Two Time Jam Champion at the State Fair!

Hi readers! Hopefully the title of this post says it all, but yes, the DC State Fair happened this past weekend and my jam won first place, again! Last year I won first with my Southern Lady Pepper Jelly, and this year I entered two fruit-centric jams. I’m trying to be modest, but both jams placed– 1st and 2nd!

Award Winning Jams ~ Erin's DC Kitchen

I didn’t go into this year’s fair thinking I would win again. There was a lot of good competition last year who I knew would be back this year too. Plus, a part of me felt my win was probably beginners luck last time. Nope! I think I might know what I’m doing! ūüėČ

Smoky Peach and Pepper Jam and Peach-Basil Jam ~ Erin's DC Kitchen

So, on the left is the 1st place jam,  Smoky Peach and Pepper. The 2nd place jam on the right is Peach-Basil. These are the peaches my husband and I picked earlier in the summer, and the basil and some of the peppers were grown in my community garden plot.

Smoky Peach and Pepper Jam ~ Erin's DC Kitchen

LOVE the color

These jams are delicious and too sophisticated in flavor to go on a PB&J. The Smoky Peach and Pepper has an intense smoke flavor that yields to the sweetness of the peach and a tiny hint of heat from the pepper. It is amazing served with cheese and crackers. The Peach-Basil is also sweet, with a strong fresh basil taste that intensifies as you chew. I love slathering it onto a toasted bagel and cream cheese.

Yums. ūüôā


I’m sharing the recipes with you all in the hopes you try these jams too one day. Freshly picked ingredients make the best jam, remember that! I picked everything that went into this jam and then starting cooking it within 24 hours. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really is just fun and you get a better product.

Fresh Peach Jam

  • 4 heaping cups finely chopped, peeled and pitted peaches
  • 2 tbl lemon juice
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 package (49-57 g) powder pectin or about 6 tablespoons

For Peach-Basil Jam

  • 3/4 cup snipped fresh sweet basil

For Smokey Peach and Pepper Jam

  • 3/4 cup finely chopped red, yellow and orange hot peppers (not jalapeno)
  • 1/4 heaping tsp dried smoked paprika (taste it, you may need to add more depending on smokiness of your spice)
  • 1/4 tsp dried ground chipotle pepper (again, taste it, you may want more if you want a big kick of heat, this is for mild heat)

Directions: The base peach jam recipe is above, you add in either the additional ingredients for the Peach-Basil or Smoky Peach and Pepper jam in addition to the base recipe. The measurements for the additional ingredients are for a whole batch (meaning you need to make the base peach recipe twice if you want to make both jam flavors. I do not recommend doubling the recipe and then trying to split it in half.)

Prepare your peaches by scoring an X along the bottom on the skin and dropping the peaches into boiling water for 30 seconds. This will loosen the skin and make it easier to peel. Peel, pit and chop the peaches until you have 4 heaping cups. Add the peaches and lemon juice to a large pot. Stir in the pectin and bring to a boil over high heat. Sit in the sugar all at once. Return to a boil and boil hard for 2 minutes. You will notice the texture of the jam mixture will go from grainy and thick to liquidy. Once it gets liquidy, your almost there but be sure to boil hard for at least two minutes or the jam will be soft. Skim off foam as desired, or plop in a tablespoon of cold butter, which is what I do, to keep the foam down.

*If you are making Peach-Basil jam, stir in the snipped basil right after you skim off the foam. Keep the mixture hot while you are doing this, or else you will get air bubbles in your jam.

*If you are making Smoky Peach and Pepper, add in the chopped peppers along with the peaches at the beginning of the recipe and continue to cook according to instructions. After you skim the foam or add the butter, stir in the dried ground spices. Again, keep the mixture hot while you are doing this, or else you get air bubbles.

