Recipe: Strawberry Jam

18 Jan

It’s officially winter. Part of me loves winter-I grew up in California, in the uber-temperate Bay Area, and despite what many Bay Area natives will tell you, winter doesn’t really exist there. Yes, it gets colder. Sure, you have to wear a jacket. But until I moved to Boston I never had to buy a winter-specific jacket, never had to fully change my wardrobe (my CA winter wardrobe consisted of summer clothes with the addition of tights, boots, and jackets), and never had to deal with snow.

When I first moved I was wary. I had no idea what kind of jacket to buy. My classmates (most of whom were from the east coast) made fun of me. I didn’t mind. I probably would have made fun of me too. The truth is that I grew to love it. I like snow, and the freezing temperatures, and the excuse to drink warm alcoholic beverages on a cold winter night. I like wool and I like to knit warm hats for me and my friends. I like subsisting on stews and roasted meats, and I like watching the snow fall outside my bedroom window.

That being said, sometimes a respite from the freezing temperatures and the gray weather is necessary. Sometimes it’s nice to create a bit of summer, enjoyable even, even if it’s just you in your kitchen, making jam from frozen strawberries.

Strawberry Jam for Wintertime

1 16 oz bag of whole frozen strawberries

1 C sugar

Skin of 1 tart green apple

1 tsp lemon juice

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Sprinkle of ginger

First you have to let the strawberries defrost a bit, so leave the bag out on the counter for an hour or so. Or, if you’re in a hurry (like me), throw it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until the berries aren’t as hard.

Put the strawberries and the sugar in your pot and just allow them to sit for about 15 minutes. Don’t turn the heat on yet, just coat the berries in the sugar and let them get all sugary.

Mash them with a potato masher. If you don’t have a potato masher, use a fork.

Bring the jam to a boil on a medium heat setting. Boil for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the lemon juice, the cinnamon and ginger, and the apple peel.

The apple peel is a natural source of pectin. The more you learn, right?

Return to a rolling boil and stir until you can’t stir down the boil anymore. It should be really bubbling away. Boil for another two minutes.

Turn off the heat source and check to see if the jam is set by using the back of a frozen spoon. If you look closely at the image above you can see a line drawn in the jam on the back of the spoon. That’s how you know it’s ready.

Ladle into jars.

At this point, you can choose to process it in a water bath if you like, or you can just stick it in the fridge. I chose to just keep it in the fridge. This recipe only make a little bit of jam and I was planning on using it right away. If you WANT to water process it, you need to have the correct canning jars. Finger tighten the rims and process in a water bath-a rolling boil-for about 10 minutes. Remove from the water bath and cool for 24 hours. Check the seals on the jars to make sure they are tight, then store.

And there you have it. Delicious jam for the wintertime; guaranteed to lift your spirits.

❤ stef

 

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Recipe: Gingerbread Caramels

21 Dec

Christmas, oh Christmas.

I’m not religious but Christmas is  my guilty pleasure. I love the holiday season in general-that magical time between Halloween and New Year’s makes me all gooey. It’s probably all of the alcohol and baked goods you’re encouraged to imbibe. (Hey-o!)

Since my fiance joined me on the east coast a year ago, we’ve only gone back home for one holiday a year, which means picking between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last year we went home for Xmas. This year was Tgiving. And so, schmoops and I will be celebrating Christmas with our cat this year. Honestly? I’m really excited about it. I’m making epic Christmas brunch, we’re going to lay around in our pjs, open presents, and maybe go to a movie. Our theatre here has a bar inside of it so, because it’s Christmas, I’ll probably splurge and buy us movie-themed adult beverages to enjoy. You know. Live it up.

The downside of spending Christmas (almost) alone 3,000 miles away from the rest of your family is that Christmas presents begin to pose a problem. Add to that the fact that you’re broke and you’ve been unemployed for 5 months (guilty…) and you see what I’m talking about. This called for creativity. What could I send loved ones that would be inexpensive, easy to mail (to three different countries), and universally well received?

CANDY!

Specifically, caramel. Gingerbread caramel. Thank you, Ms. Martha Stewart.

Gingerbread Caramels

4 cups (2 pints) heavy cream

2 cups light corn syrup

4 cups granulated sugar

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup unsulfured molasses

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

A quick note about the corn syrup-I really didn’t want to use it. I’m a giant hippie deep down inside so I think corn syrup is the devil. Also, my best friend’s little daughter is allergic to it and I wanted her to be able to eat these things. However, at the last minute I got lazy (and I had a random bottle of the stuff) that I wanted to use. If you’re interested in corn syrup substitutions, there are lots of suggestions on the ol’ interwebs. The best ones I found were to make a thick simple syrup  from water and sugar, or to use honey. I think you can also use tapioca syrup and/or agave syrup.

ONWARD.

Prepare your pans. This is what you will be pouring the hot caramel into to cool. The recipe suggests using a 12×17 inch rimmed pan, but I didn’t have one of those so I just used what I did have, and made sure that the sum of their measurements matched. The caramel is crazy sticky, so you have to grease the bottom and sides of all the pans. Then, line the pans with parchment or wax paper, and grease the paper as well. Trust me on this. You want to do it.

Bring the cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and molasses to a boil. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until it reaches 248˚F. The amount of time it takes to do this will vary depending on your altitude and what you put in the caramel. I swear it took me almost an hour. The thing is-it is very important that you reach that 248˚ mark. If you don’t the candy won’t be thick enough and it won’t harden properly.

Boiling boiling.

Once it reaches 248˚, turn off the heat and stir in the spices, the salt, and the vanilla.

Pour the mixture into your prepared pans. Allow to sit undisturbed for 24 hours. This is to make sure the caramel cools completely. Also, I would recommend that you lightly cover the pans with a clean dishcloth. Caramel is sticky. You don’t want any dust or..whatever else getting in it.

The next day, get yourself a cutting board and a knife. I used my pizza cutter, which, incidentally, I have never used to cut a pizza. Grease the cutting surface and your cutting implement. Turn the caramel over onto your prepared surface. You might have to use a knife to loosen the parchment overhang, but if you greased properly this should be easy. Then you’ll have to peel the paper from the back of the caramel.

Cut the caramels into 1″ pieces. I actually used a ruler and traced a light grid onto the caramel before I cut them. You don’t have to do that if you don’t want to, but I found it helpful.

Wrap the individual pieces in wax paper or parchment paper.

Twist the sides to make them look like real candy.

If you’re giving them as gifts, you can put them in fun little cellophane bags. I used a free template to print those stickers, which can be found here.

The whole process was really quite easy, if time consuming. I hand-wrapped over 100 caramels, you guys.

❤ stef

How To: Homemade Coffee Creamer

4 Nov

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve had an undeniable craving for pumpkin spice ANYTHING.

I’m not really a big fan of pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice lattes, or even pumpkin, really, so this is a bit of a surprise for me. I think it has less to do with the “pumpkin” and more to do with the “spice”. I’m a big fan of “spice”. The pumpkin is just an ingredient I can’t get away from.

In the last few weeks, I’ve made pumpkin spice syrup, pumpkin spice pancakes (more on these later…), and the subject of today’s ramblings-pumpkin spice coffee creamer. I found the recipes for homemade coffee creamer on Pinterest (um, how great is Pinterest? You should follow me.) and was crazy excited. There are a bunch of recipes for different flavored creamers up there, but I singled out the pumpkin spice one, of bloody course. I did change it just a bit but the basics are the same. If you want to experiment with making other flavors, definitely check out Deliciously Organic. It seems to me that once you get the general idea, you can make any kind of flavor your little brain can imagine. Yum.

1 C heavy cream

1 C whole milk

3 TB pumpkin puree

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ginger

1/8 tsp clove

1/8 tsp nutmeg

(Quick note here: for the spices, the original recipe calls for 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice. You can use that, or the spices I’ve listed here, or really any combo you like. The most important is cinnamon and I wouldn’t use too much ginger, clove or nutmeg just because they can be kind of strong. Steffany out.)

6 TB maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients, EXCEPT vanilla, on a pot on the stove. Heat, whisking together, until the mix starts to steam. Don’t let it boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in vanilla. Let cool until room temperature. On a hot day, do this in the fridge. No one wants bacteria. Once cool, strain through a fine mesh sieve, pour in a bottle and store in the fridge.

I added more maple syrup to my creamer than the original recipe, but I (personally) still find that I like a tinge bit more sugar in  my coffee. What can I say? I like my coffee super dark and sweet. It’s the best. If you find that the creamer isn’t sweet enough for you, you can always add more maple syrup and shake it into the creamer, or you can just add some extra sugar to your coffee.

Happy morning time!

❤ stef

How To: Creme Fraiche.

30 May

Alrighty. Creme fraiche. So it turns out creme fraiche is ridiculously easy to make. All you need is some heavy cream, culture, and a warm-ish windowsill. Emphasis on the warm-ish windowsill. I made this stuff in early May and Boston was still dealing with some shitty weather, so although I left my jar out for almost two and a half days the creme fraiche did not thicken correctly. I ended up sticking it in the fridge and then leaving it out for again for about an hour when the sun finally showed up, and it thickened almost immediately. Bacteria yay?

It is very fun to make. Very. It doesn’t involve much active process, but you feel triumphant anyway. Like an ass-kicking pioneer woman who is about to blow your bloody MIND.

1 container heavy cream

1 TB buttermilk or 2 TB yogurt – I used yogurt

jar

This picture makes me believe that the cream is ready to conquer the WORLD.

So. Pour all of your cream into a jar and add the buttermilk or yogurt. I used 2TB of greek yogurt. I had read that the cultures in yogurt aren’t as “strong” as the ones in buttermilk so I doubled the recommended amount. The yogurt you use will impart a slight flavor to your finished creme fraiche. For example, I used a tart greek yogurt and my creme fraiche was likewise slightly tart.

Stir in the yogurt/buttermilk and leave it (preferably uncovered, unless you’re worried about bugs) at room temperature for 24-48 hours. Keep in mind that it will continue to thicken slightly once you move it to the fridge.

I left it out longer (2.5 days).  On a warm day I would probably leave it for 12 and then check on it to ensure that it is thickening correctly, but you likely won’t need to leave it out for so long. Mine, even after 2.5 days, was initially very thin. I then left it out in the sun for maybe an hour and it thickened right up.

This is how it looked after 2.5 days.

As you can see, it wasn’t coagulating correctly. It still tasted good, it just didn’t quite have the texture I was after. If you end up with runny creme fraiche, remember that you can always whip it like whipped cream if you wish. I was actually planning on doing that until the sun finally showed up.

You can use the finished product in so many ways, just be sure to use it up in a week-ish. (I’m a little lax with expiration dates…I basically use something until it starts to smell.) (TMI?) Things I made:

Scrambled eggs

Pancakes

Creme fraiche/nutella strawberry dipping sauce (you just swirl the two together).

Enjoy!

❤ stef

How-To: Hard Boiled Eggs

13 Mar

Oh, hard boiled egg. You are a mysterious beast.

I never know when you’ve become successfully hard-boiled. It’s not like I can crack you open to check. Do you like to hide your secrets from me, egg? Hm?

That’s not very neighborly.

Fortunately, I have found a way to DEFEAT you! Muahaha!

The secret lies in bringing the water to a boil then turning off the heat and allowing you to slowly cook in the heated water.

Yummy yum yum.

You can be used in all manner of ways, hard boiled egg. I can turn you into deviled eggs, or egg salad, in meatloaf, plain with salt and pepper, as ramen garnish, with toast for breakfast…the list goes on.

Today I think I’ll turn you into egg salad.

Hooray egg salad!

Hard Boiled Egg/Egg Salad

Cover your eggs with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, then shut off the heat and cover. Let sit for 15 minutes. Rinse with cold water and peel off the shells. You may need to let them sit longer if your eggs are huge or you are hard boiling a very large quantity, but I always let them sit for 15 minutes and they always turn out great.

Egg Salad

Roughly chop up your eggs. Add about 1TB mayo, 1 tsp mustard, 1TB chopped pickle, 1/2-1 tsp assorted herbs (I like dill and thyme), sprinkle of paprika, salt and pepper, teensy bit of pickle or lemon juice, maybe some capers.

Mash about until it looks good. Taste and add salt if you think it needs. I like my egg salad with tomato if I have it, but I didn’t. I ate it with cabbage and some havarti cheese. However you eat it, spread on some bread or crackers and enjoy!

 

❤ stef

The Lazy Blogger: Belgian Beef Stew with Mashed Potatoes

27 Feb

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I haven’t exactly been posting much in my dusty corner of the internets. I’d like to say that it is because I am just so super busy I barely have the time to cook for myself, forget teaching the rest of cyberspace.

