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blueberry vanilla chia ‘jam’

July 30th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Canning and preservation of food can happen year round, but it’s during the summer when people consider putting up the excess of the season the most. My Instagram feed is jammed with photos of …. well, jam. And pickles! Oh, the pickles. They are everywhere, veggies of every sort soaked in vinegar and spices and the giddy anticipation is felt right through the computer. It seems that the waiting time for proper pickles of any kind is now akin to the last few days before Christmas in it’s anticipation.

Growing up, my Mom did not do any preservation. During the Summer she spent plenty of time and cash purchasing cases of peaches and cherries, and maybe a pie or two was made from the bounty, but she loved fresh fruit, and we loved fresh peaches and cherries and most of that case would end up in our mouths, fruit juice staining our shirts or running down our elbows; I have the quintessence Summer memory of sitting on the back steps with a peach in hand, pressing my teeth over and over in to it’s superb flesh, and getting soaked in sticky-sweet juice like every child should at some point or another. The smell of ripe peaches catapults me backwards to sultry Summer, and the eager anticipation of that overflowing box of fruit, colanders filled in the sink while a Summer breeze shifts the window curtains, and more sweet, intense peaches, or cherries, to eat than should be legal. I love the idea of canning fruit, but there isn’t even comparison to flavor of fresh, no matter how diligent you are in the process, and that slip of difference always keeps me in check when I think of fresh peaches any other time of year. If the burning sun isn’t drying peach juice on your hands, it just isn’t the same.

My sister-in-law is the jam-maker in the family. She loves it, and makes quite a lot that she happily shares. I love a good, homemade jam, and I’ve tried making it a few times. Once, it was perfectly jam-like and I didn’t mind the process at all. We coveted the result, too; opening a fresh jar of deep and dark jam that smelled like summertime was such a treat in the dead of Winter. The next time I ventured to make it, it felt like the process was mocking me. It didn’t feel right, nor did it go right, and the final result was more like a thick syrup than anything close to resembling jam. We ate it anyway. Are you kidding? Blueberry syrup is divine. From that moment on, I just made syrup. Forget the jam. Me and pectin apparently don’t know how to figure each other out.

This raw Chia jam isn’t even like jam at all, except a bit in it’s consistency. If you’ve ever made a pudding with Chia seeds, then you can kind of get how this jam works- the mighty little Chia seed, worthy of soaking in up to 10 times it’s weight in liquid, is the binder, no pectin needed. Fresh fruit is whirred in the food processor with Chia seeds, the scrapings of a vanilla bean and a good dose of crossed fingers, then in a jar it goes for an overnight stay in the refrigerator. The next day, spread on toast, it’s fruity, with the tiny, almost imperceptible gel-like quality of Chia and the unearthly beautiful scent and flavor of fresh vanilla. I buried the vanilla bean pod in the jam for it’s overnight, to infuse more of the flavor because a vanilla bean buried in anything with fruit is magical in every way. What the jam isn’t is overly sweet. There is no added sugar, which you need a ton of in homemade jam. In this version, you taste fruit, subtle and sweet all on it’s own, but if you like the cloying sweet taste of jam with it’s sharp undercurrent of pectin to hold it’s shape, this jam might not be for you. But I encourage you to try one jar, as it’s just the simplest of simple things to make, and keep your mind open to possibility. It may ‘Wow’ you in an unexpected way.

My original inspiration came from Shockingly Delicious, who’s photos of her Raw Strawberry Chia Jam made my eyes bug out. I switched out the vanilla syrup that her recipe calls for to use the vanilla bean, and instead of lemon juice, I added fresh squeezed lime juice and a bit of zest, which you just don’t taste at all as much as it adds a dash of brightness to the final end result.

And it should suffice to say that any fresh fruit would make for a fine substitute for the Blueberries. Get crazy with it.

 

Raw Blueberry-Vanilla Chia Jam

1 c. fresh blueberries, washed
1 tsp. fresh grated lime zest (lemon is fine, too)
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth and consistent. Alternately, you can place all the ingredients in a bowl and mash with either a fork or a potato masher for a thicker, chunkier consistency. Scrape in to a jar with a tight fitting lid. Press vanilla bean pod down in to jam, seal lid and place in refrigerator overnight. Stir jam before using. Vanilla bean pod can be discarded or left in jam to heighten the flavor.

 

a season of blueberries

July 24th, 2013 | Comments Off

Blueberry season is my favorite.

