Just chillin’

I picked up an almost-new ice cream maker in a yard sale last year, and it sat in the kitchen cabinet all year, which is exactly what the spouse said would happen when I brought it home.

True, some friends and I made one batch of peach ice cream with straight-from-the-farmers market Ontario peaches, and I liked the alchemy of churning a thick liquid into an even thicker ice cream in a supercooled metal drum. But that peach ice cream wasn’t “must make this again” delicious, and I wasn’t a fan of the two-day process of making, cooling and churning. First you make a custard with eggs, milk and cream, with all the angst that that entails (will it curdle, will it set?) and a fruit puree, and then you chill everything thoroughly before the churn.

The final product had little ice crystals, was too hard to scoop from the freezer (it lacks the emulsifiers and other gunk they add to commercial ice cream) and I also admit that cutting corners by not peeling peaches was possibly a mistake. The bits of peel were sort of crunchy.

So that was it until this summer, when I got two ice cream books out of the library and tried again.

Let’s just say that churning so-called no-churn ice cream in an ice-cream maker makes something that’s seriously good. There’s no eggs, no custard and not even any sugar, although you do add a can of sweet, gooey condensed milk.

Amazingly easy vanilla ice cream
(Adapted from No-churn ice cream, by Leslie Bilderbeck)

1 300g can of sweetened condensed milk
3 cups cream (I used one of whipping cream, which has 35 percent fat, and two of table cream, which is a mere 18 percent)
2 tsp vanilla extract
juice of half a lemon
Pinch of salt (to lower the freezing temperature)
Splash of white rum (also to lower the freezing temperature)

I put the condensed milk in the fridge the night before, so I started with cold ingredients. Then you mix everything together and pour the (very runny) liquid into the ice cream maker. Let it churn for 20-30 minutes until it thickens up. Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze.

To my surprise, this ice cream is actually scoopable from the freezer, unlike last year’s peach experiment. It’s smooth, and it tastes particularly good with fresh fruit, or even with a runny jam slathered over the top. I will make again, perhaps as early as this weekend. I will not think about the calories.

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Playing with pectin

This is the week when canning buddy and I hit the pick-your-own farm and come back in a car that smells like summer. Then we race to turn the soft fruit (usually strawberries and raspberries, sometimes currants and cherries as well) into countless jars of jam in the hope that it will remind us of summer right through a Canadian winter.

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But I’ve written about the summer can-o-rama before, and there’s a limit to how many times you I can brag about how many jars of jam we made (44 this year). I want to opine instead on the pectin problem, given that strawberries don’t have enough of it for a jam to set, and strawberry jam is up there on the list of must-have jars.

I am not a fan of how regular commercial pectin gives my jam a gelatinous feel, so I’m always in the market for a workaround. The addition of a kiwi fruit, recommended by the New York Times a few years back, produces a nice, soft strawberry jam, although you have to be careful to remove all the kiwi’s woody core, and the black seeds are mildly disconcerting, a gentle reminder that it’s not all strawberry. Other recipes suggest adding an apple (I tried that with a cherry jam one year and it ended up like cherry jam with apple sauce), and last month I hit the jackpot by adding home-made crabapple pectin to a strawberry jam, which produced a genuinely “wow” jam, which might be one of the best I’ve ever made.

But I’m out of crabapple pectin. In the course of a mad canning afternoon, we tried out four alternatives, all of which seem to work around the strawberry-set problem. I’ll add the ratings when I get round to opening the jars.

1. Strawberry jam with Pomona pectin.

I’ve read a lot about Pomona pectin on the interwebz, and fans say it offers the set without the sour, so you don’t need as much sugar and you don’t cook your jam as long. It’s a U.S. product, so I was sort of surprised to see it at the local health food store. Expensive, yes, but worth a go.

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Because it was the first time, we followed the recipe pretty slavishly for this one, mixing one of the two packets in the box to produce a calcium water, and then stirring the recommended volume of the pectin packet into the sugar before adding sugar/pectin to hot strawberries and boiling for another 1-2 minutes. It all seemed pretty vague — between 3/4 of a cup and two cups of sugar to four cups of mashed up strawberries — and Pomona said firmly that strawberries didn’t need the addition of lemon juice. But it was definitely worth a try.

