Cookbooks: The Perfect Blend by Tess Masters

The third book by Tess Masters, The Perfect Blend combines colorful produce, health-promoting boosters, and your countertop blender to create appealing, flavorful food.

I first met Tess Masters back in early 2013, when we were both guests on a Driscoll’s berries press trip. She was already The Blender Girl by then, but was just starting on her cookbook writing path. In the years since that first meeting, she’s written and published three cookbooks, the third of which came out just last week.

Called The Perfect Blend, this beautifully photographed book features 100 vegan and gluten-free recipes that all make good use of your countertop blender (don’t worry, it’s not just a book of soups and smoothies. There’s plenty here to crunch and chew).

I always like inviting a couple of vegetable-focused books into my library at the start of the new year. I never hew particularly close to any one eating modality, but I always appreciate being reminded that there is a rainbow of produce out there and that there are so many ways to make it interesting and delicious.

I’ve tucked nearly half a pad of sticky notes into this book by now, marking things like Kale Caesar (page 13), Cheezy Broccoli Soup (page 45), Sweet Potato & Macadamia Magic (page 97), and Thai Slaw (page 129). I do love a creamy soup made hearty and lasting with the addition of soaked and pureed nuts (I sometimes make this cauliflower soup and replace the cheese with cashew creme. So good!).

I also appreciate the chapter dedicated to promoting probiotics. Tess includes a salad dressed with a vinaigrette that includes fermented tofu, and offers her recipe for a finely shredded ferment that includes cabbage, leeks, carrots, apples, and parsley. I plan on picking up the necessary ingredients today and giving it a try.

My bottom line with this book is that it has inspired me to lever myself out of my regularly traveled cooking ruts and has me inviting more vegetables, seeds, and nuts into my kitchen. I’m looking forward to bringing a handful of the recipes to life. If you’re looking for a book to do something similar for you, I highly suggest you page through it next time you’re in a book store!

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Giveaway: Smooth Sided and Mini Jars from Ball Canning

Ponder your goals for the 2017 canning season and enter to win new storage and canning jars from Ball Canning!

Already today, we’ve talked a little bit about some of the canning and preserving we’re going to be doing together in the coming year (have you signed up for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge yet?). Now, let’s talk in more detail about how we’re going to do it.

It takes thought and preparation to expand skill set and I find that there’s no better time to do a little planning for learning and growth than at the very start of fresh new year. Whether you’re a goal setter or a resolution maker, now is the time to start lining up our intentions.

Here are a few questions to start with as you dream up what you want to get out of your food preservation practice this year and how you want to shape the Mastery Challenge to work for you.

How does my family currently eat? Try starting with some small changes that will allow you to incorporate more homemade foods into your current habits and patterns.

What’s something I buy regularly from the store? If you find yourself picking up barbecue sauce or strawberry jam, consider setting a goal of making enough to get you through the year!

Is there something that scares me about food preservation? What can you do to release those fears?

What brings me joy in the kitchen? Not every goal has to be about pushing forward. Sometimes it’s enough to make time and space simply to do the things you already love.

How can I make my food preservation habit flow better? Sometimes all you need to do it put your gear in a more accessible part of your kitchen. Or perhaps you need to keep an eye out for a different canning pot. Knowing what you need is so much of the battle!

What do I want my kitchen life to look like this time next year? Sometimes the best way to set a goal is to look at where you want to end up and then plot a course that gets you there (or at least, that gets you closer).

Now, most food preservation goals will, at some point, arrive at the topic of jars. And it just happens that our friends at Ball Canning have recently added some new jars to their product line. In the spirit of helping a few Food in Jars readers further their food preservation goals, I’m giving away some of these new, lovely jars.

Three winners will each get a set of the new Ball Mini Storage Jars (these sweet little jars hold 4 ounces and sport 1-piece lids), a case of the new Ball Smooth-Sided Regular Mouth Pints, and a case of the Ball Smooth-Sided Regular Mouth Quarts.

