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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Minted Blueberry Jam

I love blueberries. It's hard to not just eat them. They are kinda like the chips of the fruit world - you can't eat just one. Organic blueberries can be very pricey. I bought one pound for $10 at the farmers' market last week and I felt good about it. When I saw organic, California grown, blueberries at Costco for $9 per two pound box, I was down right excited. I bought four pounds! Such riches!

I made one batch with just blueberries, sugar and lemon juice. Another, I added mint. I have been trying to add mint to preserves for some time, but usually lose the brightness of the flavor. Also, herbs tend to turn brown when cooked in preserves. This is not so bad with blueberries, but looks terrible in lighter jams. I read an instruction in Blue Chair Jam Cookbook that worked splendidly - Simply steep the mint in the jam after boiling but before canning. The minty flavor is strong and bright. Mint and lemon are both great enhancers for blueberries. You should give them a try! I'm looking forward to cool, minted blueberry sundaes!

Minted Blueberry Jam
2 lbs. blue berries (about 6 cups, whole)
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 sprigs of mint, with stems, washed and towel dried (I used 3 peppermint and 3 spearmint)

Prepare 6 half-pint jars and their lids. Prepare the boiling water bath. Place a saucer with several teaspoons in the freezer.

Wash and pick over the berries. Remove any stems that are still attached. Mash half the berries. Place the mashed berries, whole berries, sugar and lemon juice in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat slightly and boil, stirring frequently. Blueberries have plenty of pectin and will thicken before they reach 220 degrees (the gel stage). Stir, watch and taste. When the jam starts to thicken, scoop out a small portion with one of the frozen spoons and place it back on the saucer in the freezer. Allow to just cool. Push the jam with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, it's done!

Remove the pot from the heat and skim off any foam. Use tongs to submerge the mint sprigs in the jam and swoosh them around. Allow to steep for about 5 minutes. Taste to see if the mint is forward enough for you. If not, let it steep a bit longer. (The minty flavor will diminish some with storage, so you might want to make it a tad strong.) Use the tongs to remove the mint springs and try to squish off any jam that sticks to them. Discard the mint. (Your compost will smell extra good!) Stir gently to distribute the fruit then carefully ladle into the hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims and top with lids. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes a bit more than 5 half pints.

Ps. For fantastic blueberry jam without the mint - omit the mint!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Random Food Fridays - Minted Melon Salad

This salad combines some of my favorite flavors. It is sweet and cool and refreshing. I made it as an accompaniment to a spicy red curry and it was wonderfully soothing and refreshing. The flavor will improve as it macerates, but the mint will darken. My lunch mates didn't care about my brownish flecks of mint and I enjoyed it to pieces.

Minted Melon Salad
1/2 large honeydew melon (about 4 cups cubed)
Zest and juice of one orange
2 tbsp. fresh chopped mint
1 tbsp. ginger syrup*

Cut up the melon and place into a large-ish bowl. Grate the orange zest over the melon. Squeeze the juice over the melon. Stir in the mint and the ginger syrup. Toss to coat. Enjoy!

*I have kept ginger syrup on hand since discovering this recipe. I have found many uses for it, including adding a fantastic zing to fruits. You can also purchase ginger syrup in most gourmet or health food stores. Honey would make a good substitute.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mixed Berry Jam - Strawberry, Blueberry and Raspberry

A Thursday morning breakfast - sourdough toast with butter, cheese and jam.

I've been jamming again. Spring is here and I've moved from Winter's citrus to Spring's berries. I didn't post about this year's plain strawberry and strawberry/ginger, 'cause hey, you can check out those posts from Springs past. (Strawberries and ginger are still magically delicious!)

 Strawberries, ready for squashing.

There is one of those cute, little, white strawberry huts near my in-law's house. A nice family sells berries and other produce from their small farm. We stop there on Wednesday nights and I usually don't have time to jar the berries until the weekend. Several people have sent me a link to this article about using white vinegar to prevent berries from getting moldy. It really works! I simply swish the whole berries in the vinegar water, drain them back in their little baskets and put them in the fridge. They have dried slightly, but have still been delicious. This has saved me the regret of over-buying and waisting precious fruit.

