Month: January 2014

Chicken Water-what-i?

It’s soup week at school. One of the things I’ve always loved about making soup is that it’s low maintenance to prepare. At least, my way it is.  You get a good flavor base going with some onions and garlic, maybe throw in some celery and carrots, some sort of protein, stock or water and some sort of seasoning, and then let it all simmer for awhile while you go read a book or take a nap or binge-watch Supernatural on Netflix. (Maybe that last one is just me.)

The soups we made this week, or rather, the recipes we used to make the soups we made this week, were a lot higher maintenance than what most home cooks are used to. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for all of us. All I know is that I’ve never put this much effort into a soup before. I’ll admit, though, that the efforts were totally worth it.

In honor of soup week, I thought I’d give you all a little peek at one of our recipes from this week. It’s for a soup called Chicken Waterzooi. This is a good recipe for beginning culinary students because it not only builds on material we’ve already learned (stocks and sauces), but it provides some great opportunities to work on knife skills and learn a few new cooking methods.

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Chicken Waterzooi is a funny name for what is essentially a chicken and vegetable soup, but it’s finished with something called a liaison, a mixture of heavy cream and egg yolks in a 2:1 ratio that is added to the soup just before serving to add richness and body. It might sound kinda weird, but it really does bring something special to the party. Waterzooi originates as a Belgian stew, and the funny name comes from the Dutch word “zooien,” which just means, “to boil.” The original stew was made with fish, but this chicken version is more common.

The recipe from our textbook is for one gallon of soup, but I’m going to cut it in half for you, so it will yield two quarts. I’ll warn you about a couple things:

1. This is a long recipe with a lot of steps. If you’re the kind of person who just enjoys reading recipes, you’ll like this one. If you get exhausted halfway through just reading this thing, I won’t blame you if you move on. I’m sort of using this recipe to demonstrate the differences between how we cook as home cooks, and the methods professional chefs use in the kitchen. 

2. This is a one shot only soup, meaning, once you add the liaison, you need to use up all of it at one meal. If you try to reheat it later the eggs will scramble. I’ll also link you to definitions for some of the culinary terms that might not be familiar. The equipment list will show the equipment we used in class, but use what’s available to you.

Equipment:
2 Large soup pots or stock pots, large enough to hold two quarts of liquid
1 frying pan/sautee pan, whatever you call it
Scale that will measure to the ounce (In class we’re taught to measure by weight, but if you want to measure by volume I’ll provide those measurements, too. Just know that the amounts are not exactly the same. Or you can just eyeball it.)
Tongs
Vegetable peeler
Knife and cutting board
Whisk
2 medium sized mixing bowls
Containers for your mise en place 
Measuring spoons
Cheese cloth and twine
Fine mesh strainer

Ingredients:
1 ½ – 2 lbs chicken (include fat, skin, and bones)
2 quarts chicken stock
Vegetables, to be cut into a 1 inch julienne:
     * 2.5 oz (5 T) Carrots
     * 2.5 oz (5 T) Celery
     * 1.5 oz (3 T) Turnips
     * 4 oz (1/2 C) Russet Potatoes
     * 2 oz (4 T) Leeks
3 oz (6 T) All purpose flour
3 oz (6 T) unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
10 oz. heavy cream
Salt
½ tsp white pepper
¼ bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped – save the stems!
6-8 peppercorns
Small bunch (3-4 stems) fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove
Ice and water

Directions:
First, make your sachet d’epices by placing the peppercorns, parsley stems, garlic clove, fresh thyme and bay leaf into the center of a 4 x 4 inch, double layered square of cheesecloth. Tie it into a little purse with the kitchen twine.

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Add the chicken, chicken stock, and sachet to the pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Skim any scum that rises to the top if necessary.

While the chicken cooks, julienne all your vegetables.

