However, that would pretty much limit my knowledge of its use. Seeing that quantity of unbelievably fragrant freshly foraged juniper berries was kind of a revelation to me. I wanted to know what else can be done with them and start experimenting right away.
Which is how the idea of using them in the rub came first and I made this little ham back in September. WHOA! It worked better than I expected. I’m usually not a big fan of ham, reserving it to special occasions only, but this one came out really outstanding.
What a complex yet subtle flavor touch to the roasted ham in crust! It made me think of Christmas right away and so I reserved this recipe and juniper berries (both dried and frozen) for the winter holidays, and here I’m sharing it with you today.
- Make spirits and bitters: primarily gin by adding juniper berries to vodka along with bunch of other botanicals (this DIY Gin recipe works great for me)
- Infuse vinegars (bruise the berries and use this easy method): vinegars bring out the citrus element of the berries
- Infuse hot drinks: teas, tisanes, mulled wine, etc. with the enhanced piney juniper berries flavor (have also great medicinal effect on upset stomach, urinary tract infections, bloating, heartburn, etc.)
- Infuse desserts, fillings, gels, creams and frostings
- Infuse salt or sugar
- Use in brines for: brisket, turkey, pork, chicken or fish as flavor enhancer
- Add to game or venison stews and terrines (wild boar, hare, deer, etc.), as well as pork
- Add to dressings and vinaigrette: works well with olive oil, apple cider or balsamic vinegar, horseradish, mustard, mayonnaise, ginger and garlic
- Add to sauces and gravies: i.e. Madeira, White wine, Cranberry sauce, etc. and/or thickening dripping liquids into sauces
- Flavor cabbage stews (German, Polish style Bigos, etc.) along with allspice berries and peppercorns
- Use in fermenting veggies (sauerkraut, pickles, etc.): works as stabilizer, adds crunch and flavor
- Add to bird/meat stuffing
- Rub in curing meats (along with other spices) to make pancetta, pastrami, smoked meat, ham, game, etc.
- Add to stocks and soups included in bouquet garni: adds nutty-woodsy notes of flavor
- Add to pasta, potato, couscous or polenta water
- Recycle leftovers jams into glaze by mixing them with water/syrup infused with juniper berries.
Juniper berries are not exactly berries, but the tiny pine cones of the shrub that are so tightly clenched they look like blue-purple berries. They have strong tart, coniferous flavor with a hint of citrus and very small amount is used in particular recipes. If you remember, in one of the episodes of the fantastic comedy Bedazzled (with Brendan Frazer and Elizabeth Hurley) the major character is explaining at some point that the word `Gin’ is short for the French genievre or the Dutch jenever, both of which mean juniper, the main flavor in gin. Juniper berries have been used since ancient times and were especially popular in Greece, Rome and Egypt as medical remedy, to flavor dishes, or be used for spiritual rituals (some have been even found in the tomb of King Tut).
Back to our Christmas ham: this is a wonderful, festive, traditional Quebec recipe for frugal (and beyond) holidays. It keeps the meat juicy, yet well done. The juniper berries not only add flavor, but work as a natural anti-bloating agent. The juniper-mustard flavored pastry crust helps the dish taste and look elegant and exquisite.
Simply put: it’s a super easy, convenient and impressive centerpiece dish on a budget for many occasions. I do hope you will try it and like it and get back to me with your comments.
Final note: juniper berries are not hard to find on-line or in whole food/organic stores and only a small quantity is used in the recipe. The initial recipe however didn’t have juniper berries in it, so if you can’t get a hold of juniper berries, feel free to substitute with a tablespoon of crushed fennel seeds or dried tarragon.
Happy Holidays and Enjoy Your Cooking!
There are 101 reasons to begin the Christmas prep odyssey with a little pet project. Our ‘old soul’ doggie is giving us so much unconditional love every day, there’s almost no more need to stencil ‘’Relax, You’re Home’’ on the walls anymore. And yet, let’s be honest, most of the times we are so much smitten by the Christmas frenzy, we barely have time to buy our pet an (often rancid) commercial treat or a stupid stuffed reindeer antlers with sparks (that would never light up, but everyone would be too busy to notice).
And so the doggy dreams that one Christmas it would be different and there will be home-made cookies and a new comfy bed, and the antlers will fly into the garbage…
This year wouldn’t probably be any different for her if I wouldn’t have had a ‘déjà vu’ experience when shopping for a pet food at Target last weekend. This moment has led to a new gorgeous pet bed light bulb DIY project and these succulent treats our doggie can’t get enough of. Both are super-fun to make alone or with kids.
It’s Saturday morning; I’m at the Target’s pet section screening the shelves for weight control IAMS food. My peripheral vision suddenly spots a HUGE (70%) special on hot Boots & Barkley pet duvets of a very refreshing contemporary design (as opposed to kitsch, granny or poop-looking designs we usually find in pet sections – I always wonder what kind of people design the dog beds and covers): at least 5-6 varieties in small, medium, large and ex-large sizes. One of them has this rare whimsical Christmas-y print of doggie treats on it.
In a flash, I remember: a year ago I was passing by this duvet thinking: ’It’s a pity I just bought that dreary checkered pet bed in Costco (because of the BUDGET (always that word) – but this one looks so much more festive and elegant, not to mention the colors would be perfect fit for our lady doggie…’ Then, of course, the thought was swept away by hundreds of other thoughts until now that I saw this print again for almost free. I just can’t pass by it. I buy the extra-large pet bed cover along with leak-proof undercover, both, for less than $10. No matching pet beds are left in stock, and so I bring these covers home thinking that eventually I will find a bed to fit them on (What am I thinking? It’s an almost impossible mission).
I take a pair of scissors: cut a few old pillows, take the stuffing out (I’m talking about the polyester pillow form and/or micro beads, not duvet or cotton); fill the new waterproof undercover bag with them, zip and finish with my heart- throb quirky two-sided cover. Viola, no stitching, sweating or spending… Just RECYCLE, RECYCLE, RECYCLE and my new designer print pet bed is ready in 5 minutes. Isn’t it awesome? Plus, you can control the thickness (making it really luxurious).
A power of three (speedy, recycled, on the budget) makes us hungry to start the day. The doggie crashes happily into her new nook. OH, she glows in this bed, dreaming about the obvious…
We are off to make our Sunday brunch B&B (bacon and beans) holiday staple and declare the holidays begun. While cooking bacon, another great pet idea comes by: use bacon drippings to make holiday pet biscuits (along with, naturally, some healthier ingredients including: rolled oats, peanut butter, flax seed oil for that shiny coat, etc.). Later at night we improvise with baking ingredients and deliver these aromatic treats within an hour or so.
We proudly take the first bite ourselves. Biscuits taste pretty good and crunchy, and can easily pass for the Medieval times luxurious treat. Which means laby’s gonna be happy. As a matter of fact, she is already here banging her giant tail off the wall in anticipation.
While I’m busy taking these pictures, she comes by quietly, pretending she is a ghost, grabs one biscuit from a side (hopefully unnoticed) and trots to the other side of the kitchen drooling like a rabid beast. Then her eyes close; her head stretches up to keep the drool; the crunch breaks the silence and the treat disappears in a split second. After, she retires peacefully next to her new alcove as if nothing happened.
Needless to say, that’s a NO-GO we usually don’t practice. We both know that despite her Mona Lisa smile and heavy tail wagging, she is doomed for the ‘Denver’s’ moment:
Followed, naturally, by a ‘doggie now deserves another one’ in about one hour.
And that’s it for today. The Target special is still on (and NO, they didn’t pay me to write this column) in Montreal area (and most probably the rest of Canada) if you liked this DIY idea.
It is official: the fall themes are over, the wreaths are being changed to Christmas and the Black Friday specials just zoomed themselves in. Christmas prep has just stepped into our house with these cute little coconut herb cheese balls appetizer to greet our friends in a jiffy and finally celebrate the end of the Black Friday expenses. I really needed some purifying after a long day of unnecessary shopping, so combining Boursin cheese 50/50 with minced parsley (great anti-inflammatory and tonic)) and adding some minced garlic sounded like a good idea. If you can’t find Boursin, a mix of cottage and cream cheese (in a traditional Georgian way, with addition of garlic, parsley and walnuts); or any other soft cheese of your choice (goat, sheep, etc.) make great alternatives. Tasty, light and totally unwinding, these little balls are easy, fast and delectable treat for any party (specifically, tapas party, yay!).
This appetizer was inspired by the flurry of birds swooping in unison we’ve spotted today while going shopping. We were driving by the Richelieu river, doomed to freeze within hours, when suddenly flocks of white birds (I believe they were seagulls, although they looked like white ducks) were appearing ‘en masse’ simultaneously from East and West directions. Naturally, our aerial avian obsession pushed us to find the parking right away.
The birds landed on the rocks in the middle of the river in a peaceful and undetermined magic action and were loudly discussing what to do next. How come they were so late to leave South? Were they disrupted by the I-phones and other human electronics interfering with natural birds’ migration?
Few minutes after the clouds of ducks were arriving in queues peppering the sky over the same spot, all trying to scour some mini spots left in the water to take a break. The scenery felt like both, a great blessing and a Hitchcock thriller at the same time – certainly powerful… Ready to go into the darkness of the sky an hour later all birds, were chatting loudly about their next survival step… How do they do that? I don’t know, but for sure it’s a very inspiring act of courage…
Back home we fixed these little cheese balls within 5 minutes (plus 15 minutes in a freezer to cool), and shared the stories of birds and (mostly unnecessary shopping experiences).
Our choice was obviously coconut flakes, although we also tried black and white sesame as well as poppy seeds. All of them tasted heavenly. Definitely, this recipe is a keeper for the holidays…
pinch of sea or Hymalayan salt
For the Cake: