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Good morning, newspaper friends. Here's a repeat request, for recipes for soft tacos and a larger request piggybacked on that one for pickup foods with a Mexican theme. Yes, there are chips and there is salsa, but this reader wants the kind of cocktail-party pickup food that is in individual portions and doesn't require a fork.

 

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Jane Henegar

NO-SUGAR JAM

Diane Marrs lost no time in finding a recipe for no-sugar jam. Time, she explains, will be needed in making this strawberry jam, in the absence of sugar or a natural sweetener. "But the end result is pure strawberry goodness. As you cook fruit for some time, its sugars begin to caramelize and become sweeter. It is definitely sweet enough and has an amazing buttery smooth and creamy consistency."

Truly No Sugar Strawberry Jam

2 1/2 cups strawberries, frozen and thawed (for fresh strawberries, see note below)

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons arrowroot powder

Puree the thawed strawberries in a food processor or blender. (If you are using fresh strawberries, see note below.) Whisk the water, lemon juice and arrowroot powder in a medium saucepan, then add the strawberry puree.

Bring mixture to a boil slowly over medium heat, stirring frequently. Lower heat to medium low, and simmer until it thickens, about 50 minutes. As it begins to thicken, stir frequently to avoid burning. You will know it is done when you draw a rubber spatula through the center and it creates a hole that stays open for a few seconds and then fills back in. Once this happens, remove from the heat and allow it to cool before storing.

As it cools, it will continue to thicken. If your jam becomes too thick, add a little water. You can also return it to the stove and cook it longer if you want a thicker jam. Makes approximately 1 cup jam. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

Note: If you are using fresh strawberries, add them to the saucepan directly along with the water, lemon juice and arrowroot powder, and heat for 5 minutes to soften them up. Puree mixture in your blender or food processor, then return to the stove and follow the recipe starting at bringing mixture to a slow boil over medium heat.

 

GINGERY SALAD

Here's another salad for showcasing fresh ginger, in this case peeled and grated. Thank you again, Judy Zehnder, for passing on this recipe printed in Relish six years ago.

Asian Chicken Salad

1/2 head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced

2 (3- to 4-ounce) packages dried ramen noodles, seasoning removed, broken into bite-size pieces

2 cup shredded cooked chicken

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Requests

Soft tacos

Mexican bites

1 (1-inch) piece ginger root, peeled and grated

6 green onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup peanuts, toasted

Leaves from 1 bunch fresh basil, sliced

Leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, sliced

Leaves from 1 bunch fresh mint, sliced

Mix together cabbage, ramen noodles and chicken in a large bowl. Hands are welcome.

In a small bowl or jar, mix hoisin sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, ginger and green onions. Pour over cabbage mixture, and toss well to coat all the ingredients. You can do this a few hours ahead so that the seasoned sauce will moisten the dried noodles.

Just before serving, sprinkle salad with peanuts and some basil, cilantro and mint. Have bowls of herbs on the table so everybody can add what they like.

Makes 8 servings.

 

HOMEMADE EXTRACT

Clifford Burdette has been experimenting with homemade vanilla extract since his first research of recipes in 2011. He confirms that he can't take credit for creating the original recipe. (Aah, but is anything truly original?)

Vanilla Extract

Although the prep takes 5 minutes, the process takes 2 hours total.

1 7/8 ounces vanilla beans (4 to 6 beans)

4 1/4 cups vodka

Use 50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) vanilla beans to 1 liter vodka (33 ounces, 45 percent alcohol). Check the percentage of alcohol printed on the bottle; there are many different strengths.

By law, commercially sold pure vanilla extract must contain a minimum of 35 percent alcohol by volume.

Cut vanilla beans in small pieces and drop into a bottle of vodka after pouring a little of the vodka out first, as the vanilla beans will cause some displacement. I cut up the beans rather than leaving them whole because the power of the infusion comes from keeping the essential matter (in this case the vanilla, which provides the essence) submerged in the liquid (in this case, vodka).

That's it. Now you just have to wait for it to steep.

Vanilla beans are long and thin, and will stand up vertically in the bottle.

If you are making a small amount (less than a full bottle) the vodka level may not cover all the beans.

Even when using a full bottle of vodka, little by little this will be poured off as you use the extract, meaning the upper part of the (uncut) beans will quickly become exposed to the air. The longer the beans steep totally submerged, the stronger the flavor of the extract. This is why I pour off only a small amount at a time (enough to fill a 100 milliliter or 3 1/3-ounce bottle) and keep this on my spice shelf for regular use. The remainder I leave in the vodka bottle to further infuse with flavor.

By cutting up the vanilla beans, the pieces will sink to the bottom of the bottle, so even as I pour off the extract and the vodka level drops, the remainder continues to infuse as all of the vanilla bean pieces are submerged and the extract continues to develop flavor. Aside from this, cutting open the seed pods gives greater access (maximum contact) to the flavor cells.

You will need to filter the extract if the pods were cut because the seeds are very tiny (like ground poppy) so I recommend straining through something very fine, like coffee filter paper. It will get darker and darker over time; strain before using.

Here's the fun part: the same vanilla beans may be reused to make more essence. When the liter is all used up, refill the vodka 50 percent of the original (using 500 cc or 1/2 liter of vodka, 16.9 ounces) for the second infusion. When that is used up, I may go for a third infusion, using 50 percent of the previous (this time 250 cc or 1/4 liter of vodka, 8.45 ounces.

As long as the color comes through, the flavor will too. You really cannot imagine how much flavor these beans contain. As I explained, I cut the vodka in half for each successive infusion, compensating for depleted flavor by raising the concentration factor. I have been making all my own vanilla extract for years using this method with excellent results. Commercial vanilla extract is made from the lowest-quality vanilla beans, rejects and broken pieces that cannot be sold in open market. When making the extract yourself, however, you have control over the quality of the vanilla beans used.

Thank you for recipes and processes short and long, always on time as they arrive for this column. Keep it up.

To reach us

Fare Exchange is a longtime meeting place for people who love to cook and love to eat. We welcome both your recipes and your requests. Be sure to include precise instructions for every recipe you send.

Mailing address: Jane Henegar, 913 Mount Olive Road, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750

E-mail: chattfare@gmail.com

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