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Monday, August 18, 2014

Zucchini Potato Gratin

Zucchini Potato Gratin
What are gonna do if you've planted even one zucchini plant, and it just keeps producing one zucchini after another, faster than you can keep up, and faster than you can give it away?  You may have made zucchini bread or cake and zucchini soup and grilled zucchini, and are running out of ideas.

But then even more seriously, what are you gonna do if you have a head full of zucchini recipe ideas and no zucchini in sight?  The second feels like a far worse predicament this year, I have to say - since my zucchini plants produced…absolutely nothing.  I was away for the hottest weeks of Finland's summer, and my poor plants dried out from neglect.  I received a few zucchini's by someone trying to get rid of some of their excess, and happily started cooking.  No worries - there is always another great way to utilize this raw ingredient in my house.  Anyone looking to unload a few?  ;)

If you happen to have access to potatoes as well, here's a dish that can be served as a main course or side dish and will have you coming back for seconds.  The creamy béchamel sauce can be made with any kind of milk from non-fat to whole milk; or oat milk as a non-dairy alternative, and really ties the whole dish together well.

Dig in while the Zucchini Potato Gratin is still warm.
Zucchini Potato Gratin

1 medium zucchini
6 new/small potatoes
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, minced, or 2 teaspoons dried
1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder or 2 garlic cloves, minced fine
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3 cups milk
1 cup grated white, mild cheese (Emmental, Gouda or Mozzarella all work well here)

Heat the oven to 175°C / 350°F.

Using a box grater or mandolin, slice the zucchini into very thin rounds.  Toss with one teaspoon of salt and place into a colander over a bowl.  Allow to sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Using a box grater or mandolin, slice the potatoes into very thin rounds.  Place into a small bowl and cover with cold water to prevent browning.  Prep the onion, parsley, and oregano and mix them together in a small bowl.

Squeeze the zucchini over the colander to release as much water a possible, making sure to collect the zucchini water in a bowl.

To make a béchamel: in a small saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour until blended.  Add the zucchini water and whisk until smooth.  Add all of the milk, whisk until smooth, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.  Once the mixture is thickened and just begins to bubble, remove from heat.  Whisk in the salt and pepper, and garlic or garlic powder.

Assembly:

Butter the bottom and sides of a 2 quart, oven-safe casserole dish; any shape will do.  Layer potatoes across the bottom, Sprinkle with 1/3 of the onion mixture and 1/3 of the cheese.  Layer half of the zucchini rounds over the top and ladle 1/3 of the béchamel over the top.  Repeat to layer potatoes, then onion mix, then cheese, then zucchini, then béchamel, then potatoes, onions, béchamel, ending with the last 1/3 of the cheese.

Place the mixture in the oven and make for 45 minutes until the potatoes are tender when poked with a fork and the top is golden brown.

Serves 4 as a main dish.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Gooseberry Cardamom Jam

Finnish Crepes served with fresh bilberries, Gooseberry Cardamom Jam, and Turkish yogurt.
Gooseberries are funny little things. Every summer, up at J's mummo's place, there are a few old gooseberry bushes that faithfully produce a 2 liters of green gooseberries and 1 liter of big red ones…and about 1/2 liter of the little wild ones that we use for eating only.

The branches of the bushes have pokey little thorns that grab your hand as you reach for the berries, and nearly each berry comes off of the bush with a dried flower poking out of the top end and a stem attached to the other end.  Both ends of each berry need to be trimmed before consuming; the easiest way to accomplish this is to grab a pair of scissors and trim each berry, one by one.

Green gooseberries, before the stems and blossoms were trimmed.  
So there you are with your pail of berries, but what do you do with them then?  You can only eat so many straight up, and out of the freezer they are so tart that every time we tried them over morning oatmeal or in smoothies we ended up throwing the end result away, or tried to compensate for the unbelievable sourness by adding heaps of sweet stuff.  Not good.

So now gooseberry harvest is over for another year, and this time I tried a few new tricks.  The first, made with the green gooseberries, was a Gooseberry Cake - a cake whose texture and flavor definitely improved after sitting overnight, and one I'd try again.  More on that cake later.  The other recipe I tried was a Gooseberry Cardamom Jam.

