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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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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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Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

About a week ago, my wife was looking for a box of Crunch ‘n’ Munch Caramel Popcorn that I had bought. I had bought two boxes and she had eaten one over the course of a couple of days. She assumed that the second box was hers, too, since I know she likes it. A reasonable assumption, but one that was proven wrong, because I had a craving the night before. Poor thing was so disappointed!

Never wanting to leave a woman disappointed(*wink, wink*), I decided to pop onto the computer and do a little secret research. Most of the recipes called for corn syrup, which I didn’t have on hand, or exact temperatures and extra steps that I just didn’t want to deal with for a quick recipe to surprise my wife with on short notice. To the rescue came a recipeI found through Pinterest at http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2013/04/23/peanut-butter-caramel-corn/ . Take a look, if you have a chance, you may find something else you like there as well! I like to give credit, where credit is due, and support those people who have helped me with a great recipe.

This recipe is simple, easy, and can be done in a matter of about 20 minutes with pretty common ingredients and equipment. There’s no need for a thermometer or precision. What you will need is some measuring cups, a small sauce pot for the caramel, a medium sauce pot with a lid for popping the corn (or you can use microwaved or air popped), a large mixing bowl for combing the popcorn and caramel a spoon or wire whip and a rubber spatula.

Here’s the recipe:

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients:

  • 10 cups unflavored popped popcorn (homemade or 1 standard size bag)*
  • 2/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts, optional
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
 *I think I use a little more popcorn and stretch the caramel out a little thinner.
Directions:

Pop the popcorn, remove any unpopped kernels, and set aside.

Popped a good sized bowl of popcorn and leave room for mixing!

Popped a good sized bowl of popcorn and leave room for mixing!

Line a sheet pan with parchment and a little non-stick spray. Put the sugar and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine. You can cover it initially to help it come to a boil, but it isn’t required. Once the mixture comes to a boil, let it go for about three minutes.
Boiling sugar and honey...HOT!!! Be careful.

Boiling sugar and honey…HOT!!! Be careful.

 

Carefully remove the mixture from heat and add the salt, peanut butter and, if using, the optional peanuts.* Stir until well-combined.
Peanuts, salt, and peanut butter added and stirred well.

Peanuts, salt, and peanut butter added and stirred well.

Pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and, using a rubber spatula, turn the popcorn until the caramel is evenly distributed.
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Pour the popcorn onto the prepared sheet pan and carefully spread the hot mass out evenly to cool completely. (See header photo) When cool, break up the caramel corn into bite-sized clusters and try not to consume it all in one sitting!
*The recipe actually calls for the peanuts to be added after the caramel is poured on the popcorn, I think…but I wanted mine coated with the caramel as well.
So, I dove into the recipe and knocked it out. I have to admit, It wasn’t *quite* completely cool when I broke mine up into clusters and presented it to my wife…so it was just a tiny bit chewy. But that didn’t really matter…my wife was suitably amazed and impressed with my thoughtfulness and effort. Then she tasted the popcorn…amazing! She could not put it down. It was a MAJOR success! Eventually, she made me take it away from her, so she wouldn’t eat it all. Again, being the loving husband, I finished the rest of it. This one really is a winner. I hope you’ll try it and enjoy!
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Finally Made Wrangler Jelly!

Ingredients, except for sugar, for the Wrangler Jelly.

Ingredients, except for sugar, for the Wrangler Jelly.

It’s been about three years ago, that I pinned an interesting sounding recipe on Pinterest to my “MMMFoodies Canning Stuff. https://www.pinterest.com/mattmmille/mmm-foodies-canned-stuff/ Even though the recipe called for canned crushed pineapple, I had a fresh one and I was going to try it. Well, I wound up using that pineapple for something else and that recipe sat there, unused…except that it was one of the two most re-pinned recipes from my collection!  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/516928863450185549/

Well, it’s getting down to freezing temperatures overnight, in my area, and I just picked a few small poblanos and a couple of small, green tomatoes ahead of the freeze. Looking at them, the Wrangler Jelly recipe came to mind. I had the canned pineapple and pectin on hand, so I decided to give it a try. I followed the recipe as linked above with the substitution of the poblanos for the jalapenos and the addition of the little green tomatoes. I chopped all of them fairly fine.

