Day 160–Berry Crisp

Several types of common "berries" ar...

Inspired by a recent post by Real Local Cooking, I decided to use my stash of blackberries and strawberries to make a fruit crisp. I had a good amount of strawberries that needed to be eaten immediately or composted. We love cobblers, but I like the idea of having oatmeal with my fruit–specially crispy oats. I found a recipe that called for way too much sugar and adapted it a bit. We had it for dessert last night and it was wonderful! The topping was very crispy and almost like granola. I used 6 cups of fruit–you can use any variety you want, I think, and adapt it based on what you have that is fresh and handy. The original recipe is Triple Berry Crisp from Allrecipes.com, but here is my adapted version:

Berry Crisp

  • 1 quart ripe strawberries (about 4 c.)
  • 1 full pint of blackberries (about 2 c.)
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 c. organic, dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 c. organic butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Wash fruit, drain and cut large fruit (strawberries) in half. Set aside.
  3. In another large bowl, combine wheat flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  4. Put butter in a bowl and microwave to melt.
  5. Pour butter over flour mixture and combine until crumbly. Press half of crumb mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 13″ pan (I actually used a ceramic, deep dish pie pan).
  6. Cover with berries.
  7. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over the berries.
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until fruit is bubbly and top is golden brown and crispy.

Enjoy those summer berries!

Day 125–What’s Fresh at the Market and Strawberry Bread

We are just winding down on our strawberry season and at the farmer’s market this week, farmers were predicting another two weeks of berries. Nooooooo!!!! So, of course, I had to stock up like a hoarder. I made 6 more half pints of jam, froze 2 quarts and made some strawberry bread. I had never made that before and it was very good! The recipe is below. My freezer is now getting pretty darn full, so my request for Mother’s Day is a deep freezer and my goal for the week is to carve out some space for that in an area that won’t blow a fuse. I’m up for the challenge!

Here is a list of what’s available this week in our area of central NC:

  • Strawberries
  • Lettuce (red, green, romaine)
  • Greens (swiss chard, kale, spinach, bok choy)
  • Radish
  • Hothouse tomatoes
  • Sugar snap peas
  • English peas
  • Hothouse cucumbers
  • Asparagus
  • Spring onions
  • Fresh garlic

Hope you enjoyed shopping at the market this week. What’s new in your area?

Strawberry Bread (makes 2 loaves)

  • 4 c. fresh strawberries, sliced
  • 3 1/8 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 c. chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour 2 loaf pans.
  3. Place sliced strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Set aside.
  4. Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in a large bowl; mix well.
  5. Blend oil and eggs into strawberries and add strawberrie mixture to flour.
  6. Blend until dry ingredients are just moistened. Stir in pecans.
  7. Divide batter into pans and bake for 45-50 minutes.

Day 118–This Week’s Produce Box

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This week, our veggie fairy named Terri delivered a beautiful box of vegetables plus organic strawberries PLUS cheese. Right to my doorstep. Yes she did. We are set to go with another week’s worth of fresh vegetables, including two kinds of lettuce, two pounds of carrots, beets, an herb bouquet, two quarts of strawberries and a local cheese that is similar to asiago. YUM!

So, what to do with two pounds of carrots? I’m thinking of…pickling! But of course! Pickled carrots sound yummy and will be a continuation of my learning all things pickle. These are supposed to be spicy pickles, which sound pretty good to me. I’m NOT posting this idea on Facebook 🙂 If that doesn’t work out for some reason, I’m thinking carrot soup.

What would YOU do with 2 pounds of carrots???

Day 112–A Strawberry Workday and Strawberry Fruit Leather

Saturday was all about strawberries at our house. We managed to get up and out of the house early and meet some of our fellow scouts at a local strawberry patch. The morning was beautiful and the berries were plentiful. It’s fun to watch everyone’s strawberry picking strategies. I pick the closest spot and start picking. Tom checks out the field and picks the spot where he thinks most people won’t have picked and Ellie gets as far away from us with her friends as she can. I’m thinking this mirrors our personalities fairly well 🙂

There is something about an entire field of ripe strawberries that makes me tend toward hoarding. I want to pick them all! In the end, we had four large buckets of beautiful, ripe berries and two pints of locally produced Maple View Farm ice cream. Two excellent treats! Once we got home with our bounty, the work began. We rinsed and checked our berries and immediately started hulling them for jam.

We made eight half pints of strawberry jam in all. The jam started out as old fashioned, slow cook jam with no pectin. After 90 minutes of cooking the berries, lemon juice and sugar, I couldn’t really tell if the jam had jelled, but I canned it using a hot water bath thinking that surely 90 minutes was enough time. The next morning, I re-cooked it and canned it a second time because it was too soupy. A lot of extra work, but I think I’ll be happier with the results this winter. And in the future, I may just use pectin with strawberries. They seem to have a lot of juice in them and it doesn’t cook down very well. Maybe blueberries are better?

After making the jam, we made strawberry fruit leather, based on a recipe in Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Put ‘Em Up cookbook. I was interested in this because fruit leather is a nice snack, but we don’t buy fruit rollups–they’re pretty full of junk and very low on actual fruit. The fruit leather drying process took longer than the recipe called for (about 4 hours instead of 2), but the end result was totally worth it. Our strawberry leather is chewy, tart and bursting with strawberry flavor. Soooooo good. Apparently, the fruit leather will keep in an air tight container for up to one month, but it will not last that long in our house! The recipe is below.

While we were canning and drying, I also froze 6 quarts of berries. I rinsed them, hulled them, then put them on parchment lined baking sheets, which I popped into the freezer for about an hour. When the berries were frozen, I put them in quart sized freezer bags. This way, they don’t get mushed and frozen in a big block.

After all that, you would think I’d collapse, but no, I decided to make a strawberry cobbler (recipe to come). Inspired by a similar recipe from Creative Noshing, I took our peach cobbler recipe and substituted strawberries as a test. It was amazing–especially when served hot with our Maple View Farm ice cream. Wow!

So our final total was 8 half pints of jam, 6 quarts of frozen berries, one batch of fruit leather and one strawberry cobbler. For good measure, I pickled 4 pints of asparagus spears (more on that this week). Needless to say, my house smelled great all day and at the end of the day, I slept very well. It was nice to take a day to devote just to cooking, canning and enjoying the literal fruits of our labor!

Berry Fruit Leather

  • 4 cups of berries (any will do!)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  1. Wash and dry the berries. Combine them with water in a large skillet and bring to a boil. Simmer until the berries begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Puree the fruit by mashing it with a potato masher or using a stick blender (my personal choice).
  2. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line a rimmed backing sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Return the berry puree to the pan and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently until it thickens to the consistency of baby food. Add the sugar and still to dissolve.
  4. Spread the sweetened puree onto the baking sheet, tilting the pan or using an offset spatula to create an even layer about 1/8″ thick.
  5. Dry in the oven until tacky to the touch, about 2 hours (for me this was 4 hours).
  6. Cool to room temperature. Side the parchment onto a cutting board and roll the leather into a tube. Slice the fruit into 2″ strips and store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Day 111–What’s Fresh At the Market?

Although I know that not everyone reading this blog is from North Carolina, I’ve had a couple of requests to share information about what is currently available at the farmer’s markets. Since I’m there anyway, I’m glad to do that!

I just returned from the farmer’s market on my lunch break and that place is hopping, I tell you! During the winter, I had no problem driving up and finding a prime parking spot. Today, I had to circle around to the back of the market to find any available spots. Lots of good eats today! Ready? Here goes:

  • Strawberries
  • Asparagus (green and purple)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Fresh spring peas (shelled)
  • Onions
  • Lettuce–red leaf, green leaf, butter
  • Greens–mustard, kale, swiss chard, spinach
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes (hothouse)–mostly “Trust” variety
  • Cucumbers (hothouse)
  • Parsnips
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Honey
  • Herbs
  • Bedding plants
  • Garden plants (vegetable and herb plants)

In addition to some fresh asparagus, I scored a fresh roasting chicken from my friends at Rainbow Farm. Yay! Can’t wait for Sunday supper!

Our weather here is not supposed to be great this weekend (but we do need the rain badly). Still, I’m hoping to get out and do some strawberry picking with my family so we can make more jam! Have a great weekend at your farmer’s markets and get those fresh veggies!

Day 110–Our First Produce Box of the Year!

The Produce Box is here! The Produce Box is here!

