Saturday, August 27, 2011

Therapy in Jars

For most of my life I've had a fondness for canning and preserving.  When I was too young to participate, I still loved to be in the kitchen at my grandma's farm watching her or studying what Dad was doing from the dining room at our house.  Canning is sort of a family tradition.  So now when I'm in the kitchen making jam or jelly or trying some other preserved endeavor, it seems to ground me and connect me to my family.  Dare I say - I believe it's therapeutic.  I know it's, at the very least, comforting.

Peaches in ginger syrup.  One of my new favorites.
Dad and I went to Flamm Orchards on Thursday and picked up half-peck crates of peaches and apples.  The intent was just to get peaches for a cobbler that evening, but the apples were calling to me as well.  Since I didn't use all of the peaches for the cobbler, today's therapy session included more peaches in ginger syrup (after trying these I had to do some more!) and brown sugar-cinnamon applesauce.  I still used the raw-pack method on my peaches despite the fruit float, but this time cubed them into bite-sized pieces.  The ginger syrup I used was more that was left from a previous candied ginger craze.  I just couldn't bring myself to pour the left-over syrup down the drain.  I'm so glad I didn't!

The applesauce was a recipe put together from Sherri Brooks Vinton's Put 'em Up! and the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.  I took a little I liked from each recipe and put them together.  And doubled the recipe.  While doubling hasn't worked out well for me previously, I wasn't disappointed today.

I started by scrubbing a little over six pounds of Gala apples.  As I wanted to finish this canning project before dinner, I chose not to peel the apples.  I'm still undecided about this.  I like the fact it keeps more fiber in the applesauce, but have concerns about the texture.  After they cool, I'll crack open one of the processed jars for evaluation.  (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)  Some leave the peels on for the color, but these weren't spectacularly colored apples and didn't impart much in the way of color. 
I quartered, cored, then halved the pieces before tossing them into the pot with a cup of water, one-quarter cup lemon juice and two small cinnamon sticks.  To keep the ones on top from browning, I occasionally jostled them around a little bit.  Not that I get too excited about browned apples when I'm making applesauce.  If you're adding cinnamon - which I did - it's going to be on the brown side anyway.


Both recipes said to run the cooked apples through a food mill.  I don't happen to have a food mill (yet) so I used the food processor, being very careful not to overfill it and send screaming hot applesauce flying about the kitchen.  I could see that scenario quite clearly in my mind. 

Jars ready to be processed
After processing the apples, they were returned to the pan with some brown sugar.  Following the Ball Blue Book, I used one-quarter cup of sugar for every pound of apples.  This came back to a bubble to dissolve the sugar and then I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  This was ladled into hot half-pint jars and processed in a water-bath canner for 10 minutes.  I ended up with enough sauce for 11 half-pint jars.

I'm not finished with my canning projects by any means.  There are still three pounds of frozen peaches waiting for me and while Dad was here we found an amazing deal on apricots and now I have about six pounds of apricots in the freezer as well. But I do have to interrupt my therapy to cause myself some more stress.  I'm committed to doing a small wedding cake and cupcakes for a reception next Saturday.  So while I'd like to be canning, next week will be devoted to all things cake.

(As a post-script to Dignity in the Face of Adversity, my dear aunt succumbed to her cancer early last Saturday morning.  Dad and I were able to be with her the Thursday and Friday prior.  For that opportunity, we will both be forever grateful.)

Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Applesauce
1 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 small (3”) cinnamon sticks
6 lbs apples (peeling optional)
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Have a water-bath canner and 11 – 12 half pint jars and lids prepared.

Add the water, lemon juice and cinnamon sticks to a large (at least 6 qt.), heavy stock pot.  Peel (if desired), core and cube the apples, dropping them into the pot as you go.  Stir occasionally to coat all the apples with the liquid.

Cover the stock pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 – 20 minutes, or until the apples are softened.  Run the cooked apples and cooking liquid through a food mill or process in batches in a food processor.

Return the applesauce to the stock pot over medium heat and add the brown sugar.  Stir to dissolve and bring to a slow boil.   Add the ground cinnamon and vanilla extract and stir well to combine thoroughly.

