Super-easy jam recipe

I made redcurrant jam and blogged about it!

A recurring problem I’ve been facing here in Germany is that my fruit and vegetables go bad really, really quickly, due to a combination of crappy refridgerator and cheap low-quality food. I go to the Netto (a low-cost supermarket) near work every day after I leave to pick up ingredients for dinner, and they’ll usually be selling a package of fruit at a price too tempting to leave.

And so it was that I found myself with a 500g box of Johannisbeeren rot, redcurrants, in my fridge for a week. I’d been putting them in my other dishes to add some tartness and visual interest but there’s only so much of that you can do before fried noodles with berries becomes berries with fried noodle. They were too sour to eat large amounts of on their own, and I wasn’t sure what else to do with them. As the week neared its end I got a bit worried about how long it would take to get rid of them. Suddenly I remembered:

Jam.

homemade jam
Jam.

I’d been wanting some anyway to eat at breakfast, so jam it was. I did a bit of research on making jams at home and the consensus seems to be that proper canning equipment is a must if you don’t want to be poisoned by the fruits of your labor. There was some stuff about boiling the jar before use (which I didn’t do), and I think the pectin you usually add is also supposed to help lengthen the jam’s shelf-life. So my jam has neither preservatives, a proper jar, or an airtight cover, but I’ve been eating from my jam for a week now and haven’t died yet, although I am trying to use it up as quickly as possible by covering other types of fruit in it, eating it with potatoes etc. Imitate me at your own risk.

I didn’t put enough honey into my jam initially and it was almost as tart as the raw berries.

Short-lived homemade jam

Ingredients

  • a lot of fruit, enough to fill up to 2/3 of a pot (I used redcurrants and some shredded pieces of red date – they added a lot of interest to the final jam, which was nice)
  • honey or sugar, to taste

You will also need a jar. Preferably glass. Preferably specially made for canning, with a brand-new lid. The only jar I had around was one that formerly contained sauce hollandaise, and it didn’t have a lid so I used cling wrap… I’m violating food safety regulations by the dozen here. IMITATE ME AT YOUR OWN RISK and read up on what the proper way to can jams is.

Directions (step-by-step pictures at the bottom)

  1. Get rid of stems, wash berries well and discard any obviously spoiling pieces.
  2. In a soup pot or similar, heat up berries until boiling. Be warned that the froth might spill over if you put in too much fruit – 2/3 full is a safe amount. Also, I had a hunch that using ceramic ware instead of metal would help with the taste, but I honestly don’t know enough about cooking to tell you if this is true.
  3. Bring heat down, wait for froth to subside, then stir in honey. You will need more honey than you think you do, especially if the fruit itself is sour. If you want a less sweet jam, add less, obviously.
  4. Simmer, just barely boiling, for at least 30 minutes. I ended up doing 70 min or so. Stirring once in a while helps dislodge frothy bits that get stuck. As far as I can tell, the duration of simmering just determines how thick your jam will be. Without pectin it’s going to be nowhere as thick as store-bought jam, but don’t be too disappointed because now we are going to…
  5. Decant into a jar, cover in an airtight way, and stick the jar in the fridge. This makes a huge difference in turning the contents of your jar from fruit mush to something that actually looks and feels like jam.

Now pictures!

Remember, no preservatives + less sugar = this isn’t going to last anywhere near as long as commercial jam does. Keep it cold, and keep it clean.

Prawn (shrimp) and cucumber in soy sauce

A super-simple prawn dish and a little rant about overcooked prawn.

I can feel this turning into a recipe blog. I promise that the post after next will be a progress update on teaching myself German. For now, today’s recipe is a simple dish featuring prawn/shrimp and cucumbers – any hard vegetable will do, though, and there are some asparagus pieces in the photo below.

Awesome cucumbers and prawn
Unlike the previous two recipe images, this actually looks good!

Prawn, shrimp – I can’t tell the difference between the two, and Wikipedia says there isn’t any real difference – tends to be far overcooked in our school dining halls, probably due to liability minimization reasons. This is probably the worst thing you can intentionally do to a prawn that you’re going to eat. The whole point of prawn is its springiness, juiciness and sweetness: overcooking not only turns it tough and dry but also robs it of all flavor.

Repeat after me: I will not be afraid of undercooking prawn. Prawn cooks extremely quickly and undercooking is pretty much impossible if you can clearly see what you’re doing. The danger lies in using prawn that has gone bad. In fact, I just tossed $8 of prawn – it was in the fridge, I’d forgotten about it for 4 days, and some of it was starting to turn orange. Most of it still seemed okay, and it smelled fine actually, but I’d rather lose $8 than get food poisoning from being inexperienced with seafood. And now that the lesson’s been seared into my head with a loss, I’ll remember to cook prawn quickly after buying it in the future.

