Black Currant Jam

Black Currants Cooking

Black currants cooking. This is about step #2 in the following recipe.

My mother is Estonian, and as a very young girl she was forced to flee her home and life on Muhu Island (part of Estonia) when the Soviets were re-invading the country, out of fear of the purges that the Soviets were so well known for at that time. Her story is compelling and complex, and I won’t attempt to describe it here; I mentioned this fact only as a way to mention that she ended up as an immigrant in Sweden, and that she grew up there, learning Swedish customs and cuisine.

One thing that is a part of Swedish cuisine that seems to be almost completely unknown in the USA is currants. These are berries of a particular kind of compact bush that is largely unknown in the USA, which is a shame because they are AMAZING. They are a mid-summer crop that is harvested quickly and processed immediately, because they go bad fast. Black currants are sweet and delicious; red currants are tart and will make your right eye squeeze shut if you try to eat too many at once. Both of them are loaded with nutrients! My european friends here in the USA all pine for the flavor of black currants.

One of the first things that I did when I moved to my current home was to plant 13 black currant plants, and they’ve been producing faithfully ever since. A flat (about one quart) of black currants in the grocery store costs $17 here, when you can find them. If you DO find them, I recommend that you buy them right away! Why? Because of the following recipe. This recipe can be easily doubled, and it always jells because currants are loaded with natural pectin. The resulting jam lasts for a long time and is wonderful on oatmeal in the morning, or toast, or whatever.

  • 5 cups black currants
  • 4 cups sugar (yes, you read that right)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (preferably freshly squeezed, but that’s not crucial)
  • 2 cups water
  1. Place the fruit in a sauce pan with the water. There should be several inches of headspace above the currants, as the combination will need to boil high.
  2. Bring to a low boil, stirring often to help break the fruit down. Once at a low boil, cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Turn down the heat and add the sugar (slowly) and the lemon juice. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  4. Raise the heat up and bring to a full, rolling boil. Keep stirring.
  5. Boil hard for 10 minutes.
  6. Once the 10 minutes are done, turn off the heat and let the mixture stand for 5 minutes, then pour into jars.
  7. If you want to can the jars, process them in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

Depending upon your technique, you’ll get about 4 to 10 eight-ounce jars of jam. And it will DEFINITELY set: currants are loaded with pectin, so you never have to test the batch for its jell-point. Your result might look like mine, as I finished cooling my black currant jam jars this afternoon:

Canned Black Currant Jam

I’ve already traded one of those jars for some ripe tomatoes, which go for $$/lb at the market, and each of those jars cost me next to nothing (less than a dime and a few hours of my time).

Zucchini Relish, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Squash

This is the time of year in the Pacific Northwest (where I call home) that zucchini, yellow squash, and other summer squashes become the reason why neighbors and family begin avoiding each other. A single zucchini plant can produce so much fruit that it’s not only impossible for a single person to use it all themselves, it’s impossible to even give it away right now because everyone is trying to give away their excess. If you had hearts in your eyes as a mid-winter dreamer of gardens and foolishly seeded more than one plant, then you are in even worse straits; it’s likely that your local food bank won’t even answer the doorbell when you ring, now.

However, I have discovered a partial solution, and it’s a good one: zucchini relish. It’s easy to make, easy to preserve (if you enjoy canning), delicious, and it works for any food that you might use pickle relish on. (Think meats: hot dogs, hamburgers, etc., but it works equally well on veggie burgers and even with crispy fried tofu.)

There are a huge number of recipes for zucchini relish out there, but this is the one that I’ve settled on, after a bit of modification. It’s sweet, but not overly sweet. It keeps in the refrigerator for a few weeks, and probably a couple of years after being canned. I cannot comment on that second assertion since I devour it long before it gets to its first birthday, no matter how much I make.

The offending fruits

The offending fruits

Sweet Zucchini Relish

  • 12 cups shredded summer squash (I use a food processor)
  • 4 cups chopped onion (I use a Vidalia ChopWizard)
  • 5 tablespoons salt (I use salt *snerk*)
  • 1 red bell pepper (optional: just for color)
  • 1 green bell pepper (optional: just for colour, for my UK friends)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
  • fresh ground black pepper (amount to your liking)
  1. Place the shredded squash in a large bowl, and add the salt. Mix with your hands until it’s evenly mixed. The squash will immediately start shedding liquid. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Drain and rinse the squash. Squeeze out as much water as you can from the remaining solids.  (Rinsing is important: the salt was there to get the liquid out of the solids; you don’t want the salt in the final product, at least not in that amount. What salt remains will be perfect for enhancing the flavor.) Add in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

At this point, your relish is done. You can pack it into jars and refrigerate and eat, or you can freeze it, or you can can it. It’s really just that simple. If you decide to can it, here are the remaining (incredibly uncomplicated & standard) steps:

  1. Pack relish into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
  2. Use a knife to skim the insides of the jar to remove any bubbles.
  3. Wipe the top of the jars to get rid of any moisture or solid bits.
  4. Put on a fresh lid and place in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes.

A pint of canned zucchini relish. This EXACT pint is going into the mail to grace Josh SpokesGay’s table.

