Chokecherry Jelly

chokecherries_in_the_sun

Last weekend, I got a text from my neighbor: “The chokecherries are ripe. Get them before the birds do!” And so my plans for the evening changed. I grabbed my buckets and headed across the street, where clusters of tiny cherries glistened on the bushes lining our dirt road.

chokecherries_everywhere

Chokecherries are a wild cherry that is native across most of the United States, and I’ve been harvesting them ever since I was little. At family picnics I’d tuck clusters of the bright, astringent jewels into my pockets for later, only to be forgotten until laundry day when my mom would open the washer to find a pile of purple-stained dress shirts. There wasn’t much she could say; she got in trouble for the same thing as a kid.

add_some_unripe_chokecherries_for_extra_pectin

Eaten right off the tree, chokecherries are extremely tart, and they’re mostly pit. But mixed with a whole lot of sugar, their delicious flavor comes out — imagine a much better version of the fake “wild cherry” stuff.

Chokecherries are easy to identify if you know what you’re looking for (namely, serrated leaves and small cherries hanging in clusters). But do a little reading first to ensure you’ve got chokecherries and not buckthorn, which would make for a truly memorable jelly (but not in a good way).

chokecherries_have_serrated_leaves

Whenever I harvest chokecherries, I tend to go a little overboard. I look at all those perfect little cherries, hours away from being stripped by the birds and the hornets, and I’m compelled to collect as many of them as humanly possible.

And then two or three hours later, sweaty and mosquito-bitten, I stand staring at 20 pounds of chokecherries that need to be picked through, and I wonder why I always get myself into these situations.

chokecherry_stemming_station

So if you’re going to be de-stemming 20 pounds of chokecherries, or even 5, there are a few things you’re going to need:

  1. Ideally a helper, but only someone with good attention to detail and fine motor skills. They’ll only be creating more work for you if they miss a bunch of stems and/or blemished fruit.
  2. That TV series you’ve been meaning to marathon-watch, books on tape, anything to keep your mind occupied for hours on end.
  3. Cocktails and caffeine, but not too much of either. (Refer back to #1).

This time, I set aside the ripest cherries for a batch of chokecherry wine, and the less-ripe cherries for jelly (since they add pectin and help it set).

I rinse the cherries in small batches (about 1-2 cups) as I pick through them, then once they’re all clean I boil and strain them to make juice for jelly. Or syrup, as the case may be.

milling_chokecherry_juice

The first time I attempted a batch of jelly on my own, my Mom passed down a bit of chokecherry wisdom she got from my grandmother: “If you try to make jelly, you’ll get syrup, and vice versa. So if you want jelly, try for syrup.”

Fortunately, I like chokecherry syrup even better than I like jelly, so I was secretly glad when my first batch didn’t set. For the second batch, I used my neighbor’s tried-and-true recipe and ended up with a delicious, perfectly set batch of chokecherry jelly. So hopefully it’ll work like a charm for you too, but if you get syrup, that’s just part of the challenge.

It’s possible to remake jellies that don’t set, but sometimes they get grainy so I just call it good at syrup (or “preserves” if it’s lumpy.)

outdoor_canning_setup

And a few words about my canning setup: I do most of my canning outdoors now, and I highly recommend doing it this way. While it’s entirely possible to do all of this on an electric stove in a tiny kitchen (and I have, many times) it’s so much better to do all the boiling outside while the cool evening air drifts through the house. It works so well for me that I eventually got a second propane burner and hot water canner so I can have multiple batches going at once, and they’re already getting plenty of use this summer.

sterilize_jars_by_boiling_at_least_10_minutes

The only downside is the mosquitoes, and the fact that it can be a little hard to see the jars at night (but a headlamp fixes that problem).

cool_on_rack_and_enjoy_the_sound_of_jars_sealing

Few things are as satisfying as lifting jars out of a hot water bath and listening to the *PING!* as each one seals. But picking wild cherries on the side of a road, and then turning them into something utterly delicious? Right up there.

Chokecherry Jelly

Prep Time: 2 hours

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: about 5 cups

Chokecherry Jelly

Wild chokecherries grow across most of the United States, and they make a delicious sweet-tart jelly.

Ingredients

  • About 4 pounds chokecherries, de-stemmed (to make 3 1/2 cups chokecherry juice)**
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 (1.75 oz) box powdered pectin
  • **About 1/3 of your chokecherries should be underripe, as the additional pectin will help your jelly set. If not, you may end up with syrup, which is also delicious.
  • Special equipment:
  • Clean 4 or 8 oz. canning jars with new lids
  • A 21.5-quart hot water canner
  • Canning funnel and utensils (tongs, jar lifter, etc.)

Instructions

    To make juice:
  1. Place your washed, de-stemmed cherries in a large pot and cover with filtered water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Crush the fruit using a muddler or potato masher and hang it in a jelly bag to strain overnight, or if (like me) you don't have a jelly bag run the cherries through a sieve or foley mill. Allow the juice to settle for a few hours and carefully pour the top layer into another jar, leaving the sediment behind.
  3. Sterilize the jars:
  4. Put jars (a few more than you think you'll need) into a hot water canner and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and boil for at least 10 minutes, then turn off the heat.
  5. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and remove from heat. Put jar lids in the hot water and cover until you're ready to use them.
  6. To make the jelly:
  7. Put a few small plates in the freezer to chill (you'll use these to test the jelly). Measure out the sugar and set aside.
  8. Bring your juice to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.
  9. Add the pectin and stir until smooth, then bring to a full rolling boil and add the sugar all at once. Boil for exactly one minute and remove from heat. Skim any foam from the top.
  10. Dribble a small amount onto your chilled plate and put it back into the freezer for a minute. Then, pull it out and hold it sideways. If the jelly stays put, it's ready to process.
  11. Process the jelly:
  12. Remove your jars from the hot water bath and drain upside down on a clean towel.
  13. Using a canning funnel, carefully ladle the jelly into your jars, leaving 1/4" of air space at the top. Wipe rims with a clean damp cloth and top with sterilized lids and screw tops. If you have a partial jar do not process it, just use it ASAP.
  14. Carefully place jars in canner, adding boiling water to bring level 2" above jar tops. Bring canner to a boil and then process for 5 minutes, plus additional time for altitude (at 6.000 feet, I process mine for 15 minutes). Find your processing time here.
  15. Remove jars from water bath and allow to cool. Check jars to make sure they have sealed, any jars that don't seal should be stored in the fridge and used first.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/chokecherry-jelly/

Summer Vegetables with Fried Goat Cheese

melty_fried_goat_cheese

Sorry for the long gap between recipe posts, but I assure you, I’ve been cooking up a storm. Last weekend I picked 20 pounds of chokecherries and made some jelly syrup, and also started a batch of chokecherry wine (to be shared here very soon). And then I had a one-day obsession with making zucchini bread waffles, but those still need tweaking.

Last night, I finally made something worth sharing.

I wandered out to the garden for some basil, and 20 minutes later found myself hauling in a whole lot more, using the bottom of my t-shirt as a makeshift basket. And I’d just picked zucchini that morning!

afternoon_harvest

The nightshades are still new and exciting, but frankly I’m starting to get a little tired of the squash. And the green beans.

Fortunately, a little bit of creamy goat cheese, fried in a panko crust, is just the thing to make the summer’s bounty exciting again. And I’m pretty sure it’ll be great on top of whatever you’re growing, too. I’d love to hear what you come up with — leave your favorite variations in the comments!

Summer Vegetables with Fried Goat Cheese

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Summer Vegetables with Fried Goat Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 2 medium slender eggplant, or 5 small round eggplants (if you use a larger eggplant or one that's been in the fridge a few days, you'll need to salt it first to remove the bitterness).
  • 2 handfuls small green beans (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • a handful or two of cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 sprig fresh basil leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh flatleaf parsley
  • 1 small log soft goat cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Cut the goat cheese into 8 equal rounds (it's easiest to do this with unflavored dental floss, but you can use a sharp knife and then reshape the rounds with your fingers.)
  2. One by one, dip each slice of cheese in egg and let the excess run off, then dredge it in breadcrumbs. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the squash and eggplant to uniform thickness, and trim and halve the beans. Finely chop the garlic and fresh herbs.
  4. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet and add the squash, beans, and eggplant, plus a sprinkle of salt. Cook until they're almost done, but still crisp (I use my purple beans as an indicator, I pull the veggies off the heat when they turn green). Add garlic and tomatoes, cook for a minute more and then set aside.
  5. Pour enough olive oil to coat a large frying pan, then put over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. To check temperature, toss a few breadcrumbs into the oil -- when they start bubbling as they hit the pan, add the goat cheese rounds, being careful not to overcrowd them. Cook until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes on each side, and drain on paper towels.
  6. Divide the vegetables among 4 plates and top each with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and 2 pieces of goat cheese.

Notes

The goat cheese portion of this recipe is adapted from Gourmet

http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/summer-vegetables-with-fried-goat-cheese/

It’s that time again…

eggs_for_hatching

After all the fun we had with the hatch last spring, I’ve been itching to get the incubator out again. And now, it’s finally time to get started on the fall hatch. So last night, I set the eggs. It’ll be barnyard mixes again this time, but I got my eggs from different sources.

I have six lovely dark brown Welsummer eggs, from a lady that I met on an incubation forum when I was planning my last hatch. I’m really excited about these — I’ve been wanting dark brown eggs for a long time, but Kung Pao rejected the first ones I tried, and I got 0/2 from the dark eggs in my last hatch.

So to up my chances, I got another four Welsummer eggs (with speckles!) from a local farm, plus a few Leghorns (white) and Easter Eggers (green). That flock includes a Cochin rooster, so most of the chicks should have feathered feet — which I find really cute, until it rains.

One of the pretty speckled eggs was cracked a bit, and I decided to take a chance and put it in anyway because there’s plenty of room (I’m splitting the eggs into two incubators this time, so that the chicks have more room to hatch and also so there’s a backup in case one fails).

wax_patch_job

I sealed the egg by lighting an unscented candle and dripping a bit of melted wax onto the crack to seal it. And then I accidentally poured wax halfway down the side of the egg and had to pick some off, probably ruining any chance that egg had of hatching.

I also put in 4 eggs from my neighbor, who has mostly red sex-links (which do not produce more sex-links, unfortunately). And because I saw Cordon Bleu attempting to molest Cutlet the other day, I put a few eggs from our flock in as well.

Finally, I filled in the balance with some eggs I got from a lady on Craigslist, which (I think) are from Buff Orpington and Rhode Island Red hens crossed with a rumpless Araucana (or is it Easter Egger?) rooster. So we’ll have some interesting genetics this time around.

incubator_running

There are more eggs in the mix than last time (55 versus 41) because there are quite a few that probably won’t hatch, and I’m not sure of the fertility rate for others. It’ll be an interesting experiment for sure, and like last time I’m planning to broadcast the hatch on Ustream starting around August 20th. Details (and candling photos!) coming in the next few weeks.

Savory Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tart

mushroom_goat_cheese_tart_cut

Last Saturday, I had big plans. First, it was off to the Farmer’s Market in search of fruit, and then I was going to fire up the outdoor canning station and make jar after jar of plum butter and peach basil jam.

But when I got there, the only peaches were already in jars — they’d sold out of fresh peaches within 15 minutes of the market opening. And what’s worse, the farmer told me that the late spring blizzards this year killed off all their cherry and plum blossoms. On the bright side, they still have peaches and I like them better in August anyway, when there are freestone peaches instead of cling.

