Simple Canning – Jam or Jelly

I love home made jams and jellies, but the process can look pretty daunting. I’ve simplified it so you don’t have 10 pots going at the same time. You do need to be careful – because if your jam isn’t cooked right or properly sealed, it can spoil and be unsafe to eat.

Fortunately, it’s not rocket science. At least, it’s not quite rocket science. Okay, in my kitchen it’s not even in the same neighborhood as rocket science. Still, it’s worth being careful…

Here’s what you’ll need:

a big pot for the jam or jelly
a big pot for a water bath
a small pan for lids
jars, lids and rims
Tongs for lifting the jars in and out of the water (Optional but they make for fewer burned fingers)
a wide mouth funnel for filling jars
baking pan

Method:

1. Fill a big pot 2/3 full of water, and set it on to boil to use as a “water bath.” Start a teakettle at the same time so you can add water as needed.

2. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Wash jars in hot soapy water and rinse, but do not dry. Place them upside down in a baking pan and place in the oven. Bake 20 minutes. Turn oven off and remove only when you’re ready to fill them. Be careful – they will be pretty hot.

3. Bring water to boil in the little sauce pan. Once boiling, add the lids. Remove from heat and keep there until you need them. Some people use a magnetic thingy, which I may invest in. For now, I just dump out the water when I’m ready to use them.

4. Make the jam or jelly according to the recipe.

5. Position funnel over empty jar and fill, stopping 1/2″ from the top. Carefully wipe the glass tops of the jars with a damp towel and put the lids on. Put the bands on, but don’t completely tighten.

6. Place the jars in the water bath and top up with boiling water until they’re completely covered. Bring the water back to a boil, then turn down and let them cook for at least 10 minutes. (This is call processing.)

7. Remove from the water bath onto a clean dish towel, and let cool for several hours or overnight.

8. Check the lids after the jam has cooled to be sure the centers are firmly down. Tighten the bands and label the jams.

If the lids are loose or they bobble up and down, they aren’t sealed. Just remove the lids, wipe down the glass again, wash the lids and replace them and the loosely tightened rims. Process them for another 10 minutes, or just keep those jars in the refrigerator.

That’s it. It’s actually pretty easy!

Apple & Pumpkin Muffins

I made these muffins over the weekend to redeem myself from a very disappointing batch of peach muffins I’d made earlier in the week. (My earlier muffins were underbaked, not quite sweet enough and just a bit too moist. Eww.)

These however, were sublime – spicy and fruity with just the right amount of sweetness. The recipe is from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe with a few changes.

I discovered years ago that if you’re baking apples into bread, cake or muffins, you don’t really need to peel them. You can just grate them with a coarse box grater and they blend in beautifully. (Yes, I’m that lazy!)

You can use either a premixed pumpkin spice mix or Mel has kindly provided a blend that I actually like better as all the ingredients are fresher.

INGREDIENTS
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour 
1 cup sugar 
1 tsp baking soda
 1/4 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp baking powder 
1 cup canned pumpkin 
1/2 cup butter, melted 
2 large eggs, lightly beaten 
1 large apple, grated (no need to peel – I had a Gala apple so that’s what I used.)

3 tablespoons sugar
4 tsp pumpkin pie spice, separated OR make your own mix with:
2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp cloves, mixed  

INSTRUCTIONS
Combine flour, sugar, soda salt and 1 Tbp spice mix in a large bowl. Combine pumpkin, butter, and eggs in another bowl and add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in grated apple and fill muffin tins two-thirds full.

Blend the 3 Tbsp sugar and the final teaspon of spice mix and sprinkle heavily over muffins.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Let cool and serve. (Or take your chances with hot, yet delicious muffins!)

Chicken and Veggie Greek-style Sheet Pan Wraps

Another great recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.  I made a few tweaks of my own, but what I love about this recipe is that it uses all the produce that is so good right now.  My garden is bursting with tomatoes, peppers and zucchini and this is a great way to use them.

It’s also crazy quick – you could start marinating the chicken and make the Tzatziki sauce mid-afternoon and then the whole supper can come together in 20 minutes.

We always have frozen naan in the house, so I made it with naan.  But flatbread would be good, too.

This would also be great with shrimp or for a vegetarian version, try using sliced mushrooms instead of chicken. Just be sure to bake the mushrooms long enough so they’re tender, since they take a little longer to cook.

Chicken:
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp garlic powder, or 1 tsp crushed garlic
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into thin slices

Vegetables:
2 bell peppers (any color), cored and sliced thinly
1 medium zucchini, sliced into strips (no need to peel)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Tzatziki:
1 cup grated cucumber, squeezed and drained
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar is fine, too.)
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

Naan

Toppings:
Thinly sliced red onions
Diced cucumbers
Chopped tomatoes
Romaine lettuce, quartered and cut into thin ribbons

INSTRUCTIONS

Mix the marinade in a medium bowl and add chicken. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Make the tzatziki sauce in another small bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Lightly grease 2 half sheet pans. Remove chicken pieces from the bowl and place on one sheet pan.

Toss bell peppers and zucchini in the marinade for a few minutes and spread in a thin layer on a second sheet pan. Discard leftover marinade.  Lightly salt and pepper veggies.

Bake for 6 minutes, and rotate pans. (Drain excess liquid from the chicken pan, if any.) Bake another 6-8 minutes until chicken is done and peppers are fork tender.

Warm the naan in the oven for a couple of minutes. I removed the chicken to a plate and reused the chicken sheet pan.

Serve the chicken and veggies on naan with the Tzatziki sauce and other toppings. It’s also fun to make these at the table.

So good!!!

Vanna’s Nam Van – Coconut Milk & Fruit Dessert

Our dear friend Vanna is the most amazing cook.  Literally everything she makes is the best I’ve ever eaten – no matter what she’s cooking!

Last night she was in town and made supper for all of us, including one of my favorite desserts – Nam Van, and she shared the recipe with me.

Nam Van is a popular dessert in Southeast Asia, and it’s a fruity, coconut milky dessert that’s unlike anything you’ll ever try. More liquid than a pudding, it’s refreshing and not overly sweet. The green jelly make it a pretty light green color, too.

We are lucky to have a great Asian Market close by, so we were able to pick up all the components, but you can always order these items online as well.  All the fruit and coconut milk was Arroy-D, and the green jelly is Chin Chin brand.

Next time I’ll photograph it before it’s all gone!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup palm sugar (or 1/3 cup brown sugar)
1/2 cup water

1 can lychees in syrup  (save lychee syrup)
1 can longans in syrup
1 can rambutans in syrup
1 can toddy palm seeds
1 can jackfruit in syrup

3 cups of coconut milk (We used Arroy-D cartons.)
2 cups ice
2 cans Green Jelly (We got Chin Chin brand)

1 cup fresh cantaloupe chunks
1 cup fresh muskmelon chunks

Make a simple syrup with palm sugar and water, by heating them in a pan until it comes to the boil and the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

Open all the cans of fruit. Drain the syrup and rinse all the fruit.  Be sure to save the lychee syrup – you’ll add it back in later!

Palm seeds are oddly slick and sticky at the same time, but add a wonderful chewy texture. Don’t freak out – just put them in a colander and rinse them really well.

Place all rinsed, canned fruit into a large bowl.

Add the coconut milk, lychee syrup and about half the simple syrup. Stir the fruit gently until well mixed. Add ice and stir more until the mixture is a little chilled.Stir very gently and taste – adding more of the simple syrup as needed.

Shake the jelly out of the can, and cut it into 1/2″ cubes.  Cut melons into chunks and add both to the coconut fruit mixture, again stirring very, very gently.

Refrigerate at least a couple of hours.

To serve, add a little crushed ice to a bowl or cup and fill with fruit and coconut mixture. The ice helps keep it cool.

You could probably save time by refrigerating the cans and carton of coconut milk overnight so they’re cold to start with.  Still add ice to the mix and to the cup – this lightens the milk a bit.

Low Country Shrimp & Sausage “Boil” (It’s Baked!)

I can’t really remember where I found this version of the classic Southern recipe. I had jotted down the ingredients on a piece of paper that rattled around in my purse for weeks.  But I finally made it, and it was crazy good and so easy.

Rather than boiling you roast everything in the oven.

Ingredients

1 lb. baby red potatoes, halved
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper

1 lb. shrimp peeled and tails removed
1 lb. smoked sausage, cut into 1″ pieces
4 ears of sweet corn, shucked and cut into three inch pieces
1 bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces (not traditional but I love peppers)
1 1/2 Tbsp Old Bay Seasoning

6 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp garlic powder
lemon wedges

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Place potatoes in a big bowl and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, until they’re quite soft when you poke them with a fork.

In the same large bowl, toss shrimp, sausage, corn, pepper and Old Bay Seasoning until everything is nicely coated. Add to baking dish. (I used a rubber spatula to get every last drop out!)

It will be pretty crowded, but that’s totally fine. Just spread things out a bit, and bake another 12 – 15 minutes, until the pepper is a little softened and the shrimp looks done.

Stir garlic powder into melted butter and drizzle over the whole pan. Serve with wedges of lemon.

So quick, easy and delicious. I’m going to try other vegetables – perhaps zucchini or eggplant? Everything tastes wonderful in this dish.

Note:  I looked up a recipe for Old Bay Seasoning (Food.com has a pretty highly rated one) but it uses a million ingredients, and makes an awful lot.  But if you really want to make your own, here is the link: https://www.food.com/recipe/old-bay-seasoning-copycat-189447

Baked Crunchy Shrimp Tacos

Another great recipe from MelsKitchenCafe.com that I’ve been wanting to try. All the stars aligned last night and Maya and I made it for supper. It was amazingly good and really very easy. Kumy gave it his highest praise, “you should make this for guests.” Agreed and hopefully someday soon…

I checked the garden for ripe tomatoes(surely by now, right?)but alas – nothing but green tomatoes, so I substituted a can of Rotel tomatoes for the diced tomatoes. If you do use Rotel, go easy on the jalapeno.

INGREDIENTS

Tomato Sauce Mixture:
1 can Rotel tomatoes or 2 medium tomatoes, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 Tbsp ketchup or BBQ sauce
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press or 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
Pinch black pepper

1 tsp olive oil
1 pound large shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), peeled, deveined, tails removed and cut in half, and well-drained

2 Tbsp olive oil
10 6-inch corn or flour tortillas
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese (I ended up using part Swiss and part
Cheddar.)

Toppings:
shredded romaine lettuce
diced avocado
lime wedges
chopped fresh cilantro
salsa or hot sauce
sour cream (optional)  

Turn oven to 450 degrees.

Mix the tomato mixture in a medium bowl. Heat a frying pan and add the teaspoon of oil. Let it get nice and hot and then add the tomato mixture. Cook for 5-6 minutes until tomatoes are softening.

Add shrimp and cook another two minutes. Remove from heat. (The shrimp will finish cooking in the oven.)

Meanwhile, spread oil generously on two baking sheets and place tortillas on top. Sprinkle with cheese. Spoon a couple spoonfuls of the shrimp mixture in a row down the middle of each tortilla. Bake for 7-10 minutes one sheet at a time.

Remove from baking sheet and fold gently in half. Fill with toppings as desired.

So good – the tortilla is warm and crunchy with the coolness of the lettuce and cilantro!

Note:  Mel didn’t add sour cream, but I love a little sour cream with a big squeeze of lime in it, so we did.

The Best 4th of July Banana Cream Pie

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Perfect Banana for Banana Cream Pie by Lucian Alexe on unsplash

It’s been so long since I’ve made banana cream pie, and Kumy really loves it, so I thought it would be fun to make for the 4th of July.  We had plenty of bananas at just the right stage of ripeness and everything else we needed.

I used the oil pie crust recipe from my mom’s old Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook from the 1960s, and a version of Melskitchencafe’s filling.  (Mel uses 5 yolks but I make custard all the time using the whole egg, so I just did that.)  You do have to temper the eggs so they don’t get grainy in the milk, but that’s stupid easy.  You just heat the milk, sugar, salt and cornstarch, and then slowly beat some into the beaten eggs.  That’s it, that’s tempering.  Stupid easy, right?

