Shrubs for #fijchallenge #3

March’s challenge was either jelly or shrubs. Since I’m not a huge fan of jelly and have made them before, but never quite used them well with the exception of pepper jelly, we went for shrubs. We had suspicions about the usability of this one so other then buying Bragg’s unfiltered apple cider vinegar, went for things we had and stayed with 2 small batches. Thanks to some frozen blueberries, fresh mint, plenty of ginger for kombucha making and a handful of mandarin oranges, we landed with blueberry ginger and mandarin mint. IMG_20170306_134055837

My pictures didn’t turn out too well, essentially the process is 1:1:1 parts vinegar, fruit and sugar with the mint/ginger added in. We macerated the fruit, combined it with the sugar and a bit of the vinegar and then left it in quart jars for a couple days. Then strained and added the balance of the vinegar. They turned out gorgeous colors.

So far we’ve experimented with blueberry ginger rum drinks (local spiced rum), which were fine, but not my new favorite thing. I am however, enjoying blueberry ginger with soda water as a nice fill in when I’d really like something different than water to drink and it’s too late for coffee or would like something a little sweet at night, but want to bypass dessert.

In the end, not sure these will land in the regular rotation, but they were a fun and very easy experiment.

Marmalade and the #fijchallenge

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Blood Orange Marmalade in process

One of my favorite food/canning blogs (Food in Jars) announced early this month that she was going to host a canning challenge this year.  I’ve been canning for almost 10 years now (!!), usually a mix of things we love and use, plus things our families love since baskets of canned goods are our main holiday gifts (my take on Advent Conspiracy) with a couple new things mixed in every year as there’s time.

We have our standbys: herbed tomatoes, pizza and pasta sauce, dilly beans and spicy jams for appetizer plates and grilled cheese. There’s our family favorites: pepper jelly, fig jam, spiced apple butter and Asian plum sauce and then what originally got the best friend and I into canning in the first place – our salsa :). Usually we have a salsa weekend event made often with my sister and some level of interruptions from the littles with our spouses (mostly willingly) involved in some manner  at one of our homes with the kids nearby in the heat of August/September when tomatoes at our at their prime. For the most part I’ve found we tend to better use the savory vs. sweet and when I do use jam, I much prefer my mom’s freezer variety than canned ones.

The #fijchallenge kicks off this month with marmalade. Which marries lots of new for me – I’ve never worked with citrus in the canner and never made a marmalade. In fact, I can’t remember eating marmalade although I’m positive I’ve tried it at some point, because really who hasn’t tried the small packaged orange marmalade found on all restaurant tables? Also I’ve spent several months’ worth of life traveling in the British Isles and I’m pretty sure it’s a requirement for anyone who steps on the ground there to eat their share of marmalade on scones. I love good oranges, but never seem to figure out how to determine what will taste good and I rather hate peeling them so other than a bag of cuties each year, eat very little citrus. Except limes! We also have a stash of limes that go into soups and tacos and burritos and salads and…

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Blood Orange Marmalade

Which brings us to yesterday and the best friend’s visit to our new little temporary home for marmalade making in between taking care of a sick kiddo and dodging our insane winter weather. We made 2 small batches of marmalade in sync. The best friend chose Blueberry Lemon Marmalade from Eat Live Run and I made Blood Orange Meyer Lemon Marmalade from Kevin West’s Saving the Season.

Both turned out great from initial taste tests, although with marmalade you’re supposed to wait a bit to open jars and gauge the final flavor/set so we’ll see. The Blood Orange was super runny in the jars, but this morning had set up firmer than the Blueberry, which has a great set even if it doesn’t photograph quite as well. I love the color the Blood Oranges adds!

I picked the Meyer Lemons we used in both recipes up from a little produce farm on our way to the airport home from San Diego last week; the blueberries were from her freezer stash from last summer and the Blood Oranges were from New Seasons who is having lots of Citrus tasting and sales this week – if you’re in the area definitely go check it out – the Cara Cara Oranges were amazing!

Blueberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Blueberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade

African Peanut Soup

Several years ago after a long day of snowboarding in crazy wind I happened upon an African Peanut Soup courtesy of Mcmenamins. It was different and became one of those items one watches for, but for some reason not something I tried to recreate for quite awhile. Since then I’ve eaten a good number of bowls from a handful of restaurants and I think my favorite is actually the one from Portland based grocery store New Seasons. It has the write hint of spicy to peanut-y with a few sweet potatoes mixed in.

I came across this recipe in Courtney Allison’s: The Soup Club Cookbook : Feed Your Friends, Feed Your Family, Feed Yourself.” The recipe itself comes from a soup club based at the Unity Church in Salem, Oregon. I was pleasantly surprised with the original, but couldn’t resist editing it a decent amount the second time around; primarily adding more vegetables and stepping up the spices. This would do well with some sweet potatoes tossed in as well, but I’m rather picky about them and only like the white, less sweet (at least to me) variety, which I haven’t come across recently. i also modified this for the crockpot, since I use mine as much as possible and particularly for soups.

Somehow it seems almost cheating to call this a soup. Up until you add the rice and then peanut butter it looks like a perfect brothy soup, bubbly happily away. But then something magic happens with the rice and the peanut butter melding to form a rich, creamy, hearty almost stew. I don’t add meat, but my husband usually tosses in chunks of cooked chicken breast in with his.

African Peanut Soup

3 TB coconut or decent olive oil
Dash of sesame oil
1 large onion chopped (I almost always use sweet onions)
1 green pepper chopped
1/2 red pepper chopped (feel free to sub with more green pepper, orange, the small sweet peppers, etc)
4 garlic cloves chopped
4 medium carrots sliced
4 cups chicken stock (I make mine and it’s actually been turkey stock lately)
2 cups water
2 cans (14 or 15 oz) diced tomatoes in their liquid
1 TB rounded curry powder (I’ve been using Penzey’s)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup uncooked basmati rice
2/3 cup all natural creamy peanut butter

Heat the oils over medium heat and cook onion, peppers and garlic until translucent. Meanwhile, add carrots, tomatoes, stock, water & spices to your crockpot (curry, salt, pepper & pepper flakes). Add onions & peppers when they are cooked. Cook on low 6-8 hours or high ~4. About 30 minutes prior to serving add rice. Ten minutes before serving add peanut butter and stir well to combine. Allow to cook for an additional 5-10 minutes. Add additional spices as desired. We’ve eaten as is or with lime and a spoonful of Greek yogurt stirred in.