Category: canning

Sad news, pickled asparagus & such.

Before I start getting into recipes, I’m sorry to say it’s been a difficult few days for us- Jay’s grandma Dotty passed away on Saturday. We’re all really torn up, we adored her. She was an amazing cook & an amazing grandma. She wasn’t my grandma by blood but I couldn’t have loved her more if she was. What a beautiful soul, inside & out (as you can see). I’m sorry that I won’t be making her her much-requested apricot or strawberry sugar-free jam this year… she’ll be missed terribly.

My heart hurts.

Grandma Dorothy Liff October 2, 1923 - March 29, 2014.Dorothy Liff ¤ October 2, 1923 – March 29, 2014

 

This recipe was written up last week, ready to go, & Grandma Dotty was big into cooking (which I’ll be writing more about very soon). She’d have wanted to hear more about all my recipes, or what I was making, so here it is. There’s no segue into this… and I feel weird doing so… but away we go.

We’re all patiently waiting for spring, right? I mean it technically IS spring. But we’re all waiting for it to get more spring-y. So spring veggies are a good sign, no? Now, let me just say: I don’t like asparagus. Not one bit. That said, it’s everywhere in the springtime, rearing its weird little pointy kinda flowery little  heads all over the place.

Pickled asparagus recipe!

Meh.

I don’t even like the way it smells.

Makin' some pickled asparagus!

My mother & Jay LOVE asparagus. LOVE it. I don’t have the foggiest clue why really. It’s not attractive in the least. And like I said; the smell? No thanks.

Unlike broccoli… which I plan on pickling soon as well. Broccoli has a nice, fresh smell. And it’s delicious.

Did I get sidetracked?

An easy pickled asparagus recipe!

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Rockin’ Moroccan cranberry sauce (with preserved lemon).

Right about now, all across America, folks are flipping out while planning their Thanksgiving dinners. There are tons of phone calls being made… who’s sitting next to who, who isn’t speaking to whom, which cousin is bringing the potatoes au gratin, who’s making the pie, is Aunt Linda making her rice dish this year, which niece is allergic to gluten, what cranberry sauce should we have, etc.

So I thought I’d complicate your life a little more. Let me throw a(nother) possibility into the ring for you guys:

Moroccan-style cranberry sauce with cumin, cardamom & preserved lemon!

When I say this is Moroccan, I don’t really mean it. It’s not a traditional Moroccan dish at all. I’m only saying that because of the use of preserved lemon. The rest of it isn’t terribly ethnic or unique. Although, it is somewhat unique given the fact that at this time of year most cranberry sauces are fairly traditional. But really I’m just being an asshole American: coming up with a clever name at the expense of another culture. So let’s say it’s Moroccan-style, okay?

But… there is some cumin & cardamom in there too! So its definitely not your grandma’s cranberry sauce.

Moroccan-style cranberry sauce with cumin, cardamom & preserved lemon!

I came up with this idea after seeing Local Kitchen add preserved lemon to plum jam. Genius! I thought about it & realized it would be an amazing addition to cranberry sauce; especially seeing as how cranberry & lemon go hand in hand like… I don’t know. Things that hold hands.

ANYWAY…

Then I decided to add some cumin. Then the cardamom popped out of the cabinet. And the rest was history!

Moroccan-style cranberry sauce made with cumin, cardamom & preserved lemons. Not your grandma's cranberry sauce!

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Garden’s last hurrah: nectarine basil preserves (+ a salsa).

It’s September, and the weather is changing. My little herb garden is still growing, but it’s struggling. I know it’s short-lived: the temperatures are dipping down into the 50′s at night, and they’re starting to show the signs that it’s too cold for them. So I’m using every last bit that I can. Making sauces & throwing in extra basil, making cilantro rice, and making rosemary-herbed chicken. Because before I know it, I’ll be drying them all for use over the winter.

When I was a kid, this time of year used to depress me. Back at school for weeks already, time in the pool getting cut drastically short (or disappearing altogether), the weather changing, etc. As an adult I find it doesn’t anymore… sure, I miss the summer. But after long, swelteringly hot days where my face feels like it’s melting off, I look forward to the coolness of the fall. The quietness. The changing leaves. The awesome fall TV lineup. The ability to bake a cake & not have it be too hot to breathe or have the frosting form nothing but a sad, pathetic puddle of sugary mush.

I definitely always miss my garden once the fall weather moves in. Using dried herbs just isn’t the same. And I miss all the fresh produce, too.

But right now… it’s still just warm enough, and it’s all still fresh.

Beautiful, fresh Washington State nectarines.I mean, come on… really now… they’re insanely beautiful!

I made the following recipes after receiving a second massive box from the Washington State Stone Fruit Commission. You might remember that the last time it was a huge box of beautiful peaches. This time, it was half ‘Sweet Dream’ peaches, half ‘Honey Royale’ nectarines (shown above); grown in an orchard right outside Yakima, Washington. They were so stunningly picture perfect, I couldn’t help but snap some photos before they were gobbled up. The nectarines were so big & perfect they almost looked like apples! Just gorgeous. I swear, I have never seen such beautiful fruit before. Not even at farmer’s markets, or gourmet food stores. The fruits I’ve received from them have been some of the best produce I’ve ever had.