 Raspberries, being squashed.

The only draw back to well stored berries is that they get eaten. This is not really a problem, but I ended up with fewer than anticipated by Sunday. So, I decided to experiment and add some other berries. The strawberries predominate, but the others add a nice tang and unmistakeable berry color.

Here's the blend. I used 1/3 cup of my homemade green apple pectin to help with texture and it worked like a charm. I'm watching the little green apples on my in-law's tree and will make more of this concentrated pectin in June.

Mixed Berry Jam
4 cups lightly mashed strawberries
8 oz. lightly mashed blueberries
6 oz. lightly mashed raspberries
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup apple pectin
3 1/2 cups sugar

Mix berries, lemon juice, apple pectin and sugar. Set aside to macerate while you prepare your jars and equipment, or overnight.

Prepare 6 half-pint jars and lids. Prepare the boiling water bath. Place some saucers and spoons in the freezer.

Place the fruit mixture in a large pot with a heavy bottom. Bring to a boil, reduce heat slightly and boil gently until thickened. I found that this jam did not need to get up to the usual 220 degrees. Stir frequently to avoid scorching. As it thickens, begin to test by scooping out a small amount into one of the spoons from the freezer and place the spoon back in the freezer on one of the saucers. Once cool, push the jam with your finger. When it wrinkles, it is ready.

When ready, remove from heat and skim any foam. Carefully ladle into hot prepared jars, wipe the rims and top with lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove to a towel lined tray and allow to cool overnight before labeling. Enjoy!

Makes 6 half-pint jars.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Random Food Fridays - Brown Rice Pilaf

Dinner - Teryiaki chicken thighs, sauteed greens and brown rice pilaf - YUM!

I generally don't get excited about rice. Every now and then I have some fantastic rice that makes me rethink my blase attitude towards this healthy grain. For example, Jamie's Broadway Grill - a place famous for their treatment of meats - makes a wild rice pilaf that is perfect with their expertly prepared fish dishes. Try it!

The brown rice pilaf that I made this week was delicious. Mr. Dwayne agreed that it was the best I had ever made. Pilaf is more a technique than a recipe, but this combination of ingredients play very well together. This is one of those recipes where attention to small details can make all the difference. The fresh, chopped parsley and toasted nuts must be added at the end of the cooking time. Toasting the nuts enhances their flavor and crispiness and the fresh parsley provides an enlivening hit of bright, herbal flavor. If these ingredients were cooked for 50 minutes along with the rice, they would be ruined.

The players.

Because brown rice takes about 50 minutes to cook, it is not a good weeknight choice for us, so I usually make it in advance. On Sunday night, I made this pilaf and prepped the chicken thighs in the marinade for Monday's dinner. I also had pre-washed and chopped greens stored in the fridge. (The last from my garden this season.) This was a fine meal and made for great lunches.

Brown Rice Pilaf
2 tbsp. butter
1 large shallot, diced
1 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms
black pepper
1 cup brown Basmati rice
2 cups hot water
2 tsp. organic chicken base (or two cups broth)
big hand full of chopped parsley
1/4 toasted sliced almonds

Place a medium sauce pan, with a heavy bottom, over a medium flame. Add the butter, shallots, mushrooms and a few grinds of black pepper. Saute about 5 minutes. Place the rice into a fine strainer and rinse. Drain well. Add the rice to the saucepan and toss to coat with the butter and blend with the veggies. Saute for a minute more. Dissolve the chicken base in hot water and stir into the rice. (If using unsalted broth, you may want to add about 1/2 tsp. salt at this time. The chicken base I use is plenty salty.) Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer on low for about 50 minutes. When rice is done, stir in the parsley and nuts. This makes about 6 side dish servings.