Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Turkey Stuffing Muffins

What's on your Thanksgiving menu? If it's the same old same old in the name of tradition, give your guests a break and shake it up a little. My email inbox is deluged with food magazines touting new types of pies, new takes on turkey, new styles of stuffing. Surely, you've seen these, too. But at a class I just took at the Art Institute in San Diego as part of its new GetCreative series for the public, I learned how to make Turkey Stuffing Muffins. And I fell in love.

Now, I love and adore my mom's chestnut stuffing. Thanksgiving isn't the same for me without it. Even though we'll be going to a friend's for the holiday, I've ordered a turkey for Friday and Mom will make her family famous stuffing so we can have "leftovers." But these muffins, well, they are kind of rivaling this tasty tradition; and I can even see how to adapt them to get that nutty, sweet challah flavor into them for a new version of her stuffing.

One of the benefits--perhaps, really, the true reason for attending cooking classes--is to get schooled on technique. In this Thanksgiving Sides class, chef instructor John Miller, offered a series of terrific tips, addressing everything from efficient ways to peel and dice ungainly winter squash to how to puree hot soup in a blender so it doesn't explode.

For this recipe, which calls for dicing and browning bacon to render the fat, Miller, a CIA graduate, showed us that by covering the bacon in the saute pan with water and then heating it, you can extract the fat evenly and avoid burning pieces.

That's the kind of class this was--filled with aha moments that will stay with me for years to come when I'm in my kitchen. The seven students made five dishes--and all turned out beautifully. But this muffin is the one I knew I had to share.

Turkey Stuffing Muffins
The Art Institute of California-San Diego
(printable recipe)

Yield 6 to 8

4 ounces of bacon, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 Granny Smith apple, 1/4-inch dice
4 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
 salt and pepper to taste
1 day-old baguette, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place diced bacon in a saute pan and just cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and let water evaporate as the bacon cooks. Saute until bacon is crisp. If necessary, you can add additional neutral flavored oil to continue rendering the fat.

Add the onions and apple and continue to cook until translucent. Transfer to a bowl and let cool until it's under 180°F.

Whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, poultry seasoning, parsley, and salt and pepper. Place bread in a large bowl and pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes. Gently fold ingredients together and let rest in bowl for 15 minutes so the bread can absorb the liquid. Add the cooled bacon mixture to the bread and eggs. Don't over mix.

Lightly grease the cups of a muffin tin with butter or use a non-stick pan spray. Using your hands, fill the muffin tins with the stuffing mixture (squeezing out excess moisture) to slightly mounded muffins.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the tops are browned and crisp.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bang Bang's 3 Way Salmon

I'm not a clubber. Surprised, huh. But I do love Asian food. And, Bang Bang, the downtown dance club/restaurant, replete with a huge disco ball and subway tile tunnel entrance allows me to skip the loud partying and head straight for the much calmer dining room where John Hong, aka Chef Kappa, presides.

Chef Kappa is Bang Bang's executive chef. Born in South Korea, he first moved with his family at age four to Paris and then to Los Angeles at age 10. By 17 he launched his culinary career. Four years later, Kappa was named head sushi chef of Yamato restaurant in L.A. and for a year ran an all-rice food truck called Bap Pul, which means "single grain of rice" in Korean. Kappa came down to San Diego in 2012 to launch Bang Bang's sushi menu, swiftly working his way up to his current position as executive chef.

While Kappa was trained by a Japanese chef and has traveled to Japan and Korea, he's actually worked in many cuisines. "I like to understand the basics of any cuisine and make it my own," he says. The influences show up in the menu. His Cobra Kai tempura is made up of spicy tuna, poblano chile, avocado, garlic paste, and cilantro with chili aoli and eel sauce. His Hummus Among Us is an edamame hummus served with wonton chips, cucumber, and celery sticks.

I met Chef Kappa a couple of months ago when the restaurant was celebrating its first anniversary. We decided to have an afternoon together in the kitchen so he could teach me one of his most popular dishes, 3 Way Salmon, which features six pieces of crispy sushi rice topped with baked salmon, salmon caviar, and shredded salmon skin, along with wasabi crème fraiche and micro shiso.

