Sweet Letha and Strawberry Freezer Jam Recipe

The strawberry season is quite a bit longer this year than usual here in Savannah.  Due to warm weather, we have been getting sweet, ripe strawberries since early February.  And living only a half mile away from my neighbor's berry farm, it's great to be able to dash over to pick fresh berries whenever I need some.  

On this cool mid-morning,  I shouldered my camera and drove to the farm.   I was happy to see my poco Letha, and her mother uncovering the white floating row covers.  Letha is a daughter of migrant workers at the farm.   Her big dancing brown eyes greeted me, along with her cheerful "Hola, Miss Kay!"   When she saw me taking photos of the berries, curiosity got the best of her, and instead of helping her mama, she tagged along with me.  
I handed her a few pint-size baskets and asked if she could help me pick some not-so-big, red, shiny, pretty, stemmed berries.  Despite my numerous adjectives, she flashed me a smile and hopped over the beds like a graceful fawn and went to work.  

In no time, she had the baskets filled.  Her nimble, expert fingers did exactly what I asked for. She was tickled to be my helper/light bouncer/hand model and I was so happy to have her with me.  Her cheerfulness and sweet countenance made my day even brighter.  Gracias, Letha!  

These photos will be featured this coming Wednesday in Miss Sophie's column.  

Freezer Strawberry Jam

4 cups crushed fresh strawberries
3 cups sugar
1 (1.75 oz) pkg low sugar sure gel
3/4 c water

Rinse clean plastic containers and lids with boiling water. Dry thoroughly.

Crush strawberries thoroughly, one layer at a time. Measure exactly 4 cups crushed strawberries into a large bowl.

Mix sugar and pectin in large saucepan. Stir in water. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add strawberries; stir 1 minute or until well blended. FILL all containers immediately to within 1/2 inch of tops. Wipe off top edges of containers; immediately cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours. Jam is now ready to use. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or freeze extra containers up to 1 year. Thaw in refrigerator before using.


Avocado Love

Last summer, my husband turned his routine annual medical trip to New York into a fun mini-vacation with our teen daughter. And ever since their trip,  this New York City-loving duo have been harping about the fresh guacamole they had at a Mexican restaurant.  

My engineer husband, who has been married to this ex-caterer/church cook for two decades, rarely talks about food.  Oh, he loves to eat good food, but he rarely has a full conversation about it.
So when he mentioned several times that he wanted to make guacamole like they did in that New York restaurant, (translation = Kay, please make it the way they did in that New York restaurant,) I listened.  

And to my delight, I spotted this handsome stone mortar and pestle at my favorite local Korean food store.  It was so heavy that the lady had to triple bag it. Now it's the most used piece of equipment on my kitchen counter.  

 And our avocado repertoire has expanded from simple guac to Edamame-Guacamole and Avocado fries.  Pretty fun and fancy, right? 

I know, it seems wrong to FRY a perfectly good avocado, but it really works, and they are just delicious: crunchy Panko exterior with the goodness of a soft, nutty inside texture.   
My kids begged for more.  

These avocado photos were also featured in
 Miss Sophie's column on Savannah Morning News today.

Panko Avocado Fries with Hoisin Dipping Sauce

2 firm but ripe avocados
1/2 cup of all purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup+ panko bread crumbs
3/4 teaspoon sea salt divided (in flour, egg wash, panko bread crumbs)

4 cup of canola or vegetable oil for frying 

In a small deep fryer or in a cast-iron pan, heat oil to 350 degrees F. 

In three separate shallow bowls or pans, put flour, beaten eggs, and panko bread crumbs in that order.  Add 1/4 teaspoon sea salt in each.  

Halve the avocado, peel, and slice avocado into 10-12 wedges total per each avocado.   

Dredge wedges in flour, egg wash, and then finally gently roll them in panko.  

Deep fry in batches until golden brown.  Drain on a wire rack or on paper towels.  Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce.  

Hoisin Dipping Sauce 

1/4 cup soy sauce 
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil 
1 clove garlic, minced 
1 teaspoon green onions, chopped 
1 tablespoon water 
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce 
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger 
1/2 teaspoon white sugar 

Combine all the ingredients and whisk until well blended.  Add more hoisin sauce if you want to thicken the sauce. Cover and refrigerate until needed.  

