Blueberries in February…?

Raw Blueberrry JamAm I the only one who has been baffled by the mass quantities of cheap blueberries available in the middle of winter? A little poking around the internet tells me that they are apparently from Chile, which has turned into a mega producer and exporter of the little blue fruit. I suppose I should be suspicious of this new “global market” we’re living in and be cautious of what effect purchasing this product has on our planet… but I really love blueberries…. and they’re so cheap… and sooo goooooddddd……

These days when I am presented with a quantity of cheap blueberries, they wind up in my morning juice. Not only are they sweet and incredibly flavorful, they have more antioxidants than any other food on the planet – what better way to start your day? Still, I can’t help but wonder what other creative applications I can use on these amazing little berries. Being a lover of jam, I was thinking I could make some, but the amount of sugar one has to use to make jam is not really bootcamp-friendly. Besides, it’s so easy to just throw blueberries in a pot with sugar – what about keeping them raw? What about butter??? Ooooo!

So here’s what I did. I took a half-pint of blueberries and a half-pint of blackberries and emptied them into my food processor. I did some digging around my cabinets and found some coconut sugar I got from Whole Foods a month ago – it’s a natural sugar (i.e. not processed), so it’s super good for you. I put a tablespoon in. You can substitute maple sugar or sugar in the raw or just some white sugar if you’re not terribly concerned. I then added in two tablespoons of organic raw agave nectar. Why? Because I had it leftover from when I made fresh ginger ale last week. Honey would be perfectly fine as well. Then, a pinch of salt, a drop of vanilla, and I needed some citrus… hmmm…  oh, I’ll steal one of these fresh oranges from my roommate. I squeezed half of it in. But now we need something to thicken this concoction that is not flour or cornstarch or anything super processed. I did some digging around and came up with the answer: ground chia seed. It’s an incredible natural thickener. And more importantly I had it in my kitchen. 1 tablespoon in the work bowl. Grind it all up in the food processor until smooth, put it in a bowl, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Voila, raw berry jam. Not at thick as a real jam, but the flavor is crazy fresh and intense, and as you can see from the pic, it sits beautifully on toast. Here it is in list form:

  • 1 pint of fresh blueberries (or a mixture of blue and blackberries)
  • 1 tbsp coconut sugar (or any raw, unprocessed sugar like maple or stevia)
  • 2 tbsp organic raw agave syrup (or honey)
  • 1 drop vanilla
  • 1 small pinch of salt
  • the juice of 1/2 an orange
  • 2 tbsp ground chia seed

–Process all ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Done.

Now you could stop here, but I looove me some compound butter, so I did that too. Take 1/2 stick of room temperature butter and mash in about 2 tablespoons of the jam. Form the mixture either into a ball or a log or whatever you want and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. Now you have this wonderfully colorful butter to spread on toasts, muffins, croissants, your body – whatever you like! If you want to double or triple the recipe, I would recommend using a hand mixer or kitchen aid to whip it together really well.

If you just can’t get enough blueberry,  check out these other fantastic recipes from my blog:

Blueberry Coffeecake Muffins
Blueberry Pie
Mixed Berry Salsa
Maple Vanilla Fruit Salad
Crust Knots (if you decide to make pie)

Pecan Pesto

I love pesto. But never from a store bought container – no no. Pesto is way too easy and way too fresh to shell out for some chemical-filled processed crap you find in the grocery store. But I’ve noticed that everyone seems to be obsessed with putting roasted pine nuts in their pesto… pine nuts… I’m sorry, pine nuts are really expensive. And I would have no use for them other than pesto, so why would I want to invest in such an item? Most of the time when I make pesto I don’t use any nuts. For me, all I need is basil, garlic, salt, pepper, and cheese. Tastes good to me!

But while I may never be a purveyor of pine nuts, I nearly always have pecans in my cabinet (my absolute favorite nut). So as I was making this batch of pesto, I thought what the hell, let’s toast some pecans and throw them in here. And you know what? It was friggin delicious.

Now I have to tell you, I never measure anything. But here is the approximate recipe:

  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1 large container fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup fresh parmesan or romano cheese
  • big pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper
  • olive oil

All I do is throw the garlic into the food processor and get it chopped up really good. Then I cram everything else into food processor (except the olive oil), turn it on, get it good and ground up, then I stream in olive oil until it reaches the smooth consistency you desire. I like mine a little on the thick side, as you can see.

If you’re not going to use this right away, be sure you store it in the fridge in a container with plastic wrap pressed against the top to help prevent browning. Air = browning.

Stay tuned for a PHENOMENAL recipe to use this with.

Fate of the Favas

After countless hours (literally) of peeling fava beans, my verdict is this: so not worth it.

…Ok, maybe I’m being a little harsh. To be fair, I got some misinformation on the best way to peel them. The source I used (which I will not name) said that one should soak them for four hours or overnight, boil them for 10 minutes, then, once cooled enough to touch, one could simply squeeze them out of their shells. Not the case. After soaking them overnight, the shells actually got quite soft. Though they were peeling, it was taking a lot of effort so I thought I would take the extra effort and do the quick boil. Bad idea. The beans had absorbed so much water from the soak that after 10 minutes of boiling they actually softened too much, making it all the more difficult to peel. When I finally finished the peeling, I had to finish cooking them, so I got them in a pot with vegetable stock, onion, carrot, and some fresh herbs. While very flavorful, nearly every bean fell apart during the cooking process, leaving me with a large mound of bean fragments. Irritating to say the least. I blame the extra boiling.

So I took half of the beans and made a sort of stew with porcini mushrooms, sage, some creminis, and asparagus. It was fine, but nothing really worth posting here. The real payoff came in the form of making hummus. Yes, fava bean hummus. I put about 3 cups of cooked beans in my food processor, added in a scoop of almond butter (tahini is waaaayyy too expensive), a scoop of veganaise, 3 cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh dill, a handful of fresh basil, paprika, two tablespoons of olive oil, about 1/4 cup of the cooking stock, lots of salt and pepper, and a couple dashes of Tabasco sauce. Blended it together and created a really outstanding dip that I’ve been eating with fresh vegetables. Yum.

Would I do this again? Perhaps. If only to try the process without the unnecessary boiling/soaking and see if the beans actually retain their shape. And honestly, it would be worth making more of this hummus. My friend Eric tells me that fresh favas, found in green pods, while equally obnoxious to peel, have a totally different flavor than the dried ones. Would be interesting to explore this difference… but I think I’m done with favas for a while… at least for now. ;-)

Enjoy the weekend everyone, fall is here and I’ve got some tasty fall treats coming your way!

Berry Salsa and Chips

A bonus recipe for Friday! Yay! Here’s the last creation I want to share from Labor Day. This time of year berries are wildly cheap and abundant. If you recall my trip to the farmer’s market, I bought a whole lot of strawberries for $5. The problem is that they don’t keep very long, so I wanted to come up with a recipe that would use a bunch of them all at once. The idea of a salsa came to me. I had some blueberries in the fridge, so I decided to dice two pints of the strawberries very fine along with about the same amount of blueberries. I tossed them with a bit of agave syrup, about two teaspoons of chopped fresh mint (careful, it’s potent stuff), a pinch of salt, and a dash of vanilla. I served it in a bowl topped with some sweetened ricotta cheese (just mix it with some powdered sugar). The combination of fruit and the soft cheese is really incredible. I actually wanted to use marscapone cheese, but Trader Joe’s was apparently out that day. It’s an ingredient that is available at pretty much every market nowadays, but it can be a bit expensive. Trader Joe’s has by far the best prices for all dairy products and since I’m the starving artist and didn’t feel like going on a crusade for some friggin cheese, I decided to go with Trader Joe’s fresh ricotta. It actually worked quite well.

Now this recipe is quite simple as I was sticking to what I had on hand, but you could easily modify this with any fruit, citrus, zest, and even spices you like. But whatever you do, you’re going to need chips. The chips I made for this was phenomenal, in fact I ate many without the dip. Here’s what you do. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Melt a half stick of butter in a bowl in the microwave. Cut 6 taco-sized flour tortillas into 8 triangles each (just like a pizza). In a separate bowl combine 2 tablespoons of sugar with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Take one of the tortilla slices, brush each side with a bit of butter, then toss into the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place your chips in a single layer on a half-sheet pan that’s been greased with a bit of non-stick spray. You’ll likely need two pans for this many tortillas. Bake in the oven until deeply brown and crispy, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a bit before eating to allow them to crisp fully. These chips are delicious with all kinds of dessert applications. We were spreading them with nutella and then topping them with the ricotta and fruit. Ridiculous.

Happy Friday!

Weekday Cookout

One of the greatest things about living in Southern California is that nearly every single day is a cookout day. No one has 9-5 jobs, it’s always sunny and gorgeous, so why not have a random cookout at 4pm on Wednesday afternoon?

Well, that’s what I did this past Wednesday. My friends Kristen and Joseph live in a lovely house in Culver City with a back porch and grill to accompany their lemon-tree-filled backyard. And of course being on the westside closer to the water, the weather is even better. I showed up at 2 in the afternoon. We took a walk to the grocery store to find some things to accompany the chicken breast Joe was marinating in the fridge. Kristen already had asparagus and zucchini to grill, but we all decided we needed corn on the cob….mmmm….. fresh corn with butter and salt…. I decided I needed to make some guacamole, and Kristen decided we needed dessert, which led her to a Duncan Hines box mix, which I of course gave her shit for, but ended up being really tasty. I also turned Joseph on to the idea of smoked sausage. I love love Kielbasa on the grill, but for some reason Ralph’s only had turkey kielbasa, which was just not happening. Instead we went for a straight up smoked sausage. And for almost no money at all, we had ourselves quite the feast.

I have to say, the batch of guac I made was really epic. Avocados were on sale for 97 cents each – totally unheard of. So I bought 6 of them, one shallot for like 30 cents, and one bundle of fresh cilantro for 50 cents. With a potato masher, a few spices from Kristen’s rack (ha… rack…), and a lemon from their tree, I had one of the best batches of guac I’d ever put together. If you’re a loyal reader of this blog, you might remember my ludicrous guacamole post from May. I’ve decided to update and reattach the recipe below. Aren’t I just so accommodating? All for you, readers, all for you.

In other news, Joe’s chicken was amazing – super moist and flavorful, marinated in Italian dressing. Kristen sliced up the veggies and I coated them in some herb-infused olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then on the grill they went until soft and a bit charred. Perfect. And of course we killed half of Kristen’s tray of cookie brownies without even flinching. The rest of the afternoon was spent talking, relaxing, and enjoying our friendship. Not too bad for a Wednesday. ;-)

Ludicrous Guacamole – Updated (Recipe PDF)