November 18, 2012

Autumn Canning: Two-Step Carmelized Pear-Ginger Marmalade

In canning, there are no mistakes, only opportunities. 

But that wisdom is hard-won, and not so obvious the first time you burn a batch of jam, or over-process the marmalade until it's as stiff and unyielding as hardened honey.  These seeming failures can be transformed into something quite wonderful by the addition of one simple ingredient: imagination. 

I learned that first from Marisa McClennan of Food in Jars.  This summer I watched Marisa making plum jam in front of a group of 80 food bloggers in less than ideal conditions: a picturesque but sticky hot barn; a tabletop cooking element that could barely get the jam to boil and wouldn't work if the fan was on.  Marisa carried on as if she was in the comfort of her own kitchen, expertly working her alchemy on simple fruit and sugar, and teaching us how to recognise when the critical "gel" stage had been reached. 

"If you keep cooking the jam and it won't set, just call it preserves and carry on," she said casually. "No one will know the difference and it will still be delicious."  Sage advice indeed.

I was reminded of this last week when I was making pear-ginger marmalade for the first time.  A simple recipe, a familiar technique...but just an extra few minutes on the stove turned the marmalade from "set" to a shade too brown, the whole thing seconds from being burnt.  A thicky, gooey - but still delicious - bit of a mess.

What if this became carmelized marmalade instead of plain old pear-ginger marmalade?  What if I made another batch in equal measure, cooked by five minutes less, and the two batches combined into one delightful whole?  I'd have twice the marmalade, with a deep caramel flavour that added a richness that the original recipe lacked.

An opportunity presented.  Imagination deployed.  And a delectable new addition to my canning repertoire.   

Two-Batch Carmelized Pear-Ginger Marmalade
yields 6-8 half pint jars

This marmalade is made in two steps: the first batch of marmalade is cooked slightly longer to allow the sugar to carmelize and the colour to deepen. You will repeat steps one through three for each batch.  Each step can be done one after the other, or each batch can be made one after the other.  Either way, you will be cooking the marmalade in two steps.

For each batch of marmalade, you will need the following ingredients. Be sure to buy enough of everything. 

4 limes
8 cups peeled, cored and diced firm but ripe pears
3 cups granulated sugar
¼ c crystallised ginger, diced
1¼ c water

1.  Using a zester, remove lime peel in very thin strips from three of the limes.  Set peel aside in a small bowl.  Juice all four of the limes and and put the juice in a large non reactive bowl. 

A zester makes easy work of stripping the limes of their
fragrant peel

2.  Prep eight cups of pears by peeling, coring and dicing them, adding each pear to the lime juice as you go, and stirring gently to coat with lime juice.  Add the sugar and the ginger, and stir gently one final time until all the ingredients are well combined.  Set aside for one hour.

3. While the pears are macerating, in a small pot, combine lime peel and water.  Bring to a boil and cook about 15 minutes, until peel is tender and most of liquid is evaporated. Drain liquid, adding it to pear mixture. Set rind aside.

For Carmelized Marmalade (Batch One)
Put the pear mixture in a large, non-reactive pot, and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Boil hard, stirring frequently and skimming foam as it gathers, for 15 minutes.  Add lime peel and boil until mixture begins to deepen in colour and the sugar carmelizes, no more than an additional 5 minutes.  Watch the marmalade closely.  As soon as the mixture begins to carmelize and thicken, take off the heat immediately.  Set aside while you prepare the second batch.

When doing the first batch of marmalade, look for a deep caramel colour and immediately remove from the heat to prevent scorching

For Batch Two
Prepare the second batch of marmalade, following steps 1 through 3 above.  When you bring the pear mixture to a boil, add the lime peel after 10 minutes and do not boil for longer than 15 minutes. 

The second batch will lighter in colour and not as thick

While the second batch is cooking, gently heat the first batch until it is hot.  When both batches are done, combine them thoroughly and ladle hot marmalade into prepared sterilized jars.  Process in a hot water bath 10 minutes.  Remove the jars and let the marmalade cool completely. 

This delicious marmalade is equally good as sweet treat on rich pannetone or as an accompaniment for a cheese plate.

November 12, 2012

Seasonal Sensation: Maple-Baked Lady Apples with Herbed Goat Cheese

“What are you going to do with those? Decoration?” said the cashier as she eyed my purchase dubiously and weighed the bag.  “Not for eating, right?”

I was in one of those small and chi chi produce shops where every gleaming pristine piece of fruit is placed just so, where tomatoes are always in season, and where you can pay a king’s ransom for strawberries the size of golf balls.  The kind of place the Brits would call a greengrocer and what I usually call a bit of a swindle. 

There is one advantage to such a store however and it’s this; they’ll bring in the oddities that mainstream grocers won’t.  Three types of radicchio flown in from Treviso; fresh porcini mushrooms; wild blueberries, tiny and sweet.  Those treasures are seasonal and all the more precious because of it; better buy some today, because next week they may be gone.

I had been on the hunt for one such prize and I wasn’t disappointed.   There, almost hidden from view, a bushel, filled to brim with tiny colourful Lady apples. 

I knew exactly what I was going to do with these little beauties: give them an autumnal spin in the oven and then stuff them with herbed goat cheese.  A perfect one bite seasonal sensation.  Yes, they were for eating.  But they sure look pretty too.

Baked Lady Apples Stuffed with Herbed Goat Cheese
makes 12

1 dozen Lady apples
¼-½  maple syrup
½-¾  c softened plain goat cheese
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large sprig fresh rosemary; more for garnish

1    1.  Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

 2    2.  Cut the tops off of the Lady apples, brush the undersides with maple syrup and set aside.  With a melon baller, scoop out the inner flesh of the apples, making sure to get any bits of seed.  As you cut each apple, brush the cavity generously with maple syrup.

3    3.  Place the apples, cut side up, and the tops, cut side down, on a large baking sheet.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the apples are softened but not mushy.  The tops may be ready more quickly; if so, take them out and set them aside to cool while the apples continue to bake.

4    4.  While the apples are baking, prepare the goat cheese filling.  Chop the herbs finely and mix them into the cheese, incorporating fully.

5    5.  When the apples are done, let them cool for 10 minutes.  Fill each cavity with a generous spoonful of goat cheese, top each apple with a “lid” and finish off with a decorative sprig of rosemary in each apple.  The apples can be made ahead and stuffed, covered and refrigerated.  Bring to room temperature before serving.