Sunday, February 26, 2012

Strawberry Jelly

Last Monday I made a WalMart run for cake supplies.  I prefer buying locally at the Pig as often as feasible;  however, it still pays to drive the forty mile roundtrip to Lucedale  for flour, butter, and confectioner's sugar.  Mama needed a few things from Chavers' Fruit Stand,  iconic of the mom-and-pop operations indigenous to the South, with the freshest produce south of Hattiesburg.  Mark (Chavers) had locally grown Eubanks strawberries for $16.00 a flat.  A flat; that's nine quarts of strawberries! 

The whole store smelled of red ripe strawberries, so much so that, like Pavlov's dog, I immediately began salivating.  My only thought was to procure a flat of them for the purpose of making jam to enjoy the flavor created by this smell later on in the year.

Only the ripest parts and strawberries were used to make the nine pints of jam Mama and I made Monday afternoon.  Roughly six cups of less ripe strawberries and pale bits and pieces were put in a non-reactive pan, covered with water, and brought to a slow boil for ten minutes to cook a very tart, delicate pink strawberry juice used to make this jelly.

It was strained through a flour sack dish cloth once;  the cooked strawberries then combined with fresh pears and a bit of sugar to make a simple compote.
WearEver aluminum really does last a very long time.  
See the handle burned off on this pot?  I'd say it came that way, but
I know otherwise.  This is a favorite pot at Mama's house.

For strawberry jelly 3 3/4 cups of juice, 4 1/2 cups of sugar, and a box of SureJell fruit pectin were used.

It really is a matter of following the directions for cooked jelly in the box.  I'm going to type them exactly as they are there and document with a few photos:

Stir 1 box pectin into fruit or juice in saucepot.  Add 1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine to reduce foaming, if desired (I don't add butter or margarine.  Mama does, though).

Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.

Stir in sugar quickly.  Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Skim off any foam.

Ladle quickly into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops.  Wipe jar rims and threads.  Cover with two-piece lids.  Screw bands tightly....

And then the directions go on to say to cold water bath it.   The USDA says to do that too.  Uhmmm....errrrrrr....  We never have.  Don't water bath it at your discretion...

Voila!  Six cups of jelly -- just like the directions said!

A half-pint of strawberry jelly and half-pint of jam were shipped to Gainesville, to the young man that is the 800th 'like' on Facebook.  I was so tickled it was him!  His paternal grandmother is one of those awesome encouraging souls you wonder if you're ever good enough to deserve knowing.  She's a friend -- a very good friend.  Apparently, she's a pretty incredible grandmother, too!  When she saw the page at 799 likes she asked her young-ish grandson if he'd login to his FB and oblige the 800th for me.  Without flinching, hesitating, or questioning in any manner, he did!  What kind of love is that? Amazing.  It's a beautiful thing in my life, knowing Mrs. Mary's there.  Thank you, ma'am.  Love you BIG!

We travel to New Orleans this coming Wednesday evening.  All of Mama's presurgery tests will be done Thursday with the mini-AVR scheduled for one o'clock Friday, March 2nd.  If y'all don't hear from us soon, you know why.  Thank you for all your thoughts, prayers, and support.  <3 you all!!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Justin's Birthday King Cake Recipe

I came home this past Monday afternoon to find three chicken feed sacks on the old double wash stand on the back porch with a King cake recipe on top of them.  I didn't know where the feed sacks came from at the time but the recipe was from Mrs. Jeanie.  She was wondering if I could make the king cake for Justin's birthday?  Well sure -- no problem.  And it wasn't.  The whole thing turned out nicely enough that folks have been clamoring for the recipe.  Wwwwwwellllll this one isn't mine.  It was copied and pasted and sent via email to Mrs. Jeanie so I don't know where it came from and lay no claim to having come up with it. I'll gladly put it out here for y'all to make at home and if you ever run across the origin of it, let me know;  I'd like to thank them in person!

To differentiate it from any other King Cake I'm going to call it Justin's Birthday King Cake.  The ingredients and instructions are written exactly as they came to me.  If I'd have know how well it was going to turn out in advance, I'd've done a tutorial...

King Cake

For the dough:
1/4 ounce package active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 3/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons butter

For the filling:
1 pound cream cheese
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
zest of 1/2 lemon

For the icing:
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk
green, purple, and yellow sanding sugars

Make the dough.  In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a hook, combine yeast, 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar, and 1/4 cup water heated to 115 (tepid).  Stir to combine and let sit until foamy, about ten minutes.  Add remaining sugar, milk, light brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk.  Beat on low speed until thoroughly combined, approximately one minute.  Turn mixer off and add flour and salt.  Mix on medium speed until the dough just comes together.  Turn mixer speed to high and knead dough for four minutes.  Add the butter and continue kneading until dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, about six minutes.  Remove bowl from mixer, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Combine cream cheese, brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon, salt, and zest in a large bowl and beat on medium speed of a hand mixer until combined, set aside.

Punch down dough and turn it out onto a heavily floured surface.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a large circle, about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut a hole in the center of the circle and pull with your fingers to widen.  Place dollops of filling evenly around circle halfway between outer edge and inner hole.  Drape outside edge over filling and continue rolling outside inward until filling is covered, widening inner hole as needed until dough covers the seam.  Transfer rolled dough circle to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for one hour.  Heat oven to 350.  Uncover cake and bake until golden brown, about thirty minutes.  Let cool completely.

Make the icing:  Whisk together the sugar and buttermilk in a small bowl until smooth.  Transfer king cake to a cutting board or serving platter;  spread icing evenly over top of cake and sprinkle evenly with sanding sugars.

A foodie mentioned on FB the other day that she found sanding sugar on sale and bought it.  I was stunned. Amazed.  People buy sanding sugar?  Seriously?  NNNNnnnaw... Put enough granulated sugar for the task in a ziploc bag and drop in a drop of color.  Massage/shake/ mix the bag until the coloring is distributed.  Voila! Sanding sugar.
The squeeze bottles didn't work well at all for getting the sugar on the cake.
That's just a little FYI so you don't think it might!

The buttermilk icing is very thick and almost wasn't enough to cover the cake.  ohhh wow!  I'd never made a drizzle with buttermilk before and was very pleasantly surprised to find it was delicious!  When you make yours, go ahead and increase the buttermilk a few drops. 

There are a few things I'd tweak about the filling recipe:
Maybe, since I live in the Deep South, I don't exactly know what the maple syrup is doing in here.  I couldn't taste it at all so next time, I'm leaving it completely out.  The Chinese cinnamon came from Penzey's spices and was absolutely the cat's meow!  I'm so grateful to my cousin that brought me four different kinds of ground cinnamon from Penzey's -- I love and can discern them all now.  Maybe the lemon zest was supposed to be barely tasted?  I think I did because I knew it was in there.  It didn't do anything.  The magic of the filling is the brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans, and cream cheese working together.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to leave it at that next time.

Annnnyways.  It's almost midnight... I'm going to set all the dry ingredients out tonight so I can put together another one after church tomorrow.  Try one in your own kitchen.  And don't forget the baby!  I forgot the baby.  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Dentist Had a Rumbly Tummy

I went to the dentist two weeks ago.  It's taken me that long to recovery my last good nerve, especially after taking Mama back to Ochsner's in Metarie, Louisiana to get the mini-AVR surgery scheduled.  I despise going to the dentist.  Oh.  He's a nice enough of a fellow with an easy touch.  It's just that I'm afraid of him and his implements of personal destruction drills.
I don't care for the probes and other things that can pick out last week's broccoli casserole from a body's cecum via a molar, either.

I used to have a certifiable phobia of the masochist parading as dentist until I realized they were actually human.  Through the years of watching them become less Neanderthal and more homo sapien I noticed that Dr. W always smelled good, Dr. A looked like an all-American Eagle Scout, Dr. C has intense eyes, and Dr. R...  Well... Dr. R. has a rumbly tummy.

I believe in getting the unpleasant done and over with as quickly as possible so I'm often his first victim patient on the appointed morning.  The conversation with his stomach tells me I'm often there after coffee but before breakfast.

Seriously?  Mayree?? You're blogging about the dentist visit and his empty gut?  Wellllllll...  It's actually about nitrous oxide and my brain and the dentist's almost-verbal digestive tract.

I don't go readily into the chair without the tank of nitrous steadily by my side.
I couldn't care less what happens after the mask is in place and the mixture of N2O is delivered to the lungs and then to the gray matter in this graying head.

As the sedating gas works it's medical miracle and relaxation starts I count ceiling tiles and wonder why they're accoustic.  I count the numbers of perforations in each tile.  I snicker to myself when I can't multiply tiles time perforations because somebody is talking in the room with me and the tank.

Dr. R is asking about cakes while administering the face-altering numby stuff.  There's no answering with the syringe where it is.  I hear his stomach ask "Yo.  Woman.  How's 'bout a chocolate cake?"  I feel my face crinkle into a smile while telepathically replying, "Curls are extra."

The dentist tries to sneak that scraper thingie around the line of peripheral vision but his tummy gives his actions away "Incoming!  Take cover!"

Scrrrrrrreeeeeetch scccccrrrratch scraaaape scrappe scrape! goes the sounds of metal on a lower left incisor.  My mind thinks of Dorothy Parker's line, "What fresh hell is this?" The GastroGeniusRumbler aka the dentist's stomach, says, "I told you so."

Fortunately, the dental carie is small and only the one drill bit, previously used to attempt to drain the Indian Ocean from Mississippi, sounds it's terror while the Voice of Stomach Karma sings to me Tom Waits' Underground.

The fluoride treatment tastes like new shower curtains smell.  Ggr (GastricGeniusRumbler) wonders if fluoride could ever be a secret ingredient in the basket on the cooking show Chopped.  Not being able to wrap my thoroughly relaxed and free-thinking mind around a good reason why it couldn't be, I pretend not to hear him.

Dr. R and his assistant are talking some cryptic code that sounds suspiciously like they know what they're doing and Ggr assures me it's almost over.  I'm actually a little saddened to realize the conversation will be finished before we've had a chance to discuss the gateway to the fourth dimension.

Surely enough, the bib is taken off and the O2 is turned on to kill my imaginary confidante clear my head.  You'd have to be there, in my mind, to understand the mirth and fear that happens simultaneously when this brain gets a dose of nitrous at the dentist's office.  I'm thankful to have had Dr. R's intelligent digestive organ to keep me company and for distraction last week.

I wonder if I should call the man and tell him chocolate curls are extra?

Mama's surgery is scheduled for March 2nd with an expected hospital stay of 5 to 10 days.  To say she's a little apprehensive is an understatement.  Y'all keep her in your thoughts and prayers and we'll both appreciate it.  <3 Mary

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Peach Jelly in February

Did you feel the earth shake in South Mississippi Monday?  No?  It must have been a localized event.  Local, that is, to Pine Level, the epicenter of activity found on Havard Lane, plus or minus a few inches from Mama's huge chest freezer.  Like any and everything else, she stockpiles perishable food items for future use; not a bad idea, even I have a freezer, it's just that things are forgotten in there.

I was sent to look for more English pea seeds.  Everybody knows you store seeds in the freezer from one year to the next.  I was looking for pea seeds and found several nondescript items of interest to any student of cryogenics.  At one point, I thought I'd seen John Wayne's horse's left hind food (not really) but you get the idea.  It was time to do away with a bit of unrecognizable matter.  Convincing Mama that matter is neither created nor destroyed expended a good bit of creative energy as I convinced her that Rooster and Hennies would love the okra (I could tell by the seed) and desiccated blueberries.  But that's all another story for another time...

I didn't find pea seeds but I did find a half gallon of juice.  Since Mama's favorite game for strengthening her memory is not writing what's what on the freezer storage bags and going through great mental exercise to remember, we both knew it was juice, only discovering what kind after it was thawed.  Peach juice!  It's an excellent game;  Mama thoroughly did mind flips yesterday remembering she had put the juice in there last June with the little late-season yellow cling peaches.

So much for planting English peas and folding totes for shipping.  This morning was spent readying everything for peach jelly; mid-day was spent cleaning up the aftermath (the phrase "a hot sticky mess" comes to mind), and this afternoon was spent back making a Sam's list because there's less than 25 pounds of sugar stored.  The mayhaws are blooming:  jelly season is about to be in full swing again.

Making jelly in the winter months is one of Mama's favorite pass times.  The kitchen can always stand to be a little warmer.  I'm convinced that she and Lucifer have entered into some sort of non-binding contract for her to help him warm Hades (they're both too smart to enter into a full contract with each other {I'm pretty sure she's a lot scarier to deal with when her mind's set she's right}), she's that cold-natured and they both can use the heat.  Two burners turned on wide-open helped achieve her required indoor temp of 90 this morning because she used the big canning kettle to make a double batch of jelly.

There are lots of recipes that can't be effectively doubled, pectin jelly is not one of them.  The only difficulty with doubling jellies, jams, and preserves (to my knowledge) is having a pot large enough to handle the foam when they're almost done.  And don't forget to make the pot non-reactive.  We use ceramic on steel.

So what's needed to make peach jelly?

8 cups peach juice

11 cups sugar

And a mother to measure it out for you
1/4 cup lemon juice (pretend you see it, okay?)

2 boxes of SureJel fruit pectin

Clean sterile jars
I keep my jars going in the microwave on low power while 
the jelly is making with a little water inside.  It keeps them hot 
but DRY - easier to handle.

Lids and bands
This is Mama's lid pot, it's sole function is to heat the lids.

Mix fruit pectin, peach juice, and lemon juice in large non-reactive pot, bringing to a roiling boil.
This only looks like a roiling boil.  It's not.
How could I tell?  It could be stirred down.
You won't be able to stir down a roiling boil.
Add sugar.  

Get everything necessary ready to can the jelly.
I'm OCD enough that I'll have it all out before this point
in the jelly making.  You can see I'm helping Mama today
because her anodized aluminum canning funnel and the plate
the jars set on to be filled is already out before needed.
In real life, with Mama making the jelly without me there, it's only
after adding the sugar that she thinks about these other things.

Stir continually.

When the jelly comes to a roiling boil again, time for one minute.
lol...  What would you do without me to challenge your imaginations?
The microwave timer says, "60"

See how big it foams up?  A lesser pot wouldn't have
contained the foam.  This stuff is wicked hot, too so be careful!

Turn heat off.

Skim fob (foam) from top of jelly.

I was so busy helping that photos were forgotten but at this point, it's a small matter of getting the jelly into the jars, putting on the lids that have been boiled for a minute (or so) and kept hot, screwing on the bands, and letting cool.

The directions in the SureJel pack said a recipe would make seven cups.  If there's one unwritten constant in the universe, it's that a batch of jelly will never yield exactly the same amount regardless of how carefully all the ingredients are measured.  There were twelve cups and a partial cup of jelly.  The fob, by the way, is best consumed immediately with pasty white bread.  Do it once, just for me.

And that's all there is to it!  There's a bit of science involved but not rocket science, unless you blow up the water in the microwave.  Follow the amounts of juice and sugar listed in the SureJel directions and you'll be a pro like Mama in no time!

Y'all enjoy.  
Mama and I travel back to New Orleans this Tuesday to discuss the mini-sternotomy AVR with the surgeon.  It should be interesting!  Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.  We're all ready for Mama to be strong again...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Quince Cake: When Ugly is Better

Keats wrote:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: 
Its lovliness increases; it will never 
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep 
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep 
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

And except for the lovliness aspect of his poem Endymion, I'm pretty sure he could have been talking about a quince cake.

Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all, 
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall

I'm picking up what you're throwing down, Mr. Keats.  This ugly cake is the epitome of Southern comfort food.  It's made simply using any good butter cake batter and quince preserves or jelly.  Quince preserves aren't my favorite since there's been no milk cow to supply clotted cream on a regular basis for a good many years.  Quince jelly provides the sweet tartness for a very rich dessert that takes far less time to put together than imaginable.

Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkn'd ways 
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all... 

Yes, sir, unhealthy in spite of all.  If it doesn't satisfy your sweet tooth there's not a thing more, except possibly chocolate, that will.  This is one of those very rich cakes.  You know the kind...half of the people you know will say, "OOOh, don't cut me but a little piece of that, it's too rich for me!"  It's a Southern dessert.  Of course it's rich.

So annnnyways... Mrs. Smith used to cook her cake on top of the stove.  Sometimes, too, she'd bake it in the cast iron skillets used stove top.  Stove top is better:  the cake has that element of buttery-ness not in the baked cake.  Stove top cooking is what makes it look like a stack of huge honkin' pancakes or crepes-on-roids.  And when slathered generously with quince jelly??  Ohhh my!

It's an easy cake to make, the most difficult part is regulating the heat of the skillets/griddles.  Since the cake batter is thicker than pancake batter the pans need to be a little cooler, but not much.  The next difficult thing is flipping the cake from one skillet to another.  It takes two hands so there's not a photo of the mess that landed on the floor the second time the process.  

It goes very quickly so be watching!

 The overhead light is out.  I had to use the flash on the camera,
which means you can't see the medium-low flame under the griddle
and skillet.
 There's a lullaby of a buttery sizzle going on in both pans.
The back burner is a little lower than the front one,
just enough to keep that skillet warm.
 It's a butter cake that's going to get pan cooked in one
cup increments.
 That's one cup of cake batter measured and put/spread
into a hot skillet.
 See?  It really is like cooking a huge pancake.  The cake batter, though
won't cook exactly like a pancake which is why you need two skillets/griddles.
 Check around the edges.  
 It's the tricky part!
 Tadadaaaaa!  Don't worry about perfection;  plenty of that in heaven.
Let the spill cook.  It's very easy to remedy  when this layer
is cooked.
 It's an old fashioned cake.  It's an old fashioned cake plate.
Flip the cooked layer right onto the plate.
 Get a second layer started cooking after wiping out the pans and
reslathering with butter.
 Spoon approximately one-third of a cup of quince jelly on the warm cake.
 Spread to the edges.  The jelly softens very quickly on the warm cake,
spreading it is very easy.
 Layer 2
 Layer 3
 Yeahhhhh... it's true:  the temps on the pans only get right for the
next-to-the-last layer.
 Layer 4
Don't you LOVE the precious pound cake/bread slicer 
I talked Mama into giving me while she was napping
Mama gave me today?

Layer 5
It never fails, the last one will be smaller than the rest.
I should've eaten it:  we eat our mistakes around here.

And that's it!  That's all there is to one of the most Southern desserts you'll ever find yourself drooling over, but don't take MY word for it.  

The quince is a large tart fruit.  Down here they're big knobby yellowish looking fruit that ripen well into the fall months.  I make it a point to eat one a year, with that year's allowance of sodium used in the consumption of it.  There's a written rule somewhere that crab apples, green plums, and raw quince mandate excess salt intake.  

Does it have to be quince jelly?  Only if making this **snicker** quince-essential Southern comfort cake. Do yourself a favor and make this for your family using your favorite jam or jelly.  They'll remember it forever, even if it isn't a thing of beauty!

An endless fountain of immortal drink, 
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink. 

I really think he WAS talking about this cake...

Y'all enjoy!