Category: preserves

Linzer tart cupcakes.

Ohhh, Valentine’s Day is here. Time for hearts. Hearts everywhere. Heart-shaped everything! And of course, here that includes… cupcakes.

I go batty for holidays ’round these here parts, in case you didn’t know notice.

These particular little cupcakes are inspired by Linzer tarts, or Linzer tortes. In America, you low them as the cookies with a hole cut out of the top piece… its filled with a red or pink colored jam or jelly and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. However in Austria those are considered Linzer sablés (Linzer Augen or “linzer eyes”). They’re also a riff on the cupcakes I posted last year; which were chocolate cupcakes filled with pink frosting, all in a heart-shape.

Linzer tart cupcakes for Valentine's Day.

There are a few ways of doing this neat little heart-shaped hole trick, but I just use the method I find easiest: I push the cutter down into the middle of the completely cooled (preferably refrigerated for a few hours) cupcake. After some wiggling, the heart-shaped piece should pop out when you remove the cookie cutter. Another way: cut the top of the cupcake off, add a layer of jam, then cut the hole out of the top and stick it back on.

Linzer tart cupcakes filled with strawberry jam.

Whatever way you choose, the end result is adorable. And sweet.

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Dark chocolate & pear preserves.

Well, like I’ve told you before, I don’t like pears. As a matter of fact I downright DISLIKE them. I know, I know. I wanted to like them. But I don’t (just like how I desperately wanted to like oatmeal & soft-boiled eggs too…).

However this time of year I’m starting to think about what preserves, jellies & jams I’ll be gifting people for Christmas, and I happen to know a decent amount of folks who quite enjoy these oddly-shaped little fruits.

Bosc & Bartlett's ready to go into dark chocolate pear preserves.For some reason, this striped towel just reminds me of pears- is that weird?

 

When I happened upon gorgeous pears at my local market for .79¢ a pound, I knew I had to get them & use them up ASAP. For that price I could’ve gotten a gazillion- but again, I don’t like them. They were selling Bartlett, Bosc & Seckel all for the same low price. I got about 3 lbs. of a Bosc/Bartlett mix and it cost me less then $3.00. Amazing. Who says fruit has to be expensive?

Anyway… once I got them home I started looking in earnest for ways to use them in either baked goods or in relatively small-batch preserves/jams. My mother & I ended up making some pear fritters with 2 of them, however I knew the rest would have to be used sooner rather than later. I had made pear sauce with cardamom last year, and I wanted something a bit different than your average jam. I found this recipe over at Food In Jars & I knew it was the one. It’s adapted from an English book, Notes From the Jam Cupboard by Mary Tregellas. It’s a dark chocolate pear jam.

Or preserves, in my case.

Dark chocolate pear preserves.

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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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Saying goodbye to summer with tomato jam.

Wow. Hey there, end of summer.

You snuck up on me, as you usually do. But this time I feel like I really haven’t been expecting you at all. By this time in years’ past I have already thought about you once or twice, usually around my birthday. I have perhaps even dwelled upon you, sadly, as I acknowledge the days already getting a smidgen shorter, & the cicadas song plays the finale. But this year? You got me good. Suddenly, it’s the unofficial end of summer: Labor Day.

A delicious tomato jam; try it with goat cheese on toasted bread for a different spin on bruschetta!

I feel like I haven’t made a whole lot of things I wanted to this summer. Having a blog makes you a bit crazy, see. I wanted to make all these awesome things over the summer & then blog about them. I wanted to take some tomato canning classes at The Brooklyn Kitchen. I had big plans for recipes- Miemo’s mama’s eggrolls, paella. Things like that. Things that were new to me (kitchen-wise), things that I never made before. I did make one-pan pasta & homemade butter, though, both of which are things I’d never done. But the other, more complicated things? Nope. I got caught up in the enjoyment of summer… the corn on the cob, the cookouts, the lazy sticky days & humid starry nights roasting marshmallows, drinking frozen alcoholic drinks, the soaking in of the sun, eating fresh fish after a day at the beach, the making of pickles & jams, the cutting of herbs, the inhaling of said herbs (frequently heard around here: “OH MY GOD that fresh basil/cilantro/oregano/rosemary smells AMAZING!”). Then I was tricked by the unseasonably cool weather (not a day over 90 degrees in August) & I was lulled into having the windows open with cool air blowing in. But I still forgot all about the end of summer. Basically, I got distracted living life.