Ladle the hot applesauce directly into hot, half-pint jars.  Wipe the rims and seal with lids and bands.  Process the jars 10 minutes in the boiling-water canner.  Remove the canner from the heat; remove the lid and allow the jars to sit in the water for five minutes before removing to a rack or towel to cool.  Let the jars cool 24 hours before testing the seal.  Refrigerate any jars that did not seal.  Store sealed jars in a cool, dry place for up to one year.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Buttered, Jammed & Preserved - A Weekend of Canning in Photos

Saturday was National Can It Forward Day.  Although I didn't sign up to "officially" be a part of anything, there was a lot of canning going on in our kitchen.  And it didn't end on Saturday.  It seems as though I had more ambition than time.  I'm still not finished, but as of now I've made and canned peach infused white wine jelly, canned peaches in ginger syrup, made and canned peach butter, froze some peaches to use in jam (hopefully tomorrow if I get some housework done) and some peach puree for another pate de fruit attempt in the future, made and canned Rainier cherry preserves and Black Forest preserves (dark cherries, cocoa and brandy).  I really wanted to try and do some spicy carrot pickles, but time just got away from me.  As I go through and decipher my on-the-fly chicken scratches and get my recipes into an understandable format, I'll put them up.  Of course, I'd better do that soon while I still remember what those chicken scratches mean.  Until then, the pictures can tell the story.

Peach peels and pits steeping in Gewurztraminer for the Peach-Infused White Wine Jelly. 

The precariously balanced jelly bag and stand. 
I couldn't let it drip overnight in the refrigerator because it won't fit.

Watching juice drip from a jelly bag should not entrall me as much as it does.
Getting the perfect amount of juice for the recipe is the icing on the cake.

Juice, pectin and sugar.

When I first started making jelly, I didn't get "full, rolling boil" and never timed my one-minute
cooking time correctly.  I get it now and my jelly turns out much better than it used to.

Letting the jelly sit for about five minutes makes it easier to skim off the less than appealing "foam".

Jewel-like jars of jelly resting on my unfinished crossword puzzle.

Peaches in ginger syrup.  Do you see my fruit floating?  This is my first attempt at canning fruit not
in jam or jelly form.  I need a little practice packing my jars tightly.  I was too afraid of crushing the fruit.

Peach puree for another pate de fruit endeavor.

The beginning of peach butter.

The end of peach butter.  I wish there were some way to keep the beautiful color.
This tastes wonderful, but it's definitely not much to look at.

Starting the Rainier cherry preserves.  These ended up in a larger pot when I nearly boiled them over.

Two of the six pounds of cherries I pitted this weekend.  If I do cherries next year, I am so upgrading my pitter!

It seems like it takes FOR-EVER to get to 220 degrees!

Almost there.

Back row, left to right:  peach butter, (floating) peaches in ginger syrup, Black Forest preserves
Front row, left to right:  Rainier cherry preserves, peach-infused white wine jelly
Notice how I tried to hide the floating peaches in the back?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Off-Topic: Dignity in the Face of Adversity

Last Sunday, I learned that my Aunt Ruth had been diagnosed with colon cancer.  It was obviously upsetting to me but not devastating as I know that with current treatments and procedures, colon cancer is not as deadly as some other types of cancer or cancer in other areas of the body.  Devastation was not to be denied, however.  Later that day I was informed that it was recently learned that the cancer had spread to her liver and her stomach.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to hit something.  Instead, I cried.  Sobbed uncontrollably in the arms of my loving husband is actually more accurate.
I took this picture of our gentle giant the day before he left us.

This was not the first time in the last few weeks I had cried.  Three weeks ago our wonderful dog, Cochise, was found a have a large, inoperable tumor on his bladder.  Instead of aggressive, useless treatments, we chose to bring him home to be with us - his family.  He passed away two weeks ago.  The news of Ruthie's diagnosis arrived while we are still grieving his loss.

Sunday evening, I found myself to be in the midst of significant self-pity.  It lasted until I realized that I wasn't truly the one suffering.  Until I thought about Ruth and who she is.  She would not be feeling sorry for herself.  Truly, I don't believe she is capable of self-pity.  The more I thought about her, the stronger I felt.  Strong enough that today I bypassed the second-hand reports of relatives and called Ruthie herself.  Her very first question:  a truly sincere "How are you?"

Ruth as a young woman

Ruth knows she is facing terminal illness.  She's not afraid.  She doesn't feel sorry for herself.  Her only regret, although she probably wouldn't call it that, is that she never made it to Hawaii.  The cruel irony is that her grandson is about about to be stationed in Hawaii.  She has been waiting for him to be relocated. 

