Thursday, October 18, 2012

Big Batch Cranberry Sauce

It's that time of year, and I've hoarded all I can manage of local cranberries.  Last year I did well, making it to August with one last gallon of cranberries sitting lonely in the freezer.  I'm already worried this year that I won't have enough for my own basic survival needs.  I have obsessive thoughts of cranberries pouring into every fall recipe, and, no kidding, I've had recent dreams about that cranberry-simmering moment when the first berry pops in the pot.  In the fall, that little pop is as satisfying as hearing a jam jar lid seal.  That pop is precious.  I told you I'm obsessed.

If you've not tried making your own cranberry sauce, you must do so right this second.  It's fall and the cranberries are plentiful.  Don't worry about messing it up.  It'll either under-gel or over-gel if you do-- either way it'll still taste good.  Oh, and the sauce I make includes whole and chopped cranberries and gels rather solid.  Stop reading now if what you want is the jelly you can see through with no chunks.  I'm a fan of the chunks.  Please don't quote me out of context on that one.

The recipe here is for a relatively large batch of sauce.  You'll end up with about a dozen pint-sized jars.  If you decide to make a smaller batch, lessen the boiling time.  Half a batch of the recipe below should be boiled for about 15 minutes.

Here's what you'll need:

5 Lbs of whole cranberries (fresh or frozen)
10 cups of water
15 cups of sugar

Place half of your cranberries in a large stock pot with the water and turn on the heat.  While you're letting that heat up, chop the rest of your berries in a food processor.  How much you chop them is up to you.  Pour those berries into the pot.  Stir berries in with the water occasionally until it comes to a boil.  Boil, while stirring, for 6 minutes.  Add the sugar and stir it in thoroughly.  If you're like me, you'll be impatient about watching the pot until it boils, so you might as well get another batch of jam or pickles started, or make some coffee while you wait.  Still, keep an eye on the pot so nothing burns to the bottom.

Once your sauce comes to a boil, stir it regularly for about 20 - 25 minutes.  The 20-minute-mark is crucial in terms of waiting for that gelling point.  If you feel better using a thermometer, make sure it reaches 220F and stays there for a few minutes.  I also have several small plates in the fridge upon which I administer is "gelling test," which I am famously terrible at.  When I feel most confident that the sauce has created a "sheet" on the plate, rather than several "drips," I call it good and turn off the heat.  Much like jam, use a large spoon or skimmer to remove whatever foam might have appeared on the top of your sauce.  Fill hot jars with the sauce to about 1/8th inch from the top, cover them with hot lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Great for your Thanksgiving turkey or as a condiment to your turkey sandwich all year long.      

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fantastic Fryeburg

This year's Fryeburg Fair was amazing for both Above the Dam Jam and me personally.  I met so many new friends, reunited with many old friends and family members, and reminisced with several former students and colleagues from all over New England.  I talked canning with hundreds of foodies, connected with other local jammy businesses, and created new business relationships along with way with individuals, New England kitchens, and local specialty shops.  I can't say enough about how awesome the week was.  Having said all of that, by far the best part of the week was sharing it with so many family members who also spent time at the fair.  Hope to see you all again next year!

These beef cows were raised by my brother Ed and our cousin Ron, with most of the work load resting on the shoulders of my niece Sage and our cousin Cory, both who showed cows all week.
Sage:  The Cow Whisperer.  She won like a zillion awards showing cows, as well as they even made up a special award for her overall participation and helpfulness as a 4H member and farm kid.  This one's heading to college for agriculture next fall.
My cousin Allison hung out at the barn, working through the week at the fair, as well as keeping up with her own school work.  Don't worry, I checked.  She was getting it done!
Make sure you pick up this year's Christmas tree from our Meserve cousins at Boiling Spring Tree Farm in Dayton.  This tree was raised up onto its own platform to show it off as a winner at Fryeburg.  

Joe took time off from work to be up in Fryeburg with me.  He loved every second of it and was super supportive.  Lucky to be in love with a man like this one!
Every day I had relief from family members who stopped by to let me take a break for a bit.  When Aunt Carol and my mom showed up, Auntie took the money, while my mom "worked the floor" (her words!).  Those ladies can sell pickles!  Also note the amazing set up Joe spent hours-into-days building for me out of planed wood that came from farm trees our cousins cut down years ago.  Our. Display. Rocked.  I can say so since I really had little to do with it.

