Monday, July 26, 2010

We made JAM!!!!!

Ok, so there are some things that I will readily try in the kitchen -- basically anything vegetarian, anything soup/stew-like and most baked things. There are certain things that I almost always stay away from: complicated, multi-step, multi-layered desserts (although for a special loved one's birthday cake, I'd go all the way!), puffed pastry and canning/preserving. I thought by starting this blog, I would get motivated to conquer some of my kitchen fears. And I have! I've made rolled-out cookies which I'd never attempted before out of pure laziness, pizza dough involving yeast, which frightens me to bits (post coming soon!) and most recently ... JAM!! Yup, we made JAM!

When blueberry season came about and my loving partner shared fond memories of his grandmother making fruit preserves, I just had to give it a try. So, I sucked up my fears and we went shopping. 2 pints of blueberries and 4 cute little mason jars later and I was in front of the computer looking up recipes. And boy are there a lot! I wasn't so concerned about the ingredients; I was more worried about the method. All that talk of sterilizing the jars and different methods to make that little suction button on the lid pop so you'd know it was properly preserved, almost made me change my mind. But, I pressed onward! After a few searches, I came up with a recipe and method that I felt comfortable with.

The first thing we did: reduce the sugar. Geez! In one recipe, it called for 2 cups of sugar for 1.5 pints of berries. Ok, ok. Jam is supposed to be sweet, but this would be jam OUR way: fruity, lemony and just sweet enough to take away the puckering reflex. Yum! Next, we kind of combined the freezer method with the normal preserving method due to the fact that I am soooo paro of getting botched. We sterilized by putting the jars and lids in the oven on low heat, but when it came to activating the vacuum seal, I cringed at the thought of immersing them in boiling water .. BUT! I discovered this crazy-wonderful blog "My Sister's Kitchen," where they made pectin-free jam, AND they sealed the jars using a simple method: they turned the jars upside-down, let them sit, turned them right-side up again and left them alone. Fifteen minutes later and poof! Sealed. Did it work? Like a charm! Am I still paro! Yup! So I stuck our preserves in the freezer. Oh well. Maybe when we return from our week in Moncton (!!!) we'll make peach preserves, or sour cherry preserves and I'll have the guts to leave them unfrozen.

So ... if you were EVER scared of making preserves, don't fret! Just do it! It's easy! See you next Wednesday!

Tart Blueberry Preserves - makes 4 little jars
with help from Ina Garten and My Sister's Kitchen

2 pints of blueberries
zest and juice of one lemon
1/3 cup of sugar
4 x 125ml mason jars

** This makes a very lemony, tart preserve. Add sugar to your liking. Also, it doesn't set up like a jam or jelly, but it definitely thickens well and is totally spreadable

1. Wash and pick through your blueberries carefully. Put them in a large pot with the lemon juice, zest and sugar.

2. Simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently until the berries breakdown and the liquids have thicken to coat the back of a spoon.

3. While your berries are simmering, prepare your jars. Place the jars and lids (seal side up) on a sheet pan, making sure they don't touch each other, and place in a 175 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

4. When the berries are done, spoon them into the hot jars, making sure that you don't fill the jars all the way up (especially if you're putting them in the freezer .. fill them about 2/3 of the way). Using tongs, carefully place the lids over the jars and twist on the outer part of the cap. Immediately turn them upside down and let them sit for about 10 minutes. Turn them back over and let them sit for an additional 5 minutes, or until all the vacuum seals have activated (the top of the lids are all popped down).

5. YAY!! You just made JAM!! Woo hoo!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lavender Manifesto

If you haven't already checked out the blog Sociologists Eat Chocolate, written by the mysterious and thoughtful Blackcurrent Productions, please go now. I'll wait ...

Isn't it great? I love all the different types of chocolate that are showcased and all the quirky and sometimes random comments from the tasters. I especially like the "Manifesto" -- the most interesting, funny or thought-provoking comment. It's brilliant and I wish that I were one of the tasters -- especially when the theme of Chocolate and Lavender came about. Lavender? I've never cooked with lavender before, though I know it's sometimes added as one of the herbs in the popular herbes de Provence mix. The thought intrigued me; I could almost taste it. Dare I try? When my little, non-nonchalant comment about making cookies with lavender got a response that suggested shortbread, my mind was made up. But I wasn't just going to make lavender shortbread. I was going to make different kinds, and have tasters judge each one, in a little tribute to my elusive inspiration.

