Monday, August 30, 2010

She (me) screams for Ice Creams!

After a marathon trip to the giant Goodwill downtown, I returned home with a Sunbeam ice cream maker, brand spankin' new and still in the original package with bits and pieces still in plastic bags. I was excited that I only spent $15 for it, but after some research found it's only $20 on Amazon. Oh, well. I lived in the moment and have already reaped the benefits!

No pictures, because I was so excited that I forgot to pull out my camera. On the way home from Goodwill I did some Googling for Alton Brown's ice cream recipes, but decided I needed instant gratification and didn't want to use 8 eggs. Maybe some day, but for now, I made Easy Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream from the All Recipes site. It turned out FABULOUS. I have found it really hard to not eat just that for dinner every night that it has been in my freezer. I definitely recommend it.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Adapted from All Recipes

2 cups 2% milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp peppermint extract
1 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

In large bowl, combine all ingredients except chocolate until the sugar has dissolved. If not cold, store in refrigerator for 10 minutes to 2 hours until cold.  If you like your mint ice cream unnaturally green, add drops of green food coloring now.

Pour into ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturers instructions.  After about 15 minutes of freezing, add the chocolate chips.  Once ice cream has thickened, about 25 minutes more (40 total), spoon into air tight container and freeze for 2 hours.

A couple days later, I remembered I had some strawberries left in the fridge from making Strawberry Lemon Marmalade.  And I knew I had some greek yogurt, so obviously I had to make Strawbery Froyo. Obviously. Sometimes things just fall into place and you have to follow. It's fate. I was meant to make froyo.

The recipe called for pureed strawberries, but I decided I would rather have some chunks of berries, so I mashed them with a potato masher instead. Recipe also called for fat free sweetened condensed milk, but I think that's a crime against nature (and I'd never seen it in the store and had full fat in the cupboard). And, my final modification, I happened to have drank the last of my fat free milk in cereal that morning, so I substituted some of roomie's fat-free lactose-free milk. It worked great. If I was making a non-berry froyo I might have tried almond milk, but decided plain strawberry was what fate wanted.

Strawberry Froyo
Adapted from All Recipes

2 cups fat free greek yogurt
2 cups mashed strawberries
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup fat free milk
3 tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.  Pour into ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturers instructions. Place in air tight container in the freezer for at least 2 hours to ripen.  Allow to sit out 30-40 minutes before serving to soften.

This turned out to be a great basic froyo recipe. It's a wee bit icy, but I'm a-ok with that for how much like breakfast it is (aka pseudo-healthy).  Next time I might try just making plain froyo and throwing in things like brownie chunks or cookie dough. Maybe some chocolate and caramel swirls.

Instead of vanilla extract, I used vanilla paste in all these. What is vanilla paste, you ask? I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure it's pure vanilla with vanilla seeds in it. It's a thick sauce, and it made my ice cream look super gourmet with little vanilla seeds floating around. I highly suggest it... but only if you can find it on sale for cheap at Ross like I did....

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Berry Merry Marma-Lady

I've been keeping my eye out for Alton Brown's Good Eats cookbook at all the bookstores I got to. It's $37 at the UBookstore, and I just don't want to spend that much. I was looking at Costco and they didn't have it, but oh the joy, look what they did have:

I snatched it up because golly, I just couldn't leave it all alone in the store....

Upon reading the first half about jams, jellies, preserves, and marmalades, I found one recipe that I couldn't pass up: Strawberry Lemon Marmalade. NOM NOM NOM NOM. How can you resist that? It's like my favorite summer drink, but condensed and on toast! Perfect.

Bought some strawberries when they were on sale about a week before I made the jam, I was that excited. Got my dear friend The Crist, to come over and help. She helped with the blackberry jam, too. Right off the bat, we ran into problems. I turned on the faucet to fill the canning pot and the water was an ugly murky brow. There is some serious road construction going on in my neighborhood and we decided they must have broke a pipe.

After yet another trip to the grocery store, my fourth of the day, and the same store I had JUST come out of before heading home, I had the water needed to fill the pot, with a little extra for drinking until they fixed my pipes.

We had some serious team work going on, with her processing the strawberries and me manhandling the lemons. I've gotten pretty good at zesting citrus fruits -- vegetable peelers work wonders. After that, we had some good luck and didn't have any problems.

Aside from a missing lid that jumped out of the hot water bath, and the recipe saying we needed less jars than we filled.

It's been sitting on the table for a couple days now and I can't wait to crack open a jar to try it. But with peach butter, bluebarb and blackberry jam all sitting there as well, I just can't do it. My fridge just isn't big enough for four jam jars! Much less one of lemon curd and one of orange marmalade.

