Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Now I've Done It! A Recipe for Chocolate Jelly

Chocolate Jelly!
Well folks, my obsession with chocolate and my obsession with homemade jams and jellies have finally intersected at what has to be some kind of bizarre culinary crossroads. I've done it! I have created (ta-ta-ta-DAH!) CHOCOLATE JELLY!

Dream come true or crime against jelly nature? I'll leave that up to you. All I will say is that it smells and tastes like chocolate, is perfectly safe to can and my 21-year-old daughter thinks it's "bomb" with peanut butter.

First, rest assured that I'm going to share the recipe with you right here on this blog! But before we get to the nitty-gritty details of how to make the stuff, I really need to share how it came to be in the first place - the story of my chocolate epiphany, if you will.

Let's start with a single, simple truth: I absolutely LOVE chocolate. And the higher the quality, the better. In fact, my children will tell anyone who'll listen that one early lesson I taught them is that "life is too short to eat bad chocolate."

Close-up of brewing cocoa
So when I read recently that there was such a thing as brewing cocoa and that a whole cup of the stuff was only 20 calories, I couldn't wait to try it. Turns out that some very clever people have figured out that if they roast and grind cocoa beans just right, you can brew it up in a french press or drip coffee maker and it makes a really tasty substitute for your morning cup of joe. Just to be clear, it's not like drinking hot chocolate in that the brew is thin and slightly bitter. But add a little sugar or no-calorie sweetener and it's a really delicious way to start your day. Very low in calories, a fraction of the caffeine found in coffee (so no addiction headaches) and supposedly full of great stuff like antioxidants and theobromine - even Dr. Oz and Oprah have recently hopped on the brewed chocolate bandwagon.

After reading about it, I promptly ordered some and to get right to the point, I'm pretty much hooked. It gives me that chocolate hit I love and I can actually feel good about drinking it.

By now you're probably saying, "Okay already, Sydney! What does all of THIS have to do with making jelly?" Here's the deal; because actual chocolate is made with butter and cream, it's not safe to can. Most experienced canners know you can create some amazing sauces and jams using cocoa powder, but it's not the same as a true chocolate preserve. It occurred to me as I drank my morning cup that what I was drinking was certainly chocolate, but since it was made just from ground cocoa beans, it also contained no butter or cream. EUREKA!

I got out the French press, brewed up a full canister of the chocolate and went to work to make jelly out of it. And it worked! Still not sure what else it's good for besides adding to a peanut butter sandwich, but I'd love to hear from the rest of you. If you give it a try and come up with some great uses, please post them here for the rest of us. Enjoy!
Peanut butter and chocolate jelly
Sydney Rubin's Chocolate Jelly

32 ounces of water
1/2 rounded cup roasted, ground brewing cocoa beans (See source links at bottom)
5 1/2 cups sugar
One 1.75 ounce box of powdered pectin

Prepare jars, lids and boiling water canner
Prepare brewed chocolate according to directions from the supplier of your ground beans.
Make sure that you end up with a full 4 cups (32 ounces) of brewed chocolate. Pour that into a large, non-reactive pot.
Add the powdered pectin and stir to dissolve completely.
Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly until you achieve a full, rolling boil that cannot be broken with a spoon.
Add all of the sugar at once and return the mixture to a full, rolling boil, stirring constantly.
Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and quickly fill jars to 1/4" headspace.
Put on lids and screw down bands just to fingertip tightness.
Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes at sea level, adjusting accordingly for higher altitudes (25 minutes here in Colorado).
Remove from heat and remove cover, letting canner and jars sit for 5 minutes.
Remove jars from canner and allow to sit, upright, on a towel for up to 24 hours, or until all the jars have sealed properly.
As usual, any jars that do not have a proper seal should be reprocessed or refrigerated and used promptly.
I've noticed that it may take a week or two for the full chocolate flavor of this jelly to develop. When I first made it, I thought it seemed "weak" and was thinking I needed to make a stronger "brew." After a couple of weeks, it tasted quite chocolaty indeed!

Sources for brewing cocoa beans: where you can purchase 12 ounces for $15. They have several blends at various prices. who offer an incredible selection of brewing chocolates starting at just $10 per pound.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade

Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade
I'm seriously thinking I need some sort of therapy. It simply can't be normal to get this excited over produce. Other people see fruit. I see glistening jars of goodness filling my basement shelves.

To some extent, this propensity of mine toward impulse produce buying is problematic. I have a (more than) full-time job. I have a home and a family to care for. I have responsibilities. But once those seasonal wonders are in my house, staring at me from the kitchen counter, I cannot rest until I turn them into something delicious. What can I do, but to keep stirring up something fun in the kitchen and sharing it with you here on In a Jam?

For some reason, I've been on a bit of a citrus kick lately. First, there was the key lime curd. Then, the Meyer lemons appeared in my local market and I scooped up three bags. For the uninitiated, Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. The skin is smoother than that of a traditional lemon and is a deep yellow to almost orange color. The peel of a Meyer lemon is generally thinner and the juice is somewhat sweeter, with less acidity than normal lemons. All of these traits make them a wonderful choice for culinary experimentation.

The first thing I made was a Meyer lemon curd, using the exact recipe I shared on the blog last week, only with lemons instead of limes. Even though the Meyer lemons are a bit sweeter, they still had plenty of acid content to make a delicious curd.

Then I decided I absolutely had to do something that would take full advantage of the amazing color of the Meyer lemon peel. An obvious choice? Marmalade. But not just any marmalade. A Meyer lemon marmalade with a touch of vanilla bean that would play beautifully off the tart/sweet of the citrus. I think you're really going to enjoy this recipe. The end result is a delicious lemon preserve with the exotic taste of real vanilla and pieces of orange-colored peel that taste like candy.

Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade
(Original recipe appeared in Bon Apetit, although I've made several changes here, including adding instructions for water bath canning.)

6 to 7 Meyer lemons (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)
5 cups water
4 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
pinch of salt

Cut lemons in half lengthwise.
Use a sharp paring knife to cut out the center membrane (the part where all the sections meet) and as many of the seeds as possible.
Remove and discard end pieces, then slice the rest of the lemon halves in very thin pieces crosswise. Discard any remaining seeds.
Pack enough lemon slices and any juice into a large measuring cup to measure 2 1/2 cups.
Put the measured slices and juice into a large, nonreactive pot. Add the 5 cups of water.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to stand, uncovered overnight.
The next day, measure out 5 1/2 cups of the lemon/juice mixture. (You can discard any extra).
Put the measured amount back in the same large, nonreactive pot. Add all of the sugar.
Split the half vanilla bean the long way. Scrape out the seeds and put those in the pot, along with the half bean itself.
Add a pinch of salt.
Marmalade mixture boiling
Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture reaches 230F on a candy thermometer, or use the plate test from my Tips and Tricks section. At higher altitudes, such as here in Colorado, you'll need to adjust the temperature down somewhat. Reaching the final jelling point can take anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes.
Fill hot, prepared canning jars to 1/4" headspace. Process in boiling water bath for 25 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover of canner and allow to sit for 5 more minutes before removing jars. Reprocess or refrigerate and use any jars that have not sealed properly within 12 to 24 hours.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Coming Soon! Lady Marmalade

Be watching here soon for a meyer lemon vanilla bean marmalade recipe!

New Canning Tools from Progressive

Just when I'd thought there was nothing new to make canning easier - and believe me, I'm always on the lookout - I heard about some pretty impressive-sounding home canning gadgets that were recently brought to the market by Progressive International. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to get a chance to try some of them out and a couple of weeks ago I got that chance. Thanks to the nice people at Progressive, a box of goodies arrived at my doorstep containing a new canning rack, lid lifter and the item I was most looking forward to trying, a canning funnel with head-space measurements listed right on the tool.

New canning tools from Progressive International
Truly, I don't know of too many big advances in equipment for the home canner in the 20+ years I've been involved in the past-time, so this is a pretty big deal. Here are my unvarnished opinions of the three items I tried:

I was most looking forward to trying out the canning funnel. If you look at the picture, you can see the head-space measurements on the funnel, with a nifty gap in it so you can easily see the side of the jar. This funnel fits regular or wide mouth jars perfectly and is a definite step forward in canning tools.

If you're new to the art of preserving, you'll love this tool because it takes the guesswork out of the whole head-space issue. If, like me, you've been doing this so long that you'd know those jar markers blindfolded, the Progressive canning funnel has a nice surprise in store for you as well.

The part of the funnel that fits inside the jars is shorter than the outer collar. This means you can put the funnel down without ever having the messy inner part touch your work surface. I can't emphasize enough what a joy it is to get through the jar-filling process without a mess on my counter-top. Simple, but brilliant!

Another item I tried was the Progressive lid lifter. This is basically your traditional magnetic tool, designed to remove hot canning lids from a pan of simmering water. The upgrade here? The tool has a rounded bottom, which allows you to place the lid directly onto your jars as usual, and then roll the lifter to the side, which releases the lid without ever being touched by human hands. I'm sort of thinking this may be a solution for a problem that doesn't exist, but it's also one of those things that couldn't hurt either. On the plus side, it works as promised, has a nice feel in your hand and doesn't seem to suffer any of the magnet loss issues so common in the Ball version I've used until now.

Finally, I tried out Progressive's new canning rack, which ended up being the most wonderful surprise of all! It seems so simple, yet it's a true improvement on the past and a great step forward for home canners. The stainless steel rack is reversible. Put it into your water bath canner one way and it's a perfect fit for seven small sized jars. Flip it over and it holds up to four quart jars nicely. The best part? If you're using smaller jars, the racks are stackable. Add a second rack and you can add an entire second layer of seven more small size jars. What a time-saver! I loved this one so much, I'm planning to buy myself another.

All in all, these are really nice tools and I appreciate the thoughtful design that Progressive put into them. Nice to see a company breathe new life into the old standby tools. By the way, all of these canning tools are dishwasher safe. That's a definite plus as well! If you want to try them out for yourself, you can find them at Sur la Table and Kitchen Kaboodle stores now, as well as a few other gourmet kitchen shops around the country. You can also check them out online at

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