In episode 2 of the Edible Potluck podcast we talk about meal planning with Emily Peterson and canning with Marisa McClellan.
Recommended Recipe: Honey-Pecan Braised Greens
The phrase “meal planning” gets different reactions from different people. Some people believe it’s the magical key to health, wealth, and a stress-free life while others think meal planning is too difficult or boring to bother with at all. Emily Peterson, a chef who answers reader questions in Edible East End magazine, has a more balanced approach to the subject. As an elected official and a mom, she definitely knows a few things about how meal planning can make even a busy life more a lot more tasty and a little less crazy.
If you’ve ever lived through a canning craze in your home kitchen, you know it can leave you with more jars of jam than you know what to do with. No one understands this better than Marisa McClellan, who has blogged about canning for more than 10 years at her website, Food in Jars. She’s also written three cookbooks on the subject. Now, she’s back with a fourth book, The Food in Jars Kitchen with more than 100 recipes to help you use up those ingredients in your homemade pantry.
Emily Peterson on Instagram @chefemilyp
Marisa McClellan FoodinJars.com
Marisa McClellan on Instagram @foodinjars
Joy Manning: I’m your host, Joy Manning and this is EdiblePotluck, a podcast that gives food lovers a taste of Edible Communities magazines. Today we’re headed to East End of Long Island to get a crash course on meal planning from Chef Emily Peterson. Then we’re checking in with Philadelphia base blogger and author and my longtime friend, Marisa McClellan. We’ll talk about her new book, The Food in Jars Kitchen.
Recipe: Honey-Pecan Braised Greens
Joy Manning: But before that, can I just tell you about a cool twist on braised greens? Usually, collard greens, mustard greens or kale or cooked with a pork product like bacon, but not the honey pecan braised greens I found an Edible Austin. This unusual recipe replaces the animal fat with plenty of olive oil, a heap of pecans provides even more richness and plenty of welcome crunch. Sauteed garlic, apple cider vinegar, and honey round out the flavors and balance the bitterness inherent to Greens.
Best of all, unlike some braised greens recipes that take all afternoon, this one cooks just until the greens are tender. It’s really only about 10 or 15 minutes. You get a lighter brighter take on the classic that I can definitely get behind. I’ll share that recipe in today’s show notes. Give it a taste for yourself and report back. I think you’ll like it as much as I did.
Meal Planning with Emily Peterson
Joy Manning: The phrase “meal planning” gets different reactions from different people. Some people believe it’s the magical key to health, wealth and a stress-free life, while others think meal planning is too difficult or too boring to bother with it all. Emily Peterson, a chef who answers reader’s questions in Edible East End magazine has a more balanced approach to the subject.
An elected official in her town and a mom, she definitely knows a few things about how meal planning can make even a busy life a lot more tasty and a little less crazy. She’s here today to give us some real-world advice on the hot topic of meal plans. Welcome to EdiblePotluck, Emily. Thank you for joining us.
Emily Peterson: The hot topic of meal plans. I love it.
Joy Manning: It’s a hot topic. I mean, surprisingly, people always want to talk about it, I find.
Emily Peterson: People know that I do this regularly. It’s between that and then I raise chickens, it’s all people want to talk to me about. I am the best cocktail guest ever.
Joy Manning: Everyone has to make dinner every night. So a strategy to do so, I think, is a top of mind for a lot of people. And I was really intrigued to see your advice in the magazine and I wanted to talk more about it here with you.
Emily Peterson: Sure. Absolutely.
Joy Manning: So just in a nutshell, meal planning, easy or hard?
Emily Peterson: Front-loaded, hard but long term, so much easier. Your life is so much easier when you do it. So I set aside about two hours on a Sunday to get it done, which is a ton of time. And in addition to being a mom and an elected official, I also work full time and I’m going in and out of Manhattan from northern New Jersey where I live. So time is super precious, particularly on the weekends and so to carve out two hours, it feels insane when I’m doing it because I am missing time with my Kiddo that I don’t get to see a lot during the week and I’d rather be watching Netflix, doing all of these other wonderful things.
But what it buys me back is an hour or more every night during the week that I don’t have to think, “What am I making for dinner?” And it’s like giving up any other thing that’s not good for you. So my new year’s resolution this year and last year, although I failed by like January 2nd, is to really eat sugar mindfully. So when I don’t eat sugar, I feel so much better and when I eat sugar, I feel bad. Now I know that, that’s not science, but anecdotally, it’s working to not eat sugar, right?