And that’s all there is to it. The great thing about this recipe is that it takes a nutritious and delicious fruit, summer squash, which has a very short raw shelf-life, and turns it into something that you can use for months or even years.

The World’s Second-Best Chicken Wing Recipe

First off, the World’s Best Chicken Wing Recipe is finished on the grill with indirect heat and plenty of mesquite smoke. These are finished in the oven. Anyhoo… two parts. Part the first is the chicken wings, part the second is the sauce.

To start with the wings, either start with pre-cut party wings or cut up wings yourself (reserving the tips for chicken stock later.) Rinse the chicken, pat it dry, and lay the pieces out on a cookie sheet. Cover the pieces in plenty of salt and stick in the fridge for around an hour. You’re going to pat the salt off when you’re done, and this should make the skin nice and dry. Dry skin=crispy skin.

chickenwings1

This is a good time for you to mix up your dipping sauce, start strategerizing your glaze, or get a couple of brews on ice. I’m having ranch-flavored Greek yogurt(with a couple of tablespoons of mayo) and a couple of hours of flavors marrying is a good idea. Traditional buffalo wing sauce recipes are all over, but I’m doing something a little different, a little special. If you like your wings a little more simple, you can season them with your favorite powered seasoning or seasoned salt immediately AFTER frying.

My glaze looks more or less like this:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce (of your choice)
  • dash of Worcestershire
  • splash of lime juice

chickenwings2

If you have a blind swordsman handy, you can prank him with the hot sauce and then he’ll kick your sorry ass.

Deep fry them wings now! Not too many at once and with a break in between so the oil doesn’t cool down. The worst thing you can do when you’re frying food is not having the oil at the proper temperature. Each batch goes about 8-10 minutes and then on a paper towel to drain, followed by being tossed in the glaze.

chickenwings3

chickenwings4

When you’re close to done frying, preheat the oven to 400°. Put the wings in a pan or on a cookie sheet covered with foil, and finish in the oven for about 5-10 minutes. Here’s what you get at the end of it:

chickenwings5

Any questions? Ask and I’ll tell. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of the honey-soaked heat of these amazing chicken wings!

BTW, the hot sauce that I used is called Green Heat, made by Spicy Caribbee from Puerto Rico. They have a shop in Old San Juan, and you can order online at www.spicycaribbee.com.

My wife is a big fan of chicken wings done right, and she has been yelling for the last 30 minutes that these are the best damn chicken wings she’s ever eaten in her whole life!

Meat Stuffed Plantain

Sweet and spicy are combined in one dish for an excellent meal.

Ingredients

*2 yellow plantains, ripe

*1 lb Meat (beef or turkey or diced chicken)

*1/2 cut diced onion

*1/2 jalapeno pepper

*1/2 Long Hot pepper

*1 Sweet pepper

*2 table spoon butter

*Cinnamon

*Brown Sugar

*Chili Powder

*Garlic powder (or fresh crushed Garlic), about 2 teaspoons

*4 table spoons of diced tomato and juice

Peel the plantains by slicing off the tips of each end and then removing the skin. Be careful not to break the fruit apart. Make a small incision along the plantains and gently start to open it, be sure not to completely separate them so make the cut shallow.

Prepare a grilling surface and heat to medium. Put plantains on grill with the open side facing up. Add the butter in thin slices onto the plantains and sprinkle on cinnamon. Cook until the butter melts completely into the plantains. Turn over and cook for about an equivalent amount of time (took about 8 minutes for me but it will vary based on your grill/stove). On the other side sprinkle on brown sugar and make sure it caramelizes into the plantain. Flip over again and cook until the plantain crisps up. Do the same for the other side

In a frying pan or wok, coat in oil and heat to medium. Add in sliced onions and drizzle brown sugar over them. Cook until the onions are transparent and caramelized

Chop the peppers as fine as you can (again be careful using hot peppers, they can actually hurt if they get in your eyes). Add them, garlic and the ground meat of your choice into the pan. Stir and mix well.

Brown the meat while peroidically stiring it and mixing it with the onions and peppers. Add in the diced tomatoe. Season as you go with chili powder. Cook until brown.

Using a spoon dish the meat into the slit of the plantains. Serve over rice.

Red Meatballs

This recipe is a bit of an oddball. It’s an old family recipe, and can be summarized thusly: Swedish meatballs. In a tomato-based sweet-and-sour sauce. Served over noodles.

Ingredients:

Meatballs

1 pound ground turkey

1 tablespoon minced dried onion

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon parsley

1/2 cup bread crumbs or cornmeal

1 egg

Sauce

8 oz canned tomato sauce

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (ALERT: Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies)

3 whole cloves

1/2 bay leaf

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Noodles

I prefer the use of wide egg noodles, but this is a personal choice. Any wide noodle will do.

Directions:

Meatballs

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix evenly. Shape into 1-inch balls. Brown in olive oil. Make sure they cook entirely through!

Sauce

Combine all ingredients in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add cooked meatballs. Return to boil, then reduce heat, cover, and let simmer 10  minutes.

Prepare noodles and drain.

For best results, serve the meatballs and sauce on a bed of noodles.