Posts Tagged rating

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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Bits for burgers

I have almost all the trimmings to turn a burger into something well beyond the store bought stuff, thanks to bitingly spicy mustard greens in the garden, our first home-grown tomatos, and the latest of the bread and butter pickles as a substitute for the sliver of sourness that a commercial burger offers.

And now, thanks to the canning buddy’s niece’s insistence that we repeat a recipe I didn’t even like that much last year, we have the corn relish to slather on the top.


We made that relish before the apricot jam last week, zipping the kernels off a dozen ears of corn and boiling them up with sugar, vinegar and spice, as well as some chopped up red peppers that we burned black on the stove, then peeled and chopped. I didn’t much like the taste that the basil offered last year, so we substituted dill, and we also cut the sugar and amped up the onion and the spice.

The recipe goes something like this.

Corn pepper relish (adapted, yet again) from The Complete Book of Pickling)
4 chopped, roasted red peppers, skin removed
1-1-2 cups sugar
2 tbsp salt (it was supposed to be kosher salt, but wasn’t)
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
3 cups cider vinegar
8 cups cooked corn kernels
2 cups chopped onions
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
1/2 cup finely chopped dill

Roast the peppers by putting them directly on a gas burner and turning them round as they sizzle and char. Dunk in cold water, peel off most of the skin, and then chop them and set aside.

Put all the ingredients except the red pepper and dill in a pan, heat gently until the sugar dissolves and then simmer for 30 minutes or so until it thickens. Add the peppers and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in dill and ladle into clean, hot jars. Water bath for 15 minutes.

And to my surprise, it’s actually rather good. Last year I rated this a mere 2-1/2 out of five, because it was too sweet and because the basil went sort of brown and yucky on us. The dill adds a nice pickle tang, and the fact that it has less sugar makes it far more palatable to me. If there’s a next time I will add more turmeric, to add to the yellow hue.

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5). It’s far better than the gelatinous stuff you buy in the store, but I can’t see myself using it in the way I use pickles or chutneys. 

As for the mustard greens, I reckon this is the perfect thing to grow in a tiny square foot garden like ours. It grows fast, produces over several weeks, adds a serious bite to lunchtime sandwiches and you can’t buy it in the stores. We had five different types this year, one of which bolted already, and one of which didn’t seem to like its container in front of the sunroom door. But these frilly numbers, the most biting of the lot, are doing fine.


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Quality counts

A while back, as I fretted that late frosts could have killed off all the Ontario apricots this year, I made some apricot raspberry jam from a clamshell pack of California apricots. It was early in the jam-making season, and at the time I thought it was pretty good.

Well I opened a jar this week, and admit to deep disappointment. It’s not that it’s bad, but apricot jam is usually one of my favorites, and this one doesn’t cut it. The set and the texture are good, and it’s pleasantly chunky, which is always a good thing. But the taste just isn’t quite there. It’s not as wishy washy as the apricots that it came from in the first place, but if I closed my eyes I am not even sure I would be able to guess what fruit it is, and I can’t taste the raspberry taste at all. The color has morphed from the red and orange that it started as to a dark, rusty orange. No, there’s nothing absolutely wrong with it, but it’s just not that good.

Rating: 2-1/2 (out of 5). Texture good, set good. Taste lacks the wow factor that apricots ought to have.

Luckily there were only 3 jars of it to start with, and I suspect I might even have given one away.

Lesson: good quality fruit makes good quality jam. It’s as simple as that.

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Drop dead delicious

Mini update.

That raspberry strawberry jam is drop dead delicious, with the glorious summery taste of raspberry coupled with slightly chewy chunks of strawberry. And because half the fruit is strawberry, it’s less pitty than the (also delicious) raspberry jam. Texture is perfect, both spreadable and usable in yogurt or on vanilla ice cream. No pectin, no add-ons, just fruit and sugar. Yummmmm.

Rating 5 (out of 5)
Absolutely nothing to detract from this.

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Meyer lemon … marmalade

I don’t get this one at all, but one day after the making, that Meyer lemon syrup had turned to an almost perfect marmalade, with a serious bite and deliciously chewy chunks of peel. Time for a few recent ratings from some of the more recent jars we opened.

