Pepper Jelly

I have been experimenting with all of the lovely peppers I found at market the past few weeks. 20121023-225739.jpg

I tried making pepper jelly for the first time and canning it to keep for the wintery months. The first batch came out awesome! It was delicious – not too sweet, not too hot, just the right amount of kick. My second batch was a bit hotter because I switched up the peppers a bit and added in a chocolate Habanero.

I have been reading a lot of pepper jelly recipes from around the web to get ideas. I took a little advice from each of them.

I used a bunch of different peppers from around market. The stand holders have an explosion of them this time of year, as the plants produce their final peppers of the season. Since they are so abundant, you can get a lot of peppers for a little bit of money. I used a spectrum of peppers, in colors and in heat. My first two batches included peppers ranging from Habanero hot to bell pepper mild. Here are some of the peppers that I used: green bell, red bell, cherry pepper, jalapeno, chocolate habanero, anaheim chile, hungarian wax, poblano, serrano, bolivian rainbow (I think), and others that had no label at the market.

Here are a few pepper identification sites from around the web if you don’t know your peppers. some of them also tell you the heat levels – very helpful. Check them out: Epicurious, Chow, and Saveur.

I don’t think the exact peppers you use will matter that much, it’s more about the ratio of hot to mild. I am not very heat tolerant so I used a lot of sweet peppers and kind of mild hot peppers like jalapenos and cherry peppers in the first round. I’m writing a recipe that gives the overall quantity of peppers to use in the jelly mixture. The ratio you use is up to you. I think the best ratio of  4 1/2 -5 cups mild/sweet peppers to 1/2 cup hot peppers. It really depends on the type of hot peppers you use… warning: if you use 1/2 cup of Habanero then your jelly is going to be hot!

Pepper Jelly

5 – 5 1/2 cups peppers

1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar

3 1/2 tbsp. pectin

1 cup raw honey

2 cups organic cane sugar

Cut up all of your peppers really small, or put them in the food processor and pulse them until they are cut into small pieces – but don’t turn them into paste.

Bring the peppers and vinegar up to a boil and gradually add in the pectin, stirring constantly. Allow the mixture to boil hard for a few minutes. Add in the sugar and honey and bring the mixture back up to a rolling boil. Allow to boil again for about 5 minutes, stirring the mixture.

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Prepare your jars and lids. Here’s a really good resource on how to prep your jars so they are clean and sterile.

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Fill your heated jars with the jelly, leaving about 1/4 inch head-space in each jar, make sure the edges are clean, cover with lids and screw the bands on. Boil the jars for ten minutes and remove from canner. Allow the jars to cool, they will seal and the jelly will set within 24 hours.

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The seals are usually good soon after you remove them from the canner and they start to cool. Check the lids and if they did not seal within 24 hours then process the jars again. This jelly is not as thick as regular fruit jelly. If your jelly is sliding around in the jar, it is ok! It is a good consistency for placing atop a piece of cheese.

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A few lessons I learned from reading and from experience:

1. Be very careful when handling the peppers! Wear gloves – seriously, really – wear gloves. If you cut up and clean the seeds out of a bunch of hot peppers… your hands are going to burn. It might not happen right away, but a little while later, or right about when you have to start canning the jelly, your hands are going to be on fire. I have had this happen to me both times I made this jelly. You think I would have learned after the first time, right? Well I did learn but silly me just tried to put plastic baggies on my hands for protection because I didn’t have gloves. That was a mistake because my hands still hurt and burned.

2. I made up another theory about what might be happening to cause the burning on my skin. I have no scientific evidence to back this up so it might sound dumb. I was not wearing gloves while cooking the jelly and all of the steam was hitting my hands as I stirred. I realized that some of the capsaicin had to be going into the air because it was making me cough. So I am not sure, but I thought maybe that was what was making my hands burn. I will be doing more research on this. I will also be buying a box of gloves and wearing them every time I cut up a bunch of hot peppers.

3. The jelly is a thinner consistency than fruit jelly normally is. I like this consistency. It is good for spreading on a cracker with cheese. If you like your jelly a little thicker, add about 1/2 tbsp more of pectin to your batch. I also read that some people drain their peppers before they cook them with the vinegar. I didn’t want to do that because I felt like I was loosing a bunch of the flavor.

4. I list 5-5 1/2 cups of peppers because it is hard sometimes to get an exact amount with out wasting some of the peppers. I also don’t think that it’s necessary to be that exact when measuring out the peppers. I had a few little differences in the batches I made and they both came out great. You should measure out the other ingredients pretty accurately because the other ingredients will have more of an affect how your jelly turns out.

5. I used the small 4 oz. ball jars. This batch filled about 16 of them. I think they are a great way to serve the jelly. You can set the jar out next to a piece of cheese and it looks cute with a little serving spoon in it. You don’t have to search for a small serving bowl and you can just put the lid back on if there is any left… but there probably won’t be any left.

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I paired this savory jelly with wheat crackers and a specialty aged cheddar cheese from Cabot Creamery. This is my new favorite snack… and quiet possibly my favorite cheese combination ever! You will be hooked after you try it.

If you are interested in cheese making – I know I am – then watch this video on one of Cabot’s specialty cheeses. I would love to visit the place where they age all the cheeses or visit the creamery itself.

Thanks to my chef friend Aaron for some inspiration with the pepper jelly and paring, I had his version a few weeks back and it was amazing!

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One Super September Saturday!

October is almost over and it is getting a bit chilly! Right before the weather began to change I had one fine Saturday at the end of September. It began with an outside brunch with my friends Janeen and Carrie. We sat outside in the sunshine in front of Fork’n’Spoon Cafe  on Prince Street in downtown Lancaster and had a few delicious dishes.

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Carrie had the BLT and I had the poached eggs over tomatoes and spinach (pictured above, and perfectly cooked). The french toast that Janeen had (pictured above) was smothered in bananas, walnuts and carmely sweet syrup. Everything was great and it was really nice to sit outside enjoying warm coffee with some of my best girlfriends. I think it’s safe to say that we would all recommend Fork’n’Spoon Cafe, especially for an outside brunch.

I made my way over a block to the Central Market, my favorite part of my Saturday morning routine. I found some great produce at one stand that I really like Stoner’s Home Grown Vegetables. They always have homegrown heirloom veggies and they are now open on Saturdays!

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I made this awesome salad later in the week with all the veggies I bought… yes, there are edible flowers in it!

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Janeen and I decided to go up to Lititz, PA and spend a little time walking around. There is a new olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting shop called Olio. While it was quite fun to taste all of their olive oils and balsamic vinegars, I just wish they put out some crackers or bread to cleanse your palate between tastings. They did have water and I tried to limit myself to a few tastings… but I really wanted to taste every one of the olive oils they had.

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I loved these metal containers that held the oils and vinegars. I would love one to dispense olive oil in my kitchen. They were beautifully polished and poured the liquids out slow enough to get a small tasting amount. How I wish I could find one of these! I might just have to do some hunting on the internet.

I settled on Moroccan EVOO and Chocolate Balsamic vinegar – both of which I plan to use on a salad with fresh strawberries and maybe some Parmesan cheese.

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Olio also carries several salts, spices, their own condiments, olives, and various other goodies. I saw this long pepper (below) and I wanted to try it. So far I have used it to spice up sauces, veggies, and braised meats. It is actually a dried cattail reed. I have been crushing it up with a mortar and pestle, it smells very fragrant and adds subtle flavor.

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So… Lititz has a wine tasting room now.

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Waltz vineyards opened a small wine tasting room where you can taste wines for $5. Their vineyard isn’t too far away, located in Manheim, PA. We learned that they offer tastings with cheese parings regularly and they also hold a few paring dinners a year at the vineyard. I will probably be visiting the actual vineyard soon. Some of the wines that this winery produces are probably the best Pennsylvania wine I have ever had. Pennsylvania wine is usually too sweet for my taste but this vineyard has a few wines that range from slightly sweet to very dry. I am not going to pretend that I know a lot about wine… but I did like their Merlot.


We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around some of Lititz’s little shops. Most are kitschy but it was such a beautiful day to walk around the tiny town. We finished our visit with little rest at a sidewalk table at the Bull’s Head Public House, enjoying a pumpkin ale and the crisp air.

And, yea, we stopped for cupcakes on the way home…

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Sublime Cupcakes… they are sublime, but they need some tables so you don’t have to eat them in the parking lot… or I guess you could just get them to go. But seriously, they are delicious cupcakes, very moist with awesome icing! It was a good snack to keep us going until we got to our next destination of this super Saturday…

The end of September brings Oktoberfest into full swing. One tradition that my friends and I have been enjoying for several years now is the Lancaster Liederkranz‘s Oktoberfest. This German Society holds the Oktoberfest at a picnic grove surrounded by trees and decorated with Bavarian flags and twinkle lights.

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Did you know that Oktoberfest officially begins with the tapping of a keg of beer? The keg is brought into the fest in a parade-style manner and a baby rides into the festivities on top of.. it is true.

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There are many German delights to be had at the Oktoberfest. You have to buy these tickets to purchase anything at the fest.

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There are giant Bavarian pretzels…

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Bratwurst with sauerkraut…

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Giant potato pancakes served with apple sauce…

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…and many other German delights! Just get there early – I think this Oktoberfest is getting really popular – they ran out of many other German meats before we move to the front of the food line!

There are also fun activities for kids, like painting Koo-Koo clocks and puppet shows.

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German dancing goes well into the night. There are several traditional German dances displayed throughout the weekend. Many of them tell a story and use props like the one shown below.

You can even join in the fun and learn how to polka dance and line dance to some German music. Here’s one of our favorite tunes that has a dance that goes along with it – Fliegerlied.

Enjoy the end of October – there might still be time to catch an late Oktoberfest somewhere. I do hope to see some new faces at the Lancaster Leiderkrankz grounds next year!

Butternut squash and leek Macaroni and cheese

Butternut Squash and Leek Macaroni and Cheese

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This is a great fall dinner. It is perfect for a chilly night and it can be deliciously paired with a spicy pumpkin ale.

2 lb. butternut squash

1/2 sweet onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced

2 leeks, cleaned and sliced

1 lb. pasta – shells, or your other favorite smaller shape

6 tbsp. unsalted butter

3 tbsp. flour

1 cup chicken stock

2 cups milk

1/2 lb. cheddar cheese, grated

1/2 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

a handful of basil, chiffonade

3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Clean and cut the butternut squash into smaller chunks, about the same size as the pasta you chose to use. Saute the squash, onion and half the garlic in 1 tbsp. butter. Cook until the squash is close to being soft all the way through – check it by sticking a fork through it.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Save some of the pasta water to thin out your sauce in case it gets too thick.

Saute the leeks and the other half of the garlic in 3 tbsp. of butter until tender. Add in the  flour and whisk in until smooth. Add in half the chicken stock, whisk until smooth again. Warm the milk (in the microwave or on the stove) and add it into the sauce, whisk until creamy. Let the sauce cook down until it is a little thick – keep whisking it so the bottom doesn’t burn. When the sauce thickens add in the cheddar and Gruyere cheese and whisk until all the cheese is melted.

Mix the sauce, cooked pasta, basil and squash mixture together. If the sauce is too thick, thin it out with a little bit of pasta water. Pour it all into a buttered 9×13 inch baking dish.

Make a mixture of 2 tbsp butter cut into small pieces, the Panko breadcrumbs and the parmesan cheese. Mix it with your finger tips to separate the butter. Sprinkle it on top of the pasta and bake in the over at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until your breadcrumbs look toasted.
For all you bacon lovers out there – try adding some bacon crumbles to the top before you bake it…. mmmm!

Sweet Potato and Bacon Soup

This soup was kind of an accident. I don’t know what made me want to turn sweet potatoes into soup – but I am glad that I tried it because it has quickly turned into one of my favorites. I have made it twice now, with and without leeks, both were delicious.

Sweet Potato and Bacon Soup

4 slices bacon

1/2 medium-sized sweet onion

2 carrots

3 ribs celery

3 cloves of garlic

1 large or 2 thin leeks

1 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes

3 cups vegetable or chicken broth

a hand full of chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup light cream

creme fraiche

Cut the bacon in small pieces and cook over medium high heat. Allow the fat to render and remove the crispy bacon bits that remain in the pan. *The bacon bits will get soggy in the soup so make sure you remove them at this point.

Dice the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery stalks and saute them in the bacon fat for a few minutes. Clean and slice the leeks and add them to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste and saute until all veggies are tender.

*Here’s a little hint about slicing the leeks. Most recipes tell you to slice the leeks into half-moons. We are going to blend this soup with a hand blender. I find that when the leeks are sliced like this they tend to get stuck in the hand blender and leave stringy pieces in the soup. If you slice the leeks lengthwise and then cut them across, you get very small square pieces that do not get stuck in the hand blender. If you are going to use a regular blender and spoon your soup into it, it probably doesn’t matter which way you slice the leeks. Here’s what they looks like cut up small:

After the veggies are tender, add the sweet potatoes and saute about 5 minutes. Add in the stock and bring to a boil, simmer until the potatoes are tender.

Chop the basil and add it into the pot. Turn off the heat and use a hand blender to blend the soup until creamy. Add in the light cream and stir. You can thin the soup with more broth if you like it a little thinner.


Serve the soup topped with a dollop of creme fraiche, a little more basil, and bacon crumbles on top.

Sunday brunch at POUR

I had a brunch date with my husband on Sunday. Brunch just might be my favorite meal to go out and eat. It is always relaxing and fun whether it be with two people or a bunch. You could dress up in your fancy pants, or dress down in jeans and bring along your market bags. It’s a great way to start your day.

Dan and I decided to try POUR on Prince Street. It was kind of a rainy and cold day so we couldn’t sit outside. It was cozy inside and they have awesome coffee that warmed us up from the cold.

POUR has a small but well put together menu that had a nice variety of brunch choices. We both chose egg dishes that included some delicious meats. I had the toad-in-the-hole which was topped with two local sausage links. The bread was a piece of thick cut brioche with a fried egg inside a cut out ring. My only slight disappointment was that the egg was really runny. I like a runny yolk but I don’t like when the white is runny… a little too much slime for me. The sausages were delicious and topped with a mustard gravy. Very Oktoberfest, appropriate for fall, and very tasty.

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Dan had the steak and eggs. His egg was poached perfectly- soft yolk and cooked white, not too slimy. The steak was also cooked exactly how he ordered it (medium). The wild chanterelle mushrooms on the side made this dish a step above your regular steak and eggs breakfast. Everything was served atop creamy grits. Of course I had a taste, a little bite of all of it, and it was delicious.

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We finished up brunch with an order of drinks instead of dessert. The beer menu is impressive here, pretty well curated. Dan ended up with a Hennepin from Ommegang Brewery. I had a Bloody Mary – ordered a little less spicy than they normally make it. It was garnished with some of my favorite things… meat, cheese, an olives… so I loved it!

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One thing that I really wanted to try was the charcuterie offerings. I was so stuffed that I couldn’t create a tray for myself this time but I will be ordering it first next time I come to POUR. They had a variety of meats and cheeses that seemed to all catch my eye. You choose the ones you want and they create a board just for you. This is right up my alley… I need to go back.

Grow you own mushrooms – round 1

I grew my first bunch of mushrooms with my mushroom grow kit. I was pretty impressed at how large they grew! I probably shouldn’t have let them get as big as they did but I was fascinated at seeing how they changed everyday. Here’s the pictures showing the growth for ten days:

We started with just a block of stuff that looked like spent beer grains, covered it with a moisture tent, kept it moist, and two days later a mushroom started popping out!

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Day 2

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Day 3

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Day 4

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Day 5, I was surprised to see the mushrooms growing together instead of a lot of individual stalks. There were several that grew up like conjoined twins. I really don’t know how that happened.

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Day 6

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Day 8, I am not sure why the mushrooms only grew out of the top of the block either. I imagined that they would grow out all over the place… that’s what it looked like in my head anyway…

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Day 9, The mushrooms were starting to get so big that they were starting to touch the moisture tent!

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Day 10, I decided it was time to stop watching them grow and actually harvest them.

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Here’s what the block looked like after I picked them all off. The instructions said to soak the block over night in water to “reactivate” it and more mushrooms will grow. I hope it works! The block feels a lot lighter and looks smaller than what I started with.

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Here we are, 4 (or 5) pretty large shiitake mushrooms!

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This one was bigger than my hand! It is also the one I ate first – I added it to some pho I ordered that night. It was yummy!

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Well my first try at growing my own mushrooms was kind of a success. I really thought I would have mushrooms popping out all over the block. I wasn’t expecting only 4-5 to grow at once. I hope that more grow during the 2nd round of the block.

If it seems like the block is not producing any more mushrooms, I am going to try to put it in the back yard with some logs and hope that the spores spread. I might have a mushrooms garden in my backyard next spring!

Spaghetti Squash

My friend asked me about recipes for spaghetti squash the other day and I though I would post a small collection of some of my favorites.

If you haven’t tried spaghetti squash… you should! It’s a good substitute for actual spaghetti if you are trying to lay off the carbs. I personally can’t give up pasta or I will starve to death, but I do like to eat different things once in a while…

There are a few different ways to cook the squash. It is pretty neat once it is cooked and the flesh turns soft. The flesh turns into long fibrous strings that you can remove just by scraping with a fork. Check out what they look like:

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I cooked this squash in the microwave by cutting it in half and placing it in a baking dish upside down with a small amount of water. Though I don’t usually cook many things in the microwave, it is the quickest method to cook the squash. It takes about ten minutes to get soft and you can’t really screw it up. If you bake it in the oven it will take 30-40 minutes, you should still add water to the baking dish and cook it cut side down. You could also boil it, which does take longer and tastes the same so I don’t really think it’s worth it.

No matter which way you cook it, you should try to let it drain once you have scooped it out of the skin. It will make whatever you are adding to it watery if you don’t drain off the extra water.

I usually just add my favorite sauce on top, just like spaghetti. If you mix in a little butter, salt, and parmesan cheese to the plain squash it makes it even better! You could also add crime fraiche if you want to get fancy…and delicious.

We had beef short rib ragu on top of spaghetti squash tonight for dinner, along with a mixture of fall veggies.

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Here are some of my other favorite recipes from around the web:

A very simple side dish

A Greek version

With shrimp on top

Roasted and sweet

I can’t seem to find my favorite recipe online, but I will tell you all about it. I’ll have to cook it up next time I get a spaghetti squash at market and write out the exact quantities. I don’t think it should be too hard to figure out. I made a very creamy casserole out of a pretty big squash one time – cooking the squash in the microwave, scraping it out, draining it, and then mixing it with a few simple but delicious ingredients. I included creme fraiche, fresh thyme, crushed pink peppercorns, nutmeg, butter, and the squash strands all in a bowl and mixed. Everything went into a casserole dish and into the oven until it bubbled. It was a rich and delicious side dish, perfect for a fall meal.

Experiment yourself! You could add pretty much anything to this squash. It takes the flavors of whatever you add to it, so it is super versatile!