Lavender Blueberries in Simple Syrup

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Today was one of those days that just makes you love fresh air (and Vermont, if you are lucky enough to live here). After the heat wave and days of thunderstorms, it cleared off last night and led to a cool (57 degree!), beautiful, Sunday morning. A berry farm we visited last year, Pure Livin’ Farms, opened at 9 am and we were the second ones there to pick. It is a bumper blueberry crop this year. It took an extremely short amount of time to knock some 14 pounds off the bushes.

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I’ve recently read a lot, and have been interested in, canning whole berries. I found multiple recipes out there, but tweaked them a little. My main recipe came from ZoeBakes. I then added some lemon juice, homemade vanilla extract (instead of a bean) and lemon zest. What smelled incredible, I can only hope will turn out to be a great mid-winter treat! I dream, and drool, of a homemade lemon pound cake smothered in these berries…. aaaand fresh whipped cream!

And for those of you who are not canners, I promise you this is the easiest. I think I should have started with this! Remember that I didn’t grow up canning. What I know, I taught myself. Also, the recipe below is for a small batch. Three pint jars are all you need… just in case you don’t have 13 pounds of blueberries on your hands!

Canned Blueberries in Simple Syrup with Lavender and Lemon

Fresh, ripe blueberries – enough to fit in 3 pint jars

3 cups water

2 1/2 cup sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp lemon zest

3-6 springs fresh lavender flowers

1. Clean your pint jars and bring to a boil in a water bath canner. Let boil for about 10 minutes to sterilize.

2. Fill the hot jars with berries until just below the neck. Lay a lavender flower or two on the top of each jar and sprinkle a few pieces of lemon zest.

IMG_18973. Pour syrup over berries in each jar leaving 1-inch headspace. Top with sterilized lids, finger-tip tighten bands, and process in water bath for 10 minutes.

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Strawberry Preserves (pectin free)

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The strawberries are finally ready in Vermont! We took full advantage of this and visited a local organic berry farm. Over 11 lbs of strawberries later, some serious jamming had to be done. I made two batches of preserves, the first is outlined below and the second was a variation in which I added some frozen blueberries that we picked last summer.

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We are not big fans of sugary fruit in this household, so I kept the added sugar to a minimum and used some maple syrup for additional flavor. I’d much rather taste my strawberries slightly sweetened than taste strawberry flavored sugar.

Strawberry Preserves

14 cups fresh strawberries (cleaned, whole)

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup pure VT maple syrup

1/4 cup lemon juice, plus juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp vanilla extract (optional)

1. In a large stock pot over medium heat, add all of the above ingredients. As the mixture warms, mash with a potato masher. The berries get easier to mash as the mixture warms (but the warming increases the chance of splattering). Bring the berries up to a boil and reduce to a summer for about 30-45 minutes or until thick. Remove foam with a spoon, if needed. To test the readiness of the jam, use the spoon test, plate test, or temperature test. Check out this great how-to guide to determine when your preserves are jellied.

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2. In a separate pot, bring 4-5 pint-sized mason jars to a boil. Sterilize for 10 minutes. The number of jars needed will depend on natural pectin and simmering time of the berries.

3. Pour jam into sterilized jars leaving about a 1/2 inch head space. Clean rim and top with a sterilized and unused lid (keep in boiling/hot water until use). Tighten the lid ring lightly and process in boiling water for 10 minutes.

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4. Remove, let cool, listen for the POP (my favorite part), and enjoy whenever you need a fresh berry taste! Store in a cool, dry, and dark place.

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Meatless Monday: Stacked Vegetarian Enchiladas

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Meatless Monday (well, it was Tuesday for us) number 3 done and done… successfully! I have been enjoying the challenge each week to make something meatless, but filling and tasty. So far so good… no flops yet!

This recipe is versatile; you can add any vegetable you have on hand. It also fills a 9×13, but enchiladas (especially, stacked) are easy to adjust. I am also super happy to report (or brag… sorry) that I used our own canned salsa, jalapeno, and tomato sauce, our frozen corn and zucchini, and homegrown beans!!

