I am not a winner

I was so pleased with the taste of my Sweetie-based three-citrus marmalade from earlier this month that I rashly decided to enter it in one of four competitions at last week’s Mad for Marmalade celebration, organized by the Culinary Historians of Canada. It’s an annual event, but this is the first time I’ve managed to attend, despite frequent pleas from fellow blogger/jam maker at Eat Locally, Blog Globally. And it’s certainly the first time in my life that I’ve entered a cooking competition.

Of course it might have helped if I had read the instructions before deciding which marmalade to enter, as there’s a lot of emphasis on the clarity of jelly and the texture of the final jam. “Do not add dry pulp,” the judges’ comments said firmly in the section that gave me just 1 out of 5 for texture. (I like adding dry pulp. I like the taste, and I like the extra fruitiness in what was, after all a made-up recipe.) I also lost points for leaving in a couple of seeds, although my peel scored well, which means it was “cut into attractively fine, even pieces, evenly distributed, good proportion of rind to jelly, translucent to clear, tender; not chewy.”

But the judges gave me 4 out of 5 for taste, which is what really matters to me. And I didn’t come in last.

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The event itself was a lot of fun, if only because it was so good to be in the company of a whole group of women and men (mostly women) who think it’s quite normal to transform oranges into marmalade, and who can talk knowledgeably about the amount of pectin in a strawberry, and whether blueberry apricot jam is a good combination. I happen to be one of those who think it isn’t; the dark purple of the blueberry jam completely drowns out the beautiful golden apricot and the two flavors fight with each other. But one jammer said it was the best thing he had ever made.

Among a series of morning workshop options, I signed up for Italian Marmalade, which turned out to be very similar to non-Italian Marmalade, except that the chef used a mandolin to slice the fruit and then simmered it away for the whole of the seminar. We got to taste lemon gelato, made with cream, which was seriously yummy, and enjoyed a lunch of chicken, salads and pasta. I’m even inspired to try candied peel again, if the historical method outlined wasn’t quite such a long and painful process.

citrus2I’ll update the blog when I get a chance to taste my Italian marmalade, but I have a lot of made-by-me stuff to get through first. The latest experiment — blood orange, regular orange and lemon, which has red streaks from the pulp. I guess that would have scored even fewer points.

And I’ve found new uses for my marmalade, which opens the horizons well beyond the marmalade-peanut butter sandwiches I take on the bicycle rides.

1. A very small spoon of marmalade adds a tang and a chew to my morning slow-cooked oatmeal

2. I’ve never liked marmalade in yogurt (the sourness and bitterness just don’t seem to go together), but it works like a charm mixed in with cottage cheese. Try it. You’ll be surprised.

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Hello sweetie!

A Toronto blogging friend arranged for those nice people over at Jaffa oranges to send me a six-pack sample of something they are calling the Sweetie, which turns out to be a grapefruit-pomelo hybrid, with tough peel, sweet flesh and pith that’s almost a centimeter thick. The spouse liked them just as they are, a grapefruit without the bite, but I figured it would be far more fun to invent a marmalade and blog about that instead.

sweet2The only issue. A nibble of raw peel shows that all the bitterness migrated from fruit to rind on this baby, and that one nibble left my whole mouth atingle, in a most unpleasant way. I peeled the fruit, pared off much of the pith and boiled the peels up three times in fresh water to try to dull the bitterness (in a way that worked moderately well for the grapefruit marmalade I made a while back). But even the thrice-cooked peel tasted pretty gruesome and the spouse worried it would taint the finished product if I actually used the peel. He was probably right.

sweet3I tossed that peel, and moved the experiment in a different direction, with a three-citrus concoction: two Sweeties, two Seville oranges and two organic lemons.

