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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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Happy Birthday to Me!

10 May

My birthday was almost a month ago.   30 days to celebrate turning 30.  Every weekend for the past 4 weeks or so has had a portion of a day dedicated to celebrating with different friends and family, in Cayman and here in Philadelphia.  Dinners, balloons and champagne.  A gloriously massive chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache, cookies, lemon cake and more.

To cap off the birthday month I made a cake of my own. A cake to celebrate my birthday, a day I share with Joey Lawrence and my dear friend Drea.    Drea and I share a great many things: a birthday, a middle name and a love of Terry Gross to name a few.  Drea loves fruit in her desserts, I love a layer cake.  We both love Mexican dresses – our 2012 birthday cake was born.

Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Mousseline Buttercream and Strawberry Rhubarb Compote.

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Isabella’s Harvest

6 Apr

Cream Puffs & Eclairs

3 Apr

Pâte à Choux is a miraculous dough. One of my favorite things to make.   It is used to make eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles, cheese puffs and a whole host of other french delicacies, both sweet and savory.   I have a story about eclairs, it is a good one, but I will save it for another time, we are on vacation after all.  I am in Cayman for most of the next month.  I will be cooking, eating, fishing, picking, shopping and learning, documenting it all.  Until the first post about our time here I will leave you with some cream puffs and eclairs.    Continue reading

Grapefruit, Cucumber and Avocado Salad

25 Jan

Is it just me or has the citrus been especially delicious this year?  I must have eaten 39 lbs of clementines over the holidays and in the past three weeks I have bought two eight pound bags of Ruby Red grapefruits.  I bought the first bag on a whim.  They were priced very well and I have always like the idea of eating a grapefruit for breakfast in the morning.

It all started the very first week of January. I was coming down from the candy and cream fest of the holidays by  drinking a lot of  green tea and munching on raw pumpkin seeds, add grapefruit to the mix and I figured couldn’t possibly be any healthier.  I reasoned that if they were a disappointment I could make sorbet out of them, sorbet is ice cream’s slightly healthier cousin after all.

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Banoffee “Danger” Pie

17 Jan

I don’t really like bananas.  Something about the texture and the after taste.  And probably something to do with growing up with apple bananas in Cayman.  I love apple bananas, I can eat 3 or 4 at once, they are sweeter, a little tangy and very smooth, mmmmm … apple bananas.  But the regular bananas you get in the grocery store, Cavendish bananas, well, they generally aren’t my cup of tea.  Isabella goes through phases where she will eat 3 bananas a day. They are the first thing she asks for when she wakes up, she will stop in her tracks at the park and ask for one, devour it and then ask for another.  Banana, please!  So we buy them and she eats them and we buy more until one morning she wakes up and looks at you like you have lost your mind when you offer her a banana.

And then we are left with a bunch of bananas, sitting in a bowl on the counter, getting more ripe by the minute.  Sometimes Martin makes banana bread or takes them to work.  I try to ignore them.  It happened last week she went from 2 bananas a day, to giving me and the banana dirty looks when offered.  And for some reason I thought of Banoffee “Danger” Pie.  That’s right, this pie has a middle name, and it is Danger.

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Orange Key Lime Bars

10 Jan

I  intended to make key lime bars.   There were at least 20 little limes in the bag that I bought.  I over-estimated the amount of juice I would get out of each tiny lime.  The crust was already made and cooling, the condensed milk opened and I needed just a little more juice.  The juice from one orange made up the difference.  It turns out that the orange juice was much more than just a stand in. The juice lends a complex, floral note to the custard and the tiny strands of orange and green zest that thread through the bars are very pretty.  You can use this recipe to make a pie, just form and bake it in a pie plate. And if you have enough key limes on hand, feel free to omit the orange juice.

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