Monday, November 23, 2009


I know this photo looks pretty much exactly like the one for pear butter, but it's just a trick of the light, I swear! The apple butter is a much darker shade of brown.

I’ve been making and canning this apple butter from Simply Recipes as a holiday treat for at least three years now and am always pleased with the results—sweet, tart, and spiced, with a velvety consistency, great on toast, on pancakes, or in oatmeal. Apples are cheap and plentiful at this time of year (I usually use Fujis because I can buy seconds—small and slightly flawed but perfectly tasty—at the farmers’ market for $1.50 a pound); the recipe is clever (I love that you initially cook the whole apple, peel, core, seeds, and all, to maximize the flavor and natural pectin content) and fairly easy, although I can always be heard swearing when it comes time to put the boiled apples through the food mill. Why does it seem that I need three hands to work a food mill effectively (one to turn the crank, and two to hold it steady so it doesn’t jump around)?

This year I finally bought my own food mill ($25 at Bed Bath and Beyond with their 20% off coupon), after always having to borrow one in the past. I’m a bit reluctant to own such an infernal device, plus it seems silly to have a largish kitchen item that I’m only going to use once per year (although by that token, I wouldn’t have a cookie press, either), and it feels redundant to now possess four different machines for pureeing food (although unlike the blender, small food processor, and immersion blender, the food mill has the obvious advantage of straining out peels and seeds). Ideally, I’ll find a few more uses for the food mill (I could have used it on the pear butter, for starters), but even if I only ever use it for my annual batch of apple butter, it'll earn its keep admirably.

By the way, this is officially my last canning project until 2010 (sigh), both because I need to concentrate on holiday baking and because all those little glass jars are threatening to take over the apartment.

4 pounds good cooking apples (e.g., Granny Smith or Gravenstein; I used Fuji)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
Sugar (about 4 cups; see cooking instructions)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon allspice
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

1. Prepare jars and closures as in steps 1-2 here.

2. Cut the apples into quarters, without peeling or coring them (much of the pectin is in the cores and flavor in the peels), and cut out any damaged parts.

3. Put the apples into a large pot, add the vinegar and water, cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until apples are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. Ladle apple mixture into a chinois sieve or food mill and force pulp through the sieve or mill into a large bowl below. Measure resulting puree. Add ½ cup sugar for each cup of apple pulp. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add a dash of salt, and the cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, lemon rind, and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

5. Cook uncovered in a large, wide, thick-bottomed pot on medium-low heat, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent burning. Cook 1 to 2 hours, until thick and smooth when a bit is spooned onto a cold plate and allowed to cool.

6. Fill jars and process for 10 minutes, as in steps 7-9 here.

Yield: 14-16 4-ounce jars
Time: 4 hours
Leftover potential: Yes!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


This brilliant, easier-than-pie little chicken recipe from The Hungry Mouse tastes about like what you'd expect, but that's hardly anything to be ashamed of when what you expect and receive is chicken wrapped in basil and thin, salty ham. For about the quickest chicken dish I can think of, the end result is disproportionately pretty, or at least it would have been if I hadn't found the paper-thin slices of Trader Joe's prosciutto so unexpectedly hard to manipulate without tearing (it was worse than working with phyllo!). I just ended up sort of hamhandedly (hee! sorry) draping them as best I could around the chicken, but they still cooked up elegantly, the prosciutto forming a crisp, translucent shell around the tender chicken.

This recipe is the perfect solution for when you want a little protein to accompany a more labor-intensive dish; I was desperate for arugula, potato, and green bean salad, which is, let's face it, kind of a lot of work for a salad, what with toasting the walnuts, boiling the potatoes and then the green beans, washing and drying the arugula, and making the dressing, so I wanted something with it that I could just throw in and out of the oven, and this fit the bill perfectly. I especially liked the more manageable two-bite, hand-holdable size of the little chicken tenders; sometimes I get daunted when faced with a huge slab of chicken breast that I have to saw my way through with a knife. These would probably be a hit with kids, or as part of a party spread.

