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!

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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!

 

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!

 

 

Homemade Butter in Under an Hour!

Homemade butter like this in under an hour!? Impossible!

No lies, I swear! I’m telling you; you don’t need that olde tyme farmhouse kitchen with a window looking out on the pasture, or one of those big wooden barrels with a stick poking out of it, a red and white checkerboard apron to wear while you churn for hours. All you need is this:


    Heavy cream
    Fairly fine colander
    Food processor

Here, just look how easy:

    1. Pour your cream into the food processor (or jar, if you’re doing it that way) and use the “grind” setting until it looks like this:

    *It will go through several stages, quickly – from whipped cream, to hardened whipped cream, then it will start to turn a yellow color and get kind of mealy and become this. It takes about 5 minutes, give or take, depending on how much cream you’re using.

    2. Let it sit like this for about 5 minutes, and the solids will separate from the liquids.

    3. Scoop it into a colander placed over a bowl and press a little bit more of the liquid out of the butter solids. (The liquid is buttermilk, so you can keep that if you want to use it for something).

    4. In the colander, knead the butter solids with a wooden spoon or 2 forks or a spatula until it gets creamy (not long, just a couple minutes). A little more water will come out; drain it.

    5. Now you have butter! Spread it on baguette, saute some veggies, rub it on a door knob to anger your boyfriend….there’s a million things to do with it!

Enjoy!

Homemade Cheese: It’s Easier Than You Think

I’m not lying. It’s pretty easy. My first time was intimidating; I made some ricotta to stuff a duck confit for Thanksgiving. It turned out great and it only took about a half hour.

The most important thing to pay attention to is the temperature of the milk. If it starts to boil – or really even simmer – it’s going to scorch and your cheese is going to taste like burnt milk – blech. Thus, you really need a candy thermometer to watch it the temperature.

This can be made as creamy or as dry as you like, it only depends on how long you drain it. Once it gets dry (like below) some people start to call it farmer’s cheese. I’ve also understood that farmer’s cheese technically requires rennet, which ricotta does not. I’m not sure what the truth about that is, but I do know I love this cheese and I make it all the time – moist, dry, and in the middle depending on the dish.

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Homemade Ricotta

    • 1 quart whole milk
    • 1 cup heavy cream or buttermilk (depending on your taste preference)
    • 1T white vinegar
    • salt
  1. Heat milk and cream slowly on stove top to 185-190 degrees
  2. While heating, line a strainer or fine colander with fine cheese cloth, doubled over
  3. Once milk has reached temperature, take off heat immediately and slowly add vinegar, salt and stir very gently just to mix.
  4. Cover for approximately 2 hours. DO NOT stir during this time.
  5. Pour carefully into your lined strainer and drain until it reaches the dryness you desire.
  6. Fluff, and either store or eat!

Try adding lemon zest or fresh herbs after its done. Or for dessert, some fresh and macerated fruit.

Enjoy!