These girls were so incredibly patient throughout what ended up being a crazy week mostly spent without their mother.  They traveled back and forth to Fryeburg quite a few times, and of course we toured the fair scene, experienced fair food, and even had one or two fair meltdowns.  All in all they were terrific.  This pic is actually taken on our last trip home from Fryeburg after an apple picking stop on the way.  Glad to be home with them now!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Maine Market Season

When the spring rolls around, it's full paddle ahead around here.  The kids are out of school, and I'm feeling the pressure and excitement of a busy market season and restaurant demands.  I am a working and playing fool and having the best time being one.  Here's some proof that actual work is getting done, if you can call it work at all.  

Work?  LOVING the Kennebunk Market!

Thanks, Auntie Carol, for the excess rhubarb.  My favorite veggie.

It's a rough life sampling chocolate jams all day...

The favorite part of my job, by far, although it did take a little effort to force these three into the middle of a field of lupins.  Good sports, they are!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Magnetic Scrabble Boards: Home Made!

Before Charlie's and Ruby's birthdays, I had an idea about creating big magnetic wall boards for each of them.  In my head, the boards were painted funky colors and would be covered with scrabble pieces so the girls could spell words, create sentences, just have fun with them-- oh and maybe learn a little something too.  The inspiration came from this awesome-yet-slightly-above-their-skill-level exhibit at the Children's Museum of NH in Dover.  It's a series of paragraphs from The Cats of Mrs. Calamari, by John Stadler.  A young reader can literally fit together the pieces to create the story in full:

So off I went to the local Home Depot and picked up the biggest piece of sheet metal available and enough trim board to frame it.  I accosted the nice man in the lumber section, who walked me through the easiest way to get the trim to stick to the sheet metal.  He suggested I use thin plywood as a backing for the sheet metal, and he happened to have it pre-cut to the exact size of the metal.  He threw a tube of Liquid Nails in my cart too, saying I wouldn't need any other tools.  He also brought me to the paint aisle, where I picked up a couple cans of good-for-everything (and no need to prime) spray paint. 

Paint the sheet metal, then glue it to the plywood with Liquid Nails.

Paint the trim, then glue it to the sheet metal.

Next I stopped at (ANY department store that carries games) to grab a game of Scrabble, which happened to be on sale for 14 bucks.  Oh, and I grabbed a bunch of magnetic tape at Michael's too. 

Magnetic tape can be cut with scissors and sticks to the back of
anything, including scrabble pieces.

And Voila!

Now, with  Charlie's I got a little lazy and found (again, at Michael's) a 50% off large frame that the same-sized sheet metal fit into.  I painted the metal a different color, and the result is a cleaner, less home-made looking magnetic board.  Oh, I also found wooden letters at Michael's too, so Charlie's board has slightly different looking pieces on it to play with.  This is important, as the two girls are very much into ownership right now.  I can already hear them arguing over e's and s's.  The different-styled letters saves me from that little hassle.  Happy Birthday, my girls!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bravery is Relative

Over the last few years I've developed a serious fear of heights.  I never liked high places, but now when I am not at ground level, I actually physically react in a way over which I have very little control.  I get what must be vertigo (can't keep my balance), and panic sets in.  Typically I just avoid high places, including stairwells under which I can see the space between flights, and ferris wheels-- that kind of thing.  I know it's irrational, but it happens anyway.  So, I felt pretty good about myself, having climbed up this ladder this morning to put up what the girls call the "birdie condo."

Here's the dramatic photo of how high I climbed (risking my life) for the sake of my children's happiness:

Here's reality.  I was desperately hugging the tree with one arm while equally as desperately hammering the nails in with the other hand just enough so the houses wouldn't fall.  I think I left my extra nails up there before hurrying down to solid ground.  I left the ladder so Joe can "confirm" (re-do/alter/finish) my work.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Basil-Infused Strawberry Jam

In the past, I've made Strawberry Basil Jam, which includes chopped bits of basil within the jam.  While I love the taste of it, I personally didn't always appreciate the texture of the pieces.  So this time around I opted to infuse the basil in the jam, removing it before pouring the jam into jars.

Looking for the recipe?

Follow the directions exactly for strawberry jam on your powdered pectin box.  However, after you pour the sugar into your pot, once your jam starts to boil again, place 1 oz (about 1/2 cup) whole basil leaves into the pot, stirring it in as you stir your jam for exactly one minute.  When you go to skim the foam from your finished jam, remove the basil as well.  Process jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Important Note:  So that the basil wouldn't be floating around in separate pieces, I bound it in a bunch with a small twisty tie.  This made it easy to remove in the end.

So far I've sampled the jam mixed directly in with softened cream cheese as a cracker spread, added it to a bit of vinegar as a salad dressing, and marinated chicken near the end of a fiery grilling.  This I loved the best.  YUM.

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Favorite Sea World Moment

Nope, this is not about jam, and it's not really about Sea World either.