So of course, after I took photos… a few of them got eaten fresh. And my parents took some. Gave a few to lucky neighbors.

And the piles of fruit that were left were all for me to play around with!

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Freshly minted.

Fresh mint! Turn it into jelly in less than 15 minutes!

One of the best parts of having a garden in the summer is the fresh herbs. I use my cilantro in tacos, salsa, guacamole & jasmine rice while the green coriander seeds go into pickles, I use the basil & oregano on fresh pizza, Caprese salad or in tomato sauce as well as drying some, the dill goes into pickles & gets dried for winter soups & sauces, the tarragon goes into flavored vinegar & gets dried, same goes for the sage, etc. Everything gets used, ultimately, whether it gets used fresh… or dried.

Mint is excellent when used fresh. It’s awesome in water or lemonade, or as a garnish on ice creams/sorbets. But if you’re growing mint & not making homemade mint jelly, you’re seriously missing out. Even if you don’t like it you probably know someone who loves to smear it on lamb chops or a leg of lamb, so gift it to them.

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Millions of peaches, peaches for me.

A big ol' box of Washington State peaches!

Please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks of that Presidents of the United States of America song when I see peaches… please… someone… anyone? I sing it to myself in the supermarket. At the farmer’s market. Anywhere I see peaches. And I distinctly remember the video; specifically seeing it on MTV at my aunt & uncle’s house when I was in 9th grade. I believe that was when Jenny McCarthy was the host of Singled Out, not to mention when the show was actually popular.

Damn I’m old.

I don’t mind being “old”, though. Not really. I mean, let’s face it… 32 isn’t really old. I’m being facetious here. But either way, old people are my favorite kinds of people, so I don’t care about “getting old.” I’d rather spend my time knitting, baking & listening to Wingy Manone or Dean Martin with the Golden Girls than hanging out with a bunch of gum-snapping Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift fans ANY DAY.

Beautiful fresh peaches.. turned into a vanilla brandied peach jam!A quick wash & dry does a lot to make them even more beautiful…

 

And let’s face it: some of my favorite pastimes used to be considered old fashioned. It used to be (and not that long ago) that baking pies or making jam were outdated concepts. That “home-y” domestic stuff was something that was relegated to history books or old WWII propaganda posters. It was old fashioned. It was for old ladies. It wasn’t cool for a while there to have anything to do with the kitchen. It was the in thing to act as if you couldn’t even boil water or stored sweaters in your stove. Blame Carrie Bradshaw, blame whoever you want, but it was a fact. Women who stayed home & liked to be domestic were once frowned upon, looked at as boring or even worse, dubbed “ambition-less.” That sucks. I’m just glad things have changed. I’m glad there are people like Erica from P.S. I Made This who show that you can be quirky, crafty & love to cook but also be cool, & have a wicked sense of fashion. Not to mention that a career can be made from it! Whoda thunk it. Move over, Martha, there’s more of us.

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Blueberry cream pie for Dad, plus a bonus jam.

This is my dad. Well, it’s him in the 1970′s, anyway.

Mein papa, 1970's.

My dad likes food.

My grandpa Butch liked food too, but he was my maternal grandpa, so there was no blood relation between them. However, between the two of them, I think that’s where I inherited my love of eating, my ability to eat more food in one sitting than a truck driver twice my height & weight, and also… my ability to inhale food as if it was the last meal on earth. Honestly, I eat faster than anyone on the planet. Everyone yells at me, tells me not to rush, to enjoy it. AND I’M NOT RUSHING. I DO ENJOY EVERY DAMN BITE. I JUST EAT FAST. Get over it. I once had someone ask me if my parents were in the military, because they knew someone who grew up in a strict military house where meals were timed. No. My parents were not insane drill sergeants, and neither of them were in the military. I just friggin’ fast, okay? Sheesh.

Anyway…

Other things I get from my dad: my height (I’m 5’9″ or 5’10″, somewhere in there), my stubbornness, and I’m sure my mother could tell you many more.

My dad also likes blueberry pie (I did not inherit this).

Pie prep!

Blueberry cream pie for Father's Day! The only baking involved is the crust.

For Christmas, a guy Jay works with went and picked up a bunch of pies from this place out on Long Island called Briermere Farms. They’re known for their pies, and they’re pretty incredible I have to say. Even though the only one I’ve had so far is the chocolate cream, I’ve seen how they look & visually they look… well… they look like pies you want to dive into headfirst, basically. And the fact that they’re all natural, homemade & don’t contain nasty preservatives or fake stuff? Even better. From the website:

All of our pies, bread, muffins, cookies, cakes, jam, and jelly are made right here on our farm from scratch. There are no pre-prepared ingredients or fillings bought for use. Most of the fresh fruit used in our bakery is grown right here on our farm.

But anyway, this guy drove all the way out there with a list of pies that other guys ordered, and picked them all up, just because the pies are that good. I’m talking like 30-something pies. They’re that big of a deal. So Jay ordered us a chocolate cream pie for dessert, as well as blueberry cream pie just for my dad, since he’s such a big blueberry pie fan.

And it definitely lived up to the hype. Even Jay liked it- and he hates berries more than I do. So I thought, gee, when Father’s Day comes around next spring, I should try & duplicate that pie.

Blueberry cream pie!

And so Father’s Day is here. And who better to look to when recreating a fantastic, cream-filled pie than Paula Deen? I mean, really.

So I found Paula’s version of the blueberry cream tart, and I decided it seemed pretty damn good. Now I’m not sure if it tastes anything like the one from Briermere Farms, but my dad sure likes it. I adapted it slightly from Paula’s original recipe. And looking at this pie, I take back what I said about not being a pie person. I make a pretty awesome looking pie!

And I guess we won’t have to order this particular pie from Briermere Farms anymore.

Easy & delicious blueberry cream pie. Perfect for Father's Day or a summertime barbecue.

BLUEBERRY CREAM PIE (adapted from Paula Deen’s Blueberry Tart recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 1 9-inch deep-dish pie crust
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pint (8 oz. or roughly one cup) fresh blueberries (I used Driscoll’s*)
  • One 21-ounce can blueberry pie filling (or equivalent amount of homemade blueberry pie filling)

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
  2. Make your pie crust, and press it into your pie dish, poking holes in the bottom and sides with a fork. Bake for 10-12 minutes (or as directed on the package if using frozen) until golden, then remove and let cool completely.
  3. Beat the cream cheese with the confectioners sugar. Beat the heavy cream with the granulated sugar until it forms soft peaks, then fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. Add the vanilla. Fold in the fresh blueberries gently.
  4. Spoon the cream mixture into the cooled pie shell and top with blueberry pie filling. Refrigerate until well chilled.
  5. Serve to your dad & tell him to enjoy!
 *I used Driscoll’s berries because I really liked what I read about them over at Food in Jars.

Easy & delicious blueberry cream pie.

I’m sure you could probably use a cookie crust, like graham cracker, and there wouldn’t be any baking at all! You can totally make your own blueberry pie filling, and on the same note you can use a frozen pie crust if you prefer.

Yes, there are people who will tell you not to, yes there are people who’ll rip you a new one for not making your own everything… but do what’s best for you. If it’s your first pie, then take baby steps. Pie crust can be rough for a beginner (it took me a long time to get a handle on it and I still suck at fancy crusts!). Of course, this is an easy pie to start with if you’re new to pie-making: there’s relatively little to do, not a lot of baking involved, and not too much prep.

And not for nothing, I think this idea would work really well with cherries, too, and probably even raspberries.

Fresh blueberries for blueberry cream pie (and blueberry basil jam!)

And if you’re like me and you buy more fresh blueberries than you need, you can make a simple little jam, too.

I decided to create something a bit more unique than your average blueberry jam, however. An added Father’s Day bonus for dad, if you will. My friend Chrisie made blueberry basil preserves last year & ever since then I’ve been dying to do that myself. It sounded so different, like it wouldn’t work. But yet the smell of the blueberries cooking with the basil totally made sense. It’s a genius idea, really, even more so than my raspberry-jalapeño-cilantro jam.

So what I did was I took Love and Olive Oil’s recipe for blueberry basil preserves and used Food in Jar’s recipe for small-batch blueberry ginger jam and kind of made a Frankenstein monster of blueberry recipe jamminess.

Blueberry basil preserves.

SMALL-BATCH BLUEBERRY BASIL PRESERVES

Makes about 12 ounces; either one half- pint (8 oz.) + one 4 oz jar or three 4 oz. jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 dry pint fresh blueberries, washed & dried (again, I used Driscoll’s)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4-5 large basil leaves, washed & torn

Directions:

  1. Smash your blueberries a bit and place them in a bowl with the sugar. In a mortar & pestle, bruise the torn basil leaves slightly and add to the blueberries & sugar. Toss together & let sit for one hour.
  2. Meanwhile, sterilize two 8 oz. jars or one pint jar, and put the lids in hot water to soften the seal.
  3. When ready, put the fruit mixture into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 15-25 minutes or until it passes the plate test/reaches 220° F. This might take longer or maybe even less time; it will depend on the weather, how much liquid is in the berries, the ripeness, your stove, the type of pan you use, etc.
  4. Pour into warm prepared jar(s). Wipe rims, place lids & bands, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

If you’re umfamiliar with term “the plate test“, you have no idea what I mean when I say “sterilize your jars“, then click those links, and if you’re totally new to the canning thing but you desperately wanna start… then go read my post Canning for Dummies.

Blueberries are like little bombs of pectin, so I’m not sure why people always want to add more pectin to blueberry jams. They don’t need it! Let them cook down on their own. Oh, and wear a dark-colored apron when you make this. Blueberries like to attack sometimes.

Blueberry basil preserves.

4-ingredient blueberry basil preserves.

I can’t speak on the taste, but it sure looked pretty. And that pool of clear blueberry “liquid” is actually gelled, & wrinkles when pushed, so the preserves aren’t as loose-set as they appear. I tried to show in the photos that there are indeed basil leaves in there, but those suckers were hard to find. You’ll have to trust me.

Happy Father’s Day to all the awesome dad’s out there. Enjoy your day!

 Sources & credits: Longaberger black 11″ pie plate, Sur La Table marble rolling pin, vintage silverware, Ball® 8-ounce jars can be purchased at freshpreserving.com.

A homemade life.

“That’s the thing with handmade items. They still have the person’s mark on them, and when you hold them, you feel less alone.”

