Friday, April 1, 2016

Here we go again with the "Sorry I'm a Lousy Blogger" stuff (Unboxing a New Toy!)

Yeah.  Well.  Life Happens!

I'll skip the B.S. Apologies (particularly since I'm not even sure if anybody reads my crap regularly anyway!) and just dive right into the latest Adventure!

QT, the BQ-Ho, bought a brandy-new pellet grill!

I was at the SF Garden Show a couple of weeks ago - mostly looking for inspiration/motivation to get off my @$$ and get my garden ready for spring.  I was also doing "Reconnaissance Work" for me and P - since we are contemplating setting up a ceramic garden-art sales booth at this show, next year.

Turns out, the organizers of the show have taken significant steps to make the show *much* more Vendor-Friendly.  Now attendees actually have to walk through the vendor area before viewing the Display Gardens (and I believe they've lowered the cost for booth-space)...  

Before I get too rambly (HA!), I'll say that the "walk through the vendor space" was a very effective technique because - somehow or other - I ended up getting sucked-into a sales pitch from a Traeger Pellet-grill Rep!

Now everybody knows what a Ho I am, when it comes to good BBQ.  And I have shared some of my Smoking (Mis)Adventures on this very blog.  I'm still limping along with the Pedazo-de-mierda Brinkmann Electric Smoker (did a tri-tip a few weeks ago - came out "pretty okay" - but I mis-timed everything and the meat got cooked before the smoke even got started - ooooops!), but I think I'm about ready to "graduate" to something nicer.  And - much as I hated the "Last hot dog in the ballpark" sales spiel from the Traeger-dude - I did find myself very intrigued over the whole pellet-cooker idea.

Of course, I am not one to spend $400+ on a whim (Well, except for Stormageddon!) (Although it *did* take me a month to complete that Impulse Purchase!).  The Sales-Dude was really... "motivated" (yeah, that's the word!) to sell me a cooker.  Once he determined that my Price-Point was "CHEAP," he focused on trying to get me to buy the Jr. Elite model which is little-more than a tailgate smoker in size. And he kept throwing in "extras" to entice me to buy: Free grill cover!  Cookbook (srsly?!).  I'll even throw-in a 20# bag of pellets...

Long story short:  I didn't buy it.  I wanted something bigger - *and* I wanted to do more research.  

Researching pellet-smokers is kinda like stapling Jell-O to a tree.  Broad assortment.  Many different "features."  Huge price differences (with the general consensus being "You get what you pay for.").  Many websites were surfed.  Amazon (especially the customer reviews), AmazingRibs.com, Pelletheads.com, were some of the main ones.  There were others, I'm sure!  Pretty mind-boggling, to tellya the truth!

The general gist of  these pellet smokers is that you fill a hopper with hardwood cooking pellets (they look like rabbit food), and there is an auger assembly that feeds the pellets into the cooking chamber.  At the bottom of the cooking chamber is a burn pot which has a glow-plug and fan to ignite the pellets and keep them cooking.  There are also thermometers incorporated into the unit that create a feedback loop.  Basically, you dial-in the temperature you want, and the thermometer tells the auger to deliver more (or less) pellets to the cooker in order to maintain the desired temperature.

Kind-of / Almost "Set it and Forget it!"  Which is WAY better than having to constantly fuss, and add wood chunks, and hope it doesn't over-smoke, and oh-crap-need-to-soak-more-wood, and is it DONE yet?!

Some pellet smokers have less temperature control (Low-Med-Hi), some have what-are-called PID controllers which are supposed to dial-in temps even closer.  Hell, some have WiFi controls so that you can monitor (and even turn on/off) your cooker from your phone!  It seems that most of the "decent" smokers are gonna start in the $500 range, but you can easily spend thousands of dollars!

Yep.  Mind-boggling!

I ended up going with the Camp Chef PG24DLX - more than ample-enough for the two of us, but still large enough for a Pool-BQ party.  Beer-can chicken oughtta fit in there, just fine.  I bet I could even smoke a decent-sized turkey breast in there!

Some of the "features" that I liked about it were:

  • It does have a dial-in temperature control (160 - 500*, in 25* increments).  It is not PID, however.
  • It has a pellet-purge function
  • Clean-out is pretty simple. Just pull a lever that "dumps" the ashes into a cup (so you don't have to completely disassemble the grill and suck-up ashes after every use).
Size and Price seemed about right.  Big, but not huge.  And under $600 (all-in - including shipping). Spendy, but (I hope) a worthwhile investment!

I bought it from OutdoorCooking.com.  Got a free custom grill-cover and shipping was quick and free (Not Amazon-Fast, but still very reasonable) - and I am very satisfied, so far!