With a scant liter of red gooseberries available, I didn't have a lot of raw ingredients to work with, which was no problem, really, because I wasn't sure my experiment would work at all.  But we'd decided we were going to make Finnish Crepes for dinner, but didn't have any jam on hand - a must-have ingredient when eating sweet crepes around here.  Necessity is the mother of invention as we know, and I started combining ingredients into pot.



Gooseberry Cardamom Jam is the perfect tart-sweet note in these dinner Finnish crepes.
This is a jam with a really strong flavor - you don't need much at all on the crepe, and it isn't a jam you'd put on toast.  The cardamom flavor stands out strongly and cleanly against the gooseberry's equally strong flavor, and I didn't want to over-sweeten as I like my jams to taste like what they are made of rather than to be a sickly sweet mass.

It's a jam I'm looking forward to experimenting with in savory foods: I'd like to combine it with a brown sauce to serve with a roast, or to use it as I would with blackcurrant jam, and serve it with roast chicken.  This actually makes sense to me that the flavor is reminiscent of blackcurrant as both berries are part of the Ribes genus.

For now, roast anything will have to wait, as first, I'm starting with crepes.

But if you need other ideas for using up Gooseberries, here are a few:

Mrs Wheelbarrow makes pectin from gooseberries.
Nigel Slater makes gooseberry pie, a recipe published in his cookbook Ripe.
And brought to you by the BBC, a plethora of options.

The makings of a good dinner.
Gooseberry Cardamom Jam

1 liter red gooseberries, blossoms and stems trimmed
2-3 dl sugar / 1 - 1.5 cups sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 dl / 1/4 cup water

Place 3 spoons on a plate and into the freezer.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stockpot.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium.  Allow the mixture to boil for 25 - 30 minutes, until the mixture has reduced and smallish bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan.  Remove from heat.  Pour a small amount of jam onto one of your spoons and return it to the freezer for 5 minutes.  The jam is done if, when you push the jam on the spoon with your finger, it wrinkles a little.  If it has not gelled enough, cook for an additional 5 minutes and test again.  Repeat again until it has gelled to your liking.

Note: gooseberries contain a lot of pectin, so you don't want to cook this too long.  It's best if it's a little runny as a finished product.

Once the jam is done, remove from heat.

Using a wide mouth funnel placed in the jar and a ladle, spoon the jam into the jars, leaving a 1/2" / 1.5 cm space at the top.  Repeat until all of the jars are full.  Using a damp paper towel, wipe the rim of the jar so there is no jam residue left.  Place the hot lid on the jar, and, using a towel to hold the hot jar so you don't burn your hand, tighten the lid finger-tight (don't over tighten; the best way to ensure that you don't is to use your thumb and first to fingers to tighten the lid, which means you won't have enough finger strength to push it too far.)

Wash the big jam pot.  Put a dish towel in the bottom and place the jars on top.  Fill with water to cover the jar by at least 1"/ 2,5 cm.  Put the lid on and bring the pot to a boil.  Once boiling, set the timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer stops, turn off the heat and let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars from hot water and set on a dish cloth on the countertop, right side up, to cool completely.  Check to make sure the lids have sealed:  the top dome of the lid should be pulled in tightly and shouldn't move when you press it with your finger.  Sometimes you'll hear a ping as the jars cool and the lid seals, but not always.  If the lids are sealed, label the jars and store them in a cool, dark place for up to one year.  If your jar doesn't seal, put it in the fridge and use it within one month. 

Makes 1/2 liter / 1 pint.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dinner over the campfire: Redfin Perch (Ahven) in Foil

Bonfire dinners = happy summer days
Lakeside living.  Fresh fish.  A whole lot of sunshine.  Laughter shared with the people you love.  Food cooked over the fire.  Garden-fresh produce.  Lazy, breezy days.  The makings of a good summer.  Oh, and more fish.  Yes, please.

Redfin perch (ahven) ready to take the heat.
Carrots with butter, honey, salt & pepper, ready for roasting.
There was a lot of fish coming out of Lake Päijänne into our happy grasp this summer, most of it redfin perch (ahven) or pike (hauki).  It seems every time we dropped the nets in, we pulled out a sizable catch.  When you have 6 -10 fish (or sometimes more) coming out of the lake at the same time, you need to start getting creative about how to cook so that boredom (gasp!) doesn't set in.  Mostly, we've eaten it either smoked whole or filleted and pan-fried over the open fire.  Excellent, finger-licking stuff.

