Recipe Sketch: About a Million Ways to Make Orange Marmalade

 

thick marmalade chopping

 

Remember when I posted about how to make French toast, and the “failed” orange sauce I had tried making to go with it?  Well, it wasn’t that bad in the end.   In fact, at least a few of my friends really liked it.  Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about different approaches to marmalade, and how that sauce, which seemed like it was going to be a total waste of time and effort, did actually come together, and with a little more time and effort, become something good.  Here I send out a silent (yet public—interesting) prayer to the universe that I will one day say the same about all the things which that sauce represented to me on the first of this year.

 

Anyway, orange marmalade:

It’s really just a combination of orange peels, juice, and sugar (and usually pectin to thicken it for canning).  My New Year’s orange spread had all of the pith inside the peel, and all of the membrane around the orange slices, still in it too.  I just washed & sliced the oranges (discarding the ends), pulled out the center strings of pithy stuff, chopped the slices to get out the seeds, and put them in the food processor.   I added the juice of a couple more oranges, and some sugar to the pot, and started boiling it on the stove.  For a while, it seemed like a kind of bitter, barely cooked orange goo … and eventually I realized that I was going to have to add a lot more liquid, and a lot more cooking time, and some more sugar.  All the pithy parts of the orange needed to absorb a LOT of liquid in order to cook down, more than I wanted to juice oranges for, so I started adding water.  After that, all it needed was time—a couple of hours of simmering on the stove.  Check on it periodically, adding more water and sugar to taste as necessary, until all the parts of the orange are tender enough to eat on toast, and the sauce tastes as sweet as you want.  The result has a full, whole-orange flavor—some of the bitterness remains, but you get lots of other flavor elements as well.  At the time, I didn’t feel like taking a picture of the finished whole-orange sauce, but it comes out mostly opaque and pale orange, with darker bits of peel mixed in.

I’ve made a quick kumquat marmalade using a similar method.  Kumquats have a lot of seeds, so be sure to chop them in quarters and check each one for seeds before putting them in the food processor.  They don’t have very much pith or membrane at all though, so you can cook them fairly quickly into some tasty preserves.  Just add juice and sugar and boil them on the stove until you get the consistency you want.

On the other end of the cooked-orange-peel-and-juice spectrum from the whole orange spread is a quick thin sauce we made quite a lot a couple of years ago, because it’s awesome on crêpe.  It’s mostly orange juice, with just the thin outer peel grated into it.  Save a little fresh juice, and put the rest in a small saucepan with the peel.  Add sugar to taste as you go, and boil until it thickens somewhat.  Add the reserved juice back in when the sauce is done, it brings the brightness of fresh orange to blend with the more mellow cooked flavors.

 

thin marmalade finished

 

And of course, you could use other citrus.  You could blend them.  You could add honey, or a different juice, or another sweetener you like.  You could cook it thick or thin, add pectin, can it, freeze it … At first I was going to wait to post this until I had tried a few more variations, maybe one somewhere in between these in terms of how much pith is in it.  But the more I thought about it, the more ideas for different marmalade I thought of, and it seemed pretty silly not to just put this idea out there and let you all do whatever you want with it.  It might be a fun way to wait for spring.

 

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Almond Paste Stuffed Dates

 

stuffed dates 1

 

Happy Midwinter everyone!  Light is sparkling off the snow here, and I’m quite excited that it’s coming back – after this we get just a bit more sun every day until the glories of summer  – no wonder so many cultures have celebrations around this time.

Whether you need some homemade gifts ASAP because the world did not in fact end today, or you had all that figured out long ago and just want a new winter treat to share with friends and family, I’ve got you covered.  These dates, soaked in brandy and orange juice, stuffed with almond paste and rolled in almonds, are fun to make and taste quite impressive!  They should be gluten-free as well, check the label on your almond paste to make sure.  We get Black Sphinx dates from Arizona Date Gardens – they’re wonderful.  Note: if you can find them sold in a plastic clam shell box, those are the freshest, gooiest dates you can imagine – and too soft for this recipe, they’ll just fall apart!  Use the regular, sold in a plastic bag or bulk bin kind here.

 

Almond Paste Stuffed Dates

adapted from two recipes in different editions of The Joy of Cooking

 

Pit, if not already done for you, 30 dates.  I like to use a “one clean hand” method, keeping a pairing knife in my dominant hand, and using the other hand for all the messy stuff; grabbing a date, holding it while I slice through it to the pit, pulling out the pit and tossing it in the compost, squeezing the date closed again and putting it in the bowl.  It sounds complicated but actually it’s pretty simple and efficient, especially if you have everything close by.

Place your pitted dates in the top of a double boiler.  I don’t actually own one, I use a pyrex bowl on top of a small pot of water, and the lid from another pot to cover the bowl.  Use whatever setup works, just make sure all the parts are heat safe and that nothing is in danger of falling over.

Pour over the dates: 1/4 cup brandy and 2 Tablespoons orange juice.  Bring the water in the bottom pot to a simmer, and let the dates heat in the brandy and OJ for 15 – 20 minutes (depending on how moist your dates are to start with), stirring them occasionally to make sure they all get a chance to soak up some yummy liquid.  They are done when the skins are curling off, you’ll see what I mean.

While the dates are cooking, pinch off pieces of almond paste and squish them to be about the size and shape of date pits.  They can be a little bigger, but not too much, or the dates won’t close around them.  Note: marzipan and almond paste are often sold side by side in the baking aisle of the grocery store.  Almond paste has more almonds and less sugar than marzipan, so it’s a better choice here because the dates are quite sweet on their own.

Also prepare the coating: grind about 1/2 cup almonds (some small chunks can remain but there should also be finer pieces – I do mine in a small food processor).  Add a pinch of sugar, a pinch of cinnamon and the zest of 1/2 orange.  Stir the coating together and put it on a cutting board or a plate for rolling.  Have a plate or piece of wax or parchment paper nearby to place the finished dates on.

 

stuffed dates 3

Hmm, iPhone pic, one of my goals for 2013 is to figure out how to take good pictures in my kitchen . . .

When the dates are done and cool enough to handle, pick them up one by one and peel off the large sections of skin that easily come off.  You don’t have to get all the skin off, but do get a fair amount so that the almonds will stick.  Place a piece of almond paste in the middle of each date, squeeze the date closed around it, and roll the surface in the almond mixture, then place the finished date aside.  You may have guessed that there are no clean hands for this part, but you do get to lick your fingers at the end.  As an extra bonus, there may be a little date-and-orange-steeped brandy left in the top of the double boiler when you finish the dates.  I highly recommend you drink this when no one is looking – it’s divine.

Let the dates dry for a few hours or overnight, then store them airtight.  I’ve never had any left to see how long they last, I would guess at least a few weeks in the fridge, and I ship them without fear.

 

stuffed dates 2

 

Enjoy!  And have a lovely solstice.

Fennel and Orange Salad

Ease into spring – bright flavors with late winter ingredients.  The idea for this salad came from a dinner of delicious tapas made for us by a friend of friends in Phoenix – thanks Charlene!

Fennel and Citrus Salad

Combine on a plate:

6 baby fennel bulbs or 2-3 large ones, thinly sliced

Small sections of mandarin, or chopped sections of orange, from about 2 oranges or 3 mandarins 

A little thinly sliced red onion

Pour over the top:

Juice of 1/2 orange or mandarin

A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

A drizzle of balsamic vinegar (high quality balsamic is really good here)

Top with a few fennel fronds for garnish

That’s it!  Simple and oh so good.

And a tip on chopping orange sections: I have been doing this a lot the past month or so, and my best method so far is to separate the sections first, then line up three or four and chop them into pieces.  You’ll see most of the seeds and you can pull them out.  I only pull the membranes off the sections if I need the dish to be really impressive for some reason.

PS: one of my cousins was asking me the other day about quinoa recipes, and I found this one on The Year in Food – such a lovely blog.  Apparently we’re not the only ones to figure out that fennel and citrus is a good combo for late winter/early spring!