Converted to the Church of Cheesecake

Thursday, July 29, 2010

-How I resisted so long is a mystery.-

Every time BF mentioned that his favorite dessert in the world was cheesecake I rolled my eyes and replied in a quiescent voice that yes, I understood the hint. He wanted me to make him cheesecake. I, in response, said nothing and usually swept the matter under the conversation like hiding dust beneath the area rug in hopes we could move on. I had no interest in making cheesecake or learning how to make cheesecake.

It was then my sad mistake to ask BF when he was away at training what he wanted me to make for dinner the night he got back. I planned to make something fun and somewhat extravagant and in my alimentary daydream I forgot to mind my filter. "I'll cook whatever dessert you want," I said without hesitation.

"Cheesecake," BF replied. He didn't miss a beat and his tone didn't belie any smile or humor. It was an honest response that was impossible to ignore or push aside.

"Oh... okay," a pause, "Cheesecake it is." I knew he couldn't see my trying to smile over the phone but he didn't need to to know that my good humor was a lie.

So the stars had aligned and karma had struck me down. I would now have to learn to make a cheesecake.

-Can I get an Amen? Or at least other good cheesecake recipes suggestions?-

It's not that I necessarily have anything against cheesecake. I don't. It's just that it's never been at the top of my list of favorite things to eat. Most cheesecakes I try are far too rich, or loaded with so much chocolate fudge, caramel swirled, pistachio dusted, Butterfinger crust hoohaw that it goes against my general preference for dessert with focused simplicity.

Still, I ended up putting it off after he arrived. We went out instead. It wasn't a planned diversion, it was just that we both had had a long day and after amusing ourselves for a while after his return neither of us had the energy to cook. So out we went for Mexican food. I had escaped my commitment.

A few days later BF reminded me of my promise and having committed to the task - I had given my word after all - we went (me begrudgingly) to the market to gather ingredients for a simple chocolate chunk cheesecake. Yes, it may not be a paragon of simplicity, but there's something to be said for the combination of cream cheese and chocolate and it was what BF wanted. I did dress it up with a vanilla bean too. How could I not?

The prep was easy though time consuming; each stage of the preparation required the cheesecake to sit and cool for a length of time, the longest being five hours. Still, as they say, patience is a virtue.

The next day we tasted the result.

Readers, consider me a convert to the church of cheesecake.

-Chocolate and cheese? Oh, hell yes.-

Vanilla Bean Chocolate Chunk Cheesecake
Adapted from The Essence of Chocolate

2 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
4 oz of butter (one stick)
3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups of sour cream, room temperature
1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract)
10 ounces of chocolate chopped into pieces

Special Equipment
8-inch spring form pan

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 375F. Melt the butter and mix with the graham cracker crumbs. Press into the bottom and at least halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Refrigerate for 20 minutes, then bake the crust for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool. Lower the heat to 350F.

For the filling:
1. In a standing mixer with a paddle attachment or with a large bowl and a hand mixer beat the cream cheese, sugar, salt for 2 minutes on medium until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

2. Add the eggs and beat for 2 minutes. Split open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the sour cream and vanilla seeds to the batter and beat again for 3 minutes, stopping halfway through to scrape down the sides. Turn off the mixer and fold in the chocolate.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan; even the batter out and then mound it up in the middle a bit. The batter will be at the very rim of the pan and you will think that it will rise and spill over. It won't. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until lightly browned and set. Turn off the heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon and let the cheesecake rest in the oven for 30 minutes.

4. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for five hours or overnight.

5. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the crust and cheesecake. Remove the springform ring and carefully move the cake to a serving platter. Serve or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving.

The Cycle of Love for Produce

Sunday, July 25, 2010

-Ready for a quick flurry of salt and pepper.-

Throughout the year there are certain staple dishes that I look forward to making based on their seasonality. These particular recipes are ones that are best made at the peak of their season for a few simple reasons.

Most obviously, fruits and vegetables taste their best at their peak and when they've just come off the vine. For example, July seems to be the time when all varieties of eggplant, from white to Hmong to Japanese, seem to be their most strong and spongy and ready to absorb every flavor you throw at them but still retain that distinctive soft-foam texture. In June they're too small and tough to eat and come August they're so bloated with water they turn to mush at the slightest singe.

