Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A summer brunch

This time of year, we eat a lot of tomatoes. We eat them fresh, sliced on sandwiches or with mozzarella and cucumbers. We cook them briefly and toss with pasta.

On the days there are too many tomatoes coming out of the garden to eat all at once, we make slow roasted tomatoes.

These tomatoes, roasted slowly with a little olive oil and salt, become intensely flavored cups of sweet, tangy tomato goodness.

They keep in a jar, covered with olive oil, for several weeks. But in our house they don't last that long.

They are a yummy condiment for nearly everything: good on salads, eggs, toast, chicken, pasta, on crackers with cheese, or right out of the jar.

There's a brunch spot in Berkeley that serves tomatoes just like this. With soft scrambled eggs and a toasted baguette, it's one of my favorite meals.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
It's best to make a lot

As many small tomatoes as you want
Olive oil
Dried herbs, if you like

Preheat the oven to 200F.
Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil.
Halve the tomatoes and place them cut side up in the pan.
Sprinkle with salt and pour a bit of olive oil over the top.
Roast in the oven for 2-3 hours, until the tomatoes are wrinkled and soft.

When cool, place in a jar and cover with olive oil. Will keep for several weeks.

My favorite way to eat these tomatoes is to smash on toast and top with scrambled eggs. It's especially good with a little gruyere or goat cheese mixed in.

Shared on Food Storage Sunday

9/7/2012 PS: The very best thing I've made with these tomatoes is Capellini with Shrimp and Oven Roasted Tomatoes.Try it. 

Monday, August 26, 2013


My husband and I have decided to get away from the bay area urban rat race and live a simpler life: we're moving to rural Washington State, where we will grow more food, eat what we preserve, raise chickens, and learn to love the rain.

We have a house on a half-acre plot. There are already some fruit trees, and I plan to plant more. There is a blackberry patch. I'd like to start some raspberry and blueberry canes, and compost heaps, and let roots down, and make a home. I want to grow most of our food, which will mean learning a lot about gardening, preserving, and cold storage. We want to fish and crab pot. And I want to write about it all. I hope this blog will focus more on canning and how to use home canned goods in the kitchen.

I'm pretty excited about this journey toward self-reliance. Although I sure will miss San Francisco, our long growing season, and the tomatoes. Oh, the tomatoes.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Blackberry Syrup

We just returned from a trip to the Northwest where the blackberries are ripe. They grow everywhere and drop onto the ground like rain. Our first day, we walked across the street to the blackberry patch in the empty lot and filled up our bowls.

I remember so well the nights at my grandparents' house in Southern California. As a little girl, my brother, cousins and I would go outside and pick blackberries by the light of the street lamps, the pavement still warm beneath our feet, and we'd bring them into the kitchen where Grandpa tossed them with a little sugar and put them on ice cream for us.

These blackberries we ate on ice cream, too, and then with pancakes the next morning.

Blackberry Syrup
makes about 1 1/2 cups

24 oz blackberries (or as many as you can pick)
1/4 cup sugar (or more if you want a heavier syrup)
A splash of water
A pour of berry liqueur

Heat the ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat until the berries have softened, 10-20 minutes.
Strain the berries through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth to remove the seeds and pulp. Pour the liquid into a saute pan.
Boil until thickened slightly, 5-10 minutes.

Keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks.

I imagine you could jar this and process in a water bath to keep until spring, but I am not familiar with canning syrups and so I will not advise. I hope next year I will put away a few pints. Do you make your own syrup? Have you had success using only a small amount of sugar?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Apricot Vanilla Bean Jam

 Years ago, when I was working the night shift, I had a box of stone fruit ripening in the kitchen. I arrived home in the morning to discover that the fruit was perfectly, softly ripe, and needed to get in the jar right away. I was tired, but it was early morning, the house was quiet, and sun streamed into the kitchen that summer day. I canned those peaches while my roommates slept. I loved the rhythm, the method, holding and slicing those fruits while the juices dripped and the kitchen filled with the fragrance of summer. That must be when I started to really love canning.

Peaches are wonderful, but apricots are my favorite stone fruit for the jar. I thought the ship had sailed on apricots this season. But I was wrong: I was at the Berkeley Bowl when I saw these lovely blushing beauties, fragrant and ripe, in the organic produce section. Hallelujah! I had a second chance to make my very favorite jam, apricot vanilla bean. With the addition of spiced rum, this bright jam smells like sunshine in the Indies.

Growing up, my mother, brother, and I made jam in the summers. This one was my favorite, followed by raspberry. 

I find I prefer jams made without pectin. I like the softer consistency and, because I can use less sugar, a more pure fruit flavor. Less sweet jams lend themselves better to savory dishes, as well. I thought I would update my great-grandmother's apricot jam recipe, omit the pectin, but keep the vanilla bean. With inspiration from Jess at Sweet Amandine and Erika's method for pectin-free jam, I created this luscious, velvety, apricot jam infused with vanilla bean and spiced rum.


If you are not familiar with water bath canning, I suggest you read up here, or check some books out from the library.

Apricot Vanilla Bean Jam
makes about 5 cups

3 lbs apricots
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons spiced rum
3 vanilla beans

Halve and pit the apricots and place in a bowl. Add the sugar, toss to combine, cover and place in the refrigerator to macerate overnight or longer.

