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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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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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Summer, with a capital “S”, beginning with the longest day of the year, is weeks away, but thanks to our local school board, summer is in full swing here.  School is out, pools are open, and that means it is time to break out the ice cream maker.  My kids and I (since I teach for a living) are wholeheartedly leaping into carefree summer-mode.  I am now in the business of putting smiles on their sweet little faces and nothing works better for that than some form of sweet frozen goodness.

Lebovitz’s Strawberry Frozen Yogurt made its way into our lives (and bellies) last summer.  As strawberry season unfolded this year, I could not wait to make it again.  David Lebovitz is a master of desserts and this frozen yogurt is no exception.  The recipe starts with a full pound of perfectly ripe seasonal strawberries macerating in sugar and vodka.  Once they are nice and syrupy, simply blend them with yogurt (he calls for whole milk, but I find lowfat makes it perfectly creamy) and pour into your ice cream maker.  Wow, the result is frozen yogurt with an amazingly intense strawberry flavor not to mention the remarkable pink color.  The yogurt has a tender yielding texture and truly tastes like strawberries.  Head for the field or market, gather the most delectable strawberries you can find and make this dessert.  It is sure to bring a smile to your face.

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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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Some dishes seem to create themselves.  The ingredients radiate with pure excitement when they enter into each others’ proximity.  This was the case when the loads of astonishingly fragrant strawberries pushed into the log of chevre in the fridge the other night. They called to me in their sweet seductive voices to please toss them with fresh spinach and roasted almonds, I was powerless to resist. Luckily, this force is pure good.  This dish is  full of vibrant seasonal nutritional powerhouses, so the guilt factor is nearly nil.

While strawberries are often restricted to  dessert or breakfast dishes, they make an excellent salad.  Feel free to adapt this at will.  The spinach can be replaced with arugula or butter lettuce, the chevre with feta, and the almonds with walnuts or pinenuts, but do not leave out the STRAWBERRIES!  They are too good right now to miss.

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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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