The dish is both simple to make and complicated. The best approach is to break it up into three basic steps--cooking and frying the rice, slice and cooking the salmon fillet and skin, and putting the dish together. Chef Kappa advises addressing the skin first. Then you can take your time making the rice and baking the salmon fillet. You'll also combine crème fraiche with wasabi for the dot of sauce. And, to make the crispy rice you'll need a sushi box presser called a battera.

The result is a striking appetizer that can serve two. I loved the crunch of the rice and the skin, the salty pop of the big balls of salmon caviar, and the mellow sweetness of the salmon meat. It just works.

3 Way Salmon
from Chef Kappa at Bang Bang
(printable recipe)

Serves 2 as appetizer

2 ounces salmon fillet, skin on, of which you'll use 3/4 of an ounce of skin
Sea salt

1 ounce salmon roe (ikura) available at Asian markets
2 ounces cooked sushi rice
1/2 cup panko (If you make more, pull out enough to make a ball the size of a tennis ball.)
Sesame oil
Vegetable oil for frying
2 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon wasabi
Eel sauce (available at Asian markets)
Micro shizo or other micro greens

You can buy a larger fillet and slice what you need. Chef Kappa likes using Scottish salmon which he cures with salt to pull out the moisture. He then uses the soft bone area between the back and the belly, which he says is very tender.

1. Skin the salmon fillet by arranging the tall side of the fillet toward you, skin side down. Using a sharp knife, slip the tip of the knife slide it between the skin and the meat and use a zig zag motion to separate the two. Preheat a toaster oven to 350°. Cut off a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle it lightly with sesame oil. Place the skin on the foil, skin side up and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Raise the sides of the foil so any oil released by the skin doesn't drip. Cook for 20 minutes. Let cool. Then remove the skin and slice into strips. Place on a new sheet of foil and cook again for about 10 minutes until crispy. Drain the strips on a paper towel and set aside.

2. Pull out the battera and line it with plastic wrap. Press the rice into the battera. Then press down with your whole weight, giving it four turns to make sure the rice is evenly distributed. Carefully remove the slab from the battera and the plastic wrap. Spread the panko on a surface to coat the rice. You want just enough to cover all of it.

3. Heat a wok with the oil. It should be deep enough to fully cover the rice slab. When it reaches 300° to 350° gently slide the rice into the wok. Turn it over once or twice to let it fully brown. Cook for a total time of three to four minutes. Have a flat plate lined with paper towels ready and pull out the rice, place it on the plate, and let it drain and cool.

4. Slice the two ounces of salmon fillet, without the skin, into three equal pieces. Drizzle a piece of foil with sesame oil and place the salmon on it and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 350° in a preheated over or 450° in a toaster oven for 10 minutes.

5. Mix together the crème fraiche and wasabi. Set aside.

6. Choose a rectangular platter. Slice the crispy rice in half by just pushing a sharp knife through the slab (don't saw back and forth). Then cut again until you get six equal pieces. Place them on the platter. On three of them, place a piece of baked salmon. On the other three, a dollop of salmon roe. Scatter the salmon skin around the plate. Top each on with bit of the crème fraiche and wasabi. Drizzle the eel sauce on the place over the salmon skin. Skatter with micro shizo. Serve.

Bang Bang is located at 526 Market St. in downtown San Diego.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

And Now for Something Different: Sweet Potato Leaves

It's not unusual for me to cruise the farmers markets looking for something I've never seen before. Surprise me!, I whisper to myself as I survey produce and baked goods, and prepared foods. Wow me!

I'm usually not disappointed, but when I did this recently at the La Jolla Open Aire Market, I really was stopped in my tracks when I hit the Blue Heron Farm stall. Among all the photogenic produce were bundles of organic sweet potato leaves for 75 cents a bunch. They reminded me of grape leaves, only smaller.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I was a kid we used to stick toothpicks into raw sweet potatoes to hold them up in a jar filled with water. Eventually roots would develop in the water and stems bursting with leaves would gradually trail around the kitchen. Then we'd toss the poor thing. It never occurred to us that we could actually eat the leaves.

