Summer Berry Jam, Quick

blackberries

Mmmm! It’s summertime, and that means berries! Blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, golden raspberries, blueberries – even plums and cherries are gettin’ their business done. So what does this mean? Either stains on your shirt from eating them while sitting in the  sun, juice lusciously dripping down – or jam!

finishedjars

Traditionally we think of jam as this long, outrageous process that our grandmothers  spent all of Sunday doing while darning their husbands socks and making fudge. The truth is, it doesn’t really have to be that way. You can do it with really minimal ingredients, no pectin and in about an hour.

You don’t have to properly can this (or “put it up” as they say) if you will use it within 3 weeks or so. Instead, just let the jam cool completely after boiling it, put it in a container (glass is best) and refrigerate it.

If you are canning it make sure to have your jars, lids and rings prepared and ready, and get your water bath going so it’s all ready when the jam is done; it will make the whole process move much more quickly.

For approximately 2 pints of jam, you will need:

  • 2.5 lbs of fruit (whatever mix or single variety you desire; first time, I recommend strawberry for greatest simplicity)
  • app. 3 cups of sugar, added 1/4 cup at a time, tasting along the way
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • jars, lids and bands (or some preferably glass holder, if not canning) to hold the finished product
  • a ladle
  • a spoon in the freezer (trust me, you’ll see why)

 

  1. Start by washing your fruit well and hulling you strawberries, stemming your grapes, etc.
  2. Any larger fruits (the size of a small strawberry) cut into quarters, smaller, cut into halves, anything as small as a blueberry or raspberry leave whole. Feel free to use a food processor for this, unless you are using grapes (it messes with the skin). Cut all grapes into halves and quarters.
  3. Plop the fruit into a heavy bottomed pot – preferably a dutch oven, or at least something short and stout – at turn the heat on medium-high. I like to smash the fruit immediately with a potato masher or fork, just a little bit, to help get the juices flowing.
  4. Once the fruit gets juicy and starts to heat, start adding the sugar and stir often to make sure the sugar and fruit doesn’t burn.  cookingjam
  5. Add the lemon once the fruit is nice and juicy and begins to boil, and still continue to stir often.
  6. Continue to stir, letting it boil and reduce for 15-20 minutes (some fruits take longer, some take less). To check to see when it’s done, you can do the spoon test:

Use the cold spoon that you have in the freezer and put a tiny dollop of jam on               the spoon and stick it back in the freezer for a minute until the jam cools a bit and then use your finger to wipe a stripe down the middle. If it doesn’t run, it’s good to go. Take it off the heat and get ready to can it up. If runs, continue to boil and reduce, and try the spoon test again in 5 minutes or so.

 Though I don’t strongly recommend it, if you do have any troubles with getting it thick and gooey enough, you can use:

  • cream of tartar
  • arrowroot
  • cornstarch

*note: if you use any of these, use very little and dissolve in water first (make a “slurry”), otherwise you will have lumps and it won’t do it’s job, it’ll just be a weird mess.

Once it’s thick to your liking, it’s ready to jar. If you’re not going to can it, let it cool and put it away in the fridge. If you are going to can it, make sure you have your water bath boiling, your jars, lids and rings hot. Fill the hot jars with the hot jam, wipe the rims clean with a paper towel, secure the lids and rings and get them in that water bath, lid side up, fully submerged.boilingjars

Once the water is back up to a serious rolling boil, process for 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the jar, remove, and leave to cool on a towel for 12 hours.

And you’re ready to enjoy! (I like mine on toast with peanut butter…mmmmmm…..)

toastandjam

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snacks! Veggie, Cheesy, Pickled, Salty. Snacks!

I love snacks! And I think most of us out there do, too. The great thing about a well designed snack is you can use it as an appetizer, amuse bouche, small plate etc. for guests or a dinner party. This is a great example of one of those eat-at-home-alone or dress-it-up-for-guests snacks.

Ricotta and Radish on Crackers

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I can’t stop eating it, no joke. This little bite makes me want to put ricotta on everything, and everything on top of ricotta. I’ve gone through pints of the mild, creamy cheese in the last week just in order to combine it with anything I can find hoping to make it as unbelievable as it is with cracker, radish, salt and pepper.

It’s crazy easy, but it will blow your mind – and the mind of anyone you share it with. All you need to have is a thin, crisp but sturdy cracker, fresh creamy ricotta, and some thinly sliced radishes and a little salt and pepper, too, of course.

