June 25, 2010

A "Family" Recipe

As a child, I always considered myself extremely lucky. My mom never, ever made me drink milk (citing the Mediterranean’s intolerance to dairy and her general dislike for the stuff), she never insisted we buy cafeteria lunch (THAT would have put the kybosh on my early-in-life appreciation for good food), instead I got to bring slices of Genoa salami and provolone or left over pasta from the night before. And growing up, there was always a particular item in my family’s kitchen that made me feel extra special- Jam. 

I did not know that you could buy jam in the grocery store until I was about five and my daycare provider tried to add a purple, gelatin-like substance onto my peanut butter sandwich, also known as “grape jelly”.  Shudder. As you might guess, this did not go over well.  I thought everybody’s freezer had endless jars of strawberry, raspberry, apricot, blueberry and blackberry jam. At five years old, the thought of a jam-less kitchen was mind-boggling.

All these years, watching my mom and Nonna spend summer afternoons cleaning and smashing berries I was under the distinct impression that homemade jam was a really big deal. Something that requires lots of love and attention and skill and uses a recipe most likely introduced by Great Grandpa Tocco who owned a produce truck.

A couple of weeks ago, my mother watched as the very first strawberry ripened in the Pioneer Valley.

Then she called me and we made plans to spend the day together making strawberry jam. I show up with my camera and notebook and announce that the jam making will have to wait until we get some better light in the kitchen. My mom looks at me, looks at the camera, looks at the notebook and throws up her hands exasperated, “Why do you want to blog about this? Can’t they just get recipe off the back of the box?”

Excuse me? All these years our family has been ripping the jam recipe off those stupid little yellow boxes of Sure-Jell? Seriously? But wait.  We must tweak it to make it better, no? Again my mom gives me an exasperated look. Surely Nonna must add her special touch the jam? Nope. I called Nonna and all she had to say about it was to be sure and cook the blueberry jam, otherwise it doesn’t taste like anything. And does she have a recipe for cooked blueberry jam? You bet. It can also be found ON THE BACK OF THE YELLOW BOX. Right. My mom, anxious to get started finally says, well you know, I don’t like to crush the strawberries as much as the box tells you to.

So there you go. I’m giving you a recipe that can be found on the back of the box of fruit pectin with exactly one modification: don’t over crush the strawberries.

Strawberry Jam
Courtesy of Mom, Nonna and the folks at Sure-Jell

When we celebrate the Fourth of July at Nonna’s Cottage, a huge tub, yes tub, of strawberry jam is issued at the beginning of the week and is slowly gone by Friday. No joke.  Even though it’s off the box, there’s still no getting around it. Jam, particularly strawberry jam simply tastes like a mouthful of summer.

3 or 4 jelly jars, washed
2 pt. strawberries rinsed, stems removed and halved
4 cups of sugar
1 box of pectin
¾ cups of water

Gently crush the strawberries using a potato masher (when all is said and done you still want to recognize them as strawberries).
Stir sugar into crushed berries, let stand for 10 minutes.
Stir pectin and water in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Let boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Stir pectin mixture into fruit, stirring constantly until sugar is completely dissolved for 3 minutes.
Pour into jelly jars and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

June 5, 2010

Picnic Essential-This Week’s Pinch Hitter, Green Beans

You were supposed to read about chicken today. Not just any chicken. Believe me, this chicken was going to change your life. I was going to share with you chicken that is baked in the oven but comes out golden and crispy and could pass as the fried stuff, but oh so much better with breadcrumbs, butter and rosemary…

I was going to write about how it’s the perfect picnic food, because it tastes even better cold. And then I was going to tell you all about the lovely picnic that Tom and I enjoyed on the rocks of Halibut Point, eating our cold chicken, green bean & potato salad and these Mexican chocolate cookies. 

Then I discovered that none of my chicken pictures came out focused. Oh, I have lots of shots of the uncooked chicken, but really, how convincing would that have been?  This means that for today’s post, the green beans will be pinch hitting for the chicken, primarily because their pictures came out prettier and not unfocused.

I hope you’re not too disappointed. Really, they are just as flavorful and you can’t have oven fried chicken without these green beans. So at some point I was going to have to give you this recipe anyways.  I was just really, really excited about the chicken.

I suppose I can still tell you about the picnic. There were blankets, chairs, good books, wine, cheese and then of course cold chicken and green bean salad. When we picnic with my parents, my mom always brings some freshly cut flowers for the cooler-turned table (which is appropriately covered with colorful linen). 

Me, well I can never remember to bring the flowers. But, we did have the perfect rock, which gave us the perfect view of my beloved New England coast. It was a day worth sharing, with or without the chicken.

Green Bean and Potato Salad

1 lb. fresh green beans, stemmed and trimmed
¾ to 1 lb. small red potatoes, halved

½ red onion, sliced
2 plump garlic gloves, minced
4-5 TBLS red wine vinegar 

1 Tsp Dijon mustard

1 cup good quality olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil potatoes in salted water until tender about 10 minutes. Beware of overcooking; you do not want mushy potato salad. Drain and put into large bowl.

Boil green beans in salted water for 3-4 minutes until crisp and tender. Drain and set aside.

Now make the vinaigrette.  Combine the garlic, red wine vinegar and mustard into a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify.  Salt and pepper to taste. At this point I usually end up adding more vinegar…I love vinegar.

Add the green beans and sliced red onion to the potatoes. Toss with vinaigrette and check for seasoning.