We're a few months past the winter holidays, and I'm willing to bet that in many kitchen pantries there are jars of all types of preserves that were thoughtful gifts from friends, relatives and co-workers. Marissa McClellan's latest book, "The Food in Jars Kitchen," has 140 recipes that can use up those jams, jellies, salsas and pickles for any meal of the day.
This is McClellan's fourth book borne from her canning expertise. Her first book, "Food in Jars," was full of small-batch preserving recipes. Her second book focused on preserving in pint jars, and her third spotlighted preserves made with natural sweeteners. Her newest collection of recipes gets foods out of the jars and onto the table.
"The recipes in the book can be made with any preserves," she said. Most recipes have a key that recommends the various preserves that could work in them.
"The idea is to give people permission to use what they have," said McClellan. "I have a number of books that use preserves, but they all require making the preserves before making the recipes." She thought her book would be more useful — and get used more often — if the recipes called for already made preserves, whether they're homemade preserves in the pantry or something bought from a store.
Here's how it works. I have a jar of fig jam in my pantry that that stares at me every time I open the door because I forgot I already had a jar of fig jam opened in my refrigerator. I serve fig jam frequently with cheese, but these are fairly big jars and I'd like to do something different with them.
In "The Food in Jars Kitchen," there's a simple recipe for Blue Cheese Jam Squares, a type of sweet and savory bar that would be great to serve with drinks at a party. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of jam, but it doesn't name a specific type of jam. However, in the key on the page there's a list of types of jam McClellan recommends: cherry, plum or blackberry. But, I love the flavors of blue cheese and fig together, and because the recipe leaves the type of jam up to the discretion of the home cook, I'll use fig.
Not just jams
Have you ever considered putting sauerkraut in a frittata? McClellan has a recipe that does just that.
"It sounds a little crazy, but it's really good warm from the pan or cold from the fridge. It makes really good leftovers," she said. In the book, she says the dish is "endlessly flexible" and can be served for any meal. She also says that in the summer, cubed zucchini can be swapped out for the potatoes in the dish, making it lighter and "more garden-centric."
Something that sounds even crazier is Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake, but McClellan says the recipe is fairly traditional, dating back to the "days when schools and institutions got big cans of government surplus sauerkraut." The cake is tender and has "only the smallest hint that you stirred fermented cabbage into the batter."
There are recipes that use up jars of chutney such as Pork Tenderloin with Chutney Pan Sauce. Chutney can also be used in the Blank Slate White Bean Spread, but pesto, pepper paste or chopped marinated peppers could be used instead of chutney. Kimchi can find a home in Kimchi Matzo Brei and leftover pickle brine from cucumbers or green beans becomes an ingredient for Pickle-Brined Chicken Tenders.
McClellan puts pickles in salmon salad, pumpkin butter in swirled rolls, and pickled beets in borscht. "Food in Jars Kitchen" is a treasure trove of ideas for all kinds of preserved foods. There's even a section on using various preserves in cocktails.
The stories behind the recipes
"My books are always personal," said McClellan, "but this one got me to stretch and reach for family stories that I hadn't shared before." She comes from a long line of preservers. Her mother's family came from countries like Hungary and Russia where they use a lot of preserves to sweeten things, and they make preserves in the summer so they have sweets to eat in the winter.
In many introductions to the recipes, she includes quick stories, introducing us to people like her Great-Aunt Doris who kept a freezer full of strudel or her Auntie Tunnel who always had a tin of rugalach in her "valise-size" handbag when she visited. She also tells stories of the foods she ate growing up, like the Chocolate Raspberry Fool she ate at a funky Portland restaurant with her high school friends. She includes recipes for all these treats, all customizable with various jams.
McClellan will probably tell several of these stories at her cooking classes and book talks that run through April. Details about her events are on her Food in Jars website, as well as plenty of other recipes for preserves and ideas on how to use them.