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 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

  • 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
  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!).


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


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


  • 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
  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!


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


  • 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.

  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.
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.


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