fruit

Strawberry Fruit Leather

by Caroline

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Fruit leather is a bit of a thing in our house. On the one hand, I just don’t see the point. To me, it’s perfectly good fruit to which sugar has been added and plastic has been wrapped around. Why not just eat an apple or a cup of berries? But on the other hand, of course, I truly do see the kid appeal: it’s packable; it doesn’t drip; it’s never unripe and never has funny spots; plus, it’s fun to rip and smoosh and play with.

Years ago, when Ben was a brand-new preschooler, he eyed the snacks the other kids brought in their bags and asked his teacher to write me a note. She wrote:

Mommy and Daddy, I want fruit leather in my lunch. Love, Ben.

But Ben read the note to us a bit differently; he said:

Dear Mommy and Daddy, I hate my lunch! Give me fruit leather in my lunch! Love, Ben.

I learned my lesson.

Now Eli is in fruit leather corner, as he would say (channeling his beloved Pooh), and he asks for one in his lunch box every day, and I provide it, cringing slightly at the plastic but knowing, too, that it’s certainly not the least-green or least unhealthy thing in our lives.

When I had the chance recently to get a deal on a flat of strawberries, and started thinking of all the fabulous strawberry things I could make — tart! shortcake! jam! smoothies! — fruit leather rose to the top of the list, and I found a recipe over on Epicurious. It takes a while, but for the most part it can do its thing while you’re off doing something else.

1 1/2 lb strawberries, halved (4 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup sugar (depending on your berries, you can cut the sugar a bit; remember that the sweetness will concentrate as the fruit is cooked)

Purée strawberries with sugar in a blender until smooth:

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Then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large heavy saucepan:

straining

This is the most tedious part of the process, so I highly recommend enlisting your kids to do the job; just let them run the wooden spoon around inside the strainer to push the puree through and into the pot.

Bring purée to a boil, then simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally (more frequently toward end), until thick enough to mound slightly and reduced to 1 to 11/4 cups, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 200°F with rack in middle. Line a large baking sheet with nonstick liner.

Pour hot purée onto liner and spread thinly (as evenly as possible) into a 15- by 10-inch rectangle using an off-set spatula.

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Dry purée in oven until it feels drier (it shouldn’t stick to your fingers) but is still slightly tacky, 2 to 3 hours.

Cool on liner on a rack until completely dry, at least 3 hours and up to 24.

Place a sheet of parchment paper over leather, then peel leather off liner and roll up in parchment.

It will keep in a sealed bag at room temperature for a month, but it’s not likely to last that long.

Kumquat Popsicles: A Dessert/Craft Project

by Caroline

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A couple years ago, an Amanda Hesser food column in the Sunday Times Magazine inspired me to do a little popsicle/craft project with kumquats.

Kumquats are an odd little fruit — the peel is the sweet part, while the inner fruit is quite tart — and I lived over thirty years without ever eating one. But here in California, kumquats are one of the available fruits this time of year, and so we eat them.

Back when I first read the article, Ben had never heard of the fruit, so I started by manufacturing excitement; just saying “kumquat” a few times was all it took. Try it. We had a brief setback, the night before market day, when Ben fell prostrate to the floor, crying “But I want kumquats now!” But we got past that, and in fact, the interval between getting the fruit into the house and eating the finished product is quite short, which is always a bonus when you’re cooking with people for whom the phrase “delayed gratification” is a contradiction in terms.

So if you happen to see some kumquats in your market, try this with your kids.

Kumquat Popsicles

Note: the original recipe calls for dipping the kumquats in raw egg white to help the sugar stick, but that step’s unnecessary (and runs the very slight risk of exposing you to salmonella). The kumquat juice is enough to do the job.

You need kumquats, a dish of cinnamon sugar, and some toothpicks.

Slice the kumquats in half horizontally. Use the point of the knife to flick out any seeds.

Ben slicing the fruit

Ben slicing the fruit

Stick a toothpick into the stem end so that you’ve got a handle.

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Dip the cut end of the fruit into the sugar and cinnamon.

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Lay the fruit on a freezer-proof plate or tray, and then stick into the freezer for an hour or so.

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Or eat before they’re frozen.

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Family Romance

by Lisa

“I am more modest now, but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concoted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world. ”   MFK Fisher


Yes, we did have pancakes on Valentine’s Day.  But it was such a lovely meal, and we were all so sated by it, that it’s worth writing about.

Aside from the memorable first Valentine’s dinner my husband & I had in Los Angeles, where Leo DiCaprio unwittingly paid for our dinner, I think we’re both inclined to take it or leave it.  But we wanted to do something for the kids, and so we (ok, I) started the grand tradition of Letting Dad Take Care of This One.  Kory came home with a lovely bunch of flowers and three little packages of cookies and chocolates. (He & I ate the chocolates, later.)

I had set the table the night before, and the children quite magically let us sleep in.

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When we woke, the board was written.

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I was out of baking powder for the panckaes , but had buttermilk, and so I did a quick subsitute in our staple griddle cake recipe and made buttermilk pancakes instead.  The pancakes were light, fluffy, and sweet, a nice alternative, and they held up to the fresh raspberry coulis/syrup we served on the side.   I whipped some fresh cream, set out the coarse pink sprinkling sugar, and a bowl of  Ella Bella Farm’s raspberries I had frozen in August.

Then, I used the very last of the raspberries to make a raspberry coulis, sweetened slightly with grade B maple syrup. Technically, I suppose, it wasn’t really a coulis, since it wasn’t pureed, but it wasn’t exactly syrup, either. It was tart and sweet and will be just as good on vanilla ice cream as it is on pancakes.

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The kids got pink-tinted vanilla milk (whole milk + vanilla + sugar), and we all chose how to top the pancakes.  Ella and Finn chose whipped cream and pink sugar and whole raspberries.  I chose the coulis + whipped cream + sugar.

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Kory & I took one bite of the pancakes and decided we needed to have some Valentine’s mimosas, but neither of us wanted to go outside to pick oranges and squeeze juice.  So we poured the prosecco straight and topped it with a few muddled raspberries.    Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had anything even resembling a mimosa in the morning. I suspect it was before we were married, which would be nearly a decade ago.  But this may well be a tradition to revive.  We all lingered, then the kids played, and Kory and I lingered some more, and then with the house in order, we went the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco to see the Coraline show, which was truly amazing, then out for sushi, and a trip to the Japantown mall, all of which was so fun that I forgot completely that I was supposed to go to the markets to look for the giant fried squid.

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Buttermilk Pancakes

2 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

2 cups buttermilk

2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Sift together all dry ingredients into a large bowl. This is an essential step. We just use a sieve, and work over the sink for easy clean up.

2. In a glass measuring cup beat the egg.

3. Add milk to the egg.

3. Pour egg and milk mixture slowly over dry ingredients, whisking to incorporate.

4. Add butter.

4. Cook batter on a hot griddle. Don’t turn the griddle cakes too soon! Wait until they are bubbling all over the center and a little dry around the edges.

For the Raspberry Syrup I simmered in a small pot about 1 1/2 cups fresh frozen raspberries, a few tablespoons of maple syrup, and about 1/4 cup of water until the raspberries began to slightly fall apart and the mixture was a nice consistency.

My Best Roast Chicken

by Lisa

(update 12:14 PM/PST, because I forgot about the zest….)

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Some things are born not so much of necessity but of the inspiration from what you have on hand.  I roast a lot on winter weekends: chicken,  pot roasts, braised pork butt.  I discovered a few years ago that to my very great surprise, I was  good at it, and with a little thought and prep time, one could turn out a really great meal that made the house smell terrific and also feed a small army or provide great leftovers for a rushed night later in the week.

Last weekend, I had a chicken to roast, but wanted to do something new.  One of the standards, of course, is to stuff the cavity with lemon, then rub the skin with salt and an herb butter, often thyme or rosemary.  I’ll often finish with paprika, because it adds great color, and a squeeze of lemon juice for extra browning.  Good, right?  But something was restless in my culinary subconscious, and while we have abundant lemons on our tree right now, it was our bountiful orange tree, right outside our door that called to me.   I decided, I would substitute citrus and herb and mix it up (exciting, huh?) and make an Orange Oregano Roast Chicken, because that’s what we had growing in our garden.

It was easily and by far the best chicken I’ve ever made.  Even I was surprised by the result of my experiment.  And while roast chicken is not fancy, it can be a perfect and really delicious family meal.  And if you want to do a themed, seasonal, citrus meal, you can try the blood orange tart posted over on Smitten Kitchen.

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If you do eat chicken, please make sure to buy a chicken that is organic, free range, and comes from a farm where you know exactly what the conditions are for the birds. If you’re not careful about how you source your chicken, you really do run the risk of supporting a farm that does unspeakable things to birds.

Here’s what I did for a 4.25 lb chicken:

I had Kory bring me 2 large oranges while I cut a few long sprigs of oregano from our bush.

I cut one orange into 8 pieces. I zested the other.

I cut 1/2 a red onion into 4 small pieces (the better to wedge them into the chicken cavity).

I generously salted the chicken’s cavity.

I stuffed the cavity with several pieces of orange and the red onion, and several long sprigs  of oregano.

I carefully slipped my hand under the skin of the chicken and separated the skin from the meat with my hand. This is not hard to do, and is a technique we often use with turky.  I rubbed several tablespoons of softened butter (yes, it’s a lot of butter), all over the breast, thigh, & leg meat, and then rubbed the orange zest right over that into the butter.

I sprinkled dried oregano (also from our yard) all over the outside of the chicken.

I salted, generously, the skin (on the outside).

I squeezed a generous portion of orange juice from the fresh orange over the skin.

I trussed the chicken. For me, this is essential. I’m sort of neurotic about trussing & it gives me great satisfaction.

I placed around the chicken lots of quartered red and white onions, potatoes, and carrots.  These I salted, drizzled with olive oil, and few more  squeezes of orange juice.

I roasted at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, then turned the heat down to 375 and roasted for about an hour longer, until the juice from the cavity ran clear.

The chicken was done a little before the vegetables, so I removed it and let them roast a little longer.

Then I poured off the drippings, separated off the fat, and deglazed the roasting pan with a little bit of white wine, added back the drippings, about a 1/4 cup of water, and swirled in about a tablespoon of butter and, presto, a fast, delicious pan sauce.

While you’re carving, if the kids are clamoring treat them (or yourself if there aren’t kids in your house), to the tender nugget of meat on the bottom of the chicken.  You can just pop it out of the small cavity with your thumb. The two “oysters” are the best part of the bird, and it was great when we had only one kid top treat and I got to eat the second oyster. Oh well. Motherhood is about sacrifice, right?

But everyone loved the chicken proper, and it made a great pot pie later in the week.   Which is a post for another day.

Berries

posted by Caroline

At home, I am a miser with berries. I haven’t quite gotten over the sticker shock when I pick up a basket of organic berries. But I fork over the money, thinking of the farmers who will use the income to pay their employees a decent wage, feed their children, buy health insurance.

Still, I can’t help but want to dole out the fruit in small doses, save it for special occasions, offer an inexpensive apple instead. Much as I adore summer fruit, much as I hate to see the glorious variety of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries,  ollallaberries, nectarines, apricots, peaches, plums, pluots, aprium, and plumcots give way to four straight months of apples and pears, much as I regret all the torn-out magazine recipes that I didn’t get a chance to try, the frugal New Englander in me is honestly a tiny little bit relieved when the summer bounty is past and we’re back to apples and pears. Pears and apples.

Which is why every summer I make a point of bringing the boys to visit my parents’ home in the Connecticut woods, where they can eat all the berries they like. This year we arrived in late August, between the two raspberry crops, but there were a couple quarts in the freezer which the boys ate, thawed, on their breakfast cereal. Ben picked both blueberries, paraphrasing Blueberries for Sal (“Kerplink! Kerplank! Kerplunk!”) as he did, and blackberries, toughing out the sharp thorns longer than I would have expected, and then proudly showed off his harvest to everyone in the house.




Both boys ate little peaches, some no more than two or three bites, the speckled skin hiding a perfect sweet-tart balance.




And my dad peeled and cut up about forty of them for me to bake into a peach and blackberry crisp:




The boys gathered windfall apples and admired the last small green pears of the season. They tried gooseberries (not a hit), and if we’d stayed one more day, I would have thawed some of July’s strawberries and rhubarb for a pie.

Of course, the price of these fruits is harder to figure. First there is time. My dad planted the orchard before there was a house on this property; I was a kid when I helped him line up the trees, unable to share his vision of an orchard through the tangled brush, but happy enough to play along. The berries have been planted more recently, but some only this year matured enough to produce a decent harvest. And then there is care. The blueberries (transplants from a patch near my late grandfather’s house) need to be netted from the birds, the trees pruned and fenced to protect them from deer, the more delicate plants mulched for winter. And then there is the harvesting, and the processing — freezing some whole, some hulled, others peeled and pitted.

There is no way to pay for all this bounty, except to say thank you, and eat, and say thank you again.

And so when the boys crowded into the kitchen asking for a snack, I’d say, “How about some berries?” and fill their bowls.