Simple Strawberry Jam

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Enjoying first strawberries of summer almost makes the long winter worthwhile. Almost. The thing about strawberries is, they’re delicious for about one day after they are picked. If you have a large quantity of strawberries to preserve, you need to work fast! This Simple Strawberry Jam recipe is super fast! Ready… Set… GO!

Ingredients (Makes 4  cups)

5 cups of strawberries, washed and cut in half (green hulls removed)

5 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 pouch (3 ounces) liquid pectin

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest -OR- seeds scraped from the inside of 1/2 of a vanilla bean pod (optional but delicious!)

Directions

Step 1) Place halved strawberries in a large pot. Mash the strawberries a few times with a potato masher. Add sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon juice.

Step 2) Bring strawberry mixture to a full, vigorous boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. You want this mixture to really boil… it should boil enough that bubbles continue to cover the surface of the mixture even when you are stirring!

Step 3) When your strawberry mixture has reached a FULL boil (this will take at least ten minutes, maybe longer), stir in the pouch of pectin. Allow the mixture to return to a FULL boil, and boil with stirring for two minutes.

Step 4) Remove the pot from the heat. Add grated lemon zest or vanilla seeds. Stir gently. Allow jam to cool before ladling into storage containers. This jam will keep nicely in the refrigerator for two weeks, or can be frozen for up to six months.

jam

 

Best Lobster Roll in Salem!

dotty-ray-s-lunchFirst things first. A few hours after arriving in Salem, we ventured into a cute little restaurant right off of the touristy Essex Street pedestrian mall. We were able to escape the bright sun while still enjoying the open air, grabbed a quick bite to eat (grilled cheese with fries) and listened to some really excellent live music.

However…

If we weren’t jet lagged, we might have realized before we asked for a table that restaurants in touristy areas also have touristy prices! We passed on the $25 lobster roll. Seriously – who charges $25 for a lobster roll when you can practically see the ocean from the restaurant kitchen? I digress.

Time to contact my good friends GOOGLE and UBER!

A quick web search for the best local lobster roll and where do Salem locals eat pointed us squarely in one direction – Dotty and Ray’s Restaurant. Located about a mile from The Hawthorne Hotel, Dotty and Ray’s is across the river from the touristy town center in residential Salem, where locals live and eat. Google says it’s a 16 minute walk. Uber says it’s a $4 ride. Take your pick, but GO!

For $12.95 you’ll get a lobster roll that’s so generously portioned and delicious, I dare you not to go back the very next day for more (we did!). Look! Look and imagine how delicious this is!
lobster

Casual, delicious, regional home cooking with great service and very reasonable prices -what more does a hungry tourist need? It was fun to watch the staff visiting with other diners in a familiar way; Dotty and Ray’s is clearly the place to catch up on local news over lunch. Even as outsiders, we were welcomed and enjoyed a bit of conversation with our server. It felt a bit clandestine to be the only tourists in a beloved local establishment, as if we’d discovered something too magical to share.

scallops

Scallop Roll

(Magical… Salem… see what I did there?)

Their scallop roll was amazingly sweet and also generously portioned. We substituted the fries for mashed potatoes, which were buttery and wonderful. If you’re in the Salem area, don’t miss out on lunch at the tucked away gem that is Dotty and Rays.

Salem Seafood Chowder

Soup1Chowder, or Chowda as the locals say, is popular in Salem. Many diners and pubs feature clam chowder high on their menu as either an appetizer or a complete meal with fresh bread. Two establishments, Tavern on the Green in the Hawthorne Hotel and also the wildly popular Red’s Sandwich Shop, offered amazingly delicious seafood chowder. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’ve done our best to recreate authentic seafood chowder, loosely based upon Continue reading

Stay Tuned for Salem!

Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’re busy unpacking after a festive trip to Salem, Massachusetts. Everyone knows that Salem was the infamous site of the 1692 Witch Trials (those witch hunting Puritans were a kooky bunch!). Fast forward 325 years, and modern Salem offers visitors myriad ways to learn a bit of New England history, breathe in a bit of salty sea air, and be happily well fed.

Very happily well fed!

Over the next few days, Crowded Earth Kitchen will feature a few culinary gems from the Northeast. Stay tuned!

Happy traveling, and happy eating! Blessed be!

Detox Gazpacho

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Put the chocolate Easter bunny down and back away slowly. I hear the siren song of sugar right along with ya, but we can do this! Instead of eating something which will lead us to wallow in guilt later, let’s eat something healthy and invigorating! This soup is one of my favorite detox foods, so I’m sharing it again.

Springtime tends to make vegetable lovers giddy with excitement. Unfortunately, it also makes us impatient, as the fresh, ripe flavors we crave become  s  l  o  w  l  y   available. Right now, the zucchini at the market (not yet from my garden) looks fresh and delicious. Cucumbers and peppers aren’t half bad right now, either.

But those supermarket tomatoes?

Sigh.

Don’t even bother with springtime tomatoes. I think they’re just little cardboard orbs disguised as tomatoes.

So, what’s a vegetable lover to do? Cheat. Relax, I’m not telling you to cheat on your taxes or cheat on your calculus exam. We’re going to cheat by avoiding fresh tomatoes altogether, even in a dish which ordinarily features fresh tomatoes quite prominently.

How are we going to cheat? We’re going to use salsa and vegetable juice. Stay with me for a minute.

Salsa, whether home canned or store bought, is often a superior alternative to out of season tomatoes. The blend of tomatoes, onions, herbs, and spices offers a whole lot more flavor than whatever was picked green and trucked up from far away, gassed along the way to artificially force a red color (without doing a darn thing for flavor). Likewise, vegetable juice forms a perfect – and perfectly obvious – base for a simple gazpacho. If you don’t believe me, try this recipe. If I’m wrong, post a comment below!

WIN_20150408_091740Ingredients (Serves 4)

1 small zucchini, peeled and chopped

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped (save one slice unpeeled for garnish later)

1 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped (set aside a small piece for garnish later)

1 red pepper, seeded and chopped (set aside a small piece for garnish, later)

1 clove fresh garlic, diced

1 cup salsa

2 cups tomato-based vegetable juice (such as V-8)

Directions

Add all ingredients except garnish to a blender and puree until smooth. Serve well chilled and sprinkled with colorful diced vegetables. If you’d like, add a dollop of sour cream. Enjoy!

Jelly Bean Brittle

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Hop. Hop. Hippidy Hop. That bunny is heading our way, and wouldn’t it be nice if he arrived with a basket of homemade Easter candy? Jelly Bean Brittle is awesome for so many reasons… it’s super easy (Can you boil water? That’s about the only skill you need!), doesn’t require any expensive ingredients, and unlike peanut brittle, is completely free of common allergens. This recipe makes a great big pan (about 2 1/2 pounds’ worth) – perfect for an office or a classroom!

The only special item you will need is a candy thermometer. Now, don’t panic – a candy thermometer looks like any other thermometer, and just clips right onto your pot. All you need to do is READ it, and if you are reading this blog post, you’ve got that skill locked. Here is a link to the simple candy thermometer that I use:

Taylor Classic Line Glass Candy and Deep Fry Thermometer

It’s less than $6, and if you order it today you’ll be able to make Jelly Bean Brittle before Easter. You’re welcome. Let’s get started!

WIN_20150329_131938Ingredients (Makes 2 1/2 pounds)

1 pound bag of mini jelly beans

2 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup water

WIN_20150329_1329121/4 cup butter (not margarine)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (no lumps!)

Directions

Step 1) Clip your candy thermometer to the side of a big, old pot. The tip of the thermometer should not be touching the WIN_20150329_132803bottom of the pot. Add sugar, corn syrup, water, and butter. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently.

Step 2) Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce heat slightly (low-medium) and allow to continue boiling until the temperature gauge on your candy thermometer reaches the line WIN_20150329_134459labeled “Hard Crack” or 295 degrees. Be patient – this will take 20 – 30 minutes. Remember to stir occasionally.

Step 3) While your mixture boils, prepare your pan. First, cover your largest baking pan with aluminum foil; don’t forget to cover the sides. Next, grease the aluminum foil with the wrapper from a stick of butter. Then, evenly distribute jelly beans on the WIN_20150329_134509foil.

Step 4) When your boiling mixture reaches the Hard Crack stage, turn off the heat and sprinkle baking soda into the pot. STIR QUICKLY! A chemical reaction will take place, causing the boiling mixture to foam and froth. This is normal – and exciting!

Step 5) After stirring, pour mixture over jelly WIN_20150329_134600beans. Working quickly, spread mixture evenly over the entire pan.

Step 6) After about 10 minutes, your jelly bean brittle will be ready to break apart into bite size pieces. Store in an airtight container to keep nice and fresh!

PS – About that pot… just add a drop of dish soap and fill with BOILING water. It’ll come clean in seconds.  😉