Lemon meyer marmalade: 4-1/2 (out of five)
It loses half a point for panicking me for a day of the making-it process

Lime pickle: 4 (out of 5)
Nice bite, lovely taste, if a little spicy for me. But I’m not sure what I’m going to use it for. Mind you, the recipe did say wait at least a week, so maybe I should wait a little longer

Grapefruit marmalade: 3 (out of 5)
Nice, but nothing special. I’m trying it with home made rice pudding today, which might work better than the marmalada peanut butter sandwich I had yesterday. Mind you, this is last year’s grapefruit marmalade. Do these things age? Will the one we made on Saturday taste better once we get around to eating it?

Apple date chutney: 4 (out of 5)
Nice, solid, tasty, spicy chutney. Very smooth, which is a little disconcerting, and I will add a notch more spice next time.

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Almonds on steroids

I just want to put on record that the apricot jam from the summer really is rather yummy. As it matured in the cupboard, the flavor from apricot kernels spread stunningly through the whole jam, giving everything an intense almond taste. Apricot kernels are like almonds on steroids, I think. More taste than an almond, and a little less crunch. I have few spoonfuls of the final jar left to enjoy – maybe enough for the rest of this week. But that’s going to be it until next summer. So sad.

Rating: 4-1/2 (out of 5). I’m docking the half point because it set just a little bit too much and hence sank to the bottom of my lunchtime yogurt and needed major stirring to mix it through. I should probably chop the apricot a little smaller next time too — quarter fruit not half fruit.

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Chutney with a kick

For three years in a row we’ve made a curried apple date chutney from one of my favorite recipe books and it seems to vary each year depending on the apples, the vinegar and maybe the mood of the chefs. One year we used empire apples, which didn’t break down properly, and one year we used curry powder instead of curry paste and I complained that the finished product was a notch too bland and a notch and a half too sweet.

This year I dared buy the “hot” curry paste from the market, and used a very generous three tablespoons when canning buddy wasn’t looking. We cut the sugar a little, cut the Macintosh apples up nice and small and used a mix of cider vinegar and white vinegar because it’s all I had in the house.

And this is a chutney to die for. The dates and most of the apples melt away into a dark amber paste, with hunks of buttery soft white apple to add to the color and the texture. Even fresh from the pan it was glorious, with a beautiful lingering afterburn. I had the stuff that wouldn’t fit in our 14 jars it in a lunchtime sandwich, with brown rice bread and 7-year old cheddar, and it was so good that I had a second sandwich almost immediately after. And there are seven jars apiece to look forward to.

Serious yummm.

Chutneys always taste better after a while, but the provisional rating has to be high. 4-1/2 (out of 5) perhaps.

Recipe to follow, when I get the recipe book back from canning buddy.

From there we moved on to a pear-apple-ginger preserve from the same book, because it’s the pear-apple season, and it’s never the wrong season for ginger. We upped the ginger (of course) and added a teaspoon of five-spice because that’s my spice of the moment after the stunning successes of a few plum jams.

The results are good, but not as good as the chutney. The pears were not quite ripe, and the apples didn’t melt away to anything particular at all, leaving a well-set jam that’s actually a little lumpier than I would have liked, with a linger of crunch from a fruit that might be either apple or pear. It’s super-sweet as well, but works like a charm on plain, unsweetened yogurt.

Provisional rating. Probably a 3 (out of 5)

But this one has potential. I want to try it again, with a handful of cranberries for a sourish bite.

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Plums, plums and plums

I admit I’m getting bolder in the jams I make this year as I learn more about what works and what doesn’t and get a better idea of what sort of jam might set. Things like strawberries, rhubarb and peaches need a lot of help to turn into a jam, which seems to mean macerating the fruit with sugar overnight, fishing the fruit out of the sugar syrup that emerges and boiling that down a bit before throwing the fruit back in and cooking it anew. Plums and on the other hand set like  nobody’s business, but have a tendency to get a little chewy for my taste. (Cherry jam is just chewy, and unless the spouse asks really nicely, I’m not planning to make it again.)

But the other thing is that I’m daring to mix and match a little, taking a bit of one recipe and squirting in a bit of another, or abandoning recipes entirely with a guess at the appropriate proportion of fruit sugar and lemon juice, which are my ingredients for just about any jam. I’ve not had any total failures, although there are a couple of jams that I’m not quite sure about, for one reason or another.