Unboxing:

Man, I have never seen a FedEx driver deliver and disappear so quickly!  He had a huge hand-truck and was able to drop the package on our front step, banged on the door and ran like hell!  Had it been my UPS guy, I have no doubt he would've stuck around and been willing to drop the (very large/very bulky/very heavy) box in my backyard.  Ah well!

w00t!  My new smoker is here!

I grabbed our hand-truck and quickly discovered that it was too heavy/bulky for me to maneuver onto the hand-truck on my own (and Hubs was out of town on business).  I texted my neighbor - to no avail.  Then - realizing that at least the box was up *one* step - I figured that MAYBE I could wrestle it onto our flatbed cart.  Yay!  Success!

I got it to the backyard and waited til late afternoon to begin The Un-Boxing!!


Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into???

Actually, I have to say that this thing was *very* well-packaged, in heavy-duty cardboard and super-sturdy styrofoam.  The cool thing was - once you lifted-off the big upper box/lid, the inner-box (which was highly resistant to my box-cutter) actually doubled as a soft assembly surface.  I gave-up on slicing the cardboard at the corners and, instead, cut the tape that was holding the bottom-box together.  Once the tape was sliced, the box fell-down flat.  Well, it would have - had I decided to assemble it in a large unobstructed area!  Instead, it was leaning-up against my table-legs and trash bins!  I was able to maneuver it around a bit, so it was mostly flat.  But bottom-line: Excellent packaging by Camp Chef because assembling it on cardboard kept me from scratching the hell out of it!


It came with a good, well-written instruction manual.  I'm pleased to say that most of the assembly was "done" before I opened it.  I just had to install the legs, chimney, handle and right shelf.  Finding all of the pieces was kind of fun:  The legs were inside of the cooking chamber.  I didn't figure that out 'til I'd already laid it on it's back.  

She's got leeeeeggggs!
She knows how to use 'em....!
(Sorry - channeling ZZ-Top!)

Nah - all things considered, this was pretty Easy-Peasy to assemble and I did it all myself in less than an hour (with plenty of margarita breaks!).  

Ain't she purdy?!

So yeah - Easy to assemble.  Well packaged. Shipped quickly.  Free cover (sorry no photo of that yet - but it's awesome!).



And since I didn't want hubbie to feel left-out, I let him deal with all the cardboard and styrofoam! See how thoughtful I am?!!  Oh, and then he gets to go 'round and tighten all the nuts and bolts that my girly wrists couldn't tighten sufficiently!

Okay, I think that's enough for one day.  I'll post more - after I finish the "christening" of my new smoker (which is happening today - Right Now, in fact!)


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"Virtual" Real Estate Shopping

Yep.  The blog's called Random Ramblings, so sometimes sh*t just comes outta left field.

Deal with it!

Here's a recent email:

More AZ Real Estate Adventures...

Okay, this one doesn't really rely on pictures so much.

Other than this one:

property photo
Which came with the email and, honestly, looks very appealing to me.

1 acre - horse property - $50K.  Not bad.

So I took the next logical step and pulled up the address on Google Maps and took a Virtual Drive of the neighborhood.  Plus this gives me the chance to check-out the mountain views - are they *really* that close, or did the realtor have a *really* good zoom on his camera, right?

So I checked out the 'hood.  Other than the redneck across the street who's storing his camper shell on the ground in the middle of his horse paddock, the neighborhood doesn't seem *too* bad.  I vaguely recall 'virtual-shopping' this property before, but anyway...

Then I do a Zillow search.  Odd.  It doesn't come up - even though the address pre-filled itself as I was typing (so yeah, I'd looked at this one before)...

Then I head to Trulia.  It shows that the property has been on the market for over 120 days - which seems odd because it *looks* like a nice piece of property, and $50K is a damn good deal for views like that!

Extremely strange that it hasn't been snatched up by now.  Hmmm.....

Then I scroll down and discover a feature that I didn't know Trulia had:




And now I've got "Bad Boys Bad Boys, What'cha Gun Do!" stuck in my head!

Damn!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Crafty Crap: Dollar Tree Mason-Jar Solar Lights (and Doggie-Rambling)

I can't imagine that this is a unique idea, but I figured I'd post it just the same!  Oh, and I'll probably start-out rambly - so consider yourself warned!!

See, we've got a "Special Needs Dog," Tazz-The-Spazz.  She has shattered all of my Old-Wiener-Dog Records by living well beyond the 14-1/2 year mark.  In fact, she is approaching 16 now!  She is our "Full-Throttle-Dog" who has always lived life to the fullest!  Our racing champ, and a veteran of multiple surgeries (including two neuro-surgeries for her back - which makes her OFFICIALLY more expensive than my Harley!).  

