The Boastful Baker

because every cook praises her own broth

September 2, 2012
by Melissa

Lemony Cream Puffs

Cream Puffs

 I haven’t made a lot of progress lately towards completing all of the items on the Year of Fearless Cooking list that I posted in January. But today I made a Boston cream pie and successfully (I think, we haven’t eaten it yet) crossed an item off of the list. While making the Boston cream pie, I remembered that I never wrote about the cream puffs I made many, many months ago.

Cream Puffs

If you’re able and willing to use a pastry bag and tips, you should most definitely learn to make cream puffs – a combination of pâte à choux, a light pastry dough, and some type of cream filling. They’re frequently filled with pastry cream, but I chose to fill mine with a lemon curd and whipped cream filling.

Cream puffs have been a favorite dessert of mine for years. In high school, whenever I would eat at a sandwich shop in the town next to mine, I would buy a few to eat. And before I baked at home so frequently, I would often buy a big tub of frozen ones at Costco. Needless to say, these homemade ones were much better and I doubt I’ll ever buy them again.

Cream Puffs

As I do with every new type of food I get it into my head to make, I did a little bit of cookbook and Internet searching for the perfect recipe. In this case, I ended up with two perfect recipes. At some point in my search, I decided I want a whipped cream based filling so that helped narrow the field a little bit.

Cream Puffs

In the end, I used a pâte à choux recipe from Steamy Kitchen and a lemon cream filling recipe from Bon Appetit (just make the lemon cream filling and skip the pastry recipe in favor of the Steamy Kitchen one). For once, I didn’t alter either of the recipes – in part because I’ve never made choux pastry before and in part because the recipes looked good as is. Both the pastry puffs and the filling turned out perfect and I’ll definitely make these again the next time I get a craving for these sweet little bites. Or I’ll use the Steamy Kitchen recipe again to make gougères as they’re also on the Year of Fearless Cooking list.

Pâte à choux – Source: Steamy Kitchen

Lemon cream filling – Source: Bon Appetit

September 1, 2012
by Melissa

I’ve got a can-do spirit.

Canned Foods of 2012

Canned Foods of 2012

I’ve been busy this summer. Busy canning nearly every weekend and sometimes on weekday nights. I thought my canning might decline a little because of our move to Charlottesville and our slightly smaller kitchen with less storage space. I was mistaken, the canning didn’t decline at all. It helps that I’ve moved to an area full of hard to resist farms, orchards and markets.

This blog post is being written for a handful of  reasons including: recording the quantities of particular items that I made for future years, posting sources for all of the recipes I used this year and for boasting about my canning craziness.

Thus far in 2012, I’ve squirreled away 220 jars of fruit and vegetable goodness (not including countless jars of refrigerator pickles that I ate ages ago) in various locations around our house. I’m not done canning for the year, but my pace should start to slow down a little. I say that despite plans to use the rest of the frozen strawberries in my freezer for sauce and jam and plans to make cranberry sauce and apple butter in a month or two.

My husband and I will keep and use some of the things I’ve made, but most of what I’ve made will be given away as hostess or Christmas gifts to friends and family and some of it will more than likely be swapped with Internet friends for handmade goods.

Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa

Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa – 10 Half Pints

Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa – Source: Simply Recipes

I made this salsa for the first time last summer and it was very well received by everyone who received a jar of it. I even wrote a blog post about it this summer!

Spicy Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa

Spicy Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa – 17 Half Pints

Spicy Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa – Source: Simply Recipes

I didn’t actually mean to make spicy tomato salsa. I accidentally bought a bunch of spicy peppers instead of sweet or mild ones.

Chipotle Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa

Chipotle Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa – 11 Half Pints

Chipotle Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa – Source: Simply Recipes

Same recipe as the last two salsas, but I subbed in a few dried chipotle peppers for the regular peppers. Just to try something a little different. I also made this salsa smooth rather than chunky.

Sweet and Spicy Tomato Jam

Sweet and Spicy Tomato Jam – 7 Half Pints

Sweet and Spicy Tomato Jam – Source: White On Rice Couple

I actually made the Tomato and Thyme jam first and when I had an abundance of tomatoes a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try this version too. I haven’t tried it myself yet but gave a jar to a new friend in town and she said that she’s obsessed with it…so that’s a good sign!

