Berry Delicious

Ah summer. The sun is shining and berries are ripening everywhere. Even my first-year blueberry bushes are bearing big sweet fruit! I don’t think I’ll be getting enough fruit at any time this summer to do anything but graze and enjoy, but since blueberries are one of Boy’s favorite fruits, I decided I ought to make a good blueberry jam. I’m a bit odd when it comes to blueberries; Fresh or frozen, they are up in my top ten favorite fruits, but cooked, there is something about the way the flavor changes that I usually can’t stand. The goal here is to come up with a blueberry jam that I’ll eat too. For those of you who don’t care for the narrative, the recipes are at the bottom.

On a quick trip to the grocery store I got lucky and found big bags of blueberries for only a dollar each and I quickly picked up about 4 quarts worth of berries, thinking I’d make the Boy something delicious. At home I tragically discovered a jam jar shortage meaning I wouldn’t be able to make all the jam I meant to. Two and a half quarts of berries went into the freezer for later use and one and a half went into a stock pot along with a pint of frozen cranberries and a quart of sugar. At this point I had a moment of panic because it looked like I’d added way too much sugar even though I’d done my research and confirmed how much sugar I wanted to use, so if it looks like you berries are disappearing under and snowy avalanche of white sugar, don’t freak out. Do what I did and add about half a cup  of water. This added just enough liquid to saturate the sugar without making the pot soupy. I zested a lemon into the pot as well, stirred well, and left them all to macerate for an hour or so.

Macerate. Macerate. Macerate. What is maceration and why do we do it? Maceration is the process of softening or breaking down a fruit using a liquid. In the case of fresh fruit, it is it’s own liquid, drawn out with the help of a sugar. This makes the jam more flavorful and gives it a more even texture without having to cook it for a long time. After macerating for an hour or more most of the sugar should have dissolved. My liquid was still a bit grainy, but not to worry.

Over medium high heat the remaining sugar quickly dissolves and the berries begin to burst. Be careful to watch your pot though as these berries really like to froth up and can even boil over. Take a wild guess how I found that out.

Add pectin once your fruit has come to a boil then simmer for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You can add a pat of butter to reduce foam, or skim it off. I didn’t bother this time since it seemed to settle out with a little patience. Once you jam has simmered for long enough, fill it into 16 four ounce sterile canning jars and process in a boiling water bath. The four ounce jars only need 5 minutes in the boiling bath, but half pint and pint need 10 minutes. I had one pint jar full that wouldn’t fit in the canner, so I decided to inversion can. It is something I have been doing my whole life either for small batches or for the jar that won’t fit in the bath. Important is just to keep these jars in the fridge instead of on the shelf. However this method isn’t recommended for putting up jams because it isn’t as clean or effective. Case in point would be the afore mentioned jar which burst the ring right off the moment I tried to turn it over. Since the glass was in tact, I was able to save most of the jam and decided to make ice cream with it. For the ice cream, I creamed together one egg plus a yolk and half a cup of sugar and a pinch of salt then slowly whisked in 2 cups of heavy cream. I dropped in a split open vanilla bean and slowly heated these over medium-low heat, constantly stirring. Eventually as the custard came closer to a simmer it became thicker, though more like the texture of a rich soup than on true egg custard. I poured this into a tupperware and set it in the fridge for about 2 hours to cool. I probably should have waited even longer, but I was impatient. Into the ice cream maker went the cooled custard (minus the vanilla bean which I popped in my mouth to suck on while I waited) and about half the jam. As the ice cream started thickening, I added some fresh blueberries from my bushes and blackberries that needed to be used up. Twenty minutes later there was ice cream! Sure I could eat it now, but I wanted blueberry-cranberry swirls too! In the same tupperware I used to chill the custard earlier, I layered ice cream and jam and put the whole thing back into the freezer for half an hour.

Then, voila! Swirled berry ice cream!

Blueberry Cranberry Jam

Yields 7 pints of jam Ingredients:

  • 6 cups blueberries
  • 2 cups cranberries
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/2c. water (optional)
  • 1 package pectin

In a large stock pot, combine berries, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add water if your sugar is dry and white. Macerate for 1-2 hours. Set on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the pot does not bubble over. When fruit mixture comes to a boil, add pectin and simmer for 15-25 minutes. In this time, sterilize jars and lids and bring canning bath to a boil. Fill jars and process for 5 minutes for 4oz jars and 10 minutes for 8-16oz. jars. Cool and confirm the seals then jars may be stored at room temp for 1 year.

Berry Swirl Ice Cream

Yields 1 quart ice cream Ingredients:

  • 2c. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 yolk
  • 1/2c. granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2c Blueberry Cranberry Jam
  • 1/2 pint fresh berries (optional)

In a cold saucepan cram together yolk, egg and sugar. Split open vanilla bean lengthwise and add to pot along with cream. Turn on low heat and stir constantly heating liquid until runny custard forms. Scrape vanilla bean into the custard and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. MAKE SURE YOUR ICE CREAM MAKER BOWL HAS BEEN IN THE FREEZER FOR AT LEAST 48 HOURS! Churn custard and 1c. jam in the ice cream maker for 20 minutes or until the right consistency is reached. Then, in a tupperware layer ice cream with remaining jam and freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

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Another Warming Soup

This recipe is one which I came up with last fall and absolutely loved! I originally posted it at the WildWoodYarn blog, but felt it was so good that it merited reposting here. It’s a deliciously filling soup that warms all the way through without needing the heat of spicy peppers. It could make up to make 8 servings, but I went back for seconds and it vanished more quickly than expected because it was just so damned delicious and I laid on the couch after dinner rubbing my overfull tummy. This makes a fantastic full meal for 4-6 or a delicious, warm appetizer for 8.

Maize

Vegetarian Corn Chowder
Cook Time: 1.5-2hrs
Ingredients
1 large yellow onion, minced
1 large carrot, chopped small
2 medium leeks, chopped
2 stalks celery, minced
4 yukon potatos, cubed small
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced mushroom
1 can sweet yellow corn, undrained
2 quarts, chicken or veggie stock
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons butter
ground black pepper and salt to taste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
shredded cheddar, sour cream, and/or chopped chives for topping
Directions
Slowly sweat onion, garlic, leek, and celery with butter in a soup pot. Once onions are translucent and soft, add mushroom and carrots continue to cook them on very low heat until everything is sweet and starts to caramelize. Add corn, potato, stock and wine then simmer on low heat for 45-90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the potato cubes are soft and falling apart, ladle about half the soup into a blender or food processor and pulse until it has a smoothe and creamy texture. Return the blended soup to the pot and stir in half and half, paprika, salt and pepper. Continue to Simmer on low heat 15 minutes then serve in deep bowls. Top your soup with sour cream, shredded cheese, and chives or if you’re looking for a stronger smokey flavor and do eat animal, add bacon crumbles.

Warm Up for Winter: Lets practice feeding an army

We'll call that an intermission

…and now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Northern California Rennaissance Faire was fantastic. I have been spending all my weekends there since the end of August before the gates even opened to the enthusiastic throngs of patrons. In that time I was building the village of Willingtown, buffing up on my Elizabethan language skills and mostly shepherding children in and out of the Funny Farm petting zoo. Now, a week after our final days there, our apartment still hasn’t recovered, but I’m starting to get back into my normal routine, and that means recipes!

With holidays approaching and family visits already being planned, it’s important to load up on recipes that can feed a big group without breaking the bank or a sweat. This chili is an old standby that I learned to make from my mother when I was in elementary school. She never wrote down a recipe, but I learned to make it by feel and have since then taken down the recipe. It takes time when you start with dry beans, but the actual work involved in making it is minimal and the results are woth the wait. Just beware, the batch size is rather hefty. We often brought it to potlucks because it is vegan yet tastes as hearty as any classic meaty chili so its sure to please anyone. It’s also delicious, filling and incredibly cheap to make bucket-loads of!

