The Joys of Jam!

I love color.  I like to fill my house with color! I think my favorite color in a window is cobalt blue.  Oscar Wilde, my favorite 19th Century  Irish playwright and aesthete once said, “I fear I will never live up to my cobalt dishes.”  I think it was actually decorative urns to which Wilde referred.   I would have to agree with the great intellect.  Cobalt does delight the senses.  The featured image is my kitchen window.  It looks to be a setting sun outside, which gave the blues an extra boost of color.

Speaking of color, I like color in my foods.   Jams are a good example of a colorful food.  While jams, that wonderful concoction of sugar and whole fruit, may not appear to be useful beyond peanut butter and jam, bread and jam, jam glaze, etc., for some, I think they can be used every day in a myriad of recipes.  I like to create jams.  I am less inclined toward jellies, made of fruit juices and sugar, though they make wonderful sweetener for, say, tea!  This week, I created a new jam.  I give my jams weird names.  Actually the names derive from the acronym that comes from the main ingredients, like “CAOS,” pronounced, chaos, is my cranberry-apple-orange-spice jam that I make in November when cranberries come to the grocery.  My CAOS graces the holiday table, and goes splendidly with turkey and its trimmings.

“FAJ” and “FOJ,” pronounced fahje and foeje, are my fig-apple jam and fig-orange jam.  They pair nicely with brie and other buttery cheeses.  I think I’ve written about these previously.

To assure that I measure fruits, sugar, and other ingredients going into the jam, I look at other recipes.  My latest is called, APOS, and now I’m sorry I didn’t arrange those letters differently, because some use a similar acronym derogatorily.  Going forward…APOS is apricot-pineapple-orange-saffron jam.  I followed a recipe for apricot jam.  First, you should know that my freezer is full of apricot pulp.  My mother has a prolific apricot tree.  She picks and cleans the apricots.  She adds a “produce protector” with dextrose, ascorbic acid, and citric acid, so that the fruit keeps its brilliant orange, and she adds some lemon juice and freezes in jars.

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I thaw the jar and mix my “jam.” For APOS, I used this quart (453.59g) of crushed apricots, and chopped up enough fresh pineapple and  two whole oranges to make eight ounces (226.80g) of additional fruit.  To which I added four cups (860g) sugar, and two ounces (56.70g) of lemon juice and four good pinches of saffron (about 20 threads for stigma).  Saffron is a rare and fragrant spice.  Each flower of the crocus produces three stigma and must be harvested by hand.  I visited Spain 15 years ago, and I still hang on to the saffron I purchased there.  Luckily, my mother’s friend, who lived in the Middle East gifted some.  I am using that now.  Here it is cooking down to a thickened state.  Notice the saffron threads imparting their brilliant color to the already colorful blend of apricot, pineapple, and naval oranges.

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While the jam thickens, jars must be cleaned and sterilized.  The rings must be clean, and the lids must be covered with hot water to soften the rubber seal.  Pour the boiling jam into the prepared jars, and the lid-ring must be adjusted to fit properly.  Lower each jar into a boiling water bath canner where the water covers the jars by two or more inches (5.08 cm).  Place the lid on the canner, and begin the count (15 minutes) once the water comes back to a boil.   Consult your canning guide for best results.

I tested the jam with silky goat cheese, and it did not disappoint.  It went well on a freshly baked slice of sourdough, too.  I think it’s a keeper.  bread

Jams are a must when you present a meat and cheese board.  We like a meat and cheese board when we’re watching a movie on the television.

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On this particular board, I used whole figs in place of the jam (What was I thinking?).  My husband loves kippered snacks (herring), which is great with cream cheese and crackers.  Eat this kind of meal slowly so that you know when you’re full.  Otherwise, it’s easy to stuff yourself, because everything is fresh and flavorful.

I’m off to visit my mother for her 90th birthday.  My sisters and I are preparing a great feast.  Perhaps I’ll share.  Thank you for reading.

