Concord grape jam, 1/2 hour later

Epic Concord Grape Freezer Jam

Last week, I promised you my recipe for (epic) Concord grape freezer jam, and I am a girl of my word!

But first, some backstory.

A couple weeks ago, I went shopping at the new Friendly City Food Co-Op here in downtown H’burg. (They’re open to the public – go there now!). I was out of grapes – the seedless kind that I can eat mindlessly while moseying to work. At the checkout counter, the clerk asked if I’d ever eaten Concord grapes.


He excitedly ran around the counter, plucked a bunch off of the grape stand, and handed them to me. “They have seeds, and some people don’t like to eat the skins, but I just eat the whole thing. They’re so good!” he said. I pondered how I was going to gracefully eat a grape with seeds and inedible skins while standing in line at the grocery store. Whatevs! I ate a grape.

Holy $%&!! It tasted like grape jelly!

All these years, I thought that grape jelly was just some sort of frankenfood, because it never tasted like grapes. I figured it must have been a made-up flavor, just called “grape” for some weird reason. It never struck me that I was eating the “wrong” kind of grapes, or that grape jelly was made from grapes other than the red and green seedless ones I was used to eating. Duh. So, I’m a little slow. My Food IQ has been traditionally very low!

I was immediately determined to make my own Concord grape freezer jam.

After much Googling, it became clear to me that nobody on the planet had recorded a simple account of their Concord grape freezer jam making experience. I found hodge-podge mash-ups of partial methods, tons of half-arsed instructions, and many traditional jam methods (with the whole boil-your-jars and all that jazz) – but no true freezer jam methods.

Fear not, my friends. I made freezer jam from Concord grapes, and I’m going to tell you exactly how I did it. The results are divinely delicious – dare I say, epic.

Unlike most freezer jam, Concord grape jam does require a little cooking – but don’t worry. It’s nothing hardcore (though you can call it hardcore if you’re going for a more bad-ass jar of jam. The whole grape peeling part surely earns you some bad-ass kitchen cred).

You’ll need a food processor (or immersion blender or something of that nature), a fine sieve/strainer, a potato masher, a medium sized sauce pan, a medium bowl, a small bowl, 3 8-oz jam jars/lids, 2/3 cup sugar or other sweetener by equivalent sweetness, not volume (separated 1/3 and 1/3), and 2 Tbsp no-cook instant pectin. You can use less sugar if you’d like a less sweet jam.

Let’s rock it:

1. Buy some Concord grapes. A small batch of jam is three 8-oz jars. To make that, you’ll need just under 2 cups of prepared grapes (about 1 2/3 cups, in my case), and for me, that required 3 containers of grapes. The container said 1 liter, but that made no sense. My containers were the ones that measure about 8 inches long by 4 inches wide. 3 of those.

2. Peel those grapes. Pull a grape off the stem, then squeeze the end between your thumb and forefinger. The guts of the grape will slide out easily. Put the guts into a saucepan, and the peel into your food processor. It took me a little over an hour to peel all those grapes. Employing child labor here might be wise.

Peeled Concord grapes

Grape guts: peeled Concord grapes

3. Once all of your grape guts are in the sauce pan, add a little bit of water (no more than 1/3 cup) and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Why? Because this is the easiest way to separate the seeds.

Concord grape skins

Concord grape skins

4. In the meantime, your skins should now be collected in the food processor. Add 1/3 cup sugar and process until smooth. Be careful – this is where things have the potential to get REALLY messy. The skins don’t make much of a mess themselves, but once you puree them, the purple will stain anything and everything. (I am the Voice of Experience).

Blending Concord grape skins with sugar

Blending Concord grape skins with sugar

5. Turn the heat off the grape guts (OK fine… pulp… the grape pulp…). Grab your sieve, and position it over a bowl. Pour the grape pulp into the sieve and mash the pulp through the sieve with a potato masher. Your goal here is to remove all of the seeds but get as much pulp through as possible.

Mash the grape guts to separate seeds

Mash the grape guts to separate seeds

6. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1/3 cup sugar with 2 Tbsp instant pectin.

7. Pour the pureed grape skin mixture into the sauce pan with the grape pulp. Add the sugar/pectin mixture. Stir for 3 minutes.

Add the pureed skins to the grape guts

Add the pureed skins to the grape guts

8. Ladle the grape mixture into jam jars. Make sure to leave 1/2 inch of head space at the top of each jar so that there’s room for expansion during freezing. You don’t want grape jam exploding all over your freezer.