An equivalent number of chicken breast tenders (or chicken breast sliced into strips), prosciutto slices, and large basil leaves; I used 8 of each
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Olive oil to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.

2. Place a basil leaf atop each piece of chicken (it should mostly cover the chicken; if it’s too small, use two).

3. Starting at one end of a piece of chicken, wrap a slice of prosciutto around the chicken, keeping the basil in place. Set the wrapped chicken on your prepared baking sheet, and repeat with remaining chicken pieces.

4. Drizzle a little olive oil on each piece of chicken, then sprinkle with a little kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

5. Bake for about 15 minutes, until chicken is cooked (juices should run clear) and prosciutto is nice and crisp.

Serves: 3–4 as a main dish, more as an appetizer/snack
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; these reheat fairly well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I still have several pounds of beans from the Rancho Gordo samplers I received last Christmas, and now that the weather’s grown cool enough to simmer something on the stove for hours, I’ve been looking for ways to cook them. This has been a bit challenging; I’ve used up the most straightforward beans (i.e, white beans and black beans), and I’ve found a great recipe for Christmas lima beans, so what’s left are the more unusual varieties, the kinds a recipe is unlikely to call for specifically. And of course you can always just cook up some beans and eat them, but A doesn’t really like straight-up beans and I’m not great at improvisation.

So the obvious answer was chili, especially when I was staring at a bag of pebble beans that said “great in chilis” on the label. (Yes, Texans, I’m sorry, I know you think it’s a travesty to put beans in chili, but I’m from the Midwest and that’s how we eat it there.) One problem: I wasn’t sure I liked chili. The only time I really remember eating it was when my mom made it when I was a kid, and I was always a little suspicious of it, as I was of any concoction containing a lot of different ingredients mixed together, particularly when one of those ingredients was beans. (How ironic that I used to dislike chili because it contained beans and now I needed to make chili because it contains beans!) But it sounded sort of good to me now, and I figured A would be down with eating anything that was spicy and had beef in it.

The next ordeal was finding a recipe, and let me tell you, it was formidable. I wanted it to contain beef, 1 pound of dried beans, beer, and nothing else that was too specialized or weird. This recipe on Epicurious was a contender, but the enormous volume of comments scared me off—most people liked it, a lot of people made adaptations, and a small but strenuous minority thought it was bland and awful. I dutifully read through all 296 of them, took copious notes, and tried to figure out how I would scale the recipe down (it served 10 and called for three pounds of beef but only 15 ounces of canned beans), but ultimately I gave up, went to Food Blog Search, typed in “chili beef beans beer,” and immediately found this recipe from Pinch My Salt. It called for three cans of beans, the equivalent of 1 pound of dried beans, so I didn’t have to mess with the proportions at all. It had a modest amount of beef, it had beer, it had a bell pepper and a jalapeno (I liked the idea of at least getting a little bit of fresh veggie in there), and it didn’t have particularly baroque seasonings.

I did incorporate a few details from the Epicurious recipe. I increased the garlic, used a dark beer (Negra Modelo), and used beef broth instead of the water originally called for. I made sure to buy brand-new chili powder, because old chili powder may have lost its flavor. I also may have added pinches and dashes of the following secret ingredients various Epicurious commenters swore by: unsweetened cocoa powder (maybe 1 teaspoon?), Worcestershire sauce (a generous dash), ketchup (a few squeezes), powdered mustard (a couple of pinches), and black pepper (a few grindings). I’m not sure whether any of these made a difference, but what I do know is I FREAKIN’ LOVED THIS CHILI. All along, as I cooked, I was suspicious. Would it be bland? Would it be unbearably spicy? I kept tasting it, and it seemed to be both at the same time—so spicy it made me cough, and sort of flat and blah due to the lack of salt (salt is added at the end). But with the long cooking, everything blended or mellowed out or something, because when we sat down to eat it was absolutely perfect. I loved that it was hearty but not heavy, simple but complex. I loved how it was spicy enough to be interesting, but not enough to be annoying or painful. I loved the smoky taste from the chipotle powder and fire-roasted tomatoes. I loved loading it up with toppings (I highly recommend cheddar, green onions, cilantro, and corn chips). I loved the leftovers the next day (and the next, and today).

