Pear Vanilla Jam

pear vanilla jam

Despite the fact that I’ve now made this jam twice in as many weeks, I don’t have any pretty progress shots of it. I made it once with a class and another time for a video shoot, so there just weren’t any moments to snap a few images. However, it tastes so good that I didn’t want to deprive you all of the opportunity to make it just because I wasn’t able to make time for photography.

This is truly a transformative jam for vanilla lovers. Flavor-wise, pears are fairly retiring, so they provide a perfect platform for the vanilla to shine. What’s more, when cooked, the pears take on a translucent, golden-y hue that allows all those vanilla bean flecks to show their stuff.

pear vanilla jam on toast

Last Saturday night, we had a party to celebrate my husband’s 34th birthday. As in traditional in our little family of two, we put together a board of eight cheeses for our guests. I pulled out a couple of jars of jam to serve as accompaniment, but it was this one that got all the love. Paired with a runny triple creme, people were speechless with the goodness of it. Because I’m a girl who loves to share, I gave all the other jars away as late night party favors and now I’m totally out (I finished off the jar you see above yesterday). I may have to make another batch, so you may see those pictures yet.

Note: Often I’ll tell you that you can substitute vanilla extract for the more pricey beans. However, I do not recommend it in this recipe. Splurge a little and get the two beans. They are a vital ingredient in this recipe and I just don’t think you’ll be happy with the outcome should you make a substitution.

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Canning 101: Using Good Water + Giveaway

mavea elemaris

As many of you have come to know, water is often a primary player in canning. Most pickling recipes call to dilute vinegar by half. We can whole fruit by making a syrup of sugar and water. When I want to include an intense flavor (like ginger) in a preserve, I blend it with some water before squeezing it through some cheesecloth to get a potent little brew.

In all of these recipes, I make a point of using filtered water. Preparing fruits and vegetables for canning is often a process of cooking down and concentrating your ingredients. I really don’t want to concentrate any extra crud or crap in my finished product. I live in an older apartment building, so who knows what kinds of funky particulate matter is in the H2O that comes out of my tap? It’s just one of those steps I like to take to ensure that the quality of my product is as good as I can make it when I go to open those jars six or eight months later.

Edited to add: There’s been a little confusion in the comments. I don’t use filtered water in my processing pot. I only use it IN the canning recipes. Regular tap water is fine for the outside of the jars.

elemaris box

For most of my adult life, I’ve been a Brita water filter user. Recently, I had an opportunity to try the new Elemaris filter and I really like it. It’s made by Mavea (which is part of Brita), is entirely BPA-free and the filters are recyclable. It has a meter on top that tells you when the filter is due for a refill and the lid is designed so that you can simply position it under the tap and fill, no need to remove a piece or flip open a flap.They’ve even created a nifty blog called Inspired Water to help spread the word about this product.

Thanks to Mavea, I have five (yes, five) of these nifty Elemaris pitchers to give away. Winners will get to pick their color (they come in black, purple, red and white). To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post and share your favorite way to drink water (reusable bottle? tea with milk? infused with a squirt of lemon?). Comments will close at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, February 18, 2011. The winners will be selected at random and will be posted the following day (I promise).

Disclosure: Mavea gave me that black water pitcher you see above. I’ve also filmed a series of canning videos with them that will be appearing in the next few weeks. No money has changed hands and I wouldn’t say nice things about their pitcher if I’d didn’t genuinely like it.

Illy Coffee Demonstration and Tasting

Illy espresso tasting

I’ve been drinking coffee regularly for nearly twenty years. They start us early in Portland, OR, after all. I have at least five methods for brewing close at hand in my 80 square foot kitchen, including three French presses, a porcelain drip cone, a Chemex and an red-handled espresso coffee pot. There’s also my beloved cold brew method.

Illy espresso tasting

However, despite all those methods, I’m not what you’d call a coffee snob. I’m not fastidious about the freshness of my beans and I’ve been known to brew elderly pre-ground beans in a desperate moment. However, I find the art of coffee and espresso fascinating. That’s why I was delighted to attend a Illy demonstration and tasting at the new Le Meridien hotel here in Philly a couple of weeks ago.

Illy espresso tasting

The session was led by Giorgio Milos. He’s an Illy espresso expert, is a champion Italian barista and is generally more passionate about espresso and coffee than anyone I’ve ever encountered. He walked us through the history of coffee, the way it’s grown, harvested and prepared. After our coffee primer (which included lovely phrases like “coffee should be a pleasure.” Imagine it said with a thick Italian accent), Giorgio introduced us to Illy’s new brewing system, which uses plastic cartridges like so many other new methods and machines.

