Oatmeal.

I don’t have too much to say other than it’s high time we had some more oatmeal-type recipes on this site.

Isn’t that introduction enough?

I probably eat oatmeal at least 4 days out of 7 each week. It’s a bit of a combination of 1) it’s easy and 2) it’s healthy. Most days though, I dig into the store-bought packets, but every once and a while I like to make a nice batch of small-sized oatmeals because let’s face it – anything you make at home just tastes better. Oatmeal isn’t any different. Plus, a recipe for oatmeal is sorta like a recipe for granola bars – you can modify it almost any way you want and it will still taste good, so that way you never get bored with the same ol’ thing every single morning.

I get that some of you just don’t like oatmeal. That’s fine, I suppose, but I’ve always been an oatmeal-kinda person. For some, the texture is just too gooey, which never makes sense, because those same people seem to just love grits. For others, it just isn’t their thing. But for me? Breakfast is one of those times that I really just can’t be bothered to whip up fancy stuff.

Plus, I like to start my day eating decent ingredients, even if I end it by shoving a bowl of ramen into my face.

In my land, that’s called balance. And last time I checked, a little balance in life is never a bad thing.

Baked Fruit & Nut Oatmeal
adapted from Inquiring Chef via Pinterest; makes 8 individual servings

time commitment: 45 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 & 1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 c nuts, coarsely chopped (I’ve used walnuts and almonds)
1 & 1/2 c fresh or frozen fruit (I’ve used frozen blueberries and fresh strawberries)
1 & 1/2 c milk (any type; I’ve used soy and almond milk with good results)
1 large egg (lightly beaten)
2 T honey or any other sweetener
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a small bowl combine the oatmeal, nuts, and fruit. In a seperate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, honey, cinnamon, and salt until well combined.

Fill 8 small oven-safe containers (or an 8×8 baking dish) evenly with the oatmeal mixture. Pour the liquid evenly over the oats in each of the containers.

Place the containers on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the fruit is bubbly and the oats are crisp and golden.

Allow the oatmeal to cool slightly and serve warm.

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Peaches & Rainbows

Over the last three weeks, I’ve made it a point to limit the purchasing of edible items to almost nothing, aside from what’s needed for simple, quick cooking and things that move easily. Also, I’m not buying items I already have in storage. That said, things like soy sauce and sriracha made the cut, but things like flour and butter didn’t.

Of course, all of my 10+ flours might very well be rancid by the time I get to them next weekend, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take in hopes of avoiding starting completely from scratch in the kitchen.

I think that’s why I forced nudged Chris to make a candy bar run earlier this week; I was craving something sweet some kinda fiercely, and even though I hadn’t eaten a Whatchamacallit in years, it seemed like the only appropriate solution. You see, I’m used to having immediate access to things like blenders, mixers, muffin tins, baking sheets, etc. This little temporary ‘kitchen’ has none of the above (I think I’ve already mentioned that about 10 times before, right?!). To that, add the fact that I was already living without my personal belongings for a month, and that equals exactly 2 months of this crap. What can I say; I caved, and I’m sayin’ it loud and proud. (That was a damn good Whatchamacallit.)

But let’s put things in perspective here; while these 2 months haven’t been peaches and rainbows per se, they haven’t been storm clouds and gremlins either. I mean for reals, we’ve had multiple bouts of amazing get-togethers, dinners, drinks, and the like as a result of this move. I didn’t even pay for most of them (lesson: if you want free drinks and dinners, move outta state ;)).

We even threw ourselves a going-away party a couple of months ago, where I decided to whip out a few treats, including these cookies I also started thinking about this week. Hard to believe it’s been that long since I baked cookies, or used my own cutting board, or had access to those dried blueberries that are waiting in storage, but it has.

When I find all of those items I’ve been sorely missing, a few of the first things I’m going to do include buying some butter along with a few other essential items, taking a nap on my long-lost couch, maybe unpacking a few boxes (the one with the flour and dried blueberries, for example), and then high-tailing it into the kitchen and making some cookies.

There will not be leftovers, either.

Cornmeal Blueberry Cookies
adapted from Good to the Grain; makes about 3 dozen

I am a huge lover of cookies of all shapes, flavors, and sizes, but non-traditional cookies hold a very special place in my heart, or belly. these aren’t your average cookies; they are sweet and chewy, but not overpowering on the dessert scale. in fact, you could probably eat a couple for breakfast without feeling too bad about it. dried blueberries are somewhat pricey (i get mine from Costco), but they are so perfect in this recipe. i’m sure you could use other dried fruits, but if they’re larger than blueberries (pea-sized), you’ll want to give ’em a rough chopping.

oh, and these cookies are definitely best eaten the day they’re prepared. they have a tendency to harden quickly, so either eat them the day of or store in an airtight container. i’m guessing you could halve the recipe if you don’t want this many, or even freeze pre-baked, rolled and coated dough, adding a couple of minutes to the baking time and baking straight from the freezer.

time commitment: about 1 hour, half of which is active and half of which involves smelling these things bake.

printable version

ingredients
2 c corn flour
2 c all-purpose flour
1 c finely ground cornmeal
1 1/2 t baking soda
2 t cream of tartar
2 t kosher salt
8 oz (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c milk
1 c dried blueberries (see above)
1/2 c sugar, for finishing

instructions
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat, or spray with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (corn flour through salt) and whisk for a couple of minutes to break up any chunks (Boyce’s recipe says to sift these ingredients together, but I can’t seem to get behind sifting ingredients, although who knows, maybe it does really impact the recipe…).

Add the butter and the brown sugar to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a large bowl and a hand mixer). Turn the mixer to low speed and mix until the butter and sugar are combined, then increase the mixer speed to medium and cream for 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the milk and the blueberries. Slowly mix until the dough is evenly combined.

Pour the finishing sugar into a bowl. Scoop mounds of dough, each about 3 tablespoons in size, form them into balls and set them on a plate. Dip each ball into the sugar, coating it lightly. Arrange the balls on the baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between them. Chill any remaining dough until ready to use.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 22 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. The cookies will puff up and crack at the tops and are ready to come out when the sugar crust is golden brown and the cracks are still a light yellow. They will appear soft, but will harden and cook more when removed from the oven.

Repeat with the remaining dough.

3 Decades, & Cake

I have a secret. Don’t tell anyone, but 30 years ago today at exactly 8:02 AM, I was thrust into the world, eyes wide open, crying incessantly; I was loud and proud from the start. At that moment, a look of horror spread across my dad’s face. Apparently, he was a bit unprepared for the site of baby delivery, or so my gramma once told me. It could have been all that black hair on my head, which agreeably would have been a bit unexpected, indeed a surprise to a light-haired guy married to a light-haired girl. Luckily, he came around and decided I was cute after all, and that I was definitely his :). Shew!

Thirty years later, it’s hard to tell what color my hair will be from one week to the next, but that’s a discussion for another day. This week, it’s red, baby.

With the cat out of the bag, I have to admit I have mixed emotions about today. I’m not sure if I’m ready to begin another decade; my 20’s started off somewhat crappily but improved consistently. I like the upward trend, minus the early trough, but I plan to instead start this 4th decade off at a high point, despite my reluctance to enter my 30’s. I enjoyed being a “twenty something”, but I think I’ll start to adhere to the “age is just a number” belief and move forward. So with that, Happy Birthday to me!

I was informed that I didn’t need to make myself a cake this year (and who knows what else Hubs has up his sleeve), so instead, I made one for somebody else. Our pals Jennifer & Jon moved (again! but we moved a lot too before we broke the bank and bought this place) this past weekend. Over their past 5 years of living in Chicago, they’ve slowly moved closer and closer to us and this time – they are 4 blocks away! Woot! Of course, I’m sure that wasn’t their intention, but nevertheless, I likey. So I thought I’d spend an evening making them a special housewarming treat since I had a hankerin’ for baking and I can’t, or rather, don’t need to, bake my own self a cake :).

The beauty of making cake for other people is that you still enjoy the aroma, and in this case, the smell of tangerines dancing into each and every nook and cranny of your place. Tangerines smell like springtime to me, even though you eat them more in winter; they smell sweet and fruity and smelling them makes me want to eat marmalade on toast while sitting in a big field of dandelions, underneath a gingham blanket with sweet wine and my my friend’s puppy running about.

In absence of those fields (and the puppy), let’s eat cake instead. Whether you’re celebrating gracefully leaving your 3rd decade behind, or perhaps a move or an anniversary, or maybe just because you want to and you do what you want when you want, eat cake. Eat tangerine cake, at that.

