Friday, June 28, 2013

A Successful First Attempt of Canning Jam

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I journeyed to the Lake Oswego Farmers' Market

My hubby discovered Chocolate Habaneros a couple of years ago.  They have an amazing flavor and are a perfect addition to salsas, guacamole, and chili.  Unfortunately, this year we were late in our arrival at the annual Master Gardener's Spring Garden Fair (held at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds the weekend before Mother's Day) where we have purchased these plants in the past.   However, the gentleman that sells the pepper plants planned to be at the Lake Oswego Farmers' Market on June 8th.  Thus, our fun Saturday excursion. (I will have to find out the name of the pepper man's business from my hubby and add that to a later post...)

Unfortunately, Chocolate Habaneros do not germinate well.  So, we were unable to purchase any to grow them this year.  However, we purchased a Chocolate Ghost Pepper plant instead.  (Even my hubby is a little nervous about the heat these may generate!)  He also found several other pepper plants he wanted to try, which made him a happy camper.

As for me?  Well, I knew I wanted to make a homemade jam for this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge.  So, I picked up half a flat of fresh, organic strawberries at the Farmers' Market.  My wonderful mom gave me her canner, as she no longer uses it, and I set about searching the internet for a good recipe.

When I stumbled across How to Can Some Jam: A Simple Method Without Pectin or (Refined) Sugar on the 100 Days of Real Food Blog, I knew I found my recipe.  This Strawberry Honey Jam recipe is from Ashley Eller with Sweetie Pie Bakery.

Click HERE for the recipe.

I only had 3 pounds of strawberries, so I cut the ingredients in half.

There was only one problem with this jam.  Monkey (my 16-year-old) likes it so much that he REALLY did not want me to use it in my Daring Bakers' Challenge.  *sigh*  His favorite snack is toast with jam, honey or cinnamon and sugar.  The fact that this jam is made with honey makes it absolutely perfect for him.  I know.  How? He a point of telling me.  He actually glared at me when I mentioned using some of his precious jam for my challenge, which is very unlike him!

Luckily, a blueberry farm we like to visit opened last weekend.  They were closed Monday through Wednesday.  And Thursday, simply did not work for me - I had plans.  My hubby and I went to see The Steve Miller Band perform at the McMenamins Edgefield Concert on the Lawn with friends of ours.  I may be dating myself, but it was fun to hear "Abracadabra," "Fly Like an Eagle" and "The Joker" performed live!

So, today, I am off to the Morning Shade Farms to pick up 10 pounds of blueberries and honey.  (We normally pick our own, and I still hope to this summer, but feeling the way I have recently, this was the perfect way to have enough fresh blueberries to freeze for the winter and make more jam!)

I hope to have my June Challenge posted by the end of the weekend...

Striving to Eat Real Food

Well, the bad news is that I am still running behind on my Daring Bakers' and Daring Cooks' Challenges.

The truth is, I have been sick since the end of April.  Well, not ALL of that time.  I have had little breaks (the longest being 3 full days over Father's Day weekend - and trust me, I was excited about that!) where my body has not hated me for eating.  What's up?  No clue, but we're still looking into that.  I'm not worrying about it or wanting sympathy; I'm just explaining why I am so far behind...

On a positive note two good things have come out of this.  First, I am striving to eat real food and avoid processed foods.  (Alas, dairy is also out of my diet forever... Cheese is the toughie, but once I am feeling better, I will experiment with goat cheeses.)  Second, I have made a lot of progress with my newest passion - crazy quilting.  Unlike this blog, my first blog, Living My Dream, has been incredibly active the past few months! *grins*

Friday, June 14, 2013

June Daring Cooks' Challenge: Meatballs Around the World

The June Daring Cooks’ challenge sure kept us rolling – meatballs, that is! Shelley from C Mom Cook and Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to try meatballs from around the world and to create our own meatball meal celebrating a culture or cuisine of our own choice.

I encourage you to click on the links above and check out their blogs!

My family LOVES meatballs with their spaghetti.  So, at least once a year, we have made Make-Ahead Meatballs from a recipe submitted to the Freezer Pleasers section of Taste of Home's Quick Cooking, which was submitted by Ruth Andrewson (my magazine states she is from Idaho, but the link above says Washington.)

Note:  For this meal, I broke it down into two days.  Making the meatballs on Day 1 and the spaghetti sauce on Day 2.

We do not have central air conditioning in our home, so our meatball making has all taken place during the cooler months.  The timing of this challenge encouraged me to try something new.  I made some changes to the recipe we have used in the past to add more flavor.  And, I tried cooking some of them on our Traeger.  (It turned out to be quite cool on the day I made these, so I cut my baking time in half by doing a batch in the oven while cooking another batch on the Traeger.)

Make-Ahead Meatballs on the Traeger
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time:  1.5 hours
Yield: roughly 12 dozen meatballs

Equipment required:
2 Large mixing bowls
Measuring tools
Spoon(s) for mixing/shaping, if desired (I used a Pampered Chef small scoop)
Cookie sheet
Parchment paper (optional)
Food processor (optional)
Metal Spatula
Cutting board
Kitchen knife
Paper towels
Freezer bags or Freezer containers
Traeger grill and pellets OR oven

2 lbs. lean ground beef
2 lbs. sausage (I used 1 lb. mild Italian and 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage)
4 eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup grated carrot, optional
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsps. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. white pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried)
2 cups fine bread crumbs (or 6 cups soft bread crumbs)

Traeger Directions:
1. Make sure you have enough chips in your Traeger!  (I used Hickory.) 
2. With lid open, set Traeger to smoke until hot (about 5 minutes)
3. Set Traeger on High (400 degrees Fahrenheit.)
4.  If using fresh bread crumbs, pulse bread (6-12 slices depending on the size for soft bread crumbs) in a food processor.  I had dried bread cubes on hand from homemade wheat bread, and pulsed them in the food processor until I had 2 cups worth.  Set aside.
5. In large mixing bowl, whip eggs.
6.  Add onion, carrot (if using), salt, Worcestershire sauce, white pepper, and oregano to eggs and mix well.
7.  Mix bread crumbs into egg mixture.  Mix well.
8. In a very large bowl, combine the ground beef and sausage (I alternate adding beef and then sausage to be sure the flavors mixed evenly.)
9. Work the bread mixture into the meat.  I take care mixing this part very, very well.  (No one wants a meatball that is mostly breadcrumbs and eggs.)
10. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper (if using - this makes clean up much easier!)
11. Shape meatballs.  Scoop meat with a small spoon (or Pampered Chef small scoop), roll into ball, and place on cookie sheet.  (I fill the cookie sheet and then continue shaping the balls and placing them into the bowl I used to mix the eggs and breadcrumbs, so they are ready to cook when the first batch is done.)
12. Bake on Traeger for 10-15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, until no pink remains.  (I cooked all of mine for 15 minutes.  To keep the Traeger hot, I removed the pan from the Traeger and turned the meatballs, then put them back on the grill for another 5 minutes, and repeated the process.)
13. Drain cooked meatballs on a plate lined with paper towels.  Continue cooking remaining meatballs on the parchment lined cookie sheet.
Meatballs cooked on the Traeger
Meatballs baked in the oven.
As you can see, the meatballs cooked on the Traeger browned beautifully.  (For the record, my picky eater thought the meatballs I cooked in the oven tasted too much like my meatloaf, but he loved the ones I grilled on the Traeger!)

Oven Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Follow steps 4 through 11 above.
3. Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, until no pink remains.  (I cooked mine for 15 minutes.  And, I removed them from the oven to turn them, to keep the oven hot, then returned them to the oven for another 5 minutes, and repeated the process.)
4. Drain cooked meatballs on a paper-towel lined plate.

There are so many ways to enjoy meatballs, feel free to substitute these with your favorite recipe.  We enjoyed ours with homemade spaghetti sauce (recipe below) and homemade Rosemary Flax Baguettes from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoe Francois. (Out of curiosity, I even baked one loaf on the Traeger!  I think I preferred the rosemary flavor from the oven-baked loaf, but it was fun and tasty anyway!) 
Oops!  I forgot to slice the tops.  They were tasty, though!

To Freeze:
Line a clean cookie sheet with plastic wrap.  Place cooked meatballs this cookie sheet, so they are not touching.  Place in freezer for a couple of hours.  (This keeps the meatballs from freezing together in a large clump.)  Remove from tray and put in freezer bag or freezer container and freeze.  The recipe I adapted this from recommends storing 30 meatballs per bag.  However, my family uses about 16 meatballs per batch of spaghetti, so I freeze about that many per bag.  Meatballs may be frozen up to 3 months.

