Strawberry Vanilla Jam

Strawberry Vanilla Jam

Once you taste homemade jam, you will understand why it is worth the effort to make your own. Homemade jams, preserves and jellies are a great way to save seasonal fruits to enjoy all year. They also make nice gifts.

One of my favorite homemade jams is strawberry. I like the addition of some vanilla to my strawberry jam. I think it adds an additional layer of flavor, without covering up the natural beauty of the berries. Of course, you can omit the vanilla, if you prefer.

I try to make enough to last all year, but I end up running out quickly. This jam is great on toast, but also a nice addition to several desserts I make.

With local berries in season now, it is a perfect time to make a batch, or two.

In grocery stores, berries are often sold in one pound packages, not in quarts. A quart of strawberries should weigh 1 1/4 pounds. That should help you figure out how many berries you will need.

Here is the recipe.

Strawberry-Vanilla Jam

2 qts. strawberries, stemmed, washed and crushed

2 T. pure vanilla

1 package dry pectin

1/4 c. lemon juice

7 cups sugar

Combine  berries, vanilla, pectin and lemon juice in large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.  Add sugar and turn heat up to high. Stir often until mixture comes to a boil. Boil hard one minute stirring constantly. Ladle hot jam in to jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe rims and screw on lids comfortably tight. Place in boiling water bath and process 10 minutes. Remove to cooling rack, towel or wooden surface to cool. Makes 8-9 half pints.

Broccoli With Hummus

Broccoli with Hummus

In a recent cooking class with kids, they learned to make hummus. I think they were surprised at how simple it is to make. A lot of adults are surprised, too. Hummus is so easy to make.

Hummus is made from chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and a few seasonings. Of course, you can make all sorts of variations, if you prefer. You just combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. Doesn’t get much simpler. I prefer to make my own, so I can flavor it the way I want.

The kids had sugar snap peas and carrots with their hummus. We used it like a dip. It was a big hit with them.

But hummus can be used as more than a dip. I love to toss hummus with hot vegetables. It would replace butter or maybe a cheese sauce.

One of my favorite combinations is hummus with broccoli. The flavors work great together. You just toss hummus with freshly cooked broccoli. So yummy.

Since I had some cauliflower,  I added some of it to the dish as well.

So try making your own hummus. And if you have store bought hummus, try tossing it with hot, cooked veggies for a fun side dish.

 

Steamed Broccoli with Hummus

1 lb. fresh broccoli

1/2 c. hummus, homemade or store bought

 

Cut broccoli into long spears, peeling and trimming tough stems. Steam until just tender. Warm hummus over low heat or in a microwave and spoon over the cooked broccoli. Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main course.

Hummus

1 can garbanzo beans, drained

1/4 c. olive oil

2 T. lemon juice

2 T. tahini (sesame seed paste)

2 cloves garlic

salt and hot pepper sauce to taste

 

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Adjust seasonings. Chill. Serve with pita bread, crackers or fresh vegetables. Also nice spread in a pita bread with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. Freezes well.

Mom’s Chicken and Herb Dumplings

Mom’s Chicken with Herb Dumplings

There are foods I will always associate with my childhood. Chicken and dumplings is one of those dishes. I can remember watching my Mom spooning the dumpling batter over the simmering pot of chicken and vegetables. She’d cover the pot and wait.

When she uncovered it, the dumplings had puffed up, and pretty much covered the whole dish. It was magical to me. The dumplings were so tender and light.

I can’t make this dish, all these years, later without thinking of her. A friend stopped in for dinner last night, and since it was unseasonably chilly and I had some chicken…. I decided to make us chicken and dumplings for dinner. It really was the perfect dinner for a chilly evening.

My mom made her dumpling batter with a buttermilk baking mix- like Bisquick. Eventually, she started making her own baking mix, like I do today.

