Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dark Sweet Cherry Cheesecake

One of my all time, most-requested recipes has to be this cheesecake. Well, maybe not this exact cheesecake, but the one that I used as a base recipe. It's good. So, so good. I usually top this with regular old cherry pie filling, but this time I had a secret ingredient up my sleeve. You may remember how much I love  Lucky Leaf and their products. While I was out visiting them we got to taste test a ton of fillings that I hadn't tried yet.

This, my dear friends, is one of the fillings that I fell in love with. Fell. In. Love. I'm not really a cherry kind of gal, but this....

This is pure heaven.

I not only topped my cheesecake with these dark little gems, I also plopped some of their goodness *inside* as well. Swirling it around made the cheesecake turn the most delicious shade of purple. Simply gorgeous!

Creamy Baked Cheesecake
recipe slightly adapted from: The Great American Brand Name Cookbook

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
3 eggs

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter until well combined. Press into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. Set aside. Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Mix in the sweetened condensed milk and beat until completely incorporated. Add lemon juice; mix. Add in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Pour into the waiting crust and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the center is set. Cool; chill. Remove sides from pan before serving.

*To make the Dark Cherry version~ before pouring the cheesecake filling into the crust, scoop out 1 cup into a bowl, set aside. Pour remaining cheesecake into pan and set aside. Mix 1/2 cup cherry pie filling into the reserved cheesecake filling. Stir well. Drop by tablespoons onto the top of the plain batter and swirl with a butter knife. Bake as directed. When the cheesecake is completely cool, spread the remaining pie filling over the top of the cheesecake. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Plain, dressed up with fresh fruit or pie filling on the top, this is a winner. I call it my never fail cheesecake because it turns out every time. I give the recipe to my friends and it always turns out. Now I'm giving it to you because I'm positive that it will work for you too!

Recipe is linked up at:
Little House Living's Old Fashioned Recipe Exchange

Monday, July 30, 2012

Incredible Frosting

In retrospect, I would have put this cupcake on a pretty plate or a cutting board or something else instead of leaving it on my well used cookie sheet that I stashed them on after decorating. But, hey it's all me I guess. My cookie sheets are in poor shape because I use them so much and that MUST mean that I love my family and friends a ton to make so many cookies, right? Yup, that's right :)

The quest for a good, multi-purpose frosting has been long and tiresome. I detest the all shortening icings and   although I love me some butter, all butter frosting tends to be heavy and overly sweet. I have a chocolate frosting that I love, and 7 minute can't be beat for some cakes, but I always felt like my cupcakes were getting the short end of my decorating stick around here.

So, I do what I always do when I need something. I took myself over to my computer and I Googled "fluffy frosting". This was lucky #7 on my search. Coincidence? I think not. It's light, it's easy to make, it's easy to color, it's a dream to work with, it holds it's shape and you can flavor it however you want. BINGO! I whipped it up and was amazed at the texture. Light and airy, but still has some heft and body.

It takes the best of both icing worlds and mixes butter AND shortening to give it a mouth feel that is out of this world. Pure deliciousness.

Decorator Buttercream Icing
(I adapted it slightly, but will print it exactly as it was there)
recipe found here www.food.com

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening *
1 1/2 teaspoons clear vanilla (I used my very un-clear homemade vanilla)
dash of salt*
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2-3 Tablespoons milk*

Beat butter and shortening together. Sprinkle the salt into the vanilla and let it dissolve. Add vanilla and stir again. Add in the powdered sugar and beat again. Add in the milk 1 Tablespoon at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. Makes approximately 3 1/2 cups.

  • * A couple things~ Use the cheapest shortening you can find. This is not going to be good for you, but you don't eat cupcakes every day right? I read in the comments on this recipe that using name brand shortening (Crisco) makes your final icing taste funny. The general consensus is because they changed their formula and took out the trans fats. Call the police on me, but I'm feeding it to my kids with the trans fat full Walmart brand shortening. It's probably the only time I'll encourage you to use something I would normally avoid, so take it however you will. 
  • Use the salt! dissolve it in the vanilla and then add it to your icing. It cuts the sweetness and adds a depth of flavor. It really is worth it. 
  •  I used heavy cream this time instead of milk. I did it mostly because I hadn't skimmed my milk from yesterday yet and I didn't want to take the time to do it, but I think it made the icing even more fluffy and light. I'll probably be using cream from now on, but if I didn't have it on hand I'd just use milk. Thought I would share my discovery though :)

There you have it. A light, fluffy, incredibly delicious icing that cannot be beat. Try it and fall in love yourself!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Garden {Right Now}

Come with me and take a walk through my garden! I'm excited to show you what I have growing right now. This time of year is my favorite, the time when I can start planning what I'm going to do with all of my garden goodies, how to preserve them, how to serve them to my family fresh, how to best keep that summertime freshness all year long. 

I think it's safe to say that I really enjoy my garden bounty!

I love this time of year because........

1) The jalapenos are jalapeno-ing.

2) The tomatoes are tomato-ing.

3) The banana peppers are banana-ing.

4) The squash is flowering. (Ha! Thought I was going to say squash-ing didn't you??)

5) The watermelons are in bloom.

6) The beans will soon be in bloom.

7) the raspberries are setting another round of fruit. 

8) The dill is dill-ing :)

9) The Brussels sprouts seem to be sprouting!

About this time every year I start to get anxious. Like really, really anxious. A lot of what we eat during the long winter months comes from things I can, dry and preserve during the summer. What if my crop fails? What if I don't have the time to get things done? What if??? WHAT IF WE STARVE TO DEATH AND IT'S ALL MY FAULT???!!!

Then I come back down to Earth and calm myself. 

And I go to sleep at night happy because we will have enough goodies from our garden to last us all winter long. Sigh, it's a good feeling. I hope you're feeling it too! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

These cookies are chocolate-y, chewy, slightly salty and crisp all at once. They almost scream for a tall glass of ice-cold milk and someone to share them with. Snack time, lunch boxes or special treat, these cookies fit the bill and then some!

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
very slightly adapted from the recipe on the back of the Reese's Peanut Butter Baking Chip Bag

2 1/4 cups butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dark cocoa (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
2 cups flour
1 (2 cup) package peanut butter baking chips

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. Stir in everything but the baking chips and mix until combined. Fold in baking chips. Drop a rounded teaspoon of dough onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. DON'T overbake!!! They will puff slightly, but fall when removed from the oven. Makes about 4 1/2 dozen.

I made these last night and my family is already asking me if I can make some more. They are the perfect combination of fudge-like cookie and soft, smooth peanut butter. Don't let their thin appearance fool you, these cookies are soft and chewy with just the crunchiest bit around the edges.

I don't often stray from my standard cookie recipes, but I was so glad that I tried this recipe out. It's a winner in my book :)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Canning Fermented Pickles

It's safe to say that for now, things are looking up. Yay! I'm very thankful for that let me tell ya ;) I'm happy to be back here sharing things with all of you.

If you remember, I started fermenting some pickles a while back and they are done. Here is what they look like now (on the left) compared to what they looked like when I started (on the right).

Over done to be exact. I let them go just a little too long and now some of the larger ones are just a little but squishy. That's ok though! This was my first time fermenting pickles and I really feel like I know what I'm getting into and have a better feel for it. There is no loss without some small gain as Ma Ingalls would say. I'm pretty happy with the amount that I got out of this batch, even if it was just a little on the skimpy side (and I know now that it was my operators error that made my yield be a lot lower). I canned up 6 quarts of these little beauties and they are SO DELICIOUS!

For the set up to the fermentation process, see this post. What I did today would be considered part 2 I suppose.

Take the pickles out of the bucket, and strain the pickling liquid into a large pot. I strained mine through 4 layers of cheesecloth in a strainer.

Get all of your canning equipment ready to go: Canner filled with water at a gentle boil on the stove, jars placed in the canner to stay hot, rings and lids in a small pan of hot water, jar lifter, funnel and measuring cup. Place a folded towel on a clean counter top so you have somewhere to safely set your processed jars of pickles.

Bring your pot of pickling brine to a boil. When it has come to a full, rolling boil, place a head of dill and a garlic clove (optional) into the bottom of the jar. Fill with pickles to 1/4 inch headspace.

Ladle in the hot brine and wipe down the rim of the jar.

Place on your lid and screw down the ring. Using the jar lifter, place your jar into the boiling water canner to wait until all the jars are filled.

Make sure the water is completely covering the jars (by and inch or more) and bring the water to a boil (if it's not already). Process quarts for the appropriate time at your elevation. I'm at about 1400 feet, so I processed these for 20 minutes.

After they have processed, lift them out and place them on the towel. Let them sit undistribed for 12-24 hours or until they are completely cool. Check to make sure they have all sealed and remove the rings. WIpe down the jars and store in a cool, dry place.

These pickles will be ready to eat right away, as soon as they are cooled off but I think that giving them a week or so to absorb a little more of the dill flavor would be a great idea.

All in all, I'm really pleased with this and I will be doing it again. I need to refine and perfect a couple of my pickling practices so I can get a better end product, but the learning experience was so much fun and so informative. I look forward to fermenting more pickles in the near future!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

BBQ Baby Back Ribs {The Easy Way}

As much as my family loves them, I never made ribs very often because you have to cook them for so long over low heat on the grill. That's not really such a big deal, I guess, but when it's really hot outside I don't like standing out there in the blistering heat. It's just no fun for anyone!

Then I got smart and thought about it. Why not use one of my favorite appliances that cooks low and slow and just finish off the ribs on the grill the last 10 minutes or so to get the BBQ sauce all crusty and good? We experimented with it and tried many different cuts of slow-cooking meat and we found that they all work perfectly well using this method.

Pork ribs, pork roast, beef roast, tri-tip, even some cuts of bone in chicken can be partially cooked in the crockpot and finished off on the grill. It saves you propane or charcoal, it keeps you inside where it's cool and not slaving in front of the hot grill and it's so easy!

I'll show you how I made these fall-off-the-bone tender ribs and I hope you try them for yourself. Not only are they really tasty, they are super simple to prepare.

First, peel off the membrane on the back of the ribs. The easiest way I have found is to grab it with a paper towel and just pull. Try to get as much as you can off, the more you can remove the better the ribs will be. The you need to lay them out and season them. I sprinkled these with course kosher salt, cracked balck pepper, garlic and onion powders.

I popped them into the crockpot and added 1/2 a can of beer (totally optional, apple juice or even water would be fine too) for the liquid.

Put the lid on and cook on high for 4 hours. Or, cook on low for 6-8 hours. Either one works.

When they had cooked almost done, I took them out and grilled them on a pre-heated grill.

All you're doing here is heating up the BBQ sauce and getting that crunchy bark on the outside. I cooked these for maybe 8-10 minutes on each side.

As you can see, the meat was tender, fall off the bone good.

There they are, all ready to go! Golden and delicious, tender and juicy, hot and spicy but without so much effort and time on my part.

Utilizing your crockpot in this way really frees you up to do other things. You don't have to be tending the grill and you can even leave the house if you want, all while dinner is cooking.

The best part? No one will ever know that you made them in the crockpot.

A couple helpful hints:

  1. Everyone's crockpots cook differently. You may need to adjust the time up or down depending on your appliance. Check your ribs to determine when you need to take them out, don't just go by the times I have given here. You may need more or less, just go with it and you will know the next time how long you need them to go.
  2. A dry run on the ribs the night before is a great addition.
  3. Any liquid can be used instead of beer. Just use about 1/2 cup or so.
  4. Have fun!
I'm linking this recipe up to Little House Living's Old Fashioned Recipe Exchange this week. There are always GREAT recipes shared there, go take a look for yourself!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Snapshot

Today I want to share with you a recipe for summertime. It's very simple, requires little to no preparation and it uses things you probably already have at your house. It pleases kids and parents, young and old. Are you ready? Simply follow these easy steps:

1) take some of these:

Add one of these (or any other water device, i.e. sprinkler or slip and slide):

Liberally mix in a  LARGE box of these (frozen of course)

And you'll have the time of your life!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Brined Dill Pickles

Have you entered to win the Tattler Reusable Canning lids yet? You should! Just click on this link to be taken to the giveaway post. Thank you and good luck!

Some of last summer's dill pickles

When my uncle asked me if I wanted some pickling cucumbers, I wanted to shout "YES!" from the rooftops. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is better than a crispy, crunchy dill pickle. Unless it's a teeny-tiny sweet pickle eaten with cheese can crackers, but that's another post.

Anyway, on to the pickles. I ordinarily just pickle my cukes with dill, garlic and a grape leaf. This year, however, since I had the chance to grab some early on I wanted to try a brined pickle. I used my handy dandy Ball Blue Book and found a recipe to try.

Brined Dill Pickles

10 lbs cucumbers
3/4 cups pickling spice
2 to 3 bunches fresh or dried dill (I used 4 Tablespoons of dill seed)
1 1/2 cups canning salt
2 cups vinegar
2 gallons water
6 cloves peeled garlic (optional)

Now here's how you do it~

Take a 5 gallon food safe bucket and pour boiling water into it. Very carefully swish the water around, getting all the way to the top and making sure to get all the sides. Dump water out and set the bucket aside where it will stay immaculately clean. Wash and drain cucumbers. Please make sure to meticulously clean them, even one speck of dirt or grime can spoil your whole batch of pickles.

Add 1/2 of the pickling spices and dill in a layer on the bottom of the bucket.

Then you add the cucumbers up to about 4 inches from the top. In a large (really big) bowl or pot (that's what I do) mix together the water, salt and vinegar. Fill a gallon size zip top freezer bag with about 2-3 cups of the brine and set aside. Pour over the cucumbers.

Some of the pickling spice will float up from the bottom, that's totally ok. Sprinkle on the rest of the pickling spice, dill and chuck in the garlic if you're going to use that (I didn't).

Now, you have to weigh the cukes down under all that brine-y goodness. That's where that freezer bag of brine comes in handy.

I put the bag on top of the pickles and it pushes them under the brine. Why do I fill the bag with brine though? Because if some does happen to leak out, it won't dilute your pickling solution. If it looks like the pickles aren't completely submerged in a couple days, I might put a plate on top of the pickles (after I had sanitized it) and put the bag of solution on top.

And that's it. You set them in a cool place for 2-3 weeks, checking them often and skimming off any mold or foam that bubbles up as necessary.

I'll update you as to how to can them when I get to that point, but we have a little bit of a wait before that will happen ;)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Canning Cherries {And A Giveaway}

Photo credit: Tattler Reusable Canning Lid Website.

Today I am canning up some cherries off of our tree. It's LOADED with fruit this year and I want to get some of it before the birds do. I'm using my most favorite canning lids in the whole, wide, wonderful world, Tattler Reusable Canning Lids. These are a 2 piece, easy to use canning lid that can be used up to 20 times before the rubber seals need replaced. So. Awesome.

Canning is one of those things that seems like a tremendous amount of work, and in fact it can be, but it's one of the most amazingly fulfilling "chores" you can do. Working your butt off in the kitchen in the heat of summer so you can relax and rest assured of a pantry full of wholesome, home canned produce andd fruits in the winter is a tremendously satisfying job. Kind of like childbirth, once it's over and you remove yourself from the actually work, you kind of forget how hard it really can be. But, also like childbirth, you always remember how much it was worth it.

Here is how I do my cherries. This is not how everyone does their cherries, but I find it most convenient to do ours this way. It leaves me with a vast number of ways to use them and it takes the least amount of time for me to prep and can them up. Cause when it comes right down to it, I'm busy and anything that can save me a little bit of time is my friend :)

Ok, take your beautiful cherries, pit them (I got this Norpro Cherry Pitter as a gift last year and it is so worth it. Makes all the difference!) and then I let them soak overnight in very cold water in the fridge overnight.

Why do I soak them? A couple of reasons. 1) It keeps the flesh of the cherries firm and helps to keep them from crushing each other with their weight. The water makes them sort of float-y and they just hang out. 2) Fresh fruit right off the tree is coming in straight from the outdoors. What's in the outdoors? Bugs! I know it's kind of gross to think about, but if you don't soak your fruit and let all of the foreign debris (and yes, that includes bugs) float out of your fruit, you would be canning them up in your jars. I kept myself from showing you what came out of my cherries, but let me tell you I wouldn't want to knowingly add it to my finished jars of fruit. Food for thought :)

The next morning you are going to gather your supplies BEFORE you get started. You will need:

  • Canning jars
  • Water Bath Canning Pot (or Other llarge, heavy bottomed pot with a lid)
  • Lids of your choice
  • Metal rings
  • fruit
  • small pan for keeping your lids and rubber seals hot
  • pan for making your syrup
  • jar lifter
  • funnel
  • measuring cup
  • non metal item to use for getting all the bubbles out of your jars
Now that your supplies are gathered, you have a little work to do really quick.

  1. Wash your jars, lids and rubber seals in very hot, soapy water. 
  2. In a small saucepan, bring some water to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add your lids and rubber seals. this sterilizes the lids and keeps the rings soft and pliable, resulting in a good seal. 
  3. Fill your canning pot 2/3 full of water and bring to a boil. 
  4. Fill your sink with boiling water and add your jars to it. Refill the canning pot and let it come back to a boil.
While you are waiting for your canning pot to come back up to a boil, strain the water off of your cherries. I strain mine through a cheesecloth lined colander to catch any "stuff" that might make it through the colander slats. 

If you ahev enough cherry juice/water to make your preferred syrup (I canned these in medium syrup) you can just add the sugar right to it and heat it up. I bring it to a boil and then lower it to a simmer.

Dump the water out of a canning jar, pop the funnel onto it and put about 1/2 cup of the hot syrup inside.

Fill the jar with cherries leaving 1/2 inch headspace.

See the big lip at the bottom of the neck of the jar? That's 1/2 inch headspace. Gently shake the jar to fill in any spaces and add cherries if you need to. Don't smash them in there or crush them, you want the jar full but not packed tight. Pop the funnel back on the top and fill with hot syrup to the level of the cherries. Using a non metal object (I use the handle of a plastic spatula), put it in the jar and wiggle it around the sides to get rid of any bubbles. WOrk your way around the jar, you'll see the bubbles rise to the top. Wipe the rim of the jar carefully, making sure that anything that is on there is fully removed before you add the lid and ring.

Take your lid.

Carefully place your rubber seal around the outside.

Center it on your jar.

I didn't take a picture of it, but next you'll add the screw on ring and tighten until it's just finger tight. Don't really force it to be as absolutely tight as is can possibly get, that won't let the air escape and create a good seal. Just close it as good as you would close a bottle of soda. Then with these Tattler Lids, you turn the rings back 1/4 inch.

Using your jar lifter, put your jars into the boiling water. Cover and set your timer for 25 minutes, the time that the Ball Blue Book reccomends for cold packed pitted cherries is quart jars. If you are canning ina different size jar, are at an altitude of more than 1000 feet, or are using a different packing method (hot pack or with pits still in tact), please check the book and follow the proper instructions.

After the 25 minutes is up, take out your jars and set them on a towel on your counter top. Immediately screw down the jar rings as tight as you can get them without going overboard, and please use a towel to protect your hands as the jar and the contents will be REALLY HOT. Let the jars sit for 24 hours undisturbed. Check to make sure that they have all sealed after 24 hours (the lids will be sucked down in the middles and the lid won't want to lift off easily) and remove the rings. Store ina cool, dry place until you are ready to make something fabulous with the cherries that YOU preserved.

And now for the really good part, Tattler Reusable Lids would like to give one of you 1 dozen widemouth and 1 dozen regular mouth Tattler Reusable Lids! That is an amazing gift for them to give, so generous.

CONGRATS TO CHERYL, OUR WINNER!!!! Winner has been notified and has 48 hours to reply.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can "like" Cooke's Frontier on Facebook here: Cooke's Frontier
You can "like" Tattler Reusable Canning Lids here: Tattler Reusable Canning Lids
Follow Cooke's Frontier on twitter: CookesFrontier
Follow Tattle Reusable Canning lids on twitter: tattlercanning
and you can also check out the tattler Website: Here

Good luck and Happy Canning!

*fine print: I was not paid or given product in return for this review/giveaway. I love Tattler lids and I want you to love them too. All opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.*