Gently warm in a sauce pan before serving. 


Makes about a cup

1  avocado firm, but ripe, peeled, seeded and diced in chunks
1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
1 small clove garlic, finely grated
2 tablespoon cilantro leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon jalapeño, chopped
2 tablespoons grated onion
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 lime, juiced

If you own a stone mortar and pestle, this is a great recipe to put it to use.  If not, use a food processor with a blade attachment.  First put into processor (or mortar) edamame, garlic, salt, cilantro, jalapeño, and pepper, and process until finely chopped.  Add lime juice and whirl a few more times to incorporate.  Add diced avocado and pulse 4-5 times until well blended.  

Serve this healthy guacamole in a pretty bowl with warmed tortilla chips.  You will need to double the recipe. It's never enough.  


Airsoft War and Simple Bar Cookie Recipe

"I looked toward Birnam, and anon methought
The wood began to move."
Macbeth Act 5, Scene 5

My little homestead is located in the midst of tall Georgia pines, a perfect rustic place for a large group of boys to gather and have an airsoft war.  

The weather couldn't have been better last Saturday: cool mid-60's with zero humidity.  It was exactly right for these southern boys in their full camo gear.   The whole day was spent running through the woods in teams or shooting at targets of chip bags, drink cups, and empty pizza boxes during their breaks.  

A few hours after their pizza lunch was devoured, I made these simple bar cookies.  Once the word circulated that the cookies were out of the oven, the forest began to move, and camouflaged soldiers abandoned their posts and forts for these warm chocolatey cookie bars.  

I couldn't be happier seeing my son and his friends romp in the woods, drinking in the fresh air.  Sure beats playing video games indoors, right?  And hearing them saying thank you's in between bites of these cookies really warmed my heart.  It was a great day.  

This recipe times two fed 20 hungry boys.  

Simple Bar Cookies

Makes one jelly-roll pan 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" x 1"
or Half Sheet Pan

1 C (8 oz) Unsalted Butter, softened
1 C (7 oz) Granulated Sugar
1 C (7oz) Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla

2 C (7.5 oz) Oatmeal, ground in food processor
1 ¾ C (8.5 oz) Flour, all-purpose, unbleached
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
½ tsp Salt

2 C total of your favorite baking chips (I used white chocolate, peanut butter chips, milk chocolate, and Heath bar chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Combine together in a small bowl the ground oatmeal, flour, baking powder, soda, and salt.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together with a hand mixer the softened butter and both granulated and brown sugars until smooth.  Add eggs and vanilla until well blended.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in dry ingredients until just combined.  It's ok if small patches of flour remain.  Do not overbeat.

Spray or grease the jelly roll pan with vegetable oil.  Spread evenly the cookie dough.  You can use a sheet of plastic food wrap over the dough to spread the dough.  Peel off the plastic wrap.  Sprinkle generously with baking chips of your choice.  Press down.

Bake until golden brown, about 22-24 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes and cut to desired size.


Simple Fried Rice

Happy Wednesday!
These fried rice photos were featured in Miss Sophie's food column in the Savannah Morning News today.  My children absolutely love fried rice (minus the peas and carrots) for breakfast, so whenever I start frying up the bacon, they all do a happy little jig anticipating their favorite dish.  

And of course, my church family, too, loves this dish.
  Click here for a previous shrimp fried rice post and step-by-step photos.    

If you have some left over steamed rice, try this super-simple recipe to make another meal.  

Simple Fried Rice
Serves 8

2 eggs, soft scrambled
4 Tablespoons of vegetable oil or bacon fat
5 cups cooked rice, chilled, clumps broken
3 Tablespoons soy sauce mixed with 3 Tablespoons of chicken broth
4 pieces of cooked bacon, finely chopped, more if cooking for breakfast fried rice
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup carrots, diced small
1/2 cup green onions, finely diced
1/2 pound of cooked small shrimp
Optional Veggies: 1/2 cups of each cooked bok choy, Nappa cabbage, sliced mushrooms
Optional Meats: Diced ham, chicken, or pork

Cook eggs and set aside.