There are worse things.

Stepping away from the internet is a good thing. Anyway… I got distracted & forgot that summer was about to end. Summer is weird that way; it starts to end the minute it begins and before you know it you’re catching up, trying to squeeze in the last bits of it any way you can. Now, suddenly, it’s tomato time.

Fresh grape tomatoes... about to be turned into tomato jam.

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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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Quick little sweet pickles.

Vintage Home Pickling book.

Ahhh, pickles. You come into my life every summer at the demand of the pickle-obsessed people in my family, you sit pretty on shelves or in the refrigerator for a while and then you’re gobbled up and before I know it, I’m making more of you. Good thing I’m not a pickle fan myself. In the words of the infamous notorious Biggie Smalls: “Never get high off your own supply.” Yes, he was talking about crack, but the principle is the same.

If I actually ate pickles, then I’d never have any to give away (or sell… *ahem*), and then people would annoy me more than they already do to make more. I’m not sure how many folks out there could somehow relate the “Ten Crack Commandments” to pickles, but what can I say?

Quick sweet pickles made with cinnamon, clove & red onion.

Did you know that “pickle” is derived from the Dutch word pekel, meaning brine? Betcha didn’t. But now you do!

Any who, I found this beautiful pickle recipe at Honey & Jam. The photos were so lovely, I knew I’d have to replicate it myself. My mother is a fan of sweet pickles; give her a jar of sweet gherkins & she’ll eat the whole thing. So I thought she’d appreciate these, lovely little quick pickles made with sugar, a stick of cinnamon & some cloves. The fact that they’re quick pickles, or refrigerator pickles, makes life easier. I love canning but on a super hot day it’s nice to just slap things in the fridge & not worry about processing.

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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.

Blogging is hard. But there are cookies.

Most likely as you read that title, you thought to yourself, “Oh boo hoo. Rough life, baking/cooking & blogging about it. Cry me a river.” I wouldn’t be angry with you if you did, it’s a valid point. I do write about cupcakes, after all. And aside from that, I know a lot of people view blogging in general as superficial, silly, or self-indulgent. And that’s cool. Opinions are like assho- well, you know the rest. We’re all entitled. I do wish more people would understand what goes into blogging, or running a successful blog, before they made such a statement or held firmly to the thought that I’m just a vain, self-important ninny who likes to babble to herself on the interwebs.

Blogging is hard. Food blogging especially. But there are cookies...

Workspace.

I get it. I’m a punk rock kid grown into a woman who really could care less about what anyone else thinks (both about her & otherwise), and I have a blog. I’m not a professional chef, nor am I a writer. I’m not winning any James Beard awards or Nobel Peace Prizes… at least not that I know of. I’m not curing cancer, or inventing anything new & exciting. I’m pretty much just an average, every day home cook & baker with (a lot of) stuff to say. But believe me when I tell you- this is harder than it looks, it’s like a full-time job in and of itself and it doesn’t pay THAT well. But regardless of that, I wouldn’t stop doing it for the world.

You see, I didn’t start this blog with the intention of becoming Dooce or the Pioneer Woman. I have nothing against Heather or Ree, they’re both very interesting ladies, and hell yes I’d like to make enough money to retire & work from home strictly on blogging or have my own Food Network series & such. But that doesn’t happen to everyone, obviously, and I’m not stupid enough to expect it. I’ve been in the blog-o-sphere long enough to know these things happen randomly & are definitely not the norm. I’m what you would call the “accidental blogger”, or the reluctant blogger. See, before this blog, I’d had blogs in the past, many years ago. I thought that part of my life was over. I hadn’t gone anywhere near HTML except to build websites for people who were paying me to do so. I was just enjoying getting down in the kitchen, feeling my way through this weird new world of eating what you create (they frown upon that when you’re in art school, unless you’re on acid… in which case you get sent to a drug counselor & a therapist & your art probably gets hung in the lobby). When I began posting my baked creations on MySpace (ugh, I know, but it was 2006!) & people told me to get a blog… I dragged my feet. I eventually did, on WordPress.com. And I really liked getting back into it, but let’s face it: four people were reading my blog. And I knew all four of them. Which was fine with me! I was just enjoying it for myself, having fun with it. When I started getting comments from people I didn’t know and getting way more hits than usual, that’s when I was shocked. That’s also when I ended up with a domain & a hosting plan, courtesy of Jay, who saw something in it that I didn’t.

I guess sometimes you’re just meant to do things. And I’m meant to blog.

Joy the Baker: chasing the light
In this photo from Joy The Baker’s Instagram, you see a prime example of “chasing the light” (which I’ll discuss further in a bit)

 

So, there it was. March of 2008, I had a real blog again. With real responsibilities like installing the blogging software (this is before there was an instant installation option when you purchased your hosting plan), importing my posts from WP.com, installing “plugins”, learning PHP stuff (I was used to CGI), using widgets, finding a template for my layout, then designing it into a nicer layout, and so on. I also had to worry about spam comments, which soon began to drive me utterly bananas, leading me to install not one, not two, but THREE spam filters. My first camera wasn’t the best, and the next one I got had a flash that could blind a herd of elephants. My iPhone was a godsend when that camera broke, but it wasn’t until I got my DSLR just last summer that things really started to shine. But not everyone really cares about the photography (seriously, I don’t get it either ’cause that’s my favorite part of most blogs).

Easy jammy 'sammy' cookies! Kind of a vanilla shortbread/sugar cookie hybrid, filled with jams.

Espresso helps…

 

But all of that is really irrelevant and no one out there reading this cares… unless they’re a fellow blogger. The point I’m trying to get across: blogging isn’t as easy as it appears.

For example: recently, hackers have been attacking WordPress blogs. Why? No idea. Just because they can, I guess. So GoDaddy‘s team started working overtime to prevent any damage, and because of that my site was down off and on for three days, and when I got access I had to change my password and then delete my ‘admin’ user account and create a whole new account, as well as install even more security plugins to detect/prevent malware and all that other evil stuff. This is after already going nuts to install numerous security programs last year after my friend Yoyo’s blog was hacked. If I didn’t do all this, you might have come here & gotten a virus or had a terrible attack on your computer because someone hacked my site. On top of all of that? Google’s changes to it’s image search has drastically reduced the number of hits to blogs & websites. Most blogs are experiencing anywhere from a 40% – 75% DECREASE in hits. This is because of a few things, mostly the fact that the image search now allows you to just view the image as it is instead of clicking through to the website it’s from. But also because of Google Panda and changes to the search algorithms. Lower hits – lower money from advertising. Now I personally don’t care much, I’m not in this to make a fortune. But that’s not to say the extra money doesn’t come in handy, both to counteract hosting costs & fund other things blog-related. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop blogging- HELL NO. It’s just a small piece of the blogging pie (pun intended) that I’m attempting to explain the joys & downsides of.

Easy jammy 'sammy' cookies! Kind of a vanilla shortbread/sugar cookie hybrid, filled with jams.
… and Kraft paper helps make things look neat on your blog when your entire real life is in shambles.

It’s not all magic. There’s a lot of work that goes into this, and there are no elves or trained monkeys helping.

Another thing? The work that goes into preparing a decent blog post. Creating the recipe, writing it up, making it, hoping for good lighting by the time it’s done, possibly setting up a ridiculous “faux tableau” on the floor near a door or maybe even on a dresser, taking the photos, putting the photos on your computer/laptop, fishing out the decent ones, photo editing, photo re-editing, photo re-sizing, photo uploading, writing the blog post, re-writing the blog post to make it more interesting & less textbook, reading it & noticing grammar errors… you get the idea. That’s a lot of work. A LOT. If you’ve never done any of it, you can tell just by reading that; it sounds like a lot of work. It’s like being a photo editor, food stylist, and regular editor all at once. I happen to enjoy the photo editing & photo stuff- that’s all part of graphic design & my art background. I spend my time behind a laptop (on any given Adobe program) most of the day anyway. But still, don’t tell me it’s not work. It is. Essentially I, and most of my fellow bloggers, work on our blogs for free. Joy the Baker recently added part 2 to her original post about “Real-Talk Blog Tips” and that lays a lot of it out there for you non-bloggers in terms of what our concerns are & what kinda stuff we’re always thinking about. How we wake up early on days off to bake/cook & take good photos, and stay up late to write a clever blog post… for you.

