Jam Session

I have this self-imposed small window on my calendar when I make homemade strawberry jam.

It’s a brief period in late March/early April when Florida strawberries are at their absolute ripest, sweetest and on sale. I realize that they can be found at any point during the year and few more dollars more won’t break the bank, but this is when my mind (and stomach) says it must be done.

This is one recipe that I don’t deviate from. Since it has the potential to cause food-borne illness and kill people, I figure this isn’t the place to experiment. I follow the instructions and recipes to the letter from the people at Ball jars, Freshpreserving.com.

This year’s batch turned out particularly well. The strawberries were really ripe, and adding the pectin at the beginning of the recipe (not later) as the recipe called for, really helped put the jell in the jelly.

I won’t re-write what they have so helpfully provided, but from my own experience over the years, I’d like to add these tips:

1.) Start with a clean kitchen, clean jars, clean tools—clean everything. I take a couple extra steps to make sure there’s nothing to contaminate the jam. I run the clean jars through the sanitizer cycle of the dishwasher, along with all of the tools I’m going to use in addition to the boiling process that is detailed on the site.

2.) 5 cups of strawberries like the recipe calls for translates to just about 2 packages (2 lbs.) in the store.

Strawberries--pre-jam.
Strawberries–pre-jam.

3.) Don’t double the recipe. This makes 8 8 oz. jars. If you want to make more, make a second or third batch. For some reason, the math doesn’t work for doubling on this, and your jelly will be runny.

Cooking jam
Cooking jam

4.) There are a lot of canning tools they will try to sell you, but the 2 that I found worth the little money they cost are the jar-grabbers and the special funnel. I use a big stock pot to process my jars—it works just fine.

5.) Don’t let this process intimidate you. Do your research and follow the directions—it really is simple. If after everything and you still feel nervous, just store the jam in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a month. But it won’t last that long.

Strawberry jam, y'all.
Strawberry jam, y’all.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Kitchen Love on Valentine’s Day

One of the best ways I know how to show love is with some extra effort in the kitchen. Whether it’s a batch of homemade cookies, cooking a favorite meal or even stopping by a restaurant to pickup a beloved dish, when Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday, you have all weekend to spread the love.

Here’s some homemade “Pop-tarts” from a 2010 Bon Appetit issue that I’ve made a few times now. They are totally decadent and worth the effort and most certainly Valentine-worthy.

Seriously good homemade Pop-tarts.
Seriously good homemade Pop-tarts.

Things on our Thanksgiving Table–Sweet potatoes

Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday. I love a day that focuses on what’s good in life and then serves it up with gravy and football. There are no gifts, no decorations, no shopping other than the grocery store and I’m there every day of my life anyway.

My table–like yours–is a patchwork quilt of traditional family recipes, things I’ve discovered along the way, my guest’s tasty contributions and an annual new experiment. There are sacred things–the stuffing and the pumpkin pie–in which I never stray for fear of revolt, and there’s things that can be a bit more adventuresome and no one will notice.

I’ve used this sweet potato recipe for the past 15 years and it’s one of my favorites. I’ve made it so many times I had forgotten what the original recipe looked like, but here is a link to the 1997 issue of Bon Appétit. Feel free to use more sweet potatoes (I always do) and adjust the seasonings accordingly. It can be made ahead and refrigerated, just make the topping right before baking.

Awesome Whipped Potatoes with Brown Sugar Pecan Topping

P.S. No marshmallows were harmed in the making of these delicious yams.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Raspberry Cream Pie

There’s a little farm stand on the North Fork of Long Island that is lined with the usual local produce; potatoes, peaches maybe some tomatoes and sweet corn. But if you look beyond the earthy wooden tables you’ll no doubt notice a line formed outside of an unassuming white door propped ajar by someone’s flip flop.

They’re not waiting for a secret stash of broccoli, they’re waiting for pie.

In exchange for a small fortune ($28-$36 per) pie nirvana awaits. Sure, you can choose the fresh-baked apple, cherry, or strawberry-rhubarb, but people are not paying premium prices for the usual, they’re there for something you can’t find anywhere else–the fruit cream pies.

Now, if you think you have any idea what I’m talking about and it includes a tub of Cool Whip or a package of cream cheese best suited for a bagel, then we might have to fight. No, it’s not a whipped topping dessert or a cheesecake with a can of fruit on top, it’s a delicate Chantilly-like cream with a body, filling and gravity-defying dome of fresh fruit that might cause you to weep at its exquisiteness.

The original cream pie in blueberry. Delish.
The original cream pie in blueberry. Delish.

What also may cause tears is if you happen to try to find the recipe. Google will mock you, message board posters will ridicule you, but your soul will beg you to find it. But you can’t because apparently the angels wrote the recipe with disappearing halo dust and all traces are gone, just a crumb trail back to the Mt. Olympus boulangerie.

