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.

Food in Jars Mastery Challenge: Marmalade

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. 

January’s challenge was marmalade. This might seem like it’s not really a separate type of preserving from, say, making jam, but it’s different enough that it makes sense on its own. There are two methods to making marmalade – using the whole fruit, or cutting off parts of the rind – and she walked through them and some other tips in an initial post.

Marmalade is interesting in that you don’t need to add any additional pectin to help it set – citrus has enough of its own that, when cooked down properly, it will set itself. The fruit prep is also a bit more precise. When making jam I don’t really worry to much about the size of the pieces I’m cutting (I like the texture of somethign that’s been crushed with a potato masher better than something full of precise cubes), but with marmalade you want to consider the thickness of the pieces of rind. They soften, but this is a case where thinner is better. 


I had never made marmalade before, and it’s something I really only use if it happens to be on the breakfast table at a restaurant, a rare occurrence. Not because I don’t like it, just because I don’t think of it. (Probably because I don’t live ina. place where it appears at teh farmers market.) If nothing else, I knew marmalade would be great to bake with — a bitter filing inside a sweet pastry can be a nice combo. 


I decided to make Marisa’s Small Batch Blood Orange Marmalade. I like making small batches with just 1 or 2 pounds of fruit, as it allows me to make more different preserves. I was also attracted to this recipie because it uses a variation of the whole fruit method where you prep the citrus and then let it soak in water overnight to start softening and releasing pectin. This meant I could easily spread the work over two evenings, which I find makes it easier to fit canning in during the workweek. 


The prep was easy and while the cooking took a while, it wasn’t taxing. I got exactly the amount of marmalade the recipie is supposed to yield, which is always nice (it’s not unusual to be over or under, based on differences in things like the size and amount of fruit used, how much evaporated during cooking, etc). In the jar, the set looks pretty firm, though I won’t know how firm it is until I open the first one. Having read her post on troubleshooting marmalade, I’m expecting a hard set. It was difficult to feel confident in my temperature readings as the level of marmalade in the pan was pretty low.

The Month in Books & Year End Review

December 2016:

I read, or attempted, 67 books this year. Subtracting the six I didn’t finish, that’s a little more than a book and a quarter a week, though of course it’s not evenly distributed in reality.

Eight books got five-star reviews this year: All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr; The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters; A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara; Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond; The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman; Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro and Robert Wilson IV; Welcome to Nightvale, Joseph Fink; Kitchens of the Great Midwest, Ryan J. Stradal. There are some very different books on that list! I think The Paying Guests and All the Light We Cannot See are the most widely appealing, though I cannnot recommend A Little Life enough, if you think you can handle both the length and the fact that this book is heartbreaking – it made me cry more than once. I do still intend to re-read it, though.

After we moved in the fall, I started reading more on my iPad, in addition to my Kindle. This came about initially because I had a couple of library ebooks in a row that turned out to not have a kindle edition available, so I decided to read them in the Overdrive app. I then started doing the same thing with kindle books sometimes, mainly when my kindle wasn’t handy (read: because it was up two flights of stairs). I don’t mind reading on my iPad, but I definitely prefer the kindle, especially for reading in bed.

Stats (excluding the six unfinished books):

  • 53 ebooks, 39 from DCPL
  • 52 works of fiction, 5 nonfiction
  • 30 books by female authors
  • 3 volumes of comics
  • 7 books for book club
  • 2 books of short stories
  • 1 re-read book
  • 1 audiobook