We watched socially-distanced fireworks at the neighbors and came home to pie.  Kumy said he was too full – he’d made lassi (Pakistani yoghurt beverage) and drunk 2 big glasses, but even he had to get a piece for himself after taking a bite of mine.

Next morning, he had it again for breakfast.  Banana Cream Pie for breakfast – he’s got his priorities straight.  I was planning to take a photograph of a piece, but alas – that ship has sailed…

Anyway, here is the recipe.  If you don’t want to make a regular crust you can always purchase a ready-made crust or make a graham cracker crust.

Pie Crust:

1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3-4 Tbsp cold water

With a fork, stir together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Pour in vegetable oil and mix gently until the mix is quite crumbly.

Dribble in 3 Tbsp of cold water and gently start mixing it in. The dough will start to stick together and start to form large lumps. If it isn’t, add the rest of the water.

Lay out a section of waxed paper that is twice as wide as it is tall and fold it in half. Unfold it and dump the pie dough onto the bottom layer. Form a flattish 6″ circle. You don’t want to beat it up – just pull all the loosish bits together. Fold the top over and begin to roll it out in a rough circle.

Keep your pie pan handy, and keep rolling until your circle is roughly 1/2″ – 1″ bigger than the pie pan. Unpeel the top layer of wax paper and slide your hand under the wax paper and pie crust. Let the crust sort of fold over your hand, and place it on 1/2 of the pie pan. Gently unroll the part that’s hanging over your hand onto the other side of the pie pan, so the whole pan is covered.  Unpeel the waxed paper, and gently press the crust all around the bottom. Fold the crust up and under the edge of itself, cutting off any extra-long bits and adding them anywhere your crust isn’t quite long enough. Then using the old two fingers and thumb method, crimp the edge of the crust all around. Here is a link to a youtube video of how to do it:  crimping a pie crust.

Prick with a fork all over the bottom and bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.  No chilling – and no baking beans or whatever.  Just pop it in the oven and bake it. You want the edges of the crust to just begin to darken. You’ll also smell a cooked flour aroma.

Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Add filling.  (If you’re using the crust for a filling that needs to bake, obviously fill it first and follow the baking times for baking a filled pie.)

Pie Filling:

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup half ‘n half
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten in a small bowl
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp butter
3 medium bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ slices just before filling.

Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium sauce pan. Add half ‘n half and milk and stir well. Bring to a low simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly. Keep the beaten eggs close by.

Once the mixture has thickened and is bubbling, remove it from the heat. Start to pour into the eggs, whisking furiously as you do. Once you’ve added a cup or so of the milk mixture, you can go ahead and add all the eggs and milk back into the pan. Put back on the heat, and bring back to a gentle simmer. Once you start to see some movement, continue cooking and whisking for another 60 seconds. Remove from heat and add the vanilla and butter.

Leave to cool.

To assemble your pie, pour a thin layer of filling onto the pie crust, then add banana slices. Top with remaining pie filling and put into the fridge to cool.

Whipped Topping:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Just before serving, whisk heavy whipping cream, vanilla and powdered sugar until it’s nice and fluffy. (Don’t overmix – you’ll end up with butter.) Pour over top of filling and serve.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

sticky-toffy-pudding-cakeI’ve always wondered why British people are so obsessed with Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake.  After all, I’ve had pudding cakes and they were fine.  Usually awfully sweet, but nothing worthy of hero worship.  Then one day, I decided to try making it.

My friend Donna and her husband Bob had come over for  dinner and brought a gorgeous carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and caramel sauce, which is the only way I will ever be able to eat it again.

There was some caramel sauce left over and I thought – Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake!  Fortunately Kumy loves dried dates and figs so we always have dates in the pantry.

I found a recipe on Mel’sKitchenCafe.com, made it and the world tilted on its axis. (Mel’s recipes are truly the best!)  The cake is tender, moist and not too sweet.  Kumy loved it plain.  I couldn’t resist the caramel sauce and cream on top.

Sooo good!   I understand now, British people.  I understand.