Tazz has definitely slowed WAY down in her Golden Years.  But, thus far, she still seems to be comfortable and happy - and I am committed to keeping her that way.  Her meals are all home-cooked (ground turkey and rice), she takes glucosamine daily, and when she feels creaky (i.e. rainy, cold days), we give her Rimadyl (basically doggie-aspirin).  If she ever reaches a point where we can't keep her comfortable...  Well, we'll make the appropriate "decision" for her.  But let's not go there, k?!

Seriously, she's still doing Pretty-Okay for an old girl.  She gives herself exercise by having "walkabouts" in the yard - usually 2-3 times per day - she walks the perimeter (and it's a mighty-long perimeter, especially considering that her legs are only about 3" long!).  

And she *still* gets excited when papa throws her tennis ball.  Seriously!  This dog is absolutely POSSESSED when papa throws the ball.  Now when mama throws it, "Meh!" She'll kinda half-heartedly galumph for a stride or two, then slow to a ramble.  But papa?!  Hell, she RUNS!  If she catches it on a bounce, she'll roll around on the grass in sheer delight!   She even still brings the ball back - on "good" days - but she's a far cry from the OCD Ball-Chasing Lunatic that she used to be (When it got so bad, we'd have to take her ball away.  She droves us absolutely CRAZY)

video
Yay!  Papa's throwing the ball!

We are making reasonable accommodations for her.  Her hearing isn't what it used to be, and her vision is definitely deteriorating.  We've had to keep the pool covered this summer (due to the drought - we want to minimize evaporation), and I am terrified of the dog falling in and slipping under the cover.  So we installed "landing lights" around the pool (solar rope lights).

Weenie-Dog Landing Lights
(view from the diving board end)

Cooler-lookin' view - including the TiKi BaR
We don't leave the pool-light on when it's covered
Just the rope lights around the perimeter

We also installed a Doggie-Door for Tazz, and she has the luxury of "freedom" to sleep wherever she chooses (the youngsters sleep in their crate).  Tazz sleeps, pretty-much, all of the time!  But she alternates between her two beds in the family room (one with a doggie-heating-pad and woobie, and a second unheated bed), and the doggie-bed/woobie combo in the kitchen.  

She seemed to be having some trouble locating the doggie-door at night, however, so I bought some cheap solar lights from the Dollar Tree (that kept falling over and rolling away!).

Okay, so THAT brings us to my Crafty Crap post! (Jeez!  FINALLY!)

Last week, this showed-up in my In-Box from Living Social:

Hey - Crappy cell-phone pic!
$14.99 for one solar mason jar light 
$39.99 for three.  Plus $3.99 shipping

Seemed like a cool idea.  But at almost $20 apiece I was *not* feelin' the love!  Hey - I've got all these tippy-over solar lights in the yard already, and Gawd-knows I've got a sh*t-ton of canning jars!  Maybe I can make some myself!  Here is what I did:

All the stuff you'll need:
(Minus the better-battery)

Start with a Dollar Tree Lamp like thus:
 It's actually a pretty cool-lookin' lamp
But unstable as hell!

Our Dollar Tree had a few of 'em left (end of summer).  They had black or white available, but I think they came in other colors as well - doesn't matter.  Also, you don't *have* to use this specific lamp - look for anything that has a top "puck" (circled below) that will fit inside the top ring of a mason  jar. 

The circled part is the only piece you'll need.

Next thing you're gonna do is take the lamp apart.  Remove the shade (which blows away when it tips over anyway!), then unscrew the top "puck" which contains the LED bulbs, a battery and the solar panel on top.  You may or may not want to use the bulb cover/diffuser (white cover directly under the "puck").

Cost, so far, $1.00

Now this next step was one I'd skipped, the first time around.  But it's a necessary step!  See, Dollar Tree lamps come with anemic AAA 100mAh Ni-Cd batteries that will not last through the night (they actually only stay lit for about an hour).  

Replace that bad-boy with something "juicier!"  I happened to have some 850mAh NiMHs laying around.  Google tells me that you can find even juicier rechargeable AAA's for appx $2.00 apiece.

This particular lamp has two teeny screws.  Unscrew 'em and open the puck to reveal the battery:

Anemic battery (yellow) - Dump it!
Better Battery on the right

Now I should note that the overall construction on my Dollar Tree lamp was...  Well, it's a Dollar-Tree Made-In-China piece of crap!  There are little clips at the top and bottom of the battery that wanted to pop-out while I was replacing the battery.  It required a little dexterity, but wasn't too difficult to complete the battery swap.  You do need the clips in place, and in contact with the battery terminals, otherwise it won't light up.  Put the thing back together and you're ALMOST done!

Cost so far:  Figure $3.00 (I'm still at $1.00 'cause I already had the batteries!)

Okay, next is fitting the "puck" into the mason jar ring.  Dollar Tree does carry mason jars, but I think the ring-opening on the top is a squee-bit bigger than the standard Ball/Kerr jar rings.  It really doesn't matter - as long as the puck is a fairly close fit.  You're gonna tweak-it larger by running electrical tape around the outside of the puck.  For mine, 4-5 layers of tape got me a good snug fit:

Dollar Tree sells electrical tape - Bada-Bing!

Next, you''re gonna want to snugly-fit the tape-wrapped puck into the top of your mason lid/ring and screw it onto the jar.  Now, depending upon whether you get rain in summer (not-so-much in parched California!), you might want to run another round of electrical tape at the point where the light-puck meets the jar-ring - to keep water from getting inside.  I don't think that water would hurt the light, but I would imagine it could get pretty "funky" in there if water got inside the jar.

Easy Peasy!

Cost so far: $4.00 (assuming you bought the jar at Dollar Tree - and I'm not counting the electrical tape in the cost)

So this is "okay" right now, but it's not gonna shine very brightly without something to help diffuse the light.  As I'd mentioned earlier, you could just use the lamp-cover/diffuser that came with the lamp.  I had originally considered buying a can of glass-frost spray at Home Depot, but my Dollar-Tree Compadre, P, came up with the brilliant idea of using glass pebbles in the jar (from Dollar Tree - Heyo!).

So, fill your jar almost-to-the-top with glass blobby-pebbles.  A pint-jar will use almost two full bags of pebbles.  And I would suggest using "mostly" clear pebbles, with maybe a few scattered colors.  You'll see, later, how the different color combos worked out, after dark.

Here is the first lamp, filled with mostly aqua-colored glass blobs:

Purdy!
(but not very bright, unfortunately)

Total Cost: About $6.00 apiece (Lamp $1 + Battery $2 + Jar $1 + Glass Blobs $2)  :-D

Okay, more pics...

Here are two jars - out in the sunshine.  The one on the left is the mostly-aqua blobs.  The one on the right is all-clear blobs in a blue jar.  The one on the right also has the "extra" electrical tape (for waterproofing), but I did a sloppy job with that (which is why I decided it wasn't necessary in parched-California!).

Even Purdier!
Oh, and they are definitely NOT 
gonna tip-over in the wind!

What was interesting:  I played around with the clear-blob lamps, after dark, and I really didn't notice a difference between clear-blobs in a blue jar vs. clear-blobs in a clear jar.  So if you want "pretty" in the daylight, and decent lighting after dark, use the blue jars with clear-blobs.  The colored-blobs really do cut-down on the amount of light, so I recommend sticking with clear-blobs, and maybe toss in a few random colored blobs for interest...

Okay, most of my "after-dark" pics were pretty crappy and, honestly, they aren't super accurate.  The camera compensated with a long-exposure so the pics appear brighter than they are in person.  Nevertheless, here are some pics:

Left: Aqua Blobs in Clear Jar
Right: Clear Blobs in Blue Jar

Left: Same as above
Right: Clear Blobs in Clear Jar
(not much difference)

Then, since I'd run out of glass blobs, I decided to make one more - using the plastic diffuser thingy from the original Dollar Tree Lamp.  Here are 3 together - next to the Doggie Door:

Left: Aqua Blobs in clear glass (least light)
Center: Clear in Clear
Right: Diffuser in Blue

So there you have it!  My (successful) attempt at making solar-powered mason-jar lamps for *well* under $20!  I like 'em and, while they aren't super-duper-bright, they do the job!  Tazz can find her way to the back door after dark!  Yayyy Me!



Saturday, July 4, 2015

Recipe: QT's Low-Sugar Plum Jelly - Step II: Jelly!

***UPDATE*** Added 7/7/15 - Clarification on quantities!

Hey!  Making good on my promise!

This is actually the EASY part - and I actually don't have many pictures to go along with it (Oops!)

So for this step, you start with the plum juice you made earlier.  Give it a taste and, well, this part is a Judgement Call.  See, the juice will be pretty tart, so we'll be throwing in a lot more sweetener than I'm accustomed to using.  What you want to figure out is kinda/sorta the "depth" of the flavor and color.

If it's too watery/weak, you're gonna want to simmer it down to a lesser quantity which means more flavor.  Makes sense?

Honestly, I don't think I can give you a specific, fancy-scientifical, 100% accurate gauge to work with.  But here's what I ended up with:

  • 1st batch: 5lbs fruit + I-don't-remember how much water, ended up at 12 cups of weak/watery juice.

    I simmered it down by 1/3 to roughly 8 cups (2 batches of jelly).
  • 2nd and 3rd batches 5lbs fruit + 10 cups water (each - then I combined 'em).  I ended up with a total of 17+ (ish) cups of more-condensed juice.

    Simmered it down by appx 1/4 to end up with roughly 14-16 cups (3 batches of jelly)
  • I'm thinkin' the roughly-optimal ratio would end up being 5 lbs fruit, 10 cups water, then simmer down to ~8 cups = ~2 batches of jelly.
So yeah.  Kind of a Judgement Call, right?  I think - to keep it simple - I'm gonna go with the 2nd batch's numbers with the caveat that YMMV.  It's merely a guideline!

QT's Low-Sugar Plum Jelly - Made in TWO batches
The quantities listed below are for ONE batch of jam
Yield 8(ish) half-pint jars of jam (each batch is appx 4 half-pints - give or take!)

Ingredients:
  • 4 cups of already simmered-down/condensed plum juice
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups granulated Splenda (or whatever sweetener you choose - I tend to think that Stevia might be too bitter, but that's just me)
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • 5 TBS Low/No-Sugar Pectin (I use this)
Instructions:
  1. Heat the plum and lemon juices in a dutch oven til it reaches a light boil/simmer
  2. Stir in the Splenda (helps to use a whisk, actually - so it doesn't clump)
  3. Mix the sugar and Pectin together with a fork in a dry bowl.
  4. Slowly add the sugar + pectin to the juices, stirring all the while (again, we don't want clumps)
  5. Increase heat to High or Medium-High, stirring constantly  
  6. Bring it to a rapid boil, stir-stir-stir (and keep a close watch on your temp - it will try to boil-over!).  Boil hard for one full minute, stirring constantly, and remove from heat. 
  7. Check for "set" (spoonful of jelly on a spoon, in the fridge for a minute or two).
  8. Remove the bubbly scummy stuff from the top (I set it aside to mix with plain yogurt - yum!)
  9. Transfer to hot, sterilized canning jars.  Wipe the rims, apply the lids.
  10. Process in a water-bath for 10 minutes
  11. Leave jars undisturbed for 24 hours.  Check the seals (lids that pop up and down in the center are not sealed - put those in the fridge and use them first).
 My first batch didn't "set" completely - but it's still delicious.  Firms up in the fridge, but it can also be used as waffle syrup (Ooh!  Or on ice cream!).  Later batches had more Pectin and set-up better.

It really is delicious!  I used a lot more sweetener in this than I normally do - but it still managed to retain it's fruitiness.  SUPER pleased with this recipe!

And see how it gleams?!

Sparkling like a ruby in the afternoon sun!

Final update 7/7/2015: I used the very-last of the plums to make one more big batch o' jelly.  Did the 5lbs to 10 cups ratio.  I actually ended up with just-shy of 8 cups of juice - so I didn't need to cook it down any further.  I suspect much has to do with the ripeness of the fruit (and this fruit was super-ripe - almost over-ripe!).

I ended up making 2 batches of jam (appx 3-1/2 cups juice, 3-1/2c Splenda/Sugar, 1T Lemon juice, 5T Pectin), and I ended up with 10 half-pints of jelly.

This definitely ain't a science!

Recipe: QT's Plum Jelly - Step I: Juice

Thanks for dealing with my last Super-Rambly post - but I had to buy some time so I could go back and re-make the Jelly Recipe - this time actually *paying attention* to what the hell I was doing!

Gawd knows, I had enough plums!

Round VII
(June 30 - the last of the plums)

Okay, I'm not gonna lie - this recipe is pretty time-consuming to make, but its' not SUPER Hands-on, which is why I like it (and it's now getting added to my "Make-Every-Year" list).  

I am just SO DONE with blanching, peeling and pitting plums!

So yeah, no blanching/peeling/pitting required - but it does end up taking two days to make.  Butttt:  If you've got enough plums (Me!  I do!) and time (Yay! Telecommuting!) you can make massive "batches" and crank-out gallons of jelly with (comparatively) minimal effort.

I've never made jelly before.  I kinda/sorta already knew this but the difference between Jam and Jelly is: Jam is basically made from whole fruit (and there are variants from that: Compotes and Confits and Preserves - go here if you want an education!), whereas Jelly is made just from the juice (My interpretation) (Serious Eats says it's jam that's been strained for clarity) (Wikipedia seems to agree with both of us!).  

So in order to make Plum Jelly, first one must make Plum Juice.  Google sent me to this site, which has really good instructions - and videos - on how to accomplish this feat.  

The first time I made juice, I didn't really pay attention to quantities so much, and my juice ended up way too watery and needed a lot of cooking-down.  In any event, I'll do a pictorial first (and the pics are a mish-mosh of 1st Attempt/2nd Attempt!), I'll list the final quantities/ratios in Recipe-Style at the end, k?!

