Rhubarb-Orange Jam with Ball Canning Jars

rhubarb jam 11

It may come as a surprise to you that I have never made jam before. I’ll give you a moment to absorb that fact…. It is sad, but true. I have been in the presence of many friends and colleagues who have made jam, but I hid behind my camera. I’ve had the Blue Ribbon Queen of Preserves, Barb Schaller, take me by the hand and show me the ropes, but I was slow to follow, and that is how, all these years later, I’d never gotten around to making my own. So, when the Ball jar company wrote to me and asked if I’d participate in their CAN-IT-FORWARD event, I said YES. I knew if I didn’t do it now, it may never happen. They were willing to send me everything I’d need, and more, to make jam. No more excuses.

Well, I am happy to tell you that it was WAY easier than I could have ever imagined. I feel even more ridiculous for putting this off for so long. I simply followed the instructions in the Ball Blue Book for rhubarb-orange jam. Next time I will go my own way, but for my virgin run I wanted to do it exactly as they suggested and I wasn’t disappointed. Ok, maybe I added a bit more zest than they said, because I adore it, but that was my only modification. I’m hooked.

If you’ve never canned before, or if you’ve been doing it for years, here is a giveaway from Ball that you’ll love. See the bottom of this post for more details… The giveaway is finished, but recipe to follow. (more…)

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The Ultimate Blueberry Muffins

blueberry muffins

I had a forehead thumping moment recently when a friend asked me for a blueberry muffin recipe. In all the years I’ve been doing this site, I’ve never posted the most basic of breakfast treats. How did I get away with this, especially when they are one of my favorites. For me the perfect blueberry muffin is light, fluffy and bursting with blueberries. I added a touch of ginger because it perks up the flavor of the berries, but not so much that it’s overpowering. The topping is buttery, sweet and bakes into a lacy crust. I like to bake them in large “Texas-sized” muffin cups, so there is lots of muffin top and just as much of the berry center. They are great small, but I am always left wanting for more and for some reason I feel less guilty eating one big one, instead of two little ones.  (more…)

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

It is a brand new year and I figured I should start 2012 with a fresh start; right at the pastry beginning. For me that’s vanilla extract, probably the most used ingredient in my kitchen after flour and sugar. I always have a stack of beans and bottles of extract. I admit I don’t always make my own, but it is something, like homemade yogurt, that once you make it, you’re ruined to the store bought version. It is easy to make, but to get the best result you have to be patient. The longer you let the vanilla beans sit in the vodka, the better and stronger the flavor. I let this bottle sit for 5 weeks before opening it, which was a test of will power I didn’t know I possessed. The result is like perfume, I want to add it to all of my recipes and dab a bit behind my ears. I’ll use it in everything from cakes to cocktails.

This year I have only made one work related resolution…to make more how-to videos on my ZoeBakes YouTube Channel. If you have any ideas for cake decorating, baking, pastry or any other sweets you’d like to see in more detail, please let me know. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel to see all my new videos. Hope they are helpful. (more…)

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A Red Velvet Birthday Cake (basket weave 101)

About 30 years ago my father introduced me to Patricia, the most glamorous woman I’d ever seen. She wore a light blue polyester pant suit with eye shadow to match and had a pile of perfectly coiffed blond hair. She was lovely and clearly not from Connecticut, where we lived at the time. Just one word from her mouth and you could hear the south, Alabama in fact. Patricia is my stepmother and in honor of her Southern roots I made her a Red Velvet Birthday cake. Her mom used to make them for her when she was a kid. I wish I had her mother’s recipe, but I found one that was fascinating and dated back to WW2. The Milk Chocolate cream cheese frosting done in an elegant basket weave adds to the romance of the cake.

When I read the ingredients for the cake I immediately assumed that it had omitted a key ingredient; eggs. In fact, this cake is completely vegan; no eggs, butter or milk. Eggs act as a binder, a kind of glue that holds things together. When they are baked, the proteins set and hold everything else in place.  So when I saw that this cake didn’t have any at all I wondered what the texture would be like, paste came to mind. In fact, I was so doubtful I had a back up recipe all ready to go. But, what do you know, it was fantastic. Moist, rich, despite the lack of any butter or eggs and absolutely delicious. Why? (more…)

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Blue Ribbon Jammin’ with Barb Schaller!

(Jars of Plum jelly and Peach-Raspberry jam)

I’ve come to understand that the key to really great jam is a good dose of humor and a dash of sass! No one better to have taught me this lesson than the blue ribbon jam lady Barb Schaller. She does magic with fruit and pectin and never steps foot into the kitchen without her pearls (a nod to June Clever). She has been winning ribbons at the Minnesota State FAIR since 1981 and holds its Prestigious Processor of the Pantry award along with countless blue ribbons. She also has developed 2 jams for M.A. Gedney Company’s Award Winning State Fair Recipe line of preserves.

I met Barb, and her charming husband Rob, at a book signing for ABin5. She handed me a bag of home made jams and I’ve been a devout follower of hers ever since. I’ve been begging to get in the kitchen with her for well over a year and this past weekend she graciously allowed me and my friend Jen to watch. What an incredible honor to spend a day in the kitchen with a true master of her craft and watch this year’s blue ribbon recipe in the works.

Barb Schaller’s Peach-Raspeberry Jam: (more…)

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