Niloufer Ichaporia King's Parsi Tomato Chutney

DSC_1653

So, er, this is awkward, since I already told you about a tomato jam in August. And, er, yes, you're right, tomato season is all but over. (Not entirely, but almost.) But I kind of need you to forget all about that other tomato jam and the fact that the tomatoes at the market are dwindling fast. Forget about all that right away. Today. Now.

Because a few weeks ago I made a tomato chutney from this book by way of The Traveler's Lunchbox and, it's the most curious thing, I haven't been able to stop spooning it out of the jar since. It is quite something. I mean, who eats chutney from a spoon? This is not the kind of thing I am usually in the habit of doing. Just so we're clear. But this is no ordinary chutney, no.

DSC_1657

This tomato chutney makes my mouth glow on the inside, which is a most wondrous feeling. And it tastes incredible, like a tomato come to life in the middle of an Indian jungle, though I am biased, it's true: you could coat a tomato in tar and I'd probably still want to eat it.

Let me try to describe it at least. Imagine a tomato, all fresh and succulent, cooked down into jamminess with fiery bits of ginger and garlic and rust-colored cayenne. There are raisins, for a little extra sweetness, and cloves and cinnamon, too. But then there's a big glug of vinegar that straightens everyone's collars out and makes your mouth pucker with pleasure. Between the vinegar and the cayenne and all that fresh ginger and garlic, the chutney is incendiary, in the best possible way. 

I could almost guarantee that you will find yourself hoarding it, instead of giving it away as you might think you would after lining up all your neatly-filled crimson jars just after filling them. It's the one thing in my pantry that I can't part with. Not yet.

DSC_1663

I like putting it on a cold chicken sandwich, for example. Or dolloping it next to a piece of plain, sautéed fish to goose it up a little. I've eaten it with sharp cheddar on nice bread for a lunch that lingered in my mouth long after I finished. And it's brilliant with eggs, scrambled or fried. Best of all is chopped into homemade egg salad. Good night!

But like I said, I've also eaten it straight from the jar, which I'm a little embarrassed to admit, but you know, sometimes it's just best to be honest about this kind of thing.

DSC_1701

Whatever you decide to do with it, the point is: make it. Today. Now. Before the very last plum tomatoes have gone.

And if they already are gone, forgive me, kind reader, for winding you up. It was cruel of me, I know. To make it up to you, maybe I could even send you one of my jars? Maybe. Let me think about it. I'll get back to you.

Niloufer Ichaporia King's Parsi Tomato Chutney
Source: The Traveler's Lunchbox
Makes about four 8- to 10-ounce jars; recipe can easily be doubled

3 pounds (1.5 kilos) ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely-julienned peeled ginger (about one 2.5-inch/6-cm-long piece)
1/2 cup thinly-sliced garlic (about one large head)
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 cup (75 to 150 grams) raisins (optional)
2 cups (400 grams) turbinado sugar
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 small cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt

1. Open a window or two in your kitchen. Place all the ingredients in a heavy nonreactive pot and, over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, stirring well. Continue to cook, stirring every five to seven minutes (more frequently towards the end of the cooking time), until the chutney has the consistency of a soft jam, about an hour. Be careful not to scorch the chutney.

2. While the chutney is cooking, sterilize four or five glass jars and lids in boiling water or a hot oven. When the chutney has finished cooking, ladle it carefully into the clean jars and quickly screw on the lids. Turn the jars upside-down to cool. If you plan to eat the chutney within a few weeks of making it, there's no need to can it; simply keep it in the fridge.


Liana Krissoff's Canning for a New Generation

DSC_1698

A few years ago, I spent a day with my colleagues brainstorming new book ideas. We were hunkered down in the Soho apartment of the parents of our editorial director (they were generous, it was big) and, armed with pens and pads of paper, we went around the table and talked about the kinds of books we wanted to publish. I had made a list of four book ideas that I really wanted to pursue, but today, sitting here, I can only remember one.

Because after that brainstorming session, I went back to the office to check my email one last time before leaving for vacation the next day and there, sitting in my inbox, sent at about the exact moment that I was telling my boss and my colleagues that I desperately wanted to publish a modern, updated book on canning and jam-making, pickling and preserving, was an email from one of the company's authors, laying out her vision for that exact book.

Kismet! Fate! It was hard not to run to the CEO of the company right then and there, begging him for approval and, oh, some money, too.

A few weeks later, we had a deal. Liana would write a comprehensive book on canning and preserving, chockful of recipes that were new and interesting. She would leave behind the fuddy-duddy and slightly snoozy tone of all the older canning books. She would mine the preserving techniques of other cultures and she would include recipes for what to do with those fermented long beans you spent precious time finding in Chinatown and then putting up, all the while making sure that readers' hands would be held as they went from making their first batch of strawberry jam to their very own Indian lime pickle.

DSC_1687

In Liana's own words, "The recipes are for people a little bit like me...who upon hearing 'pickle' remember Mom's sweet watermelon-rind pickles ice-cold out of the fridge, but also think of the dollop of goodness that goes on top of a bowl of curried lentils, or the dainty dish of tsukemono pickles that might come with the sashimi at a good sushi bar. Those people for whom 'ferment' means not just full-sour dills bobbing about in a crock of cloudy brine on the Lower East Side but also spicy red kimchi. And those of us who, while thoroughly enjoying a sweet, thick slather of classic peach preserves on toast every now and then (or, okay, often) might prefer a tart-sweet black plum jam spiked with fragrant cardamom, or a small spoonful of fig preserves with port and rosemary alongside a wedge of veiny blue cheese and a thick slice of dark bread."

That was exactly the book I wanted to publish.

DSC_1689

As Liana worked on her book, she'd periodically send me photos of her pantry shelves that were filling at an alarming rate. Jar after jar of jams and pickles lined the room. It was like a settler's dream. Sometimes, if I was lucky, Liana would even send me a few things to try: a delicately-set grapefruit jam, tea jelly or, my very favorite, that plum jam flavored with cardamom.

In the end, Liana's manuscript turned out to be even better than I could have imagined on that hot day in August when her email first hit my inbox. It was big. It was comprehensive. It was interesting. And it was funny.

Take, for example, Liana's headnote on making her own sauerkraut:

"Although it may seem as if you're having - as my husband said when he walked in on me with my arms elbow-deep in a mass of pale-green shreds - 'a difficult immigrant experience', squeezing cabbage and salt together to make sauerkraut is fun."

DSC_1691

But best of all, the manuscript was smart. Liana teaches you how to make kimchi and then gives you a recipe for pork and kimchi dumplings. She tells you how to make Chinese plum sauce and then gives you a recipe for Mu Shu pork using the plum sauce. She tells you how to make a Sidecar using the Brandied Cherries from the previous page. Liana comes up with all these great new staples that you just have to have in your pantry and then gets your mouth watering with dinner recipes that actually use them.

We got Rinne Allen, a talented photographer, to do the photography for the book and her lush, thoughtful images paired beautifully with Liana's recipes and pithy prose. The two would meet, week after week, at Liana's house in Georgia and Rinne would shoot what Liana was working on that day.

DSC_1690

The book is divided into seasons, so there are four main chapters and then, within those chapters, Liana splits the recipes between fruits and vegetables. For those of you intimidated by preserving and canning (hot water baths! botulism! equipment!), Liana demystifies everything in soothing, sensible terms. She makes you feel capable and safe. And, really, her recipes will have you chafing at the bit to get started, whether you're a novice or not.

Liana's philosophy, when it comes to jams, is that the less commercial pectin you use, the more delicious your jams will be. And so, with a few exceptions, her recipes for jams, jellies, preserves and conserves are made without commercial pectin and the amount of sugar she uses lets the bright, beautiful flavor of the fruit shine through. Always.

DSC_1694

Shall we look at a quick sampling of some of Liana's recipes? Let's. I'm hungry.

Tomato and Cashew Chutney, Simple Pickled Jalapeño Slices (that you use, then, to make a Sliced, Braised Beef Sandwich, yowrrr), Candied-Pickled Apples with Star Anise, Minted Cranberry Relish with Walnuts, North Indian Carrot Pickle, Honeyed Fig Jam with Sesame Seeds, Achar Segar (what, you didn't know how to say "Indonesian Pickles" in Indonesian?), Pineapple Jam with Chinese Five-Spice, Quince Slices in Cinnamon Syrup (that you later use in a Persian lamb stew), Nuka, also known as Japanese Fermented Bran Pickles, and Hibiscus Jelly.

(Who else is hungry now?)

