Friday, June 29, 2012

Plum/Nectarine Sorbet

This year, we discovered we have a fruit tree in our backyard! I was pretty sure it was a plum tree but it *could* be a nectarine tree. I want to say i am sure but i'm not.

Either way, i love plums AND nectarines. I got hooked on nectarines when i was pregnant, and they are one of my favorites.

I looked up a lovely recipe for plum sorbet.

I didn't realize they would be so juicy fresh off the tree. I am learning that grocery store firmness isn't really replicated in your backyard. They were firm indeed on the outside, but i have never had such juicy fruit in my life. I made this sorbet twice last week. The first time, i cut fresh fruit and it made quite a mess. More than i expected. The juice ran down my arms to my elbows and dripped onto the floor, all over my blender, the counter tops, my shirt and pants... it was a huge sweet mess.

The second time i made it i experimented with freezing the fruit whole and then using a very sharp knife to cut it. On one hand, there was less mess. On the other hand, it is harder to blend up frozen fruit than fresh. I had to use a little bit of water to assist it and i cut some fresh fruit at the end to give it more juice for blending.

Here's the recipe:

2 ½ cups sliced plums, pits removed
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp Grand Mariner (optional)

I used more plums, at least 3 cups. So i increased the sugar, to about 1/2 cup. I used Triple Sec instead of Grand Mariner. The liqueur is basically to keep it from getting too rock hard. It gives it a bit of softness.

You blend this all up together until smooth. The original recipe suggested that i strain out the large pieces of skin and discard them. The first time i made this, with the fresh fruit, the skins were negligible after blending. Using the frozen fruit, the skins were more prominent but i still didn't strain them out. You can do so if you like but when i eat a fruit i eat the skin, so it didn't bother me to have it in my sorbet. The pieces weren't very large at all so straining it just seemed like a mess and a bother.

I put the mixture into my ice cream maker and i let it go for about 40-50 minutes (this was with fresh fruit). The frozen fruit takes way less time. Maybe only 20 minutes. Your ice cream maker may be different, so use it according to your own directions.

The result was surprising. The fruit was so sweet fresh, and i thought the addition of the sugar might have made it extra sweet, but it was actually very tart. I personally like tart flavors, but you can always add more sugar if you like it sweeter. You could probably leave out the lemon juice. I liked it was it was.

The best part is that it's fat-free, and uses limited resources to make something that is cool and refreshing for this summer heat we're having! It was virtually free for me, since i had all the ingredients in my house and backyard!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blackberry Pancake & Waffle Syrup

I mentioned before that blackberries are my favorite berry. This time of year i pick as many as i can over a couple weeks span to bring home and usually i am in the kitchen for days making jams.

This year has been phenomenal for blackberries! We had a 'blackberry winter' as the old folks say, which meant we had a very mild winter. On a few levels, that sucks. I had allergies ALL winter long, and so did one of my kids. On another level, it can be really good for some plants come warm weather.

We went to the patch for the second time the other day and it looked like this out there:

Yea. So we picked and picked and picked... until we had 5 gallons of berries. That's just me and my husband picking. My arms look like i was in a cat fight with the Tasmanian Devil.

This is at least as much as i bring home by myself in a whole season, if not more. I still have loads of jam canned from last year, so i thought, i wonder what else i can make with blackberries besides jam, cobbler, muffins (which is another post entirely) and sorbet.

My husband made a random comment about blackberries and pancakes, and it was like lightning struck. Blackberry Pancake Syrup!

I didn't even know if ti was a real thing but i looked around on Google. I mean, IHOP has boysenberry syrup, so why not? Turns out, it is a real thing!

ATTENTION: Please have knowledge of how to use your pressure cooker in advance. I don't want this to be your first lesson in how to use one and i take no responsibility if you hurt yourself. There is pressure, there is steam, but there are also SAFETY PROCEDURES. Read your manual.

First step, get your pressure cooker and fill it with water, and get that on the stove and boiling with the lid to the side someplace.

