STRAWBERRY CHIA JAM

  This quick-and-easy Strawberry Chia Jam intensifies the strawberry flavor while being healthier than most of the jams on the market.  It’s one of those gorgeously-simple foods.  The texture (as written) is a cross between a jam and a sauce, making it super versatile, but it’s easily made firmer by the addition of another Tablespoon of chia seeds.  I chose to make this jam with strawberries because strawberries already have tiny seeds, but you can choose any fruit you like.  The way I made it, it can be spread on toast, spooned over vegan yogurt or cheesecake, drizzled on oatmeal, stirred into lemonade, dolloped on strawberry shortcake, etc.  I froze some  so I could preserve the flavor of Spring.

STRAWBERRY CHIA JAM

Makes enough to fill two 8-ounce jars and then some

INGREDIENTS
3 Cups chopped fruit
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice  (yes, fresh tastes better)
1/3 Cup organic sugar
1 Tablespoon chia seeds  (or 2 if you want it thicker)

DIRECTIONS
Wash and prepare fruit, cutting away any bad parts, leaves and stems.  Leave berries otherwise whole and add them to a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat about 10 minutes, until fruit breaks down and gives off syrupy liquid.  Mash the fruit with a potato masher, or if you don’t have one, the bottom of a canning jar or heavy glass tumbler.  Leave lumps, so it’s rustic and beautiful.  Stir in lemon juice and sugar.  Taste it to make sure it’s to your liking.  Stir in chia seeds.  Let it sit and cool, and try to not to eat it out of the pot.  Use within a week, or freeze.

NOTES:  This recipe is flexible, but these measurements above really hit the spot for us.  If using larger fruit, pit and chop it.  Next time, I’ll add the zest of the lemon.  The health benefits of chia are many–fully digestible and energy-boosting, they were an important food for the Incas centuries ago.  Chia adds antioxidants, fiber, protein, omega-3s and calcium to foods, while not interfering with the flavor of the main ingredient.  While this jam is not sugar-free, the chia seeds make you feel more satiated.  For another chia recipe, try my Chia Fresca.  And if you’re a real health nut, there’s also Chia Breakfast Porridge.  There is also a great Quick Freezer Jam on this site, that uses agar agar as a thickening agent.  Other related recipes include Strawberry Rhubarb Compote.

Easy Blueberry Sauce

IMG_2946     If you have a bumper crop or windfall of extra blueberries, you could freeze them for smoothies or pies, or you can make this fabulous easy blueberry sauce.  It can be used on pancakes, or vegan ice cream, stirred into vegan cream cheese for bagels, swirled into vegan cheesecake batter, etc.

EASY BLUEBERRY SAUCE

Makes about one pint

INGREDIENTS
2-1/2 Cups fresh blueberries, washed
1/3 Cup plus 3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
lemon zest from one lemon  (optional)
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
Set aside 1/2 Cup of the blueberries, and the vanilla.  In a blender, add all other ingredients and blend until fairly smooth.  In a small saucepan, stirring often over medium heat, bring blueberry mixture to a boil.  Immediately turn heat down a click or two, and add reserved blueberries.  Cook at a low boil for two minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.  Stir in vanilla, let cool, and chill.  Use or freeze.

Notes:  If you let the raw blended mixture sit around without cooking it, it could clump, maybe from the pectin.  If that happens, you can re-blend or use a potato masher.
IMG_2943

Vegan Brandied Cherry Sauce

cherry sauce     I created this easy and delicious vegan Brandied Cherry Sauce specifically for the Daiya New York Cheezecake I was serving at a small dinner party.  This sauce can easily be made without the alcohol too.  And because we’re using frozen cherries, it can be made in any season.  Also, if you want organic–it’s possible to find frozen organic cherries, while it can be difficult to find fresh organic cherries.  This would also be good on a vegan Black Forest Cake.

BRANDIED CHERRY SAUCE

Makes enough for the top of a cheesecake or black forest cake.

INGREDIENTS
10 oz. bag frozen cherries
1/3 Cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon scant fine sea salt
2 Tablespoons Kirschwasser  (or water)
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
In small saucepan, dry whisk sugar, cornstarch and sea salt.  Add Kirschwasser or water, and stir.  Add cherries and cook over medium heat, stirring often until thickened and bubbly.  Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes.  Add extracts and stir to combine.

Note:  It takes 15 or 20 minutes for this to thicken up, so I make this while I’m working near the stove, so I can stir it often.  I used Dekuyper brand Kirschwasser.  If you can find Oregon brand Dark Sweet Cherries in the 15 oz. can, they are a good substitute for frozen cherries, but remember to drain them first, and discard the can liquid.

