Life in Philly
The month got off to a nice start with Labor Day weekend. We walked to the Delaware river to take some photos, stopped by Headhouse farmers’ market, and went to see a movie, The Trip to Spain. The movie was mostly as enjoyable as the two previous installments, but it ended quite strangely and I wasn’t sure where it was going.
In the middle of the month, we took a walk to Paine Plaza to see the new All Power to All People installation, and we had a fun excursion to a Phillies-Dodgers game. Incredibly, despite the fact that Kershaw was pitching, the Phillies won.
Tom’s brother Dennis got a new grill, so we went up to the Northeast to try it out. Dennis supplied veggies and shrimp, and we brought fresh swordfish and corn from the famers’ market.
At the end of the month, my dad came to visit, and we enjoyed the Secrets of the Schuylkill riverboat tour.
We still enjoyed a lot of summer produce this month, but the tomatoes are starting to go away already. I’m finishing up my wish list of summer preserves, so I’ll need a new hobby!
The September wine club’s theme was Women Winemakers. For the Aficionado tier both wines were from Lane Tanner, the winemaker for Lumen Winery in Santa Barbara County. I was familiar with her wines due to her long history of making wines in the Santa Maria Valley under her own label and with Zaca Mesa, Hitching Post, and Firestone. I love her low-alcohol style that really lets the grapes express themselves. We enjoyed the grenache blanc with our summer grilling, and the grenache at Pumpkin BYOB.
On Labor Day, we made a delicious feast using recipes from The Indian Family Kitchen. We tried her recipe for burgers, which was absolutely delicious, and we served it with a variety of chutneys from the book, including date chutney, onion chutney, peach chutney, chile jam, apple relish, and cucumber raita.
Other fun things we made this month included:
- flounder with brown butter corn
- wine harvester’s chicken
- Syrian omelette
- tilefish with Israeli couscous
- Portuguese pork & clams with homemade pimenta moida
- wild mushroom pasta
- sumac roast chicken – we used chicken legs and it turned out great, but we would like to make it again with a whole chicken like recipe calls for
- summer bolognese – this is a repeat, but still so good!
- chile-marinated pork tenderloin
- chicken with pastis
- red pepper pasta – another repeat, but you can’t go wrong with this one
This was a pretty fun month for dining out. On my own, I enjoyed the very last Friday half day of the summer on September 1 and took myself to baology to enjoy some Taiwanese snacks. They have a great combo deal where you can get potstickers, gwa baos, and ruen bings. I had veggie postickers, mushroom gwa bao, and a pork ruen bing. When I was in Taiwan I didn’t know what ruen bings were called but I used to get them at the night markets often. These were even better than the night market versions, due to the local Berkshire pork and other outstanding ingredients. I wish they were open longer hours! I also tried the Roast food truck and had some delicious Filipino Cebu style lechon (I watched them carve the whole suckling pig in the truck!) and garlic fried rice.
We had some nice brunches this month, including at Rex and Mixto. We also went back to Cafe Lutecia for their BYOB for the first time in awhile. We enjoyed hanging out at Jet on Sundays with Amanda, especially as it turned out it was her last month there as she moves on to a new opportunity.
When my dad was in town, we tried several new restaurants, with an emphasis on seafood, including Pinefish for dinner, Ippolito’s for lunch, and Indeblue for dinner. The experience at Ippolito’s was fantastic. My dad picked out a fish, which they cooked for us and split three ways (served with clarified butter), and they also cooked up some delicious chard. We ordered a couple jumbo lump crab cakes and enjoyed our meal there. They were so nice, bringing us some extra habanero balsamic vinegar to try and letting us try some seafood salad. We also really enjoyed Indeblue; we had been there before for brunch and snacks but never for dinner. We got the crispy spinach chaat as always, but also tried an amazing mushroom dosa and tandoori shrimp. I ordered a goat curry, Tom got some delicious pork vindaloo, Dennis got lamb, and my dad got seafood – all with a variety of naan, including one that was stuffed with cheese(!).
This month’s Food in Jars Mastery Challenge was fruit butters, which I had really been looking forward to, because I grew up with lots of apple butter in my life and love it but had never made it. I started by reading Marisa’s post on how to make fruit butters in general. I have to admit that initially, I was frustrated with the non-recipe vagueness of the process (no clear amounts, no clear cooking times). So my first instinct was to try a recipe with more precise instructions. I chose the spiced peach butter recipe from Saving the Season, which included added sugar, molasses, and bourbon. At first I was disappointed by this recipe, as the added sugar made it too thick and jammy, not at all like the smooth consistency I was used to in apple butter. So I decided to embrace the vagueness and go back to the original Food in Jars post and get over my frustration. What it boils down to is you can take pretty much any quantity of fruit, cook it for about half an hour until it’s soft, puree it, then continue to cook it down until it’s done to your satisfaction, about another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, then season (I used a few sprinkles of cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg), jar, and process for 10 minutes. This can be done in a saucepan, in the oven at 300˚F, or in a slow cooker with the lid propped open. I tried peaches using the saucepan method and apples using the oven method. Both turned out great, but the oven method was easiest as it required the least stirring. I don’t have the type of slow cooker that can be propped open so I didn’t bother trying that. I love that these don’t need any added sugar! A week later I made another batch in the saucepan, this time using pears. I’m glad I got a food mill, as it made for a nice smooth puree. I plan to make some more peach and apple butter as I think it will make great gifts. Going back to that first batch of spiced peach butter from Saving the Season, it hadn’t yielded enough to can, so it was in the fridge as a snack. It actually grew on me over time, not as a fruit butter, but more like a fruit paste. So I ended up making some more of that as well!
So, last month’s challenge was low temperature pasteurization, which I wasn’t interested in because the only examples provided were all for cucumber pickles, which I don’t really care about. But as it happens, I had a pickled peppers recipe on my to-do list for this month, and I didn’t realize until I started making it that it was a low temperature pasteurization recipe, so I ended up completing the August challenge by accident. This method requires sustaining a temperature of 180-185˚F for the duration of water bath processing (30 min), which is very difficult without an immersion circulator. I spent about 2 hours fiddling with one of my small burners and a thermometer trying to find a sweet spot where that temperature range could be sustained. My electric burners simply don’t maintain the same temperature, they always get hotter and hotter, even at the lowest setting. So it was a delicate balance of getting to the right temperature, keeping a close eye on it, and adding some cooler water (but not too much) if it started to get too hot. I would not do this again without the proper equipment. Whether or not it was worth it, we’ll find out in winter when I open the pickled peppers! But I’m glad I at least tried it.
In addition to the new challenges, I continued to work on a lot of preservation projects this month, taking advantage of the summer bounty and continuing to refine my skills. I’m getting better at not over or under filling jars (most of the time). I’ve learned that denser things like BBQ sauce and fruit butters take longer to “ping”, and I’ve learned not to skip the step of de-bubbling hot packs with a chopstick. With jams, I just trust the thermometer when it gets to 220˚F rather than worrying about less reliable visual cues to tell if it’s ready. I’ve also learned some other tricks, like adding vinegar to my canner to keep mineral deposits from forming, and keeping a kettle of boiling water handy to replenish my canner for long processing times when too much water evaporates.
A few follow-up notes from last month:
- We ate the peach chutney from last month, and it was fantastic
- I popped open the cocktail onions, they were aiight, but they’ve never really been my thing so I can’t get too excited about them I guess.
- We used the fermented pimenta moida from last month to marinate some pork tenderloin, it was great! I made some more this month since esplette peppers were still available
Here are the new preserves I made this month
- sweet & sour roasted peppers with capers from Preserving Italy (preserved in oil, not canned) – this is delicious. Since it’s in the fridge, we’ll be enjoying this in the short term before opening any of the canned peppers. It’s basically a peperonata.
- chile jam from The Indian Family Kitchen – we ate this over Labor Day weekend and it’s delightful. I’m glad I made enough to last the whole year because we only get red chiles during summer, and the color is fantastic.
- smoked paprika tomato jam from Saving the Season – I had a wee taste of it before canning, this is going to be great
- spiced tomato jam from Preserving Italy – ditto
- peach jam w/champagne from Saving the Season – I’m not so into jam but I’m looking forward to this one. The recipe said you could use champagne, rosé, or sauvignon blanc, and I used the latter. I’ve said this before, but I love how so many recipes from Saving the Season utilize alcohol for acidity.
- BBQ sauce from Saving the Season – I was intrigued by this because it contains both tomatoes and peaches, as well as a kitchen sink full of other flavors, like porcini mushrooms and lapsang souchong. It cooks down a LOT, so the first time I made it, it didn’t actually yield enough to can. We enjoyed it in the fridge, though, so I decided to make some more. I doubled the amount I made the first time and still didn’t yield enough, but I mixed it with the leftovers from the first batch and finally had enough to can one 8 oz jar.
- fig jam from Preserving Italy – again, I’m not too into jam, but this will be great with cheese.
- mustard from Saving the Season – for mustard, I usually alternate between a simple recipe with beer, or David Lebowitz’s recipe, so I thought I’d try this one for something different. I found it to be too dry, but I’m very pleased with the spiciness.
- roasted tomato sauce – I love this method of making sauce, it’s so easy! I will definitely do this again.
- spicy pepper relish from Saving the Season – I can’t wait to have this with some hot dogs
- Heirloom tomato sauce from Saving the Season – I’ve been experimenting with a variety of different tomato sauce recipes and finally got around to trying this one out. I found it to be somewhat similar to the passata recipe from Preserving Italy. Yield was pretty low – 3 pounds of tomatoes only yielded about 12 oz. In the future I think I’d stick to the roasted tomato sauce recipe above, or the small batch tomato sauce recipe from Preserving Italy.
- fermented hot sauce from Ferment Your Vegetables – I actually had no intent of making hot sauce this summer, but I bought “too many” hot peppers one week at the farmers’ market and didn’t want them to go to waste. I’m glad for this happy accident, as this is the first batch of hot sauce I’ve made that finally came out properly! I’ve been disappointed by my hot sauce attempts in the past, as they always end up separating. I’m not sure what was different this time other than using a food mill and erring on the side of a thicker, sriracha-like consistency, but whatever it was, it worked!
- Colombian hot sauce (Aji Picante) – this was pretty tasty, but I think it would be best with meat & potatoes, two things I don’t eat much of. It only lasts about 10 days in the refrigerator, so I didn’t get too much use out if it.
- whole tomatoes – I got a mix of red & yellow romas, about 1 pint, but once they were packed in the jar it wasn’t quite enough to prevent some floating. I’ll be interested to see how these turn out and if it’s worth the trouble, since whole tomatoes require so much more processing time (85 min!).
- chunky salsa – I wasn’t satisfied with the salsa recipe I canned last month. This one is so much better! Whatever I did it was the perfect amount of heat, and the consistency is just like restaurant salsa. We will definitely enjoy this come winter.
- candied jalapeño (aka cowboy candy) – OK, people had been raving about this all summer on the Food in Jars Facebook group, so I had to try it out. It produces this leftover hot and sweet syrup that I saved in the fridge – it’s like jalapeño honey, great with cheese. I’m sure the peppers themselves will also make a delightful spicy, winter snack.
- tomatillo ketchup – I had a wee taste of the leftovers, it was so good, I can’t wait to eat this later!
- canned green tomatoes from Saving the Season – I wasn’t initially interested in green tomatoes, but once they started showing up I got intrigued. I look forward to frying up some fried green tomatoes with these.
- salt-preserved green tomatoes from Preserving Italy – again, I initially skipped over this recipe when I first got the book, but now that green tomatoes are in season it caught my eye. This one’s interesting because it ferments for a few weeks before being packed in olive oil, salt, and fennel seed. I started the ferment toward the end of September and will finish it off next month.
For repeats, this month I made:
- more salsa verde from Saving the Season – we keep eating it so I will keep replenishing as long as tomatillos are in season
- more crushed tomatoes from Saving the Season– this was from one very big, lovely yellow heirloom tomato. I was so charmed by its appearance that I now want to make more crushed heirloom tomatoes in different colors.
- more fermented pimenta moida – this time I fermented the peppers with brine rather than just salt, which seemed to help it ferment better. I drained the brine when it was done to keep a thick paste-like consistency.
- more fermented tomato salsa from Ferment Your Vegetables – I’ve got to stock up before tomatoes go out of season
- more fermented tomato sauce from Ferment Your Vegetables – ditto
- more fermented escabeche, this time with radishes in addition to carrots, jalapeño, onion, and garlic (taco pickles) – I haven’t tried it yet, but it smells fantastic.
- I started the month by reading the Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson: Steelheart, Firefight, and Calamity. It has an intriguing premise (basically evil X-men), but it was so poorly executed. The main character’s trait of coming up with really stupid, annoying similes (and worse, calling them metaphors) was truly awful. The amount of machinations it took to end the book and wrap everything up was incoherent and ridiculous. I read plenty of YA and don’t usually feel that it panders down, but this is an exception. All in all, the series was entertaining and had some engaging characters and ideas, but I wouldn’t recommend it for adults.
- Obelisk Gate – this finally came up on my hold list, and it was a welcome break from Sanderson in that it’s beautifully literary in a way that Sanderson never will be: rich and nuanced with skillful writing. I had forgotten a lot about The Fifth Season, and it was interesting to find that it’s practically impossible to find a summary of it online; the publisher must be quite skilled at pulling any possible spoilers. Anyway, this was an excellent read, and well-deserving of all its awards. I added the next book to my holds, but I’m sure it will be a few months before I get to read it.
- A Darker Shade of Magic – I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read the rest of the series. It was a smart, thoughtful fantasy romp that struck a good balance between being just plain fun and overly obtuse. Shortly after I read it, it appeared in a Tor.com article, Five SFF Worlds Tied Together by String Theory, which features two other series I love, and so I guess parallel worlds is a Thing I like that I didn’t know I liked! Anyway, I would recommend this book to everyone.
- Heir to the Jedi – I know the bar is not that high for Star Wars novels, but this was just OK. With Luke Skywalker as a first person narrator, and events taking place shortly after the Battle of Yavin, it would be out of character for him to be anything other than young, naive, and not very smart, but it was really boring and annoying be stuck in his POV the entire time. The story itself read like a monster-of-the-week episode from Star Trek rather than a novel-length adventure, and there was very little character or plot development. Luke’s female counterpart was much more interesting than he, and I would rather this had been a dual POV novel so that we could have learned more about her. The only interesting part of the whole book was when [spoiler], and Luke felt the dark side of the Force for the first time, without knowing that’s what it was. I did grow to like the alien character whose culture speaks in math – I have to admit that (p + l) + (a + n) = pa + pn + la +ln was a funny joke (I have foiled your plan!)
Last Month’s Update