Delayed squash consumption

December 23rd, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

It may be almost Christmas, but the presence of our October CSA boxes is still being felt around the house. We diligently worked our way through a bag of multiplier onions, although I had begun to suspect it was refilling itself until Dave finally polished it off a few weeks ago. The pile of storage garlic was also with us until early December, but I hadn’t entirely realized it was gone because of all the little bits of garlic skin I keep finding in the corners of the pantry.

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I suspect that all of the squash might have disappeared sooner if Dave had not started storing them on top of the fridge, but that Autumn Crown that you see there on the right continues its watch over the kitchen. With his extra 10 inches, Dave is naturally privy to a world of shelves and surfaces that I need a stool to access. And if something doesn’t regularly fall into my normal line of sight, I tend to just forget that it even exists. Hence the delay in squash consumption. At least six times in the past two months I have noticed the squash pile and announced to Dave or the cat something like “Oooo, squash! We are definitely eating that tomorrow,” only to became distracted by some other foodstuff in the fridge the next day. That was until the end of semester slog hit anyways, at which point my regular distraction became ordering take-out Chinese and filling myself to bursting with deep-fried squid.

I first made this delightfully simple recipe a few weeks ago with kobacha (that one up there on the left in fact), and when I finally do decide to polish off the lone remaining squash, I’ll probably make it again. Roasting squash imparts a deep, rich flavour on the flesh. The glaze doesn’t overpower, but it adds a little something extra that keeps drawing me back to the kitchen for more. In fact, we ate so much in one sitting that the dish became more of a main than a side. Slices flew off the pan so fast that I barely managed a picture of the stragglers.

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I think pretty much any squash you like would work well with the salty sweet tang of the soy, although the results will noticeably vary. That’s the best thing about squash, really. I was repeatedly amazed by the differences in flavour and texture across the square varieties we received over the fall. Not like all those carrots, which I will admit I have come to believe were being intentionally deceitful, hiding that same ol’ carrot flavour under rich, colourful skins. I think you can trust in the mottled pinks, blues, oranges or greens of a good squash.

SOY AND GINGER GLAZED SQUASH

1 small squash, like kaboacha or sugar pumpkin

4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey (sub with 1 tsp molasses to make vegan)
1/2 inch cube fresh ginger, finely grated
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

Preheat your oven to 400F degrees. Cut your squash in half length-wise, and scrape out all the seeds with a spoon. Cut into 1/2-inch wide quarter circles. You can also peel the slices now if desired – I usually just leave the peel on because I find it easier to remove as I eat the cooked squash, but I realize that’s not for everyone.

Blend together the soy sauce, lemon juice, honey, ginger and pepper, adjusting to your taste. Slowly drizzle in the olive and sesame oils, whisking as you go.

In a bowl, toss the the squash pieces with about 2/3 of the soy mixture until coated, and then arrange the squash tightly on a cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the squash is soft and browned. About halfway through brush the pieces with the remaining soy liquid, flip them, and brush the other side.

Serves 4-6 as a side

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A little help from some lemon and spices

November 18th, 2012

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This week at the Ubyssey I am sharing 5 hot boozy beverages to combat the cold weather. Even without the booze, warm drinks are the perfect accompaniment to sitting next to a roaring fire in living room with my feet up against the toasty, metal fireplace surround. Before writing this article, my go to beverage had long been a hot coffee with Baileys – perfect for lazy sunday mornings (like today!) or getting me through a painfully long condo meeting. But now I think I may be a convert to the gingered apple cider, although the hot toddy is pretty great too. Sure, they both require slightly more effort than lazily angling a bottle into a mug of hot coffee, but that little bit of effort goes a long way.

If you’re in need of a way to fight off the chills, or maybe you’re looking for something special to serve to guests this holiday season, then follow that link and check out my suggestions. Or, let yourself be inspired by your own favorite flavours and devise something entirely new. With a little ingenuity, and maybe a little help from some lemon and spices, pretty much any hot drink can be a suitable vehicle for a little liquid courage.

A bottomless layer of carrots

November 15th, 2012site-map § 0 comments § permalink

The UBC Farm did a great job keeping our CSA box varied over the course of the entire spring and summer. There was kale in almost every box, and until the weather turned too frosty there were always salad greens as well, but the varieties were always different. If I came home with arugula two weeks in a row, it was only because I had been delighted to find it in the ‘Swap Box’ and had agonized over the decision to trade something else in just so that I could enjoy it again. For the most part, the contents of any two boxes were never the same.

In theory, this was also the case for the bottomless layer of carrots that lined our box for most of September and October, thanks to the bumper crop that was still being harvested up until a week ago. The carrots came in such a wide variety of deep, rich colors – golds, purples, reds, and of course oranges – that it was easy at first to trick my brain into believing it was encountering some form of novelty. Beautiful carrots, but they pretty much all tasted the same. This season my goal was to use every single foodstuff in our box without letting anything go to waste, but after a couple of weeks the never ending carrots nearly broke me. Nearly. By the time they let up, I had pretty much used them all. . . if we ignore the very small handful of stragglers (only 2!) that were pushed to the very back of the crisper and forgotten.

I can’t say a lot of my carrot experiments were all that exciting, but this soups stands out in my memory. It came about sometime early in our multi-week carrot experience, before we resorted to just plain ol’ roasting. The fennel harvest had just begun and we had received a massive bulb with lovely, bushy fronds still attached. Fennel is a cool weather plant, and it grows well year round in many places. You can almost always find it in the supermarket, but if you’re lucky and in the right location you may also find it at your local farmer’s market this time of year.

This is a very simple soup, and a breeze to put together. What I like most is the chunkiness, which is a nice change from a more typical smooth and creamy style.

CHUNKY CARROT AND FENNEL SOUP
This recipe was adapted from Heidi Swanson and the New York Times. Most people only use the fennel bulb, but in fact the whole plant is edible. If your stalks fairly tender, you can slice them up thinly and throw them in as well. I followed Heidi’s suggestion to add some protein and topped my soup with a poached egg. I am a sucker for a soft egg yolk on top of almost anything, and it works especially well with the licoricey fennel.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 pounds carrot, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
1 medium fennel bulb and some stalks, thinly sliced; fronds chopped and reserved
3 cloves garlic, chopped
6-8 cups vegetable or chicken stock

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan cheese, freshly grated

eggs, 1 per person

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed soup pot. Add the fennel and sautee until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook until they just start to soften, about 5 to 8 minutes, and then toss in the garlic and cook for a minute. Pour in enough broth to cover the veggies and simmer, covered, until the carrots are fully cooked, about 20-25 minutes.

When the soup is just about 5 minutes to completion, poach or fry an egg to medium soft for each person that you’re serving. The egg turns out best when its freshly cooked and the yolk is still soft, so try to time everything so that the egg finishes just as you’re seasoning your soup.

Remove from heat and add the lemon juice and zest, as well as the salt and pepper, adjusting each to taste. Serve topped with the freshly made egg, and garnish with a heavy sprinkle of parmesan cheese and fennel fronds.

Serves 4

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Six recipes to make the best of UBC Farm’s seasonal produce

September 25th, 2012participate § 0 comments § permalink

If you’ve happened to pursue my short, but still growing, archives anytime recently you will have noticed the distinct lack of seasonal fall recipes. At the surface, this paints a pretty shameful picture for a food blogger. If I were in your place, dear reader, I would admonish me for staying stuck in the summer and failing to embrace all the delicious gourds and roots and opportunities for roasting, soups and more(!) that they represent.

Photo Kai Jacobson/The Ubyssey
But hold that tisking finger, at least for today (you may yet need it in the future). The reality is that I’ve been cooking up a storm over here, the main focus of which has been developing some simple, easy seasonal recipes aimed at students. These recipes were published today in an article over at the Ubyssey. Please check it out here:Six recipes to make the best of ubc farm seasonal produce!

My aim with this article was encourage students take advantage of the fantastic produce at UBC Farm – the same place I get most of my veggies from , which I’ll admit I’m always going on about – and to take the time to cook some healthy meals for themselves. The dishes themselves are pretty familiar autumn fare. The challenge was exploring methods different from how I would typically approach them, which would be more appropriate for students – namely, faster and using few tools. It was challenging, but also a lot of fun. Most importantly, the experience reminded me that even though I really enjoy taking a more involved approach to my cooking,it’s OK to take shortcuts and use the microwave sometimes. Who needs stove top oatmeal when you can sleep an extra 15 minutes?

I feigned ignorance and brought the cookies anyway

September 7th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

“Yikes… it’s chilly today.” “Blergh, it’s so crowded on campus.” “Ack! it’s 8pm and it’s already dark!” These are just a small sampling of the continuous little realizations that have been popping into my head during this, the first week of September. And let us not forget “YIKES, Where the hell did August go?!” That one thought in particular has been pestering me most of all.

It’s a good question though. Reflecting on it reminds me to appreciate that my august was truly packed to the brim with great experiences: I tag-team hosted my first garden party with my mother, where I spent much of the night in the kitchen ensuring a constant flow of pizzas and cocktails for our 15 hungry guests; I harvested vegetables and enjoyed many lunches at the farm; I visited with friends, and said goodbye to one embarking on a big adventure; I rode my bike to work every week, conquering my fear of the 8th avenue hill in the process; I ate and drank new and inspiring foodstuffs. And that’s just to name a few.

With all that excitement, I found myself making the same few recipes again and again and again. Not that this is a bad thing, it’s just what I do when I’m busy or I’ve recently fallen in love with something new. First there was pizza, and then a heck of a lot of potato salad, and then finally these cookies.

The precursor to this particular obsession was passed on to me by a friend sometime in mid-July in the midst of a Batman movie marathon. I devoured half a plate of her cookies that night, realizing between bites that I was the closest I had been in a long while to my perfect cookie. Alas. Cocoa nibs, despite the glorious texture that they impart on baked goods, are just too damned expensive to use all the time… and back in July I was thinking that I wanted to make these cookies all. the. time. So I replaced the nibs with espresso, and every subsequent meeting, birthday and beach picnic became yet another opportunity for me to evolve my take on these cookies. I am sure that I have made them at least 5 times in the last 5 weeks.

These are not even a particularly summer-friendly cookie. The things about them that I most adore – the crumbly texture, the pockets of chocolate – lead to a lot of broken, half-melted cookies when you’re sitting out in the sun during a long afternoon potluck in the park. But even though they weren’t always pretty, each batch disappeared almost as quickly as it came together. Just once did I hesitate to make these cookies, after it briefly occurred to me that perhaps tiny, caffeine-loaded chocolate bombs might not be the most appropriate snack for a little kid’s birthday party. I feigned ignorance and brought them anyways.

Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies
Inspired by David Lebovitz and Clotilde Dusoulier.

These cookies turn out best when I am able to overcome some of my most engrained baking tendencies. First, they want to be very small, which goes against every basic cookie forming instinct I have; despite my best efforts, my spoonfuls tend towards the size of an ice cream scoop rather than a small teaspoon. Second, the cookies stay soft while baking and only firm up once they begin to cool. Trust your timer and don’t be deceived. If they turn out dry, reduce the cooking time by a minute for your next batch.

1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (25 g) Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tbsp finely ground espresso, or to taste
1/2 tsp baking soda
5 ounces (140 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped in small chunks
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (125 g) salted butter (for unsalted butter, add 1/8 tsp salt)
1/2 cup (100 g) dark brown sugar, loosely packed

Preheat your oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Melt half of the chocolate (70g) in a small heat proof bowl over simmering water. Remove from heat and let cool – I usually place it in the fridge for 10 minutes.

In another small bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa and espresso powders, and baking soda.

Cream the butter and brown sugar until just smooth, either by hand or using a mixer.

Gently fold the melted chocolate into the butter mixture by hand, followed by the flour mixture. Stir by hand until just combined, and then stir in the remaining chocolate chunks.

Scoop the dough onto the parchment using a small teaspoon, and flatten with your finger or the back of the spoon. If the dough becomes too warm, place the cookie sheet with the cookies in the fridge for 5 or 10 minutes to firm up. Bake for 10-12 minutes. The cookies will remain soft – let them set on the pan for a few minutes before removing them from the cookie sheet to cool fully.

Makes about 36 little cookies

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Some things are worth the garlic breath

July 27th, 2012

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When I discovered that our CSA box this week contained a head of fresh garlic, it seemed criminal to just chop it up and toss it in a stir-fry. No, no, no, that just wouldn’t do. Not long ago I spent an entire Thursday afternoon at the farm pulling weeds from that never ending sea of garlic you see down below. Having helped to bring that head of garlic in to being, I didn’t want it going into some second rate dish, I wanted it to be the center piece of something wonderful. I wanted to make raw garlic carbonara.

It’s a delightful thing, and I am extremely tempted right now to just give up the recipe and be done with it. Maybe employ a little peer pressure: “Don’t wuss out, come on, everyone one else it trying it. What are you waiting for?! You should be cooking!” But I don’t think that I can in good conscience lure you, my oh-so trusting reader, into this glorious, eye-watering garlic extravaganza without full disclosure of the risks.

You see, raw garlic carbonara was one of the first recipes I learned to make from my very first vegetarian cookbook, The Passionate Vegetarian. Up until that point the vegetarian meals I had begun cooking for myself had seemed bland. I feel differently about vegetarian cooking now, but at the time I was plagued by an internal, nagging mantra of self-questioning: “Where’s the bacon? where’s the meat? where’s the excitement?!” Then I tried this pasta. The raw garlic made for a different kind of spiciness, one that was pungent and totally in my face, and unlike anything I had eaten. I am going to go out on a limb here and claim that my very first bite was a transcendent experience. That’s right, transcendent. It set a whole new bar for the level of flavor I was comfortable with adding to a dish.

And so for 8 months or so, maybe a year, I happily made this pasta almost every other week. Then I met Dave, and things started to get serious, and one night I decided that I would cook him my favorite meal. If he loved it, I thought, it could be our favorite meal together and wouldn’t that just be swell? In my girlish enthusiasm, I added one extra clove, and then another, and by the time I was done I think I must have added the entire head.

Can you see where this is going?

It was an extra spicy, extra special dish, and Dave and I devoured it enthusiastically. Little did I realize the curse I had wrought on our romantic evening. Halitosis… garlic breath!. Probably the worst I have ever, and hopefully will ever, experience. I know now that there’s not much to do but wait it out – wikipedia confirms it. Still, that didn’t stop us digging through my cupboards in search of some magical, date-night saving home remedy: Tooth brushing? it added a minty freshness, but did nothing for the garlic; Parsley? it tasted real nice, but still nothing; Suck on a stainless steel spoon? it didn’t work after the first 5 minutes, and it certainly didn’t work after a second 5 minutes.

Not that it mattered, in the end. Dave and I both really do love garlic. I wish I could say that was the last time that one of my meals went a bit overboard with the allyl methyl sulfide compounds, but I am not very good at learning that sort of lesson. Some things, I’ve decided, are just worth the garlic breath.

And yet, I recognize that it’s not for everyone. Or at least, that it’s probably not the best first choice for impressing someone you hope to kiss soon afterwards. So the other day I set about trying to make this recipe it a bit more accessible. I settled on adding only a couple of cloves of garlic raw, and then I sauteed the rest. The sauteed garlic adds a bit of sweetness and nuttiness, and really rounds out the flavor of the sauce. It still has the spiciness of the raw garlic, just toned way, way back.


Garlic Spaghetti Carbonara
Adapted from the Passionate Vegetarian

If you’re feeling like a solid, garlicky kick in the nose, I wholeheartedly encourage you to skip the sautee and try this recipe with only raw garlic. The strength of raw garlic can be a wee-bit unpredictable, but I think 6 or 7 cloves is usually a good number. Don’t be a hero.

In addition to the garlic, I should note that the egg is also intentionally raw to start. In a pasta alla carbonara like this one, the hot pasta takes a bit of the edge off the raw garlic, and cooks the egg just enough to bring the sauce together into a creamy, glorious mess.

350g / 12oz whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine
2 tsp olive oil
2-3 cups spinach or kale, washed and dried and torn into bite sized pieces (optional)
6 to 7 cloves garlic (or to taste), peeled and chopped into large pieces
1 large egg, raw
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese
1 tbsp fresh basil
1 tbsp fresh parsley
dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a bit of the extra pasta water in the process, and set aside.

If your are sauteing some of the garlic and/or adding greens: Heat a tsp of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, about 3/4 of garlic, and saute until just soft but not yet brown, about 1-2 minutes. Remove the garlic pieces from the pan. Add your greens to the skillet and cook until they’ve just wilted, 1-2 minutes.

Combine garlic(s), eggs, butter, cheese, herbs, a dash of salt and a bit more pepper in a food processor. Pulse to combine until you achieve a thick paste.

Return the pot you used to cook the pasta to the stove and heat the remaining olive oil. Add the cooked pasta and the cooked greens (if using), stir over medium heat for about 2 minutes until the pasta is nice and hot. Remove from heat, and dollop the pasta with the garlic paste. Toss to combine, and if it seems a little dry, drizzle in some of the reserved pasta water. Top with a sprinkle of cheese, serve immediately.

Makes 3 – 4 servings

Pink Rhubarb Gin (& Tonics)

July 18th, 2012site-map § 2 comments § permalink

I have been thinking about the rhubarb syrup in this cocktail recipe a lot over the last few weeks, ever since I first whipped it together in June. Not too sweet, with a wonderful sour tang, it just begged to be drizzled all over my favorite breakfast foods and late night snacks. That was until I drizzled it into a cocktail, and then another and another, until I forgot all about my many other plans. By the time I had perfected this beverage (and tested it once… or twice), not a drop of syrup remained. Oops.

I have been wanting to try my hand at this syrup again since then, but it was only just this week that I managed to get my hands on more rhubarb. I am sure that Dave is hoping I will use it to make him some sort of tasty pie, but he’s just going to have to wait . . . or at the very least harvest more rhubarb from his parent’s backyard.

You might be thinking that such a pretty pink beverage just screams “SUGAR“, but in this instance you’d be wrong. After a taste, no one would mistake this for anything but an adult beverage. It brings together the best aspects of a Gin & Tonic and a Pink Gin, but the rhubarb takes it somewhere entirely new. The syrup on its own is sweet, but not painfully so; mixed together with bitters and tonic you get something bright and refreshing, and surprisingly complex. It’s the sort of flavor that you want to sip and savor carefully, a quality that I look for in a cocktail. It makes me smile.

If liquor isn’t your thing, leave it out. This drink is just as nice without the gin. Mix it up with club soda to make a spritzer, consider stirring it into some homemade lemonade, or show more restraint than I did with my first batch, and try it poured over something else entirely.

Pink Rhubarb Gin (& Tonics)

Syrup adapted from the Rhubarb & Rosewater Syrup at 101 Cookbooks. Rhubarb is a rare item in our house, so this syrup recipe is for a small batch, only about 1 cup. That’s plenty for ten or so cocktails, but you can easily double or triple the recipe to your needs.

Rhubarb syrup:
2-3 large / 1/2 pound rhubarb stalks, chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

For the cocktails:
3 oz gin, or to your preferred strength
2-3 tablespoons rhubarb syrup, or to taste
squeeze of lime juice
tonic
angostura bitters
lime wedges


To make the syrup:
In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb and sugar. Stir well, and leave to sit unheated on the counter for about 45 minutes, giving the mixture an occasional stir to help the rhubarb give off its juice.

Add the water to the saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar dissolves, and then continue to simmer for another 15-20 minutes, until the rhubarb just starts to break down. Strain into a bowl; you can use damp cheesecloth to achieve an extra clear syrup, but a fine mesh strainer works just as well for me. You may want to discard the leftover rhubarb because it will be a bit overly stewed, but we enjoyed it stirred it into some yoghurt.

Return your syrup to the saucepan, first wiping it clean of any residue. Stir in the lime juice, and bring to a simmer again. Simmer uncovered over medium heat for 15 minutes or so, until the syrup has reduced and thickened. Remove from heat and cool completely before using.

To assemble your cocktails: Split the gin between the glasses, then add 1-2 tablespoons of the rhubarb syrup and a squeeze of lime juice to each glass. Stir quickly to combine. Drop in a couple of ice cubes, fill to the top with tonic, and add a dash of the bitters. Garish with a slice of lime.

Makes 2 short cocktails, with lots of syrup to spare

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Strawberry, Balsamic and Black Pepper Jam

July 7th, 2012participate § 2 comments § permalink

I had only one goal for the Canada Day long weekend – to pick strawberries. At first my friends and I were determined to be fair-weather berry pickers. Surely, we thought that this being July, the rain might finally let up so that we could spend just one glorious, sunny afternoon in the fields. But as the weekend wore on, each day bringing with it yet more wet, our desire for fresh berries became increasingly rabid. So on Monday we donned our rain gear, packed ourselves like sardines into a tiny red car, and headed out to Westham Island to pick strawberries in the rain.

Presumably as a reward for our unwavering commitment to berries, the rain actually did stop by the time we arrived at the Bissett Farms U-Pick. And so we spent a pleasant afternoon under cool grey skies, appreciating the fact that we weren’t soaking wet.

In a typical summer, choosing to go berry picking at the end of the long weekend after countless hordes of families with small children have already descended upon the fields is a formula for certain disappointment. Thankfully, all the rain had kept that plague at bay and it was clear that the fields had seen very little recent activity. We found a bounty of perfectly ripe strawberries.

Berry picking is actually a reasonably new experience for me. Aside from the occasional foray into my grandmother’s raspberry bushes, I never really picked berries as a kid. I really enjoy the repetitiveness of the process – pick pick pick, shuffle shuffle, pick pick pick, shuffle shuffle – and I feel like I can just keep going and going along for quite some time. I thus have a very poorly developed sense of when to stop. This situation is not aided by my friends, who apparently have limitless enthusiasm for processing pound upon pound of berries. In one brief hour of picking my friends in the the caboose picked 30 pounds; our other pair of friends had 60 pounds! At the time, my 18 pound haul seemed pretty piddly in comparison.

At least that’s how I felt until I got home and tried to put all my berries in the fridge. Suddenly 18 pounds seemed like a lot of strawberries – especially 18 pounds of perfectly ripe, crisp strawberries that I feared would get soft and mushy faster than I could deal with them. So I recruited Dave to starting hulling and washing, and I spent the next two evenings freezing and jamming and snacking on the tasty morsels.

I made 3 different kinds of jam with all those berries. I used combinations of savory herbs for two of the batches, an idea I got from a recipe for ‘Strawberry Jam with Thai Herbs’ from Lianna Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation. But my favorite of the three was this balsamic and black pepper jam. I made this one up as I went – unsurprisingly a quick google search revealed lots of similar recipes. Strawberry and balsamic is a well loved combination of flavours. I use Krissof’s strawberry jam method for all three batches, and it produced a very thick and glossy jam without the addition of any pectin.

Strawberry, Balsamic and Black Pepper Jam
Method adapted from Lianna Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation. The balsamic vinegar in this recipe balances the sweetness of the berries and adds a lot of depth. I think it will pair well with some stinkier cheeses, maybe on a hearty rye cracker or whole wheat baguette. I love the good kick of spice added by the pepper, but you can certainly experiment with halfing the spice to create something a bit more subtle. Or, you could drop the balsamic and pepper completely and experiment with the herb route. For those new to jamming, I’ve included a pretty detailed description of the steps I take to sterilize and process my jars.

Makes about three 1-cup jars

3 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped (about 9 cups)
1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper (or to taste)

Start by getting a very large pot of water on the stove for processing the jars. It needs to be large enough so that there will be at least 1-inch of water above your jars – I use a very large soup pot. That much water takes a long time to boil, so put it on first. At the same time, place a small clean saucer in the freezer. If you time this whole process well, the jars should be done just a few minutes before your jam.

When the water starts boiling, add your empty jars to the water to sterilize. If you don’t have a canning rack, place a cotton tea towel in the bottom of the pot. Make sure your jars don’t touch the bottom or sides of the pot. Place the lids and rings in a heat proof bowl, ladle in some of the boiling water to cover, and leave to sit. Boil the jars for at least 10 minutes, and then carefully remove, dumping out the water from each one before placing on a dish towel. Keep the water boiling in the pot for processing.

In a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, stir the sugar in with the strawberries and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, then strain the fruit through a fine colander, stirring the fruit a bit to loosen the juices. Return the juice to the pot and reserve the fruit.

Simmer the juice uncovered for 20 minutes, or until you have about 1 1/2 cups remaining. Return the strawberries to the the pot with the juices, and add the balsamic vinegar. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes. To check if the jam is done, remove the saucer from the freezer, place a dab of the liquid jam on the plate, and return the plate to the freezer for 1 minute. The jam will be stiff, but won’t quite gel.

Remove from the heat, and skim off as much of the foam as you can. Stir in the black pepper to your taste. It’s difficult to get a sense of the amount of pepper when the jam is hot, so if you want to check the flavor put a big glob of jam on the plate in the freezer for a minute. When it’s cool give it a taste, and add more pepper until you’re happy with the result.

At this point your jars should be ready to go. Fill each jar to within a 1/4 inch of the top (I know, that’s really full!). Put on the lids and tighten the rings to just finger tight – you want the air to be able to escape during processing. If you don’t have quite enough jam left to completely fill the last jar, place it in the fridge and eat within a few weeks.

Carefully lower your jars into the boiling water, again using a rack or a towel, and keeping the jars from touching the bottom or sides of the pot, or from touching each other. That last thing you want after all this work is for a jar to crack or explode! Process for 5 minutes – if you live above 1000 ft, add 1 extra minute for each additional 1000 ft above sea level.

Remove the jars from the water and place on a towel in a corner of the kitchen where they can be left undisturbed for 12 hours. After about an hour, check that the tops of the lids are fully sealed by pressing down on the middle of the lid – if you find one that pops up and down, place that jar in the fridge immediately and eat within a few weeks.

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