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It is unfortunate that so many types of condiments are readily available at the supermarket.  Being able to walk down an aisle and toss in a jar of jam, bottle of ketchup, or any number of types of hot sauce distracts the collective “us” from the fact that none of these products are as good as we can make in our own kitchens.  This point is only magnified when looking into imported ethnic condiments.  There is the allure of some tasty sauce shipped in from around the world and many cooks  (including myself) can sometimes lack confidence when branching out to culinary styles not grounded in our continent of birth.  One look at the ingredient list of these foods though and we are reminded of the uncertain quality of foods with mysterious origin.

All of these complicated thoughts were running through my mind the other day when I happened upon Sherri  Brooks Vinton’s recipe for Asian Plum Sauce in her book Put “em Up.  I am a firm believer that a high quality condiment can transform an ordinary meal into something special.  Since plums are literally falling from the trees right now, there is no better time to capture that goodness in this deeply spiced tangy sauce.  The directions for canning the sauce are included, this sauce is sure to taste even better on a rainy or snowy day in February than it does now when these fruity tastes are so abundant.  I also included the half batch proportions, because I can see whipping up this sauce in advance of my next eggroll party.  What? You have never had an eggroll party before?  Me either, but it sure sounds like fun to me!

And now for the winner of the Canning Supplies Give Away…  Kalamckala from Eating on a Napkin is the lucky winner.  She says, “I’m a newbie with the whole canning and preserving thing but I made an apricot preserve with vanilla and cinnamon – I may have fallen for the entire process! I only hope to can more and more this summer! ”  It sounds like these supplies will be put to good use!  Thank you to everyone who commented!  There are so many great ideas in the comments of that post.  Check them out and get inspired!

Generator Min: 1 Max: 57 Result: 52 Powered by RANDOM.ORG

*A note about the winner selection.  There were 69 comments total, 12 were my responses.  Since it would be strange for me to win my own prize, I used a random number generator to select a random number between 1 and 57.  1 was the first comment and 57 the last.

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I am not known for overt patriotism, but I am also not one to pass up an opportunity to celebrate.  And isn’t it a happy coincidence that our nation’s birthday falls smack dab in the middle of berry season?  We are surrounded by luscious reds and blues hanging from the bushes and trees throughout our neighborhoods and farms.  To pass these by is a shame and perhaps even unpatriotic.

My kids and I went on a west county adventure yesterday, and came home with a bag full of blueberries from Sonoma Swamp Blues (great spot to pick up super tasty local blueberries!).  Most of them are destined for shortcakes with strawberries and cream, but I could not resist tossing a few handfuls into the blender to make these popsicles. Believe it our not, my kiddos will happily gobble up a popsicle every day of summer!

Red, White and Blueberry Popsicles are a tasty treat to cool you off while savoring the sweet tastes of July.   Also they only take about 10 minutes to prepare (and freeze overnight), so you have more time to sit around sipping on lemonade (or an ice cold margarita).  You can test your luck and pull them out of the mold after 4 hours or so.  We did.  Waiting until the actual 4th of July was more than our patience could take.  Use caution though, if they are not fully frozen they are more likely to break off or for the stick to come loose from the popsicle.

*Don’t have a popsicle mold?  Check out this one.

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Thai-Style Steak Salad

July 2, 2012

At least once a week we opt for a dinner salad.  Tired from a long day of work or summertime adventures as it may be, dinner can be on the table in minutes with just a bit of forethought.  Our secret… grill enough meat on the weekend to have hearty leftovers.  Perhaps it is a breast of chicken spared from our ravenous tots or a generous morsel of salmon craftily hidden from my husband’s lunch, or as the case was last weekend, a nice piece of hanger steak.  Steak salad takes on endless incarnations, but this is one of our favorites from Sunset magazine years ago.

Thai-Style Steak Salad bursts with flavor from a mixture of fresh herbs, crunchy vegetables, salty peanuts, and a tangy dressing.  Using leftover grilled meat makes it a cinch to pull together, but you could certainly grill up a steak for the occasion.  The dressing is super light and oil free helping this dinner balance out the indulgences of the weekend.  The chili garlic sauce is spicy so adjust the amount to your own taste.

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With Farmers’ Markets and roadside stands beginning to burst with summer fruit, I know I am not the only one who feels giddy dreaming of putting up some luscious jam for the winter.  I already pumped out a batch of Cherry Rhubarb Jam and Three Berry Jam (subbing in blueberries for the raspberries) and am working on some apricot jam today.  While there is nothing wrong with impulsive food preservation, diving into canning season with a plan based on what you and your family needs and actually wants to eat through the winter ensures you will have enough and not end up with a load of jars that go past their prime.

I finally got my act together and created a simple spreadsheet to record what types of canned foods I made, what quantities, how much is left now (or when we ran out), and notes about each item (loved it the way it was, too sweet, not sweet enough, add a bay leaf next time, etc.)  It is here for you to download in both Microsoft word: canned goods inventory form and PDF: canned goods inventory form format.