Happy Weekend!

Tangerine Almond Cake w/ Blueberry-Basil Sauce
Adapted from Seven Spoons who adapted from Nigella Lawson

You’ll question this recipe at first, I know you will, and you should. First, there’s no flour – eek! Second, whole tangerines go into it – double eek! But hold it together, and give this inherently gluten-free novelty a try. It’s an adaptation from Nigella Lawson, mind you. If clementines are available, start there, but probably any thin-skinned citrus will do. This cake is amazingly easy and so moist and soft you’ll question the doneness of it – I certainly did. The texture – different, but in a good way. But trust me; rather, trust Nigella and all the hundreds who’ve made this cake, including Tara at Seven Spoons.

printable version

ingredients
cake
1 lb tangerines (or clementines, nothing with too many seeds…)
9 oz whole, unshelled almonds
6 eggs
8 oz sugar
1/2 of a vanilla bean pod
1 1/2 t baking powder
pinch of salt

sauce (optional)
1 1/2 c frozen blueberries (or fresh, if in season, but with less water added)
3-4 T powdered sugar
3 basil leaves

instructions
put tangerines in large pot and cover with water (they will float like crazy, but use enough water to theoretically cover them). toss in vanilla bean (do not slice open). bring to boil, reduce heat to medium and cook whole tangerines for about 2 hours until they’re extra tender (i.e., soft when you squeeze gently with tongs). remove from pot and let cool. scrape vanilla bean and set seeds aside.

preheat oven to 375 F. over a large bowl, cut tangerines and remove any seeds and sit aside; squeeze to release any excess water (which will help on the “moistness factor”). spray an 8-inch springform pan, then line with parchment paper on the bottom and sides and spray again.

in a food processor, grind almonds until a coarse, powdery substance develops. add tangerines (skin too) and grind until a smooth, thick paste forms. it will still have some pieces of almond/tangerine visible.

in a large bowl, beat eggs until blended. add sugar and vanilla bean seeds, then baking powder and salt. whisk in tangerine/almond mixture. at this point it will actually look like cake batter, but more coarse.

pour batter into parchment-lined pan and place atop baking sheet. bake for ~60-70 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean, rotating once halfway through baking. cool completely on a wire rack.

meanwhile, make blueberry-basil sauce. mix blueberries with powdered sugar and basil leaves in a small saucepan over medium heat. add about 2 T water and cook until juices form. sweeten with more sugar to taste. puree or keep clumpy but remove basil leaves. serve over cooled cake.

Batter Up

It’s National Pancake Week, boys and girls! I truly, honestly had no freakin’ clue until around 12 PM on Thursday. Otherwise, I might have held off on the Vietnamese sandwich shop talk until later and instead provided some pancakes for you to mull over early in the week.

Do you just love love love pancakes? Growing up, we didn’t eat waffles or french toast; at least not that much and not enough where I can remember it. I do remember pancakes though – they were griddled on the weekends if my pops wasn’t making those bacon, egg, and cheese samiches that we all loved so dearly. Straight from the box of Bisquick they were, but they were all I knew and quite frankly, all I cared to know.

Aside from Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup, which was the only syrup I would eat as a child. To this day, I like it better than maple syrup on my flapjacks (although I don’t eat it now, because now I know maple syrup is “better”). In fact, I hated eating breakfast at other kids’ houses; they always had Log Cabin or Mrs Butterworths, or even worse, some generic brand that tasted like sugar water. In those instances, I’d eat my ‘cakes plain, no lie. There was no Aunt Jemima substitute when it came to the syrup and as I mentioned, there still isn’t if you can get past the ‘high fructose corn syrup’ taboo.

So, friends, it’s a good day to be reading my ramblings. I have two tried and true pancake recipes for ya and until today I wasn’t sure when I’d be posting them :). I whipped up one of these batches for company a few weeks ago (s’mores weekend) and they were demolished in moments, sorta like the way my cat scarfs down a nibble of bacon. I’d consider that batch as one of my very favorite pancake recipes of all time – and really, who wouldn’t adore a flapjack that tastes like a slice of carrot cake? Exactly.

