Category Archives: Jams/Spreads/Sauces

Playing Catch-up Part 2: From the Beginning to the End

The beginning of December brought about preparations for my (gasp!) thirtieth birthday (yes, I am officially that old).  After much thought and deliberation about what we would do to mark the occasion, we decided that we would host a small gathering at our house, in lieu of trying to all go out somewhere.  Just me and twenty or so of my closest friends, which sounded perfect.

Since it was my birthday, I wanted to do as little work on the food as possible, while still having a bit of wow factor. For the menu I settled on a cheese board (with blue cheese, brie, a creamy goat cheese, grapes and crackers), roasted red pepper hummus (which is my classic hummus recipe with the addition of a drained jar of roasted red peppers and several tablespoons of pimentón) with crudités and pita, roasted shrimp with a spicy chimichurri dipping sauce (for the sauce, in the blender I combine a big bunch of both cilantro and Italian flat leaf parsley, two scallions, four or five garlic cloves, a generous third of a cup or so of extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of freshly grated lime zest, the juice of five or six limes, several teaspoons of ground cumin, a dash of salt, freshly ground black pepper, and as many chipotle peppers as I dare. Blend until smooth, adding a little additional olive oil or a splash of water if it is too thick to blend.),  some toasted cashews, pistachios, marinated olives, and for something sweet, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and pecan bars. Along with the food, we had an assortment of beer, mulled wine, and my “pumpkin pie martinis” (which are embarrassingly simple but always a crowd favorite: equal parts of pumpkin spice liqueur and your favorite eggnog, served with a dash of pumpkin pie spice in glasses rimmed in cinnamon sugar and graham cracker crumbs.)

Instead of a cake this year, I decided to go with some childlike fun and have a decorate your own cookie bar instead. I had homemade shortbread cookies (cut out in the shape of Christmas trees and ornaments), and an assortment of  colorful candies, sprinkles and dragées, along with six different store bought icing colors (hey, there is no shame in that!), all served on this adorable lazy Susan with inset white dishes. It was almost too charming.

I have to confess to being semi horribly devastated that none of the food table photos survived for you all to see them now (after my new SD card debacle). It was really, really beautiful (if I do say so myself). The centerpiece was comprised of antiqued, blood red roses and evergreen bows, votive holders filled with fresh cranberries and unscented candles, and about a thousand little (intricately hand placed) rhinestones atop one of my favorite “special occasion”  (read: dry clean only!) table clothes, which added sparkle. It was just the right amount of over the top for my taste. That along with the big white platters of food, each more lovingly garnished than the last… sigh… I can’t go on…(*wipes imaginary tear from cheek*)… it was some of my best work. But for now, we can all pretend that a description of it all is just as satisfying.

The evening started off with a big surprise as one of my dearest friends (who lives in California – you may know her from her comments here on Jacob’s Kitchen under the name Woman&Warrior… an apt description of a fantastic human being) showed up on our doorstep just as guests were arriving. It was really great seeing her, and being able to spend a leisurely weekend together, and also to finally introduce her to all of my friends here in Oregon who have heard far too many wonderful things about her that I’m sure they all thought that I was making her up. Spending my birthday with all of my friends was exactly what I needed, and her presence made the evening extra special.

The other big news, of course, was the purchase of my new Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR camera! Hooray!  (Cue confetti!) I hope to soon actually learn how to use all of its many functions and take my food photography to the next level. I still stand behind all of my point and shoot pictures, and am a firm believer that one does not require a DSLR to create beautiful food images.  Having a DSLR, however, as I am coming to realize, does much more easily capture beautiful food images.  So for all of my fellow point and shoot foodies out there, keep up the great work! It’s not easy, but it can still be fabulous.

Unfortunately, my birthday weekend turned somber when my grandfather (whom you may recall suffered from Alzheimer’s and lived with us here in Oregon for quite some time after I spent a year caring for him and his wife in New Mexico, until we finally had him placed into an assisted living facility less than a mile away from our house) fell and broke his arm. At first the doctors seemed to underplay his injury as though it were not a very big deal.  Less than 48 hours later, however, we were forced to make the difficult decision to begin hospice. For five days my sister and I camped out at his bedside. Though he was unconscious nearly the entire time, we played his favorite music, held his hand, read him the stories and poems that he had read to us as children, and did everything in our power to ensure that he was comfortable. He died very early in the morning, just one week after my party. I was holding his hand and stroking his brow the whole time, and my sister was right beside him talking into his ear. While he certainly suffered through  a lot of pain throughout the week, in the end it was very peaceful.

I cannot even begin to express to you how amazing the entire staff at Brookstone (his care facility) was with him. The loving care, kindness and support that they showed to him, to me, and to my entire family over the last year has been nothing short of heroic.  As someone who has seen a lot of care facilities in my day, I can say with absolute certainty that better care simply does not exist.  Period. They have twenty nine locations across the United States. If you have a loved one suffering with Alzheimer’s or dementia and are near one such location, I encourage you to seek out their services.  You don’t have to do it alone. They are there as much for you, as for your loved one. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

My grandfather, Earl Rolla Bates, (who we called “Grumpa,” because he always had a sour expression on his face) would have been 89 in March. Long after he could no longer remember my name, what he always remembered was that I bake. “How’s the baking coming?” he’d ask when we would visit “Well, keep it up. You’ve got a real knack for it!”

He was the perfect taste tester, since he loved everything, but some of his particular favorites included Ina Garten’s croissant bread pudding (with a simple brandy butter sauce), New Mexico style green chili stew, a perfectly grilled steak (which he always liked to marinate in a little bit of teriyaki sauce, salt, black pepper, and garlic, and top with a fire roasted green chili and melted pepper jack cheese), my buttermilk biscuits, apricot jam, my signature salad, potatoes in any form, and his grandmother’s rolls. (Leave it to a foodie like me to sum up someone’s life by the foods that they enjoyed!)

He was a ship’s cook in the navy, and ran a small restaurant with my grandmother for several years in his early twenties. He appreciated good food, but even more he appreciated the effort that you invested into making good food. It never went unnoticed. He was always very grateful for everything that he was given, and openly expressed that gratitude to those around him. That is perhaps the greatest lesson that he has left behind: to live a life of endless gratitude.

As an example, while in New Mexico, after dinner while I would be doing the dishes, he would often pull me aside and say something like “You know, that meal was perhaps the finest I have ever had. That salad…that salad was just so delicate, and those biscuits were just fabulous. You have become quite a young man. And I want you to know that I am really proud to have you as a member of my family.” Then, with a simple pat on my shoulder, he would turn, pick up his poodle, and retire to bed. And that would be for just any rushed, nothing special, weeknight meal. He was a hard working, funny, sarcastic, generous, ornery, little sprite of a man, and he will be missed.

Fwew! That should just about catch us up! Later this week we shall finally return to business as usual here at Jacob’s Kitchen. Between the holiday baking, my birthday, and his passing, you can imagine that this has been a particularly busy, very contemplative time for me.  But with the new year comes new hope for an even more fabulous tomorrow.

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Filed under Beverages, Jams/Spreads/Sauces, Other, Snacks

Jacob’s Kitchen: Classic Reuben on Rye (Project Food Blog – Challenge 5)

This post is my fifth entry for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. (Click here to see my contestant profile.) In this round we were challenged to put our own spin on pizza. Voting begins Monday, October 18, 2010. Follow me on twitter, facebook, or through my RSS feed to keep up to date with my progress in the competition. Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me in the first four rounds, I appreciate all of your support more than I can say!

Is there any food in the world more ubiquitous or more universally loved than pizza? I doubt it. No matter where you go around the globe you’re likely to find some local pizza specialty ranging from the more traditional to exotic flavors that you might never have thought to combine. And while we each certainly have our own preferences, in my world the perfect pizza has a thick crust that is crisp on the outside, and tender and chewy on the inside. It has just the right amount of toppings, all of which harmonize together, with no one ingredient overpowering the others. I think the reason that we all love pizza so much is because it’s so simple and casual. A few ingredients, thoughtfully prepared, flash baked, and enjoyed together with our hands; delicious, informal, and satisfying, pizza is the bread that we all break together.

This week, challenged to give you my own spin on pizza, I pondered the infinite possibilities. I thought of the incredibly delicious Philly cheese-steak pizza at the California Pizza Kitchen, and wondered how I might also reinvent a classic combination. Suddenly the idea came to me of recreating a Reuben, one of my all time favorite sandwiches, into pizza form. Yes! What a truly inspired concept. I could just imagine the great flavors, and the no doubt prestigious awards that would follow. “This invention will likely change the course of history,” I told myself, “I am the smartest human being ever to live!” Two minutes and a quick internet search later, I discovered that I was, in fact, no where near the first person to stumble upon this combination. But that’s just how it goes most of the time. It’s difficult to reinvent the wheel in the kitchen these days with such amazing foodies out there in the world.

