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Guest Post: Elderberry Syrup with Alexis Siemons of teaspoons & petals

I’m off on a much-needed vacation this week with my husband Scott. While we wander the wilds of Lancaster County, PA, a few of my favorite bloggers will be dropping by to keep you entertained. First up is Alexis Siemons from the gorgeous blog teaspoons & petals. A freelance writer and tea consultant, she writes evocatively of tea and its many accompaniments. Today Alexis has a recipe for elderberry syrup and the perfect chilled tea to pair with it.

Warm days are fleeting as fall is creeping into the leaves and cooling the air. In hopes of holding on to summer just a bit longer, I’ve been steeping floral tea blends. The blossoming aromas of White Rose, Lavender & Mint and Jasmine Pearls are filling my kitchen with fresh-from-the-garden scents.

During a recent trip to a local spice shop, I perused the $1 basket in search of a new flavor. I love to close my eyes and reach in for a surprise find. This time, I jumped for joy when I saw a petite bag of dried elderberries lingering in the basket. While I’ve often tasted drinks mixed with the sweet berry, I’ve never brought them into my tea lab (a.k.a my kitchen counter).

In hopes of pairing the earthy berries with a fragrant tea, I decided to make an elderberry syrup to mix with the smooth, perfumed notes of Jasmine Pearls green tea. Combining the berries with water in a pot, the syrup had started to simmer on the stove. Before moving on to the steep, I took a moment to watch the tiny elderberries paint the water a deep eggplant shade.

The kettle began to sing its sweet song and I carefully spooned the delicate tea pearls into the infuser. (FYI the green tea leaves are naturally scented with fresh jasmine flowers and then hand-rolled into tiny pearls-a true art!). After the water had slightly cooled to a gentle steam, I poured it over the pearls and watched them tumble about in the infuser, slowly unfurling and releasing their jasmine fragrance.

The tea cooled on the counter as the berries finished their simmering dance. I strained them with a fine mesh infuser, squeezing out every drop of juice with a spoon. Normally when making a syrup you might use a 1:1 ratio of water to sweetener, but I prefer lighter syrups (only ½ cup of honey) that let the tea flavor still shine. I slowly stirred in summer amber pure honey from Two Gander Farm in Fleetwood, PA. The richness of the summer amber honey was a sweet companion to the earthy berries. After the syrup and tea had cooled, I poured them into a glass jar and bottle and let them chill in the fridge overnight.

Waking with a craving for a lightly sweetened sip, I headed to my fridge. The glass jar of the regal, deep purple elderberry syrup caught my eye. I poured the sweet and floral jasmine green tea into a tiny jar and stirred in a few spoonfuls of the syrup. Before adding a sprig of mint, I stole a sip. The smooth and refreshing green tea balanced the deep, earthy flavor of the elderberry syrup. The floral notes lingered on the palate as I watched summer start to fade from the window.

Recipes for the elderberry syrup and chilled tea after the jump…

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Open Jars: Fancy Grilled Cheese from Diandra of Oh Sweetie

This week’s installment in the Open Jars series is a guest post from Diandra of Oh Sweetie. She waxes poetic about her favorite grilled cheese sandwich, which contains two (that’s right, two) different preserves. Let’s see what she has to say, shall we?

Ever since I was born I’ve been a slave to the grilled cheese sandwich. I remember when I was a kid going down to the industrial district with my grandparents to a tiny little cafe with clovers on the sign to have a processed grilled cheese with deep fryer fries. Of course, since I’ve lived in cities and been following food blogs (and discovered “real” cheese..aka become a food snob) I’ve kind of become obsessed with what you can put inside a grilled cheese. And this one takes the prize!

It’s inspired by a grilled cheese sandwich from REbar, a modern vegetarian restaurant in Victoria BC. While I’ve never ordered the sandwich in the restaurant, I’ve made a variation of it for a while. And then this summer I canned some Gingered Zucchini Marmalade and paired it with an adaptation of the original sandwich’s chutney and voila! Best Grilled Cheese I’ve Ever Had.

Ingredients (makes two sandwiches):
1 recipe Spicy Onion Chutney (after the jump)
Gingered Zucchini Marmalade to taste
Enough slices of your favourite white cheese to create one layer in each sandwich (Edam, Monteray Jack, Mozza, Old Cheddar)
Good quality brown bread (I like Silverhills or the whole wheat from an local in-home bakery)
Earth Balance, Butter, Margarine, Hemp Butter…whatever floats your boat

How To:

Put a skillet or frying pan on a burner set to medium-low. Assemble the sandwiches by slathering buttery-substance on one side of each piece of bread. Put buttered side down on cutting board/counter. On one slice slather Marmalade and on the other side pile up about 1/4 cup of the chutney. Put down a layer of cheese on either side and close the sandwich, buttered side out.

Cook in the skillet until you reach desired grilled cheese crust, then flip. Place a lid over top of the sandwiches, reduce the heat, and let the sandwiches simmer (this’ll heat up the chutney/marmalade). Once melty, eat it. Share the other sandwich if you can!

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Open Jars: Upside-Down Jam Cake

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m still trying to get myself together after all the food and lazing about of the Thanksgiving holiday. Happily, while I recover from the amount of pumpkin pie I’ve ingested in the last five days, I have a guest post from Melissa who blogs at The Wynk to keep you all entertained. As you plan your holiday meals and parties, her very clever Upside-Down Jam Cake is definitely one to file away.

Here’s my confession: I love pineapple upside-down cake so much I could eat the entire thing in one sitting. I had some jam lying around and decided to see if I could do something similar with it. It turned out so delicious, that it’s now my new favorite way to both use up leftover jam and bake cakes.


It’s also brilliantly easy, because you go through all the same steps you normally do to make cake, with one addition: after you grease the cake pan, add a layer of jam to it!


You want to get a nice layer of jam in the bottom, but it doesn’t even have to be the same kind of jam. The cake I made last night had a bit of tangerine marmalade and a bit of strawberry-muscat.

Then, you just make your cake up as usual. You can use your own favorite cake recipe, or even a box mix.


Pour the cake in the pan, on top of the jam.


Pop it in the oven and bake to your recipe’s instructions.


Let it cool a few minutes, and then turn it upside down onto a platter.


Experiment with different combinations of jam and cake. The more fruit there is in the jam, the better it will come out.

apricot upside-down cake

vegan chocolate-strawberry upside-down cake

Another thing I’ve learned–coworkers really don’t mind if you bring in your experiments. That is, if there’s any left. 😉

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Open Jars: Shae’s Banana Berry-Jam Bread

Banana-Berry Jam Bread (photos courtesy of Shae Irving)

If you’re an avid canner, you’ve probably already discovered that quick breads are a friend to all those fruits and jams you put up during the warmer months. I often use them as a good way to finish up open jars of applesauce, fruit butters or even canned fruit. Shae Irving, she of the blog Hitchhiking to Heaven and the eBook that I recently had the privilege of giving away, has devised a new recipe that uses both blackening bananas and several generous dollops of jam. Here’s what she has to say,

If bananas are a staple at your house, as they are at mine, it’s inevitable that some of them are going to get away from you. They’re going to turn speckled brown and soft, and they’re going to beg you to turn them into banana bread.This is good news for folks who have a lot of jam, because it’s incredibly easy to enhance banana bread with a layer of a luscious preserve.

I chose olallieberry jam for this post, so that’s how the bread got its name. But you can pick any jam that looks irresistible to you — or that you need to use up fast. Apricot was also calling me.

I like this simple banana bread recipe because it contains a bit of lemon zest. Of course the zest is optional, as are the nuts. I added both and dressed the top of the bread with some candied lemon peel that I’d made earlier this year. Banana bread is forgiving, so you can experiment with your own add-ins.

Thanks, Marisa, for letting me visit and offer a post on your wonderful blog. It’s an honor to contribute, and I can’t wait to learn more ways to use my open jars!

Shae’s recipe is after the jump. Personally, I’m hoping to find the time to make up a batch sometime this weekend, as I’ve got plenty of open jars of jam that need to be used. I’m also going to leave you with one final photo. This is of Shae’s jam cabinet. I do love seeing all those glowing jars all stacked and lined up. Thanks again, Shae!

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Portland, a GrassRoutes Guide and a Guest Post

a Portland vista

Scott and I are headed to Portland for a week of vacation next week. It will be Scott’s first visit to my hometown and I can’t wait to introduce him the wonder that is Powell’s Books, take him to eat at Pok Pok and drag him up to the top of Multnomah Falls.

An Urban Eco Guide

Though I haven’t lived in Portland in nearly nine years, I work hard to get back there at least once a year to eat, shop the thrift stores and hang out with my parents. Because I still know the city fairly well, when my cousin Serena asked if I’d be willing to contribute a few write-ups to the second edition the GrassRoutes Guide to Portland, I was happy to say yes (my sister also wrote a number of the blurbs).

So, in honor of my impending trip to Portland, I offer you a guest post from Serena. We’re also giving away one copy of the Portland Guide. Leave a comment sharing a memory of your hometown by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, October 7, 2010 to enter.

contributor page

Portland. Pickles. Don’t the two words sound extra enticing spoken one after another? And rightly so given the number of coveted pickle jars I discovered in my many trips north to the so-called City of Stumps. Researching and writing the GrassRoutes Guide to Portland took me to tables in every corner of the city, and one of the most memorable of those was also the kitchen whose pickles I favored.

Paley’s Place is not for routine meals. The white-walled rooms, located in what was once a family residence, are neatly crosshatched with linen-clothed tables, some of them two tops for couples toasting an anniversary. The ever-changing menu always features a pile of organic and sustainable ingredients, so it was a natural fit for a guide that focuses on conscientious businesses and activities that make a positive impact on the local economy, community, and environment.

I remember that night I had had an especially casual state of mind and ordered a burger at a place where I could have supped on suckling pig three ways with ricotta gnocchi. It wasn’t a regrettable decision, and it came with these pickled vegetables, recipe below, which really complimented the savory richness of the beef. This treasured food memory from my travels has become one of those invisible souvenirs that can be recreated in any geography, provided there’s a jar in the vicinity.

When we talked about me doing a guest post I thought, “What would be better than to share this recipe with the Food in Jars community of canners?” So here it is. And next time you get the chance to visit the rosy city of Portland try Paley’s Place for yourself, and other eco-savvy spots featured in GrassRoutes Portland, including several entries by Marisa, a contributor to the guide!

The recipe from Paley’s Place is after the jump…

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