Thursday, 30 August 2012

Blackberry Curd Tarts

Jams’n’Pans has one of my favourite pages on Facebook.  She’s an inspired cook, using seasonally available ingredients in innovative ways.  Her dishes are always quite beautiful, and those of her recipes that I’ve tried have proved to be delicious too.

A short while ago, Jams’n’Pans made a red currant curd flavoured with Chambourd.  The curd was made in the same way a traditional lemon curd is made, but the juice and pulp of red currants was used in place of lemon juice. 

I enjoy a good lemon curd and we have an abundance of blackberries right now, so Jams'n'Pans' recipe inspired me to make a curd of my own.  I followed the instructions in her post and made a blackberry curd.  It turned out beautifully, with deep blackberry flavour and a luxurious, smooth texture.  

I used my blackberry curd to make some pretty - and pretty delicious - blackberry tarts.  Here’s how I made them:

I combined 300 grams of freshly picked blackberries with 150 ml of water

and cooked them over medium heat until they came to a boil and expressed some of their juices.

I drained the berries through a sieve and then used the back of a spoon to push the berries’ pulp through the screen, leaving the seeds behind.

The sieved berries looked like this:

At that point I was ready to make the curd.  I used:

  • the sieved berries
  • 5 medium-sized eggs
  • 250 grams sugar
  • 250 grams cold butter, cut into pieces 

I put the sieved berries in a heat proof bowl.

I beat the eggs and added them to the sieved berries along with the sugar, stirring them until they were combined. 

I added the butter to the bowl.

I heated some water to a simmer in a medium saucepan, then placed the bowl with the curd ingredients on the top of the pan, so that it rested over the simmering water without touching its surface.

I stirred, and stirred, and stirred…and stirred.  It took quite a while but first the butter melted and was incorporated into the mixture, and then the mixture thickened.  

It seemed to take a long time for the blackberry curd to thicken – so long, in fact, that I began to doubt that it would thicken at all - but it did thicken at last.  It eventually reached the point where you could see where the spoon had been as it was drawn through the liquid.  Small drops of curd drizzled back onto the surface of the liquid retained a distinct shape.

(If you are making this, resist the temptation to overcook it.  The curd will continue to thicken as it cools.

If you spoon a small amount of curd into the bottom of a bowl or onto a saucer it should still be fairly liquid but, if you draw your finger through it, the liquid should not run back into the area you’ve cleared.)

Once the blackberry curd had thickened, I ladled it into two pint jars.  I allowed it to cool to room temperature, then capped the jars and stored them in the fridge.

The refrigerated blackberry curd set up very well.  It has a thick, spreadable consistency that would work well as a filling for cakes, a topping for cupcakes, a filling for cookies, or for individual tarts.

I’d recently been given a sleeve of small premade, frozen, unsweetened pastry shells.  This was an opportunity to use them. I allowed them to thaw, docked them with a fork so they wouldn’t bubble up as they baked, and then baked them in the oven until they were cooked through and the edges were lightly browned.

When the pastry shells had cooled, I removed them from their foil pans and spooned a little blackberry curd into each one.  I topped the curd with some fresh blackberries. 

They were quite tasty at this point but I wanted a little something-something more, so I whipped 250 millilitres of heavy cream and sweetened it with about a teaspoon of sugar, then piped the whipped cream onto the top of the tarts.

They were very pretty.  When we cut into one of the tarts with a fork, it looked like this.

The premade pastry was actually quite good: well flavoured and flaky.  The smooth curd and tart blackberries were wonderful together.  The whipped cream added the perfect finishing touch.

The tarts didn’t last long, but they were good to the last bite.

Cook’s notes:
  • The curd might have cooked more quickly if I had turned the heat up under the pot so that the water was at a low boil but I didn’t want to risk having any of the egg scramble.  If you want to cook the curd at a slightly higher heat, I’m sure it will be fine.  Just run the cooked curd through a sieve when transferring it into your jars.
  • The little tarts I made were about 2 inches in diameter.  I made a dozen of them, using about half of one of the jars of curd.  I still had enough left over to fill a cake another day. 
This post is linked to Gallery of Favorites hosted by Premeditated Leftovers and The 21st Century Housewife, to The Pity Party at Thirty Handmade Days, to Foodie Fridays hosted by Rattlebridge Farm, to Foodie Friends Friday hosted by Tracy at Busy Vegetarian MomRobyn's View, Angie at A lil Country Sugar,  Marlys at This and ThatLois at  Walking on SunshineLindsey at Family Food FindsCindy at Cindys Recipes and WritingsKeira at Luscious DelightsR Dawn at Spatulas on ParadeEricka at Chef Picky KidMichelle at From Calculus to CupcakesCynthia at Feeding BigSarah at Everything in the Kitchen SinkSkye at A Virtual Essence, to Foodtastic Friday hosted by Not Your Ordinary Recipes, to Weekend Potluck hosted by The Country CookMeet PennyThe Better BakerSunflower Supper ClubLife As a Lofthouse4 Little Fergusons, to Strut Your Stuff Saturday hosted by Six Sisters' Stuff, to Think Pink Sunday hosted by Flamingo Toes, to Scrumptious Sunday hosted by Addicted to Recipes, to Must Try Monday hosted by My Favorite Finds

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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

What We Ate August 20 - 26

I haven’t been blogging much lately, but I’ve been keeping busy.  It’s canning season so my mornings before work, my evenings after work, and my weekends find me at the kitchen counter, the stove, or elbow deep in the dish sink. 

Filling the pantry is a big priority with us.  We set a little money aside monthly throughout the year so that we’ll have the money to stock up when food is at its peak during the harvest season.  Come July, August, and September, we buy - and put by - a huge amount of food.  So much that it won’t all fit in the cupboards.  Boxes of food get tucked under beds and in the bottoms of our clothes closets, under my craft table, and pretty nearly anywhere else it will fit. 

We’ve had our share of tough financial times in the past few years and this pantry stocking habit has stood us in good stead.  There have been months at a time when we’ve had little or nothing to spend on food and, without our full pantry, we’d have been in big trouble.  I’m always grateful to have our little stockpile.  I feel more secure knowing it’s on hand.

All this canning is exhausting work.  It doesn’t leave me with much energy or enthusiasm for day-to-day meal preparation, or for making and photographing recipes for my blog.  

After hours of standing at the stove, the temptation to buy some take out or, better still, to head out for a quick meal so that I don’t have to do the dishes, can be almost overwhelming. Our budget doesn’t allow for much take out or restaurant food though so, whether I feel like it or not, meal preparation is on the schedule. 

Our meals during canning season tend to be quick and simple but we’ve managed to keep them pretty interesting.  Here’s what we ate last week:

Monday, August 20:
  • I was sick that day so no cooking was done at all.  My fella foraged for himself and I stayed in bed, where he kindly brought me tea and toast.

Tuesday, August 21:

Wednesday, August 22:
  • Breakfast – Homemade granola bars, prunes
  • Supper – Stir fry of spot prawns (from the freezer), broccoli, carrots, and onion served over rice, blackberry sorbet

Thursday, August 23:
  • Breakfast – Oatmeal and applesauce
  • Supper – Bean Bolognese, salad of romaine, pickled red onion, and cubed yellow zucchini with homemade thousand island dressing.  Fresh peaches and homemade yogurt for dessert.

Friday, August 24:

Saturday, August 25:

Sunday, August 26:
  • Breakfast – Upside down cinnamon apple coffee cake
  • Supper – Salad bar:  Romaine lettuce, sunflower shoots, sliced red onion, shredded carrot, shredded beet, celery, radishes, cubed chicken, cubed cheddar cheese, chick peas, green goddess dressing.  Blackberries and yogurt for dessert.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Ground Beef Canned in Beer

Sometimes, even though I carefully plan things out ahead of time, certain blog posts just don’t go smoothly for me. 

This is one of those posts:  I tried a new cooking technique for which the results were less than stellar, and I accidentally erased several of my pictures for the post from my computer.

I decided to forge ahead with the post anyway. 

You’ll find mention of the cooking technique I used, together with instructions for an alternate better method, in the recipe text. 

As to the photos, they’re gone forever I’m afraid.  I’m grateful you’re such a clever bunch.  This is a recipe well worth sharing and I’m sure you’ll be able to follow my instructions even without the missing pictures.

Ground beef canned in beer is a wonderful convenience food.  The cooking liquid is so flavourful that you can make a delicious meal simply by turning the beef out of the jar, thickening the gravy, and serving it over rice or noodles.  Ground beef canned in beer can also be used as a base for any number of flavourful soups and casseroles.

I’ve canned this recipe a number of times over the years.  The idea actually originated from a pot roast recipe on the back of a Lipton’s Onion Soup packet, which uses a combination of beer and onion soup for the braising liquid/gravy.  I reasoned that, if it worked for pot roast, beer and some seasonings would taste fine with ground beef too. 

To can this batch of ground beef in beer, I used:

  • 15 pounds of lean ground beef
  • 10 – 355 ml (12 ounce) bottles of beer
  • 3 pounds of diced onion
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon pickling salt per pint jar

I don’t want the effervescence from newly opened beer in the canning jars so when making this recipe I pour all of the beer into a large kettle several hours ahead of time, cover the top of the pot with a clean cloth, and allow the beer to sit until it’s gone flat (usually overnight).

Once the bubbles are gone, I heat the beer to boiling, reduce it to a simmer, and then mix in the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and allspice. 

When I made this batch, I decided to try something new.  A recipe I’d read recently suggested browning the beef before canning it, so I formed the beef into thin patties and cooked them for 15 minutes in a 350F oven. 

When the patties were browned on the outside, I crumbled them into a big bowl and mixed in the onion.  I put the meat mixture into the jars, then ladled in the liquid.

Browning the beef made the finished product a more attractive colour, but it left the finished beef tasting dry. 

I would recommend one of these two techniques instead:
  • Either mix the onion into the ground beef and form the mixture into small meatballs before simmering them in the cooking liquid.
  • or crumble the ground beef into the simmering liquid, allow it to heat through, remove it from the liquid with a slotted spoon, and transfer it to a large mixing bowl.  Mix the onion through the hot simmered beef and put the still-hot mixture into your jars. 
Both of these methods work better than browning the beef in the oven prior to canning it. 

I put 1/2 teaspoon of pickling salt in each jar, and add just enough of the cooking liquid to barely cover the meat, leaving an inch of headroom in each jar.

Please note that while I am an enthusiastic home canner, I'm not an authority on the subject.  If you're canning ground beef in beer (or anything else), purchase a reputable canning guide book (Putting Food By and the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving are both very good).  Review their instructions on safe canning practices, then follow them to the letter.  Canning is no place for approximation or improvisation.  Food safety is a science and safe practice is, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

You are unlikely to find canning instructions specifically for these ingredients.  When canning any food that contains more than one ingredient, follow the processing instructions for the ingredient that requires the longest processing time, at the highest pressure.

I process my Ground Beef in Beer in a pressure canner, at 11 pounds pressure for 75 minutes.

Once the canner has returned to zero pounds pressure, I remove the jars, let them cool, and then check the seals. 

I wash the jars carefully in warm, soapy water, then label them and store them in a cool dark place.

You’ll notice that some fat from the beef rises to the top of the liquid in each jar.  It’s easily removed.  If you put the jar in the fridge for a while the fat will solidify.

The solidified fat lifts quite easily off the top of the meat.

This is what your canned ground beef and beer will look like when you turn it out of the jar:

If you’re going to use your ground beef canned in beer just as it is, you can thicken the gravy by stirring in some cornstarch and bringing it to a boil, or by making a roux, and then mixing the contents of the jar into the roux.  I prefer to use cornstarch because it’s quick and simple. 

The beef and thickened beer gravy looks like this:

We chose to use the first jar of ground beef canned in beer this way: 

I thickened the gravy with cornstarch and served it over rice, with steamed carrots and broccoli.  It made a delicious and comforting meal.
This recipe is linked to Hearth and Soul Blog Hop hosted by Premeditated Leftovers, The 21st Century Housewife, Penniless Parenting, Zesty South Indian Kitchen, Elsa Cooks, and Savoring Today.

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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Blackberry Chocolate Upside Down Cake

In his book “Still Life With Woodpecker,” Tom Robbins describes the rampant growth of blackberry canes in the Pacific Northwest.  In fact, the book’s hero and heroine retire to a house that becomes completely engulfed in them.   They cut tunnels through the canes in order to come and go.

Blackberries have the same rampant growth habit here on Vancouver Island.  Every vacant lot, un-mown field, or untraveled pathway rapidly yields to them.  They seem to spring up from nowhere.

In fact, Himilayan blackberries – the kind that grow with such vigour here – are not a native plant.  They are classed as an invasive species. 

Invasive they are: propagating from seeds dropped by the birds and animals that feed on them, and also by sprouting roots wherever their runners touch the ground.  A single blackberry bush can become huge; a vast sprawling mass of tangled brambles.  

Every year at this time, the blackberries yield up their fruit.  Literally tons of purple-black berries grow here; enough to feed the wildlife and still provide a bountiful harvest for those who care to take the time to pick them.  This time of year finds roadsides, fence lines, and fields busy with pickers, all hard at work harvesting this seasonal bonanza.

The fruit is not easily obtained:  Both the blackberry’s canes and its leaves are defended by strong, recurved thorns that, once hooked on to something, can be very difficult to pull free. 

The berries on the outside of a blackberry bush – those receiving the most sun and the least moisture – are apt to be smaller and drier than those in the center of the bush.  Successful berry picking usually requires working at least some distance into the bush by cutting away or breaking the outer canes.  Even when armed with pruning shears, gloves, long sleeves, sturdy trousers, and protective footwear, a berry picker is likely to return home with at least a few gashes and scrapes to show for their effort.  

Perhaps because it’s so hard won, the fruit from these brambles tastes wonderful. 

We went berry picking last weekend.  In past years, we’ve harvested pounds and pounds of blackberries for the freezer, but we eat fewer of them now.  I have diverticulitis and can’t digest the seeds. Now most of our harvest is made into jellies, vinegars, coulis, and agua fresca.  My husband loves the berries fresh, with cream, though and will also happily eat any baked good made with them.

Last weekend, we went out armed with buckets and pruners and came home with quite a good quantity of berries.  Gentleman that he is, my fella did the preliminary cutting and hacking into the canes, making way for me to follow and pick the lower branches while he picked the berries that were beyond my reach.  

As thanks for his gentlemanly conduct my poor husband came home with several deep scratches and gashes.  Since he had made such a valiant effort on my behalf, I wanted to bake him something special by way of thanks. 

While casting around for ideas, I came across a recipe for Upside Down Pear Chocolate Cake from Epicurious.  I’d printed it out a couple of summers ago and have had great success with it.  Blackberries and chocolate pair well together, I thought.  Why not try making this cake using some of the berries we’d picked?

Sometimes an idea works out even better than you expect it to:  The cake smelled so good that I risked a small piece for myself and I’ve got to tell you, this combination is pure genius.  (No one said I was humble! ;)  Seriously though:  If you have blackberries in your area, you need to try this.  It’s so good!

Begin by generously buttering an 8-inch square pan.

Next you’ll need to make a caramel.  In a heavy bottomed saucepan that has lots of room for it to boil, combine:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water

Bring the water and sugar to a full boil.

Put the lid on the pot and let the mixture continue boiling for about two minutes.  The condensation from the boiling water will wash down the sides of the pan, helping to prevent your caramel from crystallizing.

Remove the lid from the pot and continue boiling the sugar mixture hard, until the water evaporates and you’re left with just the melted sugar. 

Continue cooking the sugar until it begins to turn amber. 

Don’t stir the pot.  If you need to move the liquid about to distribute the heat more evenly, pick the pan up by the handle and swirl the contents carefully.  This stuff is kitchen napalm.  You don’t want to get it on your skin.

Once the sugar begins to darken, don’t take your eyes off it.  The line between beautiful amber caramel and burnt sugar is a very fine one; just a matter of a few seconds.

When the caramel is the colour you want it to be, pour it carefully into the bottom of the buttered cake pan.  Let it rest until it cools and hardens.

When the caramel has hardened, you're ready to make the cake batter.  You’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk

Melt the butter and chocolate together.  I do this in the microwave heating and stirring in 20 second intervals until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Mix in the sugar. 

The Epicurious recipe says to do this with a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, and to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.  I prefer to mix my cakes by hand – it helps to prevent over-mixing – and have yet to achieve anything resembling light and fluffy when combining butter, chocolate and sugar.  My cakes turn out fine, regardless.

Once the sugar has been incorporated, mix in the eggs – one at a time – and the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add about a third of the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture and stir until the flour mixture has been incorporated.  

Add about half the milk and mix again.  

Continue alternating and mixing in the flour mixture and milk, finishing with the last third of the flour mixture.  Try not to over-mix the batter.

Once the batter has been prepared, arrange a single layer of berries on top of the hardened caramel in the cake pan.

Pour the batter over the berries, spreading it gently into an even layer.

Bake the cake on the middle rack of a pre-heated 350F oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until the cake bounces back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted into the cake at an angle comes out almost dry, with just a few crumbs clinging to it.

Cool the cake in the pan, on a wire rack, for 15 minutes, then invert it onto a cake plate, leaving the pan in place for an additional 5 minutes.

Either my cake cooled more quickly than expected or I accidentally left it for a few minutes too long.  Whatever the reason, some of the caramel didn’t release from the pan.  I didn’t want to waste it so, while it was still malleable, I scooped it from the pan with a fork, bent it into a few twists, and transferred it to a piece of parchment to cool and harden.

When the cake had rested on the plate for 5 minutes, I removed the pan.  It wasn’t as pretty as an upside down cake made with pear slices but it looked pretty good to me.

I served the cake warm, topped with vanilla ice cream and garnished with pieces of the hardened caramel.

The leftovers were stored in an airtight container.  I can’t really tell you how long this recipe will keep because my husband polished off the whole cake (less my small piece) in two days. 

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