Oh! And the beans? Exemplary. I finally achieved true tenderness (yet without being mushy), and I owe it all to this amazing new method of cooking them: Don’t soak, just cover them with water, bring it to a boil on the stovetop, cover, cook in a 250-degree oven for 75 minutes, and drain. Easy, efficient, and effective (as well as an apt use for my Dutch oven). I cooked the beans while assembling the chili and then dumped them in when they were done, about halfway through the chili’s simmering time—the recipe says to add them right away with the tomatoes, but since they’re already cooked you can really do it whenever you want; in fact, Epicurious has you do it at the end, but I like giving them a chance to absorb the flavor of the chili.

I’m so pleased to have found my go-to chili recipe on the first try. I’ll be trying it again soon, next time with Vaquero beans. At this rate, I’ll have to hope I get Rancho Gordos again for Christmas! (Ahem.)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper (I used red), seeded and chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 large jalapeno, minced (seeds and all)
1 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 bottle dark beer (I used Negra Modelo)
1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
114.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes (if you can’t find crushed tomatoes, which I never can, just puree a can of whole or diced tomatoes)
1 cup beef broth (preferred), chicken broth, or water
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 15-ounce can each of pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans, drained and rinsed; OR 1pound dried beans in a variety of your choice (I used pebble beans), cooked until tender
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
Optional extra seasonings such as unsweetened cocoa, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, mustard powder, black pepper
Optional toppings for serving such as shredded cheddar cheese, sliced green onions, chopped fresh cilantro, sour cream, and corn chips

1. In a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat, cook onion and pepper in olive oil until softened, about five minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook, stirring, for another minute, then add ground beef. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, just until meat is no longer pink. Drain the fat from the pan, then return to heat.

2. Add the two chili powders and cumin, and cook the spices and the meat together, stirring, for half a minute or so. Add the beer, stir, and allow to cook while you open all the cans and drain and rinse the beans. Add all the tomatoes, broth or water, tomato paste, and beans; stir well. Bring mixture up to a slow boil then turn the heat down to low and simmer, partially covered, for at least an hour.

3. As the chili simmers, stir it occasionally, and taste to see if you need/want more chili powder, cumin, or other seasonings (don’t add salt until it’s done cooking). Once chili has reached the thickness you like add salt to taste.

Serves: 6–8
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: High—tastes even better the next day, and can easily be frozen.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Searching for a pear butter recipe to add to my burgeoning jam collection, I found this one on Epicurious and was instantly smitten with the revolutionary idea of using brown sugar instead of white sugar in canning. I love brown sugar, and have been known to sneak small bits of it straight whenever I’m measuring it out for a recipe. And indeed, the brown sugar adds a nice, rich note to this otherwise straightforward pear butter—if not quite strong enough, in my opinion, to merit the original title of Caramel-Pear Butter, which, coupled with the presence of salt in the ingredient list, had led me to dare to hope that it might taste like salted butter caramel in a jar.

This is slightly more labor-intensive than my previous two jam recipes. For one thing, seven pounds is a lot of pears. I scored a great price of $1 a pound at the farmers’ market (though I should have let them ripen a little longer—their tarter flavor wasn’t a problem, but the finished pear butter was a bit grainy), but they were small, and going over 20something pears with a vegetable peeler is a thankless job. There’s no added pectin here, either; the mixture thickens the old-fashioned way, with slow cooking, and must be tended constantly so it doesn’t stick or scorch.

When everything was done and I tasted the pear butter, I wasn’t sure whether it had all been worth it. It tasted good, but pretty average, like sweetened pear, without a really detectable brown-sugar flavor. But maybe the constant tasting and smelling of sugar over the course of the afternoon head deadened my tastebuds, or maybe the little leftover half-jar I set aside in the fridge mellowed and deepened overnight, because the next day, when I spread it over toast, I was really impressed. This is some fantastic stuff. Even if it doesn’t taste like caramel, it has a dark, complex, ineffable quality worthy of gobbling by the spoonful. And look at that nice, thick, spreadable, buttery consistency, so thick it stands up in peaks in the photo above!

Two notes: The original recipe called for nutmeg, but I wanted to use cardamom, my favorite spice, and was not disappointed; it’s a great match for pears. Also, being sans food mill, I used an immersion blender on the pears instead. (I wouldn't recommend blitzing them in a blender or food processor, though, because you want to retain a little of that whole-fruit texture; if you don't have a food mill or immersion blender, try a potato masher.)

¼ cup apple juice
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
7 pounds ripe Bartlett pears
3 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
¾ teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1. Prepare jars and closures as in steps 1-2 here.

2. Combine apple juice and 4 tablespoons lemon juice in a large, deep, heavy pot. Peel, core, and cut pears, one at a time, into ½- to ¾-inch pieces; as soon as they are cut, mix pears into juice mixture in pot to prevent browning.

3. Cook pears over medium heat until they release enough juice for mixture to boil, stirring frequently, about 16 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until pears are very tender, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes.

4. Remove pot from heat. Press pear mixture through the fine plate of a food mill into a large bowl and return the pear puree to the same pot. (Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender to puree the pears in the pot to your desired consistency, or for chunkier pear butter, crush pears by hand with a potato masher.) Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice, brown sugar, cardamom, and ¾ teaspoon coarse salt.

5. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent scorching, for about 1 hour until pear butter thickens and is reduced to 8 cups.

6. Fill jars and process for 10 minutes, as in steps 7-9 here.

Yield: About 16 4-ounce jars
Time: 4 hours
Leftover potential: Of course.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Ta-da, my collection of pureed green soups is now complete! Actually, it didn’t occur to me that this soup might be a dead ringer for several others in my repertoire until I set out to take pictures of it and felt a strong pang of déjà vu; there are only so many ways to photograph pale green liquid in a blue bowl in a poorly lit kitchen, after all. I’d had the recipe bookmarked in my copy of The St. Paul Farmers’ Market Cookbook for several years, mostly because I’d never heard of a green bean soup before, and green beans are one of my favorite vegetables, but also because the sour cream/dill combo (the thing that makes it “Hungarian,” I guess) sounded alluring.

This is an easy recipe, assembled along the ol’ boil-and-puree line, and (I feel like I say this all the time) I feared it would be bland, but it wasn’t. A feared it would be super-green-beany, and it wasn’t that, either. It mostly tasted like dill and sour cream (well, I used crème fraiche, and plain yogurt, preferably Greek, would also work), sort of like a lighter, fresher, tangier, less oniony potato-leek soup, but with a vague green undertone. It didn’t bowl me over with its uniqueness (at least, I’m not sure I could identify it as green bean soup if I were blindfolded), but I enjoyed it and will certainly make it again, not least because it’s so versatile—lemony and green for spring, delicate enough for summer, and accessible enough for winter (the recipe says you can even use frozen green beans). We ate it with dill, red onion, and cheddar drop biscuits (a good way to use up the rest of that bunch of dill), but garlic bread would also make a good accompaniment.

3 cups good-quality chicken broth (or vegetable broth, for a vegetarian version)
½ pound fresh green beans
2 small russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 small onion, quartered
¼ cup butter
2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup sour cream or crème fraiche (can also substitute plain yogurt)
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Combine broth, beans, potatoes, onion, butter, dill, and garlic in large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper.

