baking without butter and wheat

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i've been trying something a little new . . . gluten-free and/or vegan baking. this is partly because, well, i moved back to california. but also because my main baked goods audience has shrunk to the very lovely people who work for the somm.

and they HAVE to like my baking! it's a win win win.

just kidding. 

i'd already gone down the gluten-free road for the yogi. and after having read about how terrible wheat is for you.

plus there are so many fun types of flour out there! i now own about 10 varieties taking up precious freezer space. right next to my highly glutenized leftover bagel dough. whee!

i do not yet have an opinion on what type of flours i like best. luckily, there are many wonderful bloggers who regularly share their wisdom. i've been spending time with gluten-free girl who has many great recipes and some really lovely writing on her blog. she has a great post on how to put together your own gluten-free flour blend. it doesn't require you to buy anything that sounds too crazy (xanthan gum? seriously? isn't avoiding words like that WHY we bake at home?). 

almond and coconut were my gateway flours. who doesn't like almonds and coconut?

also, chocolate?

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i pulled this recipe from the new york times, which also likes them some gluten-free girl. i skimped on the bananas – don't do that! add plenty of chocolate chips. almond, buckwheat and rice flour are the stars here, but next time i'd cut back on the buckwheat. you want something lighter to really let the chocolate and banana sing.

served warm out of the oven, these didn't immediately seem gluten-free.  want a close up of that tender crumb?

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pretty normal, right? 

but do NOT give them to your vegan friends. there are eggs and buttermilk in there, the sneakers. plus, we've got something else for them.

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there are a number of vegan alternatives for eggs. so much good learning, and i would especially like to thank the kind woman who saved me from myself in the tofu aisle at the food co-op.

yeah, i'll pause to let that sink in. caleeefornia!

the tofu you want, that tofu is not in the refrigerator section of the market. it's the shelf-stable stuff. but i went for the flax seed slurry substitution. 

slurry! almost as good as shelf-stable tofu. 

just mix one teaspoon ground flax or chia seeds with three tablespoons hot water for every egg you're replacing. let the slurry sit, then add to the batter.

ground flax seeds can be found in the oatmeal and hot cereals section, NOT with the various gluten-free flours and starches in the baking section.

are you writing this down?

also, skip the honey and use agave. skip the buttermilk or yogurt and use unsweetened vanilla almond milk. 

double the blueberries. whip yourself up some blackberry jam.

have yourself a muffin fest.

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Vegan & Gluten-Free Buckwheat Blueberry Poppyseed Muffins

Adapted to be vegan from the New York Times

  • 180 grams (1 1/4 cups, approximately) buckwheat flour
  • 100 grams (3/4 cup, approximately) gluten-free all-purpose flour mix or whole grain gluten-free mix*
  • 10 grams (2 teaspoons) baking powder
  • 5 grams (1 teaspoon) baking soda
  • 3.5 grams (1/2 rounded teaspoon) salt
  • 2 eggs or 2 teaspoon ground flax seeds mixed with 6 tablespoons hot water
  • 125 grams (1/3 cup) agave syrup
  • 360 grams (1 1/2 cups) unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 75 grams (1/3 cup) canola or grape seed oil
  • 5 grams (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 10 grams (1 tablespoon) poppy seeds (more to taste)

*For the gluten-free flour mix I used about 70 grams of a mix of teff, almond and rice flour and 30 grams of arrowroot starch.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with the rack adjusted to the middle. Oil muffin tins. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Add any grainy bits remaining in the sifter to the bowl.

In a separate bowl combine ground flax seed and hot water. Stir and let sit for a minute. Beat in agave, almond milk, oil and vanilla extract. Whisk in the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Do not beat for too long; a few lumps are fine but make sure there is no flour sitting at the bottom of the bowl. Fold in the blueberries and poppy seeds.

Using a spoon or ice cream scoop, fill muffin cups to the top. Place in the oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned and well risen. Remove from the heat and if the muffins come out of the tins easily, remove from the tins and allow to cool on a rack. If they don’t release easily, allow to cool and then remove from the tins.

Best served with some sort of butter product (that means Earth Balance for you vegans) and jam.  

Yield: 12 muffins (1/3 cup muffin tins)

Advance preparation: These keep for a couple of days out of the refrigerator, for a few more days in the refrigerator, and for a few months in the freezer.


homemade bagels

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there was this great story on npr the other morning about the "ikea effect." conventional wisdom has generally been that people spend time on the things they love. the researchers being the ikea effect posit the thought that spending time on things is it's own active force in building that love and sense of emotional connection. 

the idea that the more effort you put into something, say building a slightly wonky bookcase, the more you care about that object. even if you were slightly overly aggressive with your new power drill and the screws came poking through the decorative finish.

whatevs. that totally didn't happen to me last night.

ps: my cooking magazines finally have a home! hurrah!

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i've been spending a fair amount of my time recently on fairly ridiculous diy projects. like baby quilts. there is no economy of scale to making them at home, friends, but the many many hours i've spent on them has made me pretty happy. and i hope when the new mommas see the puckers and imperfections, they love the quilt all the more for knowing it was made with love. 

my grandmother, as the napkin in the photo below can attest, had way better skillz than i. those are vintage, friends, and still immaculate. 

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turns out, making homemade bagels is pretty akin to other ambitious diy projects. particularly if you, like me, are not overly detail oriented. there are a lot of steps, people. things get both sticky and slippery, if you can believe it. rounds of dough may go flying.  

i tried to go for more of a pretzel bagel, under the somewhat shaky logic that i've previously succeeded in boil-and-bake efforts on that front. plus, i like a bagel with a nice chew, and a good firm skin. so, i added about four times the baking soda to the bagel bath. it gave them this lovely pretzel color.

still can't quite tell if that helped make them look more appealing?

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in any event, they tasted not too shabby in both the poppy seed and kosher salt varieties. slightly underbaked, the way i like them, so nice and moist in the middle even on day two. they ended up being monster sized. i froze some leftover dough that may become reasonably sized bagels for the new, lower carb manchego's kitchen of 2013.

i know. i can't believe i typed that either.

more shocking? i stopped drinking coffee. back in california less than 6 months and i'm already going granola on you. i spared you photos of my blueprint juice experiement, so just be grateful.

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low carb or not, i'm back at the baking with julia challenge. there are muffins and brownies and all sorts of terribly wonderful things headed this way. if you want to head down the bagel bunny hole, visit the tuesdays with dorie blog or heather's bytes.

christmas cookies

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so, i made you some really adorable and yummy cookies for this holiday season. packaged them up in sweet little boxes with tissue paper and ribbons. and then proceeded to take many, many horrible photos of them.  

you are welcome!

i've been struggling to get into the holiday spirit this year. too many cocktails, not enough general cheer.

too many packages gone missing in the brown ups truck in the sky.

Christmas, it's on.

my gifts for my sisters-in-law may not arrive until february, but i had a pretty solid cookie strategy.

my go-to sugar cookie recipe is a cut above due to the addition of an aggressive amount of citrus zest.

i upgraded my oatmeal chocolate chip recipe with some cranberries for color and tang.

several of our nation's dairy farmers are having a fine christmas thanks to the brown-buttery deliciousness of rosemary walnut shortbread.

and because it isn't christmas without some powdered ginger and sparkle, i added dorie greenspan's speculoos buttons into the mix, but mine aren't nearly as cute as those gracing the cover of bon appetit.

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extreme walnut close up. please just be grateful it isn't blurry.

these shortbread cookies will melt in your mouth. did i mention the butter? they left darling little grease spots on the tissue paper. 

allow me to warn you about the speculoos buttons, however. it will be nearly impossible to tell when the little buggers are done since they are such a warm lovely brown color to start. so you must remain vigilant about over baking them, which will turn them into tiny spiced hockey pucks. you will lose a tooth. you have been warned.

but aren't their sparkly edges nice?

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believe it or not, this was one of the better photos. in my next life, my kitchen will be nothing but windows. WINDOWS I SAY.

ahem.

for those of you who know my sommelier, you will enjoy the image of him on the couch on a saturday night, watching a dreadful movie involving horses and the end of my respect for steven spielberg, delicately frosting reindeer antlers with a squeeze tube of royal icing.

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i think we generally ended up with a nice mix of frosted cookies that looked nearly professional, but just charmingly off key so as to seem legitimately homemade. 

towards the end of the rather nice bottle of twomey 2008 napa valley merlot, the cookies looked a lot closer to what you might expect out of a kindergartner with some fine motor skills challenges.

those cookies ended up at the bottom of the box. just slightly out of frame. 

not that you would even be able to tell much about the quality of our handiwork, based on my mad skills with a camera. so, with that, i will leave you with this gem and some links to cookies that you should revisit in march perhaps, when the gray sky and several months of pretend-dieting leave you in the need for something sweet.

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does the filter make it seem like it was supposed to be fuzzy? good. let's go with that. it was quite the pretentious little display of cookies anyway.

 

pretzel dogs

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when i saw these bad boys on joy the baker, they solved an immediate problem. what to bring to a superbowl party hosted by a foodie couple that requested witty treats?

witty these are not, but they are the perfect homage to new york street food. soft, warm pretzels with just the right amount of chew. salty, savory, you-know-they-aren't-good-for-you goodness of a hot dog.

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food really is the best part of sports, isn't it?

plus, i've been wanting to get into the pretzel bread game.

while it is completely ridiculous, the somm and i are more or less regulars at an amazing las vegas restaurant.

if we don't live in the same city, our favorite restaurant might as well be somewhere else anyway, right? we're just doing our best to prove proximity is overrated.

right? actually, not. not for husbands, and definitely not for pretzel rolls.

that restaurant has the best pretzel rolls i've ever eaten, hands down. i tried to recreate them, but failed. failed hard.

then we went to oktoberfest in munich. i ate my body weight in the bretzels the lovely madchen sold from their charming wicker-baskets wearing their dirndls.

there may also have been beer. take this as your subsitute gratuitous manchego shot. man, we love our fuzzy little mascots. also, i may have been too (tipsy?) busy eating pretzels to actually take a photo of them.

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but munich? way further than either my husband or my vegas pretzel rolls.

back to the kitchen!

here's the thing about pretzels. the dough starts out nice and easy like a basic brioche or other buttery bread dough.

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looks like play-doh, right?

finished up with a nice coat of butter, chunky salt and fresh cracked black pepper. and into the oven!

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the magic of the pretzel – like the bagel – is the boil. in highly acidic water.

victory for these little suckers came from dumping an entire box of baking soda into the boiling water.

this is how you get the dark, chewy crust.

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these were so good and so easy, i'm doubling down on the pretzel challenge. these were great – seriously, amazing sports-watching food, or even breakfast food if you're so inclined, and you know who i'm talking about - but they aren't the pure pretzel i've been craving.

plus, i recently sleuthed out that the real professionals use food-grade lye to boil their pretzels.

i'm going to say that again. lye.

you know, the stuff half-pint and pa used to make SOAP in the little house on the prairie books?

i know we live in an internet age, but i feel like there is a line you cross when you start ordering such products online. friends, it is a line i have now crossed. get ready. pretzel rolls are coming soon!

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and if you need to borrow some food-grade lye to bake along with me . . . i'm pretty sure i now have a lifetime supply.

Find the pretzel dog recipe and really super easy to follow instructions here.

twd: baking with julia: white loaves

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today is the start of a fun new project for me: tuesdays with dorie. i'm one of more than 300 food bloggers who are going to bake their way through a cookbook: baking with julia by dorie greenspan.

i've been wanting to up my baking game, and this is goign to be a great way to try recipes i never would have picked out myself – sweet and savory.

enter this lovely white loaf.

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despite my brief flirtation with challah, i've been in a serious monogamous relationship with jim lahey's no knead bread for the past year or so. it truly is everything i want in a bread. crisp, chewy crust. a french bread-like crumb, but dense and moist.

i was worried this white load would turn out too much like sandwich bread – soft, soft, soft. but it's more like the farmer's loaves ate my year abroad in england, sitting at the table in the student flat's shared kitchen, hoovering down slice after slice with nutella or honey or jam.

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yes, yes i did gain 15 pounds that year. this would be why i ended up chucking most of this loaf in the freezer. save me from myself. amen.

the jim lahey bread is still my go to – including for a friend's cheese tasting party this weekend. it's just so easy to make.

but these loaves have a nice crust on them, a firm dense crumb. they were nearly as easy to put together (although you need either a very serious kitchenaid mixer or arms of steel for the kneading). the bread was tasty straight up, excellent toasted, and maybe even better a day or two later as french toast when the crust starts getting a bit stale.

i went a bit crazy with the photo shoot. i'm sparing you the process shots of dough magnificently rising to the ceiling, taking over my kitchen like the pillsbury dough boy. there's just something so satisfying about a bowl of dough rising like a muffin in the bowl, isn't there?

manchego got in on the action. you know he likes to be in the mix. also, he's a camera whore.

