Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Vidalia Onion Relish

I've never been a big fan of raw onions, even the sweet variety, but when the Vidalia Sweets hit my local market, visions of caramelized, balsamic-y relish soon fill my head and, before long, my pantry. That's what I did last weekend after succumbing to the allure of a 10-pound box at the store. I'm not sure what it is about seeing those boxed up beauties. Somehow, they call to me a bit more when I can grab a box and plop it into my cart quickly, rather than individually picking through the produce bins.

The box I couldn't resist
Regardless of how they end up in my kitchen, I do look forward to this easy-to-make, oh-so-delicious onion relish each and every year. The smell in the kitchen as they cook down is divine and the flavor the relish adds to sandwiches, burgers and whatever else you can think of is sublime. Try making this yourself. It's a great one for beginners and the flavor profile is outstanding!

Vidalia Onion Relish
(Makes 5 half-pint jars)

5 pounds Vidalia sweet onions (about 10)
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 cups red wine
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Prepare jars and lids.Slice onions very thinly. (I run mine through the food processor with the slicing attachment. It takes no time at all and there's none of that eye-burning unpleasantness.)

Put sliced onions into heavy, non-reactive pot. Add brown sugar and stir to coat.

Cook the onions for about 25 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until they begin to caramelize. (This might take a bit longer if your onions give off a good amount of liquid. You'll need to cook off most of the liquid before they really start to caramelize nicely.)

Add red wine and balsamic vinegar and stir to combine. Bring mixture to aboil and then maintain medium high heat, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes or until most of the liquid cooks out.

Add salt and pepper. (Adjust to your taste.)

Ladle relish into jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. Clean rims and position lids and bands, tightening to
fingertip tightness.

Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes at sea level (25 minutes here in Castle Rock, CO). Turn off heat, remove canner lid and allow to rest for 5 minutes before removing jars to cool overnight. As always, reprocess or refrigerate and promptly use any jars that do not seal properly.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Lemons Are Back! And so am I!

Holy moly! Sometimes life just has a way of taking you on a thrill ride you didn't get in line for and you're pretty sure you don't deserve, but there you are - careening around the curves, bouncing off the median, barely strapped in with brakes that won't work. That pretty much sums up my life these last six months plus a little bit.

And here I am, still trying to navigate all the changes taking place. Work life in flux, unexpected health events, parental care, sending my youngest off to college. Heck, even our dog died recently! I've wanted to scream more than laugh for too long now, but I'm ready to get on with it. Part of that means getting back to doing what I love - canning wonderful treats and sharing recipes with all of you. And so, the old adage comes to mind in a very literal sense, "When life hands you lemons..." make lemon jelly!!!

Last year when the Meyer lemons starting appearing in my local supermarket, I wrote in this blog what amounted to a gushing love letter to this amazing fruit! Then, I shared a recipe here for Meyer lemon vanilla bean marmalade (still one of my favorites). You can also make an amazing curd using Meyer lemons by following my recipe for key lime curd, substituting Meyer lemons and their juice for the limes.

Today though, I want to share with you one of the easiest, most versatile methods for making lemon (or other citrus) jelly I've ever come across. My dear friend, Caroline Brooks, recently sent me a book on preserving that was, amazingly, not already in my extensive library. Not sure how I missed this one, but for those looking for something more unusual, you should really check out The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves by Linda Ziedrich. Some of the recipes in the book contain ingredients I've never even heard of and Ms. Ziedrich's adherence to ultra small batch preserving and the total exclusion of commercial pectin is a little too "radical" for this time-starved canning aficionado, but for those of us with a little experience under our belts, this book is a great find and one that will provide plenty of inspiration.

Okay, back to the Meyer lemon jelly. Here's the process, based on Ms. Ziedrich's recipe, but with some adjustments which I've found produce a stronger flavor and cut down on time spent:

Easy Meyer Lemon Jelly

Note: This recipe is very easy to make but does require the sliced fruit to sit overnight for up to 12 hours, so plan accordingly.

1 pound Meyer lemons, regular lemons, limes, or oranges
water to cover
4 1/2 cups sugar

If possible, use organic or home-grown fruit to avoid the wax coating on most commercially available citrus. If your fruit does have a wax coating, put the fruit in a colander, pour boiling water over it and scrub them well.

