Jam Time

28 09 2011

It’s that time again. That anxiety-ridden, sleepless, sweaty time. That’s right. Jam exchange time.

My partner this year was Evan (Check out her blog! Aren’t those wedding cakes amazing?). She sent me a jar of champagne pomegranate jelly. It was delicious. And I was so impressed that she literally made jelly. I am terrified of making jelly. I’m not sure why. She also sent a perfect jar of strawberry-rhubarb jam. It is all gone gone gone, because it was so good. I didn’t even have a chance to take pictures of it because I was so busy shoveling it into my mouth.

To back up a little though, when the exchange rolled around I was hopeful. Maybe this year I wouldn’t ruin most of the jam I tried to make by entirely disregarding all of the warnings plastered on the Sure-Jel package that say not to mess with the pectin ratio. Maybe this year I wouldn’t include a note in her box of jam full of misspellings. Maybe this year I wouldn’t be crippled with the fear that I’d give my partner botulism. Yes. This year would be different.

I happened upon a giant pile of pluots (a plum/apricot hybrid) and some perfect-looking Italian plums at the local farmer’s market. I wanted to do something a little different with the pluots, so I found a recipe for a savory jam – something that seemed like it would be great with pork or maybe blobbed on crackers with some chevre. It turned out well, though at first bite it is a little… unexpected. Savory. Weird.  I really hope Evan likes it! Oh jeeze. I shouldn’t think this hard about it. The harder I think about it, the more anxiety I feel.

Anxiety over my savory pluot jam will be my undoing!

The plum jam was rustic and lovely. I’m glad I made a bunch of jars of it. I used one at work to barter for Mexican food. Delia, (one of my favorite co-workers) and I are stuck in a cycle of good culinary deeds.  She gives me a burrito, I give her cookies. She gives me homemade salsa, I give her a thank you note. She gives me a plate of chicken, I give her a jar of jam. You get the idea. Clearly I am the lucky one in this cycle. But I am proud of the plum jam! It was good enough to give Delia – a solid trade for her chicken, so I think it was also good enough to send to Evan.

Oh, and I took care of my control issues with pectin by leaving it out of the equation entirely. I left the skin on all of the fruit, which served the dual purpose of adding natural pectin to the jam and making the whole fruit-prep process a little easier.

Jam foam = Best treat ever!

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Marshmallows

2 08 2011

I have an embarrassing fondness for marshmallows and anything marshmallowy. It really is embarrassing; I was once busted by a neighbor who made a surprise visit while I was in the middle of my own personal marshmallow/chocolate chip throwdown while watching Gilmore Girls. I had marshmallow smeared on my arms. The experience, needless to stay, stopped my marshmallow binges for a while.

But I’ve since moved to a place with less friendly neighbors, so I figured I could pick up the habit in my new cave of secrecy. And one recent summer’s day, I really wanted to make something in the kitchen, but it was too hot to turn on the oven. MARSHMALLOWS! Perfect! They don’t require any oven time.

I followed this recipe (and by the way, if you haven’t checked out Tasty Kitchen, I recommend it. Lots of great recipes.), and it was easy. Too easy, maybe, because a couple days later after I stuffed the last vanilla marshmallow into my mouth, I made another batch, this time lemon-vanilla (I substituted freshly squeezed lemon juice for 1/2 the water the recipe calls for. It worked perfectly.).

Isn't hard to believe that THIS...

...turns into THIS?!

I don’t really have any changes or adaptations to make to the actual recipe. I was a little lazy about the instructions, though, when it came to cutting the marshmallows and letting them dry out. I just cut the whole pan of marshmallows into squares, rolled each square in the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture and then set them out to dry a bit. Except that half of them were gone by the time the 24 hours of drying out time was done. What can I say, moist squishy marshmallows are equally delicious as dry squishy ones.

Lemon-vanilla marshmallows

I am currently thinking of some other flavor combinations–rose water, maybe? orange-vanilla? Limeade? Gin and tonic?





Vegan Ice Cream (made with one little ole ingredient)

20 07 2011

I won’t give you any lurid details, I will just tell you that I can’t really eat ice cream. Wish I could, it’s delicious stuff. So when I stumbled upon this idea all over the interwebs last summer, I was intrigued. Then I made it, and I was hooked.

I won’t even bother to write out a recipe, I mean, one ingredient, right? Take frozen bananas, two for a perfect dessert size, one if you’re not terribly hungry but want something cool and sweet, or many, many more if you have a stomach of iron or are feeding more than just yourself. Cut up said frozen bananas, place them in a food processor and whiz them around until they form a creamy paste. And there you go. Ice cream. Hippie vegan style.

HELPFUL TIP: Slice up a few bananas BEFORE you freeze them, and then pop them in the freezer for later. Because peeling frozen bananas is annoying. Not impossible, if you have a sharp knife, but annoying. I’m always having to peel frozen bananas when I make this because I never have the foresight to peel them before freezing them. I don’t know why.

In case you’re wondering, it’s really best to eat it right away. You can put it back in the freezer, but later on it’s just not quite as fabulous. Also, yes, you can add various bits of different kinds of fruit, but they don’t have the same ice creamy texture as the banana, so don’t add too many. Also, yes, you can add coconut milk to give it a little extra pizazz. And yes, you can add cinnamon. Yes, you can also add agave, but it’s not needed at all. My preference is really when it’s just made with bananas.





Cake Balls!

3 07 2011

 

 

 

I know. You saw the title of this post and thought to yourself, “2008 called and it wants its dessert back.”

 

I am behind the times on this one, but I couldn’t think of a good reason to make cake balls until now. Come to think of it, I didn’t actually have a good reason to make them now. I just couldn’t bear the thought of falling farther and farther behind the cutting edge.

These weren’t exactly fun to whip up. Slightly tedious and fussy. And when I tried my first one, I thought it was terrible – too sweet, a sticky mashy mess. I set them aside overnight, and gave them a second chance with a cup of coffee the next morning. Wowza. I think the bitterness of the coffee helped temper the sweetness a little. I was positively hooked. That said, these are terrible for you, and you shouldn’t eat them more than once a year.

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One-handed Cookies

6 01 2011

My cookie exchange anxiety abated whenever I gazed at my tree.

On the Thursday before Christmas Eve, I broke my hand. This, as broken bones generally are, was an unexpected turn of events. It’s a funny story, really. The short version is that I fell down the stairs in the middle of the night. The longer version is more complicated.

Before I went to sleep that ill-fated night, I kicked our little menagerie out of the bedroom – two big dogs and one cat who suffers from a pattern of weight gain and loss not unlike Oprah. If I let them sleep in the room with me, they inevitably wake up in the middle of the night and rattle around. There is a lot of collar-jangling and moaning and meowing as they beg to go in and out, and in and out, and in and out. Why? Why so much movement in the night? It’s just easier if I shut them out. Then when Robert comes to bed, he lets them back in.

SO I drifted off into an uninterrupted slumber. Apparently, at some point in the night the dogs were making a big racket, trying to get back in. I didn’t hear it, but I imagine it involved Scrappy making his usual donkey noises and Lily stumbling repeatedly into the door headfirst, like a zombie. Robert, who had been up extraordinarily late due to a looming deadline, came out to the landing from his office to try to settle them. He sat down and petted the dogs, and Paul the cat snuggled up, too. Because he’s been so tired due to the aforementioned deadline, Robert promptly fell asleep. On the landing. With all the pets.