Thyme-Roasted Grapes and Cheese on Grilled Bread

IMG_1668     Thyme-Roasted Grapes and Cheese on Grilled Bread is one of those recipes that’s almost too good to be true.  Quick, easy, elegant and especially delicious.  The earliest origin of roasted grapes I could find online was around 2004.  Here, we’re using vegan cheese, because nobody has to die so we can have really good food.  Having a sweet, salty, creamy and crunchy appetizer is wonderful, but knowing it’s also good for your body and the planet and the animals is priceless!

THYME ROASTED GRAPES AND CHEESE ON GRILLED BREAD

Makes enough for 2 to 4 people, for appetizers

INGREDIENTS
1 lb. seedless red grapes
2 ciabatta loaves, or a baguette
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
spreadable vegan cheese, such as Kite Hill Cream Cheese Style Spread.  Or, Miyoko’s CreameryTreeline, etc.   Or even just Tofutti Cream Cheese (non-hydrogenated).  Any of them should work.

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 Celsius).  Line baking dish with parchment paper.  In a mixing bowl, place grapes, olive oil, sea salt and thyme, and fold gently with a wooden spoon to coat the grapes.  Tip ingredients into prepared baking dish and roast for 15 minutes or so, until grapes are a bit shriveled but still juicy.  Set aside.  Also set out your vegan cheese so it can warm up a bit while you prepare the toasts.

Slice ciabatta loaves in half the long way so you wind up with two wide/flat paddles, or if using a baguette, slice into rounds.  If grilling, brush bread with olive oil on both sides.  If baking in oven, brush oil on just the cut sides.  Grill bread 1 to 2 minutes per side–do not walk away, as it can burn quickly.  If baking bread, have oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 Celsius) and bake for about 7 minutes, keeping an eye on it.  Smear bread with vegan cheese and garnish with thyme-roasted grapes.  Serve.

Notes:  If using a good nut cheese, this can easily be a main meal, especially if served with a salad.  I used the Kite Hill Cream Cheese Style Spread (made from almond milk) in the Chive flavor.

Vegan Honeydew Matcha Bubble Tea

IMG_2593     This vegan Honeydew Matcha Bubble Tea or Boba is delicious, and much healthier than anything you can buy in a mall, where they generally use fruit powders and sugar syrup.  Matcha green tea is an acquired taste for some, so if you’re not sure about it, omit it from the recipe, and then just add a pinch or two to your own individual drink.

Makes approximately 2.5 Cups,  or 2 to 3 servings

VEGAN HONEYDEW MATCHA BUBBLE TEA

INGREDIENTS
2 Cups raw honeydew melon chunks (bite-size pieces)
3/4 Cup black tapioca pearls  (boba)
1 Cup almond milk
1/2 Cup So Delicious Creamer
1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder
2 teaspoons light agave syrup  (not dark)

for Simple Syrup to store tapioca pearls in:
1/2 Cup water
1/2 Cup sugar

DIRECTIONS
For the Simple Syrup:  In smallest saucepan, bring the 1/2 Cup water just to a boil.  Add the sugar and stir to dissolve any visible sugar.  Reduce heat to a simmer and let simmer a few minutes (less than 5 minutes).  Turn off heat and set aside.

In a large pot, bring 8 Cups of water to boil.  Stir the water and slowly swirl in the tapioca pearls and stir gently to keep pearls from sinking to bottom of pot.  Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 15 more minutes.  Rinse a pearl under cool water and chew to test for softness.  In a colander, drain and rinse pearls under cold water.  Put pearls into a glass jar.  Pour the Simple Syrup over the pearls and let cool uncovered and unrefrigerated.

In a blender, puree Matcha, almond milk, creamer, melon and agave syrup, making sure to put the matcha into the blender first, so it doesn’t poof powder all over the top of the blender.  If you do not have a blender, use a food processor to puree the melon and then mix it with everything else.  Chill in refrigerator.  When ready to serve, add 2 Tablespoons cooked tapioca pearls (drained of syrup) to each glass, and top with honeydew milk tea.  A straw is nice.  I like paper straws so I serve with a long, skinny ice-tea spoon to scoop up those chewy, chewy pearls.  In Mandarin, this perfect, toothsome chewiness is called QQ.

Notes:  The tapioca pearls can tend to harden a bit in the refrigerator.  To soften, drain the pearls, cover them with water and microwave for 1 to 2 minutes, testing after one minute.   You can stretch the batch of tea a bit by adding an extra 1/2 Cup of vegan creamer.  You can freeze any leftover melon chunks for future use, if you want.  For inspiration, I visited Kitchen Simplicity.  To make it cruelty-free, I specify almond milk and agave syrup.  Upon reading the ingredients of several large boba chains, I noticed they use non-dairy creamer as a base in their bubble teas, so I have done the same.  Never heating the matcha helps minimize its natural bitterness.  I found the boba (tapioca pearls) at an oriental grocery in Salisbury, MD, but there are good sources online, and boba pearls come in various colors.