Next, ladle the hot jam into cleaned and prepared jars. This should make about 7 eight ounce jars, or the equivalent thereof– I used 12 oz jars because I liked the look. Screw on the lids and the bands, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. (Start the timer once you’ve put the jars into the canner and the water returns to a full boil). ¬†Remove and let cool. You can turn the jars every few minutes, for the first 20 minutes of cooling, if you want to evenly distribute the fruit. Make sure your lids have sealed and enjoy! The jam is shelf stable for 1 year. Once it has been opened, keep it in the fridge.



Erin's DC Kitchen at the State Fair

Weather Throwing a Curveball? DIY Plant Protection!

Protect Plants from the Cold - Erin's DC Kitchen

Don’t let fickle weather undue all the work you’ve put into your springtime garden; cold weather protection is easy (and cheap)! Why do you need to worry about protecting plants from the chill? Mostly because freezing/frost can kill plants. Also, unseasonably cold weather will weaken and stress tomato and pepper transplants. These are warm weather loving plants and in order to get them growing, flowering, and setting fruit in a healthy manner, you need to avoid stressing the plants.

Plants are really a lot like us- we are not happy when it is 75¬į and sunny and then the next day you wake up to a bone-chilling 35¬į morning.¬† (True story).

So here is a step by step guide to what I did to protect my plants, and it cost nothin’! You need some cheap garbage bags, I used our 13 gallon white Hefty’s– no drawstring or anything fancy- and a pair of scissors.

1)  Place bag on top of the plant cage, the closed bottom facing up.

on top before cutting

2) With the scissors, cut along the bottom seam to open up the bag and gently pull the bag down the cage until it touches the soil. Weigh down the edges of the bag with items found in your garden.

weighing down

3) Tie the edges of the bag in three places to the cage. I did this by tearing 2 inch long vertical strips along the top of the bag and tying  knots at the three places where the ring meets the cage. This keeps the top open to the sun.

Note: The bag is floppy because the edges haven’t been tied yet. Tying prevents floppiness, and it will look like the first pic in this post.

You’re done! Plants will stay safe with the bag warming the air around the plant and protecting them from wind. I leave these on during the day if the temperature doesn’t get to0 high, like above 70¬ļ, and of course, keep them on at night when the temp is dipping in the low 40’s and the 30’s.

Another option for covering plants is to use the plastic pot from a particularly large pepper or tomato transplant. Cut the bottom off and place over the plant, like so.

use leftover container

Now here is a picture of one of my marigolds, just for fun, ūüôā


Happy Gardening!

– Erin

What Charlie Sheen and I have in common, Winning

I won first prize at the DC State Fair jam & jelly contest!!!!

Blue ribbon!

Numero Uno!


Ok, that’s enough. ūüôā ¬†Thank you for indulging my¬†excitement. ¬†Two weekends ago, DC held its third annual state fair in Barracks Row. Yes, this is an oxymoron as DC isn’t actually a state, but hey, we pay taxes and don’t have any Congressional representatives so can we at least enjoy this great American pastime?

I had been excited about the fair for a while but didn’t know what I wanted to make. ¬†I went over to the garden to pull out the dead tomato plants and check on the general state of things and saw I had a bumper crop of green Marconi peppers.¬†Light-bulb¬†moment! ¬†Hot, sweet and smokey green pepper jelly!

At the fair of course winning was on my mind, but I didn’t think it was a given. After intently watching the judges taste entries for an hour, they went for mine. Yes, the culminating moment… the first judge (who happens to be¬†interim¬†food editor of the Washington Post) samples some and¬†immediately¬†starts coughing and reaching for water.

Oh my God. Fail.  But then she flashes me the thumbs up. Ok, maybe it just went down the wrong pipe.

Another judge, a master gardener from the District, sampled and said “Oh, that’s good”. Score!!

Me and the winning jelly

I was so surprised when they announced the winner and called my name. Inside I was bursting but outside I was trying to act cool, like no big deal. Hahaha, that didn’t work out so well. When the Washington Post editor came over and asked me about the recipe and handed me her phone to input my contact info I really just got flustered.

