Mandarin. Navel. Tangerine. Tangelo. Citrus is one of the constants in canning -- from January to December, you can always depend on an orange or lemon to entice you into the pantry to retrieve your sugar and jars. And when they come, it's not like a coveted Blenheim apricot -- that rare package of juicy goodness that you can only find for a few weeks at the end of spring. Citrus is available by the bag and bushel-full -- there's no guilt in composting one or two that have gone moldy because you couldn't get to them in a timely way. And there's even less guilt in experimenting willy-nilly with ten different recipes until you find just the right balance of bittersweet. There will be more.
A Calamondin Daydream
I recently spent the afternoon with a friend who is lucky enough to live next door to tree that's heavy with calamondin oranges in the spring. I'd never heard of this variety and I was excited to try her recipe -- a page of calligraphy she keeps in a plastic sheath. Her friend Kay gave her the recipe, and there is some lore around it. This little recipe, blending only calamondin orange peel, juice, water, sugar and heat kept her family fed and clothed through the Great Depression. At the top of the recipe, where we normally talk about how long everything takes, Kay's grandmother wrote "a morning." It takes a morning.
My daydream began...
Funny how my mind goes sepia when I think of the Great Depression. I imagined Kay's grandma, whom I have never met, waking before the sun to pick the calamondins, slice them, sugar them, boil them down, pour the sweet, syrupy mixture into jars... I imagined the jars wiped clean and packed into boxes. She changes her marmalade-dotted apron and smoothes her hair, maybe dots on a little lipstick, or maybe not. She loads up the cart and walks down to a roadside where she can expect some traffic. With each jar she sells, she tallies in her mind what she'll buy, gently pushing aside the whims for the necessities.
I feel a little pang of guilt now, as I toss a calamondin into the compost.
All my Depression era thoughts disappear when I taste the calamondins that roll out of the bag in varying sizes. Taste in relation to size was a surprise to me -- the larger fruit was a bit dry, the medium was tart bordering on sour, and the small fruit was juicy and pungent. I snuck a few small ones for myself, savoring the light, floral flavor.
We spent several hours making our batches, working in two pots -- that was the only way to get through the sack of fruit. How plentiful it all is. And how humbling to spend a leisurely afternoon with a recipe that literally fed a family.
Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo
Though we can get strawberries almost year-round in California, for me, the beginning of strawberry season is in April. That's when the tables at the farmers' markets start to brim with baskets and people line up three-deep to to take them home. They'll slice them into cereal, serve them with shortcake, or dust them off and eat 'em right out of the basket. Me, I mash them and pour sugar on them to make jam. This year, anxious to get started and not wanting to wait for the Saturday farmers' market, I decided to sample organic grocery store brands for a change. I liked the way Driscoll's organics smiled at me from their clam shells -- I look for strawberries that are red to the stems and have some shine to them. I avoid dull berries, bruised berries, and berries that are still pink, or worse, white. I tested the Driscoll berries in a strawberry rhubarb pie -- they passed the sweet juiciness test and I decided that yes, they were jam-worthy. Mid-week I started stemming the rest and getting them ready for jam. My mom watched from the kitchen table. "You remind me of my Nana," she said. (I consider it an honor as a home canner to be compared to a woman who survived the Depression and kept nine children fed by canning and preserving EVERYTHING.) "She always put a little scarf around her head when she cooked. You're just like her."I wondered if Great-Grandma wore a black and white polka dot scarf like I do. I also wondered if she would have squeezed a bit of Meyer lemon into her blend of berries and sugar. Or how much sugar she would have used. In the middle of the Depression, would she have had the huge amounts of sugar required in many recipes? As I stemmed, I found myself thinking about diverting from the strawberry jam recipe on page 212 of the "So Easy to Preserve" cookbook, published by the Cooperative Extension at the University of Georgia. I decided to play it safe this time -- I might play with this recipe a bit, add a squeeze of lemon and maybe reduce the sugar. (I know, I know. Cardinal sin. More on that later.)Here's the recipe I used. The ingredients are the same as the University of Georgia recipe, but I tweaked the method just a tiny bit, adding some extra instruction around cutting and mashing the berries, and adding a few notes about cooking and testing for doneness. It's a very basic recipe and if you cook it long enough it is thick and sits nicely on a spoon. (My friend tells me this jelly goes very well with croissants.)Strawberry Jam (makes about 8 half-pint jars)Ingredients:2 quarts crushed strawberries6 cups sugarSterilize your canning jars. Stem berries and cut in half, length-wise. Add one quart to a large stock pot and crush with a potato masher. Repeat with second quart. Add sugar and slowly bring to a boil. Stir regularly -- this jam tends to stick at the bottom. Cook rapidly until mixture thickens and reaches the gelling point, about 30 minutes. Test for gel regularly by tapping your stirring spoon on a plate, and then pushing on the drop a bit. When you push on the drop and get a wrinkle, you've reached the gelling point. Pour hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe jar rims clean and adjust lids. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Technical writing is not the only kind of writing that is technical in nature. Consider food writing: at its heart, it’s a form of communication that uses the written word and visuals to instruct readers how to accomplish a goal. Food writers also work with subject matter experts and editors, and adapt and revise existing content to create updated recipes in new formats. What do technical writers have to learn from food writers? A lot! On March 20, the San Francisco STC hosts a panel of four food writers and bloggers who will discuss their writing practice and how it parallels technical writing. I will be moderating the panel, so I hope to see you there! Panelists are: Sean Timberlake, Irvin Lin and Ben Rhau. Register here: http://www.stc-sf.org/stc-meetings.htm
There will be a cookbook swap!
My souvenir from June Taylor's Marmalade class
Marmalade. As a kid, I avoided this food accessory with blatant disdain. Toast with jelly, of course. Toast with marmalade? Never. The rind was a deal breaker for me and I abhored the bitter flavor I encountered the one or two times I let it cross my plate. Flash forward to today. I'm a home canner, and I want to experiement with every fruit I can get my hands on. I want to master everything, even the things I don't like, or don't like yet. I think that maybe I can cook it so it appeals to me. Maybe I can eventually see the food in a new light, or, as my mom says, "acquire a taste."
Today I turned a corner with marmalade, and all citrus, really. I took a class at June Taylor's place, The Still-Room, in Berkeley, and along with the rest of the class sampled an array of citrus, paying careful attention to the taste of the rind. Some frutis, like the pomelo grapefruit, had a sweet, mellow flesh, but the rind and pith were unbearable. I wanted to brush my teeth after eating it. Other fruits, like the tiny oranges and tangerines June shared, had a thin rind that imparted a floral feel in my mouth that was totally intriguing. After we sampled the citrus, we cut it up and made marmalade, tasting during all the stages and biting into the rind to see if it was finished. I loved it! Oh my gosh, am I acquiring a taste?
For me, it's bold ideas like eating rind that make home canning a winding road that you can travel forever. There are so many fruits and varieties and characteristics to consider. I'm eyeing the Meyer lemons in my kitchen and thinking about doing something drastic. Meyer lemon marmalade? Do I dare?
If I'm addicted to anything, it's curd. I love to can it, eat it and find new foods to slather it on. With Cinco de Mayo around the corner and the Cook Taste Eat & Whole Foods Market contest tempting me into the kitchen, I decided to transform the featured product -- 365 Everyday Value Coconut Milk -- into a luscious, custardy coconut curd. I almost submitted coconut curd as my contest dessert (doesn't everyone eat curd by the spoonful?), but I decided to use it as a filling for dark chocolate cupcakes and garnish these little baskets of goodness with whipped cream and toasted coconut. Que rica! (And not too sweet.)
Here are 5 steps to making this very special Cinco de Mayo dessert.
Coconut curd adds depth and creaminess to cupcakes.
Coco Chulada Cupcakes I make the coconut curd first, and move on to the cupcakes while it's cooling. While the cupcakes are in the oven, I make the whipped cream. I toast the coconut last since it only takes a few minutes.
Step 1: Coconut Curd
6 tablespoons unsalted
butter, slightly softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup 365 Everyday Value coconut milk
1 vanilla bean, scraped (If you don't have real vanilla bean, you can use a teaspoon of vanilla extract.)
Using a blender on medium speed, beat butter, sugar and sweetened condensed milk for about a minute. Add eggs and yolks and beat for another minute. Add coconut milk. Add scrapings from vanilla bean. Pour mixture into a medium saucepan and turn heat to medium high. Stir mixture until it's smooth. Cook until the mixture begins to thicken and is steaming hot, but do not boil. (I use a digital thermometer and bring the temperature to 180 degrees.) Remove from heat. (Inspired by my favorite Classic Lemon Curd recipe)
TCHO unsweetened dark chocolate pieces melt beautifully.