Day #1 - Juice the Plums

First up, it helps to do this in a ginormous stock-pot (especially if you're gonna do BIG batches) - preferably stainless steel.  Even for the smaller batches (@ 5 lbs of plums) I felt safer using the giant pot - in case of boilovers  

So start out with 5 lbs of ripe plums - the riper the better (ripe/squishy plums are sweetest - but avoid the overripe mushy ones).  If you see any nasty-bits, cut 'em off.  Other than that, just rinse 'em, de-stem 'em, and pop 'em into the stock pot.  Then add water to "almost-cover" them.  I found that 5 lbs of plums worked best with 10 cups of water.

This was more than 10 cups of water

Heat up the plums on Medium-High, stirring frequently.  They'll start to peel themselves in a few minutes.  Like thus:

Continue to heat - with occasional stirring (you don't want anything burning/sticking to the bottom of the pot).  Things should start to break-down nicely, and the water should turn a pretty pinky color:

Although, with the 5# fruit to 10c water, it should be a bit darker.

Once it starts to boil, turn the heat down to simmer and let 'er rip for approx 30-45 minutes (again, poke a spoon in there periodically).  Let it simmer/bubble down 'til the fruit is a gushy slurry:

Photos aren't super-clear since there was steam coming off the slurry

Just for comparison - here is a pic of the slurry with the 5#/10c Ratio
It actually is a deeper, richer color.

Note: If you are impatient (I was, during Batch #3 of juice-making!), you can kind of hasten things along by squishing the smushy fruit up against the side of the pot, or use a potato-masher.  Although doing so results in a bit less juice in the end...

Anyway, once gushy-smushy-slurry is achieved, turn off the heat and pop a lid on the pot.  Let it cool slowly...

Next comes the messy "Hands-On" part (so now would be a good time to change out of that nice clean white shirt!): Straining the slurry into juice.  I'm guessing there are proper tools for this process.  This comes to mind!  I didn't have a proper jelly-strainer bag.  Instead, I had a fine-mesh strainer bag (for soaking hop/grains for beer-making).  

Basically, I constructed the Rube Goldberg equivalent of a Jelly-Strainer by using a cheesecloth-lined deep-fryer basket, with the slurry-filled strainer-bag in a colander, balanced on top of a dutch-oven with a couple of wooden spoons!

Yeah.  Like that!
(Cheesecloth was totally unnecessary, BTW!)

So basically you ladle the (cooled) slurry and juice into the strainer bag and let it drip slowly into the dutch oven.  This can take an hour or two (or more).  If you're a real stickler for super-clear jelly, let it take it's sweet time.  If you have fruit flies in the vicinity, cover the whole mess - loosely - with a towel.  I'm not a stickler for super-clear jelly so after about an hour-and-a-half, I picked up the bag and gave it several good squeezes to get as much of the juicy-stuff out of the bag.  Since the bag is fine-mesh, it really didn't let any of the pulp get through (but my final jelly was *not* crystal clear, either).

You may or may not want to filter it, again, through coffee filters.  Whatever floats your boat.  I was fine with it, so I covered the pot of juice and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

Okay, notes on Plum:Water Ratios:  

  • Juice-batch #1 was 5# of plums and I-didn't-measure-how-much water.
    I ended up with 12 cups of 'watery' juice.
  • Batch #2 was 5# of plums to 10 cups of water.
    I let it simmer/slurry on it's own and ended up with 9 cups of juice.
  • Batch #3 was 5# to 10 cups.
    I got impatient and mashed-em as they cooked and ended up with 8 cups of juice.
This is the end-result of Batch#1 (12 cups - prior to cooking-down):

You can see it's a kind of pale color.
Later batches were actually quite a bit darker.

Note: I am *not* posting a picture of the drained slurry-n-pits that I had to scrape out of the mesh-bag when it was all done.  Suffice it to say, it looked disgusting!

"You're Welcome!" ;-)

Okay, this seems like a pretty-good stopping point.  I'll move onto the actual Jelly-Making in my next post.

(Really?  Yeah.  Really!)

Summary:

QT's Plum Juice for Jelly-Making
Ultimately yields 1 - 1-1/2 batches of jelly (appx 8 half-pints)

Ingredients
  • 5 lbs fresh ripe plums, washed and de-stemmed
  • 10 cups water
Instructions
  1. Place the plums in the bottom of a very large stock-pot (mine holds 20 quarts)
  2. Cover the plums with water
  3. Heat the plums on Medium-high, stirring frequently 'til the plums start to de-skin themselves
  4. Continue to cook 'til the pot starts to boil.  
  5. Reduce heat to simmer and let it cook (stirring occasionally) til everything is reduced to a slurry
  6. Ladle the slurry into a fine strainer and let it drip slowly into a bowl (or dutch oven - basically anything big enough to accommodate ~8-10 cups of juice).  Let it drip for several hours or overnight.
  7. Refrigerate juice for Jelly-Making tomorrow!
Okay, stay tuned for more!


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Stormageddon's Reduced-Sugar Plum Jelly (Rambly!)

Wow.  You *know* it's been a long time when your browser no longer auto-completes your web-address to sign-into your blog!

Yeah.  Sorry.  Been busy.  Yada-yada!

Oh.  And this might get a little rambly, so better go grab a cocktail (or move onto the next webpage, or whatever)!

Yeah.  So.  About that "being busy" stuff:  A few weeks back, my College Bud-D, the one who retired early and ex-patted to Messko, came by to visit for a few days.  Sort of an early start to GGW 2015.  Her arrival - fortunately or unfortunately- happened to coincide with some dates that hubs was scheduled for business travel.  End-result, we got LOTS of "Girl-Gab Time" and managed to get (most of) it out of our systems before hubs came home!

The thing about CB-D is, she used to be a total "Mover and Shaker" in the business world, and I was kind-of always in awe of her for that.  Now one thing she did for herself (back in her Mover/Shaker Days) was to buy herself her Dream Car - a red Porsche Turbo Carrera.  She bought it - sight-unseen - on eBay.  From out of state.  During her busiest work-season. So she had to call her hubbie to buy one-way airfare to go pick it up, and drive it home for her!

"So what the hell does this have to do with Plum Jelly?" you may well ask...

I'm getting to it, okay?!  (Jeesh! I told you this might get rambly!).

Well, I too have had a Car-of-My-Dreams (several, actually!).  I have *always* had a fixation with 2-seat convertible roadsters.  Since before I could drive.  MG Midgets, Triumph Spitfures, Fiat Spiders...  Mercedes 450 SL...  Miatas...  You get the idea.

I did have a Geo Metro convertible (my ONLY "New" car).  3-banger pumping-out 55 horses didn't quite cut-it, but I *loved* that car!

My most-recent Automotive-Love-Affair has been with the Saturn Sky. I have wanted that car since before they were in production.  I read every website that talked about it, and even went to the Auto Show to *see* the Concept Car.

That was back in 2005.

I was sad when Saturn and Pontiac got jettisoned. And that - pretty-much - ended my hope of one day owning a shiny new Saturn Sky...

Well, before CB-D's arrival, for reasons I cannot explain, I happened upon a used Saturn Sky for sale.  In METALLIC RED. (Did I mention that 2-seat convertibles are ONLY lust-worthy if they are red?  Yeah. They *have* to be Red - "QT's rule."  "QT's Mom Bonus" would be Metallic Red!).  I wiped the drool from my keyboard and realized that this was before Memorial Day Weekend - surely the car would sell.  And I've got a guest coming, and blah-blah-blah...  So I let it go.

Well, WHILE CB-D was here (now after Memorial Day), I happened to consult Google and - Lo and Behold - little METALLIC RED Saturn Sky is still sitting in the dealer's lot.  But I've got a guest here, and taking a drive up to Fairfield (2 hours away - one way) would severely cut into cocktail hour!

I showed the webpage for the Sexy Little Car to CB-D and she was all "Why don't we go and look at it?"

Long story short (and trust me - I could drag it out), it took awhile - about a month (long after CB-D left) - but now, that Sexy Little Ruby Red Saturn Sky Redline (Limited edition - only 500 made in this trim) now lives in my driveway!

Ain't she sexy???

Hubs, initially, wasn't too pleased about the idea (and - to be fair - I have *far* too many toys with engines), but we're adjusting.  Every morning, when hubs leaves for work, it's like Tetris or something with shuffling cars about.

During the day, she gets to be a Garage Queen:

Shamefully-dusty Heritage Softail in the foreground
(one of the aforementioned "too many toys")

I'm still very much in "pinch-myself-in-case-I'm-dreaming" mode.  She and I have "bonded" in the twisties of the Santa Cruz mountains, and she told me her name was Stormageddon.  I'm good with that!

So that covers the FIRST part of this post's title!

Okay, so Stormy's arrival *also* happened to coincide with the Great Plum Assault of 2015.

June 12:
It was looking a bit overwhelming...
(clickety-click to embiggen and experience the full impact)

June 13:
Is it just me, or does this look like a RIDICULOUS quantity of plums?

Not sure exactly when I found the first "optimally squishy" plum and ate it, but the real "harvesting" started on June 20:

Round I
(just shy of 10 lbs)

June 21:
Round II
(13.8 lbs - according to the bathroom scale)

June 23:
Round III
(I assure you, the basket may be the same - but the plums are all different!)

June 25:
Round IV
(Yes, that's an egg on top!)

