Strawberries & Chocolate – It Don’t Get Much Better

Trying to keep my head above water with all the summer harvesting and the overwhelming amount of canning that goes with it, has been especially challenging this year.

To break up the monotony of canning practically every waking moment, I took a day to have a barbecue with some family. Barbecues take little planning, so most of my effort went into the dessert. The Strawberry Truffle Cake I made (recipe can be found on the link to Simply Grateful Cooking that was posted today) was the perfect ending for a summer barbecue.

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The fact that this dessert has chocolate cake, strawberries, and a chocolate topping, well that just made it even better. When isn’t chocolate appropriate for dessert — or breakfast, or dinner, or lunch, or snacking? Is there really anytime that chocolate isn’t appropriate? If there is, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.

Getting back into more cooking than just the day-in day-out making dinner, getting it over with, was really a treat. Making a dessert that was “TO DIE FOR” didn’t hurt either, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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All Aboard The Strawberry Train — Strawberry Propagation

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For about a year I’ve been trying my hand at a bit of propagation. As it stands, I’ve got a 50/50 chance of success.

In the spring I tried propagating a lilac bush with clippings.

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Unfortunately, this failed! Sorry Suzanne — we’ll have to try something else.

Last summer I propagated tons of tomato plants from suckers. This was easy and seemingly foolproof — only because I actually got it to work.

So with my track record currently even, I decided to see once and for all if I’ve got what it takes to propagate, this time with strawberries.

The strawberry plants I planted last spring began spreading after their first round of berries early this summer. Although there are other methods to propagate strawberries (splitting plants or by seed), I decided to use the runners.

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First I filled some small pots with a mixture of top soil and compost/manure.

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Then I carefully set the pot in the rocks or mulch and took hold of a portion of the runner where there was a node.

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Finally, with a clothes pin I pushed the node beneath the surface of the dirt and covered as much of the node as possible without covering the leaves.

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Now I’ll just wait and see if roots form and then I can cut them from their host plant and plant them someplace else.

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I love trying to make more plants from the ones I currently have, it sure beats having to buy new plants all the time. It might not always work out, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up.

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Our strawberries are still thriving and the second batch of berries are just beginning to come in, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

2015 Strawberry Canning #5 – Brandied Strawberry Jam

Although I love the old standard Strawberry Jam and always look forward to tasting that first hot spoonful every summer just as soon as it begins to gel in the pan, there is something to be said for spicing it up every now and then.

I am not much of a drinker in any sense of the word. Alcohol has never been something I find myself craving or even wanting. That isn’t to say I have never had a drink or tasted various liqueurs and wines, but I am one of those people affected by alcohol in a negative way. Wine and champagne give me an instant migraine, I do not like the taste of beer, hard liquor is only something I would consider using in cooking where appropriate, and liqueurs — well I do have to say I do enjoy using these in many desserts, but by the time I am done either cooking it or flambe with it, most of the alcohol is gone.

When I came across a recipe for strawberry jam with a touch of brandy in it however, it piqued my interest. The one liquor I do use throughout the year  is brandy. There are many opportunities to use it especially during the holidays when preparing mincemeat and plum pudding. I don’t like the taste of the brandy by itself, but the combination of brandy with dried fruits and spices makes my mouth water. So, hoping that combining a bit of brandy with a suculent strawberry preserve would produce something a bit more decadent than the standard strawberry jam, I gave it a whirl.

Brandied Strawberry Preserves

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4 Cups Quartered Strawberries

1 Cup Sugar

1/4 Cup Brandy, divided

4 Tbsp. Clear Jel mixed with 4 Tbsp Cold Water

1 tsp. Vanilla

  • Combine strawberries, sugar and 3 Tbsp. brandy in heavy stock pot; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
  • Increase heat to medium high and stir in Clear Jel slurry. Bring to boil while stirring constantly and boil for 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat; stir in remaining brandy and vanilla. Ladle into jars and cool to room temperature.
  • Cover and keep in refrigerator or freeze.
  • This recipe made 4 – 8 oz. jars.

The first jar was eaten the same day on bagels with cream cheese. I swear everyone in the family came out of the woodwork for this one.

The second jar was confiscated by my father when he just happened to stop by after I’d finished jarring it.

The third jar went to my neighbors whose absolute favorite jam is strawberry and I just had to get their opinion on it. I got the empty jar back within two days – that spoke volumes.

The fourth jar…well, don’t tell anyone but it is hidden deep in the back of the refrigerator, behind an expired container of sour cream that I know no one is going to throw out because there is an unwritten rule in my house that no one but me can throw anything away in the refrigerator because you just never know what might happen (I’d love to find out, but apparently this is something far to complicated for Hubby and the kids). I’m saving this one for when a certain girl friend and I get together (hopefully soon!) so I can get her opinion.

The only thing I don’t like about this particular recipe is that it is a refrigerator/freezer jam and cannot be water bath canned. I understand why, because cooking/heating it after the last of the brandy is added might eliminate the hint of brandy that laces every bite, but this means it is going to be far harder to store. Freezer and refrigerator space is always scarce around our house, so storing an abundance of this preserve is not going to happen.

Changing things up is a good thing, especially when it produces a decadent, mouth-watering, new take on Strawberry Jam, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

2015 Strawberry Canning #4 – Strawberry Gel

One of the most versatile and commonly used strawberry concoctions that I can is strawberry glaze or gel. I use this from strawberry pie to strawberry Belgium waffles to a substitute for strawberry syrup to strawberry ice cream topping to strawberry shortcake. It can be used for practically anything and in a pinch, I probably have.

Strawberry glaze/gel is sold in the stores all year-long, but in my opinion, the store-bought versions taste like perfume. I know that may sound like a weird correlation, because who actually eats perfume, but that is the best description I can make of the taste. Homemade gel is so much better and being that I use Clear Jel to make it, it’s ready to use right out of the jar.

Strawberry Glaze/Gel

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16 Cups Sliced Strawberries

12 Cups Water

1/2 Cup Lemon Juice

10 Cups Sugar

1 Cup Clear Jel mixed in 1 Cup Water

Combine strawberries and 12 cups water in large stock pot. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes. Run cooked berries through food mill or strainer and return juice to stock pot (I got 22 cups of juice after straining).

Add lemon juice and sugar and bring to near boil.

Combine Clear Jel with water and add slurry to stock pot.  Bring to boil and boil for 1 minute. Ladle into hot jars, seal and process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.

The pantry is stocked with 16 pints of Strawberry Glaze. I am thrilled and looking forward to a winter full of strawberry goodness, and for this I am —Simply Grateful.

2015 Strawberry Canning #2 – Raspberry-Strawberry Spread

I have been canning for 28 years but have yet to win a single Blue Ribbon for my efforts.  This is due in part to the fact that I have never entered any contests, but even if I had, I seriously doubt my canning results would warrant any ribbon, blue or otherwise.

When I can I am concerned with two things, taste and making something healthier than can be bought in the store. I don’t follow recipes as written most of the time because usually they call for more sugar than I want to us and many require wait time for liquids to clarify.  You would be hard pressed to find a jar of jelly or syrup in my pantry that is not cloudy.  This is for two reason:  First and foremost, I like to have some pulp in my jellies and syrups because I believe this produces a tastier product and when I press liquid through cheesecloth, a sieve, or process through a food mill, I want every last drop of liquid I can get from whatever fruit I am using. The pulp doesn’t change the consistency of the end product, but the pressing does make it nearly impossible to end up with a clear jar of jelly or syrup.  Second, I am impatient.

The second project I decided to work on with the strawberries I picked this week was based on a recipe from Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt, Raspberry-Strawberry Jelly.  I say based on because although some of the ingredient measurements are the same, I changed up the procedures, amount of sugar and thickening agent. I didn’t want to lose any of the fresh strawberry or raspberry flavors by clarifying the juices or cover up the taste of the berries with a ton of sugar. And if you’ve read any of my previous posts on canning jams or jellies you know I’m a Clear Jel kind of canner.

Raspberry-Strawberry Spread

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To Make Juice:

7 Cups Sliced Strawberries

7 Cups Fresh or Frozen Raspberries

1/2 Cup Water

Spread Ingredients:

5 Cups Juice

4 1/2 Cups Sugar

2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice

7 Tbsp. Clear Jel dissolved in 7 Tbsp. Water

  • Place fruit and water in large stock pot.  Bring fruit to boil and boil uncovered 10 minutes.  Remove cooked fruit from heat and puree with stick blender. Run pureed fruit through food mill or fine mesh strainer to remove seeds.  Press to extract as much juice as possible.
  • Return strained fruit juice to stock pot adding sugar and lemon juice.  Heat over medium-high heat to near boil.  Stir in Clear Jel slurry and bring to full boil.  Boil 1 minute.  Remove from heat, ladle into hot jars and process in water bath for 10 minutes
  • This recipe made seven 8 ounce jars plus one 4 ounce jar.

I called my version of this a “spread” rather than a jelly because the consistency with the Clear Jel is easier to spread than I consider a true jelly to be.  Since starting to use Clear Jel for 95% of my jams and jellies, I won’t even consider using something that would produce an end result of something that tears up bread when I try to spread it.  The only exception to this rule might be cranberry sauce but even then I’m willing to forego the cranberry ‘mold’ option and just spoon it out of the jar.  It tastes the same and actually being able to spread it on a turkey burger is more important than having it slide out of the jar in one chunk.

