It had to happen one day

It’s been almost two years since I started baking bread on a pretty regular basis, so I guess I should be grateful that the failures have been few and far between, especially as I’ve more or less given up on recipes. I have a basic formula (6-7 cups flour, 2 tsp yeast, a scant 3 cups water, 1 tbsp fat, quarter cup honey (or something sweet) and 1 tbsp salt), and it usually works. I tend to use about half wholewheat and half white bread flour, and often throw in something vaguely exotic (oat, buckwheat, rye) for a small portion of the mix, I chop and change the fat (olive oil, coconut oil, butter) and I add about a cup of nuts or seeds, and sometimes spices too. Ground coriander works particularly well, for some reason. Yes there were failures — a set of loaves that really never rose (cue small, wholewheat bricks), and ones that crumbled to nothing after I used too much buckwheat flour. But they are usually pretty damn awesome. One batch makes two loaves, and that lasts me about two weeks. Then I throw another set of ingredients together and start all over again.

But today my brain just didn’t quite engage properly as I put the mix together, and I absent-mindedly measured two half-tablespoons of yeast rather than the normal two (slightly skimpy) teaspoons. I spotted the mistake only as I cleared the measuring spoons away after the bread was ready to rise, and that meant trouble.

I guess I could have divided up the dough and added (lots) more flour, salt and water to each half, but I decided just to see what happens. It was a fast rise (less than two hours), an even faster time to proove the loaves in their tins (45 minutes) and a surprisingly speedy bake. The result: a rather too crumbly loaf that tastes rather too much of yeast.

Oh well. Let’s chalk it down to experience and move on.

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Don’t throw them away

I bought the last of the tiny Concord grapes this weekend, and then realized they are crowded with large, inedible seeds. Not my favourite, and the spouse said he wasn’t going to eat them either. That left two options: toss them; or make grape jelly. I hate wasting food, so I started simmering the fruit before I realized I had no jars in the pantry, and before I started looking up recipes, most of which say you should prep the fruit before you boil it by popping the fruit from the skins and making the jelly in two stages. No matter. I made redcurrant jelly with redcurrants on the stem. I can do the same for grapes.

The recipes also called for pectin, which I don’t like. I threw in a couple of my pectin cubes from the freezer, added the juice of a lemon and winged it.


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Concorde grape jelly

Wash grapes, add a little water and simmer until they are soft and some of the seeds and skins start floating to the surface. Strain overnight in a jelly bag, then squeeze out the juice. Measure the juice (I had just under five cups) and add the same volume of sugar, plus the juice of one lemon. I added two of my pectin cubes as well — they are less bitter than the pectin in the stores, but don’t provide that gelatinous set either. Boil until it seems to set — it was probably six or eight minutes. Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath.

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Thoughts:

  • It’s a deep, deep purple, and must be one of the most beautiful jellies I’ve ever made
  • Two crabapple pectin cubes seem to be enough for my basket of Concord grapes to bubble their way to a loose set after about six minutes of rolling boil
  • Those recipes mean business when they order you not to use more than 5 cups of grape juice at a time. This bubbled to at least twice the volume during the rolling boil. Any more and it would have bubbled out of the pan
  • The 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar seems awful sweet to me, but then bought grape jelly is sweet as well
  • I have no idea how we’re ever going to get through the 500ml jar, but the smaller jars (three @250ml and one @125ml) are more promising
  • Unless the spouse falls in love with grape jelly, and unless I can find a way to cut the sweetness significantly, I may not make this again

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5)

On reflection, this is actually rather good, although I will probably never be a huge fan of grape jelly. Jelly needs a fruit with more attitude than grapes, methinks, which is why it works with crab apples, or red currants. But if I was choosing between this or Welch’s bland and anaemic grape jelly on my PBJ sandwich, I’ll take this any day. And the spouse loves is.

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Tomatillo magic

til1The tomatillos have been one of the success stories from the community garden, and I grabbed a bunch of windfalls today, along with a collection of not-yet-ripe tomatoes that the squirrels had nibbled and rejected. I’ve used tomatillos in a Spanish omelet (very successful), and in a corn-tomatillo salsa (also rather nice). But I had almost two kilos of the tomatoes and tomatillos mix, so I wanted something I could make and keep. Google offered several recipes for chutney, including one that suggested a 3-hour boil down. I rejected that, and blundered into a Dutch blog called Grown to Cook, which seems to be my sort of blog. (Not WordPress, sadly, so no “follow” button that I could find).

Among other things, blogger Vera writes about a yeast-based chocolate cake that comes from a recipe book I own (so I have no excuse not to try it). And she has a tomatillo chutney that sounded beautifully non sweet and (more importantly) was easily adaptable to the ingredients I had in the pantry. I used golden sultanas rather than raisins, and I crushed the mustard seeds before adding them, but things stayed more or less the same. Yes, chutney takes time to prep and boil, but it’s pretty damn easy.

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Green tomato/tomatillo chutney (adapted from Grown to Cook website)

1 kg tomatoes, washed and coarsely chopped (remove the parts the critters nibbled at)
1 kg tomatillos, husked, washed and coarsely chopped
750 g apples, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 onions, chopped
1 cup golden sultanas
1 cup sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
2 tbsp mustard seeds, lightly crushed
2 tsp salt
3 small chiles, seeded and chopped (use more next time)

Throw all the ingredients into a large saucepan, bring to the boil and then simmer about an hour until it’s chutney thick. Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath for 10 minutes. I ended up with 11 jars, which was a lot more than I expected. I’d better like it.

At first bite, I thought this chutney was going to be vinegary rather than sour-sweet, but it seemed to mellow overnight and now has a rather mysterious “what is this?” sort of taste. A little extra spice would be nice — my chiles were very small, and not that spicy.

I also came back with another dozen of the radish/turnip thingies, which my fellow gardener assures me are actually turnips, not radishes, so the last blog entry is flat out wrong. What do I do with these?

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Relishing radishes

I think the veggies I picked at the community garden were radishes rather than turnips — they had that radish bite. But they prove that you can ferment just about anything, and that it has to be my favorite foolproof preservation method of the moment. It was one of those serendipity moments. I thought I was picking greens for soup and salads. But I tugged a whole plant up by mistake, and there was this fat pink-white bulb at the end of it. Two meals from one plant! Awesome.

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But I digress. How was I going to handle a basket of radishes (or possibly turnips), in the knowledge that only one of the two of us is eating proper food right now (the spouse is relegated to munching mush after a long-awaited hospital adventure)?

Continuing the fermentation theme of the last couple of weeks, I tried two experiments — grated and chunked — with beets for color and ginger for an extra bite. The recipe? Well, there isn’t one really. Weigh the grated veggies and add about salt to make up 1.5 percent of their weight, and make up a 3 percent salt brine to pour over the chunks. Squish the veggies well down into the jar, adding brine to the jar with the chunks, weight the vegetables beneath the liquid with a smaller jar filled with water (or brine), cover with cheesecloth and wait. I threw a few slices of ginger in with the chunked veggies, and grated a very large chunk of ginger with the grated ones. The recipes say use filtered/bottled water, but I used regular Toronto tap water. It seemed to work last time.

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The two jars bubbled away happily on the countertop for about five warmish days, and the brine spilled over into the pie plate several times, forcing me to remove bulk or pour off brine. The taste? It’s a vinegary pickle with a radish/ginger bite, especially for the grated veggies. It’s almost Middle Eastern, and I’m rather proud of how well it worked. And both pickles are a beautiful, beautiful dark beet red.

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The bonus: the greens are delicious, like Asian salad greens with a spicy crunch. I ate them in salads, steamed with butter or olive oil, with omelet or scrambled eggs for an instant low-cal supper, and then in a spinach soup without the spinach.

This community garden stuff really is quite fun.

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Tomato time

I’ll keep this short, because it will look very like last year’s, which I didn’t even bother to blog, or the one before that or even the one before that.

Today canning buddy and I transformed a bushel of very ripe San Marzano tomatoes into 43 jars of crushed tomatoes. We started at 930, and we were done by early afternoon. But we were pretty damn efficient.

toms2A load of little lessons, some of which we learned before but forgot, and some of which are new:

  • Divide up the labor and keep a production line going. I took on the “clean” tasks: nicking the skin of the tomatoes so they would split more easily; putting them, in small batches, in boiling water; taking them out and cutting off the blossom end, plus bottling and managing the water bath. Canning buddy graciously did the messy stuff: peeling the tomatoes and chopping them very roughly, and wiping down the jars (and the kitchen).
  • Once we had a critical mass of tomatoes nicely bubbling away, we both stopped what we were doing, bottled that batch (adding a tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to each 500 ml jar) and started the waterbathing. Then we moved on to the next round of tomatoes.
  • Transfer lemon juice from bottle to small jug and measure from there. It’s far easier than trying to measure out a tablespoon of lemon juice from a squeezy bottle that wants to deliver either far too much or not quite enough.
  • Even with the production line, a huge chunk of the five-hour adventure consists of waiting for the jars to finish their 35-minute spell in the water bath. Make sure you have plenty to read.

San Marzano tomatoes cost 25 percent more than the Romas we’ve used in previous years (but still only $25 for a bushel). But Wikipedia tells me they are “considered by many chefs to be the best paste tomatoes in the world” so it has to be worth it. I still have a few jars from last year, so I could, in theory, do a taste test. I won’t.

I bought them on an out-of-town adventure, and they were both riper and smaller than the ones we used last year. And they also separated into pulp and juice more than I remember from previous years, which won’t make any difference by the time I’ve turned them into soups, sauces and stews. But I do have buyer’s regret at not grabbing a few bushels of other vegetables as well. I don’t think we could  have fitted more into the car, which already had two bikes and a load of other fruit and veg. But just look at all the different peppers, hot and mild, and drool.

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And the tomatoes, of course. Should we have made sauce or jam as well?

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Free food

I’m not a great fan of  paying $5 at the market for a very small basket of ripe, red crabapples, and when the spouse noted that the trees by his office were groaning with bright red fruit I put out a plea for some after-work gleaning. Next evening, there were two big baskets of the little red beauties, just waiting to be turned to something nice to eat. And crabapples are so laden with pectin that they make a beautiful red jelly with hardly any work.

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The method goes something like this. Wash your crabapples and chop off any rotten bits, and maybe halve the bigger apples. Then almost cover them with water and let them simmer away for 20 minutes or so until they are meltingly soft, but not quite melted away. The riper the crabapples, the redder the mush, and these babies were very ripe indeed.

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Then you pour your crabapple mush into a jelly bag and let it drip into a bowl for a good few hours (or even overnight). The recipes warn you not to squeeze the last drops of juice out of the jelly bag because you’ll get a cloudy jelly, but I admit I always ignore that one. I’m not aiming to win any prizes with my jelly, and I squeeze things as hard as I dare without busting the jelly bag. I hate to think of all that wonderful juice ending up in the compost along with the pulp.

Measure out the juice, and add anywhere between half and 3/4 the amount of sugar — I had four cups of juice, so that meant two and a bit cups of sugar, and it made almost four jars of jelly. Heat your jelly slowly until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil untl it sets. I didn’t time my boil, but I’m sure it was less than 10 minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Ever so easy, and oh, so pretty.

crab3I still had some fruit left over, so I switched to a quick batch of ice-cube pectin, which I made a few years back and then used to help force a set with low-pectin fruit like cherries and strawberries. Last time my little cubes were pretty pink and today they are ruby red, but I’m sure they’ll work the same way. There’s enough natural sugar in the mix that they don’t freeze rock hard, so I’m going to saran wrap my little cubes and store them in a Ziploc. I’ve not used commercial pectin for a long, long time, and see no reason to start using it now.

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There’s something very special about free food.

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Saving the sunchoke

choke2Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are my latest offering from the Community Garden, partly because my fellow gardeners complain they give them gas. I’m welcome to as many as I can dig, although they are seriously fiddly to scrub and clean. I roasted the first batch with olive oil and lemons, which was yummy, and I can’t say I noticed any major stomach issues. But I feel I’ve been neglecting the pickle world in the last few months, so I took to the internets for thoughts on how to preserve these (very) little babies.

There were a number of regular pickles and then there were recipes for lacto-fermenting, both with grated sunchokes (sauerkraut without the kraut) and with ‘chokes that were diced or sliced. Fermenting is a new part of my preserving repertoire, and I’ve done small batches only so far. Perfect chance to branch out into something new.

choke3As I scrolled through the recipes, I rejected anything that told me to peel the veggies, as well as things that called for ingredients I didn’t have in the kitchen. Then I found perfection, with including turmeric (for color and taste), plus ginger, garlic and cumin (three things I really like). I chopped my ‘chokes into chunky rings rather than dice because they were so small, added brine and spices and waited for the fermenting magic to do its stuff.

Fermented Jerusalem artichokes (adapted slightly from Linda Ziedrich’s Mellow Yellow Jerusalem Artichoke Pickle)

750 g Jerusalem artichokes, washed, then scrubbed and trimmed and sliced fairly thickly
1 tsp turmeric
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 oz fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1-1/2 cups water

Make a brine with the salt, sugar and water and set aside. Mix the ‘chokes with the spices (and wonder how the hell you’ll ever get the yellow off your fingers) and then pack the veggies tightly into a clean jar. Pour the brine over the top, and weight the veggies down (I used a smaller jar filled with water, but you can also use a ziploc full of water or brine). Leave your cheesecloth-covered jar on the countertop for a few days to let the fermentation alchemy to do its stuff — it took five days before mine tasted “right” — a sort of tanginess that will go well with cheese or hummus — so I put the lid on and moved it to the fridge.


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Tip: I’ve learned from bitter experience to always put my jar of fermenting veggies on top of a deep saucer or a pie plate because the liquid tends to bubble out of the jar. You really don’t want yellow turmeric brine staining everything in the kitchen.

Maybe next time I’ll make the slices thinner so I can use my veggies in a sandwich rather than as on-the-side chunks.

A bonus: Linda says her Internet research shows that pickling/fermenting the ‘chokes removes whatever it is that causes large amounts of gas in the first place. I can’t confirm this one, but it does mean I’ll offer a taste to my gardening partners without worrying that their spouses won’t talk to them for days.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I liked this one so much that I made it again a week later, omitting the sugar, which was perhaps a mistake because it tasted better the first time. It loses a point because you really have to be careful to keep your veggies under the liquid even after you finish fermenting them. I put the newer batch in the back of the fridge and forgot about it, and the top layer of ‘chokes went blue-brown distressingly fast. I ate them anyway, but the first batch was definitely the winner.

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