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In your second pot, bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil, and add ice and water to your first mixing bowl. Blanch each vegetable separately. After removing from the boiling water, immediately plunge the vegetables into the ice water bath to stop the cooking and lock in the colour. Once the vegetables are cool, drain and transfer to one of your mis en place containers and reserve. Rinse out that 2nd pot right away, because you’ll need it again soon. (I’m trying to help limit the already ridiculous amount of dishes you’re going to have to do after completing this recipe.)

Now it’s time to make the roux, which will help slightly thicken the soup. If you’ve ever made a good sausage gravy, you know the general principle of making a roux. Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat. Once it’s melted, add the flour and whisk it into the butter. Keep whisking for about 4 minutes, until the flour has cooked and your roux has turned a pale golden color. Mine actually came out just a little darker than that and everything was fine so don’t freak out if it gets a little darker than “blonde,” but don’t let it get any darker than what you see here or it will affect the flavour and colour of your final product.

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Once the roux is cooked, pour it into another mis en place container and set aside to cool.

Turn the heat off under your broth. Remove the chicken pieces with your tongs and allow them to cool. Strain the broth into your second pot to remove any floating bits, return to the stove, then whisk the cooled roux into the broth. Make sure the roux is at least room temperature before you add it, because adding hot roux to hot broth is a recipe for lumps. (Science!)

Bring the broth back up to a boil, then reduce the heat to an easy simmer and let it cook for another 40 minutes.  The chicken is probably cooled off enough now for you to pick off all the meat and dice it into ½ inch pieces. Put the chicken into another mis en place container and set aside.

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Add your reserved veggies in during the last 10 minutes or so, to allow them to finish cooking and get tender.

Right after you add the veggies, you can get your liaison together. Just whisk the two egg yolks with the heavy cream in that 2nd mixing bowl until well combined.

Just before you’re ready to serve the soup, you’ll add the liaison. Make sure the broth is just barely simmering. Add a small amount (maybe a cup or so) of the hot broth into the liaison as you whisk. This is called tempering. Basically, you’re trying to get your liaison closer to the temperature of your broth, so that when you add it the eggs don’t scramble.

Once your liaison is tempered, slowly whisk it into the soup. After it’s all in there, you can add the chicken meat and, still at a simmer, bring the soup up to serving temperature. Remember, do not let your soup boil after you’ve added the liaison, or (do I sound like a broken record yet?) the eggs will scramble.

Add a good pinch of salt and the pepper, then taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Serve it up into bowls and garnish with your chopped parsley.

Pour yourself a glass of wine, because you deserve it. Also, loudly declare to your dinner guests that, “She/He who cooks never cleans,” and give them all a meaningful look. Smile inside your head as you picture that sink full of pots and pans and mixing bowls, and then shoot out another meaningful look at your guests, just for good measure, so they understand that your intention is for all of them to clean up your mess after dinner while you enjoy a second glass of wine and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Getting back to my roots

It’s winter, in case ya’ll didn’t know. There’s snow, and there’s sub-zero temperatures and I feel like I’ve had the sniffles since Carter was in office. I know when the weather guys start warning us that the next Snowpocalypse is about to hit, everyone goes for the milk and bread, but I have another suggestion. Steer your cart towards the bins of winter vegetables! There is so much you can do with them… savory or sweet. For instance… this lovely, colorful dish. 

What we have here is all my favourite root veggies, plus an acorn squash, tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and herbs and then roasted. It’s inspired by Bon Appétit’s Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Mint and Pistachio. I was looking for more of a rustic side dish to go with a pork chop, so I skipped the “salad” bit, but I liked the combination of veggies they used. 

Equipment:
Roasting pan or large cookie sheet (that’s what I used)
Tongs or a large spoon
Large mixing bowl
Knife
Cutting Board
Measuring spoons

Ingredients:
2 medium sized yams
3-4 small carrots
2-3 medium parsnips
3-4 golden beets (you could use red beets, too, if you want to shake up this whole orange and yellow thing we’ve got going)
1 acorn squash
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh rosemary
1 tsp fresh sage
2 T olive oil
Salt

Preheat the oven to 425°. 

Chop the herbs finely and set aside.

Peel the yams, carrots and parsnips. Cut them, plus the beets into medium sized chunks. 

Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds.

Then, cut each half into 1/4 inch slices. Slice across the width rather than vertically so you get little moon (ish) shapes. 

Put all the veggies into the mixing bowl, then add your olive oil, herbs, and a healthy pinch of salt. 

Toss to combine, so all the veggies are well coated. Pour them out onto your baking sheet or roasting pan and pop them in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

Easy, right? You can definitely play around with the veggies. If you prefer sweet potatoes to yams, or red potatoes to parsnips, go for it! 

Also, if you don’t have access to or just don’t like the look of the fresh herbs in your grocery store, a blend of dried herbs like this one from Savory would work well, too.

I promise they’re not paying me to recommend them. I just really like their stuff! 

I know all the cold and snow and dreary skies can suck some of the colour out of life, but maybe this easy dish can help put some back, yeah?

My Very First Guest Blog Post!

This is pretty exciting for me. I’ve never had a guest blogger before, but I’m happy to open up the opportunity to anyone who is a proven subject matter expert on a given food topic, goes to a food event and takes some pictures or tries a new recipe and wants to write about it, so if you have any ideas just shoot me a note!

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I won a Denver Eater contest for an invite to a preview of a new SmashBurger opening in the Denver area on January 20th. I really wanted to go, but with homework and other conflicts I had to pass my invite along to my buddy Trevor, who offered to write this wonderful and very thorough guest post. 

Smashburger has locations all over the US, plus a few in Canada and even in Saudi Arabia. 

All opinions are Trevor’s, but I trust his opinions ‘cause he’s one of us food people and he sits right next to me at work so I know he doesn’t eat crap. 🙂

So, without further ado… here’s Trevor’s take on SmashBurger.

This last Monday I was lucky enough to attend the soft opening of the new SmashBurger located off of Alameda and Wadsworth in Denver.  The event was organized to showcase Smash Burger’s selection of burgers, sides, drinks and shakes. The entire demeanor of the whole event was something I did not expect from the soft opening of a chain restaurant.  From the very start it was clear that the company was proud of its menu, and they wanted to show it off to foodies.  

They started off by giving us a brief summary of the restaurant and its conception.  Apparently Smash Burger was a franchise established in 2007 by former McDonalds CCO, Tom Ryan.  It was explained that this guy was the brains behind iconic fast food gems like the McGriddle and the Stuffed Crust Pizza.  He even was responsible for the conception of McDonald’s famous dollar menu.  As the story was told, Tom Ryan really wanted to make a restaurant that sold burgers with premium ingredients, so he founded Smash Burger.  By the look and feel of the place, it seemed like the hybrid model of casual dining seemed to be the main inspiration for SmashBurger.  The interior feels like the inside of a Chipotle or Noodles and Company, just tailor made for a burger joint; and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a Noodles and Company and Chipotle right next door to this place so it fits in.  A really nice feature was that they carried several of New Belgium Brewery’s offerings like Fat Tire, Shift, Ranger and 1554 all served up with a frosted mug.  

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There was nothing wrong with SmashBurger’s modeling though; I find casual dining very comfortable and I was comfortable here as well. Still the SmashBurger representatives insisted that this chain was one of a kind because it was a place where you could pick up lunch to go or bring in a date on a Friday night.  But the point they really drove home was the premium ingredients: Angus beef that was never frozen and ingredients that were found regionally when possible.  I would have to wait a little while to try these premium burgers though, the first thing we had a chance to try were the sides.  

