Canning Classes

I’m so excited to tell everyone that I will be working with April Cunningham from North Coast Opportunities to put on a series of canning and cooking classes this year.  The classes will be offered at the Willits Grange Kitchen and the Ukiah Senior Center Kitchen (both of which are really nice commercial kitchens).  We’re working on adding some dates at the Redwood Valley Grange as well.  Workshops will focus on cooking and preserving seasonal produce from local farms.  I’ll show you how to make jam and pickles but we’ll do some fresh cooking too.  After each class, participants will go home with a bag full of goodies that we’ve made that day.  At just $20, the classes are a ridiculously good deal!  There’s no commitment to attend the whole series- feel free to sign up for one class and then sign up for the rest once you see how much fun they’re going to be and how delicious everything we make turns out.  fall preservesSpace is limited, so contact April Cunningham to reserve a space: acunningham@ncoinc.org, or 707-467-3212.  If you’re interested in attending but the dates don’t work for you, e-mail April to stay in touch about future workshops.

Upcoming Workshops:

April 18: Ukiah Senior Center 1:00-4:00 pm. – FULL

April 22: Willits Grange 2:00-5:00

May 6: Ukiah Senior Center 2:00-5:00

May 30: Ukiah Senior Center 2:00-5:00

June 16: Ukiah Senior Center: 2:00-5:00

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Tangerine Jam with Vanilla Bean

It’s a strange time of year.  In November and December I was so tired from the summer that I was happy to sleep in and do not a whole lot for awhile.  Many hours were spent soaking in the bathtub and reading through seed catalogues.  tangerinesBy now, though, garden plans have been laid out, the first round of earliest spring seeds have been ordered and shipped to us and I’m starting to wake up in the morning with manic summer gardening thoughts in the front of my brain.

Before I forget, though, these tangerines! Citrus season in California is very much upon us.  A friend of mine in Ukiah gave me a huge bag of tangerines off of her tree.  They were juicy, sweet and delicious, and while we ate a lot of them fresh I also ended up making a couple different projects with them.

CANNED TANGERINE SEGMENTS IN LIGHT SYRUP

I held back from adding a bunch of flavorings to the syrup.  My goal was to make a fancy version of the canned mandarin oranges that they sell at the grocery store.  They’re basically the same thing, but with local fruit and a light syrup made with organic sugar.  tangerines in syrupI used this recipe here, which worked out just fine. Maybe I’ll tinker with it next time, but I kind of like that these are pretty plain.   They’re lovely straight out of the jar, tossed with salads, in a sauté with chicken, almonds and parsley, and a whole load of other recipes.

TANGERINE & VANILLA BEAN JAM

tangerine and vanilla bean jamI realized a few years ago that any jam that’s heavy on the vanilla makes for the best, most delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I think it’s something that ends up kind of being reminiscent of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff? But without the marshmallow? Maybe I’m crazy…  This jam is a good alternative to marmalade if you’re not a fan of the bitter flavor marmalade can have. It tastes like a creamsicle because of the classic orange-vanilla combination. If you want to use it for savory applications, just leave out the vanilla bean. I thought about making another batch with ginger instead of vanilla, which I think would be great on chicken or as a salad dressing base, but…. we ate the rest of the tangerines. Oops.

Cook Time: 45 min.

Makes: 6 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 14 tangerines and 1 lemon, peeled and blended in a food processor, or about 5 c. of fruit puree.
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 box of sure-gel low sugar pectin
  • 2 c. sugar

Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.

Put the fruit puree into a large, heavy bottomed pot.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the fruit puree.  Simmer the fruit-vanilla mixture for 5 minutes on low heat.  In a small bowl, combine the pectin with 1/2 c. sugar.  Once the fruit has simmered, add the pectin-sugar mixture and turn the heat to high.  Once it comes to a boil, add the remaining 1 1/2 c. sugar.  Bring to a full rolling boil and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until you can see the jam sheeting of a spoon.

Ladle hot jam into hot, clean jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe rims clean and attach lids and rings.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude if necessary.

Note: I only use 1/2 box of pectin because I find that when I use a full box, the set is way too firm for my taste.  If you prefer a firmer set, feel free to add the rest of the pectin.

