The first weeks of 2015 have made me realize that I cook very few meals in any given week. To save time on weeknights and to supply our weekday lunches, I tend to cook meals that yield several days worth of leftovers. And then I get bored with the leftovers after a couple of days. Maybe another goal for 2015 should be adding some quick weekday dinners to my repertoire.
Slow Cooker General Tso’s Chicken
This slow cooker General Tso’s chicken was a loser that I’m not likely to make again. I love Chinese takeout General Tso’s and this recipe looked promising. However, I kind of hate food cooked in a slow cooker. With the exception of giant pork shoulders and cocktail meatballs, I rarely like anything made in my slow cooker. I should have known better than to make this chicken in it. The chicken and the sauce looked good as I was prepping them, but the slow cooker ruined the dish. The cornstarch breading fell off of the chicken in the crock pot and the chicken tasted a little weird and overdone. Reheating this meal the next day led to even weirder tasting chicken. Weird enough that my husband noticed it. So we threw it out, which is something we rarely do until leftovers are way past their prime.
Roasted Pork Sandwich
Since we threw out the General Tso’s chicken, I needed to cook more food sooner than anticipated. So I thawed a pork loin, roasted it with jerk seasoning and used it on sandwiches. These sandwiches were the complete opposite of terrible. They were so good that I’ll make them again soon. Possibly next week.
The sandwich is a very loose adaptation of a sandwich I tried at Paseo in Seattle last fall. The Paseo sandwiches were made with your choice of a variety of meats (roasted pork, chicken thighs, shrimp and more) that were dripping with a spicy citrus marinade/sauce. The sandwiches came on a crusty baguette with garlic mayonnaise, sauteed onions, Romaine lettuce, pickled jalapeños, fresh cilantro and whatever meat you chose.
My easy version of this sandwich was on a toasted baguette (or ciabatta) with the previously mentioned jerk seasoned pork loin, garlic mayonnaise, sauteed onions, lettuce and pickled jalapeños. I skipped the cilantro as I forgot to buy it. My version wasn’t dripping with marinade like the Paseo original, but it was pretty close otherwise.
Blackberry Crumb Tart
If you didn’t already know this, a week never goes by without me baking some sort of dessert. This week’s dessert was a crumb tart made with blackberries I picked last summer. I blogged about similar tarts many years ago, so you can find the recipe here. I usually make these tarts with mixed berries, but opted for just blackberries this time.
Every Christmas when I sort and package the year’s canned goods to give as gifts, I proclaim that I won’t can so many things the next year. And every year, I fail to can less. This year went a bit more off the rails than normal due to a number of great deals on fresh, mostly local fruit and about 75 pounds of completely free tomatoes from my parents.
In total, I canned 24 different types of jams, pickles and salsas in 2015. This total doesn’t include numerous small batches of refrigerator pickles or the actual number of batches I produced.
Sadly, unlike my friend Laura, I didn’t count the actual number of jars I canned in 2014. I’m pretty sure that the count was over 300 actual jars, most of which were half pints.
This was the first year of canning with the gas stove in our condo and the gas definitely helped speed up the canning process with its ability to boil water and liquids faster than the lame electric stoves I’ve used in previous years.
2014 was also the first year that I ordered supplies on the Internet. In past years, I’ve run all over town trying to find the best price for canning jars and pectin. I wasted a lot of time over the years, so this year the majority of my new jars were ordered from cooking.com. If you place a large enough order, shipping is free. And they have a great selection of Ball and Kerr products, including the Kerr wide mouth half pint jars that aren’t readily available in Virginia. I could usually find a promo code for a 15% or 20% discount from cooking.com, so I think the jars ended up costing only slightly more than they would have in my local stores.
While we’re talking about jars, if you’re reading this and happen to be one of the people I give canned goods to each year, I will HAPPILY always take empty jars and rings back from you. I will always use them the next year and to be honest, I’m more likely to give you refills in future years!