Still, the thought of a year with no plum butter followed me around the market like a little black raincloud. That is, until I spotted the sign for Hazel Dell Mushrooms. They were pretty picked over too, having already sold out of their lion’s mane (my favorite), but they still had some shiitake and oyster mushrooms left. A quick stop to grab some Haystack Mountain goat cheese, and I was on my way home with an idea already starting to take shape in my head.

ingredients_for_mushroom_tart

Every once in a while, I get really lucky. I’ll come up with some half-baked plan, and it turns out exactly as I imagined it on the first run. This is rare, though it happens slightly more often now that I’ve had more practice in the kitchen and have learned from my previous disasters (luck favors the prepared mind, right?).

But if I happen to be working with expensive ingredients in short supply, my experiments are pretty much guaranteed to flop the first time. It’s Murphy’s Law.

fresh_shiitake_and_oyster_mushrooms

saute_mushrooms_until_liquid_is_reabsorbed

whisk_eggs_and_milk_into_goat_cheese

pour_filling_into_tart_shell

So you’ll imagine my surprise when this tart, basically a savory mushroom cheesecake, turned out almost exactly as I envisioned it. I cobbled it together from bits and pieces of various recipes, and for once ended up with a great result on my first test run. It may just be my favorite thing I’ve ever invented, but I’ll probably need to make it again next weekend just to be sure.

Savory Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tart

51

Prep Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Savory Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tart

Rich and flaky, with a silky layer of goat cheese underneath, this mushroom tart is even better the next morning alongside a green salad and some scrambled eggs.

Ingredients

    For the tart dough:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into cubes
  • 4-5 tablespoons ice water
  • For the filling:
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 pound fresh oyster mushrooms
  • 1/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons minced white onion
  • 1 small clove garlic (or half of a large clove), minced
  • 1 tightly-packed teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, removed from stem and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 small handful fresh chives (to equal about 2 tablespoons minced)
  • 5 ounces fresh chèvre or other soft mild goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg (I used 2 medium)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Special equipment:
  • A 9" fluted tart pan with removable bottom

Instructions

    Make the tart dough:
  1. Combine flour, salt, and butter and mix with a dough cutter until the lumps of butter are pea-sized (you can also pulse it in a food processor)
  2. Dribble ice water across the top, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together in a ball. Shape it into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least an hour while you make the filling.
  3. Make the filling:
  4. Whisk together goat cheese, eggs, and cream in a large bowl and stir in chives. Set aside.
  5. Chop mushrooms (I left a few larger slices of shiitake for decoration)
  6. Heat butter in a large heavy skillet and add onions and mushrooms, cooking over low-medium heat until the mushrooms have given off their liquid and are mostly dry. Add sherry, thyme, and garlic, and cook a few minutes longer until the liquid is absorbed and remove from heat. Set aside.
  7. Assemble and bake the tart:
  8. Preheat over to 375F
  9. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Try to get it about 1/8" thin, and don't worry too much if it cracks at the edges -- you'll have plenty of overhang and some leftover dough.
  10. Gently drape dough across your tart pan and tamp down the bottom edges and sides. Leave a section of dough hanging over the pan if you can (I forgot) to reinforce the edge, as the dough will shrink a bit.
  11. Use a fork to prick holes all over the bottom of your tart shell, this keeps it from puffing up when it bakes.
  12. Pour goat cheese mixture into the tart shell and bake until set, about 6 minutes. Carefully spread mushrooms across the top and bake until the edges of the shell are golden brown, about 35-45 minutes. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes and then move to a rack to finish cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/savory-mushroom-and-goat-cheese-tart/

Making the best of sour grapes: Ver Jus

verjus

Last weekend, I helped my favorite neighbor put nets up over her grapes. With four of us chattering as we worked our way down the rows, the morning flew by and soon we were celebrating our victory over the birds and raccoons with a glass of Haymaker’s Punch in the shade. As she put it, “many hands make light work.”

In the process, we clipped about 3 pounds of unripe grapes that were blocking the nets or too close to the ground. I immediately thought of ver jus, a sour grape juice that I learned about from a winemaker friend in Sonoma.

unripe_grapes

Ver jus (also vert jus, or “green juice”) has been around since the Middle Ages, and can also be made from unripe apples and berries, or from sorrel (which is taking over my herb garden, so I’ll definitely be trying that soon). It’s used in place of citrus or vinegar, and it’s “wine-friendly,” meaning it won’t overpower the palate as vinegar will if you’re drinking something fancy.

The last place I lived had a big fence full of concord grapes, and I once made a wildly unsuccessful batch of ver jus there. I’d just used up the last of the bottle I bought in Sonoma, and I had several clusters of grapes that were refusing to ripen, so I just ground them up, put the juice through a sieve, and bottled it — sediment and all.

It went moldy within a few weeks.

I’ve been pining for a second chance ever since, so I was overjoyed when the entire basket of sour grapes appeared on my porch last weekend. This time, I did my research first.

in_the_hopper

To make verjus, you’ll need at least a few pounds of unripe grapes, plus some citric acid to help prevent oxidation. You’ll also need a food mill — I used a Foley mill last time, which works great but requires some elbow grease. This time, I had the food mill attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer and it made quick work of the grapes. I just put them in the hopper, and watched as it churned out a big carafe of juice and a pile of dried skins and seeds. If you have a juicer, it’ll probably work great too.

first_of_the_juice

I highly recommend having a machine do the juicing if you can, especially because the faster you work the prettier your verjus will be (it turns brown as it oxidizes). For 3 pounds of unripe grapes, put about 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid in the collection vessel and swirl it periodically as the juice collects — this will also help to preserve the delicate green color of your ver jus.

And even if you’re not milling them by hand, don’t underestimate the time you’ll need to remove all the grapes from their stems before you juice them — it’s time-consuming to be sure. So pour a glass of wine, put on a movie, call a friend, whatever you need to do to make it fun instead of tedious.

Once you’ve pressed all the juice from your grapes, put it through a fine-mesh sieve and pour it into a sealed jar without much airspace.

pour_and_let_settle

There’s still some stuff that needs to be filtered out, but it’s too fine to get trapped in a sieve — so just let it settle completely, then carefully pour your juice off the top. The smaller the neck of your jar in relation to the sides, the easier this will be (i.e. don’t use a wide-mouth jar).

decant_juice_off_solids

When made this way, ver jus can be kept in the refrigerator for about 3 months. Some people also add grain alcohol, sugar, and sometimes sulfites to preserve it for long-term storage, but I’ve never had a big enough crop to warrant that. From 3 lbs I got about 30 ounces of ver jus, and my neighbor and I have both made a sizeable dent in our bottles already.

Use it on garden salads, fish, desserts, quick pickles, any dish where you want to add bright acidity without overpowering the flavor.

Ver Jus

Prep Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours

Yield: 30 fluid ounces

Ver Jus

This is a great way to use sour (unripe) grapes. Use anywhere you want acidity but not the intense flavor of vinegar or citrus -- this is delicate enough that it won't clash with wine.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds unripe grapes
  • 1/2 teaspoon citric acid
  • Special Equipment
  • Food mill or juicer
  • Fine-mesh sieve

Instructions

  1. Remove all stems from grapes, weeding out any grapes that are wrinkled or very small.
  2. Wash grapes thoroughly.
  3. Put 1/2 teaspoon citric acid in the bottom of your collection vessel.
  4. Begin juicing grapes, working as quickly as possible. Swirl collection vessel as you go to incorporate citric acid.
  5. Pour juice through a sieve and collect in a sealed jar without much airspace. Let stand until the sediment finishes settling at the bottom.
  6. Carefully pour the juice off the top without disturbing the sediment at the bottom. If some of it gets in the bottle, just let it settle and pour it off once more.
  7. Store bottles in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/making-the-best-of-sour-grapes-ver-jus/

The upstairs neighbors

kestrel_on_roof

The chickens live in a big 1950s-era coop with birdhouses mounted on the north and south sides. These houses have been home to many different birds in the few years we’ve lived here, and just recently I noticed some young, very noisy kestrels sticking their heads out.

young_kestrel_in_birdhouse

They’ve all left the nest now, and we have a family of 5 (I think) little falcons living around the coop. I love these birds: They’re smart, beautiful, and they chase away big hawks that might otherwise try to prey on the chickens.

And, most importantly, they’re mouse-killing machines. Living on 40 acres of pasture, it’s a constant battle to keep field mice out of the coop, the shed, and the cellar. But I haven’t seen any trace of a mouse for months, and now I know why.

kestrel_in_tree

It also explains the very agitated kestrel I found in the coop 3 mornings in a row last winter — the birdhouses are right beneath the open eaves of the chicken coop, so it must’ve gone in the wrong entrance when it went home for the night.

Kestrels do hunt small birds, but they’re way too tiny to take down any of the chickens we have now. Week-old chicks are a totally different story though, so I did what I could to raptor-proof the brooder room last spring (and I’ll definitely be double checking it before I put any more small chicks in there!)

juvenile_kestrel

But what’s a little extra hardware cloth when you can look at this face every morning?

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

half-eaten

It’s summer squash season, and the piles of fresh zucchini are starting to lose their novelty. So when I’m staring at a fridge full of squash or a zucchini the size of my leg, I usually resort to shredding and hiding them in baked goods. Or at the very least, shredding and hiding them in the freezer for a snowy day.

cocozelle_squash

shredded_zucchini

Zucchini does wonderful things for muffins. It makes for a soft, delicate crumb; and more importantly, it enables you to call them “muffins” when really they taste like cupcakes.dry_ingredients

I used black cocoa powder, which is basically Dutch-processed cocoa taken a step further so that it’s even darker and less bitter. It’s great to have on hand if you want baked goods with a mellow chocolate flavor and super dark color, i.e. Oreo-type cookies or ice cream sandwiches.

A note on cocoa powder: You can usually use natural cocoa powder in place of Dutch (NOT vice versa, at least for cakes and cookies). But be warned that the natural acidity will react with the baking soda in this recipe and your muffins will have a reddish tint, like Devil’s Food cake. And I can’t promise they won’t be a little taller or flatter than they should be, since I haven’t made that substitution in this particular recipe.

coconut_oil

Finally, I find that coconut oil makes these extra delicious and “healthier,” giving us all the more reason to eat cake for breakfast. You’re welcome.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 12 muffins

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

A delicious, kid-friendly way to use up extra zucchini.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup white flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder ("black" cocoa powder if you have it)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin coconut oil (I like Nutiva)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pound zucchini (1 cup grated)
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • Special equipment
  • Electric mixer
  • 12-cup muffin tin
  • Cupcake liners

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and coarsely grate zucchini. If you're using a big monster zucchini, scrape out the seeds first.
  2. Whisk together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Beat together sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla using an electric mixer until creamy, about 3 minutes.
  4. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips.
  5. Divide among 12 lined muffin cups and bake until tops spring back when lightly pressed, about 30 minutes.
  6. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove from pan to cool completely.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/chocolate-zucchini-muffins/

Brown-buttered Zucchini with Basil

patty_pan

It’s summer squash season, and you know what that means: It’s best to keep your car windows rolled up and your doors locked, or you might come back to find that someone’s “gifted” you a zucchini that could double as a baseball bat.

gold_rush_zucchini_blossom

Gold Rush zucchini — easier to spot than the green ones

I don’t resort to that anymore though, mainly because I mostly grow squash that aren’t green. They’re easier to catch while they’re small, so as long as I check the plants daily I don’t often find myself staring down a squash that’s bigger than my femur.

cocozelle squash

Cocozelle

The one exception this year is a variety called Cocozelle, and it’s proving to be a bit of a challenge because the scalloped green zucchini look a lot like stems. I love the way it looks though, and it’s definitely our top producer right now.

zephyr squash

Little two-toned Zephyr squash — they won’t seem so innocent in a few days.

So in honor of high squash season, I’ll be putting up some of my favorite recipes in the coming weeks. This is one of my very favorite simple dishes — zucchini sliced very thin and sautéed for just a few minutes in a simple brown butter sauce, then brightened with shards of fresh basil.

brown_butter_then_add_zucchini_and_onions

And if you have some fresh parmesan on hand, grate some on top to make it even better. Try doubling the butter and serving it over pasta for a simple vegetarian meal. If you have some fresh sweet corn? Throw it in. The brown butter and basil combination makes magic with almost any summer vegetable.

zucchini_with_brown_butter_and_basil

However: This is not one of those recipes for dealing with big, hulking squash that are watery and full of seeds (I’ll be posting one of those next time) — if you’re using zucchini, they should be market-sized (about eight inches long).

Brown-buttered Zucchini with Basil

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 7 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Serving Size: 1/2 zucchini

Brown-buttered Zucchini with Basil

A simple and delicious way to deal with too much zucchini (if there is such a thing).

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini (about 8 inches long) or summer squash
  • 1-2 tablespoons white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp salted butter
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh basil

Instructions

  1. Cut squash as thin as you can manage and set aside.
  2. Put butter in a large skillet and melt it over low-medium heat. Cook butter just until it starts to brown, you'll need to watch it like a hawk as it goes from brown to burned in seconds.
  3. Immediately throw onion into skillet and stir, cook until translucent.
  4. Add squash and cook a few minutes, until heated through but not mushy.
  5. Remove from heat and finely chop fresh basil leaves. Sprinkle across the top and serve hot.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/brown-buttered-zucchini-with-basil/

How to Know Before They Crow

The spring chickens turn 12 weeks old today! Seems like just yesterday we were watching them hatch.

They’re old enough now that we can tell who’s going to be staying with us long-term. Mostly.

“Chick sexing,” or gender identification in chickens, can be pretty tricky. Last time we ended up with 2/2 boys, and because I’m an optimist, for months tried to explain away obvious rooster traits as “early-blooming hens.” Nope. Not this time.

With 23 young chickens all the same age, it’s been a lot easier to tell the girls and boys apart with this hatch. But we won’t know for certain until they crow or lay an egg (probably at least another 6 weeks).

chicken_sexing_11_weeks_EE_SS

Most of our chicks are barnyard mutts and Easter Eggers (also technically mutts), which can be especially difficult to sex because they have a lot of variation in appearance. Luckily, it looks like we got males AND females from most of our known crosses, so I have a decent basis for comparison this time.

I’m no expert, as you may have gathered from the first few sentences, but I have done a fair amount of research (and taken a lot of pictures.) So without further ado, here’s all I know about sexing chickens:

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Haymaker’s Punch

in_the_field_with_straw

As we head into the Dog Days of summer, we’re just starting to hit that exciting, abundant time where there’s something to harvest everywhere I look. But the glaring sun and 90-plus temperatures already have me daydreaming of fall. I can’t wait to feel the chill in the air as I harvest tomatoes and winter squash, and it’ll be here before we know it.

But for now, here’s my new favorite way to stay cool and refreshed whether I’m sweating out in the garden, or at my desk.

ginger_root

Actually, it’s a very old formula that supposedly originated in the West Indies, before becoming popular during the 1600s in the American colonies (where it was known as “Switchel.”) It was also a popular beverage for tired farmers in the 1800s, hence the name “Haymaker’s Punch.”

And I’m pretty sure my ancestors would roll their eyes at my excitement over something that was as ubiquitous as gatorade in their day.

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