Pulling into my driveway last night, I saw an unfamiliar car behind me. The car pulled into my drive and stopped. Someone looking for directions? Someone complaining about my lack of green grass in the yard? Nope. It was my Produce Box Neighborhood Organizer delivering my first Produce Box of the growing season! Life is good.

I’ve blogged about The Produce Box before (HERE), but this is the first box we have received since last fall, so it merits some additional blog time! The Produce Box sources all its vegetables and farm products (cheese, bread, honey, jam) from North Carolina farms, packages them into CSA-type boxes and delivers them to the house. Members also contribute a small fee (I think it was $3 this year) to provide small grants to local farmers to help address issues on their farms (some of this year’s grants included purchasing seed starting supplies, purchasing refrigeration units, educational opportunities, etc).

Because The Produce Box works with several farms, they do offer a greater variety of vegetables than a traditional CSA, which also reduces the risk of not receiving anything if one farmer has a crop fail. Members can pick among several boxes each week, including an organic box and a small box for folks who can’t consume all the veggies in the standard box. And I have to say it, I love having my vegetables delivered. One thing I can cross of my list. But you know, meeting with and talking to farmers has been a real joy for me, so even though I get my produce box delivered, I’ll still be heading out to the farmer’s markets to pick up anything not in my box as well as cheese, pasta, meat, eggs, etc.

What did we get in our first box? Due to a late season frost last week, this week’s box is smaller than usual, but still a very welcome sight! We received two packages of strawberries, sweet potatoes, spinach, a HUGE head of lettuce, greenhouse cucumbers, and carrots so fresh they still have the dirt on ’em. Yum. Just in time for saladpalooza night!

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Day 107–Balsamic Strawberry Jam

Garden Strawberry

Success!! Having learned some lessons from my first round of jam making, I purchased more beautiful berries from the farmers market and gave it another go. Much better! I made two rounds of quick jam using pectin (this time Pomona’s Universal Pectin) and my results were more “jammy” with no fruit float. Also, Pomona Pectin allows you to make low sugar jam, which is terrific.

I also put up 3 quarts of frozen berries, which will last about 15 minutes in my house, so I better get moving! This Saturday (depending on the weather) is berry picking day for us, so we should have more berries on the way!

Deciding to do something a little fancier, I made 3 half pints of regular strawberry jam and 3 of a balsamic strawberry jam. I had just enough 17 year balsamic vinegar (a gift from my mom) to make it work. The taste is richer and more complex than the regular jam. Not for pb&j, but would be great on roast pork, pound cake or ice cream!

Here is the recipe I used from “Put ‘Em Up” by Sherri Brooks Vinton. I added 1/2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter to the mix. This wasn’t in the recipe, but was recommended as a way to reduce the amount of foam produced during cooking. It worked very well.

Quick Strawberry Jam (for Strawberry Balsamic, sub 4 Tbsp. lemon juice with 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice)

1c. Sugar
1 tsp. Pomona’s Universal Pectin
4 c. Strawberries, hulled
1tsp. Calcium water (included in the Pomona’s box)
4 Tbsp. Bottled lemon juice (or 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice)

1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (optional)

  1. First, get out all your ingredients and make the calcium water (mix powder w/water and set aside).
  2. Combine the sugar and pectin in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Put the berries in a non-reactive pot and mash well with a potato masher. Slowly bring berries to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Add butter, if using.
  4. Stir in the calcium water and lemon juice or vinegar/lemon juice.
  5. Slowly add the sugar/pectin mix and stir to dissolve.
  6. Return the mixture to a boil, stirring to ensure that the mixture is heated thoroughly.
  7. Remove from heat and let it rest for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release air bubbles. Skim off any foam.
  8. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or can by using the following instructions.
  9. Ladle mixture into clean, hot half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Release any trapped air. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid, and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Day 106–Starting Week 15–Budget and Menu

I absolutely love this time of year. Our farmers markets are full of fresh, spring produce, strawberries are ripe and we don’t have scorching temperatures yet. In some ways, shopping at the markets was easier in the winter–now I find myself completely smitten by all kinds of beautiful produce NOT on my shopping list. A good excercise in self-control. And–TA DA!–this is the first week for our Produce Box deliveries! My box of lettuce, greens, strawberries and hothouse cucumbers should be delivered Wednesday afternoon. We’ve planned a Saladpalooza night to celebrate!

