Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Since we didn't have enough going on this past weekend already...with Rebeccca's First Communion on Sunday, and 20+ people (mostly family) over for a big party after Mass, the logical thing to do was to go strawberry picking on Saturday and bring back 20 pounds of the MOST lucious, juicy, gorgeous berries I have ever seen.

Right?  Everyone with me?  

The only damper to picking at King's Orchard was the price.  The berries were $3.35 a pound-- and yeah, that's a lot.  However, the quality was superb...the berries were the best I've ever had.  We printed a coupon off their website that was good for $10 off 20 pounds.  Well, the scale said 19 1/2 pounds, and the lady at the counter wouldn't let my hubby use the coupon at first.  It's about a 1/2 mile walk from the stand to the berry patch, and David said something to the tune of, "You're really going to make me walk all the way back to pick 1/2 a pound?"  In the end, they said, "Okay, this time, we'll let it go," but let me assure you, if they hadn't, David would not go back to King's Orchard again, period.  He just doesn't have the patience for people who will argue over 1/2 a pound...he thinks it's bad customer service. that we've gotten that unpleasant business out of the way...let's talk jam.  The strawberries we picked were very ripe, so they wouldn't last but 2, maybe 3 days at the most.  I knew I would slice some up and freeze them for later, but wasn't sure what to do with the rest.  My mother-in-law said, "Well, why don't we made some freezer jam?  It's easy, and we can get it done in no time."  I thought it was a capital idea, so once we got home, we dropped off the kids, and headed back out to Walmart to get plastic freezer jars, liquid pectin, and sugar.

Freezer jam is super easy.  You don't have to slice the strawberries, sterilize any jars, boil them...nothing like that.  All you have to do is mash up the berries, add sugar and pectin, combine well, pour the mixture into clean jars, freeze them, and you're done. 

Start off with 2 cups of clean strawberries.  Remove the green hulls and place in a large measuring cup.  Use a potato masher to smash them up...a few small chunks are fine. 

Don't use a blender or food'll end up with strawberry puree, and you don't want that.  Small pieces of fruit give the finished jam texture, and I like the homemade look, don't you?

We decided to use 4 cups of strawberries, 4 cups of sugar, and one package of pectin.  The berries were so sweet, it really didn't make sense to use any more sugar, although technically, we should have used 8 cups.  I tasted the mixture with 4 cups of sugar, and it was plenty sweet. 

In another bowl or measuring cup, combine 4 cups of sugar and one package of liquid pectin.  Here's the brand we can use your favorite. 

Combine the pectin/sugar mixture with the crushed strawberries.  Stir very well for about 3-5 minutes, making sure the sugar and pectin are fully dissolved. 

I tried to take pictures of the process...there was a LOT going on in the kitchen at the same time!  My sister-in-law and brother-in-law arrived and were processing their strawberries while we were making jam, David and my father-in-law were eating lunch, and there were 8 kids running and out of the was crazy! 

Here's my mother-in-law Terry ladling the first batch of jam into the jars. 

 In the end, we had 20, 1-cup plastic jars of jelly (and one small container because we ran out of jars).  Oh, and one BIG mess in the kitchen!  Let the jars sit at room temperature for 24 hours, then freeze until solid.

When you want to use your homemade jam, thaw a jar in the fridge overnight and use within 2 weeks of opening. 

Note:  After 24 hours, the jam really hadn't set up like we though it should have.  It wasn't very thick like store-bought jam, but it tasted GREAT--really fruity and fresh.  We probably should have used 2 packages of pectin instead of one for each batch.  I'm going to thaw all the jars tonight and stir in 2-3 more packets of pectin so the jam sets up better.  It's still a great sense of accomplishment to make jam for the first time.  I have to give all the credit to my mother-in-law Terry...she is awesome!  I definitely want to try making freezer jam again.  We have blackberries coming on in the back yard...doesn't homemade blackberry jam sound amazing?