-July is the season for cherry tomatoes of all kinds here in Sacramento.-

Second, they're cheap at that time of year. Apricots come into season at late May to early June here in Sacramento, however, you can find them for sale at the Farmer's Market in April. Ignore these false prophets of an early apricot season. They'll only feed you lies. For a whopping $4 per pound you'll be taking home sugar water filled pouches or too tart rocks in the shape of apricots. Fruit devoid of flavor that leaves you devoid of your hard earned cash. However, come back on June 1st, well, those apricots will be bursting with flavor and cost $1.50 per pound.

Still, it's good that some of these dishes only have such short seasons. I know I sound crazy but stay and listen before clicking over to check your Facebook. The reason I say this is because I overindulge in seasonal produce and the recipes I've attached to them. When butternut squash is plentiful in October I puree it and turn it into gnocchi or roast them with maple syrup, cinnamon, and brown sugar. When spinach and kale are bountiful in January it gets wilted in a pot with garlic and oyster sauce. In summer, eggplant gets marinated in fish sauce, curry power, and lemongrass then tossed in a skillet with coconut milk and onions. I will eat these dishes three or four times a week because at their freshest they're tear jerkingly good and so easy to prepare.

-This set-up is a common sight in my kitchen.-

However, eating these a few times a week for three or four weeks makes you grow tired of them. It's how we as humans are; constant exposure to something makes it less special. It's the same way that after a long vacation you get tired and ready to go home as you've been overexposed to the newness of your locale. As a kid my friends had season passes to Disneyland and guest passes that were at my disposal. After one summer where I rode Space Mountain at least 50 times it no longer held any real excitement. I had the timing of every hairpin curve down pat and knew exactly what to expect. Ho-hum, I would say, spinning upside down at 80 miles per hour.

Similarly, the produce I once pined for for eleven months are no longer new and unique. In fact, I get sick of them and begin to look forward to the next seasonal favorite like squash blossoms or pea shoots. It seems that all things in moderation applies to produce as well.

Right now I'm at the beginning of that alimentary cycle with small cherry tomatoes of all kinds. I am not simply eating a lot of them, but rather I'm buying enough to put the farmer's daughter through college. Probably a nice one at that. (It certainly would explain the new Trojans t-shirt he had on this morning.)

-While great on its own this is a perfect side for any barbeque and is wonderful over grilled skirt steak.-

I enjoy them with little pearls of mozzarella and a good spoonful of pesto but I so rarely have the ingredients on hand for that. Usually I use a basic preparation that's sunny, bright, and makes for an excellent side dish to steak or pork, or works as a simple meal on its own. I simply cut the tomatoes in half and lightly salt and pepper them. Next, I mince a large clove of garlic. After heating a few tablespoons of olive oil in a fry pan I toss in the tomatoes and garlic and shake them a bit over high heat. After a minute or two I add a bit of red wine vinegar and continue to toss until the liquids thicken up a bit, about 30 seconds. After that it's done and ready to serve. (If you do happen to have pearl mozzarella on hand use it, the creamy flavor and melty texture adds depth.)

The result are sweet and sour cherry tomatoes that are packed with flavor from the salt, pepper, and garlic. The whole thing only takes a few minutes and is an immensely satisfying, no-fuss way to enjoy these little fruits in the height of summer. Indeed, I've been making them for my lunch four days out of the week for a few weeks now.

I suppose in another I'll start to get tired of them, but that's fine. Soon the big heirloom tomatoes will be ready and those are great marinated in balsamic and tossed under the broiler or on the grill. The cycle will begin again.

-And come next July I'll be making this dish over and over again once more.-

The Steamy Story of Blueberry Jam

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

-Jam making with loved ones can be a bit messy.-

To my knowledge BF wasn't much of a cook before we met. He can fire a mean grill but I don't think he really had much kitchen panache. However, in the last few years or so through a combination of curiosity, observation, and osmosis he seems to be picking up quite a bit. He can make a mean banana bread, his blondies kick ass, and his ability to whip together an astounding marinade to slather on any of God's tasty creatures gives me goosebumps.