I was fumbling with fat fingers and looked like I was¬†blatantly¬†ignoring the people coming up to me asking questions about the jelly¬†because¬†I was so intent on giving out my info. Ugh, I came across as a total ditz. Moving forward, I’m taking it as a lesson in how to be more poised and gracious when in the spotlight.

Alright, I know you are ready for the recipe, so here it is!

I dressed up my entry with burlap, jute and a tiny pepper on the side

Blue Ribbon Southern Lady Pepper Jelly

  • 4 1/4 cups finely diced green Marconi peppers
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (more if you like it hot)
  • 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 box Sure-Jell Low Sugar Pectin (1.75 ounces)
  • 6 half pint jelly jars
Prepare the jars, lids, bands and boiling water canner.  Slice the peppers and run through a food processor until finely diced. Combine the peppers, vinegar, a few pinches of the sugar and the pectin in a large saucepan. Bring to a hard boil, stirring frequently. Mix in the sugar, honey and ground chipotle pepper and continue cooking at a hard boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Skim off any foam if needed (I rarely do!). Using a funnel, pour the jelly into the prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process the jars for 10 minutes, remove and let cool.

Southern ladies used to serve hot pepper jellies with water crackers and cheese at lunches and afternoon teas so that inspired the name of my entry. This jelly is perfect with cream cheese and crackers, on a bagel, or even as a dipping sauce for roast pork.


– Erin

About Ireland, Part 3 (or, the hostile hostel)

Next stop, Galway and Connemara.

We spent two nights in Galway at the Barnacles Hostel. ¬†I don’t relish staying in hostels, but when left with no other choice, this one was perfectly adequate. It was clean, the sheets were clean and in good condition, and the room overall was well maintained. The husband and I booked a private room, but none were available so they gave us a room with two bunk beds and blocked off the other beds.

Well, so they said.  The second night, we stumbled in at a fairly late hour after enjoying a traditional (trad) music session at a local pub and sampling several a few Irish beers only to notice all our stuff had been moved around and there were two massive backpacks on the top bunks of each bed.

We momentarily freaked at the thought of sharing a room with teenage European backpackers and then ran down to the front desk to rectify the situation.

Trad Music Session, any musician that could keep up could join in

To their credit, the desk clerk seemed embarrassed about the issue and immediately went upstairs to remove the offending items. We were given new keys, an apology and sent to bed. Ok, fine.

After falling asleep, which is no small feat in a bedroom located directly above a crowded pub, I was shocked awake when our door opened at 2:00 am and a strange man walked in. I¬†immediately¬†shot up and told him about the snafu while silently praying he spoke English and wasn’t an angry youth wondering what I did with his backpack.

He understood and then left. Apparently the ‘new keys’ were not a protective measure after all. I’m pretty scared at this point knowing there is a second backpacker who has yet to come in… Well, another made an appearance about an hour later and as I hadn’t slept a wink I was ready with an explanation. Meanwhile the husband is blissfully sleeping away courtesy of earplugs and the deadening effects of¬†alcohol.

Needless to say I was really cranky the next morning. But that day was saved by a wonderful drive through Connemara to Kylemore Abbey.

Scenes from Connemara

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore was¬†originally¬†built in the 1800’s¬†by¬†a husband as a gift to his beloved wife, however she died early due to¬†dysentery. It was taken over by nuns of the Benedictine Order in the 1920’s and is still used as their abbey today. They live there full time but keep the grounds, church and walled Victorian gardens of the estate open to visitors. The nuns make soaps, chocolates, pottery and jams which are sold in the¬†gift shop- I bought blackcurrant jam, yum!

Scenes from the grounds

Neo-gothic church at Kylemore

My favorite thing at Kylemore was the Victorian walled garden. It was complete with ornamental sections, a kitchen garden, exotic plant section, and some greenhouses. There were several greenhouses that collapsed due to lack of care so the estate is working on rebuilding them now.

Head Gardener’s Cottage

Old timey gardening tools

The kitchen garden section

More kitchen garden

I was especially enchanted with the walled garden because I had just finished reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh which is the story a young woman trying to find a life for herself after foster care. She has a unique gift for understanding the power of flowers, which stems from her extensive knowledge of the Victorian use of flowers to convey messages. Sunflowers mean false riches;¬†yellow roses, infidelity;¬†basil means hate;¬†baby’s breath, everlasting love.

If you are a fan of flowers or just really good fiction that you can learn a thing or two from, I cannot recommend this book enough! At the end, the author compiles an entire dictionary of the Victorian¬†language¬†of flowers based off her own extensive research. It is so interesting to flip through it and imagine what it must have been like for ladies to receive bouquets from potential suitors and then spend hours decoding the meaning of every stem. ūüôā

I loved Kylemore Abbey, the grounds and the garden. You can easily spend half a day here, don’t skip it if you plan on being in Galway, make it a day trip!

Thanks for reading, tomorrow will be the last post about my trip. I need to get back in the kitchen!

– Erin

Lemon-Basil Cupcakes with Sugared Basil Leaves

Hi dear readers! I’m so happy to be sharing this post with you, I wish I could actually share the cupcakes too :-).

These are heavenly little things; baking them will fill your kitchen with the bright scent of lemon and the freshness of basil. Buttermilk makes these cupcakes moist and topping them with an airy lemon cream cheese frosting and a sugared basil leaf makes these cupcakes elegant enough to serve for a special occasion.

If you’re wondering how to use excess basil from your garden, think outside the savory box. Because of its natural freshness and lemony-licorice taste, basil works really well with fruit and as a compliment to other sweet flavors.

The sugared basil leaf that tops these cupcakes is beautiful proof that this herb was meant to be paired with a little something sweet :-).

Lemon-Basil Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

makes 24

  • 1 cup butter, soft
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1 heaping tablespoon finely shredded basil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup buttermilk

For sugared basil leaves

  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar (you can out regular sugar in a food processor to render it finer)
  • 24 basil leaves
  • 1 egg white, beaten until frothy

For Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 3/4 cup butter, soft
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, soft
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
  • 2 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350¬į. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder and soda. In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar, lemon peel, basil and lemon juice, mix just until combined. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and buttermilk, mixing until combined. Scoop batter into 24 lined cupcake tins, I used an ice cream scooper to divvy up the batter. Bake cupcakes for 12-14 minutes, check for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center. Remove from tins and let cool on a wire rack.

For the basil leaves: Wash and thoroughly dry the basil leaves. Beat the egg white until frothy, set aside. If you don’t have superfine sugar on hand, put the sugar into a food processor and grind for 30 seconds. ¬†With a pastry brush, brush the basil leaves (one at a time) with¬†frothy¬†egg white- then¬†immediately¬†sprinkle generously with the superfine sugar to coat the leaf. Shake off any excess. Let dry for at least three hours- the leaves will stiffen and the sugar solidify. Top each frosted cupcake with a basil leaf.

For the frosting: Beat together the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. Add in the lemon juice and zest, beat until for 3 minutes or so until the mixture becomes more fluffy.  Gradually add in 2 cups of powdered sugar, mix well. Beat in another 2 cups powdered sugar until the frosting reaches a consistency you can spread. Now get frosting!

Lemon cupcake base inspired by Better Homes and Gardens


– Erin

Daily Question: Do you have a delightfully tasty but unconventional flavor combination that you want to share? Please do!

***Love cupcakes? Check out this cotton candy cupcake,¬† or sweet potato and candied bacon cupcake recipe too! ūüôā ***

Summer Lasagna

It’s b-aaack. Meatless Monday post that is.

