Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jam Plan & the Chutney Challenge

Yeah, so I can't let anything go to waste.  I am officially my mother.

You know when you optimistically buy a pound of fruit, thinking "I'll eat all this today"?  And the next day you forget about them, and the third day it doesn't look as appetizing... and after that it's a lost cause.

So about half a pound of red, green and purple grapes were sitting there getting mushier by the day.  Enter the Jam Plan.

Since I didn't find any recipes to my liking, of course I made it up.  One noteworthy piece of info I came across: the difference between jelly & jam.

To start:
First, discard any yucky brown ones.  Remove all the stems and give them a good wash.  Most of the recipes I saw called for you to peel the grapes, but I'm not wasting a lot of time peeling grapes for week-old fruit I'm just trying to give another shot at life.  So I threw everything whole into a small pot with a little water and a squeeze of lemon juice, turned it on high and hoped for the best.

After a few minutes the grapes will get to cooking, but they don't really pop and burst the way cranberries do.  Add some sugar (I only used maybe a 1/2 cup).  You could throw the grapes in the food processor, or keep cooking until they break down, but I got impatient and decided to use my trusty immersion blender.  Warning: put your apron on first (screamin hot grape goop splattered on arms and neck = NAGL).

Let it cook for a while longer until it thickens.  When you drop a bit onto a cold plate, it should gel up immediately.  But you can eyeball it like I did.

I was curious what color jam I'd get since I used tri-color grapes, but as you can see, purple dominates!

I like toast and jam.

I've done this with strawberries as well.  If you've got apples or mangoes, you can make chutney by adding some onion, vinegar and spices.  Use it to top baked brie or pork!  If you don't wanna wing it, find some recipes here and here that I've used in the past.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Holiday Gift-Giving: Super-Chunky Christmas Cookies in a Jar

Don't show up to a party empty-handed.

I got that bit of party etiquette advice somewhere, and it stuck.  Even when someone says "You don't need to bring anything, just yourself!"  Bringing your own supply of booze is a no-brainer, or a bottle of champagne if you're celebrating an occasion.

I find that bringing a gift for the hostess always does a little something to ease my party-attending anxiety.  "Oh, that was just a courtesy invite?  Well here's a present."

Prior to Xmas I was invited to two housewarmings and felt compelled to provide something.  But what if the hostess isn't drinking because she's pregnant/Mormon/on medication/in recovery/a teetotaler?  There are few truly universally appreciated housewarming gifts.  Cookies are consumable, but during the holiday season, sweets are already pretty played out.  Dumping two dozen cookies on someone who already has two pounds of See's candy to work through?  Just plain wrong.

So, here you go:  Cookies in a Jar.  Also known as "I put all the ingredients together for you... you can make it whenever the cookie mood strikes you" (or your husband, or your kids).  And it looks good just sitting on your countertop until you get around to it.

This recipe is adapted from the Food Network here.

First of all, it looks really cute.  But it was a little bit of a pain figuring out how to make it work, and the amounts given didn't quite fill up my jar, so be prepared to add a little extra of the cashews, M&Ms, chips, coconut, etc.

Step 1 is to put the fine ingredients in first, and the heavy ones in last, so I have reversed the order the ingredients appear, lest you start dumping everything in a jar without reading ahead:

Start with a 1 1/2-liter glass jar (I got mine at Crate & Barrel, but you can handily order them online here)

Super-Chunky Christmas Cookies Ingredient List
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (or regular cocoa powder, sifted first)
3/4 teaspoon salt (or... leave this out if you accidentally bought salted cashews, like I did)
1/2 cup chopped cashews
3/4 cup red and green M&M's (or some other fun, season-appropriate combination of colors)
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
1 cup toasted shredded coconut

So how to get it to look nice and neat?  If you dump the flour in the bottom, it will cloud up the rest of the jar.  My boyfriend came up with this parchment paper funnel:

See how I used my cute Crate & Barrel Xmas bag to obscure the messy kitchen background?

Slowly lift up the paper and gently shake the jar until the flour fills the bottom, then repeat with the cocoa.

Not bad.
I added the cashews next, placing a layer around the sides of the jar and then filling up the center, to get a clean look.  Don't make the first mistake I did and drop them in from the top... they will drop like asteroids into a sandy chocolate desert and create a dust cloud of extinction-level proportions in your nice clean jar.  The mouth of these jars is wide enough to get your whole hand in, as long as you do a small handful at a time.

Repeat the layers through the coconut, remembering to add a little extra to each layer as you go, if it doesn't look like you are going to reach the top with the specified amount.

The finished product.
I finished mine off with a little ribbon and tied the recipe to it (and on the back, identified the ingredients inside, in case of kid allergies).  I printed it up with a cute font, but you could also handwrite it for a personal touch:

Beat 1 1/4 cups sugar and 1 stick butter with a mixer until fluffy. Beat in 1 egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Add the cookie mix and stir until well combined. Scoop big round cookies (about 2 heaping tablespoons each) onto a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until set, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a rack.
It takes a little time (I don't recommend doing this in a hurry), but these jars were really fun to give, and the color combos are limitless: pink and red for Valentine's, Reese's pieces for Halloween... what about red and gold for Niner fans?!

Of course, now I need to bake them myself to see how the cookies turn out :)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Holiday Egg Nog

What is better at Christmastime than touring the Fabulous 40s neighborhood of East Sacramento to check out the gorgeous holiday light displays?  Doing so with a mug of nog...  'Nuff said.

This recipe is not for the faint of heart, small children, the elderly, those who may be pregnant or nursing... you get the idea.  If you live in fear of salmonella or raw egg poisoning, you can cook it over low heat on the stove.  But I prefer to live dangerously.

5 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1 pint heavy cream
2/3 cup brandy, or to taste
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Blend on high for 60 seconds or until frothy.

Try not to drink it all at once.  Enjoy!