Monday, July 19, 2010

Bastille Day in Pictures

Vive la France!

Pastis- like the old French men like it!

the farmer claimed these were a red pepper/ tomato hybrid

either way, these were perfect for a Ratatouille. The trick? Cook the vegetables seperately and reassemble at the end to avoid sogginess

Ratatouille the following day

wishing these were melons de Cavaillion

Le Clafoutis aux Cerises

Whole Lemon Tart

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Another Birthday!

In this season of birthdays, my brother was next. His birthday seems to lose some of its sparkle due to the inconvenient time of year; in France it was usually the last day of school- in the US, friends are away on vacation. But this year we tried to make it an affair and the boy did end up having 4 different birthday cakes within a few weeks. I'll admit that this awesome cake idea was all Kris's doing while we browsed the Toy aisle at Target. The boys' recent obsession with a new video game and a GI Joe The Movie action figure on clearance made for a fun and tasty cake:

Confused? Here's a snapshot from the game Just Cause 2:

Not bad right?
I know my brother favors a cream cheese frosting but I wasn't feeling carrot cake. I did a little research and decided to go for a Hummingbird cake which is made with crushed pineapple, coconut, walnuts and mashed up bananas. This is one SWEET cake! The frosting includes 2 packages of cream cheese and 2 POUNDS of powdered sugar! I stopped short of the full amount of sugar and will cut out even more of it next time. Still, this cake was really moist and delicious. We ate the whole thing in a few days (still tasty later!) and by "we" I mean, 4 of us. My mom, who eats like a bird and very rarely has sweets, had this for breakfast. twice.

We also had a proper Birthday dinner on the porch. On the menu: fancy burgers, jalapeno poppers, onion strings, homemade steak fries, and panaches.

It was nice

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Praise Summer- It's Peach Jam!

It has been hot hot HOT in Virginia. Days have been reaching the triple digits and my office just lost air conditioning- so there is clearly no better time to fire up the stove and make some jam!

My first batch of jam was back in May at my boyfriend's parent's house at the height of strawberry season. There had been a death in the family and having never been through this kind of situation before, I wasn't quite sure how to help the family cope. I figured that I should turn to something I was familiar with; food, and hoped that jam might bring some momentary comfort. The jam was a success and I made a second batch as soon as I got home- you know, to hone my new found skillz.

This past weekend the boyfriend and I spent a solid 4 hours in the car in what should have been a 2 hour trip. Yes, I know it was the 4th of July. The point is, between Chesapeake, VA and Nag's Head, NC there are a lot of fruit stands & farmer's markets and the haul we brought back just about made up for the hassle. I got 5 pounds of peaches, a homemade tomato vadilia onion salad dressing, a handmade peach basket, 2 pounds of the juiciest tomatoes and Kris had his first BLT ever ($2.50 and on Wonderbread) and it might have been the best one I've ever had.

Peach Jam came about this time as a started slicing up peaches for a cobbler and realized that I really didn't want another baked good or sweet. How about preserving those juicy North Carolina peaches for later, say February when I'm about ready to hang myself waiting for the weather to heat up! And let me tell you, I already know this jam is gonna do the trick because the first taste of this jam re-defined Peach Jam. I have obviously never had peach jam made from scratch before because this was an experience. My brain's entry for peach jam used to include "sweet", "dense" and "hint of peach flavor", now it's been re-catalogued as "juicy", "peachy" and "bright". Yes, it's still very sweet, but sweetness is no longer the distinguishing characteristic. This will of course depend of the type and ripeness of your peaches, but if you use your brain (make this in season) and taste buds (ripe but not bruised peaches), you too are in for a treat.

Peach Jam
Adapted from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving 2009

Makes 8 half pints

  • 1 quart of not overripe peaches (about 10 peaches)
  • 7 & 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1/4 cups fresh lemon juice
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin

Start by peeling and cutting up 1 peach at a time onto a cookie sheet. Using a potato masher, mash the peaches (not too much!) and measure them out into 1 cup increments until you have 1 quart (or 4 cups).

Combine the peaches, sugar and lemon juice in a large dutch oven or pot. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the pectin and bring the mixture to a hard boil. You'll know it's a hard boil when stirring the mixture doesn't lessen the bubbling. Let it boil like this for 1 minute.

Add the jam to the sterilized jars and process as usual, boiling the jars for 10 minutes and letting them sit in the water for 5 minutes before removing. Can be stored for 1 year.

If you need a tutorial on jam making, here is a very handy one complete with pictures!