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Easiest Dessert Ever!

Easy Cookie/Berry Crumble

Easy Cookie/Berry Crumble

 

I have always been an admirer of Jaques Pepin. The man is a culinary technique master of masters. Today, I happened to catch an episode of his PBS television show “Fast Food, My Way” and watched him prepare the following recipe. It was SO simple, that I had to prepare it immediately! I didn’t catch a name for the dish, but it’s basically a berry crumble. I can’t imagine a dessert being any easier, and still being “homemade”.

Ready to bake...blackberries, crumbled shortbread, sugar, and butter.

Ready to bake…blackberries, crumbled shortbread, sugar, and butter.

Easy Cookie/Berry Crumble

2 small containers of fresh or individually frozen berries, plus/minus (I used frozen blackberries.)

1/3 cup sugar, more or less, depending on sweetness of berries

Your choice of cookies, crumbled. (I used my homemade shortbread) About 1/2 cup plus/minus

4 T. butter

Directions: Preheat oven to 350F and position a rack in the center. In a pyrex or similar baking dish, around 8″x8″ or 9″x9″, add enough berries to cover the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle cookie crumbles over to evenly cover the berries. Sprinkle sugar over, evenly, Break up the butter into pieces and dot around the top of the crumble. Bake about 30-35 minutes, until fruit is bubbling throughout the dish. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to warm or room temperature.

Somebody get me some vanilla ice cream!!!

Somebody get me some vanilla ice cream!!!

Serve with your choice of accompaniment, such as ice cream, whipped cream, crème fraiche, etc. I can see doing these in individual mini dishes for guests. Enjoy!

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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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Pressure Canning Corn

Pressure canned corn.

Pressure canned corn.

I thought for sure that I had documented canning corn before. Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos during the preparation process and filling the jars. The process is pretty simple, though. You cut the kernels of corn from fresh corn cobbs and fill clean jars with the corn, leaving a 1″ head space. add 1/2 teaspoon salt per pint jar or 1 teaspoon salt per quart jar. (I use Kosher salt). From about 12-14 large pieces of corn, I got enough kernels to fill 8-pint jars. Next, fill the jars to the 1″ head space mark with boiling water. Pouring from a tea kettle makes it easy. Poke around and down the middle of the jars with a chopstick, skewer, or similar to remove air bubbles. Add more water, if needed. Wipe rims to make sure they are clean and top with prepared canning lids. Screw on rings until finger-tight.

Add the jars to the pressure canner, following manufacturer’s directions. I use a Presto brand 23 quart model.

Presto pressure canner.

Presto pressure canner.

For mine, after I secure the lid, I bring the water to a boil and a little piece pops up to let me know it’s ready. I set a timer for 10 minutes to purge the air out. At that point, I add the little weight that comes with the canner and allow the pressure to build to 11 pounds. The hardest part is regulating the temperature to maintain the pressure. If the pressure goes below 11 pounds, you have to raise the pressure back up and restart the time. I can relieve pressure if it goes to high, by pushing down on a little rubber button on the lid. For corn, the process time is 55 minutes for pints and 1 hour 25 minutes for quarts.

When the processing time is up, turn the heat off and remove the canner from the burner. (I do, because my burners are electric and do not quickly cool…you might not need to, if you use gas.) Allow the pressure to drop to zero, without forcing it. Carefully move jars to a kitchen towel, using a canning jar gripper tool.

Jar gripper and a chopstick (for removing air bubbles).

Jar gripper and a chopstick (for removing air bubbles).

When possible, tighten the screw rings well. (You might want to use a kitchen towel or two to avoid burns!) Allow the jars to set for 24 hours. Check seals to verify a good seal on each jar. If any did not seal, refrigerate and use within a couple of days. Sealed jars are stored in my pantry cabinet without the screw rings…I try to save them for Winter. We’ll see. Take advantage of those Summer vegetables while you “can”! Enjoy!IMG_20150726_184337436

I used this website for reference: http://www.freshpreserving.com/recipes/whole-kernel-corn to make sure I was following safe procedures.

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Strawberry Pie in a Graham Cracker Crust

Strawberry Pie...fresh!

Strawberry Pie…fresh!

Many years ago, in another life and when I still had amazing stamina, I worked for the restaurant chain: Shoney’s. I worked my butt off from 60 to 80 hours a week. It was definitely a burnout job, only suited for the young! I worked there for a few years through and, for awhile, out of college. I worked as a cook, a kitchen manager and an assistant manager. While I was glad to move on, I did learn a few things. In addition to peeling, butterflying and breading shrimp, 20lbs at a time, and learning to make really good onion rings, I also learned how to make strawberry pies. LOTS of strawberry pies. I washed and capped flat after flat of strawberries and assembled pies using very specific techniques. Mother’s Day was a strawberry pie circus!

All these years later, I’ve decided to make one strawberry pie. That’s right: one. I happen to like graham cracker crumb pie crusts,,,and they’re easy to make! So, instead of making and pre-baking a pie dough crust. I’m going the graham cracker crumb route. I mixed 1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs with 3 tbsp. sugar and then added 1/3 c. melted butter and mixed well. I lined a 8″ round cake pan with plastic wrap and dumped the crumb mixture into it. I then pressed the crust down on the bottom to form an even layer and also pressed up the sides. I covered the crust and popped it in the refrigerator.

Press in the graham cracker crumb, sugar and butter mixture.

Press in the graham cracker crumb, sugar and butter mixture.

Lined a pan with plastic wrap.

Lined a pan with plastic wrap.

Next, I took a pint of strawberries that I had already capped and made the strawberry glaze. This is a step I didn’t have to do before, because Shoney’s got their glaze in a bucket, already made. I found a recipe on Pinterest and gave it a try. In hindsight, I think I will try my juice extractor next time and not just mash the berries for the sauce…it doesn’t come out nice and clear…and it was a little thick. The recipe called for a  pint of strawberries, a cup of sugar, 3 tblsp corn starch dissolved in a little cold water.

Added sugar and corn starch...cooking the glaze.

Added sugar and corn starch…cooking the glaze.

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I used a potato masher to mash the berries and added the sugar and corn starch.The mixture was brought to a boil, the heat reduced, and the mixture stirred constantly for about 10 minutes. I transferred the glaze to the refrigerator to cool.

Finished glaze...a little thick. I'll rework the recipe before next time.

Finished glaze…a little thick. I’ll rework the recipe before next time.

The pie assembly is pretty simple. Pre-bake your pie crust, if you’re using a dough crust, and cool. Bring the glaze to room temperature. Spread a fairly thin layer of the glaze on the pie crust to act as glue for the berries.

Positioning the berries, pointed side up.

Positioning the berries, pointed side up.

Arrange whole berries, point side facing up, in the pie crust, until snugly filled. Ideally, the glaze should be loose enough to pour off the side of a large spoon as you move the spoon from right to left in a motion that drapes the glaze evenly over the berries. You want the berries completely covered by the glaze, so there is no exposed berry. If the glaze is too thick, do the best you can. (Like I did this time!) It will still taste good!

Glazed strawberries.

Glazed strawberries.

Just try to avoid having it clump too much in any one spot. Serve immediately with whipped cream or refrigerate for up to a couple of hours.

To serve mine, I use the plastic wrap to help carefully remove the piece of pie from the pan and then  top with whipped cream.

The final product...yum!!!

The final product…yum!!!

Slice of fresh strawberry pie.

Slice of fresh strawberry pie.

You can certainly buy a pre-made crust , either dough or crumb. Just remember to bake your crust, if using a dough crust, according to recipe, before filling…and enjoy!

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Strawberry Jam, Simple but Awesome Recipe

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 producing strawberry picking trips on my own. In  that time, I became rather proficient at making jam. The guests all gave the jam rave reviews! The recipe is basically the one that comes in the Sure-Jell box. It’s simple. Just follow easy directions. I haven’t tried low sugar or no sugar recipes, but I know you have to follow directions for the specific pectin product that you use, to ensure success. And do NOT try to double the recipe. Make a single batch at a time, or it will not gel. Strawberry season is almost over in my area for picking them yourself, so hurry!!! Make sure you plan for enough extra strawberries to make a fresh pie, serve over shortcake or simply with whipped cream! And enjoy!

Strawberry Jam

5 cups prepared fruit (about 2 quarts fully ripe strawberries)

1 box SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin

½ tsp. butter or margarine (optional)

7 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl

Bring boiling-water canner, half full with water or enough water to cover jars by at least 2 inches, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Add jars to the canner to santize. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling. Make sure you have all your utensils handy.

Stem and crush or chop strawberries. Measure exactly 5 cups of prepared fruit into 6- or 8-quart pot. Stir pectin into prepared fruit in sauce pot. Add 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.

Bringing the berries, Sure-Jell and sugar to a boil.

Bringing the berries, Sure-Jell and sugar to a boil.

Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads with a damp clean cloth or paper towel. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner.  (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches.DSC04882

Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process for 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals and tighten screw rings, if necessary. Allow to set -up for 24 hours. Once sealed and set, the screw rings can be removed and the jars stored. Recipe makes eight 1/2 pint (8 oz) jars or four pint (16 oz) jars.

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Happy Thanksgiving! (and Broccoli Casserole)

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Lots to be thankful for this year, as always. As is the tradition for me, I an vacationing at a beach house with family for the holiday. As is the case every year, I have to get used to a different kitchen every Thanksgiving.  Some years are more of a challenge than others. This one is a pretty good one! I always bring some of my own knives and small conveniences from home to make it easier. This year, I even brought my first home brew beer!

Cheers! My home brewed English Nut Brown Ale.

Cheers! My home brewed English Nut Brown Ale.

I’ve been keeping a blog/journal to document my brewing experiences and my crabapple cider fermenting adventures. I’ll be making those publice in the near future. Anyway, I made an English Nut Brown Ale and it went very well with roasted turkey and home canned cranberry sauce! (See my previous cranberry sauce blog entries.)  Another one of my yearly Thanksgiving favorites is Broccoli Cheese Casserole with Water Chestnuts. That is our recipe for today! My mother started making this dish many years ago and I have adopted and adapted it. Thanks, Mom! I hope the rest of you will try it for a family gathering and enjoy!

Broccoli Casserole, ready for the oven.

Broccoli Casserole, ready for the oven.

Broccoli Cheese Casserole with Water Chestnuts Ingredients 2 heads Fresh Broccoli, florets separated and stalks peeled and chopped 2 cans Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup 1 large jar Cheez Whiz, carefully microwaved until pourable 1 large bag Shredded Cheddar Cheese, about 12 oz 1 can Water Chestnuts, drained, diced (sliced is okay or chop whole ones) Note: you can use a large, round casserole dish and do three or four layers, or use a rectangular baking dish and do just a couple of layers. Directions Preheat the oven to 350F. Cook broccoli in a saucepan with a 1/2″ water, covered, for about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and shock in a bowl of ice water to stop cooking and preserve bright green color. Do not overcook!In the bottom of your casserole or baking dish, spread a layer of mushroom soup. It doesn’t have to be perfectly even or cover every part of the surface. Drizzle melted Cheez Whiz over the soup. Scatter  cooked broccoli to cover the bottom of the dish. Scatter water chestnuts over the broccoli. Repeat steps until ingredients  are all used. Cover the top of the casserole with shredded cheddar and bake for about 45 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the sauce in the casserole is bubbling. Remove from the oven and place on a heatproof surface. Serve hot and enjoy! (I would have taken a picture when it came out of the oven, but it’s Thanksgiving. We ate and there wasn’t any left, if that tells you anything about how delicious it is!!!)

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Oak Island, NC: Restaurant Recommendation

It’s off-season at the beach in North Carolina right now. A lot of places are closed. Many more are closed after 2:00 pm on a Tuesday. Of the one’s that are open, you are likely to get pretty bad food, by that time. That was my experience at a place a couple of days ago. Today, however, I found a gem: Shagger Jack’s on Oak Island! Their website is here: http://shaggerjacksoki.com/ .

I went in with a crowd of 13, including 6 kids. We were welcomed and I believe it was the owner that waited on us, along with maybe his wife? They were friendly and accommodating. There was a nice selection of food…appetizers, salads, entrees, seafood, burgers, interesting tacos, etc. and some specials.

Specials at Shagger Jack's.

Specials at Shagger Jack’s.

They have a good relationship with the local fishmonger and the seafood was very good! The prices are very reasonable for what you get…a good value.

I ordered the fishmonger soup, a special, with proceeds donated to the local fishmonger’s medical fund. (I didn’t ask the medical condition, but it seems like worthy cause. It also confirms the relationship between the fishmonger and the restaurant and gave me confidence that the seafood would be fresh.)

Fishmonger Chowder.

Fishmonger Soup.

I also had the fried oysters appetizer basket (the place that was not good needs to take a lesson from these guys on how big an oyster should be served and how hot it should be!) served with cole slaw.

Oyster Appetizer, Big, hot, juicy oysters...competitors take note.

Oyster Appetizer, Big, hot, juicy oysters…competitors take note.

I was not disappointed and nobody in our group had a single problem.

I highly recommend Shagger Jack’s, if you are in the area of Oak Island in the future. I would say it’s worth a trip, even you have to go out of your way! Thumbs up, Shagger Jack!

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