So you may have noticed that I’m not really cooking much these days. What can I say that I haven’t said in the last 4-5 posts? I miss cooking. I almost even miss stopping everyone from digging into piping hot yumminess so I can spend 5 minutes photographing it. Almost.
While I have been building and planting at The Pantry like a crazy little caffeinated person in overalls, I did manage to learn a few things about cooking while I was away from my computer. In Seattle we have a lovely jam-maker named Rebecca Staffel, who owns a company called Deluxe Foods. She’s kinda awesome (and she’s my neighbor, how lucky am I?!) and one day in May she let me hang out with her while she made her prize-winning gingered rhubarb jam. I felt like the luckiest girl in the Pacific Northwest for learning some of the tricks of the trade. Because while I’ve made a jam or two in my day, I am in no way a seasoned jam-maker. And rhubarb jam just seemed intimidating. I mean, rhubarb’s not even a FRUIT! But Rebecca broke it down for me and I went away giddy with plans for making my own batch of pink goodness. It’s been a crazy month, and I suspect it’s about to get crazier (our first event is in three weeks!). But we officially ran out of home-made jam in my fridge and well, if that’s not a kitchen emergency then I don’t know what is.
So I dropped everything yesterday and made some rhubarb vanilla jam. Whew.
I started by chopping up the rhubarb into teeny tiny bits. Like 1/8″ big bits. I rubbed the vanilla bean seeds into the sugar, and mixed the vanilla sugar (pod included) into the chopped rhubarb. I squeezed in the lemon juice and threw in the whole lemon chunks, which supplied some much needed pectin. I let the whole pile sit overnight in the fridge to get the juices out of the rhubarb.
The next morning I heated it all in my favorite pot. I kept it at a good strong simmer (is that just a boil?), stirring occasionally, until it reached its set point. This was my first time using a thermapen (Thanks for the tip on THAT one Rachel!), so I was feeling condident bringing the jam just to 220. Except then I got nervous that it wasn’t set and cooked it a bit more…hee. I ladled the hot jam into jars that had been boiling the whole time to get nice and germ-free. Once the jars of jam were lidded, I placed them on a tray and baked them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. This is my first time “baking” them instead of processing them in boiling water, and I’m super excited at how easy it is (easy like, I can set a timer and run back to construction land and let John pull them out of the oven)!
We cracked open one of the jars last night for dessert. We just ate it with shortbread cookies and whipped cream and oh my, it is going to be a great summer.
Rhubarb Vanilla Jam Recipe:
2 lb 12 oz rhubarb, finely diced
2 lb sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 lemon, quartered and seeds removed
Every now and then a fruit just makes you stop and take notice. Such was the case with these grapes. Blueberry grapes they’re called, and they literally taste like bubblicious grape bubble gum. Popping one into my mouth for a taste in the grocry store actually had me giggling, they’re THAT good. I bought a few pounds immediatly and ran home to make jelly.
It was my first time making jelly, and I was super excited. Not because I am particularly fond of jelly, but just because I had never made it. And grape jelly, well that’s just as classic as it comes. I started by cooking the grapes down with a bit of water, while smooshing them with a potato masher. Then I poured that hot mess into a strainer lined with one of John’s old t-shirts. It drained for about 10 hours.
I then boiled the liquid with lemon juice and pectin until I had a nice set.
And it worked! It’s translucent and jiggly and perfect! I’ve been eating grape jelly and peanut butter sandwiches like they are going out of style and I suspect I’ll be buying more of these magical blueberry grapes….
GRAPE JELLY RECIPE:
1x (2 quarts)
2 1/4 lb grapes
2/3 cup water
1 lb 4oz caster sugar
3 TBSP lemon juice
3 oz liquid pectin
– Put the grapes and water in a saucepan and smash them with a potato masher. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. The grapes should be very soft. Smash the grapes some more.
– Pour the mixture into a strainer lined with thin fabric (I used a worn t shirt) and allow to drip for 8-12 hours. Do not press the mixture or the jelly will be cloudy.
– Pour the drained liquid into a saucepan and add the caster sugar and lemon juice. Heat over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, add the pectin and cook over medium high heat for a 3-5 minutes, until the jelly has set.
– Ladle into hot sterilize jars and seal.
Have I mentioned lately that I have a thing for blueberries? Beautiful, blue, bloomy blueberries…
This time of year I turn into a bit of a berry monster. The first couple weeks of berry season I tend to gorge on berries until I just can’t take any more. Then I stop just long enough to panic about their eventual disappearance. In response, I make jam. Lots of jam. I’ll make so much jam that I panic again and start giving it away. Then as I work my way through a couple of jars, I’ll start wishing I hadn’t given so much away. I’ll panic yet again, and if there are still berries around at this point, I’ll probably make more jam. You know, just in case I run out in January. So far this summer I’ve made a sun-cooked strawberry rhubarb jam, a black raspberry jam, and now, this absolutely perfect blueberry jam. It’s so straightforward that it seems silly to even share the recipe. But that’s its genius. Beneath all that obviousness is a jam that is so perfectly spreadable and so… blue. I’ve already eaten it on toast, biscuits, crepes and pound cake. And it’s only been 4 days.
Note on blueberries: With all jams, it is super important to get the best fruit possible. If you don’t want to smash your face into a pile of it, then it’s probably not jam worthy. Yes, it should be that good. I used Billy’s blueberries, arguably the best blueberries in the Puget Sound area.
BLUEBERRY JAM RECIPE:
2 lb 8oz (6 baskets) blueberries
2/3 cup water
2 lb sugar
juice of 3 lemons
1 package of Certo liquid pectin
– Put the blueberries and water in a heavy pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. The fruit should be quite soft.
– Lower the heat and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil for 5 minutes.
– Add the pectin and boil for another minute or 2, until it has set. I test for set by spooning the jam onto a plate that has ben stored in the freezer. I place it back in the freezer for 10 seconds and then press my finger to it. If it wrinkles, the jam is done.
-Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal. If you’re storing it at room temperature, it’s a good idea to process them. It’s ready to eat the next day.
Fruit anxiety. It hits me like a ton of bricks every year around this time. There’s just too much fruit: peaches, apricots, strawberries, cherries. I can’t eat it all, I can’t bake it all. So it’s time for some jam. The fruit most abundant on my counter right now is apricots, so apricot jam it is. With some ginger, because that sounds nice.
I don’t know if you know this, but there is a lot of sugar in jam. I usually let the fruit macerate in the sugar for 24 hours, but I’m on the fast track this weekend, so 2 hours will have to do.
Once it was nice and syrupy I threw it in a pot with some fresh ginger that I grated. I like to keep a chunk of ginger in the freezer for such occasions. Some lemon juice would have been good here, but I didn’t have any and was NOT in the mood for a trip to the grocery store. I simmered and simmered and simmered until it was ready*.
And spooned it into some jars that I had boiled just for the occasion! Ginger Apricot Jam – I’ll let you know how it turns out.
*still a mystery, but the important part is to get it to “set” without caramelizing. Since I don’t use pectin, this can take a while.
Aaaaah…my favorite part about summer fruit begins…jam. I was at the store to buy a pint of strawberries for my ice cream, and they had a whole flat for $3! So I couldn’t resist, since I’ve decided this summer I WILL conquer jam making. I know it’s not that hard, but I’ve only made a few jams that I’ve thought were truly fabulous. And strawberry jam has been a tough one for me. Cook it too much and I swear it tastes like cough syrup.
I started this batch by chopping up 3 1/2 lbs of berries and letting them macerate with an equal amount of sugar and the juice from 3 lemons. I let that sit in the fridge, covered, for 24 hours.
The next day I boiled the mixture for about 25 minutes, until it seemed “set”. This part is the hardest for me. Since I’m fairly new to the jam making process, I haven’t gotten the feel for exactly when it’s ready. I just have to go with it and hope my jam isn’t just strawberry sauce.
I ladled the jam into hot jars that I had just sterilized. I sealed them up and waited for the most satisfying sound of home canning – the “pop” of the lid sealing. I did manage to dip my finger in for a taste, and I’m feeling pretty good about it.
Now I’ll let them chill in the fridge until I’m ready for them – more later on how smearable they turn out!
I’ve been fascinated by pickles for a while. Mostly because I don’t like them. But I feel like they’re a beautiful food craft that I appreciate, so there’s got to be a way to make pickles that I’m into. I’m not much a sour fan, so that makes it a bit tricky. I’ve been reading about a technique of “pickling” veggies with a salt brine instead of vinegar and thought I’d give that a whirl. What I learned is that pickling is extremely easy. Not that everything else I make is so terribly complicated, but seriously, anyone can make pickles.
I tried to make it more challenging by spending more time than necessary slicing perfect batons out of my carrots. Or at least as perfect as I felt I could get without wasting obscene amounts.
Then I made the brine by boiling water, salt, ginger, peppercorns & a dried chile. I wasn’t really sure if a dried chile works, but that’s what I had…
I let the brine cool to room temp and then poured it over my carrots that were waiting in some clean jars.
I let them hang out on my counter for a week and just cracked them open today.
The verdict: Meh. Kinda salty. Maybe I just don’t like pickles. except pickled pepperoncini. I LOVE pickled pepperoncini. Maybe I’ll try that next time. Anybody want some pickles?
Yesterday I woke up with a head cold. It was sad. But instead of lying under the covers all day, I invited Pantea over for a holiday cooking marathon. Xmas presents: check.
Of course no holiday baking is complete without some brittle.
And some pretty good peanut and sea salt brittle, if I do say so myself.
And pear butter. Deliciously spicy pear butter. Liquid pie I call it. This year is all about pears for me. Pear & molassas upside down cakes, pear pies w/ pecan crust, pear and ginger crisps…I just can’t stop.
Yes, it’s bacon. Candied bacon. And yes, I cut it up with scissors.
That’s right. Candied bacon toffee. With sea salt and a hint of cayenne. The piece de resistance. My new favorite candy. EVER.
Lemon marmalade that is. For xmas presents.
Actually kinda bitter for my taste. But I think I know a few people who will be into it.