Thursday, October 18, 2012

Blubarb: the Portmanteau of Jams

First there were sporks: the utensil that is both a spoon and a fork. Then came turduckens: a turkey roasted with a duck inside. Now let me introduce to you the latest portmanteau sure to become a standard condiment on the breakfast table: Blubarb jam. Yep - blueberry and rhubarb.

Here is the story behind this delicious combo: This past summer as I filled my raspberry bucket out on the fields of Herzog's U-Pick Berries in Ottertail, Minnesota, I had a chance to chat with the less-than-enthusiastic gentleman picking berries across the row. He had agreed to spend the morning picking berries only if his wife would make a batch of his favorite jam: blueberry and rhubarb, a combo that apparently rocks those stoic scandinavian taste buds. Being of stoic scandinavian roots myself, I had to give it a whirl.

blueberry jam

By the time I got around to making the jam, a bit late in the season, I had to dig the berries and chopped rhubarb out of the freezer. All summer long, when fruit is on the verge of going soft, I freeze it to use later in no-cook freezer jam. To freeze berries, spread them out on a large cookie pan and freeze, then bag them up after they are frozen (this way, they don't stick together.) For the rhubarb and other fruit that must be chopped, lay the pieces out on wax paper before freezing and bagging.

The basic recipe for any kind of fruit freezer jam: one box of no-cook pectin (I use Ball) to 4 cups smashed fruit to 2 cups sugar. Take about 7 cups of frozen fruit out of the freezer, let it thaw, and use a potato masher to smash it into a chunky jam. For this batch of blubarb, I started with 5 cups of frozen blueberries and 2 cups of frozen chopped rhubarb.

Add the 2 cups of sugar and the box of pectin to the fruit, and stir thoroughly.

how to make jam

Once the sugar has dissolved, ladle the jam directly into jars, leaving a little room for the jam to expand as it freezed. Screw lids on tightly, label, and freeze. And you'll be happier than an old berry-pickin' Minnesotan farmer!

homemade jam

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Penny Buffet, Part 2!

As you've realized, this has been a project in flux from the start. I've been making it up as I go. Now that the pennies are in place, I wish I'd used a different adhesive, because the mastik showing between the pennies is bright white--too much contrast with the pennies. This means it's time for trip number 7 to the hardware store for a stone gray grout!

Applying the grout adds another day of drying time, but I'm much happier with the neutral background and the way it lets the pennies shine. I wasn't sure whether or not I'd want to pour epoxy over the pennies, or just keep the surface a bit rough, but found that when everything had dried fully, the mastik and grout didn't keep a good hold on the pennies. Back to the hardware warehouse...

 Pourable epoxy polymer is not cheap--about $25 for one box, which when mixed will cover about 20 square feet at a depth of a quarter-inch. Smaller quantities were not available, and in the end I had to throw away a good deal of it.

I rimmed the tabletop with duct tape to keep the epoxy from running over the sides. I poured the two components into a gallon baggie, zipped it closed to mix them thoroughly, and poured it directly from the baggie. The surface took a full day to dry to the touch, and a full second day to harden.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Penny Buffet, Part One

Who says the penny is not worth its weight anymore? That may be true if we measure the worth in cold hard numbers, but not if we consider its beauty. Old pennies feature wheat; new pennies feature the shield, but Abe's profile is a constant. Whether shiny, luminescent salmon-colored or crusty dull ochre, pennies have more character and variety than most anything that can fit in your coin purse (I still have one - do you?) Lay out hundreds of them, and they create a durable, interesting mosaic that can tile just about any surface.

I first ran across this idea on, a DIY blog with plenty of videos and how-tos. They credit the penny-tiling trend to the Standard Grill in NYC, where the owners wanted a unique look at a budget price. I wanted an outdoor buffet table with the same unique-yet-cheap traits, and thus the penny buffet project was born!

Step one: The Cupboards
My weekend started with a trip to ReStore, the used building supply store that supports Habitat for Humanity.  I found two sturdy kitchen cabinets and some nice thick plywood, all for under $60. I screwed the two cabinets together, spray painted them nutmeg, and put the unit on rolling castor wheels.

The plywood went on top, as a base for the waterproof Hardy board that I'd soon be tiling. I also added plywood to the sides, and sealed it for a bit of weather-proofing.  On top of the sealed plywood, I screwed cedar fence planks, and sealed them with a natural stain.

Step two: collecting pennies. Emptying every change jar in the house garnered about $12.57 in coppers, most of them smudgy and dark; an overnight soak in vinegar shines them up. I bought a few rolls and used about $25.00 of pennies total.
Step three: The tiling begins
I spread tile mastic in small sections, starting in one corner, and fitting the pennies into tight rows, randomly alternating the face and the age. In hindsight, I wish I'd simply glued each one down, or applied a thin line of gorilla glue for each line of pennies. The mastic was gloppy and dried too quickly, and pushed up unevenly between the pennies. I just needed to hold them in place until pouring the epoxy, and the mastik slowed the whole process down. My weekend project was evolving into a several-week albatross, and I highly recommend hiring a penny-placing assistant at this point!

