Cherry-Plum-Blackberry Preserves

July 27, 2015

While none of my past jams or jellies (see Triple Berry Jam, Grape Jelly and Cherry, Plum and Raspberry Jam) was a failure; they were all delicious. Each of my past recipe was hampered by the exact same issue: the results were always a little too runny. I either added too little sugar or mis-estimated the correct amount of pectin based upon the combination of fruit. I finally resigned myself to the impossibility of using regular pectin; it just isn’t for me. So, I switched to Low-Sugar Pectin, which doesn’t require a precise ratio of sugar and acid in order to thicken. While harder to find (I had to order over internet), it’s perfect for those who don’t want super-sweet jam. Finally; 5-stars; the jam taste like fruit rather than just sugar.

Summer sweetness all year long

Summer sweetness all year long

Comments:

  1. If you do decide to use regular pectin; always follow the specific recipe for correct gelling. Every fruit requires a different proportion of pectin, sugar and lemon juice. If something is even slightly off (or if you over-or-under-cook it), it will be runny. If the fruit was picked too early on the farm. the jam may not set. While Ball’s (the mason jar company) pectin-calculator is a big help, but it requires using a single fruit to get accurate results.
  2. While I love blackberries; be careful because they can add too many seeds.
  3. If you live more than 1000-feet above see level, you should adjust your processing time in Step 9 based upon your altitude. More or less; add 1 minute per 1000 ft. in elevation.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $12 for 5 pints of jam; about 5 pounds.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 6:00 PM. Finish time 8:30pm

3 pounds Cherries
3/4 pounds dark-skinned plums (about 4)
3/4 pounds blackberries
4-1/2 cups granulated sugar (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons red wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup low-sugar pectin
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

  1. Run jars through dishwasher on high heat, using a heated dry cycle. Wash the screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Bring a saucepan to a boil, remove from heat for five minutes and add flat lids with the wax seal upwards. Allow to stand in hot water until ready to use; which will soften the wax used to seal the lids.
  2. Bring large pot full of water to a light boil. In my case, I use two Dutch ovens instead of one large pot, because my jars don’t fit in pot. These will be used to process the jam after sealing the jars. Put a wire rack on the bottom of the pot to prevent the jars from coming in contact with excessive heat from the burner, otherwise the bottom of the jar may break. Once boiling, reduce burner to maintain a simmer.
  3. Sterilize your jars by placing them in the hot canning water for 10 minutes above 185-degrees. Leave your jars in the hot canning water until you are ready to fill them so they remain sterile and hot, but be sure to completely drain jars well before filling.
  4. Meanwhile Pit the cherries. Quarter and pit the plums. Finely chop all fruit. Place four small spoons and a plate in the freezer (for Step 8).
  5. Combine plums, cherries, blackberries and lemon juice into an 6 to 8 quart pot. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes until juices form, stirring occasionally.
  6. Increase burner to medium/high. Uncover and add pectin and bring to a full boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred); about 20 minutes longer.
  7. Add in sugar and return the jam to a boil. Once it has returned to a full boil, continue boiling for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  8. The temperature should register 220-degrees. To test if the jam is ready, scoop a little jam onto a frozen spoon. Return to the freezer, and wait 1 minute. Remove spoon from freezer, and gently nudge the edge of the jam with one finger. If the jam is ready, it will wrinkle slightly when pushed. If it is not ready, it will be too thin to wrinkle. If the jam does not wrinkle on the first attempt, cook two or three minutes more, and repeat the gel test.
  9. Remove the pot of jam from heat, skim off any foam. Using canning tongs to remove a jar from the simmering water, and empty the water back into the pot. Ladle jam into hot jars (use a canning funnel if you have it); filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a slightly damp paper towel; otherwise the jar will not properly seal. Top the jar with two piece lids and finger-tighten, being careful not to force the lid.
  10. Using canning tongs to put back into simmering water. Process closed jars in hot water bath for 10 minutes (adjusted for altitude); start timing as soon as water returns to boil.  Water must cover jars by 1 inch. Add boiling water, if necessary. Try to ensure that the jars aren’t touching the sides of pot and are spaced 1″ apart.
  11. Remove jars and place upright on a towel or wire rack to cool completely; 24 hours. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (Once cooled, if lids spring back when pushed down then they are not sealed and refrigeration is necessary. Put any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use first. ) Store jam in a cool, dark place up to 1 year.
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Shrimp Scampi

