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Monday, February 27, 2012

Marmalading - Sharing What I've Learned

I opened this little blog with Lemon, Pineapple and Rosemary Marmalade back in April of 2010. It was not my first marmalade, but one of my first really successful outcomes and one of my first attempts at a creative flavor combination. I'm now fully into the citrus season of 2012 and I'm cycling through marmalades for the third time. There are so many things I've learned, often through some degree of failure. When I first started canning, marmalade seemed like something so advanced and difficult! In fact, my first marmalade turned out so bitter and seemed like so much work! It was sheer stubbornness that kept me going. I would like to share what I've learned so that if you want to try making marmalade, you can have your first attempt come out delicious!

One of the first things you have to decide is what you like about marmalade and what types of flavors you like best. My methods achieve marmalades that have chewy threads of zest suspended in a thick syrup. The flavor is similar to candied peel - sweet, tart and not very bitter. If you like a more bitter marmalade, you can simply add more of the white parts of the fruit - pith and peel. Just keep in mind that my marmalades have been developed to produce a product that I like. I do have my fans, so I think you will like them too. I hope to give you a foundation to develop your own marmalades that include your own preferences.

I have to give a great deal of credit to Food in Jar's Three Citrus Marmalade. Marisa's recipe and method gave me my first success and was the launching pad for the rest of my marmalading madness.
Skipping the canning, here is her basic methodology:

1. Zest the peels. Simmer the zest for 30 minutes.
2. Supreme the fruit
3. Add the simmering liquid and zest to the supremes.
4. Add sugar.
5. Boil to correct set. (More on that later.)

Once you have your canning set up established, you can use this model for any citrus fruit. Here are some of the things I've learned, correlated to the steps listed above:

1. The zest is the very outer, colorful layer of the peel. The less pith (white part) you get, the less bitterness you will have. However, when you give up the pith (and seeds) you also give up some of the pectin. I have found that for fruits that are too soft to use a zesting tool, such as Satsuma mandarins, I prefer to peel the mandarins and thinly slice the peel by hand. Because there is more pith, the temperature to reach a good set will be lower than for those marmalades where you avoid the pith altogether. Because mandarin peels are so thin, they do not impart much bitterness. Lime zest is SO VERY BITTER that you may want to avoid it altogether. If you choose to use it, I suggest making lime zest a small component of your recipe and not the feature. By simmering the zest, the peels are softened and their flavors are mellowed and imparted to the poaching liquid.

2. By removing the supremes from the membranes, you will avoid still more bitterness. Again, you will lose some of the pectin. I usually supreme firm fruits like oranges, limes, lemons and grapefruits. I slice softer fruits like Meyer lemons and mandarins. If you are slicing the softer fruits, it is good to cut out the tough center where all the sections meet. These can remain really hard, even after long simmering. I strongly recommend that you get your knives sharpened before marmalading.

3. When adding the simmering liquid and zest to the fruit, I do not exceed 8 cups total. Eight cups of fruit, liquid and zest to 6 cups sugar seems to work best for flavor and set. Whenever I get creative with ingredients, I try to end up between 7 and 8 cups fruit/liquid. Any time you experiment, you must also watch the acidity. I have some handy PH test strips for this. If you use PH test strips, test after the fruit has cooked down for some time so that the fruit can break down and acidulate the water. You can always stir in some additional lemon juice at the end. Safe canning PH, for the boiling water bath method, is at least 4.0. Most fruits meet this requirement. More caution is required with non-fruit ingredients.

4. Sugar is always negotiable. I haven't done any low sugar or sugar-free canning, but it can be done. If you prefer to jam without using commercial pectin, you will be reliant on the pectin in the fruit, the sugar, the acidity of the fruit and time to provide you with a set. I also prefer pure cane sugar. I've tried using less refined sugar products, but I can smell and taste the molasses. While I'm sure my canning is driving up the per-capita sugar consumption for US residents, we all eat jam a little bit at a time. I like refined cane sugar for the truest fruit flavor.