-Aimee Bender

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A couple of years ago I read a book by Molly Wizenberg (the blogger behind Orangette), called ‘A Homemade Life.’ It was part of a book club selection- and no, this wasn’t just your average, boring, every day book club- do I look or sound remotely boring to you? It was an awesome one I had with three high school friends (that I’m hoping we can start up again soon- HELLO LADIES ARE YOU LISTENING) where we chose books involving food/recipes and cooked from them, then blogged about it. But anyway, I loved the book. Why? Well, it was just a good book for one thing. Secondly, it turned me on to Molly’s blog, which I had been previously unaware of (I know, I know) and it turns out Molly is cool in tons of different ways. She named her new baby girl after June Carter Cash! Automatic points. But besides all that, I liked the title of the book.

A homemade life. That sounds good to me. I have a homemade life. Homemade pumpkin spice lattes, homemade sodas, homemade jams, homemade breads, homemade pickles…. basically, whether it’s made with a needle & thread or a pot & wooden spoon, I’m down.

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And see, here’s the deal: I also like homemade Christmas gifts. I like homemade gifts in general, actually; one of my absolute favorite gifts of all time is a Victorian dollhouse cabinet my uncle Pat made for me. He made it 100% from scratch; four floors, five rooms, doors between rooms that open & close, five fireplaces, staircases complete with newel posts & bannisters, clear plexi-glass door on the front with a glass knob, all the furniture included. It’s beautiful and it remains a treasured piece to this day. I miss my uncle dearly, but when I look at that dollhouse I think of how amazing he was & I feel like he’s still here. And the same goes for a lot of objects around here. The holidays can be a bittersweet time- I miss so many people who aren’t here with us anymore, and I’m reminded of them so strongly this time of year. Which is both good & bad, happy & sad.

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Anyway I am definitely not one of those people that turns her nose up at a hand-knit scarf or a pair of crocheted slippers. I love when Yoyo sends me a package of homemade aprons, table runners, etc. I really do adore handmade gifts. I love when people give me things they made for me, and I think most people whom I’ve given homemade items to are thankful in return (perhaps some more than others). That isn’t to say I don’t like store bought gifts. I do. I love them. My KitchenAid mixer (“Lola”), laptop, iPhone & handmixer count among the best gifts I ever received. But a beautiful homemade gift can speak volumes. Time is money, and talent isn’t to be overlooked. If someone thinks highly enough of you to spend their time creating something just for you… then you’re a very lucky person indeed. Last year I gave a variety of homemade jams, jellies & pickles as additional Christmas gifts: candy apple jelly, Amaretto cranberry sauce/Chinese apple-cranberry sauce, vanilla-brandy chestnut jam & gingerbread spice jelly, and some regular ol’ pickles just to name a few. I also gave some individually-sized homemade chocolate chip panettone. To be honest; I did in fact throw in store-bought presents as well, however, so it wasn’t a completely handmade/homemade Christmas.

Why am I writing all this? I’m not really sure. All I know is, I was making some apple-cranberry-ginger preserves (for gift giving!) and it all occurred to me. What with Christmas rapidly coming, and the gift-giving time of year upon us. So I felt the need to get it out, “onto paper” as they say. Or in this case… my blog.

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A LITTLE GINGERY APPLE-CRANBERRY PRESERVES

Makes about 3-4 half-pints

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups peeled & diced apples (I used McIntosh, but any apple on the softer side will do)
  • 2 cups fresh whole cranberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped candied ginger
  • 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (depending on your taste)

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jars and place your lids in hot water. Set aside, keeping your jars hot.
  2. Add apples, cranberries & water in a large saucepan. Heat them over medium heat, stirring occasionally,  until they’re just warm, then add sugar. Stir until sugar is completely mixed in, then bring to a boil. Cook this way (still stirring every now & then) until cranberries begin to pop.
  3. Add lemon juice, ginger, and allspice. Lower the heat to a simmer, and continue to peek at it and give it a good stir every so often, until the cranberries have softened & broken down & the mixture is a pinkish red.
  4. Continue cooking until mixture is on the thick side. Do not let it get too thick- as it cools, it thickens more. Ladle into hot jars & wipe rims clean. Place lids & bands, and process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner. Let cool, check seal, and proceed to give as gifts!

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This is a really easy recipe that comes together quickly and doesn’t require a lot of hubbub. No extra pectin, no special materials. It gels easily and you’re done before you know it. That’s why it’s so great for giving as gifts! It’s a terrific entry way into canning, too (just read this post before you start).

However- regardless of how “easy” a gift may be: I hope people who receive homemade gifts appreciate the effort and thought that go into them. It’s not like going into Williams-Sonoma & buying a jar of expensive preserves or a box of peppermint bark & wrapping ‘em up; these people are spending valuable time over a stove, stirring a pot. Chopping fruit or vegetables. Lovingly seasoning it to perfection and cooking it (or baking it) into a personalized gift just for you. If you don’t appreciate it, then I hate to say it, but you’re probably really shallow.

And shallow people don’t get jars of delightfully gingery apple-cranberry preserves. At least not from me.

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Here are some great places to get ideas on buying or creating homemade gifts:

And if you create homemade jams or pickles to give as gifts, Well Preserved‘s Pimp That Preserve contest entries from the last two years can give you some excellent ideas on how to decorate those jars to really make an impression, as well as the Facebook album with all the 2011 entries (you don’t need Facebook to view it). It just so happens that I’m a 2011 Pimp That Preserve winner *cough*these are the winning jars*cough* so I might know a thing or two about this.

