Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blueberry Peach Jam

Standing in sandy soil with the baby asleep on my shoulder and alongside my boys and mom, I was faced with rows upon rows of bushes dripping with ripe blueberries.  Not just any blueberries, but Jersey ones.  The best kind, in my opinion.  Huge, deep blue and just perfectly sweet.  And the ones that I remember from my own childhood which tips the scale in their favor every time.

We're armed with baskets and containers, a refreshed knowledge of what a ripe blueberry looks like (don't pick the green or red ones, boys!) and an eye to the pending rain storm in the sky.  Let the picking commence.

Berry picking is something we started doing as a family when we lived in Washington.  The absolute best blackberries grow in the Pacific Northwest and every year the hubs and I would head down Whidbey Island to Greenbank Farm and pick as much as we could.  There were always tons of people so you had to get a bit ruthless about your picking if you wanted the biggest and ripest berries.  As we've added family members and moved on from Washington, the berries have changed (it was mostly strawberries in California and Germany) but it's still something I try to do at least once each summer.

We happy to be lucky enough to be staying with my parents for a while this summer while in between homes (and countries!).  So there was really not even a second thought when it came to choosing the berry picking.  Blueberries.  And of course with a couple of enthusiastic kids and an almost as eager mom and grandmother "just a quick trip because we have a bigger one planned next weekend!" turns into more blueberries than anyone intended.  That's always the way it works, isn't it?

Not a problem!  I have big plans for them. It started with jam that I couldn't help but throw in a few perfectly ripe farmstand peaches into.  Then there was a galette that didn't last 10 minutes out of the oven.  I think next up I'm going to take a  page from Marissa McLellan's new book, Naturally Sweet Food in Jars, and jar a whole bunch in a fragrant honey syrup.

But first, the jam that almost started a fight between my sister and her husband over licking the spoon.  That's how good it is!

Blueberry Peach Jam
Makes 3 pints or 5-6 half pints.  Recipe adapted from Love and Olive Oil.
For the printable recipe, click here

This a a jam that just screams summer to me.  Yes, of course, you could use frozen fruit.  But blueberries and peaches at their best make it special.  Their seasons overlap and if you time it just right you will have an amazing jam.  I tend to favor looser jams that aren't set super tightly, so I leave out pectin or any other thickeners.  Just watch the jam carefully as it cooks.  A few minutes too long and you'll go from perfect to jam that tastes a bit like a bad cough drop- overly sweet and slightly burnt tasting.  You're looking for the foam on top to subside and the bubbles to go from large ones just around the edge to small bubbles on the whole surface.  I didn't bother doing the whole water bath canning operation for this jam because I gave half to my sister and the rest is almost already gone at our house.  I could honestly just sit and eat it with a spoon right from the jar.   But if you do decide you'd like to keep some for the winter, simply process your jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Oh, and if you follow the link for Love and Olive Oil above, Lindsay has made some really awesome printable labels for your jars.

2 lbs peaches, about 5 large
3 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and any stems removed
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

Peel, pit and chop the peaches finely.  Place the peaches and blueberries into a large, wide bottomed sauce pan.  If you'd prefer your jam to have a smoother consistency, use a potato masher to lightly mash the fruit.  Stir in the sugar and lemon juice.

Place the saucepan over a medium high heat.  Cook, stirring frequently until the blueberries have burst and the peaches are soft.  The bubbles on the surface of the jam will go from large and only around the edges to small, tight bubbles all over.  Ladle the jam into jars and let cool.  Refrigerate.  The refrigerated jars will last for several weeks.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Easiest, No-Bowl Banana Muffins

The list of to-do's is more than 10 deep and I keep finding things that need doing that haven't even made the posted list.  Moving is never easy, but moving from one foreign country to another with a month long stop back home is an especially daunting task.  It's one of those days when there are so many things that need my attention it's paralyzing.  I don't know where to start and therefore haven't started at all.  I think by the end of the day I will have just closed my eyes, pointed at my list and tried to accomplish whatever my finger lands on.  That's as good a method as anything else.  My goal?  Get just one thing crossed off the list, no matter how small.

When you have a day ahead like the one that I have, it never hurts to start out with something to eat that is simple and delicious.  This muffin recipe is my families absolute favorite.  I get it asked for it all the time so I thought it was about time to share it in this space.  The best part of the recipe?  It requires only two measuring items- one measuring cup and one measuring spoon- and absolutely no bowl.  Part of what makes this a fave with my kids is that it is squished and mixed in a big zip-top bag.  They just love doing the "hard work" that it takes to mix the batter.  I kind of love that part too.  Then I simply snip off a corner of the bag, squeeze into the muffin cups and toss the empty bag.  Easy.  Brilliant, in fact (it's not my idea so I can call it that without bragging).  You can thank me later.

