Mark Bittman's tomato jam; wonderful to look at, tastes even better. Photos taken by my sister-in-law.

It was love at first sight. Or at least greed at first glance.

It was early. I was still in my pajamas and had only recently padded into the kitchen. Coffee in hand, I flicked open the newspaper and there it was. Across the countertop lay spread a photo so alluring, so beautiful, that my breath caught and I stopped mid sip.

Now what ever could have caught my rapt attention? What was the object of my early-morning desire, you ask?

Mark Bittman's Tomato Jam. (You know me well enough to know it would be about food.)

But seriously. Look at this. It is just a spoonful of gorgeousness. To call it red would be a disservice; it seems too plain. Scarlet doesn't cut it, brick doesn't even come close. Vermilion? Crimson? I cannot come up with an adjective that captures the particular hue of this luscious-looking stuff.

Attempts to describe aside, I did know one thing from the start. I wanted to try this jam. I needed to make it. And I needed to make it right away.

And so, I set about making a batch of tomato jam. Lucky for me, my dear Sean is used to the vagrancies of my behaviour and said not a word when I started mincing green chilies and ginger. After a minimal bit of chopping, stirring and grinding, on my stove sat a bubbling pot. Soon the smell of coffee met and mingled with scents of ripe tomatoes and grassy cumin, with an underlying warmth of cinnamon and clove.

The pot remained for the remainder of the coffee, and for the duration of breakfast. All the while deepening in colour and texture; what started out as bright and watery slowly turned darker, richer. In the end, I was left with a sticky sweet relish, heady with spice but with a good balance of acidity. It was complex without being overly complicated.

The jam was even better after it cooled overnight in the fridge. Akin to a chutney, it is an unexpected but delicious accompaniment to bread and cheese. I would offer more suggestions for its use, but I haven't gotten that far; I've just started exploring the possibilities.

I can tell you this though, this tomato jam looks good enough to eat. And its looks do not deceive.

TOMATO JAM

By Mark Bittman, as published in the New York Times (August 19, 2008) and in syndication.

Recipe and an associated video are both available online.

Notes:

  • I used a mix of tomatoes from our garden, all rather sweet in their own right. While I understand its role in setting the jam, I was still wary of the amount of sugar in the recipe - so I used a generous 3/4 of a cup and upped the tomatoes to a full 2 pounds.
  • For another savoury note I included 1 large garlic clove, grated.
  • Wanting enough heat to cut through the sweetness, I used two small green chilies instead of the jalapeño.
  • When I make this again I might include a bit of lime zest..
  • Most likely due to the reduced amount of sugar and additional tomatoes, my cooking time was closer to 2 hours to reach the consistency I was looking for.

As of late, Martha Stewart, baking and food blogs seem to go hand in hand. With Sunday's launch of the cookie-centric contest at marthastewart.com, it is an appropriate opportunity to take a closer look at the prize up for grabs; copies of Martha Stewart's Cookies (Clarkson Potter, 2008). The latest cookbook from the editors of Martha Stewart Living, it is a comprehensive collection of 175 their most versatile and tempting treats.

With its ingenious imaged-based table of contents, coupled with chapter headings organized by cookie texture, this book speaks directly to cravings and their indulgence. I have read some recipes delightfully described as "everyday", a phrase that evokes idyllic notions of an overfilled cookie jar; these are chocolate chip cookies in a myriad of variations, fudgy brownies, delicate sugar cookies and shortbread. Other recipes range from the festive (from Crumbly and Sandy: Vanilla-Bean Spritz Wreaths) to the elegant (from Crisp and Crunchy: Sweet Cardamom Crackers) to the downright decadent (from Rich and Dense: Chocolate Pistachio Cookies).

In regards to content it should be noted that some of these recipes have been previously published in various publications under the Martha Stewart mantle, specifically the special edition Holiday Cookie series. Some readers could be frustrated by this repetition, while others may appreciate having their best-loved favourites in a trade paperback version.

The layout of the recipes is clear and concise, each featuring a photo of the finished product. Although some follow the expected Martha Stewart aesthetic of colourful but simple styling, others depart from this look entirely. These shots are mid-range to close up photographs against a white background which, in comparison to the charm of the former, do seem a bit austere. That said, the minimalist approach does highlight the characteristic textures of the cookies quite well.

Two appendices, one on packaging and the other with information on techniques and cook's tools, are helpful additions. Inspired presentation ideas show off the cookies beautifully for giving, and the instructions frequently include step-by-step photos. The baking notes serve as a useful introduction to the novice baker and as helpful reminders to those more experienced.

In the name of research, the Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars (above and below) were the first to be made from this book. The luscious batter inspired nostalgic thoughts of childhood. Its rich scent reminiscent of the best peanut butter cookie crossed with Reese Pieces; the sort that has greedy fingers fighting over rights to lick the bowl. The finished cookie lived up to the charms of the dough, with tender cookie underneath, a layer of tangy-sweet jam in between and the salty crunch of peanuts and crisp crumble as a crowning crust. Perfect for a lunchbox or after-school treat, these cookies will surely become a household classic.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
From Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies 2001.

The recipe featured in the book is subject to copyright but is quite similar to this version.

Notes:

• I used a combination of mixed berry jam and homemade mixed berry compote for the filling as I wanted a bit of tartness to offset the buttery-rich cookie layer.

• Toffee bits, coconut, honey-roasted nuts or white chocolate chips would be a wonderful substitution or addition to the peanut topping. For those looking for true excess, a chocolate spread or dulce de leche could be used instead of jam filling.

A peek at what has kept me busy the last few days. Red currants, fresh from my brother's garden, fill an iconic Ontario basket.

The fruit takes a quick cooling dip before heading off to the steam bath otherwise known as the jam pot.

I used a recipe, but not the method, from the formidable Mrs. Beeton, lifted with the addition of some fresh lemon juice and rind. The rind lends a familiar sticky tang, making the finished product worthy of its new moniker "jamalade."