Smoked Tomato Jam

Smoked Tomato Thyme Jam – 11 Half Pints

Smoked Tomato Thyme Tomato Jam – Source: White On Rice Couple

I’ve known about tomato jam for a couple of years but I couldn’t really understand the appeal of it until this year when some friends were visiting and told me about a smoked tomato jam that they had recently tried. Their description of the jam finally made me want to try tomato jam and I ended up making my first batch of it the very next day. I followed the White On Rice Couple recipe to the letter – but before I threw the tomatoes into the pot to cook down, I smoked them using my charcoal grill and some mesquite chips. This stuff is sooooo good, especially with a slice of smoked cheddar on a piece of crusty bread. I really need to try a grilled cheese sandwich with it. And even though I have only 11 precious jars of it, one of those jars is earmarked to give to the friends who suggested it to me!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Tomato Sauce

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Tomato Sauce – 7 Pints

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Family Secret Tomato Sauce – Source: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

I first tried this sauce a couple of summers ago as a result of a canning swap. It was fantastic, but I promptly forgot about it until this summer when I was lucky enough to get 50 pounds of free tomatoes from one of my in-laws. With that many tomatoes and a newly acquired food mill, I knew I wanted to make some sauce. Fortunately I remembered this one!

Smoky Tomato Sauce

Smoky Tomato Sauce – 6 Pints

Smoky Tomato Sauce – Source: Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan

I can’t wait to turn this into tomato soup this winter. I used the tomato sauce recipe found in the Food in Jars cookbook. Because I wanted to smoke the tomatoes I used in this recipe (after my success smoking them for the tomato jam), I sent a tweet to Marisa, the book’s author, to make sure that this would be safe. Fortunately she thought it was!

Dilly Beans

Dilly Beans – 5 Pints

Dilly Beans – Source: Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan

I make one small batch of these every summer, mostly just for myself. The recipe is from my favorite canning website, Food in Jars. And I’ve also written about them before.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Refrigerator Garlic Dill Pickles – 12+ Pints

Refrigerator Garlic Dill Pickles – Source: Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan

Another recipe that I’ve made every summer for the last three years. I like my pickles crunchy, so I don’t process these and just refrigerate them. They get eaten so quickly that I can’t even keep track of how many jars I make each year.

Sweet and Sour Red Onions

Sweet and Sour Red Onions – 10 Quarter Pints

Sweet and Sour Red Onions – Source: Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan

I haven’t tried these yet, but when I came across this recipe in the Food in Jars cookbook, I was intrigued.

Sweet Pickle Relish

Sweet Pickle Relish – 12 Half Pints

Sweet Pickle Relish – Source: Canning and Preserving by Ashley English

I make this every summer and haven’t bought relish at the store in three years. Finely dicing all of the vegetables for this takes forever and ever, but it’s worth it every time I make a batch of tartar sauce with this relish. Plus some of my family members really like it and would be rather sad if I stopped making it.

Lemon Vanilla Strawberry Jam

Lemon Vanilla Strawberry Jam – 10 Half Pints

Lemon Vanilla Strawberry Jam – Source: adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

This one is another accident, I meant to make strawberry vanilla jam and accidentally added tablespoons of lemon juice instead of teaspoons. Oops. Luckily it still tastes good.

Vanilla Strawberry Jam

Vanilla Strawberry Jam – 17 Half Pints

Vanilla Strawberry Jam – Source: adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

I made this two years ago, but skipped it last year. And I regretted it. My original source for this jam was Food in Jars, but this year I just made the strawberry jam in the Ball cookbook and added vanilla beans and extract to the mix. The addition of vanilla gives this jam a much richer taste than plain strawberry jam.

Strawberry Balsamic Black Pepper Jam

Strawberry Balsamic Black Pepper Jam – 7 Half Pints

Strawberry Balsamic Black Pepper Jam – Source: Canadian Living

As part of a swap last year, I was asked if I could make a batch of this jam. I happily obliged as it was one I was curious about anyway. It’s now my favorite strawberry jam, one that I eat straight out of the jar with a spoon.

Amaretto Cherry Jam

Amaretto Cherry Jam – 12 Half Pints

Amaretto Cherry Jam – Source: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

Cherries are my favorite fruit and even though it’s a royal pain to pit enough cherries to make a batch of jam, I’ve done it the last two summers. This is pretty much cherry pie in jam form. And since cherry pie is my favorite pie, this jam is a winner.

