Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jam & Bread

Homemade Raisin Bread (left) & Wheat Bread (right) Sandwich Loaves

I finally created a couple of wheat sandwich loaves that were tall enough to produce decent sized sandwich slices. I made one a plain wheat bread and one I turned into cinnamon raisin bread. This was my first time making the raisin bread and I didn't quite get the raisins and cinnamon to produce the nice spiral swirl effect I was aiming for. See the photo below.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread Sliced ~ raisins slightly misaligned

It still tasted good though, even if the raisins were sort of all clumped together in places. Next time I will make a few adjustments to my swirl technique.

Remember that Homemade Strawberry Jam?

I had to make some sandwich bread so that I could eat some of my homemade strawberry jam that gave me so much trouble last weekend. I've been looking at the jars sitting on my kitchen counter all week admiring the deep rich red color. Tonight was the first time I tried some of this particular batch.

It was very good!

Almond Butter & Strawberry Jam on Raisin Bread = Dinner

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Really Bad Day in the Kitchen

I have had my own kitchen for over 30 years now. I have cooked, baked, roasted, stir-fried, sauteed, canned & preserved all sorts of things. I am an experienced cook. I have had my share of kitchen mishaps and disasters over the years. That comes with the territory. Mistakes help you gain experience.

I have burned things, under-cooked things, had things stick to the pan. I've even had things catch on fire! Once, a very long time ago, the kitchen faucet even "exploded" all over me drenching me completely. Those last two were both during dinner parties that I was hosting!

None of those "disasters" can compare to the stupid, stupid mistake I made in my kitchen today. None of those previous mishaps made anywhere near the mess or calamity that I managed to pull off today.

I am so frickin' pissed right now! I am so mad that I feel like crying (for the past hour) but can't even relax enough to allow the tears to flow.

What the hell happened, you might ask? OK, I will tell you.

Remember that beautiful flat of organic strawberries that I wrote about in my last post? Well, I made that nice Shiny Red Pie and ate most of it myself, and then decided to save out enough strawberries to make a batch of strawberry jam. I love strawberry jam and so does my family, so I put aside about 5 or 6 pint baskets worth and waited until today when I finally had time to devote to the cooking and canning process. Fresh berries don't keep very long and I really didn't want to freeze them, so I had to make time in my day to make the jam and get it canned properly. I also wanted to enjoy the creative process.

Ok, so I carefully wash and hull 6 pints of strawberries. I realize I don't have enough sugar for the recipe, so off to the local market I go to buy a 5lb bag. Paid way too much for it, but hey, it's convenient to buy it here so close to home. Back home, I locate my half pint canning jars and a bunch of brand new lids and rims. I wash the whole case of them, even though I will only need 8 or 9 jars for the recipe.

Great, now I have everything I need. Finally. All organized and ready to go. Strawberries, washed and hulled. Check. Sugar, measured out and ready to pour into the cook pot. Check. Jars, lids, rims all washed and sterilized, ready and waiting in the preheated canner full of hot water.
Again, check.

I mash the strawberries with the sugar in the cook pot. I heat them gently until the sugar dissolves. I turn up the heat like the recipe says and insert the jelly thermometer to watch for the proper gel temperature. Up here at 3000 ft altitude, that would be 214 degrees F.

Now all I need to do is wait and stir, wait and stir, until the gel point temp is reached. I've made jam before. I've made lots of jam and many kinds of jam before. Strawberry, blackberry, peach, plum, apricot...even apple jelly. I've made jam. I know how to do it. Really don't even need to look at the recipe anymore, but I do so out of insecurity and...anal-ness.

It's taking awhile to boil and get any reading on the thermometer that is anywhere near 200 degrees. So I remember that I always seem to have the flame too low when I make jam not wanting to scorch the bottom or ruin the batch. So I turn up the flame, and I put the lid on the pot.

Fine. I stand there for a minute or so and then decide to leave the kitchen and go outside for a minute. Just a minute. One, maybe two minutes tops.

Huge mistake! Gigantic, stupid, huge mistake!! Don't ever do this. Don't ever, EVER do this.

I really was only gone for about two minutes. When I re-entered my kitchen the jam pot was fully boiling over and streaming red, gooey, sticky jam all down the pot, all over the stove and all down inside and under my stove top!

It was a big f*cking mess!! I have never, ever made that big of a mess in my kitchen before. There was partially cooked jam everywhere. I moved the cook pot of jam, now only half full. (Crap!) off of the stove. I also moved the very heavy and very hot canner full of sterilized jars and boiling water off of the stove. Removed the burners and then mopped up the thick sticky red mess from the top of the stove with a sponge and a wet dish towel. I was dripping sticky syrup all over the place. Then when I had removed enough of the jam from the stove top to allow me to lift the top and check to see if the pilot light was still lit (it was) I could then see where the rest of my pot of half cooked jam landed. It filled the depressions under the burners with about a half inch of red goo. I sopped that up with the sponge and rag, but it was no easy job. I had to climb halfway inside my stovetop to reach the mess and clean it without burning myself on the pilot flame or without making further mess. It was a crappy job, and I was so angry at myself for allowing it to happen in the first place.

I finally got it cleaned up enough to turn my attention back to my jam pot to see if I could salvage my beloved strawberry jam and all of the work that had gone into it. I wiped down the outside of the pot and put it back on the flame. Put the canner back on the fire too. I salvaged only about 1/2 of the recipe. That is actually what am I pissed off about the most. The mess was bad and unfortunate, but messes happen sometimes. I am really upset that I wasted half of my jam recipe. Those wonderful berries don't come along everyday.

So I finished cooking what was left of my jam as if nothing bad had happened. I turned up the flame to get it to the correct gelling temperature and then I filled the jars and processed them in my water bath canner for 10 minutes. (10 minutes because I live at 3000 ft, sea level would only require 5 minutes)

I lost over half of my beautiful deep red strawberry jam to that overflow spill and to my stupid lack of attention. I am still really pissed.

Oddly, in the middle of me cleaning up the sticky mess, I was composing this blog post in my head. I couldn't wait to tell you all about it. You people keep me sane. Thanks.

Here's a photo of my stupid 4 jars of organic homemade strawberry jam.

Organic Strawberry Jam

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shiny Red Pie

Flat of Beautiful Organic Strawberries

I have a whole flat of beautifully ripe, locally grown, organic strawberries.

What to do...what to do...?

Eat several right away before even arriving home with my red bounty?...yes.. that's good.

Mix a few into my morning yogurt along with some of my luscious homegrown boysenberries?....

Mmmm...yes, good again.

Make strawberry jam? Well, yes, but not right now. Must figure out what to do with these fresh berries. They don't keep fresh long you know.

I know!! I will make a fresh strawberry pie! I've never done that before. I've eaten lots of fresh strawberry pie, in restaurants mostly, but never have I made my own at home.

Now where was that recipe I found after much searching and exploring? Oh yeah, right here in my Betty Crocker Big Red cookbook. Silly me. Looking all over the internet for a simple pie recipe and here was one right here at home. Some slight modifications, and the recipe is now mine. Ha!

So made pie I did:

Fresh Shiny Red Strawberry Pie

All those fresh, ripe & tangy strawberries mixed in there with a just a little sugar for sweetness and a little cornstarch to make a nice thick syrup that holds everything together.

Shiny Red Pie ~ closeup

Just strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, water and a flaky homemade pie crust.

Fruit as nature (and Betty Crocker) intended it.

Ooh... a piece is missing...

My Dessert ~ MMmmmmm....

Well, it's almost completely natural and unadorned. Gotta have a little whipped cream for decoration, you know.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Berry Sweet

Sweet Homegrown Boysenberries

My boysenberries are doing well this year. There are many berries and they are all of good size. They seem sweeter than they have in years past. I think it may be due to our extended cooler weather this year. We have had cooler days and nights during this late Spring than I have ever experienced up here. It is starting to warm up now, and it will do so very quickly. Reminds me that I have a bit of garden irrigation repair to complete before it gets really hot around here.

Well, my berries have been enjoying the weather. My harvest is bountiful. I picked two of those plastic green pint baskets full yesterday afternoon:

Berry Harvest ~ 2 pints!

Of course, I actually picked more berries than the 2 pints worth you see in the photo. Many berries never made it into the harvest basket. (oh my!) Many of them volunteered to go directly into my mouth and skip the basket experience altogether.

And they are sweeter and larger than last year's harvest. I've even been enjoying the redder ones which are tarter than the dark purple ones.

I grow both Boysenberries and Blackberries, but I like the boysenberries the best. Their vines are easier to train and grow. They offer their ripe harvest earlier in the season than the blackberries do. And their seeds are fewer, smaller and easier to chew and digest than the blackberry seeds. Oh, and their vines are thornless! That's a plus too.

Those two pints of berries filled my special berry bowl to the top:

Boysenberries in Berry Bowl

This was my Mom's special berry bowl that she loved. It was a gift from me to her. Now it is mine to cherish. I think of her every time I use it.

Read more about this special berry bowl and last year's berry harvest by clicking HERE.

Have a berry good day!

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket

Thursday, June 11, 2009

White Bread Rising

White Bread Dough Rising

Homemade White Sandwich Loaf

Same Loaf, Different Angle

Sliced Bread

BLT in the Making (note my homegrown lettuce)


© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket