107 Cookbooks Rotating Header Image

cooking

Easing back into the kitchen

I’ve been extremely busy over the past year, and so have been cooking less. This is bad. There are a lot of reasons; travel is a big one, since the nice folks at the Hilton would not have appreciated it if I’d tried to find a way to cook in the room. Travel can lead to bad choices. The breakfast buffet. The endless happy hour. Anything offered at the Cheesecake Factory, where I think the unsweetened iced tea MIGHT be under 700 calories but nothing else is.

So I’m trying to get back into the habit. It’s better for my health when I cook. Also I’ve bought some cool stuff for the kitchen during the past year and I don’t really appreciate the irony of not using it.

As part of this reboot I’m trying to make more sense of my various blogs. I have four: this one, Recipes of the Yum, Recipes of the Damned, and AmyDStephenson.com.

  • 107 Cookbooks will continue to be about trying new recipes from my collection, as well as from new sources like magazines, the Internet, and new cookbooks I’ve acquired. (You thought I was done buying cookbooks? You are HILARIOUS.)
  • Recipes of the  Yum will be about cooking pretty food, or trying pretty food when I’m out. There is potential overlap with 107 Cookbooks but the basic idea will be that old favorites go on RotY and new efforts go on 107 Cookbooks.
  • Recipes of the Damned will be about scary old recipes, or just plain problematic recipes, as well as about food issues in the news and scary items on the market. I’ll be revising and re-posting some of the old material I had up years ago, which is no longer online due to Internet infrastructure issues that are too stupid and tedious to get into.
  • AmyDStephenson.com will have original writing about whatever strikes my fancy. It will probably be updated the least often, but I’m trying.

As I get things up and running, check out this RotY post about vegan chocolate chip cookies. I suppose I should have posted it here since it’s a new recipe to me, but I’m not OCD enough to change it now. You see what I mean about overlap.

CookiesCoolingCloseup
See? Pretty.

Also, I’ve started a Zazzle store, Little Shop of the Yum, which will offer merchandise using photos from my blogs. If there’s anything you’d like to be able to get in greeting card or coffee mug format, let me know.

More soon!

Shelter from the storm

PlatedSupper

I felt like cooking tonight. I’ve felt like cooking more lately, but haven’t had a lot of time. Still on a heavy schedule of work and travel, with little energy or time left at the end of the day. It’s not smart, because I enjoy cooking and get frustrated and guilt-ridden when I don’t do it. I haven’t been completely idle, but didn’t feel like going to the trouble of photographing old standards and improvisations when I made time for them among the takeout. Tonight, though, I thought I should make time for a post as well as for a home-cooked dinner.

JustOutofOven

You may have heard that a major storm blew through the New York metropolitan area on Monday night. New Jersey took the brunt of former-hurricane Sandy, but New York suffered quite a hit as well. Here at our house, we were fine; we suffered no structural damage, never lost electricity or cable, and simply had to sit through a windy night at home. The next morning, while others not far away were sorting through burned remains of houses or walking scores of blocks to find a place with electricity to charge phones and check in with loved ones, I was logged on to work from my home office and Scott was walking through the neighborhood taking pictures of downed trees.

Collards

We were lucky, and we were a bit stunned. It felt a bit like we’d just had a major explosion blow past us — we were safe but we couldn’t shake the idea that more shrapnel was going to fly through, and we couldn’t stop looking at the footage of those who had suffered enormous losses. We were taking phone calls from a friend who lived just inside the Manhattan “dead zone” without power or heat, helpless to go fetch her because public transportation was suspended while the tunnels were pumped dry of the floodwater that had filled them. We were watching our East Coast friends update Facebook — “Still no electricity, going to stay with a friend in Brooklyn.” “Waited 2 hours in line for gas.” “Still no email at the office, call me at home.” — while at the same time our friends in other parts of the country posted updates on Halloween parties, going to see movies, the mundane things of life. It was surreal to try to keep on working at my normal job, from home — something I’ve done hundreds of times, only now I was doing it because I wasn’t willing to wait 2 hours for a bus into the city, not because I had a vet appointment at midday.