No Pectin Cherry Peach Jam

No Pectin Cherry Peach Jam – 5 Half Pints

No Pectin Cherry Peach Jam – Source: Jam According to Daniel

I took a jam canning class here in Charlottesville last month and the owner of Jam According to Daniel, a local jam company, taught the class and shared his master jam recipe and techniques with us. I took the class in an attempt to meet people, not because I needed to learn how to make jam. Ironically I didn’t make any new friends, but I did learn a new way to make jam. I also have a new addiction: Daniel’s fig jam. After taking the class, I tried his method with this cherry peach jam – and love the result. Now to get someone to give me some free figs…

No Pectin Peach Jam

No Pectin Peach Jam – 5 Half Pints

No Pectin Peach Jam – Source: Jam According to Daniel

This is the second jam I made with the Jam According to Daniel method, which uses no pectin and FAR less sugar than most jam recipes. The yield from the peaches isn’t as high as a regular jam recipe, but the tasty jam is worth the extra fruit.

Peach Jam

Peach Jam – 20 Half Pints

Peach Jam – Source: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

My husband’s favorite jam is peach jam and every summer he is very concerned about the quantity of peach jam that I produce. I think I’ve made enough this year. He likes plain peach jam the best, but I’ve actually warmed him up to the Bourbon Vanilla Peach jam below as well.

Bourbon Vanilla Peach Jam

Bourbon Vanilla Peach Jam – 18.5 Half Pints

Bourbon Vanilla Peach Jam – Source: Beantown Baker

This is my favorite of the peach jams I’ve made. A healthy dose of bourbon (Jack Daniels in my house) is added to this jam right before it’s poured into the jars and I think it adds a great layer of flavor to the finished jam.

Not pictured: Strawberry Jam – 27 Half Pints – Source: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

More to come as I complete more canning!

July 29, 2012
by Melissa

Lunch for just a dollar.

Fried green tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes and remoulade sauce

I don’t fry very many foods at home due to the mess of frying on the stove, the oil disposal and the general unhealthiness of fried food.  Despite this, once or twice a summer I am compelled to make a batch of fried green tomatoes. A couple of weeks ago, I found some green tomatoes at the Charlottesville City Market and had to buy a few for this summer’s first fried green tomatoes. I chose three small green tomatoes and happily paid a mere $1 for them.

A couple of days later, I sliced and salted the tomatoes, dredged them in flour, egg and cornmeal and fried them in a pan of bubbling oil. Paired with a bit of homemade remoulade sauce, they were the best work day lunch I’ve had in a long time and they cost only a dollar!

The recipes I use for both the fried green tomatoes and the remoulade sauce are from Simply Recipes. The recipe has a number of steps, but it was quick enough that I was able to make it during my lunch break on a work day. And in case you were wondering, I don’t usually cook lunch from scratch on a work day, this was a rare deviation from leftovers or sandwiches.

If you’ve never tried fried green tomatoes, you’re missing out. Even if you don’t like tomatoes, you may like these (I speak from experience as I used to hate regular tomatoes). If you end up with a little extra remoulade sauce, it’s great as a spicy spread for sandwiches (or you could just make another batch of fried green tomatoes).

Green tomatoes

Sliced and salted green tomatoes

3 steps for breading fried green tomatoes

Flour, eggs and cornmeal for breading the tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes ingredients

Ready to bread

Fried green tomatoes

Bubbling in the frying pan

Fried green tomatoes

Ready to eat fried green tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes


Fried green tomatoes

Serve with remoulade sauce

Fried green tomatoes

Best lunch for a buck I’ve had in a while

July 18, 2012
by Melissa

The search for the perfect tomato salsa is over.

Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa

When tomato season hit last summer, I felt an urge to can tomato salsa for the first time. I’d canned batches of peach salsa and tomatillo salsa the previous summer, but never got around to a batch of regular tomato salsa.

In the world of home canning, once you get it in your head that you want to can something, you need to find a recipe as canning food without a legitimate recipe is not a wise idea for a host of food safety reasons. I won’t go into those reasons here, please use Google to research this if you’ve never canned before.

Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa

Off I went in search of the perfect tomato salsa recipe for canning. None of the canning cookbooks I owned at the time had exactly what I was looking for in a salsa. I then spent a number of hours (I’m not kidding, I spent hours) looking online for a good recipe. I scoured all of the well known canning blogs and websites I knew about and came up empty. All of the recipes I found were just not quite right for one reason or another. Some were too spicy, some didn’t have cilantro, some weren’t actually intended to be preserved at all. I wanted my first batch of canned tomato salsa to be fire roasted with a nice touch of spice and I needed it to contain cilantro! Apparently I’m picky about salsa.

Finally, I found the perfect recipe on a site that’s not specifically known for canning recipes: Simply Recipes. I think I found it by accident when I was searching the recipe index for a different recipe. And as it turns out, that particular recipe was posted just a handful of days before I made my batch of salsa.

Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa

So I made a batch of this tomato salsa and it is quite possibly the best thing I’ve canned to date. It’s everything I want a salsa to be and nearly a year later, it’s still a little bit spicy and full of flavor.

It’s tomato season again here in Virginia and I’m already thinking about this year’s batch. I made just a dozen jars last year and kind of hoarded it for months just to make sure it lasted. A few lucky people received jars as gifts or in swaps and all of them took the time to rave about it to me. I’m hoping to make at least a couple dozen jars of it this summer and I’ve already got a day planned in August to can batches of it with some Twitter/Flickr friends. Hopefully I’ll make enough this year to share with a few more people!

Fire Roasted Tomato SalsaI’m not going to repost the Simply Recipes tomato salsa recipe in this post, so you’ll need to visit the site yourself to see it, but I will mention a few things I did that aren’t in the recipe.

  • I used a different combination of peppers than the recipe states. I believe I used more jalapenos as well as Serrano and Anaheim peppers. If you like it spicy, you could probably add in a pepper variety known for having a bit more heat.
  • The recipe gives details on grilling the tomatoes in order to peel them. I grilled my tomatoes on my charcoal grill, both for easy peeling and for fire roasted flavor.
  • In addition to grilling the tomatoes and charring the peppers as mentioned in the recipe, I grilled the onion and garlic in the recipe as well, in order to kick up the fire roasted flavor even more.
  • I used Roma tomatoes for my salsa, mostly because they have less seeds than some other varieties. Depending on what’s available at the farmers market this year, I may use a different variety.

Other than that, I followed the Simply Recipes recipe to the letter and ended up with a fantastic batch of salsa. So good that I’ll never need to search for another tomato salsa recipe!

July 16, 2012
by Melissa

Jazzed up about corn.

Charred Corn SaladI’m not one to get jazzed up about a vegetable recipe. A dessert recipe, yes. But a vegetable recipe, not so much. I like lots of vegetables just fine and probably even love a few of them, but veggie recipes usually don’t move me.

Yet every summer when I start flipping through the cooking magazines that I have subscriptions to, I get excited about corn recipes. I do love summer corn, on or off the cob, so this excitement makes sense. More than anything though, I think it’s that the pictures of recipes with corn in them just look beautiful. They’re so colorful and evocative of summer.
Charred Corn SaladThis summer is no different and the current (July 2012) issue of Bon Appetit magazine had a recipe for charred corn salad with basil and tomatoes. As soon as I went to the grocery store again, I picked up a half dozen ears of corn so that I could create this salad for myself.
Charred Corn SaladThe Bon Appetit recipe instructed me to grill the ears of corn in order to char them. Because it was about 100° F that day and because I’ve been too lazy to use my grill this year (and possibly too lazy to even check to see if we have charcoal), I chose to broil them in the oven. I think I got a pretty similar charred effect with much less effort.
Charred and ready to turn into corn salad.I also opted not to make my corn salad with basil. Mostly because I forgot to buy basil when I bought the corn. Since the recipe already had lime juice in it, I decided to throw in some cilantro instead since I had that on hand. And while I was at it, I added a touch of cumin because it goes so well with lime juice and cilantro. In the end, I guess my charred salad is bordering on charred corn salsa. And I think that’s a good thing.

The recipe said to serve this at room temperature. I liked it best at room temperature, but I think my husband liked it better chilled. Either way, it was delicious and a perfect side dish for a miserably hot summer evening. It would probably be a nice dish to bring to a barbeque too!
Charred Corn Salad

Charred Corn Salad

Slightly adapted from recipe in July 2012 Bon Appetit magazine

Makes 4-6 servings


  • 6 ears of corn, husked
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 large tomatoes, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Preheat oven’s broiler. Rub corn with 1 tablespoon oil. Broil, turning frequently, until corn is charred and heated through, about 5 minutes.
  2. Remove from broiler; when cool enough to handle, cut kernels from cobs and transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Mix green onion, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, tomatoes, lime juice, cumin and cilantro into corn.
  4. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lime juice, if desired.
  5. Salad can be assembled 1 hour ahead. Let stand at room temperature.