9. Let the jars sit on the counter for 30 minutes.

Concord grape jam, 1/2 hour later

Concord grape jam, 1/2 hour later

10. Refrigerate jars that will be eaten within 3 weeks. Freeze the rest. Done!

The jam will thicken over time, though it’s perfectly spreadable right away.

Concord grape jam, 1 day later

Concord grape jam, 1 day later

While Concord grape jam is a little more labor intensive than other freezer jams due to the peeling and de-seeding process, what I appreciate most (besides the simple, pure deliciousness of unadulterated jam) is that I know exactly what’s in my jam. By that, I mean – I know for a fact there are no chemicals, no genetically modified sweeteners, no junk. My jars of jam contain organic Concord grapes, pectin, and vegan cane sugar. End of story. My jam is cheaper than buying pre-made organic stuff, and tastes so much better!

As a result of making this wonderful jam, I’ve been eating way too many PB&J’s. This picture was taken a few days after making the jam. It’s even thicker now.

Concord grape jam

Concord grape jam

So, there you have it! Epic Concord grape freezer jam in 10 easy steps!

Raspberry Freezer Jam

First Shot at Freezer Jam

Freezer jam, baby!

I’d never heard of freezer jam before Lifehacker mentioned it last week, but now that I’ve been enlightened, I can’t believe I’ve spent my life in the dark! Here’s the article linked from Lifehacker on How to Make No-Cook Freezer Jam.

Since I started the whole organic/whole-foods thing last year, I’ve tried a lot of new things in the kitchen (like, turning on the oven). I’ve always loved the idea of making cute little jars of stuff to give as gifts – jams, nut butters, etc. I’ve had grand intentions to try making some of these things.

This afternoon, when I realized the farmer’s market would be open for a mere 30 minutes more, I jumped in the Jeep and flew over there hoping to restock my fruit supplies. I made it – and one of my favorite dear farmers had some terribly beat up raspberries. “They were just picked this morning, but they didn’t survive the ride up here very well.” (He comes up from central Illinois). No worries, sir! I’ll take some of those raspberries off your hands.

What’s the time….? It’s jam time!

So what the heck is freezer jam? It’s an easy-to-make, no-cook jam that can be stored in the fridge for 2-4 weeks, or in the freezer up to a year. It’s not shelf-stable, so it has to be kept frozen for long-term storage, but hey. That’s no problem! Just don’t ever leave freezer jam out at room temperature. It will spoil.

The basic instructions: get yourself some Ball canning jars (I went with the small 8 oz. ones). The ones with straight sides are least likely to crack in the freezer, though they do make (ugly) plastic freezer-safe ones. I’ll take my chances! Grab a box of instant pectin (Ball also makes this – and I was able to buy both at Walmart). There are several varieties of pectin, but some require cooking/boiling. The instant kind doesn’t require cooking. Get yourself some fruit and your sweetener of choice, and have at it!

There’s an awesome recipe calculator (they call it a “pectin calculator”) on the web site listed on the Ball package – For most cases, it goes something like this:

  • 1 2/3 cups crushed fruit
  • 2 Tbsp instant pectin
  • 2/3 cup sugar (or equivalent other sweetener by sweetness, not by volume)

Now, I had a heck of a hard time figuring out how much un-crushed fruit equaled 1 2/3 cups crushed fruit. Plus, I was pureeing my fruit, so I’m sure the 1 2/3 recommendation was too much for pureed fruit. I went with 2 cups un-crushed fruit. Some tips I found: A quart of strawberries makes approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups of crushed strawberries. 1 pound of fruit without pits equals 2 cups crushed fruit, or 1 1/2 pounds of fruit with pits equals 2 cups crushed fruit.

Here’s the recipe I used:

  • 2 cups un-crushed fruit
  • 2 Tbsp instant pectin
  • 1/3 cup agave nectar

It made two 8-oz jars per recipe. (So, I ended up with 2 jars of raspberry jam and 2 jars of strawberry jam).

Ball Instant Pectin & Agave Nectar

Ball Instant Pectin & Agave Nectar

Mix the agave and pectin in a bowl and stir well. Be sure to dissolve any clumps.

Pectin and agave nectar

Pectin and agave nectar

For round 1, I used raspberries.

Raspberries in the food processor

Raspberries in the food processor

For round 2, I used strawberries.

Strawberries in the food processor

Strawberries in the food processor

Pour 2 cups of fruit into the food processor and process until smooth.

Pureed Raspberries

Pureed Raspberries

Add the pectin/agave mixture to the food processor and whir for 30 seconds or so until everything is well combined.

Pour the mixture into Ball jars. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes to firm up.

Raspberry Freezer Jam

Raspberry Freezer Jam

Store in the fridge for 2-4 weeks if you’ll be enjoying your jam immediately, or in the freezer for storage up to a year.

Jar of freezer jam

Jar of freezer jam

I sampled a spoonful of each and I gotta say – it was mighty tasty! Kind of like eating a spoonful of fresh fruit!

Now, I don’t like chunky jams, so that’s why I went the food processor route. You could just as easily crush the fruit with a potato masher and have a more chunky jam. Whatever blows your hair back. I also don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I cut back the sweetener a little bit. Feel free to use more, to taste. I will report back on how well my fruit and sweetener ratios held up when I eat more of this.

This was so easy and fun to make that I feel like I’ll never go through another long, cold winter without the taste of peak-season ripe fruit! So exciting!

Pasta and Bolognese Sauce

Tonight, after checking out the Hadley Valley Preserve trail for the first time (it’s nice! A 2.5 mile looping trail through prairie), I tried out another one of Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious recipes: Pasta and Bolognese Sauce (with Stealth Ninja Sweet Potatoes). This one is healthy all around, with a bunch of carrots in there, too!

I suffered a false start on this one, as I got the onion and carrots all chopped up and in the skillet, then minced a couple garlic cloves right into the pot – only to find that my garlic had gone bad while I was away last week. Oh well. Tossed it all out and started over!

Instead of garlic cloves (I didn’t trust what I had left), I used 1 tsp of Garlic Earth Italian garlic salt – an organic seasoning that my friend Becky makes.

Score another winner for the Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment, and another winner for all organic ingredients! This one was so tasty I very nearly licked my plate clean. Highly recommended, and easy to throw together.

The recipe serves 8, so I immediately froze half of the sauce after dinner, then portioned the remaining 3 portions in the fridge for leftovers. I love a recipe that I can get some mileage out of!

[recipe-show recipe=pasta-bolognese]

Egg Puffs with Stealth Ninja Squash

I’m back! Sorry for the absence – I spent 8 days in New Mexico attending a photography workshop. It was the hardest working “vacation” I’ve ever had! And after a week of struggling to eat well, I’m back home and back at the vegetables! Hallelujah!

So let’s get to it!

It was slim pickings for dinner tonight, as my cupboards are nearly bare – but I did have enough to pull together another recipe from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious cookbook. With that, I bring you Baked Egg Puffs with Stealth Ninja Squash! Sadly, there will be no pictures this evening, as I’ve spent so much time with my camera over the last week that we need a couple days apart. (I still have over 1,800 photos to go through from the trip!)

This recipe was super easy to make, and was quite delicious! Whisk together a few ingredients and throw it into the oven. As for its stealth ninja qualities, I think kids (or adults!) could be easily fooled with this one. It’s almost not necessary though, as the squash tastes really good with the eggs! I’ve learned from this stealth ninja vegetable experiment that I actually like squash (butternut squash, in this case). I had my egg puff with a side of veggie sausage patties – a wonderful breakfast-for-dinner!

The recipe suggests making the puffs in ramekins or small coffee cups. I, unfortunately, had neither, so I used larger coffee cups. Be aware that you might need to add a few minutes to the bake time with larger cups – I had to tack on 5 extra minutes. My puffs looked nothing like the picture in the cookbook, but I also used too much squash, so that might have affected it. Handsome puffs or not, they tasted great! I could even see throwing in some chopped peppers or onions (but that would defeat the stealth-ninja purpose).

[recipe-show recipe=egg-puffs]

Breakfast for Dinner

Tonight, we have some breakfast for dinner with the latest Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment: Cauliflower.

Now, I’ve actually had some success in the past coaxing cauliflower into going all stealth-ninja on me, in the form of fake mashed potatoes (one of the few recipes I actually liked back in my low-carb days). I expected similar success from the Scrambled Egg recipe in Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious cook book.

The recipe is super-easy (assuming you already have your veggie purees made up – which I do!). Toss the eggs, egg whites, sour cream, puree, and parmesan into a bowl with a pinch of salt. Whisk it all up, toss it into a hot skillet with some olive oil, and scramble!

I added some pepper to my eggs, and must say – they were pretty darned tasty. I could see a kid falling for the deception. There were no obvious signs that any vegetables were in the vicinity. These eggs had some substance to them – they were more dense than your typical scrambled egg, but in a good way. They were still fluffy and maintained most of the texture of a typical scrambled egg.