While some of our political views don't support wars between countries for the purpose of solving problems, sometimes it comes to that.  And so, we have a massive trained military to defend and maintain all the opportunities and freedoms we have as Americans.  I'm obviously simplifying things here.

I didn't know Joe when he was in the military.  Before we met, before he became an engineer, before he attended college, Joe was in Navy for 5 years, during which he trained to be a Rescue Swimmer.  He did all kinds of incredible and crazy stuff like completing SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) school, and later jumping out of helicopters into the ocean to save lives.  Again, I'm simplifying, but you get the idea.  My hubby is such a nice guy, you'd never know he was such a bad ass.

This has all come to the forefront of my mind lately as the result of a couple of public events.  While in the second row (Joe's idea) at the Shamu show at Sea World a few weeks ago, the announcer asked all former and current US and US supporting military to stand up.  There was this brief moment where no one stood.  Then seemingly one by one, many dozens of grandparents, dads and moms and young adults rose up all over the huge stadium.  Joe stood, nodded his head to others who were standing, and we all clapped and cheered for a long time.  It was an interesting few moments for our family since although our children know their daddy was in the Navy, they don't really understand at their age just what it means.  I couldn't help but come to tears, witnessing Joe as a part of this bigger, really important group of people with a common experience, history and understanding.  I was seriously proud and moved.

Luckily for Joe this moment happened before the girls and I realized that the second row "Soak Zone" literally meant that when you leave the show, it will be as if you were dunked in the tank with the whales for several minutes.  Charlie and I went along with it cheerily as Addie and Ruby cried until the end of the hazing.  How could we be upset at Joe with all that lingering pride soaking through us too?  Let's just say we sat further back at the dolphin show.

We chose the photo of Joe above to use in a video the girls' dance teacher is putting together to honor military veterans at their spring recital.  Her own husband has served for many years and is away from their family many months at a time.  That must be very difficult, and yet she is very passionate about honoring what her husband does.  Again, moved.  Thanks to him and Joe and all our veterans.  I can't imagine the experiences you've had and the sacrifices you've made to have our backs the way you do.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lemon Marmalade

We're heading to Florida in the spring with the kids.  Although we have plans to go to Sea World and otherwise bask in the sun by a pool or beach, I'm really hoping I can convince the family to take a little citrus tour.  In the spirit of those hopes, I picked up a bunch of lemons (ok, they're from CA, not FL), and I've made my first batch ever of lemon marmalade.  Only two ingredients go into this recipe I merged from and The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook:  lemons and sugar.  It's an awesome, if not slightly uppity, gift for a culinary friend, and it's fantastic on toasted anadama bread.  Directions are below.

What you'll need:

a dozen lemons
4 cups of sugar
4 cups of water
6 to 8 half pint mason jars and lids, sterilized

First thing:  Buy your lemons at the market, or pick them if you're lucky enough to have access to a tree.  If bought at the market, whether or not they're organic, they may be coated with some kind of wax used for the purpose of preservation.  You don't want that in your final product, whatever you're using the lemons for, so you'll want to remove the wax.  I boiled a pot of water, poured it over my lemons, scrubbed each one with an unused plastic kitchen scrubby, then rinsed them again with super-hot water.

Now onto the marmalade adventure, and it was an adventure.  First peel your lemons.

I used a small cheap paring knife, as my veggie peeler didn't do the job.  Make sure to cut the peelings into small thin pieces, appropriate for the size you'd want in your marmalade.

Then make sure the white bitter stuff is off of your lemons.  Yes, I used the same paring knife.  Next, cut your lemons cross-wise into 1/4 inch pieces, making sure to remove every seed along the way.  This is a time-consuming process, but don't fret!  The end result is worth it.  Now put the peelings, lemon innards, and 4 cups of water into a covered container, then into your fridge overnight.

Take your container out of the fridge in the morning, stir up the mixture, and bring to a constant simmer over medium heat for about an hour.  Then add the sugar, and bring the mixture to a boil until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring again to a constant simmer for about an hour, checking the temperature with a candy thermometer as it cooks.  Once your temp reaches 215 degrees, make sure to keep an eye on your mixture and stir constantly.  When it reaches 220 degrees, remove your pot from the heat.  Fill sterilized jars, add lids, then boil in a water bath for 10 minutes.

I am an inexperienced marmaladian; however, I was assured by trustworthy marmalade aficionados that my efforts resulted in the right amount of sweet balanced with just the right amount of bitter.  It was a fun and different task for this New Englander, and one I will try again with oranges upon our arrival home from Florida.  Can I bring fresh-picked oranges back with me on a plane?  Next task.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Making Fortune Cookies

Addie told me she thought it would be cool to bring something other than cupcakes to school for her little birthday celebration in her kindergarten classroom.  And that is what we did.  Rather proud of myself, I must say.

It started out by me frantically Googling "How to make fortune cookies" after promising them to my almost-six-year-old.  Most of the recipes are similar.  Here's my version of some of those recipes combined:

2 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 tsp almond extract
3 Tbs veggie oil
8 Tbs flour
1 1/2 tsp corn starch
1/4 tsp salt (not sure this is necessary at all)
8 Tbs sugar
3 tsp water

Make sure to create your fortunes first.  I wrote them myself, but you could print them off too.  A glass of wine may be required for the creativity necessary for completing this part, or invite a good-humored friend over to help you.  Make them fun!

Beat together the egg whites, vanilla, almond, and oil until bubbly.  Then stir together the flour, starch, salt and sugar in a separate bowl.  Then stir in the water.  Add the flour mix into the egg mix and stir until it's creamy.  Now, here's the important part.  You have to be super-quick once the cookies come out of the over so as to not allow them to harden before you add fortunes and fold them up.  Because I tended NOT to be super-quick in my first try at these, I only baked 5 at a time.  Otherwise I was too late.  So, for each cookie, you'll put about a Tbs-sized dollop of batter on your greased cookie sheet.  Once you have as many as you think you can handle, put your sheet in the oven at 300 for 12-15 minutes.  When the edges are just starting to turn golden, take the cookies out of the oven.  Quickly use a spatula to transfer a cookie to your hand, then place your (extremely creative) fortune in the middle. Fold the cookie over the fortune, then fold the middle fold back on itself again.  It was helpful for me to look at a photo of an actual fortune cookie while doing this.  Then place the hot folded cookie into a muffin pan, where it is more likely to keep its shape until it firms up.

Once the cookies are cool, go ahead and melt some chocolate, add sprinkles, and throw them in the fridge (on wax paper or tin foil) until the chocolate firms, then remove to a covered container.

For the purpose of bringing them into Addie's class, we put each cookie in a cupcake liner.  A little warning:  Some of the fortunes seemed to stick a little bit to the cookie.  It's all about making sure the cookies are baked just enough but not too much.  

Oh, and did you know that fortune cookies are an American invention?  One story goes, a Chinese-American baker in California saw that many people in his town were struggling, so he decided to make cookies with positive "fortunes" enclosed to brighten their days.  
I love this idea and intend to use it myself.  Confucius says, good fortune (cookies)  to you!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Breakfast of Champions

Several years ago, when Joe and I both had great jobs and we weren't penny pinching so much, we bought several of the best small appliances a kitchen could need.  We picked up a full-sized Cuisinart, a very rugged blender, and an electric citrus juicer, among other necessary kitchen items.  Today we still have the blender, having replaced a few parts over the years, but all the other items went out in the trash with broken motors.  Last year at my mom's church yard sale, we picked up an old-school citrus juicer-- you know, the kind you just stick half an orange on and smush into a small cup underneath.  Yesterday morning we made fresh orange juice and ate fresh wood-fired oven bread (thank you Robin, of Wildflour Breads), spread with fresh peanut butter I whipped up in our cheap no-name-brand food processor.  Talk about the highlight of our weekend.  The kids loved it, and now I'm thinking of saving up for a real peanut butter  processor.  I mean really-- jam and peanut butter.  Why didn't I think of this sooner?


Friday, January 6, 2012

The New Kitchen

I have no excuses for not writing, other than that I really have been making a ridiculously humungous amount of jam and pickles for holiday orders.  Oh, and the guys have been building our new kitchen in the basement.  Seriously, I have a kitchen now just for making jam and pickles, and for whatever else I might choose to cook or bake in small or big amounts.  Just yesterday I made a batch of strawberry jam, using the same old-school recipe I've always used-- oh but 8 times the called for ingredient measurements -- and poured out just about 60 jars of the sweet stuff.  SIX.  ZERO.  This might not be a big deal to our local jam gurus Stonewall Kitchens, but to me it is an amazing feat.  Normally a batch of jam produces five to seven half-pint jars.  Now I can make bigger batches, and I do not have to forfeit any quality in doing so.  And if being super-psyched about the kitchen wasn't enough, I made Joe (well, he did it willingly really) set up a television in the kitchen so I can peruse my Netflix options while cooking.  He is certain that once I'm officially using the place commercially, I'll set up a cot in there and will never be seen again.  I've told him that I will likely have to come upstairs to use the bathroom once in a while, so no worries.

Here's a glimpse.

You only get one before photo, and you don't get any of what is the horrifying reality that is the rest of our basement.
And After.  
And the equipment.  12 gallon steam kettle.  Gas range.
What more does a girl need?

Don't judge.  I'm getting organized.