Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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The Jams

I’ve had little to write about cooking. I didn’t can last summer because of the move I was planning for the beginning of August. Because all of my early belongings needed to fit in my hatchback car, I didn’t make any elaborate recipes in Seattle. I had only rudimentary kitchen gear. I roasted lots of meats and veggies with some fresh herbs and spices, as the only equipment required for that is a pan.

The jams I made this summer were in small enough quantities, that I didn’t need to water seal them. I wanted to experiment¬†with some different flavors. No one needs six or seven jars of a failed experiment.

I picked blueberries and black raspberries the same morning. I knew I wanted to use honey and lavender with the blueberries. For the black raspberries, I was thinking vanilla and lemon.

But I thought another woody spice would add some depth. Although I love cinnamon, I wanted something that would be less recognizable. I ended up with some peppery dry allspice.

First, the bad news, I didn’t measure anything. I just added ingredients to the pot until it tasted good. But I will tell you the process I followed for both of the jams and what I will do differently next time.

I washed the blueberries and tossed them into pot whole with a little water. I squeezed out a very generous amount of honey, by the looks of it about a half cup to around 6 cups of berries. I made a tea out of the lavender and strained out the blossoms.

After the berries cooked on medium heat for a while the berries started to break down and burst open and take on the consistency of a very runny jam. Then I adjusted all the flavors. I added more honey and sugar, the lavender tea, and the allspice until Jeannine and I thought it delicious.

Jeannine in a flash of inspiration pulled off a portion of the blueberry preserves and added some vanilla spiked bourbon. Both of the varieties of jam cooked until they thickened. Then we put them in jars for storage in the refrigerator.

I followed a similar process for the black raspberry preserves, only we strained out the black raspberry seeds. There I cooked the berries in water for some minutes to leech out as much of the flavor from the pulp and seeds as possible. Then we added the lemon, allspice, and vanilla, bean husk and seeds to taste.

Picture of black raspberry jam on the stove

All the lovely flavors! All of them!

I didn’t use pectin. This posed the biggest challenge for the seedless black raspberry jam. All the natural pectin in that fruit is in the pulp and seeds. Without them I was worried that it would never set.

That fear proved unfounded. In fact, the only thing I would do differently on all of the jams is cook them less, so that they would have set a little less tightly. In the case of the blueberry preserves, those were just a little more set than I would like for mixing into yogurt or spreading on waffles (my primary use of jams).

The black raspberry preserves were so set as to approach hard tack candy once refrigerated. In my concerns about the lack of pectin I significantly over cooked it. In both cases, there’s a moment were the liquid shifts from behaving like water to behaving like syrup. I think I should have pulled both of the jams off as soon as this transition happened. It’s that moment when abrupt stirring stops splashing up in tiny droplets.

Side note, we made these popsicles with the black raspberries. They were delicious. I will try making this with peaches soon. Partially because they will be good but also to ensure I use those stupid popsicle molds at least one more time. I hate buying kitchen goods that only do one thing. HATE IT.

The black raspberry vanilla popsicle

There were delicious. I am ruined for popsicles now.

Now that I have executed my experiments, I am ready to make larger batches next year and put some jams on the shelf for winter. I also anticipate canning more black raspberry pie filling next year. That process is a massive pain in the ass, but it’s a lovely thing to have black raspberry pie in December.

black raspberry and blueberry jams

Eating the jams on waffles is the best part.

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Food Unicorn: Tasty Tofu

Ohio doesn’t have much local produce this time of year, and the polar vortex has kept me from outdoor activities like skiing and biking. Holed up in my home for weeks, I’ve been enjoying the canning off-season by making some new recipes. Here’s a couple of my favorites.

My partner is a vegetarian. She’s a vegetarian that doesn’t like vegetables. She’s been working to expand her palate though, so I’m not complaining. I’m just setting the scene. While I am a omnivore, I don’t cook with meat at home. All of these things lead to us eating many meat substitutes. I like Gardein, Quorn, MorningStar Farms, tempeh, seitan, and others. Notice, tofu is not in that list.

Tofu, without modification, achieves something unthinkable. It tastes like nothing, while simultaneously being unpleasant. I don’t know how something that lacks taste can be gross, but tofu manages it. My tofu arithmetic: no flavor + no texture = bleck.

Then I found this. http://www.daringgourmet.com/2013/02/27/thai-peanut-tofu-noodles/ This recipe has all the things that I love: fresh ginger, peanut butter, noodles, noodles, garlic, carrots, chilis, and green onions. Whip all of this up and top with Sriracha, and I am in heaven. But that tofu.

The first time I try a recipe, I always make it exactly as instructed. I like to start with a baseline before I customize it to my taste. This recipe was no different, in spite of my troubled past with tofu.

Imagine my surprise at finding this method of tofu preparation quite good. Let’s be honest, when you salt the shit out of something it will taste pretty good. This tofu treatment is a testament to that. The sherry, sesame oil, and soy combo add some nice complexity to round out the salt in the soy. The sesame oil imparts a great nuttiness, and the soy brings much needed umami to the tofu.

Pairing this salty, nutty tofu with the peanut sauce in this recipe is heaven. I’ve made this compulsively since I discovered it. If it didn’t feel too self-indulgent, I would have a bowl of these noodles in my fridge at all times.

I liked this tofu so well that I added it to this recipe too. http://www.monsoonspice.com/2009/03/tofu-pineapple-thai-yellow-curry.html

I bake the tofu separately and top the curry with it. The coconut-based sauce is sweet. The baked tofu is salty. Top this with a bit of Sriracha or some Thai chilis, and you have a the sweet, salty, spicy trifecta that Thai food nails.

These recipes led me on a couple of other food adventures that I will save for a subsequent blog. Coming up… canning homemade veggie stock, homemade mustard, and making nut butters.