Final moments over open flame - ideally the fire could have been a bit lower.
This time, I wanted a lighter, juicier version, but one that still didn't involve heating up the kitchen.  Open fire cooking is another great advantage of cabin life, and who wouldn't want to eat a fresh meal in the great outdoors with the wind blowing softly off of the lake?  I've had success cooking fish in parchment or foil in the oven, so decided to try this over the open flame, and to serve foil-wrapped vegetables as side dishes cooked up in the same fashion.

Dinner is served
I started with the vegetables first:  root vegetables tend to take a long time to roast, and I wanted to give the carrots time to caramelize and the turnips and potatoes time to soften.  The carrots & potatoes were excellent; next time I'll par-cook the turnips for 5 - 7 min to get them to a delicious softness before putting them in foil.

L to R: new potatoes, turnips, carrots
The red fin perch was a delight to eat this way:  with a skin that peeled away easily with a fork and knife (make sure you descale/suomustaa the fish before you try this method).  The steam trapped in the foil softened the fish into tender, moist flakes that pulled away from the bone, and the fish disappeared pretty quickly.  Note: this will work pike perch and trout as well.

Foil-wrapped redfin perch

Foil-wrapped Redfin Perch

One redfin perch per person
Onion, peeled, cut into slices
Fresh Dill fronds
Lemon slices (best) or lemon juice
Salt
Olive Oil

First, get your campfire/nuoti going.  You want to give it a chance to burn down so it's mostly hot coals and low flame.  Arrange a grill over the top of the flame.

Clean and descale your redfin perch.  Lay out a large piece of foil per fish.  Salt the fish inside and out. Lay each fish on one side on the foil lengthwise in line with the foil.  Arrange onion slices (or the green tops if you have them), lemon slices and dill into the cavity of each fish and arrange them over the top of the fish as well.  If you don't have fresh lemon, do as I did in the picture above and sprinkle the cavity and the top of the salmon with lemon juice instead.  Drizzle olive oil over the top of each fish.  Bring the long sides of the foil up over the top of the fish, fold them over carefully several times, and press to seal.  Roll up each end and seal.  

Place the fish on the grill over the fire, and cook for 20-25 minutes.  To check for doneness, open the top of one package (watch for the steam that will come pouring out) and push the tines of a fork into the fish near the spine and the neck opening; pull down lightly with the fork.  If the fish pulls easily away from the bone and is moist a slightly flaky; it's done (I always taste to make sure; (ahem) quality control).  Remove from heat and serve.



Roasted Carrots
Fresh carrots; greens trimmed but with one inch or so remaining
Salt
Honey
Butter

Arrange the washed, trimmed carrots on a piece of foil.  Sprinkle with salt; drizzle with honey; and set a few pats of butter over the top.  Close the foil; seal the package; and place on a grill over the open fire.




Roasted Potatoes 
New potatoes washed and cut into chunks
Butter
Salt & Pepper
Green onion tops, cut into rounds, optional



Lay the washed, cut potatoes on a piece of foil.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper and set a few pats of butter over the top.  Close the foil; seal the package; and place on a grill over the open fire.





Roasted Turnips

Raw turnips, washed, peeled, and cut into chunks
Butter
Salt & Pepper
Green onion tops, cut into rounds, optional

Place the turnips in a small pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes.
Place the cooked turnips on a piece of foil.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper and set a few pats of butter over the top.  Close the foil; seal the package; and place on a grill over the open fire.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella



Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella
I am betting that if you grow tomatoes, your garden is starting to burst at the seams with them by now.  If you don't have a backyard tomato crop (unfortunately I'm in this category), rest assured that they are arriving at the grocery stores and markets in all shapes, colors and sizes, and there is no time like the present to put them to good use.  They are at peak flavor right now, so all you need are a few great ingredients to make a perfect meal.

One thing to remember about tomatoes: they don't like to be cold.  Not when they are growing and not once they are picked.  There is nothing like an uncomfortable chilly session in your refrigerator to take the sweetness out a tomato, so leave them on the counter in a pretty bowl, and use them quickly before they start to soften and go bad.