2. Transfer soup to a blender or processor in batches and puree until smooth, then return to saucepan (or leave in the pan and use an immersion blender). Stir in sour cream and lemon juice. Warm over low heat until heated through.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I don’t even remember how I stumbled across this recipe, but once I saw it, I knew that I’d have to try it, and that it would be well worth departing from the safety of Ball-approved recipes. I mean, peaches, vanilla bean, lime juice, bourbon, and almond extract? Be still my heart! I rushed out to the farmers’ market and snatched up some of the last peaches of the year (literally; they were labeled with a sign that said “Last chance!”), speed-ripened them overnight in a paper bag with a ripe banana, and whipped up what may be the most delicious jam I’ve ever made. I didn’t think it would be possible for it to live up to my feverish expectations, but it really did: savory with almond, rich with vanilla, and with a slight alcoholic bite from the Jim Beam. So far I’ve just been spreading it on toast, but I suspect it would be great on ice cream as well. I can’t wait until peach season rolls around next year so I can make more!

A few recipe tweaks: The original recipe called for half a vanilla bean, cut into pieces, but I wanted big vanilla flavor without actual chunks (I just love those specks of vanilla bean), so I used a whole bean but removed the actual pod part before putting the jam into jars. I also found that the original recipe’s instructions (add sugar, then pectin later) were exactly the opposite of those that came with my box of pectin (add pectin, then sugar later), so I decided to trust the authority of Sure-Jell and everything turned out fine; my modified version is below.

1 package low-sugar pectin (I used Sure-Jell for less or no sugar needed recipes, in the pink box)
3½ pounds ripe peaches
3 cups sugar (or whatever the instructions in the pectin box say)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 whole vanilla bean
¼ cup bourbon
1 teaspoon almond extract

1. Prepare jars and closures as in steps 1–2 here.

2. Blanch the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds, then submerge in an ice bath. Slip off the skins and chop peaches into ¼-inch dice, removing the pits.

3. In a glass pie plate or flat-bottomed bowl, place a single layer of peach pieces. Using a potato masher, crush peaches until they reach your desired consistency and transfer to a large, deep, stainless-steel saucepan, repeating until all peaches are mashed and placed in saucepan.

4. Measure sugar into a large bowl and set aside.

5. Mix ¼ cup sugar from measured amount with the pectin in a small bowl. Add pectin-sugar mixture and lime juice to the peaches in the saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out all the seeds with a small spoon, and add the seeds to the peach mixture. Add the vanilla bean halves and stir peach mixture well. Add ½ teaspoon butter to reduce foaming, if desired.

6. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.

7. Stir in remaining 2¾ cups sugar quickly. Return to a full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off any foam, remove and discard vanilla bean halves, and stir in bourbon and almond extract.

8. Fill jars and process for 10 minutes, as in steps 7–9 here.

Yield: About 14–18 4-ounce jars
Time: 3 hours
Leftover potential: Leftovers are kind of the point here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


This recipe is a favorite of mine from Carole Walters’ indispensible Great Cookies. The original name is “Chock Full of Crunchies,” which is so darn cutesy I can’t manage to repeat it without rolling my eyes. My version may be less catchy, but at least it’s more descriptive. Walters calls them “a crunch-lover’s dream,” but “crunchy” isn’t really the first thing that springs to mind when I think of these cookies. The cereal does add little chewy-crispy morsels and there are some nuts too, but the main event is a nice, tender, buttery oatmeal cookie, with a nice lacy crispness around the edges and a moist middle thanks to the coconut. I’m a sucker for oatmeal cookies and for coconut, but mostly I think these cookies appeal to me so much because the first time I tasted them, I had a vivid sensory flashback to a kind of cookie my mom used to make when I was a kid, involving coconut and Grape-Nuts (I think we called them “crispy cookies”?), which I’d entirely forgotten about until that moment--so these have a Proustian quality for me. Sure, chocolate-chip cookies hold the top spot in my heart, but for a non-chocolate cookie, these are hard to beat.

