Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Perfect Jamming Session









Once upon a time I wrote how February is a terrible month for food lovers. I've reconsidered. I am taking it back. It's March folks. March is the most terrible month for food lovers. Officially. Not February. March. Period. All the late winter foods -- brown stews, root veggies and polentas, healing soups, potpies and hearty casseroles -- well, they are still around, albeit in an entirely mismatched month. Daffodils and ranunculus have arrived, and the lavish store displays of this Gotham city of ours are sparkling in pastels and Easter blossoms; we've already stashed the Uggs into the backs of our closets -- to hibernate until next winter, and we took out ballerinas and bicycles, yet the market is asleep and food remains stuck in a different season. It's still brown and rustic and heartwarming, and I had enough of it, because in February it was totally OK, but it is not totally OK anymore, and I hate, hate, hate March!

I am rambling...

Let me start all over.

Dear reader, the purpose of this post is to introduce you to some foods I like to cook in March. And because I hate March and there is nothing to cook in it, instead I am jamming. Literally. Those who are thinking jazz and blues -- wrong track folks, wrong track -- I am making jams. Who says that making jams is an activity reserved only for the summer months? As far as I am concerned, there are always lots and lots of wonderful foods around waiting to be immortalized in a jar (think grapefruits and prunes), so let us not be selective and discriminatory in the jamming department. Moreover, making preserves is one of those kitchen activities that induce higher stages of relaxation (think baking breads, rolling pasta, and making slow roasts), and for mental health sake one should exercise it more often and in regular intervals.

Therefore dear reader let me tell you about four preserves that are all the rave of our household at the moment. First and foremost we have the pink grapefruit and vanilla marmalade -- because it's the citrus season and because I've been obsessing over this particular citrus ever since several years ago I bought Pink Grapefruit Body Butter in The Body Shop. It was insanely good and I must have poured hundreds of dollars of my hard earned money on other pink grapefruit products but nothing came close, so I am still obsessing. (And no, I am not paid by The Body Shop to write this line in case you are wondering.) Another household hit is the pickled prunes. We've made like gazillion jars over the holidays, because it's jazzy with spice and really quite wintery. However, I recently served it at a party with mascarpone and the realization hit me. God Almighty must have made mascarpone so that it can be served with pickled prunes. That bite transcended the seasons; it was seductive, oriental, and slightly mysterious, and my friends went gaga over it. No. 3 in my box is the yellow pepper jelly, and by that I mean the hothouse yellow pepper jelly, made with fatty, juicy, hothouse bell peppers from Holland. In the summer I would normally look down on them, but guess what, I experimented a little (remember, it's March and market is dead) and realized that God Almighty made these peppers so that mankind can make the yellow pepper jelly. Here we go, all things in nature are made with purpose. And last, but not least, item No. 4 is the roasted heirloom tomato jam, simply because they were on sale in my local supermarket, and who can resist a sale?

There is one more thing I would like to share with you dear reader. Once you are in a possession of a fancy jam collection, you have absolutely no excuse for not sharing the darlings with your loved ones. Assuming that you are slightly jam obsessive like moi, and that you made attempt at all four of them, and assuming that you poured the products of your labor into 4-oz Mason jars (aren't they cute?) you will end up with close to three dozen darlings. And this calls for sharing.

So the next thing you must do is hop on Amazon.com and get yourself a bunch of Kraft decorative boxes. These guys here, they are absolutely perfect; they are just the right home for a jam family of four. And since you are already on Amazon.com, get some twine, shred to fill the boxes, ribbons, stamps, markers, stickers, flowers -- you name it -- and set free the artist in you. And poof, you'll end up with a lovely hostess gift, a cool thing to take to a party instead of wine, a birthday present for a colleague, a welcome gift for a new neighbor... OMG, you can put the little box to a loving use in so many different ways!!!

After all, this March was not that bad. Not bad at all.






Pink Grapefruit and Vanilla Jam


* 2 pink grapefruits (about 30 oz)
* about 30 oz sugar (you will measure it depending on the amount of grapefruit puree)
* 4 tbsp lemon juice
* 1 tsp vanilla extract


First prepare jars. Wash the jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse and drain. Fill a large pot with water and place the jars in it. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat and keep jars hot until you are ready to fill them. Put the flat lids in a saucepan and cover with water; bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat and keep them hot until you are ready to use them.

In a large pot, place the grapefruits in just enough water to make them float freely. Bring to a boil, and let boil uncovered for 90 minutes to two hours. Keep an eye on the pot -- if too much water evaporated and the grapefruits touch the bottom, add more water. When ready, the grapefruits should be super soft, but not falling apart. Remove the grapefruits from the water, and cool them somewhat before proceeding with the recipe.

Puree the grapefruits in a blender. Measure out the liquid and add the same amount of sugar in weight. Pour the mixture into a pot. Add the lemon juice and vanilla. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once it reaches the boiling point, let it bubble for another 15 - 20 minutes, until it begins to jell.

Working with one jar at a time, use tongs to remove jars from the hot water to the work area. Fill jars with the jam, leaving about half an inch of headspace. Using a damp clean cloth or paper towel, clean jar rims and threads. Return filled jars to the pot. Make sure that the jars are covered by 1-2 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring water to gentle, steady boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove lid and leave the jars in the water for 5 minutes. Using tongs, remove the jars to a rack or heavy towel to cool. After 24 hours, check if the lids have sealed properly.


Makes about nine 4-oz jars


Pickled Prunes
Adapted from Food52


* 1 lb pitted prunes, cut in half
* 1 cup red wine vinegar
* one large juicing orange
* 1 cup sugar
* a small cinnamon stick (about 2"), cut in half
* 1 tsp cardamom seeds
* 1 tsp coriander seeds
* 1 tsp pink peppercorns


First prepare jars. Wash the jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse and drain. Fill a large pot with water and place the jars in it. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat and keep jars hot until you are ready to fill them. Put the flat lids in a saucepan and cover with water; bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat and keep them hot until you are ready to use them.

Wash the orange. Using a vegetable peeler remove the zest in strips. You will need zest from half orange. Discard the rest. Julienne the zest into thins strips (about 1/8-inch, or thinner). Squeeze the orange and reserve half a cup of the juice.

In a medium-sized saucepan combine vinegar, orange peel, juice, sugar and spices. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the mixture is boiling, add the prunes and decrease heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 35 minutes, until the prunes are very soft and the liquid has reduced to thin syrup. With a small spoon carefully remove the coriander seeds that are floating on the surface. (It's OK if you don't fish them all out -- I usually keep a few, as well as cardamom and cinnamon, for decoration -- but too much coriander seeds is a bit too much.)

Working with one jar at a time, use tongs to remove jars from the hot water to the work area. Fill jars with the prunes, leaving about half an inch of headspace. Run a chopstick around the inside edge of the jar to release any air bubbles trapped inside, then adjust the headspace if necessary. Using a damp clean cloth or paper towel, clean jar rims and threads. Return filled jars to the pot. Make sure that the jars are covered by 1-2 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring water to gentle, steady boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove lid and leave the jars in the water for 5 minutes. Using tongs, remove the jars to a rack or heavy towel to cool. After 24 hours, check if the lids have sealed properly.

Makes about 11 4-oz jars



Yellow Pepper Jelly


* 3 lb yellow bell peppers (about 6)
* 3 tbsp Sure-Jell less- or no-sugar-needed pectin (from a 1 3/4-oz box)
* 2 2/3 cups sugar
* 1/2 cup white-wine vinegar
* 3/4 tsp salt


First prepare jars. Wash the jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse and drain. Fill a large pot with water and place the jars in it. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat and keep jars hot until you are ready to fill them. Put the flat lids in a saucepan and cover with water; bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat and keep them hot until you are ready to use them.

Wash the peppers and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Puree the peppers in a blender or food processor. (You want the finest puree your machine can produce.) Strain the mixture through a strainer, to get clear yellow liquid. (There should be about 3 1/2 cups of the liquid.) Discard the pulp (unless like me you simmer them on the stove with some onions and garlic, makes for a great dip).

In a small bowl, whisk together pectin and 1/2 cup of sugar. Stir together the pepper juice, vinegar, salt, and the remaining sugar in a medium sized pot. Bring to a vigorous boil over high heat, and then continue to boil vigorously, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Gradually add pectin mixture, whisking constantly. Return jelly to a vigorous boil, stirring constantly, and boil, stirring constantly, another couple of minutes (the mixture will thicken slightly). Remove from the heat.

Working with one jar at a time, use tongs to remove jars from the hot water to the work area. Fill jars with the liquid, leaving about half an inch of headspace. Run a chopstick around the inside edge of the jar to release any air bubbles trapped inside, then adjust the headspace if necessary. Using a damp clean cloth or paper towel, clean jar rims and threads. Return filled jars to the pot. Make sure that the jars are covered by 1-2 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring water to gentle, steady boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove lid and leave the jars in the water for 5 minutes. Using tongs, remove the jars to a rack or heavy towel to cool. After 24 hours, check if the lids have sealed properly.


Makes about 12 4-oz jars



Roasted Herloom Tomato Jam
Adapted from Food52


* 5 lb ripe heirloom tomatoes
* 2 1/4 cups sugar
* zest of two lemons, grated on a microplane
* 1/3 cup lemon juice
* 1 tsp red pepper flakes
* 1 tsp fennel seeds, slightly crushed
* 3 cardamom pods
* 1 tsp salt


Heat the oven to 400F.

First prepare jars. Wash the jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse and drain. Fill a large pot with water and place the jars in it. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat and keep jars hot until you are ready to fill them. Put the flat lids in a saucepan and cover with water; bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat and keep them hot until you are ready to use them.

Using a pestle or mallet break the cardamom pods and release the dark seeds. Discard the pods and the debris.

Divide the sugar roughly into three parts. Core the tomatoes and slice them as thinly as possible (1/8-1/4 inch thick).

Pour the third of the remaining sugar over the base of a 12-inch braising pan or other baking dish. Layer half of the tomatoes, overlapping the slices, in the pan. Sprinkle with the second third of the sugar. Top with the lemon zest, lemon juice, fennel, cardamom seeds and red pepper. Sprinkle with salt. Top with the remaining tomatoes, followed by the remaining sugar.

Place the pan uncovered in the oven and let the tomatoes cook for one hour. The tomato juices should simmer actively. Check from time to time, spooning the juices over the top tomatoes. After one hour stir the jam and break the tomatoes with the spoon. Continue roasting, checking and stirring every 20 minutes to avoid the top layer from burning. The juices should begin to gel at about two and a half hours (it might take a little bit less or a little bit more time and will also depend on the amount of jam you are making). To test if jam is ready, spoon a little bit on the plate and let it cool. It is done if it holds the line when you run your finger through it. Remove the jam from the oven and let it cool.

Working with one jar at a time, use tongs to remove jars from the hot water to the work area. Fill jars with the jam, leaving about half an inch of headspace. Run a chopstick around the inside edge of the jar to release any air bubbles trapped inside, then adjust the headspace if necessary. Using a damp clean cloth or paper towel, clean jar rims and threads. Return filled jars to the pot. Make sure that the jars are covered by 1-2 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring water to gentle, steady boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove lid and leave the jars in the water for 5 minutes. Using tongs, remove the jars to a rack or heavy towel to cool. After 24 hours, check if the lids have sealed properly.


Makes about 10 4-oz jars



2 comments :

  1. I went to the farmers market Saturday and was crushed, finding nothing, nothing but potatoes and onions, nothing green no fruit other than apples. You are so right March (February too is like the dessert at the green market) I love your jams all of them and was thrilled to see your boxes, very timely because I need to buy some and was searching online for boxes today, I love those Kraft boxes. Looking forward to something more at the market in April but the farmer I spoke with said they had 26 inches of snow and haven't been able to get anything in the ground so he estimated another month or even longer before we see anything. UGH...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We had a party on Saturday, and the boxes performed wonderfully. They are great Kraft boxes and I am definitely buying more. (My daughter is decorating one as we speak.) Cheer up my friend, one more month to go and the markets will sing again :)

      Delete