Sunday, August 10, 2014

Recipe: QT's "I-did-it-MY-way" Grape Jam (using a Tomato Press)



Gonna start-out rambly (Surprise!), but I'll get to the recipe soon enough!

Our backyard is a veritable treasure trove of tasty snacks throughout the growing season!  I especially enjoy the "Surprise" harvests that come from plants that I had long-since forgotten!

Take my grapes, for example...  Shortly after I moved in here - I'm gonna guess maybe 2001-2002-ish - I'd planted a couple of bare-root grape vines out by the back-fence.  I wanna say that they were some variety of wine-grape - but damned if I can remember now, right?!

Yeah, so over time, one of the grape vines seems to have disappeared, and the other one has grown quite vigorously - without me even realizing it! (to be fair, it is tucked away in a corner where we rarely venture!).  Last year, I think I picked a couple of small bunches of grapes - and promptly ate 'em!

But this year, imagine my surprise when I stumbled onto this:

Whoa!  Forgot about you! (July 19th)

Nevermind that the vine has grown completely over the fence, and those grapes that were approaching ripeness were up at the top of the fence (which has got to be, like, seven feet tall!).  There were also several bunches on the OUT side of the fence (I'm sure the passers-by are enjoying them!).

In any event, I think there will be some *serious* grape-vine pruning this winter!

Yeah, so, I went ahead and harvested as many grapes as I could reach, and ended up with a respectable basket's worth:

Couple pounds' worth, anyway...

So what on earth can I do with a couple pounds worth of grapes?  Not much!  They're not very nice as table grapes.  Not sure if they're "wine" grapes or not - but they're kinda like smallish Concord Grapes (thick skins, you have to pinch 'em to get the innards out, and the innards contain large-ish seeds).  Ehh, let's just call 'em Concord Grapes, k?

Squeeze 'em for juice?  Meh!

Ohhhhh, let's just try to make jam  (NOT jelly!) - shall we?  Followed by the usual refrain "Ohhhhhh Gooooooogle!"

I have to say that, while Google gave me LOTS of websites and recipes and YouTube videos and yada-yada for making Concord Grape Jelly and/or Jam, they all looked like a BOATLOAD of work and/or required "Special" (read: Expensive) equipment.  I do have a Big-@$$ Juicer, but it's the "centrifugal" type that can obliterate a whole apple in 1.5 seconds-flat.  I think grapes are better suited for "squeezy/squishy" types of juicers (which I do not own).  

The websites that didn't require funky-juicers called for separating the grapes from the peels - by hand - which seemed about as appealing as banging my thumb, repeatedly, with a hammer!

I do have a Foley Food Mill (honestly, not my favorite tool), along with assorted wire-strainers.  I also have an Italian Tomato Press (Affiliate Link) - which I wouldn't live without!  I *love* this gizmo and have used it every year to squeeze out tomato gooze without having to boil/blanch/peel the 'maters.  It does a damn good job of separating the skins and *most* of the seeds, leaving just the meaty/juicy tomato bits for freezing or saucing or canning (or all-of-the-above!).

I tried Googling "Use Tomato Press On Grapes" but didn't find any useful info...

Guess there's only one way to find out if this is gonna work, right?!

So first-up, I think I'm gonna need more grapes:

I feel like such a FRAUD!

I bought a few pounds of these Thomcord Grapes (quite tasty, by the way, and mostly-seedless).  Then I rinsed and de-stemmed ALL of the grapes (including mine!) until I had appx 4-1/2 pounds.  


Then I dumped 'em into my large dutch oven, added 2 TBS of bottled lemon juice, and started heating them up on medium-low heat 'til they started to get kinda smushy (not long - maybe five minutes?).  Turned-off the stove, then I used a potato masher to start smashing 'em up.


There is no way to fully-gush the grapes with a potato masher, so I let 'em cool-down a bit, then I ran them through my tomato press:

It's working!!!

Now let me say a few things about the press.  It's surprisingly good construction (mostly plastic, though).  It sticks to the countertop by way of a suction cup/foot thingie (and it holds EXTREMELY well).  You drop the fruit into the top of the hopper, then turn the crank handle.  There's a wheelie-bobber that sucks the fruit down, then forces it through a metal screen.  There's a chute - over on the left-hand side - where the GOOD grape-gooze comes out.  That chute in the middle of the front is where the skins and seeds blorp-out.  You can run the skin/seed glorp back through the machine and squeeze out ALL of the goodness.  Unfortunately, my only complaint is that the machine does tend to leak a bit of juice out through the crank-handle.  It's unavoidable, so, you see that wad of purple paper towels over by the handle?  Yeah, you're gonna want to do the same!

Run the Seeds/Skins back through the machine 'til they come out pretty dry.
Then toss it into your compost!

Grapey-Goozy-Goodness!

Grapey-Goozy Mess on the Countertop!

So yeah - after that, dump your Grape Gooze back into the Dutch oven and start to heat it up on Medium to Medium-High...

