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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Sunday Berry Picking and Blueberry Jam

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This weekend I was fortunate enough to be dragged out of bed by my friends idea (and admittedly it was a fabulous idea at that!) of berry picking.

Shelf over the farmers market.

Of course, I knew in advance what we were doing this weekend, but waking up at 8am on a Sunday by alarm is still not the best way to start the day of rest. The berry picking was wonderful, despite waking up on the wrong side of the best. We drove out to Underwood Family Farms in Somis, CA. They had their blue and raspberry picking stuff all set for visitors, as well as a small farm area to feel alpacas, chickens, sheep, and goats.

freshly sheared sheep

the cutest chickens I've ever seen

this brave little goat was on top of his hut, enjoying the sun.

Before entering the fields, I did have my portrait taken. I think it came perfectly.

The fields were wonderful. About half of the berries weren’t ready to be picked however. We had to venture out farther and farther into the fields to get the best, and most ripe of all berries. Aside from the tiny spiders and their webs, I had the best time! The light wasn’t the best so, sadly, there aren’t any pictures of the berry fun. I was able to pick 2 containers, about 4 lbs of berries or so, (each container had about 3 1/4 cups). I also got two containers, one from my friend and one from the boyfriend, generously donated to make my jam.


Blueberry Jam

I didn’t really follow one specific recipe for my jam. I just sort of continued to read about four recipes that looked the easiest and made the most sense. I’ve come up with this version, and it’s to my liking, with nice jelly and bits of blueberry throughout. However, if you prefer your jam more smooth, like jelly, you’ll need to skip my masher step and run them through the food processor.

8 cups of fresh blueberries

3 cups caster sugar

1.75 oz of sure-jell pectin

1 tbsp butter

1 cup of vanilla sugar (recipe below)

I used my 7-quart dutch oven to make the jam, but 5-qt and up is really all you need. The reason for such a large pot is because the sugar and berries will bubble when boiled, and they must have enough room to keep bubbling without the fear of bubbling over!

Pour the berries into the pot and put on medium-high heat. Warm the berries for a few minutes and then take a potato masher and start mashing and bruising the berries until they get to your consistency.

Add the sugar and pectin and stir for 1 minute.  Let simmer for about 4 minutes without stirring.

In one of the recipes for jam I referenced the author recommended adding in some butter to lessen the foam aspect when the sugar starts to bubble up. Although this is my first time making jam and I don’t have a reference of my own ,the bubbles were significantly lower than what I expected so I assume this step did it’s job.

the yellow dot in the sea of red-purple is the butter

Stir the mixture one more time after adding the butter and let it come to a rolling boil ( meaning it’s a solid bubbly mash, that’s consistent in temperature, usually at medium heat) and keep it there for 35 minutes or so. At this time, place a plate in the freezer for the pectin test. This step I borrowed from Nigella.

After 35 minutes, stir the jam once more. At this point it should be nice and deep in color and liquidy .Take a spoon and get some of the juice to spread on the plate that’s good and cold by now. Let the juice sit for a minute or so. Hold the plate to the side to see how slowly the juice will slide down to the side. The slower it moves the better. If it’s  completely solid, congrats! you’ve got jelly.

a good 35 minutes of bubbling away

Turn off the heat and let the jam sit for 10 minutes to solidify. While you’re waiting prep your canning jars. I used Kerr 1 pint jars. Fill 5-6 jars with boiling water and let them heat up until you’re reading to spoon in the jam.

you can see here that there are 6 jars but I only needed 5

Dump out the water and start ladling in the jam. About 2.5 ladles words wonderfully for me and got all the jam into the jars. Clean up the rims of the jars to make sure that the seal will the clean and tight. Put the lids on the jars and tighten completely.

At this point on the bloggers I read suggested that you flip the jars upside down (to help with the sealing). I thought, why not? and did just that. I held them upside down for about 5 minutes. While I was waiting for that I boiled some water and filled up a 13×9 rectangular baking dish with the hot water. I don’t use traditional hot water bath methods because I find them to be tedious and long. And you need a lot of materials which I don’t have room for, nor want to buy.

