Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Blackberry Jam

About a month ago (I am not sure of the exact date), Seppo and I received a package in the mail. It was no ordinary package. It wasn't something we had ordered, and it wasn't something we were expecting.

It was a gift basket from Michigan.

But wait, you say. You don't know anyone in Michigan! You've never even set foot in Michigan. Ah, young foolish... uh.. fool. Have you never heard of the Internets? Through the magic of The Gamers' Forum, we had developed several meaningful friendships. We conversed with many of them several times a day through TGF & chat (and for Seppo, via XBox Live), saw pictures of their lives & loves via Flickr, and kept up with their angry thoughts or otherwise non-angry lives through their blogs.

Two of them, Chad & Stephanie, sent us a gift basket! And this was no ordinary gift basket, ordered from a cold, impersonal distributor meant for the Average Joe. No, this was a gift basket that had ALL SORTS OF AWESOME SHIZNIT! Oh yes. Packed to the gills of awesome shiznit, personally assembled by these cool-assed people. Some of the items were homemade, and one of those things is what I am reviewing here today.

So Chad had "warned" me via chat that the blackberry jam (from his mom's backyard, no less!) was the best thing in there, and I had no reason to doubt him. But man! Was it good!

I will have to post pictures to do it justice, but from the moment I first opened it up, there was definitely a noticeable difference. I would classify it more of a preserve rather than a jam, but I think the distinction is a regional thing and is debateable. But that's just how I think of it. :D

It was extremely dark and opaque. I could see the texture of the blackberry very clearly as I scooped the first spoonful. That was the first difference. It didn't cleave into a blob or give off a goopy appearance like many jams. It looked more like a scoop of macerated blackberries than any other jam I had had.

Now, I was a little worried before tasting it because I find that most jams & jellies are just way too sweet for me, and I was really cognizant of this being a present that I felt a lot of pressure to like it. I didn't break out in sweat, but I was worried. However, having that first taste, I knew I didn't have to worry about reporting back on the flavor of it. It was great!!!

It was everything I want from a jam, in that it tasted almost exactly like the fresh fruit, except in a more convenient-to-store form. It had a touch of sweetness that tasted really natural, and the very slight tartness of the berries was just enough to make it taste really fresh. It held together better than mashed fresh fruit would, but didn't feel rubbery or gelatine-y at all. I hate the gelatine-y stuff, where you have to crush the jam to get a semi-uniform spread. The fact that it held together just enough meant that you could really slather it on bread without worrying it would be "weepy".

Oh yeah, that was the other component that really made it great: it wasn't weepy at all. I have never made my own jam or preserve, so I don't know what makes things weepy or not, but this was clearly made perfectly in that it felt moist -- no, maybe plump with fruit? -- without feeling wet in any way.

In a word: fantastic.

So far, I've had it with pieces of baguette, on top of a little vanilla ice cream, on toast (with a little butter -- hee hee), on plain oatmeal, and once with cream cheese on crackers. Uh, don't ask me why about the last one. But it held up great in each instance, even w/ the cream cheese, although I have to admit it was a bit odd. :D It was perfect. I also have eaten little tiny teaspoonfuls alone, which I was warned about, but at least I haven't yet found myself with a spoonful in my mouth in front of the refrigerator in the middle of the night, having no idea how I got there. Heh. I haven't made a PB&J sandwich with it yet, mostly because I don't really like to mix the two, as the J component is generally to sweet, but my suspicion is that it'll go great together with PB.

I told Chad that our household gets a lot of fancy schmancy jam as a result of the fancy schmancy grocery connection via Joe, but honestly, this is the best I've had.

Cheers to Chad & Stephanie! And a "w00t!" to his mom!

Thanks guys!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Thai Steak Salad

No picture, alas.

* Two ribeye steaks (which I'd bought last week and frozen)
* Two limes
* A fistful of mint
* A head of Romaine
* A carrot
* 1 tbsp. Sugar
* 1 tbsp. Soy Sauce
* Hot chili oil
* 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
* A couple chopped salted peanuts

Squeeze out the limes into a glass. Add soy sauce, sugar, chili oil, vegetable oil. Mix vigorously until suspended. Marinate steaks in this for 30 minutes. After marinade is done, grill or fry steaks over high heat until done medium rare. Rest steaks on a covered plate. Chop romaine into 1 inch thick "rounds", toss into salad bowl with mint leaves. Use peeler to peel long strips off of carrot. Realize at this point that I used all the marinade to marinate the meat, which is also nominally the "dressing." Realize also I have no more limes.

Jog out to back yard, grab some lemons. Close enough, I suppose. Remake marinade for use as dressing. Slice steak across the grain into thin strips. Plate the salad, lay the strips of meat on top, dress with marinade, add some chopped peanuts (or, if you're out of peanuts like we were, I suppose cashews were ok, too.)

Turned out ok - the weird mistakes led to the flavor not quite being right, but since the marinade was proper for the meat, you could still taste the lime-y punch. All in all, pretty tasty.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Dinner tonight was:

Salmon with a lemon zest, toasted pine nut, parsley and cranberry relish on baby spinach. Simple enough to do, and remarkably tasty. The original recipe had called for raisins in place of the cranberries, but I'm not much of a raisin fan. The cranberries and the salmon were remarkably good together, and the olive oil that the relish steeped in was delicious with the spinach. All in all about 30 minutes to do, tasty, and even relatively healthy.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Coke Ribs & Potato Puffs

So, made two things tonight, sort of from a mix of a bunch of recipes:

Coke-braised Ribs:

* 1 slab baby back ribs
* 2 cups of Coca-Cola
* 1 tablespoon soy sauce
* 1/4 cup brown sugar (light, in this particular instance)
* garlic powder (to taste)

Mix up all the ingredients save the slab o' ribs. Lay out a strip of aluminum foil twice as long as the rib slab. Place the ribs on 1/2 of the foil, rub some salt on the slab, fold the other half of the foil over, and crimp to form a pouch. Leave one end open. Pour in the coke mixture, and loosely close the open end.

Toss in a 250 degree oven for 2.5 hours.

After 2.5 hours, take the ribs out of the oven, then uncrimp the loosely closed end. Pour out the liquid inside into a saucier, and reduce by half or more, until it's a syrupy consistency. Place the ribs on a grill pan (I would have done this on the BBQ, over some hickory chips, if I'd had the time), and grill until brown, basting with the sauce as you go. Once the ribs are nicely browned, slice 'em up, and serve with the reduction as a dipping sauce.

This was sort of based on a desire to replicate a recipe we had at Andalu, in the city. In terms of mimickry, they were less sweet, and syrupy, which maybe worked better for me. I wouldn't mind actually cooking the ribs with a spice rub first, to give 'em some heat - I'll probably try that next time. It's definitely worth making again, even it if takes say, 3 hours to do.

As for the potato puffs:

* 3 russet potatoes, washed and peeled.
* 1/2 cup whole milk
* 1/2 stick butter
* flour, as needed
* 1 egg
* vegetable oil, for frying

Boil the potatoes in salted water until just squishable with a pair of tongs. Dump the water, then add the butter, chopped into relatively smallish pieces. Mash for a bit. Add the whole milk, once the potatoes have cooled somewhat, and mash until mostly smooth. Beat the egg, and add that. The mixture is pretty light, fluffy, and loose. Add flour, bit by bit, until the mixture feels like a loose gnocchi dough. It should hold together pretty sturdily if you ball it in your hand. Heat up some vegetable oil, to ~325F. Using two spoons form balls of the potato, and drop them into the oil. Remove when they're golden brown & delicious. Salt while still hot, and serve while still lightly crispy on the outside.

So, that was tonight's dinner. Both dishes turned out pretty well, IMO - I'd certainly make them again. The potato puffs were also an attempt to replicate an existing recipe, one from Gregoire - a take out French restaurant on Piedmont Ave. They didn't have the hard shell that Gregoire's puffs have, but they were actually sort of airier, which was pleasant. Strangely good with the Coke reduction. If I had to do this again, I'd actually flavor the potato mixture to complement whatever else it was I was making. With the ribs, I could see trying to do something similar with sweet potatoes, or in a different situation, with some curry powder, or chili powder or something similar.

Great stuff. Fed four people for ~$13.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More backlog

Must review:
  • Delicious, delicious home-made jam from a friend in Michigan. Oh man oh man.
  • Ethiopian restaurant in Oakland that we went to with friends on Friday
  • Falafel place in Paris
  • Georges in Paris
  • Boxwood Cafe in London
  • Afternoon tea in the Rose Salon (? Room?) of the Sofitel Hotel in London
  • Marcus Wareing at the Savoy Grill in London
In a word:
  • Jam. Yes.
  • Ethiopian restaurant. Yes.
  • Falafel place. Yes.
  • Georges. No.
  • Boxwood. Yes.
  • Afternoon Tea. No.
  • Marcus Wareing. Yes.
Hopefully, I'll be able to post some blurbs along with some pics we managed to take.