When he recently got back home after a few weeks of medical training he saw the ludicrous amount of jamming I had been pounding out. Jars of mint jelly, rhubarb ginger syrup, blackberry jam, apricot jam, apricot vanilla syrup, plum conserves were stacked high in the kitchen. Indeed, to anyone, cook or not, it was quite a sight.

-Isn't it odd that blueberries cook up violet and indigo?-

"Did you make any blueberry?" he asked.

"No, sadly, I haven't gotten around to it. It's been on my to-do list for about two years now. I always seem to put it off," I said.

"Well, then let's make some."

"You want to learn to make jam?" I was surprised.

He said that he did. I was giddy. The man can make buckwheat pancakes, fix a shower head like nobody's business, bandage my clumsy ass up, and has a desire to learn jam making? Oh yeah, definitely a keeper.

We got lucky in our berry search as we found huge cartons of organic berries for only four bucks each - a steal in blueberry economics. Three pounds ended up costing us around $13. We grabbed a lemon and an extra sack of sugar and headed home.

-Behold! A sea of blue.-

It was a steamy batch of jam to say the least. With the weather being in the triple digits outside and the water bath boiling away inside as well as the oven running at 200 degrees to sterilize the cans it felt like a Louisiana summer. We went about our work dressed only in shorts and aprons teasing and flirting as we went back and forth across the linoleum floor. As I measured the sugar he zested the lemon, I weighed the berries while he readied the lids; each task preformed with a little bit of posing. Witty repartee and coy tête-à-tête played in our tiny galley kitchen which we normally bemoaned about. Now the cramped quarters were suddenly quite intimate.

As we went about mashing and mixing our jam the occasional indigo splurt of juice exploded onto the counter, the floor, and ourselves. The latter wasn't so bad as it was excuse enough to wipe it up with our fingers and taste the jam to see how it was progressing. The jam had condensed the flavors of the blueberries into a winey nectar that was rich and intense, the essence of blueberry harnessed into a more potent preserve.

We quickly ladled the finished jam into jars, popped on their lids and rims and dunked them in their water bath. Tens minutes later and after a bit of cleanup we had six jars of dark Cabernet-colored jam. The heat and humidity was finally too much and we collapsed on the couch under the breeze of the air conditioning armed with tall glasses of iced tea. It was too miserable to cuddle up as body heat was the enemy. Instead we popped in a disc from Netflix, propped our feet on the coffee table and let our toes touch in what I can only call an affectionate manner.

It seems a good relationship is like a good jam. A little time and attention is all it takes to make one successful. Though some heat in the kitchen helps too.

-Perfect on pancakes, toast, muffins, and scones.-

Blueberry Jam Recipe
Blueberries are high in pectin so you won't have to reduce this until it has a jam-like consistency. Do it to just under so it still looks a little bit too liquidy. It will set up plenty solid.

3 lbs of blueberries
1 lb of sugar
three tablespoons of lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon of butter

1. Wash the blueberries and toss them into a stainless steel or copper pot, or a enamel lined dutch oven (not an aluminum pot as this will leach). Mash the berries with a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Let macerate for about 10 minutes. Place a small plate in the freezer as this will be used for testing later.

2. Turn heat to medium-high. The mixture will bubble and froth vigorously. Skim the foam off the top and discard (or save it and put it on cheese or yogurt; super tasty). The boil will subside to larger bubbles, but still bubble vigorously. Be sure to begin gently stirring the jam frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom.

3. After about 20 minutes begin testing the jam by placing a small amount on the cold plate. Allow 30 seconds to pass and then run your finger through it to see what the cooled consistency will be. Boil for a few minutes longer if desired for a thicker jam.

4. Ladle into hot, sterilized canning jars and seal leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the rims of the jars clean before applying the lids. Screw on the rings to finger-tight. Work quickly. Process in a water bath to ensure a good seal. If you want you can skip the water bath and just screw the lids on tight where the heating-cooling process will create a vacuum seal, but the water bath is a surefire method for a secure seal.

*To sterilize the jars, rinse out clean mason jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, upright in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes. To sterilize the lids put them in a shallow bowl and pour boiling water over them.

-Good enough to eat with a spoon.-

Book Club Brunch

Sunday, July 18, 2010

-A simple tart always impresses your guests.-

For the first time in what seems like forever I finally have enough free time to sit down and actually read a book on my own. The past many, many years have been plagued with assigned readings where a 400 page novel had to be completed, processed, analyzed, and written about within a seven day time span. Epic rhetorical essays had to be understood with the expectation that their key points could be regurgitated - eloquently, I might add - on request. Theories about teaching, composition, and how to instruct English-as-a-second-language students were to be compressed in whatever corner of my crammed little mind.

It's no wonder I wasn't doing any pleasure reading. For the longest time my brain simply rejected any written words that didn't have an immediate practical applicability that was somehow related to my GPA. Even reading the most pleasant and beautiful food blogs resulted in mental projectile vomit, my head crying in the spaces between words, "No more!"

Only now do I finally have a moment to breath and read. I can graze over the words and ponder them. I don't have to question what Derrida would think (I'll give those of you who don't know that name a moment to look him up, and those that do a moment to recover from the trauma) or the postcolonial interpretations of what the text is saying and what its greater implications upon society as a whole are; or, you know, whatever stuff like that.

-A phenomenal read to chat about over a meal with friends.-

Still, I do crave thoughtful literary discussion. It exercises my brain and gives me a chance to socialize with like-minded people, so it only made sense that I start up a book club. I called a few close friends: a fellow grad student who had graduated before me, a friendly food blogger with Mexico ties, a techie and a few others who jumped at the idea. I proposed meeting in thirty days to discuss our first selection, Amy Tan's, The Kitchen God's Wife.

The book is a wonderful read; thoughtful and dramatic, funny in all the right places and usually leaving me wanting dim sum. However, it was how I read the book that was so staggering to me. I read for fun! I was so proud of myself! I read my book without pen and highlighter in arm's reach. I only noted a few passages I found funny or especially poignant so I could bring them up to fellow book club members and pick their brains. In previous years my books have always ended up marred in annotations and underlinings, or flagged with so many little post-its it looked like the binding was spouting more ribbon than a Mardi Gras float. My copy of Tan's novel only has a few penned in stars and two dog eared pages.

The book club is something I need and enjoy; moments of friendly debate, co-misery, and gushing. The members fill me up and energize me not just for literature but other intellectual activities, like cooking. The club meeting was an opportunity to gather friends together and cook them a perfect little meal.

-Talking about a book is difficult when your face is full of cake.-

I was torn between cooking Chinese food, a cuisine I'm competent at and which would have matched the book, or what I considered to be stereotypical book club fare like salads and teeny sandwiches. Taking into account it was dry and 102 degrees outside I went with the latter and developed a menu that, by pure happenstance, was totally designed by my friend David (even if he wasn't aware of it).

David's almond cake is one of those practical recipes that I added to my repertoire a few years ago. It's easy to throw together at the last second and always produces the same amazing result: a cake heady with almond flavor and an incredibly moist crumb. Served with a bit of fruit macerated in sugar and spices it's a simple crowd pleaser that's appropriate for any occasion at any time of year. The fact that it was all almond seemed to also synch up well with the book where almond desserts abound.

-The drama shot. Blueberries are always dramatic.-

Before the cake I served a simple tomato tart that David wrote up a few weeks ago. It was one of those recipes that just hooked me and sat in my brain niggling at the front of my skull knocking around asking, "Ya' gonna' make me yet?" The book club meeting proved to be the perfect chance to serve this. An easy recipe with a big wow factor. It tastes like sun and cool, grassy breezes. Served with chilled Rose wine it was a wonderful way to usher in our first meeting.

Overall, the meeting went well as people felt each other out and learned to express their opinions in the forum. I found how enjoyable a novel really can be and how light exploration can force you to turn over a good book and look at it in a new light. Similarly, it gives you an excuse to exercise your creative juices in the kitchen and fuel your friends for riveting discussion.

