Thursday, May 22, 2014

Open Windows


Among some of my favorite days are those at home with the windows open, a light breeze blowing to cool the house and bringing with it the sweet smell of spring.  My favorite window of all is the window above our kitchen sink, overlooking the side yard and an old shade tree. 



 The combination of the sound of birds chirping, a light breeze and the sun shining somehow make even chores enjoyable when I'm standing here.


(Made even better by the sweet perfume of peonies (thanks to my neighbor).)


I hope you have a wonderful spring week! 

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Strawberry-Balsamic Jam Recipe (As Requested)


 After receiving several requests for the strawberry jam recipe, this week brought me back in the kitchen making another small batch with the balsamic vinegar and black pepper, but this time with my camera along! 

(Note: The strawberry-cherry jam I pictured in my last post was a recipe from the cookbook The Art of Preserving; this strawberry jam includes the addition of balsamic vinegar and black pepper and was inspired by that same recipe, but with some variations.)


 Last year I started making my jams without additional pectin.  This can result in a loose-set jam, particularly with strawberries, since they are a fruit that contains a lower level of natural pectin.  I actually prefer a loose-set jam since it's easier to spread, so this doesn't bother me a bit.  The other (great) advantage is that you can use significantly less sugar.  

This is a small batch recipe, making only 3 half-pint jars, so you'll need about 2 lbs of strawberries (approximately 8 cups). I always use local fruit when making jam and rinse it thoroughly before getting started.


 I set up a little station for rinsing the strawberries, hulling (I like to use a spoon for this) and then placing in a bowl. 


 Don't worry about chopping or slicing the strawberries, because we're going to mash them in a bit.  Add about 1 1/4 cup sugar (I use organic granulated) and stir together.  (At this point I always cringe at the amount of sugar added, and yet it's nothing compared to a recipe containing additional pectin!) 


After about ten minutes or so, mash the strawberries and continue to let them sit for about an hour or two.


While the strawberries are sitting, I begin to prepare my jars, lids, bands and canner.  I use my jars and bands over and over again, only purchasing new lids each year, as these cannot be re-used.

(If you are new to canning, you can find a helpful guide at Ball's site here on preparing your jars and water bath canning.)
 

 Once you're ready to cook your jam, transfer the strawberries to a non-reactive saucepan (I use stainless steel) and add the juice from half of a lemon (or about 3 Tbsp). 


Bring the strawberries to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium, stirring frequently and watching closely for the jell stage.  I don't like to give a definite time that it will take the strawberries before they are at a jell stage because it varies, but I will tell you that my jam was very close at 30 minutes. (This is a good time to do the dishes!)

About the time I start cooking the jam, I also put a spoon in the freezer.  When I'm ready to check the jam to see if it's jelling, I'll take the spoon out of the freezer, add some jam to it, put it back in the freezer for a minute or so and nudge it when I take it out to see if it's ready.  


 Just before the jam is ready, add 1/8 tsp of freshly ground black pepper and 2 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar to the strawberries and continue to cook for about one to two minutes.  Remove the jam from the heat. 


 (This is what my jam looked like when I took it off the heat.) 


 The last step is filling the jars, leaving 1/4" headspace and processing for 10 minutes.  

(Again, you can refer to these instructions on Ball's site for proper canning procedures.)


Remove from the canner and let the jars sit for about 24 hours, ensuring a good seal.  I like to remove my bands before storing to prevent any rust. 


The pepper and balsamic vinegar is by no means overpowering, but lends a slightly unexpected taste that is just delicious.  I know I mentioned this in my previous post, but we agreed that this is one of the best jams we have ever tasted.


We tried it on biscuits for breakfast (doesn't my husband make a great hand model?!) and as I was photographing and everyone was coming back for seconds, you can see the jam dwindled down quickly.  ;-)


Strawberry Jam with Balsamic Vinegar and Black Pepper
Makes 3 half-pint jars

2 lbs fresh strawberries
1 1/4 cup sugar
Juice from 1/2 lemon (about 3 Tbsp)
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Rinse strawberries and hull.  Place in a bowl with sugar and let sit for 1-2 hours, mashing the strawberries after about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare jars and lids.

Place the strawberries in a non-reactive saucepan, add the lemon juice and bring to a boil on medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook until jam is at the jell stage, stirring frequently and watching closely. Add the balsamic vinegar and black pepper the last two minutes of cooking, stirring constantly.  Remove the pan from heat.

Pour jam into hot, prepared jars, leaving 1/4" headspace.  Seal and process jars for 10 minutes in a water bath canner.  Remove and let jars sit for 24 hours, ensuring a good seal.  Remove bands and store for one year.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It's Strawberry Season


 While there are so many things I look forward to each spring and summer, local berries certainly make the top of the list.  Right now it's strawberry season here, and we're lucky to have a few strawberry farmers nearby.  You really can't even compare a locally grown strawberry to what you can buy at the grocery store - they are so delicious. 


(The chickens love it when I hull the strawberries!)


 After we enjoyed a few quarts of berries, I asked my husband to pick up a bucket when he had to run into town on an errand. I could hardly wait to get in the kitchen and experiment with some new strawberry jam recipes, all using the pectin naturally found in the fruit.




 The strawberry-cherry combination was pretty good...


But we all agreed the black pepper and balsamic vinegar version is possibly the best jam we have ever had.  (A combination I was very skeptical about!)


 For Mother's Day, we enjoyed a simple dessert of ice cream, sliced strawberries and a chocolate chip cookie - so perfectly good!  

And when strawberry season ends, I'm so glad we can look forward to blueberries in June, blackberries in July...

Hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day weekend! 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Baking a Frittata


 Having an abundance of eggs now from our hens, we've been eating more meals that include eggs, even for a light supper or lunch.  For a while I was cooking omelets, but they were a bit time consuming, plus the work of keeping them warm.  While I've made frittatas in the past, I've always cooked them in a skillet at first, which resulted in a crispy bottom layer.  I was looking for something that resembled more of an omelet, but could be prepared as one dish.

Eventually I tried this method, and it resulted in exactly what I was wanting.  This is a dish that my family loves and it's perfect for an easy light supper or lunch. (Breakfast too!)


 You can feel free to use a mixture of vegetables to your liking, but I love the combination of mushrooms, bell pepper and kale (particularly since these are vegetables I usually have in the fridge).  Begin by chopping your vegetables.


Over medium high heat, heat 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet and then add the chopped vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes.  I also add a little salt to the vegetables while they are cooking.


 Now if you happen to have access to a lot of eggs, this is a perfect recipe because it uses eight eggs!  (It's kind of funny being in a position now where I'm searching for ways to use a lot of eggs at once!)

So while the vegetables are cooking, you can crack the eggs and whisk together with 2 Tbsp of water (this helps the eggs turn a bit fluffy), salt and pepper.   


 The vegetables are then transferred to a buttered baking dish (I used a clear 9.5" pie plate). Baking the frittata like this results in a much softer crust. 


 Pour the eggs over the vegetables...


 And because I'm feeding my meat-loving husband a meal without meat, and my darling girls vegetables like kale and pepper, I take pity on them and add some grated cheese to the top. (Which I know is likely the reason they never complain when I make this!)  But if you're looking for a dairy free version, this would be just as delicious without the cheese in my opinion.

 You can then transfer the dish to a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for about 30 minutes, while you chop some strawberries, set the table, do the dirty dishes, transfer the laundry, try to clean up toys around the house... you can see why I like this version better than standing over the oven while making four individual omelets!  ;-)


Baked Vegetable Frittata
Serves 4

2 cups chopped mushrooms
3/4 cup chopped bell pepper
2-3 cups chopped kale
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
8 eggs
2 Tbsp water
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 2 qt baking dish (or 9.5" pie plate).  Over medium high heat in a skillet, pour the olive oil and heat.  Add the chopped vegetables and salt to taste (if desired), cooking and stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, water, salt and pepper in a bowl and set aside.  Place the cooked vegetables into the buttered baking dish.  Pour the eggs over the vegetables.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Place baking dish in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes or until eggs are set.  


Have a wonderful weekend!

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