30 June 2012

Saturdays In the Garden: Blackberries Aplenty & Lemon-Berry Pudding Cake

Before preserving anything, I consider how 
I'll be using it.  Blackberries, for instance.
I freeze some whole for smoothies and 
cobbler/kuchen but our favorite use for blackberries 
is Lemon-Berry Pudding Cakes, a recipe I found
years ago in Martha Stewart Living.  When using our
own blackberries (store-bought lack the flavor),
this is the perfect mixture of a sweet and tart pudding
under a light and fluffy lemon cake.

(Martha Stewart)

For this recipe, the blackberries will need to be 
sweetened, puree'd and run through a sieve 
to remove the seeds. 
To save time and dishes, I make a large batch to
freeze in small jars each with just the amount 
needed for one recipe of the dessert.
I now have enough for 6 batches in our freezer;
I make it liberally during the summer while the berries 
are fresh so this amount should be perfect for the
rest of the year.
To get the full health benefits of all of our produce,
I always cook with as much of it in season as I can.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Book Cover
(Fyi, book recommendation:  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; one family's story 
of doing their best to live off the land and resources open to them.
I really enjoyed this, and also found it a bit of an eye-opener!)

I also have 4 pints made up for yogurt
and ice cream--and I have no idea how "blackberry
ice cream" is going to turn out but soon...!

This year was to be our biggest blackberry crop.
 Here they are still green but very lush and loaded!

Below, about a month later--and they're getting burnt!

A close-up shows it better.
Not a lot one can do to fight the 105' to 108' temps.
(with the heat index even higher)
Next week looks to be a little lower--still around 100'.

Sad, sad, sad.
Still, we have enjoyed them so far and, frankly,
as much work as there is to do, I don't mind
God telling me to back off.  In fact, I 
generally need and appreciate it.
I think I have several gallons in the freezer and
we're still picking about a quart a day for now
which is perfect for those Lemon Berry Pudding Cakes!
If you have access to fresh/local blackberries, 
give these a try--it only takes a handful.
Make sure to top them with sweetened, fresh 
whipped cream (none of that fake stuff!) especially
if your berries might be a bit green/tart.

(If you follow the link, you should get more pictures--I couldn't get them to pull up.)
  • 1 pint blackberries
  • 1/2 cup (about 3 lemons) plus 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup plus 3 T sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for ramekins
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 6 T flour, sifted
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Hot water for pan

350 degrees. Process 2 1/2 ounces blackberries (12 to 15 berries), 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons sugar in a food processor or blender until smooth. Pass mixture through a fine sieve into a small bowl; discard solids. Set sauce aside.

Butter inner top inch of six 6-ounce ramekins; set aside. Whisk together egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in flour and milk in two batches each, beginning with the flour. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup lemon juice, the salt, and the melted butter, and set aside.
Beat egg whites on medium-high speed until very frothy, about 1 1/2 minutes. With mixer running, add remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a slow, steady stream; beat until whites hold stiff (but not dry) peaks, about 2 minutes. Whisk half the whites into reserved lemon mixture until combined; gently fold in remaining whites with a rubber spatula.

Place the ramekins in a high-sided roasting pan or baking dish, and divide the batter among ramekins, filling each almost to the top. Spoon a few drops of berry sauce onto cakes, and use a toothpick or skewer to swirl sauce into batter. Transfer to oven; pour boiling water into pan, a bit more than halfway up sides of ramekins.

Bake until cakes are set and the tops are just starting to turn golden, 35 to 40 mins.
With tongs, transfer the ramekins to a wire rack; cool 15 minutes.

26 June 2012

A Day In the Life

For lack of time and energy,
I thought I'd just throw out what I do on 
a typical summer day.
Cuz, well, I know you all wonder... [rolling eyes]
(it's okay, just humor me and pretend you've read it all!)

3:15 am
   Shut first alarm off, deciding in my sleep that the soaker hose can wait till 6 am
6 am
hit the snooze button on cell phone alarm #2
hit snooze
hit snooze
finally get up, throw on jogging clothes and head out with water bottle
turn water on in garden, let chickens out
walk/jog a couple miles (it's already getting hot and humid)

Head back to garden
Pick zukes, cukes, broccoli and lots of beans (leg killer!)
Apparently at some point here I got stung several times
Feed chickens extra/old produce, greens from garden
and clean out their water dishes
Clean broccoli & half of beans (daughter helped with rest)
Get laundry going
Shower, freak out when I see really odd, dark
round bruises with white & stings/bites in middle
Have daughter check brown recluse spider bites online, just in case
Run son #1 to conditioning camp
Hit 2 groc stores quickly & Michaels (son #2 needs model paint)
Starbucks:  free venti w/extra shot & coffee grounds for garden
Get 2 large bags of grass clippings from a shopping-area's lawn crew
(yes, I have no shame and will ask complete strangers for clippings,
especially when I notice perfect/weedless grass) 
Drop grounds, grass and groceries off at home
Drop off library books
Pick up son #1
Grab three more HUGE bags of grass clippings (again, no shame!)

Put most clippings into compost
Spread rest and coffee grounds in garden and give some to chickens
Vacuum out car (one of the bags came open)
Transfer water to another soaker hose
It's already 100' at this point so another shower is needed
(I've lost track of time)
Make coffee & breakfast for Mom who has stopped in
Can green beans
2 pm
Holy Moley, is it 2??
Have a quick bite, check emails
Pick Swiss chard & parsley (it's now 103' out)
Cut up ham and make filling for manicotti--put in fridge for now
3 pm
Get pasta dough started
Sit down to read for a bit and quick nap

Pick herbs; start on dinner
(I know, should've done this in the morning hours)
Get hubby/son #1 off to baseball game
I sat this one out--waay too hot and it was a sure-win
I hear we got up to 108' today...not sure the official temp
Make marinara
Run to Target as it appears the mozzarella I bought earlier
didn't make it into my grocery bag???
Also back to Michael's as son #2 decided he needed MORE model paint
6 pm
Finally hang out laundry as the farmer around here has been working 
ground and stirring up dust all day
Roll out pasta dough and make manicotti
Research bug/spider bites online--decide I'm going to live
Put beans on, do dishes
Eat dinner
Kids do remaining dishes and get laundry in
Yet another shower
9:15 pm
Crawl into bed for computer and/or reading time
Sleep, glorious sleep

 I'm kind of thinking AUTUMN right now!


16 June 2012

Saturdays in the Garden: Lavender

I think I've finally gotten lavender all figured out.

It seems to really enjoy being in my new
(new as of last year)
herb garden on the south side of our home.
(protected from the harsh winter, well-drained)

I think it's pretty spiffy having it about the house.

Along with roses--always roses.

And soon, sunflowers.

My latest batch of lavender should be dry soon
but I haven't yet decided how to put it to use.

What do you do with yours?

Saturdays in the Garden: Pina Colada Zucchini Bread

I wish I could tell you that this one is healthy.

You know...with all that zucchini and stuff. 
But it is really, really good.
And it's not your mom's zucchini bread.

Pina Colada Zucchini Bread

4 c flour
3 c sugar
2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
4 eggs
1 1/2 c canola oil (no, that is not a typo! LOL)
1 t each coconut, rum and vanilla extracts
3 c shredded zucchini (remove peel if you want to "hide" it from the kids)
1 c canned crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 c chopped walnuts (or pecans...but I'm liking the walnuts)

Line the bottoms of three greased and floured loaf pans with waxed paper and grease the paper; set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In another bowl, combine eggs, oil and extracts. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in zucchini, pineapple and walnuts. Transfer to prepared pans. Bake 350' for 45-55 min. Use the toothpick test. Cool for 10 min before removing from pans to wire racks. Gently remove waxed paper. 

I also wish I could remember where I got this so 
that I could give proper credit where it's due!

10 June 2012

Saturdays In the Garden: Update & Cucumber-Dill Dip

More bean-canning this weekend.  Also,
two of the kids were a HUGE help with the carrots,
one peeling and the other dicing.
I vacuum-packed 15 more bags which puts us at
at total of 27 in the freezer for winter soups.  Yay!

(But, I'm trying so, so hard to not think ahead to the cool fall months with longing.
That's a sure way for me to have a miserable summer.)

I'm estimating another 6 or 7 bags-worth are still
out there in the garden to be pulled next Saturday.

A few pics on how things are growing,
followed by a fantastic recipe.

We've now picked several cucumbers
and have quite a few more almost ready.

Three eggplant "fruits" are about 4".

Quite a few okra showing up.

A cantalope.

LOTS of butternut, acorn & etc squash.

And I've already picked 3 big tomatoes.
(not happy with how some of the leaves are looking--really need to get
the soaker hose on these as watering by sprinklers) can cause fungus, etc)

Here is my absolute favorite cucumber recipe,
esp with all of our cucumbers coming on and a huge
supply of dill and green onions, too.
Let me know if you try this out!

Cucumber-Dill Dip
Great for an appetizer and everyone loves it: serve it in a hollowed out bread bowl and put toasted cubes of dark rye and sour dough all around. Or baguette slices. In a hurry, just use club crackers but it's just not as good!  

1 pkg cream cheese, soft
1/2 c mayo
1 t lemon juice
3/4 t hot sauce (Louisiana style)
1/4 t salt
2 t fresh dill (or dry)
4 green onions, diced
2 med cucumbers (peeled, seeded, diced)

Cream mayo and cream cheese together. Stir in juice, hot sauce, salt and dill.
Add in green onions and cucumbers (you might want to pat cukes with paper towels to remove excess water). Chill well before serving.

03 June 2012

Home Made Vanilla Update

I started my vanilla 2 months ago.
There are various directions online but I chose to
use 4 beans to a quart-size jar.
Points to remember:
3 months = suggested minimum time
Longer time = darker/stronger the flavor
The least expensive vodka you can find
will work just fine.

I ran out of vanilla recently so, with this in the pantry,
I decided to use it even tho it's not quite finished.
It had already started to smell yummy and,
sure enough, it tasted great.

I used to get my vanilla from Mexico but I'm
now sold on this.  Simple, inexpensive, eco-friendly
(much less packaging, esp when you can continue to add
vodka to the beans for up to 1 1/2 years!)
and tastes so, so good.  Try it!
And put home made icecream at the
top of your "to try with my vanilla" list.

Spoiler Alert!

Local friends and family
should stop reading here.
I said, STOP!
Last fall I found this packaging idea from WhipperBerry. 

(you didn't stop, did you?  You know who you are!)

Isn't it just beautiful?  But the idea
of giving vanilla seemed a little "eh".
[*snort* & *rolling my eyes*  What did I know??].
That was before--now I'm a big believer!
You all know my passion for cooking with REAL
ingredients.  Why wouldn't I share this with others?
I'll be starting vanilla for lots of people's
Christmas gifts in the next month or so.
It should all be rich in flavor by the holidays!
(and I will be wonderfully DONE with so many gifts!  You can be too!)

02 June 2012

Saturdays In the Garden: A Cook's Garden Part 2

How about a before/after?
Here is the garden just a couple months ago.

And now?

It looks a little like a messy jungle from this view
over the grapes and blackberries but the paths are
in there and everything is where it's supposed to be.

Before stepping into June:

14 pints and 14 half-pints of apricot preserves
4 quarts and 8 pints of green beans

In the freezer
12 bags carrots
6 bags spinach
3 bags Swiss chard

This seems a little slim but I also serve up as much
as possible while it's fresh and full of nutrients.

We've been eating 
 all kinds of lettuces
 Swiss chard
 green onion (scallions) and white onions
 just today--the first blackberry
and all those herbs

Maybe I'm a little odd but I get extreme satisfaction
when I'm making dinner and I can just step outside
to pick my own ingredients like beans and herbs.

Even eggs.
These girls are 3 1/2 months now but won't be helping
out with the eggs for at least a couple more.
I can't bring myself to tell the other 6 goodbye 
just yet.  I'm not really attached to the chickens.
It's the eggs!   The idea of having to buy tasteless,
white eggs has me wrinkling up my nose.
Yup, I'm an egg snob. 
 And an herb snob...
and a vegetable snob...
and a fruit snob.

But, why not cook with the best?
Especially when it's for loved ones.  

01 June 2012

Saturdays In the Garden: A Cook's Garden--Part 1

With a mild winter and a warm spring, I thought
planting everything early wasn't all that risky...
and now my return is paying off nicely.
I'll write more about what I've been harvesting
 in Part 2; for now, how about some teaser-pics?

Favorite uses
buttermilk ranch dressing
canning (pickles)

 Ease of growing
One plant is all it takes.  The seeds
will carry over from year to year.
I let it grow randomly, but controlled, throughout the garden.

Sunflowers to attract the bees

Roses...to attract me!

Crazy amount of blackberries
(thanks to the bees)

The first berries to ripen.
Along with our apricots (more on those later),
these should be great with homemade yogurt!

Here come the grapes, just in time.
We have very little grape jelly left.

Romas--great for Italian foods and canning.

I'm changing my mind about peas.
Maybe they are worth the effort?
We've gotten so many from so few plants!
And they are my hubby's favorite.

Green onions--my favorite "new" crop.
Why haven't I grown these before?
I cook with them all the time!

Okra...now why am I growing these??
We don't even eat it.

Not big on these either but the dh and I like
baba ghanouj, which is similar to hummus.
I plan on trying this recipe

Eggplant Dip (Baba Ghanouj)

I always call my garden a "cook's garden."
This year it is more so than ever!  
I love to try new foods and new dishes, and I feel
the best way to do this is to grow the ingredients.
You're just not going to get the best flavor
from what you buy at the store.

Brussel sprouts.
I first grew--and ate--these several years ago
and found them to be fun and hardy plants.
  The eggplant and brussel sprouts
are perfect examples of my love to experiment
in the garden and the kitchen.

An early jalapeno

Spaghetti squash.
Still looking for a favorite way to fix this.

Butternut squash.
Ditto here.  I'm not sure why I grow squash,
other than for health and variety in our diets. 
I'm just convinced there has to be the
"perfect recipe" out there for each of these.
I just haven't found them yet.

Hail damage and what I think are spots from
pepper spray that I mixed up a little too strongly.
Gardens are always teaching...

A baby cucumber.
See my name on it??


Two fully-loaded yellow squash plants.
I'm a day or so from having more squash
than I know what to do with!

Stay tuned for Part 2...


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