DRIED TANGERINE PEEL

As you’re doing these projects, don’t throw away the peels. Save them and dehydrate them to make tangerine peel powder, which you can use as a spice with kinds of different applications.  I mixed some with garlic powder, sea salt, black pepper, dried thyme and rosemary to make a savory rub for chicken or pork. You can also use it for sweet things — I find that any time you’re using desserty kinds of spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, a little pinch of the tangerine peel powder just makes it taste even better.  peelsYou can either dry the peels in a dehydrator or the oven; I don’t have a dehydrator so I used the lowest setting on my oven.  They took a couple hours to dry out, and then I ground them in my blender.  The powder felt like it still had a little moisture in it, so I spread it onto a cookie sheet and dried it a little longer to make sure it wouldn’t mold in the pantry. tangerine peel powderThe scent of the peels dehydrating is wonderful and will make your house smell delicious, like you’re baking a tangerine cake.

Happy canning!

Brandied Cranberry Pear Preserves

cranberries peCranberries are one of the things that make me buy non-local fruit.  I just can’t not do it. I love them.  I want to put them in everything I make.  The pears are local! They’re from my friend’s farm in Potter Valley! I drove all the way over there by myself way out into the boonies out of cell phone range on a dirt road in my frail old pickup truck with the engine light on! That’s how committed I was to those beautiful bartlett pears.  That should forgive the fact that I bought cranberries in a plastic bag from the grocery store.  Shhh.  SHHHHH.  No judging.cranberrypearpreserves The obvious use for cranberry preserves is to put them with roast turkey, but I really love this preserve on regular old whole wheat toast on all kinds days that aren’t Thanksgiving.  I think it tastes best when it’s cold and gray outside and you make a cup of tea and some toast.  I am a huge fan of fall, winter, rain, sweaters, fires in the wood stove, etc., and this jam fits right in with all that stuff.

Also,  if you want to be fancy it’s pretty amazing with soft chèvre or brie.

BRANDIED CRANBERRY PEAR PRESERVES

Cook Time: 1 hr., plus waiting overnight for fruit to macerate

Makes: 4 1/2 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 4 c. diced pears (peel and core first)
  • 2 c. cranberries
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • a splash of brandy (how big is up to you)

Day 1:

Combine all the ingredients in a nonreactive container.  Stir well to coat the pears with sugar.  Press a layer of saran wrap over the top of the mixture to prevent browning.  Put the container in the fridge for 24 hours.

Day 2:

Bring boiling water canner to a boil and prepare jars and lids.

Transfer the mixture to a large, nonreactive pot.  Turn the heat to high and cook until the jam reaches the gel point, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  Partway through cooking, I like to give the mixture a few mashes with a potato masher to break up some of the fruit pieces to get a jammier texture.

Remove the bay leaf and discard. Ladle hot jam into hot, clean jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe rims and attach lids. Process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude if necessary.

Pickled Red Onions & Quattro Stagioni Jars

So, I’ve never bothered doing any giveaways with free stuff or contests or any of that.  I like keeping this page more like a journal that I can use to remember good recipes and gardening ideas, and I don’t feel like spending a bunch of time trying to turn it into something more than that.  BUT…. when a fancy jar company offers to send me some of their jars, that’s a whole different situation.  I will never say no to more jars, whether they’re dusty ones from grandma’s basement or these gorgeous Quattro Staggioni jars that I used this morning.bormioli rocco jarsBormioli Rocco sent me a box of their Quattro Stagioni jars and some canning goodies (opening it was like Christmas in the middle of summer!) and they’re hosting a giveaway on their Facebook page where five winners will receive the same box that I got. All you have to do is go and like their page.

Quattro Stagioni jars have a one piece lid, which I know not everyone has worked with, but is really not much different than a two-piece lid.  Food in Jars has a good instructional over here explaining how to use them, so I won’t completely rewrite it, but the main tip is that you only need to screw on the lids until they’re moderately tight. Food in Jars says: ” When you screw this lids on, you only want to tighten them to the point when you feel the rim of the jar make contact with the sealing compound. Don’t go any tighter or the air won’t be able to escape and you will have compromised your seal.”

(Also, can I say how nice it is that if I am insecure about canning knowledge, all I need to do is go check on the Food In Jars page to confirm it? I don’t know what people did before the internet and food blogs.)floodgate farms torpedo onionsSince these are pretty jars, I wanted to make something pretty to put in them.  I settled on pickled red onions and apricots on in honey syrup.  I’m crazy about the pickled onions. We grilled some venison kebabs the other night, then made sandwiches on french bread with pickled red onions and lots of mustard.  Jason and I drank cold beers and watched the baseball game on tv. and it was pure summer bliss.  You could also put these on burgers, in a wrap with falafel or grilled vegetables, or toss them in a salad.  Once the onions are gone, save the brine and use it for salad dressing.pickled red onions and apricots in honey syrupPICKLED RED ONIONS

Use the freshest onions you can find for a vibrant hot pink color.  I bought these gorgeous onions from Floodgate Farm at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market.

