Easy Blueberry Jam

As a parent of young children, I can no longer think about the concept of jam without the image of Dr. Gru from Despicable Me 2 popping into my head, maintaining in that Boris Karloff/drunken Slav accent of his that he is no longer a villain and is on the straight and narrow:

“I am developing a line of delicious jams and jellies!”

If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about, because you have seen this movie approximately 8,000 times and know all its ins and outs, including how the Minions become purple and evil. If you’re not, or haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil how the Minions turn evil, but I will tell you that Gru is giving the law-abiding life his level best by abandoning projects like stealing the moon for tamer pastimes like creating fruity spreads–and more power to him. I have a feeling he and the Minions would put out some pretty tasty stuff.

Since we’re talking jams and jellies and tasty stuff, allow me to introduce you to this ridiculously easy blueberry jam, which does not require an army of Minions. Have you ever heard of a jam that 1.) doesn’t call for pectin and 2.) takes 20 minutes start to finish? Right, me neither. Most jams and jellies involve a real commitment in the kitchen. This jam, on the other hand, can be slapped together in the time it takes to watch a New Girl episode (or a Ninjago, if we’re going to stick with the kids’ entertainment theme). It may or may not end up being cheaper than store-bought blueberry jam, but if you hit the grocery store/farmers’ market/berry patch on the right week, it just might. Even if it doesn’t, though, making your own blueberry jam is a fun way to give yourself and your family a homemade, delicious breakfast treat on toast or muffins, or even to give a friend or neighbor as a thoughtful little gift. Without canning, this jam will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator. It could also make a lovely cake filling or an unusual “J” in a PBJ. I know I’ll definitely be making it again!

Easy Blueberry Jam
(From Fine Cooking)

Ingredients:

4 c. fresh blueberries
1 c. white sugar
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)

Directions:

1. Place the berries and 2 Tbsp. water in a 3-quart heavy-duty saucepan over medium-high heat. Using a potato masher, stir and mash the berries until they are bubbling around the edges of the pan, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until dissolved, about 1 minute.

2. Add the lemon juice, increase heat to high, and bring to a rolling boil. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 218 degrees on a candy thermometer, 8-10 minutes. (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can do the “cold plate test”: place a small amount of jam on a spoon on a plate in the freezer. Check the consistency after a couple of minutes. If it has jelled to your liking, it is done.) Remove the pan from the heat and let cool 5 minutes.

3. Transfer to a heatproof, airtight container and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Dysfunctional Family Recipe Salsa

I wish I could say I had a bevy of amazing family recipes from which I draw daily inspiration. I have this little fantasy of unlocking some keepsake mahogany box overflowing with wholesome recipes lovingly written in my grandma’s curling script…but it’s not like that. (I’m sure if either of my grandmas had such a box, they would have given it to me–they are/were both lovely women. They just weren’t/aren’t that into recipe development, and I didn’t grow up seeing one of them very much.) In reality, I have four family recipes: two for pie, one for cornbread casserole, and this one for salsa. They’re all very good, despite their limited number.

I call this my Dysfunctional Family Recipe for the simple reason that its originator is no longer a member of my family….and, just for fun, I’ll throw in the juicy detail that this person is also in prison. (It’s not one of my grandmothers, just to make that clear.) But this person made an incredible salsa that was the toast of many a family gathering–so hey, it’s not a total loss. (I think?) Somehow I had the foresight to write this recipe down before the non-family-member was carted off to the slammer. Recently, as I was going through my own recipe keeper–contemplating whether or not to get a new one after my kids ripped the cover off–I came across it at the very back of the Appetizers folder. It had been at least nine years since I’d eaten this dish that had once been such a looked-forward-to staple. Part of me didn’t want to make it. Like music, food has the power to bring back so many memories, and I wasn’t sure I wanted memories of this person resurfacing in a bowl of blended Mexican deliciousness.

Then I had an idea: what if I could turn it around, make this recipe my own? It’s so ridiculously good that other people should be able to enjoy it. What if I could bring it to potlucks and picnics and neighborhood get-togethers to the delight of friends and family? It could be my recipe, not his. I’m not saying I came up with the ingredients; I just get to make it and share it. I mean, I doubt this person has access to a food processor where he is, so it’s not like he’s making it anymore. It’s weirdly empowering to claim something good from a really, really, (really) bad relationship. For my spirit and my taste buds, I’m glad to do so.

So tell me, do you have family recipes? Do you still call them that if the recipe writer is no longer family?

Dysfunctional Family Recipe Salsa

Ingredients:

3 medium-to-large tomatoes off the vine, chopped
3 Tbsp. chopped onion
1 medium jalapeño, seeded and chopped
4 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until desired consistency is reached. Gently strain through cheesecloth to remove excess liquid.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Orange Marmalade

Drenched in sunshine!

While the rest of the country seems to be entrenched in a real-life version of Disney’s Frozen–a nightmare of blizzards and record low temps–we here in the Phoenix Valley are enjoying our 9th or 10th day of sunshine with temperatures in the upper 60s/low 70s. It was actually getting a little too hot for me this afternoon as I sat on my patio in a light sweater. (Yeah, I am going to be that person who rubs it in. The rest of you get gorgeous summers, falls, and springs while we hide in our air conditioning, the sun turning our iPhones into molten heaps in our cars.)