I just flipped my jars right-side-up and placed into the hot water. I’ve used this same technique for my apple butter canning.

water is about 90% of the way up the jars. Just below the lid.

The hot water around the dish will keep the temperature inside and outside the jars consistent which helps with the sealing process. At the same time, it allows proper cooling, as when the water cools down the jars will do the same. So in about 4 hours or so the jars should be cooled and sealed.

*I checked in about 15 minutes, while the water was still hot, and about half of the jars had already sealed.

Vanilla Sugar

  • 4 cups caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean pod
  • 1 glass container big enough to fit all the sugar

Place the sugar into the container. Slice the vanilla bean in half and cut each piece into half, leaving you with four pieces. Bury these in some sugar. Tighten the lid on the container, and store in a dark, cool place for about 1 week. When ready to use go ahead and stir the sugar around.

Because the vanilla will add moisture it will be clumpy but it’s totally worth it. I use this sugar in jams, apple butter, in pie crusts, and sometimes in scones instead of vanilla extract.


Berry Cheesecake Muffins

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Over the weekend I picked up May’s edition of Taste of Home magazine. They had this special all star edition from some competition they had. The recipes are incredible. And require a lot of fresh ingredients, which is what I’m looking for as of right now.

These muffins are great, really moist and the cream cheese filling is to die for!

Delicious even in the muffin tin

For the Batter

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup 2 % milk
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the Cream Cheese Filling

  • 1 package cream cheese (8 oz), softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 carton fresh raspberries (about 1 1/4 cups)

For the Streusel Topping

  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter

In a large bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in milk. Combine the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon; gradually add the creamed mixture just until moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups one-third full.

For filling, in a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and egg until smooth. Fold in the berries. Drop a rounded tablespoonful into the center of each muffin.

For topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl; cut into the butter until crumbly. Took me about 3 minutes or so. Sprinkle over batter (at this point, the muffin tops will be full).

Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. My muffins puffed out a bit but after cooling for a few minutes (about 5) they collapsed into themselves and were flat on top and lovely. Cool  before removing from pans to wire rack, to finish cooling, about 4 minutes or so. Served warm is best. Refrigerate leftovers (though I didn’t till the day after, to keep them at room temperature and they were fine).

5 Ingredient Pasta

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In terms of pasta, I like to go all out. Not that I like heavy pasta dishes, nor do I enjoy making homemade marinara when I have 4 hours till 11pm, and bedtime. However, I do like good pasta dishes, regardless of ingredients, or how long it takes to make them. This recipe is thankfully short on the list of ingredients and really fast to make.
  • Parsley
  • shitake mushrooms
  • lime
  • parmesan cheese
  • garlic
  • angel hair pasta (or pasta of your choice)

Boil the water for the pasta. When it’s good and rolling, add in the pasta and about a teaspoon of olive oil (if you like), to keep the pasta from sticking together. Salt the pasta, and cook about 8 minutes or so.

While you’re waiting for the pasta, get a skillet nice and hot. Add some oil and saute the mushrooms (cut up in any way you like. You do need to discard the stems as they aren’t edible and way too tough to try in any case).  Cook down for about 5 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste. Add in some parsley and garlic, depending on taste again.

When the pasta is ready reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta water and drain the rest. Add the pasta to the skillet. Add the zest and juice of 1 lime and add the parmesan. Mix together and let simmer for two minutes before adding int he pasta water to make a smooth sauce.


Indian Roasted Potatoes

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I was flipping through Nigella’s Kitchen, and I saw that  it’s been a good long while since I’ve made my favorites from her collection. I’m usually inspired by her recipes and while I’ve made her Indian Roasted Potatoes in their original state before, I’ve decided to take my own spin on her classic.

  • 2 lbs yellow potatoes (washed and cut into cubes)
  • 2 tbsp olive oils
  • 2 tsp nigella seeds
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • salt
  • half a garlic head
  • 1 lime
  • 1 medium leek

Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with foil, and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Take a simple ziplock bag and add the oil and spices.