-One of the easiest tarts I've ever made. If you use a pre-made frozen tart crust this is even easier, though making your own is simple and tastes better.-

Cheese Profile: Brillat-Savarin

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

-Sour, lactic, and smooth.-

I'm going to display a bit of my ineptitude when it comes to some aspects of food history but I know very little about Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin aside from his famous quote, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." I did my best to read The Physiology of Taste for my thesis, but in all honesty that book is dryer than burnt toast. I also hear we was a big proponent of capital punishment which isn't so nifty either. Overall, not a guy I'm overly invested in. However, he did know how to make a quote with staying power. Aside from the now Iron Chef famous one he has one other I'm particularly fond of; "A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with one eye."

Ignoring the sexism and ableism (another reason not to really dig him too much) he makes a valid point. Dessert without cheese is like a good novel with the last page ripped out, horrifying and epically disappointing. I guess between this quote and the headway he made in the world validating the appreciation of good food and his waxing aphorism is why the famous maître fromager Henri Androuët named this cheese after him.

The cheese Brillat-Savarin hails from Normandy and is the descendent of a cheese called Magnum which is no longer made as the cheese maker who created it closed shop in the seventies. It's a super soft, triple cream Brie with a runny consistency that spreads like warm butter and tastes like it too. The white bloomy rind comes from whole milk being treated with Penicillium candidum which is the culture that also results in that delicious butter flavor. Mmm... butter.

-Runny deliciousness.-

Oh, yes. Did I mention the butter flavor? Yes, it tastes like butter. Anyone lucky enough to have a butter-like cheese named after them obviously did some good in the world. The cheese is soft and silky and melts across your tongue just like, yes, butter, dripping over a slice of warmed baguette.

At first taste you might find it incredibly salty but after a minute you realize that the salt-taste is somewhat sour and biting which is this cheese's characteristic lactic flavor which is highly pronounced. It isn't a whisper in the slightest but rather a banshee with a megaphone singing death metal. This is accompanied by an quieter earthy mushroom taste. All this conversation is controlled by this cheese's talk of butter.

It belongs on any dessert plate and is best paired with rich fruits such as dates and prunes or sweet Asian pears. However, when it comes to wine Brillat-Savarin has always been finicky, too salty for reds and far too creamy for whites; cheese author Patricia Michelson suggests a blonde beer and I agree.

Jean may have been a bit of a death-encouraging blowhard (seriously, read his book) but one cannot deny the man had a good point about cheese. His spoiled namesake is a prime example of this and any dessert or cheese plate without this delightful Brie would be an ugly thing indeed.

-I highly doubt that Mr. B-S was as intriguing as all this.-

Breakfast for One

Sunday, July 11, 2010

-Eating alone doesn't have to be depressing.-

For the past few weeks BF has been out of town for some of his medical training (which is one of the reasons we compliment each other so well, I having predisposition to accidentally harming myself, and he having to bandage me up). Roommate is usually away for work and his frequent weekend adventures in San Francisco make him so absent I sometimes forget I even have a roommate. I'm only reminded when he comes back in at some random hour on a Tuesday and he regales me with stories that are too scandalous for this blog.

And, so, I've had a lot of alone time. Most of my life has been surrounded by people and while a little alone time is great large amounts of it unnerve me. The cats only listen to me for so long before walking away to catch some reflected sunlight on the wall. I have a strict rule not to drink alone (who would I dance with?). I usually end up watching some horror movie late into the night. I subsequently spend the rest of it in bed rationalizing that the picture frame that fell off the wall at one in the morning was a random occurrence and not the manifestation of some angry ghost who wants to brutalize me.

However, there are plenty of positive aspects to having a long period of uninterrupted personal space. It's amazing how much reading I've been able to catch up with. No one is playing World of Warcraft at three in the morning (nothing, apparently, is noisier than a Death Knight at three in the morning). I can sprawl out in the bed all I want and the covers are all mine.

Cooking seems to be the real problem I have. Suddenly reducing my menus from meals for three to meals for one is difficult. I buy too much at the market and end up struggling to use it all. The sheer volume of leftovers I have in the fridge and freezer is enough to open my own food bank.