(But don't worry, the classics are here as well: Strawberry Jam, Apple Butter, Raspberry Preserves, Cherry Jam, among many others.)

DSC_1700

Canning for a New Generation, much to my utter delight, turned out to be even better than I could have ever hoped for on that hot day in August when it was just a twinkle in both of our eyes. Liana put an enormous amount of work into the book and her passion fairly jumps off the page. It's a delight to read and is an inspiration in the kitchen. It's beautiful to look at and it's an incredible resource. Take a look at that cart up there: It holds all the jams I've made in the last three months, most of them done with Liana's book open on the counter. Raspberry Mint Jam, Plum Cardamom Jam and Holiday Cherries are just a few of my favorites. And one day, I like to dream that I will have an actual pantry like Liana's to line with identical jars filled with all the season's bounty. It will be grand.

Are you scared of jam-making and preserving? Liana will hold your hand. Are you bored with the plain pickles and jams you already know how to make in your sleep? Liana will lead you down the path of international pickling and preserving. Of all the many cookbooks on my bookshelf (and there are many, so many), this is the one that most consistently gets "borrowed" and not returned. Quite literally. I've had to ask my very kind former employers for a replacement copy of the book more times than I care to admit.

So, maybe, when you buy a copy, if you buy a copy, think about getting two. Then chain one to your kitchen counter so that no one can ever take it from you, or deface it with a big black marker ("Property of Geraldine! Keep Out!") so that no one will want it, and give the other one away. You'll thank me for this tip later.


Mark Bittman's Tomato Jam

DSC_0608

You know what's funny? It just occurred to me that in a little less than 24 hours, I'm going to be on my honeymoon in Greece. What's not so funny is that that sounds terrifying. Because in the meantime, sometime in the course of this day, I have to attach the manuscript of my book (at last count clocking in at just under 100,00 words) to an email and send it to my editor. And then I have to get up from my desk, turn off the computer and go away for two whole weeks.

Sometime soon, when I have a little more time, I'd love to tell you more about what a psychological trip this whole writing-a-book experience has been. There have been so many moments of absolutely hideous self-doubt, treacherous late-night thoughts about failure and a lot of real frustration, anger and sadness. But there have also been these strangely exhilarating moments, too, like the other night when I was really killing a chapter and I suddenly felt so seized with energy and power and happiness, yes, that my hands started to tremble as I typed.

That feeling, in that moment, was worth all of the other ugly stuff that came before. And right now, now that I'm scared stiff once again and am stuck trying to scrounge up a few more final words from my tired old brain and it's like squeezing water from a stone and I'm once again convinced that I am a hack and a fraud and should just go ahead and change my name to spare myself the humiliation of publication, I am trying to remember how glorious the other night felt.

Because that night I thought,

This feels so good that I never want to stop writing.

You guys, that was in the top five best feelings of my life, I'm sure of it. Right up there in the Number 2 spot.

DSC_0612

I'm nowhere near done; my manuscript still needs a lot of work. There will be edits, rewrites, more edits, tears, self-doubt, misery and hopefully, along the way, a few more moments of that exhilarating happiness that crop up when you least expect them. But I did it. I got the first draft done, bird by bird, drip by drip.

I did it.

I did it.

DSC_0615

Now because, as I mentioned, my brain right now is like a dry old stone, like a pumice stone that's been abandoned by the side of your bathtub for about three years and is practically cracking in half it's so dry, I'm going to keep the rest of this brief. (You have been so patient and so kind while I've been so quiet here lately that I feel awful leaving for two more weeks, but you understand, right? You know? That this isn't just a honeymoon for me and Max, but also the world's best-timed and most-needed vacation? That directly after pressing "send" on the most terrifying email of my life, I luckily have no choice but to go away and not turn on a computer for 13 whole blessed days?)

We are flying to Greece tomorrow to spend a week at a cousin's house on an island in the Cyclades and then, because we are honeymooners, we're going to spend an entire second week on the islands, too. Two entire weeks of vacation. I don't think I'll quite realize what kind of a luxury that is until we're there. We did not, when we booked the trip long before my appendicitis struck, have any idea that I would be writing up until the day before we left. I've never gone away on a vacation so unprepared. All I know is at what time the ferry to the island leaves Athens. I guess we'll figure out the rest when we get there.