5. As I mentioned above, a set is dependent upon pectin, sugar, acid and time. When I first began making jams and marmalades without commercial pectin, I relied too much on my thermometer. Now that I'm in my third round of seasons, I've learned to trust my eyes and my taste more than any thermometer. Part of this is that fruit can vary considerably. For example, a recent tangerine and cranberry marmalade began to thicken early and if I had waited for 220 degrees, (the official gel point) I would have had a gummy mess. Cranberries have a ton of pectin and bear close observation. I like to test the set of my jams and marmalades by placing several saucers and spoons in the freezer. I scoop out a bit of jam onto a cold spoon and place it back in the freezer, on the saucer, for a few minutes. Tradition says that if you push the jam with a finger and see wrinkles, your jam is ready. I've also discovered that there is a certain mouth feel that I like, so I taste it. I have discovered that I prefer a soft set over an over-cooked set, which can be gummy. Marmalades that do not include pith or membranes will never set up like commercial marmalades. That is OK with me! I like the zest to be suspended in the very thick syrup with bits of flesh. Yum! Trust me, it will stay on your toast. For such marmalades, I've had to go up as high as 226 degrees. (This is measured by my current thermometer. I'm on my fourth!) After you reach the desired consistency, remove the pot from the heat, skim any foam (by the time marmalade gets good, very little foam remains) and allow it to cool slightly and stir. This helps the bits to be suspended evenly. You may have some floating, but don't worry, it will still taste great.

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing some yummy marmalades that use all this knowledge.

Many thanks to the friends and family who have given me fruit!

Marmalading Magic!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Random Food Fridays - Lucy's Lemon Bars

Scholastic books were a big part of my early school experience. I don't know if getting to pick out a new book generates as much excitement today, but back in the 70's, it was a big deal. Even then, I was interested in cooking and I loved the Peanuts. I can remember working my way through the entire history of Peanuts cartoon books at our public library. I think I must have chosen the Peanut's Cookbook in 5th or 6th grade. I do know that by middle school, I was making these lemon squares to bring to bake sales and Girl Scout events. I still remember the time one of my friend's dad raved about these and asked for the recipe. This is a demonstration of the power of words to young people. That moment is crystalized in my memory, and I still enjoy cooking and sharing today.

I no longer own the Peanut's Cookbook. As I recall, it began to fall apart and I copied my favorite recipes into our family cookbook and let it go. (I probably would never do such a thing today!) According to my notes, the Peanut's Cookbook was first published in 1963 (my natal year) and I had the 1970 Scholastic edition. I copied the recipes into our family cookbook in 1986, the year my daughter was born. I don't remember, but I wouldn't be surprised if culling the cookbooks and organizing the kitchen were a part of the nesting frenzy that occurred before my daughter's birth. It is very unlikely that I undertook such a project any time within her first year.

This is a basic lemon bar recipe and there are many variations across the interwebs. I hope to try some gluten free versions for my BFF, Paula. When I made these this week, I used Meyer Lemons, which have a smooth lemon flavor. For a brighter and more zingy flavor, go for Eureka lemons. My only alterations from the original recipe are that I added the grated zest of one lemon to the custard and will include instructions for using a food processor. These can be doubled and baked in a 9 x 13 pan, but may require a few minutes more in the oven.

Lucy's Lemon Bars
1 cup flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter (cold)
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (3 is OK and easier to measure!)
dash of salt
(grated zest of one lemon)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the flour, powdered sugar into a bowl or the bowl of your food processor and mix. Cut the butter into cubes and add. Either work in with your hands or pulse in the food processor until the mixture is thoroughly combined and comes together. Pour into a greased 8 x 8 inch bake pan and press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.

While the crust is baking, make the lemon custard layer. Place the eggs, sugar, baking powder, lemon juice and a dash of salt. Add the lemon zest, if desired. Whisk until combined and frothy.

When the crust is done, remove from the oven. Give the custard another stir and pour it over the crust. Place back in the oven and bake another 20-25 minutes. The center should only jiggle slightly when they are done. Remove and place the pan on a cooling rack. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Sprinkle with additional powdered sugar. At my house, this makes 9 squares.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lime & Vanilla Jam

 These are beautiful Bearss limes. From the outside, they look like lemons, but from the inside, they are very clearly limes. I am very fortunate to have a coworker with a mini orchard in her yard. She's brought boxes of these limes and tangerines in to work all last week.

The one time I tried to make lime marmalade it was awful. One of the only true failures I've had with my canning adventures. It was incredibly dark and bitter. Madelyn says it makes fine marmalade cookies, but I haven't been inspired to try that. I still have a jar or two around. They will likely be sacrificed for their jars in the near future.

Because of this bitterness, (the limes were bitter, not me) I thought I would experiment and try making a jam using only the juice and supremed segments. They were so pretty and fragrant! Because, according to Wiki, these are Persian or Tahiti limes, I decided to augment the flavor with a Tahitian vanilla bean.

I didn't expect this orange color, but I think it is beautiful. This jam is very, VERY, tart. I'm not sure it would be the best thing for toast, unless you like ultra sour. I have already used it in a citrus salad dressing. I think it would be a fabulous filling for pound cake or topping for a cheese cake. It's making my mouth water just thinking about it!

Lime & Vanilla Jam
15 limes
2/3 cup of apple pectin
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean

Prepare the jars, lids and boiling water bath and place some spoons on a saucer in the freezer.

