Cheese and Sunflower Seed Crackers

cheese/seed crackers in a jar

January is a hard month for a girl who writes about putting food in jars. While there’s still plenty of inspiration out there if you know where to look (citrus! pressure canned beans! root veg pickles!), this time of year does not lend itself as naturally to the act of preserving as those lush summer and fall months do.

Right now, the bulk of my cooking falls under the heading “General Sustenance.” This includes things like pots of turkey chili, black bean soup, green smoothies and hard boiled eggs. What’s more, since this new year arrived, I’ve felt a pressing need to keep things simple, like I’m storing up quiet time for the days when things get hectic again.

There is one little extra that I’ve been sneaking in amidst the pots of soups and stews. These grain-free crackers. Made of just sunflower seeds, shredded cheddar cheese, a pinch of salt and a bit of water, they are a very nice snack to have around when we’re feeling nibbly. Because they’re just cheese and seeds, they’re surprisingly filling and satisfying. I got the recipe from a copy of this book that I picked up back in November for a dollar. Discovering this recipe made it a very worthwhile purchase!

Here’s how you do it. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Pour 1 1/2 cups of raw sunflower seeds and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the seeds have broken down into a rough meal. Add 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese (I like to use extra-sharp) and pulse three or four times, just to combine. Then, while the motor runs, dribble in 1/4 to 1/2 cup water (just enough to form a dough).

Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. Scrape the cracker dough onto the middle of the parchment. Using damp fingers (re-wet often), spread the dough out into a thin layer. You can lay a second sheet of parchment on top of the dough and use it to help you press the dough out. I’ll warn you right now, getting the dough spread into a fairly even layer is something of a pain. But it’s worth it.

Once the dough is spread, bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crackers are crisp and just barely browned. When they are done, remove the pan from the oven and score the dough immediately into squares or diamonds (it firms up quickly, so do this while it’s hot). When it’s cool enough to handle, break the crackers into manageable pieces. Store in an airtight jar. They’ll keep in the pantry for 7-10 days.

This is a nice recipe to keep in the back of your brain for those times when you want to make a snack that works folks who are gluten or grain free. It’s also nice for the low-carb eaters (that’s what led us to this in the first place). I haven’t tried it yet with other seeds or cheeses, but I do plan on it going forward.

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Urban Preserving: Small Batch Kumquat Marmalade

a pound of kumquats

Kumquats aren’t like other citrus fruit. Instead of having a tart rind and a sweet interior, they keep their sugar in the skin and have their pucker on the inside. It took me years to realize that the best way to eat them is to pop them into your mouth whole and take a big bite. That way, you blend the flavors into a single, delicious marriage.

quartered kumquats

If eating whole kumquats isn’t your thing, don’t think that there isn’t a place for them in your life. They just happen to make a luscious, if slightly energy-intensive, marmalade. Because they demand a lot in the chopping department, I find that it’s best to keep your kumquat marm batches tidy and contained. That makes them downright perfect for my every-so-often Urban Preserving category.

kumquat ribbons

Take one pound of kumquats and wash them. Pick them over well to make sure that you don’t have any that are turning to mush (I bought mine at an Asian grocery story, tied up in a mesh bag, and the ones in the center were liquifying). Cut off the stem end and slice the kumquat into quarters.

pectin bag

When all the kumquats are quartered, use a sharp paring knife to cut away the inner membrane and any seeds (reserve these! They will provide our pectin). This leaves you with a small piece of rind with some pulp still attached. Then lay these stripped quarters rind side up and chop them into ribbons (I warned you that it was energy-intensive).

finished marm

When all the chopping is done, you should have about two cups of chopped kumquat bits, and a scant cup of reserved seeds and membrane. Place the seeds and membrane in the center of a square of cheesecloth and tie it up well so that nothing can escape.

Place the chopped kumquat in a large pot with 2 cups water and 1 1/2 cups sugar (I used plain white sugar, but you could easily use unrefined cane sugar. Just know that your finished product will be a bit darker). Pop the bundle of seeds and membranes in there too.

two half pints of kumquat marmalade

Bring to a boil and cook for 15-25 minutes, until it reaches 220°F. The wider your pot, the faster it will cook (I used a 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset, and my cooking time was right around 20 minutes). Once it has reached temperature and seems quite thick, remove marmalade from heat. Funnel into two prepared half pint jars. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process in a small batch canning pot for 10 minutes.

I love this kind of canning. Small batches means you get to try different flavors and combinations. And when a recipe yields just two half pints it means you have one to keep and one to share.

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The Candle 79 Cookbook and Smoked Paprika Hummus

Candle 79 Cookbook

I’ve never been the type of person who handles big changes well, particularly if they include a great deal of pre-planning and anticipation. For this reason, I’m not particularly good at grand resolutions for the new year. Don’t get me wrong, I can list my goals like a champ, but even as I write them down, there’s a part of me that knows that I’ll only be able to manage them for a day or before sliding into my old ways.

Candle 79 mushroom page

This doesn’t mean that I lead an entirely static life. Just that I’ve had to develop ways to work around my innate desire to resist change. For example, during the holidays, my eating habits started to slide a little bit (I can’t imagine I’m the only one who experienced this). I went from a girl who drank green smoothies for breakfast to someone who started her day with two cups of homemade Chex Mix (what? It contains cereal!). Something had to be done!

Smoked Paprika Hummus

Instead of resolving to change everything on January first (that would have been asking for dramatic and immediate failure), I started with just entertaining the idea of finding ways to get more vegetables into my life. By getting my brain on board first and approaching it with thoughts of addition instead of subtraction (and thankfully, the Chex Mix is all gone), I’ve been able to make the shift.

hummus ingredients

The other thing that has helped this ‘more vegetable’ habit is cookbook that showed up in my mailbox back in November. Called the Candle 79 Cookbook (published by Ten Speed Press), it is bursting with gorgeous, appealing vegetable-focused recipes. It’s written by Joy Pierson, Angel Ramos, and Jorge Pineda of New York’s Candle 79 and Candle Cafe. Both are vegan restaurants that stress the importance of organic, farm-fresh vegetables.

wooden scraper

A tip! Never use your rubber, silicone or plastic utensils to scrape out your food processor. The blade will chew them up. Stick with durable wooden utensils.

And though I’m no vegan (and have not even the most latent desires to give up meat and dairy), I do have a highly developed appreciation for the kind well-conceived veg-focused recipe that this book features. I’ve earmarked at least 12 recipes and have added ingredients for Granny Smith Coleslaw, Spinach-Mushroom Pate and Butternut Squash and Chestnut Soup to my shopping list.

carrot in hummus

Earlier today, I whirred up a batch of the Smoked Paprika Hummus found on page 17 of the book. While it’s not exactly a vegetable, have such things around encourage me to eat more veg, which is also a big help. I used canned garbanzo beans (the book also gives instruction for making it from dried beans, but alas, I did not plan that far in advance), a bit less cayenne than called for (I wanted to ensure that my spice-averse husband would be able to eat it) and cilantro in place of the flat leaf parsley (it’s what I had in the fridge).

hummus and recipe in book

As so often happens to me when I make hummus, I was astounded at how fast it came together (you’d think I’d have learned this lesson by now) and how cheaply too. The recipe made a scant quart for right around $3. Best of all, it tastes wonderful. I ate it with the remains of a bag of baby carrots and, when they were all gone, I ate it by the fingerful. Truly, delicious. If you want to try it, the official, straight-from-the-book recipe is after the jump.

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Curds, Pickles and Soups! Oh My!


This morning while I was bending over to make the bed, I felt a noisy ping in my lower back. I went from feeling entirely energetic and ready to leap mountains to a painful lump, crawling for a heating pad.

I shelved my cooking schedule and spent the day on the couch watching mindless TV. After a couple of doses of Ibuprofen, some gentle yoga and plenty of quiet time, I’m feeling better. While I continue to recuperate, check out a few recipes I’ve cooked up recently for some other websites.

orange cardamom curd

Orange cardamom curd. I made this for Simple Bites and it’s positively dreamy. I ate it this morning stirred into yogurt and later went back for a spoonful as an afternoon pick-me-up.

pickled Brussels sprouts

For my latest In a Pickle column, I pickled a pound of Brussels sprouts. They are yummy and my new favorite thing is to eat them along side a bowl of chicken soup.

marinated carrots

Though this recipe is more marinated salad than pickle, it is very much worth making. I cooked it up when I was still out in Portland. Both my parents went back for seconds and my aunt asked for the recipe. Not bad for a quick, cheap and simple salad.

lentil soup

Finally, for my most recent piece for the FN Dish, I made Alton Brown’s lentil soup recipe. It’s easy, inexpensive and warming. This is another one I made while out in Portland and I froze the bulk of it in lunchtime-sized portions for my mom. It was nice to know that I left her with a week’s worth of stressless mid-day meals.

Just one word of advice if you do choose to make that recipe. Go easy on the salt, particularly if you’re using boxed stock. I followed the recipe exactly and ended up having to add extra water to counteract the effects of the salt. Beyond that, it was excellent.

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Canning 101: A Field Guide to Jars

regular mouth ball jars

Recently, one of my long-ago former co-workers mentioned on the Food in Jars Facebook page that what she really wanted to see was a visual guide to available jars out there. So earlier, after I’d met all my deadlines for the day, I raced around my apartment, hunting down examples of all the easily available jars currently in production in the hopes that I’d have them all. Amazingly, I did.

Before we dig into the jars, you should know that all standard canning jars sold in the U.S. are made by a company called Jarden Home Brands. They own Ball, Kerr and Bernardin (that’s their Canadian brand). So though it appears that there are multiple brands of jars out there, they’re all made by the same manufacturer.

The first group is the available regular mouth Ball jars. They come in quart, pint and half pint sizes. These jars are the ones most commonly found on the east coast. These shapes and sizes can also be found with the Kerr marker, but only out west. I prefer the Kerr jars to Ball, because they have a smooth back (it’s perfect for labels) but they’re nearly impossible to get where I live.

wide mouth kerr jars

The next group is the wide mouth Kerr assortment. These come in quart, pint and half pint sizes. Of all available jars, the wide mouth half pint is my very favorite jar currently in production. Sadly, it’s one that’s very hard to track down here in the Philadelphia area. I either drive to the Good’s Store in Lancaster or I mail order them. It kills me every time I visit my mom in Portland, OR and see stacks of this size/shape at her local grocery store.

wide mouth ball jars

Here’s the Ball brand wide mouth assortment. They have these in half gallon, quart and pint. As far as I know, they don’t currently make a half gallon jar under the Kerr label (feel free to correct me in the comments if you’ve seen them in stores recently). Jarden doesn’t currently make the wide mouth half pint under the Ball brand, though I have one floating around my apartment, so at one time they did.

quilted jelly jars

Here’s the quilted line-up. These jars come in 4, 8 (half pint) and 12 ounce varieties. I don’t love the looks of them (I much prefer a smooth-sided jar), but these are such handy sizes (I love the 12 ounce jar for pickling asparagus because it’s a bit taller than the available pint jars) that I put aside my aesthetic concerns and use them.

collection elite jars

Lastly, there’s the Collection Elite line. This consists of just two jars, a pint and a half pint. Unlike the rest of the canning jars featured* which come in cases of 12, these jars are sold in four packs. I love the shape of them, but often forgo them for the less expensive jars.

You will often come across other sizes and shapes in thrift and antique stores, but to my knowledge, these are the only ones currently available for purchase new.

One last thing before I sign off. Remember last year when I mentioned that a new brand of canning jars was coming to market? Sadly, it’s not to be. Jarden Home Brands bought Penley and put the kibosh on that plan.

*Half gallon jars are sold in cases of six.

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Welcome 2012 + Persimmon and Pear Chutney


Happy New Year, friends! I hope your celebrations last night were full of delight. Scott and I rang in the new year with pizza, champagne and a few favorite people (including 20-month-old twins who entertained us by dancing to the Nutcracker Suite).

I didn’t intend to go entirely quiet over the last week, but I so wanted to relish my last couple days in Portland with my parents. When I landed in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning, it just felt right to continue the break. It’s been a lovely thing to take a little time away from this space, to think about how I want to approach it in 2012.

I plan to continue to post new recipes, including more pressure canner tutorials, small batch preserves and ways to get your jams, chutneys and sauces out of their jars and onto the table.

purloined persimmons

You’ll see more foods in jars made by other people. Though it’s always my goal to help inspire people to head for their own kitchens, there’s also a world of delicious foods in jars out there being made by truly talented folks. I want to occasionally showcase them.

There will also be posts about cookbooks, space for questions and answers and some regular video features. I’m also going to be out and about a bit over the spring and summer to help promote my cookbook, so I’ll be posting about any and all opportunities to come and spend a bit of time with me.

bruised pears and persimmons

Now, about that recipe. While I was out in Portland, my mom and I came across a persimmon tree. It was in someone’s yard, bursting with fruit and covered with birds. We stood there for a moment, pondering the ethics of the situation, when a car pulled into the house’s driveway. We asked about picking a few and the owner held out an open grocery bag and simply said, “take what you want.”

Not wanting to be greedy, we took just three of the perfect fuyu persimmons from his bag and said thanks. We brought them home and proceeded to let them sit around for nearly a week. On the morning of Christmas Eve, my mom commented that I either needed to make something with them or throw them out. And so, I made a small batch of chutney with our three foraged persimmons and two bruised pears that had been rolling around the fridge.

After cutting away the bad spots and chopping them finely, I combined the pears and persimmons with half of a finely chopped red onion, 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 2 tablespoons raisins, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon allspice in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot.

Then it was just a matter of letting the mixture cook down for 30-45 minutes over medium-high heat. As you simmer the chutney, taste it and adjust the sugar, spices and salt. Should you like a bit of heat in your chutney, add a pinch of red chili flakes or smidgen of cayenne pepper. The chutney is finished when the persimmon skins are tender and it doesn’t look at all watery.

My batch filled three half-pint jars with just a bit leftover to eat immediately with cheese. It can be processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, or just kept in the fridge for regular eating. This time of year, when we rely more heavily on braises, stews and soups, it’s nice to have something within easy reach that can add a burst of bright flavor. I left all that I made back in Portland and am hoping to find a few inexpensive persimmons in Philly to make another batch.

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