So when I meal plan, everything is easier at dinnertime because I come home, I do what I have to do. I know what my plan is. That’s why it’s there and I can sit down and relax with my family. When I don’t do it, I’m leaving work like, “Oh, my goodness, what is for dinner? Is that Broccoli yellow? I don’t even know if I still have that Broccoli.” And I have to communicate with my husband who’s also working full time, who was making the quinoa. We’ve both been working, we’re both stressed out.
So easy or hard is, well, when do you want the hard part to be? And for me, it’s send my husband and my kid for two hours to do something like go to a playground or go to target or something. I wrote in the article and it’s true, I’ve put on some guilty pleasure pop anthems and I don’t feel bad about listening to Kesha and Lady Gaga in the kitchen and I chop stuff up and then I have bought myself back to sanity of dinnertime at the rest of the week.
Joy Manning: So it is both hard and easy, but you definitely come out ahead in terms of hours spent?
Emily Peterson: It’s like hard, easy and rewarding. It’s like any other good for you habit. You got to do it to work.
Joy Manning: So what do those two hours look like for you? What’s the process?
Emily Peterson: So the actual cooking process is, so if I’m cooking on a Sunday, the process starts the Friday prior, usually after work. Usually, when I’m sitting down eating dinner, I make the meal plan and I write it out. I love yellow legal pads and blue pens. I’ve been the same since high school. I write out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday down the left-hand side and then I put what I’m going to cook on each line.
Joy Manning: Now where do those ideas come from?
Emily Peterson: So a couple of places. If I need ideas, Ottolenghi’s column in the Guardian, which also is released, I believe, on Saturday mornings. So if you don’t have Yotam Ottolenghi on your IReference, I’m constantly looking at his recipes. He has restaurants in London. He and his partner are from Israel and I want to say the Gaza Strip, but don’t quote me on that, and they have just incredible plant forward, super easy, super flavorful recipes. I’m like, “Man, why didn’t I think of that?”
So there, I look at Pinterest. I look at the New York Times Cooking, but here’s the thing about meal plans, it is not an opportunity to be creative. This is not a place where you’re going to try out like, “Oh, I want to try this new braise duck.” That’s not the purpose of a meal plan. That I save for the weekends when I have time to focus on being creative. The meal plan is like the minivan of cooking. It is comfortable. It is easy. It’s nutritious and it’s done. It’s not when I’m gonna go out and buy 17 new spices to make something that I’ve never made before.
So if you’re not in the habit of making something that’s highly spiced or highly seasoned or highly complicated, weeknight meals are not the first time that you should try it. Once you get it under your belt and you’re like, “Oh, you know what? I could throw that lentil dal or whatever in Jambalaya into my regular rotation,” but for the first time, those meals, I am cooking on a weekend.
Joy Manning: So do your meal plans look the same week after week? Do you have a certain number of usual suspects?
Emily Peterson: I really do and part of that is dictated by what my son will eat. So it’s a lot of roasts salmon because he likes it and it’s nutritious and it’s easy, and it’s expensive when you look at the package in the grocery store, but it’s actually really … I think it’s worth it because he’ll eat it and I don’t have to think about it. A lot of roasted chicken and a lot of ground Turkey. Those are sort of like the usual suspects.
And like I said, it doesn’t have to be creative because when I get home from a long day of work, I’m looking for comfort food. I’m looking for something that’s not going to challenge my senses. I’m looking for something so that I can just sit down and eat my turkey bowling easy and not think about it because what I need is nutrition and not to be challenged.
I’m a chef, and I think it might sound crazy for people to hear me say that because I think there’s a perception that chefs are always on and we’re always creative and we’re always eating saffron and oysters, but the reality is that I eat a lot of really just good comfort food. It may be that the seasons change, so my vegetable choices often change a lot, but really, it’s like Turkey meatballs, roast chicken, a lot of chili, a lot of roasted salmon or other fish, but I’m not making anything crazy out of the box.
Joy Manning: So how long do you spend cooking dinner after you’ve gone through the trouble to meal plan and do some prep in advance? How much time does it take on a typical weeknight?
Emily Peterson: The longest part is heating up the oven. So let’s say it’s a raw salmon, I will have defrosted the salmon. So I have those pieces and then if I’m making some kind of herb crust, I’ve already chopped up my herbs. I’ve already got my bread crumbs kind of squared away and measured in a pint container. So I put the salmon down on the sheet tray add breadcrumbs on top, drizzle on a little olive oil or a little melted butter, put that in the oven and then cook off whatever my green is, which is usually already done on Sunday.
So during that two hours, I cooked off a huge batch of quinoa. I cooked off a big pot of lentils. I cooked off some egg noodles. So I have all my component dishes so I can be like, “Okay, what do we want? We’ll have some lentils mixed with egg noodles and some frozen corn.” And I will say that I eat frozen vegetables proudly. They are harvested at the peak of freshness. They are flash frozen with the highest possible nutrition content available and they’re 99 cents a bag.
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And so while I want every week to be August in New Jersey, and I’m a fan of cutting corn off the cob myself, the reality is you have to pick and choose your battles, right? So if it’s frozen corn or no corn, I will go frozen corn. If it’s August and I have my wits about me, I will bring home a 50-pound bag of corn, clean it and process it all and have my own frozen corn. And if I miss the window in August to do that, I just don’t have it for the whole year, and that’s okay.
So much of meal planning is about forgiving yourself for your expectations that you aren’t meeting for yourself. Like resolutions this time of year, it’s … What is it? The second week in January. This is when everybody’s like, “Oh, I stopped going. I haven’t been to the gym and a week.” I’m all about being gentle with yourself and the expectations we set. So if you fall off this week, you try again next week and if that means getting frozen vegetables, I as a chef, give you permission to take that shortcut.
Joy Manning: Now speaking of picking up those frozen vegetables, where does your shopping happen? When does that figure in? Is that in the two-hour window that you talked about earlier?
Emily Peterson: So when my son was little, little, like a baby little, I used to go to the grocery store is like my therapeutic alone time. Now that happens on Sunday mornings. I think before the two hours would be the honest answer. So we usually all go to the grocery store together, we come home and then my husband and son leave and go do what they’re going to do for a couple of hours, but you have to go grocery shopping anyway.
So if you were meal planning or not, unless you were eating 100% takeout, which would come with its own set of problems, expense, nutrition, all of that stuff. So I don’t count the grocery shopping in the two hours and there’s like a really nice coffee bar and I get a dirty chai latte and I enjoy my time there because I don’t think of it as a chore.
Joy Manning: It sounds like you really have mastered the mindset part of this, making it as fun as it can be for something that is, in fact, a chore.
Emily Peterson: Yeah. Anything I look at as a chore, I try to not do until I can change my mindset. So this I don’t approach it as a chore but paying off my student loan, big chore.
Joy Manning: The cost of a fancy dirty chai latte notwithstanding, you wrote that you can save money in meal planning.
Emily Peterson: Yes.
Joy Manning: So can you tell us a little bit more about that and any strategies you have specifically to help save money around food?
Emily Peterson: It’s hundreds of dollars a month that I have saved when I’m really disciplined about tracking it. So when I first started this project, I was using a grocery store delivery company where you order everything online and it comes delivered to your front door. And while I love that concept, I haven’t found one that works for me. I think the reality is I really enjoy going to the grocery store and I also have incredibly high standards for things like produce and that other people would think we’re insane.
But using an app to fill a grocery cart, you can see the dollar value adding up as you add things to the digital cart. Whereas going to the regular grocery store, which is how I’m doing it now, is much, much, much more expensive because I’m not as disciplined in watching that dollar figure as I’m putting things into the cart.
Joy Manning: That’s so interesting that you would say that. You think that being an online shopper, even though maybe you’re going to pay like five or $10 for a delivery fee, you save money because you’re more aware of the cost of every purchase. I never thought of it that way.
Emily Peterson: Yeah, that’s really been the way that it works. Even when I have a list for the grocery store, even when it’s like, “Okay, the grocery store that I use has an app and it tells me what everything is going to cost.” It’s just not the same level of discipline because I’ll put in that I need one pair, which is like the reminder that I need to get pairs, but then I go to the produce aisle and I spent $14 on a fruit that I’d never seen yesterday because I liked how it looked and I wanted it.
And so that adds up and I’m also not buying toiletries necessarily or a nail polish that’s on sale, or I reward myself with impulse items in a way that I need to be more mindful of. When I’m highly disciplined, when I was using the delivery service, I saved like over $500 in the first month. It was crazy.
Joy Manning: How? By only buying what you needed?
Emily Peterson: Only buying what I needed. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joy Manning: That’s interesting. I feel like it’s such a splurge to get groceries delivered, but I see how that awareness would really make a difference.
Emily Peterson: It really does and if it’s $5 or $10 for a delivery fee, you’re buying it back in impulse items, but you don’t get a dirty chai.
Joy Manning: True. I can see how it would get me to the store. Absolutely. And what about when it comes to your health? Have you noticed any health benefits for meal planning?
Emily Peterson: So I am a fairly conscientious eater as it comes to nutritional value of food. I’m incredibly vain and I want to age well, and so as I am solidly in middle age, and there’s all of these little indicators that there’s no denying it. I hired someone, which is like indicator number one, is I hired someone. And then also when I was looking over his shoulder, his birthday was the year that I graduated from high school.
So I am aging and all of the medical science and all the nutritional science says that what you put into your body is the number one most important thing to how your body and how your cells will age. I can ignore that and eat all of the Hostess Ding Dongs that I want or all the potato chips are all the French fries that I want, it doesn’t make the science go away. So I’m trying to find a balance between not eating like a monk. I don’t eat bland poor food, but I don’t eat a lot of seasoned waffle fries.
Even if they’re like Alexa seasoned waffle fries that look so healthy, but you have to like look at those bags on the shelf and be like, “Nope, marketing. They want me to think that’s healthy, but when I flip that bag over, it is still a waffle French fry.” So, nutritionally, it gives me an opportunity to think about balance. When I’m sitting with my yellow legal pad and I’m writing down the things I’m going to eat across the week, it helps me see like, “Okay, so I’m going to have a day of lentils. I’m going to have a day of beef. I’m going to have a day of Korean food. I’m going to have a day of this.”
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And it helps me sort of see, holistically, that my week is interesting and balanced and that does translate to nutrition because I’m not eating the same thing every day. I don’t have like a monoculture in my menu and it makes me see gaps like, “Oh, man, I don’t have a single green vegetable on here, so let me add some kale, Caesar salad,” or whatever it is. So, you can’t help but be more nutritionally mindful when you’re looking at what you’re eating before you eat it.
Joy Manning: You seem to plan mostly dinners. Does this have a trickle-down effect on lunches for your family?
Emily Peterson: So when I’m doing the cooking, so in that two hours when there’s time to kill, like water’s coming to boil, the oven is heating, some thing’s baking, I cut up fruits and vegetables and I have containers in the refrigerator. So when somebody is hungry, any one of us, there’s already sliced bell peppers. I said in the story too my kid won’t eat bell peppers but hilly rainbow peppers. I buy the family pack of multicolor because he’ll eat them and I slice up oranges. I pull all the grapes off the stems.
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Emily Peterson: So that’s the caterer mindset, right? Is how much of this prep work and I do before I get to the venue so that when I get there, all I need to do is open the container and when I think about the convenience food that people are buying … Yesterday I bought myself a small container. It was $3.80 cents of cleaned coconut slices because I am not cleaning a coconut but it was right next to individual packs of apple slices. I was like, “That is a bridge too far. That I would not pay the extra money for.”
Plus whatever it is that has been put on those apples to keep them from turning brown makes me wary, not nervous necessarily, but I’m just aware that the oxidation process has to be slowed by something and I can guarantee you, it is not lemon juice. But on the coconut side when it’s dessert time and I’m trying not to eat more dark chocolate because I don’t have the self-discipline to have a small amount of chocolate, but I can eat all the coconut I want and it’s worth the $3.80 cents to me to get that container.
And the other thing is I thought I would eat that whole container of coconut, but one piece is perfectly satisfying. So I use that same mentality in thinking about when are people going to be hungry and it’s before we leave for school, after we get home from school and after dinner. So the meal planning component of dinner is taken care of and then those other, in the restaurant world we call it dayparts. So the other day parts, what are quick grab and go things that we can just reach in and I can give my kids some sliced cucumber, salty cucumbers or grapes or sliced oranges.
And I get all of that shopping done and I’m listening to Kesha looking out the window like it’s not a chore, but that’s just me. If you told me to sit down with a budget and figure out how long it’s gonna take me to pay off my student loan, that to me is like pulling my fingernails out. So I understand when people hear this, they’re like, “She’s not for me.” I get it and so it is balanced with a little bit of discipline.
Joy Manning: But when you do have that convenient food at your fingertips to take to work or to send to school, it’s like a bag of Doritos that somebody is not going to eat, which is both good for your health and good for your budget, I would think.
Emily Peterson: Absolutely. Absolutely. We do have bags of chips and stuff because I want my kid … When I was a kid, my dad was a hunter and so I got sent to school with venison chili, which was at the time when Lunchables was just coming on the market, and I was not treating venison chili with anybody. I’m trying to make sure my kid has a balanced approach. Not everything has to be super healthy, so we balance the Chex Mix or the Doritos or whatever it is because I also enjoy those things. We just balance it and that goes into looking at your week holistically. So I’m going to eat Doritos on Thursday afternoon, but I’m not going to eat them every afternoon.
Joy Manning: Now what happens when something goes awry? Maybe you forget to defrost the salmon, maybe you get held up at work longer than you want. Do you ever just order a pizza-
Emily Peterson: All the time.
Joy Manning: … or something?
Emily Peterson: We have a great pizza place and that’s my philosophy, it’s like, “There’s always pizza. There’s always Sushi. There’s always some …” Especially if you live in a major metropolitan area, you’re not going to starve. I would say the biggest hazard that I face is I cook too much and we end up with leftovers that everybody gets sick of. So then I end up with a freezer full of the things that nobody wanted to eat and that’s the biggest hazard.
But if I am at a meeting and my husband was going to make salmon and quinoa, but he got home late, so they went to have burger and got burgers instead. Like I said, I’m very forgiving of our humanity. I’m not trying to be religious about this, I’m just trying to make it easier or wherever I can.
Joy Manning: Before we go, do you have any easy tips, tricks, apps, tools that you can share that might make this process easier for someone who wants to try it?
Joy Manning: That’s like Google’s version of an Excel Spreadsheet, right?
Emily Peterson: It’s like an Excel Spreadsheet and you can share it with the people that live in your family or that you share meals with so that everybody can chime in. Now that’s its own hazard. I find it easier to not ask for input. If I ask everybody what they want, then I’m careful about when I ask for input, but I will share the list or the menu for the week with my husband after it’s done and say, “Do you approve?”
Although, at this point, 15 years in, I know he’s going to say yes with the exception of like one or … He’ll be like, “Oh, I really wanted to make, whatever, bread pudding.” So I use that. If your grocery store has an app for shopping, I highly recommend it. So I make my 5-day menu and then I make a grocery store list based off of that and then I take that handwritten list and actually I even …
This is even crazier, I think there’s a link to it either from this article or there’s another Edible article where I have made a master grocery list that I laminated so that I don’t have to think about what I need. I have the list already made and then I just cross off what I don’t need. So I don’t have to remember that I need to get olive oil because olive oil is on my master list.
So you can use Google Sheets, which is where I built mine, put everything in there that you need and that you’re regularly buying, your milk, your yogurt or this or that, and when I use that, I don’t forget things at the grocery store. I don’t come home having spent $150 and then be like, “Oh my God, I didn’t get yogurt” and then I have to go back to the grocery store again.
Joy Manning: That’s personalized to your family, it’s the items that you all want.
Emily Peterson: Correct.
Joy Manning: So you’d have to spend a few weeks paying attention to what that is for you, I guess?
Emily Peterson: Yeah/ If you make one grocery list, like you’re going to do your big shopping, you make the one list, take that shopping and then think about for the next couple of days the stuff that you forgot and you add it to the list. So, “Oh, I forgot that I had to get toilet paper.” So, yeah, that’s your list.
So then after you do it for a couple of weeks and you keep it in Google sheets, it’s live. You can edit it on your phone when you’re standing in the grocery store. You can edit it standing in your kitchen. Once you feel like it’s done, then you print it out. I’ve laminated mine and I keep it on the refrigerator and then … When I say it out loud, it does sound a little crazy.
Joy Manning: Not to me, I think anything you can do to save yourself the future mental energy of figuring something out is a huge benefit, I think.
Emily Peterson: Yeah, this is really a game changer. So a dry erase marker will erase off of laminated plastic. So I have my list, I stand in the kitchen and then we usually tag team. It’s like, and now that my kid is a little older, “Do we need milk?” “No, we have milk.” And then if I’m working with my kid I look over shoulder and make sure. And then anything else that I need, any specialty items, somebody wants a special flavor of English muffin, let’s be honest, it’s usually me, I just write that extra thing. But for that standard grocery order, that’s been a huge, huge game changer.
Joy Manning: In your article, you wrote about your blackboard paint in your kitchen?
Emily Peterson: Yea.
Joy Manning: Are you still using that?
Emily Peterson: I use it all the time. So we painted a whole wall, that wall is probably three feet wide by however tall the kitchen is and we painted its ceiling to floor, and then I have a couple of pieces of chalk that are on the shelf right there. And then I write down Monday to Friday and I basically copy the menu off of the legal pad up onto the wall. So what’s for dinner is right there particularly for the nights that I’m at a council meeting or at the library, at a board meeting or wherever I am. So my husband and be like, “Okay, what do I have to make? Okay, grab the salmon and grab the quinoa.”
Joy Manning: I think that’s such a great idea. I want to do that in my own kitchen.
Emily Peterson: And it’s funny, we leave each other notes. We say hope … because I’m not home a lot. So it’s a way to communicate with everybody that I’m present and I love them, and, “Don’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning.”
Joy Manning: Well, thank you for sharing all those great tips and inspiration. I personally have fallen off the meal planning horse a little bit and I really want to get back on, so this-
Emily Peterson: Can I be honest?
Joy Manning: Yes, please do.
Emily Peterson: Me too.
Joy Manning: Oh!
Emily Peterson: Yeah. I have not been very good at it and it’s been really stressful. So when you asked me to talk about this subject, I was like, “The article is now out and you want me to talk about it. I got to get back on this because it sounds cheesy, but it really does make your life easy.”
Joy Manning: It makes a big difference.
Emily Peterson: It really does.
Joy Manning: Hopefully, we’ll have inspired other people to be right there with us then.
Emily Peterson: Absolutely. Yeah.
Joy Manning: Thank you so much, Emily. It’s been a pleasure.
Emily Peterson: Of course. Thanks, Joy.
Joy Manning: That was Emily Peterson, Edible East End contributor and host of Sharp & Hot on Heritage Radio Network. We’ll link to her article on meal planning where you can download and print her weekly checklist for yourself. You can follow her on Instagram @chefemilyp
Merissa McClellan of Food in Jars Kitchen
Joy Manning: If you’ve ever lived through a canning craze in your own home kitchen, you know it can leave you with more jars of jam than you know what to deal with and no one understands this better than Merissa McClellan who has blogged about for more than 10 years at her website, Food in Jars. She’s also written three cookbooks on the subject and now she’s back with a fourth book, The Food in Jars Kitchen with more than 100 recipes to help you use up all those ingredients in your homemade pantry. Welcome to EdiblePotluck, Merissa. Thank you for joining us.
Marisa McClellan: I am so glad to be here. It’s really fun.
Joy Manning: So at this point, you have taught a whole lot of people how to make jams, jellies, pickles and all kinds of preserves, but this book is a little bit different. Can you tell us what to expect in the new book?
Marisa McClellan: Yes. So, this book is different from my first three books and that instead of offering 100 canning recipes, I’m offering up 140 recipes on how to use up what you’ve canned because I have found that people really get into canning. They love making jam. They love making pickles and then they hit this wall later in the season where they don’t know what to do with what they’ve made. And then I get questions about, “That chutney looks great, but what do I do with it?” And so for me, this book was really trying to answer the question once and for all, “But what do I do with it?”
Joy Manning: It’s really more of a traditional cookbook with recipes for meals all through the day and just the type of home cooking that someone who’s into canning might want. That’s was how I experienced it.
Marisa McClellan: Definitely.
Joy Manning: So you wrote in the introduction that people, your students and your friends are always telling you they can only eat so much toast as much as they love to can and obviously, toast is the most obvious go-to. And I’m not saying there’s no toast in the book, but what surprising uses for jam will we find in The Food in Jars Kitchen?
Marisa McClellan: I think one of the interesting things first is that you’ll find that jam, as well as pickles and other preserves, they become things that can be used across the day. It’s not that they’re, like jam we think, “Oh, that’s for morning or maybe like a PB and J at lunchtime,” but it becomes something that you can use for every meal of the day, for every day of the week.
And so, I have included more traditional things like thumbprint cookies or bar cookies, but then also you’ll find jam turning into barbecue sauce or teriyaki sauce. You’ll find jam being used as a brazing medium for different meats. I use it as a topping for pizza. I turn runny jelly into Granita. You can use your jam and frozen yogurt pops for the summer time. There’s just a whole host of things that these homemade preserves can do.
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First day of the photo shoot for book #4 is done and it was such a fun one. I always have anxiety leading up to a shoot that my recipes won’t work or that something will go terribly awry, but today it was unfounded. Everything worked and the dream team of @emcdowell, @evcobes, @stevelegato, and @butterologie made so much magic. I’m looking forward to more good times tomorrow. #foodinjarskitchen #cookbookphotoshoot #thumbprintcookies
Joy Manning: Now let’s talk for a minute about the idea of using jams in a braising liquid. Just in case someone doesn’t know, a braise is when you cook, usually a piece of meat or it could be vegetables, in a closed container in the oven with some moisture or liquid for a longer period of time.
Marisa McClellan: Yeah.
Joy Manning: Now, what kind of jams would work in those situations? Can you give us a rough idea of how you would do it?
