Giveaway: A Year of Picnics by Ashley English

When I turned ten, my mom’s best friend Maria gave me a wicker picnic basket. Inside, it was stocked with sturdy, reusable plastic cups, plates, and utensils. I was completely thrilled and spent the next couple days packing and unpacking those wicker walls.

So powerful was the pull of the basket that I even made temporary peace with my sister (it took us growing up and living in different places to finally become friends) so that she would accompany me on trips to the neighborhood playground, where I’d plate up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in order to make best use of my picnic gear.

While I’m not quite as enamored of picnics as I was in 1989, I still believe that there’s no better way to make an ordinary day special than to pack up lunch or dinner and take it to the park (and when there’s something to celebrate, an outdoor gathering is my favorite way to make merry).

Thanks to Ashley English‘s gorgeous new book, A Year of Picnics, I am once again filled with picnic inspiration (in the past, Ashley’s books have also motivated me to bake pies, blend my own tisanes, and gather up friends for seasonal celebrations).

Organized by season, this book makes an excellent case for the concept that dining well and beautifully in the outdoors is possible all year round. During spring and summer, some of the picnics Ashley suggests include those for breakfast, while seated near the water, and for a movie night gathering.

Some of the fall and winter picnics are those to celebrate the falling leaves, for tailgating, and for when perched on a rooftop. Each picnic includes suggestions for choosing your picnic site and activities appropriate for all ages, as well as tidbits tailored specifically to theme.

You’ll also find between three and five recipes for each picnic. I’m particularly looking forward to trying the Cardamom, Rose Water, and Berry Coffee Cake (page 24), the Moroccan Apple Salad (page 93) and the Mason Jar Apple Cardamom Crumbles (page 187).

For those of you hoping to be inspired to pack a picnic, I’ve got two copies of this book to give away. This giveaway is open to everyone (though it is void if giveaways are prohibited where you live). Please use the widget below to enter.

PS – As you enter the giveaway, please do take a moment to send Ashley and her family good thoughts. She recently gave pre-mature birth to a sweet but tiny baby named Alistair. Everyone seems to be healing and growing, but well wishes are never unwelcome. May they all picnic as a family together soon!

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Disclosure: Roost Books sent me three copies of this book for review and giveaway purposes. No additional funds were provided and all opinions expressed here are entirely my own. 

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Instant Pot Pulled Chicken Tacos + Goya Foods

This post is sponsored by Goya Foods. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with authentic Mexican flavor!

While I readily acknowledge the problematic nature of Cinco de Mayo as it is celebrated around these parts, I also admit to the reality that I am a human who is entirely steeped in U.S. culture. That means that while I am wary of stereotyping and cultural appropriation, come the beginning of May, I begin to crave tacos, spicy salsas, and fresh corn tortillas. It’s weirdly Pavlovian.

Recently, the nice folks at Goya asked me if they could sent me a box of ingredients, in the hopes that I might create my own festive Cinco de Mayo meal. Never one to turn down a challenge, I was happy to play along (though painful conscious of the opportunities to be offensive).

After a bit of mulling, I decided that the best thing I could do would be to show you my favorite pulled chicken taco trick and let you determine how and when to serve it. Because truly, this chicken is easy, everyday food that is hugely flexible and quite delicious (on any day of the year).

You start with about three pounds of boneless skinless chicken thighs. Because my mother taught me to be compulsively thorough about such things, I like to spend a little time cutting away pockets of fat (this step isn’t entirely necessary, but makes me feel better). Then I season the meat on both sides with salt, pepper, ground cumin, and dried oregano (opening the bottle of cumin from Goya made me realize that the jar on my shelf needs to be thrown out. Theirs was so much more flavorful!).

Once the meat is seasoned, I heap it into the Instant Pot. Then I pour two pints of homemade salsa* and a generous tablespoon of crushed garlic into the blender and puree until mostly smooth. The salsa slurry goes into the pot and the lid goes on. I run the Instant Pot on manual for 30 minutes.

If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can also do this in a stove top pressure cooker for 25-30 minutes, in a regular sauce pan for a couple of hours, or in a slow cooker for 5-6 hours.

While the chicken cooks, I dice an onion and a red pepper and cook them until tender. Once they’re sweet and have lost their crunch, I add a can of black beans (love the easy pull tabs on the Goya cans. I weirdly hate can openers, so these cans spare me that annoyance) and season it with salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, and a little lime juice.

I also shred a little cabbage and toss it with salt, lime juice, and olive oil for a little taco crunch.

When the chicken is done, it’s time to assemble the tacos. Toast a couple corn tortillas until warm and pliable. Using a pair of tongs, squeeze a portion of the pulled chicken until you think it won’t saturate your tortilla with juices and lay it down. Top it with a few crumbles of cojita cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and some of the shredded cabbage (a slice of avocado and some fresh cilantro would be good, but I didn’t have any).

Serve with a side of the beans (or heap those into their own tortillas).

Oh, and if you have leftover pulled chicken, try using in a enchilada casserole or thin the cooking liquid out and turn it into tortilla soup. It’s also good stirred into a pot of homemade chili.

*You can also use store bought salsa. You just want to have between 28-32 ounces of liquid go into the pot. I’ve also done with peach salsa to delicious effect. Truly, it’s hard to go wrong with boneless skinless chicken thighs!

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Cold Pack Canning for the May Mastery Challenge

It is the start of May, and that means it’s time to tackle a new food preservation skill. This month, we’re turning our focus to cold pack preserving.

What is a cold pack?

Also known as raw pack, to cold pack something simply means something that it put into jars while cold and uncooked. If you’ve made dilly beans or garlic dill pickle spears, you’ve already tried your hand at a cold pack. Other things that get cold packed a lot are peaches, pears, and tomatoes that are peeled but uncooked, pickled vegetables where you’re trying to retain their crunch, and much of what goes into a pressure canner.

Why cold pack?

  1. The primary reason to choose this style of preservation is to retain texture. When fruits and vegetables go into the jars raw, they don’t spend as much time in contact with heat, which means that they don’t cook as much. That leads to a crisper, firmer texture.
  2. The secondary appeal of the cold pack is speed. Food gets peeled, pared, packed into the jars, topped with either water, brine, fruit juice, syrup, and goes into the canning pot.

What are the downsides?

    1. There is often some likelihood of liquid loss. Raw produce often contains tiny pockets of air. As the produce cooks while undergoing the canning process, some of that air is released into the jar. That air then heads for top of the jar in order to escape the container (physics at work!). But because it often has to travel the length of the jar, it often pushes liquid out with it in its rush to escape the vessel. It’s frustrating but entirely normal.
    2. Product shrinkage. You worked so hard to squeeze as many peach halves into the jar as possible, but now having taken the jars out of the canner, you see that what had been a tightly packed jar now has two inches of liquid at the bottom. The fruit has reduced in mass and is floating up towards the lid. It’s not dangerous and as long as the lids are tightly sealed, the fruit is safe to eat. They’re just not as pretty for displaying on your kitchen shelves.

  1. Surface discoloration. When you have some liquid loss and product shrinkage, you will often also see some surface discoloration occur over time. This typically manifests as a generalized darkening of the product that is un-submerged or that is in contact with the empty portion of the jar. It’s not dangerous, but that darkened portion does lose flavor more rapidly than the balance of the jar. If I find a jar in this state, I scrape, trim or otherwise discard the darkened portion before tucking in.

The goal for this month is…

Simply to get to know the cold pack technique and figure out where it functions best. We’ll be exploring hot packing in July (which I think of as the other side of the jar packing coin), so hopefully you’ll start to see how the two styles work together and can serve in equal measure.

Recipes

Here are a handful of recipes from this site’s archives that use this technique.

And here are some options from elsewhere.

Finally, use this challenge as a chance to read through a preserving cookbook or two. You’ll find cold pack preservation at play in any number of different recipes, so do a little exploring!

The deadline for this challenge is Tuesday, May 30. Submission link coming soon!

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April Mastery Challenge Round-Up: Quick Pickles

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April is over and so it’s a wrap for our quick pickle challenge! This month, 202 people submitted their projects and lots more joined the conversation in the Facebook group and on Instagram. As always, it was so much fun for me to see everyone trying new recipes and finding ways to create interesting flavor combinations.

As is so often the case in these monthly challenges, there was a huge amount of space to move and explore within the confines of the topic. And while it appears that the most popular things to quick pickle were cucumber, cauliflower, eggs, and red onions, you guys managed to pickle more than 30 different fruits, vegetables, and protein (primarily chicken and quail eggs).