The other is from pancake fanatic, Joy the Baker, who must have at least 15 different pancake recipes on her blog. I made these for my lover boy on Valentines day morning, as I just happened to have some lovely Michigan blueberries in the freezer and a couple of Meyer lemons in the fridge. These, I think, might be his favorite pancakes, as he didn’t leave a crumb behind.

So, here you are. If I were you, I’d be making some weekend breafast plans right. this. minute.

Carrot Cake Pancakes
Adapted from Cooking Light, January 2010; serves 6

printable version

ingredients
5.6  ounces  all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/4  c  chopped walnuts, toasted
2  t  baking powder
1  t  ground cinnamon
1/4  t  salt
1/8  t  freshly ground nutmeg
Dash of ground cloves
Dash of ground ginger
1/4  c  brown sugar
3/4  c  low-fat buttermilk
1  T  canola oil
1 1/2  t  vanilla extract
2  large eggs, lightly beaten
2  c  finely grated carrot (about 1 pound)
Cooking spray
butter, for topping
maple syrup, for serving

instructions
Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 7 ingredients (through ginger) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine 1/4 c brown sugar and next 4 ingredients (through eggs); add sugar mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in 2 c carrot.

Heat a large nonstick skillet or pancake griddle over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Spoon 4 (1/4 cup) batter mounds onto pan. Cook for 2 minutes or until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Carefully turn pancakes over; cook 1 minute or until bottoms are lightly browned. Repeat procedure twice with remaining batter.

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Blueberry Meyer Lemon Pancakes
Adapted from Joy the Baker; serves 3 (12 small pancakes)

printable version

ingredients
1 egg
1 c flour
1 T sugar
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c buttermilk
1 c thawed and rinsed frozen blueberries (or fresh, if in season)
cooking spray
butter, for topping
maple syrup, for serving

instructions
In a small bowl rub the lemon zest into the granulated sugar until pale yellow and fragrant.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk and butter.  Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Stir until just combined. Batter will be clumpy and not smooth, which is perfect.  Fold in the berries with a few strokes until barely combined.

Heat a griddle pan or large skillet over medium-hi heat.  Add a smidgen of butter or cooking spray and let melt.  Add 2 heaping tablespoons of batter to the pan.  Heat until bubbles form and start to pop.  Carefully flip over and cook through.   Place cooked pancakes on an oven proof plate and let rest in a 200 degree F oven while you fry the rest of the pancakes.

Top pancakes with maple syrup (or Aunt Jemimas!) or as Joy suggests, mascarpone sweetened with a dash of powdered sugar and the juice of one Meyer lemon.

 

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Want some more pancakes to choose from? Here’s a few from around the blogosphere:

Chai-Spiced Buttermilk Pancakes from Joy the Baker (I will totally hit these up one day)

Whole Grain Pancakes w/ Blueberry Maple Syrup from 101 Cookbooks

Gluten-Free Pancakes from Gluten-Free Girl & the Chef

Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes from Smitten Kitchen

Uncle Austin’s Mexican Pancakes with Coconut from Homesick Texan

Strawberry Cardamom Blender Pancakes from Adventures in Shaw

Stop, Check Out My Buckle!

lemon blueberry buckle

Okay…. I know. I am such a hypocrite. It was only days ago that I was dissin’ my blueberry baking skillz. Yup – days. And here I am, posting a picture of yummy blueberries. I must be crazy. Well, maybe I am. But being crazy isn’t all that bad, really. Not when food is involved.

The truth of the matter is this: I really did forget about this recipe. In the midst of writing about becoming a certified chef and the leaps, bounds, and falls in between, I plum forgot that I did bake something with blueberries and it turned out just fine. And so what if I forgot? What’re you gonna do about it? huh? huh? You’re still gonna read this, and you’re still gonna wanna use the last of your blueberries in this to die for summer dessert that will leave you practically wanting to forget about everything I’ve said anyway.


fresh cleaned blueberries


I suppose I shouldn’t really call a buckle a summer dessert. I’d imagine a lot of people save these sorts of delicacies for the cold winters when longing for the taste of fresh berries in a cakelike medium. But when I saw this recipe on The Wednesday Chef blog a few weeks ago, I was immediately sold, given my recent splurge on Michigan blueberries and love of anything with a lemon glaze. Plus, what’s not to love about something with a name as cute as ‘buckle’?


aligned blueberries


Some of you may have read about all of these different types of fruit desserts. And really, what is the different between a betty, buckle, grunt, pandowdy, slump, cobbler, crisp, crumble, and claflouti? I’ll tell you, but bear with me.


