Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rhubarb Strawberry Jam

I had taken a much needed respite from canning but now that May is almost behind us, I need to start up my least favorite hobby again. I always am pleased when I have made something and have jewel-colored jars sitting in front of me. It's the lengthy, messy, exacting process of it all that gets me, not to mention that canning in the summer months with a vat of boiling water steaming up at me in my hot old house isn't even marginally pleasant.

Ah, but, there is the Minnesota State Fair to consider. Last year, I won a blue ribbon for my Rhubarb Raspberry Jam which was way too much fun. I am trying not to envision a ribbonless, sophomore slump season ahead of me which is why I continue to can and hope for the best.

Now, I am not going to attempt to provide detailed canning instructions since I found a great tutorial here. The recipe below is for the amounts and general method I used, but proper waterbath canning and sterilization procedures must be followed.

I have never made this particular flavor jam before and am happy to say it is delicious. The color is exceptionally exquisite and the flavor is fresh and very fruity.

For about 7 half pint jars:
  • 2½ cups of finely diced rhubarb (the pieces should be about the size of a pencil eraser)
  • 2 cups of chopped and crushed strawberries
  • The strained juice of one small lemon
  • 6½ cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1 pouch Certo Liquid Pectin (3 ounces)

In a big heavy 8-quart pot, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, lemon juice and sugar. Stir together, cover and set aside for 2-3 hours, giving it a stir once or twice.

Remove the cover and over low heat, start stirring the mixture, turning the heat up in small increments until all the sugar is dissolved. If the mixture is heated too quickly, the sugar can crystallize in the jar later. It took about 40 minutes for my mixture to fully dissolve. At this point, stir in the butter, which helps prevent air bubbles, turn the heat to almost high and stir constantly. Once the mixture comes to a full, rolling boil, quickly squeeze in the pectin, and stir for one minute. Take the pot off the heat and set a timer for 5 minutes. Each minute, stir the mixture gently to distribute the fruit throughout the jelly.

Ladle the jam into the prepared, hot, sterilized jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

German Chamomile

The summer after we moved into our house, we got to work on the landscaping. I must have dug out and gave away 50 hostas and just as many daylilies which still crop up here and there to taunt me. We cleared out areas for a rose garden, a perennial garden, an herb garden and of course, a vegetable garden.

That first year we learned a lot and the mistakes we made were many. For one, we planted 12 tomato plants because we apparently were intent on solving the hunger crisis one tomato at a time. I let the weeds get the best of me in the perennial garden. And, we discovered that two Labrador puppies do not care that they are stepping on tender seedlings and sprouting seeds, hence the chicken wire fence that now goes up around the vegetable garden soon after planting.

The most exotic thing (in my mind anyway) we planted in our herb garden was German Chamomile. My knowledge of chamomile didn't extend much beyond tea, so to see it in its flowery form was intriguing. We planted five little chamomile seedlings and were charmed by their frilly foliage, dainty daisy flowers and lovely scent. To me, chamomile smells like how honey tastes.

The next summer, when I was clearing out the herb garden, I saw tiny sprouts that were unmistakably chamomile...but...more sprouts than we planted last year. The Chef did some reading up and discovered that chamomile is indeed a perennial and is sometimes used as a ground cover. Yes, that's right, a ground cover.

We now have German Chamomile growing not only in the herb garden, but in cracks in our sidewalk, near my roses, around the lilac bushes, and sprigs of it against our fence. It's a sweet reminder of our first year as gardeners.

If you happen to have chamomile or want to grow it, here are some ideas for using it up:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I love that Guestblogger: The Chef decided to whip this up for us on a whim the other day, because I love it so. Leeks are one of my favorite vegetables and a pleasure to grow in our garden. This deceptively simple soup is sophisticated, lovely and a springtime favorite in our household. --A Crafty Lass

Vichyssoise (vihsh-ee-SWAHZ) is the perfect soup for the particular type of Spring we’re having here in the Midwest, where we are alternately quenching our gardens as an antidote to record-breaking heat or shrouding our tender plants with bed sheets overnight for fear that they may be frozen stiff come morning. This versatile, creamy potato leek soup can be served either hot or cold depending on your mood or the prevailing unseasonably seasonal weather. Either way, Vichyssoise for me is a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” soup that features a pureed harmony of potatoes, leeks, and vegetable stock, all gilded with everyone’s favorite ingredient, heavy whipping cream.

