Peach Butter (or: I am the most awkward Jam Exchange partner ever)

12 09 2010

I managed not to have a heart attack about the jam exchange, thanks to peach butter.

After the Peach Jam Fiasco of Summer ’10, I was left with about 27 still-delicious and perfectly ripe peaches, but not a lot of time. With work really getting busy, and the rest of life getting in the way, I just didn’t have much time to stand over the stove, skimming foam and worrying that I’d have another batch of failed jam. I did, however, have some time to peel and slice some peaches and toss them in the Crockpot. Aha! PEACH BUTTER!

A quick search on my Google machine turned up about 100,000 very similar recipes/techniques for slow cooker peach butter. Slice the fruit, toss it in the Crockpot with some sugar, and cook the crap out of it. So, that’s what I did.

I loooooooove the result, and I hope my jam exchange partner does, too. It was thick and slightly gooey; dark, dark brown, and had a wonderful tang. At this point, I had run out of 1/2 pint jars, though, and only had 1/4 pint jars left, so I had to send my partner a little jar of peach butter, a jar of my overly-vanilla-y apricot jam, and a jar of the hopelessly seedy peach-raspberry jam. I told myself “Seeds=rustic!” and “Everyone loves vanilla!” and put the jars in the box to be shipped. Then, while standing in line at the post office, I dashed off the most embarrassing note in which I implied that the peach butter was going to give her botulism, and I misspelled the word occur. OMG. What is wrong with me. I hope she doesn’t read the note. Maybe it will get buried in the packing material.

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Peach Jam Fiasco

12 09 2010

I bought another case of peaches this year.

I buy them every year from my friend’s son, who sells them to raise money for his football team. I think this year’s batch of peaches was the best ever. Honey-sweet and juicy, and each one with the perfect texture. Why didn’t I take any pictures of individual peaches? What was I thinking?

Anyway, with the jam exchange fast-approaching, and with my anxiety surrounding it mounting, and with my recent epiphany regarding seriously over-thought jam, I decided to make a batch of plain peach jam. What a great idea, right? But several events converged to make the entire batch a royal failure. And of course I made a really ginormous batch. So now I have many, many jars of bubbly peach sauce. It’s delicious, but it’s not jam.

It looks like it could potentially be jam, right? Although what's up with the 2-layer look?

I’ve written–okay, not just written, BRAGGED–in the past about tinkering with Sure-Jel recipes and having the jam turn out just fine. Well, this time I flew a tad too close to the sun on my wings of pectin (or, er, something like that). I used probably a cup, or two, or three, of peaches more than I should have. Used only about 1/2 a packet of pectin, and  cut way too far back on the sugar. I cooked it, but probably not long enough (did the Blob of Jam on a Frozen Plate Test for Doneness and it seemed to work, but considering my final result of runny sauce, I guess I should have paid closer attention?). And strangely, it never really foamed up, so there wasn’t any foam to skim, but when the jars came out of the final hot water bath, they were full of bubbles.

Definitely weird. Definitely not jam.

ARGH.

Well, the sauce was not jam-exchange worthy, but it is really delicious swirled into yogurt or oatmeal, and don’t even get me started about how it tastes when drizzed on ginger ice cream. Oh. Mahhh. Gawwwwww.

So maybe it wasn’t a total fiasco? Still, I’m obviously not going to reprint the instructions here. The jam exchange deadline is coming, and I’m nearly having an apoplexy, trying to figure out what to send my partner. Well, at least I still have about half a case of peaches to mess around with. Peach butter, maybe?





I keep seriously over-thinking my jam

4 09 2010

I think that maybe all last year and most of this summer I was having a jam problem. I was on a quest to come up with the MOST DELICIOUS JAM EVER. And so I was trying to combine all sorts of different fruits and flavors. In retrospect, I think I was trying to impress everyone with my jam-making prowess. It was like I was in some sort of jam-making competition that only I knew about. But then, after reading this post by David Lebovitz about jam, I changed my tune. French people, apparently, enjoy single-fruit, simple jams. And aren’t French people usually right about anything food-related? Except snails, I think. What I realized is that jam is about the FRUIT. The most delicious, ripest, full of glory fruit. That’s what we’re trying to capture, right? Fruit at its peak, in a jar. Bottled up so we can enjoy it all year.

But before I had that epiphany, I struggled my way though a couple batches of jam. The first, peach-raspberry, is actually pretty good. I used a peach jam recipe in a Sure-Jel pectin package as a framework, and combined peaches and raspberries from the farmer’s market. It turned out well, only I realized way too late (like, after everything was in the jars, out of the hot water bath, and cooling off) that I didn’t even consider straining the raspberry seeds out. So, if you love the sensation of raspberry seeds wedged in your gums, this jam is totally for you. I can’t really post a recipe, because I think what I did was use maybe 3 1/3 cups of peaches and 1 cup of raspberries. Or something like that. But really, maybe I just should have used peaches? Forget the fancy combinations. Maybe just peaches, or just raspberry? I really over-thought it.

So then I decided to make some of David Lebovitz’s apricot jam, from the aforementioned link. David Lebovitz is like the food Jesus (and I’m not even religious!), so I will do anything he tells me to. His recipe is simple, and I’m sure his turned out much better than mine, because I was all, “I must make this the most amazing jam ever,” so I added vanilla to it, a little too much vanilla, and now the taste of ripe, Colorado-grown apricots is totally overpowered by the flavor of vanilla. It’s not bad, I mean, it’s good, I guess, but it totally does not capture the deliciousness of fruit at its peak. *sigh* I do recommend his recipe, though. Just don’t screw it up like I did.  I won’t repost the recipe here because if you don’t already read his blog, you really should!

