Strawberry Jam

Homemade jam is really quite easy. Throw some fruit, sugar and lemon juice into a pot and boil for a while until jam-like. You're done. And you end up with a jam that tastes like fresh, sweet fruit reminiscent of the season in which it was picked.

I stared making jam a few years ago. Before that I had always thought that making jam would be a daunting and time-consuming process. Fortunately, there are two ways to get around that:

First, you don't need to use pectin, the powdered gelling agent, to thicken your jam. Your grandma probably didn't use pectin. Fruit, plus lemon juice, plus sugar, and a long enough boil is all you need to make jam. Using pectin is totally fine (and in fact my brother-in-law made a great strawberry jam last summer using pectin), and doing so will give you a more firm consistency like the jam you buy from the store. But, I like to take a more simple route and just throw the fruit into the pot and get a softly-set jam that is great for spreading on toast, scones or even stealing a spoonful straight from the jar.

Second, canning a big batch of jam is a great way to enjoy your fruit all year long. Most summers I buy big batches of fruit and do just that. But, for a small batch of jam this really isn't necessary.  It can last for several weeks in the fridge, so you can save yourself all the time of the boiling jars, and just and chill it there. I like to store it in 1/2 pint mason jars, but any glass container will work.

Easy Strawberry Jam

3 pounds strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
2½ cups sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Mix all ingredients in a heavy medium pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 90 minutes.

Ladle jam into jars, cover with lids, and screw on bands gently. Allow to cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator.

Makes approximately 3½ cups.

Notes: You can purchase with mason jars with the lids and rings at most major grocery stores.  You'll need four half-pint jars to store this jam. Even though you are not preserving this jam I still like to run the jars, lids and rings through the hottest setting on my dishwasher to sterilize them. Store for 2-4 weeks in the refrigerator. 

Here's a bonus recipe. Strawberries generally pair well with basil. And black pepper. And goat cheese. So, I like to combine all three, spread them on toast and top with the jam. It's a yummy and hearty breakfast.

Toast with Basil-Black Pepper-Goat Cheese and Strawberry Jam 

2 ounces goat cheese, softened
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon freshly chopped basil
1 grind black pepper
1 piece of whole-grain bread
Strawberry jam

Toast the bread. While the bread is toasting mash together the goat cheese, milk, basil, and black pepper in a small bowl with a fork. Spread goat cheese mixture on toast. Spread strawberry jam on top.

Serves 1.



Confession: I usually make brownies from a box. Gasp! I know, you think I make everything from scratch and that's mostly true. But the thing is, I actually like brownies from a box better than homemade. I've tried to make brownies from scratch several times because I really want to find THE perfect brownie recipe, but each time I'm disappointed. They come out a little cakey and definitely not chewy enough for me.

Luckily, America's Test Kitchen solved this dilemma for me. (note: I learn so much from that show. You should watch it on your local PBS station if you don't already). They did a show about chocolate a couple of years ago and it featured a chewy brownie recipe. They explained why homemade brownies are not chewy but boxed brownies are. It has to do with the amount of saturated vs unsaturated fat in a brownie. If you've ever made a homemade brownie, you probably used butter (a saturated fat), but if you've made a box brownie you know you use oil (unsaturated). A higher ratio of unsaturated fat is what produces a chewy brownie. You can read more about it here.

So, since watching the show I now use their recipe every time I bake brownies. Whew! Now, I can really say that I do bake everything from scratch. The great thing about this recipe is that it's almost as easy as using a brownie mix. There is no mixer required and it's made in only one bowl.

Well, make that two bowls, if you choose to add this decadent peanut butter filling (and you should). To make the ultimate brownie, I like to add a peanut butter filling that I've been using for a while from Martha Stewart.

The nice part about the recipe I have below is that you can make it as is for the best peanut butter brownies, or you can omit the peanut butter filling and just make the rest of the recipe and you'll have the best chocolate brownies (you may need to reduce baking time by a few minutes). Or, if you are pressed for time, there's no shame in using a boxed brownie mix. Just whip up the peanut butter filling and swirl it into the batter as I've stated below and people will still be thanking you for the great brownies. I like to use Ghirardelli brownie mix as I think it has better chocolate flavor than other grocery store brands.

Peanut Butter Brownies

Brownie Batter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2½ cups sugar
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, or bittersweet chocolate cut into ½" pieces

Peanut Butter Filling
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter (do not use natural peanut butter)
¾ cup confectioners' sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt

Adjust rack to lowest position in oven and heat to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 inch metal baking pan with foil leaving an overhang on all sides (this will help you remove the brownies from the pan later). Spray foil liberally with cooking spray.

Make brownie batter: Whisk cocoa, espresso powder and boiling water together in a large bowl until smooth. Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until melted. Whisk in butter and oil (it's okay if the mixture looks curdled). Whisk in eggs, yolks and vanilla until smooth. Whisk in sugar until incorporated. Whisk in salt. Fold in flour with rubber spatula until combined. Fold in chocolate chips or pieces.

Make peanut butter filling: Whisk together all ingredients until smooth.

Pour half brownie batter into pan. Dollop half of peanut butter filling on top of batter in 12 evenly spaced mounds (no, it doesn't have to be perfect). Pour remaining brownie batter into the pan. Dollop the rest of  the peanut butter filling on top of batter in 12 evenly spaced mounds. Using a butter knife swirl the batter to create a marbleized effect, being sure to gently touch the bottom of the pan to ensure that all the peanut butter is swirled into the batter.

Bake for 30 -35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted halfway between the center and edge of the pan (you can see where I inserted the toothpick in the photo below) comes out with just a few moist crumbs.

Let cool in pan on rack for 90 minutes. Using sling, remove brownies from pan and allow to cool in the sling on the rack for another hour. Cut into 24 squares.

Makes 24 brownies.

Notes: Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days. If you use a glass pan instead of a metal pan, remove the brownies from the pan (but keep in sling) 10 minutes after baking otherwise the heat retention of the glass can cause them to over bake.