Heat wok or large non-stick frying pan to smoking point. Add 2 tablespoons of oil or bacon fat if using, roll it around cooking surface to coat. Add rice and stir-fry until rice is hot throughout and free from clumps. Add soy sauce and broth mixture, combining it well. Add bacon and remove rice from wok or pan and set aside in a large bowl.

Add remaining oil/bacon fat to wok/pan. When oil is hot, add carrots first, then frozen peas, then shrimp until ingredients are hot. Add rice back into wok/pan and mix well. Fold in scrambled eggs and diced green onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


March for Life Dinner Boxes

About 50 of my church family members take a trip to Washington DC each January.  No, it's not a pleasure trip, though everyone has a great time on the bus.  They go to join and to participate in the March For Life with other 400,000+ marchers .  
This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.  

As my staff and I were packing 50 dinner boxes for the marchers to eat on their way to DC, words from an article I had read written by John Piper kept popping in my head, and I questioned: 

Does being in the womb disqualify person-hood?
Does undeveloped reasoning disqualify person-hood?
Why is it that some fetuses undergo surgeries to be saved and others do not?
How is it that our law protects bald eagle eggs but not human embryos?

It's a strange world, really.  

 Chocolate Peanut Butter Mound Bars tucked in dinner boxes were a huge hit among the marchers on this trip.

It's my honor and privilege to make dinner boxes for the IPC Marchers each year.
Here is the standard March For Life Dinner Box Menu:

Fried Chicken Sandwich with Basil Aioli
Garden Salad with Savannah Mustard Dressing
Fresh Fruit Salad
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
Chocolate Peanut Butter Mound Bar
Kosher Dill Pickle Spear
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies for Snack


My Young Hunter & Venison Recipes

Hey everyone!  Did you all have a good holiday break?  It's been a fabulous break for me from church cooking, homeschooling, and everyday routine work.  My family and I did lots of movie watching, de-cluttering, and cleaning the house.  Now that I'm feeling rested and somewhat organized, I am super excited to start blogging
Let me introduce you to my young friend, Breck.  

  Breck comes from a long generation of godly Christians.  His great-granddaddy was the pastor of my church many years ago, and I have known Breck, now a senior at Savannah Christian Prep School, since he was a toothless kindergartener.  An avid hunter since he was six years old, he is my go-to person for the freshest and best tasting venison.  
Thanks to Breck, my freezer is stocked with ground venison and tenderloin until the next deer season, and I'm happy to share a few of my favorite venison recipes with you.  

Venison sliders are my family's favorite meal.  We assemble our own miniature sliders with our favorite toppings.  And I recently tried the bacon wrapped venison tenderloin, (photo at top) simply the best and most flavorful way to eat this lean protein.  

These photos were featured on Miss Sophie's food article on Savannah Morning News.
Read more about Breck, and about how deer is handled after a hunt for the best taste.  

Bacon Wrapped Venison Tenderloin

Adapted by Food.com

*Also works for elk, or moose loin

1 to 1 1/2 lbs venison tenderloin
1/2 lb bacon ( Plain, thin-sliced bacon is best)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cups soy sauce, regular
1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
3 cloves of grated garlic
White sugar for sprinkling

 1. In a gallon size ziplock baggie, put brown sugar, soy sauce, Worcestershire, grated garlic, and mix well.  Add tenderloin and seal it well, pressing out any air in the bag. Refrigerate and marinate at least 4 hours or overnight.

 2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Take the loin out of the marinade, reserving the marinade. Lightly pat dry with a paper towel, so the marinade doesn't drip so much. Fold the thin edge of the tenderloin under, shaping it into a 6-inch log.

 3. Drape thin bacon slices across the loin. Flip the loin over carefully and secure the bacon onto the tenderloin with 3-4 toothpicks. Turn the bacon wrapped loin over, ensuring toothpicks are under the meat. Put loin on a jelly roll pan lined with foil (for easy clean up later). Sprinkle the top of bacon with white sugar.

 4. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Brush bacon top with remaining marinade. Reduce temperature down to 350 degrees F and bake additional 8-10 minutes for medium/medium rare or internal temperature of 135-145 degrees F. Let meat rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing.

Venison Sliders

Makes 20-24 sliders 

 Panade Mixture:
1 slice of white bread, torn to pieces
1/4 cup buttermilk, half and half, or heavy cream
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 TB grated onion
2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 pound ground venison
Olive oil for frying
2 Dozen Silver dollar rolls purchased or homemade (I used Margaret's Challah recipe, halve the recipe and the sugar)

Tomato Slices
Sliced cheese squares to fit the burgers
Caramelized onion
Sautéed Mushroom slices or any toppings of your choice

1. In a large bowl, make panade by combining pieces of white bread and dairy together, making into a paste. Add garlic, onion, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, pepper and salt. Using your hand, combine ground venison and panade mixture well.

 2. Form mini-patties about 1 1/2 inch in diameter. Heat largest frying pan to medium-high until smoking point. Put a tablespoon of olive oil, swirl the oil to coat, and put venison slider patties to sear, forming a dark crust on both sides. Put seared sliders on a sheet pan. Finish searing the remaining sliders. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the patties to cook later or freeze.

 3. If serving right away, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 7-8 minutes until cooked through.

 4. Assemble sliders on buns and serve with your favorite garnish.


Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas my dear friends!  December just flew by me with extra cooking for special events at church, my children's music concerts to attend, gatherings with friends, and the next thing I realized is that I haven't kept you updated since the first of the month!  Have you had as busy a month as I have?

Despite the commercialism of the Christmas season, December is truly my favorite part of the year.  IPC has the most beautiful Christmas program called Lessons and Carols where our 100 member choir sings beautiful hymns and carols, and the story of Jesus' birth is told.  Click here to hear our wonderful IPC Choir. 

And it was a special treat to attend my son's high school Christmas program.  

This is quite an impressive performance by a group of high school students.  And oh! My son is the handsome, black haired cellist in the second chair.  

This year marks my 5th year as the Church Cook at IPC.  My staff and I have cooked enough food to feed close to 20,000 people this year.  And our goal has been to keep our food healthy, good, and consistent.  And thanks to my super amazing staff, we have done that this year.  I feel so privileged to exercise this God-given gift of cooking for His people at church.  

Merry Christmas to you and your family!
Thank you so much for reading this humble blog.   

With Love, 
Kay, The Church Cook


Holiday Wassail, Jane Austen Style

Last month, my family and I had an amazing experience joining the Regency Assembly of North Carolina, dancing at the Savannah Ships of the Sea Museum, the historic home site of William and Julia Scarbrough. 
For several months leading up to that night, we practiced our list of regency dances, and fretted over what clothes needed to be made, bought, or borrowed.  But in the end, it was Ruth Verbunt, the organizer and founder ofRegency Assembly of North Carolina, who pulled us all together and made us all look and feel beautiful!  
Here is my girl all decked out in her handmade Regency-period dress with beautiful calf-skin leather gloves,  a generous gift from Ruth.  

(Group photo by Marla Gold)
Our dancing group looks quite dashing, don't we?  Except that all night, while dancing, I kept poking everyone's eyes or tickling Frans' (the tallest gentleman's) nose with my crazy-tall plumes.  

After our segment of demonstration dancing, the public joined in and we all danced "Physical Snob", a super-fun dance with lots of skipping!  

Overall, it was a night to remember!  Regency dancing is so beautiful and fun, I hope you will give it a try when you have the opportunity!  My blogger friend, Jenna, also has blogged about her Regency dancing experience.  

Now where were we?  Ah, the wassail.  Here is fragrant wassail recipe from the Jane Austen Centre, Bath, England.   Happy December everyone!  

Holiday Wassail, Jane Austen Style

1 gallon apple cider
1 large can pineapple juice (unsweetened)
3/4 cup tea (can use your favorite herb tea)

 Place in a cheesecloth sack:
1 Tablespoon whole cloves
1 Tablespoon whole allspice
2 sticks cinnamon

Put all ingredients in a crock pot and simmer in low heat for 4-6 hours. Add water to dilute if it becomes too concentrated. Serve warm, garnished with orange slices and cinnamon sticks.

