Sponsored Post – Jam & Marmalade: The Blue Chair Way

apricot jam

This post is the next installment in my sponsored content partnership with Craftsy. This time, I took Jam & Marmalade: The Blue Chair Way, taught by Rachel Saunders.

I first met Rachel Saunders in the fall of 2010. It was in San Francisco, at the first ever Good Food Awards judging. Rachel and I were assigned to the panel that was judging the sweet preserves. We spent a day sitting around a table with a handful of other jam obsessives, tasting jar after jar, and talking about our impressions.

jam berries

All the judges had a deep understanding of what separated a good preserve from a great one, but Rachel was one of the few who could explain what was happening technically or scientifically that led to either good or great (as well as truly mediocre).

I left that day impressed with her expertise and ordered a copy of her beautiful cookbook (then brand new) as soon as I got home. To this day, I turn to it when I’m hunting for jammy inspiration and fresh flavor combinations.

cranberry apple jam

Recently, I spent a few hours immersing myself in Rachel’s approach to preserving when I took her class on Craftsy. Called Jam & Marmalade: The Blue Chair Way, it is an exhaustive introduction to the art of preserving with just fruit and sugar.

After a brief introduction to Craftsy and Rachel, the true meat of the class begins with a primer on equipment. For seasoned canners, this section might feel a little unnecessary, but there were several good reminders in this lesson, including remembering to make sure that when you prep your fruit, you take care to find a clean cutting board that has not been used for garlic or onions.

blood orange marm cooking

One thing to know about Rachel’s approach to jam and marmalade making is that she is devoted to the French-style copper preserving pan. These very beautiful and highly conductive pans are a joy to cook in (I treated myself to one some years back) but are very expensive.

Rachel’s alternative suggestion of an 8 quart or larger Dutch oven is one to consider, as it is still a very good vessel for jam making and will have many more uses in a regular home kitchen.

Enter to Win Jams & Marmalades: The Blue Chair Way!

The next two lessons focus in on jam making. First is a quick, simple blackberry jam and the second is a strawberry jam in which the fruit is macerated in sugar and lemon juice for seven days before cooking.

honeyed tomato jam

Lessons five, six, and seven are all focused in on marmalade making. Rachel’s technique is meticulous and produces a very beautiful product.

Part of her secret is that in addition to prepping, simmering, and softening the fruit that will go into the marmalade, she also simmers a second potful of lemons in order to create a flavorful, pectin-rich liquid to add to the cooking fruit. This ensures that she has ample jelly in the finished marmalade and is a technique I plan on using during next winter’s citrus season.

2+ cups of tomato mango jam

The final lesson in the course is the one in which Rachel shares her technique for processing the jars. She uses an oven method as opposed to the boiling water bath. This is a somewhat controversial method in canning circles, because while it is not approved for home use by the USDA, it is one that is commonly used in commercial production.

My feeling is that as long as the preserve being bottled is one that is high in sugar, the risks are minimal.

empty jam pot

Despite the fact that I’ve been making jam for most of my life and have written two cookbooks on the topic, I still felt like I gained something of value from this course. It was useful to hear the ways in which Rachel explained certain principles of jam making (I appreciated seeing her explain her frozen spoon method of testing for set, as I’d never quite understood it before) and I am so impressed by her marmalade process.

strawberry fig jam

Whether you’re looking for a thorough introduction to home preserving, or you want to brush up your skills, I wholeheartedly recommend Rachel Saunders’ course.

Enter to Win Jams & Marmalades: The Blue Chair Way!

For more about this series of sponsored posts and my year-long partnership with Craftsy, please visit this post.

Official disclosure statement: This is sponsored post from Craftsy. I was compensated for this post. However, all opinions remain my own.

