Four Months in Books

Apparently it’s been longer than I thought since I posted about what I’ve been reading. Oops! I’m still working on the read harder challenge – I’ve read books in 10 of the 24 categories. I’m trying to queue them up and alternate reading them with other titles, which has helped. I also dug out some comics that got semi-forgotten before we moved and then buried in the move, and oh man, was it ever dumb of me to not read that stuff ages ago.

April

May

June

July

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Food in Jars Mastery Challenge: Jam

Throughout 2017 Marisa McClellan, author of the blog Food in Jars, is running a series of monthly canning and preserving challenges. I decided to participate in order to learn some new skills and make some recipes I might not normally gravitate towards.

The June challenge is jam, and while I didn’t make something new, I did make several jars of strawberry jam. I was very pleased to find that one of the orchards at the farmer’s market near us will allow you to pre-order flats of fruit, and the price was right.

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I picked up a flat of strawberries (six quarts) and used five of them in three recipes:

  • A double batch of the Strawberry Jam from Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin
  • Honey-Sweeteneed Strawberry Jam with Sage from Preserving by the Pint
  • Strawberry Syrup from Food in Jars

I’ve made both the jams before – the honey strawberry is particularly good with cheeseboards, but as it turns out I still have several quarter pints of that from last summer, so all of these jams were canned in either pint or half-pint jars.

The syrup was new for me. We’re drinking a lot of what we call fizzes – sparkling water with something added for flavor. Dave likes fresh lime juice with bitters, and I’m partial to the pomegranate shrub. I’ve recently also made a rhubarb ginger syrup that’s delicious, and so I wanted to try strawberry as well. It was very easy to make, and made quite a lot.

I still have some catching up to do for the Mastery Challenge – I didn’t do April (quick pickles) or May (cold-pack method) but I’ll make sure to hit those in the coming weeks.

Food in Jars Mastery Challenge: Shrubs

Throughout 2017 Marisa McClellan, author of the blog Food in Jars, is running a series of monthly canning and preserving challenges. I decided to participate in order to learn some new skills and make some recipes I might not normally gravitate towards.

March was originally jelly, but after a lot of people had problems achieving set (how you describe the firmness of a jelly or jam) in their marmalades, she added an option to make a shrub instead. I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in jellies. While I’ve made shrubs once or twice before, I wasn’t particularly happy with how they came out, so I took this opportunity to try again.

A shrub is a beverage – it’s a combination of fruit, sugar, and vinegar that’s diluted in water (typically sparkling water) to drink, though you can use them in other ways. They’re a great ingredient for cocktails and are a wonderful addition to your repertoire if you have a Soda Stream, which we do. We are big beer and cocktail people, but I don’t like to drink every night of the week, and a lot of the time it’s not that I want an alcoholic drink, but that I want something other than water. Some sparkling water flavored with a syrup or shrub does the trick.

I learned in reading Marisa’s resources about shrubs that there two methods: hot process and cold process. A hot process shrub is boiled and can be put up into jars so it’s shelf stable. A cold process shrub is not boiled, and is stored in the fridge. I’d previously made hot process shrubs, which turned out syrupy, so I decided to try cold process.

The thing about a cold process shrub is that it’s really easy to make. You combine fruit or fruit juice, sugar, and vinegar in a jar and that’s it. I wound up making three: blood orange shrub, pomegranate shrub, and spiced cranberry shrub.

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Clockwise from the top: Blood orange shrub, pomegranate shrub, and spiced cranberry shrub.

I’m very happy with how they all turned out. The cranberry is briefly cooked, and is a little syrupy, but not too much. All three have been taste tested and are quite good. The blood orange came out just a tiny bit too vinegary, so I think next time I make that I’ll either dial back the cider vinegar further, or try champagne vinegar. The pomegranate was super easy and very delicious, and I think will be on regular rotation here (especially if I can find smaller bottles of Pom). The spiced cranberry is also very good, but puts me in mind of the holidays. Not a bad thing, but it’s not really the time of year. This is something that would be a great addition to a holiday party, though.