Unwavering in my conviction, however, I scoured the recipes thinking of a way to make this dish my own. Most of what has been done with Reuben pizzas to date has consisted of a standard pizza crust, thousand island salad dressing, mounds of sauerkraut and corned beef, a mix of Swiss and mozzarella cheeses, and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. And while that all sounds perfectly delicious, most of what I found seemed more like an open faced sandwich than a pizza. I wondered how I might elevate these ingredients to create something even more special.

To start, I decided I would ditch the standard pizza dough altogether and make my own pumpernickel rye crust instead. And in lieu of using salad dressing as my sauce, I thought I could create a thick thousand island inspired béchamel. Building from there, why not throw in a little more flavor with the addition of caramelized onions, which I could sauté with the sauerkraut, laying a flavor packed foundation for the entire pizza. And what can I say? It was a tremendous success.

It really does have all of the great flavors of the classic Reuben sandwich, while still being a pizza. The flavors hit you in waves: first the tangy sauerkraut and corned beef, then the earthy crust, caraway, onions, cheese and sauce. It all comes together beautifully to create a really round, familiar flavor that we all know and love. The crust bakes up perfectly, with just the right consistency, and the thick sauce and sautéed sauerkraut prevent it from being too moist.

To make the Reuben pizzas, begin by preparing the ingredients (all of which can be made up to two days in advance and assembled right before baking):

The Dough – In the bowl of your electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or, alternatively, you can choose to mix the dough by hand), combine the dry ingredients (four cups of white bread flour, a fourth of a cup of cocoa powder, two tablespoons of granulated sugar, four teaspoons of salt, two teaspoons of onion powder, and two tablespoons of active dry yeast) and the liquid ingredients (two cups plus two tablespoons of prepared coffee, six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and six tablespoons of unsulfured molasses, warmed together for ninety seconds in the microwave) and beat for four minutes on medium speed. Gradually add two and two thirds cups of dark rye flour and enough bread flour (up to one and one third cups) to form a stiff dough. Switch to the dough hook and knead for seven minutes or until smooth and elastic. Add two heaping tablespoons of caraway seeds and mix until evenly incorporated. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and allow it to rise in a warm place for one hour or until it has doubled in volume. (This recipe yields enough to make four large, thick crusted individual pizzas.)

The Sauce – To make the sauce, melt eight ounces of butter in the bottom of a saucepan and whisk in one half of a cup of all purpose flour, cooking this mixture for two minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in three cups of whole milk, and simmer until the mixture is thick. Off of the heat, add one third of a cup of Parmesan cheese, a half a teaspoon of granulated garlic, a half of a cup of ketchup, a half of a cup of sweet pickle relish, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoon of chipotle flavored Tabasco, three tablespoons of coarse grain Dijon mustard, and a half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.

The Onions/Sauerkraut – In the bottom of a large saucepan add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Over medium low heat, slowly cook three sliced, large yellow onions, a half a teaspoon of salt, and a half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper for approximately thirty minutes, or until the onions begin to turn a deep golden brown. Add fifteen ounces of sauerkraut with its liquid, and continue cooking until the mixture is dry, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan along the way.

The Meat – Purchase one pound of thinly sliced corned beef at your favorite local deli counter, and cut it into long strips.

The Cheese – Grate one pound of good quality Swiss cheese, and have two tablespoons of caraway seeds at the ready.

To assemble the pizzas, start by heating a pizza stone in a 500° oven. (Don’t have a pizza stone? Never fear. Turn a thick, stainless steel baking sheet upside down, and place it on the middle rack of your oven, and allow it to heat for fifteen minutes.) Divide the risen dough into fourths, and roll out each into approximately nine inch rounds (the dough should be thinner in the middle and thicker along the outside edge). Place the rounds on a rimless baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Spread the dough with a generous amount of the sauce (three or four tablespoons), and a thin layer of the caramelized onion/sauerkraut mixture. Top that with a layer of corned beef, a fourth of the shredded Swiss cheese, and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. Brush the outside crust with extra virgin olive oil, and transfer the dough onto your preheated pizza stone (or baking sheet) and bake for approximately twelve minutes, or until the crust is golden brown, firm to the touch, and the cheese is melted. Serve it with a sprinkle of freshly chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, a frosty pint of your favorite beer, and dinner is served.

The rich flavors, brown bread and beer really say autumn to me.  And in a continuation of those flavors, inspired by all of the perfectly ripe fresh local apples filling up the farm stands, I decided I would drive home the tastes of fall by creating little apple cheddar dessert pizzas. But after making the Reuben from scratch, I wanted to give myself a break and so I took a little help from the store.

To make the apple cheddar pizzas, roll out store bought pizza dough to one fourth of an inch of thickness. Cut out four six inch rounds (I use a sharp knife and a saucer as my template) and line them up on a corn meal sprinkled, parchment lined baking sheet. Dust each round of dough with approximately a teaspoon of granulated sugar. Spread a tablespoon of good quality apple butter on the top of each, leaving a half an inch border around the edge. Top that with thinly sliced apples (which have been par cooked for about one minute in boiling apple cider and tossed with freshly squeezed lemon juice). Brush the apple slices with real maple syrup (preferably grade A dark amber), and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Add a handful of grated sharp white cheddar cheese to each, along with a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves. Bake at 500° for ten minutes or until the crusts are golden and the cheese is melted and beginning to brown.

These apple cheddar pizzas strike  just the right balance between sweet and savory. The sweet maple syrup, spicy apple butter, crunchy pecans, tangy apples, grassy thyme, and salty cheese all compliment one another beautifully; and the crispy thin crust provides the perfect platform, and a terrific contrast of textures. They are simple, rustic, easy to prepare, and make for the perfect, delicious end to any autumn meal.

I am reminded at times like these that food doesn’t have to be groundbreaking in order to be delicious. When I am looking at recipes I often find that I am not searching for a dish to prepare as much as I am looking for inspiration for a dish that I’m making. Recipes are like road maps. You can follow them, and they will certainly get you to where you need to go, but it’s when you finally put them down that the real fun of the adventure begins.  By re-imagining ingredients, mixing and matching flavors, juggling spices, and tasting along the way, you can create your own fantastic new spin on any recipe.  Here in my kitchen, this is how I spell delicious. In your kitchen, it’s entirely up to you!

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Filed under Breads, Desserts, Jams/Spreads/Sauces, Meat, Project Food Blog

Fire Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

When we received our CSA bin for the week I was happy to find a big bag of fresh tomatillos among its contents. I like tomatillos, but unfortunately I never think to buy them. So having them, instead, delivered right to my  front door worked out perfectly. This morning, still on my quest to use all of our CSA produce each week, I set about making  a large batch of basil pesto (I was out of pine nuts so I substituted  toasted cashews instead, and it turned out really well! who knew?). Continuing along the green theme, I figured I would fire up the grill and make this fire roasted tomatillo salsa, perfect to have around to serve over grilled meats, scrambled eggs, quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas, or just for a delicious snack with crunchy, corn tortilla chips. I started by peeling the husks from about two pounds of tomatillos and giving them a good rinse to remove that sticky, sappy tomatillo goo and placed them  all in a large bowl. I then peeled and cut a red onion into thick one inch slices (I didn’t have quite enough red onion, so I added a small yellow onion as well, but I decided to leave it whole) and added those to the bowl along with a couple of jalapeño peppers, and about ten cloves of garlic (still in their skins). I drizzled a little extra virgin olive oil over the vegetables, and then threw them on a hot grill. I was looking to blacken the jalapeños, after which I placed them in a zip lock bag, and allowed them to steam for five minutes before removing their skins and seeds.I cooked the remaining vegetables until they were soft and had developed a nice char. (Alternatively, you could cook the vegetables on a sheet pan under the broiler.) I then removed the vegetables and allowed everything to come to room temperature. In the bowl of my food processor fitted with the steel blade, I added the onions and pulsed them until they were finely diced (but still with some good texture) and emptied those into a bowl. I then added two jalapeños, and all of the peeled roasted garlic, giving that a pulse until it was finely chopped. Next I added the roasted tomatillos and pulsed until they, too, were finely chopped, but not completely pureed, adding that mixture into the bowl as well. I squeezed in the juice of two limes, added a dash of salt, about a teaspoon of sugar, a hefty pinch of ground cumin, and a large handful of chopped cilantro.  It is fresh, smokey, tart, spicy, and ever so slightly sweet from the grilled onions. Delicious, and just in time for Labor day. Enjoy!

This post made the Foodbuzz.com Top 9!!!

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Filed under Foodbuzz Top 9, Jams/Spreads/Sauces, Snacks, Vegetables

Salted Vanilla Caramel Sauce with Fresh Oranges

I have been carrying on a passionate love affair with caramel for years now. It is so amazing. On everything. I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t improve the flavor of whatever you poured it over. Why is it that it is often the most simple desserts that wind up being the best? Whether in chewy candy form, or a decadent sauce, caramel just makes the world a little sweeter. At Halloween I always make a big batch of caramel dipped apples (which I then dip in white chocolate, and roll in cinnamon sugar, which ends up tasting sort of like apple pie), and sometimes just for fun I will melt in some caramels into my favorite brownie recipe. And really, at the end of the day, good vanilla bean ice cream with a simple caramel sauce is all it takes to put me ten steps closer to heaven. Here I made a deliciously thick, luxurious, salted vanilla caramel sauce and poured it over fresh oranges. Elegant in its simplicity. I think this makes a really lovely dinner party dessert. You can make everything two days in advance, and assemble it right at the table. It couldn’t be any easier (or more inexpensive). I start by stirring together three cups of sugar and two thirds cup of water in the bottom of a heavy bottomed sauce pan. (This makes a lot but it keeps well for weeks in the refrigerator.) I then cook that mixture over low heat for about ten minutes, or until the sugar has all dissolved. (If there are remaining sugar crystals around the side of your sauce pan as your syrup is cooking, remove them by dipping a pastry brush in water and running it along the side of the pan to dissolve the crystals. This will prevent your syrup from re-crystallizing and becoming gritty. If you find that grittiness is a recurring problem for you, you can also add a third of a cup of corn syrup to the sugar syrup, which will also prevent crystallization.) I then turn up the heat to medium, and cook until the syrup is a nice caramely brown color (about another eight minutes or so, but depending on the heat of your stove and your elevation it may take more or less time, so watch it carefully), being cautious not to let it burn (the sugar will likely start caramelizing around the edges of the pan first, when this happens just give the pan a gentle swirl to ensure that it caramelizes evenly). Off the heat, I then carefully pour in two and a half cups of heavy cream (which will cause the sugar syrup to bubble up wildly – don’t be scared) and simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until it is all combined. Meanwhile I dissolve half a teaspoon or so of salt (or to taste) in two tablespoons or so of vanilla extract, and add that to the caramel (table or kosher salt is fine but this recipe is made even more special with the addition of good sea salt, gray salt, or fleur de sel… but whatever you have on hand is just fine). Give it a stir, and let it cool. The sweet, tart oranges, with the rich, sweet, salty caramel is a really fantastic combination. Serve it up with or without a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream, and you have an easy dessert, simple enough for every day but special enough for company.  Store the extra sauce in a microwave safe container in your refrigerator, and just before serving pop it in the microwave for 30-60 seconds to get it flowing again.  Enjoy!

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Filed under Desserts, Jams/Spreads/Sauces

Basil Green Goddess Dressing

Shamefully, in the last couple of weeks, in my busyness and general stupidity as an awful human being , I have allowed a considerable portion of my csa produce to spoil in my fridge. This is not acceptable. I can do better. So this week I am now on a mission to use everything, down to the last little leaf of lettuce and parsley stem. In surveying all of my produce, and imagining what I might concoct with such a spread, I realized that I had everything I needed for a nice salad with basil green goddess dressing. Yay! That spells lunch to me! I did use Ina’s recipe as a guide, but didn’t really measure anything. I added twice the lemon juice, I would think, along with the zest of half a lemon, ’cause I like a nice twang, and a big handful of basil leaves, scallions, parsley, six anchovy fillets along with the capers they were wrapped around (because I didn’t have any anchovy paste on hand), a big pinch of chipotle powder, to add just a little nudge of heat, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Once upon a time I used to be afraid of anchovies. Thinking back, I am not exactly sure why. My own ignorance I suppose. But then I discovered the amazingly delicious wonders of fish sauce (which is largely made with anchovies), and lamented all of the many wasted years of great flavor. Really, when it comes down to it, they taste sort of like slightly fishy, extremely salty Parmesan cheese. So nutty and robust, and you would never know or even venture to guess that there were any fish in this dressing, or in sauces, or any of the many other anchovy applications. Seriously. If, like me, you have been afraid to take the plunge into the fishy waters, what are you waiting for? You are missing out! But I digress… I sliced a colorful assortment of tomatoes, and placed them along side half a small head of red curly leaf lettuce, which I washed and spun dry in my salad spinner. And enjoyed the salad with a fabulously excessive amount of this incredibly full flavored dressing. It is creamy and tangy, with a little heat from the fresh garlic and scallions, and the grassyness of the almost licoricey, minty basil. It hits your palate in all the right places, and is a perfect compliment for these amazing farm fresh, vine ripened tomatoes. What a perfectly delicious lunch, and a step in the right direction of utilizing the entirety of my csa. Anyone out there have any good recipe suggestions for kohlrabi or lemon cucumbers? If so, let me know, that will be my next challenge. Happy eating everyone!

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Filed under Jams/Spreads/Sauces, Salads, Vegetables

Green Beans with Hollandaise

After having had a busy couple of days of non stop baking in the scorching summer heat, I (thankfully) finally found some time last night to go out with some fabulous friends and have a good time. Upon returning home we found the CSA bin on our doorstep, as if left by magical little elves. As I rummaged through the box of produce I was elated to find an enormous bag of farm fresh green beans (our first of the season!). I have always been a lover of green beans. As a child, while they were always horrendously overcooked or (gasp! dare I say) canned, I still gobbled them up as if they were candy. These days I prefer my green beans to retain a little bite to them. Some people out there disagree and feel the need to cook their beans until they are brown and practically falling apart. But, you know, that’s fine, to each their own.  I have also recently seen several different recipes for “fool proof” hollandaise sauce, that can be made in advance. Now I have never had a big problem with the making of the sauce, but I have always found that it has to be made seconds before it is served, which often takes me away from the pleasures of mingling with my dinner guests. So the idea that I could make the sauce an hour in advance and then just refresh it with a little hot water was very appealing to me. I started out by blanching the trimmed green beans in boiling salted water for four to five minutes, and then shocking them in salted ice water to stop the cooking and to lock in their green color. Meanwhile, in the blender, I combined (or should I say blended) four egg yolks, three tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a generous grinding of black pepper, a small dash of salt, a little freshly grated nutmeg, and a couple of hearty pinches of chipotle powder (though cayenne pepper would work equally well). Once that was thoroughly mixed, with the blender still on, I slowly drizzled in fourteen tablespoons of hot, melted butter (which I heated in a glass measuring cup in the microwave) through the pour spout. And voila! It really couldn’t be any simpler to make.  Since I was testing this recipe to see if it did, in fact, have the staying power to be made in advance, I left the mixture in the blender at room temperature for one hour. I returned to a sauce that had the consistency of a thick mayonnaise. I added two tablespoons of extremely hot tap water (as directed by at least five of the recipes I have recently seen), and gave it a thirty second whirl. And, wouldn’t you know, exactly as promised, the sauce came right back together and was ready to serve. I warmed the green beans by dropping them back into boiling salted water for about thirty seconds, drained them, and lined them up like soldiers on a warm, white platter. Now is there anything in life better than hollandaise? It is so sinfully rich and luxurious, it really does make even the simplest meal feel special.

UPDATE: I have also found that you can make your hollandaise as directed above and store it in a thermos (which I first fill with very hot tap water and then empty in order to pre-warm it) and the sauce will stay hot and pourable for up to three hours (depending on the quality of your thermos). Just give your thermos a shake before serving. Enjoy!

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Filed under Jams/Spreads/Sauces, Side Dishes, Vegetables

Basil Pesto

Bags of basil have just started arriving in our weekly CSA shipments, and this week we finally got enough to make a batch of pesto.  Pesto is something that I never really measure for, I just toss the ingredients into the food processor, pulse and taste until it is just right. It just so happens that today, quite by accident, I stumbled upon the best pesto I have ever made. I started by tossing in 3-4 large cloves of garlic and gave those a head start with a pulse in the food processor. I then add three or four big handfuls of basil leaves, a couple of handfuls of toasted pine nuts, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper, and a big pinch of ground vitamin c, to keep it nice and green. I gave that a few pulses, and then drizzled in extra virgin olive oil through the feed tube until it formed a thick paste. Today, I slightly overestimated the amount of basil that I had, so in order to green the mixture up a bit, I decided to throw in a handful of Italian flat leaf parsley, and I gave it another whirl, and then decided that it needed a little bit more. As I reached for my second handful, I realized that, in my haste, it was actually cilantro that I had first grabbed (oops!). So I decided to add a handful of actual parsley. Once it was all combined, I finished it off by stirring in about a half a cup of Parmesan cheese. The accidental addition of a little cilantro and parsley really round out the basil flavor, and add a nice grassyness, that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to identify.(So, what started as a happy accident has now become my secret ingredient!) It is rich, fresh, nutty, tangy, and cheesy. It is almost spicy with that fresh garlic bite, and the lemon juice cuts through the richness of the oil and cheese. Pesto is a versatile flavor weapon in the kitchen that can be used in a million different ways. Perfect on its own spread on toasted slices of baguette (which I drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and toasted in a 350º oven), over pasta, fish, or chicken, or as a filling for savory palmiers. Dee-licious! Enjoy!

