Strawberry Preserves

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Anyone who’s eaten homemade jams, jellies and preserves has made that face! And perhaps even a maniacal laugh erupts from within you…don’t deny it! Oh yeah, nothing compares to jar of Mom’s homemade strawberry preserves that’s not overly sweet and has a full strawberry flavor…no artificial flavor here. For me, forget the bread…gimme a spoon, hand over the jar and no one will get hurt!!

Tuesday night and Thursday night Mom and I set out to make two batches of homemade strawberry preserves with the berries we purchased from Maggie Valley Berry Patch and Gardens…the best strawberries we’ve ever purchased!  We don’t have a secret family recipe for said preserves, we just use the recipe in the Sure-Jell box.

Vintage Sure-Jell Recipe

Vintage Sure-Jell Recipe

Now this isn’t the exact recipe we use, I just loved the picture! But hey give it a try, making this is so easy! If you’ve never made homemade jam there’s nothing to fear (trust me, I was in your shoes a couple of years ago).

Be prepared is my first piece of advice. If you don’t want your fingers to be stained as you’re handling the strawberries wear gloves. I use blue Nitrile gloves, they are so handy and help keep your hands clean longer without running to the sink constantly. Second thing, sanitize your jars, lids, and rings. Wash and rinse everything and be sure to place your jars on a sheet pan in a 225 degree oven for 15 minutes; turn oven off and leave jars inside oven. Lids will go in a pot of water that has been brought to a boil and then turned off. Rings need to be laid out close by on a clean towel. Measure out the sugar into a bowl and set aside.

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Once you get that ready, your water bath canner is heating up it’s time to process the berries! Don on a glove, grab a knife and get ready to remove the tops of the strawberries.

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Keep a large strainer nearby, in the picture is a 5–quart metal strainer. After you remove the tops, dump them into a large bowl filled with cold water to rinse them well to remove any debris and general dirt. The next step is easy and depends on how chunky you like your jams/preserves. You can mash the berries or use a food processor to chop up the berries to your desired preference.

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We like it a tad chunky but spreadable, anything that’s too big gets removed or eaten (nothing goes to waste). But don’t worry, this will cook and the pieces will soften up! After measuring out the strawberry mush add it to a big pot, trust me you’re going to need a big one. We used a small stock pot and at first you’re going to think that 5 cups of strawberries is going to be lost in the pot but trust me–magic will take place in that pot….

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Add the Sure-Jell powder, that’s the white stuff on top. Turn on the heat and get to stirring. Oh, by the way, there’s a lot of stirring! Pull up a kitchen stool and be prepared to be there for a bit. You’re going to want to bring this to a hard boil, that just means it’s a boil that can’t be stirred down. At that point pour in the sugar and stir some more (this is my least favorite part). You’ll notice your hard boil is gone–poof! missing; vaporized; vanished; no longer relevant. Adding sugar will do that. So now you have to bring it back up to another hard boil. Just keep stirring!

Just keep stirring, just keep stirring, just keep stirring, stirring, stirring...

Just keep stirring, just keep stirring, just keep stirring, stirring, stirring…

Just when you think your hand is going to die, arm is going to fall off, and you have a permanent imprint of the kitchen stool on your backside something “magical” begins to happen…..wait for it….FOAM! That’s right, you will start noticing lovely foam forming on the surface. (You can add a tiny bit of butter to reduce foaming, but we didn’t.) Don’t stop stirring, once you get it back to the hard boil hit the kitchen timer for 1 minute and don’t freak out when you notice that the foam is rising–higher–higher–and still higher. If you’re using a large enough pot (8qt. recommended) it won’t spill over. Once the timer goes off immediately turn off the heat and stop stirring. Now comes the fun part…skimming the foam off the surface!

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Keep a paper bowl nearby to put the foam in as you are skimming. This isn’t tasty stuff, but my kid thinks it’s awesome! Boys…go figure. Now comes the REALLY fun part, dispensing into the jars. Here’s how my Mom does it:

Lay down a clean towel on counter top. Lay out the following: damp paper towel, folded dry paper towel, measuring cup to hold funnel and ladle, jar lifter, rings,  and magnetic lid lifter. (Click here to purchase your own home canning kit.) Remove the lid from the water bath canner and set aside.

With the folded paper towel remove one jar from the oven. Set it on the toweled surface, place the funnel in the jar and begin ladling the very hot strawberry jam/preserve.

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Leaving an 1/8 of an inch space at the top, take the damp paper towel and wipe clean the jar rim. With the magnetic lid lifter snag a lid from the hot water and place it on the jar. Screw on the ring, firmly but don’t wrench it down (keep helpful men away from the kitchen). Be careful! The jar is extremely hot now so be sure to protect your other hand. Mom uses the folded up paper towel to hold the jar as she is adding the jar ring.

Now it’s ready for the water bath canner! Place each jar, as prepared, into the canner.

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A steamy pic…oh my!

My traditional canner only holds 7 jars, and you’ll probably have a partial jar extra. Looking forward to having a stainless steel canner in the future. Just put a ring and lid on it and set it in the frig. Once the water in the canner is gently boiling, lower the jars down, cover with lid and set kitchen timer for 10 minutes. Once the time is up, turn off the fire under the canner, lift the jars our using the jar lifter and place them on another toweled surface. PING! No kidding you’ll begin hearing a ping sound, that means your jars are sealed! That means that the center of the lid has been sucked down, creating a vacuum inside the jar. If one hasn’t pinged by the next day, just put it in the frig for immediate use. We get excited with every ping, so don’t feel awkward shouting for joy! It just means you did the process correctly and it’s a time to rejoice! Let them sit overnight on the counter, label the lid with name of contents and date. Store in a cool place. You’ve just made strawberry preserves hon, how do you feel?!

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Yeah, I felt the same way 😀 Now you and your family can enjoy strawberry jam any time through out the year and know that it’s chemical free, no dyes, no HFCS, no artificial flavors…nothing but pure goodness!

jars of strawberry preserve

The idea in our house to limit the family to one jar a month…HA! That’s why it’s only an idea 🙂 All joking aside, we hope you enjoy your strawberry jam and will share your experience with us in the comments below! Tootle-pip!

Amanda Gayle

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What’s in my purse?

It’s the dreaded thing every woman has to deal with…cleaning out the purse. About the only time I ever clean mine out is if I’m going to change purses/bags, but after see what Tori Spelling was doing on her blog I wondered what exactly was lurking in my purse. My Mom wasn’t surprised and I ‘m not sure if I should be embarrassed or not 🙂

whats in my puse

Initial dumping of contents

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Top L-R:

1) Wallet

2) Church bulletins/calendars/baby shower invites/Sunday School handouts

3) Make up bag (contents include pressed face powder, green correction stick, cover up stick, eye shadow, lip balm)

Middle L-R:

4) Used and unused hand sanitizer wipes

5) Used tissues

6) Magnets

7) Breath Mints and wrappers

8) Liquid Hand Sanitizers

9) Cross Note Pad

10) No.2 Pencil

11) Black ink pen

12) My son’s plastic “gem stone” rings

13) Band-aids, used and unused

Bottom L-R:

14) My son’s Patch the Pirate Medal

15) Hair clip and scrunchie

Now doubt this could be worse but it’s bad enough and my bag is light again!!

So, what’s in your bag?!

Amanda Gayle

Throw Back Thursday: Zucchini Bread, American (1950)

As summer approaches, quickly I might add, gardeners are tending to their crops with vigilance, taking care of their produce and making sure the harvest will be plenty. One of my favorite summer vegetables is zucchini. It’s such a versatile veggie, I love it grilled, sauteed, in stir fries, in soups and casseroles, but most of all I love it baked in quick breads.

Today’s recipe is courtesy by way of Retro Housewife (click here) and is attributed to Kathy Wiley, 1950. While I love being able to see these older recipes in print, I LOVE seeing them come back to life in my kitchen!

ZUCCHINI BREAD, American

Ingredients

3 eggs

1 c. cooking oil

2 c. sugar

3 c. peeled, zucchini squash grated

2 t. vanilla

3 c. flour

1/4 t. baking powder

1 t. baking soda

1 t. salt

3 t. cinnamon

1/2 c. chopped nuts

Preparation Instructions

Beat eggs until light and foamy. Add next 4 ingredients. Mix lightly but well. In a separate bowl mix dry ingredients. Add flour mixture and blend. Add nuts. Put in 2 greased and floured loaf pans and bake at 325° for 1 hour. Remove from pans immediately and cool on racks. This bread may be frozen for later use.

Contributed by Kathy Wiley, 1950

Made 6 mini loaves

Made 6 mini loaves

zucchini bread   close up

This is perfect with a cup of coffee, hot tea, or milk. I went with chopped pecans, but you can grind them up smaller if you like however I like the larger bits. I also backed off the cinnamon a tad because I like using Saigon Cinnamon which is stronger than your typical store brand. Thankfully these freeze well and will make nice gifts for family and friends!

Amanda Gayle

Apple Fritters

Afternoon everyone!! What a beautiful day here in Alabama, birds are going crazy in the back yard compost pile flipping debris looking for delicious worms. Just thought I’d take a break from my activities to share an uber yummy recipe that I stumbled upon this morning.

I can remember my Mom making donut holes, pancakes, cinnamon rolls, but one of my favorites was apple fritters. Warm, soft, sweet, and with lots of syrup! Those were the day 🙂 I’m sure we all have similar memories, whether it was a mom, grandmother, aunt, or even a grandfather cooking up some special breakfast/brunch goodies. We’d usually have ours with some bacon on the side and orange juice or milk. It’s been some time since I’ve had apple fritters and to my knowledge my son had never eaten them before. Doing a few searched I came across one over at Seemingly Greek blog (click here). I loved it’s simplicity and it would help used up the remaining gala apples in the fridge. I only changed up the process just a bit, but here’s the recipe I followed.

Homemade Apple Fritters Recipe:

1 heaping cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
dash salt
1 – 2 tsp. cinnamon (depending on how much you love cinnamon)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 T. butter, melted
1 egg
1/3 cup milk + plus more if needed
1 – 1 1/2 cups chopped apple, your favorite kind for eating, peanut sized or smaller
oil for frying
milk and powdered sugar glaze for dipping or just powdered sugar for dusting
(About 1 cup pwd. sugar + 1 T. milk or more) 

 

Mix all dry ingredients together, slowly add the wet ingredients minus the apple. Carefully mix until well combined but not overly beat,gently fold in apple pieces. The batter should be the consistency of a light cake mix. Once the oil is ready (when a test drop of dough floats to the top of the oil, a drop of water sizzles, or a piece of white bread browns in 60 seconds) then using a cookie scooper or soup spoon, place a 4-5 balls of dough into the oil. Be careful not to overcrowd and watch carefully for the underside to turn golden brown, then gently flip over and continue frying until done. I cooked mine about 35 seconds per side, but they were the size of golf balls – adjust cooking times based on size of fritters and temperature of your oil, ideally around 365° F. It is always a good idea to test one to ensure it comes out like you are expecting.

When I began mixing the ingredients together, I didn’t add the wet to the dry immediately. First I shredded the apples (2) into the dry ingredients first and added the wet ingredients(increasing the milk to 2/3 cup). I shredded the apple because I didn’t want chunks, this allows the apple to become one with the batter 🙂

Apple Fritter Batter

Apple Fritter Batter

Used a tablespoon of batter per fritter, to me, it makes the perfect size!

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Fritters getting happy happy in the hot oil!

Chunky Monkey unable to resist

Chunky Monkey unable to resist

I warned him that it was hot but he just couldn’t resist trying one from the first batch.

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Made a simple glaze of powdered sugar and milk. These are so tender and good with or without the glaze, it brought back some wonderful memories for me and created some new ones for my boy 🙂 Hope you enjoy!

Amanda Gayle

 

Chicken by the Bag

In the freezer I had two six pound bags of chicken breasts and decided to cook up one entire bag in a stock pot for a few hours. Chicken comes out fall apart tender.

Boiling 6 pounds of chicken

Boiling 6 pounds of chicken

It’s easier in the long run and kinder on your wallet! The chopped cooked chicken freezes nicely, two cups per bag, and cuts down on cooking time. I’ve add this chicken and broth into casseroles, skillet dishes, and soups.

Cooked Cubed Chicken

Cooked Cubed Chicken

You can strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth if you have it. Personally the bit don’t bother me.

Chicken Broth

Chicken Broth

Time to close the kitchen for a bit to get some Zzz’s.

 

Quick Fix Dinner

Evening folks! It’s been a nice day here in sunny Alabama, hope you’ve been able to enjoy this fine weather where you are 🙂 It’s been a busy afternoon straightening up the dining room, laundry and just general cleaning. We’re in the process of getting things ready to receive my Papaw who will be flying up next week and around 4pm I started looking online for some quick frugal meals with ingredients we already had on hand. That’s when Mom pulled out a hamburger cookbook and went through it for about 45 minutes until we finally settled on two versions of a beef stroganoff.

So we combined the recipes! Why not right? From start to finish it took about 25 minutes. The finished product seemed to pass everyone’s approval!

This was a hit apparently!

This was a hit apparently!

Alas, I cannot eat it such things anymore though. Beef and pork are off limits for me thanks to some health issues earlier this year that lead me to add a more alkaline lifestyle to my lower carb lifestyle. As if they aren’t limiting enough on their own, combined it can get rather boring! As I was putting the final touches to their meal, made my Dad his salad I sat back and wondered what I could eat. I didn’t want more chicken or turkey, and frozen leftovers weren’t appetizing tonight. Instead I came up with this…

Low Carb High Fiber Wraps

2 high fiber wraps

romaine salad mix, about 3/4 cup

2 organic cucumbers, peeled and sliced lengthwise

1/4 tomato, sliced

Wholly Guacamole 100 Calorie pack

Ranch dressing

Drizzle some ranch dressing on the wrap, spread with a knife. Lay down some romaine lettuce mix. 

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Peel and slice cucumber lengthwise in half, and cut each half again lengthwise. Each cucumber yielding four long strips.

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With 1/4 of a tomato slice into four slices.

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On top of lettuce layer three long slices of cucumber with two pieces of tomato on top. Finish it off with a generous squeeze of guacamole and wrap it up.

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It doesn’t get much easier than that! It was quick, tasty, and hits the spot for a meatless night! I’ve been eating this way since January and no longer have any stomach ulcer issues, I’ve been able to continue losing weight, and just generally feel better over all. This coming from a person who was never really a vegetable fan to begin with 😉

I talked with Mom about needing to rearrange the freezers…uh, yes I said freezers. Plural. More than one….*crickets*….Because I want to start making and freezing casseroles and other dinners again for the family seeing how I have to make two different meals every night. Basically I want to make it easy on myself, hopefully freezer organization will make it on the list this week so I can share with you all some yummy meals that all you have to do is thaw and bake up! *keeping fingers crossed*

Hope you have a peaceful evening, I’m going to go chill with some mellow jazz for a bit. Night!

Amanda Gayle

 

Food Storage Tip: Food Saving,Freezing & Bags

Welcome back! Hope you had a great Memorial Day with your family and friends. We had a great time together, even got a couple of mosquito bites (yay me).

One of the main things my Mom and I absolutely love to use in all of food storage methods is the Food Saver. It’s great for beginners, is easy to use, has been a meat saver, helped us to break down bulky packages from Sam’s Club and Costco, and we even use it to put up everyday items such as glue sticks, pens, markers, and matches. It’s a multipurpose device that you really can’t live without once you start using it. If you really get into vacuum sealing, there are other brands of sealers that are considered heavy duty and will stand up to long sessions of vacuum sealing. We have both a Food Saver and a Weston Vacuum Sealer.

