"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." ~Confucius

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Strawberry Preserves

We also found some organic strawberries at the farmer's market on Saturday, which is a blessing because in our home strawberries are commodity! Jason and Kai's eyes actually lit up when they saw them...Jason started getting visions of strawberry jam, which always seems to be the first thing to disappear from our pantry, and Kai loves a good strawberry-banana smoothie. A 3 pack cost us $10, so they were cheaper than the other berries we've been buying.

After dicing up the berries and removing the tough white parts, we put the chopped fruit into a stock pot with a half of a cup of water and let them simmer until the berries were soft. Next I used an immersion blender to smooth out the juiced pulp. I don't usually do this, but Jason likes a smoother preserve while I enjoy it chunkier, so I blended it until it I thought it would please us both. The only thing I didn't like about this part of the process (other than losing all those nice bits of strawberry) was that it created a lot of foam. I remembered hearing that a trick to get rid of foam is to add a bit of butter to the mix, so I tried this rather than skimming it off, and it seemed to work rather nicely.

From here we followed the direction included in the package of low sugar pectin. I added about a 1/2 of a cup of water and approximately 70% of a package of pectin, bringing the mixture to a boil for EXACTLY one minute and then took it off the heat before adding the Splenda. This amount of berries only makes about a half of a batch of jam, so the ratio we used here was 3 cups of pulp to 2 cups of Splenda (or sugar if you prefer). We filled five 1/2 pint jars which we then processed in a water bath for 10 minutes, and so far the set looks perfect. It is definitely nice to have this back in the pantry again!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Raspberry-Mint Syrup

We picked up another 3 pack of berries today at the farmer's market, but this time we got some beautiful, juicy raspberries! I had to start the syrup right away because they were so delicious that they were starting to disappear from the fridge, and nobody seemed to know why.

The recipe for this was the same recipe we used for our Blackberry Syrup, except that here we used regular sugar instead of Splenda. I also added the leaves from six sprigs of mint out of our garden, but I wish now that I had added more because the mint flavor is not as prominent as I hoped it would be.

I initially made this as a gift for my father, but it tastes so wonderful that he'll be lucky if it makes it there. I'm kicking myself now for not making it sugar-free so that I could enjoy a jar myself! Next week we're going to do Blueberry Syrup...so keep an eye out for that post!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Blackberry Syrup

I wanted to jot down a quick post about the incredibly yummy Blackberry Syrup we just made! We picked the blackberries up at the farmer's market in Little Italy this past weekend. The 3 pack tray cost us $12, which at the time seemed ridiculously expensive considering we usually pick them for free, but now that I've tasted the syrup it was definitely worth it. We didn't have any other blackberries in the pantry yet, so having these two small jars feels like a windfall! The best part is that because we made them ourselves we were able to make them sugar-free, so I can enjoy them without any guilt and without making myself sick.

We didn't follow any particular recipe for the syrup. All we did was dump the three trays of berries into a medium-sized sauce pan and add about 1/4 cup of water. We heated them on low until they were soft and then mashed them with a potato masher. Next we let them simmer for about 5 minutes before straining the pulp through a fine wire strainer. Using a spatula, we gently pushed the pulp through the strainer making sure to only push hard enough to let the juice escape, but not the seeds or the larger pieces of flesh. After we were done we had about 2/3 of a cup of juice left. We put that in a pan with 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of Splenda (If you're using sugar that would be 2/3 of a cup, or a 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar) and brought the mixture to a boil before lowering it to a simmer. Once the syrup thickened we poured it into two 1/2 pint (8 oz.) jars, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace. Then we processed them in a water bath for 10 minutes and TA-DA...Blackberry Syrup!

We hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and as always if you decide to make it then please let us know what you think! Until next time...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Apple-Rosemary Marmalade

I absolutely have to rave about the fabulous Apple Marmalade with Rosemary that I made from the recipe on Tigress in a Jam's blog! Like Tigress, my catch-all crisper drawer blessed me with an abundant collection of citrus and a variety of stray apples from our weekly trips to the farmer's market.

I probably used more apples than the recipe calls for, so that would explain the three extra jars I got from my batch. I also added an extra lemon, and an extra 1/2 cup of sugar to cut the tartness. Don't get me wrong, it still has that classic marmalade bite to it, but just slightly less snappy than before.

I have mentioned before that I am not a big fan of marmalade, but this recipe instantly won me over! I couldn't stop tasting it, and neither could Jason. Thank goodness there was some leftover for a midnight snack...it was perfect on the whole wheat bread my darling hubby had baked the night before!

I already have an idea for a utility jam post featuring this marmalade! So keep an eye out for that recipe because it will be the perfect addition to the upcoming holiday season.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Utility Jam: Orangle Marmalade

This blog is inspired by two of our favorite bloggers, Marisa over at Food In Jars and her "Open Jars" concept, and Kaela at Local Kitchen and her "Use It or Lose It" concept.

As anyone who cans knows, half full jars seem to multiply and they start to take over the refrigerator after a while. Utility jam is an approach that takes those leftover preserves and gives them a new life in tasty recipes.