Enjoy the "fruits" of your labor, and God bless your table tonight!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rachel Ray's Italian Roast Chicken with Orange and Oregano

This week has been least in the kitchen.  But there's been so much going on (and next week too), so I'm posting this recipe from Rachel Ray...with some tweaks of my own.  I'll also be showing you how to cut apart a whole chicken.  You can buy one already cut up...but if you have a good sharp knife or a pair of kitchen shears, it's really easy to cut up a whole chicken yourself.  You'll save money to boot...and who can argue with that? 

I didn't find blood oranges at my local grocery store, (they're out of season anyway) so I used navel oranges.  Nor do I have access to fresh bay leaves, so I used 2 dried leaves.  I never buy orange blossom honey (it costs more than regular honey), but I did throw in some orange zest to compensate and boost the flavor.  I can't make things too spicy around here, so I only put a pinch of red pepper flakes in the dish instead of 1 teaspoon.  Lastly, I used just 2 heads of garlic, because my kids won't eat it; spread on the chicken or bread even after it's roasted, which mellows it considerably.   If you want the original recipe, it's on Rachel's Ray's website. 

 This dish easily feeds our family of 6 for 2 nights, so if you need a easy, cheap meal, give this one a try.  All you have to do is throw it together and put it in the oven. :-)

Italian Roast Chicken with Orange and Oregano
(adapted from the Rachel Ray show)

1 whole chicken, cut into parts (2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 wings, and 2 drumsticks)
salt and black pepper
2 whole heads of garlic
Olive oil (about 3 tablespoons total)
4 navel/blood oranges (2 cut into 1/2 inch slices, and the juice and zest from the other 2) 
2 dried bay leaves (or 6 fresh)
3 medium or 2 large red onions, root end intact, and cut into 1-inch wedges
4 stems fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 cup dry white wine (I used a chardonnay)
1/4 cup honey

Cutting up a whole chicken is really easy.  If you have a weak stomach, particularly if you're in that first trimester of pregnancy, I can't blame you if you buy it already prepped.  I couldn't even look at raw meat of any kind when I was in the first trimester of all my pregnancies (much less cook it, and yes, we were vegetarians for about 6 weeks!).  Once you do it the first time, you'll be able to do it again, I promise. 

First, take the chicken out of the package, reach into the cavity, and remove the neck and any innards you find.  I've bought whole chickens for years, and every once in a while, I"ll find nothin' !  Discard those items, or save 'em if you're that kind of person.  I am not...and to spare you, I didn't even take a picture of them for you.
Rinse the chicken inside and out with cool water, and place on your biggest cutting board (this will be a little messy).  Dry it inside and out with some paper towels. 
The wings are the easiest to cut off, so we'll begin with those.  Pull the wing away from the main body of the chicken, and use a sharp knife or kitchen shears and start cutting it don't need to hack away here.  Just make a series of small, shallow cuts until you see the joint in between the 2 bones. 

Place the knife blade right inbetween the bones and continue to cut the wing away from the body.  No sawing should be necessary...if you're doing it right, you're going through the cartiladge. 

Once you go through the joint, cut through the muscle and skin on the other side, and you're done.
Now you can cut away the second wing on the other side of the chicken.  So that's one part down!

I usually do the legs next.  Just repeat the same steps as above.  Carefully cut the leg away from the body until you see the joint between the bones.  Keep cutting until it is free.  If you need to manuever the bird around a little to have a better vantage point, go right ahead. 

So now we have 2 wings and 2 legs.  We're halfway there!

It's the thighs turn on the chopping block.  These are a bit tricker, because they're closer to the body.  I think it's best to start with the bird facing up, and use your best judgement as you're cutting.  The goal is to keep the thigh intact and cut as little muscle as possible.  If this is your first may not look real pretty...but remember, practice makes perfect!

As you can see from the pictures above, if you pay attention to the muscles, you can see where you should cut.  Just take your time...and after you cut one thigh off, turn the chicken around and cut away the other thigh. 

Last to come off are the chicken breasts.  We have to cut them free from the ribs first.  Carefully cut the meat from the large bone in between the breasts. 

There will be a large piece of fat at the top of the breasts.  Go ahead and cut it off.
Flip the breasts over and cut firmly right in the middle of the bone.  This is where you will need to apply some force.  A pair of good kitchen shears may work best here. 

Cut all the way through the bone, muscle, and skin, and you will have two whole chicken breasts.

TA-DA!!!  You did it!  You cut up a whole chicken!  Aren't you proud of yourself? ;-)
Save the carcass to make stock if you want.  (Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't ;-). 
Place all the chicken pieces on a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and place in the fridge for several hours or overnight.  Leave it uncovered if you can...that will help the skin crisp up when it roasts later on.  (This step was in Rachel Ray's original recipe.  If you don't have time for this, just skip it, or put the pan under the broiler for just a few minutes at the end of the roasting time to help the skin turn golden and crispy). 

Line a 9x13 roasting pan/baking dish with some heavy-duty foil, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  This helps with the clean-up later on, since we'll be roasting a a fairly high heat.  Nobody I know wants to stand at the kitchen sink scrubbing forever, right? 

Cut off the heads of the garlic, keeping the root end intact, and peel away the outermost layers of the white, papery skin.

Season with some salt and pepper, drizzle with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and wrap them up in some foil. 

Roast them for about 45 minutes or until the garlic is very soft and golden.  Set aside. 

Season the chicken with some black pepper and red pepper flakes (only use salt if you didn't salt the chicken earlier in the day).  In the prepared roasting pan, toss together the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 sliced oranges, bay leaves, red onion, oregano, orange juice and orange zest. 

Push all this to the sides, and arrange the chicken skin side up in the pan.  Drizzle over the honey, and pour in the wine. 

I know...I switched roasting pans on y'all.  I had a 9x13 pan ready to go...but it was too small to fit everything.  I was afraid the chicken would stew instead of roast.  I wanted roast chicken, so I used my big roaster, lined with foil, and it worked great.  If all you have is a 9x13, put the onions and oranges on the bottom and the chicken on the top, so it roasts evenly. 

Roast for 45 minutes or until the chicken juices run clear when pierced with a knife.  I always check one of the thighs or drumsticks, since they take longer than the white meat. 

I don't need to tell y'all how good the house smelled while this was in the oven.
Serve the chicken with the pan juices, some of the roasted garlic, and crusty bread if you'd like.  I made some sauteed spinach as well.   

I've roasted whole heads of garlic before...and it makes the whole house smell divine.  If you're not a big fan of garlic, this may not sound aromatic to you...but roasted garlic is very mellow and spreads like butter, so don't be afraid to give it a try. ;-)

I hope you find the courage to tackle and take apart a whole chicken all by yourself.  Then you can buy whole chickens when they're on sale and save yourself some money. 

God bless your table tonight!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Houston Culinary Tours

I just saw this posted by someone else on Facebook.  And I'm shaking...literally.  I would LOVE to go on one of these tours.  OH MY GRACIOUS!

Here's the link if you'd like to know more yourself:

This would be SO much fun y'all.  I'm really a nobody in the foodie world, but I love to eat.  Should I set up a fund for donations?   The tickets are $180...not terribly expensive, but not cheap by a longshot. 

Okay...I just got off the phone with the hubby.  He says we can make it happen!  Now..who wants to go with me?  Anybody? 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Meal

I really can't make a big, fancy meal over the holidays, because then I end up in the kitchen during all the fun, and I don't to miss it.  Four kids running around looking for eggs, (and finding miscellaneous ones during the course of the day) is pretty entertaining. ;-) 

So without further adieu, here's what I'm making: 
 These are fantastic, took 'em to a potluck, and the ladies went nuts over them.

(for the kids, of course) 

Glazed Ham
I followed the directions on the package!

(easy and you can make it in advance)

Wheat Rolls
 (store-bought because I just didn't have time, otherwise, I would have made these)
I used Easter-themed cookie cutters and pastel sugar sprinkles
I usually make this cake, but we just finished David's 3-layer birthday cake, and we are caked out.  Be prepared, these are very messy, but our kids LOVED them, so it was worth the major cleanup afterwards.  I recommend eating them outside, not inside like we did. ;-)
(another request of David's) 

With all this food, plus a mountain of Easter candy, I think we're covered, and nobody should go hungry tomorrow. 

HAPPY EASTER, and God bless your table tonight!