First up was the flash fried carrot sticks and green beans- which was something very odd to find at a burger joint.  These vegetables weren’t battered either; instead they simply were dipped into frying oil and lightly salted.  To be honest they didn’t taste fried, they almost tasted sautéed.  They were slightly flimsy with a firm crunch, which really gave it an aura of freshness.  The biggest problem with these was that they were quite oily.  These vegetables had carried a good amount of grease from the fryer with them to our table. Despite this fact, they did not have too much of an oily taste; the vegetables tasted like the vegetables they were supposed to taste like and it still felt like a healthy alternative to the French fries.  

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The French fries were thinner than many fries you find at other restaurants, very close to shoe string fries.  While they weren’t really unique to SmashBurger, they were thin and crispy. They chose an interesting route in seasoning the fries though.  Instead of simply salting the fries they tossed the fries in garlic, rosemary, and a small amount of olive oil (that explains why it was oily).  It made for a batch of French fries that screams “I’m gourmet!”, but it honestly didn’t grab my attention too much.  

The one side that I happened to like the most was the sweet potato fries.  These were in the same shoe string style as the normal French fries but were seasoned more simply— just salt.  I can’t say that its anything you can’t get anywhere else, but these were the first sweet potato fries I’ve had that were this thin and crispy and I highly recommend them.  

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Alright, now that we got those three sides out of the way, its time to get to the SmashBurgers burgers.  At this point it was further explained to us that SmashBurger makes its burgers by taking balls of the Angus ground Beef and literally smashing them down with a spatula on a hot buttered grill.  Knowing that many of us would question the juiciness of the patties they were quick to explain that this was all done while the patties were ice cold, and that no moisture had escaped during this process.  As they began to show us their burgers it was evident that the patties had indeed been “smashed” because each patty was very thin.  With patties so thin it soon became clear that despite all the talk about “premium beef”, SmashBurger wasn’t about the beef at all.  Instead they were about the flavor combinations that they could throw on top of their beef- that’s what this tasting was about.  Each burger that I would see henceforth was a burger that downplayed the beef, and upsold the toppings.  Toppings are good and fine- but they are meant to compliment the beef.  When I talk about how I like my burgers I often reference a restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut called Lois’ Lunch (self proclaimed birthplace of the hamburger sandwich) where Ketchup and Mustard are outlawed because they mask the hamburger’s flavor.  That’s the emphasis I like on the beef.  SmashBurger takes a different route.  

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Here’s the breakdown:

The Classic Smash: Topped with American cheese, ketchup, “smash sauce”, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, on an egg bun, this burger was standard fair and the taste that took the front row was the “smash sauce”.  It seemed to be a tangier mustard sauce, and upon doing a little research, I found that its generally believed to be a mixture of mustard, relish, lemon juice and mayonnaise.  It was a nice tangy sauce, but it seemed to overwhelm all other tastes of the burger.  The burger also had a noticeable texture: soft. The egg bun was very soft and seemed buttered, and the patty was indeed very juicy- just not that flavorful.  If it weren’t for the crisp lettuce this burger would have been as soft as a twinkie. The smash sauce was a nice flavor though, and it was plenty satisfying. 

BBQ, Bacon & Cheddar Burger: This burger was topped with BBQ sauce, applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and haystack onions on an egg bun. I expected the BBQ sauce to have a kick, but instead it was thinly layered and tasted ketchup-y. The haystack onions were very, very thin fried onions and instead of contributing an onion flavor, they instead just added more of a fatty flavor to the burger (for the record, I’m not completely opposed to this).

The best part of this burger was the Applewood smoked bacon.  I figured the bacon was going to be floppy bacon that you see on most restaurant burgers.  This wasn’t the case.  These strips of bacon were juuuuuust right.  They were crispy and firm but still moist and full of flavor.  Not only did it save this burger from being completely bland, but it saved the burger’s texture from again being too soft.  Upon inquiring about the bacon I found out the reason why this bacon was so awesome.  Apparently they cook fresh applewood smoked bacon every single morning on the griddle in preparation for the day. 

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Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger: As you might expect, the big flavor on this burger is truffle. It features truffle mayo, sautéed baby portabella mushrooms and aged swiss cheese on an egg bun. The truffle mayo is intense.  If you don’t like truffles, or anything truffle flavored, then this may not be for you.  I myself am a fan of the truffle flavor and this did not fail to deliver.  The baby portabellas are strategically placed to make your mouth feel like those are in fact truffles and not portabellas.  Unfortunately, that truffle flavor was so intense that the aged Swiss kind of got lost. While chewing the burger I had to stop and super activate my taste buds to find it. 

It could’ve been that the truffle mayo was overwhelming all other flavors, or maybe that it was blending perfectly with them in what can only be described as a truffle house party.  Either way the one thing that brought this burger down a notch for me was its texture.  With nothing crispy or firm to give it a good mouth feel, the burger was super soft and genuinely embodied a “melt in your mouth” sensation, which was something I was not accustomed to having with a burger.  

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Green Chile Burger: Each SmashBurger builds “Regional Burgers” for their respective state, doing lots of research to find special flavors that will resonate with each state’s tastes. Well, Tom Ryan has got my number because he made a Green Chile burger for Colorado.  This burger is topped with grilled green chiles, pepper jack cheddar, and mayonnaise all on a chipotle bun.  This thing was awesome.  It had bold flavor and it truly captured the essence of green chiles.  It was spicy, gooey and cheesy and it was the first burger that made me not mind the fact that I couldn’t taste the beef patty.  The chipotle bun had jalapenos baked in and the green chiles were well grilled, but still crisp and firm.  The texture still suffered, and it was almost too gooey, but I didn’t mind because this burger actually succeeded in its flavor quest.  

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The Green Chile burger would be the last burger we would sample from the menu.  From that point on we were served the lighter, healthier option from SmashBurger’s menu.

Spicy Veggie Black Bean Burger: This patty was topped with pepper jack cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, onion, spicy chipotle mayo, and was served on a multi grain bun.  I’m not much of a veggie burger person and I’d have to say that this one didn’t really change my mind.  The patty tasted like refried beans, and it had the same texture.  The slop of black beans oozed out of the side of the bun with every bite.  This thing was impossible to keep together and it was better suited for a tortilla or taco shell. Unless you have no other options due to dietary restrictions, I strongly recommend staying away from this one.  

On the brighter side, SmashBurger offers two healthy option chicken sandwiches that were actually pretty good.  Each sandwich offered lean white chicken meat that was sliced as thin as the smashed burger patties. In the case of these chicken sandwiches, this really worked out well.  The chicken breasts were juicy and had just enough seasoning grilled on each side to be quite flavorful.

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Classic Chicken:  This sandwich, topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, red onion and mayo on a multigrain bun, was filling, tasty, and truly healthy feeling.  Almost every burger on the menu is going to get your hands greasy, like really really greasy.  I think I went through a napkin per burger during my visit.  Finally this was a sandwich that left my hands clean and it felt fresh while digesting.  For a healthy alternative, I recommend this chicken sandwich.  It truly has a great balance of taste and healthiness, and unlike all the burgers, it had really good texture.  

Avocado Club Chicken: The second of the chicken sandwiches attempts to assassinate the health value of the Classic Chicken by adding a whole bunch of fat on top.  The Avocado Club Chicken is topped with fresh avocado, applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, ranch dressing and mayo on a multi-grain bun.  Honestly I thought this sandwich had great flavor that still tasted fresh and healthy, but they overdid it with its sauces.  The combination of mayo and ranch was just too much. One or the other would make this a much more appealing sandwich.  

To top off my Smashtastic adventure we were offered a couple of malted Haagen-Dazs milkshakes.  The first shake we sampled was the Oreo Milkshake.  It was pretty much what you expect, though maybe a little soupy.  Many of the Oreo chunks were too big to be sucked up the straw and the rest just tasted like melted ice cream.  The Salted Caramel milkshake was quite the opposite— it tasted like ice cold salted caramel in a cup.  It was malty deliciousness that perfectly captured the flavor it was going for and I would visit SmashBurger solely for this.  

Tom Ryan has pretty lofty aspirations of making SmashBurger a premium burger shop. I wouldn’t consider these to be premium burgers, but he did manage to make some unique and tasty burger flavors.  The Truffle Mushroom Swiss and the Colorado Grilled Green Chile burgers are definitely worth going back for, and my gripes about the other burgers aren’t anything a little customization can fix.  You can mix and match any of the toppings, including a fried egg, and come up with your own burger.  Heck you can even make a salad topped with hamburger, chicken or that black bean junk.  If you want a burger that isn’t quite premium, but isn’t quite fast food, then I think you’ll find SmashBurger a great stop.  

You guys… I’m cracking up over here!

I cannot help myself with the bad jokes. 

Though crackers were not on my “make them yourself” list for this year, when I saw this recipe from thekitchn.com, I instantly added them. I don’t eat a lot of crackers, but this recipe was so easy I can see whipping up a quick batch of these for a party or to bring to a party or other things where you share food that are party-like in nature. (Or if you really like crackers just make them for yourself and pour some wine and eat all the damn crackers. I don’t judge.)

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You can click the link for the recipe. The recipe lists out equipment for you and everything, just like I do. Nice, yes? I don’t have a rolling pin, so I just used a can of pears. No, really. Anything round with flat sides works!

I’ll walk you through the basic steps so you can see how things looked, and a few little hints and whatnot..

The dry ingredients are pretty straightforward: flour, sugar and salt. The wet ingredients are olive oil and water. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of salt, so to add a little something different I used 1 tsp regular sea salt and 1 tsp smoked sea salt. I think you could get creative about adding other flavors, too, if you wanted.

Once you add the liquid to the dry ingredients, everything comes together pretty fast. At first, it kinda looks like a shaggy mess…

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But after I dumped it out on the (floured) counter and smooshed it together a little, it was easier to work with. The recipe says this is a no knead dough, which is true, but you will need to stick your hands in there and bring it all together. However, the nice thing about this dough is that it’s not sticky at all, thanks to the olive oil. You won’t be picking scraps of dough off your hands or your counter top.

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The instructions say to divide the dough in half and just work with half at a time. I didn’t really want a huge batch of crackers, so I just wrapped the 2nd half up and stuck it in the freezer for another time.

As I mentioned, I used a can of pears in lieu of a rolling pin. It was a little harder that way, but not ridiculous. I was still able to get the dough pretty thin. If you’re in the same rolling pin-less predicament, just remember to rub the sides of whatever replacement tool you use with a little flour so nothing sticks to it. Regardless of what you’re using, you’ll want to roll from the center of the dough outward toward the edges. The dough in the middle is thicker, so following that method helps redistribute it evenly all the way to the edges.

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Once you have your dough rolled out, a pizza cutter works nicely to cut the dough into crackers. Don’t worry about making perfect crackers. Just keep them all generally the same size. Remember, these are homemade, and it’s ok if they look like it. 

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The original recipe provides a suggestion for how you top these crackers, but you could use just about anything. Keep it simple with some sea salt and/or cracked pepper, or pull out your favourite seasoning blend and use that. I used Za’Atar spice, which includes sesame seeds, sumac, cumin, thyme, oregano and marjoram in it. 

The instructions also tell you to prick each cracker with a fork. Don’t skip this step or your crackers will all puff up on you and will likely burn on top.

That 12 minutes in the oven goes by fast, and with the higher oven temp (450°) you probably want to stay close to the kitchen. A few of mine burned anyway, but that’s pretty par for the course for me and anything baking related. Most of them are fine, and they taste really good!

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The entire process, from start to finish, took about 45 minutes, so this isn’t a labor intensive recipe at all. If I was a regular cracker eater, I can see making up a batch of these once a week without it becoming a pain in the butt. 

This is a recipe you can really customize to your own tastes, so give it a shot and have fun!