A few weeks ago, back before I dove under entirely, I made a batch of this tomato jam. I'd come into some plum tomatoes for cheap and they were really good ones, thin-skinned and deep red and flavorful. I made the jam, barely paying attention, as with most things lately, other than writing. I filled two small jars with it and had just enough left to tide me over through lunch.

DSC_0620

Tomato jam is a funny thing; sweet when you're expecting salty, savory when you're expecting sweet. I spread it on a piece of crusty bread and topped it with a fried egg, the gooey yolk sort of swimming into the hot, sweet jam. It made for a very tasty lunch-for-one-standing-up-at-the-counter and would have been an even better breakfast, especially if I had taken the time to sit down and eat like a civilized person. And perhaps added a few strips of bacon to the plate.

The original recipe says you have to consume the batch within a week or so, but I canned it with no ill effects by simply filling the very hot jam into sterilized jars, screwing the lids on tight and turning the jars upside-down until fully cooled.

I'm doing my best to hoard one jar for the depths of winter when we have no sun and no tomatoes and the pink sunsets that still steal across the sky these days are long gone. But I don't really get to complain yet. After all, I've got two weeks of sunshine awaiting me. Two weeks of beaches and books and walks and balanced meals and more tomatoes than I will probably know what to do with. Two weeks to spend time with Max and sleep in and go swimming and let the knot in my back unwind at last. Two weeks to remind myself every day that I did it, I did, and that that is the whole thing, the work, the accomplishment, the thing I set out to do. Two weeks to be grateful and happy for the chance.

And with that, I should go. I have to gather myself, have to let go, have to tell myself it's okay, have to tell myself to be proud, have to press send, have to howl with glee and terror, have to cry, just a little, have to pack, have to go.

I'll see you soon.

Mark Bittman's Tomato Jam

Makes 2 small jars with a little left over
Click here for the original recipe

1.5 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh grated or minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or cayenne 

1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.

2. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then pour into hot, sterilized jam jars, screw the lids on and turn the jars upside down to cool completely.


David Lebovitz's Herb Rub

DSC_0260

Poppets, do I have a story for you. Four days before my manuscript due date, last Thursday, to be precise, I woke up feeling rather strange. This strangeness got worse all day and by the end of it, I found myself in the hospital with an anesthesiologist pumping stuff into my arm just before some very nice doctors relieved me of my appendix. Ain't that a kick in the head?

I got out of the hospital yesterday and am feeling a little bit like I got hit by a truck, both literally and figuratively. My head's still all woozy and I have the oddest tugging sensation on my insides and the deadline situation makes me want to cry and I really want to take a shower and it would be lovely to be allowed a cheeseburger for dinner instead of broth and boiled zucchini and to top it all off, I can't stop thinking about how, if I'd been born a Pilgrim, my life probably would have ended rather abruptly at 33. (Of course, if I'd been born a Pilgrim, a great many things probably would have ended my life much sooner than at 33, but logic and rational thought are not having a great day right now in the Mind of Luisa, so bear with me.)

I am trying not to wallow too much in the vat of Self-Pity (see Not Being Born A Pilgrim and so on for reference), but abdominal surgery, a missed deadline and the lack of a daily shower is starting to take its toll on your heroine. But before I slide completely off my rocker into the deep end, I need to quickly tell you about something sort of quietly wonderful.

It starts with my balcony, a little patch of white-tiled space nestled into the corner of our apartment building. By some stroke of luck, though it's on the courtyard side of the building and we are surrounded by apartments on all sides, no one can actually look into our balcony, which would be lovely if we were the type to sunbathe naked and as such is just sort of nice because we can have lunch out there in the summer without feeling watched (old Berliners love to watch people) and because I can neglect the plants out there without anybody giving me a disapproving look.

The only plants I have growing on the balcony are herbs, because I hate buying herbs only to see them grow black and moldy in the fridge and because I like my balcony plants to be useful, not just pretty. (Even if I do go and neglect them every now and then). I have high standards for plants, you see. So I've got two types of mint, oregano, thyme (that keeps migrating from its pot to other pots, magically), basil, rosemary, a very sad lavender bush and an exuberant spray of sage. So exuberant, in fact, that it sometimes feels as though it could be growing about half an inch a day.

The sage got to be a bit of a problem, in truth. To use it up, we tried eating a lot of ravioli in sage butter for a while. Surprisingly, that gets tired pretty quickly. So when I stumbled across David's method for using up sage, I never looked back. He first got the recipe from his friend Judy Witts Francini and, folks, it is a secret weapon if I've ever seen one. Now let me be clear: I have always nursed a healthy suspicion of herb salts. Or herb rubs. They seemed like a gimmicky way for chefs to sell products in grocery stores. The idea of cooking with them left me cold. But David has never led me astray. In fact, I'd probably eat a cold rubber tire if David told me that, marinated in Korean chile paste and sprinkled with sesame seeds, it tasted good. (Actually, that does sound good. Sweet cracker sandwich, people, I need some real food.)

DSC_0322

So I cut back my sage and rosemary plants, chopped them up very finely with a mess of garlic and a big spoonful of Maldon salt and then let the mixture, sandy and herby and fragrant as all get out, dry on my kitchen counter for a few days. When it was good and dry, I packed it into a little jar and forgot about it. Really!

Weeks later, starving on a Sunday night, we had nothing but some nice bread and some very ripe tomatoes in the house. No cheese, no pasta, no nothing. Rummaging through the cupboards, I stumbled upon my herb rub. On a whim, I decided to quick-roast the tomatoes mixed with the herb mixture, liberally splashed with olive oil. What emerged from the oven was rather difficult to stop eating, especially when we started dragging the bread through the herby, tomatoey olive oil at the bottom of the baking dish. Next up was a pot of beans that I'd cooked into creamy submission, but that desperately needed some pepping up. I spooned the beans into a baking dish, mixed them with a bit of the herb rub, a good glug of olive oil and a few shreds of canned tomato and put that in the oven until the house smelled like a rustic Tuscan lodge (or something). We put pieces of toasted peasant bread into our deep soup plates and ladled the baked beans over the bread and attacked. Dinner was a quiet affair that night, nothing but spoons clanking against plates and lips smacking.

The herb rub has pepped up rice salads and simple roast chickens, a lackluster pork tenderloin and countless pots of beans. I've dipped into it over and over again until, a year later, the jar's entirely empty. Which is serendipitous timing, because my sage plant has gone into overdrive once again.

To sum it all up, people, you need this stuff in your stash. It will make countless Sunday night dinners, when you're cobbling together weird little meals out of odds and ends, that much better. It will make you seem refined and with-it when you mix it with olive oil and set it out for nibbles with some nice bread before dinner. It will help your balcony looking neat and groomed and, best of all, it just tastes so good.

That is all. I feel better already.

Herb Rub
Makes 1 small jar

A very large bunch of fresh sage, two to three times as much as the rosemary
A large bunch of rosemary
8 garlic cloves, peeled
1 heaping tablespoon Maldon salt

1. Pick the leaves off the sage and rosemary stalks. In a small food processor, chop up the herbs with the garlic cloves and salt until the mixture is pretty fine. Discard any sticks or seeds.

2. Spread the herb mixture on a baking sheet and let it dry for about three days. Once dry, store your herb in a tighly-sealed in a jar for up to a year.


Melissa Roberts' Quick Radish Pickles

DSC_9051

It's been confusing, to say the least, to be a vegetable-loving individual in Germany this past month. For a while, to be on the safe side, all I did was eat stewed vegetables, which I didn't mind in the least. Braised zucchini and slow-cooked Romano beans are very fine indeed. But then the summer sun and the lack of answers from the scientists and government agencies involved in solving this E. coli epidemic started to get to me. That and the fact that weeks were going by in which I was not allowed a single raw tomato.

(I ask of you: how can one live through the month of June without eating raw tomatoes? I say one cannot.)

At the greenmarket yesterday, then, I bought a sackful of everything I'd missed so much over the past few weeks, from a favorite local farm: a kilo of gleaming tomatoes, a long, dark cucumber, the most beautiful, moody head of oak-leaf lettuce and a perky bunch of radishes. I had to restrain myself from nibbling on the greens on my walk home, Peter Rabbit-style.

(Several people have asked how I'm dealing with the vegetable situation at present in Berlin: I try to buy fresh produce only from local vendors at green markets who are either growing the produce themselves or eating it themselves. If I have to buy any fresh produce from the grocery store, I cook it. I'm steering clear of ground meat and I only buy organic, local milk and eggs anyway. And now I'm making my own yogurt, too. But not because of the E. coli, just because. Homemade yogurt!)