  • Betty: Fruit, usually apples, baked between layers of buttered crumbs. The most common is the “apple brown betty”. A pudding or sorts.

  • Buckle: A cake layer with fruit mixed in, followed by second layer of berries and third layer of crumble, or streusel. Baked. I think of it like a coffee cake, in a way, but with fruit.

  • Grunt: Stewed or baked fruit with biscuit-type dough on top that is steamed. Also known as a slump.

  • Pandowdy: a pie with fruit on the bottom and a rolled crust on top. The crust is broken up to allow juices to come through. Generally eaten with a spoon.

  • Slump: see grunt

  • Cobbler: Sorta like a slump/grunt as there are fruits stewed or baked, but the biscuit dough is dropped and baked with the fruit rather than after.

  • Crisp: Deep-dish fruit dessert made with crumb/streusel topping and baked.

  • Crumble: Same as a crisp, but supposedly not as rich.

  • Claflouti: French origin, has fruit (usually cherries) on the bottom, a custard, and a rough batter crust baked on top


Got it? There’s a quiz at the end of this, you know…. But at the end of the day, all that matters is these fresh-baked pans of goodness taste good. And all of the above do.


mostly-eaten blueberry buckle


Crikey. I forgot to also mention the buttermilk in the cake. I seem to always have some buttermilk in the fridge, opened and half-used, and think it’s just lovely in desserts for an added bit of just plain well, loveliness. Luisa (Wednesday Chef) was super excited about this dish, and recommends cooking it no matter how hot it is and no matter how much you are dreading turning your oven on. I figure by now, it isn’t that big a deal with the 70 degree weather out. But if it is hot in your neck o’ the woods, I can’t say I disagree with her. Strip down and bake this thing, will you?


And as much as I hated to part with the little darling, Chris & I each took a third of it to our respective offices. After eating the other third all by ourselves. Aren’t we nice?


Lemon Blueberry Buckle
Adapted from the Wednesday Chef who adapted from “Rustic Fruit Desserts“; Serves 12



ingredients
Crumb topping
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cubed, at room temperature

Cake & Glaze
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar, divided
zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, divided
Juice of 2 lemons (about 6 tablespoons)


instructions
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Add the butter, using a fork or your fingers to cut in the butter until it is reduced to the size of peas. Loosely cover the bowl, and place it in the freezer while you mix the cake batter.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, three-fourths cup sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Stir the flour mixture into the bowl, a third at a time, alternating with the buttermilk, until both the flour mixture and buttermilk are evenly incorporated into the batter. Gently fold 1 cup of the blueberries into the batter.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and distribute the remaining blueberries evenly over the top of the batter. Remove the crumb topping from the freezer and sprinkle it over the berries.

Bake the cake until it is lightly golden and firm on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through for even baking.

While the cake is baking, make a lemon syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the remaining one-third cup sugar with the lemon juice and whisk until blended. Heat the pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid thickens to a syrupy consistency, 6 to 8 minutes. (The glaze will bubble while cooking and may need to be removed from the heat to check that it is the proper consistency.) Remove from heat and set aside in a warm place.

Remove the cake from the oven and drizzle the warm glaze over. Cool to room temperature. The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days, covered in plastic wrap.

Love in a Bottle

fresh blueberries

Chris & I suddenly found ourselves without plans this past weekend and, after a somewhat relaxing weekend prior to this one (other than standing in the cold pouring rain at the opening night of Lollapalooza) it seemed like a good idea to hit the road and head over to the other side of the lake.

I’d already planned to take the day off on Friday, so Chris took it off too and off to Michigan we went. I mean, it is blueberry and peach season after all, and the folks from the lower peninsula AKA “the mitten” sure know how to farm. Turns out, they also know how to harvest some grapes.

me in the apple orchardchris picking blackberries

Our little venture was perfect. We got lucky and scored a cute little B&B in Harbour Country for one night. We used the majority of Friday and all of Saturday to taste wine (and of course buy it, again managing to procure almost two cases despite our two case + purchase in Napa earlier this March), drive the roads that instead of the smattering of skyscrapered skylines are always comforting with their heavy peppering of corn fields and pastures, and get our pick on for some dirt cheap seasonal fruit.


