Eats: Better Than Average’s sweet and spicy jams kick up the flavor

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“We are definitely not your typical jam and jelly company,” Shannon Bissonnette says about her business, Better Than Average. “We try to get people to think out of the box.”

While she does produce a few jams that are a bit more traditional, such as Strawberry Banana or Blueberry Rhubarb, all of her products are designed to be cooked with, she said — “not just spread on a peanut butter sandwich or a bagel.” Because of this, many stores that carry the Better Than Average product line display them in the cheese case or at the meat counter.

It will come as no surprise that many of her product descriptions include the words “hot,” “pepper” or “kick.”

“Think sweet and spicy,” she said.

To help “kick” off the grilling season and, perhaps, add a little extra spice to your life, Bissonnette shared three recipes for your next barbecue.

Hawaiian Chicken Kabobs is a recipe taken from the Better Than Average cookbook that uses their Pineapple Habanero Jelly. She said it can be made with other jams or jellies, too, such as red pepper or jalapeno. “If you don’t want the hot and spicy, use garlic jelly instead. It would make it more sweet and less spicy.”

For your side dish, she suggested Garlic Slaw. Using Habanero Garlic Jelly, this particular recipe is hot and spicy, adding a Southwestern twist to a traditional coleslaw. “The habanero adds quite a bit of heat.” She said it is quite savory, and is great with ribs or barbecue chicken. “If you like it sweet, use the garlic jelly instead. It sweetens the garlic flavor.”

For those who would like to try their hand at making their own barbecue sauce, Bissonnette shared a recipe for Blueberry Chipotle Barbecue Sauce. Another combination of sweet and spicy , she considers it “really Maine” because of the blueberries. She is undecided if it will be bottled and added to her product line-up. Blueberries, a staple fruit in Maine, are a primary ingredient in many of her other jams or jellies.

Bissonnette’s story began a few years back, when she and her children loved to go apple and berry picking. “We’d pick so much, it would end up going bad.” To waste less of their harvests, she soon learned how to make the standard strawberry, blueberry and raspberry jams. Realizing those flavors could be found almost anywhere, and wanting the results of her efforts to be different, she started experimenting with hot peppers and jalapenos.

She credits her husband with naming the company. While sampling her Raspberry Jalapeno jam — her first experiment into the spicy side of jam — her husband took a bite and absolutely loved it. Which is when he said, “Wow! This is really better than average!”

Now in her third year of business, she remembers the first two years of cooking out of her home kitchen: it had become a challenge to cook regular family dinners “because it had become 100 percent a jam-making facility.” In August 2010, she said, “it got so big, I actually had to build a separate facility.” She currently rents space large enough to include a commercial kitchen, warehouse and an office.   

She has one part-time employee that helps her with the cooking. Bissonnette herself is super-busy with all the other tasks of running her own business: saleswoman, order taker, website manager, delivery person, shipping agent and general manager. She hopes in the fall to hire two more people.

Now available New England-wide, she estimates her products are now stocked in approximately 60 stores. All of Bissonnette’s products can also be purchased at www.betterthanaveragellc.com. She was happy to recently receive a very large international order from someone doing a Google search for “Maine jams and jellies.”

The average price of Better Than Average jams are $6.95. Her best selling product is Apple-Maple jam, made with Maine apples grown at Thompson Orchards in New Gloucester. The orchard helps her out by processing, cutting up and freezing the apples in 20-pound bags.

In March of this year, she added three new products to her list: Horseradish Jelly, Zesty Apple BBQ Glaze and Raspberry Habanero Jam. Describing the horseradish jelly, she said, “It is actually made with fresh horseradish, put into jelly form.” It offers a sweet and spicy combination, and she added “one of the best ways to use it is on fillet.”

When it comes to using jams and jellies as part of your grilling repertoire, she said the only difference between a jam and a grilling sauce is jam has a higher sugar content. When using a jam or jelly as a grilling glaze, she recommends you brush it on during the last three minutes of cooking, otherwise it will burn quite easily. A grilling sauce can either be used as a marinade or brushed directly on the raw meat any time during the grilling process.

To see Bissonnette cooking and bottling up a batch of the Blueberry Chipotle Barbecue Sauce, go to www.sunjournal.com. Happy grilling!

Recipes

Habanero Garlic Slaw

1 bag pre-shredded slaw mix

1/2 red onion, minced

1/3 cup Better Than Average Habanero Garlic Jelly (or other jam or jelly of your choice)

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon celery salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Direction: Mix all ingredients together. Chill before serving.

Hawaiian Chicken Kabobs

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into cubes

1 green bell pepper (cut into cubes)

1 red bell pepper (cut into cubes)

2 cups pineapple (cut into cubes)

1/3 cup Better Than Average Pineapple Habanero Jelly (or other pepper jelly)

2 tablespoons olive oil (for brushing)

Marinade

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 small onion

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes

Directions: Cut the chicken into cubes, pat dry and marinate (in marinade) 1 hour.

Thread chicken, peppers and pineapple onto a metal or bamboo skewer. Repeat to make 8 skewers.

Brush with olive oil. Grill the kabobs until cooked through.

When chicken is cooked, brush on jelly and let melt for 1-2 minutes. Serve hot.

Suggested serving: Place the kabobs over rice.

Maine Blueberry Chipotle BBQ Sauce

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 small shallot, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

24 ounces stout beer (Shipyard is the best!)

8 ounces ripe blueberries (Maine Blueberries of course!)

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon chipotle powder (or you can roast 4-6 jalapenos to make your own chipotles)

1 tablespoon molasses

1/3 cup ketchup

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Directions: Preheat canola oil in a medium pot over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and shallot to the pot. Sweat the onions over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the garlic to the pot. Stir. Cook for another 60 seconds. Add the stout beer to the pot and raise the heat to medium high. Allow the stout to simmer and reduce by half, about 15 to 25 minutes.

While the stout is reducing, place the blueberries, brown sugar and cider vinegar into a small sauce pan. Place over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cook over medium heat until the blueberries begin to burst. Remove from heat and set aside.

Add the blueberry mixture and the rest of the ingredients for the BBQ sauce to the reduced stout. Whisk together. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes.

Allow sauce to cool slightly and then blend with a hand blender until very smooth. Taste sauce and adjust seasonings as desired with kosher salt.

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