What do you think? Do you like homemade gifts? Do you prefer to give them or receive them or both?

Small-batch inspiration.

“There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Thanksgiving is over. The turkeys have all been gobbled up- pun intended. Most folks are going to be eating turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce for another few days, at least. And Christmas is rapidly coming, as evidenced by all the colored & white twinkling lights that are popping up everywhere. I guess- for most people- that means this month, same as last month, is filled with a plethora of recipes & cooking. Or at least, plans to do so.

I should probably say that this post is about a recipe, and cooking, but also about a kind of combination of baker’s block and writer’s block. And “cook’s block,” or whatever. Because I genuinely felt, a while back, as if my well of never-ending ideas had dried up. Just a few weeks ago I’d been feeling majorly uninspired. Not just kitchen-wise, although that was a major part of it. In life, too. Completely uninspired & boring. And it wasn’t fun, especially when you’re a blogger whose blog is dependent on your ideas. Usually, I’m fairly prolific… even when I make something & it’s a failure, I still have tons of shit to say about it. At the very least I usually have other ideas bouncing around in my head. I know exactly what to make for dinner, what to bake, what to say about it all.

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But nope. Not a few weeks ago.

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Other than writing about my writing/baking/cooking block, I had nothing else to say. And I guess in five years of blogging it’s bound to happen at least once, so I can’t complain. But all I could think of to make were boring things that I’ve already done. Or not so boring things that I’ve already done. Either way, I’ve already done them. And you don’t come here to read the same damn thing over & over again. I was stuck in such a rut, you have no idea. Even when it was dinner time. I’d open my cabinets, stare at the contents, then let them slam shut without one spark of inspiration. Thankfully, I had some things to post that I had made already or else the blog would’ve been blank.

Have I done everything? No. Have I created every single baked good or cupcake or meal there is to make? Not at all. My inspiration meter was just on zero. I just couldn’t come up with anything to do. Or rather, that I felt like doing. It was a drag. A major freakin’ drag. I had absolutely no kitchen-mojo. But then I had a breakthrough:

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Pear-sauce.

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Pears and I don’t really get along. I’m not a fan of pears at all, really. Apples, yes. Pears, no.

But sometimes we’re pushed into making things by necessity… like the bowl of pears sitting on the table that are getting too soft (ahem- remember these?), and the coincidental small-batch brown sugar & cardamom pear jam blog post you find at a favorite blog. Taking some cues from Marisa, I decided on making an applesauce-type thing, but with pears. And cardamom, ’cause it sounded good. I don’t like pears, mind you, but sauces/jams/jellies make great hostess or holiday gifts. And at the time, this being a few weeks ago, Thanksgiving was coming up (and then the Christmas holiday season), and I figured I’d be going to a few people’s houses for dinners or perhaps hosting my own. Therefore I could use a few spare jars of things I don’t use for that very reason. Giving your hostess a jar of something homemade is always a nice touch. Besides, it’s nice to offer people a variety of homemade yummies with dinner/dessert this time of year. And I had, actually, been toying with the idea of making some pear-sauce, but in my mind I had imagined a pear/apple combination, maybe with cinnamon.

So granted, my uninspired period didn’t last very long. But the end result of it made the brief time of “blah” much more worth it! Not only was it something I personally had never made before, but it would use up those bruised & soft pears!

After seeing the post at Food in Jars, I used all the pears I had that were getting soft, of which there were about four or five. I had mostly Bartlett, but there were one or two teeny Seckel pears in there (if you’re making this now, you can use either Seckel or Anjou, both should be available). I cored them, chopped them up (without peeling them), and added ‘em to a saucepan with a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of lemon juice (I ended up with a little over 2 3/4 cups of chopped pears). I then let it cook. I occasionally used a fork to mash the larger chopped up bits. I let it cook until it “came together”, and then I raised the heat up. I let it go again until it splattered and sputtered and got thick, stirring it occasionally. Then I added a teaspoon of cardamom and lowered the heat a bit to let the cardamom cook into it. At this point, it seemed to have the consistency of a slightly chunky applesauce, but I thought it might turn out to be slightly thicker than that when cooled (And it was, but not by much).

I added it to the hot, sterilized jars (I ended up with 16 ounces of it total; one half-pint jar and two 4-oz. jars) and sealed them. Processed them for 10 minutes in a water bath canner and that was that.

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Easiest thing ever.

And of course, as she said, it makes a great oatmeal addition. Just swirl it in there. Or, use it however you’d use applesauce. And if you don’t want to “can” it, I’m fairly sure it’d be fine to just pop it in a clean jar and refrigerate it for use right away. Or… can it, make the jars look all spiffy, and use it as part of your holiday gifts. Before anyone asks: I spray painted those bands black myself- not safe to use for the water bath, but I put them on in place of regular ones once the jars are cooled. Yet another “inspired” moment, this time thanks to Well Preserved.

All it took to get me back in the game was three little jars of pear-sauce with black-painted rings? Not bad. Not bad at all.

Brains in a jar.

Credit: Flickr user carbonated

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My favorite time of year is officially in full-swing. Halloween! I’m not kidding when I say that this is by far my favorite time of year and my favorite holiday. I love all holidays, yes, and Christmas is great. But Halloween is the absolute best. Winter weather is too cold for me, whereas autumn is beautiful. If I can quote myself (from a few years ago):

Ah, Halloween. Best night of the year in my humble opinion. Then again, anytime you can leave your house in New York, see 5 zombies, 4 vampires, 7 witches and a bunch of ghosts, tell your friends about it (while you’re dressed as, say, a prostitute) and not be committed to a mental hospital or drug treatment facility is a good night. But I’m just one of those macabre people who loves classic horror movies, witches, and all things black, so why wouldn’t I love Halloween? And hello? Free candy? Does it get any better? I think the way the weather is and the way the stores and houses are decorated for Halloween should stay that way for always. Its just the best. I mean, Christmas rocks too in its own way, but I hate the cold and the snow, and as a non-religious person I celebrate it as “Santa and reindeer and pretty lights” time, which isn’t anywhere near as fun and wacky as “zombie, witch and vampire” time, but does indeed have its own merit and is admittedly my second favorite holiday. Maybe that’s why I like the movie ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ so much? At any rate, I can rhapsodize about how much I love Halloween all day long but that won’t get the frosting on the cupcake so lets move on.

I can’t help it. I love seeing the monsters & the ghosts, I love the black cats everywhere, I love the colors. I’m kind of a creepy person, too, so the creep factor ups the ante for me. Christmas isn’t creepy, it’s cheery. In the spirit of all things creepy, I made brains in a jar.

Okay, okay. They’re not brains. They’re figs in brandy. But they look like brains, sorta, don’t they?

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COME ON. It’s HALLOWEEN. They totally look like shriveled little brains. That makes them perfect for serving at a Halloween party or for bringing to a Halloween party. A grown-up Halloween party, I mean *cough* You know, one of those really adult ones where you all get blindfolded & pass around a bowl of warm cooked spaghetti & say it’s someone’s intestines or something… that kind of really grown-up event. Cocktails & entrails. That’s my kind of event.

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The nice thing about this recipe is that it uses dried figs, which here in NY are far easier to find than fresh figs. I understand that the fresh fruit doesn’t ship well, so us here on the East Coast (especially north) have a harder time getting them. But still, I don’t really know why they’re so rare, I see them once, fleetingly, and then they’re gone. Or I see them for a crazy price and I’m all like, “WHAT?” Last year I got lucky & got those fresh figs for an excellent price. This year I’ve only seen small containers of them at Fairway for like $6.00. I don’t want five figs for 6 bucks, dude. Five figs would barely make 2 8-oz. jars of fig jam, if that.

But this recipe was a godsend. I can scoop up all those dried fig packages and use them! The recipe calls for Calimyrna figs.

To fig connoisseurs, Calimyrnas are the ne plus ultra (nee-plus-UL-tra) of figs. Comparing them with other cultivated varieties is like comparing red snapper with swordfish or hamburger with filet mignon. If you don’t particularly like figs, you probably have never tasted a fresh Calimyrna. Since they are extremely perishable, most of the Calimyrna crop is used for dried figs, confectioneries and pastries.

Up until the late 1800s, Calimyrna growers in California were puzzled as to why their trees would not set fruit. It was finally discovered that they needed a tiny female wasp pollinator from Asia Minor (Blastophaga psenes) that lives inside the fruits of pollen-bearing wild figs (called caprifigs). Capri refers to goat and the inedible wild figs were apparently fed to livestock. The tiny wasps are only two millimeters long, small enough to pass through the “eye” of a sewing needle. Wasp-bearing caprifigs are now grown in California, and each summer they are placed in the little brown bags in Calimyrna orchards. This process, called caprification, is vital to the Calimyrna growers.

Calimyrna figs are a high-energy, nutritious fruit, high in vitamins, calcium, phosphorus and iron. They are easily digested and are an excellent source of natural fiber. One large dried fig contains about 65 dietary calories (kilocalories). The California Fig Institute located in Fresno has prepared an extensive list of delectable fig recipes, from fig muffins and cookies to fig puddings and pies.

Calimyrna figs are golden yellow and slightly larger than black mission figs.

-Source

While I’m sure Mission figs probably would work the same, they definitely wouldn’t look the same. It would be very dark. I think you could probably substitute Kalimata figs and get a decent brainy-looking jar, though. if the brain angle doesn’t matter, then you can use whatever dried figs you want! And speaking of that… you can call ‘em whatever you want. Drunken Figs, Figs with a Drinking Problem, whatever. But to me they’ll always be ‘Brains in a jar.’

