Currant Jelly

One of the great joys of summer for me is canning. My kitchen is always busy in July and August (and even into September), so I thought this year, we could talk about some of my experiments. I’m always tweaking an old recipe or trying a new one.

This month, I made currant jelly. I’ve had currant bushes for a long time, and we even moved the bushes from Toronto to this house. In Toronto, the birds didn’t care about the currants and I picked them each year. Here, I couldn’t figure out why there was no fruit. I’d go out one day and there would be currants ripening as well as green ones. I’d go out the next day and it would be the same. It took me a few days to realize that there were fewer and fewer green berries—and catching Mrs. Cardinal hiding in the middle of one bush—to realize that the birds were eating them all as they ripened. We had a bumper crop this year, though, and even Mrs. Cardinal couldn’t eat them all. I picked about 5 cups of currants and made jelly.

One interesting thing is that I realized I had three kinds of currants instead of two. I knew there were black currant bushes and red currant bushes – I thought two of each, but actually there are two different kinds of black currants out there.

Black currant bush in Deborah Cooke's gardenThe first one makes the biggest fruit and ripens last. The leaf is more frilly and the currants look like gooseberries before ripening. This kind also has a long tail on the berry from the flower, which is hard to remove without wrecking the berry. You can see some of the unripened fruit in this picture and one currant that’s half ripe—it’ll be black when it’s ready.

Black currant bush in Deborah Cooke's gardenThe other black currant has smaller fruit and ripens sooner. There are a couple of stray berries down in the middle of the photo. The leaf is very similar to that of the red currant and that combined with Mrs. Cardinal’s preference for its fruit is why I didn’t realize it was even a black currant, let alone a second kind. There’s almost no fruit left on this one as it ripens earlier, but notice how similar the leaf is to the red currant below. It is a brighter shade of green.

Red currant bush in Deborah Cooke's gardenThe red currant has fruit that looks almost like glass beads. These are pretty much done. There should be a stem of up to two dozen berries, but the stems on mine are usually bare—like that one on the right with just one berry!

I ended up with about five cups of berries, probably 40% black currants and 60% red ones. This is the balance suggested by this recipe so luck was with me, despite the mosquito bites.

I usually use commercial pectin when I make jam or jelly, but have a love/hate relationship with it. On the one hand, I like knowing that the jam or jelly will set. On the other, their recipes tend to require a lot of sugar and the result can be too sweet. Also, I know that people like my grandmother never used commercial pectin, so have been trying to learn how to make jam without it. I’ve tried lemon juice without a lot of success. My neighbor used to make her own crabapple juice from the fruit on the tree in her yard, then put a cup of that into each batch of jam or jelly. Liana Krissoff in Canning for a New Generation (a book I like a lot) uses sour apples to add pectin. That sounded similar to my neighbor’s solution, so I gave it a try this time.

I also didn’t want to make jam, as currants have lots of little seeds—they’re even worse than raspberry seeds for sticking in your teeth—so I mashed the fruit, added a half a cup of water, and set it to simmer. I peeled and cored two Granny Smith apples and added that to the mixture. Although the mash had to be strained and theoretically I could have left the skins and cores, there can be a lot of pesticides in the skin of fruit like apples, and I didn’t want that in my jelly. I never eat the skins so don’t cook with them either.

Once upon a time, I improvised a jelly bag by lining my sieve with a linen tea towel, then dumping the mash into it. I pulled up the corners and secured it all with an elastic band—like the kind you get on broccoli and inevitably save—then squished out the juice. This system worked well enough that I’ve kept using it. You’re not supposed to press the mash too much as all the books say it will make your jelly cloudy, but I mash the heck out of it to get every drop of juice. The leftover fruit mash from inside the tea towel goes immediately into the compost, because the fruit flies adore it and they’ll fill the kitchen in nothing flat.

I had two cups of very purple juice (and some happy fruit flies out in the composter).