This is my jam!

Sorry. Bad pun.
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As you might have guessed, I’m making jam this week. I put my jam making skills up for auction for charity last October. The winning bidders received six months of Jordan’s Jam of the Month Club, which really didn’t even exist until I made it up for that auction. We’re in our third month, and it’s been a lot of fun finding new jams to share. 

This month’s jam is my little riff on blueberry jam. I added some bramble vinegar that I brought back from Scotland as well as ground tellicherry pepper. Just a couple of notes before I walk you through my recipe:

1. This was totally an experiment. I had an overall sense that it would taste good, but I was really making things up as I went along. 

2. I am not an expert jam maker. I read about generally how to make and can jam from the interwebs a couple of years ago, and then I just went for it. Every single time is a learning process, and I’m still not really very good at determining how much jam I’ll end up with. This recipe made 3 1/2 pints. If you went with half pint jars, this would yield 7 half pints.

If you are someone who makes jam at the expert level, you might feel like parts of my process don’t jive with how you do it. I’m ok with that, but if you have any tips to share on how I can make this less of a production, please feel free to email me at GonnaCookThat@gmail.com. I’m always open to learning how to do things better.

Ingredients:
4 pints fresh blueberries, washed and de-stemmed
3 T bramble vinegar (you could use any fruit based vinegar, or even a young balsamic)
1 C granulated sugar
2 T light agave nectar
3/4 tsp coarse ground tellicherry pepper
2 1/2 C water
3 T pectin
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Equipment:
1 large pot
Wooden spoon
Ladle
Colander (for rinsing/draining the blueberries)
Canning supplies, if you’re going to can your jam (I use a water bath method, but I don’t use a canning rack):
  * Jar lifter
  * Magnetic canning lid wand
  * Canning funnel
  * Sterilized canning jars and lids (you pick the size)
Measuring cups and spoons

1. Add the blueberries, sugar, agave, vinegar, and water to the pot. Bring to a boil. You’ll start to see foamy stuff start to rise to the top. Skim off as much as you can. I find it’s easier to do this while it’s boiling, but try to work quickly.

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2. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring often. 

3. After 20 minutes, the berries will have burst open and the liquid (now a purpley colour) will have started to reduce. Add the ground pepper, stir it in well, and let the jam simmer for another 15 minutes or so, or until the liquid has reduced by about 1/3.

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4. Mix in the vanilla. You won’t get a really prominent vanilla flavor. I just found it rounded out the taste of the final product.

5. Bring the jam back to a boil and stir in the pectin. Allow the jam to boil hard for about one minute. You should see the liquid start to thicken. Turn the heat off after one minute.

CAUTION: At this stage, hot jam is seriously like lava. It will spit at you, and it’s really effing hot. You’ll want to wear an apron or an old shirt you don’t care about, and be careful when you’re stirring because if you get a big blob of it on you it will probably cause a pretty nasty burn. 

If you want to check to make sure the jam is going to set up to the consistency you want, put a metal spoon into a glass of ice water for a few minutes. Scoop up about half a spoon’s worth of jam with the cold spoon and let it cool on the spoon to room temperature. If it’s thick enough for you, you can proceed with whatever storage method you’re going to use. If not, bring the jam back to a boil and add another tablespoon of pectin. For this jam, I kept the consistency a bit loose. This isn’t the kind of thing I’d use for a PB&J, but it’d be fabulous on waffles or pancakes, or even served with a roasted pork or some lamb chops.

Once the jam is ready, you can either put it all into a container in the fridge, or pour it into jars for canning. The Ball Canning site has some really great tips on how this process works and the basics of home canning. I keep it bookmarked and go back to it every time I can anything, just to make sure I’m doing it safely. 

Once you get the hang of the basic process, it’s actually pretty fun to experiment with different combinations of flavours. Each season will bring it’s own local crops of fruit to your area, and turning them into jam is a great way to capture all that fruit at its best so you can enjoy it all year long.