2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
¾ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup rolled oats (old-fashioned, not quick-cooking)
1 cup finely chopped sweetened, flaked coconut
1 cup crispy rice cereal (i.e., Rice Krispies)
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and moderately butter the cookie sheets.

2. Strain together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a large bowl. Set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer (if using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment), mix the butter on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar, then the granulated sugar, and mix until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla and mix for 1 minute longer. Reduce the mixer speed to low, then add the dry ingredients in three additions, mixing just until blended. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the oatmeal, coconut, rice cereal, and pecans.

4. Drop walnut-size mounds from the tip of a tablespoon onto the cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently to maintain an even combination of dough to textured ingredients. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the pans top to bottom and front to back toward the end of baking time. Bake until the edges begin to turn a golden brown. Do not overbake.

5. Remove the cookies from the oven and let stand for 2 minutes. Using a metal spatula, carefully loosen and transfer to cooling racks.

Yield: About 5 dozen
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: High; these cookies freeze well.

Friday, November 06, 2009


When my friend P left the country for a month and gave me temporary custody of all her canning supplies, it seemed like a good time for me to get back into jam-making. I’ve done most of my canning with P and other friends, so I was a little nervous about undertaking it on my own—it can be so laborious (when, say, you’re peeling seven pounds of pears), as well as a little scary (as you obsessively sterilize everything to make sure you don’t give any of your loved ones botulism), so it’s nice to have company. But it’s also nice to be able to can whatever you want whenever you want it, and I was excited about my solo adventure.

Still, I wanted to proceed with caution. I don’t normally spend a lot of time worrying about food safety, beyond washing all my fruits and vegetables and making sure I don’t touch everything in the kitchen with raw-chicken-covered fingers. But canning is one area where I feel strongly about following the proper procedures: using recipes only from reputable sources, following them precisely (because the pH of canned goods is carefully calibrated to prevent bacterial growth, you shouldn’t mess with the proportions of fruit, sugar, and acid), and processing the jars correctly; I’m no expert, but I’ve read enough to shudder when food blogs mention improvising jam recipes, canning things that shouldn’t be canned (for instance, pumpkin butter, which is sadly one of the few things that can’t be safely preserved), or “sealing” jars by flipping them upside-down instead of boiling them. It’s not hard to can things the right way, so why take a risk?

For my inaugural attempt, I went right to the highest authority: The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. And right at the front was a recipe for strawberry jam, presented as a simple master recipe to walk you through every single step of the canning process before you move on to more complex endeavors. Strawberries were still available at my farmers’ market for relatively cheap, and strawberry is my favorite kind of jam. Perfect!

I had never made jam with pectin before—I’d just done it the old-fashioned way, slow-cooking pure fruit and sugar until thickened. Even though I know that pectin is a naturally occurring substance that’s found in fruit anyway, it felt a little funny to be emptying that box of powder into my pot, but it sure as hell turned out to be liberating not to have to stand over a pot of simmering, spattering jam for hours on end. With pectin, you only have to cook the jam for a few minutes, making this a doable Saturday-afternoon project that doesn’t make you feel enslaved to the kitchen.

The recipe offered several variations, all of which sounded good (vanilla strawberry, lemon strawberry, and black pepper strawberry may all be in my future), but I was intrigued by the balsamic option, remembering how good balsamic vinegar tasted with the strawberries in this salad. The finished jam doesn’t taste identifiably like balsamic vinegar, but I do think it adds a nice depth of flavor and helps balance out the sweetness. I prefer a less-sweet jam and think this one is right on the verge of being too sugary, though I’m certainly capable of downing several pieces of toast slathered with it, as well as sneaking straight spoonfuls out of the jar on the fridge on occasion.

I was grateful for how incredibly methodical and detailed the Ball recipe is. Heating up the jars in the canner while you prep the ingredients is a stroke of genius that keeps things moving right along—the jars are nicely sterilized by the time the jam is done cooking, and it doesn’t take too much longer to bring the water to a boil after you put the filled jars back into it. Mine took a bit longer because I used 16 4-ounce jars instead of 8 8-ounce ones, meaning that I had too many to fit in the canner at the same time and had to do two rounds of sterilizing and processing—but it was worth it, because those little jars are so dang cute. I want to give them as gifts, and they’re a much more manageable size to transport, as well as to consume before they end up sitting half-eaten in the back of the fridge for months, as big jars of jam tend to do around my house.

You guys, canning is so fun! I love the nifty tools (a funnel, magnetic lid lifter, and jar lifter are invaluable and cheap—I’ll be acquiring my own when I return the borrowed ones to P), the tasty fruits, the scientific precision, and the sense of accomplishment I feel when I’ve amassed a stash of pretty little glass jars full of deliciousness. If you’ve never canned before, this recipe is a great place to start, and even if you’re an old hand, the balsamic twist is worth trying.

7 cups granulated sugar
8 cups whole strawberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
1 package (1.75 ounce/49 to 57 grams) regular powdered fruit pectin

1. Place 8 clean 8-ounce mason jars on a rack in a large, deep pot that is at least 3 inches deeper than the height of the jars. Fill the jars and pot with cool water that covers the top of the jars. Cover and bring water to a simmer over medium heat; do not boil.

2. Prepare 8 two-piece closures. Set screw bands aside. Place lids in a small saucepan and cover with water. Heat just to a simmer over medium heat, but do not boil. Keep lids warm until ready to use. Do not heat screw bands.

3. Measure sugar into a bowl and set aside. (Sugar is added to the boiling jam all at once, so measuring it ahead of time prevents errors in quantities and eliminates cooking delays.)

4. In a colander placed over a sink, wash strawberries in cool running water. Drain thoroughly and, using a strawberry huller, remove hulls.

5. In a glass pie plate or flat-bottomed bowl, place a single layer of strawberries. Using a potato masher, crush berries and transfer to a 1-cup liquid measure. As you accumulate each cup, transfer crushed berries to a large, deep, stainless-steel saucepan. Repeat until you have 5 cups of crushed strawberries.

6. Add lemon juice and vinegar to crushed strawberries in saucepan. Whisk in pectin until dissolved. (To reduce foaming, you may also add ½ teaspoon butter, if desired.) Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add sugar all at once and, stirring constantly, return to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and, using a large slotted spoon, skim off foam.

7. Fill one jar at a time. Using a jar lifter, remove jar from canner and empty hot water back into canner (do not dry jar). Place jar on a tray or towel-covered counter and place a canning funnel in it. Ladle hot jam into hot jar, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Slide a nonmetallic utensil, such as a rubber spatula, down between the jam and the inside of the jar two or three times to release air bubbles. With a clean damp cloth or paper towel, wipe jar rim and threads to remove any food residue. Using a magnetic lid lifter, lift hot lid from water and center it on jar. Place screw band on jar and, with your fingers, screw band evenly and firmly, just until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight. Do not overtighten. Return jar to canner rack and repeat until all jam is used.

8. When all jars are filled and placed in canner, ensure that jars are covered by at least 1 inch of hot water. Cover canner and bring water to a full rolling boil over high heat. Continue boiling rapidly for 10 minutes, starting timer only when water reaches a full rolling boil. At the end of the processing time, turn heat off and remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, without tilting. Place jars upright on a towel in a draft-free place and let cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours.

9. After 24 hours, check lids for seal. Remove screw bands and press down on the center of each lid with your finger. Sealed lids will curve downward and will show no movement when pressed. Jars that haven’t sealed properly must be refrigerated immediately or reprocessed. Rinse and dry screw bands. Wipe jars with a damp cloth or paper towel and loosely reapply screw bands. Label jars and store in a cool, dry, dark place.

