Friday, July 13, 2012

Eating Omily: Organizing Awesome Sauce

What a happy Eating Omily week it's been!  Not that it's over: I still have chard and green beans to freeze, hot peppers to roast, sweet cherries to turn into cherry leather, more squash and cabbage to handle than I care to admit, and, I realized, not one but TWO bird carcasses to turn into stock.

Yeah, just cleaned out the freezer.

But, on Wednesday I tackled a big, delicious job: making jam.  Sour cherry, to be precise.   Nom.

Before I get to that though, I should tell you about the treat I made on Tuesday.  I have an awesome book of canning recipes that suggests interesting twists on traditional recipes: black pepper in cherry preserves, basil in blueberry jam.  I wanted to try the latter, but was a little gun-shy about committing to several jars of it, so I used her back burner strawberry sauce recipe to make a blueberry sauce, and wilted basil into that.  Here are the results on strawberry icecream.
Yes, it was delicious.  The smooth, cooling qualities of the basil were a perfect match for sweet, succulent Summer blueberries, and the natural pectin found in the blueberries gave the sauce just the right thickness after just five or ten minutes simmering on the stove.  In the future, I may add a little less basil to give the blueberries more prominence; the husband claimed the sauce tasted like pizza, but I thought it was perfect.  Give it a shot, with or without basil!  Just put any amount of blueberries into a saucepan with a splash of water, crush some of the berries with a spoon, let it slowly come to a boil, knock back the heat, and simmer, stirring, until it looks incredibly delicious.  So easy!

Wednesday was jam day, though.  Woohoo!  My canner took a loooong break after the end of last Summer.  I started with asparagus, and pushed straight through rhubarb, cukes, string beans, tomatoes, and apples.  By the end of the line, I was exhausted from all those hours standing over a steaming canner!  I skipped my winter recipes all together, and most of the spring ones, too.  By the time cherry season came around, I was more than ready to start loading my cupboard for another winter.

First thing's first; I had to stem and pit three pounds of cherries.   That took the better part of an hour, and don't even ask how many I accidentally chucked in the trash along with the stems!
With the pitted cherries relegated to a saucepan, I took a time-out to prep my canning space.  Everything I planned to use had to be carefully washed, and my 5-galon canner had to be filled, and put on a burner to start the sloooooow process of coming up to a full, rolling boil.  I put out rags to cover the workspace, and laid out my equipment.  Canning is easy, truly, but it does require some careful forethought.
Finally!  I added a splash of water to the saucepan, and turned up the heat.

Is it jam yet?

Is it jam yet??
Is it jam yet???
Yes!  Yes, it's jam!

Along the way, I added a cup of sugar to set the color, sweeten the sour cherries, and activate the natural pectin in the fruit, and a quarter cup of bottled lemon juice, to assure the preserves are acidic enough to be safely canned in boiling water.  The process of moving this pot of deliciousness into half-pint jars, removing air, putting on the lids and rings, and processing them has to be done pretty efficiently, so I didn't stop for pictures.  But HERE'S the finished product!
Unfortunately, as sometimes happens with classic jam recipes (no added pectin), these preserves didn't set properly due to an unpredictably low percentage of pectin in the fruit.  This is not a big problem.  You can still enjoy these preserves on toast; it's just best to eat over a plate to catch any drips, and it's easier to enjoy them on icecream, pancakes, or whatever else you may fancy.  I've altered the name slightly in honor of their consistency, from Classic Cherry Preserves to Sour Cherry Awesome Sauce!

And yes, this stuff is the kind of thing you're afraid to keep around because you can't resist eating it with a spoon with the fridge door still open.

Speaking of the fridge, I had some time to kill Thursday, and knew I had to tackle the horror ours had become.  It seemed impossibly full, the door wouldn't shut, and yet we could never find anything to make for dinner, or send with the husband for lunch-a sure sign of poor organization.  I pulled everything out, and started from scratch.  Here's where we ended up.
Sauces and condiments in the door, along with my water pitcher, and the fresh bunch of basil on hand from our farm share.  Packets of soy sauce, a partially used vanilla bean, dried sage, and butter up top, and in the middle, coffee, and my flaxseed and fish oils.  I put pantry staples that we go through too slowly to not regridgerate on the bottom, along with beverages, the (massive) fruit and veggie overflow from our crisper, and the maple syrup.  The drawer in the middle holds cheese, and thawed meat, and underneath that drawer we slip tortillas, whole wheat, and corn, and I stacked the eggs, english muffins, yogurt, salsa, and other husband-snacks next to it.  The top shelf is stuff we need to eat up quickly: quick sauces and pickles, canned things I've opened, left-overs, the current jug of milk, etc.

You'll figure out your own system of course, but for me, it's crucial that I put stuff that needs to be eaten in the first line of sight, because the husband will NOT look beyond what he can see initially.  I purposefully hid the salsa and hummus so he'd see other options first, and have to hunt for those things. :-)  This is what marriage is all about, right??  I did the freezer, too, and wow was that an adventure!
Yes, I promise, there is a method to this maddness!  First of all, I could not believe how many store-bought things had been tucked away in our freezer.  I'm not a fan of frozen meals, but we keep something on hand for THOSE DAYS, and obviously we haven't been eating it and it's added up.  Everything store-bought is on the bottom shelf, along with the icecube trays.  I was also shocked by how much MEAT we had stocked away: chicken, fish, beef, sausage...we do not eat much meat.  I buy it now and then, and freeze it right away, and apparently it had been hiding in our messy freezer avoiding detection for some time.  I found two carcasses, one from our Thanksgiving turkey, waiting to be turned into stock.  Sad.  From right to left, future stock, meat, and my frozen fruits and veggies.  I put things from last year that we need to gobble up in front, and things I just froze the last two seasons that we'll want for later in the back.  The bags that will likely still be added to were placed on top so I could still access them fairly easily.  I restricted the door to mostly structured round bottles and containers, and some smaller bags of things that it didn't make sense to hide away.  Bread crumbs, last year's frozen charred hot peppers, last year's pesto...mmmm, we have some tasty eating to do!  Someone remind me to KEEP my fridge and freezer this organized.  Please and thank you.

Last but not least, I used up some of last year's frozen grated squash to make a loaf of zucchini bread.  The flavor is delicious, but it's a little dryer than I like, mostly because I always skimp on the sugar.  What is the point of making a loaf of wholewheat bread with a vegetable in it if you're going to load it down with sugar??  I'll try using agave next time to up the moisture without upping the sugar content.
Mmmm...I'll leave you with that tastey thought.  When I get the recipe to my liking, I promise to share while the squash are in full flush.  Don't hesitate to grate that stuff up and freeze it though, so you can have zucchini bread all winter!

~em

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