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!

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