sour cherry jam with brandy

IMG_6857Remember those cherries I posted about a few weeks ago?  When I made the drunken cherries, I took two baskets of the four that I had purchased and turned them into jam.  My mother in law sent me the cutest little book on jam making, Seasons of Jam by Jeannette Habit and I decided to try the recipe for cherry jam.

IMG_6861To make the jam, rinse, dry and pit 3 pounds of red tart cherries.  Combine the cherries with 2 cups of sugar and the juice of 1 lemon in a bowl and let it sit for 30 minutes.  Pour the mixture into a stainless steel or enamel pot and simmer for 30 minutes.  Be sure to stir it frequently and skim off any foam that forms.  Pour into a heat proof bowl, cover with parchment and chill overnight.

The next day, return the jam to the cleaned pot and boil on high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently and again, removing the foam as necessary.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.  It will get darker and the liquid will look more like a syrup.  Add 1/4 cup of Kirsch, Brandy or your favorite liqueur and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Cook until it reaches 210F, the jam should set properly.  Ladle into prepared canning jars, and you can process them as you wish.  For mine, I used the water bath method.  It will make 5-6 half pint jars.

IMG_6864

spicy bread and butter relish

IMG_6843When it comes to sweet pickle relish, most people either love it or ignore it.  Personally, I like it in very small quantities and really only as an ingredient and not a stand alone condiment.  Tuna salad, Thousand Island dressing and potato salad are all likely to receive a dollop of sweet pickle relish in our kitchen but only my husband will eat it by itself and only if it is on a hot dog.  My strange aversion to it is a little weird when you consider that I could probably eat a jar of bread and butter pickles all on my own and if you compare recipes, you will see that they are nearly identical in the ingredients used.

As I picked the last of the Homemade Pickle cukes from the shriveling vines in the garden, I wondered what I could make with them.  Our pantry shelves already had dill slices, dill spears, bread and butter chips, sweet relish and relish with a bite so why make more?  The answer is obvious when you think about the fact that it keeps and it also makes great gifts; more than a few folks I know will be getting a package of canned goods from the garden during the holiday season!

IMG_6834Making pickle relish is a new thing for me.  My preference for avoiding it meant that I would rarely try one when available but with the goal of canning and preserving as much of the produce from the garden as I could, I decided to make some since Darry does enjoy it.  The first batch I made was a small one and it filled only a few tiny jars and since he enjoyed it so much, I have now made two additional batches, both larger, and we have enough until the next cucumber harvest-a year away!

If you are familiar with relish, then you know that it is made with tiny pieces of cucumbers, lots and lots of tiny, little pieces.  Bow down and thank the inventor of food processors, who ever that person(s) is, they just saved us from spending hours of slicing and dicing!  You will first need to clean off the little spines on the outside of each cuke, then remove the blossom and stem ends, slice them lengthways and if the seeds are large and fully developed, scoop them out with a spoon.  The jelly in the seed area can remain if the seeds have not formed yet or if they are tiny, similar in size to a sesame seed because they will be tender.  Once cleaned, cut each piece into chunks so that the food processor will chop them evenly without reducing some to puree.  Pulse the chunks in the processor, a portion at a time, until the pieces are smaller than peas.  The mixture will be uneven in size to some extent but that is okay, you just do not want huge chunks and tiny pieces together because it will cook unevenly.  If you find that it is hard to get a uniform size, pull the large chunks out and dice them further by hand.

In my batch in the photo, you will notice that I sliced the onions and left them in strips, I did this so that they would be more obvious in the finished relish.  Honestly, half of the needed pound of onions came from our garden too, but they were so small, smaller than a golf ball, that I just sliced them and left them in strips because I could barely see through the tears!  Cut your onions into what ever size you like; it is also acceptable to cut them into chunks and pulse them in the processor to match the size and appearance of the cukes.

