Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just Beet It!

Remember my canned beets?  Blog Post #9 describes where I got this recipe and how to make it.  I opened a jar a few days ago because I thought it was about time I did something with them.  I'm giving one jar away to Grandma Irma, she's curious.  And that leaves me with just two jars.  These. Are. Awesome.  I believe that with this recipe, I have cured most of my issues with mixing sweet and savory.  Oh, wow, these are good!  Since I only have two jars, I didn't want to make another soup (although all I would've had to do is puree the two jars and heat it up, instant, fantastic soup!) because it would've used them all up, I wanted to try a few different things.  The first thing I did was just eat a couple slices.  Yum.  The second thing I did was mash a bunch up with a boiled egg (I got home late and was starving).  It tasted amazing but looked extremely unappetizing.  Hot pink eggs?  Very weird.  The third thing I did was this:

I sliced a boiled egg...laid it out on a plate in a line, then placed beet slices on top and sprinkled with Feta cheese.  Absolutely delicious.  (I boil a dozen eggs at a time so when I come home and I'm really hungry and I don't want to eat something really horrible for me I eat a boiled egg).  I read that potato salad with beets is delicious.  I bet it is.  But hot pink potato salad is just too strange to eat, so...this is the next best thing!  Enjoy!  xo, AB

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Spiced Persimmon Jam

I was first introduced to persimmons about 10 years ago when I worked at a corporate fitness center as a Health/Fitness Specialist.  Our members would often bring us food, usually unhealthy - I think they were trying to fatten me up - good ol' Hilda and her clockwork doughnut holes.  But sometimes we would get healthy foods, too.  One member would bring in bags of persimmons that she picked from a tree in her yard...gorgeous but bitter little orange nuggets.  I wasn't a fan, but then persimmons' flavor is enhanced when they are slightly over-ripe, something I didn't know then.  And I also believe that what you think something is supposed to taste like prior to actually tasting it can ruin your first impression.  I expected a super-sweet flavor like a plum or apple and that's not what you get with a persimmon that isn't fully ripe or over-ripe. 

Hachiya on the Left, Fuyu on the Right
How to describe a persimmon?  They look a lot like an orange tomato; the two common persimmons we get in the US are Fuyu and Hachiya.  Fuyu are squatty like a tiny pumpkin, and Hachiya are acorn-shaped and  larger than the Fuyu. 

They have a high tannin content that dissipates as they ripen, which explains my first experience with tasting a persimmon.  Let them get soft and slightly mushy, and their flavor shines.  They have a texture similar to a mango, yet creamier and softer, and to me the flavor is also like mango and apricot.

Persimmons are also used to make salsas, chutneys, pudding, pies, and many other goodies.  I will definitely be inventing some new treats as well as trying tried and true recipes.

Persimmon sliced in half
I created this Spiced Persimmon Jam after taking a few bites and savoring the flavor...what would go well with this...?  Cinnamon, cloves, and a little bit of vanilla extract and the result is like spreading a Creamsicle that doesn't melt onto your bread.  Recipe below.

Spiced Persimmon Jam

3 lbs. Persimmons (I used both Fuyu and Hachiya - rec'd some in my CSA box and bought the rest)
1/4 c. Freshly-Squeezed Lemon Juice
3/4 c. Water
1-1/3 c. White Cane Sugar
1 TBSP + 1 tsp. Powdered Pectin
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Pinch of Ground Cinnamon
Pinch of Ground Cloves

Cut out the calyx of each persimmon (the flowery-stem thing ;-) ) and chop in 1/2-inch cubes.  Some of my persimmons had seeds, some didn't.  Cut them out if yours have seeds.  You can leave the skin on.  Add water, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and persimmons to a wide-bottomed pan.  Bring to a boil, add pectin.  Stir in cinnamon and cloves.  I noticed that as I cooked the persimmons, a creamy substance was cooked out.  This results in an opaque, creamy jam, as opposed to the bright translucent jams and jellies you may be accustomed to.  Stir thoroughly for a few minutes until your mixture is at a roiling boil.  Add sugar while stirring.  Dissolve sugar, boil for 2 more minutes.  Remove from heat, ladle into sterilized jars.  Boil in water bath for 10 minutes.  This made six 8-oz. jars.  :) xo, AB

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pickled Cranberries - Delicious Holiday Side Dish

My whole life, I thought that I disliked cranberry sauce.  I only recall a gelatinous blob of bittersweet disappointment on our Thanksgiving and Christmas table.  And then, some years, it didn't make its weary way to the table at all.  I never understood it, because Grandma Irma is such a great cook...what could this goo BE?  And I'm supposed to put it on turkey?  Yuck. 