Three-citrus marmalade
2 Sweeties (you could use grapefruit)
2 Seville oranges
2 lemons
800 grams sugar

Peel the Sweeties (grapefruit), tug the flesh out from the white membranes and chop it roughly. Set aside. Quarter the oranges and lemons, cover with water and simmer for 45 minutes or so, until the peel is very soft. Strain the liquid and measure out 3 cups, saving the pits that float out from the fruit in the simmer and putting them in a square of cheesecloth. Add the sugar to the liquid, and then the flesh from the oranges/lemons/Sweeties, and then the peel, sliced as finely or coarsely as you choose. Add the pits from all the fruit to your cheesecloth and tie that into a little bundle for the added pectin that that supplies. Bring to a simmer until the sugar melts, and then a rolling boil for 15-20 minutes, until it sets. Fish out the cheesecloth bag and bottle the marmalade in sterlized jars. Waterbath if you want to obey USDA guidelines.

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For a made-up recipe, with guesstimates for the amounts of fruit, sugar and water, I must say this one is surprisingly good, all six jars of it. It has a firmish set, a tangy taste and just the right amount of orange/lemon peel.

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When life gives you oranges

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I know the jam-making risks taking over my life when I take it with me when I go away, but what else was I to do when a California friend left me alone in her home when she upped and went to work? Friend has an orange tree in her back yard, and a nearby lemon tree was dripping with fruit as we walked past with her two well-trained pups. Marmalade, anybody? With backyard naval oranges and a lemons, fresh from the tree.

Of course I’ve never made oranges with navel oranges and the internet recipes all suggested a three-day venture, peeling the rind from the oranges and then boiling that separately from the fruit before making a marmalade on Day 2 or Day 3. I didn’t have time for that one, and I didn’t see the point either. Let’s just make things up as I go along. It’s worked before.

Navel orange marmalade
5 navel oranges
3 lemons
2 lbs sugar
an extra splash of lemon juice

Scrub the fruit and cover them with water in your largest pot (I used the pressure cooker, without the lid). Simmer for 60-90 minutes, until the fruit and peel are very, very soft. Fish out the fruit, quarter them and allow them to cool. Measure the liquid that’s left in the pot and top it up (or toss some out) to make four cups of liquid. Add the sugar.

Scoop out the flesh from the oranges and chop it roughly, and add it to the pot, and then slice the peels as thinly as you wish and add them too. Same deal for the lemons, but save the pits carefully and put them in a square of cheesecloth to add to the liquid. That’s what gives you the pectin, and it’s the pectin that gives the set.

Bring your jam to a slow simmer and stir until the sugar is dissolved, and then bring to a rolling boil and boil for about 20 minutes, stirring very frequently. It tasted a little sweeter than I wanted it to, so I added a splash of (bottled) lemon juice), and carried on with the boil. It’s done when it starts to feel sticky rather than liquid as you stir, and when a drizzle of jam sets a little when you pour it onto a cold plate. Fish out the cheesecloth of pits, allow the marmalade to cool for a couple of minutes (to help the peel settle a little) and then bottle in sterlizied jars. I flipped the jars over for a few seconds to help get a decent seal, and I didn’t waterbath them. I’m pretty sure a marmalade is acid enough that bugs won’t grow, but I suspect that breaches the USDA guidelines so not waterbathing is not a formal recommendation.

I admit this marmalade was a little runny, but it may thicken up over the next few days, and California friend can always use it over yogurt if it’s too syrupy for bread. She says she likes it, and that’s what counts.

On to the next adventure.

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Slow, slow oatmeal

Readers of this blog will know that steel-cut oatmeal has revolutionized my winter breakfasts, especially after I found a low-risk, low-maintenance way of getting the perfect taste and texture, precooking things in advance and letting them sit around to plump up nicely overnight. This year I got more adventurous, but also even lazier, and the oatmeal is, if anything, even more perfect. It’s a high-fibre, filling and low(ish) calorie way to start the day, and it keeps me going until mid-morning at least, especially if I add a few walnuts to add a protein filler. The secrets? A $20 slow cooker from the discount kitchen store, a selection of different grains to supplement the oats, far more liquid than you ever think you’ll need and patience.

The recipe is infinitely flexible, but here’s roughly what I do. Each batch lasts me for a week or so, maybe a bit less if I feel particularly hungry in the mornings.

