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Three Berry Jam

July 6, 2011

My family and I just returned from a delightful escape from reality in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Without the modern distractions of cars, phones, and computers, our days were peacefully filled with banana slug hunts, star gazing,  and swimming until we pruned.  It was a much needed pause in an otherwise busy life, a centering of sorts.  But alas, there are other responsibilities to which we must tend.  Some are grudgingly attended- bill paying, laundry folding, car repairing. Other responsibilities are the important rituals of life that help to make meaning and define some of the rhythms of our family life.  At the top of the list during this time of year is preserving the glorious bounty of summer.

Berry season is short, so we rely on the craft of jam making to preserve these flavors for the dark days.  On our way home, we stopped into Gizdich Ranch and picked up a flat each of raspberries and ollalie berries. I combined these two berries with some strawberries I froze last month to create a mixed berry jam.

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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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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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Mango Cranberry Chutney

March 24, 2011

Have you noticed the beautiful mangoes in the market this month?  They are abundant, inexpensive, and delicious!  Mangoes have firm flesh and a sweet and tangy flavor.  This makes them incredibly versatile.  They are hardy enough to cook, soft enough to eat raw, and excellent in salads and of course chutneys.  First though, you have to know how to cut into the fruit.  Since mangoes have a disc-shaped seed in the center of fruit, it is important to locate it and cut around the seed.

First peel the fruit.

Then, hold the fruit upright and slice down, guiding the knife along the side of the seed.  Repeat on the other half, so you end up with two halves and one seed pod with minimal flesh attached.  Slice or dice the mango halves depending on what you are using it for.

Mango Cranberry Chutney is a medley of sweet mango, tart cranberry, spicy peppers and zippy ginger.  I love having a stash of it in the pantry.  It is a wonderful accompaniment to a cheese platter.  I made this batch especially to serve with Redwood Hill’s cheese at the Sono-Ma Soiree tomorrow night.  It is also delicious as a side to any Indian meal.  Try it with Divine Indian Butter Chicken.

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Salt Preserved Lemons

February 23, 2011

Yes, it is true, I’m on a serious citrus kick.  Why not?  What better to brighten the palette on a dark and dreary winter day, than the vibrant colors and tart flavors of lemons, oranges, grapefruit, and lime?  Lemons are my current favorite. Last summer, in an act of manifest destiny, we cut down our lemon tree  to make way for a larger outdoor dining area.  Luckily our neighbors have supplied us with a steady stream of Meyer lemons to fuel each of my citric indulgences.  The latest…  Salt Preserved Lemons.

This recipe comes from my grandmother’s recipe file.  She, like me, sought out ways to celebrate each harvest and make it last.  The first time I made these, I had no idea what to do with them.  Luckily, they last a ridiculously long time in the refrigerator, so I had plenty of time to accumulate recipes. (After a year in the fridge, they still tasted fine, but I tossed them because it just seemed wrong to be eating something so old.)   They are used often in North African and Middle Eastern foods.  They can be added to dishes whole or you can remove the pulp and pith and add the preserved zest.

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Meyer Lemon Curd

February 6, 2011

Oh la la, lovely lemon curd.  Lemons have always been a favorite.  Growing up on the San Francisco Peninsula, we had a Meyer lemon tree.  I would sneak outside to pick the lemons and eat them whole, despite my mother’s warnings that I was ruining my teeth.  Now I am a bit  (not much, but a bit) more sophisticated and like my lemons seeped in vodka or cooked up with butter and eggs (much healthier, I am sure).

Deep in winter when the trees are dripping with lemons, one fabulous way capture the fresh tang of lemons is lemon curd.  This lemon curd is intense, lemony, creamy goodness.  Meyer lemons work best here because of their balance of sweet and tart.  You can use Eureka lemons (standard supermarket variety) as well, just increase the sugar.

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Caramelized Onion Relish

January 16, 2011

I love my pantry.  This may be an unusual favorite room of the house, but for me it is a place of comfort and a source of pride.  Come visit my home and I’ll be sure to show you my special place.  Though it is not often in perfect order, my pantry is my sanctuary.  In our small home, this is the place where I can escape (briefly, until someone finds me) the commotion and demands of the other members of the family. Inside its walls I store my stacks of cookbooks, the baskets of garlic, squash, and potatoes harvested from last summer’s garden, and of course my canned goods.  My pantry shelves are full of all the grains, beans, seeds, and more required to make almost anything I can dream of.

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