Strawberry Freezer Jam

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Have you read the children’s book, The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear

The sneaky fox goes to great lengths to get just half of a juicy strawberry and I certainly don’t blame him.  A fresh-picked berry is nature’s perfect treat. They are unique in taste and structure, being the only fruit to bear its seeds on the outside rather than in, and can be successfully used in sweet and savory dishes alike.

Strawberries grow reasonably well in Zone 8, especially if you plant varieties that are heat-tolerant.  Two of my personal favorites are Earliglow and Eversweet, but the local nurseries almost always carry a selection of appropriate types.  Plant them in a raised bed with plenty of loose soil and consider a location that will give them a little afternoon shade for a longer season.

Nothing beats heading out to pick a few for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert.  When our plants are bearing fruit, my kids can always be found outdoors during snack time.  When you find yourself with an abundance of fruit from your backyard patch, or the local sale, try this freezer jam.  Unlike cooked jams, it brings back that fresh taste of spring berries all year round.  Try it over vanilla ice cream or toss a little over fresh berries for the perfect strawberry shortcake topping.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

6 cups finely chopped strawberries, pulsed in food processor
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 cups sugar
½ cup instant pectin
¼ – ½ cup Ultra Sperse/Instant Clear Jel (a starch thickener that does not need to be heated)

Pulse strawberries in food processor until finely chopped.  In large bowl, mix strawberries, pectin and sugar.  Add Ultra Sperse until desired texture is reached.  Freeze in zip-top bags or plastic containers labeled with the date.

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Cranberry Peach Smoothie

Last night’s smoothie was so great I had to share it!  It was born of a need to decrease the freezer content. Putting something new in the freezer has become a joke around here, with all the food preservation and freezer meals we have crammed in there.  So, we are going to work on using ingredients and meals we already have frozen in the next few weeks. This smoothie is working on our load of cranberries and peaches hiding out in the deep freezer. My daughter claimed it tasted like a milkshake, so it’s definitely a win-win!

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Cranberry-Peach Smoothie
2 cups coconut milk or other dairy or non-dairy milk
1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 a banana
1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste or 1 tsp real vanilla
2 peaches, frozen (just estimate if you have sliced frozen peaches. Mine
are in halves so it’s easy to count this way)
4 large strawberries, frozen
2 large handfuls cranberries, rinsed (approx 1/3 cup)

Layer all ingredients in order listed in high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Makes 3 large servings or 4 medium-sized servingsIMG_1595.JPG.

Tropical Peach Smoothie

Monday mornings (or any weekday mornings for that matter) very often call for breakfast through a straw around here.  We are still a little groggy from the rude awakening of the alarm clock, and not moving quickly enough for a leisurely breakfast.  Enter: the smoothie.  IMG_0928

If you do the smoothie right, it is a balanced breakfast that can be consumed quickly, or grabbed for an on-the-go, carpool-driving ma.  I do recommend an unbreakable cup with a lid for the latter occasions:

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The key to a nutrient dense smoothie is a balance between carbs (think fruit and veggies), protein (think yogurt, nuts or nut butter) and fat (think full-fat dairy, coconut oil or some seeds).  If you load your blender with only carbs, you’ll be hungry much sooner.

The trick to a quick-blending, smooth smoothie is layering.  A good, high-powered blender definitely helps too, especially if you’re blending flax or other seeds into your smoothies.  (Note: I do not personally recommend the Ninja brand.  I’m a Vitamix girl myself and would recommend a Blendtec , a Breville or a Cuisinart as alternatives.)

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Add all liquid ingredients to the bottom of the blender first.  Then add the soft solids, like yogurt, nuts and seeds.  Next comes fresh fruit, in this case it’s peaches.  Finally add your frozen ingredients such as frozen fruit or ice cubes.  Now, just blend it up on smoothie setting and you’re set to go.  If your blender doesn’t have a smoothie setting, simply turn it on low for a few seconds and then increase the speed up to high over the next 3-5 seconds.  Blend on high until the desired consistency is reached.  Layering, along with the right balance of soft to solid ingredients, should eliminator the need to stop the blender and scrape down the sides (in most blenders).  Now just add a straw and breakfast is served.  (Note: these straws are the recommended version for smoothies and shakes because they are larger in diameter, but we find the originals work just fine for our needs.)

Tropical Peach Smoothie

1 cup coconut milk beverage (can also use almond milk or dairy milk)
2 cups yogurt (I use full-fat for that nutritional balance)
3 medium peaches, peeled
1 cup mango chunks, frozen
1/2 cup pineapple chunks, frozen

Layer ingredients into your blender in the order listed and blend either on smoothie setting or as described above.  Sip through a straw for the full tropical experience!

Lime-Infused Honeydew

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Honeydew will always remind me of my Grandma.  She was tiny, maybe  5’2″, and petite featured.  She was an Iowa farm wife during most of my dad’s childhood, which means she was amazing in a kitchen.  I remember sitting around as a child while the adults lounged in chairs, after their third gourmet meal of the day, and tried to guess how much weight they’d gained during this visit to her house.  She always quietly smiled and knew to take it as the highest compliment.  She lived a ten-hour drive away from my childhood home, so we saw her only once or twice a year.  Grandma showed her love through food and a kind temper.  She would spend weeks cooking and preparing for house guests.  She was famous for her rolls, but the freezer was full of other goodies too: twice baked potatoes, frozen fruit cups, skiers french toast, pies, and numerous cookies and to keep the grandchildren happy.

I don’t know that I ate honeydew any other time during my childhood.  I remember asking my mom what it was while standing in grandma’s kitchen, and I remember being fascinated by the name: honeydew.  I imagined it sweet and watery, just like the name implied.  I didn’t know it would taste fresh, almost like the first hint of a cool breeze in autumn.  It wasn’t overpowering like a cantaloupe can sometimes be, and it had just the right balance of flavors.  It was a lot like grandma, the perfect mixture of sweet and delicate.  My grandma’s been gone for fifteen years and I feel the sting of regret when I think of the lessons, both culinary and character, I could have learned from such a woman.  So, today’s recipe is simple, in her memory.  I hope I do justice to a fruit that will always remind me of one of the best women I have ever known, both in and out of the kitchen.

Lime-Infused Honeydew
1 medium honeydew melon
1 lime, both zested and juiced

First, halve, seed, and peel your melon.  See photos below for the steps of properly peeling any kind of melon.  Use a big knife.  For those of you who are not comfortable with big knives, start practicing on melons.  It’s the exact way I got comfortable wielding one of those huge chef’s knives around.  My melons in the photos are kinda small, but it’s what we grew, so it’s what I had for photo props.  The process is the same for any melon, even the 3o pound watermelons you want diced up.

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Begin to curve the knife blade along with the curve of the melon as you slice downward:

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Next, dice it up.  But, really, keep your hands out of the way of the knife, OK?  I need a 3rd arm for this photo blogging and somehow the shot below looks like I’m about to slice through my hand (I didn’t).  Do as I say in this case, not as I do, and hold the melon more from the top!  Stop the knife just before you reach the other side, as in the photo.  This will keep the melon intact, rather than sprawling everywhere while you dice:

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Next, ,cut downward in strips the width of dice you desire:

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Finally, cross cut your previous cuts to form the cubes.  You will be left with a small end.  Lay it flat side down on the cutting board and finish the dice:

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Add the zest and juice of one lime:

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Toss to combine, and then allow to sit while you prepare the rest of your meal:

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Eat up:

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