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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spinach and Great Northern Beans

I am always looking for new and interesting, but fast, side dishes that are on the healthier side. In this case, I was looking for a side dish that packed a little more of a sustained punch than most vegetable side dishes without being a lot of empty carbohydrates. I love eating a big plate of broccoli and it fills me up, but I'm hungry again in less than an hour. I wanted a dish that would stick with me a bit longer. Fortunately, I have come to realize that I absolutely adore great northern beans. Their creaminess is so wonderful, but I find they need a little something-something to go with them. This dish surely lets them shine.

Spinach and Great Northern Beans
Yield: 2 generous side servings

1 15 oz can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
8 oz fresh spinach
1 clove garlic, minced
1 TBS olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a saute pan over medium high heat. Add the oil and the garlic, letting them sizzle together for a minute or two. Add the spinach and toss occasionally so that it cooks evenly. When the spinach is mostly wilted, add the beans and cook for just so that the beans are heated through. Remove from the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Be careful not to saute the beans too long or they will dry out and be less appealing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Peach-Rosemary Freezer Jam

Once upon a time, there was a wife who talked her husband into buying a little patch of land with some peach trees on it. There were four peach trees: two yellow fleshed and two white fleshed. This wife had always dreamed of having her own peach trees, ever since she was a little girl "helping" her Nana can the peaches from a backyard tree.

When the first season came around, the wife watched, entranced as blossoms came with a multitude of honeybees earnestly going about their work. And when the blossoms set fruit, she rejoiced over each hard green marble. And as the season went by, she mourned the necessity of thinning such an abundance of fruit. And then one day, she walked out to check on the fruit of her labor and was rewarded with this sight:

Big, beautiful, aromatic, juicy, delicious fruit. And then she looked at the four trees and went, "Oh, my, but that's a heck of a lot of peaches."

And, indeed, it was. And so the canning began. And continued... and then continued some more.

But then one day, the wife and her husband got orders from the military: "Thou shalt sell your beloved farm and move to the suburbs in Florida." And so they did... leaving those beautiful peach trees behind.

Fortunately, Georgia peach country isn't that far from the panhandle of Florida. There's a fruit stand in town that sells the things and isn't ashamed to let a box of cast offs go to a gal for a decent price. I got this fifteen pounds of slightly blemished peaches for only five bucks. This box made seven 8-oz jars of jam and eight pints of cut peaches in syrup. Not a bad deal! Fortunately, when making jam, you can simply cut around all the bruises.

I made this jam once before in a cooked variety and it was decent, but I left the rosemary in too long and once the peaches lost their "fresh" taste when cooked, it just wasn't as good. However, when I tried the combination this time as a freezer jam? Heaven! The subtle aroma and flavor of the rosemary just adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the peaches. It may sound weird, but I urge you to give it a try!

I used the peach freezer jam recipe from a box of Certo liquid pectin. All I really did differently was add two four inch springs of rosemary to the fruit and sugar and let it sit a while, stirring periodically. I tasted every so often and continued to let it sit until the flavor was just right. When is it just right? Well, when it tastes good to you! It took my fruit about an hour to infuse to the level of flavor I thought right. Use your best judgement! Once the fruit tastes right, remove and discard the rosemary sprigs.

Add the pectin and lemon juice as instructed on your package and put into containers. I prefer jars, but you can use whatever floats your boat. Such a pretty hue! And oh so tasty!

Peach-Rosemary Freezer Jam
Yield: 7 or 8 cups
Adapted from the Certo Liquid Pectin Insert

2 3/4 cups finely chopped peaches
6 1/2 cups sugar
2 pouches Certo liquid pectin
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 4-inch rosemary sprigs

Remove the peel in a boiling water bath and pit and chop into small pieces. While working, toss finished pieces into a water bath with some lemon juice or fruit fresh to inhibit browning. Drain and measure out the fruit and add to the sugar. Stir together. Add the rosemary sprigs and let sit, stirring occasionally, until the peaches have a nice, subtle hint of rosemary, about an hour.

Remove the rosemary sprigs. Mix the pectin and lemon juice together and let them sit for ten minutes. Add the lemon pectin mixture to the fruit mixture and stir continuously for three minutes. At this point, the mixture should only have a few sugar crystals remaining.

Pour the jam into prepared containers, leaving a half-inch of head space for expansion as the jam freezes. Let the jam stand at room temperature until it is set, up to 24 hours. Freeze until ready to use. Thaw in the refrigerator before use.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Strawberry Topping

I just love this time of year. In many areas, strawberries are one of the first real fruit crops of the season, and it always gets me excited about things to come. While strawberries are undeniably at their best fresh out of the field: warm, sweet, and juicy, they just don't keep long fresh. Fortunately, there is an easy and delicious way to enjoy strawberries year round. If preserved properly, strawberries can come out of the freezer tasting very much like they went in. There's nothing better than enjoying strawberry shortcake in November or strawberry topping on waffles with whipped cream in January.

The first step is to rinse and cut up the berries. Remove any overly ripe parts and rotten spots. Remove the stems and cut into roughly nickel sized pieces. For every quart of prepared berries, squeeze about half a lemon's worth of juice into them. Please note that all of the measurements in this process are very loose; simply taste as you go to be sure it's right for your palate.

Then add some sugar. For a quart of berries, I use between half and one cup of sugar typically. But, again, it will always vary depending on the sweetness of the berries. One point to keep in mind, however, is that you don't want to skimp too much on the sugar. The sugar helps thicken the topping and keeps that beautiful red color vibrant. Use too little sugar and you may be a bit disappointed in the results.

Stir the sugar in and then gently crush the berries with your hands. Do not use any mechanical means to complete this step. You do not want the berries pulverized, just gently crushed. This step helps the berries to release more of their juice and also damages the cell walls in the strawberries enough that freezing the topping will no longer change its texture or structure much.

Don't crush things too much. You still want some nice sized pieces in there. In this image, the topping is sitting in a large serving spoon which is about three inches long. Look at all that delicious syrup that's developed!

At this point, spoon the mixture into freezer containers. I like square ones like these (I picked mine up at Wal-Mart a few years ago). Be sure to leave a half-inch at the top of the container so the mixture can expand as it freezes without making a mess of your freezer. Just as an FYI, this batch of twelve pint containers was from one flat of strawberries.

When you are ready to use, you can defrost them in the refrigerator, on the counter, or in the microwave (just go gently!). Spoon over cakes, ice cream, waffles, or oatmeal. Use to make the best daiquiris or margaritas ever or use to make a delicious smoothie. Or defrost only enough to get a spoon in there to scrape out frozen bits and serve over your favorite cold cereal or as a frozen dessert with whipped cream.

What I love most about putting these little containers in the freezer is that they are so darn versatile!
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