Serves 20


Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes

(Turkey Shepherd's Pie with Leftover Mashed Potatoes) 

House cleaning has begun, and I have been planning and shopping for our big Thanksgiving gathering.  Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and scrumptious pies...the list grows by the minute and excitement builds.  

And this year, it's even more special for me because my best friend and her family are coming.  Our annual tradition was missed the past three years because they are full-time missionaries to the Philippines.  And it may be another three years before they return for their furlough.  So, I'm going to relish every single minute with them as we build another sweet memory.  
(Stuffing Stuffed Mushroom Caps)

My family are not lovers of leftovers.  So each year, I'm conjuring up ways to get them to eat Thanksgiving meal redux.  Here are some creative ideas to share with you for your leftovers this year.
You will also find these photos in Miss Sophie's column in The Savannah Morning News.

(Turkey, Cranberry Sauce and Brie Sandwich)

I am so very grateful to have another Thanksgiving with you all!  
Have a Happy, Happy Thanksgiving my dear friends!

Stuffing Stuffed Mushrooms 

 24 Mushroom caps, cleaned
 1 cup leftover stuffing
 1/4 cup grated parmesan,
 2 tablespoons each olive oil
 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
 1 minced garlic clove

 Mix all ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Stuff into 24 button mushroom caps; top with more parmesan and olive oil. Bake 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve hot.

Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, and Brie Sandwich 

8 slices thick sliced bread
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup left over cranberry Sauce
1 pound sliced left over turkey
1/2 pound brie cheese, thickly sliced

 Lay 4 slices of bread and top with a few slices of turkey. Spread cranberry sauce over turkey slices, then cover with 2 to 3 slices of brie, enough to cover the turkey and cranberry sauce. Top the sandwiches with remaining 4 slices of bread. Spread softened butter on outer sides of sandwich.

 Heat a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-low heat and cook 2 to 3 minutes until the bread is golden brown and the cheese begins to melt. Flip and cook 2 to 3 more minutes to brown the bread. Brush on more butter if needed. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve hot.  Makes 4 generous sandwiches.

 Turkey Shepherd's Pot Pie with Leftover Mashed Potatoes 

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups leftover turkey meat
2 cups of frozen vegetables
2 cups leftover mashed potatoes, heated in microwave 2-3 minutes
Salt and pepper to taste

*Note: if you have left over gravy, about 2 1/2 cups, it can be substituted for the white sauce.  Add dried thyme, meat, and vegetables, and proceed with the remaining instructions.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Melt butter in a medium sauce pan. Add onions and cook until translucent, 2-3 minutes. Whisk flour into butter and onions and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Slowly whisk broth into flour until smooth, add thyme and bring to slow simmer. Add meat and vegetables. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Transfer turkey mixture to a deep-dish pie plate or shallow casserole dish placed on a baking sheet. Spoon warmed mashed potatoes over top, and, using the back of a spoon, make an even layer. Place pie on a baking sheet and bake 20-25 minutes, until top is golden brown and filling is bubbly.


Pre-Thanksgiving Panic?

This image was posted by my friend Cyndi on FB describing her pre-Thanksgiving panic.  And I had the same sinking-gut feeling, too, when I realized that Thanksgiving is NEXT week.  Bah!  It really couldn't be!  

And I had been feeling pretty smug with the whole Thanksgiving meal thing since I had already photographed this "Thanksgiving Feast with Miss Sophie" feature for our local newspaper two weeks ago.  These photographs and recipes will be printed this coming Sunday, but since you are my super special friends, you get to peek early.  But alas, pretty photos don't equal pretty food on the plates.  

 Despite the hours of planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning the house for the big meal next week, it will be so worth it.  Because when you are surrounded by your loving family and friends, they are what matters most in life.  So let's take a big, deep breath and see how we can get through next week with smiles in our hearts and on our faces.  
We have so much to be thankful for, don't we? 

Here are some great recipes and helpful hints for your upcoming holiday feast: