Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fresh Homemade Strawberry Jam

Because we live in Florida, strawberry season begins in December and runs through March.  We have a favorite u pick strawberry farm we visit each year, and we love to bring them home and immediately process into jam to share with friends for Valentine's Day, and eat throughout the year.
  I've had many friends ask me to teach them how to make this jam.  Ultimately, for quantities, you have to follow the recipe on your pectin.  That's rule number 1.  The rest, you learn as a kitchen slave to your mother and grandmother, year after year, in the middle of summer in a burning hot kitchen and wonder why anyone would be crazy enough to want to do this (until you taste the final product of course) :)  

Here's a general recipe that will yield between 8-10 half pints: 
3.75 - 4 cups strawberries
7 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 package liquid pectin
1 teaspoon butter
8-10 half pint jelly jars, lids and rings
tongs & jar lifters

Keep the following in mind:   
It will take time. More berries = more time, but it depends on how much you are making, and finding your groove. At low altitude, one batch can be done in less than 30 minutes.
It will be messy (but not too bad).
Never EVER double the recipe. EVER. Unless you enjoy failure. I've done it - against better advice. 
Don't do it. Enough said.
It will be totally worth it.

Make sure you have paper towels on hand, lots of kitchen cloths, and an electric kettle comes in super handy. Jar lifters are a great tool also - I've dropped some jars just with tongs, and had some mishaps. Jar lifters are awesome - a $5-$10 investment that is worth it.
Find the ripest, freshest strawberries (or other fruit) around. 
At home, fill a large bowl or pot with water, and allow berries to sit for 10-15 minutes.  This helps remove soil - it drops to the bottom of the bowl.  
Pare off any bad spots, as well as stem and leaves. 
Place berries into another bowl.

Make sure that jam jars are washed (sterilized - they can stay in dishwasher on dry cycle to keep warm)
Place lids inside of rust free undamaged jar rings and submerge in boiling water.  Keep submerged, and keep water at a low boil constantly.  

Use the hot pack recipe found in the pectin box. Using a food processor or high powered blender, blend berries.  Pour into a pan, and add sugar and lemon juice as directed. Cook as directed until it comes to a boil. 

In the meantime...we multi-task
While fruit mixture is coming to a boil, line counter with clean dishcloths, and place 8-10 sterilized jam jars about an inch apart on dishcloths (this allows you to pour more quickly).
Still multi-tasking...
Heat a deep pot of water to boiling on stove. 
Make sure that the jars can fit into the canning pot (depth), and still have 1-2 inches of water cover them, boiling (electric kettles come in handy here with boiling water in just a few minutes, the microwave works too, but because boiling water evaporates, it is needed for lids and for the canning).     

Once fruit mixture boils, add 1 teaspoon butter - this will reduce the foaming later on. 

Add pectin as directed on package, and cook as needed. Usually a minute or two more after it comes to another rolling boil. 

Working quickly, remove from heat. 

Use a metal spoon and skim the foam from the top of the fruit mixture, depositing it into a bowl. This won't be processed, so you can eat it as soon as you want!  

Pour jam into the ready jars on the countertop. 
Use a clean rag (or dampened paper towel), and clean off the rim of each jar, removing any sugar or jam so that a proper seal can be achieved.  

Using tongs, remove rings and lids from boiling water (they need to boil a minimum of 10 minutes to soften the gum that will help them seal), and quickly place on lids.  Only tighten rings finger tight.

Place in boiling pot of water, and process as directed on pectin instructions - making adjustments for altitude. 

Remove from water - no need to dry lids, they are so hot, the water will evaporate. 
Place on dishtowels on countertop and do not disturb for 24 hours.  
If the jars have sealed, you will hear a "pop", and the center of the jar lid will be pulled down in a vacuum.  

After 24 hours, jars may be wiped with soapy water, or a rag with vinegar to make them shine and remove any residue on top of lid from evaporated water.  

"Souped Up" Hearty Multi Grain Pancakes

My family loves hot pancakes for breakfast, however I'm not a fan of premade "just add water" pancake mixes. I like the fluffy thick made from scratch pancakes - but they are a tougher sale at my house as time is a commodity in the mornings.
So, I've come to a compromise - we use the mix, but I get to add "healthy things" to the pancakes, and to make up for it, I'll usually throw in some blueberries or chocolate chips to make sure the kids will actually eat them.  It's a vicious cycle.
I'm on a huge omega 3 oils kick right now, and anywhere I can throw them in, they are included. These are full of protien, and fiber, and the omega 3 oils - so they are healthy, and they fill you up and keep you going.   I've also been adding freshly grated and toasted coconut to everything.  As in, I use my machete to break it open, and then put it into the food processor to shred, then toast in the oven.  It isn't sweet, but I feel like it is important and it isn't noticeable.   

