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Muscadine Grapes: Unexpected Bounty!

Big, juicy muscadine grapes!

Big, juicy muscadine grapes!

 

I got a text message from a niece recently, because she saw that I had made scuppernong jelly, and I had commented that my usual foraging locations were not productive this year, so I had to purchase the grapes at the local farmer’s market. She and her husband had just moved back to my area recently and she discovered that the property has a large grape arbor in the back yard. Would I like to come by and pick some grapes? Absolutely!!!

I have an 18 month old grandson and she has a 13 month old baby, so we arranged a play date and grape picking get together. A couple of days later, she mentioned that they had friends over this past weekend and they had picked a big bag of the grapes, but she thought there were more available. *sigh* Well, I guessed the grapes would be pretty sparse. After a little playtime inside with the babies, we headed outside…hmmm…there’s a cluster of ripe grapes, and a few more, and more…and I realized that there was no shortage of grapes here.

Kids outside by the grape arbor.

Kids outside by the grape arbor.

I filled a 2 gallon pail and there were plenty left! After another week, there will be more ripened and ready to pick. I have weighed what I picked, and I have 11 pounds, 6 ounces!

Nice haul of muscadine grapes!

Nice haul of muscadine grapes!

So, now I have to decide what to do with the grapes…if I need them all for a batch of wine, or if I will have enough to make some jelly, too. I may have to go back next week for a smaller batch to do jelly. I’ll be reviewing my last two wine batch blogs to see what I did with them. Two years ago, I did a muscadine red wine that turned out pretty dry, due to the yeast I chose. https://mmmbrews.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/day-144-muscadine-wine/  Last year, I did a muscadine/blueberry wine that was a little lighter/softer, but still fairly dry. https://mmmbrews.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/starting-blueberry-muscadine-wine/  I would like to do one that is a little sweeter, but I still don’t want to do the overly sweet wines that are normally associated with muscadines. Also, for last years wine, I bought a pH test kit and something to adjust it, if necessary…have to track that down and read up on it again. I also rented a wine bottle corker and bought bona fide wine bottles and corks. The first batch was put into beer bottles. I might have to open a bottle of each…for research.  I have also read that sweeter homemade wines don’t preserve as well, so just a little sweetness would be good. More to follow after research and when I get time to work on it.

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Scuppernong Jelly 2016

Scuppernong grapes

Scuppernong grapes

 

Well, this year hasn’t been too productive in my usual spots for wild foraging my Muscadines; so, I wound up purchasing some Scuppernongs at the local farmer’s market. Scuppernongs are the green/gold variety of Muscadines. I think the flavor is a little lighter, and maybe has a little honey note to it. (I’ve thought about making a Scuppernong mead, but haven’t done it yet.) I bought a “one gallon” bag of grapes for $10.00 and weighed them when I got home. It was literally one big grape over four pounds. Of course, I ate about 4 or 5, so it was about 3 pounds and 14-1/2 ounces when I started the jelly making process.

Mashing and boiling the grapes.

Mashing and boiling the grapes.

The recipe that I’m using is from the USDA Guidelines…pretty much have to do that if I want to be able to enter my final product in the N.C. State Fair Food Preservation competition. (I’ve entered a number of things over the last four years and won two first place blue ribbons and several second place ribbons.) Here’s a link to the recipe: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_07/grape_jelly_powder.html   But keep in mind, things don’t always work out perfectly regarding volume.

Grapes after 10 minute simmer.

Grapes after 10 minute simmer.

This time, the grapes I had yielded only 3-1/2 cups of juice…even though the recipe only calls for 3-1/2 pounds of grapes and a cup of water. The recipe is based on Concord grapes, though…maybe they provide a better yield than Scuppernongs. Anyway, to get to the 5 cups of juice that is called for, I strained my grapes through a cheesecloth bag that I created and hung from a cabinet and allowed to drip into a bowl.

Extracting the grape juice.

Extracting the grape juice.

After squeezing the pulp, I put another 1-1/2 cups of water in a pot on the stove and boiled the cheesecloth bag in it, like a teabag for ten minutes. I poured the now-flavored water into the bowl and re-hung the bag to drip. I’m trying to keep the flavor from getting watered down.

The juice is now refrigerated until I’m ready  to continue the process tomorrow. This allows any sediment to settle and reduces the chance of tartrate crystals forming in the final product. The juice will be filtered through cheesecloth again before continuing.

Next Day: I ran the juice through cheesecloth and held back a tiny amout of sediment. I needed to add about a 1/2 c. of water to make 5 cups total.

Almost ready to can.

Almost ready to can.