Add the potatoes to the bag. Close the bag and shake and roll it around to coat all of the potatoes in the aromatic mixture.  Dump the whole thing onto the roasting dish you’ve prepared along with the garlic (you can bruise the garlic, or leave it whole with skins intact, regardless,  it’ll be delicious), season with salt to taste, and place into the oven for about 50 minutes.

If you’ve never worked with leeks before, they’re the easiest way to get an onion flavor into the dish, with great green color, and no stinging juices in the air. First, you take off about 1/2 the white roots, leaving the rest of the white part in-tact.  Then you cut off the bulk of the green, tough, and dry bits. You should be left with about 4-5 inches of greenery. You take the first layer and chuck in the garbage.

Leeks are dirty because they grown in the ground, don’t worry, just have the faucet ready as you strip each layer down and rinse it at you go. Then you line them up and cut into 1/4 inch rings.

Place the leeks in a bowl with the juice of one lime and let marinade till the potatoes are ready.

When it’s time to take the potatoes out stir in the leeks and leave in oven with the temperature off for 10 minutes. Stir once more before serving!



For Dessert I made my lovely Blondies (also from Nigella’s Kitchen, and which I’ve already blogged about in previous months).


Books, and more Books

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I ordered a few things from amazon this past week. While I can admit that I’m an avid Amazon shopper nothing gets me going than that big box waiting for me at my door. This time, I got a couple of cookbooks and a lovely crochet book. I’ve been meaning to start a sewing class as well so I can properly hem my pants and skirts to fit my unruly, long thighs. In any case, these three books are a start to a fun summer and fall season. As it’s California, we’re skipping through Spring. In fact, I believe last week, when we had 78 degree weather, was as close to Spring as we can get.

This was a great buy, and it accompanied my new Lodge cast iron skillet to my door. However, I do have to say I’m disappointed that there aren’t as many pictures. Only about 20 or so that are int he middle of the book. I would preferred a picture to every 3 recipes (it’s just the way that I’m used to flipping through cookbooks for a recipe to catch my eye). However, it had great reviews on amazon, and other sites, and the recipes actually look lovely. I’m excited to try them out.

I’ve been reading about this book for a while from a few bloggers I follow religiously.  It’s one of those go-to books when you’re buying too many lemons because they’re on sale, or pickles, or tomatoes, or berries for jam. Personally, I purchased this recipe to learn how to make my own buttermilk, cheeses, breads,  and jams (especially because here in California berry season is right around the corner, and fresh black-blueberry jam is on my to-do list this year).

I’m especially excited to make my own frozen pizzas!

Anyone that’s spoken to me for more than a half hour knows that I love to crochet. If I could I would knit, just because having both of those needles in my hands makes me feel powerful (scary, I know). However, I have to stick with the skills that I have now and worry about others later, so aside from making scarves and blankets I would love to learn other stitches to at least make those scarves look interesting and different. This is where this book comes in.

Easy steps like this, with red arrows and simple instructions, is how my crochet kingdom will happen!

Egg Noodles with Leeks, Peas, and Lemon

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It’s still April and I’m looking through my wonderful issue of Martha Stewart Living.  I’m starting to realize that I’m a closet housewife, only not married, not in a house with a beautiful kitchen and not a backyard for all my gardening and bbq needs.

In any  case I invited my friend over for dinner and Gilmore Girls; a well deserved girls night in. The only person that I could turn to was the one I was holding in my hand: Martha Stewart. She had the best recipe on hand for pappardelle noodles, and while I’ve never seen, nor ever will purchase these noodles (by simple lack of proximity to any stores by me) I decided a good egg noodle will work just as fine.

Egg Noodle with leeks, peas, and lemon

  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 medium leeks (I used three) cut into half moons
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 cup peas
  • 9 oz of egg noodles, you can boil the whole package and just use 3/4 of it (a package is usually 12 oz)
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 oz pecorino romano cheese (I used Parmesan, grated)

While bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks and a pinch of salt; cook until leeks begin to soften and are bright in color, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender, about 5 minutes or so (mine got brown, and almost caramelized, although the pictures in the magazine suggest that wasn’t supposed to happen).

