Cornerstone Cooking Winners

Hey friends! Thanks so much to all of you who took the time to enter the Cornerstone Cooking giveaway last week. One thing is for certain. You guys are passionate about the contents of your pantry.

There are lots of chicken lovers in the crowd. Others of you depend on beans, lentils and rice to get dinner on the table. And I can’t forget those of you who professed a deep appreciation for cheese and what it brings to an evening meal.

Our winners this time are commenters #77 and #396. If you read their comments below, you’ll discover an accidental theme.

Lindsay (#77) said, “The home-made green garlic pesto I freeze every summer now!” Amanda (#396) said, “Garlic! I put garlic in everything. Thankfully my husband loves garlic too.”

Thanks again to author Nick Evans from Macheesmo for donating the copies and to all Food in Jars readers for your thoughtful entries. I’ll have another giveaway for you soon!

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A Silicon Valley Canning Class

Attention Silicon Valley readers! I’m going to be teaching a canning class in San Jose on Friday, June 22 from 7-9 pm. The class is being held in the home of 5 Second Rule and Ripe author Cheryl Sternman Rule (thanks again, Cheryl!).

We’ll make dilly beans and apricot jam, eat some cheese with chutney and talk boiling water bath canning. The class costs just $45 (a bargain!) and you can sign up by clicking here.

P. S. – If you live in San Francisco proper, I’m also working on putting together a class at Cookhouse SF on Wednesday, June 20 from 7-9 pm. Stay tuned!

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Honey Sweetened Lemon Butter

In my family, if you want to host a holiday celebration, it’s best to stake your claim early. My cousin Amy and her partner own the bulk of the Jewish holidays. Another cousin frequently hosts Thanksgiving. My parents are responsible for Christmas. And several years ago, I found myself in possession of Mother’s Day hosting duties.

Here’s how it happened. Awhile back, I joined several sets of cousins for a Mother’s Day brunch at a local restaurant. We had young kids with us and though everything was lovely, I realized that it was impossible for any of the mothers to really enjoy meal. So I volunteered to host for the following year. And as so often happens, a tradition was born.

sweet lemon butter

I will admit right now that my offer was in part self-serving. I love having people over for brunch. I relish any excuse to pull out my waffle maker, roast up some potatoes and scramble an obscene number of eggs. Some years I make dozens of biscuits and put out five or six jars of jam. Scones or muffins are also fun, as are quiches, eggy casseroles and a mountain of oven-cooked bacon.

making lemon butter

Recently, I plucked my copy of Recipes from Home off my living room bookcase and was reminded by a helpful sticky note (placed long ago when I first acquired the book) that I wanted to make Sweet Lemon Butter. The thought occurred that it might just the thing to add to our Mother’s Day brunch and so I made a test batch. Essentially, you stir a slurry of lemon juice, zest, chopped mint and honey into some softened butter, pack it into a jar and chill it until just spreadable but not mushy.

lemon butter

Once it was done (of course, I made several tweaks), it took all my willpower to keep from pulling out a spoon and eating a couple big bites (I will confess to several small taste tests, just make sure it was good). It’s transcendent on a freshly baked scone and awfully tasty just scraped on toast. If you’re hosting a brunch (Mother’s Day or otherwise), consider adding this sweetened compound butter to your menu.

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Cookbooks: Cornerstone Cooking

Cornerstone Cooking: Cover

I have a confession to make. Even though I write about food for a living and spend the bulk of my days sitting no more than five feet from my kitchen, I still regularly struggle when dinnertime rolls around.

You see, I try to keep our evening meals relatively inexpensive, healthy and not too time consuming to make. What this ends up meaning for me is that I cook the same seven things over and over again. While Scott is perfectly willing to eat chili, turkey burgers, giant salads and chicken soup on repeat, I find that I need new meals on my plate.

Cornerstone Cooking: Intro

I’m constantly searching for genius to strike. I flip through Everyday Food each month when it arrives and I try to sit down in front of my shelves of cookbooks on a regular basis to see if something will resonate.

Recently, I fell hard for a new cookbook that I think will be motivating my meals for many months to come. Part of the reason I love it so is that it fits my mealtime criteria and cooking style (cheap and easy). Called Cornerstone Cooking and written by Nick Evans (he’s the blogger behind Macheesmo), it’s designed to help you build meals around one of eight central ingredients.

Cornerstone Cooking: Chicken

Each chapter starts with a recipe for the central (or cornerstone) ingredient and then offers a number of different ways to transform that item into a full meal. While I realize that this isn’t a crazy-new concept, it’s so helpful to have all these different recipes in one place and to be reminded that I can do more with a roast chicken than just make my standard soup (I’ve got Nick’s tortilla soup high on my to-make list).

Cornerstone Cooking: Marinara

One section that I think will particularly appeal to the preservers in the crowd is the one in which Nick details all the things you can do with Marinara Sauce. Many of us make up a dozen or more jars of homemade sauce each August and while serving it over pasta is always an acceptable course of action, it’s always nice to have alternatives.

Next brunch potluck I’m invited to, I’m making his Eggs in Purgatory Casserole. I’ve done a quick, skillet version of that dish for years, but I like the idea of lining the casserole dish with crusty bread so that it becomes akin to a savory, tomato-y, French toast. With a salad, I wouldn’t think twice about serving something for dinner, either.

Cornerstone Cooking: Bread

Last week, Nick took the time to answer a few of my questions about his new book and his plans for future canning projects.

I love the title of the book. How long have you been working with that phrase and this idea?

I came up with the idea for the book long before I had a name for it. I knew I wanted to write about repurposing leftovers and try to show people how it can sexy to take something old and turn it into something new. Chefs do it all the time, but most home cooks haven’t quite caught onto the idea.

Anyway, about the name, I was walking down the street one day listening to a podcast (I don’t even remember which one) and they described something as the “cornerstone” idea. It worked perfectly with the method of cooking I was trying to describe — using one large meal as the backbone for other smaller meals. I’ve always liked alliterative titles so Cornerstone Cooking just flowed from there.

What was your very first cornerstone recipe?

The first one that I wrote for the book was the Nick Nugget recipe. I knew I wanted roasted chicken to be the first chapter since it is easy and accessible to a lot of people. Plus there are tons of meals you can make with leftover chicken. I could’ve written a whole book on that!

The first cornerstone recipe that I ever made without knowing it was probably my Fridge Cleaner Chili. I kind of just toss all of the veggies I have in my fridge with some stock, spices, tomatoes, and beans and let it simmer for awhile. It’s always a hit.

I see that you did some canning in 2011. Any plans for more in 2012?

Oh yes! I was lucky that both of my canning attempts last year turned out to be successful even though I was a complete novice. You honestly inspired me to try it out. I was shocked by how easy it was to do.

I plan to do a lot more pickled veggies this year just because they are my favorite. I might try one or two experimental jams to give out as gifts also. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I made a jalapeno peach jam last year that was better than expected.

Here’s the other thing that makes this book so impressive. Nick did the whole darn thing himself. He wrote every word, did the all photography, prepared the design and indexed every recipe (he even indicated which recipes are his wife’s favorites, a touch that I love). Truly, every ounce of it is all his work.

In addition to giving me a copy to review, Nick has also given me two copies to give away to Food in Jars readers. Here’s what to do:

  1. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post and share your favorite “cornerstone” ingredient.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm eastern time on Friday, May 4, 2012. Winner will be chosen at random (using and will be posted to the blog on Saturday, May 5, 2012.
  3. Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian readers.
  4. One entry/comment per person, please.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book, as well as two review units, at no cost to me. My opinions remain entirely my own. 


reCAP Winners

So many thanks to all of you who took the time to enter the reCAP giveaway I posted on Monday. You guys are VERY excited about these new lids and had so many great ideas on how to use them. After the first couple comments rolled in, I immediately popped one of the lids on my jar of maple syrup. Thanks to everyone who made that suggestion.

We have five winners for this giveaway. They are commenter numbers 20 (Moira), 59 (Mary), 228 (Renee), 794 (Sandra) and 889 (Julie).

Congratulations to all the winners!

If you didn’t win, don’t forget that the reCAPs are now available for online order and shipping is free if you buy three or more. Let’s support this fledgling company so that these terrific lids are available for the longterm.

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Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

My personal yogurt consumption goes up and down. I’ll go for weeks eating it every day and then suddenly, I’ll stop and a month will go by before I have it again. I have no good explanation for this. It’s just the way things happen in my edible world.

I’m currently is a very pro-yogurt phase. I’ve been eating more than a quart a week and started feeling guilt about consuming so many plastic containers. It was time to restart my homemade yogurt habit.

thermometer in milk

Truly, making yogurt at home couldn’t be easier. I stop doing it out of laziness, but once I force myself back into the routine of it, I’m always glad (sounds like so many things in life, doesn’t it?).

The first step is to heat the milk to 190-200 degrees F. You can use any milk you’d like. I made this batch using six cups of whole, un-homogenized milk (because it’s not homogenized, the cream will rise to the top, leaving me with a gorgeous, rich upper layer).

cooling milk

Once it reaches that temperature (take care not to let it boil), you want to cool the milk down to 120 degrees F. I do this by filling my sink with cold water and placing the pot in. The water helps reduce the temperature quite rapidly, so don’t walk away during this step.

pouring milk

Once it has cooled to 120 degrees F, whisk two tablespoons of yogurt into the milk. Over the years, I’ve tried using various amounts of yogurt to start my batches and I’ve actually found that the smaller amounts work better than larger amounts. A tablespoon for every 3-4 cups of milk just seems to work perfectly.

There was also a time during which I stirred some dry milk into each batch of yogurt I made. I’d heard it made for a thicker yogurt. In the end, I decided it had no discernable positive impact on the finished product and, if anything, left me with lumpy yogurt.

ready to incubate

Once you’ve stirred the yogurt in, pour the inoculated milk into your jars. You’ll see that my jars aren’t entirely full. There’s no reason why you can’t fill them up to the top. I just didn’t have enough milk in the fridge to make a full batch. However, I filled the jars evenly because I wanted to ensure that they’d process at the same rate.

A note about the starter yogurt you use: Make sure to use a yogurt that you like. There are a number of different yogurt bacterias out there and they all turn out slightly different yogurts. Splurge on the starter in order to make something you’re happy with.

cooler for yogurt

There are a number of ways you can keep your yogurt warm during it’s process. Some people have little machines. Others pop the jars in the oven with the light on. I’ve even heard that you can use a slow cooker or hot pads.

After trying all those methods, I’ve come to prefer using a cooler for this step (hat tip to the Frugal Girl for introducing me to this method). This Little Playmate holds two quart jars perfectly. I got it at a thrift store several years ago for a couple dollars, which has always pleased me.

jars of milk in cooler

Place your filled jars into the cooler and add hot tap water until they’re submerged, but not floating. You want the water to be around 120-125 degrees F. I’ve found that this is exactly how hot my hottest tap water is, so I use that. Makes life easy, too.

homemade yogurt

Once the jars are in the cooler and it’s filled with water, close it and tuck it out of the way for 6-7 hours. You can go as long as 8-9 hours, but keep in mind that the longer it sits, the more pronounced its tang will be. When I was working, I’d often start a batch of yogurt just before I left the house in the morning and let it process all day. It made for a tart yogurt, but I loved the simplicity of it.

When the time is up, remove the jars from the cooler and place them in the fridge. Use your homemade yogurt like you would any other kind of yogurt. If you’re interested in transforming your yogurt into a thicker product (along the lines of greek yogurt), all you do is strain it. Well Preserved has a good post on that, as well as suggestions for using up the resulting whey.

For those of you who regularly make yogurt, do you have any tips to share?

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