The wineries in southwest MI are refreshing. They aren’t snooty about their wine, but they’re proud and rightfully so. While nowhere near the complexity and richness of the Napa grapes, the MI vintners have a way of making quality varietals at reasonable prices. Our favorite place is Karma Vista and their Stone Temple Pinot (yes, the name isn’t bad either!); I will say we also went to quite possibly the weirdest winery ever and hands down the second cookiest place I can remember (the first being a tired trophy shop on the west side of Chicago – Cheryl and I decided we’d never be the same after that experience). Nonetheless, we loaded up and even discovered some new varieties including Traminette, Bonamego & Chambourcin.


bucket of blueberries


When we weren’t partaking in the grapes of Michigan, we were tackling some of the local fruit and produce farms. Having cleared out some freezer space, I was looking forward to loading up and having some good fruits in the middle of winter. I also wanted to try my hand at making preserves, and had a hankering for a blueberry buckle I’d recently read about. If truth be told, you just can’t get enough of the fresh seasonal fruits, especially if you can pick them yourself and save a little cash. We spent plenty of time at various farms: Lemon Creek for nectarines, Crane’s for peaches, the B&B for wild blackberries, and Earl’s for blueberries. I’m already thinking about how to weave a trip over for Honey Crisp apples and some pears come Fall….


preserve making


Aside from the wine, the mounds of cheap blueberries, peaches, nectarines, and wild blackberries, the real treat of the weekend was the quality time I got to spend with my favorite person. Sure, we live together and see each other every day, but the little road trips, the moments of silence in the car other than Wilco in the speakers, those are the instances I appreciate us. Those are the times I really take it all in, that’s when I sit & think, realizing I am so crazy in love. And so peaceful, so content and so downright slap-happy.


I want to take those memories, all of them, and bottle them up. I want to remember them when times get tough, if they get tough, so that we never forget those moments and so that we use them to build our relationship up rather than to ignore them and break it down. I want us, unlike so many others, to survive. I want us to be this happy forever – just from picking berries, together, in the hot August sun.


These days, love isn’t always enough. Being married isn’t always enough, and seeing each other every day surely isn’t always enough. But being in love, being in love is always enough.


bottled uppreserves


Fruit Preserves
each recipe makes 2 pints



Preserves are downright awesome. It’s a great way to make use of fresh, local fruits. And when you pick them yourself, a great way to preserve the memory as well. If you follow the canning instructions below, the preserves will last up to 1 year. The recipes can be easily modified, but do NOT try to double them as the pectin won’t work with large quantities.


I made three types of preserves: Peach-Cardamom, Blueberry-Lemon Verbena, and Blackberry-Sage.


ingredients
6 cups of fresh fruit
additional flavorings (for spices/dried herbs I’d recommend 1 t; for fresh herbs 1 T)
1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
sugar to your liking (I used 1 cup sugar, 1 cup Splenda but I saw some recipes that called for 4 cups of sugar; you can also use honey or other sweeteners)
pectin (measure according to package instructions; I purchased pectin for lower or natural sugar jam that also used calcium water that was provided in the package)


special equipment
a large pot for processing canned fruit
another large pot for making preserves
a medium pot for keeping lids warm
something to grab the hot jars (tongs or a special canning tool)
canning jars with sealable lid (has gummy lining) and ring (two pieces)
funnel, optional if you’re neat


instructions
Wash the fruit. Peel any peaches, nectarines, etc. Measure 6 cups fruit and place in a large bowl. Mash fruit to desired consistency (based on whether you like your jam chunky or smooth). Mix lemon or lime juice in with fruit and any other flavorings.


In a separate bowl, combine your sugars. Before you start making the jam, make sure you’ve cleaned/sanitized the jars (dishwashers are great here; keep the door closed so they stay warm) and have put the lids in a pot of simmering water (to soften the sealant) and brought another large pot of water to boil for processing.


In a large pot (I used dutch oven), combine the fruit mixture and heat to boil. Add pectin and about 1/2 of the sugar. Mix to dissolve and bring to boil again. Add remaining sugar and dissolve. Let the mix boil rapidly at least 1 minute.


