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Saturday, July 30, 2011

White Peach and Raspberry Jam

Many people view white peaches and nectarines as exotic and preferable to the regular orangey-gold varieties. The white ones have their own charms, and when ripe can have a sweetness that is like honey. However, for traditional peachy tang and bright acidity, I go for the gold.

These white peaches came from a backyard tree and were very ripe by the time I received them. I had no trouble slipping the skins away from the juicy flesh. I chopped them and immediately dropped them into acidulated water to preserve their color. I then drained them and mixed them with 1/4 cup lemon juice and 3 cups sugar and stuck them in the fridge to macerate. Taste tests revealed a sweet but bland flavor, so I decided to combine with raspberries. There is no substitute for using your own taste buds and imagination to create good flavor marriages. Raspberries and peaches are a traditional combination (remember Peach Melba?) and I knew that raspberries would deliver the sharp, acidic punch I found missing.
Do the macerata baby!
The flavor of this jam is outstanding. The proportion of raspberries to peaches lets each shine. Raspberries are definitely the forward high note, but the peaches bring a summery smoothness this jam would not have without them. Texture continues to be my most challenging target. This jam turned into a spread that mounds softly. It works, and I have determined that I much prefer a soft set to a jam that has become over cooked and gummy. I'm used to the consistency that comes from commercial pectin, but I like the flexibility of working without it. I can use any amount of fruit and sugar as long as the acidity comes in to safe ranges. I think this jam might have set a little more firmly had I used more sugar. Still, I'm pleased and Mr. Dwayne loves it and has almost finished the little dish of foam and extra that wouldn't fill a jar.

I'm really happy that my jam making has come to a point that someone can give me a bag of fruit and I can use my taste and my skills to whip up something with confidence.

White Peach and Raspberry Jam
3 1/2 lb.s peaches, peeled and chopped to equal about 8 cups
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 six oz. boxes fresh raspberries
3 cups sugar

The day before you jam, combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and place in the refrigerator to macerate overnight. Stir gently several times.

The day of canning, prepare jars and lids and a boiling water bath. Place several spoons on a saucer in the freezer.

Place the fruit mixture in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring frequently, until the jam reaches about 220 degrees. My jam became thick before this temperature and required a lot of stirring to prevent scorching. When the jam is nearing the desired temp, test by scooping a small amount on to one of the frozen spoons. Place the filled spoon back on the saucer in the freezer for a few minutes. When it has come to room temp, tilt the spoon and if it runs off the spoon easily cook a little more. I had to test 5 or 6 6 times before I got to the texture I desired. I decided mine was done when it mounded softly.

When the jam is ready, remove it from the heat and skim off all foam. Stir for a minute to distribute fruit evenly. Carefully fill jars, wipe rims and cover with lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let the jars stay in the water for 5 minutes before removing carefully to a towel lined tray. Let the jars seal and stand overnight before labeling.

Makes 4 half pint jars plus one tiny 4 oz. jar.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Asian Plum Sauce and Simple Mu Shu Chicken

This was the spring of cherries. I have a big cherry story coming your way. I'll be sharing all I've learned about cherries this year. Meanwhile, I missed the peak of a lot of other spring fruits - blueberries and apricots to name two. I've been much luckier with summer fruits because of the excellent generosity of some tree owners. My friend, Paula, lives next door to a nice man with a plum tree and a white peach tree. He's very happy to trade fruit for jam. I spent all day last Saturday in the kitchen and this Asian Plum Sauce is one of the projects I made with his plums.
My inspiration came from Put 'em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton, a canning and preserving book that is great fun to read and use. I altered her recipe slightly. Because my mom's plum tree produces little plums, about the size of a cherry, we never pit and chop them. We simply simmer them down with a little water and then run them through a food mill to capture the pits and skins. I processed these large plums the same way. I don't mind chopping when it enhances the finished product, but for this, smooth plum pulp was more desirable anyway. She starts with 2 pounds of fresh plums, but I started with 4 cups of prepared plum pulp. She also grated her ginger into the mixture, whereas I used whole spices to fish out at the end. The plums I used were very sour, so I reduced the vinegar from 1/2 to 1/4 cup.
This sauce came out so tasty! I will be making more of it for sure! This batch is rather small and only resulted in two 12 oz. jars. I know as soon as folks taste it, they will want some to take home! Luckily my mom has 5 one-gallon freezer bags full of plums in her freezer waiting for me!

Asian Plum Sauce
4 cups prepared plum pulp
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
5 slices of fresh ginger
1-2 garlic cloves
1-2 star anise
1 stick of cinnamon

Prepare jars and lids for two 12 oz. jars more smaller jars to equal about 24 oz. Prepare the boiling water bath.

Place all ingredients in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Simmer until it is reduced and thickened to a consistency similar to ketchup. This will take 20-30 minutes at a medium simmer. Stir often to prevent scorching. Remove the spices with a slotted spoon. Ladle into prepared jars, wipe rims and top with lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them remain in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Carefully remove to a towel lined tray and set them aside over night to seal. The next day, check the seals and label.

