Monday, October 19, 2009

strawberries, thrice attempted jam and panna cotta

Walking through Kensington Market on Saturday, my wide-eyed friend pointed to a big clear bag of strawberries- for $2! Granted, the ones at the bottom were pretty juicy and there was definitely some strawberry water at the bottom; But the bag was in the shade and felt cold enough that I could hope that they hadn't yet turned into alcohol. I bought the bag and left it at the store while I spent some time in the park down the street- enjoying the sun much more than the strawberries would have.

Walking home with the heavy (5 lbs when I weighed them at home) bag, I thought about my mom's affection with jams/preserves/chutneys- basically anything you can keep at the back of the cupboard for her maternal "in case of emergency/it's good to have on hand" moments.

I let the strawberries sit in a colander above a bowl while I sat quietly at the my kitchen island cutting off the green leaves and (very) soft spots and popping the good guys into a big pot. I decided to complete this task in silence - devoid of even music. I like my quiet time and I love the rhythm of repetitive tasks, so I hummed and smiled while I sat and pondered nothing in particular.

I carried the colander of stems and slimy bits to the very back of the backyard and talked to the little mice (probably- based on my cats vested interested) living in the compost. "here you go little mice-ees".

I poured the liquid that had dripped into the bowl below into a glass and had a little sip. mmmmmmmm No gross strawberry alcohol- just fresh, clear strawberry essence. So delicious.

Looking at the pot of strawberries I instinctively poured in some sugar. ....then I checked online to see how much I should have poured in. Most websites said for jam it was just a little bit more sugar (by weight) than strawberries and I figured my estimation was more or less correct.

I boiled the strawberries and waited for the bubbles to pop slowly ( and indication of viscosity), then I mashed it up and poured half into 2 (sterilized- because mom's voice told me it, in fact, was necessary - even if it was really really tasty and we ate all the jam really quick) jars. I hoped that the natural pectin would be enough to set the jam. It wasn't. Apparently once fruit starts getting over ripe it also loses it pectin.

Half of the strawberry puree was still in the pot. A friend was coming over later and I had a flashback to one time when we were in high school. He had discovered his mom's rose water toner and was excited to show me how wonderful and refreshing it is to have rose water sprayed on your face.
I ran up to my room and grabbed a jar of dried rose buds my mom had brought back from a trip years ago. I made some rose tea, strained it and added it to the rest of the strawberries. The sweet floral taste would make a wonderful jam, but I also had thoughts of cheesecake swirling in my mind. It was time to go, so I left the rose-infused strawberry puree in a pyrex measuring cup in the fridge.

The next day I checked my jams- not set. I boiled them again after reading that the mixture needs to reach 220 F- and put them back into their jars. I re-read the cheesecake recipe we made at school ( the most amazing cheesecake I have ever had) and decided that my lack of an electric mixer would waste time, ingredients and hope.

I looked through the cupboard and then googled what I had: strawberry jello, cream ( a rarity in our fridge, but left over from thanksgiving and a creamy ingredient I wouldn't mind using with roses and strawberries) and strawberry puree ( cause it definitely wasn't jam). Results: panna cotta!

I first RE-boiled my strawberries then added some pectin I found ( after cursing at myself for not looking harder the first time!) and poured the thrice boiled - but still pretty tasty- mixture back into the jars. Screw sterilizing them again- it's not as if I dipped my fingers into the jars. In my eyes, they were still sterilized enough.

Hoping for more luck with the panna cotta, I looked over a few recipes and decided to do it my own way. There is a new book written by Michael Ruhlman called 'Ratio- The simple codes behind the craft of everyday cooking'. It is a book I don't own and haven't read ( yet!) but from what I have heard, it seems to be written for cooks like me, who prefer to understand the recipe, understand how the different amounts of ingredients work and then use those ratios as a guide for substituting and making the recipe your own.

I boiled 1 cup of cream, turned off the heat and added the strawberry jello and stirred. Then I added one cup of cold strawberry rose puree, stirred and poured the mixture into 4 martini glasses.

They are in the fridge setting with the jars of jam on the shelf below - which are ( thank goodness!) setting as well.

... good thing I saved some strawberry puree to use as strawberry sauce for the cheesecake I made later in the week!!!

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