Next, you'll give it a taste to figure out how much sweetener you're gonna need.  And you'll mix the sweetener with some pectin - in a dry bowl - before mixing it into the Grape-Pot (Sorry - I didn't take pictures through this stage!)  I ended up using 1-1/2 cups of C&H Light (might also be called Truvia Baking Blend - it's basically a 50/50 mix of Stevia and Granulated Sugar), and I added about half a cup of granulated Splenda.  To the dry sweetener, I added appx 3 TBS of Ball Low/No-Sugar Pectin and mixed it well, with a fork (otherwise the pectin will clump when it hits the grape pot).

Once the sweeteners and pectin are fully incorporated, bring the pot to a rolling boil.  Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly, then check for "set."  If it's not set properly, mix another TBS of pectin with a TBS of sweetener and add it to the pot (then boil hard for another minute).

Once it's set-up properly, pour into sterilized jars and process in a water bath (or steam) canner for 10 minutes.  Remove the jars from the canner and let 'em sit, undisturbed, on a towel for 24 hours.  Make sure they're all sealed (lid doesn't pop-up when you press the middle).  If a jar did not seal properly, you can re-process it - or just stick it in the fridge and eat it first!

All Done!

Oh My GAWD this is *mighty* tasty jam!  I've honestly never been a fan of Grape Jelly (doesn't shmear properly on your PB&J sammiches!).  This is most definitely a nice shmeary kinda jam - and it tastes DIVINE!  

The only downside is that a few teensy-tinesy seed-bits did remain in the jam (probably because the Thomcord grapes do have tiny seed-like bits).  This may have been because I ran the skins/seeds back through the press 2-3 times, or maybe I should have attempted to run it through a wire strainer (or cheesecloth) - but I don't find the seedlets to be *that* annoying!

All told - after reading all those other recipes for Grape Jams - I'm pretty happy with my "Lazy" Method!

So - to recap:

QT's "I did it MY way" Grape Jam (Reduced Sugar)
Yield: 8 half-pints of jam

Ingredients:
  • 4-1/2 lbs of rinsed, de-stemmed Concord Grapes
  • 1-1/2 cups Stevia/Sugar baking blend
  • 1/2 cup granulated Splenda
  • 2 TBS lemon juice
  • 3 TBS Ball Low/No-Sugar Pectin
Instructions:
  1. Rinse and de-stem your grapes.  Warm 'em in a large dutch oven over medium-low heat.
  2. Heat until they start to soften, then mash 'em (as best you can) using a potato masher.
  3. Turn off heat and allow to cool.
  4. Feed the grapes through a Tomato Press.  Run the "discards" (skin/seeds) back through the press 2-3 more times.
  5. Pour the grape-guts back into the dutch oven, turn heat up to medium/medium-high
  6. Combine dry sweeteners with pectin, pour into the grape pot and stir til well-incorporated.
  7. Bring pot to a rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.
  8. Check for "set"
  9. Pour into sterilized jars
  10. Process for 10 minutes
  11. ENJOY!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Smoked Pork Shoulder Update

Yeah, so...  A couple of years ago, I attempted to make a smoked-pulled-pork roast, and I yammered about it here.

Since that time, I blathered about taking a BBQ class and, as a result of taking that class, I believe I have nearly-perfected Smoked Chicken.  I've made it several times - with little variation in the recipe.  It's proven to be quite a reliable recipe!

Last time I was at Smart & Final, they had big ol' honkin' pork roasts on sale for cheap.  So I bought one.  (Ten Freaking Pounds Worth!!!).  And - once again - I bought the WRONG kinda roast!  I bought a Picnic Shoulder Roast - should have purchased a Boston Butt, dammit!

Ah well, onwards and upwards...  I decided to throw the pig in the smoker, yesterday - and it came out MUCH better than previous attempts, so I figured I'd throw a quickie-post up - just so I can reference it later :-)

No prep-work (brining, wrapping, yada-yadas) the night before - although I do think that wouldn't hurt to soak it in apple-juice overnight (probably make it even better, actually!).  Trouble is - I never know "the night before" if I'm gonna be able to allocate adequate TIME, the next day, for smoking.

Smoking is very time-consuming, and somewhat hands-on - but not the ENTIRE time.  Of course, it's not like you can toss a slab o' meat into the smoker and then just leave the house, either!

Anyhoooo...  Gonna dial-back the rambling and just focus on "what I did" - Deal?!  DEAL!

Based on my BBQ Class Notes:

  • Pork roast - takes appx 1:00 - 1:10 per pound to cook in a smoker (mine runs around 225*F).

    So, 10 lbs: In at 9:00am, out at 7:00pm (best case scenario).
  • Halfway point, put the roast into a big aluminum pan, wrap with foil, and allow it to continue cooking

    (Smoke - this late in the game - makes no difference)


8:00am - I took the roast out of the fridge and let it come a bit closer to room temperature. Hacked a few diagonal slices on the fat-cap.
8:30am - I grabbed a bunch of Apple and Hickory wood-chunks and tossed 'em into an aluminum pan full of water.  I also removed the roast from the package, gave it a good rinsing in cool water, then moved it into a large disposable lasagna pan.  Coated the roast with garlic-infused extra-virgin olive oil, and rubbed the whole thing generously, with Bad Byron's Butt Rub.  Left everything 'soaking' for half an hour. (Wood nice and wet, Pig ended up with a slick coating of BBQ rub)
8:45am - I plugged in the smoker and let it start heating up
9:00am - I wrapped the bigger wood-chunks in aluminum foil, poked-holes in the foil.  Put the smaller wet wood crumbles into a smoker box.  Put everything on/around the heating element in the smoker.
9:15am - Smoker's starting to smoke.  Filled the water pan with a bottle of hard-apple-cider, water, and some fresh rosemary sprigs.  Sprayed the rack with olive oil.  Placed the roast on the rack - fat-side-up, directly above the water bowl, added a couple of rosemary sprigs on top of that.
9:30 - 10:30am - kept checking the smoker, periodically, to ensure a steady stream of smoke - added more wet-wood, as needed, to keep it shmokin'!
10:30am  - Decide that the roast really could use a good "mop" so I mixed up 1/2c Apple Cider Vinegar, 1/2 cup Soy Sauce, 1/2 cup Sweet Baby Rays Sweet 'n Spicy BBQ Sauce, a couple splashes of Worcestershire Sauce, several shakes of BBQ rub, Brown sugar and Molasses (sorry - didn't measure!).  Kept slathering that on thru the cooking process
1:30pm - (or thereabouts).  I pulled the roast out of the smoker, returned it to the (washed!) giant lasagna pan, covered the whole thing (pan + roast) with heavy-duty aluminum foil, then returned it to the cooker.
5:00pm - Hubbie is expressing interest in the delicious aromas emanating from the smoker.  I have to tell him the sad news that this is most-likely going to be "leftover meals" (he's pretty strict about wanting dinner around 6pm!)
5:30pm - I decide that there's no harm in moving the roast into the crock pot.  In fact, that might help facilitate the "shreddification" of the meat - since the crock pot won't dry it out...

5:30 - 8:00pm - Put the nekkid roast - along with some pan drippings and more "mop" - into the crock-pot.  Cooked it on high 'til the bones fell out and the meat would shred easily.

8:00pm - Remove the fat/skin and bones - toss 'em out (or save 'em  for soup - whatEVAH).  Grab a fork and a knife and start shredding.  Add more mop if the meat seems too dry (mine wasn't dry - but I added some mop anyway for flavor!).

ENJOY!!!

Came out FANTASTIC!  Still not as good as my favorite BQ Joint, but a HUGE improvement over my earlier attempts!


Tasty!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ermahgerd - Another Recipe? QT's Quickie Cool Cucumber Salad



Yep.  This'll be a quick one - kinda like the salad was!

Hot summer day.  Just got back from the Farmer's Market - where the organic cucumbers looked waaaay too good to pass-up!

"What?!  QT - You AREN'T growing CUCUMBERS?!  WTF!"

"I know, I know..."

Truth be told, I've been kind-of ignoring my raised beds this year.  I actually *did* plant a couple of cucumbers - but damned if I can find any evidence of 'em!

Anyway - I said this'd be quick - so be QUICK, dammit!

So my stomach is rumbling, and I'm feeling hot and icky, I guess I oughtta eat something!

So I grabbed a cucumber.  And we're talking full-sized grocery-store-giant cuke (and Certified Organic!).  I peeled half of it, then grabbed a sharp knife and chopped a bunch of thin slices.  Tossed 'em into a bowl and salted 'em, a layer at a time.  Salt gets 'em to start sweating...

Then I splashed-in some apple cider vinegar and sweeteners.  It's a personal-taste thing, but I got that perfect sweet & tangy combo, and I promptly snarfed it down!

That was so damned good!  Light, cool and refreshing.  And I'm betting it's pretty damn low in calories and carbs (gonna check it, though).

So yeah, it was so good, I made a second serving - but I added some finely chopped red onion and some sliced yellow tomatoes for color (both were tasty additions).  And QUICK YOU'D BETTER BLOG THIS so you can find the recipe again!

QT's Quickie Cool Cucumber Salad
Yield: 1 Salad

Ingredients

  • 1/2 of a large cucumber, peeled (I don't like the bitterness)
  • Sea Salt (guessing maybe half-a teaspoon? I didn't measure - sorry!)
  • 1 TBS Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1-3 tsp Sugar/Stevia Blend
  • 1-3 tsp Splenda (to taste)
  • 1 TBS chopped red onion (optional)
  • handful of cherry tomato halves
Instructions
  1. Peel and thinly slice half of a cucumber (I found the cheese-grater made nice super-thin slices - if you have a cheese grater thus-equipped!).  
  2. Finely chop about 1 TBS of red onion and halve a handful of cherry tomatoes (optional - but a nice colorful addition)
  3. Toss the cucumber slices in a bowl and salt them, a layer at a time.  Add the onions at this time.  Let the slices set 'n sweat for a couple of minutes.
  4. Splash in some Apple Cider Vinegar, then add sweetener(s) to taste.
  5. Serve with halved cherry tomatoes.  Deeeelish!

Addendum (08/04/14): Nutritional Info for one salad:
43 Calories, 0g fat, 13g carbohydrate (4g of which is sugar), 1g protein.

All-in-all - seems like a pretty healthy snack!

Recipe Time: QT's "Reduced Sugar" Peach Syrup





Yeah, so I think part of the reason that I haven't been posting much (aside from that whole "Real Life" thing) is that I haven't created any *new* recipes.  Honestly, I refer to this blog - a lot - to pull-up Tried-N-True recipes that I've attempted in the past.  And since they ARE "TNT" - I don't do anything to warrant re-posting!

:::shrug:::

Well, this year we were positively overrun with peaches (AGAIN!).  I did can a batch of white-peach jam, awhile back, I used this recipe - except I cut-back to just using a few shakes of cinnamon (no other spices) and added about a teaspoon of vanilla to the batch.  Quite tasty!

I also made a peach-blueberry pie - but I halved the recipe and made only one.  Got rave-reviews (AGAIN!).

See?  I just keep repeating myself :-)

So yeah, this year, we were overrun with peaches:

July 19 - Almost ready! (pardon the crappy phone-pic!)

July 23 - First harvest!
These are "Two-Napkin" peaches!
(Or "Stand-And-Drool-Over-The-Sink" - if you're Classy like me!)

There were many, many baskets of peaches!

The Peach Fairy made her rounds, dumping peaches on neighbors and friends.  And I made a batch of 12 jars of yellow-peach jam (same as above - just cinnamon and vanilla).  And peach ice cream, and quickie peach syrup (store in the fridge for a week or two - if it lasts that long!).

And, sadly, many peaches hit the ground before I could harvest 'em (I swear there's a 45-second window-of-opportunity for optimal harvesting!). Green-Green-Green-Green-harvest-Plop!

The Vegas Showgirls appreciated them!

So this morning I picked my last four peaches:

It was a mixture of sadness and relief
Sadness, because this marks the end of our fruit-harvest
And - Relief that I don't have to deal with any more peaches!

So now I gotta decide what to do with 'em (not just the last four - I still had a big heaping basketful from the last couple of days!).  Hubbie indicated that he was very pleased with the peach syrup that I threw-together for his waffles so - hey - maybe bottle up some of these bad boys, and can 'em so I don't have to buy High-Fructose Corn Syrup - excuse me - Pancake Syrup for awhile!

"Ohhhh Gooooogle!!!"

Here is where I started - and she's got a good pictorial guide for blanching/peeling/yada-yada.  She's also got a Fancy Shmantzy blender thingamabob that has an 'Auto-Syrup' setting (although she also includes the 'cook-it-down' method).

In true QTPi Fashion, I didn't follow directions.  Nope, I wandered off-course, and decided to try to cut-back on the sugar-level (with the understanding that syrups really *do* need sugar to achieve that syrupy texture). Here is where I ended up (and not quite so many pictures, but roll with it, k?!)

QT's Reduced Sugar Peach Syrup
Yields appx 10 x half-pint jars

Ingredients:

  • Enough peaches to end up with appx 10-12 cups, chopped (sadly, I did not count, nor weigh, the peaches - I'm guessing it was roughly 14-16 good-sized peaches)
  • 1 cup Splenda* (+ 2-3 TBS - more on that later)
  • 1 cup C&H Lite* (50/50 Stevia + Cane Sugar blend)
  • 1/2 cup Agave Syrup*
  • 3-4 Tbs Lemon Juice 
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract (the real stuff)
  • 2-3 Tbs Pectin (optional for thickening)*
* Use whatever combination of sweeteners you like. Mine was a double-sized batch and I used waaaaay less sweetener than the original recipe called-for.  Note: I'm not sure I'd try a No-Sugar version because it might not end up "syrupy" enough.  I ended up adding just a smidge of pectin to help facilitate thickening.

Directions:
  1. Blanch, peel and pit your peaches.  Chop them into 1/2" chunks.  Lather, rinse, repeat until you have roughly 10-12 cups of chopped peaches.  Drizzle them with lemon juice as you go (to prevent browning).  
  2. Dump the chopped peaches into a big dutch oven.  Add sweetener(s) and vanilla.
  3. Heat up the peaches on Medium heat, mashing and stirring constantly.  
  4. When the peaches get pretty mushy, remove from heat and transfer them to a blender (you may need to let 'em cool a bit first).  I just used my trusty immersion blender in the pot.  Puree 'til smooth.
  5. Return everything to the pot and bring to a boil.  Once it starts boiling, reduce heat to simmer.  Let it blorp, stirring occasionally (well, pretty frequently - but not non-stop) til it starts to thicken and become syrupy. 
  6. I think I kept at-it for about 15 minutes and I ended up adding 3 TBS of Low-Sugar Pectin (Ball brand - comes in a jar), and another couple of TBS of Splenda (mix the Pectin with the Splenda before you dump it into the pot - otherwise it will clump).  
  7. Give it a taste-test (mine ended up being a little too sweet so I added another splash of lemon juice and a shake or two of sea-salt)  
  8. If using added pectin, bring it to a rolling boil, let it boil hard for one minute, them remove from heat.
  9. Pour into your sterilized canning jars
  10. Process in a water-bath (or steam canner) for 15 minutes.
Enjoy!
Smashing and Mixing

Pureed - but not quite thick enough yet
(just starting to boil)

It's like Bottled Summer!

