Monday, June 27, 2011

Strawberry Jam - Grandma Style

Remember I promised a post about strawberry jam? Here it is. This is old fashioned strawberry jam the way my Gran would make it. This is not freezer jam or low sugar jam or jam sweetened with artificial sweetener. This is smash up the berries, pass me the sugar sack jam. It can't be beat! I make this one because it's the one I remember and love. I also have to make a good sized batch of modern day 'freezer' jam because Katelin likes the kind with very little sugar.... but first comes my pick.


Great jam begins with great berries. I picked up a flat @ the market from Nauman's Farm. A flat was $14.00,  a fair price for really good fruit. I have picked at Nauman's many times and have never been disappointed with their produce.

The best way to clean the berries is to float them in a sink if cool water. The berries float at the top and the dirt and sand sink to the bottom. Always wash before hauling so that the berries don't take on water.

What gets left behind in the sink.

A bowl of luscious prepared berries ready to be turned into jam.
Crush the prepared strawberries with a potato masher. Be careful not to over mash them, you want big chunks of berry in your finished jam.
7 1/2 cups of crushed berries, 14 cups of sugar, the juice of 1 lemon brought to a boil over high heat. After a full minute at full boil the pot is removed from the heat and two pouches of liquid fruit pectin is added. (Certo is a brand everyone knows. I am going to attempt to make my own pectin one day.)

For the next 5-7 minutes the jam gets stirred and the pink frothy foam is skimmed from the top. This stirring keeps the fruit from floating and the skimming keeps the jam clean and clear.

Prepared jars waiting to be filled. The jars are sterilized and warm. A canning funnel helps keep the lip of the jar clean.  A pan of snap lids and rings is waiting in boiled water for sealing the filled jars.

As the jam cools the jars will seal and the jam will set. It is a slow setting jam. Any jars that do not seal should meet the fridge for a week or two at most. Any jam that doesn't set should meet a bowl of vanilla ice cream!

The reward...never a better breakfast!


As always I love to hear your thoughts, tips, comments.

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Morning @ the Market

My plan for this weekend was to pick strawberries on Friday afternoon following work, spend Saturday morning picking up a couple of things from the market, make jam and prepare for Sunday's dinner in celebration of Katelin's graduation. That was my plan. Then Mother Nature stepped in with a plan of her own. Friday's adventure to Herrle's to pick berries was thwarted by drizzle, rain and showers.

Fortunately, our Saturday morning Market visit went off without a hitch and Mother Nature actually played on our team. The crowds were light and we stayed perfectly dry thanks to threatening storm clouds that never made good on that threat.

Today's Market picks...

lamb sausage for our BBQ tomorrow, ground beef and pork that will become juicy burgers. We picked up eggs, London broil and summer sausage to christen our latest kitchen gadget; a meat slicer.
 
I was thrilled to find fresh spring garlic, a true early season treasure so young that the papery skin has not yet developed, it's flavour is so crisp and bright.  I also picked up garlic scapes, a new ingredient for me that I cannot wait to experiment with.

Our fridge crispers are bursting with lettuces, radishes, broccoli and peppers.

Potatoes are not local although there were small baskets of  'new crop' gems of the earth available for a pretty penny. I was so tempted buy these waxy marbles but I resisted, I could polish off one of those quart baskets myself without sharing! Instead I will wait until they are more readily available and everyone can enjoy.

 


Two items are incredibly abundant in June, at the peak of their season. The first are peas. I plucked a pod from the "sample basket" I opened it, offering Ethan the first taste. A winter of frozen peas deadens your senses to their true flavour. I laughed at how his eyes lit up and the way he looked at Mike to hand the vendor whatever he had in his pocket to take that flavour with him.


These are the peas of my youthful summers, the ones I picked and shelled and ate and spilled in the grass. That first taste is like grandpa's arms reaching down from heaven and giving me a hug.

We did pick up a basket. They are a little dear for preserving, but a basket for dinner is in the budget and impossible to pass on.

The second June jewels are strawberries. There are so many that the market air is scented with them. They vary greatly in price, quality and flavour. With such a sea of red it can be hard to choose the best place to spend your Strawberry dollars. You can however, if you read, ask questions and taste, find the very best choice for your money. Nauman's is a place that I am familiar with, their berries never disappoint and their prices are fair, so I didn't need to do a whole lot of research. I confirmed my choice with a taste test and picked up a flat for $14, turning them into jam this afternoon (a post tomorrow about that adventure)

I will still be heading to the fields. Strawberry season after all is not over until I've been out picking. I still need berries for freezing and another batch of jam. Herrles is also a place I want to check out for PYO. I know them well for their corn but I've never been for Strawberries. If they do berries half as well as corn I'm intrigued. So if Mother Nature and I can agree on a day...I'll find out!

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Great Burger Poll

Okay, by that title the expectation is probably that I am seeking your input on what makes the best burger. What in your opinion is the best meat mix, what toppings top the list, what the all time perfect bun choice is.

That would be a fantastic poll and perhaps something to consider for a future post. Today however I am after justification, solidarity, vindication; a chance to prove I am not abnormal. You have a fantastic opportunity to help a fellow foodie save face in the face of ridicule.

A few weeks ago Mike fired up the BBQ and we enjoyed our first grilled hamburgers of the season. We were working our way around the table sharing our gratitude for the day (wonder what I'm talking about check my gratitude blog The Space Between Raindrops) Rebecca got us started with a gratitude, and you will forgive me here I hope; I'm not able to remember the exact item of her favour, the whole conversation is somewhat of a blur because of what happened by the time we worked our way around the table to Ethan.

Kate had a gratitude which I imagine was something about food, I shared my gratitude and passed to Mike who most likely said something about the approaching weekend. Then came Ethan who said..."I'm grateful Mom eats her burger upside down." WHAAAA???? I stopped mid bite. Not so much because of what he said but because everyone else laughed followed by Rebecca's reprimand "Why did you tell her? That's always the best part of eating burgers, now it's wrecked forever!"

Seriously? My family has been secretly enjoying a joke at my expense for years! At least 16 of them. I imagine that when I get up to fetch the pepper or extra napkins they all snicker and imitate me. I bet they plan burger night on purpose in the middle of a hard week just to have something to look forward to.

Now the problem is this; I can't not eat burgers. I can't not eat them without being self conscious. I can't not eat them without getting caught eating bottoms-up. They sit, they watch, it has become a new game...Who can catch Mom eating her burger abnormally? I'm on the verge of developing a psychological complex.

Help me out. Am I part of a strange minority of people who eat their burgers upside down? because apparently there really is a correct way to do it.

So what are you.... Bottoms up or Bottoms down?


You know they got a picture..
preserving their evidence of ridicule for our family's future generations.

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What I'm Reading

Besides the stacks of food magazines...



 


What are you reading from the Culinary bookshelf right now?

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Big Teas

I was sitting at my desk today, typing letters, filtering e-mails and answering the phones. I will admit that I was daydreaming a little bit too. (that happens when life demands you keep a day job while you work on your dream job) I was reaching for my tea in the midst of one of those wandering moments when a thought occurred to me...


This is our tea cupboard. At last count there were 63 different teas in this cupboard. There are black, green, white and Yerba mate teas. There are tisanes, rooibos,  matchas and oolongs. Michael is a fan of tea. There are teas from the grocery store, teas from at least 6 different specialty shops, catalogue teas, franchised tea stores, mail order teas and teas of indiscernible origin. 

There are teas of every flavour; sweet dessert teas with tastes of chocolate and caramel, stand alone teas with exotic hints of cardamom and fennel, fruity teas, flowery teas, teas with citrus notes and even one infused with chilies.

We have frequented the specialty shops for tea in the Waterloo Region, purchased fair trade varieties from health and international trade stores. We have a favourite tea shoppes in Niagara on the Lake, Stratford, Goderich and other favorite 'close to home' daytrip destinations. We have even found a fabulous shop in Dundas from our days spent at McMaster Hospital.

63 different teas, the thought occurred to me... and everyday I make a cup for work and it's always green tea from a import variety I purchase less than 3 minutes from my home.

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Deep Fried Pizza - the dough recipe

Pizza Dough

This makes a great light and fluffy dough with just the right amount of chew.

1/4 cup warm water
1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) quick rise yeast

sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a large bowl and allow it to dissolve for a few minutes

then add;

1 3/4 cups warm water
2 tbls. olive oil
2 tbls. sugar
2 1/2 tsp. salt

whisk together.

add 4 cups of flour into the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Once all of the liquid is absorbed into the flour start mixing by hand. The dough will be very sticky, add flour in small amounts as you knead. Add only as much flour as needed to give the dough some structure and reduce the 'stickiness' 

Allow the dough to rest for 10 - 15 minutes before forming.

To make deep fried pizza:  portion off lemon sized pieces of dough, dust with flour and roll or stretch into thin rounds.

In a large skillet heat 1/2" of oil (I like to use a blend of canola  and olive oil)
add a shaped dough to the pan and fry to golden.
turn over and brown the other side.

This dough works really well for traditional oven pizza and panzzeroti as well. Some minced garlic or Parmesan is a nice addition if desired.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Teens in the Kitchen Friday

Tonight our teenage daughters and 3 of their friends took over the kitchen. On the menu...a lesson in Deep Fried Pizza. A very occasional indulgence. The offering is (a one cook put it) not incredibly good for you. Incredibly good for... you probably not, Incredibly good...most definitely!

I set out cutting boards on the kitchen table and laid out a wedge of Romano, a ball of mozzarella, some pepperoni, Ontario grape tomatoes, some knives and a grater. Three teens gathered around the table and made short work of chopping and grating it all into pizza toppings. In the kitchen the remaining 'young adults' (I'm reminded often that they are not 'kids') mixed up separate batches of pizza dough. This of course sparked competition.

With the doughs prepared and the toppings ready to go, I gave everyone a quick Deep Fried Pizza lesson. Dinner was off! Everyone stretching out small globs of pizza dough into paper thin oblong-ish rounds. I started with a teen in charge of frying up the crusts but soon I took over that job. A... because it's not that exciting when you are 16 to watch dough fry and B... because it's incredibly nerve wracking as a parent to watch a 16 year old fry dough.

As each crust emerged fully cooked and golden I ladled on simple hot tomato sauce and returned it to it's creator. At the table, toppings where selected and added, the crust and sauce the perfectl tempurature to melt the finely grated cheeses enough to hold everything else in place.

When I make these for grown ups we usually keep it super simple with the sauce, some fresh basil and a sprinkling of Parmigiano and Romano. With the 'young adults' we added the pepperoni and mozzarella for that mainstream appeal. Of course they were so impressed with themselves and their creations that it really would't have mattered what the pizzas were topped with.

For the record, there was some debate that Kayla's dough was slightly fluffier than Brandon's but by the second round of crust frying the debate was forgotten with a general consensus - DELICIOUS!

Tomorrow when I have recovered some energy I will post the Pizza Dough recipe. (guess I'll have to open a recipe page...and the blog evolves.)

We did have some 'good for you' food too. I've been watching updates all week that Ontario strawberries would be available in the region. I was determined to make my way to Herrles Market today to pick some up for dessert tonight (that was my excuse... really I just wanted them.) Mike was fabulous and took some time to stop at Herrles for me on his afternoon errands. He bought a basket. The basket sat in the middle of the table all through preparations and dinner and there was no dessert.


Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

There's A Gadget for That! - Crockpots

Crockpots


Busy lives often equal rush hour dinners. It's a consistent challenge to present a nutritious meal within a reasonable period of time and within a reasonable budget. While it would be fabulous to simply bring home a 'home cooked' meal from your favourite restaurant every night, I don't know many people who are equipped with that kind of grocery budget. I do know hordes of people however who swear by their crockpots as the ideal solution to the weekday dinner dilemma. Crockpot cooks are always excited by the magic meal that emerges after hours of unattended slow cooking. Crockpot cooks always have a tip to share and an awesome cookbook filled with hundreds of recipes. If you google search Crockpot Recipes you will get results rivaled only by searching Kittens.

When I started working full time I investigated crockpot recipes. I borrowed the books and I read the magazine articles. I really wanted to believe that this magical cooking devise could present the type of meal I could serve with pride.

It can't I've decided.

Oh it can cook food... everything from roast beef to french toast and some pasty white shredded version of "roast" chicken... there is no debating that a crockpot can cook. I will concede that the cooking is fuss free and ready when you walk in the door, adequate, nutritious, budget compatible food but lacking.

You could argue that I've not given the crockpot a fair shake, that I've discounted it's place in the culinary world, that I haven't given it a chance to prove itself. You could say those things if I didn't have 4 crockpots and put them routinely to good use. They are a tool after all and used for the right purpose present fabulous results.

Here is how I use my crockpots

  • Crockpots are great for soup, stew and chili
  • I have 4 crockpots because they are fabulous for big dinners and buffets. They hold mashed potatoes, gravy, veggies even stuffing at a perfect serving temperature. 
  • In the fall my crockpots work overtime. If you load a crockpot to the brim with chunks of orchard fresh apples in the morning, by evening you will have the most fabulous applesauce.
  • Right after the leaves turn, Michael keeps a crockpot simmering with cider, oranges and cinnamon until the sun comes out again in May.
  • Michael's other crockpot favourite are oktoberfest Sausages cooked slowly under a blanket of sauerkraut. Those sausages melt like butter in your mouth.
I would not trade my crockpots for the world, they are a very valuable tool in my kitchen. I love them but please don't ask me to cook a chicken in one.

What do you think? Do you swear by your crockpot? Have you got a recipe that will change the way I think about my crockpot? I'd love to hear from you...leave a comment with your thoughts, recipes and other crockpot love :)

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Growing Season Arrives...Just in Time!

This week I opened our last jar of pickled beans, the label on the top says July 7/10. I have 1 jar of dills left, the final offering of hot peppers is close to becoming a memory. There are no more frozen strawberries or true Northern Ontario Blueberries. The gallons of tomato sauce we created from that bushel of romas last summer have been enjoyed. Jam, veggies, pumpkin puree...gone, gone gone...all gone!

Preserving the harvest is a favourite adventure in our kitchen. Most surprisingly, I never have to ask anyone for help. Michael loves the chore, which I suppose means it really isn't one. The kids love to chop and stir, I think they can taste the promise of great meals in February.

Last years efforts seem to have gotten us at least half way through the year for most items. Rationing evidently is a challenge. It's just so tempting to reach for the best first which means we tend to eat a lot more grocery store preserves come April and May.

With our family growing along with their appetites we are going to need to can more, pickle more and freeze more if we are going to enjoy the harvest well into the spring. It's going to be a busy summer in our kitchen!

We begin in a matter of weeks with Strawberries!

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Evidence Tampering

Do you think that if I got rid of the note I could have another piece?




Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle