Foodie Tuesday: Salivating

Photo: Sprightly ApplesAs part of the perpetual human inclination to long for what is impossible, I suppose it’s no surprise that in the midst of one season I am frequently hungry for whatever is furthest out of season. When summer’s blistering and swelter have long since worn out their welcome, I think with great fondness of weather cold enough not only to cool my overheated brain to a slightly more manageable temperature but also to encourage the peak production of root vegetables with which to make those satisfying soups and roasted dishes that give a welcome tot of inner warmth to body and soul. In springtime, the autumn’s pears and quinces seem so remote as to have been but a beautiful fever dream of seasons past.

And though winter is short and blunt in north Texas most of the years I’ve spent living in it, it isn’t long dropped toward freezing before I think what a joy it would be to have weather balmy enough to require something cool and liquid, or just bursting with juicy freshness, to cheer my fainting spirits. Mostly, this is merely a sorry reflection of my lack of maturity and patience with whatever is present on the table or in my life. But perhaps it’s also possible to place a little of the blame on some of the first-world realities of the modern era. Indoor climate controls make winter ever so much drier than it was in my soggy single-pane-windowed youth. The normal chill of wintertime is confused in my body and household by a central heating system, never mind by old lady hot flashes, and the vast improvements in food packaging, shipping, and storage mean that I have access not only to fresh, picture-perfect produce that is nothing like currently in season where I live but just arrived on store shelves there from a country where it is at its peak growth. I can buy freeze-dried or frozen goods that are sometimes fresher and more flavorful on being prepared or reconstituted in my kitchen for having been processed so quickly at the point of harvest than any such things often were right in their natural local peak years ago.Photo + text: Juicy

My tastebuds and dietary inclinations care nothing, still, for seasonal propriety. So if I can get something preserved—old-school, as jams and canned goods and classic charcuterie, or flash-frozen on a factory ship in mid-ocean—that’s able to be prepared in ways making it as tantalizing and palatable as the fresh-harvested stuff, you can bet I’ll be indulging. Today, sitting in a blower-heated space at elevation and looking out at drizzles of snow, what should my wandering mind and salivary mechanism conspire to make me wish for most fondly? Some juicy, dazzlingly bright tasting fruit. Thank goodness for being a spoiled twenty-first century citizen. It doesn’t hurt to make a dish that will assuage both the out-of-sync wish for cool, juicy refreshment and any appropriately wintry hopes for a good tummy warmer.

Baked Apples with Raspberry-Rose Snow

Clean and core fresh, crisp apples. When I don’t have a cylindrical fruit corer on hand, I will opt to use a melon baller and just work my way through each apple sphere by sphere until I’ve tunneled through it and removed stem, blossom and seeds. Lacking a melon baller, I will use a narrow-bladed knife. You can leave the blossom end of the apple intact to keep it from leaking its filling during the baking, or you can make an edible “stopper” out of dried apple pieces, a handy way to give your diners a treat without any inedible parts. Set the prepared apples aside for the moment.

Make a paste, of whatever proportions please you, using marzipan (since there’s such a long tradition of wonderful commercially made marzipan, I feel no obligation to make my own, but if you want homemade, have at it), seedless raspberry jam (ditto), cream cheese (or labneh or goat cheese), a tiny pinch of salt, a dash of cardamom, and some elderflower cordial. Fill the apple tunnels with this goodness.

Put the apples into the buttered ramekins (individual) or casserole and bake them just until softening. About a half hour at medium-high heat (375°F/190°C), give or take a little, will do. While they’re baking, take a small handful of beautiful frozen raspberries per apple, crush them into their individual arils (gently enough to make pretty little dots rather than a messy mash), and stir in a dash of rosewater. Stick them back in the freezer that way until the moment before serving the apples, when you’ll sprinkle them over the top as a cool, burst-of-winter-sun contrast to the heat and creamy juice of the apples. And a tiny reminder of what fresh-from-the-garden goodness is like in other seasons.

Photo: Raspberry

Foodie Tuesday: Artful Eating

Another pleasure of travel—of getting out of my familiar paths and habits—is discovering not only new things to eat but new ways of preparing and presenting foods I might have known all along. Whether there’s some entirely unforeseen ingredient or the known ones are combined in a completely unfamiliar way or plated more exotically or beautifully than I’ve seen before, it’s all, well, food for thought. And a danged fine way to assuage the hunger pangs brought on by wandering and exploring in new territory.

The time we spent in Europe in July was yet another happy example of this truism. So much so that I’ll just give you a few tantalizing shots for your contemplation and not go further. You’ll be wanting to dash off for lunch before I have any time to go on further anyhow, don’t you know.Photos: Artful Eating (Series) 2014-08-05.2.artful-eating 2014-08-05.3.artful-eating 2014-08-05.4.artful-eating 2014-08-05.5.artful-eating 2014-08-05.6.artful-eating 2014-08-05.7.artful-eating 2014-08-05.8.artful-eating

Foodie Tuesday: Buried in Berries

Photo: Raspberry BonanzaOne of the joys of the warmer seasons is the abundance of fresh produce, not least of all, those little jewels the berries and close cousins like the aggregate fruits. Having grown up in a region known for fabulous berries, in a valley renowned, in fact, for farming them in its fertile volcanic soil in the Evergreen state, I know well enough the labor that it takes to successfully farm, pick, process and sell them, never mind shipping them intact anywhere, given their tender sensitivity and fleeting prime. But I certainly found my way past the sweaty, low wage, arm-aching, thorn-scratched, and slug-tormented frustrations of a short-time field hand to renew my love of fresh berries.

I have long since confessed to you that, despite their being among the easiest to farm and to pick, blueberries remain my most hated fruit, and I dislike pretty equally their flavor, smell and texture despite all attempts to convince me they are Superfood and worthy of desire. I am not a big fan, in fact, of any of the round, popping sorts of berries that are similar in my mind to blueberries in any way—currants, gooseberries, huckleberries, and so forth. I’m not that egalitarian. But the berries that I do enjoy, I gladly indulge in enjoying in quantity when they’re at their peak. I seldom tire of strawberries or of those magnificent rose relatives, the blackberries, raspberries, salmonberries, black raspberries and all of their delicious ilk. Ahhh, berry good!Photo: Blackberry Burst

One of the nicest things about really fine, fresh produce, of course, is that it tastes so good whether you do anything to or with it, or not. Straight out of the field, straight into my mouth. Bright, juicy, flavorful little pieces of heaven. Much as I happily enjoyed that dessert combination of my youth, angel food cake with berries and whipped cream, I think I might consider the berries the angel food part more than the cake. Berries in cream, whipped or not, are also a spectacular treat when I can get my hands on a dish, with or without a cake foundation.

The berries are marvelous as individual sorts or in happy combinations. Whole or mashed, sliced or diced. Superb in jams and sauces or salsas. Fabulous in smoothies. Outstanding when added to salads. Unbeatable in pies. One of the most delicious accompaniments to savory foods, especially something like some magnificent wild salmon or game, whether processed in some recipe or just eaten fresh alongside the fish or meat. Sweet and bright.

Oh, and berries make dandy liqueurs. Berries, sugar, vodka. In that order, in declining quantities, in a sealed jar or bottle. Bunch of weeks or months, shaking it up gently from time to time, while keeping it in a nice cool, dark spot between stirrings until the time seems right; strain the niceness and enjoy. Of course, it works fine without booze, too. Berries, some nice sparkling water and some sweetening.

These little gems are delicate. They are so fine in their pristine state that it would be wrong to over-process them. Don’t be a killjoy. There’s really no recipe here for success; in fact, the best so-called recipes for using fresh berries mostly leave them unsullied by cooking and doing much of anything other than stirring them in with other good things. What are you waiting for? If the season’s on, get thee to the nearest farmer’s market and stock up on glorious fresh berries. If they’re not in season, I apologize for your sorrow, but I must encourage you to make the most of preserves and frozen berries. Yep, they freeze well when properly treated. But my friends, do not slouch. Run, quickly, and get some berries. You can thank me later.

Photo: All Sorts of Berries

If It’s Wednesday, This Must be Foodie Tuesday Deja Vu

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Why, yes, if you are a fresh berry. Those sweet little nuggets of juicy goodness are the very epitome of summertime’s joys, and the longer we can extend the berry adventure by means of preserved, frozen or baked goods, the merrier. I’ve already rhapsodized about my mother’s justly famed raspberry pie (the mystic quality of her ethereal pie crusts a deservedly notable part of the equation, in the interest of full disclosure), and she made many a jar of equally brilliant raspberry jam over her wildly productive years of canning and preserving. I will never be her equal in either of these arts.photo

I do, however, have enough fondness for some berries that I will gladly binge on them while their season lasts, and far beyond, in whatever forms are available, because I can practically feel the vitamins rushing into my cells when I do, and more importantly, because they taste so fabulous and are such great utility players on Team Food. On their own, they are magnificent and refreshing. In salads, a divine break from any leanings toward excess of greens. Think, for example, of a marvelous mix of butter lettuce, Romaine, toasted sliced almonds, shavings of fine Reggiano cheese and a generous handful of raspberries all happily commingling with a light creamy fresh thyme dressing. Transcendent! Fruit salad melanges practically insist on having a handful of berries gracing them when the season is right. And I’m told by those who eat blueberries that no berry surpasses them for muffin or pancake making. Me, I’ll gladly stick with Swedish pancakes piled up with whipped cream and fresh strawberries when it comes to the breakfast berry-ations. And of course there are endless possibilities in the universe of fruit smoothies when it comes to berries, whether you’re in the camp that must strain out the seeds or among those who appreciate the fiber therein.

And don’t get me started about desserts! The natural affinity fruit has for sweet foods is showcased wonderfully in so many after-dinner or coffee-time treats that a mere post could hardly suffice to even skim the list. But some goodies do come immediately to mind: strawberries dipped in chocolate; cloudberry cream, as I learned to love it when prepared in the seconds-long fresh season by my brother-in-law’s late mother; blackberry tapioca pudding. Pies, tarts, and crumbles, oh my. A heap of berries and a gentle sluicing of vanilla custard atop a slice of toasted pound cake. Honestly, few ways to go awry.

Still, the berry, with its pristine, bright, zingy flavor, and the hints of sweetness underlying it, makes a superb foil for savory dishes too, not least of all meats and seafoods. One of those ways to slip berry-liciousness into the main dish is to pool any of the multitude of possible berry-enhanced sauces and purees under, over or alongside a portion of entrée. I’m fond of Beurres Rouges ou Blancs made with wine, butter and berries cooked down to dense, flavorful stupendousness. Hard to argue with, say, a blackberry-Cabernet sauce served with lamb or duck, and I can only imagine that a dry, red-fruity Rosé would pair gracefully in such a sauce with raspberries or, dare I say it, salmonberries, to accompany a roasted filet of salmon or breast of pheasant or grilled chicken. Champagne Beurre Blanc is hard to resist with shellfish; why not top that with roasted strawberries and a quick grind of black pepper?

As you can see, what happens when I get the mere image of a berry into my tiny brain is that it plants the seeds for extensive food fantasizing. And that is hardly a bad thing, my friends. Bury me in berries. I could do much worse.

photo

Foodie Tuesday: In Which I Give Myself the Raspberry

 

photoFor those of you not familiar with the colloquial phrase ‘giving the raspberry’, let me clarify that in this instance of usage it means that I am placing my tongue between my lips and phonating a prolonged rude, snort-y sound, something like PLPLPLPLPLPL, whilst gazing upon my own absurdity in the mirror. Because today I pushed the ‘Publish’ button at just the wrong moment as I went through my digital file of written posts and, instead of putting up my usual Foodie Tuesday item, managed to poke that don’t-touch-it’s-dangerous red button belonging to the cyber equivalent of the Eject switch on my little laptop fighter jet.

Oops.

Needless to say, my interest in food has not flagged, nor has my penchant for posting about it ebbed. So tomorrow I’ll fill you in on a more palatable form of raspberries (and other berries), because they do deserve their recognition, even though their season is quickly ending even here in warmer climes. Hang on to your spoons, my friends, and I’ll give you the raspberry tomorrow. Wink, wink.