Food post! It got cold again, and so writing feels like running through molasses, but I will soldier on so as to create some momentum. Or something.
Anyway, cold weather is not great for writing, but it is the greatest for cooking. It’s nice to be in a warm kitchen during the winter. Since the start of the year, I’ve made a lot of meat stews, and I tried making marmalade. I’ve learned some stuff.
What I learned about stew
1. Boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin are the same thing. If you can make one, you can make both. One uses beef and one uses chicken, at least in the world of Ina Garten. Seriously — go look at Ina’s recipes. Same basic steps, same ingredients. For both recipes, this includes pearl onions, and for the beef stew, it includes commercial beef broth. This leads to…
2(a). Beef broth is meat + water, so use the constituent parts instead of commercial beef broth. I hate commercial beef broth. Commercial beef broth has a scent that repulses me, which isn’t great when you’re making food for yourself for the next week. (I powered through.)
2(b). Pearl onions are allegedly tiny format onions, so why not use the normal sized, non-weird version? Pearl onions are weird and slippery and wrong. If you make Ina’s boeuf bourguinon recipe, I recommend (a) ditching the commercial beef broth and pearl onions; (b) adding an additional half to full pound of beef; (c) using water instead of beef broth; and (d) slicing up an additional onion and one or two more carrots. You’ll be happier.
3. As an adult, I don’t have to eat drumsticks or wings if I don’t want to. The meat to gristle ratio is all wrong, and I don’t want to deal with it anymore. If you feel the same way, when you make Ina’s coq au vin recipe, I recommend (a) ditching the pearl onions; (b) using 2 breasts and 4-6 thighs (all skin-on and bone-in); (c) slicing up an additional onion; and (d) discarding the chicken skin after you’ve browned it.
4. More broth in coq au vin is better, even without mashed potatoes. I discovered that I like a higher broth to stuff ratio in my coq au vin. Ina’s recipe calls for inexpensive but still delicious light red and some cognac. It makes for amazing broth. If you also like the idea of more winey, rich broth, here’s what you do to fix Ina’s recipe (in addition to the changes in 3): increase the chicken to 2 breasts and 8 thighs, increase the carrots to a pound plus one more carrot, double the mushrooms, double the wine, double the cognac, light the cognac on fire, and use however much chicken broth you need to barely cover the chicken (chicken broth doesn’t squick me out like beef broth does). Basically, you’re following the boeuf bourguignon recipe but using chicken and a lot more thyme.
5. I am grateful for the creative paleo cooks out there. I skipped Google and went straight to Cook’s Illustrated for chicken and dumplings. I can’t tell you why I had a craving, but I did, and the major problem with this particular craving is that I can’t eat things for which the primary ingredient is flour. So I followed the CI recipe for the chicken stew part (I doubled the peas), and then Google found an easy paleo dumpling recipe. I like the one from the second result that showed up when I did a search for “paleo chicken and dumplings.” It uses almond flour and eggs, and it did the trick. Double the recipe for the paleo dumplings if you make CI’s chicken stew.
6. It turns out that not all chicken stew needs to have skin and bones. CI calls for 5 pounds of bone-in, skin-on thighs. My butcher counter didn’t have that much chicken thigh. I cleaned them out and only got 2.5 pounds, so I supplemented with another pound of boneless, skinless thighs, and it worked out GREAT. You get less chicken fat and an equal amount of lovely browning at the bottom of the pot. WIN-WIN.
And then I attacked marmalade
I have been interested in preserving for YEARS, but I let all the sterilizing and boiling and lack of equipment intimidate me. While in Abu Dhabi, I saw a jar of beautiful, rosy, grapefruit marmalade at a restaurant. I’m not supposed to eat sugary things, but that jar stayed with me for two weeks, so I let myself go back to the restaurant to buy it. It was gone. I pulled up my big girl panties when I got back to the U.S., did some obsessive research, and made my own.
7. If you process your finished product in boiling water after you pour it into mason jars, you don’t have to sterilize the jars. You do have to make sure they’re clean, and you do need to keep them in barely simmering water until you’re ready to use them, but that’s not for hygiene purposes. It’s to avoid thermal shock when you pour your lava hot marmalade into glass jars. If you don’t mind dealing with broken glass and hot marmalade, you can skip the barely simmering water. I can’t imagine a bigger pain in the patootie.
8. Nigella Lawson is the best when I need an easy way into something. Nigella does not have the time or inclination to put up with fussy BS. If there is an effective, practical shortcut, Nigella does not hold it back from you until you’ve mastered the right way (Walter Cooper’s preferred method of helping with math homework). I find that her stuff doesn’t come out perfectly, but it comes out right enough that it empowers you to find your own way. Her pink grapefruit marmalade recipe (which you can only find in How to Be a Domestic Goddess, and which I’m happy to lend you) is simple and lends itself to tiny batches, perfect for beginners and smaller families. The end result tasted really good, although I thought it was too sticky and had the wrong texture. Armed with Nigella-bestowed confidence, I did some more research.