As you can see in the image above, a little less than half of you made just one batch of pickles. The remainder of you let the challenge inspire you throughout the month and you made many more batches. It’s a lot of quick pickles and I couldn’t be more pleased!

This pair of images tells us that while many of you were already feeling quite friendly towards quick pickling, even more participants are happy with the way their projects turned out.

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Giveaway: Jar Storage from JarBOX

When you start doing a lot of canning, one of the biggest challenges becomes how to store both your processed jars and the empties waiting for your next project. I’ve spent a goodly amount of time over the years, pondering how to best shoehorn my canning habit into the storage space available in my 1,000 square foot apartment.

I keep jars under my couch, deep in my coat closet, and under my bed (and, if we’re being entirely honest, there is also currently a tower of boxes in the corner of my bedroom. Needs must). One tool that I use to help keep these storage spots useable and organized are the trays made by JarBOX. These clear, plastic boxes come sized for both pints and quarts and are a genius solution for stashing jars safely and securely.

They’re designed to work in pairs, so that you can lock your jars into individual pods. Then, those locked trays can be stacked and locked together, to create a tower of jars that behaves as a single unit, further reducing the chance of breakage. I call on a pair of JarBOX trays any time I need to transport sealed jars to family gatherings and food swaps, because I know they’ll get my jars to their destination intact.

I use a goodly number of my JarBOX sets to store the empties I keep under our bed. I arrange them upside down (to keep the worst of the dust out) and then slide the trays in and out as canning season ramps up. It’s a far better solution than fragile cardboard boxes I’d used previously.

This month, the good folks from JarBOX are sponsoring weekly giveaways on a series of blogs. I’m kicking things off by giving away two sets of JarBOX trays (a pint and a quart). What’s more, everyone who enters the individual giveaways will also be entered to win a Grand Prize of four more JarBOX sets. To keep up to date with all the JarBOX giveaways, make sure to follow them on Facebook!

This giveaway is closed. The winner is #151 – Lei Kaniumoe. Congratulations Lei!

Disclosure: JarBOX sent me a pair of JarBOX trays for photography and review purposes. They’re also provided a second set for the giveaway. No additional compensation was provided. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. 

 

May Sponsors: Cuppow, Fillmore Container, EcoJarz, MightyNest, Mason Jar Lifestyle, and Mrs. Wages

Happy May, friends and readers! It’s the start of the month and so is time to thank the businesses that help make this site possible. Please do show them your appreciation for their support with your time and attention!  And if your company, shop, or family business is interested reaching the food-loving and engaged Food in Jars audience, you can find more details here. Leave a comment on this post or drop me a note to learn more!

In the top spot are our friends at Cuppow. They are the creators of the original mason jar travel mug topper and the BNTO, a small plastic cup that transforms a canning jar into a snack or lunch box. Parents and kids love their EIO set, with its grippy silicone sleeve and a lid that makes for easy sipping.

Lancaster, PA-based and family-owned Fillmore Container are next! They sell all manner of canning jars, lids, and other preservation gear. As always, their blog is an amazing resource for all things jar-related. I’m teaching a Low Temperature Pasteurization class in their space this summer. Hold your spot today!

Our friends over at EcoJarz on board again this month. They make an array of products designed to fit on top of mason jars, including cheese graters, coffee brewers, and stainless steel storage lids. Make sure to follow them on social, because they host a weekly EcoJarz Fan Pic of the Week giveaway!

Mason Jar Lifestyle is a one-stop shopping site for all the jar lovers out there. They sell all manner of mason jar accessories and adaptors. If you’re in the market for lids, straws, sprouting lids, and cozies to transform your mason jars into travel mugs, make sure to check them out!

MightyNest is an amazing resource for non-toxic, natural, and organic products for homes and families. I’m a big fan of the MightyFix, their monthly product subscription program. Right now, you can get a year’s subscription to the MightyFix for just $99 (it regularly costs $10 a month, so that’s a great deal).

Our friends at Mrs. Wages are on the roster again this month. They make pectin, vinegar, and more canning mixes than I can count. Their website is an incredible preserving resource and I can’t say enough good things about their salsa mix. If you need a little help getting your produce into jars, remember to seek out their products!

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