Below are a few details about everything I canned this year with links to the source recipe or cookbook.
Due to the 75 pounds of free tomatoes from my parents, I made six batches of this salsa in 2014. I started canning this in 2011 (just one batch that year) and I think it’s the most popular thing I can. Details about how I made this salsa are found in a blog post I wrote in 2012.
I started canning this in 2012 after some friends told me about a smoked tomato jam they had tried. It was an instant favorite and I now make at least a couple of batches each year. This year I think I made three batches. It’s fantastic with cheese and bread or crackers. And I’ve been told that it would be great spread on a grilled cheese sandwich.
I think this is the 5th year in a row that I’ve made this relish. For the first time, I saved myself hours of tedious chopping and used my food processor. I didn’t notice any difference in texture in the finished product, so no more chopping for me!
Pickled Cranberries – Source: Serious Eats recipe by Marisa McClellan (Food in Jars)
A friend gave me a jar of these last spring and I knew I’d have to make my own batch once cranberry season rolled around. I drop a couple of these into seltzer water with a little bit of the syrup. Or mix them with seltzer and gin for an even better beverage.
I had a bunch of extra cherries in the freezer this year and couldn’t figure out what to do with them, so I made this mostarda. I thought it was going to be a little too mustardy for my liking, but it’s actually really good. I may use some in a pan sauce with pork chops in the not too distant future.
Applesauce – Source: Put ‘Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton
In 2013, I made about 60 pints of applesauce, gave it all to my husband and told him that he could eat about a jar a week. I intended to do the same this year, but only got around to canning about 30 pints. He’ll have to pace himself if he wants it to last until next fall.
Oh my gosh, these cherries. Some local friends bought a new house this year and the house came with a lot of fruit trees. They moved in during cherry season and invited me over to pick as many as I wanted. I’d never found fresh sour cherries anywhere before, so I practically ran to their house. These bourbon sour cherries are cooked in a bourbon, lemon juice and sugar syrup. They’re so good that I never want to buy maraschino cherries for cocktails again.
Bourbon Sweet Cherries – Source: Adapted from bourbon sour cherries recipe in Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan
Since my supply of sour cherries was limited, I canned a couple of batches of sweet cherries in the same bourbon syrup. I’ve given jars of these out only to people that I know will appreciate them. The rest I’m hoarding for bourbon Old Fashioneds.
Vanilla Vodka Sweet Cherries – Source: Adapted from bourbon sour cherries recipe in Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan
Same recipe as the bourbon sweet and sour cherries, but with vanilla vodka and sweet cherries. I haven’t tried these yet, but they’ll be going into lots of cocktails in 2015.
In my numerous years of canning, I had never made raspberry jam. Yet raspberry jam is my favorite jam. This year I tracked down a pick your own farm about an hour away and picked enough berries for a couple batches of jam and a small raspberry tart. When I made the jam, I swore that I wouldn’t share it with anyone, but a few people did get jars of it in the end.
This one is tied with the bourbon peach vanilla jam as the favorite jam I make. This has a bit of balsamic vinegar and a heavy dose of freshly cracked black pepper. It sounded kind of weird to me at first, but it’s really fantastic.
This was made with some of the sour cherries from my local friends. I believe the cherry variety was Nanking and they were so tiny that the only way I could get the seeds out was to run the fruit through the food mill.
This stuff is amazing on vanilla ice cream. I made it a couple of years ago, but regretted skipping it in 2013. I couldn’t find a strawberry sauce recipe that I liked the first year I made it, so I made regular strawberry jam and intentionally used very little pectin so that the jam wouldn’t set firmly. It’s thick enough to spoon onto ice cream or desserts, but definitely not thick enough to spread on toast.
I ended 2014 and began 2015 in the same way that 2013 ended and 2014 began: New Year’s Eve was spent playing board games and drinking bubbly with my husband and my sister-in-law. And on New Year’s Day, I made a batch of sweet potato biscuits with Virginia ham. I think the ham biscuits might become a New Year’s Day tradition regardless of what we do on New Year’s Eve.
