Strawberry Balsamic Jam

July 28, 2011

So, I  told you all about the delicious Struan loaves I baked and how Struan is the ultimate toasting bread. Believe me, ever since that bread has made its appearance, our toaster is working overtime! Slathering that crisp, toast with lashings of butter has been heavenly, but I decided we should really have some proper to jam to go along with it as well. I have never actually made jam at home. I only have a vague recollection of my mother canning when I was really young. Smuckers has been the main stay for most of my adult life. However, buoyed by my recent bread success, I somewhat anxiously decided to go ahead and try my hand at home-made Strawberry Balsamic Jam. Had I been thinking ahead, I would have called one of my closest friends, Theresa Storey, to find out all I would need to know about making jam. Theresa owns The Green Apron Artisan Preserve Company in Limerick Ireland.

Mouth-watering collection of Green Apron's Jams and Jellies

Her family has been making and selling their award-winning jams for over 30 years and are listed in the Bridgestone Best of Ireland Guide. She even teaches a Home Preserving Workshop! A no-brainer huh? I know an expert! However, I didn’t decide to set out on my jam making odyssey until about 6 pm EDT. That meant it was 11 pm in Ireland and I didn’t think it would be prudent to call anyone for an instructional pep talk at that hour. I didn’t want to wait until the next day, for fear I wouldn’t actually go through with it and my mouth was really watering at the thought of the wonderful jammy toast I would be eating for breakfast in the morning. So, I did call my Mom to get all of her advice on the in’s and out’s of canning and searched around for recipes online.

Jars sterilizing

Hooked on this season’s strawberries, I knew I wanted strawberry jam. After much searching and nail-biting, I decided on the recipe. I really didn’t change much about it. I did increase the sugar. The original recipe called for 2 cups of sugar, but I chose to use 3 cups.

Strawberries macerating

I was anxious that the jam wouldn’t set properly with such a low amount of sugar and no pectin (sure-jell) added in. Robin, at A Chow Life, had even tried to assuage her readers fears about this jam not setting in her original post. She said that the addition of the lemon juice and a longer cooking time would do the trick for this jam – no extra pectin was needed. I should have listened. My jam set up like a champ!

I think it would have also done so without that extra cup of sugar. Next time I will try it with the 2 cups of sugar as stated in the original recipe. One other change I made was that I added 1 teaspoon of butter to the mix. I had read that this would cut down on the amount of foaming that occurred while the jam was cooking. I actually had very little foam at all. Indeed I didn’t need to skim the jam once. So my first foray into jam-making was a success and I’m already planning my next endeavour – blueberry I think. But in the meantime, excuse me while I ponder the possibilities over my scrumptious jammy Struan toast!

Strawberry Balsamic Jam
adapted from A Chow Life
makes 5 (6 oz) jars
Ingredients:
  • 3 lb. strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. butter
Directions:
Toss the strawberries with the sugar and lemon juice in a big bowl Let the mixture sit for one hour at room temperature until nice and juicy.
Fill a large pot with tap water. Submerge your jars and lids, making sure they are completely covered by the water. Boil the water.

Place a small plate into the refrigerator to chill. This will be used to test the jam consistency later.

On another burner, place the strawberry mixture,balsamic vinegar and butter into a pot and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Using a potato masher, mash the strawberries so they are not chunky, but fairly smooth. Boil, stirring frequently and skimming off the foam, for approximately 20 minutes. You can use a metal spoon to shave the foam off the boiling jam (it will not combine with the jam so it must be removed). Then, reduce heat and cook at a slow boil, skimming occasionally and stirring frequently to prevent scorching as jam thickens. This may take 35 minutes to 1 hour. Test the jam by placing a small spoonful of it onto the chilled plate and refrigerate 1 minute. Tilt plate and jam should not run down the plate

Drain jars on a clean dish towel. Ladle the jam into the jars leaving 1/4 inch room between the jam and the top of the jar. Remove lids from the boiling water with magnetic wand or canning tongs making sure you do not touch the outer rim of the jar and contaminate the sterilized jars. Screw rims onto jam jars. Using tongs, pick up the full jam jars and place them back into the boiling water for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, remove the jars and place them on the towel. As they cool, you should hear a ping type noise which tells you the jam jars are sealed. When you push down in the center of the top of the jar, there should be no click noise. Once they’ve sealed, tighten the rims and let the jam rest for one day before eating. (I actually gobbled mine down much sooner…no will power on the jam front I guess!)