My canning might never earn me any “Blue Ribbons” from a local county fair, but having Hubby finish off an entire jar this morning on his breakfast crepes says more than winning any contest ever could, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

2015 Strawberry Canning #1 – Strawberry Syrup

The worst part of canning is not having anything to can.  Last year I canned nearly every recipe I could find that called for strawberries which has left me with very few choices this year.  Of everything I canned, there is still ample amounts of everything in the pantry except Strawberry Syrup.  I have one jar left which will be opened Friday morning when I make fresh waffles for breakfast, so Strawberry Syrup was the one “must make” with the strawberries I picked the other day.

Homemade Strawberry Syrup

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10 Cups Hulled and Chopped Strawberries

3 Cups Water

3 Cups Sugar

1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice

4 Tbsp. Clear Jel mixed with 1/2 Cup Water

  • Put strawberries, water, sugar and lemon juice in large stock pot.  Bring to boil and boil with lid on for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with stick blender.
  • Strain pureed strawberries through a food mill or fine mesh strainer, reserving juice. Press pulp in strainer to release as much liquid as possible.
  • Return strained juice to stock pot.  Add Clear Jel slurry and return to boil for 1 minutes.
  • Ladle into hot jars and process in water bath for 10 minutes.
  • This recipe made 7 – 12 oz. jars and one 4 oz.

This syrup is not sugary-sweet, but rather tart with a strong fresh strawberry taste.  If you prefer a sweeter syrup, feel free to add another cup or two of sugar prior to straining.

As much as I love having a full, stocked pantry, I also love to make fresh canned goods to update and maintain it.  Most of the strawberry canned goods I made last year are still holding strong, so now that the syrup is replenished, I can start playing with some new recipes I wanted to try but never got to last year, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Michigan Strawberries Are Here!

Last year I planted six strawberry plants.  By the end of summer we had harvested a few handfuls of the sweetest strawberries we’d ever eaten.  This year, I’ve been watching the strawberry plant progress since spring —

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Before we left for vacation the strawberries were beginning to form and tiny green berries hid beneath the green foliage.

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On our return, we were surprised to find strawberries galore!

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Of course, there aren’t enough for canning — not this year anyways.  Next year, you never know.  Perhaps I’ll have enough for at least one batch of strawberry jam.  For now, I’ll make do with the two flats I picked yesterday.

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Two hours, two flats, twenty-two pounds.  The possibilities are endless, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Dessert Crepes #3 – Chocolate Covered Strawberry Crepes

The last of my creations with crepes this week was a combination of two of my absolute favorites:  Chocolate and Strawberries!

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Crepes

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Crepe:

  • 1 1/2 Cups Milk
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. Water
  • 2 Tbsp. Peanut Oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 1/2 Cups Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Cocoa
  • 1/8 tsp. Salt

Chocolate Cream Filling:

  • 8 oz. Cream Cheese
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Sour Cream
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1/3 Cup Chocolate liquor
  • 8 oz. Tub Cool Whip

Garnish:

  • 1 lb. Fresh Strawberries
  • 3 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
  • Hot Fudge
  • Whipped Cream

To prepare the crepes:  Place all crepe ingredients in blender and process until smooth.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When batter is chilled, heat a small fry pan over medium heat.  Spray pan with cooking spray.  Pour enough batter into hot pan to cover the bottom.  Cook until top has a dull finish.  Flip and cook an additional 15 seconds.  Remove from pan and separate with waxed paper sheets.

To prepare chocolate creme:  In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in sour cream and vanilla.  Fold in liquor and whipped topping.  Refrigerate.

Before assembly, mix strawberries with brown sugar and let sit 30 minutes.

To assemble:  Place a chocolate crepe on plate; spread 2 Tbsp. cream down center of crepe; top cream with sugared strawberries and roll.  Garnish with whipped cream, hot fudge, and additional strawberries.  If you want it ever more chocolatey, you can use additional hot fudge in crepe before rolling.

These crepes are sure to satisfy even the toughest of chocolate cravings, something I am always on the lookout for, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Summer’s Holding On – Strawberries & Lilacs

In May I planted six strawberry plants on the side of our house in hopes of harvesting some juicy strawberries come June.  Well, June came and went and I think we had a total of maybe four strawberries.  It didn’t really bother me because I figured next year we’d get more and the following year even more.

What a wonderful surprise it was about two weeks ago when I noticed several little berries under the spreading strawberry plants.  Day after day more and more berries popped up and even more flowers were blooming.  For the past week we have been harvesting two to eight berries per day and this isn’t counting the ones being eaten by the local cats and squirrels that run rampant.

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This evening as I was leaving to take Bell for a walk, I noticed all the berries seemed to be multiplying and a tiny visitor on one of them.

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This little guy was making a feast on one of the berries.  I can’t blame him.  They are like eating sugar and anyways, isn’t he one of the reasons I’m getting such a wonderful harvest this year from my gardens.  As far as I’m concerned, he can eat to his little hearts content.

Further up the walk, as I passed my lilac bush, I stopped dead in my tracks.  There on one of the branches was a tiny, very fragrant bloom!

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Can you believe it — Lilacs in September?  I’ve never heard of such a thing.  What a perfect way to end the summer and welcome fall.

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Summer is still here in spirit, the weather certainly isn’t reminiscent of fall, and these tiny reminders tell me that autumn is just going to have to wait its turn.  Summer isn’t leaving without a fight, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Cherry-Berry Canning

This morning Zeb and I spent several hours in the kitchen whipping up a few new recipes using some of the tart cherries we picked this past weekend. It amazes me how much faster everything goes when you have a helper.

The first recipe I wanted to work on was one using cherries and blueberries. I have several packages of frozen blueberries from last years season left and with blueberry season approaching, I figured it was a good time to clear out the old to make room for the new.

Several times a year I make Belguim waffles for breakfast, serving them with a mixed berry topping. The preserves I made today is similar and I think I could even use it in a pinch if Zeb or Grace want a special treat on a frozen waffle. (Yes, I am guilty of occasionally buying them a package of those large-corporation, heavily processed frozen waffles. When I do though Grace is sure to tease me and say, “Mom, make me a waffle like only you can make.” No one can toast a frozen waffle like dear old Ma!)

Cherry-Berry Preserves

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3 Cups Pitted Tart Cherries
3 Cups Packed Blueberries
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
2 Cups Sugar
4 Tbsp. Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4 C. Water

  • Combine cherries, blueberries, lemon juice, and sugar in large stock pot.

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  • Cook on medium-high until mixture begins to boil and blueberries begin to soften and burst.

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  • Using a potato masher, crush berries and cherries.
  • Add Clear Jel slurry and boil for 1 minute.

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  • Remove from heat, cool 5 minutes and ladle into hot jars leaving a 1“ head space.
  • Process 15 minutes in water bath canner.

This preserve was very thick. When I make it again I will decrease the Clear Jel to 3 Tbsp.

The second recipe Zeb and I worked on was one using some of the strawberry juice I froze from our strawberry picking a few weeks ago. The recipe that inspired this jam called for crushed berries, but I thought the strawberries would be too dominant a flavor if left whole. Also, I decreased the sugar by more than half, leaving this jam more on the tart side , but still more than sweet enough.

Red-On-Red Jam (Grace named this one)

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1 Pound Tart Cherries, pitted
1 Cup Strawberry Juice, strained
3 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
2 Cups Sugar
3 Tbsp. Clear Jel mixed with 1/4 Cup Water

  • Place pitted cherries in large stock pot.

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  • Cook over medium heat, crushing with spoon as they heat.

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  • Add strawberry juice, lemon juice, sugar, and Clear Jel slurry.

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  • Bring to boil. Boil 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat, let stand 5 minutes, ladle into hot jars.
  • Process in water bath 10 minutes.

This jam was very tasty but next time I might try using 2 pounds of cherries, as the strawberry flavor was still dominant.

Zeb and I also worked on two other jams that need to sit overnight. When he tired of helping out in the kitchen, I set to work on cutting some rhubarb and made another batch of rhubarb pie filling. This will be wonderful to add to cherry, blueberry, or apple pies this winter.

Rhubarb Pie Filling

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10 Cups Chopped Rhubarb
3 Cups Sugar
2 Cups Water
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
3/4 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 1 Cup Water

  • Blanch chopped rhubarb in boiling water 1 minute.
  • Drain, reserving 3 cups liquid to use in filling. Keep rhubarb warm in a covered bowl.
  • Combine sugar, 2 cups of reserved liquid, lemon juice, and Clear Jel slurry (using the remaining 1 cup of reserved liquid) in large stock pot.
  • Slowly bring to boil over medium heat. Boil 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat and stir in rhubarb.
  • Ladle into hot jars, leaving a 1“ head space.
  • Process 30 minutes in water bath canner at full boil.

It gives me such a sense of completion and security knowing that the pantry is filling up with lots of different home-canned goods. I cannot wait to start harvesting vegetables and the pantry to overflow (not that it isn’t already). Tomorrow it’s back to tart and sweet cherries, more rhubarb, and new recipes, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.