So yes, it’s like working a second job, and for most of us it’s unpaid. But that’s all okay. Because there are cookies involved. Sometimes.

Easy jammy 'sammy' cookies! Kind of a vanilla shortbread/sugar cookie hybrid, filled with jams.

There’s a lot of heartache, stress, & bullshit involved. But I really do enjoy it. If I didn’t, I’d stop. Plus… the cookies do make it worthwhile, especially on a rough week.

So here are some really easy sandwich cookies that you can throw together at the last minute. You know, for when you need something to blog about uh, snack on.

EASY JAMMY “SAMMY” (SANDWICH) COOKIES (adapted from Martha)

Makes about 30 cookie sandwiches using a 2″ cutter, recipe can be halved

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • a variety of jams/jellies… or Nutella/Fluff/peanut butter… for filling

Directions:

  1. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Remove from the mixer and and knead until a dough forms.
  2. Divide in half. Flatten each piece of dough into a disk, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour and up to overnight. Bring to room temperature, about 10 minutes, before rolling.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in top and lower thirds. Roll out each disk of dough between 2 sheets of lightly floured parchment to just under 1/4 inch thick, adding more flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Cut out shapes, making sure you’ve got an even number, rerolling scraps once. Place cookies 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.
  4. Bake until barely golden brown around edges, about 8 minutes for 1-inch cookies, 10 minutes for 1 1/2-inch cookies, and 12 minutes for 2-inch cookies, rotating halfway through. Let cookies cool completely on baking sheets set on wire racks.
  5. Spread (using an offset spatula) or pipe (using a pastry bag and a small plain tip) filling onto bottom side of half the cookies, and sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing gently. Repeat with all the cookies. Now turn on some Bad Religion, arrange the cookies on a plate or in some other cute display, take some photos of ‘em (find the good light!) and then edit the photos. Once you’re finished, then & only then you can eat.
  6. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Easy jammy 'sammy' cookies! Kind of a vanilla shortbread/sugar cookie hybrid, filled with jams.

These cookies are very delicate, like shortbread, so be careful in the cooling/filling phases. It’s got a really delicate vanilla flavor that’s pretty adaptable to any filling, but can be customized as well. You can just dip half of each cookie into a chocolate coating, you can add a sprinkling of crystal sugar on top before baking, etc. I like them for sandwich cookies, because the texture isn’t chewy, it’s got a snap & a crunch that reminds me of Oreo’s or those vanilla sandwich cookies.

I used caramel apple jamchocolate plum jam & vanilla-strawberry jam to fill mine, but I won’t judge you if you choose to fill your cookie sandwiches with both Nutella and a delicious jam. Do yo’ thang. Fluff goes with anything, too. Strawberry jam + Fluff, cherry jam + Nutella, grape jelly + peanut butter, peanut butter + Fluff… whatevs. Marmalade, if it’s on the thick side, works too. As does lemon curd.

Here’s a little diagram breakdown of my jamminess:

Easy jammy 'sammy' cookies! Kind of a vanilla shortbread/sugar cookie hybrid, filled with a variey of jams- although Nutella, Fluff & peanut butter work too.

Have fun. Meanwhile, I’ve gotta go do some more blogging. See ya at the next post.

Vanilla-strawberry jam cakes.

Sometimes you just want a really quick dessert that isn’t chocolate. Or maybe you don’t, but other people might. Some people are fruit people. I know a lot of folks that, when given the option, will take a fruit salad or blueberry pie over a dark chocolate cake or decadent seven layer salted caramel chocolate ganache thingy. Or maybe you want to start eating a bit lighter. Or perhaps you’re just wanting to use up some fruit jam or preserves.

I know how that is, sister.

Although in this particular case, I sort of made up the dessert around the fact that I had made the jam, not so much to get rid of it, but to showcase it. I was looking through the book Cake Ladies & I got inspired by all that Southern-ness. So I just decided spur-of-the-moment that I wanted to make a different spin on the strawberry shortcake. Well, that and it was 80 freakin’ degrees here in New York last week. I was not in the mood for heavy duty cakery or cupcakery. I wanted to make something fun & light. Strawberry shortcakes sounded fun, but I wanted to do a different twist on them, and so vanilla-strawberry jam cakes were born.

However, I cheated & used Bisquick because I wasn’t in the mood to labor over the dough. Plus… to be honest… I just felt like it. I’m not going to make any excuses. Sometimes you just have to take a shortcut. I’m not ashamed.

But if you’re anti-Bisquick or you just don’t have any/can’t get any, here’s a recipe for making your own. However, almost any drop-biscuit dough recipe will work here.

Or, you can make a traditional shortcake, if you have a family recipe you hold near & dear. A simple vanilla or unflavored scone recipe would work as well.

The jam is a great way to introduce yourself to making jam, if you’ve never made it before. It’s a really easy one, and it thickens easily. When it’s done, if you’re not making the cakes at all (and you just want the jam) or you aren’t making them right away, all you’ve gotta do is just put the jam in any clean, warm jar you’ve got. I say warm because the jam gets very hot (obviously) while it’s being cooked, and if you put it into a cold jar it could shatter or crack. I used canning jars, but old spaghetti sauce/pickle/mayonnaise jars or little jars with hinged lids work just fine since you won’t be “canning” it. Just be sure the jars are thoroughly cleaned.

VANILLA-STRAWBERRY JAM CAKES

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups fresh strawberries, washed & hulled (a little over a pound, depending on the size of the berries)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice
  • 2 1/3 cups Bisquick baking mix
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup milk

Directions:

  1. Slice the strawberries & using a potato masher or your (clean) fingers, mash & squish them together. If this doesn’t work, and the berries are too firm, cut them smaller.
  2. Place the strawberries in a large saucepan. Split and scrape the vanilla bean, adding the seeds to the berries. Add the empty vanilla bean along with the 1/2 cup sugar & lemon juice, stirring & cooking over medium-high heat, breaking up any large chunks of berry with a wooden spoon.
  3. Cook until it thickens and you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir, roughly 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the vanilla bean with tongs and add the jam to your clean, warm jars. You aren’t canning this so just make sure the jars are cool before refrigerating them. If making the cakes right away, there’s no need to refrigerate them (unless you prefer the contrast of cold fruit filling to warm dough).
  5. Meanwhile, heat oven to 425°F. Stir baking mix, melted butter, milk, and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a mixing bowl until soft dough forms. Drop by 6 spoonfuls on to a greased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and let cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Move to a wire rack to cool until just slightly warm. Plate the cakes, spoon vanilla-strawberry jam on, then spoon some fresh whipped cream on top (see below). Dust with confectioner’s sugar if desired. Voila!


WHIPPED CREAM

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the three ingredients together with the whisk attachment until they’re thickened. Check the taste, add more sugar or vanilla as needed, by the 1/4 teaspoon.
  2. Continue beating until the whipped cream is the proper thickness, but don’t whip too much… you’ll get butter!

This very same recipe can be used without the jam, and with fresh strawberries. Or macerated strawberries if you prefer. I just think the vanilla-strawberry jam gives it a totally different spin. The jam is also great on oatmeal, English muffins, you name it. I should also say that this jam recipe would probably work well with raspberries or blueberries too, or even blackberries. The strawberries bright color lets you see the black vanilla bean flecks, but that doesn’t really matter. If you prefer blueberries, try making these jam cakes with them instead!

 

If you’d like to can the jam for shelf-stability, I’d recommend following a trusted canning-safe strawberry jam recipe and just adding the vanilla bean to that. Here’s a post I wrote up last year with more instructions on canning, and links to some reputable canning resources on the web.

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?