My garden is literally overflowing with ruby red chard so I tried to think of a new way to incorporate the veggie into something seasonally delicious.

Spinach lasagna is good, so why not sub in chard, it works really well!

I threw in some thinly sliced zucchini, another abundant summer veggie.

See, thin slices

I think this is a healthier version of your traditional lasagna because it isn’t swimming in cheese, bechamel sauce or ground beef. It’s overflowing with yummy fresh veggies, light and healthy. Enjoy!

Summer Lasagna

  • 6 no boil lasagna noodles
  • 2 cups part skim ricotta
  • 24 oz tomato basil marinara sauce
  • 2 generous tbls Penzey’s Pasta Sprinkle (a mix of basil, oregano and garlic)
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 6 generous cups of¬†Swiss¬†chard, chopped
  • 1 small/medium sized¬†zucchini¬†
  • Parmesan¬†cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400¬į. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, egg, spices, lemon peel and salt and pepper, mix well. ¬†Chop the swiss chard and very thinly slice the zucchini, I used a¬†mandolin to get the right¬†thinness. Quickly saute√© the¬†Swiss¬†chard until it begins to wilt and reduce in size. It should cook down to about 2 cups. This step is important because it releases the excess water from the chard, which would otherwise come out during baking and make the lasagna soggy.

Fill a large baking sheet with hot tap water. Soak the noodles for 5 minutes. This helps the noodle retain a good texture without drying out the lasagna. Spray a 9×9 inch baking pan with cooking spray. Spoon some marinara sauce and ricotta cheese on the bottom, then top with two lasagna noodles. The noodles should overlap in the center a bit and will not reach to the edges of the pan. That is ok, they will expand during baking.

On top of the first layer of noodles, 1) spread ricotta cheese, 2) then swiss chard, 3) then¬†zucchini¬†slices and 4) finish with some marinara sauce. Add another layer of lasagna, then repeat the¬†layering as above.¬† After you’ve layered the last of the noodles, finish the top of the¬†lasagna¬†off with¬†zucchini slices and then cover with¬†Parmesan¬†cheese.

Cover the pan tightly with tinfoil. Put the pan on a foil lined baking sheet (because it may bubble over and make a mess if you don’t) and place in the oven. Turn the oven down to 375¬į. Bake ¬†for 50-55 minutes. Remove the tinfoil, and bake uncovered for 10 more minutes, the cheese will brown a little. Let the lasagna stand for 10-15 minutes before slicing.


– Erin

A Milestone and First Harvest

So a lot has been happening in the garden these past few weeks.  The veggies are going strong and I got my first harvest too, these beautiful Easter Egg radishes.

See why they call them Easter Egg?

The ruby red chard started growing like crazy, almost overnight, so I picked some of that too.

Usually chard grows to 12-18 inches tall, but I wanted to sample some in the tender ‘baby’ stage. Baby carrots and baby spinach are good, and I can vouch that baby chard is too!

I sauteéd the chard with olive oil and minced garlic.

The radishes were crisp and slightly peppery. I whipped up some light sour cream and fresh dill to make a little dipping sauce and took them to work for an afternoon snack.

I’ve also launched an offensive against weeds. My trick is to lay down newspaper, several layers, and then cover with wood chips. This helps keep the paths clear, at least for a month or so.



Don’t be fooled, it took two wheelbarrowfuls of woodchips to do this

For the beds, I broke down and bought some straw. I’ve never used anything in the beds before to keep down the weeds because I thought it would look ugly. But I actually really like it, it looks clean and it should keep the weeds down to a more manageable level.

Love how these feathery flowers add a punch of color

I actually feel like the garden looks good for the first time all season, yay. Being in there is so much more relaxing now, without the weeds giving me the evil eye all the time.

