Wednesday, December 25, 2013

christmas jam


Merry Christmas!  I just love this holiday.  I love the decorations, food, and time spent with family.  I love that I finally have time to relax and sit at my computer and type this post.  I've been waiting for days for this. :)

Christmas is an important holiday to me because it reminds me to really reflect on the real reason for the season - God sent His Son down to earth in order to save me...and you!  How amazing is that!  This year, we've celebrated in many of our traditional ways, but we've also started some new traditions to help us teach Pebbles the real meaning of this holiday.  It's not about Santa Claus or Christmas trees or presents - it's about the birth of our Savior and God's plan for the redemption of His people.

Today, we had an all-day-long birthday party for Jesus!  When Pebbles woke up and ran into the living room, she saw balloons filling the floor.

We wore party hats and blew on kazoos and sang Happy Birthday to Jesus.

She especially loved her birthday cookie.

One thing I've been trying to impart to Pebbles is the importance of giving to others.  She may be young, but I think she's getting it.  We enjoyed taking special gifts to friends and neighbors as a way to wish them Merry Christmas.  My favorite gift to give this time of year is Christmas Jam.

Christmas Jam is easy to make if you know how to can (if you'd like a full tutorial, see my post on canning here), and because you can use either fresh or frozen fruit, you can make it any time of year!

Begin by preparing your canning supplies.  Get your hot water bath going and your jars sanitized.

Process frozen cranberries and strawberries in the food processor until grated.  If you use fresh fruit, make sure you freeze them first to make grating easier.  Grating ensures that your jam will have an even consistency.

Place the grated fruit into a large stockpot along with 5 pounds of sugar...and remember, 1 bag of sugar is equal to 4 pounds, so make sure you have enough!

Bring everything to a full rolling boil, and boil for 1 minute.

Remove the jam from the heat, add pectin, and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.  Skim off the foam before pouring into jars.

Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.  This recipe makes at least a good dozen jars, so you'll need to process them in batches.

This jam is delicious and makes such a thoughtful and unique giftI like to dress my jars up a bit before giving them away.

First, I cut a circle out of some scrap fabric.  You want the circle to be at least an inch larger around than your jar lid.  I like to use pinking shears to give the edges a fun look.

Place a small amount of cotton batting on the inside of the circle.

Center the circle of fabric on the jar with the batting in between the fabric and the jar.  Screw on the outer lid to hold it in place.

Use a small amount of twine to attach a gift tag.  Totally cute!

Christmas Jam
  • 40 oz. frozen whole strawberries or 2 ½ quarts fresh strawberries
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 5 pounds sugar
  • 2 pouches (3 ounces each) liquid pectin

Grind strawberries and cranberries in a food processor or grinder; place in a large kettle. Add sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil; boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat; add pectin. Cool for 5 minutes; skim off foam. Pour hot into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Adjust caps. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Yield: about 14 half pints.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

barley quick bread


We got literally iced in last weekend.  It started sleeting on Thursday at 3pm.  And then it kept sleeting...and kept sleeting...and kept sleeting.  It sleeted all night long and all the next morning.  When I finally emerged from my house last Friday, this is what I saw...

That, my friends, is not snow.  It's solid ice.  At least three and a half inches worth!  We tried to walk on the yard, thinking it would give a didn't.  Everywhere we tried to go, we slid.  So we just didn't go anywhere!

Except sledding down the driveway, that is. :)

And since I was iced in and not going anywhere, I had to come up with recipes that used only the ingredients I already had on hand.  I admit, I wasn't really prepared for that.  I mean, I didn't even have eggs.  Most of the time, the weathermen here predict things to be way worse than they actually turn out, so all I bought to get us through this storm was a gallon of milk and some peanut butter.  Ha!  Who knew we'd be stuck at home until Sunday?

I combed my favorite cookbooks looking for any recipe that didn't call for eggs.  And I found this!

I actually happened to have some barley in my pantry left over from beef stew.  I was intrigued by the thought of adding it to bread!