Mom and I love to freeze cooked meat. It makes sense, if you buy a five pound package of hamburger cook it all up in a large pot and store it in one pound storage bags. It cuts down on cooking time in the kitchen on any given night, the bags help to minimize freezer burn and it doesn’t take as long to thaw the meat out. But we didn’t stop there! One of our family’s favorite dishes is a meatball casserole and the meatballs are courtesy of Grandma Moronis Meatballs via Food Network. Mom decided it was silly to just make one pound of meatballs each time we decide to want them. Dad buys five to ten pounds of ground hamburger when we need to make another mess of meatballs! The only thing we changed was that we used dried oregano instead of fresh, reduced the amount and added some basil. Bake them up and freeze 30 meatballs in each Food Saver bag. They last for months and wind up having enough for five to ten meals, this has helped our grocery bill immensely and cuts down on prepackaged frozen foods which are just full of chemicals.

There’s more to freeze….

  • Pork Loin/chops
  • Steaks
  • Hand formed burger patties
  • Chicken Thighs/Quarters
  • Garden Vegetables
  • Berries
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Okra
  • Corn
  • Mushrooms
  • Bell Peppers
  • Hot Peppers
  • Pepperoni
  • Uncooked Bacon
  • and more

We actually buy meat less often this way when we buy it in bulk, other vegetables such as squash and zucchini are also perfect to freeze. Even better they are great to add to soups right out of the freezer no thawing necessary.

Here’s another tip when storing meat that you intend to cook in your slow cooker:

Prior to freezing go ahead and season the meat (pork loin/chops, chicken, roast), place it in a food saver bag and seal. When you’re ready to use in a crock pot you can either thaw completely or put it right into the slow cooker frozen. Cook on low for 8-10 hours and the meat comes out perfect every time! I love doing this especially with pork loins and chicken thighs. Roasts however I prefer cooking two in a slow cooker with 1/2 cup of water and two packets of lipton onion soup mix. Let it cook all day, eat one for dinner with you favorite sides and store the other on in the freezer with half of the liquid. The next month use the frozen roast in a soup, casserole, in a pseudo philly cheese steak sandwich or as is for another meal! Doesn’t get much easier than that!

Dad likes to buy the Tyson Natural Chicken Breasts from Sam’s Club. It dawned on me to just cook up the entire back in a large stock pot with some veggies to make a light broth. Once the chicken is done chop it up and store it in a freezer bag labeled one pound with the date. The broth is then stored in freezer bags, two cups per bag, and laid out flat on a cookie sheet pan until frozen then transferred to a freezer storage bin. The homemade broth is healthier, less sodium, and you can use it for any dish that may call for water or white wine.

I know what you’re thinking, I don’t have the kind of storage that you do obviously so I can’t do any freezer storage. Yes you can! You don’t have to start on the level that we’re on, keep it small. Freeze any leftovers from dinner in lunch packets (quart size freezer bags properly labeled including date) for the next month, buy extra bell peppers, chop each one up and store in freezer bags, one bell pepper per bag. Buy jumbo mushrooms, slice up, cook with a little olive oil until they have reduced slightly and again store in freezer bags. This what we did for the longest time and it helped to make dinner prepping go by so much faster. Instead of spending 30 minutes in the kitchen you can easily save 10 minutes by prepping your food ahead of time.

My challenge to you: sit down this week and think about where you could start and how you can begin making room for a couple of extra items. Remember, if a college student living in an apartment with a very small freezer can do it then so can you! Start small, take that first step to further cutting your budget and building up your own “store” supply.

Amanda Gayle

 

Good Morning Pancake Squares

What a beautiful Sunday morning it is! By this time we’re usually finishing up Sunday school but it’s been a poorly morning and actually weekend so far. Determined to not let anything ruin this glorious day I decided to make the morning special for my little guy. Today I wanted to try a new recipe, well new to me anyway. The family of Night Owl Kitchen loves pancakes, very fond memories of my Mom’s homemade buttermilk pancakes and my son just loves chocolate chip pancakes any time I’m willing to make them.

While I love to cook and bake there are days when I’m just not in the mood *gasp*! Yes I admit it, I’m just like everyone else! I love short cuts and cutting corners when I can. I stumbled upon a recipe for pancake squares late last week and was intrigued! I first saw the recipe at Big Red Kitchen (click here) and the variations thereof, right then I knew this was something I had to try. My son woke up to find it waiting for him and announced happily “Now this is a REAL breakfast!”

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Pancake Squares
 

3/4 cup milk
2 T. melted butter
1 large egg
1 T. sugar
1 cup flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish. In a large mixing bowl, beat together milk, butter and egg. Add sugar, then gradually beat the flour in. Carefully stir in the baking powder and salt. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serves 4-6.

Pancake Squares Breakfast

This was just as yummy as if I had slaved over a griddle making individual round pancakes. It was quick and easy to make, baked up in 25 minutes and met the approval of my son 🙂

Breakfast Picnic

No doubt these would be a winner for those busy school mornings, your next family’s weekend breakfast or when the in-laws come over for a visit! Hope you enjoy, we sure did!

Amanda Gayle

 

Memorial Day Crafts

Memorial Day Crafts

There’s still enough time to squeeze in some fun family crafts to enhance your Memorial Day weekend! Better Homes and Gardens has twenty crafts for kids and adults alike that will certainly liven up your next get together and bring the family closer 🙂

Have a safe Memorial Day!

Amanda Gayle

 

Strawberry Picking

What a busy day it’s been! My son woke me up this morning and told me that we had to get a move on if we were going to go pick strawberries. Now, he and I have never done that before and normally our version of “picking” is deciding which gallon buckets of picked berries we want to buy! But this time I wanted him to at least try it since my lower back has been messed the last few weeks.

We went back to my favorite berry patch, Maggie Valley Berry Patch and Gardens, over in Grant city. I love their strawberries, they are juicy, sweet, and perfect for our homemade preserves! We asked if my son could pick a few berries and while the pickers had already been through the field earlier that morning we were able to find a good half gallons worth this afternoon of ripe strawberries. Below my dad is showing my son how to pick a berry, pinching the stem and twisting. Very simple! I did pick a couple of large berries myself as I was walking along 🙂

My Dad showing my son how to pick a berry.

Grandpa (my Dad) showing my son how to pick a berry.

I loved their patch layout, everything looked so nice and well cared for. You really couldn’t have asked for a better experience!

Plenty of green ones sprouting.

Plenty of green ones sprouting.

Found one!

Found one!

We wound up buying three gallons of berries, including the half my son picked (which he spent the day eating off and on). If you’ve never been berry picking before I want to encourage you to try it out! It’s a great time to spend with your family, a fun outing and a practical education time. Not only did my son learn how to pick strawberries, but the woman was kind enough to explain how their watering system works and explained why they have a little fence around the berry patch (raccoons are so fun to put up with).

Sure you’re out there with bugs, flies, and sometimes in unforgiving conditions such as mud, blistering heat and the blazing sun. Just be sure to pick a really nice day, when it’s not too hot if possible, wear clothes and shoes you wouldn’t mind messing up, and most importantly be mindful that this is someone elses property. Small farmers go to a great deal of trouble to provide quality produce for the community and we ought to really appreciate them more for all their hard work and sacrifice. It takes a lot of time and energy to make sure that everyone can enjoy the harvest as much as possible, weather permitting of course.

One of the biggest berries they found!

One of the biggest berries they found!

I can’t wait to go back and pick some blackberries! Dad and I checked them out,they were still too small and red at this point. Are you growing a garden this year? Don’t know where to start or what zone you’re in and what’s best to grown in your area? The Farmer’s Almanac has a wealth of information on their site. They also have a map that shows the different zones, by color, of where certain things will grow best. And be sure to check out their recipe section, especially the spring recipes, yum!!

Toodles!

Amanda Gayle