug but not tight.
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Place the jars in the pot with the rack and add enough water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil and process the jars for 15 minutes (start the timer when the water reaches a boil). Turn off the heat and leave the jars in the water for a few minutes. Remove the jars from the water and let cool completely.

The aigre-doux is quite liquid. Mr. Virant suggests that one “strain the liquid and set aside the cranberries. In a small pot over medium heat, reduce the liquid by half. Stir in the cranberries and serve warm.”

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He calls it an “ideal holiday condiment.”
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I served the cranberry aigre-doux over softened cream cheese.
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It is very good with goat cheese as well.
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Serve with croissant toasts, as I did, or water crackers.

Buttternut Squash Aigre Doux

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If any of you have been following my blog for a year, and merci for that, you might remember when I made something called cranberry aigre doux. I made three jars of these cranberries essentially cooked in wine and vinegar. The recipe came from a very interesting book on canning called the Preservation Kitchen, by Paul Virant.

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In a follow-up post, I strained the cranberries from the liquid, reduced the liquid, and then poured everything over a room temperature block of cream cheese. My daughter claimed it tasted like Christmas! It was indeed good, and I’d also made the blueberry version of his in the summer before I started blogging so it’s not documented; it was equally delicious.

These posts no longer exist because I need to re-do them.

But I became even more intrigued with whatever Mr. Virant means by his terminology of aigre doux when I saw his recipe for butternut squash aigre doux. Okay, now I get it for cranberries and blueberries. But now for a winter squash? A vegetable? Of course, I had to make it. So here it is.

Butternut Squash Aigre Doux

1 good-sized butternut squash
1 large white onion, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sherry
1 cup maple syrup

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I used this sherry. It wasn’t good for drinking because I prefer sweeter sherry.

Have all of your canning supplies available and ready to go. I used one large jar that held the whole butternut squash, but you can use smaller jars, of course. make sure everything is sterilized.

Peel the squash, cut off the ends, and then slice it once lengthwise. Remove the seeds. Then cut each half lengthwise again.

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Slice 1/4″ slices crosswise and place in a large Dutch oven. Slice the onion crosswise into thin slices and add to the squash in the pot, and add the salt.

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Then pour on the sherry and maple syrup.
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Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat. Simmer the squash for about 30 minutes, stirring it around one time during the cooking process. You want it tender, but not mush. Let everything cool with the lid off.

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Using a slotted spoon, place the squash and onions in your sterilized jar.

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Add the sherry vinegar to the remaining liquid in the pot. Cook the liquid gently for about 10 minutes. I actually placed all the liquid in a different pan that had a pourable side.

Using a funnel with a strainer at the bottom, pour in the liquid until it comes no more than 1″ from the base of the lid. Cover the lid, but not too tightly.

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Process the jar or jars, under 1″ of water, at the correct temperature according to the thermostat on your canning pot, for 10 minutes. Remove the jar from the water, and let it cool.

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Store it as you would any thing that you’ve canned before, preferably a cool, dark place like a cellar or basement.

So then, what in the world to do with this butternut squash? Well, for me, the answer was simple. A salad! But a hearty salad. I’ve been making lots of bean and lentil salads lately, being that it’s winter time, so I reached for orzo instead.

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I put together a salad of spinach, purple cabbage, tomatoes, purple onion, orzo, butternut squash aigre-doux style, and some toasted pine nuts. Of course, I added a little salt and pepper.
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And the dressing? Simply some delicious balsamic vinegar and olive oil – both of which my daughters had bought me as Christmas presents! The vinegar matched beautifully with the somewhat maple syrup-sweetened butternut squash. I wish I could have shared.

verdict: I’ll probably not make this again. But that’s not to say it isn’t good, because it is. Mostly, the butternut squash slices taste like they were infused with maple syrup, although, fortunately, they’re not too sweet. Honestly, it was a waste of a lot of good sherry, maple syrup, and sherry vinegar. And some time that I’ll never get back. But if you’re feeling adventurous, go for it!

Home Made Salsa

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This salsa recipe is the one that I make in abundance in the summer and can. That way, in theory, we have lots of good salsa to open during the winter months.

Of course, this is only the second summer that I’ve canned, so it’s only the second summer I’ve made an abundance of salsa. I don’t think last year’s salsa even made it to October. So either we eat a lot of salsa, which we do, or I really need to make a lot more. So I’m determined to do that this month.

I will give you an approximation of my cooked salsa recipe, but I encourage you to create your own recipe that fits you. I don’t like my salsa to be burning hot, but I do like heat. I mostly like flavor. This salsa recipe contains all of the important basic ingredients that guarantee a wonderful, flavorful salsa. But tweak it as you like.

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Canned Salsa, or, Salsa for Canning

Lots of tomatoes, probably about 4-5 pounds – I used so many different varieties from my garden that I can’t really quantify them, and I didn’t weigh them ahead of time because I wasn’t sure how many I was going to use
4 tablespoons oil of choice, I use olive oil
3 white onions, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 green chile peppers like Anaheims, finely chopped
6 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 head of garlic, peeled, minced
2 – cartons Pomi chopped tomatoes, 26.8 ounces each*
2 bunches of fresh cilantro, mostly leaves, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
A few pinches of cayenne pepper, optional
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon

To begin, seed the tomatoes and finely chop them. Set them aside.

In a large pot, pour in the oil and heat it over medium heat. Add the onions, green bell pepper, and the Anaheim peppers. Saute them for about 5 minutes.

I often chop jalapenos by hand, without gloves. But as a result, I have burned my eyes and nose many times. It’s not pleasant. So it’s really not worth being defiant about jalapenos and other hot chile peppers.

Fortunately, I was given a gift of this chopper, and it works really well on jalapenos! No touching necessary, except for removing the stem. I don’t even de-seed them first. But if you want to remove the seeds, which are what supposedly supply the most heat, use a latex glove. Then throw the jalapeno flesh into your chopper along with the garlic cloves and chop away! It’s just one way to make a nice jalapeno and garlic dice. No chopper? Use your knife!

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Add the jalapeno and garlic dice to the onion mixture and cook gently for about a minute. Then add the canned tomatoes and the fresh tomatoes.

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Cook the mixture, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes. It should not be watery. If it is, cook a little longer. Then add the cilantro and seasonings. Add the apple cider vinegar and cook for about 1 minute. You shouldn’t be able to smell the vinegar any longer. Turn off the stove, add the lemon juice, and give everything a stir. Let cool.
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Someone selling salsa at a trade fair told me that he uses vinegar for that little bit of zing, but then adds lemon juice to cover up the flavor of the vinegar. I don’t know if that really works. Heck, I’m not sure it even makes sense. But I have done it that way for years.

To prepare to can, you need a large sturdy pot with a lid, preferably one with a heat gauge, like this one.

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You can purchase the same one as mine at Wiliams-Sonoma.com.
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One thing about canning, is that it will burn up your stove. What I mean, is that any bit of residue will burn, and because of the high heat, the brown spots can never be removed. At least I can’t. So I just use the same burner for canning.

You also need jars and lids that have been sterilized. I sterilize mine in the dishwasher. Remove them carefully and lay the jars and lids on paper towels. The important thing is to not put your fingers inside the jars and lids.

Then carefully scoop the salsa into the jars. There a wide-mouth funnel that you can use, but I didn’t use mine today because the salsa wasn’t that messy. Using a clean knife or narrow spatula, tamp down the salsa to remove any air bubbles within. Always leave a “headroom” of half an inch. Trust me on this. Otherwise the jars will leak. Then, if necessary, wipe off the tops of the jars with a clean paper towel.

I filled 4 – 12 ounce-capacity jars and had some left over salsa to refrigerate and enjoy over the next few days.

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Place the lids on the jars, and then place the jars in the large pot. Fill the pot with water, at least 1″ above the top of the tallest jar. Place the lid on the pot and turn up the heat to high.

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My gauge tells me when to begin counting the minutes to can. I can’t start counting until it reaches the green.
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To know how many minutes your jars should be in the waterbath, use a reliable reference, like the one below, because canning times vary drastically. This has a lot to do with the acidity of what you’re canning. Tomatoes are acidic, so all tomato products require only 15 minutes.

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After 15 minutes, remove the jars from the boiling water. It helps to have this tool, which securely grabs the jars for easy and safe removal. This guy is also available at Williams-Sonoma.com.

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Let the jars cool. You will hear a pop from each jar from the vacuum seal. After cooling, test the tops of the lids to make sure they don’t move or pop. They should be somewhat concave, especially if you used the 2-part lids. And as a note, you can re-use the rings, but throw away the used flat lids and replace them the next time you can. They’re cheap.

Store the jars in your pantry and use as necessary. Once the salsa jars are open, of course, refrigerate them. It’s probably wise to always inspect the jars for any strange bubbles or discoloration, and give the salsa a good smell after opening. It’s just about being safe. But seriously, canning is really straight forward.

* If I used approximately 50 something ounces of canned tomatoes, then I’m assuming I used about the same weight of fresh, seeded tomatoes, because it was about a 50-50 mixture of canned and fresh. I weighed a medium, round tomato on the day I wrote this post and it weighed 5 ounces exactly. So, that’s at least ten tomatoes for this recipe. Hope that helps.
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note: If you’ve read my notes on how I cook, then you’ll understand why I don’t have precise recipes. The reason? Preciseness doesn’t really matter in home cooking. You can omit the jalapenos and this salsa will still be good. In fact, the above chile peppers came out of my garden, so I wanted to use them. If I had to buy salsa ingredients only at a grocery store, I might have chosen different ones. Also, you can add more cilantro and it will still be good. I encourage you to make this salsa your own. Trust me, it will still work.