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In Absolute Best Tests, our writer Ella Quittner destroys the sanctity of her home kitchen in the name of the truth. She's mashed dozens of potatoes, seared more porterhouse steaks than she cares to recall, and tasted enough types of bacon to concern a cardiologist. Today, she tackles jam. Jam is perhaps summer’s greatest spoil, if you, like me, don’t love a pool party and get a stomachache from Mr. Frosty. Put in a way that doesn’t center my lactose intolerance, “The luxury of the best fruit, still pulsing with life, warm from the field, is in my mind the same sort of miracle as a baby being born.” That’s how April McGreger, who is both an award-winning maker of preserves and a person who speaks about jam in a way that makes me blush, described it when I reached out to discuss my latest Absolute Best Test trials. McGreger, whose book The Complete Guide to Canning & Preserving comes out in spring 2022, told me that during the summer months, she often imagines herself “buried under a mountain of strawberries, which I claw my way out of, ending with perfect order sparkling on the shelf.” Her preferred method for strawberry jam is to first macerate in sugar, which she says should be added in a weight proportionate to 60 to 65 percent of the weight of the berries, because of their high water content and fragility. Then, she cooks the mixture in as small a batch as possible on the stove. (She likes the wider surface area of a skillet for quicker evaporation, but notes that if you are using a large saucepan or stockpot, it’s best to cook no more than 3 pounds of berries at a time, for optimal flavor and color.) And while she never did comment on whether or not pool parties are awkward, her advice to me was indispensable as I set forth on my noble mission to test six methods of making jam: Err on the side of undercooking. (“Overcooked jam is trash,” she said. “And undercooked just means you spoon it instead of spread it.”) Add plenty of lemon juice to preserve color and brighten flavor. Stay away from super-ripe strawberries. Speaking of which… Yes, in news that may shock and disturb you, the best strawberries for jam-making are not ripe ones. “Since strawberries are already low in pectin, they need to be firm, a quarter of them even slightly underripe. I throw in a small portion with green tips for a pectin boost,” said McGreger. “Those perfectly ripe, juicy berries from the farmers market that are perfect for eating by the handful are usually too ripe for making into jam.” Accordingly, for each jam trial, I used berries that presented some resistance when poked and were a few shades less vibrant than their riper counterparts. For each batch: 1 heaping cup (165 grams) hulled, quartered strawberries ½ cup (99 grams) granulated sugar 1 tablespoon f
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You don’t have to be a dedicated “plant parent” to appreciate the life and color plants bring to every room in your home. A stately bird of paradise in the living room, a trailing pothos in the kitchen, a line of succulents on the windowsill in your bedroom—they don’t have to be the center of attention, but they gently point towards a home well-kept, since they have to be watered and kept alive, of course. And if you ask me, every room in a house needs a plant. But what to do about the bathroom—the small, humid, and usually natural-light-less room oft f
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There are certain things that become a part of a home cook's arsenal: a good roast chicken, some killer scrambled eggs, a perfect apple pie. Knowing how to make a roux should be at the top of this list. A roux is a simple two-ingredient mixture that can thicken sauces and stews. From a smooth, creamy béchamel for pot pies and macaroni and cheese—not to mention your Thanksgiving gravy—a roux is a technique to master and to love. It can be intimidating due to the ease with which it can be burned—and ruined—but it's nothing that a little practice can't resolve.   
