Sunday, July 10, 2011

Vermin 1, Me 0

I've been really sad about the garden.  We're still getting masses of cukes and have had several tomatoes. 

However, a bunny has found it's way into the garden & eaten my radicchio and some of the bean plants.  This actually happened over a week ago & I'm just now able to talk about it without feeling simultaneously furious and sad. (Pathetic?  Probably.)  I've surrounded the lettuces with a barrier of marigolds & plan to replace the mesh upper with wood that can't be chewed through. 

It's so sad when you lose living things that you've nurtured over months & months, ya know? 

What a Rotten Day, So I Made Jam & Booze

Know what's not fun?  Getting your purse stolen at your neighborhood grocery store while you're strapping your baby into their car seat.  It's just unnerving when something like that takes a place you felt safe, ya know? I'm trying to think of this thief as someone that really needs the money and not someone targeting a mother distracted by her child which would just be heartless.

This trip to the grocery was to buy almond extract for Blue Chair Jam's Brandied Cherry Conserve. After all the required calls to credit card companies, filing a police report, and reporting my license stolen, I found comfort in the familiar and repetitive movements of making jam.  (And, the Blanquette I had bought to celebrate overcoming an obstacle certainly helped as well, although this instead became a night of celebrating my blessings.)

Do you have the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook?  If you've mastered basic jam making, I highly recommend it.  The jams are a bit more time consuming and the ingredients are a bit more expensive but the result is a very interesting combination of flavors that turns the most ordinary morning toast a special treat.

My variation of her Brandied Red Cherry Conserve is meant to slap you in the face with cherry flavor.  And, it certainly does!  Besides being awesome on toast, try swirling this into your morning yogurt, top a bowl of vanilla ice cream or top a pound cake (especially a chocolate one!).

Brandied Cherry Conserve (makes about 6 half pints)
My variation of a Blue Chair Jam recipe

3 lb pitted and stemmed sweet cherries
1 1/4 lb sugar (make sure it's cane sugar...the cheap stuff is usually GMO beet sugar)
3 1/2 oz lemon juice
zest of 2 lemons
2 oz dried currants
1/2 lb dried tart cherries, chopped
2 1/2 oz cherry brandy
3-4 drops of almond extract
3 cloves

1. Prepare your canner & jars (wash & sterilize them in 10 minutes of boiling water).  Keep them in simmering water to stay warm.

2. Combine half the cherries with 10 oz of the sugar & half the lemon juice in a non-reactive pan.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often, and cook until the cherries are softened (about 5 minutes).  Turn off heat & let the cherries rest for 5 minutes.  Using blender/food processor/food mill/immersion blender, puree the mixture & put through a fine mesh sieve, discarding (or eating!) any solids that won't pass through.

3. In a large bowl, mix your cherry puree, the rest of the cherries, the rest of the sugar, the rest of the lemon juice, the dried fruit, lemon zest, brandy and almond extract (so, everything remaining except the cloves).  Let sit for 45 minutes at room temperature.

4. Put the macerated mixture back into your non-reactive pot & add cloves (preferable in a tea ball that you can easily get them out). Boil mixture, stirring to prevent sticking.  Cook until jam reaches gel point (testing either checking temperature to see if it's 220*F or using frozen spoons/plate).  This will be about 20 minutes.  When jam has gelled, remove cloves.

5. Fill jars leaving 1/4" head space, wipe rims, screw on lids & process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Let sit in bath for 5 minutes, off heat, afterwards & then remove.  Check seal after jars have cooled.

Boozy Cherries/Cherry-Infused Brandy (makes 1 quart)
After making above jam, I still had oodles of cherries left over, thanks to Whole Foods' wonderful $2.99/lb organic cherries sale!  After the day I had, more booze was necessary.  Cherry-infused brandy it is!  This will be great to drink as a cordial, spoon over ice cream, use in baking, give as gifts, etc.  Plus, it's significantly easier than making jam.

1 lb stemmed cherries (you can pit too, but then you'd need more)
1 3/4c brandy (get mid-grade)
1/4 c sugar
1 thin strip of lemon peel (optional)
Amaretto (optional)

1. Clean & sterilize jar.  Wash cherries.

2. Put cherries in jar.  Pour over sugar & brandy.  If using, add lemon peel and a splash of amaretto (note: Amaretto doesn't, according to my research, have enough alcohol to preserve the cherries, so just use a splash & do not replace the brandy with it).  Make sure cherries are completely covered; if not, add more brandy.

3. Place lid & shake to dissolve sugar.

4. Set in a cool dark place for at least 3 months to mature.