This is one trip’s worth of picking at my absolute favorite spot, Rush River Produce. I become almost giddy with excitement when the postcard arrives in the mail, announcing the fruit is ready for picking. Although there are blueberry farms closer to me, what I love most about going to Maiden Rock, Wisconsin for these beauties (and they are stunning berries) is that the 70 minutes drive to get there is one of the most beautiful road trips one can take locally. You wind and twist along the Mississippi, past Lake Pepin and through beautiful, quaint little towns. I always go as early in the morning as I can; then, when done picking, I drive to Stockholm, or even further along to Pepin and make a stop for lunch and relaxing. I can’t get enough of the scenery, and driving along with the scent of fresh picked fruit in my car is one of Summer’s most intense pleasures.

For utilizing such perfect fruit, most of what I pick goes in to the freezer. I employ the straight to the freezer method; no washing of the fruit as it begins to break down the moment you rinse the white bloom off of it. I portion the fruit in to 2-cup increments and freeze the bags as flat as I can manage. Two cups is a pretty standard amount for most recipes, and the berries freeze without clumping so you can measure easily for other needs. They are easily utilized for pancakes or waffles in this manner, too.

We eat plenty of them fresh too. And a recipe I discovered last year for Blueberry Compote with Lemon Thyme was a huge hit. Spread over fresh, creamy Burrata, it was a beautiful pre-dinner treat.

If you LOVE Blueberry syrup on your pancakes like I do, this recipe is so simple. And it’s taste is out of this world. Best part about this recipe was that it was printed in The Edible Twin Cities Cookbook.

Of course, blueberries go beautifully in muffins, and this Blueberry Coconut Macadamia Nut version is a favorite of mine. It’s a mouthful, all right. Both in syllables, and in flavor.

Here’s a favorite coffee cake recipe for you to try as well, Blueberry Lemon Coffee Cake, rich with pop of blueberries and the spritzy bite of lemon- one of my favorite flavor combinations. Using Rice Krispies cereal in it guarantees it a perfect breakfast food.

There’s so much more one can do with blueberries. And I’m sure you have your favorites, too. Care to share them with us??

blueberry compote with lemon thyme

June 13th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

Summer is all about the simple, right? There’s such an abundance that planning a meal becomes moot, and your food comes together easily with a few ingredients, a nice olive oil to drizzle, maybe even served on a paper plate so that we can get back outside. Back to summer and enjoyment.

I’ve been on a creative kick with fruit, as evidenced by that gorgeous and frightfully easy Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, and when blueberries went on sale at a local grocer, I stockpiled them, dropping them on yogurt, in cereal, atop pancakes and just about any other vehicle to my mouth that one can imagine. Nothing like fresh blueberries.

And there is nothing quite like this Blueberry Compote, resplendent with Lemon Thyme and fresh lemon juice.

Coupled with a fast and furious love for the cheese within a cheese known as Burrata, and an ongoing affair with the tender and tiny striped leaves of the Lemon Thyme plant, I took a leap of faith on the perfect marriage of lemon and blueberry and created this quick topping that complimented the creamy cheese to utter perfection.

On a hot day, breaking open a ball of fresh mozzarella, watching the dreamy interior slip in to the bowl, mixing with the dark, deep blue of the berries, this was a quintessential summer treat. It’s made to cool down the sultriest of days. It doesn’t require much else than a spoon, really. Or good toasted bread, because really, anything tastes good on toast, doesn’t it?? And toast is a much easier means to achieving a good meal than any other base as it goes well with just about anything placed on top of it. I think a good loaf of cinnamon bread would be ideal for this creamy, berry-filled treat.

Aren’t familiar with Burrata? It’s a ball of fresh mozzarella that’s filled with shreds of MORE fresh mozzarella that’s soaked in rich cream. It’s cheese, and then some and every bit of it is rich and satisfying. It’s a nice appetizer, a perfect salad option (think good grilled veggies awash in that phenomenal cheese bath) or a delightful dessert. At upscale grocers, you should be able to find it with the other fresh mozzarella products in the deli.

All that’s left to desire is a warm, lazy day and the need to fill the belly.

Blueberry Compote with Lemon Thyme

1/2 c. fresh blueberries, washed.
2 T. fresh lemon thyme, minced
1 t. fresh lemon zest
1-2 t. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of good sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
2-3 T. good quality olive oil (use the best you’ve got here)

Mash berries in a glass measuring cup and stir in the lemon thyme, lemon zest and juice. Allow to stand for a while in order to blend the flavors. Whisk in the oil, add salt and pepper to taste, and more lemon if you wish. Chill thoroughly. The mixture will thicken as it cools, due to the oil. Whisk it again before serving to loosen.