I picked up a couple of baskets of Finnish tomatoes at the local market yesterday, in two colors simply because I couldn't resist.  Along with a fresh red onion, a ball of buffalo mozzarella, basil off of the balcony, a drizzle of great olive oil, and a pinch of Maldon salt, we were sitting down to a dinner salad accompanied by some nice crusty sourdough bread.  Summer perfection.

Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella
Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella

400g / 1 lb of tomatoes in various sizes and colors
1/2 small red onion, diced; about 2 tablespoons
1 ball of buffalo mozzarella, drained and cut or ripped into chunks
15 fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled and sliced into thin strips
2-3 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
a large pinch of Maldon salt
Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, optional, but highly recommended

Cut the tomatoes into slices and/or chunks.  In a small serving bowl or on two plates, arranged the tomatoes, sprinkle with the 1/8 teaspoon salt and toss lightly to combine.  Top the tomatoes with the mozzarella and then sprinkle the onion and shredded basil of the top.  Finish with a generous drizzle of olive oil over each salad, a sprinkling of Maldon salt, and if desired, a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar.  Serve with a good quality bread for mopping up the juices, and let the sun shine in.

Serves 2.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Stone Fruit Jam Part 2: Nectarine Mint Jam

Nectarine Mint Jam
Jam isn't something you normally think of when you come across a pile of nectarines.  And I have never, that I recall, seen a nectarine jam for sale.  It's usually the peaches and apricots that get all the glory when it comes to jams and desserts, while nectarines are typically left for eating directly out of hand. 

But making nectarine jam is something you really ought to make time for.  I mean, I love a good, juicy peach - especially if the skin isn't the fuzzy kind that pokes the tender skin above your lip as you bite into it; this is a challenge unique to peaches, and usually means you need to rub the outside of the skin vigorously on a paper towel or the thigh of your jeans to remove the fuzz. A perfect peach has minimal fuzz, and is so big that it overflows the palm of your hand when you hold it, and so sweet and juicy that you need to bend forward at the waist, chin forward as you bite into it, so that the juice that will inevitably spill over with every delicious bite runs down onto the ground rather than covering the front of your shirt.  That's a good peach.

And then there's the slightly tart, slightly sweet curious combination that comes with a perfectly ripe apricot - the kind that breaks open neatly beneath your thumbs so you can remove the pit, with just the right amount of softness and give between your teeth and that makes one of the best types of jams I can imagine.  Apricots are easy.

Nectarines aren't something people get as excited about. The reason for this, I think, is that nectarines are picked, shipped, and arrive at a store or market near you, raw and crunchy and just not tasting that great.  Biting into a underripe nectarine is like sinking your teeth into an apple, except that you aren't hoping for an apple at that point, you are hoping for the lovely juiciness that a peach brings, but you get something else entirely and it feels disappointing.  It doesn't have to be this way.  Nectarines, (as long as they are ripe) because of their thin, smooth skin, don't need to be peeled or undergo any laborious preparation before you use them.  Just take out the pit, slice them up, and they are ready to go.

Fresh Nectarines over oatmeal with Plum Licorice Jam, Basil and Sprouted Almonds
So try this:  Next time you buy a batch of rock-hard nectarines, let them hang out undisturbed in your warm kitchen for 2 or 3 days.  They'll be perfect.  Eat a few.  Cut some over your oatmeal.  Layer them beautiful over the top of a vanilla or lemon tart.  And then, make jam.

I paired this jam with mint and it worked beautifully.  Usually when working with peaches and apricots, I've used rosemary, but somehow, with a garden full of mint and some perfectly ripe nectarines, this combination felt right.  The mint adds just the right, bright note against what would otherwise be a very sweet jam.

This jam is good on everything I've tried so far, including as the sweetener for a salad dressing in replacement of honey.  It's especially good on toast spread with ricotta and topped with this jam.

The jam is nearly ready...
Nectarine Mint Jam

2 kg / 4,5 pounds of nectarines, pit removed and fruit cut into 1/2" / 1.5 cm chunks
660 g / 3 cups of granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 large mint stems (10-15 leaves per stem, leaves left attached - use peppermint or another strong mint)

In a large stockpot, combine the plums, sugar, lemon juice.  Stir well to combine; cover; and allow the fruit to macerate for 1 hour.