Or, for a little extra pizazz, omit the salt and sub the fresh radishes for some delish pickled ones:

radishandricottagoodsize

Shameless plug coming…… (contact me at KitchenEclectic@gmail.com    for pickle orders)

It’s a tasty trick for left overs, too. Last night’s salad of spinach, walnut, and cucumbers last was out of this world on top of ricotta crackers this afternoon.

And don’t forget to try your hand at your own ricotta – takes no time at all. A few minutes of work, 2 hours of sitting around doing nothing. Courtesy of me: Homemade Ricotta.

What else can you top ricotta and crackers with? Salted carrots? Beets? Enjoy a snack and let me know!

 

Spicy Pickled Slaw, (Repost, Update)

This post is a recipe from one of my first successful pickling experiences; since then I haven’t stopped. But I still use this same basic recipe and ratio. It’s a great way to pickle. I updated a couple things, but wanted to re-share it and get you all as excited about pickling everything in sight as I am! 

I was recently cursed with bout of the ugliest of flus, spending a week of my life on the couch. It sucked. Seriously, sucked. There were, however, one or two breaks in the clouds where I thought I was feeling better and so ventured out, desperate for some fresh air and to avoid the atrophy that was setting in on my body. One such evening, I weakly stumbled upon the Mission Community Farmer’s Market.


And by golly, what luck of the season (though I already knew), it was perfect timing. The market full of lovely purveyors, delicious pupusas and super scrumptious fruits and veggies. And, of course, as it’s that glorious season for all things canned, jammed, jellied and pickled with an adorable label, my heart let out a sweet giggle when I found this purveyor, Emmy’s Pickles and Jams:

I indulged myself in some quince butter (oh, mmmmmmm) and a jar of zesty pickles (double mmmmmm)…..

I’m going to get me some fig jam next time….

After chatting it up for a minute, I moseyed on for my own jarring (hah! oh, puns…) adventure. I was on the look out for some additions to a cabbage, fennel, onion, and carrot combination…. that’s right. Some additions to…. SLAW!

Mmmmm!

Edging dangerously close to the end of pepper season, I didn’t know what I was going to find – but I did know I was going to snatch up and hoard what I could. I got lucky and crossed ways with some real beauties!

The great thing about slaw / pickled items is that they’re incredibly versatile. You can use just about anything that’s available. Lately, I’ve been using a combination of some or all of the following:

  • Cabbage
  • Jalapenos (lots of ’em, some seeded, some not)
  • Fennel
  • Onions (white, red, yellow, shallots)
  • Green Beans
  • Yellow Wax Beans
  • Carrots
  • Padrons/Shishitos (stemmed and torn in half lengthwise)
  • Red, Yellow, Orange Bells and these gorgeous purple heirloom peppers I got at the market:

with a quick, mild pickle. 

Try this mildly pickle slaw (similar to Salvadorian curtido) on eggs, tacos and pupusas (duh), mixed with avocado and cucumber, in place of lettuce on any sandwich…the options go on and on.

Be sure to experiment with the brine, too, based on what your ingredients are. Sweeter peppers? Make a spicier brine. Spicier pickles, make a sweeter brine by using more brown sugar than white sugar and apple cider vinegar in place of granulated. Or, add some funky spices that you really love. Clove? Extra black peppercorn? Or make it crazy spicy with some whole dried cayennes. Try adding tarragon, star anise, who knows. It’s quick and cheap so you can experiment time and time again.

Here’re the basics:

Prep Your Slaw Veggies:

      1. Chop or clean all the ingredients you chose to use into long strips that
          are as close to the same size as you can get.
      2. Mix them together in a large bowl so they’re evenly distributed. It should
          look about like this:

3. Evenly distribute the mix amongst the jars you have cleaned. Fill them fully to     the top.

4. Follow the instructions below to make the brine and pickle.

Basic Brine (for 2 cups)

    • 1/2 c. white vinegar
    • 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
    • 3T white sugar
    • 3T brown sugar
    • 2t coarse grey sea salt (substitute regular kosher salt if you can’t find coarse)
    • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1T black peppercorn
    • 1cup water
    1. Bring all ingredients to a boil, then pour immediately over your prepared slaw, in jars.
    2. Let cool until just comfortable to the touch, then seal with a screw top lid. (It’s not necessary to do a proper canning seal for this quick pickle, as long as you eat it within a week or so.)
      3. Let cool, then refrigerate and let sit for 24 hours, then

enjoy!

Homemade (Chicken) Stock!

This little lady is cute as a button, but she’s also gonna make some yuuuummy stock!