Quickie Addendum (added 8/4/14):  Just for grins, I plugged this recipe into an online nutrition calculator and this is what I am "guesstimating" for calories and such (bearing in mind that I wasn't measuring exactly!) (I think it's a pretty good "ballpark" anyway!)

Per 1/4 cup serving: 44 Calories; 0g fat; 13g carbohydrate (7g of which is sugar); 0g protein.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Recipe: QT's Cheater-Style Peaches 'n Cream Ice Cream (Low-Carb!)

I had to have a tooth pulled yesterday (Waaahhh!).  So that is kinda limiting the whole "Fourth of July" Hoo-Haw Extravaganza...

Normally, we'd head up to the boat (early 'cause parking's a b*tch).  Basically spend the day lazing on the boat, maybe motoring around the channel a bit - but no serious boating 'cause 4th of July is, basically, "Amateur Hour."  We'd basically hang around on or near the boat, then fire-up the Magma and grill something tasty for dinner.  They do blow-off fireworks at the harbor, so we can watch 'em from the boat.  Pretty cool.

Ahhh...  But I was zoned-out on Percocets last night, chomping on gauze and generally feeling sorry for myself!  And this morning I wasn't exactly "Up and At 'Em!"  So - no boat today.  Figure we'll just hang out by the pool and relax a bit.  Or I might actually toddle out to my studio and glaze some stuff...

In the meantime...  I am freaking STARVING! (I opted for "sedation dentistry" - therefore was unable to eat or drink ANYTHING all day, yesterday.  And after the procedure, well, I wasn't particularly eager to eat!).

According to the dentist's instructions, I can have ICE CREAM today (Yayyyy!), so let's get over my whole Pity-Party and talk about ice cream instead, k?!  This is a super-easy way to incorporate your excess backyard garden fruit into something easy and tasty!

This is such a ridiculously easy recipe - and it tastes MIGHTY fine!  

I used my Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker to create this (affiliate link - I might get some spliff if you use it!)


QT's Cheater-Style Peaches 'n Cream Ice Cream (Low-Carb!)
Yield: appx 1.5 qts of ice cream

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup of sweetened peach spice puree*
  • 1 large package of Sugar-Free/Fat-Free Vanilla Pudding 
  • 3-1/4 cups of unsweetened Coconut Almond Milk (I used Silk brand - only 1 g carb per cup)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup of Toriani Sugar-Free Peach Syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 peaches, chopped into small chunks
  • 1 peach, sliced, to use as garnish
*I made peach-spice puree in the crock-pot last summer (when I was completely and utterly overwhelmed with our MASSIVE peach-harvest).  Unfortunately, I didn't post the recipe but it was basically a matter of blanching/peeling/pitting a whole bunch of peaches, dumping 'em in the crock-pot, adding spices (cinnamon and nutmeg, I think!), and Splenda to taste, then zapping the whole mess with an immersion blender after it was all cooked-down.

I still had a pretty-big batch in the freezer, so I used it.  If you don't have puree, you can substitute low-sugar peach jam...

Instructions:
  1. In a medium bowl, mix the vanilla pudding with the Coconut/Almond Milk.  Try to blend it *really* well with a whisk.
  2. Stir in your peach puree
  3. Assemble the ice-cream machine (I think it goes without saying - but the "drum" should be fully-frozen!).  Turn it on, then pour the pudding/peach puree mix into the spinning drum.
  4. Let it spin for appx 10 minutes, then add your well-chilled whipping cream.  Drizzle in some peach syrup if you think it needs more "oomph."
  5. After another 5 mins (or so), you can drop in chopped chunks of fresh peaches. 
  6. The entire conversion of liquidy-gloop to ice cream took appx 20-30 minutes.
Serve with sliced peaches for garnish.  Eat it fast before it melts!!!

I put the leftovers into plastic bins in the freezer.  I suspect that they will end-up freezing solid so I'll probably move 'em to the fridge about an hour before I want to eat seconds!


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Just call me the Crazy Chicken Lady (Part 2)!

Ooh.  Am I keeping my promise to *continue* this Tale Most Fowl?!

Why yes, I am!  (Scary sh*t - I know!!!)

So - where we left-off:  I had placed an order from a local hatchery (A Hatchery in California - but I won't name them, specifically) back in March, right?

Auto-Responder email:  We will ship your chicks on June 16.

Srsly?  THREE MONTHS?!!  

Umm. Okay...

So I got to work with "getting ready."  Bought my coop.  Put it together.  Hired a friend's son to do the "beefing up."  Then I waited.  And waited.  And waited...

In the meantime, I'm reading all of the local "Chicken Message Boards" and hearing about all these "Baby Chick" opportunities (4-H, Local Feed-stores, yada-yada).  Nope.  I've got chicks on order - just gotta be patient!

June 16, I get the Shipment-Notification email...  They're being over-nighted to my local post-office.  So - first thing on Tuesday June 17, I call the post office to let 'em know I am expecting a shipment of live chicks "Please call me when they arrive - I don't want them going out in a hot truck!"

