Holiday Giving: Pumpkin Seed Brittle

pumpkin seed brittle

I realize it’s Christmas Eve. Chances are, the holiday baking is done and you’ve already hung up your candy making apron for the season. Still, I couldn’t resist sharing one last recipe for pumpkin seed brittle.

It’s a recipe I first made four years ago and it’s slowly become part of our Christmas tradition. When I landed in Portland a week ago, one of my dad’s first questions for me was, “Are you going to make that brittle again this year? Anything I can do to help?”

It’s a recipe I tweaked from Smitten Kitchen, who found her original inspiration from The Wednesday Chef. Luisa adapted her batch from Karen DeMasco. That there’s good recipe bones, I say.

pumpkin seed brittle

You start by toasting 2 cups raw pumpkin seeds until they crackle and pop. Set them aside and let them cool. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and set it near the stove. In a roomy, heavy bottomed pot, melt one stick of butter. When it’s just liquid, add 2 cups granulated white sugar, 1/3 cup corn syrup and 1 1/4 cups water. Stir to combine.

Cook the toffee over medium-high heat until it turns golden brown. On my mom’s stove in her ancient Revere Ware pots, this takes about 25 minutes. Times will vary depending on the width of your pot, their ability to retain heat and the strength of your stove. One way to test it is to drop small bits onto your parchment covered pan. Once they’re cool, taste them and see if they’ve achieved the proper brittle consistency. If not, keep cooking.

When the toffee is a deep golden color, remove the pot from the heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 2 generous teaspoons sea salt. It will foam madly. Keep stirring. Once both are well-integrated, stir in the toasted pumpkin seeds. Pour mixture out onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet and spread using a rubber or silicone scrapper. While it’s still warm, score the brittle into squares using a pizza cutter. When it’s entirely cool (I found that the cold cement floor of my parents’ garage sped the cooling nicely), break into pieces and enjoy.

Just one word of warning here. Don’t use unrefined cane sugar in this recipe. Stick to pure white sugar. If you use sugars with a darker hue, it is VERY hard to tell when the toffee is done cooking. A couple of years ago, I did this and ended up with soggy caramel in place of the brittle. It still tasted good but when it came to texture it was QUITE disappointing.


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Pre-Order the Food in Jars Cookbook!

Food in Jars cover

Okay kids, I have some fun news. The Food in Jars cookbook(subtitled Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round) is available for pre-order! Obviously, it won’t be shipping before you give gifts this week (expect to see physical copies of it around May or June), but if you have a bit of extra holiday budget burning a hole in your pocket, pre-ordering a copy from your favorite bookseller.

Get it from a local-to-you bookseller.
Get it from Powell’s.
Get it from Amazon.
Get it here from Barnes and Noble.
Get it here from Chapters (for you Canadian folks).

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Quince Slices in a Spiced Chai Syrup

quince in chai syrup

I am a coffee drinker. Growing up in a cafe-loving city like Portland, OR, it was hard not to pick up the habit during my early high school years. However, every 18 months or so, I cut way back on coffee and switch to black tea. I don’t do it intentionally, there just comes a morning when I wake up craving the nuance of tea.

quince and chai

I am currently smack in the midst of a tea phase. However, this one isn’t as inexplicable as the previous ones have been. I trace it directly to a recent preserving project that Alexis from teaspoons & petals and I recently tried.

Wanting to see how fall fruit would work with a tea infusion, we imagined a few small jars filled with sliced poached quince suspended in a spiced chai syrup (our first collaboration was a peach oolong jelly) and set a date to make it happen.

making tea syrup

The morning of our canning appointment, Alexis picked up an assam-based chai spiked with cinnamon and cloves from Philadelphia’s House of Tea while I ran to Reading Terminal Market to pick up 4 fragrant quince. After washing them well to remove any fuzz from their skin, we chopped the quince into slices, taking care to remove any hard inner bits and put them in water to poach until tender (this took approximately 30 minutes).

poached quince into the syrup

While they cooked, we made the syrup. I combined 1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar with 2 cups of water (this makes a fairly heavy syrup) in a medium saucepan and simmered until the sugar was entirely dissolved. Alexis measured out two generous tablespoons of the tea and tucked it into a paper infuser.

poached quince slices

We let the tea steep in the syrup for 5 minutes, tasting after the time was up to ensure that the flavor intensity was where we wanted it (it was). When the quince slices were tender but not falling apart, we lifted them out of the water with a spider and dropped them into the syrup.

Then it was just standard canning procedure. Funnel slices into prepared jars. Top with syrup. Remove air bubbles and adjust syrup levels (1/2 inch headspace, please). Wipe rims and apply lids and rings. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

quince in chai syrup

The result of this experiment are three half pints jars of the most wonderfully spiced slices of quince ever. The syrup is also a revelation, we had a bit leftover and I spent a couple of days making myself spiced chai sodas with sparkling water. I’ve served one jar with slices of this gingerbread (good on its own, it’s a marvel when drizzled with this syrup and topped with a couple slices of quince).

The only thing I’d do differently in the future is that I’d wait to make the syrup until the quince were finished poaching and use some of that liquid. That way, I’d get even more of the quince flavor into the final product.

If quince are already gone from your area, you might try this recipe with slices of pear instead. I imagine they’d be wonderful with a spiced syrup like this one. Skip the poached step and instead just cook the pears in the finished syrup for a moment or two. Imagine that served with some creamy cheese. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it!

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Pickles and Potlucks


After a very early morning wake-up call, I landed in Portland yesterday afternoon to spend the holidays with my parents. So far, I’ve done nothing but catch up on sleep and tag along to a pair of seasonal potlucks.

Though my mom is a fine cook, in recent years, I’ve become her potluck consultant (she claims that after a lifetime of inventing dishes, she’s out of ideas). Regularly, she calls me when she needs some fresh inspiration. And when I’m in town, it becomes my responsibility to help dream up and prepare our potluck contributions.

pickles for potluck

Knowing that more than a few of you might be looking for side dishes and items for shared meals in the coming week or two, I thought I might share what I came up with over the last two nights.

On Saturday, we cut carrots and parsnips into sticks (two pounds of each), tossed them with olive oil, minced rosemary, salt and pepper and spread them out on a cookie sheet in single layers. Roasted at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes and turned at least once, they turn into crisp, caramelized nuggets of root vegetable goodness. To serve, I heaped them into a casserole dish and topped them with some chopped parsley, plucked moments before from my mom’s garden.


For tonight’s offering, we took a dish of mashed potatoes and kabocha squash. They get stirred together with beaten eggs, a bit of butter, chopped fresh sage and two kinds of cheese. It is ridiculously decadent and good. I think it’s perfect for a potluck, because it’s the sort of thing that must be shared. It’s far too rich to have for just a couple of people, but I crave it this time of year and love that I can have a generous taste while not being responsible for eating the whole thing.

I also brought two jars of pickles from home for tonight’s party, because I knew it was a crowd that would appreciate them. And I heard more than one person exclaim excitedly when they saw the jar of pickled okra.

How have the rest of you been handling your holiday parties and potlucks this season?

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Holiday Giving: Meringue Cookies

meringue cookies

In my family, there is truly only one acceptable birthday cake and it’s actually not a cake at all. It’s a giant shell of sculpted meringue, filled with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and freshly whipped cream, topped with a shower of toasted sliced almonds. We call it Pinch Pie.

This epic dessert first entered the McClellan celebratory lexicon sometime in the 1940s. My grandma Bunny found the recipe in a woman’s magazine and made it as a Valentine’s Day treat for her husband (in those days, she whipped the egg whites using a hand-powered rotary mixer. It was a true act of love). My uncles quickly figured out that they preferred this dessert to any cake they’d had before and started requested it for birthdays. A tradition was born.

finished meringue

By the time I came along, Pinch Pie’s dominance as the birthday dessert of choice was well-established. During my first eight years of life, I ate Pinch Pie as many as six times a year. With family birthday gatherings taking place at least every other month (sometimes a single dinner would suffice for several), the math worked out in everyone’s favor. What’s more, Bunny had long since graduated to a electric hand mixer, so it wasn’t the burden to make that it once had been.

scooping meringue

But as so often is the case, all good things eventually come to an end. In my case, it was the announcement that my parents were moving us out of Los Angeles and up to Portland, OR. We would no longer have regular access to Bunny and her Pinch Pie factory.

So I did what any food-obsessed eight year old would have done. I started begging Bunny for meringue lessons. I figured that as long as I had the skills, I wouldn’t be entirely deprived. And so I watched. I took notes (I still have those original pages, carefully marked up in my elementary school handwriting). I learned her meringue formula.

unbaked meringue cookies

In the early years, I would call Bunny every time I made the meringue shell for Pinch Pie. She’d remind me to warm my eggs to room temperature and to make sure I separated each one over a small bowl before adding the whites to the mixing bowl (one drop of egg yolk and the whole batch is ruined). She’s ask about the weather in Portland and warn me that it was harder to get stiff peaks if it was raining out (it always was).

Bunny died when I was 14, putting an end to my Pinch Pie support line. But each time I make meringue, I think of her. I imagine she’d scoff at my use of a stand mixer to beat the egg whites, declaring that it takes most the skill out of it. She’d admire my use of Silpats and parchment, as they make the meringue lift easily off the baking sheet (before those two items came along, we struggled mightily with meringues that stuck fast). Most of all, she’s be happy that I was keeping the tradition alive.

meringue cookies

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of baking that required multiple egg yolks, but no whites. Yesterday, I had half a dozen egg whites quietly cooling their heels in the refrigerator. It was time to make meringue. Because it’s holiday time, I decided to make this batch of meringue into cookies, instead of a large shell. This way, they can be added to cookie plates, be taken to potlucks and, with the addition of a dollop of fruit preserves and a bit of whipped cream, be turned into a quick dinner party dessert. I do love flexible food.

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment or Silpats. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 6 egg whites (at room temperature, please) with 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. Beat on medium high until they have at least doubled in volume and are nice and frothy.

Then add 1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar in half-cup batches, making sure that the first scoop is fully incorporated before adding the next. Finally, when the mixture is looking stiff and glossy, beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

meringue, preserves, whipped cream

Then portion the meringue out onto the cookie sheet. I use a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop but you could also spoon all the meringue into a pastry bag or ziploc with a corner cut off. I am particularly unskilled with pastry bag coordination, so I choose to scoop. Bake at 250 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Shorter baking times will leave you with cookies that are still tender in the center, long times will yield a crisper cookie.

Should you want to add flavors beyond vanilla to your meringue cookies, you can add 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, some tiny chocolate chips, or 1/4 cup crushed candy canes. There’s a lot that can be done with this simple cookie, though I like them plain best.

meringues in a jar

If you’re free tonight from 7:30-8:30 pm eastern time and want to talk about cookies, make sure to hop on Hungry Tigress’s Facebook page. She’s hosting a virtual party where we’ll be talking holiday baking, canning and more. She also has a bunch of terrific preserving books that she’ll be giving away, so it’s worth stopping by!

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Holiday Giving: Apple Cider Syrup

apple cider syrup

When I was growing up, the Bybee-Howell House on Sauvie Island (just outside of Portland, Oregon) held a Wintering In festival each fall. For me, the highlight of this event was the fact that they gathered all the apples from the adjacent orchard and pressed them into cider in front of our eyes. I’ve had a deep love for the flavor of fresh cider ever since.

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to capture that fresh apple cider flavor in a preserve*. The idea of an apple cider syrup seemed particularly appealing, because it would be so flexible. I even tried to make it about a month ago, but cooked it right up to the set point and ended up with jelly instead. It was tasty, but not what I was going for.

apple cider

This weekend I tried again. I picked up a gallon of fresh cider from my local farmers market, brought it home and poured it into a big pot. I added three cinnamon sticks and brought it to a boil. Once it was bubbling madly, I lowered the temperature a bit and let the cider cook down while I cleaned the kitchen and started a batch of soup.

It simmered for about an hour, until it was reduced by a little more than half. At that point, I removed the cinnamon sticks and added two cups of granulated white sugar. I stirred the sugar in until it was dissolved and continued to cook for another ten minutes or so. At this point, I began to monitor the temperature of the cider. Once it reached 218 degrees, the syrup was done (remember, the set point of jelly is 220 degrees, so if you want something to remain a syrup, you have to stop short of that temperature).


Once it was done, I was left with a generous 6 cups of syrup. I funneled it into an assortment of prepared jars and processed them in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Now, you may be asking yourself, what does one do with several pints of apple cider syrup? My favorite way to use it is as a base for a quick mug of warm cider. Simply spoon some of the syrup (I like three tablespoons worth, but your tastes may vary) into the bottom of a heatproof mug and top with boiling water. It’s a great treat on a cold winter night.

You can also use it as a pancake syrup, which is a very nice way to go. If you find it a little too thin, just add a small amount of cornstarch to thicken just before serving (don’t add cornstarch prior to canning, it doesn’t hold up). I don’t mind it the way it is, but again, tastes vary.

It would also be good drizzled over cake that needs a bit of moisture or stirred into hot cereal. I haven’t tried it yet, but I also imagine it would be very good in a warm brandy drink. Just a thought.

How would you use an apple cider syrup?

*There’s a mulled cider jelly in my cookbook that’s pretty darn good, but of course, I can’t share that one with you quite yet.

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