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Archive for August, 2008


How long will berries last after picking? If stored in your refrigerator, here are some basic estimates:

Strawberries: Up to one week
Blueberries: Up to two weeks
Blackberries: Up to four days
Raspberries: Up to five days
Cranberries: Up to one month

There are a few things you can do to extend their life. Don’t wash the berries before storing them; the damp will make them soggy. Rinse them just before using them. Get rid of any berries that seem soggy or overripe. One bad berry can ruin the rest. Store the berries in the coldest part of your refrigerator. The idea temperature for most berries is just above freezing. In general, each hour that a berry sits at room temperature means one less day of shelf life. Store-bought berries will have a shorter life span, depending upon how long ago they were picked.

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This jam has a wonderfully direct, elegant flavor. It’s a great way to preserve fresh blueberries as the season comes to an end, so you can enjoy them all winter long.

Blueberries are what’s known as a “superfruit,” because they are high in nutrients (Vitamin C, Vitamin K, manganese, Vitamin B6) and in antioxidents. There’s some evidence that eating blueberries can lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

I picked these blueberries at a pick-your-own organic farm called Owl’s Head Blueberry Farm in Richmond, Vermont. I added sugar and lemon juice, then cooked the berries with the lemon rind in the mixture to add more flavor and pectin. No commercial pectin is necessary; the jam will thicken enough with the natural pectin in the berries and lemon.

Ingredients:

8 cups blueberries
2 cups sugar
Juice of one lemon

In a large saucepan, combine blueberries and sugar. Crush the blueberries with a potato masher. Add lemon juice and lemon rind. Bring to a boil. Skim any foam that forms from surface.


Cook at a boil until the jam thickens, approximately 30 minutes. Test by dropping some jam on a plate. Put the plate in the freezer for a few minutes. Remove the plate from the freezer. If the jam wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it is done. If not, continue cooking.

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-Use fruits and vegetables when they are at their peak freshness.

-Get a jar lifter. This simple tool makes submerging and removing hot jars from boiling water much easier and much less dangerous.

-Once you’ve sterilized your jars by running them through the dishwasher or by boiling them in water for 10 minutes, store them in the oven at 250 degrees. It will keep them hot, sterile, and out of the way while you prepare your product.

-Sterilize the lids by soaking them in water that has boiled. Put on the lids while they’re hot. The heat softens the rubber around the edge of the lid, which helps ensure a vacuum seal.

-Fill the jars nearly to the top, leaving 1/4 inch of head space with jams and jellies, 1/2 inch of head space with acidic foods, such as fruits and tomatoes, and 1 inch of head space with starchier, low-acid foods, which may swell and need additional room.

-Remove any air bubbles by wiping a clean knife or spoon around the interior of the jar.

-After filling, wipe the tops of the jars with a clean cloth or sponge. A clean rim helps to ensure that the lid seals properly.

-Once you have processed the jars, check the seal after 12-24 hours by pressing the button in the center of the lid. If it pops back, the seal is not good. The food can be reprocessed and canned again or refrigerated and eaten. If it does not pop back, the seal is good and the food should be fine in your cupboard for up to a year.

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Edamame is a bean that delights. The crunch of the texture, the chewiness of the bean and its cool, earthy flavor are hard to resist. A young soybean, edamame is Japanese for “twig bean,” referring to the stem at the end of the bean pod. It’s high in protein, iron, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

A few weeks ago I bought a few bags of Cascadian Farms frozen edamame, shelled. They’d been sitting in my freezer until today, when inspiration struck. I pan-fried a chicken breast that I had on hand. As it cooled I boiled the edamame for about five minutes in salted water. I chopped a quarter of a small white onion, and a few stalks of celery. Then I cut the chicken into small pieces, drained and shocked the beans to stop them cooking, and combined it all in a bowl with some mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Delicious.

Ingredients:

1 chicken breast, pan-fried
3/4 cup edamame beans
1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 small onion, chopped fine (about 2 tablespoons)
2 stalks celery, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

Serves two.

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This is a wonderful pepper pesto, sweet, smoky and sharp. It’s a nice change from a basil-based pesto, and a bit more versatile. You can eat it as a dip, or use it as a sauce on pasta or chicken, or as a salad dressing. It’s delicious with goat cheese as well.

A side note: anytime you use pesto on pasta, it’s worth adding 3-4 tablespoons of the pasta water to the pesto. It helps distribute the thick pesto evenly throughout the pasta.

Ingredients:

3 red peppers, roasted
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste

Roast red peppers, either by placing directly on gas burner or by broiling on a cookie sheet in the oven. Turn frequently, until skin has blackened. Place peppers in plastic bag, tied loosely. Let rest for several minutes. The steam captured in the bag will help loosen the skin. Remove from bag and peel off blackened skin. Remove core of pepper and seeds. Cut remainder into strips. (You can also buy peppers already roasted.)

Puree pepper strips in food processor. Add bread crumbs, olive oil, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, salt, pepper and garlic. Process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning for flavor.

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The UK Guardian has a short interview with Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s fame online. He says that he and Ben learned how to make ice cream by taking a $5 correspondence course. Also that he and Ben did not want to sell their business to Unilever (which took place in 2000), but because they were a publicly held company under obligation to their stockholders, they had no choice. He calls ice cream “an indulgent dessert that should be eaten in moderation.” His favorite flavor? Vanilla toffee crunch.

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On my recent trip to Vermont, I was thrilled to discover that blackberries were just coming into season. I picked six quarts over two days, fighting thorns, bees and spiders who felt I was invading their territory. The berries are tart and delicious. When making pies and jams with them I always add a bit more sugar than I might with other fruits, to counterbalance the tartness.

Blackberries contain Vitamin C, Vitamin K and folic acid, and are among the highest-ranking fruits in levels of antioxidents. Fun fact: there’s a superstition in the UK that blackberries should not be picked after September 29 (Michaelmas) as after that date the devil has claimed them by urinating on them. This superstition has some basis in scientific fact, as the more wet and cool weather after this date often results in the fruit being contaminated by molds. The molds give the fruit a nasty look and can be toxic.

This jam is a soft-set jam, made without addition of any commercial pectin. The lemon juice enhances the fruit’s flavor. Add the lemon rind into the jam until it boils, which will add further pectin to the jam beyond that which is in the berries themselves.

Ingredients

20 oz. blackberries
1 3/4 cups sugar
Juice of one lemon
Rind of one lemon


Combine blackberries, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan. Crush blackberries with potato masher. Add lemon rind. Heat to a boil, stirring periodically. Remove lemon rind. Continue boiling until mixture thickens and reaches about 101 degrees Celcius (about 214 degrees Fahrenheit). The jam will continue to thicken as it cools, so don’t worry if the set is still soft when you remove it from the heat.

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