Jammy Jam Bars

Being a person that spends the summer and early fall preserving fruit in the form of jam, while also being a person that eats very little jam is the dichotomy I find myself to be.

I do however love things filled with jam; scones, hand pies, thumbprint cookies are all things I love. I also love these jam bars. This is a great way to use up the half-empty or “just a smidge” left jars that may be occupying the top-shelf in your refrigerator at this very moment. If you purchase a jam specifically for these bars, please splurge a bit; you do not want to use a jam that is sticky-sweet.

Jam Bars
makes 9 large bars

1 cup unsalted butter–room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/3 cup all purpose flour or 2 cups all purpose and 1/3 cup whole wheat
1 1/2 cups of good jam (single flavor or mixture)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2-1 tsp spices–use is optional. choose spices that are complimentary to your jam. I find ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon work well with most jams, but you can be as creative as you like, or omit altogether.
1/2 cup toasted and chopped nuts–optional

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray the bottom and sides of an 8 or 9″ square cake pan (the 8″ will result in thicker bars).
Cream the butter, sugar, and salt together. Add the vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix well again. Add the flour all at once and mix until just incorporated.
Press about 1/2 of the mixture into the bottom of your pan to a thickness just less than 1/4″. Press some of the mixture up the sides to create a bit of a ledge (about 1/4″). Pour the jam evenly on top of the crust. If you are using several flavors try not to fully mix the flavors; either layer or intersperse to avoid muddling too much.
Add the oats, spice, and nuts (if using) to the remaining mixture and lightly mix with your hands. If you are a salt-loving person, you can add a few more pinches of a finishing salt here, or use salted nuts in the mix. Generously sprinkle the mixture on top of the jam layer. I like to use a mixture of small bits and large chunks on top. To make larger chunks, simply pinch pieces together and drop onto the jam. I’m partial to lots of topping, but if it seems too much for you, don’t use it all. You can bake it off separately and have as a topping for yogurt or ice cream, or even as a snack.
Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool before cutting.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

I’m not claiming authenticity here. I mean, this has the elements of a classic gumbo, but then I took a bit of a turn with adding bloody mary mix. I like the ease of it, and it tastes good.

There is a short window of time here on the Central Coast where hot stew-like foods coexist with the harvest of okra. That window is now. While our days are still warm, our mornings and overnights are cool enough to crave the warm embrace of this spicy gumbo. And this is spicy. If you find it a bit overwhelming for you, dial back the additional cayenne, and add a dash or two of vinegar in place of the tabasco. You can also dilute a bit more with the chicken stock. If it really, really is too much, add a bit of yogurt or sour cream to your individual bowl to draw the spice back a bit; authentic, no, but we’ve already established that.

My gumbo spice mix is Emeril’s spice mix from his New Orleans’s Cooking book, with just an addition or two on my part. It’s a nice spice to keep around to add a bit of oomph to soups or even baked chicken.
Gumbo Spice
2 TBS Chili Spice & Paprika
1 TBS Ground Coriander, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Kosher Salt
2 tsp Ground Cumin
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper, Crushed Red Pepper, Dried Oregano, Dried Thyme, & Black Pepper
Mix and keep in an airtight container

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
1 1/2 LBS Boneless/Skinless Chicken cut into cubes (I use a mixture of thigh and breast)
2 CUPS Chicken Stock
2 TBS Gumbo Spice
4 Andouille Sausage links–cut crosswise into pieces
1/4 cup flour
2 CUPS sliced okra (fresh or frozen)
1 Medium Onion–chopped
3 Stalks Celery–chopped
1 Green Pepper–chopped
3 Cloves Garlic–chopped
14 oz can Diced Tomatoes–undrained (or the equivalent of diced in-season tomatoes)
1 cup Mr & Mrs T’s Spicy Bloody Mary Mix
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup Scallions–sliced
2 tsp (or more) Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Dried Thyme
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp White Pepper
1/4 tsp Cayenne
2-4 Dashes Tabasco
Olive Oil
Cooked Steamed Rice to Serve

Brown the sausage in a little bit of olive oil. Keeping the heat on medium, remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and add the chicken pieces. Cook until browned on all sides, then sprinkle with the Gumbo Spice. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and add to the sausage. Add more oil to the fat in the pan resulting in about 1/4 cup in total. Staying on medium-high heat, add the flour and stir until the mixture reaches a medium-brown hue. When it is brown turn off the heat and quickly add okra, onions, garlic, celery, and green pepper. Allow the sizzling to stop, then add chicken stock, stir while scraping all the bits off the bottom of the pan. Add Mr & Mrs T’s, tomatoes, green onions, bay leaf, thyme, black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add back the chicken and sausage and let simmer for at least an hour. The longer it simmers the better. Taste for salt and spice level; adjust as necessary
Serve with or without rice, and add Tabasco as desired.
Serves 6-8

Squash Soup

Every year we grow pumpkins and squash in our gardens. It is always a bit of a toss-up which variety gets planted and which survive our very busy ground squirrels. Our rule of thumb is “for every pumpkin or squash you want to survive, plant 10″. It is frustrating…but we can’t stop, won’t stop.
This past year we had good success with the Boston Marrow Squash. It is big and orange like a pumpkin, but it is not round and begging to be carved for halloween.

The Boston Marrow was once a very popular variety which was sold commercially. Its flesh is a bit dry and sweet. I believe it is in the hubbard family.

Our root cellar is not quite finished, so we have been storing our squash and pumpkins on the back porch. I do not recommend this. It is actually a horrible idea. My hope is that I will get through them all before the hand of time takes them away from me (or even worse, those dreaded squirrels).

I wish I had an actual recipe for you…but I never measure and I use what I have on hand. Hopefully, you will feel inspired to do the same.

Here is how it went:

Peel and cut about your squash (or pumpkin) into 1/2″ size cubes–about 3 cups…but as many cups as you would like. I like to match the number of cups of squash to cups of stock (or water). For every 3 cups of squash, finely dice 1/4 of an onion and 1 garlic clove.
In a stockpot, put enough olive oil to just coat the bottom. Toss in the onion and garlic and slowly cook until they are soft. If you see them starting to brown, add a bit of stock or water (an ounce or two) to stop the cooking. Stir in 2-3 Tbs curry powder, 1/2 tsp ground cumin & 1/2 tsp paprika. Let the paste get a bit cooked. Add to this the squash and give it a nice stir. Add your stock/broth/water to cover the squash. Grate 1/4 of an apple into the mixture (more if you’d like a bit more sweetness). Cook until everything is soft.
Remove from heat and run the mixture through a blender or use an emersion stick to fully puree the mixture. At this point, you can run it through a tam or sieve to make it silky smooth, but that isn’t necessary unless you are going for a Michelin star.
Rinse your stockpot and then put it back on the stove and pour your puree back in. Turn the heat on low. This is where you start futzing. Add a tsp or so of Braggs, a little black pepper, additional curry powder if you think it needs it. Salt if it needs it. If it is too thick, add more stock/water…if it is too runny, let it cook a bit to reduce.

To Top: put some olive oil in a small saucepan…maybe 1/4 cup. Toss in a tsp of curry powder, a pinch of red pepper flakes a handful of dried onions, or fresh onions, or onion powder and a handful of pignoli nuts. Cook until hot and the flavors are melded.

To serve: Put the soup in a bowl and top with your delicious curry pignoli oil. Ta Da!