Looking for a Sunday read? Check out my article “By the Book – Or Not; a Brief Semi-Autobiographical History of Recipes” in the summer issue of Edible San Francisco.
Will you read more about blueberries? What if I promise not to talk about deer? How about if I just remind you how to make ice cream without an ice cream maker? This blueberry ice cream is as easy as the old-fashioned just-cream-and-sugar-and-fruit types of ice cream but with the rich mouth-feel of fancier cooked custard ice creams. How is that possible? I’ll tell you: sweetened evaporated milk.
Not only does this canned wonder make iced Vietnamese coffee all that it can be, but it also sweetens and gives body to this super easy fruit ice cream. I used blueberries for this batch, but it works with all berries as well as peeled and chopped ultra-ripe peaches. Go forth! Freeze!
Blueberry ice cream
Use any fruit you like here – or add chocolate chips or crushed cookies or just leave it vanilla – just give it a try, with or without an ice cream maker. The best results I’ve had were with the dairy listed below. Feel free to try some other combination (2 cups cream and 1 cup milk, for example) that equals 3 cups of liquid dairy. Be warned: if you choose to make it without any cream the texture will necessarily be more icy than creamy.
2 cups half-and-half
1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed or evaporated milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 – 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (less vanilla will make it more singularly blueberry flavored, more adds more complex flavor to the final ice cream)
2 cups picked over perfectly ripe and lovely blueberries
In a large bowl combine the half-and-half, condensed milk, cream, and vanilla. Freeze in an ice cream maker or use the no ice cream maker method.
Meanwhile, rinse the blueberries. Mash them with a fork or whirl in a blender or food processor. I like to leave the berries just a bit chunky so there are bits of fruit in the ice cream, but you can puree them as much as you like.
When ice cream mixture is at that lovely soft-serve texture, add the mashed or pureed blueberries. This will un-freeze the mixture slightly, so you’ll need to continue whatever freezing method you’re using. Why add the blueberries towards the end? It keeps any bits and chunks of fruit from just floating to and staying on the bottom.
When the mixture is re-frozen to soft-serve texture or firmer, transfer to a container you can keep in the freezer, cover or seal, and freeze until firm.
The fishmonger at Lund’s grocery store in Minneapolis did not want to sell these mussels to my mom. She tried to buy them a week earlier and arrived up north at the cabin only to report that the guy wouldn’t sell them to her if she wasn’t going to cook them that same day.
WTF? I mean, ideally, yes, you eat any shellfish two seconds after you take it from the sea, but you don’t have to. Bivalves, in particular, tend to close themselves up and can hang out for a bit before things get ugly. Plus, you can tell when mussels aren’t good anymore – either they are open and won’t close before you cook them or they won’t open when you do cook them. Either way, things are clear.
I asked Mom to go back, to not involve him in the schedule, to slyly ask how often they got fresh mussels into the store and when the mussels she was buying had arrived, and to please bring me some mussels (my love of mussels is long-standing and pure) – I would worry about whether they were good or not.
It ends up Lund’s gets mussels in everyday. That means the mussels I grilled on Friday night, that my mom bought Thursday afternoon, had most likely been out of the water for less than 48 hours.
My dad lit the grill. I picked over the mussels. We threw them on the hot grill and took them off as they were ready. My dad, my dashing husband, my son, and I proceeded to eat them one after the other as they came off the grill, happily burning our fingers on the hot shells. I insisted on grinding fresh black pepper over them as they cooked, but I’ll admit it was gilding the lily just a bit.
And my mom, who so nicely ran the mussels maze on my behalf? She doesn’t care for shellfish. Even mussels, hot of the grill.
The recipe for grilled mussels is this: put mussels on a hot grill and cook until they open up and are cooked to your liking. “Your liking” can cover anything from those who like their mussels barely cooked – still tenderly raw and soft – to those who prefer to leave them on the grill until they get almost smoked, their meat condensed and the edges almost crisp. Experiment, taste, and see what you like best. How many should you grill? That depends on how many you want to eat. About 1/2 pound per person makes a nice little snack. If they are the main event, however, you’ll want closer to 2 pounds each.
I like my dairy. If I’m remembering an article I read many years ago correctly, the ability to digest milk is the result of a mutant gene. Well, a mutated gene that is less common – by a lot – than the regular human system which prefers not to ingest non-human milk. I’m pretty sure my genes are configured in a way that doesn’t just make me able to process dairy successfully, but that actually renders me weak if I don’t get a hefty daily dose of the stuff.
Hot weather brings about a marked difference in my dairy consumption. I move from lots of cheese to putting buttermilk and yogurt in anything I can think of. Sometimes I even use them at the same time, as in this salad dressing. I could just drink a glass of this elixir, but I exercise a modicum of self-control and use it on salads. And as a dip for veggies. And a spoonful once in awhile. Just a spoonful. I swear.
Yogurt buttermilk salad dressing
Shake it up, stick it in the fridge, and wonder why you ever bought a bottle of pre-made dressing. You can add a minced small garlic clove, if you like (although it will get quite garlicky if you leave it in the fridge) or a teaspoon or two of honey if you like things sweet.
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons plain yogurt (I’ve used lowfat, I’ve used Greek, I’ve used sheep milk – it all works; just know that the more fat and/or strained the yogurt, the more thickening power it will have)
1 tablespoon lemon juice or cider vinegar
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put buttermilk, yogurt, lemon juice, and salt in a small jar. Seal with the lid and shake until well combined. (You can also whisk it all together in a small bowl.) Add pepper to taste. I add a lot.
This dressing is lovely in general, but extra yummy with butter lettuce or romaine. Add sliced radishes, scallions or garlic scapes, cucumber, and/or sweet snap peas for more crunch.
Hunters, venison cooks, venison fans of Northern Minnesota! I am hear to deliver some good news. There are many many deer about. Many. And they are as dim as the bottom of a Eurasian milfoil-infested lake. As I mentioned last time, they are strolling down paths past bedrooms filled with humans. One earlier today stood, stark still in that way that they have, about 10 feet away from me on a back road that wasn’t untraveled enough for a deer on the edge of it to think a human was no threat at all.
I grew up in a family of hunters. But not deer hunters. My family are bird-hunting people. Ducks. Pheasants. That’s our game. I have a strong, visceral memory of being put to work plucking feathers at the age of about 5. We all sat around my uncle’s garage with large cardboard boxes between us, plucking, my great-grandparents leading the pack.I realize now, of course, that the adults had all had a cocktail or two, and that just might have contributed to their high spirits in face of this onerous task.
Deer hunters always struck me, and I mean no disrespect here although much will be taken I’m sure, as taking the easy hunting road. You put out a salt lick. You climb into your post. You sit. You drink. You wait. A deer comes along and you shoot it.
These deer I’ve been encountering? I have a sense I could walk up to them a give them a slap if I were so inclined. I want to yell at them to be afraid of me. To run. To save themselves. I want to warn them that fall is coming and the hunters will be out and this “I’m standing still so no one can see me” thing is not going to serve them well.
Yet these deer are really messing up my berry-picking. So the small and evil part of me that loves berries more than Bambi can’t help but think “yeah, stand still, M-Fer, your time will come soon enough.”
Of course, that time does me no good. The berries will be long gone by then and I will be back in San Francisco where neither wild deer nor wild berries occupy much of my thoughts most days.
Above you see a sample of the wild raspberries I covet and which these ample deer are snarfing down whenever I turn away. They are pictured alongside their larger, cultivated brethren. The wild ones we pick along with back road… well, 30 seconds into picking them and you see why someone who wanted to make a living growing and selling raspberries might start working on some hybrids and crossings and whatnot. These berries are so small that it takes 3 or 4 to equal a regular, already pretty darn small raspberry. They are so delicate that they often fall into separate drupelets as you pick them, so it’s best to hold the container or your hand underneath the berry as you pull it down off the bramble if you don’t want to lose any precious fruit.
Of course, for all their smallness and tenderness they are also sweet. And they taste of raspberries. Of pure, solid, amazing, fabulous raspberries.
We eat them plain. Or with some cream or yogurt. Or, if I feel like spending a bit of time in the kitchen, with buttermilk panna cotta.
Buttermilk panna cotta
I can’t think of a better way to put it than my dad did: “Honey, this white stuff is really good.”
1 3/4 cups cream or half-and-half
10 tablespoons sugar
1 package (1/2 oz.) gelatin
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (the good stuff shines here!)
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream and sugar to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar and taking care not to bring the cream to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl or 4-cup measuring cup, dissolve gelatin in 2 tablespoons of cold water. Let sit 3 to 5 minutes.
Whisk cream mixture into the bloomed gelatin. Add the buttermilk and vanilla.
Divide mixture evenly between 8 small ramekins (6- to 8-oz. each). Put ramekins on a baking sheet for easy transfer (although there is rarely room enough in my fridge to do this – instead they end up here and there and all around the place and I find one a few days later and feel very lucky indeed) and chill until set, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
To serve, unmold desserts by dipping ramekins into a bowl of very hot water and inverting panna cottas onto plates. You may need to slip the point of a sharp knife along the side to loosen the edge and allow the mixture to release from the ramekin. I find a bit of pounding and shaking at this point helps things along immeasurably. Hey, the worst that can happen is this:
Serve buttermilk panna cotta with fresh berries, if you possible can, although shavings of chocolate, some preserved cherries, and orange sections are all lovely, too.
I was woken up the other night by the sense that someone was looking at me. I raise my head and looked out the screen door to see what at first scared the living lights out of me: a large, tall man standing outside my bedroom door.
My immediate terror made me look harder, secure in the knowledge that I could see out and he couldn’t see in. I sucked my breath in in amazement and relief when I realized it was not a man at all, but a towering buck deer making his way along the path that leads from the front of the cabin to the back.*
Then I got mad. If he was walking from the front of the cabin that means he most likely had been down on the point. If he had been down on the point that means he had been, unless he was a complete fool, eating the wild blueberries that grow there. Tiny miracle fruits I think of as mine.
I’ve only found three ripe ones this summer – I ate one, I gave one to my son, and I gave one to my best friend from high school who drove through 95-degree heat without air conditioning in holiday traffic to come visit me (and all she got was a single blueberry!). Everyday I go down. Everyday the ones that looked like they’d be ripe that day are gone. Eaten by deer.
And then the deer has the unmitigated gall to wake me from a sound night’s sleep and scare the crap out of me?
I’m trying to keep a healthy perspective and not get too angry at the wildlife for eating, but it’s a trial. I mean, there is plenty of stuff in the woods deer like to eat, right? I only want the blueberries. Okay, okay, I want the raspberries too. But everything else – seriously everything else – the deer can have. I’d even be willing to put out non-woods food for them if I thought it would make a difference. Carrots? Greens? Hot fudge?
As I dream of enough wild blueberries to even bother balancing on a scoop of ice cream, I used cultivated ones (such a sad, lesser product!) to make this tart my lovely talented friend and neighbor made for me a year ago. Rather, she made a tart much like this, gave it to me, apologized for it not being perfect, and I thought to myself that while it had been left in the oven a tad too long that I didn’t mind that as much as many people might and that I must remember to recreate it because it was such a brilliant idea. I don’t know where she got the idea or recipe. I added a bit of ginger and put on more jam than that original, I believe, and the people loved it.
I made it at our family cabin for an appreciative group. I made only a single mistake. I forgot that there isn’t a food processor at the cabin. Not a single one. So the super-quick crust was a tad more involved that I had planned. The upside to this, of course, is that any aggression or frustration I might have felt that day got worked out on the crust, not my family and not the deer.
Fresh blueberry and jam tart
Fresh berries are layered onto a jam-topped graham cracker crust. Easy peasy. And crazy tasty. The ginger in the crust is optional, but terribly delicious.
12 whole graham crackers
3 – 4 tablespoons chopped crystallized or candied ginger (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg white
1 jar (about 13 oz but don’t worry too much a bit this way or that) blueberry jam
2 cups fresh blueberries
Heat an oven to about 350. Put the graham crackers, ginger, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse until completely crumbs. With processor going, pour in the butter and then the egg white. You should have a sandy mass that sort of wants to stick together most of the time.
Note: this can also be done using a heavy resealable plastic bag and a rolling pin. Or, if you find yourself without a rolling pin either (!) the bottom of a heavy pan, rolled around and down, will, eventually, do the trick to make the crackers even crumbs. You will need to mince the ginger before you add it and the butter and egg white are best mixed into the crumbs with your hands.
Push the mixture into a tart pan or, if, like me, there is no tart pan where you are, simply work it into a 1/4-inch thick shape (square, round, star – whatever works for you!) on a baking pan or cookie sheet.
Bake until the crust is set, about 15 minutes.
Spread tart with jam and return to oven to lightly set the jam a bit, about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool so the jam is a bit more sticky. Top with fresh blueberries. You can be as fussy or unfussy as you like about this. As you can see above I decided to make it all very neat and put the blueberries, one by one, in crazy-pants rows. Halfway through even I got really bored with that and dumped the remaining berries on the second half willy-nilly.
Judge the difference for yourself. The dumped ones need to be moved into a single layer, which means some will have jam on the top or sides. If you can live with that, I highly recommend spending that 10 minutes you just saved having a drink before the guests arrive. Or reading a few pages. Or staring at the ceiling and listening to the quiet.
Let the tart cool and set a bit more before you serve it. You can keep it covered, at room temperature, all day (or at least I did that and the texture was great). Something creamy is divine – whipped cream, for example – but something creamy and frozen is even better. Yes, I’m talking ice cream. Frozen yogurt works too.
* My son would contradict that statement with his own view of things: there is no back and front to the cabin. There is garage side and lake side. Let it be duly noted.
There are a few dishes that, come summertime, my family very much likes to have me cook up. By “family” I mean family of origin – plus additions – in Minnesota, not just my dashing husband and young son in San Francisco. Turkey tacos are always a hit, as is any grilled meat affair. For the fourth, though, we kept it simple and I made much loved green chile cheeseburgers. The great thing about these burgers is you can cook them well done and they’re still juicy and moist and delicious. How is that possible? From the grated cheese that is inside the burger. It is mixed in, along with chopped roasted green chile. I developed them when I was still at Sunset for a whole hamburger heaven spread. I developed quite a few recipes for that story. These are the only ones I ever make.
Green chile cheeseburgers
Handle the meat as little as possible to keep the final burgers as tender as possible. Cook over truly high heat. Flip only once and, for the love of god, don’t press down on the burgers with a spatula while they’re cooking! What is that? Why would a person press all the juice out of the burger?
Experience tells that this recipes easily halves or doubles.
2 or 3 large mild green chiles (like poblanos)
3 pounds lean ground beef
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons sea salt
Get the grill going. Char the chiles, turning to brown/blacken them evenly. Take the chiles off the grill and let them sit 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the skin (it should slip off easily), stems, and seeds and finely chop the chiles.
Note: the chiles can also be charred over a gas flame or under a broiler if you want to prepare the burgers ahead of time.
Put the ground beef in a large bowl and gently break it up with your hands. Add chiles, cheese, and salt. Use your hands to gently mix to combine. Divide meat evenly into 8 chunks. Gently pat each chunk into a burger about 3/4-inch thick at the edges, making a slight dimple or dip in the middle of each patty. Put the patties on a baking sheet, cover, and keep chilled until ready to cook.
Make sure the fire on the grill is hot. You should only be able to hold your hand about an inch over the cooking grate for a second before pulling it away. Put the burgers on – they should sizzle immediately – and cook without turning or pressing or messing with them in any way until they have grill marks and well browned edges on one side, 4 to 6 minutes. Flip them over and cook until grill marked on the other side and cooked to your liking. For me it’s another 5 minutes or so. Remember, these burgers are designed to be delicious even though fully cooked, but if you want to keep things less than fully cooked please, I beg of you, please grind your own meat or make sure you know where and when it was ground. Actually, no matter what please look into that last item. Commercial ground beef can be some vile stuff.
Serve on a bun, with the condiments and fixings you like. A good burger, in my opinion, can be kept very simple and, as you can see, that’s how I eat mine. You and your burger? That’s your business.
I was not one of those kids who begged for more maraschino cherries in my shirley temple. I didn’t even eat the cherry in my shirley temple. That florescent, almost transparent red freaked me out but good. And so it was.
Then I made some spiced brandied cherries. And I ate one. I cannot imagine the person who would eat one of those and not think of making a manhattan with them. Well, I actually can imagine such a person. I even know several of them, but you get my point. To eat one of these delights is, for me, to think of a manhattan.