BRAINS IN A JAR (also known as Figs in Brandy, from Saveur)

Makes about 4 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. dried figs (preferably calimyrna), soaked in water and refrigerated overnight
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups brandy
  • 1 tsp. citric acid

Directions:

  1. Drain the figs, then transfer to a 4-quart saucepan and cover with 6 cups water. Bring water to a boil over a high heat and cook for 15 minutes. Add the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine, and return to a boil; boil for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup brandy. Bring mixture back to a boil, then remove it from the heat and set aside.
  2. Place four 1-pint canning jars along with their bands and lids in a 6-quart pot of boiling water and leave for 30 seconds. With tongs, transfer the jars, bands, and lids to a kitchen towel on the counter. Let air-dry. When the jars are dry, add 1/4 tsp. citric acid to each. Using a slotted spoon, remove the figs from the saucepan and pack them into the jars. Then pour the brandy syrup over the figs, leaving 1″ of space below the rims of the jars. (Pour in more brandy if the syrup does not reach the top of the figs.) Wipe the rims of the jars with a hot damp towel. Cover and seal each jar with a lid and screw the bands on.
  3. Place the jars in a large pot fitted with a rack; pour in enough water to cover the jars by at least 3″. Bring to a boil over high heat; boil for 20 minutes. (When using this recipe at altitudes of 1,001 to 6,000 feet, add 20 more minutes of processing time; above 6,000 feet, add another 5 minutes.) Turn off the heat; let sit for 5 minutes. Transfer jars to a kitchen towel and let cool for 6 hours. Check the seals and store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.

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I used Paul Masson brandy because it’s affordable and not top of the line, yet it has a nice light taste and a good flavor. It’s silly to use top shelf stuff in this- the brandy just ends up absorbing the fig flavor. However by the same token, you don’t want to use a really cheap nasty-tasting brandy either. Remember that while the brandy is sweetened and will take on the figgyness, the figs will also end up taking on the brandy flavor. So don’t completely skimp out but don’t break the bank buying something you can’t afford. Mid-range is always a good bet. Same principle as when choosing the olive oil with the melanzane sott’olio/peppers in oil. Also, you should be able to find citric acid at Walmart (just make sure it’s food grade), but if not you can use lemon juice.

I had leftover brandy-syrup, so I strained it and poured it into an 8-ounce jar and when it cooled, the jar sealed. That would be excellent on ice cream or pound cake. Not sure why I had that much syrup left, I halved the entire recipe. Not that I’m complaining mind you.

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And of course, you have to put a label on them, right?

For all my fellow geeks: the fonts used are ‘Monsterfreak‘ and ‘Bat Font

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The memories of my high school science lab are flooding back. The giant old tables with the black tops. The big cabinets with the glass doors that held microscopes, old books and jars filled with animals & animal parts in formaldehyde. But just like those cabinets, the ideas for Halloween-y canned goods are never ending. Canned whole tomatoes can be labeled as hearts (so can whole strawberries). Pickled wax beans can be fingers or earthworms, pickled grapes can be eyeballs. Blood orange marmalade doesn’t really need a new name, but strawberry jam or cherry preserves can be passed off as “guts.” Sick, right? I bet you’ll never look at those things the same way again!

Use your imagination. That’s exactly what this time of year is all about.

Cold & flu season be damned.

Yup. It’s that time of year again. FLU SEASON.

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Confession time: I have never gotten a flu shot. Ever. Not when my mother was on chemo, not when my grandmother was over 90 years old and I was taking care of her, not when I took the train into Manhattan every day during the winter with sweaty, stinky people coughing & sneezing all over me. Not even when I was still in college & they “highly recommended it.” I never once got the flu, and in turn never once gave anyone else the flu. And don’t lecture me- I don’t plan on ever getting a flu shot, unless I’m in a compromising situation health-wise. First of all, I recently read a study that said that green tea supplements actually worked better to prevent the flu than vaccinations. And also, another study that said due to the aluminum content in the shots, adults who received 5 or more flu shots were 10% more likely to get Alzheimer’s than those who had 2 or fewer. And that was substantiated by an article I had read last year. True or not true, substantiated or not, outdated or not, it brings up a lot of questions. And it doesn’t seem like a risk I’d like to take. I realize health is not something to play around with. I’m not anti-vaccinations (quite the opposite actually), I especially think they’re important for children, and I would never tell anyone else what to do. I’m just not over-dramatic when it comes to my own health. I realize the flu can be serious… but I’m not in a high-risk group. I’m healthy. I’m not pregnant. I don’t have asthma or diabetes. And I much prefer to take my chances and avoid the doctor as much as possible. If I can’t cure it with NyQuil, orange juice, Tylenol and brandy/whiskey, then and only then do I consider a trip to the professionals. I haven’t taken antibiotics in over 4 years.

Why am I telling you this? Because this post is about something you can make and can up that just might help ease some of the misery you might be put through later on in the season, whether you get a flu shot or not.

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It’s spiced honey! Very simple to make, very cheap to make, and it has a lot of health benefits.

Honey historically as been used by humans to treat a variety of ailments, from gastric disturbances to ulcers, wounds and burns, through ingestion or topical application, but only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey been chemically explained. Different honeys have different properties, which was known since ancient times. Much scientific research has been done, with emphasis of late on fighting infections in wounds. The antibacterial mechanisms known to date are H2O2, methylglyoxal(MGO), bee defensin-1, the osmotic effect and the pH.

In Ayurveda, a 4000-year-old medicine originating from India, honey is considered to positively affect all three primitive material imbalances of the body. “Vaatalam guru sheetam cha raktapittakaphapaham| Sandhatru cchedanam ruksham kashayam madhuram madhu|| “It has sweetness with added astringent as end taste. It is heavy, dry and cold. Its effect on doshas (imbalances) is that it aggravates vata (air / moving forces), scrapes kapha (mucus / holding forces) and normalizes pitta (catabolic fire) and rakta (blood). It promotes the healing process.” Some wound gels which contain antibacterial raw honey and have regulatory approval are now available to help treat drug-resistant strains of bacteria (MRSA). One New Zealand researcher says a particular type of honey (manuka honey) may be useful in treating MRSA infections.) As an antimicrobial agent honey is useful in treating a variety of ailments. Antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, chelation of free Iron, its slow release of hydrogen peroxide,[74] high acidity,[75] and the antibacterial activity of methylglyoxal.

