Monday, May 30, 2011

obsessed i tell you

I've been away for a bit. Trying to get ready for Wakarusa this week, getting loose ends at work tied down, etc. And canning, canning, canning. Seriously. I am so addicted it's ridiculous. Rhubarb, blackberry, strawberry, you name it, I've been turning it into jam. This is the first summer of canning for me, and as I do before embarking on any new project, I did a LOT of homework. I hate starting something and then realizing I'm missing a piece of equipment, or a key step in the process. I usually read at least 10 or 12 different sets of instructions before I start, as well. I look for the common theme, or steps in each one and then I feel like I have a good baseline for whatever I'm about to undertake.

I like to call it "being neurotic thorough."

So, what I figured out is that generally speaking all basic fruit jams require fruit, some sort of acid, and sugar (or some form of sweetener.) Equipment-wise, you need (obviously) jars, lids and rings; a big pot for sterilizing jars and lids, as well as for processing the filled jars; another pot for actually making the jam; and wooden spoons. It also helped to get one of those "canning starter kit" things with the jar lifter (unless you enjoy plunging your hands into boiling water to fish out hot jars), the magnetic lid/ring lifter, and the funnel. I think it was around 7 bucks at my local King Soopers.

Once I had all the stuff, and a pretty good idea of how this whole thing was meant to work, off I went. I started with rhubarb, but me being me, I couldn't just do it like the recipe said. I had to PLAY. I ended up with a really rich, nicely spreadable rhubarb/brown sugar/vanilla jam that tasted amazing with goat cheese on a cracker. However, it wasn't exactly something I would eat with PB&J. A little went a long way.

Then I found some blackberries on sale. The blackberries, combined with lots of lemon juice, about 1 1/4 cups of cherry cider, and 3/4 of a cup of sugar, made a nice... something. Still following the basic order given by all the recipes I saw, I added a package of liquid pectin to it. What I got was not jam. The flavour was there, and I was delighted to have a lower sugar product, but I think what I essentially made was pie filling. Didn't stop me from eating it on bread with some peanut butter, though.

And then I read something on Twitter that changed things a bit. Someone tweeted that most fruits have enough pectin in them all on their own, and if you just let the ingredients cook down low and slow, you don't even need to add the liquid pectin.

So I tried it with rhubarb, and whadda ya know? They were right! At least, for rhubarb. I had the time, so I just set the heat on low and wandered back over every 10 or 15 minutes to give it a stir. A couple hours later, I had a lovely rhubarb jam that hadn't required any extra pectin at all.

Last night, I made a couple pints of strawberry, hoping to be able to do the same thing. The liquid was definitely reducing, but it was still liquidy, so after two and a half hours of playing with the heat I got impatient and added the liquid pectin. It thickened right up in about 10 minutes, and it was jam, not pie filling. Whew!

I'm pretty excited to have figured out this whole jam thing. I'm still learning, of course, and am by no means a Jam Master, but I do feel relatively confident that A) I'm not going to kill anyone and 2) my jams taste good.

And, not that they read this blog, but I have to thank my co-workers for being my gracious band of guinea pigs. I've handed off a jar of every experiment to someone at work, and the feedback has been constructive and mostly positive.

I have a whole folder full of jam recipes I've bookmarked to try throughout the summer. I'm also starting to seriously get into designing some cute labels for them. I'm having daydreams about gift baskets and charity jam sales, so I'm sure this isn't the last you'll hear from me about all this canning nonsense.

And with that, I'm off to finish packing for my (as the boss calls it) "dirty hippie rock music festival." have a great week!

Monday, May 16, 2011

In which I use the word "bounty" multiple times for my own enjoyment.

Last week-- last Friday to be exact, I made a decision. I am so in love with my local Saturday Farmer's Market that I think everyone should be able to partake in its bounty. (That's one!) When I get an idea in my head, in this case, that everyone should experience fresh, local, in season fruits and vegetables and other whatnots as often as possible, it doesn't go away. So, next month I will hold my very first Farmer's Market Dinner. I've invited 10 people, fully expecting maybe half of that number to actually make it. Whether one person or all 10 show up, I'm pretty excited about this idea.

Here's what will happen:
On the morning of Saturday, June 18th, I will get my ass to my local farmer's market early enough to get first pick of whatever (here it comes again) bounty it has to offer. I'll develop the menu in my head as I shop, and by the time I leave there I will have determined, approximately, what each course will be, from appetizers to dessert. I'll come home, write out the menu, make my final tweaks, and get to prepping. By 6:30pm that evening, I will have prepared three courses made entirely (except for seasoning) of food procured at the market.

