Salted and Spiced Peanut Butters

two jars

I like to keep a bag of peanuts in my car. I am one of those people who can go from being not at all hungry, to slightly dizzy with the need to eat. On days when I find myself running endless errands, knowing that I have something filling and restorative within reach stops me from zipping through drive-throughs or dashing into Wawa for a bag of chips.

peanuts

Last week, as I gathered supplies and ingredients for our holiday trek to Virginia, I picked up a new bag at Trader Joe’s last week (a three+ hour drive in holiday traffic demands a fresh supply of car snacks). It was during the height of the pre-Thanksgiving frenzy and in my hurry to get in and out of a packed store as quickly as possible, I grabbed a package of roasted and unsalted peanuts. As it turns out, it was a grim mistake, because as good and satisfying as a lightly salted peanut can be, an unsalted one is bland and decidedly unpleasant.

spices in food processor

Not wanting to waste the majority of a one-pound bag of roasted peanuts, I brought them up from the car when we unloaded, with the intention of making peanut butter (conveniently, I had just finished a jar). Then, the thing that happens so often in life occurred. The peanuts sat on top of the washing machine, exactly where Scott put them last week during our post-trip unpacking, until earlier today.

two peanut butters

Finally, entirely tired of looking at them, I made peanut butter this morning. And like so many other long-avoided tasks, it took a fraction of the time I anticipated and was better than I remembered homemade peanut butter to be.

A pound of nuts yields approximately two cups of butter, so once I had a consistency I was happy with, I pulled out about a cup (slightly less than, it turns out) of the butter to keep it plain, and then added cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves to the balance. As much as I love plain peanut butter, it’s also fun to have some that tastes fleetingly of pumpkin pie.

spiced peanut butter

I know that some of you have had issues with some of my nut butter recipes in the past. The secret to getting a good consistency is oil. I know that most of us are loath to add more oil to nuts (because they contain so much of it naturally), but truly, these butters need a little extra lubrication. And the amount varies depending on your nuts.

This batch took just two tablespoons of peanut oil to develop the right texture. However, I’ve had some similarly scaled batches of almond and sunflower butters that needed as much as 1/3 cup. Because the age and moisture content of nuts varies, there’s no one-size-fits-all amount of oil I can instruct you to add. You have to use your eyes, nose, and best judgment. And if you feel like your food processor motor is in danger, please stop and give it the chance to cool down.

Continue Reading →

Comments { 42 }

Pear Cranberry Jam

pear cranberry jam

It is no secret that pears are one of my great loves of the fruit world. They have a delicate, flexible flavor that goes well with nearly anything (including vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and lavender). They work in fruit butters, jams, and chutneys. Many varieties don’t need to be peeled before cooking. And if you’ve never tried one, you should know that a pickled pear are one of life’s true delights.

chopped pears

Knowing my general appreciation for all things pear, it should surprise no one that a couple weeks back, I matched them up with a bunch of cranberries, to see how the two would jam together. Well, the results are in. Pears and cranberries make a very good team.

pears and cranberries

One of the things I like about making jams with cranberries is the fact that since they contain so much natural pectin, you’re able to dial back the sugar more so than with other fruits and still expect to develop a very nice set during cooking.

My normal ratio for jam is two parts fruit to one part sugar. You’ll notice that in this recipe, I shaved off a full cup of sugar and still wound up with a gorgeously set, plenty sweet jam.

adding lemon

Like so many of the jams I make, I kept this go-round fairly unadorned. It was just pears, cranberries, sugar, and the zest and juice of one little lemon. I like to keep the first pass simple, to ensure that the primary players work well together before I muck around with secondary layers.

Happy with the basic version, chances are good that I’ll come back to this formula again and tweak it with some ginger, or a few warm winter spices. You are welcome to add a pinch of this or that on your first pass, should you so desire.

182/365

Though I missed the obvious Thanksgiving window for this jam, I have a hunch that it still has many opportunities to shine before the year is out. I’m confident it will pair up nicely with a plateful of latkes in place the the traditional applesauce (Hanukkah starts in just over a week!). I know for a fact it is dreamy with a smear of fresh goat cheese. And as you head into the holiday baking season, consider filling a thumbprint cookie with a dab of this sweet-tart spread.

Continue Reading →

Comments { 71 }

Homemade Gifts on Saveur + Easton Winter Mart

Several months back, I got an email from an editor at Saveur, asking if I’d be interested in working on a holiday piece for their website. After several conference calls, dozens of emails, and lots of recipe testing in my tiny kitchen, the finished piece is now live.

It features eight preserves and treats that all make fantastic holiday gifts. Make sure to check out the ginger curry candied almonds and the dried fig compote (so good with cheese!).

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

This Saturday, December 1, I’m going to be at the Easton Winter Mart in Easton, PA from 10 am to 2 pm. I’ll be doing a jam making demo at 11:30 am and will have plenty of books with me to sign and sell. If you’re in the greater Philadelphia and have been thinking of treating yourself to a book, please do come out and say hi!

Comments { 17 }

Holiday Giving: Kitchen Tools for Canners

In my years of canning, one of the things I’ve found is that most of my favorite canning tools weren’t made specifically for canning. They are simply kitchen utensils that are well made, sturdy and just happen to serve a useful role in my preserving practice. From the bottom left corner and moving clockwise, here are some of my current favorites.