As I mentioned last time, winter in the valley is the time for citrus–mountains of citrus in every grocery store, citrus dropping from trees and rolling giddily in the street, and bags of excess citrus dropped at your door. After taking care of my free grapefruit, it was time to move on to the oranges included in the bag. It didn’t take long to formulate a plan: marmalade! Having made a batch last year, I wanted to try it again with less sugar. The sickening post-breakfast sugar crash every time I ate marmalade on my toast just wasn’t working with my schedule–you know, the one where I actually need to take care of my children and run errands and all that jazz. This time I decided to slash the sugar by half of what Ina Garten calls for in her recipe (the one I used last year). I must say I’m pleased with the result. While cutting back so significantly on the sugar definitely increased the cooking time–I’m sure there’s some chemical reason why–it was worth it. It came out sweet enough with the real taste of citrus behind it, like a tangy lemonade. Also, if you’re looking at this recipe and wondering when you’ll find the time to make it (yes, it is time-consuming, though not labor-intensive) like most jam/jelly recipes, it yields a high quantity, so your labor is not in vain. But if you’re a planner, a weekend day might be the best choice for when to make this particular recipe.

Lastly, cool fact: the word “marmalade” has been in use in English since 1480 and was originally a Portuguese specialty made from quince. Ever had a quince? Me, neither. Though surprisingly, this marmalade includes both oranges and lemons. Yum!

Aaaaand one more of the marmalade in the sun-drenched backyard, thank you.

Orange Marmalade
(Adapted from Ina Garten)

4 large seedless oranges
2 lemons
4 c. sugar

Cut the oranges and lemons in half cross-wise, then into very thin half-moon slices. (Use a mandoline if you have one.) Discard seeds. Place fruit slices and their juices in a large stainless steel pot. Add 8 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Bring to room temperature and leave covered overnight.

The next day, bring the mixture back to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for two hours. Turn the heat up to medium and boil, stirring often, another 30-45 minutes, or until it reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer. (Alternatively, if you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can use the cold plate test: scoop a small amount of the mixture onto a spoon and place on a plate in the freezer. Test marmalade consistency when cool but not cold. If it is too runny, it needs more boiling time. If too sticky, add more water. If consistency is to your liking, you’re done!)

Pour marmalade into clean canning jars and seal with the lids. If canning, process the jars in a water bath for 15 minutes. Otherwise, store in the refrigerator for best results. (And give a few away as gifts!)

Makes 3-4 pints.

My daughter’s plastic dinosaur was a BIG fan.

Chocolate Leaf Tutorial

Weren’t you just saying to yourself, “What I need right now is a tutorial on how to make chocolate leaves”? Wow, that’s so weird, because I’m about to give you one! I absolutely adore these chocolate beauties as a fancy-in-a-flash garnish for cakes, alongside ice cream, or atop a chocolate cream pie. Not only are they easier than sin to make, but they taste way better than fondant, which is what you’d usually use to make a pretty, edible adornment. With the holidays coming, these would be a lovely way to outdo your sister-in-law enhance a festive dessert.

So how, you may ask, do you make them? Do you need a special mold or complicated equipment? Nope. You just need chocolate and access to a tree…or a bush…or a flower pot. Seriously. Here’s the step-by-step lowdown:

How to Make Chocolate Leaves:

(Original idea from Secrets from a Caterer’s Kitchen by Nicole Aloni…which, by the way, is a fabulous book for party planning)

Ingredients:

Semi-sweet chocolate chips

Materials:

Leaves
Wax Paper
Silicone basting brush

1. Pick pliable, intact leaves from a rose bush, bougainvillea, eucalyptus tree, etc.

2. Thoroughly wash and dry leaves.

3. Melt desired amount of chocolate chips in a double boiler or in a small bowl in the microwave. (1/2 cup yields about 12 rose leaves.)

4. Using silicone basting brush, paint melted chocolate onto the backs of the leaves until completely covered, except for the stem.

5. Place covered leaves on a plate lined with wax paper and refrigerate until chocolate has cooled/hardened.

6. Holding the leaf stem, peel the chocolate imprint off of the leaf.

7. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place until ready for use.

Garnish!

Pumpkin Butter

Whoa. Did you have any idea that pumpkin butter is super easy to make? I didn’t. Having made apple butter before, which is practically tantamount to bottling your own wine, I always assumed that other “butters” of the fruit/vegetable variety would be the same way. When you make apple butter, you have to first cook down the apples into sauce, then put the sauce in a crock pot or on the stovetop for like 10-12 hours, stirring as you go. It’s like potty training–you can’t leave your house for an entire day for fear of a goopy mess. (Not saying it’s not worth it; it’s just really time-consuming.)

Pumpkin butter, on the other hand, takes you from canned pumpkin to autumn-flavored bliss in 30 minutes. Who knew? Basically, you just dump some simple ingredients in a saucepan and simmer as they combine to reach that velvety consistency that’s smooth as, well, butter. Try this and you’ll never go back to the expensive-by-comparison store-bought version!

And since this recipe is so quick and easy, I’ve been daydreaming about the many uses for this creamy, pumpkiny treat. Here are some that come to mind:

  • in oatmeal
  • on toast/muffins/scones
  • on top of cornbread for a lovely fall-inspired twist (alongside pumpkin chili, perhaps?)
  • in yogurt
  • in place of jam in thumbprint cookies
  • as a cake filling
  • with cream cheese, powdered sugar, and butter for a sinful Pumpkin Butter Frosting
  • as a unique homemade Christmas gift

Tell me your favorite use for pumpkin butter!

Pumpkin Butter
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbsp. apple juice
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

Directions:

Combine pumpkin, apple juice, sugar, and spices in a large saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes or until thickened and creamy.

Transfer to sterile container and chill in the refrigerator.

Makes 1 pint jar.