Strawberry Balsamic Granita

Granita

For once I’m actually on top of things, and in time for all your 4th of July celebrations, I wanted to share my recipe for my favorite cold treat.

A granita is a little bit like a shaved ice, but the ice is flaky instead of smoothly ground. It gets its texture from the way we disrupt the forming of crystals as it’s freezing. It’s a million times easier than ice cream, more gourmet than a popsicle, and can be ready to eat in as few as three hours depending on your freezer and the dish you use.

Basic Granita Recipe

5 C juice
1/2 C sugar
1 C water
flavorings of choice

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and allow to melt together. If you are using herbs or whole spices to flavor your granita, add them to the sugar syrup and let steep for ten minutes with the heat on low.

Strain the sugar syrup and add to the juice in a large shallow dish. A casserole dish works well, but if you can fit a jelly roll pan in your freezer your granita will be done in a wink. Allow to freeze until partially set, and then rake the mixture with a fork to break up the ice crystals into flakes. Return to the freezer and repeat every hour or so until the mixture is thoroughly frozen.

To make my Strawberry Balsamic version, I used 5 Cups of strawberry balsamic juice. In a saucepan I added 1 lb of frozen strawberries, 5 C of water, 1/2 tsp of balsamic vinegar, and 1/2 C of sugar. Add more sugar if necessary to make the juice sweet enough to taste. Strain out the soggy strawberries, and add to the sugar syrup.

This is a really great recipe to experiment with using whatever fruits and herbs are in season. My other favorite version is a lemon rosemary granita. That one is just perfection on the hottest day of the year. I don’t know that I’ve ever had anything so refreshing.

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2010 Year of Pleasures #26

Empanada

You ask any Northern Californian and they’ll tell you. The Mexican food is better up here. I’m sure someone somewhere has a theory as to why that is, but it beats the heck out of me.

You can always find some local woman selling tamales in the grocery store parking lot, or choose between the five excellent taquerias in town, but my latest favorite discovery is the freshly made empanadas at the farmer’s market.

It is so much fun to walk in the sunshine munching on this pastry full of spicy meaty goodness.

Join me in my search for the pleasures of life. Post your pleasure on your blog, and link back here!

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Best of Modesto – The Lunch Pail

The Lunch Pail

Modesto does not enjoy a reputation as a world class city. Based on the reactions of some of my acquaintances, you’d think I moved to the slums of Redneckville, USA.

OK, OK, Modesto has it’s share of problems. But there is a whole lot to love about this place, and one of my favorites is the number of independent local businesses. If I wanted to eat out in my last hometown, the chances were pretty close to solid that I was going to find myself at a national chain restaurant. If I was willing to drive throughout the county I could find some gems, but usually it was going to be the same stuff anyone can get anywhere. Here I have found some really wonderful stores and restaurants run by passionate local people invested in their community, and I want to support that. I thought that every once in a while it would be fun to feature one.

A couple of weekends ago, on our way back from the ill-fated U-Pick adventure, we stopped off for sandwiches at one of my favorite lunch spots. The Lunch Pail.

Pies

This place is nationally recognized for it’s pies, and oh my goodness do they deserve it. Every pie I’ve ever eaten from this place has been a little miracle.

Turnovers

All their ingredients are fresh, all their food is cooked on sight. Even their turkey and roast beef are roasted in their kitchen everyday. You can absolutely tell.

pastrami on rye
My favorite part about this place, though, is that when you get your lunch, it comes with a taste of the salad of the day, and the pie of the day. This is Bear’s pastrami on rye with potato salad and a bite of the boysenberry cream cheese crunch.

Ham with cream cheese
And the sandwiches are not just the same five things you see on every lunch menu. This one is a simple ham on fresh baked sourdough, but with cream cheese and pickles. Oh it was yummy.

My only complaint is that they close at three. Food this good I want to be at my beck and call day and night.

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Personalized KitchenTowels

Handtowels in use
When you work with teenage girls as long as I have, you get a whole lot of graduation and wedding announcements in the mail. The timing worked out just right so that in moving back here, we were able to attend the wedding of one of my really special girls, Breanne.

I always find wedding gifts a bit of a challenge. I often want to make something, but I run the risk of getting their taste wrong or cluttering up their newlywed apartment. I want to stick to the registry but it’s just so unimaginative. I want to get something practical but it’s just so boring. When I got married, there were so many things I got that I just went, “What did they expect me to do with this?” and so many other things I returned thinking I’d never use them, only to go back out and buy them myself once I learned more about cooking or housekeeping or entertaining.

So this has become my solution: something practical, with a touch of homemade. Kitchen towels with a monogram.

And since I have so many weddings and graduations to deal with, embroidery is not an option. If you’ve ever done a freezer paper stencil, this project is self-explanatory. But if not, here’s how I did it:

Handtowels Step 1

I designed the image I wanted to print on my towels, and then printed it out the paper side of a piece of freezer paper cut to fit through my printer.