I also had some leftover buttermilk from whipping up a batch of buttermilk pancakes.  Lucky for me, this recipe helped me use that up as well.

This bread was so fast to put together.  Like, seriously...3 minutes, tops!  You just stir everything together, dig your hands in it and knead it up, then pat it down onto a baking sheet.

About 20 minutes in the oven is all it takes to get this delicious bread.  It's got a fun, almost nutty texture because of the barley.  And the flavor is out of this world.  I liken it to eating a nutty biscuit or even a soft biscotti.  It's  the perfect accompaniment for soup or salad, and I bet it would make amazing croutons as well (my batch didn't stick around long enough for me to find out).

After making two batches of this bread in the past 4 days, I've got to's my new quick bread obsession!

Barley Quick Bread
from Gooseberry Patch's Merry Christmas
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup pearled barley, uncooked
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Mix together first 6 ingredients; stir in buttermilk.  Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead.  Roll dough into an oval shape, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.  Score dough with a knife and prick with a fork; place on a lightly greased and floured baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack and brush with melted butter.  Serves 4 to 6.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

2013 holiday menu

Well, the holiday season is upon us, and it sure came in with a blast!  We enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving in Omaha with my sister, who, by the way, made a fabulous turkey.  I'll be featuring that recipe soon - it's too good not to share!  Then, we brought my little sis back with us for a week of fun in Texas, only to have it end with what locals are affectionately calling "Icemageddon 2013"!

It's nuts outside!  We had 3.5 inches of sleet on Thursday/Friday, and the weather station says we're going to get more freezing drizzle tonight.  Being holed up at home has given me plenty of time to think about what we'll be eating for the next few weeks and to wish that I had been prepared before the ice hit.

I've decided it's time I start back up with menu posts again.  Like I used to do, I'll just list the recipes that are on my "short list" for the month.  As I post each recipe, I'll link it up to the menu post.  There's no guarantee that I'll make all of them or even post all of the ones I make - only our favorites make it to the blog!  (But, I can tell you now...the Christmas Cremes pictured below are definitely some of our favorites!)

Blueberry French Toast
Tijuana Dump Breakfast

Barley Quick Bread
Cheddar Chive Biscuits

Side Dishes
Honey Thyme Roasted Carrots
Cheese Tidbits
Granny's Cornbread Dressing
Country Creamed Corn
Pan Fried Okra

Main Dishes
Homemade Hamburger Helper
Turkey in a Bag
Sloppy Joes
Chicken and Noodles
Beans and Cornbread
Turkey Pot Pie
Chicken Spaghetti

Sweet Potato Pie with Marshmallow Meringue
Mississippi Mud Cake

Gifts for Giving
Christmas Sandwich Cookies
Christmas Jam

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

chicken fajita chowder

I am so, so, so, so excited that fall finally seems to be in the air!  We actually had to bust out our coats this week, and we finally turned the heater on!  Of course, it was back up in the 70s today (we do live near Dallas, after all), but the cool weather this past week felt refreshing.

Fall weather puts me in the "mood".  I start baking pies, listening to Christmas music, and wearing my cozy socks again.  I also start eating soup...lots and lots of soup.

I featured this chicken fajita chowder on my review of Everyday Simple Suppers, and so many people asked for the recipe that I thought I'd indulge them.  :)

Random note - Everyday Simple Suppers would make a great Christmas gift for the cook in your life...just sayin'!

This soup is delicious and sure to warm you up when fall weather hits!  We like it topped with cheddar cheese and sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt).  Chock full of beans, veggies, and chicken, it was delicious!

Chicken Fajita Chowder
from Gooseberry Patch's Everyday Simple Suppers
3 T. flour
1.4-oz package fajita or taco seasoning mix, divided
4 chicken breasts, cubed
3 T. oil
1 onion, chopped
1 t. garlic, minced
15 1/4-oz. can sweet corn and diced peppers, drained
15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
14 1/2-oz can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
4.5-oz can chopped green chiles
3 cups water
1 cup instant brown rice, uncooked
10 3/4-oz. can nacho cheese soup
1 1/4 cup water

Combine flour and 2 tablespoons seasoning mix in a large plastic zipping bag; add chicken.  Seal bag and shake to coat.  Saute chicken in hot oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat about 5 minutes, until golden, stirring often.  Reduce heat to medium-high.  Add onion and garlic; saute 5 minutes.  Stir in remaining seasoning mix, corn, beans, tomatoes, chiles, 3 cups water, and rice; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 5 minutes.  Add soup and 1 1/4 cups water; stir until thoroughly heated.  Sprinkle with desired toppings; garnish with fresh cilantro.  Serves 8 to 12.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

slow cooker toasted pecans and pumpkin seeds

Did you know that you could toast nuts and pumpkin seeds in your slow cooker?  I didn't!  Well, that is, until I tried it.  It's now my favorite method - they always end up toasted evenly with lots of flavor, and if I forget them for a while, they don't get burned!

So here's how you do it...

Pour your desired amount of nuts or seeds into your slow cooker.  Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil (enough to lightly coat everything when you stir it) and some seasonings.  When I'm making nuts, I like salt, pepper, chili powder, and oregano.  When I toast pumpkin seeds, I stick with just salt.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for 15 minutes, just to get everything nice and warm.  Then, take the lid off and continue cooking on high for a few hours (usually about 2), stirring occasionally, until everything is toasted to perfection.  I try to stir every half hour or so, but like I said...because the slow cooker is slow, you most likely won't burn anything if you accidentally let it go longer than that.

This is the perfect low maintenance way to create the perfect party appetizer!

Slow Cooker Toasted Pecans and Pumpkin Seeds
  • 2-4 cups pecans, pumpkin seeds, or other nut
  • 2-3 T. olive oil
  • seasonings (salt, pepper, chili powder, oregano)

Place all ingredients into a slow cooker and stir.  Cover and cook on high for 15 minutes; stir.  Uncover and continue cooking on high, stirring occasionally, until nuts or seeds are toasted to your liking (about 2 hours).

Thursday, October 24, 2013

molasses baked beans

It's finally starting to cool off here in Texas, and that gets me excited for warm and filling meals.  Inspired by Gooseberry Patch's latest, Hometown Harvest (see here for chance to win a copy!), I transformed their recipe for molasses baked beans from a side dish into a main entree.

It. Was. Fabulous.

There are a few secrets to these baked beans that make them unlike any other I've ever tried.  First...the molasses.  Rich, creamy and dark, these molasses pack the perfect amount of spicy sweetness into these beans. 

Second, this recipe calls for a clove-studded onion.  I had never heard of such a thing!  I have stuck cloves in oranges...but in an onion?  Never!

Yet, it was amazing.  The clove added the perfect flavoring, and sticking the whole cloves into an onion allowed for an even more complex taste with easy removal after everything was done cooking.  What a showstopper of a technique!

So what made my beans different from those in Hometown Harvest?  I simply added some smoked sausage.  We are a "meat and potatoes" family, so I wanted to add a bit of something extra to turn these delightful beans into a main dish.  It worked!

You should give these a try today.  And while you're at it, make some cornbread to go with them!

Molasses Baked Beans
adapted from Gooseberry Patch's Hometown Harvest
  • 2 16oz. packages dried navy beans
  • 1/2 lb. salt pork, cut into strips
  • 1 cup molasses, divided
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 T. dry mustard
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 whole onion
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 lb. kielbasa or smoked sausage, sliced

Cover beans with water in a large pot; soak for 2 to 3 hours.  Drain beans, reserving liquid; place beans in a slow cooker.  Add salt pork, 3/4 cup molasses, brown sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, and chopped onions.  Stud whole onion with cloves; add to slow cooker.  Add sausage.  Pour in enough of reserved liquid to fill half full; stir. Cover and cook on high setting for 4 to 5 hours, or on low setting for 8 to 9 hours, until beans are tender.  After several hours, if a darker color is desired, stir in remaining molasses; continue cooking as directed.  Remove clove-studded onion and salt pork before serving.  Serves 8.
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