Slow-cooked steel-cut oatmeal
generous half cup of steel-cut oats
skimpy one-third cup of other grains (I’ve used tef, amaranth and very small amounts of freekah so far, with amaranth at the top of the list for taste and texture)
2-3 cups water
1-2 cups other liquid (apple cider, coconut milk, milk, depending on mood)
generous pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low for 3-4 hours. Stir once in the middle if you remember. Allow to cool in the cooker and then store the porridge in a tupperware in the fridge. Come breakfast time, spoon out a portion into a bowl and reheat it in the microwave. Then add fruit and nuts, perhaps some cocoa nibs for bitterness and a generous splash of milk, buttermilk, yogurt or home-made kefir (which curdles slightly in the hot oatmeal). You could add honey/sugar/maple syrup too, or even jam, but I find the apple cider offers enough sweetness for my taste.

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The Guardian describes tef (an Ethiopian cereal) as “the next big supergrain,” while HuffPost gives a similar moniker to freekah (wheat that’s harvested when it’s still green and then cracked and roasted), dubbing it “the next hot supergrain“. HuffPost also offers “14 reasons to eat amaranth” (an eat-everything plant — the dark green leaves are used in Caribbean cooking and known as callaloo), and says cocoa nibs are “even better for you than dark chocolate.” How can I go wrong?

I’d note I don’t like to add too much freekah, because it adds a very wheaty taste to the finished cereal. I get a wheaty taste from bread; I like my oatmeal to taste mostly of oats.

Anyone got other ideas to jazz up oatmeal?

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More marmalade

marm1I really wasn’t planning to blog about marmalade this year, if only because I’ve written about it so many times that there may be nothing new to say.

But then this year’s batch of marmalade is shaping up to be rather nice, with the perfect set, the perfect sweetness and even the perfect peel. We (mostly) cut the peel a little more finely than in previous years, and we didn’t skimp on the sugar, which has been a mistake before. But the Seville oranges were unusually large, which meant we effectively doubled the recipe, so it took longer to set, and filled the pan alarmingly full. There were a few nervous moments as large bubbles of boiling jam spattered onto the floor, the countertop and any exposed flesh they could find.

It was worth it. There were only two jars of marmalade left in the store cupboard, and that wasn’t going to last the year, and the brief Seville orange season had just started.

Here was the rough recipe:

Seville orange marmalade
(Adapted, vaguely, from Jams, Jellies and Chutneys)

9 Seville oranges
3 regular oranges
2 lemons
2 kilos of sugar (plus a little bit)

Scrub the fruit, cover with water and simmer for about an hour until they are very soft and the pith is orange rather than white when you cut the fruit in quarters. I used two preserving kettles for this one. If you take the fruit out too early, and the pith is still white when you quarter them, just throw the quarters back in the water for another 15 minutes or so.

Take the fruit from the water, and cut them up, before fishing out the seeds and pith and slicing the peel, as thinly as you like. Let the fruit cool down a bit between the quartering and the peel-slicing. Save the seeds and pith in a cheesecloth bag – that’s what gives you the pectin, and that’s why the marmalade sets.

Meanwhile measure our the water you have left from simmering the fruit. We had eight cups of water, which seemed about right for what was (in theory) only 1.5 times the original recipe.

Add the sugar, then the fruit and the bag of seeds and pith. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, and then bring to a rolling boil until it sets, stirring frequently. Fish out the cheesecloth, squeezing it between two spoons to get out as much of the precious, pectin-rich elixir as you can. Be careful. It’s hot.

Bottle in sterilized jars. These oranges were, as I said before, unusually large, and we ended up with 17 jars.

Waterbath for 10 minutes (although I reckon this baby is probably acidic enough that bugs wouldn’t grow anyway).

Eat, on toast for breakfast, with yogurt for lunch, or (my favorite) as a peanut butter and marmalade sandwich on a bike ride or a ski trip. You can even bake with it, for a seriously yummy chocolate marmalade brownie style cake.

Enjoy.

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I now have this irresistable urge to experiment with quince orange marmalade, after spotting quinces in the market on Saturday. I only need a couple of quinces and 4-6 oranges, right? Just a small batch?

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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.

bread

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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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