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.


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