In a bowl, carefully place one Burrata and using a spoon, break it open down the center, allowing the creamy middle to spread out. Spoon the chilled compote over the Burrata, drizzle a little oil over it and a thin pinch of good sea salt. Grab a spoon.

blueberry/coconut/macadamia muffins

December 10th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

For starters, there are WAY too many vowels in this muffin description!!

But they are worth every twisted tongue and exhaustible explanation because they are fragrant, tropical and fabulous.

About a month ago I was contacted by a company called Oh! Nuts! and asked if I wanted some products to use for my holiday baking. I’d done some business with Oh! Nuts! before and was really pleased with the quality and freshness of their bulk nuts and dried fruits. Oh! Nuts! has a lot of attractive gift options for holiday giving, as well as fresh nuts, dried fruits, candy and other items for year-round baking. I highly recommend their products and can personally vouch for the quality. I was more than happy to have another chance to use some of their items.

For my personal use this time around, I requested Macadamia Nuts and Calymyrna Figs, and within a week, they landed on my doorstep. The figs are gigantic and sweet with a soft bite, and the macadamia nuts are perfectly tender and moist. I’ve been just tickled with both products and decided that before I gobble them all up in my adoration, I would at least make an attempt to bake something with them. It isn’t often you get a world class nut like macadamia gracing your pantry.

This muffin recipe has been hanging around my kitchen for some time now; originally it’s from the Fall 2006 issue of Eating Well magazine. And in a current frenzy through the recipe stack threatening to take over it’s designated drawer, I serendipitously came across it, magically having everything on hand to whisk up a batch of these to make a sunny, yet chilly December day feel a bit more cozy.

The recipe itself is without a great deal of fat or sugar, thankfully. But the muffin doesn’t suffer in the loss of theses tasty ingredients. They burst with blueberry taste, crunchy bits of chopped macadamia nuts and a hearty, nutty crumb that is moist but not at all cake like. If it’s supposed to be a muffin, I want a muffin, not a cupcake disguised as something else. With it’s crunchy streusel-like topping and tender fruit, this will be a repeat in my kitchen, a perfect means to use the frozen berries in my freezer, and to draw more warmth to our frozen landscape.

Blueberry Coconut Macadamia Nut Muffins

1/4 c. unsweetened flake coconut
3/4 c. + 2 T. AP flour (divided)
1/2 c. + 2 T. packed brown sugar (divided)
1/2 c. chopped macadamia nuts
3 T. good quality olive oil
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. ground flaxseed
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/8 t. sea salt
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 large egg
1 large egg white
3/4 c. skim milk
2 T. plain or vanilla lowfat yogurt
1 t. lemon extract (can sub vanilla, or coconut as well)
1-1/2 c. fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries

Heat your oven to 400°. Line two six-cup muffin tins with papers. Alternately, spray the muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine the coconut with 2 Tablespoons each of AP flour and brown sugar with 2 Tablespoons of the chopped macadamia nuts. Drizzle this with one Tablespoon of the olive oil and stir to combine. Set aside for muffin topping.

Whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of AP flour, the whole wheat flour, flaxseed, baking powder and soda, salt and cinnamon until well combined. In a large measuring cup, whisk the 1/2 cup of brown sugar, the egg and egg white, skim milk, yogurt and extract until smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and whisk in the wet until only just mixed. Add the blueberries, and the remaining macadamia nuts and carefully fold in until blended.

Spoon batter equally in to the muffin tins, then sprinkle a bit of the reserved coconut topping on each muffin. Press gently in to the batter, and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in muffin pans for 15 minutes, then turn on to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Original recipe from Eating Well magazine; posted here with heavy modifications.

DISCLAIMER:
Oh! Nuts! provided me with both the macadamia nuts and the calymyrna figs free of charge
and without expectation of any reciprocal endorsement. Everything stated in this post are
my own thoughts and are freely expressed. 

blueberries in the summer rain

July 25th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

I’ve been picking blueberries at John and Terry Cuddy’s Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, WI for about 5 years now. And in doing so have encountered all sorts of weather on the chosen days that I make the long and gorgeous drive to their beautiful farm. Most days I am lucky to enjoy ample sunshine that dazzles through the trees along Wisconsin’s Interstate 35, a picturesque road that winds, dips and turns along the mighty Mississsippi River, before dumping itself into stunning Lake Pepin. The scenery along the way is one of the reasons I don’t mind the 75-minute trip, each way. I can’t imagine a more beautiful route to take in order to pick the Cuddy’s delicious and gorgeous berries.

