Saturday, February 18, 2017

Blueberry Meyer Lemon Jam for Valentine's Day

This blueberry meyer lemon jam is my favorite jam.  The first time I made it was back in December of 2014 when the associate director at my work brought in bags and bags of meyer lemons from his huge tree.  I was trying to use up the lemons so I made a few batches of blueberry meyer lemon and strawberry meyer lemon jam.  I gave most of the jam away as Christmas gifts but kept a few jars for myself.

I started using the jam to sweeten my kefir smoothies and fell in love with the citrusy floral flavor.  I used it up really quickly. Most of the time I make jam and it takes months to finish a jar.  When I started jamming, I was making several dozen jars each week as I tested different fruit and methods.

I started off making jam using the guide found on the box of pectin, moved to recipes from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, and then finally on to artisan-style jams made without added pectin. Jams made without added pectin relied on cooking the fruit with sugar until the sugar reached a certain temperature to gel the jam. The texture is amazing.

Over the years I've come to prefer a different method for each fruit.  Some fruit were finicky when it comes to jamming. I never had much luck with making low sugar strawberry jam using pectin. The strawberry chunks always floated in the syrup.  I've tried slicing, crushing, blending, and leaving them whole. My frustration grew with each batch.  I then tried making strawberry jam using the no added pectin method. The longer cook time and higher sugar content resulted in no floating pieces. Except I did not like the flavor over-cooked strawberries. I then tried making freezer strawberry jam. It's the only way I make strawberry jam now.

While strawberries are difficult to work with, blueberries are easy. They work well using the regular or low sugar pectin method. The flavor withstands the longer cooking time for no pectin added jam. I've made blueberry jam using both fresh and frozen.  Fresh when they are abundant in the summer and frozen in the middle of winter.  Blueberries work well pureed with an immersion blender, sliced in the food processor, or left whole like I usually do.

I found a few containers of old pectin in my stash.  I read that pectin doesn't expire so I decided to make low sugar jam instead of cooking the sugar to temperature for this batch.

Use a non reactive pot for the jam. I like making jam in my enamaled french ovens.  I'm using my trusty 5.5 quart that I bought when Williams Sonoma had the Cherry color on sale for $119. Sometimes I use the smaller or larger sizes but the 5.5 quart round is my most versatile and lives inside while the others are stored in the garage.

Blueberry Meyer Lemon Jam:

10 cups blueberries
4 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons low sugar pectin
1 teaspoon citric acid
2 meyer lemons
1/4 cup Grand Marnier (optional)

1. Mix pectin with 1/2 cup sugar and citric. I used Zulka brand sugar this time and didn't have any problems. It's cane sugar. Awhile back I read to only use C&H brand cane sugar. Some people have issues with their jams not setting when they use a store brand.  Growing up in California, most sugar on the the market is cane and not beet sugar.

2. Remove seeds and then grate the meyer lemons. I used the entire lemon including rind and pith.

3. Add lemons to the blueberry, pectin, and sugar mixture.

4. Bring the blueberries to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. I usually like to smash some of the blueberries while keeping most of them whole.

5. Add 4 cups sugar and Grand Marnier. Return to rolling boil and cook one minute.

6. Test for gel by either using a cold spoon or plate that has been placed in freezer.  After making a few batches of jam you will be able to tell if your jam will gel by looking at the consistency of the jam.

7. Ladle into sterilized jars. A canning funnel makes it easier (less messy). I must like canning funnels because I found three in my drawer.  I couldn't find the bubble remover or magnetic lid tool though.

8. Process ten minutes in water bath canner.  

I bought a different inset for my canner. The one that came with the canner had grooves for quart jars. I prefer 8 ounce jars. Pints are a little too big for jam and 4 ounces holds about two servings worth of jam. I love the way Weck jars look but the sizes are a little strange to me and those clips are not very practical.  After I open a jar of jam, I replace the two-piece lid/ring with a plastic twist-off cap.

I turn off the heat, lift the entire rack out of the water, and let the jars cool.  When I am making more than one batch, a jar lifter is very handy to get the hot jars out of the pot.  I usually lift them out of the pot and onto a heavy duty sheet pan to transport them to their cooling spot. Since I was only making one batch, I simply let the jars cool on the rack.  I don't believe I even took the lid off or lift them out of the water after I turned off the heat.  I left them in the pot for a little while.  It must be habit.  In Denver, I always processed my jars for 20-30 minutes instead of 10 minutes.

 I tested it out on a slice of toasted sourdough bread.

I don't believe I took a picture of the jams after I labeled the jars.  I took a screenshot of the PDFs. (At the beginning of this post.) It's basically the same labels I've used for years.  I changed the text from "from malisa's kitchen" to "happy valentine's day" since I was giving them to my team for Valentine's day. The rectangular label goes around the jar and the round label goes on lid.  

I also made chocolate drizzled pretzel rods.  I didn't dip the pretzels.  I just put them on a silicone sheet and drizzled melted chocolate on them. The Ghirardelli melting wafers are delicious. I used the leftover chocolate to make pudding and I the pudding was better with Ghirardelli than Scharffen Berger.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Soft Pretzels Like Auntie Anne's and Wetzel Pretzels

My name is Malisa and I have a problem. I occasionally go through food obsession periods. My current obsession is:

I've been buying quite a few of them at the mall. Pretzels are easy to make so I lugged out the old Zoji, dumped in the ingredients and pressed a button.  I started off shaping them and decided pretzel nuggets were perfectly tasty and required very little skill and effort.  I even made cinnamon-sugar and sprinkled it over one of the pretzels.  The other advantage to eating a mall pretzel at home is washing them down with frozen pina coladas straight from the old Margaritaville machine.  

The recipe below was adapted from Food Network and simplified using the dough cycle of a bread machine.

1 cup milk (I never have whole milk at home so I always make my own using 3/4 cup 2% milk plus 1/4 cup half and half)
2 1/4 teaspoons SAF instant yeast
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt

Rest of ingredients:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
coarse sea salt
2 cups water
1/4 cup baking soda

1. Add all ingredients to bread machine and select the dough cycle.  The dough cycle of my Zojirushi bread machine preheats ingredients to temp before kneading and proofing so softening or melting butter is usually not required.  I think the Zoji does a great job but it's not perfect.  I usually help it along during the cycle to make sure all the ingredients get evenly mixed.  

2. At the end of the cycle, pour dough out onto a floured surface, forming an even mound. Cover the dough with a wet towel and let the dough relax approximately 15 minutes.  

3. Cut down into six even pieces.  Using your palms, roll each piece into a long rope.  If you want your pretzels to resemble the pretzels from Auntie Anne's or Wetzel Pretzels, you will have to roll your dough very long and thin because after shaping, the dough will retract and shrink back a bit.  The shaping part doesn't have to be perfect. 

4. Mix water and baking soda in a bowl.  The size and shape of bowl you will need depends on how you decide to shape your pretzels. Gently dip each pretzel in baking soda solution and place on lined baking sheet.  You will want to line your baking sheet.  Trust me. Either a silpat or parchment paper work. Sprinkle each pretzel with coarse sea salt.  Bake in preheated 450 degree oven for approximately 10-15 minutes.  

5. Transfer pretzels to wire rack and brush with melted butter.  Dunk or sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar if you are feeling a little adventurous.  I am pretty boring and pretty my pretzels with just butter or cinnamon-sugar.  I never order the "gourmet" pretzels covered with fancy cheese, pepperoni, or crunchies. I also always decline the dips.  

This recipe produces a soft mall-style pretzel. It uses a baking soda bath rather than a lye bath so the pretzels it will be very light in color.  It is best eaten the same day. If you're looking for a movie theater or ball park pretzels, buy a box of frozen pretzels and reheat them.  They come in a black box with a picture of a pretzel on it.

I just downloaded photos from my phone.  Below are random photos.  Some are recent.  Some are not. Some are photos of food and some are just random.

That's a salad.  There's spring mix under the mangos, apples, roasted tricolor fingerling potatoes, medjool dates, feta, and my own glazed walnuts.  I made it to take over to my department holiday dinner.

Hiking at Red Rocks Canyon.  

I wanted to make a gingerbread house. I took a picture instead.

Boyz II Men.

Another Vegas trip.  This time we stayed at a different hotel. The Encore gets a thumbs up.

Centerpiece at our company Christmas lunch.

Breakfast in Cabo.  That's fresh squeezed OJ.

Christmas Eve dinner on the beach.  That's a Princess cruise ship in the Sea of Cortez.

Divorce Beach on the Pacific Ocean side.  The waves are pretty rough and very dangerous for even the most experienced swimmers.  I turned around for just a second and was knocked down. Fortunately I was not pulled out into the ocean. 

Lover's Beach is in the background.  Lover's Beach is safe for swimming.

I chose to climb up the rocks because I thought it would look cool.

I had to find a way back down.  I jumped and hoped for the best.

Cabo Beach Club on a small stretch of swimmable stretch of Medano Beach.

Menorah in the Marina district.

 Right next to the menorah was this sign.  I did enough climbing on the beach and did not attempt climbing into the "C" like other tourists.

 This taco shop was recommended by several people and was our original destination our first night in Cabo but we took a wrong turn and ended up at a restaurant we would rather forget about.