So, for humanity’s sake and my attempt at World peace, here is my very best recreation of the greatest pie in the world. Rest assured I will continue my efforts to perfect it until I can charge you a couple of Jacksons, too.

Fresh Raspberry Cream Pie (like Rieremere-Bay)

Filling

2 cups fresh ricotta (or drained store bought)
1 cup sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Raspberry topping

12-16 oz fresh raspberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cherry or raspberry liqueur, such as Chambord
1/4 c. tapioca

1 Deep dish pie crust shell, baked

1.) Prepare pie shell. The crust isn’t the star of the show here, so use something easy even it’s pre-made or frozen.

2.) Prepare the topping by bringing the raspberries, water, sugar, liqueur, to a gentle boil, just until the berries begin to break down, leaving some whole. Turn off the heat and stir in the tapioca. Let stand about 20 minutes. Chill.

3.) In a cold mixing bowl, mix together 1/2 cup sugar with the ricotta and vanilla until fluffy. Transfer to a large bowl. Rinse out the mixing bowl in COLD water, dry, and whip the cream with remaining 1/2 cup sugar until fairly stiff–about 3-5 minutes.

4.) Gently fold the whipped cream into the ricotta mixture just until combined, then fill the pie shell. Chill for at least an hour until firm.

5.) Top the chilled pie with the chilled fruit topping and then chill again. Chill, baby, chill.

6.) Invite your very best friends or someone in the position to give you a promotion or money and a neurosurgeon standing by because it will blow your mind.

My raspberry cream version of the original pie.
My raspberry cream version of the original pie.

©2013 Tracey Henry

It’ll Cure What Ails Ya Lentil, Sausage and Kale Soup

I am a firm believer in the power of food to heal. And when someone isn’t feeling well, the kitchen is the best pharmacy I know.

This soup is something I’ve been making for a few months for friends as well as myself whenever I need a little a little super food love in a pot.

The only medicine you'll ever need and tastes way better than penicillin.
The only medicine you’ll ever need and tastes way better than penicillin.

It’ll Cure What Ails Ya Lentil, Sausage and Kale Soup

I package dried brown lentils
1 bay leaf
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 med-large onion, chopped
1 lb. Italian sausage, sliced into 1 inch pieces

Olive oil

5 cups water
4 cups beef broth

2-3 cups kale leaves, trimmed and chopped

Parmesan cheese

1.) Put one large pot and one skillet on the stove. In the skillet, heat a couple of teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat and cook sausage, onion, celery, garlic and carrots until sausage is browned and vegetables are soft but not mushy, about 7-8 minutes.

2.) Meanwhile, in stock pot, heat another teaspoon of olive oil and gently toast the lentils with a bay leaf for a couple of minutes. Add the water and beef broth and bring to a boil.

3.) When cooked, add the sausage mixture with a slotted spoon to the soup. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer for 25-30 minutes.

4.) Take a taste. If it needs more liquid, add a cup more water and a bouillon cube. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, stir in the kale. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

5.) Cancel doctor’s appointment.

©2013 Tracey Henry

It is easy to be cheesy it turns out

Let’s talk cheese, friends. Ricotta cheese. Homemade ricotta cheese.

If I had discovered how easy homemade ricotta cheese was to make earlier in my life, it might have taken a different path. Ricotta from scratch is so easy and so good, I probably would have become a traveling cannoli salesman or something.

You gotta make ricotta
You gotta make ricotta

I have tried both the Barefoot Contessa’s method and Chef Ann Burell’s recipe, and while both taste similar, Ina’s seems to be a bit easier for me. (Use the vinegar, not the lemon juice as well.)

Check out and make some cheese today, because I’m going to refer back to it often with some original recipes in which only the good stuff will do.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

There are numerous examples of my craziness and the impending severity of it, but number 876 is my inability to throw away over-ripe bananas without promising no one except myself, that I will not let that beautiful fruit go to waste and will immediately bake a lovely bread or muffin.

The really crazy thing is that I don’t even like bananas.

But here’s a bread that I will even eat, packed with all sorts of wholesome goodness.

Banana-Chocolate-Chip Bread

3-4 over ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup chocolate chips

1.) Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2.) Mash bananas with a fork until smooth-ish. (Leaving some lumps is ok.)

3.) In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

4.) Into the mashed bananas, whisk in sugars, milk, egg, and vanilla.

5.) Gently fold in flour mixture just to combine, add chocolate chips and pour into the loaf pan.

6.) Bake for 55-65 minutes until a knife blade comes out clean. (Crazy people use knives, not toothpicks.)

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

©2013 Tracey Henry

The best (and simplest) Dijon-Lemon Vinaigrette

I haven’t bought a bottle of salad dressing since the Clinton administration.