Cook Time: 45 min.

Makes: 7 1/2 pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 5 c. white wine vinegar*
  • 10 c. sliced peeled red onions (1/4″ thick rings)
  • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • a few sprigs of fresh herbs: I used marjoram today, but sage, thyme, oregano, rosemary, etc. are all fine
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.

In a large, nonreactive pot, combine the vinegar with the peppercorns and the garlic.  Bring up to a boil and add the sliced onions.  Stir gently and simmer for five minutes, until the onions soften.

Place a small sprig of fresh marjoram in each jar, and then use a slotted spoon to fill up the jar with onions. Ladle  the infused hot vinegar over the onions, leaving a generous 1/2″ of headspace.  Use a chopstick or rubber spatula to remove the air bubbles and adjust the headspace as necessary.  Wipe rims and attach lids, then process for ten minutes, adjusting for altitude if necessary.

*I’ve also used red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and white vinegar.  The recipe comes out fine with all of them.

Pickled Okra

So here’s my theory: If you’re going to have a fried chicken dinner, I think you need to serve a lot of really fresh vegetables to go with it so that the whole meal’s not super heavy and deep fried.  Braised collards are traditional, of course, but I think what really makes the meal is a big dish of pickled okra.  The vinegar is such a good counterpart to country gravy and mashed potatoes. Plus, everyone knows to make collard greens so they’re necessarily all that exciting, but I’m not sure the general public realizes how amazing pickled okra taste.  If you like dill pickles, you will love these. They’re crisp and tangy (not slimy at all), and even though I could have canned them, I didn’t bother because my family and I polished them off in just a couple days.  They were perfect as a side dish to a big southern dinner, but also delicious with cold beers, pimento cheese and crackers. pickled okraThis is a horrendous picture from my phone because I was more worried about serving a table full of people and then eating with my family before the food got cold than taking perfectly styled photographs, but just so you see where I’m going with this: fried chicken dinnerIt was so good!

My recipe for fried chicken is here, along with some prettier pictures.  The biscuits are a recipe that I always use from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  They’re yeasted buttermilk biscuits and come out wonderfully fluffy.  If you don’t have that cookbook you should almost definitely buy it –  it’s a winner.

PICKLED OKRA

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. okra
  • 2 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 c. water
  • 1/4 c. kosher salt
  • 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. dill seed
  • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • optional: a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • optional, which I didn’t use because I couldn’t find: one or two fresh dill blossoms

Combine the apple cider vinegar, salt, water, garlic, dill seed, black peppercorns and sliced onion in a nonreactive pot and bring to a simmer.  (If you want them spicy, this is also when you should add the red pepper flakes to your own heat preference).  Simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Arrange the okra in a nonreactive container (I used a glass dish but you could use jars too) and add the dill blossoms if you are using them.  Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the okra.  It should cover them completely.  Move the container to the refrigerator.  Refrigerate for at least 48 hours before serving.  They should last in the fridge for about a month, but you’ll probably eat them much quicker than that.

Strawberry-Peach-Lemon Jam

I just got back from a week in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.  My parents, one of my brothers and I all stayed at my grandma’s house and cooked a lot of pretty amazing food, so I have a several recipes I’ll be sharing this week as I get the time to write them up.

grandma
my grandma Molly in high school, in 1936. she’s the first one on the left, front row.

First up: this strawberry-peach-lemon jam.  It turned out really nice, with a gorgeous color, a good set and texture and lovely complex flavor.  (But… It’s also a bit of an abomination, since I used a bunch of sketchy fruit from a tiny local grocery store right down the road from us: conventionally grown, underripe, out of season peaches, some mediocre strawberries and a lemon to try and add some flavor.)  I’ve deemed it totally acceptable to break the usual rules about local fruit in our situation, when you’re staying at a house with several family members who all know how to make and can preserves, somehow there’s no jam in the house and all the local fruit is out of season.  The decisive moment was when I found an open jar of smucker’s strawberry jam in the fridge.  I don’t know who in my family bought that, but SHAME! strawberry-peach-lemon jamRecently, I’ve been trying to make really simple preserves, with just one kind of fruit, sugar and sometimes lemon juice.  I’m kind of obsessed with finding the best-of-the-best-most-delicious-you’ve-ever-tasted apricots/blackberries/whatever and doing the bare minimum that I need to do to get them into jars. Whoever grew the fruit is really doing most of the complicated work.  As far as my part goes, tracking down the perfect fruit is actually way more complicated than getting it into jars.

With boring grocery store fruit, though, I figured there’s no harm in playing around with some new flavor combinations to try and make the jam a little bit more vibrant.  And it worked! It’s kind of ridiculous that homemade jam is still so much better than the grocery store counterpart even when you’re not using very high quality fruit.  I’m really curious to see how this recipe turns out if I made it during the summer with some really sweet, ripe strawberries and peaches from our own peach trees.IMG_5388STRAWBERRY-PEACH-LEMON JAM

Makes: 4 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart of strawberries, stems removed and sliced in half
  • 3 peaches, blanched, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 large lemon, sliced for marmalade*
  • 1 tbs. vanilla
  • 3 c. sugar

Day 1: Prepare the fruit and macerate

Combine the sliced strawberries, peeled diced peaches, sliced lemons and sugar in a nonreactive container. Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

Day 2: Cook off the jam

Bring boiling water canner to a boil, prepare jars and lids.

Transfer the fruit to a heavy bottomed, nonreactive pot and cook on high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  After about 10 minutes, when the fruit is cooked through but the jam isn’t gelled yet, remove the pot from the stove and use a potato masher to mash the fruit to a consistency that you like.  (At this point it will really start to look like jam).  Put the pot back onto the stove and continue cooking until the jam reaches the gel point.  Ladle into hot half pint jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Attach lids and rings and process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as necessary.

Note: Strawberry jam can be challenging to get to set properly, but since this has a bunch of lemon slices in it, it should set pretty easily. It did for me, atleast.

Another Note: When you make marmalade, the sliced citrus fruit is often parcooked in some water before the sugar is added to make sure that the rinds are cooked all the way through and don’t end up chewy at the end.  Since this recipe skips that step, it is very important to slice the lemon extra super thin, otherwise I’m pretty sure it won’t cook thoroughly with the strawberries and peaches.

*To slice lemons for marmalade: read this instructions from Hitchhiking to Heaven. I’m too lazy to write them out.

And, don’t forget that if you don’t have your boiling water canner with you, all you really need is a pot with some jar rings laid in the bottom and you’re good to go. canning rack

Pear Almond Tart

So, I canned a bunch of pears back in September.  (Recipe here).  Now that it’s February it’s really sinking in how delicious they are.canned pearsOut of all my canning projects from 2013, they’re one of my favorites.  Before they were ever in jars, these pears were some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Ever!  They were grown right in Redwood Valley by a lovely couple that I met at the farmers market a few years ago.  (They’re basically the embodiment of the kind of fruit I want to be preserving all the time). A lot of the time we just eat them out of the jar, but I needed to take a dessert to a friend’s house yesterday and whipped together this tart with some of them.  An almond crust combined with sliced canned pears and a rich vanilla custard (with eggs from our chickens!) made for a really lovely tart that tastes delicate and luxurious at the same time. pear almond tartThis recipe is a combination of a couple recipes: the crust is an adaptation from Deborah Madison’s nut crust in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, p. 695 and the filling is based off of this pear tart recipe from Williams Sonoma. 

PEAR ALMOND TART

Cook Time: 1 hr.

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

  • 1/2 c. slivered almonds, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 tbs. sugar
  • 5 tbs. butter
  • 2 tbs. water

For the Filling:

  • approximately 6 canned pear halves
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • 3 tbs. flour
  • 2 tbs. butter, melted

Combine the almonds, flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl.  Cut in the butter with a fork. Add 2 tbs. of water and use your hands to form the dough into a ball.   Press the dough into a 9″ tart pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Put the crust into the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up, and then bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the eggs until they’re frothy.  Add in the sugar,  lemon zest, vanilla, heavy cream, flour and butter.  Mix to combine everything thoroughly.  Slice the pear halves into 1/4″ thick slices.  (Depending on the size of your pears, you may need slightly more or less to cover the tart shell with a layer of pears.)

After the crust has cooked for ten minutes, take it out of the oven.  Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Arrange the pear slices to make an even layer covering the crust.  Pour the custard mixture over the top of the pears.  Put the tart in the back in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the filling is set and golden brown.

Note:  I served this tart after it had fully cooled. I’m not sure how it would be still hot;  I think the custard sets a bit while it’s cooling.