BrowningGarlic

A couple of nights this week we got takeout or went out to eat, partly to support the neighborhood economy, partly because by the time I was done with my work I was ravenous and too impatient to run out for groceries and then cook. But tonight I wanted to make something comforting, something that felt more like normal life. Today was the closest to normal that we’ve had all weel. My Manhattan friend got her electricity back last night (or this morning if you’re picky, 1 a.m.). Our subway line was back in service as if nothing had ever gone wrong. It seemed time to reclaim the normal and everyday. So I made macaroni and cheese and collard greens.

MacAndGooeyCheese

The mac and cheese is a Martha Stewart recipe I’ve made many times before (though I’m a little irritated at Martha’s company right now for sacking the Everyday Food crew, including a friend — but it’s still the best recipe I have). I didn’t have enough whole milk so thinned it out with water. Voila, skim milk, but I didn’t cook the white sauce quite as long as I should have to let it thicken, so the resulting baked dish was a bit liquidy but will set up more as it cools, and will reheat beautifully. And with plenty of cheese, it still tasted fantastic.

CookedCollards2

The collard greens are a simple braise, with garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and were a nice complement to the rich and gooey mac and cheese.

PlatedSupper2

If you’d like to help out the Sandy recovery efforts, here are some links. There’s a lot that still needs to be done before residents of the area will be back to normal, especially those in the hard-hit areas of the Rockaways, Staten Island, Lower Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island.

Improvised pasta with Greenmarket vegetable saute

StirredWithPasta2

August, the month of summer vacations and relaxation. We here at Chez 107 will have some vacation time soon, but for now I’m still in the throes of long work hours and business travel and failing to keep up with the housework. Summer has not particularly brought leisure, though it has brought humidity. And this evening it brought a crazy thunderstorm, which has tempered the heat only a little.

EggplantAndGarlic

With my heavy travel and work schedule I’ve been neglecting the kitchen, even as I’ve added some toys to it. We replaced our skillets, which were chewed-up nonstick — not an especially safe arrangement, but now we have Calphalon. Also nonstick; I must have misread the product description, but we can be more gingerly with them than we were with the old ones, since we didn’t buy them with grocery receipts. We bought a a SodaStream, which we adore. Last week I hauled home a new kitchen garbage can, a robust (and kind of expensive) one with a foot pedal, which so far is performing wonderfully. But cooking? I have been a bit lazy. I did a little baking in June and July, and have made a few pasta dishes. Still, we’ve had more than our fair share of delivery.

EggplantGarlicPeppers

This weekend I did better. I cooked dinner both last night and tonight. Given how hot it’s been I feel like I deserve a freakin’ medal for standing in front of the stove, even if only long enough to saute vegetables and cook pasta.

AddedTomatoesCloseup

Tonight’s dish was improvised, using vegetables I’d gotten at the Greenmarket without a very definite plan for how to use them. I sliced and salted some baby eggplant, then rinsed away the salt and blotted them dry. I threw them into a skillet (one of the new ones) with some olive oil and let them cook a bit, then gradually added garlic; green peppers; a few pinches of oregano, paprika and thyme; about two tablespoons’ worth of basil chiffonade; some chopped tomatoes; about 3/4 cup of red wine; and some baby spinach.

AddedTomatoes2

I kept cooking and stirring around until the eggplant was breaking down nicely and everything seemed to be blending together well.

AddedBasil

In the meantime I cooked a pound of dried rotini, then drained it and tossed the pasta together with the vegetables in the pot, adding a little bit of the pasta water to help the consistency.

CookingDown

I dished it up and grated on some Romano. The mixture was delicious. The flavor of the vegetables blended wonderfully, and the wine gave a nice tone without overwhelming the other ingredients.

BowlWithRomano2

Best of all? Leftovers. This is going to be really good cold.

BowlsWithRomano

Getting back in the groove

I haven’t just been neglecting this blog; I’ve also been neglecting the kitchen. I’ve been out of the habit of regular cooking for a really ridiculous amount of 2012 so far, and it’s a little embarrassing.

