This Summer in Books

Sometimes I wonder why I still have a blog. Anyway, still working on the Read Harder Challenge and also trying to get to more new releases more quickly. I’m aiming for about 3 months after publication, and while I haven’t quite made my self-imposed limit I have read a few things within a few months of publication, which is unusual for me.

Also, guess which month I didn’t travel.

May

June

July

August

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March & April in Books

I’m doing the Read Harder Challenge again this year, as well as trying to read more new releases. I’ll indicate the category (or publication date) in parentheses.

Once again, a lot of random library holds came in all at once.

January & February in Books

I’m doing the Read Harder Challenge again this year, and will indicate the categories in parentheses. I’m also trying to read more new releases – hoping for about one a month – rather than forever being the voracious reader who hasn’t read, say, Lincoln in the Bardo or The Underground Railroad yet.

That said, I’ve had a run on library holds coming in over the last few weeks, so it’s been tough to work on the Read Harder books and new releases.

Lots of good stuff in the last couple of months. Of particular note: Borne and The Stone Sky, if you like sci-fi (the latter is the third in a trilogy); A Separation; and Sing, Unburied, Sing.

 

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!

 

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.

Dinner Tonight: Third of July

Our farmshare this week included fava beans and squash blossoms, neither of which I’ve cooked with before. Both require some prep. Fava beans have a two-step shelling process, and you need to remove the pistil or stamen from each squash blossom. (Unless your hands are much smaller than mine, or your blossoms much larger than the ones we had, you will have to rip them down one side in order to do this.)

I wanted to use the squash blossoms tonight, because I knew they wouldn’t last much longer. I also wanted to use the fava beans right away. Here’s what I wound up making:

Squash blossoms stuffed with a mixture of goat cheese, basil (also from the farm share), salt, pepper, and olive oil. I drizzled them in olive oil and broiled them in the toaster oven for somewhere between 5-10 minutes – basically enough to warm them through. As is the case with anything stuffed with cheese, they were great. Most of the recipes you will find online involve frying them, which I was not interested in doing. This method was recommended in the comments section of a recipe on The Kitchn. The goat cheese we had on hand was the kind with honey, which is delicious and worked well here.

Pasta with fava beans and sausage, from Smitten Kitchen. I used dried ziti, which held the sauce nicely, and my own canned crushed tomatoes, which I drained slightly so I didn’t have to wait for them to cook down. Quite tasty, though of course this does not really showcase the fava beans.