Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Basic Blackberry Jam

As the summer begins to turn toward fall, the limbs of fruit trees and vines are heavy laden with rich ripe fruits. It takes me back to days of picking blackberries and raspberries behind my grandparents house and trips to a local orchard to pick apples and sip fresh cider. This summer, I got to revisit some of those memories by picking blackberries with a friend and as when I was younger I ended up with more than I knew what to do with. I had however gone into the endeavor with a plan. A plan for jam.

I am relatively inexperienced in food preservation, what you might call a dabbler. This means you won't see recipes for canned meat or soup or salsa but if it can be pickled or jellied or made into jam I'm your girl! So with my plethora of delicious ripe fruit I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to encourage others to answer the call of home canning as well.

Many call this a dying art but I think it has a niche and it's slowly catching on in a more mainstream way. It may not be canning as your grandmother did it but with easy recipes, plastic freezer jars and simple kits it isn't all hours of sweating over a hot stove in midsummer either. This recipe is the "Berry Jams Without Added Pectin" from the National Center for Home Food Preservation which offers a wealth of information on how to can, safety guidelines and recipes. Once you get a handle on the basics you can let your imagination run wild and oh the fun you will have.

Blackberry Jam


9 cups berries
6 cups sugar

This recipe makes 7-8 half pints or 4-5 pints. (I got approximately 4 1/2 pints)


Canning jars of your choice with lids
2 large non reactive pots
Canning tongs (Preferred but regular tongs will do in a pinch)
Wooden spoon
Funnel (make sure it fits your jars)


Start by washing your berries. I washed mine in a sink full of cool water spiked with some white vinegar (to kill anything that might have hijacked a ride home, these are fresh berries after all) about 1/4 cup. I let the berries sink and skimmed off anything that floated to the top then added more water for a rinse and scooped them out gently with a spider (wire cooking tool - a slotted spoon would also work but remember to be gentle and not to crush the berries) and laid them on paper towels to dry.

While you are doing this it would be a good idea to set your jars on the stove to sterilize. You need to have them ready and still hot when your jam is done so timing is important. I suggest you read the section on sterilization here but the basic are as follows.

To sterilize empty jars put them right side up in the bottom of a pot large enough that you will be able to completely submerge them in water. Fill the pot and jars with hot but not boiling water to about an inch above the tops of the jars. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. There are adjustments to be made for different altitudes so please follow the link if you live more than 1000ft above sea level.

Now to the jam. In your other large pot combine the fruit and sugar over a medium to medium low heat slowly bringing it to a boil. (Adjust the heat as necessary but do not put it on high it can get out of control quickly.) Stir often and once the sugar has dissolved cook to the jellying point. This should take about ten minutes. Stir constantly during this time and do not leave your jam unattended. The jellying point is when the jam has reached a consistency where it sheets (instead of dripping) off a spoon dipped in the hot mixture or a temperature of approximately 220 degrees F. You can see more here

Remove the jam from the heat and the sterilized jars and lids from the water bath. (This is where you'll want the tongs for the jars.) Drain the water from the jars (down the sink) and fill them with the hot jam using the funnel. You will want to leave "head space", about 1/4 inch of clear space between the top of the jam and the top of the jar. Make sure to wipe the rim of the jar with a clean damp paper towel and place lid and ring on top. Repeat till all jars are filled. Tighten the rings and carefully lower them into the still boiling hot water bath. make sure the water still covers the jars.  This step is called processing. Leave the jars in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Then remove carefully and wait. The jars should seal with a pop in short order as they cool. If you use jars larger than a pint or smaller than a half pint the processing time may be different again please refer to the NCHFP website for more information or guidance on the subject. They have a chart along with the original recipe for this jam here

I highly recommend reading the various articles offered on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website before jumping into canning for the first time. There is specialized equipment available if you want it but you can also do some basics with a couple of good heavy non-reactive pots. So look around and decide what is best for you. I do recommend a basic canning utensil kit that you can find at your local grocery or big box store. It has a jar lifter, a lid lifter, a funnel, a bubble remover, and a headspace tool. They aren't expensive and it's better to have the right tools than to drop a hot jar of hot water on yourself or the floor while trying to use regular kitchen tongs. It can be done but at your own risk.

I hope this is inspiration enough to do a bit more research and to try your hand at canning. Don't let it intimidate you, it isn't as hard as it seems at first and there are some great sites out there where you can ask all sorts of questions from experienced canners if you are unsure about something or if things don't turn out as planned. The results are worth it as is the fantastic sense of accomplishment you will feel when you hear those seals ping!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Marvelous Moroccan Inspired Chicken

 So now that you know how to make Peerless Preserved Lemons, what do you do with them?  Well as I said there are dishes from around the world that call for them but my favorite is this Moroccan Inspired Chicken hotpot. A hotpot is basically an all in one dish where the flavors blend and meld in one big pot which is perfect for when you want something you can throw in the crockpot and forget about until dinner. The bonus with this dish is that it tastes exotic enough that people might believe you spent the day slaving over a hot stove to make it!