Shrubs will certainly be in my regular rotation – making them is significantly cheaper than purchasing them. Now I just need to get some bottles to put them in so they’re easier to pour!

 

The Month in Books: January & February

I haven’t done a “number of books read” challenge in a couple of years, mostly because my numbers have dropped. But this year I’m participating in the Read Harder Challenge, which encourages people to read more broadly. This doesn’t provide a list of books, but a list of types of books and stories, and leaves it to you to figure out what counts for any given category. There are 24 tasks, so to speak, on the list. I’ll indicate here when I’ve counted a book towards the challenge.

Dinner Tonight: Salmon Baked in Parchment

This morning, we picked up two lovely salmon fillets from District Fishwife for dinner, and grabbed some asparagus at the grocery store. We didn’t have a plan, so I started searching my Eat Your Books account for recipes and came across this one for Salmon Baked in Parchment from Simply Recipes, and used it as a guide.

In each packet, I layered asparagus and thin slices of lemon, and threw some scallion, minced garlic, and a little salt over it. Then I set down the salmon, and squeezed half a lemon on top. I added a bit of dry vermouth, and shook a generous amount of Penzey’s Sunny Paris blend over it. More thinly sliced lemons and a few dots of butter went on top of that, along with a bit more salt.

One serving before being sealed up.
One serving before being sealed up.

The instructions for sealing up the packet worked very well for me – I didn’t read the directions for that piece, just followed the photos. The other was prepared and sealed up similarly, and they both went in the oven.

Salmon all wrapped up.
Salmon all wrapped up.

This turned out delicious! The fillets were big (1/2 lb each), so I used a lot of lemon (each got a lemon’s worth of slices, and half a lemon’s worth of juice) and the final dish was very lemony, which we like. If you’re not so much into lemony, you’ll want to cut that back.

I baked these at 350 for 20 minutes, and opened one to check. It didn’t look quite done, so they went back in for five more minutes. (Note: they won’t re-seal perfectly.) They maybe could have used a little longer, but I find it hard to tell. The asparagus was perfectly done – these were very thick spears, so I think thinner ones would be likely to overcook.

Overall this was super easy to prep and is definitely going into our rotation. The presentation is lovely – I took them out of the parchment to serve, since I knew we’d want to cut up the asparagus. (To do so neatly, set the packet on a plate, open it, rip off one half across the fold, and use a hard spatula to push it onto the plate as you pull the paper out.) I’m looking forward to trying this with leeks and other veggies this spring.

Food in Jars Mastery Challenge: Salt Preserving

Throughout 2017 Marisa McClellan, author of the blog Food in Jars, is runnning a series of monthly canning and preserving challenges. I decided to participate in order to learn some new skills and make some recipes I might not normally gravitate towards.

February’s challenge was salt preserving, and Marisa provided several options, including saurkraut, soup base, citrus salts, and preserved lemons. I decided to make preserved lemons, as I come across them from time to time in recipes and was curious about them. (I didn’t follow the instructions in that post exactly – after reading the comments and other information on preserving lemons, I made a couple of small changes.)

After washing the lemons well, the treatment is simple – combine them in a jar with a bunch of salt. The salt stars to draw the juice out, and the idea is that after a few days they should be submerged in brine. Here are mine right after I prepared them. I gave them a little squish with a wooden spoon to get them started.

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After letting them sit out for four days, shaking the jars two or three times a day, I had more juice but they weren’t quite covered, and there was a lot of salt that hadn’t dissolved. (I also had a leaky mess on my hands, because those plastic caps are not watertight). I had another lemon or two from the batch I’d bought and juiced them into the jars and squished them a bit more as well. More salt dissolved, but a few days later they still weren’t really submerged.

I squished again, bought more lemons and juiced enough into the jars to just about fill them up. They’re now covered and more salt dissolved, but not all of it. I think this means I over salted, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Here they are today, just about 12 days later:

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They will be ready to use in a couple more weeks, but I may let them go a bit longer. In the meantime, I’ve collected several recipes (many from this post) and look forward to experimenting with these this spring.