Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spiced Brandy Peach Jam

Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Peach Jam and Blueberries
As summer draws to a close, most of my jam has been made. So far this year I have made strawberry, marionberry, raspberry, and blueberry jams. My job is not yet done, however, for it is now peach season and peach jam is one of our absolute favorites!
Unlike the berry jams, which are all about the flavor of the particular berry being used, my peach jam recipe adds in layers of flavor that work to bring out and highlight the peach flavor. Brandy is exceptional for this purpose, as are spices like cinnamon and allspice. It is important not to overspice the jam as you do not want to cover the taste of the peaches. I also will often use a little bit less pectin than normal so that the jam does not firm up too much. I've found this jam to also make a wonderful sauce for pork or chicken, or to be served over ice cream. Leaving it just a little on the runny side, thick but not too thick, gives the jam an ideal consistency. 
As with most of my jam recipes, there is no predetermined amount of fruit being used. For this batch I had about a half case of peaches, which I allowed to fully ripen. This is important! As the fruit ripens, it develops it's own sugars and becomes sweeter. Allow them to ripen as much as you can, even if you have to cut away parts of a few peaches or even toss a couple out. The sweetness is worth it and allows you to make the jam without adding too much extra sugar.

I begin by taking my largest stock pot and combining in it:
approz. 20-24 ripe peaches (15 c or so), peeled, pitted and chopped
3 c granulated sugar
2 c brown sugar
1 c brandy
1 T cinnamon
2 t ground allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ground clove
2 whole vanilla beans, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out
When halving the vanilla beans, scrape the seeds or they won't all come out. Then add the seeds and the pods to the jam. Bring the combined ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring regularly. Allow the jam to cook for 10-15 minutes to burn off some of the alcohol and give the flavors time to combine. If you feel at this point that the jam is too chunky, you may use a potato masher to mash some of the peach chunks into a smaller size. For this job, I usually use my immersion blender and pulse the jam so as not to overdo it. I like the finished jam to have some chunks left in it. NOTE: If you use an immersion blender, remove the vanilla bean pods first! Believe me, the last thing you want is to have to fish  chunks of tough pod out of your jam! This is generally a good time to remove the vanilla pods anyway, even if you are using a potato masher. Allow the pods to cool a bit and give them one last scraping to remove any leftover seeds and add them to the jam. Discard the pods.
Increase the heat on the stove to high and add in:
4-5 T low or no sugar pectin
Use your own judgement on the best amount to use, based on the amount of fruit used and desired thickness. On this particular batch, I used 4 T and it worked just fine. Stir the jam constantly at a rolling boil for 1-2 minutes, then remove the jam from the heat. Ladle the jam into your jars and process them for 10-15 minutes each. Allow them to cool and you're done! With this batch, I ended up with about 10-1/2 pints of jam. You can also jar them in smaller half pint jars and give them as gifts for the holidays. The spicy flavor of this condiment goes well with any number of holiday dishes and homemade jam makes a wonderful gift!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Low-Sugar Blueberry Jam

I love jam.
If I could fill my basement shelves with delicious sweet jammy goodness, I would! So far this year, I have made strawberry, marionberry and raspberry jams. Later this week, I will make peach jam. Today, I'm going to make blueberry. Did I mention that I love jam?
The thing about jam that has always vexed me, and still does, is the pectin. Pectin has never been my friend. Time and time again I have had my jams come out way too runny. My wife loves this as she prefers jam to be on the runny side. Me, I like a jam that is thick but not too thick, with chunks of fruit. Neither of us likes too much sugar and generally I make my jam with much less than most recipes call for. This, I think, has been one of my issues when making the stuff. Too little sugar, often times coupled with the wrong kind of pectin. What I've ended up with on more than one occasion is little more than syrup. Once I way over-compensated and ended up with something akin to cement. When making low- or no-sugar jams, it is vital to use the correct pectin. Regular pectin is only good for jams that contain lots of sugar. I went through many batches of jam before I figured this one out.
Even with all the jam I've made, I'm still experimenting and every batch of jam is a new adventure. I still haven't gotten it mastered and my pectin still gives me fits on occasion. Today I will boldly try again.
Yesterday, I happened to luck my way into a great deal on a flat of blueberries. I froze a few of them for smoothies and the rest went into the jam pot.

