• Peach Lavender Jam

    Peach Lavender Jam.

    A bit of a “peachy” hue on the blog these days. But when you have a few hundred peaches with a limited shelf life, you work with the peaches (we are also giving them away to friends, whether they want them or not ;-) ). The only thing at the farm we have more of than peaches is lavender. It’s everywhere, and mostly for the bees. But since we have peaches and lavender, we are making Peach Lavender jam.

    We have lots of these…

    …and tons of this. Let’s make jam.

    This recipe comes from the excellent canning and pickling book “Tart and Sweet” from Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler. We are by no means experts on canning and pickling, so this book is a great tool with both recipes and very clear guidelines for safe canning. But the key for any home canning / pickling is to use the base recipe and then follow your standard, safe processing instructions. Most setups will be similar, but some equip will vary. Just remember, sterilization is always a good thing.

    As for the actual jam, this is really a peach jam with a touch of floral, herbal and tannic notes from the lavender. The lavender keeps the sweetness of the peaches from overwhelming the flavor of the jam. But the key is just a hint of lavender. Too much lavender and your jam will taste like soap. In fact, you don’t actually put lavender in the jam at all, just steep some lavender in water, strain it out and the add the water to the fruit. Again, go easy with the lavender- less is more.

    The peeling and pitting dis-assembly line.

    This took a while.

    The process of making jam isn’t complex, but it is time-consuming. Making jam is a good activity to do with friends and/or a great way to put your kids to work. First you must sterilize and prepare your equipment. Make sure everything is good order before you start. As for the jam, you need to skin and pit 6 pounds of peaches. This involves cutting an X in the base of the peach, briefly blanching it in boiling water, plunging it in an ice bath and then skinning and pitting the peach. We take an assembly (dis-assembly?) line approach, but even with help, this takes a while. But we don’t do this every day either, so it was (kinda) fun.

    Steep the dried lavender and strain it out.

    Cook the fruit, lemon juice and sugar.

    Blend until smooth.

    Add calcium water, sugar and pectin.

    Once you have the peaches peeled and pitted the work is easier, but still requires time. You need to bring the peaches, some sugar and lemon juice to a boil in a large pot and cook the fruit for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile you need to steep some dried lavender flowers in 1 cup of boiling water for about 20 minutes. Strain the lavender from the water and add the water to the peaches. Then blend the peaches with an immersion blender, or in batches on a stand-up blender. Then add calcium water, pectin and sugar to the fruit and cook until you get a jammy consistency. To finish the jam, put it in hot jars and process for 10 minutes. Then cool and eat. Continue reading

  • Cooking Sous-Vide At The Farm

    Sous-vide cooker for the home. It works.

    The more we cook, the more we understand that time and temperature are the keys to good cooking. And it has always been this way in the kitchen. For generations good cooks understood that, for many dishes, low-and-slow transforms even the lowliest ingredients into the best meals. And we use our dutch oven, slow cooker and smoker in many meals to take advantage of low-and-slow, particularly for larger, tougher cuts of meat. We do like our beef brisket and pork shoulder.

    Temperature-controlled water bath with racks to manage space.

    But when cooking steaks, chicken pieces or fish, the slow cooker or smoker are usually not practical options. Most of these meats are fried, seared or roasted in the pan and/or oven, or grilled on the barbecue. The problem with these high-heat methods is that the heat is applied unevenly on the meat. So even with good technique  you get a well-done exterior that moves towards the desired doneness in the center of the meat (assuming you don’t overcook the whole thing). The only real bonus of high-heat cooking is the extra flavor you get from browning / caramelizing. Most traditional cooking methods can’t fully overcome a fundamental challenge- how do we cook and brown this irregularly shaped food without overcooking it?

    Grass-fed ribeye steaks. These are real good- best not to screw it up.

    Sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”) cooking is a solution to this challenge. Basically a slow-cooker for individual cuts of meat, fish and poultry, sous-vide cooking gives the home cook exact control of cooking temperature that’s applied uniformly to the meat. And it works pretty much every time- as long as you have the time. The approach here is pretty simple, a water bath is heated to a specific temperature and the protein (or vegetable) is vacuum-sealed into a bag and the bag is placed in the water. The bag keeps the meat from leaking juices or breaking apart into the water bath. The proteins slowly, and uniformly, cook to the temperature in the water bath. Once done, the protein can be briefly seared to add the tasty browned flavors and improve appearance. It is a neat trick and it really works. If you ever wonder how busy high-end restaurants get their steaks or fish right every time, sous-vide is often the answer.

    Vacuum-sealing the steaks. This takes less than a minute.

    We’ve been reading Stefan’s Gourmet Blog and his results cooking sous-vide always looked great. And as we recently purchased 1/4 of a grass-fed cow from Stemple Creek Ranch, we wanted a cooking method that made the most of the flavor of the beef. So we took the plunge and bought a sous-vide cooker (we got one on sale, but expect the setup to run somewhere between $350 – $500, so it’s not cheap). So far we have tried cooking halibut, salmon and Stefan’s cod recipe. All were perfectly cooked.

    Cook for 1.5 – 2 hours at 125 degrees.

    The next thing we tried was making a good steak using sous-vide. Not ones to be cautious, we went right to making ribeye steaks. We followed the new procedure, sous-vide cook at desired temperature (in this case 125 degrees for rare-to – medium rare) for 2 hours and then sear the meat briefly to brown the surface. Frankly, the meat, while perfectly cooked, is very unattractive unless you brown it. You can use a hot skillet, grill or even a blowtorch, but we just went with a rocket-hot cast-iron skillet. This browning method worked with just 30-45 seconds of searing on each side. Then we rested the meat for a few minutes and cut it into slices to serve. The first thing we noticed was that the meat was seared on the outside but then the same pink color all the way through, no gray layer, just perfectly cooked meat. So we found the sous-vide approach to cooking steaks was a real success, as long as you have the extra time. Our standard cooking method is here, and that takes 20 minutes. But with expensive, high-quality steaks, we think the extra time is worth it. And if you are entertaining, you can hold the meat at the perfect temperature and then sear just before serving, so sous-vide is a good tool when cooking for a group. Continue reading