Illy espresso tasting

The machines we tried out didn’t require any human calibration or expertise. You simply popped a plastic capsule into the coffee hopper, turned it to the right and pushed a button. Within 60 seconds, you’d have an espresso. I loved the ease of it and can truly see the appeal. However, I am really uncomfortable with all these new capsule brewing systems, because after each cup, you’re left with a piece of plastic trash to discard. I asked a question about the sustainability of the capsules and was told they are recyclable. Still, I don’t know that I’d be okay with one in my own kitchen because of the waste factor.

That said, I was delighted to steal a little time from regular life and learn a bit more about coffee. Thanks to Le Meridien for hosting us (their house coffee is Illy) and to Giorgio for sharing his knowledge with us. Thanks to all of you for reading and letting me write about something a bit beyond my normal scope (though I’ll have you know, I frequently drink coffee from jars).

And while we’re on the subject, what’s your favorite home brewing method?

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Pretty Pics From the Food in Jars Flickr Group

It’s been a long while since I pulled a few photos from the Food in Jars Flickr group and featured them here. I hope these will inspire a few of you to leap to your feet and head to the kitchen (they certainly have that effect on me). Don’t forget to join the group and add your own images!

pickles

Two different sweet, refrigerator pickles from Hey Lucy.

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Hello sunny clementine and meyer lemon marmalade! And what a gorgeous blog Apt. 2B Baking Company is!

apple butter

Such lovely apple butter from Lindsay at A Wooden Nest.

Lingonberry Banana Jam

Beautiful lingonberry banana jam from Shae at Hitchhiking to Heaven.

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Open Jars: Apple Butter BBQ Sauce from Coconut & Lime

Got more apple butter than you can eat? Here’s a tasty idea from Rachel at Coconut & Lime. She combined her homemade apple butter with a bit of vinegar, a variety of spices and a little bit of booze for a tasty barbecue sauce. It looks incredibly easy too, just a bit of measuring, a trip through the blender and a bit of reducing over low heat. Make sure to head over to her site to check out the full recipe.

This makes me wonder what other butters and jams could be turned into more full-bodied barbecue sauces. I think that my peach plum ginger jam might make a really good player in a sweet/savory sauce like this.

Do you have a spread in your pantry that is due for a transformation like this one?

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Wooden Tools and Homemade Spoon Butter

spoon butter

One of the things I love about cooking is that despite all the modern advances available to us in the kitchen, so much of it is essentially timeless. Take for example how often you reach for something made of wood in the process of making a meal. I pull out my favorite wooden cutting board at least three times a day and reach for a wooden spoon or spatula all the time.

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The only issue with wooden tools is that on occasion, they need a bit of care, particularly in my dry, 20th floor apartment. I used to simply give my wooden utensils and cutting boards a quick wipe with straight mineral oil. About a year ago, I learned a better way from Stephanie at 3191 Miles Apart. Spoon butter (or spoon oil, as she calls it. However, it looks and feels more like butter to me, so that’s what I call it).

all the spoons

It just takes two ingredients to make spoon (or board) butter – mineral oil and natural beeswax*. Put a quart-sized jar in a small saucepan and fill it about a third of the way up with water. Put a quarter pound hunk of beeswax (it smells so lovely) in the jar and gently bring it to a simmer. As it melts, slowly drizzle in the contents of a 16 ounce bottle of mineral oil, until they’ve totally come together. Use a wooden implement to stir it together if it needs a bit of help.

wooden spoons on white

Once the butter is cool to the touch, start smoothing it into your spoons, spatulas, boards and bowls. Let them sit for a couple of hours (or more – sometimes I leave them overnight). When most the butter is absorbed, rub everything down with a clean cloth and return them to normal use.

One of the happy side effects of lubing all your wooden tools with spoon butter is that your hands will feel incredibly soft and well-tended (I think that’s why I like to butter my spoons this time of year, my hands are dry and cracked December through March). I also love how appealingly luminous all the wood looks after it’s been treated.

The spoon butter will keep in a closed jar under the sink or in the pantry for quite some time. It would also make a very nice thing to share. I’ve been imagining a wedding shower gift of a couple sturdy-yet-graceful spoons paired with a small jar of spoon butter and a charming note card with instructions on how to use it. Thoughtful and useful, don’t you think?

*I get my beeswax from Bee Natural in Reading Terminal Market. I don’t remember exactly how much it cost last time I bought it, but I don’t remember it being particularly outrageous.

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