Jingle Bell Jar Lanterns

jingle-bell

I used to have some cute outdoor lanterns on the porch, but after just two seasons, they got all rusted and were falling apart – and they were supposed to be outdoor lanterns! So this season, I needed a better solution and happened to have one sitting right on my pantry shelf – a half gallon quart mason jar. Isn’t it cute?

It’s so easy to put together. All you need is a quart mason jar, a couple of packages of medium-sized jingle bells and a battery operated candle. Fill the jar halfway with bells, tuck in the candle, and you’re all set. You can find battery operated candles that have remotes or can be set to a timer to make it easier to turn on and off. I’m thinking about a adding a length of red ribbon to the top for a little extra pop of color.

If you’re looking for a cute, affordable lantern option that’s suitable for either indoor or outdoor use, mason jars are the answer!

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DIY Mason Jar Gift Sets

mason-jar-gift-sets

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve got a thing for mason jars. I also have a thing for gift baskets and sets – there’s nothing better than giving (or receiving) a complete gift set to try to something new or practice a favorite hobby. So while I’m certainly not the first person to come up with the idea, I’m quick to jump on the bandwagon of mason jar gift sets. Here are some of the versions I’ve put together recently.

Arts & Crafts Jar

art-jar

This jar is fantastic for kids (or crafty adults), and can be done really affordably with supplies from the dollar store.  You can tailor the jar’s contents to what your recipient likes. Have a coloring fanatic? Do a bunch of coloring books and crayons, markers and colored pencils. Have a crocheter on your list? Stuff it full of yarns, hooks and patterns. For this kit, I was looking to put together an all purpose kit for a couple of fantastic kid crafters I know, so I wanted to include a variety of supplies for maximum inspiration. Some of the key items I included in a half gallon jar were –

  • Mini coloring/activity books
  • Glitter glue
  • Beads and lacing
  • Craft sticks
  • Foam sticker shapes
  • Rubber stamps and ink pads
  • Tissue paper squares
  • Googly eyes
  • Gemstone stickers
  • Colored pom poms

DIY Cheese Kit

cheese-jar

Making cheese at home is a great project for those that love to be in the kitchen, and mozzarella cheese is fantastic for beginners as no special equipment or exotic ingredients are needed. For this jar, I included the following items in a half gallon jar –

  • Mozzarella cheese recipe
  • Cheese salt
  • Vegetable rennet tablets
  • Citric acid
  • Reusable cheesecloth bags

Cupcake Kit

cupcake-jar

There are few people in the world that don’t like cupcakes. For people that like to bake as much as eat, a cupcake kit is a fun gift to give. I was excited to find natural/organic sprinkles and food coloring made without artificial dyes for this one. In half gallon jar I included these items –

  • Vanilla cupcake recipe
  • Buttercream frosting recipe
  • Reusable silicone baking cups
  • Cupcake stencils
  • Vanilla
  • Natural food coloring
  • Natural sprinkles

So if you’re stumped about what to give for gifts this season, a customized mason jar kit might be just the answer!

Winter Preserving

winter-preserving

Ah, winter. The hustle and bustle of the fall harvest is behind us, and we hopefully preserved enough salsa, pasta sauce and other summer goodies to tide us over through the colder months. Many people have packed up their canning gear and empty jars and stowed them away in the basement until next summer. But you don’t have to! I love canning and preserving, so packing away my gear never really happens – it’s just part of my kitchen landscape.

But you might be wondering what on earth  you can preserve in the winter, especially if you try to preserve seasonal, local produce. There’s plenty! Cold season crops are available at our farmer’s market all winter, that farmers either grow in greenhouses or high tunnels, or keep in cold storage after harvest. Some of my favorite things to preserve with in the winter area –

  • Cabbage – we love making sauerkraut!
  • Cauliflower – pickled cauliflower is really tasty and is something different on appetizer platters.
  • Apples – applesauce, apple butter, pie filling, you name it.
  • Garlic – pickled garlic is great to have on hand, or it can be used to make infused oil or vinegar.

And while not local to northern Illinois, winter is the season for citrus. You can buy citrus directly from small farmers on sites like Local Harvest. And you can do so much with it – marmalade, dehydrated zest for baking, extracts, liqueurs, and so much more.

And you’re not limited to just preserving with produce. Here are some of my favorite “unconventional” things to preserve –

  • Wine jelly – this is a delicious accompaniment to roasted meat.
  • Mustard – can’t be beat with sausages and roasted meat dishes in the winter, and can be made in a variety of flavors and styles.
  • Flavored oil – garlic and rosemary flavored is a household staple.
  • Flavored vinegar – wonderful mixed with flavored oil for home made vinaigrette.
  • Cider jelly – great in sweet and savory dishes, but especially tasty on thumb print cookies!