Step 2: Chulada Chocolate CupcakesIngredients:
2 cups plus 4 tablespoons cake flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup TCHO dark chocolate, unsweetened
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon baking sodaMethod:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine butter and 1/4 cup TCHO dark chocolate. Microwave for few second until butter is melted. Stir the mixture to melt the chocolate completely.
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Add melted chocolate mixture. Blend on medium speed for 2 minutes. Mixture should be smooth, though bubbles may appear at the surface. Line cupcake tin with cupcake wrappers. Fill each wrapper about 2/3 full. Bake for 18 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately remove cupcakes to rack to cool. (Inspired by Cooks.com easy chocolate cake recipe.)
Step 3: Whipped Cream
1 pint heavy whipping cream
A few tablespoons sugar, to taste
Put a glass bowl in the freezer for a few minutes. When it's nice and chilly, add the heavy whipping cream. Add a teaspoon of sugar and beat the whipping cream on high speed until peaks form. Taste the whipping cream and add more sugar to taste.
Step 4: Toasted Coconut
2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
Keep the oven at 350 degrees. Spread coconut flakes in a medium glass pie dish. Bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Cut a hole, fill it and cover! (You can eat the little piece that's left.)
Step 5: Making your Coco Chulada Cupcakes
Once your cupcakes are cool, it's time to fill them. If you have a pastry bag and know how to get into the middle of the cupcake, go for it! I cut a circle into the top of the cupcake, remove it, then cut the point off the piece I remove. A hole remains in the center of the cupcake. Spoon coconut curd into the hole -- be generous! Replace the top of the cupcake. Finish the cupcakes with whipped cream and garnish with toasted coconut.
Enjoy! You'll be licking your fingers to get every last bit of coconut curd...
Five years ago, longtime chef Ruth Lefkowitz started Ruthy’s Real Meals in Rohnert Park with a goal of delivering farm-to-table meals to families across Sonoma County. Today, Ruth is going strong and adding all kinds of goodies to her coolers, including home canned and pickled foods. I caught up with her in early January to hear more about all the fun she’s having in the kitchen.
Q: You create many different meals for your clients – what kinds of home-canned or pickled foods do you offer?A: I love to make applesauce. We’re famous for Gravenstein apples in Sonoma County – last year it seemed I collected them everywhere! I would deliver food to clients and they would give me apples. Sometimes I make apple butter, too. Whenever I make potato pancakes for my clients, I include some homemade applesauce with the order. Applesauce goes so well with potato pancakes!
I also make pickled beets and use them as a garnish with salads that have green beans, carrots and red onion. And recently I made pickled red onion and cucumber and served it with fish tacos. People loved it! That was my breakthrough pickling experience.
I’ve also made preserved lemons Mark Bittman’s way: http://markbittman.com/this-weeks-minimalist-quick-preserved-lemonsQ: What inspired you to offer these items?
A: I am always looking for interesting garnishes. Vegetables are a very important part of my cuisine – pickling is not a new way to prepare vegetables, it’s actually an old way, but it’s interesting and different. You get a different texture. Instead of serving grilled onions, I serve pickled onions and my clients get a different taste and flavor combination.
Q: How do people respond to your home canned and pickled foods?A: I provide a feedback form with all my meals. I’ll have to make the fish tacos again because everyone loved them. Everything I make is organic – I use organic, local tortillas and wild cod fish. I served the same pickled cucumber onion garnish with the vegetarian and vegan meals. It was a big hit.
Q: What kinds of home canned and pickled foods are next on your list?
A: I really wanted to make sauerkraut.
Q: What’s your favorite canned or pickled food? Why do you love it?
A: I love everything. I always have a hard time with “favorite” questions. But I really do love strawberry jam. I made some last summer. I was at this farm that had all these fresh, sweet strawberries – they made great jam.
Q: Do you have a recipe to share?
A: When I make my food I tweak recipes I find from all over and I don’t always write it down. But I can say that when I do pickling, I like to use fennel and juniper berry – things that give the food a different flavor than just sweet and sour.
If you still have cranberries in your freezer, bring them out and whip up some cranberry sauce! Even though the holidays are over, cranberry sauce is a delicious compliment to everyday turkey sandwiches or chicken dishes.
I demonstrate how to make my super-easy Jewel Box Cranberry Sauce on CBS13 with Michael Marks. Check it out and then go find some cranberries!
My formulating counter.
As the minutes click away toward 2013, I am making my resolutions, and I have decided to throw the usual suspects out the window. Sure, I will watch my weight and travel more and stand up straighter, but this year, I am resolving to embrace the NEW in food. I want to discover new flavors, create new recipes and meet new people who share my interests in canning and preserving. That's it! My New Year's resolutions are done and documented!
But maybe I should be more specific. How's this:
Resolution #1: Create and refine at least three new jam or jelly recipes. Work with fruits and vegetables I've never used, or ones that have been challenging. How can I transform the fig, the persimmon, the... pineapple guava?
Resolution #2: Make the Bread and Butter pickle recipe I use, penned by my late, dear friend Betty Ann, my own. She'd be proud, I think, if I tweaked it and created something new. It may not be better than her recipe (which is tried and true going back to the early 1900s), but perhaps it will be different -- and distinctly mine.
Resolution #3: Meet some food scientists! I would love to be able to get the science behind how Moroccan Preserved Lemons work. How is it possible to pour a bunch of salt on lemons and cram them into a jar that will sit in the cupboard for months and months? One of my readers called it "strange magic," or something like that, and indeed it is. Canning and pickling is so basic in so many ways but my instincts (and books) tell me it can be complex, too. It would be great to have a person or group to ask specific questions about the science behind the magic.
Ok, that's good for now. Happy New Year to you all! I'd love to hear your food resolutions if you care to share.
I visited the farmers market this weekend and couldn't resist the crates brimming with apples. Winesap, Golden Delicious, Fugi and now the Pink Ladies are here!
When in doubt, blend
I suggest blending at least two kinds of apples because every apple has its own distinct flavor. In the past, I have blended Golden Delicious and Fuji for sweetness and added Winesap for just a little bit of tartness. It has worked beautifully. For this batch, I blended Winesap, Fuji and Pink Ladies. These are beautiful apples, with pink rinds and a distinct, sweet, midly spicy flavor.
While the wind howled outside, I stood over my stove and had some fun. Here's how I make my applesauce:
4 pounds apples (variety!)
1/4 sugar (or less, depending on flavor apples)
pinch of cinnamon (again, depending on flavor of the apples)
3-4 cups of water
Several sterilized glass Ball jars (I like to use several pint jars and a few small jars -- the small jars are great for snacks and lunches at the office.)
Peel and slice apples in four pieces. Add to large pot. Add 3-4 cups of water. (Most recipes call for less water, but I like to use more because in my opinion, cooking apples in more water improves the texture of the applesauce.)
Partially cover the pot and cook the apples over medium heat until they are piping hot and soft. Using a slotted spoon, remove apples and put in food processor. Reserve the cooking liquid and set aside. Pulse the apples until they are smooth. Return the applesauce to the pot and add a little bit of sugar, starting with 1/4 cup and increasing to taste. Add cinnamon to taste. Add some of the reserved liquid, about a cup at a time, and stir, bringing the sauce to a boil. (Careful! Boiling applesauce makes great big bubbles that pop and spit.)
Using a 1/2 cup measure, spoon the applesauce into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 headspace. Assemble two-piece lids. Put jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
(If there is any cooking water left, I keep it and drink it while I'm washing dishes. Pure, natural sweetness!)
Preserving food takes a bit of bravery, especially if you are a Nervous Nelly like I am. I tend to fret about foods going bad so imagine my apprehension at the concept of Moroccan Preserved Lemons, which you basically cut and store in your cupboard for months at a time. Ok, so there's a lot of salt involved, but that didn't seem to help my hand wringing.
I have discovered the magic of preserved lemons, a staple in Moroccan cooking. They are glorious! I wish I wouldn't have waited so long! After months of staring at the lemons I preserved this summer, my friend Shannon and I decided to liberate them from the jar and toss them into a tangine recipe. If you want to learn how to make preserved lemons, I recommend this delightful and informative video by Cooking with Alia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApblfnsB5pE
We used Ida Garten's Moroccan Chicken Tangine recipe and it was delicious. Here are the only two things I would do differently next time:
1. The recipe calls for chicken thighs with the skin on and bone in. Next time I will trim the chicken skin or maybe even remove it. Cooking the chicken with all that skin added just a little more grease than I am used to. It was still delicious, and not greasy -- this is just a fine-tune tip we noted.
2. I used the pulp of two of my preserved lemons and that was perfect for marinating 8 thighs. Next time I will use only one lemon skin in the sauce. The lemons are incredibly flavorful and I think you really only need one skin -- the flavor may be just a bit more subtle this way.
I used the pulp of my preserved lemons in my marinade and saved the skin for the sauce.