When you are ready to can, sterilize the jars in the water bath and warm the rings and lids in a separate small pot of water.

Heat the apricot-sugar mixture in a large saute pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until boiling and the fruit softens, about 20 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and stir to combine.

Prepare your vanilla beans by cutting in half, and slicing down the center to open the pods.

Continue to cook the jam for another 20-30 minutes. For a chunky jam, mash the fruit with the back of a wooden spoon as it cooks. If you prefer a smoother consistency, process some or all of it with an immersion blender or food processor.

When the jam has thickened, taste and adjust for sugar. I added another 1/2 cup sugar at this point, but yours may not need it. Add the rum.

Check for doneness. I like the cold plate test.

One at a time, remove jars from the water bath, place inside half a vanilla bean, and fill with jam. Remove air bubbles, wipe the rim with a damp cloth, and seal the jars.

Process the jars in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Kinky Nectarine Habanero Jam

When my 16 month old son asked for a taste of this jam, we told him no. "It's hot," we said. But he insisted. We gave him a tiny taste, and he had a big reaction. He shook his head like a dog, beat his little fists on Daddy's chest, then stuck his hands in his mouth. And then emphatically asked for more.

I've been perfecting this recipe for a month. I hope you'll like it. This jam is very sweet, a little tart, and very hot. The sugar and the capsaicin send competing messages to your brain: "Pleasure!" "Pain!" and it is rather enticing. This jam is kinky! The sweet pleasure of fruit preserves yields to the hot pain of habanero... This jam will keep you warm on a cold winter's night.

It is good on toast with cheese or butter. I think it will make a damn fine cocktail with bourbon or tequila. And it is great tossed into a fruity salsa and served on grilled steak or shrimp tacos. 

Some notes on working with hot peppers:
Wear gloves. Seriously.
Most of the intense heat is in the membranes and seeds of the pepper. When mincing the peppers, remove and reserve the seeds and membranes. You can add them toward the end of cooking time when you're adjusting the heat level. 
Adjust the heat and sweetness separately. Sugar will tame the heat, so if you want to increase the heat, do that first. Then add more sugar if necessary.

If you are unfamiliar with water bath canning, read up here. 

Kinky Nectarine Habanero Jam
makes about 6 cups

3lbs nectarines (about 8 cups chopped, with skins on)
2-3 cups sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2-4 tablespoons minced habanero (reserve the membranes and seeds)

The night before you plan to can, chop the nectarines and toss with 2 cups sugar in a bowl. Cover and allow to macerate in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, put your water bath on to boil and sterilize the jars. Warm the lids and rings in a separate pot of water.

Meanwhile, pour the nectarine-sugar mixture into a large saute pan and heat on medium until boiling. Stir frequently. When the fruit has softened, after 15 minutes or so, add the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of minced habanero. Continue to cook 20-30 minutes until the jam has thickened. Mash the fruit with the back of a wooden spoon. Or, if you prefer a smoother texture, puree some or all of the jam with an immersion blender or food processor.

Taste the jam and adjust. If you want more heat, add more minced habanero and/or some of the seeds and membranes. If it's too hot, add sugar to tame the heat.

Test for doneness. I like the cold plate test. 

Fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Years ago, when I first started at my job, I learned that a group of my nurse colleagues adopt a peach tree from Masumoto Family Farm. Actually, they adopt an organic peach tree and an organic nectarine tree. Each summer, over two weekends, they drive down to Fresno to harvest the fruit.

I've wanted in on the action since I learned about it. This year, one nurse dropped out so I got to take her place. I have the remains of 2 flats of fruit on my dining room table, and I'm expecting 2 more in the next couple of days.

So, we've been preserving.

The fermented dilly beans are nearly gone. They were really yummy on salads or just out of the jar, with sandwiches like a pickle. The babe liked them to teethe on. I will definitely make more of those, and I would like to ferment other things, too, like the cucumbers from our vine.

Next we made blueberry jam. Blueberries have a lot of natural pectin, so we followed a recipe and boiled blueberries and sugar. It's good, with a bit of a caramel note. I've been bringing peanut butter and jam sandwiches to work. I saw a recipe for blueberry jam with orange zest and juice in it. I'd like to try that sometime.

Next we used the peaches to make a Rosy Melba Peach Jam. The recipe called for peaches, raspberries, 7 cups of sugar! lemon juice and liquid pectin. Peach jam can be a little bland, and raspberries add a fantastic zing. We haven't tasted this since we canned it, but I'm afraid it's way too sweet. I've got to learn how to make jam with less sugar.

Yesterday we canned peaches in light syrup.

We also made the bacon jam from the new Better Homes and Gardens Canning magazine. We like it to make a riff on BLT sandwiches. It's really good spread on toast with crispy lettuce and a dill pickle. Don't omit the pickle! We thought this recipe is also too sweet. When we make it again we will halve the sugar and add a little cayenne or something for heat. Stay tuned!

Today I have plans for a nectarine habanero jam and nectarine chutney.

The tomatoes from our garden have gotten eaten fresh, with mozzarella, or tossed into a pan with olive oil for a sauce. They are too good to cook!

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