Check the consistency. The jam will ‘gel’ more once it cools, so take a cold spoon and spoon out a little. Once it cools, see if the jam is to your liking in terms of consistency. If not, add in a little more pectin, 1/4 t should work and bring to boil again.

Once the jam is ready, place funnel (if using) atop warm jar and ladle jam into jar leaving 1/4 inch (or more) space. Place seal and ring atop jar and close. With tongs or other device, lower the jar into the large pot of boiling water, making sure it’s submerged fully, and leave for ~10 minutes. (The measurements should make about 2 pint sized jars of jam.)


Remove jars and cool completely, upright and in draft-free space. At some point, you’ll hear a popping sound. If you hear it once, it means the jars sealed successfully. If you keep hearing it, that’s bad and you’ll need to re-process with warm lids.

Our Biscuits are Better than Your Biscuits

quick muffins


You can tell, from the lack of blog posts alone, that school is in session. Not that I’m posting every day or anything, and the influx of posts about Napa doesn’t count, but I have started this blog with some fire underneath, if you know what I mean.


But now, I’ve gone what feels like an eternity (but is only a puny 4 days) without posting. And that’s because I’ve started the 3rd quarter of my year-long culinary school program at Kendall College. I don’t even know that I’ve mentioned culinary school much, except on the left screen by calling myself a culinary student. That could have meant anything though – because in a sense we are all culinary students, constantly learning about food, cooking, and reinventing recipes and techniques. I have no clue what persuaded me to go to culinary school. Honest. I’ve found myself over halfway through the program and this is probably the first time I’ve really mulled over where or why it all began. I know why I’m here, but I haven’t the faintest idea as to how this started. Either way, I like it a lot. But this week, this week was tough.


muffins and quick breads


We finished the second quarter in early March, and it feels as if we’ve been out for a long time. Finishing the first half also meant leaving a lovely instructor behind – Chef Pierre. He taught us for the first two of our kitchen classes, and this quarter we move on to a different instructor and a different class altogether. Our class is also somewhat disassembled now. There are a few of us in the “Personal Chef & Catering” program, while most are in the “Professional Cookery” program. I started in the latter but switched when I realized, if I did use my degree in a professional arena, it would primarily be to become a personal chef. Food writing & being a food critic are also on the list of possibilities (along with owning a B&B which Chris seems to think is silly while I think it would be dreamy). And so, going into this quarter, I’m a little nervous, a little excited, and to be quite honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it for the most part.

The third quarter of culinary school seems to be the most demanding – at least in terms of time. The first quarter I had two late and one early class, and the second I had two late, and half of the third class was late and the other early. I’m talking about the time I get out of class here. This quarter, I’m in class Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday from 6 until 11. Yikes! Top that off with a full-time job where I have to use my brain all day. On a positive note, the classes themselves are shaping out to be pretty cool. I’m in Baking & Pastry for Monday/Tuesday and then I take a Personal Chef Practicum Wednesday. We’ll see how it goes. Luckily, I have my buddy Caroline in all my classes, so in addition to cooking and learning, it ends up being a time to just hang out and chat too. Nice!


currant scones


And so for this post I thought I’d talk a little about baking – plus, I haven’t cooked all week so I don’t have anything else exciting to discuss. As I’ve already mentioned, I generally don’t consider this a blog about or because of school. But with only 2 out of 20 classes completed, I have learned a ton and just have to share some tidbits. And our chef is pretty cool too – she has a funny, cooky personality and keeps things entertaining.


I always knew that baking was a different art than the rest of cooking. For most recipes, you must must must follow them exactly – or else. You’ll find there are some key ingredients that, if omitted, can really destroy a dish that would otherwise be heavenly. Like blueberry muffins – I’ll get to that.

For first week, we began with something simple – quickbreads. We discussed various techniques in which quickbreads are made and once in the kitchen, we tried out a couple of them. And as Chef Pierre would have told us, our final products were “good, but could be better”! Over-mixing the dough is more of a big deal than you might think – it leads to something called “tunneling” which is just what it sounds like – tunnels in the cake. We (Caroline & I) learned firsthand what tunneling was when we watched Chef Kim open up our apple spice muffins. Big ol’ holes, and lesson learned! But they look pretty on the outside don’t they? The muffin method we used to make the zucchini & carrot bread was different – that turned out just lovely. And apparently pretty good too, from what Chris’ co-workers told him.

