For the first time ever, I made jam—specifically, apricot jam using freshly picked, completely organic apricots! Never really having adopted the ‘think local’ and ‘seasonal cooking’ attitude, this was an exciting experience for me. There’s something to be said about adapting your cooking to what mother earth provides at that given moment—it feels incredibly rewarding.
It began with my parents bringing over a few apricots, telling me that their neighbour’s tree had an overabundance of these tiny orange fruits ripe for the picking and that they were giving them away.
I asked if there were anymore and they said there were so many that they could probably get me several pounds, which they did. I was then faced with a dilemma, I wasn’t able to eat all of them in time which would be quite wasteful. So I thought, why not make jam? Here’s how I did it.
First, I googled ‘Apricot Jam Recipe’ and of course, David Lebovitz’s ‘Apricot Jam’ recipe was the first result on the page. I am a big fan of his writing and I purchased his book ‘My Paris Kitchen’ a while back (quite an entertaining read, although I am guilty of having yet tried any of the recipes in it!).
With confidence, I followed the recipe to a tee (with scaled ingredient measurements), although I also watched Martha’s Stewart’s Apricot Jam instructional video for additional research. As for the canning process, there are many online resources available and I decided to use the canning beginner’s guide published on ‘Food in Jars’.
I used the Bernadin’s 125 ml canning jars (available at Walmart and Canadian Tire), which were the perfect size to give as gifts to friends and family. There are a lot of ‘canning kits’ for sale which include tongs specifically to fit around glass jars, a rod with a magnet on the end for picking up jar covers, and a funnel for filling the jars. These kits were tempting, but in the end, I stuck with getting an ordinary funnel and using regular cooking tongs to manoeuvre the jars and jar covers. For me, this worked out fine and I now have 12 jars of Apricot jam (some already handed out) which pair wonderfully with toast or scones.
From this experience, I learned two new skills—how to make jam (incredibly easy), and how to ‘can’ jam so it will have a longer shelf life. I wish I had done this sooner because this is definitely a notch on my culinary belt that I’m proud of! I hope you try it too!
YIELD: 12 Jars of Jam (125ml each)
ACTIVE TIME: 30 mins
TOTAL TIME (active + inactive time): 2 hrs (I don’t quite remember to be honest)
CREDITS: David Lebovitz’s Apricot Jam recipe
- 1.6 kg fresh apricots
- 100ml (little less than 1/2 cup) water
- 5 cups (1125 g) white sugar
- 1.5 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Cut the apricots in half and take out the pits. Take 3-4 pits, wrap them in a paper towel and crack them open with a hammer on a surface you won’t mind damaging (like concrete). Discard the brown shell and save the white bits in a spice bag (or teabag) which you will cook with the apricot later.
- Add the apricots and water to a stock pot and turn the heat to medium-high. Stir occasional to prevent burning the bottom. Once the apricots reach a roiling boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and stir in the sugar, lemon juice and the teabag containing the white bits from the apricot pit.
- Put a small plate in the freezer.
- Keep simmering the apricots with occasional stirring until they have broken down and the mixture looks somewhat like jam. Put a small amount of this ‘jam’ on the chilled plate and pop it back into the freezer for 3 – 4 minutes. Now do the nudge test, which involves sliding your finger through the jam and if it wrinkles as shown in the photo above, then it’s ready. If it’s not ready, then keep cooking and testing until it is.
- Remove the spice bag with the apricot bits. Use a funnel and distribute the jam into the canning jars. Follow the canning instructions/guidelines you have on hand.
- According to David Lebovitz, this jam will keep for 1 year if refrigerated. I canned my jams for longer shelf life so mine will last 18 months unopened, and 6 months to a year after I open them (keeping them refrigerated of course). These are the canning instructions I used: beginner’s guide published on ‘Food in Jars’.
- The white bits (kernel) of the apricot seeds is commonly added to apricot jam to impart a another dimension of bitter flavour.
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My mother, who is an incredibly talented cook, taught me that adding cornstarch is the trick to giving any watery sauce some thickness in most Chinese cuisine.
If you’ve ever been to Chinese dim sum, you’ve most likely had this dish before—Steamed Black Bean Spare Ribs. I can never say no to the simple yet magical combination of black beans and pork ribs. They are one of my favourite things to eat at dim sum, and I’ve learned to enjoy its saucy texture over the years. My recent craving for it had me running to the local TNT Chinese supermarket where I bought a bag of Chinese dried black beans to experiment. Little did I know it was so easy (and fast) to cook!
I’ll let you know that shopping for Chinese dried black beans was no easy feat. There were many brands to choose from and it didn’t help that I had heard of many horror stories about toxic chemicals and fake foods coming out of China. In the end, I went patriotic and bought one of the brands that originated from Hong Kong. Whichever one you purchase, make sure the black beans are dry and without sauce, if you are following my recipe.
Chinese dried black beans don’t look very appetizing, that’s for sure. However, what they lack in looks they make up in the intense salty fermented flavour. This ingredient is usually the main player in any dish that calls for it and a little bit goes a long way. I would also recommend trying these black beans with a bowl of plain white rice and a fried egg. Just thinking about this combination gets me drooling—once you try it, you will understand.
My mother, who is an incredibly talented cook, taught me that adding cornstarch is the trick to giving any watery sauce some thickness in most Chinese cuisine. One of the defining characteristics of black bean pork ribs is its thick saucy glaze, which is why this recipe uses a lot of cornstarch. If you don’t like this texture, you can dial it down by reducing this ingredient.
Black Bean Spare Ribs Dim Sum
YIELD: 3 servings (when served family style with rice and vegetables)
ACTIVE TIME: 10 minutes
TOTAL TIME (active + inactive time): 40 minutes
CREDITS: Frances Lam
- 1.5 lbs pork side ribs (cut into riblets)
- 1 tbsp cooking wine (I used shaoxing wine)
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp sugar (I used brown sugar, although white is fine too)
- 0.25 tsp salt
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- 4 tbsp black beans (dried)
- 2.5 tbsp corn starch
- 2 tbsp ginger (thinly sliced)
- In a mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients together except for the ginger. Transfer into a dish that you can steam (I used a stainless steel dish) and sprinkle the ginger slices on top. Steam for 25 – 30 minutes. The ribs are thoroughly cooked when the meat comes off the bone cleanly.
- If you don’t have a steamer, position a steam rack in a large wok and fill it with an inch and a half of water. Bring the water to boil and put the dish of ribs on the rack, covering and steaming for 25 – 30 minutes.
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Pan-Fried Soft Shell Crab is extremely easy to prepare and cook. The basics are as follows: butter, soft shell crab, a pan and heat. Add some garlic and a squirt of lemon and you have a mouth-watering appetizer on your plate—one with a crispy outer shell filled with sweet juicy crab meat.