Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

I love rhubarb.  It’s one of my favorite flavors of summer, but fresh rhubarb is really hard to find in Texas.  I was lucky enough to find some fresh rhubarb at my favorite farmer’s market last year . . .

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But this year, no such luck.  I imagine it must be hard to produce in the kind of heat that’s common to our area, because I know it isn’t hard to grow.  In the Northwest, rhubarb literally grows like a weed.  My dad’s large garden featured a single rhubarb plant, which always provided more than enough rhubarb stalks for pie, torte, jam, and anything else my mom wanted to make with it.

Meanwhile, in South Texas, fresh rhubarb sells for $6.99 a pound at the grocery store.  I love rhubarb, but not that much.

Fortunately, I was able to find frozen rhubarb for $2.99 a bag at my local Sprouts grocery store.  (If you have a Sprouts in your area, I highly recommend it for its selection of gluten-free flours and frozen foods.)  I’d had enough trouble locating rhubarb that I was tempted to buy every bag they had in the freezer case.  I didn’t want to be a rhubarb hog, though, so I bought four bags and left the rest behind.  But I may well make another trip to Sprouts later this week, now that I’ve used up all four bags, and if there’s still rhubarb available at this point, it’s every Foodie for him or herself.

This morning, I made two rhubarb recipes: Rhubarb-Almond Bars (recipe forthcoming) and this small-batch recipe for Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam.

Rhubarb Jam

This stuff is beyond delicious and right on into sublime.  It’s slightly tart–the strawberries add a bit of sweetness that rhubarb lacks, but the rhubarb keeps this jam from being overly sweet, which is my objection to most store-bought varieties of jam.  Because this is a small batch recipe, you’ll need only a pound of strawberries and one 12-ounce bag of frozen rhubarb–or about 2 1/2 cups sliced, if you’re lucky enough to have fresh rhubarb available in your area.  Just slice the rhubarb stalks crosswise, the way you’d slice celery.  It will break apart while you’re cooking it, so don’t worry about the uniformity of pieces.

Although this recipe calls for pectin (available at your local grocery store, on the same aisle where you’ll find canning jars and other cooking equipment), it isn’t absolutely necessary–cooking the fruit long enough will yield the thick consistency you’re looking for.  Pectin just speeds up the time by which you’ll reach this consistency. Before you start making jam, put a small plate in your freezer and use it to test the consistency of your cooked fruit.  A drop of the hot jam should solidify after running a little way on a tipped plate.  If it keeps on running to the edge of the plate, it’s not done.  Wipe off the plate, put it back in the freezer, and give your jam a few more minutes on the stove before testing it again.

This recipe yields about four pints of jam.  Store it in the freezer and save a jar for the deep midwinter, when you’re craving a bright taste of summery goodness.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

Ingredients:

1 pound strawberries, quartered
1 12-oz. bag of frozen rhubarb, or 2 1/2 cups fresh, sliced rhubarb
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 T. pectin

Directions:

Before you start cooking the jam, put a small plate in your freezer. You'll use this to test the consistency of your jam.

In a large saucepan, stir together the strawberries, rhubarb, and sugar. Cook the fruit mixture over medium-high heat until it begins to release some of its juice; then sprinkle the pectin over everything and stir to combine. Bring this mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down slightly. Mash the fruit to whatever consistency you prefer (very chunky or relatively smooth) using a potato masher or the back of your spoon.

Continue stirring the fruit mixture once in awhile. The jam will splatter as it thickens, so use a spoon with a long handle and stand back from the stove. When the mixture is thick enough to coat your spoon, retrieve your plate from the freezer. Place a drop of the hot fruit mixture at the center of the plate and tip it sideways. If the jam stops running halfway between the center and edge of the plate, it's done. If it keeps running, wipe off the plate and put it back the in the freezer. Allow the jam to cook for two more minutes, then test it again.

When the jam is done, allow it to cool just slightly before you transfer the hot mixture to jars. After the jars cool to room temperature, store them in the refrigerator or, for long-term storage, in the freezer. Jam stored in the refrigerator should be used within a week.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Raspberry Whip

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Back at the beginning of my days as The Family Foodie, I told the story of my nemesis, Jell-o.  I have no idea why something as simply as Jell-o gives me so much trouble, and neither does anyone else in the Foodie family–especially when you consider that I’m capable of making fairly complex things.   Jell-o is powder dissolved in hot water, with a splash of cold water added to the mix.  Once refrigerated, you have the finished product.  Simple, no?

No.  Not for me.

In all honesty, I think my trouble with Jell-o comes down to two things I lack: patience and precision.  Jell-o requires hot water: not boiling water, which will prevent gelatin from solidifying, and not tepid water, which will prevent it from dissolving.  Jell-o also requires precise measurements of water or ice, and I freely confess that I’m not big on measurement.  Given the fact that no one else has the same trouble with Jell-o, I can only conclude that the problem is mine and not the product’s.

In that same early post, I conceded defeat to Jello-o and to The Hubs’ family recipe for Lemon Whip, one of his favorite desserts.  But anyone who knows me also knows that I don’t deal well with defeat.  Especially not in the kitchen.  So I decided to give the recipe another try this year, for Father’s Day again.  He remembers this dessert from the family gatherings of his childhood, and he remembers helping his mom crush the graham crackers that make up the crust, and he especially remembers that it wasn’t hard to make, because his mother was not a skilled kitchenista.  “If it were difficult to make,” he said, “she wouldn’t even have tried to make it.”

Still, I was afraid my Lemon Whip would pale by comparison, so I decided to take this recipe in a slightly different direction and make it Raspberry Whip, using raspberry Jell-o rather than lemon–although I did keep the lemon juice from the original recipe.  It adds a tart edge to a dessert that I suspect would be too sweet otherwise.  That neon pink color you see in the photo above?  That’s the raspberry Jell-o, in all its glory.  This isn’t meant to be a fresh and fruity dessert but, rather, a visit to the convenience foods of our childhood.  The Hubs and I were both born in the 60′s, raised in the 70′s.  Convenience foods were the staples of our lives, and although we don’t eat them much anymore, we can’t deny that it’s a comfort to return to them once in awhile.

I made this recipe gluten-free by using Kinnikinnick Graham Style Crumbs.  I was really pleased with both the taste and texture, which are essentially indistinguishable from regular graham cracker crumbs.  I learned through trial and much, much error that you need to use full-fat evaporated milk in this recipe; fresh cream would probably be easier, but it also has a higher fat content and would give the dessert a heavier texture.  The evaporated milk also needs to be very well chilled in order to be dense enough to whip.  (Evaporated milk was often used in place of fresh cream during World War II, with a little bit of gelatin thrown in to give the milk more body.  Once fresh cream was readily available again, no one took the time to chill and whip evaporated milk.  But learning how to do this will save you a few fat grams, if you’re counting calories.)

My version of Raspberry Whip came out a little less fluffy than what The Hubs remembers, but I was pleased with any result that didn’t resemble soup–that’s where I’ve been in the past, when it came to Lemon Whip.  And of course, wonderful man that he is, The Hubs said he liked my Raspberry Whip even better than the lemony original.  The Girl tried a piece and, because she didn’t know the graham cracker crumbs were gluten-free, couldn’t taste any difference at all; she liked the raspberry flavor, even though she isn’t a fan of Jell-o in general.  The Boy was very hesitant to try anything as unnaturally pink as Raspberry Whip, but once I convinced him to take a small bite, he admitted “That’s actually pretty tasty.”

And so we call a truce, Jell-o and I.  It doesn’t seem likely that I’ll be whipping out many jiggly desserts in the near future, but I’m pleased that I was able to recreate something that made Father’s Day a little more special for The Hubs.

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Raspberry Whip

Ingredients:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 can evaporated milk (not 2% or fat free)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup hot (not boiling) water
1 small package raspberry Jell-o
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Directions:

Reserve a half cup of the graham cracker crumbs. Spread the rest evenly across the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan. Set the pan aside.

Pour the evaporated milk into a metal mixing bowl and add the sugar; stir to dissolve. Place the bowl, and the beaters from your mixer, in the freezer until ice crystals begin to form around the edges. This will take at least 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how cold your freezer is.

Meanwhile, dissolve the Jell-o in hot water. Let this mixture cool completely and thicken slightly, until it's the consistency of egg whites. Stir in the lemon juice.

