Monday, August 17, 2009

Peach Pie Jam

You can't eat english muffins without jam. It's completely obscene, like kissing your uncle or going to an Aerosmith concert after 2000.

Right now, right at this moment, there's a lot of fruit in season. Blueberries; blackberries; strawberries (okay, maybe it's a little late for strawberries.) And peaches. At our local farmer's market, there was an old married couple hauling out thousands and thousands of peaches from the back of a giant truck. I wish we'd taken pictures; imagine a table piled high with baskets of peaches beside a moving van stuffed with filled baskets. I've never seen so many in my life.

So we bought a few to make jam. Why not? Making jam takes less than half an hour and is cheaper than the nastiest off-brand. And it tastes lovely.

Here's the best advice I can give you: buy a box of pectin for low-sugar recipes (I went with Sure-Jell!) and go with the box's instructions (which are reprinted below - along with a few clever tips). Ready? Here we go!

Photographs by Rebecca

Peach Pie Jam
Makes about four jars
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes (plus a 24 hour waiting period, if you're a masochist.)

4 pounds peaches (6-7 very large peaches!)
3 cups sugar
1 box Sure-Jell pectin for low-sugar recipes (Why low sugar? Because, in my opinion, it thickens better. If you'd rather, go get the other kind and follow the instructions there!)
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1 tbs honey (optional)

If you have a kitchen scale and you don't want four jars, feel free to half the recipe - and the ingredients above. That's what I did! There should be 49 grams of pectin in the box, so measure out 25 grams and follow the below instructions. Here we go!

1. Dice the peaches. I prefer to leave some big chunks, because that's pretty tasty stuff. Big chunks of fruit make jam smile. You should have about 4 1/2 cups. Place into a large pot with the lemon juice.

2. Mix together 1/4 cup of the sugar and the pectin. Add to the fruit and stir well. If you want to be fancy pants, add the cinnamon and nutmeg and honey!

3. Bring to a full rolling boil on high, stirring constantly. Add the remainder of the sugar all at once, continuing to stir!

4. Boil for exactly one minute, so sayeth the bossy instructions. Remove from heat and pour into jars. "Process", if you're one of those wise people who know how to can stuff. I don't. We eat jam too fast to preserve it, too.

5. According to the directions, let it set up on the counter for 24 hours. Trust me; it'll be better if you wait; it thickens up overnight. But if you can't stand that wait, I totally get you. I took a spoon to the jar at this point.

After 24 hours, it should be set up. Refrigerate and enjoy. Feel free to spread it on toast, english muffins, and Aerosmith.

Robert's take: This is probably my favorite jam. When you put it on toast or english muffins, it tastes like you have a mini peach pie. What could be better? Nothing. It's the antithesis of Van Halen.

Rebecca's take: This jam is awesome! It's true what Robert says about this tasting like a little pie... And that is a really special thing to have for breakfast!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Buttermilk Biscuits

*Note from Rebecca: Sorry about the big break in posting - we were in the process of moving! You may notice a new kitchen in the background. This kitchen has slightly better lighting and is much more open, which makes taking pictures of the cooking process a lot easier.*

When I was a kid, the absolute ultimate breakfast was built on a single foundation: the biscuit. Upon this rock, an entire city could be built from gravy, eggs, cheese, bacon, jelly, honey; a thousand variations of delicious breakfast snacks. Make them into mini-sandwiches! Tart them up like little flaky strumpets! Biscuits could do no wrong.

The problem: my mom’s biscuits involved a rolling pin, a clean counter, lots of flour, and a hell of a cleanup process. And so after I moved out of the house, I avoided the simple biscuit. Too much work for too little gain.

Oh, sure; I tried drop biscuits. They weren’t satisfying. Weird little guys that were never round, never tall. Just irregular blobs, unsuitable for splitting and making into sandwiches or dressing with sausage gravy. It was a real shame. Once a year, I’d go to my parents’ house for Christmas breakfast, and there they’d be again: the magnificent biscuits of my youth.

And now? Now, I have a new recipe, thanks to the geniuses at Cooks Illustrated. These are tall and fantastic; they are flaky and delicious. You will love them. And you’ll never have to break out a rolling pin.

Buttermilk Biscuits (Makes 12 biscuits, serving 4-6)

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes


Nonstick cooking spray, oil, or shortening (to grease pan)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder (The fresher your baking powder is, the better these will be.)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (COLD), cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 ½ cups buttermilk cold, preferably low-fat

To Form and Finish Biscuits
1cup unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces), distributed in rimmed baking sheet
Optional: 2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Heat your oven to 500 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan inside and out with nonstick cooking spray. Or coat with oil or shortening. Whatever you’d like. Keep that cooking spray out; you aren’t done with it!

2. If you have a food processor, bully for you; this will be a snap! Process 2 cups of flour (10 oz), baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Otherwise, whisk it together real nice in a bowl!

3. Really, the food processor is your best friend here. You want to process the butter into the flour mixture so that the butter is in little pea-sized portions. You’ll be able to run your fingers
through the dough and it’ll feel kind of like cornmeal. So sprinkle the butter cubes over the flour mixture and do 8 one-second pulses with your food processor.

Now, if you don’t have a processor - you don’t want the butter to melt, so you can’t use your fingers to do this. You can do this with a couple of forks; just kind of grind the butter into the
flour. You do like butter, right? You want your biscuits to be flaky, right? It’ll take a few minutes, but do it!

4. Put the flour / butter mixture in the freezer and wait til your oven is good and hot. While you’re waiting, spray or grease a ¼ cup measuring scoop. The hotter the oven gets, the quicker – and higher – your biscuits will rise. Patience. Meanwhile, spread a cup of flour across a rimmed baking sheet. Line up the baking sheet, your greased baking pan, and get ready to rock.

5. You’re ready. The oven is burning hot. This next steps will need to go a little quickly. Here’s what you’ll do now: mix together the flour / butter mixture with the cold buttermilk. Mix it well, but just until it all comes together. You don’t want to overmix these guys.

Stirring action shot!

6. Immediately afterward, begin scooping biscuits with the ¼ cup measure. Make them SCANT quarter cups; you’ll get twelve. Drop each biscuit scoop onto the floured baking sheet. Now you should have twelve clumps of biscuit dough!

7. Gently roll each biscuit into a ball and roll it in flour. Put nine biscuit balls around the perimeter of your cake pan and then put the last three biscuit balls into the middle. Look here!

8. If you really like, you can brush the biscuit tops with melted butter. Otherwise, pop that pan into the oven and wait 5 minutes.

9. After five minutes is up, drop the temperature to 450 degrees and bake another 15 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown.

10. Let them cool two minutes in the pan on the stovetop.

11. Take out your giant biscuit mass and separate into twelve biscuits. Cool for 5 minutes; otherwise, they will be a little underdone! Patience, grasshopper.

12. Eat them!

Robert’s take: My favorite biscuits EVER. Pretty easy to make, too. Though I do prefer the homogeneity of the shape of my mom’s circular rolled biscuits, these guys are outstanding in flavor and texture.

Rebecca's take: Super delicious! When I was a kid, the only biscuits my mom ever made were the Pillsbury kind from a can. I feel lucky to be presented with these homemade biscuits for breakfast on a fairly regular basis. They're awesome with honey, jam, or bacon and eggs if you prefer! Mmm..