Now you may ask why I call it Moroccan Inspired and not just straight Moroccan chicken. Simply put I didn't follow a recipe exactly but I was inspired by a few. It started with Dorrie Greenspan's book "Around My French Table". I had received the book as a Christmas gift from my husband and I was dying to try some of the recipes. One in particular caught me eye and sounded divine, "Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Prunes." I could taste it in my mind the sweetness of the potatoes and the prunes with the warmth of the spices, it spoke to me. You might wonder what this has to do with preserved lemons, but I'm coming to that. You see as simple as the recipe was, I didn't have a number of the ingredients. However they put me in mind of the many recipes I had seen online for Moroccan Chicken. the spices were similar as was the cooking method and the general flavor profile wasn't far off. So I scanned dozens of recipes online and took bits and pieces from different ones that I liked until I had an ingredient list that I liked and had on hand. I decided also that this would work well in a crockpot so in it all went and a new household favorite was born. 

As I said I sort of threw this together the first time so feel free to adjust the seasoning to suit. This recipe serves 4.

Moroccan Inspired Chicken


4 Chicken thighs browned (bone in)
3 Cloves garlic crushed and roughly chopped
1 Preserved lemon roughly chopped
2 Medium onions roughly chopped
4 Carrots chopped (1/2 in pieces)
1 Orange peeled, sectioned and chopped
1 12oz can Low Sodium Chicken broth
1 Star Anise (remove before serving)
2 Bay leaves (remove before serving)
1 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Cayanne
1/4 - 1/2 tsp Cinnimon
1-2 tbsp Honey
4-6 Prunes quartered


In a pan brown the chicken, skin side down, in a small amount of butter or oil. Add the carrots and onions to the Crock Pot. Next add the chicken and the rest of the ingredients. Ideally you want the liquid to just cover everything in the pot. If it doesn't at first, check back later and as things start to release their own juices you will be able to press anything above the surface down a bit deeper. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until the vegetables are tender and the chicken comes away easily from the bone.

This is delightful served with rice or couscous or even a nice crusty bread. The chicken will melt in your mouth and you will want to sop up every last drop of the delicious rich broth. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Peerless Preserved Lemons

One of my foodie weaknesses are the delicious flavors of the East. The rich sweetness of dried fruits, the warm sensuality of the various spices and the bright punch of citrus and fresh herbs. One of my favorite ingredients are the beautiful and opulent citrons confits or preserved lemons.

These delicious beauties are lemons picked at their peak and preserved in salt and their own juices. They are used in dishes all over the world but most often are linked to Indian, Middle Eastern and Moroccan cuisine. In Cambodia there is an entire dish centered around these golden gems called Ngam nguv. It is a chicken soup using the whole preserved lemon, kafir lime leaves, cilantro, garlic and chili. It looks delicious and I hope some day to try it. Until then I have to settle with the hundreds of other delicious recipes that call for this beautiful and simple ingredient.

Now if you go to your local specialty food market you will find citrons confits will cost you a pretty penny and you won't get a lot for your money. Truthfully this is strange as the method of preservation is one of the simplest and oldest known to man. Preserved lemons are basically just lemons packed in salt.

What you will need:

2 - 1qt sterilized canning jars (or more of a smaller size jar if you prefer)
12-14 fresh medium lemons (I used about 6 per jar)
non-iodized salt, (I used Kosher) about 1/2 cup

To get started you will want to find the best quality lemons available to you.  If that means just what the grocery store has on hand so be it but the better the quality of the lemon the better the quality of your end product. Make sure to wash them well but don't scrub hard enough that you loose the essential oils in the skin. 

Next cut 10 of the lemons almost into quarters leaving just a bit of rind to hold them together. Spread each lemon open and generously coat with salt before packing into the sterilized canning jar. Repeat until you have just a half inch of head space left in the jar. I layer the jars like a trifle. Lemons, salt, more lemons and so on. Press the lemons down to release their own juices. If there is not enough juice to cover them completely juice one of the remaining lemons and ad the juice to the jar. Repeat with the second jar and remaining lemons.

Now comes the hard part. Set the jars in a window and wait. The jars should be rotated daily and given an occasional shake but they need to sit for a month before they are ready to use. These can be stored in your refrigerator for about six months.

It's as simple as that to have this delicious condiment to hand whenever you want it. Enjoy!