Enhance the flavors of summer with roasting

Since the invention of fire, humans have noticed that in addition to providing light and warmth, fire and heat makes our food tasty. Roasting isn’t just for meat, though. Next time you find a delicious bunch of plum tomatoes in the farmer’s market, or if you want to give your next fruity jam a kick, try roasting the fruits first.

I set out to make a batch of cherry-berry-jalapeno jam, using ripe strawberries and cherries and a few whole jalapeno peppers, and roasted all of the fruits and peppers first. It adds a whole new and different depth of flavor!

Roasted Cherry-Berry-Jalapeno Jam

This recipe is also good with fresh and unroasted fruits and peppers, and can be adapted to use up whatever you have on hand. Maybe use ancho chiles and blueberries … Habaneros and raspberries …

  • 1 pint berries of any kind (I used strawberries and cherries)
  • 5-6 jalapenos (remove or keep the seeds and ribs according to your taste; remember seeds=spice)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 tbsp. balsamic and/or cider vinegar (balsamic will bring out the berry flavor more, cider will enhance the spiciness of the pepper)
  • 2 tbsp. vodka (optional)

Remove pits or stems from the fruit, and place in a single layer on a roasting pan with other berries and peppers. Coat with 1 cup of sugar and vinegar, and roast at 400 degrees or until the berries and peppers are soft and slightly charred.* Remove from the oven and put into a pot with remaining sugar on high heat, mashing the berries and peppers together. Add vodka if desired. Bring to a rolling boil until the mixture gels. Ladle immediately into hot jars and boil to seal in a water bath for 15 minutes.

This jam has a definite kick to it, but it’s worth it!!

* I should point out here that the act of “roasting” for the purposes of these recipes can be everything from fire-roasting these fruits over a charcoal or propane flame, cooking under high heat in your broiler, or even just baking in a convection oven at 400 degrees or more. All of them produce delicious results.

This time of year is ideal for procuring delicious, fresh and juicy tomatoes almost everywhere. I managed to score some gorgeous plum tomatoes and wanted to try my hand at my own pomodori al forno (after the one I enjoyed so much from the food swap). I roasted them with garlic, basil and olive oil and canned them for later.

Pomodori al forno

This is an excellent addition to casseroles and other dishes, but probably best enjoyed warm with a hunk of crusty bread and a tangy goat cheese.

  • 1 pint plum or other small tomatoes (the very small ones don’t need to be sliced)
  • 1/2-cup (approx) olive oil
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper

Place tomatoes in a single layer in a roasting pan. Coat with oil and sprinkle basil, garlic and spices over the tomatoes. Roast for 45 mins- 1 hour, or until tomatoes are slightly charred and have burst if they are whole. Use immediately, or if you are canning them, use a pressure canner. 1 small green basket from the farmers market of tomatoes yields about 2 pints of finished product.

These are  excellent!

Apple Cider Jelly — the easiest recipe in the world. With a catch.

My favorite jams and jellies book by Linda Ziedrich has a recipe for apple cider jelly — one that, on the surface, seems like the best/ easiest recipe for jelly in the world.

Instructions:

Take a gallon of cider.

Boil it.

Wait a while. 

I think I can get used to this.

Oh, but there’s a catch — you get either jelly or syrup. You never really know which until you wait a few days and it’s either gelled or it hasn’t. The more I thought about it, the more I started to think that this was not a gamble I wanted to take. Although I am sure a nice apple cider syrup would be good on pancakes, this was jelly time and I wanted to make jelly. Then I started researching other recipes for jelly made from fresh apple cider, and it turns out that the “just boil it” recipe usually involves a lot of straining and skimming and scraping — and you still might not get jelly in the end. Blast!

Once again, living in San Diego comes in handy. A short drive to Julian, home of the best apple cider in the world, and a friend got me a sweet gallon of unfiltered and unpasturized cider. It’s delicious just on its own out of a glass, but I thought instead of taking a risk on boiling the whole gallon and not knowing what the result will  be, I would use part of it for a delicious spiced honey apple butter. A few simple ingredients and it’s on.

A few apples, 2 cups of cider, a half cup each of honey and brown sugar, and a few teaspoons each of cinnamon and nutmeg. The recipe calls for boiling the mixture, then straining out the solid chunks of apple, then letting the rest simmer.

Personally, I prefer a few more chunks of fruit, especially in apple butter. I mashed them a little with a potato masher when they started to get soft, and later I also used my immersion blender to make the chunks a little smaller.

I also used a quart of the cider with some pectin and a cinnamon stick (according to my internet research, most people use Red Hots cinnamon candies, but I decided there was enough sugar with the 5 cups necessary to make the store-bough pectin react. A bit sweet for my taste, because I think the cider is delicious on its own without so much additional sugar, but delicious.

Plum Crazy, Part I — I still have all these oranges

I am lucky enough to live in San Diego, and to have a lot of friends with fruit trees. Really, most things grow well around here if you try hard enough, but even a tree that is neglected most of the year can yield some great fruit. Most of them yield more fruit than any one person knows what the heck to do with, but that’s a perfect time to experiment!

Fresh from the tree!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I now own a really cool smoker that has already proven its worth in smoking garlic, jalapenos, pork tenderloin, chicken, sausage and steak. I’m also a sucker for a good sauce. My first idea is for a smoky plum barbeque sauce, building on what I recently learned about smoking garlic. I’m also leaning towards something that isn’t jam — I’d hate to become predictable — and I found an amazingly good-looking recipe for a Christmasy plum chutney. I learned that chutney is best if you seal it and then let it sit for a few months, so this is a perfect summer recipe to be holiday gifts later. 

The first bag of plums had been picked a couple of days before, and were given to me late last night. It became clear that these would have to be made into something immediately, and that most were fully ripe, if not borderline mushy.  This calls for a liquor emergency! Brandy and large mason jars, stat!

And, let’s face it, I still have a ton of oranges from another friend’s tree. I sliced about 5 oranges, peel and all, and removed the peel totally from another 8 or 9 oranges. This jam will need to have a little bitter flavor to offset the plum and spices. I prepped the oranges (i.e., sliced them, covered them in water) and let them sit overnight.

The next day … the oranges have been sitting at room temperature for 24 hours. I open up this huge bag of gorgeous plums. Ok, first things first. I have to triage the plums into the too-far-gone for use (to the garbage bag — sorry fellas); the cutting board to have pits and blemishes removed, then the good parts scrapped for jam; and the ready mason jars for the intact and pretty ones.

First, for the brandied plums. Equal parts brandy and sugar (I started with 4 cups each and that was only enough for two large jars), and only fill the jars about halfway with plums so they all can freely move around in there. That was easy … and these will be EXCELLENT in a couple of months!

The syrup is equal parts sugar and brandy.

Next, the jam. I prepared these oranges the same way I did in the citrus jelly post, so that I won’t have to add a tonnage of extra (and unneeded) sugar or storebought pectin. After bringing the oranges to a boil and letting them simmer for about 45 minutes, I strained the liquid through a jelly bag, and used the liquid – equal parts liquid to sugar. Then I added it to a pot of already-softening chunks of plum, fresh orange slices, and cinnamon. It doesn’t look like much, but it makes the house smell like Christmas. 🙂

Check back for the next post! With the next sack of plums I get, I plan to make chutney and barbeque sauce.

Belinda’s Big Bag of Oranges

Nothing says summer like a giant bag of fresh oranges from a friend’s tree. I got four bags from my friend at this month’s San Diego Food Swap — as well as finishing salts, marinara sauce, meat sauce, BBQ sauce and homemade cookies. If you are local I would totally recommend coming, and if you are in another town you should definitely find a local swap or start one yourself (like I did).

Fresh-picked oranges.

 

There are a few ways to use these oranges  — given my past experiements with marmalade, I wanted something decidely sweet. I mentioned in an earlier post that Linda Ziedrich’s awesome jelly book has a recipe for orange jelly, with a twist — you have to use pectin from another recipe in the book. Essentially, you juice the oranges, save the juice, then scrape the membrane and pith out of the oranges to make into pectin.

I was mesmerized. A way to make delicious jams and jellies, without tons of sugar? Using the same oranges for the jelly as for the pectin? Awesome. I had no idea how much work it was for so little. After putting serious elbow grease into juicing TONS of oranges (I see now why it is recommended to use big, juicy Valencia oranges instead of tiny, tart Southern California ones), I had barely two cups of pith and a nice pitcher of fresh juice.

After letting the mixture set overnight and simmer briefly, you let it strain through a jelly bag.

Supplies

This is probably a great time to mention my jelly-making supplies. When I first started making my own jams, jellies, marmalades, preserves and whatnot, I didn’t have a canning kit, a jar-boiling rack, or really anything aside from a really good Swedish-made plastic oven mitt that can reach into boiling water and grab a jar. Over the last few months I have acquired a funnel that is Mason-jar sized (excellent for avoiding spills — you haven’t lived until you’ve splattered boiling fruit on yourself) and a jelly bag strainer set, with cloth bags and this contraption, that is supposedly supposed to fit on the sides of a bowl, but it doesn’t fit any bowl I own. I had to make do.

I also have a cheap, hand-twisty juicer that I bought at a drug store, but if you are going to do what I did, I recommend getting a nice automatic juicer. The dozens of oranges took forver to juice!

Back to the pectin. One cup of pectin, one cup of juice, a cup and a half of sugar. It says to skim the foam off the top as it’s boiling, but it didn’t provide details. Especially when the pot looks like this:

Eventually the mixture reached a gel point, which is usually when the jam is quickly ladled into hot, sterile jars and sealed — usually it’s already gelling or looks like it’s about to gel immediately. Well, not this stuff. Hours of slicing, juicing, scraping, setting, boiling, stirring, skimming and watching led to two jars — well, not quite. And I won’t know if it will really gel for the next two days. What a buzzkill.

Will update in two days with the results. Instead of being totally bitter about it (get it?), I am going to wait and see how good this jelly is (This had better be the best jelly ever!) and if it’s not awesome, I am going to try a little experiment and use the oranges the same way I used the lemons and limes for jelly previously. More to come …

Citrus jelly experiements

 
I am huge fan of Linda Zeidrich and her book “The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves – 200 Classic and Contemporary Recipes Showcasing the Fabulous Flavors of Fresh Fruits.” It has excellent recommendations for using fresh fruits and I highly recommend it. I bought it in the first place because of a post by Kate Payne (“The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking“) with orange-vanilla jelly, aka Creamsicle in a Jar. It so happened that my lovely friend (and fellow jammer) Eliza was at a party I attended, and she brought the Creamsicle jelly. Oh. My. Gawd. It was perfect. Not too sweet,  but literally like an orange creamsicle.

At the same party, I came into possession of an enormous grocery bag full of fresh, organic lemons. Upon perusal of Linda’s book, I decided to try my hand at lemon jelly, as well as a variation on the lemon jelly with fresh rosemary. This makes a chicken sandwich POP.

Lemon-rosemary jelly

So, then, just to use up some of the bag of lemons, I also tried the same recipe and used mint leaves instead of fresh rosemary.  Delish!

My next experiment wasn’t quite as good in my own opinion, but my dinner party guests seemed to love it. Instead of lemons, I used limes, and instead of adding fresh herbs at the end, I used jalapeno. I sliced the limes and let them sit in water overnight, then simmered the mixture with jalapenos and strained it through a jelly bag. After straining the juice I added the sugar and continued the boil until the mixture gelled. It was too spicy for me but it went fast when I topped cream cheese with it and used it as a spicy dip!

Lime-Jalapeno jellyCream cheese dip with homemade lime-jalapeno jelly.

 

Cream cheese dip with homemade lime-jalapeno jelly.

Maybe it’s because it’s Canadian? Eh?

I’ve always been a huge fan of carrot cake. It’s by far my favorite non-chocolate dessert. So when I stumbled upon a recipe for Carrot Cake Jam, I knew it must be love. And it was. It was all the best things about cooking. It was fun and simple to make, it was very pleasing to the eyes …

However, strangely (to me anyway), the recipe left out raisins. The second time I made this, I added raisins, as well as a little extra nutmeg and cinnamon.  If you eat it, slightly warmed — not heated, but just to take the chill off, on a bagel with cream cheese, it’s like a recreation of the carrot cake itself. Mmmm….

Adventures in marmalade

My family is Scottish and as such I feel it is somehow in my blood to enjoy and be good at making and cooking with marmalade. But after sampling a few different marmalades and making my own (courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa here) I discovered the unthinkable. I really don’t care for traditional marmalade. It’s too bitter and you can’t make a peanut butter sandwich with it. It’s lovely, and it’s easy to make, but I had my doubts.

I tried another batch, this time instead of navel oranges using fresh and local mandarin oranges (although they were very seedy and required lots of seed removal), as well as a large can of crushed pineapple. While still generally unusable for a sandwich, it works on toast, and is also insanely good as a base for a meat marinade. Here’s a nice steak marinated in a vinagrette with the orange/pineapple marmalade on the grill. The smell is fabulous.