{DIY} Homemade Strawberry Jam Favors

Pete and I have been watching a lot of food documentaries on Netflix as of late, and afterwards, we were excited to shop locally and go to our neighborhood farmers’ market for the first time. We figured since strawberries are in season, now would be a good time to test a recipe for our jam favors.

homemade jamIf you’re interested in canning, I would recommend our friend Marisa’s book, Food in Jars. We used the Quick Strawberry Jam recipe from this book, which we doubled to make about 8 cups.

homemade jam

The recipe is fast and easy — first you just have to combine sugar and Pomona’s Universal Pectin in a bowl. Then, place the strawberries in a saucepan and crush them with a potato masher.

homemade jam

Start to bring the berries to a boil and then stir in calcium water (the recipe is included in the Pomona box) and lemon juice. Afterwards, you slowly pour in the sugar pectin mixture and stir to dissolve.

homemade jam

Return the berries to a boil and stir to ensure that the mixture is heated thoroughly. Then, remove from the heat and let them rest for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release air bubbles, and skim off any foam.

strawberries

For the final step, ladle the mixture into clean, hot half-pint canning jars, leave 1/4 inch of headspace, and release the trapped air. Once you wipe the rims clean, you just have to screw on the jar bands and process them for 10 minutes.

strawberries

Then, turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, and let the jars rest in hot water for 5 minutes.

canning

One of the jars didn’t seal entirely, so we were able to test the jam to see if it was wedding-worthy. It turned out pretty delicious — we’re excited to add some blackberry and raspberry jams to the mix for our favors in the next month or so.

strawberries

We’re definitely hooked on going to the farmers’ market for fresh produce, so we’re looking forward to visiting on Saturday mornings to see what’s new in season.

canned jam

I’m glad this batch came out much better than the failed peach ginger recipe. We plan to add a homemade label and decorate the lid with twine and fabric (I blame Pinterest for our surge of craftiness).

jam noms

My latest morning ritual now includes eating jam on a bagel while devouring a ginormous chocolate-covered strawberry, courtesy of our friends Valerie and Daryl for my birthday. Apparently one of the perks of growing old is being treated to such delights. It is awesome.

birthday flowers

Pete spoiled me for my birthday by surprising me with a dog card from my favorite art boutique in Philly, beautiful flowers, and tons of amazing food (if you haven’t noticed, food is the way to my heart).

birthday flowers

We’ve been checking a lot of tasks off our growing to-do list, including making our latest homebrew, so bear with me as I overshare our wedding plans.

Has anyone else tried making homemade jam? If not, you should definitely test it out, it’s fun and pretty inexpensive in the long run.

Our First Year Hosting Thanksgiving: A Recap

Thanksgiving has come and gone since my last post, but I wanted to share a recap of our festivities, since it was our first year hosting Thanksgiving with my family. As you might recall, my family of seven requested a 24 lb turkey, so my sister-in-law, Pete, and I woke up early and prepped the turkey while watching the Macy’s parade. My sis-in-law and Pete did most of the dirty work (aka rubbing herb butter under the skin) since I was on a hunt for sage in the supermarkets (we just used rubbed sage since I wasn’t able to find any fresh sage all week long). I included this gross photo so you could see the unfortunate “before.” Sorry if I’ve scarred you for life!

Thank goodness for Pete, who did all of the heavy lifting. He was a total godsend when it came time to basting, flipping, and cutting the bird.

You’ll see our menu on the left, which consisted of the following:

While our table might have been a bit mismatched, everything was delicious and that’s all that counts.

My mom wore sunglasses like a domestic rockstar while helping Pete serve the turkey since our bay windows let in a ton of light and we don’t have curtains. Thanks to everyone for your help, we had a blast hosting for our first time ever and hope to do it again! Special thanks to the best sister-in-law ever for helping Pete and I out all day long and easing my stress while I burned walnuts and caught bread cubes on fire (not sure if anyone saw that).