This recipe, which is admittedly for jam not jelly, uses 2 cups of sugar for 490g of puree, plus the juice of half a lemon. There was 460g of juice, so I used 2 cups of sugar. Just to make sure it set, I used juice from the whole lemon. I followed these cooking directions, bringing it to a boil, then keeping it at a rolling boil for 8 minutes. Halfway through, I knew the jelly would set because it started to look like boiling burgundy glass.

Currant jelly made by Deborah CookeI can all my jams and jellies, even though people say you can just pour it into sterilized jars and leave it overnight. The hot jelly went into the jars, then spent 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. The lids popped right away. Is there a more satisfying sound? I don’t think so.

There were not quite 3 pints of jelly—this is the jar that wasn’t quite as full, and we’ll use it first. I’ll use the jelly to glaze fruit tarts—and that only takes 1/4 cup each time, so we have plenty. The color is fabulous and it tasted great (I licked all the spoons) plus it set beautifully!

More Good Food

Happy new year to you and all the best for 2018!

We had a quiet weekend, partly because it was snowing like mad and partly because putting the books in the book tree away tempted me to reorganize all the bookshelves. I even moved some bookcases, and rearranged the view.

We also had the second and third nights with GoodFood over the weekend and both meals were a success.

Our second night with the program was BBQ-Rubbed Steaks with Sweet Potato and Zucchini Hash. I forgot to take a picture of the ingredients, but here’s dinner:

BBQ Steak and Vegetable Hash

Once again, Mr. Math decided to barbeque the meat rather than cooking it inside. Their spice mixture made a kind of a crust that was really good. The vegetable mix was delicious, although there was a lot of it. I kept about a third of it for lunch the next day.

Finally, we had a brunchy dish, a Two-Cheese Vegetarian Strata. This had kale and spinach in it, with mozzarella and parmesan – and chunks of ciabatta bread.

Two Cheese Vegetable StrataMr. Math called it a savoury bread pudding, and it certainly was made the same way. We liked this, but when I make it again, I’ll leave out the nutmeg. This was the only meal to which I added anything—it came with a parsley and almond salad, but I cut up a couple of oranges for the salad. We had about a third of it left for the next morning, too.

All in all, we really liked this service and the recipes. The proportion of vegetables was consistent with how we eat and the mix of flavors was new. I feel like I learned some new tricks! I’ll make that vegetable hash again and the strata, too. So, we’re counting this experiment as a success and have ordered again from GoodFood.

First Night with GoodFood

I’m trying another meal kit delivery service this week called GoodFood. This one offers seven choices each week and is priced pretty much the same as Chefs Table, which we tried last week. (Here are the posts about night #1, night #2, and night #3 with that delivery service.) Three dinners per week for two people from GoodFood costs $65.00 CA

I liked these people quickly. Their newsletter is about ingredients – the first one I received was about lemongrass (how to choose it, how to prepare it, what it tastes like) which was featured in one of last week’s recipes. This week’s was about Romanesco sauce, which is featured next week in one of their selections. They also emailed me recipes I hadn’t chosen, in case I wanted to try them out. The assumption here seems to be that you like food. We do!

Our box came yesterday and was very similar to the Chefs Table box – except that this one was not just insulated but lined with foil. The fish was frozen. I’ll guess that it was shipped that way and, given that it’s 30 degrees below zero here, it stayed that way en route. We always eat the fish first from such services, just to make sure it’s fresh, so I had to thaw it out. I immediately noticed that the bags were bigger. They were filled with more vegetables. Yay! Also the fish was very similar to the vacuum-packed and frozen-at-source halibut fillets that I buy at our favorite fishmonger.

Last night’s dinner was Pistachio-crusted Haddock & Clementine Relish. It was served with fennel and red onions, as well as Jerusalem couscous with arugula and orange. Here are the ingredients:

Goodfood Haddock 1

Everything was in really good shape. The fennel had frozen, probably en route, but I freeze fennel all the time. Since it was going to be cooked, I knew it would be fine. The mint and the arugula were very fresh and the oranges were lovely.

I don’t eat nuts, so I dredged my fish in just the olive oil, spice mixture and panko crumbs. I then added the pistachios to the panko, and Mr. Math got them all. There were no complaints. I also cheated on cutting the orange free of the membrane, since I still have trauma from Miss Connor’s Grade 7 Home Economics class, in which we had to remove the membranes from one grapefruit and one orange each to make a fruit salad. I removed the pith of the orange last night and chopped up the fruit along with its membrane. We survived just fine.

Here’s Mr. Math’s dinner:

Good Food Haddock 2

I decided not to mix all the vegetables and couscous together, but to arrange them as fish, veg and carb. The clementine and mint relish is piled in the middle. The incredible thing about this meal was that there was So. Much. Food. My plating had smaller servings and there was 1/4 of the fennel/onion and probably 1/3 of the couscous left. We ate the extra vegetables and some of the extra couscous, but there was just too much. This is astonishing, considering that Mr. Math is shoveling snow right now, but there it is.

The meal was delicious. The mix of savory and the sweetness of the oranges was just awesome. I loved it. This was my favorite of the meals so far. Tonight, we’ll try another from this company, then we have a brunchy egg thing for New Year’s Day.

Night #3 with Chef’s Plate

Last night was our third meal of the week with Chef’s Plate. It was Seared Steak & Italian Peperonata Sauce, with roasted peppers and garlic pepper hasselback potatoes. I didn’t take a picture of the ingredients (I forgot) but here’s Mr. Math’s dinner:
Seared Steak from Chef's Table cooked by Deborah Cooke

This meal was our favorite of the three. There were comparatively a lot of potatoes and not so much green veg, but there was a lot of onion and pepper garnish. We didn’t add a salad on this night, but we did modify the instructions. Mr. Math is a firm believer that if you’re going to have a steak, it should be barbequed. The instructions called for it to be seared in a frying pan then cooked in the oven. He recoiled in horror, then told me he’d barbeque. So, I did the potatoes and brussel sprouts in the oven, as instructed, and the peperonata sauce in the skillet while he grilled the meat. I also looked up the cut of beef because I didn’t know it (a flat iron steak, which is evidently a new thing) and we decided to marinate it a bit first, which wasn’t in the instructions.

It was delicious, a real Friday night meal but on a Thursday. This menu was the most similar to what we usually cook. So, ironically, we tried this service to get new ideas yet our favorite meal was the one most like our usual cooking. On the other hand, I’ve never “hasselbacked” potatoes before and I didn’t think brussel sprouts would cook so quickly or so well in the oven. We both really liked the peperonata sauce, so we’ll definitely do this again, perhaps with steaks. Again, we nicked a piece of beef for the New Girl and didn’t miss it, so the portions were generous. We did the 2/3 – 1/3 split and everyone was happy. (Even the New Girl.)

So, where do we stand after our three nights of Chef’s Plate? I did enjoy it. It was nice to not be thinking about dinner, doing menu planning or making lists for the grocery store. (Mr. Math is such a foodie that he asks me at breakfast what’s for lunch and for dinner.) I liked not having to think about dinner until 5, then just opening the bag and following the instructions. The only grocery shopping we did this week was for basics—salad ingredients, milk and bread. Lunches and breakfasts. I did learn a few new things and we tried some new recipes, which was great. We also had no desire to go out for lunch or dinner.

On the other side of things, I do have that sense that I’ve eaten out a lot this week, even though I haven’t. I suspect it’s the salt. We cook with very little salt, so always notice it when we eat out. The Spicy Pork Sausage Ragu, for example, had a whopping 1880 mg of sodium per serving. (Health Canada advises that adults eat 1000 to 1500 mg of salt per day and not exceed 2300 mg per day.) Tonight’s meal had 590 mg of sodium. Although the calorie count is on the website as well as the ingredients, the other nutritional information is only included on the recipe card. Since it’s not on the website when you choose your menu, you don’t know until your food arrives what the sodium (or carbohydrate or whatever else) count will be. This is less than ideal, especially if you are on a diet of some kind, whether it be low-sodium, Weight-Watchers, or whatever. On a similar note, these services are not geared to people with allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances.

I also feel a lack of vegetables in my life. We eat a lot of vegetables, probably more than the recommended 5 – 10 per day, and while I ate salad at lunch each day, I’m ready to have more vegetables again. These recipes tended to the carbs (potatoes, pasta, and rice) and we tend to the green vegetables. That’s a personal preference and I can’t expect them to skew to that. Tonight, for example, there were 8 fingerling potatoes included and six brussel sprouts. Even though they were big sprouts, at 3 sprouts and 4 potatoes each, if I’d been planning the servings myself, the count would have been at least the other way around. (I am known to cook 7 -8 brussel sprouts per person. They’re good for you.)

I’m also looking forward to cooking something from scratch today.

As far as Chef’s Plate itself goes, the recipes were clear and easy to follow. The order was delivered promptly and the meat was very fresh. I thought the vegetables were less than ideal (we had celery and parsley for the first night, and sugar snap peas for the second), but it is Canada in December and celery has been very disappointing of late. There is a lot of packaging with such a service, but it can be recycled. And there is less food waste—if I buy a whole bunch of disappointing celery and end up chucking half of it, Mr. Math accuses me of buying compost. So, there’s something good about having just what you need.

I didn’t order for next week, because I was concerned about the sodium. (I sent them a message asking them to add that information to their website.) We’ll be trying a different service during Christmas week called Goodfood. They’re out of Montreal and another Canadian option. I like that they list all the nutritional information on the website, so I can see the sodium etc. before I order. If you want family options, they seem to have more of them so are a good site to check out. I’ll let you know what we think.

And tonight, I’m making a quiche with a great big salad. 🙂

If you’d like to give Chef’s Plate a try, use this referral link to get three plates free in your first week. If it doesn’t work, enter #3platesFromDebC at checkout for the discount.

Night #2 with Chef’s Plate

The experiment continues with our menu delivery service. This week, we’re trying Chef’s Plate. Yesterday, I posted about our first meal, Spicy Pork Ragu, and today I’ll be talking about meal #2, Saffron Chicken Paella.

First off, several people yesterday wanted to know what was in the bag. Here’s a picture of what was included and how it was packaged—this is after I took it out of the big box with the cooler packs:
Chef's Table, ingredients

So, there was the recipe card (far right) along with all of the ingredients. The recipe card has illustrated instructions on the back:
recipe card, back

Once again, I thought this meal called for a salad. The interesting thing is that I think most meals call for a salad, but when I’m planning the main dish, I don’t get around to making the salad. Using a service like this means that I DO make the salad. Yesterday, I bought a box of mixed greens and while the paella was simmering, I made two salads. Mr. Math even got some red onion, which he loves.

Then there was the paella. This was a very good meal. There was a lot of chicken. (I actually nicked a piece of chicken for the New Girl when it was browned, as she gets a bit of lean protein on her dinner.) I did cut the chicken filets into smaller pieces and I did remove the tendons from them. As always, I was worried about there being enough for Mr. Math (Viking and snow shoveller) but I split the two servings so that he had 2/3 and I had 1/3—we both were happy. (I don’t think I could have eaten another bite.)

Here’s his dinner:
Spanish Paella from Chef's Table made by Deborah Cooke

As a bonus, he told me about his visit to Spain while we ate, which happened before we met (all those years ago). It’s interesting—I always thought arborio rice (which is the rice used in risotto) took ages to cook and had to be cooked very slowly, but this was cooked in just 15 minutes.  Another bonus of this is that we’re learning new cooking skills and a little bit more about food!

I have next week booked. I like the idea of knowing what’s for dinner on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and that it’ll take less than an hour to prepare. (Most of the recipes take 20 to 30 minutes.) Chef’s Plate isn’t delivering the week of Christmas, so I’m going to try another service that week. Although we will have the turkey leftovers, I’m thinking we’ll also be glad of a break from them.

If you’d like to give Chef’s Plate a try, use this referral link to get three plates free in your first week. If it doesn’t work, enter #3platesFromDebC at checkout for the discount.