DSC_9040

Despite a few intermittent bursts of rain now and then, it's tough not be spending every waking minute outdoors these days. Berlin in summer is something so impossibly lovely and fleeting that it must be enjoyed and soaked up, as much as humanly possible. The best way to do this (besides taking a boat ride around the city) is to go out to one of Berlin's many parks and have a picnic. Just the other day, I was at my friend's annual picnic a stone's throw from the bridge to Potsdam, and we had ourselves a feast: cold meatballs and herb jam on flatbread, long-cooked beans and carrot-harissa salad, strawberry cake and Bienenstich.

I've been thinking a lot about picnics lately, and celebrations, too. As much as I can't wait for our wedding celebration at the end of June and the rustic Italian menu we'll be serving our guests, there are some days I wish we'd just decided to have a party in the middle of a big, empty park in Berlin - empty save for the massive trees keeping quiet watch over us - and spread out blankets covered with big trays of deviled eggs, homemade pickles and pavlova (in this ideal world, mayonnaise-spiked egg yolks and fresh whipped cream consumed on a hot summer's day outdoors makes perfect sense and is not dangerous in the least).

Maybe that's how we'll celebrate our anniversary instead. One thing I know for sure, the next picnic I go to, I'll be bringing a jar of radish pickles - rosy-pink and crunchy.

The recipe comes from the archives of Gourmet.com and is a cinch. You salt a bunch of quartered radishes, which give off a surprising amount of liquid half an hour later, and dissolve sugar in rice wine vinegar. Then you put the salted, drained radishes into the vinegar solution along with spoonful of slivered ginger. A few hours in the refrigerator (they can stay there up to a day) and you've got yourself a bowlful of crisp, sour, pickly radishes that are lovely popped into your mouth straight from the fridge or served, more adult-like, alongside a plate of salumi, for example. The addition of the ginger gives the pickles the faintest soupçon of sushi ginger. It's lovely.

DSC_9025

I find picnics require pickles almost as much as they require a steady supply of cold drinks. You need the occasional bright pop of acidity and crunch to wake up your palate and keep you from fading away on the blanket, ants nipping at your ankles.

How about you, dear readers: what are your picnic must-haves?

Quick Radish Pickles
Makes about a cup

6 oz radishes (about 7), quartered
3 tablespoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 (1-inch) piece peeled ginger, cut into thin matchsticks (1 tablespoon)

1. Toss radishes with 1 tsp salt in a bowl and let stand 30 minutes. Drain in a sieve but do not rinse.

2. Heat vinegar with sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and add radishes, then stir in ginger. Transfer to a small bowl and marinate, chilled, at least 2 hours.  Radishes can be marinated up to 1 day.


Christine Ferber's Strawberry-Lemon Grass Jam

DSC_9552

I don't know about you, but strawberry jam tastes like Band-Aids to me. It always has. How would I know what Band-Aids taste like, I'm sure you're wanting to know. I'm an absent-minded cuticle chewer, that's how. You'd be surprised how many inadvertent bites of Band-Aid I've had in my life.

I like eating strawberries sliced and sugared and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. (Just the tiniest bit, people. You shouldn't be able to taste the vinegar, but it will bring out the very essence of strawberry-ness and your simple bowl of sliced, sugared strawberries will make even someone who (I swear) told me just the other week that he thinks strawberries are his least favorite fruit (can you even believe it??) sit up and ask for seconds.) I like eating them whole, dropped into a bowl of plain yogurt. I like eating them on my cereal or over a sink or at a picnic, where I am bound by my genetic code to get red strawberry juice on some article of clothing. In short, give me all the fresh strawberries of the world and I'll gobble them right up. Offer me some strawberry jam and I'll be honest, I'd almost rather just eat a boiled egg.

Last week, though, I went strawberry picking with my friends in a field right outside of Potsdam (of Sans Souci and Conference fame). What is with that weird greed that bubbles up when you're out picking fruit and you've filled all your baskets and somehow you just can't stop from picking, because with every step you take you're confronted with more and more perfect berry specimens that simply cannot be allowed to remain on the plant? I came home with more than three kilos, people, three. For two people, one of whom would rather be eating a kiwi. So jam it would have to be.

DSC_9495

A week before I went strawberry-picking, Molly came to visit for a week, bearing a jar of Christine Ferber jam as a present. I used to be sort of obsessed with Christine Ferber's jam recipes, but over the years moved away from her methods, which felt fussy to me, even if the results were often spectacular. But inspired by the pretty little jar sitting on my kitchen counter, I decided that if anyone was going to get me to eat strawberry jam again, it would probably be her, the jam fairy of Alsace.