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Adding curb appeal to a home is more than just getting a few potted plants for the doorway and a cute welcome mat—like, a lot more. After buying my house last year, I spent hours on Pinterest and Instagram looking for exterior and landscape inspiration, and meeting with every local contractor about painting the house, planting bushes in the garden bed, updating the front walkway, and more. The process usually goes like this: I list my projects on sites like TaskRabbit, Nextdoor, Angi, or HomeAdvisor; wait until a contractor gets in touch; set up a site visit; walk the contractors through the property; and then wait for a quote. All the while I’m falling deeper into the inspiration black hole. All of this can take weeks depending on the project, but as with many things during the pandemic, for us, it took months—all before execution even started. While there’s nothing like an in-person visit with a local expert, if I could do it all over again, I’d choose an online exterior design service instead. It’s safer during a pandemic, more time- and cost-efficient (some local contractors charge a fee for a site visit), and less awkward—there’s no standing around asking how they’re faring in the pandemic as you show them the yard. Most of the services I researched offer reasonably-priced packages that include virtual design consultations (so the creative onus is not all on you), digital renderings, shopping lists, and revisions if needed; some even connect you to local and licensed contractors to execute on the idea. And to a homeowner’s ear, that sounds like a dream come true. Now, every homeowner will also tell you that home renos and updates are never truly finished (lucky me?), so here are the four best online exterior services I’ll be using for my next batch of upgrades. Don’t worry though, I’ll find a way to keep my plants and doormat around. Photo by Tilly Starting at $375 When you talk about curb appeal, landscaping is a huge part of it. It can hide your home’s foundation, soften harsh edges, hide unsightly generators or septic tank covers, and more. It’s the first thing people see when th
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Is a bacon ban really looming in California? That’s been the pressing question among meat lovers for days after the Associated Press sounded the alarm on the upcoming implementation of Proposition 12, a law in California that will require a larger minimum confinement area for pigs, egg-laying chicken, and calves. The good news is that this doesn’t mean that bacon or other pork products will be all-out banned in the Golden State, but the legislation, which will go into effect in 2022, will impact farmers, restaurateurs, and consumers, as the price of pork will likely increase in a few years. What Is Proposition 12? Although pork lovers are biting their fingernails, wondering if they’ll be able to enjoy bacon strips with breakfast or a nice, crispy pork schnitzel at dinner, this measure isn’t anything new. It was actually on ballots in California way back in 2018. California Proposition 12, aka the “Farm Animal Confinement Initiative” would establish the minimum space requirements for calves being raised for veal, pigs, and egg-laying hens and ban the sale of veal from calves, pork from pigs, and eggs from hens if the animals were confined to areas below the minimum square-feet requirements. In short, it’s just a law that guarantees more humane conditions for animals. And what’s more, the measure was pretty popular. In November 2018, 62.66 percent of California residents voted yes to Prop 12, saying that the measures outlined above should be enforced. So really, it has nothing to do with banning bacon or any other beloved meat products. It’s all about ensuring that the meat Californians consume comes from humane farms and responsibly-raised animals who have had enough room to live and breathe. Seems reasonable, right? So, Why Is Everyone Freaking Out? The proposition may have slipped the mind of the average Californian. But the AP has so kindly reminded us that the state is less than six months away from implementing and enforcing the ban, which has people worried that these products are going to be banned altogether. Once again, bacon will not be banned in California. Say it louder for the people in the back. What this does mean is that bacon and other pork products will likely become more expensive in the state of California. Currently, only 4 percent of pork farms meet the new standards for the minimum confinement area. Most veal and egg producers have not raised concerns about being able to meet the minimum confinement area, which is why there aren’t headlines like “There’s a Ban on Eggs in California” or “Say Goodbye to Veal Parmesan.” Is California Alone In This? Although this is the most headline-grabbing measure in recent history, California is not by any means the only state to implement a measure that will encourage more humane practices among farmers and meat producers. A total of 13 other states including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island,