I started by sterilizing my Ball jars. In the biggest pot I have, I boiled the jars for 10-15 minutes. I boiled the lids as well in a separate smaller pan. In my jam pot I combined:
18 c (9 pints) fresh blueberries, washed and picked through
4 c sugar
1/3 c lemon juice
I used a potato masher to mash the berries a bit and heated them over medium-high heat until they began to boil, stirring the pot frequently. By this point, my jars and lids were ready so I removed them from their bath, keeping the large pot of water ready to process the jars. I increased the heat on the jam to high and added:
5 T low or no sugar pectin
I cooked the jam at a rolling boil for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. I then removed the jam from the heat and carefully ladled it into the jars. I covered the jars with their lids and securely tightened them before placing them back into the boiling water, making sure there was enough water to cover the jars by an inch or two. I processed the jars for 10 minutes, then set the jars on a rack to cool completely before storing them.

That's it! The result? This batch came out just a teensy bit runnier than I would have preferred. I think 7 T of pectin might have worked a little better. I should mention here that the pectin container recommended 1-1/2 T of pectin for every 1-1/3 c of fruit - a whopping full cup of pectin! Not wishing to repeat the cement experience again, I chose to use much less. Even though it was a tad runny the flavor was wonderful and the jam wasn't overwhelmingly sweet!
Later this week I'll try my hand at the jam game again with the box of peaches we have. My tummy is giddy with anticipation!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Overcoming Childhood Prejudices - Liver and Onions

Getting kids to eat can be a challenge, as any parent knows. It certainly doesn't help that children are now marketed to by major corporations who make billions of dollars peddling garbage, enticing them to eat chemical filled "non-foods" that do nothing more than cause obesity. Getting kids to eat stuff that is actually good for them can sometimes seem impossible!
It doesn't help when we as adults still carry in our minds the same prejudices we had as children. Who, as a child, liked eating squash, brussel sprouts, spinach, or the all-time worst, liver? Often times we decided we didn't like these and other foods before we even tried them! We would stick our tongues out and timidly touch a small amount of whatever it was our parents were trying to get us to eat and then react as dramatically as we could, acting as though our parents had just tried to feed us raw fish heads! From that moment on we officially "hated" that particular food item, never again allowing it near our plates, much less on our forks! When we become parents, we begin passing these prejudices on to our children, often without even being aware that we are doing so.
It is a proven fact that as we grow older, our taste buds change. As an adult, I have found that I often am forced to re-evaluate my childhood prejudices and try a food that I've always sworn up and down that I would never ever eat again. Squash, for example. As a kid, I utterly loathed this vegetable. As an adult, however, I have had to admit that not only do I not loathe it, I actually rather enjoy it. I like the variety of flavors found in different types of squash and the different ways of cooking it.
Not always have my tastes changed. I still don't like cured ham. Fresh ham, yes, but cured ham has a taste that I just cannot bring myself to like. The same goes with yams. By this, I mean the orange fleshed tuber that is usually finds its way to the Thanksgiving dinner table (though truthfully, they are actually sweet potatoes). Yes, I can already hear many of you saying "But you've never tried my sweet potatoes!" Honestly, I have given this one as many chances to be liked as I possibly can. I've had them with maple syrup, marshmallows and savory. I've had them roasted, baked, in soups and even as sweet potato fries. I still do not like them. I have, however, discovered that the white meat sweet potatoes are quite delicious. Therefore I have partially relinquished my lifelong prejudice against the sweet potato.
Some time back I found myself giving all this some thought and as I reflected on the subject, I began thinking about the King of all hated foods, liver. Most people can't even say the word casually without their faces contorting. As I thought about this much hated organ, I realized that some years back I had actually developed something of a fondness for chicken liver. Could it be that my tastes had changed enough that I might actually like beef liver now? There was only one way to find out!
The absolute key to making decent liver is soaking the meat in milk. Do not skip this step! Liver can often have a bitter flavor caused by impurities in the meat (the purpose of the liver is, after all, to clean the system) and soaking the liver in milk will help get rid of these, giving the liver a much milder and less gamey flavor. The liver should soak for at least 30 minutes but I like to give it a couple hours.