1 Tablespoon amaranth seeds - lightly toasted or popped 
2 Tablespoons flax seed
2 Tablespoons chia seed
1 Tablespoon natural coconut - shredded and toasted (unsweetened)
1/4 cup oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
dash of cardamom

Mix ingredients together, then add 2 cups of pancake mix, and water to reach desired consistency.  Allow to sit for a few minutes so that the oats soften, and the flax and chia will begin to thicken.    
Stir, then pour onto hot griddle, and add berries or chocolate chips if desired.  Turn once bubbles appear and begin to pop. Serve immediately, with a pat of butter, and 100% maple syrup or my Blueberry Syrup.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Superfood Orange and Date Protein Power Bars - Gluten free

(Photos coming once they've cooled)
I am so excited about this recipe for protein/power bars!  
Besides being super yummy, they are rich in super foods/nutrients, (google flax, chia, quinoa, sesame, anise, and amaranth), 100% natural (no processed ingredients), and gluten free - yay! Made from nuts and seeds and so full of those healthy Omega 3's that we all need more of, but rarely get. I'm a proponent of 'made from scratch', and love that these are made with home ground nut butter, and my own shredded and toasted coconut. And did I mention that they are yummy?  

Filling and perfect for a morning when you don't have time for breakfast (I have a lot of those), after a run or bike ride, or as an afternoon snack for the kids after school.  Crunchy, nutty goodness, and totally versatile for whatever you might have in your pantry, to suit your taste.   
Heat oven to 350*
Mix the following together, spread on a cookie sheet, and toast in oven for 15 minutes - stirring occasionally. 

1 c. uncooked quinoa
1 c. uncooked oats
1 c. uncooked amaranth seeds
1/2 c. flax seeds
1/2 c. chia seeds
1 T. sesame seeds
1 T. anise seeds

Remove from oven, and place mixture in a large mixing bowl.

Add following fruit and nuts to mixing bowl with cooled grains: 
17-20 chopped (pitted) medijool dates (or any dried fruit - raisins, cranberries, blueberries, cherries)
3-5 chopped dried figs
1 c. shredded, unsweetened, lightly toasted coconut 
(Shred whole coconut, and toast in oven for 60 minutes at *225)
1/2 c. cashews
1 T. chia

Grate zest from 2 valencia oranges into a small bowl, and set aside. 

Binding mixture: 
1 c. unfiltered raw honey
Juice from 2 valencia oranges
2/3 c. nut butter (peanut, almond, or cashew)
(blend 3/4 c. raw nuts in high power blender until it turns to paste)
1 t. kosher salt
1.5 T. coconut oil

Heat honey in saucepan, over low heat.  Add orange juice and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for a few minutes so that it reaches a syrup like consistency. Stir in nut butter and whisk until smooth. Add salt and coconut oil.  Stir constantly and bring mixture to a boil.  Allow to boil for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat before this reaches a nougat like consistency.  

Immediately pour over grain/nuts/fruit mixture, add grated orange zest, and quickly mix together. Pour into a lightly greased 9x13 pan.  Use hands or spatula to compress, and smooth down, and bake at 350* for 20 minutes. 

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2 hours.  
Cut into bars. 

Optional - Melt 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips with 1 T. coconut oil.  Dip bottom of power bars into chocolate, and allow to cool on parchment paper. 

Individually wrap in plastic wrap.  
These store well in the cupboard, or refrigerate or freeze.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Copycat PF Chang's General Tso Chicken

I made this copycat PF Chang's General Tso Chicken for dinner last night and it got RAVE reviews - "Better than a restaurant, mom" kind of reviews. My pickiest eater had three servings - she stocks up on the stuff she likes, and picks at the stuff she doesn't, so that in itself is a recommendation on it's own.

4 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water
3 minced garlic cloves
3 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger - strings and all
1.5 cups white sugar
2 Tablespoons molasses
3 Tablespoons sweet soy sauce (thick, and found at Asian stores)
4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon onion powder

Mix Sauce together, cover, and set aside in the fridge.

3-4 cups diced chicken breasts (no skin or bone, raw)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups oil for frying
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3-4 red chili peppers - optional (there are many varieties - whatever is on hand)

Place flour, pepper, salt and pepper flakes in large ziplock bag.  Add chicken, seal, and shake until coated. 
Heat oil in wok, and place coated chicken pieces into hot oil.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, frying until cooked through, and as they begin to turn golden brown. Remove from oil, and drain on paper towel.  Repeat until all chicken pieces are cooked.  

Drain all but 1 Tablespoon of oil from wok (chicken debris is ok), and add chili peppers.  Heat for a few minutes, so that their skin can soften, and release the pepper oils.  Remove sauce from refrigerator, and slowly add to wok, stirring constantly, until it boils and thickens and combines.  
Remove from heat, and add chicken - stirring to coat. 
Serve over hot rice

Serves 8