• Jam & Laziness

    I make jam because I’m lazy.

    But, you say, can’t you buy jam from the store? How much more lazy can you get?

    Aha, I say, but then you have to put on pants. And find your keys. And find your preeeeeeciousiPhone. And drive to the store. And find the jam. And find the right jam that doesn’t have all that weird coloring and HFCS. That’s work, people. Hard work

    The solution to this madness?* Freezer jam. You can make it from easily stored ingredients in less time than it takes to go to the store. And I’m only somewhat lying.

    There’s no cooking and above all, NO CANNING. I don’t know about you, but the idea of doing a lot of work to give myself botulism…eh.

    Freezer jam is so-called because it’s stored in the freezer instead of all that canning nonsense, and it’s not cooked so it actually tastes like fruit. Even with supermarket frozen berries, it’s better than just about anything you can buy in the store. And you don’t even need any pants.

    What you will need is:

    • Fruit (fresh or frozen, both work great)
    • Pectin (the normal powder kind, not the gel or the low-sugar stuff)
    • a crapton of sugar (somewhere about 4-5 cups) 
    • lemon juice (optional)
    • salt (optional)
    • some empty jars or tupperware containers

    For this batch, I used two 1lb bags of blackberries from Safeway. The better the fruit, the better the jam, but this is what I had on hand. It works.

    The fruit needs to be room temperature, so if you’re working from frozen, I recommend defrosting in the microwave. If you just dump berries in a bowl, you’ll be waiting about four hours for them to defrost. Not that I would know.

    THEN HULK SMASH BERRIES! GRRRRRRRAAAAAAA!!!!

    You can do this in the food processor…but it’s too easy to puree the fruit or make it all choppy. The potato masher approach works best, IMHO. And it’s very satisfying. BERRY SMASH GOOD. 

    When you’re done, measure how much fruit you have. 

    The pectin box will have a recipe for no-cook freezer jam, and I base how much sugar to add on that. It depends on what your fruit is. For blackberries, it’s 5.5 cups for a quart of berries. This batch was less than a quart so I used only 4.5 cups. It’s fine to use a little less than they say, but don’t reduce it dramatically. You need the sugar for it to jell properly.

    Dump the disturbingly large amount of sugar in the berry mixture and stir around.  Leave it to sit for about 10 minutes, or until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Stirring makes it go faster, but it’s fine to go off and play Angry Birds or something.** 

    Usually this is where I add lemon juice (1-2 teaspoons) and a tiny bit of salt (1/8 teaspoon), but it’s optional. When I have lemon on hand, I use it, and if I don’t, I don’t. That’s just how I roll.

    Once that’s done, dump pectin in sauce pan, add 3/4 cup water, bring to boil, boil for minute. It’s easy like Sunday morning.***

    Then dump the boiling pectin in the fruit and stir around for a couple minutes until you’re really really really sure it’s all mixed in.

    Then divide up between your containers. Now you’ve got a use for all those old jam jars you save for no readily apparent reason and your husband keeps asking why you save them and then stealthily recycling when you’re not looking. No. Not today, for today you are vindicated! YES!

    Aren’t they lovely?

    They’ll need to sit on the counter for 24 hours to set up****, but you should see them start to jell in an hour or so. After that, they keep in the fridge for three weeks or the freezer for up to a year.  (I’ve never had a batch last that long, though.)

    Hooray for lazy!

    ~~~~

    * This line was “How to get out of this jam?” in the first draft. Don’t worry, I already slapped myself.

    ** Who wants to bet when this reference will seem old and absurdly dated? I call July 2012.

    *** OF COURSE this popped into my head while writing and now it won’t leave. If I have to suffer, you have to suffer. 

    **** Thus the “kind of lying” part. I suppose it doesn’t take 24 hours to get to the store unless you’re Pa Ingalls. 

    Secret Weapon: Balsamic Vinegar

    I’d like to introduce you to the patron saint of cooking science:

    Harold McGee

    This be-bearded man is Harold McGee, and he wrote a book called On Food and Cooking.  This book is awesome.  It reads like a really good textbook, and while that sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s not.  A good textbook is easy to follow, full of useful information, and readable.  He packs an amazing amount of information in this book.  Why is bread chewy? Page 290.  Why is beef red and fish white? Page 92.  Farting astronauts?  Page 257. *

    This book didn’t make me a cook, it made me a better one.  Knowing what I’m doing and more importantly, why I’m doing it lets me to replicate results exactly, and if I need to make changes, I know what effect the changes will have. 

    Knowing the physiology of taste and smell also helps me cook.   The traditional five tastes are: sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and umami (savory).  An interesting meal balances all of these flavors.

    Which brings me to the secret weapon.  Have you ever tasted a dish and thought, this needs something, but you don’t know what?  It probably needs more sour.  Or if you want a nicer word, “brightness”. 

    Anything acidic will add brightness - I’ll usually reach for dijon mustard or lemon juice, but today’s secret weapon is balsamic vinegar.

    This recipe really highlights acidity.  It goes from flat and boring to amazing with a tablespoon of vinegar.  For reals, yo. 

    Corn, Tomato, and Zucchini Soup with Basil

    This is pretty much the only recipe I make from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Half the reason for doing this post is to record the recipe, as the page it’s on is falling out and I’m afraid I’ll lose it.

    • 4 cups chicken stock
    • 4 ears fresh corn
    • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
    • 1 medium onion, minced
    • 2 cups cored, peeled, seeded and chopped tomatos (I’m too lazy for this and use Muir Glen diced, it’s fine)
    • 1 medium zucchini (about half a pound), diced
    • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
    • salt and pepper
    • 1/2 cup fresh basil, minced
    • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (I’m pretty sure I use a tablespoon)

    Heat the stock in a large, deep saucepan.  Strip the kernels from the corn and add the cobs to the stock (break them in half if necessary);  let them simmer while you prep the other veggies.

    Heat the butter or oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatos, zucchini, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.  (Don’t let the zucchini turn to mush, you want it soft but with texture.)

    Remove the corn cobs from the stock and add the veggies to the stock.  Cook until the zucchini is fully done (tender but not mushy), about 5 minutes.  Add the corn kernels and basil. 

    ADD THE VINEGAR. BE AMAZED AT THE DIFFERENCE. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

    * It’s part of a discussion on why beans cause flatulence.  We know a lot about flatulence because of the space program, because it was feared that a really farty astronaut could asphyxiate himself.  Yes.  To win the Cold War, we had to study farts.

    Meeple gummies

    This time I wanted easy and lazy.  Making meeple truffles was fun, but it was, you know, work. This recipe promised it was just Koolaid + gelatin + water + pour + set.  Easy! No muss, no fuss.

    Yeeeeaaah…not so much.  They’re cute, but taste like slightly flavored rubber.  The silicone mold would be better eats.  Oh well, it serves me right for being lazy and not making real jelly candy.

    (At least they bounce nicely when you pitch them at the floor. )

    Secret Weapon: Anchovy Paste

    Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking.  “Ew, anchovies! Why would I want to put stuff that smells like catfood in MY food?”  Well shut it, Sparky, because this stuff is awesome. 

    Properly applied, anchovy paste does not make everything taste like fish.  Let’s get that out of the way.  It makes everything taste better.  If done right, it gives food this rich, savory background flavor that is delicious, yet impossible to identify.  The trick is to use it wisely, grasshopper.

    The first rule of anchovy paste: don’t use much anchovy paste.  This stuff is nuclear. Add a teaspoon at a time until you’re happy with it.

    The second rule of anchovy paste: don’t use much anchovy paste.  Seriously. 

    The third rule of anchovy paste:  cook it.  Raw anchovy paste is not a good thing.   Treat it like garlic.  In fact, adding it with the garlic is a good rule of thumb.  If the dish takes garlic, anchovy paste will make it better.

    My very favorite application of anchovy paste is a Italian sauce. It’s great by itself on pasta, but broccoli, green beans, snow peas, zucchini or any other sautéable vegetable works too.

    Sanders Clan Brand Make Stuff Taste Good Sauce

    • olive oil, couple tablespoons or so
    • half a onion, finely diced
    • 2-4 cloves of garlic, depending on how much you like garlic
    • anchovy paste, to taste (I usually add about a tablespoon)
    • red pepper flakes, to taste (I usually add about a half a teaspoon)

    The amounts are rough guidelines, it’s mostly to taste.  Heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat, add the diced onion and stir around until softened (3-5 min).  Add the garlic, anchovy paste and red pepper and stir around for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. 

    For my favorite lazy meal, at this point I’d add broccoli florets and toss around until the broccoli is tender.  Then add cooked pasta (I like the spiral rotini), toss around to coat, and add some grated parm, salt and pepper.  It’s good stuff.

    Granola

    StarCraft has widowed me these last couple nights, so I’ve had time to putter around in the kitchen to the soothing sounds of “Zerg wave inbound” and “You need more minerals” and the ever-popular “Your base is under attack.”

    I bookmarked this NYT granola recipe ages ago, and oh my goodness.  It is tasty.  Well…my version of it is, at least, I tweaked it quite a bit.  (I like sugar as much as the next girl, but seriously. 1:1 sugar-to-nut ratio is a bit high.) The olive oil gives it a lovely flavor, not at all bitter like you’d think.

    Sanders Clan Brand Granola

    3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
    1 cup raw pecans, chopped not too finely
    1/2 cup almonds, chopped not too finely
    1/4 cup sunflower seeds
    1/4 cup packed brown sugar
    1/4 cup pure maple syrup
    couple squeezes of honey (maybe a tablespoon or two? didn’t really measure)
    1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1 teaspoon kosher salt (I added another 1/2 teaspoon, but I like salt)
    3/4 cup chopped dried mixed berries
    1/4 cup chopped dried Turkish apricots

    Heat the oven to 300 degrees.  Mix all ingredients EXCEPT THE FRUIT* together in a large bowl.

    Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown and well toasted.

    After it cools for 5 minutes or so, transfer to a large bowl and mix in the fruit.

    Goes well with yogurt and fresh fruit. Or just plain out of the bowl is good too.

    * Seriously, picking chopped fruit out because you misread the recipe bites.

Contents © 2013 Rachel Sanders