July 18, 2015

Chris Kimball has a basic recipe for Shrimp Scampi. The result is perfectly cooked and flavored shrimp. However his recipe has one problem huge problem; it yields barely enough sauce to flavor the shrimp with nothing left over for the accompanying pasta (or potatoes as I served it today).  While his original recipe calls for 2 pounds of shrimp, I’ve adjusted the recipe down to use just over 1 pound of shrimp, which is ideal for 3 people when serving with over a bed of pasta or potatoes. Also, instead of using 1 tablespoons of vermouth, I reduce 1 cup of white wine down to 1/4 cup. Even though this recipe yields more than twice sauce as Chris Kimball’s original recipe; I still find that there is never enough sauce.

Just enough sauce to complement the bed of garlic, cheese mashed potatoes.

Just enough sauce to complement the bed of mashed potatoes.

I posted Chris Kimball’s version of Shrimp Scampi over 5 years ago, but it bears very little resemblance to the Shrimp Scampi I’ve been making over the subsequent years.

Adjustments/Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball says to cook the shrimp for just 1 minute; stirring occasionally. However, I find that my shrimp always needs more cooking time. So in general, I’ve switched to using his technique to for cooking longer on one side of the shrimp to promote a little caramelization. The residual heat of the shrimp will finish cooking the second side after being removed from the skillet.
  2. I prefer to use cilantro instead of parsley, which I think is too muted. However, I use whichever I already have in my kitchen.
  3. Instead of 1 tablespoon of Vermouth, I reduce 1 cup of dry white wine down to 1/4 cup. It concentrates the flavor of the wine, and by using cilantro (instead of parsley) I do not miss the subtle herb flavoring of the vermouth.
  4. I increased to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, which I think makes the scampi brighter and more flavorful.
  5. I usually serve this over a bed of angel hair pasta, but today I served it over some extra creamy mashed potatoes.

Rating: 5-stars
Cost: $11.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 5:00 PM.  Ready:  6:15 PM

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

4 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pounds large shrimp (21-to-25 per pound)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup dry white wine
2 Tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves (or parsley)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. Put shrimp in a large bowl filled with cold tap water. Allow to defrost for 1 hour. To speed defrosting you can replace the water a few times.
  2. Put a large pot of pasta cooking water on stove, season with salt, cover and bring up to a boil. When water has come up to a boil, plan and start your pasta based upon the cooking instructions on your pasta. I like to use fresh pasta with this recipe, which cooks in only a minute or two.
  3. After the shrimp has defrosted, drain shrimp in a colander. Peel and devein shrimp; leaving the tails on to protect the narrower tail. Pat shrimp dry and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon sugar.
  4. Add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil to 12″ skillet and swirl to coat the bottom of the skillet. Pre-heat over high burner for 3 minutes until very hot, and the oil begins to smoke.
  5. Cook your shrimp in two batches, adding half the shrimp in a single layer. Cook for 3-1/2 minutes without moving or flipping. Empty shrimp into a clean bowl. While the second side will not appear to be fully cooked, it will finish cooking with the residual heat of the shrimp in the bowl.
  6. Wipe out you skillet using paper towels; and repeat with another 2 teaspoons oil and the rest of the shrimp.
  7. Turn down the burner to medium-high, add 1 cup of white wine and reduce for 5 minutes until thick; and has reduce to about 1/4 cup. Melt 3 tablespoon butter, add minced garlic, and saute for 30 seconds.
  8. Remove skillet from burner. Stir in lemon juice, minced cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Return shrimp and accumulated juices to skillet. Toss to combine; serve immediately.

Chimichurri Sauce and Grilled Flank Steak

July 14, 2015

I made a version of Chris Kimball’s Chimichurri sauce a few years ago, while delicious, it really felt more like just any old herb sauce; it was watered down and lacked zest. Today’s Chimichurri uses cilantro instead of parsley, adds some mint, and uses fresh oregano instead of dried. But the main difference in the outcome came from marinating the steak in the chimichurri sauce. The result was delicious; the steak had lots of flavor and the marinade added to the nice char of the steak. 4-1/2 stars.