Perhaps this cranberry smear ruining my turkey was the beginning of my lifelong disdain for mixing savory and sweet.  Coconut-laced Pad Thai?  No thanks.  Pineapple pizza?  There's me, picking it all off.

Since then, my palate has grown quite a bit; recently I have enjoyed mango chutney and even add fruit to my green salads regularly.  These are big steps for me, especially the chutney.  But until last Thanksgiving, when the host of the dinner I was attending asked me to bring cranberry sauce, I had never recalled enjoying cranberry sauce.  I looked up a recipe online, and I honestly can't remember the recipe or where I found it, but it was good.  I'll have to find it and share it, but it blew away all of my crusty beliefs about cranberry sauce.  I even put some on my turkey at dinnertime, and I liked it.

So, when I saw this recipe on a blog I sometimes read via Facebook, Food in Jars, I had to try it.  I never really thought of it this way, but cranberry sauce is, well, cranberry jam!  Nerd-bird eureka!  Please click on this link for the full recipe:  Pickled Cranberries.  Marisa of Food in Jars has an easy-to-follow recipe, creative ways to enjoy the finished product, and gorgeous photos to accompany it all.  You will not be disappointed!  xo, AB

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holiday Dinner Side: Yams with Spiced Beer Jelly

Thanksgiving dinner just wouldn't be Thanksgiving dinner without yams, now, would it?  Well, yes, it probably would, but I'll get to that in a minute. 

These yams are simple & tasty; the perfect complement to your turkey and stuffing, both in taste and color.  I love the richness it adds to the plate.

Except...these aren't yams.  After discussing the difference between yams and sweet potatoes with a friend, and thinking I had the differences down, and after buying 3 large 'yams' at the supermarket...I wasn't convinced that I was right about what is a yam and what isn't.  I doubted - what IS a yam?  And after going on about 15 web sites and piecing together information (can I get a picture, for Christ's sakes?) I found out that while on paper I did 'know' the differences (yams aren't as sweet, they are difficult to come by in the US, they have a darker skin, etc.), I still couldn't identify one at the market.  And my guess is that many of you can't, either.  In the three pictures below, can you tell me which one is yams?

From my most recent CSA shipment


Beauties at the grocery store...I bought 3

Answer:  Trick question, none of them are.  I thought that #3 was, and I was wrong.  But don't feel bad if you can't identify a yam - most Americans have never actually seen one.  See below...even Vons Supermarket thinks these are yams.  Although, that's not the funniest thing in this picture - these yam imposters were just .48 cents per pound when I bought mine 2 days ago!

Turns out that TRUE yams grow to be up to 7 feet long, have a tough, hairy skin, and are very difficult to get in the US, in fact they are fairly unavailable (they are not available in their fresh form, some places have them cubed in bags and are sold frozen - canned 'yams' are probably not yams).  One of the top 3 popular varieties harvested is grown primarily in Asia and has purple flesh, not the orange flesh we all know and love.  Most have white flesh, but there are over 200 varieties.  Isn't Mother Earth amazing?  See pictures below of actual yams, and click HERE for the best explanation I found on the differences between yams and sweet potatoes.  Now you don't need to go searching any longer. ;-)

True yams get up to 7 ft long

True Yams
So, the beautiful side dish I created for a Friendsgiving dinner (pictured at top and bottom) are really sweet potatoes, the variety we often think of-and grocery stores label-as yams.  A slightly reddish skin with orange flesh results in this gorgeous display of color, and I don't care what you call them, really, because this recipe resulted in the perfect sweetness without robbing the 'yams' of their natural flavor--they are delicious.  And for me, it was really fun to incorporate my spiced beer jelly that I created with Deschutes Brewery's Black Butte Porter into a real-life recipe!  Recipe below.