Ingredients for Cake

6 ounces dates, pitted and finely chopped (they’ll be quite sticky – but just power on through them!)
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Ingredients for Caramel Sauce   (I haven’t made this yet, but I’m sure it’s good.)

3/4 cup brown sugar
8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Pinch of kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Additional heavy whipping cream for drizzling (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8×8 or 9×9 pan.  (I used a small rectangular pan.)

For the cake, in a medium bowl, stir together the dates, boiling water, baking soda and vanilla extract. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.

In a separate medium bowl, cream together the granulated sugar and butter with an electric mixer (handheld or stand mixer) until well-combined and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
Add the eggs and mix.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and mix until just combined. Fold in the dates and the water they soaked in until combined; don’t overmix.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake for 22-25 minutes. Cake is done when the top springs back from a touch.  Let cool.

Make the sauce by adding the brown sugar, butter, cream, and salt in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves and the sauce is smooth, 5-7 minutes.

Serve cake warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of caramel sauce and a smaller drizzle of heavy whipping cream.  Your world will never be the same again.

Salade Nicoise

salade-nicoiseA really refreshing change from warm (albeit) comforting casseroles, try this lovely French salad, with its elements in heaps, rather than tossed together.

It’s basically an herby vinaigrette on a very hearty salad – with potatoes, tomatoes, tuna and hard-boiled eggs, meant to be served warm or at room temperature. I love it because it’s also a very forgiving recipe. As long as you’ve got some form of potato, tomato, lettuce and green beans it will be delicious!

It was perfect for a summer evening’s meal, after a good brisk walk.

INGREDIENTS

Vinaigrette

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh Thai basil (could use any basil or 2 tsp dried basil)
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
3/4 tsp kosher Salt and
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Salad

1 can albacore tun in olive oil, removed and lightly drained
5 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 lb small young red potatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 container butter lettuce (or any nice lettuce), torn into bite-sized pieces
15 or so grape tomatoes, cut in half, or 3 small ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
1/2 yellow or small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound green beans, stems broken off
1/4 cup olives (I used Castelvetrano but Nicoise olives are also recommended.)
2 Tbsp capers, drained

Make vinaigrette: In a jar, place the oil, vinegar, garlic powder, herbs, mustard and fish sauce if using. Cover with a lid and shake until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Marinate onion slices in a couple spoons of the vinaigrette in a small bowl.

Bring a pot of water to boil, add 1 Tbsp of salt and add the potatoes and eggs. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork soft. Remove the potatoes, immediately cut in half and toss in a bowl with a little more vinaigrette.

Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook 3-5 minutes. Remove and rinse with cold water. Peel and quarter the hard-boiled eggs.

On each plate, lay a bed of lettuce. Heap some of the tuna in the middle. Sprinkle the onions and tomatoes around the tuna.

Arrange the potatoes and green beans in mounds at the edge of the lettuce.
Arrange hard boiled eggs and olives in mounds on the lettuce bed.

Drizzle everything with the remaining vinaigrette and sprinkle with capers if using.

Can also be served without tuna as a vegetarian option.

Ali’s Bourbon Milk Punch

bourbon-maple-milk-punch

Ali just made these classic New Orleans cocktails for us and they were incredibly good, even dangerously good, especially with his addition of a little maple syrup.

How have I never had these before?  I think this may just be my favorite cocktail of all time!

Ingredients

1/4 cup bourbon
1/2 cup milk or 5 Tbsp milk and 3 Tbsp 1/2 & 1/2
2/3 oz maple syrup and 1/3 oz sugar
(in a 1 oz. jigger, fill  2/3 with maple syrup and 1/3 with sugar)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
crushed ice
freshly grated nutmeg

Add everything but the crushed ice into a cocktail shaker and stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Add a couple big spoonfuls of crushed ice, cover and shake vigorously.

Fill a glass halfway full of ice, and strain cocktail mixture over. Grate fresh nutmeg on top and enjoy. Makes two servings. (Or one big serving for Mom.)

The scent of the nutmeg combined with the light, sweet deliciousness of the milk punch is seriously good. Don’t wait – make these soon!