If I decide to be REALLY ambitious, I will also prepare a little goodie, also made from my farmer's market (hahahahaha) bounty, for my guests to take home with them. Who doesn't love going home with a present? Especially an edible one!

I am fully confident that this whole plan can and will be executed as planned, because my local market has the best, friendliest vendors with the best, freshest, most beautiful and delicious (wait for iiiiit...) bounty. I'm excited to share it with my friends because I honestly feel like there is no better way to demonstrate to people how much better fresh, locally produced food is than to make something delicious out of it and shove it directly into their faces.

A friend suggested that I do this every month. We'll see how the first one goes, but I would LOVE to have the opportunity to convert even more people with my (oh boy oh boy oh boy) bounty. Or at least, give them the opportunity to experience a totally local meal at least once.

Folks, I grew up a Jehovah's Witness. I know how to proselytize. No, I'm not going to be waking your sleepy tookus up out of bed on a Saturday morning to force feed you an heirloom tomato. But, if I can combine all the things I love (cooking, food, feeding people, and shopping local) into a way to spread a healthy, happy message, you can bet your sweet bippy I'mma jump at the chance.

I leave you with this one final thought.... you ready for it?


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some things are just better in the dark

Earlier this week, I performed a very unscientific poll. I asked my Facebook and Twitter friends, "What's your favourite midnight snack?"

I expected the answers to be all over the place. I thought about all the different things for which I have a hankering in the middle of the night, and assumed that most of you would be equally as... diversified.

Turns out, notsomuch. Since the poll was, indeed, quite unscientific, I don't feel right in publishing official results. But that doesn't mean I didn't learn anything.

A lot of people really like popcorn. I get that. It's easy, especially if you keep a stockpile of the microwave kind. You can season it any way you want, so whether you're in the mood for salty or sweet, you're set. I'm hoping those of you who read this post will share a bit. How do you season it? Do you use the microwave stuff or do it old school? Salty or Sweet? Have you indulged in this newfangled trendy stuff they call truffle salt on your popcorn?

My favourite way to have popcorn comes from a full on food memory from childhood. I had a Super Cool babysitter called Jill, who once made us a giant bowl of popcorn and then proceeded to season the whole thing with curry powder! She said, "I know it sounds weird, but it's good! You don't have to eat it this way if you don't want to." I'll admit, the popcorn turned bright marigold and for a minute I thought "curry powder" might just be a fancy name for "cheese." But no, SO much better! If you've never tried it, and you are a fan of curry, I highly recommend it.

Some people apparently try to still keep it healthy, even in the midnight hour (when calories don't count, right?). Apples and almond butter was one of the more appetizing combinations I saw. Basic, but satisfying. One of the most intriguing responses involved cucumbers sprinkled with white pepper and cayenne. Definitely giving that one a try.

And then, finally, after 10 or 12 responses I got the question that was sort of floating around in my head the whole time, "Drunk or sober?"

Yes, there IS a difference. Our ability to hold it together on the "good food choices" front does seem to fall apart when alcohol is involved. The difference in responses was clearly split right down the middle.

Healthy: popcorn, fruit, veggies, cheese and crackers, yogurt

Not Healthy: Doritos, Taco Bell, 7-11 Nachos, greasy cheeseburger "followed by instant remorse."

My favourite in the dark food indulgence to this day is one I put together while stoned. Vanilla Bean ice cream, with a healthy handful (or three) of Fruity Pebbles sprinkled on top. Seriously. SO. DELICIOUS.

Do you have a "go to" drunk snack? Or maybe just a food you only seem to crave after the sun has gone down, or after a night out?

I honestly believe the whole concept of the midnight snack is that it's meant to be a little bit naughty. Maybe I just watched too much television as a child, but all the midnight snackage scenes I can think of involve a dark, stealthy trip to the kitchen, a single utensil, and sneaking bites of leftover spaghetti, chocolate cake, ice cream, etc. by the thin light of the refrigerator. Of course, if you're an habitual midnight snacker, maybe you wanna stick with the apples or the cucumbers. But, if you're like me and it happens just every once in awhile, I say eff the rules you follow all day, grab a spoon (not one of those pansy ass tea spoons, either) and let yourself be a little bad. Being bad can be fun, especially if you're doing it in the dark.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

These are My People

As evidenced by the very fact that I've started a food blog, I like to talk about food. I like to talk about what I do with food, what other people do with food, and how we can all do better/different/new things with food. I know other people who enjoy food, and even like to cook, but I personally don't know very many people who could spend the better part of an evening discussing why bone marrow isn't gross, or why one Pho joint is superior to another, or whether molecular gastronomy is just a fun, edible science experiment or a valid set of culinary methods.

In fact, those are conversations I would LOVE to have with someone, but as of yet, I haven't really found many who are willing to. Not for hours. I love my friends, but I think I know most of them well enough to realize that when they stop making eye contact, and they start inserting Non sequiturs like, "I think I'm using the wrong shampoo," or "Do you think it's weird that Donald Duck doesn't wear pants?" into the conversation, I've pretty much hit the limit of their ability to be enthusiastic about food.

Today was a little different. Today, I spent the entire day surrounded by strangers, yet, not. You see, these people were geeking out about food like I do, and perhaps I'm making a little too much of it, but I feel like that kinda makes us family. I spent nearly 20 minutes this morning discussing lettuce with a guy at the farmer's market. I sat next to a guy at the Top Chef demo this afternoon who, when an audience member brought up his friend's vegan/no gluten/no sugar/no fat lifestyles, said "That sounds HORRIBLE!" at the exact same time I did. His name was Jordan, too, btw. Coincidence? I think not.

Today in Denver seemed to be made for my fellow food obsessives enthusiasts and me. Many of the area's farmers markets opened for the season. The Food Network brought its "Food Truck Wars" to town, and as mentioned, Bravo's Top Chef Tour was also here. No matter where I was today, people were talking about food, about chefs, about ingredients, about flavour profiles, about their favourite newfound ingredient/restaurant/food blog. I don't know when such a convergence of culinary has ever happened in my little world, but I'm incredibly grateful for it.

Thank you to my adopted hometown of Denver, for giving me that little nudge today; for showing me that if I just put myself out there a little, much of the inspiration I crave is right here in my own backyard.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I've Got a Crush on You

At this very moment, I am glued to my Twitter feed. Normally, on a Friday night, I don't do much. I come home from work, cook dinner, poke around facebook, and just generally relax. I'm not ready to be social yet. I just like to decompress and not get too riled up about much of anything.

Tonight, however, is different. Tonight is the James Beard Foundation Awards. And one of my favourite food people EVER won an award. The one I've been giving him in my head for several years, every single time I see him.

Now, I don't pretend to be the most connected foodie. (Honestly, I don't pretend to be the most connected ANYTHING.) However, I do read as much as I can about food, I have a crazy number of food blogs bookmarked that I read with general regularity, and I'm kind of ridiculously addicted to reading Twitter comments from chefs and restaurants and food bloggers. Even the ones I'd never heard of before Twitter. If someone on Twitter is talking about food, I feel like it's imperative that I read it.

Obsess much?

But in all this time being in love with food, and cooking, and all things culinary, there is only one food "celebrity" I've ever crushed on. That person, my friends, is this man:

Julia Child is my hero. Jacques Pepin is like my television grandpa. But it wasn't until I watched my very first episode of "Good Eats" that those little cartoon lovey dovey graphics swirled around my head.

And the James Beard Foundation says he's the Best TV Personality. I couldn't agree more, JBF. I couldn't agree more.

There will be other winners tonight for whom I will have secret warm fuzzies, but my little black foodie heart will always belong to Alton.

Who is your culinary crush? Share!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

This is not a diet blog

That's a promise I'll make to you right now. I'm not going to give you a weekly weigh in. I'm not going to whine about how I gained half a pound and now I have to eat salad for a week. I'm not going to give you a blog full of "inspirational" quotes from random famous people about transformation, worthwhile journeys, or overcoming adversity. This isn't THAT kinda blog.

Having said that, the premise of this whole thing is proving that my efforts to lose weight and my efforts to eat well, experiment in the kitchen, and generally not lose my "foodie" badge by excluding things from my diet just because someone thinks they're "bad" for me are not separate undertakings. I'm a firm believer that if you don't like what you're eating, you're not going to eat it for very long. Things have to stay interesting or you'll get bored and eat just any old thing, and THAT my friends, is what makes you gain weight (and become a Very Boring Person in the process.)

I can't promise I'll never mention a good week on the scale, or when I hit a particular milestone. However, what I can promise is that I'm going to take probably Not Very Good camera phone pictures of all those food experiments and other culinary adventures, and share them with you. I'll also share and solicit opinions on other food related (but not necessarily health related) topics because this is, in my mind at least, first and foremost a food blog.

My MotherBlanking Food Blog, as a matter of fact.