The Penny Buffet, Part 2, coming soon... I'm off to shop for epoxy!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Guacamole: Simple is best

I love the table-side guacamole made at La Rosa or Hola here in Bend. The avocados are always, miraculously, perfectly ripe--never too hard or too soft, none of those gray spots where they've been squeezed to hard. As if that's not impressive enough, the server smashes them up with perfect amounts of fresh cilantro, red pepper, salt and diced onion. The cilantro is key.

Some guac lovers add cumin, but I think that gets too many flavors going. Mostly, I like my guac simple: a squeeze of lime and a healthy dose of sea salt.

Years ago I lived in central Africa, where avocados are treated as the fruits that they are, rather than as a vegetable. We'd stir a little sugar into half an avocado, using the skin as a little bowl, and eat it for dessert or a treat. The taste is surprisingly similar to pistachio pudding.

Here's a little avocado trivia: keeping the nut in contact with the avocado will keep it from turning brown. If you only use half an avocado, keep the nut intact in the other half, wrap it tight in plastic, and it will stay fresh and green for a couple days.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tonka Toasters

If all goes as planned with our summer recreation schedule, most of our cooking will happen OUT of the kitchen - either over a campfire, firepit, or on the grill. Our first outing was last weekend, and we broke out the tonka toasters. It's one of the true signs that summer has arrived.

Tonka toasters, AKA pie irons, have two cast iron disks each on a handle. To make a pie, butter two slices of bread (buttermilk bread works really well.) Sprinkle on a little cinnamon sugar, and put the bread butter side down on each disk. Spoon less than 1/4 cup of pie filling (we are partial to blueberry) onto one slice, right in the middle. The two sides hook together at the top and clamp closed - with kids this takes some cooperative teamwork. Pull of
f the extra crust and stick the pie in the fire, right on the red coals.

It takes several minutes on each side to toast the bread inside and heat the filling. Opening the toaster definitely requires some adult assistance, and should be done over a plate to avoid tragic results (nothing sadder than a toasty pie landing in the dirt.) Also - the irons stays really hot for a good long while, so take care where they are put down to cool.

The variations are limited only by your imagination - really, every camp meal could be made in these handy toasters. We've broken eggs into hot oiled irons, layered bacon between the iron and the bread, and substituted tortillas for bread to make killer breakfast burritos
(eggs mixed with green and red peppers, chedder, pre-cooked chorizo, and little chalula.) Pizza pies are lunch or dinner option, with sauce, mozzerella, pepperoni and mushrooms.

Here is an online source for the minute pie brand of pie irons.
Happy camping!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Black Rice? A new favorite...for some.

I thought I knew the world of rice. Jasmine, basmati, long grain, short grain. Brown rice, unhulled, for a little more fiber; wild rice, roasted to nutty perfection. Rice is the tofu of the grain world: it absorbs whatever flavor it cooked with, it adapts to dishes of any culture, and it only takes a tiny bite out of the food budget. Perhaps, like me, you think there are no surprises left in the world of rice, and if so...please meet my new friend, black rice.

AKA emporer's rice, purple rice, and forbidden rice, this is a heritage grain that originated in the Bengal region of India and is now grown in China and Thailand. Uncooked, each grain is shiny black; after cooking, the color matches a ripe blueberry, and indeed the rice matches the berries serving for serving in terms of antioxidents. I thought black rice would be very kid-friendly--who can resist purple food?

To prepare, dice and saute an onion while adding two cups of rinsed rice and four cups of chicken stock to a covered cassarole dish. Stir in the onion and 1T chopped garlic to the rice and stock. then bake covered for 45 minutes at 350.

In the end, four out of five gave the black rice a thumbs-up. One out of five, the same one-of-five that picks out mushrooms and any unidentifiable vegetable, was completely repulsed by the unexpected appearance, and there was just no getting past that. I guess some kids can resist purple food.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Baked Cranberry Pork Chops

Last night, the boys dug into the platter of pork chops before I had a chance to set up and take a photo for this post. The bad news is that I can't share an image of the final product; the good news is that this recipe is obviously a keeper.

Pork chops don't often make it onto the dinner menu in our house. True, it's a lean meat, more along the lines of chicken than beef, but the conditions at most mass-production pig farms tend to make me lose my appetite. Pork purchased from smaller-scale local farms is a different and and much happier story, but the cost involved does limit how often I'll buy it. So maybe the pork chops were a hit because they are a bit of a novelty, but I think it was...the sauce.