Good Times with Friends and Food

In my undergrad years, I was a literature major.  One of my favorite things to do was to bake or cook the foods in my favorite books.  I like to cook.  I like to read.  I like to entertain.  One time I had invited a friend to my house for dinner.  She said, “I don’t know.  What are you reading?”  At the time, I was reading Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and I had been baking buttermilk biscuits, ham, greens, and red-eye gravy.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with recreating dishes from cooking magazines.  Last week, I prepared a wonderful curry, which included garbanzo beans and fried Halloumi cheese.  I had invited colleagues to enjoy the meal, and it was a hit!  I did not remember, however, to take pictures, so perhaps another time.

Well, I take inspiration from interesting films as well.  Netflix has a wonderful Japanese serial called, Midnight Diner.  The series, with English subtitles, centers on “Master” who opens his diner at midnight for people rushing home at the end of their days.  “Master”  prepares for his customers whatever they choose, as long as he has the ingredients.  Each episode has a story that plays out at the diner as the focused character requests a specific food of his/her/their past.  And, we, the viewers, get to watch while he prepares.  In the opening credits, “Master” prepares Tan-men.  I have not prepared this dish in a satisfactory way at this point.

Recently, we began viewing the second season of “Midnight Diner.” The title, “Chicken Rice” is a story of an adult being reunited with his mother after 37 years. He heard about the Master’s diner where customers order their heart’s desire.  When the Master was preparing the “chicken rice,” the addition of the red sauce intrigued me.   I looked it up, and there is a website that offers the recipes for the “Midnight Diner” series.   Here’s the recipe for chicken rice.  I made it for breakfast, and it tasted quite delicious.  Take note, the surprise ingredient is ketchup!  Actually, the next time I prepare this dish, dinner is the better time of day for it.  In the series, most things are consumed with beer – not my sort of breakfast beverage.

Here’s the recipe for chicken rice, as I had prepared it this morning:

  1. Prepare rice (White or brown) in your usual method
  2. De-bone and cube two chicken thighs (for three servings). Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper.
  3. Dice a quarter of an onion and, approximately six mushrooms
  4. While the chicken absorbs the seasoning, prepare the sauce
  5. The sauce requires
    1. 3 tablespoons (45g) ketchup (I used a siracha-infused ketchup)
    2. 3 tablespoons (45g) tomato paste
    3. 2 tablespoons (30g) water
  6. Mix all and set aside
  7. Cook the chicken until it looses its pink color.  Add onions and mushrooms.  Cook until chicken is well-cooked and some browning has occurred.
  8. Add three to four tablespoons (30 to 45 g) of the tomato mixture until well mixed.
  9. Add 2.5 cups (about 400g) cooked rice, and combine thoroughly with 3 tbs. (45g) frozen peas.
  10. The recipe says put the mixture in an “omurice” form, which looks a bit like an American football. I put mine in a bowl as the form before inverting it on the dish.

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The recipe suggested that five or six peas be arranged on top, and that you eat it with a spoon larger than a teaspoon – a soup spoon.

Now, I thought ketchup mixed in rice would be a curious flavor, but it works greatly!  Here is the chicken rice in the pan.

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Two weeks ago, we traveled  to see our friends, Phil and Paula, who live about two hours away.  We spent a wonderful weekend enjoying an opening art exhibit of Preston Singletary, a glass artist who is Alaskan Native (Tlingit).  We had wonderful food at the special dinner for museum members, and we perused through the exhibition of his extraordinary glass works.  Look it up on the internet.  You will see.  I did not take pictures, because I felt it inappropriate.  This is the poster.

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That weekend also included food prepared by Paula, Phil, and I made my apple cabbage slaw.  Phil made chicken.  Paula made deviled eggs. We made a cheeseboard.  Here are our dishes.

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We watched a football game (Superbowl), and our team won!  It was a good evening – not because of the ball game, but because we were with friends that we love.

Thank you for reading my blog.

History of Mince Pie and a Recipe

I was an English major as an undergrad and for graduate school.  It was later that I worked in Human Ecology for a second grad school.  I must say that I fell in love with the food in so many British and American classics such as Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and the books by Jewish author, Chaim Potok.  One thing these books had in common was superb descriptions around food preparation.  Oh, I forgot to mention that Patrick O’Brien’s books about the British fleet on the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars were full of great description of the foods on board a ship.

