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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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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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Yellow Squash Casserole with Swiss Cheese and Cream of Mushroom Soup

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So, I’ve had this really easy recipe for a chicken dish that I got out of Southern Living Magazine decades ago. It’s boneless chicken, swiss cheese, cream of mushroom soup, white wine, bread crumbs and melted butter…baked for 45 minutes at 350F. Now that I have to cook for a vegetarian, I need to try some new things. I was looking for something to do with yellow squash from my garden and I decided to make this recipe.

Yellow Squash Casserole with Swiss Cheese & Cream of Mushroom Soup

Most of the ingredients for the casserole.

Most of the ingredients for the casserole.

5 c. Yellow Squash. cut into approx. 1″ cubes

1 medium Sweet Onion, thinly sliced

1 can Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

About 2 cups of Shredded Swiss Cheese

2 cups Plain Panko Bread Crumbs

1/4-1/3 c. Dry White Wine

Salt & Pepper, to taste

5 T. Butter, divided

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saute pan, melt 2 T. butter over medium heat. Add onions and saute until softened, but not browned. Spread the onions evenly over the bottom of a large casserole dish.

Sauteing onions

Sauteing onions

Cover with yellow squash and season with salt and pepper.

Onions, squash, salt and pepper.

Onions, squash, salt and pepper.

Evenly distribute the shredded swiss cheese over the squash.

Swiss cheese.

Swiss cheese.

In a bowl, mix the cream of mushroom soup and the wine. Ladle the soup mixture over the casserole, to cover.

Mushroom soup layer.

Mushroom soup layer.

Next, cover the casserole with the panko bread crumbs. Melt the remaining 3 T. butter and drizzle over the bread crumbs.

Panko and butter drizzle.

Panko and butter drizzle.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40minutes, until bubbling throughout. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Serve hot, over rice.

Served over rice...yum!

Served over rice…yum!

Vegetarian approved…and I liked it too! Enjoy!

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2014 Foraged Muscadine Jelly

Muscadine Jelly 2014

Muscadine Jelly 2014

This year, my first batch of forgaged grapes went towards making wine.

Muscadine Wine in the fermentation bucket

I have almost 3 gallons fermenting, but when the crushed grapes are removed (they are in a mesh bag), and I go through the process for extended fermentation and clarifying, I’ll probably wind up with about 2 gallons. So, I went for another round of grapes from my closest sources and gathered another 2 pounds of grapes, plus a couple of ounces. Referring back to last year’s post, I made another batch of jelly. The main difference is that this year, I was short on the juice by just a little over a cup. So, I pulled out a pint of crab apple juice that I canned last year and brought the measurement up to 5 cups.

Prepared crab apple juice, high in pectin.

Prepared crab apple juice, high in pectin.

Crab apple juice that has been made from cooked crab apples, and strained, is supposed to be high in pectin, too.

I followed the instructions and wound up with eight 1/2 pints and a little extra that I stuck in the fridge.

Eight 1/2 pints of muscadine jelly

Eight 1/2 pints of muscadine jelly

As I write this, the *ping* of sealing lids is making me happy! Will one of these jars be a ribbon winner at this year’s N.C.State Fair? Time will tell.

Here’s a link to last year’s post with instructions for making the jelly. (Store bought or farmer’s market bought grapes are usually bigger and juicier…but they ain’t free!) https://mmmfoodies.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/wild-muscadine-grape-jelly/

This year, I have a compost bin, so I’ll be composting the grape skins/seeds. Since the seeds have been boiled, they should compost and not germinate.

Cooked and squeezed grape must, headed for compost bin.

Cooked and squeezed grape must, headed for compost bin.

I pulled the little extra jar from the refrigerator, once it had chilled and sampled it…a little tart, great grape flavor. The texture good…not loose. Good stuff. This would qualify as “spoon fruit”!

Pretty...tasty.

Pretty…tasty.

Little extra for sampling.

Little extra for sampling.

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