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Blue Ribbon Winning Blueberry Jam

I know what you’re thinking, “For someone who hates making jam so much, you certainly do make a lot of it.” Tell me about it! Luckily for me, this year I have had a lot of help from a couple of fellow jam loving friends, which has made the process infinitely more tolerable. Last year this blueberry jam walked away with a blue ribbon at the Oregon State Fair, and rightfully so (if I do say so myself). It is lightly spiced, but only just enough to really enhance the blueberry flavor. I start by crushing the berries with a potato masher, which I think really does give the jam just the right texture. For four cups of crushed blueberries I add one third of a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, one packet of powdered fruit pectin, four cups of sugar, a scant teaspoon of ground ginger, a large pinch each of ground cinnamon and nutmeg, and  I then process the jam according to the standard Ball® canning procedure. It is tart, sweet, spicy, and full of great flavor. Perfect on toast or scones, or as a swirl in vanilla ice cream. It really is a winner. Enjoy!

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Filed under Blue Ribbon Winners, Jams/Spreads/Sauces

Oregon Berry Jam

When four flats of berries arrived on my doorstep yesterday, as part of our CSA, I knew the time had come again to make jam.  Of the four flats, there was one of boysenberries, one of marionberries, and two of kotataberries. Unfortunately, since they are all varieties of the blackberry, they all look  essentially the same, so  my friends and I had considerable difficulty differentiating between them. The solution? Mix all of them together and make “Oregon Berry” jam instead! We took some of the berries and processed them through a food mill (with the fine blade) to remove the seeds, and then added some whole berries for texture. Combine two cups of seedless berry puree with one cup of whole, slightly mashed berries, one fourth of a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, one package of powdered fruit pectin, and five and one fourth cups sugar, and process according to the standard Ball® canning procedures. It is amazing. A really round blackberry flavor, with just the right about of twang, that just strikes a bell on your tongue. It is great on its own as a spread for toast, or on crackers with slices of brie and a little chiffonade of fresh basil, or add a few tablespoons to your chicken marinade for a delicious blackberry glazed chicken. Whichever way you choose to use it, this jam is a sure fire winner. Enjoy!

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Filed under Jams/Spreads/Sauces, Snacks

Apricot Jam

There is nothing to me that screams summer quite as loudly as spending an afternoon standing over a hot pot of boiling fruit and sugar. Many an hour have I stood over the stove in my grandmother’s kitchen, stirring, making batch after batch of jam, until there was nary an apricot left in the tri-state area. Oh how I loved and hated those days. It is the best, worst experience in a cook’s yearly schedule. But, oh what a sweet reward you reap. Months later, even in the dead of winter, you can pop open a jar of these golden, amber preserves, and you can literally taste a spoon full of summer sunshine.There are only a hand full of things that can bring me back to a very specific place, and time, and feeling. A certain cologne, a certain song on the radio, a certain special place. But the smell of bread baking, and the taste of melting butter and apricot jam are all that I need to be transported back in time. It is the smell of my childhood. I am reminded at times like these what a sacred venture cooking really is. We are not just feeding our bodies. We are nourishing our souls. The recipe my grandmother used is very simple. Five cups of coarsely chopped, farm fresh apricots, one generous third of a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, seven cups of sugar, two tablespoons of butter (to prevent foaming), and one package of Sure*Jell powdered fruit pectin (I am usually never brand specific, but in this case it really does make a difference) and follow the cooking instructions here or on the box. It is nothing more than  exactly what apricot jam should be: like biting into the very best apricot you have ever had. Perfection. This is hands down the best jam in the world, I could seriously eat the whole jar with a spoon. Enjoy!

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Filed under Jams/Spreads/Sauces