Saturday, March 9, 2013

How Does Your Jelly Roll?

If you thought this was about that lovely swiss sponge cake rolled and filled with jelly you may want to stop reading. This is about my first attempt at making strawberry jelly, alone. A few years ago my Aunt Theresa (TR) came over with a crate of apricots and walked me through the jelly making process. I actually think what we made that day and what I attempted to make today is considered jam, but then I wouldn't have a clever title for my post now would I? The process that TR showed me seemed easy enough, what I took away from it, the most important part of jelly/jam making, is to have all you ingredients and equipment gathered and ready before you start.
I didn't write anything down that day, figuring there would be enough information on the interenet if I got in a jam (hee hee.) Fast forward a couple of years, no gifted jellies from TR or my cousin Casey left in my larder, I decided to make my own!
My first recipe search yielded a recipe for Easy Strawberry Jam by Ina Garten. Do you know her? The Barefoot Contessa, I have a secret crush on her, I want to fly to the Hamptons and sneak into her barn so I can peek in her windows and watch her cook. :)Her recipe seemed easy enough, but was one that you served right away, or kept refridgerated and used in a few weeks. It also used an apple to create pectin that is necessary for the jelly to set up. I liked this because I had been doing research on how to make pectin - but I'll save that for another post. I figured with this recipe and my previous experience with TR I would be able to create a few jars to restock my pantry.
You can search "Ina Garten Easy Strawberry Jam" for the recipe, or you can follow my adjusted one. Adapting recipes to what I have is always necessary to me. Some of the ingredients I don't have and will not go buy for just one recipe. For instance, I will never follow a recipe using self-rising flour. Why? I always have all purpose flour on hand, with the addition of baking powder or soda you can avoid buying this extra ingredient. Be flexible, but in baking as in jelly making, you do have to be exact.  My adaptation of Ina's recipe omitted the orange flavored liquor, and the blueberries because I don't keep orange flavored liquor, and blueberries aren't in season. I replaced the liquor with the juice and zest of a half of a lemon. I did this for a flavor element, not for the acidity that is necessary in canning. I also used regular sugar, not superfine, and did not run it throught the food processor. I also made it using less strawberries, so here is the modified ingredient list:
2 pints strawberries, washed, hulled and cut into chunks
2 cups sugar
Juice and zest of 1/2 of a lemon
1/4 of a Granny Smith Apple, peeled and cut into chunks
Washing and hulling the strawberries is task I enjoy. I employ a tomato corer and it makes the job quite pleasant.
perfectly cored
 tomato corer and beloved paring knife
For the most expeditious process I set up the colander with the washed strawberries next to my compost bowl (GOT TO HAVE ONE) next to the pot that the jam will cook in. Leaves and core in the compost bowl, strawberries in the pot. Once they are all hulled then I went back and cut them all.
Toss the strawberries with the sugar and lemon zest and juice.

Start cooking! Once it came to a boil I added the apple and kept in a a low boil. When I could see the fruit breaking own, I went in and used a potato masher to make it a smoother consistency. The mixture cooked for about 35 minutes, and I stirred it every 2-3 minutes.
Meanwhile, I had a large pot of water boiling, ready to sterilize my jars, lids and rings. I remembered that the lids need to stay in simmering water until you are ready to put them on the jars. So here comes the hiccup, Ina's recipe reads " at room temperature, then store covered in the refridgerator." So I let the mixture cool - NOOOOO! As I ladled the room temperature jelly into my sterilized jars I remembered, when TR and I did this it was hot! I went ahead and filled the jar with the delicious room temperature jelly, wiped the edge of the jar clean, gently placed the hot lid on the jar, secured the ring and turned them upside down on my towel. Now, if I had been making 10-12 jars of jelly like TR and did with the apricots that day this would be tragic. But this recipe only yielded 2 1/2 jars.
Even though lid doesn't pop when pressed I will keep them in the fridge. They will be consumed quickly in this house. I think I'm going to gift the "baby" jar to my friend Amy who is expecting, with specific instructions to keep refrigerated!

Too Tart for Words

I love pie, and crusts are one of my favorite things to make. I appreciate that one recipe yields two. You can use both, or save one in the fridge while you wait for a second round of inspiration. This and my love of flour (read more about this in my first post on pizza dough) is what makes me gravitate towards baking, but these baking skills come in handy for savory dishes too. When recently faced with the what's for dinner thought, I looked around the kitchen and saw the makings of a savory tart. First I made my basic crust recipe, 2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 12 tablespoons butter or lard or a combination of the two and 5-7 tablespoons of ice water. I found that grating the hard, cold butter on a box grater is a simple way to get it incorporated into the flour. You still have to cut it into the flour (sometime I use a pastry blender, sometimes my fingers depending on how many dishes I feel like washing) but it doesn't take as long. Once the 2 crusts were chilling in the fridge, I looked around to see what would go in the tarts. I saw I had a butternut squash calmly waiting to be roasted. Butternut squash is so patient, probably because it knows that many people avoid it, preferering to purchase the pre-cut, pre-peeled, bagged butternut at Trader Joe's. I'm sure it tastes fine, but I just can't go there. I think if you take the time and gather the right tools you will find that peeling, cubing and roasting a butternut squash that you grew and cured yourself is well worth the time. Okay, you don't have to grow your own, but at least find a good organic one at the farmer's market. You should start with a cutting board, made sturdy by placing a thin towel underneath it, a large butcher knife, a small paring knife and a spoon.
First cut the butternut squash at the point where it starts to get wider, then take each section and cut them into rounds. It's more managable if it's in half first. For the top section without seeds, cut the rounds into quarters. Scoop the seeds out of the other rounds and cut those into about 1 inch sections. Use the paring knife to peel the skin off the outside of the squash. Some people will peel the entire squash with a vegetable peeler but nevers get all the skin off for me. Once peeled, you can cut the pieces of squash even smaller, as I did for this tart.
Now roast your pieces. I tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. I decided to roast some potatoes too that could be the filling for the second tart. Just a couple of russets, peeled and cubed. The squash and potatotes can share a sheet pan, roast them in a 400 degree oven, start checking them at 20 minutes, roast until browned and tender. Try not to eat them all as they cool, you need them for your tart! While these were roasting I carmelized an onion, this was a purple one because it is what I had, you could do white, brown, or even shallots. As the squash cooled, I grabbed some baby spinach. Yes it was from a bag. I have none growing right now! I threw that baby spinach in the pan with the hot, carmelized onions and tossed it until it wilted a bit, then I added the butternut squash to the mix.
Now for the crusts. If you made your crust way in advanced, like the day before, or the week before and it's been sitting in the back of your fridge waiting for that inspiration, pull it out and let it warm up. You wouldn't wanted to be rolled on when you were all cold and stiff would you? Roll the crust out on a well floured counter, or for the sake of less clean up, roll it out directly on your sheet pan. I abhor these "airbake" cookie sheets for baking or roasting, but for a tart they work perfectly. I use the word tart loosely, I am too busy and well, lazy, to make a proper tart for a weeknight dinner, instead I opt for a lovely alternative I call free form. Once the crust is rolled out, pile the squash, spinach, onion mixture in the center, grate some cheese over the top. I used gran padano, then fold up the sides, leaving the filling peeking out the center. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until the crust is nice and browned. Slice and serve. If you are wondering about the russets, they too got put in a crust, topped with mozzarella cheese. Equally delicious, but not as colorful.