Marinade on sauce makes a huge difference

Using the sauce as a marinade makes a huge difference

While I used the same base for both the marinade and as a sauce, I added the vinegar to the sauce at the last-minute to avoid denaturing the meat.

Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $15.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 6:00 PM.  Ready:  6:45 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

Chimichurri Sauce Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups roughly chopped cilantro leaves (1 bunch)
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 Tablespoons fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried mint
8 medium garlic cloves
1 shallot
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Tomorrow: 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

  1. If you are using dried oregano or mint, allow to soak in 1 tablespoon of water for 5 minutes to soften.
  2. To make the chimichurri, roughly chop the cilantro, oregano, mint, garlic cloves
    and shallot; adding to the food processor or blender. Ass kosher salt, red pepper flakes and 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Process for 1 minutes until smooth.
  3. Do not add vinegar to the marinade; add only to sauce just prior to serving.

Steak Ingredients:
1 flank steak, about 3 lb.
1-1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt

  1. Use paper towels to pat the steak dry and put in a large baking dish. Sprinkle steak with 1-1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt, and evenly coat steak with 1/2 cup of chimichurri sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate overnight (a minimum of 4 hours).  Cover and refrigerate remaining sauce.
  2. With about 45 minutes until dinner, remove the sauce from refrigerator to allow to come up to room temperature.
  3. Completely open up the top and bottom vents of your charcoal grill, and ignite a chimney starter filled with 6 quarts of charcoal. Allow to ignite for 20 minutes until the top-most coals are partially covered with fine gray ash. Create a 2-level fire, by emptying all the coals over one half of the grill, and the other side of the grill will remain without any coals.
  4. Put the cooking grate in place, cover and pre-heat for 5 minutes. Clean the grill, and dip paper towels in vegetable oil and wipe.
  5. Cook steak over the hot part of the grill for 5 minutes without moving, until the meat has. Flip the meat and grill for 5 to 6 minutes for medium rare.  After both sides are nicely charred, move the steak to the cool side of the grill (with the fat part towards the coals), cover, and cook until it reaches the desired level of doneness.
  6. Put steak on a cutting board and loosely tent with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, stir in the 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar into the sauce. Also warm the individual serving plates.
  7. Cut the steak diagonally across the grain into 1/4″-thick slices. Divide the meat onto individual places and spoon chimichurri over steak. Pass the rest of the sauce at the table.

Grilled Corn with Flavored Butter

July 7, 2015

Fresh off my success with the Corn Chowder, I made this grilled corn-on-the-cob for my 4th of July barbecue (which I actually had of the 5th). The technique is pretty straight-forward; grill the corn for a few minutes over direct heat, then finish cooking the corn in a pan as it soaks up herb butter. The barbecue was a delicious success, and included Garlic-Lime Grilled Pork Tenderloin Steaks, grilled beef ribs with a Chimichurri (which I will post later in the week), and potato salad. The corn was 3-1/2 stars; good, but not that far out of the ordinary.

Fourth of July barbeque

Fourth of July barbecue

Comments:

  1. My grill was full of meat (as you can see below), so there was not a lot of free space on the grill to dedicate to the disposable aluminum roasting pan called for in Chris Kimball’s original recipe; he says to use a disposable aluminum pan at least 2-3/4″ in depth. However, to save space on my grill I wrapped the ears together in a heavy-duty foil packet.
  2. There are quite a few recipes for different varieties on flavored butter on the website: Honey butter, Latin-Spiced butter, New Orleans “Barbecue” butter, and Spicy Old Bay butter.

Rating: 3-1/2 star.
Cost: $2
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 5:00.  Ready:  5:45.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for grilled corn is here, and the recipe for the basil and lemon butter is here. The descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

Flavored Butter Ingredients:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

  1. Allow butter to soften on the counter-top, or microwave for 20 seconds to soften. Combine all ingredients in small bowl, and mix together.

