Giveaway: Milk Kefir Starter Kit from Hobby Hill Farm Fresh

Milk Kefir Kit Front

Friends! After a month-long break, the giveaway is back! This week, I’m featuring the Milk Kefir Grains Starter Kit from the nice folks at Hobby Hill Farm Fresh. The kit contains a small packet of milk kefir grains, a small plastic strainer (kefir grains don’t like metal), and an instruction booklet. Once you activate the grains, they can be recultured repeatedly and can produce up to 1 quart of kefir per day.

milk kefir grains - Food in Jars

When you open up a packet of kefir grains, you’ll find a small number of dried yellow nubbins, packaged in dried milk. To wake them up, you combine them with 1 cup of pasteurized (but not ultra-pasteurized) milk, cover the jar with something breathable, and let them sit for 24 hours.

Milk Kefir - Food in Jars

Give the grains fresh milk every day, until the milk begins to separate into curds and whey. Once that happens, you can start to increase the amount of milk you’re culturing and the kefir is ready for drinking, baking, and flavoring. The best way to keep kefir grains happy is to regularly give them fresh milk for culturing!

Hydrated Milk Kefir Grains - Food in Jars

For more information on making milk kefir and what to do with it, I recommend checking out this post on Phickle.

I have one of these Milk Kefir Grains Starter Kits to giveaway! Here’s how to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me about your favorite way to use kefir. When I was a kid, we always had a quart in the fridge for smoothies and quick breakfasts!
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm eastern time on Saturday, February 13, 2016. A winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog on Sunday, February 14, 2016.
  3. Giveaway open to United States residents only. Void where prohibited.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

Disclosure: Hobby Hill Farm Fresh is providing the starter kit for this giveaway at no cost to me. They are a site sponsor and a valued Food in Jars partner. However, all opinions expressed in this post are mine. 

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Maple Chia Seed Granola

Finished Granola in Jar - Food in Jars

Last week, I was overcome with the need to make granola. It had been months since my last batch and I missed the simple act of measuring, mixing, and baking. There was a bag of mixed nuts and seeds sitting in the fruit basket that had been there since Christmas that needed to be used. And finally (and most motivating), I just really wanted to eat some.

Raw Mixed Nuts - Food in Jars

I bought this one pound bag of mixed nuts and seeds during the holiday rush, thinking I would include them in a batch of brittle. It never happened and so they languished. However, it seems that granola was actually the higher calling for this assortment of cashews, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. So much variety with such ease!

Ground Chia Seeds - Food in Jars

As I was sorting through my pantry to determine what else would go into this granola, the jar of chia seeds caught my eye. I’ve long been interested in chia, not so much for its nutritional ability, but for the fact that it has the ability to thicken, bind, and sometimes act in the same manner as an egg. I decided to grind a few tablespoons in a spice mill and add them to the mix, to see if they’d lead to a clumpier granola (much in the way an egg white can do).

Oats and Nuts - Food in Jars

I combined the ground chia seeds with the liquid ingredients (maple syrup and olive oil), and let them sit for a bit to activate the chia goo. While they sat, I measured out thick-cut rolled oats and some of the mixed nuts, as well as a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Maple Chia Seed Granola

Then I poured the maple, oil, chia slurry on top. I took a goodly number of pictures of that process and so threw them together into a GIF. I’m afraid it might be a wee bit too speedy for some, but it’s my first one, so I’m going with it.

Mixed Raw Granola - Food in Jars

Stir it all together until the liquid ingredients are evenly distributed.

Unbaked Granola - Food in Jars

Spread it out evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees F for 35 to 40 minutes, turning the mix every ten minutes or so to ensure even baking.

Baked Granola - Food in Jars

Once I was happy with the color of the toast on the oats, I pulled the pan out of the oven. To further encourage clumps, I used a spatula and compressed the hot granola.

Granola in Jar Top - Food in Jars

In the end, I don’t think that the chia played a huge role in creating clumps. However, I do feel like this batch of granola is crisper and has retained its crunch better than granolas I’ve made in the past. And since it does add a bit of extra nutrition, I think this will be a regular addition to my homemade granolas going forward.

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The 2015 Class of Preserving and DIY Books

2015 Preserving Books - Food in Jars

Most people post this kind of cookbook round-up at the end of December or at the very beginning of January. Makes a whole lot of sense doing it then, too. It’s a nice way to recall a year’s worth of books and set the slate clean for the new year. Sadly, I didn’t get to it at the end of December, or even the beginning of January. I could have given up, but I really wanted to revisit these titles. So here we are. A 2015 list at the start of February. Better than not at all.