Cut the fruit crosswise into thin slices and transfer the slices and any juice on the board into a nonreactive pot. Leave any seeds in there as well. That's the beauty part of this process!

Prepare jars, lids, bands and water bath canner.

Add enough water to completely cover the fruit (up to 7 cups) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 25 minutes.

Remove from heat and cover the pot. Allow to stand out at room temperature overnight, up to 12 hours.

Pour the now-cooled mixture into a damp jelly bag and allow to drip for two hours.

Measure out 5 cups of liquid and pour into nonreactive preserving pot. Add the sugar and stir over medium heat until fully dissolved. Increase heat to high and boil until it's reached the jelling point using the spoon test, freezer test or a jelly thermometer. (I'm at high altitude and reaching this point took 25 minutes at 6200 feet above sea level. Watch for this point sooner at lower altitudes).

Move quickly to pour the jelly into hot jars. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes at sea level, adding time for higher altitudes. (25 minutes here in Castle Rock, CO)

Ms. Ziedrich has a great suggestion for adding a rosemary infusion to the lemon in her book. I also think lavender might be nice or thyme. For my next effort, I'm thinking about stirring in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar at the very end to add a different type of savory flavoring to the finished jelly. I'll let you know how that works out.

Enjoy the jelly and remember to keep smiling, even when the ride gets scary. If nothing else, it'll confuse people!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Meet Me at the Fair

Blue ribbon peach pie,
just out of the oven
I have a former co-worker, from 18 years ago (you know who you are - Kim Forster!), to thank (or blame!) for my odd obsession with county fairs. At the time, I had two very young children at home, but had gotten into cake decorating as a hobby so I could make the girls custom birthday cakes each year. Kim told me about the Durham Fair, which was the largest agricultural fair in the state of Connecticut, where we were living at the time. She was entering some items and thought I should enter into the cake decorating division.

With a three year-old and a four month-old at home, I'm not sure what possessed me to give it a whirl, but I did. I entered one single item - a "flower basket" decorated cake, loaded to overflowing with many varieties of frosting flowers and a handful of butterflies. Boy, was I pleasantly shocked when we returned once the fair had opened to find that my cake had won first place, a lovely blue ribbon and a ceramic pitcher commemorating the fair's 75th year! The feeling of validation and pride was overwhelming and from that day on, I've been hooked.

Once we moved to Colorado, it didn't take me long to scope out the fair in my home county and before I knew it, I was entering my home preserved items, baked goods and sewn treasures. At first, just one or two items, but over the years, my number of entered items has grown. Fifteen years later, I look forward with great anticipation to the opening of the Douglas County Fair and Rodeo here in Castle Rock. I'm now on a first-name basis with the lovely volunteers who check everything in and we take that opportunity to catch up on each other's lives and discuss the new recipes that we've tried out since the year before.

This year's "haul" of ribbons
from the Douglas County Fair and Rodeo
There's such a sense of community at the fairgrounds. Young and old, farmers, ranchers and local business professionals, all gather here to admire each other's entries and appreciate the time and effort that goes into making something beautiful, baking from scratch, raising a prize-winning animal or taking a bushel of fresh fruit and turning it into jars of jam that won't taste like anything you've ever bought in a store.

If you're making wonderful things at home, I urge every one of you to seek out your local county or state fairs and get involved. You'll have a great time and you just might bring home some ribbons of your own. If you don't feel like entering, you should at least stop by and see what your neighbors are up to. It's a bit of a leap back in time and one that will leave you with a smile on your face and probably some delicious treats in your belly.

By the way, two of my blue ribbons this year were for recipes you can find right here on this blog. My own creation of Chocolate Jelly took a blue ribbon and a Ball Canning Award in the soft spreads division. The meyer lemon vanilla bean marmalade also won a blue ribbon and a superintendent's ribbon. You can find both of those recipes in the recipe index by clicking here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mixing it Up - Mixed Berry Pie Filling

Mixed berries and cherries
One of my favorite items to can during the summer is pie filling. There's something so satisfying about capturing the season's freshest ingredients and storing them away - then bringing them out on a fall or winter's evening when everyone least expects it. Imagine the oohs and ahhs when you conjure up an amazing summer berry pie long after the last of the berries has been picked. Mmm! Makes my mouth water just writing about it.

Just when I was gearing up for a berry pie extravaganza, a box of goodies arrived from Mrs. Wages. Those of you who have canned before will be familiar with their variety of products ranging from salsa and tomato sauce mixes to make-it-easy packets for pickles and relishes. In that box was something I'd never seen in stores before, a pie filling mix for something they call Forest Berry Pie. The timing couldn't have been better and since they asked me to try out some of their items, I thought I'd start with that.
The package shows a mix of cherries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Sounds good to me! The process was easy. Wash and drain the fruit. Pit the cherries (of course!) and blanch them for 1 minute. Prepare the jars, lids and canner. So far, so good.
The next step was also quite easy. I added the recommended amount of juice or water (I chose juice) and sugar to the contents of the package and heated in a large stainless steel pot until the sugar was dissolved and the mixture thickened. Remove from the heat, fold in the berries/cherries and you're done. Into the sterilized jars and the water bath, easy as..."pie!" Sorry, I couldn't resist.
The mix makes three quarts of pie filling and once you have those, the options are pretty varied. Besides pie, you could use these lovely jars of berries to make cobbler, spoon over ice cream, angel food or pound cake, or even make a yummy yogurt parfait. My husband enjoyed the little bit extra that wouldn't fit in the jars right out of the fridge as dessert one evening with some whipped cream.

I'd never used a mix to make pie filling before, but I'd have to say it was a fast and easy way to put three more jars of filling on my pantry shelves in pretty short order. All in all, this mix is a welcome addition, especially when you've got a bunch of great-looking berries but not a lot of time. This is a new product, but you should be able to find it in the canning section of your local store now. If not, head over to MrsWages.com to find out where to buy it or to order online.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

White Wine Rose Petal Jelly

I don't know exactly why, but on the rare occasions that I experiment with culinary flowers, I always feel so fancy. There's just something about opening up a bag of dried flowers and having that perfume-y aroma waft into the air that makes you feel like you're about to create something special.

Several years ago, I made the white wine lavender jelly variation included in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. By all accounts it was a success. There were those who loved the unusual combination of flavors. For me, it just tasted a little too much like shampoo jelly. Not a recipe I'd make again.

Until a few weeks ago when I got the urge to experiment with culinary rose petals and remembered that recipe. To me, rose is a much more subtle flavor than lavender and I couldn't wait to see how the white wine would play against the more delicate flowers, not to mention how the red of the rose petals would tint the finished jelly.

The result was a light and delicious jelly, not overpowering, with a stunning rose hue. I think this jelly is wonderful on toast, but would also make a very nice glaze for poultry. If you're looking for something really different. Give this a try. It's very easy to make and will certainly impress anyone to whom it's served.

White Wine Rose Petal Jelly
(A unique variation on the Herbes de Provence Wine Jelly recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Canning)

Makes 5 4-ounce jars

2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup dried culinary rose petals (you can purchase these online - be sure to buy culinary petals only)
Boiling the rose petals in
the white wine
2 cups granulated sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin

Wash and prepare jars, rings and lids.

Pour wine into large stainless steel saucepan. Add rose petals and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for 20 minutes.

Straining the infused wine
Strain the wine/rose petal mixture using a dampened jelly bag or several layers of damp cheesecloth into a bowl. Allow to drip for 20 minutes.

Measure out 1 3/4 cups infused wine and pour into large non-reactive pot. Stir in sugar. Bring to a full, rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in liquid pectin and return to full, rolling boil. Continue boiling and stirring constantly for two minutes.

Remove from heat, skim foam if necessary and pour into hot jars, filling to 1/4" headspace. Wipe rims, place lids and bands and return to boiling water canner for 10 minutes at sea level, adjusting for altitude. Remove from heat, remove canner cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner and place upright on towel on counter. Allow to sit, undisturbed for up to 24 hours. As always, if any jars do not properly seal, re-process or refrigerate and use promptly. 
The finished product. Isn't it pretty?

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