One thing I would suggest, don’t use the machine for the peppers.  They tend to juice out so much that dicing by hand is better.  In this batch, I used jalapenos that had turned red but you can use green ones or any other type of pepper you prefer.  Previous batches included dark green poblano peppers as well as green bell peppers.  My intention was to make a hot and spicy batch but surprise, those jalapenos turned out to be the variety that isn’t so spicy.  Even so, they gave it a little heat but more importantly, a lot of color.

Once the vegetables are all diced, toss them with the salt and let them sit in the fridge overnight.  This helps the flavors blend together and develop and it also allows for the water to be released.  When you are ready to make the relish, allow the mixture to sit in a colander and drain for at least 20 minutes, give it a press or two to help get the excess liquid out.  Taking this step will help preserve the crunchy texture of the vegetables by removing the moisture and therefore shortening the cooking time.

IMG_6839First, the sugar and vinegar are heated to make a syrup.  The spices and vegetables are added and over medium heat, allowed to simmer.  It is important to stir it frequently so that the water can evaporate and to prevent sticking.  As it cooks, the color changes.

IMG_6840The longer it cooks, the more the golden color deepens.

IMG_6841When finished, the vegetables will be mostly translucent and fairly even in color, except for the red peppers.  My suggestion, make small batches and experiment with the onions and peppers; red, yellow or white onions, whether sweet or not could be used just as any type of peppers.  Keep in mind, you are cooking it down and if you reach for the ghost peppers, it will be beyond fiery!

IMG_6849Bread and Butter Relish

makes about 6 half pints

8 cups diced pickling cucumbers-about 3 pounds

1 pound onions, sliced or diced

1 cup finely diced red jalapenos

1/3 cup pickling or sea salt

11 ounces sugar (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon celery seeds

3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

The day before you will make the relish, toss the vegetables with the salt in a bowl or container that is non-reactive.  Cover and store in the fridge for 12-24 hours.  When you are ready to cook it, dump the mixture into a colander or mesh strainer over the sink and allow it to drain for at least 20 minutes.  Give it a few presses with your hand to help it along but do not press it so much that it is completely dry-you want some of the juices for the flavor they will add.

In a large pot, combine the sugar and vinegar and over medium-low heat, stir to dissolve the sugar.  When it comes to the simmer, add the spices and then the vegetables and raise the heat to medium.  Allow the mixture to cook, stirring frequently, and reduce until most of the moisture has evaporated and the vegetables are translucent.  Depending on the pot, this will take a while, about 30 minutes for my batch.

While the relish is cooking, prepare your canning pot and jars by boiling them.  Remove the jars from the boiling water and drain upside down on a rack so that you are filling hot jars.  Using a canning funnel, fill each jar so that there is a half inch space at the top, wipe the rims if necessary and cap the jars.  Fasten the bands so that they stay in place but do not tighten them too much or the tops will buckle.  Process in the water bath for 10 minutes, allow the jars to cool completely on a rack before storing in the pantry or cupboard.  It will taste best if stored for a few weeks before eating.

For more information on proper canning techniques, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website.

baking from the garden; cucumber bread

IMG_6786Gardeners have preferences when it comes to the plants chosen each season and I am no different than most.  In my flower beds, I always include a mix of herbs and edible flowers as well as those that will attract beneficial insects and help repel the destructive ones.  My vegetable garden follows the same plan and tucked in between the crops are many of those same herbs and flowers.  Companion planting is another of my strategies in the garden but honestly, I haven’t seen a huge improvement by following the does and the don’ts of plant location.

This year, like every other year, I have planted cucumbers in my garden.  The selection of varieties chosen include Marketmore (both #70 and #76), Homemade Pickles, Charming White, Lemon and Tendergreen.  The weather pattern this summer has been challenging and while none of my squash plants survived and produced fruits, the cucumbers have done well, at least, two varieties have.  Homemade Pickle plants produced enough cukes that I have completely stocked my pantry with pickles and relish and I have enough gathered now to make one last batch of relish.

Making salads with cucumbers is another one of my favorite summer activities.  While I enjoy adding slices to green salads or just mixing the slices with a little rice wine vinegar, honey and chili flakes, I decided to try something different.  With more Tendergreen Cukes than I could eat, I thought about a loaf of bread and what it might be like with cucumber puree in it.