My dad and I are planning to go visit Ruthie in the very near future.  Before we go, I am going to go to my storage unit and retrieve all of the photos (I know photos should not be in a storage unit) I took while I was in Maui and put together a slide show for her.  I know it's not the same, but at least she can see what I saw. 

Aunt Ruth isn't going to have a funeral.  She doesn't want one.  Her request is to be cremated and her ashes strewn.  I don't know how and I don't know when, but I will make sure that some of her ashes go to Hawaii.  It's the very least I can do for someone who's done so much for me.  If I can learn to be a little more like her, she will have done more for me than she could ever imagine.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Reminiscing Culinary School

One of the classes in my culinary program was Garde Manger, which we were taught loosely translates to “cold kitchen”.  The content of the class focused primarily on salads, soups, sandwiches, sauces/dips and appetizer/hors d’oeuvres.  It was a class ordinarily taken by second year students.  Ordinarily.  I ended up in this class in my first year.  There were 20 students (in the beginning) and only about four of us were first years.  We were grouped into teams of four.  Of the four on our team, three of us were first years.  The class was incredibly fast-paced as we only had 2 hours and 50 minutes, and some of that time had to be devoted to lecture, demonstration and evaluation. 

The particular class day I was remembering on Friday was devoted to sauces and dips.  In the brief time span of our class, we were to make hummus, guacamole, tapenade and salsa.  With four people, this shouldn’t be a problem.  The problem was that only two of our four were there:  me and another first year.  My lone partner for that day had never tried hummus, professed not to like “green food”, and hated olives of any color.  I was not feeling optimistic.  Somehow we managed to eke out all four sauces and an A. 

Why was I remembering that particularly hellacious day on Friday?  Because I made hummus and salsa on Friday. 

In the last month or so, I’ve had a near addiction to hummus.  There have been very few days pass that hummus in some form or another hasn’t occupied space in our overcrowded refrigerator.  I’ve made hummus from garbanzo bean flour (besan), from canned beans and from dry beans I’ve cooked.  I’ve made it with garbanzo beans, butter beans and black beans.  I’ve yet to find hummus that I just flat out do not like.

A cool lunch on a hot day for the Hubs and me.

This odyssey really began Tuesday when I started soaking the beans.  I had a pound of dry garbanzos and half of a pound of Roman beans that were long abandoned from some other recipe.  Given the heat wave we’ve been experiencing, I was not looking forward to the 1-1/2 to 2 hour cook time for tender beans.  That’s why I decided re-employ the slow cooker.  The beans had to be cooked in two batches (one Wednesday and one Thursday) given the size of the crock, but it was a small price to pay for not heating up the kitchen any more than necessary.  I covered each batch of beans with fresh water, added a bay leaf, half of a teaspoon of coriander seeds and half of a teaspoon of mixed peppercorns.  Two hours on high, five on low and viola!  Perfectly cooked beans. 

 A pound of dry beans makes about six cups of cooked beans.  There are always more than I need for the recipe, but that works out well since I can never resist scooping out some of the still warm beans, giving them a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and enjoying them blissfully on their own.  Truly one of the reasons why I go to the trouble of cooking dry beans instead of buying canned.  The downside of using dry beans is that it’s difficult to get a really smooth texture to the hummus.  But I’m okay with that. 

The salsa I made tasted nothing like what we made in school, which, to me, was a very good thing.  The recipe we were given to follow is not one I’ll ever use again.  It led me to discover that I am not a fan of oregano in my salsa.  What I made was actually closer to what restaurants here call pico de gallo – tomatoes, chiles, cilantro and garlic.  Not accurately, however.  I learned from the Food Lover’s Companion that pico de gallo (Spanish for rooster’s beak) is actually “a relish made of finely chopped ingredients like jicama, oranges, onions, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers and cucumbers, along with various seasonings.”  Now I know.

Hummus with Cilantro & Jalapeno
Makes about 1-1/2 quarts

2 cups fresh cilantro leaves and stems, washed well and spun dry
4 cups cooked garbanzo beans (reserve some of the cooking liquid)
1 – 2 jalapenos, seeded if desired, coarsely chopped
4 – 6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
Zest and juice of half of a large lime
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup sesame paste (tahini)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 - 3/4 cup reserved cooking liquid, water or stock

Add the cilantro, beans, jalapenos, garlic, lime zest and juice, turmeric, salt, cumin and ground pepper to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Add the tahini and process to a paste.  With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube.  Slowly add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to achieve the desired consistency.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

(And a personal note here:  when tasting, do NOT use the same spoon that was previously used to seed the jalapenos!)