Followed the rest of the recipe instructions and ended with nine 1/2-pint jelly jars and processed them in the water bath canner for 5 minutes. Now they sit for 24 hours. (I love hearing those lids popping as the vacuum seals them to the jars!)

Jars of Scuppernong jelly.

Jars of Scuppernong jelly.

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Gnocchi from Leftover Mashed Potatoes

 

Mashed Potato Gnocchi

Mashed Potato Gnocchi

Last night, I made mashed potatoes.  For what I’m doing in this post, I’m sure any mashed potatoes will do; as long as there’s nothing strange about them. Mine were peeled, boiled russets with butter, milk, and salt. Mashed with the traditional hand mashing tool. Basic, but delicious! So, I wound up with some leftovers and did a little searching, and I realized that I could make gnocchi. I really like potato gnocchi.

I found a basic recipe that called for two cups of mashed potatoes, 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1 egg, and a pinch of salt. I found that the flour component was a little less than I required…the dough was way too sticky! The amount of flour really depends on how much moisture is in the potatoes and the humidity in the room. I just kept adding a little at a time, until I could handle the dough and knead it, without it sticking to my hands.

First, I put 1/2 cup of the flour on my board with a pinch of salt, and added the mashed potatoes on top.

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I created a well and added the egg, and another pinch of salt.

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Then, I topped that with the rest of the flour and mixed together. This was the messy part. Until the egg starts getting absorbed, it’s just a sticky mess on your hands. Have extra flour on hand that you don’t have to get out of the bag…it will save some time and wasted flour. Add a small handful of flour at a time, until you can knead the dough without it sticking to your hands or the work surface. Do not overwork the dough, though…you’re not making bread! You want light little pillows of pasta!

Kneaded dough ball.

Kneaded dough ball.

Since I hand-mashed the potatoes, there were bits of potato visible in the dough; however, they were never noticeable when cooked. Anyway, I divided the dough into four pieces and rolled out a rope, about the thickness of a soft pretzel. Maybe a tad thicker.

Dough divided. rolling out ropes of dough.

Dough divided. rolling out rope of dough. (Rope was rolled out about twice this long.)

Using the dough divider, I cut the rope into pieces. They don’t have to be perfect, but roughly the size of the the first digit on your thumb.

Cutting the gnocchi.

Cutting the gnocchi.

Now the tricky part! Make sure your gnocchi are not too sticky. Turn a fork with tines facing down on your work surface. Take each gnocchi and, beginning on the top of the slots on the back of the tines, gently roll the dough down the hill and release.

Rolling dough off of the back of the fork.

Rolling dough off of the back of the fork.

You can use the tip of your pointer finger or the side of your thumb…whatever works better for you. Ideally, your gnocchi will have ridges on one side, and a finger dimple on the other. These features will help hold sauce on the pasta.

Mashed Potato Gnocchi

Mashed Potato Gnocchi

Handle the gnocchi carefully and place them on a parchment-lined tray…or something that you can spread them out on, without them sticking. If you are not going to cook immediately, the pasta should be refrigerated or frozen. I prefer freezing. They can be cooked directly from the freezer and freezing helps them keep their shape. After they are frozen solid, they can be removed from the freezer and transferred to a zip top bag, and put back in the freezer until ready to use.

Spread out and ready to cook or freeze.

Spread out and ready to cook or freeze.

When you are ready to cook your gnocchi, bring plenty of salted water to a boil. Do not add oil! When you have a rolling boil, add the gnocchi and gently stir. Bring back to a boil. The pasta cooks very quickly. When they are floating, they are ready. I like to remove them with a skimmer, so I can handle them carefully. You can pour into a colander, if you are cautious. I like to drop mine into a saute pan with a little melted butter. This is about 7 ounces of the total yield, which was about a pound and a half.

Saute pan with melted butter and cooked gnocchi.

Saute pan with melted butter and cooked gnocchi.

One of the traditional recipes for gnocchi calls for them to be tossed in browned butter and flavored with sage. It could certainly be served with a nice ragu sauce, but cream sauces are a popular choice. I really like an alfredo style sauce flavored with Gorgonzola cheese.

This time, I prepared a basil pesto cream sauce. I happened to have some in the fridge that I made with basil and garlic grown in my garden, but there are good pesto sauces available fresh in some gourmet groceries, and bottled pesto sauce in the grocery aisles of most stores.

Sauce ingredients. Not shown: toasted pine nuts, milk.

Sauce ingredients: pesto, parmesan cheese, butter.  Not shown: toasted pine nuts, milk.

A little goes a long way. I added probably a tablespoon and tossed it a couple times for it to loosen up and start coating the pasta. Then I added enough milk to cover the bottom of the pan. I did it by sight, but I’m guessing about 1/3 cup. Tossed the pasta in the pan (or carefully stir), to combine the pesto and milk and coat the pasta. Bring to a simmer and thicken a little.

Building the sauce.

Building the sauce.

Off heat, toss in a quarter cup(-ish) of grated parmesan cheese. Transfer to a serving dish add some toasted pine nuts, to taste. (This made one serving…easily doubled.)

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

 

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Cherry Fruit Leather from Fresh Cherries

Sugar, water, cherries

Sugar, water, cherries (There’s a few Mt. Raniers in there.)

With cherries in season and some deals here and there, I had some on hand. Unfortunately, nobody was eating them and they were just passing their prime. Having recently discovered that my almost 15 month old grandson was very enthusiastic with the discovery of “Fruit by the Foot” snacks, I decided to pull out the dehydrator and give it a shot. By coincidence, I happened to find a deal on some Presto brand liners for making fruit leather and had bought a couple. That probably spurred me on a bit as well. My dehydrator is a Nesco brand, however, and it has a bigger center hole than the Presto model, so the dehydrator motor would not fit through the Presto accessory’s center hole.

Presto liner on a Nesco dehydrator. Presto has a smaller hole...oops.

Presto liner on a Nesco dehydrator. Presto has a smaller hole…oops.

Having already poured the fruit puree, my best bet was to put the trays at the bottom with the empty ones on top. Those, plus the lid, got me close…still sticking up a little, but enough for the dehydrator to work.

Put fruit leather trays on bottom. Note small gap between lid and motor.

Put fruit leather trays on bottom. Note small gap between lid and motor.

As for the fruit leather, I looked around on Pinterest and found a recipe that looked like what I was searching for. The recipe, at http://www.bakedbyrachel.com/cherry-fruit-leather/  (credit where due!), specifies using an oven at 170F and sheet pans with silicone liners, but I figured that substituting a dehydrator would be no problem. I will admit  that I didn’t really measure my cherries…but I think I was in the neighborhood of four cups. In the end, I perfectly lined the 2 inserts, with none left over.

One tip: double check your cherries for pits. I thought I was careful, but a couple made it into the blender and I had  to run the puree through a sieve. I left behind a little fiber and peel, I guess, but I think I would add that step anyway, for a smoother puree. So, here’s the recipe:

 

Cherry Fruit Leather

4 cups fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted

1/4 cup water

1/3 cup granulated sugar

 

Directions

Add the water and the fruit to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Use a potato masher to mash the cherries as they cook. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until well broken down. (I must admit that I added the sugar also and it seems to have turned out okay, though it was supposed to be added later.)

Mashed cherries simmering.

Mashed cherries simmering.

Transfer the cooked fruit to a blender, in batches, and blend until smooth. I did mine in 2 batches. Be careful with hot stuff in blenders! I left the center hole open and covered with a towel, to avoid building pressure and causing a hot fruit puree explosion.

Pureed and strained.

Pureed and strained.

Return the puree to the saucepan…after passing through a sieve, if necessary or desired. Add the sugar…if you didn’t do it when I did, by mistake. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened some. Remove from heat and stir bubbles down a bit.

Simmered on reduced heat for 10 minutes.

Simmered on reduced heat for 10 minutes.

Lightly spray your dehydrator disks with a nonstick spray or lightly brush with oil and place on dehydrator trays. Ladle the puree onto disks and carefully give a jiggle to even out puree.

Ladled onto nonstick sprayed liner.

Ladled onto nonstick sprayed liner.

Add the cover and the motor and dehydrate until a little tacky to touch, but not dried out completely. (Although…it needed to be a little drier than I thought.) Should be between 4 to 7 hours, depending on your dehydrator, humidity, etc. (Mine actually took more like nine hours.) Allow to cool. Peel from dehydrator inserts and store, rolled in wax paper or parchment and stored in an airtight container, up to one month. (Cut in smaller strips, if desired.) Enjoy!

Ready to eat cherry fruit leather. Rolled in parchment paper.

Ready to eat cherry fruit leather. Rolled in parchment paper.

I did need to go to the longer period of time for the dehydrator…actually, well beyond. One tray was a little thicker than the other and, when I touched it, it kind of schmudged it some. Yeah…made up that word. And I turned it off after about 5 hours, thinking it was done. I decided it wasn’t done, later, after it had cooled. I popped the trays back in the dehydrator and let them go another 3 or 4 hours. The thicker one then went another hour. But they turned out fine, in the end, and taste good. Live and learn. Next time, the process will be smoother.

 

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Pickled Green Beans, AKA “Dilly Beans”

Dilly Beans (I left out the optional red pepper flakes.)

Dilly Beans (I left out the optional red pepper flakes.)

I didn’t take a bunch of “process” photos, but I made 2 pint jars of pickled green beans, AKA “Dilly Beans”. I think Dilly Beans sounds kind of silly…although, it is quicker to say than pickled green beans. Anyway, I decided to give this recipe a try, because I got some green beans on sale and they looked pretty good. Plus, I have some dill in my garden that needed trimming back. I didn’t measure my beans, but I’m assuming it was a maybe a pound to a pound and a half?

Dilly Beans

Fresh green beans, trimmed both ends. Enough to firmly pack (2) pint jars.

1/8 c. kosher or pickling salt

2 medium garlic cloves, peeled, lightly crushed

2 fresh dill heads/fronds

1 t. mustard seeds

(optional: pinch of red pepper flakes per jar)

1-1/2 c. white vinegar

3/4 c. water

Directions

Combine the vinegar, water, salt, and mustard seeds in a small, non-reactive sauce pan (like stainless steel). Bring to a boil and reserve, keeping hot. Prepare a water bath canner with enough water to cover jars by an inch or two. Prepare two pint jars, lids, and screw rings. Divide the garlic, dill, and red pepper flakes (if using) between the two jars. Trim the green beans to fit the jars vertically, leaving 1/2 to 1/4 inch space from jar’s rim. Pack the jar tightly, so the green beans won’t float.

Ladle the hot brine over the beans, trying to distribute the mustard seeds evenly. Bring the brine up to 1/4″ below the jar’s rim and covering the beans. Use a skewer or a knife to make sure there are no trapped air bubbles and add more brine, if necessary. Using a paper towel or clean cloth, wipe the threads and rim. Place a prepared lid on each jar and install the screw ring to “finger tight”. Add to boiling water bath and process for 10 minutes. Leave jars in the hot water, off heat for another 5 minutes. Remove to a kitchen towel on a counter top and leave for 24 hours. When cool enough to touch, tighten lids. If lids do not “pop” to indicate seal, store in refrigerator. If properly sealed, remove the rings and store in a cool, dark place until ready to use. (I would wait at least 2 weeks and maybe a month before opening.)

I had a little leftover brine and the bean ends that I trimmed to make the beans fit the jars, so I put them in a plastic container and let them sit on the counter for a few minutes, then I popped them in the fridge. I’ll have them as a snack in a few days.

 

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Strawberry Jam, Simple but Awesome Recipe

2016 strawberry season!

mmmfoodies

Pints of Strawberry Jam Pints of Strawberry Jam

2016 update: local crop is in and looks great…won’t be around much longer, though, so I went to a local farm and picked up 2 baskets (gallon size) for $14.oo each. I have made two batches of strawberry jam today and find that I can make 2 batches from one basket. Bumping this post for seasonal reasons…get some fresh strawberries!

In 2012, my older daughter got married. As a small token to our wedding guests, I made a 4 0z  jar of  homemade strawberry jam with a little fabric cover and a label with the wedding date, the bride and groom’s names and the message “Spread the Love”. Oh, and I made two hundred and twenty-five of them!

Wedding favors. Wedding favors.

I had help picking some of the strawberries and a little help with the jam process from my younger daughter, but I did make several backache…

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Garden Update March 2016

Garden overview.

Garden overview.

There are some positive signs in the garden and I’ve added a couple of things. There are also some things that are also giving me concern. I’ve tried starting several things from seed in starters, but the results are fairly weak. I’m getting a few sprouts, but not consistent success.

Some sprouts...not too impressive yet, though.

Some sprouts…not too impressive yet, though.

I have also planted some multicolored Swiss chard from seed, directly into the garden and noticed that they are popping up, so I’m optimistic about that one.

Hard to see, but sprouts are popping through for the Swiss chard.

Hard to see, but sprouts are popping through for the Swiss chard.

I have a single yellow bell pepper plant that was purchased already growing. It seems to be okay, but not showing any vertical growth yet. I’m also experimenting a bit this year with some sweet potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes. They were sprouting in the house, so I cut some pieces and planted them. We’ll see what happens.

Previously planted and now in year 3, are Cascade hops  and muscadine grape vines. I have put some strings in for the hops to climb…they seem to be doing okay.

Hops ready to climb.

Hops ready to climb.

The muscadine vines…

Muscadine grape vines.

Muscadine grape vines. On the bottom, left, I think is ginger…bulbs look more like onion. Waiting and watching.

…I don’t know if any grapes will happen this year. I’m just letting them go where they are and see what happens. If any grapes appear this year, I’ll plan to put up a small arbor, just for them, by next Spring.

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