Friday, July 31, 2009

Something different

This week I did something I've only ever done once before: enter a cooking contest. This time, the "Build a Better Burger" competition, in the alternative burger category. A wonderful creation of pork and seasonings. Guess I'll find out in three weeks or so -- not that I expect any good news, there are tens of thousands of recipes sent in. But it was interesting testing and reformulating the recipe. I think it was in about 2000 that I entered the PBS "Master Chef" regional competition. My recipes, this time for a three course meal, got me selected as a regional semi-finalist. So I had to go to the cooking school at a nearby community college and cook the dinner, main course and dessert only, for a panel of judges. I didn't win, but I sure had a great time. What i remember most was singing nearly the entire time I was cooking. Anyway, I just threw my hat in a ring again. I just got the cookbook that has all of the Pillsbury Bake-Off winning recipes; I shall study it and maybe I will enter that someday, too. Oh, and yesterday I canned 11 half-pints of mixed stone fruits in light syrup. Today I took delivery of 40 pounds of pickling cukes. Guess I know what I'll be doing this weekend.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A canning blizzard?

So far today I have skinned and boned out two dozen chicken thighs. I even got picky and removed the blood vessels because I think they are unattractive in the cooked chicken. All of those thighs (almost a gallon in volume) are in a nice brine now, waiting for the canning storm. All of the trimmings are in the stockpot with the quart of broth I made two days ago. I plan to use this broth in the canning process. A few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns to perk up the flavor a bit. I'm planning to can these in pints, better portions for two people or two lunches for DH. I will use the raw pack method as described in the USDA Guide. What I have will probably make 10-12 pints. While the chicken is brining and the broth is brothing, I am making blueberry ice cream. Or more like blueberry yogurt ice cream. Some thick yogurt, some heavy cream. The mix tastes quite good. Back to the kitchen...

A flurry of canning

'Tis the season, I guess. Blueberries go on sale and I buy nine pounds. For what? Dunno. Cherries are 97 cents a pound, so I buy five pounds. What for? I dunno.

But what I did know was that all this fruit had to be processed PDQ. Look through canning and preserving cookbooks for ideas. Cherry chutney? Maybe. Blueberry bonanza, where you get two products from 12 cups of blueberries? Absolutely. Oh, and there are recipes for blueberry pie filling and cherry pie filling. I think we have our winners, folks!

Both pie filling recipes call for a thickener called ClearJel. Both books I'm looking at (USDA Guide to Canning, Ball's Complete Guide to Home Preserving) say that it isn't widely available. So why are you including a dozen recipes that require it? Turns out that ClearJel is a modified cornstarch that can take high heat and not thin out, like most thickeners will. Only good choice for preserving pie fillings. I send DH out to find it, not at any of the local grocery stores. Then he is a "Cash & Carry," store mostly used by people who run bars and restaurants for all things in bulk and many frozen foods and very large primal and sub-primal cuts of meat in vacuum bags. Well, C&C has it. In 25-lb bags for $40. Well, it's a cornstarch so it won't spoil...I do need several cups for the pie fillings...DH has a work associate whose mother does a lot of canning, maybe she'll welcome just buy it. Worry about storage in our little condo later.

The magic ingredient acquired, on to the pie filling. You make a batch of this stuff by mixing with sugar, then with water and bringing it to a boil. What you aren't told is that this stuff turns into something thicker and denser than library paste. Stirring it gets to be an adventure in arm strength. DH is stirring one pot, over the induction burner, for the cherries and I am wrestling with the larger batch for the blueberries. Finally it is ready for fruit to be folded in and go into quart jars. A couple quarts of each with two pints of cherry-blueberry mixed to use all of the filling mix.

And, the "Blueberry Bonanza." End products are blueberry syrup and blueberry butter. No, not dairy butter, but something more like apple butter in seasonings and consistency. Put berries and water into blender, turn into puree. Pour puree into fine chinoise, collect juice for syrup. Puree gets blended again to smooth, cooked with sugar and seasonings. Canned in 4-oz jelly jars. Those jars are so cute! Syrup gets cooked with sugar, lemon juice. Oops, I read recipe wrong and think I am cooking this to sheet stage. Only to "thickened" stage. Oh, well, my syrup will probably be blueberry jelly, and there's nothing wrong with that. You want syrup? Warm it up before you pour it on your waffle. No harm, no foul.

Today I plan to put the new pressure cooker through its paces doing raw-pack canning of chicken thighs. Dave will like that for chicken salad. I will like it for throwing into a sauce for instant dinner. Also like it because I got them for 99 cents/lb and they aren't southern-grown.

So off to bone out thighs and put on a pan for stock, which I will then use in the cans of chicken. During breaks I shall sit down and do a little crochet.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pineapple "Dump" cobbler, orange sherbert

Several months ago one of my relatives sent along a recipe for a pineapple cobbler. I'd nver heard of a pineapple cobbler, much less one made like this: Put a stick of butter in a 9x12 pan and put it in the oven until it is melted. (No temp given, I used 350). Then pour in a batter of flout, sugar, baking powder, and salt mixed with enough milk to make a batter the consistency of pancake batter. Pour a can of pineapple (I used tidbits) and juice over the top and bake until golden. It works. And it is good. I also made pineapple sherbet to go with it, and since we were down at Mom's I left all the leftovers with them. So when we got home after dinner I made a batch of orange sherbet, recipe from Good Eats. It is very good, and easy enough to make every day. Guess I should tell you the rest of what I made for Sunday dinner down there. I brined two sides of sockeye salmon in a soy-apple juice mixture then grilled them with some hickory chips. Also put some halved and salted zucchini on the grill. Made a potato-cucumber salad with sour cream-dill dressing. It all turned out very well.