So. Ill. Pico de Gallo
2 cups diced tomatoes
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
3 jalapenos, seeded and minced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves, chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
1 lime, juiced
1/2 – 1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Combine all ingredients but the salt in a glass or other non-reactive bowl.  Taste and add salt as desired.  Cover and chill.  Taste again before serving and adjust seasoning as necessary.  Refrigerate for up to three days. 

Makes about 3 cups.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Just Peachy

That's how I hope August will be.  I need peachy.  I can't say life gave me lemons in July, because I love lemons.  It was more like life gave me durian in July.  

But mid-July, I decided to go to one of our local orchards and get some fresh peaches.  I don't know why I thought I could pick up peaches on a Wednesday afternoon and have time to process them all when I was trying to get ready to leave early that Friday morning to spend the weekend at my dad's.  Before coming to my senses, I managed to get a few trays of sliced peaches dehydrated. 

The melon baller did a great job removing the stringy
 centers around the pit. I hated losing the color though.

Putting my knife skills to the test.  I think they're
about below average right now.

The plan for some of these is to go in some
instant oatmeal cookies using maple
and brown sugar oatmeal.

The rest were to become brandied peach jam.  I realized there was not time to accomplish this and rather than have rotten peaches when I returned, the peaches were pitted, sliced and frozen.  And that's the way they stayed until yesterday.  Yesterday I decided a bit of kitchen therapy was in order. 

I looked in several of my canning books for recipes and finally decided to combine a couple of them for what I wanted.  I would have preferred a pectin-free jam, but I wasn't interested in having the stove on that long.  It's still quite hot in Southern Illinois.  My problem with the pectin, especially low/no sugar varieties, is that the set of your final product is always a guessing game:  it may set perfectly, it may set too firmly, it may not set at all.  In this case, I think the set is a little firmer than what I would like for jam.  But I'm still happy with the taste.  For now, anyway.  Shae at Hitchhiking to Heaven blogged about some of her peach and bourbon jam that, after several months, had become quite thin and "tasted like a distillery."  I'll have to report back to you on mine.  (Speaking of reporting back, those mango tres leches cupcakes - never did work.  The milk mixture for soaking became too thick to be absorbed.  Disappointing failure.)

Pretty peach puree

After the jam, I still had some peaches left.  I considered pate de fruit, but humidity is a problem and I think the puree would be best with fresh fruit versus frozen.  I went ahead and pureed what I had left but instead of pate de fruit it's in the slow cooker with some maple syrup to hopefully become a maple peach butter.  Time will tell on that one as well.

I still have the maple peach oatmeal cookies to make, but I'm already scheming on going back to the orchard for another box of peaches.  I still like the idea of peach pate de fruit and maybe a peach/white wine jelly and some canned peach halves and . . . .

Brandied Peach Jam
This is somewhere between jam and preserves.  I considered adding a handful of currants and calling it a conserve.  It’s a franken-recipe cobbled from peach jam recipes in the Ball Blue Book and those included with Sure-Jell low/no sugar pectin.  Makes 6 – 7 half pint jars.

5 cups pitted, peeled, slightly crushed, fully ripe peaches **
1 cup brandy
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 box (1.75 oz) low/no sugar needed powdered pectin
2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Prepare a water bath canner and seven half-pint jars, lids and bands before beginning.

Combine the peaches, brandy, lemon juice and pectin in a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium to medium-high heat.  Stir to dissolve the pectin and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  Add the sugars and return to a rolling boil stirring constantly.  Once a rolling boil is achieved, boil and stir for one minute.  (If the jam begins gelling before one minute, remove from heat at that point.)  Remove the pan from the heat and skim off any foam. 

Ladle the jam into hot jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace.  Place lids on the jars and gently screw on the bands.  Process the jars 10 minutes in a covered boiling water canner.  Remove the canner from the heat, remove the lid and let the jars sit for 5 minutes before removing.  Allow to cool completely, remove bands and test the lids to make sure they sealed.  Refrigerate any jars that did not seal.

Store in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.  (A year is standard, but since this has less sugar it may have a shorter shelf life.)

**I was using peaches that had been frozen and thawed, so I used 4-1/2 cups with their juice.  I also saved the peels from the peaches to freeze and use later in peach jelly to give it a beautiful color.