Sunday, February 05, 2012

(Self) Exploration in the Kitchen: Bacon Jam, Citrus Marmalade, Chai Spread

I learned two things yesterday in my kitchen: (1) I love to experiment and (2) I am an overachiever. Now some might say “Duh!!!”, but I have always looked at my productivity as maximizing the use of my time and being able to multitask on a very high level. I think I was just using euphemisms, as the word “overachiever” has a harsh tone to it, a bad connotation, if you will (and if you do think of it in a good context then it sounds like you are “tooting your own horn,” as my Nana used to say).

I started out the day innocently enough, planning on making use if the year’s first batch of Meyer lemons. My Meyer lemons are finally starting to get ripe, which means the ritual of making and canning lemon curd is on the agenda this month and next.

Once I haul out the canning kettle, jars, lifting tongs, funnels, pots, pans, bowls, and all the ingredients, it seems logical that I should make the best use of them by canning more than just the curd. Makes sense, right? Well, it started out with a citrus marmalade, fell into a bacon jam, and ended with a chai spread. What began at 10am ended at 4pm, with a very tired Mrs. B and 20 glorious jars of goodness. 

The lemon curd is a recipe I have been making for more than 20 years; one that didn’t have directions to can it, so I called into the Chef Narsai David’s radio show one day—at the insistence of my father—to ask how to preserve my precious curd. It’s been an annual ritual ever since. The recipe can be found here on my blog, or in my little cookbook, Eat Drink Merry.

The citrus marmalade was born out of a need to use the oranges that had arrived in my CSA box, some limes that I had on hand and, of course, the Meyer lemons. I turned to several of my canning cookbooks for inspiration, and chose to freeform a recipe, not measuring anything. I used the fruit, along with orange juice, orange blossom water, sugar, and some honey. The marmalade turned out pretty good, still having that bite (or bitterness) along with the sweet. The orange blossom water was very subtle, and I might try to add more next time around. 

The bacon jam has been in my recipe To Do file since December of 2010. I am not sure what took me so long to make it, but it is friggin’ delicious and next time I will make a triple batch. As I set about to make it, Brilliant Daughter complained about the name. She didn’t want to call something savory “jam.” (She also believes dessert shouldn’t have any kind of cheese in it.) We searched our vocabulary for a suitable word and settled on confit, although in the strictest sense, it is not really a confit. But it sounds fancy and more appropriate for this savory thick mixture.

I used a pound of my home-cured and smoked bacon, which upped the quality of the jam considerably, in my humble opinion. The original recipe was on Not Quite Nigella, but I altered the recipe a bit, using a red onion, more garlic, Sriracha, smoked paprika and a last splash of red wine vinegar. I also deleted the fresh ground black pepper, as the jam had enough kick without it. How do I know? Because I constantly tasted it. I mean constantly. It was all I could do to not eat it all. I fixed Mr. B and myself a sandwich with it: whole wheat bread, toasted, a light swath of mayo, and a thick slab of cheddar cheese. Butcher Son asked if we were supposed to eat it on a peanut butter sandwich. Hmmm…. Maybe I will just try that too!

After the bacon jam was finished, I got the inspiration to try and fashion some sort of chai spread. For Christmas, a friend brought me a jar of this luscious café au lait spread she found at the Ferry Building. It’s wonderful on morning toast or crumpets. Because my family loves, LOVES, chai, I thought I would try and make a similar spread.  

I started by steeping cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon stick (all lightly smashed with a pestle), along with an inch of fresh sliced ginger, in some water with loose black tea leaves. After boiling for 15 minutes, I had a strong reduced base, to which I added a cup of sugar and a cup of heavy cream. I simmered for 10 minutes and then tempered 6 beaten eggs and poured them into the mixture. I stirred on a very low heat for a very long time. I got some small globs when I turned up the heat, but my immersion blender took care of those nicely. Once it had thickened, I poured into jars and processed for 15 minutes. 

Mr. B and I couldn’t wait for morning to try the chai spread on French toast, so we sliced a baguette and gave them a generous schmear. Yummy. Not exactly the same consistency as the café au lait spread, and the color may not be terribly appetizing (your basic beige), but it is a tasty chai addition to my recipe files (see chaidoodles, chai bread pudding, chai-spiced cinnamon rolls). 

Pretty productive and tasty day for  me, along with the blueberry muffins I made for breakfast, all the living room baseboards and trim that I sanded, and the grocery shopping I did. Guess I’m going to have to own the moniker of “overachiever” and wear it proudly!

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