Handtowels Step 2
Using an exacto knife, I cut the letters out, making sure to save all those little interior pieces of the O’s and E’s. Iron them onto a blank floursack handtowel, centered and about five inches up from the bottom. Those little interior pieces can be a little bit tricky to stick in place, but you don’t need a ton of heat. Even the very tippy tip of the iron will do it.

Paint with a fabric or acrylic paint and let dry.

Handtowels Step 3
To add a second color, make a second stencil. Iron as before with the shiny side down so that the melted wax will stick to the fabric.

Handtowels Step 4
Paint again, and allow to dry. Then peel off the stencil. Follow the paint manufacturers recommendations for heat setting the image, but it’s typically ironing the painted section with a dry iron.

Handtowels

I made a stack of seven of these and just tied them up with a big bow. I think it’s got that sentimental factor that new brides love, with the practicality that she’ll thank me for later.

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Bear’s Blueberry Cream Cheese Muffins

Blueberry Cream Cheese Muffins

Bear has been like a kid in a candy store with all this fresh fruit around, and the thing he keeps coming back to is fresh blueberry muffins. It’s easy to see why. Talk about the biggest reward for the smallest effort. It takes no more time than mixing up a Betty Crocker cake, but the difference between a storebought muffin and a homemade one is just incalculable. My goodness, when you bite into a blueberry and the whole thing just explodes in your mouth? That’s worth a whole lot more trouble than this.

After trying a couple of variations, Bear decided that his dream muffin would have some cream cheese involved. We thought about adding it to the batter and debated over whether or not a muffin could have frosting. But then in a bit of what I can only describe as inspiration, we thought of adding it as a filling. That was a very very good idea.

Bear’s Blueberry Cream Cheese Muffins

For the muffins:
12 1/2 ounces all purpose or bread flour
teaspoon baking soda
teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

For the filling:
8 oz cream cheese
1 C powdered sugar
1 Tbs milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift together all the dry ingredients except the sugar. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and wet ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the mixture, and stir. Add blueberries and fold in gently. Set aside.

Using a hand blender or mixer, beat together the cream cheese, powdered sugar and milk. Add more sugar if necessary to make it as sweet as you prefer.

Fill greased muffin tins a little less than halfway full with the blueberry mixture. Add a dollop of cream cheese, and then top with more muffin mix until the muffin tin is just below full.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Remove from oven and remove the muffins from the tin to cool.

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Canning, Round 1

Canning Extravaganza

I made a lot of mistakes this first time around, but overall, I’m pretty dang proud of myself.

Over four days I managed to can:

6 pints of strawberry lemonade concentrate
1 pint of limeade concentrate
2 pints of nectarineade concentrate
3 qts of dilled carrots
1 pint blueberry butter
2 1/2 pints blueberry syrup
2 1/2 pints nectarine chutney
12 pints nectarines
4 pints apple onion slaw

It hurts just to think about.

My first attempt was the strawberry lemonade concentrate, and it didn’t do too well. Only half of the jars sealed. But when I went back the next day and re-read all the instructions I immediately realized why. I just couldn’t help myself and watched over those cans like they were newborn babies, fussing with the lids, pushing in the center to check the seal, and in my enthusiasm I prevented it from doing its job.

So the next day when I took the jars out of the canner, I set them on the counter and forced myself to walk away. Sure enough, no more failures.

Most of what I canned was stuff we bought at the farmer’s market. There was a guy there selling nectarines for 50cents a pound. I asked to buy the box and he told me he’d give it to me for $20. I can only blame my newbie excitement on the fact that I totally took him up on it and didn’t do the math until we were in the car and I realized that there was not 40 pounds of nectarines in the trunk. Oh well, I would have paid more than that anywhere else anyway.

Since then I’ve discovered our community garden, currently busy growing tomatoes and corn, and my friend Amber has a line on an orchard that doesn’t harvest the fruit that will let us have whatever we can carry away. I think I’m going to be spending a whole lot more quality time with my canner this summer, and, fingers crossed, most of it might even be for free.

I’ve had some friends ask me why I would possibly take up canning in a day and age of 24 hr supermarkets, and there are a few good answers. One is that I really enjoy learning these traditional skills that create self-sufficiency. I just like to gain knowledge. Another is that this supports my efforts at local, seasonal eating without denying myself of nectarines 8 months out of the year. But the biggest reason is to enable my inconsistency. I love to cook, but I often have to be in the mood for it. By the end of the summer I’ll have enough marinara canned that I won’t have to make it again until next summer. I’ll have salsas and dressings and sauces that I love to eat, but am not always in the mood to make, just waiting for me to pop the lid. This is going to make it so much easier to eat at home on those nights when I just couldn’t be bothered. Plus, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of partial to big ridiculous projects.

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2010 Year of Pleasures #25

Coca Cola Slurpee

After I nearly died in the sun, look at what my sweet husband brought home for me. Oh my gosh, on the right kind of day there may not be a single thing better than a slurpee.

Let’s try this experiment. Join me in a search for the pleasures in life. Write a post on your blog about the pleasure you sought out, then link here.

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My new garden

Stake Garden

When I was whining about leaving my garden behind, my friend Tona asked me if there was a community garden that I could participate in so I could feed my gardening addiction. I really didn’t expect to find one. Around here people aren’t usually looking for an opportunity to garden when they either do it for a living or can just buy from the people who do.

Imagine my surprise to discover that not only is there a community garden, but it’s run and funded by my church, and I can just show up and harvest whatever I want.

I don’t know all the details behind it, but it’s common for us LDSaints to have big projects like this so that the people accepting financial help from the church have a way to contribute in return. Right next to the building I attend we have a pavilion and a ballfield, and then about an acre of farmland currently growing onions, potatoes, corn and tomatoes.

Atti in the shade
I met my friend Amber out in the field and she helped me get set up, holding Atti while I built him some shade and showing me how to harvest the potatoes. Atti’s always been super cooperative with my gardening efforts, so I thought it would be no big deal to toss him on a blanket while I got to work.

But I was totally wrong about that.

I really failed to take into account just how unbelievably hot it can get around here. I brought a big basket full of toys, our jumbo picnic blanket and a tent for shade, plus my camera, some bags for produce and Mr. Atti himself, and between the hauling everything back and forth, wrestling with the canopy, and rushing to get him settled, I had totally exhausted myself before I even thought about a potato.

Fresh potatoes

I managed to make enough of a harvest to still make it worth the time, and Amber went across the field to pick my onions for me, so I left with a ton of good stuff. But man was it hard work in that heat. By the time I finished pulling potatoes, I still had to make five trips across an acre of dirt to load everything into the car. When I was so hot I could barely stand on my feet. I made the first load and had to lie down under a shady tree while Atti was still across the field in his tent. I have to confess, I was getting a little worried.

Remember last summer when I kept going from one doctor to another? Their final determination was that I have a heart murmur, but not the scary kind. The kind that is totally no big deal, I’d live my whole life and not notice, nothing to worry about unless I exert myself in the heat. Oh yeah.

Luckily I just needed that little rest and I was able to get us all loaded and back home none the worse for the wear, but I realized that taking Atti along on my little farm adventures is probably not such a good idea. Next time I’ll leave Atti with a friend in exchange for farm fresh produce.

In a couple of weeks the corn will be ready, and then a few weeks after that we’ll have tomatoes. I plan on canning so many of them my fingers will turn red. I want to can them whole and diced and turned into marinara. I can’t wait.

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Strawberry Apricot Cobbler

Strawberry Apricot Cobbler

So with all that fruit we’ve been bringing home, we have been learning the hard way that we have to use it up fast. Tree-ripened, farm stand fruit can not sit around for a week like the stuff you get at the grocery store. It’s ready to eat, NOW.

We have ended up having to throw away more fruit than I would like to publicly admit, because we got too greedy and overbought and then are trying to change our habits to suit our new climate and season.

As a result, Bear has been baking like crazy. He made some ginger blueberry muffins, fresh fruit sauces to serve over angel food cake and chocolate decadence cake, and two big fat fruit cobblers.

Bear does all his baking by weight. Buying a little kitchen scale will save you hours and hours of baking that didn’t quite work out.

Strawberry Apricot Cobbler

Filling:
10 oz sugar
1 oz cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tso ground nutmeg
1/2 C water
24 oz strawberries and apricots, strawberries hulled, both washed and diced

Topping:
11 oz bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbs baking powder
2 oz cold butter, unsalted
1 1/2 C heavy cream

Combine the sugar, cornstarch and spices in a saucepan. Add the water slowly while stirring. Keep stirring until the mixture is boiling, then remove from the heat.

Put the washed and diced fruit into a cake pan, and pour the hot liquid over the top. Bake the fruit in a 400° oven for 10 minutes.

Make the cobbler crust by sifting together the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into small pieces and cut into the flour with a pastry blender. Add the cream and stir by hand to form a soft dough. Shape the dough by hand on a floured surface until it’s a circle large enough to cover the fruit.

Remove the fruit from the oven and place the dough on top. Bake for about 15 minutes longer. Make sure to test the dough that it’s cooked all the way through.

This cobbler was so delicious. The crust is a little like a biscuit, so it’s like eating a really great homemade biscuit with fruit jam, but it’s hot and juicy and the little fruit pieces burst in your mouth. Plus you get to put ice cream on top. And it’s way way easier than a pie. I think we’ll be making cobblers of all kinds all summer long.

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Duvet Day, outdoors

Reading party

I have been running myself ragged over the last couple of weeks. Even after all the quilting and building and fruit picking, there is more I have to tell you including actual farming and four straight days of canning. I am exhausted, my poor child is neglected, and my kitchen floor is coated with sugar and fruit juice.

So today I am going to sit in the sun, cuddle my little guy, and read a book.

Young Reader

Right now Atti is still spending more time eating the books than looking at them, but when someone can pry it out of his mouth and actually read it to him, he’s in heaven. He’ll bounce on my lap like he can barely stand the excitement of waiting to know the ending. He would sit and be read to all day long if someone would do it.

This is MY kid, alright.

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