IMG_6790The previous photo is a Homemade Pickle and this one is Marketmore #76.  In the past, Marketmore #76 has been a great producer, this year, not so much.  My thoughts are that the weather has affected the yield but more importantly, I think the soil is still lacking.  If you have been following this blog, you are aware that we started this garden from the ground up two years ago and this is the first year that we are planting in the ground.  Lots of layering with materials such as compost, leaves, coffee, chicken litter from our hens and eggshells has greatly improved the structure but I think it needs to be amended further and turned as well as given a season off to let the nitrogen levels fix.

IMG_6792The tendrils are amazingly strong and these plants would sprawl out all over if I give them a chance.

IMG_6769For my first batch, I peeled, seeded and pureed some cukes.  The pale green liquid was added to a hard roll recipe and the dough was shaped into batards.  My thought was to keep it simple and I added a few dill seeds to the mix.

IMG_6775Once baked, it was nearly impossible to see that the cucumbers had an effect on the dough.  The interior of the loaf is nearly white and the crumb is a tiny bit compact.  Not the results I was hoping for but still a good loaf of bread.

IMG_6780After giving it some thought. I started a second batch of dough using a different recipe.  For this batch, I left the skin on the cukes but removed the seeds before pureeing.  The liquid was a much darker shade of green and had little flecks of skin in it.  For the dough itself, I settled on a recipe that used a Poolish style starter to develop more flavor in the dough.  After letting the flour, water and yeast mixture age overnight, I mixed the dough using a method that does not include kneading the dough.

There are several good books out there that use this method but I chose to follow the Country Loaf recipe found in Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and found here in this New York Times Recipe.  To clarify, I did not use his recipe, just his method for mixing, shaping and baking the dough.

IMG_6781As you can see, the inclusion of skin gave the dough a good amount of green color.  The little flecks of skin provide some visual interest and a little texture, as well.

IMG_6799Using a lovely little banneton mold that my husband gave me, I was able to give the loaf a nice spiral pattern on the surface.

IMG_6806As you can see, the interior has a tint of green to it and a few green specks here and there.  The crust baked up crisply and it tasted wonderful while still a little warm.  The problem, it just didn’t taste like cucumber, at least not while it was warm.  Once the loaf cooled and sat for several hours, the flavor of caramelized flour and dough from the crust of the bread was no longer the predominant flavor.  The subtle, earthy and almost sweet, flavor of the cucumbers was fairly obvious.

This loaf recipe is a work in progress and if all goes well, it will be part of my next book.  Until then, I will have to make more bread and test it for flavor and color, and you will have to forgive me for not including a recipe that is only half done!

latest news from the garden

IMG_6810In the beginning of the spring, I was so hopeful that the garden would be producing enough vegetables to feed us for the year.  Quite a few of the results are in and thanks to a cool, wet spring and a hot, humid summer (all above the norm), we would go hungry if the garden was our main source of vegetables.  So many plants did not come close to expectations.  Just about all of my squash plants rotted away from the moisture and the sole survivor has yet to produce a single squash that did not rot.  Eggplants are struggling, barely producing and so are the peppers.

Having no choice but to remove my tacky string fence to keep out the deer, I have had to watch my 20 tomato plants get munched away.  While they are still trying to set fruit, almost none of them have except for a few.  The Gold Berries are one of the only plants producing fruit.

IMG_6811These are small cherry tomatoes, about an inch in diameter and they are a little on the tart side.  The color is what I really love; that brown blush at the top, so unusual and so pretty!

IMG_6815The color develops as the fruit grows rather than as it ripens.  In technical terms, the color is on the “shoulders” of the fruit.  Whatever you prefer to call that area, the seeds are available from my favorite source of heirloom seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

IMG_6816One of the only other plants with fruit is the Chocolate Pear.  What happened to these fruits is a mystery.

IMG_6830Garlic chive blossoms are so delicate but beware, if you let them flower, they will reseed and you will have chives everywhere.  Honeybees like them so I am leaving these flowers in place, yes, I like to live dangerously and I ain’t afraid of plucking plants…

IMG_6823While wandering the garden, I was surprised to find a Charentais melon.  Unlike the squash plants, the melons in my front bed have been sprawling out.  With any luck, we will get more than one.

IMG_6824Near the Charentais is another variety called Golden Crispy.  Having never had one, I cannot tell you anything about it but we have several fruits on the vine and I will have to wait patiently for them to mature.

IMG_6820If you take a moment to look in all of the carrots and parsley, you will find swallowtail caterpillars.  Lots of them actually, probably about two dozen or so out there now.  We have a variety of swallowtail butterflies that visit the garden; zebra, tiger and spicebush swallowtails are abundant but these are zebra swallowtail caterpillars.

IMG_6827The biggest surprise of the day was spotting this monarch caterpillar on a swamp milkweed plant.  In the two years we have been gardening out front and with all of the butterfly plants we have added, we have seen so few monarchs.  Finding this caterpillar was like winning the lottery!

IMG_6829The abundant milkweed plants have also attracted this milkweed leaf beetle.  They look a little like a monster sized ladybug and mainly eat the leaves of the plant.

IMG_6825This butterfly weed, which is a native variety of milkweed, has set seeds and will soon explode and release them into the wind.

IMG_6826One of my favorite plants, Ironweed.  It too is a butterfly magnet, and I just love the color of the flowers.  When we had our home in Nashville, I planted Ironweed on a slope in the yard and it spread by reseeding.  With some luck, this will spread as well.

IMG_6828And another one of my favorites for attracting butterflies, Joe Pye Weed.  If you have an area that gets a lot of moisture and would like to try a rain garden, Joe Pye Weed can tolerate moist soil, a win-win!

As the season progresses, I will be sure to share more from the garden, stay tuned!

oatmeal raisin cookies

IMG_6749The fact that I have a sweet tooth is no secret, it should probably be called an unhealthy obsession.  Generally, I keep it in control by not buying sweets and not baking them unless I am bringing them to someone else.  It’s a good plan, most of the time.  But every now and then, I cave.  Lately, when that has happened, Darry and I have gone out for ice cream. With the extreme heat we have had lately, how could you blame us?  In the evening, as the sun goes down, we like to go to the Village and visit the local ice cream shop and then walk around.

But this week, I felt like having cookies.  Oatmeal cookies, with raisins.  The kind that stay a little on the soft side and would probably make great ice cream sandwiches, but I will not be trying that anytime soon…feel free to do it though, and report back to me if you do.

IMG_6750Over the years, I have made oatmeal cookies with any number of added goodies.  Dried currants are my favorite choice but dried peaches and figs are really good too.  This batch has raisins, dark raisins but when I use raisins, I usually prefer the golden ones.  My husband likes them with dried cranberries.  While I love nuts, I hardly ever add them and more often than not, I see them with chocolate chips but even though I am a huge chocolate fan, I cannot stand oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips in them.

My pantry is a little over stocked and I made the choice of dark raisins; all part of the effort to clean out the pantry.  Helpful hint, if your fruit is dried out and leathery, don’t toss it out!  Put it in a pot, cover with water, place over medium heat and let the raisins get hot, just about boiling.  Remove them from the heat and let the fruit cool completely.  Dump the raisins into a mesh strainer and press gently to remove the excess water.  Then add them to the dough.  Once baked, the raisins will be nice and soft and will also add a little moisture to the dough but too much moisture can lengthen the baking time.

IMG_6752One of the nice things about oatmeal cookies, it is easy to hide whole grains in them.  Besides using whole grain rolled oats, you can also use whole wheat flour and trust me, no one will know!  The oats can also be swapped out for other whole/rolled grains.  Trader Joe’s sells a mixture of rolled whole grain made from a mixture of oats, wheat, barley and rye and that would work in this cookie too!

