Monday, January 30, 2012

Rhubarb-apple jam

I don’t buy jam at the store anymore. Which – considering I canned my first-ever batch of marmalade just about one year ago – kind of blows me away. I don’t even buy it at the farmers’ market. If I want jam, I just go to my storecupboard and dig out some of last summer’s bounty. Or I make up a batch from something serendipitous that crosses my path, or falls out of my freezer, even in the middle of winter.

I am definitely a late arrival to the Canvolution party. But a very enthusiastic one nonetheless.

Rhubarb-apple jam
I found rhubarb for sale in the supermarket a couple of weeks ago. Normally I try very hard to buy produce that’s in season, but rhubarb is my downfall and I cannot pass it by.

I got the basic idea for this concoction from A Year in a Bottle, an Australian canning cookbook, and then fiddled with it based upon this advice on making jam without a recipe from Dinner with Julie.

- roughly equal amounts of rhubarb and tart apple (weighing or measuring to be done after all cleaning, peeling, coring, chopping etc. completed)
- 1 cup of sugar for every 2-3 cups of fruit
- ½ cup apple juice or water
- 1-2 Tbsp lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a large pot over medium-high heat and stir to combine thoroughly. Continue stirring regularly while mixture comes to a boil; mash chunks of fruit with a potato masher or similar as they start to soften, to assist with breaking up and make the finished jam a more consistent texture. When mixture boils, lower heat as necessary and continue cooking until it has reduced and is starting to look like jam. (There are various tests you can use – thermometers, saucers in the freezer, and so on – but when I can draw a line across the bottom of the pan and see it for more than a few seconds, I shut the heat off.)

When it has cooled a bit, spoon into jars and refrigerate for immediate use. To can, follow the usual method and process in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Yields will vary depending on the amount of fruit you use.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tiny omelettes

Like millions (billions?) of other people, many of whom you’ve probably encountered on the internet in the past few weeks, I annually buy into the whole ‘January-Fresh-Start’ mentality. On top of the general zeitgeist, my birthday is in January, so this month is the start of my personal New Year as well as the one indicated on the Gregorian calendar in widespread use worldwide.

I don’t make resolutions as such, but in the few weeks that elapse between January 1 and my birthday, I try to give some thought to the things I want to focus on in the coming year to make the most of my time. These usually boil down to living more mindfully in various ways: working on replacing sloppy or unhealthy practice with good practice, focusing on habits I want to develop, eliminating various kinds of physical (and mental) clutter, and so on. Some of this is directed toward food, generally with a view to making the most of what I’m eating while practicing moderation. I told SP last year that my personal food philosophy is “make every mouthful count”. One of the ways in which I do this is to eat a variety of different foods, since when I fall into eating ruts I am more likely to lapse into unrestrained and mindless snacking. So I’ve been working on coming up with different things to eat for breakfast, and ideally to develop a schedule where I eat a different thing for breakfast every day of the week, which to me is the ideal combination of repetition and variety.

Paradoxically, my latest addition was inspired by reading a blog post where its maker talked about eating it for breakfast every day for the last several months as part of a weight-loss program: an egg-and-cheese omelette that clocked in at a mere 220 calories. But what caught my attention about this was her note that it was a 2-egg omelette. Revelation! Omelettes don’t have to be made with 3 eggs, the way they are in restaurants. I could even make one with just 1 egg, add a little filling, have a bit of starch alongside, and still not break the caloric bank.

One-egg omelette
Eggs, in addition to being a pretty reasonably-priced source of protein (even if you buy the free-range, no-chemical, gold-plated kind), are filling, tasty, and versatile. Probably the reason why most cuisines offer some variation on the omelette.

1 tsp olive oil
1 egg
~2 teaspoons filling of your choice*
salt & pepper

Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a small frying pan.** Meanwhile, break the egg into a small bowl and beat the yolk into the white until consistently mixed.

Pour egg into hot pan and allow mixture to cook for 30-45 seconds or until the edges are just starting to set. Sprinkle over fillings, then season with salt & pepper. Using your preferred spatula, gently flip one half of the omelet over the other half. Allow to cook for 1-2 minutes more, then slide out onto a plate.

Serves 1. Tastes great with a toasted whole wheat and olive oil biscuit alongside (if you've still got some calorie allowance left).

* I have been using chopped bacon and shreds of cheddar cheese.
** I have a 4-inch cast iron that’s perfect for a tiny omelet, but you can use whatever you have that's good for cooking eggs. The omelet won’t look as neat in a bigger pan, but will still be fine.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Unexpected outcomes

The other day I finally decided to break out the mini doughnut pans I had bought last year with one of my holiday gift cards, but never used. We had friends coming over, I wanted to make treats and, reading the instructions, doughnuts seemed doable in the time I had available. I was planning to roll some of them in cinnamon sugar and some in powdered sugar. Although I know Miss B and her pals love glazed doughnuts, I didn’t think I would have the time for that extra step.

Miss B, upon her return from school, had other ideas of course, and quickly talked me into how wonderful it would be to glaze these doughnuts with chocolate and then cover them with colored sprinkles. So, loathe as I am to disappoint her, I figured I could whip up a quick chocolate ganache. I’d never made ganache before, but I knew the theory, so I heated up half a cup of cream in the microwave and then threw in chocolate chips and stirred; threw in more chocolate chips and stirred; threw in more…well, you get the picture.

This did in fact produce a thick, delicious ganache in a very short time. The only problem was that it made a lot of ganache—way more than we needed to glaze 24 mini doughnuts.

Well, this is not really a problem, as such. Especially after I discovered how good it is in the middle of a graham-cracker sandwich. Possibly even better than the doughnuts. And it doesn’t require any special equipment.

Basic Chocolate Ganache

Equal quantities heavy cream and chocolate of your choice, in bits

Heat cream until hot but not boiling. Gradually stir in chocolate until you have a thick, shiny spread. Will harden as it cools.

Use to glaze cakes, muffins, cookies, or doughnuts. Dispose of leftovers as you see fit.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Toasted sandwiches

Just about this time, six years ago, I ate a sandwich that changed my life.

I realize that that is a sweeping and melodramatic statement to make about a sandwich, but I’m standing by it. Here is how it happened:

Once upon a time in my younger adulthood, I rarely ate sandwiches, other than tuna. I also had minimal experience of grilled cheese, other than as cheese piled on a slice of bread and run under the broiler until bubbly and crusty. These two facts seem unrelated, but are not.

While in Boston on a holiday visit, DP, Miss B, and I took a little road trip to visit my sister-in-law in western Massachusetts. While there, we made a stop at one of my favorite used bookstores in the world, The Montague Bookmill (also the possessor of the best slogan in the history of business, “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”), so I could spend the gift certificate my SIL had thoughtfully given me for Christmas. We had a good long browse for books, and also had lunch at the cafĂ©.

I selected a sandwich—a sausage and cheese sandwich. The bread was crusty and spread with zesty mustard. The sausage was spicy and flavorful. The cheese was very sharp cheddar. And the whole thing had been cooked until the cheese was oozy and bubbling, elevating the combination from merely tasty to transcendental. The variety of flavors and textures in each bite was a revelation to me.

It doesn’t seem possible that that was my first experience of a toastie—I was well into my 30s at that point—but it was the first one that inspired me. Before I ate that sandwich, I had never made a grilled-cheese sandwich on the stovetop; never made a tuna melt; never combined anything with melted cheese between two slices of bread. Since I’ve had it, I would estimate that I’ve eaten at least one toastie a week without fail. Every week for the past six years. From a food perspective at least (and what perspective is more important?), I would define that as life-changing.

Sausage and cheddar toastie
I make my toasties using one slice of bread, cut in half, in order to satisfy my cravings while not pushing my calorie consumption into the stratosphere. I also use a vegetable slicer to pare off thin slices of cheese, so that I can get complete coverage and good melting.

2 Tbsp/30 g olive oil
1 slice good bread
dijon or stoneground mustard
cooked sausage (I generally use leftover medium-spicy Italian sausage)
the sharpest cheddar cheese you can find

Put the olive oil in a frying pan (I use my medium cast-iron) and put on the stove on medium heat. Spread the bread thoroughly with mustard on one side, then cut in half. Cover one half with thin slices of sausage, then cover the sausage with thin slices of cheese. Top with the other half-slice of bread and place in the now-hot oil. Weight the sandwich to press it together (since my beloved Canberra brick got lost in the move, I am back to using a smaller cast-iron skillet for this job). Cook the sandwich for about 3 minutes per side, or until brown and crispy on the outside and oozing cheese on the inside. Serve immediately, preferably accompanied by some good potato chips and homemade pickles.

Serves 1. Can be multiplied as necessary to feed any number of toastie fiends you happen to have hanging around.
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