But that would be a lie. A dirty, dirty lie.

The truth is, I’m lazy. I’m lazy and I’m really picky about the pictures I take, which usually means that by the time I’m cooking anything it is dark outside and my pictures are crap and I don’t want to post them. So, in recognition of this extreme condition, I’ve decided to start a new series of posts, hereby dubbed “The Lazy Blogger”, until I can come up with a better name. If I ever do.

Posts  titled with the “The Lazy Blogger” will be ones with incomplete pictures, often of only the finished product. Hopefully this will shame me into writing more, and eventually doing this right.

So to kick it off we’ve got a lovely recipe for Belgian beef stew. I made this one night for some friends on Geek Movie Night. Yeah, it’s a thing. We were headed off to see The Green Hornet and I was feeling fancy so I offered to cook. I found this recipe in a giant tome known as “The Complete Meat Cookbook”. I had been given this by a friend as a thank you gift for hosting her bridal shower years ago. I was hesitant about trying this because the authors describe it as having a sort of “sweet and sour” taste (and who wants their stew to taste like Chinese food?) but it turned out to be amazing. Also, I love dark beer so this turned out to be a win-win. Beer in my food and beer in my mouth. Yum.

Like most things I make, I think this is crazy-easy. Yes, there are directions you should probably follow, but you’re essentially just throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot and letting them simmer for a few hours. Nothing easier than that my friend.

Belgian Beef Stew (from The Complete Meat Cookbook)

2 TB olive oil

3 lbs beef chuck, cut into 2-3 in chunks and trimmed of fat (I used beef shoulder london broil and it was amazing. Just make sure you pick something cheap with lots of fat and cartilage).

Salt and pepper

2 lbs onions, halved and thinly sliced

7 carrots, 5 cut into a small dice and 2 cut into large chunks (the dice is added first for flavor, then you add the chunks later in the cooking process).

1/4 lb prosciutto or smoked ham, diced

2 tb chopped garlic

1.5 lbs mushrooms, sliced

1 12 oz bottle of dark beer. I used Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale. Pick something that is dark but not too hoppy.

2 C beef stock

1 tsp dried thyme

3 bay leaves

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Heat the oil over high heat. It helps if you have a dutch oven, but just use the biggest pot you have. You will use the same pot for the whole recipe so you need something pig enough to hold the meat, veggies, and the liquid. Season the meat with salt and pepper and sear it on all sides in the pan, in batches if necessary. You don’t want to crowd the meat or it won’t brown. Remove the meat and set aside.

Put the onions in the pot, cover, and lower the heat to medium. Cook for 10 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the diced carrots (reserve the chunks!), prosciutto, and garlic. Cook and stir for 5-6 minutes, until the onions begin to brown. Add the mushrooms and cook for  1-2 minutes more.

Put the meat back into the pot and add the beer, stock to cover (you might need a tiny bit more or less), thyme, bay leaves, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook at a low simmer for 1.5 hours, or until the meat is fork tender (meaning you can cut it apart with just a fork).

Remove the meat from the pan and set it aside again. Add the carrot chunks and boil until the carrots are tender and the liquid has a syrupy consistency. You don’t want to boil all of the liquid down, though, so you should watch the pot. Lower the heat if necessary, or add more stock. You still want the liquid to be able to cover most of the ingredients, if that makes sense. Discard the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste.

So, to go with my delicious stew, I made mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes are super-easy. I don’t use a recipe I basically just mash them. I will attempt to describe my method below.

Mashed Potatoes

1-2 lbs potatoes

Milk or cream

Butter

Salt and pepper

Garlic if you want

Cheese if you want

Grab your potatoes. I like to use the little yellow ones, but you can use whatever you want really. I use about a pound of potatoes for 3 people, so just go with that and choose how many you think you need. If you want to, peel them. I only do this when I want the mashed potatoes to be very smooth, or when I am using regular russet potatoes. I don’t think the russet potato skins are very good. For the stew I peeled the potatoes. Then, after you’ve decided if you’re going to peel or not, cut the potatoes into chunks. You should get at least 6-8 potato chunks per potato. Put all of the potato chunks into a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Boil until you can put a fork through one of the potato chunks without getting any resistance. This usually takes at least 20-30 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and put back into the pot. Add some milk, butter, and salt and pepper, and mash. I have a potato mashed (one of the hand-held ones) and an immersion blender. Usually I use the potato masher to achieve a chunkier consistency, but I wanted these to be very smooth so I used the immersion blender. You don’t need either of these things. If you have done your job right and the potatoes are cooked through you should be able to mash them with a fork. Anyway, so mash them about until you have hit a consistency you like. Add butter and/or milk if needed. Taste and add salt and pepper, maybe some garlic powder, and/or some cheese. I put all of these things in my stew mashed potatoes.

Then, to serve the stew, put a serving of mashed potatoes in a bowl or plate, make a hollow in the center, and scoop some stew into the hollow. Yummmmm.

 

This was so amazing, you don’t even know. The meat was like meat butter it was so tender. So go forth and make yourself some stew! If you’re in New England you need it, seeing as it won’t stop effing snowing here.

❤ Stef

Recipe: Dulce de Leche

14 Jan

What is dulce de leche, you ask? That is an excellent question. It’s basically caramel, but made from milk and sugar instead of just sugar. Literally translated it means “milk candy”. It’s gotten pretty popular up in the states in the last 10 or so years, but it’s a South American candy. I actually grew up with it, because my mom’s family is from Argentina and they have a dulce de leche recipe that is passed down from oldest child to oldest child on her father’s side of the family. My grandfather, Nono, is the oldest child in his family, and I am the oldest of mine. So when I was around 10 or 12 he taught me how to make dulce de leche.

My brother, sister, cousin and I were in San Diego visiting my grandparents. We were playing in the back yard and my Nono came to get me and bring me inside. I remember being a little annoyed because I wanted to be outside playing, but he brought me into the kitchen and told me that because I was the oldest he was going to teach me how to make his dulce de leche. He told me that his mother had taught him when he had been around my age (at the time) and so it was my turn to learn. I still remember that day, the kitchen tiles against my feet, the cool darkness of the kitchen. I didn’t try making it on my own until years later but that was one of the only afternoons I ever spent learning something from my Nono.

My grandparents used to eat dulce de leche on toast in the mornings. My grandparents ALWAYS eat toast for breakfast-toast with butter, cream cheese, jam, honey, dulce de leche, and sometimes a combination of the above! I always preferred cream cheese and honey, but someone always ate their pan con dulce de leche.

This being my second year as a poor-ass grad student, I wanted to give christmas gifts but could not spend much money. I also didn’t want to give crap gifts. Then I remembered that pretty much everyone in the whole world likes caramel, my friends probably haven’t eaten much dulce de leche in their lives, and gosh darnit it just sounds so exotic. Duuuulce de lechhhhe. Mmmmmmm. Also, when you tell your friends that you spent six hours in front of the stove stirring they are very impressed and think you are the best friend ever. Which I am.

Dulce de Leche

Ok, now, here’s the thing. I can’t actually give you my family recipe. Well, I could but I’ve been instructed not to. Seriously. So I’m giving you Alton Brown’s instead. Rest assured, though, I have checked it for accuracy and it is basically the same, but this will only make you 1 jar and mine made 8. Also, I’m taking out some of his totally unnecessary steps. Like, straining the finished product. Um, Alton? You really don’t need to do that.

1 quart whole milk

12 ounces sugar

1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped out

1/2 tsp baking soda

Mix everything together. Grab your vanilla bean, split it lengthwise and scrape all of the seeds into the milk sugar mix, then throw the vanilla pod in there as well.

In the beginning.

Now. Keep the heat at about medium low so that you achieve a very gentle simmer, and stir constantly for the next 2 hours. You really have to stir frequently otherwise the bottom of the caramel will burn. At some point take out the vanilla bean pod.

I'm sorry this picture is horrible.

This is about what the dulce de leche should look like-a medium brown caramel color. This picture is terrible because it was late and I had no natural light. The batch I made was huge so I was stirring for six hours, not two.

Allow to cool and then pour into jars.

You can serve dulce de leche:

on toast

on ice cream

as a cookie topping (alfajores, anyone???)

on pretzels (enthusiastically suggested to me by a friend the day after I gave him his jar).

on apples (pears, whatever)

with PIE

as a cake filling

etc

etc

etc

or you can just eat it from the jar.

❤ stef