It was difficult to decide between two strawberry jam recipes of Christine's that I found online. One involved extracting juice from raspberries and mixing that with the strawberries along with balsamic vinegar. The other involved candying lemon slices and adding those along with spiky lemon grass leaves to the strawberries. How on earth would I choose? I suddenly found myself planning two batches of jam.

DSC_9502

The lemon version has you put paper-thin slices of lemon in a water-lemon juice-sugar syrup and simmer gently until the slices are candied and looking shiny. You add the lemons and their syrup to the pot of sugared strawberries, along with those lemon grass leaves, which I pounded a little bit for extra fragrance. Christine's recipes use more sugar than the ones I'm used to (my mother usually aims for a three to one ratio of fruit and sugar), but I wanted to follow it just as it was written. I can be a little pedantic like that sometimes.

Christine is also a professional, so she wants you to skim skim skim that jam, which I did (my mother usually skips that step). I got very, let's say, focused on the skimming. But let me tell you, I've never made a jam that was as jewel-like and clear as this one. It was worth the effort.

DSC_9521

The best part of jam-making, for me, is picking which glass jars to fill. At the moment, I'm having a little love affair with Weck's tulip jars, inspired by an author of mine whose book on canning you should pre-order now (trust me on this one). Her recipe for Plum Jam with Cardamom, speaking of recipes worth the price of the cookbook they're printed in, should go in some kind of Cooking Hall of Fame, it is so good. And wait until you see this cookbook. Ooh! I am so excited for you - it is a total gem. Anyway. Weck jars. In the US, they're hard to find and a little expensive. (Try Lehman's or Heath Ceramics for online ordering.) Here in Germany, where Weck jars were born, they're cheap and easy to find.

You have to process them in a water-bath, which is another step my mother always eschews as, to be honest, do I when using regular jam jars with screw-on lids, but the cuteness of the Weck jars is worth the extra effort of the water-bath. So! Here's how it goes:

You wash those babies with lots of hot soapy water and soak the elastic bands for a few minutes in hot water. You let everything dry off and then you fill the jars with the piping hot jam. Wipe off the rims, fasten the elastic bands to the lids, pop them on top of the jars, clamp down the metal clips and, using tongs, put the filled jars into a pot of boiling water. Bring the water back up to the boil once the pot is filled and boil for 5 minutes. Then carefully remove the jars from the pot with those tongs and let them cool on a cloth towel, overnight. Remove the clips the next day - if you've processed your jam correctly, the lids will be on very tight and you can go store the jam jars in your pantry and feel smug. If you pull the clips off and discover that the lid isn't being held on by a vacuum seal, there was a problem with the processing. Either keep that jam in your fridge to be eaten by you sometime in the next few weeks, or re-process the jar (wash the lid and elastic band again, re-fasten, put everything back in place, but put the filled jam jar (cold this time) in a pot of cold water, which you bring to a boil and then process for five minutes.

DSC_9537

Questions? Leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them. Remember, jam-making is not the same as pickling: there's very little danger. The amount of sugar in most jams is enough to kill any bacteria and the cooking process (not to mention the optional water bath) finishes off the rest. Little old ladies in tiny European towns have been making jam without vacuum seals and water-baths and high sugar volumes for millennia, or at least centuries.

Anyway, the jam. Clear and garnet-hued, it was certainly the prettiest jam I've ever made. The strawberries held their shape beautifully. The lemon slices snake their way through each jar. The jam is, for lack of a better word, the brightest, cleanest-tasting strawberry jam I've ever had. The lemon sort of elevates the usually more muddled-tasting strawberry onto a different plane, but because of the candying process, the lemon's bite is quite tame, muted even. The fragrance of the lemon grass wafts through each spoonful but if you didn't put "lemon grass" on the jam label, you wouldn't be able to identify its flavor. It's just this sort of faint, floral nudge here and there. In a word, fantastic. Boiled eggs? I'd rather have this stuff on toast, please. Giving it away is going to be kind of hard.

As for that other recipe? My strawberries were gone before I could get to the second batch.