There are reasons, of course. Work is a big one. In mid-February I was out of town for several days on a trip to another of our offices — no cooking in the hotel room, oddly enough — and in the course of the trip I took on a big project that’s been dominating my work ever since. It’s a good project, though I really can’t say much about it so will not dribble out information, but it’s meant a lot of late departures from the office and some extra busy weekends, plus two additional business trips, all of which cut into cooking time.

My “Jeopardy!” success is another one, oddly enough. My winnings arrived at the beginning of April, and while the bulk of the funds are in savings, went to Kiva.org (you can join our lending team, Friends of Bob Harris), or were used to pay off credit cards and replace our failing home computers, I did indulge in a little bit of restaurant exploration. (We highly recommend neighborhood restaurant Salt & Fat, by the way.) It’s been fun to try a few places we hadn’t been able to afford before, or to treat guests on a few occasions. But in the bigger picture, having some extra money on hand has made it a little too easy to take the lazy option when work ran late again or I got home tired from a day running errands.

This weekend was my first real respite in some time. Recent travel and deadlines had left me exhausted and a bit out of sorts, and I realized that part of the problem was that I haven’t really cooked in weeks and it was driving me crazy. So tonight I hopped back on the bike, as it were, and made a batch of what I’ve come to call my “sneaky zucchini” chili.

ChiliPot

It’s a recipe I’ve come to love. After browning some onions I add a couple of shredded zucchinis to the pot along with a generous pinch of salt, and let them cook for a while, stirring frequently, until zucchini has given up a lot of its moisture and cooked down significantly. Then I add a little more olive oil if necessary, and start to work in whatever other ingredients I’m working with: sausage, garlic, mushrooms, green peppers, spices, anything else I’m playing with, and finishing up with kidney beans, canned crushed tomatoes, and canned whole tomatoes that I’ve cut into quarters. One other key thing I’ve been doing is soaking a few dried chiles in boiling water for about 10 minutes, then chopping them (discarding the stems and as many of the seeds as I see fit to) and adding the chiles and a bit of the soaking water to the pot. That adds a beautiful smoky flavor, and helps ensure that what little zucchini flavor might still be detectable is pushed far into the background. The zucchini adds fiber and a bit of body but is essentially undetectable. Though I don’t consider it deceptive because I’ve never tried to pass it off as chili without zucchini in it.

ChiliBowl

My work project continues, but I am hoping to get back into more of a cooking habit. I do have some vacation time coming up, which should give me a chance to try new things, and the neighborhood Greenmarket opens in about a month. If nothing else I can get back into the habit of making salad and pasta; tomatoes can’t come in soon enough for me.

Mujadarah, Slap Chop, and a question for you

PlatingCloseUp

Still not back in the groove of trying new recipes yet, but I am cooking. Tonight was mujadarah, with collard greens on the side.

AddingRedLentils

I used red lentils this time, which makes for a slightly creamier and smoother dish. Green lentils keep their shape and texture more distinctly; red lentils melt in a bit.

AddingToRice

I’ve started using whole allspice, cloves and cumin seeds as well as a cinnamon stick. I got curious about how well it would work, and I have all these allspice berries. It can be a bit tricky to dig out the whole spices before serving, but the cloves are the only ones reliably hard to find, and they’re not going to hurt your teeth if you bite down on one.

OnionsInOven

I’ve also taken to using a lot less olive oil for the onions than the original recipe calls for. They still roast quite well. I start out with this amount of onion:

SlicedOnions

And end up with this much at the end.

RoastedOnions

For a green vegetable accompaniment I made collard greens. I start by sauteeing chopped garlic in olive oil, then adding a bit of kosher salt and red pepper flakes. Then I toss in the chopped collard leaves and toss to coat with the oil and mix in the flavorings; after a few minutes of that I add a little bit of water, put on the lid, turn down the heat, and let it steam for about 15 minutes, more or less.

CollardsToSteam

I thought this might be a good opportunity to try out the Slap Chop, which I received at the office holiday white elephant gift party. (I was only a little bitter about losing out on the bottle of Brooklyn bourbon.) I was pretty skeptical about the merits of this device. I’m kind of in Alton Brown‘s camp here: if it isn’t a multitasker, I’m not sure there’s room for it in my kitchen. And he has a WAY bigger kitchen than I do.

SlapChop

The Slap Chop promises to be “your all purpose chopper for all your chopping needs.” This is only true if all the items you need to chop can fit beneath the blades — about a two-inch clearance. So if you have something larger to chop, like an onion, you have to cut it down to size, which means for a lot of food you’re already going to have to get out a regular knife.

SlapChop

I decided to try it on some garlic, four cloves of which fit easily within the chopper lid. (You don’t need to use the lid; you could place it right on the cutting board, so you could chop things that are broader than the base of the device but not taller.) I pushed the plunger several times and ended up with well-chopped garlic, not perfectly uniform — but no worse than I usually get it with a knife.

GarlicAfterSlapChop

I think the garlic chopping went more quickly than if I’d used a knife. Of course, then I had to disassemble it to wash. It’s not especially difficult to wash, and I wouldn’t say it’s any less safe to handle than a sharp chef’s knife, but it does take up a lot more space. And a chef’s knife can also be used for chopping larger items, slicing, peeling (well, you do have to be careful with that, other knives are better but it can be done), smashing a clove of garlic, and doing more precise cuts. The Slap Chop can’t do any of that. So if you really like to have lots of gadgets around, you may like this one, but if your space or funds are limited I’d recommend investing in a good kitchen knife and the time it takes to learn to use it skillfully.

SlapChopInDrainer

Anyway, this is a nice hearty meal for a cold night, and it’s totally vegan. Which means you can either enjoy it as part of a vegan lifestyle, or feel virtuous enough to eat half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dessert later. Not that I am talking about anybody in particular.

PlatedMujadarah2

So now I have a question for you. Just because I think the Slap Chop is a little silly, that doesn’t mean all kitchen gadgets and tools are silly. In a few months I’ll receive my “Jeopardy!” winnings, and should have a little bit left over from taxes and paying debts to have a little fun. What are your favorite kitchen tools and gadgets? If you had an extra few dollars in your budget — maybe even $100 or $200 — what’s the next kitchen item you’d buy, and why? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

New year’s resolutions for 107 Cookbooks

ChampagneFlutesDrying

Happy new year! We rang in 2012 with sparkling wine (cremant de Loire, to be precise, very nice) and Chinese food delivered to our door by a cheerful young woman who I hope was raking in good tips for the evening.

I know it sounds odd to talk about delivery on a cookbooks blog, which is exactly why I bring it up. I strongly believe that 99% of home-cooked food is better than 99% of restaurant-made or prepared food, at least in the price range that I can afford. Yet time and again we find ourselves getting Chinese delivery, takeout empanadas, deli sandwiches, and more. Well, OK, I also believe that 100% of deep-fried items that are prepared in a restaurant or industrial kitchen are easier to clean up after than 100% of deep-fried items I make myself. There’s that. Still, in the moment we make a choice based on convenience, or speed, or fatigue, and later I find myself second-guessing. Could I have managed it myself? (Not last night, I’m giving myself a break on that.) Could I have cooked something different that would have served our purposes?

So I thought I’d make a few new year’s resolutions for myself and the blog — for myself, to be expressed on the blog as much as possible.

1. I resolve to cook at home more often. Now to accomplish that, I need to first make another resolution: I resolve to keep track. I can’t measure “more” if I don’t know what the numbers are. And if my perceptions are clouded by guilt, they’re not going be an accurate measure of trends. So for at least January I’m going to be making notes: What did we eat for dinner, where was it cooked and by whom, and why did we do it that way? Any interesting insights that come out of this will show up in posts.

2. I resolve to keep up with the dishes. This is absolutely related to resolution 1, in that it’s hard to be motivated to cook even a quick meal at home if the sink is overflowing with last night’s messy plates and pots. But this is another area where perceptions are misleading, because I have noticed during the past few months that even a heaping sinkful does not actually take as long to wash and rinse as it looks like it will. Still, this is one of those jobs that’s easier to keep on top of if I don’t let things sit very long.