Yield: 8 8-ounce jars
Time: 3 hours
Leftover potential: Duh.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


RIP, Gourmet magazine. I never subscribed (and thus, I suppose, could be considered complicit in your downfall), but you had consistently great food writing, and a quick search of my blog reveals that the few recipes of yours I’ve tried are among my favorites. Now I’m adding this one to the list.

I originally spotted this, in a modified version, at Everybody Likes Sandwiches, where it was described as “the best single meal I've ever ever ever cooked in my life.” How could I not give that a try, immediately? The original version on Epicurious looked more to my taste, so I added it to my menu for Sunday night. A cozy, hearty, French peasant-style braise of chicken and root vegetables in wine and cream seemed a perfect way to welcome November and the return of 5:00 sunsets. Of course, it ended up being over 90 degrees in Pasadena, but this was still a delicious dinner—luckily, it was originally intended for the spring, so it’s not too rich and heavy. This is the kind of recipe that makes me feel really impressed with myself, even if all I did was follow directions. It’s so simple (I was a little afraid it would be bland, since there are barely even any herbs in it), but the ingredients are transformed into something sophisticated and surprising, probably because they're bathed in a chickeny, tangy, creamy sauce that will have you licking the plate (next time, I might make a few more potatoes or maybe serve some bread, the better to soak up more sauce).

The recipe may be a little too time-consuming for a weeknight, but I didn’t feel like I was stuck slaving in the kitchen, and we ate at a timely hour. I followed the directions exactly and everything went smoothly. My Riesling wasn’t Alsatian (Trader Joe’s only had two Rieslings, a $2.99 one from California and a $6.99 one from Washington, so I went with the Washington), and I’m not even sure how dry it was (I took a sip and it was tart and fruity), but I don’t think it mattered; I really loved the taste of the finished sauce. Gourmet says you can use crème fraiche or heavy cream, but for me there’s no choice—crème fraiche has so much more character and works so well in sauces, since it never separates (the reheated leftovers were still perfectly creamy the next day), I strongly recommend it if you can get it (and if you can’t find it at the store, make your own!). I had a bit of a revelation when reading about the French-style cut chicken; I always complain that the bone-in chicken breasts that come in the packages of whole cut-up chicken at Trader Joe’s are impossibly massive (especially since white meat is not my favorite), but it had never occurred to me that I could simply cut them in half crosswise into more manageable portions. This time I gave it a try, and wouldn’t you know it, two hacks with a cleaver through the ribs and I had four neat, modest pieces! I’ll definitely be doing that for other bone-in chicken recipes from now on.

1 whole chicken (about 3½ pounds), backbone discarded and chicken cut French style into 8 pieces (2 breast halves with wings attached, halved crosswise for a total of 4 breast pieces; 2 drumsticks; and 2 thighs), or 3 pounds pre-cut chicken parts (bone-in, with skin).
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
4 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped (2 cups)
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
4 thin medium carrots, halved diagonally
1 cup dry white wine (preferably Alsatian Riesling)
1½ pounds small (2-inch) red potatoes (I could only find larger ones, so I halved them)
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup crème fraîche
Fresh lemon juice to taste (I used the juice of 1 lemon)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Pat chicken dry and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and a rounded ¾ teaspoon pepper. Heat oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a wide 3½-to-5-quart heavy ovenproof pot (I used my Dutch oven) over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then brown chicken in 2 batches, turning once, about 10 minutes total per batch. Transfer to a plate.

3. Pour off fat from pot, then cook leeks, shallot, and ¼ teaspoon salt in remaining 2 tablespoons butter, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until leeks are pale golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add chicken, skin sides up, with any juices from plate, carrots, and wine and boil until liquid is reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Cover pot and braise chicken in oven until cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

4. While chicken braises, peel potatoes, then generously cover with cold water in a 2-to-3-quart saucepan and add 1½ teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain in a colander, then return to saucepan. Add parsley and shake to coat.

5. Remove chicken mixture from oven, stir in crème fraîche, and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, then add potatoes.

Serves: 4
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: Good.