Use the widget to enter!

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The Food in Jars Mastery Challenge

Join the Food in Jars community for a year-long food preservation mastery challenge. Each month brings a different skill on which to focus and explore!

Happy New Year, friends! And welcome to the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge!

Back in 2010, the blogger we all knew as Tigress hosted a year-long canning challenge known as the Can Jam. Each month, she’d announce a new category of ingredients and we’d all head out and make a preserve featuring that particular food. It was fun to be pushed to try new things and I so loved the sense of community that the Can Jam created.

There have been other challenges in more recent years (Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Charcutepalooza is one such memorable project) and after much pondering, I’ve decided to host one in 2017.

This challenge will be skill-based. Each month, we’ll all focus on a different pickling or preserving skill, with the intention that we end this calendar year with a greater level of expertise and comfort with a wide range of food preservation techniques than when we started.

At the beginning of each month, I’ll publish a blog post sharing tips on how to be successful with that skill and then will ask you to go forth and try it out. We’ll be talking in greater depth about each challenge in the Food in Jars Community on Facebook and I’ll be popping in regularly to answer questions.

If you have a blog or an Instagram account, I invite you to post the results of your project by the 25th of the month so that I can include it in a round-up (I’ll provide a monthly Google Forms link that you can use to submit your name and URL). However, you don’t have to have any kind of blog or social presence to participate. This challenge is about learning and sharing above all else.

Calendar of Preserving Skills
January – Marmalade
February – Salt Preserving
March – Jelly OR Shrubs
April – Quick Pickles
May – Cold Pack Preserving
June – Jam
July – Hot Pack Preserving
August – Low Temperature Pasteurization
September – Fruit Butter
October – Drying and Dehydration OR Pressure Canning
November – Fermentation
December – Fruit Pastes

If you’d like to join the challenge, please use the form below to sign up for the email list. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll try to be quick with my replies. Oh, and if you post to Instagram or tweet about the challenge, please use the hashtag #fijchallenge

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Apple Cinnamon Caramel, Goat Cheese, and a Cocktail

Every so often, my friend Tenaya and I get together and build a cheese board. She brings the cheeses and I come bearing preserves and other treats. A few weeks ago, we had a little mid-afternoon party for two in which we paired a log of downy goat cheese with apple cinnamon caramel, cranberry caramel, and crunchy caramel popcorn.

The cranberry caramel is essentially a version of this strawberry caramel I made for Simple Bites many moons ago (8 ounces of cranberries cooked with 1 1/2 cups of water, and then pureed until very smooth). The only change I made was to cook the caramelizing sugar to 285F rather than 250F (for a deeper caramel flavor).

I made a batch of this oven toasted caramel corn to go along with the cheese and preserves. In our minds, this array would be a fun spread for New Year’s Eve, and that’s the perfect night for a sweet, crunchy treat.

Tenaya and her brother Andre have had two cocktail-centric books come out this year (The New Cocktail Hour and Turner Classic Movies: Movie Night Menus) and so she whirred up a creamy, nutmeg flecked cocktail. Make sure to check out Tenaya’s post about our board.

However you celebrate the arrival of the New Year, I hope it’s a very happy turn of the year!

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Jammy Oatmeal Pecan Bar Cookies

I’m at my sister’s house in Austin for the holiday. I’ve done a bunch of cooking and baking since I’ve been here and one of the break-out hits was this pan of oatmeal pecan bar cookies. The recipe is based on one that my friend and former intern Olivia turned me on to. It started life as a thumbprint and I’ve translated it to work as 13 x 9 inch bar.

These not-too-sweet cookies are a good afternoon snack and the presence of nuts and oatmeal makes them even feel appropriate for breakfast. We’ve slowly been chiseling away at the pan, taking a sliver or two when the mood strikes.

May your holidays be merry!