3. I resolve to try more new vegetable dishes. I think that’s where my real potential for culinary creativity lies. I’m just not as intrigued by the possibilities of another way to roast beef as I am by the many vegetables I haven’t used to their fullest. Also, the “try new” goal introduces an element of play, which sounds a lot more fun than just “eat more vegetables.”

4. I resolve to stop waiting for conditions to be perfect. Those of you who are perfectionists know what I’m talking about here. I could try that thing if only I had all of Saturday free. I could figure this out if only I had the right cooking pan. There are some things that require the right tools or circumstances — canning non-acidic foods requires a pressure cooker, for example, which in turn requires a functioning pressure gauge, which means that’s not happening for me right away. Other things just need improvisation or a little more courage.

5. I resolve to post here more often, with shorter posts as necessary. I don’t always have time to cook a full meal, photograph it, process every photo and put it all together. But I can share my thoughts about what’s going on in the news, or take mobile photos of things I saw at a diner or a cafe. Not everything has to (or should) be a New Yorker essay.

6. I resolve not to beat myself up about falling short of the mark. I don’t think that one needs any explanation. If you don’t know what I mean, you’re only fooling yourself.

What are your resolutions for 2012, cooking or otherwise?

Join Me: Take the Slow Food $5 Challenge

I’m a big believer in home cooking. That’s probably no secret if you’ve been reading this blog. I can be as lazy or inattentive or self-indulgent as anyone — I am not averse to the occasional takeout empanada or sandwich — but I also really enjoy the process of cooking. I like the fact that most of the time, what I end up making is better than something I would buy. And I especially enjoy the fact that for just about anything I make, I end up spending a lot less money than I would if I went out and ordered the same thing at a restaurant, or got home delivery.

There are people who don’t believe this, though. Really. There are people who argue that cooking at home is much too expensive for anyone to do. This mentality gives rise to ridiculous blog posts like “The $84 Stir-Fry,” in which an inexperienced cook demonstrates that she also doesn’t understand the concept of amortization by assuming that the amounts she shelled out for a pepper grinder, a cutting board and a “totally unnecessary” (her term) food scale deserve to be included in the cost of this single meal. (Seriously, did she throw away the scale and cutting board after she ate?) I have a feeling these are also people who don’t actually do the math to compare the costs of a week’s worth of deli sandwiches with the costs of getting the equivalent amount of bread, meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato at the supermarket. The data set may not be valid.

OK, it’s true that if you don’t know what you’re doing or how to do it you may make the mistake of buying the wrong ingredients, in the wrong quantities, for the wrong price. You may make rookie mistakes that result in waste and mess. You may take longer than you think is reasonable because you don’t have the skills to work efficiently. But that doesn’t mean cooking is inherently expensive, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to learn how to do it at all. Smart cooking enables you to make use of the best-priced fresh ingredients you can find, to take advantage of seasonal availability (and the fact that a vegetable at its prime in the market is often at a great price as well — supply and demand in action), and to make smart substitutions that save you money.

Of course there are also a lot of people who can’t find affordable ingredients. They live in food deserts — areas where there are no grocery stores, produce markets, or other sources of reasonably priced fresh food to use for cooking. They have easy access to overpriced bodegas, fast-food outlets galore, and 99-cent stores with dubiously sourced packaged foodstuffs, but not to fresh tomatoes or whole-grain bread or frozen spinach. If you don’t have a car or can’t afford gas, and your nearest supermarket is two bus rides and a 25-minute wait at the transfer point away, you aren’t going to make a habit of grocery shopping; you’re going to get whatever you can find most cheaply near you, no matter how bad for you it is in the long run. This is a big problem, but it won’t help matters if we blithely accept the assumption that cooking at home is expensive and thus isn’t a realistic goal.

Slow Food USA is trying to help spotlight the real value of home cooking. On Saturday, Sept. 17, they’re presenting the $5 Challenge. Participants will either cook or participate in a meal — a slow food meal, cooked with real ingredients by real people — that costs no more than $5 per person. (That applies to ingredients, not to extraneous purchases like “totally unnecessary” scales.) The goal here will not simply be to cobble together cheap ingredients; the goal will be to create a delicious, nourishing meal at a low cost.

Who’s in? I’m in. I’m not planning to host a public event — though those who would like to do so are invited to host an event or attend a hosted event or potluck — but I am planning to cook, photograph and write up a meal, including a detailed accounting of the per-serving cost. I think this is a great chance to demonstrate a few fundamentals of home cooking:

  • Real food doesn’t have to be costly.
  • Real food tastes great.
  • Food that you share with people you care about is nourishing in ways that go beyond vitamins and fiber.
  • You don’t have to be a trained chef to cook something that people will enjoy.

So why don’t you join me? If you know me in real life, get in touch about coming over for dinner. Otherwise, please feel free to dive in and host an event or join one that’s already set up, and come back here to post about it in the comments.

Recipe tool and random thoughts

I didn’t do a big cooking project this weekend, but I have decided to try to get back to a regular publishing schedule. So I will aim to post every Monday, regardless of how intensive my cooking efforts have been, and to post more if I can manage it.

This isn’t to say that I have not done any cooking. I’ve made a few pasta dishes, and froze some pesto for the winter. (I haven’t actually done that before, but I understand one is supposed to omit the parmesan before freezing because the consistency doesn’t work out so well upon thawing. I’ll report how that worked when the time comes.) The night of my canning I made a basic pasta-tomato-basil dish to accompany sauteed chicken breast, but I didn’t photograph it. I’ve been out of the habit of photographing if it’s not a special recipe. I may have to rethink this so I can show off a few nifty-looking but not difficult dishes.

Here’s a pasta dish I cobbled together a while back, for example:
PastaReadytoServe

I boiled pasta and combined it with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, chickpeas, lemon zest, salt and pepper, parmesan, and asparagus. I tossed the asparagus bits into the pasta water a few minutes before the end of the boiling and drained it all together.

That’s typical of a lot of the cooking I do: I like to improvise. Or sometimes I have little choice but to improvise, if the hour is late and my foot is sore (that flipping plantar fasciitis) and I can’t find it in me to make a run to the store. I could just sigh and lament the long-lost days of living above a Zupan’s, or spend even more of our disposable income on delivery, but far better to rummage the shelves and figure out a clever combination.

A recent Techlicious article spotlights several sites that help you do this kind of improvisation more easily. I’ve signed up for SuperCook.com, which lets you store pantry items and add other ingredients on hand to see what you might be able to throw together. I’ve populated most of my staples, and before adding anything from the fridge or freezer I was already seeing a lot of pasta and garlic dishes; adding mint and lemon significantly expanded the options. Unsurprisingly, I seem to be able to make just about any kind of cake or cookie if I’m so inclined.

Though as it happens, I have not been willing to turn on the oven. We’ve had a hot summer. Yesterday was the first relatively cool day in weeks, as my electric bill can attest, and if we had stayed home I’d have thought about making chili and maybe baking a batch of cookies. But instead we went out to a tavern where our neighbor works; at his insistence we tried the fried dill pickles, and now I am going to have to make some for myself. But not tonight. Today was my first day back at work, and frying will have to wait.

1946 Modern Homemaker: Prosperity Through Home Canning

peach jam

Modern Homemaker appears to be a magazine* from Kerr Glass Manufacturing Corp. (now owned by Ball), so it’s not too surprising that it devotes most of its attention to home canning. On an introductory page, editor Zella Hale Weyant notes that while the war and its demands for food rationing and shared sacrifice have ended, the future of the nation’s food supply is far from certain. What Weyant did not know is that in the years to come, petrochemical companies would convert their wartime product lines to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, leading to the industrialization of American agriculture — greatly expanding the country’s food supply and choices, but at a cost to individual health and the environment that we have barely started to come to terms with.

In the meantime, Weyant recommends that homemakers continue to preserve the bounty of their home gardens through home canning. The magazine gives recipes for jams, jellies, preserves, fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish, as well as dishes one can make with the canned goods. There are also instructions for using the hot-water-bath and pressure canning methods for various foods.