Strawberry Lemon Marmalade
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

1/4 cup thinly sliced lemon peel
4 cups hulled and crushed strawberries (from about 2 quarts whole strawberries)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 package regular powdered fruit pectin
6 cups granulated sugar

Prepare canner, jars, and lids.

In a sauce pan, place the lemon peel and cover with water.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 5 minutes.  Drain teh lemon peel, discarding the water and reserving the peel.  Place crushed strawberries, lemon peel, and lemon juice in a large, non-reactive pan.  Stir in pectin until it is well dissolved.  Bring the strawberry mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add the sugar all at once.  While stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil that can't be stirred down.  Continue stirring and boiling for 1 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Skim any foam off the top of the marmalde mixture.*

Carefully transfer the marmalade into the prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe the rims, add the lids, then screw into place.  Place the jars in the canner.

Bring the canner to a full boil, then process for 10 minutes.  Remove the canner from the heat, allow to set for 5 minutes, then open the lid and remove the jars.  Allow the jars to cool overnight.  Makes about 8 half-pint jars.**

*After all was said and done, the marmalade looks tasty and delicious, but all of the fruit floated to the top of the jars during processing.  I told this to my canning guru (Mom), and she told me most recipes say to remove from heat and continue stirring for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to firm and fruit no longer immediately floats to the top.  She's so smart.

**We made 8 half pint jars. And then three more. I'd say prep a total of 12 jars, just to be on the safe side.

Blackberry Bonanza!

As a Pacific Northwesterner, I am surrounded by an ever increasing mass of blackberry bushes each year. And each August, those prickly, pesky bushes become a thing of beauty. The berries turn a deep blackish purple and they call to be eaten.

Unfortunately, blackberry bushes like disturbed ground, which often comes with construction, which happens to usually occur near roads. This means that while you're surrounded by what should be delicious berries, you are instead surrounded by beautiful bushes that taste like exhaust and dirt. If you eat a berry off of a plant on the side of the road you end up with a mouth full of a taste that you never quite want to eat again.

Some of us Seattlites that love berries find blackberry bushes off the beaten track where they can harvest full flavored berries by the bucket. Once upon a time at a rental, I had a patch in my back yard that I cursed 11 months out of the year, but that one month, right before we moved out, I hate my weight in berries. Today, I've had an increasingly hard time finding berry patches close to me that are up to my high standards. Luckily, I often work "in the field" near hydroelectric projects. These places are ripe with disturbed ground and sometimes have acres full of berries behind gated fences to keep the masses out. Also, luckily for me, I usually have a key.

This year, I hit the motherload. I found a patch during my monthly trip south to the small town of Cougar that was not only off the road, but also on public land (you never know about private land - they might have sprayed the bushes or even just want to keep them all for themselves).  I finished my work and on the way back stopped to pick six cups of berries, conveniently enclosed by the plastic containers still in my car from camping.

 True to my recent obsession, I had to make jam out of it. Nothing quite compares to homemade blackberry jam. Except maybe Mom's raspberry jam. Or my orange marmalade.

Now, if only they could modify the blackberry bush to be non-invasive, we'd be golden.

Blackberry Jam
Adapted from Tasty Kitchen

5 cups fresh blackberries
1 box Pectin
1/2 tsp butter
7 cups sugar

Wash (11-12) jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water, or in the dishwasher.  Pour boiling water over flat lids in a saucepan off the heat.  Let stand in hot water until ready to use.

Crush blackberries thoroughly, one layer at a time.  Stir pectin into fruit mixture in saucepan.  Ad butter to reduce foaming, if desired.  Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.  Stir in sugar.

Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly*.  Remove from heat.  Skim off any foam with metal spoon.  Lade immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops.  Wipe jar rims and threads.  Cover with 2-piece lids and process in hot water canner for 10 minutes.  Remove from hot water and place jars on a cool dry surface.  After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger.  If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and reprocessing or refrigeration is necessary. 

*Comments on this recipe said the jam didn't quite set when boiled for only 1 minute.  Other comments recommended boiling for 4 minutes.  I boiled for about 3 minutes and it's perfect.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Not so Rain-ier

Last weekend we went camping with my parents before my dad drives off on his big Alaska adventure. He's taking three weeks to drive to Anchorage with two fishing buddies. They're stopping pretty much everywhere along the way to fly fish. The boys return by plane, and my mom will fly up for the two week return drive in the Tiger. It should be a fantastic adventure and I can't wait to see all the pictures and hear all the fish stories.

But I digress. Last weekend we went to Lodgepole Campground, just east of Mt. Rainier on Highway 410.  It was a nice, recently paved campground, right on the American River.  It's a great campground to stay at if you want to hike around the Chinook Pass/Sunrise area, but not stay in the park.And apparently not if you want to have a campfire. We found out the hard way that there was a burn ban in the area and got a stern talking to by the campground host. Luckily our dinner was almost done on the coals so it wasn't too big of a loss.

On Saturday we went for a hike at the Naches Peak Loop, just 7 miles from our campground. After discussing with a ranger, we found that dogs were not allowed (sorry Willis) and we were several weeks too early for huckleberries. But the wildflowers were blooming and it was a beautiful day, so we set off on the 3 mile loop regardless.

The BUGS. Oh lord the bugs. They were terrible all weekend. The views on the hike were awesome, but I think the things that stands out in my mind the most about the hike was that every time we stopped I killed 18 mosquitos and biting flies.

Mom and Dad returned to Kennewick Sunday morning after a small hike. It was so hot at the campground, and so buggy, that after running around the campground and reading with our chairs in the river we went for a drive. We made our way in to Naches and stopped at a couple fruit stands. The first one had a minimal amount of fruit and it looked to be of poor quality, so we moved on to the next one. What a great idea! The next stand had bushels and bushels of fresh ripe peaches and other fruits and vegetables at great prices. They also had peanuts that we sampled, but didn't buy. I felt like I was robbing the guy when I bought 10lbs of the tastiest peaches ever for only $7. Woooey.

Monday morning we got up bright and early to pack up camp and hit the road. We stopped east of Chinook Pass to hike Noble Knob. I tried to do this hike last year with some friends in June but the gate to the forest road was locked. The trail up was steep and slow going, but it was worth the wait.

Trail books all say the hike is 7 miles round trip with only 500 feet of elevation gain. That sounds like my kind of hike, but boy, is that misleading! The total elevation gain from trailhead to summit may be 500 ft, but the trail rolls up and down the whole way, making this gain and loss at least five times. Add that to the 80 degree weather at 9am, exposure, and the bugs on the trail and we were DONE by the time we turned around.

But the trail certainly didn't lack in views. It runs along a saddle with Mt. Rainier on one side and the mountains of the I-90 corridor on the other. Just beautiful!

Late season red huckleberries were still ripening on the trail side. At one point on the trail the scent of the berries smelled just like Kool-Aid!

All in all it was a beautiful weekend in the wilderness. Even if we couldn't have campfires.

Um... blue WHAT?

Rhubarb. I just don't quite understand it. I know we had it in the garden when I was little, but I don't remember eating it. Alton Brown tells me the leaves are poisonous and my parents tell me that if the stalk is bigger than a stalk of celery it is too woody to be good. But how the heck to you prepare it? Other than pies and jams, I have no clue.  I barely remember it at home, but at grandma's house there is still occasionally a jar of bluebarb jam on the table. I always knew rhubarb was in it (duh, the name), but I never really thought about it.

So, with the thought of learning how to cook rhubarb, and to add to my canning repertoire, I set out to make a batch of rhubarb.  There is a big patch in my neighbor's back yard, and, nice fellow that he is, he told me to harvest whatever I needed as it was late in the season and they were probably done for the year. I hit the yard with my knife and picked the three smallest stalks, which were about the size of celery. I was worried I might be too late in the season for them to be good, but Google helped me out again. After reading numerous random pages on rhubarb, I found that if you have larger stalks you can strip off the "ribs" on the outside with a knife and they will taste less woody. Success! Now for the blueberries.

Before we went camping last weekend (but that's another post), I did some research on seasons and had big plans to pick huckleberries for the jam. I had been on a hike last year that had a giant huckleberry field at about 2/3-3/4 of the way through the loop. We made plans to do the 3 mile loop and filled our backpacks with ziplock containers to carry our bounty. We set out, for the second time (apparently you can't take dogs... boo), with high hopes. But wouldn't you know it, the silly Pacific Northwest weather this year strikes again. Right when you have plans for berries, you hit them too early in the season. So we hauled our plastic containers back to the car full of air. Bummer. Guess the store will be getting my business to buy some blueberries.

While the Peach Butter was in the oven, BLee and I started making bluebarb. We stripped the stalks of the ribs and chopped the rhubarb, only to find I had slightly less than called for. After some discussion, we decided we had more blueberries than we needed, so we would just compensate with them to get the right amount of fruit.

BLee was astonished at the amount of sugar, so we split it up to 5 cups sugar and 2 cups Splenda. After we had added all the ingredients, I started looking at the box of Certo.  It contained two 3 oz foil bags of liquid pectin. Upon close examination, I found that the box I had purchased a week ago at QFC had an expiration date of October 2009. Why the heck was that still on the shelf?!?! I have half a mind to take my box in there and talk to a manager. It's cheap, so I don't necessarily want a refund, I just want them to check their products closer so they aren't stocking bad stuff because sheesh, that's ridiculous!

Right before canning, we thought that it didn't seem to be firming very well, but processed the jars anyway. Later that night they still hadn't set up very well. A week later, they're still a syrup. A tasty syrup, but still syrup instead of jam.  I'm not sure if this is due to the Splenda/sugar change out, the expired Certo, or not enough time on the stovetop. Some jams take up to two weeks to set up, but I don't think this stuff is hardening. My plan: pop the jars, throw it into a pot with half a packet of powdered SureJell (because I have it on hand), heat to boiling, and re-can it. If that doesn't work I don't think anything will.

Yes, I'm wearing a half apron as a bib. I was worried about splatter.

But I may keep one small jar of syrup around for pancakes this weekend...

Bluebarb jam
Arliss Redekopp/ the Oelkers Family Cookbook

1/4 cup water
3 cups finley cut rhubarb
3 cups crushed blueberries (fresh or frozen)
7 cups sugar
1 (6 oz) bottle Certo

Simmer rhubarb and water gently until tender.  Combine with blueberries in large saucepan.  Add sugar, mix.  Place over high heat; bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, add pectin (Certo).  Stir and skim for 5 minutes.  Ladle into hot sterilized glasses.  Cover at once with thin layer or paraffin, or hot water bath can.  Makes about 9 half pints.

Peachy Keen

I got a bee in my bonnet about doing some home canning. I had, of course, already successfully made orange marmalade and kind of failed at lemon curd, but I wanted to try to make REAL jam the REAL way. You know, like my mom used to. And my grandma. And people everywhere during the depression era.

Some would say that I was trying to save money. Others, that know me better, would say that I was just bored and looking for new recipes. Me, I just think I was trying to learn a new skill that I will (hopefully) use the rest of my life. So there.

I talked my mom in to giving me some of her old canning jars that have been in the garage for years. Some of them were usable, some were not (didn't have lids or were not "canning" jars). But I had big plans for canning, so I purchased some more. Luckily, everything related to canning is on sale right now at grocery stores, so I made a big purchase -- a 21 quart canning pot! It was on sale for $17 and I think a very worth while purchase.

Come October, apples will be cheap as dirt - or cheaper because Mom and Dad will be trying to pawn off their excess on me (and I will like it). So, first off, I decided on apple butter. An old roommate of mine had a quart of the stuff when we moved in and we devoured it. Hopefully I'll be able to get her mom's recipe (hey, J, can you hook me up?). But for now, I decided peaches were in season and would be just as delicious.

Last weekend when I was camping (but that's another post) we drove in to Naches to visit the farm stands. I ended up with 10lbs of peaches in the car for a measly $7! Not sure if it was because it was closing time on a Sunday afternoon and they were trying to get rid of their produce or if that's really just how cheap peaches are at fruit stands in E.Wa. I had a day and a half left of camping, so the sat in my car making it smell divine until I got home. Then they perfumed my "Costco closet" until I wrangled up a friend (BLee) to help with the process.

The recipe calls for peeled peaches, so we did what Alton Brown told me to do when peeling a lot of peaches (you know I always listen to Alton, he's so.... scientifically proven), put them in a hot water bath for a minute and then an ice bath. The skins just slid right off!

After peeling,you place the peaches in a bowl of water and lemon juice to prevent browning. We did this, but in the next step it doesn't say whether they should be drained before boiling or not, so we went with no in an effort to decrease the moisture that would later be cooked away in the oven.

Our peaches took about 2 hours in the oven to reach the correct "mounding" state, then we hot water-bath canned them so we didn't have to store them in the fridge. We multitasked by making bluebarb jam while it was in the oven, but that's another post...

Simple Peach Butter
Tasty Kitchen

10 lbs peaches, approximately 25 medium peaches
5 cups sugar
1 whole lemon, juiced

Skim peaches by immersing them whole into boiling water for 1 minute.  Remove them into a bowl of cool water.  While peaches are cooling, place 2 cups of water and juice of 1 lemon in a large bowl.  This will prevent the peaches from browning.  Peel and pit the peaches, placing them in the lemon water.

In large pot, crush the pitted peaches 1 cup at a time using a potato masher.  Keep track of the number of cups of peaches you crush in the event you need to adjust the proportions of sugar to fruit.  Many recipes call for a ratio of 1/2 cup sugar to 1 cup crushed fruit.  The sugar here is reduced for a fruitier tasting butter.

On medium heat, bring the crushed peaches to a boil, being careful not to scorch them.  Add the sugar and bring back to a boil.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  When the peach mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat and transfer 3/4 of the mixture to shallow baking dishes (13 x 9 works fine) and place in the preheated oven. Stir the butter every 15 minutes.  As it cooks down, add the reserved peach/sugar mixture.  When the butter mounds nicely in a spoon, it is ready.  This will take 1-1 1/2 hours depending on the moisture content of your peaches.

When the butter is at the correct consistency, hot-pack or bottle in sterilized glass containers.  Once cooled, store in the refrigerator.  Makes 12 half-pint jars. 

To Can: Sterilize clean jars in hot water for at least 10 minutes. Place lids in hot water bath for 5 minutes to activate sticky stuff.  Just prior to filling, remove jars from water.  Fill with a sterilized ladle and funnel. Clean the rim of jar with wet paper towel to remove drips.  Dirty lids won't allow a proper seal in the hot water bath. Remove lid from water bath with lid lifter and place on cleaned jar.  Screw on lid band to finger tight. Place filled, closed jar in hot water bath. Bring bath to a boil and boil for ten minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit for five minutes.  Remove jars from bath and let sit for 12-24 hours in cool, draft-free location.  Check seals and reprocess if lids pop back up when pressed with finger. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Proud Grandma

My little Spider Plant babies are all grown up and having babies of their own.

They start sending out stalks with little nodules on the end and little leaves sticking out along the length.

Soon the nodules become little flowers, and eventually wee itty bitty spider plant babies on the ends of the stalks. If you snip them off, the leaves further up on the stalk become babies themselves.  I find it quite fascinating.  Right now I have four spider plants in the office that are in various stages of this process.  None of them have full fledged babies yet, but I'm waiting anxiously.

In other news, I received the bag of vanilla beans I ordered today.

I opened up the bag to check them out (and, honestly, to take a big whiff), and they just kind of had a musty scent.  I was a bit disappointed.  I poked around, trying to figure out how many beans were in a 1/2 pound bag (I'm guessing around 100) and ended up with tiny little vanilla seeds all over my fingers.

Twenty minutes later and I'm having to stop myself from sucking on the tips of my fingers. Oh man they smell so good. I'm so excited to use these!!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Red White and Velvet All Over

I was recently asked to provide trivia assistance via text message. The question was if there was cream cheese in red velvet cake. There isn't, of course, unless it's in the frosting (not mine).

This got me thinking. I hadn't realized it before, but I've made red velvet cake for the 4th of July every year I've been in Seattle for fireworks. I've made it all red with blue and white frosting and I've made red and blue cake with white frosting. Last year I even made red cake with cool whip frosting and blueberry pie filling (potentially the prettiest of them all because there weren't red crumbs all over in the frosting).

This year I branched out and tried something new -- Stars! I usually go with the traditional 9" rounds, but this year I received a star baking mold for my birthday.  This brought a whole new twist to frosting the dang things.

I decided to stack them into sandwiches and frost them like they were minirounds. I used my plain old white "Red Velvet Cake Frosting" that is my default frosting for pretty much anything, and died a bit blue to use as a filling and for accenting the tops. Unfortunately, they were eaten before I could take pictures of the final product. I guess that means they were good. I certainly liked them. I may have eaten more than my fair share....

Red Velvet Cake
From my mom's recipe box

1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp cocoa
2 oz red food coloring (one 1oz container, emptied and refilled with water or vodka works just as well for a red color, just less dark and chocolately)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk*
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp soda
1 1/2 tsp vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9" layer pans.  Cream shortening, sugar and eggs.  In separate bowl, make a paste with cocoa and food coloring.  Add to cream mixture. Add salt and vanilla to buttermilk and add alternately with the flour to the cream mixture.  In separate bowl, mix soda and vinegar.  Fold into cake mixture.  Do not beat! Bake in layer pans for 30 minutes.

*If you don't want to go buy a carton of buttermilk, you can add 1tsp lemon or vinegar to 1 cup of milk.  Let it sit for a few minutes before using.  Or, as I have done recently, you can use powdered buttermilk. Just make sure you don't mix it first. Always put the powder with the flour mixture and use the water in the place of the buttermilk with the salt and vanilla.