My latest ventures are probably just about the last of the season (unless I try something with pears), and after yellow plum jam and red plum jam (edit: I am starting to wonder if the red plums are actually something called pluots, which are a plum/apricot hybrid), I switched to blue plums this month. It worked, although I admit to tentative reservations, as listed below.

First off came what the farmers market here seems to call prune plums, although I know them by their wonderful tongue-twister German name of Zwetschken. They are a medium small, purple-blue plum with a dusty finish, which are tart when unripe and amazingly sweet and juicy on the rare occasion that the farmers leave them on the trees long enough to ripen properly. My mother used these for Zwetschkenkuchen, with cinammon-sprinkled fruit atop a semi-sweet yeast  dough that was baked so the plums melted into the dough. I used them for a not-quite-regular jam, adding a couple of spoons of Chinese five-spice for a bit of a kick.

My inspiration was the excellent Food in Jars web site, which raved about a plum-star anise jam recipe. But the local Chinese supermarket looked at me blankly when I asked for star anise, so I switched to five-spice.

Vaguely following the Food in Jars recipe, I let 5 cups of fruit, three of sugar, the juice of two lemons and the two teaspoons of five-spice sit around for a day or so before boiling them all up together to the gel point, which went scary fast. It has a lovely set, and a lovely taste, but the plums are a little bit chewy, and I could have cut the sugar. Three out of five, perhaps.

From there I switched to damsons, the tiny, dusty-blue plums that bind the flesh to the stone in an almost impossible way. A couple of British recipes (one was from the BBC) suggested simmering the fruit in a little water first to soften the skin (and prevent the skins getting chewy), and they insisted that a good simmer would let the stones separate out and float to the top, so you could fish them out before you add the sugar and boil it up to jam.

This jam was also pretty easy, and this time I did throw in the star anise, which was available downtown if not at the Chinese supermarket. Tragically it exactly filled four jars, so I can’t offer a taste test yet, beyond saying that the stuff I licked out of the pan was pretty awesome. But there are bound to be stones I missed, so we’ll have to eat it carefully.

Damson jam with star anise

Simmer 5 cups of damsons with a cup and a bit of water and three star anise stars until the stones of the damsons separate out fairly easily, and remove as many stones as you can find without spraying dark, red damson juice all over the kitchen. (I only had three cups of damsons, but I had enough of the other plums to make up five cups of fruit. I may have to make this jam again with damsons only, for taste-test comparison purposes)

Add a scant 3 cups of sugar, simmer until the sugar dissolves and then boil at a rolling boil until you think it’s set nicely. It took less than five minutes.

Remove the star anise stars, and bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath for 10 minutes to meet tough U.S. waterbathing standards.

My reservation: Surely there has to be an easier way to remove the stones.

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Jamming a small storm

I think this will be the year of small-scale experiments, partly because canning buddy has all the recipe books and partly because my temporary home has a small kitchen without much in the way of work surface.

But I just can’t go past the farmers’ markets without buying right now, and even I can’t eat all the fresh fruit I buy. Chutney takes time and recipes, so I’m a-jamming.

I started with apricots came first, because apricot jam is one of the easiest jams to make and to set and because apricots have such a scarily short season. The recipe, from a random blog that seemed to be more about computers than about jam, looked like a cinch, even if I was a little suspicious of the fact that she recommended 25 minutes boiling time. But the proportions seemed good, and I loved the idea of cracking apricot kernels with a hammer to get the little apricot almonds out. (It turns out there’s quite an art to this one — a proper whack smashes the kernel to smithereens, while a tap does nothing.)

Let’s just say my jam set like a charm after 10 minutes, and even then I have little streaks of black caramelized sugar where it started sticking to the pan as I looked away to maneuver jars out of their sterilizing water. It made four jars, a respectably small number.

My version of the recipe:

Apricot jam

5 cups stoned and quartered apricots
3-3/4 cups sugar
juice of 1-1/2 lemons
kernels from 8-10 apricots

Allow the first three ingredients to marinate for a couple of hours so the sugar half dissolves and the mixture is pretty liquid. Heat until the sugar dissolves completely, and then at a rolling boil for 10 minutes. Stir like crazy, so it doesn’t stick. Bottle in sterilized jars, with a couple of kernels inside each jar to offer an almondy bitterness.