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When it comes to summer in New England, there’s really no place better than my home state of Rhode Island. I may be an extremely biased travel guide, but it’s true: With over 400 miles of shoreline, the smallest state in the nation has no shortage of beaches. You can swing by the Tennis Hall of Fame for a match or plan an idyllic tailgate picnic at Newport Polo. Stroll down winding paths, wander under footbridges, or catch a gondola down three rivers to immerse yourself in Barnaby Evans' sculpture of 80 bonfires that light downtown Providence at Waterfire. None of that sounds appealing? You can always take a ferry to Block Island for a cocktail by the sea or venture to Watch Hill to scope out Taylor Swift’s mansion. If you’re anything like me though, choosing a vacation destination has just as much to do with the food you can try while you're there as it does the attractions. Rhode Island has no shortage of tasty treats to try, like clam cakes and Del's Lemonade. Here are some of the food destinations you can’t leave Rhode Island without visiting. 1. The Beehive Cafe The Beehive Cafe is nestled comfortably in the downtown of my hometown, Bristol. I’d be lying if I said everything on the menu wasn’t worth a try. But if it were up to my parents—who make a point of stopping by every morning for a grab ‘n’ go treat—they’d recommend a classic hot cup of coffee (my dad’s favorite) or a non-caffeinated option like the lemon ginger summer elixir (my mom’s go-to). Regardless of your beverage choice, don't leave without grabbing a flaky, buttery ginger scone. 2. 22 Bowen's This is one of my favorite seafood restaurants because no matter how many times I eat their clam chowder and lobster roll, I am blown away. I wouldn’t dare say it’s the best, because Rhode Island is full of so many wonderful seafood spots: When I asked 10 friends and family members to share their favorite Rhode Island seafood restaurant, all of them gave me a different place. But 22 Bowen's is up there. 3. The Nitro Bar The Nitro Bar started out as a little cart that served nitro cold brew coffee around Providence. Now, just five years later, they have three stores, one in Providence and two in Newport. After being roasted and brewed the coffee is pressurized in a keg, making an incredibly creamy brew that flows from the tap like a Guinness—no need for milk or sugar. I don’t make a trip home without stopping for at least one cup of coffee from here. 4. Rebelle Artisan Bagels We can argue all day about which city in which state has the best bagels (I do live in New York now, after all), but Rebelle has some really solid contenders. It’s simple, really: They are chewy on the outside and super soft on the inside. The shop is full of all of the classics like plain, sesame seed, and everything bagels. But they also have fun flavors like pretzel and beet, depending on the season. Their bagels are great with
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Chef Chris McDade remembers the tinned fish of his youth. Growing up in Georgia, the go-to snack on family fishing trips was the simple, sublime trifecta of canned oysters, saltines, and hot sauce—the rich, briny oysters balanced by the sturdy, salty crunch of the crackers and a vinegary zing of heat. Lest this memory sound too precious, these were not top-shelf shooters. “The ones we used were like 79 cents for a tin. But they were easy to pack in and easy to pack out. And delicious,” says McDade. A slightly gussied-up version of this combination in the form of a two-sentence recipe, alongside a moody photo of Ekone Oyster Co. Smoked Oysters
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We had a bit of a kerfuffle a few weeks after moving into our new house. You see, it has an unfinished basement, and my cat decided he’d rather pee on the floor down there than in his litter box. Whether he was protesting the move or just felt more outdoorsy doing his business on the dirty concrete floor, I’ll never know. What I do know, however, is that once he started peeing on the floor, it was extremely hard to get him to stop. Eventually, we ended up locking him out of the basement all together, and I was left with the grueling task of getting the permeating smell of cat urine out of the basement. Since the floor is concrete, the liquid had soaked in pre
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Photo by Ty Mecham We usually buy flowers based on what looks best—the mere premise of bringing freshly-cut blooms indoors is about joy, after all. But the problem is that once we prep and plop them into vases, they don’t always look...right. Tulips look floppier in short vases and tall stems look a little sparse in wide vessels—sound familiar? Instead of shopping for flowers based solely on looks, let us suggest an a
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As summer comes to a close, you may start to feel a bit down. Don’t! Take a trip to the farmers market or the produce aisle and put together a Labor Day feast you’ll still be thinking about well into autumn. If you're planning to grill for the main event—simple and painless—you can spare some creative energy for the appetizers in recipes chock-full of tomatoes, corn, eggplant, and summer squash, with plenty of stone fruit in the mix. Since it's peak season for so much produce, many of these appetizer recipes skip the cooking and let the stars shine on their own, while others get fried, sautéed, or grilled. Our 27 best appetizers for Labor D
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A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Psst, did you hear we’re coming out with a cookbook? We’re coming out with a cookbook! Years ago, so they say, if a woman plopped a basil plant on her windowsill, it was a signal for her lover to come hither, the herbal pr
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