December 29, 2012

My Jam Envy

I admire people who make their own jams and jellies. Everything about the process has charm, like a slightly faded floral quilt and French country-side. Take my friend Eve, those photos of strawberries and neat little jars invoke long summers of childhood. I have not ventured into jam-making so I rely on stores like Mom's to supply me with nearly-as-good as homemade jams and jellies.

So if you don't can, here is your essential jam round-up. First the lingo. Jam, jelly, preserve, spread, marmalade. Jelly is only juice. Spread is a rather new term for jam with too little sugar content. Marmalade is citrus.

First Crofter's. I love the bear on the jar. And the continent-themed fruit spread. Europe here has currants, pomegranate, cherries, and grapes. North America is chock full of blueberries, cranberries, and cherries. South America and Asia are a bit more exotic. It's organic too!

ModernKlatch Jam Envy Crofters
Got some in the fridge and it is going fast!

These jellies and preserves are made by the monks of St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer Mass. Trappist Monks, people! We discovered Trappist jellies on a trip to the Cape.

Trappist Monks Jelly Modern Klatch
We had orange-cranberry (super!) and hot pepper (meh). If you know of a store that sells Trappist outside of Mass, I am on the lookout for quince.

Bonne Maman is my third pick, as much for the jar as it is for the preserves. Bonne Maman is made in France with a label that looks handwritten, as if it was actually made in someone's kitchen. No wildly exotic flavors here, just good old-fashioned strawberry, cherry, apricot. Perfect for a hot scone and a cup of Earl Gray.
Bonne Maman Modern Klatch
What other almost-homemade no-Smuckers-in-sight jams should be added to this list?

December 19, 2012

Holiday Spirits

A glug of good bourbon, a pour of organic soy nog, a dash of nutmeg. Stir and enjoy.

December 11, 2012

New (Old) Crayons

‘Twas the night before Tuesday, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The lunches were packed, counters wiped off with care,
In hopes that weekend soon would be there.

The children were bathed and at last in their beds,
While visions of angry birds danced in their heads.
And mamma, nose-deep in her Pinterest app,
Instead of hitting the treadmill had decided to make projects from scrap.

Yes, that is how it happen. With old broken up crayons and a silicone mold in hand, I embarked on remaking of the crayons. A wiser woman would have poured a glass or yesterday's Chardonnay. And, I might add, melting crayons turned out to be very satisfying and easy.

Look familiar?
I've had a silicone ice cube mold for years but never got around to making sea-shell shaped ice. Bits of crayons went into the mold and into the toaster oven at 200 degrees. Ten minutes or so should melt the crayons. Be careful pulling out the tray, so you don't end up with orange crayon goo all over the toaster oven.

At long last ice-cube silicone tray had a purpose.
I could hardly wait for crayon liquid to cool! Pop, out of the mold came out cute little crayons shaped like shells (hearts or fish would be cute too, no?). Sure, I could buy a box for $3 at Target but would they be as cool as this? You tell me.

Note to self: Melting stuff is fun, must do more often. And invest in more silicone trays for future crayon-making.
That's that. One more thing - stick with high quality crayons and trash the off-brand ones, they just didn't melt well.  

December 3, 2012

Lessons in Marshmallow Making

For starters you may wonder, what on earth processes one to make marshmallows when perfectly puffy ones are available at every store in sight. I wondered the same when I first encountered homemade marshmallows for the first time at my friend Dina's house about a decade ago. And then one day I woke up thinking: "Marshmallows."

Among  the some 5,800,000 or so search results for "homemade marshmallows" I chose this recipe from Martha Stewart - if anybody can do it, Martha can! Plus this version is simple (more about that later) and eggless. But not so fast.

Lesson 1: Sugar Pitfalls On my first try I used powdered sugar rather than plain granular sugar. Big mistake, my friends. Turns out powdered sugar contains starch and my mixture, heated up to just the right temperature, just would not fluff. Instead I ended up with with sticky gross goo.

A few days later I summoned the courage to try again. While my gelatin mellowed in water, I started heating up granular sugar, corn syrup, and the rest of the water with a pinch of salt. With thermometer clipped to the side of the pot I felt like a pro!

Lesson 2: Not all corn syrup is created equal. Plain corn syrup might be ok, but some bottles have caramel color and high fructose corn syrup (there is still debate about the health impacts but I just try and avoid it!).

The mixture begins heating up quickly and then the heating process suddenly slows down. The last ten or fifteen degrees seem to take forever! Apparently that's just what should happen.

But back to the marshmallows. Once the mixture in the pot heated up to the magic 244 degrees "firm-ball consistency," it went in slowly into the water/gelatin swirling in KitchenAid. A few minutes later the mixture in the mixture begun to fluff! The fluffed mixture went into a glass pan generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. Lesson 3: this is SERIOUSLY sticky stuff. Don't give the bowl to lick to your kid unless they are headed for the shower. And you may want to pull your hair in a ponytail or something.
Just a few minutes into whipping, I knew that this batch of marshmallows just may work! It quickly turned glossy white and thick.

Let the mixture dry uncovered  for a day or two before attempting to cut marshmallows into squares. Kitchen shears are your weapon of choice. Lesson 4: You are not Martha, you marshmallows will not look perfect, as evidenced by lumpy specimen below.

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting


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