Monday, June 30

House Work Never Ends!

I mentioned in a previous post that we had hired a contractor to come and replace the concrete cap on our front porch.  The job is finally done, and we are very pleased with the results!  Here are some before and after pictures:

Say goodbye, bushes!
The cap was cracked in two places, and the cinder block was not held in place with anything--not mortar, not sand in the holes, nothing!

We found out that these steps were poured over an existing set of steps.  I have no idea how.
The siding had been cut to fit around the cracks.
During--The blocks were mortared, and the porch base, which was hollow when the cap was removed, was filled in with gravel to provide more support.
Finished!  Gone are the bushes, the stairs are replaced, and the porch is beautiful.  The giant bare spot will be replaced with a retaining wall garden.

I also mentioned in the previous post that we transplanted some of the plants from around the house to the back yard, and they have been flourishing this whole time.  Here are some pictures:

I'll be posting our progress on the garden bed that we're installing in front of the porch in the next post!

Friday, June 20

Freezing Strawberries in Syrup

As promised in my earlier post on making strawberry freezer jam, I am now showing you how I froze the remaining strawberries after the jam was done.  This method comes from Suter's website, and is an old family recipe.  However, the instructions were a bit vague, so this is my attempt at making it work.  I won't know if they turned out alright for a while, but I'm thinking that these strawberries might be best used for recipes that require cooking the berries, like in a pie or sweet bread.  If you've tried this and had success, please let me know!

Suter's recipe:
"Boil together 1 1/2 cups sugar and 6 cups water.  Add 1 large packet of strawberry gelatin.  Cool.  Pour on berries."
"Wash gently in cold water, drain and remove caps. Slice or crush berries in a large bowl. Use 1 cup sugar to 7 cups berries, or sweeten to taste, then freeze. We use ziplock bags."

Now, boiling the sugar and water together wasn't hard, but I also wasn't sure if it should boil for a certain amount of time.  I brought the sugar water to a boil and just added the gelatin at that point.  I also wasn't sure if the mixture should boil for any length of time after the gelatin was added, so I just mixed the gelatin until it was completely dissolved and then let the liquid come back to a boil.  I then turned off the burner and removed the pot from the heat.  I set it on a cooling rack to help the liquid cool faster.  As a side note, then strawberry liquid never really thickened, but it did have a good flavor, like strawberry Kool-Aid.

While waiting for the gelatin liquid to cool, I commenced washing and slicing the remaining bucket of strawberries, which gave me eight cups of strawberry slices. 
I emptied the slices into a large bowl and added a cup of sugar and mixed it all together.

At this point, the liquid had sufficiently cooled to slightly warmer than room temperature, so I began pouring it over the berries.  Then I decided that I didn't want to do it that way.  I do that a lot.

I decided to measure out two cups of berries per quart freezer bag, then added enough strawberry liquid to the bag to submerge the slices.  I ladled it into the bags, and it might have been about a cup of the liquid in each bag.  

Doing it this way, I had enough to fill three bags with two cups of strawberries and then add the juice.  If anyone has a different method for this or has done this in the past, I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, June 15

Strawberry Freezer Jam--Just Do It!

This is a project that I've been excited about for a while now.  I spent hours over the winter poring over recipes and instructions for strawberry jam, imagining warm weather and sweet strawberry scents lingering in the air.  I was probably obsessed.

It helped me get through the winter, I tell you.

I originally decided to make a batch of water-bath processed jam and a batch of freezer jam, with the intention of giving some of these away.  I also wanted to see which I liked better--freezer or processed.  However, when I got down my enameled water bath canning pot, I saw, right there on the label, that it said "Not for use on glass/ceramic cooktops".  I wasn't sure why, but after a quick search online, I found the answer--and there were a couple of reasons.  One, the glass cooktops tend to have sensors in the burners that keep them from heating the cooktop surface up too much, which prevents the glass from cracking.  Because of this, the burners will not keep a consistent temperature needed to properly kill any bacteria in the jars.  Second, the enamel pot did not have a smooth, flat bottom--it had concentric inverted rings that extended into the inside bottom of the pot.  Having less surface contact meant an uneven heat, and that's a no-no.  So, sadly, not having all of the equipment to substitute another pot for the enamel one, I decided to just make freezer jam.  Besides, it sounded easier!

After a fun trip to Suter's, the nearest u-pick strawberry patch, I had all of the strawberries I could ever want or need. 
My hubby and I spent a beautiful 70 degree morning picking about 14 pounds of strawberries. 
I really wasn't sure how much to get, and how much jam it would make, so we just picked and picked.  It was a great morning for being outside, and I always love the u-pick fields for fresh fruit.  It's exciting finding the little red berries shining in the sun--like being on a treasure hunt and finding the mother lode. 
They look so good, like little rubies poking out from underneath the leaves. 
I couldn't help but give thanks to God for the beauty of His creation, and the opportunity to enjoy and partake in what He's provided for us to eat.

Once we got our pails home, I gathered my supplies and then I began the tedious task of washing and hulling every. single. strawberry. known. to. man. 
Although, as I was washing them and slicing them, I realized that no two berries were the same, and couldn't help but enjoy the different sizes and shapes.  They were like snowflakes. 

There were tiny ones, uber ones, odd-shaped ones, and ones that looked like several berries had all grown together.  I even found a heart-shaped one.  They all smelled the same, though--delicious!

To my husband--I heart you berry much!

I crushed the berries, a layer at a time, with a potato masher.  It leaves larger chunks of strawberries, but still mashes them well.  I also tried a pastry blender, but didn't like the results quite as much. 

After I accumulated four cups of crushed berries and juice, I added two tablespoons of lemon juice. 
Then I added the 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 3 1/2 tablespoons of instant jam pectin that I had mixed well in a separate bowl, and stirred the mixture constantly for three minutes.  Then it was time for the jars!

After washing the jars, rings and lids, I lined them all up on wax paper on the table (just to protect the table, no other reason for the paper).  Then, using a canning funnel and ladle, I scooped the jam into the jars up to the bottom edge of the funnel.  I consistently got 6 half pint jars with each batch.  I let them sit, uncovered, for 30 minutes to thicken.

After 30 minutes, I couldn't help it--I had to taste my creation.  I loved it!  I spent the rest of the afternoon eating spoonfuls of the jam out of the tester jar while I prepared a total of two dozen half pints of freezer jam.  Easiest jam I ever made!  I already gave three jars to our neighbors.  I hope they like it!

I used one full bucket of berries to get the two dozen jars of jam.  And this is still what was left!
I'm going to try and freeze some of the remaining berries in a syrup mixture which I'll share in another post.  We also plan on eating some berries fresh from the field, too.
What a great day.

Saturday, June 7

Chicken and Zucchini Saute: A Simple Summer Recipe

We had a delicious dinner tonight, if I do say so myself!  I was looking through the fridge and remembered that I bought a couple of zucchini at the grocery store, and I had set some chicken out to thaw for dinner, and it was a revelation.  Why not cook them together?  I'm sure no one in the history of the world has ever thought of that.

I also decided to thaw some dinner rolls for dinner--Rhode's rolls are the only kind that I buy, and they are by far my favorite.  Pair that with some olive oil and the canister of dipping herbs that I bought at GFS, and boom!  Dinner is served.

About the olive oil mentioned above, I also have to give a shout out to flavor-infused olive oils.  I have a bottle of garlic-infused and a bottle of butter flavored in my pantry.  The garlic olive oil is my favorite, but the butter has its place too, and it's a great alternative to the times I need to fry something and don't want to use butter, as was the case this night.  If you have the opportunity to pick up some of these specialty olive oils, DO IT!  You won't regret it.

All of these things mentioned above contributed to this incredibly easy dinner.  Seriously, if it was any easier, you'd be at a restaurant and someone would be cooking dinner for you.  So, without further ado, I give you:

Chicken and Zucchini Saute!
What you'll need:
A pound of boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
A pound of zucchini, washed, with skins on, and cut into quarter slices
4 TBSP garlic-infused olive oil, divided
Other spices to your taste (I used a garlic and herb mix for the chicken)
Optional: shredded or grated Parmesan cheese, for topping

What you do:
Heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a deep 10 or 12 inch skillet.  Brown the chicken, seasoning with salt, pepper and other spices to taste.  When the chicken is browned, remove it from the pan and add the zucchini.  Drizzle the remaining 2 TBSP olive oil over top of the zucchini, and salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the zucchini and let it cook for about 5 minutes, until it's slightly soft and starting to brown.
I love this wooden spoon: I purchased it on Etsy from a shop called KitchenCarvings, if you're interested!

Add the chicken back into the pan and stir to re-warm the chicken.

Voila!  You're done.  Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top, and pair with some wild rice, dinner bread, or any other simple side of your choice.  This is a great way to start using some of the zucchini that's coming into season this time of the year.  Hubby's rating: back for seconds!