Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blackberry Lemon Jam

My parents have copious amounts of blackberries growing on their 4 acres, and as much as I love eating fresh berries, like with Greek yogurt and Homemade Omega-3 Granola from The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook (it was only a little bit burnt)...
One does dream of more complex uses, ones that involve much more sugar. Like jam! I read several posts about jam making and the one that seemed the most reliable I tried out, but since I didn't really stick to even that, I'll explain the method and what I did. I recommend you follow your taste rather than anyone's recipe, though. If it doesn't work out, you can blame it on me. ;-)

I took some process photos because I always like to see what kind of work is involved before I commit to a project.
One boiling vat of hot sugar and fruit. Don't stand to close to me.  Don't stand, don't stand... Sorry, has a Police flashback there.

I made a slap-dash effort at sterilization.  Please don't send the food safety police after me. I did wash everything in hot soapy water and then put the glass in the oven at 250 while the jam cooked.
If there were heeby-jeebies on dem jars, dey dead. And this jam won't last long enough to spoil.
*Cue Space Odyssey theme music* Behold: I have made jam!  Okay, I've made it before, whatever. But this is really good jam. It has a good balance of fresh berry and lemon flavor, and big whole berries still in it. I love seeing a chunk of the real stuff in what I'm eating. No baby food, thankyouverymuch, I have teeth and I will use them, even on jam.

Other than the sterilization stuff, the jam making process was pretty easy. Toss it all in a large dutch oven, cook on medium high heat so that it bubbles, stir so it doesn't burn, and cook until thick. I initially used 10 cups of blackberries, 4 cups of sugar, 2 lemons and their zest.  For me, it was way cloyingly sweet, so I added one more lemon, juice and zest and 1 cup raspberries, and cooked it a little longer. It was probably 45 minutes in all. I smashed some of the berries with a spoon, but not too much. Carefully! spoon into jars, seal and cool. Good to go. 

The flavor was nice, fruity and with fresh flavor from the lemons, but no sourness at all. It was still a little too sweet, though. I'm going to start with less sugar next time and taste and see. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Potato Chip Cookies & First Week of Summer

You read that right. Not cookies & potato chips, but cookies with potato chips in them. So wrong.

But so right.

I've had this recipe, pulled out of Martha Living, on my night stand for at least a month, so it was time. I followed the recipe, except skipped the nuts (chips are enough!) and the skipped the salt (oops...baking with a toddler), but missed neither. The cookie base is buttery and not overly sweet, with a good combination of crunch from the edges and chips and softer, chewy centers. Heaven. Thankfully, I only baked a few and the rest are safe in the freezer.  Indiana, the light eater, ate two, so I'm guessing they're kid-friendly. Mom friendly too.

•    2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
•    3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
•    3/4 cup granulated sugar
•    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
•    2 large eggs
•    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
•    1 teaspoon baking soda
•    3/4 teaspoon coarse salt, optional
•    4 cups coarsely crushed salted potato chips (about 2/3 of a regular bag, 8 ounces), divided
•    1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped, optional

1.    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat together butter and sugars with a mixer on high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add vanilla and eggs (one at a time, allow to mix for 30 sec), and beat on medium speed until just combined.
2.    Add flour, baking soda, and salt, and beat on low speed until just combined. Stir in 2 cups potato chips and the nuts.
3.    Roll dough into 2-inch balls, and then roll balls in remaining potato chips to coat. Place cookies 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheet.

What other, that cookies, have we been up to this week?
 Looking at trucks. Indiana jogged two blocks to see this truck close up. He LOVES trucks. So funny.
 Chalk. Indiana usually sits on whatever I draw...but we all have fun out there.
 Casey and I did a relay triathlon this morning, as Casey still doesn't have Dr.'s permission to run, I did the running for him. We beat the pants off the other relay teams and had an overall good time doing the race together.
Also, on Wednesday, we got a grill. It's gas, so yes...it's not hard-core fire cooking, but I'm hard core about the cooking part, at least. We've already made fajitas (yum) and now Rosemary Buttermilk marinaded Chicken Kebabs. Healthy and tasty. I plan on doing some strip steaks, whole butterflied chicken, whole-wheat flatbreads, corn and garden squash on the grill this week. It's a whole new branch of cooking, and I can't wait to try it all.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Landscaping at Last!

Last weekend, Casey and some guys did a HUGE amount of landscaping. So happy with the final result. Casey previously had someone build some stone planters, to help balance the height of the house and to add some contrast, but they'd been empty until now.
 I picked out Indian Hawthorne and pink (of course) begonias.

 Cute little hedges. Hopefully, they'll soon be beautiful big hedges. :)
 Casey sodded the front portion of the lawn and circled the trees with stone and a few bricks.
 This was all Casey's brainstorm and I think it turned out quite nicely.
 The lions were a last-minute addition. But Casey & I had discussed lawn ornaments for quite a while...I like sweet little ones, like fat babies, Casey likes big ferocious ones, like gorillas and multi-segmented sea serpents. Small lions are hopefully a middle ground.

Casey also sodded the backyard and replaced the stone around the back door.
There's not much to see yet...but St. Augustine grass is much prettier than raw dirt and weed grass. That sunny patch is the future home of my backyard patio. I've already scheduled the landscaper to put in a flagstone patio early next week and have ordered patio furniture and a little playset, too. All I need now is a grill and my outdoor paradise will be complete! We've been living here for a year and a half now, and I love my house, but out door space was lacking. I'm so excited about being able to enjoy our yard. Summer, here I come!
Casey, enjoying some much deserved down-time, with Indiana the next morning.