Category Archives: Cooking At Home

Canning Confession

I’m scared of several things, most of them pretty standard, you know, snakes, heights etc. Well and one more, something involving hot boiling water and a very precarious process; canning. Despite living in Seattle and being friends with the Canvolution movers and shakers, until recently I wasn’t part of the play group. I take that back, I was an observer/student. Last summer Tea showed Sandra and I how to make delicious peach jam while eating Paseo sandwiches  in her kitchen. I took home a jar of jam and thoroughly enjoyed it on toast, but still a bit hesitant to venture on my own. Then I pickled this fall with the ladies of canvolution: Jeanne, Kim and Leslie; they thoroughly directed step by step letting me help with various tasks. I left with a few jars of pickles and a book on preserving, which I leafed through then set on the coffee table to be a glaring reminder that I was going to do this on my own. Post pickling, Patricia of Cook Local offered for me to join in canning tomatoes, so we processed many jars of local tomatoes. I happily assisted, pealing them and adding the lemon juice, consequently taking home pint-sized jars to enjoy throughout the year. Oh and another canning book. You see the trend? I’d yet to venture on my own canning adventure.

I did do a quick pickled red onion, but I don’t think that counts. There’s no sterilizing and the other oh so cumbersome steps in my mind. However, I knew what I wanted to make this winter, something I fell in love with on toast this summer. Marmalade. And then this Californian transplant’s favorite came into season, the infamous Meyer Lemon. It was time. I had to face my fears of solo canning. When mentioning my plan to my friend Chelsea, she remarked that she too had also wanted to try canning, but was afraid.

So this past Friday, we embarked together in her kitchen to make marmalade; facing our fears of canning together. She had the tools having purchased them on Craigslist awhile back. I found a recipe, bought Meyer Lemons and small 1/2 pint-sized mason jars. We set forth, discussing and questioning each step. Me, I copiously studied that back of the jar box. Do we boil the lids? I racked my brain for a reminder from previous canning experiences. I drew blanks. How do we keep the jars warm while we prepare the lemons? Post washing we used her oven at a low temperature to keep the sanitized jars warm (inspired by the Blue Chair Fruit method). As predicted, the simple “two-hour recipe” for these novices wasn’t exactly accurate. However we proceed to complete each step with a heavy dose of hesitation and precision. Chelsea and I are both bakers, we like the strict guidelines of a recipe. We blanched the rind wondering if there was too much membrane remaining, impatiently watching the water boil. Next we added the sugar and water, wondering if the thirty minutes wasn’t enough time to process and how thick should it be? About an hour later, we decided it was ready to be added to the jars. Afterwards I realized we missed the step to help remove any extra air bubbles. But that’s ok, it all turned out.

I put the jars in the hot boiling water using the special canning tongs. This is the step that scares me probably the most. I dislike emptying pots of boiling  pasta water, so pretty much this is akin to a HUGE pot of boiling water. Plus what happens if the jars fall- my skepticism in these tongs even with their plastic grip remains. Regardless, one by one, I added our five jars of marmalade to the pot. We set the timer and waited impatiently. Again, what’s the golden rule of cooking? Don’t watch water boil. After about 15 minutes we heard a pop, they were ready. I failed to mention one other canning experience that wasn’t so good, a demonstration that the jars didn’t make that popping sound. Anyways, I again removed the hot jars from the pot and placed them on the towel. And they all popped, like popping corn, a sound I’m very familiar with. I touched the lids to make sure they were hard which they were. Hurrah! We high-fived each other to celebrate our accomplishment. We had successfully canned on our own. To date this was my best canning experience. You know why? I had completed it without the help of friends who I let take the lead. Actually it was me taking a bit of the lead. This felt good. I knew I could do it. And when I open that jar of jam to add to yogurt or spread on a thick slice of brioche, I’ll know this was my creation. I overcame my canning fear. Next up, I will have to purchase my own canning supplies and tools. Then it’s official, I won’t be able to turn back. Facing your fears feels good. It feels silly seeing that so many peers do this all the time, but for me it was real. Thanks to all of my canning friends for the help along the way- without you, I’d probably still be avoiding preserving my own food. Or rather making excuses as to why I don’t need to can.

What have you avoided doing that you finally conquered your fear? Is there a kitchen task you avoid like the plague? I’m interested to hear others stories.

Around My French Table

A few months ago I had the opportunity to meet a celebrity.  No, not Justin Bieber. Way more exciting. Dorie Greenspan. Dorie’s a baking star, the author of many amazing cookbooks, especially devoted to desserts and Paris. I first remember learning about Dorie from my mom’s copy of Baking with Julia. Her recipes feel like home, her warm personality shines through making you feel like you are beside her in the kitchen.  In honor of the occasion, I bought her new cookbook, Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Meeting Dorie was a true pleasure, she’s as delightful in person as you would imagine from reading her cookbooks. She took the time to introduce herself to all of us attending the potluck arranged by my friend Myra (Seattle Bon Vivant). Each of us contributed something to the table, both sweet and savory from Dorie’s various books, all of which equally delicious.

Recently I’ve been cooking more in my tiny kitchen, finding new recipes from my favorite blogs, magazines and re-visiting cookbooks collecting dust on my bookshelf. However this week, I knew exactly the book I wanted to use, my newly signed copy of Around My French Table. Skimming through the book there were plenty of mouth watering recipes each with serving suggestions and variations or as Dorie coins “Bonne Idée.”  What I love about these classic recipes are that they are meant to be cooked in the home.  Most ingredients are simple, found in your local supermarket or farmers market; easily attainable for the average cook.

The first recipe I made was a take on a classic roast chicken, except with cognac. I’ve made my fair share of roast chickens and I can say without a doubt this variation was one of the most flavorful renditions yet. It reheated beautifully throughout the week. I literally scooped the sauce out in spoonfuls relishing the exquisite flavor. You can find the recipe here for M. Jacque’s Armagnac Chicken

But you want to know what really made me smitten for Dorie’s book. A lamb dish. Ironically I don’t like lamb. However her description of the aromatic spices infiltrating your house on a cold winters day made me want to branch out and try something new.  As Dorie explains, French cuisine has many Middle Eastern influences especially Moroccan thus the combination of cardamom, curry, figs, honey and apples in the braised lamb dish.  This dish converted me. I couldn’t get enough of the tender lamb. For that I owe Dorie.  Braised-Cardamom-Curry Lamb is the sort of dish that you’ll want to make on a Sunday afternoon, slowly simmering on the stove and one you’ll make not only for yourself, family but also guests. Also note, it freezes impeccably, re-heating just fine including in the microwave.

Braised Cardamon-Curry Lamb from Around My French Table

Yields 6 servings. Can also be served with rustic bread, wide egg noodles or a rice, but I found the dish perfectly filling on it’s own.

1 Small Mint Bunch (6 sprigs)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Large Onions Finely Chopped
6 Garlic Cloves (Peeled & Crushed)
2½ Tablespoons Madras Curry Powder
½ Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
4 Crushed Cardamom Pods
3 Pounds Boneless Lamb Shoulder
(Cut into 1″ chunks, excess fat removed & patted dry)
¾ Cup Water
1½ Teaspoons Honey
3 Dried Figs (Quartered)
3 Tablespoons Golden Raisins
9 Small Potatoes (I used Yukon Gold) Peeled & Halved
3  Tart/Sweet Apples (Such as Gala or Fuji, Peeled, Quartered & Cored)

1. Heat a large, heavy bottomed casserole or Dutch Oven (this is what I used) over low heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, when the oil is hot add the onions, garlic, curry powder, cardamom powder & pods. Heat, stirring often til the onions are translucent and soft for approximately 10 minutes.

2. Add the cubed lamb (which has been patted dry) and increase the heat to medium. If the mixtures seems dry you can add a bit more olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add the water. Tie the mint with kitchen twine,  remove the mint leaves & chop. Add the mint stems and half of the chopped mint. Also add the honey, figs and raisins.  Scatter the potatoes and apples over the meat. Season with more salt and pepper; bring the mixture to boil.

3. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, cover the pot with aluminum foil and cover with the lid. Braise for approximately 1 hour and 15-30 minutes. The meat and potatoes should be tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife.

4. Taste the juice, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the remaining chopped mint on top and ladle into shallow soup bowls.

Enjoy! Bon Appetit!

Source: Recipe from “Around My French Table” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010).