But this year was the first year that I picked my standard two boxes full of fruit in the rain.

I really didn’t have much choice. It was either take the chance and go, or possibly miss out. I took a day off work, a Thursday, which is the first of the four-day weekend when the farm is open for picking. It’s also the best day to go since the bushes are usually bursting with fruit, all begging to be picked. But gray cloud cover greeted me when I woke up, and I thought my plans were dashed. But I looked over the radar, and spoke to John, who assured me that if I did indeed come to pick I would be amply rewarded with a bountiful harvest. Finally I decided ‘What the hell….’. I changed into some grubby clothes and hit the road.

The rain was so heavy around the Cottage Grove area, and further South that I really began to wonder just how crazy I was. But as if by magic, when I drove over the old steel lift bridge across the Mississippi into Prescott, WI, the rain just stopped. Just like that. The sky seemed to brighten just a little and my hopes lifted. I soldiered on.

Rain creates it’s own beauty that summons a unique kind of appreciation. Most people find rainy days to inspire little else but languid activity and relaxation. But driving through the cliffs around that area of Wisconsin, seeing the huge plumes of mist high above me that formed from the rain and the low clouds that scuttled across the sky, almost it seemed, right at the top of the towering hills, it gave me a sense of awe at how lovely the world can be even when it’s soaking wet. And in the midst of a lush July with plenty of rainfall, the area was so richly green that it felt like I’d been dropped in the middle of a rainforest. The Cuddy’s farm, with it’s extensive gardens and 9 acres of blueberry bushes atop a high cliff above Lake Pepin was stunning in it’s own right. Low clouds obscured some of the hills and the foliage was laden with water. It wasn’t long after I started picking that I too was soaked to the skin. Although it wasn’t really raining, a fine and constant mist filled the air. Bent low over the bushes, and only intent on filling my baskets with the bounty in front of me, I really paid no attention to how wet I was getting.

After several hours that seemed to pass very quickly, I had what I wanted.

The views at the mouth of Lake Pepin weren’t as stunning as I’d seen on previous trips, but it’s beauty can’t be denied even when clouded over and heavily misting.

The tiny towns along WI I-35 range from the unincorporated Diamond Bluff, to the 97 folks in Stockholm (with the most amazing kitchen supply store, The Palate, that I’ve seen in ages)  and, further down the road, the town of Pepin, coming in with a whopping 937 population, and home to the most famous Harbor View Cafe. Although I did not venture into Harbor View once in Pepin, I did manage to find a great sandwich and cup of coffee at Great River Cafe and Coffee Roasters. It satiated my hunger enough to get me back on the road, heading home with the sweet smell of blueberries filling my every pore.

The only downfall to picking the berries wet is that they’ll begin to break down much quicker, so utilizing my bounty was the first order of business. For the most part, I freeze the berries in baggies, mostly in 2-cup increments. This makes them perfect for any manner of muffin, pancake, smoothie, buckle or tart that I can dream up to create. And I make syrup too, because there’s just nothing better than a spoonful of fresh blueberry syrup. So now my freezer is full and the winter will be that much sweeter with the bounty available.

Rush River Produce- If you go, they are open for picking Thurs-Sun. 8AM-2PM but always call first to check on availability! Sometimes the crowds pick them out before the weekend is over. The Cuddy’s are superbly friendly and it’s a great adventure for kids and grown-ups alike. One of the best parts of my day in the rain was hearing the delightful shrieks of the kids around me as they hunted for their treasures.

And how about some great syrup to have for your pancakes, french toast and waffles?

Kate’s Fresh Blueberry Syrup

4 c. fresh blueberries, unwashed
1/2 c. water
2 T. cornstarch
1/4 c. honey

Stir all ingredients together in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow to thicken slightly, about 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.

Angel food cake croutons

February 28th, 2008 | 1 Comment »

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To make the croutons: Cube angel food cake and place on foil covered baking sheet. Place it as close under the broiler as your oven will allow and watch it carefully. The cubes will brown in seconds and can go from perfect to burnt and become smoke detector fodder in the blink of an eye. I kept the door ajar and crouched outside the oven watching it with an eagle eye. Remove the tray and turn the cubes to brown them evenly. Turn them into any imaginable form of dessert that you can come up with or just pop them in your mouth.

(jump for the Blueberry Sauce recipe) Come in to my kitchen…