I was so full from eating, I barely managed to finish my two tacos.

My shrimp ceviche tostada Las Tres Islas. I also have crab and flan.

We've been getting quite a bit of rain in San Diego.  We took a drive up to Laguna because we miss snow. It does snow in San Diego County. I couldn't find my snow boots. Uggs are usually my first choice for snow but it was either my really old Uggs, old Uggs, new Uggs, Fryes, or heeled boots. Since the decision to drive up to see snow was not planned, I put on my really old Uggs. My toes got a little wet even though they were treated with a water repellent spray. I didn't pick the best pants either. They are made from recycled plastic water bottles but were not very warm.  I thought about putting on snowboarding pants but felt a tad silly.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


We went camping at Palomar Mountain few weeks ago.  I kept the menu fairly simple since we were only camping for one night.

On the way up to Palomar Mountain, we stopped at Pink's Hot Dogs located inside Harrah's Casino. We walked around looking for Pink's. The casino is huge and appears to be quite the weekend destination. We looked a little out of place in the fancy resort/casino. I walked up to ask where Pink's was located and ran into a friend.  He pointed us in the right direction.  (He actually was surprised that we came all the way to Harrah's for hot dogs.)  I ordered a turkey dog and onion rings. We ordered way too much food.

We checked in at the park entrance. The woman working was less than thrilled to be working.

Since we were a little early, we stopped off at the pond and the urgent care.  Someone found a lure in his hand.  The closest urgent care was about 45 minutes from the campgrounds but I refused to go with Plan A. Lets just say Plan A involved pliers and a wire cutter. The park ranger also refused to have anything to do with Plan A. We ended up at Graybill Urgent Care. The folks at Graybill were great.

The pond was small but it was really pretty.

I sat at the edge of the pond and tried to soak in all the nature around me. A little kid walked by and said, "look daddy! He caught a log!" 

After a quick stop at the urgent care, we made it back before the park closed and pitched a small tent. The tent is not that small. It is a lot smaller than the two-room tent we had in Colorado. This tent is large enough for a single high queen air mattress with a little room to spare.  For this weekend, I wanted less fuss so I was fine with a smaller tent. It would have been nice to sleep a little higher off the ground and be able to stand up to change inside the tent.

I kept dinner pretty simple with shrimp fajitas. I sliced the bell peppers and onions ahead of time. We have a few camp stoves and grills.  I decided to leave the grills and larger stove at home and packed a smaller two-burner camp stove. I heated a 10-inch fry pan on the stove, added a little olive oil and added the onions. Once the onions started browning, I added the bell peppers and cooked a few minutes longer. I finished the onions and peppers with a little salt and black pepper.

I almost bought a cheap pan for camping but decided to just pack one of my All-Clad pans instead.

I peeled, deveined, and froze the shrimp a few weeks before our camping trip. They were still pretty frozen when I took them out of the cooler that evening. I was afraid they would defrost and be unsafe to eat so I put a pack of frozen Nathan's hot dogs in the cooler just in case. We didn't have to resort to Plan B for dinner.

I sautéed the shrimp in a little olive oil and seasoned them with a salt, pepper, chile powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, dried onions, cumin, Mexican oregano, and lime juice. I made the seasoning mix a few days before the trip.

Shrimp is great for camping because it cooks up so quickly. I had dinner ready in about 15 minutes. I used 26/30 size shrimp. 26/30 is my favorite size for most dishes. I bought several bags of U15 and they are still in the freezer because they're a little larger than I like.

Dessert included cinnamon crescent rolls and s'mores cooked over the campfire. I wasn't very hungry so I didn't eat either.  I didn't even finish my fajitas.

By the time the cinnamon crescent rolls and s'mores were finished, it was pretty dark out. The days have been shorter and with the unplanned urgent care trip, we didn't start cooking until a little later.

It was a long day so we didn't end up playing any games we packed. We tested out the air mattress, tandem sleeping bag, and down blanket and fell asleep with the lights on. These solar string lights from Amazon were pretty awesome. I thought they would run out of battery and turn off but after several hours, I had a search for the off button.

In the morning I got up and made breakfast. I cooked up some maple bacon in a large rectangular cast iron dutch oven.  I cooked diced potatoes in the bacon grease until crispy then added onions, bell peppers, and eggs. I ate mine without tortillas.  The hubby made a breakfast burrito and doused everything with Tapatio sauce. 

I made coffee using a Moka Pot and drank it out of a "vintage" Starbucks paper cup.

We sat by the fire for a few hours before tearing down camp and heading back to civilization. It was nice to get away from the city even if it was only for a day.

We stopped on the side of the road on our way down. It's not quite Colorado but still very beautiful.

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