It’s so close to summer. I know this because, for several days now, I have been dreaming of it—vivid, cinematic dreams with supporting casts and happy endings. My dreams feature long, easy days of cooking, loose and floppy bread starters blooming in my fridge, jellies and jams and pickles and platters of things being carried out to the grill, pitchers and bottles of very cold drinks. Reading books in a chair all day. Dancing on a hotel rooftop with a view of the Mississippi the night my friend Kristen gets married. Reading books with my sweet godsons, who have somehow managed to become five years old. Eating ribs in my hometown. Writing, planning, scheming, letter-writing, ice-creaming.
Oh yes, the ICE CREAM. There is going to be ice cream all summer, and other frozen, fruity-or-creamy things—ice cold watermelon all down my arms and legs, cold almond puddings with warm, boozy cherries, every kind of popsicle I can think to make, mango sorbet and pistachio kulfi and cups of falooda, the strange, rose-water drenched treat of my childhood.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now I am just sitting here dreaming about these things because I have bronchitis, and I’m not good for much at the moment. Yeahhhh, bronchitis. Have you had bronchitis before? I hadn’t. It kind of sucks. There are a LOT of things that suck worse, though. I know that. I promise you, I keep that in mind.
If my bronchitis is the bad news, then the good news that comes with it is…Jill is cancer free! That is what the doctors told us last week, when we went to the hospital for her surgery-follow-up appointments. They said—“We think we got it.” They said—“No further treatment necessary.” They said—“No appointments for six months.”
We were, at first, in shock. We went to our favorite near-the-hospital lunch spot and ordered our favorite big bowls of shoyu ramen, only to realize we wouldn’t be back the next week, doing the same thing. Over the days that followed, there were celebratory emails and tweets, the clinking of beer bottles over a table of homemade hamburgers, an actual date involving dinner reservations and concert tickets (and the Avett Brothers making me cry, in a good way), and lots of wonder and the melting-away-shock that we might could start imagining a future without hospitals and external IV lines and chemotherapy in it.
Jill has written, rather eloquently if I may say so, about how cancer has changed her. Of course, it has changed both of us, and it has changed us, deepening our trust and intimacy, making pretty much everything even more precious than it used to be. Also? Given Jill’s newfound emotional sensitivity and the fact that I’ve always been a serious crier, it’s almost funny how much tearing up is happening in our household these days (Google Chrome commercials? You’re killing us.) Ans now we’re trying to figure out how to re-enter “normal life” without abandoning the crystallizing, tenderizing effects of this unexpected adventure.
When things were their worst—when Jill was her sickest, and I was my most exhausted and both of us were asking ourselves “How do people do this?”—there were things I knew for certain. What was important, and what wasn’t. What was worth spending time, and energy, and money on, and what wasn’t.
I guess what I’d like to say is that I want to have the balls to care about the right stuff, even when cancer isn’t lurking in the background. I want to be a brave woman whose priorities are clear, and clearly reflected in her life. So I will be adding that to my summer project list, along with “make lots of ice cream.”
FIVE-INGREDIENT STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM
You don’t need me to tell you this is good, do you? And that you should use the prettiest strawberries you can find, and thick, glorious, local heavy cream? No, I didn’t think so.
I prefer this particular ice cream soft-serve, meaning eaten right when it’s churned or shortly thereafter. If you keep some in your freezer for a few days (as you can), I highly recommend using it to make milkshakes.
1 lb. strawberries, washed, hulled, & halved
2 cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Mash the strawberries with the sugar, lemon juice, & salt in the bottom of a plastic container with a lid. Let the mixture stand, shaking it occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
Here’s where you get to make choices—if you want smooth, perfectly pink strawberry ice cream, pour all of the strawberry mixture into the blender and puree with the heavy cream. If, like me, you want some chunks of strawberry for texture, reserve up to half of the strawberry mixture and pour the rest into the blender and puree with the cream.
Pour everything back into the plastic container, seal with the lid, and chill in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours. Take the container out every once in a while and shake it up.
Once you’re ready, freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Yields about a quart-and-a-half.
I don’t think I can thank ya’ll enough. Blue Jean Gourmet is a year old!
Life has the ability to stun me, and human beings to dazzle me, and I all too often forget that. But forgetting has become much more difficult with you out there over the last 365 days.
Starting a blog is an inherently conceited act; it’s done with the assumption that people will actually want to read what you have to write. Heh. The thing is, I find myself altered by you, my audience, every day. It doesn’t matter who you are or how many of you are out there—if I am going to say something to you, I figure I’d better make damn well sure that I mean it.
Thank you for pushing me to pay attention, to choose my words as if the mattered, for sharing your suggestions, appetites, & joie de vivre.
If this blog is worth anything, it’s due to genuine words, empathy, & curiosity from you, the folks who read it. It’s this crazy thing, the way we can connect through food and words, the ways in which we can honestly know something of each other and grow to respect, admire, even love folks on whom we might never set eyes.
Thank you to the many individuals who help me do what I do, especially Sonya the photography badass, and everyone who has ever washed a dish, written a guest blog, volunteered as a guinea pig, encouraged, complimented, or commented me or this site. When I started Blue Jean Gourmet, I promised myself I would only do it as long as I was having fun. And boy am I ever.
barely adapted from Saveur magazine
The original recipe called for straight blackberries, but I liked a version with a mix of blackberries & blueberries just as well. I imagine this would also be delicious with raspberries, but haven’t had the chance to test that theory.
Don’t let the call for dry white wine throw you, although it surprised me. You can’t taste it at all in the final product; I think it adds a lightness and edge to the batter and allows the edges to crisp well.
2 ¼ cup flour
1 ½ cup sugar
½ cup dry white wine
2 T butter, cut into cubes & chilled
8 T butter, melted
a bit more butter, for greasing the ramekins
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 pint fresh blackberries, or a combination of blackberries & blueberries, rinsed
accompaniments: vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream
To make the crumb topping for the slump, pulse ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup flour, & 2 T of the chilled butter in a food processor until it looks like bread crumbs. Refrigerate the crumbs for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, preheat the oven & grease 8 ramekins with butter, then dust with flour. Combine 1⁄4 cup sugar, and 2 tbsp. chilled and cubed butter in the bowl of a food processor and process until mixture takes on texture of coarse bread crumbs, about 10 seconds. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Grease eight 6-oz. ramekins with butter and dust with flour; set aside. Whisk the remaining 2 cups flour, baking powder, & salt together in a medium bowl, then set aside. In a small bowl, whisk the melted butter & wine together.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining sugar, vanilla, and eggs until pale and thick, about 2 minutes. Add the wine mixture to the eggs and whisk until smooth. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly between ramekins and top each with berries. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over berries. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 1 hour. Transfer to a rack and let cool; serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
I know “granita” sounds like a type of dog that widowed Italian heiresses carry around in their Prada handbags, but it’s actually just flavored, shaved ice—think a subtler version of those snow cones you grew up loving in the summer.
And when you throw in some champagne, like I did, granita becomes a very grownup snow cone.
What’s so great about granita is that
a) there are about a million different flavor combinations you can make
b) it’s almost impossible to mess up
c) you can make granita ahead of time
d) no fancy equipment require; just a baking pan & a fork.
The basic formula is to combine fruit with other flavors and freeze the whole mixture in a flat pan, popping in the freezer every hour or so to scrape it the granita with a fork every thirty minutes or so, creating fluffy crystals of goodness.
While the recipe below is pretty tasty, feel free to use it as a baseline for your own inspired granita ideas—Smitten Kitchen recently posted a lemon granita, for example, and John over at The Alphabet Cook has a recipe for traditional espresso granita.
Sonya, our badass Blue Jean Gourmet photographer, is a big snow cone fan, so she deserves credit for inspiring this recipe. As soon as I get back to Houston, I’ll be making her my latest, Peach Margarita Granita, and I bet I can convince her to take a few pictures of the process so I don’t have to keep that recipe to myself.
Simple syrup, one of the ingredients called for here, is a great things to make and keep on standby in the refrigerator. Often used to sweeten cocktails and sauces, simple syrup gets its name because it’s terribly easy to make. Just bring equal parts sugar & water to a boil and then simmer for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has thickened a bit. Cool before using.
1 cup each:
champagne (if you’d like to make this non-alcoholic, use water or ginger ale)
½ – 2/3 cup simple syrup (adjust according to your palate & the sweetness of the fruit you are using)
a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice
pan: 13 x 9 metal or glass cake pan
Wash the berries, hulling & slicing the strawberries. Blend both berries together along with the simple syrup, & lemon juice until smooth. Strain the liquid to remove seeds—this should yield just over 2 cups of liquid.
Stir the champagne into the berry mixture and then pour into the pan. Stash in the freezer, being careful to lay the pan flat.
After thirty minutes, check the mixture. You should have a layer of ice crystals on top–using a fork, rake the outer edges in towards the center, then return the pan to the freezer. Continue to check every thirty minutes for a total of 2 hours.
Once the granita has finished freezing, you can store it in a plastic container in the fridge indefinitely. Serve it up in a pretty glass or bowl with a dollop of whipped cream, a garnish of fresh fruit, or all by itself.
I confess: I have been selfish too long. I have kept these adorable dog pictures all to myself, but fear not! Today I rectify my mistake.
Behold, our Peanut Butter Dog Treat Giveaway winners:
That’s Ares, Christy‘s sweet puppy!
and Maple! Both Canadian pups who live with Cheryl of the Backseat Gourmet.
I’m very pleased to report that all three recipient pups very much enjoyed their treats and strongly encourage you to make some for the beloved canine(s) in your life.
Now onto people food! This one could actually easily be part of the Summer Classics Series, because hey? What’s more summery & classic than an baked good with blueberries in it?
The thing is, though, and one of the reasons I LOVE THIS RECIPE is that it tastes just as good with frozen berries. Yup, true story. Especially if you buy lots of blueberries now, when they are cheap & delicious, freeze ‘em yourself, and use them all the winter long for smoothies, jam, & well, this.
It’s got a funny name, too, right? According to Cook’s Country magazine, the original recipe dates back to 1954, when fifteen-year-old Adrienne Powell submitted it to a Pillsbury Baking Contest. She won second place and ostensibly man suitors, since the recipe is named for its effectiveness in capturing teenage boys’ attention.
Dare I suggest that its swoon-inducing effects are not, in fact, limited to the teenage boy variety? I say, whomever you may be trying to bait, this may be the way to do it.
I consider this one of my ”go-to” recipes for when I need to bake something big & comforting on short notice. It’s been handed over to friends who had a baby, friends who lost a baby, a colleague who lost a parent, new neighbors who moved in down the street.
Eat it as breakfast or as dessert, or (my favorite) as an afternoon snack with tea. I guarantee it tastes better than any blueberry muffin you’ve ever had, and so easy to make. Blueberry Boy Bait…getting the job done since 1954.
BLUEBERRY BOY BAIT
If you’re using frozen berries, don’t thaw them first or their color will bleed unappetizingly into the cake.
for the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
½ cup blueberries
1 tsp. flour, for the berries
pan: 13 x 9 inch, greased & floured
Whisk the first 3 ingredients together & set aside. In a mixer bowl, cream the butter & sugars together on high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until just incorporated.
Reduce the speed to medium & alternately add the wet (milk) and dry (flour mixture) ingredients:
a third of the flour mixture
half of the milk
a third of the flour mixture
half of the milk
last third of the flour mixture
Don’t worry about exact amounts, the point is to alternate, producing a much smoother batter than if you added everything at once.
Toss the blueberries with the teaspoon of flour before folding them into the batter—this will help keep them from all sinking to the bottom of the cake. Spread the batter into baking pan.
for the topping:
½ cup blueberries
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon (I often use a whole teaspoon because I am a cinnamon freak)
Scatter the blueberries on top of the batter. Combine the cinnamon & sugar and sprinkle that on top of everything else. Inhale. Mmm, cinnamon sugar. Smells good now, will smell even BETTER during & after baking. Get excited.
Bake until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake, approximately 45-55 minutes. Cool in the pan before serving up the thick squares. Stores well in an airtight container for the better part of a week!
I am a sucker for road-side produce. You know, you’re driving along (especially this time of year), and suddenly you see a spray-painted piece of particle board, declaring “FRESH PICKED CORN” or “STRAWBERRIES” or “OKRA.”
Or, you know, “BLACKBERRIES.” When I drove to San Antonio from Houston a few weeks ago, to visit my dear friend Arianne (of key-lime-pie loving fame), I stopped about 45 minutes outside of town to buy some insanely good peaches and these ripe, Rubenesque blackberries.
What I love about this cake is the way that it works equally well for dessert as it does for breakfast. Throw it in the oven at the start of dinner, and it will be warm and ready to serve by the time your meal is finished. Bake it Sunday night, set it next to the office coffee pot, and endear yourself to all of your coworkers on an otherwise grumpy Monday morning. It would also make a lovely housewarming gift, hey-you-just-had-a-baby offering, or potluck contribution.
Frankly, I think this cake is the main reason my friend John puts up with our old, incontinent dog for whom he and his wife Courtney (an important BJG taste-tester/inspiration/dish-washer) often dog-sit. It may actually be the only reason he puts up with me, come to think of it.
The finished cake will keep, wrapped well in saran wrap & foil and refrigerated, for about a week. But if John is any indication, there’s no way it’s going to last half that long.
Special equipment & ingredients:
• A kitchen mixer is most helpful but not required—if you do try it by hand, make certain your butter is extra soft.
• Parchment paper is one of the greatest inventions known to man, and well worth the $2.50 investment. Find it on the same aisle as Saran Wrap.
• If you grew up in the south like me, you are already familiar with the wonders buttermilk can do in pancakes, biscuits, waffles, & cornbread. If you’ve never cooked with buttermilk before, I urge you to try it this time–a small bottle will run you less than $1. If you must substitute, stir a bit of lemon juice into some regular milk & let it sit for a few minutes before using.
BLACKBERRY UPSIDE DOWN (AND RIGHT-SIDE-UP) CAKE
adapted from Gourmet Magazine’s “Everyday Meals”
pan: 8-inch round
oven: 400 degrees F
goes nicely with: a scoop of vanilla ice cream, homemade whipped cream*
2 cups fresh blackberries (use an extra ½ cup if you like lots of fruit)
½ cup sugar, plus 2 Tablespoons extra for sprinkling
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda, NOT powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ stick unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup buttermilk (shake it before you pour!)
Use the bottom of your cake pan to trace two 9-inch circles on parchment paper. Cut out the circles and place them inside the pan (use a little butter if they won’t stay put). Lightly butter the sides of the pan and the top circle of parchment. Spoon in a bit of flour and shake to coat the pan.
Rinse & dry the berries. Pour them into the cake pan; try to get them to fit in just one layer. If you’re feeling crafty, go ahead and arrange the berries into pretty concentric circles. If you’ve better things to do with your time, don’t worry, the cake’s still going to taste good! Sprinkle the blackberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar; set pan aside.
For the batter: cream butter & sugar together until light & fluffy (if using a mixer, run on “high” for about two minutes). More gently mix in the egg & vanilla (switch speed to “low”) until the mixture just begins to come together.
Here, a classic baking technique: alternately adding the wet & dry ingredients. So in one measuring cup or bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, & salt. In another cup or bowl, measure out your buttermilk (shake it up first!). Now, you always want to start and finish with the dry ingredients. So your process will go like this:
a third of the flour mixture
half of the buttermilk
a third of the flour mixture
half of the buttermilk
a third of the flour mixture
Just eyeball the amounts—it doesn’t matter if you exactly halve the buttermilk or not—the important thing is just not to dump it all in at once. Don’t over mix! Stop mixing when the batter has just come together.
Using spatula or large spoon, drop even clumps of batter over the blackberries until they are all hidden. Bake the cake for approximately 30-35 minutes—I recommend you test the cake at minute 25 using a toothpick. You want the toothpick to come out of the center of the cake with a few crumbs clinging to it.
If your cake takes longer than 35 minutes, don’t panic. If the top (which is actually the bottom!) of the cake starts to look a little too brown, just carefully cover it with foil.
Remove cake from the oven and run a butter knife around the inside of the pan. Now you get to flip it! Set a big plate or platter on top of the cake pan. Using pot holders, grab the pan with the plate on top and flip it all in one motion (it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid–you gotta do it fast!) The cake will release from the pan—peel the parchment rounds off the top and enjoy.