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Strawberry Freezer Jam

July 15, 2012

Delicious strawberry jam can be elusive.  The standard jam-making technique of cooking down fruit and sugar until the mixture achieves a jell generally does not work with strawberries.  All the fresh sweetness of the ripe fruit converts into an overly sweet darkened mash when cooked.  Not bad, but definitely not one of my family’s favorites.  Mixed with other fruits, it does not seem to be a problem.  The strawberries added to Three Berry Jam only add to the complex fruitiness of the mix.   Slow roasting the strawberries is another option, as I have done  in this Strawberry Rhubarb Jam.  To capture the simple delight of strawberries though, the trick is not to cook them at all.

Strawberry Freezer Jam is perhaps the simplest jam I have made.  Starting with fresh ripe strawberries in season, they are simply cut, mashed, and mixed with a simple syrup mixed with pectin.  That is it, no additional cooking.  As the pectin cools, it jells.  Now since this jam is not cooked, it is not safe for shelf storage.  It can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks and for a year in the freezer.  It is so quick and easy I literally made it while my kids ate their lunch one day.  Since there is no boiling jam it also does not heat up the house like other jam making might.  My daughter took over the job of filling the jars.  We capped them off, labeled them with the name of the jam and the date, and we were done.  What a perfect way to preserve the fresh taste of strawberries for the winter ahead.  It would also be a great jam recipe for someone who is new to jam making and does not want to deal with the sterilization and processing required to safely make other types of jams.

This post is linked with Grow It, Cook It, Can It’s Cook It 2012.  Check that site shortly for a roundup of great jam making posts.

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Strawberry Shortcakes

July 11, 2012

Could there be a more classic summer dessert than a strawberry shortcake?  Probably not.  So when I finally got my hands on a lug of gorgeously fragrant, deep red strawberries from a local farm, all I could think of was making this simple dessert to showcase these berries.

Since there are only three simple components to a strawberry shortcake, it is essential that all three elements can sing on their own. Most recipes call for a cream scone, but I prefer a buttermilk biscuit not only because it reduces the overall fat in the recipe, but also for the lovely tang that the buttermilk provides.  This recipe makes buttery, flaky, beautifully browned biscuits.  Split them open and dollop  them with cream which has been whipped into a soft, velvety mixture.  (Do not pour in cream, turn on your mixer to whisk and then leave the room to mediate a sibling squabble,  oh no, do not.  You will make butter. Trust me.)

Last are the strawberries.  This dish is best with fresh sweet summer berries.  Pick ones that are small and red to the core, preferably from your local farmers market and not shipped to the supermarket in plastic boxes.  There is a huge difference.  Depending on the size of the strawberries, halve or quarter them and dust with a bit of sugar.  As the strawberries sit they will gently weep and make a beautiful pink syrup.  Scoop the berries and their syrup onto the pillow of whipped cream and top with the other half of the biscuit.  Simple and delightful.

The last time we made these was the 4th of July, so we tossed in some blueberries as well to go with the red, white, and blue theme.  My son insisted that the dessert would benefit from the option of Chocolate Pudding as well.  He was right.  We went with the self serve model, allowing each person to create their own shortcake dessert from bowls of whipped cream, strawberries, blueberries, and chocolate pudding.  For a more formal approach, serve the assembled shortcakes.

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It is unfortunate that so many types of condiments are readily available at the supermarket.  Being able to walk down an aisle and toss in a jar of jam, bottle of ketchup, or any number of types of hot sauce distracts the collective “us” from the fact that none of these products are as good as we can make in our own kitchens.  This point is only magnified when looking into imported ethnic condiments.  There is the allure of some tasty sauce shipped in from around the world and many cooks  (including myself) can sometimes lack confidence when branching out to culinary styles not grounded in our continent of birth.  One look at the ingredient list of these foods though and we are reminded of the uncertain quality of foods with mysterious origin.

All of these complicated thoughts were running through my mind the other day when I happened upon Sherri  Brooks Vinton’s recipe for Asian Plum Sauce in her book Put “em Up.  I am a firm believer that a high quality condiment can transform an ordinary meal into something special.  Since plums are literally falling from the trees right now, there is no better time to capture that goodness in this deeply spiced tangy sauce.  The directions for canning the sauce are included, this sauce is sure to taste even better on a rainy or snowy day in February than it does now when these fruity tastes are so abundant.  I also included the half batch proportions, because I can see whipping up this sauce in advance of my next eggroll party.  What? You have never had an eggroll party before?  Me either, but it sure sounds like fun to me!

And now for the winner of the Canning Supplies Give Away…  Kalamckala from Eating on a Napkin is the lucky winner.  She says, “I’m a newbie with the whole canning and preserving thing but I made an apricot preserve with vanilla and cinnamon – I may have fallen for the entire process! I only hope to can more and more this summer! ”  It sounds like these supplies will be put to good use!  Thank you to everyone who commented!  There are so many great ideas in the comments of that post.  Check them out and get inspired!

