Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Caramel Apple Jam

In two previous posts I’ve mentioned Caramel Apple Jam but never posted the recipe myself. I borrowed this recipe from another blog, and made a few minor adaptations for my own needs [1]. This year I’ve made two batches of it, because it was so popular.

Caramel Apple Jam

  • 5.5 Cups prepared Apple Sauce
  • 3.5 Cups Sugar
  • 0.5 Cups water
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • Vanilla Extract (to taste)

Prepare the apple sauce ahead of time. Basically follow the recipe for apple butter, but stop cooking it before it turns brown and gets thick.

In a large stock pot, add the water and the lemon juice. Pour in 2 cups of sugar, slowly and evenly. DO NOT STIR. You’re making a “wet caramel”. In the wet method, caramel and water are cooked together. As the water evaporates, the boiling point of the mixture increases. Eventually, the sugar starts to caramelize, without much fear of burning.

Bring the sugar/water mixture to a boil over medium or medium-low heat. Boil it, without stirring, until the mixture starts to turn to a caramel-brown color.

When you’re ready, add the apple sauce. WARNING: There will be some spluttering. The sugar/water mixture is boiling at a higher temperature than plain water. Adding the apple sauce will change that ratio, decrease the boiling point again, and things will get a little violent. Keep your face away from the opening while you stir to mix.

Add the remaining sugar and the vanilla extract. I used my own homemade vanilla, about 2 Tbsp of it.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is thicker. Since it’s hot, it will thicken up even more when it’s cool, so don’t go crazy.

To preserve this jam, put it into prepared half-pint jars and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

I made this jam last year, and it was very well received. In fact, it was one of the most requested repeat recipes I’ve ever had. A jam with caramel AND apples? It’s a no-brainer.

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Last year I commented that the jam was a little too sweet. I was planning to decrease the amount of sugar, but then I remembered that this is a pectin-free recipe and I couldn’t decrease the sugar without changing the consistency. So I didn’t change a thing.

I had thought about adding a bit of sea salt to the mix, but my wife isn’t a fan of the whole “salted caramel” craze so I didn’t do that either. Next time, maybe.

I made two batches this year. The first batch went perfectly but the second batch had some issues with the caramel. For some reason the sugar wasn’t caramelizing as well as it had previously, with sugar crystals floating around on the top of the bubbling mixture. I had to stir it in, which I haven’t had to do before. When I added the apple sauce the caramel hardened into a large clump. Luckily, during the boiling period, the caramel clump dissolved and the final product turned out the same as always.

All three batches I’ve made of this jam have produced almost exactly 7 half-pint jars of jam, sometimes with almost enough left over for a small quarter-pint jar.

Notes

  1. Her recipe calls for using a vanilla bean, mixed in with the sugar to make vanilla sugar instead of vanilla extract. She also calls for some rum to be added at the end to finish it. I didn’t have rum or vanilla beans, so I used some of my homemade vanilla extract (which is vodka-based) instead. Otherwise, I kept the recipe almost identical because I wanted to get the right consistency.


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Apple Butter

I’ve been to the orchard a few times for apples already. The first time I grabbed a few Early Delicious towards the end of peach season. The second time I grabbed a big pile of Gala. Next I grabbed a bunch of Jonathans, and a sampler of Mutsu and Ida Red. Most recently, I picked up two big bags of Stayman-Winesap, a bag each of Fuji and Braeburn, and a sampler of Arkansas Black.

Long story short, I’ve got a buttload of apples. That’s what I’m going to be talking about for the next few posts.

I’ve mentioned apple butter several times on this blog. I even had a post about Peach Butter. Last Xmas we gave away half-pint jars of apple butter to friends and family. To date, I’ve never posted a recipe for it. It is time to rectify that.

Apple Butter

  • Apples
  • Lemon Juice
  • Sugar (optional)
  • Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger or other seasonings (Optional)

Take apples, core them, and put them into a crock pot or large stock pot. Add the juice of one lemon, sprinkled over top to prevent browning (and to be extra certain that your pH will be low enough). You don’t need to peel the apples, but I do sometimes. If the apples are looking good and the skins don’t look too creepy, you can save yourself some effort and leave the skins on. If you’ve got a fancy-schmance peeler/corer contraption and it’s just as easy to peel the apple as to not peel it, go for it.

For the record, I’ve made apple butter with various combinations of Stayman-Winesap, Jonathan, Mutsu and Ida Red apples. I still haven’t found an apple variety or combination that I prefer the most. I guess I’ll just have to keep experimenting!

Cook the apples over medium-ish or high-ish heat until bubbling. Turn the apples into sauce. You can do this by smashing (for a rustic-looking chunky applesauce), with a blender or with an immersion blender. Reduce heat to low and cook the crap out of it until it’s thick and brown.

Once it’s cooked, you can call it a day and process it into jars. Sometimes my wife really likes the simple taste of unadulterated apple goop. We didn’t add anything at all to the peach butter, for example, and it turned out great. Sometimes, we like to add some seasoning. If you’ve used any sweet or mostly-sweet apples to your mix, you probably don’t need to add sugar. Once it’s cooked down, taste it to see if it’s sweet enough. If not, add some sugar (start small). Maybe consider honey or brown sugar too.

Sometimes we like the flavor of plain apples, sometimes we like to add cinnamon and other spices. Nutmeg and ginger are good additions, in moderation. You’ll have to taste your butter and season it to meet your particular needs.

Once the apple butter is cooked and seasoned, you can put it into jars for long-term preservation. Half-pint jars can be processed in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

Since we season everything to our particular tastes the resulting apple butter is, surprise, perfect. If it wasn’t perfect, we would have added some more crap to it. That’s how cooking works.

Most recently, we used a combination of Jonathan, Mutsu and Ida Red apples, and seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. We peeled the apples because several of them had some skin creepiness going on. The resulting butter is very reminiscent of the kinds of apple butter has a very rich, warm taste.

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A full crockpot of raw apple slices yielded 6 and a half pints. Two quarter-pint jars weren’t sealed and went into the fridge for immediate noms. The rest is going onto the shelf so we can eat them all next weak in a mindless frenzy.


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Dried Tomatoes In Oil

My camera was on the fritz (it ran out of battery, and I was too lazy to find the charger), so this post and a few others have been on hold waiting for pictures.

I really want to call them “sundried”, because that word just rolls off the tongue a little bit easier than calling them “dehydrated tomatoes”. Then again, I’ve seen plenty of products at the grocery store with the phrase “sundried tomatoes!” painted across the front, but with an ingredient list that includes tomatoes dehydrated or freeze-dried using a variety of non-solar means. I wonder if it’s technically a lie to call a tomato “sundried” if you put them in a big industrial dehydrator which is connected to a big solar panel somewhere?

Regardless.

I made a big batch of dried tomatoes in my parent’s dehydrator. Last year when I made dried tomatoes, I put them in an air-tight container but they ended up growing mold anyway. This year, I decided I wanted to try a little harder and create something that would actually keep for a while. I created a recipe in the usual way: by finding a few popular recipes on the interwebz and using my complete lack of talent, expertise and imagination to cobble them together in the worst way possible.

Dehydrator Dried Tomatoes

  • Tomatoes
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cut the tomatoes into chunks suitable for drying [1]. Squeeze out the excess liquid and arrange the pieces in a dehydrator. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Sprinkle with other herbs or flavoring ingredients as desired. Follow the instructions that came with your dehydrator to dry the tomatoes.

Most recipes I’ve seen call for a variety of herbs and other seasonings to be used. If you want, cool. I didn’t think it was necessary and the resulting tomatoes were perfect without anything else.

Dried Tomatoes In Oil

  • Dried Tomatoes
  • Olive Oil
  • Red Wine Vinegar

I didn’t put measurements because you don’t really need them.

In a medium-sized pot, put a sufficient quantity of oil. Bring the oil up to boiling temperature [2]. Remove from heat.

Start with about a cup of red wine vinegar in a separate small pot and bring to a boil. Once the vinegar has boiled, remove from heat. Using a handful at a time, dunk the tomatoes into the vinegar, shake off the excess vinegar, and put the tomatoes into a prepared, sterilized jar. Be careful not to pack them too tightly.