Early Cucumber

Oh and I mentioned a milestone; yesterday Erin’s DC Kitchen officially earned 50 followers. Thank you my dear readers! This makes me so happy, I feel like Sally Field when she said “You like me, you really like me!”. The cheese factor is a little high here I know, but cheese is good, and besides, this is how I really feel.

I’m looking forward to earning my next 50. ūüėÄ


– Erin

MORE POSTS ON GARDENING: DIY Cold Weather Plant Protection

Back to the Garden Pt. 2 and Strawberry Picking!

It’s time for a much overdue garden update. I wanted to wait until everything –¬†paths, beds, borders- was weeded, planted and looking fabulous, but that just wasn’t happening.

But I’m pleased with the progress made so far, considering where I was at phase zero.

Check it out, radishes are coming up.

And some rainbow chard is peeking out too.

All my seedlings failed this year because I didn’t replace my grow lights in a timely fashion, oops, so I had to buy pepper and tomato transplants.

I love tomato names, this one is Box Car Willie

Black cherry tomato, Marconi pepper and Box Car Willie

And I got some snazzy new gardening gloves ūüėÄ

So after planting and weeding and watering, I met up with a friend to continue my agrarian adventures and go strawberry picking.  Growing up I went blueberry picking every summer with my mom, but we never did strawberries so I was looking forward to trying something new.

The day was really beautiful, not to hot, and it was nice and breezy. We drove to Butler’s Orchard about 25 minutes outside of DC and picked up a couple flats to hold our berries. I was ambitious and grabbed the flat that would hold 10 pounds of berries and we dove right into the strawberry patch.

If you don’t know anything about strawberry patches, I’ll tell you all you need to know and that is the plants grow about 1 foot off the ground.

Fast forward 5 minutes in and I loudly declare “God, I’m glad I’m not a migrant farm worker, this sucks.”

Sooo, ya. Picking berries is backbreaking, literally. Lower back pain aside, I had a lot of fun and with the help of my friend (who is a berry picking machine) I got 10 pounds of beautiful, shiny and sweet smelling berries.

You my pretty, will be made into jam

I think this posts begs the question, why would I seek out and actually enjoy picking my own berries? ¬†I’m not Amish, isn’t that what grocery stores are for?

My friend and I actually chatted about this while we were out in the field, and I think she articulated it the best:

It feels good to work with your hands. To take¬†ownership¬†over something and actually see an immediate outcome. I love the physical effort of gardening, you actually feel connected to the food. I know this might sound crazy to many of my dear readers, and that’s ok.

Simply put, working with my hands, being active and then being creative with how I choose to cook the food that I’ve grown feels awesome. I sit behind a desk all day at a job that doesn’t really allow creative thinking. ¬†This is the perfect outlet for me, and its why I love food, gardening and cooking so damn much.

(steps off soapbox)

Thank you.

Stay tuned for a post about how to make your own strawberry jam, step by step.

– Erin

Daily Question: Do you think knowing where your food came from matters?

Back to the Garden Part 1

Helloooo Monday.

If you are anywhere near DC today, be prepared for rain, cold, wind and overall misery when it comes to weather.

What happened to the 75¬į and sunshine I got to enjoy on Saturday?! Where are you summer?

Actually, it is probably a good thing summer isn’t in full swing because I have procrastinated on preparing my garden. After running into my plot-neighbor on the bus and being politely admonished over the astonishing number of weeds, I decided it was time to see what was going on over there.


It’s bad.


Like this bad:

It’s ok to recoil in horror. It’s ugly, I know.

Fast forward two hours later and the beds were looking awesome!

I even planted some rainbow chard while I was there, which I‚Äôm very excited about. Rainbow chard is beautiful and a versatile ingredient (hint: recipes to come ūüôā

Ok, so I know a lot of work remains, but I’m pleased with the progress made. Besides, being outside and getting my hands dirty has re-infected me with the gardening bug. I’m already looking forward to the next sunny day and putting in some radishes and carrots. Progress will be made!!