Before I get to the books, I want to take a moment to talk about a trend I’m seeing. It used to be that a preserving book was just a preserving book. But as canning and fermenting begin to play a larger and larger role in our culture, I’m seeing a number of books out there that aren’t preserving books, but do contain a strong thread of jamming, pickling, or from-scratch condiment making. So much so that I struggled a little with the books to include in this stack. So consider this an imperfect, slightly subjective collection.

2015 Books One - Food in Jars

The Canning Kitchen – Written by Canadian blogger Amy Bronee, this lovely little book contains both classic preserves and really nice twists on traditional recipes. The chutney section is particularly inspired.

My Pantry – Alice Waters petite compendium of her favorite extracts, chutneys, whole grain items, sweet preserves, dairy items, and simple cured meats. I have her Salt-Preserved Kumquats on my to-do list for this month.

Preserving – Originally published in France in 1948 under the title, Je Sais Faire les Conserves (I Know How to Make Preserves), by famed French food author Ginette Mathiot. The book has been updated and translated by author and food blogger Clothilde Dusoulier and has plenty to offer a new generation.

Brew Better Beer – I’ve never brewed beer, but this book by Emma Christensen make me want to. Easy-to-follow recipes, gorgeous photography, and lots of useful advice, this is such a useful book for people looking to explore this hobby.

The Homemade Vegan Pantry – A plant-based approach to building a from-scratch pantry by Miyoko Schinner. If you were intrigued by my soup base last week, this volume has even more to offer with easy concentrates for tomato, mushroom, and cream of broccoli.

2015 Books Two - Food in Jars

DIY Canning – This is one of those strange author-less books we’ve been seeing lately and some of the recipes are eerily similar to those that I and other authors have published over the years. Despite that, the soups and stews section towards the back of the book is useful and worthy.

Wild Drinks and Cocktails – This book is Emily Han’s love letter to crafting infusions, syrups, squashes, and tonics out of foraged plants and pantry ingredients. I adore her Classic Switchel.

The Hands-On Home – This epic volume by Erica Strauss is far more than just a canning book. It’s a seasonal guide to home care, cooking, gardening, and preserving. It’s the perfect volume for the minimalist DIY-er.

Ferment Your Vegetables – Fermented foods have never been more accessible than in this book by Phickle blogger Amanda Feifer. The small batch section is ideal for apartment dwellers such as myself!

2015 Books Three - Food in Jars

Food Gift Love – As we all know, giving the gift of food is one of the best ways to make someone feel welcomed, comforted, or appreciated. Maggie Battista captured that sense of giving with this book and its many recipes for preserves, baked goods, flavored salts, and more.

Preservation Society Home Preserves – Written by Preservation Society founder and head preserver Camilla Wynne, this book pushes well beyond the traditional array of flavor combinations and offers recipes that are unconventional and endlessly appealing.

Preserving the Japanese Way – Written by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, a native Californian who married a Japanese farmer, this hefty book is gorgeous and comprehensive. In it, Nancy shares the traditional making and preserving skills that she’s garnered over 25 years of living in rural Japan. It’s a book that I plan to spend years exploring.

Brown Eggs and Jam Jars – This approachable book by Aimée Wimbush-Bourque bursts with delicious words, recipes, and images. The book is organized by season, and is then broken down further by the special activities that time of year contains. Lots of preserves in this one, along with other staples of a family kitchen.

New German Cooking – Penned by Jeremy and Jessica Nolen, the husband and wife team behind the Philadelphia restaurant Brauhaus Schmidt, this book is on this list for its practical collection of pickles, breads, condiments, and spreads. I’ve been meaning to make the beer mustard for ages now.

So that’s the list for 2015 (let me know if I forgot any!). Just for comparison’s sake, here’s the 2014 edition of this post. It’s interested to see the differences.

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February Sponsors: Cuppow, Fillmore Container, MightyNest, Hobby Hill Farm, and Mason Jar Lifestyle

Fillmore Container Yes You Can - Food in Jars

In the top spot is our friends at Cuppow are back in the top spot once again. They are the creator of the original mason jar travel mug topper and the BNTO, a small plastic cup that transforms a canning jar into a snack or lunch box. I have a giant giveaway of their lids coming up in a couple weeks, so stay tuned for that!

Next up are the lovely people at Fillmore Container. They are a family-owned business based in Lancaster, PA that sells all manner of canning jars, lids, and other preservation gear. This week on their blog, they’re giving away two $50 gift cards that are good for anything on their site. Make sure to sign up!