Black Bean Chili

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups dry black beans soaked overnight
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups vegi broth
  • 2 cans fire roasted tomatos
  • 1 can corn with liquid
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 2 onions
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 3 dried ancho chilis, chopped into 1cm squares
  • 2 dried chipotle morita peppers, ground (sub chipotle meco for more heat)
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
Directions:
Rinse your soaked beans until the water runs clear. Then bring beans, water and broth to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours or until beans are soft all the way through. Add more water if necessary to keep beans covered during this time. The liquid will reduce as it simmers. Coarsely chop onion and garlic and set in a shallow pan with the oil to slowly sweat over low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure they don’t burn. Once soft, add them to the beans and liquid. It doesn’t matter if the beans aren’t soft yet when you do this; the flavor will seep into the beans as they cook. Once the beans are soft, add the rest of the ingredients and allow the chili to simmer for an hour at least. The longer it can go, the better since the flavors need time to come out of the chilis pods and permeate the beans and corn. This is a relatively mild chili, though it may still have too much kick for some people. Leave out the seeds of the peppers for a milder batch or substitute the Chipotle Morita with Chipotle Meco for a spicier dish. For the adventurous, consider adding cayenne pepper or fresh jalapenos as a garnish.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream and cornbread for 8 people.

Hearty Black Bean Chili and Cheddar Cornbread

The Cheddar Cornbread is a recipe I developed myself  from the ones published by Alton Brown and Epicurious. It is the most tender and moist cornbread I have ever had! I have the bad habit of not following recipes, which drives Colin nuts, but produces amazing results. I look at around a dozen different recipes for the same thing and then narrow it to the two of three best looking ones. Then I play with the proportions(and the ingredients I have available) until I find exactly the product I want. It’s an artistic take on what is science side of cooking.

Cheddar Cornbread

Ingredients:

  • 1 cups corn meal
  • 1/2 cup corn flour
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon gluten
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 3/4 cup full fat yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 can of corn, lightly drained
  • 4 ounces extra sharp cheddar
  • 3 green onions
  • 1 tablespoon butter for greasing the pan
Directions:
Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix with a fork. Make a well in the center of the bowl and crack both eggs into it. Add, cream, yogurt, and corn to the well and wisk liquids with your fork, slowly incorporating the flour mixture. Chop green onions and cube cheese into 1/2 in. pieces. Set 1/4 cup of cheese bits aside to top bread with.  Add remaining cheese and green onion into the batter and incorporate fully. It should have the same texture as thick pancake batter so that it scoops easily, but still flows. Grease an 8×12 or 9×9 baking pan and pour batter into the pan. Sprinkle reserved cheese pieces on top evenly. Bake for 18-20 minutes until bread has risen and top is golden brown. Serve warm with Black Bean Chili or as a stand alone snack.

 

 

Jammin’

Two weeks ago I mentioned gathering huckleberries in the Oakland Hills. I’m happy to say that despite the injury, our bounty went into a beautiful product. Kitty Sharkey and I made jam from free nectarines given to me by a booth at the farmers market and our foraged berries. Below is a recipe you can use!

Foraging for Huckleberries

Nectarine Huckleberry Jam

9 1/2 cups  coarsely sliced nectarine

2 cups huckleberries

1/4 cup lemon juice

6 cups sugar

2 packets Sure-Jell Pectin

(optional: 2 tbsp butter)

Huckleberry Bounty

Directions:

In a pot, heat nectarine pieces until soft and boiling. Add huckleberries, lemon juice, sugar  and pectin while stirring constantly. You can add butter to prevent scummy foam. Substitute blueberries if you do not have access to huckleberries. Bring the jam to a rolling boil (continues bubbling while you stir) and let it boil until the jam thickens on the back of a cold spoon. If you did not add butter, you will have a layer of scum at the top. Skim this off before processing for 20-25 minutes with the boiling water bath method.

 

The Melting Pot

Tip: This is a low-sugar recipe. If your jam doesn’t thicken, add more sugar and bring it back to a boil and check again. Most jam recipes call for at least as much sugar as fruit but I always find that to be too sweet and our Nectarine Huckleberry Jam thickened very well with only half the sugar.

Baked Tilapia and Citrus Fava Bean Salad

Sorry for the late post folks. I started classes a couple weeks ago and was studying for my first test when I realized that I had fallen behind on my blog. Luckily I have a delicious recipe that I’ve been wanting to share with you. The other night, I was walking through our Berkeley Bowl, the local independent grocery store when I got a craving for fish. The hot weather had me shying away from heavy foods, but I still wanted some protein, so I picked up some tilapia and fava beans to throw together a light and yet satisfying dinner. Though blood oranges are scarce this time of year, I had some in my fridge that needed to be used. You can easily substitute them with Valencia oranges, but avoid navel oranges as their uneven segments can be hard to supreme.

Citrus Fava Bean Salad

*Note: Make the salad first because it will take longer to prepare than the fish(done in under 20 minutes), which will get cold if you reverse the order.

Ingredients:

1lb fava beans
3 large blood oranges
1 grapefruit
½ red onion
5 sprigs cilantro
1 head butter lettuce

Directions:

1. Shell your fava beans, and par boil the beans. This only take a minute or two and you don’t want to overcook them. You just want to cook them long enough for the tough and bitter membrane around the beans to loosen and wrinkle. Remove the skins from the beans, and be careful not to crush them. Put the skinned beans into a salad bowl to cool and continue with the rest of the salad.

2. Using a sharp paring knife, cut the skin from the grapefruit, including all of the white pith and the outer membrane of the segments. Over the salad bowl with the fava beans, cup the fruit in your non-dominant hand and use the paring knife to cut the segments out of the membranes. drop the skinless segments into the bowl. Do this until you have nothing but the membrane in your hand. This method is called a supreme. Squeeze the remaining juice out of the membrane into a separate bowl and save it for the dressing. Repeat this step for the oranges as well.

3. Finely slice the red onion and mince the cilantro. Add these to the bowl.  Serve the mixture over butter lettuce and drizzle generously with the dressing below.

Blood Orange Salad Dressing

Ingredients:

½ c fresh blood orange juice
¼ c white vinegar
¼ c olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp honey
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp salt
zest of 1 orange

Directions:

Wisk together ingredients in a bowl or put them all in a jar to be shaken. I prefer the latter method, because then I can conveniently store the extra.

Baked  Tilapia

 

Preheat oven to 400°F

Ingredients:

1lb tilapia fillets (~4)
1 Meyer lemon
¼ tsp thyme
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Cover two baking sheets in aluminum foil (to make clean up easier) spread olive oil evenly across both pans and lay out tilapia fillets evenly. Sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper, and thyme. Be careful not to over-salt and remember you can always add more after its cooked.

2. Thinly slice garlic and lemon. Spread the slices across tilapia and try to cover as much of the fish as possible. Make sure the garlic is underneath the lemon slices otherwise it will burn. I also coarsely chopped the rest of the red onion from the salad and dropped it on the tray to bake. Just an idea!

3. Bake the tilapia until the edges start to brown and crisp (about 5-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish).

 

I hope you enjoy the recipe in the hot summer days we’ve been having. I’m certain I’ll be making it again before too long!

Catering: Can’t Afford it? You can do it!

I have always wanted to host a  formal cocktail party with tons of tiny, beautiful hors d’oeuvres. This past weekend, I got my chance! Three weeks ago we got a new place in Berkeley (with enough space for a craft room!) and we used the opportunity to properly warm the place in high style. As someone with no steady income, buying catered food was out of the question, but I have a lot of time, which means it’s DIY time! The product of my toils was 72 Chocolate cupcakes with raspberry buttercream frosting, 30 mini apple-onion quiches, 36 mini bacon-apple-onion quiches, 24 mini broccoli quiches and one baguette’s worth of bruscetti. Below are some of the recipes I created or adapted for the event.

The cupcakes were made using Orangette‘s Far-From-Disaster Cake, by far the most delicate and moist chocolate cake recipe I’ve ever come across. A half recipe made 72 miniature cupcakes which I frosted with a Raspberry Buttercream adapted from Mommy23Monkeys.

Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed raspberries (Don’t worry about bruising them.)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp citric acid granules
  • 16 oz. powdered sugar
Directions: Blend together wet ingredients and citric acid. If you like your frosting sweeter, leave out the citric acid. They will not emulsify perfectly because the raspberry seeds will leave lumps, but get as close as you can. I like smoother frosting, so I strained out most of the seeds before blending these ingredients. Slowly add powdered sugar until the frosting is stiff and smooth. If you use lemon juice instead of citric acid granules, you will need extra powdered sugar, or meringue powder to give the frosting enough hold.

I dont own piping bags but I still wanted a consistent and beautiful finish for my tiny little desserts. I got a single piping tip for under $2 at Sur La Table which I inserted into the cut off corner of a ziplock bag. That saved me the $8 piping bag and still let me give my cupcakes the “professional” look I wanted for my swanky party. They got the stamp of approval from several foodie friends.

As for the quiche, I actually tried several crust recipes before I found one I was really happy with. In all cases, the key seems to be the temperature of the butter. The colder the butter is at the start of the process, the more flakey and tender the crust will be in the end. I ignored the baking instructions given by this recipe and used a three-inch circle cutter to stamp out little crusts. I dropped them into the tins by ruffling the edge and pierced the ever-loving heck out of the bottom of the crust to keep them from bubbling and deforming. I prebaked them at 350°F for 7 minutes the day before the party and stored them under plastic wrap. Then, in the hour before the party, I filled them and gave the filled quiches their second bake.

Mini Quiche Recipe

Ingredients:
Crust (makes roughly 24 minis)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into small cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 6 to 8 Tbsp ice water
Filling (makes roughly 48 minis)
  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 1 onion
  • 2 strips thick-cut bacon
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago
Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F

1. Combine dry crust ingredients in a Cuisinart using the chopping blade. Cut in butter just enough to distribute it evenly then begin adding in the ice water one tablespoon at a time until the dough begins to clump using the pulse setting. To test if the dough is wet enough pinch a 1cm ball and try to flatten it. If they crumbled add a little more water. If only the edges crack, your dough is perfect!

2. Roll dough into sheets approximately 1/4 in. thick and cut out 3 inch circles. Gently drop circles into the mini cupcake tins, pushing in the ruckled edges at regular intervals. Use a toothpick to poke holes all over the bottom of the crust. This will keep bubbles from deforming your crusts. If you want shiny crusts, you can brush them with egg, but I didn’t bother.

3. Bake crusts for 7 minutes at 350°F. This shouldn’t be enough time for them to brown, only for them to become firm and start to crisp. Allow them to cool on a rack before filling them.

4. While crusts are cooling, prepare the filling. Chop onion, apple and bacon into 1/4 in cubes then saute until onions and apples are caramelized and bacon is browned. Whisk together the eggs and half and half. Fill 1 tsp of sautéed filling into each quiche shell then carefully pour the egg mixture over it being sure not to spill over into the tin. If you do overflow your shells, wipe away the excess and bake the overflowed ones anyway. I had no problems with the overflowed quiches sticking to the tins so you probably won’t either. I baked my quiches for 18 minutes, but start checking them at 14 minutes to be sure you don’t burn them.

5. As soon as you take them out of the oven, sprinkle shredded cheese on top. The heat from the quiches will melt the cheese without burning it. Then cool them on racks again. Serve them hot immediately or at room temperature, both are delicious!

I made two other versions of the quiches which were both vegetarian, one with apple and onion and another with only broccoli.

All of these made for an impressive and beautiful spread, perfect for the classy cocktail party theme. The last thing we needed was a signature drink!

The house drink was invented two summers ago when Colin and I were camping at the Lost Coast and wanted to make Cosmopolitan. Thinking we had all the ingredients covered, we trekked through the wild-fire fraught coast from Ashland, OR to the teeny tiny town of Honeydew, CA. The night we decided to have our campsite cocktails, we discovered that we only had one of the necessary ingredients to make the drink we had intended. Black Cosmos were the result of our desperate experimentation. It’s a full-bodied fruity drink that isn’t sweet like most cocktails and therefore appeals to almost anyone.

Black Cosmos
  • 2 oz. unsweetened pomegranate juice
  • 1 oz. dark rum
  • 1 oz. triplesec
  • 1 oz. sweetened lime juice
Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice and serve up. Garnish with a slice of blood orange.

I hope you enjoy the recipes and put them to good use!