It’s early days, but while the set was firm (too firm, perhaps?) I do admit the first taste was not as truly yummy as I thought it ought to be. Maybe strawberry jam needs the bitterness of lemon to bring out the strawberries? Or maybe 2-1/2 cups of sugar to 8 cups of fruit just wasn’t quite enough? We have eight jars. It’s still strawberry jam.

Second workaround was one we’ve used many times before, mixing strawberries with pectin-rich raspberries (and lemons) for glorious burst of flavour. The first taste is raspberry, but then the strawberry creeps through, and it’s always a lovely set. We make this jam each year. No reason to stop now.

Recipe number 3 swapped out raspberries for gooseberries, which have even more pectin than raspberries do. And while the strawberry-raspberry jam used 3 cups each of strawberries and raspberries, the strawberry-gooseberry one was a ratio of 5:1, with a little extra sugar to cut the gooseberry bite. Nice set. Taste rating to come.

imageThen things got a little more experimental, and if the crabapple pectin worked so well, what about making a gooseberry pectin, which meant boiling the berries up with a little water, and then straining the juice out in a jelly bag. In an ideal world I’d have left the goop to drip overnight, but we wanted now. So we added two tablespoons of gooseberry pectin to 6 generous cups of strawberries, and jammed them up with 4 scant cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons. The taste is good. The gooseberry elixir adds a bitterness which I rather like, and you don’t have to top or tail the gooseberries, a sticky, frustrating and time-consuming task.

Plus there are 10 little ice cube trays of gooseberry pectin waiting for the next jam.

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We got five jars of that jam, but one jar had an accident in the waterbath. It’s only the second time that’s ever happened. Too many jars in the canner? A flaw in the jar?

Who knows. It was almost the end of the session, so we abandoned the idea of waterbathing the last 7 jars of pure raspberry jam and retired to the Ribfest up the street.

Despite that broken jar, it was a seriously successful day.

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So very good

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Strawberry jam is always a little tricky, not the jam for a novice canner at all. Unless the fruit is seriously unripe, and hence only marginally tasty, strawberries are seriously short on pectin, which means it’s easy to make strawberry syrup, but distressingly difficult to make a strawberry jam that sets. My mother’s method was to boil stuff until the jam is almost brown, or giving up in despair and rushing out to get commercial pectin.

But I’m not a fan of commercial pectin — it adds a taste and a texture I don’t like — so I’m always looking for alternatives. For the last couple of years, I had a lot of success with the surprise addition of a kiwi fruit to a batch of jam (the little black seeds are marginally disconcerting, but you don’t taste the kiwi at all). But this year I discovered a few cubes of homemade crabapple pectin languishing in the bottom of the freezer.
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If I threw one of those into the mix toward the end of the boil, would my jam set? And what about the taste?

After three quick batches of strawberry jam, two of them with mint, I report astonishing success. This jam is deep rich red, with satisfying chunks of fruit. It mounds pleasantly on the spoon, rather than drizzling down the sides, and it tastes of summer. All I need to do is boil up more crabapple pectin later this summer, and I’m good to go.

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Strawberry jam

6 generous cups strawberries
4 slightly skimpy cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
1-2 tbsp finely chopped mint (optional)
1 cube of crabapple pectin

Wash and hull the strawberries, and cut them into halves or quarters. Add sugar and lemon juice and allow to sit while you prepare the next batches of fruit. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, and then bring to a rolling boil for five minutes. Add the pectin and boil for another five minutes or so. Test for set, bottle in clean jars, waterbath for 10 minutes.

Try not to eat it all at once.

Rating: 4.999 (out of 5)

I admit I didn’t skim off all the foam, so there are little white flecks in some of the jars, which means it wouldn’t win any competitions at the Ex. But what’s a fleck or two between frends. This jam is knock your socks off awesome.

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More yellow magic

My thought-provoking tomato jam barely made a dent in the carpet of ripe yellow tomatoes on the table in the sun room, so I moved promptly on to chutney, a yellow tomato-apple option that hit any number of my chutney must-have buttons. In addition to some 4 cups of chopped up tomatoes (and this was half the recipe) it used  apples and onions for flavour, chilli, ginger and mustard for heat, cider vinegar for bite and golden sultanas and white sugar for sweetness. The recipe demanded a single clove of garlic too, which seemed so small as to be totally irrelevant. I left it out. But I did throw in two cups of tomatillos, using up the last of the 2015 harvest. I liked tomatillos last year, when I only had a dozen of them. This year it’s been a struggle to use them up. chutney

And while I know chutneys need to wait a month or so for the flavours to meld together nicely, I couldn’t resist trying one of my eight jars. Two conclusions: it’s quite pleasant, even straight out of the preserving kettle. And it could have used more heat.

Sweet yellow tomato chutney (adapted from the Bernadin book of home preserving)

2 cups cider vinegar
5 cups chopped, peeled apples (I used a mix of Macs and Empire)
4 cups quartered yellow tomatoes (recipe said to peel them. I didn’t)
2 cups quartered tomatillos (or just use more tomatoes)
1-1/2 cups golden raisins (sultanas)
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 small chili peppers, seeded and chopped (use 3 or 4 next time)
2 tbsp mustard seeds, lightly crushed
1 tbsp chopped ginger
1 tsp cinammon
1 tsp salt

Put all the ingredients in a big pan, bring to the boil and then simmer until chutney thick (about 30 minutes). Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath 10 minutes.

Chutneys take time to boil down, but you can’t really find a more simple recipe.

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Thought provoking yellow tomato jam

Jam2The first version of this entry described my yellow tomato ginger jam as “the strangest thing I’ve ever made”, and while that remains true, it doesn’t tell the whole story. This jam is actually rather nice. It makes me think.

The venture came in an effort to do something those with the carpet  green-to-yellow tomatoes that ended up indoors to escape the first Canadian frost. I made one small (but amazing) batch of yellow tomato sauce, but that barely made a dent in the collection. It was time for something different.

Green tomatoes

Yellow tomatoes

That led me to tomato jam, and while I’ve made sweet/tangy jammy concoctions with tomatoes before, including a tomato basil jam that won an instant 5-star rating, they weren’t real jams, to serve on toast for breakfast.

And this one is interesting. The first thing you taste is ginger, followed by a sweet citrus tang, and then a gentle tomato aftertaste, which I described in a text message to a friend as “thought-provoking.” I tried it in a sandwich with a rich, double-cream soft cheese and it was lovely, and I can also see as a glaze for salmon or chicken. An interesting, interesting jam.

My recipe came from the Joy of Cooking‘s web site, although I cut the sugar a bit and tweaked it to add orange zest as well as lemon zest. Simple enough to make, easy enough to set, and I got 3-1/2 jars, plus a little bit extra that I can eat right now.

Yellow tomato and ginger jam (makes 3-1/2 jars)

1kg yellow tomatoes, quartered, with the woody stem removed
2 cups sugar
juice of 3 lemons
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
120g fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips

Macerate the sugar and tomatoes for a few hours until the sugar has dissolved and the mix is pretty liquid. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a rolling boil. Boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and seems about to set. Bottle in sterilized jars.

I don’t always waterbath my jams, but tomatoes are funny, so I gave them 15 minutes bubbling away in the water I used to sterilize the jars.

Yellow tomatoes2Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I’m giving this four stars because it just made me think about what I was eating, and I like that one. I like the sweetness, and I like that tanginess of the citrus. And it’s a beautiful jam, with strips of ginger that make it look almost like a marmalade. It’s golden, like the autumn leaves. It’s fun.

Next up: Yellow tomato chutney, which will also use up the last of the tomatillos. We had a tomatillo glut as well this year, and I’ve been banned from growing them next year. Turns out the spouse doesn’t like them much, and I struggle to find things to make with them as well.

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Tahini cookies

I know sesame works for sweets (halva, sesame bars), but tahini, which is made from crushed up sesame seeds, always ended up in hummus, or even in a simple tahini-lemon-garlic-yogurt-water sauce for drizzling over roasted vegetables. But tahini in a cookie? This is something I have to try.

The recipe (adapted as always) came from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook, which is one of the few cookbooks that I’m actually looking at right now. Ottolenghi uses heavy cream in his mix, and cinnamon on top, but I went for Greek yogurt (because it’s what I had at home) and cocoa nibs for the topping, because I love the contrast of bitter cocoa and sweet cookie. I felt tempted to substitute almond essence for vanilla extract, and I wish I had. I can’t taste the vanilla, but think the sweet bitterness of almond would be a good thing to add. Next time. There will be a next time.

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Tahini cookies (adapted from Jerusalem)
100g sugar
150g butter
110g tahini
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
25ml Greek yogurt
270g flour
cocoa nibs for the topping

Mix butter and suger until a little bit creamy (recipe says don’t let it get aerated, so I tried not to). Add tahini, vanilla and yogurt, and then add flour and mix until it comes together to a dough. Knead gently. Pinch off little balls of dough (about 20g each) and roll to a circle, and then dip one end in the cocoa nibs (I put them on a saucer), and put onto a cookie sheet, spaced an inch or so apart. I lined my sheet a silicon mat, so it’s easy to remove the cookies when they are done. Flatten the balls gently with the base of a glass or mug.

Bake for about 15 minutes in a preheated 400C oven. They should be golden at the edges.

Cool on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container.

Enjoy

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Magic with mangoes

mango2I’m so easily led. A friend asks if I have any good recipes for mango chutney (which I don’t), and I go haring off to Chinatown East to see what they’re charging for mangoes. And with a box of ripe, yellow mangoes going for a mere $6.99, I end up plotting my own mango chutney too. Friend plans to try the Major Grey style chutney from the Bernadin book, but I wanted something different.

Cue a blog called the daring gourmet (with a name like that how can you go wrong?), which added black nigella seeds to its jumble of spices, giving me the excuse to walk down to Little India as well. But following recipes has never been my strong point. With vague memories that adding oil can reduce the shelf life of a chutney, I decided not to fry the spices to start the process, and I also cut the sugar (those Chinatown mangoes were ripened to perfection), added an onion and sliced up lemon and more than doubled the ginger. I also forgot to add turmeric, which was a shame. But it was fun experimenting. Here’s the final recipe, with thanks to daring gourmet for the inspiration.

Mango chutney (makes 5-1/2 jars)
2 2-inch pieces of fresh ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced (it was a very, very large clove)
2 tsp nigella seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cardamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp crushed dried chiles
1/2 tsp salt (add more next time)
6 mangoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, finely chopped (could double)
1 organic lemon, quartered, seeded and thinly sliced (including the peel) (could double)
1-3/4 cups sugar (use 1 or 1-1/2 next time)
1 cup cider vinegar

mango1Put all the ingredients in a preserving pan and simmer gently until it’s nice and thick and chutney like, which took best part of an hour. Crush gently with a potato masher to remove some of the biggest chunks. Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath, if you are a fan of waterbathing.

Chutneys mellow over time, so today’s taste may not reflect the finished product. But I admit I’m impressed so far. The texture is good, the nigella adds crunch and taste and the lemon peel adds a nice sour tang to what is otherwise a pretty sweet chutney. It’s spicy, with a definite chile/ginger bite. Something to eat with homemade bread and a sharp, strong cheese.

Rating: 4-1/2 (out of 5)

Just a few days out of the jar, this one is rather spectacular, with the nigella seeds offering an onion zip, and the ginger/chile giving it a pleasant heat. The lemon was an inspired addition, and yet you can still taste the mango, which often isn’t the case when you combine delicate fruit with vinegar and lots of spices. A very, very pleasant chutney indeed.

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