Generator Min: 1 Max: 57 Result: 52 Powered by RANDOM.ORG

*A note about the winner selection.  There were 69 comments total, 12 were my responses.  Since it would be strange for me to win my own prize, I used a random number generator to select a random number between 1 and 57.  1 was the first comment and 57 the last.

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I am not known for overt patriotism, but I am also not one to pass up an opportunity to celebrate.  And isn’t it a happy coincidence that our nation’s birthday falls smack dab in the middle of berry season?  We are surrounded by luscious reds and blues hanging from the bushes and trees throughout our neighborhoods and farms.  To pass these by is a shame and perhaps even unpatriotic.

My kids and I went on a west county adventure yesterday, and came home with a bag full of blueberries from Sonoma Swamp Blues (great spot to pick up super tasty local blueberries!).  Most of them are destined for shortcakes with strawberries and cream, but I could not resist tossing a few handfuls into the blender to make these popsicles. Believe it our not, my kiddos will happily gobble up a popsicle every day of summer!

Red, White and Blueberry Popsicles are a tasty treat to cool you off while savoring the sweet tastes of July.   Also they only take about 10 minutes to prepare (and freeze overnight), so you have more time to sit around sipping on lemonade (or an ice cold margarita).  You can test your luck and pull them out of the mold after 4 hours or so.  We did.  Waiting until the actual 4th of July was more than our patience could take.  Use caution though, if they are not fully frozen they are more likely to break off or for the stick to come loose from the popsicle.

*Don’t have a popsicle mold?  Check out this one.

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Thai-Style Steak Salad

July 2, 2012

At least once a week we opt for a dinner salad.  Tired from a long day of work or summertime adventures as it may be, dinner can be on the table in minutes with just a bit of forethought.  Our secret… grill enough meat on the weekend to have hearty leftovers.  Perhaps it is a breast of chicken spared from our ravenous tots or a generous morsel of salmon craftily hidden from my husband’s lunch, or as the case was last weekend, a nice piece of hanger steak.  Steak salad takes on endless incarnations, but this is one of our favorites from Sunset magazine years ago.

Thai-Style Steak Salad bursts with flavor from a mixture of fresh herbs, crunchy vegetables, salty peanuts, and a tangy dressing.  Using leftover grilled meat makes it a cinch to pull together, but you could certainly grill up a steak for the occasion.  The dressing is super light and oil free helping this dinner balance out the indulgences of the weekend.  The chili garlic sauce is spicy so adjust the amount to your own taste.

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Muffins can solve many problems: a hungry house full of weekend guests, a last minute snack for preschool, quick and easy breakfasts through the week (from the freezer), or as I recently found myself, with double my usual number of hungry children running underfoot.  While not all muffins hold well enough to serve after they have been left to cool, these muffins are still moist and flavorful hours after they have cooled or even reheated from the freezer.

Apricot Almond Bran Muffins are adapted from a recipe in Supernatural Everyday by Heidi Swanson that I have come to love.  If you are seeking a super dense. chewy style of bran muffing, this is not the one.  Though this recipe is whole grain with a healthy dose of bran, the texture is incredibly light and tender.  The taste of butter is unmistakable.  I added apricots to take advantage of the beautiful fruit found at the market.  Almonds, always a friend of the apricot, flavor the muffin and add a crunch to the top. Make these for a crowd, or just for a few and freeze the rest.  They reheat beautifully.

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School has been out for two weeks now, the sun is blazing, and the canning pot has reasserted its dominance on my stove top.  Hello summer!  Canning is usually a solitary sport for me, squeezed in the early hours of the morning or late at night when the kids have finally succumbed to sleep.  While the bubbling caldron of jam is still a bit much for my youngsters, they are quite capable of helping me to process the fruit.  My son found the cherry pitter to be quite a lot of fun and was thrilled when I handed him the knife to cut the cherries.  Who needs summer camp when you can enlist your kids in practical life skills at home?  (Of course, give me a few weeks and I may be screaming for them to go to any sort of camp that will take them!)

Cherry Rhubarb Jam is a delightful balance of sweet and tart with a rich background note of vanilla.  The color is absolutely divine.   This is my second attempt at this type of jam and it is an absolute hit.  There is a relatively small amount of sugar added.  Cherries are so naturally sweet that it is very easy to over-sweeten them. The fruit macerates for an extended time before cooking.  This reduces the overall cooking time, since the fruit has already given up its juice.  Shorter cooking times mean fresher tasting jam and more vibrant colors.  This jam is sure to a new June tradition in our house. Absolutely delicious!

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