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Stacked Vegetarian Enchiladas

18 corn tortillas
2.5 cups enchilada sauce
(taco sauce works too or spice up some tomato sauce with cayenne, chili powder, and cumin)
2 cans beans (I used dried cattle beans) 
evoo
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet potato, finely diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 cup corn
1 jalapeno
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (divided)
fresh cilantro
dried cumin, chili powder, and cayenne
 

1. Cook beans, if dried. Drain and rinse. Coarsely mash with a sprinkle of cumin, chili powder, and cayenne. Adjust to taste.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large fry pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil, add garlic, sweet potato, and a teaspoon each of cumin, chili, and cayenne. Saute for 4-5 minutes or until the sweet potato starts softening. Add onion and peppers (bell and jalapeno). Saute for another 3 minutes. Add zucchini and corn – heat for another 2 minutes.

3. In a 9×13 pan, start assembling the enchiladas. Coat the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of enchilada sauce – about a 1/2 cup. Add 6 corn tortillas to cover the bottom. Spread half of the mashed beans over the tortillas. Top with half of the veggies and sprinkle 1/3 of the cup of cheese. I added some fresh cilantro here. Add another 1/2 cup enchilada sauce, another 6 tortillas, remaining beans, veggies, and another 1/3 cup of cheese. Add another 1/2 cup enchilada sauce and the last 6 tortillas. Finish off the casserole with the remaining sauce (and maybe a little salsa) and cheese. Sprinkle with some cilantro.

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4. Bake for 35 minutes until the edges are browned. Serve with a dollop of salsa and sour cream.

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Traditional Thumbprint Cookies and Why I’ve Been M.I.A.

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Why I’ve been M.I.A.:

1. We moved. A kind of last minute opportunity popped up to move and we made the decision to do so. We upgraded a bit; left our apartment (which I loved, so I cried) and moved into a house with the longest driveway ever… literally an over-the river-and-through-the-woods driveway. The house is only about 5 miles down the street in the town next to us and is sitting on the property with the sugar-house Ty boils at. Did I mention it was a real log-cabin? Yep- straight up Vermont. At least the kitchen is HUGE!

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2. We have no internet. I never thought I would miss it as much as I have, but after 3 weeks of staying late at school, I’m ready for it. We got cable last Friday and should get internet and phone today. We also have really spotty cell-coverage, which just leads to frustration and “WHAT’S!?!?!”

3. I was in the midst of my solo-teaching. While this went very well, I am extremely burnt out. The kids gave me great feedback, my supervisor did as well, so hopefully this career change will work. I also got offered a job at the high-school for a few weeks in January (maybe longer)!! Wa hoo.

4. It’s the holidays. My Christmas shopping and gift making is essentially non-existent, but I did splurge a little lot on myself and got a new camera, which I was playing with while we got our Christmas tree (a Canon t3i… thanks Amazon for an amazing deal on 3 lenses!). I almost don’t feel like it is December or Christmas…

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There are probably a hundred other reasons why I’ve been slacking here, but those are main reasons. I hopped back in the kitchen last week and made a t.e.r.r.i.b.l.e dinner 😦 So on Sunday, as it snowed, I whipped out the baking gear and made some Christmas cookies hoping it would kick-start my lack of kitchen-talent lately.

Traditional Thumbprint Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Fruit jam of your choice (I used homemade blueberry!)

Mix dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Slowly add dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture while mixing until a dough forms. Dough can be refrigerated for up to 1 day or frozen for up to 6 months.

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Preheat oven to 350°F.  Break off small pieces of dough and roll into a ball between your fingers. Press onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Using your thumb, press an indentation into the cookie. Cookies should be about 1-1.5 inches across. Fill each indentation with a teaspoon of your favorite jam. Strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry work well. I used some homemade blueberry spread that I made this summer… it was the leftover from making blueberry syrup and it tastes delish! Bake for 10-12 minutes.

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I woke up to a little white stuff this morning (the view from our house). Finally a few flakes in Vermont!

when life gives you beans… can some dilly beans!

Well, life didn’t really give me my first boat load of beans without me asking for them. I planted an obscene amount of wax bean seeds, so what should I expect? We picked the first real load of beans yesterday and I canned them right away. We also got enough green and purple beans to fry some up for dinner last night.

Check out the first real bounty!

Over the past two years I have really got into canning. I enjoy being able to use most of what I grow (though I realized this weekend, if I had chickens, I would barely waste at all… and they would be fat and happy… if only!) Even a few bean plants will produce more than what a couple of people can handle in a day. Canning them is great way to store them for the winter. I decided to freeze some of the green and purple beans. And the beans that got too big, I chopped and froze for use in soups and stews all winter (hello Minestrone! and hello being broke!). My first year canning, I made pickles and dilly beans. Last year, I added on and made two types of relish, wild blackberry jam, applesauce, and I learned how to slice my pickles in fun ways (sandwich slices, crinkle cut, spears, etc.).  This year I hope to can much much more!

I have found that wax beans hold up the best when making dilly beans. They remain crunchy and still hold their bean-y deliciousness- the green beans will get a little soft over time (but they are still good!) I usually can a mixture of wax, green, and purple beans, but this year I plan to can a few jars of wax-only dillies.

Dilly Beans

fresh beans (one large handful will make about a pint)

1 bunch of fresh dill

Pickling salt (I use coarse kosher)

2 peeled whole garlic cloves (per jar)

Dill seeds

Celery seeds

Dried red chilis

Whole black peppercorns

Vinegar

Water

1. Measure a bean so it fits to the bottom of the neck. Clean and trim the remaining beans to be about the same length. If they are shorter, don’t worry- those are used to shove in any open cracks when stuffing the jar. Once clean, put the beans in a bowl of ice water and stick in the fridge until everything is prepped.

2. Heat up a water bath in a pot big enough to cover the jars 1/2 an inch above the lid. Start sterilizing the jars (boil for 10 minutes) and put fresh lids in a small pot of boiling water.

3. When the jars are about done, heat up a third pot with a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water. Bring to a boil. I plan to make a little more than I need (I’ll show you why later). Plan for 1 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of water per pint jar. You will need excess. You will spill.

4. Pull out the jars, drain, and place on a kitchen towel. In each jar, drop 1 chili pepper, 2 cloves of garlic, 5-7 peppercorns, 1 teaspoon of pickling salt, a bunch of dill (about the leaves of 1 sprig), a pinch of dill seed, and 1/4 teaspoon celery seed. Note: The amount of dill is up the eater. If you are using the dill head (yellow flower) you usually only need 1 flower head and a sprinkling of dill seeds, but dill doesn’t always flower when you need it to!

5. Pull the beans out of the fridge and start stuffing into the jar trimmed side up. Squeeze as many as possible in there. This is where the little guys come in handy. Shove ’em in there!

6. Once all of the jars are packed, pour the boiling vinegar/water mixture over them. Leave 1/4 in headspace (up to the first thread on the rim). Take a knife and whack the side of the jar a few times to release any bubbles. Place a sterilized lid on each jar and a band.

7. Process for 15 minutes- from the time the water bath returns to a rolling boil. Once done, keep your ears open for the ‘PING’. It may take a few hours.

 *I have found that canning is an odd style of art. The actual canning of food in hopes of it turning out still tasting like food is really not that hard. The art of synchronizing every step is very tough to learn. It took me a while, and I still manage to splash boiling water all over my ice-cold fingers. But come January, it will be well worth it. Just keep at it. And enjoy an ice cold beer when you are done!

And if you happen to have a cuke on hand… Peel and slice 1 cucumber. Cut up 1/2 of an onion. Drizzle with some oil and sprinkle with pepper and dill seeds. Pour the vinegar mixture over it. Stick in a fridge until cold and voila- quick pickles!