Like the sign of a good stock, it’s clear: you should be making your own stock! Homemade stock sets your food worlds apart from the food of other cooks, and it’s not as big of a production as you think – it’s great for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Get it going and put on a movie or clean the house. Once you get it in the pot, it just sits there on the stove for a few hours. And, in case you’re still using water (like some kind of fool)- you should be using stock for just about everything savory that calls for water: lentils, rice, beans, soup – all of it. It’ll triple the depth of flavor.

I do, though, know it can be confusing. It can be daunting. What parts of the chicken (sub: beef, or veggies, or whatever…) do I use? Well…use any parts…that’s kinda the point of stock….you can use new parts or you can use left overs that you’ve saved. Generally, its the discarded, post-butchery parts that are used for stock, so if you’re going to the market or the butcher for it, just say:

“Hello sir/madam. Do you per chance have any chicken (sub: veal, turkey, beef) parts for stock?”

and they’ll generally know what you want (they might think you talk funny, though). Necks, backs, left over bones from de-boned breasts, you can even use feet. All that business. Anything, really. Except for kidneys, livers and hearts and innards (aka offal) – The innards, generally get really bitter and gross when boiled.

You can also use legs, thighs, whole carcasses. Whatever you have around works fine. If you just roasted a chicken last night and you have all the left overs – that is the most perfect.

How I get it together:

1. I keep a big ole tupperware in the freezer that I fill up with veggie scraps from cooking and veggies from the fridge that have become less that super perfect, and then another ginormous tupperware of meat scraps (bones from dinner, carcasses from whole roasted bodies, etc). As an example, a friend of mine asked recently:

“Ally, I get fried chicked all the time from the place down the street, can I use those bones?”

“Totally you can!” I said.

Shove them in the freezer and save them up until you’re ready. You don’t have to do anything to them. Leave the left over fry on, whatever. Then, when you have enough, or you’re ready, get started. What I do – if I don’t have enough when I’m ready, I head to the market and I buy what I need. No biggie. It’s so simple, forgiving and versatile.

 2. The frozen items that I’ve (you’ve) saved are fine to go directly into the boiling bucket (the stock pot), but to really amp up the flavor in there, defrost a bit (doesn’t have to be too serious) and roast them at 450 in the oven until they get a little brown and they become veggies and bones again. Be sure to use two separate sheet pans (one for the veggies, one for the bones) because they’re going to be done at different times and you don’t want them to be “cooked” – not soft, not squishy – especially the vegetables! You just want to barely start smelling them, and then take them out. They should still be fairly hard, the bones should be just defrosted and smelling delish.

3. Here’s the loose recipe. Remember, this is stock, you can always add water, so you want it stronger if anything. An estimate for proportions should be about 2 parts chicken to 1 part veggies, and best is in a 5 gallon stock pot.

For 2 1/2 pounds or so chicken, add:

  • 2-3 celery, halved crosswise and halved again lengthwise (leaves included)2
  • a few carrots, halved crosswise and quartered lengthwise
  • 1 1/2 or so onions (yellow and/or white), peeled and quartered (root on, so it stays together)
  • 1-2 leeks, halved lengthwise and cleaned out of any dirt in the layers
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, just the dirty bottoms trimmed
  • 1 small palmfull whole black peppercorn
  • 1/2 bunch thyme (fresh)
  • 1/2 bunch oregano (fresh)
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • just a sprig or two of rosemary (fresh)
  • 2 whole flowers of garlic, top cut off and as much peel removed as possible

*most people tie herbs together and wrap them into cheese cloth, but my theory is that if you are simmering it at a low enough temperature and you strain it, it’s fine; throw everything in and make it easy on yourself. I’ve always done it that way and my stock is awesome.

Cram this all into your 5 gallon stock pot, and fill it to the brim with water. It should look like this:

Everything should be packed in there so that the liquid that comes out is rich – you can always water it down if you want it more bland, but you can’t make it more flavorful once it’s done.

Once you turn on the heat, start the chores around home, turn on a movie, whatever. Make sure it doesn’t turn up to a heavy boil. At most, you want a heavy simmer (NO boil!). Check it here and there, give it a stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom or sides.

Skim the impurities and some of the fat that will come off the chickies that rise the surface (it looks like wierd foam). Just use a big spoon, skim it off and throw it out; this is a huge boost in how to get a beautifully clear stock.

Keep peeking in, skimming and stirring here and there, salting it mildly as you go, and give it a taste in a couple hours.

Let it simmer for 3 hours, and start tasting. It should take 3-4, maybe 5 hours for really rich, good chicken stock. Taste along the way, salt along the way, skim along the way and when you like it, take it off the heat to cool and then strain through a fine strainer or cheesecloth into glass jars when done.

 

And look at how beautiful that stock is! Use it in everything now!