Hope everyone had an amazing Thanksgiving with lots of leftovers!

Countdown to Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is officially just ten days away, which means my entire family will be in the same place for the first time since last Christmas. It also means I am gathering inspiration for recipes for the turkey-filled day. Unfortunately, my family has made it clear that they want a big bottle of ketchup on the table, which will likely tarnish my hopes for a Martha Stewart-esque tablescape, but oh well. I have been gathering some recipes, but wanted to see if any readers have favorite sides they’d like to share before I do a recipe round-up. I’m talking to you, Kerry!

Also, the more advice for cooking a 24 lb. turkey (assuming it fits in our oven), the better! Thanks again to everyone for the congrats on Friday, you guys made us feel all sorts of special.

Classic Cornbread: Great Success!

In celebration of our 22nd monthiversary (yes, we still celebrate monthiversaries and I intend to until they are in the 1,000’s, so shut it!), I decided to whip up some classic cornbread. Pete and I saw this recipe while paging through the October issue of Everyday Food and he just about peed his plaid pajama pants with excitement. So, I figured I’d be a good girlfriend and attempt to bake something delicious (for once) now that our oven is back in action. Martha Stewart must have some country roots, because Pete gave the cornbread a thumbs up (which if you ask me, is reason to celebrate).

Alright, so here we go, first things first. Gather all of the ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more, room temperature, for baking pan
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow or white cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 large eggs

Start off by preheating the oven to 400 degrees! Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. In a large bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, and eggs.

Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir just until combined (do not overmix). If you’re wondering why the mixture isn’t looking particularly Cracker Barrelriffic, just breathe easy and put your trust in Martha. She wouldn’t lie to you, even if the bowl looks like it’s seen better days.

Transfer batter to pan and smooth top.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

If you’re wondering what to do to pass the time, consider giving your pets some much-needed attention (in the form of treats).

If you’re particularly cruel (which I just so happen to be), cackle and snap photos while your foster dog’s tail hits your little shy dog’s face repeatedly.

Oh nooooes, Betty White just got owned by Chari’s tail!

Seriously, this happens just about every moment of every day of our lives since we’ve started fostering Charsi. Poor Betty White takes a tail to the face like a champ, though.

Anyway, at this point it’s best to stop photographing your squinty-eyed dog and let the cornbread cool in the pan on a wire rack, 15 minutes, before serving. (Store cooled cornbread, tightly wrapped in plastic, at room temperature, up to 3 days). Note to Pete: You best help me eat this sheeeeeeyit by Sunday or it’s going to get moldy!

If you want to go all out, light a birthday candle and stick in the cornbread and get prepared to wish your boyfriend a happy 22nd monthiversary when he comes home from work!

Here’s a suggestion though, don’t attempt to light the birthday candle with a votive candle because you’ll end up dripping hot wax all over your poor boyfriend’s cornbread. If he really likes you, he’ll eat it anyway and say it’s good. Happy 22 months, love!

Recipe: Chewy Caramel Mystery Cookies

It’s a known fact that I am awful when it comes to all things kitchen-related. I am notorious for messing up Minute Rice, for example. Anyway, when Pete and I were flipping through the latest issue of Everyday Food, he was super excited when we came across a recipe for “Chewy Caramel Mystery Cookies.” I decided to attempt to be a domestic girlfriend for a day and bake him some delicious cookies to come home to.

Let’s start with my trip to the grocery store. I went to Giant in search of several things—caramels (such as Kraft) being the main ingredient I was lacking. I spent well over an hour staring deep into the soul of the candy, baking and Halloween aisles in an attempt to find plain caramel candies. I didn’t want chocolate covered caramel or Werther’s Original, I just wanted caramel bits, people. I even pathetically trudged around the produce area in hopes of seeing some by the apples or nuts. No such luck. So, I did what any smart person would do—I drove to a candy shoppe. I figured if shop has an extra “pe” on the end, they must mean serious business and they sure as heck would sell plain caramel.

Nope. They sure as heck didn’t sell plain caramel. They had chocolate covered caramel, vanilla covered caramel, caramel stuffed inside things, but no actual plain caramel. The employee suggested I try making my own, to which I responded silently by giving him a mouth agape “What do you think I’m made of?” face and walked away (not before buying two Cow Tales because they are my favoritest).

I decided to make a trip to Walgreen’s (my least favorite pharmacy on the planet) and managed to find Werther’s plain caramels. Not caramel stuffed chocolate, but just plain caramel! I felt like I won the lottery and flailed. A lot. I had spent nearly two hours trying to hunt down caramel. Martha needs to strongly consider putting an asterisk next to ingredients that take a half of a tank of gas to locate.

Anyway, in case you want to try to make some of these cookies, here are the ingredients (if you can’t tell, I’m thrilled):

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup caramels, such as Kraft (le sigh), about 20, halved
  • 1 cup roughly chopped assorted miniature chocolate candy bars, such as Mr. Goodbar, about 16
  • 3/4 cup small button-shaped chocolate candies, such as M&M’s, for decorating

Alright, so step 1. Preheat the oven to 350 with the racks in upper and middle thirds.

*As a side note, I’d like to point out that our oven is now functioning for the first time since we moved in over four months ago. “Why was your oven not functioning, Shannon?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Turns out that when we moved in, we had fossilized mice in the drip pan of our (the previous homeowner’s) fridge. The pan was impossible to remove, so we sold it on Craigslist like total scum (we are going to hell in a handbasket, but if we’re lucky, the basket will have delicious caramel candies inside of it).

Anyway, when we tried turning our oven for the first time, it smelled like rotting corpses and crayons. We tried to get to the bottom of the smell, but had no luck finding the source and the oven wouldn’t turn on to self-clean. We figured a gang of mice made a little home (judging from the abundance of sunflower seeds) and were mummified up in that shiz. So, we procrastinated on getting it fixed and have been creatively using our convection oven. Being the most perfect girlfriend that I am, I called some oven repair guys and got our oven back in working condition (and torched whatever mummified friends may have still been lingering). I even managed to haggle the guys to take $100 off, so I must have inherited some of my dad’s bargaining genes after all.

So, that being said, we have an oven again! We won’t have to deep fry a turkey for Thanksgiving, thank goodness.

Ok, back to the recipe. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.

In a large bowl, using a fancy electric mixer (or the one your grandparents gifted you in the early 90s that they won using comp points from Atlantic City), beat butter and sugars on high until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Beat in eggs, scraping down bowl as needed.

With mixer on low, beat in flour mixture in three additions until combined. Beat in vanilla. Or if you’re me, flip out because some asshole only left a drop of vanilla extract in the bottle (that would be me) and improvise by replacing it with almond extract instead (that’ll taste the same, right? sigh).

Fold in caramels and candy bars. If you have to search for “how to fold” on YouTube, you might want to give up at this point. Or if you’re like me, you can just get distracted by the latest episode of America’s Next Top Model All-Stars and spend the next 20 minutes getting lost in the insanity of Tyra Banks while chopping candy.

Step 2 (Martha only makes two steps in her instructions, even though each step has like 50 sub-steps…). Using a 1/3-cup spring-loaded scoop, drop dough, 2 inches apart, on parchment-lined baking sheets. This is where I said “a spring-loaded whatchamadoozer?” and promptly decided I didn’t need one. Thus, the massively oversized cookies. The recipe supposedly makes 18 normal-sized cookies, but I made 13 giant-sized ones. Tomato, tomahto.

Anyway, bake that sheeeeeyit for 8 minutes.