blueberry muffins


And so, after the first night, we felt pretty good about things. Despite the tunneling, we’d made some tasty muffins and bread. The lesson for day 2 was another quick bread method, the biscuit method. Now, I knew this was going to be my favorite. How many Southern girls do you know who don’t fancy a nice flaky biscuit? Next to my gramma & Aunt Faye’s, I’d say the ones at Bojangles are probably my favorite. Did you know that the size of the cold butter that’s cut into the biscuit, scone, or pie crust dough is what determines the flakiness? Yup! And did you know that there is a HUGE difference between Southern biscuits and “Northern” biscuits, whatever those are? I mean, most of us Southerners know, but do the rest of you? For one, the Southern biscuits just taste better, hands down. But there’s a reason or two. The key aspects that determine biscuit “goodness” are flakiness and tenderness. “Our” biscuits are a lot of both. The larger the butter pieces once mixed into the dry ingredients, the greater the amount and size of the air pockets and thus the flakier. Flakier is a word isn’t it? It looks weird on paper, or screen rather. And in math terms, flakier = tastier. Scones, you want them a little less flaky because they are supposed to be less chewy and less tender. Our biscuits in the South are also made with better flour :). I didn’t even know that until class, but it makes sense doesn’t it? I just thought they tasted better just because. It comes down to the milling process and also the protein in the flour – read for yourself. Do I even need to tell you that Caroline & I made some excellent cheese biscuits and currant scones? I didn’t think so.


cheddar cheese biscuits


 

Our blueberry muffins were another story. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve made blueberry muffins, or any type of muffin. And how tasty they’ve been. The muffin method is so easy. You mix your dry in one bowl, your wet (including sugar) in another. You combine, and don’t overmix. Bake. Voila. Ha! But not on Tuesday, April 7th in Baking & Pastry 101….. you would have thought we’d never touched batter. The fat in the muffin method is always liquid, and if butter is used, it has to be melted. Oopsie! Round 2. We were running around frantically “mise en placing” all over again. We were feeling pretty good about things, and we decided to mix early and hold off on adding the blueberries so they wouldn’t run. The mixture looked a little dry, but we thought maybe it needed some time to sit. It didn’t taste like the muffins I’d made at home so many times, but I thought maybe they’d be a little less sweet than previous muffins before them. Yes, we realized now, that that was dumb. We finally tasted our neighbors’ batter and theirs was creamy, light, and silky – tasted great – like normal muffins. So we finally sucked it up and called Chef Kim over. I think she almost gagged, but she took it like a champ, like one who’d tasted many a foul batter. We (meaning I since I was doing the dry ingredients) definitely forgot to add sugar, which in turn adds moisture. I perseverated for a bit, wondering how I’d left it out. And as I type, I realize why I thought I put sugar in them for certain – because I DID in the first mixture – the one I remembered dividing into three sugar piles for the three recipes. But this was Round 2. Oh crikey. So on to Round 3, circa 10 PM. We were again running around like crazy, but this time we had to go search for the ingredients, since we’d all put them away by this point. It was 10. On a positive note, again, we did get out of washing dishes which was nice. But then instead we stood there and stared at the oven. We got it right this time, and they were the best muffins I’ve ever had – definitely made with love, but also a quick mix. When they say the third time’s the charm, now I know what they mean.


nasty blueberry muffins, take 1


And so the first week comes to an end. I think I’m gonna like this class. Three valuable lessons: sugar can count as wet or dry depending on the technique, if you use the mixing method and use butter you have to melt it, and don’t forget the sugar! Unsweetened muffins are just plain nasty.


Next week – Yeast breads! Woot woot!

Round 3 Blueberry Muffins
from Professional Baking, 5th edition

printable recipe

 
2 lbs, 8 oz pastry flour
1 lb, 4 oz SUGAR
2.5 oz baking powder
0.5 oz salt
12 oz eggs, beaten
1 lb, 12 oz milk
1 oz vanilla extract
1 lb butter, MELTED
1 lb blueberries, drained

instructions
Mix using muffin method (dry in one bowl, wet in another – sugar with wet). Mix together into one bowl and gently fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups 1/2 to 2/3 full.

Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes – until they’re done, in Chef Kim’s words. Makes about 2 dozen soft, fluffy, delicious blueberry muffins.

chef demo