Sunday, June 28, 2009

Preserving Summer - Strawberry Balsamic Jam (and other flavors)

Homemade Strawberry Jam on Foodista

I interrupt my recipe/tutorial to bring to you a lovely sunflower that showed up unexpectedly, in our backyard. This is summer!

If you've never made homemade jam, stick around.  Neither had I! I've seen recipes for freezer jam and refrigerator jam. However, I wanted to learn how to do traditional canning. I vowed that this summer would be it, and I did it! If you're a seasoned "canner", please feel free to share any tips for me-- the eager student. Thank you.

Here's a little teaser...who doesn't love a PBJ sandwich?

#1 Rule-- canning is similar to baking. You need to measure and follow recipes exactly. Don't try and cut corners, or your jam might turn out like syrup. Still with me?

I'm a beginner, so let me share with you a few things I learned about water-bath canning. Hopefully, you'll make the decision to try it.

Equipment you need:
  • A large pot with a lid, and a rack for your bottles. The bottles should never directly touch the bottom of the pot and heat.
  • Jars, lids and screw tops (duh)
  • Clean towels-- a few of them.
  • Fruit, obviously.
Things you don't absolutely need, but I find are a huge help:
  • A funnel
  • A jar lifter (looks like a big tong with rubber for better gripping)
  • Or... you can put rubber bands on regular tongs, and these could work pretty well.
  • A little magnet gadget to lift out the metal bands and lids (you'll see what I mean...)
  • I found a jam making kit on I paid $50.00 and some shipping, but I got every thing I needed to make jam-- the pot, rack, jars with lids, magnetic doo-hickey for lifting metal rings and lids out of the water, a jar lifter and a great cookbook from Ball. I tried to price things individually, but this kit really has everything you need to make jam at a savings.

Here are two of tools that came with my kit... I like the magnet to grab metal out of a hot pot of water... so I don't burn my fingers. The zig-zag thing-- it's to measure the head space (fancy term for the space between the top of the jam and the lid) and to remove bubbles. I don't use that, though--I figure I can eyeball 1/4 inch and bubbles... well, I guess I haven't encountered that problem...yet. Love the Ball cookbook, though! It has step-by-step drawings and very clear instructions.

My first fruit jam that I made was olallieberry jam , just two weeks ago and it's scrumptious. Their season is very short (the month of June), so I wanted to act fast. I used this very same recipe, and it is excellent. It's my hubby's favorite and he's very territorial of this jam (I plan to make more).

In order to organize your kitchen, this is what worked well for me:
  • Fill the large pot with water (thank goodness my husband installed a new faucet, where I can pull out the handle to fill the pot. Otherwise, you might have a challenge fitting it into a double sink. I sure did!
  • Insert the rack and I place my jars into the water, sideways, so that it fills with water and sinks (kind of like when I was a little kid and I'd play "sink the battleship" in the tub).
  • Start your pot of water on the stove, because it takes a long while to heat up.
In a separate pot, I place the metal rings and lids and allow these to sit on low heat. The whole idea in canning is to prevent bacteria from finding a home in your product-- otherwise, your batch of jam could spoil without refrigeration.

I set out a few clean towels and all of my utensils. You really want to organize all that you need-- once the jam is cooked to the gel point, you don't want to scramble for counter space to fill your jars.
NOTE: This is not a project to do if you have small kids who like to hang around in the kitchen. I don't, but I dread thinking of the injury that could happen with hot sugary liquid!

I was very fortunate to buy locally grown, organic strawberries, just 2 miles from my house. I was even more fortunate that Sarah (who manages "The Farm") sold the flat to me for $12.00!! Why? Because they close on Sundays and I arrived right before closing time on Saturday. Plus, I asked for a discount...politely, of course. The math means that I paid $1.00 a basket for these juicy, sweet strawberries. I bought an extra basket for the boys to gnosh on. Wow, these are even better than Driscoll berries, which are grown right where I live. (Sorry, Driscoll).

Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike hulling berries? So be it... I got the job done. By myself, thank you very much.

Still awake? Now, the big debate is to use or not to use pectin-- that is the question. Logically, I decided that berries have a lot of natural pectin. My olallieberry jam turned out perfectly, without pectin. I just used the traditional truckload of sugar. I decided to run an experiment. You have to keep reading, though...

I decided to do a little experimenting on how to prepare the fruit. Remember, I'm a gadget junkie. Technology is meant to make things a little easier, in my opinion-- and, if you know me, I always have one (an opinion, that is).

First, I decided to try my OXO food mill (one of my favorite gadgets and the only way I make mashed potatoes). After whirling around the handle, I realized I was getting juice and not much pulp. Drat, the food mill was unable to get the job done, the way I had hoped.

Ha! "They aren't soft , like cooked taters", I realized (tapping temple with index finger)...

Next, I put the berries onto a tray and used my "lame" potato masher (it's designed for non-stick pots and it's very wimpy). Nope, that wasn't it at all-- too labor intensive. What would Alton Brown do?

Wait! My faithful food processor! My Cuisinart dates back to 1979, and still works like a pro.

Using the food processor,  I pulsed some berries, and I liked the size of the fruit. I refilled the food processor and pureed a small batch-- I wanted some juice. I wanted a total of 2 pints or 8 cups. The beauty of this is that you can make fruit anyway you want.

Here's how to make perfect jam (I've done it three times, and so far so good):

I use my non-stick Dutch Oven.

First, I dump in the prepared strawberries. With the strawberry balsamic version, I added one box of pectin powder and 1/4 cup balsamic. With the regular strawberry jam, I just added what seems like a ton of sugar! Wow, this makes my tooth ache-- just to look at that mountain of white. (I've seen less sugar pectin, and you have to use fruit juice, but I'm not ready to play with that yet.)

Oh. I also learned this trick. Add a pat of butter to this, to prevent a lot of foaming. Otherwise, you have to skim the foam. This really worked! I'm doing this from now on.

Stir it up and bring this to a boil. Not a simmer! A rolling, Grand Canyon/Colorado River rapids, boil! Stick close by. No taking a shower. Pay attention! My husband found this more scientific explanation:

Simmering or lightly boiling water is 212-degrees at the bottom of the pot, but NOT at the surface. The bubbles are water vapor or steam coming to the surface. If you stir the pot, the bubbles stop. A rolling boil is when the surface has reach 212-degrees, if you stir the pot it keeps boiling. A rolling boil indicates uniform temperature through out the entire liquid; bottom to surface.

Once 212 is reach, the chemical bonds that hold the proteins together become unglued (denatured). Once that happens the proteins coagulated or clump into a semi-soft, solid-like substance. A chemical change has taken place; berries are changed into a new substance called Ollie-protein-coagulated guck, or by its common name - yummy jam.

While this is coming to a boil, I clean up the mess. Like I said, I have very little counter space.

Stick a plate (or a metal spoon) into the freezer. It's a trick I learned. It took about 10 minutes, from a rolling boil (the bubbles never stop, okay) for me to notice the fruit looking gelatinous.

Remove a little bit of jam onto the cold plate. Run your finger through it. If you see a separation of the jam, and it slowly comes back together, you're getting there. Wait a minute or two, and if the fruit look gelatinous, turn off the heat.

Turn off the heat from the cooked fruit. Insert the funnel (I cannot imagine not using one) into a jar and ladle the fruit in. My husband was my partner--ideally, your partner will wipe the jar with a clean cloth (for any spilled fruit), apply a the metal lid and screw on the lid.

Carefully remove the empty and sterilized jars from the hot water. I use long tongs and ever so carefully, slowly tip out the hot water. I mean it, be very cautious and ask any kids to stay away. Place these on a clean towel. Lift the rack (the handles rest on the edge of the pot).

I got five pint jars from this recipe. Carefully, fill the rack with the filled jars and lower into the pot. Make sure the water covers the jars. Cover the pot and turn the heat on high.

NOTE: The Ball Book recipe said to boil the jars for 15 minutes, if not using pectin. That means, 15 minutes from when the water boils-- not when you set these in the water. This is important! We don't want bacteria, or the food will spoil.

15 minutes later, the jar lifter safely and securely removes the jars. Set them on a clean towel. Mine, almost instantly, made a metal "pop"! That means I got the vacuum I wanted. Some folks say to put the jars upside down. I don't. You decide.
Test to see that you have a good seal-- press on the lid. If there is no resistance, you have the vacuum seal you want. If it "gives", you either eat this within 2 weeks (and refrigerate it right away) or you can repeat the water bath for 15 minutes.

Making jam might sound like a big hassle. It isn't! You do need to invest in some equipment. Set aside about 2 hours, from start to finish.

I will tell you this-- I will never buy store bought jam again!I calculated how much it cost me to make olallieberry jam. I made each pint for about $4.00 each, vs. $12.00 at the price I paid at a grocery store. Besides, saving money-- it's fun, and it's very rewarding.

All I need is time to bake a loaf of my honey wheat bread!

I encourage you to try it. Think of the possibilities-- your own canned tomatoes... salsa... syrups... doesn't that sound tempting? Besides, who wouldn't love to receive homemade jam as a gift? I see Christmas gifts in the future, from my kitchen.

My next flavors I want to make are raspberry jam, red pepper jam and fig jam and...well, what do you think I'm making tomorrow? I'll give you a hint (it's my favorite): (I've since posted my favorite jam, right here.)

NOTE: There are two versions of jam that I'm posting. The first version uses sugar and no pectin. The second version uses pectin and balsamic vinegar! Both of these turned out perfectly (if I do say so myself). Personally, the strawberry balsamic jam is my favorite.

Made with love,

Homemade Strawberry Jam on Foodista

Preserving on Foodista

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dinner with Ina Garten "Tagliarelle with Truffle butter"and a cake for my 100th post for 2009

If I had to pinpoint what celebrity chef's style of cooking I relate to the most, I would have to answer "Ina Garten". Though I am a fan of other Food Network Stars like Tyler Florence and Ann Burrell, to name a few, Ina's recipes are user-friendly and always a winner for me. I recently purchased Ina's cookbook "Back to Basics".

My son was flipping through it, with me, and he stopped at Ina's "Tagliarelle with truffle butter".
My son loves pasta, so he pleaded with me to make this recipe. He even ordered black truffle butter from the grocery store where works.

Truthfully, I think truffles are highly overrated. The last time I ordered dinner at a swanky restaurant in Carmel, CA (my home turf) I received four scallops with tissue paper thin black truffles for $40.00! Vegetables and the salad cost extra, by the way. Personally, I'd rather taste cremini mushrooms in a lovely garlic and wine sauce for a lot less money.

But, that's me...

The recipe was very simple to make. Heavy cream, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, pasta, salt & pepper and herbs. I used black truffle butter instead of white truffle butter, because that's what my son ordered for me. It cost $8.00 for 3 oz. of it.

When making the sauce, it doesn't thicken up that much. I was very tempted to help it along, but once I poured it into the cooked pasta, the liquid did absorb and all was well.

I think there must've been no more than a thumbnail size black truffle (if that), chopped up into fine pieces. I used parpardelle pasta, from Trader Joe's.
TIP: I place a cup into my pasta strainer to remind me to reserve pasta water, in case my dish becomes dried. Pasta water revives it perfectly!

I have a LOT of chives and parsley in my herb garden, which makes a nice garnish for this simple pasta dish.

It's a fast recipe to make, I will say that. I bought fresh petrale sole that I dredged in seasoned flour and then egg and cooked with a little olive oil and butter.

To give the plate a little color and vegetables, I steamed fresh broccoli with lemon juice.

It's a very simple weeknight dinner-- and a lot less expensive to make at home. My son loved his hoity toity truffle pasta, and he ate most of it. That's what makes a foodie wife and mom happy.

I just noticed that yesterday was my 100th post! To celebrate, I'm making an encore recipe for Raspberry Buttermilk Cake. This Gourmet Magazine recipe has been floating around blogosphere for weeks, and I've bookmarked it multiple times.  The first time I made it, I used my abundance of olallieberries. It is not only easy, it's delicious! If you haven't made this recipe, please do so now. It's so simple-- you can use peaches, strawberries, blueberries or any kind of berry to make this cake. OMG! I kept licking the batter, knowing this was going to be high on my "keeper list". It disappeared so fast, I never had a chance to photograph it once it was sliced! I wish that I could share a piece of this with each one of you.

Thank you for making food blogging so much fun, and for stopping by to see what's cooking at my home. You are all a group of delightful and friendly foodies-- and I wish we could all gather together in one place. What a blast that would be!

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Friday, June 26, 2009

"Greek Tacos" (Ground Lamb Gyros)

This is the second time that I have made Rachael Ray's recipe for Ground Gyros & Tzasiki Sauce. My husband has traveled through Saudi Arabia and he says that the combination of spices give an authentic flavor. He loved it!

I used chili powder, cumin, coriander and oregano and cinnamon.

Tzasiki sauce is fast and easy to make. This one uses Greek yogurt (you really wanted the thickness), garlic, cucumber, lemon juice and I added a little cumin and fresh dill from my garden.

I used ground lamb. If you don't like lamb, you could use a combo of ground beef and/or pork. Other ingredients include Rachael Ray's beloved Montreal Steak Seasoning feta cheese and thawed chopped spinach.

To squeeze out the excess water in thawed spinach, I always turn to my potato ricer. Otherwise, use a clean dish towel or cheese cloth.

Form the mixture into a long loaf and place on top of a cooling rack, over a foil-lined baking sheet.

While the lamb is roasting, I prepared my garnishes. We like alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and pepperoncini peppers. If you haven't tried peperoncini peppers, buy a jar of them. They're very mild and can add extra zip to sandwiches. Yummy!

This smells delicious! It's ready to be sliced and served.

We were extra hungry when I made this meal, so I could not take time to photograph the finished sandwich. There are times when my boys grow weary of waiting for me to photograph dinner. Even when I quickly shot the sandwich, being held in my hand, I could see them rolling their eyes with my peripheral vision.

With this meal, I made garlic-oven fries. Rachael Ray makes waffle fries with a gravy, but somehow that just didn't rock my world.

If you love gyros, I think you'd like this fast version. We sure did!

From my kitchen to yours,

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