-I prefer white nectarines to yellow ones. Plus, I enjoy them tight and tart, not squishy and too sweet.-

Of course, the reason some of it goes unused is because I can eat without reprobation. Ice cream and a side of peanut butter toast is perfectly acceptable for dinner. I can break out a jar of Nutella and a spoon and simply watch repeats of Xena or Airbender without anyone complaining. A simple salad of bok choi with sesame oil and Chinkiang vinegar can be the most relaxing thing ever and I don't have to hold a conversation. I can simply, rudely, bury my nose in a magazine and not give a damn about the world. And, once in a while, I'll go grab a quick Taco Bell taco.

Not all of my meals are so irresponsible. A simple single serving of cooked fruit can be quite relaxing and indulgent. I don't even have to share!

A few cubed up nectarines and berries tossed with a bit of thyme and honey is a particular summer treat that I enjoy making for myself on a lazy Sunday. This morning the necatrines at the Farmer's market were tight and tart the way I like them and begged to be roasted just a little to sweeten them. A little flurry of ground almonds gave the dish a faux crumble crust. I decided to really make it richer with a small pour of heavy cream. A trick my cousin's wife, Cio, taught me that enhances any crumble or cobbler.

This little serving for one with a tall glass of iced oolong tea made for a beautiful breakfast for me, myself, and I which is nice because - between being amongst all the people I love - we needed to catch up a bit.

Baked Summer Fruit
There's no real recipe for this, just a method. Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly butter a baking dish or a few ramekins. In a bowl toss some chopped nectarines or peaches and a handful of berries (your choice on what kind) with a spoonful of honey and 1/2 teaspoon of thyme. Place into the baking dish or ramekins. Dust with some almond meal (though any well chopped nut will do). Bake for 15 minutes. Pour a few tablespoons of heavy cream or milk over the fruit. Serve.

Eat Beast Update #12: Corn

Thursday, July 8, 2010

-Predator and prey.-

One of the most amazing and frustrating things in the universe is just how quickly it can screw you when you least expect it. Even, technically, when you should know better and could have prevented the said screwing in the first place. Like realizing that the even though you found the five cents you needed to buy that ice cream cone you probably should have tied your shoes so you didn't trip and lose that precious scoop of mint chip on the hot asphalt and scrape up your arms and knees, your treat and top layers of skin sacrificed to the Clumsiness Gods. (Stupid running shoes.)

These instances strike without warning or your knowing better. Take my corn for example:

Beautiful, is it not? We planted six stalks of them, each of them growing strong and tall. We knew we would only get about two cobs from each stalk and though that wasn't a lot between three people it meant that we would have four good meals with our homegrown corn. Sure they would grow as tiny, stunted half cobs, but they would be our cobs. Grown from our soil. Food we had tended and cared for with our own hands and fretful worries. None of us had grown corn before and we knew nothing about how to care for it. We winged every decision, a roll of the dice. When to water, allowing the clover to grown between the stalks, pollinating by hand just in case. Yet, somehow, it worked.

They had overcome such adversity too. An incredible heat wave followed by a sudden downpour that would have made Noah freak caused us to worry. A neighbor cat brushed against two of the stalks knocking them down. We found them one morning at an acute angle, the stalks leaning against the old wooden fence with their once fluffy peaks smashed and bristled like old paint brushes. Yet, somehow, they actually propped themselves back up. A feat I wasn't aware corn was capable of. This corn had vim and vinegar and as such we decided to serve a few cobs with balsamic when they were ready in order to honor their tenacity.

The worse scare was when the ants came in. Droves filing up and down the stalks; black vertical stripes running across each leaf and pouring from the husks. Tearing one open we found not only ants, but whole aphid nurseries. Thousands snuggled between the satin layers and silk threads. Yet each cob had been spared. Not a single insect had penetrated the inner linings of the husk and reached the starchy sweetness that laid within. What luck!

We quickly harvested all the corn, they were nowhere as impressive to the dispassionate eye as ones from any market, but to us they were OUR corn; beautiful; the way any parent finds their child (without the plans to eat them, of course).

We washed and husked them and left them on the counter, counting on the wonderful ways we would eat them the next day.

The next morning I awoke like I usually do; to the incessant, unnaturally loud yowling of the cats for me to feed them ten minutes before my alarm goes off. Mace knows to sit and scream just to the right of the doorway on the hallway side. From this strategic vantage point he knows he is safe from any possible line of fire and cannot be creamed with a clumsily but fiercely chucked pillow. I am left with no choice but to rise like an extra in George Romero film and lumber over to the kitchen to feed the fuzzy bullhorn/vacuum I frustratingly endearingly call Eat Beast.

As I walk to his bowl I step on something somewhat wet. Looking down I see them: two corn cobs, massacred; their kernels scattered across the carpet. I realize that this is my corn. My beautiful corn that I cared for and finally picked. I turn to Eat Beast and see that he's already hiding under the chair. Apparently, in waking me up to eat he forgot that he was going to get in trouble for his snack. His critical error. I grab a cob and chuck it at him and peg him on the butt before he can run away to leave me to clean the mess. I know he has gone into my closet to hide. He squeaks out an audible little mew. Not so much an apology out of penitence but out of insincerity and want. After all, breakfast has yet to be served.

The carnage reminds me of scenes from tornado shows you see on the Weather Channel where a wind funnel tears through a home or office building sending debris in every direction. I imagine that this was very much like that, only yellow and sweeter. This meant I got to play clean up crew first thing in the morning. Goody.

The cobs are only half destroyed each. Apparently the fat bastard decided to have two different snacks, and that simply gorging one whole one wasn't quite wasteful enough. No, he went and took a second off the counter and dragged that across the floor to only eat a few mouthfuls of it. The pernicious corn Hoover apparently enjoys being wasteful.

Cleaning is a pain. The uncooked starch from the kernels has glued them into the carpet fibers. I can't break out the vacuum as Roommate is still asleep, and I'm still too tired to really get those basic motor functions working at a digital level to be able to pick up every single canary-colored speck of corn out of the floor. Still, it gets done. Sort of.

I bag the rest of the corn in a ziplock and toss it into the fridge. The other two cats get fed (when BF moved in along came his cat as well, we are now at three). Eat Beast sits next to his dish and looks at me. He has forgotten he is in trouble, or, knows he is in trouble and is willing to risk trouble for food. He will risk everything for food.

"Nope. Sorry cat. You apparently already fed yourself." He seems unfazed. He hops onto the couch and curls up for a nap. I go to the bathroom and ready a shower. My feet and hands are sticky from corn bits, and I'm going to be late for work.

-"Why, hello there, little corn."-

Blackberry Jam

Monday, July 5, 2010

-Jamming season has begun.-

When the dreaded fire started back in the old apartment the very first thing to go were all the jams, syrups, pickles, and preserves I had made during the Spring and Summer. The fire, starting at the stove in the apartment next door, quickly ate through the kitchen wall and into my kitchen cabinets; right into the four flats of homemade canned goods. They did not survive.

The cabinet was apparently one of the few things that was sturdily built because even though the walls and pipes were consumed by the ravenous flame the cabinet stayed up leaving behind the evidence of what ate through the wall. The jars had literally exploded from the heat, black shrapnel scattered across the cabinet floor and even embedded itself into the walls. The jams had splattered and boiled down to a dull pitch crisp as if every surface has been caked with muddy obsidian.

Ironically, it wasn't supposed to have happened. Almost all of that jam had been destined to be turned into Christmas gifts but I had forgotten them back in Sacramento on my drive to Southern California, only remembering somewhere in the middle of a Central Valley drive-thru. I told my family I would mail the jams off to them when I got back. The fire was kind of the epic head-slap after a "D'oh!" moment in this regard.

So the past few weeks I have been on a jamming spree. I've churned out many batches of my apricot and Riesling jam at this point, a batch of apricot vanilla bean (those little bean specks give me such joy), and some rhubarb preserves. The windows are constantly fogged up from the steam of the cans' water baths creating a Floridian microclimate in my apartment. Still, through all the sweat and haze it's quite worth it. The jam is superb.

