“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Is anyone else tired of that ancient chestnut? However, I like the message, so I’ve tried to come up with a better way to say when the unexpected (and unwanted) happens and things go south, make the best of it. Here’s what I have so far: When life throws tomatoes, make sauce; When life curdles your milk, make ricotta; When life boils your brussels sprouts …yeah, I got nothing. Regardless of how to say it, I’ve become quite adept at it. Hell, I’m a frigging Michelangelo of lemonade! From the bushels of lemons I’ve received, I’d better be. And after the wailing, teeth gnashing, infantile foot stomping and the rest of the feeling sorry for myself floor show, I eventually come to the realization that I have to be a grown-up (aw crap…again?) and ‘make the best of it’. Funny, in doing so I often wind up with something unexpected and maybe even better (shocking, I know.) Take this blog. The idea began in the midst of yet another lemon-filled tsunami. Still unemployed, lot’s of ‘thank you but no thank yous’, dwindling bank account, deflating confidence, ‘nobody loves me I’m gonna eat worms’, blah blah blah. Then I started the blog. People started reading it, liking what they read, and a lovely little lemon soufflé starts to rise. I have no idea where it will go (getting paid would be awfully swell), but what the hell, at least it’s going. Lemonade works like that. You start out thinking “oh come on, be a success at this?? PA-LEESE! This thing is just to pass the time until I find the real thing.” Then, slowly, ‘this thing’ turns into something real. At least I hope it does. Either way, that squirt in the eyes opened them to a new possibility.
Since I think we’ve all had more than enough lemon for one post, my recipe has a ‘when life throws tomatoes at you” theme. The other day I had a mess of cherry tomatoes looking for a recipe to jump into. Having a freezer full of sauce already, I decided to give tomato jam a try. I make jam from fresh or frozen fruit throughout the year in my microwave, using less sugar and cooking time than standard jam recipes call for. I wondered if tomato jam could work with this method too, and it did! Sweet and a little savory with just a hint of heat, it is wonderful with cream cheese or fresh goat cheese on a bagel, as a nice addition to a cheese tray, a special twist on a PB & J, or added to a sandwich. Makes a nice gift too.
[Recipe Note: This type of jam doesn’t last as long as the sugar laden kind, but since I don’t make vats of the stuff and I eat it up rather quickly, a few weeks in the fridge is just fine with me. It also doesn’t get as thick as traditional jam and has more of a conserve consistency.]
Quick Tomato Jam
Makes a little under one cup of jam
- 1 lb cherry tomatoes (you can use whatever kind you like. Just remember you’ll be peeling them, so you might want to go with some of the bigger varieties.)
- 5 TBSP sugar
- 1 ½ tsp lemon juice (or more to taste)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar (if you have a really good one, this is a place to use it)
- A pinch of ancho chili powder, cayenne, or whatever your favorite. (I used a combo of ancho and New Mexico since that’s what I had on hand. This is supposed to be a subtle heat to compliment the sweetness, not blow the back of your head off.)
Put a pot of water on to simmer and prepare an ice bath (bowl of cold water with a few ice cubes in it.) Cut a small X in the bottom of the tomatoes. Once the water is simmering, toss in the tomatoes for about 20-30 seconds or as long as it takes to see the skins start peeling back where you cut them (it won’t take long). Remove the tomatoes from the hot water and immediately put them into the ice bath to cool quickly. Drain the tomatoes and slip off the skins. I find the easiest way to do this is just grab the stem end (end you didn’t cut) and gently pinch the skins off. Doing this step takes a little bit of time, but the end result is SO worth it. **
[**RECIPE NOTE: when I take the tomatoes out of the boiling water, I toss in the jar and lid I’m going to use for the jam and boil for a few minutes to sterilize them. Then I carefully take them out of the water with tongs and put them face down on a clean towel.]
Put the peeled tomatoes and everything else in a deep microwave safe bowl. The bowl should be big enough so that there’s about 3-4 inches from the tomatoes to the rim to avoid any boiling over. DO NOT cover the bowl (if you do, you’ll guarantee the stuff will boil all over your nice clean microwave). Nuke on high in 5-minute intervals, stirring between each, until the mixture has thickened and there’s barely any liquid left. In my microwave it took a total of 18 minutes, but since all microwaves are different, yours may take a little more or less time. When it’s thickened and looks jammy, remove from microwave (REMEMBER – the bowl and the jam will be HOT) and let cool a little. Taste it and adjust if you need to — if you like it sweeter, add a little more sugar, if it’s too sweet, add some more lemon juice.
Pour the jam into the prepared jar, being careful not to touch the inside of the lid or rim of jar. Close tightly and let cool a little on the counter, then put in the back of the coldest shelf in your fridge. Calories: approx. 35 per tablespoon.