Nutrition values for the entire batch, not including boba:  Calories 328.  Fat 3.  Saturated fat 0.  Trans fat 0.  Cholesterol 0.  Sodium 214.  Potassium 150.  Carbs 64.  Fiber 2.  Sugars 59.  Protein 3.  Vitamin A 14.  Vitamin C 106.  Calcium 4.  Iron 6.  Nutrition values for 2 Tablespoons of boba:  Calories 41.  Fat 0.  Cholesterol 0.  Sodium 23.  Potassium 3.  Carbs 10.
IMG_2584IMG_2582
IMG_2587  I was able to find this locally.

Cantaloupe Vanilla Smoothie

IMG_2542    This Cantaloupe Vanilla Smoothie is incredibly refreshing in the heat of summer.   Sweetened with dates, only a few ingredients but packing a wallop of nutrition, and it tastes like good vanilla ice cream.    It’s almost like magic.  Thanks to Gail, my lovely neighbor who delivered three monster cantaloupes from her garden yesterday.

CANTALOUPE VANILLA SMOOTHIE

Serves 2 to 3

INGREDIENTS
2 Cups frozen cantaloupe chunks
2 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1 Cup organic soy milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
Scrape seeds out of cantaloupe, and cut into chunks .  Freeze chunks on dinner plates or a cookie sheet, for several hours.  Freezing the cantaloupe chunks is important so you get individual chunks of cantaloupe, not big lumps of frozen-together cantaloupe that won’t fit into the bottom of your blender.   Soak dates in hot water for 10 minutes, then discard pits and chop dates.  Put all ingredients into blender and blend just until smooth.  Enjoy one of the most refreshing shakes ever.  This makes 2 medium smoothies or three small shakes of about 3/4 Cup each.

Notes:  You can stretch this a bit by adding another half cup of cantaloupe.  You may need to add a little more liquid to finesse the blender.  If you want it less sweet, use only one date.  If using smaller dates, adjust accordingly (the Medjool dates are big).
IMG_2534  Frozen chunks of cantaloupe on cookie sheet.

Strawberry Vanilla Date Shake

IMG_2227    My wonderful neighbor Gail stopped by on Memorial Day weekend with pounds and pounds of freshly-picked strawberries out of their impressive garden.  We ate some, but there were so many I decided to create a shake smoothie worthy of them.  Sweetened with dates, and enhanced with natural vanilla, it’s the bomb.

STRAWBERRY VANILLA DATE SHAKE

Servings:  2 to 4

INGREDIENTS
2 Cups frozen strawberries
4 dried dates, with pits removed   (chop each date into about 4 pieces)
1.5 Cups plant milk
seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean,  or  1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Add all to blender and blend.  If your blender gets stuck, a good trick is to slide a long teaspoon down the sides of the blender container or give a quick stir to allow contents to settle once again.  Add a little more liquid if you need to.

Notes:   Using store-bought frozen strawberries is just fine.  To freeze fresh strawberries, rinse them with cold water just before you need them, and lay them on an old dish towel to dry.  Use an old towel in case they stain your towelHull the strawberries using a paring knife, and discard the green tops.  Freeze strawberries on dinner plates until they are frozen.  Then place frozen strawberries into a freezer container.  This method will prevent the strawberries from freezing together in a solid mass.  If you can, organic strawberries (whether fresh or frozen) are worth buying, because strawberries are in the Dirty Dozen (among the most pesticide-laden produce).  If you do not have a high-powered blender, you might want to soak the dates in almost-hot water for 15 minutes before pitting and blending.  Here are good tips for splitting and seeding a vanilla bean.   Make sure to look in the bulk section of your local health food store for vanilla beans, for cheaper prices.  If you really want to gild the lily, add a few Tablespoons of granola to this shake after it’s out of the blender.  This is great with almond milk too.  My favorite soy milk is WestSoy Organic Unsweetened.

Approx Nutrition info for the whole batch:  Calories 489.  Fat 7 gr.  Saturated Fat 1 gr.  Polyunsaturated Fat 4 gr.  Monounsaturated Fat 2 gr.  Trans Fat 0.  Cholesterol 0.  Sodium 45.  Potassium 1538.  Carbs 106.  Fiber 20.  Sugars 78.  Protein 16.  Vitamin A 4%.  Vitamin C 180%.  Calcium 14%.  Iron 27%.

Carrot Pear Almond Smoothie

IMG_1435    When I don’t have time to juice, I turn to smoothies.  After the mornings of alkalizing green juices, smoothies feel like dessert, but this is serious nutrition too.  Because I juice and blend what I’ve got on hand, it always varies, but every now and then, some serendipitous combination hits the mark and I know it’s a keeper.  Here we have the sandy sweetness of a fully-ripe D’Anjour pear with frozen banana, creamy vegan yogurt, almond milk, a little almond butter and raw carrots.  A literal pinch of ground cinnamon is very faint, but it marries them all into a happy ending.  You can play around with this–omit the banana for a slightly thinner consistency, change the nut butter, plant milk or spice, etc., but this is the way I like it.   p.s. You will not be hungry after this vegan smoothie!

CARROT PEAR ALMOND SMOOTHIE WITH A HINT OF CINNAMON

Makes enough for 2 to 4, depending on serving sizes.

INGREDIENTS
1/2 frozen banana, cut into chunks
1 ripe Anjou pear
1 large carrot,  or 2 small-to-medium carrots
1/2 Cup vegan yogurt,  plain or vanilla flavor
1 Cup almond milk
1 Tablespoon almond butter
pinch cinnamon  (1/16th teaspoon)

DIRECTIONS
Blend all, and enjoy!

Notes:  Peel and cut the bananas before you freeze them.  You could add some ice during the blending process too.  The yogurt is providing probiotics.   After drinking a smoothie, it’s a good practice to rinse your mouth well with water, to help rinse the fruit sugars off your tooth enamel.

Cranberry Sauce with Kirschwasser and Cherry

IMG_1145    This might be the best cranberry sauce I’ve ever made.  To temper the astringency of the cranberries, I’ve paired them with cherry brandy and 100% real cherry juice.  I used a potato masher on the cooked sauce to give it a smoother texture while leaving a bit of Early American rusticity.  Kirschwasser is a clear brandy distilled from a fermented mash of cherries.  I’ll use the leftover cherry juice in the juicer, but you could make cocktails with it, or drink it straight in the morning, because it’s great for inflammation.  I don’t drink, but with the leftover Kirschwasser, you could make festive cherry Sidecars for the Thanksgiving bar too.  If you don’t want any alcohol in the house, just substitute more cherry juice for the Kirschwasser.   p.s.  There are three other cranberry sauces on this site:  Classic Cranberry SauceHoliday Cranberry Sauce,  and Cranberry Sauce with Amontillado Sherry.

CRANBERRY SAUCE WITH KIRSCHWASSER AND CHERRY

Makes about 2 Cups

INGREDIENTS
1 lb. fresh cranberries
1 Cup sugar
3/4 Cup Kirschwasser  (I used Dekuyper brand)
1/2 Cup 100% cherry juice  (I used R.W. Knudsen Just Tart Cherry Juice)

DIRECTIONS
Bring cranberries, sugar and Kirschwasser to simmer in a heavy saucepan over medium or medium-low heat.  Stir until sugar has dissolved, a minute or two.  Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until cranberries burst, about 12 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the cherry juice.  Mash gently with a potato masher until it’s the consistency you want.  Cool completely.  Freeze or keep in refrigerator up to one week, in an airtight container.

Note:  If you don’t want to use the alcohol, just use more cherry juice instead of the Kirschwasser.

Platanos Maduros – Sweet Fried Plantains

IMG_0654    Here we have Platanos Maduros, or sweet fried plantains.  Maduros means “mature” and we’re looking for the almost-black plantains here.  So delicious, and so simple that anyone could do it.   Part of the fun of this is going to the Latin market, but you can now buy plantains at most grocery stores.  I found three good YouTube videos on how to cook plantains.  One by Puerto Rican Style, one by Latin Kitchen, and one by Adriana Lopez (from Venezuela).  Each video has something different to impart.  In the last video, the Platanos Maduros demonstration begins at 5:20.  My friend from Guatemala assured me I didn’t need all that oil–she just uses some cooking spray in a non-stick skillet.

PLATANOS MADUROS – SWEET FRIED PLANTAINS

Serves 3 to 4

INGREDIENTS
2 very-ripe plantains, with a lot of black on them
2 Tablespoons peanut oil  (or safflower oil)

DIRECTIONS
In a non-stick skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons of peanut oil, over medium heat.
If you want less oil, simply spray the non-stick skillet with cooking spray.
Cut both ends off each plantain.
Make a shallow cut from one end of the plantain to the other, following one of the raised ridges running the length of the plantain.
Using the cut you just made, peel the plantain.
Slice the plantains diagonally, into half-inch-thick pieces.
When the oil is hot, gently place about half of the plantain pieces in the pan, and fry and flip them until they are golden brown.
Immediately place on paper towels and blot them with another paper towel.
Repeat with the 2nd half of the plantain slices.
Serve immediately.  I like to serve these with Vegan Mexican Crema.

Notes:  I’m guessing you could keep these warm for a bit, in a 175 degrees Fahrenheit  oven.  If you buy the plantains very, very ripe (mostly black), you can store them inside a brown paper bag, in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator for another day or two. I do not use canola oil because I don’t like the taste of it when frying things.

Plantains offer many nutritional benefits, including beta carotene, Vitamins C, B1, B3, B6, B12, E, K and folate.  Minerals include iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iodine, phosphorus, chloride and selenium.  They also have Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.  Half of a plantain has about 2 grams of fiber and one gram of protein.

Easy Fig Jam with Lemon and Sesame

IMG_0598    Vegan Mofo 2013.  For weeks, we’ve been having a contest to see who could get to the figs first–me or The Squirrels.  As you can imagine, the Squirrels are way ahead, but I did manage to snag a pound a half of these White Italian Honey Figs, and make some easy, vegan fig jam.  This fig jam is great with salty crackers on a vegan cheese board.  You can double this recipe, and you can use any type of figs–I’ve also made it with Brown Turkey figs.

EASY FIG JAM WITH LEMON AND SESAME

Makes about two 8-ounce jars.

INGREDIENTS
1/2 Cup water
1/2 Cup sugar
1.5 pounds ripe figs, rinsed
zest from one organic lemon
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (no more)
1 Tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted

DIRECTIONS
In a small skillet over medium heat, toast sesame seeds, shaking the pan gently until seeds turn golden.  Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, simmer water and sugar, until sugar is dissolved.
Cut each fig into about 8 pieces.
Into the sugar-water, add zest and lemon juice and figs.
Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy, 1.5 to 2 hours.
Stir in sesame seeds.
If you want to, you can now use a potato masher to break up some of the fig pieces.
I like a mixed consistency.
Let cool a bit and then ladle into heavy little canning jars.
When fully cool, cap the jars.
Keep in fridge for one month, or put in freezer for up to six months.

Notes:  I’ve tried making this with stevia, and did not like the flavor at all.  One time I added extra lemon, but that made it taste kind of like Pledge, so keep it subtle.  I also tried adding more sesame seeds, but it was too much, threw the balance off.  This fig jam is great with salty crackers and vegan cheeses.  If you need to collect figs over 2 or 3 days, gently rinse and dry them, and keep them in a covered container in the refrigerator until you get enough.
IMG_0579  White Italian Honey Figs

IMG_0510  Here’s my haul from day one.  It took me two more days to steal enough from the squirrels to make jam.

IMG_0591  The picture of health, but not ripe yet.

IMG_0589  This fig tree gets cut back each Spring and then it grows about 4-6 feet in one season.  You can see it towering over our one-story garage roof here.  This fig tree faces SW, and is protected from wind by the garage.

Earl Grey Poached Pears

I recently got the cookbook The Vegan Slow Cooker by Kathy Hester.  These Earl Grey Poached Pears are the first thing I’ve made in my 4 quart, oval Crock Pot.  You end up with a thin floral sauce that could easily be cooked down to a thicker syrup on the stove top.  While we ate them plain, I think these pears also would be great chopped up on top of hot oatmeal, in pancakes or crepes, or over some vegan ice cream.  I’m a tea addict, and have made side trips to Fortnum and Mason, Mariage Freres, etc.  While I normally only drink oolong or green teas, with the occasional Darjeeling debacle, I do like the Earl Grey here.  That faint scent of roses on the melting, sandy pears.  I actually doubled up on the tea bags and we both liked the result.  I have a bunch of other recipes marked in this cookbook to try.  So for Vegan Mofo 2012, I’m recommending this cookbook.  It’s really got me thinking.

Vegan Jam – Quick Freezer Jam

This is my first attempt at jam, so I decided to make a quick, freezer jam.  Like my rhubarb strawberry compote, this is the kind anyone can make and enjoy (or freeze) without the fear of botulism.  This recipe takes three pints of berries, but it makes a lot.   I got five 8-ounce jars out of this simple recipe, with a little left over.  It takes about an hour to make, including washing and slicing the berries, and you do need to be near the stove for about half an hour of that time.  A small price to pay for the sublime experience of this homemade jam.  It looks like rubies and has the saturated taste of sweet strawberries right from the garden.  Make sure to use organic strawberries, because the non-organic strawberries are seriously toxic, high on the Dirty-Dozen list, no joke.  I developed this recipe myself and this is only my second or third time using the agar agar.  Veganomicon has a good cranberry sauce that uses agar agar and making that gave me the inspiration to use it here.  Agar agar comes in various forms and is odorless, colorless and tasteless, and doesn’t harm anyone the way gelatin does.  One tip is that you can often find it WAY cheaper in Asian grocery stores (I have bought packets for around a dollar).  I’ve been told it has an indefinite shelf life, so it’s great to have on hand.

VEGAN FREEZER JAM – Quick Strawberry Jam

INGREDIENTS
3 pints organic strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 Cup organic sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon agar agar flakes or kanten

DIRECTIONS
Place a small plate and some metal teaspoons in the freezer (you will use these to test your jam).    In a small cup, combine agar agar flakes with lemon juice.
In a large pot, combine all ingredients over low heat, stirring occasionally.
Bring heat up to a low boil and cook, stirring often, until jam has thickened, about another 20-30 minutes.    Stir in a figure-eight pattern about every minute.
The berries will get glossier looking and feel a bit thicker, you will see the change if you pay attention.    Once you feel it’s ready, put a little on one of your frozen spoons and place that spoon back in the freezer for two minutes.  Go back and tilt the frozen spoon of jam and if the jam on the spoon is thickened and not running thinly, your jam is done.  It will continue to thicken as it cools.    Cover and refrigerate.    Put your jam into individual canning jars (I like 8 ounce jars).    Refrigerate up to three weeks, or freeze up to one year.  There is also a great Strawberry Chia Jam on this site, that is even quicker to make.

Pomelo or Pummelo or Jabong

When I was a teenager on Kauai, I had never heard the word pomelo, because we called this fruit “jabong.”  Tasting like a mild grapefruit, pomelo are a great breakfast food or snack.  There are different cultivars of pomelo, and some are pink and some are white.  Although they’re the largest of the citrus fruits, one pomelo only yields enough fruit for two people and I can easily eat one all by myself.  You see, the skin is so thick that by the time you peel and segment it, it doesn’t give up as much fruit as you’d think.  However, if you value quality over quantity, go for the jabong!  I love it, and it’s available in winter when we really need that extra shot of vitamin C.  If I’m in a hurry, I supreme the fruit, as you would an orange.  I usually try to find a pomelo that is leaning toward bright yellow, because then I know it’s ripe.  However, I’ve read online that a green pomelo is fine.  I’m guessing that, like most citrus, this does not ripen once you pick it.  See below for a photo of one I found recently at Whole Foods in Annapolis.  There are many good videos on how to peel and even carve a pommelo on youtube, and here is one I found for you.  And here is another video if you decide you want to supreme it.  Yes, it actually takes a couple of minutes to peel a pomelo, but it’s fun, and so worth it to get to the luscious flesh that tastes like a sweet grapefruit without any of the bitterness!  The giant size of the sections is fun too.   Even children who find grapefruit too acidic love pummelo!  If you want it extra sweet for children or a dessert option, you can lightly drizzle the sections with a light agave syrup.  This delectable fruit is at its peak and more available in winter.  It’s also said to bring good luck and prosperity at New Year’s celebrations, so it’s appropriate for this first post of 2012.  Happy New Year!  p.s.  My lovely cousin Munam says to please add the moniker “suha” (soo-huh) to the list of names this gorgeous fruit goes by.  She grew up with suha trees in her backyard, in the Philippines, and can peel one without a knife!

Tovolo Popsicle Molds

I tried these popsicle molds for the first time this past week and am very satisfied with them.  After reading a bunch of reviews on amazon.com, I chose this Tovolo Star Ice Pop Mold.  You get six popsicle molds on a stand.  The green star on each mold acts as a drip catcher, which is kind of smart.  One thing I looked for was individual pop molds, so I could release one pop at a time.  So, if I need to run it under warm water for a few seconds, I’m only loosening one pop, and not the whole lot of them.  With all the bad stuff in popsicles now, these molds are very popular with people of all ages.  Online, I’ve seen uber-healthy pops made from things like acai juice, and homemade vegan fudgesicles, etc.   I think these would be great for teens too, or even to give as a gift, along with a cool popsicle recipe book such as Paletas by Fany Gerson (some of the recipes are vegan and some can be veganized).  These molds are also BPA free.  One tip I have is not to fill them too full, because you want to leave your little drip cup empty.   I filled mine too full, and Lars ended up eating the last bit of popsicle out of the drip cup with a fork.  So far, we’ve released two popsicles and, with a bit of warm water running on the mold for a few seconds, they both came out easily.    There are lots of vegan popsicle recipes online.  Additional photo below.

Growing Blueberries

We love to grow our own blueberries, and here’s how we do it.  We grow them up against a fence and this has several advantages.  The shade from the fencing protects the blueberries from the fierce SouthWest afternoon sun here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (photos below).  Also, I was able to write (stencil) the cultivar name on the fence, so I would know which variety I was picking, which were tasting good, producing more, etc.  The fence also provides the support to staple the netting onto.  We use cicada netting for a couple of months every year, and it keeps the birds out.  If you don’t use the netting, the birds will get to the berries before they’re fully ripe (and before you do). 

One thing to remember is that blueberries don’t like to get their feet too wet.  Here on the Eastern Shore, the land is very flat, and so we have to dig drainage swales (small trenches) so the rainwater won’t just stand in the yard.  Our fence just happened to run along the top side of the swale that ran all along the SW property line.  So, being planted on the top of the swale, they are kept out of any standing water.  If the blueberry bushes were in standing water for even a day or two, it could damage their roots.  Because we have plenty of clay in our soil, I don’t water them unless it hasn’t rained for several weeks.  If you have very sandy soil, you’d have to bring in plenty of organic matter and water more.  Another advantage of being planted at the fence and on the top of a swale, is that the ground directly around the blueberries does not get walked on, mowed and compacted (blueberry roots are shallow and sensitive).  Blueberries like an acid soil with a PH between 4.5 and 5.  I never did test the soil because I knew we had acid soil here.  However, we do pile old pine needles from our yard around the bluberries as an acidic mulch.  You would never want to mulch around your blueberry bushes with a hardwood mulch, for example.  You do want to use an acidic mulch such as pine bark mulch, if you have to buy the mulch.

You can re-create similar conditions and take advantage of what you have around you, as long as you are somewhat close to the correct growing zone.  I chose “highbush” blueberries so that we don’t have to squat to pick every berry.  I also chose multiple blueberry varieties so that some are early, mid-season and late.  For example, Earliblue (early), Bluecrop (mid-season) and Jersey (late), but there are many other varieties and they all have their own time in the season and their own taste and growth characteristics.  Another benefit to planting multiple varieties is that they’ll pollinate each other.  More photos and information below:

This haul might not look like a lot, but it equals six cups and exactly 2 pounds of blueberries.  And we got approximately the same haul 2 or 3 days ago.  I know this because we just about filled up this same little colander.  We are in the beginning of our picking season now.




Here’s how I label the cultivars.  Acrylic paint and some cheap cardboard stencils.  Some varieties are self-pollinating, but many need cross pollination with other varieties.  I painted this on the fence about 6 or 7 years ago, so you can see it’s still highly visible, and should be for years to come.  This fence is conveniently on a narrow side-yard where the air conditioning equipment stands and so we don’t mind how it looks there.  You can see the old staples from previous years, still stuck in the fencing.

We have to weigh down the cicada netting to keep the birds off the berries, to keep the netting from flying all over on a windy day, and most importantly, so that birds don’t go inside the netting and get trapped.  I have had to lift the netting and release many little birds, so now we place the bricks and rocks closer together to keep the little creatures out.
Another good thing about this placement of the blueberry bushes is that you don’t have to mow around them when you mow the lawn.  We have lost a bush or two over the years (blizzards), so this year, I planted two young ones on the far left, not visible here.  Our cultivars include Bluecrop, Bluegold, Blueray, Chippewa, and Patriot.

By planting various varieties, I also was able to plant early varieties, mid-season varieties and late-season varieties.  This way, we keep the berries coming for more than a month!

Rhubarb Strawberry Compote

This is my own recipe that I developed about ten years ago when i was looking for the easiest way to make compote.  The answer is to simply combine some of the ingredients into a casserole dish and bake it in the oven, of course.  I saw a lot of recipes that called for whopping amounts of sugar (like two cups), but I’ve really  cut it down here and still have plenty of sweetness to offset the extremely stringent rhubarb.  Married here with its seasonal partner, the strawberry, this is so good that it has converted rhubarb haters.  Also, the finished hot rhubarb ends up cooking the raw strawberries and it comes out just right (said the baby bear).  p.s.  Keep in mind that strawberries are in the Dirty Dozen, so it’s important to buy organic when it comes to this fruit.  If you want to skip the rhubarb, there’s also a quick Strawberry Chia Jam,  and a Quick Freezer Jam on this swite.

RHUBARB STRAWBERRY COMPOTE

INGREDIENTS
1 pound rhubarb (3-4 large stalks)
16 oz. organic strawberries
½ vanilla bean (optional)
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 Cup organic sugar
¼ Cup Brown Rice Syrup

a teaspoon of Earth Balance to butter the casserole

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
(Do NOT add any water, because rhubarb releases a lot of water)
Butter the casserole dish with the Earth Balance, and set aside.
Cut rhubarb into 1-inch pieces, and place into buttered casserole.
Optional; scrape seeds from half of a vanilla bean, and add to casserole dish.
Add salt.
Pour pour sugar over all.
Cover with lid and place in preheated oven for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, slice strawberries into halves and quarters.
Gently mix strawberries with brown rice syrup, and set aside.
When timer goes off, remove casserole from oven.
immediately put strawberries in with hot rhubarb, and mix gently.
Replace lid and let strawberries “cook” with rhubarb as it cools.
Freezes beautifully!  This versatile compote is great on vegan cheesecake, soy yogurt parfaits, etc.  It also makes a big splash on the center of broiled grapefruit halves for a special brunch or breakfast, spooned over vegan ice cream, you name it.

Papaya With Lime

I used to grow my own papayas when I lived on the Big Island (of Hawaii), so this was a staple in our house.  The lime is essential.  About five years ago, I began noticing papayas in our local grocery stores here in Maryland.  Back then, one grocery store had a better selection than others, and the papayas were all giant Caribbean papayas.  Now, you can occasionally get small ones, like “solo” papayas, sometimes.  What I found last week, was a medium-sized papaya at Giant grocery store.  I’m guessing it was approximately 8 inches in length, but I can’t be sure because we ate the evidence.  It was not organic, alas, but that’s how it goes.  You want to look for a papaya that has some yellow already showing on it, even if it’s just a patch of color.  Then wash it lovingly and set it on the counter for days, maybe even a week or more.  When the yellowy color is covering more of the surface, and some surface wrinkling is going on, you can then cut the fruit (see photos below).  Once you do this 2 or 3 times, you’ll get to know when it’s ripe, or too ripe.  The inner flesh should be the most gorgeous color (see photo), like orange underlaid with pink, and it should be sweet and somewhat-soft but not mushy.  Scrape out the seeds, cut away any loose stringy fiber, and you’re ready to go.  I like to cut the flesh very close to the skin, because it’s sweet there, if the ripeness is right.  Here’s a video on how to cut lime wedges.  I actually cut limes a slightly-better way, but that’s another post.  You can also gild the lily with a drizzle of agave syrup, brown rice syrup, or Suzanne’s Just Like Honey Rice Nectar.  Papaya can be an acquired taste, but once you get it, you won’t look back.  With fiber, beta-carotene, plenty of folate, potassium to combat high blood pressure, and an extraordinary amount of vitamin C, it’s worth getting to know the sweet papaya.

Here you can see the degradation of the skin, and the mostly-yellow undertone of the color.  Don’t be afraid of a little puckering, etc.  You may even have to slice the ends off, as I did here.  The photo below this one shows the inside of this very same papaya, just after I took this photo.

Blackberry Syrup

It’s a Blackberry Bonanza around here.  Our friend Scott has blackberry bushes in his backyard in Easton, and so far, he’s given us 8 quarts this year.  The first three quarts I made into syrup and gave him one of the jars.  So back he came yesterday morning, with five more quarts of berries.  I began making blackberry syrup last summer when Scott brought us blackberries then.  I added a tiny bit of corn starch this year, just to thicken it a bit more.  I have successfully frozen this syrup and used it throughout the year that way.  With only an electric stove, am unable to do any real canning.  But this is quick and superb.

INGREDIENTS
3 lbs. blackberries, as fresh as possible
1 C organic sugar
1 C water
1 T corn starch and 2 T cold water

DIRECTIONS
Mix corn starch into cold water and blend with a fork until dissolved, set aside.

Bring berries, sugar and water to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.   Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until fruit is soft, about 30 minutes.  While stirring, make sure to gently press/crush berries against the side of the pot with your wooden spoon.

Let mixture cool to a safe temperature.   This cooling will take an hour or two at least.  Then pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into glass bowl, pressing gently on and then discarding all solids.  This is the time consuming part; it will take a good 10-15 minutes.

Put strained syrup back into pot, and add corn-starch water.
Bring syrup just to a boil, stirring constantly.
Turn down heat a little. Stir very often and simmer for about another five minutes.
Let cool,  and then chill to thicken a bit more.
For best flavor, serve syrup almost at room temperature.

Note:  If you’re going to freeze some, put it in thick glass jars, such as small canning jars, maybe 4 oz. or 8 oz.  Or you can put it in some of those new Ball brand plastic jars, which are BPA-free.  When freezing, make sure to leave some space at the top, as the liquid will expand when it freezes.

Yield, about 24 ounces of syrup, maybe a tad more.

This is really good to drizzle over fruit such as grilled peaches or poached pears, or soy yogurt.  Also, to sweeten iced tea, lemonade, or cocktails.  I’m going to play around with making a blackberry balsamic salad dressing/vinaigrette.  This recipe might look time consuming, but really, you can do all kinds of other things while it’s cooking.  I do dishes, and make dinner while it cooks, and then forget about it for a couple of hours while it cools.

Adapted from this recipe on epicurious.

BLACKBERRY CRUMBLE

This recipe won $100 in July 1990 from Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen for Best Blueberry Desserts in “Prize Tested Recipes.”  I have a tattered old magazine clipping of this recipe, and was unable to find it on the internet, so no link.  Around the first week of July here in Maryland, we get fresh, sweet blackberries, and so I like to make this dessert with a generous quart of fresh blackberries.  You can use 5 cups of whatever fruit you like!

INGREDIENTS
3 C fresh or frozen blueberries
2 C fresh rhubarb, 1-inch pieces
or 2 C frozen rhubarb
1.5 C rolled oats
2/3 C packed brown sugar
1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup Earth Balance vegan butter
1/2 Cup sugar  (I reduce this to 1/3 Cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt  (this is my addition)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS
Thaw fruit, if frozen. Do not drain. For crust, in a large mixing bowl combine the oats, brown sugar, and the 1/2 Cup flour. With a pastry cutter or fork, cut vegan butter into oat mixture until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Reserve 2/3 cup crumb mixture for topping. Pat remaining crumb mixture into the bottom of a greased 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Note:  I used a vintage 8.5″ milk glass cake pan.  Bake this crust in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 10-15 minutes, or until light brown (I baked mine for 10 minutes).

Meanwhile, for filling, put all fruit in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and the 2 T flour; toss gently to coat well. Spoon atop baked crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.  I like this with coconut whipped cream.  Makes 6-8 servings.