Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill

Hethyr:  I have always loved the scene in the original Willa Wonka & the Chocolate Factory movie where Violet chews the gum containing an entire three-course dinner which, according to Wonka, isn’t yet ready for human consumption.  She swells into a giant blueberry and has to be rolled away for the blueberry juice to be extracted so she doesn’t explode.  Freakin’ hilarious.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes
with Blueberry-Lemon Syrup
Well, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten to know how Violet felt.  Jon and I bought 40 pints of blueberries during an incredible sale at Whole Foods.  The one-day sale advertised organic blueberries for $1.99 per pint.  Because I’m at Whole Foods at least a few times a week, I know that organic blueberries usually cost between $4.99 and $6.99 per pint, so this was an amazing sale.  Of course, I made Jon tag along so we could carry twice as many.  We managed to just fit 40 into two reusable grocery bags.  Jon thought it was excessive at first, but when I mentioned that even a 12- to 16-ounce bag of frozen berries (which he often uses in smoothies) is usually $3.99, he was sold.  And, as if $1.99 per pint wasn’t great enough, we bought so many that we got the 10% case discount so it ended up being $1.79 per pint.  I was in heaven!

Blueberry-Basil Vinegar:  Day 1
(it takes about 4 weeks)
Over the next few days, I froze most of the blueberries for later use and made several items using fresh berries including the Bluebarb June (my version of the Ruby June with the addition of crushed blueberries), Blueberry-Basil Ice Cream, Blueberry-Basil Vinegar (I’ll be taking this to a swap in the near-future!), Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberry-Lemon Syrup and Blueberry-Brandy Reduction (to use on desserts or ice cream... I made this for last Sunday's community swap).  Since then, Jon has been making some variation of a blueberry smoothie nearly every day and I’ve made Blueberry-Banana Bread which we’ll take with us camping this weekend.

One swap participant from last weekend made the following comment on Facebook regarding the Blueberry-Brandy Reduction:  “…last night we had the Blueberry-Brandy Reduction over ice cream and strawberries-so delicious that when I spilled a glob on the kitchen counter I seriously had to stop myself from licking it up.  :)”  That definitely made me smile, although I’m not sure how she resisted – I’m sure I couldn’t have and I probably would’ve been caught in the act by Jon.

A photo from Sunday's
swap by my friend Kat
Blueberry-Brandy Reduction
Makes 1 1/2 cups
  • 4 cups fresh organic blueberries
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Zest from one lemon

1.  In a saucepan, crush blueberries with potato masher. 

2.  Add remaining ingredients, stir well and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until reduced by half. 

3.  Cool, then strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove skin, seeds and zest.  Drizzle over ice cream or other desserts.

Blueberry-Banana Bread
Makes 1 loaf
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (1/2 teaspoon for high altitude)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.

2.  In a medium bowl, combine first three ingredients.

3.  In a large bowl, combine wet ingredients (butter through lemon juice).

4.  Gradually mix dry ingredients into wet, then carefully fold in blueberries.  Pour into a greased 9-inch x 5-inch loaf pan.

5.  Bake for approximately 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.  Slice and serve.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hmm... that gigantic banana sure would make
some fine smoov-eez...
Jon:  Remember the show Supermarket Sweep from back in the '80s?  Shoppers would run around the store like crazed lunatics dumping crap into their shopping carts as fast as possible.  I’m not sure that I can even remember the point of the show, but my family and I watched it regularly.  Anyway, that’s the flashback that comes to mind when I think about Hethyr and I ransacking the blueberry counter at Whole Foods last week.  When I brought the bulging bags of berries up to the checker, she glanced in the top of each one and looked at me inquisitively.  I hung my head in embarrassment and sheepishly stated, “There are forty.”

The good news is that we bought so freakin’ many that we got an additional seven bucks off the order due to some sort of bulk purchase policy.  Now we have a bunch of gallon-sized Ziplocs stuffed full of blueberries in our freezer.  But you’re not getting any complaints from me about it.  It guarantees that I’ll have smoothie material for the summer, and that’s a good thing.

Actually, what I make aren’t smoothies, they’re smoov-eez (patent pending).  For those of you who have read this blog before, you may know that I recently received a new ass-kicking blender as a gift.  This upgraded horsepower has improved the quality and frequency of my smoov-ee making.  I’ll post the recipe for the one I made today.  It’s pretty simple, but so am I…

Blueberry-Banana Smoov-eez
Makes 2 servings
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  • 1 cup ice

1.  Add all ingredients and blend.

2.  Drink.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Don't Rue the 'Barb!

“Rhubarb is the vegetable bridge between the tree fruits of winter and summer.”
-Alice Waters in Chez Panisse Fruit

Hethyr:  It is prime-time for rhubarb in Colorado Springs and I couldn’t be happier about that.  Since we try to eat as much local, seasonal food as possible, I’m always thrilled to see rhubarb appear as it’s one of the first vegetables we see in the springtime.  It signals the beginning of several months of delicious, fresh fruits and veggies and I always try to get my hands on as much as possible to use in a plethora of ways.

About a week-and-a-half ago, Jon and I took advantage of a “u-pick” organic rhubarb event at a local farm and, as usual, I got carried away.  Like 18 pounds carried away.  Oops.  I know most people would be completely overwhelmed by 18 pounds of almost anything – especially something like rhubarb – but I have been thoroughly enjoying figuring out how to use that much.  I have been a busy little bee ‘barb in the kitchen this week!

So far I’ve made Rhubarb-Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Rhubarb Ice Cream (I’m going to try Rhubarb-Pistachio next!), Rhubarb-Honey Muffins (fail, but they still tasted good), Rhubarb-Apple-Walnut Bread, Spiced Rhubarb Chutney (we’ll be having this on pork chops tonight), Rhubarb Tea, Lavender-Rhubarb Tea and Rhubarb Syrup to use in drinks and cocktails (we’ll be trying this drink tonight).  I also gave my step-mother-in-law about a pound of rhubarb to make a pie.  Well, that took care of about half of the rhubarb we picked.  Jon and I were laughing this morning about how I’m now trying to conserve the remainder of the rhubarb to make goodies for the next Pikes Peak Community Cupboard swap.  We should have picked more!

Rhubarb Syrup, Spiced Rhubarb Chutney,
Lavender-Rhubarb Tea & Rhubarb-Apple-Walnut Bread

My favorite recipes (that we’ve actually tasted) so far have been the Rhubarb-Apple-Walnut Bread (a great way to use up the remainder of the apples that we amazingly still have from our winter CSA) and the Lavender-Rhubarb Tea, so I’ll share those recipes today.  And though we have yet to taste it, you can go here for the rhubarb syrup recipe.

Overkill?  Not in my opinion!  Gotta enjoy it while it’s here because it’s only for a short time each year.

Rhubarb-Apple-Walnut Bread
Makes 2 loaves
  • 3 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (1 teaspoon for high altitude)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (1/4 teaspoon for high altitude)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F and grease two loaf pans.
2.  In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom and walnuts.
3.  In a separate large bowl, mix together sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs.
4.  Gradually mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients, then gently fold in rhubarb and apples.
5.  Divide batter evenly between loaf pans and bake for 1 hour or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Lavender-Rhubarb Tea
Makes a lot
  • 3 to 4 pounds rhubarb, cut into 2-inch sections
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender
  • 12 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar (or to taste)
  • Mint sprigs
  • Ice

1.  Bring rhubarb, lavender and water to boil in a large soup pot.  Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
2.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a very large bowl, discarding pulp.
3.  Stir in sugar until dissolved, then cool completely.
4.  Place mint leaves and ice in the bottom of a pitcher.  Crush the mint and pour in the tea.  Pour into individual glasses, garnish with extra mint leaves and enjoy!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[househusband.gif]Jon:  As I sit here sipping my lavender-rhubarb tea, I can’t help but think about how much I love this time of year and the fresh veggies that are being harvested all around us.  I also can’t help but wonder where my masculinity has gone.  Picking fresh rhubarb on a sunny Saturday afternoon… hanging out at the farmer’s market… writing a food blog… I’m becoming as domesticated as a housecat.  And I haven’t even told you the worst part yet...

I’m a couple weeks away from finally getting my Master’s Degree, so I received a graduation gift from my dad and step-mom yesterday.  Was it a case of beer?  A new lawn mower, perhaps?  A circular saw?  Maybe a nice solid kick in the crotch?  Nope, it was a new blender.  And the really emasculating part is that I’ve been begging Hethyr for a new blender for months, so it was exactly what I wanted.

Anyway, it’s been nice getting back into the green season.  We’ve been gorging on rhubarb and lettuce and I love it.  This morning I drank a veggie smoothie that I made in my new blender.  It was called a “spicy spinach and celery” whole juice smoothie and consisted of spinach, carrots, celery, parsley, apples and ice.  It was a putrid brownish-green color that was way cool.  Hethyr was grossed out by both the color and taste of this liquid salad, so I drank hers after finishing mine.  It was pretty good but not exactly spicy.  Maybe some vodka would liven it up a bit… it might also restore a shred of my manhood.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wash some lettuce and head to my Zumba class.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen... I'm a cook.