Grilled Corn on the Cob Ingredients:
13″x9″ disposable aluminum roasting pan
8 ears corn
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper

  1. Ignite a full chimney starter filled with charcoal and create a two-zone fire, depending upon your needs for the main course.
  2. If you have the space on the grill, add flavored butter to disposable pan. Set butter/pan aside until Step 4.
  3. Remove husk and silk from corn. Evenly brush corn with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill corn over hot hide of the grill for between 5 and 9 minutes; rotating as necessary so that all sides are lightly charred.
  4. Move corn to disposable pan and tightly cover with aluminum foil. Set pan over hot side of grill and cook for 3 minutes until the butter is sizzling; shaking frequently. Remove from grill, and open foil away from you to allow the steam to escape.
  5. Serve, spooning extra butter over the individual ears.

Corn Chowder

July 3, 2015

Corn is so ripe right now that I can feel the fatness of the kernels right through the husk, no need to pull back the husks. Plus as a bonus, it’s on sale for just 20-cents an ear (practically free). After discovering this recipe a few years ago, corn chowder has become a delicious way for me to enjoy sweet summer corn during peak season. I’ve updated the recipe a little, to include changes to deepen the flavor and elevate this to a strong 4-1/2 stars. Chris Kimball’s original recipe calls for cooking the bacon and onions only until they soften, I now brown them a little to build up a fond on the bottom of the pan; the corn chowder is even more satisfying. Perfect for your 4th of July barbecue.

Delicious way to enjoy sweet summer corn

Delicious way to enjoy sweet summer corn

Comments:

  1. The original recipe does not brown the onions and bacon; starting the onions and the bacon at the same time, and stopping before the bacon gets crispy. While the original recipe results is a fresher tasting chowder, the richer flavors from developing a fond and crisping the bacon deliver a much more satisfying bowl.
  2. While step 1 sounds confusing, when you separate the kernels and pulp from the cob. I was worried that I might be cutting away too much pulp and I sliced off the kernels, but in the end you will throw away the solid from the pump (after extracting the juices). So the bottom line is you shouldn’t worry.
  3. When I squeeze the pulp, I only got 1/2-cup of juices; not the 2/3-cup that Chris Kimball says the pulp should yield. But the story is the same every time I make this recipe; I think you will never get 2/3-cup. Today’s corn was so fat and juicy, if it didn’t happen today I think it will never happen.

 

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $5.00
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 5:30. Dinner time: 6:15

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

8 ears corn
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion
4 slices bacon
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups water
3/4-lb red potatoes
1 cup half-and-half
Up to 1 Tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

  1. Remove husks and silk from corn. Cut kernels from the cob using a chef’s knife, being careful not to cut away too much of the pulp. Then over a large bowl, use the back of a stiff butter knife to scrape the pulp into the bowl (once you try it you will see how easy the pulp comes away from the cob). Put pulp in a clean kitchen towel and tightly wring the pulp allowing the juice to fall back into your large bowl. Chris Kimball says that I should have been able to extract 2/3-cup of juice, but I was only able to extract about 1/2-cup. Throw away the dried pulp.
  2. Stack your bacon slices and slice them lengthwise, then cut them into 1/4″ pieces. Finely chop your onion, and mince you thyme.
  3. Set a Dutch oven over medium burner; Add bacon and cook for 4 minutes; a head-start before adding more ingredients.
  4. Add 3 tablespoons of butter and allow to melt. Add onions, thyme, and 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, for 10 to 12 minutes. The onion will be done when it has browned slightly, and there is a fond on the bottom of the pan. While that cooks, dice your potato into 1/2″ pieces.
  5. Mix in 1/4-cup flour and stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes, then whisk in 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add your corn kernels and diced potatoes. Bring back up to a simmer, then reduce the burner to medium-low and cook for 18 minutes until the potatoes are ready.
  6. Remove 2 cups of chowder to blender and process it for 1 minute until smooth. Return processed chowder to the pot, and add 1 cup of half-and-half, and continue to cook until the pot has again reached a simmer.
  7. Remove from burner, add corn juice, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and as much as 1 tablespoon sugar depending upon the inherent sweetness of your corn.
  8. Spoon into individual bowls and sprinkle each bowl with 1 teaspoon minced basil.

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