Friday, May 28, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bread and Butter Pickles

While I love most of all to make jam, I do love to eat pickles, especially home-made pickles.  Our family has a terrific and super-easy recipe for sour pickles I'll share later in the summer, but for now it's bread and butter pickles.  I tried a sweet fiddlehead pickle recipe recently, but I didn't love it, and neither did anyone else who tried it.  We all loved the taste of the sweet juice in the jar, but without the taste of the fiddleheads, or pickle-heads, as my daughters call them.  The fiddleheads are much better with dill.  So, we got the itch to make good old fashioned bread and butter pickles, with cucumbers and onions.  You too can make these-- don't be intimidated!  Do it.  You'll see the flash of nostalgia in their eyes as they eat their first bite, and from there on you'll be their favorite culinary genius.

3 Lbs of cukes (known as pickling cucumbers in your local market)
1 Lb yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup kosher or pickling salt-- don't use regular salt or your pickles will look cloudy and gross
1 1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 1/4 cup white sugar
1 Tbs mustard seed
1 tsp crushed red pepper
3/4 tsp celery seed
1 inch cinnamon stick
6 allspice berries plus a pinch of ground allspice
6 whole cloves plus a pinch of ground cloves
1/2 tsp turmeric

If you intend to put your pickles into jars to be shelved, you'll also need:
-6 pint-sized jars with lids (pick these up at any supermarket starting in the spring)
-a big stock pot or canning pot with a rack-- you can make the rack out of screw-bands tied together with twisties
-Tongs or a jar-lifter

Clean the cukes and cut off the ends.  Slice them into 1/8 - 1/4 inch slices into a big bowl.  Add the onions and pickling salt and stir it all up.

Cover this with a thin towel-- really, just set the towel on top of all the cukes and onions, then cover that with ice so the whole towel is covered.  Put the bowl in your fridge for several hours (at least 4, but overnight is good).  Take the bowl out and throw away the ice.  Rinse off your cukes and onions and drain the water.  Do this a second time.

Now-- if you intend to keep your jars of pickles on a shelf, or give them away at Christmas, you'll need to process the jars appropriately.  If you're bringing them to a big picnic this weekend, move on to the next paragraph now.  Clean your jars and lids with soap and water, then, while you're cooking the pickles, pour boiling water over the lids in a separate bowl.  Most people consider the dishwasher to be enough sterilization for jars, so go ahead and just set the jars aside, ready to fill.  If you insist on actual sterilization (I do this with everything I put in a jar), place the jars in boiling water in a big stock pot for 10 minutes.  Then take them out just before you put the pickles in them so they are still hot.

Grab a 6 or 8 quart pot and bring the vinegar, sugar, and all the spices to a boil.  Once the sugar is dissolved, add the cukes and onions and bring this to a boil again.  You'll want to stir frequently.  When the mixture starts boiling, use a slotted spoon to pack just the cukes and onions into your jars.  Pack them up to an inch from the top of the jars.  Then use a ladle to pour the vinegar syrup over the cukes into the jars, up to half and inch from the tops.  Wipe all the rims of your jars clean with a wet paper-towel, then take your lids out of the hot water to cover your jars.  If you're not keeping these on a shelf, go ahead and let them cool, then put all the jars in the fridge.  Voila.  Done.  I hope you got a taste before you sealed your jars! 

OK-- here's the important part when it comes to keeping these bad boys on a shelf.  Use the same big stock pot you used to sterilize your jars-- the water should still be hot.  If you tie together a bunch of jar screw-bands with twisties, you can use these as a rack on the bottom of your pot.  The jars shouldn't be touching the bottom, so try to avoid this in some way.  Once you have boiling water and a make-shift rack, put your jars into the pot-- you'll want to use strong tongs if you have them-- and let them boil, covers in tact, for 10 minutes.  This is known as a boiling water bath in the world of canning.  You can do it.  When your 10 minutes is up, remove the pot from the heat and do your best to safely remove the jars from the pot using your tongs or other grabbing device.  If you intend to do any more canning, you should pick up one of those canning equipment sets-- you can get these anywhere from big supermarket chains to Wally-world.  This'll make things easier in the future.

I hope you love these little babies as much as we do!  If you just can't imagine canning anything and prefer to buy them from a qualified pickle-maker, look forward to checking out my web site.  It's soon to be in-the-making.  Until then, leave a comment if you'd rather me send you a jar.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Corner

In our house, the girls are issued a time out when they can not change a negative behavior when we ask them to.  Right now Charlie is in the habit of saying, "Bad Mommy!" if I say something she doesn't want to hear, such as, "No, you may not eat Jello for breakfast."  This is something both sisters have already tried out, but she is starting to follow their lead on these things.  So, off to the corner she goes.  We don't call it a "naughty chair" (though I do love Supernanny), or make them apologize or anything.  They just have time out, which they know to be "Going to the Corner."  Don't freak out-- we do give them lots of positive feedback and encouragement, and we redirect them whenever possible-- if it's doable.  I know I should probably be sent to the corner for taking a photo of my kid while she spends time in the corner, but I didn't even send her there, so it seemed ok.  She actually took herself to the corner after hitting Addie today.  You can see she's really been working on her dirty looks.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fiddlehead Pickles

It's something that happens in Maine this time of year.  People around here go out looking for ostrich ferns, otherwise known as fiddleheads, in the woods, at the edge of the river, typical places you'd find ferns.  These look a little different than your average fern because they form a thin crusty layer on their sides, which you peel off before you consume them.  They are picked when they're  not yet a full-grown fern.  They're all curled up, ready to unfold, about 5 or 6 inches tall, and you snap them right off their helpless stalks.  Done.  Eat 'em up just for a few weeks in the spring.  Some of my family members fry them with butter and bacon, but Joe and Addie prefer to just eat them cold and raw.  You might steam them and eat them with a little vinegar too.  I hadn't thought to go looking for any of the goodies in the woods, though I probably would have had some luck finding them here.  Instead I happened upon them at the local supermarket while I stood there annoyed that I couldn't find a decent looking string bean in the place.  I'm not sure what I was thinking anyway-- string beans in May?  No.  Fiddleheads?  Yes.  So I bought them right there on the spot, then came home and turned them into Dilly Fiddles.  But you can call them Fiddlehead Pickles (of the dill sort) if you want to be all proper about it.   

Monday, May 17, 2010

Seeing Red

In flipping through some of the photos I took over the weekend, I noticed a distinctive pattern.  What could this possibly mean?

My new incredibly awesome apron, direct from TJ Maxx.  Perfect color for jam-making, and has loops and pockets-- oh! oh! And it's even length-adjustable for the shorter-than-average cook.  Love it. 

Yeah, I know it looks like a blood bath.  In fact, it's the top view of my new birthday sieve, thanks to Mom.  It's a crazy huge, rather obscene really, attachment for my mixer.  It separates juice from pulp, just like using a cheese cloth, but without the endless wringing and smushing.  I supposed you could call it cheating.  Either way, you get the seeds out, and that's what matters when you're making jelly.

Cranberries, tons of sugar, and red hots.  Need I say more?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Planting Sunflowers

We borrowed Auntie's rototiller a couple weeks ago and finally got around to using it to finish up the area of our lawn that we want for some gardening.  I've already mentioned here before that I did not get the "farming gene," but I can't help but want to try it out with the girls.  Besides, Ed gave me a couple pounds, yes pounds, of sunflower seed so I can try to grow a little field of massive sunflowers.  Several years ago, I remember driving with an old boyfriend through the Hamptons-- I know, it really does sound like I'm making this up, but not so-- anyway, we're driving through this incredible place and we come upon an enormous field of sunflowers.  I'm talking acres of them.  At the edge of the field by the roadside was this one little bucket filled with cut sunflowers, and a little sign that said $1.  It was priceless-- well, it was $1, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, I don't think we'll be growing any acres of the beauties, but it would be nice to see a few pop up out of the ground and grow into flowers.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dandelion Jelly

You read correctly. Dandelion jelly. There are a zillion recipes for it, and now that we've eaten it with ham for dinner, I can see why. It tastes like lemon and honey and, well, dandelion yumminess all sealed up in a little jar. Seriously. It's good. And it was wicked fun to make with three little girls on a sunny day.

We would need 4 cups of just the yellow flower parts, so we each brought our own bucket or basket to fill up. You can imagine this wasn't too terribly difficult a task at this time of year.

After plucking off all the green parts from each flower, we boiled the dandelions with some water, then strained and squeezed it through cheese cloth. We then boiled the liquid with a little lemon juice, a lot of sugar, and pectin to turn the sauce into sweet jelly.

I must admit, I was surprised to thoroughly enjoy the taste of this stuff. I figure it would be a wonderful adventure with the kids, which it was, but that I'd have to fake how awesome it was when it was time to get out the spoon. Nope. It really is good. Fun, not hard to make, pretty, and sweet. A success!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chocolate Bouquet

Not bad for a couple of 3-year-olds and one scattered mom, huh?

On Mother's Day afternoon, after taking Grammie out to the local breakfast place for some easy eats, the girls and I had a stupendous time working on these little chocolate flower and butterfly pops. It was super-fun for us all, and it really didn't turn out half-bad looking (or tasting!) either. We put them in a small butterfly flower pot, and the girls walked them over to Grammie's for an early evening visit.

Step 1: Melt chocolate for 45 seconds in the microwave.

Step 2: Pour chocolate into the little molds you pick up at AC Moore for a couple bucks. Oh, you can get the pop sticks there too. And Step 3: Cool in fridge for 10 minutes, and Voila! The girls also had fun making up their own pops and chocolate art on wax paper. So fun and VERY easy!

Mint-Chocolate Whoopie Pies

Last summer, Holly and I took the girls blueberry and strawberry picking up at Dole's Orchard. We did quite a bit of picking (and eating), then sat down for lunches Holly had packed. We felt it only fair to the children that we also purchase some yummy whoopie pies from Dole's stand to celebrate their picking achievements. Ok, really just the adults wanted them and we used the kids as an excuse. Anyway, the pies were yummy, so I found a little recipe online ( to try to duplicate the treats at home.

Ingredients for cookie parts: 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tbs oil, 1 egg, 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup baking cocoa, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt, 4 Tbs milk (divided)

Beat sugar and oil until crumbly. Add egg and beat for 1 minute. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt, then beat this into the sugar mixture. Add 2 Tbs milk and mix well. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on sprayed cookie sheet. Flatten with an oiled jar bottom, then bake at 425 for 5 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack.

Meanwhile, here's what you need for the middle, or the "whoopie:"
2 Tbs butter softened, 1 1/3 cups confectioners sugar, 1/8 tsp mint extract

Combine butter and confectioners sugar until crumbly. Beat in extract and remaining desired milk. Spread on the bottom half of half of your cookies, then top with remaining cookies.
This recipe should really be doubled, as we ended up with only 11 whoopie pies, and small ones at that.

SOOOOooooooo Yuuuummmmmmmy!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Official Taste Testing

When the girls got up this morning and asked what was for breakfast, I put together a little taste-testing party for us. We had a great time just hanging out in our pj's, judging each sample of jam and other goodness, using a self-devised professional grading process we could all comprehend: Not Yummy, Yummy, or Super-Yummy. I'm happy to say that ALL the jam I made rated Super-Yummy. Yogurt (Stonyfield's, not mine) also rated high, as well as Mott's Cinnamon Apple Sauce. Even the kumquats reached Yummy status, and all agreed that while corn relish is Super-Yummy, it is not great for breakfast. The true test for me was to see which item each girl would choose to put on their toast for their actual breakfast, keeping in mind they had all just eaten a bunch of sweet stuff. Charlotte went for the "Rhubarb Pie Jam," as she called it, and as I will now call it. Addie chose the Rhubarb-Ginger. Ruby, being Ruby, climbed up onto her chair, ate everything on her plate, kumquat and relish included, climbed down and said, "It's all Super-Yummy Mommy," then jumped back down to go play with her stuffed animals.If you've never tried them before, kumquats are funky little citrus fruits that grow on trees and have a taste resembling a combination of orange and lemon. You eat the whole fruit, peel too. They're not for everyone --they can be slightly bitter-- but they're something different and pretty cute too.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Label Day

And I believe we have a label! The process involved Laurie drawing dozens of 2" circles, and me drawing about a zillion of these canoes, several people, and even more paddles, while Joe got the girls ready for bed tonight. I trashed one label where the three people in the canoe were all hitting each other with the paddles. Seriously. I should've kept it just to show you. This was as the result of my hearing the massive multi-child tantrum going on upstairs while we worked on this little project downstairs.


The image, along with our name and address, will fit atop the lid of a jelly jar. The kind of jelly will be hand-written on a separate label on the side of the jar. So far so good.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

And Relish

Today I had a go at making and canning Corn Relish, something I've never made nor eaten, but which I found in an old cookbook we got from Joe's mom. I love the book. It's so common sense and old fashioned (in a good way), yet it's not even 40 years old. Yep, I'm a little sensitive about getting closer to 40, especially since it's my birthday tomorrow. There's no need to explain in this recipe, for example, the very temperature at which you must boil the zillion ingredients you've piled into the stock pot. You just "boil it for a minute or so" because you know what boiling looks like and you don't need some author to tell you. At least that's what I imagine the author telling me when I read it. And it turned out yummy enough for any burger or grilled chicken, or even alone in its own side dish. And because I'm trying to play by the rules, just so you know, I did use a thermometer. Oh well. So much for rebellion.

I also loved finding three seemingly randomly placed recipes throughout the book, written on notebook paper in my mother-in-law's hand-writing: Impossible Pumpkin Pie, Eggnog Pound Cake, and Mandarin Orange Cake. Yum! I'm definitely putting those on the future baking agenda.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Rhubarb-Ginger Conserve
Rhubarb-Ginger Preserve
Rhubarb-Ginger Jam
Ruby's Rhubarb-Ginger
Batch 2 Number 1 Ragin' Rhubarb Ginger Mayhem. (you can imagine this is my favorite but probably won't fit on a label)

What about the name? Ideas are welcome!

I was looking all over the place for a recipe for rhubarb jam. Just rhubarb. No strawberries, no raspberries, no nothing. Just rhubarb. I found nothing, except for a few recipes for rhubarb sauce, or rhubarb jams made with strawberry jello. No thanks. I did come across one great little recipe for gingered-rhubarb jam that sounded fantastic, so I gave it a whirl. The first whirl was three days ago. This particular recipe does not require pectin other than that in the veggie itself-- yep, rhubarb's a vegetable, and it has enough pectin in it, once it's combined with sugar, to jell up quite nicely. My big mistake occurred when I allowed the most incredibly-smelling, color-changing, wonder of a preserve to over-boil. When this happens, the temperature raises above the "jell-point," which is about 220 degrees for jams. The next "point" on a candy thermometer is, well, pretty much candy. The fragrance turned to stench, the sauce turned to goop, and the whole mess hardened like frozen taffy. It was terrible. Still, I surrendered to the process, threw some of it in jars while I had the chance, and hoped for a miracle. No such thing occurred. I still have the two jars of hardened rhubarb (and ginger!) on my counter, next to the second batch I dared to make today. And today's batch was much better. MUCH better. So much better that we spread it on our grilled salmon tonight, then opened a second jar to have a couple more spoonfuls. Yum. Need to go running tomorrow.

Anyway, about the name. Jams, jellies, and preserves have to be named according to some FDA guidelines. This is based on fruit and sugar content, along with other specifics. When it comes to the words "preserves" or "sauce," however, the rules are a little more lenient. In this case, I know I can't call it jelly, but I'm sure it can be called jam, preserves or spread. For more info, check out The Nibble.