Orange Marmalade isn't very popular in our household, but last season our new little orange tree gave us a few oranges that were too tart to eat, but made a perfect marmalade which we shared with our friends and neighbors. The jar we did keep never seemed to make it out of the fridge for more than a taste test or two.

I originally made this recipe to go with Chilean Sea Bass, but because of the endangered status of the Patagonian Toothfish we quit buying it and starting using the glaze on other fish and pork dishes. To date I haven't found a protein that it doesn't go fabulously with!

Orange-Chili-Basil Glaze
3 tablespoons of preserves
2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
1 teaspoons of fresh basil, chopped
1/8 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes*
1 cloves of garlic, minced
 pinch of salt

 *As written this recipe is only mildly spicy, so double the amount of red pepper flakes if you enjoy spicy foods!

If you try the recipe, please give us some feedback! We would love to hear from you. 

Pumpkin Pie Squares

There was a chill in the air here today, and the cool breeze left me craving something warm and comforting, so I begged my hubby to make me one of our favorite, tried and true recipes, Pumpkin Pie Squares! I found this recipe in some magazine years ago, and from the first time we tried it we were in love!

The crust is nutty and buttery, and nice and crisp because you press it into the bottom of a 13x9 inch pan (lined with foil and buttered) and bake it for 15 minutes before you add the filling. You also reserve 1 cup of the crust dough to create sort of a cruchy topping later.

The filling is a creamy mixture of pumpkin and cream cheese that you blend and pour over the baked crust.

The topping is made from a combination of the extra crust you saved and butterscotch chips. Sprinkle the crumbled crust over the top of the smoothed filling, and then finish with a generous covering of butterscotch chips. (As you can see in the picture below, I tend to go very light on the butterscotch chips because I am diabetic, but I also find that using the amount the recipe calls for makes it far too sweet!)

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove and let it cool for 10 minutes. Then lift it out of the pan (using the excess aluminum foil edges) and let it cool completely before cutting it into squares.

The ingredients and measurements are as follows~

1 & 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter (cold)
1 cup quick cooking oats (dry)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1-8oz. package of cream cheese
3 eggs
1-15 oz. can of pumpkin*
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup of the crust, reserved
2 cups of butterscotch chips

*A note I'd like to add here is that this recipe works best with canned pumpkin NOT canned pumpkin pie filling! Using either will not really change the flavor, but it will change the consistency and your squares will not set as well.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Butternut Squash Lasagna, To-Go!

First off, I'd like to apologize for not making any posts during our trip. For those of you who know us personally, you probably heard that our trip turned out to be very eventful, but not in a good way. We really wanted to post this blog at the beginning of our vacation, but since that didn't happen I figured that it should be our first blog post-vacation!

The night before our trip, I was cleaning out the refrigerator trying to dispose of anything that might spoil over the three weeks that we would be out of town. Included in the pile that needed to be discarded was a thawed out package of ground lamb for a dinner that never got made, a half gallon of non-fat milk, the remains of three different kinds of cheeses, and three small to medium sized butternut squash that a neighbor had given me out of her garden.

I couldn't bear the thought of letting her beautiful squash go to waste, so I decided to make a meal for us to eat on the road. I remembered seeing a squash recipe in the latest issue (October/November 2010 on page 25) of Mother Earth News that used a white béchamel sauce to make a lasagna. I had originally passed over the recipe because I am the only person in our house who likes squash, but I figured that maybe the ground lamb was my ace in the hole, so I decided to give it a shot!

I cooked the ground lamb with some white onion and salt and pepper to taste, and then made the béchamel according to the directions in their recipe. The only change I made was to use non-fat milk instead of whole because that is what I had in the fridge. I don't feel like it made too much of a difference, my sauce was nice and creamy like you would expect a white sauce to be, so I'll probably stick with using non-fat in the future.

I started building the lasagna by spreading a thin amount of the white sauce over the (buttered) bottom of a 13x9x2 inch baking pan. Then I alternated layers of noodles, squash purée, ground lamb & sautéed onions, cheeses, and then more béchamel, continuing with this pattern and ending with the white sauce. Make sure to leave plenty of room for a nice layer of cheese that you add during the last few minutes of baking time.

Cover the lasagna and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Then take the cover off, add the rest of the cheese and bake for 15 more minutes. After you take it out of the oven let the lasagna cool for 15 to 20 minutes before cutting into it. Taking the time to do this helps it hold together and it shouldn't fall apart when you serve it!

I boxed up half of the lasagna in tupperware containers and put them in the cooler to eat during our long drive north, and then I gave the other half to our neighbors who were kind enough to keep an eye on our house while we were gone. (Thanks again Andy & Linda!) When we stopped for gas in Redding we pulled it out and had homemade lasagna for dinner along with some grapes from the farmer's market.

It was obvious that people around us were envious, and if they realized how easy it was to make, and how much money we saved packing our own food, then they probably would have traded their Popeye's and Pizza Hut for our meal any day!

For those of you who would prefer to have the recipe in the traditional format, here's the link to the original recipe I saw in the magazine: