Preserves in Action: Baguette with Ricotta, Fig Jam, and Baby Arugula

baguette with ricotta, fig jam, arugula

On Monday night, I took a cheese class at Metropolitan Bakery with Madame Fromage and Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm (she is one of my very favorite Pennsylvania cheesemakers). It came just after a weekend in which I had taught and demo-ed enough to make my voice go hoarse, so it was doubly nice to sit back and let someone else do the teaching and explaining.

We began the tasting with an orienting sip of Birchrun’s raw milk, just hours from the cow and then, starting with fromage blanc, we sampled our way through six cheeses. There were slices of baguette and French berry roll from the Metropolitan ovens, and at the end, a little splash of madeira to drink with slices of Birchrun blue. It was one of the nicest evenings I’ve had in a while.

baguette with ricotta, fig jam, arugula

At the end of the class, we were packed off into a chilly night with warm cheeks and fresh baguettes. Scott is currently off carbs, so the work of eating this pointy loaf has been entirely mine (truly, it’s not a hardship). This morning, when I opened the paper bag, it was quite hard. Happily, I have a trick for refreshing bread that always works with Metropolitan’s loaves (they use a long fermentation period, which builds the interior structure and makes it more resilient).

I hacked off a chunk, sliced it down the middle and ran the pieces quickly under a dribbling kitchen faucet. I toasted the slices twice, once to help dry them out and again to give them some color. The end result is four-day-old toasted baguette that is flavorful, with just the right amount of crunch and chew.

Now, here’s where the Preserves in Action component comes in. I spread the toasts with fresh ricotta cheese (what I really longed for was Sue’s fromage blanc, but Claudio’s ricotta is a more than acceptable substitute), dolloped on fig jam, and piled up baby arugula. I added a few turns of a pepper grinder and breakfast was ready. This meal could easily serve as lunch, or if cut into smaller pieces, as a starter for a party.

Curious why I know so much about this bakery’s practices? Many moons ago, Scott and I used to make an online cooking show called Fork You and in one episode, we visited Metropolitan’s baking facility and made bread with James Barrett, one of the founders. The old blog appears to be corrupted, but the video is still available on Viddler’s blog if you’re interested in finding out more about them (and seeing the glasses I was wearing five years ago).

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Apple Date Chutney

apples, shallots, and dates

For the last couple of months, I’ve been ruminating on the idea of a chutney sweetened strictly with dried fruit. Though most chutneys typically have a goodly amount of raisins, currants, and dried apricots in them, they also rely on either brown sugar or honey to balance out the tang of the vinegar.

chutney prep

I wanted to see if I could make something delicious using just dried fruit as balance, without even a drop of honey or sugar. And so I called on dates. They pack a mighty wallop of sweetness and I had a hunch that they’d fit in nicely alongside shallots, apple cider vinegar, and star anise in a small batch of chutney.

finished chutney

Well, it worked, and on the first try, no less. This is a chutney that is gently sweet and mildly puckery. You get some of the date flavor in each bite, and that sweetness is backed up by the tiny, tender currants. The apples also do their part, though they carry more of the vinegar flavor than their natural sweetness.

apple date chutney

I used a little last night to perk up leftover chicken. When my sister gets here on Friday, we’re opening a jar to eat with crumbly cheddar cheese. And I have plans to swirl a little into plain yogurt to eat with my next batch of this curried chicken.

Note 1: I did use a little bit of crystallized ginger in this chutney, which does have a marginal amount of granulated sugar on the outside. But I see it as incidental in the grand scheme of things. If you prefer, you could use freshly grated ginger in its place.

Note 2: Remember that chutney is like wine in that it needs a little breathing time before it’s ready to serve. Open your jar at least half an hour before you serve it so that the intensity of the vinegar can mellow.