I have a pressure cooker, but am missing the pressure gauge, so I have not been in the habit of canning low-acid foods that require pressure. I opted to make peach jam, partly because I thought it would be fairly simple and partly because I love peaches.

My original plan was to go out Saturday morning to the neighborhood Greenmarket to get fresh peaches, make the jam, then go about my day. I got the peaches home and found that I did not have the right size canning lids, so I decided to make jam in the afternoon after I’d bought lids. This turned out to be just as well; the process took longer than I thought, and my husband would have been pretty impatient to start our usual weekend brunch trip by the time I was done.

The jam recipe is brief and charmingly vague:

Cut well ripened peaches into small pieces. Put into large kettle without the addition of water. Cook slowly about 20 minutes or until peaches are slighly softened. Measure peach pulp and for each cup of peaches add 1 cup of sugar. Return to fire and cook until of desired consistency. Pour into sterilized KERR Jars and seal while hot.

I opted to peel the peaches before chopping them, which took a fair bit of time I hadn’t accounted for. Peeling peaches is not particularly difficult: cut an X across the bottom of the peach, then dunk it in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, and the skin will be loosened and should be easy to pull off. A few of my peaches were underripe and hard; I re-dunked those, thinking perhaps I had just not given them enough exposure, and now they were still hard but also too hot to handle easily. I set them aside to cool while I cut up the rest of the already-peeled peaches, then used a knife to pare them before chopping and adding them to the pot.

“Cook slowly” is a nice, general instruction, isn’t it? Obviously not on high heat, but how low is slow? By the time the 20 minutes were up my peaches had broken down quite a bit and given up a significant amount of juice, but I’m not sure if that means my heat was too high or if I did it just right. To measure them I dumped the whole potful into a heatproof bowl, then poured cup after cup back into the pot, counting as I went. The 24 peaches I’d started with produced 10 1/4 cups of fruit and juice, so I added 10 1/4 cups of sugar, and then cast a worried eye at my seven pint jars and two cup-sized jars; would 20 1/2 cups cook down to 15 cups of jam? For that matter, was that too much sugar? It looked like an awful lot at first, and my initial tastes of the mixture once the sugar had dissolved were more suggestive of peach candy than peach jam, but as it cooked the flavor balance shifted again and the peaches were the dominant taste. And of course sugar has a preservative effect here. It’s possible that I could have reduced the amount of sugar, but I don’t know enough about the chemistry involved to be sure how much I could eliminate before the acidity would be insufficient for canning safety. I suppose I could have experimented to find out, but I wasn’t willing to do so at this point.

Another vague direction is “cook until of desired consistency.” It’s a bit tricky to know what the desired consistency of your hot and bubbling jam should be, because the final product will be thicker once it has cooled after canning. I kept cooking and cooking, probably about 25 minutes, stirring and simmering until the mixture felt noticeably thicker than it had before, and I tried the old-fashioned plate test: I dribbled some on a plate and held it at a slight angle, and when the dribbles were thicker and slower to run, I decided that would do for me. And I was delighted to find that my jam fit almost exactly into the jars I had available.

Now it was time to seal the jars. Jam takes hot-water-bath canning, but I thought I’d use my pressure cooker since it’s broad enough to hold all seven pint jars at once and I didn’t want to have to do two batches. This worked out well, except for the fact that even though I did not have the lid latched closed, it still sealed, and I had to vent out the steam to be able to open it when cooking was done. This was quick and easy — raise the valve — and safe enough with the aid of a potholder, but it made a dramatic hissing sound, and the cats were not impressed.

I was impressed by the jam, though. It shone golden and glorious, with lumps of peach giving it a rustic character. We had some with toast this morning and it tasted wonderful. The two cup-sized jars did not fit in the canner so I’m storing them in the fridge; I don’t think we need to worry about using them up before they go bad.

Verdict: Success. It took me a while to get there, but the results were well worth it.

* But it counts as a cookbook for my purposes because I don’t have any of the rest of the run.

No recipe post today, but a response to Pollan

I’ve finally had time to organize my thoughts about Michael Pollan’s NYT essay “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch.” Check it out at Recipes of the Damned.

Tomorrow: Salad.