My version celebrates Spring with its showcase of the often-overlooked flowers of the chive plant along with finely chopped fresh chives, the garnish of which we’ve dubbed a “chive bomb” in my restaurant, because a hearty “bam”-like scattering of these punchy herbs over the soup’s silky surface is a must…a flourish of white truffle oil doesn’t suck either.

For 6-8 servings:
  • 3½ cups vegetable stock
  • 3 cups (1#), peeled, chunked russet potatoes
  • 1½ cups (¼#) diced leeks (white and light green parts only)
  • 1 cup (¼#) julienned yellow onion
  • 1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • White pepper, finely ground, to taste
  • Garnish: chopped chives, chive flowers, and white truffle oil

Simmer potatoes, leeks, and onions in the vegetable stock until very tender and breaking apart, 30 to 45 minutes.

Puree with a hand blender until smooth, or in batches (once at a safe temperature) in a traditional blender. At this stage, the puree can be chilled or frozen for use at a later time.

Return puree to heat in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Slowly whisk in heavy whipping cream. If the soup is too thick, more vegetable stock or milk can be added. Add white pepper, and if necessary, salt to season.

Immediately ladle into soup bowls and “chive bomb” to garnish. Cap the opened end of the truffle oil bottle with your thumb and release just a suggestion of this elixir over each bowl. Lick thumb and reflect.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Spring Seedlings: Part Two

If you haven't read Part One, start here.

While our seedlings were growing in the sunroom, we worked to prepare the vegetable garden beds. An organic farmer friend told us about double digging which is a lot of work initially, but really makes the soil rich and ready for planting. This essentially means that The Chef turned all the soil over, added bags of organic top soil and organic compost to the mix, and worked it all into the existing soil while I stood around and drank a mojito. For detailed instructions on how to double dig a garden, click here.

Now, back to the seedlings. The seedlings won't take kindly to the shock of being coddled in an indoor environment with the fluorescent lamp glow bathing them daily, to being planted in soil with the sun/rain/wind beating down on them. They must be eased into this which is a process referred to as "hardening off". A week or two before planting the seedlings, bring them outside for an hour or so daily, adding more time each day so they can acclimate and strengthen.

In terms of plotting the garden, we make sure that we don't replant things in the same location every year, especially tomatoes, and situate the long season vegetables next to early crops like radishes.

This year, we have a lot going on in the garden including: 4 kinds of tomatoes, tomatillos, radishes, beets, carrots, cucumbers, 4 kinds of peppers, peas, leeks, 2 kinds of onions, brussels sprouts, broccoli (pictured above), squash, 3 kinds of beans, kale, cabbage, spinach, arugula and an array of lettuces and herbs. I also planted a separate fruit garden that contains two heirloom fruits - sunberries and ground cherries. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Smoked Trout Mousse

Once upon a time, at least 10 years ago, I made a version of this mousse from the Silver Palate Cookbook and it was absolutely the fanciest thing I had ever (successfully) made. It's been a loooooooong time since I made it. To my surprise, it really wasn't as difficult as I remembered --so says the more experienced me anyway.

The original Silver Palate recipe is for Salmon Mousse which is also good, but I think I prefer my version with the super smoky trout, crisp chives, and the underlying smokiness that comes from adding a dash of pimentón, a smoked Spanish paprika. For me, the whipped cream folded in is what makes it; the texture is so light.

To serve 8-10 people as an hors d'oeuvre:
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • juice of half a small lemon
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced shallot
  • 2 dashes Tabasco
  • 1/4 teaspoon pimentón
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 cup finely flaked smoked trout (make sure to get all the small bones out)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large bowl, stir together the gelatin and cold water. Add the boiling water and whisk until the gelatin is dissolved. Add the mayo, lemon juice, shallot, Tabasco, pimentón, and salt and mix thoroughly. Place the bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes so the mixture can chill and thicken a bit.

Meanwhile, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Stir the trout and chives into the mayo mixture and then fold in the whipped cream. Spoon into a glass bowl or bowls (or any mold), and smooth the top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight, which is so convenient.