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Giveaway: Progressive International Lid Lifters

Progressive lid lifters

The Food in Jars giveaway took a bit of a break last week, but happily, I’m back with one of my very favorite canning tools. While I was down in the D.C. area over the weekend, I stayed with a dear friend who happens to live just a stone’s throw from a Crate & Barrel outlet. I am powerless in the face of such possible bargains and so we dashed in for a quick glance at the deals.

I picked up a few extraordinarily cheap Christmas ornaments, a holiday gift for my mom, and a handful of these lid lifters to share. To my mind, this Progressive International Lid Lifter is one of the best versions of this tool on the market. I find that the magnet is just a touch stronger than other lifters and I like the ring on the end (it allows you to extend your reach a little if you’ve dropped your lids in a deep pot of water to soften).

I have four of these lid lifters to give away. Here’s how to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me about your favorite bargain. .
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm east coast time on Saturday, October 26, 2013. Winners will be chosen at random (using random.org) and will be posted on Sunday, October 27, 2013.
  3. Giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email.
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Upcoming Classes, Events, and Canning Demos

class image revised

We’re deep into the harvest season and that means lots of classes, events, and book signings. Here’s were I’ll be in the next couple of weeks. Mark your calendars!

Events and Demos

This Saturday, October 26, I’ve got two free events.

  • At 10 am, I’ll be at Central Market in Lancaster City, PA as part of their Food Day/Week celebration. I’ll be showing how I make small batches of Pear Vanilla Jam, sweetened with honey. There will be fun and samples for all.
  • Then, from 1 to 5 pm, I’ll be at the Williams-Sonoma at the Bellevue in Philly as part of their Artisan Market. I’ll be leading a canning demo and then will be sticking around to sell and sign books.

On Sunday, October 27, I’m doing two demos at one event.

  • From 1 to 4 pm, I’ll be at the Lehigh Valley Harvest Festival, sharing the Fillmore Container Preserving the Harvest demo stage with Amanda Feifer from Phickle. I’m making Pear Vanilla Jam and Pickled Pears, Amanda is making Sauerkraut and Kefir. This event costs $25 per person, but is well worth the fee.

Classes

  • October 29 – Chutney making class with the Fair Food Farmstand at Reading Terminal Market. We’ll make a batch of apple pear chutney (using all local fruit) from 6-8 pm in the Rick Nichols Room. Click here to sign up.
  • October 30 – A hands on pickling workshop with the Lower Merion Conservancy. We’ll make cauliflower pickles, taste a few things from my pantry, and dig into the basics of the boiling water bath canning. Class runs from 7 – 8:30 pm and costs $35 for LMC members and $45 for non-members. Click here to register.
  • November 1 to 3 – Join me in Western Mass. for a weekend-long canning class at the Rowe CenterMore details can be found here.
  • November 16 – Spiced applesauce class at the Tyler Arboretum. We’ll cover the basics of boiling water bath canning and walk through the steps necessary to make a batch of delicious, low sugar applesauce. Class is from 10 am – 12 noon and costs $60 for Arboretum Members, $70 for non-members. For more details, click here and select the “Health and Wellness” drop down.
  • November 17 – Mulled Cider Jelly class at Wyebrook Farm in Chester County, PA. Class runs from 2 – 4 pm. Click here to sign up.
  • November 18 – Prep for Thanksgiving and make cranberry preserves with me at the Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market. Class is from 6-8 pm in the Rick Nichols Room. Click here to sign up.
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Preserves in Action: Pumpkin Butter Oats

pumpkin butter oats

A few weeks back, I unearthed a jar of this pumpkin butter from the far corner of my freezer. Since it was going on a year old, I pulled it out and have been making a point of eating my way through it (truly, it’s no great hardship). There are a number of  ways to use pumpkin butter to good effect, but my favorite is to stir a heaping spoonful into a pot of creamy morning oats. It’s both seasonal and delicious.