Honey-Glazed Pear Breakfast Crisp

April 2, 2011

Keeping with my recent pear theme, I was thinking you just might have some of those little devils left over from the Caramelized Pear & Rosemary Conserve you made after seeing my previous post. So, I’ve got another wonderfully mouth-watering pear dish for you, Honey-Glazed Pear Breakfast Crisp. This really is quite a treat! I’m not kidding. Breakfast will quickly become your favourite meal of the day. It’s very easy to make and you can even prepare the Granola or “Crisp” part ahead of time, so that it comes together even quicker on the morning you wish to serve it. I must say, this granola just barely takes a back seat to the Honey-Glazed Pears in this dish. My husband generally doesn’t even care for Granola and he couldn’t stop sampling it. (“quality control” don’t you know) It’s a bit sweet, nutty, salty and crunchy. YUM! I had a bit left over and ate it sprinkled on top of yogurt in the morning and it was absolutely outstanding.

Mmmmmm! Crunchy goodness!

But then there are the Honey-Glazed Pears. Oh my stars, these are unbelievable! After being gently cooked, these pears are tossed in the pan with warm honey, butter and vanilla and seasoned with cinnamon, cardamom and a hint of salt.

Pears cooking

Need I say more?! Combined with the granola crisp it is a match made in heaven. I found this recipe on Spoon With Me. Make sure you take a look at it there. The pictures Jennifer takes are truly gorgeous. She serves her Honey-Glazed Breakfast Crisp with Pomegranate seeds sprinkled over the top. Alas, I had none on hand and served mine with a dollop of vanilla yogurt. Fantastic! I can’t wait to try the Pomegranate seeds next time.

Honey-Glazed Pear Breakfast Crisp

Recipe from Spoon With Me

Serves 4-6

The granola can be made up to three days in advance, and re-crisped in a 275˚ oven for 15 minutes.

Ingredients For the Granola:

  • 2 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • 1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup ground flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Ingredients For the Pears:

  • 4 medium pears (ripe, but not overly soft), peeled, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons mild honey, such as clover, to taste (depending on the sweetness of the pears)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • a pinch of kosher salt
  • vanilla yogurt to top with

Directions For the granola:

Preheat the oven to 300˚F.  Combine the oats, ground flax, and pecans in a medium bowl and set aside. Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir and cook until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved.

Pour the butter mixture into the medium bowl with the oats. Stir well, until the oats are coated.

Spread the oat mixture onto a large baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir, and then cook for an additional 15-30 minutes, or until golden and crisp (note: the granola will continue to crisp as it cools).

Directions For the Pears:

Heat a large frying pan or saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the pears, and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pears release some of their liquid and the edges begin to take on a transparent appearance.

Push the pears to one side of the pan.  On the empty side of the pan, melt the butter together with the honey and vanilla extract. Toss to coat the pears in the honey mixture.  Sprinkle the cinnamon, cardamom, and salt over the pears and stir to combine.

To Serve:

Scoop some of the granola into small bowls.  Top with the pears.  Add a dollop of vanilla yogurt. Sprinkle a little more granola over the top.


Snowy Morning Steel Cut Oats

March 27, 2011

It’s the end of March. Flowers are bloomin, birds are singing, we’re wearing short sleeves and light jackets, it’s our long-awaited Spring right? Well turns out Spring has not quite sprung. Winter is still holding on. We woke up this morning to find snow on the ground. Are you kiddin me?!! All of the tender new blooms are covered with snow.