But, in fact, not only can you eat them, you'll get nutritional benefits from them; they're terrific sources of vitamins K and A, niacin, calcium, and iron. Asian and African cultures have been dining on them, but somehow they're pretty uncommon as a cooking ingredient in North America.

Treat these leaves as you would spinach. Raw, they're tender like spinach with a neutral flavor. I even enjoy the crispy citric stems. You can eat them fresh in a salad, tossed here with Granny Smith apples, garbanzo beans, currants, and scallions.

You can sauté them and add them to pasta or an omelet or eat as a side dish. And, like spinach, they do cook down considerably. Here, I sauteed garlic in olive oil, added the leaves, and when they wilted, I added a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

Unlike spinach, however, they lack oxalic acid--what gives spinach that unpleasant metallic aftertaste. So, another reason to eat sweet potato leaves!

How else can you use sweet potato leaves? I substituted them for spinach when I made a smoothie and loved the fact that I was getting all this nutrition without any weird flavors. You can also braise them or turn them into a soup. Because they're so mild, neutral tasting, actually, they're easily paired with all sorts of flavors--from maple syrup to curry to soy sauce.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Most Dangerous New Pastry in San Diego: Meet the Froissant™

Feel bummed that you missed out on the cronut craze? Well, get in line. Literally, get in line. Karen Krasne, owner and pastry chef extraordinaire of Extraordinary Desserts, has set out to torture those of us trying to eat healthfully with an irresistible version of her own fried croissant pastry: the Froissant™(and, yes, she's trademarked it). It's so popular that customers at both the Bankers Hill and Little Italy bakeries are lining up early in the morning to buy them before they're sold out.

Given Extraordinary Desserts' elegant pedigree, this pastry is not your average fried, stuffed dough. Krasne and her staff make the croissants, getting them to their flaky best, then deep fry them. Once out of the fryer, they're rolled in vanilla bean sugar, then filled with a smooth vanilla custard. A fat ripe strawberry, sliced and sprinkled with a bit of gold foil, tops the confection. This final sweet touch, along with the elevated quality of the ingredients, clearly sends it to special event status, a dish you wouldn't dare accompany with a paper cup of coffee or tea.

Yes, I tried them. Sigh. How could I resist when they were literally presented to me at my door? I enjoyed the firmness of the fried croissant (although I expected it to be crispy and it isn't--but, it may well be if eaten when it's just out of the kitchen). Crumbs don't fly off randomly onto your clothes and the croissant holds the pastry cream well. I also loved the mellow vanilla-y flavor that, even with the vanilla sugar coating, isn't cloyingly sweet. This also makes it dangerous because it's too easy to then dig into a second one. Just be sure to have a napkin or two on hand (or eat one by yourself so you can lick your fingers). The sugar coating makes eating it a delightfully messy experience.

Krasne is only making her Froissants™ Thursday through Saturday mornings, so they're kind of a limited edition treat. But if you have a sweet tooth and a brunch crowd to please--especially going into the holidays--send a trusted loved one over to Extraordinary Desserts to pick some up while you set a nice table, and make a pot of coffee and pitcher of orange juice. Have some sparkling wine on hand, too. These deserve special treatment.

Extraordinary Desserts is located in Little Italy at 1430 Union St. and in Bankers Hill at 2829 Fifth Ave. On Thursdays and Fridays, they open at 8:30. On weekends, they open at 10 a.m.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Getting Reaquainted with Sand Dabs

I grew up eating sand dabs regularly. In our L.A. home, it was one of the few fish my dad enjoyed, relishing the sweet, delicate flesh and crispy skin. Typically, if we went out for dinner and it was on the menu, he'd order it and the server would bring the--usually--pan-fried fish to the table and de-bone them tableside. My mom may correct me on this, but I also remember her cooking them, already cleaned by the fishmonger.

