Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Four Berry Jam

 

Blackberry season is different every year. It is somewhere in July or August.  I guess the sun and the rain influences it somehow.

 

But it never lasts more than a couple of weeks.  First the berries turn red, then they turn dark purple.  You have to taste them, because they take a few days to sweeten after turning dark.  Then you have to race the deer and other critters to get them before they are all gone.

 

We have acres of berries.  They grow in most areas that have a lot of sun and that we don't mow or bush hog.  The best ones are always in the middle of a patch.  I prefer to drive and walk a long way to pick the easy berries on the edges of a patch. 

 

You can climb in to the middle of a patch, but the berry vines wrap themselves around you and getting out is a painful process.

 

So I drive around and get the easy ones first.

Lee and I went out picking one day after dinner.  It was coolish and a not too humid.  Perfect for berry picking.  We both picked for an hour or so, using small containers for picking and then dumping them into a large storage bucket.. 

 

We looked for the best of the easy berries.  Don't get me wrong.  You ALWAYS get stabbed by the thorns.  And you always get purple fingers.  But it was a nice evening and we had a good time.

 

I got rid of any bugs and leaves in the bucket and then placed the berries in storage containers and then in the refrigerator for the morning.

 

Wild blackberries have a fairly large seed.  I always run mine through a food mill.  This gets rid of most of the seeds, at least the largest ones.  I always rinse and pick through for any leaves.  Fortunately, I had gotten rid of the bugs the night before.  My father would have said something about a little protein in the berries never hurt anyone, but YUCK!

 

I followed the recipe on the Sure-Jell pectin and made a batch of blackberry jam.  A few years ago I wrote a more complete recipe for the blackberry making and you can see it here  http://shenandoahgatewayfarm.blogspot.com/2012/06/ripe-blackberries-already.html  

I had hoped to have enough berries for two batches, but I didn't.  I didn't want to go picking again, because now it was hot.  Lee brought in a small bucket, but after running all the last of the berries through the food mill, I only had about 1 cup of blackberry pulp.  (Do you know how long it takes to pick enough berries for one cup of pulp?  A berry long time!)  You need about 5 cups of fruit for one batch of jam.  It is a mystery how 5 cups of fruit and 7 cups of sugar ( I KNOW, SEVEN!) make about 9 cups of jam, but that is how it works!

 

Earlier in the week, we had made a Sam's Club visit.  I bought a large clamshell of blueberries and one of strawberries.  We were expecting B&B guests and I had hoped to use the berries for the breakfast, in addition to freezing the rest of the blueberries and eating the strawberries ourselves.  I still had all the fruit and the strawberries did not look as thought they would survive until the weekend, so they were fair game for jam making.

The Sure-Jell instructions had a recipe for Three Berry Jam.  It was different berries, but I decided it would work for me.  Oh, wait!  In the back of the refrigerator was a few raspberries we hadn't finished.  So I went for Four Berry Jam.

 

Four Berry Jam

1 cup blackberry pulp after you process it in a food mill.
3 cups strawberry pulp after you remove the stems and run them through the food mill
1 cup blueberries after mashing with a potato masher
a handful of raspberries mashed with the blueberries
7 cups sugar
1 package of Sure-Jell

 

Every package has instructions for a variety of jams and jellies.  Basically, you add the Sure-Jell to the fruit pulp in a large pan.  This particular mix of berries made produced a gorgeous color of blues, reds and purples.

 

Heat until a rolling boil.  Add the sugar and continue cooking until it comes back to a rolling boil.  Cook for one minute and then pour into very clean jars that have been in boiling water.  Screw on the two piece lids

Place the finished jars in a VERY large pot of boiling water that is at least 2 inches above the tops of the jars and boil gently for 10 minutes.  Time it.  Remove the jars and let cool.

JAM!

 

This recipe made 9 and 1/4 jars of Four Berry Jam.  Plus, I had 9 jars of blackberry jam.  I'm going to have enough to last us the year and still have plenty to give as gifts.

