I owe a debt to Karen Solomon. A review of her previous cookbook, "Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It," contained a reference to a burgeoning trend of the "punk domesticity of the hipster DIY movement." I felt this was a very apt turn of phrase, and it inspired the name of this site. The rest is, as they say, history.
Karen's back with a follow-up, a second volume of weekend warrior-worthy kitchen projects to deconstruct our most beloved kitchen staples, as well as a few new goodies to whet the palate: The syntactically consistent "Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It."
Karen is also a personal friend, and so in full disclosure this review will invariably be tinged with my fondness for her, and for her spritely writing style. But even if Karen and I weren't buds, it would find "Can It" as engaging and enjoyable as its antecedent.
"Can It" breaks down a wide variety of cooking projects of varying levels of ambitiousness, each chapter adhering to the imperative syntax of the title. Aside smoking (bottled goods mainly fit into the beverage chapter, Slurp It), there are also chapters for making cereal (Spoon It), sweet and salty snacks (Munch It), making corn masa and its many uses (Stalk It) and even homemade cured meats such as pastrami, hot dogs and corned beef under the header Hunt It -- though presumably she has not gone hunting feral cows in the wilds of San Francisco for her quarry.
The recipes are all exceedingly approachable, rarely lapping over one page and always in a consistent format: a paragraph of grace notes, a concise list of ingredients, straightforward instructions and sensible tips on storing the final goods.
Experienced preservationists will find little new in the realm of cannable recipes; in fact only a handful of recipes call for canning. But there's still plenty to intrigue and inspire, with a number of recipes and techniques that you may not have known were feasible in the home kitchen. Puffed rice, for example, something many of us grew up with solely in Krispie form, is produced much in the same way as making popcorn, though unlike its commercial counterpart has a significantly shorter shelf life (as in a day). Reclaim the dense, chewy bagel of your youth by boiling and baking your own. Convert your leftover wine (whatever that is) into a subtle vinegar that far outsings the store-bought stuff.
Among the real whiz-bang recipes is a method to make your own miso. One of the more ambitious projects, this is upwards of a six-week fermentation process, although it is mostly inactive time.
Solomon's grace notes are the highlight of the book, though. For tepache, a lightly fermented drink of pineapple rinds, she notes, "this is an old-fashioned summer cooler ... and a popular base for hooch in Mexican prisons. It's a fun project to do with something you would normally have cast aside. Additionally, if you ever find yourself behind bars in Tijuana, you'll be able to dazzle your cellmates with your culinary chops."
This is surely a book I'll return to again and again, at least as often for the recipes as for the sparkling wit. And you can have a copy of your own. Just leave a comment about a canned, bottled or smoked product that you used to buy but now make yourself at home. For a bonus entry, click to tweet this post. The deadline is midnight on Tuesday, September 20. One lucky random comment or tweet will win this book.