Low Sugar Jam

Here in Alabama, u-pick is really coming into its own. Today we picked nearly 2 gallons of blueberries at an awesome local farm (Bear Mountain) that grows its berries according to organic principles (that means, they haven’t paid the federal government for the privilege of the “certified organic” label!)

But you only really get the benefit of the full awesome flavour and colour of fresh, seasonal fruit if you avoid cooking them into oblivion, which you will with conventional pectin.

This is why I always, and only, recommend Pomona’s Universal Pectin (Amazon link). Unlike conventional pectin you can make jam with NO added sugar, or with alternative sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup.

Once you go Pomona’s you will never go back to adding more sugar than fruit to your preserves!



Posted in information on September 22nd, 2015 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

I was mulling over my laughably cheap hummus recipe with peanut butter substituting for tahini.

The biggest single cost for making home made hummus is most likely the tahini, hence substituting peanut butter. But what if you could make tahini at home, at a laughably cheap price? Is that possible? And how difficult is it to do?

While I was out and about this morning I went to our local Chinese supermarket this morning, and discovered a little treasure trove of sesame seeds. Black seeds, toasted, or plain, and with a choice of packaging, to boot.

Packaging makes a surprising difference, though. 9.5oz plain sesame seeds in a plastic jar, $3.99. Same seeds in a 7oz plastic bag? $1.49.

Tahini bought in a local store? $4.99 for 16oz. We are on to a good start with 14oz for $2.98, making it $3.40 per pound, or roughly a third cheaper.

How hard is it to make tahini? Not very, according to this recipe.

So there you have it: if you want to, or need to for health reasons, you can make healthy home made hummus with tahini. It’ll be more expensive than making it with peanut butter, but still an awful lot cheaper than buying hummus off the shelf



Posted in basic principles, recipe on May 29th, 2015 by stuart — 3 Comments

I find American mustard very frustrating. Even the stuff called “hot mustard” has barely any perceptible heat. As usual, I have turned to my culinary patron saint, Alton Brown, for the base recipe and adapted it to allow me to dial in the right level of sinus scorching!

  • 1/4 cup dry mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup mustard seed
  • 1/2 cup sweet pickle juice
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar (or your preferred type)

    Mix the powders

    In a small, microwave-proof bowl whisk together the dry mustard, brown sugar, salt, turmeric, paprika, and garlic powder. In a separate container, combine the pickle juice and cider vinegar and have standing by.

    Place the mustard seed into a spice grinder and grind for a minimum of 1 minute, stopping to pulse occasionally. Once ground, immediately add the mustard to the bowl with the dry ingredients and add the water. Whisk to combine. Place the bowl into the microwave and heat on high for 1 minute.

    How hot do you want your mustard?

    The heat and bitterness peak during the first 5 to 15 minutes from adding the water to the ground mustard seed. A shorter delay before adding the acid will result in a mild, sweet mustard: waiting 10 minutes will result in a pungent, hot mustard similar to the commercial British mustards. Once you add the acid (vinegar and pickle juice), the heat and bitterness will be locked in at that level. You’ll just have to experiment with different timings to lock in your preferred level. For me, waiting 11 minutes before adding the acid gives a similar heat level to Coleman’s mustard (similar heat level to “Chinese mustard” for those on the right hand side of the Pond).

    Add the acid

    Remove from the microwave, add the acid ingredients after your preferred delay, and puree with a stick blender for 1 minute. Pour into a glass jar or container and allow to cool uncovered. Once cool, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

    Other tweaks

    Instead of using water, try substituting the same volume of flat beer. The beer you add will contribute its own distinctive note to the overall flavour profile.

    Which mustard seed you use will also affect flavour and heat: the darker the mustard seed, the higher the pungency and heat.

    Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/best-mustard-ever-recipe.print.html?oc=linkback

    For the base recipe, go here.



    Posted in beans, frugal living, information on December 11th, 2014 by stuart — 1 Comment so far

    “Hummus is delicious, but have you seen how much it costs? Even on sale it’s kinda pricy!”

    How many times have you had that kind of conversation, or versions thereof? Let’s look at a different way to sate your hummus addiction!

    Let’s start with Alton Brown’s recipe. I have made this many times and it is a great place to start.

    1 pound cooked Chickpeas
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
    5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1/4 cup water
    1/3 cup tahini, stirred well
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
    (I add around 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon of ground cumin as well)

    Time to take the recipe apart and see how we can make this more frugally.

    1 pound cooked Chickpeas
    This would be a can of cooked chickpeas, or about 1/3 of a packet of dried chickpeas you have cooked yourself. Take a moment to consider what I just wrote: the amount of actual chickpea you get in a can is about 1/3 of a pound, the rest of the weight is water.

    1/3 cup tahini, stirred well
    Tahini is a sesame seed paste. It usually runs around $4 a pound where I am. You’re only using a smallish amount, but still, it’s pricy.

    5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    Yeah, I just use the stuff from a plastic container. I don’t usually have the budget to buy fresh lemons through the year!

    So, how can we make this more frugally?

    I always look at dried legumes going on sale or other silly price. I have managed to find dried chickpeas as low as $1 for a pound, more usually around $1.19, so let’s work on $1.20 as the price. Read again what I wrote up there about what weight of dried chickpeas equate to your 15oz can.

    What quantity of cooked chickpeas do you get from 1lb dry weight? And isn’t it a huge hassle to make them – all that soaking, waiting, etc?

    In reverse order, cooking them couldn’t be easier. Forget everything you’ve read about how to cook dried beans – I opened the packet, tossed them into my pressure cooker, rinsed, then added enough water to cover them about 4 times over (I just eyeballed the volume, it was roughly 4 times). Slam the lid on the cooker, pop the weight on, apply the heat and pressure cook for about 45 minutes or so. Take the cooker off the heat and let it cool down naturally. There you go, cooked chickpeas in less than 2 hours. I drained the chickpeas and weighed them. 2lb 12oz cooked weight, an almost 3 fold weight increase.

    What about the tahini?
    Peanut butter is a 1:1 replacement for tahini. I pay around $2.29 for 40oz from Aldi. I tried this recipe out on someone who doesn’t like peanut butter flavoured things and they couldn’t tell it was made with PB.

    Cost to do it yourself
    1/3 lb dried chickpeas – about 40 cents
    1/3 cup peanut butter, approximately 3oz – about 17 cents
    all the rest of the ingredients together – about 60 cents
    Olive oil – I just make it with the regular stuff and save the extra virgin for salads

    Total cost: let’s round it up and include a cost for the cooking of the chickpeas and running the food processor and call it about $1.30, or around half the cost of hummus when it is on Buy One Get One sale at your grocery store.

    By the way, as I cooked the whole 1lb packet of chickpeas I just rounded everything up and called it a 3 fold increase. 4lbs 9oz of home made hummus for under $4. How do I serve it? With stale bread or carrot sticks. Or off a spoon, for that matter!


    How have you used your downtime?

    Posted in information on February 12th, 2013 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

    Winter is a bad time for canners who like to create, but it’s a great time of year for consuming the results! Pies made with fillings made from summer fruit in December? Yes, please!

    But now we are heading into growing seasons, it’s time to do housekeeping. If you have a pressure canner, contact your county extension service and have your pressure gauge checked for accuracy. Go through your supplies and make sure there are no cracked jars or rims, that you have plenty of lids for same, and that you have sufficient quantites of sugar, vinegar, pectin, and spices for what you want to put up over this season!


    Chili and beer

    Posted in information on October 31st, 2012 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

    Everyone has their favourite chili recipe. And why wouldn’t you? A meltingly tender stew of mixed meats, and/or veggies, and/or beans, it can be a gourmet feast, a magnet for leftovers, or an acknowledgement that there is too much month left at the end of your pay!

    How can you incorporate a nice beer into your chili? Easy. Instead of making the chili with broth or stock or water, add a nice dark beer instead. The end result obviously depends on which type of stout you use – many chili recipes call for coffee, so a coffee stout (with or without oatmeal) will bring those flavours right into the heart of your meal.

    If you want your chili to have more of a Mole Sauce experience, use a chocolate stout or a porter: porters are much more chocolate-forward in their flavour profile, which will put those dark chocolate-y flavours right into the heart of your stew.

    If dairy isn’t problematic, milk stouts bring a lot of chocolate and residual sweetness to the party. While they will put that Mole Sauce flavour into the pot, they are made with lactose. Bear this in mind and don’t offer a Milk Stout chili to someone who is vegan or lactose intolerant!

    Are you looking for something even more, something that is a towering masterpiece of complexity, a powerhouse of flavour to overcome an overly enthusiastic application of capsaicin (“Oops, I used habanero instead of jalapeno”)? Use an Imperial Stout or Baltic Porter. These two styles are massively complex with coffee, chocolate, dark fruitiness, and a lot of residual sweetness which will help reduce the perceived heat of the dish.

    For a different take on chili: if you like your chili made with pork, sample several doppelbock beers. Doppelbock is a traditional German style of dark lager which has residual sweetness and a subtle chocolate/coffee note. Doppelbock goes with pork in any form you care to cook it, so play around with DoppelPig Chili! (Tip: almost all German, and an overwhelming majority of American doppelbocks have names that end in -ator such as Celebrator, Salvator, Consecrator… you get the idea!)

    Wild card option here – sour Belgian beers. If you’re making a deer-based chili, you could go for a sour cherry beer (Kriek Lambic) instead, honoring the European tradition of serving venison with a sour cherry gravy.

    Vegetarian/vegans, I am not ignoring you. Most modern beers are made with Irish Peat Moss instead of finings, so you’re safe with pretty much every beer that doesn’t say “made traditionally”. If you are in any doubt you can contact the brewery and ask if the beer is clarified with finings. If you’re making a veg*n chili, you can go different directions with your beer choices as the flavour profile of a veg*n chili could be a lot lighter than with a meat-based chili. If you load your chili with black beans and mushrooms, go for the stout/porter option. If you’re going lighter, towards a white chili, you can experiment with Pale Ale, IPA, or potentially even a hefeweizen.

    The best part of making a chili with a beer? Sitting down with a steaming bowl full of delicious food, and a glass of the beer you made the dish with. On a cold evening it doesn’t get much better than that.


    Pomona’s Pectin

    Posted in basic principles, links, pectin on July 29th, 2012 by stuart — 3 Comments

    I thought it would be a good idea to break out the information about Pomona’s Pectin into a separate article.

    Q: Where can I buy Pomona’s?
    A: You can buy it online in bulk, which is what I would recommend.

    Q: What makes it different from the regular stuff?
    A: You can double, triple, quadruple, or whatever your recipe size. You can also make jam with no added sugar, or make it with honey or other complex syrups instead, while still using less sweetener than regular pectin.

    Q: Wait – regular pectin always says “don’t double”. How can you double up the recipe with Pomona’s?
    A: Because it doesn’t set with sugar – it sets with calcium water.

    Q: Calcium water? What’s that?
    A: In the instructions it tells you how to make the calcium water with the provided sachet of calcium powder – 1/2 teaspoon of calcium powder to 1/2 cup of water. Shake them thoroughly together and store the calcium water in the fridge. Discard it if it discolours or gets moldy.

    Q: So, you’re telling me this is a form of pectin that allows me to scale my recipes up or down, allows me to make jam or jelly without added sugar, or by using honey instead? Really?!!?
    A: Yup!

    Q: So where were you on the night of the 15th?!!?
    A: This interview is over!


    Reduced Sugar Cherry Jam

    Posted in canning, fruit, hot water canning, information, jams, recipe, seasonal canning on July 28th, 2012 by stuart — 2 Comments

    I am loving the results I get with Pomona’s Pectin. The jam tastes like fruit gently stewed in honey. Wonderful.

    4 cups, mashed or chopped, pitted cherries
    1/4 cup lemon or lime juice
    4 tsp calcium water

    Place these ingredients in a large saucepan and start to gently heat.

    1 cup honey (or, if you must, 3/4 to 2 cups sugar)
    3 tsp Pomona’s pectin mixed thoroughly into the honey (or, yuck, sugar)

    Bring the fruit/juice/calcium water to a BOIL. Pour the honey/pectin mix into the saucepan and stir while bringing the mix back to the boil. Pour cherry jam into heated jam jars, lid up, and stick into your boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. Once the 10 minutes is up, take off the heat, remove lid from the canner, leave for 5 minutes, then place jars onto a cookie sheet to cool over night. Enjoy!


    Seasonal vegan dessert or breakfast

    Posted in dessert, frugal living, recipe on June 5th, 2012 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

    OK, time to rock your socks with a seasonal, vegan, healthy (…. ish!) breakfast or dessert. It’s also dirt cheap!

    As I have some blackberries and blueberries left over from my recent U-Pick experience, I thought it was time to make something fun. So, black-and-blue-berry pancakes it is!

    1 cup self-raising flour
    1 cup *milk
    1 tablespoon milled flax seed
    3 tablespoons water

    Frying pan
    Crumpet rings*

    Mix the water and the milled flax seed 10 minutes before you start preparation of the batter. Stir the *milk (of whatever variety you prefer) into the prepared flax seed. Gently stir the self-raising flour into the liquid, stirring as little as possible to avoid forming gluten strands. Your batter should be fairly thick and will almost certainly be lumpy. If the lumps bother you, refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes or so to allow the flour to absorb the liquid rather than trying to stir everything together.

    Prepare your frying pan with a little vegetable oil. Place your crumpet rings* (or you can use small food cans with the top and bottom cut out of them to form a closed-sided ring) in a small bowl with vegetable oil in it. You want to get the inside of the rings well lubricated.

    Place the lubricated rings in the frying pan once it is up to temperature. Place a number of black- or blue-berries into the ring. (How many berries? About what looks right to you ;).) Put just enough batter into the ring to barely cover the smallest berries.

    Once the top surface of the batter has begun to set up, gently remove the rings and place them back in the bowl of vegetable oil. Carefully test the pancake parcels until they come away from the frying pan surface, then flip and cook for another minute or so until the surface is just set. Serve with lashings of your favourite syrup.

    Repeat until there is no more batter. Or fruit. If you run out of batter before you run out of fruit… make more batter 🙂


    Low added sugar blackberry jam

    Having picked a lot of delicious blackberries at Holmestead Farm as part of my fun U-Pick experience, I set out to create some awesome low added sugar blackberry jam, using Pomona’s Universal Pectin.

    Yield: about 5 cups (5 jelly jars)
    Thoroughly rinse and pick through your blackberries

    • 4 cups blackberries
    • 1 cup honey
    • 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Pectin
    • 2 teaspoons calcium water
    • 1/4 cup lemon juice

    1. Prepare jars by washing and rinsing. I leave the jars in the hot water bath canner while I bring it up to a boil.

    2. Measure fruit into pan with lemon juice (you can use lime juice instead if you prefer).

    3. Add calcium water into pan and stir well.

    4. Measure room temperature honey into separate bowl. Thoroughly mix proper amount of pectin powder into honey (if you prefer to use sugar, you can use 3/4 to 2 cups of it instead of honey).

    5. Bring fruit to boil. If you prefer a chunky texture just stir the fruit mix – if you want something a bit smoother, you can mash the fruit or even feed it through a food mill to remove seeds. If you want seedless, add an extra cup of fruit to correct for the loss of bulk in the milling process. Add pectin and honey mix and stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes while cooking to dissolve pectin. Return to boil and remove from heat.

    6. Fill jars to 1/4″ of top. Wipe rims clean. Screw on 2-piece lids. Put filled jars in boiling water to cover. Boil 10 min. (add 1 min. more for every 1,000 ft. above sea level). Remove from water. Let jars cool. Check seals–lids should be sucked down. Lasts about a hypothetical 3 weeks once opened, but if you’re anything like me it’s doubtful the jar will last more than 3 days 😉

    The most awesome part about the Pomona’s Pectin is that you can scale the recipes either way – you can double it or halve it without in any way affecting the quality of the finished product. You cannot do this with conventional pectin, hence my preference for Pomona’s.