The use of egg whites decreases the cholesterol in this recipe. I imagine it would work just as well with Egg Beaters or a similar egg substitute. I used to use Egg Beaters, but have recently gone back to real eggs in a step back towards eating real food.

I’ll definitely make these eggs again! They actually made a filling dinner, with an organic English muffin on the side.

[recipe-show recipe=eggs-cauliflower]

Mac & Cheese with Stealth Ninja Squash

The very first time I flipped through the Deceptively Delicious cook book, I knew it was love at first sight. There was not one, but TWO recipes for mac and cheese! Oh, how I love me some cheese. Tonight, I cooked up a batch of Mac and Cheese with Stealth Ninja Butternut Squash. Let’s see how it went, shall we?

First, the ingredients (minus the ones I forgot in the fridge – the milk, the squash puree…):

Mac & Chz ingredients

Please forgive the Blackberry-quality pictures. They are pretty terrible, but my G9 and my 50D were both out of commission with charging batteries, and I figured this was better than whipping out the film beast and spending the evening in the garage darkroom!

Note the organic ingredients 🙂

Mac and cheese sauceI put the pasta on boil and started mixing up the cheesy goodness. I was a little short on cheddar cheese, so my combo was about 3 parts cheddar to 1 part mozzarella. I used low fat cream cheese, though fat free can also be used.

The cheese sauce smelled really good as I mixed it up. It was very thick.

Once the macaroni was done, I drained it and dumped it into the cheese pot.

Stirred it up, and omg who wants?

Mac and cheeseThe verdict: This mac and cheese was delicious and very filling. The sauce was super thick – like, stick-to-your-ribs thick. To get 4 servings out of this recipe as described, the servings seemed a bit small, but the density definitely made up for it. Very filling. I think it might be possible that the serving sizes indicated in the cook book are for kids.

One thing I did differently in this recipe was to add a bit of Nutritional Yeast Flakes. They’re yellow flakes that dissolve into just about anything with very little to no effect on flavor. They’re described as having a nutty, roasted taste, but I don’t really notice them in anything I’ve tried. They give a great nutrition boost, with some high quality protein, and a slew of vitamins (including big doses of the B’s). Why not?

Much like the quesadillas from this cook book, I cannot wait to eat these leftovers! Warm, gooey, cheesy goodness – and successfully stealthy vegetables! A big thumbs-up to Mac and Cheese with Stealth Ninja Butternut Squash.

[recipe-show recipe=mac-cheese-squash]

Grilled Cheese with Stealth Ninja Sweet Potatoes

Who doesn’t love a warm, gooey grilled cheese sandwich… the melty cheese oozing out after every bite… They’re easy to make, and with some Stealth Ninja vegetables, can even be a bit nutritious. Here’s my take on Jessica Seinfeld’s Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with sweet potato puree – from her Deceptively Delicious cook book.

I’ve got a wonderful old Toastmaster Snackster sandwich maker, which makes grilled cheese a snap – even easier than the old fashioned way. This recipe appeared to have real potential – I mean, how can you possibly screw up grilled cheese, right?

I tried out Rudi’s Organic bread, 7-grain with flax (delish!). Also featured: Organic Valley shredded cheddar (hoorah! No ridiculous chemicals or orange dyes!), and organic sweet potatoes.

The verdict: this sandwich wasn’t exactly the cheesy melty pillar of goodness that I’ve come to know as grilled cheese. The problem: there was either not enough cheese, or too much sweet potato puree. I suspected this would be the case, from the photos of the sandwiches in the cookbook.

The sandwich itself tasted delicious. It was plenty good. But the sweet potatoes weren’t exactly stealth – I could taste more potato than cheese. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, if the sandwich weren’t masquerading as grilled cheese. If you have kids that were to this point raised on “regular” grilled cheese, they’re going to know something’s amiss without some modifications.

So I tried it again with a little less sweet potato puree and a little more cheese. It came much closer to passing for grilled cheese.

Here’s the recipe with my modifications. I’ll definitely be making this one again, because – well, any grilled cheese is good grilled cheese.

[recipe-show recipe=grilled-cheese-sweet-potatoes]

Quesadillas with Stealth Ninja Squash

Another smashing success in the Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment!

I made 2 more recipes out of the cookbook, Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food: Chicken Quesadillas (with Stealth Ninja Butternut Squash), and Guacamole (with Stealth Ninja… well, I guess the avocados are pretty Out There with their Green Flags Flying… hmmm).

In addition to butternut squash, the quesadillas also had stealth ninja white beans! What a crazy amount of ninja going on in there!