Fill each jar to within 1/2 inch with the heated oil. Put on a sterilized lid and process the jars in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes (for half-pints) [3].

Results

I was a little apprehensive about these, just because nobody on the internet can give me a definitive answer about whether this recipe is safe or not. When I opened up the first jar, a few weeks after they were canned, I was pleasantly surprised. There was nothing visibly amiss, and the contents smelled exactly like they did when they went in: olive oil and tomatoes. The flavor was fantastic: sweet with a little tang and a great tomato flavor. I didn’t use any herbs, garlic or other seasoning, so it’s hard to compare my version with the store-bought varieties, but they were very tasty.

They were a little softer coming out than they were going in. Not a lot, but definitely softer. If your dehydrated tomatoes are a little bit too hard and you think they won’t work, you may be surprised.

Most other recipes I’ve seen call for a variety of dried herbs and garlic to further season the result. I didn’t think it was necessary and when I eat these bad boys I don’t think anything is missing. One day I may try some garlic and dried basil, but this is not that day.

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We (my wife) decided to chop a few of them up and use them over some cheese tortellini. I chopped a few of these tomatoes, and we added them to the tortellini with a cube of frozen basil, some butter, some grated Parmesan cheese and some fresh ground black pepper. The resulting pasta was very good indeed.

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Notes

  1. With cherry tomatoes, I cut them in half. With average-sized plum tomatoes I’ve cut them into quarters. Larger tomatoes are going to need more cuts. I’ve had trouble with the skin of plum tomatoes preventing the backside from drying out evenly. Some sources recommend you skin the tomatoes before you dehydrate them. I think that’s too much effort. In the future I may try scoring or puncturing the tomato skins to help the liquid escape more easily.
  2. Oil doesn’t boil at the same temperature that water does, so you can get oil very very very hot before you see any visible changes (and it will probably be smoke, instead of bubbles). Heat the oil over medium heat until small drops of water dripped into the pan cause a “pop”, not a violent explosion. If it explodes violently, you’ve gone too far. Also, keep your face away from the pan while you do this.
  3. In theory, this recipe should be mostly safe. The oil and boiling water processing should keep most bacteria and other pathogens out, and the vinegar should be sufficient to keep botulism at bay. However, I have not yet seen any actual scientific proof that this is a safe and reliable method. Use at your own risk, and given the choice make sure to err on the side of caution. If you attempt this and it goes south for you, you never met me I don’t know you.


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Garlic Planted

It’s mid-October, so the time has come to plant garlic. I brought the munchkin out to help, and he did. For about 3.5 seconds. There’s nothing like a little bit of good father-son bonding time.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about the barter, I had 2 heads each of 5 varieties of garlic. They are, in the order that they were planted: Music, German Red, Purple Italian, Leningrad and German White. Here are some initial notes about them:

  • Music: The cloves were decent quality and size, and there were several of them. One or two cloves were not suitable to be planted, but the majority were just fine.
  • German Red: Many of the cloves were a little creepy, between being dried and shriveled or starting to rot. I was able to salvage enough to plant, but maybe a half of the cloves were not usable.
  • Purple Italian: Better than the German red, a few of the cloves of the Italian Purple were rotting or otherwise unplantable, but not too many.
  • Leningrad: These cloves were bigger but less numerous. Only one clove seemed creepy, the rest were planted.
  • German White: Each head had exactly 4 large cloves. These were the biggest cloves of all the varieties I planted, and all of them were healthy-looking.

I can use this information to try and direct my planting and harvesting habits. If the German Red and Purple Italian varieties are more less robust in long-term storage, I can try to use them up earlier for eating, be more careful in how they are stored, and plant them earlier in the fall before some of the problems set in. The German White and Leningrad varieties, on the other hand, can maybe be saved till later in the season without worrying that they will go bad.

Of these five varieties, we haven’t eaten any yet. We won’t know until next year how they taste, and which ones are really worth keeping and propagating for the long term.