Well, that was a long time ago and my parents and I have lived in San Diego for decades. In all that time my dad has still had cravings for sand dabs, but we've never seen them on a restaurant menu. That's understandable. These flatfish are small--perhaps five to eight inches--and rather fragile. I'm told that for years fishermen could get very little money for them so they've never been a high catch priority.

I've since learned that there are a few local restaurants--The Brigantine in Pt. Loma, King's Fish House in Mission Valley, and Bluewater Boathouse in Coronado--that have them on their menus, so that's something we'll check out.

But I finally found a place where I can buy them fresh--the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, which is held on Saturday mornings. There fisherman Giacamo Damato is currently selling them at his stall for $6.50 a pound. Now you'll need three or more to feed one person. For a little lunch feast with my parents I took home three pounds.

Fisherman Giacamo Damato with rockfish
Sand dabs caught by Damato on ice. As a flatfish, one side has the scales and both eyes.
Now I know it's so much easier to buy fish already cleaned, but these little guys are good to practice on. Damato explained to me that I needed to scale them, remove the head, then remove the stomach. Rinse, dry, and then dredge them in flour and salt. Then pan fry them. That's it.

And that's what I did. I took on the cleaning at my house, then packaged up my little school and took them over to my parents to cook up.

So, here's a step-by-step guide to what's involved:

1. Scaling: The only challenge here is that these little guys are a kind of slimy. So hold on to their heads and run a knife gently across and against the scales to remove them. They're only on one side, so they make it that much easier to do the job.

 2. Remove the head. Get just under that little fin behind the head and cut through. Yeah, yuck, but you can do it. (And don't throw the head away. Bury them and the guts in your garden to fertilize your plants.)


 3. Remove the stomach/guts. With the head removed, just press gently on the body near where you cut and it will pop out. Pull everything out and any blood you see. There won't be much.

4. The worst is now over. Get rid of the head and guts. Then rinse and gently pat dry the fish (not to mention the counter).

Now, get out a plate or dish and pour on all-purpose flour and seasonings--I used garlic salt here. This will be what you dredge the fish in.

5. Dip the fish into the flour mixture and coat them well on both sides.

6. Heat a pan and add your oil. I used olive oil, but canola or some other vegetable oil is just fine. When the oil is hot, add the fish--only enough so that there's no overcrowding. Give them about two or three minutes on each side.

7. Remove the fish and slice some lemons for everyone to squeeze over them. (Alternately, you can make a little lemon, butter, and caper sauce to pour over them.)

 8. Remember, the skeleton is still inside. No worries. The skin should be crisp and the flesh opaque white. It will easily pull apart, revealing the skeleton. Gently pull it out but still be careful to look for any errant bones left inside.

The Tuna Harbor Dockside Market is open every Saturday morning at 8. While it technically stays open until 1 p.m., my experience has been that it's pretty much cleaned out by 9:30. You'll find it at 598 Harbor Lane--or, more practically, at the end of Pacific Highway where it goes into Seaport Village Parking. On the right you'll see a little road from the parking lot going toward the bay. The dock you walk into from the road is where the market is.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Nibble Chocolate: Sweet Single Origin Bars in San Diego

San Diego has a newcomer to the handcrafted chocolate scene: Nibble Chocolate, run by Colombia natives Sandra Bedoya and her husband David Mejía.

When Sandra and David moved to the U.S. 16 years ago making chocolate wasn't on their radar. Nor was it when they relocated from North Carolina to San Diego just over a year ago. After all David is a brand manager for a North Carolina wine broker and Sandra is an accountant.

But the couple have been trying to become more health conscious and in changing their diet gave up meat and dairy. But what do you do when you still love chocolate and have a hard time finding a chocolate that has more cocoa than chemicals or other additives, like soy lecithin, vanillin, and non-fat milk? That piqued their interest and they started researching all things chocolate.

"We realized how unattended this market was," says Sandra. "We also loved that it was so similar to wine. And that's how we started this project."