I began with a little research -- a study on shortbread. Others have done it. And I found out that people put all sorts of things into shortbread -- not just lavender. Rosemary and honey were among the ones that definitely intrigued me. And of course, there's chocolate. And lemon mixed with lavender.. how can I resist my favourite citrus? In the end, I came up with four combinations:

1) honey and lavender
2) honey, lavender and lemon
3) chocolate/cocoa and lavender
4) chocolate/cocoa,rosemary and orange orange -- to mimick Organicfair's Provence chocolate featured her in the the Lavender Chocolate tasting.

I used a combination of fresh lavender (sneakily snipped from my parents' neighbour's garden .. thanks Jacquie!) and dried, a summer blossom honey, and high quality fair trade Camino cocoa powder. Here's what the tasters had to say:

Honey and Lavender

1. It’s delicious (turns away shyly). I can very much taste the lavender, but it’s not to say that’s too much lavender.
2. There is it ..nice and floral, but something is missing ...
3. I think I can taste honey more than lavender – it’s a good cookie, but .. (has sinus problems) I don’t know if this is affecting my taste buds or not.

Honey, Lavender and Lemon

1. My body feels tingly when I eat it. Very light lavender – good balance with the lemon.
2. I get the lavender hit first .. and then comes the lemon, barely sour tang. Crisp, not a tender shortbread texture, but still buttery and rich.
3. Ok I’m getting little hints of citrusy but again, I don’t taste the lavender.

Chocolate and Lavender

1. Wow, it’s really like pooof! Lavender! The first thing I taste is lavender, right in my cheeks and then the chocolate starts melting in my mouth.
2. Rich chocolate and delicate flowers ... I get a real lavender hit on this one.
3. Ok I get some now (lavender!).

Chocolate, Lavender, Orange, Rosemary

1. First it’s the rosemary, and then it instantly blends with the chocolate, and then when I swallow it, I get the orange. The lavender.. it’s not lost, but the first thing I taste is the rosemary.
2. It’s orange and chocolate first and foremost – and then little hints of rosemary here and little hints of lavender there.
3. Ohhh.. crumblier, softer, melting in my mouth. I like the cocoa chocolate taste – to me it just tastes like chocolate shortbread. The only time I taste the citrus is when I get little bits of the peel, little sparkles of citrus that surprise the tongue amidst the sea of cocoa. I didn’t even taste the rosemary.

So I learned a few things. First, the lavender taste and scent is much stronger when you taste the cookie right from the oven (taster 3 tasted the cookies after they had cooled for a few hours .. she also had sinus issues but we won't go there). Confectioners sugar results in a crisper, tighter cookie -- the crumblier, tender texture was preferred. The lavender almost needs something to go along with it -- chocolate, lemon .. --it's the floral hit that needs something to balance it out. And ... I love playing with lavender! There will be more to come -- I'm going to going to modify the lemon and lavender one (which seemed to be the favourite) and see what the tasters think of that. In the mean time, I'll leave you with the recipe sources and ...

Today's manifesto:
I can tell there’s something different but I don’t know that it’s necessarily lavender which is a good thing because I think then it would just taste like potpourri and I’m not into tasting potpourri. (gigglejuice is not only a critical criminology sociologist --I hope I got that one right! -- but is also known to keep large bars of chocolate by her desk during exam time AND likes to cook and bake!)

Honey and Lavender Shortbread Honey, Lavender and Lemon Shortbread

I was nudged in the right direction by this post from tara at Sevenspoons, who made a honeyed-rosemary shortbread based on this original recipe from Epicurious. I just substituted the lavender for the rosemary and followed the recipe exactly. The idea to add lemon came from this post at Jules Food. I did exactly what was suggested: added the zest of one lemon and a little squeeze of the juice.

Chocolate and Lavender Shortbread Chocolate, Rosemary, Lavender and Orange Shortbread

The original recipe for chocolate shortbread came from this post at Epicurious. I just added a tablespoon of lavender. The flavour combination of chocolate, rosemary, lavender and orange was, as mentioned, inspired by one of Blackcurrent's chocolates: Organicfair's Provence. For this, in addition to the tablespoon of lavender, I added a teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary, and 2 teaspoons of orange zest.