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Berry Picking at Johnson’s Farm

26 Jun

A few weeks ago Martin, Bella and I drove 45 minutes outside of the city to pick strawberries.  After years of failing to get my act together in time, I managed to get the family out to Johnson’s Farm in New Jersey on the last saturday of the strawberry picking season.  Johnson’s Farm was also picking snap peas, cherries and early season peaches and blueberries.  We picked a bit of everything, but really focused on the strawberries. Martin and I positioned ourselves on separate rows, a few hundred feet apart. Isabella ran between us. Ferrying empty containers to me and carefully taking my full containers back to Martin. We ended up with hundreds of tiny, deep red, jewel- like berries.  The kind of fruit that you take a bite, your eyes widen at the intensity of flavor, deep red juice dribbles down your chin and silently you reach for another, and another.

Once home I set out to make jam from our strawberries.  I envisioned opening a jar sometime near the end of the year, when berries are few and far between, perhaps snow would be gently piling up on my window sill and with one taste I would be instantly  transported to early summer.  The end result wasn’t exactly what I had hoped.  Anyone who has preserved anything knows that there is a delicate balance that much be reached to both preserve flavors and freshness and create the desired consistency in your end product.  Jams and jellies rely heavily on the dance between sugar, pectin and fruit.  Too much sugar and you mask the flavor of the fruit, too little and you don’t have jam, but a sauce or compote.   There was so much sugar in test batch that I couldn’t taste the beauty of the berries.  I knew I was playing with fire but I didn’t just pick pounds of beautiful berries to make a sugary spread devoid of the experience of eating the berries fresh from the farm.  I reduced the sugar.   It didn’t set.   However it was incredibly delicious, transportive even, so I froze my strawberry sauce.  I will spin it into vanilla ice-cream, spoon over yogurt in the morning, pool under wedges of cheesecake and  spread it  in-between cake layers.  I did a bunch of reading about jams and jellies after putting my jars in the freezer (maybe I will do this beforehand next time) and learned that there is a pectin on the market made specifically for low sugar recipes.  Let’s see if I remember that for the next time I decide to make some jam.

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Saturday morning at the grounds

8 Apr

Every Saturday morning The Market at the grounds opens at 7am.  My father gets there by 6:30.  The light in Cayman at that hour is soft and warm; a hazy other-worldly glow.  It isn’t hot yet.  The grounds are busier than usual.  It is Easter weekend and a church group has pitched tents in the dusty red soil, a long weekend of fellowship and food.  Large groups of children mull around the parking lot and run through the grounds.  The red birch trees seem to be on fire, the early morning sun filtering through their translucent bark.  We buy callaloo, green mangos, tomatoes and a single custard apple.  My father moves quickly through the stalls, shouting out to friends.  I exchange greetings with people I haven’t seen in over a year.  On the way home we stop to get coconuts and start cooking Easter brunch by 8:30 am.

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Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Tomato-Caper Jam

22 Feb

I am back on the soup making and eating wagon.  Right out of the gate we have a winner.  A first prize combo.  The roasted cauliflower soup was made quickly and without much thought.  I needed lunch and the head of cauliflower needed to be used, like, yesterday.  So I roasted it with onions and garlic added some chicken stock and made soup.

I love roasted cauliflower and the soup was very good, but not particularly memorable.   A spoonful of tomato-caper jam, a drizzle of Meyer Lemon olive oil and a tangle of thyme transformed the soup into something else all together.  A warm, elegant, complex and deeply satisfying lunch.  A real treat.

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Lamb Kefta, Cucumber, Tomato & Feta Salad and Tzatziki

20 Jan

I got a meat grinder for Christmas and now I wander back and forth in front of the meat counter at the store, looking for things to grind up.  This week it was lamb.  It took all of my will power not to title this post: “Lamb Kefta: Made with House Ground Lamb”.  That would be ridiculous.  True, but ridiculous.

This meal comes together quickly, with minimal time at the stove.  Much of it can be made ahead and gets better when refrigerated for a little.   We are lucky to have a great little Middle Eastern Cafe/Grocery in our neighborhood and we picked up hummus and pita there.

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Pizza Chronicles: White Pizza with Brussels Sprouts, Caramelized Onions & Bacon. Red Pizza with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions & Ricotta

12 Jan

I have been making pizza a few times a month for the better part of a year.  The internet is overflowing with pizza dough recipes.  There are articles, essays, recipe collections, step-by-step guides dedicated to the art of making pizza at home.  Celebrated home cooks and revered professionals have all weighed in.

The thing is it is easy to make pizza at home but it is very difficult to make very, very good pizza at home. It really is a problem of equipment. Professional pizza ovens register somewhere north of 800º.  Most pizza is cooked directly on the surface of  those blistering hot ovens.  The pizza dough makes contact with the surface crisping up almost instantly.  In the very little time that it takes the dough to bake, the toppings brown, the sauce bubbles and cheese melts.  End result: perfect pizza.

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Calamari with Caper & Herb Sauce

2 Jan

This year we spend New Year’s Eve at home.  Martin had to work very early on New Year’s Day and we had the little one to think of, she doesn’t do very well past 7:00pm.  After spending the morning with friends, we headed to Reading Terminal Market to find some inspiration for dinner.

It didn’t take long.  John Yi Fish Market, who’s slogan is Eat Fish, Live Longer (fitting for a New Year’s Eve meal, no?), provided all of  the inspiration needed.   Halibut, clams, squid and giant prawns would become a seafood stew with capers, tomatoes and herbs.  I knew I could make it quickly, serve it in one huge bowl with crusty bread and Martin and I could feast on it together.

At home I began cleaning the seafood. It quickly became apparent that we had a lot of squid, too much for the stew.  So, I decided to make a plate of fried calamari to start the meal.

Martin and I have a history with calamari.  We met in college and started the process of getting to know each other, mostly over red Solo cups filled with mystery punch and walks to class. Sometimes we managed to go out to dinner, at an actual restaurant, with actual menus.  And when we did we almost always split an order of calamari, ordered a bottle of wine and prayed that we didn’t get carded.

So, on December 31, 2011, we sat down and shared another plate of calamari, this time in our home. We talked about how incredible it has been to watch Isabella grow and change, we talked about our hopes for 2012 and the things that we want to accomplish.  We talked and we ate, like we always have, and we welcomed 2012 with full bellies and open arms.

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Spicy Pickled Shallots

19 Nov

For as long as I can remember there has been a jar filled with pickled scotch bonnets on my parents kitchen counter. The fiery vinegar is spooned onto fried fish and fritters, boiled breadfruit and pink potato/breadfruit salad.  (Pink potato salad?  Just wait…) The liquid cuts through rich food and provides heat in a direct, eye-opening way.  There are often carrots and onions thrown into the mix and after a few weeks they are the real stars of the concoction.  Spicy, crunchy, sweet and acidic all at once.

These pickled shallots are inspired by that jar of scotch bonnets.   The sauce and pickled vegetables are great in sautéed collard greens or broccoli rabe, they are a fantastic topping for sandwiches or tacos and the sauce makes a great vinaigrette.   Continue reading

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