Simple Mu Shu Chicken
(This is not authentic but pretty darn yummy!)
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp. grated ginger
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. corn starch
2 tbsp. canola or peanut oil
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
1 carrot, cut into long shreds
1/4 of a large only, sliced thin
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
6 small, thin whole wheat tortillas
Asian Plum Sauce
Cilantro sprigs to garnish

Slice the chicken into thin strips and set aside. In a small bowl, mix the ginger, garlic, sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce and corn starch. Stir this mixture into the chicken pieces and marinate for about 20 minutes while you prepare the vegetables.

Heat a large skillet or wok to a high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan then add the chicken. Saute or stir-fry the chicken for about 5 minutes then add all the veggies. Continue to saute/stir-fry until the veggies are tender crisp. Remove from heat.

Warm the tortillas. Spread with about a tablespoon of the Asian Plum Sauce then fill with the chicken mixture. Top with fresh cilantro sprigs.

Makes 6 wraps.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Tomato and Pasta Salad

While the rest of the country has been suffering a massive and kind of scary heat wave, we in sunny Sacramento Valley have had the second unusually cool summer in a row. Our spring was Winter Part Two. I have been gardening with intention for three years now and only the first year was kind of normal. My soil was poor then and I've made significant improvements. My soil improvements didn't help my tomatoes get through late and heavy rains and continuously cool nights. My heroic little plants have grown spindly and have suffered two bouts of rust and white flies. Even with the odds against them, my plants have produced. And how! In the photo above, you see two of my four Roma plants. Last weekend I harvested 8 pounds of tomatoes from these four plants. I'll gather more this weekend.
The weekend I gathered all these tomatoes, the Sacramento Bee had a story about how area tomatoes have been struggling. I was feeling like a bad tomato mother until I read that everyone was having the same problems. I think I've actually lucked out with this chunk-o-harvest.
Two pounds of the freshly picked tomatoes went into this pasta salad. It was inspired by this post at Simply Recipes, but this version is my own. It's simple and refreshing. This recipe makes a huge amount, so feel free to half it. I think this would be a terrific light meal with the addition of fresh mozzarella.

Tomato and Pasta Salad
1 16 oz. package of orzo pasta cooked per package directions and drained
2 lb. garden tomatoes, cored and diced
1/3 cup diced sweet onion
1 tbsp. capers, coarsely chopped
hand full of fresh basil leaves sliced into ribbons
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Gently toss the pasta and vegetables together in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper. Add the olive oil by pouring it in a thin stream while continuing to whisk. Scrape the dressing into the pasta and tomatoes and gently toss to coat the ingredients. Chill before serving.

Makes enough for a potluck!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Potato Salad

Some yummy foods are fairly hard to display in a glamorous manner. This humble potato salad is a case in point. A sunny, yellow plate, some parsley and a little paprika helped to prepare this salad for its close-up. But, while we all like to look our best, we all know it's character that really counts.

Mr. Dwayne and I just celebrated our festival week - his birthday on Thursday, our anniversary on Saturday, and my birthday on Monday. His special birthday request was for a steak dinner with potato salad. Like many of our favorite foods, we have learned to apply moderation and distribution. This big batch is enough to share - we ended up taking half to our in-law's house. This quantity is perfect for a potluck.

Some commercially prepared potato salads are pretty good, but I've never found any that I like as well as my own. The beauty of making anything at home is that you get to have it your own way. My potato salad is on the sweet pickle plan. You can make a very delicious potato salad on the dill pickle plan if you prefer. My Aunt Barbara's dill pickle potato salad rocks! The first step in making a great potato salad is finding a pickle you really love. Your potato salad will only be as good as your pickles. I suggest that you do not use pickle relish. Instead, chop your favorite pickles into a chunky dice. I love it when I get a crunchy burst of pickle in each creamy, potato-y bite.

Potato Salad (Sweet Pickle Plan)
8 large red potatoes
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 a large carrot, grated
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
1/4 cup sweet pickle juice
6 small sweet pickles, chopped
1 large can sliced olives
1/4 cup finely diced sweet onion
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
1 tbsp. mustard
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper

Scrub and poke the potatoes and place in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently until tender. Mine took about 2o minutes. Remove the potatoes to a plate to cool while you prepare the rest of the salad ingredients.

When potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into bite sized pieces. There is no need to peel thin skinned potatoes. Place the vegetables and warm potatoes in a large bowl. Pour the pickle juice over the warm potatoes and toss. Combine the mayo, sour cream, mustard, salt and pepper and then stir into the potato and vegetable mixture. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Makes plenty.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Jam Foam

Hi Ya'll. This work week kind of did me in. I'm ready to lie down. What you see here is part of the laziest dinner in the world. Before this part of it, I munched crunchy veggies trying to decide what to do. Mr. Dwayne had already laid claim to the leftover chicken and grilled squash. In the end, I opted for goat cheese and jam. The only difference here is that the jam is from the foam I skimmed from the cherry and strawberry jams I made last weekend.

Some fruits foam more than others. Strawberry can foam very aggressively and I suggest that you never leave the kitchen once it is on the boil. When the jam nears the gel point, the foam will subside significantly, but there is always a little bit. Never throw it out! You might need a lazy dinner one night too.

Wishing you all a carefree, safe and joyful Independence Day weekend!