I wasn't sure if my invented batch of jam would be good.  I love the blackberry jam.  I waited for the next day and opened the 1/4 jar.  It was so good.  The best jam I ever made.  I wish I could offer this jam to our B&B guests, but the county won't let me.  I guess I could mess up on the whole sterilizing thing and poison a few, but I have made a lot of jam over the years and haven't poisoned hardly any one, yet!!!

 

One really nice thing about this recipe is that it is mostly strawberries.  Right now these are plentiful and not too expensive.  And no thorns, bugs, humidity and purple fingers were involved in the collection of said strawberries.  We did have to drive to town, but we were going anyway!  Store bought, seedless blackberries would be easy to get, along with the blueberries, so anyone that doesn't own massive acres of berry filled property could easily make this delicious jam.  Just throw in a small clamshell of raspberries and buy a bunch of sugar and you are in business!

 

We still had enough ripe, easy access berries for Emily, our most recent B&B guest to get a fast quart of berries.  I drove her around in the Mule until we found a likely patch and left her to her own devices.  Lee had cut the thumb and first two finger off of a pair of old gloves and she borrowed them to TRY to keep from getting stabbed too many times.  She seemed happy, so I was, too.

The berries are still ripe and I can't tell you when the berries will be ripe next year, but guests are free to get in a bit of pick-your-own-berries time while they are here.  A great breakfast and all you can pick berries seems like a good deal to me!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hounded by David Rosenfelt

I frequently go online and request a bunch of new books from the library.  When it is my turn, there is a program called Library Elf that sends me an email to let me know the book is waiting at the library.  Recently, I picked up 16 new books.  How did they all become available at once?  They are all 14 day books, which means I have to return them within that two week period.  I already had 7 books left at home that were due in a week.  Oh, my.

I've been reading like crazy.  But the best I can do is finish one book a day and part of a second.  I refuse to have late fees, so I may have to return some and get back in line on the request list.

 

I did jump the line of my books that are due to be read in order to read the latest David Rosenfelt book, Hounded.  This is the most recent book in his Andy Carpenter series.  Andy Carpenter is an attorney who inherited a lot of money and only takes cases that he can't escape.  He is very good at not working.  Usually this is because the client is a friend or a friend of a friend.

In this book,  police Lieutenant Pete Stanton, and good friend to Andy Carpenter,  is framed for murder, oh and some drug trafficking, just to make it serious.  Stanton was investigating some deaths that family members believed to be murder, rather than natural causes.  Andy Carpenter believes that this may have something to do with getting Stanton in a place where he can no longer investigate these deaths.  Someplace like prison.

As with all Andy Carpenter mysteries, there is a dog involved.  In this case a Bassett Hound and his boy, all of whom need a temporary home.  Andy Carpenter runs a dog rescue and he and his girlfriend, and investigator, Laurie Collins take on the boy, the hound and the case.

Andy is a funny, kind of bumbling guy, who absolutely adores his girlfriend and all dogs.  He seems kind of hapless until he takes on the rare case.  Then he gets to trial and you can see him becoming a fierce  protector of his client and his interests.  Because he only agrees to take on clients he presumes to be innocent, we can cheer for him without worrying if he will use his amazing talents to free a guilty man.

There are a lot of series where the premise begins to get stale over time. It seems like the author has signed a publishing contract and has a deadline, so he plugs in a few new situations, changes a few names and writes the same book.  People buy it hoping the much beloved character moves forward, but it never happens.  This is not the case with David Rosenfelt.  I have never been disappointed in a Andy Carpenter book.

   

So buy the first one, Unleashed, and get started.  Yes, I know I get my books from the library.  But I read a book a day, here.  I CAN'T buy all new books!  But David Rosenfelt runs a dog rescue just like his character Andy Carpenter.  He has a LOT of dogs to feed.  He takes on a lot of large, older dogs that will need medication for the rest of their soon-to-be-pampered lives (see his non-fiction book, Dogtripping).  These dogs are hard to find homes for and he knows they will not be kept long in a shelter.

 

That has go to be in the top end of expensive.  I don't hear him asking for money to fund this adventure, so I presume he uses his own money. 

 

I don't know how much money he has amassed over his years working in the movie industry.  So my theory, based on nothing but my imagination,  is that he lives on that money and spends all his book money on the dogs.  Therefore, it in incumbent on all animal lovers to buy his books.  You get a great read and you save the life of a sweet dog.  Charity AND self interest!  How can you go wrong?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sherryl Woods Cheesecake Bars

One of the authors I like to read, and find consistently good, is Sherryl Woods.  Recently I read one of her books and it had a recipe in the back.  She is not one of the "murders with recipes" that I read, but more of relationship/women's fiction kind of author.  She has put together a book of recipes, but this one was in the back of one of my recent reads and I decided to give it a try.  It was really good and my guests liked it, but now they are gone and I need to send the rest of the bars off to the library.  Or SOMEWHERE where I can't eat them.

 


Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars

Crust

1 1/4 cups finely crushed Marias cookies  (or vanilla wafers or graham crackers)
1/2 cup butter, melted

Filling

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (almost) 14 oz. can dulce de leche    They now come in 13.5 oz. cans. sheesh

 

Crust

 

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 13X9 baking dish.  Set aside.

 

The easiest way for me to crush cookies is to put them in a gallon Ziploc, squeeze out the air and smash them with a rolling pin and then roll any big pieces to dust.   I used the whole package of Maria cookies.  It came to 1 1/2 cups so I added a bit more butter and just used the whole amount.

Melt the butter and mix with the crushed cookies in a medium bowl. 

 

Place the mix in the prepared pan and press them until evenly distributed on the bottom.

Bake for 15 minutes.  While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.  When you remove the dish, leave the oven at 350°.

Filling

 

Cream together the cream cheese and the sugar.  The easiest way to do this is a stand mixer.  I use a Kitchen Aid.  Add the eggs and continue to beat away.  Add the vanilla and salt and blend well.

Spread the cream cheese mixture over the hot crust.

 

Heat the dulce de leche until very hot and drizzle it over the cream cheese mixture. 

 

Use a skewer or tip of a knife to swirl it into the cheesecake layer.

 

Cover the dish tightly with foil. 

 

Place it in a large roasting pan.  Add boiling water to the roasting pan until water comes up halfway on the side of the baking dish.  Be careful no to overfill and get the water in the cheesecake dish.

You may want to do this very close to the oven.  It is hard to carry this across to the oven from the other side of the kitchen.  You shouldn't ask me how I know this.

 

Bake for 1 hour.  Remove from the oven.  CAREFULLY lift the baking dish out of the roasting pan and place on a cooling rack.  Let cool to room temperature.  The dulce de leche seemed to disappear.  It just sank in.  Don't worry.  It's in there.

 

Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  Cut into squares.

Make sure you have people that are willing to take the left overs home.  My guests refused, saying something about the long drive and the hot car.  But that is no excuse.  Now I have most of a pan of delicious bars.  I need more neighbors!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Thai Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce

I found a recipe on the Panera Website.  I rarely make a recipe exactly as written, and I didn't this time.  I will give this recipe as I made it.  If you want the original, go to Panera.

 

Thai Chicken in Coconut Curry

1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, more if you like it hot.  I don't.
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 large onion, sliced
1 shallot halved and sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced  or 2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 can coconut milk, light is okay
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 to 3 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil and cilantro

 

 

Mix the coriander, turmeric, cayenne and salt. Sprinkle it over the chicken and rub it in.

 

Heat some oil in a large, deep fry pan.  Add the chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. 

 

Remove them from the pan and place them on a plate.

 

Add the onions to the hot pan and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. 

 

Stir in the shallot, garlic and ginger and cook for one minute. 

Add the coconut milk and then whisk in the brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of the red curry paste. 

 

Taste the sauce (clean spoon, please) and then add more red curry paste to taste.

 

Place the chicken back in the pan and continue cooking.  When the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about `15 to 20 minutes.  Check a large chunk of chicken to make sure it is cooked through.  Add the thinly sliced basil and give it a stir.

 

Serve over Jasmine rice and sprinkle the cilantro over the top.

This was a hit for dinner and I was able to control the heat to my taste, yet have plenty of spice for flavor.  A definite keeper!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Leaving on a Jet Plane?

I just read about another plane crash.  That's four in recent history, by my count.  Should I be rethinking that flight I had planned to visit Cornwall?

I'm not normally a timid flyer, but seriously. 

The most horrible one was the Malaysian flight MH17, of course.  Being shot down is not something most people have ever even worried about.  Any crash is awful.  I grieve for the families.  The stories in the news break my heart.

But we are planning a flight in the fall and now an Air Algerie flight has crashed.  The airlines had better get their act together or I am taking the Queen Mary II to England.

Porch Swing French Toast

My cousin Phillip and his wife Teresa came for a visit.  This was the perfect opportunity to try out a recipe sent to me from my Aunt Suzy.  It won a contest for a B&B recipe and I thought it might work for me at our B&B.  I made a few changes.  Some on purpose and one by necessity...from a shopping error.  But Aunt Suzy is Phillip's aunt also, so I figured he could take the risk along with me.  Poor Lee and Teresa were only along for the ride.

 


Variation on Porch Swing French Toast

2 Tablespoon butter
1 loaf French bread 
1 cup fresh blueberries  This was not part of the recipe, but I had about 1 cup and decided to use it up.

4 eggs
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if you can
1 8 oz. can crushed pineapple
1 Tablespoon orange zest or 1/4 teaspoon orange extract

I must confess that I didn't add the orange zest.  I love citrus zest.  But I only bought one orange at the store and then sliced it up and put it in the Sangria I made for dinner. Oops.  So I used orange extract and hoped for the best.

Do you think I can pull out the slices and then zest them?

1/2 cup chopped pecans

 

Topping
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans

 


The night before, melt butter ( I used the microwave)  and pour it into a 9X13 baking dish.  Spread it over the bottom of the dish.  The recipe called for 1 inch slices.  I did one inch cubes.  The store didn't have a full French loaf.  I bought twin loaves and used 1 loaf and about 1/2 of the other.

 

Place the cubes in the buttered dish and scatter the cup of blueberries on top of the bread, if you are using them. In fact, more than one cup of blueberries would be even better.

 

Whisk together the eggs and cream.  Then add the sugar and whisk. Next add the vanilla, nutmeg, orange zest (PLEASE don't forget the orange for zesting.) nuts and crushed pineapple and mix well. 

I know these pictures are dark.  I made this just before bedtime.

Poor the mixture over the bread.

 

Combine the softened butter, corn syrup and brown sugar. 

 

Spread it as best you can over the bread mixture.  I dropped limps all over the top and the spread them around with the back of a spoon.

 

Sprinkle the chopped nuts over the top, cover and refrigerate. 

 

Go to bed.

In the morning, heat the oven to 350°.  Remove the dish from the refrigerator and remove the plastic covering.  A VERY important step.  Let it sit on the counter to (mostly) warm up to room temperature and then bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown.

And now the pictures are too bright.  Some people are never satisfied.

It was really good and a hit with my guinea pigs...I mean, Phillip and Teresa.  Unless they were just being polite. 

 

I served it with scrambled eggs and bacon. 

 

The recipe said it served 6, but with the addition of eggs and bacon, I could have served 8 people easily.  In the future I will reduce the size of the baking dish to 8X8 and reduce the amount of bread to fit it.  I would keep the eggs and cream the same, as the dish was a bit dry on the edges and needed more liquid.  I will definitely make this in the future.  It was really good and the blueberries were excellent.