MightyNest is an amazing resource for non-toxic, natural, and organic products for homes and families. I’m a big fan of the MightyFix, their monthly product subscription program. For $10 a month, you’ll get a item for your home that will help you keep it greener and more sustainable! Their end-of-year sale is also on right now.

Hobby Hill Farm is with us this month. Based in Powhatan, Virginia, they sell locally made jams and preserves, homemade pretzels, candies, and cheese making kits (including the mozzarella kit I demoed here). I’ll have a fabulous giveaway from them next week!

Mason Jar Lifestyle is a one-stop shopping site for all the jar lovers out there! They’ve got silicone drink lids, fruit infusers, silicone jar seals (great for those times when you want to ensure that your jars aren’t going to leak), copper regular mouth lids (fun for gifts!), and even pin cushion toppers.

If your company or small business is interested in becoming a sponsor, you can find more details here. I offer discounts for multiple month purchases and am always happy to work with your budget. Leave a comment on this post or drop me a note to learn more!

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Homemade Vegetable Soup Base

Veg for Concentrate - Food in Jars

My mom’s cousin Amy has a story she likes to tell, of learning to make chicken soup from her mother-in-law many years ago. They had met for the cooking lesson and Amy did as she was instructed, putting the chicken in the pot with carrots, onion and celery. Ingredients assembled, one mystery remained. “But how does it become soup? Where does the soupy part come from?”

Wordlessly, her mother-in-law pointed at the faucet. Amy’s mind was blown. (She went on to become an skilled and prolific soup maker. We all have to start somewhere!)

Veg Concentrate in Processor - Food in Jars

Making soup is really the act of giving flavor and substance to water. It’s an act of magical transmutation that you can eat for dinner. Do you see now why it’s one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen? (Besides making jam, of course!)

I’m heading off into fanciful waters here, when really what I want to tell you about is the homemade vegetable soup base that I make in batches and keep in the fridge. It is one of my favorite tools for starting the transformation of water into soup (I also keep both the chicken and beef varieties of Better than Bouillon in my fridge, for when I want a meatier boost for my concoctions).

Top of Veg Concentrate - Food in Jars

It’s relatively cheap to make, keeps forever (and honestly, just gets more interesting the longer it’s been in the fridge), and brings round, robust flavor to all manner of soups and stews. It’s also my secret weapon for days when I’ve been out and need a healthy lunch immediately.

I boil a little water in a small pot and stir in a couple teaspoons of soup base until it dissolves. I add a handful of chopped greens (spinach, arugula, chard, or kale) and once they wilt, break an egg into the pot. Then I it off the heat and let it sit for three or four minutes, to give the egg a little time to cook. I eat it out of the pot with a spoon and feel grateful for good food.

Veg Concentrate in Jars - Food in Jars

Now before you start praising me and calling me a genius, I must tell you, the idea behind this soup base is not the work of my personal brilliance. I’ve seen it in many places over the years.

Like Heidi, I first spotted it in the River Cottage Preserves Book when it was initially published in the US. Then this piece on dear, departed Culinate riffed on Heidi’s version. Jennie has a version on her blog and in her lovely book, Homemade With Love.

My version is a bit different than those from whom I’ve taken inspiration. Yours can be too. The only ingredient that is non-negotiable is the salt. You need it for both flavor and preservative power.

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Pre-Order Naturally Sweet Food in Jars

Naturally Sweet Food in Jars cover

Nine weeks from today, Naturally Sweet Food in Jars hits bookstore shelves. I have had a single physical copy in my hands for a little over a week now and I could not be more pleased with how beautifully this book has turned out. I think you’ll find it’s pretty useful as well.

Sized to match my first two books, this new volume contains 100 recipes that are sweetened with honey, maple, agave, coconut sugar, dried fruits, and fruit juice concentrates. The recipes are a combination of old favorites (like a honey sweetened version of my beloved pear vanilla jam) and brand new things (like a strawberry cocoa jam sweetened with coconut sugar).

stack of three books

I feel extraordinarily proud of this book. It was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. There’s not a lot of existing information out there in the area of preserving with natural sweeteners and so at times, I felt like I was breaking a very small area of new ground. That’s both exciting and just a little bit scary.

If you think that this book is going to be something you want to add to your library and your budget can handle it, I would so appreciate that you pre-order a copy. Pre-orders help my publisher get an idea of demand and whether they need to order another printing.

Amazon | Powell’s | Barnes and Noble | Indigo | Books-a-MillionIndiebound

Thanks friends!

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