This week’s budget is pretty good! I spent $94.40on our groceries for this week. I spent an additional $18.00 on strawberries that have become jam and frozen berries for later (recipes to come this week). Since we are getting more in our Produce Box, I went ahead and put almost all of the strawberries up for later. So, technically, I went over budget at $112.40, but the six half pints of jam and quarts of frozen berries will be used throughout the year. That should save us over the course of the year. We have a busy week ahead, so no super involved dinners. Hopefully we will get some rain this week–we sure do need it.

  • Water Oaks Farm (eggs): $4.00
  • Produce Box (lettuce, greens, strawberries, cucumbers and more): $23.00
  • Farmer’s Market, various vendors (bok choi, potatoes, onion): $13.00
  • Farmhand Foods (skirt steak from Meatbox): $15.00
  • Trader Joes (broccoli, chicken thighs, frozen fruit, soy milk, Ezekiel bread): $39.40

What’s on the menu for this week? Well, here it is–pretty simple, but good!

  • Sunday–grilled skirt steak, sugar snap peas, potatoes, salad; carryover frozen lemon blueberry pound cake and strawberries for dessert
  • Monday–chicken and veggie stir fry with spicy peanut sauce
  • Tuesday–grilled cheese with leftover Hillsborough Cheese Co cheese and frozen chicken soup [What’s On Your Plate? screening]
  • Wednesday–egg salad sandwiches, carrots and strawberries for dessert
  • Thursday–saladpalooza!
  • Friday–leftover cleanup night
  • Saturday–family pizza night, salad

A great moment for me this week was completing my first 5K road race in a long time. I have never been able to finish a race running the entire distance (I usually have to do a run/walk thing toward the end). But I ran the entire way and felt absolutely great! I am owing a good part of this to our better eating and more conscious exercising. We’re looking for the next race to run!

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the beautiful spring weather wherever you are!

Day 102–Strawberry Jam

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In my daughter’s world, the phrase “epic fail” sums up a good intention gone terribly wrong. My first attempt at making strawberry jam wasn’t quite to that level, but it was far from a raving success. Maybe mini fail??

I purchased my first strawberries at the farmer’s market Saturday and at the last minute (never good), decided to dive into jam making. Got all my supplies out, washed and cut the fruit and found a Ball recipe for quick jam using pectin. Which I did not have. So, one trip to the grocery later, I was set to start.

The process was easy enough when I read the instructions, but once I started, I had a million questions. Like, when you measure the fruit, do you measure it whole or cut up? How mashed should you mash the berries? Why does the recipe call for so much dang sugar? What should the finished jam look like? Is some foam on the jam ok or do you need to skim off every bit? Clearly, I needed a visual tutorial.

I soldiered on without one, though, and took my best guess. The resulting jam mixture looked thin, with lots of fruit chunks, but it tasted good. I carefully ladled the mix into my hot jars, processed them according to the directions and waited…

What emerged from the bath was still not very thick and the fruit chunks were floating at the top of the jars (answer–mash the berries up well). After a slight freak out, I consulted my books and found that this is appropriately called “fruit float,” that it is only an aesthetic problem, and it is caused by excess air in the fruit cells releasing and pushing the fruit up. Whew!

My concerns about the thickness of the jam were addressed the next morning, when I found that all the jars had sealed and that the jam, once cooled, was thicker and more jam-like. We tried some on our toast and it was very nice. A good mix with a spoon brought the berries back in with the jam and fixed the float problem.

I’ve given a couple of jars to neighbors, although I felt compelled to explain why the berries were at the top (I’m not sure they would have noticed if I hadn’t obsessively pointed it out).

Overall, I felt very insecure doing something so foreign. But, I am determined to move forward, and plan to make a second batch this weekend. Here is what I will do differently:

Choose my recipe BEFORE I go shopping (insightful, no?).

Use a different pectin. I used Sure Jel, which is all our nearby grocer had, but I understand that with Pomona Pectin, you can use a lot less sugar.

I will not plan to cook anything else (like Easter supper) while I am trying to can. I am not that good at multitasking.

I will share my bounty only if I can do so without a 10 minute explanation of what I did wrong and how my preserves will probably not kill you.

Clearly, I still have a lot of learning to do, but this is a nice challenge that is stretching me in new ways!

Maybe I’ll report next week of an “epic success”!