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Marisa McClellan: Yeah, absolutely. So, one of the things I would like to do is a beef brisket. Now I’m Jewish. I normally do brisket one way with onions and herbs for Passover. But if you want to go more of a barbecue brisket style, I like to do it in the slow cooker and I actually find that the slow cooker is critical to braising with things that have a lot of sugar in them because it never gets that hot and so you don’t run the risk of burning or turning the sugars in a jam to acid.
And so I like to combine one part jam and one part flavorful vinegar. So not a white vinegar, not like white distilled vinegar, that doesn’t taste good, but either apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar. So I might take a cherry jam with whole chunks of cherry, combine one part of that with one part of red wine vinegar, really whisk it together so it kind of forms a slurry. Maybe I’ll add some chopped onion or garlic, or if I’m feeling really lazy, I’ll use garlic powder and onion powder, and then I’ll put like a three to 4-pound brisket in a slow cooker.
I’ll pour this liquid over the top and I will let it braise for 8 to 10 hours and it becomes the most delicious beef for a sandwich or some sort of casserole, and it’s so easy. And the other nice thing is that when you use your jams as a brazing medium, they don’t have to be perfect. It can be the jam was a little runny or you had one that discolored slightly on top. Often with apricot or peach jams because they’re lighter in color, they turn a little brown on top after about a year in the cabinet.
And if you don’t love the way that looks to gift to someone or put it on a toast or sandwich, if you use it as a brazing medium, it kind of saves it and makes it really delicious and useful.
Joy Manning: Yeah. And the note perfectly set, jam, I think is a very common thing for people as they’re learning to can and I know it even happened to you sometimes before all your experience. That’s a great tip. I love that idea. I’m surprised. I thought you were going to say that we add it a little water or stock or something, but just the jam and the vinegar.
Marisa McClellan: Yeah, the vinegar really acts as the thing that keeps it from burning and evens it out and also balances the sweetness because if you didn’t have the vinegar, it would be overwhelmingly sweet. But once you thin it out with vinegar, it just becomes a sweet tangy delicious sauce. And then once the meat juices combine with all that, it’s good.
Joy Manning: Yeah. A brisket throws off a lot of liquid.
Marisa McClellan: Yeah. So true.
Joy Manning: That’s really a good tip. So do you have any runaway favorites in the book? I know 140 recipes is a lot and they’re all like your children, but is there one that stands out as your favorite or two?
Marisa McClellan: In the dessert category, I really, really love the upside down cake. So it’s a super easy cake. It’s a one bowl cake. It’s an olive oil cake. You bake it in a skillet, like I use a 10 inch cast iron skillet and it’s one of those cakes where you just stir everything together.
Joy Manning: No mixer?
Marisa McClellan: No mixer.
Joy Manning: Oh, that’s great.
Marisa McClellan: Just a spoon or a whisk, and then you put a sheet … You cut a circle of parchment out, put it on the bottom of the skillet, you spread a layer of jam on that and then you gently pour the batter on top and it bakes for like 40 minutes and then you can take it out of the oven, let it cool for like 5 minutes, so it’s not like piping hot, and then you invert it onto a plate and you gently peel that piece of parchment back and the jam is perfect. It’s a little bit caramelized, but it’s not burnt. It hasn’t taken on any of the flavor from the pan because cast iron sometimes tastes like things.
Joy Manning: Oniony.
Marisa McClellan: Yeah.
Joy Manning: Mine does.
Marisa McClellan: Yeah, totally. One of these cakes, it’s good warm. It’s good at room temperature. It gets better over time and it’s great for a potluck or you have to bring a dessert to a party or something. It’s so easy and it’s so good and the flavor changes depending on the jam you use. So, you can make it over and over again and it’s always a little different, which is nice.
Joy Manning: Now you know that as much as I really enjoy your work and your jam, I don’t make a lot of jam myself.
Marisa McClellan: Yeah.
Joy Manning: And I know I’m not alone. So what about those of us that are not prolific preservers? What is in the book for us? How can we use it?
Marisa McClellan: The great thing about this book, and I say that as someone who wrote it, so I’m tooting my own horn here, but I designed the recipes so that you don’t have to have any specific preserve to make the recipes work. There are a lot of books out there that have extension recipes, that’s kind of what it’s called when you take a jam recipe and then you create something to use that particular jam, you’re extending the recipe.