Honey also appears to be effective in killing drug-resistant biofilms which are implicated in chronic rhinosinusitis.

Lemon contains Vitamin C, which helps repel toxins. The low pH of juice makes it antibacterial.

Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes”. A study conducted in 2007 and published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry suggests that specific plant terpenoids contained within cinnamon have potent antiviral properties.

Pharmacological experiments suggest that the cinnamon-derived dietary factor cinnamic aldehyde (cinnamaldehyde) activates the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response in human epithelial colon cells and may therefore represent an experimental chemopreventive dietary factor targeting colorectal carcinogenesis.[34] Recent research documents anti-melanoma activity of cinnamic aldehyde observed in cell culture and a mouse model of human melanoma.Cinnamon bark, a component of the traditional Japanese medicine Mao-to, has been shown in a 2008 study published in the Journal of General Virology to have an antiviral therapeutic effect. A 2011 study isolated a substance (CEppt) in the cinnamon plant that inhibits development of Alzheimer’s in mice. CEppt, an extract of cinnamon bark, seems to treat a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.

Cloves (and clove oil) have long been shown in Western studies to assist in aiding with dental pain.However, studies to determine its effectiveness for fever reduction, as a mosquito repellent and to prevent premature ejaculation have been inconclusive. Clove may reduce blood sugar levels.

Tellimagrandin II is an ellagitannin found in S. aromaticum with anti-herpes virus properties. The clove buds have anti-oxidant properties.

But more than any of that- honey is just soothing, especially when ingested in a warm cup of something. So it stands to reason that some honey with lemon, cinnamon and cloves is something you’d want to make and have on hand for those miserable winter days when you wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck, barely able to swallow. But really, it’s equally delicious in a cup of hot black tea (or even better for your health: green tea) right before bed on a cold fall or winter night. You don’t have to be sick to appreciate it. Stir some of this into some hot apple cider. Hell, you can have a little in a glass of Jack Daniels too. They make that honey stuff, don’t they? Why not a spiced honey Jack cocktail?


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SPICED HONEY

Makes three 8-ounce (half-pint) jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 organic lemon, washed thoroughly, end pieces removed and cut into 6 even slices
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (4 inches long)
  • 2 2/3 cups liquid honey

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jars, put your lids in hot water and prepare your water bath canner.
  2. Stud the peel of each lemon slice with two cloves. In a stainless steel saucepan, combine lemon slices, cinnamon sticks and honey. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil gently for 2 minutes.
  3. Using tongs, remove lemon slices from honey mixture and place two in each (still hot) jar. Add 1 cinnamon stick to each jar. Ladle the hot honey into the jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Place lids and bands, turning to fingertip tight, and place jars in canner.
  4. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Cool, check seal, then store.

Add it to your tea or even drizzle it on your toast. You don’t even have to be sick to enjoy it! It only makes 3 8-oz. jars, and takes no time to pull together. I think you should try making some… in a few months, you might just be glad you did. Especially since the peak of flu season is in February. That’s a long way off, dudes.

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Instead of making 3- 8 oz. jars, I made 2 jars: one 16 oz. and one 8 oz. Not for anything, but a jar of this tied up with a pretty bow and a cute honey dipper would be a great gift to give someone. Not just for a get well gift (although that’s a great idea!), but even for the holidays. Or to bring as a hostess gift on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Just tie a note on it telling them it’s not just for when you’re sick… and they should try it in some hot brandy punch.

I also used two different kinds of honey mixed together, one was a bit lighter in color than the other. Strangely enough, the larger jar I made came out with a deeper color than the smaller jar. Not sure why. It could have been that one honey was a thicker or heavier consistency than the other, and the order in which I poured it into the jars factored in. If you use a flowery honey or Golden Blossom Honey, you’ll get a different flavor. Not a bad flavor at all, it’ll just have more complex notes than the lemon/clove/cinnamon. Also… honey does not expire. A sealed jar of honey can last forever (literally… ). And you don’t have to refrigerate the jars once you open them, since honey is stable at room temperature; the sugar content is too high and the moisture content too low for fungus to grow once it’s opened. According to the National Honey Board:

Honey stored in sealed containers can remain stable for decades and even centuries! However, honey is susceptible to physical and chemical changes during storage; it tends to darken and lose its aroma and flavor or crystallize. These are temperature-dependent processes, making the shelf life of honey difficult to define. For practical purposes, a shelf life of two years is often stated. Properly processed, packaged and stored honey retains its quality for a long time.

If in doubt, throw it out, and purchase a new jar of honey!

So you can open a jar in November and keep that same jar on your counter until spring with no bad consequences. Stay healthy, my fair readers.

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Sources & credits: American Limoges/Sebring Pottery china in “Royal Fortune” pattern; vintage (belonged to my grandmother), 16-oz. & 8-oz. Ball® jars can be purchased at freshpreserving.com.