  • This six-piece set of stacking measuring cups by RSVP is fantastic. They are made from solid stainless steel and have a nice heft in the hand. I use the one-cup measure to portion jam into half-pint jars and the half-cup one fits neatly into my larger storage jars.
  • I’ve long been a fan of a serrated edge peeler. It’s particularly handy during marmalade season because it allows you peel off the outer zest from citrus without taking any of the pith along with you. What makes this particular peeler so nice is that it had dual blades, one smooth and one serrated. Makes for less clutter in a crowded utensil drawer. The one pictured above is from Williams-Sonoma. Kuhn Rikon also makes a version.
  • Thermapen is simply the best instant read thermometers out there. I’ve bought two in recent years and just love them for minding the temperature of my jams, jellies and curds. They’re pricy, but worth the money (and make sure to check the end of this post for a Thermapen giveaway!).
  • I first found this potato masher at a Tuesday Morning and it has supplanted all my other mashers. What makes it so awesome is that the tines are bladed. They’re not sharp, but they have just enough edge to make it perfect for breaking down cooking fruit. It’s a fantastic tool.
  • A good, fully encased silicone spatula. The one pictured above is from GIR and is quite nice. However, it also costs $22.50, which is more than most people want to spend on a spatula (disclosure! this one was sent to me for review purposes). For a more sensibly priced version (under six bucks), check out this one from Orka. According to Amazon, I bought mine in 2009 and it’s still going strong.
  • A good paring knife. I like the ones made by Kuhn Rikon, but couldn’t find one in the kitchen when preparing to take this picture. The most important thing is that it feels good in the hand and holds an edge.

  • If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you’ll know that I am crazy for my 4th burner pot. Also made by Kuhn Rikon (they don’t know I exist, I just like their products), this skinny pot has a spout, a heat-proof handle and is fitted with a rack. This means that it works as a small batch canning pot, a pot for heating pickling liquids and syrups for canning whole fruit and even as a tea kettle in a pinch. On Thanksgiving, I used it to heat up the gravy. It is a genius piece of equipment and I love it so much that I own two.
  • I bought this Cuisinart stainless steel wok at Macy’s last summer on a whim. It was on sale and I had a feeling that it might be a handy size and shape for making small batches of jam. And I was right. The flared sides encourage evaporation and it holds a bit more jam than a 12-inch skillet. It’s lighter than ideal for a true wok, but is quite nice for jams, jellies and chutneys (and it just costs right around $30, which makes it highly affordable).
  • Finally, flour sack towels. I finally got smart and started buying them in colors instead of in white. No matter how much I bleached them, the white ones just never get clean. The deeply colored ones don’t show the stains as much. Amazing the difference these little choices make in my quality of life.

As promised, I have an orange Thermapen to give away to one of you nice folks. Here’s how to throw your hat in the ring for chance at it.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me about your current favorite kitchen tool.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm on Friday, November 30, 2012. Winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog over the weekend.
  3. Giveaway open to everyone (the shipping is on me, no matter where you live).
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post. I do not accept submissions via email.
Disclosure: Thermapen is providing the thermometer for this giveaway. GIR sent me one of their spatulas for review. Neither company paid to be included in this post. No one else mentioned here knows that I exist or that I’m writing about them.

Cuppow and EcoJarz are Having Cyber Monday Sales

As most of you know, I’ve long used jars in place of travel mugs. When the first Cuppow came out last January, I was one of the first to get my order in and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. In the last year, Cuppow has been expanding their product line, first adding a regular mouth version and, more recently, adding lids in colors (orange for wide mouth, blue for regular).

The cool thing about the colored lids is that 5% of the proceeds go to charity. The orange lid benefits Superstorm Sandy relief and the blue one contributes to The Alliance for the Great Lakes.

If you’ve been longing for a Cuppow of your own, now might just be the time to place an order. They’re having a 25% off sale if you use the code “majormonday2012” and shipping is free if you order four or more lids. The deal is good until tonight at midnight.

EcoJarz is a little newer to the jar topper scene, but no less interesting. The started their product line with a stainless steel topper lined with a silicone gasket to prevent leakage. More recently, they added a bright green lid made of flexible silicone to the line-up.

The EcoJarz lids come in regular mouth size and can be ordered with or without a band and without packaging (nice for those who want to avoid any extraneous paper).

They are also offering 25% off for Cyber Monday through midnight tonight. No code is required, the discount is automatically credited when you proceed to check-out.

Comments { 3 }

Photos From the FiJ Flickr Pool + Labels Winner

so many

A pretty wave of home canning from Liz. Her blog is the very lovely Bubble Tea for Dinner.

IMG_0782

I do get quite the thrill from seeing the canning you’ve all done. This one is from Flickr user cartera11. Gorgeous!

Jack Daniel's Honey-Maple-Cream Sauce

Jessica’s Jack Daniel’s Honey-Maple-Cream Sauce. Sounds ridiculously good, doesn’t it?

Can It Up: Fresh and Dried Cranberry Salsa

Hima’s Fresh and Dried Cranberry Salsa. Part of her November Can It Up challenge!

Pickled Red Onions

Vibrant pickled red onions from Lynn. And in a vintage pint and a half jar!

WP_000608

Caitlin bought the pattern for the Jars To Go tote from A Tiny Forest and made several for her own use and gifting. Love it! And, did you guys see that Kim came out with a four jar version of the tote? It’s awesome!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thanks to all of you who took the time to share your jar labeling strategies. Please know that there’s no shame in simply scribbling the jar’s contents and date made on the lid of the jar with a Sharpie. It’s what I do most of the time. I only go for fancy labels when I really want to make a pretty present. So don’t feel bad!

That said, time for our winner. It’s Peggy, #259. She blogs at Pig Logs and ‘taterberries. Congratulations Peggy!

Comments { 7 }