With a very sharp knife, cut the skin and membrane from the outside of the limes. Carefully cut the segments away from the remaining membranes. Squeeze the membranes over the bowl with the segments to get the most juice possible. Measure the juice and segments and add water to bring the measurement up to four cups.

Place limes, apple pectin and sugar in a large pot. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the pod to the fruit in the pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer until it reaches about 222 degrees. Test on a spoon from the freezer by scooping out a bit of the jam. Allow it to cool and push it with a finger. If it wrinkles and mounds, you are there!

Carefully ladle into hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims and top with lids. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove and allow to set overnight before labeling.

Makes 3 1/2 pints

Friday, February 10, 2012

Random Food Fridays - Fruity Kale Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

I don't think this picture really does this yummy salad justice. I'm a much better cook than photographer. I barely had time to take this picture before I threw it into a lidded bowl and jumped in my car to get on my way to a pot luck.

For an experimental model, this turned out very well. My friends and I enjoyed it very much. I've been jonesin' for the bright flavors of Spring fruits. The fruits here are tropical - mango and pineapple - but this would be just as good with strawberries or peaches. The vinaigrette is made from a recent jam experiment - lime jam. (Recipe commimg soon!) If you don't have lime jam, you can substitute lemon or lime curd, marmalade or even honey. I have never used raw kale in a salad and I was skeptical, but it is delicious! I hope you'll try a kale salad real soon!

Fruity Kale Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
1 large mango, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 fresh ripe pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
large handful of chopped cilantro (I used half of a bunch)
6 mint leaves, chopped
2 cups of kale leaves that have had the ribs removed and been sliced very thin

1 tbsp. lime jam
juice of one orange
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic/herb seasoning
1 tsp. country style Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Toss all the all of the salad ingredients together. Place all of the dressing ingredients into a blender or tall container. Blend in the blender or with a stick blender until emulsified. Toss the dressing with the salad. Let stand for 20-30 minutes before serving.

Monday, February 6, 2012

White Bean Soup with Green Ribbons

Sometimes the farm box is the mother of invention. California is a great place to be for winter, but even here, choices narrow in wintertime. Both the farmers' markets and my farm box have been full of citrus, roots and greens. The good news is, I love all these things. But, I must admit, I'm dreaming of berries and drupes and pickles, Oh My!

This week was so busy for me that I stuffed my farm box into the fridge on Tuesday and didn't get to work on it until Sunday. The busy I've been is all kinds of good, but I sure was glad to have an opportunity to work outside and in the kitchen on Sunday. Let's see, I made sauteed radicchio and chard, vegetable pancakes out of an errant turnip, broccoli stems and carrots, turkey meatloaf and this soup. I also peeled and chopped a pound of fresh ginger to make candied ginger and ginger syrup. (It's boiling right now!) My onion goggles came in handy for processing that ginger. Ginger + eyeballs = no good!

Like most soups, this one is adaptable to whatever vegetables you find in your life. This version is pretty classic and absolutely delicious, if unsurprising. I made use of my crock pot to simmer the beans to tenderness after their soak. The crock pot is a great way to leave something cooking while you work in the yard. Because beans can foam, I've had them spill over and put out my gas burner. Luckily we discovered it fairly quickly and got the windows open and used the whole house fan to suck out the gas. Ever since that episode, I use my crock pot for unsupervised simmering.

White Bean Soup with Green Ribbons
1 1/2 cups white beans, picked over and washed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 leeks
2 ribs celery
5 small carrots
4 oz. mushrooms
8 oz. ham
1 tbsp. chicken base
1 large bunch spinach
salt and freshly ground pepper

Soak the beans over night or do a quick soak by bringing the washed beans and 8 cups of water to a boil. Let stand for one hour. If you have soaked the beans overnight, rinse them and add 7 cups water. Bring the beans to a boil and simmer until tender - about 3 hours on a very low heat.

When the beans are tender, prepare the rest of the soup. Cut the green parts and roots off of the leeks. Split the leeks length wise, then slice thin across the grain. Place the leek pieces in a colander and rinse thoroughly. Drain. Wash and dice the celery and carrots. Wipe the mushrooms and dice. Dice the ham. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the veggies and ham and saute until the veggies have softened a bit. Add the beans and their liquid. Add 2 more cups water and 1 tablespoon chicken or vegetable base. (Use stock or broth, if you prefer.) Bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Meanwhile, wash and dry the spinach. Stack the spinach leaves and cut into thin ribbons. Add the spinach to the soup and stir. It will soften very quickly. Taste the soup and adjust salt and pepper.

Makes about 8 cups at about 210 calories per cup. (Yep, we're counting again.)