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Babka for Now, Sticky Buns for Later + OXO Glass Bakeware

Use this sweet, yeasted dough to make a batch of apricot walnut babka for now, and a batch of sticky buns that can be par-baked and popped into the freezer for another day. It’s perfect do-ahead baking for the upcoming holiday.

Back in November, I got an email from OXO looking for bloggers to participate in a campaign designed to feature their sturdy glass bakeware. The idea was to create something that could be made ahead, frozen, and then either baked off or reheated later. Their glassware is particularly good for these fridge or freezer to oven situations, because it’s made from sturdy resistant borosilicate glass.

They sent out a Glass 9″ Pie Plate, a Glass 1.6 Qt Loaf Baking Dish, one SteeL Pie Server, a nifty Double Pastry Wheel, and 1″ Pastry Brush. I spent a little time pondering what I might make that would fit the assignment, make good use of these tools, and would also allow for a liberal application of jam.

What I came up with was a single dough that allowed me to both have a relatively immediate treat, as well as one to freeze and finish baking on another day. I’m calling this concept babka for now, sticky buns for later. Because who wouldn’t want that?

I started by searching out recipes for a sweet, yeast-risen dough. After a bit of internet searching and book scanning, I found what I was looking for in Tammy Donroe Inman’s fabulous book Wintersweet (it’s a favorite of mine for holiday baking).

I made Tammy’s dough the day before I wanted to bake. After its first rise, I punched it down, tucked it into a glass storage container, and popped it into the fridge (a handy trick any time you need to make yeasted doughs work for your schedule). The next day, I divided it up into two balls and began to turn one into babka. I opted for a filling of apricot jam and toasted walnuts.

Once the dough was rolled out into a large rectangle (about 18 x 12 inches), I brushed it with melted butter, spread out a half pint of apricot jam, and sprinkled the whole things with those toasted and chopped walnuts.

As far as I can tell, the thing that makes a babka a babka is that it’s a slightly sweet, buttery, yeasted dought that’s filled, rolled, sliced and twisted. And so that’s what I did. Starting with the short side, I carefully rolled until I had a fat tube of filled dough. Then, taking a sharp knife, I cut the roll down the middle, taking care to leave the top inch (or so) intact.

After slicing the dough, I took a deep, steadying breath, firmly grasped the two ends and twisted them outward in opposite directions. There was some filling loss, but not enough to be particularly worrisome.

Once sliced and twisted, it was simply a matter of nestling the dough in the loaf pan and letting it rise in a warm place before baking.

While the babka took its time rising, I turned my attention to that second ball of dough. Much like the babka, it needed to be rolled out into a generous rectangle. I brushed the dough with melted butter. However, instead of applying jam, I dusted the dough with cinnamon and sugar (using OXO’s tea ball to ensure even distribution) and used the rest of the walnuts.

I rolled up the dough (starting with the long side, rather than the short one) and sliced it into rounds. I set them into the pie plate and let them rise (at this point, the babka was ready for the oven, since I actually ate dinner in between working with the two sets of dough).

When the babka was done (it should be around 200 degrees F inside when finished. If the exposed jam seems to be getting too done, perch a sheet of foil on top of the pan) and the sticky buns had risen, I popped that pan into the oven. However, instead of cooking them to completion like the babka, I only baked them for 12 minutes. This is just long enough to get a little color and set their shape. Once they are cool, pop the pan into a big ziptop bag and nestle it into the freezer.

The night before you want to eat your sticky buns (perhaps when the babka is all gone?), pull the pan out of the freezer and make room for it in the fridge so that they can defrost slowly. The next morning, heat the oven to 350 degrees and slide in your pan of sticky buns. They’ll only need a quick 15 minutes in the oven and they’ll be ready to eat.

Brush the finished sticky buns with a little melted butter to help them stay soft, and then drizzle them with a little glaze made from powdered sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and a dusting of cinnamon.

As we head into the frenzy of this week, wouldn’t it be nice to have a loaf of babka on the counter and a pan of sticky buns ready to go in the freezer?

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