Gift in a Jar: Rosemary Maple-Glazed Nuts

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Here’s another simple little edible gift, that can easily be packaged up in jars and distributed to your friends and family for the holidays. This recipe is inspired by a sweet and spicy nut mix that my friend AnnElise was once famous for in our circle of acquaintances. It was her favorite thing to bring to parties and potlucks, and I would always make sure to station myself by the bowl as soon as she walked in the door. Then AnnElise up and moved to Ohio and I lost my spiced nut source. After suffering through months of cravings, I pulled myself together and made my own.

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This particular glazed nut recipe isn’t too sweet, but I think balances the forces of sweet, spicy and herb-y (from the rosemary) nicely. I can’t stop eating it and that’s always a good sign.

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It’s a quick little thing to mix up (I managed to make it on Wednesday night, after getting home from work right around 9:30 p.m.) and the active time is less than ten minutes. In one pot, melt together butter, maple syrup, a tiny scoop of cayenne and a couple palmfuls of dried rosemary.

In another larger pot (Dutch ovens work nicely here) or skillet, toast the raw nuts until they develop deep brown speckles (turn them constantly and watch like a hawk, nuts burn fast). When the nuts are sufficiently toasted, pour the butter/maple syrup mixture over top and toss to coat. Then spread the nuts out on silpat or parchment lined, rimmed cookie sheet and roast at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

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The minute you take the nuts out of the oven, sprinkle a couple of pinches of crunchy salt (kosher, sea or flaky Maldon work best) over the top, so that it adheres. Once the nuts are cool, pack into jars or bags. Careful that you don’t nab a handful or two each time you pass the pan, as soon you’ll realize that you don’t have enough for all the gifts you’d planned. Not that I did anything like that. Nope. Not me.

Official recipe after the jump.

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A Gift Guide for Canners (+ Giveaway)

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I’ve been talking a lot lately about what you preservers out there can put in jars and gift to your friends and loved ones. However, I think that you all also deserve a few treats under the tree or menorah*. Here’s are a few of my favorite canning helpers, from cookbooks, to the best floursack towels out there, to my very favorite 2-quart measuring cup. My thought is that you can send a link to this post to a generous spouse, parent or best friend with a note that says, “I’d like number 2, please!”

Additionally, as my way of saying thank you to all of you who keep coming back, leaving comments and generally making the process of writing this blog a joy, I’m going to be giving away one of those 2-quart measuring cups. Mine’s an older model, but I find that I use this vessel more than any other bowl in my kitchen. This giveaway will be open for entry until Saturday, December 12th at 11:59 p.m. Just leave a comment to enter (one entry per person, winner to be picked via the random number generator).

Starting from the top left corner…

1. Putting Up: A Seasonal Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition This is one of the best canning books out there and is great for beginners, as it contains all the instruction you need to get started canning.

2. A Stainless Steel Jar Funnel. I like the metal ones better than plastic. Looks better and is sturdier in the long run.

3. Weck Canning Jars. These European jars are beautiful and functional. Extra thoughtful gift givers will also pick up a set of plastic snap-on lids, which turns these into the best leftover vessels I know.

4. A Set of Graduated Measuring Scoops. I prefer using a 1-cup measure like the one pictured when filling jars with hot jam. It gives greater control than a ladle does, and is the exact right amount for a half pint jar. The rest of the measuring cups are useful too.

5. Floursack Towels. Canning can be messy business so it’s always good to have a stack of clean towels on hand. I like these white floursack towels, as they are absorbent, fairly lintless and can be bleached clean when you’re all done cooking.

6. Ball Utensil Kit. This is an easy way to get a new canner started, or to help an experienced preserver refresh their collection of tools (that jar lifter takes a beating after years of use).

7. My Beloved 2-Quart Measuring Cup. I think I’ve said enough about this item. I just love it.

8. A Good, Sharp Knife. I’m a big fan of my Global, but any sturdy, sharp knife will do. When you’re processing a bushel or two of fruit, you want to use the best tool for the job.

9. A Roomy Stock Pot. Instead of buying a pot designed expressly for canning, invest in a good stock pot. That way, it can also work as your pasta or soup pot. But slip a rack in the bottom and voila, it’s a canning pot.

10. Wide Mouth Half-Pint Jars. I adore these squat, easy to fill jars. For some reason, they’ve become impossible to find in stores (I often order a couple dozen and keep them stashed under my couch, for when they’re the only jar that will do).

What are your favorite canning tools? What would you like to see under the tree?

*Yes, I do know that Hanukkah gifts don’t go under the menorah.

Jar Storage Tip: Rotate Your Grains

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For my entire life, my mom has kept an array of grains, seeds and nuts in a mix-and-match assortment of jars that had once held marinara sauce, peanut butter and fruit juices. One of the most useful things she taught me about storing dry goods in jars (other than always make sure your jar is 100% dry before filling) is to rotate the contents.

This means that when you bring a fresh bag of popcorn home from the bulk section, take the time to pour what remains in the jar out into a bowl, so that the freshest product ends up at the bottom of the jar and the oldest is at the top. This way it gets used in order of age. Here are a few pictures to show you exactly what I’m talking about.

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Empty the remaining contents of your popcorn jar into a bowl for temporary storage.

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Then empty the fresh popcorn into the jar. You might notice that it’s appearing that I have more popcorn than is going to fit in this half gallon jar.

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Top the jar off with the old popcorn. A wide-mouth funnel is a real help here, as it keeps your popcorn contained (unpopped kernels escape so easily).

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The popcorn jar is filled. But what’s that? There’s still some corn left in the bowl.

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That ends up in an overflow jar. I’ll make a point of using this one up first, since it holds entirely older popping corn.

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See, I even label it as such, to ensure that I remember that it’s the one that should be finished off first. Sharpies are so handy for jar labeling, as they write on the glass smoothly and erase with a bit of rubbing alcohol (I learned that trick in 12th grade biology).

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Gift in a Jar: Homemade Crackers

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Last Saturday, Scott and I did a cooking demo at Foster’s Homewares in Old City Philadelphia. We’ve been doing these for nearly two full years now, a live version of Fork You, our online cooking show. We made a small array of nibbly little appetizers, things that would be perfect to serve at a holiday party or to bring with you to some seasonal potluck. They were also all virtuously cheap.

On the menu was a caramelized onion and thyme jam (served on some baguette toasts), a warm cranberry-orange compote that I poured over a log of goat cheese and some homemade crackers that we used to eat the cranberries and cheese. The results were delicious and those that had braved the snow happily ate up all that we made.

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As I was planning out those recipes, I kept thinking that bringing the homemade cracker recipe to this blog wasn’t an entirely bad idea. You see, as delicious as it is to give someone a jar of homemade jam or chutney for the holidays, sometimes you want to bring balance to the offering with a nice, easy vehicle for your handmade spread. If you’re really feeling generous, you can also include a nice round or wedge of cheese that will pair nicely with the jam (feel free to copy me and get yourself a log of nice, mild chevre. It goes with just about any sweet preserve).

The other thing about homemade crackers is that they impress people to no end. Give them jam and they’re happy, but tell them you made the crackers and their jaws just drop. I took a platter of these crackers to a party on Saturday night and when I told people that they were a product of my kitchen, they were floored. It was as if I had demonstrated an ability to fly that simply required some speedy arm flapping.

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If you have enough spares, feel free to package the crackers in jars for gifting. A wide mouth quart jar of crackers (perhaps with the recipe tucked inside, so that they can replenish the stash when they’re all gone) paired with a jar of homemade spread would be such a treat.

If your holiday gift fund doesn’t stretch to cover another dozen jars, another nice way to package the crackers is to put them in a zip top bag that you then tuck into a small-ish brown paper bag. The plastic bag keeps the air out and the paper one maintains the rustic, homemade look. If you have kids, you can give them the project of decorating the paper bags (prior to putting the crackers in them), so that they’re all colorful and unique.

The recipe for the crackers is after the jump. Enjoy!

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Dark Days: All-local soup

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One of the things that tipped me off to the fact that Scott was the right man for me was when I discovered his nearly endless capacity for consuming leftovers (a couple of weeks ago, when I was down with a cold and wasn’t up for cooking, he ate from the pot of chili I’d made over the weekend for five nights in a row). I know many an individual who can’t stomach the same item two nights in a row and so big braises, soups and stews are out in their households, as it’s nearly impossible to make those items on a scale small enough to satisfy the one-night rule.

I grew up eating leftovers and so never knew that there was another option (my mother was a big fan of making one cooking session last for at least two nights). When I moved out on my own, I’d often make a large-ish batch of a grain salad or bean soup, to eat for at least one meal a day, all week long. It made life easier and kept food costs controlled (I found that a pint jar of soup with an apple or a few Ak-mak crackers makes the perfect workday lunch).

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During the cooler months, I have one soup that I make nearly every other week. Around here we call it ground beef soup, although the vegetables are the stars, not the meat. It can be made in huge quantities (tonight, I filled my seven quart pot), keeps well and Scott and I both happily eats it meal after meal after meal. And this time of the year, all the ingredients are available locally.

The vegetables shift a little depending on what’s in the kitchen, but I always include onions (Fair Food), celery (a chinese variety, from the farmers market), carrots (Fair Food), potatoes (from the farmers market several weeks ago) and tomatoes (home canned in September). In addition, tonight I also used two tiny cabbages (shredded) and a black turnip (both of which were part of my final CSA box), a celeriac bulb (Fair Food), some rosemary from a friend’s community garden plot and a few cloves of garlic (from Seattle, purchased as an edible souvenir and hand-carried home when I was there in August).

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To make this soup, I chop the vegetables (starting with the onions and then moving through the celery, carrots, celeriac, turnip and cabbage) into approximately equal sized cubes, adding them to the pot to saute in a bit of olive oil. Then I add the tomatoes (tonight I used one quart and one pint because I was making such a huge batch), some water (enough to entirely cover the veggies) and the potatoes. Then the rosemary and garlic. Lid on and let it simmer (when I’m not concerned with keeping it entirely local, I will also add some frozen peas at this point. Tonight, in the interest of adhering to the challenge of Dark Days, I skipped them) until the potatoes are tender.

At this point, I have a pot of deeply flavored, totally vegan soup (don’t forget to add salt and pepper to taste prior to serving). In the past, I’ve made this for parties and stopped right here so that all guests can eat. In that case, I’ll create a garnish bar that will include some cheese, browned ground beef or sausage, croutons and toasted nuts (for the vegans who still need protein). However, when I’m making it for the two of us, I brown the ground beef (grass fed from Meadow Run Farms) in a skillet and use a slotted spoon to transfer it from the skillet to the soup pot (to minimize grease transfer). It’s a great way to make a pound of meat stretch to cover nearly a week of meals.

One of the most satisfying things about this soup? Whenever I make it, Scott always turns to me once his bowl is empty, smiles and says, “Mmm! Such delicious soup!”

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Gifts in Jars, Elsewhere

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I have a bad habit of leaving my computer on for days and days at a stretch (although since my two-year-old MacBook stopped going to sleep, I do shut it down more than I once did). Part of the reason that my computer rarely powers down is that I collect canning recipes in the tabs along the top of my browser, sometimes having as many at 15 or 20 open. Right at the moment, I’ve reached critical mass and need to clear out some of those tabs, so I thought I’d share some of the recipes that have recently caught my eye. All would make excellent gifts in jars.

And, two recipes for baked goods that utilize jam (if, like me, you happen to have something of a glut).

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