 

Dumplings will puff up when cooked

Mom’s Chicken and Herb Dumplings

1 T. oil
1 (3 lb.) broiler, cut into pieces
salt and pepper
flour for dredging
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
3-4 potatoes, cut into chunks
2-3 c. chicken stock
1 t. each marjoram and thyme
1 c. buttermilk baking mix* I make my own, recipe follows
1/3 c. milk
2 t. fresh parsley
2 t. snipped chives or green onions

1/2 t. red pepper flakes
Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper and dredge pieces in flour. Heat oil in large skillet and brown chicken pieces on all sides. Remove chicken pieces and sauté onion until tender. Add carrots, potatoes, broth and chicken to skillet and cook, covered, 20 minutes. Sprinkle herbs over the chicken. Combine baking mix with milk, parsley, chives and red pepper flakes and spoon batter in skillet in 8 mounds. Cover and cook over low heat 20 more minutes. Serves 4.

*Here are two versions of the biscuit mix.

Chef Pastry Mix/ Biscuit Mix

8 cups sifted, all-purpose flour

1 c. powdered milk

1 c. powdered buttermilk

¼ c. baking powder

1 T. salt

2 c. shortening, coconut oil or butter- if using butter store in the fridge- coconut oil version should be stored in fridge in warm weather

Sift dry ingredients together 3 times. Cut in fat to resemble cornmeal. Keep in an airtight container.  Store in a cool dry place and use within six months.

Whole Wheat Baking Mix

5 c. flour

3 c. whole wheat pastry flour

1 c. whole wheat flour

1/3 c. baking powder

1 c. powdered milk, not non-fat

2 t. salt

3 1/2 sticks butter

 

Mix dry ingredients together well, then cut in butter. Store in fridge for up to 3 months and can be frozen for up to a year. Makes about 12 cups.

 

Strawberry Waffles

Strawberry Waffles

These waffles would make a great breakfast. We actually had them for dessert last night. That’s the thing about waffles. They can be eaten any time of the day.

The season for local berries is pretty short, so I try to enjoy them as much as possible, while I can.

This waffle recipe came about because I needed a dessert for dinner with a friend. It was a last minute dinner, so I didn’t have a lot of time. Waffles seemed like a great idea. They don’t take a lot of time to make, and  they highlighted the berries. My friend really liked them. I did, too.

I made the waffles with fresh strawberries in the batter. Then, the  waffles are served topped with more fresh berries and a dusting of powdered sugar.

They were a perfect dessert. I could see topping them with ice cream or whipped cream, too. Any leftover waffles can be frozen.

For the fresh strawberry topping, you just combine fresh, sliced berries with some sugar. If you can make it ahead of time, the sugar draws juice out of the strawberries, kind of making its own sauce. I made the topping first, then popped in the fridge.

So here is my recipe. Enjoy!!

 

Strawberry Waffles

 

1 1/3 c. flour

2 T. sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 t. cinnamon

½ t. salt

2 eggs, separated

½ c. butter, melted

1¾ c. milk

2 t. vanilla

1 c. chopped fresh strawberries

 

Powdered sugar for topping waffles

Strawberry topping- recipe follows

 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Set aside. Separate the eggs. Set aside the yolks. Place the whites in a small mixing bowl. Beat whites until moderately stiff; set aside.  Combine milk, melted butter, egg yolks and vanilla in small bowl. Add to dry ingredient mixture and blend. Stir in berries. Fold stiff egg whites into mixture. Ladle mixture into hot waffle iron and bake. To serve, top with powdered sugar and strawberry topping. Makes 10-12 (4-inch) waffles.

 

Topping

1 qt. strawberries

½ c. sugar- or to taste

 

Wash and stem berries. Slice berries. Place in bowl and sprinkle on the sugar. Stir to combine and place in fridge until ready to use. Try to do this at least 30 minutes before using. That will give the mixture time for juice to be released from the berries.

Purple Sweet Potato Gelato

Purple Sweet Potato Gelato

This might be one of the oddest frozen desserts I have ever made. It is also one of the tastiest.

I started with a purple sweet potato, which I peeled and steamed until it was tender. Once the potato cooled down, I pureed it with a can of coconut milk. I then sweetened the mixture and added some vanilla. I chilled the mixture, then froze it in my ice cream maker.

The texture was so smooth and the flavor was wonderful. The pretty purple color was an added bonus.

The sweet potato itself doesn’t look like anything special, until you cut it open. While the outside is a pale, whitish color, the inside is bright purple. When cooked, it tasted like any other sweet potato.

I used one pretty good sized sweet potato. Thinking just under a pound. Here is the recipe.

 

Purple Sweet Potato Gelato

1 large purple sweet potato, peeled, cooked and cooled down

1 can ( about 13 oz.) coconut milk

3/4 c. sugar- or to taste

2 t. vanilla

In blender or food processor, combine sweet potato and coconut milk. Process until mixture is very smooth. Sweeten to taste with sugar and add the vanilla. Chill mixture, then process in an ice cream machine. If you don’t have an ice cream machine- freeze mixture. Then remove from freezer and let it soften a few minutes. Process in a food processor until smooth and creamy. Makes about 1 quart.

 

Purple Sweet Potato, uncut

Purple Sweet Potato – inside

Extra Crispy Baked Onion Rings

Extra Crispy Baked Onion rings

These onion rings are fabulous. They have all the crunch of traditionally fried onion rings, without frying!!!  The secret is panko bread crumbs and a very hot oven.

I’ve tried baking onion rings before. They were good, but not great. The panko adds more texture than other bread crumbs add. This gives you pretty crunchy onion rings.

The 450 degree oven is a must, too. You need really high temps for this to work.

I used a Vidalia onion and it worked great, but you can use any large onion. Sweet onions are my first choice, but even a big yellow onion will mellow out when cooked.

The drizzle of oil is a must, too. You can just give them a spritz of your favorite non-stick baking spray. Or use a spoon to drizzle them lightly with oil before baking. Because of the high heat- I used avocado oil.

I used the same recipe to make baked zucchini slices, too. They came out great as well.

Here is the recipe. I hope you try it.

 

Extra Crispy Baked Onion Rings

 

1 large onion- sweet preferred

½ c. flour

1 t. salt

½ t. pepper

¼ t. smoked paprika

2 eggs

2 T. water

About 2 cups panko bread crumbs

Oil or non-stick cooking spray

Extra salt

 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. You might need a second one. Peel onion and slice into ½-inch thick pieces. Separate into rings. In a bag, combine the flour with the salt, pepper and paprika. In a bowl, beat together the eggs and water. In a second bowl, place the panko crumbs. Place a few of the onion rings in the bag of flour and shake to coat evenly. Remove from the bag, tapping off excess flour. Place rings in the egg mixture next, turning to coat them completely. Last step is placing the egg-dipped onion rings in the bread crumbs and turning to make sure they get coated evenly. Place onion rings on the prepared baking sheet and continue the procedure until all the onion rings are breaded. To save space, you can place smaller onion rings inside of the larger ones. Drizzle with a little oil, or spray with non- stick coating. I have this pump-bottle thing that lets me spritz oil on stuff. If you are drizzling oil, put a tablespoon or two in a bowl, and use a spoon to drizzle the oil all over the onion rings. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. You can turn them over after 10 minutes, for a more even bake. Remove from oven and sprinkle with a little more salt before serving. Serves 3-4 depending on the size of the onion.

 

Right out of the oven

Strawberry Chocolate Crepes

Chocolate Crepes with Strawberries

Since local strawberries are coming into season, I am sharing one of my favorite strawberry recipes. The chocolate crepes pair so nicely with the fresh berries. This makes a wonderful summer dessert.

If you haven’t made crepes, this might be just the reason to start. I often make a double batch of the crepes, then freeze some, between layers of wax paper. That way I can have crepes whenever I want.

Truth is, you can fill these crepes with all sorts of stuff. I had fresh berries, so that is what I used. I added some Kahlua to the batter for a little extra flavor and it worked out just great.

You can have all the components ready, then just assemble when ready to serve. While I think of these as a great dessert, they also go over big at brunch.

 

Here is the recipe.

Chocolate Crepes

1 c. flour
4 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
¼ c. cocoa
3 T. sugar
¼ c. Kahlua or other coffee flavored liqueur or ¼ c. strong coffee
1/4 c. butter, melted and cooled

Mix all ingredients in blender (except butter) until smooth, scraping sides often. Add butter and blend well. Let stand for 30 minutes before using, or batter can be refrigerated, covered, overnight. Beat again, just before using.
Heat 6 or 7 inch skillet. Brush with butter or oil and pour in about 1 tablespoon of batter, tipping pan to cover bottom of pan completely with batter. Cook until edges start to brown, turn over and cook until lightly browned (about 2 minutes per side.)
Crepes can be made day ahead or even frozen between sheets of waxed paper and frozen. Makes 18.

Strawberry filling

2 pounds strawberries

1/2 c. sugar

1 T.  vanilla

healthy dash of cinnamon

Slice berries and mix with the remaining ingredients. Set aside until ready to fill the crepes.

Whipped Cream

1 c. whipping cream

1 t. vanilla

3-4 T. sugar

Whip cream with remaining ingredients just before ready to fill crepes.

 

Assembling the crepes
When filling the crepes I spooned some berries down the center of the crepe and added some whipped cream. Folded over, topped with a few berries and another bit of whipped cream.

Lemonade-Glazed Chicken

Lemonade Glazed Chicken

If any drink says summer, it’s lemonade. A tall, icy glass of lemonade is the perfect refresher on a hot summer day. Lemonade is also fun to cook with, especially during the summer.

I’ve been making my own lemonade concentrate for some time now. It’s just lemon juice and sugar. Sometimes I use honey, instead. I keep some in the freezer so I can make fresh lemonade whenever I want it.

I find myself looking for other ways to use the concentrate. I ended up making this glaze when I wanted a sauce to use on  chicken. I really liked it.

I’ve tried this glaze on chicken a couple of times. I could see it going well with pork or even seafood. The sweet/sour nature of lemonade works well as a base for sauces.

I used homemade lemonade concentrate, but store bought is fine, too. Here is the recipe.

Lemonade Glaze for Chicken, Pork, Seafood

2 T. oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 t. minced garlic
12 oz. lemonade concentrate recipe follows
¼ c. red wine vinegar
2 T. hot sauce, or to taste
1 T. prepared mustard
3 T. honey
1 t. cumin
1 t. ginger
2 t. salt, or to taste

Heat oil in pan and cook onion until lightly browned. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add remaining ingredients and cook until mixture has cooked down and thickened- about 10-15 minutes on medium high heat. Stir occasionally. You should end up with about 1½ cups of glaze.
To use: Brush on meat during last 15 minutes of cooking if baking or grilling. Add in last 5 minutes if cooking in a pan.

Here is the recipe for the lemonade concentrate.

Homemade Lemonade Concentrate

1 1/3 c. lemon juice- fresh or bottled

1 c. sugar*

lemon zest, optional

Combine ingredients and stir until sugar is dissolved. Freeze until ready to use. Makes a little over 1 1/2 cups. To use: combine three parts water to one part  concentrate.

* You can use honey instead of sugar- but only use 1/2 c. honey as it is much sweeter than sugar.

Growing and Cooking with Chives

Chive Crepes with Crab Meat Filling

What’s not to love about chives? This allium family herb is an easy to grow perennial. With little effort, you will be rewarded with onion flavored leaves and blossoms year after year.

When the chives are first up in my garden I want to use them in everything. They will be around all season, but that first Spring harvest is always my favorite.

 

Their delicate onion flavor goes well with so many dishes. I enjoy cooking with the blossoms, too. Anyplace you might use green onions, you can use chives. I add them to dips, salad dressings, soups, veggie dishes. You get the idea. Same thing with the flowers. Toss them in any dish where you want a mellow, onion flavor. I have a friend who likes to dip the blossoms in batter and deep fry them.

 

 

Chive Crepes with Crab Filling

Chives add a pretty color and wonderful flavor when used in crepes. I made a crab filling, but you could fill them with any number of savory ingredients. This is a great dish for brunch, lunch or breakfast.

3/4 c. flour
1/8 t. salt
3 eggs, beaten
2 T. melted butter
3/4 c. milk, approximately
1/3 c. fresh chives*
Butter or oil for pan

In blender mix together flour, salt and eggs until smooth. Add butter, milk and chives and blend until batter consistency is that of cream. Let stand for 30 minutes before using, or can be refrigerated, covered, overnight. Mix well, just before using.
Heat 6 or 7 inch skillet. Brush with butter or oil and pour in about 2 teaspoons of batter, tipping pan to cover bottom of pan completely with batter. Cook until edges start to brown, turn over and cook until lightly browned (about 1-2 minutes per side.)
Crepes can be made day ahead or even frozen between sheets of waxed paper and frozen. Makes 12.

When ready to serve: Crepes can be filled ahead or guests can fill their own
* You can use other combinations of fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, cilantro.

Crab Filling – enough for 6-8 crepes

2 T. butter
1/2 c. minced onion
3 T. flour
1 c. milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 6-oz. can crab meat, drained, or 1 c. cooked cocktail shrimp
1 c. shredded mild cheese, I used Fontina
Chopped chives or green onions

Heat butter in skillet and cook onions until tender. Add flour and mix well. Stir in milk and seasonings and cook until sauce is thickened and bubbly. Stir in seafood and heat through. Spoon some of this mixture onto a crepe. Add some cheese and roll up. Garnish with chopped chives or green onions. Makes 6-8.

Chive Butter

I also like to make Chive butter. The recipe is pretty simple.

3 T. snipped chives

½ t. lemon zest

1/2 c. (1 stick) softened butter

Mix all ingredients until well combined. Chive butter can be stored in a jar, or wrapped in plastic wrap and chilled or frozen until ready to use. Good with fish, poultry, carrots, and potatoes.

 

 

Chive Blossom Vinegar

Chive Blossom Vinegar

One of the ways I preserve my herbs every year, is by using them to flavor vinegar. It is easy to do and you’ll have great flavored vinegar to use all year round. You can use the vinegar in salad dressings or in marinades and sauces. Chive blossom vinegar is one of my favorites. I often use white wine vinegar but you can use red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or even white vinegar. The blossoms give the vinegar a beautiful color, too.

All you need is a clean jar, chive blossoms and vinegar (5% acidity). The acidity is listed on the label. For every cup of blossoms add 2 cups of vinegar to the jar. Close the jar and put it in a cupboard for a couple of weeks, or longer. When ready to use, strain out the blossoms. Pour the strained vinegar through coffee filters or layers of cheesecloth to get out any sediment. The end result is clear and quite pretty. Store in a cool, dark place for best color and flavor.

Freezing Chives

An easy way to preserve your chives is just to freeze them. Take freshly washed and dried chives and chop them up. You can use a knife, scissors or food processor. Place the chopped chives on a tray or baking sheet and place in the freezer to harden a bit, before transferring to a freezer container or freezer bag. By pre-freezing them before packaging, you keep them from clumping up and freezing into a green lump.

 

Chives in hanging basket

Growing Chives

When growing chives, a sunny, well drained spot is preferred, but chives will tolerate some shade. They prefer to be in the ground, but I have chives that are in pots and thriving. I even have chives that popped up in one of my hanging baskets. They return every year.

Chives require little maintenance, but there is one annual clean-up job: stem removal. At first glance, chives looks like just leaves, but there are stems in there. Each purple chive blossom that appears in Spring is on a stem. While the stems are edible, they are also tough and woody, compared to the leaves. I like to remove the stems once the chives are finished blooming. Even in a large clump of chives, this job only takes about 5 minutes.