I’m not sure if this is common knowledge or not, but there is a secret to making creamy oats. The trick is to start with cold water and then cook the oatmeal over very low heat for ten or fifteen minutes. The slow heat gives the oats a chance to soften and release their starches. If you start with hot water and cook quickly, the oats never get a chance to soften and you wind up with a bowl of stiff oat flakes in runny grey liquid. Not my idea of an appealing breakfast.

For a single serving, I start with a scant 1/2 cup of old fashioned rolled oats, a generous cup of water, and a pinch of sea salt. I stir that together in a little pot, put a lid on, and set it over the lowest heat my stove can manage. While the oats heat, I check email, make tea, and generally putter around until the water around the edges of the pan is beginning to bubble just a little bit.

Once I see signs of simmer, I turn the heat up and stir vigorously. The water suddenly thickens and the oats soften. I stir in about two tablespoons of pumpkin butter (or apple pie filling or pear butter) and a splash of milk. When the oatmeal looks finished, I pull it off the heat and add a few toasted walnuts and some kind of dried fruit (right now, I’m partial to dried cherries).

It makes a really great autumn breakfast and uses up those jars of preserves to very good effect.

 

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Spiced Apple Pie Filling

pie filling line up

For a time when I was young, we lived in a house with a cluster of antique apple trees at the very back of our property. Thanks to this easy abundance, apples were one of the very first things I learned to preserve. In those days, my job was to help gather the windfall apples that seemed mostly whole until they filled a paper grocery bag. My mom did the rest, but I always stood by and watched.

apples for pie filling

Later on, I’d help peel and core the apples (I absorbed a lot while watching). Both my sister and I would offer opinions about how much spice to add to the pot on the stove and when the sauce was all done, we’d sit down with cereal bowls full of warm, spicy applesauce. When the rest of the batch was entirely cool, I’d hold open plastic zip top bags while my mom spooned in the sauce for the freezer.

sliced apples for pie filling

Later on, we added apple butter to our fall repertory, but never felt the need to venture beyond those two basics with our apples. Pie filling was most decidedly not on the agenda, mostly because pies happened just twice a year (Thanksgiving and Christmas) and so there was no need to be prepared for a spontaneous pie.

blanching apples

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve added pie filling to my personal canning routine and I’ve found it’s a nice preserve to have on the shelf. This time of year, a batch of apple pie filling is an easy way to put up several pounds of apples and it has a surprising number of uses beyond a basic pie.

sugar, spices, and clear jel

It tastes good stirred into oatmeal. If you have one of these old stovetop pie makers, you can make yourself a toasted hand pie with two slices of bread and a little smear of butter (it’s an especially fun project with kids). And, if you live in a household with an avowed fruit pie hater, you can make yourself a teeny tiny free form crostata with leftover quiche crust and a pint of filling. Not that I’d know anything about that.

apples becoming pie filling

When making pie filling, there are just a few things to remember. The first is that you need to use Clear Jel, not cornstarch (and if you can’t find Clear Jel, it’s best to can your filling without thickener and add a little cornstarch slurry just before using it). The second is that no matter the size of jar you use, you need to leave a generous inch of headspace. Pie filling expands during processing and really loves to ooze out of the jars when they’re cooling. Proper headspace can help prevent that.

pie filling close up

Third thing is that when you put the rings on your jars of pie filling, you tighten them just a little bit more firmly than you do for most other preserves. Often, you’ll hear me raving about how you don’t want to overtighten those rings but in this case, a little extra twist helps keep your product in the jars.

Finally, make sure to follow the instructions in the recipe and leave the jars in the canner for a full ten minutes after the processing time is up. Turn the heat off, slide the pot to a cooler burner, remove the lid and let the jars sit. This slower cooling processing will help prevent that dreaded loss of product. Really, the hardest part about making pie filling is keeping it in the jars once they’ve been processed.

pie filling air bubbles

Oh, and one more thing. Notice those air bubbles in the jars? Pie filling is thick and really likes to trap air pockets. Bubble your jars as well as you can, but don’t kill yourself over it.

For those of you who make pie filling, do you have any unconventional uses?

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