My soon-to-be famous Yams with Spiced Beer Jelly
And just in case you were wondering...
Photo #1. Muraskai Sweet Potatoes from Farm Fresh to You
Photo #2.  Sweet potatoes commonly found in supermarkets - these were at Vons
Photo #3.  Orange-flesh sweet potatoes labeled as yams at Vons supermarket

Spiced Beer Jelly, Sweet Potatoes
3 Large Sweet Potatoes (labeled "Yams")
1 stick of butter, sliced in 4 pieces (I didn't say these are the healthy version)
6-8 oz. of Spiced Beer Jelly (See Blog Post for how to make)
2 cinnamon sticks

Peel and cut sweet potatoes into 1-inch cubes.  Place cubes into a large pot along with cinnamon sticks and fill with water, covering yams by 1 inch.  Cook on high for approximately 30-40 minutes (I cooked for 40) until you can easily smash with a fork. Pour cubes into a colander.  Remove cinnamon sticks.  Move cubes to a ceramic bowl, add butter.  Continue to smash and stir with a fork until you get the sweet potatoes to a smooth consistency.  Add spiced beer jelly 1 spoonful at a time to incorporate throughout.  You can use a mixer to make these last steps easier, but I like the look and texture when I do it by hand.  xo, AB

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pomegranate Jelly

8 pomegranates only yielded 4 perfect jars of this exquisite jelly, and I've already eaten an entire jar (pictured above).  These are not going to last like the rest of my cache of jams and jellies, I think I'm keeping them for myself!  This time around, working with pomegranates was much easier than when I made the pom syrup.  It's all in the techniques.

What you will need

4 sterilized 8-oz. jars with self-sealing lids and rings, sieve, bowl, wooden spoon, large pot, blender, 6-8 pomegranates, 1 lemon, powdered pectin, and white cane sugar.

Making the juice:

Jelly is made from juice, as opposed to jam, which is made from juice, flesh, skin, etc.  So you need to make the juice first.  The best, easiest, and cleanest way to pull the fruit from the flesh is to slice off the stem of the pomegranate, exposing some of the fruit. 

Then from top to bottom, use your knife to slice through the flesh only in segments. 

Fill a large bowl with water, and submerge the pomegranate under water, peel the fruit apart and pop off the seeds.  They will sink to the bottom of the bowl, and the skin and membrane float.

Next, puree the pomegranate seeds in a blender. Pour the puree from the blender through a fine sieve.  With a spoon, gently push on the puree to get as much juice as possible.

Pomegranate Jelly Recipe:

2 cups pomegranate juice
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1 TBSP + 2 tsp powdered, low-sugar pectin
2-1/2 cups of white cane sugar

Sterilize jars and prepare boiling water bath.  I sterilize my lids by putting a pan on the stove, and simmer the lids in the water.

In a large saucepan, combine juice and lemon juice.  Heat to slight boil, add the pectin.  Continue to boil, stir in sugar.  Bring to a roiling boil, 2 minutes.  Remove from heat, and carefully funnel the jelly into jars with a ladle.  (I use a small sieve as I ladle the jelly to get an even clearer jelly).  Wipe any spills off of the rims.  Afix lids and rings.  Boil in water bath for 10 minutes.  Turn off heat, remove jars with a jar clamp, put jars on a dry cloth to dry.
Licking the utensils - delish!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook

I LOVE tomatoes, cook with them nearly every day, and I'm constantly searching for a great-tasting tomato.  Now I know why it's so hard to find one!  I bought this book while all geeked up at a food fair in Santa Monica earlier this Fall.  An entire book devoted to tomatoes?  This made me so happy, I even bought the autographed copy.  I'm not going to re-invent the wheel and write a synopsis of this fascinating look at the modern tomato industry - click here to read one on google.    This book focuses primarily on the large-ag tomato industry that grew in the state of Florida over the last 100 years, and why Florida may not be the best place for a tomato to grow.  He visits with a famous tomato horticulturalist in California, a Florida prosecuter who fights human traffickers for tomato workers' rights, and an organic farmer in Pennsylvania whose determination has allowed him to grow a variety of great-tasting tomatoes to supply to New York City restaurants and farmers' markets.  These are just a few of the cast of characters who make up our modern tomato industry.