First, identify the stems. They either have a chive blossom on them- or they will have a brown tip from where the blossom was removed. When you touch a stem, you’ll be able to tell right away that it is tougher than the leaves. Pinch the stem between your fingers  and run your fingers down to the base of the stem. Give a little tug and the stem pops right out. Repeat this with the rest of the stems. Kind of boring, but only take a few minutes. Once done, your plant will be all tender leaves.

 

Blossoms just starting to open

 

Picnic Food Safety

With picnic and cook-out season here-I thought it would be a good time to post some tips to keep your picnic safe.

Common Picnic Problems

Besides ants, the biggest concern at a picnic should be food safety. While most of us know to keep cold foods cold, and hot food hot, there are some basic things we should all do to insure a safe, happy day.

Away from home and refrigeration, it is can be tricky to keep foods cold until ready to serve. Bring plenty of ice and coolers for all perishable food. Keep food cold until you are ready to cook or eat it. Get food back into coolers as soon as everyone has finished eating.

Package raw meats extra carefully. Raw meat juices, spilling on salads, will make them inedible. Pack raw meats separately if you can, or on the bottom of the cooler in a leak-proof container. You might also consider bringing meats like burgers frozen to thaw on the grill or in the cooler. Smoked meats are safer than their non-smoked counterparts but both types can spoil. The ideal situation is to have one cooler only for raw meats.

Don’t make burgers on site. Outdoor prep is always tricky. Better to form burgers at home, where you can wash all surfaces, as well as your hands, thoroughly. If you make them there- bring disposable gloves and a lightweight cutting board to work on.

Never use ice for drinks that has been in contact with raw meat, or even if any raw meats have been stored in the ice. Keep beverage ice in its own cooler, or keep it bagged to insure it is clean and safe.

Solid blocks of ice melt more slowly than cubes, and make good cooler inserts for long, hot summer days. Also, keep coolers in the shade to offset the power of the sun.

Meat should be cooked thoroughly and ground meat is always more at risk for contamination. Make sure your fire is hot enough. Allow for chilly, windy days and pack extra coals or other fuel, to keep the fire hot throughout the cooking process.

Make sure you don’t put cooked meats on the tray that the raw meat was on. Also have different prepping and serving utensils for both the raw and cooked meats.

You can also precook meats (like chicken pieces or ribs), cool and chill until ready for dinner. Then just heat them up over the coals. This way you don’t have the worry of bringing along raw meats and you’ll spend less time cooking and more time having fun.

Mayo is not the evil purveyor of bacteria some people think. Mayo from a fresh jar, can actually retard the growth of bacteria. This does not mean you can leave the potato salad in the trunk for 3 hours because it has mayo in it. It just means that mayonnaise is not the culprit for food spoilage- bad handling was likely the cause.

While 2 hours is the maximum for food to be left out before being refrigerated again, use common sense. Obviously, on a 95 degree day that time is much shorter. Rather than one big bowl of pasta salad, bring several smaller ones that you can switch out. That way you always have cold salad that is safe. And bring plenty of serving spoons. It does no good to swap out the bowls of pasta salad for a fresh bowl, if you keep using the same serving spoon. Try to stay in the shade, too. Bringing some sort of canopy can keep food cooler than sitting in direct sunlight.

I am a big believer in a good hand washing being the best way to clean your hands- but you might not have running water where you are. Hand sanitizers are great when you don’t have hand washing as an option. I also bring a package of sanitizing wipes, in case a surface needs cleaning up, too.

If it is a hot day- you might want to have a large container, filled with ice, that you can put the bowls of salad into, to keep them colder. That way the salads are surrounded by the ice and stay cold a lot longer. You can use a small baby pool. I like to use a container designed for under the bed storage. Nice size.

In the end, it is about using common sense, and copious amounts of ice. Remember, that if you lose track of time, forget to put something back in the cooler or leave something in the trunk, it is always better to play it safe. When in doubt-throw it out.