Easiest, No-Bowl Banana Muffins
Makes 12 standard muffins.  Adapted, only slightly, from Yammie's Noshery.
For the printable, click here

You really can't go wrong with these muffins.  It's a simple as squish, squish, squeeze and you're eating warm muffins for breakfast.  I like to keep them simple with just a sprinkling of sugar on top but I have tossed mini chocolate chips into the batter or made a quick struesel top at the request of my kids.  I'm sharing the recipe for my simplest version here, but feel free to play with it to your heart's delight.  The important thing is to follow the order given for adding the ingredients or you will end up with a wet measuring cup to scoop dry ingredients.  It just won't work.  So while it goes a bit against the "rules" of baking I promise it works.  Oh, and the only two measuring tools that you'll need are a 1/4 cup measuring cup and a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon.

3 bananas (the spottier, the better), 1 cup mashed
2 large eggs
3/4 cup cane sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of sea salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (sometimes I use nutmeg instead, especially if I am adding chocolate chips)
1/2 cup neutral flavored oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Line a 12 cup standard muffin tin with muffin liners.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a large zip-top bag, mash the bananas.  Add the eggs and sugar to the bag, zip up and squish until completely mixed.  Open the top and add the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon to the bag.  Close and mix until there are no more dry spots of flour.  Finally, add the oil and vanilla to the batter and give it a final squish to blend all the ingredients.

Snip a corner off the zip-top bag and squeeze the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops with a bit of sugar.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool the muffins in the pan for a few minutes and then remove from the pan and continue to cool on a wire rack.  The muffins will keep in an airtight container for 2 days.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cold Brewed Tea with Rhubarb Simple Syrup

 “When you have a watch, time is like a swimming pool. There are edges and sides. Without a watch, time is like the ocean. Sloppy and vast.”
-Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I'm Home

It's a funny thing, time.  Right now I feel as if I don't have nearly enough of it but at the same time I have no idea how I am filling all of it.  Case in point- I just logged onto my blog hosting site and read that I hadn't posted anything in a month.  A month!  How on Earth did that happen?  Has time really passed so quickly to me that those 4 weeks can seem like the blink of an eye?  I know that I've been busy with pulling together a move of my household to yet another country and keeping my kids healthy and happy and saying goodbye to friends who are moving on and...well, you know the drill.  Life.

And in the meantime, time keeps marching on.  Did you know that this is my 250th post?!  Oh, and that I've been blogging for 5 years now.  That's an average of 1 post a week for the past 5 years.  Mind blowing.  Don't even get me started on the fact that my husband's 40th birthday is in less than a week.  That means that mine is just a few short months away. 

Stop.  Right.  There. 

I can't even wrap my mind around that one.  I was just sitting in the optometrist's chair (remarking on how blind I am, a sure sign that the crest of the hill is right in front of me) talking with him about how no matter how old you are, in your mind you're still a perfect age.  For him, 22 years old and for me it's always 23.  Funny isn't it?  That was nearly half my life ago and I still can't quite comprehend that I'm really any older than that.

So here I am giving you a recipe that requires very little of your time so that you can enjoy the passage and not wonder where it all went.  Put some loose tea in some water, set it in your fridge or a cool spot and walk away.  Take your kids for a bike ride.  Go see a movie with your fellow.  Take a nap.  Do something that makes you happy and when you return, magic will have happened and you will have a pitcher of tea ready to sweeten as you wish (but I humbly suggest the rhubarb syrup I'm sharing today too).

Cold Brewed Tea with Rhubarb Simple Syrup
Makes 1 quart of tea and 2 cups simple syrup
For the printable recipe, click here.

This tea is good with just about any loose tea you enjoy.  I like a good strong black tea like English Breakfast or even Earl Grey (which is the pretty tea that I used for this batch), but a green or even white tea would do just as well.  You may need to adjust steep times for a stronger flavor.  The simple syrup is easy to make and you can really flavor it any way you wish.  Rhubarb was in season and my youngest loves it any way he can get it.  This was the perfect way to make the season last just a little bit longer.  Any berry you like would be a great alternative to the rhubarb.

For the tea: 
5 tbs loose tea of your choice
1 quart (about 4 cups) of cold water

Scoop the tea leaves into a 1liter container.  Add the cold water and cover the container.  Give the container a few shakes to distribute and bruise the tea leaves a bit.  Place in the refrigerator or a cool spot for 5 hours or until tea has reached desired strength.

Remove the container from the refrigerator.  Set cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl.  Pour the tea through the strainer to remove the tea leaves.  Bundle tea leaves into the cheesecloth and give it a bit of a squeeze to extract any remaining liquid.  Discard the used leaves.  Pour the tea into a jar or bottle and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the simple syrup:
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 cup thinly sliced rhubarb

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar then turn off the heat and let the rhubarb steep in the sugar syrup for 5 minutes.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove the rhubarb solids.  Place in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.  Syrup will keep for up to two weeks.

To make a glass of iced tea:
Add 8 oz of the cold tea and a handful of ice to a glass. Sweeten to taste with the rhubarb simple syrup (try 2 tbs to start) and stir.