This last weekend I was lucky enough to have come across blackberries, bulbous and juicy, concentrated in flavor, for cheap at the Farmer's Market. Six overflowing baskets for $10 is something that demands to be jammed. I paid up and quickly took them home in a rush excited at this unique opportunity. Normally, I jam whatever fruit my friends' trees and gardens simply have an overabundance of, rarely do I buy a ton of fruit just to jam. However, this particular fruit situation demanded proactivity and I had never had the chance to jam berries.

The base recipe I used was Lindsey Shere's boysenberry jam recipe in Chez Pannise Desserts. However, I decided to play with it just a little. Blackberries seem to have two popular pairing as of late that I seem to be seeing everywhere: Bourbon and violet (the latter via actual violets, Creme de Violette, or violet extract). I decided to go with the Bourbon as the Creme de Violette was too delicate in flavor to stand up to these ballsy berries.

I measured out a shot glass of Bourbon and tossed in a bit of homemade vanilla extract into a pot of barely mashed berries and enough sugar to comatose a six year old. About a half hour later I had jam. Amazing jam. The bourbon added a subtle spice behind the fruit, and the vanilla added a slight creaminess. Just... oh lord, the best blackberry jam ever. So good you giggle to yourself when you taste it.

To you jammers and canners out there with access to black or boysenberries be sure to give this a shot. You won't be disappointed.

-Tasty trio of jam. (I ate all the rhubarb ones already. Oops.)-

Blackberry Jam (With a Hint of Bourbon)

2.5 lbs of blackberries
1 lb of sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon of butter (this helps for clarity and prevents foaming)
3 tablespoons of Bourbon (or one shot glass worth)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1. Wash the blackberries and toss them into a stainless steel or copper pot, or a enamel lined dutch oven (not an aluminum pot). Lightly mash the berries with a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Let macerate for about 10 minutes. Place a small plate in the freezer as this will be used for testing later.

2. Turn heat to medium-high. The mixture will bubble and froth vigorously. Skim the foam off the top and discard (or save it and put it on cheese or yogurt; super tasty). The boil will subside to larger bubbles, but still bubble vigorously. Be sure to begin gently stirring the jam frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom.

3. After about 25 minutes begin testing the jam by placing a small amount on the cold plate. Allow 30 seconds to pass and then run your finger through it to see what the cooled consistency will be. Boil for a few minutes longer if desired for a thicker jam.

4. Ladle into hot, sterilized canning jars and seal leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the rims of the jars clean before applying the lids. Screw on the rings to finger-tight. Work quickly. Process in a water bath to ensure a good seal. If you want you can skip the water bath and just screw the lids on tight where the heating-cooling process will create a vacuum seal, but the water bath is a surefire method for a secure seal.

*To sterilize the jars, rinse out clean Mason jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, upright in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes. To sterilize the lids put them in a shallow bowl and pour boiling water over them.

Strawberries. Balsamic. Cacao Nibs.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

-Delicious with vanilla ice cream or some barely sweet, freshly whipped cream.-

It's the week's obsession. A simple dish that's easy to prepare and pleases everyone. Now, strawberries with balsamic vinegar and black pepper is a popular dessert salad that every responsible and well-versed food lover has tried at least once. Variations of it have led to jams, ice creams, even pies pairing this summer-time trinity.

Yet, it's a bit old hat now, don't you think? (About a hundred years so in parts of Europe.) We've tried it, loved it, and still love it, but sometimes you need to just switch it up a bit. That's all this recipe - if you can even call it that - is. I was absent of any peppercorns so I just tossed some cacao nibs in the pepper grinder and let a cocoa flurry fly across the strawberries. I tossed in a few whole ones as well for a bit of crunch and contrast. The nibs add a hint of peppery chocolate; a slight bitterness to compete with all the sweet and tang from the other two ingredients.

Simple, surprising, satisfying. So far it's quite the crown pleaser. No recipe to really dictate; toss hulled and halved strawberries into a bowl, add a few glugs of balsamic and maybe a spoonful of sugar if you're feeling a bit jaunty, then some crushed up cacao nibs. Toss and let sit for a few minutes, then serve. Allow guests to add more cacao nibs if desired.

-Simple and clean. As a summer dessert should be.-

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