Of course, just after I was finishing up the apricot jam, I got an e-mail from Steph at Steph Chows inviting me to participate in the jam exchange again! ARGH! I had a lot of jam I could share, but I was positively gripped with jam exchange anxiety! I mean, what if my jam partner opened up my package expectantly, thinking, “Oh I just can’t wait to taste a little bit of ripe summer fruit,” but was crestfallen to discover two jars of seriously over-thought jam in which any good flavor was totally obscured by all my drastic tinkering?! DOUBLE ARGH! NOW I MUST MAKE BATCH UPON BATCH OF PLAIN, SINGLE-FRUIT JAM SO THAT MY PARTNER DOESN’T HATE ME!!!

Seriously everyone, what is wrong with me? Why am I thinking so hard about jam???





Pickles!

26 07 2010

Since the almond cake I haven’t turned on the oven. It’s just been too hot. But it’s not too hot for PICKLES!

We are total pickle hawks here. We rarely buy them, though, because have you bought pickles lately? They cost an arm and a leg. Or, at least the good pickles, the kosher dills, do. Totally out of reach for the hoi palloi. So when I happened on a recipe for fridge pickles in the latest issue of Organic Gardening, I was all, “Totally dude, I am making these. Totally.”

Have you made fridge pickles? THEY ARE SO EASY! It only takes a few minutes to throw it all together and pack them in jars. the next day you have delicious pickles. Don’t worry about canning them properly, just eat them in a timely manner and you will be fine. One recipe I found said they will keep for at least 9 months. Must be all the vinegar? Well, I made these last week and they are almost all gone. All six jars of them. So I’m not worried about not eating them before they turn.

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Almond Cake (or, David Lebovitz, why do you torture me so?)

13 07 2010

So, after a wacky few months wherein I had no time to write, cook, eat, or think, I am back in the kitchen. Except it’s a new kitchen, in a new house.

I am trying to teach Scrappy to bake David Lebovitz's almond cake for me.

I haven’t baked anything in ages. Ages, I tell you. Not since the pizza cake! So when I saw this recipe, I was like, “Well now that does seem like a nice way to break in the new oven.” Doesn’t it seem like a perfect, simple summer dessert? Something that would make your house smell nice? You know I am into that.

Unfortunately, I baked this cake on one of those days when everything I do goes so very, very wrong. Do you ever have those days? I manage to break delicate objects that I love. I drill way too many holes in wall while just trying to hang a simple curtain rod. I fall off my bike on a smooth trail. I drastically overfill a cake pan so that it spills all over the bottom of the oven while baking, filling the house with an acrid burning almond smell instead of a sweet cakey homey smell. *sigh*

I got my 8 inch cake pan mixed up with the 9 inch cake pan, because, well, it was just that kind of day. And after I poured the batter in I thought to myself, “Gee, self, this cake pan seems so… FULL.” But I put it in the oven anyway. (Insert Nancy Kerrigan-esque Whyyyyyyyyyyy?) But despite that ridiculous mistake in judgment, and despite scraping burned batter blobs from the bottom of the oven, and despite the less-than-attractive top of the cake, this thing was a m a z i n g. Seriously. The perfect dessert. PERFECT. Moist, but not too moist. Sweet, but not overly so. Buttery, almondy. You know, it’s also probably kind of classy. I think this is a cake that could impress. Maybe not with a weird-looking top from a bad case of batter overflow, but when baked in the right-sized pan, this cake could be used as a barter item to get you whatever you want.

The only problem with it was that it sat on the counter, torturing Robert and me all night. We started with one large-ish slice each, served with berries, and then spent the rest of the evening taking tiny slices from it, because somehow eating 400 tiny slices until the cake was gone seemed better than eating 8 normal sized pieces until it was gone. Are you like that, too? Why is that?

It's so delicious you won't even want to use a fork.

Well, I will make this cake again. And again and again. But only when I have company to help me finish it. Or when I can give some of it away. I won’t bother re-typing the recipe, because you can get it here. And David Lebovitz’s blog is a great read. Much better than mine, anyway.





Fava Beans and Pasta

29 05 2010

That’s right, fava beans. FRESH fava beans! They came in our produce box, but I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Unfortunately, mentioning them to people elicited shudders and references to Silence of the Lambs, which nearly ruined them for me. Gah! Why did they have to do that to fava beans? And the name Hannibal, too. That is also pretty much ruined. *sigh*

I poked around on the interweb for fava bean recipes and noted that they are usually either pureed into a dip or tossed into a pasta dish. I decided to go the pasta route because I thought it would be better for using up the bits and bobs of whatnot in the fridge. I didn’t use a specific recipe, though, just went with the general theme of most of the recipes I saw. The main thing I needed was guidance with the technical aspect of the favas. How does one remove them from their pods? And then what do you do to them? I learned that after you de-pod them, you need to peel each individual bean. That ended up being like some sort of Zen exercise. After peeling bean number 2, a quick search using keywords like, “I am going to kill myself if I have to peel another fava bean please help me” turned up some advice about blanching them first. Blanching, people, that is the key.

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Pizza Cake!

24 03 2010

Wow, it’s been a long long while.

Robert’s mainstays are pizza and what he lovingly calls cheese slammers. Cheese slammers are basically quesadillas. He also drinks a lot of soda, and sometimes punctuates his diet with enchiladas. In case you’re wondering if I’m worried about his heart health, why yes, I am.

But I’m also worried about making him a delicious cake for his birthday every year. Well, worried is an overstatement. I guess you could more accurately say I think about making him a delicious birthday cake every year. This year, I had my brainstorm back in, ohhh, December, I think. Wait, December was last year. It seemed like it was this year, though. Well, maybe it was January. I digress…

Anyway, since he loves pizza so much, it hit me one day: A CAKE THAT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE A PIZZA. What a perfect birthday cake for a pizza lover, right?

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