So I softened my position on cherries in drinks, if but lightly.
Then this past week I have twice – twice mind you – put cherries where I had never put cherries before. It was like I hardly knew myself.
First I put them in what would have been a gin and tonic but which, by muddling a few cherries before shaking the gin and a squirt of lime juice with them before straining that over ice and adding some tonic to the whole thing, became something else entirely. Neither particularly sweet nor fruity, since the bitter tonic canceled that out; nor bitter and a bit tart like a gin and tonic because, well, there were muddled cherries sweetening the proceedings up a bit. It really was a whole new drink and my dad and I enjoyed them thoroughly while my mom, who likes not cherries nor gin nor tonic, made a face at us.
Then – and given my family’s slavish devotion to my dad’s master margarita recipe and generations-long disdain of flavored or fruity margaritas I can hardly believe I did this – I made a cherry margarita. Again, I muddled some cherries, added one shot of tequila and half as much lime juice, shook it all together, and strained it over ice. I left out the triple sec I would normally use because I didn’t want it getting too sweet. It didn’t. It got cherry.
If I’d thought ahead I would have made a coconut drink and some kind of blueberry cocktail and had a real theme for the holiday weekend for you. Enjoy the fireworks – I’ll be watching them from a boat in northern Minnesota with, if experience tells me anything, my hands held tightly over my son’s ears as his little hands hold my hands firmly in place.
It’s five where I am. It’s officially cocktail hour. I’m going to go pour myself a gin and tonic. I’d like to say I’m going to sip it gracefully on a veranda, but the truth is I’ll probably suck it down and make a second one before I get outside and get my bare feet in that cool grass. It’s been that kind of week. Oh wait, it’s only Tuesday.
I was outed recently. Outed as a strawberry hater. (That is a funny thing to write on this, the opening day of Pride weekend here in San Francisco – and yes, I know it has a longer official name that specifies the people who are proud, but to me it is simply Pride and it is tons of fun but oh my how it messes up traffic!)
People were over for brunch and someone had brought strawberries. I had, in fact planned that by asking her to bring fruit. It was late May in San Francisco and “fruit” almost directly translates into “strawberries” since they tend to be really good around then and no one is sick of them yet (the strawberry season here runs from April until the end of time, from what I can tell). By asking her to bring fruit, everyone could have strawberries but I wouldn’t have to deal with strawberries or make something with them that, being a hater, I wouldn’t end up eating.
Another friend mentioned my hatred and the cat was out of the bag. Man, do people like to gawk in amazement at someone who doesn’t like strawberries. I’ve mentioned my dislike here before, but people can’t process it. It makes no sense to them. I try to emphasize the positive for them by pointing out that it means that they can eat more of the strawberries before us. Sometimes that bright and shiny object works, sometimes it doesn’t.
You know what else I don’t like? Tropical fruit. Seriously. It all tastes perfumey and sweet and, basically, everything everyone else loves about it I don’t care for.
Except mangoes. I used to dislike mangoes, too. Or, rather, I assumed I disliked them because they seemed just like all that other mushy sweet stuff I didn’t like. I’m not sure I’d ever had one. Then I was invited to a Parisian librarian’s apartment for dinner and she served mango for dessert. It was offered as though manna from heaven and I like to represent the civilized side of Americans when I’m abroad, so I ate it. It was a sweltering day during a summer that was one giant heat wave (punctuated by the random metro bombing to keep everyone on their toes) and we were crammed around her tiny table in her tiny apartment decked out in Ikea furntiture which seemed terribly modern and cool since we didn’t have Ikea in the Bay Area yet and there were traditional non-deodorant-wearing French people involved. Let’s say that the aromatic nature of the mango was as welcome as its ability to be sweet and smooth and cooling. The mango, it made a good impression.
My dashing husband took us all to Hawaii for my birthday. We got rest, we got fun, we got shave ice. We also spent a whole lot of time together, the three of us, and it was delightful to remember how very much I like these two fellows who live in my house.
Oh, and we ate mangoes. Lots of them. Plain and in lassi form. Cut up a mango, put it in a blender, add some yogurt, squirt in some lime (or sour orange) juice. Whirl it up. Is it hot out? Add a handful of ice cubes.