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Spicy Apricot Jam

After a couple lackluster years, this season has been a truly spectacular one for apricots. Thanks to their availability, I’ve canned my way through at least 25 pounds of these, the very sunniest of stone fruit. I made a bunch of this basic apricot jam (it’s a little runny but so delicious), there was this batch of sour cherry apricot jam, and then there’s this spicy jam.

It’s sweet, spicy, and perfect for glazing roast chicken, using on baked brie, or even on a very grown-up pb&j.

If you want to see the making of this preserve in action, I demoed how to make this jam last night on a Facebook livestream. If you missed it, you can find it here.

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How to Make Dandelion-Infused Honey

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is dropping in today with an inspired yet simple idea – honey infused with bright dandelion blossoms! It reminds me of the lemon verbena honey I made back in the very early days of this site. -Marisa

I pride myself on knowing all sorts of unique preserving methods and recipes that make the most of each season. I’m also incredibly thrifty, preferring (with food, at least) to make, grow, barter, or glean what I eat rather than buying ready made.

So it was shocking when some amazing culinary artists in my neighborhood announced that they had made a limited-edition product that had never even occurred to me before.

Frances Rose and Acorn of K Is for Kitchen offer lots of different culinary services in our West Philadelphia neighborhood, and one of those is making ethically sourced value-added products. They make all manner of sauces, butters, pestos, and other treats, rotating with the seasons. And they has a little stash of a very special honey, a summertime wildflower honey infused with (wait for it)…dandelion blossoms.

Such a simple idea! How had I never seen or heard of this before from any farmer or forager I’d worked with? I had to try some — luckily, I was able to get my hands on a jar.

My first thought is that the flowers might add some bitterness to the honey — not unwelcome in such a sweet food — but I was wrong. The dandelion blossoms add a bright floral quality and a depth to the honey’s sweetness, creating complexity by combining two utterly simple ingredients.

To make this delectable treat, find a field or lawn where you can be sure that the plants haven’t been sprayed and the soil is not contaminated (the front yard where I live fits the bill here, but there are plenty of urban green spaces with dandelions that I wouldn’t use for food — so select your site carefully). The dandelions should be in full bloom, big and fluffy and bright yellow.

Then, simply snip or pick the heads of the flowers off and collect them in a clean bag or basket (I cheated and used my straw gardening hat). Leave the stem behind, but the green calyx just beneath the flower is ok. I collected three or four big handfuls, which were enough to mostly fill a pint jar.

When you get back to the kitchen, go over your blooms carefully to make sure you’ve removed any bits of grass, leaves, or stems and any hitchhiking insects. It was too early for spring honey, but I had a jar of local wildflower honey (probably from last fall’s harvest) on hand to infuse.

Then loosely put your flowers in the jar. You don’t want to pack them too densely or else the honey won’t penetrate. Pour over the honey and then give the mixture a few stirs with a knife or chopstick to make sure the flowers are submerged and remove any bubbles that may be trapped.

Then, simply pop a lid on your jar and set it in a cool, dark place to infuse. Give it at least two weeks, then taste; leave it longer for a stronger flavor. The flowers will take up less space once they’re suffused with the honey; if you have room in the jar and want to add another handful or two, you can do that, too.

When you’re ready to use the honey, there’s no need to strain the flowers out — I find they look really pretty in a jar or even in a pinch bowl for serving, and I just add them to my herbal tea when the rest of the honey is gone.

Dandelion honey is less of a recipe more of a reminder that in a long-coming, cool spring, even the humblest of weeds presents an exciting opportunity for beauty and flavor. Spring is ephemeral, and this is one way to capture a really special part of it. Your honey will keep for up to a year.

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How to Grow Your Own Sprouts

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones dropped in today to share her experiences sprouting seeds! This is such a fun project. -Marisa

With the late onset of spring here in Philly, I’ve been craving fresh flavors and textures. Trying my hand at fresh, homegrown sprouts seemed like the perfect food project for April.

In order to get sprouts, you need to start with seeds. You can pick up bags of seeds and beans grown specifically for sprouting, like alfalfa, quinoa, adzuki, and others, by the ounce or by the pound. I ended up going for The Sprout House’s sampler pack, which includes about two ounces of 12 different kinds of sprouts, all certified organic, and followed their guidelines for home sprouting. I’ll spend the next few months cycling through all the different kinds to see which are my favorites.

Large, wide-mouth quart jars are best to use for this project. And since the jars of sprouting seeds need to be covered but allow air flow, I also picked up a fresh batch of cheesecloth. The one I got was a little more tightly woven than what I usually use — after trying it for sprouting, I’d probably stick to using a few layers of a cheesecloth with a more open weave in the future, just to make sure there are openings enough for drainage and airflow.

If you don’t want to use cheesecloth — the only drawbacks I noticed were that it’s not reusable and it will temporarily smell a little funky if you accidentally let it sit in water — there are a ton of special wide-mouth jar lids, like this one Marisa wrote about last year, to try out, too. And if you’re using cheesecloth, grab some snug rubber bands or sturdy kitchen twine.

The last piece of equipment I’d recommend is some kind of shallow, walled container, one for each jar, in which you’ll tilt your jars so the seeds won’t sit in standing water.

I selected three kinds of seeds from my sampler pack to start with: quick-growing broccoli and alfalfa and slower-growing sunflower (truth be told, my dream microgreen).

When you’re ready to sprout, pour a tablespoon or two of seed into your quart jars  — what you see here started with 1 tablespoon of each kind of seed.

Before you soak, start by sanitizing your seeds in a 1:10 solution of bleach or hydrogen peroxide and water for five minutes. (This step is recommended by the FDA for home sprouters and required of commercial sprouters.) Then, drain the seeds and rinse them in fresh water three times.

Once your seeds are sanitized, add water to submerge your seeds, then let them soak overnight. In the morning, drain your seeds, rinse them, and drain again so that no water will be left standing in the jar. Top with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band, or use a sprouting lid.

Here’s where those shallow containers come in. Place your covered jars of rinsed sprouts into the containers so that they’re leaning open-end-down, which will allow any excess liquid to drain out.

Rinse your seeds once in the morning and in the evening, being sure to drain them well and replace them leaning down in the container. Check the container before each rinse to make sure there’s no standing water accumulating in there, either.

By day three of rinsing twice a day, I definitely had sprouting, as you can see in the photo of the alfalfa seeds with their tiny, just-emerging shoots.

By day five, both the broccoli and the alfalfa sprouts were ready to eat. I transferred them to a fresh container with half a paper towel in the bottom and put them in the fridge. They were delicious on my bagel with some herbed fromage blanc this morning — crunchy, fresh, green, and nutritious.

Unfortunately, despite the same treatment, the sunflower seeds didn’t do so well. The Sprout House’s were hulled for easier sprouting, but I wonder if some of the seeds had been damaged or were otherwise not viable. Only a few sprouted, and the sprouts were small, not like the tall, juicy sprouts I buy at the farmers’ market. I’ll do some research and give sunflower sprouts a try again.

But for now, I’m happy to snack on my broccoli and alfalfa sprouts, which I’ll be putting on salads, sandwiches, toast, and tacos all this week — maybe even in a green smoothie.

Have you tried sprouting seeds before? What are your favorite ways to eat sprouts?

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How to Make Paneer Cheese

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here today to show us how to make homemade paneer cheese with just two simple ingredients – milk and lemon juice! Reading this post immediately makes me crave dairy products! -Marisa

Slices of homemade paneer cheese

We often preserve to capture height-of-season flavors or produce we can’t get for most of the year. But oftentimes in my kitchen, preserving happens in an effort to curb food waste.

That’s how I first learned to make paneer, the springy, fresh cheese that shows up as the protein in some of my favorite Indian dishes. It’s one of the quickest dairy products to make, and also one of the easiest. All you need is milk, lemon juice or vinegar, and a little salt.

Milk and lemon juice for homemade paneer cheese

One of the reasons to make cheese like this is to use up milk that’s right at or even a tiny bit past its sell-by date. Just make sure to give it a good sniff and then use your good sense and best judgment.

That said, when the list is so short, using the best ingredients you can afford is always a good idea.  I source whole raw Ayreshire milk from a small grass-fed dairy here in southeast Pennsylvania, Wholesome Dairy Farms, for both drinking and making value-added dairy products.

Milk separating into curds for homemade paneer cheese.

I find that even when I’m pasteurizing the milk for a recipe, the yields on items like yogurt, whole-milk ricotta, and paneer are higher, and the product just tastes better when I’ve started with raw milk. We’re lucky that raw milk is so available in Pennsylvania. If you can get your hands on it from a reputable source in your state, I recommend doing so, even if you plan to pasteurize it in your recipe.

While we’re heating the milk for this recipe far past the pasteurization point, it’s still a good idea to remember that the very young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems carry a greater risk when consuming unpasteurized milk products.

Pressing the homemade paneer cheese.

To start your cheese, pour one half gallon of milk into a four-quart, heavy-bottomed pot (I use my enameled Dutch oven). Heat the milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and feeling along the bottom of the pot with your spoon to make sure that it isn’t scorching. Keep a close eye on the pot so that it doesn’t boil over.

You want to get to a little below the boiling point, about 200oF. You can use an instant-read or milk thermometer for this, or you can watch for when tiny bubbles start to form on the surface of the milk. When you see the bubbles, immediately remove the pot from the heat.

Pressed homemade paneer cheese in the strainer.

Once you’ve reached the proper temperature, stir in lemon juice. This will cause the milk solids to immediately begin separating out. As the milk sits, the solids will continue to coagulate.

Strain the curds, then press out the remaining liquid in cheesecloth or butter muslin (I prefer butter muslin for home cheesemaking since it’s washable and reusable; cheesecloth is one-time use only). Press and refrigerate the cheese for at least a half an hour or overnight.