To unmold, run a knife around the edge of the bowl and then quickly turn it out onto the platter you will be serving it on. Give it a few taps and gentle shakes and it should come out nicely. Serve with crostinis, crackers, or crudites.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Devil's Food Cupcakes with Blackberry Buttercream

A couple years ago I made birthday cupcakes for my friend Ann that were the prettiest Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream, courtesy of Martha. I really liked the idea of a fruity frosting and I can say assuredly that it did not disappoint. I wanted to make a variation of the Strawberry Buttercream recipe and I thought maybe chocolate and blackberries belonged together even though I had no evidence about this being a good partnership. Judging by the fact that Ann ate four cupcakes in a day, I think it can be called a success.

I started with my go-to Devil's Food cake recipe, courtesy of Gourmet magazine. I halved the recipe thinking I would end up with 12 cupcakes but instead I got 16, which, you know, worse things could happen.

I then altered the Strawberry Buttercream recipe by halving the amounts, substituting seedless blackberry jam for the strawberry jam, and garnishing each cupcake with a plump, pretty blackberry.

A few things to note: I had an enormous amount of frosting leftover so even though I did cut the recipe in half, it was still a lot, definitely enough for 2 dozen cupcakes or more. I made the mistake of trying to watch the Lost season finale while making the buttercream and, well, there's a bit of science involved with a buttercream frosting and so it didn't set up as much as it should have, and did, the first time I made this. Focus is key, apparently.

For the Devil's Food Cake Recipe, click here.

For the Buttercream recipe, click here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Homemade Dog Treats

I am pleased that my longtime friend and co-worker, Guestblogger Alita, did a post for me. Alita and I have been cooking and crafting together, with success and some disaster for almost a decade. These treats are a favorite of my two dogs. --A Crafty Lass

These started out as K-9 Cookies to give out with our annual boxes of holiday treats, but it quickly became a ritual to bring them when we visit friends with pups - and to send a big bag home with lucky dogs that we dog-sit, which was the occasion this particular time.

The variation shown here is a Three Herb version - but we've tried them all and the dogs have yet to complain! And - knowing they don't have any strange additives, preservatives, or other mystery ingredients makes me feel good about giving them to the dogs we love.

For 12 Large Treats:

  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1¾ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 6 tablespoons oil
  • 2/3 cup broth (chicken, beef or vegetable)

Variations: Try adding one of these to make your pups favorite flavor treat!

  • Bacon Bits
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Peanut Butter
  • Three Herb - Our favorite combo: Parsley/Thyme/Oregano

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together well.

Roll the dough out to a 1/4 inch thickness (you might need a light dusting of flour on the counter, they can get a little sticky). Use a dog bone or other fun shaped cookie cutter to press about 12 large treats.

Place the treats on a baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes on the baking sheet. Stand back & watch your favorite pup gobble up these yummy treats!

Adapted from a Humane Society Recipe

Monday, May 11, 2009

Baby Forellenschuss

I was poking around the vegetable garden beds, getting them ready for planting and noticed, to my delight, baby lettuces that had apparently reseeded themselves from last year. In the three years that we have had our garden, this is the first time this has occurred. There are lots of little lettuces poking through the soil and I couldn't be happier about it.

The lettuce that is particularly near and dear to my heart is an Austrian Romaine called Forellenschuss. It is an heirloom variety that has become a favorite of ours for its mottled green and red leaves and sturdiness against the hot, midwest heat. We start it from seeds we got from Seed Savers, an organization I cannot recommend enough.

Out of all the things we grow in our garden, I have a strong fondness for lettuces. They are typically easy to grow, I love going out and clipping different varieties for a salad, and growing unusual varieties, like Forellenschuss, prove to be welcome gifts.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Buttermilk Pie

I have always had a serious case of lemon-love so it's no surprise that one of my favorite things in the world are lemon bars. I didn't realize it while I was making this recipe, but Buttermilk Pie turned out to be a sort of lemon bar in pie form. In other words, I loved it.

This recipe came from a book I just read called, Under the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School, detailing the journey the author, Katherine Darling, undertook in going back to school, in this case, the French Culinary Institute in New York City. The book includes a number of delicious sounding recipes but this pie grabbed my attention right away. It exudes summertime; it's light, lemony, a bit creamy in texture and altogether delicious. I served it with my Honey Vanilla Rhubarb which was a heavenly match.

For the Pâte Brisée:
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
  • 1-2 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, add the flour and salt, blending briefly to combine. Add the pieces of butter and blend in short burts until the mixture resembles very coarse cornmeal. Add 1 tablespoon of the ice water and blend briefly. The dough should begin to come together. If not, with the motor running, add a few more drops of water until the dough begins to clump. Put the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Pat it into a disk, wrap the plastic wrap around it, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes, but even longer is better.

Place the disk of dough on a very lightly floured surface. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle. Place the dough into the pie dish and press into the dish, making a decorative edge as you go. Place the pie dish into the fridge while the filling is being made.

For the Filling:

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • Generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift the flour, salt and nutmeg into a small bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time and whisk until well combined. Add the buttermilk, lemon juice, zest, and vanilla, stirring after each addition. Sift in the flour mixture slowly and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Pour into the prepared crust.

Bake in the middle of the oven until puffed and set, 35-40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Honey Vanilla Rhubarb

Oh rhubarb season, how sweet and fleeting you are. I love everything about rhubarb...its tartness, the watermelon-hue, and how transformed it becomes after cooking. I only have a small plant in my garden that won't be ready to harvest for a year or two yet, so when rhubarb finally showed up at the store, I bought almost all of it.

I have been making this recipe for a couple years now and I so love it. It takes about 5 minutes of prep time in the kitchen and goes well with so many things. I've been known to stir it into yogurt, spoon it over pancakes or waffles, serve it with a simple butter cake, or as a topping for rice pudding or tapioca.

The honey really makes this taste special and the smoothness of the vanilla tempers the rhubarb tang.

For about 2 cups:
  • 4 cups rhubarb cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a glass baking dish with cooking spray. Combine the rhubarb and sugar in the baking dish. Drizzle the honey evenly over the top. Scrape the seeds from the bean and add the seeds and the pods to the dish. Toss to combine. Add the 4 pieces of butter to the top and place the dish in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring very gently twice during baking. Allow to cool for a few minutes and serve warm or refrigerate, covered for a couple days.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fennel Apple Slaw

I feel so fortunate to have Guestblogger Eric M contribute to A Crafty Lass once again. His style is sophisticated and lovely, as evidenced by this appetizing slaw. -A Crafty Lass

How many times have you successfully replicated a favorite restaurant dish at home? I’ve tried many, with very little success, save for this easy-to-make, fresh-as-springtime slaw.

The inspiration for this salad was from a dinner I had at a Minneapolis restaurant sometime in the 90’s. I wish I could remember which one. (Bobino? Lowry’s?) I’ve made it so many times since then that I’ve forgotten where I first fell in love with it. I believe the original had an olive oil dressing, which I have replaced with the anise-flavored French liqueur, Pastis.

It’s a perfect dish to go with a quick weeknight supper, but also unusual enough to serve to company. And, it has so few ingredients that it’s easy to remember what you need when you’re dashing through the grocery store.

For 2-3 people:
  • 1 Granny Smith apple
  • Half a fennel bulb
  • A few slices of red onion
  • 3 tablespoons Pastis, or to taste
  • Pepper

Wash the fennel, (including the fronds, and shake as much water as possible off of them). Core the bulb, and slice it as thinly as possible on a mandoline. If you do not have a mandoline you should make another salad because otherwise you will be disappointed.

Chop a handful of the fronds and add them to the bowl, reserving some for garnish.

Peel the apple and grate it on the largest setting of a box grater. Add it to the fennel. You should have roughly equal amounts of each.

Slice the onion on the mandoline (same setting as the fennel) and add to the salad. I personally don’t love raw onion, so I taste it first; if it’s a gentle, sweet onion I add a bit more.

Pour some Pastis on top. You can add as much as you like. I personally love the flavor so I usually use about a ¼ cup.

Add a few grinds of pepper, stir the salad, and garnish with the remaining chopped fronds. Serve within 15 minutes or else the apple will start to brown.