Jon:  Well it's about time I worked my way into the prime spot of this blog.  I've been hanging out at the bottom of this page for far too long.  So now it's time to simplify this post - or dumb it down, depending on your perspective.  For those of you out there (like me) who lack the skills, patience or intelligence to cook a recipe with more than four ingredients, I hope this post is encouraging, enlightening, helpful, or at least makes you hungry.

Bacon, avocado, smoked Gouda,
tomato, sourdough grilled cheese...
You are my best friend.
Could there possibly be a more classic American meal than the grilled cheese sandwich?  It's easy, it's tasty, and almost everyone digs it.  All that you really need are two pieces of bread and a slice of cheese.  But one great thing about a grilled cheese is that it can be "full-bodied" too, with almost infinite variety.  The bread can be wheat, white, sourdough, rye, oat... the cheese can be Swiss, provolone, Gouda, pepper jack, cheddar, mozzarella... the toppings can be onions, mushrooms, bacon, avocado, tomatoes, garlic... the flavoring can be balsamic vinegar, pesto, spicy mustard, barbecue sauce, bacon jam... the possibilities seem to go on forever. Diversity is a good thing in this world, and diversity in the world of grilled cheese is no exception.

Yet another use for bacon jam.

My cooking skills have always fallen far short of my eating skills.  As a guy who likes to spend minimal time making food and maximum time consuming it, the quesadilla has become another staple item in my limited repertoire.  Like a grilled cheese, a quesadilla can range from a Pinto to a Cadillac.  The bare bones of just a tortilla and shredded cheese is great, but so is a loaded one with ham, onions, Monterey Jack, green chilies, brown rice, black beans, and whatever else you can fit in there.  A quesadilla is actually an excellent way to clean out your fridge.  I bet most of you reading this right now have the ingredients in your fridge for a ridiculous quesadilla even though you don't even know it.

So here is my attempt to write a recipe.  I've never done this before, but I can probably figure it out...

Heady Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 sandwich
  • 2 pieces of sourdough bread
  • several slices of smoked Gouda
  • a pile of cooked bacon
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 tomato
  • butter
  • beer
Open a beer and begin drinking it (cooking without alcohol is dangerous).  Butter up one side of each piece of bread.  Smother the other side with cheese, vegetables, meat, condiments, and whatever else you want to put on there.  Put it on a medium-hot skillet.  Keep drinking your beer.  Carefully flip your grilled cheese to brown both sides perfectly.  Remove from the skillet and eat it.

Dank Quesadilla
Makes 1 quesadilla
  • 2 tortillas, white or whole wheat
  • 1 handful shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 avocado
  • bacon jam
  • garlic salt
  • olive oil
  • My Sous-Chef
  • beer
Open a beer.  Heat up some olive oil in your skillet.  Load up your quesadilla with tons of wondrous edibles and grill it.  Be sure to pour some olive oil on the top before you flip it back over.  Remove from heat, slice it into triangles or whatever crazy shapes you like to eat, then eat it.

Note:  I highly recommend sautéeing onions and mushrooms in balsamic vinegar and trying that instead of the avocado and bacon.  Rice and black beans are a nice addition, too.  Or you can go the pizza-quesadilla route and use pepperoni, tomato sauce and mozzarella.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hethyr:  It's about time I get to slack at the bottom of the page!  I've been doing all of the work for far too long.  It's high time that he cooks and I dish it out.  =)

Thank goodness for almost infinite variety when it comes to grilled cheese and quesadillas, because we eat at least one of these meals at least once a week. When I get busy with clients and cook for 10-12 hours a day, day after day, it's almost too much to think about making dinner for us when I get home.  Here's where Jon's mad grilled cheese- and quesadilla-making skills come in handy. He is the master of creativity with these hand-held meals.  On a side note, he also makes incredible breakfasts.  I enlist his help there as often as I can.

He's been talking about doing this blog post for about three weeks now and I've been pushing him to do it, but he didn't "have the perfect ingredients" for the "perfect grilled cheese" until this week.  I had no idea that there was such a thing, but I'll be damned if this didn't turn out to be the perfect sandwich.  Sourdough toasts up so nicely, smoked Gouda is one of my favorite cheeses on Earth, bacon is heavenly and avocado is pure, creamy goodness.  I chose to forego the tomatoes on my sandwich, but they sure looked pretty on Jon's.  And beer.  Sweet, sweet beer.  I think I may have to take Jon's advice and start cooking with alcohol... apparently it's dangerous not to and my motto is "safety first!"

I didn't realize that I was going to get a bonus meal with this blog post, but the quesadilla with avocado and bacon jam has been one of my favorites to date.  I didn't realize that I could have had mine cut into shapes, but you can be sure I'll be requesting that next time!