So what I wanted to do instead was creative book where every recipe would work with a handful of different preserves that you might have in your pantry or might be things that you picked up at the farmer’s market or someone gave you or even sometimes you’ll travel. I went to Ireland a while back and came home with some marmalade and I wanted to do something really great with this marmalade and make it special and so I cooked with it rather than just kind of eating it little by little on toast.
And so that’s what this book does really well, is it just helps you use up whatever preserves are hanging around your kitchen. So, you’ll find a recipe that calls for like one cup of peach or apricot or stone fruit jam, or another one that says, “This is really better with a berry jam,” like strawberry or raspberry and so you don’t have to have specific jam. You just need to have something along the lines to make it work. You could use the book and make things with it that I have given you.
I have lots of jam, Joy. If you want to test some recipes, I’ll be happy to bring some jam over to your house.
Joy Manning: Yeah. I’m sure I can also use my store bought jam, right?
Marisa McClellan: Yeah, exactly.
Joy Manning: There is nothing wrong with that. On the flip side, what if someone just becomes more interested in jams and preserves reading the book. Do you have those recipes in the book or do they need to seek them out on Food in Jars or in one of your previous books?
Marisa McClellan: I do have a short chapter at the end of the book that has 10 what I think of as the vital preserve. So you’ll find they’re kind of formula recipes rather than more specific recipes. So I have a berry jam recipe that works with strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. I’ve got a stone fruit jam recipe that’ll work with apricots, peaches nectarines. There is a basic pesto recipe. It’s more of a formula and so you can use any kind of herbs you have and make pesto.
And so the idea was to put a little resource section in the back of the book so that if the book makes you more interested in canning, the information is there and then if it becomes a rabbit hole, you want to dive down further, you can check out one of my other three books.
Joy Manning: Yes. I know a teacher who’s got you covered on the jam front. So I wanted to talk a little bit about your kitchen because I reviewed the … We’re friends, but I reviewed the press materials for the book and you definitely mentioned your tiny kitchen a couple times. So, clearly, you have tiny kitchen, big cooking output pride and it just made me think of all those times people complain to you and me that they don’t cook because their kitchen is too cramped. So I thought maybe you could just share a couple, one or two inspirational tips for other people with smaller than they might like kitchens for how to make it happen anyway.
Marisa McClellan: Yeah, absolutely. I often mention that my kitchen is just 80 square feet. It’s a galley kitchen and I call it the hardest working kitchen I know because by foot it works really hard. And one of the things that I have really found to make my kitchen work is that you have to think vertically. It can’t just be about the storage you have available at eye level. I use every inch of the vertical space in my kitchen. So I store things on top of my cabinets.
Years and years ago, when my dad was in town, he built shelves that go all the way up a wall of my kitchen and then span the top so that there’s room to store things. I have things hanging. I really just try to use every inch.
And then when it comes to the actual cooking, you have to be organized. There’s no start one thing, then put that aside and start the other. You have to go start to finish. You have to clean as you go and a lot of people don’t want to do that, but as long as you apply a little discipline to your cooking process, it’s really a functional kitchen. And I know that a lot of people have spaces that are similar or even smaller, and you can really make them work. As long as you have the motivation and the desire to cook, you can make your space work for you.
Joy Manning: Well, if you can do it, I think anybody can do it in terms of the small space because it really is not a big kitchen and I can see why you’re proud of having done what you have in that little space. So before we go, can you let us know where to find you? I know you usually travel a lot when you have a new book coming out and you teach both online and in person. Can you just give us a little bit of information about where to find out about that?
Marisa McClellan: Yeah, absolutely. So everything will be on my website, which is foodinjars.com and up along the top of the site, you’ll see a tab that says “events” and that’s where all of the classes and events that I’m doing this season will be listed. I am still building the tour schedule, but there’s going to be a lot of fun stuff. I’m heading to the west coast. I’ll be in the Midwest, hopefully, Chicago and Saint Louis at the very least and do some stuff along the east coast as well. So I’ll be around.
Joy Manning: Well thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. It has been as always a pleasure to talk to you.
That was Merissa McClellan, an Edible Philly contributor and author of The Food in Jars Kitchen. You can learn more about Merissa canning and cooking at her blog, foodinjars.com. Follow her on Instagram @foodinjars.
Thank you for joining us today on EdiblePotluck. Our podcast producer is David Wolf. If you liked this episode, please subscribe on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Please take a moment to leave us a rating or a review, you know it helps other listeners find the podcast. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of your own local Edible Magazine. If you don’t know where to get one, find out at ediblecommunities.com. You can find links to everything we talked about today in the show notes for this episode at ediblecommunities.com/podcast. Until next time, remember, eat local.