One of the things that peaked my interest in Dicken’s Great Expectations was the traditions around the food.  Especially those served during holidays.  In case you have not read Great Expectations, there’s this great scene where the story’s main character, “Pip” stole mincemeat from a jar in the pantry to feed an escaped convict, named, Abel Magwitch.  This was an act that endeared Pip to Mr. Magwitch forever.  Earlier in the story, before the theft, Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, had already made the “handsome mince pie” for the holiday gathering, so she did not notice any missing (Dickens 22) shortly after Pip had stolen it to feed his convict.

I love mincemeat!  I continue to be intrigued that my Native American grandmother, born in the New Mexico, made mincemeat much the same way that the Brits made it.

Mincemeat has its origins in thirteenth century England when the aristocracy kept large amounts of dried fruits in their larders because varying climate made the storage of fresh fruit impossible.  In addition to the variety it added, dried fruits served to disguise meat past its prime. Mrs. Joe likely served it because of tradition, and almost everybody in England continues to eat mince pies at Christmas, presently (Hale 86).  The World Atlas of Food cites “Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management of 1856-1861” as having the original mincemeat recipe, which bakers continue to use today.  It includes raisins, currants, lean rump steak (my grandma used beef tongue), beef suet, sugar, candied citron peel, lemon peel, orange peel, nutmeg, apples and brandy all mixed and stored in glass jars to mature for about two weeks (87). The Kerr Home Canning and Freezing book written more than a century later offers the same basic recipe as well (25). However, Kerr promotes the use of a pressure canner, 10 pounds of pressure for 90 minutes. Mincemeat’s function, besides serving as a sweet treat, lay in its relatively long shelf life, essential in not having adequate refrigeration (Davidson 507).  At Pip’s Christmas dinner, the mince pie came just before the “savory pork pie”.   Here’s a notes about pie crusts:

Quick Pie from Scratch

After finishing a lovely meal on a cozy winter evening, one of our friends said, “I wish we had a pie!”  Luckily, our dear friend, Mary Lake, was at table, too.  She’s one of the best pie-makers in the world!  Mary and I bet, those around the table, that we could produce a pie from scratch in 30 minutes.  The race was on!  The stop watch began.  Mary got busy making her famous oil crust, and I set to getting the apples ready.  Fortunately, I had several quart jars of canned apples from the previous summer’s windfall of crispy, sweet apples.  I dumped a quart of apples in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of quick tapioca, cinnamon, 3 tablespoons sugar, and a pat of butter.  Here’s Mary’s crust recipe:

2 cups of all-purpose flour

Dash of salt mixed in flour – put flour/salt mixture in a bowl.

½ cup of vegetable oil (Mary likes corn oil for its nutty flavor)

5 tablespoons buttermilk (Make some with milk and vinegar if you have no buttermilk on hand)

1 glass pie plate.  It must be a clear, oven-proof pie plate.

With a fork, emulsify the oil and buttermilk until well blended.

Add to flour mixture

Stir with a fork until all flour is well-moistened

Divide, and put half of the dough on a square sheet of parchment paper. Shape into a round, flat disc without handling the dough too much. Place another square sheet of parchment, and roll out the dough with a rolling pin.  Once the dough is the size of your glass pie place.  Shape to the pie plate.  Repeat for the top crust.  Once the top crust is rolled out, place the fruit in the pie plate with the bottom crust.  Settle the fruit in to the crust, and then place the top crust. Shape the edges of the pie crust, cut air vents with scissors, and sprinkle crust with cinnamon sugar.

Place your pie in the microwave oven for 12 to13 minutes.  Meanwhile pre-heat your conventional oven to 400°.  After the time sounds for the microwave, remove the pie from the microwave, and place it into your conventional oven for 12-13 minutes, or until the crust is browned.

Mary and I put our apple pie on the table in 35 minutes.  The microwave oven gets the fruit cooking and thickened.  This shortens the time in the conventional oven, and prevents burned edges.  Starting the pie in the microwave only works for fruit pies.  Do not try with custard pies.

The featured picture is the mincemeat pie with the oil crust.  You can see that the crust is tender and flaky.  I did not add the cinnamon sugar mixture here, but it gives the crust a beautiful glow.

Mmmmm…I’m hungry!   Thank you for reading.