Thursday, January 28, 2010

Win Some, Lose Some

The first month of my Resolutions is drawing to a close and it’s time to report on my progress. I was actually much more productive than I had planned to be in the beginning but then started to lose steam towards the end, which probably has more to do with my “failure” than my actual motivation.

First, the good news, AKA my Most Surprising Success in the Kitchen So Far. AKA Jalapeno Jelly! What gave me the idea to make this? You’ll be sorry you asked. For book club this month our food theme was camping. Camp food on a Tuesday night that I could make in half an hour and needed to be portable for the drive to Sisters. Yeah, sure. So I brilliantly thought of corn bread. Which seemed kind of plain and too easy and not really that brilliant, so I thought of bringing honey butter to go with it and then that still seemed too easy. Then it came to me – jalapeno jelly. It goes well with corn bread and fit in with my New Year’s Resolutions so well. Yes, this is really how I think. My mind wanders aimlessly like this all day long. Sometimes I’ll be talking to someone and I’ll say something that sounds totally random to them but it started from something five subjects back and makes total sense to me. Really, people just need to pay better attention when conversing with me.

Anyway, I found a recipe that looked really easy. In fact, its simplicity completely distracted me from the fact that I would actually be Canning. Yeah, like I moved to Little House on the Prairie. I have never canned in my life, I’ve never even known anyone who has canned. I think maybe my mom tried once. Because we had a plum tree in the back yard that was always dropping a crapload of plums on the ground and she was trying to clean them up. But I don’t think we ever used it. Or she did it wrong. Obviously it left a huge impression on me.

I found cute little jars, not the regular boring kind. I bought fruit pectin (FYI, it’s cheaper at Freddie’s than Safeway). I bought my peppers, carried it all home, turned on some salsa music and set to work. I will say right now that the hardest part of the process was chopping the peppers. Of course they had to be minced into small pieces, who wants to bite into a chunk of pepper in their jelly? This really only emphasized my need for a food processor. In went my minced peppers, cider vinegar and sugar. A freaking butt-load of sugar.

I followed the recipe to a T but then got a little worried. My jelly wasn’t yet jelling when I poured it into the jars. I reread the recipe and the reviews and what I could Google and learned it could take up to a week for it to set. So I waited. An hour. Then another hour. Then two hours. Then the next morning. I had made it on a Saturday night and needed it to be ready on Tuesday.

Tuesday came. I quickly baked my cornbread, mixed up my honey butter and examined the jars of jelly, choosing one that looked more solid than some of the others. When it came time to open the jar, I pried open the seal and was overjoyed at hearing a little ‘pop’. Properly sealed? Check. I wasn’t the only one in the room impressed by that small success.

The real success came at tasting time. It was a little runnier than I had hoped for but more than made up for it with flavor. Sweet with the perfect mix of slightly spicy. (I plan on making the next batch spicier; I just wasn’t sure how many seeds to throw in this time and didn’t want to kill anyone.) Compliments and kudos were received from the group and I went home with a jar two-thirds empty.

At first I thought eight jars would be much too much for me to ever consume, but I’m already almost all the way through my second jar. Which, by the way, had set perfectly by the time I opened it, again with the happy little pop! The Sunday following book club I topped some cream cheese with my jelly and spread it on crackers for brunch. I’ve used it on chicken tacos, which inspired me to mix it with sour cream for a sauce on enchiladas. It was delicious on a sandwich with turkey and brie. Mmmm….

One new recipe down for the month, one to go. With such a dazzling success, I thought I could only do better on the next one. Really? Not so much.

Hollandaise was next on the agenda. I had a friend who tried it, raved about it and passed on the recipe. With the caveat that it was like a workout. Which I’m not so much into. I really don’t like to sweat in my kitchen. I found a blender recipe and was trying to ignore the fact that it seemed like cheating when I found a blender recipe in Julia Child’s book! Hey, if Julia was willing to endorse it, I was willing to try it. In the end it had a really pretty color, and a really nice consistency that didn’t separate as it cooled. But it was just bland. I wasn’t wowed by the taste, not even a little bit. I’ll try it again with some different ingredients added; I just might need some different guinea pigs next time.

This leaves my score so far at 1 – 1. Really the jelly is so good it should count as two points. I’m already planning my Christmas gifts this year. That’s right, everyone is getting jelly. Sangria jelly? Pomegranate jelly? I’m definitely making mint jelly for my dad this Father’s Day.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

With This Ring I Me Wed

Remember that SATC episode where Carrie goes to a baby shower and the hostess makes her take her $300 shoes off in her house because she’s afraid shoe germs will kill her kids and then someone steals them? And then Carrie tells the hostess that she should replace her shoes because it was her stupid rule about not spreading germs from shoes in her house to kill her kids that caused her shoes to get stolen? But the stupid woman says that nobody should ever spend $300 on shoes because she obviously has no taste in shoes? So Carrie sends out a wedding announcement that she is marrying herself and she registers for the shoes she wants replaced and they arrive gift-wrapped? Yeah, I love that one too.

And it gave me an idea. It seems that my New Year’s resolution has unleashed the Suzie Homemaker/Martha Stewart/Julie Child-wannabe within me. It seems to keep growing. Two recipes-I’ve-always-wanted-to-try-but-was-too-afraid-to didn’t seem like enough for a whole year. I decided to try one for each month. But now I have all of these ideas just jumbling up my thoughts and they’ve caused me to realize I am missing quite a few kitchen accoutrements to help me fulfill my culinary dreams. Seriously, I would need to get a second job to obtain all of these newly coveted items.

Then it came to me - why don’t I marry myself so I can use a bridal registry and have other people buy them for me? Genius. Even better? Nobody is required to travel, sit through some boring ceremony for a marriage they don’t even think will last (except this one will. I’ll never leave myself.) and I don’t have to shell out a fortune for a wedding. I just get stuff. Yay me!!

Here it is, then. My list. In no particular order of priority or price. (I do firmly believe in thank you cards, so you will get a small token in return.)

1. Food processor. How have I gone so long without one?
2. Tart pan. Regular size and smaller sizes would also be appreciated.
3. Pepper mill
4. Crock pot. I know! I can’t believe I’ve never bought one either! You’ll have the pleasure of giving me my first one!
5. Mortar and pestle.
6. Crème brulee torch and crème brulee dishes.
7. Cheese grater. One of those electric ones. Jen will also send you a thank you because she’s probably tired of being my cheese grating bitch.
8. New knife set. Mine are desperately dull.
9. Pasta press. For when I’m feeling really ambitious.
10. Lemon zest grater. Or lime zest grater. Or orange zest. Just whatever kind of citrus I want to zest. I might even just wave it around while I say “zest!”
11. Cooper Cooler. I had one once and it broke. Or I wore it out. It is the best way to chill wine. Ever. Unless you like to keep your labels intact. But they’ll be my labels so you don’t have to worry about that.
12. Cordial glasses. They’re cute. And fancy. Just like me.
13. Kitchen Aid stand mixer. This isn’t a must, this is really more for the rich aunt who likes to show off her enormous wealth. Except I don’t have one of those. I do like the way the shiny stand mixers look though, so I had to add it.
14. Cooking With Booze. It’s a book I found at the library and loved but didn’t steal because I want my own brand new pretty copy. It has recipes that include booze plus drinks to make with said boozy food. How can you go wrong mixing the two? You can’t. Buy the book. For me. Then you can get your own copy.

That’s my list. In all of its bridal glory. For those of you that don’t believe in same-self marriage, I understand and am generous enough to remind you that I have a monumental birthday coming up. You can call it a birthday present if that makes it easier for you.

Happy shopping!
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