Homemade Mushroom, Basil and Oregano Spaghetti Sauce
Homemade Mushroom, Basil and Oregano Spaghetti Sauce cooked with fresh tomatoes

This was my first attempt at making spaghetti sauce from scratch.  We always have a lot of tomatoes at the end of summer, and I thought it would be fun (and healthy) to can spaghetti sauce this year.  (I have never canned anything, so this will be new!)  And, before making a huge batch, I wanted to be sure I could make a sauce we liked.

I found this recipe I thought sounded good at, and made a few changes I thought my family might like.  It turned out a little sweet.  Next time, I will cut the sugar in half and add a lot more garlic.  (I already doubled the garlic from the original recipe I found, but 8 small cloves simply was not enough!)  I had no idea when to add mushrooms, so Google became my handy friend.  I found this recipe on Pham Fatale and added my mushrooms the way she added them to her ravioli sauce.

Preparation time: ???  I was SLOW peeling my tomatoes, so this took me quite a while.
Cooking time:  2 hours 5 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

Equipment required:
Large non-reactive pot
Small skillet
Large spoon
Cutting Board
Kitchen Knife
Kitchen Shears (optional - I use them to "chop" my herbs)
Slotted spoon
Large bowl of ice water
Bowl to hold freshly chopped tomatoes
Measuring tools
Immersion blender (or a blender could work)

4 lbs. fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced (I will add more next time, but my cloves were small.)
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (or 4 tsp. dried)
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried)
2 1/2 cups (8 oz) button mushrooms - finely chop 1 1/2 cups mushrooms.  Slice the rest & set aside
1 tsp. salt
4 sprigs parsley
1 Tbsp sugar (I will use less next time)
Meatballs - optional
Favorite pasta, cooked as directed
grated Parmesan cheese - optional (I am eating dairy free, but for those cheese lovers in my house we had this available.)

1.  Prep all ingredients.  To peel the tomatoes, I found great tips at The Shiksa in the Kitchen, and used the Boiling Water Method.  I filled a large pot with water and brought it to a boil.  While it came to a boil, I washed my tomatoes and cut a small "X" onto the bottom of each one.  Next, I boiled 3 tomatoes at a time for 25 seconds.  Using a slotted spoon, I removed the tomatoes from the boiling water and put them in a bowl of ice water (to prevent them from cooking more from the hot water.)  When they were all done, I peeled them - most peeled quite easily, but I was slow at this.  Next, I cut the tomatoes, scraped the seeds out, chopped them, and set aside in a bowl.
2. In a large non-reactive pan, heat the olive oil.
3. Add onion, basil, oregano, garlic and salt.  Saute until onion is almost tender (5 - 8 minutes).
4. Add 1 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms and saute 2 minutes.
5. Add tomatoes, parsley and sugar to the pot.  Heat to a boil.  Reduce and simmer uncovered for 2 hours.
6. While sauce is cooking, add remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil to a skillet.  Heat oil.  Add remaining sliced mushrooms and saute 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.
7. Remove parsley after sauce has simmered 2 hours.
8. Use the immersion blender, being careful not to hit the bottom of the pan.  (Alternatively, you could allow the sauce to cool, scoop batches of it into a blender and blend until desired consistency.  Once blended, return it to the pot to continue cooking.)
9. Add sliced mushrooms and meatballs (if desired).  If using fresh meatballs, heat sauce an additional 5 minutes.  If adding frozen meatballs, heat an additional 10-15 minutes - until meatballs are heated through.
10.  Serve warm sauce over warm pasta.  (And sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired.)

I would LOVE to thank Shelly and Ruth for this challenge!  I learned a yummier (is that a word?!) way to make amazing meatballs for my family and was inspired to create spaghetti sauce from scratch.  We had my husband's 95-year-old grandfather over for dinner and  he loved it as much as my family did.

To see more amazing meatball ideas (some are even vegan!) visit The Daring Kitchen or copy this sentence and paste it into your search bar:
The June Daring Cooks’ challenge sure kept us rolling – meatballs, that is!