Christmas is only 5 days away (!), and I'm guessing that most of you already have holiday gifts determined and purchased...right?!? This post is probably a bit late, but I thought it might be helpful to those of you still looking for last minute gifts for friends, family and co-workers.
Brian and I have given homemade gifts out for the last few years, and always enjoy the pleased responses we receive in return. In a time when spending significant amounts of money is difficult for most, putting personal effort into gifts rather than cash is a nice alternative. I've compiled a few ideas for you to choose from...enjoy!
Homemade jam can be made with fresh and frozen fruit. Be sure to use a proper method of preservation if you plan to give the gifts un-refrigerated. If you'd rather not tackle the canning process, tell recipients to keep their jam refrigerated for up to 4 weeks.
blackberry peach jam
A batch of granola is quick to whip up, and keeps for weeks in an airtight container in the pantry.
mixed fruit granola
Homemade Almond Butter
Nut butter made from scratch is so much better than store-bought because you can mix your own interesting combinations. It can be a bit pricey though, depending on the nuts you choose.
cinnamon vanilla almond butter
Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix and Marshmallows
Homemade marshmallows are nothing like their store-bought cousins. So light and fluffy, they truly melt in your mouth (or your hot cocoa). For a little twist, add some peppermint extract in place of vanilla. If you don't have vanilla sugar for the cocoa mix (it takes about 2 weeks to make your own) just substitute regular sugar.
hot cocoa mixmarshmallows
I sit at our dining table in the morning, a heaping spoonful of almond butter resting on top of my oatmeal, a dollop of jam alongside it. The windows are open to let the cool morning breeze whisper past my skin, and through them I hear kids squealing as they make their way to the school bus stop on the corner by our house. I find myself lost in thought, reminiscing about the past and contemplating the future, each almond butter + jam-laced bite taking me further into my own head.
I’ve been eating a lot of PB+J lately. Actually, to be more accurate, AB+HJ - almond butter and homemade jam. I just can’t seem to get enough of it. I’m slathering almond butter and jam on my Kashi waffles and toast, mounding it on top of oatmeal or sandwiching it between two slices of whole wheat bread for a quick and satisfying lunch. I partly blame the incredible amount of jam we have in our refrigerator right now - a few ounces of each flavor we made that wasn’t quite enough to process in a canning jar, plus a delightful fig jam made by some dear friends after a reconnaissance fig-gathering mission to some public trees down the street. But even more than the excess, I blame the fast-approaching end of Summer.
As we transition into Autumn, I find myself in a very nostalgic frame of mind. This time of year seemed to have so much more significance in my youth, always marking the start of a new chapter in my young life. Going back to school, with its new clothes and fancy backpack filled with blank notebooks and freshly-sharpened pencils signified another year of progress. I’d eagerly seek out friends I hadn’t seen in 3 months to discuss our summer vacations, who’s dating who, class schedules and the fact that we were one year closer to graduation, college and “real” life.
In college, the return to another semester was bittersweet. I was studying architecture, and while I was eager to tackle the challenges that a new design studio - with its new city, site and building program - offered, I was also wary of letting go of a care-free summer job in exchange for the stress of all-night charrettes and design reviews in front of a panel of my peers and professors. But still, there was the seeking out of missed friends to discuss summer internships, who’s engaged to who, how we had finagled our schedules to allow for one or two(!!!) days without class and the fact that we were one year closer to graduation and finding our “dream” jobs.
And now, here I am. Post undergraduate and graduate degrees, working in my field for a firm I respect designing projects I enjoy, one year closer to...what? For the first time in my life, I am settled into a place with no “end” in sight. I am happily married, living in a city I adore, with a job I enjoy waking up for. There’s no impending school, or graduation, or job search in my future. Its a comfortable feeling, but is at the same time a little bit unnerving. And when I’m feeling a little bit unnerved I seek additional comfort in food. Of late, that food has been the AB+HJ combination.
It was only a matter of time before my latest obsession made it into a baked good. And then, this recipe showed up in my reader to push me right over the edge. I made the cookies, which have a classic butter cookie texture laced with the flavor of high-quality natural peanut butter, and was initially disappointed with the pre-jam outcome. I was looking for a softer specimen, and was worried that when sandwiched on either side of a dollop of jam this cookie would, well, crumble. So I quickly searched for a new option, found a recipe that boasted a softer outcome and incorporated oats(!!!) and decided to try a thumbprint version. I loved the chewiness that the oats added to the cookie, and the fact that the jam-to-cookie ratio was more equal than the sandwich version. But, after all that worry, the sandwich cookie turned out to be really fantastic as well, with or without the addition of a little blackberry peach jam.
Each of these cookies is really wonderful on their own. I recommend filling and sandwiching only the amount of cookies you and yours can eat in a day, as they will get soft when stored in an airtight container with jam. On their own, in a ziplock bag, the cookies maintain their texture for a full 5 days.
I think that each of these recipes would be wonderful with almond butter in place of the peanut butter. When I made the suggestion to Brian, who is very traditional in his dessert choices and hates to see a good thing tampered with, he vetoed it. That was ok, the tried and true PB+J combo was a success both in taste and nostalgia-induced comfort.
PB+J Sandwich Cookiesrecipe from the new york timesmakes about 18 sandwich cookies
1/2 pound [2 sticks] unsalted butter, softened, plus more to grease cookie sheets
Cream butter, sugar and peanut butter together with an electric mixer. Add egg, and beat until well blended.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, adding milk as necessary to make dough just soft enough to handle. Stir in vanilla.
Shape dough into a log about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. [I suggest making two logs...the amount of dough makes one very long log that is difficult to transfer to the fridge]. Wrap dough log[s] in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Can be frozen if wrapped well.
Heat oven to 400*. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and cut slices between 1/8" and 1/4" thick from log. Try to make the slices as even in thickness as possible. Place on baking sheets and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake until edges are lightly browned and centers are set, about 10 minutes. Cool for about 2 minutes on sheets before using a spatula to transfer cookies to a rack to finish cooling.
Sandwich flat sides of two cookies together with a heaping teaspoonful of jam.
PB+J Thumbprint Cookiesrecipe for cookie from foodnetwork.commakes about 3 dozen thumbprint cookies
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1/2-cup creamy, natural peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 cup quick oats (I used rolled, and they were fine)
Preheat oven to 350* and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cream the butter and peanut butter together in an electric mixer on high speed. Add the sugar, brown sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined.
Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and oats together in a separate bowl and add to the wet mixture. Mix until well combined.
Roll dough into 1-inch diameter balls and place on baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Using your pinkie finger, make a deep indentation in the top of each dough ball, being careful not to press all the way down to the baking sheet.
Bake in the top half of the oven until cookies are golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and re-shape indentations while cookies are still pliable, if needed. Let cool completely.
Once the cookies are cool, place on countertop and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Spoon a teaspoonful of jam into each cookie.
I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to talk about jam this summer! Here it is, mid-August, the blackberries are nearing the end of another extremely productive season and I am just now sharing these recipes with you. It seems that our bush quadrupled in size from last year, and the bounty we’ve received reflects that growth. I am giddy thinking of next year’s harvest, since the new growth taking over our fence and gate will bear what surely must be another quadrupling of this year’s numbers. Oh, the possibilities.
I must admit, I’m somewhat happy to see this blackberry season come to an end. In just a couple of weeks I’ll be able to cut back all of this year’s fruited wood, and will have the space needed to train the new growth and reclaim our entrance to the garden. Blackberries bear fruit on the previous year’s growth, so as the new arms have reached out into any space they could creep to, we’ve been powerless to do anything about them. I can’t bear the thought of cutting any of them back, for fear of what that would do to next year’s harvest, but I will be very grateful to not have to play limbo to pass through the garden gate.
I’ve actually shared this recipe with you before, in the springtime when Florida strawberries hit Virginia stores and I couldn’t help buying multiple quarts. Molly’s jam recipe is really the only one you need, as it can be modified to use any variety of fruit available at any time of the year. And modify we have, for Brian and I have been jam-making machines this last month. We wanted to preserve as much of the summertime bounty as we could, and since our blackberry bush has produced approximately two dozen quarts of deep purple berries in just 30-days time, jam seemed like an obvious solution. We’ve also frozen half a dozen quarts for use through the fall and winter (its doubtful they’ll make it to spring), made a couple of pastries and plenty of smoothies.
But our favorite use of our overabundance of the sweet-tart fruit has been jam. So far we’ve tried three different varieties with our blackberries, and we have a few more in mind to try out this weekend. The peaches we’ve been picking have come in handy too, providing a natural sweetness that allows us to cut the sugar used in the original recipe. We’ve been eating jam on biscuits, waffles, pancakes, almond butter sandwiches and even pork tenderloin as a delicious glaze. We have jars upon jars stored up in our pantry, waiting to be given to friends or consumed by us over the next 11 months.
In fact, one lucky reader will receive a 6oz jar of Bella EatsJam to enjoy! Just leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite jam/preserves/jelly flavor. Who knows, maybe you’ll see your flavor featured after our next experimentation! I’ll announce the winner on my next post, so comment away until then.
Blackberry Jam with Peaches or Plumsadapted from Molly Wizenburg via Epicurious
8oz fresh blackberries
2 pounds fresh plums or peaches, peeled and chopped
1-1/2 to 2 cups sugar, depending on sweetness of peaches / plums
2 tbsp lemon juice
To peel peaches and plums, bring a large pot of water to boil. Slice a large "X" into the bottom of each piece of fruit. Drop the fruit, 3-4 at a time into the boiling water. Let boil for 45 seconds and remove with a slotted spoon to a large bowl filled with ice water. When fruit is cool (about 1 minute) remove to a cutting board and peel skin, which should pull apart from the fruit easily. Chop fruit into 1/2-inch dice.
Toss blackberries with peaches or plums in medium-size bowl. Add sugar and lemon juice and toss to coat. Let sit for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Prepare canning jars as per canning instructions (see recipe above or instructions for your canning equipment).
Transfer fruit mixture to a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Crush the fruit with a potato masher and let continue to bubble until it thickens, about 20 minutes. Dip a metal spoon into the jam and then hold it over the pot, letting it drip for a few moments to cool. Run your finger down the back of the spoon, through the mixture. If your finger leaves a clear path on the back of the spoon, the jam has cooked long enough. If not, keep cooking and test every 5 minutes until you get a clear path.
Spoon jam into prepared jars and process according to canning instructions (see recipe above or instructions for your canning equipment).
Peach Jam with a Hint of Blackberry(this is the jam pictured in the images above. the blackberry jam with peaches or plums is darker in color)
8oz fresh blackberries
2-1/2 pounds fresh peaches, peeled and chopped
1-1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 tbsp lemon juice, divided
Use the same method as above, except separate the blackberries and peaches into two separate bowls. Toss the peaches with 1 tbsp lemon juice and 3/4 cup sugar. Toss the blackberries with 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 cup sugar. After two hours, puree' blackberries in a food processor or blender, then strain to remove seeds and pulp. Stir blackberry puree' into peaches and continue with step #4.
And, if you're not sure what to do with the 24-ish ounces of jam the recipes above produce, make this cake [pictured above], using the jam instead of the filling. Or, give jars out to your friends - they'll love it, I promise.
Other Bella Terra posts this season:
Bella Terra: PreparationBella Terra: ChivesBella Terra: HerbsBella Terra: Sugar SnapsBella Terra: Red BeetsBella Terra: KaleBella Terra: Cucumbers
One of the things I miss about living in Florida is the extended growing season for fruits and veggies. Our local farmer's market starts up in a couple of weeks (so excited), but it will be at least a month after that before we start seeing any fresh local fruit. Right now, in Florida, strawberries are abundant and I miss being able to stop at a farm stand to pick up a flat for several months out of the year. We do grow strawberries here in Virginia (we even have a few plants in our garden!) but the growing season is limited to about 4 weeks starting in mid-May. During that time I make it a point to visit the closest pick-your-own patch at least twice, coming home after each trip with a giant flat of berries, a slight sunburn and a full belly.
We manage to consume most of the berries we come home with while they are still fresh, but towards the end of the season I'll make a final trip to the patch to pick the few remaining berries that haven't been zapped by June's high temperatures, just to freeze for smoothies later in the summer. Strawberries you've picked and frozen yourself bear no comparison to those you buy in the freezer section of your local grocery and I will surely be freezing some again this year. But I've also decided on another method of preservation for this May (JAM!!!), or maybe its merely an excuse to buy even more at the patch. Because really, nothing makes me much happier than loading up a cardboard box with mounds of freshly picked berries.
In the meantime I'll be making do with the fresh Florida strawberries I'm finding at Whole Foods, which are absolutely delicious even if they do lack the nostalgia that comes with picking them yourself. Canning is a new process for me, and I want to be sure to get some practice in before facing the challenge of preserving enough berries to make my fresh Virginia strawberry nostalgia last me from June 2009 until the following May. Luckily I remembered reading a Molly Wizenburg article in last June's Bon Appetit that outlined the process quite precisely, and was able to adapt her recipe to use strawberries and their favorite partner, rhubarb.
The result was delicious, although I might consider reducing the sugar in my next batch so that the tartness of the rhubarb shines through a bit more. This recipe can be adapted to use an endless variety of fruit, and I plan on experimenting with as many as I can come summertime.
Strawberry Rhubarb Jambasic jam recipe from Orangette via Bon Appetit
24oz fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
1-1/2 lbs rhubarb (about 5 stalks), sliced into 1/2" chunks
2 cups of sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
Place sliced strawberries and rhubarb in a large bowl with sugar and lemon juice. Mix to coat and let sit for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Place 2 saucers in freezer.
Transfer fruit mixture to large saucepan and bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Use a hand-held mixer or immersion blender to puree the fruit as best you can. Reduce heat to medium and boil gently until mixture begins to thicken, stirring often, about 18 minutes.
Remove saucepan from heat to test jam for gelling point. Drop 1 teaspoonful jam on chilled saucer and return to freezer 1 minute. Remove saucer and push edge of jam with fingertip. If jam has properly gelled, surface will gently wrinkle. If not, return saucepan to heat and cook jam a few minutes longer; repeat test.
Ladle hot jam into jars. Allow to cool and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.*
* If you'd like to preserve the jam for longer, follow Molly's method here. The jam will keep for months, unopened in the pantry, if you follow a proper canning method. Then, you can send a jar to friends and make them very, very happy.
Thank you all for the sweet Happy Birthday messages! I had a fabulous day, or weekend actually, filled with cake (friday, saturday AND today!), dinner out, brunch in and lots of great company. I could not have wished for more, and your messages have put it over the top. Thank you!!!In the Blog World:Roseis giving away one of those fantastic Quaker robe and slipper sets! The deadline is midnight tonight, so hurry up! And after you enter, stick around to read more of Rose's wonderful blog and fabulous oatmeal stories...she is such a creative lady!