Strawberry-Lemon Grass Jam
Makes five ½-pint jars

2¾ pounds strawberries
4 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Scant ½ cup water
10 paper-thin slices lemon
10 fresh lemongrass leaves, cut in half crosswise

1. Prepare your jars, whether by sterilizing in a hot oven or by washing in hot, soapy water. If processing in a water bath, put a large pot of water on to boil.

2. Pick over the berries, discarding those that are green, white or mushy. Rinse briefly in a colander and shake off the excess water. Hull the berries and slice coarsely into a 6-quart pot. Stir in 3½ cups sugar and set aside.

3. In a 2-quart pot, combine ½ cup sugar with the lemon juice and water. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add lemon slices and simmer gently until translucent, about 15 minutes. Pour over the strawberries and stir in the lemon grass. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Then bring to a boil. Stir gently and skim the foam from the top. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the temperature reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. The jam should sheet from a metal spoon and a spoonful placed on a cold plate should gel within a few minutes. Remove the pieces of lemongrass.

4. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe the rim of each jar with a clean, damp cloth. Place a hot lid on each jar and screw down firmly. Turn upside down and let cool completely, at least 12 hours. Or, as each jar is filled and capped, place in boiling-water bath with the water 1 to 2 inches over the jars. When canner is full place cover on pot, bring back to a steady boil and process 5 minutes.Remove jars with a lifter and set on a rack or towel 12 to 24 hours. Store in a cool, dark place.


Nancy Silverton's Hot Fudge Sauce


Dsc_5313_2

Christmas is sneaking up on us unusually quickly this year. Or maybe it does this every year and every year I am surprised anew at how caught unawares I am. You'd think, by now, that the relentless reliability of it wouldn't quite discombobulate me so much, but it does. To make sure that gifts arrive before I take off for Berlin means I have to be done, really, with my shopping and crafting and noodling by - well - now. And that's just a kick in the pants.

I've taken to making at least a few of my gifts for people edible ones. That way, if there's a last-minute emergency, I don't have to wait for something to priority ship, I can just run down to the store and buy more syrup or chocolate. Last year, I made cashew brittle, which was a huge hit. And so, so easy. I mean, do-it-in-your-sleep easy. That's my kind of Christmas gift. I might just make it again this year, maybe for the people who didn't get any last year.

Dsc_5327

But I'll also be standing at my stove this year, simmering and whisking, until a thick, glossy, chocolate sauce comes together in a pot and I pour it into little glass jars, beribboned of course, to be doled out to deserving folks who need a little bit of molten chocolate to sweeten their holidays, to drizzle onto ice cream or pound cake, or simply to eat, from the fridge with a spoon, cold and fudgy and rich and complex.

Doesn't that sound like a lovely Christmas gift? Why, it's a good thing I can gift myself, too.

Dsc_5331

This might possibly be one of my oldest clipped recipes. It goes all the way back to 1998 and is a keeper, a category-killer, so to speak. First of all, it comes from Nancy Silverton, who happens to be a kitchen goddess of mine. Is there anything that lady touches that doesn't taste good? Second of all, it, too, is easy-peasy. You melt chocolate in one bowl, then boil together the rest of the ingredients (that most of us have lying about in our pantries already, thank goodness) in the other, then stir them together for a few minutes, whisk in some brandy and, hey presto!, you've got yourself a bubbling pot of hot fudge.

I love the high-sheen gloss on this stuff. It's gorgeously rich and keeps for months in the fridge, so you can jar little glasses of it and drop them off with people who you love. You'll have some very grateful friends, I guarantee. Fudge sauce makes anything better, wouldn't you say? Even the fact that Christmas is almost here.

Ba_blog_envy_bonaducce_green1_2

Featured on Bon Appetit's Blog Envy slideshow!

Hot Fudge Sauce
Makes 2 cups

7 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tablespoon instant coffee granules
3 tablespoons Cognac or brandy

1. Melt chocolate pieces in large stainless steel mixing bowl (or top of double boiler) over saucepan of gently simmering water. Be sure water does not touch bottom of mixing bowl to prevent chocolate from burning. Turn off heat and keep warm over warm water until ready to use.

   2. Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, cocoa powder and instant coffee to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly to dissolve cocoa powder and sugar and to prevent burning on bottom of pan.

   3. Whisk in melted chocolate. Boil hot fudge for few minutes to reduce to consistency you desire. It should be quite viscous and surface should have glossy shine. Cool slightly and beat in Cognac or brandy.