Retrieve the mixing bowl and beaters from your freezer. Whip the evaporated milk until it's thick and foamy. Slowly add in the Jell-o mixture and continue whipping. Pour the filling over the graham cracker crumbs in the prepared pan; sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the top. Refrigerate until set.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Glazed Lemon Yogurt Muffins

004Things are finally getting back to normal in the Foodie household:  The Girl has graduated from high school, The Boy has turned 16, and all our visiting family members have returned to their respective homes.  After a week of parties and party food, it’s definitely time for a Foodie family detox: out with the gluten and high-fat treats (like birthday cake, pizza, cheesecake, and croissant finger sandwiches), in with the lower-fat and gluten-free options that make up our regular diet.  Yesterday, when I went to the grocery store to restock our kitchen, The Hubs specifically asked me to buy “normal food.”

On the road to Normal, I made a batch of these Glazed Lemon Yogurt Muffins.  Lately I’ve been working with Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend, which gives baked goods a slightly denser texture than the Namaste Foods Perfect Flour Blend I’d been using before, but that’s not an entirely bad thing when it comes to muffins.   These muffins have a crumb that’s similar to pound cake, which makes them a satisfying breakfast treat.  (The Pamela’s blend includes guar gum.  If you’re using a gluten-free blend that doesn’t include either guar gum or xanthan gum, be sure to add 1/4 tsp. of one of these to your batter.)

As with most gluten-free baked goods, these will stick to your paper baking liners if you don’t first spritz them with a little non-stick spray–there’s not enough oil in the batter (or bounce in the wheat-free flour blend) to help them hold their own against the paper.  Alternatively, you can skip the liners altogether and just spray your muffin tin, but I like the look of colorful liners.

The lemon glaze on these muffins is, as far as I’m concerned, non-negotiable: it makes them a little more special, but not so much so that you need to feel like you’re eating a doughnut.  Use a pastry brush to keep the glaze on the top of the muffins, so you don’t end up with sticky fingers.  (And if you do–well, just keep in mind that licking lemon glaze off your fingers is not the worst way to start the day.)

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Glazed Lemon Yogurt Muffins

Ingredients:

For the muffins:
2 cups flour (I used Pamela's Artisan Flour Blend)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup light sour cream
2 T. melted butter
1 lemon, zested and juiced

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
Lemon juice

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners and lightly spray them with non-stick spray. Set the pan aside.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. Whisk to combine and set the large bowl aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, melted butter, and lemon juice. Whisk to combine all the wet ingredients, then add them (a third at a time) to the dry ingredients. Stir the batter just until the dry ingredients have been incorporated. Let the batter rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes.

Divide the muffin batter evenly among the twelve muffin cups and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tops of the muffins are lightly browned and the centers are firm. Allow the muffins to cool before brushing on the glaze.

To make the glaze: measure the powdered sugar into a small bowl and whisk in enough lemon juice to reach a pourable consistency. You'll need about a tablespoon of juice, but add a little at a time and stir well--it's easier to thin out a thick glaze than to thicken up a glaze that's become too thin. Use a pastry brush to paint the tops of the muffins with the glaze, and give the glaze a few minutes to dry. It will create a glossy topping on the muffins.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Things I Hope She Knows

JorieLue

That adorable child you see here?  That would be The Girl, when she was about three years old.  All sass and attitude, even that early on.

Now, as she prepares to graduate from high school, she looks like this:

Jordan Senior Pic

The sass and attitude are still there, believe me.  They’ve just been tamed and polished a bit.

As I was telling a friend a few weeks ago, I feel like my primary job while raising The Girl has been to tag along behind her and say “Just let me know when you need me to write you a check.”  She has always been one to blaze her own trail, to do things we wouldn’t have thought to encourage her to do.  Swim team?  Belly dancing classes?  An internship in radiology?  All her idea.

It’s probably no surprise that her very full resume earned her some pretty impressive scholarship money at her first-choice university.  The Girl will only be an hour away from us next year, but the thought of her moving even that far from home is just beginning to sink in as graduation approaches.  And that, of course, has left me wondering whether I’ve taught her all the things I want her to know before that trail she’s blazing takes her even farther away from the Foodie family homestead.

To that end, here’s my list of Things I Hope She Knows.

  • Fear should never stop you from trying something.  If you never do anything that scares you, your life is going to be very small.  (On the other hand—if the basis for your fear is the prospect of serious injury to your physical person, then maybe that’s something you don’t really need to try.)
  • Being alone isn’t a problem you need to solve; it’s an opportunity to do exactly what you want. Trust your own two hands on the steering wheel. They’ll get you wherever you want to go, whether or not you have a travelling companion.
  • It’s important to be kind.  Whenever you’re tempted to be rude, remind yourself that you probably don’t know the whole story.  And then remind yourself that you aren’t in control of other people’s behavior, but you’re absolutely in control of your response to it.
  • It’s also important to be polite.  Not precisely the same thing as being kind, but sometimes it’s pretty close.  Remembering your manners and putting them to use will help you go a long way.
  • Offer to help whenever you can.   What seems like a small thing to you might mean a lot to someone else.
  • Cook your own meals.  Eat things that grow in the ground, buy locally, and pay a fair price.  Take a minute every day to be thankful for the many hands, long hours, and very hard work involved in bringing food to your table.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.  (Anything less than 7 hours doesn’t count as a good night’s sleep.)
  • Never forget that your time and dollars are votes for the kind of world you want to live in.  Know who you’re buying from.  Learn what they do with your money.  Don’t support what you can’t condone.
  • And, by the way, vote.
  • Do the small things when they’re supposed to be done and you’ll avoid a lot of big problems.
  • Don’t waste your time and energy complaining about a problem.  Figure out how to fix it, if you can.  If you can’t—or you just don’t want to do the work that the solution would involve—make your peace with that.  And by “make your peace”, I mean stop complaining.
  • Be honest about your mistakes. Learn from them.  Blaming others for what you’ve done wrong doesn’t make you look less culpable; it just makes you look like a jerk.
  • Forgive people. It’s hard work, but not as hard as living with anger.
  • Take a moment to look around every day.  The world is a beautiful place.
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Monday, May 13, 2013

Rosemary Chicken and Potatoes

Rosemary

Foodie faithful, I appreciate your patience with me for the past few months.  It’s been a crazy year at my university, which has left me precious little time for thinking about food–or, truth be told, for being in the kitchen at all.  The past week has seen The Hubs and I headed out for end-of-year social events three nights in a row.  The past couple of months have seen the Foodie children fending for themselves more often than they probably have in the past two years combined.  Fortunately, they’re both pretty adept in the kitchen and nobody starved.

But.  I’m happy to report that the spring semester is over, spring grades have been turned in, and the summer has almost officially begun.  As soon as the Foodie children have finished the school year–and as soon as The Girl makes it through high school graduation–our summer break will be off and running, complete with regular trips to the farmer’s market and, with any hope, more Adventures in Produce.

In the meantime, I’m going to share a go-to recipe that gets me through a hectic dinner hour on a fairly regular basis:  Rosemary Chicken and Potatoes.  It’s a one-dish meal that requires minimal prep time–basically, the only prep involved is peeling and cutting up a few potatoes.  That’s it.   Best of all, everybody in the Foodie family loves it:  The Girl loves anything that includes roasted potatoes, and The Boy likes chicken any time it doesn’t involve bones.

This recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  They’re cheaper if you buy them with the skin on and remove it yourself, but of course that adds prep time–and when I know I’m going to be in a hurry, I just spend the extra bit of money on convenience.   Otherwise, though, it’s worth taking a moment to pull off the skin.  (It’s not hard, and it really doesn’t take that long.)   If you prefer to substitute white meat chicken for the chicken thighs, just cut chicken breasts into halves and use them instead.  You’ll probably want to reduce the baking time a bit, though, to keep the chicken from drying out, since white meat has a lower fat content.

Sometimes I’ll add a splash of citrus to this recipe by squeezing half a lemon over the chicken before baking–lemon and rosemary are a terrific combination.   The Boy prefers this dish without the lemon juice, which isn’t surprising.   If you’d prefer the potatoes to be steamed, rather than roasted, you can add half a cup of chicken stock to the baking pan just before you put it in the oven–or substitute white wine for the chicken stock, if you have it on hand.  And don’t worry about adding wine to a dish your kids will be eating for dinner, since the alcohol evaporates during the baking process.

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Rosemary Chicken and Potatoes

Ingredients:

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3 or 4 large russet potatoes
1 T. olive oil
2 T. fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp. dry)
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with non-stick spray and set aside.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into bite-size chunks. (Try to get the chunks close to the same size, so they'll cook evenly.) Toss the potato pieces with the olive oil; add half the rosemary, then stir to coat. Dump the potatoes into the prepared baking pan and spread them in an even layer.

Set the chicken thighs on top of the potatoes. Spray them lightly with the non-stick spray, then sprinkle the remaining rosemary over the chicken. Season both the chicken and potatoes with salt and pepper.

Bake for 45 minutes, until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

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