I have a plan to take more food photos in 2015 than I have in recent years. With these photos, I hope to blog a little more often than three or four times a year. My friend Amy recently wrote a couple of blog posts about the things she made for Christmas so that she had a record for future years. Her posts inspired me to try to do the same in the year ahead. I’m going to try to document as many of the foods I cook and bake as possible. To keep it manageable, I’m only aiming to post a quick round up (with pictures and recipe sources) of what I’ve made weekly or biweekly. And in 2016, I’ll thank myself for it whenever I need inspiration for meal planning!
To get things started, these sweet potato biscuits are made from a Molly Wizenberg recipe posted in Bon Appétit a number of years ago. I’ve been using this recipe for the last few years and plan to keep it in the rotation for years to come. In addition to making these on New Year’s Day, I frequently make them when I need an appetizer or finger food for a party.
The hardest part for me is remembering to cook the sweet potatoes ahead of time. The recipe boils them, but I usually roast them in the oven.
When I roast the sweet potatoes, I almost always cook way more than I need. From there, I portion the leftovers into bags and freeze them for the next time I want to bake a batch of biscuits.
I always use salty Virginia ham with the biscuits. You could use other hams, but I don’t know why you would.
The original recipe calls for mustard and honey on the biscuits. I’ve tried this and they’re delicious, but I usually use apple butter or some sort of fruit jam. Today I used a peach ginger jam and it was fantastic.
For the last year or so, I’ve fallen into a habit of bringing a batch of salted caramel macarons with me whenever I gather with knitter friends. I’m not quite sure why I started doing this, but at this point I think it’s expected for me to show up with macarons. While planning a recent trip to NC, a couple of the knitters asked if I could teach them how to make macarons – one of them even dragged her Kitchenaid from IN to NC for the lesson. Sadly the lesson failed due to altitude and/or funky egg whites. Fortunately I brought dozens of macarons from home just in case the lesson didn’t work! Despite the failure, one of my friends from the trip asked me to share the recipe, so that she could attempt them at home.
I’ve tried a few different recipes in the last couple of years with mixed results. Then I got a copy of the Bouchon Bakery cookbook. I tried the macaron recipe in it immediately and I probably won’t ever use another recipe.
The other macaron recipes I used were very particular about warming egg whites to room temperature and even using old egg whites. These recipes also required the unbaked cookies to sit on the cookie sheets for a period of time before baking. The Bouchon Bakery recipe doesn’t require you to use old room temperature egg whites and you can bake the cookies immediately after piping!
The linked recipe is for plain macarons. I’ve adapted the recipe to make lemon, vanilla and espresso macarons, but I make salted caramel ones most frequently. The cookies themselves aren’t really caramel flavored, but to color them and add a little flavor, I add the following to the meringue part of the batter: about a 1/2 teaspoon of instant espresso dissolved in a light splash of vanilla extract. The coffee flavor from the instant espresso is subtle enough that most people don’t notice it.
The recipe for salted caramel filling makes about twice as much as you’ll need for a batch of macarons. You can make half a batch or you can do what I often do and use it in a batch of the salted caramel brownies from Smitten Kitchen.
The original Bouchon Bakery recipe lists the ingredients by weight and by volume. For some unknown reason, I don’t own a digital scale, so I use the volume measurements. The Annie’s Eats recipe only lists the weights, so here are the volume measurements as well:
212 grams – 1 3/4 cups + 2 1/2 tablespoons almond flour/meal
212 grams – 1 3/4 cups + 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
82 grams – 1/4 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons egg whites
90 grams – 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons egg whites
236 grams – 1 cup + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (plus a pinch for the egg whites)
158 grams – 2/3 cup water
Seriously, I think this is the best sandwich in Charlottesville. It’s from Bodo’s, a local bagel place, and it is an amazing combo of warm pastrami, melty muenster cheese, mayo and lettuce on an everything bagel.