Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Holidays Are Coming!..... Are You Ready?....

It's getting to be that time of  year when the holidays occupy a BIG part of our daily lives.... Thanksgiving, Xmas, New Year's, Dia de Muertos, Dia de Todos los Santos, Dia de la Candelaria, Dia de Reyes.... did I miss any? Ok, if you're not living IN Mexico, some of these might not make sense to you (or maybe you just want to join in the fun...) but they're all iconic, fun to prepare for but mostly they're YUMMY!

Maybe you're starting to plan out your Holiday Schedule, maybe you're planning on giving hand-made gifts this year or planning on making Gourmet Gift Baskets for your special people.... maybe you just want to have great stuff on-hand to eat (you're on my team!), or you just want to have fun!.... In any case, you're just in time to plan and prepare the very best foods to not only have a delicious repast to share but to be ready with your gifts too! So let's see some ideas that you can begin getting ready....

In the Fall you'll begin seeing Quinces (Membrillos)..... These bring sweet memories to me of my maternal grandmother who kept quite a few trees in her orchard and would make jelly and paste from them. "Ate de Membrillo" is an amazing thing as is the jelly. I can still taste clear, lovely Guava Jelly and "Guayabate" the thick paste like brick made from these which you can still find in most Mexican markets (serve this along with cheese like Manchego for an amazing treat!).... but here's the procedure for "Quince Jelly". Get some nice looking jars, design some nice labels and you've got a great Xmas or Hostess Gift that will be appreciated. Look for other Fall or Winter fruits that are in season and apply this formula....

Quince Jelly (Mermelada de Membrillo).- Just one of the many options for holiday gift giving that can create traditions for your whole family. Sweet, exotic, aromatic and so good! Amazing with any game meat too....

1- Select glass jars and be sure to sterilize really well to prevent spoilage or contamination which can cause food poisoning. See info below:
2- The only ingredients you need are the fruit, sugar, lemon and water. (Few ingredients, I like that)
3- For each Kilo (2.25 lbs per Kilo) of fruit, you need 1 Liter (4.226 cups per Liter) of water.
4- Take the fuzz off the Quinces, wash well and cut in cubes which you will then cook in the water for 30 minutes.
5- Once cooked, place the fruit on some cheesecloth (previously washed with neutral soap so it won't taste flowery) that's been placed over a large pot, so the fruit can drain.
6- Once it's completely drained, you can squeeze the fruit or press down with a wooden spoon, cook the liquid with 1/2 Kilo of sugar per Liter of water. (There are usually 5 cups of sugar per Kilo, so you'd need 2.5 cups of sugar per 4.226 cups of water, ok?)
7- Add 4-5 drops of lemon/lime juice per Liter of water. Give or take..... taste it.
8- Cook the sugar mix over medium heat until it reaches a temperature of 120 degrees on a candy thermometer or it achieves the "soft ball" stage when you drop a little into a glass of cold water. The jelly is liquid when hot but will "jell" once cooled. This is a totally natural jelling method, otherwise you could use pectin or gelatin.
9- Pour into the sterilized jars, allow to cool before tightening the lids.

HOW TO STERILIZE GLASS JARS:  Here's a quick and easy way to do this: Whenever you're making jam or sauce that's going to be stored for long periods of time, it's important to properly sterilize the glass jars you're going to be using in order to prevent illness from food poisoning. You can sterilize jars by either washing them in very hot soapy water and air drying or put them in the dishwasher on the hottest setting you have. While still warm, transfer the jars to baking sheets that have a lip around the edge and place them in the oven. Once the jars have been placed in the oven, heat to 250 F. The jars need to be in the oven for at least 30 minutes after the oven has warmed to 250 F to ensure proper sterilization. Important: Only fill hot jars with hot liquid and vice versa, otherwise you will crack the jars.

The easiest of all Jellies to make: Apple. It looks lovely, sweet and if you pick the right apples won't need to add sugar so it could be for everyone regardless of their health concerns and I'm not even talking about the nutritional components this gives. Lovely and easy! Here's how: Most national market chains (even .99 cent stores) now carry Ball jars and lids which are specifically made for canning, but if you have clean, well sealing jars you can use them too as long as you sterilize them well. You can't skip this step no matter what. This time I will show you how to add pectin to jell instead of sugar and you'll see how easy this is. Pectin is usually located right next to the jars in stores. Use no-sugar pectin.
1- Pick the right kind of apples and you won't need to add sugar or just very little. Pick: Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji or Rome. You'll need 6 lbs of apples or 6 cups of apple juice or apple cider, just use un-sweetened. (You'll start on step 4 if you do).
2- Wash and Peel the Apples. You could use a juicer if you have one too. Otherwise, chop the apples and core them.
3- In a large pot, put about 1 inch of filtered water and add the apples. Cover with a lid and turn on the heat to HIGH. Once it's really going, lower the heat to MEDIUM HIGH until the apples are soft and cooked well.
4- Now run them through a fine sieve/colander or cheesecloth and onto a large pot. You will need 6 cups of liquid at this point and this is where you start if you're using apple juice or cider. The more you filter you're apples, the clearer your jelly will be, clear jelly is a beautiful thing!
5- Look on the inside of the pectin box for exact directions on how much to use. You could use Splenda I supposed but I haven't tried it but I've seen 2 cups sugar 2 cups Splenda used. For regular jelly you'll use about 7 cups of sugar. You could also use apple juice to sweeten so you'd need 3 cups juice (plus the pectin). For full-blown jelly, it's 7 cups sugar plus pectin.
6- Now take the pectin you will need and mix it with about 1/4 cup of sugar and set it aside from the rest of the sugar. Usually it's half a packet of pectin per batch.
7- Put a metal soup spoon in a glass of ice water and keep it handy, you'll need it later to test the jelly.
8- Put the sugar pectin mix and add it to the apple juice in the pot. Turn the heat to medium or medium high heat and keep stirring so it doesn't stick or burn. Once it gets to a full boil, mix well and then add the rest of the sugar or other sweetener you're using, bring it back to a full boil and stir while boiling hard for a full minute.
9- Now take half a soup spoon of the jelly mix, in the cold spoon, lay it on the table and let it come to room temperature. This will show you how "jelled" it is and let you know if this is how you like it. If it's too runny, add more pectin, about 1/4 or 1/2 of a packet, bring back to a boil and boil it for another full minute. Test again. Once your jelly is jelled, you're ready to fill your sterilized jars.
10- Fill jars but leave at least 1/4 inch from the top. Cover and tighten the lid and put them in a large pot with hot water in it. The water should cover the jars by about 2 inches of water. Boil at least 7 minutes to 10 minutes to insure safety.
11- Now remove the jars from the water, put them somewhere draft free, loosen the lids (so the moisture doesn't rust them shut) and let them cool overnight. You can insure they sealed correctly by seeing the tops have been sucked in (they will "pop" when opened), or by pressing down with your finger and it doesn't pop up and down and feels solid. If they didn't seal right, you need to re-jar them, process again and re-seal. You could also stick them in the fridge and use right away. Otherwise, you're done and you can keep them in the pantry for about 6 months easy, kept longer they will darken and get runny but they're ok.

NOTE: If you liked "canning" you can buy a home canning kit which will make it easier and then you can can almost anything: spaghetti sauce, green beans, fruits, desert sauces, baby food, etc...... make your own everything! Jalapeno, Cinnamon, Habanero or any other jam or jelly.... the sky's the limit!

Hope you will try home canning and find it as satisfying as I do, plus being very creative can give the most amazing food gifts ever! I used to make Xmas Care Packages with my Mole, Tomatillo, Peanut Sauces and Tomato Marmalade, Guava Jelly, Mexican Wedding Cookies, Pistachio Bark and Chocolate Truffles.... everybody used to look forward to them! So go ahead and get creative.....

Want more ideas for food gifts? Be sure to look through this blog, using the search option at top right, and you'll find lots of ideas to make, send and share.....

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