Monday, July 14, 2008

Strawberry-Lavender Freezer Jam and a fun Tex-Mex dip...

Besides freezing a portion of the 15 pounds of whole strawberries we picked for use later in the winter, Jeff and I really wanted to make some jam to preserve that brilliant, fresh flavor those berries had. I've never made jam myself, so I decided we would ease into the whole process with a batch of freezer jam. Because we always feel the need to add a twist or two, we infused vanilla, lavender and fresh lemon zest into our batch of Strawberry-Lavender Freezer Jam.

We sneaked the vanilla flavor in by breaking into my favorite jar of granulated vanilla sugar. This isn't something I buy though, I've have an extra-large mason jar filled with regular sugar that I stuff used vanilla beans into and leave it in the pantry, that I give a good shake when I think about it, so that sweet vanilla aroma wiggles it's way into each granular speck of sugar. There may be a few different kinds of freezer jam pectin out there, but the version we picked out does not need to be cooked at all. I wanted this because the berries this season were exceptionally delicious and we didn't want their flavor to be compromised at all. Also, we were able to use quite a bit less sugar.

You'll start out with 8 cups or so of whole berries for this jam - once you mash them though, you should end up with just about 4 cups worth. Since we wanted to keep some texture, we tossed the berries into a big 'ol baking dish and used a potato masher to crush them. We poured the berries into the vanilla sugar and pectin, then added the extra touches with crushed dried lavender and a bit of lemon zest. I know a teaspoon of lavender probably doesn't sound like much to 4 cups of berries, but you don't want to add too much as it is very fragrant and this amount leaves just a mild flavor that still gives the strawberries the spotlight. This should keep in the freezer for about a year (as if it will even stay in there that long!) or about 3 weeks in the refrigerator. Enjoy it on toast (that's where we started!), slathered onto an English muffin, dolloped on pancakes or whatever your heart desires! One of these days, we'll have to make a trip down to the farm and have mom teach us how to properly make jam for canning so we won't have to take up precious room in the freezer!

Do you ever read recipes that are intended to be an appetizer, yet you really want to try it and don't have any plans for entertaining? That was me when I was going over this Tex-Mex Beef and Bean Dip.

I was talking to Jeff about making it the next time we have guests, but his response was why wait? So, rather than serving 12, we decided it would fill us right up at 3 or 4 servings instead! After we browned up a half-pound of lean ground sirloin, we stirred in a couple tablespoons of concentrated tomato paste, chipotle chile powder for a little heat and a few shakes of cumin for a smoky background. As soon as these spices noticed the heat in the skillet, their taco-like aroma shot right up into the air and quickly spread throughout the kitchen, drawing Jeff into the kitchen to see what was cookin'!

See, his memory is fading these days (hee hee!), so as he looked at me all surprised and excited while trying to figure out what smelled so good, I had to re-hash the whole conversation we had while preparing the menu this week! Anyway, after all that, I stirred drained pinto beans and fire-roasted diced tomatoes into the meaty concoction. All it needed then was a few minutes to thicken up and allow the flavors to mix and mingle together. This was screaming for some cheese, so to finish this off, the top is scattered with crumbles of queso fresco. This is a Mexican cheese that is moist, soft, easy to crumble and keeps its shape quite well when heat is introduced to it.

It is somewhat mild, but brings a slight salty note to the finished dish. If you can't find this or don't care for it, you could try using crumbles of feta or even goat cheese, however the flavor will be different. To serve this, we placed the dip into bowls and used those fun mini "scoop" tortilla chips to dunk in and grab enough for a bite. Eating probably a bit more than we should have, we ended up with 3 hearty servings in total, leaving one leftover to fight over for lunch tomorrow!


  1. The strawberry and lavender combination sounds wonderful. I have never tried making freezer jam but I want to now.
    The tex-mex bites look so dainty.

  2. Joe, someday you'll have to infuse your house of homemade strawberry jam. It smells so good. But when I'm in a hurry I do freezer jam. I like this new version. But the best is when there is a snow storm and you defrost those jams to have on a piece of toast. Decadent.

  3. Oh my...that jam has my mouth watering...that should be illegal...I'm not kidding!

  4. Those little dip bites are adorable- and very tempting! The jam sounds fantastic too. Freezer jam always shows off the fresh flavor of the fruit better than cooked jam- so you were probably better off this time. But making canned jam is really easy- once you learn how to do it you'll be a pro at it in no time.

  5. I'm lovin' your love of strawberries.

  6. Joe,
    Thanks so much about the comment about the Pillsbury Bake-off on my blog. I watched it while I was in the emergency room on Saturday night and missed myself. Luckily I Tivo'd it and spotted myself.
    Your recipes look deelish as always! :-)

  7. oooh! Strawberry and lavendar sound divine! If you have the chance for raspberries, may I make a suggestion. I just tried this interesting juice combination in France--Rasperry with violet essence. It just may work as a jam too. Sweet with a haunting undertone.

  8. Strawberry and lavender together?! Yum! What a great way to use your strawberries--I love homemade jam!


  9. Katie - I hope you give it a try!

    Helene - It is on my list Helene! I can't wait to try it.

    NP - Thanks!

    Erika - Thanks! Hopefully we'll get around to it this season.

    OCG - Thanks!

    Tracy - Oh no! I hope you are doing okay now!

    Nerissa - I wonder where we would even get violet essence here in the states? It sounds so intriguing!

    Courtney - I know, right? I can't believe it took me this long to try it at home!

  10. that tex-mex dip sounds good! nice photos.

  11. Freezer jam? I must give it a go.

    Those Tex-Mex bites look stunning, so tasty.

  12. Love those nacho bites! Looks sooo good! :)

  13. Becky - Thanks!

    Culinarytravels - We are lovin' the jam and have already cracked open one jar from the freezer!

    Hillary - Thanks!

    Jessica - I'll check 'em out!