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pensive kitten contemplates the wonder and joy that is freshly baked bread.

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 kitten decides bread is overrated as it is not roasted chicken, turns to magical january tulips.

although, maybe not so magical given this spring-like winter which has duped the daffodils to poke their sunny yellow heads out months early. lovely, but wrong, wrong, wrong.

good thing there's nothing like a slice of toast with orange marmalade to bring you back to the proper season.

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 for the recipe, or to check out all the other great posts, visit tuesdays with dorie.

lamb tagine with preserved lemons & figs

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dinner parties are SERIOUS BUSINESS in manchego's kitchen. they really, truly, are the time for both my and the somm's type a personalities to shine. slash terrorize our friends and loved ones. the sum of what we (or is that just me!) want to do always exceeds what is reasonable . . . or even feasible.

water spots on the glasses? the horror!

fewer than 6 to 7 homemade dishes? i must be slacking!

i kid you not. slider night featured two types of burgers, homemade buns and mayonnaise. i only didn't make the ketchup, because why mess with heinz? one year, i lovingly recreated the entire gourmet tomato feast. the bruschetta alone had about five subrecipes.

the food - i hope – is generally good. but, i've come to realize that while i'm having fun, this is not always relaxing for our (many) guests. i am frantic, wild-eyed in the kitchen, which is mostly a sea of dirty dishes. the somm tries to get everyone inebriated so they can't tell dinner's half an hour behind schedule. friends hover at the kitchen's periphery asking if they can help, but fearing to come too close.

but i think i've broken the streak. the solution? take a full week off work before said dinner party!

just kidding. sort of.

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said time off did give me time to put together some lovely flower arrangements. to get the shopping and some of the ingredient prep out of the way. and to sufficiently ruminate about the flavor of homemade ice cream (you see, i'm not completely cured . . . but that recipe is for next time).

but mostly, i think this dinner party was much calmer thanks to the make ahead lamb tagine.

a tagine is a stew/braise with moroccan flavors and spices. this one is loaded up with lamb!

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i am not sure if this photo adequately captures the insane amount of lamb that was browned and on it's way to melt in your mouth deliciousness a good 30 hours before go time.

my tagine is also loaded up with chickpeas for a one-two protein punch. lamb is such a rich, strong flavor, i thought the chickpeas helped lighten and mellow it out. tagines are easily made vegetarian if that's your thing – think mostly chickpeas with more veggies or even potatoes.

meet the supporting cast:

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plus some dried figs. apricots would also work. or prunes? go for it.

this was my first time cooking with preserved lemons, and they added such wonderful pops of tangy, salty flavor. olives are often added to tagines for similar effect, and you know i love me some olives, but i thought the lemons were surprising and perfect.

stews are great dinner party food – or cook once on sunday for the week food – because the flavor just gets better over time. and it reduces the running-around-like-a-chicken-with-its-head-cut-off effect it has on hostesses.

the one hitch was that since i wasn't cooking like crazy, i maybe had a cocktail too many to remember we'd planned to give salad it's own whole course to itself. 

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the tagine survived a warming period in the oven just fine, and with a salad like that who wouldn't mind the wait? perfect pink cara cara oranges on a bed of arugula with feta and olives. it hit all the right notes – sweet, savory, salty, and bitter. i stole the idea from this recipe . . . the dressing was fantastic.

i also roasted a big mess of root vegetables, but they all turned fushia from the beets. not photogenic. not that parsnips are particularly photogenic to begin with, as they resemble bulbous albino carrots. anyway, they and the cumin vinaigrette tasted sweet and smoky and divine, inspiration here.

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Garnished with some bright cilantro over a bed of couscous, and you've got yourself a hearty, filling and completely satisfying winter dinner.

Lamb Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Figs

Adapted from Epicurious - Serves 8

Note: Ras-el-hanout is a blend of spices that is often used in Moroccan cooking. It means "top of the shelf" and usually represented a blend of the best spices offered by a spice shop. Like Indian curry, there are many different ways to blend. You can buy it in specialty shops, or put together your own blend from relatively common ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, cumin and turmeric. Here's one blend - feel free to tinker with the proportions based on flavors you like or what you have in your kitchen. 

  • 4 lbs lamb shoulder, in 1 inch dice
  • 1 to 1.5 large onions diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 tbsp Ras-el-Hanout
  • 1.5 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with juices
  • 2 – 3 cups low-salt chicken stock
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (I feel I should get credit for not making these from dried)
  • 1/2 cup dried figs, quartered
  • 1 preserved lemon, rind only, diced

Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven or other large (not-nonstick) skillet with lid. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper and brown in batches. Lamb should sizzle at it hits the oil, but only take a few minutes to brown. Each batch should only be one layer of lamb in the pot to allow each piece to brown and develop the fond – the brown sticky bits on the bottom of the pot that'll add amazing caramelized meat flavor to the dish. Keep adding oil as you need to to keep the fond and meet from burning instead of browning. Transfer all browned lamb to a bowl, set aside.

Add more oil if needed and saute onion until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic, spices and ginger and saute for a minute or so until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and lamb with any juices at the bottom of the bowl and bring to a boil. Add about 2 1/2 cups of chicken stock and bring back to a boil. 

Allow to simmer until the lamb is falling apart, about 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more chicken broth if it reduces down to a thicker stew than you'd like. Add the chickpeas and simmer for about 15 minutes, then add the figs and preserved lemons and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Tagine can be served now over couscous with a sprinkle of cilantro – but it might be even better the next day!

DIY: Preserved Lemons

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do you like moroccan food?

i will confess, i don't know much about moroccan food. but i do know my way around a tagine. it's like a stew. my roomie and bff after college and i made many a tagine. it was in our cooking light repertoire of chicken tacos, quesadilla, bbq chicken pizza, quesadilla, chicken tagine, repeat.

it was a lot of bock bock. i always had to handle the raw chicken. she was queen of the deli rotisserie chicken.

that division of labor is still true when we have girls nights.  but these days, we've stepped it up. you know what really belongs in tagine? lamb. glorious lamb.

but i'm getting ahead of myself.

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preserved lemons. a signature flavor of moroccan food, but wikipedia also tells me it's common in indian and cambodian food. who knew?

as a part of my insane DIY christmas, i made preserved lemons. along with pretty things like these:

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so much infused vodka was consumed in the celebration of baby jesus this year.

back to the lemons. this was ridiculously easy to execute. slice your lemons in four . . . but not all the way. apply salt. lots of salt.

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really get in there. curse as the salt and lemon juice gets all up in your ragged-when-will-i-ever-grow-up-and-stop-picking-at-my-cuticles cuticles.

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jam them in your jars. with lemon juice . . . bay leaf . . . cumin seeds. more salt. we are preserving here.

cumin is a bit of mercurial spice. the seeds look like bugs and smell like old gym socks. the right amount adds a lovely dusty earthiness to a dish. too much and you're back to the gym socks.

i had to slice little wedges out of my lemons to get two to fit in the mason jar. i just added the slices right on top. you could probably just quarter the things and they'd turn out ok, but i haven't tried it.

most recipes are going to have you use just the rinds, chopped up, so you want to leave them in large enough pieces that it's easy to scoop out the flesh.

preserved lemon rind . . . salty, tangy. like an olive but with a brighter, cleaner, lighter flavor. 

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I'll be back with a tagine recipe for you to use these bad boys soon!

Preserved Lemons

  • 3-4 large lemons
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 + 4 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds

Take two lemons, slice lengthwise twice, as if you are quartering the lemon, but leave the last inch of the lemon intact.

Sprinkle about a tablespoon or two of kosher salt into each lemon.

Or, just quarter the lemons and toss with salt. Whatever takes your fancy.

Juice the other two lemons. Really, you're just looking to fill the jar.  It will depend on the size of your lemons, obviously. You're welcome for that incredible, very clear advice.

Add about 1/8 a cup of salt and juice of one lemon to the jar.  Stir to try to dissolve the juice a little. Add one lemon, then about half the cumin seeds and one bay leaf.  Repeat. Top with another 1/8 cup of salt.  Fill up jar with lemon juice.

Screw on the lid!  Give it a good shake!  Give the jar another good shake every day for the next two weeks, and you're good to go. If you plan to keep them around longer than a few weeks, store in the refrigerator.