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Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

June 16, 2011

Two weeks into my summer vacation, I had a serious itch to make some strawberry jam.  The problem was everywhere I looked the strawberries were either over-sized and under-flavored or ridiculously expensive.  On a tip from a friend, I headed out Highway 12 just outside Sebastopol to Lao’s Strawberry Stand.  It took three tries: first time he sold out, second time simply closed, but the third time is a charm.  It was well worth the trouble.  These strawberries bear very little resemblance to the strawberries sold year-round at the supermarket.  They are super small, bright red all the way through, and absolutely bursting with flavor.  They literally made me swoon.  It is such a pleasure to take the time to put up food when it is the best quality.  I was giddy with the thought that we would be able to enjoy these beautiful strawberries all winter.

The last few years, I have made strawberry rhubarb jam using low-sugar pectin and a standard process of heating the fruit and sugar to a boil, adding the pectin, and canning in sterile jars.  It has always turned out good, but not great.  Two problems I had were the strawberry and rhubarb both cooking down to a mushy pulp and the rhubarb turning a slightly greyish color.  After reading Eugenia Bone’s method of slow roasting the fruit in a low oven, I had to try it.

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Over the last few weeks, several batches of focaccia made their way through my oven.  Each batch took on a different personality.  I topped one with oven-dried figs, walnuts, and blue cheese as an appetizer, another I brushed with garlic oil and served as a side dish.  Another batch I made into a simple pizza and the last I topped with apples and cinnamon sugar for breakfast.  Anyway you top this bread, it is delightful.

Besides its versatility and incredible taste, this bread is also very convenient to make.  The dough rises twice, then rests in the refrigerator for 24-36 hours.  When you are ready to bake, just pull a dough ball from the fridge, stretch it out, and top it as you please.  Twice I served this bread for brunch.  Usually I do not even consider a yeasted bread for brunch, because of the time it takes to rise, but since rises the day before, it is easy to pull off for a meal any time of day.

Though I have topped this bread many ways, my favorite remains brushing it with a garlic infused olive oil, sprinkling it with fresh herbs, and scattering coarse salt over the top.  The outside becomes crunchy and brown, but the inside stays chewy and moist.  The garlic flavor permeates the whole flatbread and the salt provides a crunch.  It was a great accompaniment to our Huevos Diablos con Chorizo the other morning.  Topping it with thinnly sliced apples is a close second, for a sweet version that is suitable for both brunch or dessert, though I would sweeten it up a bit more if serving it for dessert.

These recipes were submitted to Yeastspotting.

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This month’s Charcutepalooza Challenge was meat grinding.  Oh, I really became excited about this one.  I recently picked up a meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen aide and have been tapping into the meat lover within making loads of sausage and meatballs.  You see, my grandfather was a butcher and though my father chose another career, he is a meat enthusiast.  I come from the kind of family that doesn’t consider a meal complete without some form of meat. (That would explain why I was nearly disowned during my 6 years exploring vegetarian and veganism.)  But back to meat grinding, it is so easy and the product is sensational!

Last year, we began purchasing pork by the half-hog from our fabulous young cousin who raises them for 4H.  There are so many reasons to buy fresh, local, conscientiously-raised meat, not least of which is that the quality is superb.  For this challenge, I ground a pork shoulder and made chorizo following Michael Ruhlman’s guidance in Charcuterie.  Though I have made a number of different types of sausage, chorizo is one of the most satisfying.  I think that is because I generally have a difficult time finding a chorizo that I can still put in my cart after I read the ingredient label.  The concept of using an entire animal is a good one, though it seems factory-based sausage companies have a different idea of what is suitable for consumption than most home cooks do.  This chorizo is  deeply flavored, full of completely recognizable fresh ingredients including lovingly raised meat, and is super lean.

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Though brunch provides the allure of a relaxed meal to share with friends and family, casually sipping on Bloody Marys, the harsh reality is that someone has to get all the food ready to eat early in the morning.  Beside being insanely delicious and versatile, stratas assemble the night before, so serving a crowd in the morning is a cinch!  In our family, we routinely have overnight gatherings and I often make a strata.  All the work is done the day before.    Sometimes I even put the oven on delay start, so it will preheat while I sleep.  When I wake up in the morning with a house full of guests, all I have to do is slide the dish into the oven and make some coffee.

You can make a strata with almost anything.  The eggs and bread are standard, but the vegetables, cheese, or meat that you add are completely up to you.  Bacon Breakfast Strata happens to be one of my favorite combinations.  Brown off the bacon, saute the onion and mushrooms, then mix everything up with a pile of bread and cheese and pour egg and milk over the top.  It is easy.  The bread absorbs the egg and milk overnight and puffs up in the oven.  The interior texture is light and almost creamy, while the top browns and creates a cheesy crunch.  It is delightful.

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Oatmeal Jam Bars

April 22, 2011

With Easter around the corner, the house is a buzz with preparations for the Easter bunny.  The chickens are busy laying eggs, the kids are dying them and collecting greens from the garden to leave for a bunny snack.  As the Easter bunny’s executive assistant, I have collected some items for the bunny to present the children.  We  (the grown-ups at least) are not big on candy in our house (especially when the kids would presumably start eating it upon rising and discovering their baskets.)

So this year, there are books, stickers, and as a compromise, a small cache of jelly beans.  I wanted there to be something special as well, something beautiful, exciting, sweet, but not so over the top that I would cringe as my kids ripped into them at 7 am.  Ah ha!  This year the Easter Bunny takes up baking!

Strolling through the supermarket aisles, I found a large cookie cutter in the shape of an egg.  Inspired, I sought out a recipe for an oat bar which I would top with jam to create a colorful egg-shaped cookie bar.  After an extensive search, I settled on a recipe for Raspberry Breakfast Bars from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  Since my pantry is still full of jam, I adapted the recipe to skip the raspberry filling (though it looks quite good and I may revisit it in raspberry season) and use my homemade jam instead.  I also added coconut flakes to the crust, just because I am on a coconut kick right now.
The real trick here was to figure out a way to make sure the jam would show through.  The original recipe calls for the crumb topping to cover the entire bar, but I wanted colorful polka dots of jam.  To accomplish this, I  tried multiple methods and settled on dotting the top of the crust with jam.  Once cool, I cut them into egg shapes and bagged them individually for the Easter bunny to present.  Mmmm, the smell of these bars is out of control.

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Buttermilk Berry Scones

April 20, 2011

My little man turned 5…  I know, its huge!  His preschool honored him with the sweetest  (and most scientific) of ceremonies in which he holds a globe and walks around a candle, representing the sun, the number of times the earth has circled the sun since his birth.  Ah, the true meaning of a birthday!  Love it.  Of course, after the ceremony he shared a birthday snack with his friends.  This is always a challenge as the school has a no-sugar policy.  Actually, I love that they restrict sugar and encourage healthy, organic, whole foods.  I am glad that he is not gorging himself on sweets every time a classmate has a birthday.  Still, I wanted to make him something that still felt and tasted like a treat.  Though he asked for berry muffins, I opted for Buttermilk  Berry Scones.  Scones are easier to adapt for low or no sugar than muffins.

This scone recipe is my favorite, I have made it many, many times with different fruit and nut additions.  Once, years ago, I accidentally made it without the sugar.  They still tasted great!  That is what gave me the idea to make these delicious scones, packed full with berries, but without the forbidden sugar.  Wait, don’t get scared off, I have included the sugar in the recipe below for those of you with a sweet tooth.  Plus, these are nowhere near guilt free.  They are made with a literal pile o’ butter.  See…

The beauty of this recipe is that it is incredibly versatile.   Mix the batter with fresh fruit or dried.  Add seeds and nuts on a whim.  Include the sugar for a traditional breakfast scone or leave it out to make a savory dinner scone.  You can cut them up in many different ways.  Usually, I make a rectangular shaped slab and cut the scones into triangles.  This time my little big guy used a biscuit cutter to make mini scone circles to share with his classmates.  These scones are really easy to make and always turn out great.  Plus, despite the aforementioned pile o’ butter, this recipe is actually lighter than others you may find that keep the butter and use cream in the place of the buttermilk.  This biggest reason to make these though, is that they are delicious, no matter what you do.  Serve them for your friends, they will thank you!

Buttermilk Berry Scones

adapted from Bon Appetit

makes 12 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar- plus 1 1/2 Tablespoon to sprinkle on top (omit for a savory scone)

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, diced

1 cup buttermilk- plus 1 Tablespoon to brush on top

1 1/2 cup frozen berries (or other additions)

1 1/2 Tablespoon Meyer lemon zest

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or baking mat.

Sift together dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt)in a large bowl.  Work the butter into the dough until pieces are the size of small peas.  You may use your hands, a pastry cutter, or pulse using a  food processor.  Toss berries in flour mixture.  Mix lemon zest and buttermilk.  Pour buttermilk mixture into flour/berry mixture.  Use a spoon to mix until a dough ball forms.  Turn dough out onto a board and gently knead one or two times to fully incorporate the ingredients.  Flatten into a 1 inch tall slab and cut to your desired shape.  (For a traditional triangular scone, press into a slab 4 x 12 inches.  Cut the dough at angles across the shortest width of the rectangle to create triangles.)

Place scones on prepared baking sheet. Brush tops with reserved buttermilk and sprinkle with reserved sugar (for sweet scone).   Bake for 18-22 minutes, depending on the size of the scone.  Pull from the oven when scones are lightly golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Here is a printer friendly version of the recipe: Buttermilk Berry Scones

You may also like:

Crepes with Lemon Curd and Warm Berry Sauce

Easy Cranberry Bread

Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes

The countdown to summer has officially begun.  Summertime is that special time of year when I hang my teaching hat and spend my days tickling my children, swimming, running through the hills, and of course canning the bounty of the season.  So in these final weeks before summer is here, now is the time to clear out the pantry and make  room for another season of dutiful and celebratory filling of jars.  While some canned goods, such as jam, may be stored for longer, I always aim to eat my preserved foods within one year.  Lemon curd is best eaten within 3 to 4 months, after which time the curd may darken, but still be safe to eat for one year.


There are many lovely ways to enjoy lemon curd, but not many that I feel justify me to eat it for breakfast.  Thanks to the ever versatile crepe, I now feel free to indulge myself!  This crepe recipe is directly from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook.  They are  incredibly easy to make and so good.  For this special breakfast, I filled the crepes with lemon curd and topped them with a warm berry sauce made from frozen berries.  The tangy lemon, sweet berry, and buttery crepe make for a beautiful and tasty treat.  It is just the thing for a special weekend breakfast or brunch.

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