So while it’s fine to slow down and take a break from preserving in the winter if you want to (you earned it!) you certainly don’t have to pack away the canning pot. There are many easy and delicious things to can up in the cold season!

Jam, Jelly- What’s the Difference?

jam-jelly-whats-the-difference

I get asked all the time in my jam and jelly classes what the difference is between all of the different types of fruit spreads. There are jams, jellies, marmalades, conserves, chutneys, preserves – and it can be downright confusing. After all, they’re all made with fruit. So what’s the difference? Here’s a handy glossary to tell them all apart –

Jam – a chunky, sweetened fruit spread made with crushed fruit.

Jelly – a smooth fruit spread made with fruit juice.

Marmalade – a jam specifically made with citrus fruit.

Conserve – a jam with added raisins and/or nuts.

Chutney – jam with the addition of vegetable, spices and vinegar characterized by it’s sweet and sour flavor.

Preserve – whole fruit preserves in it’s own jelly, so that the shape of the fruit is retained (not crushed). This term is also used generically to refer to any of the above types of fruit spreads.

So, now that you can tell the difference between the different types of fruit spreads, which ones are your favorites? I’m partial to jellies, but a good jam can’t be beat either!

Reference – 

Kingry, J., & Devine, L. (2006). Complete book of home preserving: 400 delicious and creative recipes for today. Toronto: R. Rose.

Best Canning Books of 2016

bestcanning-booksof-2016

Sure – “best” is a subjective term, but 2016 brought us a handful of amazing new canning books that should be part of any food preservation library. And since it’s the season of giving, remember that books make fantastic gifts for the food lovers in your life (or a treat for yourself)!

Foolproof Preserving – America’s Test Kitchen

I have long been a fan of America’s Test Kitchen – not only do they test and design recipes to be the best versions out there, they also explain why and how the recipes work. So when it was announced that they were coming out with a canning book, I was excited. While there are lots of classics included in this book, there are a ton of new twists and exciting new flavor combinations – all in tested, fully safe recipe formats for canning.

My number one favorite recipe in the entire book is the Roasted Tomato & Lime Salsa. It’s hand down the best salsa I’ve ever created, and it won me first place in the county fair this fall. It’s that good! A few more my favorite recipes are Mulled Cider Jelly, Summer Tomato Sauce, Bloody Mary Mix, Clementines in Syrup, Dijon Mustard, and Applesauce.

Another benefit to the recipes in this book is the fact they’re designed as small batches, meaning you can put up just a few jars of each item, which is great if you’re short on time, attention and/or produce. But the recipes double easily as well, if you prefer to do bigger batches. This is a great book for both beginners and those more experienced canners who want to add some recipes to their repertoire.

The All New Ball Book of Canning & Preserving

Ball is the industry leader and authority on home food preservation. They’ve been around since basically the beginning, and have a huge library of books available to home canners, most notably the “Blue Book”, which is typically given a refresh every couple of years or so. This new book in their line quickly became a go-to for me this year, with recipes like Low Sugar Roasted Strawberry & Chamomile Jelly, Southeast Asian Sweet & Sour Sauce, and Oven Roasted Marinara becoming new family favorites.

This is another book that’s great for both beginners looking for easy classics to start with, as well as experienced preservers who want to try something new. It’s also formatted with small batch (but easily doubled) recipes. One added benefit that this book has is that it also contains recipes for cooking with your creations, and includes chapters on pressure canning, freezing, dehydrating, curing/smoking, and fermentation in addition to water bath canning. So if you want to get a well-rounded taste all kinds of food preservation to see what you like best, this is the book to get.

Naturally Sweet Food in Jars – Marisa McClellan

A lot of people are really skeptical about canning traditional jams and jellies because of the large quantities of sugar these recipes call for – sometimes up to 7 cups for a couple of quarts of fruit! Fortunately, there are low and no sugar pectins on the market that can significantly reduce the amount of sugar needed, but at the end of the day, refined sugar still isn’t the healthiest thing in the world. Cutting out refined sugar and using more natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and dried fruit is increasingly important to home cooks, myself included.

Fortunately McClellan has answered the call and written a book focused exclusively on canning recipes with natural sweeteners. Roasted Apricot Jam, Honeyed Meyer Limoncello,  and Lavender Lemonade Concentrate are some of my favorites from this book. And like the other books mentioned, this one also focuses on small batches that are more than manageable for busy home cooks to pull off.

So, whether you’re shopping for someone else or working on your own wish list for this year – books are the way to go, especially with so many great new recipes that can really up your canning game.