From there I moved on to a yellow plum jam, because the yellow plums looked so good and because I’ve never made a jam out of yellow plums before. The first few recipes I found online talked about stewing the fruit with water first, and then passing the whole mess through a food mill, which didn’t seem like the way I wanted to go. I don’t add water to jams, I don’t have a food mill and I want texture not puree.

It was time for another experiment:

Yellow plum jam
5 cups yellow plums, stoned and quartered
3-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
juice of 1/2 a lemon
juice of 1 lime (I was out of lemons)

Same method as above. First it foams, then it boils, then it sets, just like that. Seven minutes boiling was plenty. Five might have been enough.

Early tastings:

Apricot jam is awesome. It concentrates the taste of the apricots in a perfect mixture of taste and texture. No formal rating yet, but this one is heading for a four. The caramel streaks are actually quite pretty, even if they are not supposed to be there.

Plum jam really did set, and it’s satisfyingly tart. But I can’t actually taste the ginger, and I can’t actually identify the tartness as plum at all. To make matters worse the plums have melted away to nothing, which leaves something almost like a pulp with skins, rather than a jam with chunks. It looks beautiful though. It will probably rate a 3.

I have lots of cherries to eat my way through too. But the cherry pitter is in a box somewhere with the rest of the stuff I was sure I wouldn’t need this summer. Any ideas of what to cook with cherries that still have pits?

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Mmmmm, strawberries (part 3)

One of my earliest jam-making memory is of strawberry jam, or rather at my mother’s attempts to make strawberry jam. Strawberries are low in pectin, you see, and my mother’s strawberry jam never seemed to set, regardless of how many hours it spent at a rolling boil on the stove. She was one of those people who were pathologically unable to follow a recipe (I sometimes think I inherited that gene), and that didn’t help matters. One time we raced out to the supermarket to buy pectin and one time she read a newspaper article that suggested letting the strawberry/sugar mix sit for 3-4 days before cooking it up. She tried that, the batch started fermenting, and if my memory serves me correctly, she threw it all away. When a strawberry jam finally did set, once a year or so, it was usually boiled almost brown, with the strawberries wizened to delicious chewiness. It tasted good, but only if you ate it with your eyes shut.

So all that goes to say that I’ve always been somewhat frightened of unadulterated strawberry jam, and the pickled strawberry jam recipe that canning buddy and I made few weeks back just proved my point.  It sounded interesting, but it was barely more than a syrup, and it just tasted odd. Better to mix strawberries with rhubarb, or gooseberry, or redcurrants and have a jam that works, I thought.

Why then did I break all my promises to myself and make almost-unadulterated strawberry jam this weekend, even though canning buddy has all the recipe books, and I didn’t even check the internet for ideas? Am I mad?

No, I am not mad, and by pure luck and a little bit of invention I’ve ended up with a knock-your-socks off strawberry preserve that sits nicely on the spoon, uses no pectin, is infused subtly with lavender, is almost not sweet and will probably not last beyond the end of this week. I asked the spouse to rate this one out of five, after serving him with a generous dollop atop his favorite vanilla ice cream . “Is it a jam, or a preserve,” he asked. “Let’s call it a preserve, it can be a little runnier that way.”

He gave it a five (Edit: out of five). I think that might be a little mean.

Strawberry lavender jam

2 quarts strawberries, cut in halves or quarters
2 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
4 sprigs lavender

Mix the first three ingredients with two of the lavender sprigs and let it sit for 4-5 hours until the sugar is virtually dissolved and the strawberries are sitting in juice. Remove the fruit carefully with a slotted spoon, toss the lavender sprigs, and bring the syrup up to a boil, slowly until the sugar finishes dissolving, and then at a rolling boil until it reaches 221F on a candy thermometer.

While that’s happening you can strip the spikes off the other two sprigs of lavender, and chop them very finely. Watch the syrup carefully and stir a lot toward the end to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Add the strawberries and boil for 5-6 minutes until it sets when you put a few drops on a cold plate. Add the lavender and boil for another 30 seconds or so.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath for 10 minutes, or just keep in the fridge and eat.

Rating (out of 5)
5, or maybe even 6. A perfect taste of concentrated summer in a jar.

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