Thankfully it wasn’t much more than a dusting. The one good thing I can say about the snowy morning is that it put us in the mood for slow-cooked, steel-cut oatmeal. I like oatmeal year round, but find it absolutely perfect on a cold, snowy morning. While I will do instant oatmeal in a pinch, I prefer the good old-fashioned kind, John McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal to be specific. This oatmeal has a wonderful nutty flavour and is a bit chewier than the rolled oat variety.

How are “steel-cut” oatmeal different from “old-fashioned rolled oats”? Both are from the same whole raw oat, they are just cut differently. The steel-cut oatmeal is the whole raw oat cut into chunks. It takes longer to cook than the rolled oats, which are the whole raw oat which is steamed and then rolled flat. This process results in a quicker cooking time for the rolled oat oatmeal.

Steel-Cut Oats & Rolled Oats

The nutritional value is essentially the same for both types. And speaking of nutritional value, oatmeal is packed full of health benefits. It is low in saturated fat, sodium free and cholesterol free. It is high in soluble fiber which has been shown to lower blood cholesterol as well as slow digestion which aids in weight control. It also helps to stabilize blood glucose level which lowers the risk of type II diabetes. What are you waiting for? You should definitely get started, because it does take some time, about 30 minutes or so, to cook steel-cut oatmeal. You can reduce cooking time a bit by letting the oats soak in water for an hour before or up to the night before you are planning to prepare them. I usually plan to make it on the weekends when I have more time. I make a big pot so that I will have extra little cup size servings of oatmeal that I can simply reheat it in the microwave during the week.

Breakfast for the week

To make steel-cut oats, you sprinkle 1 cup of the oats over four cups of briskly boiling water. Stir well. Once the oatmeal is smooth and beginning to thicken, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. At this point I add a pinch of salt, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Once its done, you can top it with whatever you like. We generally go for bananas, apples, and fresh strawberries, a little butter, and chopped pecans or walnuts. We would have put some of our scrumptious Pear & Rosemary Conserve on it, from my previous post, but we had eaten it all! I know lots of folks like to add a splash of cream, chocolate chips or maple syrup. Really that’s what so fun about it, you can customize it however you want. It’s both yummy and good for you. Get some today!


Caramelized Pear & Rosemary Conserve

March 24, 2011

Both my husband and I love pears. They’re great anytime of the year really. So when I saw this recipe for a Caramelized Pear & Rosemary Conserve on The Serendipity Diary blog I just couldn’t resist! This recipe is fantastic for so many reasons. First and foremost is that it is very easy to make and tastes amazing! Furthermore, it really enhances whatever food you choose to pair it with. We have put it on toast, oatmeal, scones, served it with a cheese tray and used it as a spread on various sandwiches. Yum, yum, yum!

Jarlsberg and Smoked Gouda Cheese Tray with Pear Conserve

The hardest thing about this recipe is the pears themselves. Let me clarify that, catching the pears at the exact millisecond that they are ripe. You know what I mean. You buy some lovely pears at the market and can’t wait to eat them, but they are hard as little rocks. So you put them in your fruit bowl and remind yourself that patience is a virtue. You check them diligently for days, or even hours if you’ve dealt with these little devils before. Nevertheless, they seem to go from little rock, to ripe, to pile of mush in mere seconds! Makes you feel like you just can’t take your eyes off of them!

Me vs. Pear in staring contest

I’ve tried the trick where you put them in a closed brown paper bag to accelerate ripening, with mixed results.

It's a mystery!

I tell you it is maddening! But if you can catch them at just the right moment they can be absolutely dreamy! Once you have your ripe pears, you just throw them into the pot with some sugar, molasses, lemon juice, rosemary, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Ingredients ready to go!

Then you simply let them all cook down until you have this delicious concoction. So set out to make this conserve today. Or if you’d love to try some, but are not feeling particularly motivated, buy yourself a jar from Serendipity Jams, which they sell in their etsy store.

Caramelized Pear & Rosemary Conserve

recipe from  The Serendipity Diary

Ingredients:

1 1/5 lbs. ripe buttery Pears-like Bartlett or Warren’s

1/3 Cup sugar

1/8 Cup lemon juice

1 tsp. molasses

1 sprig of fresh Rosemary (approx. 4 inches in length)

Dash each of ground cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg

1-2 Cups of water on hand to use during cooking

Directions:

Wash, core, de-stem and cut the pears into about 2″ pieces.

In a small to medium stock pot over medium heat combine pears, lemon juice, spices, and sugar and molasses. Give the mixture a good stir and let the pears begin to soften and caramelize. (Approx. 10-15 minutes)

Add about 1/2 Cup water and the rosemary to the pot, bring the pears to a gentle boil and continue stirring.

Continue adding water to the pears when most of the moisture has evaporated, continuing until the pears have broken down and are soft and spreadable.

Once the desired consistency is reached, remove and discard the rosemary.

Ladle conserve into clean, sterilized jars. Let the jars cool and then keep them in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.


Post Patrick’s Day

March 22, 2011

Whew! I’m still not quite recovered from our St. Patrick’s Day party and the cooking blitz that lead up to it! Don’t get me wrong, it was great fun. I got to see a lot of our friends who I had not seen in a while and all of our usual characters were here as well!  The food actually cooperated, no cooking disasters, and was quite tasty! My friends have kindly given me wonderful reviews on my efforts. I asked everyone what their favourite dish was and it was a tie between the Beef and Guinness Pies and the Pork Tart. The Curry Sauce I made to go along with the Chips was a big hit as well.

St. Patrick’s Day Party Menu

Mini Cheese and Onion pies (I wish I had gotten a picture of them, but folks gobbled them down too quick!)

Mini Boxty, stuffed with corned beef and cheddar

Mini Beef and Guinness pies

Celtic Pork Tart

Shepherd’s Pie

Brown Bread and Irish Butter

Home-made Chips served with choice of ketchup, malt vinegar or curry sauce

Drunken Irish Brownies

Car bomb Cupcakes

Chocolate Cups of Chruachan

Chocolate Cups of Chruachan

Mini Beef & Guinness Pie and Mini Boxty stuffed with corned beef and cheddar

Car Bombs and Drunken Brownies Galore!

In order to have all of that done, I started cooking Tuesday and evening and continued cooking right up to Thursday at party time. I have to really thank my husband Jay. He stood at the deep-fryer and fried a mountain of chips as well as a somewhat smaller hill of mini Cheese and Onion pies.

Mountain of Hand-Cut, Home-Made Chips

He was literally there for over an hour. Also, a big shout out to my friend John who was sous-chef extraordinaire, helping with last-minute finishes, plating and serving the food. I wish I had gotten more pictures, but it was getting dark when the party was starting and the food was ready, no light-and you know what flash can do to food pics! Not to mention, once the guests started arriving, taking pictures of the food was not a priority.

St. Patrick's Day Character #1

Character #2-Showing off his "Lucky Charms"

All in all, it was a great shindig! Good food, good music, great company. We are hoping to make it an annual event. Next year St. Patrick’s Day is on a Saturday so folks will really be able to let their hair down. Shenanigan levels should be high! However, I must say, cooking for 20 people was quite an undertaking! I’m a bit “cooked-out” at this point. I really haven’t even entered the kitchen since March 17th! But don’t despair, I haven’t forgotten about you. I will be back with another great recipe later this week. Think “pears”…..


Gaelic Boxty

March 8, 2011

Boxty on the griddle, Boxty in the pan

If you can’t make Boxty, you’ll never get your man!

So goes an old Irish folk rhyme. My husband had never had boxty before I made it for him the other night. He absolutely loved it. Indeed, he went on to say that if he had known of dish beforehand, it might well have been a marital pre-requisite. Boxty or arán bocht tí in Irish-meaning poor house bread, is a traditional potato bread which can be made into pancakes, dumplings or baked into a loaf. I made the boxty on the griddle, or the pancake variety.

Boxty Batter on the griddle

Boxty Pancake

I love this dish because it is so versatile. The pancakes can be eaten on their own, perhaps with a bit of butter or stuffed with a variety of sweet or savory fillings. My friend Theresa Storey who owns and operates the Green Apron in Ireland just blogged a recipe that she found for boxty which is very similar to the boxty she had in Connemara as a child. Take a look at her site. I must take a moment to brag, Theresa not only runs a fantastic Artisan Preserve Company in Limerick Ireland, but her youngest child, Athene -age 11, is RTE’s (Ireland’s T.V. station) Young Chef of the Year and her oldest, Alexander-age 16, just won the Rotary Clubs Ireland’s Young Chef of the Year and goes on to compete in England in May. Impressive huh?

Storey-Cosgrave Family-from left to right-Alex, Athene, Mike, Bella and Theresa

Anyhoo….The Gaelic Boxty I made is filled with steak in a mushroom, Irish whiskey cream sauce. I adapted the recipe from one that was provided to the food network from Gallagher’s Boxty House in Temple Bar, Dublin. Take a look at their menu. They serve boxty in all its incarnations. If you’re in Dublin, definitely stop by for a meal. If you’re not traveling anytime soon, give this recipe a try. It really is incredibly tasty!

When I made this the other evening, I only prepared enough of the steak cream sauce for the two of us. I did make the full six boxty pancakes though, so that left us with some extras. The next evening we decided to create a bit of a fusion dish and stuffed the pancakes with some left-over chicken in a Thai green curry sauce.

Thai Green Curry Chicken Boxty

The following morning I stuffed our boxty with scrambled egg, bacon and Irish cheddar cheese. Use your imagination. I’d love to hear what you come up with.

Breakfast Boxty

Mmmmm...bacon!

Gaelic Boxty

1 cup (8 oz) grated raw potato

1 cup (8 oz) mashed potato

1 cup (8 oz) all-purpose flour

2 cups (1 pint) buttermilk

1/2 tsp. baking powder

salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning, plus 1 Tbsp. cracked black pepper for filling

6 (6 oz.) steak fillets cut into  18-2 oz. medallions

2 large onions

8 oz. of cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped

2 oz. Irish whiskey

2 cups (1 pint) cream

Directions

Boxty Batter:

Wash and drain the raw potatoes in cold water two times to remove all starch. Place the raw and mashed potatoes into a large bowl and mix until combined. Add flour and baking powder and mix together. Slowly add buttermilk and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to mix until you have a smooth, pancake batter consistency.

Steak Filling:

Sear the steak medallions on both sides in an oiled, well-heated pan. Remove steak from pan and set aside. Sauté the onions and mushrooms until soft. Add the whiskey and stir. Slowly add the cream, salt and cracked pepper to taste. Allow sauce to reduce a bit and then return the fillets to the pan and continue cooking until the sauce is thickened.

Assembling the boxty:

While your sauce is thickening, prepare the boxty pancakes. Drop batter onto a hot griddle; pushing the mixture out from the center with the bottom of a spoon until you have a pancake which is approximately  6-6 1/2 inch diameter. Cook for 2-3 minutes until bottom is golden brown and then flip the boxty over and cook through. Placed finished pancake on aluminum foil and cover with a second sheet of foil to keep warm. To prevent boxty pancakes from sticking together, place foil between each of the pancakes as you finish them.

Once your sauce is thickened to the desired consistency, place three pieces of steak onto each hot boxty, cover with sauce and roll over to make an omelette like shape. Spoon more sauce over the top. Enjoy!

Serves 6.


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