9. You don’t need as much sugar as the recipes on the internet say you do. My second effort at marmalade, blood orange, ended up being too sweet, because I followed the recipe blindly. After still a little more research, I offer you my marmalade method, developed over a weekend, when I made a LOT of marmalade (blood orange, lime, grapefruit, and grapefruit/lemon).
Citrus Marmalade (one pound of fruit should fill six, 8-oz jars, but your yield will depend on how juicy your fruit is, how humid it is in your kitchen, blah, blah, blah — have some extra jars on hand)
1. Slice off the blossom and stem end of your fruit. Cut it in half, and remove the center core of pith, if any, and set aside (don’t discard it).
2. Slice the halves as thinly as you can (you’re aiming for the thickness of the ribbons of peel you want to see in your finished marmalade). Pull out the seeds, if any, and set aside with the pith. Cut the slices into more manageable but still desireable lengths, if necessary.
3. Put the pith and the seeds into a small length of cheesecloth, and tie it up tight.
4. Put the citrus slices and the cheesecloth wrapped seeds and pith in a bowl and cover with water. Cover the bowl with plastic, and let sit overnight. (This helps soak out some of the pectin, and it reduces the bitterness of the pith.)
5. Pull out the cheesecloth bundle and throw it away. Pour the remaining contents of the bowl into a big pot with as wide an opening as possible (this is to facilitate evaporation of water later on down the line).
6. Bring the citrus and water to a boil, then reduce heat so that it’s barely simmering. Simmer for about 3o minutes or until the peel is cooked through (no resistance when you poke it with a fork). While the citrus is simmering, boil water in your biggest stockpot, then reduce heat to just below a simmer. Put in your clean mason jars (I use half-pint and 4-oz jars).
7. Measure how much fruit you have. Use an equivalent amount of sugar (Some recipes tell you to use an equivalent amount of sugar as the water that you poured into the fruit to cover. This strikes me as nonsensical, because you’re going to boil most of that water off, and the amount of water used to cover the fruit varies from person to person. That shouldn’t be the thing that drives how sweet your marmalade is.)
8. This is totally optional, but I heat the sugar in a 200 degree oven for about 15 minutes. It makes the sugar dissolve faster in the fruit mixture, which leads to a clearer marmalade. Like I said, totally optional.
9. Pour the fruit back into the pot with the juice, then bring mixture back to a boil. Once it has boiled, remove the pot from the heat and pour in the sugar. Stir the mixture off the heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
10. Stash three small saucers in the freezer.
11. Put the sugar and fruit back on the heat and bring to a boil. Boil for about 20 minutes, pull off the heat, and pour a teaspoon onto one of your frozen saucers. Put the saucer back in the freezer for a minute, then push at the marmalade. If the surface wrinkles, it’s ready. If it doesn’t, put the sugar and fruit back onto the heat and boil for another few minutes. Keep testing until you get wrinkling. In the alternative, you can use a candy thermometer to see when the mixture hits 220 degrees F. I don’t have a candy thermometer.
12. When you get wrinkling, liberate your jars from the hot water, then turn the heat up on the stockpot so the water boils. Pour marmalade into the hot jars, leaving a quarter-inch of room at the top of the jar.
13. Wipe all the marmalade off the rims of the jars and top with clean, unused lids. Screw on rings until they’re tight, but don’t force anything — as tight as you can go only using your fingertips.
14. Place jars in boiling water, making sure there’s enough water to cover the jars by an inch. Put the lid on the pot, and process the jars in the boiling water for the time appropriate to your location’s altitude. (If you live at 1000 feet above sea level, or anywhere below, this is 10 minutes. Because I am paranoid, I go for 12 minutes. During this processing time, the heat from the boiling water bath should kill any harmful microbes that have found their way into your marmalade, jars, or lids.)
15. Take the lid off the pot and reduce the heat. After five minutes, remove the jars from the pot (more avoidance of thermal shock), place them on a heatproof surface, and remove the rings. You should have the incredibly satisfying experience of hearing the jar pop and seal.
16. Wait 24 hours, then test the seal on your jars. You should be able to hold them up by the ringless lids and not have the jars open. Wipe any schmutz off the outside of the jars, and stick a label on them. They’ll be good in a pantry for a year. Leave the rings off during storage so you’ll know right away if the seal has gone bad for some reason.
If you still don’t want to deal with the boiling water bath, that’s cool. All it means is that you have three weeks rather than a year to eat your marmalade, and it should be stored in the refrigerator. Also, if your marmalade doesn’t gel, no worries there either — now you have a delicious syrup to pour over pancakes or waffles or ice cream.
I gave the marmalade away as presents, and nobody has reported back food poisoning. After all that research I did, I think the best website on canning is http://www.foodinjars.com. I liked Marisa’s blog so much that I bought both her cookbooks.
Let me know how your cooking adventures go!
I can personally attest to the fact that the marmalade is fanf**kingtastic!! Thank you, Catherine!! 🐶