Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Yummy Trip to Florida for Spring Break

My amazingly generous friends, the Padulas, let me invite myself along on their vacay to sunny Florida for Spring Break last week. We flew out of little old Plattsburgh (first time I've done this--so convenient!) to Orlando where we hit most of the theme parks--Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Universal and Islands of Adventure, including Harry Potter! We split our time between the madness of Orlando and the serenity of Port Richey, where my friends recently bought a mobile home in a retirement village. We shopped, we ate, we swam, we hit the flea market and farm stands, we visited with Padula relatives, I read two novels, and we all tried just to chill out and hide from reality for a week. It was very enjoyable and over far too quickly, as is always the way.

When we got to Florida, we had just missed some big strawberry festival (boo hiss), but the fruit was still abundant and at its peak of deliciousness at all of the local farm stands. Janice and I are probably the only two people in the world who think canning is a fun thing to do while on vacation, but that's what we did! We made one batch which yielded eleven luscious half-pint jars (that we mailed home to ourselves so as not to overburden our suitcases and incur extra luggage fees).  We used a simple recipe that was basically straight from the pink box of No Sugar Needed Sure-Jell, and I swear that it was the best strawberry jam I've ever made: tender, ripe red in color, and the perfect blend of sweet and slightly tart. Edible souvenirs are the best!

Reduced-Sugar Strawberry Jam
(Source: adapted from House Beautiful)

6 pints freshly picked strawberries
4 cups sugar
1.75 ounce box No Sugar Needed Sure-Jell (pink box)
1 to 2 teaspoons butter
8 8-ounce glass canning jars (We got 11 plus!)
Regular jar lids
Regular jar rings

1. Place 8 8-ounce size jars in the rack of a canner two-thirds full of water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Fill a saucepan wth hot water and add the lids and rings. Keep warm until needed.
2. Avoid fruit with insect marks or over ripe spots. Carefully inspect fruit. Remove any stems, soft spots, insect marks. Rinse well in metal collander.
3. Move strawberries to a large bowl and use a potato masher to crush the berries. Do not puree, as you want some chunks of strawberry in the jam.
5. Measure exactly 4 cups of sugar into a separate bowl, set aside. Inaccurate measuring will make the jam fail to set.
6. Place the crushed berries into an eight quart stock pot and place on medium heat. In a small bowl, measure 1/4 cup of sugar from your premeasured sugar and mix with the 1.75 ounce box of No Sugar Needed Sure-Jell. Stir this sugar and Sure-Jell mixture into the strawberries. Mix with a wooden spoon, increase heat to high and allow mixture to reach a full rolling boil. If there is a lot of foam, on top of the berries add up to two teaspoons of butter. (Any amount of foam less than half the surface could suffice with 1 teaspoon of butter.)  When a full rolling boil is reached, add the remaining sugar and stir constantly until the mixture again reaches a full rolling boil. When a full rolling boil (constant bubbles) is reached allow the mixture to continue for 3-4 minutes. Remember you must stir vigorously the whole time. Remove the pot from heat. Skim off any foam at the top of the pot.
7. Immediately, ladle the jam into the hot jars. Work carefully as you pour the hot jam into the jars and carefully wipe the rims. Place warm canning lids onto the jars and secure the lids in place with a jar ring (fingertip tighten only).
8. Place the jars into canning rack, ensure that jars are not touching each other. Lower the canning rack into the boiling water. Be sure the jars are at least 1 1/2 inches submerged under water. Cover with the lid to the canner. Allow the jars to boil for ten minutes. Pull the whole canning rack out of the canner. Using jar tongs, place the jars onto a folded tea towel (soft surface). Listen for the ping sound as the cool air creates a vacuum and pulls the jar lid into place creating the seal.
9. After 24 hours, check the jars. You can usually see a slight indentation in jars that have sealed. You can also check by pushing down on the jar lid, movement indicates a seal did not form, refrigerate and jars that did not seal immediately.

As Janice put it, we "ate like we were going to the chair" while in Florida (tee hee), but walking five miles a day at each theme park helped keep our waistlines in check. My big splurge meal was at Emeril's at Universal where I had the chef's tasting menu, including some pan-seared scallops that nearly made me weep in ecstasy. The last night before we flew home, we finished our Grand Floridian Seafood Tour with a truly fabulous feast at the Bonefish Grill. The highlights included their signature appetizer, Bang Bang Shrimp, and this Chilean sea bass with a chimichurri sauce. SO GOOD! Most of their entrees come with one side dish that you choose and one daily special. The night we were there, the special garnish was this delicious chickpea dish with spicy chicken sausage and fresh spinach. It was savory, colorful, and quite healthful to boot! And it also seemed like the sort of thing that I could recreate when I got home as a quick-fix, midweek meal. So I did...

Chickpeas with Spicy Chicken Sausage and Spinach
(Source: adapted from Blue Kitchen)

1/4 cup olive oil
4 links spicy chicken sausage, casings removed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon sweet paprika plus 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
5 to 6 ounces baby spinach, chopped
juice and zest of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add oil. When it starts to shimmer, add chicken sausage and sauté until lightly brown, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and continue to cook until fragrant, about another minute. Add chickpeas and paprika. Stir to coat chickpeas with oil and paprika and cook until chickpeas are just heated through, stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes. Add spinach (in batches, if necessary), tossing to coat it with oil and wilt it. When the spinach is just wilted, remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest. Serve immediately or let cool to room temperature to serve.


Anonymous said...

How was the butterbeer?


Kris Changelo said...

Finally found your blog. Lots of great recipes. Hoping to find one for "butter beer" when I saw the picture.

Danny said...

I am so jealous right now! I badly want to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and taste their butterbeer too! Everything you mentioned made me feel hungry. Now I’m craving for a seafood dish and fresh strawberries too! It just looks so yummy! With how you described it, I feel that it’s worth gaining a little weight for.

Danny Riddell