When I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I opened the door and quickly shuffled, all squinty-eyed, and focused on getting the job done, through the door and across the landing. I felt my foot catch on something that felt strangely like my husband’s arm, and I launched, with a surprising amount of momentum, headfirst down the stairs. I was really traveling fast, it was kind of amazing. Apparently Robert had to grab my legs to stop me just before I bashed my head into the wall where the staircase makes a sharp turn to the right. My left hand took the brunt of the impact, and it seems the fourth metacarpal just isn’t meant to cushion 130 pounds of human because it snapped in two, like a twig.

Well, you might be wondering, that is a great story and I’m glad it wasn’t worse, and wow you are kind of klutzy, and it’s sort of weird that your husband was sleeping on the landing, but what does that have to do with anything?

It is so much harder to do things like fix dinner, walk dogs. fold laundry, and most important, bake cookies with only one hand. And I signed up for Steph’s (of Steph Chows) cookie exchange! I owed my partner 12 delicious cookies, but how to bake when you only have one good hand and you need to sit around and feel sorry for yourself?!

I had really wanted to impress with these cookies. My partner is Marina, and here’s her website. I KNOW, right? How can I possible compare with that? She must be amazing! That Honey Nut Banana Butter looks like it’s to die for. But it seemed all I was going to be able to do was throw a few things in the stand mixer and then gob it on a cookie sheet. No rolled cut-outs, no decorations, no fancy macarons. Oy vey.

I looked through my recipes and couldn’t find anything appropriate. I Googled something like “i have a broken hand and need to make fabulous cookies or else i am going to cry”. Nothing. So I poked around on the interwebs some more and found two recipes that seemed like they might just do. Both are from The Kitchn, and I won’t reprint them, because, seeing as how all of my energy was being channeled into sitting around and elevating my hand, I had nothing left for adapting recipes. So I didn’t change them at all.

Gouda cookies. Oh. Mah. Gawww.

The first recipe is for these Gouda Apple cookies. And holy crap, were they amazing. Very savory – you totally need to get past the fact that they aren’t sweet in order to really enjoy them. The olive oil shines in these. And I used a very aged, very delicious gouda, which meant that the cheese flavor is anything but subtle. I think these make a great post-holiday-gorge-fest cookie. They are also going to make a fantastic mountain biking snack. If you only have one hand, you might need someone to work the grater for you, but they are otherwise a cinch to throw together.

Maybe the world's best gouda.

The second recipe I found seemed appropriate, as I was doing a lot of sitting around and reading British mysteries. I totally have a thing for British mysteries, it might be a little unhealthy, actually. These Earl Grey Tea Cookies aren’t too sweet, and they’re almost delicate. The Earl Grey flavor is perfect – not overwhelming, but certainly there. The dough did need to be formed into a log and chilled, but it was easily done with one hand. *I am having a hard time getting the link to work for this recipe–

maybe try copying and pasting this:

http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/dessert/recipe-earl-grey-tea-cookies-013268

Earl Grey Tea Cookies

Now, because Steph’s exchanges aren’t complete without a great deal of worry on my part (remember all of my jam anxiety?), of course I am convinced that something is going to go wrong. In this case, I made the cookies the day before New Year’s Eve, and then shipped them on the 31st. What was I thinking? They probably didn’t go anywhere until the following Monday, and who knows when the heck she will receive them. Meaning, she will probably take her first bite and break a tooth on a desiccated fossil of a cookie. OMG I hope she doesn’t break a tooth. I probably should have included a check to cover the cost of a crown from her dentist. If you’re reading this, Marina, I am so sorry!





Hard Cider: Part Deux

21 11 2010

I learned a lot about the home brew process in part one of our cider-making frenzy. Things like, you don’t need to wear a billowy white shirt to drink cider; and apple presses are very expensive. Part two was equally as exciting and informative, though not as labor intensive. Seriously, chopping all those apples during round one took an eternity. This time the process was faster, and we got to use plastic tubing, a booze-o-meter, and the most exciting tool of all: the bottle capper. OMG the bottle capper.

In my excitement, I dragged Becky Jones with me to Morgan’s house. She was in town for a visit, and I thought it was extremely important that she be privy to at least part of the event. Thanks Morgan! Did I thank you yet for hosting both of us? And did I thank you for sharing your amazing apple butter? Holy cannoli, that Morgan can make some serious apple butter. It was so good that I didn’t want to eat the jar she gave me, because then it would be gone. But I digress.

Part Deux was bottling day. It started with a lot of sterilization, which apparently prevents the dreaded off-flavor. Kristi sterilized the plastic tubing that we would later connect to the 5-gallon bucket into which we had transfered the cider. Morgan had sterilized bottles waiting for us. After the tubing was connected (it had this extraordinary device on the end that resembled a hamster water bottle nipple), we got ourselves going, assembly-line style. One person handed bottles to the bottler, the bottler filled them by inserting the hamster-water-bottle-nipple-end of the tubing into the bottle and pressing down, and then we had two cappers. Have you ever used a bottle capper? If you haven’t, you really must. Even if you don’t have anything to bottle, you should give it a whack. It is so satisfying.

Why didn't I take any pictures of the bottle capper?

Oh, the booze-o-meter! I almost forgot. Of course we wanted to know how boozy our cider was. This is where we used the booze-o-meter (official name: hydrometer). I don’t remember exactly how it worked, but the basic idea, I think, is this: you float it in your brew, and how floaty it is will give you an idea of how boozy it is. I think it has something to do with the amount of CO2 in the cider. But I am often full of my own pseudo-scientific information (For instance, if you don’t exercise each day, your skin will turn orange because of stagnant blood! ). I would have done very well as a doctor in the 1700’s.

The most important thing of all this is how it turned out, right? Well, after we bottled it, the cider had to sit for a week or two, a time period during which you must be aware of exploding bottles. Like I need anything else to worry about, right? Botulism in my jam, finger pieces in my cider, exploding bottles. No wonder I am getting a grey streak in my bangs.

I tried my first bottle a week or two ago. It was delicious! Appropriately boozy, appley, and altogether autumnal. I really, really want to try this again, maybe with cherries or something added to the apples? We also discussed making pear cider. But giant windfalls of pears are harder to come by here in Colorado. What else can you turn into cider, I wonder? Any fruit? Well, I’ll be looking into it, for sure.

Our cider army.





Hard Cider: Part I

14 11 2010

When my old bike messenger chum Morgan invited me to tag along on her cider-making expedition, I couldn’t refuse. I mean, homemade hard cider! I had visions of an old-timey apple press, mugs of frothy brew, and of course we would all be wearing those white shirts with billowy sleeves that everyone wore in the 1500’s, right? I imagined we’d also sing British sailing songs while waving our mugs around.

It turned out my vision of homemade hard cider was just a tad off. And it wasn’t just my jumbled historical/geographic ideals that  were wrong. I was a little muddled on the process, too. When I told Robert what we had planned, he said his vision involved a 5-gallon bucket and lots of plastic tubing. Apparently he was more informed on homebrew than I was. Thank god Morgan and Kristi had the foresight to watch an informative DVD on the whole process, because I would not have been any help. “We’ve got to let this apple froth sit in these oak barrels for three months!” That’s how I would have gone about it.

Here’s a rough outline of the process: First we spent hours and hours chopping apples and grinding them with the Kitchen Aid grinder attachment. Oh, sorry, let me back up – Morgan got a windfall of apples from her boss who has a prolific tree in her yard. We had a giant box and two big tote bags full. So we chopped and chopped and ground and chopped and ground and chopped and ground and ground again. Amazingly, no digits were lost in the chopping frenzy! For that I am grateful. “Here, try this cider, sorry it tastes a little bit like finger.”  If you want to try making cider, might I suggest the grinder attachment? It was amazing. And it made the job much, much easier than it otherwise would have been. I mean, how on earth would we have smushed those apples? A two by four? A bible?

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