Get out the blender (or food processor) and blend up a bunch of berries. I added a little water to get my blender going and pureed up several cups of berries.

When you want to start measuring, you need to get out a mesh strainer.

I had a nice perfectly sized metal bowl that my strainer fit on.

The puree is really thick and won't just magically separate itself, so i tapped the strainer against the bowl repeatedly until basically all that was left was seeds and all the juice and pulpy goodness had sifted through.

Do that until you have 4 cups and juice and fine pulp.

You need a good sized saucepan or stock pot preferably (i need a new stock pot) because when this stuff boils, it is going to EXPAND.

Add 4 cups of sugar. Turn on the heat, and stir until it's very dissolved.

I already had an estimated number of jars and rings sterilized and my canning equipment ready to go. If you've canned before, you know the drill. If not, get your jars/rings in hot soapy water and let them sit for a while, and put your unused lids in simmering water on the stove. When you have your blackberry mixture on the stove, you can start bringing your jars out of the bath and rinse off the soap.

Let your blackberries come to a boil. Boil on high for 2 minutes. Keep your spoon ready to stir because it WILL expand and it will feel like molten lava if you end up touching it. Nothing good to be felt there.

When it's done boiling, turn off the heat. Ladle blackberry syrup into jars, and make sure to leave ¼" head space.

Wipe off the jar rims, and put the hot lids on with your magnetic lid lifter, and screw rings on tight.

Place jars in pressure cooker and fasten on the lid. When it pressures up, let jars pressure for 10 minutes.

When your pressure cooker cools off a touch you can let off some steam so it can be safely opened. PLEASE read your manual and know how to use your appliance.

Remove your jars carefully with your jar lifter and remove to a towel or heat proof surface to cool.

And voila, you have blackberry syrup!

I am soooo excited to make pancakes now!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Blackberry Sorbet & Banana "Ice Cream"

I got a new appliance! Bet you can't get what that is, heh. That's right. An ice cream maker! It's not a very big one, just a 1.5 quart Rival, but still. I'm excited!

I was looking at this months's Ladies Home Journal, and they had a section of homemade ice cream recipes. Next thing you know, we happen to be out shopping for necessities and we saw our new appliance calling to us.

Of course, i didn't make ice cream my first time around. Instead i decided that instead of going out and buying cream and whole milk and half and half and all the other stuff you need for actual ice cream, i'd start out with some sorbet and sherbet.

I don't know about you, but this is the time of year i really get my fruit on. I love nothing better than to can some jams, and pick fruit (the free-er the better, in my opinion), and experiment with the cheapest fruits in the market.

I already had tons of blackberries at home, and i picked up some bananas while we were out.

I started out with the bananas.

It's not something i invented. I first saw it on Pinterest, but that site has this irritating habit of logging me out and when i go to the home page, i see something AMAZING that i just have to try, but when i go to pin it, i'm not logged in. So then by the time i get logged in, the pin is no longer on the front page, and frankly, i'm more than a little peeved.

BUT, then the same Ladies Home Journal happened to have the same thing in it this month, and i was like YES!

So, the recipe said take some bananas and cut them into chunks and freeze them, and then when they're frozen, use a food processor to puree them. Well, i don't have a food processor, and i don't know if my blender is badass enough to puree frozen bananas.

Instead, i cut up bananas and put the chunks directly into my blender. I have a Wavestation blender for smoothies and shakes and stuff, and i find it is way better than a plain blender.

I pureed them until they were nice and smooth. For future reference, i think i am going to add a teaspoon or so of a fruit preserving agent in there next time to prevent oxidation, because as the mixture got cold it got a little brown, BUT it did not affect the taste.

After it was in the freezer long enough to get a little slushy and frozen on the bottom (maybe 3 hours) i took it out and i put it all in my ice cream maker. I turned it on and let it go for about 50 minutes or so, then i poured it back in the bowl and froze it until it was hard. It scoops really easily.

For the blackberries, i mixed up a simple sugar syrup.

Take 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar. Dissolve this together in a saucepan until it starts boiling. Make sure and stir it up so the sugar dissolves. When it starts to boil, turn the heat down until it simmers for 5 minutes.

Take it off the heat. Let it sit and cool til it's about room temperature.

Take 5 cups (2 pints) of blackberries and wash and drain them. Put them into the blender (or food processor) and puree them.

Put the blackberry puree into the blender with 1/4 cup of the cooled syrup into the ice cream maker and blend it up. Add the blackberry mixture and about 1¼ cups of the syrup into the ice cream maker and let it go for about 50 minutes or so. Then you can pour the sherbet mixture into another container and freeze it up. It is also easily scoopable.

I am so pleased with how this all turned out that i am going to continue to experiment with more flavors. So be forewarned... i may get addicted to this fast!

The best part is everything is absolutely FAT FREE. You can't beat that with a stick. For me, it's awesome, because i am trying to eat healthier.

The banana sherbet/ice cream alone is awesome. My kids loved it.

Add blackberry AND banana sherbet and you have two kinds of awesome. These flavors actually paired very well together. YUMOLA.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Super Simple Blackberry Cobbler!

It is blackberry season in Illinois, and i am happy about that! They are my favorite berry! I love them all, whether they be tart or sweet.

For Father's Day, i baked my FIL a blackberry cobbler. It's his favorite. This will buy me DIL Brownie Points for MONTHS.

I did a quick Google search for blackberry cobbler recipes, and i ended up using a simple one from Betty Crocker.


2 ½ cups fresh or frozen blackberries (thawed and drained)
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
½ cup melted butter (1 stick)

Heat oven to 375°.

In medium bowl stir together blackberries and sugar, and let sit for about 20 minutes until a syrup begins to form.

In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add milk and combine. Then add melted butter and combine again. Spread in ungreased 8x8 pan. Spoon berry mixture over the batter.

Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until dough rises and is golden.

Serve plain or with cream.

My house smells SO good right now!

Sugar your berries! I added an extra half cup because my father-in-law loves his extra sweet!

Whisk your dry ingredients together. Add 1 cup milk.

Add your butter and combine this again.

Spread the batter in the pan.

Drop berries and sugar onto the batter, covering the whole surface.

Pop this baby in the oven!

Yum! This looks so delicious!

And that is ALL there is to it! The hardest part of this is picking the berries! Of course, you don't HAVE to pick them, but i find a certain satisfaction in knowing this beautiful dessert came 100% naturally off the side of the road, and some ingredients i already had in my fridge!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Would You Like S'more?

I've been on a bit of a hiatus lately, and i apologize if you've missed seeing my posts, but summer is upon us and that means moms become even more busy. It should be the other way around or something. I know i always look forward to summer because that means i no longer have 100 things to remember for the 3 schools my kids are scattered across, and i don't have all the shuttling them around and myriad duties associated with the school year. However, even though i don't have to get up at the crack of dawn or worry about what day Box Tops need to be handed in, i find that my kids require constant attention. That's so annoying. Haha.

I've been sitting on this recipe for weeks. I was on a site that i peruse for rewards (because i'm frugal like that) and i was in the video section trying to earn a few extra points when i came across their video recipe section. I was surprised because i didn't know they had such a thing! I had watched a lot of crappy mini-documentaries and they had older clips from The Martha Stewart Show? Wha..? I had been wasting time.

Jennifer Shea from Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle was showing how to make S'mores cupcakes. Actually they call them Chocolate Graham Cracker and Toasted Marshmallow Cupcakes But we all know what that means. As i peruse Pinterest and other sites, i see S'mores are kind of overdone lately, everyone has a version, but i still wanted to give a go at some recipes.

The only problem was that i wanted a *reason* to make these cupcakes. I will make cookies or brownies or bars for any old day, but cupcakes and cakes need an occasion. I have my reasons. When i am making something that takes this extra time and effort, i want someone besides my kids (and husband) to tell me what they think. Unless the recipe will only make 12 cupcakes, it seems a waste to make all that stuff for a family of 5, especially since my girls will lick off the icing and then run off to play. 

When my friend invited us over for a cookout, i was excited! Perfect timing for a cupcake. She didn't ask me to bring anything, so i figured i would make it a surprise.


Chocolate Graham Cracker and Toasted Marshmallow Cupcakes

Cupcake Batter

Sift together:
1 1/3 c ap flour
3/4 c + 1 TBSP cocoa powder
2 c + 2 TBSP sugar
1.5 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Add in mixer bowl :
2 eggs
1/2 c veg oil
1 c milk
1 tsp vanilla

Add wet to dry ingredients in mixer bowl. Scrape bowl sides. Mix 2 min.

Add 1 cup boiling water into mixer. Incorporate. Let sit.

Bottom crust

1.5 c graham cracker, crushed
1/4 c sugar
1/3 c melted butter

Take graham mixture and add TBSP in each cupcake liner. Press down with small juice glass to make crust.

Add 1 tsp chopped bittersweet chocolate. (I actually used a sprinkling of semi-sweet chocolate chips instead.)

Put in oven at 350 for 5 minutes to create crust.

Scoop in cake mixture. Fill up to 3/4 full in liners. Add a bit more chopped choc on top, then a bit graham mixture on top of that.

Bake 18-20 at 350, cool 10 minutes in pan.

Meringue topping

8 lrg egg whites
2 c sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Take ingredients and mix on stove in double boiler til sugar dissolves til too hot too touch and can't feel the granules.

Add vanilla when ready to mix.

With mixer, beat for 5-7 minutes, until meringue is stff. Pipe onto cupcakes in a cloud.

Use benzomatic torch (industrial strength) and lightly 'roast' the topping. Be careful not to torch paper. Make as dark as you like (not too dark).

I decided to double this recipe. I knew i'd be taking a lot of them to my friend's house but 2 of my kids weren't going to be there and in case they all got gobbled up, i wanted to reserve some for home.

I will just say right off, this recipe would be better done a batch at a time. It all worked out in the end but i had moments.

So, you mix up your cake batter, just like above. Make sure you start your water boiling somewhere in the process so it's done around the time you need it. I had my husband assisting me with putting the cupcake liners in the pans while i did this part. When the batter was all mixed, i let it sit while i used my rolling pin and crushed up graham crackers in a freezer bag. You only need one sleeve of crackers to make 1.5 cups of crumbs, but i made a double batch. Two sleeves makes just shy of 3 cups of crumbs, and i had leftover when i was done, so don't worry about not having enough.

Find a juice glass (or something) that fits the bottom of your cupcake tin. When i bought my Anchor glass baking pans, this little measuring cup came in the box. It's awesome. My husband loves it for measuring alcohol accurately, and i love it because it's the cutest little measuring cup ever, and it has ML and measuring spoon as well as cup measurements on it. It fits perfectly in the bottom of the cupcake tins.

Take a tablespoon and drop some buttery graham cracker crumbs in the bottom. It says use a whole TBSP of crumbs, but i used less and it still made a lovely little crust. So just experiment with what works for you in terms of amount. Take your cup and press the crumbs down and turn it until the whole bottom is covered and pressed down evenly.

I sprinkled some chocolate chips on top of the crusts. It's far simpler than chopping and sprinkling bittersweet chocolate, and last time i checked, you don't make s'mores with bittersweet chocolate anyhow. Pop the crusts with chocolate in the oven for about 5 minutes. The chocolate doesn't really melt into a sheet or anything, and i wasn't motivated to mess up my crusts by trying to spread melty chocolate chips all over them either. So my lazy shortcut is to leave the chips alone.

When you remove the pans, just set them onto some towels or trivets so you can continue working even though the pans are still hot. If you actually have some time, you can wait until they're cooler but i did not have the luxury.

Take a small ice cream scoop and scoop some batter, which will be thinner than normal batter thanks to the addition of boiling water, and fill the cupcake liners about 3/4 full. You don't want to overfill these, because once they hit the top of the liners, they will spread. If your tins are non-stick coated, a little over spill is not a big issue because they will pop right off with a minimum of effort. Once the liners are all filled, take some more graham cracker crumbs and sprinkle each cupcake as generously as you'd like. I did not sprinkle more chocolate on top of the crumbs as the recipe suggested because i figured they are chocolate cupcakes and that would just be overkill. (Besides, i had run out of chocolate chips, so...)

Some of the graham crackers sunk into the batter a little bit. But we were kind of messy in our execution. ;-)

I don't have a double boiler for the next step, but i can improvise. All you need is a saucepan and a metal mixing bowl that fit together. Don't overfill your saucepan with water. All you need is enough water to hit the bottom of your top pan. There will be steam, and you don't want that kind of mess if it boils out the sides.

This is actually the part where making a double batch became a pain in the butt. The meringue mixture took way longer than it should have to get hot. The recipe says that the mixture is done when the sugar granules are dissolved and the mixture is too hot to touch. My husband thought i was joking when i said this to him because he said that it's pretty stupid to be in the kitchen and have to take one for the team in the form of a scalded finger. However, if you keep whisking with a fork, occasionally just lift your fork and gently touch a drop. Once it starts getting uncomfortably warm, just whisk it for another minute or two and you don't actually have to burn the crap out of yourself. As for the sugar, if you whisk it enough, the sugar WILL dissolve and you don't have to worry about if you can feel granules or not. If you've ever made rock candy or fudge, you'll know what i mean. At some point the stirring takes care of that for you.

When it is finally hot, turn off the heat and carefully lift your bowl out of the saucepan using hot pads or oven gloves or towels... and carefully move it over to your mixer and pour it in. You don't need a stand mixer of course, so if you don't have one, just set it onto a surface that won't scald and take your mixer to it.

The double batch took what seemed like ages to stiffen in the stand mixer.

If you've never made meringue or worked with egg whites this way before, you ideally want it to make stiff peaks. Think mountains. However i think i was working with too much at once, and it never really got quite that stiff for me. Once i was able to lift my mixer and have meringue that would stand on itself, i was ready to pipe. I took a piping bag and inserted my coupler and had it ready to to go standing in a tall glass, and i poured a bit of meringue in it. This was quite messy. I kept the rest of the meringue mixing after i got my bag ready so it would continue to stiffen as i worked. Beware, do not overfill the bag and work quickly, as it WILL come out the end of your bag as gravity works its charm.

My first few cupcakes were rather messy, but the meringue stayed on the cupcakes, so i was happy enough with it. It maintained a gooeyness that i think works in S'mores.

As you can see, it was stiff enough to pile and have definition, but it isn't quite stuff enough to go on top of a lemon meringue pie. 

Next was the part that made me a bit nervous. I told my husband several weeks ago i wanted a culinary torch. He was out one day and bought me a small handheld torch that looked a lot like the ones i had my eye on, but it gave us a lot of trouble when we went to use it. We're taking it back, but it did work enough to get this job done, and now i know i need a better quality torch for my next combustible project. On the video clip, they used a really big industrial Benzomatic torch, but i thought that looked too unwieldy for me, personally.

You don't want to get the tops too dark, of course, just enough that it's toasted and has a nice color to them.

And here is a shot of one in the middle. You can see the crust on the bottom. These are REALLY tasty.

They must have looked messy because more kids ate them than adults. I tried to coax one of my friend's friend to eat one and he said he wasn't big on icing. I told him there wasn't any icing, just meringue. But he didn't eat one. My friend's husband, however, said they were fantastic! He said he wasn't big on marshmallow, but he was impressed. I explained there wasn't ANY marshmallow at all, and he said that explained it! I left a whole plate of them so they could be enjoyed after i was gone.

They aren't as messy as they look. I promise. But, after all, S'mores ARE messy business.

I am glad i tried these. They are definitely on my Make Again list. And now i am not nearly as scared of using a torch, either. I had a lot of 'firsts' on this recipe, so i felt like i learned a lot. And that IS why i do this, after all. It's not just for the treats, although that bonus is quite nice.