I did not have my camera nearby, so alas, I have no photos, but the prep was super easy (and therefore not worthy of Adventure status here at Epic Organic). All I can say is – these quesadillas were wonderful and the guacamole was heavenly! I used all organic ingredients and can’t wait to have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Insanely delicious, and again – not a single sign of odd vegetable tastes anywhere (aside from the flamboyant avocados). If you’re a fan of chicken quesadillas, these are gooey-delicious and filling (and a great source of vitamin A!)

Here are the recipes as I prepared them, along with approximate nutrition info at the bottom of each one:

[recipe-show recipe=quesadillas-squash]

[recipe-show recipe=stealth-ninja-guacamole]

Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment: Beets

Here we go – Phase Two of the Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment. Before you dive into Phase Two, check out the first phase, where I chopped, steamed, roasted, and pureed all of the vegetables that will be used in this experiment.

Now that I’ve got a fridge and freezer full of pureed vegetables, it’s time to try cooking something with them!

The first recipe I will try takes advantage of pureed beets. Beets are new to me – I’ve never eaten them before, so they’re officially New Food #10 that I’ve tried in 2010. I certainly didn’t expect to hit this New Year’s Resolution within the first month of the new year! That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying new foods, though.

I chose to use the beets first because there aren’t many recipes in the Deceptively Delicious cookbook that I wanted to try that use beets. This recipe could optionally use pureed spinach, sweet potatoes, or broccoli.

Cut up chicken breastFirst up in this cooking adventure: cut up a chicken breast into chunks. This, too, is new to me (and almost earns an Adventures in Chopping designation!) I’ve never cut up a raw chicken breast before. I’m not much of a fan of handling raw meat. It makes me think of where it comes from, and being an animal lover, I’ve always had a bit of a hard time reconciling my love of animals with my enjoyment in eating meat. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose (though I do feel better about my meat choices since switching to eating organic meats. At least this chicken wasn’t a genetically modified FrankenChicken).

I got out my One Big Knife and sliced up the chicken breast. (The recipe calls for a pound of chicken breasts, but I only had 1 thawed, so I went with that).

Next, I mixed up the bread crumb mixture. Wow, it smelled delicious!

Bread crumb mixture

Then came the pureed beets mixed with egg. This would be the dip that would hold the bread crumbs on the chicken nuggets. Stealth Ninja Beets

Chicken Nuggets, beforeOne by one, I dipped the chicken pieces into the stealth ninja beet mixture, then coated each one with bread crumbs and it aside. When they were ready to go, I heated up the skillet.

I cooked the nuggets 3 minutes on one side and 4 minutes on the other. I may have needed to go a little longer over slightly lower heat, as my breading was starting to burn. They smelled great, though! Chicken nuggets, cooking

At long last, all of the chicken nuggets were cooked, and it was time to give these puppies a day in court.

Chicken nuggets, afterThe obvious thing here is, well, they’re red. I can just imagine a picky eater shunning these nuggets because they look weird. I’m guessing that the best bet, color-wise, would be to make these with pureed sweet potatoes instead, to get the closest match possible to the color of the chicken and breading. (Green nuggets from broccoli or spinach would look equally weird, I suspect).

However, this isn’t about looks so much as it is about taste – at least for me, as I’m getting pretty used to eating funny colored things that happen to taste good.

So, I sat down with my funny looking chicken nuggets and a cup of ranch dressing, and…

Chicken nuggets, ready for dipping

Nom nom nom!

They were mighty, mighty good! No sign of beets in the flavor. I could eat these chicken nuggets all day long! So, despite having eaten beets tonight, I still could not tell you what they taste like – and that’s A-OK with me!

In conclusion, the first Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment, Beets Edition, was a success.

What stealth ninja vegetable will I try next? *dun-dun-duuuuuuuun!* You’ll have to wait and see!

[recipe-show recipe=chicken-nuggets-with-stealth-ninja-beets]

Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment: Prep

*queue Mission Impossible music*

Actually, I think this mission is quite possible! I am embarking upon what I call the Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment. You are about to bear witness to Phase 1: Prep.

It all started when my sister in law Amanda suggested that I check out this book: Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food by Jessica Seinfeld (yes, Jerry’s wife). Since I was already sold on the possibility of hiding veggies in my smoothies, I thought this book might hold some promise (though I’d be attempting to deceive myself, not kids). I picked it up at my local library (Homer Township Library ftw!) and decided to give it a test-drive.Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld

The basic premise of the book is that you puree a variety of vegetables and store them in 1/2 cup portions in little ziplock baggies, then sneak them into recipes as needed. Sounds good to me!