IMG_6754A few notes to ponder:

Because I do try to make better eating choices, I made the batch of dough, scooped it out using a restaurant style portion scoop and chilled the balls of dough.  When it was time to bake them, I only pulled 8 scoops of the dough and froze the rest in a ziplock bag.  Now I do not have to worry about eating too many at once!  My scoops were 1 ounce a piece and the best size scoop for that is a #40 scoop.  What does that mean?  Food service portion scoops are somewhat standardized.  A #40 scoop will most likely have a purple handle and the number stands for the amount of scoops needed to equal a quart.  Look for this scoop in your local restaurant supply shop or online, you will not regret purchasing one because it will help you get a consistent size and make quick work of the scooping.

Recently, I wrote a guest post for fellow Virginia Blogger, Liz of I Heart Vegetables, on the importance of proper measuring in baking.  While using a scale is something I have done all of my professional life, it isn’t always the way I do things at home.  Until now, this recipe and the majority of recipes to follow will be written using weights.  If you like what you see, you will need to use a scale to make it.  Before you panic, you can easily find one at the store-even the grocery store, and the majority of them cost less than $20.

Quite a few of the ingredients in this recipe are interchangeable on a 1:1 basis.  While I could have used butter, I chose coconut oil because I wanted to add the flavor without adding the texture to the cookies.  When I bake, if a recipe calls for molasses, I almost always reach for sorghum instead.  It is milder in flavor and a little lighter in color but most importantly, it tastes so much better!  Sorghum is a traditional Southern syrup made by cooking down the juices extracted from sorghum canes.  It is sweet and turns a deep amber as it cooks which gives it a molasses-like flavor and for that reason, it can be referred to as sorghum molasses.  It can be tricky to find in other areas of the country so you may have to purchase it online.  Remember when I mentioned using whole wheat flour?  Well, sometimes I use only whole wheat, other times, I blend it half and half with all purpose and if I am not paying attention, I am likely to just use the all purpose.  Don’t sweat it, use what you like, and if you want to add a little fiber to your diet, use whole wheat, you will still love the cookies!

IMG_6765Oatmeal Cookies with Raisins

makes about 24 (1 ounce) cookies

4 ounces of raisins or your favorite dried fruit

6 ounces unbleached all purpose flour

5 ounces rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 ounces organic coconut oil

6 ounces granulated sugar

2 tablespoons molasses or sorghum

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

If the raisins are a bit dry, place them in a pot and fill with water to just cover them.  Heat the raisins over medium heat until steam begins to rise from the water and small bubbles start to form around the edges.  Turn off the heat and set the fruit aside to plump until cooled.  Dump the raisins into a mesh strainer and gently press out the extra moisture.  Adding a lot of extra water will cause them to spread like crazy and will ruin the texture of the cookie.

Place the flour, oats, baking soda and cinnamon into a small bowl and whisk to combine, set aside for now.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the coconut oil with the sugar, molasses, vanilla and salt.  Begin to cream the mixture, scrape the bowl and allow it to cream for 2-3 minutes.  Add the egg, mix it in, scrape the bowl and mix again.  Add the flour mixture followed by the raisins.  Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix by hand until it is thoroughly blended.

Using the portion scoop, carefully scoop the dough and place on a pan lined with parchment.  Chill completely.  Before baking, preheat the oven to 350.  Place the desired amount of dough at least two inches apart on parchment lined pans (or silpats) and allow them to sit and soften a bit.  Press down on the cookies to form a thick disk (will encourage spreading) or leave them in the shape of the scoop (for thicker cookies).  Bake for 6 minutes, turn the pan and rotate top to bottom, and bake for another 6 minutes for soft cookies, 8 for crispy ones.  Allow the cookies to cool on the pans for a few minutes then carefully lift them off and place onto a cooling rack to finish setting.  Store airtight at room temperature, will stay soft for about 3-4 days after which they will get crispy but will still taste good!

If you chose not to bake all of the dough, place the rest of the chilled scoops into a ziplock bag and freeze for a later day.  Allow to thaw before baking, will keep in the freezer for about a month.

Scaccia; Sicilian Lasagna Bread

IMG_6719My mother gave me several issues of the magazine Saveur that she was finished with.  They have been sitting on the coffee table in the living room for several months and recently, I found myself flipping through one, Issue 182 from April 2016.  The cover promised a Taste of Sicily, and I went through the article in search of bread recipes and I wasn’t disappointed.

IMG_6697Scaccia is favorite snack food in Sicily and can be easily found in shops and is made with many thin layers of semolina bread stacked with tomato sauce and a traditional cheese called Caciocavallo, a traditional stretched cheese curd.  Having never traveled to Sicily, I will accept that fact and add this to it, it is not easy to find here!  The recipe looked easy enough and after checking my pantry for semolina flour, I mixed up a batch of the dough.  This recipe instructs you to also make the tomato sauce but I suspect that you could use just about any sauce, homemade or purchased.  Caciocavallo, which translates as cheese on horseback in English, is similar to Provolone in flavor and is made from either sheep or cow’s milk and as much as I would like to try it, I didn’t go out in search of it and just substituted some grated Asiago.

IMG_6698First, the dough is rolled out into a large rectangle.  The result is a very thin sheet which gets topped with sauce and cheese before being folded up.  Then more sauce and cheese, more folding and finally, a log of layered dough, sauce and cheese is folded in half  and placed into a pan lined with parchment paper.

IMG_6699The loaf is not given a rising period but I did let mine sit for at least 30 minutes while the oven preheated.

IMG_6702Looking at the loaf, I was worried.  Knowing that only 1/4 teaspoon of yeast was used to leaven the dough was obvious; it did not appear to rise much, if at all.

IMG_6720After baking the loaf for nearly and hour, I was surprised to see that it did rise a small amount.  The aroma that filled the kitchen was undeniably that of lasagna or of a similar baked tomato sauce and pasta dish.  Having waited for about 20 minutes, I carefully sliced into loaf and revealed the layers of spongy dough, tomato sauce and cheese.  Not only did it smell like lasagna, it tasted like it too, both in flavor as well as the texture of the interior.

The verdict, this is a recipe that I will turn to when I want something besides the usual layers of pasta, sauce and cheese, especially for a pot luck or picnic-it travels well and can left to cool, sliced an hour or two later without being reheated.  This recipe has a lot of potential for variations.  The sauce could be varied; pesto, alfredo, butternut squash and mushrooms all come to mind.  Even the cheese could be swapped but, I look forward to finding a chunk of Caciocavallo so that I can taste it.

If you can find a copy of issue 182, open it to page 70 and get to work, take note that a detailed set of instructions with illustrations on the folding methods is also included on page 74.  For those of you that would rather just see the recipe, rejoice!  Saveur magazine has the recipe posted on their website and it is available for free, find the recipe here, and the folding instructions here.

Swedish Limpa; a Tuesdays with Dorie post

IMG_6640It has been quite a while since I have participated in the Tuesdays with Dorie baking.  What can I say, life gets in the way?  Partly, the other angle; having a pile of sweets in the house for just two of us means we eat way more than we should!  When I saw the choices included a bread recipe this month, I decided to get in gear and give it a go.

Limpa is a type of black bread.  The dough is made with rye flour and is a bit on the sweet side from the addition of molasses and brown sugar but what gives it the most flavor are the aromatic seeds in the dough.  Anise, caraway and fennel seeds are crushed and added to the mix and so is a bit of orange zest (which I skipped) and the result is a slightly sweet, bread that has a touch of licorice flavor and a nice compact crumb.  The recipe suggests using it for sandwiches, much like they do in Sweden, layering it with smoked meats and cheeses.  We preferred to slice it and enjoy it toasted with butter.

IMG_6641Rather than bake it in the round 9 inch pans the recipe calls for, I used 6 inch square pans.  They made the most perfect cube shaped loaves and the slices were just large enough that two thin slices of toast were more than filling.

IMG_6643My rye flour was stone ground and it added a nice texture to the crumb.  Little flecks of rye and seeds, this one is a keeper.  Since the recipe made two loaves, I froze one for later.

Be sure to visit the website and see what we are up to and if you like, bake along with us!  To see the recipe, or bake with us, you will need the books