Strawberry Freezer Jam

IMG_5617

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.

IMG_2352IMG_2354

Blender Salsa

  
This recipe was born in a moment of desperation when I realized that someone had eaten the very last of the store-bought salsa and that someone else (it may have been the same person) forgot to add salsa to the grocery list when they took the last jar from the pantry. The result was disastrous: not a drop of salsa in the house. 

I am unable to live without salsa. It is my condiment of choice and I slather it liberally on dishes throught the day. A breakfast of eggs gets a nice dollop, while a lunch of nachos or beans and rice is never complete without either a scoop of pico de gallo or bottled tomato goodness. Dinner at our house often involves a tortilla, some fixins’ and, of course, salsa. 

This recipe turned out to be the solution I didn’t know I had been looking for. Our favorite commercial brands were a touch too spicy for my youngest and we were going through it quickly. 

Inexpensive, completely customizable and fast, this blender salsa pleases the whole crowd. In the event that I find myself with only an empty jar, a refill is only five minutes away. 

Blender Salsa

Yields 1 quart

1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic

2 scallions or a handful of chives

A small handful cilantro, with the bottom of the stems trimmed off

1/2-1 Jalapeno, seeded (leave seeds in for more spice)

1 small bell pepper (omit if you don’t have one)

Juice of a lime

1 tsp smoked paprika

Tiny dash ground cayenne 

2 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly-ground pepper

2 cans diced tomatoes, 15 oz each

With the blender motor running, drop the garlic through the small hole in the lid and let it chop. Using the same technique, add the chives, cilantro (stems and all!) pepper and Jalapeno. Turn off the motor. Add lime juice, spices and tomatoes. Pulse until desired thickness is reached. Taste for salt and add more, if needed. Enjoy any time of the day!

  

Smoky Southwestern Salad Dressing

Smoked paprika, how I love thee, let me count the ways…

  1. On beans
  2. On meat
  3. In soup
  4. On salad
  5. In sauces

The list could go on and on.  Suffice it to say, this gem makes it into my top-three favorite spices list.  Anytime I am cooking Southwestern fare, I add a little dash for that deep, smoky flavor.  It has nearly replaced traditional paprika in my kitchen, as there is rarely an occasion when I don’t want to add a little char.

This simple salad dressing is perfect for weekday lunches, company-over dinners and a killer pasta salad. I like to drizzle it over a bed of romaine or spinach topped with black beans, warm quinoa and queso fresco. If I have fresh tomatoes or cucumbers, I add plenty of each.  Toss some up today.  Yum!

Smoky Southwestern Salad Dressing

1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cup red wine vinegar
3/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp freshly-ground pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
dash cayenne, optional

Combine all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake to combine.  Store in refrigerator for up to several weeks.

IMG_2536

Tzatziki and Other Pita Fillings

With all that pocket bread on hand, the options for lunches, lunchboxes and quick dinners are almost endless.  Here are a few of my favorite ways to eat a pita:

  • Torn into triangles with hummus or tzatziki sauce.
  • Stuffed with grilled veggies and a few pickles.
  • brushed with butter and sprinkled with Parmesan, parsley and salt then baked into pita chips.
  • Filled with thinly sliced meat, cheese and traditional sandwich fillings.
  • Stuffed with falafel (say, what?  More to come on that in a later post.).

IMG_0832

For me, no pita sandwich is complete without some flavorful tzatziki dolloped on top!  If you’ve never had tzatziki, it’s a cool, creamy cucumber yogurt dip with Turkish origins.  It is well known in modern Greek cuisine.  Versions and variations can be found all over the Middle East, often with fresh-made yogurt from sheep or cow’s milk.  Some add a squeeze of lemon juice, which is a nice addition.

You’ll want to take care with the garlic here, as it can add some real zip if you’ve got spicy cloves.  Also, the flavor of the sauce depends heavily on a good tasting olive oil, so use one that really stands out.  Serve it as a lunch of it’s own with torn pita, or atop grilled veggies in a pita for a delicious dinner.  Even my daughter, who isn’t a fan of yogurt anywhere but a smoothie, eats it up every time.

Tzatziki

1 cup plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1-2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little more for drizzling at the end)
2-3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
2-3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
1 large cucumber, seeded and finely diced

Mix together all the ingredients and taste for seasoning.  Scoop into a serving dish and drizzle the top with more olive oil.  Serve with pita wedges or atop a pita sandwich filled with grilled veggies or falafel.   

Marinated Tomatoes

I’m always happy to eat a tomato adorned with only a little salt.  However, the family is likely to grumble a little if all that shows up on the dinner table are sliced tomatoes and a salt!  Here’s a quick little recipe that dresses them up enough to be served as a meal.  Marinated tomatoes are great over simple grilled chicken or a slice of cheese toast!  Toss in some small fresh mozzarella balls or diced mozzarella for a delicious salad, or serve them over a scrambled or fried egg.  Plus I’ve included a little French trick to make it all look a little fancier!  IMG_0458

Marinated Tomatoes

2 cups sliced and/or cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp delicious olive oil (you really want a flavorful oil here)
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
5 large basil leaves, cut chiffonade (read on for instructions!)
1-2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
A drizzle of balsamic vinegar, optional (at our house we add this at the table allowing those who don’t want it to go without)

Combine all ingredients and gently toss.  Allow to marinate while you prepare whatever you’re serving them with.

How-to cut a chiffonade:

First, start with 5 or so leaves of basil:
IMG_0448

Stack them with the largest on the bottom and the smallest on top:
IMG_0449

Roll it up:
IMG_0450
IMG_0451

Then using a sharp knife (this one is my favorite for small tasks), slice the roll thinly:
IMG_0452

The perfect way to dress up the dish:
IMG_0453
IMG_0455

*This post contains affiliate links

Beginning with Basil

Welcome to Modern Day Ma!  I’m glad you’re here!  I hope you find what you’re looking for among the recipes, ideas, and gardening tips, or just some good reading material for your day!

Summer’s bounty is upon us, and it seems a terrible time to start a blog, but it’s also the perfect time!  There is produce in every corner of the yard, farmer’s market and refrigerator and it’s either got to be eaten up, preserved, or tossed in the compost bin.  So, let’s get started with pesto!

basil boquet

Basil is my favorite herb.  When I was beheading my plants (hey, they’ve got to be convinced to keep growing) I ended up grabbing this gorgeous handful into a bouquet and then snapping this shot.  As I did so, I thought to myself that it made a perfect little decorative bouquet for someone like me!  The garden is, hands-down, my favorite place to spend time and nothing beats a delightful, fragrant handful of basil!  It can spice up tomato sauces, sandwiches, soups, eggs, salads, pizzas, meats, and even lunchboxes!

Pesto is the best way to preserve that fresh basil flavor for the long winter. I always make pesto in huge batches when I have basil and then freeze it into “hockey pucks” in my silicone muffin pans.  Just fill the muffin cups (even partially full, if you’d like smaller portions), lay them on a tray and freeze.  After the pesto is frozen, simply pop them out into a storage container or zip top bag and store in the freezer until ready to use.  Pest will defrost at room temperature in about 20 minutes.

Pesto

1 cup fresh basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
½ to 1 cup good quality, yummy tasting olive oil (Spectrum or B.R. Cohn are my favorites)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese (or use more Parmesan)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste-about 1 tsp each pepper and Kosher salt
Optional 1/2 – 1 cup toasted nuts (pine nuts, pecans, almonds)

Combine basil, garlic, nuts, cheese, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and roughly chop.  Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream with the motor running.

Don’t add too much oil. When the motor is stopped, the oil shouldn’t puddle. A good way to check is to turn off the food processor, let it sit for a minute and then check it. If there is a little olive oil that is separating out from the mix, then it’s probably enough. If it still seems really thick, add a little more oil.

Be careful not to leave the food processor on for too long, or it will turn your pesto into more of a peanut butter texture. It shouldn’t be that smooth. You should still see small chunks of nuts and/or cheese when it’s all done.

*This post contains affiliate links.