Homemade paneer cheese, unwrapped from the butter muslin.

Once the cheese is full drained, unwrap the bundle. Now you’re ready to add chunks of paneer to a curry or other dish, or — my favorite — fry slices up in some ghee and enjoy them with flaky sea salt and maybe a dollop of tomato jam or a slab of quince paste.

Bits of fried homemade paneer cheese.

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How to Make Beet Raisins

Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops in to show us how to simmer and dry beet slices into beet raisins. It’s a great project for this in-between time, when we’re waiting for spring produce to arrive! -Marisa

Small slices of beets on a dehydrator tray will become beet raisins.

I’m not much of a cooking competition show watcher. The exceptions are the original Japanese Iron Chef, which I followed voraciously back in high school, The Great British Baking Show (of course), and a brief foray into MasterChef Junior — all shows that avoid the cutthroat, stressful nature of most reality TV.

So I can’t really blame myself for not knowing about beet raisins, with which chef Carrie Baird of Denver’s Bar Dough wowed the judges during an episode of Top Chef last year.

Cut beets on a cutting board for beet raisins.

A poster on the Food in Jars Community Facebook group mentioned them recently, and I was instantly fascinated. Beets are the kind of veggie I always wish I used more often. Now that I have an Instant Pot, it’s easy to quickly prep a bunch for a week of salads, but that’s as about as creative as I’ve gotten with them lately.

And while I’m waiting for the ever-so-slow unfolding of spring here in Philly, farmers’ market stands still have tons of sturdy storage beets in red and gold, harvested months ago. With strawberries still weeks away and grapes for actual raisins not available until high summer, I had to try this recipe.

Cut and peeled beets for beet raisins.

Baird’s recipe calls for melon balling the raw beets into uniform spheres, which is far more work than I wanted to put in. (A melon baller is also not one of the many culinary tools in my kitchen, and if I’ve managed to avoid getting one for this long, it’s not gonna happen now.)

So I peeled and trimmed my organic red beets, then halved them and cut each halves into five roughly equal slices, about half an inch thick and an inch or so long — cutting the pointy end, then slicing the remainder into quarters.

Cut beets in a pot that will become beet raisins.

Slices rather than balls also reduces waste, giving you more beet raisin for your buck. (My cuts gave me larger pieces in the end; if you want something more raisin-sized, do cuts closer to 1/2″ all around and cut the drying time.) The slices went into a pot with vinegar, sugar, water, and a pinch of salt.

Baird uses champagne vinegar, which you’re welcome to do; I used apple cider vinegar, because that’s what I had on hand (and I’m not trying to win a high-stakes cooking competition).

The slices simmered till they were very soft but not disintegrating, about two hours. Then, I drained the liquid — which you could use to make salad dressing, or add a little more salt and use it to quick-pickle some thinly-sliced hakurei turnips, for example — and let the slices cool for a bit.

Side view of beet slices on a dehydrator tray for beet raisins.

The cooked beet “grapes” then went into my Excalibur dehydrator at at 135oF, which is the setting recommended for fruit. After two hours, the beets were showing signs of dehydration, but their texture was still more like beets than raisins.

I upped the temperature to 145oF, which is the temperature I include in the recipe below. The beets took another three hours or so until they were sufficiently raisinlike for me to pull them out — next time, I might just turn the dehydrator up all the way to 155oF and see if that helps to shorten the dehydration time without overdrying.

When I did, they were wrinkly, chewy and toothsome, and pleasantly sweet and a little tart — just like real raisins! They’re super snackable and would be delicious in a bowl of yogurt with granola, or on a kale salad, as Baird served them on Top Chef. I could also see using them to top a tzatziki-esque cucumber salad along with lots of dill, toasted slivered almonds, and a pillowy pita.

Finished beet raisins in a small bowl.

They’re not quite as simple as stemming grapes and tossing them onto a dehydrator rack, but I’ll definitely be making these beet raisins again. Would you give them a try? Tell us in the comments!

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How to Make Fromage Fort

Happy New Year, friends! For our first post of the year, Alex Jones swings by with a recipe for fromage fort. It’s a thrifty and delicious spread that is the perfect way to use up those scraps of cheese leftover from your holiday entertaining. -Marisa

Scrapes of cheese for fromage fort

For as long as I can remember, cheese has always been a part of my holiday celebrations.

Growing up, a hunk of sharp cheddar and a wedge of Brie were must-haves leading up to Christmas, and Christmas Eve with relatives in Quebec usually meant a festive spread of nibbles centered around a raclette machine, melting slices of pungent Alpine-style cheeses over potatoes, bread, and veggies.

After scoring a cheap raclette machine of my own at my local Aldi last January, I had friends over for an evening of melted cheese, hot cider, and parlor games just before the Christmas holiday. After the revelry, a few scraps of cheese remained — and rather than tossing them into the compost, I tucked them away in the fridge to make one of my favorite thrifty, easy, cheesy recipes: fromage fort.

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