June 21, 2014

Grandma Ru's Strawberry Freezer Jam

Well, our oven is still not working. I have my dad looking into contact information for a repair guy. I am hoping it can get fixed soon as I really miss my oven. In the meantime, I get to use my mom's kitchen! While I technically didn't bake anything tonight I had to share my first experience making strawberry jam.

I have been thinking for a while that it would be fun to go pick strawberries and make jam. It's that time of year when the strawberries are just perfect. There was no question as to what recipe we would use. My grandma's strawberry freezer jam is the best in the world. There isn't any other jam I prefer. Ryan really likes it too so it's a win-win in the Brown house. Gram uses a recipe she had from buying MCP pectin and it's been a family favorite my whole life.

With Ryan in Brazil I have been looking to plan my days out so that I don't miss him too much (it works, but only a little bit). So I convinced my mom it would be a great idea to do our own batch of jam today. We stopped by my Gram's house for the recipe and then made our way to Remlinger's. We decided early on that we didn't prefer to pick our own. There may be others out there who have a preference but we figured out that the cost of a whole flat wasn't significantly different than U-pick by the pound. Time saved plus we got to stop by a few consignment shops as we made our way home. One quick stop at the grocery store to get the other ingredients and we were on our way (after our afternoon naps of course).

Here's the recipe we used:
3 1/4 cup strawberries (I mushed them with a potato masher)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 bag (or box) pectin
1 cup Karo syrup
4 cups sugar

The berries, lemon juice, and pectin were stirred together and left to rest for a half hour. Once I completed one batch I started the next. We ended up making three batches as we only purchased 3 boxes of pectin. Once the 30 minutes was up I put the whole mixture in a pot on the stove and warmed it ever so slightly as I added in the 4 cups of sugar. This wasn't a step in the recipe directions but came as a recommendation from my Gram. I am glad I listened as it helped dissolve the sugar quickly. 

As I finished this process Gram pointed out that the recipe we followed from her was different than the one we pulled from the box of pectin we purchased. Turns out we bought a different kind than the one she had used in the past. Oops. It was the same brand but still different and the instructions do say to only use the recipe for the kind of pectin you buy. Oops again. Gram left later in the evening very concerned that the jam wouldn't set up properly.

Once the sugar was dissolved I filled the jars we had washed. I used a funnel just so that my risk of spilling was reduced. Yes, this is a possibility with me. I mean, come on, my blog is called Flour on My Apron. Flour, jam, doesn't matter. We filled about 11 jars and still had some strawberries left over which just wasn't acceptable. The solution: Mom whipped up some Bisquick shortcake! A little fresh strawberries mixed with our jam topped with Cool Whip. Great dinner!

The last step is to let the jam sit at room temperature for 24 hours and then put it in the freezer. My mom texted me not too long ago to let me know it looks like the jam is setting up fine so tomorrow evening we'll get to put it away in the freezer to later enjoy throughout the year.

The whole process wasn't very complicated and in the end probably didn't cost me much more than buying store bought jam. Plus it's another family tradition from my Gram that I get to add to my checklist. Can't wait for Ryan to get home so he can see what I made him!

June 12, 2014

An ovenless baker

It pains me to say that our oven has died. Well, it's not completely dead but out of commission. It started a few weeks ago and the oven would beep and go into setup mode. Then beep and turn off. Then beep and turn on. And so on and so on. Oh goodness, it was certainly annoying. I tried to use the stove top to make dinner and it just about drove me crazy.  I called a maintenance guy but he was booked. With our crazy schedules we didn't get a chance to take a look at it until last week. Ryan pulled the oven out from the counter and found that some of the wires had melted. Praise God we turned it off when we did because we had no idea it was as bad as it was. I don't even want to think about what could have happened if we tried to keep using it.

Thankfully we have almost everything we need to fix it ourselves. One more little piece is on order and should arrive before Ryan leaves for Brazil. Oh, update: Ryan is going to Brazil! It's a study abroad trip for his masters program and he is going to a few World Cup games. I'm really excited for him as neither of us have traveled to South America before. And come to think of it Ryan hasn't traveled internationally on his own (it's always been the two of us together) so it should be a new experience for him.

With him almost ready to leave the urgency is a little heightened to get the oven fixed. In the meantime I have been using our crock pot more. I made up a stew recipe on the fly with ground beef, onion, potatoes, and turkey stock. I threw in a bay leave, salt and pepper, and added a few tablespoons of tomato paste. It turned out pretty well. Reminded me of my shepherd's pie recipe (the shepherd's pie is better) but I was glad to have something to feed my little family of two.

As busy as life can get I actually do miss cooking. And baking. I'm already mentally planning what meal I will cook once the oven is fixed! I also have bananas in the freezer so I can make banana bread (I tried making it a few weeks ago; oven shut itself off halfway through). The plus side is that my kitchen is much cleaner which makes me feel less stress when I get home from work. So, that's something positive to focus on. Maybe since I haven't been thinking of what to cook for dinner I can work on my baking wish list. Pinterest here I come!

March 15, 2014

Aprons: The Baker's fashion statement, part 2

Since I am getting back to blogging about baking I decide to read through some of my old posts. There were a lot of ideas back there that I completely forgot about. One was my obsession with aprons since, well, an apron is what inspired this blog's name. I think about aprons a little too often. Whenever I'm shopping at Target or any store like that I find myself straying towards the kitchen section to see what aprons they I have.

I realized that there were a few other ideas out there I wanted to share along the lines of themed aprons. One theme I so wanted to go for was geek. Or nerdy. Or just totally awesome. Which works since nerd is so cool right now (thank you to The Big Bang Theory, best TV show ever).

With that said, I bring you my top picks for totally awesome, nerd-tastic, geek-out aprons (again brought to you by etsy.com). Most of these are totally on my wish list. I might need to start a section in my closet for my aprons...

Let's start with the obvious nerd topic for me, Harry Potter. Because I'm just slightly obsessed with the Boy Who Lived. While some may go for something like this, my pick is a little more subtle. This one is super cute, too. But this Polyjuice Potion apron is just so hilarious that I kind of want one.

Keeping with the British theme there is always a Tardis inspired option. Sure, there are some that look more like the Tardis itself. But, come on. Bow tie? Total win.

Of course, when talking nerd you can't leave out Star Wars. That's just wrong. But this apron? Just right. 

And let's not leave out the gamers. A little Link inspiration, anyone? Ok, not really the cutest but there is no doubt there's a Zelda theme going on. 

And for the superhero, comic fans? Well, plenty to chose from

Finally I leave you with this epic Hunger Games version. And yes, I kind of want this one, too. Oh, Peeta...

March 11, 2014

British Baking - Pan au Chocolate Pudding

Pan au chocolate roughly cut and in corningware.
Well, Ryan's birthday was this last weekend. For the last few years I have baked his favorite pie (blackberry) but this year I was ready to try something new. Since I continue to read Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess cookbook just for fun I looked through it again searching for any inspiration. I am glad I did since I stumbled upon something I have had on my baking wish list for some time and it would work perfect for Ryan's birthday: Pan au Chocolate pudding! Ryan loves pan au chocolate so I thought this would be a perfect substitute for the traditional blackberry pie. I also have been wanting to do a British baking series for some time so luckily this recipe worked for both.

As with all Nigella's recipes this one was simple to follow. I need to read up on copyrights to see if there is any issue posting her recipe but I can give you the gist of it anyways. The key ingredient, pan au chocolate, was easy to find. Safeway aways has fresh pan au chocolate. However for this pudding I needed something a little stale. Simple trick- just leave the box open for a night. I tried, of course, to hide the extras since the recipe called for a just a few but with my very observant husband that didn't last too long. That same night I hear him in the pantry, "uh-oh!" Yea, go ahead and have some. The surprise wasn't really ruined, though, and he was happy with his pan au chocolate for breakfast. Funny boy.

It's finished and looks delicious!
Everything else the recipe called for was standard pantry ingredients. Milk, heavy cream, sugar, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. And as usual Nigella makes recommendations for substitutions. Ok, not really substitutions. More like variants on the ingredients. Since I didn't have any heavy cream on hand and didn't want to purchase more of what I would't use or need I switched out the milk and cream for half-and-half. Might not have been the best substitution but I figured I'd give it a go. The egg yolk proved to be not as tricky as I thought. There are so many gadgets out there to separate eggs; they're not really necessary. Just a few passes of the yolk between the broken halves of the shell and I had my yolk and whites separated. First time I really tried that, by the way, so there's hope for those who don't feel so bold to try this. The cream was brought almost to a boil (so glad it didn't curdle) and added to the egg, egg yolk, and sugar (which also didn't curdle). I'm not sure if there was any concern of that happening in this recipe. Nigella didn't mention it. But I made sure to temper the eggs before dumping the whole pot of cream in. Tempering is just adding a little bit of the hot (this time the cream) to the eggs to slowly bring up the temperature without actually making scrambled eggs. Because scrambled eggs and pan au chocolate were just not what I was going for.

Perfect with vanilla bean ice cream.

Once mixed the whole lot was poured over the pan au chocolate and left to set for about 10 minutes. Then, into the oven at 325 and baked for about 25 minutes. Well, the recipe says 25 minutes or until the pudding is softly set. Since Ryan and I aren't fans of runny pudding I baked it for about 35 minutes.

In the end, this turned out better than I hoped. Ryan loved it. It was easy and super quick. And it smelled fantastic! I am tempted to add just a hint of cinnamon next time to really take this over the edge of amazing. Who says the Brits don't know how to cook. This one is definitely a new fave.

Happy birthday, Ryan! I am so thankful for you and so happy to celebrate you on the last birthday of your twenties. Here's to many more birthdays and hopefully many more desserts to enjoy!

March 2, 2014

Time Flies

Wow, I can't believe it's been over a year since I posted anything. What a year it has been in both life and my baking adventure. Here are some highlights. 

We bought a house! We started looking February last year and closed Memorial Day weekend. It has been such a joy to make a home with Ryan. It's my favorite thing to do and my favorite place to be. We are still figuring out where to put things and deciding on things like curtains and area rugs. And I love our kitchen! We have dreams of reconfiguring the pantry and a few hall cupboards just to make everything fit just right. But I love standing in my kitchen cooking dinner and being home. 

I haven't baked in my kitchen as much as I would have liked to. It feels like life just sort of happened and baking wasn't a part of it. I did find time to make my favorite banana bread a few times (there's even a loaf in the oven as I write this). I did learn a few lessons this past year that I should have informed you of as soon as they happened because some were gems. The best: do not leave a pie on the stove when you take it out of the oven. Because when your spouse helps you when you're busy, takes the pie out of the oven and leaves it on the stove and then you come home and heat some water for tea you might just turn on the burner the pie was left on. And then it will explode. And you will run into the kitchen with bare feet to turn the burner off and, well, it's just not good. And this was all on the night before Thanksgiving!
Lesson definitely learned. Luckily I had some pumpkin ginger bundt on hand to contribute to the family meal. This fact slightly eased my pain, physical and emotional, but I couldn't help crying "this was going to be my best pie ever!" Oh, well. I'll just have to try again next year. 

I hope to continue baking and sharing my stories with you and that you find inspiration yourself to get in your kitchen and create something delicious!

January 22, 2013

My own recipe - Apple Crumble

For several months now I have toyed with the idea of creating my own recipe. I desperately want to create my own recipe for a cake but I still want to do some research on leaveners and proportions of ingredients. It really is fascinating to study; the chemistry and the combination of ingredients can make or break your recipe. But until I complete all the reading I want to do I decided to give a go at something a little more attainable: my own apple crumble.

When I normally make an apple crumble I use a store bought topping that I just add butter to and it's good to go. I absolutely love the way it all turns out so my goal is to improve upon that recipe and make it my own. So, I really just started with a list of the ingredients I wanted to use and just went for it. The only thing I did was to look on the box for where to start with ingredients and I made up the measurements. Here is what I came up with in my first attempt:

Kara's Apple Crumble, Version 1
1 cup oats
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3 tbs flour
1 tbs cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter
1 pinch of salt
4 large apples (I used 2 Fuji and 2 Gala. I had thought I was buying Honeycrisp instead of Gala at the store, but I picked from the wrong stack. I prefer the Fuji and will return to using just those in the future.)

I preheated the oven to 375 degrees. I then mixed all the dry ingredients together. I melted the butter and added it into the dry ingredients. I peeled and sliced all the apples and layered them in an oven friendly dish (I love, love, love my Denby dishes!). I topped off the apples with the crumble mixture and popped it all in the oven for 50 minutes.

The cook time was perfect; the apples were just soft enough and the crumble topping browned. Ryan graciously particpated in my first official taste test. Verdict: Meh.

I definitely overdid the oats. There were just too many and they overpowered the whole dish. I loved the small hint of cinnamon so I think I am happy with how much is in the recipe. I'm not sure where to go after this but I might just completely flip my measurements and do 1/3 cup oats and more of the flour and sugar. Who knows if it will work; that's part of the adventure! I would love to hear from people if they decide to try Version 1 and hear how they would change it. Can't wait to see how Version 2 turns out!

November 30, 2012

Candy Cane Cookies

Christmas is my favorite baking season. I don't know what it is about this time of year but I love being in my kitchen making wonderful treats with a Christmas movie on the TV. There is something about this whole season that warms my heart.

I have wonderfiul memories baking Christmas cookies with my mom while growing up. We would make sugar cookies decorated with sprinkles, double dipped spritz cookies, and peanut butter bon-bons (my favorite). Once I was married I knew that I wanted to not only keep these fun baking traditions to pass on to my family (I need that bon-bon recipe, Mom!) but I also wanted to come up with favorites of my own; recipes that I pick and will be something that I can share with my kids one day.

One of my new favorites are Candy Cane Cookies. These are so much fun to make, and look impressive too. They are a little labor intensive so I prefer to make these when I have no other baking planned. They are my version from an original recipe from Good Housekeeping. You can their recipe here.

The start of this recipe is a basic cookie dough which can actually be revised to make 12 different cookies (so far I have made two of these versions and they both were really easy. Check them all out online). I made a few artistic changes to my version that I think really makes these cookies shine!

Candy Cane Christmas Cookies

1 batch Basic Cookie Dough
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
Red food coloring
1 or 2 candy canes, crushed (I add a few shakes of red sprinkles to add more color)

1. Prepare Basic Cookie Dough. Divide dough in half. Add peppermint extract and red food coloring to one half. (You can use as little or as much food coloring you want; just depends on how vibrant you want these to be)
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in freezer for about ten minutes.
3. Remove dough from plastic wrap. Roll sections of red dough and plain dough and twist them together. Bend one end over to make a cane and place onto cookie sheet about 1 inch apart.
4. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes or until golden-brown. Transfer to a wire rack. I sprinkle the cookies as soon as possible with the crushed candy cane to make sure that it sticks.
5. Let cool and enjoy with a cup of hot cocoa!

I love, love, love these cookies! The recipe is so easy and it doesn't take much to make them look amazing. I hope you get a chance to try these and maybe add a new tradition to your Christmas baking.

Happy Holiday Baking!