For my birthday, I received the most beautiful cookbook: Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller. If you don’t know who Thomas Keller is, well then it’s time to get educated. He is the chef at The French Laundry in Napa Valley, perhaps one of the most famous restaurants in the world: it has won many (that’s right, many) James Beard Awards. He has another restaurant, Per Se, in New York, and both of these restaurants have been awarded 3 Michelin Stars. He is the ONLY AMERICAN CHEF to have had two restaurants both get 3 stars.
But this cookbook is from another restaurant he recently opened. He intended to open a burger joint in an old diner, but when he purchased the space his team was too busy. He decided instead to open a temporary homestyle cooking restaurant called Ad Hoc: no menu, 4 courses, 4 days a week, simple food. Well of course, being Thomas Keller and all, it worked incredibly well and is no longer temporary.
So I bring the cookbook home and I’m looking through it and there’s a section called “Lifesavers.” This section is full of what he calls staples, though not like flour and eggs. There are tapenades, jams, pickled things, candied nuts, anything you might need to make an ordinary dish or meal into an extraordinary one.
I decide, with Thanksgiving coming up and my mom having asked for some appetizer help, that I’d whip up a couple of jams. The two that seemed most appealing to me were the Fig and Balsamic Jam and the Red Onion-Cranberry Marmalade. Now, keep in mind while reading this that I have never made a jam before in my life and I have never canned (in fact, I was quite scared of it before). These recipes don’t require actual “canning” or one of those crazy sets with tongs and crazy jar contraptions. Thank goodness.
Fig and Balsamic Jam
Note: So you see this recipe and maybe you say, “Excuse me, what is a sachet? I thought this blog was about stuff everyone can do!” And to you I say, “It is, my friend! I will tell you what a sachet is!” Mr. Keller is all about sachets. In this case, you’ll want about a 5 or 6 inch square of cheesecloth. Place the peppercorns towards the bottom of the square, roll the cheesecloth over them once, fold in the ends, and keep rolling. Now tie it at both ends with cooking twine. See how you have a nice little package of peppercorns? Now you won’t have to try to fish them out of the jam later. Keller also uses this technique with lots of herbs like bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, etc. (you know that feeling when the recipe says “remove the bay leaf” and you cannot find it for the life of you? no more!).
Another note from Mr. Keller: “Note on Plate Testing: To check that compotes, jams, and jellies are at the right consistency, put a tablespoon of what you’re cooking on a plate and chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. If it is too thin, return to the heat, cook a few more minutes, and retest.”
2 lbs figs, preferably Black Mission or Kadota, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, tied into a sachet
Fresh lemon juice
Put everything but the lemon juice into a pan and attach a candy thermometer. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, do not worry! You can still just follow the instructions and eyeball things, which is what I ended up doing anyway. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring to break up the larger pieces of fig. Cook until the jam reaches 215-220 degrees. My candy thermometer did not want to get up that high. I cooked this stuff for hours and it would still only get to 205 or so. Keller has a nice little tip in his book that says:
So I did my own version of the plate test which was to turn off the heat, let the whole pot cool on the stove while I did something else (hulu, anyone?) and then came back and checked it. It needed a bit more cooking, so I brought it to a simmer again for another little while. Now remove the sachet and stir in the lemon juice to taste. Spoon the jam into a canning jar or two, cover, and let cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate up to 1 month.
Red Onion-Cranberry Marmalade
1/4 cup canola oil
3 cups diced red onions
1 cup chopped dried cranberries
3 cups apple juice
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbl apple pectin (This is Keller’s fancy pectin he gets from lord-knows-where. I just used plain pectin, found at my local New Seasons near the canning jars.)
1 Tbl plus 1 tsp orange zest
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the red onions and cook very slowly for about 20 minutes, until the onions have softened but not colored. Add the cranberries and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the apple juice and cider vinegar. In a separate bowl, combine the sugars and pectin, mixing well so that the pectin will dissolve smoothly, and add this mixture to the pot along with the orange zest. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan, bring to a simmer, and cook until it registers 215-220 degrees. I did the same thing as last time where, because my thermometer didn’t want to get that high, I just let the whole pot cool and then cooked it more if it needed it.
Transfer the marmalade to a canning jar, cover, and let cool, then refrigerate for up to 3 months.
Not so hard, right? These made wonderful Thanksgiving appetizers when paired with some good crackers and cheese (we used mostly Rain Coast crackers, goat cheese, and brie). I bet they’d work great for Christmas appetizers too…