9:45am, I get a call from the post office.  10:00am, I am there to pick 'em up!

Post-Office Lady brings me my (suspiciously quiet) package.  I opened it - only to discover five DEAD chicks.

Hatchery guarantees satisfaction, so I snapped a pic of my FIVE DEAD CHICKS and sent 'em an email.  I also tried calling - only to discover that they don't answer their phone (Message says "Send us an email").

Several emails back-and-forth.  End result: "We cannot issue a refund.  We can send you a replacement shipment - IN AUGUST - "when it's cooler."  

Excuse me?! You're in the Central Valley (where temps are ROUTINELY in the triple-digits)...  Not sure if, maybe, you're in a different State of California but I am 110% certain that it is NOT "cooler" in August!

Admittedly, I am pretty-spoiled with Amazon Prime and free 2-day shipping.  I've gotten fairly accustomed to having my orders arrive *mere minutes* after I hit "Submit!" (Okay, I exaggerate a little!).  I'm just not comfortable with waiting FIVE MONTHS for an order placed in March, right?!

"No. That is not acceptable, please refund my money."

Followed by Radio Silence!  No reply from the hatchery....

"Well, f**k you and the horse you rode in on!"

The Sucky Part was:  When I paid for my online order, I chose "PayPal" as my payment method.  Now I know, from past experience, that PayPal is pretty strict with their timelines.  I pretty-much *knew* that PayPal wasn't gonna help me with my purchase (over 90 days old) so - screw that - I went straight to my credit card company (and I *know* I am in good-standing with them - MASSIVE limits, High-Usage, Prompt Payment History, and Very-Impressive Credit-Score).

Chase, as it turns out, was *most* sympathetic and VERY willing to accommodate my charge-back request.  Yay for them!

So my next email, to the (Nameless HATCHERY in CALIFORNIA) was something of a Hum-Dinger!  My Mom - back in her heyday - was a force to be reckoned-with, whenever she went-off on one of her Letter-Writing Campaigns (she wielded a Mighty Poison Pen!).  Thankfully, I inherited mom's Poison-Pen Letter-Writing-Skills.  I pretty-much let 'em have it with both barrels.  The general gist being "We can do this the easy way - or the hard way!  You can either cancel my order and refund my money, or else I'll initiate a charge-back thru my Credit Card *AND* I will notify the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and ALL of the 'Backyard Chicken Forums' that I belong to..."

Long-Story-Short (too late!).  The very next morning, I saw that a refund had been initiated by the hatchery. Yay!

Of course, that still left me with an empty coop.  But at least I wasn't stuck paying $95.00 for a box of dead chickens, right?!

Sooooo....  Next up:  A "Lurker is De-Lurking" post to the Silicon Valley Chickens board...

I expressed my desire to obtain 3 chicks/hens that would produce different colored eggs - but that I really-really-really wanted a White-Crested Black-Polish.

No luck on the White-Crested Black Polish, but a gal up in Fremont had a few extra Silver-Laced and Golden-Laced Polish pullets that she would be willing to sell me.

SCORE!!!

Soooooo...  Meet The Girls (dubbed my "Vegas Showgirls" by a Facebook Friend!)

Meet Tina Turner!

And Phyllis Diller-Miller!

So this is the point where I should be happy, right?  And I am.  Don't get me wrong.  I actually like having pullets (kinda like a teenager).  I don't need to give-up Studio Space for a temporary brooder (cardboard box with heat lamp).  These girls should start laying sooner, so all is good - right?!

Wellllll... They are *supposed* to be hens - but no guarantee (and Roosters are verboten in suburban San Jose!).  So I'm keeping an eye on The Vegas Showgirls and - sadly - Tina-Turner looks like she might be developing "saddle feathers" (sorry - no decent pics - but "saddle feathers" are long, skinny feathers that form over the "rump" and drape-down on either side of the tail-feathers).  If Tina turns into Tony (Tina starts crowing), then Tina gots 'ta go!  And that would leave me with ONE lonely hen.  Not a good situation!

So now I'm fretting about what the hell am I gonna do if Tina is really Tony, and how am I gonna get rid of him, and how am I gonna get another "compatible" hen if that's the case, and yada-yada...?

Yeah.  I'm neurotic.  Deal with it!

Yeah...  So...  Jury's still out on the whole "Tina vs. Tony" issue.  But I figure it can't hurt to ask the Chicken-Gal if she has any more "extra" Polish Pullets she'd be willing to sell to me.  As luck would have it, she did have one more Silver-Laced Polish Pullet that she was willing to let-go.  So I drove up, last night, and picked up another "girl."

Meet Henny Kravitz (she has less gray than Phyllis - so at least I can tell 'em apart!)



Henny seems to be adapting, okay.  But Phyllis, as it turns out, is a bit of a bully.  Nevertheless, I think they are "transitioning" okay (certainly easier than trying to introduce new "babies" to the mix).

And - added bonus - I got to check out some adult Polish Hens and, it turns out, that the Saddle Feathers (that had me so freaked-out) may NOT be indicative of Tina being a rooster.  So - worst-case - I end up with three (low-productivity) hens.  So not a bad situation at all - since it's just Hubs and Me (and we aren't HUGE egg-eaters!).

So yeah - bottom line: I've got three chickens now.  Hopefully, all are "hens:" - but I have a backup plan if one turns out to be a rooster.  Now it's just a waiting game to make sure that all ARE, in fact, hens.  Then we get eggs to eat!

Right now I am working on acclimating them to "cuddling!"  I go out, twice a day, to pick 'em up and hand-feed 'em.  And they get treats galore (mushy peaches? - YUM!).  I have determined that they *don't* like Super-Hot Weather (got to over 103* in the shade, earlier this week!), so I've setup a shade-umbrella over their run and am looking into buying a hose-end mister - to keep 'em cool on the Super-Hot Days (fortunately - not super-common around here).

Anyhooooo...  I am SUPER happy to have my new Vegas Showgirls!  More to come, I'm sure.....

xoxo

-QT

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Recipe: Crock-Pot Reduced-Sugar Plum Jam

Gonna have to wait for Part 2 of the "Crazy Chicken Lady" Saga.  I'm just evil that way!

Instead, I wanna switch gears and yak a bit about my garden.  More specifically, my Santa Rosa Plum tree.

You see, with our complete-and-utter lack of Winter, the fruit trees seem to have gotten confused and the plums were early this year.

Early...

And abundant...
Day #1 of harvesting
Day #2
Day #3 (I think?!)
Day "Gawd-Only-Knows!"
Stop the Madness!!!

And that's not even all of 'em!  We got a LOT of plums this year is what I'm sayin'!

Oh, and my last CSA Delivery?  They sent me even MORE plums ("Oh sh*t!").  Although, honestly, *my* plums were way bigger and tastier - HA!

I pawned some of my plums off on neighbors and friends.  Even tried a "Who Wants Plums?!" post on Facebook (got one or two takers).  Then I contemplated looking up local food-kitchens to see who would take some of my harvest (and/or was gonna put a post out on Freecycle)...

In the end, I decided that I'd try some kind of "easy" method of preserving them.  Added bonus: Since I've got so damned many plums, I figured I could make up Baby-Jars of jam and slap pretty labels on 'em, then give them away as Christmas Gifts to my colleagues...

Soooo...  The biggest challenge with *my* plums is that they are not freestone.  I think I've yammered about that before but the general gist is: Stonefruits (such as peaches, plums and apricots) can be "freestone" (where the pit isn't really "attached" to the inside of the fruit, and therefore it's easy to slice 'em in half and pop-out the pit), or "cling" (which is the exact opposite - the pit is super-glued to the inside of the fruits' flesh).  Santa Rosa Plums fall into the latter category, and they are a PITA to de-pit!

I did buy a plum-pitter, but my fruits were too big and juicy.  Attempts at using the pitter resulted in plum-juice squirting all over hell and creation...

Not a real time-saver.

So then I consulted The Great Oracle, Google, again.  I stumbled onto a couple-three different recipes for Plum-Butter made in the Crock-Pot.  The only site that I bookmarked was this one - and I didn't really follow-it to the letter (but it gave me a starting point, right?)

My Main Objective was to find a way to convert plums to something jam-like (or "Plum-Butter"-like, or "Plum Spread"-like), without having to scrub plum-juice off the ceiling!

And I made this three separate times - and got three completely-different results!  I'll tell you the differences, below.

What follows is my Best-Guess/Guideline for how to make it - and have it taste AWESOME!

But first a couple of caveats: 

1 - This is not going to be a chunky jam.  It's almost closer to "jelly" - except that it's not clear. It does have fruit-bits in it.  They're just not chunky-fruit-bits.  Think Smuckers-Jam consistency.  This is a cook-the-hell-out-of-it kinda jam - so it's not gonna have that "fresh-picked" flavor (like freezer jams).  Regardless, it it still *quite* tasty. 

2 - This is not a "quick and easy" jam.  It's fairly labor-intensive and takes a fair amount of time, but it doesn't require you to stand over a hot stove for an extended period of time (much appreciated, right now, 'cause our temps are in the 90's!).

3. Honestly, this recipe is PERFECT for a "Work-At-Home" kinda person (like me!) 'cause it helps to be nearby, but it doesn't require a lot of ongoing "hands-on" kinda tending...  If you're chained to your desk for 8+ hours/day (but can take breaks throughout the day), then this is the PERFECT recipe for you!

QT's Crock-Pot Reduced-Sugar Plum-Jam
Yield: appx 12 x 4oz. jars of jam

Ingredients:
  • 30 plums (appx 4#), blanched and peeled (Count your plums before you start!)
  • 2 - 2-1/2 C Splenda
  • 1 - 1-1/2 C Granulated Sugar
  • 4 - 5 TBS powdered pectin
  • 2 TBS Lemon Juice
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/8 - 1/4 tsp Almond Extract
Instructions:
  1. Prepare a large dutch oven with appx 3" of lightly boiling water, and a large bowl filled with ice-water. Blanch your plums (appx 4-5 at a time) by plunking them into the boiling water for appx 30-60 seconds (til the skins start to peel), then dunk them immediately in the ice-water (to stop the "cooking").  Peel the now-loose-skins off the plums.  Don't freak-out if you don't get ALL of the skins off - just bear-in-mind that the skin is what provides the "tartness" (so the more skin you leave-on, the more sweetener you'll need).
  2. Put the naked plums into your crock pot (mine is a 4-quart model and 30 plums is about as much as it can comfortably hold). Cover and cook on high for appx 2-3 hours.
  3. At the 2-3 hour mark, the plums will still be round and recognizable, but mushy as all get-out.  Grab a slotted/holey serving spoon and a regular (metal) tablespoon and start scooping the plums, one at a time.  Use the tablespoon + slotted spoon to gooze-out the soft bits (back into the crock-pot) and remove the pit.  Repeat this for all of the plums and confirm that you got ALL of the pits!

    You may find that there's still a lot of fruit attached to the pits.  If you want to preserve as much fruit as you can, place the pits in a metal sieve/strainer and use your spoon to squish-'em up against the mesh and release all of the fruit gooze.

    Note: I did try a food-mill on my first-pass, but the pits actually jammed-it-up (no pun intended!).  The wire-mesh strainer actually worked better for me.
  4. Now you have a decision to make.  You can go with the Lazy-Method and return everything to the crock-pot to cook, uncovered, for another 4-6 hours.  Or you can transfer everything to your dutch-oven, on the stove-top, to continue cooking everything down (You're gonna have to "finish" on the stove-top, regardless...)
  5. Now you want to cook everything down 'til it's reduced to about half the volume you started with.  Crock-pot, uncovered, takes awhile.  Stove-top is faster - just make sure it's a low, rolling boil, and you stir frequently because you don't want it to burn and/or stick to the pot.
  6. After everything's been reduced by half, it's time for the Stove-Top.  Pour everything into your dutch-oven (if you chose the "Lazy Method!"), and stir in your cinnamon, lemon juice, and almond extract (they won't make a HUGE difference in the flavor, but I suspect it would be "lacking something" if you don't include them!).  Then give it a taste to get a rough idea of how much sweetener you think you'll need.
  7. Mix up your dry ingredients (Splenda + Sugar + Pectin) in a dry bowl.  I started out with the "lower" numbers (2 C Splenda + 1 C Sugar + 4 TBS Pectin), then stirred it in.  Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Give it a taste and adjust if it needs more sweetener.
  8. If it needs more sweetener, check for "set" before adding it:  Scoop up a teaspoonful of jam and put it on a plate in the fridge for 5 mins.  If it "sets-up," you're good.  If not, add another TBS of Pectin when you add more sweetener (you *can* add pectin w/o add'l sweetener, but it tends to clump-up).
  9. Once it's confirmed to "set" properly and it tastes as sweet as you  like, transfer the jam into sterilized jam jars.  Clean the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a water-bath for 6 minutes...
  10. Confirm that the lids sealed properly, let 'em rest overnight, and you're all done!  Hey-oh!!!
Okaaaaaayyyy...  How 'bout some pictures?!

Rinsed 'n Ready!

Blanching Stations
Boiling water to the right, Bowl of ice water to the left

Nekkid Plums in the Crock Pot
(NSFW!!!)

Count your Plum Pits, and squish 'em thru a strainer!
(All present and accounted-for!)

This is what it looks like at the 2-3 hour point.
Lower-half: Already pitted
Upper-half: Pending pitting!
Cooking Down ("Lazy Method!")
It looks the same if you do it on the stove-top.  Just faster!

All Done!

Okay, additional Blah-Blah-Blahs!  

The first batch I made ended up being "Plum Sauce."  I did NOT blanch and peel the plums for the first batch, so that batch came-out SUPER tart!  I didn't do a water-bath-processing for that batch (I decided to toss it into the freezer), but - regardless - I think it's too tart for a shmear-on-bread kinda jam.  I'll use Batch #1 as a Plum-Sauce for chicken breasts or pork chops (and I bet it's DEEEE-LISH!).

Batch #2 was made using the "Lazy Method" - probably close to 10-hours in the crock pot (and one final hour on the Stove-top).  I was surprised that this method required the most added sweetener (since the plums were SUPER-ripe!).  It yieleded *exactly* 12 x 4 oz. jars.

Batch #3 was made using the Stove-Top Method (but the 1st two hours were in the crock-pot).  Those were fresher-plums (picked early this morning, and plunked into the crock-pot by 10am).  I thought the fresher batch would be more tart (for some reason), but that did NOT prove to be the case, so I cut-back to the "lower" estimates for sweeteners on that batch.

Batch #3 - even though I started out with the same qty of plums - yielded the most jam: 12 x 4 oz. jars PLUS another (appx) 10 oz on top of that (which I put in a plastic bin in the fridge - think I'll serve it over ice cream!).

Okay then!  If you've got a bumper-crop of plums, then I suggest you make yourself a couple-three batches of jam!

Cheers!

-QT
 


View my page on Meet the Phlockers