Thursday, December 26, 2013

Freshly Churned Butter

Homemade butter is so easy to make and far superior to that purchased in the store, so it is a little crazy to think that people don't make it more often.  For me, it is one of those things that I rarely think of making on my own unless I have extra cream on hand and don't know what to do with it.  But once I do make it, I immediately think to myself that I should definitely do it more often.  It is rich and creamy and can be seasoned with herbs or salt as desired.  Spread on toast, there is not much better than freshly made butter.  

Today I made butter in my stand mixer using the paddle attachment.  I whipped one quart of leftover heavy cream on medium speed until soft peaks formed.  Then I wrapped the top of my stand mixer tightly with plastic wrap to prevent splashes during the rest of the processing time.  As I am sure you realize, making butter at home results in two products, the butter and the buttermilk.  Once the butter has started to separate from the buttermilk, splashing will inevitably follow if you are using an open device such as a mixer.  You can, of course, churn butter in any number of ways from shaking a large closed jar containing the cream to whizzing it around in a food processor until the butter forms.  Either way works.

Once the butter has separated, strain the mixture through a sieve set over a bowl to separate butter from buttermilk.  Press on/knead the butter by hand for several minutes to remove any remaining liquid.  The buttermilk can then be used for other projects or baking while the butter can be molded or placed in a bowl and covered and stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.  Bring the butter to room temperature to make it more spreadable.  If you plan to use the butter in baking, you may choose not to salt it, but if you are planning to eat it on toast, I suggest you add a little salt to it while you are kneading it at the end.  

Freshly Churned Butter- makes approximately 3/4 pound 

This will result in about 2 cups of leftover buttermilk which can be used for baking, making salad dressing, or frozen for later use.  

1 quart heavy cream
1/4 tsp sea salt

plastic wrap will be needed if using a stand mixer

Pour the heavy cream into the 5 quart bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Cover the top of the mixer bowl tightly with plastic wrap to prevent splashing being careful that the wrap does not interfere for the function of the paddle. You could also use a food processor for this in which case the plastic wrap will not be necessary.  

Begin churning the cream on medium low, increasing to medium, until the cream forms soft peaks.  This may take up to 10 minutes depending on the speed of your mixer.  Continue to churn on medium speed until the butter separates from the buttermilk (this is where the splashing happens so have everything covered well with wrap at this point).  Once the butter has formed, remove the bowl from the mixer.  

Strain the mixture through a sieve set over a bowl to catch the buttermilk.  Press on and knead the butter by hand to remove as much liquid as possible and until the butter forms a nice smooth mass.  Add salt or seasoning if desired and knead the butter a little more to incorporate it thoroughly.  At this point the butter can be molded or spread into a bowl and covered.  Chilled, it will keep at least a week, and it can also be frozen for later use.  

Printable Version


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chocolate-Dipped Potato Chip Cookies

I love the combination of salty and sweet.  A hint of salt can take a good dessert to the level of greatness.  This year for Christmas I tried a Cook's Country recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Potato Chip Cookies, and in my opinion, they are delicious.  They have a similar texture to a shortbread cookie and remind me a bit of Pecan Sandies, but they have great crunch and texture from crushed potato chips.  They are dipped halfway in chocolate which hardens and creates the perfect counterpoint to the saltiness of the chips, and to make things even better, the chocolate is sprinkled with a bit of sea salt before it cools completely.  

These cookies are so easy to make, quick considering that you have to dip them also, and they are sweet, salty, and full of flavor.  I will definitely be making them again.  

Since I have not changed this recipe at all, I do not feel comfortable posting it here.  However, if you do not already have access to recipes on Cook's Country, you can sign up for a free trial to get it. It is well worth the effort.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Day of Thanks

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  Being with family, enjoying good food, and just relaxing make it a special day.  Each year my husband and I do something different for Thanksgiving.  Last year, we were alone having a very small meal in our own home.  Some years we are with my husband's family having Thanksgiving with his immediate family.  This year it is our turn to be with my family which includes my mom, dad, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  In this case, I will be bringing some of the items, but most of the food will be prepared by others since we live out of town.  Items on the menu include turkey, dressing, gravy, sweet potato casserole, beans, greens, biscuits, and dessert.  

My contributions for the day will be dessert, cranberry sauce, and Brussels Sprouts.  

I will be making Toffee Pecan Pie which is really superior to regular pecan pie recipes.  The filling is thicker, less jelly-like, and it is chock-full of nuts.  The toffee adds to the pie's deeper flavor giving it a brown-butter like quality.  I will be using the ratio of flour to fat that I do for the All Butter Pie Crust, but I will most likely be adding a little home rendered lard to the crust for extra flakiness and because I happen to have it on hand. 

The Brussels Sprouts will be shredded and cooked with a little bacon.  They are fantastic and can turn anyone adamantly opposed to Brussels Sprouts into a lover of the cute little cruciferous veg. 

The Cranberry Sauce with Apples and Pecans is really more of a conserve than sauce.  It is chunky, loaded for bursting fruits, and crunchy with nuts.  It is my favorite cranberry sauce and the one I have to make every year.  Leftovers are delicious over desserts, ice cream, or on sandwiches.  Imagine melty fontina cheese on sourdough bread with a little cranberry sauce in between the layers.  Yum!

I will also be trying a new recipe from Fine Cooking Magazine for a Bourbon-Caramel Pumpkin Tart.  Based on reviews and what I will have on hand, I will be making a few changes to the original recipe.  Since my pie crust recipe makes two crusts (and since many reviewers for the tart did not like the cornmeal crust in the original recipe), I will be using the second all butter crust for the tart instead.  Many reviewers also thought the bourbon flavor was too strong so I will be omitting it from the tart when I make it.  Everything else will remain the same, and we'll see how it goes.  I will make the candied pepitas the day before along with the crust to make assembly a little quicker.  

In the meantime, I will be trying to consume less caloric options so that I can actually enjoy the big day.  I hope everyone has a fabulous holiday with friends, family, good food, and plenty to be thankful for.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Beet Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Pecans, and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Here is a super simple, healthy, and tasty salad that works equally well for a quick weeknight meal as it does for a special occasion.  The salad consists of only a handful of ingredients, so the ingredients you use must be of the utmost quality.  Although the salad would be bit time consuming if preparing it from scratch just before wanting to serve it, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort the night you want to eat it by preparing its individual parts ahead of time.  

The beets, which should be purchased when they are small or medium in size, can be roasted in the oven several days before.  I roast them by cutting the tops off leaving about 1 inch of the stem intact.  I then scrub them well, place them in a single layer in a baking dish, and pour in just enough water to cover the bottom.  I place aluminum foil over the dish and roast them in a 425 degree oven for thirty minutes to an hour depending on their size.  They are done when a knife can be inserted into the center with little to no resistance.  You could uncover them about halfway through to get a more caramelized exterior and deepen their sweetness.  They can then be peeled, cut into wedges, and refrigerated until you are ready to use them.  This makes it easy to throw this or a similar salad together several times over the course of a week.  You can also roast and freeze some of the beets if you want a few ready for a future salad as well.  

The remaining ingredients are small, tender greens (I used a mix of baby lettuces and radicchio), candied pecans (such as Trader Joe's Candied Pecans although you could make your own if you are so inclined), and crumbled blue cheese.  Everything is lightly tossed with a drizzle of a tangy balsamic vinaigrette sweetened with honey.  The vinaigrette does not have as much oil as most (this one has a 1:1 ratio rather than the more standard 1:3), but it is important that the vinaigrette be assertive enough to stand up to the earthiness of the beets and the sharpness of the blue cheese.  Once on the salad, it will not seem overly acidic at all. 

With these ingredients on hand and at the ready, this colorful and delicious salad is always at your fingertips.  

Beet Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Pecans, and Balsamic Vinaigrette- serves 4

4 cups loosely packed baby greens (or tender lettuces, torn)
4 beets, roasted, peeled, and sliced into 4-6 wedges each
4 oz blue cheese, crumbled
4 tbsp candied pecans, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp raw honey
salt and pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and honey.  Slow drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly, until combined. Season with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Set aside.  You could also add these ingredients into a small jar, put the lid on tightly, and shake vigorously to combine.  

In a small bowl, combine the greens with about half the vinaigrette (you just need enough to lightly coat each leaf).  Divide the greens evenly among four plates or bowls.  In the now empty bowl, gently toss the beet wedges with the remaining vinaigrette.  Place the beet wedges on top of the dressed greens, dividing them evenly among the four plates.  Crumble 1 ounce of cheese over each salad.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of chopped pecans over each.  Serve salads immediately.   

Printable Version


Friday, November 8, 2013

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Garlic, and Almonds

Last week I spent a couple of days in New York City.  Usually when we are there it is near Christmas or in the summer, but this year it was nice to go in the fall.  I particularly enjoyed spending the morning at the Union Square Greenmarket where I purchased several heads of beautiful and colorful cauliflower.  At the market here at home, I rarely see locally grown cauliflower much less cauliflower in shades of green, orange, and purple.  It was a treat. It was also a little difficult to pack in my carry-on for the plane, but I made it work.  I also purchased some artisanal Vesuvio pasta from Eataly, a market filled with Italian foods and restaurants.  Vesuvio pasta is a spiral shaped pasta resembling a shell or the volcano for which it is named. 

Of course, bringing produce and pasta back from New York makes you want to do something special with it, so I threw together this tasty dish using an adaptation of a recipe from Cooks IllustratedThe cauliflower gets roasted in a scorching hot oven until it is well browned.  Then it gets mixed with the pasta and a sauce made of roasted garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice.  A bit of freshly grated cheese helps hold everything together and create a sauce that clings nicely to the pasta.  The sprinkling of almonds on top adds a nice crunch.  

I haven't changed this pasta recipe much, but I have decreased the amount of pasta to make it healthier and lighter and to serve two people rather than four.  I also decreased the amount of olive oil and cheese, but the overall dish is just as good or better than it was when I made it with the full amounts.  You can also make this with broccoli or other roasted veggies, and you can substitute other types of nuts depending on what you have on hand.  

A word of warning about the lemon juice...the original recipe calls for 2-3 tablespoons.  We find that 1 1/2-2 tablespoons is sufficient to give it nice lemony flavor without being overpowering.  Add some juice, taste test, and adjust as needed for your own personal tastes.  

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Garlic, and Almonds- serves 2-3

Don't be put off by the amount of garlic in this recipe.  It mellows nicely when roasted and makes a great sauce.  Vesuvio pasta is not available in most markets so use a short pasta such as fusilli or orrechiette instead.    

2 heads garlic, top quarter of each head cut off and discarded
3 Tbsp plus 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Olive oil or canola cooking spray
1 head cauliflower, florets cut in bite size pieces, leaves and stems discarded
1/2 pound short molded pasta
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2-2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated plus more for grating on top
2 Tbsp sliced almonds, toasted
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Place each prepared head of garlic in the center of a square of aluminum foil and drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil over each.  Fold the foil upwards to create a sealed packet, and place the packets in the center of a large baking sheet to roast for 20 minutes.  

Remove the baking sheet from the oven.  Place the prepared cauliflower florets around the foil packets on the baking sheet.  Spray the cauliflower with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Continue to roast the cauliflower and garlic for an additional 20-25 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until the cauliflower is well browned and tender when pierced with a fork.  

Remove the garlic packets from the oven and carefully open the packets to help them cool quickly.  Once cool enough to handle, squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into a small bowl.  Mash the garlic with a fork until it forms a paste.  Add the red pepper flakes, a sprinkling of salt, and the lemon juice to the garlic and stir.  Slowly stir in the 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Set the sauce aside.  

In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare the pasta according to package directions.  Before draining the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid.  Drain the pasta and return it to the empty pot.  

Mix the pasta and roasted cauliflower.  Add the garlic sauce, pasta cooking liquid, and 1/2 cup cheese.  Stir gently to combine and distribute ingredients.  Serve pasta in a shallow bowl sprinkled with toasted almonds and additional grated cheese.  

Printable Version


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pumpkin Cornmeal Pancakes from 1749

Each year we take our fourth graders to Old Salem, a small village and living history museum in the larger city of Winston-Salem.  On our tour, the students get to take part in a variety of activities using traditional eighteenth century methods such as cooking, painting, making pottery, and carding wool.  This year we took our trip in the fall, and the students got to cook small pumpkin cornmeal pancakes adapted from a recipe from 1749.  The pancakes were creamy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, slightly sweetened, and dusted with cinnamon sugar (which the docent pointed out would not have been traditional since sugar would have been an expensive resource).  

The students loved making the pancakes, with each student adding a different ingredient to the mix, and the entire group took turns whisking the egg whites with a whisk made of small twigs.  They cooked their pancakes, with the help of the docent, in melted butter in a spider pan over hot, burning coals.  The students then had the opportunity to sample their creations along with a little apple juice from a cold pewter mug.  Even though the pancakes are not overly sweet like snacks students are accustomed to today, there was not a single piece of pancake left on a plate in the end.  The students enjoyed them, and I did too, and it was made all the more special by the fact that they created the pancakes themselves.  

These pancakes are a perfect fall treat, slightly sweetened and spiced.  We will be recreating them at home tonight.  We will not be dusting them with cinnamon sugar but will instead drizzle them with a little warm maple syrup.  A few slices of bacon will round out a quick and easy fall breakfast-for-dinner, and while I'm sure they won't be quite as tasty as they were prepared in an eighteenth century kitchen over hot coals, they will still hit the spot.  

Pumpkin Cornmeal Pancakes- makes nine 3-inch pancakes or 4-5 larger ones

The recipe we were given at Old Salem stated that this was adapted from Peter Kalm's Travel Accounts, 1749.  When the students made them, they made small three-inch pancakes, and we did not use all of the milk.  I am including the recipe below as it was given to us.  

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup mashed pumpkin
1 egg
3/4 cup sweet milk

Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Separate the egg.  Beat the yolk until creamy and the white until the color of snow.  Add milk, pumpkin, and yolk to the dry ingredients.  Fold in the whites.  Add more milk to make a thin pancake batter. Cook pancakes on both sides in butter until nicely browned.  Serve hot sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.   

Printable Version

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Penne with Chicken, Green Beans, and Roasted Tomatoes

Green beans are still coming in from the garden.  We picked some just yesterday, but as the temperatures cool and the leaves fall, their numbers are dwindling.  I thought I would share one final recipe to help celebrate the last of these.  Soon, fresh green beans will be just a memory (until next year).  

Let me begin by apologizing for the less than ideal pictures.  They were taken quickly, in poor lighting, and with a poor camera. Focus on the pasta, not on the skills (or lack thereof) of the photographer.  

This pasta is perfect for this time of year when summer produce isn't quite finished, but you are ready for some warm, gooey comfort food.  It is creamy and cheesy, nicely flavored with herbs, and filled with tender chunks of chicken, slightly crisp green beans, and chewy roasted tomatoes.  It also reheats well, although it will not be quite as creamy the second time around.  

If you roast your own tomatoes in the summer, this is the perfect way to use them.  If not, store-bought sun dried tomatoes will work.  Just drain them well if packed in oil or rehydrate them if using the dry packed tomatoes in the bags.  Also, this recipe, as is, only makes a 9x9 baking dish which serves 2-4 people.  If you wish to make more, just double the ingredients and bake it in a 9x13 pan.  

I fully intend on making this dish in the fall and winter with broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts, so by no means should you feel boxed in by green beans if they are finished for the year where you live.  

Penne with Chicken, Green Beans, and Roasted Tomatoes-  serves 2-4 

I cooked the chicken for this dish separately and ahead of time.  I seasoned one large chicken breast with a little salt and pepper and a sprinkling of Herbes de Provence.  Rosemary and a little thyme would work well also.  I grilled the chicken until just cooked through. I then chopped it in bite sized pieces.  You could use any cooked chicken in this dish.

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and chopped (see note above) 

1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 cup fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in 1 inch pieces
4 oz roasted tomatoes (or sun dried), chopped
8 oz penne pasta
2 oz mozzarella, shredded
2 Tbsp Pecorino Romano, grated
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a 9x9 baking dish with cooking spray.  Combine breadcrumbs and butter in a bowl and set aside.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling, add the pasta and cook until just al dente.  In the last two minutes of pasta cooking time, add the green beans and boil until crisp tender.  Drain the pasta and beans in a colander and set aside.  

Return the empty pasta pot to the heat and add the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook 1 minute.  Add the flour, salt, and pepper, and whisk to combine.  Whisk in the stock and cream and heat until the mixture boils and begins to thicken.  Remove from the heat and stir in the red wine vinegar.  Stir in the cooked chicken, pasta, green beans, chopped roasted tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese.  Stir to combine.  

Pour the mixture into your prepared pan.  Top with the seasoned, buttered breadcrumb mixture. Sprinkle Pecorino Romano cheese over the breadcrumbs.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbly and brown on top.

Printable Version


Friday, October 4, 2013

Using What's Been Put Up: Skillet Apple Crumble

One of the most convenient items to have on hand is canned pie filling.  You can make any number of desserts quickly by simply popping the lid off the jar and topping the filling with some type of crumble or crust.  Whether it's Spiced Peach Crisp made with Cardamom Peach Pie Filling or this Skillet Apple Crumble made with Apple Pie Filling, crisps and crumbles are my favorites because the toppings are so easy to put together.  You can have a great, homemade dessert ready for the oven in minutes.  

This dessert can be made from scratch if you don't have canned apple pie filling on hand, but if you don't have any, you should really make some very soon before apple season ends.  The filling is perfectly spiced, just gooey enough without being too thick, and the apples (if you use a baking variety) hold their shape nicely.  The crumble topping is easy to make and requires items you probably have on hand.  I will warn you that this dessert has a high ratio of crumble to filling.  I like it that way so that you get a fair amount of topping in every bite, and while I am making it in a skillet, it can certainly be made in a pie pan lined with a crust.  In that case, it would be more like a Dutch apple pie.

If you don't have the pie filling on hand, use the 1 quart recipe from National Center for Home Food Preservation and skip the canning step.  You just may need to blanch your apples slightly longer so that they cook through during baking.  If you want to make more, use the 7 quart recipe from that site or my slightly altered version below.  The crumb topping recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated, and even though it requires two baking periods, it is well worth the extra minutes.  The topping stays crisp and crumbly on this dessert without turning to mush in the filling.    

Skillet Apple Crumble- makes a 10 inch skillet dessert or pie

1 jar apple pie filling
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp cornmeal
7 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  

Spoon apple pie filling into a cast iron skillet or baking dish.  

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugars, and cornmeal.  Drizzle the melted butter into the dry ingredients, and toss with a fork to moisten until large, pea-sized crumbs form.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the crumbs in an even layer on the baking sheet.  Bake the crumbs 5 minutes until golden brown.  Cool several minutes until cool enough to touch.  

Sprinkle the crumbs over the pie filling.  Bake another 10 minutes until deep golden brown.  Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.  

Printable Version  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Concord Grape Jam

Can you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without grape jelly or jam?  Sure, other flavors like strawberry are okay, but nothing compares to grape.  It just works best.  At least that's the consensus at my house. 

That being said, when you start to make your own jellies and jams, it is difficult to make a sandwich (or anything else using jam, for that matter) with anything other than homemade.  I had been putting off making grape jelly because I just don't like the process of making jelly (too time consuming and laborious for me), but that also meant I was constantly having to consider purchasing grape jelly in the supermarket.  

Grape pulp with seeds
I usually didn't which led to many inferior sandwiches.  That is, until I decided to try grape jam instead.  If you've never tried grape jam, you must.  Like right away.  It is so easy, sets beautifully, and has a great consistency.  Jelly-like but with a little more texture, it does not have chunks of grape as peach would have chunks. Instead the grapes are pressed through a sieve to achieve the proper consistency.  

Grape skins ready to be ground in food processor
Grape pulp being pushed through a chinois to remove seeds
Since making this jam, it is a little scary to admit that we have already eaten two jars.  This jam can also be used in any number of desserts where jam would be appropriate.  Thumbprint cookies, jam filled muffins, oatmeal jam bars (I will try to post a recipe for these soon)...the list could go on and on.

Concord Grape Jam- makes approximately 9 half-pints

4 pounds Concord grapes (other varieties will work also)
1 cup water
7 cups granulated sugar
1 box powdered pectin (1.75 oz)

Prepare canner, jars, and lids.  Sort, wash, and remove stems from four pounds of grapes.  

Squeeze the skins off the grapes, and separate skins and pulp into separate bowls.  