Remove from oven; immediately press candies onto cookies, then rotate sheets and bake until golden around edges and set in centers, about 8 minutes. So, I am getting senile in my old age and seconds after pulling out the baking sheets, I forgot which way they were originally placed on the racks and couldn’t for the life of me figure out which way to rotate them. Yep.

Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool, or just shovel them into your face. I will admit, these things are majorly frumpy looking, but I thought they tasted pretty yumtastic. I saw one of them had been bitten into and asked Pete what he thought and he gave me a guilty “It tastes like ass, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings because you just spent over an hour trying to be domestic” face. Then he tried to persuade me that he actually likes them, but I know better. He made the face I make when I realize we bought the wrong type of toothpaste and instead of brushing my teeth with fresh, minty goodness, I have to spend the next month convincing my teeth that orange-flavored, cough-drop-y toothpaste is their new favorite thing.

Oh well, I guess I deserve some points for trying (insert defeated Eeyore face here _____). I hope someone else attempts this recipe out and lets me know if they have any luck finding caramels.

Autumn Decor: Yes, Please.

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October is just around the corner, which means mustache madness, candy corn and impending holiday music 24/7. I’m especially excited this year because Pete and I are hosting our very first Thanksgiving together, which means this will be the first time when the majority of guests will have no desire to watch football. Ever since Hurricane Irene rained on our parade, we had to cancel our BBQ, so my family will be making the trek from NYC and Delaware to indulge in turkey goodness. Luckily for me, Pete has experience cooking a turkey, but the most I’ve ever helped with Thanksgiving meals in the past has been microwaving mashed potatoes. So, needless to say, I am ready to solicit some advice from pumpkin pie-baking veterans.

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The idea of mini white pumpkins scattered on a mantle makes me anxious to go pumpkin picking—I always like cutting out the centers to make them votive candleholders to bring a warm glow to the room.

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Anywho, I’ve been browsing Foodgawker and Pinterest to collect autumn decor and festive recipe inspiration, but I was wondering what some of your favorites are?

Food for Thought

Pete and I recently purchased a Weber charcoal grill, which he was eyeing up for a few months. Rather than hosting a huge backyard bash out of our budget, we’ll be having an intimate barbecue with immediate family this year. We figure it will be good practice for next year, when we’ll likely have a bigger summer shindig.

I’m really looking forward to having our families over and have been browsing foodgawker for recipe inspiration. What are your must-have items on a menu for a backyard barbecue? So far, I’m hoping we can make burgers (black bean and meat), hot dogs, some shrimp skewers, grilled vegetables, guacamole & chips, berry bowls, potato salad (hopefully commissioned by Pete’s parents), deviled eggs (thanks to my mom), cucumber salad (my grandma’s contribution!) and hummus with naan/pita chips.

Pete and I made Teriyaki shrimp with mango, corn on the cob and grilled asparagus for our first grilled feast together. It was really nice eating outside with Betty and enjoying the last hour of sunlight together.

Betty White is looking forward to schmoozing at the barbecue, although she is in desperate need of a haircut if she’s going to be hanging outside with us all day (that mustache doesn’t groom itself).

I’ve been gathering some simple, DIY decor ideas from Pinterest to help dress up our party a bit. I love the idea of taking a plaid, plastic tablecloth and using it to embellish everything. I have a feeling I’ll be making a trip to the Dollar Tree or Party City to get some obnoxiously bright tablewares!

{Photos courtesy of Hostess With the Mostess}

Do you have any tips for hosting our first family barbecue, apart from wearing lots of sunscreen?

Black Bean Burgers with Beet, Red Onion & Orange Salsa

Let me just preface this recipe post by saying that before my relationship with Pete, I never properly cooked. During family gatherings or holidays, I dreaded potentially having to bring an item of food or help out in the kitchen. I was the girl who went to the grocery store the day of a 4th of July barbecue to buy whatever version of potato salad they still had left in stock. I liked the idea of cooking. I had shiny kitchen gadgets! I dog-eared recipe books and favorited baking websites, but that was the extent of my energy spent in or around the kitchen. My meals consisted of chicken tenders with fries, frozen pizza, ground beef burgers or if I was feeling really energetic, ground beef tacos! It came as no surprise that my cholesterol was through the roof during this time.

I remember when Pete and I had one of our first “dates,” he came over to my apartment and we made dinner together. We walked hand in hand at the local ACME while browsing fresh produce. I remember thinking to myself “Have I ever had basil? Do I like basil? What if he makes me this amazing basil-centric dinner and I hate the main ingredient?” I was a twenty-five-year-old who had never ventured far from whatever aisles had processed cheese, snacks and meat. The evening ended with us making caprese salad (turns out I love basil) and some amazing, Ricotta-based pasta dish which Pete conjured up.

After that evening, I was officially ecstatic about food. I looked forward to spending time together with Pete, cooking meals and trying out new recipes. He surprised me with a subscription to Everyday Food, which may or may not be one of the most thrilling times of the month when we receive a new issue in the mail. I love thumbing through the mini magazine to jot down a grocery list for the weeks ahead. Since we began living together, our diet has gone in more of a vegetarian direction. That’s not to say I won’t instantly eat a bacon-infused cheeseburger if given the chance, but for the most part, our fridge is stocked with vegetables and on occasion, seafood.

That being said, we had been anxious to try out a black bean burger recipe as of late, to see if they would be worthy of future backyard barbecue shenanigans. We found a recipe on Everyday Food for the burgers, which we combined with a beet, red onion and orange salsa recipe from Epicurious. Pete’s mom had recommended the salsa recipe, and after sampling some of it at her house, I was looking forward to making some of my own to top on our burgers.

I began by heating one tablespoon of oil in a skillet and adding onion, red pepper and garlic. Once they were translucent, I added cumin and ketchup and cooked everything for a minute before adding them to a food processor along with a wee bit of rice and beans (specific measurements can be found on the link mentioned above).

After making sure the ingredients were well combined, I transfered them to a large bowl and added breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and a bit of hot sauce.

I mixed a bit too much for our two burgers, so I made them extra thick. I’d recommend flattening them out more, but overall they worked out well and (surprisingly) didn’t fall apart.

Meanwhile, I was boiling beets for the salsa recipe, which called for olive oil, lemon juice and honey to be mixed into a small bowl.

Once the beets cooled off, I chopped two to add to the salsa bowl.

Finally, I mixed in chopped orange, red onion and pitted green Greek olives and stirred everything before seasoning with salt and pepper.

Here is a glimpse at our black bean burgers with spinach salads, which included goat cheese, beets, walnuts, pomegranate craisins and avocado slices with balsamic vinaigrette. I apologize for the blurry photos, I was in a rush to devour my dinner and didn’t snap the most flattering pictures. Also, what may appear to be a pitcher of urine in the background was in fact lemon/orange-infused water, I promise. Anyway, our final verdict was that we’d definitely like to offer these for upcoming barbecue shindigs, along with a “normal” option for those Ron Swanson-esque meat lovers out there.

I’d like to start sharing more of our cooking adventures now that we are settled in at our new home, so brace yourself for more foodie posts in the future! My friend Kerry, who is a culinary god in my (somewhat biased) opinion, introduced me to Foodgawker, where I have become hooked on “heart-ing” recipes to store away for upcoming meals.

So tell me, has anyone else become more enthusiastic about cooking because someone important in their life has influenced them in the kitchen?

Everyday Food: Grocery Bag

Top (L-R): Spicy Black Bean Soup, Parmesan Chicken With Mushrooms and Brussel Sprouts, Sesame Beef

Bottom (L-R): Turnip and Sweet Potato Gratin, Chicken Cutlets With Mustard Greens and Roasted Squash, Pasta e Fagioli (recipes by Everyday Food)

*Thanks to Pete for snapping these photos with his iPhone before meals

Every month, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food has a weekly dinner planner, which Pete and I have been taking advantage of for the past few months. We add the “shopping list” of ingredients they provide to our normal grocery list and plan a week’s worth of meals alongside the magazine’s Monday-Friday schedule. I enjoy cooking dinner with Pete this way because it steps us outside of our comfort zone of eating chicken nuggets and personal pizzas and forces us to ask questions like “What do mustard greens look like?” or “How do you chop an acorn squash?”

Everyday Food makes scheduling a week’s worth of meals simple and enjoyable and gives us time to work together after a stressful day at the office. Plus it makes our taste buds happy to try something new and exciting every month. Sometimes there are recipes that we’ve mentally marked as “never again,” but for the most part, we finish our dinners with a smile.

What are some of your favorite cooking blogs or magazines that give you inspiration?

Happy Birthday, Pete!

Today is Pete’s 24th birthday, so, like the total lunatic that I am, I decided it would be a good idea to blow up dozens of balloons last night. I thought it would be cute to get up in the middle of the night, put all the balloons out on the floor (they were hiding in closets) and hang the “happy birthday pete!” banner I made to surprise him with in the morning. Getting my arse out of bed at 4am was not an easy task, considering it was 64 degrees in our apartment…yeah, for some reason our heat decided to malfunction last night. I tried my best to sneak out of the bedroom like a ninja so Pete wouldn’t notice, but he jolted awake as I was leaving. I mumbled something about needing to take some medicine because I felt sick (straight up birthday B.S.) and I scampered into our kitchen area.

I quietly started to unload the dozens of balloons from the closets and began hanging the banner. I had planned to hang streamers, but Cadbury, the bitchiest of our three rabbits, decided it would be the perfect time to stomp her feet in her cage as. loud. as. humanly (or bunny-ly). possible. I had to run back inside the bedroom because I could hear Pete loudly sighing and I didn’t want the surprise to be ruined. I was greeted by a “What the eff is going on?” inside the bedroom and I mumbled something in hopes that Cadbury would soon be done having her bunny tantrum. Not so much. She stomped (and by stomped I mean STOMPED) for at least an hour. 5am rolled around and our upstairs neighbor was waking up and doing his morning ritual, which we can hear in its entirety because the walls are thin. Any hope of getting back to sleep was quickly dwindling away.

I decided it would be a good idea to move Cadbury’s cage to our back room so we wouldn’t have to hear her being a stompy beyotch. This seemed like a smart move, until during my walk through the balloons, Cadbury decided to kick a ginormous amount of bunny turds from her litter pan onto the kitchen floor. Pete said he could hear the poop scatter across the floor from inside the bedroom…imagine dropping a bag of mini, poop-covered marbles everywhere. Awesome. So, I tried my best to gather all the little bunny poops that were hiding beneath the balloons all over the place. Being barefoot at the time was not an enjoyable experience, as I ended up stepping on one too many bunny poops. Not fun.

Eventually, I flopped back in our arctic bed (after making sure my feet were clean, ick). I felt awful that I was making Pete (who should have been having fluffy rainbow birthday dreams) lose hours of sleep because I wanted to surprise him with some birthday flair. Le sigh.

Speaking of rainbows, when I asked Pete what type of cake I could make him for his birthday, he requested a funfetti cake with lemon frosting. I found a funfetti recipe (from scratch!) on this blog and I tried to make the cake decorations as girly as possible.

These are the ingredients for the Funfetti cake recipe, alongside a bunny cookie jar my Grandma handed down to me (I am so super lucky that my grandparents loved bunnies too).

The ingredients for the lemon-y frosting Pete requested.

Happy 24th, Pete! Next year I promise not to make you lose hours of sleep or have a balloon-hiding bunny turd scavenger hunt in the wee hours! I hope it ended up being a fun birthday, despite the major ninja fail on my part!