Fine chopped poblanos and green tomatoes.

Fine chopped poblanos and green tomatoes.

The recipe says to add all the ingredients, except the pectin, and bring to a boil. Then add the pectin and boil for one minute. In my jelly and jam making experience, I always held back the sugar until the boil was reached,

Bringing the ingredients together.

Bringing the ingredients together. (Including seeds from ONE of the peppers.)

…added the sugar, returned to the boil, added the pectin and brought back to the boil for one minute. I don’t know if it makes a big difference, but that’s what I did.

Four cups of sugar. (Used dry measure... glass liquid measure was just for pouring).

Four cups of sugar. (Used dry measure… glass liquid measure was just for pouring).

Bringing back to a boil with the sugar added.

Bringing to a boil just before the sugar is added.

After canning, I actually got 4 half pint jars and two 4oz jars. I always prepare more jars/lids/rings than what is called for in the recipe, for just such a situation. (The recipe said it would make the 4 half pints.) I tasted a tiny bit that was left in the pot, and the cayenne pepper plus the poblanos made it plenty spicy! I think the green tomato will add a small citrusy component and a touch of added texture…and probably accounts for some of the excess volume.

Yielded 4 half pints and two 4oz jars.

Yielded 4 half pints and two 4oz jars.

My plans for this batch include a cream cheese and Wrangler Jelly appetizer with crackers at Thanksgiving, maybe some glazed pork chops, and possibly a Wrangler Baked Brie. This may not be the best jelly for your morning toast, but I don’t think I will have any problem finding uses for this versatile little jelly! And I may gift a jar or two. I just wish I hadn’t waited so long to make it…it was so easy! If you decide to save this recipe, don’t put it off…make it! And enjoy!

Update: I may have to try this again and add the sugar at the same time as the other ingredients…or something. The jelly didn’t really set and I have more like a candied relish product; sort of like that pineapple topping used on ice cream sundaes. It will still work for some of my intended recipes, but I would still like to figure it out!

Hmmm...still tasty, but didn't gel. (With a whole box of pectin!)

Hmmm…still tasty, but didn’t gel. (With a whole box of pectin!)

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Ratatouille…Sort Of

It doesn't HAVE to be a vegetarian meal...but it could have been.

It doesn’t HAVE to be a vegetarian meal…but it could have been.

Time to put together a Crock Pot vegetarian meal with some items I have laying around. I particularly want to use an eggplant that is still good, but might not last much longer. I went with a ratatouille…sort of. There’s eggplant, of course, and onions; but, instead of the other Summer vegetables, I went with Yukon Gold potatoes and acorn squash. I guess that pushes it from a Summer to an early Fall version of ratatouille. Vegetarian comfort food…enjoy! (But it doesn’t HAVE to be vegetarian! My plate wasn’t!)

Ingredients:

3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, large dice

1 large eggplant, peeled, large dice

1 large acorn squash, peeled, large dice

1 medium to large sweet onion, peeled, large dice

1 can petite diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

a pinch of crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon Kosher salt

Directions:

Set up Crock Pot and preheat on “low”.*  Prep vegetables. I put eggplant in a colander and toss with the Kosher salt. As I prep the other vegetables, I just toss them on top of the eggplant.

The veggies.

The veggies.

By the time I’m done, the salt has had time to draw a little moisture and bitterness out of the eggplant. I then toss all the vegetables together and rinse under cold water to remove the excess salt. Enough salt will hang on so that no additional salt will be needed, unless it needs adjusting before serving.

Add all the vegetables to the Crock Pot, add the tomatoes, and sprinkle the herbs and spices over the top.

Ready to cook.

Ready to cook.

Make a couple of holes and bury the bay leaves. Drizzle in vinegar and honey. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, stirring every couple of hours.

After about 4 to 5 hours on "low" setting.

After about 4 to 5 hours on “low” setting.

Ready to serve,

Ready to serve,

Check seasoning and adjust to taste. Serve with rice or pasta, if desired.

*(After about 4 hours, maybe a little more, I decided to turn the Crock Pot heat setting to “High”. In retrospect, I probably should have started on high and lowered after an hour or two. On this particular occasion, it was 4:00 p.m. and I wanted to have the stew ready for dinner.)

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Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops

Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops with Rice and Gravy.

Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops with Rice and Gravy.

Fairly regularly, my grocery store has lamb shoulder chops on sale for around $5 per lb. Personally, I love a good medium-rare lamb chop. Mint jelly? Okay, but not necessary. Shoulder chops, though, aren’t the nice meat lollipop that the regular chops are, and probably not as tender. That is likely the reason why most of the recipes I see for the shoulder chops call for braising.

Braising is basically browning meat, deglazing the pan with some kind of liquid, adding some additional liquid to come about halfway up the meat, covering and simmering on “low” for usually a couple of hours. Maybe longer, depending on the size and cut of meat. This works best with cuts that have some bone, cartilage, and/or fat and that tend to be tougher cuts, like beef chuck roast or pork butt. You wouldn’t want to braise something that is already tender, like a filet mignon or ribeye. Also, additional herbs, spices and vegetables are often added to compliment meats with a stronger flavor profile. Milder flavors would be overpowered.

The lamb shoulder chops that I started with were about 1-1/2 lbs total; three chops, fairly thin. I salted and peppered them, while a tablespoon of olive oil heated over medium-high heat in a deep skillet that has a cover (for use later).

Browning lamb shoulder chops.

Browning lamb shoulder chops.

I browned the meat on both sides and then removed it from the pan. The temperature was a little hot, so I moved the pan off heat and added a few crushed and peeled garlic cloves. After a minute or so, I added a broken up stalk of celery and a handful of little carrots and returned the pan to the heat again.

Some garlic cloves and veggies for flavor.

Some garlic cloves and veggies for flavor.

After the veggies had browned a little, I deglazed the pan with about 3/4 of a 12 oz bottle of homemade hard apple cider. (You could use regular apple cider, a commercial hard cider, apple juice, or dry white wine. Added a teapsoon of beef base (or 1 beef bouillon cube).

A bottle of hard cider and some beef base.

A bottle of hard cider and some beef base.

Next, I tossed in a sprig of rosemary, a few sprigs of parsley, and about 6 or 8 juniper berries. I love juniper berries in braised meat dishes, but if you don’t have any, you don’t need to make a special trip to the store for them. It’s okay to skip them.

The next step is to add enough water to make sure the liquid comes about halfway up the sides of the meat, but don’t cover it. Bring the liquid to a good simmer and lower the heat to just maintain a light simmer.

Liquid brought to good level; let the simmer begin!

Liquid brought to good level; let the simmer begin!

Cook until the meat is “fall off the bone” tender…depending on the thickness of the cut, an hour or so, more or less. Mine were pretty tender in an hour. I turned the chops in the liquid after about half an hour. If you were doing these in a Crock Pot, I would do the browning through deglazing on the stove and the put everything into the Crock Pot on a high setting for 2 to 3 hours.

After a little less than an hour.

After a little less than an hour.

After cooking the meat, I removed it from the liquid. I kept the carrots and celery, because I like them, but you can discard them, if you prefer.

Remove meat from the liquid.

Remove meat from the liquid.

They could also be blended back into the liquid after straining and removing the fat, to help thicken the gravy. So, I strained the liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove small solids, herbs, etc.

Refrigerate to solidify the fat.

Refrigerate to solidify the fat.

Strain the liquid.

Strain the liquid.

The liquid went into the refrigerator for a couple of hours, to chill. The fat will turn solid and can be easily lifted from the surface.

Remove the fat.

Remove the fat.

Okay…after a couple of hours in the fridge, I was ready to bring things back together for dinner. First, I decided to add the carrots and celery back to the gravy, so I put those in a small pot.

Adding gravy back to the veggies.

Adding gravy back to the veggies.

The gravy had congealed, so I microwaved it for one minute, to make it pourable. I added that to the veggies and used the immersion blender to combine it all, until smooth.

Blending the gravy to make it smooth.

Blending the gravy to make it smooth.

Then I added a couple of teaspoons of cornstarch to about a cup of cold water, while the gravy heated on the stove. When the gravy began to simmer, I added the cornstarch slurry.

Making a cornstarch slurry.

Making a cornstarch slurry.

After that thickened a bit, I added the meat to the gravy. Next, I added enough water to the gravy, so that I could simmer all of the meat in it.

Simmering the slightly thickened gravy and the meat together to heat through.

Simmering the slightly thickened gravy and the meat together to heat through.

Once  it was all simmering, I moved it to a burner on “low”, to maintain a slow simmer. I set a timer for 15 minutes to give the meat time to heat through and the gravy time to complete any additional thickening. Served with rice (See top photo). One note: watch for small bones! I had a few that were easily spotted, but I did have one fragment that was about the size of a grain of rice. This was, however, delicious! Enjoy!

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Cheddar and Garlic Biscuits…MMM!

I have used the following recipe with great success and it’s very simple. I highly recommend it and give credit where credit is due. Please note the copyright included below and do not copy, forward, or print any of the contents without it!

>>>Recipe: Classic 3-Ingredient Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish

Prep time: 10 min |Cook time: 12 min | Yield: About 6 to 12 biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of cold soft, winter wheat, self-rising Southern flour (like White Lily brand)
  • 1/4 cup very cold butter, shortening or lard
  • 3/4 cup cold real buttermilk

Instructions

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Coat a 10 inch cast iron skillet with additional shortening or oil and place into the oven for 5 minutes. Put the flour into a bowl and cut the very cold butter into cubes and toss in the flour. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter into flour until it is crumbly. Add buttermilk and use a fork to mix very lightly. Dough will be very shaggy.

Put a bit of additional flour on the countertop and scoop dough out. Sprinkle a small amount of flour over the top and gently push together to form a rectangle. Do not overhandle the dough. Take the short sides of the rectangle and fold them in toward the middle, turn the dough, gently press down into a rectangle again and repeat. Repeat this folding once more and pat into desired thickness, usually about an inch. This folding creates flaky layers in the biscuits.

Using a biscuit cutter or the rim of a small juice glass, cut out into rounds, taking care not to twist the cutter and gently gather scraps for the last biscuits. Transfer biscuits to the prepared skillet or baking pan and bake at 500 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown on top and cooked through.

Cook’s Notes: This recipe uses self-rising, Southern soft wheat flour. Do not use regular all purpose flour.

To Freeze: Prepare as above, except set down parchment on or butter a baking sheet that will fit in your freezer. Once you’ve cut out the biscuits lay them out on the pan, freeze until they are set and then transfer to a freezer bag. To bake, reduce oven temp to 375 degrees F, and bake until browned and cooked through, about 25 minutes more or less, checking at 22.

Herbed Biscuit Variation: Add up to 1 tablespoon of fresh, chopped herbs. Good choices include sage, chives, parsley, dill, thyme, or a combination. Reduce to about 2 teaspoons max if using dried herbs. Make biscuits a smaller tea size for a potluck, church supper or a party and fill with Chutney Chicken Salad.

Source: http://deepsouthdish.com<<<          http://www.deepsouthdish.com/2008/10/perfect-buttermilk-biscuits.html#axzz3hsC3wqoy

Mmmm...cheesy deliciousness!

Mmmm…cheesy deliciousness!

Now, my variation is to add a scant half teaspoon of garlic powder and a half cup of fine shredded sharp cheddar cheese to the flour and mix well, AFTER cutting in the butter and BEFORE adding the buttermilk. (You could add some parsley or chives, but my kids would refuse them if they had green specks, so I didn’t.)

In the oven.

In the oven.

And I brush the biscuits with melted garlic butter when they come out of the oven.

Done! Garlic buttered!

Done! Garlic buttered!

Great to go with dinner! Enjoy!

Oh YEAH, Babe!

Oh YEAH, Babe!

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