Preserving Cherries

The inspiration: Preserving cherries for the winter

I received these stunning cherries from Stemilt Farms! www.stemiltfarms.com

Stunning cherries from Stemilt Farms!

Cherries are my favorite fruit. I’ll take dried or jarred cherries in a pinch but the best by far are fresh. Nothing compares this fresh fruit, and starting in May, I start watching to see when I can find the sweet red beauties in my local markets.  This year, it seemed as if they would never arrive. When they did, for several weeks the prices were outrageous. This got me thinking – there has got to be a way I can have some form of fresh cherries all the time! I decided I was going to find a way to preserve cherries.

The Innovation: Taking fresh cherries and drying them in the oven

Fresh cherries dried in the oven for 8 hours at 200F

Fresh cherries dried in the oven

 

I had tried simply putting  cherries in a double Ziploc and freezing, and it worked pretty well except they were a little mushy and had a slight bitter taste to them upon defrosting. I also have some cherries that are frozen in whiskey, but I won’t know how they turn out until Chanukah, when I will thaw and air dry them slightly to make boozy chocolates. So after doing a bit of research and experimenting, it seemed to me that the best way to preserve the cherries would be to dry them out.

After winning 4 lbs of cherries from Stemilt Farm, (http://www.stemilt.com) I decided I would use those for drying out. I removed the pits, cut the cherries in half, and baked in a 200F oven for 8 hours. When I removed them, I was concerned they were still not dry enough, so I thought about how to dry them out even more.

My interpretation:  Twice Dried Cherries

Perfectly dried cherries!

Perfectly dried cherries!

 

I’ve heard about how rice dries things out – electronic gadgets, mainly- but I was curious. If I take my dried cherries and put them in uncooked rice, would they dry out more? I took the oven-dried cherries, mixed them in with a few pounds of dry basmati rice, and left the whole thing sit in the back of my fridge for a few days.

Separating the cherries from the rice was a hassle, but my idea worked! They were perfectly dried, almost as well the kind you find in the store. Now not only do I have dried cherries, I also have cherry infused rice that will be prefect for my High Holiday menu.

 

Product Review: Voilà! Hallah Part 1

Many Thanks to Leah Hadad of Voila!Hallah (Tribes a Dozen)  for the product used in this review. All opinions are my own – the only compensation received was a case of Voila!Hallah for testing.

Allow me to confess a few things before we begin.

Number one: I don’t bake. OK, there is an occasional recipe for a cookie (same recipe, different variations) or a cake (same concept) on my blog, but I really don’t bake. Years ago, yeast and I had a major disagreement and it won.  I haven’t used yeast again til I picked up a box of Voilà! Hallah.

Number two: If it is a mix, and it is in a box, I am instantly skeptical.  Call me a snob, but I like my food as fresh as possible, and as close to homemade as I can get it.  I am a no-sell-ever for boxed mixes of anything.

Number three: If you can combine Number One and Number Two, you will see I was coming into this ready to dislike it. On principal, I don’t ask anyone about a product I am going to review (I like forming my own opinions) so I come into whatever I am testing blind.

I can say that after the second time I tried it, all objections went out the window. I say the second time because I messed up the first time (I didn’t mix it long enough or oil the bowl or my hands and the dough stuck – that’s user error for you- but it still made a great product. Keep reading.)  The second time, I had DH read me the directions and the times, and it came out exactly as the box said it would.

So what do you get from one perfectly made box of Voilà! Hallah? You get one medium challah that reminds me very much of the challah I made in cooking school: not egg and not water, but one that is very light with a delicious crumb. Perfect for Shabbos, and excellent for Sunday french toast. I sent some to my across-the-hall neighbor (a real hasidic lady who uses a recipe from her great-grandmother and an ardent egg challah lover) and her precise words: ” Scrumptious, not eggy and not water. Closer to water challah, though. I’d totally eat this again.”

I even tested it on my own family – we love water challah. I told my kids we had different challah this week. I can say that all my kids, as well as DH ate at least 50% more challah over Shabbat than they normally do. We even used it for open sandwiches on Sunday morning. DH wants to know when I am making more.

Will I say it’s perfect? To me, it could have used more flavor ( it was not discernibly sweet or salty) but for someone who is nervous to bake with yeast (that was me!) or who is willing to experiment in terms of flavors (I am!) this is an excellent, reliable way to make challah.  So what happened to the challah dough that I didn’t mix it long enough and didn’t oil the bowl or my hands? A teaspoon of oil on my hands, and an extra few minutes to rise took care of most of the stickiness. I decided to make that my ‘tester’ and added dried parsley, thyme, rubbed sage and salt. I also added some finely chopped garlic to the top. First, let’s see how to make the Voilà! Hallah :

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Then the finished product:

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The bottom line is the following – is this a product I would recommend to others? I would recommend this to friends of mine who are nervous to make challah (I know so many people are afraid to try because they will either mess up or get a product that doesn’t taste good -if I can’t mess this up, I don’t believe anyone can!)

I would ask you to refer back here in a few week for the second part of the review. I have several boxes of Voilà! Hallah left over and I intend to try different flavor combinations, as well as see what else I can possibly make from this unique product. Stay tuned!