To begin, place in a large shallow dish:
1 - 1-1/2 lbs fresh beef liver
enough milk to cover the meat
Set the dish aside in the refrigerator and allow to soak for at least 1/2 hour, preferably 1-2 hours.
When you're ready to begin cooking, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large pan and add in :
2 sweet Walla Walla onions, sliced thin
a dash of salt and pepper
Saute the onions over low-medium heat until they begin to brown, about 30 minutes or so. While the onions are cooking, prepare your flour dredge with:
1/2 c flour
1 t salt
1/2 t white pepper
1/2 t ground thyme
Mix dry ingredients together well and set aside on a plate. Remove the liver from the fridge. Drain the milk completely. Sprinkle the meat very lightly with:
2 t balsamic or red wine vinegar
Dredge the liver in the flour mixture, coating each piece well. When onions are browned a bit, remove them from the pan and set them aside. Add a little more oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Once the pan has become hot, add the liver and allow it to sear for a minute or two on each side. Reduce the heat back down to low-medium and add the onions back to the pan. Cover and cook until the liver has an even reddish color when you cut into it, about 5 minutes or so. You want to be careful not to overcook it or it will dry out. It should look like a steak cooked medium-rare.
This evening, in the spirit of traumatizing the inner child of some of you, I have decided to serve the liver and onions with a side of brussel sprouts. They are, after all, in season and neither my wife nor I ever had a problem as kids with eating what my siblings and I used to refer to as "baby cabbages." Cooked in melted butter with a light sprinkle of white wine vinegar, we have ourselves a wonderful feast! No munchkins allowed!

Bon Appetit!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Padre Peredur's Pork Chili Verde

It's the end of summer and harvest time is upon us. There are lots of great fruits and vegetables available now which is a stark reminder that I haven't written anything on my blog for months now! I've been so busy with other things for the past several months that I've had almost no time to be in the kitchen. 
Last week, Kat came home with a very large box of fresh tomatillos and I knew that my "vacation" was over! Tomatillos are one of my favorite autumn fruits. Like a little green tomato wrapped in a husk, tomatillos are perfect for both salsa verde and chili verde. Both are welcome in my house anytime! Kat made salsa verde last week for a barbecue we had and it was fantastic! For all the tomatillos she used in that recipe she only put a small dent in our supply, leaving me lots to make chili with.
This is a recipe I came up with a few years ago and has been one of my favorites ever since. I start with a bone-in pork shoulder roast. Of course, this means I have to bone it myself, which can be tricky as the shoulder blade is a rather twisty-curvy bone and can be difficult to get all the meat off of. If you are completely intimidated, ask your butcher to de-bone the roast for you.
I also like to roast my vegetables under the broiler before making the chili. I roast all the tomatillos and fresh chiles that I am putting into the pot. I usually do not use all fresh chiles, however, as roasting and skinning that many peppers can be rather labor intensive. If you wish to put the time into doing this, by all means do so! I usually roast a few peppers and use canned for the rest. Today I have fresh jalapeños, a banana pepper and a poblano pepper that I will be roasting with the tomatillos.
What I have done today is to start with:
1 bone-in pork shoulder roast ("Boston Butt"), approx. 4 lbs
Carefully carve out the bone and trim the meat. Cut the meat into bite sized pieces, season with a small amount of salt and pepper and set aside in the refrigerator for an hour or two. Also make sure to save the bone and any odd bits of meat. Meanwhile, rend the fat over low heat until well liquified. Set this aside as well.
Take a cookie sheet and line it with foil. Wash and halve:
approx. 2-3 lbs of fresh tomatillos (you may substitute up to half of these with green tomatoes, if you choose)
Arrange the tomatillo/tomato halves on the cookie sheet along with:
5 fresh jalapeños
and broil for about 10 minutes or so, flipping the peppers about halfway through. When finished broiling, remove the pan from the oven and dice everything. Do not skin the jalapeños or tomatillos. The charred skins add a nice color to the chili. The tomatillos will let off a bit of their juices while broiling. Do not throw this away! Save the juices and add it to the pot when the time comes!
Using a little of the fat rendered from the pork, brown the pork over medium-high heat. Do this in 2 or even 3 batches if necessary, so as not to overcrowd the pan. Once the pork is browned, set it aside. Add to the pan:
1 large onion, diced
Saute the onion over low heat until soft, scraping up the fond from the bottom of the pot as the onions cook. Add:
7-8 cloves of garlic (roughly 1 small head), finely chopped
Stir until garlic begins to cook, about 1 minute. Add in:
2 T flour
Stir to combine. Add to the pot:
1 qt. chicken stock
2 c water (if needed)
1 large can mild green chilies, drained, sliced
1 large can hominy, white or yellow (optional)
2 T dried oregano
1 T sugar
2 t salt
2 t ground cumin (I prefer to roast and grind my own with a mortar and pestle)
1 t chili powder
juice from 2 limes
Add in the browned pork, along with the pork bits and the bone from the roast. Bring to a near boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. The chili should thicken quite a bit. When the soup is nearly finished, remove the pork bone. Clean off any remaining bits of meat and add them back into the pot with:
1/2 c chopped cilantro
Serve topped with shredded Monterey Jack cheese and a garnishment of fresh cilantro, with either corn chips or corn tortillas on the side.