Use a Steam Juicer to make Cherry Juice

It is that time of year when certain fruits are producing. You gotta act fast because you have a short window before they are rotting on the trees. Cherries fall into that category and I have been putting things up left and right. This year I was gifted a steam juicer and an I just say I am in LOVE. It is the gosh durn easiest way to get juice and is FAB-U-LOUS!

A steam juicer comes in three parts. The bottom holds the water, the middle holds the juice and the top is for fruit. The coolest part is that you do very little prep work to the fruit before placing in the steamer. For cherries this means no pitting! Wash the fruit and place in a pot of water. This allows you to check for any fruit that floats,which should be tossed as it may have a worm. Next place into the strainer. That is it, I promise. Fill that sucker up full and get ready to cook it down into a pulp.

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Place the strainer into the middle piece which collects the juice. The middle piece will have  a tube attached, this is how the juice is drained. Be sure that it is clamped shut or you will have juice leakage. The bottom piece sets directly onto the burner and is filled with hot water. Place the other two pieces on top and crank the heat up to high.

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As the fruit cooks, occasionally stir it but do not press down. Pressing will push it into the juice and you will need to strain it later. If cooking a look of fruit be sure to occasionally check the water level. New fruit can be added on top and just mixed in with the pulp. I made 3 gallons of cherry juice this day and this was all that was left of what I had put in the pot.

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If some pulp does slip through use a pear towel to wipe away before draining out the tube. The juice can be drained into a plastic jug for freezing, a pitcher for easier handling or straight into jars ready to waterbath.

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There are many things to do with your cherry juice. You can mix up cherry lemonade concentrate, cherry jelly or reduce it to make Gremadine. This batch I just bottled the juice straight so I can add it to pitchers of juice over the year for custom blended flavor. If you don’t can, it freezes well. A friend goes through a lot of distilled water as three family members uses c-pap machines so it get clean jugs from her I use for freezing juices. Those I freeze ready to drink.

How cool is that? So much easier than an electric juice and it produces clear juice without pulp. I hope you give it a try.

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2 Ingredient Cherry Extract

When baking people look at several factors before starting, what is the cost, do I have all the ingredients handy and how healthy is it. Extracts today fall into 3 categories. They can be completely composed of artificial ingredients, made with real ingredients but other things have been added or 100% pure extract. The last group is the most expensive but tastes the best. What if you could make your own at a fraction of the cost? The process is the same whatever flavor you want to make, but this time I am making cherry.

This tiny bottle costs almost $12!
This tiny bottle costs almost $12!

INGREDIENTS

Vodka 750ml

Cherries 1 cup

I purchase the cheapest vodka I can find, I don’t think it  makes a huge difference to buy the pricier brands. I will add that I don’t drink so if you know a particular brand is significantly better, use it by all means.

Allow cherries to set in water and toss any that float as they ,ya have worms.
Allow cherries to set in water and toss any that float as they ,ya have worms.

In this case I am only making up a single jar, but if I were to make some for Christmas gifts I would do several. Pit cherries and cut in half and place 1 cup into a quart sized Mason jar. Cover with vodka until full and place on the lid and ring. Get it good and tight because you don’t want I to leak.

This sized bottle makes a perfect quart of extract.
This sized bottle makes a perfect quart of extract.

Do not toss the vodka bottle! Once the extract is ready it will be strained and out back into it. This makes using it significantly easier than taking it out of a quart jar. If however you intend to give it as gifts, small bottles can be purchased online.

Place the mason jar into a brown paper bag and leave it in a cool and dark place. Ever few weeks give it a good shake. Allow the cherries to flavor the alcohol for at least 3 months. The longer you leave it, the stronger the flavor will be. Use as you would any cherry extract purchased from the store.

So many recipes so little time.
So many recipes so little time.

Stay tuned for other extracts you can make at home.

Strawberry Lemonade

There are certain foods that I always associate with Summer. While we had a row of strawberries in the garden, I loved going to u-pick farms and eating as I worked.

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As a kid the Country Time Lemonade commercials got my attention but the powdered mix just never held a candle to the real thing. A cold glass of lemonade on a hot day just hits the spot.

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You can understand how mixing the two is just natural for me. I canned the concentrate but it can also be frozen or used immediately.

INGREDIENTS

6 cups Strawberries

4 cups Lemon Juice

5 cups Sugar

Rinse and hull the berries and remove any bruised parts. Purée the berries to desired consistency. The more you purée it the more it blends with the juice, but some people may like to leave a few chunks.

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Place the berries and sugar in a pot with the lemon juice. While you can certainly use fresh squeezed, bottled works as well.

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Heat the mix until it reaches 190 degrees. If it boils you will have a foamy mess all over the stove. Ask me how I know?

The original recipe from Ball calls for 6 cups of sugar but we found that to be too sweet for our tastes. Another option is to use raspberries instead of strawberries.

CANNING

i used quarts but pints work as well. Fill to 1/4 inch headspace and process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

When freezing be sure to allow 2 Inches of headspace.

If making for immediate use, it can be made the day before.

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MIXING

To use the concentrate mix it 50/50 with cold water. If you want punch I suggest adjusting it to 25% water and 25% Sprite. You can also top with strawberry ice cream to make it really fun.

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Have a cool Summer!

Better Chicken Breasts

There are so many great recipes out there for chicken breasts but they often omit one important detail, the quality of the meat that you can buy. Go to any grocery store and most of the chicken has been plumped up with a salt and water solution. Each package will tell you how much has been added and some brands it is quite significant. This is an issue for two reasons. First, you end up paying $3+ a pound for salt water instead of meat. Second, the meat shrinks down so much that you end up with less than you need for dinner.

So what is the solution? Read labels and know which chicken has been plumped. Alternatively there is a company called Zaycon that doesn’t plump it’s chicken, has fabulous prices and is purchased in bulk. Each box has 40 pounds of fresh chicken that you get to divide and either freeze or can in the proportions that work for your family.

The heavy duty box has a sealed bag inside which hold smaller bags of chicken pieces.
The heavy duty box has a sealed bag inside which hold smaller bags of chicken pieces.

Zaycon sells more than just chicken, you can find ground beef, ham and even smoked salmon. Once you have signed up to receive emails you will be alerted to events in your specified area. There is never an obligation to buy. If the increments are too large for your family then find a friend to split the case with. To pick up your order you meet at the designated place and the Zaycon driver places your order in the car for you. All you need to do is go home and divide up into family sized portions. I typically get about 30 meals from each case.

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I love knowing my freezer is full of good quality chicken for the summer months of grilling. Next up is the ground beef sale and currently the price is $3.99 a pound which for me is a good price. Meanwhile I will be receiving my chicken order in just a couple of weeks. I cut up pieces for stir frying, leave some pieces whole and have a few bags marinating for quick meals. I have friends who prefer to an most of it to save on freezer space. Whichever way works for you, give it a try and let me know what you think!

3 Rules for Better Rose Bushes

Many years ago we moved into a house that had two rose bushes. I avoided them for a long time because I had always heard how difficult roses were to keep. Also that they were easily damaged. One day I found a magazine article that changed how I viewed roses. Their care was explained so simply that I couldn’t understand  how they had ever gotten such a bad rap. Now I have 6 bushes to care for and it really isn’t that big of a deal.

To start with, roses need a very specific nutrient called potassium. Now you can go to Wal Mart and pick up a bag that is in powdered form and it works fine. Or, you can use something you already have and were just going to throw in the garbage, banana peels. Yup, bananas and their peels are just full of potassium. All you need to do is cut up the peels and bury them next to the rose-bush. Not only will they provide the needed potassium, they will rot and create a compost for the soil.

Pruning is where most people worry the won’t do it correctly. There are a couple terms that make it simple to remember. Deadheading is only cutting away the spent blossoms. Doing this allows the plant to continue blooming the entire season. In other words, a few minutes of your time will mean more and bigger blossoms to enjoy. Pruning is selectively cutting a plant. This includes deadheading as well as the proper shaping of the  plant as well as cutting away dead wood.

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There are several things wrong with the plant pictured above and it will greatly benefit from a good pruning. When you are pruning for the first time I suggest taking it slow. Cut some away then come back and cut some more. This prevents you from cutting away too much. The more you prune the better you become at knowing exactly where to cut.

Begin by cutting away all dead wood. These are all the brown branches. This is normal and happens every year as some branches just don’t make it through the winter. Be sure to cut the entire branch off that is dead, don’t leave little stumps behind. Always make cuts at a 45 degree angle with the cut facing out. This may seem trivial but the direction of that cut will determine the direction the plant continues to grow. If you cut facing the center of the plant you will regret it later on. Once the dead wood is gone you can decide which branches are growing the wrong direction. One thing you don’t want are branches who cross each other forming an X. This will give your rose plant a better shape and makes future pruning significantly easier. One thing to remember is that the fewer buds a plant has the more energy is can put towards the ones it does have. This translates into bigger blooms. If you would rather have a lot of small buds then be a little less aggressive in your pruning.

There is a significant difference from where this plant started.
There is a significant difference from where this plant started.

As the season progresses it is time to deadhead spent blossoms. I believe this is best done on a daily basis. Doing it daily only takes a couple of minutes and ensures that you will always have new buds forming. This is ideally in a perfect world and life doesn’t always cooperate that way. So at a minimum it should be done once a week. Let it go too long and you will find time when you have absolutely nothing in bloom.

What to look for are leaflets with specific number of leaves on them, that is where the cuts will be made. Early in the season you cut right above a 3 leaf stem, by mid Summer it should have 4 leaves and by the end if your season look for 5 leaves. This picture is a great visual.

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It quickly becomes habit and you don’t even need to think about it anymore, you just do it.

The petals are long gone and it is time to prune.
The petals are long gone and it is time to prune.

Keep a bucket or garbage can next to you as you prune so all th cuttings can go directly into it.

Perfect cut
Perfect cut

Each cut requires only a few seconds to make. I keep a basket by my front door with my pruners, gloves, shears and something to kneel on. This allows me to do gardening quickly and without having to search the garage for items all the time.

I wish I had thicker gloves but my hands are so small I cannot find any that fit. But these are better than nothing!
I wish I had thicker gloves but my hands are so small I cannot find any that fit. But these are better than nothing!

Sometimes I find unwelcome visitors living on my roses. While I want lady bugs, aphids are not welcome. One easily made solution gets rid of most pests. In a spray bottle mix warm water with 2 Tablespoons of Dawn dish soap. Dawn is used on animals during oil spills to clean them up so I figure is it perfectly safe to use on my roses compared to other brands. Using the mist setting, spray your plants not only on the blooms, but the top and especially bottom of the leaves. Sometimes you may have to purchase something from the store but always try this first. Not only is it cheap but very successful.

There you have it, 3 rules for successfully growing roses. Provide them with potassium, do regular pruning and use dish soap spray for pests. I hope this makes growing roses a little less daunting and please share how your roses are doing this year.