Place pulp (will still contain seeds at this point) in a medium pot with 1 cup water.  Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.  Press the pulp mixture through a fine mesh sieve or chinois (conical strainer on a stand with a pestle) to separate the pulp from the seeds and to break the pulp down.  Set aside.  

In a food processor, puree all or part of the grape skins.  The amount you use is up to you and the color you hope to achieve (I used about 2 cups skins measured before pureeing).  Press the pureed skins through the sieve into the prepared pulp.  

Place the prepared grape mixture in a large, heavy bottomed pot.  Add the pectin and stir to combine.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Once boiling, quickly add the sugar and stir to combine.  Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a full rolling boil.  Boil for 1 minute.  

Remove the jam from the heat.  Using a clean spoon, skim the foam from the top of the jam.  Ladle the jam into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe jar rims and top each with a prepared lid and ring.  Process jars 5 minutes in a boiling water bath adjusting for altitude as needed (increase processing time 1 minute for each 1000 feet).  Remove jars from the canner to a clean towel to cool completely before checking seals, labeling, and storing. 

Printable Version

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Apple Pie in a Jar

I love fall!  I say this every year.  Fall is the best season by far.  With its deep warm colors, comforting aromas, and cool crisp days, there is nothing like it.  Though it is technically not fall yet, to me fall arrives with the apples.  Each year my husband and I watch the websites of apple orchards in the mountains, and as soon as we know they are picking the varieties we want, we head up there.  Our first trip always yields an abundance of Honeycrisp apples which are perfectly sweet and tangy with a great crunch, but I also pick up apples for making goodies.  

We enjoy having canned pie filling on hand, so I decided to make some apple this year.  I picked up a peck of gala apples which hold their shape nicely when baked.  With some of those apples, I made four quarts of pie filling just to test the recipe.  We loved it and will definitely be making more as soon as we can get our hands on more baking apples. 

The filling is thick, gooey, and spicy and uses Clear Jel to set.  The filling is a little frustrating to get into the jars.  I ladled it in and then used a spoon to gently fill in the holes as I went.  Try to remove as many air bubbles as possible, but inevitably some will probably remain.  Don't worry about a few.  

If you have never purchased Clear Jel, you must purchase it online.  Supermarkets do not carry it.  I get mine from Kitchen Krafts, but you can also purchase it from Amazon and other sources.  The great thing about it once you purchase a bag is that it can be used when making pies from scratch as well as in other places where thickeners are needed like sauces, gravies, etc.  It is worth the purchase.  Also, this is one of those times where your jar really matters.  I found that the wide mouth jars were much easier to pack than the regular mouth.  If regular is all you have that is fine though.  It will all work the same in the end.  

The recipe below makes 7 quarts.  If you wish to make less, the calculations per jar can be found at NCHFP.  This recipe comes from that site.  I did use the recommendations from another blog (Hickery Holler Farm) to use some white sugar and some brown, and I also used apple cider rather than apple juice because that was what I had on hand.  I am adding those modifications into the recipe below.  Even though it is safe alter the type of sugar or change the quantities or types of spices, do not alter the Clear Jel or lemon juice. 

Canned Apple Pie Filling- makes 7 quarts

6 quarts good quality baking apples, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch wide
4 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups Clear Jel
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/2 cups water
5 cups apple cider (or juice)
3/4 cup bottled lemon juice

Prepare your canner.  Sterilize and warm jars, lids, and rings.  As you peel and slice apples, keep them submerged in cool water with added lemon juice or ascorbic acid to prevent browning.  

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Boil the apple slices for 1 minute in batches.  Drain fruit and set aside. 

In a large pot, combine white sugar, brown sugar, Clear Jel, spices, water, and apple cider.  Stir and cook on medium high heat until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble.  Add lemon juice and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Fold in the drained apple slices, and immediately fill jars with mixture leaving 1 inch headspace.  It is easiest to fill jars a little at a time so that you can use a utensil to gently push the filling into the jars to remove air bubbles as you go.  Once jars are filled, use a bubble remover to remove any remaining air bubbles and to fill any pockets created in the jars.  

Wipe the rims of the jars.  Top each with a lid and ring.  Process jars in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes (for pints or quarts).  Remember to adjust accordingly if you live above 1,000 feet.  Remove jars from the canner and allow to cool completely before checking seals, labeling, and storing. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Grape Juice Concentrate

I recently found myself with more Concord grapes than I knew what to do with.  I had purchased them to make grape jam (more on that later) because apparently, according to my household, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich just isn't the same with strawberry jam.  I believe this to be true also, and since I had been eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly at work (due to my lack of motivation to pack anything else), I figured grape jam would be an important addition to the pantry.  

Finished juice with a jar of concentrate in the background.  The concentrated juice darkens and becomes more flavorful over the course of about a week after canning.

Anyway, I bought too many grapes.  They were inexpensive, and since I never really have access to local grapes, I got a little carried away.  I wanted to find something easy and quick to do with the excess, and grape juice sounded like a good idea, but I really didn't want to go through the lengthy process of cooking the grapes, straining them, refrigerating them, filtering them, etc.  So, I looked around until I came across a great method for making grape juice using raw packed fresh grapes, sugar, and water.  

This method is really nothing more than canning whole grapes in a sugar syrup with the exception that you do not fill the entire jar with grapes and you add the sugar and water separately.  You can alter the amount of sugar you use, but make sure to use enough to counter the tartness of the grapes.  

You fill the jars with fresh, raw grapes, pour desired amount of sugar into the jar, and cover with boiling water.  As the jars are processed in a boiling water bath, the heat and pressure cause the grapes to split open and flavor the water.  When removed from the canner, this process will have started, but the longer the jars sit, the darker the juice gets.  If you allow it to sit for about a week, you will have a very flavorful concentrated liquid which you can then strain through cheesecloth.  Just add fresh water to this concentrate, and you have a very tasty juice.  The finished juice is sweet (but not too sweet), slightly tangy, and very refreshing.  If you prefer a weaker juice (something more akin to flavored water) simply add more water when mixing.  Either way it is delicious.   

Juice just after canning.  Notice that it is not dark yet and the sugar has not dissolved. 

A few important notes...
  • I chose to double the quantity of grapes and sugar to create a concentrate so that every time I open a quart of grapes, I can actually get around 2 quarts of juice.  I also wanted to minimize the number of quart jars I had to store.  If you prefer to make a juice that simply needs to be strained before using, use only half the grapes and sugar.  At that point, simply strain and serve (no additional water is needed). 
  • Make sure you keep cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer on hand to remove seeds and skins from your juice, and make sure you clean your grapes exceptionally well before adding them to your jars in the beginning.  There can sometimes be debris on the grapes that you don't easily notice while washing, and this can result in pieces of debris in your juice before straining.  Just wash your grapes really well.   
  • Just after processing your jars, you will notice a layer of sugar on the bottom of each.  This will dissolve over the course of the next week.  Just shake or invert your jars gently several times during the days after processing to help the sugar dissolve quicker.  
  • I read somewhere (I can't remember where) that if you put a knife or metal utensil gently inside each jar as you fill it with hot water that the utensil will absorb a lot of the heat helping prevent the jar from breaking.  Even though you should be using hot jars when packing and filling, it's not a bad idea to give this a shot anyway if you are worried about jars cracking from temperature changes.  Could be true, could be an old wives' tale.  

This recipe makes 1 quart of juice concentrate.  Just increase the quantities as needed for the number of quarts you wish to make.  The idea/method for making this juice came from Thy Hand Hath Provided.  The method is essentially the same as the method for canning whole grapes from National Center for Home Food Preservation.  The only difference is that you are not completely packing your jars with grapes, and you are using the juice rather than the grapes in the finished product.  

Grape Juice Concentrate-  makes 1 qt of concentrate/2 qts finished juice

You will need 4-5 pounds (approximately 14 cups whole grapes) to make a canner load of 7 quarts of concentrate.

2 cups whole grapes, washed well with stems removed
2/3 cup sugar 
2 pints boiling water

Sterilize and prepare quart jars for canning.  Soak lids in boiling water.  In each sterilized jar, place 2 cups whole grapes.  Cover with 2/3 cup sugar.  Add boiling water to cover leaving 1 inch headspace.  Wipe the rim of each jar before topping with a sterilized lids and rings.  Process each jar in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.  Remove jars and allow to cool completely before checking seals.  

To use the Concentrate:  Strain the contents of 1 quart jar through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer (to remove seeds and skins) into a clean vessel.  Add 1 quart fresh water (you can add even more for a weaker juice).  Stir and serve chilled.    

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Speckled Limas Beans

Have you ever ended up buying and going home with something you really shouldn't have?  I have...many times.   

The other day I was walking up to pay for my basket of produce at the farmers market, not intending to preserve anything that week, when a basket of speckled lima beans caught my eye.  Having never put up lima beans and noticing that they had a pretty low price tag, I snapped up a half bushel, not really knowing how I would use them or if we would enjoy them this winter.  I just couldn't help myself.  I think it had something to do with the fact that they were purple and polka-dotty. 

At first I regretted buying them because they meant so much work.  Shelling, washing, sorting, and blanching take time, you know?  But the more I think about it, the more I wonder why I have never frozen limas before, and to be honest, they really weren't that much trouble to put up in the first place.  Now, I'm excited to use them in soups throughout the winter, and I imagine I will be able to cook them the same way I do field peas.

So, this year we'll be eating frozen limas, and we'll see, come inventory time, how much we really enjoyed them.  You never know, it may just start a new tradition.  

By the way, that same shopping trip also ended up with me buying another 25 pounds of Roma tomatoes, which I truly did regret and ended up crushing and canning just so I wouldn't have to think about them anymore.  I will use them, I'm sure, but that was just a case of my eyes being bigger than my canning stamina.  

Freezing Speckled Lima Beans- 1/2 bushel makes 6-7 quarts frozen beans

A half bushel (15 pounds unshelled limas) ended up giving me 6 1/2 quarts of frozen beans.  The speckled beans do lose some of their color and detail upon blanching, but they remain pretty none the less. They do require several rounds of washing to get them really clean and free of debris.  Do not skip this step.  Otherwise you will be eating dirt (yuck!).  

1/2 bushel unshelled lima beans
boiling water
ice bath

Shell the beans and wash them thoroughly.  Drain the beans and wash again as needed, until the beans are free of debris.  Place the beans, in batches, in a large pot of boiling water.  Blanch the beans for 3 minutes.  Remove the beans with a slotted spoon or mesh strainer, and place the beans in an ice bath to cool.  Once cooled completely, drain the beans and place in freezer bags leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Label and freeze for later use.     


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chicken Update

I didn't plan on posting anything tonight, but when I got home and checked on the chickens, guess what I found lying in the nesting box?

The first egg!!!!

A small but perfectly shaped pinkish brown egg lying right next to the wooden egg I had placed in the nesting box several weeks ago.  Now wasn't she just the smartest chicken to know exactly where to lay it?!

I was so excited.  I congratulated the brilliant girl on her accomplishment and took my new prize to the kitchen where I fried it with just a sprinkling of salt and pepper. 

The yolk was almost orange, and it was delicious.  We are now in business.  Can't wait for the next one!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Peach Crumb Galette

With peach season in full swing, here is a peach galette piled high with a yummy crumb and almond toppingThis is a perfect dessert for those who want the taste of a fresh peach pie and peach crisp all in one.  It is also easy to assemble with any pie crust you have on hand.  I used a butter and lard crust (I will post about the crust later), but an all butter crust or your favorite pie dough would work just as well here.  If possible, a homemade crust will be the best since it will be far flakier and more flavorful though.   

A couple of notes about this galette...
  • Make sure you bake it on a sheet tray with sides in case the filling gets all bubbly and oozey on you (as it certainly will to some extent).  
  • Make sure to pile the crumb topping high on the galette as it will bake down and become one with the filling.
  • That being said, you may have a little crumb topping left over.  If so, use it to top your favorite muffin or quick bread or keep in the fridge for a day or so until you need it for something else. 

Begin by rolling your pie dough into an approximate 10 or 11 inch circle.  Then place your prepared peaches in the middle of the circle leaving an inch or two on each side.  You will fold the sides up around the filling, pleating the dough as you go.  The dough will then get brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with sugar. 

Next, spoon your crumb and almond topping into the center of the circle, covering the peaches, until it is piled high.  

Bake the galette on parchment paper, and allow it to cool for 20-30 minutes before serving.  This is important.  If you slice it too early, the juices will leak out and the galette will fall apart.  

Peach Crumb Galette- serves 6-8

1 prepared pie crust, preferably homemade
4 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour, plus more flour for rolling out pie dough
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 Tbsp for sprinkling on crust
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 egg
1 tsp milk 

Crumb Topping: 
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
pinch salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet (one with sides) with parchment paper.  On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry dough into an approximate 11 inch circle (if it is a bit smaller, that is okay).  Place the pastry circle on the parchment paper and set aside.  

In a medium bowl, toss the sliced peaches with 1 tablespoon flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg. Place the coated peaches in the center of the pie circle, leaving a 1 to 2 inch border of pie dough around the edges.  Gently fold the pie dough up over the edge of the peaches, pleating it as you go.  Beat the egg and milk in a small bowl and brush on the exposed of the crust.  Sprinkle the crust with 1 tablespoon sugar.

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients for the crumb topping except the almonds.  Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal and the pieces are no larger than small peas.  Toss the almonds into the mixture.  Mound the crumb topping into the center of the pastry, covering the peaches.  Use as much of the topping as will fit as it will cook down a good bit.  You may have a little left over.  

Bake the pastry for 35-40 minutes until the pastry and topping are lightly browned and the filling is bubbly.  Cool the galette for at least 20 minutes before slicing.  Serve with ice cream or freshly whipped cream.  

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Chickens and Recipe Organization

It's been a while since I posted about our chickens.  Rosie, Ginger, and Judy are growing, growing, growing.  They eat almost constantly, and when they're not eating, they are enjoying daily dust baths in the sand and perching on their roost.  We live in the city and have fairly close neighbors, so even though we would love to allow the girls to free range, it isn't that easy where we are.  Not to mention, we have a large hawk that lives in a tree across the street and would probably love nothing more than a nice chicken dinner.  

So, we have a PVC chicken tractor that we use each day so that the girls have access to grass, weeds, and bugs but in a protected manner.  They love the tractor, and anytime they hear the lock on the backdoor unlatch, they get excited thinking they are headed for time in the grass.  

Their favorite green is clover, and my husband roams around the yard each day trying to locate some to feed them when they are in the run and coop.  It is really quite cute.  We have nicknamed one Piggy as she will eat most anything you give her and will even jump in the air to get it if need be.  


They also really enjoy fresh, cold watermelon as well as many other fruits and vegetables, and mealworms get them very excited.  Unfortunately, we are still waiting on the first egg.  I have read that Buff Orpingtons tend to lay later than some other breeds, but that doesn't make me less impatient. 

On another note, I spent the last day or so organizing my recipes (both the ones we already know we enjoy and the ones we want to try).  I always have the most difficult time once summer ends and I start working again to get dinner on the table each week.  It tends to take me too long to plan weekly menus and grocery lists and often leads to dinner out rather than us saving money and eating healthier meals at home.  

So, before heading into another school year, I organized and reorganized some of my meal planning resources.  Hopefully, it will make life easier.  I'll let you know how it goes.  

First, I retyped my list of tried and true menu options.  This list has been inside my cabinet for quite some time now, but it became cluttered and messy as I added to it over the years (using a pen).  I retyped it, and now I have a list of main dishes, sides, and salads that we know we like.  When I am planning a week's menu or grocery list, all I have to do is look on these sheets to find things I know will work.  The list is organized by poultry, beef, pork, meatless, sides, and salads and is posted on the inside of one set of cabinet doors.  I tend to grocery shop for the basics in a supermarket every two to three weeks and get veggies and fruits from the farmers market weekly which also saves me a lot of time.

I had a lot of recipe cards, printed recipes, and recipes ripped from magazines that needed help.  So, I went through them, discarded what no longer interested us, and organized the remaining recipes in plastic sheets in a binder according to salads, main dishes, sides, etc.  My goal is to use the binder as well as a list of recipes I am interested in the next time we want to try something new.  Most of the recipes on the typed list (which I stored inside the binder cover) are from Pioneer Woman, other blogs, or Pinterest. 


In addition, I decided to assign a different food type to each night of the week to make it even easier to plan.  So, my schedule is as follows.  Hopefully, it will be easy to stick with.  It is working so far.  

Monday- meatless
Tuesday- meat and veg
Wednesday- soup and/or sandwich
Thursday- pizza or pasta
Friday- wild card

Most of the time, we eat out one meal on Saturday and have leftovers to eat on as well throughout the weekend, so I am not assigning anything to those days.  Also, the schedule is just a guideline and veggies and sides obviously have to be added to it each day.  One nice thing about the rotation is it lends itself (most days) to meals that can be made with very little or even no meat at all which saves us time, money, and calories.    

I now feel much more organized and will hopefully be more motivated to cook each and every night of the week even when I don't necessarily feel like it.  Now, if only we could get an egg!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Small Batches: Cucumbers, Peaches, and Figs

There aren't a lot of new canning recipes being made around here this year.  Like most people, we have our favorites, and those are the ones we tend to spend more time making.  We are also doing more small batch canning this season as we are getting produce little by little in many cases.  So, I have a few reminders for you about recipes we enjoy, and I do have a new one for you from the Better Homes and Gardens Canning magazine I purchased last year.  

Quick Dill Pickles with Garlic and Chile (slices above and spears below)
If you are looking for a great dill pickle recipe to use with all the cucumbers coming in right now, these Quick Dill Pickles with Garlic and Chile are great.  Actually, they are our favorite quick pickle to make around here and the one we focused on this year.  I made 7 pints (it would have been 8, but one jar broke in the canner) of dill slices using this recipe.  I also made 3 quarts of these pickles sliced into spears because sometimes it is nice to have pickles cut into spears for serving alongside sandwiches.  

I usually make Seven Day Sweet Pickle Chips also, but this year decided not to go this route.  I may regret it come winter, but I wanted to try a traditional bread and butter pickle to use in potato and chicken salad and on sandwiches.  I only made a small batch just to see how they were, and they are tasty.  They are not as crunchy as the Seven Day pickles, but they have a sweet flavor.  One thing about them is that they have onions pickled in the same jar, and the onions are nice additions to many of the same dishes the pickles go into.  

Bread and Butter Pickles
As for peaches, after taking inventory this year, I realized we still had several bags of frozen peaches in the freezer.  They will still be okay for most desserts, so I didn't want to put up too many peaches this year.  I did purchase a half peck of peaches from a local orchard, but they were a variety best for canning or eating fresh (not freezing), so we ate what we wanted and canned the rest as peach halves for which I used the recipe/method on National Center for Home Food Preservation.  The ones we had left gave me 4 pint jars in light syrup.  If I get my hands on anymore freestone peaches, I may can a few more pints, but I am happy with this and what is left from last year.  

Peach halves in light syrup with fig preserves in background

We also put up 2 pints Old Fashioned Fig Preserves using figs from my mom's tree, and we'll put up more if we get more figs from her.  Along with the figs we put up 5 quarts frozen blueberries which is a little more than most years, so when the peaches run out, we will always have berries to fall back on.  

The cucumbers are still coming in the from the garden (several pounds every couple of days), so more pickles (maybe fermented) may be in the future.  In the meantime, I am enjoying relaxing during these last days of summer break and waiting, quite impatiently, for the chickens to lay their first eggs.  

Bread and Butter Pickles- makes approximately 7 pints

This recipe comes from Better Homes and Gardens Canning published in 2012.  They now have a entire book using some of the recipes from the magazine.  I only made about half the recipe. 

16 cups (approximately 6 pounds) pickling cucumbers, sliced
8 medium white onions, sliced
1/3 cup pickling or kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, halved
crushed ice
4 cups sugar
3 cups apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp ground tumeric
1 1/2 tsp celery seeds

Prepare boiling water canner.  Prepare jars, lids, and rings.  

In a nonreactive pot, combine the cucumbers, onions, salt, and garlic.  Cover with about 2 inches of ice, and chill in refrigerator for 3 to 12 hours.  Remove any ice from pot.  Drain cucumber mixture and discard garlic.  

In the same pot, combine the sugar, vinegar, mustard seeds, tumeric, and celery seeds.  Bring to boiling and stir to dissolve sugar.  Add cucumber mixture.  Return to boiling and remove pot from the heat.  

Pack hot cucumber mixture and liquid into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Wipe jar rims and top with lids and rings.  Process jars in boiling water canner for 10 minutes.  Remove jars to a clean towel and let sit overnight before labeling and storing.  

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