In the vein of The Omnivore's Dilemma, Fast Food Nation, and other close-up looks at where our food comes from, Tomatoland made me re-think where I buy my tomatoes!  Can I get more of these?  xo, AB
Organic heirloom tomatoes from Farm Fresh to You (CSA)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pumpkin Vanilla Jam

If you want to put pumpkin pie on your toast, then this is the jam recipe for you.  It isn't my recipe, another from Mes Confitures...this is maybe my 4th or 5th post where I have mentioned this wonderful if you make jam, or want to make jam, you should get this book!  I made this recipe with a few changes, though.  I used mini-pie pumpkins, didn't include the vanilla beans in the jars, added cinnamon, and I slightly pureed the julienned pumpkin flesh.  I just couldn't deal with the thought of taking a bite of a chunk o' pumpkin.  Kinda sounded yucky, actually - I'm really sensitive to textures in foods.  Sidebar:  At which point is a recipe yours when you make so many changes? 

The resulting jam is so delicious...really, just put it on a great artisan bread, warmed will love it.  :-)  But first, a few words of caution about canning with pumpkin.  If you read Mes Confitures, the beginning of the book describes Christine Ferber's method for making jams and jellies.  She says she uses the method of sealing the lids by turning the jars upside-down directly after pouring the jam in the jars.  I have used this method before, and it works, but is less reliable than a water bath or a pressure cooker.  Regardless of the method of canning you use, however, the USDA does not recommend canning pumpkin in any form other than cubed flesh. 

Otherwise, it is recommended to refrigerate or freeze pumpkin purees, butters, etcetera.  Read here for the guidelines and here for a no-nonsense explanation of why.  So in making this recipe, I got to thinking, 'How is this recipe in this well-known book, and it's pumpkin?'  Surely it doesn't cause botulism or we would know about it, right?  I have made 4 of Christine Ferber's jams and jellies now, and I will say there seems to be a few things lost in translation and the measurement equivalents are not always perfect, so perhaps there is something missing in terms of properly canning this wonderful pumpkin jam.  Perhaps the intent is to refrigerate and eat within a few weeks.  Or maybe not.  This recipe calls for more than your usual amount of fresh lemon and orange juice, which increases the acidity quite a bit.  Also, a lot of sugar is required.  You could reduce the amount of sugar and possibly get an even better-tasting jam.  But sugar is the preservative in most jam and jelly recipes, so my thought is that you shouldn't reduce the sugar content.  This recipe is probably okay for a water bath seal, but there is no guarantee.  Currently, the 8 jars I made are in the fridge for safekeeping.  I plan on sharing them with a word of caution so they don't go to waste.  It really tastes amazing!
Pumpkin Vanilla Jam with Artisan Dutch Crunch Bread

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Beer Me!

So, I've discovered that you can make jelly out of just about anything - wine, beer, fruit juice, coconut milk, whatever you want - if you have pectin or a pectin source (green apples) and sugar.  This savory, gelatinous spread to the left here is made out of beer.  Yes, BEER.  Adapted from a recipe in the charming tome on jams and jellies, Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures, I made this with Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter, cinammon, and cardamom.

Black Butte Porter has chocolate and nutty undertones, which is exactly why I chose it.  I cored, chopped, and cooked 2 pounds of Granny Smith Apples to create a juice for pectin; ran the apples through a sieve to get rid of the skin, then poured the juice/paste over a cheesecloth.  I'm getting much better at this!  Combine apple juice, beer, sugar, cinammon sticks, cardamom, and a little extra pectin for gel insurance, and brew-infused wafts of sweet steam filled my apartment.  The resulting jelly is a nutty, thinly-sweet & spicy mixture that tastes great with peanut butter.  I'm going to try roasting cubes of squash with the Porter Jelly as a sort of marinade, and I do believe this would be great with pork - either on pork chops, pulled pork BBQ, or ribs.  Beer jellies are on my list to keep trying and creating my own recipes.  It's simply delicious!  xo, AB