I would also taste the soy sauce you have on hand first just to check its saltiness. The soy sauce I have with me right now was donated by a friend and different from the lower-sodium ‘light’ kind I have at home. Unfortunately I did not realize this (well that and it was my first time cooking with soy sauce) and added too much. Thankfully, cucumber, like potato, will suck saltiness right up, and the slices saved the prawn from being too salty. We then treated the cucumber slices as though they were pickled and just paired them with a lot of rice – not bad at all, actually.

Prawn and cucumber in soy sauce

Ingredients

  • prawn/shrimp, raw – make sure it’s safe first!
  • cucumber, cut into strips
  • soy sauce
  • water
  • garlic, finely chopped
  • vegetable oil
  • black pepper (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat up a frying pan/wok and add a small amount of oil when hot.
  2. Add garlic (adjust amount depending on personal preference) and quickly stir-fry until you can smell it.
  3. Add cucumber and cook till a little soft.
  4. Add prawn; add a splash of soy sauce and some black pepper if desired. The black pepper is going to be discarded when you peel the prawns anyway, but I think it does help the flavor.
  5. Wait until prawns are cooked. Flip to make sure they’re done evenly. In theory prawns are cooked when they change color completely and the flesh is all opaque white – leave them on for a minute and a half afterwards if you’re uncertain, as I did. But no more!
  6. Add a very small amount of water to dilute the soy sauce. Remove from heat.

Previous recipe: Simple black pepper teriyaki pork stir-fry

Black pepper pork stir-fry

An easy recipe for pork in a teriyaki sauce marinade made more interesting with black pepper.

Today’s dinner dish was based off this Onion Black Pepper Pork Neck recipe found on a Chinese recipe website – it was one of the first recipes to show up when I searched for ‘pork neck meat’. I’ve modified the ingredients a little and have added some elaboration to the somewhat handwavey steps in the original. Serve this with rice or toss it with noodles; it’s too flavorful (in my opinion) to be eaten alone.

Black pepper pork stir fry
It looks kind of slimy, but it tastes fantastic.

I bought two pounds of pork neck bones/meat on my first-ever grocery shopping trip today. It may sound strange, and this cut tends to have a bit more fat, but the meat is ridiculously tender, akin to the best parts of pork rib – if you haven’t tried neck meat before, I’d definitely recommend doing it. Pork neck is one of the least expensive cuts of meat because most Americans prefer lean meat and don’t like to eat ‘weird’ parts of animals – all the better for me.

pork-neck

Obviously, any other cut is fine, I just refer to pork neck here because that’s what I used. I’m not sure if this would taste good with either chicken or beef. I imagine you’d tone down the amount of seasoning with beef, and marinade for longer + cook for shorter with chicken.

Getting the meat off the bones was surprisingly tricky. Muscle sticks to bone more strongly than one imagines, and I had to do a bit of sawing with my knife-that-is-dull-because-I-can’t-find-a-whetstone-in-this-apartment. I also forgot to trim the larger pieces of fat off…but it made it taste really good.

Before starting, I was uncertain that this would taste like anything because pork on its own just tastes like…pork. Well, I’m now very impressed by what a teriyaki sauce bath can do. Unfortunately, the store-bought kind is usually very high in sodium. I fumbled the sauce-to-water ratio for the marinade (thanks, vague recipe) and it probably would have been less salty if I had used more water, but in the future/once this bottle runs out I’m going to attempt this mix:

Most Japanese just mix soy sauce (2TBS), rice vinegar (2TBS), sugar/honey (1tsp) and salt (to taste) instead of buying teriyaki sause. — Seen on this forum discussion about teriyaki sauce substitutes.

With the preamble out of the way, let’s get to the food!

Black Pepper Teriyaki Pork Stir-fry

This took me a while because it’s probably the most complex thing I’ve made so far, and I was stopping to wash dishes in the sink in between. If you know what you’re doing, I think 25 minutes would be enough, including 15 minutes of marinading. Enough time to cook a pot of rice and some vegetables for the rest of your meal!

Ingredients (this made enough to accompany two solo meals)

  • 200-300g pork neck bones (remove as much meat as you can from the bones, and don’t throw them away – you can use them for broth/soup if you want, although some say you should only use bones from high-quality organic meat for this)
  • 1.5 to 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 70ml teriyaki sauce (original recipe calls for 90ml, which I found excessive)
  • half an onion
  • a generous amount of ground black pepper
  • some vegetable oil for the frying
  • (optional) finely chopped green onion/spring onion/scallion (confused? here’s a picture)

Directions

  1. Cut the pork into chunks – if needed. When I removed the meat from the bones it sort of had no choice but to turn into 1 inch/2.5cm-long pieces. Not too thick, as that will slow cooking: about half inch/1cm is great.
  2. In a bowl, pour in teriyaki sauce and half as much water (more water or less sauce if you want it to be less salty).
  3. Add pork to this, making sure the sauce can reach all the meat, and let marinade (sit) for 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, peel and cut half an onion into large pieces (I cried). Set this aside for now.
  5. Add cornstarch to the pork marinade – just sprinkle it in – and mix well to coat the meat. Marinade for 10 more minutes. The cornstarch helps thicken the gravy/sauce you get at the end, and more importantly, keeps the meat tender and juicy when cooked.
  6. Heat up a wok or frying pan, then pour in a little oil. A circle with around 1-inch diameter is fine. Excessive, even? I’m not sure – I haven’t done this enough yet.
  7. Wait for the oil to get really hot – apparently sticking a wooden implement in and watching for bubbles fizzing up will tell you if it’s ready; I just winged it. Add the pork and stir-fry (chao, sort of like sautéing but with more flipping). If there’s marinade left in the bowl, add it to the pan, because why not.
  8. Set the cooked pork aside and add a little bit more oil to the pan if needed.
  9. Put the onions in and push them around until they’re a little softer.
  10. Add the pork back into the pan, and as much black pepper as needed to make it smell good, then stir-fry for a few more minutes. If you have green onions, toss them in. (The original recipe calls for adding a pinch of salt here, but I wouldn’t – the marinade packs enough sodium and you can always add more later if it’s not enough.)
  11. Done!

I am worried about cooking in Germany because I will have to use a hot-plate type of stove, or an induction cooker. According to a friend originally from Stuttgart, open-flame stovetops haven’t been in common use for at least the past 30 years. I made spaghetti at her place a few days ago, and it was awful trying to understand how much heat was getting through to my food through numbers and dials. What does a setting of ‘5’ even mean? How much heat is there in the maximum setting? I can’t find out by touching the pan, so what else can I do? Grr.

Easy improvements on spaghetti with store-bought sauce

This is the recipe for the spaghetti I made when cooking for the first time. This easy improvement on the sad pasta-with-butter student staple involves store-bought tomato sauce and simple dorm-room ingredients (it was very much a ‘what do I have in this fridge’ job) but tastes really good! The cheese means that there’s some substance to it despite the absence of meat; the butter makes it taste richer than it actually is, and a bit of sugar brings out the sweetness of real tomatoes and balances the overwhelming tartness of store-bought tomato sauce. There aren’t any quantities in the instructions below, but trust your eye. It knows what food should look like.

My first spaghetti
It actually tastes rather good.

Easy Better Spaghetti

Sans cooking time for the spaghetti, this should take 10 minutes at the very most.

Ingredients

  • spaghetti, cooked (how to cook spaghetti)
  • store-bought spaghetti sauce
  • cheese (I used mozzarella designed for pizza)
  • tomato(es)
  • butter
  • garlic, chopped
  • rosemary (I used coarsely chopped needles, but flakes or anything should be fine)
  • sugar

Directions

  1. In a shallow pan, sauté garlic in butter. (This is the most complicated-sounding step. It really just involves greasing a hot pan with some butter, adding the garlic, and pushing it around until it looks very slightly brown and starts to smell good.)
  2. Add as much spaghetti sauce as needed, then add pasta and stir well.
  3. Add lots of cheese – try to sprinkle it where the heat can get to it faster – wait for it to melt a little, and mix into the pasta. At this point you can also add some rosemary so you don’t end up with it all concentrated on top afterwards.
  4. Transfer this to a plate.
  5. Chop a tomato any way you want, and add it to the pan; press on it a little with the spatula to get some juice out.
  6. Add a pinch of sugar and mix until the sugar seems integrated into the tomatoes/juice.
  7. Put the pasta back in and mix well with this.
  8. Remove and sprinkle some rosemary on top.
  9. Be proud of yourself.

I feel like this is so simple that giving it a blog post is way over the top and will make me a laughingstock – but I am posting it anyway because think it will actually be useful to people who have no clue how to feed themselves other than instant ramen and microwaveable instant oatmeal (see: me before today). If it is of help to you, please let me know in the comments so I can feel less silly!