Posts Tagged cooking

Mmm Meyers

The plan, for what it’s worth, was to make marmalade later this month, once the Seville oranges hit the stores. But how could I resist a giant bag of Meyer lemons at suspiciously low Costco prices?

Meyer lemons make magnificent marmalade, even though I admit to some frustration in the past with recipes that tell you to prep the fruit in three different ways, and some WTF moments with a Meyer marmalade that started off like a syrup, and then set, surprisingly, two days after the canning. So this time I kept things simple, following the formula from Marissa at Food in Jars : one pound fruit, one pound sugar, one pound water.

Well actually, I used two pounds each of fruit, sugar and water, so it wasn’t exactly the smallest of small batches, but it was incredibly easy and it set incredibly fast.

Meyer lemon marmalade

2 lbs Meyer lemons
2 lbs sugar
4 cups water

Wash the lemons (my babies were not organic, sadly), slice off the ends and cut them into quarters or sixths, lengthwise. Slice off the edge piece of the membrane and fish out the seeds, keeping both in a cheesecloth bag to help the marmalade set. Then slice the peel/flesh as evenly as you can, and put it in your pot with the water.

Bring your lemons to a simmer with the little cheesecloth bag (at the top of the picture) and cook until the peels are butter soft — it took about 3o minutes — and allow the mix to cool. Then squeeze out the cheesecloth bag to get as much as the gooey pectin-rich liquid as you can, discard the bag and add the sugar. Heat, gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil until it sets. Some people use a thermometer for this (222F is the magic number, I am told), but I just put a blob on a cold plate, and if it looks right and stays separated when I run my finger through it, it’s done. I did my first test after 5 minutes of rolling boil, and it was still a little liquid, so I went on for another 4 minutes, which was perhaps a minute or two too long. It’s a good, firm set.

Bottle in sterilized jars and waterbath for 10 minutes. The satisfying pop of the seal came seconds after I took my lovely little jars out of the water.

Five and a half beautiful little jars of sweet-tart marmalade.

I have 8 Meyers left, plus half a bag of luscious Cara Cara oranges. Has anyone ever made a Cara-Meyer marmalade? Would it be good?

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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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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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Not quite magic

Cinnamon buns were the surprise theme of our Vancouver Island vacation last week, ranging from dry scone-type things to scrumptious yeasty creations that were far too big to fit on a regular plate — we actually asked one shop to cut the single bun in four and ate it over two meals. So it seemed only logical to try to recreate the magic when we got back here.

But I have had mixed results with cinnamon buns this year, including a batch of cinnamon-flavored rocks, and one batch that was mediocre-plus. There was one magnificent batch, but I didn’t save the recipe. So I turned to the cutely titled All you knead is bread, which produced the chewy black rice bread I made a few months back. I admit I was suspicious that the yeast dough included neither butter, eggs, milk or sugar, but there was butter in the filling and I was too lazy to plow through the internet for more inspiration.

Mistake.

No clue why, but this recipe was so lacking in liquid that it refused to turn to dough, so I threw in an egg and some milk to create something that I could actually knead. The filling needed more cinnamon, and I abandoned the idea of dunking the whole thing in a sugar butter mix before baking it in favor of a drizzled glaze of sugar, milk and lime juice, which meant I was back to scrimcoaching, aka not really following a recipe at all.

The results: Not bad, if a little overcooked.

IMG_0573I asked this before, but nobody answered. Anyone got a really good cinnamon bun recipe to share?

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Read your vegetables

I’m not sure I need to cook anything from this month’s Cook the Books recipe book. I’m just going to buy the book and work my way through it, one glorious recipe after another.

You see Nigel Slater’s Tender is my sort of book, heavy on the veggies (well duh, it’s a vegetable cook book), easy on the other ingredients and totally flexible in the way it goes about things. And it’s a good read to boot, with tips about growing the veggies as well as cooking and eating them. It didn’t seem to matter where I opened the book, there was something I wanted to make, whether the grilled eggplant, the broad bean hummus or the moist chocolate cake with mashed up beets. I mean it sounds so weird it has to be worth a try.

In some ways this book, cover-less, torn at the edges and clearly well used by many library borrowers before me, reminds me of another well worn offering in my own cookbook collection, Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book. Grigson writes her way from artichoke to watercress and Slater starts with asparagus and ends with tomato, but the idea is the same. Two well-written books that work for me.

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Yes, okay, I’ll probably cook something before the month is out, but that will have to be another blog entry.

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It’s my life!

Followers of this blog will know that I’ve been on a serious bread baking binge for months, and I’m amazed at the proceeds. I experimented with different flours, different add-ins and different amounts of yeast, and the sandwiches have been awesome. Bread with chestnut flour was particularly tasty (even the cat liked it), but some combination of wholewheat flour and steel-cut oats seems to be my favorite right now.

But let’s face it, making bread takes time, and there were Saturdays when I felt that all I did was wait for bread, which took a serious chunk out of the rest of my weekend life. The workflow goes something like this:

  • measure out ingredients (a few minutes)
  • wait for the yeast to start frothing (15 minutes, perhaps)
  • mix and knead (another 15 minutes)
  • wait for the mix to rise (2 hours, 3 hours, often longer)
  • knock down, prepare for baking (a few minutes)
  • wait for the loaves to rise (another couple of hours)
  • heat oven, bake (an hour, almost)
  • wait for the loaves to cool (longer than you think)
  • slice and eat (no time at all)

The challenge was to tame that workflow so that my bread was a slave to me rather than the other way around. It took a bit of planning, but it’s worked surprisingly well – it was the method for the hugely successful black rice bread from a few weeks back, but it works for more than that. My thanks to a few recipe books, and to the Brit over at Alliums for his inspiration. The faults, such as they are, are mine.

The answer lies in forgetting everything your mother ever told you about yeast dough imploding at the merest hint of a chill. It’s heat that kills yeast, not cold, the experts say now. So rather than waiting around for my bread dough to double in size, I make my dough on a Friday night and throw it in the fridge overnight. Come Saturday, I take the vastly expanded dough out of the fridge, squidge it into loaf tins and then go off and run my morning errands while it warms up and then starts rising again.

By the time I’m back from the market, and maybe from a bike ride too, it’s ready to bake.

I am no longer a slave to my bread. It’s my bread that’s a slave to me.

Anyone want some (home-made) marmalade on (home-made) toast? And anyone got other tips to help me claim back my life?

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