June 27:
Round V
(O-Dear-Gawd-in-Heaven! The PEACHES are starting!!!)

June 28:
Round VI
(19.8 lbs!)

Are you sick of looking at plums yet?!  Imagine how *I* feel!!!  And this is just ONE tree (the Santa Rosa plum).  I also have a Satsuma Plum (blood-plum - red all-the-way-through - and sweet as can be!).  Satsuma is still pretty young, so not very productive yet.  

So WTF to do with all of these plums, right?!   Even worse - WTF am I gonna do when I end-up with TWO insanely-productive plum trees???

  • I fed quite a few to the chickens 'til I damn-near killed Henny Kravitz.  She ended up getting a (thankfully mild) case of sour-crop! 
  • I found a handful of TRUE Facebook Friends who willingly took some off my hands - so yay for that!  
  • And the local food bank does accept backyard produce - and even gives you a receipt (double-yay!).  
But still, so far I've tallied up at least 72 lbs of fruit - from ONE tree.  I've managed to offload much of the fruit - but certainly not ALL.

Honestly, I'm sick of plum jam.  Too damned much work with blanching, peeling and pitting (Ugh!). The crock-pot plum butters, sauces, whatevers I attempted to make last year were "Meh" at best.

Prunes?  Hell no (Tried it.  Hated it.)

So this year's Great Plum Experiments included Plum Wine (20# makes 5 gallons!), which is gurgling and fermenting under my desk, even as I type (I may or may-not post about that - depends upon whether it ends up being drinkable!).
  
Annnnnnd...  Google told me that I *don't* have to pit-and-peel in order to make Plum Jelly!  So THAT'S how I spent my ENTIRE WEEKEND.  It was a boatload of work, but I gotta tellya - it's some DAMNED TASTY SH*T!

Annnnnnd...  Since I spent SO MUCH TIME staring at deep pinkish/plummy/garnet-like liquid, I came to the striking conclusion that Plum Jelly is damn-near the EXACT same shade as my brandy-new (used) car!

Hence the name: Stormageddon's Plum Jelly!

Soooooo....  I guess for my NEXT post, I oughtta maybe post the recipe, huh?

Yeah.  Maybe I'll do that!


Sunday, May 10, 2015

REC: Garlic Ranch Dressing Mix - aka A Happy Accident!


Just a quickie - but I want to document it ~ before I forget it!

In my never-ending quest to be the World's Worst Blogger (as well as nearly-worst food photographer!), I bring you this:

Appetizing, aint it?!

Actually, it *is* quite good - in it's final form :-)

I was surfing around a few weeks ago, asking Google "How can I make my own ranch dressing mix?" (you know, without preservatives and anti-caking agents, and cooties).  And I stumbled onto this recipe.  PERFECT!

So I printed it up and started dumping the ingredients into a bowl and (as usual) wasn't paying SUPER close attention to what I was doing when I accidentally dumped 2-1/2 TABLESPOONS of garlic powder into the bowl - rather than the specified 2-1/2 TEASPOONS.

"Oh sh*t!"

I attempted to scrape-out some of the garlic powder (and realized I was messing-up everything else in the process) so I decided "Aw f**k it!  I *like* garlic!" so I left it alone.

Turned out to be QUITE the Happy Accident and it is now my "Go-To" ingredient for many different things! (BBQ chicken-ranch salad! Yummm!).

So I am giving full credit to Simply Scratch, but I am posting my fubar here so that I can continue to make this Most Excellent ranch mix over-and-over again.  Maybe you'll like it too?

QT's Happy Accident: Garlic Ranch Dressing
Yield about 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry buttermilk
  • 2 TBS dried parsley flakes (+ 1/2 TBS later)
  • 2 tsp dried dill
  • 2 TBS garlic powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp dried onion flakes
  • 2-1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 3/4 tsp sugar (or Splenda, if you prefer)
  • 1/2 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • a couple of dashes of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried chives
Instructions
  1. Dump everything - except 1/2 TBS of parsley and 1/2 tsp of chives into a small blender or food processor.
  2. Whir it for a few seconds - stop and shake it periodically, as needed - til everything is a fairly uniform power.
  3. Add the remainder of the parsley flakes and chives (so you have a few green bits in there)
  4. Dump everything into a sealable jar (I used a pint canning jar) and store in the freezer for future use. 
How easy was that?!!

To use:  Basically 3 TBS = 1 packet of dried ranch dressing and/or dip mix.  

Salad Dressing: Add 3 TBS dry mix to 1/2 cup mayo, 1/2 cup sour cream and 2/3 to 1 cup buttermilk (or regular milk will probably work - haven't tried it yet)

Dip: 3 TBS dry mix to 1 cup of sour cream

This stuff is soooooo good!
 


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