Not when it is so much easier, tastier, healthier and less expensive to make them on your own.

Here’s a simple one to start with that will transform your salads instantly. All you need is a jar with a lid or some sort of dressing-making vehicle. Mine is from the last Pampered Chef party I went to at the same time I bought that last bottled dressing.

Best Dijon-lemon Vinaigrette. Est. 1998.
Best Dijon-lemon Vinaigrette. Est. 1998.

Dijon-Lemon Vinaigrette

(Use these measurements as a guide–make it your own.)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 c. (or so) olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

1.) Plop a spoonful of mustard in the jar. Juice the lemon over top. Add the olive oil. Season with a generous amount of salt and pepper to taste.

2.) Shake or mix well.

3.) Serve over a salad or with a straw. It’s that good.

©2013 Tracey Henry

New Neighbor Bribe

Blueberry muffins: perfect new neighbor graft
Blueberry muffins: perfect new neighbor graft

Dear New Neighbor,

Allow me to introduce myself, I’m your new neighbor. That neighbor.

Oh, I don’t plan any trouble, slights, inadvertent impoliteness, or anything to make you call your insurance company, emergency services or realtor; but chances are pretty good that you will at some point. I apologize in advance and offer these anticipatory peace offering muffins.

We have teenagers who park poorly and will probably impede your driveway access at some point. We have young kids that have cannot keep a ball in their own yard to save their life. We have a dog. Cute, but she’s a runner and a digger with a propensity for your fence line and begonias.

We have parties. And house guests. And a drum set. And inappropriate boundary issues.

But if you’re able to overlook these few flaws–and the tragic paint color experiment on your side of the house–we do have our good points.

Like you know the Bunco group with all of the popular people in the neighborhood? Well, I’m blacklisted from that one but I’ll bring you as my personal guest to the one formed by outcasts in dramatic protest.

And you know that giant nest of rabbits that live under your back porch? They used to live here before I chased them out after eating the biggest patch of basil this side of Tuscany. I’ll make you (and your exterminator) a batch of homemade pesto.

And since we are in a constant state of violation with the homeowner’s association, chances are you can get away with a plethora of infractions with their attention turned our way.  We are responsible for so many of the amendments to the covenants they refer to us as the Continental Congress. You’ll probably be able to skirt a fine for those bottle rocket casings littered all over your roof for at least six more months. (I’m sorry and you’re welcome.)

So while it may not seem like we make the best neighbors, we do make pretty decent friends. Join us for a BBQ this weekend and I’ll show you.

(And how that large bare patch in your lawn in the shape of a giant chicken wing got there.)

 

*******

 

Anticipatory Apology Blueberry Muffins 

Makes a dozen

 

1 1/2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

1 cup sugar

1 cup sour cream

1 egg

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon almond extract

 

1 pint fresh blueberries (They’re your new neighbors, make a good impression and splurge on fresh berries, for goodness sake.)

Turbinado sugar, if desired

 

1.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Reserve 1 Tablespoon and toss over blueberries in another small bowl. Set both aside.

2.) Whisk together sugar, sour cream, oil, egg and almond extract. Slowly add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently fold in blueberries.

3.) Line a muffin tin with papers and fill each with the batter evenly. Sprinkle each with a healthy sprinkle of turbinado sugar before putting in the oven.

4.) Bake for 20-25 minutes. Deliver to new neighbor. No mention of highjacked wifi needed.

 

©2013 Tracey Henry

Espresso Chocolate Chip Gelato

In my old liberal hippie escape fantasies, I used to want to run away to Vermont and start a lavender farm and make my own soap.

I’ve evolved since then.

Now, I want to run away to Tuscany to start a pine nut and basil farm and make my own gelato.

I’ll start with this one.

Espresso Chocolate Chip Gelato

(You need an ice cream maker of some sort for this recipe.)

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 c. sugar
4 egg yolks

1 cup mini chocolate chips, chocolate chips or chopped chocolate pieces

1.) Freeze or refrigerate chocolate chips until ready to use.

2.) Combine milk and cream in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Heat through until it foams around the edges. Whisk in espresso powder and vanilla until dissolved.

3.) Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar until pale and sugar is dissolved. Add about 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the eggs–stir well, then add the rest and stir until combined. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and heat through until it coats the back of the spoon, about 3-5 minutes.

4.) Strain the mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl or pitcher, cover and chill about 3 hours.

5.) Following your ice cream machine instructions, process the gelato for about 10-15 minutes or until just about done. Add the chocolate chips in the final minutes. Freeze until ready to serve.

IMG_2006

6.) Search out Italian farmland and used gelato street carts on the Internet.

 

©2013 Tracey Henry