The couple decided to start their business making single-origin bars with as few ingredients as possible. The first step, however, was education. Not only did they read everything they could put their hands on, they got certifications at the Ecole Chocolat. And, Sandra, explained, there was a lot of trial and error--with beans, with technique. After extensive tasting they settled on four origins for their beans: Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Madagascar. And within those beans they came up with three cacao percentages: 62, 72, and 77. The ingredients? Just cacao beans and organic cane sugar. It doesn't get any simpler than that.

photo courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

Of course, the buying of the beans gets complicated. Their goal was to get organic, fair trade beans. And beans from their home country. But trading practices in each country vary--and for a small start-up it's even more difficult to buy small amounts of beans. They're still working on getting Colombian beans, but for now all of their beans but the Venezuelan are organic. The Peruvian beans are, in fact, fair trade. The Dominican Republic beans are direct trade. And the Venezuelan beans are ethically and sustainably traded.

With the bean strategy set, they launched Nibble Chocolate a mere four months ago in their La Jolla kitchen. They've since moved into their own commercial kitchen in Sorrento Valley.

The process of converting the beans into bars is simple but time consuming. The beans come to the couple already fermented. They then roast the beans before embarking on the winnowing process, in which a machine breaks down the beans into nibs (which they are considering selling). From there, they put the nibs in a stone grinder for several days and then a refining machine. They add the sugar--another day's effort--and then the mixture is tempered, poured into bar molds, and packaged.

photo courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

While traveling to the various countries where they purchase their beans, the couple learned how to make a local Dominican Republic confection, bolas de cacao. Again, it's a simple if labor-intensive process--grinding nibs together with sugar. Here's David learning to make this from local farmers.

photos courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

With their wine expertise, it wasn't difficult for the couple to develop tasting notes for each of the single origin bars they create. Like wine and coffee, terroir adds to the distinctive flavors of each bean. So, you'll find that the Peruvian bars have a smokey flavor with notes of nuts, dried fruit and malt. Think dried cranberries in the fall.

The Dominican Republic bars are noted as being rich and earthy, and reminiscent of coffee. I actually found the flavor to be brighter.

The Madagascar bars are fruity--with plum, citrus, and raspberry notes. There's a hint of spice and earthiness. And I find a bit of tartness in each bite--or nibble.

Finally, there's the Venezuelan bar. The flavor description for these bars is soft fruity, strawberry, with delicate nuts and coffee notes. I also got soft raisin in my bites.

Regardless of the country of origin or the cacao percentage, the tempered chocolate has a gentle, full-bodied mouth feel to it in each bite.

The couple is now working on truffle recipes in different flavors.

You can find Nibble Chocolate at the La Jolla Open Aire Market, the Little Italy Mercato, and the Hillcrest and North Park farmers markets. The bars are $6 each or $20 for a flight of four.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Red Door and Wellington Have a Growing Passion

Who doesn't like to matchmake their friends? I'm not talking romance here, more like connecting like minds to collaborate on something really cool. Like a TV show. So, when my friend Nan Sterman of the KPBS show A Growing Passion was looking for a restaurant that had its own garden, well, who else would immediately pop into my head than Trish Watlington?

As San Diego Foodstuff and Edible San Diego readers know, Trish is a friend of mine who owns The Red Door and The Wellington in Mission Hills--and supplies much of the produce for the restaurants from the large garden she cultivates alongside her home in Mt. Helix. I love what she does--for the restaurants, the community, and healthy eating initiatives--and the innovative fare executive chef Karrie Hills creates.

A Growing Passion is a terrific reflection of Nan's interests--in the nitty gritty details of the garden, as well as its aesthetics, and beyond that to the environment, food and food justice, and water conservation issues. Nan and her team create a show that makes our outdoor environment not just the stuff of hobbyists but a critical part of our daily lives--something to take joy in as well as protect.

So, I thought it would be a perfect match. You'll be the judge when the episode airs as part of A Growing Passion's third season next year. But I'll give you a sneak preview and a recipe for the tomato jam Karrie and Nan made that long, hot afternoon when Nan and her crew arrived for a visit.

By 9 in the morning the crew was with Trish in the garden and Trish gave Nan a tour of what was growing--mostly tomatoes and a lot of squash. The focus clearly would be on the tomatoes since it was heading toward the end of the harvest and the ladies were going to make jam with them.

Then everyone headed back to the house and into the kitchen. While the crew set up Karrie got her tools and ingredients organized. Now just so you know, for every shot you see, there are any number of takes needed to capture it just right. Not only do they want shots from different angles, including close ups, but invariably a fly will swoop in or someone will flub a line or clothing is awry or the sound isn't quite right or a spoon that was one place as the previous shot ended winds up somewhere else in the next shot and has to be repositioned for continuity. Anyway, it takes a long, long time and a lot of patience to get what seems a simple shot.

As you'd expect, Karrie started off explaining what is involved in jam making and then showing Nan the various ingredients.

Then they got to work, chopping tomatoes and grating ginger.

Karrie added red wine vinegar to the pot to balance sweet with acid.

As the ingredients began to meld, Karrie offered Nan a taste so she could test the flavors and their balance.

Once the jam was cooked, it was time for the canning process. Under the best of circumstances (no cameras or filming involved) it requires some quick, efficient moves to get this part accomplished. During filming, there are lots of starts and stops, some spills, a lot of moist heat--and a lot of joking around. But when the camera was rolling, it was all business and look at how well Nan got those jars filled for their water bath!

In brief, you wash and sterilize the jars in a hot water bath, fill them with the jam, put on the lids and lightly tighten them, then put them into the rapidly simmering water for another 15 minutes to kill off any remaining bacteria. That allows you to store your jams (or pickles or whatever else you can) in your pantry for a year or so.

Karrie and Nan got most of the jars completed, then they had to leave to finish taping at the restaurants. Trish and I finished off the remaining batch. It was about 4 p.m. by then. I was done but on it went at The Red Door until I don't know when. And, of course, after that would come editing sessions to put it all together into a polished half hour show.

Seamless? Flawless? It takes a whole lot of time and repetition to make it look that easy!

And, here's the recipe. Here we use cabernet sauvignon to enhance the tomatoes instead of ginger.

Red Wine Tomato Jam 
(printable recipe)
From Karrie Hills

We made this jam during an earlier preserving session, but you can adapt this recipe to your own favorite flavors. Trish Watlington happened to have an open bottle of cabernet so in it went, along with some black pepper and orange zest. Hills likes to use the jam with a garden bruschetta and goat cheese, as a dip (mix with a soft cheese like ricotta or Neufchatel), as part of a Bloody Mary mix, as a garnish on soup or chowder, or as a sauce—adding beer and apple cider vinegar—with chicken, fish, or shrimp. 

7 to 8 pounds tomatoes, roughly chopped with skins on
5 cups granulated sugar
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons orange zest (Tip: slide the blade on the orange zest while pressing down to bring out the oils, which is where the flavor is.)
1 ½ teaspoons salt or to taste
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon

Place tomatoes is a large non-reactive pot. Add sugar, red wine, and orange zest. Bring to a boil. Skim the foam, which is filled with impurities, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about 45 minutes, all the while skimming the foam. Add the salt. You’ll stop the cooking process once the mixture has thickened. You can test this by dipping a spoon into the tomato jam and either getting a slow drip from the back of the spoon or carefully placing the spoon with the jam in the freezer for about eight minutes. If the thickness is to your liking, it’s fully cooked.

Once the mixture has thickened, you can use an immersion blender to break it down into a consistent texture or you can leave it chunky. Then skim again. (Note: you may get as much as a cup of impurities from skimming from the time you started with the boil.)

Add the black pepper and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the flavors.

Fill sterilized jars just to the neck and screw on the lids. Process for five minutes in a simmering water bath. Remove from the water bath and let cool. While you can use it immediately, it’s better when it’s had a chance to rest for a couple of days. Otherwise, store in a dark, cool spot and refrigerate after opening.

Yield: 7, eight-ounce jars

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