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Storing Fresh Produce Without Plastic Bags + Giveaway

farmers market haul

The season of farmers markets, CSA shares, and home gardens is finally here. After our long winter and equally extended spring, I couldn’t be happier to have access to fresh greens, tasty brassicas like kohlrabi, and local asparagus (and soon, the tomatoes will be here!).

fridge interior

One thing that often trips me up for those first couple weeks as I adjust from grocery store produce to fruits and vegetables that are straight from the farm or orchard is storage. Each week, there is a basket of entirely unpackaged food that needs to be processed a little (to make it as ready to use as possible) and put away.

three containers

In past years, I’ve been heavily dependent on a motley assortment of plastic bags. This year, I’m working hard at eliminating unsustainable plastic from my produce storage. Thanks to the nice folks at MightyNest, I’ve had some new glass food storage containers, reusable produce bags, and dish towels to play with that have made tucking my farmers market haul easier (and even something of a pleasure!).

I’d thought I’d take some time to share my tips for stashing my greens and goods without plastic in the hopes that it might be helpful for some of you!

butter lettuce

For lettuces that I want to prep for easy use but still keep in whole leaf form (in case I want to slip a leaf or two onto a sandwich), I pull the head apart, wash the leaves, and dry them. A salad spinner is nice for drying greens, but if you don’t have one, lay out a clean kitchen towel and lay the lettuce out in a single layer. Put another towel on top, pat it down, and then carefully roll it all up. Give the lettuce bundle a gentle shake over your sink and unroll again (these Full Circle bamboo towels are incredibly absorbent!). The lettuce should be dry enough to store!

Then, layer the lettuce leaves in a container, separating the leaves every couple levels with a small cloth or paper towel (I have a stash of these Bird-E Towels, which are great for this purpose). As far as the container goes, I like to use the 109 ounce Duralex lidded bowl, as it is large enough for a whole heck of a lot of lettuce.

Side note: I also love that you can buy replacement lids for these bowls when the original wears out. I hate having to give up on a container simply because the lid has gone bad. Someone out there was thinking!

packed produce

For heartier things, like kohlrabi, kale, asparagus, green garlic, harukei turnips, and even celery or lovage, any sturdy glass container will do the job. These items don’t need a whole lot of absorbent padding or breaking down, so I simply grab any vessel that can hold the food and will fit in my fridge.

I really like the long low six cup ones with the tight fitting lids (those Duralex bowls in smaller sizes are also good). What’s nice about these long, low containers is that they’re also oven safe, so you can bake and store in them as well! They also stack evenly and securely. And as you can see, sometimes I double things up if I feel like it won’t impact the flavor or consistency. Kale and green garlic can hang out nicely without flavor transfer or texture degradation.

bundled spinach

For large bundles of spinach or mustard greens that I want to keep whole, I use the towel technique. I get a tea towel slightly damp and roll the greens up in it, tucking the ends in and trying to get at least two layers of material around the veg. It should be just damp, but not sopping.

Tucked into the crisper, this helps keep the greens fresh and perky, at least for a few days. I do make it a priority to use these tender greens in the first couple days after bringing them home, because they aren’t going to last an entire week (the kale will last much longer because it’s simply sturdier by nature).

produce bags

Other tips for storing.

  • If you’re going to use them promptly, cucumbers don’t need to be refrigerated. They actually do better above 50 degrees F and so can be kept on the counter for up to three days.
  • When we get into tomato season, keep them away from the cold and store them stem end down for the best lifespan.
  • Use that tea towel technique described earlier for asparagus as well as tender greens.
  • Any time you store radishes, small turnips or beets that came with their greens, separate the roots from the leaves upon bringing them home. Wrap and store the greens separately to keep them crisp and useable.
  • Leeks don’t need any special treatment at all. Just shake off the worst of the dirt from the roots and pop them into the crisper.
  • Conventional wisdom used to be that you never washed berries before storing, but research has shown that washing them in a vinegar solution before storing actually extends their lifespan.

spinach in towel 640

So, now to the giveaway portion of this blog post. I’ve teamed up with the nice people at MightyNest to give a set of storage containers, towels, and other goodies away to one lucky Food in Jars winner. This giveaway is working a little bit differently than some have in the past. Instead of simply signing up in the hopes of getting some free stuff, I’m going to ask you to take a pledge. A promise that this year, you’ll do your best to enjoy seasonal produce as much as you possibly can (seems like a good thing to work towards, right!).

The other cool thing about this pledge is that in the process, you’ll also be able to earn points for your local school to help them win $1000 this month in the MightyNest for Schools “Get Fresh” Challenge. It doesn’t matter whether you have kids in school or not. Pick your local school, the one you attended for 4th grade, or the one your favorite child attends. Just click the button that says “I Pledge” to enter!

Disclosure: MightyNest provided containers, towels, produce bags, and a produce brush to me for photography purposes and at no cost to me. They are also providing the giveaway package for the winner and are a site sponsor. However, my opinions still remain entirely my own.

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Upcoming Events: Manhattan! Philly! And More!

Not a bad price for bright red rhubarb!

Things have been a little bit quiet on the book tour front around these parts, but things are going to start picking up with a vengeance this weekend. I’ll be at the 79th Street greenmarket in Manhattan (it’s just behind the American Museum of Natural History) this Sunday from 11 am to 2 pm. I’ll be at High Street for our first preserves dinner on Tuesday.

And from there, it just keeps rolling. Here are the most imminent events, but check my Classes and Events page for the full line-up of class, demo, and book signing goodness!

  • June 1 – New York: Demo and signing at the 79th Street Greenmarket, 11 am – 2 pm.
  • June 3 – Philadelphia: Preserving-focused dinner at High Street at 9 pm. Call (215) 625-0988 to reserve your seat.
  • June 4 - Brooklyn: Preserving strawberries at The Brooklyn Kitchen, Brooklyn location. Click here to sign up.
  • June 5 – Perkasie, PA: Canning clinic and book signing at Blooming Glen Farm, 1-8 pm.
  • June 6 – Hatboro, PA: Demo and signing at the Hatboro Farmers Market, 6-8 pm.
  • June 7 – Philadelphia: Small batch canning demo and signing at Philly Mag’s Be Well Boot Camp, 10 am. Register here.
  • June 7 – Honey Brook, PA: Demo and signing at Wyebrook Farm, 2-4 pm.
  • June 8 – Havertown, PA: Canning class at the Havertown Free Library, 2-4 pm. Call (610) 446-3082 ext. 216 to register. There is a $5 fee that must be paid by check prior to the class.
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Preserves in Action: Roasted Corn Salsa and Black Bean Nachos

black corn nachos

When I was nine years old, I went through a homemade nacho phase. We didn’t always keep tortilla chips around, but when there was a bag in the pantry, I’d layer a generous handful on a plate with shredded cheese and pinto beans. They’d go in the microwave them until the chips seemed toasted and the cheese bubbled. I’d top it with some Trader Joe’s salsa and call it a success.

Note: If memory serves, I only did this when my dad was the parent in charge, because I’m fairly certain my mom would have put the kibosh on any meal that used chips as it’s foundation. I think my dad went for it because I always made him a plate as well.

nachos close

On Monday night, after a long drive home from Western Massachusetts, Scott and I were casting around for something to eat for dinner. We’d already had two restaurant meals that day and the idea of a third did not appeal. After running through the usual suspects (scrambled eggs, pasta with sauce, meatballs from the freezer), Scott spotted half a bag of slightly stale blue corn tortilla chips on top of the fridge and said, “what about nachos?”

His suggestion immediately reminded me of the nachos I used to make and I got to work. I pulled out the last jar of roasted corn salsa from 2012 (it’s one of my favorite recipes from Food in Jars) and another of black beans (from this post).

nachos square

I grated some sturdy Kerrygold Dubliner cheese (they sent me some back in April while I was on the road) and layered it all on the baking sheet that fits into our toaster oven (I’m moved up in the world from the microwave of my youth). I set it to bake at 350 degrees F for about ten minutes, so that the cheese could melt and the chips could shake off the worst of their staleness.

It was a satisfyingly good and easy dinner and the perfect thing to eat after a road trip, while you’re watching the previous night’s Mad Men.

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Preserving Dinners with Chef Eli Kulp at High Street

high street PbtP image

Over the course of this summer and fall, I’m working on a really cool collaboration (much like Tenaya and Amanda did before me). I’ve teamed up with Chef Eli Kulp (Executive Chef at Philly’s Fork and High Street restaurants) to help create a series of three preserving themed dinners at High Street.

The menus are going to feature lots and lots of jams, pickles, chutneys, and other preserves. Some will be the shining star of the course, while others be supporting players. For those of you who struggle to find ways of using your canning beyond the basics, these meals will give you an opportunity to taste some amazing flavors and get a world of fresh inspiration on how to put your preserves to work.

The first of these three dinners will be on Tuesday, June 3 and if the meeting we had this morning is any indication, it’s going to be spectacularly delicious. The cost is just $25 per person (plus beverages, tax, and gratuity). The menu will be released at 12 noon, the day of the meal and service begins promptly at 9 pm. Reservations are highly recommended, and you can make them by calling (215) 625-0988.

If you can’t make the June dinner, the other two will be on July 22 and September 30. They menus will all be seasonally driven and different from one another. I hope to see some of you there!

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Cookbooks: The Hip Girl’s Guide to the Kitchen

HGGTK Cover

I first met Kate Payne in early 2010. She was living in Brooklyn at the time and was making a day trip down to Philly to explore a little and see what delicious things the city had to offer. We met up for drinks and dinner and spent a solid three hours talking non-stop. It was one of those instant friendships, where you go from being strangers to being friends, without any intermediate stops along the way.

HGGTK spine

In the years since, I’ve helped to lead a canning workshop in Kate’s kitchen and hosted a book party potluck for her when she was traveling around the country and sharing tips and tricks from her first book, The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking. She and her wife put me up when I was in Austin a couple years back, waiting for my sister to give birth to Emmett and served me a scrumptious meal when I was in town back in January.

equip your ship

Today is the release day of Kate’s new book, called The Hip Girl’s Guide to the Kitchen: A Hit-the-Ground Running Approach to Stocking Up and Cooking Delicious, Nutritious, and Affordable Meals. It is a sturdy paperback that is bursting with everything you need to know to rock the most important room in your house.

knife honing

Though I call it a cookbook up in the subject line, this volume isn’t really a cookbook as we traditionally see them. There are plenty of recipes, to be sure, but the bulk of the book focuses on skills, techniques, and helping you build out your knowledge so that you can become a culinary problem solver. When you think about it, that ends up making it far more useful than any one cookbook could ever be.

pantry staples

The book is divided into three equally important sections. Part one is called Stocking Up and contains everything you need to know about cookware, pantry staples, maintenance of your tools, how long things last, how to store everything, and even details about the labeling you’ll most often find at the grocery store (conventional, organic, and GMO free, to name a few.

feeding others

Part two is called Feeding Yourself and digs into the nuts and bolts of how to make good, approachable, and affordable food, day after day after day. You’ll learn the basics (homemade vinaigrette! mayonnaise! soup from scraps!), some simple substitutions for when you’re out of eggs, buttermilk, or sugar, and some very useful tricks for baking up a wide array of muffins, cookies, and breads with what you have in the pantry. I promise, you will return to this section again and again.

hip tricks

The final portion of the book is called Feeding Others. It’s in this section that you’ll find information on canning and preserving (because we do that as much for our friends and family as we do for ourselves).

There’s also some really great laundry lists in this section that are simply titled, “Things to do with…” She digs into vegetables, fruit, dairy, eggs, herbs and spices, and more. It’s a ridiculously useful resource for those moments when you’re staring at the bundle of oregano that came in your CSA share and wondering how you’re ever going to make the most of it.

HGGTK back

From the time I was very young, I had a deep interest in food and cooking. Because of that, I paid a great deal of attention to my mom as she grocery shopped, packed lunches, and cooked dinner.I thought I knew everything I needed when I finally acquired my own kitchen, but I quickly realized that there were a number of details upon which I was a little fuzzy. Through trial, error, and lots of phone calls home, I was able to fill in the gaps. However, had Kate’s new book with me in the kitchen, things would have been a whole heck of a lot easier.

My bottom line? Whether you’re an experienced home cook or someone just starting to get to know your stove, you should have a copy of this book within easy reach of your kitchen.

For more stops on Kate’s online book tour, visit the following blogs:

May 21 – Healthy Green Kitchen
May 22 – Local Kitchen
May 23 – Autumn Makes and Does
May 27 – Punk Domestics
May 28 – Spinach Tiger
May 29 – Local Savour
May 30 – Love and Lemons
June 2 – Kitchen Ecosystem

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