New to canning? Check out this post waxing on about the glory of preserving food.  Heed the Call of the Jar! (great read for beginners)

Also check out my page: Home Canning Basics that explains the basic process and equipment for canning.

Our favorites from last year that I am definitely making again include:

Three Berry Jam– it is hard to beat the trifecta of summer fruit in this deeply colored, intensely berried jam

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam– the strawberries and rhubarb are both slow roasted here allowing the fruit to maintain its shape and texture nicely

Mixed Berry Syrup– I need to make  a quadruple batch of this lovely syrup.  I could live on this stuff (and maybe these pancakes to go with it.)

Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam– This beautiful delicate jam is my knock-out back up appetizer for any last minute event through the year.  Excellent on a cheese plate.)

Sweet and Spicy Zucchini Pickles

Applesauce

Dilly Beans

On my list to try this summer are:

Smokin’ Strawberry– I am a sucker for chipotle and the Tigress is genius when she suggests pairing that smokey pepper with strawberries.

Cardamom Peach Pie Filling– Mrs. Wheelbarrow struck a chord with me when she paired ripe summer peaches with cardamom.  Yum!

Classic Tomato Ketchup–  Last summer my ketchup, though delicious, was not really “ketchup”.  My son dubbed it “Rojo Sauce” and we gobbled it up none the less, but this time I want to try Local Kitchen’s recipe. Kaela claims it is “deep, dark red and seriously tasty”.  I am intrigued.

Chocolate Plum Jam– Caroline at Grow It, Cook It, Can It came up with this one, and truly, she had me at chocolate.  I dream of smearing this on French Toast in January.

Roasted Red Pepper Spread: Canning Homemade’s recipe sounds like a delicious addition to the pantry.

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Muffins can solve many problems: a hungry house full of weekend guests, a last minute snack for preschool, quick and easy breakfasts through the week (from the freezer), or as I recently found myself, with double my usual number of hungry children running underfoot.  While not all muffins hold well enough to serve after they have been left to cool, these muffins are still moist and flavorful hours after they have cooled or even reheated from the freezer.

Apricot Almond Bran Muffins are adapted from a recipe in Supernatural Everyday by Heidi Swanson that I have come to love.  If you are seeking a super dense. chewy style of bran muffing, this is not the one.  Though this recipe is whole grain with a healthy dose of bran, the texture is incredibly light and tender.  The taste of butter is unmistakable.  I added apricots to take advantage of the beautiful fruit found at the market.  Almonds, always a friend of the apricot, flavor the muffin and add a crunch to the top. Make these for a crowd, or just for a few and freeze the rest.  They reheat beautifully.

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School has been out for two weeks now, the sun is blazing, and the canning pot has reasserted its dominance on my stove top.  Hello summer!  Canning is usually a solitary sport for me, squeezed in the early hours of the morning or late at night when the kids have finally succumbed to sleep.  While the bubbling caldron of jam is still a bit much for my youngsters, they are quite capable of helping me to process the fruit.  My son found the cherry pitter to be quite a lot of fun and was thrilled when I handed him the knife to cut the cherries.  Who needs summer camp when you can enlist your kids in practical life skills at home?  (Of course, give me a few weeks and I may be screaming for them to go to any sort of camp that will take them!)

Cherry Rhubarb Jam is a delightful balance of sweet and tart with a rich background note of vanilla.  The color is absolutely divine.   This is my second attempt at this type of jam and it is an absolute hit.  There is a relatively small amount of sugar added.  Cherries are so naturally sweet that it is very easy to over-sweeten them. The fruit macerates for an extended time before cooking.  This reduces the overall cooking time, since the fruit has already given up its juice.  Shorter cooking times mean fresher tasting jam and more vibrant colors.  This jam is sure to a new June tradition in our house. Absolutely delicious!

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Summer, with a capital “S”, beginning with the longest day of the year, is weeks away, but thanks to our local school board, summer is in full swing here.  School is out, pools are open, and that means it is time to break out the ice cream maker.  My kids and I (since I teach for a living) are wholeheartedly leaping into carefree summer-mode.  I am now in the business of putting smiles on their sweet little faces and nothing works better for that than some form of sweet frozen goodness.

Lebovitz’s Strawberry Frozen Yogurt made its way into our lives (and bellies) last summer.  As strawberry season unfolded this year, I could not wait to make it again.  David Lebovitz is a master of desserts and this frozen yogurt is no exception.  The recipe starts with a full pound of perfectly ripe seasonal strawberries macerating in sugar and vodka.  Once they are nice and syrupy, simply blend them with yogurt (he calls for whole milk, but I find lowfat makes it perfectly creamy) and pour into your ice cream maker.  Wow, the result is frozen yogurt with an amazingly intense strawberry flavor not to mention the remarkable pink color.  The yogurt has a tender yielding texture and truly tastes like strawberries.  Head for the field or market, gather the most delectable strawberries you can find and make this dessert.  It is sure to bring a smile to your face.

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