Set the pot over high heat and bring to a rolling boil.  Reduce the temperature to medium-high, stir; and set the timer for 15 minutes, allowing the fruit to bubble undisturbed.  Meanwhile, place five teaspoons on a plate in the freezer.  You'll use these later for testing whether or not the jam is ready.

While the jam cooks, prepare your jars:  Wash in hot, soapy water and then fill with hot water and set aside.  Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add your one piece lid, or the cap part (with rubber seal) of your two piece lid and boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and leave the lids in the hot water until you are ready to use them.  This sterilizes the lid and softens the rubber which helps the seal.

After 15 minutes, add the mint to the jam.  Continue to cook the jam, stirring regularly, for another 15 minutes.  At this point, turn off the heat, remove the mint, and discard.  Take one of the spoons you have in the freezer.  Fill it with jam and return it to the freezer for five minutes.  If the jam wrinkles slightly when you push it with your finger, it is ready.  If not, cook it for an additional 5 minutes and test again; repeating as necessary.

Once the jam has gelled to your liking, remove from heat.

Using a wide mouth funnel placed in the jar and a ladle, spoon the jam into the jars, leaving a 1/2" / 1.5 cm space at the top.  Repeat until all of the jars are full.  Using a damp paper towel, wipe the rim of the jar so there is no jam residue left.  Place the hot lid on the jar, and, using a towel to hold the hot jar so you don't burn your hand, tighten the lid finger-tight (don't over tighten; the best way to ensure that you don't is to use your thumb and first to fingers to tighten the lid, which means you won't have enough finger strength to push it too far.)

Wash the big jam pot.  Put a dish towel in the bottom and place the jars on top.  Fill with water to cover the jar by at least 1"/ 2,5 cm.  Put the lid on and bring the pot to a boil.  Once boiling, set the timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer stops, turn off the heat and let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars from hot water and set on a dish cloth on the countertop, right side up, to cool completely.  Check to make sure the lids have sealed:  the top dome of the lid should be pulled in tightly and shouldn't move when you press it with your finger.  Sometimes you'll hear a ping as the jars cool and the lid seals, but not always.  If the lids are sealed, label the jars and store them in a cool, dark place for up to one year.  If your jar doesn't seal, put it in the fridge and use it within one month. 

Makes 1 liter / 1 quart of jam

Friday, August 1, 2014

Stone fruit jam Part 1: Plum Licorice Jam

Plum Licorice Jam
If you are looking for the best time of the year to buy stone fruit, the answer is:  right now.  Even way up here in the cold, dark north, we are having what feels like a glorious eternal summer, and farmer's market stands and supermarkets alike are filled to the brim with stone fruits.  In Finland, nearly all of it is imported from somewhere south:  Spain, Italy, Hungary, but the quality and prices have been really good.  Last week I bought 8 kilos of plums and 9 kilos of nectarines.  I was still dreaming of the markets in Sicily where these beauties were selling for €0,65 per kilo, but then again, the local price at my neighborhood store of €0,99 wasn't so bad either.  So I tracked down the fruits and veggies guy and asked him if I could buy a few boxes.  Apparently, this isn't a very common request, because it took him a while of running around the store, amiably asking his colleagues how to make it happen, and then leaving the cashier with a long explanation of how to ring me up.

Beautiful plums at the Ballaro Market in Palermo, Sicily
We brought about half of these gems to the cabin to share with family over the weekend, and it was clear they weren't used to seeing stone fruits in such large quantities either.  While Finns gather 8-liter pails of bilberries and lingonberries; and fill their containers with wild raspberries and homegrown currants, they don't tend to use stone fruits for "putting up" as we say in the US.

It was one of those moments where I realized that I was operating on an autopilot response from old habits:  remembering the trips to Eastern Washington with my parents when we'd buy huge boxes of the fruits growing in the hills around Lake Chelan:  apricots, peaches, Bing Cherries, Rainier cherries, nectarines, pears, apples, I'd happily wandered home to my Helsinki apartment with heaping boxes of fruit, with no qualms whatsoever about the large quantity.  In fact, I was delighted with the opportunity.

I still love the whole process of gathering and canning fruit.  It's one of my favorite things to do during the summer months, when nature's bounty overflows it's limits and tumbles in a colorful array onto my tables and countertops.  My creative juices really start to flow as soon as I cut into the first piece of fruit, and I had no problem thinking of way to effectively dispatch 17 kilos of fine-looking edibles.
sealed and labeled for storage
If you are canning anything, the first thing you need to do is make sure you have clean jars.  2 kilos / 4.5 pounds of fruit makes around 1 liter / 1 quart of jam, with a bit of overflow - meaning you may can the lion's share for later, and have a bit in the fridge to enjoy immediately on toast or with your morning oatmeal.  You will want  four or five 2,5 dl jars / pint jars for each of these jams, plus lids.

In Finland, where finding the two piece lid is impossible, I typically by Quattro Stagioni jars with lids.  A lot of the local grocery stores:  K-markets, Prisma, etc carry these, along with spare lids, during the summer season.  You can also find them in Stockmann, but expect to pay a higher price.  In the US, the 2-piece lids and jars are available everywhere including grocery stores and hardware stores, so it'll be no problem.  In Germany and the UK jars tend to be readily available in my experience; I'd love to hear how it is in the rest of the world!
White peaches, sweet and juicy, at Ballaro Market in Palermo, Sicily

Also, I don't use pectin if I can help it as I think it tends to make jam a bit gluey, and because most fruits have sufficient pectin by themselves.  I also have reduced the amount of sugar typically used in jams, as I like the fruit flavor to be readily apparent with a slightly tart edge if possible.

This Plum Licorice Jam is really interesting:  the licorice flavor isn't separately distinct from the plum; rather it deepens the flavor of the plum with a lingering licorice note in the background.  It's excellent over oatmeal or with yogurt, and we enjoyed it over freshly fried lettus (Finnish crepes), make over the outdoor campfire and then slathered with a generous spoonful of this jam followed by a handful of blueberries.  Happy summer moments.

Plum-Licorice Jam & Nectarine Mint Jam

Plum-Licorice Jam

2 kg / 4,5 pounds of Italian plums, pit removed and quartered
660 g / 3 cups of granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 star anise / tähti anis
2 teaspoons licorice extract/essence (if you can't find it, add 2 additional stare anise)

In a large stockpot, combine the plums, sugar, lemon juice, and star anise.  Stir well to combine; cover; and allow the fruit to macerate for 1 hour.

Set the pot over high heat and bring to a rolling boil.  Reduce the temperature to medium-high, stir; and set the timer for 15 minutes, allowing the fruit to bubble undisturbed.  Meanwhile, place five teaspoons on a plate in the freezer.  You'll use these later for testing whether or not the jam is ready.

While the jam cooks, prepare your jars:  Wash in hot, soapy water and then fill with hot water and set aside.  Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add your one piece lid, or the cap part (with rubber seal) of your two piece lid and boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and leave the lids in the hot water until you are ready to use them.  This sterilizes the lid and softens the rubber which helps the seal.

After 15 minutes, remove the star anise from the jam.  Continue to cook the jam, stirring regularly, for another 10 minutes.  At this point, turn off the heat and take one of the spoons you have in the freezer.  Fill it with jam and return it to the freezer for five minutes.  If the jam wrinkles slightly when you push it with your finger, it is ready.  If not, cook it for an additional 5 minutes and test again; repeating as necessary.

Once the jam has gelled to your liking, turn on the heat again and add the licorice extract, bring the jam to a boil and stir for 30 sections.  Remove from heat.

Using a wide mouth funnel placed in the jar and a ladle, spoon the jam into the jars, leaving a 1/2" / 1.5 cm space at the top.  Repeat until all of the jars are full.  Using a damp paper towel, wipe the rim of the jar so there is no jam residue left.  Place the hot lid on the jar, and, using a towel to hold the hot jar so you don't burn your hand, tighten the lid finger-tight (don't over tighten; the best way to ensure that you don't is to use your thumb and first to fingers to tighten the lid, which means you won't have enough finger strength to push it too far.)

Wash the big jam pot.  Put a dish towel in the bottom and place the jars on top.  Fill with water to cover the jar by at least 1"/ 2,5 cm.  Put the lid on and bring the pot to a boil.  Once boiling, set the timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer stops, turn off the heat and let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars from hot water and set on a dish cloth on the countertop, right side up, to cool completely.  Check to make sure the lids have sealed:  the top dome of the lid should be pulled in tightly and shouldn't move when you press it with your finger.  Sometimes you'll hear a ping as the jars cool and the lid seals, but not always.  If the lids are sealed, label the jars and store them in a cool, dark place for up to one year.  If your jar doesn't seal, put it in the fridge and use it within one month.

Makes 1 liter / 1 quart of jam


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ice Cream Cake


Licorice Vanilla Biscotti Ice Cream Cake with Lingonberries 
You know people, it's hot over here in Finland.  Really hot.  Hottest summer in 50 years, some Finns say.  It's hard to get excited about turning the oven on when it's already 30°C inside and out, so what's a person to do when you want a sweet treat to beat the heat?  (Ok, I really wasn't attempting to wax poetic there, but, well, heat does funny things to my head).

A berry garnish adds a nice, tart touch to a very sweet cake.

Not that I am complaining about it being hot, mind you. After one long cold February in 2010, I decided that I would embrace the heat whenever I can and not complain on the hot summer days, because I do plenty of grumping about the cold, long winters here.  In early July, with temperatures barely tipping above 12°C, I  headed south to Sicily looking for the sun and the deep, blue, warm sea…and as much great food as I could eat.  I was delighted to arrive in Palermo to clear, sunny skies and a searing 29°C+ temperatures, happy to escape the Spring that wouldn't end. Two days later, we got a message from Finland "It's 27°C here…"  And so it seems, summer arrived with a roar, and has stayed around for a nice long while.  I'm loving it.  But…back to the beginning…it's hot.  The perfect excuse for a no-cook, easy-to-make, very pretty treat.

Ice cream cakes have a million variations depending on your taste preferences.  I made mine using cookies and berries as a layer and two kinds of ice cream, but you can use cake as a replacement to the cookie layer, or chopped nuts would be great as well.  I think chopped, smoked almonds would be great with a caramel cranberry ice cream, for example, and you could use stone fruit, or different berries, or a berry sauce, or a chocolate sauce between the layers…but now I am getting ahead of myself.  Back to the cake.

Packing it into a plastic container with a lid is the easiest way to store it - and transport it if needed.

I had made a big batch of biscotti in a crazy moment in the middle of a hot day as I was dreaming of the good life and pastries down in Sicily. I had created a gluten-free version, and, forgetting for a moment that gluten-free flours have very different behaviors than their glutenous friends, attempted to lift one warm biscotti log off the pan, only to have it crumble in my hands.  So I was left with two logs which I later sliced and rebaked for a lovely jar full of almond aniseed gluten-free biscotti; and a big bowl of biscotti crumbs.  At this point, I was hatching up ways to use the crumbs, when I remembered Ice Cream Cake.  Here is the version I made, but keep in mind, you don't need to wait until you have a pile of cookie crumbs on your hands.  Make crumbs of any cookie in your cupboard, or chop up some nuts and use those.  Here is a rough recipe to get you started.  It's the easiest thing to make in a short time, and looks and tastes fantastic.

Dolce!  
Ice Cream Cake

1 1/2 cups / 3 dl cookie crumbs
2 quarts / liters of your favorite ice cream(s) - I used licorice and vanilla
Berries, optional; I used frozen lingonberries because that is what I had

Use a square plastic container with a lid; or alternatively a square baking pan.  Cover the bottom with cookie crumbs.  If using berries, sprinkle some across the cookie layer.  Cut the ice cream into slices that are about the thickness of your thumb and layer this tightly across the cookie crumbs.  Repeat the layers again:  Cookie, Fruit, Ice Cream, until your container is full, ending with a generous sprinkling of cookie crumbs.  Cover the container tightly with a lid or cover tightly with foil and freeze for as long as you can stand to wait, but preferably at least one hour. Remove from the freezer and let it sit out for 5 to 10 minutes so it softens slightly (not necessary, but nice). Cut into squares and serve, garnishing with more berries if you have them.

Serves 12 - 16.