Turn off heat. Finally grate zest of lemon directly into skillet, and season generously with pepper. Cut a lemon in half and add 1 lemon’s worth of juice. Stir.

When water boils, add egg noodles and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Do not dump out water! Use a strainer to transfer the pasta to the skillet. Add peas and stir. Gradually stir in 1 cup pasta water, about 1/2 cup at a time, alternating between the water and ricotta and parmesan.

Toss until completely combined, add more salt to taste, and sprinkle with more cheese. Serve**.

At least I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow


**Serves 4 generously (and once again I did the math and it’s about 190 calories per serving, maybe we can say 200 calories depending on the amount of cheese you use. But that’s still pretty good!)


Martha’s Cookie of the Month and Dinner

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Martha Stewart Living for April came with a cookie of the month. That cookie was the Nutty Butters Cookie.  I’ve always wanted to make a peanut butter cookie and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do so. Although it’s been a while since I baked, and a while since I did much of anything (what with grad school applications and work) in the kitchen.

In any case, I got the baking bug, and I knew I had to give my kitchenaid another whirl. I’ve been itching to use it for a month or so, but never thought to use it aside from muffins. And those were better served by a mixing bowl with a fork (chocolate banana muffins). Still, today was my day, and I was able to make my these lovely cookies a reality.

Total time: 1 hr 15 min

makes: 24 delicious cookies


  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • coarse salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup nut butter of your choice (I used peanut butter)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (to match the butter)

Melt 1/2 stick butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add oats and cook, stirring, until toasted, 5 to 7 minutes. Spread oat mixture on a parchment-lined baking sheet, let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt. Beat together remaining stick butter and the sugars with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add egg, and beat until combined. Add nut butter, and beat on medium speed until well combined.

thick goodness

Add oat mixture and chopped nuts, and beat on low speed until combined. Add flour mixture, and beat until combined. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls. Place cookies 1 inch apart on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until golden, 12-15 minutes. Let cook completely on baking sheets.

Along with these yummy cookies I made dinner, FoodNetwork Magazines: Light Scalloped Potatoes with Roasted Chiles served as my inspiration. I gave myself Friday’s as days to go crazy with the food, so I knew that since it was Saturday night it had to be a “lite” form of something, and potatoes are always my staple. Potatoes and chicken. This Saturday was no acception.

scalloped potatoes with roasted chiles and sticky lime chicken

For the potatoes:

  • 1 medium poblano chile pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 pounds new, yellow potatoes, sliced into discs
  • 2 cans chicken stock (low sodium)
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan
  • 1/3 cup grated pepper jack cheese

Starting with the chile: wash it and dry it off slightly. Turn a burner on for medium-high heat and place the Chile on the grate, as shown in the image. Make sure that you keep turning it every 2 minutes or so till it’s charred, and completely black. Place on a wet paper towel and cover. Let cool.

been charring for about 5 minutes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly butter a baking dish. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, chicken stock, cream, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste and bring to a boil (I used more salt, and it was sea). Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring gently, until the potatoes are tender, about 10-12 minutes.

By this time the chile should be cooled. Skin it, under cold water if preferred, and pat dry. Slice into strips and then into cubes.

Arrange half the potato-broth mixture int he prepared baking dish in an even layer. Sprinkle with the poblano chile pieces and the pepper jack cheese. Repeat with another later of potatoes and the parmesan on top. Bake until bubble and slightly golden, about 35 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.


For the chicken:

  • 4 skinless chicken breasts
  • zest and juice of one lime
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • pepper
As soon as the potatoes go into the oven lower the temperature to 375 degrees. Arrange the chicken in a shallow roasting pan. Put the lime zest and juice, honey, oil, garlic, and oregano into a small bowl and mix. Spoon the mixture over the chicken to coat completely.
Roast the chicken in the oven for 35-40 minutes, basting about halfway. Take the chicken out and serve with the potatoes, which should have rested for about 10-15 minutes by now. Add 1/4 cup port to the roasting dish to de-glaze, place back in oven. Turn the temperature up to 475 and cook for 4 minutes. Spoon over the chicken.